"Just in time, Sister." The merchant's toothy grin spread from ear to ear. "The local apothecaries usually snap this stuff up quickly. It's not cheap, but I assure you it's a lot less than what those crooks charge."
"It's good to see you again too, Theo." Lail noted sarcastically as she rummaged around in her satchel bag. "I recall you saying the same exact words the last time I was in need of your services." One by one, she removed several small corked vials, each containing a clear violet fluid, gently placing them on the stall counter top.
"Did I?" The large pot-bellied man chuckled loudly. "Perhaps, Sister, perhaps. But for you? I give a discount, and my freshest stock!" The man's greaying beard quivered as another bellowing chuckle escaped his whiskered lips.
Nodding gently, Lail smiled warmly. "How many times have you said that this morning?" The woman cooed gently as she plucked a small cutting of nirnroot from one of the many small baskets arranged on the counter. Pulling a small knife from her bag, she sliced the tiniest of slithers from the unassuming looking brown lump.
"Only twice!" Theo roared, as he bent over, pulling an even smaller basket from beneath the counter. "No, no, no, put that down, Sister, that crap is a week old, only fit for nobles with headaches." Grabbing one of the slithers from the new basket, Theo sliced a tiny piece from the root before offering it to Lail. "I know you treat more than headaches, Sister."
A slight disapproving look in her eyes, Lail took the offered sample, holding it under her nose for a few moments before parting her lips and placing it on her tongue. Moving the piece around her mouth, she bit down on it, the effects almost instant as the inside of her mouth began to numb. Spitting the bitter root and its fluid to the dusty ground, Lail nodded in approval, pointing at the vials on the counter. "Very fresh." Theo began as he started to uncork the vials, placing a slither of root in each of them. "Cut from the soil only yesterday."
Corking the last vial, Theo clapped his hands together. "Kept in that special preservative you Sisters use, they should all keep for six months, at least."
"I'm very well aware of that, Theo." Lail said softly. "It'll probably be used by then, however." She added.
"Ah yes, I sometimes forget how busy your kind are. It's a shame really." The man's tone softened to an uncharacteristic degree.
"It is Morgal's way." She replied simply. "I am only a part of that process, to ease troubled souls into her embrace"
"That is why you get the good crap!" The man's vigour returned as he slammed a palm on the counter. "Now, will there be anything else?"
"Mhmm." Lail smiled as returned the now full vials to her bag. "I'm running low on dried mandrake, snow cotton extract, and I will also neeeeeed..." The woman pursed her lips slightly as her eyes searched the inventory of the stall. "Five of these, a handful of that, and three leaves of that."
"Very good!" The man bellowed as he began packing the requested items into tiny pots. As Theo hummed to himself, Lail reached into her bag, opening the donated pouch of coin from ealier that morning. Removing several coins she placed them on the counter as Theo began lining up the pots. Looking the coins over, Theo grinned as he pushed two of the smaller coins back towards Lail. "I give discount remember, everyone else I lie to!"
The Tranquil Sister shook her head slightly as she placed the pots and returned coin into her bag. "How many times have you said that this morning?"
"ONLY FIVE TIMES!" The man roared, earning the curious glances from several passersby.
"It was an absolute pleasure, as always." Lail smirked knowingly as she tucked her hands into her sleeves.
"The pleasure was all mi-" The man's words were interrupted as the sound of loud horns echoed throughout the market. As the cacophony died down, a serious look hardened the merchant's expression. "So it's true. They've closed the harbour."
"It would appear so." Lail cooed thoughtfully.
"You may be back here a lot earlier than you expected." The man's voice deepened.
"If Morgal wills it."
"..."Drink up, girl. Liquid resolve will do you good. I have a very bad feeling about today. There is something in the wind. I can... smell it."
Ligeia chuckled as the crotchety old man came back with his retort, only to give her an even better one. Something in the wind that's easily smellable? Please, that one was low-hanging fruit. Of course, there was another remark that could be made about him being a wine-addled fool that could be made as well. But if it was one thing that Ligeia had learned in life, it was how to the read the mood. One wrong move and it was the beating stick, or the metaphorical equivalent.
Caius was right; the city stood on the eve of invasion and there was no doubt that the washed out war hero was experiencing flashbacks of previous conflicts. Not that Ligeia was ignorant of conflict; she could easily imagine the near future: a churning sea, boats having with men armed to the teeth, and blood - so much blood. She took a sip of the wine, not caring for its tart taste. Certainly low grade piss. Though, the ex-slave couldn't really call herself an expert on the subject. The other old oaf kept all of the good stuff to himself. Bastard.
Ligeia looked up to the sky thoughtfully and said in a singsong voice, "Red sky at morning, war horns a-roaring."
She felt as if she should have been on a perch somewhere, dangling her legs. Nevertheless, she continued, "You do have an idea of where to run to, riiiiight? And that's the only reason we're here?"
"I trust everything of yours is in order, Master Scribe?"
Alim rose as soon as the Red King entered, tucking the letter from Zamar away discretely, "Naturally, your majesty. However, while this fare winds fare well for our fleets, the same is not true for the pigeons."
It wasn't that the scribe didn't consider himself close enough to Iokanan to treat him as a friend, rather than some important figure, Alim was just greeted with formally and was replying in kind. Besides, he liked formally, it gave a sense of ceremony to things. Not that talking to mere mortals could even equate to communing with the Gods. Alim took a moment to chuckle at the image of those flying rats braving the worst Eluvius and Strios could conjure up and moved onto the next item in the proverbial agenda.
"Things are going to start getting very... aggressive later. If you need any assistance for that time we can always requisition a few crewman for you."
The scribe gave a wave of his hand, "Of course. If you wish to have a non-combatant such as I tucked away in a nice peaceful little corner... Oh forgive me, your majesty. I appreciate the kind offer, but someone has to be there to count the bodies, per se."
~ Lanius ~
The Tranquil Sister paused as he held out his hand, and he watched as she looked over his face, namely his facial tattoos and his teeth as the flashed between his lips. He didn't feel offended in the least, since he had quickly gotten used to the interest that they caused in people. After that moment's hesitation, instead bowed and introduced herself.
"No harm done. I am the Tranquil Sister known as Lail."
He stepped back and bowed in turn, before tilting his head as she moved past him.
"I hope the day sees you well, now if you would excuse me. There are a number of ingredients I am in short supply of, I would see to it that I am among the first to market."
"Of course," he said, waving after her and adding, "May Morgal see you well, Sister Lail."
He couldn't help but smile a little in her wake. It was always nice to see another adherent of his Goddess, and Tranquil Sisters in particular were well-respected thanks to the duties they took up. But as he turned to make his way towards the battlements, the sound he heard ring out over the city caused him to stop entirely.
Those are war horns. The invasion has started.
Taking a few steps back, he decided that the best place for him to be was right back at the Temple of Morgal. He was no use in defending a siege, and would likely get himself killed if he tried anything during one, be they last rites or... Other ceremonies. While he didn't fear dying himself, he saw no use dying just now.
Sprinting back the way he came, he reached into his robes and grasped the handle of the narrow ritual dagger he kept with him, and hoped he wouldn't need to use it. He would certainly be in dire straits if he did.
When he stepped into the doors of the temple, he noticed the other Priests were already preparing themselves to weather the coming onslaught and simply nodded in approval. Not much else they could do, but pray to Morgal. He intended to do just that as he strode into the temple-proper.
"Today's the day..."
"So it is," said Darion, putting a hand on the Prince's shoulder. "You should greet the men. They need to see that their future king stand brave against the encroaching hordes." Then he smiled. "Of course, once that's done and their morale is raised, I'll happily find you an unused chamber pot to cower in for the duration of the battle."
Fei, both hands holding a bottle of fine drink each, stumbled and cursed as the panicked crowd coursed around him. Shopkeepers quickly closed their doors and retreated to the recesses of their house. An admirably low amount of screaming was taking place, although in Fei's opinion, the chaotic swarming of the crowds was far too much bother already. Above it all the war horns signaled the invasion with a deep, booming sound, from every tower, along every inch of the walls.
He took another draw of the rapidly-dwindling brew in his right hand, swallowing contentedly. It was the best they had in stock; after all, today could be the day Dorium burned. Or so Fei told himself, at least. It certainly wasn't an excuse to splurge his newly earned gold on alcohol, no.
When he lowered the bottle from his face, the streets had almost completely cleared. The horns still thrummed across the entire city, as if there were any left who didn't heed their message already.
Ominous, thought Fei. He half-expected the wind to whistle sharply and blow up an appreciably-sized cloud of dust.
As he drew near the section of the battlements on which he was stationed, Fei caught sight of a pair of men clad in armor, one ornately decorated and emblazoned with the crest of Astrium, the other plain and Spartan, yet strikingly different from the normal soldiers'.
Fei's gaze lingered on the pair. So, our glorious patron, Prince Cadric himself has come to the front lines. And that man beside him...he must be Darion. As tough as the rumors would make him out to be. Fei laughed and downed his drink. He cast it carelessly into the alley, the shattering sending a few stray shadows fleeing.
The pair entered the watchtower and Fei headed towards his post, not a tower away. So my life's been thrown in with the Prince's. This'll be so, very fun.
"Of course, once that's done and their morale is raised, I'll happily find you an unused chamber pot to cower in for the duration of the battle."
"I'm so glad we have each other at times like these." Cadric bared his teeth in an unamused smile.
