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Sea of Shadows -- Chapters I - VIII (Updated 5/10/07)
Posted: Sat Feb 10, 2007 6:28 am
WARNING: This story may contain language and themes not suitable to small children, the heavily conservative, or anyone else unfamiliar with the real world. This story is graphic in violence, contains adult themes such as torture, mutilation, adult language, and contains content of a sexual nature, including incest, androgyny and transgender. In short, it’s about Dark Elves.
Chapter One: Undeniable
The Black Ark Undeniable dragged onward through the sea, scores of smaller craft flitting around its base like a mass of dark grey insects. Near half the ships in the water were transports, but their huge bulk was decorated in such a manner as to appear as threatening as the larger ships of war that protected them. While the Undeniable had few true warships with her, numbering perhaps only a few dozen, her red-sailed fleet’s true strength lay in the masses of small catamaran vessels that hugged her base in organized squadrons, their oars shipped so as not to outpace her.
The Gilded Reavers were certainly not the strongest armada that had sailed under the edict of Malekith, the True King of the Elves. In fact, they had sailed only once under orders, to the lush jungles of Lustria. But even then, they had proven themselves to be an incredible asset, unconcerned with personal glory or riches; easily adapting to an incredibly hostile environment. They were resourceful, and successful; all that true Druchii should be, and much of that success lay at the feet of their leader, Dizaun Cadsane.
As her Black Ark sailed across the sea, towards their long-lost destination, Dizaun stared ahead with icy blue eyes, gripping the gold-leafed sill of one of Undeniable’s incredibly ornate windows, she smiled, her blood red lips curving only slightly upwards. Almost white of skin and lithe of figure, Cadsane was short for a female Druchii, perhaps by half a hand, but her dress and presence made her seem far taller. Dizaun wore a high-shouldered long-coat made of cloth-of-gold, embroidered at the hem with fustian the color of blood. Inside of that, she wore a bodysuit of black, well-polished leather, showing her well-curved body, and matching knee-high boots, their heels raised to make up for her short stature. To continue to downplay her lack of height, a ceremonial crown of black iron and gold inlay rested in her long, thick, platinum blonde hair. Even now as she watched the roiling grey sea, she curled a lock around a finger. “Lumbria,” she purred, her voice a deep baritone, yet still rich and feminine. “It even sounds like Lustria, no?” The thought of her past victories made her smile. We shall have blood again; enough for all of us, I think.
A knock at the other end of her chamber broke her from her musings. Waving a hand adorned with rings and long, crimson-laquered nails, she began to turn to view her unexpected visitor, “Enter.”
Adorned in armor leafed with gold and long, ragged capes cut from the back of monstrous sea-beasts, two corsairs from her personal guard escorted a male Druchii in to her lushly outfitted solar. He was dressed in black riding leathers, long black hair tied in a ponytail that dangled at his waist. His skin was quite pale, identifying him as a noble, though even had he been scorched black, the way he looked at her and her solar with his chin upraised and disdain written in his eyes would have marked him as one of high pedigree. “My Lady Dizaun Cadsane… I had been told you disapproved of … fripperies.” His eyes flickered through the room once more.
Dizaun smiled coolly, letting a hint of venom creep into her voice, “A lady must have her comforts, no? Especially one whom outranks you, and has an edict from our beloved Witch-King.” While it was true that Dizaun found little use for material wealth, she knew intimately knew that personal appearances counted for a great deal. She had outfitted the room to match her tastes. The room had no chairs. Instead, it contained innumerable cushions covered in red silk and embroidered with golden thread, ranging in size from cushions for one’s feet to body pillows that could suit two or three people at once. Red and gold satins and silks hung from the great grey ceiling, creating ‘walls’ and bowers, giving the room more character than its dark walls would otherwise lend it.
“Your room and you yourself are indeed a gem, my lady,” he muttered while affecting a bow, “but it is on the matter of your edict that I come. My name is Opiel, and I come bearing word from our King.”
“Oh? And do tell, proud messenger, is our liege well?”
One of Opiel’s long ears twitched just slightly, giving away his anger. “He is, sorceress. But I have more orders for you.”
Dizaun waved her hand once more, gliding a bit closer to recline her slight frame in one of the massive body-pillows, “Go on.”
Opiel detached a black scroll-case from his riding belt, removed the scroll and began, raising his eyes for a brief moments to gauge Dizaun’s reaction. Dizaun pretended not to notice. “‘To my most loyal servant, Dizaun Cadsane, High Sorceress and Captain of the Gilded Reavers.’
“‘You will have read my previous dispatch by now, and be aware of my orders to you regarding our armies’ main thrust. May Khaine smile upon you in this.’
“‘I am, however, also aware that our effete brothers in Ulthuan are amassing a fleet to pursue their own aims in Lumbria. While I am confident in you, you will need reinforcements if your venture is to be a convincing display of Druchii might. For this reason, I have two edicts for you and your forces. Opiel will bare witness to them.’”
Dizaun looked over at the doors, where both of her warriors stood at attention, ensuring privacy. She beckoned them closer with a finger to listen to the decrees as well. For some reason, I do not trust this Opiel. He is too much a dog to betray Malekith, but he is Druchii still, no?
Opiel read on, oblivious.
“‘Dizaun Cadsane, you will join with the greater part of my captains in the high seas off of Lumbria, and be an integral part of what I am calling The Ashen Fleet. You will seek alliances and cooperation with those that will have it, and crush the warriors of Ulthuan and Mankind you find there. To ensure this, you will meet with five of my most esteemed captains, and reeve the coasts and their waters with them.’”
Dizaun almost flinched, every muscle in her lithe body tightening all at once. I am going to be some servant? Some petty thug? What of my orders? What of the first edict? How could he do this to me? Have I offended him? Has he… no, he could not know. Not even the Convent of Sorceresses knows.
Opiel cleared his throat. Is that a smile? Insolent wretch. “‘Dizaun Cadsane, my second edict in this matter is that I am raising you from Captain to Admiral. You will…’” Opiel went pale, his voice quavering. “‘You will lead The Ashen Fleet to victory, and be an example to all Druchii in this war. Too long have we been idle. Too long have we suffered the weak to live. You will win, Admiral Cadsane, and you will do it with your true orders in mind.’ It is signed ‘Your Lord and Liege, Malekith, The Witch King’.”
Lying on her pillow, Dizaun stretched, letting her prior tension melt away. “Admiral, yes? Lumbria, yes? The Ashen Fleet, yes? These things… they sound so beautiful to me, Opiel. But not so much as victory. Take that message back to our liege.”
“At once, Lady-Admiral.” Opiel turned around, shouldering his way through the two corsairs.
“Oh, and Opiel?”
He stopped. “Yes?”
“If you smirk at me again, I will cut your lips off of your face, yes? Be gone.”
Dizaun smiled once more at the sounds of running feet.
She lifted her body from the pillow, curling up in one nearer to the rail, to better see the ocean spread out before her. For Dizaun, her life had been forever tied to the sea and the wind. Whether it were seas of rough water few others could tack through, or seas of blood borne from a desire for victory and nothing else. Whether it was the winds of the world billowing the crimson sails of her small fleet towards landfall, or the Winds of Magic that she harnessed in her hands to harass the weaker races of the world. It made no matter to Dizaun. She had reached goal after goal when others thought it impossible.
Dizaun was not unique in her attachment to the wind and water of the world; not for one of her race. Before the three races of Elves went their different ways, they were a race that plied the seas in trade and war. Well beyond the conclusion of the initial Great War against Chaos, Elven civilization had stretched across the face of the world, from cursory colonies on Naggaroth, the coast of Lustria, and the areas of the Old World now known as Estalia, Brettonia, and the Empire. The Elves had closer ties to their Dwarven allies for the length of this period. All of these far places required a network of sea-borne trade to survive, and at their hub, ruling over them all, was the island of Ulthuan, the Elven homeland, set in the sea like a massive jewel.
Reclining but unrelaxed in her red silk pillow, Dizaun could not help but sigh. She had never seen Ulthuan, yet the question of its rule lay at the heart of her destiny and her past; again, of every Elf’s. Yet, she felt no true yearning for Ulthuan. A reason amongst many I am not like them, no? It was a strange sentiment, especially for a race so bent on taking it back from the usurping, misguided, treacherous Asur, or self-proclaimed High Elves. No, Dizaun reaved the seas of the Old and New Worlds with her own intentions. The seas parted in a red that matched the crimson sails of her fleet because she sought things as ethereal as the Winds of Magic themselves. If the Dark Elves, called the Druchii in their tongue, conquered Ulthuan tomorrow and Malekith threw down the usurping Phoenix King, it would hold nothing for her but old houses filled with new corpses. The island would be Malekith's; the Elves would be Malekith's. For the rest of Elvenkind, especially Dizaun and her Druchii raiders, life would likely continue as normal, save that riches and slaves would be brought to a closer port on the mystical isle. No. Ulthuan is for the Dread Liege Malekith and dogs begging for scraps from his table; fools like Opiel. I will make my own life, with my own power, yes? That is why I am here.
Her sapphire eyes met the horizon, a flat line stretching for miles, and knew somewhere in the distance the land of Lumbria waited. The sound of her Black Ark cutting through the sea found her ears, hissing and roiling. Dizaun smiled with sanguine lips. "Ah, sweet Lumbria protests my coming so soon? These waters will be richly filled soon enough, no? This sea will be filled with waves of blood, their white-capped tops frothing with puss, their flotsam of body and bone.”
But Dizaun knew that even this would not sate her for long. This war could end on the morrow, or last until time immemorable, and Dizaun would only be a fleeting glimpse into this land’s future. Dizaun needed this war. She needed this opportunity to show her worth. But even if she achieved all she hoped to, here in Lumbria, it would not be enough. Lumbria was a stepping-stone for Dizaun, just as Lustria was.
Dizaun wanted power. Power of arms. Power of wealth. Power of influence. Power over the winds of magic. Dizaun saw everything in the perspective of to how much more of these she might acquire. And war, especially a foreign war with little to lose, could give her all of that and more: slaves to sell, tablets and scrolls of magic to use, and the status victory brought with it. Power could make kings, or it could undo them, or it could even control them. Power could last throughout the ages as surely as fame, inherited in name and blood. But, if there was one thing Dizaun also knew it was that one had to constantly struggle to hold it, for power by definition refused to be contained.
She turned away from her distant victim, her hands reluctantly parting from the golden rail, and spun with the fluid grace of a panther. A smile thick with venom filled her lips as she recognized the person kneeling in front of her. “Ah, Haspera. You have news, no?”
The young Druchii rose crisply to his full height. He was fairly typical of a Dark Elf male: tall, lithe, with long, straight black hair and pale skin, but Haspera’s eyes were a grey-blue color – a faint discoloration from the usual bleak irises of the descendants of old Nagarythe. He wore the standard red, gold and black of the Gilded Reavers, a red sea dragon skin draped over his shoulders, armor of well-polished gilded iron plate beneath it. Black knee high boots and tabard completed his standard corsair garb. Only the golden fleshhooks dangling from his corded belt and the fine barbed cutlass strapped to his side denoted him as an Elf of high rank; captain of the Undeniable’s corsairs.
“I do, my lady.” His firm voice was tinged with youth and anxiety. “We have more reports from the mainland, and before Lord Opiel left, he handed me a map of the coastline and interior.” Haspera produced a parchment from beneath his tabard.
Dizaun raised a thin, white eyebrow. “And he did not leave them with me? A poor messenger…” She slid closer to him, hand outstretched. “You will tell me, yes?”
Haspera nodded, handing her the map before pressing his fist to his armored chest. “My lady.” As she unfurled it, he began, “The island of Lumbria is the largest of a small chain, perhaps only two hundred leagues across. It has a temperate climate, with saltwater marshes, forests, and mountains. The island is sparsely inhabited, with most of the native population residing near the western shore. The civilizations living there appear to be surprisingly modern despite isolation. A group known as the Black Brotherhood supplied the map – they are most anxious for our coming.”
She looked up from the map. “Black Brotherhood? Are they our only contacts?”
“Yes,” he admitted, “for now. However, we have reports that Chaos Dwarf ironclads, Norscan longboats, and countless other fleets have disembarked, both friend and foe.”
“What of my captains? Opiel said that there would be a number of fleets from Naggaroth serving under the banner of the Ashen Fleet.”
“Yes, my lady. I have a list of their names. It should be rolled up within the map.”
As if on cue, a thin scrap of paper fluttered from the top corner. As Dizaun read the names, she smiled visciously, purring, “Oh yes, Haspera. Your news has put me in great spirits. Great spirits indeed. You are always appreciated in my company. But for now, a moment alone with this information might serve me better, yes? Just a moment of thought, if you will.”
Haspera bowed, already stepping back towards the doors. “Of course, my Lady-Admiral.” The tall Druchii turned and withdrew.
“Oh yes,” she hissed through a perfect white smile, “a path to power at my feet. I will walk it without hesitation.”
Posted: Sat Feb 10, 2007 6:45 am
Part II: Forbidden
The distant solid line of land cut the sunrise in half as the calm waters off the Lumbrian coast mirrored the multi-hued sky. A riot of purples, oranges and yellows blended perfectly as far as the eye could see, while the few clouds that rolled through the sky slowly drained of their bright pink pigment, dark grays and blues swallowing the fleeting color. It was a beautiful morning, and Disuan Cadsane, twin sister to the now-Admiral Dizaun Cadsane, had risen early to meet it.
Identical to her sister, Disuan’s long, silver hair reflected the bright orange of the rising sun in its fine strands. The same full lips were pursed in reflection as she watched the sunrise with the same bright blue eyes as the swelling sun kissed the same pale skin. She wore a white blouse with a blue coat, embroidered with gold and complete with matching blue and gold epaulets, bleached white leather leggings and high black leather boots. At her waist, a gilded scimitar hung from a black sword-belt.
Beyond the same surface and same sense of fashion, the two sisters could not be more different. Even though both sisters had a gift for magic, Dizaun was a talented sorceress and general whilst Disuan’s specialty lay in the sword and sailing a single ship. Dizaun’s allure was a dangerous quality, like a brightly colored snake; Disuan’s nature was more open and blunt than her conniving sister. Dizaun was impulsive and emotional; Disuan was patient and reserved. Dizaun took pains to be as feminine as possible; Disuan had taken similar efforts to avoid prancing around on the deck of her ship with a dress on. And Dizaun was their father’s heir, while Disuan’s glory was whatever her sister bestowed upon her. Perhaps it’s better this way. Dizaun gets what comes Dizaun’s way, while I simply advise and protect. I hope Malekith knows who he’s got leading his Fleet. Oh well… It’s their problem, not mine.
The Undeniable began to slow as the coastline became more defined. The Gilded Reavers were to rendezvous with the other captains that would make up The Ashen Fleet on the Isle of Serpents. Or so Dizaun had demanded. Disuan, on the other hand, was skeptical that any would show up. Some of the names on the roster Opiel had handed the twin sisters were legend to the Druchii, and hardly people likely to take orders from a relatively unknown member of the court. Dizaun hopes that our victories in Lustria count for something with these five. Never mind the fact that while pillaged and conquered in the Southlands, civil war broke out that we should’ve been a part of.
Disuan sighed, holding her head in her hands as she leaned her elbows on an iron rail. The sun had broken free of the horizon, scattering the colors to the opposite end of the sky. The coastline continued to gain more definition. Instead of the Lumbrian coast, it became clear that this was an island, detached from the land that spread some many miles beyond it, only a hair’s height on the distant horizon. The island in front of them appeared to have a strange texture to it; smooth in some places, craggy in others. As it loomed ever larger, it became clear that the island’s surface was moving.
“Watchman,” cried Disuan, pointing to the distant isle, “tell me what you see!”
It took a moment, but a reply echoed from farther up on the Undeniable’s surface. “Sea dragons! Hundreds, if not thousands! Basking in the sun! See for yourself, my lady!” The watchman made a grunt, and something came sailing down the surface of the floating tower.
Dizaun caught the object without bothering to look, extending the spyglass and pressing it to one eye. As she squinted through the lens, she watched as a black-scaled serpentine monster slid its massive bulk off of a dark grey rock, languidly slipping into the sea. “Khaine give us courage… Where has Dizaun taken us this time..?”
Hefting the spyglass back up to the watchman, she waited for him to shout his thanks before turning on her heels, stalking back towards her rooms. The Black Ark was deathly still. Most of the excess crew was ensuring that all of the smaller vessels were crewed, and replacing men whom had fallen ill on the journey or whom had been lost at sea. The Undeniable herself hardly needed an active crew. Dizaun moved her using an artifact near the top of onr tower – a massive ball of purple stone – which would turn her and increase or decrease her acceleration. Any standing forces on the former city spire were assigned to repelling possible boarding parties as well as manning the thirty-three reaper bolt throwers on each of her thirty-three main decks. With land in sight, every last one of the ballista-like machines were manned. Even Dizaun took no chances when it came to treachery from the other captains.
On her way to her personal quarters on the Undeniable, Disuan was barely given an honorific or a nod of the head. She sighed to herself, strangely relieved. I don’t know what Dizaun is doing, and frankly, the smaller part I play, more likely the better. Her sister had not yet divulged to her what Malekith’s true plans were for the Gilded Reavers and this new Ashen Fleet, but she had heard the same rumors as the other crewmen: a Black Ark had been seen off of the coast of Lumbria, and Malekith wanted it back; no, not a Black Ark, but a massive citadel filled with knowledge forgotten since the time of Aenarion; no, not knowledge, but enough loot and funds to bribe every mercenary from Tilea to Cathay; no, not mercenaries, but Skaven weaponry were to be bought with these new riches. The rumor mill kept spinning, and every hour, a new lie took flight. Disuan, however, knew that Dizaun would let them keep at it until the true reason for this edict was sitting in front of them. She shook her head to clear her mind of all this plotting and intrigue and turned down the last flight of stairs.
Opening the door to her quarters, she blinked back sudden tears as a potent smell blew from the open portal to greet her nose. Rubbing them away, she found she was not alone in her room, and quickly closed the door behind her. Laying on her simple straw-mattress bed was Dizaun, a green shift and breeches of loose, flowing silk and blackwork.
“Dizaun. Were you seen?”
“Of course not,” she purred, flicking some invisible speck of grit from her long, lacquered nails. She had painted them in a dark green that shifted to black when the light hit it just so. Always matching, our Dizaun.
“Why did you come, and so early? Normally you’re still asleep.”
“And normally you do not speak this colloquially, no? Would you prefer I left and made you ignorant of our Dread Liege’s council? I would not wish you to die of stupidity, as our father did.”
“Our father loved us,” reminded Disuan as she walked over to the singular window her solar had. “But love has been one of many things that don’t matter to you.”
“Oh, that’s not true. I love many things, no? I love power. I love victory. I love sex. I love flexibility. I love swords and bows and good arms to wield them.”
Disuan sighed as she stared out the portal, watching the massive wake of the Black Ark. “That’s not love. That’s ambition.”
And suddenly Dizaun was behind her, an arm wrapped around her waist, the other around her neck. “I love you, too,” she whispered, lips only inches away from Disuan’s long, elegant ears. “Is that ambition?” Dizaun leaned forward slightly, sucking on the sensitive lobe, flicking one of Disuan’s many piercings with her tongue.
