Friday, April 30, 2010

Chapter Twenty-Three, Into the Dark Continent

"I've instructed Hrau to mind the ship until we return. Most of the crew will be travelling with us, especially the new recruits. It would seem that you are quite popular Lieutnenant."
"Thank you Captain. Ishylde," Alicea tossed her a purse of coins, by weight it was likely a years wage for most of the local farmers here in the lower Gascan hill country. "Barret, and your relations, Zack, and Orion will accompany me to the town square where I will deliver the Call to Arms. The rest of you will set up camp outside of town, we leave in the morning. Ishylde, secure transportation and meet us at camp. Tomorrow the Gibbets and I will head to the nearby towns and deliver the call there as well. Orion will maintain the camp and oversee drilling of new recruits. Ishylde, set about purchasing armor for the recruits and supplies for our movement inland. Does anyone have any questions?"

Zack raised his hand.
"What do I do?"
"You'll be identifying any magic users amongst the recruits and showing them some basic combat wards, maybe even a basic attack or two if you think they're up to it and you're willing to give it a shot."
"Why can't you do it?"
Alicea glared at him severely, further dissent was barely audible.

Ishylde knew that the Gibbets had brought their jetbikes. The rest of them, as well as any recruits and supplies, would need some way of getting town to town with a little more haste than they would on foot.
A few inquiries revealed the location of a local garage. If the mechanic their couldn't sell her a truck or speeder, than perhaps he could refer her to someone who could.
"Excuse me", the bell over the door jingled as Ishylde entered the brown, stone building, "I'm looking for a mechanic by the name of Enelat."
Behind the counter was a rather disturbing looking girl of about her own age. She was hairy, no she was furry. It was sort of a gray fur, with redish patches. Her face seemed to long, and her ears folded over themselves.
"Dad's out back working. Just go ahead out and talk to him." The girl looked back down at her magazine, turning a page with her stubby, clawed fingers.
"Thanks," Ishylde managed to choke out before going into the open yard.
"Ishylde is it? Come right over here, I have some thing I think your mistress will be interested in."

Ishylde walked around the dilapidated vehicles carefully. After the thing in the office she wasn't sure what to expect.
Enelat was just an ordinary Nielda. He looked old, probably in his late hundreds. He'd gone bald, and white stubble could be seen on his chin. Grease stains covered his leather apron and exposed arms. He had a small knife at his side, the once ornate scabbard had lost several gems and its gold inlay had been broken off at several points.
"I'm looking to purchase transportation. How many trucks to carry supplies and about two hundred men?"
The old mechanic stood, brushing of some of the grease with a rag. He faced her, clearly examining her closely.
"Yes, you'll do just fine."
Before Ishylde could respond the shadows rushed from beneath the vehicles. She fell into the darkness without a scream.

Chapter Twenty-Two, Companions on the Prow

"So, how do you know the Lieutenant?"
"We bailed each other out of an encounter with a Frost Wyrm. I spent a week showing her around town and since then I've just followed her around."

The sea breeze was strong but she was still warm from the sun. It reminded her of summer in the mountains. Ishylde had let her flaxen hair out of its usual braid so she could enjoy the full experience. Some small voice in the back of her mind told her that being at the prow of the ship looking out across the rolling waves likely made her look quite beautiful. Alicea would have probably thought about that voice, but Ishylde was content to simply listen.
Zack had been following her around since he came aboard, although he hadn't actually worked up the nerve to talk to her until they'd left Marelle. She wasn't sure how old he was, but she felt older when she was around him. So she tolerated his small talk and his furtive glances, and enjoyed the little power she got from his attention.
But for once his question was actually valid. Why did she follow Alicea? Sure she was a solid warrior, and if her tactical advice both in the mountains and in Marelle was any indication she was also quite clever. But so was Hveglir, or Rhod, even Barret could form a decent plan if he had the time, and all were strong warriors, why did she follow Alicea when she'd never wanted to follow them?

When she were younger the response she'd have given would've been a simple 'because'. That wouldn't work now, and Zack was hardly as spell struck with Alicea as many of the warriors they'd commanded in Marelle. If anything he'd respond to that with some nonsense about how he was sure she could lead better. She had to answer somehow, he was begining to stare.
"I wanted an adventure, and she was on one."
"You know, WE could have an adventure. Just the two of us, some distant world with nothing to bother us, no war, no Ga-Vok, no bossy witch swinging her axes around telling us what to do."
"No, thank you. Besides we just left one of the planet's only spaceports, I doubt we'd have a chance to leave before we got to the Monastary anyways."
"Maybe you'll think about it?"
His eyes glimmered slightly as he made a desperate attempt to persuade her. She chose not to throw aside his affections just yet.
"Well, maybe."

He strode off gaily to the cabin, obviously thinking his efforts productive. She turned her thoughts back to the question. Why did she follow Alicea?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Chapter Twenty-One, Waveblade

The people of Marelle thanked her for her help, and the Alicea made haste for the mainland. If Tasand had already begun his campaign it would only be a matter of time before the monastary would be attacked, and she would be needed in its defense.