The hours passed quickly as thousands of humans ran themselves ragged finding themselves any piece of protection they could get their hands on and threatened to wear their tongues out with prayers. It was times like this that Strios was thankful that the mortals invoked his name for more specific situations. As of now only a handful of nobles that held him as their patron seemed to be muttering away to themselves in hopes he'd pay attention. At its wort it was like being followed around by a group of gossiping children who just wanted him to like them. For Valcit it must have been deafening.
"They're almost set to start the main event." Stios had wandered outside again, having gotten bored of the sight of navies.
He whipped up a gust of wind and dropped down into one of the garden plateaus that littered the court. This was one of the larger ones and a favourite of his mother, Naien. She was tending to her plants at the time, while Therion sat with his legs crossed on one of the walls.
"I know, I saw them." Therion called over, half in a world of his own. He was facing in completely the wrong direction to see Astrium or anywhere near it but Strios didn't doubt that his father could see it anyway.
"How much time do they have?" Naien rose up from her flower tending, brushing the soil from her hands.
"Long enough that I'm going to get a closer view, you know what Valcit's like to watch things with."
And with that Strios took flight, diving from the edge of the court's mountain foundation and falling out of sight before rising again in the form of a hawk, screeching proudly before swooping into the air currents.
Naien quietly made to leave before Therion's voice stopped her in her tracks just as she reached the gap in the little cobblestone wall around her garden.
"Are you going to interfere so soon?" He said.
"No, I simply have business with Uncle and he's loath to leave his workshop." The two of them were silent for a while, neither one turning to look at the other. "Will you not do anything? Hundreds of them are going to die." Naien finally forced herself to say.
"Thousands of them." Therion's tone didn't change.
The defenders had done more than just wait as their enemy closed in on them. With the chains on the harbor raised up the Fendarin ships had been denied the bay, forcing them to cluster along the nearby beach. With familiar ground at their disposal the Astrium forces were able to set up sections of stakes and barricades along the way to slow and funnel their foes in an attempt to help negate their superior numbers.
Cadric stood in line with warriors bearing the Dorium city crest on their breastplates and their banners fluttering in the wind. Further out along the battle line was the colourful collection of mercenaries and allies they'd managed to gather. The majority of the defenders were still behind the city walls and seeing the the city interior but Cadric had made sure to gather together as many fighters that were able to follow him out beyond the walls.
"This is where we make our stand!" He roared out as the hoplites rattled their spears and shields. "Make them pay for every grain of sand in blood and throw them back for the waves!" Another cheer along the line as the phalanxes formed up and the archers readied their bows.
"Shields up! Shields up! Keep ranks!"
Every ship in the armada was a din of clanking metal and the shouts of men who'd been too long at sea. The sound of the waves was quickly drowned out as the pointed heads of the ships crashed into the shore and slid their way onto the beach one after another. The invading soldiers were quick about their business, leaping from the sides and double pacing it into their formations. Iokanan was among them.
The men of Astrium were as impatient as he was for combat it seemed as archers and skirmishers peppered their ranks with projectiles. A rock pinged off of Iokanan's shield, sending a shudder up his arm as others followed his example, though despite their efforts other were hobbled as the death that rained down around them slipped past their guard, ripping into their exposed arms or legs.
"Close ranks, link shields!" Iokanan barked, shoving his men into line. They couldn't stay here or it wouldn't be long until they were all piled against each other and the sea and the Astrium archers could slaughter them with ease. "Move up the beach! We take the fight to them!" He roared as the assembling ranks advanced and gradually met up with other cohorts that had disembarked along the beach.
Arroes, rocks and everything else that could be thrown at them flew into their ranks, whittling away at the stubborn swords of Fendarin. Yet with each one of their number that fell the others quickened their pace. Until in one blinding hot moment they closed the gap as the skirmishers fled before their advance and the two forces were left with yards between them.
Cadric shifted uncomfortably as he watched the implacable advance of a legion of hoplites baying for his blood. The back of his head was getting infuriatingly itchy under his helmet.
"Steady... Steady..." He said in the commanding tone that came naturally to someone born into royalty, though who he was saying it to exactly he wasn't sure. "Steadyyy..." They were getting even closer now. "Brace!" He called out and the hoplites around him raised their shields and lowered their spears. The enemy was breaking into a full on sprint. Getting closer and closer and-
The beach exploded as the two battle lines roared to life and clashed against one another like bronze waves agaisnt the rocks. Swords and spears jabbed and swung as each man was thrown into his own vicious battle for survival and the battle was joined.
After a well deserved breakfast Zoe wiped her mouth clean while various crew members ran around her. All the while a fellow priestess was waiting impatiently for the girl to finish up. When she looked just about done the woman approached Zoe.
"Finished yet?" She asked clearly annoyed.
"Mmmm, yes I believe so." She smiled at the woman.
"Well, if you are about done shirking your dutie-"
"Yes yes another long prayer I know, because I just finished one less than six hours ago if you remember?"
The woman ignored the fact that Zoe was indeed right and continued to press her. "One's duties to Naien are not a competition."
"Good for if it was I'd be winning." She smiled once again, loving how she irritated her fellow priestess before adding even further irritation by skipping down the hall. "Are you coming?" She knew playing up the annoying girl act irritated these women to no end, and by the Gods did she love it. On her way to the room they had set aside however she passed by a follower from another sect of the Gods; an Acolyte of Morgal. She stopped her skipping momentarily, quite ahead of the other priestess. She looked back to see if she was there before addressing the Acolyte, speaking much quieter than usually. "Um, did you um, you know?"
The Acolyte bowed her head and smiled. "Yes, and I set one aside for those who are yet to come, including, Morgal forbid your siste-"
"ap ap ap!" Zoe raised her finger. "No need, as... appreciated as that is, she won't need it in battle. Trust me. You should pray for those on the end of her sword. She gets a bit um, excited when the mood strikes her."
The Acolyte nodded and went about her business as Zoe found her way into the prayer room. Kneeling down beside her fellow priestesses they bowed their heads to Naien, and after some deliberation prayers to Valcit for the coming battle and safety of their forces, yet another for Eluvius for the safety of the fleet as they sailed, and Strios to speed their way across the ocean to the, soon to be sacked city. Even if Zoe was a pacifist she saw the hypocrisy in decrying violence while in an invading fleet, so why not pray to the Gods who would help in this war.
Even so, she and her group of priestesses prayed for Naien most of all, she may not help in this conflict, but they needed their Goddess to know that some people still held up her belief of peace.
Zoe took her place among the other priestesses and acolytes of the Pantheon as they blessed those who wished to pray with them, assisting and comforting those who feared their deaths on the shores of the city they were soon to invade. Many men were twice her age and yet seemed to have immense comfort as they prayed with Zoe. She was happy that they weren't smiling with perverted intentions as they may have during the voyage, but rather were genuinely happier and much more comfortable heading into battle after having pledged loyalty in death to their Gods.
T'was a strange feeling knowing that some of the faces she would be seeing them with life for the last time. She didn't know quite how she felt about it, but such thoughts were for a time of peace when she could relax, not this current battle. Her smile never faded as she helped all those who needed her, hoping to raise their morale however she could.
'I know you won't need my help, but you'll get it anyway.' Zoe said a silent prayer to Valcit after the soldiers were leaving the ship, to watch over her sister. Whether she needed it or not she was going to get all the prayers her little sister wanted to give for her.
While the ships had just begun to beach and vomit their sweaty cargo of men and swords, Fei was finishing his drink with infuriating deliberation, savoring the flavor of every single drop. Again, if today was the day Dorium burned, might as well die with the taste of a fine, fine wine on your tongue, no?
Around him, his more duty-minded comrades began loose into the enemy ranks either thin but deadly sharp bronze arrows, (for those who were forced to use bows) or long, heavy wooden bolts, tipped with wickedly sharpened and barbed bronze heads (for those who were assigned to the kick-ass ballistae). He watched out of the corner of his eye as the bolts smashed through the shield walls of the rapidly forming phalanxes. They fell into disarray just as quickly, which left them easy targets for the archers. It was lucky for the Fendarians that the ballistae were horrifically inaccurate. Very lucky, Fei thought to himself.
The last drop spilled onto his tongue just as the battle was fully joined below. Fei would've spent a few more moments languishing in the aftertaste, but fate had already grown tired of this particular pirate's slacking, and guided a stray arrow straight into Fei's beloved bottle. Fei sputtered and hurriedly brushed the shards of glass off of his lap. Grumbling, he turned back to his ballista to begin raining death onto the Fendarians as best he could. Around him, Fei could hear the twanging of bowstrings, the captain barking orders, his comrades calling out body counts, all mixed with the more distant clanging of sword on shield.
Fei loosed another projectile, and watched as one of his more imaginative crewmates tied a flaming oiled rag to the tip of his bolt, letting it fly into the growing mass of metal and flesh charging up the beach. The fiery missile blazed a dazzling trail in the slowly dimming sky, before it exploded onto the mast of a beached ship. The mast only smoldered promisingly, but the sails beside it were quick on the uptake.
Eventually, the huge pillar of wood, surrounded by flaming cloth, began to burn as well. The fire spread quickly, growing into an inferno that engulfed the entire vessel. The conflagration began spreading to nearby ships, although the Fendarian sailors were making extreme efforts to extinguish the blaze.
Even from this height, Fei could see the soldiers inside the ship hastily attempting to escape the burning wreck, only to find themselves stepping onto a land of charred glass spikes.