“N-no,” Disuan stammered, “that’s forbidden, and could end with us both dead if we were ever to be discovered.”
Dizaun bit down hard on her ear before bodily heaving Disuan from the window, throwing her towards the bed. The surprised sister hit the bed with her knees, pitching over onto the rough straw mattress. When she tried to turn, a foot slammed onto her back, pinning her on the bed, but she turned her head to look at Dizaun none the less.
Chest heaving rapidly, Dizaun’s eyes smoldered with obvious anger, even in the shadows of the morning. “So much of what I am is forbidden, yes? My love of you is not the greatest thing, nor will it ever be the smallest. Let me show you again why it is that I am truly the heir, and why I live while you serve, sweet sister!” Spitting venom into those last words, Dizaun reached for her own ears, revealing a pair of long, dangling black earrings. Oh gods no…
Surrounded by the stark white of Dizaun’s hair, both earrings were almost painful to look at, as if forcing one’s eyes away from them. As she removed them from her ears, Dizaun’s chest seemed to…bend. The shift seemed to fit her more loosely, and her pants fit more snugly. Dizaun had removed the source of her spell of alteration, showing herself as what she truly was: a he. Male sorcerers were taboo in Naggaroth. For one to practice magic could result in death. At the very least, they were forbidden to inherit titles. The few that lived eked out an existence as mercenaries, selling their dark magics to the highest bidder.
“Yes, sweet sister, sometimes I feel you forget that I am the male here. The dominant one. While I am as delicate; as youthful as you, you can never hope to be as strong as I am. Because, as you should well know, illusion is power here, and illusion is all that keeps us from dying. Be it a glamour like the one that hides my true sex, or you affecting some measure of reciprocation to my advances. Some day, I might grow tired of your resistance, no? And on that day, I will show you what hides behind my illusions: cold, hard strength.”
Disuan sucked in strangled breaths, her eyes darting around the room, looking for some way to distract him. There was nothing that could, and she knew it. Her brother leaned closer to her, bending over his knee as a lacquered nail began to trace the length of Disuan’s spine. “Dizaun…”
“Hmm? I am here. Tell me what you want. Forgiveness? An apology? Or do you finally want me?” He leaned close enough to whisper into her ear, his hot, sweet-scented breath pouring over her. “Have your reservations disappeared now that you are at a disadvantage?” His finger trailed up her back, slowly coming to rest at her neck, each finger perching gently on her throat. “You fear me, no? But you love me in your own way, just as I do you.” Disuan watched as the amused grin he whore fell away to reveal disgust, and he lurched off of her.
“If you refuse to bed me, give me a song.”
Laying in stunned silence, Disuan hardly dared to breath. “A what?”
“A song, yes?” His voice dripped scorn. “Did I hit you too hard, or not hard enough?”
Slowly, Disuan sat back up. Her knees and back ached, but she refused to show it. “What song do you want to hear?”
Dizaun had sat down at the foot of the bed, holding his face with one hand, while the other fluttered through the air on a sigh, his earrings jingling in his grip. “Pick one.”
Still shaken, Disuan reached for the first melody that came to her mind: an old song in Eltharin, the language of the High Elves. Her voice was the same pitch as her twins, deep and rich for a woman, but still liquid soft, the words lilting from her lips, and whilst the sound was beautiful, the words would have sounded simple in the tongues of Men.
‘Of bluest wave my ship sailed,
Ever returning my body and crew to the jewel of Ulthuan.
This I shall never see.
The starry night is now my sea.
My spectre is my vessel, crewed by my will.
My home is the depths.’
‘Of my wife and two grown sons,
Their faces wrought of alabaster framed in thread of gold.
They I shall never see.
The leviathans are now my kin.
Their mournful melodies tearing my soul.
My home is the depths.’
‘Of richest wine and gold minted coins,
And company to rest my weary limbs and warm my heavy heart.
These I shall never see.
The salty sea is now my drink.
My coin the shells, and only the Dragons Below to hold my spirit.
My home is the depths.’
Dizaun had let go of his face, letting the song bleed into silence, and had turned to look at Disuan, his eyes drained of their murder. Something strange filled them now, somewhere between reflection and displeasure. “A song from our childhood. Father’s favorite, no? ‘A Sealord’s Lament’?”
Disuan flushed, having already been warned of his disdain for their father, Carten Cadsane. “It’s the first thing that I thought of.”
“A poor choice. You were always one for killing the mood.”
She said nothing in reply. Thank the gods I am.
The silence between them stretched, but Disuan could feel her brother’s agitation with her breaking through his patience.
“I suppose I shall bring things to business, then, no? We are going to be in the thick of a war, soon. Blood, carnage, but also intrigue, politics. I will need you at my side, yes? I will need you as a pillar of support. A second pair of eyes to see what I cannot see from how high my seat will be. A second pair of ears to hear the scuttling of mice all around me.”
Curiosity began to get the better of Disuan. “Are you doubting my character, or the loyalty of your men?”
Her brother stood up, spinning around as he grasped the foot board of Disuan’s bed, looking up the mattress at her. “No, sweet sister. You have not yet; why would you now. I simply need you to be more… active, yes? There may be a time when I need to split our forces in two. I will need you to be able to speak with my voice, and I need to know that what you say will keep our interests at heart.”
The notion of being separated from her brother was startling. Not once since they had been children had they been more than a mile apart from one another, and despite Dizaun’s fits of anger, she had sworn not to part from him. I can’t afford to miss a chance, if one ever comes. “Dizaun,” she interrupted, “I don’t think that’s the best of ideas. Haspera would be more appropriate.” The less time he spends with Haspera, the better. “You’ve trained him to be a great fighter and a great commander. He might be a bit nervous at times, but he’s gaining confidence and wit—”
“No,” interjected Dizaun, cutting her off. “It must be you. I have considered that possibility, and it is not so. You may not be the heir, but there is power in a name. One that you and I share, yes? You will do better. I am the stronger one, yes, but my strength has its limits. While I may be a shadowmancer, I still cannot be in two places at once, but with you, I can be.”
Defeated, Disuan shook her head. “Tell me what you want me to do.”
Dizaun slid back from the bed, pushing his hair back from one ear and setting a pure black earring in, doing the same for the other. Again, the strange, formless bending of light and substance drew Disuan’s eyes to Dizaun’s suddenly ample chest. And again my brother becomes my sister. “Give me sound advice, as always, but when we are together, do not forget to listen, yes? When I am gone, you must keep the other captains and generals in line. Some of them will take effort to control when I am not present; others would rather stick their swords into you and dangle your head from their flesh-hooks. You must take care that neither of these occur, yes?” He offered her a wicked smile, as if he had made a hilarious joke. Disuan returned it thinly. She did not feel like losing her virginity to her brother due to an argument over who had the worst sense of humor.
“I’ll do my best.” Even if it is the last thing I wanted. She regretted what she was about to say, but if she was to be forced in as a partner to this, and not simply sit in the sidelines as she had in Lustria, it would mean even more restless nights to come. “Dizaun, this is the first time you’ve been given a position of command on the battlefield. Just answer me. Are you absolutely sure this is what you want?”
He looked shocked, his thin white eyebrows practically touching as he furrowed his brow. “Disuan. I thought you knew me best, no? Malekith has given me honor, power, status and riches rolled into one neat little package; I would be a fool to turn down such an offer. Besides,” he smiled, his face relaxing, smooth and full of dangerous promises, “it gives me an excuse to exercise my many loves.”[/i]
Posted: Sat Feb 10, 2007 6:57 am
Part III: Arrogance
Haspera had to walk more briskly to catch up to Dizaun, the white-haired sorceress’s high-heeled leather boots tapping out a furious rhythm on the uneven rock of the wave-carved walk that led to the chamber within which the captains of the Ashen Fleet waited. After Dizaun’s promotion to Admiral, she had selected Haspera to replace her as captain on the Undeniable. Haspera had been honored, then. Today, he was disgraced.
Dizaun had raged when Haspera had brought the Undeniable around the Serpent Isle to find that the Black Arks of his captains had already arrived, their ships nestled at their base at anchor, or patrolling the stretch of sea between the Isle and the Lumbrian coast. She had ordered him out of her solar, but even from behind the closed door, he could hear his lady “rearranging” her room’s pillows. When she had finally walked out again, she had ordered Haspera to find Disuan, and for both of them to dress as formally as the few minutes they had to spare would allow.
Not even an hour later, the three ranking captains of the Gilded Reavers were rushing towards their first meeting with their future peers. Haspera had chosen to wear his flowing, robe-like khaitan, cut from the finest fustian, and over that, his gilded mail dalakoi, matching breast and back-plate tied over that. He wore his cowl up, not concerned with the state of his long, straight black hair. Couched against his shoulder like a lance, he held the golden skull standard of the Gilded Reavers, its red eyes glaring out from the black field. Dizaun had shoved it into his hands as they disembarked, telling him not to drop it. Her eyes had been as fierce then as the bloody sockets on the banner.
Disuan Cadsane, whom silently kept pace with Haspera, had similarly chosen to go a more simple route. She had declined to put on oils or jewelry or silks of any kind, instead dressed in simple black leathers and hard-worn boots. The only indulgence she had given herself was a satin sash of deep blue that ran from shoulder to waist, tiny golden brocaded skulls with ruby eyes sewn upon it. Her face was as somber and dark as her outfit. Flat and emotionless, it was a far cry from the relaxed, casual expression she often wore. Perhaps she is tired. She did not look as if she had slept well when I woke her.
In front of them both marched a being so beautiful she must have been ethereal. Dizaun had tied her snowy curls in a red thong, draping them over one shoulder. A necklace of gilded chainmail plunged down to her black leather bodice; a matching skirt made of dozens upon dozens of studded straps lapped noisily about her knees, every quick stride creating an echoing rainfall of sound. The boots she wore stopped just below the knee, showing only the slightest hint of bare, pale skin. Elaborate golden greaves and vambraces encased her legs and arms. She looked terrifying and scintillatingly gorgeous at the same time. She is the epitome of all a woman should be. Haspera sighed softly to himself, drawing a guarded look from Disuan. Training his eyes on the path instead of his admiral, Haspera rose the standard in his hands a little higher as they took the final bend into the wind-carved cavern ahead.
An eerie silence filled the cave as the waves broke on black fingers of rock dozens of feet beneath them before flowing noiselessly into the caverns main chamber. The stone seemed to suck the very light out of the air, making even Haspera’s keen eyesight near useless. He heard the snap of Dizaun’s fingers ahead of him. A blossoming orb of purple light filled her hand, filling the space between her upraised fingertips, perhaps the size of a human skull. The lilac light of the orb lit the pathway well enough, but his surroundings were swallowed in darkness. Disuan gave Haspera a blank look before hurrying her stride to catch up to her sister, and Haspera silently agreed, continuing to pace the shorter Druchii woman.
Somewhere in the pitch black that lay in front of them, a pin-prick of golden light began to grow. Dizaun was headed directly for it. Haspera leaned forward to whisper to the sorceress, wincing as she lowered the ball of purple light in front of his face. “My lady, is it candle-light? The other captains have prepared for us, it seems.”
Dizaun did not pause, gliding onwards as she spat venomously back at him, “No, it is the dawn. Of course it is candle-light, Haspera! They are lords, not sorceresses. They have torches and slaves to hold them, no? Now silence. I would not have them hear me bickering with you.” As he backed away from her, he caught her muttering, “If I want the obvious pointed out to me, I would rather have an ogre as my replacement. I forget how young he is…”
And so it was that Haspera, embarrassed into silence, walked into the meeting chamber. Slaves of all races hurried about, hammering sconces into the rock walls, positioning and repositioning furniture to fit their respective masters’ whims, and holding flagons of wine, plates of food, and chests of tribute. The sconces that had been set were already ablaze, their light dwarfed by that of the orb in Dizaun’s hand. Closing her fist, the purple orb shattered, its magical energy falling to the floor like glass before dissipating into the earth. Cadsane continued forwards, Disuan behind her. Haspera, however, stopped dead on the narrow path, the standard raised in front of him. Summoning his voice, he shouted into the cavern, “Dizaun Cadsane, Sorceress of the Convent, Captain of the Undeniable, Admiral of the Ashen Fleet, Scourge of Lustria, and her sister, Disuan Cadsane!”
Five very different men stood up from where they sat around a grey, wooden table, cut in a long rectangle that dominated the middle of the cavern. As they stood, five different liveried slaves moved forward to stand by their chairs, ready to assist them as their lords should see fit. Dizaun herself took a seat at the head of the table, Disuan sat at the other end, opposite her sister, and opened up a scroll of parchment. An Asur slave sat a pen and ink pot before her; Disuan acknowledged him with bow of her head. Haspera saw Dizaun’s eyes flicker in disgust at her sister before she addressed the captains, whom she beckoned to sit as well.
“Thank you for coming. I would apologize for my lateness, if you were not all considerably early.”
One of the Druchii lords stood, his long hands still resting on the table top. A coronet of dark iron encircled his jet black hair. Beneath the folds of his purple khaitan, a black undertunic was emblazoned with his personal livery. A slave stepped forward, bearing a matching standard – a black orb hanging in a purple field. Purple is a royal color, reserved for our King and his favored subjects. He waited to be introduced, his cold grey eyes staring across the table at Dizaun, emotionless and cold
Just as Haspera had, the human slave belted out as imperiously as he could manage, “Prince Katan, Commander of the Midknight Raiders, Captain of the Ark of Arnhelm!”
Katan began where his slave had left off. “My lady, we arrived at the agreed upon time.”
“Indeed, Prince Katan,” purred Dizaun, a glint of humor in her eyes, “but it is me you wait for, yes? Therefore, it is when I arrive that we begin; not you, or even the passage of the sun and moon. It cannot be helped that you simply arrived before your Admiral.”
Slowly, the highborn elf reclined once more. Whether he was wounded by Dizaun’s barbs or had brushed them off was impossible to determine: he wore his blank, thoughtful expression like a mask. But something about him unnerved Haspera. Ark of Arnhelm? I was unaware that there was ever an Ark at Arnhelm… Arnhelm, regardless of its true founding, was the last functioning Asur outpost in Naggaroth. Natural and magically aided defenses made Arnhelm almost completely impenetrable to Dark Elf armies looking to stamp out this stain on the map – but the same means also effectively isolated it from the rest of the Land of Chill.
Dizaun waved her hand at the chests of tribute, otherwise leaving the slaves holding them unacknowledged. “And what is this? Tribute, no? I am flattered, but I do not deserve monetary tokens of your esteem. I am not here for money. This Ashen Fleet will not be about money, either.”
“What then,” asked another of the captains, “my lady admiral, are we indeed here for?” His slave was only a moment behind him. “Lord Rydeel Falirth, Captain of the Black Ark Malice, Commander of its Forces!” Fingers steepled in front of him, Falirth struck Haspera as a calculating man. His thin face, like the other captains, lacked expression, yet his eyes burned like blue flame in their sockets. His long black hair was tied into a ponytail that brushed against the ornate helm he had resting on the table beside him. His armor was just as decorated, a black satin cloak lined with sable trailing from the intricately detailed collar. As Rydeel’s sapphire eyes rose from his hands to Dizaun’s face, they seemed to give the air of a frown whilst his lips held still.
It was another captain that answered for Cadsane. “We are here because we are loyal subjects of the Witch King, and he has ordered us here, with Admiral Cadsane at our head.” His voice was mellifluous and unearthly soothing, filling Haspera’s mind like warm water. Even before his herald spoke, Haspera knew who this man was.
“Lord Fingol Darkwater, Captain of the Black Ark Nightmare, Envoy of the Witch King, and Speaker of the Temple!”
A brief hush filled the chamber, the faint patter of moisture dripping to the stony floor the only noise as Haspera took a look at one of the most infamous Druchii captains to set sail for Lumbria. Wearing a coat of armor that looked almost more ceremonial than functional, its thin spines and light plates connecting like some massive insect’s exoskeleton, Fingol had added several other rather unique touches to his own wardrobe. The cloak that hugged his shoulders loosely was Chracian lion pelt, thick as boiled leather but softer than sin. Where most of the assembled captains had two swords on their belt to mark their high status, Darkwater wore three, and their grips looked well-worn. His eyes were the common grey of most Elves, but his black hair had begun to turn white as he approached the end of his prime. His fine face wore a stinging smile, yet he directed it more to the slave behind Falirth than Falirth himself.
Haspera chanced a look at Dizaun. She looked intent on the speaker for the moment, yet he wondered for how long her charade would hold up. I am sure she feels Fingol’s presence as well. Knowing my lady, she will rein him in hard, if she can.
“Yes, our Dread Liege has ordered us here,” she began, “and we will do as he asks. But you are my agents, now, through his benevolence and wisdom, no? I refuse to deny my King anything, and so I in turn refuse to return to Naggaroth with the Ashen Fleet divided and defeated. To avoid division, we must cast off its catalysts, yes? Personal glory, bloodlust, and distrust simply will simply distract us from our true aim: victory.”
The other captains began to murmur to one another, but for two. Rydeel blinked, the fire in his eyes waning as he stared over the table at Cadsane. Fingol, however, turned to look at Haspera, yet spoke to Dizaun, “You sound drunk on notions of honor, my lady.”
Eyes locked with Darkwater, Haspera did not quite hear what Dizaun began to say, instead sensing a question through that grey, knowing stare: Why are you here? Haspera had to bite his tongue to keep from answering, slowly focusing once more on the conversation between the leaders of the Ashen Fleet.
“…but I do yield that certain indulgences are necessary, yes? I do profess that we restrain ourselves from being ruled by them: no more; no less. Instead, we are ruled by a greater master even here in Lumbria, and his name is the Witch-King, with Victory as his mistress. Would you deny them their reign here simply for pennies and warm bodies growing colder under your cruel knives?”
Fingol Darkwater let his eyes slip from Haspera, their questioning gaze fixing instead on Dizaun with new interest. Thank Khaine for that later. Fingol’s darkly amused expression became one of guarded reproach. “I, as you have said, would deny my King nothing. If you truly wear his favor, then I will do what is required of me.” He let his hand wave around the table a few times. “On them, however, I can not quite comment.”
The other captains were quick to shout their loyalties at their new Admiral. Lord Rydeel Falirth, however, remained silent. He stared at the wood in front of him, rocking back slowly in his chair. As Haspera watched, he reached slowly into his pocket, he slowly lectured, “My lady Admiral, on my person, I have one of the greatest weapons crafted by the hands of mortals. If you would like it, I will offer it to you, with some advice.”
Without waiting for Dizaun to reply, Falirth flicked a simple copper coin onto the middle of the table top, leaning forward once more. “I have fought in many battles, and earned my share of prizes and slaves. The eventuality of war is that it is not a war of men wielding weapons, but of men wielding coin. Supplies cost gold and silver. Soldiers must be paid. This far from Naggaroth, without a safe, productive base of operations, foraging on the field of battle for our supplies and plundering for our wages is the only way that we can hope to support this Ashen Fleet that you and the Witch King have forged. An invasion that rules out the pursuit of funds will ultimately fail, especially with such a long route of supply.”
“Yes,” admitted Dizaun, “but I seem to remember saying that we moderate only our personal indulgences, not those of our force, no? If you wish to… personally oversee the distribution of wealth to your soldiers, that is your own business. But you have brought up two very important points, my lord, which must be addressed.”