She found Orion on the deck. He'd been ill-tempered and elusive the whole trip.
"Captain, what's been wrong with you? Something back in Marelle has affected you. I mean, it's not that I don't regret the loss of your crewmen, it's just that you need to move on."
"Did you see his sword? Tell me, what sort of enchantments did he have worked into it?"
"None, but it seems forged using some technique I've never seen before. I'd love a chance to work with it and see what I could actually do with a weapon like that."
"It's a waveblade. My family has passed down the secrets of their forging for generations, long before the Junlaerd. They defuse magic wherever wielded against it, with it in his hands Tasand will be able to block any spells he can respond to."
"How many has your family made?"
"We don't know. Maybe a few hundred, any before the Empire were destroyed by the Junlaerd in his battles with the Kingdom of Stone. Every family member has forged one at some point, this one is mine."
He drew a slightly curved, single-edged knife from a hidden scabbard at the back of his belt. He held up it up to the sunlight and she saw that the blade was tinted a metalic pink. The properties were exactly like tha blade Tasand had drawn in Marelle, unenchanted but strong.
"And your other family members?"
"I'm the only one left. When a Waveblade dies he's burned with his blade. Every last one of our blades was melted down with its owner, except Juline. Tasand is wielding my daughter's blade. I thought I was over it, but the idea of my daughter's killer being right here just..."
"You'll get your chance Orion. If you join us as we head back to the Monastary you have my word that we will fight Tasand again, and next time you'll have your chance."
"Very well. I'll come along."

Chapter Twenty, State of the Crew

"Why didn't you try to kill him when we had the chance? He was barely defended."
Alicea looked over at Barret and her other bodyguards. There were still bits of gore left in their thick beards from the battle. It seemed unlikely that the mountainfolk would bother to wash any of the mess out within the forseeable future.
"I could still hit him miss. If you want me too."
Ishylde had held back further, unlike many of the other archers her quiver was still full. Zack had set her up with an alchemically activated, enchanted quiver; she could refill it with her minor magical capacity and had no need to fear a depleted supply of ammunition like the other archers. Alicea had seen her in the battle launching her wyrm' bone arrows deep into the hearts of Ga-Vok still in their landing ships. All her doubts about how worthwhile the hunting of the dangerous beasts had left as she watched them pierce thick steel armor time and again.
Zack had gone to lie down, even with his vast array of trinkets and relics he'd found this long a battle exhausting. A mere sorceror like him was lucky to have survived the magical onslaught brought by the Blue Army's shaman, all battle tested and worn by life amongst the clans. Yet he had survived, and he had represented his family well with his clever machinations and carefully woven spells. What Zack lacked in strength he made up for with a keen and intuitive mind.

Alicea brushed some grime off of her Leather bracers, she could see the fur mixed into the blood and powdered stone. The townspeople had fought hard, and they'd been confident of victory right up through the last wave. But she knew how little chance they would have had if Tasand had continued his assault, and how few troops he'd actually commited to the assault. At any time he could have ended it. Casabal had been little better defend than Marelle was, and he had overrun the walls in a mere two hours from the time they commenced the assault. Few Nielda could have known of his victory there, but Alicea could discern from todays victory that the greatest General of the Ga-Vok army had held back. He'd thrown the battle, few warriors would ever commit so great an offense against their leader.

"He'd have granted us the same privelige. He didn't come to talk to us, he came to make a point to his officers. We're just tools to his genius."
"You mean, he lost and he still us? That jerk."
"I think the General and the Alpha have had some sort of falling out. He threw the battle, and the advisor he executed was the Alpha's representative, and spy I suspect."
"He what?"
"He threw the fight. Look at the fleet, don't you see the smoke stacks just behind them? He purposefully hid his numbers so we'd underestimate him, make us more confident of our chances. But that means he has potentially thousands more troops he could still commit to the battle if he wanted to, we barely withstood that last wave. And the retreat; I don't know why he pulled back when he did, but he did. We could have repelled those ships as it was, because of the tricks we'd kept up our sleeves, but we wouldn't have withstood the one that followed. For whatever reason, he didn't want to win. I think there might be something going on in the top brass of the Confederacy."
"How do you know all this stuff? How'd you know who this," Jod nudged the still feebly gasping advisor with the butt of his splintered spear, "Was a representative of their Alpha?"

Alicea looked over at Orion. Her companions had heard him talking Vokil before, she could say he'd translated for her. He had fought hard, even though several of his crew had fallen in the fight. The crew of the Juline had been a valuable asset in the battle, holding their ground in the thick of the fray. But he seemed out of himself since General Tasand had assaulted the Ga-Vok advisor now being dragged to the town jail by a few of the citizens. She chose to allow him some time to clear his mind of whatever troubles may have flooded it.
"My father taught me before I went to the monastary. He decided it would be useful for me to know."
"Well then, we should probably get a move on with recruiting more troops if we hope to beat him."
"Quite. Captain Orion, how soon can we be under way?"
Orion responded rather more quickly than she'd expected.
"We can get supplies aboard by tomorrow morning working overtime. If Master Zack can get his golem to help at least. I'll try to pick up a couple more crewmen. We can set sail by this time tomorrow."
"Thank you Captain. Ishylde, could you go and wake Zack so we can get started."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Chapter Nineteen, Meeting of the Commanders

"Kraulu, what is the name of this town?"
"This is Marelle, uncle."
"Ah good. Let us proceed then."

General Tasand had been allowed to enter the town square, along with a few companions. The citizens of Marelle, along with Alicea and her companions, had gathered to listen to the anticipated ultimatum.

