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Dragons of Patria Sole: Duke In Pruss IC

  1. #151
    Member Deunan's Avatar
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    Aug 2006

    Myska felt sick. Her head kept pounding and the last thing she wanted to do was stare at the page of paper. There was barely anything on it, apart from a few crossed out names.

    She tried to put down ideas on how to appease Akai for Viktor's sake. But nothing seemed to fit. She still couldn't pen down what she really thought and knew that, which was why parts of the page were so crossed out.

    "Hey, you okay?" Myska looked up to see the familiar crimson-haired rider, smiling as usual, "Mind if we sit and talk a bit?" (edited)

    Myska looked up. Her eyes widened in shock, but she quickly calmed down. There was nothing really visible on the page. Still she tried to mask the fright with looking even more sick for a moment.

    "I may have overindulged." She said very slowly and shook her head. "It's this damneable Akai thing really."

    "Maybe we can figure something out together then," Pieri sat down next to the smaller rider, wrapping an arm around her in an attempt to comfort the poor girl, "I've studied up on all of the angels, after all."

    "Well a way to make them stop causing grief to good people would be helpfull. If not all of them, Akai would be enough." The girl shrugged. "Viktor suffered enough with...Pavel. There's Aks ought to have any kind problems with him. But apparently the angel might"

    She paused and scribbled down an errant runemark before crossing it out again. "Has to be apparently honest. Which is where my problem rests."

    "Akai probably sees the sacrifice of Pavel as a grave insult, unfortunately," Pieri rested her chin on one hand, "Dragons and drakes are quite beloved by her. A central theme of both her punishments and worship is sacrifice. You need to devote yourself utterly to some difficult task. Something that is very challenging for you and requires you to give up something else in return. She is of course, rather fond of hunting but you'll need more difficult game than deer..."

    "I was thinking of showing those bloody nutters running around talking of mental and physical cleansing some actual decent prey. A sewer rat or two. Buuut I don't think they'd be very receptive. Tougher prey it might be, the clergy is probably too civilised to see it like that."

    She took a slow breath. "But I don't understand why the angel even dares to ask something like this in return. It isn't like someone got past guards, walls and picked up the prized possession of a lord. Viktor and Pavel had no inkling where they were, and Akai did not even protect them. Akai barely intervened, if at all."

    Her voice slowly rose in pitch near the end. There's was a soft anger behind it. The world wasn't right and it hadn't been for a long time. At least that was what Myska felt.

    "First, if you believe they are a difficult hunt it doesn't matter what the cultists themselves think as long as you offer the bounty to Akai, " Pieri replied, choosing her words carefully, "Second, ignorance is no excuse, for angels or most of those in authority. If, say, you entered an unguarded family vault and took treasure while someone observed but did not intervene directly, are you still not guilty of the theft and can be arrested for it? Or if you hunted on a noble's land illegally and got harmed, does the owner of the land have an obligation to aid you freely? I'm not going to claim it's fair because it isn't, but it's something that must be done. In your case, I would surmise that prayer and the offerings you proposed should be enough. Viktor will find his own way and unfortunately I cannot help you beyond suggestions as that is another rule of Akai. She is short of temper and holds onto her anger far more than, say, Jalren would." Pieri pulled the young rider closer. It seemed even after five years, poor Myska hadn't become used to her new position. The best the paladin could do was support her.

    Myska tensed up under the hug at first, not used to allowing anyone to touch her. But Pieri was gentle, not pushing on any of her wounds and Myska felt safe for the first time in a long while. The closest to this was how she sometimes slept curled up against Mutrab. The drake not minding it and she finding solace and protection around his scales.

    "Sometimes it feels like that's all the angels do. Hold grudges. Against each other, against us. Pieri, Pavel died because of me. I want to help somehow. But all I can think of is that I would pay two marks to see a grudge match between Akai and Judah. With any luck they'd end each other."

    "That's mostly Akai," Pieri said sympathetically, "And if she truly held a grudge neither you nor Viktor would be alive. You upset her and she just wants you to find a proper way to apologize, and thank her for the assistance she did provide. It likely took a great amount of effort on her part. Did I tell you about Cassandra and I fighting Faustus earlier? We crossed paths with an emissary of Rilath accidentally and it was only because of Jalren and Haron's aid we survived a fight we would have easily lost. Doubt if you must, but I'm proof they're not all bad."

    "The emissaries are dangerous." Myska whispered, "but it seems the princeguard is drawn to them. Judah and Faustus weren't the first we've met. Do you remember Von Salzburg?"

    "I do," Pieri stated, "By his other name of Jon Falstaff, but how do you know that?"

    Myska looked strangely at Pieri. How exactly did she know that Salzburg was Falstaff? "I found it out. An old Pavesi tome had pictures of what men tought all the emissaries looked like." She decided to test Pieri a step further. "Surprised that there were so few women amongst them though. Typical of a man like Rilath to keep a posse."

    "Well, I doubt they had all of them. A few are terribly secretive. Several have not been seen in decades so no one knows if they still exist. The only women confirmed among them are the murderess Pandora and an unnamed creator of abominations of flesh. The latter is hardly known because no one has seen her yet remained sane. Other women are rumored, but as usual with Rilath it's hard to separate the truth from stories used to scare children straight."

    "I've heard the stories as well." Myska said. "Mostly about Judah, Faustus and Falstaff in truth. Pandora shows up in some as well. People probably remember her for being with Jalren, since she comes off as the best of them. Though not by much."

    Myska considered this to be very dangerous, so she was testing, stringing words together until the intention was opaque enough. In truth she needed someone to, at least in part, confide in. She of course could never tell Pieri that she sometimes met with Pandora. But a few very careful words might loosen a load on her own shoulders.

    "They say some Emperors of Sors in the past considered Pandora an ally and confidant, if you believe the stories," Pieri replied, "In fact, it could be argued that she still worships Jalren in a way. Her actions are not that far detached from some of the more zealous believers of the endings sect. She mostly differs from Jalren in being less...nuanced with her form of punishment."

    "You mean unlike the Venatori? I think there is a reason why Viktor left that group." Myska quipped.

    "The Venatori are called for only the worst case scenarios," Pieri noted, "While their work could hardly be called pleasant, when you have powerful Rilathian mages sacrificing entire villages to fuel their own power you can't exactly respond softly. Their work comes at the cost of many innocent lives in a lot of cases, but saves a tenfold more. Pandora, on the other hand, resorts to murder for the smallest infraction and cares not one bit about the suffering she causes by doing it. A good man goes out one night and drinks so much he is not in his right mind then returns home. His wife accidentally burned his meal. He hits her once, but deeply regrets it. Pandora has the man executed. He is the money maker for the house, bringing in the money needed for his wife and children to live. Pandora cares not if they live or die. That is Pandora's way. She is justice without empathy, without sympathy. With no care of the consequences. I admit sometimes her approach is needed to punish a few that are otherwise untouchable, but I wonder how many innocent lives she ruins in her pursuits."

    Myska shrugged. "I hope she is one we never meet then. I don't think someone with my past would live long around one as her. I think getting stabbed by one emissary is more than enough." She tried to pass it all of as a joke.

    She sighed and continued, "probably best I try to find some ideas before Frederik finally admits his everlasting love for Hans."

    Pieri laughed. "Honestly, in your case Myska I think daily prayer is enough. Akai likely knows you're not terribly fond of her, but it's the effort that counts. Maybe you could even offer some help to her hunters in a similar fashion to recent events. If there's one thing blood-red Akai loves, it's a good hunt."

    "I'll think about it. And Pieri, thank you." Myska said.

    Pieri let go and gave Myska a pat on the shoulder. "No problem," she replied with a smile, "If you need me again, you only need ask. Helping people seems to be my calling, after all. Get some rest; it'll do your mind and body some good. We've all been through a lot today."

    The young woman nodded and left Pieri go. Perhaps a few hours of rest might be good afterall.

  2. #152
    Wandering Swordsman Lestaki's Avatar
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    Oct 2005
    London, Blighty
    Hans stood guard with his greatsword to hand while Prince Frederik sat with horn-crowned Oberhoheit and ate venison. In taxing the quarry of his riders, he’d earned a tidy meal without having to lift a finger. Such were the privileges of the ducal family. In the midst of the noisy chaos of the raucous Dragonmoot, the Throne and his favoured prince were a tranquil island. Neither saw much need to say anything even after their reunion in a place like this. Both knew their role and their place in the world.

    A lone rider made his way through the festivities to the Throne of Pruss. Viktor ducked under the sweeping tail of a dragon and approached the prince. Though a lot had happened during the hunt, there was still work that needed to be done. He bowed to the prince and Oberhoheit.
    "Greetings my lord, venerated Oberhoheit."

    Frederik smiled as his dragon nodded above him. "Good to see you return, Viktor. I hope Lady Mendoza wasn't too hard on you," he said.

    "Likewise. I've heard remarkable things about the Isis Cult," Hans said.

    "She was rather pleasant, all thing considering." Viktor said. "As for my repentance... Well, we all have our crosses to bear and I am responsible for creating my own. Serve Akai, but the how is up to us. I am sorry for all the trouble I have caused today, my lord."

    "Akai is ever thus. Serve her by all means, just as long as you also serve me," Frederik said. He waved off Viktor's apologies. "No harm was done either way, so I'm not concerned at all. The rest is up to you."

    "We talked to Lord Konstantinov about the Parland matter. He seemed interested in letting Pruss annex Pomerania if they could take some Parland territories for themselves. Russ is open to negotiations on that matter. However, he also stated that the Duchess of Russ will expect a suitable delegation to discuss the arrangement. Only a Hohenheim or a rider of Pruss will do."

    "This might not be the best time to discuss such affairs, Lord Eisenwald," Pieri stated as she approached, "Voices carry far despite these celebrations. Lord Frederik, Honored Oberhoheit." She bowed.

    "I'll have to go myself if it comes to that," Frederik said. "But I'm grateful they're willing to consider it. And don't worry Pieri, anyone boorish enough to approach will enjoy the caress of Oberhoheit's claws."

    "Very true," Oberhoheit growled.

    "You raise a fair point," Pieri replied, " apologies for earlier. I should have remained at Drakkenheim, but I felt that the hunt was a prime opportunity to assess the other riders of Sors. Nevertheless, I abandoned you. It will not happen again."

    "If I absolutely needed you there, I would have told you that. Since I let you go, it was permissible," Frederik said. He smiled. "I hear you and dear Adalheit did very well during the hunt. Seeing that through was reason enough for you to be there."

    "It was, well, enlightening I suppose," Pieri slipped back into an easygoing mood, "And, yes, we managed to tie for the lead despite difficult competition. Adalheit made a fine hunting partner."

    "It was a well deserved tie, going by the deer you caught. As for Russ, there's not really much more to say about it. I thought you might appreciate hearing it ooner rather than later." Viktor raised his hand in goodbye. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go see a lady about a drake."

    "Farewell, Viktor." Frederick watched him leave and chuckled. "Eisenwald is not one for idle conversation, is he? You will have to bear a burden hereafter, Pieri. But I'm glad you got on well with Adalheit. I'd trade the gold in father's treasury for her and her dragon in a heartbeat."

    "She is an incredibly skilled rider," Pieri stated, "With a weapon to match that skill. I'm rather surprised I seem to have impressed her."

    "You're another great hope of our generation, Pieri," Frederik said. "And if you're too modest, it will reflect poorly on me, you know. It's always wise to show some elan before the foreigners."

    Maximilian slowly approached the conversation between Pieri and Prince Frederick "My Lord" he said, bowing respectfully towards the prince and equally nodding respectfully towards Pieri "Pardon me and Sorry Pieri for interjecting. There is a matter I wish to raise with you before rumours start."

    "Of course, Maximillian," Pieri said pleasantly, "I need to check on a few things with my people anyways. Frederik, I'm sure I've left a positive impression on the other riders despite...the complications. We'll speak again later, I'm sure." Pieri bowed politely and quickly left to give the others some privacy.

    "Rumours are shadows that run before the deed. I'm sure that whatever you're worried about is already in the mouths of others, but go ahead," Frederik said. He glanced sidelong at Hans.

    The bodyguard nodded and retreated to a safe distance.

    "Thank you Prince" Maximillian sighed for a moment before summing up the courage to speak "It's regards to my interactions with your sister, Princess Louise"
    "I see. I did wonder when I saw her talking to you," Frederik said. He narrowed his eyes as he studied Max's face. "Speak freely."

    "Thank you" Maximilian paused for a moment "It wasn't my intention cause any issues with regards to Princess Louise, however to speak freely as you suggested. There is a connection between us."

    Frederik snorted. "I appreciate your candour. To be plain with you, Maximillian are your intentions honourable? Because if not, you should lay this matter to rest swiftly."

    "They are indeed honourable my Prince" Maximilian replied quickly "This is not someone I would wish to be dishonourable to."

    "Very much so, Lord Betancourt, very much so," Frederik said. He pinched his nose and sighed. "I will talk to mother; this is her area of expertise. Fortunately, she thinks well of you after all the trouble you got me into five years ago, so I hazard she may well support the match. I have no reason to stand against it, either, if Lula reciprocates your feelings. But one cannot rush these things."

    "Rushing will be the last thing on my mind, my Lord" Maximillian replied, his mood shifting "Thank you Prince. I should leave you to your duties; I must speak with my dragon about the situation"

    "That is wise. Go ahead," Frederik said. "Just remember that we will soon be at war, one way or the other."

    "If that is the case" Maximilian said, turning back to the Prince "Then secure your throne"

    "I don't take your meaning," Frederik said. His eyes narrowed.

    "There are too many ears and eyes at this place to go into more detail" Maximilian said, looking around at crowds of the moot "Your blood ensures a united Pruss. Make sure it continues."

    Frederik sighed as he caught his retainer's meaning and waved a hand dismissively. "Fortunately, my father has many children. The Hohenheim line will be around to needle the Betancourt family for a while yet, Maximillian."

    "Your views on the world are admirable my Prince," Maximilian said as he got ready to leave the Prince's company "Your siblings may not share your views."

    "I'll bear that in mind," Frederik said. Oberhoheit watched their discussion in regal silence as Maximillian walked away.
    Quote Originally Posted by n0z
    Generally I find posts can be short, long, super long, or Andkat long. I tend to read the first three categories.

  3. #153
    Wandering Swordsman Lestaki's Avatar
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    Oct 2005
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    Drakkenheim, Berlain
    As the sun set over the horizon and Oberhoheit vanished into the upper mound, Frederik straddled the balcony at the summit of Drakkenheim’s keep and looked out over Berlain. Dots of light shone like embers where torches illuminated the inns. Frederik played the a mournful funeral dirge on his trusty flute.

    Hans and Amelia watched him from behind. The princess glanced sidelong at the burly bodyguard and sighed. “Why do I feel like I’m going to see a lot of you in future?” she asked.

    Hans shrugged and smiled. “Only the King knows what the future holds, your highness. But we might as well try to get along regardless,” he said.

    Amelia sighed. “I suppose so,” she said. “But unlike Frederik, I don’t blindly trust you.”

    “It’s a relief you’re so paranoid,” Hans said. “We do need to protect him, after all.”

    “So be it,” Amelia said.

    Frederik lowered his flute and smiled. “I can finally relax,” he said.

    “Today has been one big occasion,” Amelia said dryly. “You should take some joy in it.”

    “I have to perform a lot on days like that. Even with the Princeguard, I have a role to play,” Frederik said. He slid his flute into the depths of his jacket and stood up on the edge of the balcony. “You two are the only people I can relax around.”

    “You just take us for granted, your highness,” Hans said.

    Frederik chuckled. “I suppose I do. And I will continue to do so in future,” he said.

    “Despite all your complaining, you’re actually enjoying this,” Amelia said. “I know your type, my lord. For all you grumble about performing for the crowd or the weight of duty, you relish the fact a duchy now lies in your hands.”

    Frederik nodded. “You’d know well, my princess, since you feel the same way,” he said.

    “We will be going to war. People will die,” Amelia said.

    “Pruss cannot stand still. We will go forwards or we will be broken and thrown down into the morass of Germanica once again,” Frederik said.

    “Every other Duchy feels the same way,” Amelia said. “I sat at my father’s feet, so I understand as well as anyone, dear husband. We must fight. We can hardly do otherwise. But there’s no end to it, is there?”

    “Conflict is inevitable for as long as we possess something worth fighting for,” Frederik said. “All we can do is fight to protect our own.”

    “And take from others,” Amelia said.

    “That’s the game we play,” Frederik said. “What will you do, Amelia?”

    “I will fulfil a wife’s duty. I support you in all things,” Amelia said. “My honour will be exalted if you become a conquering hero, and your defeat will mean my shameful disgrace. We are two and one.”

    “I see. Then I will have to triumph,” Frederik said with a smile. He stepped down from the balcony and walked past them.

    Hans glanced sidelong at the princess and smiled. “It should be entertaining, if nothing else,” he said.

    Amelia shrugged. “I do hope so. This place is dull as dried clay when you Prussians are not at war,” she said.

    They followed Frederik inside.

    Library, Drakkenheim
    The next day, the Princeguard were united again around the old table at the library. Frederik sat at the head of the table, with Hans on his left and Amelia on his right. He rested his chin on his hands as he stared at the map before them. “Thanks to your sterling efforts, we have two interesting arrows in our quiver. I refuse to fight for nothing; we’ve all proven our ambitions exceed that. What is given to us is of little interest, as such things always are. What we may take by our own power is far more interesting, but we cannot do so alone. We will need allies, and that is why your steady work talking to the others is so important,” he said.

    “I would especially like to commend Lady Cassandra for her brilliant choice of father,” Amelia said. “I am earnestly grateful for that.”

    Frederik chuckled. “Blood binds men closely. Is that not why my mother supported our match, cousin?” he said.

    “I couldn’t possibly speak for your honoured mother, but I’m sure she’s grateful her daughter will be the Duchess of Britannia one day,” Amelia said. “You and I just rounded out the numbers, my dear.”

    Frederik coughed. “In any case, to return to the matter at hand, we stand at a tipping point and must pivot one way or another. If we side with the Emperor, we can seize a number of valuable territories in North Italia, make a friend of Sors, and please Franks to a degree. If we break bread with Russ, we can conquer territory in Parland, gain the Duchess Annalise’s esteem, and give Austren a free hand in their own war. Either course will make an enemy of one side or the other, and history demonstrates that friendship is oft forgotten but enmity is long remembered,” he said.

    “If we want to make friends with everyone, we were born to the wrong duchy,” Hans said.

    “And the wrong age,” Amelia added.

    “The decision is mine to make after due consideration,” Frederik said. “But you are my trusted retainers and I welcome your counsel. In these troubled times, who should be our friends and who should be our enemies?”

  4. Gamers Lounge Senior Member Boardwars Senior Member  #154
    FREEZE! Mokino's Avatar
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    (Pieri rolls Lore to create an advantage, 3. Success. She creates the advantage 'Germanica's History' with a free invoke.)

    "I support siding with Russ and Austren and the primary reason is this," she pointed at Pomerania on the map, "Valuable lands, some already almost completely encircled by our own territory, rich in minerals and accessible to the sea. Our ports are limited, stifling economic trade and our ability to field a proper navy. Importantly, this territory in a rival's hands makes our eastern border far more difficult to defend against aggressors and, if we side with Franks and Sors, Austren is posed to take full advantage of this weakness. We must have strength and solidarity, your highness, not an even further broken border caused by pursuing territory far from our own."

    Frederik nodded. "You make a compelling argument. Uniting our eastern and western holdings is strategically desirable. But conquering Parlish territory may lead us into future difficulties. The Emperor will likely be displeased, and Parland itself would take any opportunity in future to side with our enemies in an attempt to take back what they lost," he said.

    "I have thought this through to that extent," Pieri replied, "Another danger is that Franks may also take advantage to strike at our western borders. I do not feel like Artaxander himself would intervene as it would not threaten his throne directly, but no doubt us carving up one of his Duchies would cause him to not offer his aid in the future. On the other hand, we would have Russ' backing. Russ is powerful and their military strength easily rivals Sors, though they are further away. We also would have Austren's aid, but we know their rivalry with Pruss runs deeper than the ocean and any alliance would be merely one of convenience. It's well known that they desire a united Germanica, under their crown."

    "You underestimate Sors a little. Though they struggle to mobilise their strength in a single place as a result of their sprawling holdings, the sheer number of dragons they command demands respect," Frederik said. "Putting that aside, it's true that Austren shares our ambitions in Germania, but Russ are also a forceful and ambitious duchy. I wonder if we will not come to regret giving Russ a free hand in eastern Parland in the future."

    "Another quite reasonable concern," Pieri stated, "Currently, their distance from our borders limits their influence somewhat but that would change should they gain holds in Parland. We must always look at going to war in the long term after all, but that is what concerns me about the Franks plan as well. Territory in Northern Italia would indeed be valuable, but it's stretching our borders even thinner with Austren holdings in between and dividing Pruss into even more disjointed pieces. Even if we have Sors' support, Austren is no doubt going to take advantage of our broken borders. We could take those territories only to very quickly lose them and what is the point of a war where we sacrifice much, yet gain nothing?" Pieri went silent for a moment, "However, please let me make one thing clear: I am not actually opposed to the plan proposed by Lady Cassandra, I just believe we need to properly weigh the risks of both of our approaches before a decision is made. Both paths we may take are dangerous after all. Let's make sure we take the correct one whichever it may be.,"

    "Quite so," Frederik said. "Thank you, Pieri. I appreciate your level-headed advice."

  5. #155
    Viktor stared at the map for a long time before answering. "Taking Pomerania and fortifying our position should be our first priority. Taking the external territories in North Italia, Lorraine, or whatever they offer might give us some goodwill in the short term, but all it does is stretch our forces and strain our supply lines."

    He pointed to Minden, Bremen, Konigsberg and the offered territories. "With more divided territory, each one can be easily isolated and picked off in the future. We would only succeed in making ourselves vulnerable."

    He tapped Pomerania. "Taking this province would not only create a single border, reunite Pruss lands and give us access to the valuable resources and ports, but also allow our resources to reach the rest of Pruss uninterrupted by border checks, taxes and levies. This would cheapen the production of weapons and cannons significantly, and the free flow of trade would benefit all of Pruss immeasurably. Not to mention that it's far more defensible and accessible than the far off territories down south. We should present our future enemies a united front, not easy pickings in the shape of isolated provinces."

    (Viktor rolls Soldiery to create an advantage, 2. Failure. He spends a Fate Point in invoke Guardian of the Throne, 4. Success.)

    "I agree with your military analysis as far as it goes. Pomerania is a territory we must take sooner or later," Frederik said. "However, I do wonder if you and others here underestimate the weight of seizing territory from a fellow duchy. Though gathering peripheral territories strengthens us less, it will do far less to alarm Sors and our other strategic rivals than dismembering Parland would. A superior tactical position will avail us of little if we end up surrounded by enemies. That's why I find the Star Duke's example both illustrative and disturbing; seeking absolute security for his realm through controlling every relevant strategic point, he ended up making enemies of half of Patria Sole and became trapped in a ruinous cycle of wars."

    "Inaction and showing restraint can be just as deadly. All of the duchies are our rivals, and fighting for them to take distant territories will not change that fact. These alliances are temporary at best. Even the Emperor can look upon Northern Italia and decide that Pruss rule is just as unpalatable as the Austren rule, and I doubt his mercy will extend further than Lady Cassandra herself."

    Viktor leaned forward on the table, a frown on his face as he thought back on the conversations he had that day. "I do not trust any of the offers or promises, my lord. They ring hollow, hoping to sap us of our strength while forcing us to spread out over land we'd be hard pressed to defend in a future war. The Franks want us as a buffer between them and the Austren, and the Austren want it the other way around. Whoever we allow to take Parland, you can be sure that their allegiance will to the duchy that was backing then, and not to us. Regardless of what we do, we will make an enemy of the other half of Patria Sole."