Disuan Cadsane looked up from her transcription to stare across the table at her sister. Haspera kept his attentions on the flag he held in front of him. I am curious as well, despite myself.
“First,” Dizaun tolled off, raising a finger to count it off, “we have no base of operations. Before the next supply train arrives, I want one, and I want it here, yes?”
“An ash-colored island for an Ashen Fleet,” mused Fingol. “How droll.”
Dizaun nodded to Prince Katan, whom had been silently watching the meeting progress, “I have never seen the Midknight Raiders in action before. Perhaps they would give us the honor of taking a part of this isle for us, no? I am sick of the hiss of serpents already, and I would enjoy a deal less of it.”
Katan stood, bowing only slightly to Dizaun. “I am sure we could use some practice. The trip over was rather uneventful.”
“Secondly,” counted Dizaun, another finger raised, “is what I intend to spend our gathered wealth upon. I plan to put all of my personal assets, as well as those I acquire in the course of our campaigning, in to mercenaries.”
The prince tilted his head to the side slightly, “You named distrust as something you did not want, yet you wish to hire mercenaries, whom are by definition unreliable.”
“Yes, I do,” purred Dizaun, “and they are what I might name as a paper shield should we need their numbers. Yet a shield of paper is better than none at all, no? Thinking of them so gives them not enough credit. I do not wish to hire just any mercenary, good Prince Katan, but the Ogres.”
“Oh,” querried Fingol, “And which ‘stalwart’ tribe did you plan on hiring?”
“All of them. And since you seem so keen on the idea, Lord Darkwater, I am sending you to reach some agreement with them. Once you finish with them, broker a deal with any other like-minded race as ourselves. While we do search for the lost Black Ark, we also search for victory, and allies will only be another gem in our future crown that is Lumbria.”
This failed to phase the older Elf, and as he stood, he gave an exaggerated bow. “Of course, Admiral.” He smiled thinly. “I believe it will be a pleasure ‘working’ under you.”
Swine! How dare he even suggest such lewd conduct between them? She will not endure it!
But she did, or at least ignored it, and turned instead to her other captains. “As for the rest of us, we will begin our operations abroad. Fly your colors as well as our own. Sink, board, or otherwise remove those that do not hail you in return. Secure the seas. Such is our mission.” As she stood from the table, so did the other captains, Falirth amongst them. They are all so much taller than my lady, and older. She truly is the most resplendent of the great Druchii minds. Dizaun bowed her head to them, and they returned the gesture. “Set sail immediately, all of you. We will meet again, and soon, when our base here is constructed and progress is made.” Beckoning for Disuan to stand as well, she walked towards the path, and Haspera as well.
Standing aside, Haspera let both sisters pass him before he turned to follow. It was not until another globe of purple light hovered in Dizaun’s hand and the light of the torches was once again a pin-prick behind them that Haspera presumed to walk beside his lady. “Admiral, I –”
“—have questions,” she interrupted, “I know, Haspera. Ask them.”
“You let them contradict you. They challenged your authority, and left them unmolested. Why?”
The violet light made Dizaun’s smile seem more predatory as she replied, “Oh, sweet Haspera, how young you are indeed. You must listen with your wits as well as your ears, yes? Unmolested? Hardly. Prince Katan was presumptuous, yet courteous, and so I corrected him in kind. Lord Falirth… I had not expected to have trouble with that one. The quiet ones are always hard to read, no? But I did give him what he truly wanted, and secured his loyalty. He wants fine things; let him have fine things.”
“I told Lord Falirth that he could personally oversee the distribution of acquired wealth for his force, yes? What this truly means is that I have given him permission to select the trophies and fripperies he likes as his own, and let his men keep their own cut. His speech about pay and supply? Only a front for his own personal concerns, no? Though his words were true enough…”
Haspera looked down at the dimly lit path before them, summoning his courage before looking back at the angelic, lavender hued face of his liege. “My lady, what of Fingol Darkwater. His comment as he stood...”
Dizaun looked at Haspera. For a moment, it felt as if she were truly looking at him for the first time. She shrugged, turning back to the path before her. “As for Fingol Darkwater, I had expected his sarcasm and interjections, and now he is paying for it, no? Dealing with Ogres is hardly a delightful experience, though it truly is a necessary one, and a purpose that I feel he will certainly succeed in. And by sending him, our prospective allies will be more pliable and more impressed in our representative. ‘Speaker of the Temple?’ ‘Envoy of the Witch King?’ These titles sound impressive, no? Hard to ignore a man with such credentials, and with such a reputation as Fingol Darkwater.
“As for that final comment, do not concern yourself over it. He may be an Elf, and old enough to be my grandsire, but he can still be crass. Do not tell me, Haspera, that you have not fantasized over my naked form.”
He nearly tripped.
The soceresses’s laughter echoed throughout the cavern, “Oh, poor, sweet Haspera! Do not concern yourself. Know that I am in control, and worry no more, yes?”
He nodded hesitantly, couching the flag under one arm as all three Reavers stepped from the darkness of the cavern to the light of the day.
Posted: Sat Feb 10, 2007 7:15 am
Part IV: Swordplay
Deep in his dreams, Dizaun Cadsane was fighting for his life.
“You are not yet fast enough, my son,” sighed his father, Carten Cadsane, the port magistrate of Clar Karond. Carten had been a lean man, his hair a thick tangle of black curls that he tied back in a simple pony-tail for fencing. Clad in black leathers with a deep red dueling cloak over his left arm, the elder Cadsane leaned gently on the thin-bladed rapier he had brought back from Tilea, shaking his head at Dizaun. “You have let your skills grow lax. Come. Again.” Flicking the blade up in front of him once more, Carten rested his free hand on his hip, showing Dizaun only his right side, giving him only a narrow target.
I remember this. Clad in leathers that matched his father, Dizaun stood before his father as he had never stood before him in life: as old as he was in the waking world, his broad scimitar held in both hands. Sweat rolled down his face, dripping onto his lightly muscled body. I must win, or I will never be free. He was exhausted, but he rose the scimitar above his head, darting forward.
Dizaun swept the blade in an arc that would have removed his father’s head from his shoulders. Instead, a shower of sparks filled the air as Carten’s rapier caught the sword near its hilt. Dizaun spun free of the lock of their blades, snaking his booted heel out to catch his father in the back of the knee. Carten spun as well, catching Dizaun’s foot beneath his, pinning it fast. Twisting his effeminate face into a scowl, Dizaun shouted at his father, “Let me go! I grow tired of this, no?”
Carten only gave his son another sad sigh and shake of the head. “I cannot, until you learn, son of mine.”
Feinting, Dizaun cut at his father’s boot, lifting it just in time to catch the riposte of Carten’s lighter weapon as he danced away. Dizaun pressed the attack, flourishing his blade at his father, always trying to hit somewhere new. Die! Just die! His blade was too large for thrusting, but perfect for slicing, and in both hands, powerful enough to cut Carten in half. It was hitting Carten that was proving difficult. Just one hit. Just one. I have learned from the best, no? From you, father. From the Asrai. From the Nipponese. From the Cathayans. From the Middenheimers. Even from the story-tablets of the warriors of the Old Ones. Just one hit.
The older Elf made his move as Dizaun pulled back his sword, thrusting his own blade through the scimitar’s ornamental sword-breaker. Lunging forward, Carten yanked hard, ripping the blade from his son’s hands. Dropping to his knees, Dizaun gasped, his hands feeling as if they were on fire. “F-father…”
“You have lost, again, Dizaun.” Carten looked down the length of his blade at his son, coolly questioning, “Do you hurt, my son? Are your hands so soft?”
Dizaun hugged his hands to his chest, unable to do anything but pant. He makes me feel half a child again. Even now, no? He sucked in breath, trying to find his voice again.
“Why do you persist, Dizaun? You are divided, as now as you ever were. You could be so much stronger, and so much happier, if you would live one complete life instead of two half-lives.”
“Happier, father?” he croaked, “I am Druchii, yes? Happiness is not something I care about.”
Carten’s mouth sank into a frown. “Then you will continue this masquerade your mother started? Fine. Armor yourselves in skirts instead of scale. Arm yourself with sex instead of swords. See where it leads you, my son?”
Suddenly Dizaun was no longer clad in leathers, but a massive black gown, little words that shifted when Dizaun tried to read them picked out on its fabric in gold and red embroidery. It was heavy and awkward, made of thick wool that scratched against his soft skin. His chest was no longer flat and male, but full and feminine.
“Let us see how well you fight now…,” growled Carten Cadsane, raising the sword above his head. He turned, his whole body facing Dizaun. Where his heart should have been, a massive hole the size of a melon was carved straight through him, yet his organs pulsed and quivered in a lewd mockery of life. Dizaun screamed, and the sword came slithering down. “…my son!”
Dizaun erupted from his covers, body slick with a cold sweat. He could hear someone outside his doors, calling for ‘my lady’, but for now, he was too shaken to respond, or to realize that ‘my lady’ was him. He pulled at the collar of his sleeping shift, staring at smooth, pale, unbroken skin. A dream. Only a dream. The same one I have had for a hundred years.
“My lady!” cried the voice at the door once more.
My earrings. He scrambled for them, reaching for the box beside his bed. Fastening them into place, he watched as his chest began to boil, threads of skin, muscle, and tissue surging outwards to create the transmutation that made him into a fully-functioning ‘her’. Sighing, he let his shirt drop back into place. Always so unnerving to feel my breasts grow whilst my cock disappears. But it is a necessary unease, no? For a moment, he almost thought he could hear his father, shouting his last two words once more, but realized it was yet another timid shout from the door.
Dizaun ripped the door open. He was sure he must look a sight, all covered in sweat and barely dressed, his newly-grown assets tight against an already form-fitting shirt. “What is it?”
An Elven girl, most likely an Asur considering her blonde hair, stood with her mouth agape at her ‘mistress’ before she wisely closed it and gave her short message.“Ships on the horizon, spotted by the far-eyes.”
“What colors do they fly?”
“I d-do not know,” stuttered the slave. “I was not t-told…”
“What is their make, then?”
“Again, my lady, I do not know.”
Dizaun muttered to himself, “A fine way to wake up, no? Useless slave… Find yourself a purpose and get me Haspera.”
“I-immediately, my lady!” The girl ran off, struggling not to trip over her shackles.
By the time Haspera arrived, Dizaun was already clad for war. He had chosen the crown of iron and gold and the same matching black leather bodysuit and boots from his meeting with Opiel, but had added a protective gilded mail chain gorget that fastened to a thick golden choker as well as the polished leather bodysuit. Dizaun’s cloak had been cut from the back of a huge golden serpent they had overtaken off the coast of Lustria, finally slain by his black spells. He sat on his bed, polishing his scimitar. It could not kill father, but perhaps it can kill these ones, yes? “Haspera,” sighed Dizaun, “come sit with me, and tell me what you know of our new friends.”
Sitting at his side, Haspera wore the same armor he had at the Ashen Fleet’s meeting. Does he only have that one? A pity. “My lady,” he began, “we have still failed to identify the ships before us. They look like … natural. When we come closer, I will be able to definitively answer, but I would assume these are… Wood Elf ships.”
Dizaun’s whetstone stopped in mid-swipe. “Asrai ships?”
“Yes, my lady.” Haspera’s light grey eyes showed his discomfort, so pale they were almost totally white.
“Interesting, no?” He began to sharpen the blade once more, probing gently, “And we have the weather gauge? Were you me right now, how would you deploy, Admiral Haspera?”
“My lady, please. I would not presume—”
“—Presume just this once, then. How would you deploy, Haspera?”
The younger elf licked his lips, looking down at the floorboards as he thought. “I would send the lighter ships in squadrons – perhaps only the Hydra Ships at first. This would minimize possible casualties, and would allow us to determine the qualities of the ships we face before bringing the true warships and the Undeniable into the battle.”
Smiling, Dizaun narrowed his eyes like a cat being stroked. He put the blade in its sheath at his hip, and crossed his arms. “A good plan, but it has its risks. By sending the ships in squadrons, you lose the element of surprise. While I am unaware of an Asrai captain with skill, let alone an Asrai captain, one whom is both could read into your maneuver and match you by moving his heavy guns to the front of his formation, gunning you down as you come in, weather gauge or no. And I’d imagine that these Wood Elves have some trick that lets them regrow splintered decks and broken hulls. You would have to sink every last ship, or board them and slay them to a man to ensure this possibility was null – thereby removing the possibility of commandeering the ships or taking the warriors as slaves. Both would be difficult, and would deny our victory of any true worth than shattering force of Asrai.”
“But you are dealing with hypotheticals, my lady. They could have neither of these skills.”
“Caution is the soul of wisdom, young, sweet Haspera.” Dizaun stood, and beckoned Haspera to stand with him. He walked towards the stair well that would take him down to the docking platform where Dizaun could board a smaller craft and command from there, whilst Haspera captained the Undeniable herself. He stopped, turning to look at Haspera. “But today, I think you are right, yes? I will lead the third wave, aboard the Bride of Khaine. As soon as you see the third wave move in, I want you to take the Undeniable around them. Keep the Hydra ships in squadrons spread out in front of them, out of their weapons’ reach. If you see the attack falter, send a squadron in, yes?” Dizaun stood up on the toes of his boots, and kissed Haspera’s cheek. The poor fool is smitten. If only he knew… “You are learning quickly, Haspera. Do not stop.” Turning to the wide staircase, Dizaun began his long descent.
The winding stair gave him time to reflect. Haspera was a good captain, and a good fighter, but this was to be his first campaign, and he was used to being given orders. Disuan had spent a great deal of time teaching him, as had Dizaun himself, and while he was certain of Haspera’s loyalty, he knew that his secret might tip the scales of his devotion the wrong way. Haspera was without family, or at least unaware of their existence. Another little secret, there. It only furthered his gratitude to the twins.
The staircase finally came to an end at the bottom of the Undeniable, emptying out on the ‘dock’. The ‘front’ of the massive tower at this level was capped with an enormous ram in the shape of a skull, its stylized teeth raised outward, hard enough to crack the hull of a ship like an egg shell. This ram also protected this huge lower landing from the massive wake that the Undeniable plowed up before it. Regardless, the deck was slick with seawater, making the huge fresco that decorated the platform shimmer beneath Dizaun’s feet. At a safe distance, the Bride of Khaine waited for him, already signaled over by Haspera’s beacon. The platform was almost empty of people aside from a handful of corsairs, ready to help him board, and, leaning against the back of the ram in her simple, black fencing leathers, Disuan.
Dizaun let the battle-clad sailors know his intention to board with the flick of his wrist, walking towards his sister. Disuan lifted her eyes to briefly acknowledge her brother before returning her gaze to the tiled outline of the Undeniable looming over a Lustrian coast. She is sulking? Still? So petulant, no? This floor… it will need replacing after today, I think. Stopping short no more than a foot from his sibling, Dizaun loudly tapped the toe of his boot on the floor.
“The council between the captains was a week ago,” he began, scorn thick in his voice, “and that morning’s events are behind us. Stop playing the child and get over it, yes?” Dizaun sighed, whispering, “You act as if it was the first time I have spoke so. Tell me what it is, or kill yourself already.”
Frowning, Disuan shook her head, refusing to meet her brother’s eyes. “It’s not the way you spoke, Dizaun, and you know it. And I’m not upset over it, either way. It’s your promotion of Haspera.”
“Him?” He laughed, “Are you jealous that I rose him and not you? I thought you were content with Tor Anlec’s Revenge.”
Disuan shook her head, raking her straight white hair from out of her face. “It’s not that either, Dizaun. It’s dangerous to bring him in close, and you know it.”
“He is harmless,” dismissed the sorcerer, “bound to us by admiration and gratitude.”
The Bride of Khaine swung in close enough for the corsairs to catch the lines, each fastening it to cleats set in the Undeniable’s deck. Dizaun glided nearer to where they were tying the ship off, but Disuan was not yet finished. Reaching for Dizaun, she grabbed his wrist, growling, “He’s far from harmless, sister!”
Dizaun turned, twisting his wrist to catch his sister’s fingers in his hands, holding them painfully tight as he spoke in a tone that brooked no argument; cold and even. “He is. I am in control of the situation. Do not question me on this thing. It seems to me that in the last week, quite a few people have presumed to do so, and I will not have it anymore, yes?” He released her hands from his vice-like grip, turning them over and stroking them gently. Letting his lips curl in a light smile, Dizaun purred, “Now. Are you coming aboard or not?”
Disuan paused for a moment, her eyes showing not even a hint of fear as she met her brother’s own steel blue gaze. “Yes, sister.” Walking hand in hand, the twins carefully climbed the gang-plank to the awaiting warship, mirror images of the other.
Taking his sister to the rail, he closed his eyes, waiting for the lines to be cast. It was no secret that Dizaun was just as good as with words as with spells and swords, and many had urged him to stay in Naggaroth; have “her” perhaps even marry another highborn lord and strengthen the relatively minor house of Cadsane. But while there was power in politics, and power to be gained in that arena that could trump all her work of warring and reaving, Dizaun felt that this was the truer power. In a palace, a man could be given power, but in the middle of an armada, on a war galley, a man could take power. On the Bride of Khaine, with her wickedly spiked ram and powerful compliment of reaper bolt throwers, Dizaun felt that power all around him. It made him shiver.
“Dizaun, we’re moving,” muttered Disuan at his side. True enough, the Bride of Khaine had disembarked, letting the wind carry it a safe distance from the massive bulk of the Undeniable before unshipping its oars. The galleries of slaves pulled in perfect rhythm as their long-bladed oars drank in the sea, causing the ship to lurch gently to the beat of the taskmaster’s drum. As the Bride swung towards the Asrai armada, two swift catamarans, their sails the same deep red as the war galley, fell to either side, pacing it as the ships sailed ever closer.
As they closed, Dizaun could make out the Wood Elf ships clearly. Not known to be sailors or shipwrights of any sort, he had expected them to be awkward and extraordinary. While they certainly were extraordinary, Cadsane was surprised to find them graceful. Of the six large craft that sailed abreast, none was exactly the same, yet they adhered to a relatively elegant build. The hulls looked as if they had simply grown that way, made without boards or nails, yet the design was so wide and wedge-like that if they had grown as such, they had clearly done so with the aid of sorcery. The masts varied in number from ship to ship, but each was bent back at a slight angle, attached to the deck by a massive root boll. The sails themselves were not cloth, but the finest silk, spun onto the trunk-like mast like a massive web. While they were not big enough to be true ships of war or effective transports, the living ships appeared to need to no crew. Every Asrai had a bow in hand, and was loosing volley after volley against the Hydra ships that tried to strafe their decks.
“I thought we had the gauge here. One or two of those fairy-frigates should be sinking, no?” Dizaun made no effort to hide his displeasure.
“Their hulls are made of living wood,” explained Disuan, “and are going to be naturally stronger. Ever tried to snap a green tree branch?”
“No,” sighed Dizaun, annoyed, “I do not waist my time so.” One of the Druchii light craft veered off course, clearly no longer being piloted. “Wave two will do better, yes?”
“That was wave two.”
Dizaun narrowed his eyes at Disuan, shaking his head as the Bride flew forward. “Captain!” shouted the sorcerer, wheeling to look over the deck for its master.