"You have fought well, were you my own men I would award you great honor. Instead I offer you another month to recover and to prepare for our next battle, or to leave if you do manage to see the folly of your path."
One of the warriors beside him turned, his ears perked in shock. "Tasand, the Alpha only gave us a month to capture the planet. We can't afford to keep fighting that long, he'd have your head for it."
"The Alpha will recieve the best results I can honorably give him. Or have you forgotten the teachings of Hrak the vanquisher? Respect the enemy who withstands your onslaught, for he has proven himself a warrior. And if the Alpha wants to do things differently, he can leave his pillows and scratching women and do it himself."
"General, that sounds like treason." An official looking warrior wearing the Alpha's tabard stepped forward, tailed stiff agressively.
Tasand didn't even bother with a rebuttal. He tore his sword from its bindings and decapitated the Alpha's lackey. Then he turned to the rest of his companions.
"I'd been wanting to do that since we got here. Now I can finally conduct this war the way I want to. Now, who is your leader?"

The crowd looked around in confusion. Other than the last statement and the first they had understood none of what was said. Alicea stepped up and faced the general, clearing her throat as she did.
"Revered General, I am Alicea."
"You are young, it is impressive to see one with so little experience rally so sound a defense."
"The people of Marelle rallied their own defense. I am just here to call them to arms."
"Then you are the one that Haelvan sent. The Alpha warned me that there was a powerful warrior there, it is an honor to face you at last."
"The honor is all mine. I heard of your deeds on Mrococo."
Tasand's ears drooped somewhat. He was a clever warrior. He'd even thought to feign sorrow at having caused so much death to the people he was addressing.
"I did as I was ordered; nothing more, nothing less."
"You did it well. No doubt you intend to do the same here; I want to make sure you understand that I intend to oppose you at every turn."
"I expect nothing less. May the spirit of the Earth accept your bodies with honor."
"And the spirit of the light guide your souls from this world safely."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Chapter Seventeen, The battle of Marelle

It would not be until Marelle in the south that she encountered opposition again. but as the second month of her travels ended it hardly surprised her that the Ga-Vok were begining their atacks.

"Call to Arms? No kidding, fishermen sighted a fleet coming down from the coast."
"Then we should ready the defenses."
"The guards are driling the militia in the courtyard. We've stockpiled arrows and weapons. We're ready to fight."
"Then my companions and I will fight also."

On the third day they spotted the Ga-Vok ships. Large cargo ships, refited to carry smaller landing craft, mostly, although she could see a few fishing ships darting around them with small catapults mounted onto their decks.
"Enough capacity on those barges for several thousand warriors."
Alicea looked over at Orion. "Good thing we stockpiled arrows. Ishylde, tell me the second they're in range."
"Yes ma'am, but who's range; the balista, me, the guards, or the other archers?"
"Whichever one will hit them first."

Zack ran up from the walls. "Well, I've delivered the last of those shots. You're sure about this?"
"Are you sure about your ability to use Alchemy?"
"Are the Ga-Vok attacking?"
"Then yes I am. Now call up your Golem and start setting up wards."
"Sure thing your majesty."
"Did Barret tell you about that? I'll have to talk to him about telling that story."

The Ga-Vok landing ships were very simple. A drawbridge of sorts was mounted between two canoes, with the other three sides enclosed with sheets of metal plating. the warriors stood in te middle, ready to rush onto the beaches the moment the ship landed.
Catapults from the ships still at sea battered the steeply graded walls around the town. They did little damage to the walls and killed few of the the defenders but many of the undisciplined recruits fled to their homes under the rain of stone. Most of them stood their ground, and the Ga-Vok warriors were greeted as they disembarked with a hail of steel crossbow darts and iron-headed reed arrows.
Orion's estimate seemed to be accurate as the day dragged on. Wave after wave caried fresh Ga-Vok warriors onto the shore. The sands were dense and reddened with the blood of the invading army; and the beaches writhed with the wounded. Most of the arrows were spent, and all the darts. It would not be long before the Ga-Vok would at last reach the walls, and the rag-tag fishermen and scattered guards would not be able to stand against the Ga-Vok onslaught in a melee.


"Kraulu, what are you doing down there on the deck?"
The shaman looked up in surprise. "General, you should see this."
General Tasand leaned over his nephew. Not an easy task on the rocking barge, but Tasand was not the sort of warrior to be discouraged by a minor challenge.
"That's an interesting combination. Never seen the wolf and the bone connected like that before, who'd you cast them for?"
"The enemy commander. I wanted to see if you'd need to leave the ship to fight them."
"Did you cast the Eight Knuckle Like I asked?"
"I did, that's why I wanted to make sure you were on the ship."
Tasand sighed. He was a warrior, and a general but he was also a servant of the great spirit. He knew that the bones did not lie easily; and his nephew had nothing to gain by casting them falsely. If the fates ordained loss, he would make it a loss by choice rather than rout.
"Order the troops to stand down. We shall return to the mainland. And call the shaman to council, I wish to consider the implications of this new leader of theirs."


"Miss Alicea, they're falling back. The landing ships just stopped half way and went back to the fleet."
"That can't be right. Stay on guard, it's probably a trap."
"Should we try to collect more arrows, or eat something?"
"No, order the ballista to use the alchemist's shot I had you make earlier."
"As you wish."

