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The Hour of the Wolf -- House Arhakuyl 
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Morathi's Best Friend
Morathi's Best Friend
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Joined: Tue Oct 04, 2005 5:06 pm
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Location: Flanders, Belgium
(Note: This story is set in the alternate timeline of the Asur.org campaign "Hour of the Wolf", where the strangest things have happened, and where the Druchii have taken--or kept--hold of Ulthuan. As such, there will be differences with established background, both minor as major. Also, this story is written as the campaign progresses, and written in bits and pieces that are not always a whole on themselves. Sorry about that.

On a more personal note, I take a very broad artistic license in writing. People who know me from the SAU also know this. If you cringed when reading my SAUs... well... this is your stop right here.)



The entire hall was draped with exquisite tapestries and lined with magistrates and those of high society that managed to acquire a reservation. Officials stood in beautiful colours and regal attires—stewards, seneschals, chancellors, highborns—loaded with earned insignias and symbols, seeing to it that the proper protocol were followed. For the first time in the history of House Arhakuyl, one of its members had ascended to the position of Drachau.

Stately walking over the carpet as the steward had told her, Santhil's senses were overwhelmed by all that stood around her; the grandiose music hung in the air for all except herself to take in. Never before had she seen so many high-ranking officials packed onto eachother, nor so many members from other Houses with a glint of respect in their eyes. Picking the steward up on her advice, she steadily advanced to the dais that held the king's emissary; not too fast, not too slow: confidently. Confidence, in this case, being counting to three for every two steps.

As she recalled before, it had taken arduous efforts for House Arhakuyl to get Santhil appointed Drachau. Much to their surprise, there were not many takers for the position. Of course, Santhil realised that the climate was not exactly heartwarming, but she expected most people to relish the opportunity to rule the colonies, away from the scrutinous eye of the king. She imagined that surely many more greedy and powergrubbing would have maneuvered themselves between her and this prestigious position. But House Arhakuyl prevailed in the end, against her own expectations.

Arhakuyl was a House of merchants and artisans, not of fighters and leaders. The most notable exception had been her grandfather, a noted colonel and adventurer (treasure hunter), whose footsteps Santhil followed closely, though she would hope to avoid the same fate of being impaled on a spear repeatedly. He would've been proud of her, and a smile rose on her lips at his memory. Yes, he would've been proud. And so was her family standing at the far right: her parents, proud as peacocks, her siblings—some envious, most just happy for her—and even a few of her infant cousins and nephews, though most of those were oblivious to their surroundings, or just happy to see their young aunt.

But when she set eyes on the emissary of the High King, everything around her got the volume turned down. This was it, no turning back. This was what House Arhakuyl had fought so long and hard for, the opportunity they seized with both hands when it opened. Santhil Arhakuyl was going to be appointed Drachau of the eastern colonies.

°°°

The stars were bright tonight. Santhil stared away at them, gazing from the balcony into the cold winter night and into the east. Would the sky look the same there? What would the structures there be like? The environment, the climate, the people? She couldn't tell; she had never actually been in the eastern colonies before. So few had.

House Arhakuyl's name had descended from a long, long time ago, now having progressed to where few people would normally see the ethymology of it. With Arhakuyl, this was less the case, since typically the females of the family had decidedly colourless strokes in their hair, in varying patterns: some had a single long stroke going along; others had a thin, irregular stripe waving through it; sometimes it was subtle, and sometimes it was not. In Santhil's case, it was more subtle, with a shade running along and a line waving through that she usually covered with a hairband or somesuch, and very much colourless eyes, a deep grey.

This defining touch led to superstition and tradition more than it was attributed to simple genetics. Depending on how 'grey' the daughters were, they were given various tasks or destinies: sorcery, priesthood, mercantile. Since Santhil had two occurences rather than one, she was set to carry on the name and bloodline, like so many others next to, before, and after her.

And now, this bloodline was heading to the eastern colonies, to the areas called Norsca and Kislev. Generations ago, constant battling with elven renegades and indigenous populations had withered the colonies and saw the former capital fall into disuse. Instead of relinquishing control, the colonies focused on making the best of it across the Sea of Chaos.

“Oh, here you are. You're missing the party thrown in your honour.”

Santhil turned a smile on her lips when she recognised the voice of her sister, Lanhia. Lanhia was a sorceress of no mean skill though, much like Santhil, she had yet to prove herself in actual battle. She was exceedingly intelligent, in no small part thanks to the excellent education she received during her training, and equally beautiful. Some opposed her rise to sorcery as they saw her as fickle and of a short attention span, but ultimately sheer talent won.

“Ah, I just... I was thinking, is all.” She waved her hand briefly in dismissal of the topic, then turned her attention to her sister. “That dress really looks good on you,” Santhil complimented her.

“As do the insignia on you, Drachau of the eastern colonies.” A happy and teasing smile rose on her lips.

“Oh, say that one again,” Santhil asked, as if someone just started massaging her back.

Drachau of the eastern colonies...”

“And say it a-gain!”

“We did it!” Lanhia practically leapt into Santhil's arms in exhiliration, dancing around with her on the spot. The two of them were close, that much was certain, though they did eventually quiet down a bit. Not that anybody inside really took notice to them, but still.

“So, how about that party now?”

°°°

“Now this... this, I like.”

Lahnia lied comfortably sprawled over a heap of pillows serving as a couch. The cabin was filled with such luxuries to make the sea voyage more bearable to those not used to it, and as a token of respect to the ranking people carried along. Very little actual furniture was present, though the necessities were still there: a decent bed, a desk, some chairs. “I definitely like this,” she purred with a lazy stretch.

Santhil waved off the messenger that had just brought her a letter from higher up the social and military ladder. She briefly wondered how a letter could suddenly arrive, or a messenger could suddenly arrive, while in the middle of the ocean, but those thoughts flit away when she read—and re-read—the sender. From the court of the High King. Yikes.

“Have you seen the Lady-admiral yet? She's pretty.” Lahnia raised her fingers into view, staring at them, or at the ceiling, inspecting her nails. Pensives lines curved into her face. “Jesamine, the name is?”

Santhil merely hummed in vague acknowledgement, preoccupied with reading the letter she just received. There was a reason she had been given such armies along—obviously—and she had suspected that her tenure might be warlike, but this was more than a few collected skirmishes and raids. This was a full-scale invasion. Small wonder they got the Ashen Fleet rounded up to transport them and the troops across the sea.

“I picked up she was a sorceress of sorts. You don't hear often that sorceresses get such high official ranks. I mean, just think about it: admiral. She's a bit weird, though. Think she's been looking at me; like looking, you know what I mean?” Lahnia frowned when thinking back of her brief encounter, then rolled on her side, looking at Santhil. “You think she's... you know?”

With something of a sigh, Santhil brushed a hand through her hair and sat back, keeping her eyes on the letter she received. “To be honest, Lana,” she threw in Lahnia's petname, “as long as she doesn't expect us to lapdance over dinner, it's really more her business than ours.”

Lahnia nodded briefly; she was curious more than interested, really. “As if you'd let her touch your brand new court sorceress, right?”

“If it gets me something other than fish on the menu...” Poof! A soft pillow hit her in the neck.

The boat rocked a slight more to port than star this time, wood and metal gently creaking as it typically did; the overhead lighting waved along, tingling. Yalasmina, a third sister, would be hanging over the bannister again. She probably wasn't happy to be coming along. There was nothing Santhil could do about it.

“What does the letter say?” Lahnia eventually asked, spotting the pensive look on Santhil's face.

Santhil rubbed a finger over her fine nose while reading the letter for the umpteenth time, making sure the implications sank with her. “Our king is unhappy with the status quo,” she summarised. “We're going to war.”

_________________
SAU XV: Pawn of the Dead | SAU XVII: The Frosty Dozen | SAU XIX: On the Brink of Madministration | Running fiction: House Arhakuyl


Last edited by Tarbo on Sat Feb 17, 2007 11:57 am, edited 2 times in total.



Sat Feb 17, 2007 12:06 am
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Morathi's Best Friend
Morathi's Best Friend
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Gusts of snow swept over the eastern colonies. It had been like this ever since Santhil arrived; seemingly, infant blizzards as these were commonplace in the reigning climate, which was described as cold, unforgiving, hostile. In the distance, lightning and thunder struck through the thick, black sky. She had heard the western colonies weren't that much better off.

In here, in a small room currently reserved for training, high up in one of the spires, one could hear the wind howl about, a giant white wolf preying on whomever stayed out in the open for too long. Inside, it was warmer, though not very much so: central heating was a luxury in the colonies, and luxury was something not too common.

“Again.”

Santhil tapped her staff on the thin mattress under her feet. She had been sparring with a local armsmaster, Virtok, to stay in shape in between the strategy meetings. It was part entertainment, an escape from all the plotting and planning of a massive invasion and the grueling responsibilities that came with it. Virtok was not a talkative person, and the two shared a comfortable silence for the most part.

Abruptly, Virtok took to the attack and swung his staff at Santhil with strength and accuracy hidden by his elderly appearance. His pupil was lucky to be a quick learner; she blocked off the first hit and returned one, barely missing. She would have to hit some time but, as mentioned, Virtok was a very able combattant despite his age. And then, he stepped back and rested his staff.

“Are we done?” Santhil asked, some surprise creeping in her voice. She was aware Virtok had his share of ideosynchrasies, but this would be a new one.

“You are adapting to my technique, lady Arhakuyl. Rather than honing your skills, I appear to be driving you into countering mine. Perhaps another combattant for a while?”

Santhil shrugged with half a smile. Whatever Virtok thought was best would suffice for her. “Sure.”

Virtok whistled, mustering a surprising volume, and promptly a soldier arrived, clicking his heels together while looking up at the tall elf. Without much ado, a staff was pressed into the soldier's hands. “Lieutenant, you will spar with lady Arhakuyl.”

One of Santhil's eyebrows rose while inspecting her opponent and his startled look. This man was very young, possibly even younger than she, and paled entirely when faced with the prospect of fighting against a Drachau. A quiet swallow, his throat trembling before taking the staff in both hands and facing her. Santhil felt a certain amount of pity creep into her.

“Are you new here?” she asked. He hadn't the grizzled look most people here had.

The lieutenant nodded hesitatingly. “I was on your ship, milady.”

“Ah yes,” Santhil half-lied, trying to recall his face and vaguely pulling something into her mind. “Shall we?”

The sparring took an entirely new dimension with the introduction of a new opponent; it became calmer and more entertaining to Santhil, while apparently being very educational and sobering to her opponent. She occasionally advised him not to hold back, since she was the one in need of tutoring, but somehow the difference in rank urged him to be gentle in his swinging.

“Come on, man,” Virtok snapped at the lieutenant. “Get that spine upright and show your mettle, or I'll have you eat your ranks all the way down to cadet!”

Faced with the prospect of chewing his way through a good amount of insignia that his family had paid for, the lieutenant bolstered himself and went for the full-out attack. Finally, Santhil thought, a bit of a challenge. Her muscles were weary from the long sparring, but if anything, she had been taught that combattants did not do time-outs or massage breaks.

A red-faced messenger boy swung the door open widely, trying to catch his breath, but instantly regaining his composure when seeing Santhil. “Ma'am, I have a message for you.”

“Not now,” Santhil grunted as her blow hit the lieutenant's leg lightly. She hastily parried an attempt on her own, working with what Virtok had taught her, and he was looking pleased at her progress.

Not expecting such an answer, the messenger hesitated, then stuttered: “B-b-but ma'am, it's from your sister.”

Santhil sighed, reluctantly holding up her hand towards her sparring partner to signal for halt. “Hang on a moment. What is it, then?”

°°°

Yalasmina, or Mina for short, waited patiently for Santhil to arrive. Yalasmina was a priestess of Khaine through hard work and devotion, and was in many ways the opposite of Lahnia. Where Lahnia was more extroverted and playful, Yalasmina was more withdrawn and serious, though no less confident in her skills. In the end, she completed the sisters' triangle that eventually went to the eastern colonies, being Lahnia, Yalasmina, and Santhil.

The messenger had been gone for a while already. Patience was starting to make room for mild curiosity. Had the messenger run lost? Perhaps Santhil had forgotten about her scheduled inspection? Or some other activity came in between and messed up her schedule once again?

All these questions passed when she saw Santhil walking at her down the hallway, pulling her jacket on with one hand while the other was holding some cotton to her nose. “Sorry I'm late, Mina,” Santhil apologised briefly. “Training took a little longer than expected.”

“What happened to your nose?”

Santhil pulled up her nose and removed the cotton, checking briefly whether her nose had stopped bleeding. For the most part. “An overzealous training partner who didn't quite catch the timeout. I think Virtok has him running laps 'till the blizzard stops.”

Yalasmina nodded briefly, considered the fact that it hadn't stopped snowing in days, then passed over the topic and went straight to the one at hand. “I've picked our best and finest for this regiment. We should make sure we please Khaine into blessing us—and you.” She stepped aside and beckoned for Santhil to enter a large chamber.

Modest chattering came to a halt when Yalasmina and Santhil walked in. Sixteen apprentice priestesses stood lined up for Santhil, in traditional and very scanty dress, a glimmer of pride in some eyes—after all, they had been picked as best and finest—and an overwhelming confidence in that of others. Admittedly, Santhil always found herself a bit apprehensive of the dress code in the Temple, but since it wasn't really any of her business, she didn't mention it.

“These sixteen women will see to your safety and act as your personal regiment in the field,” Yalasmina explained to Santhil even though her sister already knew. “I'm confident they'll do you proud.”

Santhil nodded appreciatively, observing the vicious blades that the maidens wore on their hips. She was well aware of the carnage that these women could do on their own, let alone when grouped together, and all the more so when they were drugged into a ravening frenzy. Which brought her to the question she silently posed Yalasmina: “Are they going to be, ah, reliable in the field? I'm flattered at the honour, but I've heard stories.”

“Absolutely, I can vouch for—” Before Yalasmina could finish, one of the taller maidens took a step towards Santhil, holding out her fingers. Waiting if not dumbstruck, both Yalasmina as Santhil simply stared at her while she gently ran her fingers over Santhil's upper lip, then pulled it back with a drop of blood on it. Something of a neutral smile rolled on her lips when she looked at Santhil, stroked the blood onto her tongue, and visibly savoured the taste.

Santhil's eyes rolled to Yalasmina without moving much otherwise. “Can I have a word with you, Mina?” And the both of them took a step back turning away from the virtually petrified regiment. “She just licked my blood.”

“You know how it is in the Temple, Santhil,” Yalasmina soothed her. “You can't expect us to bathe in blood and not take a liking to it eventually.”

Santhil sighed and looked at the sixteen warrior priestesses all set out just for her, and suddenly felt... rude and ungrateful. “I'll take your word on it,” she gave in. “I'm sure they'll make you proud.”

“Now, I took the liberty of having your armour made for you. I think you'll like it; we had our very own stylists on it.” Yalasmina reached behind Santhil and tapped the table holding said equipment. “I'll dismiss your bodyguard.”

Santhil nodded briefly and looked behind her, checking the equipment. An armour especially for her? She recalled that she indeed had only a ceremonial armour along, her last one being destroyed in an unfortunate slave run. And this was very nice indeed, she admitted with a surprised look. A sightly tiara inlaid with precious metals and still strong and comfortable would keep her hair back and signify her status as leader, while the boots and bracers wore the red and grey colours of her House, with the emblem engraved on them. But then, her eyes opened a slight more when she picked up the... torso armour. With one finger.

“Mina?” Santhil asked for her sister's attention. “Where's the rest of the armour?”

Yalasmina looked over her shoulder with a heartwarming smile. “You're looking at it.”