    He pointed back at Parland. "So take something from which we will actually benefit, instead of a place we will hold as a proxy for another duchy. If you do not want to take Pomerania now, then when? When Parland is united again under a single ruler with a single army? When the desired puppet ruler is put in place by Franks or Austren? Or only when you've taken every peripheral territory? We have the opportunity now. Who can say when the next one arrives?"

    "I understand your point of view. I will give it due consideration," Frederik said. "Just bear in mind that we will not be the only power strengthening their hands in this war, especially if we invite Russ in."

    Viktor sat back down and shrugged. "Whatever you decide, you will have my full support regardless."

  6. #156
    Eisenwald Mansion, Berlain; The day before

    The stableboys ran up to the riders the moment the dainty white drake trotted into the courtyard, the remaining Eisenwald dragoons fanning out behind her. Viktor dropped down from Ralasouikis’ back and marched to the main entrance of the Eisenwald mansion. The house was situated on the edge of the royal quarter, near Drakkenheim and the main thoroughfare. Though it normally housed two dozen clerks and diplomats with additional staff and functioned as the main trading hub, the rooms were currently filled to capacity with dragoons and servants.

    He was greeted with by polite nods and curtsies as he made his way through the halls to the reading room. Mrs. Ackerman, the head maid, had been extremely resistant against the idea of not showing their lord and lady proper respect, but had relented when Viktor had threatened to replace her with somebody else. Both Viktor and Eline rather saw the servants get on with their job than prostrate themselves before them every five seconds. He casually greeted the dragoons on watch before entering the reading room.

    Lady Eline had nestled into a fauteuil near the window, engrossed in the reading of a small, leatherbound book. Staring out of the window behind her and leaning on a cane was the ancient land steward of Eisenwald, Helmut Jäger. A heavy, black coat covered the thin, almost skeletal frame of the man, and his white his and beard were kept immaculately. At eighty two years old he still managed to govern the properties of the Eisenwald house with exceptional skill, and served and Eline most important advisor in all matters diplomatic. When Viktor was first brought from the Catholanne convent to the Eisenwald estate in Königsberg, Jäger was the first house official he had met. He was still as imposing now as he was back then.

    “I see Lord Eisenwald has decided to grace us with his presence.” The man smiled thinly as Viktor entered the room and rapped his cane on the wooden floor to draw Eline’s attention. She put away her book, rose from the chair and hugged her brother tightly.

    “I heard what happened from major Brandt. I’m so sorry. I know how much you cared for Pavelrinnesoren.” She released her embrace and smiled as Jäger sat down on a nearby couch and waved to the servants for refreshments. “I hope you weren’t too hard on Ralasouikis.”

    “I’ll be fine, Eline, and so is she.”

    “Good,” said Jäger, “Because we have lot’s of things to discuss.”

    Eline sipped from a glass of wine and motioned for Viktor to take a seat with them. “Wound heals and material things can be replaced, but a damaged reputation is not so easily mended. In other words, we have some damage control to do. The Cult of Akai must be appeased, as do Lord Oderbruch and Lady Feuergrau. Their injuries are partly your responsibility after all.”

    “I have some news on those matters.” Viktor quickly relayed the events after the incident and explained Lady Mendoza’s suggestions on how he might repent for his transgressions. “In the end, the way I repent is up to me. I’m not bound by her suggestions.”

    Eline weighed the options in her mind. “That is fortunate then. You’re picking the first option, I presume? Dedicating yourself to the sword and the bow will be easy for you, won’t it? And the abstinence won't be a problem. King knows how much effort I had to put getting you to even notice the fairer sex.”

    “I was actually planning on following up on the second option. My blade is already dedicated to Jalren, and claiming that which I normally do is suddenly dedicated to an second angel doesn’t really feel genuine to me. Going out on daily prayers and occasional hunts seems more appropriate to me.”

    “Besides”, he added in a much smaller voice, “I’ve only just started courting Lady Valentin. Swearing an oath of abstinence might sabotage things.” His sister narrowed her eyes and glared at him as Jäger chuckled in amusement.

    “Did you sleep with her?” Eline snapped.

    Viktor blushed heavily at the suggestion. “No, of course not.”

    “Good, because I hope you weren't thinking of diving between the sheets with sweet Lady Valentin before your possible marriage. You know the King frowns on such behavior, and so do we. Swearing an oath of abstinence is actually quite common for young men who are to marry, and our faith doesn’t allow you to sleep around anyway. I fail to see why you’re so resistant against the idea.”

    “I will have to head into the wild every single day from now on to offer food and prayer, and go on long hunts every weekend in Akai's name.” Protested Viktor. “That’s a significant time investment. I won’t be doing that because I enjoy it, I have an angel to appease.”

    “I see, so you're using this as an excuse to get out of the house and escape your responsibilities. I wasn’t born yesterday, Viktor. We know how much you dislike attending the meetings before noon. Akai demands a sacrifice, and you picking the things that are most convenient for you is hardly a sacrifice.”

    Jäger loudly cleared his throat, distracting the bickering siblings. “If I may suggest an alternative, my lord and lady. We could present a gift to the cult of Akai. House Eisenwald can donate the Dancing Forest to the Isis Cult. There are no plans to develop the land, and any initiative to cut it down would meet with resistance from the local populace. The Cult has shown interest in the forest before, but the previous house rulers were, shall we say, unwilling to share.”

    Viktor and Eline shared a glance. The Dancing Forest was the name for a forest not far from Königsberg where the trees grew in strange, twisted ways. There were many tales of ancient power or supernatural creatures hiding deep in the woods, and the more superstitious folk did not dare to enter it at all. Even Soltríer remained tightlipped about the land, choosing to chuckle to himself and ignore the questions instead. It was a valuable piece of land and strategically important location, if anyone ever dared to use it as such.

    “That is acceptable,” Viktor said.

    “As for Lord Oderbruch, we could send materials he could use in his grand project,” Jäger continued. “We have several warehouses full of processed materials originally meant for Parland, but with the current ongoing conflict it is unlikely we will ever sell them at a profit. We can spare a shipment or two.”

    “Excellent. Make the arrangements.” Eline looked at Jäger with a satisfied smile before turning to her brother. “And you were working on smoothing things over with Lady Feuergrau?”

    “Her drake, Mutrab, says they have a blood debt to repay. To make up for Pavelrinnesoren’s death in Myska’s rescue, he is gifting us with his own son, Bazdanvan. Apparently the young drake is a bit of a troublemaker though, so I have to go talk to him tomorrow to work things out.”

    Eline was silent for a few moments before answering. “You have an arrangement with her drake? Have you even talked to her about it? I can respect the blood debt, but we are not drakes. You need to smooth things over with her as well. Need I remind you that she wouldn’t have been in that situation to begin with if you hadn’t entered the glade?”

    “Point taken. I’ll gift her something from our treasury. I’d like to pick it out myself though, so give me some time.” He leaned back and closed his eyes.

    The three of them fell silent as servants entered the reading room with trays of food and drinks, closely followed by Major Brandt. “The drakes have been taken care of, my lord. Ralasouikis appears to be content as well. I believe she might have enjoyed the hunt far more than she is willing to let on.”

    “See, I told you it would be fine.” Eline said with a smile. With the matter of reparations handled, the discussion turned to the courting of Lady Valentin.

    Viktor told the others of Soltríer’s indifferent reaction to the marriage proposal. “I expected him to shut us down immediately, but apparently he’s content to sit this one out until we have the makings of an alliance in place.”

    That is surprising, but it changes little, to be honest. Even if he manage to create an alliance, there’s always the matter of the children. I doubt he’ll want to share any of them with Minerva.” Eline sighed. “Why couldn’t you fall for a nice, normal woman instead of a rider?”

    Jäger gave the siblings another one of his thin, joyless smiles. “The Pale Bastion has rarely concerned himself with the particulars of arranging a marriage, but I can see where you got that idea. Your father was an exception to the rule, though.”

    Jäger rose from his seat and leaned on his cane. “I would like to extend my congratulations for finding yourself a partner, my lord. Do not worry. I will instruct the servants to look into the details of a possible alliance, but it will take time. For now, just enjoy yourselves.” Jäger excused himself and left, followed by Brandt. Viktor prepared to leave as well, but was stopped by Eline before he exited the room.

    “You should really reconsider taking that oath, Viktor. It might even be better to do both of her suggestions. Just think about it and give us your decision tomorrow, okay?”

    Viktor shrugged. “Very well.”

    Drakemound, Drakkenheim; Morning

    Bazdanvan was pacing the the cavern restlessly when Viktor arrived. The light of the torches reflected off it’s scales, causing the different hues to shimmer and blend together. Though the drake was far bigger than the others in Mutrab’s brood, it was still smaller and leaner than Eisenwald’s Imperial drakes.

    “Man of iron wood. The drakeless rider. I’ve been expecting you.” Bazdanvan hissed. The drake changed course and circled the young Eisenwald, inspecting him from all angles. It managed to move with a speed and grace his own drakes did not possess, it’s movements nearly inaudible despite its proximity.

    “Mutrab wants to repay the blood debt. He told me a lot about you and suggested that you might be perfect to join our brood and honor Pavelrinnesoren’s sacrifice.”said Viktor.

    “I am no bargaining chip to be traded at will.” the young drake replied. He finished his inspection of the human and snorted in disdain. “And I will not carry those too weak to carry themselves. Away with you, human. Find another drake to dance to your tune.”

    “You would dishonor your father’s wishes?”

    Bazdanvan ignored the man’s question and moved past Viktor to the exit, but reeled back when a runic chain slammed into the wall before him.

    “I wasn’t done talking, Bazdanvan.”

    The drake closed its maw around the chain and janked hard on it, but was surprised when the man stood his ground and matched its strength. The contest of strength lasted for a little while before Bazdanvan tired of their little game and decided it had had enough. It flared its nostrils and reared on its hind legs, beating its wings and janked on the chain again. But Viktor had anticipated its action and released his grip on the chain. Surprised by the lack of resistance, the drake lost its balance and tumbled over backwards.

    “You will have to do better than that. I’ve played this game with drakes far bigger and stronger than you.” Bazdanvan roared and and crawled back on its feet and snapped at Viktor, who casually sidestepped the attack and grabbed its jaws with both hands. He clamped its beak shut and dragged him down until their eyes were at the same height.

    “Are you done?”

    Bazdanvan raised a claw to strike Viktor, but stopped when they heard an aggressive hiss behind them. Viktor turned his head and noticed that a small audience had gathered at the edge of the cave. A number of the Feuergrau drakes peeked around the entrance to the cave, observing the struggle between rider and drake with interest. Mutrab had stationed himself next to the opening, silently watching with an amused expression on its face.

    The roar had come from Ralasouikis who, after overhearing the conversation between Brandt and Viktor, had asked to join him to judge the new alpha male for herself. But what she had witnessed displeased her greatly. With Bazdanvan distracted by the female drake, Viktor slowly released his grip on its maw and stepped back.

    “Now listen carefully, because I’m only going to say this once. With the loss of Pavelrinnesoren, my brood currently finds itself without an alpha male. Mutrab told me a lot about you, and I believe you have what it takes to become that alpha male. Sure, there are a few drakes who think they’re suited to become the leader, but they don’t have your strength, speed, ambition or pride. You’ll want of nothing as a member of our house, and you will find our drake mound to be one of the most comfortable in the whole of Pruss. We will treat you well, you can be assured of that.”

    “But know this. If you want to become the alpha male of our brood, you will have to fight bloody hard to get it.. The other contenders might not be quite at your level, but they’re still Imperial drakes and ours are exceptionally relentless. And we ask the same dedication and loyalty of our drakes as of our people.”

    Bazdanvan suspiciously eyed the young Eisenwald as he continued. “One more thing. You have heard how I’ve faced off against the First Emissary, and lost Pavelrinnesoren. It is likely that we will face him again at some point in the future. But then, he will be the one to experience loss.” The young drake remained silent as Viktor turned around and quickly climbed on Ralasouikis’ back. “I’m going to go back now. If you want a shot at becoming the alpha of the Eisenwald brood, you are welcome to join us. If you don’t feel like you’re up to the challenge, you can stay here. In either case I will consider the blood debt fulfilled. The choice is yours.”

    Without waiting for Bazdanvan’s reply, he nudged Ralasouikis with his heels and rode away. She spoke up when they were in the air above Drakkenheim. “That upstart wouldn’t last a week with us. He won’t come.”

    “I wouldn’t be too sure about that. He couldn’t keep its eyes off you during my little speech.”

    The beautiful white drake gave him a disapproving stare. “He’s not an alpha.”

    “We shall see,” He replied.

    The Eisenwald courtyard was in disarray when they returned. The stableboys desperately tried to restrain a few Eisenwald drakes who hissed and posed agressively at the newcomer casually lounging on the roof on the mansion. Bazdanvan lazily raised its head when Ralasouikis hovered before him.

    “Have you decided to join us?” Viktor asked.

    The drake looked at Ralasouikis and at the drakes below. “They will not be much of a challenge.” it stated flatly.

    Viktor smiled. “Prove it.”

    The Library, Drakkenheim; Sundown.

    Cassandra leaned forward, pale skin resting against the unyielding, polished stone of library's balcony, allowing herself to bathe in the gentle, soothing radiance of the setting sun as it cast streaks of amber across the canopy of the nearby forest.

    Staring out at the brilliance of creation, it was easy to forget that not long ago, the Betrayer himself had stalked between the glades and split wood and flesh and bone asunder with the swings of his sword. She shivered slightly as the breeze washed over her, stirring her snowy hair into motion. She closed her red eyes and sighed. It had been a long day.

    She heard the balcony door open, and the heavy footfalls of a man as he walked to one of the chairs. "Where would you want me to put these, sir?"

    "Next to the chair." A familiar voice replied.

    Cassie half-turned to greet Viktor, leaning with one arm against the balcony to keep some of the warmth of the sun on her cheek. “Up and about already?” She smiled. “I'm glad to see it. Though I don't think anyone would have faulted you if you'd taken a week in bed to recover after crossing blades with the Betrayer.”

    "Oh hello, Cassandra. No, he hurt my pride more than my body. I wanted to get some work done, but you know how the librarian is. Won't allow talking, won't allow you taking books out of the library."

    “Oh, don't mind Aldrich. His bark is worse than his bite.” She chuckled, shaking her head ruefully. “I think he's still reeling from all the chaos dear Farruk caused during his stay here. It was years ago, but somehow any evening with that man always feels like yesterday.” She shook her head in remembrance. “I really should apologise to that prostitute the next time I'm in Sors. I could send her something; a fruit basket, perhaps. Oh, well.”

    "What? Prostitute?" Viktor suddenly saw Cassandra in a new light. "I didn't know you... Eh... What happened in the library?"

    Cassandra laughed. “Oh, nothing like that! Farruk dragged me out for a night in the city when I was staying in Sors, and a lady of the night happened to recognise me and started to make a great many unpleasant remarks about Father, and...”

    She looked down in dismay. “... I suppose I rather lost control and punched her. I wasn't used to my newfound strength as a Rider back then, and I'm sorry to say that the poor woman spent the rest of the night delirious in an alleyway yelling about pale-haired banshees coming for her in the moonlight.”

    “As for the library, well... let's just say that Farruk has a number of creative uses for books to go along with his creative ways to use ?everything else.? I wasn't there, thank the King, but I heard the stories afterwards."

    "Then I'm glad he never invited me." Viktor picked up one of the history books from the stack started leafing through it.

    Cassandra chuckled. “Oh, he didn't? I just assumed that he had, and you had the good sense not to attend.” She shook her head in dismay. “He's... a peculiar soul, that one. I suspect I shall never understand him.”

    "Drinking a barrel of whiskey would be a good start, I think." he said absentmindedly as he skimmed the pages. He never knew quite what to talk about with Cassandra. It's not that he didn't like her, but they also didn't share any interests. But then he remembered something.
    "Did you ever solve the puzzle box I sent you?"

    Her features burst into a grin. “I did! Thank you! It was a wonderful gift.” She chuckled. “I'm ashamed to say I've become rather fixated on the things. I keep sending people out to fetch more for me from distant corners of the Empire. The sweets inside were lovely, too. I gave one to Sky, and she's been working on recreating them herself from scratch...”

    She shook her head in amusement. “Of all the things I thought I'd see a dragon wield the runic arts to accomplish, creating new and refined kinds of sweet things was never one of them. Sometimes I think the world gets stranger and stranger the more of it I witness.”

    He smiled. "Dragon-made sweets? Now I'd love to taste that. You wouldn't happen to have some on you, would you?"

    “Of course.” Handing Viktor the small pouch she always carried around with her these days (another indulgence of hers – evidently, hedonism had its charms), she smiled.

    “Tell Sky about anything she thinks sounds interesting, and suddenly she has to not only try her hand at it, but she's got to prove that she can do it faster and better than everybody else...”

    She shook her head in affectionate amusement. “The trouble is, she's usually right. She'll change the world one day just to prove she can, I'm sure of it.”

    "How is taking care us such a young dragon? Soltríer is so old and unchanging that I can't even imagine what it's like." He put one of the sweets in his mouth and sucked on it thoughtfully. " These are very good, though. A little more salty than the original recipe, but surprisingly close."

    “Imagine having a little sister who's better than you at everything and you'll have some notion of what it's like,” Cassandra responded dryly. “She's quick, and powerful, and she doesn't hesitate to let me know it.” She glanced off at the horizon and the setting sun, then continued more softly.

    “But she gets things wrong sometimes, or gets bewildered by the world, and I remember how young she really is. Even so, she takes care of me as much as I take care of her. She told me once that if something were to happen to me, she would fly away into the sunset and never look back. I didn't know what to say to that. I still don't.”

    She shook her head to dispel her troubled thoughts, then swiftly changed topics. “I've heard tales from Pieri about how obstinate Soltríer can be, you know. Is he really as terrible as he sounds? I apologise if that sounds harsh, but he seems almost... cruel.”

    "Not really. Obstinate? Maybe. He is just very set in his ways and doesn't accept back talk, if you know what I mean. I wouldn't call him cruel. He's always been good to me and my family. He saved my life, in fact, a long time ago." He said as he handed the bag of sweets back to Cassandra.

    “Oh?” She raised her eyebrows, curiosity piqued. “How did that happen?”

    "It's a long story, happened way before I met you. Suffice to say is that some of my people weren't pleased with my continued existence, so to speak. Thought I was a threat to them or something. They hired a squad of mercenaries to arrange an accident. They would have succeeded if not for Soltríer, who reduced them and much of the forest to ash in a matter of seconds." He closed the book and stared into the middle distance. "Coincidentally, this too happened on a hunt. I should stop going out on hunts ."

    Cassandra chuckled. “I think that would be wise. Or at least take Pieri with you next time. I think she'd be willing to fight the Betrayer himself if it meant she got to keep you."

    Viktor looked at her thoughtfully. "How did you know? About our fondness for each other? Pieri did mention someone giving her a little push, and in retrospect it’s not hard to guess who did."

    “You sent her flowers of a sort, didn't you? In my experience, men tend not to do that for women they don't feel something for.” Cassandra smiled. “Beyond that, I guessed. And then I took a leap of faith.” She shrugged her shoulders, a little awkwardly. “I didn't know if Pieri would ever make a move herself, so I...” She mimed gently shoving someone in Viktor's direction.

    "A gift I sent on your suggestion if I might add, but thank you anyway. You made us both very happy. If there's anything you want, anything I can do for you, don't hesitate to ask."

    “Hey, you guys did all the dancing. I just gave Pieri a push.” She grinned and waved a hand. “Thank you for the thought, though. I'll remember it if I'm ever in trouble.”

    Viktor nodded and put the book back on the pile. A casual glance told her all the books were about the creation of the Sacred Empire. He stood up and sighed. "I'm not in the mood for reading. It was nice talking to you, Cassandra. You should come visit our university in Konigsberg some time. It has quite the collection of knowledge."

    She smiled and nodded in farewell. “I'd be happy to, Viktor. I hope your recovery proves swift.”

  7. #157
    Forum Farseer Akranadas's Avatar
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    Oct 2004
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    Library, Drakkenheim

    Maximilliam decided now was the time to speak up. "My Prince" he said politely before standing up from his seat "I would like to raise my concerns relating to aggressive action against any of our neighbours"

    "War is coming, everyone knows that by how it starts is what will count." Maximillian continued, a lump formed in his throat as he notice the whole room worth of eyes upon in "It will count in the eyes of your people, the people of Pruss who I feel don't have a voice in the future of Pruss. When it will ultimately be their lives that will be at the highest risk with any course of action"

    "They will die if we are either we are the aggressor or the defender, but their opinion on you as a leader, as their Prince and one day their king will be shaped on whether we are the aggressor or the defender"

    "I do not expect this to sway you, just that it has been on my heart for some time"

  8. #158
    Wandering Swordsman Lestaki's Avatar
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    Oct 2005
    London, Blighty
    Library, Drakkenheim
    Frederik met Maximillian's gaze and shrugged. "I understand your feelings. I would expect no less from a devout follower of gentle Laksaeka," he said. "However, it is not for the people to determine the future of Pruss, any more than it's my place to tell the farmer how to till the fields or the blacksmith how to shape iron. The duty and responsibility of leadership is vested in my father and I. I am here to determine how best I can serve the true interests of our people. But do not misunderstand; I do not serve the people for anything so fickle as their approbation."

    Frederik placed his hands on the map in front of him. "Pruss is a frail thing, a patchwork of holdings my honoured ancestors sewed together with blood. The dragon's blood in our veins and the blood of our loyal followers; marriage and the sword, Laksaeka and Laksaeto. It remains scattered and vulnerable, even as my father piles up treasure and drills his men. A moment's weakness would be enough to thrust us back down into the tumult that afflicts Germania to be divided and consumed. We have little coastline, indifferent trade, and no colonies. I can learn nothing from my uncle's clever dealings in the barbarian lands. But we have proud dragons and courageous soldiers. To protect our people in future, we must fight and triumph now, and reforge Pruss into a Duchy that can endure the innumerable trials of our times. If we fail, we will eventually meet the same fate as unfortunate Parland and become the plaything of avaricious foreigners."

    "It is as the Pri-I'm sorry-Duke says," Pieri stated with a hint of sadness, "We must project strength in order to protect what we have. Our position is, unfortunately, extremely delicate."

    Amelia folded her arms and nodded her agreement.

  9. #159
    Library, Drakkenheim

    Cassandra smiled gracefully and proceeded.
    "My plan is simple: between Pruss and Sors we divide North Italia in two; we take Wenetoi and Parma, while Sors and the Emperor receive Savoy and Piedmont, territories my father has long coveted."

    She inclined her head towards Frederik.
    "As you say, friendship is easily forgotten; family is not, however, and neither are entangled interests. Besides – if we must make enemies, it would be better that we not find ourselves on the opposite side to the World Throne herself when the battle lines are drawn, would it not?"

    [Cassandra rolls Lore to create an advantage, 2. Failure. Cassandra spends a Fate Point to invoke Keeper of the Palace Library and rerolls, 6. She succeeds with style and creates the advantage 'Choose Your Enemies Wisely' with two free invokes.]

    Frederik nodded his agreement. "I do believe this carries considerable weight. Emperor Artaxander is a talented man who possesses the capacity to wield his treasure swords without hesitation, and he is also an able general whose insightful leadership has checked the waning of Sors. I would much rather he and Lord Arleans were with us if they were taking to the field at all. Still, it is true that North Italia is not within our natural sphere of influence. Should we not concentrate our efforts closer to home and conquer territory that will join with and strengthen our existing holdings?"

    Cassandra smiled.
    "Perhaps. Though history teaches us that aligning Germanica and Sors has oft proven wise for both polities, while acrimony has frequently brought harm in equal measure. If we look to the further future, to our alliances moving forward beyond this immediate conflict..."

    "Further – do we truly wish to lend our strength to Russ's cause, when their recent actions have shown them bereft of restraint or respect? They send a blunt instrument to the negotiating table, then ask that you attend them in person to heed their subsequent offers. Though I do not imagine they intend to harm you if you go, it seems to me that they rather expect us to rush back and forth at their beck and call."