Alas, free kills could only last for so long. Fei felt underneath the ballista for another bolt, but came up blank. A few crewmates had run out, and the rest were quickly exhausting their stockpile. Arrows, too, were in short supply. Just then, with impeccable timing, a messenger from the Astrian army arrived seeking the "commander of this motley unit". A crew member alerted the captain, who came over with all the menace of a bear disturbed from its hibernation and conversed quietly with the terrified messenger. When he finished, he turned to face the battlements and called for the pirates' attention.
"All right, ye filthy dogs! Listen up, and listen well!" His voice reached the crew's ears, carrying even to the far end of the battlements. Save for the snap of one last bolt sent flying, they fell dead silent, ready to listen and obey. In the background, the screaming of men, the crackling of fire, and the clanging of metal sounded a chaotic orchestra of blood and destruction.
The captain, seeing that he had our attention, continued. "Most of us are to be staying put 'ere to defend this wall, but this kind man be tellin' me that one o' our gracious leaders, general Luci-whoever-the-fuck-anus is askin' for some mates wi' backbone t' cover th' space 'twixt 'is ass cheeks that he's callin' the starboard flank. So, any volunteers?"
Fei peered over the walls onto the battlefield. Indeed, on the right, the Fendarian troops had pushed the Astrian soldiers back to the barricade. The fortification was dangerously close to being breached; the defenders were holding out, but only barely, and more Fendarian troops arrived with each breath. When he turned his attention back to the messenger, a few men were standing by, already volunteered.
Fei shrugged. What's the worst that could happen? It's boring up here anyway. He raised his hand. Might as well.
"And be that enough for ye?" The captain growled at the messenger. The messenger nodded nervously, eyes pinned to the captain's sword. "Then begone! I have no time for landlubbers."
The messenger scampered off quickly, with Fei and the others in tow. Fei turned his head to look back at the crew. The captain was already bellowing orders out at them. Some of them went to fetch more ammunition, others began to sharpen their blades in preparation for when the battle came to them.
He finished his one, last, confident glance backwards and began to walk more energetically. There was no time nor need to worry about that lot, Fei thought to himself. Far, far too many Fendarians to kill.
Hurried footsteps drew Jaris away from the glistening length of chain that had emerged from the bay.
"Excuse me sir, are you Prince Jaris?" A young man clothed in leather asked as he stood panting at the top of the steps.
"Yes." He replied curtly, causing the younger man to stand a little straighter.
"The Prince Cadric of Astrium requests the presence of you and your men to assist in repelling the invaders when they land on the beach." The messenger said quickly.
Jaris smiled, when the chain had risen he had seen that the majority of the fighting wouldn't even come near the Sitarian men. Now it looked like they were heading straight into the thick of it. Nodding the the messenger, he walked to the parapet and looked over wall below, at the men he had been given to lead.
"Soldiers of Sitar!" Jaris bellowed, "It seems that stories of our skill in combat have reached the throne, as the prince of Astrium himself has asked for us to help greet The Red King's forces, unfortunately this is not what we will be doing today." He paused for a moment to scan the faces of the men, some had looks of confusion on their faces, while others who knew him better waited in knowing what would come next. "No, we are going to drive his forces back to their boats and send 'Iokanan the Red' fleeing back to confort of his mother's teat!"
This drew a cheer that for a few brief moments rivaled the war horns and as Jaris lead his men to where Cadric was rallying his troops, he saw that they were all in good spirits.
Jaris tightened his grip on his sword and braced against his shield as the Fendarin line flew up the beach towards with the defending forces and with a crash the two sides collided. A jolt went up his arm as this shield smashed against another and a spear point sailed over his head. Jaris thrust his sword forward, under his opposite's shield and it came back with a sickly red sheen. The smell of blood and the deafening din of the invaded his senses but Jaris set his footing and shoved forward with his shield.
Thassa had taken part in countless battles during these past few years, but she'd never seen anything on this scale before. The Ascadians had done little more than quell the odd rebellion in her time. The number of dead she saw within the first ten minutes alone would shock any man.
Fortunately for Thassa, she was no man.
Bloodied sand kicked up and splashed against her greaves as she stepped over the bodies of her fallen allies; many still writhing in pain with arrows and javlins slowly bleeding them out. Seeing as how her ship had reached the front of the fleet before landfall, she and her comrades were among the first to charge the line. They had taken the brunt of the counterattack. Up until this point she had done little more than hide behind her withering shield as their forces fought to gain ground. To overwhelm the enemy.
And then it happened.
Thassa dropped her guard and lept into the fray, catching an unfortunate fool in the throat with the tip of her spear. Both feet planted firmly in the sand, her spear swung in a wide arc; slicing through the flesh of one man's face and embedding itself into the shoulder of another. Falling to one knee, the man hadn't even enough time to clutch his new wound before Thassa withdrew her spear and finished the job.
Though it was hard to tell in the chaos of battle, she had no doubt many enemies fell upon her when they'd identified her sex. Easy prey, they thought. They'd be wrong. All of them.
The God of War was a woman after all (apparently), so you would think they'd learn.
Then again, Thassa didn't really think that way. She didn't think of herself as a woman on the battlefield. No, she was just a soldier. Sex didn't matter at all. If you're a killer, you're killer. If you're a corpse, you're a corpse. She'd save being a woman for when she's fat, happy and popping out children in her retirement. That was to say, if she ever retired.
Twenty-one men felled and the shaft of her spear was still holding. That wouldn't last much longer. Suddenly, a berserker of sorts broke through their lines, swinging two long, jagged blades. After cutting down three of her comrades, the snarling hulk of a man set his eyes on Thassa. A mercenary, perhaps? Thassa wasn't sure.
Dropping into a defensive position in anticipation of the incoming assault, the deranged warrior flew at her with reckless abandon, dancing around the tip of her spear and crashing both blades down onto her shield. The jagged edges ate into the bronze plate as he wrenched the shield from her grasp and tossed it and his swords aside. Unarmed, he continued the assault, only to be forced back when she drew her falcata with blinding speed, nearly removing his head from his shoulders. Thassa pressed the attack, not willing to give him even an inch of ground. He was fast. Almost inhumanly fast.
He weaved in and out of her blows, effortlessly. After one miscalculated step forward, he ducked under another swing and sprung forward, grabbing hold of her wrist. He wrestled her to the ground in order to free her blade from her hand. Despite his superior size, he was having a surprisingly difficult time over-powering her. Then, suddenly, he felt the cold sting of a dagger sinking into his ribs. Twisting it deep inside his chest, the man screamed out in pain and released her sword hand. Thassa did not waste this opportunity.
Grabbing his severed head up from its long, black hair, Thassa held it high in the air and screamed out, "NO QUARTER! PRESS FORWARD! FOR THE RED KING! NO, FOR ASCADIA!" An accompanying roar sounded from behind her as she acquired a new shield and spear from a fallen brother.
Pressing on, Thassa took her twenty-third life shortly thereafter.
She was more of a force of nature than a soldier at this point. Each kill only served to feed the raging storm.
"You do have an idea of where to run to, riiiiight? And that's the only reason we're here?"
He glared at her, "Don't you ever doubt me, girl!"
Several hours later...
"Well, fuck," Caius sighed as he looked down at the panicking citizens lining the harbor. "I should have figured they'd lock everything down." He put his hands on his hips and looked down at his adolescent companion. He couldn't help but feign a laugh. "Let's hope these walls hold, am I right?"
The cacophony of noise surrounding the Sister was but a dull drone to her ears, as if she was hearing the battle from miles away rather than being knee deep in it. Getting out of the locked down city was easy enough, she only had to appear at the gate, her satchel filled to the brim with vials of fast acting elixirs that calmed both the body and mind, while simultaneously quickening the transition to Morgal's embrace. Leaving her mark on some parchment presented to her, she was allowed passage out of the city, to follow after the soldier into battle.
As she wandered the field, in an almost trance like state, her eyes downcast as she moved amongst the dead, fighters from both sides of the conflict gave her a wide birth as they continued to slaughter each other. Coming to a halt, Lail closed her eyes as she tilted her head.
"Shhhhhhhhh." She shushed gently, she could hear them, whimpering, crying out for their mothers, praying to their gods, they were like whispers in her ear. Moving her feet, she opened her eyes, her gaze landing immediately on one of the poor souls.
The boy couldn't have been much older than fifteen, judging by his accent, he was not of this land. One of the invaders. Sitting up against a corpse, his right arm was almost severed at the shoulder, his entrails oozing gently from a huge gash in his side. As Lail fell to her knees next to him, the boy turned his head slightly.
'He's still lucid, the poor child.'
"P-p-please, help me." The boy sputtered.
"Do you know who I am?" She spoke gently to the boy, leaning over him as she continued to study his injuries.
"N-no-no, a-are you a healer?" He asked, his eyes pleading.
"I'm afraid not, child, even if I were, your injuries are far too grievous." She brushed the boy's fringe from out of his eyes.
As the woman's words sank in, the boy's mouth shuddered before the words could be formed. "I-I-I'm going to die?" The boy squeaked, his voice cracking as tears began to well in his eyes.
Nodding slowly, Lail reached into her satchel, pulling out a small vial of clear red liquid. "I am a Tranquil Sister, now do you know who I am?" She asked gently. The boy's eyes grew wide as another wave of agony surged through him. Lail cupped the side of the boy's face with her palm. "Child, I can help you, but it's very important you know who I am and what it is I offer." Lail's voice remained calm, but there was more than an edge of urgency about it now.
"Y-y-y-y-you help people... die." He sobbed as the realisation of his fate began to take hold.