Santhil lifted the brassiere up to Yalasmina with a single finger, an inquisitive look set on her face. “This isn't armour. It isn't even beach wear. I've seen strippers wear more than this.” Faced with the brunt of a sudden silence, she added: “Figure of speech.”

“If you want Khaine's blessings, Ari,” Yalasmina told her, “you're going to have to look pleasing to him, or at the very least mimic the attire of his brides in respect. As they are honoured to stand with you, so should you show your likewise respect. Besides, there's nothing there the world shouldn't be allowed to see.”

Ari was Santhil's pet name given to her by her sisters. Odd, perhaps, since it fit nowhere in her name, but Santhil was destined to carry on the name of House Arhakuyl, and as such was often addressed as Arhakuyl rather than Santhil. Ari was short for Arhakuyl, a deliberate move away from the classic sigil meanings.

In the end, Santhil realised Yalasmina had a point. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “This is going to be chilly, isn't it?”

“Oh, Lord, yes,” Yalasmina shared in a very serious tone before returning to her 'squad'.

°°°

A lone tent stood firmly in the snowy field. The blizzard had waned, and while snow still fell plentifully from the sky, the wind had calmed and grown less cutting and jagged. It was still uncomfortable being outside, but discomfort was something Druchii weren't afraid of.

Huddled in her cloak, Lahnia waited for Santhil to enter. Her sister threw her a brief, confirming look, and Lahnia nodded in return. This was the place she had told Santhil about. With a step of faith, Santhil nudged some of the canvas aside and walked in.

In the tent, a sole elf of age sat. He was staring at a board with pawns of exquisite design and in intricate formations, his hands and fingers moving the pieces in esoteric patterns. There was something regal and stately about his every move, as if all part of some greater scheme, aware of every tensing muscle. He raised a hand, cutting Santhil off before she could do as much as greet him, then beckoned for her to approach and be seated at the board on a similar stool across him.

Santhil sat down with silent reverence. She observed the elf briefly, then aimed her eyes at the board in front of her, studying whatever it was she was looking at.

“Observe, young Santhil Arhakuyl,” he finally spoke, “and learn.”

_________________
SAU XV: Pawn of the Dead | SAU XVII: The Frosty Dozen | SAU XIX: On the Brink of Madministration | Running fiction: House Arhakuyl


Sat Feb 17, 2007 12:09 am
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Wow, very very nice, i'm in your BattleGroup too so lets now get killing some enemies of the Druchii Empire! :P

_________________
Of course in this place every exit is also an entrance! Giggity gig gig ga-goo!


Sat Feb 17, 2007 11:08 pm
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Morathi's Best Friend
Morathi's Best Friend
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Joined: Tue Oct 04, 2005 5:06 pm
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“Stop moving.”

“I'm not moving.”

“Yes, you are, you're fidgeting.”

“I am not fidgeting.”

Lahnia sighed and took a step away from Santhil, bearing a lopsided smile. “You look ravishing in that armour.”

“It's supposed to protect me, not to make me look ra—you think?” Santhil stopped herself short and tested the armour's weight and manoeuvrability. It was a fact that it barely hampered her movement, if at all, but there wasn't a lot of protection to come along with it either.

“Absolutely,” Lahnia replied, sizing her sister up. “They won't dare lay a finger on that. Figuratively speaking, of course.”

“That's probably likewise,” Santhil muttered. “If I take one good swing with my sword, my whole package comes falling out. Like some... wardrobe malfunction.”

“Come on, that's just non-sense. Those priestesses do nothing but swing around and they remain covered just as much.”

“Or just as little.”

“Semantics,” Lahnia waved that comment off, then put a smile on her lips again. “Don't worry, Santhil; this is mithril armour. It's very light and extremely strong. You can stop an axe on your bracers, and you're good with your bracers, aren't you? Now hold still while I put this necklace on you. It should go with your eyes.”

Santhil pressed her lips while Lahnia wrapped her arms around her neck to attach a necklace bearing the symbol of Khaine on a grey stone. There was symbolism to it, and Santhil recalled that she had once known what symbolism, but for now, she would keep in mind that this was the amulet her adventuring ancestor once wore. But then, she turned her head away and looked past Lahnia. “Yes?”

When Lahnia turned, she saw a messenger standing in the doorway, staring perplexedly for a moment before turning away. “Oh, my apologies, I didn't mean to interrupt anything.”

Santhil nodded to Lahnia once, willing her to check what the messenger wanted, and felt that the amulet held. It was beautiful, no mistake there. And in a sense, she felt ungrateful; perhaps she should trust Yalasmina's faith in Khaine and hope for his blessings. But she admitted she felt... vulnerable.

Lahnia joined the messenger in the doorway, subtly nudging him out without actually touching him. “Is it urgent?”

“Yeah, uh, there were these, ah... This something I was supposed...” The messenger shook his head, his thoughts obviously going somewhere entirely else, before noticing he had his messages right there in his hands. “Right,” he said the moment he recalled. “I have a package for you from a library in Naggarythe; I'll just need you to sign here.”

Lahnia nodded and accepted a pad with quill pen to sign for acceptance. It wasn't common for messengers or delivery boys to have some proof that they delivered it, but this was an important package, so both Lahnia as the sending library took every precaution they could.

“So, ah,” the messenger started meaninglessly while Lahnia surveyed the package to check she really had what she ordered earlier. A hint of burning curiosity lined his eyes, even though he tried to hide it in an off-hand voice. “How's it going?”

Lahnia chuckled briefly in response, but held on a reply for the moment. The package were three books about the arcane. These normally wouldn't be allowed to leave the library, but given the exceptional circumstance of being a recently promoted court sorceress, Lahnia had found herself with the leeway she needed to request—and promptly receive—such tomes without being as much as prompted for a reason. “It's her first time,” she eventually replied. “She's a bit nervous about it. I understand; I was nervous the first time.”

“And you, ah...” How would he put this? “You're both okay with it?”

Lahnia barely suppressed a laugh while signing the document, then handed it back to the messenger. “I'm okay with it; it's her that needs convincing. But don't worry, I'll swing her over, it's what I do.”

“Ah, well, ah, good luck, I suppose.” With an arrested step back, the messenger bowed briefly and walked away. Lahnia stared after him for a while, a raised eyebrow on her face, then shook her head with a smile, walked back into the chamber and closed the door behind her.

°°°

It was a long trek through mountainous, forested areas. Woodlands stretched as far as the horizon and beyond, and the hilly terrain was difficult to negotiate. Maps of the area were not as accurate or advanced as those closer to the capital, but was enhanced with the information gathered from haphazard slaves and prisoners. It would do.

Santhil stood on a cliff overseeing much of the countryside. In the far distance, she could see the small villages that surrounded the Fauschlag citadel, built on plains near rivers for the potential of farmland; other settlements used the same rivers to transport logs and lumber downstream. Mankind was on the rise, but it still had a long way to go.

The citadel was a monstrously large, albeit somewhat crude, construction towering over the surrounding valleys. In the past, many from the settlements would seek shelter in the citadel when marauders set upon them to burn and pillage, or when the Druchii felt they should keep their presence in fresh memory. But for a while now, it had fallen into the wrong hands, and now it served a sinister purpose, its towers gazing scrutinously over those some settlements it first protected. Now it spotted any attempt at rebellion, any unrest. It had become the silent overlord that everyone from below could spot, a bitter reminder of how fate had turned against the villagers.

The rising sun shimmered over the misty valley over a hundred feet below. Santhil took a moment to take in the relative calm now. Behind her, dozens of armies marched wordlessly, a thundering sound of feet. It was the sound of the escalation into war, the inevitable testing of her skills in leadership and combat. There was no turning back now.

°°°

“Incoming!”

With a low, thunderous howl, the boulder smashed into the leftmost tower's foundations, shaking it up and tearing cracks and fissures into the surrounding walls. Rocks and stones the size of hands soared past Santhil's ears, but the tower held—for now. For a moment, she was happy to be on the ground, inside the walls.

The citadel was a massive construction capable of withstanding tremendous punishment, but even Fauschlag Citadel could be taken, and these Reikland armies were convinced they would be the ones to claim it from the Druchii occupiers. They had a long way to go still, but they were close to breaching the outer walls.

All around her, generals and commanders were ordering their troops either onto or off the battlements to rain arrows onto the endless waves of assailants. She wished she could do more, but it was up to them for the moment. Their task was to soften up the assault and bring them to waver; only then could the armies charge out and break their backs.

The signal. Atop the hind towers, large torches were set ablaze, lighting the construction up where the setting sun was failing to reach. Under the shadows of the walls, other commanders started collecting their regiments, and Santhil was no different.

“Form up! We're the third ones out, and we're heading left! Follow my lead!” She looked at the troops, most as green as they get—very much like her—but they were the paddles she needed to row this boat with. It was sobering to think that of the many faces she was now seeing, a goodsome of them would not be coming back. Her bodyguard of priestesses had looks of confidence, pride and unquestioned faith in their eyes. She nodded once to them to take their battle drugs, probably signing their death warrant.

“Incoming!”

Another oversized boulder soared through the air, picking up altitude until it reached its highest point, then aiming straight for the top of the left gate tower. Like a marble razing a card house, the boulder took a sudden halt, but blew the entire tower floor out the other side. Archers fell yard upon yard to their deaths, screaming in surprise and panic.

“Come together,” Santhil tried to yell over the deafening noise of battle, hoping to draw the attention of her soldiers back to her. “Move to the gates—”

“Down below!”

With a thunderous rumble, the left gate tower buckled. Cracks tore randomly through its superstructure while it bent back precariously, its shadow looming over the courtyard as gravity slowly got a hold on it. And it was coming this way.

“Move, move!” Santhil yelled at the top of her voice. “Run!”

Two spearmen ran on as the shadow homed in on them, and finally made a desperate jump out of the way, rolling over the floor. Like a dropped pencil, the fallen tower slammed into the floor, parts of it bouncing upwards again while throwing loose dirt and dust many yards up and away. A very near miss; their comrades pulled the two back on their feet, supporting them while giving them back their shield and weapon. Santhil sighed in relief—that was close—and lead the men to the gate, holding ready. The gates were opening. She pitied the group to go first.

But then, she picked something up in her peripheral eyesight that caused her to spin about instantly, and grab the arm of the woman passing her. “Oh-oh-oh-oh, where do you think you are going, Lana?”

Lahnia spun about as well now that her upper arm was stopped so roughly, almost dropping the book she was holding. “I'm going up there to help!” Her eyes radiated desperation as much as resolve.

“Are you out of your mind!? If you want to help, at least get in the hind towers, since they're not shooting at them!” Santhil's words were backed by the painful cries of an injured sorceress being carried off the walls, an arrow in her chest and one in her arm. She knew Lahnia was queasy on these things, and hopefully it would lessen her resolve, but her reason became clear soon enough.

“If you are going out there, then I want to be on the walls where I can support you. Now let go, you're hurting me!”

A clarion sounded; the second group was storming out at this very moment, leaving mere seconds before Arhakuyl's 4th regiment was up. Santhil stared at Lahnia for the longest time, torn between keeping her sister safe and aiding in the battle.

“Drachau,” one of her bodyguard quietly urged her. “We should go.”

Santhil closed her eyes, taking a moment for the weighty decision even when she felt Lahnia trying to pull from her iron grip. In the end, she gave her sister a peck on her lips, let go of her, and lead her army to the gates.

°°°

The human in front of her was desperately clinging onto his life. He had begun his fight with confidence, swinging his weapon at Santhil, but quickly felt the difference in skill and was now parrying in sheer panic. The pace of the fight was too quick for him; he could feel that, he knew it. A sudden squirt of sickly warm blood slashed onto Santhil's body when she struck home and her opponent fell. She took a moment to view the battlefield as much she could.

The spearelves were performing admirably against the mass of opponents, holding their line and keeping the enemy at bay. Bodies were starting to pile up on both sides, but they didn't budge a muscle. Santhil had to respect that, and she did.

On her side, the witch elves were doing what they could. A good number of them had fallen before even seeing the eyes of the enemy, taken down by stray arrows and bolts. Now, only a handful of them remained, but they were fighting for lives—that of their enemies. A pitched scream, anonymous and sudden, rose into the sky when one of the priestesses was impaled on a spear, a lucky strike of an opponent. Santhil's muscles were weary, and so where those of her guard. Their combat drugs were wearing off.

They broke. Her adversaries broke and ran off the battlefield in panicky screams, having had their share of bloodshed. Santhil's handful took a moment to catch their breaths. The battle was slowly turning against them; the right side was holding as well as they could, but the left flank—gouverned by her own army—was suffering more attacks than it would be able to hold.

“Rally!” Santhil shouted over the combat violence. One of the priestesses dropped to her knees, some blood still running from her lips, and finally collapsed lifelessly. Others formed on Santhil, only four of them.

“What do we do?” one of them asked, panting while another put her hands on her knees. The fact that they were actually talking instead of screaming in frenzy meant that their drugs were indeed gone, and now the strain, wear and tear of the fight would get to them.

Good question. There was so much to do, but so little troops to do it with. The catapults had been taken out of commission by the fifth and sixth armies to storm through the gates. The second and seventh were keeping the enemies off the walls. But the left flank stood to fall: as bravely as the spearelves were fighting, a unit of heavily armoured warriors was closing in on them. While packed in fat suits of armour of questionable make, these warriors would be too much when thrown in with the others.

“There,” Santhil pointed at the warriors, surprised at how heavy her arm felt, and how breathless her voice sounded. “They're moving in on our ranks. We need to stop them, or at least slow them.” At least slow them. In hindsight, Santhil cursed herself for using those words that hinted at certain death, but she was returned slow, wordless nods of understanding. This would get ugly. With a sudden burst of energy, they moved onto the armoured warriors marching far past them.

Strangely, the warriors halted for a moment. Some threw up their shields while others stared or screamed in abject horror. From the walls, several shrieking faces flew at them, engulfed in wild, blue flames. They exploded violently on impact, throwing several to the floor and setting a single warrior aflame—he ran around in pain and panic, calling for others to put him out.

Santhil beamed a brief looked at Lahnia on the walls, smiling invisibly at her, then pulled herself together and yelled with all her strength: “Now's our chance! Charge!”

Fighting heavily armoured opponents was not the strong point of Santhil's bodyguard—that she knew and was reminded of during the fight. Her hope was that one of her other regiments would free themselves up soon enough to help against these walking tin cans. In the meantime, sheer aggression would have to suffice.

A heavy footfall. Santhil barely stepped aside in time to avoid a massive blade swung at her. The warrior who took a swing at her seemed none other than the regimental commander, the champion that inspired his men to courageous deeds and acts. He yelled something in some crude language that sounded like he was about to throw up, or sneezing. It was obvious he was taunting her. Not difficult to be all brave and courageous when you had an inch of steel between you are your unarmoured opponent.

Santhil swung, and hit, and hit again, but failed time and again to penetrate the heavy armour, much to her frustration. Part of swordsmanship was not hitting the armoured parts—she knew that—but that man was a real champion in exposing only heavily armoured parts. She ducked hastily to avoid her head being chopped off clean. Yes, she was faster than him, and yes, she was better with a sword than him, but all he needed was one lucky swing, and he was swinging around quite a lot. This would require a change of tactic. A very sudden one.

When the warrior brought down his blade on Santhil again, she did not avoid, but rather threw her own full strength against it as well, aiming for the sword's handle. Her ploy succeeded; her opponent lost grip on his sword, but its sheer inertia flung it in her direction, hitting her against the head—Santhil screamed both in pain as surprise when she felt the sword slam against her tiara, blunting the blow but forcefully throwing it off her head. She stood dazed for a moment, barely believing her luck. In the distance, very faintly but distinctly, she could hear Lahnia scream her name. It meant she was still alive.