A short Dark Elven man with straight, graying blonde hair snapped to attention near the helm. “Yes, madam Admiral!”
“Bring us in straight at the craft just starboard of the center of their formation. On my mark, bring us hard to starboard at the far craft. Do not ship the oars until we hit it; we will need all our speed, and I do not care about a few splintered poles. Get all of your corsairs to help the reaper crews move their machines to the port side. You understand, yes?”
The captain gave her a look that showed he clearly did not. “Yes, admiral. At once.” He began to shout Dizaun’s orders back to his crew, the flapping of leather boots and scaled cloaks overpowering the crisp cut of the Bride’s prow into the water. Disuan nodded at her brother, and watched them advance. Smiling back at his sibling, Dizaun giggled to himself, feeling the rush of power once more.
“If they really do have a magic-user on board,” warned Disuan, crossing her arms as she leaned on the rail, “this might not work. They’d be able to see through this.”
“Let them,” he grinned, “It will be more fun if they try to challenge it. Just cast when you see it begin to waver, yes?”
Dizaun reached deep into himself, seeking out every lie he had ever told; every secret he had ever kept; every plot he had ever spun behind another’s back. He filled his mind with their memory, feeding them into the fire that was his soul. Behind them and within them blew the Wind of Shadow, the source of every wizard’s grasp on the powerful magic of illusion and glamour. While this particular lore was one that many magic-users practically ignored, Dizaun had found a strange strength in it. Perhaps one of the best shadowmancers in living memory, it was no small coincidence that he was also one of the Convent’s youngest graduates. The power was intense, slowly creeping through Dizaun’s body with chilled fingers, trying to crawl its way into his mind, and take it for its own. Thus was the problem with magic: while one could say it had a ‘mind of its own’, it invariably wanted one thing – yours.
Dizaun held the energies in check, watching the corsairs scramble to their stations for the impending maneuver, the ships looming ever closer. He could sense Disuan gathering her own energies beside him, but for the now, Dizaun had to focus on the timing of this move and the magic held within his own lithe frame. Closer. Larger. The captains of the catamarans flanking them habitually began to stall, unable to fathom what the Bride of Khaine was going to do at this point. Nearer. Bigger. “Now!", he screamed, and focused the Wind into a single spell, the energies flowing out his fingertips as grey smoke.
The ship suddenly lurched to the right as the helmsman furiously yanked the wheel starboard, the corsairs pulling on the mainmast line to get as hard a turn as possible. The entire ship seemed poised to tip, its port-side oars flailing, until a few gut-wrenching seconds later, the ship leveled and plowed forward. A sudden whistle filled the air as the nearest Asrai ships let loose quarrels of arrows at the decks of the Bride and her Hydra escorts. At the same moment, the smoke billowing from Dizaun’s hand engulfed the Bride. As the arrows began to fall onto the bridge, the corsairs reflexively pulled their thick cloaks over themselves, but to the Asrai, the ship seemed to suddenly quiver before it disappeared, only a light nimbus of smoke left in its place. The Wood Elf archers nocked their bows, but left their strings slack when they found the massive Dark Elf war galley had vanished into thin air.
In truth, the arrows may have stopped, but the Bride had not. It had been a near thing. Arrows were strewn about the deck, and one man had taken a shaft in the thigh, but no real damage had been done to the ship. The spell Dizaun had cast not only hid the ship from those not on board, but also filled her sails with an ethereal wind, causing her to speed forward towards the far starboard ship, now directly ahead of them. As Dizaun watched the battle continue through the haze that covered the ship, she saw one of the Hydras, abruptly uncrewed under the hail of bow fire, slam into the hull of the living Asrai ships. The smaller craft splintered spectacularly, its red sail and black wood decorating the sea prettily as detritus. The other craft’s captain was more intuitive; following the phantom wake of the Bride, peppering the deck of the nearest ship with ten-foot long iron shafts from its reapers.
It was that very wake that Dizaun had decided to cultivate. As his sister added the might of her own spell to the blanket of illusion covering the Bride of Khaine, he watched as the massive wave slammed the deck of the ship they had aimed for. While for any seasoned crew, this wake would have been a hard jolt and a few wet feet, the green crew of the Wood Elf vessel fought to stay upright. Several fell overboard as the ship rocking up and down, heaving hard as the wave covered its deck, sucking the unwary back into the sea with it. The Bride continued to pick up speed, and her wake growing larger, eager to swallow more Asrai. Dizaun could hear frustrated cries from below decks as oarsmen lost their oars to the sea as they skimmed across its surface, fueled by wind and spell.
As they passed the second ship, the wind died, and the spell stopped. Wheeling to look at his sister, Dizaun found Disuan reeling, holding her head in her hands. “What is wrong?”
“I lost it…” She leaned over the rail, trying to vomit, but only managing to drop a few gobs of saliva into the sea.
As the ship became visible again, the living wood on the deck of the ship directly in front of them seemed to boil. A spark of fear clicked in Dizaun’s brain. “Fire, captain, fire all the reapers as one!”
His command echoed down the length of the ship, and on the captain’s mark, a wall of massive black shafts exploded from the gunnery deck. The iron missiles slammed into the Asrai ship as if it were paper, instantly gutting its ‘hold’, which collapsed in on itself. Unbalanced, the ship lost any semblance of control as it struggled windward towards the Bride.
But it was not enough. As the ship began to fall apart, the bow of the ship surged outwards, huge wooden spikes reaching for the Druchii vessel. They hit the aft of the Bride hard enough to spin her around, back towards the center of the Asrai formation. Men fell from the galley’s crows nests and mast. Sailors working on the mainmast line were instantly killed as the weight of the beam hit them. Dizaun struggled to keep her footing, crouching in a wide stance, her hands grasping the rail. As the Asrai ship fell beneath the waves, the Bride of Khaine sat still in the water, the nearest two Wood Elf vessels converging on her.
“Captain, get us moving again, yes? I want to ram one of those living logs!”
The captain grunted as he heaved himself back up onto his feet, grabbing the helm himself. “Corsairs to the mainmast and the oars! We want speed!”
Nodding to himself, he turned to where Disuan stood. Or where she had stood. “Disuan?” No answer. “Disuan.” Nothing. Spinning around, Dizaun continued to look for his missing sister. “Disuan!” She was not there. “DISUAN!”
Somewhere in the back of his mind, a voice whispered, ‘See where it leads you, my son?’
Posted: Sat Feb 10, 2007 7:32 am
Part V: Blood
It was cold; oh so cold as Disuan slowly sank into the mouths of the Dragons Below. She could feel the currents of their breath all around her, whipping her about in the chilling sea. They let out roars as she fell closer to their maws. She did not have the strength to fight them – no one did. She had always fought for them, one of many that fed their voracious appetites. Now, it was her turn to satisfy them. ‘My home is the depths,’ the song went...
It is your duty, Disuan. Lend him your strength, even if it pains you.
Disuan’s pale blue eyes snapped open.
The Druchii sea-devils were gone. In their place was a sinking Asrai ship, its broken hull fatally sucking in water, cavitating loudly as the wood struggled to mend itself. The ship was so close to Disuan that she could reach out and touch it, if she so chose. It slowly soared past her, down to the never ending depths to meet its fate.
The sea was quickly sapping her strength, filling her veins with ice. She struggled towards the surface, willing her muscles to work; forcing her limbs to move. The nausea and disorientation from the spell’s backlash made her want to wretch, bile building in the back of her throat, but she had to force that down as well, pawing through the water for the surface. She could see the keels of the Hydras dancing around her, as well as the massive warships of both sides slowly dragging together. Far in the distance, two hulks had slammed together, one of which appeared to be the Bride of Khaine.
Disuan focused back on her swimming, her joints stiff and screaming; the weight of her clothes and swords trying to drag her back down. Her lungs burned in agony as she fought the desperate desire to breathe. I won’t make it. I’m too far away. Her vision began to shrink as the cold waters pulled her life from her. She began to fumble for her belt, kicking slowly upwards, but her fingers felt thick and ungainly. Is that it? All this fight for nothing?
No. No, it’s not! She drew her heavy falchion, slipping its point beneath the leather of her belt, and yanked back with it has hard as she could. A long moment passed, Disuan’s vision growing smaller, and then the leather parted, its sigh muted beneath the waves. Dropping the sword, she glided upwards, letting the searing air in her chest draw her up, up into the light of day.
The warmth of the sun on Disuan’s skin was an ecstasy that made her shudder. She sucked in fresh air, her breathe rasping as her lungs ached for more. Using the last of her strength, she managed a slow tread as she lay back in the water. Waves and wakes buffeted her body, but Disuan had made it to the surface. She could worry about fighting the currents later. She felt numb, drifting there amongst the growing detritus of the oceanic battlefield.
She did not even recall being picked up. One moment, she was floating aimlessly amongst the splinters of wood and ragged canvas; the next, she was sitting on the deck of a long, blade-shaped warship, a blanket around her slowly taking out the chill, a corsair kneeling at her side. He was tall, even for a Druchii, and broadly muscled, but at the same time, he gave off the aura of a stalking panther; reserved, but instantly powerful. His face was handsome, a thin, dark beard lining his chin, one of many braids drooping from out of his cowl, a flesh-hook dangling on the end like a lady’s jewel. As recognition slowly dawned, Disuan realized she must have been in far more dire straights than she had thought, her wits obviously as sluggish as her body.
“Aingeal,” she rasped, her voice thin and shaking, “t-tell me… W-w-where…”
“The Admiral,” he guessed, his deep bass voice like the toll of a massive bell, “he is leading the charge, Captain.” He swept his hand across the dark iron chased hull of Tor Anlec’s Revenge, nodding to the stationed sailors. “The ship is yours… as soon as you are able, Captain.”
“P-post guard… outside the c-cabin d-doors… Two of them. Help m-me up…”
Aingeal bowed his head as Disuan stood, concentrating on keeping up the appearance that she was still in control of herself. She pushed back the blanket, letting it fall to the deck. Aingeal placed a hand on her shoulder, and while his grip was as tight as a vice and kept her moving in the right direction, to the crew, it looked as if he was doing nothing more than escorting her to her quarters. Each step up the small flight of stairs to the cabin door was a battle in itself: trying not to shake; not to fall; not to hunch. As she turned passed the wheel, Disuan almost lost her footing, but Aingeal’s hand was there, holding her fast. She nodded in thanks to the huge man, mounting the last few steps to the chapel-like cabin. Aingeal shouted for guards before closing the windowless door closed behind his Captain.
She nearly screamed in agony as she leapt, shivering from the chill, towards her bed. The real battle is all around me. This is nothing. Dizaun is still out there. With shaking fingers, she quickly undressed, peeling off the ruined, hardening black leathers. Picking up a towel from her wash-basin, she scrubbed the salt and cold out of her skin. Disuan’s cabin was relatively simple. Aside from the washbasin, the room had only the bed, a small table with maps and reports rolling around on it with the rocking of the waves, a weapon rack with all manner of swords and gaunches, and a massive white-washed dresser. Dropping the towel, Disuan turned to the dresser, throwing open its ivory paneling.
She found a simple, unadorned black dress, cut high at the knee, and slipped it on. Knee high black leather boots, a dark blue night cloak and matching tri-corner hat, and a belt of gold medallions filled out the rest of her captain’s garb. She tied a sash with the deep red of the Gilded Reavers around the belt before reaching for another falchion off of her cabin’s wall display. She could waste no more time, shoving the door open.
Stepping onto the deck of the Tor Anlec’s Revenge, Disuan almost sighed in relief. This ship was hers, and it was the one thing that she could still do what she wished with. This ship was her freedom. The dark, stained deck planks looked as beautiful as new mahogany; the notched iron chasings and prow as lustrous as the finest silver. She boasted two masts and a high deck, looking more like a floating rampart than a man-of-war. The forecastle was tapered to a point, the entire prow shorn into a long blade, making her seem even more a knife cutting through the water.
Just beyond the forecastle, an explosion of sound drew Disuan’s eyes upwards. A league ahead of them, an Asrai ship exploded, sap and splinters shooting out in every direction. The massive warship seemed to hesitate, unable to comprehend that it was doomed, and slowly began to descend, the portside leading the way. Druchii grapples shot out of the dieing hulk, aiming for a supporting Asrai vessel. Like a plague, Disuan’s kin ran from ship to ship, and the Wood Elves seemed incredibly susceptible to this disease’s effects. Three Asrai ships no longer sailed in formation with their fellows, either sinking or gone beneath the churning surface of the sea. But the Bride of Khaine and Dizaun were nowhere in sight. If it were a spell, I would’ve seen them by now.
“Helmsman, bring us to the ship beyond the assault. We’re going to remove their support.” Disuan beckoned Aingeal to stand beside her as she stared at the horror before her. “You are certain she’s in there,” she whispered.
“Yes, my Captain. Haspera was direct. The Crowfeast is serving as support for the boarding action, and her captain has seen Dizaun amongst the corsairs. As long as the Asrai remain in bowshot, however, the Crowfeast looks to be superfluous.”
“They’re green, Aingeal. Green as the grass they worship. They are making up for thousands of years of naval handicap, literally out of their element. They fight like a newly commissioned Estalian fleet, to be honest, except that they refuse to try to board us, relying on their bows.”
“The sea dragon cloaks make such efforts worthless,” mused Aingeal. “And with a bow or sword in their hands, they are unable to effectively hold off close-quarters boarding, outclassed by our corsair cutlasses, gauches, and marlinspikes. Why did they take to the sea at all?”
“I might have an idea, but the reason’s not important, Aingeal. Sinking them and finding Lady Dizaun is.”
“Of course, my captain.”
Faster than any other warship in the fleet, Tor Anlec’s Revenge shot towards the Asrai ship, its archers trying desperately to pick out Druchii to fire on. It was of little use. The deck of the embattled ship was a mess of Dark Elf corsairs and Wood Elf bowman. But there was no flash of magic; no swirl of cape or golden sword that would show Disuan where her brother was. For the first time in a hundred years, Disuan was truly afraid. If Dizaun is dead, then I’ve failed, and that damned human has won. When they had been children, Dizaun had not acted as he did now. He had been eager to please, desperate for attention, and the two siblings had relied on each other for it. He had been truly happy, once, even amongst the hatred and deception of Dark Elf society. But if he was dead, he would never become as he had again; as Disuan had tried to guide him back to being. Aside from the dire ramifications for House Cadsane and the Ashen Fleet, if Dizaun were slain, then all of Disuan’s hard work would be in vain. If he’s dead… No, he is not, and either way, I swear I’ll kill that damned sorcerer if I ever see him again. But for now, a step at a time, and that oath is several steps further a head.
As the Revenge slipped past the deck of the stalling Asrai vessel, Disuan could make out Dizaun’s personal guard, each one hammering blow after blow onto the Wood Elf warriors with their cruelly barbed swords. They fought with a savagery she had never seen before, their gilded armor as crimson as any butcher’s apron. They swept across the deck, a storm of blades the Asrai could not withstand. Behind them, wielding cutlasses and rigging shafts, were the rest of the Druchii warriors, the more skilled stabbing past their brothers with a feral strength, crying out for blood. The Asrai quailed under the attack, the frequent storms of arrows now flying in fits. As the thick shafts fell, the Gilded Reavers simply raised their shields or batted them aside with their thick cloaks, their blades flickering out in an inescapable and unrelenting dance of death.
Deep in the hold of the Asrai ship, Disuan felt the surge of magical power before she heard the muted explosion. The Reavers looked as if they had expected it, each one crouching low as the living ship shook from the force, but the Asrai were knocked off of their feet before the decking beneath them erupted, green splinters impaling them and dark shadows turning their flesh into dust. The blast gutted the ship, a huge fount of black energy reaching up out of the ship and into the sky, sucking the light from the very air. The water all around the ship rippled as it shook violently, and began to quickly descend, falling into the mouths of the Dragons Below.
Grappling hooks slammed into the supporting Asrai vessel, sailing past Disuan and the Revenge. Launched from the light crossbows common to the Druchii, some of the more malicious corsairs purposely aimed for the Wood Elf bowmen trying to pick them off as they swung across. One Asrai archer took a hook in the chest, yanked into the ocean as the line grew taunt, disappearing before he could even protest. The sun glittered across their golden helms, the blood shining like a hundred rubies picked out against the metal. But still, there was no sign of Dizaun, the scuttled vessel sighing as its forecastle dipped into the water.
“Aingeal, she’s dead, or something must have happened to her. Talk to Haspera on the com’lahn, ask him to repeat it, ask him to bring in the Undeniable and help find her!” Disuan’s voice was a worried growl that brooked no argument.
“Aye, captain!” The large Druchii ran to the wheel, pushing the helmsman roughly out of his way. Grabbing the wheel with one hand and unsheathing a knife at his belt, he leaned over what appeared to be a large bowl, filled to the brim with water. Even as the boat rocked, the water remained unaffected, not even a ripple breaking its mirror-like surface. As he guided the ship towards the engaged Asrai vessel, Aingeal pressed the knife to his arm, drawing a runnel full of blood. Before he completed the ritual, however, he pointed over Disuan’s shoulder at the sinking ship. “Captain, over there!”
Disuan turned just in time to see a spray of mist shoot from the surface of the dieing wreck. Following the trail, she found her brother. Dizaun’s outfit had been slashed to almost ribbons, and he bled from countless wounds, but in his eyes, Disuan now knew where the frenzy of the Reavers had come from. Bloodlust incarnate… He was held aloft by a pair of enormous wings, bound in shadows that scorched the color from the sky around him. In one hand he held a golden scimitar, the other held a half-dozen severed Asrai heads. He flew past the Tor Anlec’s Revenge as if in a trance, not even glancing at the Druchii war galley. His eyes saw only the beating hearts of the Asrai in front of him. As he glided through the air, sword already aimed at the Asrai trying frantically to cut lines from their deck, a triumphant cry from the Reavers filled the air, crying out to the dark angel that left a rain of blood and sea water in his wake.
He hit the ship at a run, and with two blows of his sword, the nearest pair of Asrai archers exploded in a rain of blood. With his illusory curves and tattered robes, he truly looked more like a witch of the Temple than a Sorceress of the Convent. As he impaled another Asrai warrior and cut upwards through leather, skin and bone, Disuan shuddered. He’s slaughtering them. The Wood Elf fell to the decking, cleaved neatly in half. But the sheer number of Asrai and the constant hail of arrows had slowly begun to take its toll on Dizaun’s personal guard and the Reavers of the Bride of Khaine. Perhaps only two dozen remained, whilst the Asrai had more than double that.
“Aye, my Captain,” he shouted back from the helm.
“Cut the Revenge across her bow and open up with the batteries. Remind the crew to aim low to avoid our own people, and have all boarders ready lines and grapples.” Disuan nodded definitively, adding, “I’m going to get my sister back. Once we’re across, cut and run. I don’t want the Revenge on the receiving end of one of those magical spear-shapings.”
“Yes, my captain!” he replied, before shouting it down the length of the narrow deck. Men were leaping to action without hesitation before the words even came out of his mouth. That is loyalty. The kind I hope Dizaun knows some day. But the concern now was reaching her brother before an Asrai put an arrow in him. She watched him dispatch two more crew, his scimitar hacking their legs off at the knee before he decapitated both in a single stroke. Gripping their hair, he added their heads to his growing collection. He was fighting for their hold, she realized, trying to kill the spellsinger that kept the ships alive and afloat.