"Good, Child..." She angled the boy's head, locking her eyes on his. "Do you want me to help you?" She cooed gently, holding up the vial for him to see. The boy's eyes shifted to the concoction, a look of trepidation sparking in them. "This will remove all pain, all fear, you will still be conscious, but it will act quickly."
The boy blinked a few times, the words catching in his mouth. "W-w-will you..." He winced, gritting his teeth as pain began to overwhelm him once more.
"I will stay with you." She nodded reassuringly. Removing the cork from the vial, she grabbed the hand of his uninjured arm, raising it gently as she clasped it with both hands, placing the vial in the boy's fingers, she supported the weight of his wrist. "Swallow it quickly, for it is bitter."
Nodding quickly, tears began rolling down the boy's cheeks as he slowly moved the vial to his lips. Hesitating for a moment, Lail did not rush him to the task, remaining silent as she watched him quickly swallow the vials contents. Taking the vial from his fingers, she quickly dropped it in her satchel before curling her fingers around the boy's hand.
After several moments, the boy's breath slowed as the pain rapidly drained from his body, a look of utter relief softened his young features. "It's w-working." He whispered, a small smile curling his dry lips. "Oh gods..."
"Is there anything you would ask of me?" The Sister's eyes shimmered warmly. The boy's hand was already beginning to slack in her grip.
"My sword." He whispered, his eyelids getting heavier. "There, next to my foot."
Lail followed the boy's eyes, finding the blade, she nodded at the boy, releasing his fingers she picked up the blade from the ground and placed it on the boy's lap. Gently grabbing the boy's hand, she guided his fingers to the grip of the blade.
"Thank you, Sister." He sighed contently as he slowly closed his eyes.
Lail was silent, her hands remaining on his until she felt him slip away. Bowing her head, she grabbed the hand on his almost severed arm, tracing a circle on the palm, she placed a small coin in the centre before closing his finger around it. Rising the hand to her mouth, she gently brushed it with her lips.
"Embrace Her, find your Gods, be at Peace."
Slowly rising to her feet, Lail placed her hands in her sleeves before bowing gently.
It wasn't long until she found another.
The walls of men crashed together with a racket like thunder. "Keep those shields locked!" Darion called to the men under his command. "Dig in! Push them back!" He took a step forward, slamming an opposing soldier off of his feet with his shield. Lead by example. He buried the tip of his Xiphos in the man's throat. Enemy spears and swords kept his shield in perpetual vibration that numbed his arm to the shoulder.
Darion saw the spear coming before it touched him and turned with it. The head was iron and could have potentially wounded him despite his bronze armour. Instead, it skated off and he put his sword through the man's armpit. They were trying to surround his square of men now, and he had to turn to face new opponents.
Darion was not young anymore, and every move he made was considered. He was quick, but not blindingly fast, striking down men instead with precision when gaps in their defense appeared. Block, shove, slash, parry, block thrust... men fell as he worked methodically through them.
There was a gurgling to his right as one of his compatriots went down and the enemy soldiers pressed at the gap. He whirled around, separating a man's head from his shoulders. Their square was coming undone. The real danger was just beginning.
With thirty-seven kills under her battle, Thassa didn't seem to be letting up any time soon. Though the beach had become a chaotic, cluttered mess, she had managed to stick close to her men. Many had fallen, but for every Ascadian lost they claimed three sons of Astrium. If that was any indication of the battle at large they'd control the whole of the beach before nightfall. Thassa hadn't the time for such conjecture, however. No, her mind was focused solely on the blood and sweat surrounding her.
The mounds of men she was leaving in her wake.
Spotting a contingent of heavily geared enemies ahead, Thassa darted through the scattered enemy line and jumped into the frey. Impaling one man straight through the back, she hadn't the time to pull the shaft out when his ally turned to avenge his fallen comrade. She stepped to the side, batting his spear away with her shield and drew her sword, swinging in a wide arc. The tip of the blade caught him in the throat and sent him stumbling to the ground. Looking past his corpse, she spotted an older man garbed in similar armor.
Was he their leader?
Darion turned as two of his men fell, blood welling from their wounds. Their killer was watching him, stalking him almost. A woman. Darion sighed. He didn't like killing women, but he would do what he had to. Rolling his shoulders, he turned to face her. She was young and he was getting on in years. She could come to him.
Thassa took note of the man's blade. Even from that distance, she could tell it was a good sword. She glanced at the spear at her feet, but chose to ignore it. She'd fight him on equal footing. Hunched over, she approached him slowly, rotating her swordhand casually. Despite the violent movement and bloodcurtling cries of those around them, it was as if they were now the only two on the battlefield.
They were within striking distance now. After taking but a short moment to observe him up close, she took note of his age. He was older. With a cocky smirk, she dug her heels into the sand before lunging forward with blinding speed. Her battlecry rang out across the ranks of both armies.
Darion caught her blade on his shield, swatting it aside and booting her hard in the gut. As she backpedaled, he followed up with a swift jab of his sword, attempting to impale her.
Momentarily caught off-balance, she'd have been skewered if the man had been any faster. With her right foot dug in, she regained her composure just on time to deflect Darion's blow with her own shield, "Quite fast for an old man!" She quipped as she swung her blade over the top of her shield, towards his neck.
Darion leaned back and felt the wind off the tip of her blade as it swung past his face. Charging forward, he slammed his shield against hers, driving her back and lashing his Xiphos at her legs.
"It is the oldest tree in the forest that is the strongest," he said.
Thassa kicked her right leg up just in time to avoid the blow as she stepped back onto her left. A bit of bronze chipped off her greave as the blade whizzed by. Pushing her shield down on his own in order to gain leverage, she hopped in the air and brought an elbow down hard upon his trapezius.
Pain exploded in Darion's neck as she leaped at him and slammed into him. Throwing his arms about her waist, he gritted his teeth against the discomfort and hauled her over his shoulder, sending her sprawling in the dirt as he moved away, swinging his sword arm to dispel the pain. He shook his head and turned to face her.
His arm was still numb, but he was as ready as he was ever going to be.
Thassa didn't expect such a violent reaction. He was stronger than he looked. Rolling across the dirt, she sprung to her feet in short order and locked eyes with her opponent. She grinned, "You fight well for an old man!" She began circling him, in a low stance. "What's your name?"
"Darion Uriah," he said. "And tell me yours too. It'll be a change of pace from you making the same quip over and over."
"Thassa," She stated proudly. "Thassa Curio, son of Mercius Curio. The Iron-Eye. Now," Her eyes narrowed. "Let us continue this. Who knows, perhaps your epitaph will read, 'one who landed a blow on the Iron-Eye'." She chuckled.
"If I have an Epitaph, I'm afraid it'll mention experiences far more vital than killing an energetic young warrioress in my twilight years," Darion replied as he advanced. "That's the advantage of being a little older."
He lunged with his sword, as if to bury it under her sternum. Then he feinted, lashing out at her shoulder, keeping his shield ready to ward off her blade.
Thassa read his feint and spun around his blow, bashing her shield against his. Rolling across his shield, she swung her blade behind her.
Darion started turning the moment she was behind him. To allow an opponent time to utilize such a position would be unacceptable. The lash of her sword scored the left side of his bronze armour instead of cutting right through him.
Drawing his arm back, he stepped as close to her as he could to keep her shield out of the way, stepping on her foot to hobble her and stabbed forwards.
Off in the distance, he was aware of several of his men hollaring in victory over dispatched foes. The clang of battle was more distant than it had been.
Thassa's eyes widened as she felt her foot pinned under her foe's. Too close to strike or block, she did the only thing she could do. Dodge. Nearly twisting her ankle in the process, she slid her left leg behind her right, the flat of Darion's blade gliding gently across her breastplate. Ignoring the pain shooting through her tendon, she swung her left arm over his blade and brought her shield down upon his head.
Lights exploded in Darion's head and he stumbled backwards. If he hadn't been wearing a helmet, the shield could have cracked his skull. As focus came back to him, he raised his sword again. "You fight well," he said. "Enough to make me regret not being a few years younger."
She hissed through her teeth as her foot was released. She'd have pressed the attack and finished him if she was confident her foot wouldn't impede her. Stretching her right leg out to the side and rotating her ankle, she heard a satisfying pop. It would need to be looked at after the battle, but for now she would be okay, "Aye. Would have enjoyed a bout with you in your prime, Darion. I hope I have even half your valor once the wrinkles set in." She jested.
"Yes, well--" Darion began, but the yell of one of his men cut him off.
"HEY LADS! THERE'S ANOTHER OVER THERE! KILL THE BITCH!"
Darion shrugged and offered an apologetic grin. "I'd hate to make this lopsided on you," he said. "So I'll take my leave."
Thassa chuckled and relaxed her stance, "Make sure you stay alive until then!" She shouted past the charging hoplites. As they closed the gap she crouched low and threw one man over her shoulder with her shield while burrying her blade in the gut of another. None of the men that succeeded Darion were even half as skilled.
She made quick work of them.
"Let's hope these walls hold, am I right?"
To Caius's oh-so-grand display of sage wisdom, Ligeia replied thusly:
"A strategy I would expect from a war hero like yourself."
Her spite covered her fear.
Alim was calm despite the chaos that was happening outside, leaning back in his chair and having a good ol' smoke. All of the action was out there, after all. He got out the letter from Zamar and thumbed through the contents, again. So, the bastards over there wanted even more information that what Alim was giving them. This earned a slight chuckle from the scribe.