The unit champion held his hand, two fingers missing, and looked up at Santhil when she advanced on him again, panic reading in his eyes from behind his helmet when she lifted her weapon for the final blow.


At the end of the battle, which Arhakuyl's 4th lost, only 2 Witch Elves remained. 26 spearelves perished in the Reik attack.

39 opponents were slain, 5 of which by Santhil.

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SAU XV: Pawn of the Dead | SAU XVII: The Frosty Dozen | SAU XIX: On the Brink of Madministration | Running fiction: House Arhakuyl


Sun Feb 18, 2007 8:13 pm
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excellent. all the things a good story needs.

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Hi, i'm Shadow Dark. I spend my time teaching dragons the difference between their food and the slaves that bring it in


Mon Feb 19, 2007 8:15 pm
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Amazing story! Keep updating this, as you are very talented in your writing. Will need to try drafting up one of my own detailing Lord Harodric's exploits.


Tue Feb 20, 2007 9:01 am
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Morathi's Best Friend
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Santhil focused on the finger held in front of her eyes. It moved a bit to the left, then to the right again, and finally settled in the middle. It was a strange thing for a finger to do, but doctors could be strange people, and the man holding up the finger was most definitely a doctor... she guessed. She couldn't tell for sure at the moment; thinking was difficult.

“And?” Lahnia sounded worried, though not as badly as just after the battle. After all, she did see Santhil take a sword to the head. Now, Santhil was lying on Lahnia's bed, half aware of her surroundings, and Lahnia and Yalasmina were standing a yard or so off, giving the doctor the room he needed.

The doctor hummed quietly; he was thinking up his diagnosis, or some wonderfully creative name for a condition that sounded like you'd drop dead in about four minutes. He checked Santhil's head injury again, pulling some of the bloodied cotton patch away. “A mild form of diffuse axonal injury, really; she might show some focal neurological deficits, but nothing serious.”

“If it is nothing serious,” Lahnia raised with wide open eyes, “does it have a less serious name?”

“A concussion,” Yalasmina guessed.

“A mild one,” the doctor reassured them with a smile. “She may be confused at times, and should be resting for a day or so, but other than that, she should be fine. If anything, she should be happy to have survived at all.”

Lahnia nodded thoughtfully while Yalasmina walked the doctor out of the bedroom. She had Santhil's tiara in hand, manhandled out of shape like an important document would look after two dogs fought over it. What were the odds? She kept the tiara at hand and sat down on the bed, next to Santhil.

“At least my wardrobe didn't malfunction,” Santhil opened with a smile.

Lahnia nodded with an amused smile in return, then suddenly slapped the back of her hand against Santhil's bare upper arm. “Don't laugh, you could've been dead. Gotten yourself killed in the field. What were you thinking, charging into a... a... a walking tank?”

Santhil frowned slightly. Her memory of the fight lapsed about, flits and images hanging about that she pieced together. She was slowly getting it all back, though, like that doctor said. “It looked like a good idea at the time.”

“Does it still look like a good idea now that you're lying here with a concussion?”

“Mild concussion.”

Lahnia sighed and lied down against Santhil's far shoulder, nestling in. “You take that hit and you fight on and I think you're alright, and all of a sudden you just topple over. I screamed half the battlements together to go get you.” She did indeed sound a little hoarse now that she mentioned it.

Santhil wrapped her arms around her sister and kissed her hair. “I'm fine, and you did great up there. I'm proud of you.”

There was a long, comfortable silence, broken only by long, calm breaths. The battle was something to let sink in with everyone. This was a war, and people were killed in a war. Chances were real that not all three of them would survive. It was a sobering thought to them; what would life without one of them look like? Or even two of them? Today, it was a concussion, but what about next week?

“You're lying on a bruise,” Santhil finally groaned.

“Just a little longer.”

Santhil nodded and laid back her head. Just a little longer, then.

°°°

“There's Reik here, here, and here.”

An owl hooted obliviously, sitting on a windowsill looking into the council chamber. The chamber was large, gigantic by most standards, and although the craftsmanship itself did not live up to elven standards, it was functional and sufficed to fulfill its purpose: holding council.

“A few Sarthailor are harassing the communities there and there.”

A long table ran through the length of the room, far longer than could be accrued to (good) taste, with heavy chairs arrayed alongside, all but a few of them empty. From all those that starting the meeting with fresh vigour and ideas, only a handful remained, displaying a multitude of variations on seating habits. Slowly, the group had been moving towards the end of the table, taking the map along with them, as the numbers dwindled.

“We should consider sending a force to deal with the Dwarfs that challenge those areas there.”

It was surprisingly warm for being such a spacious chamber. Torches had been burning all-out to shed light into the thick of midnight. And midnight had long since gone; tired guards checked briefly on whether they should replace the torches, suppressing yawns as much as the assembly tried. They hadn't replaced them last hour because it looked like the meeting would stop, but it still hadn't... The sergeant finally nodded to the other guards. Replace 'em.

Santhil shook her head suddenly when she felt herself doze off for a moment. This really wasn't the moment to fall asleep, so she pulled herself on her feet, rising from her seat and leant on the table, staring at the map. A multitude of pawns and symbols were scattered all over to represent troop movement. In a sense, it wasn't so much that they hadn't prepared for this, or that they hadn't foreseen the events, but this was another one of those moments where long-term planning became ludicrously important to short-term planning, and long-term planning was arduously difficult as long as their blasted king didn't make up his mind!

Silence. Santhil skipped her eyes about. Did she just say that out loud? No... no, she hadn't, they were waiting for an answer. No, they weren't waiting for an answer, they were waiting for a solution. So what were they looking at her for? Strategy classes at the military academy didn't cover these situations. “No,” she half muttered behind her fist, pondering while staring at the map for a while. “No, I'd rather go for the second idea then.”

Quarter past two. Santhil took a deep breath through her nose, getting fresh oxygen in. She was growing weary. Wait, quarter past—blast. She rolled her eyes behind her eyelids and shook her head. Lahnia had made her promise to meet up with her after dinner or, barring that, between ten and eleven in the evening; apparently, there was something she was burning to tell her, or tell her about. Santhil was at least 3 hours late already.

“So then we have these fortifications that we should decide upon, ah... right?”

That was the thing with leaving topics for last. They did eventually show up. And the reason you left them for last was because they were long and tedious; very long and very tedious. “Right,” Santhil replied, pinching the bridge of her nose for a moment. “The fortifications.”

°°°

Finally.

Weary from the arduously long meeting, Santhil fought back a yawn while she walked into her bedroom, holding a candle out in front of her. The fireplace was still crackling quietly, an occasional spit of fire snapping up in a subtle draft. It was the sole source of warmth in the chamber, other than the occupants themselves. A few crude rugs laid around the room to keep the feet warm when rising in the morning. The bed itself was fairly comfortable, but had a few extra covers laid on to make it through the night.

And curled on her bed was her sister Lahnia, a book lying open next to her. It took Santhil by surprise for a moment, but not for long; the poor thing had fallen asleep while waiting on her. She shook her head to herself and closed her eyes. She hated it when she had to choose between duty and family, and while Lahnia definitely requested more of her time than Yalasmina did, she was neglecting both of them.

Santhil put her candle on a nightstand and quietly walked over to Lahnia to pick her up and carry her to her own bed, but held once she kneeled next to her sister. Lahnia had been waiting here all this time for her, and it felt rude if not even cruel to just carry her out now—off, gone with you, I want to sleep—so instead she carefully closed the book, slid it away, and pulled some covers over her sister. The bed was large enough for the two of them.

°°°

“A halberd.” The tone in Santhil's voice hadn't changed from skepticism just yet. When being presented a new weapon fit for her status—or so she was told—pole arms didn't rise to her immediately. She didn't mean to sound rude, and she hoped her eyes got that across, but she believed a healthy dose of skepticism was what could keep her from becoming a statistic on the battlefield.

“Go ahead, Ari,” Yalasmina urged Santhil nonetheless. “Try it out, handle it. Maybe you can do some damage with it.”

“Undoubtedly,” Santhil admitted, “but whom to?” She held the halberd in her hands, weighing the balance and judging its worth. It did feel to handle a lot better than at first it appeared, though it was no sword in speed.

“We moved some weight from the top to the shaft to balance it out,” the weapon smith next to Yalasmina explained. “We noticed that milady is at her best with a balanced weapon rather than a hammer concept.”

Santhil took some distance and swung the weapon around much like one would do to show off with a long staff, though keeping the razor-sharp blade in mind. She had learnt to fight with a multitude of weapons, but shied away from pole arms in general. In this case, however, her face brightened, and she was willing to make an exception. “I can't believe this,” she commented in amazement. “It is well-balanced. I'm stumped.” Sure, the tip was heavier, but it wasn't all-or-nothing here.

“See?” Yalasmina added with a smile. “Have some faith in people's judgement. A weapon smith knows best in these things.”

“You're the woman of faith here, Mina, not I,” Santhil countered playfully. “But you have wisdom in your words.”

“Though it bears to mention that milady won't be able to handle a shield while wielding this weapon,” the weapon smith interjected, feeling it as his duty to inform Santhil of the obvious.

“Surely, when Khaine witnesses the carnage you leave on the battlefield, as last time, he will give you his blessings,” Yalasmina almost sounded indignant. She wasn't as much questioning Khaine as the weapon smith's faith in him; perhaps one of her vices.

Santhil tilted her head but accepted the weapon anyway. “I'm sure Khaine will be happier when I pull my own weight anyway. Thank you for the weapon, master smith, it will see good use.” At the very least, it was a useful addition to her repertoire.

°°°

Screams. Screams in panic, screams in pain, in fear, in anger. It were the screams of the defeated.

Haphazard specimens of humankind ran through the streets of Nuln. What little resistance they had managed to put up had crumbled, broken when faced with the invading armies. The battle had already been fought, really; what was left was for lieutenants and their groups to gather their troops and round up any potential slaves. Humans were pretty highly valued as slaves, their lack of longevity countered by a remarkable constitution and tenacity. No matter. A source of income was a source of income, and human slaves were a source of income.

Santhil stroked her chin while staring into a shop. This was obviously a smith or forge of some kind, since the items on display were mainly wood and iron, but she wasn't sure of their use, really... So she did what any person in Main Street would do: she walked into the store.

A light tingling of a bell sounded while the sounds of hysteria filtered into the warm building, an incredibly pitched scream of a woman being cut off when the door closed behind herself and some of her bodyguard again. “Ugh,” Santhil uttered when she stepped in, holding her hand to her nose. God awful smell. The owner had probably crapped his pants.

Let's see... a counter, a display, some rickety goods that look like they'll fall apart any moment. Santhil picked up one of those strange devices—like a crossbow, but instead bearing a lead barrel—and took it over to the counter. At least those apes copied something right. She still couldn't get her head around it: elves mating with humans. Great, there went her appetite. She knocked the counter a few times.

Slowly, tremblingly, a bald head with wet eyes rose from behind the wooden counter, nose snivelling. You could practically hear his teeth rattling. “You there, storekeep,” Santhil nodded once to him. “Do you understand me?”

There was some hesitation, but the frightened man in his early fifties nodded carefully.

“Well, what do you know,” one of the witch elves behind Santhil said with an amused smile. “They even teach them Eltharin, to degrees possible.”

“Mm-yes,” Santhil replied while keeping her eyes on the man cowered in front of her. “Strangely disturbing. Anyway, 'old' man, what is this thing supposed to accomplish? Some sort of projectile launcher, yes?” She held the pistol up by its guard, though out of the man's reach. She did not think highly of these primates, but that hardly meant she underestimated them.

“I-i-i-it's a p-p-pistol. Madam... my lady... miss...tress.”

“At least he knows his place,” another priestess muttered.

Did he say 'pistol'? Santhil frowned and looked at the strange device in her hands. Yes... yes, now that it was mentioned, it did have the basic designs that the Dwarfs used, but surely, this thing was more likely to explode in the hands of its wielder than effectively do something? “Why would I pick this over a crossbow?”

“I-i-it... it shoots t-through armour. Lady madam mistress.” Those weren't his teeth clapping; it were his knees. “V-very powerful. B-but you need to reload each time.”

“Hmm... perhaps we have higher standards on our crossbows then. So this has one shot; how does one go about reloading?” Strange. There had to be some advantage to this over even a regular crossbow. Perhaps it was easier to load, or required less strength. Nah, a simple lever mechanism would fix that.

“Reload?” The man's voice pitched uncontrollably when faced with a discerning look from one of Santhil's guard, some of them looking around the shop, seemingly browsing. “T-there's a... a...” He tried to motion his way through speech. Regardless, his knowledge of Eltharin was pretty impressive for a bald monkey, so Santhil gave him a moment. “A s-stick thing to... with fluff t-to... stuff... black powder. T-then put bullet in. P-pull to fire?”

She nodded, taking it in for a moment. It was an ugly design, but if this man managed to subside on selling these things, then surely there was some perceived value Santhil was unaware of. “Right, I'll give it a spin. How much do you charge?”

The man stared witlessly at her, his speech stuck in a single, repetitive 'n' for what seemed like hours before he replied, or more like asked: “Nothing? Free for lady madam mistress?”

“No, I insist. Society is based on law and order and you've enough trouble as it is keeping yours standing. How much?”

°°°

Like cattle. All those people, potential slaves, were standing or sitting on the main square, divided arbitrarily by the forces that had collected them, packed like cattle. Groaning, coughing, sneezing... In some respects, elves and humans were akin, Santhil admitted, and occasionally one could be a formidable combatant—she found that out firsthand—but culturally they were definitely on the back foot.

There was no point in staying in Nuln. Once they had a few slaves—so they could justify their presence there to King Malekith—it would be time to move on. But while they were in Nuln, they might as well see what else could be put to use to their war effort.

Santhil held when she had advanced a few steps onto the square. It was silent, so very silent... She listened to what she heard. A door squeaked in the wind; a bird whistled as it hopped on a thatched roof; a child sneezed; some withered autumn leaves chafed over the cobblestone, moved by a gentle, erratic wind.

People were looking at her, staring. She looked back at some, trying to get into their minds. Was that guy on the right going to try something funny? He wouldn't get past the guard next to him. The woman next to him was crying in fear; glistening tears rolled over her cheeks and, while she tried to hold strong, the quivering of her lower lip gave it all away. That infant to the left had no clue of what was going on, constantly pulling on her mother's dress to go somewhere else, somewhere other than here.

“Drachau Arhakuyl,” Santhil was greeted when a sergeant approached and saluted her. “We have counted 320 able bodies. Shall we transport them and dispose of the others?”

Three-hundred-and-twenty. Santhil took in a deep, deep breath through her nostrils. That was so much more than this force could possibly transport safely. Forty or fifty would've worked, but three-hundred-and-twenty? Even with help of other squadrons, it would be a stretch.

“Drachau?”

“I heard you,” Santhil whispered inaudibly to him, the moving of her lips enough for him to take the hint. Impossible to transport such numbers. Scorched earth tactics were pointless here. The army had what it needed, and that was about where Santhil's interest in these people stopped. What remained was how much hurt she could inflict on her enemies. Would massacring this population benefit her?

A scream of panic. Santhil turned her head sharply at the sudden noise, and saw a woman holding out her arms towards Santhil in tears. No... no, she wasn't looking at her but rather at the infant that had run at her. Fearless, the little thing was, and a bit chubby. Its pace slowed when it eventually reached Santhil unopposed. It looked up at her, chewing on one of its nails while pulling on her trousers once. Perhaps not as much fearless as clueless.