The Tor Anlec’s Revenge was only a boat-length away from the living ship of the Asrai, every sail bent, every sailor holding their breath for the right moment. Just as she came squarely into position, every hand pumped a crack or fired a trigger, and the Druchii launched an iron rain of their own upon the enemy ship. The bolts from the reapers beat the hull like a hammer, breaking through the green, sappy wood of the Asrai ship; however, for every one that did break its surface, another bounced harmlessly off the prow. The same was true for the grapples, dozens upon dozens finding their mark in the silky rigging of the web-like sails. The Reavers nodded to each other down the length of the ship, each member taking a run towards the rail of the Revenge before trusting their lives in the strength of their rope. Dizaun was with them, falchion in one hand, rope wrapped around her left arm to keep her fast. As her feet left the deck, she felt her stomach leap into her throat before the fingers of wind in her snowy white hair banished her unease, bringing elation in their wake as the deck of the Asrai ship rushed to meet her.
Letting go of her rope, she swung her sword awkwardly at an archer as she sailed by. As it hit home, biting through bone and leather, her backwards momentum spun her like a top, the rope slowly unraveling from around her wrist as she did an aerial pirouette, falling as gracefully to the deck as a wayward rose petal. But as soon as she landed, it became clear to Disuan that things were far from romantic. As the Gilded Reavers began to pile onto the ship, the Asrai in the gallery and rigging realized the futility of their great yew bows, dropping them for their leaf-bladed longswords. Leaping from their stations, the Wood Elves met Disuan’s crew to try and even the fight. Blood mixed with saltwater on the deck of the ship, making even the seasoned Druchii corsairs fight to stay afoot.
A bare-chested Asrai leapt from the rigging at Disuan, wielding two blades the length of his fore-arm. Disuan held her blade in a high guard, waiting for him to fall within range of her larger sword. She pivoted back a step, bringing her sword down in a diagonal arc that would have lain open the Wood Elf warrior from collar to hip. Instead, he caught the blade, between his two weapons, using the force of his fall to drive Disuan back a few paces. Coming to rest at a crouch, the berserk Asrai shouted something in his lilting, bastardized tongue so primitive that it barely sounded elvish. He leapt forward like a panther, one blade held high for her throat, the other going low to disembowel her. Disuan dropped one hand from her falchion and grabbed for something in her cloak, but it would be too late to draw another sword. The blades flickered out like serpent’s tongues.
A loud bang halted the Asrai warrior in his path. Staring incredulously at his chest, he dropped his blades, pressing his fingers to a massive hole in the middle of his breastbone. Eyes rolling back in his head, he fell beside his blades. Disuan blew the smoke wafting lazily from her pistol’s muzzle. I should carry more than one of these. No time to reload it. She sighed, shrugging her shoulders nonchalantly before spinning the handgun around her index finger, dropping it into her belt holster and smoothing her boat cloak, eyes scanning the deck for her brother.
She saw a sudden flash of gold catch the Lumbrian sun near the curving rampway that led into the hold. She ran for it, ignoring the Reavers and the Asrai struggling for control of the ship. Only a handful of paces away from the staircase, Disuan’s booted foot came down on the arm of a dead elf. She struggled to regain her footing, but the blood-soaked deck refused to give her purchase. The world turned upside down as she lurched forward onto her knees, her falchion spinning across the deck, lost somewhere in the fray.
As she pushed herself up onto her elbows, she became acutely aware of someone standing over her. Glancing up, she saw someone in soft earth-tones wearing calf-high leather boots, and immediately began to scramble to her feet; for a weapon; to simply get away. The Asrai chortled, and Disuan could hear the creak of wood and sinew as he bent back his bow. He’s going to shoot me dead on. I suppose I deserve it, for what I did to that last grass faerie. This isn’t how I’m supposed to die… Still struggling to gain her footing, Disuan leaned back, wanting to at least get a look of her killer before he got the best of her.
Bow pulled to his long, pointed ear, he was incredibly tall, his bare face and forearms covered in dark blue warpaint, spirals and runes etched out upon his alabaster skin. Shoulder length hair, dyed varying shades of purple and pink, fell to his shoulders. His face was handsome, perhaps vaguely effeminate, and on it he wore a casual smile, as if all the world were nothing to him. He looks very much like Dizaun. He gave a final chuckle, and let loose the arrow.
It whistled past Disuan’s ear as a geyser of crimson erupted out of the chest of the Asrai, covering the kneeling Druchii captain. He appeared to be growing a third arm over where his heart had once been, a long, thin blade in his new hand. The Asrai choked off a scream as another arm sprouted from the other side of his chest, holding a similar sword. Disuan blinked in surprise, blood dripping from her face. The Wood Elf fell limp, but the two new arms continued to move, pulling back inside the Asrai. Someone behind him grunted, and the Asrai fell to the floor.
Aingeal, boot placed on the small of the Asrai’s back, flicked both of his blades through the air, the Wood Elf’s blood sliding off the runnels and leaving the steel as sterile as ice. Ichor coated his black sleeves. He gave Disuan a curt nod, sheathing one sword and offering her his hand, stepping over the corpse as if it were simply part of the deck. Disuan grasped his wrist and heaved herself up to a stand.
“Captain,” he whispered, “you are being reckless today. This is the second time I have pulled you out of the fire.”
“I know,” she admitted, gritting her teeth, “but now it’s my turn to pull someone out.”
Aingeal nodded, and walked away. He seemed to disappear like a ghost into the fray. Disuan shook her head in amazement at her lieutenant, but remained unphased by her near death experience. Gathering the power of Ulgu, the grey wind of shadow magic, she leapt for the railing, rushing into the hold.
Disuan had expected the interior of the Asrai ship to be as dimly lit as any other galleys, and perhaps it had been before the battle, but the holes that had been ripped through the hull by the Druchii reapers caused light to dapple in from the sides as well as above, making it almost as bright as the deck. A layer of water that came up to the level of Disuan’s knees told her that this ship was no longer sea-worthy, but the edges of the holes seemed to shimmer, some covered in viney lattice-like filament as the ship itself tried to repair the massive damage the Dark Elves had done to it. Sap oozed like blood from the rents torn in the vessel. Disuan trudged through the wreckage of green wood and befouled water, holding tight to the magic that tried to fill her.
The first clue as to where Dizaun was when she reached the circular hall that led to what appeared to be the cabin. She almost fell again as her foot made contact with a floating corpse, face-down in the wood and water. She kicked it away from her in disgust. As she trudged on, she saw more and more Asrai corpses. It was hard to tell how many of them there actually had been, as some torsos, arms, and legs were not necessarily with the rest of their bodies. They grew thicker and more frequent the closer she came to the cabin ‘door’ – a great circular opening that gave way to a large anteroom. She sighed in exasperation and just waded through them, groping for the edge of the portal.
She found Dizaun, scimitar in one hand, the other tracing lines that blotted out the beams of sunlight wherever they met. He was practically screaming the words to a spell. Across the cabin from him, a blonde female Asrai, covered in a form-fitting dress of green oak leaves, held a staff of spellsung wood in front of her, lilting out a spell of her own. Dizaun was faster, and the lines in the air coalesced into a massive spear of shadow. Grasping it out of the air, Dizaun hefted it at the spellsinger. Its path caused the air to ripple and the light to quail, but the Asrai finished her spell before it could find its mark, slamming her staff into the flooring of the hold before spinning out of the spear’s way.
The floor creaked loudly, wooden spikes like those that had impaled the Bride of Khaine reached out for Dizaun. The sorcerer leapt backwards, bracing a booted foot against the wall before pushing off at a dead run, trying to outpace the spikes that rose from the living wood. He skirted the width of the room, almost dancing through the flotsam that filled the hold. He’s not fast enough to outrun it. She can cut him off before he reaches her. Not wishing to overtly disturb her brother’s duel, Disuan began a spell of her own, wrapping it around a broad piece of floating wood near the spellsinger. She kept it as silent and weak as she possibly could; if the spellsinger saw her or her spell, the spell would not work. Luckily, Dizaun was coming at the Asrai from the opposite side of the ship: neither of the other two mages could see Disuan.
Just as the ensorcelled wood bit at Dizaun’s booted heels, threatening to topple the Druchii, Disuan’s spell took effect. The board flew from out of the water, barely missing the face of the Asrai, and crashed against the ceiling. She reeled backwards, holding the staff in front of her, but her concentration was broken, and the spikes receded back into the vessel with a groan.
Dizaun was upon the spellsinger without missing a beat. His scimitar bit deep into her upraised staff, and a booted foot flew forward, breaking the weakened shaft in half. Putting a hand on the back of his blade, he forced it forward, the spellsinger’s only defense gone. The scimitar plunged into the Asrai’s body, opening her from breasts to bowels, the force of Dizaun’s strike knocking her into the water. But Dizaun was not done. Growling like a feral animal, Dizaun slammed the sword down harder and harder, over and over.
But he did not hear her calling, his strikes raining down on the corpse feverishly as his voice grow louder, “Where is she? Where is Disuan?”
“Dizaun, stop this.”
The water was turning a dark crimson. As limbs and chunks of meat began to bob away from where Dizaun furiously butchered the corpse, his shouting grew louder, “Give her back to me! Give her back!”
“Dizaun!” Disuan grasped her brother’s shoulder, trying to shake him out of his reverie. Dizaun’s blade rose as the sorcerer spun, his illusory curves and the frenzy in his eyes transforming him into a valkyrie of death, and her brother no longer. But then his vision focused on her, truly seeing her, his eyes growing wide and his sword dropping a few inches. The haze of bloodlust faded, and in its place was shock.
“Disuan,” he gasped, before dropping the scimitar. He wrapped his arms around his sister, whispering like a frightened child into her neck, “I could not find you… No one could… I missed you… I was afraid.”
Disuan rubbed her brother’s slender back, nodding slowly, “I was, too.” By Khaine, he’s like he was before that man showed up. He must be more shaken than I thought. If this is a lapse, then it can be done. I can save him. There’s hope. “But we’ve found each other again. It’s okay, Dizaun.” She watched a severed hand float past them. “Let’s go. Let’s get some rest.” Dizaun nodded against her neck, his enhanced chest pressed tightly to her own.
Ponderously guiding her lucid brother through the wreckage, she was careful to keep his head buried against her shoulder, her slender hand keeping him fast. I don’t want him to slip back. Blood, violence, anything might snap him from it. They began the slick climb up the ramp from the hold, one hand on Dizaun, the other on the railing. His arms still around Disuan, the Lady-Admiral of the Ashen Fleet shuffled along, content to be guided, a smile on his full lips. He looks almost happy.
When the full light of day fell on them both, Disuan looked across the deck of the ship, and she knew that her chance was lost. The deck was the same crimson as the silky kheitans the remaining Reavers wore, the blood now drying, ingrained in the very wood. Corpses littered the deck, the linen-clad Asrai mixed with the silk-garbed Druchii. Spent arrows and discarded weapons mixed pincushioned the deck. In the distance, the Undeniable had advanced with the waves of smaller ships, the massive crown-like tower at its top framing the sun. The remaining Wood Elf ships had been obliterated by the constant storm of reaper fire from its dozens of towers. Only wreckage and ripples marked their graves. The rest of the fleet spread out in the wake of the Black Ark, from horizon to horizon.
As the Reavers on the ruined ship saw their Admiral and captain rise from its depths, their voices rose in cheer, hefting pikes, cutlasses and swords alike in victory. Dizaun slowly turned away from Disuan, blinking back curiosity. Disuan grasped the back of his golden sea-dragon cloak. No. No, no, no… Don’t turn away… He walked forward, the leather of his cloak whisking softly out of her fingers. He drank it in: the victory; the sight of the ships covering the horizon; the blood drying in the sun. When he turned to look at his sister, his eyes were those of a child no longer, but a predator. He gave her a coy smile before raising his fist into the air, and the Gilded Reavers cheered all the louder.
And Dizaun, the son of Carten Cadsane, was lost once again; Dizaun, the Lady-Admiral of Malekith had returned. For the second time in only a handful of days, Disuan felt her heart fall in her chest.
Posted: Sat Feb 10, 2007 7:48 am
Chapter VI: Allies
Haspera watched as a galley crawled its way across the golden-hued sea beneath a dimming yellow sky, its oars and black sails slowly pushing it closer to the Undeniable’s dock, the jagged profile of Fingol Darkwater’s Nightmare just beyond the warship, keeping company with the other Black Arks and flagships of the Ashen Fleet. As captain of the Undeniable, it was only right that he meet Fingol as he came aboard.
Holding the banner of the Fleet, Haspera remembered their last meeting vividly. Will he look at me with such disdain this time? And will he treat Lady Dizaun the same now that he has been left out of the bulk of the fighting? An apt punishment, to make her reputation grow while his shrinks.
And there had been fighting enough for everyone. All of the captains of the Fleet had reported engaging Brettonian, High Elf, and Empire ships. The slaves taken from these encounters revealed that an alliance had been formed by the resident humans of Lumbria with the human, elven, and dwarven lords of the Old World, and that ships from all the corners of the known world were converging on the small semi-continent. They called themselves the ‘Council of Light’, and the news of it had not set well with the Lady-Admiral.
But the Council of Light was not the only recent arrival on the shores of Lumbria. The Powers of the Four were everywhere. Herds of beastmen, the foul bastard-spawn of Chaos, were reported to be massing in the swamps near the coast. A great hodge-podge of Kurgan, Norscan and Hung fighters was reputed to be only a few days sail away; some of the ships had already penetrated deep into the rivers of this virgin land. Skaven, vicious ratmen known for their technological and magical prowess, had surfaced near the coast, hordes of horse-sized rodents already marching north. Chaos Dwarf steamships plowed into the black sand just off of the Isle of Serpents. Even now as Haspera watched Fingol Darkwater’s approach, smoke belched into the twilight sky from their forges and camps, staining the otherwise gorgeous fall of night.
The corsairs on board Fingol’s vessel shipped their oars scant meters from the Undeniable. With a dull thump, the wooden hull tapped the stone base of the dock. The Gilded Reavers caught the lines tossed to them, deftly tying them to the Undeniable before falling back behind Haspera at perfect attention. There was a moment of pause before a shout of warning came from the other ship. The galley slid a gang-plank of solid, iron-reinforced ash down to the mosaic floor of the Ark. That almost looks like a landing plank for chariots, or heavy cavalry. A strange choice. Haspera knew to bite his tongue, however. Formality was what was expected from him now, not questions.
The three figures that crested the gang-plank, however, answered his questions for him, whilst breeding many, many more. The first of those that Haspera saw was massively built, towering over the other two by over twice their height, and as wide as any man was tall. His legs were stocky and as thickly muscled as his arms. A massive plate of iron chased in gold filigree cradled his immense stomach – an ogre gut-plate. A long mustachio hung from his squat face, dangling on either side of his wide mouth, each length of dark hail thickly oiled; gold and copper bells, medallions and other trophies braided into their foot-long length. Aside from his facial hair, he was totally bald, but whether by genetics or by the decades of multitudinous, terrifying scars that crossed his bare flesh was difficult for Haspera to decipher. Aside from the gut-plate and his scars, all the ogre wore was a frayed pair of breeches that looked as if they had once been the main-sail of a ship, or even a company’s battle standard stretched tightly over his stocky legs.
The other stranger was far shorter; perhaps a head smaller than most Druchii. His prominent snout, long incisors, teak fur and grey prehensile tail marked him as one of the Skaven. Deep red eyes that burned in the dying light of day shifted constantly, taking in every detail of the room; every escape route, every danger, every possible hiding place for friend and foe alike. As if to enhance the aura of paranoia he brought with him, the warlord wore an amalgam of iron plate-mail beneath his ragged robes. Some pieces appeared to fit only passably well to his hunched form, whilst others appeared well into the early stages of tarnishing into dust. Beyond the skaven’s black, tattered cloak and rusting iron armor, Haspera doubted he would ever have known him as a high-ranking official had he not kept present company. I wonder how the rest of them look. Regardless, an army of bipedal vermin carrying sharp steel in sharp talons made the Druchii captain want to cringe.
In between them both strode Fingol Darkwater. He wore a simple kheitan of purple, runes picked out in blackwork upon it: the colors of Naggarond. But beneath the kheitan, he wore a sash of dark grey, so deep and rich a color as to almost be blue. Like his companions, he bore no weapons, but even without the three swords of his rank, he looked quite lordly, especially when Haspera compared him to the two at his sides. It is my standard of rank, of course. For all I know, these two out-strip Lady Dizaun. Fingol’s saw Haspera at the bottom of the ramp, and turned to the ogre at his side, muttering something that the Reaver’s ears could not catch. The ogre grunted in amusement, showing a smile of broad, tusk-like teeth. Darkwater let his grey eyes fall back on to Haspera, his smooth voice distracted, as if trying to find a way past the captain, “Are you here to escort us, slave, or are you standing there with that flag pole in case we forgot what Ark we were on?”
Haspera did not so much as wince. I could be a slave to her, and it would make no matter. My rank is whatever she says it is, so he is right, in a sense. He kept his voice even, correcting him, “My name is Haspera, Lord Darkwater, and I am here to escort you to my ship’s observation deck, where the Admiral and the rest of her captains have gathered before you.”
“Well then, Slave-Captain, lead on.”
Does nothing phase this man? Black Arks were the most powerful, awesome ships in known existence. To be the captain of one made Haspera a powerful lord in his own right: not only as it was an incredible tool and status symbol, but because they were essentially a floating city, kept aloft by dark magic. Haspera had crewed the Undeniable since he had been old enough to tie off lines, and he had still not seen all of the ship. Most of it lay under the water, the former bedrock of Nagarythe still attached to the towers that made up the floating fortress. Perhaps it was wise that he did not venture so deep: it was rumored that all manner of beasts made their homes under the Black Arks, from monstrous kraken to sea-dragons to sharks large enough to swallow a Hydra-ship whole. All of that was Haspera’s now, yet Darkwater showed him no more respect than if he was still tying the lines, and whilst Haspera told himself that it did not matter to him what this elf thought… some part of him did.
The walk was long, and full of silence. The light pouring through the windows turned from a burnished gold into a gentle, sultry rose, softening the hard iron of the rails and ornaments, and making the black stone surfaces yield some of their oppressive nature to the sunset. The golden chasings on the doors burned in the new light, and the red draperies drank it in, turning a deep plum. Haspera drank in the beauty of it as well. Perhaps an inherited memory of when the elves of Nagarythe were great artists as well as warriors, the play of light on the vaguely spiraling steps always took his breath away. The others seemed not to notice; the ogre at Fingol’s side taking the steps two at a time with his thick legs, whilst the skaven warlord scurried to keep up. Fingol doubtless had climbed the steps of his own Ark thousands of times, and he showed no sign of tiring either.
When they reached the final flight to the receiving chamber, Haspera stopped, turning to face the three lords. Over his shoulder, they could see the top of a golden archway, rubies, onyx, and iron ingots wrapped in coils of precious metal. He slammed the butt of the standard on the step he stood upon. “We will wait to be announced, my lords.” Three slaves, dressed not in the red robes of the Gilded Reavers, but in the same dark grey as Fingol’s sash. Still, gilded torques encased their necks. They asked the three lords for their names, and each gave their full titles to them in kind, not even deigning to look upon the slaves. When they retreated, Haspera waited for their footsteps to fade before he turned on his heels, languidly taking the last few steps. Again, the three lords followed.