The landing craft were out of range of the crossbows, and most of the archers were conserving their reamining arrows. Ishylde had a specially enchanted quiver, she could refill it using an alchemical pattern etched into the bottom, and even at this range she could still hit many of the Ga-Vok warriors. The Ballista, on the other hand, were well within range.
"Yes your.."
"Shut up and do it already Zack."
"Fine, your grace"

A half dozen clay pots, shaped like a pill and covered in runic paterns, soared through the air towards the withdrawing landing craft. On impact the jars detonated. Blood red flames rended the steel plating of the small craft. One shot went wide and the ocean rose in a white dome before bursting, washing several warriors out of their transports.
A second volley battered the remaining landing craft. And with a third they assaulted the barges themselves; leaving the Ga-Vok fleet reeling.
A white flag rose over their flagship, and over a small yacht that emerged from it.

They allowed the Yacht to land. Four warriors disembarked first, all were tall and their muscles were clearly defined even beneath their armor. After them came a young shaman, he seemed skittish and his staff was as alive as though it were fresh cut.
But the last to show himself was the face they all feared. General Tasand had come to parlay.

Chapter Sixteen, Sorceror's Call

The crowds dispersed before Alicea could deliver her memorized speech calling the people to arms, which annoyed her because she'd even included some relevant pop culture refrences and several phrases she'd hoped would be quite rousing.

"What was that for? I could have made tab on that crowd."
'the Magnificent Zack' had also declined to leave the stage.
"Next time you make wild claims about shoddy golems being sprites you may want to think twice about who might be in the audience."
"You see him, the merchant showing jewelry to that fat woman, He's the best mage in town. He knew perfectly well that Vallen's a golem, you didn't see him jumping up on stage and making a big fuss over it."
"Just because people are letting you defraud the community doesn't mean you can do it anyways."
"It's not fraud, it's entertainment. People pay to see me subdue a powerful golem. Now you came along and revealed my secret." He kicked some dust off his sandals.
"I'll probably have to leave Ruom now. I guarantee you no other city is as rich as this one."

Alicea looked over at her companions. The Gibbets were still jabbering about the fight, they were exactly the sort of people this Zack counted on watching his performance. Ishylde returned her gaze. She had a very soft look in her eyes, it was fairly obvious what she thought should be done.

"Can you fight?"
"And I still have to pay the bartender for..What?"
"Can you fight?"
"Of course I can fight, what kind of man grows up in a family of mages and can't defend himself?"
"That's not what I asked, I asked if you know how to fight."
"I can fight. I'm not some palace jester for goodness sake."
"There's a Call to Arms for all Gasca. I was sent from the monastary to deliver it."
"That's not news. Everyone knows the Ga-Vok are polishing their shields."
"We've just come from Landsen, I'd say they're doing more than just polishing shields."
"What's that got to do with me?" He gesticulated wildly. No actual crowd had grown but the market had grown silent as the shoppers and tradesmen alike turned their focus towards the par on the stage.
"If you join us for the duration, I will personally compensate you for anything you might have lost by my having disrupted your performance."

The silence became very obvious. Alicea suddenly wondered just how much he usually made in a performance. She could pay it easily, the only useful thing she'd learned at the monastary was how Nieldic commerce worked. She'd made a small fortune investing in several dangerous ventures over the last three years. Added to the completly managable salary she'd be getting with her new commision she probably could have paid for all of the services she'd aquired so far and then equipped and supplied the population of Landsen for the entirety of the war. But she prefered not to think about all those painful little silver coins, it was bad enough being in a bustling market like this one.

"Up front?"
"No, Cash on delivery. If you really are as magnificent as you say you are, you shouldn't need to worry about whether or not you can do what I'm asking of you."
"Unless of course, you really aren't as good as you say you are?"
He straightened his turban anxiously. "But..Ga-Vok..dangerous..war." he muttered.
"I suppose the people of Gasca have no use for cowards anyways." She turned to the marketplace, and started to to deliver her speech before being interrupted.
"Now see here, I may just be a street performer trying to make his way in the world. However, No man calls Zack Penault a coward. I'll fight your battles, and I'll do it for free."
Alicea smiled and continued her speech.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Chapter Fifteen, Zack, the Magnificent

Ruom was more than a port, it was the port. Some of the Empire's richest men owned houses in the secluded islands around the oceans of Gasca. Ruom's shape and location had made it ideal to recive their private yachts and small luxury cruisers. The town itself was built on a platform that rose the height of five men from the sandy beaches, and from its gates extended raised paths that ran down the atoll and extended into the sea. The yachts didn't stay, but the boats around the harbor definetly showed Ruom's significance.

"Welcome to port miss."
"Thank you captain, you wouldn't mind waiting for us. I anticipate needing transport back to the mainland once I'm done here."
"As you wish miss. The Juline will wait."

Alicea led her party into the town proper. The streets were crowded, a few local guards were standing around the market. Most of the activity seemed focused on a man who stood on a stage in the center.
The man there probably would have gotten the same level of attention off the stage. Most Nielda prefered a very skirts and jerkins approach to clothing. The billowing purple silk and flowing gold ribbons of his outfit, coupled with the brightly colored turban, couldn't have been hidden if he'd taken an invisibility potion. The lightly glowing Wooden staff with intricate silver inlay and set of flawless pearls the size of falcon eyes at the head floating perfectly upright beside him certainly didn't help him blend in.
But then again, he wasn't trying to blend in.
"Ladies and Gentlemen. Your attention please." As the man flourished dramaticaly the riboons dangling from his arm changed from gold to a bright blue. "I am the Magnificent Zack, sorceror extraordinare." He flung his arms outward and bursts of pinkish smoke shot from his sleeves. "'But Zack' you say, 'any cunning man could wear such marvelous clothing and shoot pink smoke from his sleeves, what makes you so extreordinary?' Well my dear audience, could a mere man do this?" He lashed out at the ground and called to it "Come sprite of the earth, heed your master and show these mortals who is your master."
The street coalesced around the point he'd lashed towards. The stone formed a hand. The hand grabbed the streets around him and a fully formed stone man pulled himself from the ground. He struck a pose and roared at the crowds around him.