“Yes, little one?” Santhil answered with a smile while the mother's panicked cries silenced into dread. Another pull on her trousers. She chuckled and kneeled in front of it. “You're a courageous one, aren't you? What will you be when you grow up? A hard-working slave? A enemy soldier?” It didn't understand her; apparently, Eltharin was not as much taught to the masses as it was a sign of exceptional education.

Big eyes stared at her, mouth half open. It was intrigued by her face, her grey eyes, her look. Probing, it touched her cheek, feeling her smooth skin. Santhil raised an eyebrow, chuckling when it took a hold of her nose, then stood when it let go. “Come on, off you go,” she said while patting the child on the back, pushing it in the direction of its mother. “They're cute when they're young.”

In the distance, to her right, a fat, chubby man, sweating profusely, took his chances and wobbled his way towards Santhil. It was obviously a serious distance for him to cross, or more than he was used to. It looked like the man was in charge of this city, a major of sorts, local head of the tribe, something like that.

Santhil sighed and flashed out her pocket watch; this man would serve a number of purposes he was currently unaware of, and she was grateful for it. When the sergeant motioned to intervene, she shook her head. It was the second time she went in against him; it would seriously dent his ego. Anyway.

When the major arrived, he went down on his knees, hands folded together, blabbering something in what should be Eltharin but was in fact some horrible butchering of the language. Mercy, treasure, surrender. Santhil put her foot against him, pushing him on his back, then pulled out her pistol and fired the round into his fat chest—gasps and noises from the humans. He screamed in pain briefly, then started gurgling while squirming under her boot. 6 seconds... 8... 10... it took 20 seconds for him to stop moving.

Santhil shook her head. She'd stick with a crossbow. “Install a replacement for him,” she ordered, and dropped the pistol on the dead major's chest. A test, an example, a show of power. The major had done more by dying than he could have helped her when alive.

_________________
SAU XV: Pawn of the Dead | SAU XVII: The Frosty Dozen | SAU XIX: On the Brink of Madministration | Running fiction: House Arhakuyl


Wed Feb 21, 2007 10:03 pm
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Angel of Darkness
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my lord, great story. Cant wait too here the rest of it

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Saldrimek Xenan - WS6 / S4 / T3 / D5 / I3

Equipment: Executioners Axe (Rune of Beastslaying - Heroic Killing Blow), 2 Scimitars (Rune of Speed - Always Strike First), Dagger, Rune Branded Leather Armour, Executioner Helm, Fine Set of Throwing Knives (x4)
Inventory: Amulet of Darkness, Poison Vials x7, Deadly Poison Vials x8
Mount: Dark Steed
Gold: 163
Skills: Ambidexterity, Frenzy, Two Weapon Fighting, Ride
Class: Khainite


Mon Mar 05, 2007 5:48 am
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Morathi's Best Friend
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(Note: Since the campaign has reset but I did not want to discard what I had already written, I am deviating from the current HotW timeline and keeping with the previous. There will therefore be inconsistencies with other people, their background, and strategy. Amen.)


Lahnia was lying on her bed, her cheek resting in one hand, staring at the open pages in front of her. Being a sorceress required constant studying, constant honing of skills, constant practice. There was little else to do with all the spare time she had. She felt she had pretty much expended her welcome with most other sorceresses, considering that she was perhaps a slight more talkative than would be forgiven in a studious environment.

A knock on her open bedroom door. She didn't bother to look over her shoulder—she knew it was Santhil, just coming back from her trip to Nuln's city centre. And she didn't reply either. Santhil knew all too well why, and if she did not, well, then Lahnia had all the more reason not to tell her.

“Can I come in?” Santhil asked, holding something behind her back. There was no answer. She assumed the privilege and walked in quietly, keeping an eye on her sister. “What are you doing?”

“Working,” came the cold reply.

“Can I sit down?” A shrug of the shoulders was the only reply. “I brought you something.”

Santhil sat down on the bed, gently pulling her legs on as well, and put a large book, almost a ledger, in between her and her sister, bearing a smile. This was a book retrieved from Nuln's wizard tower, with the occupant no longer being in a position allowing him right of protest, being death. Santhil had picked up a few words from Lahnia's frustrations, and learnt that a certain book was always either not in a library or 'checked out' at any occasion, and while she herself was not very apt in reading arcane scripture, she did make out enough of the sigils to believe she had a match.

“I'll take a look when I find the time.”

“You sure?” Santhil teasingly poked one of the corners in Lahnia's back.

“Yes, I'm busy right now.” Lahnia waved her hand over her shoulder in dismissal, before turning a bit to her sister so she could tell her in her face. “It's not because you decide to make time that I should...” She stopped when she looked at the book and, more importantly, its title. “Oh my... is that... How'd you...?”

“You weren't thinking I would go to Nuln for window shopping and not bring you something, were you?” Santhil replied with a smile. “Go ahead, take it. It's yours.”

With a sudden cry of joy, Lahnia leapt on Santhil, grabbing her tightly in a smothering hug. She gave her a few kisses on her cheek, her nose, her forehead. Santhil just laughed in response. “I'm glad you like it,” she chuckled. She was happy as long as her sister was happy.

“Like it? Are you joking? Have you any idea how much this book is worth?”

“Only the best for my private sorceress.” She frowned suddenly; was there someone at the door again? She rolled her head to the right, looking past her sister. “May we help you?”

“Oh, oh no, I don't mean to interrupt,” an officer with non-descript family markings excused himself. “It's mail, ah, I'll just, ah... I'll... leave it on your desk, milady.”

“And close the door, would you?” Lahnia asked, looking over her shoulder. When the officer/messenger had left, she turned back to her sister, pouting her lips in thought while staring at her face, one eyebrow pulled up. “I'm still mad at you.”

Santhil nodded thoughtfully with a sigh. “Sorry about that. Things were stacking up, the council meeting suddenly came...” She hated that she had to say this, but: “I'd like to say it won't happen again, but it will.”

“Can't you say you have an appointment already? I mean...” Lahnia sighed, thinking, her eyes rolling to the right. “What happens when you marry? You're a Drachau, you'll have a husband and family, and where does that leave me? I'm a sorceress. I'm ad definitum married to a barbecue accident.”

Santhil raised her head to say something to that, failed to utter as much as a vowel, and finally rested on the pillow again, pondering. Her sister had a good if sobering point there: while most anyone in her limited social circle would ultimately be busy with their own families, Lahnia would have no such obligations. “I'm not married yet.”

“Yes, but someday, you will be. And then I'll be alone and—”

“—Hey, I'd never abandon you, you know that. It's the last thing I could ever do. Marriage be damned, you're my sister, you're my life and blood. And if you hadn't been here,” and she tapped Lahnia's nose playfully with a finger, “I would be up for psych discharge by now. Besides, if this is how you, my sister, feel about the amount of time I can spare you, how will my future husband feel?”

“Hrmph, he'll be fine,” Lahnia replied to that. “All they really want is something to grope at night.”

Santhil raised both eyebrows at her sister when hearing that. “Ouch. Bitter, aren't we? What brought this on?”

“First of all, they know damn well I'm a sorceress and pretty much on the abstenance plus programme and yet they keep pushing for things. And when I say I can't, they just run off after someone else's skirt, out of my life, so... so I can't even say that I can't.” She took an angry breath, batting her sister's chest once with her fist. “Being a sorceress is seriously overrated.”

Santhil frowned and supported herself on her elbows when her sister sat upright. Lahnia did know she would be faced with this, but she wasn't given much choice once her talent was found out. Sorcery was pretty much all she had in her life. Well, sorcery and her sisters, but she didn't get along too well with Yalasmina. Where Yalasmina was serious and concentrated, Lahnia tended to be playful and easily distracted, not exactly the qualities one would expect on a sorceress, but sheer talent and brilliance made up for her shortcomings.

“I'm not sure what you mean here,” Santhil said, tilting her head slightly. “Are you saying you want a boyfriend that's not out to 'get' you, or that you want them to leave you alone altogether?”

“I'm saying that I would adore someone who will settle with my personality and intellect. Barring that, someone who can look without touching.”

Santhil chuckled despite the serious tone in Lahnia's voice, attempting to cheer her up. “You can't blame them for wanting you, Lana. You're a stunner.”

“Agh,” Lahnia shook her head once, “you're just saying that to cheer me—”

“Lana, I'm serious. I...” Santhil sighed, trying to stress or, at the very least, clarify her intentions with her hands, keeping herself upright on the muscles. “You have a deep—so deep—beautiful blue in your eyes, it's like gazing into the sky with the sun setting on your back. Your figure is—and I don't know how you do that without exercise—the stuff of envy. You...” She took another deep breath and rested on her elbows. “I've drawn models in art class that pale in comparison to you. Can you blame anyone for wanting you?”

Lahnia stared at her sister in amazement, blinking occasionally while feeling her cheeks warm up. She cleared her throat and wet her lips. “Wow,” she giggled. “I, ah, I don't know what to say.”

“Goodbye, I'm afraid. This was pretty much the time I had.”

Lahnia sighed, sad but not really feeling disappointed anymore, and looked at her sister's grey—entirely colourless—eyes. They were still a marvel to stare at, though; it was as if the iris tried to make up for its lack of colour with subtle plays of light. Ultimately, she gave her sister a kiss and nodded once to her in understanding.

°°°

Dear Santhil,

How are you? Thank you for your letter; your father and I had just heard that our king ordered a war in the eastern colonies to expand our borders, and we were worried about your safety. After all, we were the ones to send our daughter, as Drachau, in the first place. Thank you for easing our spirits, it is comforting to know you do your best to plan rather than fight. It is what a Drachau should do.

How are your sisters? I imagine Yalasmina is fitting right in. She has always been a willful and independent woman. She and I never really got along... could you please inform me on how she is? I know you told me that she is doing an excellent job, but she can be pushy at times. At any rate, I feel that she may be at home, and feeling better now that she is no longer under our wings.

But I worry about Lahnia. The only reason she came is because you were going and she had no-one else here. She wrote that she feels alone most of the time, because you are always doing other things. She says she understands, but her last letter felt angry; she feels she isn't worthy of your time, that she is useless to you. Can you spend some time with her? Or find something for her to do?

Your nephew made a drawing for you; he wants to draw as well as you. It's amazing how fast they grow. Just a few years ago, he was still crawling around, and now he's proud of his aunts in the eastern colonies. Playing soldier is a new every-day-all-day game for them now.

Thank you for your letter and for comforting us. Your aunt said it are strange times when parents turn to their children for comforting words. Perhaps she is right, but we feel better knowing that you and your sisters aren't in any danger.

Love all three of you,

Mother


°°°

Blood fountained onto armour and clothes when a soldier caught the halberd's blade in the chest, his armour no match for the sheer impact strength that the weapon could deal. His chest bones broke, his lungs clapped in, and he collapsed to the snowy ground, his death scream reduced to some inaudible gurgling that drowned in the sounds of combat.

Fighting on the long, wide, snow-covered bridge was exceptionally brutal. Again, Druchii stood against Reikmen on the field of battle, but this time the Reiksmen were better prepared. While the opposing army was not led by a skilled tactician, his army was better equipped and organised than that of his predecessors. The enemy general, a minor king of sorts, had already taken half the bridge, but was getting iffy with his troops. After all, he vastly outnumbered his opponents—at least five to one—so why couldn't they take the bridge from them?

Santhil timely blocked off a heavy axe on the halberd's metal shaft and felt her arms and muscles take the sheer impact hit. She grunted, slammed the butt against her opponent's side and jabbed him in the chest, pushing him back into the lines. The lines wouldn't hold forever: the bridge was too wide and their enemies too many. But she had little choice in the matter: supplies, troops, civilians were still being assembled into convoys and sent off with scouts and advance guards.

After witnessing hours of combat, the sun was setting quickly over the bridge. It was snowing, freezing even, but it hadn't frozen long enough for the river to be crossable on the thin layer of ice it had—some Reiksmen had tried and drowned in the attempt, pulled along by the strong current or collapsed in shock from the cold. And that was what Santhil was aiming for: hold the bridge. If their enemies could cross, they would put their superior numbers to use, and then there was only one likely outcome: annihilation. Not defeat, not retreat, but utter and complete annihilation.

The fighting was bad in the center, bad enough to lose perspective on the rest of the battle. Bodies of both armies were piling up left and right, and those still standing felt their muscles strain and pull under the punishment they took. These Reiksmen kept pouring at them like an unstoppable wave of flesh and blood throwing itself against a wall that was bound to give at some time. Still more of them were organising into units and regiments on the center of the bridge. Fresh troops, fresh morale, fresh units. Santhil envied the means her opponent had.

“Ari!” That was Lahnia. She wasn't in any danger, but she was calling for her. It was difficult to make out who was who in the front lines, especially since the vulgar combat left most of those still standing covered in blood from random spurts and gusts. “Ari!” Santhil didn't have the breath left to reply, and her new opponent gave her no quarter. These people were far better armed and armoured than the other armies she had faced.

“Cover!” Santhil yelled with the air she had left in her lungs, signalling that those in the ranks behind her should fall in for her. Sparks leapt on her as a sword hit her weapon with a metallic shriek, sheer impact fury slamming through her guard but luckily deflected by her new and heavier armour. A fellow soldier brushed past her right shoulder and jabbed his spear in, helping Santhil out of her predicament. She backpedalled, nearly falling over the bodies behind her, and patted her saviour on the shoulder once while moving back. She appreciated the gesture.

“Ari—oh my goodn—are you alright?” Lahnia stared at Santhil in surprise more than horror. She had seen people die and get hurt and everything—stuff breaks, people die—but seeing her sister covered in blood was something she had not prepared for.

“I'm fine,” Santhil wheezed. “But I need to get back there, Lana, we are losing territory.” She wiped a gloved hand over her face and shook off the gathered blood. The snow was turning red underneath their feet, but new snowflakes were coming down to cover them.

“Ari, I know a way to stop them. I can put warding glyphs on the contact surface, channels that trigger spurious aether on vertex coincidence or even proximity!”

“And in plain Eltharin?”

“I-I...” Lahnia wet her lips, thinking, almost jumping on the spot in impatience at herself. Dumb it down, dumb it down... “Mines!” she suddenly shouted. “Magical mines! People step on the bridge and they explode!”

“Explode—how badly? The other armies will need this bridge on their way back.”

“That's the thing,” and Lahnia's face winced already, biting her lower lip. “I need to, ah, touch the surface, and the strongest structural point, is the, ah... the center of the bridge.”

Santhil opened her eyes widely and bent over the bannister, taking a brief peek at the enemy army storming on. The bridge was tens of yards across, a long and sturdy construction, with the sturdiest part in the middle, but even with the massive length, the enemy army was still lining up to even get on it. “You can't—for the love of Khaine—be serious!” Santhil lamented loudly while staring in disbelief. “There has to be some other way!”

“Look, you've done all that you can here. Let me do something, too.”

Santhil brushed her hand through her hair, trying to think of another solution. There was no way she was sending any sorceress—sister or no—into the fray there. They were too valuable to get killed by an off jab or swing. Not to mention that the odds of getting to the center of the bridge were abysmal. “No,” she settled on. “It's too dangerous.”

“Ari, come on!” Lahnia yelled in frustration. “We don't have time for this!”

“I am not sending you or anyone out there! Lana, they outnumber us ten-to-one, they have six yards on us! Everyone going to the center of that bridge is dead meat!”

“Ari, please, I have to do this! Don't you see? It is our only chance to get away with our lives. I know it's a gamble, but what choice do we have?”