When they crested the last step, the slaves began their chorus of honours. “Hragged the Most-Corpulent, Overtyrant of the Ogre Stronghold; Chieftain Skrule, Warlord of the Skaven Clan Vittsisk; both escorted by Lord Fingol Darkwater, Captain of the Black Ark Nightmare, Envoy of the Witch King, and Speaker of the Temple; and Lord Haspera, Captain of the Black Ark Undeniable, Banner Bearer of the Ashen Fleet!” Haspera sighed inwardly. She gives me too much, and I can give her nothing but my loyalty.
The gathered captains of the Ashen Fleet sat at a massive, fat crescent-shaped table, a small portion nearest the door having been cut out; assumedly so that people putting forth petitions or notions to the captains would be literally surrounded by them as they spoke. A relic from when this was a tower on Nagarythe..? At the apex of the table, Dizaun sat in a high-backed chair of red velvet and dark iron, one leg dangling over the arm of the chair. She drew the eye of all four lords. A long dress of pure black crow’s feathers covered her thin, curvaceous body, a low neckline exposing a modest amount of snowy white cleavage. A pair of faux wings spread from the dresses back, the same dark plumage arrayed across them. A circlet of gold rimmed her brow, a hundred tiny dove feathers braided into her fair hair. She looked otherworldly. At her immediate right, the chair was empty, but beyond it sat Disuan Cadsane. She looked so like her twin, but her garb was plain; her manner distant. She wore only a simple flax dress of russet, an iron circlet of the same design as her sister resting in her hair, and a faint frown crossing her lips when she was not engaged in conversation by Prince Katan. Katan wore a black khaitan, a violet undertunic and sash of shimmering silk beneath. His epaulets, however, were that same strange color of grey so uncommon in Druchii livery. It matched Katan’s eyes perfectly, however, and despite their inherent chill, he appeared to be quite conversational this eve, nursing a second cup of wine. Beyond Katan, another captain conversed to a Druchii across the table to him, both of them quite literally at the far points of the table. To Dizaun’s immediate left, another chair lay untaken, and beyond it, another, practically isolating Rydeel Falirth from the conversation, yet Dizaun appeared to be trying to keep Falirth company from across the table, laughing at his incredibly rare jests, a smile always gracing her face as she leaned back to look at him. But, despite her attempts, Falirth seemed content to be alone. He wore the same decorative armor and black cloak that he had when Haspera had first seen him. He also wore the same blank, calculating expression in his wan face and deep blue eyes.
“Ah, my good captains and good allies, you arrive to us at last!” Dizaun disentangled herself from the chair, fluttering across the ground to greet them. “I hope your journey was eventful, yes? The Far Sea can be a droll trip, no?” She gave a silky laugh as soft as the feathers in her hair. “But now you are here, and we can begin both business and pleasure.” She extended a pale, perfect hand to them, her fingers covered from tip to second knuckle in long, smooth golden rings. Talons on a bird of prey.
Hragged leaned forward, his hand swallowing hers. Haspera tensed, his hand reaching for his spear. “Fingol Darkwater told us lots about you, thinling Admiral. He made lots of promises, and you’d better keep ‘em.”
Dizaun, for her part, smiled and placed her other hand on top of the Overtyrant, its size still dwarfed by a palm big enough to crush her head in one blow. “I am glad that my captains speak of me with such high regard, Overtyrant Hragged. I assure you, whatever promises he has made, I shall uphold my part, yes?” She withdrew her hands from the grip of the ogre, offering them to Skrule. “And you, my Lord Skrule, you have my assurances as well.”
The skaven warlord bowed his head, his ears flickering back to rest against his long skull. “This is most-most welcome. We of Clan Vittsisk wish-wish to coordinate our plans with the Elf-things of the Ashen Fleet.” He hesitated before placing a clawed hand into Dizaun’s.
Again, she, too, did the same, pressing her golden fingers gently against his paw. “And of course we will cooperate. There is much that we can offer each other, good Warlord.” Again she withdrew her hands, and extended them once more to Fingol. Haspera counted each ring on her hand, afraid the rat-man might have taken one. “And you, Lord-Captain Fingol Darkwater. I am most pleased that you met with success, yes? I owe you a debt of gratitude.” Her smile was thin, her black lipstick hiding it well.
“Of course I did, my Lady-Admiral.” Fingol leaned forward to kiss the back of her hand. “Of that you can always be sure. But why are we so gathered in a time of open war? Surely you have done more than celebrate in my absence.”
The double meaning was no lost on Dizaun, whom turned beckoning Hragged and Skrule to seats beside her at the table’s apex. As they took their seats, she tilted her head to one side, her wrist flickering towards the wall, making a slow circuit of the chamber. “Why, you can hardly say we have been idle. Every party has décor, my lord Darkwater. Take a look at ours.”
Indeed, above each tall, arched window that looked straight out upon the sea, a torn, ragged banner hung. Haspera recognized many of them. There above Katan is the banner of Karak-Hirn, gold upon a green field. Above Falirth is an Asur banner…a red dragon in a blue sea on a field of white… Lothern. Above that chatty captain to Falirth’s right -- Rankrath, I think is his name – another Asur banner of a green rune on a silver field. Yvresse, perhaps. And there, the green and yellow of Stirland in the Human Empire. There is the boar of Artois, black on white. There is a bronze totem of Lustrian design. And there, above Dizaun, with the green streamers, the oaken rune that looks vaguely Asur… that must be from the Asrai force we intercepted.
“Impressive,” mused Fingol. “But hardly surprising. Remind me to pick up some tattered rags of my own to bring to our next masquerade. I am afraid I forgot. And there were so many chances. That Asur army that we ran aground and annihilated… Oh, and that Dwarven naval base that we razed… Well, I suppose you shall simply have to take my word for it.”
Dizaun raised an eyebrow, but her thin smile remained. “And of course we shall. Captain Haspera?”
“Aye, my Lady Admiral.” The answer was immediate.
“Will you begin our cruise? Twilight will be over soon, and I would hate to miss the last rays of sunlight whilst docked, no?”
“Of course, my lady.” Haspera bowed, the plates of his golden armor bending along with him. He turned, and walked out of the chamber, a sudden gale of laughter echoing in his pointed ears.
When he reached the piloting chamber, sitting atop the foremost tower of the Undeniable, the sky was already turning a deep shade of lavender. The clouds had fled the sky, seeking distant blue pastures somewhere to the west. The sun itself was a crimson sliver sitting low on the western horizon, rusting in the smoke of the Chaos Dwarf mines. The chamber had a wide view all around the Ark; gathering from the architecture, Haspera guessed it had once been a shrine. A black plinth held the com’lann, another a shoulder’s breadth apart held a hovering crystal orb, pulses of deep violet light waxing and waning deep within it, looking almost alive. Stepping between them both, Haspera put his right hand on the orb, staring across the sea, its surface bruising in the dying light, he let his fingers crawl across it. A feint feeling of motion began to surge over him as the Ark glided forward. Fingers idly running over its surface, he guided the Undeniable away from the Isle of Serpents and into a slow cruise.
Perhaps it was the constant motion of his fingers sliding over the orb, or the lulling feeling of motion over the open sea, or even the sheer beauty of the falling curtain of night, but Haspera reflected on how high he had risen. Dizaun brought me here, an orphan, my parents not even a memory. Always, I had hoped that there was some special bond between she and I. But whether it is simply my imagination or not, I do not know. Perhaps it is best this way. I can be sure that I have risen to this rank because of my merits, and not some base level of favoritism, like our Asur kin. My loyalty is my strength, even if my loyalty is born from more than simple gratitude.
Surprised by the sudden sound of his name, he nearly jerked his hand off of the sphere. Night had good and truly fallen, the stars shining like gems in the sky, a full moon hovering over the calm sea, perfectly round. Haspera turned his head to see who had called his name. In the moonlight, he saw a woman’s silver complexion and dark dress. “My lady Dizaun?”
The Druchii woman walked farther into the shrine, standing nearer to the crystalline orb. In the witch-light and moon-light, Haspera saw the simple garb and unadorned hands and immediately flushed in embarrassment. “My lady Disuan. I am sorry, I mistook you for your sister.”
“A common mistake,” she sighed, crossing her arms over her chest, “though it’s more common during the darker hours of the night.”
It is so late already? How long was I arguing with myself? Surely not so long… “What does my lady desire of me?”
Disuan walked to the edge of the shrine, making Haspera wince as she stared across the sea ahead of them. “An honest conversation.”
“You will not be missed at the council?” wondered Haspera.
“No, thankfully. I told them all that I was tired from recent battle, and ‘begged their leave’. Really, I’m tired of watching Dizaun and Fingol take little bites out of each other.”
“Understandable. I do not care for the man.”
“I don’t, either.” Disuan sat down, legs dangling into the nothingness as she lay her spine against the iron column of the window. “Tell me, Haspera. What do you think of the war, so far?”
He chose his words carefully, his voice steady, “I feel that we are unprepared for such a war, especially with the invasion of Ulthuan. We should not seek one war before another is concluded.”
“Ah, but Haspera, that war will never be concluded. Not until we drag the last of our misguided kin to Karond Kar in chains.” She smiled knowingly, turning her head to look at him. “What you mean to say is, the Gilded Reavers are unprepared for such a war, not the Druchii. Dizaun may be a powerful sorceress of the Convent, the heir to a noble house of Naggaroth, and a gifted, charismatic general, but none of these things make a good leader. Not by themselves.” She turned back to the sea.
“My lady, forgive me, but I feel honored to serve the Lady Admiral.”
“Why, Haspera, and tell me the truth. No ‘she took me in when I was an orphan’ nonsense. The truth.”
Haspera stood dumb-founded by her frankness. Do I tell her what I told myself? Is it complete coincidence that she asked me this only minutes after I asked myself these very questions, or some dark art? “My lady, because she is… spectacular. Intoxicating. Her very presence seems to pull at you. She is like a hero that comes along perhaps once in an age. You want to be near her, because you know that as long as you are, victory after victory will be yours; honour after honour lain at your feet.”
“Then why do you hesitate? Why don’t you feel the Reavers are ready?”
“We are untried. We fought skirmishes in Lustria, fighting Fey l’Ange of Artois and his Order of Balance and the necromancer Chul-Kuran’s walking dead. That is not enough to prepare an army for battle.”
“Perhaps I was wrong, then.”
Disuan slid back from the ledge, standing up again. Even in the moonlight, her sapphire eyes looked tired. “Perhaps my sister truly does have men loyal to her. Men like yourself.”
“Of course, my lady.”
An uneasy silence fell between them as Haspera slowly began to turn the ship back towards the Isle.
“Haspera,” mused Disuan, “do you ever wonder about your parents?”
“No, my lady.” The dead are dead; show them no remorse. It was a litany he had practiced many times.
“Do you have any memory of them?”
“No, my lady, but may I ask you a question?”
“Why do you serve Lady Dizaun? There is no love lost for her in you, I think, and you have just made it plain that you do not agree with this war or your sister’s ability to lead it. So I ask you the same question.”
Disuan stared at the floor, raising a hand to rest over her eyes. After a moment, she faced Haspera again, saying simply, “I lost a friend, long ago. Someone I loved very much. By staying near Dizaun, I have a better chance of finding him again.”
“My lady… We are Druchii. We do not have time for grief, or for love. You should put no stock in it.”
“And what of your love for my sister, Haspera? Is it hollow, too?”
“It… it is adoration, yes, but love..? If it was love, it would be just as hopeless as yours.”
“Haspera, you skirt the entirety of the truth like a highborn.”
“Thank you, my lady.”
The Isle of Serpents grew from a dark speck on the horizon, slowly stretching and rising across it like an ink blot. Disuan Cadsane turned to Haspera, putting a hand on his shoulder. “You should go. She’ll probably want you to escort them to the landing platform. I’ll bring us in the rest of the way.”
Haspera gave Disuan a thin smile. “Thank you, my lady.” He moved out from between the two short columns, Disuan immediately filling the space he left, her hand already gliding over the sphere. “And, my lady…”
She turned giving him a knowing smile of her own. “Don’t worry. I took no offense.” As Haspera reached the stair, she called out for him again. “Do you remember what I said about a good leader?”
He turned, showing her his profile. “Yes, my lady, but you never said what makes a leader a good leader.”
“That’s because you know already. Some day, you’ll be one.”
“Thank you, my lady.” Haspera retreated from the shrine, leaving Disuan, but his mind still worked over what she had just said. Haspera was no leader. He did not command a regiment in battle, nor did he have any claim to a noble house. He simply served House Cadsane. Perhaps she means the Undeniable. But Haspera had hardly begun to exercise his command of the Black Ark, and as long as Dizaun remained on board, the corsairs followed her as closely as he did.
It was at the passage to the tower where the lords were assembled that a woman’s voice yet again broke him from his thoughts. Even hushed by distance, Haspera knew it to be Dizaun.
“Idiot! Fool! This agreement is hardly what I anticipated, Lord Darkwater. Instead of putting the ogres in service to the Druchii and the Druchii alone, you have recruited them into the folds of …how many other races opposed to the Council of Light? Oh, yes. All of them; that is right…”
“You asked me to reach agreement, Lady Admiral, and I did. Think of it this way: with more people paying the tab, the less coin each person has to put in. I think I did quite well for us.”
“Enough glib speeches, Fingol, yes? I am coming to the end of my rope with you. These others do not share our interests.”
“Oh, and what are our interests, Lady Admiral? Victory, I believe, is what you said earlier? Has this changed? I did not know.”
Haspera stood as still as a shadow, not wishing to interrupt, but unable to walk away, for fear that the sound of his armor might give him away. He is keeping his temper quite cool.
Dizaun was slow to answer, her voice sounding pained. “We all have our orders, Fingol. I, as well, have mine.”
“They are orders handed down to me from the Witch King, yes? And when they are fulfilled, I shall tell you! Know simply that we are accomplishing them.”
“Again, I shall put my life in your immaculate hands, my lady.” Footsteps. Away from Haspera.
“We are not done, Fingol!”
“Truly?” The footsteps stopped. Cloth rustling.
“Do not make me remind you where your loyalties must lie, good lord. Yes, I am grateful for you bringing the ogres to Lumbria, and I am equally grateful for the new alliance between Clan Vittsisk and the Ashen Fleet, but you are one of my captains. One of many. We are not in Naggaroth any more, no?”
Fingol’s voice was icy, his coy humor set aside. “No, Dizaun, we are not in Naggaroth any more. How lucky you are. Enjoy it while you can.” Cloth rustling. Footsteps, moving away. “You had best catch up to me if you want them to believe I simply escorted you.”
Feathers fluttering across stone steps. Footsteps growing feint. Silence. Cold, foreboding silence.
Posted: Sat Feb 10, 2007 8:03 am
Chapter VII: Ancients
The very sea shuddered as Dizaun pursed his lips to the mouthpiece of the long, spiral Horn of Chul-Kuran and blew a long, sonorous note into the heart of the sea. Kneeling beneath the rail of a still Hydraship, Cadsane filled the Horn not only with the wind of his lungs, but with the magical wind of Shyish. The Wind of Death. Looking past the pontoon of the small catamaran he knelt upon to the painted blue ships of the Asur, the eye of Isha stylized on their rams. I am marking you with doom, proud cousins. Can you feel it?
As the tone faded into the depths, the sound of arrows, bolts, and bullets filled his long, sylvan ears. The Ashen Fleet had received word from Clan Vittsisk that a High Elf armada with the markings of Tor Yvresse was setting sail for Port Greystone, intending on meeting the survivors of the Dwarven steamships and the Lothern Dragonships and Hawkships. Dizaun had sent messages to his captains, informing them of their ‘Lady-Admiral’s’ orders to intercept the Yvresse fleet before it reached port. All his captains had come, a wall of floating spires crawling through the seas.
All his captains but one, Fingol Darkwater’s Nightmare not amongst them.
Dizaun had waited a day for the highborn lord to show himself, the main strength of the Ashen Fleet holding in the open ocean just southwest of Port Greystone, waiting for a sign of Darkwater or the ship bearing his reply. When dawn arrived, and only the sun peeked its head over the horizon, Dizaun gave up waiting. The course of the Fleet was to steer clear of the coast and rendezvous farther north of the Port, sending a trio of Hydra ships to investigate the Port itself for any sign of the ships from Yvresse. As the Arks set sail, however, blue and white sails quickly became visible, sailings south to meet them.
As Dizaun waited, rising to a stand on the deck of the small vessel, the Black Arks continued to advance, slowly forming a crescent as they attempted to engulf the Council of Light’s ships between them. Filling the gaps between them were the warships of the Ashen Fleet, flying both their captain’s colors and the deep grey of the Fleet. Everywhere else, weaving through the steamships of the Dwarves and the Dragonships of the Elves, were the Hydraships of the fleet, a veritable menagerie of dark, subdued colors flitting past the lighter hues of the Council, dodging canons and bolt throwers alike. Yet for all their agility, the battle was going poorly. The Asur repelled every attempt to board, their ships capable of matching the pace of Dizaun’s. Unlike the Asrai, whom had plowed heedlessly onwards, the Asur plied a fighting retreat, the Dawi steamships following in their wake. The High Elves had faced Black Arks in battle before, and knew that letting their formation be surrounded by no less than five of them was a sure death sentence. A loud crack drew Dizaun’s eyes as a cannonball bounced across the deck of a Hydraship. What had once been a proud vessel had become splinters in the blink of an eye. So far away from the center of battle, the bulk of the Undeniable slowly pushing towards him, Dizaun sighed, hardly able to tell if there had been a ship there at all.
“My lady,” whispered the reaver of the small vessel, “will we not be joining the battle?”
“No, captain,” he sighed, secretly impatient himself, “we wait for the Horn to be heard.” I thought water conducted sound; not stifled it. Or perhaps these waters’ creatures do not remember, yes?
A moan echoed out of the water, a tone of pure sorrow from the heart of the sea. Every man on every ship could hear it as it peeled across their decks, shaking their hulls. Terror lined the faces on Elf and Dwarf alike, and fascination blossomed on the those of the Druchii. The Reavers, and Dizaun chief amongst them, simply smiled. As the moan slowly died away, an alien vein of thought began to pulse through Dizaun’s mind. It lacked true words, but was full of emotion; flashing images; tactile sensation. Tired.
Another voice called across the line of Arks to the first, louder, and full of anger. Another roar, from somewhere more distant. Another, and another, and another. The noise was deafening, a choir of leviathans drowning out the noise of battle. But for Dizaun, the consuming chorus of noise was not the one his sailors could hear, but the one inside his own head, a thousand images roaring past his mind’s eye. Angry. Surprised. Ambivalent. Hungry. Scared. Over and over, more and more, the magic of the Horn of Chul-Karan awoke more of the denizens of the deep, and for every one, a new thought and will awoke in Dizaun’s mind.
His hands shook, lacquered nails rattling against one another. It was almost unbearable, the sheer volume threatening to overwhelm him. A searing pain in his palms brought him back from the brink; in his trance, he had closed his hands, the long talons of his fingernails piercing his white skin. Focus. Focus! Closing his eyes, he let his mind wrap around the thoughts of the sea, swallowing every voice in his own conscious thought. He brought them together, melding them; honing them into weapon that he could guide as the necromancer Chul-Kuran had done decades before.