How did they expect pigeons to fly in conditions like these?
Wave after wave of men threw themselves against the defenders of Dorium, and the men of Sitar were not exempt from this onslaught. Men fell, on both sides, and more rushed to fill the gaps and keep the other side from breaking their phalanx. One side did eventually break though, the Fendarin's, much to Jaris's relief. With one line broken the battle descended into a frantic melee and while Jaris tried to keep his men together, some broke off to fight their own battles and earn their own glory.
"HEY LADS! THERE'S ANOTHER OVER THERE! KILL THE BITCH!"
Jaris ducked under the blade of a Fendarin hoplite and bought his own across the careless soldiers throat, then turned to see five of his men rush at a soldier, a woman infact, with skin almost as bronze as her armour. As he watched the woman flung one of his men over her head with her shield, and buried the blade of her sword in the gut of another. He moved to help the trio remaining, but they were cut down like stalks of wheat.
"Is this Valcit herself I see before me?" He says, loudly enough for the woman to hear, "I did not know of the gods to so directly intrude into the affairs of mortals."
Standing over the three she had just felled, Thassa flicked some of the fresh crimson off of her falcata and locked eyes with her challenger, "I simply invoked her blessing, though I see how one could be confused." She smirked, dropping her head low as she stalked towards him. "What of you? Do you rely on the gods for your strength or would you depend on your own?" She ended her approach just outside of striking distance.
"I doubt the gods have any reason to give me strength." He bought his shield up, "My strength is my own, forged through pain and dedication." Slowly he began to circle her and waited for an attack.
Thassa laughed, "I like you!" She too began to strafe, kicking up hot sand and splashing them across her exposed toes. The mild burning made her feet tingle. "Perhaps the gods will pull up a seat and watch as two mere men throw themselves upon each other's blades. Give the poor, bored fools a show." Tightening her grip around the hilt of her father's blade, she suddenly charged forward with her shield. She batted his own shield aside as she crossed the distance between them in a flash and drove her blade towards his heart. She was fast, but not quite as much had she not twisted her ankle in her bout with Darius.
Jaris barely had time to dwell on the fact that the woman had said two mere men before she was upon him. With no time to bring his shield back into place he deflected the blow upwards with his sword and shoved her back with his shoulder. "You said the gods may watch as two men battle." He said as he brought his shield back up, "But I've known no men to have features such as yours." While it could have been nothing, if the woman preferred to referred to herself as a man, then perhaps she could be drawn to anger with enough reference to her true sex, which, Jaris thought (and hoped) he could use to his advantage.
"My body is but a vessel, containing within it the fury of war," Her gaze sharpened as she stepped forward, bringing her sword down onto his shield. "What difference does my form make when in the eye of the storm? When wading through the blood of a thousand husbands, fathers and sons? So long as I can wield a spear and shield, I am a man fighting another's war." Again and again, she pressed the attack, crashing her sword against his shield. Her resolve did not waiver. "There is no shame in dying on my blade. Though a man will fell you, it will be a woman that remembers you!"
"If I am to be felled by a woman in battle, so be it, I see no shame in that." Each blow dug gouges into the paint of his shield and sent shuddering vibrations up his arm. "The only shame would be in deceiving myself." Jaris stepped forward and pushed his shield up, where it met her blade in the air, then swung his own sword at her legs.
Seeing his attack from a mile away, Thassa quickly stepped backwards and avoided the blow only to lose her footing as the whole of her weight suddenly shifted onto her bad ankle.
She hit the sand hard. Sprawled out on the ground, her enemy towering over her, she did the only thing she could: held her shield out and prayed.
Jaris swung his shield and swept hers aside, then placed a foot on the inside of her elbow for good measure and pointed the bloodied tip of his sword at her throat. "Surrender, unless you wish to convene with the gods."
'Is this the end?'
Thassa was afraid, she'd admit, but she hadn't given up hope yet. She stared down her adversary with the eyes of a mad dog. As her gaze lingered, she relinquished her blade and clawed around the sand behind her for the shaft she'd felt upon falling, "Ascadians don't surrender, nor do we show mercy to the weak!" She shouted as she pulled the spear out of the sand from behind her. Bending her elbow, she swung it in a wide arc in an attempt to stab him in the side of the head.
Though the swing didn't carry enough force to pierce his helmet and merely skidded off the side, the blow still sent Jaris reeling. As he stumbled sideways and shook his head to clear the ringing in his ears, the glimpsed the woman rising, spear in hand. By now it seemed as if the entire battle around them had stopped to watch the two fight. "You say do not show mercy," He started as he shakily raised his battered shield, "But give me this one, Ascadian, what is your name?"
"Thassa Curio, son of Mercius Curio," She glanced down at the blade at her feet and furrowed her brow. Dropping the spear, she retrieved her father's prized posession and held it out towards her foe. "And yours?"
"Jaris Wavrestrake, son of Sidney." He cracked a smile despite the situation, "If I am to die today, at least I will know the name of the woman that felled me." Jaris tightened his grip on his shield and waited for Thassa's attack.
"Brave words. I will see your remains are given the proper ceremony." Letting loose the leather straps bound to the inside of her battered shield, Thassa let it plummet to the sand. Noting his perplexed reaction, she smiled. Charging forward, her sword held in both hands, he must have thought she'd completely lost her mind. He swung his blade across his shoulders in order to split her throat. Thassa wished she could have seen the look on his face when she dropped into a roll at the last moment, slicing a large gash across the side of his thigh as she sprung out of the manoeuvre. Doubling over, a sea of crimson bubbled up from his fresh wound as Jaris swore in pain. Thassa delivered a savage kick to his back, and Jaris was sent sprawling on the sand. Ignoring the pain in his thigh he rolled onto his back while clutching at his wound, and Thassa stomped her foot down onto his chest, pinning him to the ground.
Her arms outstretched, she pointed her sword towards his head, "Whose prayer should I recite at the fire tonight?"
"Therion's, if you would do me the honour." He said as he smiled and tried to keep the edge of pain out of his voice.
Thassa moved her sword back to swing, only to be stopped as Jaris continued, "But first, as you say you do not grant mercy, but I would very much like to meet The Mad Red King and tell him to get buggered by a centaur."
Thassa tilted her head, amused, "Is that so? Tell me, do you know what comes of Ascadian prisoners? What kind of fate you are asking I leave you to?"
"I didn't ask to be taken prisoner, just to be able look into Iokana's eyes and insult the son of a whore as I die."
"Hm," Thassa narrowed her eyes. "I can't promise you an audience with him, I'm afraid. What would have me do if he were to decline your audience?" In her periphery she noted that the battle had moved onward. The enemy line had been pushed back, closer to the city walls. They were deep in Iokana's territory now.
"Either way, just make my death quick." Jaris winced as another spike of pain shot through his body.
"You have my word." Crouching down, she held her sword out, letting the tip of the blade dance in front of his eye. While his gaze was fixed on the blood dripping from its edge, Thassa quickly freed one hand and punched him hard across the face. He was out cold. After a quick glance around the battlefield, she spotted a few low ranking soldiers from Red King's own forces. "Here!" She beckoned to them. "I have a prisoner. See that he is bound and taken to the Ascadian camp."
"What about you?" The young soldier asked as she turned to leave them.
"The fight is not yet won."
"A strategy would expect from a war hero like yourself."
"Be silent, child!" He scolded her, wagging a trembling finger in her face. "This is madness! Complete and utter lunacy!" He sighed. Leaning over the railing, a small smile curled on his lips as he watched the people below panicking. Looking to his partner, he chuckled. "Sometimes tragedy breeds opportunity. What say you to making our pockets a bit heavier, eh?" He shook his head. "These people are blind. The walls will hold for at least another week, yet! Let's make them pay for their ignorance, shall we?"
Cadric's throat was beginning to feel like it was filled with sand and pebbles, he'd spent the entire morning pressed into the throngs of the ranks and shouting out basic orders and words of encouragement. Not that his orders mattered much once the lines met, it was as if they'd been plunged into their own tiny world of metal and blood. Cadric looked for what safety he could find behind his shield and in the strengths of numbers that the phalanx offered. His fighting style may not have been the most dynamic to see but it had kept him alive as he filled in his part of the line jabbing out with his spear whenever an opening presented itself.
It even went well for a while, they held firm and despite the losses the line was holding against the worse the enemy had to offer. But the Fendarians just kept coming. For every one Cadric managed to put down two more took their place. 'Would that it were only two.' From their raised vantage point the approaching armada could be seen clear as day, as each ship spat out their violent cargo. The ranks were beginning to crumble as more and more men in Cadric's peripheral fell to the sand. They were being picked apart, herded like animals into smaller more manageable groups as each man was forced to fight his own battles.
"Stay together! Stay together!" Cadric called to those around him, lashing out with his spear at the encroaching attackers with renewed vigor.
Another son of Astrium fell before him, blood gurgling from his mouth as he was run through on the diamond cross piece of Iokanan's blade. The royal banners were flying proudly over the sands, moving onward with implacable momentum. Along beside them flew the sigils of all the assembled royal lines he'd gathered to his cause, hungry scavengers rarely needed much prodding. To their credit though, the Ascadians were doing well, pushing up the flanks like a storm.
Still, it wouldn't so to have someone else beat him to the gates. So on they went. Iokanan shoved though the ranks, making his way to the front with the rest. The Astrium lines were falling apart before them, even Io's moral felt high as the clash of arms sang out all around him. That was when he saw him, a warrior garbed in white. His face was covered by his helmet and the dust of war but the blue eagle on his shield marked him clear as day.