Santhil looked around, as if trying to find someone who had a magical solution to the problem, or some convincing argument against the truth Lahnia laid out. A tear formed in her eye—she had seen comrades die next to her, but the thought of her sister lying amongst those bodies was a lot to take in. In the end, she bit her lip and nodded briefly, feeling the freezing wind over her wet eyes. “Alright,” she croaked. “Hold on to my belt, I'll get you there.”

°°°

“Give no quarter!” the sergeant yelled from the left. “We need every inch!” Easier said than done. The amount of raw fodder thrown against the lines was astonishing. For a moment, Lahnia wondered whether the Druchii had more respect for the lives of Reiksmen than they themselves had. Her arm tugged as Santhil advanced with a sudden step, and she followed, keeping her head low.

But then, they gave way. Santhil heaved and panted while staring in disbelief at the Reiksmen parting from the middle lane and pulling back as if retreating. What was going on? This wasn't a fighting retreat. No... no, there was a smug grin on some of their opponents' faces. They had a card up their sleeves, and now that Santhil had played hers, they were playing theirs.

“Ari! Only a few more yards, and they're giving in! If we advance now, we can make it!”

Santhil held back her arm, stopping Lahnia from advancing. She didn't trust this one bit. While the lines advanced, fighting those still committed, she scanned over the fighting heads, looking for that ace in the deck. It wasn't some contraption, it weren't reinforcements from another army, it wasn't cavalry, it wasn't the general and his bodygua—where was his bodyguard? The king was still there, but his Reiksguard were gone.

Oh, crud.

“Lana, how long do you need?”

“I... I don't know. Six minutes? Seven, maybe?”

About four-hundred seconds. And there, the Reiksguard were ploughing through their own ranks, pushing aside those that didn't budge at first, armed and armoured from tip to toe. Elite warriors, each and every one of them, carrying thick suits of armour, ornately designed and decorated shields, and razorsharp, masterwork swords in hand. Merely wearing such an impressive amount of metal would require strength to be mobile, strength they would undoubtedly put to use in taking swings. They were making quite a show of coming at the Druchii lines, like pro wrestlers in a grudge match. Granted, it was an imposing sight to behold. To add to the impression, one of them let out a bellowing roar and swung his sword at a small statue standing on the bridge's bannister, shattering its head with a single blow.

Santhil turned to Lahnia, her eyebrows raised gently in a faint derative of 'told you so'. “Start counting.”

°°°

“Charge! Charge their lines! Stop them dead in their tracks!” She could hear similar shouts from officers behind her, whipping their soldiers into the charge.

Some schizophrenic feeling of both elation as dread washed over her when she passed over the center of the bridge without a fight. Every inch they took now was an extra inch Lahnia had to ward the surface.

The bridge was shaking under the armies charging at each other. Yards turned to feet, feet turned to inches, and a split second before the hit, both lines swung their weapons widely for a deafening first strike. Screams of courage and bloodlust changed into anger, effort, and pain while more and more metal clashed. Armours cracked, weapons broke, shields were torn asunder.

Santhil tried desperately to keep up with the pace of the fight. All the training in the world couldn't prepare someone for the teeth-to-the-metal deathmatch that she ended up in the middle of. A sword flashed to her right—she threw her halberd against it in reflex, having the shaft take the blow instead of her. She swung it around, hitting her opponent on the shield and driving him back while another moved in from the left, pushing on the lines and flanking on people personally. He roared and cleaved his heavy sword through the air, clashing against the halberd and swinging it from Santhil's hands—it soared dangerously through the air, falling off the bridge.

As a trained automaton, Santhil drew her sword and hastily parried the next blow on it. The Reiksguard on her right approached again, hemming her in, and landed a blow on the guard of her sword, forcing her to take a step back or lose her last weapon. A spear lunged past her right and drove through a crack in her opponent's armour, injuring him mortally. There was no time to thank the soldier that came to her rescue—more enemies were coming with each passing second, trickling past their brethren. It wasn't a matter of winning or losing to here; it was a matter of how much time they could buy. The clock was ticking, and so were the casualties.

“Lana!” she shouted. “Progress!”

An answer muffled by adrenaline, death cries, and metal shrieks. One out of seven? Had only one minute passed? They had to survive for six more minutes? This wasn't just madness, this was absurd!

The soldier that had just saved her life now died by a loose swing. Santhil caught a shield bash on her off shoulder, toppling her against another opponent, but timely regaining her balance to prevent from being skewered on his weapon. Pulling from a reserve in strength, she struck home in a lucky swing and took off a head. A blade drew a narrow laceration over her right arm while she deflected a high blow. Another hit from a shield forced her to take two steps back, past several of her fallen soldiers, and adding to bruises.

°°°

The sun had now set fully. Visibility was terrible but for the few torches lit on either side to have an idea of positions. The wind strengthened and chilled ever more with each passing sweep of new snow. The sounds of combat were getting nearer and nearer to Lahnia, and she was getting nervous. Only two more sigils to go, she told herself. Focus, concentrate.

Lahnia kept her head low while shuffling through the ranks, then kneeled into the frozen snow and drew with her fingers, mumbling the syntax under her breath. She couldn't afford a mistake; all sigils worked in unison, and one wrong interpretation would render the ward entirely useless or, more likely, blow up the entire bridge and probably most of the surrounding countryside.

A brief scream of pain no more than a yard away from her. The lifeless body of a spearman dropped next to her, his head covering the sigil she was drawing. Lahnia scared for a moment—fighting had drawn near, and she still had two sigils to finish. Pressing her lips, she pushed the corpse aside with trembling hands and restarted the sigil. Scripture had never been her strong side. She never told anyone she flunked that course. Circle to the left, stop halfway, pull back to the center, draw a square but don't connect the last vertices...

Another body dropped next to her, landing flat on the face. This was bad, this was very bad. For a moment, she considered stopping here and running off; already, she could see the armoured Reiksguard feet moving in on her. They shouted in their strange tongue, and one pointed a sword at her. Lahnia swallowed her fears and hasted herself, finishing this sigil and moving on to the next.

A shriek of surprise. Lahnia looked up sharply when she saw Santhil drop next to her, landing on her chest with a loud thud. “Oh my g—Ari, are you alright?”

Santhil groaned and coughed in response, pulling her head out of the snow and shaking the flakes from her hair. “No, Lana, I am not alright,” she snapped at her sister, then threw her a desperate look. “Please tell me that's the last sigil.”

“It is! It is!” Lahnia assured her. “—Look out!”

Santhil rolled aside just in time to avoid a blade cleaving through the snow and perhaps even into the bridge itself. She kicked the wielder's knee firmly, hitting his balance, then kicked at his waist, pushing him back while taking her sword to hand and clambering to her feet.

Lahnia swallowed again and moved on to the last sigil, sitting over a fallen Reiksman and finding herself some spare room to place her marks. This was the last one. Already, she could feel the energies warming up, channeling from her fingers as she drew them. Better not make a mistake now.

°°°

“There's too many of them!” one of the spearmen yelled in panic before turning and running. Santhil threw him a pointed look he didn't catch. He was leaving her behind, turning his tail like a coward instead of standing with his comrades, a selfish runt that she would love to execute personally if only she could've caught his face. All that didn't stop him from being completely right.

The line was breaking up. Defeated elves ran past the sigils while they still could. “Hold your ground!” Santhil shouted in vain. “Just a few more seconds!”

One. The corporal that teamed up with her caught a sword in his stomach. Sparks flung off Santhil's sword when she parried another attempt on her life.

Two. Instead of a new soldier, a new opponent stepped into the fallen corporal's place. All the skill in the world, Santhil couldn't possibly fight three at a time. Her opponents knew that, and swung at different angles, hoping to outspeed her. They did.

Three. One swing went overhead, a quick lunge saving Santhil from decapitation. Another blade was stopped on hers, while the third glanced off her plated boots. She wouldn't be so lucky next time.

Four. “Whenever you're re—!” Lahnia was uncovered, and she had a Reiksguard charging in on her. Fate would branch into life or death within mere instants. “Lana!” Santhil shouted, panic creeping in her voice.

“Last lines, I swear!”

Abandoning the fight as well as her opponents, Santhil ran straight at the man threatening Lahnia. He raised his sword into the air to take down the unsuspecting sorceress with a single blow and probably get himself a medal for it.

With a scream of rage, Santhil threw herself against the Reiksguard, bashing both of them into the sturdy bannister lining the bridge, and dragging him to the floor on top of her. It took both a moment to regain their bearings, but when they did, they aimed to become very personal. The Reiksguard put his helmet to good use and butted it into Santhil's face while she clammed her legs around his thighs and rolled them over and over in the snow, eventually ending up on top of him so he could not use the weight of his armour.

“I'm done! Clear!”

With an eerie shriek, the sigils lit up, a beautiful display of colours shining up brightly into the sky. Both armies held suddenly, neatly set apart by the magical line, looking at the strange conjuration setting in before their very eyes, and taking a few steps back.

The Reiksguardsman on the floor looked around in fear, seeing all around his eyes turn sparkling and bright. His head was right on the line of sigils, and his opponent was well aware of that.

A violent, bloody explosion followed, covering both Lahnia as Santhil with spurious spats and spurts. Moments later, an empty, smoking helmet fell from the sky and hit the floor with a hollow bang, fizzling its way through the snow. An apt example was made. As far as lines were made to be crossed, this one stood out as a remarkable exception.

Both armies gathered their wounded and shuffled off in silence. By the time the Reik had found another way across, the Druchii would have long gone.

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SAU XV: Pawn of the Dead | SAU XVII: The Frosty Dozen | SAU XIX: On the Brink of Madministration | Running fiction: House Arhakuyl


Mon Mar 05, 2007 11:02 am
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Noble
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i love the story, love the characters, but as a loyal Druchii i object to you refering to Malekith as a barbeque accident.

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Mon Mar 05, 2007 7:38 pm
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Beastmaster

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I'm afraid I'd have to second shadow darks opinion by referencing Malekith so, but than again only a personal opinion, nothing to fret about. Otherwise, an excellent story.


Wed Mar 07, 2007 1:42 am
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Black Guard
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Meh. I like my Malekith well-done, with a bit of brownsauce.

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Fri Mar 09, 2007 7:13 pm
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Angel of Darkness
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Malekith is a very rare breed...but after he went through the flames i would say medium rare...or just incinerated.. :mrgreen:

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Saldrimek Xenan - WS6 / S4 / T3 / D5 / I3

Equipment: Executioners Axe (Rune of Beastslaying - Heroic Killing Blow), 2 Scimitars (Rune of Speed - Always Strike First), Dagger, Rune Branded Leather Armour, Executioner Helm, Fine Set of Throwing Knives (x4)
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Sun Mar 11, 2007 8:34 am
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Yes, I'd like to have medium... So it is crunchy outside but soft and juicy inside... but I'd prefer red wine sauce, it goes well with Elf Flesh...

Ahem. That's an amazing story, I'd hope I could write like that. If you write more of those stories, they should be published IMHO they are so good... keep up that style.


Sun Mar 11, 2007 1:52 pm
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Morathi's Best Friend
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“Hey-hey-Ouch!”

“Just hold still, this may sting a little.”

“You're planning to leave some skin attached, aren't you?”

Santhil winced again when a sponge soaked with hot water and soap rolled over her painful arms, washing out cuts and sizzling on bruises. While at first the injuries had seemed severe, they were actually rather light on the whole; most of the bother was plain fatigue. She had been very, very lucky.

Santhil was lying in a hot bath, soaking her muscles, while Yalasmina sat to her right, looking after her injuries. To her left, Lahnia was sitting or walking around, whatever her thoughts spurred her to; she was still excited and energetic from being smack in the middle of a fight that could described as nothing less than balls to the wall. She did not have a single mark on her, for which both were very thankful for.

“Ari, have you ever considered picking up rugby?” Lahnia turned to her sister, putting her hands on her knees. “That was one nasty tackle you pulled. I mean, full plate armour and everything and wham! You must be talented. That, or a little overweighted.”

Santhil sighed and rolled her head to Yalasmina. “I risk losing a limb for that girl and she calls me overweighted.”

“Maybe you should do something about it,” Yalasmina replied, really more focused on treating Santhil's injuries than on whatever her two sisters were up to again.

Santhil nodded thoughtfully, thinking over Mina's words. Suddenly, she snatched Lahnia's wrist with her free hand and reeled her in with a good yank. Lahnia stumbled, surprised, and toppled into the tub with a decent amount of grace and a scream to match. “Come here, you! I'll wash your mouth!” Santhil laughed. Instantly, she winced, opening her mouth for a few moments before letting our a long “Ouch!”

“I told you,” Yalasmina mumbled. “Hold still.”

“You like doing that, Mina?” Santhil suddenly asked. There was a strange hint of non-indictive seriosity in her voice, as if the question only just rose to mind. “Hurting people.”

“If they don't hold still.”

Santhil nodded and rolled her head to Lahnia—now soaking wet as well—with a straight face. “She likes hurting people.”

Lahnia slapped some clots of wet hair behind her ears, pressing her lips while thinking of an answer. “Do you like being hurt?” she bounced back, water rolling off her face.

Santhil frowned and looked ahead again, giving it some thought. The conversation probably couldn't get any stranger; adding that she had been fighting for her life only a few hours ago, this was about as surreal as things could get. No. No, there could be penguins. “As a rule, no. I suppose that goes for most people.”

“But there's hurt and then there's hurt.”

“And that headbutt hurt,” Santhil pouted, refraining from touching her painful nose. “Then again, I'm a soldier.”

“That you are,” Lahnia replied, and gave her sister a peck on the nose. “Thanks for the rescue.”

°°°

Guards saluted Santhil as she passed them hastily. Back at the academy, she had always found it odd that mentors, teachers, and the highest echelons of military personnel made only such perfunctory salutes while lower officers and all the soldiers and cadets had to make quite a show of saluting. Today, she understood how her superiors had felt: preoccupied. She returned a brief salute, not halting or slowing her pace. She was in a hurry. Sunset already? The days flew by lately.

At the end of the hallway, her quarters. Her army, her group, was constantly on the move, requiring an equally constant change of scenery. Luckily, most if not all locations held some sort of stronghold for the army to hole up in for at least a week before moving on to the next objective. It was a good thing Santhil was good with directions; getting lost in some structure was the last thing she needed.

Wars were always fought between differing parties. In this case, there were more than two—a whole plethora of forces and nations were involved in one way or another. Invasions on the Reik had left the 'Sarthailor' with an opportunity to attack the Druchii's eastern colonies. The whole thought of elves interbreeding with humans was still off-putting to her. But she digressed. Right now, she was in a hurry because she had a meeting with an alleged ally: Chaos.

Santhil brushed into her room, her fingers already unbuttoning her blouse while she closed the door with a knock of her hip. The curtains were already open and let the light of the setting sun in. She sighed for a moment; no time to lose herself in something pretty, she barely had the time to change into something more formal.

“Happy birthday!”

A brief scream of fright crept out of Santhil's lungs while she jumped away. Her eyes wide open in alarm, heart drum-soloing in her throat, she took a few shallow breaths and stared at the source of the sound.

Lahnia giggled and offered an elongated box, fully gift-wrapped. “I wanted to surprise you.”

Santhil put a hand on her chest and nodded briefly, patting Lahnia on her hand. “Well done,” she replied breathlessly. “High marks.”

“Come on,” Lahnia urged, impatiently hopping on her toes. “Open up. It's your birthday, and I got you something.”

“I'm sorry, Lana, I really don't have time—I need to be in a meeting with representatives from Chaos in a few minutes, and I still need to change.” She smiled apologetically, feeling the adrenaline seep away slowly. “When I get back?”