The world grew eerily quiet to Dizaun’s slender ears. Even the thrum of bolt throwers and bursts of gunpowder seemed to be lessened in the wake of the language of leviathan.
Opening his sapphire eyes, he pointed at the lead ship of Asur, a droplet of his own blood falling to the deck Dizaun stood upon. It was one thought, simple and easy that he lent to the image of the High Elven ships; one the sea could only mirror. Hatred.
The sea bubbled beneath the Black Arks of the Ashen Fleet. Fins of sharks rose from the depths, gracing the surface of the water like sharp fingernails before dipping below the waterline. Serpentine backs the size of boat keels parted the waves. Strange shadows larger than the Arks themselves bruised the depths. Dizaun watched as the Hydra ship he stood upon was eclipsed by a mass only scant meters below, its passage shaking the ship and his mind, its thoughts a symphony in his head. The water churned; boiled under the heat of motion beneath it, as if it could not contain the power of Dizaun’s guiding thought. The shadows and the wake of their passage were followed by the dirge of their hatred for the High Elves and Dwarves as they spread from the Arks, long fingers of darkness stretching for the hulls of their ships.
A hellish scream of fury pierced the air as quickly as a flurry of tentacles pierced the water. Dizaun clutched his long Elven ears as he watched the lead Asur vessel surrounded in a garden of thick black stalks the width of a ship’s mast. As if felled, they dropped upon the hull of the vessel. To Dizaun, it looked as if they were painfully slow, a feather’s weight in strength behind their plummet, but they split the deck, splinters and crewmen tossed into the sea by their force. The monster’s body – a swollen mass of sleek muscle – rose from beneath the Dragonship, its massive, globe-like eyes swirling in anticipation as a beak-like mouth rent the keel asunder.
The nearby Asur Hawkships rallied to the fallen ship, trying to pull the fallen crew from the churning waters, but as they yanked upon the wrists and ankles of their floundering comrades, only their limbs found refuge on the deck, their bodies gnawed by the school of sharks and greater beasts patrolling the depths, their fins and bodies so thickly filling the water that the Dizaun had no doubt he could walk from ship to ship on their backs. His eyes grazed over the formation of the Asur vessels, and as his eyes reached across their line, another aquatic terror would rise from the depths.
One Dragonship, appeared to break free of the roiling depths, hoisting all its sails and bending them into the wind, unshipped its oars and made all haste from the scene. But Dizaun saw the rising of its white and blue sails, and shook his head, the gilded fleshhooks in his snowy white hair jingling like tiny bells. “Oh, sweet cousins; poor, misguided souls, you run so easily… We cannot have that, no?” Picking out a single creature’s mind, like pulling on a thread from a weaver’s loom, he wrapped it around his own, directing it to the retreating vessel. A thunderous groan that shook the sea extolled its reply.
Dizaun could only imagine their false relief. They will be easing on their oars now. Her captain will be dressing down the men, whilst running over what to tell his Prince in his head. He will be searching for his quarters, leaving only the mate on deck, yes? A pen and parchment is what he wants; to compose the terrors he has seen, and straighten them in his mind as he straightens them in his reputation. Or perhaps not. Perhaps he is still on deck, trying to serve as a source of encouragement for his soldiers that could do nothing for their comrades that die even as he sails, no? He is thinking of a grand speech; a few consolatory words.
A fount of water wider than a city spire erupted a hundred meters in front of the High Elven warship. A head covered not in scales or leather but massively thick boney plates surged from the geyser, its plates ending in a wickedly curved beak-like mouth. As its body rose higher into the air, it was clear that this creature was no sea-dragon, nor was it a fish, but something far more primitive. The sides of its elongated body held long, eel-like fins, undulating down into the water as it continued to rise. The creature’s jaw opened almost mechanically, its completely toothless mouth giving an unobscured vision of its endless gullet. Rearing back like a snake preparing to strike, a shudder of movement rippled across its fins, and the head snapped forward, jaws closing around the ship as it dived back into the water. Nothing remained of the Dragonship but a memory.
Kraken, sea-dragon and other monstrous creatures summoned by the Horn quickly took their toll on the ships of Tor Yvresse, but they could not stop them all, despite Dizaun’s best efforts and strong will. The Dwarven steamships – massive constructs of mithril and thick wood – were simply too large; too well reinforced for the denizens of the deep to do more than graze. One was capsized by a persistent sea drake; another was grasped on bow and stern by a pair of kraken, their oily black arms straining against each other until the sheer stress pulled the vessel in half. But they pressed on, the hail of cannon fire they produced keeping the five Black Arks from closing like a fist around them.
The wake of the Undeniable began to rock Dizaun’s borrowed Hydraship as it pushed past. The sudden motion broke Cadsane’s concentration, and the carefully gathered thoughts of the lords of the sea began to slip like sand through his fingers. Confused and surprised, the beasts slunk quickly back into the oblivion – all save the sharks, whom had a veritable feast of Elf and Dwarf alike to attend.
“My lady,” a worried voice muttered from behind Dizaun, “the creatures; they have receded.”
“Yes,” growled Dizaun, turning his head to give the tremulous captain a view of his vicious profile, “thank you for showing me the obvious.” I am glad that Haspera has grown out of such habits, no?
“But without them,” he qualmed, “we can not sink those vessels. The bolt throwers cannot penetrate their mithril armor.”
“Nor could the beasts, captain. We will have to find another way, yes? Bring me aboard the Undeniable. We will have to get closer.”
“A boarding action? My lady, that is surely suic—”
“No more an act of suicide than questioning my orders, no?” Dizaun slowly gripped the captain’s throat, pulling the long, claw-like nails of his other hand from the elf's bleeding throat. Raising his voice to be heard by the rest of the crew, he extended his hand towards them, the bright arterial blood dripping from his nails. “Let him serve as an example. I have led us all to victories innumerable; to riches beyond the most frugal of lords in Naggaroth. I have repaid loyalty and good service with rewards most highborn would refuse even their generals, yes? To those that doubt me unjustly, I offer only reward. Death.
“Now, someone take the wheel and bring us about to the Undeniable. I appoint the former captain’s mate to his rank.”
“My lady –”
“—yes? Is there an issue with my orders?” Dizaun turned to find a tall elf, slender of body and still of face, the mark of ship’s mate emblazoned on his helm. He wore his dark brown hair long, framing a vaguely effeminate face. He wore a long black coat over a red kheitan, a long skirt of plain iron mail wrapped over it. A short sword and a pistol were strapped to his belt, and a greatsword of human design was strapped to his shoulder.
“Of course not,” he bowed his head in obeisance, “but my lady, there is a new ship on the horizon.” He beckoned past Cadsane, in the direction of the retreating Dwarven steamships.
Dizaun turned to find sitting squarely in the Dwarf’s path a sixth Black Ark. It was Fingol Darkwater’s Nightmare, though something strange seemed to gleam atop one of its many towers. The Ark soared across the water at a speed that amazed even Dizaun, seeming to disregard the considerable number of ironclads in its way.
“Captain, bring us to the Nightmare right away!” It would be a risky voyage, especially if shooting broke out as the Dwarves passed Darkwater, but Dizaun was willing to take it. Fingol was late. The man flaunts his title of Speaker of the Temple and the Witch-King’s Envoy and disregards his place amongst my captains. Instead of loyalty, he seeks to put a circlet of shame around my head. The sail of the catamaran drank in the wind, and every corsair bent their backs over their oars, pushing hard against the still churning seas. Even if the captains of the Black Arks resisted his orders, at least the Gilded Reavers still held loyal to Dizaun.
The steamships had to pull hard on their wheels to turn in the face of the advancing Ark, lest they be run down by it; no reinforced hull in all the world would stand against the ramming blow of something as massive as the Nightmare. Even so, the Dwarven ironclads parted slowly from their formation, their speed decreasing to almost a crawl as they struggled to avoid the sea-borne spire. Dizaun expected Fingol to stop, or to fire his bolt throwers and reverse his throttle. Yet there was nothing. Not even the steamships bothered to fire back as Dizaun was brought ever closer to the Black Ark.
As the Dwarven vessels picked up speed once more, surrounding the Nightmare as it slid past them, the Ark finally stopped, slowly easing itself in to the middle of their broken formation. Dizaun felt it before he saw it; a glimmer atop the modified tower caught his eye even as she felt a subtle tingle in the winds of magic. All around the tower, a ripple of green pulses surged down to the base of the tower before running across the Black Ark itself before dieing off. For a moment, Dizaun stood confused on the deck of the Hydraship, his crimson dress lapping in the wind.
A hurricane of green lightning leapt from the Black Ark Nightmare’s reaper bolt thrower mounts. Several bolts did not quite make their targets, or even overshot them, instantly boiling swathes of seawater. Whatever was shooting them seemed to also have backfired on a few places on the Nightmare’s gun decks, pale green flames smoldering on whatever strange war machines had cast destruction down upon the Dwarves. But it made no difference as the bolts of arcane power scorched holes the size of small houses into the decks of the Dwarven steamships. The Nightmare was no longer ringed in powerful ships of war, but a halo of sickly emerald fire.
The new captain on Dizaun’s Hydraship carefully nosed the vessel through the burning hulks. The sharks still in the area gathered in droves, making the air eerily quiet of the shouts of survivors, or even the screams of those being devoured, the fire making no noise as it burned. Already the seas of Lumbria are becoming a graveyard, no? The bones of old ships and new crowding its depths like dead leviathans. Only the glorious remember them, having built their reputations on the mountains of the dead. And I stand even now on such a precipice; a peak of bodies that must loom over all others before I am done.
As they docked on the still Black Ark, Dizaun let himself feel a brief moment of surprise as Fingol Darkwater himself met him at the dock-like extension of the Nightmare. Again clad in his dark iron armor of spines and interlocking plate and immaculate lion’s pelt, Darkwater removed his helm and couched it beneath his left arm, bowing so low as to be almost condescending. “Before my Lady-Admiral says a word, I must offer my extreme apologies at arriving in such fashion. I had been longer at Port Greystone than I had liked, and was not presently on deck when your message came through. My corsairs were abroad, aiding the siege of the Skaven, and, in turn, they gave me use of some rather inventive toys. I trust my lady does forgive me..?”
My lady would rather yank all the grey hairs from your head and kick your insolent old corpse into the sea. But Dizaun was not about to spoil the moment in full view of the corsairs from the Reavers and the Nightmare’s own warriors. “Of course, Lord Darkwater. Your arrival was most timely, and your crew sealed the fate of a powerful navy, yes?” He rose his voice in the barest degree, letting all present catch his silken words. “I will see to it that they are all handsomely rewarded, as true warriors to the Witch-King and the Ashen Fleet.”
“My Lady-Admiral is most generous.” A flash of annoyance registered in the lines of his wan face. “If my Lady Cadsane has the time, would she care to sup with me?”
“It would be my pleasure, yes?” For the first time since meeting him, Dizaun truly was pleased. He worries that I might curry favor with his crew by rewarding them myself. Such gentle strokes we warriors wield! It seemed Dizaun finally was holding a better hand of cards than the older Elf.
Fingol rose, walking to Dizaun’s side and turning to face the way he had come, offering a gauntleted, claw-like hand to Cadsane. Dizaun gingerly placed her fingers over the cold iron glove, and let Fingol lead him onward. Noticing the blood on her hand, he whispered, “I do not suppose that is yours…”
Dizaun could not help but smile. “He was, but he outlived his purpose.” Darkwater did not bother to reply.
The passages and stairs through the Nightmare lacked the opulence of the Undeniable, but her subtle black surface was impressive in a different, more intangible way. Made visible by the glow of countless witchlights, it looked not so ominous as it did raw and pure. It felt almost more comforting than the flashy gold and red décor of Cadsane’s craft, its stark simplicity. Upon closer inspection, Dizaun noticed that every so often, a square foot of the walls was carved with Drukh-Eltharin. Typically, they were quotes from other captains that had sailed the vessel, or men that they in turn had admired. But the oldest, more reminiscent of the purer tongue of Nagarythe, were feint lines of prophecy or scripture. Dizaun recognized a few. One was a classic line from The Prophecy of Demise – the tale that most interpreted to mean the end of the Malekith. Yet, seeing it in what might be its original form, Dizaun realized that some of the words here seemed more obscure than what they had been translated to mean, and the passage itself was longer than he remembered. Before he could read all of it, he had walked past it, and soon enough, another quote from the long dead Lord Ighalir Rareketh of Har Ganeth screamed at its reader for blood and sacrifice in the name of the greatest Elf whom ever lived.
So enraptured with the writing on the wall, Dizaun grimaced when they stopped before a pair of high doors, framed in iron and made of a light black ash. “Dizaun,” Fingol purred, clearly pleased with himself for some reason, “I would have you see something before we continue.”
“Hmm?” Cadsane would not waste a vowel on such games.
“Look on it yourself.” With his free hand, Fingol pushed open the doors at their center to reveal a long hall, lit brilliantly near its high ceiling and the base of its many spindle-like pillars by witchlights.
At first, Dizaun thought the room was already occupied by a sea of Elven soldiery, a grain of fear planting itself in Cadsane’s chest. However, when they failed to move, it became apparent that these were not warriors, but row upon row of ancient armor, some as old as the quotes written on the walls of the Ark. “We are in your armory, no?”
“No,” chortled Darkwater, “we are not. In my many travels, I was privy to the sight of an ancient tomb in Cathay. By force, of course, and it was a great deal more recent when I broke into it than it is now. Within the massive stone vault, instead of riches, I found row upon row of stone soldiers, each one carved in the slightest detail to depict the warriors of the man so interred. I was inspired to begin my own collection – not of stone, but of iron. The Druchii way. I collected suits of the finest armor from the finest warriors in all of Naggaroth. Every house is represented here.”
Dizaun drifted from Fingol’s grip, running his long nails over a set made of interwoven laquered plates reinforced by veins of iron, all painted the color of jade. “And I am impressed how?”
Fingol gave a sharp smile, and pointed to the far end of the hall, beneath a cluster of witchglobes.
Walking to the end of the hall, Dizaun slowly saw a shape that was frighteningly familiar and filled his heart with dread. This suit of armor was not one adorned with spines or elaborate relief. It was simple for a highborn; the iron breastplate lighter and more flexible than that of a normal warrior, flecked with gold leaf. A black kheitan lay beneath it, stretched over the blank visage of a bust, and beneath that, a matching pair of black cured leather leggings feeding into high sailor’s boots dyed crimson. Over one shoulder was the thick rose-colored dueling cape so out of place on a lord of the Druchii. Dizaun ran his fingers across its surface, staring into the long trim of skulls picked out in gold thread. So, father, you are not content to haunt the halls of just my mind, but the corridors of Darkwater’s ship…
“Your father was a great man,” sighed Fingol over Dizaun’s shoulder, “and I respected him as he was due. While we came to the Witch-King’s banner for different reasons, we came late to his cause – by a few generations. I with my hatred, he with your mother. I would hope this mutual respect could translate into our own relationship.”
“My lord, if you are meaning to woo me, woo me, yes?” Dizaun turned, crossing his arms across his currently ample chest. He kept his face as blank as he could. “But showing me old armor and telling me of old honor is nothing to me; you grievously misinterpret my relationship with my father. When the assassin killed my parents, I was shocked, but could not bring myself to care. What I do care about is you disregard for the orders I give. Even were you speaking on the edge of a lie about where you were when my message went out, I beg to ask why you were at Port Greystone at all.”
Fingol looked shocked. Again, a pleasing day today. Quickly recovering, he spoke without hesitation, a subtle edge on his words. “Aiding our cause for victory, of course, and bettering our relations with our land-borne allies. I have brought word from the mainland, as well. The town of Littleton has fallen to Hragged’s Ogres, and the Chaos Dwarves of Imgrazzathar II. On the land of Lumbria itself, this war is being won. While we are fighting viciously and fighting well, we are too few to combat the constant influx of new vessels and captains spoiling for a fight that sail the high seas. By putting pressure on the Port, and by picking our battles carefully instead of attempting a broad sweep, we can win this war. By aiding the Skaven hammer, I am ensuring the Ashen Fleet gets its hand in on the defeat of the Council of False Virtue.”
“And then what?” snapped Dizaun, a bitter frown on his face. “Perhaps were you more prone to following orders and sinking these ships en route with the rest of my captains, we would not have such problems, yes? I assure you, Lord Darkwater, we will take the Port, but we must wait, or we risk bringing the entire massed armada of the Council down upon us. If they are having such success on the mainland, then they are well enough without us. We will strike when the time is right. Do we understand one another?”
“To a point, my lady.”
“I continue to be absolutely astounded that someone so beautiful,” growled Fingol, “so capable of inspiring such fervor, so powerful in the Dark Arts, can in turn be so incredibly idiotic. Do you understand that by taking the Port, we remove the Council of False Virtue’s one landing site? Yes, by taking the High Seas, they cannot land, but by taking the Port, they cannot land safely, or in an organized fashion, which is exceptionally better. Without a safe port, they lose communication with their superiors, with the rest of their company, and cannot assess the lay of the land. Instead, they gain only confusion.”
“You cannot win me with insults, Fingol. I will not engage in another shouting match with you, yes? You may disagree with my policy, Lord Darkwater, as long as you do it in private, and as long as you follow it to the letter.” Dizaun ensured the bite in his words was palpable. “I think I will forego your offer of hospitality. I will call on you tomorrow with new orders, yes?” He turned on the high heels of his black leather boots and sauntered to the door.
A steel vice clamped on to Dizaun’s wrist – it was Fingol’s gauntleted hand. “No, my lady, we are –”
Dizaun balled his fist, and with a high scream, spun to face Fingol, stepping in as he leveled a punch at the taller Elf’s jaw. Fingol reeled from the blow, nearly toppling over Carten Cadsane’s armor, spitting curses in the name of Khaine that might make any sailor pale. Dizaun nearly fell back with him, but furiously yanked his fist from Darkwater’s fingers, the ornamental spikes ripping long gouges in Cadsane’s forearm. Dizaun winced, having broken several nails against his palm and Fingol’s face, but it did not stop him from screaming at Darkwater. “How dare you touch me without leave! Only one man has that honor, and it is not you!”
The doors slammed open, followed by the red and gold sailors of the Reavers from the Hydraship Dizaun had been born in on and the black and purple of the Nightmare’s corsairs. The armor of the living brushed listlessly against the armor of the dead. When they saw the condition of their respective highborn, they parted as one, drawing swords. Dizaun could make out the captain of the Hydraship, towering over the other Reavers, holding his pistol in his left hand, his greatsword in the other. The tension between both groups was palpable. I need to defuse this…
“Do not bother spilling blood over this,” shouted Fingol, fishing in his mouth with two fingers before pulling them out, coated in blood, “I think the Lady-Admiral has had her fill of it today.” Fingol’s grey eyes lacked the jovial cynicism Dizaun was used to, but were as desolate and hostile as an ash waste. And they were focused with all the intensity and hatred that a soul could carry with them for a thousand years on Dizaun.