"Cadric!" Io roared to him across the mass of bodies, slashing his sword across the exposed face of a young hoplite. "Face me!"
There was no mistaking Iokanan from this distance. His armour dark as a shadow and his sword as red as the one painted on his shield. The men around them were beginning to part like the waves forming a circle around the two as they stepped closer to each other. For Cadric it felt as if he were in some dream, the din of battle faded away around them until all he could hear was his own breathing and the banging of spears against shields. Or was it his own heartbeat? No matter, as a prince he was bound by honour to meet an opponents challenge.
The two circled each other for a time, each one bracing their shields and gripping their weapons. Then on some invisible signal they burst to life as Iokanan charged forward, crashing their shields together, violently rattling Cadric's arm and sending shudders though the rest of him. The young prince played it defensive, backing away, quickly weaving around strikes and jabbing out with his spear in an attempt to keep Io at a distance where he could dictate the flow of their fight.
Too simple a tactic for a seasoned fighter. Cadric kept up a spirited defense but his heart wasn't in it. The boy was thinking like someone still in training, doing exactly what he was expected to do as he blocked and turned each strike. Iokanan had kept up a rapid assault, leaving the boy with little time to think and leading him into an easy pattern. It was as his sword glanced off of the shield face and flew out wide to the left that he sprang his trap. Cadric lunged, hoping to spear him as the Red King left himself open, only for Io to swing his body along with the blade, slipping past the spear shaft and trapping it under his shield arm before quickly bringing his sword back tight hand hacking down on the wooden shaft, shattering it into splinters and sending Cadric reeling backwards.
Cadric barley got his shield up in time to block the fresh series of blows. Iokanan was attacking with renewed fury, free from any easy counterattack he lunged at Cadric again and again. There was no grace or flow in his attacks now, he wasn't trying to work past his defenses but through them. Thrashing Cadric like a slave and beating him into submission for all to see as he rained down blow after blow, each one backed up by fresh fire and hate. It was all Cadric could do to stay standing. Each hit hammered home the thought that he would die here. Lost in his own fear he was totally unprepared as Io worked his way in close and swept his leg in behind Cadric's laying him out flat with a punch from the edge of his shield.
"Not so easy when you're opponent is armed is it?" Iokanan spat down at him through snarling teeth. He thrust down towards Cadric's gut.
His mind lost in a cloud of instinct, Cadric threw himself onto his side before rolling back down, his body weight dragging the sword from Io's hand. It all happened in an undignified blur but Cadric's hand found the hilt of his kukri knife and lashed out at the Red King's exposed calf. Io let out a cry of pain as his blood painted the sand and dropped to one knee, only to be greeted by the sight of a blue eagle as Cadric forced himself up and smashed his shield into his face, sending bright flashes of light through Io's vision. Cadric rose with a primal howl and brought his knife to bare, ready to plunge the blade down into Io's waiting neck.
But when the moment came... he paused. Their eyes met and they weren't at war anymore. The battle faded away and they were just two sweaty fools with sharp sticks. Iokanan's senses were coming back to him and every sensible fiber of Cadric's being cried out for him to end. Yet the thought that was at the front of Cadric's mind was the look in Iokanan's eyes, they looked the same as Dasmos'...
Then Cadric's head rang like a bell inside his helmet. He had no idea what hit him, only that the world was suddenly a very bright, blurry place and standing up was something other people did. He stumbled away like a rag doll, only to look up and see the rushing horde of soldiers bearing down on him, war cries filling his ears.
"To the king!"
"Protect the prince!"
"They're breaking through!"
"Push the assault!"
One of them rose above the others though. "Fallback! Fallback! Get to the gates!" A swarm of men and shields surrounded Cadric as unseen arms pulled him back to his feet and towards the city. Cadric offered up his own faint protests but he was quickly drowned out by the din of war.
All across the beach the forces of Astrium broke off from the fighting and made their retreat back to the safety of the city walls. The beach belonged to the invaders today.
The ship was the safest place Zoe could be right now, which meant the invasion was going well. She knew what she signed on for but she didn't agree with it. Thassa may bask in the glory but Zoe hated the needless bloodshed. She understood why it was happening, yet when tracing it back as to why violence begat violence, and why one drew their sword upon another, the reasoning always seemed to be the same. People just liked to kill each other.
She wasn't stupid, and she wasn't going to waste time being sad about facts of the world, especially ones you can't change. Or maybe that was the wrong attitude to have? Thassa didn't sit around being sad about facts. She rose up and proved such facts to be fiction enforced by men with idiotic assumptions who couldn't measure up to their conviction. Still, what difference could any woman or man make to the human need to kill?
However, like she always thought, sitting around being sad about facts did nothing. While others her age complained about how unfair the world is, she... did the same but at least she wore a robe and spoke to Gods she had never seen before. Huh.
No, no she was making a difference. The Gods cared, some of them anyway. The right ones. Naien cared. Valcit didn't, but perhaps she could offer favour? Despite being told not to pray to her, Morgal cared, she had to she took care of your life beyond the world. Nonetheless, Zoe dared not to incur the wrath of her chosen Goddess... instead finding a loophole by asking an Acolyte of Morgal to pray for the dead instead of her while she prayed for new life. Cheating perhaps? Or strategic praying?
Cheating it was cheating it was totally cheating. But she'd deny it to her dying day.
Sitting with the Acolyte from before they began their joint prayer. Zoe praying for new life in this world while the Acolyte prayed for the dead to pass on into peace.
The barkeep smiled politely at the pirate as he pushed over the counter another cup of wine. He was shaking with terrified nervousness behind it all. Who wouldn't? Soldiers and sailors have always been the very bane of the structural integrity of taverns everywhere, and this crew of mercenary pirates satisfied both criteria. Luckily, the pirates hadn't started a full-out brawl just yet, as they were still on "drunken singing" and other non-destructive celebratory activities.
With the day's battle over, the unspoken, unwritten law of war declared a ceasefire, and the soldiers on both sides took to their beds, with only a token watch left to guard against midnight invasions. Some soldiers despaired their lives, others celebrated them, and the rest were in no position to do either, having already lost them; Fei reflected on that much while he bumped his newly filled cup against his comrades'. The civilians, of course, were huddled up in their own rabbit-holes, panicked like a flock of sheep when the wolves come to prey.
The day had gone well, although the scope of the killing was staggering. Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands dead in just a few short hours. It didn't bother Fei much, though. Those were tens of thousands of other people, faceless and nameless. But as for his people...
The captain thumped his fist against a tabletop to gather the crew's attention. So commanding were his actions that the other patrons of the bar fell silent as well. The crewmates knew what came next, though. It was a (thankfully) rare occurrence on the seas, during their days of piracy. He coughed for a second, then took a draught of wine before addressing the crew:
"Ahem, ahem. So, here we be, at the end o' a looooong day o' fightin'. And truly, what a day it have been! I'd never a-think to see so much slaughter, so much death, and so little looting, aye?" The crew gave an appreciative laugh. The captain resumed his serious demeanor. "But it be going withou' saying tha' fighting ain't an ordeal tha' lets anybody off so lightly. Even us free men, blessed by Eluvius, cannae escape Morgal in her own domain. This night, while those o' us here drown 'n our tankards an' ale, we must remember our brothers who Morgal 'as claimed as 'er own, who be doubly cursed to lie outside the domain of our Eluvius. A moment o' recognition for them, if you please."
The captain raised his cup solemnly, closely followed by every pirate in the room. "In the name of our fallen brothers."
Fei clasped his hands together in prayer to Eluvius and Morgal as he thought through the events of the day. After he had been deployed to the right fortifications, the crew had resumed strafing the Fendarian troops, although the enemy had grown ever closer throughout the day. Forget individual men, it seemed that the Fendarian fleet could pull dozens of phalanxes for every one that had fallen. Stray arrows and lucky shots had claimed the lives of four mercenaries on the wall. To a crew of fifty, it was a great blow indeed. Meanwhile, the six (and Fei) that had accompanied a platoon to the right flank had been down to himself and one other by the end. The Fendarians paid Fei with thirty-seven in return. Despite the equally grave losses the Astrians had suffered, the fortifications on the starboard flank were breached in a mere hour. The ensuing hasty withdrawal left few alive. There were wet eyes all around, but they soon dried as the celebration rose back up again. Casualties were a part of life, pirating or not, and there was no point in grieving for them beyond prayer. Fei downed his drink and conversed with the captain and a few other pirates, before striding out the door for a breath of fresh air.
Fei sighed as he leaned against the cold stone walls, wincing as he felt the bandage on his shoulder. It was a shallow reminder of the battle. The cool nighttime breeze was soothing to the touch, although it carried with it the unpleasant tang of war and blood. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Out of all the things he brought with him from Serica, meditation was one of the most often-used. His nerves calmed themselves, cleansing the frenzy that battle brings, and it felt as if he had purged himself of the blood he had spilled. Fei could feel a great weight being lifted from his shoulders, his body being lightened, freed of the burdens and horrors that war would bring a man.
Slowly, the veil of unconsciousness lifted itself from Jaris's mind to be replaced with the dull throb of pain emanating from his thigh and his head. Slowly the rest of his senses returned to him, bringing with them the smell of woodsmoke, the sound of laughter and conversation and the taste of copper. With a pained groan Jaris lifted his head up and looked around. Nearby a group sat around a fire, casting long shadows on the sand towards him, further out shapes danced between tents like spirits and along the waterfront countless other fires burned.