“Oh, come on, Ari, I put a lot of work in this.” Lahnia pressed her lips, disappointed. “It's only a minute.”

“But I want to give it more than a minute, and I don't have more than a minute.” Santhil paced to her armoire and picked her best-looking uniform for the occasion, or the one that would make her look best. Right accents, that sort of thing.

Lahnia sighed when she noticed her sister was serious. Always with the focus. “Can I at least get a hug?”

Santhil stopped at the final two buttons of her blouse and looked in the mirror for a moment or two. “Of course you can, hun,” she finally said with a touched smile. “But then I really have to hurry.” She turned and wrapped her arms around her sister tightly, and gave her a kiss on her cheek. “Thanks for remembering.” In all honesty, Santhil had outright forgotten her birthday.

She chuckled briefly when she felt Lahnia nestle her nose into her shoulder. Lahnia was a warm, impulsive, loveable person, very far from what one would normally expect of a sorceress. Santhil felt a kiss returned on her cheek, but frowned slightly, amused, when she then felt lips on her neck. “Okay, now this is a little—”

She held suddenly when she felt a sharp but at the same time flat pain in her neck when Lahnia sucked harshly on her skin. Santhil opened her mouth in a mute vowel of surprise more than pain, but otherwise kept still in flat-out surprise. It took a while—five, perhaps six seconds—but finally Lahnia pulled away, and Santhil held a hand to the painful spot, utter astonishment still on her face. “You gave me a hickey?” she finally managed to say, off-tone.

Lahnia snatched the present from the bed and offered it to Santhil again. “Now open it up?”

“You gave me a hickey! I... I have to talk with a superpower from another dimension and you give me a hickey?” Part indignant, part baffled, Santhil shook her head a bit, staring at her sister.

“No need to get all worked up,” Lahnia replied, and she pushed the present into Santhil's hands. “Just open it.”

“No need to get...? Do you have any idea what a hickey means?”

“Open it.”

Finally, Santhil gave in. She tore off the gift wrapping, pulled the lid off the box and... sighed with a content smile. Inside was a stunningly beautiful scarf, spun from smooth, reflective silk. The markings of House Arhakuyl were at the ends, along with what formal insignia her position as Drachau had. Never in her rich life had she had such a beautiful accessory, nor had she ever really bothered with it, but the gesture touched her.

Santhil nodded slightly, her smile turning amused. “And since I don't usually wear scarfs...” she trailed off, looking at Lahnia.

Lahnia burst into a fairly controlled giggle, taking the scarf from the box and wrapping it around her sister's neck. “There, it looks gorgeous on you. Perfectly hides the—what's wrong with a hickey, anyway?”

“Lovers use it to mark their territory,” Santhil stressed, keeping a sharp look at her sister.

“Oh? Oh!” Lahnia held a hand to her lips. “I... didn't know that. I—I didn't mean it like that. I mean, like... that.”

“I know you didn't, hun.” She gave Lahnia a quick kiss on her nose and nodded once to her, signalling she would have to change. “Thank you for the gift, and sparingly with the hickeys now, alright?”

°°°

Santhil was prepared for a lot. She had heard her advisers—both religious as arcane—as they made a courageous attempt at explaining Chaos and its essence. Chaos was exactly that: Chaos. It defied usual description, common sense, or even physical laws. Most important of all, they all had 'issues'.

It had been a few moments since Santhil had walked into the chamber set up for the meeting. No less than four emissaries were waiting for her there, each bizarre in a way different from the others, each exemplifying a specific aspect which you would expect normal people not to have. Khorne, Tzeentch, Slaanesh, Nurgle. It wasn't hard to connect the dots to individual persona.

“Forgive my lateness,” Santhil offered while taking a respectful but insincere bow—after all, Chaos was the bane of all that which dwelled on the world, including the Druchii. “I am—” An uncontrollable giggle, from her far right, cut into her introduction. Taken aback, Santhil cleared her throat and tried again. “I am Santhil—”

“Arhakuyl, from the namesake House. Welcome to you. We are Chosen.” The smooth-skinned, smooth-tongued figure from her left greeted her in a surprisingly alluring voice. “We have provided a map for your instructions.”

“...My instructions.” All but the actual intonation of the phrase hinted to a question rather than a statement. Instructions? Was Chaos offering part of its forces to the Druchii? A forging of some unholy alliance? A deal? What stood Chaos to gain from it?

To her right, a table stood, a large, intricately detailed map sprawled out over it. Santhil stood mesmerised briefly at the terrain that seemed to come to life under her very eyes.

“Or perhaps you would prefer something more mundane?”

“It is beautiful, thank you,” Santhil politely declined the suggestion. Now was not the time to show any hint to weakness, or any notion towards it. She'd adapt, she'd be fine. Or so she told herself.

“Now, onto your instructions.”

“Oh, but I've yet to take a good look at—”

“Blood for the blood god!” An awkward silence fell after the sudden enraged scream from a corner of the room. An unspoken agreement was made to forget that ever happened.

“No worries, Santhil,” and the humanoid-but-not-quite figure slid next to her. “We have them here for you to review at your convenience.”

“...Ah.” Her instructions. As in, given to her. Santhil nodded musingly, idly, while in the meantime one of the four figures again succumbed to a maniacal and obviously amused giggle.

“By the way,” the creature now 'standing' next to her commented, cocking its head. “Love the scarf.”

Santhil skipped her eyes to side, gently tilting her head away. There was a knowing, unsettling smile fluently rolling onto its lips, a burning yet inviting gaze in its stare. “Thank you,” she finally replied. “Very attentive of you.” Observing the creature's unabated gaze, she finally tore her own eyes away, snapping her attention to the map, and took a deep breath.

Freaks.

“Your instructions are on the map. Observe.”

“My instructions are on the map,” Santhil repeated in disbelief. Still, she did as she was offered and observed the map in detail. A strange, tingling sensation washed over her, tickling her mind and blushing her shoulders. The map was immersive: focusing on details led to even more details to be seen until she felt she could look at the very grass itself. It was as if she could guide the map with her mind, and everywhere were beacons and directions; her 'instructions', so to speak.

Tor Cynath. How close it looked from here. It had been months since she had been there. She could still see her original quarters, the personal items that she forgot to pack in the hurry to leave again. Voices of men and women, sisters and subordinates, excited her memories, hazing her focus. A rousing sensation trickled through her senses; Santhil felt her mind slip away and tore herself away, closing her eyes and turning her head from the map. Talk about an overdose.

“Your first time?”

Santhil chuckled briefly, nodding, clearing her mind. “Yes. Sorry about that.” The tingling sensation on her shoulders, under her skin, remained, and she cleared her throat, wetting her lips. She reached her hand back to her shoulder, and felt both the soft fabric of her uniform as... something else. Something entirely else. Otherworldly.

“You have soft hands,” the creature next to her almost purred. “A tender hold.”

Santhil jerked herself away suddenly, taking some distance. The unfamiliar sensation numbed again, and she witnessed a transparent, tentacle-like... something pull back to the non-descript creature. Again, a helpless laugh pervaded the room from across the table.

“No need for alarm,” it assured her. “I would never harm you beyond your wishes.”

“That is very... considerate of you, but I was hoping we could focus on, ah, your reason for calling this meeting, yes? And would somebody please make him stop?” she suddenly asked, pointing her arm at the obviously amused-beyond-repair being that curled up on itself as she spoke.

“He can't help it. He reads minds.”

“Then he should know how serious I am.”

“He also knows you can't kill him. And that probably cracks him up.”

“Skulls for the skull throne!”

...Fruitcakes.

“You have your instructions.”

“But I have no rationale for the instructions. I know what you want us to do, but not why we would want to do it. I need a reasoning before I can agree with anything.” She was hiding behind her station. “Is this why you wished a meeting? Ordering us around?”

“There are forces at work beyond your imagination, Santhil,” the smooth and outright slick creature cooed at her. “It would be prudent to—how do they say?—play ball? Who knows, there could be a little in it for yourself.”

Santhil raised an eyebrow at the mention. Was it trying to bribe her into compliance? “Puppets belong in theatre,” she answered. “And I'm not an actress.”

“Yes, you are,” the creature replied with a flawless, ethereal smile. “Aren't we all?”

A knock on her mind. It was as if Santhil blanked out for a moment, her spirit tuning down from overdrive. She blinked, scanning her environment with bleary eyes.

“Drachau?” The voice from one of her guards caught her by surprise.

Santhil looked about in confusion. There were no other beings here. There was no map on the table. There was no more laughing.

“Drachau, there is no-one here. Shall we wait?”

“...No. They had their chance. We leave.”

A half-remembered dream tugged on her as she led her guards out of the chamber, the doors creaking closed behind her.

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SAU XV: Pawn of the Dead | SAU XVII: The Frosty Dozen | SAU XIX: On the Brink of Madministration | Running fiction: House Arhakuyl


Mon Mar 12, 2007 7:07 pm
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these stories are brilliant! i'd rank them as on par with Valorian the Merciless's work. and if we put in lots of complimentary posts then will the next part come out quicker?

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Mon Mar 12, 2007 8:13 pm
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Morathi's Best Friend
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Nah, my ego is maxed out already. ;) On another note, I need to write for the SAU as well, so I may occasionally run late. But thank you for reading and enjoying these pieces.

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SAU XV: Pawn of the Dead | SAU XVII: The Frosty Dozen | SAU XIX: On the Brink of Madministration | Running fiction: House Arhakuyl


Mon Mar 12, 2007 9:39 pm
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Indeed you do! But not to sound forceful or anything of course. Anyways, I'd like to comment that as someone aspiring to be a writer, I honestly must say I envy your writing style, and hopefully I can eventually be able to copywri- I mean emulate your style in the near future.


Mon Mar 12, 2007 9:46 pm
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Very descriptive and an entertaining read, the only “problem” I have is that occasionally the choice of words in the dialogue seems a little too modern for my tastes.


Thu Apr 05, 2007 10:45 pm
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Morathi's Best Friend
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(Like most writers, I suffer from a permanent condition called the "It's not quite right"-syndrome. It is a bizarre schizm of laziness and perfectionism, ruling that the more you work on a piece, the more imperfections glare to you. I've written and rewritten the following about four times, and finally decided I would never be happy with it, so I'll put the best I have and move on to writing the rest.

To respond to Sorceress; I understand that the language is modern, and it is deliberately so. To add a sense of 'realism', I try to stay close to the world of the people who read these pieces. And there's the fact that I'm a non-native IT developer whose first inclination would be to believe the 100-year war did indeed span a hundred years.)



A calming silence pervaded Santhil's study. Her pen scithed in fluent strokes over the letter paper, the sun shining brightly on the wet ink left behind, helping it dry and be set for ages. Of all methods of communication, letters had a definite sense of permanency attached to them; it made writing letters so much different from speaking to someone. Words were thoughtfully chosen rather than jumbled together into phrases so that they were grammatically correct.

Santhil appreciated the calm; she always had. While her night-life had been anything but calm in the recent past, she liked to believe that there was a balance between letting it all go and reflecting, meditating, calming the mind. Both were separate ways to relieve her of stress, the whole of their combined effects more than the sum of their applications.

There was a knock on her open door. In untrained reflex, Santhil called out to enter, only afterwards looking up to see who it was. Part of being a public figure meant losing all hold of privacy—people would trespass on it without realising, without intention, and Santhil couldn't afford to show any dismay over it, because she had to be reachable at all times. She wouldn't want to lose an important battle because nobody had the nerve to wake her.

Lahnia stood in front of Santhil's table, her book clutched in both hands, held against her chest. Her lips were pressed. She had probably said hello already.

“Oh, hello, Lana,” Santhil greeted her in return. “I thought you were studying with Cadsane.”

Lahnia bit her lip briefly. “Jess kicked me out. She said the, ah, immediate environment was detracting her ability to concentrate on her material. I figured she wasn't talking about my dress code.”

Santhil chuckled; her sister was a bundle of energy at times, and probably a bit more talkative than would be forgiven in a studious environment. “Jess now, is it?” She nodded for Lahnia to pick a seat—any seat—in the room and make herself comfortable. “But I'll be out in a minute; meeting coming up.”

Rather than take Santhil up on it, Lahnia cocked her head and bent over the table in an effort to read what Santhil was writing or, at the very least, who she was writing to. Failing to read it properly, she nudged herself around the table until she ended up standing next to her sister.

“My fiancé,” Santhil anticipated Lahnia's question, writing on. It was more of a how-are-you-letter than one rich in new content. In Santhil's case, it could be more of an I'm still breathing, how about you kind of letter.

“Wow, been a while since you wrote him.”

Santhil shook her head and finished the letter with a few trained, quick strokes of her wrist: her autograph. “It's the third,” she said. “But I'm not sure they reach their destination. After all, it has to cross some mainland and an ocean.”

“Can I read it? Or is it a bit more personal than I would like to know?”

“Don't worry, it's the PG-rated version. Lord knows who else reads these,” Santhil said while passing the letter on to Lahnia.

Lahnia stared at the letter for a while without actually reading it. Santhil found it odd; normally, Lahnia's curiosity would lead her to almost burn a hole into the paper with her eyes. Still, she rose from her seat, pulled her jacket from the chair and collected what little material she needed for the meeting she prepared for. “When you're done, leave it in my drawer?”

“Hm? Hey? Oh, oh, right.” When torn from her thoughts, Lahnia always looked about with wide open eyes. She could be so absorbed at times, as long as something managed to keep her attention long enough. “Oh hey, Ari, can I ask you something?”

“Sure, go ahead. But before you do, hand me my scarf, would you?”

Lahnia giggled embarrassedly, took Santhil's scarf from the desk, stood in front of her sister, and wrapped the scarf around her neck, holding on to the ends. “Have you ever... kissed a girl?”

Both of Santhil's fine brows curved. She sized her sister up for a moment, checking what kind of question this was. Lahnia seemed fairly serious about the question, seeing that her cheeks were starting to flush, so Santhil gave a serious answer: “Yes, I have. Why?”

“Really?” She was surprised, in a pleasant way. “When? Or better, who?”

Santhil rolled back her head, staring up for a moment while recalling. “Someone in the academy was getting married, and his friends had, ah,” and she started chuckling while the thought flit back into her mind, “they had held a poll on who they believed were the most attractive girls and they invited us over to his bachelor party, where numbers one and two did a brief act.”

“Oh my—You were number one?” Lahnia stared at her sister in disbelief. This was an aspect she hadn't seen before.

“Number two, but thanks. Now, why do you ask?”

“How far did you go?” She was beating around the bush.

“Pretty far, but not too far.”

“What was it like?”

Santhil could almost feel the people stroll into the meeting room even when it was on another floor altogether. Still, that thought faded when a slight, pensive lineament surfaced on her face. She hesitated to ask, not as much because she didn't dare to, but because she didn't want to: “Lana, are you having a crush on Jesamine?”

“What—Jess?” A sincerely dumbfounded look stood engraved into Lahnia's face.

“There's nothing wrong with it. You know that, right?”

“No. No-no-no-no-no, it's nothing like that.” Lahnia virtually burst into a laugh. “Lord, no. No, no, it's not like that. It's just that, ah... There's this guy, ah, I really, really like and... ah... well, I really like him.”

Santhil frowned. This just stopped making any sense to her at all, and she wordlessly willed her sister to explain.

“It's, ah... I want to make a really good impression, and I picked up from your boyfriends that you're a really good kisser.”