    "You make a reasonable point. We would antagonise Sors if we attacked Pomerania, which has not ended well for us in the past. And though I respect the fact that Russ protects the old ways, they are a duchy of barbarians who barely cling to Patria Sole's civilisation thanks to the will of their Dukes. There is a real danger that giving them a foothold in Parland will lead to further aggression from them in future," Frederik said. "Still, our forces will be stretched thin if we need to defend such holdings in North Italia in future. I fear we may easily find ourselves going through what Austren is experiencing now. at a critical moment."

    "We might," Cassandra allowed, "though our Skyflight is second to none in all Europa, and the prestige of North Italia coupled with the fear of retribution from Sors should our enemies strike us there might well dissuade any enemies we might make from taking advantage."

    Frederik chuckled. "Quite so. Whatever path we take, we will demonstrate our strength to the world. I will settle for nothing less than conquest."

  10. Gamers Lounge Senior Member Boardwars Senior Member  #160
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    "I find myself agreeing in regards to Russ," Pieri noted, "They are ultimately one of our largest foes if not an immediate threat. I hesitate at allowing them a foothold closer to our borders even if Pomerania would make said border stronger. If we were able to negotiate something more than a tenuous alliance with them, it could be tolerable but I suspect they would be far less steadfast allies than Sors."

    She put a hand on Viktor's shoulder, "Pomerania is indeed a goal we should strive for. I'm just not sure if this is the correct time to pursue it. Taking it would send a message across Patria Sol, but I suspect Russ and Austren would do their best to take it and more from us in the future. If we go that route, we must be prepared to fight for it, tooth and nail, even when our conquest has ended."

  11. #161
    "But I've already colored in the map", Viktor replied, the disappointment oozing from every word. The others looked down at the map in surprise. The Pruss territories and and Pomerania were neatly colored blue, an empty well of ink standing suspiciously nearby. Not only that, but a tiny wall had been erected around Pruss, with toy soldiers and cannons arranged in neat formation behind it.

    "Look, I've even carved two figurines of us". He looked at Pieri with sorrow in his eyes and held up a couple of small, wooden dragonriders. The craftsmanship wasn't that impressive, but the pile of wood chippings next to him on the ground suggested that he had somehow carved the figurines in the space of Cassandra's speech.

    "Nothing is decided yet. But you make a compelling argument," Frederik said. "Those are very pretty borders."

    Pieri couldn't help but laugh when she saw it. "You know it's all Frederik's decision anyways, right? If he decides we're taking Pomerania, we're taking Pomerania."

    Cassandra opened her mouth and then closed it again, for once finding herself quite bereft of witty rejoinders. Instead, she settled on blinking and making a face in Viktor's general direction, wondering if perhaps Viktor had been a simpleton all along and she'd simply never noticed.

    Oh, Pieri, I'm so sorry. I never knew.
    "Um..." She mumbled. "Yes. Yes, they're very nice, Viktor."

    "Could do with a bit more color, though," Pieri noted, "Soltríer is not even white."

    “They’re a work in progress. But I’m not done yet. Look!” Lord Eisenwald grinned and grabbed one corner of the parchment, ripping it out from under the models in a fast, smooth motion. Most of the models stayed in place, with only a couple of soldiers near the end toppling over. Beneath it was another map, this time with the Italian territories colored in. He put down the first map beside it quickly divided the models equally between both maps.

    “These maps were originally for my own use, but I thought a visual representation of how our territories will turn out in both cases might be useful in our discussion.” He looked up at the others with hope in his eyes, but his grin disappeared when he didn’t quite receive the reaction he hoped for.

    Cassie blinked twice. Then twice more. Peculiarly, the bizarre scene before her did not resolve into the finely-decorated ceiling of her chambers, so she was forced to conclude (however unlikely it seemed at first) that she was not, in fact, dreaming. Evidently the discussion had, instead, simply taken a detour along a trajectory that even she could never have foreseen.

    "Well, as we all can see, the shade of sky blue that Lord Eisenwald has used to depict the conquest of North Italia is far prettier than the deeper shade of navy that he's used to demonstrate the results of the other path. Further-" she paused to pick up a particularly sorry-looking toy soldier standing guard over Pomerania, "-this hastily-carved fellow here looks utterly distraught at his surroundings, so it seems evident to me that our army will be miserable in Pomerania. Our loyal dragoons will throw themselves into a river in shame and despair if we don't take North Italia. And then they will drown, and we will have no military."

    "Obviously this is a sign from the angels. The King favours my plan."

    "You're missing the point. Our armies might be well trained, but we can't draw on an unlimited number of soldiers. North Italia might by bordered by mountains on the northern side, but other than that it's hills and flatlands. Not an ideal place to defend. And with it's considerable size, we're forced to divert a significant number of our soldiers to defend it. Unless you can conjure up an extra regiment or two, we're weakening our hold on the other territories."

    "It's true that we don't have an unlimited number of soldiers," Cassie mused, turning the toy soldier over in her hands and inspecting it with one scarlet eye, "but can't you just... carve more?" She grinned pleasantly at Viktor. Lord Eisenwald realised his attempt at a practical joke was now thoroughly ruined and quickly and put the maps, toys and other assorted items he brought for this express purpose back in his bag.

    “Well I thought it was funny” He mumbled as his cheeks turned scarlet.

  12. Gamers Lounge Senior Member Boardwars Senior Member  #162
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    Library, Drakkenheim
    With arguments painstakingly laid out for both sides, the time had come for Frederik to choose. He studied the map a moment longer. “If nothing else, I’m glad you’ve made this a difficult decision,” he said.

    "Going to war isn't meant to be easy," Pieri noted.

    "You know, these toy soldiers aren't half bad." Cassie mused. "Did you make these, Viktor?"

    "My father forever forced such things on me when I was a child. But I digress," Frederik said.

    (Pieri rolls Rapport vs Cassandra's Rapport, -1 vs 3. Pieri invokes Germanica's History, 1 vs 3. Cassandra invokes Choose your Enemies Wisely and a +1 circumstance bonus, 1 vs 7. Cassandra wins the conflict.)

    Frederik blinked and leaned forwards. "From a strictly military standpoint, I believe annexing Pomerania would be correct. It will secure our borders and lines of communication while limiting our exposure to counter-attack.

    However, as a Prince I must consider more than simply winning this war; I must prepare Pruss for the next war and the war after that. Neither Franks nor Sors would approve of such an adventure, and if they ever combined their powers against us we would have no possibility of victory. Equally, it would be most unwise to consciously aid Russ in conquering the east of Parland and willingly bringing a militant duchy closer to our borders.

    And above all, the current opportunity is relatively limited. I believe we could triumph over Parland at any time, while the great powers of Patria Sole are presently united and strong. There will be other chances for us to secure our borders close to our lands. For now, we will fight alongside Sors in North Italia and secure the Emperor's esteem. That alliance will be of great use to us in future, as Artaxander's forces can threaten Austren from both Sors and Constantinoch, and his strength can serve as a counter-balance to avaricious Franks."

    "It's the safer plan," Pieri replied with a nod, "And it keeps Russ away from our borders which is ideal. The last thing we need is more competition. Pomerania was always the long shot so it makes sense to wait for a more opportune time."

    Frederik nodded. "We are young; our rivals are old. Opportunities will come," he said.

    De Moulin Estate

    The night of the hunt, the party eagerly accepted Lady Ilsa De Moulin’s invitation to escape the crass and undermanned court of Drakkenheim for her sprawling estate. Past the sprawling, naturalistic gardens filled with carefully cultivated roses, the Riders drank to celebrate and forget the violence and strangeness of the day. The luxurious hall was decorated with tapestries illustrating Sieg’s glorious history and the stories of benevolent Laksaeka. Lady Ilsa relaxed on a couch with her latest lover by her side and held court with the languid grace of a matriarch while her daughter Sabine flitted from flower to flower with an enigmatic smile.

    Pieri had just broken away from a polite conversation with Leopold when Sabine approached her. “I hope you’re enjoying the evening, Lady Valentin,” Sabine said. “We’re here to celebrate your valiant victory, after all.”

    "I am, thank you," Pieri's replied pleasantly as she sipped from a glass of fine wine, "Forgive me if I seem a little tense. Affairs of court are still quite foreign to me."

    Sabine put a hand on Pieri's shoulder and smiled. She was exceptionally beautiful and dressed in the Franks style, with artfully arranged black hair decorated by a single rose. "Please make yourself at home. It's common for people to fear such occasions, but such doubts strike all of us equally. No one dares speak of them, but we fear. My mother and I are surely more fearful than anyone else here, since we stake our name on entertaining our guests. Even so, this is a place where people can discover each other away from the rigid formality of the court and the iron laws of politics," she said. "We must dare to open our hearts to others so many flowers can bloom in Laksaeka's garden."

    "Yet the eyes of the court are always watching, Lady De Moulin," the rider chuckled, "Though, I suspect, most of them fall upon a flower like you. Had it not been for Lord Eisenwald's charms, I fear I may have fallen in love at such a sight." Pieri had made an attempt to dress for the occasion herself with a fine dress of her northern home, in a light plum color decorated with silver runes. She'd also expertly woven dark purple gems within her fiery hair, held back from her face with a simple golden tiara. "Have you met with Lady Rieter yet? I suspect Adalheit would enjoy our company. It was a team effort that won the hunt, after all."

    Sabine giggled and put a long-fingered hand over her lips. "The eyes of the court may look at me, Lady Valentin, but they don't see. And for as long as that is so, they will have less time to watch my friends. You, too, honour me, and I am very grateful for your kindness. My policy is to leave the sweetest fruit until last, so I have yet to address Lady Reiter. I am very curious to meet the valiant woman who could keep pace with our Sage of the Shadow Court."

    "Wisely said," Pieri cocked her head to the side, "You flatter me, but I was the one struggling to keep pace with Lady Rieter. She was the better hunter; I merely helped find the right trails and laid my traps." She took Sabine's hand gently, leading the woman to where she'd last seen Adalheit. Sure enough, the Austren rider was still seated near the bar. "Sabine De Moulin, Adalheit Reiter, rider of Austren. Adalheit, Lady Sabine De Moulin."

    Adalheit stood up and raised a hand in greeting. "A pleasure, I'm sure," she said. She blinked as she took in the beautiful Rose Cultist. "This is a fine occasion. Much better than that pile of rocks outside Berlain, uh, begging your pardon of course."

    Sabine stepped forwards demurely and smiled at Adalheit. "Your pleasure is my own, Lady Reiter. Congratulations on a magnificent victory."

    "As I was telling Lady De Moulin, it was your expert riding and swordsmanship that won our victory. Much more than the efforts of a Valentin working far outside the mould." She chuckled and subtly signaled the bartender for two drinks, sitting them in front of her companions. With a smile, she cast a minor spell, causing the room around the pair to fade.

    "Lady Valentin's modesty is becoming. I couldn't have done it without her," Adalheit said. She leaned forwards. "But I have no desire to bore a flower of Laksaeka with my boorish tales of the hunt."

    Sabine took Adalheit's hands and stared soulfully into the strongly-built knight's eyes. "Not at all. We're all grateful you matched the heroes of Britannia and Russ blade for blade. I would love to hear all about it," she said. She glanced sidelong at Pieri as Adalheit laughed and winked at the clever young mage.

    Pieri only winked back as she finished her glass. She owed Adalheit so much; the least she could do is bring her fellow rider some happiness.
    Last edited by Mokino; 17th May 16 at 6:26 PM.

  13. #163
    Wandering Swordsman Lestaki's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    London, Blighty
    Duke’s Chambers, Drakkenheim
    Dukes lived in public and died in private. Lord Bishop Sigmund Minden presided over the darkening chamber by the flicker of candlelight and nodded as Frederik approached. He knelt by the crumbling Duke’s bedside and spoke softly. “My lord, the first prince comes,” he whispered.

    The Duke tilted his head slightly and followed his son’s purposeful movements with eyes that sagged into his skull. “Isn’t it a little late to play the dutiful son?” he said.

    Frederik knelt by his father’s bed and took the old man’s hand. “Though I may be late, I am here,” he said.

    The Duke snorted. A chuckle rose up and shook his failing body to the bones. “I see. Then it’s fine. You will redress all the insults that have been heaped on my head,” he muttered.

    “I will,” Frederik said.

    “You must become Duke, Frederik. Not the shadow of a title I bore,” Frederik Wilhelm said. “Become the Duke of Pruss.”

    “I will,” Frederik said.

    The Duke smiled and closed his eyes. “Oberhoheit saw things I did not. Trust in his wisdom,” he said.

    “I will,” Frederik said.

    “Then go. You don’t have time to rot here with me,” the Duke said.

    Frederik blinked. “But-”

    “Go,” the Duke barked.

    Frederik bowed his head and retreated.

    Sigmund watched him leave. “Everything is in the King’s hands, Fritz. You may face your maker without fear,” he said.

    “That’s easy for a damned priest to say,” the Duke said. “Am I one of the chosen few? Or am I doomed to wander the garden of shadows for eternity?”

    “Everything is in the King’s hands,” Sigmund said. “Beyond the fear is joy everlasting.”

    Duke Frederik Wilhelm I’s twenty-two year reign came to an end that night. He administered his realm with some ability, piled up treasure, and prepared the Pruss army for a war he never intended to fight himself. He would be remembered as Rikael was known to the followers of Laksaeto: as one who entrusted a perfect weapon to a child born for war.

    Mound, Drakkenheim
    Frederik pulled his white cloak over his shoulders and buckled it into place. Then he mounted Akrayalcea and nodded to the assembled Princeguard. “I’ll just take the dukedom. It shouldn’t take long,” he said.

    Hans drew his sword and grinned. “If necessary, I’ll open the path,” he said.

    “Don’t kill William. I’ll need him hereafter,” Frederik said.

    "Surely you aren't thinking of going without us," said Viktor who, after some sternly worded advice from Maximilian and Pieri's gradual influence, actually managed to look presentable for once.

    “I wouldn’t dream of it. I will trust that I won’t merely embarrass myself in front of you all,” Frederik said.

    "You'll do fine." Pieri said confidently, "I'm more worried that I'll embarrass you somehow."

    “I doubt that. Now, let us ride,” Frederik said.

    Their drakes trotted towards at an easy walking pace. A Duke was unhurried when travelling on his home ground. But the complexion of the morning changed as they came face to face with Prince William and his supporters. Dragoons armed with muskets and sabers faced off with the Princeguard while drakes on both sides reared up and hissed angrily.

    “You ran away and dragged our father’s name through the mud,” Prince William said. “You have no right to become Duke.”

    “That’s not for you to decide,” Frederik said. He coaxed his crimson drake back down onto four legs and rode forwards.

    William rode forwards to meet him. “I won’t let you pass!”

    (Frederik rolls Soldiery (Ride) vs William’s Soldiery, 3 vs 1. Success.)

    Frederik stared through William as they crashed towards each other. Akrayalcea followed his master’s precise commands smoothly as he feinted right then surged left with sudden fluidity. William’s drake struggled to keep up with his master’s abrupt shift in direction and fell to its knees as Akrayalcea blew past them both.

    Prince William hauled on the reigns and reached for his saber. “Not yet!”

    Hans and the other members of the Princeguard crashed into William’s dragoons and blocked the prince before he could give chase. “Fly, Fritz!” Hans shouted.

    Frederik hauled on Akrayalcea’s reins and took flight without looking back.

    William scowled and slammed his fist against his knee in frustration.

    Akrayalcea crested the keep that towered over the castle and plunged down towards the mound. Frederik slid from his drake’s back and knelt before the father dragon. “Duty compels me to force down my anguish. We will record my father’s name in our book of deeds. As a child of my blood, I humbly offer myself to you,” he said.

    Oberhoheit reared up on two legs and looked down as the first light of dawn illuminated his crown of horns. “You will serve. Speak the oath and bind the contract,” he said.

    “True dragon, I am the child of man,” Frederik said. “You will be my sword and I will be your soul. Our union will shake heaven and earth. My blood is the blood of heroes. My kin shall serve you unto the hundredth generation. Together, we shall embody all the virtues of this world.”

    “Bold mortal, I am the sky’s child,” Oberhoheit said. “I will drink of your blood and you will carry my flame. Our union will shake heaven and earth. My divine flame illuminates every shadow. I will pass down the wisdom of ages and witness the fruit of your loins until the sundering of all. Together, we shall embody the eternal covenant.”

    Their eyes met and they spoke together. “We are and shall be unto death.”

    Frederik grimaced in pain as their souls were joined. For a moment there was no time as the sun’s fire blazed in his chest and threatened to consume him, but he rode the pain and gorged at his chest with his fingernails to force the flame down. He lived a lifetime in one moment before his heart beat once more and the dragon’s flame surged through his veins. Frederik breathed out and rose.

    “It is done,” Oberhoheit said.

    “I beseech you to stir the Skyflight, father dragon,” Frederik said. “Soon Pruss will ride to war.”

    Oberhoheit thumped the mound with his tail to signify his approval.

    Throne Room, Drakkenheim
    The weeks after the Duke’s death passed in a frenzy of ritual and ceremony. Frederik quietly prepared the ground for Prussian intervention in the War of Parlish Succession while going through the necessary motions. The funeral was modest by the standards of a Duke, but Frederik Wilhelm would have wished for nothing else. Following the requisite period of mourning, Frederik was crowned before the court at Drakkenheim. Even then, his ascension to the title Duke In Pruss would be delayed until he paid homage to Emperor Artaxander, but the crown was sufficient for Frederik to assert his authority on the court.

    The Princeguard were called to the throne room to swear loyalty to the new Duke alongside the other members of the Prussian Skyflight. With yet another ancient ritual completed, Frederik stood up from his throne and nodded. “I suppose I should appoint some officials. Cassandra, will you serve as the Court Archmage? I appreciate your father’s dignity must be considered, but I think of you as a Rider of Pruss. It would be most helpful if you could lend me your expertise.”

    Cassandra smiled and inclined her head in acquiescence.
    "Why not? I remember when we were all children fleeing across the sea atop a band of drakes. It wouldn't be right for me to have come this far only to turn away now."

    Frederik chuckled despite himself. “Perhaps there was a time like that, indeed. But I’ll be happy to rely on the runic arts you have learned since then,” he said. “As for the Skyflight, I will retain the title of Sky Marshal. I will lead from the front like my ancestors before me with our treasured Glory Everlasting to embolden my followers. Lord Oderbruch, I would like you to continue in your role as Vice-Marshal of the Outriders.”

    Eugene bowed and pressed his hand to his chest. “I am honoured, your highness. I will endeavour to meet your expectations.”

    “Lord Archenbern, I am profoundly grateful for your long service under my father. In deference to your great age, I will relieve you of the burden of your command,” he said.

    Lord Acht von Archenbern bowed his head. “Your kind words honour me, my Duke. I am grateful for your consideration,” he said.

    “Lady Valentin, you will serve me as Vice-Marshal of the Centre,” Frederik said. “Your quick wits and insightful advice have been of great use to me in the past. Since you have turned away from your family’s traditional vocation, I have high expectations of your work leading men on the frontline.”

    "It would be my honour," Pieri replied, trying to hide her surprise, "Quite an unorthodox titles for a Valentin, but I'll make sure I live up to it."

    “I’m more interested in effectiveness than orthodoxy. Lord Eisenwald, you will serve as my Left Hand,” Frederik said. “As a knight, you will set an example for the whole Skyflight. As a champion, you will defend my honour with your life’s blood. And as a Venator, you will hunt Rilath’s black shadows wherever they rise to disturb my domain.”

    “Lord Betancourt, I need you to act as my Foreign Minister,” Frederik said. “Though I will naturally decide our general strategy, I will need an able representative who can revitalise our traditional diplomatic corps with more enlightened thinking. Given your skill and charm, I believe you are well-suited for the task at hand.”

    “Lastly, I come to Lady Feuergrau. My friends in Sors speak very highly of you. I would like you to assume command of the position Lady Valentin has vacated following the tragic death of her father,” Frederik said. He folded his hands behind his back and stared at Myska. “I believe you have the ability to take the necessary steps to protect Pruss in this regard.”

    "My duke, it all depends on how wide your consideration of necessary is." Myska answered very carefully.

    “There is no single answer to that question. Everything depends on the context and our respective judgements of the situation. But if you are unwilling, I will have to find another who can undertake the duties in question,” Frederik said.

    Pieri placed a hand on Myska's shoulder. "I know you can handle it. You faced down Judah Kerioth. Besides, I'm sure I can provide some experienced folks to assist."

    Myska sighed. "I am willing my duke. But you must understand that I am off a different world. Where one born into nobility would balk and see an affront to noble blood, something that must not be impinged upon, I may have no reservations. For those do not come as a second nature to me. I can give you knowledge, I can possible even give you knowledge from places where the other dukes would not even begin to look. But others might look down upon you for it."

    Frederik shrugged and smiled. “I can assure I have no need of a reputable spymaster. Do what you must,” he said.

    "The job of the spymaster is to identify and eliminate threats to the duchy," Pieri stated, "And to discover information that is to its benefit. You're not exactly in charge of a band of murderous brigands, Myska. My father's methods were by no means mainstream or completely approved of. You are free to choose your own methods as you see fit. As I said, if you'd like some advisors skilled in all parts of the craft, I should be able to provide."

    With the question of officials settled, Frederik sat down on the throne again and sighed. “In any case, I’ll be travelling to Sors soon enough. But in the meantime, I’ve decided to issue my first proclamation as Duke. Since it’s my first decision, I suppose it will go some way to set the tone for my reign. My inclination is to reform the barbaric excesses of our legal code, but I am open to suggestions.”

    Eugene stepped forwards. “If I may be forwards, my lord, my recent experiences suggest that the antagonist’s forces are in motion within our territory,” he said. He rubbed his back where Judah’s stake had pierced him through. “It may be wise to renew contacts with the Venator Order in Sors. I fear the late duke’s policy was a false economy.”

    “A reasonable proposal. Anyone else?” Frederik asked.

    Lord Daniel Itzig sighed and stepped forwards. “I approve of Lord Oderbruch’s proposal. Any effort to make the Antagonist’s life more difficult is a worthy one. But putting that aside, if we are going to war, it may be prudent to borrow money now while it can be had cheaply to prepare for the expense to come. It’s too late to borrow when your credit is already impaired, and the profits of your conquests can be trusted to pay back the balance and the interest. I can make arrangements swiftly if it is your will,” he said.

    Lord Bishop Sigmund Minden snorted. “Conniving Benai,” he muttered.

    “That’s a very intelligent suggestion, Lord Itzig,” Frederik said sharply. “I will strongly consider it. Are there any further suggestions? I will take advice into consideration before deciding how to proceed.”

  14. Gamers Lounge Senior Member Boardwars Senior Member  #164
    FREEZE! Mokino's Avatar
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    "I must agree with the Duke," Vice Marshal Valentin stated, "The brutality of the current system breeds discontent and that discontent allows Rilath's cults to take root. A happy populace is a loyal populace. Our current strong-armed methods may be effective at cutting off the head of the hydra, but for every one we cut, the discontent will create two more in its place. Furthermore, our methods are frowned upon in the other Duchies; they see us as only somewhat better than barbarians."

    She paused for a moment to let the others digest her words before continuing.

    "Furthermore from my family's experience in such matters, torture is a rather poor way of making someone betray their secrets," she stated, "If you torture someone, they only tell you what they think you want to hear even if it's far remote from the truth. A tormented soul will tell any lie it thinks will give it freedom. There are far, far more effective ways of gaining information, whether they involve interrogation or not."