'A Fendarin camp, they must have taken the beach.' Jaris though solemnly as he turned his gaze inwards. He had been stripped of his armour and left with a simple tunic and leggings, and a quick tug revealed that his wrists were bound together behind his back. Now that the adrenaline of battle had worn off, the various wounds and bruises he had accumulated cried out with every movement he made, chief of all the deep cut on his thigh. Looking down he saw that the wound, much to his relief, had actually been seen to and bandaged at some point. Not that it mattered all that much, after all even if he managed to meet with Iokanan, the Red King would likely order that his head be cut off the moment Jaris opened his mouth, if the Thassa woman was true to her word.
Nonetheless the gesture bought a smile to his lips, and he lent his head against the pole behind him and relaxed to conserve what little energy he had.
Many, many men wanted to pray. Zoe was indeed a busy woman along with every other priestess who had accompanied the invading army. She made it her goal to tend to the Ascadian troops first, some more worse for wear than others. Thankfully she had only been attending to those with minor wounds or those who were perfectly fine. She had seen people with grave wounds before along with people dying in front of her, even if it was only her father.
'Hope you can see me father.' She smiled to herself. Even if Thassa had given her this role much quicker than she otherwise would have earned it, she wasn't going to slack. Just like she had promised her father as he lay dying in front of her.
Smiling to the soldiers as she began to move through the camp one of them grabbed her wrist. "Where uh, where are you going?"
Zoe panicked for a second, but she knew how to handle this. Smiling back at the man she replied, "I'm going to help your prisoners pray."
"Do they really need help to pray?" He scoffed.
"Does anyone truly?" she giggled, "still a priestess helps bring some peace, especially to those scared and trapped in an enemy camp." She subtly slid her arm out of the man's grip.
"Do they really deserve to pray with a priestess?" He said rudely.
"Perhaps, perhaps not, that can be said to any man-or woman. Such as my sister, who really, I mean really really reeeaaalllyyy wouldn't like you grabbing my arm the way you did." It took the man a second to connect the dots before his eyes widened in fear. "Theerreeee we go." She smiled at him once more before heading on her way towards the prisoners, while the soldier ran to find a priestess of his own chosen god.
The sound of approaching footsteps on the sand drew Jaris from his rest. He opened his eyes, and in the light cast from the camp's fire saw a white robed figure approaching. "Ah, about time. I had expected my meal an age ago." He said, cracking a cocky smile. The figure put a hand to their chin and looked around. "Umm, sorry I didn't bring any food. I can ask someone for some if you like." She, and it was a she, to Jaris's surprise, replied.
Jaris laughed, and the girl, judging from her voice, cocked her head to the side. "If you didn't come to deliver my meal, then why did you come here?" Jaris asked, "Not to gawk at the prisoners I hope, I'm not much to look at in this state."
"Well, I came here if you wanted to pray." In the jagged light from the fire Jaris saw her smile as she chirped her words like a baby bird and hopping up on her tip toes for a moment. "Though if you don't want to there are many other prisoners on the beach who would like to." She then bit her lip and looked away. "Or maybe there aren't I'm not sure..."
"While I doubt all the warriors are as unforgiving as the one that chose to spared me, I would doubt your forces left many alive." Jaris's smile turned into a hardset line, "As for praying, I expect to meet the gods in person soon enough."
"Well then, why not pray for favour before you do meet them then? Which is your house God?" She asked as she moved closer towards him.
"Therion, without the light of the sun and the warmth of summer, the crops of Sitar would hardly flourish." Jaris shifted in the sand and winced as another flare of pain erupted from his thigh. "As for favours, they would be wasted on me now. Leave favours for the men that will be at each other's throats when the sun rises."
"Would some final words to Therion before death not bring you some peace?" The girl knelt down next to him and Jaris saw that she was younger than he though, barely of age.
"I've made my peace, but you are a persistent one. What is your name girl?"
"Zoe. Zoe Curio." She smiled. "And yours?"
The name stuck in the back of Jaris's mind and he ignoring the pain that ignited in his chest as he threw his head back and laughed raggedly until the pain became too great to bear. When he stopped he turned his head back to Zoe, who seemed slightly further away than before. "A fine name, of a strong family no doubt." His mouth had etched itself into a grin, and he continued. "Very well Zoe Curio, I will pray."
Zoe smiled, and Jaris bowed his head, casting his gaze towards the sand.
Thassa stood in the center of the once-chaotic battlefield, taking in the sea of dead around her. Many of them had been her friends and comrades. She saw some living among them; acolytes of Morgal tending to the dying. Unnecessary, really. What could they do that a heavy rock could not? She saw little purpose in such ceremony, but at the same time she knew that it was important to many. Giving meaning to the madness of war kept people motivated. Sane, even. Thassa, however, was above such delusions.
War was about death. About taking enough lives to win. Though she reveled in glory, she understood it meant little in the grand scheme of things. In the end, she was just a hired blade. Nothing more than a weapon for ambitious men to use on their brothers.
She'd made peace with that a long time ago.
Bloodied, bruised and exhausted, Thassa stuck her broken spear into the sand and started for the Ascadian camp. Fifty-three men. She'd never taken so many lives in a single day before. She wondered how many had come close to that number. In truth, she knew of few other names in this war. She was certain they existed, she just hadn't been made to know them. Those like Darion.
A dull pain wracked her ankle as she hobbled through the Ascadian camp. Accolades were showered upon her as she passed by her comrades, but she shrugged most of them off with a half-hearted smile. She would revel in the victory later. She just wanted to lie down right now.
She heard some voices coming from where she'd been told her prisoner was taken to. As she came around the side of a tent, she saw them.
"What is the meaning of this!?" Thassa limped over to Zoe, throwing her helmet to the ground as she grabbed Zoe's shoulder. "What are you doing here!? I told you to stay in Ascadia!" Her expression was steeped in concern.
"...These people are blind. The walls will hold for at least another week, yet! Let's make them pay for their ignorance, shall we?"
Ligeia let out a sigh as she was scolded. She wasn't the one who would pay for Caius's mistake of staying somewhere that was currently being invaded, oh no. She would push him onto the enemy's spears herself. All Ligeia heard from the old was nothing but excuses - what would coin do against a bunch of soldiers and pointy sticks? Sure, some could be bribed but the rest probably had more integrity than Caius. Besides, stealing from people in panic would be just too easy. She almost fell sorry for them.
"You would say that, you cur!" She said, tongue suck out, "I at least try to somewhat honourable."
She skedaddled, evading any other wrath the old man had for her, and drove into the crowd. People were in such a state that they didn't noticed that some coins had found their way onto the floor, though picking up the trampled currency proved tricky. It was much easier to steal from the people themselves. Sooner or later, she found herself near the local tavern and so, she decided to get herself some warm food from there. As if Caius was going to get all of the money she had worked hard for.
The scrape of a quill on paper.
The flutter of a bird's wings.
Those was the events that preceded Alim's own little advance towards the beaches of Dorium. In short, it was a much more humble affair than the grand event of the landing. Seeing that Iokanan and his armies had been victorious, at least in taking the beach, he offered up a small silent prayer to both Valcit and Krosis - one was just the standard prayer of thanks he felt obligated to make as a servant of the Red King, the other was petition for guidance, both for himself and Iokanan.
With his foot on dry-ish land, Alim immediately settled into his role.
'Ooohhh fantastic fan fan fantastic he's a crazy person YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY' Her inner monologue drooled with sarcasm. And if that wasn't bad enough he began laughing uncontrollably once she had said her name. Now unless he had a penchant for the name Zoe, it would only lead to one conclusion.
"What is the meaning of this!?" Zoe didn't even realize someone was behind her when the man's likely captor had grabbed her shoulder. "What are you doing here!? I told you to stay in Ascadia!
Zoe's joy of seeing Thassa again wavered as she realised her surprise had gone to waste. She planned to reveal her presence in a much less worrying manner.
"Thassa I um well I um well I um, well I um," Zoe struggled with her words and was beginning to panic as she saw Thassa full of concern. "Surprise?" She said, hoping she wouldn't lamp her across the skull with her helmet.
"What is the meaning of this!?" Jaris heard more bootsteps and the thud of something heavy hitting the sand, and looked up to see Thassa looking very pissed off. "What are you doing here!? I told you to stay in Ascadia!"
Zoe looked like a deer surrounded by hunters as her sister (at least Jaris though she was her sister, after all Zoe didn't look that young) grabbed her shoulder. "Thassa I um well I um well I um, well I um,"
Jaris tried to stop himself from laughing again, and managed to stop at having a a smirk stretch itself across his features.
'Now all I need is a warm meal and a mug of beer and I'll be set.' He thought as he watched the reunion unfold.
Thassa furrowed her brow, "Zoe, I--" Catching Jaris in the corner of her eye, she shot him a cold glare. "What are you smiling about!?" Stepping past Zoe, she slapped her prisoner hard across the face. "Come on." She grumbled as she took Zoe forcefully by the hand and led her away from the camp.
Once they were an adequate distance from the rest of her comrades, Thassa grabbed Zoe by the shoulders. Her gaze bore down on that of her younger sister, "Why would you come here, Zoe!? You know how dangerous this is, right? Why would you disobey me!?!" She was seething. Underneath her rage, however, Zoe could see it as clear as day. Thassa was worried sick. She was deathly afraid for her sister.