Dizaun kept himself tall, stretching the fingers of his right hand luxuriously. “Of course, Lord Darkwater.” With a wave of his hand, the Reavers lowered their weapons, and the captain of the Hydraship strode to Dizaun, tearing a length of cloth off of his shirt to staunch the wounds to Cadsane’s wrist. As the Reavers huddled Dizaun out of the chamber of armor, Dizaun stopped them with a word, and turned to face Fingol, who stood in the shadow of Carten Cadsane’s displayed suit of battle. “I do not wish to see you again, Fingol Darkwater, for a long, long time, yes? Again, when I call, you will answer.”
Dizaun Cadsane was rushed to his ship, amongst the baleful eyes of soldiers living and dead.
Posted: Sat Feb 10, 2007 8:11 am
my word you have put some work into this *claps hands* i do like your stoy hope for more posts keep it up
Posted: Sat Feb 10, 2007 5:27 pm
I don't think I realised how long this was before. Great stuff pal.
Posted: Mon Feb 26, 2007 11:44 pm
Whoa! It's looooong! But while it's long, it's interesting and very good. Great job, Sirist! *Bows to the Lady*
Now, back to reading. Have still a bit over a chapter to read
Posted: Wed Feb 28, 2007 10:27 am
bravo 5 stars, great story, its just so....Druchii
Posted: Fri May 04, 2007 5:18 pm
Posted: Sat May 05, 2007 5:40 pm
Wow, I didnt realise I had been reading for that long. Absulutly astounding. On a nit picking note a dwarf iron clad is not armourd with Mithril, for one thing Mithril doesnt exist in the warhammer world and Gromril which would be the nearest thing the Dwai could get their hands on is far to rare.
Posted: Thu May 10, 2007 5:47 pm
Drainial Shadowhart wrote:Wow, I didnt realise I had been reading for that long. Absulutly astounding. On a nit picking note a dwarf iron clad is not armourd with Mithril, for one thing Mithril doesnt exist in the warhammer world and Gromril which would be the nearest thing the Dwai could get their hands on is far to rare.
Thank you! I will change that error as soon as I can. Tomorrow, I think, now that I have a break.
Thank you, everyone, for your kind words, and thanks for reading! I hope you continue to enjoy it.
Posted: Thu May 10, 2007 5:57 pm
Chapter VIII: Worth
Lady Dizaun pushed open the heavy iron door, panting, but wearing a content smile. The black leather chest piece from her battle gear embellished her frame, though she wore it without her crimson cloak and gilded chain collar. On her shoulders, a pair of high, jagged iron epaulets rose to the same height as the crown of her head. A leather thong held back her hair. Despite the numerous decorations, Haspera’s mistress was mostly bare. Her thighs, her arms, and the chest piece’s low neckline threw modesty to the winds in their cut. Bare save for the blood that covers her, each droplet a jewel of crimson that shines on that stark, dark color.
As Haspera approached, she sucked the tips of her fingers, and raised an eyebrow at Disuan, whom kept pace with Haspera. “Such dire expressions! You would think it was I whom expired, and not that Asur.”
They stood in a wide circular room with a low ceiling. It had been carved out of the very bedrock of Nagarythe that the Undeniable had once been built upon. The walls were a dark, primordial brown, their pitted surfaces drinking in the shadows that the ring of torches at their base bred. The dome-like ceiling spoked with iron vaulting, each pointed square stud glaring down at the three Druchii like an iron maiden. It was fitting for the antechamber of the Undeniable’s brig.
“You killed him?” Disuan muttered, “I hope you got more than pleasure out of his death.”
“Oh come, sweet sister, now. The sharks did most of my work for me. He was deep in the embrace of fever when I arrived. More than pliable, yes? He mistook me for his mother, and I was more than happy to oblige him as he told me ‘how bravely he and the Asur had fought’,” she mocked, “and how ‘those coward Druchii in the mountains will not know what hit them.’”
“And what will my lady do?” Haspera knew that the Beastmasters of Karond Kar and some of the Ogres of the Stronghold had based themselves in the crags and mountains towards the middle of the isle. There had been dire reports from the Druchii stationed there. One war host had been fully routed, and others shattered. If it were not for the Ogres, the Mountains would be lost. They are too stupid to retreat. Hragged has done well with them. Unfortunately, an army of Asur suddenly joining the Dwarven contingent in the Middle Mountains could prove a disaster even for the Strongholders. It reinforced a missive Fingol Darkwater had penned to Dizaun shortly after the last battle of a similar strike, though Dizaun had wanted to confirm it herself. Now that it was certain, this information had to be relayed; the Druchii had to regroup, or it would be a slaughter.
Dizaun rounded on Haspera, twirling like a child, “We will go to meet them, no?”
Both Haspera and Disuan exchanged incredulous stares.
“M-my lady,” he stammered, holding out a hand as if to stop her thoughts short, “we are not equipped. All our soldiers are still embarked. We do not have the provisions. It would take a week for us to be ready to march.”
“Dizaun, we’re sailors, pirates and cut-throats.” Disuan retained a thin veneer of calm. “Most of our sailors can’t even march in formation. And if the Reavers leave the sea, there’s nothing keeping the bulk of the Council of Light’s reinforcements from reaching the shore. We might win that battle, but we wouldn’t win the war.”
Sighing, Dizaun wrapped her fingers over her chin. “This is true. But we are not forgetting that all of The Ashen Fleet is currently gathered and could be mobilized, no? And the vast majority of the Council of False Virtue’s navy has been routed. Surely we could split our forces to best deal with both threats?”
Haspera’s expression curdled further, though he fought to hide it from Dizaun. He knew splitting the Fleet could be just as disastrous. “But what does my Lady plan to gain from meeting the host? Surely a messenger would be sufficient.”
“Glory,” she ecstatically sighed. “Glory and renown! This is a perfect chance for us to drive the point home: we are a power to be reckoned with, and a power to be feared by not simply the Asur or the Council, but the other races of our uneasy détente.
“Understand once again, young Haspera, that half of leadership is being present, yes? You must be brains and beauty all in one. Eloquence must be paired with effectiveness. Tact must be coupled with tailoring.
“By spearheading the counter-stroke to the Asur march, The Ashen Fleet grows in power. We prove our usefulness and our intuition by informing our allies of the assault, and then put them even further in our debt by supplying vital aid by marching against the High Elves in the fore of our friends. At that point, it takes only the tinniest amount of manipulation and wording to bring the public opinion that The Ashen Fleet is what saved the day, no?”
Haspera had watched Lady Cadsane do similar things in council with the other captains, the ambassadors, and even with Fingol Darkwater’s own men. The rumors of that night, however, had spread like wild-fire. To think he could have touched her. He was inviting her blow. But Haspera conceded that feelings amongst the Fleet had begun to strain because of it. Even now, the Nightmare and the Undeniable sailed at opposite ends of the formation, with a courier ship from Lord Falirth’s group keeping them both in touch with the other. This fact was not unnoticed by the Fleet.
It was this very strain between Lord Darkwater and the Reavers that Haspera assumed she wanted to pursue such a course. It was not her enemies she needed to put fear into, or her allies she needed to instill need into. It was the Ashen Fleet. Haspera doubted that there was anything short of a grumble or a chortle from the ranks of the other four captains, and it was unlikely that Darkwater’s men would prove mutinous as long as the Witch-King’s edict held him to her, but a victory for the Fleet with Lady Dizaun at its head would remove some of the friction, especially if Dizaun ensured that Darkwater was rewarded handsomely. A bribe for his cooperation, perhaps, but the symbol of unity it would provide was an invaluable one.
The problem was, however, counterbalancing the navy with this new ambition.
“Perhaps then, my Lady,” implied Haspera, “you could split the Fleet as you wish, and retain our presence on the sea. My Lady could take the Reavers and the unessential army contingents from the Black Arks of her Lord-Captains, and march on the mountains, while the bulk of the Fleet continues to remove the threat of reinforcements by setting up a blockade around Port Greystone under Lord Darkwater’s command. We can afford to let our efforts there lapse briefly, with the Skaven hammering the walls, and as long as the Arks are not required to chase after faster ships, the five Arks of the Fleet can best anything the Council of Light throws at them.”
Dizaun tapped her lip distractedly, mulling the plan over. “Similar to mine own ideas, Haspera. Truly, you are becoming an asset, no?” She smiled while he fought back a blush. “But I have a niggling doubt over some of the finer points.”
“Lord Darkwater,” sighed her sister.
The Lady-Admiral gave Disuan a withering glare. “Perhaps.” She softened her eyes for Haspera, a thin smile perching on her lips. “While giving him command might assuage his temper, I believe giving his desire to bombard Greystone credit will boost to his ego far enough, no? Haspera could just as ably lead the strike.”
Haspera dropped to a knee instantly, but before he could utter his thanks, Disuan crossed her arms, “Then I have to stay.”
“What? No,” Dizaun shrugged, “you will be coming, sweet sister.”
“No.” The word hung pregnant in the air, Disuan a picture of firm resolve. “If I go with you, you’ll have a mess here to come back to. Darkwater will still feel affronted. He’s not going to see it as enough, especially after the other little insinuations. With you gone, his reason for staying goes as well, and if you don’t leave him in command, I’m going to have to ensure he’s in a good enough mood to keep fighting.”
“Disuan, that is nonsense. I need you with me. Haspera is smart enough to take care with Lord Darkwater.”
Shaking her head, Disuan practically chuckled, “Fingol doesn’t even know Haspera exists.”
Dizaun’s lips parted in the desire of speech, but closed wordlessly after a moment. Her soulful blue eyes were filled with betrayal and anger. As the two sisters stared at one another, Haspera could feel the energy in the room change. There was no arcane art at work; simply raw emotion ebbing and flowing between them. He felt an utter stranger to these two women, realizing how tightly they had relied on one another up unto this moment. Tears began to bud in Disuan’s eyes, but it was Lady Dizaun that spoke first.
“I can not dissuade you, can I?” She sounded tired.
“No,” choked Disuan.
Dizaun slowly pumped her fists. She nodded and began to walk back towards the dark stairs to the surface of the Undeniable. “Haspera. Follow me. We have dispatches to send to the Lord-Captains of the Fleet, no?”
Haspera bowed low to Disuan as he turned to follow Lady Dizaun, reaching for a torch to light his way. Perhaps I am lucky I have no family.
He caught up with the Lady-Admiral only a stones throw up the stairs. She had stopped under a beam of natural mid-day sunlight pouring straight down from some high window. It spilled across her face as she stared up at it, breathing new life into the blood drying on her face. He stood below her, a handful of steps away. The beauty of her in that moment – the look of innocent wonderment – forced his eyes from her, and he looked instead over his shoulder, putting his mind on something; anything else. She seemed accessible in a way that shamed Haspera. The urge to put his arms around her and comfort her fought his common sense and rigid duty. His quiet reflection weeks earlier was forgotten. He knew it was wrong to love her, even in secret: she was not only his superior and a landed noble, but also a sorceress, wed to Malekith by edict. The Cadsanes have a special dispensation, but only Morathi can choose to whom they wed. How I envy the man she picks.
“Haspera,” she whispered in a voice so frail that he thought the words might break before they reached his ears.
“Yes, my Lady?” By Khaine, why can I say only those three words to her?
“May I borrow your cloak?” Her eyes never left the light.
His hand reached immediately for the clasp of his golden-hued sea-dragon cloak. “Of course, my Lady.”
She reached for it as if in a trance, wrapping it around her slender shoulders, hugging it to her in the place of a lover’s arms; caressing the long black claws sewn as trim on it like an admirer’s fingers.
It took the shadow of something passing across the portal to break her from it. Her hands stopped. Her grip on the cloak slackened. Dizaun smiled thinly at the captain of her flagship, confiding, “It feels as if she is already miles away. My apologies.” With one hand she handed Haspera his cloak, the other running through her thick white curls. She moved on, and did not look back at the light again.
Haspera put his cloak back on, and got no sleep that night as he played the scene over and over again in his mind.
A warm, tropical morning shower found him standing on the docking platform of the Undeniable, his scaled cloak wrapped tightly over his kheitan. The rain played an annoying melody against his gilded half-helm as he leaned out to watch the transports nuzzle closer to the Black Ark. The banner of the Ashen Fleet leaned against his shoulder, its gray fabric growing swollen and subdued in the light patter of the drizzle. This is my station; this is my devotion.
Slowly, three fat-bellied transports found birth alongside the main column of the Ark. Haspera walked the circumference of the dock, ensuring each line was tight and each ship was secure. He boarded each, checking the level of provisions for the voyage, and sent iron-collared slaves to search the Undeniable for items the captains were without. He ran his gauntleted hands across the rims of the chariots within, looking for cracks or rust on the axels and wheel rims. In one ship, he found a leak. Calling for its captain, he pointed it out, asking, “Do you see it?”
“Yes,” the slender man nodded, “likely a break in the calking from weather. We were sailing hard before we engaged the –”
“Do you believe it should be repaired, captain?” This is my duty; this is my determination.
“My Lord? It’s not hardly a pin’s width.”
Haspera eyed the trickle of water before turning back to the captain, a sigh on his lips. “Then I will do it. Bring me calking.”
The distraction of the inspection slowly wore away. He stood still, watching the sun lose speed as it broke free from the horizon, gliding slowly towards its rightful place in the heavens. He nodded his ascent. This is my station.
The hiss of leather on stone turned Haspera around to the stairs. Marching double file, the corsairs of the Undeniable – the Gilded Reavers themselves – fanned out from the bottom of the steps, falling naturally into line. Their crested half-helms matched the one Haspera wore, their black leather boots and red sea dragon cloaks encasing their lithe forms like a second skin. He nearly smiled in pride at their display of good soldiery, but a mere smile would not satisfy him; nor them. This is my duty.
Walking slowly past each reaver, Haspera inspected them with the same impunity he had given the ships. Yet for his desire to find fault to focus upon, he could find none. Each man was now a veteran of a dozen reavings and raids, and each was as devoted to their Lady-Admiral as Haspera himself. I wonder how many of them are just as smitten. No. No, that is not here nor there. This is my determination.
He took his place in front of them, counting their number, recalling their names as he ticked them off. These men are my family. Some I have crewed with sense my earliest memory. Fathers, brothers, mothers, sisters. This is my devotion.
A pair of slaves in pure gold collars and red livery ran down the stairs after shortly after the Reavers. They were both young human boys, and their high voices were clarion calls that echoed across the dock. “Lady-Admiral Dizaun Cadsane!”
Haspera immediately slammed the butt of his standard, cracking the fresco tile under his feet. The Gilded Reavers turned on their heels to face their Lady, fell to a knee and bowed low in a flourish of red cloaks and bleached white claws. Good. This will be ceremonial. Professional. He fought to convince himself, and for a moment, he was succeeding.
Dizaun took her last few steps slowly and gracefully. She wore a surprisingly simple dress of crimson, a tight-fitting bodice with gold trim encasing her waist. Black sandals disappeared beneath the dress’s hem. Her gilded scimitar hung from a plain black leather sword-belt. Aside from a pair of long, clawed finger rings and the dark iron crown nestled amongst her curls, she looked very plain.
She was also alone. It made her seem more naked; more vulnerable, and once again Haspera’s resolve shattered, crashing amongst the tiles under his feet and washed away by the mist of the rain and sea. The energy on the dock seemed to shift, as if the other Gilded Reavers could sense something amiss, but not what.
Lady Cadsane smiled at her personal warriors. That smile seemed genuine enough. Haspera’s spirit soared for her. She will be victorious. Her spirit is not as easily crushed as I feared. I cannot believe I was so doubtful. He broke from his reverie when she began to speak. “My Reavers. We have found victory after victory on the sea. We are sharks amongst skates. But now we must leave our home; the seas of the world.
“Do not fear for us, yes? For sharks are vicious, deadly creatures, even when starved for the touch of salt water. We go now to strike fear not into the fleets of the Council of False Virtue, but the Council itself. Their plans are not safe from us, and neither are they!”
Haspera hefted his banner into the air, shouting, “Glory and gold for the Gilded Reavers!”
The reavers held their blades high, and in one voice shouted, “Glory and gold!” Dizaun swiftly boarded her transport, going almost immediately below deck. In her wake, the lines of corsairs broke into three groups, marching up the gangplanks and into the bellies of the Ashen Fleet’s transports.
Watching solemnly as they passed by, Haspera feigned a smile for them all. Yet, inside, a sense of foreboding was knotting his guts together. Safe voyage, my Lady.
Posted: Thu May 10, 2007 9:34 pm
Ah yes, I couldn't remember if you had Dizuan killing things in the mountains or not. Can't imagine the scandal and rumours that (s)he'd have to deal with though, "Well it seems the lady couldn't even bear to sail the same seas as Lord Darkwater, probably afraid he'll start some trouble."
Good as ever.
Posted: Fri May 11, 2007 10:42 am
Well, remember, you did
end up starting trouble.
And yes, those are the rumors I was implying, which is why Disuan had to stay back. Towards the end, I had to revise it a little, as it was your fluff piece that came out first (Chronicle: Druchii -- Day 42), because I forgot the bit where you were the one to recieve the information first.
Next chapter is from Disuan's point of view, and I'm looking forward to it. Again, it features you heavily, but I feel guilty, so I'm ensuring the other TAF captains get story time as well. There'll be ships, guns, men on fire, and, yes, more political intrigue with a smidge of character building.
Oh, and let's not forget one of the most important victories for the Druchii in the ISC.
Posted: Thu May 31, 2007 6:10 pm
I can't wait for the next instalment, any clues as to when it will be due
Posted: Thu May 31, 2007 6:29 pm
Fingol23 wrote:I can't wait for the next instalment, any clues as to when it will be due
I'm hoping for tomorrow. Otherwise, it'll be a while. I have a big paper to write for my class -- twenty pages long -- that takes precedence.
Posted: Fri Jun 22, 2007 8:38 pm
You certainly know how to keep someone waiting
Posted: Fri Jun 22, 2007 11:41 pm
xD Sorry! I've been very busy lately -- something I was afraid of -- and I'll be back to Sea of Shadows soon.
Posted: Sat Jun 23, 2007 5:30 am
Thats alright. I really like were this story has gone and is still going. Leep up the great work. You should be proud. You wrote a giant, fantastic story in a day in Febuary. I just realised it
Posted: Sat Jun 23, 2007 2:48 pm
Here's someone who really needs a big applause. Sirist, the story is something so great that my vocabulary fails to express it. This thing should get published. Wonderful.
Posted: Wed Sep 19, 2007 6:25 pm
I'd like just to recount the actuall events of the Twilight War, just to put everything into context:
When the campaign first began, there were a total of five dark elf players present. Two of them were Sirist and myself. I fumbled around as a member of Sirist's faction and somehow became the defacto leader of the dark elves in Lumbria, though Sirist was still my commanding officer. Funny how dark elf politics work eh? Well I spent my time securing alliances, making contracts, and putting long term plans into place while Sirist and Mornendhel spent their time with strategies and whatnot. Eventually, the Hands of Darkness made a major breakthrough, but we had effectively went six steps forward without deciding how to keep moving. The enemy eventually pushed us back, and the events of Day 42 came about. Fluffwise, my character caused a whole mess of trouble... for a lot of people, and Sirist was right there in the crossfire. She was an excellent leader in that campaign and her writing was well recieved.
For all intents and purposes, the dark elves came out of the Twilight War on top, and this was Sirist's unique take on those events.