"That's no spirit. That's a golem."
"What scoffer speaks?"
Alicea lept up onto the stage. From here she could see that 'the Magnificent Zack' was probably only a few years older than she was.
"My name is Alicea, I've seen sprites and that isn't one."
"Perhaps a proof of its strength would change your mind. Vallen, show her the error of her judgement."
Alicea kicked the golem backwards off the stairs. The fact her foot made contact at all would prove to anyone who'd ever met a sprite just how flimsy the illusion was.
Vallen, the golem's name apparently, kept coming at her. He was clumsy but strong, no number of her blows would finish him.
"No warrior can defeat the great earth sprite Vallen. Stand aside warrior, I will tame the sprite."
"Don't bother you showmanistic fraud. I'll show you real power." She stretched her mind to the braziers sround the square. She stoked the fires and drew them to her hand. "A true earth sprite is a dryad, a spirit of trees and life not dead stone." She unleashed the flames, causing them to swirl about the golem. As they faded she saw the glint of hateful silver under its cracked skin. "Nor can they be summoned," She cupped her hand and blessed her strike with steely strength, then dug the amulet from its granite skull. The golem returned to the streets with the source of its power removed. "With a trinket."
The crowd cheered.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Chapter Fourteen, Fathers

They pulled ou of the port rather slowly. It wasn't promising. But after the third day at sea Alicea noticed that the fishing buoys were passing the ship faster than jetbikes.

"Captain, what's your secret?"
"Answer my question first miss."
"You wouldn't happen to know a shaman name of Aurou, would you?"
She stopped dumbfounded. The Howling Axe clan was secluded even towards other Ga-Vok, and she'd never met this man. How did he know him?"
"How would a traveller like me know a Ga-Vok shaman?"
"Well, I figure only two sorts of people carry that mark." He gestured at the axes at her sides. "And you don't smell like a perfume saleswoman. What's more, I just finished talking to Que'Laed. The whiskery ruddersnipe tells me, that Kelei says that the Shaman Aurou use to keep a little Nielda girl who called herself Alicea. It seemed unlikely that there'd be a second Alicea with howling axes and shamanistic powers."

She probed his mind cautiously. He was no mage, but sections of his mind seemed simply to not exsist. What did exsist told her enough to know he was trustworthy.
"He was my father."
"Certainly didn't sound like you were a prisoner."
"I was going to ask how you get the ship to go so fast without an engine."
"Que'Laed, he's the Nereid. I gave him somewhere to call home, he gives me the ability to get wherever I need to be. He also enjoys telling me where I need to be, so it's kind of like being the wait staff for his palace."
"How'd a simple sailor come to know about sprites, I thought the witches didn't take men?"
"My daughter, Light keep her soul, she taught me a lot in her letters. Before the war that is, she'd taken a post with the coven's research buerau on Mrococo."
"And yet you have no problem with my being raised by a Ga-Vok."
"Why should I? When the word came, I went to Mirkfallow on the western coast and asked them to make recompense."

Alicea knew the Ga-Vok system, a criminal or a drunk would have been picked from the clan and offered up as a sacrifice to prevent the wrath of another clan, or man in this case. It was cruel, but the Ga-Vok rarely demanded it of each other.

"They gave me a replacement. Hrau's below deck, fantastic chef; apparently he'd been in some trouble over killing the chief's daughter. He was fully justified, I proved that, but they insisted that he was a fitting trade; daughter's murderer to father of a murdered daughter. Nice lad, him and his wife stay below decks when we come to Landsen."
"He'll probably stay with you for life you know."
"I know, I've given him my leave to jump ship whenever he pleases. It is nice to know I'll always have at least two more hands on board though. He's like blood to me, his daughter even calls me Daimu."
"Shame we'll be enemies soon. The Ga-Vok attack on Landsen wasn't an isolated event. The Alpha sent Tasand himself to deliver an ultimatum."

The old captain looked out across the water. He was windbitten and his long braid was far greyer than most Nielda his age. She could see that the loss of his daughter had not been the first trial to befall him. She could see the worry etched deep into his weary skin, but the fire of life was till burning in him.
"Would you consider your father your enemy, even if he stood amongst the Alpha's men? Hrau is my son, even if he were the Alpha's executioner with a million Nieldic scalps hung from his walls and I were at his block he'd still be my son. I'd as soon fight him as I'd have fought Juline. I pray he feels as strongly for me."
"But I'm afraid most are not so willing to deal with each other. I love my father, but it's only a matter of time before one of our races must leave."
"A shame, Maybe one day someone will be able to show both our peoples that we can have peace."