Santhil's frown kept rigid, frozen in confusion. With danger to what was left of her modesty; yes, she suspected she had a bit of extra effect, but what did that have to do with... “Oh”. She opened eyes widely when she caught up with Lahnia. “Oh! Oh-oh-oh, hang on.” She put both her index fingers up and shook her head with an uneasy chuckle. “No.”

“Ari, wait, I—”

“—I am not teaching you how to kiss. There's a gazillion guys in the army you can practise on, and I'm sure they'll be eager to cooperate.”

“But I don't want to make out with the whole army, I want to kiss this one guy.”

“No,” Santhil repeated, and put her hands on Lahnia's. “I'm sure you'll do fine, Lana. If a kiss turns him off, he's all into the physical anyway, and then—”

“—Ari, come on, kissing is all I can do.”

“Honey, have some faith in yourself. You can do this without my help. What makes you think I'm a better kisser than you, anyway?”

“Ari, please?” Lahnia pleaded. “I really, really like this guy, and I want to make sure I can hold on to him with this. Kissing is really all I can do, you know that. I just want to play this safe. Please? It's a one-in-a-lifetime. I won't tell anyone, I promise.”

“No, Lana, really, this is... You know I love you with all my heart, but this is...” Santhil shook her head and beckoned for Lahnia to let go of her. “You'll be fine. I promise.”

“Oh, come on, Ari!” Lahnia clenched her fists next to her, both despair as sadness creeping into her voice and eyes. “You'd make out with a girl you never met for a guy you never met, but you don't want to help me?” She sighed angrily and shook her head. Santhil was bending over uncomfortably, holding back a cough. “What's wrong?”

“Scarf,” Santhil's voice scraped her throat.

Lahnia frowned, looking at the scarf, and saw that she was still holding on to it tightly. Instantly, she let go. “Oh! Oh, I'm sorry! I didn't mean to, it's just that... Ari, please? Don't make me ask Mina.”

Santhil rolled her head back, staring straight up at the ceiling. Yalasmina... she could only imagine how she would react to this. “Lana, I...” She took a deep breath. “Do you have any idea of what you're asking of me?”

Lahnia pressed her lips and nodded quietly. She knew, and she hated to ask, really, but she looked back pleadingly at her sister nonetheless.

Santhil closed her eyes and took a deep, calming breath. “You really, really like this guy?”

Lahnia nodded clearly and quickly, feeling a glimmer of hope. Her muscles tensed. Say yes, say yes, say yes...

“...You owe me in ways defying my imagination. Which, having smoked some serious stuff, is saying something.” Santhil kept her eyes open, shaking her head in disbelief with a blank stare. She couldn't believe she just said that.

“Yes! Thankyouthankyouthankyou! Yes!”

Unable to resist a smile at her sister's overjoyed reaction, Santhil wasn't sure how she felt. In a sense, she was happy as long as her sister was happy. “I'm out of here before I change my mind.”

°°°

Again in the council chamber. Generals, lieutenants, leaders all around where busily moving pawns around on the giant map covering the entire table surface, hanging off at the edges. It was painstakingly detailed, with hopefully accurate projections of where enemy forces were gathering their strengths.

The Druchii wouldn't be able to stay for long; sooner or later the Reik would resume pressing on their positions. This group had been cut off ever since they left Reikdorf and headed for Nuln. For a moment, there was the fear that the Reik would go in pursuit, but the other groups gave them enough of a run for their money to keep them occupied. Their Sarthailor allies would not like the idea of a full battalion of Druchii warriors lurking behind the lines.

Arms crossed on the table, nose resting on her wrists, Santhil stared idly at the map. Details swamped from all directions. Details were important, no doubt, but the main question now was whether troops would be sent back to Reikdorf to form a rear guard and cut a swathe for new supply lines, or whether they would be combined to spearhead the way through enemy territory. Santhil had long since given her preference: the spearhead. They were behind enemy lines already; they last thing they needed was to spread out in small enough numbers to be isolated and destroyed.

She sighed and brushed a hand through her hair. And Lahnia was giving her a handful. Santhil was supposed to be leading thousands of warriors and a larger such number of necessary civilians along, keeping them out of reach of armies over five times their size. But in the meantime, life went on, and where most of her own time was spent in the military, Lahnia's own duties were few. Advise on matters concerning magic—that was it, really. Her sister still had time to think of relationships, fashion sense, and games, luxuries that had long since gone out Santhil's window.

A pale hand waved in front of her eyes. Santhil snapped out of her thoughts, finding Jesamine Cadsane looking at her with characteristic lack of a smile. “Is world domination starting to bore you?”

Santhil chuckled briefly, shaking her head in a wordless apology. “I've just...” She never finished the phrase.

Jesamine was a pale, frail, but exotic woman, a sorceress, married to a guy—Eberriel or something, Santhil didn't bother much to recall, and neither did Jesamine—and more or less Lahnia's study partner. However, Jesamine was dedicated, serious, and perhaps not much of a people person. She had a whiff of charisma though, which was partly why Santhil suspected her of inadvertently wooing Lahnia. Santhil was relieved it wasn't the case.

Relieved? She frowned at herself. Why was she relieved? Did the thought of her sister liking a woman rather than a man disturb her? In a sense, it did. And feeling relieved annoyed her; she had considered herself more open-minded than that. A sobering lesson: claiming an open mind was very different from wielding one. How much easier it was to be critical than correct. But Santhil tore herself loose from such thoughts and focused on the meeting she had been ignoring.

With the Sarthailor battling in the north and the Reiksmen putting up some meagre resistance in the east, most of the options were wide open. But with all the talk about possibly being trapped from all directions, people forgot one main item: why they were all here. They were here to get some steam off the northern front, not to go on a wild rampage. Threatening either the flaunted Avalaer or the precious Athel Loren would certainly trigger a reaction of some kind.

But what if it didn't? What if they kept to their front lines, convinced that either another ally would fill in for them, or they could break through the front lines and force the Druchii into retreat? Maybe they would be so focused on the north that they hadn't even bothered to check with their tentative human allies? On all cases, it would be up to this group, the one she was sitting with, to call the enemy's bluff and attack either capital.

However, to do that, they had to strike through the mountains. Santhil had studied previous accounts of the eastern colonies in detail, particularly the reports on the infamous War of the Beard, as it was called. Dwarfs lived in the mountains, and they were unlikely to allow the Druchii passage in exchange for non-aggression—they were a territorial lot. She didn't hold it against them. But it did mean there would be bloodshed.

Reiksmen, Sarthailor, Dwarfs, soon distant Asrai kin... Millennia-old feuds soared over the battlefield like the phoenix resurrected from the ashes of destruction. This was the kind of war no-one could afford to stay out of. Turning a blind eye was the same as turning your back. Sooner or later, someone would take note of you, your resources, your lack of allies, and they would take it from you.

To think she could've been drawing portraits.

°°°

Lahnia felt uneasy kissing her sister. Sure, they touched lips on occasion, as much as a kiss went, but this was different. Rather than showing she cared or wishing to soothe her, she was actively trying to leave an impression, and that made the whole concept feel uneasy. Santhil, on the other hand, didn't seem to feel a thing. At all.

Lahnia broke the kiss off with a sigh. “You know, this would go a lot faster if you were actually here.”

Santhil stroked her forehead, buying herself some time before answering. “I'm sorry, hun, I just have a lot on my mind. It's difficult to let it go, even if for just a while.”

Lahnia understood what it felt like to be preoccupied, and how much of a drag it was, especially if it interfered with things that were supposed to get those thoughts off your mind. It was difficult to entertain yourself when your head was constantly on the job. Not that this was entertainment as such. “Again?”

Santhil shook her head, reaching for her glass of water. “I told you this before, and I'm going to repeat myself: you are a great kisser. Just remember to take it easy.”

“You're only saying that to be done with this.”

“Lana, honey,” Santhil started, and she stopped for a moment to drink some water. “You're convinced I'm a good kisser? Then listen to what I say and trust my judgement: you are a good kisser, you will do great. I promise.”

“...You really think so?”

Santhil nodded with a soft smile. “I really think so,” she filled in.

“Better than you?” Lahnia pulled a playful grin on her lips.

“Now now, let's keep this in perspective...” Poof! Santhil giggled after catching the small, soft pillow flat on her face, and pushed it back onto Lahnia's lap. “Guess I deserved that.”

“I should've thrown my drink into your face, but then, I don't want to get your scarf soaked wet,” Lahnia said, chin lifted gently. “And I don't think you're as good as they say.”

Santhil stopped halfway her glass of water and rolled her eyes to her sister. “For your information, you are not wearing a scarf.”

“I'm just saying it wasn't... special. You just sat there. Like a soldier.”

“You were kissing me, not the other way around.”

Lahnia leered silently at her sister, head slightly turned away, lips twisted in a smile. “Is that so?”

Santhil chuckled, drinking some of her water. “It is.”

“Prove it.”

Santhil coughed some of the water back in her glass, her eyes or body language otherwise not showing any surprise. “I'm sorry?” she asked as casually as she could summon on short notice.

“Come on, nobody's here,” Lahnia said, keeping her voice down still. “I won't tell anyone.”

Santhil smiled a little, looking around in the room as if trying to spot someone anyway. “Oh, I don't think—I mean, we shouldn't...”

“Come on, nobody'll know.”

She wet her lips, growling uneasily from her throat, then looked back at Lahnia. “Not even Mina.”

“Especially not Mina.”

Santhil raised one finger to her sister, then beckoned her to come a little closer. “Alright, close your eyes.” She hesitated for a moment, thinking it over, but finally shrugged the thoughts off and moved in for the kiss.

She kept the kiss soft and civil, as if caressing a smooth, fragile cloth and, most important of all, she wanted to prove a point to her sister: there was never a need to rush, and she took her time. Lahnia's hand rose shakily, not sure herself whether she was objecting, and finally put it on Santhil's shoulder while a deep, quiet, puppy-like yip rose from her throat. Santhil chuckled at the reaction and slowly pulled away again, broke the kiss, and drew her attention undivided to her glass of water.

Lahnia cleared her throat and waved some fresh air over her face, then took a deep breath. “Well,” she said exaggeratedly. Santhil hid her grin in her glass; a good thing there was still some water in it, and she was drinking very, very slowly. “Point ceded.”

“Different from a hickey, isn't it?”

“That's going to keep haunting me for a while, right?”

“Oh, yes,” Santhil said, a serious tone hidden underneath a chuckle. “At least as long as it takes to fade away.”

“I didn't know it'd take so long. Show me?”

Santhil put her glass away with a brief nod, then removed her scarf. “It's not so bad, I give it a week at mo—”

—Splash!—

Santhil blinked, momentarily frozen to the spot while water dripped from her eyebrows and -lashes. “What on...? Lana!” Lahnia doubled up laughing on the couch, her now empty glass rolling over the floor. Santhil narrowed her eyes with a playful smile and put her own glass aside before diving on her sister. “Come here, you!”

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SAU XV: Pawn of the Dead | SAU XVII: The Frosty Dozen | SAU XIX: On the Brink of Madministration | Running fiction: House Arhakuyl


Fri Apr 13, 2007 3:49 pm
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If only I could write half as good as you do...but I can't and for that I'm going to senselessly and meaninglessly lash out at my little stressball until I squeeze the stuffing out of it.

Anyway, I'm in doubt what the best part of the story is, the manner in which the Druchii interact with each other - a warm, passionate and great race - or how they are viewed by outsiders such as those citizens - alien, cruel and calleous. The nice thing about this is that you manage to fit in both together without having your characters being deranged bloodthirsty beings.

Just one inconsistency I picked up (or one I believe I picked up) is that the sorceress Jessamine Cadsane is married while Lana is frustrated about the fact she is a bride to Malekith. Perhaps you already worked out a solution but it sort of left me wondering.

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Sat Apr 14, 2007 4:23 pm
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SleekDD wrote:
Just one inconsistency I picked up (or one I believe I picked up) is that the sorceress Jessamine Cadsane is married while Lana is frustrated about the fact she is a bride to Malekith. Perhaps you already worked out a solution but it sort of left me wondering.
Spot on! Cheers to you for noticing this subtlety, though I should add it is not of my own making. Allow me to explain.

Jesamine Cadsane is a character created and developed by Sirist rather than myself, and left to her author's scrutiny. There is (or was) a slight overlap of our histories while we were both in the campaign, but since the restart, we were forced to go our separate ways, since Cadsane was still in the campaign and Arhakuyl wasn't, and both parts now effectively handle different timelines.

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SAU XV: Pawn of the Dead | SAU XVII: The Frosty Dozen | SAU XIX: On the Brink of Madministration | Running fiction: House Arhakuyl


Sun Apr 15, 2007 9:20 am
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SleekDD: I can answer that question for you, and it's an inconsistency I had to cover (considering House Cadsane is a line of Sorceresses).

Jesamine's marriage has been arranged -- by Morathi -- to Eberriel. It's quite loveless. This is a far stretch from the norm, but allowable because Morathi and Malekith are absolute hypocrites; they love to impose rules on their subjects and then break them themselves (male sorcery, riding chariots, what-have-you). Jesamine -- and all of the subsequent first-born of House Cadsane -- have their suitors selected for them by Morathi, whom has given the family a special dispensation. If you want to know more about them, and their tie to Morathi, read the 'House of Twilight' and 'Sea of Shadows' stories I've been writing, but that's enough about them for now. Any questions you still need answered, you can PM me, and I'll reply as soon as I can.

Now for you, Tarbo.

I am honestly impressed with this story. I've loved it since you showed me the first bit, and my love of it endures. ;) I think part of the reason I enjoy reading it, and your SAU, is what some might call an "irreverance" for the Druchii and the WHFB setting (i.e. the use of present day terms and concepts in the setting). It's refreshing to see it used, and to see it work. I love being able to identify with the characters in stories, and through the use of terms and language, I can really feel it, and really see it.

I really hope you keep on it. I can't wait to read more.

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Dizaun Cadsane
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Fri Apr 27, 2007 2:26 pm
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(Thank you for the many kind comments, everyone, and forgive my occasional lateness; I do have the plot worked out for the most part, but I must be careful when writing not to turn it into a chore rather than a story!)


Reports, reports, reports... Santhil wasn't sick of it as much as acknowledging what she was searching through. Just now, while she was standing in the corridor, a messenger had handed her a bundle of reports from the desk of Jesamine Cadsane, who was pretty much responsible for the logistics of their group. And now, her pace had slowed, going through the reports to catch anything of importance. One of the things she would have to learn as a drachau was to delegate the things that wouldn't need her attention, but it was nice to be in the know of what was happening.

“Santhil, have you heard?”

Santhil looked up from the bundle still in her hands and scanned about for the source of the voice. “Have I heard what?” Oh, it was Yalasmina.

Yalasmina walked up to Santhil, urging for a bit more privacy than one would normally assume from a conversation in a corridor. She patted Santhil's waist briefly with the back of her hand, nudging her to the nearest window. “There's trouble in the homeland.”

“Tor Cynath?”

“Ulthuan.”

It hit Santhil pretty hard. Ever since the Sundering, Ulthuan had been mostly calm, peaceful and lawful. It was the place you weren't expecting 'trouble' to be. “Trouble... what kind of trouble?”

“People are worried about the extent of influence of the Cult. There has been some moving of positions. People don't know why or how; it doesn't seem to make sense.”

Santhil couldn't help but feel this would come around to bite her. On all accounts, her own appointment as drachau was past her own expectations; it could very well be past that of many others.

“It's not about you,” Yalasmina assured her soothingly. “Houses are starting to publicly declare that they adhere to the one and true god, and it's causing strain. Everyone who is not jumping the bandwagon gets a long stare.”

“Mom and dad?”

“They are fine; it's not that kind of trouble, not yet. But I believe we should be very clear on where and how we stand on this. On how you stand on this.”