    Another pause. Pieri held her hands before her and chanted softly. Before her a small figure of sand appeared; a multi-headed dragonlike beast, its heads snapping at the air angrily. "No, my fellows Lords, you do not kill the hydra that is the Antagonist's cults by trying to remove the heads. You do it like this: first, you cut off the feet," a dagger appeared in Pieri's hand as she slashed at the illusion, severing its legs. Pathetically, it flopped around, no longer seeming nearly as fierce, "Leaving it nowhere to stand. Second," she thrust with the dagger cleanly at the center, the hydra, causing it to flail "You cut its heart out, preventing the cult from festering by taking out those who'd spread its lies. Now that the heart no longer beats and faith in the cult has been shattered, only then do you remove the heads since they are unable to grow now." The illusion vanished, the dust blown away by an invisible wind.

    "I pray I've made myself clear enough."

  15. #165
    Viktor stepped forward after Pieri's speech. "If I'm being perfectly honest, I can see the merits of all three proposals. Reforming the law will improve our relations abroad as with our own people, and also serve as a powerful symbol that you are willing to take things in a new direction. But as Lord Oderbruch said, the internal security of Pruss is in dire need of improvement. My superiors on the Venator order oft spoke of hwo they were shunned in Pruss, and inviting them back in will do wonders for our relationship with them as well as our internal security."

    "And even though I approve of Lord Itzig's proposal to borrow money, there is the possibility that the our conquests will not be as profitable as we expected. Though the treasury is full now, it will soon be empty if we have large debts to pay off. As I'm sure you are aware, Pruss is a land of soldiers and farmers. Our economy is simply not capable of sustaining large expenses every year. "

    "If we are going to borrow money, I would advise you invest some of it into developing our nation's commerce. That will create a safety net for us to fall back on, in case the war doesn't turn the way we hoped. Wars are expensive, and if we find ourselves dragged into a lenghty campaign, we might see our reserves dry up fast."

    Frederik nodded. "I appreciate your points. But I have no intention of fighting a lengthy campaign, and I fear that any investment in commerce would not bear fruit soon enough to defray the costs of the war to come. Indeed, we would likely reduce our treasury in the short term by making such expenditures," he said. "Besides, it is unclear to me to what extend I can bring prosperity to the realm, besides triumphing in war and annexing wealthy territories and ruling my people justly."

    The newly appointed Left Hand shrugged. "That is true. Developing commerce would be a lenghty process, not something of which we will benefit in the short term. But we are already comercially underdeveloped compared to our rivals, I thought it prudent to bring up the point sooner rather than later, because it is a lenghty process. But that discussion is perhaps best left for another time."

    "That being said, if I had to choose I would focus on the war effort first. We ought to make sure our troops are well supplied and content, so we can maximize our fighting strength. A surplus of money would allow to outfit our troops with the best equipment and have plentiful stocks of other supplies such as ammunition, medical supplies and food. The stronger our armies, the more we can conquer."

    Frederik rested his chin on his hands and nodded. "I understand your point of view. We will need no small amount of coin, both now and in future, if I am to accomplish my aims," he said.

  16. Gamers Lounge Senior Member Boardwars Senior Member  #166
    FREEZE! Mokino's Avatar
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    Duke’s Study, Drakkenheim
    After the meeting

    Pieri knocked on an aged wooden door and entered the highest room of the keep. Frederik looked up briefly and waved her towards a chair, then turned back to the letter he was writing and finished the paragraph. He’d already taken town the hunting trophies that had once adorned the walls, but the room was still scarred by the unmistakable traces of his late father’s presence. Religious texts were piled untidily on top of the heavy account books Frederik William had poured over whenever he had free time.

    Frederik lowered his quill and looked up. “Thank you for coming, Pieri. I could use your help with something,” he said. He sorted through the books he’d brought into the study and pulled a crimson leather-bound volume from the shelf. “Our signals are out of date. I made a project of modernising them when I was in Apamea, but I never managed to finish it. Can you fill the remainder out and pass them back to me to check, then disseminate them to the rest of the Skyflight? I know the Valentin scribes are first-rate.”

    Pieri thumbed through the book quickly. "Shouldn't be an issue," she replied, "I can likely adapt a lot of it from the system my family dragoons are using. Just a matter of accounting for scale." She closed the tome, leaving it on her lap, "While I'm here, is there anything else you need?" (edited)

    Frederik rubbed his head and sighed. "Not presently, I think. But if you can call the Skyflight together for drills when the new signals are ready I'd be indebted to you. Use my name if anyone gives you difficulties."

    "No problem," Pieri replied with a smile, "Could use the practice myself. Thank you, again, for trusting me with this, though it still feels foreign to me. I'm also still getting used to seeing Myska performing what used to be my family's traditional duties. It'll take time, I suppose."

    "I'll use whoever I can use," Frederik muttered. "Come to me if you have difficulties, but I have faith in you. Leading men is leading men, whether they're spies or riders."

    "I've got it covered, but thanks." Pieri replied, "I'm sure Myska will be fine as well; I've passed on the skilled personnel we had left to her. She'll have assistance when she needs it. It's just a shame father made such a mess of things."

    Frederik shrugged. "I never knew much of the man. But it's no use grousing about the past," he said. He leaned back in his chair and sighed. "What did you make of Adalheit?"

    "She's incredibly strong willed," Pieri took a bit to answer, "Not the kind to easily give up in a fight. Her martial ability is comparable to our young riders, though her artifact weapon likely gives her an edge. Our chosen path almost guarantees conflict with her and that's not something I anticipate. That being said, she also has a strong sense of honour and is likely to avoid any unnecessary casualties."

    Frederik sighed. "I wasn't asking of your appraisal of her as an enemy. But I suppose that's only natural. This is something even I have little hand in, given the era we live in."

    Pieri chuckled. "I assumed you were considering strategic options. If you want my opinion of her as a person, I consider her a friend and I hope that friendship survives the upcoming conflict. She and I share a common drive: that the duty of the strong is to protect the weak and therefore we must endeavor to have the strength to deal with any threat that may arise."

    Frederik nodded. "Quite so. As a Prince, I want her but I can't have her. Even to ask her would be to mortally insult her," he said.

    "Yes, she takes her duty quite seriously," Pieri replied, "Yet maybe in time things will change. She did seem rather fond of Sabine De Moulin. If that relationship continues, at the very least it should be an effective olive branch with Austren in the long term."

    "Sabine?" Frederik said. "When did they meet? I'd think they'd have little in common."

    "At the victory party for the hunt," the rider flashed an amused smile, "I admit I gave Sabine a gentle push, but it really didn't take much. I guess I'm taking after Cassandra, King help us all."

    "Oh, that occasion," Frederik said. "Normally Adalheit is only interested in martial pursuits. I can't imagine what they talked about, but I suppose that's why we leave such matters to the De Moulin."

    "It seemed rather...intense from what I saw," Pieri sounded bemused, "I know what Laksaeka cultists are like, but this was on another level. It was much like Viktor and I and wish the two of them the best of luck."

    "They were dancing?" Frederik sighed. "What will the Rose Cult think of next?"

    Pieri could no longer contain herself; she erupted in laughter. "I wish you'd seen the world as I did after the flight to Brittania. Love can...come in many more forms than most realize."

    Frederik snorted. "Whatever you say, Lady Valentin. I have little time to concern myself with such things," he said.

    "Look my point is their relationship definitely seems to be romantic," Pieri stated, "Or at least has the potential to grow into one. I just think it's something to keep track of as it may be to Pruss' benefit in the future."

    Frederik pinched his brow as he processed those words. "Huh. I always wondered why she accompanied Caballus and Stefan Kroll on those jaunts to the pleasure quarters," he muttered.

    "It is what it is," Pieri shrugged, "We'll see how it all plays out I suppose." She idly drummed her fingers on the book in her lap, "In the meantime, I should get started on these signals. Time waits for no man and all that."

    Frederik half-nodded. His attention had been entirely diverted.

    (Pieri rolls Soldiery +1, 4. Success.)

  17. #167
    Forum Farseer Akranadas's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2004
    Brisbane, Australia
    Drakkenheim. After the meeting.

    “Foreign Minister Lord Maximillian Betancourt” Princess Louise said, as he looked up the parchment signed by her Brother, now Duke Frederick “That is quite an honour to be bestowed upon someone.”

    “It was quite a surprise to hear those words come from his mouth” Maximillian replied, as Louise handed back the royal decree and took a seat in his new office. It was rather dusty and dark, cleaning it would be a task for the servants. It was clear that whoever was in charge spent little time here. He took a seat near the desk and placed the parchment onto the table “He wants me to revitalise the diplomatic corps, make them more enlightened or some such”

    “I am sure his faith is well placed” she said, straightening her dress and sitting upon his knee carefully “If there is anyone who could charm the old lords of the lands to follow my brothers lead, I am sure it would be you”

    Maximillian smiled, brushing a strand of her out of Louise face. “I will honour his faith that he has put in me. He has been kind and I do not wish to disappoint” he leaned in and placed a soft kiss upon Louise lips “Though this war he wants to wage troubles me somewhat”
    “As long as you stay out of harm’s way. Everything will be fine” Louise said, kissing Maximillian upon his unblemished forehead before standing up off of his knee “I leave you to your new office Foreign Minister Betancourt, I am sure you have matters more pressing than myself to attend to”

    “It would be a lie to say that I look to work over spending time with you” he smiled, as he watched her leave the room but not before she turned and blew him a swift kiss. He fell back into his chair and sighed to himself.
    It wasn’t long after Louise’s departure that the cleaning servants arrived. He left them to their duties as he had one of his own.

    Duke’s Study, Drakkenheim

    A quick tap of the door and he heard the Duke mutter the words of entry. Maximillian swiftly walked into the study and bowed respectfully.
    “My Lord Duke” he said, before taking a more comfortable stance “As your newly appointed Foreign Minister I have a pressing matter to discuss with you. We spoke briefly about it a few weeks ago but since the passing of your father and your succession of him it has become much direr”

    “My Lord Duke, I apologise for my bluntness in the next forth statement but I feel this situation requires it” Maximillian said, before taking a deep breath “There needs to be news of you fathering a child. The child doesn’t need to be born, just that your Queen is carrying”
    He could see the shock on the Duke’s face at the words.

    “It is no secret and there are whispers about your lack of children already my Lord. We need to counter this as soon as we can. The Queen being pregnant will kill off any attempt of your Brother to cease the throne in the future. It will ensure that our potential allies know that your bloodline will continue if in the unfortunate event you die in battle and more importantly, the announcement of the potential of a royal birth will boost the morale of the people”
    “My Lord… if I may ask, and I mean no offence and ask as a servant of Laksaeka, Do you need help?”

    (Roll Rapport + 4)

  18. #168
    Nauen, Pruss

    Normally, the disappearance of a half-dozen paupers would pass completely unremarked by the powers of Pruss. But Myska’s network was full of contacts other nobles wouldn’t even think of as fellow creatures and she had heard of the disturbance in a small town. In other circumstances, it wouldn’t be a matter for Riders, but after the adventures of the forest it was plain to all that Rilath’s forces were dangerously active in Pruss. Cassandra’s hazy visions went some way to confirm Myska’s suspicions; she saw a town in flames, a spinning wheel, the weak trampled like grapes and drunk like liquour.

    Cassandra dismounted from Sky at a safe distance and approached the town on foot. The large church loomed over scattered buildings wrapped in the shadows of evening. The air was rank with something lower than a sensation; an intuition of corruption that was Cassandra’s by grace, whether it was by her blood, her craft, or her angel’s warning.

    A hooded man leaned against a chipped stone wall at the edge of the town with a pretty servant girl by his side; he caught Cassandra’s eye and made the sign of the sword, then pushed the servant girl forwards and vanished into the shadows. The young maid looked uneasily at Cassandra and approached slowly.

    Even bereft of her usual finery - adorned simply in flowing robes as black as night - Cassandra doubted that her presence would go unnoticed for very long, despite Sky's near-silent descent; the simple fact of her being seven feet tall aside, there was no disguising her unnatural features or the lancing gaze of Aryeh's eyes. Even with her face concealed beneath the fine black mask presently hidden within the folds of her robes, the latter were unmistakable.

    She nodded to the nervous servant girl, offering her a faint smile for reassurance.
    "What do you have for me?"

    The maid blanched despite the Rider's soft tone. "Uh, I'm not sure, milady. My brother's missing, that's all, so I told Wes-" She broke off and turned white as a sheet.

    "That man. He's not the first. We all know the paupers are going missing here, one by one. A lotta folk say good riddance, but my brother was a good man. He fell in with a bad sort, I'll grant, and was down on his luck, but still- he'd never just up and leave town without saying a word to me," She looked away for a moment with tearful eyes and took a ragged breath.

    "I don't know the whats and the whys, I'm not of use to you, but please! Find my brother!" She fell to her knees. "I talked to Father Gehhilfe but he just said the matter was in the King's hands! There's no one else I can turn to!"

    "You can turn to me," Cassandra assured her firmly. "Tell me about this 'bad sort' he fell in with."

    "They were no one really, just day labourers with no money and no sense. They were forever mucking around outside Hermann's place, the new distillery," she muttered.

    "Mister Hermann was always tossing coin at them, bless his soul, but they just spent it on drink. Auer, Hass, Seidel, Bocker... I kept riding him to stop breaking bread with them and find more work, but he wouldn't listen. And now they're just gone, one by one, one and all of them. People are saying they moved to the city for work but my Dachs would never do that, not without a word."

    "Did the disappearances coincide with the establishment of this new distillery, then? Had anyone vanished under mysterious circumstances before it was founded?" Cassandra asked, frowning. "This Hermann, too – was he new in town?"

    "I don't remember. It was a few months ago it opened, last spring, but I couldn't tell you when old Bocker went missing. Not even my Dachs noticed for a week or two," the servant girl said. "Maybe that was spring. As for Mr Hermann, no, he's old as the church. Always used to run a tinpot little place just outside town, but from a few years back his business picked up and he started having more coin to splash around."

    "He's a good man, King knows, but that's still money made on the back of idiots like my brother. It's Rilath's ichor, drink, begging your pardon. So he built a much bigger distillery and brought in some workers from out of town to man it, and now he marches around as if he's a little duke. If he wanted to help my brother, he should have given him a job, not coin. Nothin' comes of that when my brother's just minded to drink it the first chance he gets."

    "Is there anyone else new in town recently, then? Anyone that stands out?" Cassandra's frown deepened. "Perhaps someone unusually charming, or wielding influence undue their station? Perhaps someone who spends a great deal of time with this Mister Hermann?"

    "Someone of my station doesn't know too much of their comings and goings, milady," the maid said. "But there was someone, I think. I saw a handsome young man visit my master with Mister Hermann. He's not seen much, but the other girls gossip about him a lot. Unmarried, you see. What was his name? Furst? Fux?" Her brow wrinkled. "I'm sorry, milady, but a man like that wouldn't give me the time of day, and he doesn't mix much with the common folk of the town."

    "Very well, then." Cassandra smiled gently down at the young woman. "Thank you for all of your help. Now I shall do my part. I cannot promise this will end smoothly, though I will do all that I can."

    Cassandra made haste for the distillery looming over the town. Though she was as discreet as possible, it was impossible for her stature and her black mask not to spook a few locals as she worked towards her objective. Most of them averted their gaze and stepped aside, but there was no knowing where they'd go when they were out of her sight. Time was of the essence.

    Soon enough, she passed the ancient church and reached the distillery. Flickering candlelight spilled through the narrow windows; unusual at the time of night. It would be simplicity itself to blast through the front door or simply to knock and demand entry. Alternately, she could work her way round to the back close to the river, where barrels were stacked outside and sent on by barge, which would be more discreet but time-consuming.

    Cassandra frowned, suddenly possessed of the nagging feeling that she'd somehow missed something. Was it truly likely that the local priest would turn so blind an eye to the mysterious disappearance of so many of his flock? Though she had less familiarity with the mainstream faith than most owing to her devotion to Haron, to remark that "it is in the King's hands" seemed unnecessarily callous a response...

    Perhaps it was worth investigating the church to question the man, if only for a moment.

    It was the matter of a moment to backtrack to the squat church. Cassandra walked up the path and stepped through the open door. The local priest stood in the nave and whispered to a common man Cassandra vaguely recognised; she'd passed him on the way towards the distillery. Then the priest looked towards her and waved the man away. He strode forwards assertively. "Well met, stranger. I am Father Gehhilfe. If you seek the King's comfort, I welcome you."

    Cassandra smiled under the mask. When she spoke, her voice carried a faint, otherworldly resonance, a faint, keening wail following her words.
    "I have come here for the truth. Tell me. Where are the missing townfolk?"

    Gehhilfe stiffened. "I don't know. Men come and go, even in a town like this," he said. He reached inside his robes, then appeared to think better of it and lowered his hands again. "I heard rumours several youngsters planned to seek their fortune in Berlain. May the King keep them."

    "... I see." Cassandra replied, her tone disappointed. "I am going to give you one last opportunity to be honest. I am going to urge you to take it. This will be the last kindness I offer."

    Gehhilfe put a hand over his eye and stared at her. "As the King is my witness, that is my truth."

    Before he could say another word, the commoner he'd be talking to reached behind him and began to draw a pistol. To Cassandra's eyes, he was in slow motion.

    A pity. It did not have to end this way.

    "In Haron's name." Cassandra spoke, her tone flat and dull.

    The masked Rider tilted her head slightly to the left, the fractals of possibility already spinning out in her mind's eye. She saw a thousand flicker-flashes of possible futures unravel in a near-eternal instant, Haron's eye showing her all that was, and all that could be. All of the 'maybes' that would die along with the man if she killed him.

    The man's head exploded in a shower of bone and gore, and his body crumpled to the ground as an afterthought.

    Gehhilfe recoiled and turned his head away. "The truth, then," the priest said. "We killed them. You should know well how that feels." He reached into his robe and drew a short sword.

    "Should I?" Cassandra asked rhetorically.

    An invisible cannon blasted out both of the priest's legs from underneath him, shattering the bones in both shins and sending him sprawling to the hard stone floor in a useless heap.

    "Will you tell me now what I want to know? You are hurting innocent people. Killing others. Poisoning the soul of this town. Why?"

    The priest roared in pain as he crumpled. He crawled towards his sword where it had fallen and groped for the hilt. "How could Haron's bitch understand? You don't even see your own chains," he spat.

    "Oh Rilath, rend the veil!" He drove his blade through his neck in a sudden display of savage force. The shadows thickened for a moment as his blood sprayed across the cold floor of the church, then fell away before Cassandra's light.

    "What ever happened to diplomacy?" Cassandra asked the now-lifeless church. She sighed to herself, looking wearily down at the two bodies splayed out before her, their blood already pooling out beneath them to stain the stone.

    "To the distillery, then." She said to herself. "I suppose I'll need a drink once this is all over."

    With the priest dead, Cassandra had no reason to linger. She swept towards the distillery and forced the main gates open with an act of will. A guard shouted a garbled warning and reached for his gun, but Cassandra flayed his skin away with a gesture and ran on through the rows of oak barrels.

    She found a well-dressed man standing in front of a bizarre mechanical press with a spinning wheel attached to it. Haron had shown her that in the fullness of time, but it was completely different to see it with her own eyes. The interlocking maze of gears and machinery were painful to look on, and the cold steel had been carved with runes and half-hidden by black cloth. The well-dressed man stared at her and trembled. "Who are you? What is the meaning of this outrageous intrusion?" He mumbled.

    "Speak up, my good man. I can scarcely hear you over the sound of your fear." Cassandra replied. The air about her shimmered faintly, a thousand invisible telekinetic knives poised to leap into the man's heart at a moment's notice.

    The man's eyes bulged as he stared in incomprehension at the masked Rider. "This is absurd. Fuchs assured me it would be months if not years before we were disturbed," he said. He backed away from her and tried to reach for the leaver attached to the mechanical press.

    "Fuchs lied to you."

    The red eyes narrowed, and a cocoon of telekinetic force wrapped itself around the well-dressed man. He strained to move his hand closer to the lever; the air buzzed angrily in response, constricting itself further around his open hand.

    "Now, if you please, I have some questions."

    "Okay. Okay! I'll tell you whatever you want to know, so spare my life!" the man wheezed. He struggled in vain against the wall of force binding him.

    "Very well. What are you and your people attempting to achieve here?"

    "I don't know. Look, this was just business to me," the man muttered. "We Hermanns have been brewing in this town for generations. Ask anyone they like and they'll tell you we're pillars of this community! So I worked with Fuchs and we prospered. I have no idea what he's planning to do in the end!"

    "I see." Cassandra said. "I will give you one more opportunity to speak the truth. Then my generosity will end."

    "They were trash! Garbage! They'd never worked a honest day in their lives!" Hermann screamed. "If they're a waste of life, why shouldn't they be offered up? It was for the good of Nauen as a whole!"

    "And you are a murderer. If they were worthless, what does that make you?" Cassandra raised a hand, lifting Hermann from the ground and suspending him in midair. The cocoon of force tightened around him, forcing his arms flat against his sides and holding him rigid.

    "You people, you children of Rilath. You speak of breaking chains and altering the world, yet when the time comes, the only answer you have is death."

    "Tell me. What did their lives buy, Hermann? What coin did Rilath give you in exchange for their souls? How is the world better now that they're gone?"

    "I am a pillar of this town!" Hermann groaned. "They were parasites! Even without offering the sacrifice, killing them would make the world a better place!"

    "What sacrifice? What have you done?"

    "How would I know? That's what Fuchs takes care of," Hermann muttered. His eyes darted to the mechanical press next to him.

    "Where is Fuchs now?"

    "Up above," Hermann said. He blinked as they both heard the sound of running feet rapidly closing on their position. "Get her!" he screamed.

    Three workmen rounded the barrels with muskets in hand.

    [Initiative – Cassandra (2), Workmen (1). Cassandra wins initiative.]
    [Cassandra rolls Lore, 2 vs 1. She inflicts four shifts of damage.]

    Cassandra held up a black-gloved hand, fingers splayed wide. Telekinetic restraints wrapped around the hands of the workmen, twisting the muskets in their white-knuckled grips. Their eyes widened in stark terror as the barrels of the weapons were forced into their mouths and their fingers were made to pull the triggers.

    Hermann gurgled as their brains were sprayed across the barrels and passed out. He slumped against the forces binding him.

    Cassandra shook her head in dismay as she looked down upon Hermann's unconscious form.
    He had his chance. I should kill him. But the people deserve to look upon the face of the man who sold them out. He won't make it past the dragoons, or Sky, if he makes a break for it anyway.

    She proceeded onwards, making her way up through the distillery to meet this 'Fuchs'.

    The distinct blood-scented tang of ritual magic drew her onwards up the stairs and onto the first floor. She burned through the door to the ritual chamber and stepped inside. Candles flickered and cast long shadows as the dark-haired mage turned to face her. Behind him, the distinct lumpen form of a corpse demon crafted by Faustus twitched and writhed as it crawled to its feet. Cassandra's vision blurred as she was drawn into a hazy vision of another time. The man in the white shirt she'd met within the shadows stood in the room surrounded by corpse demons.

    Then a vision of a future that would never be made eye contact with her and smiled. "Not all truths should be witnessed, youngster," he said. He clapped his hands and drove one of the corpse demons screaming into the real world, where it landed and writhed next to its fellow.

    The black-haired mage stared at the sudden arrival in confusion. "Praise be to Lord Rilath!" he said. He backed away from Cassandra and let his corpse demons shamble forwards to confront the Rider.

    [Initiative – Cassandra (2), The Tongue (0), Corpse Demons (0). Cassandra wins initiative.]
    [Situation Aspects: Rider Superiority 2, Dark Rituals 1.]

    Cassandra raised both hands and chanted softly; a tiny emerald sun sparked to life in the intervening space between the Rider and the demons, throwing off waves of terrible heat that melted the wood of the distillery where they fell.

    One of the monstrous, shambling demons tried to surge through the field towards her, only to find that even its unholy, unnaturally reinforced flesh was not proof against the rider's wrath; its flesh crisped and burned, sloughing from its face and chest in waves until it fell to the ground as an ashen ruin.