Monday, April 12, 2010

Chapter Thirteen, On the Docks

The Gibbet brothers made it through safely. Alec said he'd seen teams of guards patrolling the streets. Reunited with her bodyguards, Alicea chose to make haste to the docks before the situation could get worse. She'd already met with the Guard captain while she'd been in the mountains, there was no need to deliver the Call to Arms.

Ishylde was sitting next to a fresh corpse down on the docks.
"I see the drifters still have the time to pester travellers, even while the city burns." Orion spat on the grungy body. "Good riddance. You'll be her sister then?"
"Companion, something between a guard and a servant really. Is this our transport milady? I'm sorry I couldn't find anyone willing to put to sea."
Alicea held out her hand. Ishylde returned the leather pouch, as heavy as when she'd been handed it.
"This is Captain Waveblade. He's agreed to take us to Ruom."
The captain stepped forward.
"Aye. The nice miss made the significance of her voyage quite clear. The ship's this way."

She was bigger than any of the other ships in the harbor, and the only one made of wood. Two masts, no obvious secondary method of propulsion; she wasn't exactly thrilled with the prospect of what was almost certainly the slowest seaworthy ship in the ocean, but it was free.
"Don't worry miss. She's faster than she looks."
"You got an engine hidden in there?"
"The Juline hides nothing, 'cept for a balista in the focsle."
"Well, best get a move on then."

Chapter Twelve, City Aflame

Landsen was probably the largest community of Nielda on the planet. It may even have been the only one that could merit being called a city. Alicea had heard descriptions of Skyknuckle, the holy city of the Ga-Vok Oracles, from Aurou, but Landsen put to shame even her wildest imaginings of what a city was like.

Mostly through its own shame, Landsen was a wreck. As the lift descended she could see the furthest parts of the city were burning. The parts below them, along the stretch of coast that had given the port its name, had a greasy shimmer to them even by the dim starlight. It was loud. Alicea, her senses attuned from years of hunting with the Ga-Vok, could smell rotting corpses and putrefying waste even before she could make out the narrow streets.
"Is that it?"
"Yes ma'am. That's Landsen, only town with access to the mountains and the sea. It's usually darker this time of day."

Alicea looked back at Ishylde and Barret. "It's on fire, of course it's brighter than usual. Get your weapons ready." She threw a small leather satchel to the young archer, "Ishylde, get right over to the docks and secure passage to Ruom Island. The rest of you follow me."

She lept from the platform ten feet from the streets and took off running towards the fire. She'd made it three blocks before the brothers roared up alongside her.
"Need a ride, milady?"
"Are you sure that thing's safe?"
"Probably not, but it's fast and it's fun. You'll love it."
"I'll race you."
"If you could outrun us you would have done it back on the mountain."
"Try me."

The four of them gunned it towards the gates. Alicea turned her mind to the mental image of the city she'd developed as they descended. She focused on the broken stone and ash tainted blood of the gatehouse.
Mages only gave effect to their magic for show. Alicea was not a mage, a shaman used the very essence of nature and the elements to fuel their magics. She did not simply reappear, she reappeared in a cyclone.
The pair of armored warriors standing guard over the shattered gate were far more surprised than she was. She used the still powerful winds and the burning shingles of the nearby houses to dispatch of both before they could recover. Then she surveyed the surroundings. Those buildings she could make out were burned to the ground, she was sure that there was more destruction concealed within the smoke.
"You there." It was a Nieldic voice, though in this filthy a city that seemed no guarantee of friendship. "Get down." A heavy spear of avariety she'd never seen hurtled over her and smashed through a warrior who'd snuck up behind her in the smoke. His howl drew his comapnions, a motely lot of well-equiped but clearly undisciplined Ga-Vok. Before they could strike a collection of barbed spears thrust past her, piercing armor and tearing flesh.

"What are you doing out here miss? This town is no place for a pretty young thing like yourself. Come on, we'll get you to safety."
"Thank you sir, but my guards will be on their way. I told them to meet me here."
"Cap'n, wouldn't be right letting her stay here alone."
"You heard the boys miss. If you stay we're staying. Name's Orion Waveblade, these here are my boys. Needless to say we picked the wrong day to make port."
"Alicea of the Howling Axes, Lieutenant of the Imperial Army. You wouldn't happen to be intrested in providing a messenger of the Empire with transport around to all the major islands?"
"How's it pay?"
"We win you get to stay on the planet. We lose and the whole planet looks like this part of town."
"I usually prefer to work for less, but you've hired yourself a ship miss."

Friday, April 9, 2010

Chapter Eleven, Conversations

The Lifter was not the most hospitable environment for a conversation, not that it seemed to stop her new bodyguards. The four of them could probably have held a conversation from opposite sides of a battlefield. Ishylde couldn't be heard, but it was clear that she was trying to join in the conversation. Alicea felt somewhat out of place not even making an effort.

The lifter set down in a large town towards the edge of the mountains. The most reliable way to get anything into the high valleys was through a mechanical platform that moved from Lifberg at the peak, down to Landsen Port at the mountain's base. The lift, for which the town had been named, had been built by a couple of entrepreneurs within a couple of years of the planet's first colonization attempt. It had failed then, but after people started moving into the mountains the man to whom the lift had been sold had built a tavern and several warehouses onto it. He'd died soon afterwards, but his son now managed the company from an island further south. His sister and her family ran the day to day affairs of the platform. It made a weekly trip to whichever art of the mountain it wasn't on, and tuesdays they ran an open mic.