Santhil nodded thoughtfully, pondering over the implications. She couldn't put a number on how many of her attachees, forces—anyone out here—were somehow attached to the Cult and, on the whole, she didn't much care either. This wasn't Ulthuan, this was war, and the rest were details.

“Under normal circumstances, as a priestess, I would advocate immediate action, but I wanted to check with you first.”

Santhil stared out the window, seeing troops training in the early daylight. She would be all too happy to stay in Khaine's good graces and see to it that her army was, too, but there was more at stake than religion: unity, obedience, morale. How badly would morale be affected if people would start to equate religion with allegiance? “We don't need this. We really don't need this.” She sighed, then rolled her eyes back to Yalasmina. “What would you do?”

“I would show that House Arhakuyl follows Khaine, and no-one else.”

“We follow our king.”

“Our king follows Khaine.” Yalasmina frowned, her voice almost indignant. To her, it was new—if not outright disturbing—that anyone would care to make a difference between the two, or even doubt it.

Santhil nodded briefly. As much as this had the promise of leading to another philosophical or religious debate with her sister, she felt that it would only detract from the gravity of the situation. Ultimately, it all boiled down to the million-dollar question: “What does our king do?”

“I was hoping you would know,” Yalasmina sighed. It was good to know that, while she was dedicated to Khaine in her fullest, she was also wise and understanding to the degree that she realised a witch hunt would mark the end of unity.

But Santhil shook her head. This was the first she heard about it, and she couldn't for the life of her recall a moment when she doubted the allegiance of any of her peers, associates, aides, or underlings. Cultist or not, as long as they weren't an obstruction, Santhil didn't much care. “We'll deal with it if and when it becomes a problem.”

°°°

“Not comfortable?”

“It's not uncomfortable.”

“Not pretty?”

“Oh no, it's very pretty, very pretty.” Santhil looked over the ritual clothing she was wearing, spotting a style that was rampant amongst the Temple's reigning fashion: a high skin-to-coverage ratio. She wasn't lying: she found the clothes to be stunningly beautiful, but she wouldn't be caught outside wearing this much less than nothing.

Yalasmina sighed, nudged Santhil's chin up with two of her fingers, and secured the tiara in her sister's hair. “Just say it, Ari.”

“As much as I'm honoured to wear this ecclesiastical robing, I find it a bit, ah,” and she looked over herself again, “provocative.”

Yalasmina chuckled. She had given her sister a bit more credit than this, but she wouldn't hold it against her. “You'll get used to it. I find it hard to imagine you haven't treated your fiancé to a show before.”

“Hey, I resent that.”

“Do you deny it?”

“No, but I resent it.” Santhil wriggled around, or rather, the skin-hugging clothes felt like crawling or wriggling away. “Why is it the Temple insists on such... impracticable clothes?”

“Come now, Ari, I've told you a dozen times now.” The stern tone in Yalasmina's voice softened again, picking up that, rather than being unwilling, Santhil simply didn't feel the same way about the religion as she did. All in all, that was unsurprising, given that Yalasmina was a priestess and had always aspired to be a priestess, while Santhil had not. She took a black silk and started attaching it over Santhil's waist.

“The Maibd are brides of our god, Khaine. They train their mind and body to the fullest in his ideal and beliefs—”

“—I'm not a Maibd.”

“They will be leading you through this ritual; you will dress and behave according to their customs. Remember that they have guarded your life on occasion.”

Santhil knew that, and she hated to sound ungrateful, but she failed to see the ready connection between priesthood and scant clothing. “So, basically, I'm dressing up for Khaine.”

“You will be better covered than the adepts themselves, Santhil,” Yalasmina assured her with a soft chuckle. “After all, you are not a priestess. And while Khaine is a jealous god, so are his Maibd. The ritual is considered very... private.”

“Private; how private?”

“Don't stare.”

“I see.”

°°°

The ritual was taking place in a huge but dark, gloomy chamber. In all likelihood, it had once been some sort of throne room, but had been remodelled and redecorated to serve as a local temple chamber ever since the Druchii moved in. The throne had made room for an altar, and on that altar was lying a hapless human man, his arms and legs secured, his eyes darting around nervously while the priestesses chanted around him. He couldn't understand a word they were saying, but he still estimated his chances of being in deep trouble were uncomfortably high. Santhil agreed with his assessment of the situation. The odds were against him.

From Santhil's understanding of the ritual, a creature was sacrificed, its soul offered to Khaine in tribute, respect, perhaps even anticipation. In the end, the ritual served to please their god, and while Santhil was a religious person like most Druchii, she still felt severely out-of-place. There was a big difference between being respectful and reverent, and participating in religious rituals. This would be the first time she would take a life solely in the name of her god. Not that she had moral compulsions about it, but it was a step she hadn't taken before.

Most priestesses were ungarbed. Santhil couldn't help but notice there might have been a practical side to it: no blood stains to wipe from the clothes. What few clothes had been fitted on her were water-repellent at the least: hard and soft black leather, dark blue, chrome-like shining metal, a few insignia fitted onto her to signify that, yes, she was a high-ranking dignitary, but she was not affiliated with the Temple.

Santhil's side of the ritual was fairly simple. She was hardly allowed to say anything, other than a single phrase in an older tongue, offering the sacrifice to Khaine, before she would plunge a long, curved dagger into the human's chest. Right now, she was standing patiently, impassively, next to Yalasmina, the blade resting on her hip. While she was patient, she couldn't help but feel the minutes, perhaps hours, tick away while the adepts chanted. She was a busy woman. But raising that at this point was likely to give her an impressive array of hostile glares.

Still, she was nudged by her sister, and checked with her, curious. Yalasmina looked displeased, subtly taking Santhil's fingers and tapping her engagement ring. It had to go. But Santhil stood her ground, returning a neutral, determined look. The ring stayed.

Yalasmina refrained from as much as sighing or rolling her eyes. She was of a slightly practical bend, and instead of turning it into an issue, she tapped a set of gloves against Santhil's leg. A compromise, then. Santhil slid her hands into the gloves, fitting the material over her fingers.

The chanting ended. The victim's life wouldn't be long after. His eyes darted around, trying to find out what was going on. Panic was starting to read; as much as he knew he wasn't getting out in one piece, adrenaline was seeping into his nerves, and he pulled on his restraints. It wouldn't help him; it was almost part of the ritual. The higher his heartbeat, the quicker the blood would flow. Santhil could see clearly there was a lot of blood being pumped around at the moment. But she had waited long enough and proceeded with the ritual.

With a brief jump, Santhil leapt on top of the restrained victim, unsheathed the blade and held it high above her in both hands. Tension in both her body as that of the human underneath her while she recited the words: “Khaela Furdiekh Mensha Farmiekh Khaine!”

“Drachau!” Piercing beams of bright light suddenly tore into the shadowy chamber when the messenger barged in through the double door.

Santhil hit the emergency brakes. Reacting barely in time, a reflex at the call of her title, the tip of the blade stopped less than an inch above the human's chest, shining threateningly in his eyes. “I'm busy,” she replied, her voice echoing through the resident acoustics, her eyes burning into her victim's. Nothing personal.

“Drachau, you must come to the council chamber immediately! It is an emergency!”

With a clear hint of frustration, Santhil slapped the blade flatly onto the human's chest and sat fully upright again. They'd probably have to redo it from scratch, but the word 'emergency' was rarely used lightly. “Yalasmina, can I borrow a robe, or would that be a degree of desecration that is unlikely to be forgiven soon?”

“We'll get you a robe,” Yalasmina replied tonelessly. She hated for the ritual to be interrupted, more than Santhil did, but she understood that there were priorities, and that they differed.

The man on the altar stared at Santhil for the longest time while she slid off him, then finally rolled his eyes up behind their lids in a brief sigh, and passed out.

°°°

Impatience had gotten a hold on Lahnia; it often did, but perhaps not as glaringly as it had now. Standing just outside the council doors, she crossed her arms and her robe one way, then the other, shifted her balance to her other leg, cocked her head, and stared at the setting sun, and repeated the process in random order.

She stopped when she heard steps in the corridor, her eyes darting in hope. Perhaps the waiting was done? No, her hope died out when she noticed the steps belonged to two scholars, cracking off a joke on prime numbers at each other. Any other person would've rolled her eyes, but Lahnia came to the sobering realisation that she did, in fact, understand the joke.

There, finally! Lahnia caught a glimpse of Santhil pacing through the corridor, wrapped in a dark red robe. “Finally, there you are—where were you? We've been waiting forever!”

“Ritual sacrifice,” Santhil spersed through the barrage, her lack of enthusiasm at the prospect blending into the haste in her reply. “What's the emergency?” she asked while walking past and alongside her sister.

“I don't know the details, but I've heard the Reiksmen are marching for us. They want to retake Nuln.”

“Or drive us away.” A subtle nuance leading to the same problem. The two guards posted at the door stepped aside when recognising Arhakuyl and let them in.

Inside the council chamber, all manners of authorities were already busily discussing what could and should be done. The discussion was heated, hinting at the pressing matter; it probably meant that it was impossible to hold the city. That was alright, in a sense; they were never meant to hold onto Nuln anyway.

“Drachau,” an attentive lieutenant remarked, voice slightly raised to cut into the lively debate. It turned awkwardly silent. Santhil still had to get used to the VIP treatment from those she would be honoured to receive it from. She nodded politely with a smile and moved to her seat. “What's the situation?” she asked, clutching the robe a little tighter now that all those eyes were aimed solely at her.

“Reiksmen advancing from the north-east.” A light, pointed stick tapped the map around Reiksdorf. “Estimated to be over five times our size. They will be here within days.”

Santhil scratched her brow. Five Reiksmen for every Druchii, and these opposing armies would be fresh, eager, fighting fit. Not only that, they would be fighting on familiar ground and, in all likelihood, with nearly perfect intelligence on the Druchii forces. “Right,” she said under her breath. They had anticipated this, but now that the moment was here, everything became a bit more real than the eventuality it had been before. “Anything to the west?”

“Nothing. If we prepare the troops this evening, we can leave first thing in the morning.” The general raised his chin briefly and cleared his throat, looking away from Santhil. Many others followed his example.

Santhil frowned, skipping her eyes from left to right across the table. Was it something she said? Gently, Lahnia put a hand on Santhil's shoulder and pulled her robe up a bit—instantly, Santhil caught on and silently covered her shoulder again, holding tighter onto the robe. “That sounds like the plan we need,” she announced the end of the sudden halt in the conversation.

Now it was a matter of going over the details.

°°°

The army was on the move again. Wordlessly, it marched on, its troops holding a loose formation while setting for the mountain range to the west. Though Nuln was located close to the mountains, it was still a deft march to reach the dwarven holds. Whether or not there would be an attempt at diplomacy was still subject to debate—stubborn rumours and reliable sources had indicated that the dwarfs were supporting both the Sarthailarim as the teeming Reik. Santhil had seen the fruits with her own eyes: machinery, such as pistols, that could only be of dwarven make. The concept worried her.

The terrain here was forested but rocky, too rocky to be used for wheat or other foodstuff, and the scattered hamlets, cottages and villages here had some sort of lumber operation going for their sustenance, using the rivers to transport their logs to the larger cities downstream. The army followed the barely trodden trails curving through the countryside, and hence passed a good number of houses on its way.

Santhil took her environment in again. She had been seeing these trees, these rocks, these patches of grass for most of the day now. The slow progress had been anticipated, but that didn't make her happy about it. With a sigh, she took a piece of bread from her pouch, tore off a piece, and stuffed the rest back. Her horse had been born near humans, bred by humans, and now ridden by her. The stabler had hoped to gain her favour by donating horses to her and her associates. Good guess, she mused while taking a slight bite, not more than a nibble, from the bread.

“Jesamine, may I ask a personal question?”

One of Jesamine's eyebrows rose. While the two of them had a good professional relationship—discussing logistics and such—the personal aspect pretty much stopped with both knowing Lahnia. The fronting of a personal question struck her as odd, so she answered with a lack of protest.

“You are a sorceress,” and Santhil frowned briefly, then cocked her head to Jesamine. “Yet you are married.”

Jesamine's reaction was one of hesitation. “May I inquire, Drachau, is this a bout of curiosity or of scrutiny?” Jesamine wasn't as much afraid as of Santhil as curious why she would want to know.

Santhil chuckled briefly. Astute. “I'll leave the scrutiny to the gossips and tabloids.”

“My marriage with Eberriel was arranged. That's about where my involvement ends.”

Santhil nodded quietly. She had hoped that the practise of arranged marriages was an ancient one. Then again, she had the comfort of knowing her family was wealthy enough to allow its children to marry who they wanted rather than needed. “I'm sorry to hear that. In a sense, I was hoping there would be more... romance?”

“Eberriel's interests steer him away from people like you or me.”

Santhil frowned in confusion, a flick of hair rolling over her eyelash despite the tiara aimed to holding it back. Then again, with the concept of an arranged marriage, it wasn't surprising to hear that both parties would be more inclined to seek their happiness elsewhere, though she had expected at least one of them would be happy with the arrangement. After all, why arrange it otherwise?

Catching Santhil's confused look, Jesamine bent over to her a slight, nudging her horse closer. “You and me, as in being of the opposite sex.”

“Oh?” She took a brief breath when she caught the meaning. “Oh.” Her voice barely hid the surprise. This had all the makings of a very strange story. Then again, life had the unmistakable habit of throwing impossible complications at you that sprouted from the most basic of concepts. The issues could be so very simple, but it usually meant the solutions were not. “But... then why?”

“I pretty much got the executive summary.”

Santhil nodded again. The conversation ended there; it was clear that the topic was not one of Jesamine's favourites. All in all, the answer she got was about as illuminating as a mineshaft, but she hoped to learn something from the brief gleams shared with her. Anyway, her attention was drawn elsewhere rather abruptly.

To the side of the trail, a human infant stared at the passing formation, no more than a few years. No parents to be seen in the vicinity, hungry look in the eyes; definitely lost. Its eyes locked on her, a strange apparition to its standards—pointed ears, smooth complexion, and clothes pointing to an entirely different culture. In return, Santhil gazed back, judging the intelligence in and intent of the creature. The piece of bread started to taste less good while the child was hungrily staring at it—she stopped with a sigh and cocked her head to Jesamine with a played glare when she heard her chuckle, amused at the sudden change in appetite.

Judging the distance loosely, Santhil threw the remaining piece towards the child. It clumsily missed its swing to snatch it from the air; instantly, it dove to its knees, picked it up from the rocks with both hands and stuffed it into its mouth, so absorbed by the food that it didn't spare the passing army a single glance anymore.

_________________
SAU XV: Pawn of the Dead | SAU XVII: The Frosty Dozen | SAU XIX: On the Brink of Madministration | Running fiction: House Arhakuyl


Last edited by Tarbo on Thu May 03, 2007 12:30 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Mon Apr 30, 2007 12:01 pm
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WOW! it just keeps on gtting betetr and better, i wish i could write such good stories..

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Saldrimek Xenan - WS6 / S4 / T3 / D5 / I3

Equipment: Executioners Axe (Rune of Beastslaying - Heroic Killing Blow), 2 Scimitars (Rune of Speed - Always Strike First), Dagger, Rune Branded Leather Armour, Executioner Helm, Fine Set of Throwing Knives (x4)
Inventory: Amulet of Darkness, Poison Vials x7, Deadly Poison Vials x8
Mount: Dark Steed
Gold: 163
Skills: Ambidexterity, Frenzy, Two Weapon Fighting, Ride
Class: Khainite


Thu May 03, 2007 5:43 am
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