    [Cassandra attacks with Lore vs Athletics, 5 vs 3. She inflicts 3 bonus damage and they reduce her damage by 1, 7 vs 3. One dies.]

    The mage winced and raised his hands to invoke a primal curse. For a moment, the two masters of the runic arcs were locked in perfect balance, but the black-haired mage scored open his own tongue with a sharpened nail and spat Rilath's name with blood on his lips. Pain surged through Cassandra's body as her life's blood was turned against her.

    [The Tongue rolls Lore vs Will to create an advantage, 3 vs 2. He succeeds and creates the advantage 'Poisoned Blood' with one free invoke.]

    Cassandra gritted her teeth as her blood turned to molten fire in her veins; she staggered to one side, just barely recovering swifly enough to raise a hand and conjure a magical barrier against the encroaching second demon; its claws screeched against the wall of emerald force, embers spraying from where the tips of its diamond-hard nails skittered across the dome.

    [The Corpse Demon attacks with Fight vs Will, 2 vs 4. Failure.]

    Breathless, Cassandra stumbled off to the left, straining against the pain shearing through her body and send a rolling shockwave of force at the black-haired mage, reducing the wine barrels between them into a cyclone of wooden shards that screamed through the air at the servant of Rilath.

    [Cassandra rolls to attack with Lore vs Will, 2 vs 3. Failure. Cassandra invokes Rider Superiority twice, 6 vs 3. The Tongue invokes Poisoned Blood and Dark Rituals, 6 vs 7.]

    Cassandra and the black-haired mage strained against each other in an intense runic conflict as he conjured a sphere of shadows to offset her barrage. Cassandra drew on all the fury of Sky's flame to redouble her assault and batter down his defences, but her grimaced and bit back a cry of pain as the dragon's blood seethed with corruption and ripped into her flesh.

    The black-haired mage staggered backwards as the flying shards smashed into his barrier, then planted his feet and drew on the runes engraved on the floor and walls. A dark power flowed through him and he crushed the Rider's assault with a roar of triumph.

    "Hrm." Cassandra noted. "Very well, then."

    With his poison seeping through the Rider's veins, the black-haired mage invoked his curse with deadly intent. With both mages exhausted by their exchange, he was barely able to thicken the poison and sap her strength further.

    [The Tongue attacks with Lore vs Will, 0 vs -1. He inflicts one shift of damage.]

    The corpse demon leaped forwards as the Rider reeled back and dug its savage claws into her outstretched arm. The claws twisted in the wound and were retracted in a spray of blood.

    [The Corpse Demon attacks with Fight vs Will, 5 vs 2. He inflicts 1 bonus damage and 4 shifts of damage in all. Cassandra takes the -2 Consequence Bloodied Arm and 2 stress damage.]

    Hissing in fury, Cassandra channeled her pain into her next spell, hurling a burning comet of emerald light with her uninjured arm into the final corpse demon. It fell in a shower of ashes.

    [Cassandra rolls Lore vs Athletics, 2 vs -2. Cassandra inflicts net 1 bonus damage, 3 vs -2, for 5 shifts. It dies. Cassandra gains a Boost.]

    The black-haired mage spat blood and took a combat stance. "When I realised you were here, I despaired. But Lord Rilath has shown me the way. You will be the true sacrifice to transpose the two worlds, Rider!" he snarled.

    Once again, he invoked and strengthened his curse, the runes dripping from his bloodied tongue coiling around Cassandra and strangling her from within.

    [The Tongue rolls to attack with Lore vs Will, 1 vs 0. He inflicts one shift of damage.]

    Cassandra snarled, eldritch lightning coruscating about her form even as she stumbled, wracked by agony. One lashing arc spat across the ground, raggedly carving through the distillery floor on its way to the other mage before flashing upwards and burning the flesh on the right side of his face.

    [Cassandra rolls to attack with Lore vs Will, 3 vs 2. She inflicts 3 bonus damage for a total of four shifts. The Tongue takes the -2 Consequence Searing Burns and 2 stress damage.]

    The black-haired mage grimaced in pain and invoked his curse again. Shadows flickered around him and candles were extinguished as he unleashed wild runic flame to sear her blood, but Cassandra drew deep on her painstaking training and drew a line with her soul to hold back the poison.

    [The Tongue rolls to attack with Lore vs Will, 2 vs 3. Failure. He spends a Fate Point and invokes Poisoned Blood, 4 vs 3. Cassandra spends a Fate Point and invokes High Mage of the Watch, 4 vs 5. Failure.]

    I have to kill him. And soon.

    Abandoning the direct assault, Cassandra instead turned her power outwards, wrenching at the support beams holding up the roof above her enemy with telekinetic fists.

    [Cassandra rolls Lore vs Will to create an advantage, 7 vs 2. She creates the advantage 'Crumbling Building' with two free invokes.]

    The black-haired mage shuddered as his carefully constructed atelier crumbled. It was only a matter of time before the whole building collapsed. "You already have men on the perimeter, don't you? So let's go to Rilath together, Rider!" he screamed.

    [The Tongue rolls Lore vs Will to create an advantage, 3 vs 1. He creates the advantage 'Paralysing Venom' with one free invoke.]

    Well, I suppose there are worse ways to go.

    "Rilath won't be waiting for either of us." Cassandra smiled, closing her eyes as she bound her enemy with all her strength as the building fell.

    If this is it, I'm sorry, Sky. I should have done better for you.

    The Tongue's eyes widened as he was snatched from the protective embrace of the shadow and slammed into the floor. "Curse y-" He was cut off as a block of masonry crushed his head.

    The floor crumbled and dropped Cassandra down into the distillery below as the whole building collapsed. Cassandra crashed into a barrel that smashed against her ribs and howled in pain, but even as she fought down the pain and confronted her own death thick rays of light tore through the roof and dissolved the falling wood and stone before it could land.

    Sky spread her wings and howled like a fury as she unleashed the untrammeled glory of her magic and wrapped her battered companion in an invincible sphere of light. Beer leaked across the ruined floor as smashed barrels sagged and disintegrated.

    [Cassandra takes the -4 Consequence Broken Ribs.]
    [Pruss gains + Vigilance, failure. +1 bonus is accumulated.]

  19. #169
    Wandering Swordsman Lestaki's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    London, Blighty
    Duke’s Study, Drakkenheim
    Frederik pinched his brow and sighed as he listened to Maximillian’s appeal.

    (Maximillian rolls Rapport +3, 3. Success.)

    “If a less trustworthy individual asked me such a thing, Lord Betancourt, they would come swiftly to regret it,” Frederik said. “But I appreciate you are speaking out of sincerity.”

    The young Duke leaned back in his chair and sighed. “What I’m saying to you now is said in the strictest confidence. I am of course aware of the question of succession, but I have no intention of siring a child,” he said. “The very concept is reprehensible to me. I have… done my matrimonial duty before, but it was not a particularly inspiring experience. All and sundry assure me that my wife is tolerably beautiful as women come and I have no reason to doubt that, but that means nothing to me.”

    Frederik shrugged. “I’m sure you know the merits of women well enough, dearest Maximillian, but they quite elude me. Either way, it’s impossible for us both to fulfil our duty in such conditions. It’s not fair to Amelia, and it’s not fair to me, either. Whatever it is a woman seeks in a man’s arms, it’s not something I can give to her.”

    Frederik rose from his desk and looked out of the narrow window. Drakkenheim was arrayed below, and beyond that Berlain. “As for the succession, Prince William or his children will likely take up that burden on my death. If you want to help me, Lord Betancourt, I appreciate it if you would communicate that to him and make him calm down and understand his place. It’s a better deal than any second son of indifferent ability would normally expect under the circumstances.”

  20. Gamers Lounge Senior Member Boardwars Senior Member  #170
    FREEZE! Mokino's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Not here
    ?Drakkenheim, Pruss?

    "Hello there, Pieri," Cassandra smiled weakly, looking up from the infirmary bed to greet the dismayed expression of her old friend. She had been told, in no uneven terms, that she was 'a wreck', 'lucky to be alive', and 'a blithering idiot who should be ashamed of herself'. That last one was Sky.

    The dragon had hurled a number of less pleasant things at her, too, both before and after she regained the ability to walk, albeit with the aid of a cane.

    The natural tendency of a dragon rider towards speedy convalescence was one thing, but even riders frequently did not walk away when buildings fell on them.

    ?Of course, I did not exactly walk away from that collapse, myself. Sky carried me.

    "Oh heavens!" Pieri exclaimed when she saw the state of her fellow rider, "Please don't tell me you picked a fight with Judah Kerioth?"

    "Well," Cassandra noted wryly, "everybody else was doing it. I-" she coughed violently, then curled up on one side until the spasms abated, her white hair fanning across her face. "I felt left out, you see. You know how I can be."

    "At least it didn't dampen your spirits. That's usually a good sign," Pieiri chuckled as she laid down a cloth and started setting out her tools, "So, what kind of trouble did our court archmage ?_really_? get herself into?"

    Cassandra smiled wryly.
    "There was a very unpleasant man with a very unpleasant tongue..." She began, as if reciting the opening to a fairy tale. Then she sighed, and her mirth evaporated for the moment.

    "Some of Myska's spies brought it to my attention that people were going missing in Nauen. A, um... a little town not far north of Berlain. So I went to investigate, taking Sky."

    "One of the cultists responsible was a mage. A formidable one. When I confronted him, he almost got the better of me. So I did the only thing I thought I could do." She smiled a faint, fatalistic little smile. "I brought the building down on both our heads."

    "Judging by the shape you're in, I suspect he's not among the living, but Rilath's chosen have a nasty habit of reappearing at the worst possible times, " the healer paused for a moment; once she applied the magic, there was likely going to be a lot of pain given Cassandra's condition. It was best to keep the mage focused somewhere else. "So..what's it like being court archmage? Minerva keeps nagging that I should've had that title, but I disagree."

    Cassandra chuckled.
    "I've had the job for about a week, and I've spent more time hunting cultists than managing wizards, so I don't think I can answer that just yet," she smiled.

    Then, she raised a finger and wagged it at Pieri. "Though just because you didn't get the title, don't think that gets you out of teaching at the Academy. As long as I can convince Frederik to allow me to build the damn thing, of course."

    "You have my support in getting it built," Pieri finished bandaging the arm and moved onto treating the ribs, "But I can't guarantee when I'd have time to teach. I have to keep the whole army in working order after all. Need to prepare them the best I can so most of them make it back home..." She trailed off.

    "That bothers you, doesn't it?" Cassandra asked, after biting in a sharp intake of breath as Pieri bandaged her still-delicate ribs. "The thought of being responsible for all those people."

    "I must admit that It does, " the healer replied, gesturing at her tools, "?This? is me and this is me," she conjured a small flame in one hand, "I can run the drills just fine but leading them in an actual battle is a different beast. I hear the rumours spreading among them about following a 'cold-hearted killer' into battle. My family's reputation does me nor Fredrick any favors."

    "We're all killers, Pieri," Cassandra said sadly. "When I was in Nauen, I crushed the skull of someone who had once been just a frightened child adrift in the world, looking for purpose. I did it because he had fallen to Rilath, and in doing so he had become my enemy."
    She shook her head to cast aside the memory.
    "Let them spread their rumours. But talk to the men. Not just as their leader, but as a fellow soldier. Spend some time in the camps and get to know who they are, and let them see who ?you? are. They will learn that your flame is neither cold nor cruel."

    "I've been trying to find the time to do just that," Pieri chuckled, "It's funny though, that in a way I'm still following the family way. Every Valentin rider has pushed our house along a different current. I'm just the first in a long while to decide we need a better ship."

    Cassandra grinned.
    "A ?different? ship, not solely a better one. There is a world of change in that, I think. What we do ?_can_? make a difference in this world. And it shall."

    "Just going to take time for people to adjust to it, I think," Pieri replied, "I've figured myself out. Now it's time for the world to figure out who Pieri Valentin is," her work finished, Pieri started packing up her tools, "I know that if I wasn't a Rider, I'd likely be spending my days at a house of healing. Then again, if I wasn't a Rider, I probably wouldn't have had the chance to change course like this."

    Cassandra chuckled, wincing with the pain.
    "Still hurts when I laugh," she remarked, more to herself than anything else. "We have the power to make a lot of choices others can't, you're right." She smiled. "Maybe one day we can help everyone else to have that same freedom. A better world?"
    "Or a world full of chaos," Pieri shrugged, "It's a nice thought but I'm not sure if the world is ready for such a thing. Such a drastic change to the status quo would need to be measured carefully, that's all."

    "As with everything," Cassandra nodded. "Look at me; one taste of being a crusader and already I'm looking to do more. To cure all the world's ills. Pay me no heed." She waved a hand to dismiss her own ruminations.

    "It's good to have ideals," Pieri shrugged, "You just have to be more pragmatic in pursuing them. For instance, next time you hear rumors of a Rilath cult, ask for help. I'd be happy to assist and I'm sure Viktor wouldn't mind as well since it's part of his duties to take care of such matters."

    Cassandra smiled, half-apologetic.
    "I should have called for Sky sooner. It was my pride that made me try to win alone. Or perhaps the thought of the struggles still to come. I think of myself not being strong enough, and it makes me rebel against calling for anyone to come to my aid."
    "I still see myself standing across from Faustus in that place." She sighed. "It's just a matter of... being stronger, being faster. Learning the runes better."

    "Yet you told me before you'd want my assistance should you ever face him again," Pieri noted, "No one person is a mountain, Cassie. It's because they each stand alone that the Emissaries have not won despite all their power individually. We shouldn't repeat their mistake."

    Cassandra chuckled.
    "Ideally, I ?would? have you by my side. But I can't guarantee that, can I? We hardly had any control over the time or place of our last meeting with the Emissaries. The next... may well be just as unexpected."

    "You fear them, don't you?" Pieri stated, becoming unusually serious, "It's only natural to do so given the power they wield. I'm trying to get stronger myself, but we need to be careful. The last thing we want to do is cross the thresholds they have. To discard our humanity the way they did long ago. We can't protect people if we start thinking like them."

    The white-haired rider smiled.
    "I fear anyone with the power to kill me and take away the people that I love. It occasionally keeps me up at night. It bothers me to think that, even with all of my power and Sky at my back, that there might be those I simply cannot win against, no matter all my tricks or all my artifice. That they may simply take my life, or take the lives of my friends, and I will be powerless to stop them. It's that which I strive against."

    "Just keep in mind many of those friends are just as strong as you are," Pieri said with a smile, placing a hand on Cassandra's shoulder, "While we may be outmatched individually, together there's nothing that can stand in our way. Just consider it next time you need to fight, okay?"

    "I will. Thank you, Pieri." She smiled again. "And for patching up a foolish girl with delusions of grandeur." She grinned. "Sky's words, not mine."
    "I maintain," she chuckled, with an airy affect to her tone, "that I was simply doing my rightful duty as a dragon rider and daughter of the Emperor. Saving people, and all that."

    "Yes, but you can't change the world if you get yourself killed," Pieri sighed, "But I digress. The best thing for you right now is rest. Make sure to tell Fredrick about the academy idea.,though."
    "Of course, of course. I will." She closed her red eyes and allowed her head to fall back gently against her welcoming pillow. For now, at least, there was nothing more for her to do.

    (Pieri rolls 5. Success. Cassandra's -2 and -4 consequences are changed to "on the mend")

    Drakkenheim - Training Grounds

    "No, no, no! Let's try again from the start."

    Pieri Valentin sighed. No matter how hard she pushed, she couldn't get them to listen. Even the usual threats of lashings her own commanders had used for disciplining the unruly weren't working. It was time for a...different approach.

    "Okay, everyone!" she called out, using magic to amplify her voice. Immediately the circling dragoons fell into formation, landing in orderly lines before the Vice Marshal. "I realize the old system was used for a very long time, making these changes difficult to adapt to. I also know that some of you seem to be making the mistake of confusing me with my deceased father. So...we're going to do things somewhat off the books today." She took her pen and quickly added some notes to her copy of the revised signal book, passing it off to a servant with instructions.

    A sharp whistle was all it took to summon Dustvael to her side. Defiantly, Pieri mounted her drake and took a position at the head of the formation.
    "The idea is simple," she stated, "Instead of just lecturing as most commanders do, I'll walk everyone through it. If we're lucky most of the drakes will follow Dustvael's lead and learn the signals themselves to an extent."

    "This is completely against the rules, Miss Valentin," Pieri didn't have to even look to know who had spoken. Tanius Brone, a drake commander of some renown from the Eastern territories whose pride had kept him a thorn in her side.

    "That's Vice Marshal Valentin to you, Commander Brone," she smiled, but it wasn't a friendly smile, "And as Vice Marshal, I am free to bend the rules in ways I feel necessary. If you have a problem with how I run things, feel free to bring it up with the Duke later but for now you can kindly stuff your complaints where Sol's light never will reach." Dustvael, sensing his master's mood, eyed the command menacingly with an agressive snort, "Do I make myself clear?" There were a few chuckles among the men, but Pieri chose not to acknowledge them. Good. I'm reaching through to them.

    "Crystal," Brone's reply was terse as he caught the drake's eye and shivered.

    "Good. Now, follow." With a gentle tug ont he chains, Dustvael soared into the sky, a multitude of drakes following close behind.

  21. #171
    Forum Farseer Akranadas's Avatar
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    Oct 2004
    Brisbane, Australia
    Duke’s Study, Drakkenheim

    Maximillian stood silent for a moment, taking in the words that the Duke had said. “If that is…” he muttered before clearing his throat “If that is your will my lord, then I shall press the issue no longer. I will not divulge our conversation, you have my word”

    With that he bowed respectfully to his lord once again and swiftly made his exit from the Duke’s study, he mind ablaze about the sheer implications that were made from those statements but one thing shone through more than anything else… the lies. Frederick had answered Maximillian’s questions honestly and with great difficultly, but it was the lie that started Maximillian down this journey that held the heaviest in his heart.

    The lie that bond his loyalty towards the then Prince when they snuck out of Drakkenheim, on the notion of uniting two lovers separated by not only a massive distance but against their father’s wishes sounded like a worthy cause that would appease Laksaeka. The question remains though, if he doesn’t find the notion of physical connection tasteful or the merits of his Queens, does he actually love her?

    Maximillian soon found himself back into his new office, it looked like the servants had finished their cleaning as he slumped into a chair behind the desk. He sighed as he poured himself a small glass of ale, ”It matters not in the end” he thought to himself as took a sip ”I did my best with the what tools I had, I cannot force two incompatible people to fall in love, no matter that the action would united the state”

    His thoughts quickly shifted from Frederick’s love life to his own, he smiled as the image of Princess Louise drifted into focus. ”At least mine is built on the correct foundations” he though ”I should make peace with Willian, not for Frederick’s reasons but for Louise’s”

    But that would wait for another times. He light a number of candles throughout the office and took out a number of pieces of parchment, for now he had work to do… Pruss needed new foreign policies.

  22. #172
    Back Alley, Berlain

    “So the Duke sends his Left Hand after me, eh? I should have known.”

    The young noble pulled his hostage closer and desperately jammed the barrel of his flintlock pistol under her chin as the dragoons aimed their muskets at him.

    “Don’t come any closer! I will kill her! I mean it!”

    Viktor stifled a yawn and motioned for the dragoons to lower their weapons. He was about to leave on his morning hunt when Brandt delivered the message he’d been waiting for. They had been chasing their quarry for over an hour, but had finally managed to corner them in a dead end street. Realising that there was no way out, the man now threatened to end the life of the prostitute he had taken hostage.

    The Rider’s eyes swept the surrounding area as the noble went on a tirade about how life was unfair and how he hadn’t meant for any of this to happen. Most of the surrounding house had closed the shutters and locked their doors, but here and there he could see the curious observe the incident on the street. He also spotted the large white shape of Bazdanvan slowly making its way down the face of the warehouse behind the noble.

    -without the old Duke’s policies I’d be-

    Viktor was again impressed with how silently the drake could move if he wanted to. The weeks since the drake’s introduction to the Eisenwald brood had been tumultuous to say the least. It managed to become the undisputed Alpha in less than two days despite being an outsider, but it had not been easy. The other males had put up a fight worthy of an Eisenwald drake, and Bazdanvan had a few more scars to mark his ascension to Alpha.

    -didn’t have a choice but to-

    Even so, the rider and drake were still getting used to each other. Bazdanvan was young, proud and almost as headstrong as Viktor himself. They trained together every day, but it was obvious that the drake wasn’t entirely comfortable yet with having a human ride him. He also had a habit of sneaking into the Eisenwald mansion, much to Eline’s despair and the delight of her children.

    -why Frederik will lead us all to ruin. And… and..

    The young man halted in his tirade when he realised that none of the dragoons were actually looking at him. He glanced behind him and screamed when he saw the drake looming over his with its jaw wide open. He pushed his hostage away and desperately aimed his flintlock pistol at the drake. The woman screamed as Bazdanvan’s jaws snapped shut around the man’s arm and tore it off in a shower of blood.

    Viktor sighed and ordered the dragoons to seal off the street before approaching the wounded man. The young noble was lying on the ground next to his severed arm, screaming and crying while bleeding out fast. Viktor didn’t care. He picked up the man’s flintlock pistol and shot him through the heart.

    “Take care of this, Major Brandt.”

    He turned his back on the corpse and moved to where the sobbing prostitute was being comforted by one of his female dragoons. The man had dragged the woman along by force, and her clothes were torn from her ordeal. He unclasped his cloak and put it around her shoulders. The woman avoided his gaze as she pulled the cloak around her. He nodded to the dragoon.

    “I’ll take her home.”

    They were flying through the sky on Bazdanvan’s back a few minutes later, the morning sun warming them both up. They sat together in silence for a few minutes until Viktor spoke up.

    “A shame, really. We would have taken him into custody if he hadn’t started firing into the crowd,” he mused to himself ”You know what the worst part is, though? I wasn’t even looking for him.”

    The rider continued when the woman stayed silent. “I like your new outfit, Philippa, but I’m a little confused as to why you’re wearing it. I didn’t think you were into that kind of stuff.”

    The woman looked up at him, glaring daggers. “Screw you, Viktor.”

    “I appreciate the offer, but I fear you are too late. My heart belongs to another.”

    “I would have had him if you hadn’t interfered,” Philippa snarled. “I thought we had an understanding! You pretend to not see us, so we can do our job.”

    “Things change. Which is why I was seeking you out, actually.” Viktor smiled at his former colleague. ”Gather the others. We need to talk.”

  23. #173
    Nauen, Pruss

    In the light of a new day, Cassandra called together the town’s elders in the old church that had become her base. Uniformed Dragoons watched over them with muskets to hand while they sat down in the pews at the front of the church. Cassandra’s eyes swept the assembled faces. Two of the local leaders were already dead, of course, and several of the remainder had been exposed as cultists. As for the rest, even if they weren’t guilty, they’d failed in their duty to protect the townsmen under their care. It was a reprehensible display.

    The white-haired rider leaned on her cane, wincing in pain as even the slightest movement ushered in fresh new waves of piercing agony. Buffeted by a light field of telekinetic magic, she was just about able to walk around without promptly tumbling over.

    Apparently, most of her ribs had been broken, with two of them 'more closely resembling fine powder than actual human bones'.

    "I assume you all know why I have summoned you here today, so I will not insult you by recounting recent events." She began. It was her first time addressing 'the people' in this way, yet she was surprised to find that she did not stumble over her words or avert her eyes from the masses.

    "If you look out of that window, you will see my soldiers burying the bodies of those we dragged from the rubble. Men and women of your town, who fell to the service of Rilath under your watch. You were supposed to protect them from this, yet you did not."

    "Even as your townfolk were being taken away to be crushed in that infernal machine, you did nothing to answer the cries of your people, crying out from the ground for mercy."

    "I wish to know why."

    A sullen silence descended in response to her words. The assembled men averted their eyes in fear or shame. Then a wizened old man called Muller raised his head and met her eyes.