Zoe kept stuttering until Thassa pulled her away, wincing as she slapped the man so hard Zoe wondered if she drew blood. Zoe's figure shrank as Thassa grabbed her shoulders and scolded her.
"I-I-I-" She gulped and rushed out her words as fast as she could. "I wanted to follow you-well no I needed to do my duty-but I wanted to do both and I didn't want to be away from you and I wanted to prove I can do things on my own and I'm not a child." She tried not to pant as she refused to make any pauses as she spoke, her head sinking lower and lower, seeming more childish by the second despite her words.
"I wanted to follow you-well no I needed to do my duty-but I wanted to do both and I didn't want to be away from you and I wanted to prove I can do things on my own and I'm not a child."
"Remember, Thassa... she'll be her own woman too, someday."
Thassa's anger faded from her eyes as she continued to stare down at her younger sister. Eventually, she sighed, "Look, it's just... this is war, Zoe. You may think that being a servant of a god will protect you, but sister, listen to me. I've seen things. Terrible things happen to people like you in the chaos of war. When a man's blood is running hot with adrenalin... the rules start to blur. Even servants of Morgal are not safe then."
She loosened her grip on her sister's shoulders and bowed her head, "I'm sorry, I don't want to tell you what to do with your life, but I'm scared. I'm out here, fighting this war to protect you." She clenched her jaw. "I just... I can't lose you."
"I at least try to somewhat honourable."
"Oh, lick Morgal's rotting anus you no-good tramp!" After she disappeared into the crowd, Caius' expression softened. He wanted her gone for this. He didn't want the poor girl to see his mind work. What little innocence she had, he intended to protect.
From himself, if no one else.
The battle still raging on outside the gates, Cauis made his way to the top of one of the tallest derelict buildings in the city. It had become a drug den of sorts, but the excitement from outside had driven most of its residents into the streets. After a long hike up the winding stairs, he reached the roof. Standing at its edge, he could see it. The beach.
And it was red.
From his current vantage point he couldn't make out much, but he could tell that Cadric's forces were being pushed back. He watched as the rest of the battle unfolded. The Red King pushed hard against their foes, showing incredible momentum. His mind easily fell into its old ways; analyzing everything before him as raw bits of data. Numbers. Sure, on the battlefield he would cry and scream seeing so many slaughtered.
But from here?
Ants. They're just ants.
He gritted his teeth and shook his head as Cadric's men were pushed back behind the walls. They had lost the battle, as anyone could have predicted. They would lose this war in a fortnight if they didn't learn from this. No walls on the earth could hold back a force that powerful.
Stay out of this, old man. This isn't your fight. Focus on keeping the girl safe.
"I just... I can't lose you."
"Thassa." Zoe whispered before flinging herself at her sister, hugging her tightly, hoping her squeeze would reach through the armour. "You won't lose me Thassa, I promise. Too many people are terrified of you in order to try anything." She giggled, knowing just how her sister would reply to that.
"But even when you aren't here, when I'm in the safety of a camp or a ship or anywhere the army lies, I can take care of myself. I mean, men have a big-or small obvious weak point right between their legs. Even with armour on, remember that time father came home and I was so excited to see him I JUMPED UP and hugged him and my knee went right into-" She was rambling.
"You can protect me. Naien can protect me. And when you two can't, then I will!" She smiled and shut her eyes, cocking her head to the side as she looked up at her sister.
Her brow furrowed during the length of Zoe's animated monolgue, Thassa wan't doing her young face any favors. Despite wanting to just slap her and ship her back home, she made the hard choice. She listened to her dear sister's incessant ramblings.
"You can protect me. Naien can protect me. And when you two can't, then I will!"
Thassa sighed, a weak smile forming at the corners of her lips. Wrapping an arm around her back, she brought Zoe in for a tight embrace, resting her other hand and her cheek on the top of her sister's head, "You're brave, Zoe. Just like him. Please, just... be careful." After a few moments they parted and Thassa turned back towards the camp. "Come, let us check up on the prisoner."
Zoe hugged Thassa comfortably and happily as she relaxed into her embrace. "You're brave, Zoe. Just like him. Please, just... be careful."
"I thought that was your job miss soldier lady." She chirped back. "Thank you."
Eventually the hug had ended, Thassa turned for only a moment and said "Come, let us check up on the prisoner."
The second she uttered the word 'prisoner' Zoe had already jumped on Thassa's back. "Onward!" She pointed in the wrong direction of the prisoner before lightly kicked Thassa's thigh like a horse and yelling, "YAH!"
~ Lanius ~
By the time Lanius considered himself long finished praying to his chosen Goddess (Whether he had chosen her, or if it was the other way around was debatable), he finally stood up in front of the stone statue that he imagined was sculpted lovingly in her image. Reaching up, he smiled just slightly and caressed the stone cheek with some affection before he finally became aware of the commotion outside of the inner sanctum.
His mouth twisted into a frown as he stepped outside, only to be greeted by various Acolytes of Morgal rushing to help those few who decided to take shelter in their Temple. After all, most would likely seek safety in the temples of their own gods. Looking to the Goddess of Death to save ones life was certainly unusual, though he suppose he had done just that when he was young. And now...
"Here. Allow me to help." he told a passing Priest, nodding as he was handed a large basket of simple bread to hand out to the survivors.
As he handed out loaves, however, his own stomach quietly growled in anticipation of it's next true meal. Soon, he reassured himself, soon I'll be able to feed in earnest, and send another blessed soul as tribute to my Goddess, my Queen, my Dear Lady...
"Where is... where are- Get this off of me!" Cadric shook himself free of the crowd of soldiers as he struggled and strained to pull his helmet off. "Can't breath with this- urgh!"
He finally managed to throw the the helmet off, shoving it into the chest of some poor soul who was trying to push Cadric to somewhere of safety. They were already sealing the gates as men on the walls threw down what they could to make their attackers think twice. Did they even have to bother? The horde that were pressing at their doors was out of Cadric's sight now but all he could do was imagine them piling up against the gates, pressing them open through the sheer weight of all those bodies.
So many people rushing all around him. Cadric didn't even need to be there, everyone seemed to know what they were doing, at least he hoped they did. So many faces, he'd seen some of them around the barracks on the countless tours he and Darion had made in the lead up to all of this.
'Darion!' Where was Darion? Had he fallen on the beaches, oh gods, what if they'd locked him out during the retreat. "Darion!" Cadric called out, shoving his way through the crowd. "Get out of my way! Where is Captain Uriah?"
'I have to find him. Naien's grace let him be alright.'
Cadric's eyes set fearfully to looking among the wounded and dying that were quickly littering the streets as he searched their sunken, empty eyes for the face of the old warrior. He didn't know which would be worse. Finding him among their number or not.
"Darioooon!" Cadric called out again. His vision settling into a comfortable blur.
The bloody cheers and songs that were flooding the camp were giving Iokanan a fucking headache! He stomped back to his ship, gritting his teeth through burning pain as the fresh cut in his leg kept bleating for attention. The slaves had set about bringing down the ramps and placing up the tent structure that now took up most of the deck of Io's ship to form his personal tent.
"Fetch the healers. And wine!" He barked, sending a pair of slaves scuttling off. Others were still setting up the furnishings for his tent, at least for now he could have a chair to rest the bloody mess on.
'If they bring leeches, I swear to Valcit...'
He was cut off as an officer stepped through the canvas flap, bowing deeply. "Pardons, your grace. We've received word from the Ascadian camp. They have a prisoner who requests an audience with you, he seems to be off high station. Word has it he's a prince."
A prince? But there was only one true prince on Astrium, surely it couldn't be. This wasn't a time to get his hopes up, hopes had a habit of crashing upon the rocks... but still. Soldiers could gossip worse than washerwomen, no take it with a pinch of salt, but perhaps they were of high enough station to be of some use to him.
"Send for them and whichever Ascadians claim their capture." He waved the man off as he went about his task just as the healers rushed in to see to Io's leg.
Valcit's head was thrown back, her long dark hair in disarray as she groaned in ecstasy. War. Glorious war on a scale they'd never waged before and this was only the start. The first day skirmish, oh once they settled into things, once they became familiar with the sheer scope. How they'd fight. How they'd battle. How they'd rage!
She'd feast like never before! Countless champions would rise and fall as Astrium was painted red, a gleaming ruby in the sea. A jewel just for her.
"Wonderful..." She smiled quietly to herself. But they were done for the day and she was swiftly coming down from on high.
"Was it good for you too?" Came Morgal's giggling voice, she had not moved from her throne. The others had come and gone as the battle raged, some lost interest, others had moved elsewhere to get more private views. But the two goddesses were oblivious to the world as they were thrown into waves of pleasure as their domains flourished in force.
"You're- you're still here?" Valcit panted lightly, a bead of sweat dripping down her brow as she noticed the raven cloaked death god for the first time in a while.
"Oh I'm not done yet." Morgal grinned devilishly, biting her lip and tracing across her neck with her long nails. She may not have reached the same extreme that Valcit did, but her's would last much longer. Morgal's eyes sparked with glee as she slumped back into the folds of her cloak and armour.
He heard the voice over the rabble of the crowd. Darion had been working to make sure the retreat of an entire army into the city did not cause chaos. Whirling at the sound of the voice, he barged through the crowd of soldiers, pressing forward with his shield as though he were still battling.
At last, he broke through into open space. Cadric stood tottering, and Darion stepped forward quickly to support him. "I'm here, Prince Cadric. I can see you've been injured though. You shouldn't be moving around in your condition."