As the lifter couldn't hope to manage the assent back up the mountain they would be spending the week waiting for the lift to descend. Alicea spent her time talking with clan leaders who had made the trip to pledge their loyalty, and then in turn offering them strategic advice to ready their towns for the coming attacks and establishing channels of communication between neighboring villages. Her companions practiced their arts and made considerable, and in Johd's case rather to much, use of the platform's tavern.
Except for Tuesday, on which Alicea decided to take her day off. It had been a long time since anyone had let her sing and she thought she'd done rather well, but Ga-Vok pop didn't seem to click with the audience.

"You really should have known better, Mistress. These are people who moved here because they wanted to kill Ga-Vok after all."
"Thank you Ishylde," Alicea took the towel being offered. "I asked what I should sing and Mrs. Rivad said to sing what I knew. So I did."
Ishylde looked up from the piece of glass she was trying to extract from Alicea's boot. "Which begs the question, where'd you learn to sing that song anyways?"

Alicea looked away. She wasn't ashamed of her clan, or her father. Without them she'd never have been the person she was. Why was it then that she couldn't bring herself to admit to her past?
"Can you keep a secret?"
"I can keep anything that won't kill me or get me killed"
"It won't if you can keep it secret."
Ishylde eyed her suspicously. "How dangerous is this? You aren't some kind of spy are you? Are you with the guild?"
"The what? No. I was raised by a Ga-Vok shaman until I was sixteen. I left to find other Nielda and that's how I got to the monastery."
"I thought they ate children?"
"I'm told someone tried. I met his son a few years ago. Neither will be a problem."
"Judging by the song and the way you fought that frost wyrm, and then the way you trounced Hveglir; I'd say you weren't exactly a prisoner."
"I was a warrior, and my..caretaker was the clan shaman. He trained me how to fight, sing, dance, live, everything. I was as free as any of the clan's own blood."
"Hard to believe they're the same people who just gave the whole planet three months notice."
"They aren't. Two Ga-Vok are as different as two Nielda; they're not unlike the people of these valleys. My clan were the Howling Axes, they were exiled by the Alpha for losing a battle. The lake just down the hill from the monastery are the Sickle Ear, they lived in fear of the Alpha's servant Kron; who tried to destroy the monastery. The enemy isn't the Ga-Vok people, it's the Ga-Vok leaders. They're just being lead astray."
"You know, you could do a lot of good if you were talking to people with power. I'm just a hunter; I'm willing to follow you and help you do whatever your going to do. But if you could convince the emperor to see things your way you could end this war."
"He's like what, thirty? How much power does he really have?"
"A %^&@load more than anyone his age should be allowed to. I blame his father, filthy bird-keeper."
"The late emperor kept birds?"
"It's a euphemism. Suffice to say, there's a reason he didn't have kids till he was old."
"I don't know what that means, but probably."
"Did he keep an Empress?"
"He was married, and from what I hear the whole situation worked out perfectly for both of them. She never let dropped a loose hair and he never forgot to knock. Ross met her once, she used to see off the colonists. Kept well for a used dinghy I'm told."
"You've lost me. You promise not to tell anyone?"
"Mistress, I swore to obey you. We mountainfolk take our oaths very seriously. Wish I could say the same for those lazy island weekenders."

Bird keeper; the late-emperor sniffed tail: Alicea made another note on the political intrigues of the Empiere, she never knew when such things might come in handy.
It also explained why she'd never seen any of the Nielda keep falcons.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Chapter Ten, A Continuing Mission

Next stop would be the Islands. She'd arranged with the Wyrmskinner clan, with whom she'd been staying, to provide her transport to Lifberg. From there she'd descend the mountain to the coast and arrange for further transport from there.

She'd packed her meager belongings and was walking down to the lifter when four familiar looking raiders stopped her.
She was quite surprised when rather than fearful avoidance they met her gaze and each took a knee respectfully.
"High Queen, my brothers and I seek your forgiveness for our behavior on the mountainside."
She considered her possible moves carefully. "You can show your repentance by answering the Call to Arms and fighting for Gasca."
"That's why we came your highness. We wanted to make it up to you personally."
She hoped they didn't mean that the way she thought they did.
"Please your highness, let us fight beside you. We would be honored if you'd let us serve as your bodyguards."

It was unexpected, but certainly not unwelcome.
"What are your names?"
"I'm Barett, this is my brother Alec and my cousins Jod and Johd. We're the sons of the notorious Gibbet brothers. We've got our own supplies and equipment, we can walk fast and run for days. It would be an honor to give our lives for you."
They made a convincing case for themselves; and it would be nice to have dedicated guards in her travels. What's more, Ishylde had mentioned the Gibbet brothers. They'd been the most succesful non-guild criminals in the empire before the war, if even a lick of that skill, persistence, and luck had rubbed off on these four she'd be set for a lifetime.
"Load up. My mark is the howling wolf, consider it yours also."
"May I share that honor mistress?"
Ishylde had her pack and Wyrm-rib bow strapped to her back.
"I promise not to get in the way, and I'm use to cooking and cleaning up after others."
She was a fair enough archer, and she had the naieve passion of one who has never killed. It seemed a shame to spoil so innocent a soul with war, but it would be safer to have her close and safe than here on her own.
"Do you swear to do as I order you, no matter the cost; to serve Gasca and bleed for it as I have; and to be loyal to your Empire so long as you live?"
Her eager response was dulled only by her inability to comprehend the magnitude of her decision.