    "I don't know, milady. King help me. We all knew Hermann- he was godfather to my children, for heaven's sake. He was an avaricious but hard-working man who always gave back to the community. We trusted Hermann. He had five dear children, and he buried two in the ground when they were just babes. He lived the same life as all of us here. How could he- how could he be a monster in Rilath's service?"

    He broke down and looked down at the floor. "I know that's not an explanation, milady. That's an excuse. But I don't know what else to say."

    "And the rest of you?" Cassandra asked. "Does this man speak for you all?"

    There were a few murmurs of agreement. But a sharp-eyed young man called Shriver shook his head.

    "With all due respect, milady, I always knew he was a rat bastard. I told that senile old man and anyone else who cared to ask Hermann was a snake out to line his own pockets, and no matter what happened to the rest of us. Of course, I didn't know it was this bad, but I knew he was trouble the moment he brought all those outsiders in here. No one wanted to hear it. We were afraid to face the truth," he said.

    "I see." Cassandra said. "Why, then, did nobody listen?"

    She took a few steps, leaning heavily on her cane. She kept her crimson gaze firmly affixed to the crowd, however, raking them with her eyes.
    "Your priest." She held up one finger. "Hermann, a so-called pillar of your community." Two. "Two more of your elders were found to be complicit." Three, four.

    "Even as people vanished from the streets, and your own were calling upon you to do your duty as guides and protectors, you did nothing." She shook her head in disappointment. "I cannot in good faith entrust this town to any of you."

    Muller bowed his head. "You are right, milady. There is nothing I can say in our defense. We submit ourselves to your judgement."

    "Don't tar us all with the same brush, Muller," Shriver said. "I tried, King knows. I tried! But no one listened, and there's nothing a man could do when you all closed ranks to protect your own."

    "Nothing at all?" Cassandra asked. "I am one woman, and I did a great deal." She shook her head. "You could have banded together, and acted. Looked for those who were missing. Offered comfort to those who had lost people."

    "This is how Rilath takes root in the hearts of men." She said, addressing the assembled elders. "When we grow apart, and afraid to look to one another for aid, and too reluctant to lend a hand when times grow cold and dark."

    She sighed.
    "The people will decide who they feel ought to lead them. Then, I will speak to those they choose, and judge them worthy – or not. From this day forth, Nauen's fate shall be its own. And if the time should come again where a rider is forced to stand where I stand now, Nauen shall be judged accordingly."

    Muller bowed his head and nodded. "Your will be done, my lady."

    Healer’s Halls, Pruss

    From the moment he became Duke, Frederik was inundated with work preparing for the war alongside his periodic journeys to the provinces to reassure the populace. The demands on his time and energy were greatest just as his body and mind were under strain from the heat of the dragon’s flame as it slowly transformed him.

    Cassandra and the Court Healer worked together to ensure nothing untoward was occurring in the process. After another successful checkup, Frederik took the chance to sag back onto the bed and rest his chin on his hands. “It’s amazing to me that William envies this pain,” he groused.

    Cassie chuckled.
    "Oh, it's not the pain he envies," she grinned cheerfully down at Frederik's pained expression, "it's the extra foot of height and the power to leap tall buildings in a single bound he craves." She waved a hand about. "Oh, and the chance to ride to war on a dragon, make proclamations to the entire dukedom, and generally have legions of quarreling serfs milling about his every word."

    Frederik smiled. "You make a fair point. I suppose this is no time for self-pity, after all," he said.

    Cassie waved a hand.
    "If you can't complain about petty ills to your friends, then you truly do live in a world of terror," she noted sagely, grinning all the while. "By all means, tell me your woes, beleaguered duke."

    "I fear we could be here a while. Lord Betancourt was on my case about siring a child, as if the thought simply hadn't occurred to me before now," Frederik said. "I remember my wedding night. I would sooner be run down by Ungebrochen again."

    "Alas, I fear upon occasion obvious things do pass our dear friend Max by..." she sighed. "Was it so terrible? If you had but asked, I would have wreathed the castle in smoke and taken to the streets to tell everyone the Russian Skyflight was attacking and that you were needed immediately..."

    "He means well, and it is within his duty as a Rose Cultist. It was no great hardship," Frederik said. "But I hope we'll leave such things behind soon enough. We'll be at war soon, and I should hope that will come before the eternal gossip about my bed."

    "Hope springs eternal," Cassie agreed. "Though the courtiers will have their gossip while we wreathe the countryside in fire, I think." She shrugged. "It's no matter. We'll give them something else to talk about when we win."

    "Besides," Cassie grinned with a hint of teasing, "as long as they're talking about you, they won't be talking about me, something for which I'm eternally grateful. I can't imagine I'd handle it as gracefully as you have."

    Frederik smiled. "I suppose that's true. Our alliance with the Emperor should turn heads. And as for your own business, you make a fair point. There will come a time when I will ask you to marry - do as I say, not as I do - but for now, I need you on the front-lines. Does your father trouble you on that front?"

    "He offered his help, for when the time comes," she replied fondly, "but this... this is something I have to do alone, I think." She chuckled ruefully. "I've always been too much of a romantic for my own good."

    "Then if you took the average of both of us, you'd have a healthy person," Frederik said. "We must make do. But I wish you well in your endeavours."

    "Why, Frederik, do you mean to imply that my undying quest for love and grand romance is unhealthy?" Cassandra looked scandalised.

    "Far be it from me to comment on other people's illnesses," Frederik said. He stood up and brushed himself off with a smile.

    Cassandra laughed.
    "You're the duke, are you not? Surely you're free to comment on everything!"

    "If there's one thing I've learned from watching my father and Oberhoheit, it's that a man is always free to be burned to death," Frederik said. "The choice is his."

    "Ah, but love is such sweet fire to be burned in..." Cassie feigned a swoon. "Or so the poets tell me, anyway. I suppose I wouldn't really know."

    She narrowed her eyes at him in scrutiny.
    "Truly, then, you've no interest in any of that? Love, romance, sweeping some fair soul off their feet?"

    Frederik shook his head. "The ephemeral fancies of poets are not for me. I am the prince of soldiers, so it's only fitting that my joy is the company of knights and philosophers," he said.

    "Is it? Hmm." Cassandra wondered. "I've known a few soldiers in my time, and as many as didn't, they talked of ephemeral things as hope on the fields of blood as much as they did anything else." She shrugged. "But we are who we are, aren't we?"

    "Indeed so. Though the Princeguard have changed, they've also stayed just the same," Frederik said. He turned to leave. "It will be interesting to see what we can accomplish now that we have our hands on the reins of Pruss."

    "It will indeed." Cassandra grinned. "Now, be sure to eat plenty of meat and to drink far too much. Otherwise you'll stunt your growth. The more it hurts, the better you're doing."

    She paused.
    "... unless you start to feel a sudden, stabbing pain in the left side of your temple. Then go and find Pieri."

    Frederik blinked. "What happens then? No, on second thought, I don't want to know," he said.

    Cassandra smiled and patted the ailing duke amiably on the shoulder.
    "Don't worry, chief. We'll take good care of you."

    Frederik nodded. "Thank you, Cassandra," he said.

    What else are friends for, after all?

  24. Gamers Lounge Senior Member Boardwars Senior Member  #174
    FREEZE! Mokino's Avatar
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    Viktor carefully opened the door and peeked inside to see Pieri hunched over a book, scribbling down notes on another piece of parchment, an untouched platter with food and wine nearby. He gently closed the door behind him and poured her a glass of wine.

    "You shouldn't work too hard, you know. You need your rest too." He said as he lowered the glass in her field of vision.

    "Oh, hello Viktor," she was so engrossed in her work she didn't look at him as she picked up the glass, "I know I should take a break, but I've got a lot on my plate nowadays. Frederik's counting on me getting these strategies perfected."

    "There's a thing like trying to do too much." He looked over her shoulder at the scattered books and notes. "Everything going well, I hope?"

    "So far," she said with a sigh, "I keep having to consult other sources though," she gestured to a stack of books piled high to the ceiling, "Military history wasn't my thing. Never expected it to be relevant to my profession." (edited)

    "There's always some value in listening to words from the past, even when content might not be quite as relevant as you hope." (edited)

    "Believe me, I know," Pieri chuckled, "...I've been looking into family history in my spare time. since Minerva's given me access to the old records. It's been rather...enlightening to say the least."

    "Worse than you imagined?" Viktor asked nonchalantly as he pulled up a chair. He put the small package he was about to pull or back on his pocket. Now didn't seem like the right moment.

    Pieri laughed. "Quite the opposite actually. Assassins seem to be a minority of the family when you look at our history as a whole. Mages and scholars are slightly more dominant. What surprised me the most is exactly how long Minerva has been with us. She must be absolutely ancient. Please don't tell her I said that." (edited)

    "All dragons are ancient compared to humans. I don't think she'll be angry if one of us called them old." He thought Scott this for a second and corrected himself. "Well, maybe except for Sky."

    "Minerva is older than Baraq," Pieri smiled as she finished her current writing, setting the pen down gently. Finally, she turned to face Viktor. "So, what do you think? Does a Valentin stand a chance at being a successful Vice Marshal?"
    Viktor narrowed his eyes and tilted his head as he studied her carefully. "Hmmm. Maybe... But there's something missing... I know!"

    He stood up and presented the package to her with a flourish. "Maybe this will help."
    "...I really will need to pay you back for this one day," Pieri gave an amused snort as she opened the gift.

    Inside of the package was an exquisite silver chain necklace, decorated with dozens of small opals. Underneath the necklace lay what looked like a finely crafted medal.

    "I know Vice Marshall is a worthy title nowadays, but they used to come with more regalia. So I asked around, and since nobody knows what happened to the old medals... so I had them remade. Even though they don't like to admit it, soldiers respect stuff like that."

    "You have to ?earn? medals, Viktor," Pieri said with a laugh, "It's beautiful though. I'll save it for more formal occasions."
    "I'm glad you like it. The chain isn't part of it though, that's just a gift." He sat back down and hesitated. "Listen, I'm going away on some errands tomorrow and I might be gone for a while. Would you mind if I spend the rest of today with you?"

    "I'm sure I can spare the time."
    "Says the lady who forgot to eat because she was too busy." (edited)

    "I...have a lot to prove," she replied, "I'm a Valentin. It's going to take a lot of work before I'm trusted as a commander."
    Viktor frowned. "You keep saying that. Is your name such a burden to you?"
    "It is somewhat," Pieri smiled, "I just have to change their preconceptions."

    "Maybe. Or perhaps you should be less concerned with what others think of you or your house. You know what the reputation of our house is like. Ruthless, money grubbing scum barely fit to be nobles." He shrugged. "And yet they change their tone when they realise we have something they need."

    "I require the cooperation of the army," Pieri insisted, "To that end, I do need to care about what they think of me and I've been successful at that I think. By being myself and doing things my way when necessary. When we run these drills, for instance," she gestured to the pages, "I do not sit on the sidelines like most of the commanders of old, but practice alongside my men with Felicia or Elma acting as observer. I do believe it's helping."

    "Then you will earn the respect of your troops. You've done it before, and you will do so again. If you stop worrying about your name, then you'll find it's a lot easier to concentrate on the things that matter. Others can sense insecurity, even if you don't mean to show it."
    "I'm not worrying about it." Pieri laughed, "I just feel like I need to really earn this title. I'm an odd choice for it you have to admit."

    "Not really. I'm a decent rider but not much of a commander, and can you see Cassandra, Maximilian or Myska at the front of an army? You're by far the most qualified of us."

    "Cassandra might be able to lead on good looks and her father's authority alone," Pieri joked, "Maximillian could possibly command as well, but only if the army was composed entirely of women. I realize Frederik chose me because he trusts me, but I still have a lot to learn as far as being a leader. There's no shame in admitting that."

    "Fair enough. I concede the point." Viktor stood up and held out his hand. "And now, milady, we are leaving. The night is still young, and I'm willing to bet the old Duke never got around to fixing the gate behind the workshops." (edited)

    She took his hand. "If only we were home in Bremen," she said, "On nights like this the stars would shine so wonderfully over the water. One day I'll need to bring you to the estate. We've even got a vineyard rivalling many in Italia."

  25. #175
    Kustrin, Pruss

    Duke Frederik and his party were extremely busy after the coronation as the newly-crowned Duke toured the provinces of Pruss on Oberhoheit’s back. While Soltriér oversaw military preparations in Berlain alongside ancient Minerva, Lord Viktor Eisenwald was in charge of the Duke’s security alongside Frederik’s favourite, Hans von Katte. For the most part, it was a tedious experience as Viktor and a contingent of his dragoons held back the cheering crowds of commoners and vetted the inns they stayed at along the way. The greatest strain they experienced was finding enough food for Oberhoheit.

    Kustrin was a dour border town close to Parland mostly notable for its large military fortress. The party reached the town in the evening and paraded through the streets while Oberhoheit flew above at a leisurely pace. Frederik rode Akrayalcea and waved from the heart of the ring of soldiers protecting him, but even Viktor could tell the Duke was exhausted. The strains of a journey aside, Frederik’s body was under stress from the transition as the dragon’s flame transformed him. Knowing his duty, Lord Eisenwald swiftly led the party to the fortress at Kustrin where they could rest. A grateful Frederik swiftly retired and was soon followed by the other members of his party.

    Viktor woke in the middle of the night to the sudden sound of gunfire. He quickly grabbed belt with his pistol, daggers and sword and threw it on, not even bothering with a change of clothes. He pushed through the commotion in the halls and made his way to the the Duke's chambers.

    The dragoons posted on the door lay dead in a pool of blood, but Hans had already rallied his men with sword in hand and driven the intruders back. The two parties exchanged fire down the draughty corridor; Viktor couldn't recognise who their enemies were, but their nondescript clothes belied their military bearing. Besides, they'd brazenly attacked a fortress head on. Something dangerous was afoot. Hans crouched behind a pillar and nodded at Viktor. "Timely, my lord. The Duke is safe inside his chambers. Your orders?"

    "Guard the Duke and make sure nobody gets close to him. And I mean ?nobody?." He peeked around the corner and quickly pulled back his head when a lead ball whizzed by his face. He motioned at the nearest dragoons. "Ready your sabers. You there at the back, open fire on my mark."

    He waited for a particularly heavy salvo from the enemy and nodded. "Open fire!" The dragoons stepped out and send a hail of lead flying towards the enemy, and in their wake, the rider and his soldiers charged.

    (Create advantage [Soldiery 1]: Coordinated Assault. 0, No advantage but the enemy gives ground regardless and VIktor and the dragoons drive them back)

    Viktor led the men with vigor, but the enemy force fought back with equal skill and determination and the two sides remained deadlocked. Still, a Rider's charge was sufficient to force the attackers into a headlong retreat. Viktor cut down two men with his sabre and rushed forwards to pursue his prey, but he was interrupted by a sudden hum.

    (Viktor rolls Notice, 3. Success.)

    Viktor spotted the carefully prepared runic traps and threw himself safely past them. "Take cover!" he roared. Fortified by his warning, his men pressed themselves behind the pillars of the doorways and were spared the full force of the explosion, but part of the corridor still came crashing down and Viktor was momentarily separated from his men. The enemy was slipping away; he could chase them now at risk of his own life, or wait a moment to regroup with the dragoons behind him.

    (Create advantage: The Weakest Link. [Fight 3] Quickly assess which ones are the most vulnerable. Viktor rolls Fight vs Soldiery to create an advantage, 2 vs 2. He gains a boost.)

    "Seal off the castle. See that they do not escape!" he bellowed before setting off after the fleeing assassins. Seeing the soldiers a few feet away, he slid his sabre back into its scabbard and pulled two daggers from his belt. They were surprised to see the rider survive the explosion, giving him a precious moment to locate the ones with the slowest reactions and dive amongst them, daggers flashing.

    (Partisans 1 roll to attack with Fight, 4 vs 6. Failure. Viktor invokes a Boost, 4 vs 9. Viktor succeeds with style on fight defence and ripostes, inflicting a 2 shift hit and gaining a boost. Two soldiers die. Partisans 2 roll to attack with Shoot, 3 vs 4. Failure. Partisans 3 roll to attack with Shoot, 3 vs -1. Viktor takes 4 stress damage.)

    Though the first group made timely thrusts with their bayonets that would have caught out a lesser man, Viktor contemptuously batted their blows aside with his twin daggers. Following through on the parry he slashed his blades down as he stepped in. The nearest two soldiers dropped to the ground while clawing at their necks, blood bubbling up from their cut throats. The others assassins unleashed a hail of musket fire towards him. Most of the shots missed as he ducked under them, but one managed to graze his shoulder, knocking him off balance momentarily.

    (Viktor rolls to attack with Fight, 2 vs 5. Partisan 1 succeeds with style on defence and gains a boost. Partisan Officer attacks with Fight, 1 vs 2. Failure. Partisan Officer spends a boost, 3 vs 2. Success. Partisans 2 attack with Shoot, 4 vs 2. Viktor takes 2 stress damage. Partisans 3 attack with Shoot, 3 vs 0. Viktor takes 3 stress damage.)

    Viktor stepped in to finish off the last target, but his opponent drew a sword from beneath his cloak and expertly parried the blow. Surprised by the perfect timing and the long-bladed weapon, the Rider was thrown momentarily off-balance despite his superior size. That was confirmation enough- as if any was needed- that he was fighting skilled soldiers. Exploiting the opening, the officer stepped forwards and slashed at Viktor. Though the agile rider evaded the worst of the blow, his arm was gashed.Rallied by the sight of their officer facing down the rider, the intruders raked Viktor with fire. Though he managed to avoid the worst of the barrage, his arms were scored with shallow wounds.

    (Viktor attacks with Fight, 5 vs 1. Success. Viktor invokes Rider Superiority twice, 9 vs 1. All opponents killed.)

    Viktor gritted his teeth and snarled in anger as the assassins' assault intensified. They felt they needed to sneak into the castle to assassinate the Duke in his bed, but now they thought they could kill a rider in single combat? It was time to disabuse them of that notion.

    Viktor foot lashed out as the officer lunged forward to attack. His eyes widened and his face went pale as his bones broke and his leg bent at an unnatural angle. His howl of pain echoed across the hall, until Viktor ended it with a swift punch. As the man fell unconscious, Viktor set upon the others in an orgy of destruction, blades cutting through arteries and puncturing skulls. The final soldier attempted to get a shot off, but Viktor ripped the musket out of his hands at rammed it, bayonet and all, through the man's chest and out of his back. With the assassins dead, he walked back to the officer and carefully stripped him of all weapons before lifting him over his shoulder.

    Viktor was walking back towards the other dragoons with his prisoner in tow when he was approached by a frantic ensign. "My lord, some manner of runic arts is sealing the Duke's doorway! We can't enter. The men are trying to batter it down now, but without success."

    Viktor hesitated.He didn't know much about magic, and dearly wished he had paid more attention to Pieri when she talked about it. They locked the Duke in with runic arts? So they either placed the barricade when he was fighting the soldiers, or they placed it before. Why? He cursed out loud and tossed the unconscious man on the ground and pointed to a nearby dragoon.

    "This is one of the assassins. Make sure he doesn't escape." He turned back to the ensign. "We're going to fly. Have some dragoons mount up and secure the outside, I'm taking my chains and going ahead. And someone warn Oberhoheit. NOW!"

    "Sir, yes, sir," the ensign said. He scrambled back to his men.

    Viktor swiftly retrieved his chains and dived out of the window of his room. His runic stakes carved into aged stone and hauled him across the side of the keep. Time was of the essence.

    (Viktor rolls Athletics to overcome, 3. Success.)

    Viktor timed his swing perfectly and crashed through the window into the Duke's room. Hans was locked in mortal combat with a hooded warrior armed with a fine steel longsword while Frederik took cover behind his bed and exchanged fire with a hooded woman armed with a long staff. No one had expected the Rider's intervention until he was upon them, and Viktor caught his enemies flat footed as he moved to engage.

    (Viktor rolls to attack with Fight vs Will, 3 vs 2. He inflicts 1 stress damage. Situation Aspects: Rider Superiority 2, Poisoned Sword 1)

    Wasting no time, he rushed forward and charged the woman. She quickly summoned a runic ward to hold the rider back, but there was not enough time to complete the spell before he was upon her. Viktor burst through the ward and rammed his shoulder into the woman, knocking her back a few steps.

    (Partisan Knight, 3. Viktor, 2. Frederik, 2. Hans, -1. Partisan Mage, -1.)

    Startled into action by the sudden assault, the enemy knight charged Hans in an effort to finish off the doughty Prussian. Though his nondescript leathers concealed his identity, this intruder possessed a pair of runic chains, instantly marking him out as a man of breeding.

    (Partisan Knight rolls Fight vs Fight, 0 vs 3. Hans succeeds with style on defence and gains a Boost.)

    Hans grinned as he moved his greatsword fluidly despite the close quarters to parry the hasty blow and knock his enemy off balance. "Not before time, Lord Eisenwald, but be careful. The blade's poisoned, and I do confess it's starting to tell," he said.

    While Viktor prepared for the right moment to strike, Frederik took command of the situation. "Hans, Viktor, regroup on me. Give me a clear line of fire, then we'll press the attack," he snapped.

    (Frederik rolls Soldiery (Command) vs Fight to create an advantage, 3 vs 2. He creates the advantage Coordinated Fighting with one free invoke.)

    The two knights smoothly followed their lord's orders and split the two enemies. Viktor grabbed one of his runic chains stakes and lashed out at the knight. The man raised is blade to parry the attack, but was driven back by the sheer power of the blow. The stake slid downwards along his blade, its sharp barbs ripping a bloody gash across the Partisan Knight's hand.

    (Viktor rolls to attack with Fight vs Fight, 5 vs 2. Viktor invokes Rider Superiority twice, 9 vs 2. Partisan Knight spends a Fate Point and invokes Martyr Knight, 9 vs 4. Partisan Knight takes 3 stress damage and the -2 Consequence Bloodied Hand.)

    "We're outmatched!" the mage shouted. She clapped her hands together and invoked the runes of illusion and deceit. The Prussians stepped back as the mage's cunning art seeped into their consciousness and refracted dozens of uncanny images in the corner of their eyes. Strange beasts more suited to the shadow than the true world battered their senses and slowed their pursuit as the mage ran for the window.

    (Partisan Mage rolls Lore vs Will to create an advantage, 3 vs 2. She creates the situation aspect 'Chaotic Illusions' with one free invoke. Hans rolls to attack with Fight vs Fight, 3 vs 1. Partisan Knight invokes Poisoned Blade, 3 vs 3. Failure. Hans invokes 'Coordinated Fighting' and his boost, 7 vs 3. Partisan Knight takes the -4 Consequence Broken Arm.)

    Hans roared and charged as the knight moved to cover the mage's retreat. Pain surged through him as he stepped in and crumpled his usually perfect form, but his advantageous positioning and sheer willpower let him follow through before his enemy could react. Though they blocked his hammer blow, he drove the flat through with brutal force and smashed the man's forearm.

    Overmatched, the intruder sheathed his sword and picked up the hooded mage with his remaining good arm. His chains shot towards the window in a single fluid motion as he forced his battered body onwards.

    (Partisan Knight rolls Athletics +2 vs Fight, 2 vs 4. He invokes Chaotic Illusions, 4 vs 4. He is able to escape out the window, but Viktor gains the advantage 'Tenacious Pursuit' with a free invoke. Viktor spends a Fate Point to invoke Blessing of Jalren: Endings. He rolls to attack with Will +4 vs Athletics, 6 vs -1. Partisan Knight takes 7 shifts of damage and is killed.)

    The intruder leapt blindly out of the window and barely caught himself with his chains before he dashed himself to ruin on the ground below. Viktor burst through the illusions assailing him and landed on the windowsill with exceptional reflexes. Viktor closed his eyes and reached out to the essence of Jalren. Every cultist experienced her presence differently, and Viktor could feel her presence all the time. To him there was a spark of the Angel of Beginnings and Endings within every living being. He stretched out his hand towards the fleeing pair, wrapping his mind around the fleeing man's essence and concentrated on his wounded arm.

    He smiled as an ember of light burst into life between his fingers. There was no escape for the knight now. He balled his fist and pulled. The knight started screaming as his arm started tearing itself apart. The gash ripped itself further along his arm towards his face as his bones splintered and collapsed in on itself. Viktor severed the connection between their minds before the wet ruin of the knight's corpse hit the pavement.

    The woman sprawled across the ground, reached for the fallen knight, then drove her fist into the pavement and screamed in primal agony. Startled guards looked down at her from the walls and opened fire, but their wild shots missed their mark. The mage clapped her hands. The fortress shook as a dozen runic traps detonated and killed a handful of guards in an instant. Broken masonry tumbled down around them. The mage snatched up the fallen knight's sword and vanished into the tunnel her runes had exposed.

    Hans panted for breath. "Thank the King you told me to stay here. But I'm afraid I'm feeling a little under the weather, so the rest is up to you," he said.

    Frederik looked up as Oberhoheit took flight over the castle. "I will join the Father Dragon. Pursue the assassin and enact my judgement," he instructed Viktor tersely.

    (Viktor rolls Athletics to overcome, 1. He invokes 'Tenacious Pursuit' 3. Success.)

    Viktor turned around without a word and leapt from the windowsill, throwing his chains at the last moment to maximize his velocity. He hit the ground running and sprinted towards the tunnel. He hesitated briefly when he reached the edge, remembering the runic traps that nearly cost his life mere moments ago. He unholstered his pistol and saber, moving into the gaping darkness with speed and purpose.

    The Tunnels

    The aged stone tunnels likely predated the fortress in its modern form. There was no sign they'd been used in a very long time indeed. Viktor stooped to protect his head and moved carefully through the darkness. Before Kustrin had been granted to the Knights of the Temple, it had been a Parlish town called Cozsterine. Viktor was no expert on the subject, but perhaps the tunnels dated back as far as that era. There was no way to know where they led. Either way, he was badly winded and risked encountering more runic traps. Perhaps it would be wise to take his time so he could recover his strength. On the other hand, to dawdle would risk giving his quarry more time to prepare an ambush or escape.

    He stopped and took a moment to regain his breath. Though he was loathe to admit it, the fights had exhausting, and using Jalren's death curse had taken a toll on his mind. If he rushed after the woman like a headless chicken, odds were he wouldn't make it out of the tunnel alive.

    The moment his breaths became less ragged Viktor lifted his weapons and set off after the assassin once more. He moved through the tunnels with care, looking for footprints or the slightest movement and listening for sounds close and distant.

    (Viktor rolls Notice, -1. Failure. He takes 4 stress damage.)

    Viktor focused intensely on the tunnel in front of him, but he stepped over a runic trap that detonated the moment it was behind him. He managed to instinctively hurl himself out from under the collapsing rock, but the flame arts still scorched his back and left a vivid mark.

    With his way back buried in stone, Viktor forged onwards, bypassing the remaining traps. At the end of the tunnel, he emerged into an uneven natural cave. It was hard to say how far he had come, but the air in the cave was thick and so laden with magic even he could feel it. He stiffened as the mage stepped out of the shadows and raised the fallen knight's sword with both hands. She'd traced runes in blood across her cheeks. "This body is a vessel. I will give my life to avenge Rostek," she said. Her eyes were ringed with red, but now they were fixed and steady. Viktor had fought enough battles to fear those who accepted their own death. The mage channelled a wild burst of magic through the sword and hurled it headlong at the Rider.

    (Situation Aspects: Runic Traps 2, Rider Superiority 2, Unstable Magic. Kazimiera, 4. Viktor, 2. Kazimiera rolls to attack with Lore, 1 vs 2. Failure. Viktor rolls to attack with Fight vs Will, 2 vs 3. Failure.)

    "I'm sure he would appreciate the thought," Viktor said as he sidestepped the sorcerous bolt and hacked at her sword arm.

    "He will appreciate your corpse, Rider!" The mage forced his sword away from her body with swiftly invoked runes. Blood dripped from her hands as she moved to strike again.

    (Kazimiera rolls to attack with Lore, 7 vs 3. Kazimiera invokes Runic Traps twice, 11 vs 3. Viktor invokes Rider Superiority twice, 11 vs 7. He takes 2 stress damage and the -2 Consequence 'Bloodied Hand'.)

    The mage rode her anger and unleashed a blazing bolt of force with the sword that erupted between them and threw Viktor back into the waiting runic traps. For a moment it looked like he would be swallowed by a wave of fire, but he dug deep into his reserves of strength and jumped clear in a single heroic bound. He crested the arc of his jump with his sword raised above his head only to find the mage waiting for him. She hurled a blazing bolt straight towards him with her sword and split open his sword hand as he crashed down.

    (Kazimiera rolls to attack with Lore, 5 vs 4. She inflicts one stress damage. (Viktor rolls to attack with Fight vs Will, 3 vs 2. He inflicts 1 stress damage.)

    Viktor and the mage swiftly found themselves locked in a deadly struggle as her bolts clashed with his deadly sabre. The mage barely turned his slash aside and retaliated with a bolt of flame that brushed the tips of his fingers. Sweat beaded her brow as they continued to fight.

    (Kazimiera rolls to attack with Lore, 7 vs 0. Viktor spends a Fate Point to invoke Guardian of the Throne and reroll, 7 vs 1.)

    Viktor stepped in and slashed open the mage's cheek with his darting saber. She forced his blade back with an act of will and brought her sword to guard. "I am Kazimiera Leszek. This cave shall be our tomb," she said. Runes were engraved in the cold steel and the blade was wreathed in a pure white light for a moment before she invoked Laksaeto's name and drove her sword into the ground. The rock around them was shattered by a thousand formless blades and collapsed inwards in a torrent fit to bury everything. Viktor fought in vain against the tide before being dragged under and into darkness.

    Jalren's light was with him. Hours later, the Rider woke to the sound of frantic activity. His body was on fire and his arm was twisted at an unnatural angle under the crushing rock. After a moment's vain struggle to move, he called out with a hoarse voice. After a moment's shocked silence, soldiers barked orders and the sound of digging intensified. Viktor lapsed back into half-consciousness.

    Viktor woke again to see his loyal drake Bazdanvan knocking away the rest of the rubble covering his body. The drake licked away the dust caking Viktor's face and nodded briefly to his master.

    "Bring up a stretcher. We'll take him upside immediately," Frederik barked. The Duke knelt by Viktor's side and offered his Left Hand a flask of water. "Thank the King you're alive, Viktor. If it wasn't for Bazdanvan's nose, we'd have been searching fruitlessly for weeks."

    (Viktor gains the -4 Consequence Broken Arm and is fatigued. He is otherwise unharmed, praise be to Jalren.)

    He accepted the flask and took a sip of water, wincing as the washed down the dust and sand in his throat. "Sorceress... collapsed the tunnel on top of me. Maybe herself too."

    Frederik nodded. "We found a broken staff, but nothing else. Perhaps she's buried under the rubble, or perhaps she fled with the drakes yesterday. Either way, you're our priority right now," he said. He stepped back as the stretcher arrived. "Let's get you back underneath Jalren's sun."

    Krustin Fortress

    Half a day later, Viktor's injuried were treated and his strength restored by a meal and a much-needed rest. With his strength partially restored, he met with Frederik to discuss the sudden assault prior to their return to Berlain. "We interrogated the prisoner you took. Using humane methods, of course. I won't stoop to the level of these barbarians," Frederik said. "They're Parlish dragoons who deserted as part of this madcap attempt to end my life. The man swears blind 'his Duke' told them that Pruss was planning to invade and partition Parland alongside Russ, so their leader thought to turn bandit and kill me. If it wasn't for your valour and leadership, they would likely have succeeded. But he won't tell me which Duke sent them."

    "It doesn't really matter which one of the Dukes it was. They're our enemies either way." Viktor's eyes searched the room, expecting enemies to jump out from the shadows. "I should have searched the castle more thoroughly before letting you rest here."

    Viktor dropped to one knee and presented Frederik with his saber. “My lord. I ask you to relieve me of my duties as Left Hand. You need somebody who can protect you and strike at your foes. Recent events including those of today, have shown that I am unable to protect myself, let alone another.“

    “Ever since your return to court I have not been able to serve you adequately, and to continue as the Left Hand would do nothing but bring shame to your rule, my house, and be a risk to your health and safety. There are riders far more experienced and capable than I am, and you will find them better suited to the tasks of your Left Hand.”

    Frederik sighed and folded his hands behind his back. "Tell me, Viktor, would you have me abdicate if I lose a single battle?"

    "Depends on the battle and the magnitude of your loss." Viktor replied.

    "A prudent answer. Unfortunately for you, I will never abdicate, though there may be a defeat that will leave me with no choice but to take my own life," Frederik said. "You did fine work yesterday. You assumed command, sent Hans to my side when I needed him most, and single-handedly took the head of the enemy leader and all his line dragoons. Though you were overcome by the last of them, that responsibility also lies with me. I gave a reckless order for you to continue your pursuit, knowing full well you were exhausted by your exertions against the others and had no support. I underestimated the enemy and nearly lost a valuable subordinate for the sake of my pride. If you would criticise yourself, Viktor, you must first criticise me. And I am in no mood for such insubordination."

    [Compel: Paranoia] “An enemy that came after us because they overheard a plan I suggested in the first place! A better warrior would not have fallen for her runic traps. A mage could have undone them with a thought. A mage that I should have brought with us to begin with. Now we have a dangerous enemy out for your blood close by, and I have nothing to blame for our losses but my own inattention.”

    "Though you coveted Pomerania, it was my plan to ally with Russ. Putting that aside, I do not expect perfection. If you wish to apologise for your failures, learn from this experience and ensure you do not make the same mistakes again," Frederik said. He put a hand on the flat of Viktor's saber and stared down at the rider. "I chose to entrust you with my back, and I do not regret that. You retain my full confidence."

    Viktor slowly and hesitantly lowered his saber and put it back on his belt. It was encouraging to hear that at least somebody has confidence in him, even if he lost his own. He stood up, wincing as the bones in his arm ground together unpleasantly.

    "It shall be so."

    "Good," Frederik said. He turned away and slid his hands into the pockets of his jacket. "If nothing else, this little farce has demonstrated that my entourage is not to be taken lightly. But I have no desire to linger in this broken-down border fort any longer. Let's return to Berlain, where the weather is a little better than here."

    (Pruss gains + Authority, failure. +1 bonus is accumulated.)
    Last edited by Kronoch; 29th May 16 at 1:51 PM.

  26. Gamers Lounge Senior Member Boardwars Senior Member  #176
    FREEZE! Mokino's Avatar
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    Drakkenheim, Outskirts

    "Okay, one more loop! Just as before!" Pieri called out as she led the dragoons into another tight maneauver. As a coordinated group, the soldiers and their drakes surged between the towers of the fortress, weaving their way through the battlements with precision and speed.

    As they reached the northern wall and began to circle around for another pass, the Vice Marshal caught sight of a familiar figure making his way into the forest accompanied by their drake.

    "Thorn, take the lead! Two more passes and take a leave. Do it right and drinks are on me tonight! You've all earned it today." She seperated from the pack, Dustvael gliding smoothly to the surface.

    "Going out for an evening stroll?" Pieri teased.

    "You know me, never able to sit still." Viktor's smile was strained as Pieri and Dustvael landed on the grass. He shifted uncomfortably on Bazdanvan's back as the drake trotted towards the forest edge, his broken right arm resting against his body. The drake glanced back at Viktor and snorted in amusement.

    "I think I shall do the hunting tonight, Man of Iron Wood."

    "Hunting? With that arm?" Pieri flashed him a dirty look, "At least let me tend to it. We'll discuss your hunting afterwards."

    "I'm fine," Viktor growled as he dismounted and pulled his longbow off his back. "This is not nearly as bad as it-"

    His sentence devolved into a string of nearly incomprehensible curses as he tried to nock an arrow and pull the bowstring taut. The pain in his right arm overwhelmed him, forcing him to drop both the bow and arrow.

    Pieri shook her head. Viktor was stubborn as always, but she liked that about him. "Let me look at it," she said in a tone that made it clear she wasn't up for an argument." Without waiting for an answer she grabbed his arm and inspected it.

    Viktor waited patiently as Pieri went to work, studying her face as she concentrated on her spells. He briefly remembered being crushed under a mountain of sand, mud and rock. Of all the glorious deaths while defending the realm that he imagined for himself, being buried alive in some backwater village hadn't been one of them.

    Even so, it wasn't his near brush with death that had shaken him. Though it cost him considerable difficulty, Viktor forced the words from his lips .

    "I know you are supposed to... accept the end when it is your time" he said. "But I have to admit... When I was stuck there, in the dark, unable to move, the only thing I could think of was you. I was so terrified that I wouldn't be able to see you again."

    "It's a good thing that it wasn't your time," Pieri said softly as she worked, "I...really don't know what I'd do without you. I certainly wouldn't be able to do all this." She turned and raised a hand as the dragoons approached overhead, drawing a small runic circle with her fingers. Briefly, her hand flashed with a green light. Above the dragoons turned again back towards the fortress, vanishing quickly behind the treetops, "I took your advice," she added with a gentle smile, "I daresay they seem to prefer my way of doing things over a commander who sits at a table all day."

    "See? They just needed some time to adjust. I knew you would convince them." Viktor winced as Pieri's magic forced an errant bone splinter back in place. "You know, I enjoy receiving your attentions, but this is not exactly what I had in mind back at the ball. We have to stop meeting like this."

    "Agreed, though your timing is rather fortuitous," Pieri said with a chuckle as she finished her work. She walked over to her mount, removing a rather large and heavily cloth-wrapped package from the saddle. She spoke as she sat it down gently in front of Viktor. "You know, hunting with that arm is likely to impress Akai even with my aid, but I think this will help as well. You've given me enough gifts that I feel it's time I returned the favor."

    "Is it a runic trap detector?" he asked as he unfolded the cloth. Bazdanvan was unable to contain its curiosity and leaned in, nudging Viktor with his beak and it looked over his shoulder.

    "I'm afraid not," Pieri said with a small sigh, "Such a device would require a mirrorsmith and...well, I'm still learning but I did commission this from a local bowyer." Spread out on the cloth was a shortbow of polished light-colored wood inscribed with runic lettering. The handle was carved to resemble a dragon's head with a close resemblance to Soltríer, "I...thought it might inspire you on your hunting. Plus, it's a lot easier to draw than most normal bows and a bit lighter to carry."

    Viktor didn't reply as he inspected the craftsmanship and tested the tension. It truly was a wonderful bow. The dragonshead carving looked like it could come alive at any moment, the lettering was beautiful, and he couldn't deny it felt good in his hands. He put the bow back down carefully, stood up, pulled Pieri close and kissed her.

    Pieri held him tight for a moment before gently, reluctantly pulling back. "You're very welcome," she said with a wide grin, taking two satchels from her belt and tossing them over, "Some snacks for the road and a tip: look out for a round dark red berry in the bushes. The local deer seem to love them, but get a bit lethargic after eating. Should make good bait."

    "Thank you, milady. But I fear being buried alive has damaged my sight as well. I'm not too sure I will be able to find the berries without help." Viktor said, dismayed at the thought of having to do without her company.

    "Firemane speaks truthful. I know the ones she means." Bazdanvan spoke as it prodded him with its beak. Viktor rolled his eyes at the drake's helpful but oblivious nature.


    "May Akai guide you then," Pieri gave him a playful slap on the back, "Good luck on the hunt."

    "And may Jalren guide light your path, milady." He bowed respectfully before lifting his new bite and disappearing into the forest in the wake of Bazdanvan.

  27. #177
    Drakkenheim, Pruss

    The pain was finally starting to fade; her broken ribs had been expertly welded back together and left to settle, with her supernatural regeneration left to attend to the rest of the damage on its own. Thanks to Sky's undying furnace, she would be as good as new once the healing process was complete – most wouldn't have been so lucky with the same injuries. Though, she reflected, most of them wouldn't have survived the building's collapse at all.

    Her dragon still wasn't talking to her much, instead having taken to roaming the Prussian countryside like a scorned cat, flitting out of sight whenever Cassandra caught her looking. Evidently, she still hadn't been forgiven for almost leaving Sky alone in the world.

    Sighing softly to herself, she put aside the cracked mask she'd worn in her battle with Rilath's servant and looked down at the courtyard below, where some of the duke's newly minted dragoons were running evening drills.

    They seemed untroubled by the dark grey storm clouds above, swollen with rain yet to fall. The weather seemed... appropriate, given recent events, Cassie thought.

    A loud knock on her door interrupted her train of thought. The door opened before she could answer, and a young woman in a healer's garb marched into the room.

    "Good evening, milady," she said with a radiant smile. "My apologies for the interruption, but lady Valentin asked us to check up you."

    "Did she, now?" Cassandra replied, half-turning to scrutinise this new interloper. Her crimson eyes narrowed at the subtle note of deception in the woman's voice. The woman smiled confidently and kept walking, crossing the distance between them with brisk strides.

    "That's close enough." Cassandra said, holding up a hand and calling for the runes in her mind. A telekinetic wall of force sprung to life between them, barring the 'healer' from taking another step. Another gesture, and the door the young girl had entered through slammed shut behind her.

    The girl stopped and raised her hands in a sign of submission, the smile never leaving her face. "There's no need to get upset. I'm only here to help."

    Cassandra tilted her head, leaving the invisible walls precisely where they were. "You lied when you told me why you were here." Cassandra pointed out. "That's not the best way to confirm good intentions."

    "They say a scion of the Imperial line can discern lies at a glance. I was merely curious to see if it was true. Besides, it wasn't a complete fabrication. The best lies have an element of truth to them, and I am here to see how you are doing."

    "And you thought the best way to discover the truth of those rumours was to test an injured dragon rider?" An amused little smile played across Cassandra's lips, as she levitated a stack of books along with a sword from the wall and made them dance in the air. "An interesting way to go about things..."

    "That's what we do," the young woman said. "After all, the poison of Rilath tends to stick to those battling them, even if they are unaware of it. Best way to find out is to prod them a little bit. The victims tend to fall prone to sudden outbursts of violence."

    Cassandra snorted. "Victims of conspiracy becoming concerned about conspiracies? Surely you jest."

    "The others do tell me I have a great sense of humor. I am Lieutenant Hanna of the Pruss Venators. Lord Eisenwald asked us to look after you." She curtsied and produced the unmistakable shape of a Venator's ring from her pocket.

    "Interesting." Cassandra mused, examining the ring. Upon satisfying herself that it was genuine, she allowed her telekinetic fields to lapse into nothing. "Lord Eisenwald is concerned about me, then? Perhaps I should have bodyguards."

    "Due to the recent run ins with followers of Rilath, he thought it prudent to furnish you with additional protection." Hanna smiled. "What he actually said was more along the lines of ?make sure she doesn't bury herself again."

    Cassandra chuckled lightly. "Will Lord Eisenwald be the beneficiary of a similar aegis, I wonder?" She mused. "I seem to recall, he almost suffered that very same fate not so long ago."

    "Still, if you wish to offer me your protection, I shall not refuse it."

    "Splendid. You won't be disappointed," the young woman said as she removed a small leather case with medical equipment from her pocket. "Now let's see how your wounds are healing."

    Cassandra chuckled, holding up her hand. "I'm doing just fine, thank you. Lady Valentin is quite exceptional at what she does. Now, if you're to be shadowing me, I'd like to know a little about you. Tell me about yourself."

    "Hanna Sieverding, milady. Part of the Pruss Venators, Lieutenant and chief medical officer. Don't be impressed by the ranks, they don't mean much. We worked in secret until very recently, when Lord Eisenwald invited us back in, so to speak." She shrugged. "They tell me I'm very funny, though they rarely seem to laugh. I also killed a demon by stabbing it with its own femur."

    "Ranks and titles rarely mean anything, until they mean everything." Cassandra noted dryly. "What sort of demon was it?"

    "A Black Felhorn. Not the most cunning of fiends, but as big as a drake and able to take four times the punishment. Vicious buggers." She put the case back in her pocket and studied the assorted knickknacks in Cassandra's room.

    "I wouldn't poke too many of those, if I were you," Cassandra noted airily. "Some of them might explode."

    "I wouldn't dream of it," the girl said. After a moment she finished her inspection of the room and returned to Cassandra's side. "I'll try to stay out of your hair, milady. After a few hours, you won't even know I'm there anymore. I know this is hardly ideal, but I mean to cause you no discomfort."

    Cassandra chuckled, amused by this odd little Venator's brazen disregard for their respective stations.

    "Make no mistake, you're here because I allow it." She replied, her tone amused. "And when I require privacy, I expect you to respect that. Or I shall have Sky dangle you from a mountaintop. Am I understood?"

    "Perfectly, milady." Hanna said with a smile and a curtsy. "Now, can I get you anything?"

  28. #178
    Wandering Swordsman Lestaki's Avatar
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    Oct 2005
    London, Blighty
    Throne Room, Pruss
    “Thank you all for your sage advice. It is clear there is much to be done, and I am sure we will return to the issues at hand many times in future,” Frederik said. “However, I must start as I mean to go on, and it is my fixed intention to rule in an enlightened way befitting of a philosopher prince. To that end, I will begin by outlawing all uses of judicial torture within my realm. Even if our enemies are the servants of Rilath, we shall not make martyrs of them, but shall be guided by Haron’s wisdom and judgement in interrogating and punishing them without relying on barbaric methods. Lady Cassandra, can I ask you to take responsibility for this policy?”

    "They like it when you give them the chance to go out with a bang, anyway," Cassandra replied, her voice wry from recent experience. "It's better this way. I'll see it done."

    Frederik nodded. “We leave it in your hands. Now, there is much to be done. Do not linger here unduly, but return to your provinces and prepare them for the battles to come,” he said.

    The Riders bowed to their lord and departed. For better or for worse, war had come again to Pruss after years of peace. Now all they could do was follow through with all their skill and courage.

    Cassandra in particular was busy. The scattered courts of the land and the provincial soldiers who kept the uneasy peace were less than willing to easily abandon any privileges they’d obtained, however abhorrent. They could be counted on to resist by every method of obfuscation, legal argument, and quiet disobedience that occurred to them. But Haron’s cultists were well aware of such tricks, and Cassandra moved quickly and decisively.

    (Cassandra rolls Lore to enforce the policy, 8. Success with Style. +Diplomacy, +Vigilance, no loss of authority. Diplomacy roll failure, bonus gained. Vigilance roll failure, bonus gained.)

    In consultation with senior members of Haron’s cult, she drafted an excellent ducal decree outlining the new policy. Though Frederik removed a rambling reference to the terrible and great emissary who would otherwise come to take up Rilath’s banner after being tortured by Prussian judges in 1793, the remainder of the decree was an elegant and unambiguous legal document that was promulgated throughout the land. Cassandra engaged in an extensive correspondence with nobles, judges, and officers throughout the land and batted down some half-hearted deceptions with her unblinking red eyes to ensure that her Duke’s will was done. Despite grumbling from the old nobility, the new policy was a success, and judicial torture was abolished both in law and in fact throughout Pruss. Though this reduced some of the old terror of the Hohenheim name, the execution of the policy had been so firm and evenhanded that Frederik’s administration commanded new respect among the populace at large.

    Kingsrest, Sors
    After a few frantic weeks, Duke Frederik and his trusty Princeguard travelled in secret to Sors to conclude negotiations with Emperor Artaxander and the Right Hand Augusta. They were accompanied by Duchess Amelia and Princess Louise, who was to be presented for the first time at the Imperial Court under the watchful eye of her sister-in-law. The capital was as restless as ever and even a Duke could pass swiftly and unmarked through the streets on drake-back without attracting any attention from the commoners bobbing around him. They were swiftly admitted to Kingsrest through a side gate.