Alicea departed for Lifberg in good comapny. But she took no joy in their loyalty, for she knew the battles ahead would put them all to the test.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Chapter Nine, Tournament

Saturday, the day of the tournament.
They were running it Mob Rules, which was actually a speccific set of rules. Submission, death, or crowd involvement stopped the fight. Whoever was most able to leave the ring at the end of the fight won. Fighter's choice of weapons, magic was frowned upon but not actually banned. And the fight started whenever one opponent managed to goad the other into attacking.

Alicea had done her research on her opponents. The first four or five would be throwaways, no offense. The sheer number of people who wanted a chance at leading the mountainfolk into battle meant that their numbers would likely be halved before a leader was actually chosen. The prefered weapon combination was a short thrusting spear, broad, round wooden shield with a metal rim, usually iron, and a side arm, axes or swords mostly.
Her real challenge would be against the thane of the Frosthammer clan, Hveglir. He was the second generation leader of the Prynen range's, in which they were, foremost clan. He was a minor magic user, he could work alchemy and pierce the thoughts of those around him, but little more. The clan was named for the weapon he'd be using, the frosthammer. It was a one of a kind enchanted mace; bonesteel, with a three-ring head. Within the head was the enchantment's base, a large blue pearl magically suspended within the head's open core. On contact with an enemy or his equipment a dagger of ice as hard as steel would blast from the point of contact in the direction of the blow, allowing a sound blow to cripple or kill any opponent.

She chose to go unarmed. She had no intent to kill, or even permanently injure, any of her opponents. These were all men she knew she'd need for the battles ahead. All she had to do was disable her opponents and make her way to the top.

And she met great success. Each opponent in turn fell to her blows. She managed to dodge spear thrusts and sword swings. She was bruised by the time she faced Hveglir, but he was bloodied.

"How did a woman make it to face me? Go back to your cutlery wench."
"Afraid that if I stay you'll not beat me?"
"Ha! You face Hveglir of the Frosthammer clan. I have never met a foe who deserved my fear."
"I suppose I haven't introduced myself, have I? I am Alicea of the Howling Axes. I've been sent by Commander Haelvan of the Monastary to Call all Gasca to Arms. Will you answer the call?"
"I follow no man."
Alicea chose to forgo the obvious response and instead lunged at her opponent. He deflected her with his sheild and swung wide in response. She flung herself to the floor and swept his legs from beneath him, then disarmed him with a second kick. He pulled himself back up with great speed for one so heavily armored and braced his sheild against her rising uppercut. Instead of faltering under the pain of the blocked punch she reached around the shield and swung him to the ground by his own arm.

She had him beaten, but she didn't stop. She drew sharply on his arm, dislocating it. Then she pulled him to his feet by it.
"Now then; who will follow me to battle?"
Before anyone could respond, Hveglir drew a knife with his good arm and rammed it into her stomach. Without flinching she threw him to the ground and dropped to a knee on his chest. Then she pulled the knife out and stuck it into his hand.
"How about you Hveglir, will you answer the call?"

It was brutal, but the mountainfolk seemed impressed.
"If you can fight that well without a weapon," He spit some blood to the side, "Then the Frosthammers are yours to command, High Queen of the Mountains."

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Chapter Eight, the State of the Clans

The ride was bumpy, loud, and very cold. The Lifter, she was informed over the roar of its engines, was military surplus. They'd bought it about forty years ago for exactly this sort of thing.

They set down in a small town further into the mountains. It had a wall over the mouth of the valley, the main road lead up the small valley. The houses were dug into the sides, but even the visible parts were quite large. At the end of the road was a platform, the lifter set down there.

After the engines had cut off a man walked up and began talking to the hunters. Judgng by the hand gestures they were discussing her. Finnaly the archer stepped over to her.
"Name's Ishylde, Dad says to show you to some quarters. Come with me."

She followed the girl further up the hill, taking in as much of her surroundings as possible at the pace set by her guide.
"Ross tells me your here for the empire; are they sending out a call to arms then?"
"Yes actually; were you interested?"
"Of course, I'd like nothing better. But things here in the mountains the way they are dad needs every warrior we have."
"Your father is the mayor?"
"Sorry. What's this problem I've been hearing about?"
"Ga-Vok general came up to deliver an ultimatum. High King Jalaan; well he wasn't really the king just said he was, definetly high though; anyways, he told him where he could stick the Alpha's command."
"Tassand took his head off, didn't he?"
"Who? You mean the Ga-Vok guy? Yea, it was pretty awesome actually. The general pulled this masive sword off his back and chopped him in half, Slash! one hit and it was over. The guards were to scared to do anything about it. Since then all the chieftans have been fighting to take his place."

Alicea stopped her.
"You mean to tell me you have less than a season before the Ga-Vok begin exterminating you and you haven't even decided whether or not to fight back?"
"What's to decide, of course we'll fight them. We just don't know who will lead us. There's a tournament here on saturday to settle the matter."

~We should..~
"Shut up"
"Nothing; what'll it take to compete in the tournament?"
"It's open to all comers, but there's going to be some pretty tough competition. I hear Hevglir Frosthammer is competing."
"I'll compete, and I'll win. I was sent to bring the Nielda of Gasca to the defense of their world; and I'm going to do it."