    Frederik refreshed himself with a cup of wine and sighed. The growing pains of a new Rider had only been exacerbated by the long journey. He shrugged and smiled when Hans patted him on the shoulder in passing and turned to face the others. “I’m happy to say that I can handle the negotiations with Artaxander myself, though I imagine he’ll receive Cassandra as well. The rest of you should only approach him if you have business of sufficient gravity. As for the rest… Lord Betancourt, please escort my sister at court. Lord Eisenwald, the Venatori request your presence. Lady Feuergrau, Lady Pavesi requests your presence. Lady Anna Mendoza and Lord Luis Arleans are also present; please endeavour not to be challenged by Lord Arleans, or if you are, find some way to wriggle out of it without losing too much face. This is no time to be injured. I think that’s all,” he said.

    “The Right Hand has extended a gracious invitation to a small masquerade ball on Saturday night,” Duchess Amelia said primly. “I would recommend attending.”

    “Oh, yes. There was that, as well,” Frederik said. He sighed deeply. “In any case, entertain yourselves in moderation. When this is over, we go to war.”

  29. #179
    The Eyrie, Sors

    The Venator fortress of Sors lay across the river from Kingrest, connected to the insular Kerioth compound by a sprawling maze of tunnels. Viktor approached the heavily guarded front gates and was admitted without question by the Batavi Guard detail. An aide met him on the other side and swiftly guided him through the Eyrie’s layered security to the Red Room where the Paladin held court. Sir Adam Ishmael sprawled back in his seat at the head of the table and raised a hand in greeting as Viktor entered. “Good to see you again, Viktor. You know the Left Hand, I’m sure,” he said.

    Perseus, the Kerioth patriarch, pushed himself off the wall and nodded in greeting. As usual, his flowing white robes and blank white mask concealed his huge body. “Good to see you, Lord Eisenwald. Allow me to introduce my sister, Eris,” he said.

    A slightly shorter Kerioth swaddled in the same white robes nodded curtly. It was clear she was a youth of sixteen summers or so, still growing into a Rider’s body. For now, she was gangling and underweight relative to her height. Eris turned her head away from the newcomer.

    "It is a pleasure to meet you," he said with a polite bow to the young woman. The white robed guardians of the Emperor had always unnerved him, but he could never quite pinpoint why. The masks probably. Hard to judge a person's demeanor when you can't see their face.

    "And to see all of you again, of course. You're looking well, Sir Ishmael. Age has not slowed you down, I see."

    "If I can avoid the fangs of demons I should have a few years in me yet," Ishmael said. "And sadly we're always so busy I never have a chance to slow down. I can only hope Lady Eris will lessen our burden now she's come of age."

    "Inevitably. Just as long as your men don't slow me down, at least," Eris said.

    Viktor and Ishmael shared a smile, for a number of years ago a young Venator by the name of Eisenwald had said nearly the same thing at his induction into the order. "Then I will look forward to hearing about your exploits in the future."

    Eris shrugged and nodded.

    Ishmael poured a glass of wine and slid it across the table to Viktor. "How are things in Pruss? I do hope you've been tending to the garden since the late Duke sent us back," he said.

    Viktor sipped the wine thoughtfully before answering. "We've had a few unpleasant run-ins with the Emissaries of Rilath a while back, of which I'm sure you are aware. Pruss is doing well, all things considering, but the late Duke's policies have left their mark on the country. Without Venator vigilance, the cults of Rilath have spread. We are exterminating any that we find, but it's not an insignificant task. As the Left Hand of Duke Frederik I have repealed the orders by his late father, and the Venators are once again welcome in Pruss. Funding expeditions of the order however, will have to wait until after the war effort."

    Viktor brushed his hand through his hair. "The regular troops are simply not trained or equipped for the task. They don't know what to pay attention for, what to ask or what to look for. Though effective, the army is still a blunt instrument at best. We need trained men and women. That's why I have summoned your unit of... ?Venator irregulars? and have them lead the hunts.

    Perseus nodded his agreement. "Lords like you are most welcome, Lord Eisenwald, because you know how to hunt. But even your expertise pales in comparison to the knowledge and prowess of we Kerioth. We stand ready to act, knowing as we do that the shadow can spread like wildfire across all of Patria Sole once it has taken root anywhere. Pruss must once again do its duty, for its own sake and for the sake of its neighbours."

    Viktor looked at Perseus, Ishmael and Eris in turn. "Am I to assume we will have some extra company on our return journey?"

    Perseus chuckled. "That depends on my lord's will. But there have been discussions along those lines."

    "After all, the young Duke is currently in the Emperor's good graces," Ishmael said. "He is inclined to ensure you all don't drown in a sea of demons, and perhaps incidentally demonstrate the value of his friendship to the world. But that has little enough to do with me."

    Eris sighed. "Pruss. There are more romantic lands in the empire for my first journey," she grumbled.

    "You should see the groves, I hear they are spectacular." Lord Eisenwald briefly closed his eyes as he considered the situation. A Kerioth would be welcome assistance on the Rilathian hunts, but she could just as well function as an enforcer of the Emperor's will. After a moment's reflection, he made a decision.

    "Very well. I would not be opposed to it."

    "I enjoyed the part where he implied he had a choice," Eris quipped.

    "Your cooperation is most appreciated," Perseus said quickly. He shot his sister a warning glare.

    "On another note, how is Lady Cassandra faring?"

    "She doing fine when she's not chasing after the servants of Rilath or buried beneath several tonnes of broken beams and masonry." Viktor answered thoughtlessly as he considered the many, many ways he could make the life of the young Kerioth more difficult.

    Perseus groaned. "She should be more careful. Even if she doesn't have the status of a Princess, an Ascaes Erue should not be so eager to dive into danger," he said.

    "And yet they always do anyway. Why not leave them to it?" Eris said.

    Viktor slammed his glass down with more force than he had intended. "Tell me, young lady. Why do you fight?"

    "Because if I did not fight, I would be killed," Eris snapped back.

    Ishmael coughed. "All is and shall be," he said. "Let us be patient with one another."

    He ignored the Paladin's words and pushed on. "A sensible position. A fight for survival is something we all face during our lives. Paladin Ishmael, why do the Venators fight?"

    "There are as many reasons as we have men, I'm sure," Ishmael said. He shrugged. "Still, I dare say the order fights to protect Patria Sole from Rilath's evil. The Kerioth fight because that is the duty they were born to."

    "And the duty we die for," Perseus said. "Though we are not alone in that."

    "There is an old saying in my house. Family First. It's one of the first tenets that the Lord Soltríer impressed upon us when taking us under his wing. It means that we will do everything and anything to protect those in our family, no matter the opposition we have to face or the consequences. I became a warrior so I could protect those ones close to me. I became a Venator because I believe they are the best way to protect Patria Sole from the evil of Rilath."

    "Cassandra may not be of our blood, but given how much we've been through together, as far as I'm concerned she is family. And I do not take it lightly when somebody insinuates that it would be easier to let her die, because protecting her would be too much work. If your blade is not motivated by anything more than a mere fear of your life, than I have no need of your assistance."

    Eris snorted. "Admirable pride from the patriarch of a family with the freedom to define his own honour and dignity. Alas, my lord, I do not even have the right to defend myself, since I am an abject slave who bears a one thousand seven hundred year old sin, and so am unworthy to even look you in the eye," she said. "We are the dogs of the Ascaes Erue, Lord Eisenwald, and we live and die at their pleasure. I would never wish for any misfortune to fall on the heads of our most worthy, noble, wise, and kind masters. My only intention was to convey my absolute faith in Lady Cassandra and all her kin, who are the enlightened and wise representatives of the King in this fallen world." She spoke with a sing-song cant on the borderline of earnestness and insolence familiar to any lord who had dealt with an impatient and recalcitrant servant. No, that was slightly wrong. This was, perhaps, a tone only the Kerioth who considered themselves above anyone but the Ascaes Erue could use.

    "If my sister has caused you offence, Lord Eisenwald, then I apologise," Perseus said. "She is a youngster of rebellious temperament, too given to speak her mind. I can only ask your forbearance and your understanding that her presence or absence on the mission to come is a matter for the Emperor alone."

    Viktor's brow furrowed in confusion at the man's words. "Hold on. She is being sent on a mission? I was under the impression that this was an offer of aid. If that's the case, then why did you even bother to go through the trouble of summoning me here?"

    Perseus sighed. "As I said before, nothing is decided. And besides, I value your expert opinion on the Antagonist's movements within Pruss and desire your willing cooperation if the Emperor does elect to dispatch us to Pruss," he said. "I dare say that I consider the work of the Venator more important than your pride or ours."

    "And just for the record, the invitation was mine in the first instance," Ishmael said. He ran a thumb over the edge of his glass of wine. "I wanted to catch up with an old friend, Viktor, and I also wanted you to meet the Left Hand's sister, since she will be important to our order going forwards. It also seemed courteous to notify you of the Emperor's intentions with reference to Pruss."

    "I have a name, you know," Eris said.

    Viktor again screwed his eyes shut and rubbed the bridge of his nose. This is why he hated politics so much. He had completely misread the situation and let his emotions get the better of him. He'd rather be locked in a life and death struggle with a demon than attempt to maneuvre the delicate lands of diplomacy. As muchas the woman aggrevated him, he was in the wrong. He breathed out slowly and looked at the Kerioth.

    "My apologies then, I misunderstood. Let us start over."
    Last edited by Kronoch; 21st Jun 16 at 8:30 AM.

  30. #180
    Inner gardens, Kingrest

    The gouge slowly worked its way around the small basswood figure. As the last woodchip dropped to the ground, Viktor softly blew away the dust and inspected his work. He had tried carving a dancing girl before, but the task had proven too difficult for his limited skills. Not this time however. The basic shape of a female had been carved out without any features, leaving plenty of wood to work with for the dress, face, hair and the other more intricate parts. Satisfied with his work, he put down his gouge and selected on of the finer carving tools.

    The reunion with his old teacher had been a pleasant occasion, even if the Kerioth had unnerved him. Though the start of the meeting had been a little rocky, the rest had gone smoothly, and Viktor overall considered it time well spent. At the very least it was nice to know beforehand that the Kerioth might be running around Pruss on one of their mysterious missions in the near future.

    Viktor carefully worked on the dancing girl’s face, carving out the shapes of her facial features. The faces didn’t give him too much trouble, but the hair could be a real pain in the ass to get right. After a while he switched to an even finer tool to give it definition. His attention was so focused on the statue, that he didn’t even notice the occasional passerby stopped to watch the odd sight of a rider intently working on such a delicate figurine.

    His first creations had not been a great success. He had first started carving a year ago to alleviate the boredom and make toys for his sister’s children. But Otto and Petronella wouldn’t accept anything less than the creations of a master toymaker, leaving Viktor with a collection of crude toy soldiers.

    The hair and face done, Viktor started working on the dancer’s torso dress. He had kept practicing after those first toy soldiers, steadily improving with every figure he crafted, but the last few weeks his work had vastly jumped in quality. In a way, the Parlish assassins had done him a favor. His broken arm had forced him to carve with far more delicacy and patience, resulting in figurines that were superior in every way to his previous work. It wasn’t even close to the beauty of the bow that his lover gifted to him, but he could show these to the others with pride.

    He was about to start work on the bottom part of the dress when he noticed that it was getting late. The sun had started to set, casting the palace in a soothing orange glow. Viktor put down his tools and leaned back against the tree he was sitting under. Only then did he notice the person beside him.

    Pieri was sitting cross legged with her back against the tree, a book filled with complicated runes before splayed open on her lap. The pages were fluttering gently in the warm afternoon breeze as her head bobbed up and down, eyes closed. Evidently she had joined him at some point during the day and snoozed off under the warm sun. Viktor slowly closed the book and put it down next to them, and then very carefully maneuvered Pieri so she could rest against his shoulder.

    This was nice too. Maybe it wasn't time to go back just yet.
    Last edited by Kronoch; 10th Jun 16 at 1:46 PM.

  31. #181
    Forbidden Annex, Palace

    The Venator sentries guarding the Kerioth quarters in the long shadow of the palace had no standing to oppose an Ascaes Erue. Cassandra simply walked past them and through the gates as if they were air. But when she found herself inside the annex, she had no idea where she was. Swirling visions of a whirlwind romance between a Praetorian and a Kerioth were a poor substitute for a map. She stumbled from room to room and walked into the young woman from her vision.

    Eris Kerioth was eating alone when Cassandra came in. She nearly fell off the bench as she scrambled to snatch up her mask and hide her sharp-featured face. She hurriedly knelt and pressed her right fist against the cold stone tiles.

    It took Cassandra a moment to realise this wasn’t the woman who would fall in love with the knight. Probably, anyway. It was all tangled together.

    "Forgive me for asking," Cassandra ventured politely and without thinking, "but you wouldn't happen to know a knight in red, would you?"

    Eris choked back a groan as the inalienable weight of tradition trapped her in a kneeling position. "I don't recall one, my lady," she said through gritted teeth. "I rarely leave the palace grounds. Perhaps the Lord Chamberlain would be able to assist you."

    Cassandra blinked in dismay at Eris's unhappy tone. Then, stirring her mind from the restless ghosts of a future yet to arrive, she realised the likely source of the young Kerioth girl's displeasure.

    "Oh." She made a nervous smile as Eris (she imagined, anyhow) glared daggers at her from behind the immaculate white of her mask. "I forgive. I'm sorry. I was..."

    She gazed around at the achingly familiar foreign halls, narrowing her eyes at places where she knew he'd been – or would be - as if she could force the crimson knight into being through concentration alone.

    "... distracted," she finished lamely, her awkward smile turning rueful.

    Eris rose and adjusted her mask to ensure it was securely in place. She pulled her white hood over her scarlet hair. "This is no place for a child of the blood, my lady. Whatever you are looking for, it is not here," she said.

    "I don't mean to intrude," Cassandra replied, a little unevenly, "but there were just... some things I hoped I might be able to see while I was here. Would you mind helping me find my way?"

    How to explain? She could not rightly say that she was hoping to run into the thorny Kerioth's older brother, after all, nor could she say that she was hoping to catch a glimpse of a stranger's romance that might not take place for a century or more. Or perhaps she could.

    If there was one thing she had learned, it was that the Ascaes Erue could get away with a great many unusual things if they wished to; if you were of Aryeh's line, people expected you to be at least mildly strange. One did not share the eyes of the saviour and get away with being pedestrian.

    "After all," she smiled good-naturedly, "the sooner I find what I'm looking for, the sooner you can be rid of me."

    Eris put a hand on her hip and cast a longing look at her slowly cooling stew. "Your wish is my command, Lady Cassandra. But it would be very helpful if you told me what you were actually looking for," she said.

    Surmising quite rapidly that "your rather attractive older brother" was not a response that would go down well, Cassandra decided to settle for indulging her other curiosity instead. She felt a little guilty at stealing the Kerioth girl from her dinner, but she supposed she ought to press on while her potential guide seemed amenable to her requests.

    "Is there a shooting range here?" She asked mildly. "Or a place that might be used for such? It would be... in a garden, I think. Ringed with violet flowers and open to the moon."

    Eris patted the stock of the artifact rifle holstered on her back. "There is one, my lady. I won't ask how you know that," she said. She turned and walked off without another word. Presumably she was heading there, though it was hard to say for sure.

    Cassandra hurried after the Kerioth girl, matching her stride easily after catching up.
    "Would you tell me your name?" She ventured.

    "Eris Kerioth," the young woman said. She was almost as tall as Cassandra and still growing, but her relative youth was apparent despite the robes and the mask. Much like Frederik, her body was still being stretched on the rack of her dragon's flame. "I've heard of you, of course, Lady Cassandra. But I didn't expect we'd ever have cause to meet."

    They stepped out into the courtyard garden surrounded by four walls. Here even the Kerioth could look up at the night sky.

    Cassandra smiled, taking in the silver moonlight softly dappling the blades of grass below, along with the subtle scent of lavender entwined with the fresh, cool air of the evening.

    "It's beautiful here," she said, gazing up at the branches of the solitary old oak that rested just back and to the side of the shooting gallery. It was still thick with summer leaves and rustled faintly in the evening breeze, conjuring memories of that strange knight she felt she knew.

    He would sit under the old tree and watch the masked girl shoot from a distance, smiling fondly as she fought back the urge to look at him while she worked. His face was lightly scarred on one side, but he seemed only more handsome for it. Beside him on the grass rested a folded and tattered red coat, and a long, ornate spear fit for a Rider.

    "Thank you for bringing me here, Eris."

    "You more or less brought yourself," Eris said. She drew her rifle and brought it into her shoulder. With insolent ease, she fired six shots from the revolving chamber and drove pockmarks into the middle of the target. Eris turned to her guest as she reloaded. "This spot pales in comparison to the imperial gardens. So why are you really here? I know you want something from us."

    "Not to me it doesn't. I don't think he thinks so, either." Cassandra replied absently, looking for a trace or sign of that elusive future, as if the garden would yield its secrets to her if she raked her gaze across the freshly cut grass for long enough.

    It did not, and so she released the breath she had been holding in a long, contented sigh. It was enough simply that she was here, she decided, and returned her attention to her guide.

    "I don't want anything from you," Cassandra replied, "not really. Some of your time if you're willing to lend it to me. That's all."

    "I enjoyed the part where you implied I have a choice," Eris said. She sighed. "I thought I'd endured enough strangeness from Eisenwald, but apparently the King wasn't finished with me. At least you're polite." She reloaded her revolving rifle and shouldered it. With a tilted head, she searched for some clue as to what the pale young woman wanted from her.

    Viktor was here? She mused. I suppose that makes sense, given his history with the Venators. Hopefully my presence here will not seem so unusual, then, if my fellow Riders are also making visits.

    Cassandra shrugged and gave Eris a half-smile.

    "If you'd prefer to be elsewhere, I won't keep you." She smiled. "I did take you away from your stew, after all. I can't imagine that went terribly far towards endearing me to you."

    She looked askance at Eris's artifact rifle. The girl was a terrific shot; she wondered if perhaps there was some relation there, if nothing else – though admittedly, she was not sure if an aptitude for firearms tended to run in families.

    Eris shrugged. "It'll be cold by now," she said. "Putting that aside, you're misunderstanding something. I'm not in a position where I can say whether or not I want you to stay or go. If you'd been raised here properly, you'd know not to even ask."

    "And what if I asked you to answer truthfully?" Cassandra asked. "I'm a seeker of Haron, after all. Asking for honesty should not be so improper, given that."

    "Then I'd be even more uncomfortable," Eris said. She put a hand on her hip and sighed. "If you act like your father, we both know where we stand. What do you think would happen if you tried to join the common dragoons when they went drinking in Sors? Do you really think anyone would welcome that?"

    "If they knew what you did for them, perhaps they might." Cassandra replied. "If they could look and see you, not Judah, they might. They should." She shrugged. "I don't know. But I am not a dragoon. And I am not my father."

    Eris sighed. "I understand. But asking me what I think of you is for your own sake. If it were up to me, you wouldn't put me in a position where I had to answer that question," she said. "That's all I'm trying to say."

    They were still staring at each other when Perseus strode into the garden. "There you are. You haven't finished your-" He broke off as he noticed Cassandra.

    Eris stared at her brother and thrust her palms downwards. She sighed as he knelt and pressed his fist against the grass.

    Cassandra blinked, her breath momentarily hitching in her throat at the sight of him.
    Oh, this is ridiculous. She berated herself internally. You met the man about three times, and he spent most of that time trying to find an excuse to leave.

    Cassandra tried to resist the urge to blush, or else the urge to bury her head in her hands at Eris's obvious exasperation. Though, she had to admit, Perseus's abject surprise at seeing her there was rather entertaining.
    "I forgive." She said to him. "Of course I do."

    Perseus rose slowly and tugged his hood to make sure his hair was fully covered. He had yet to remove his mask. "I wasn't aware you were here, Lady Cassandra," he said. He glanced sidelong at Eris for help but she just shrugged.

    "Lady Cassandra wanted to see this garden," Eris said. She let the inadequate explanation hang in the air.

    Cassandra smiled somewhat nervously, folding her hands to keep from fidgeting.
    "I apologise for not calling ahead. I never did have very good timing."

    "I understand. But I'm sure it would be more convenient for you if you made arrangements through your father or the Right Hand," Perseus said. He tilted his head slightly towards his sister. "Eris, you should finish eating and retire. We're rising early tomorrow."

    Cassandra smiled and inclined her head.
    "Thank you for all your help, Eris."

    "You're welcome," Eris said. She melted into the shadows at the edge of the garden.

    Perseus rubbed the back of his head. "There's not much to see here, lady," he said. "But I can guide you if need be."

    Cassandra watched the Kerioth girl go, having to shake her head to cast off the images of the other Kerioth – the one who looked back quietly from those same shadows at the red knight as he walked away, long coat fluttering faintly behind him in the wind.

    She turned back to Perseus and smiled.
    "I've already found the place I was looking for," she replied. "Though I would welcome your company, all the same."

    "I see. Well, this is the only place in the annex worth seeing," Perseus said. He walked towards her. "I can keep you company for now, my lady."

    Cassandra smiled and breathed in the air once more. The moon was bright in the sky, and that seemed somehow right to her – perhaps it was simply that it was always night when it came to her in visions, when the red-garbed knight reached out to his Kerioth bride-to-be under the moonlight and pulled her flush against him-

    Not the best thing to be dwelling on when Perseus is an arm's reach away, Cassandra, she chided herself and shook her head slightly, blurring the future's reflection. When she glanced back at Perseus, his head was tilted slightly in confusion.

    Thankfully, Cassandra had at this point in life reluctantly conceded to herself that she lacked much in the way of romantic grace, so she was less dismayed than she might otherwise have been at her present condition.

    She smiled up at Perseus – he was one of the few people in the world she still had to crane her neck, however slightly, to look in the eye – then knelt down and tugged off her shoes to stride barefoot across the soft grass. White and silver robes flowing behind her, she glanced back at Perseus.

    "Are you coming?" She grinned, suddenly feeling quite grateful that any Venator sentinels on duty were quite some distance away. Her status as an Ascaes Erue afforded her much, but this, she suspected, strained the bounds of propriety. Or perhaps she was simply paranoid, because even if they couldn't be sure, she knew what she was thinking.

    Perseus, for his part, followed wordlessly at a respectful distance. He, of course, remained standing when Cassandra sat herself down in the red knight's perch under the old tree.

    She leaned back, resting the back of her head against the bark and gathered her robes about her as the breeze ruffled her snow-white hair.

    "I don't mean to make things difficult, you know," Cassandra said softly, apologising to the absent Eris as much as she was to him. She knew this couldn't be easy for either of them, in its way.

    "At times, I find that hard to believe," Perseus responded wryly and inclined his head fractionally towards her.

    "I'm a seeker of Haron, remember?" She chuckled lightly, looking up at him. "I can't lie."

    "Mm." Perseus agreed. "But you can evade. Or tell too much of the truth because you want to cause trouble."

    "I would never!" Cassandra made a scandalised expression and grinned, hoping she didn't misread his tone. "You should be ashamed of yourself for even suggesting such a thing."

    "I will endeavour to show the appropriate contrition, my lady." Perseus replied, deadpan.

    "Attempting to show contrition isn't an apology, you know." Cassandra groused.

    "Quite so." Perseus agreed.

    Cassandra narrowed her eyes at him.
    "You know, I never quite can tell how serious you are with that mask in the way."

    "That must be a new experience for you," Perseus observed dryly.

    "I don't suppose you'd remove it if I asked," Cassandra dared to venture, briefly flashing her red eyes up to meet his golden ones.

    "Are you about to ask?" He didn't waste a moment in calling her bluff.

    "Oh, I wouldn't do that to you." She grinned, waving a hand as if to suggest that the very notion was ludicrous. "I'm much too gracious for that."

    Perseus tilted his head slightly as if to suggest that he was uncertain about the veracity of that particular statement.

    "Though, I suppose grace was something I was rather lacking in the first time we met," she smiled ruefully.

    "You have changed a great deal since then," Perseus observed; something in the way he said that caught her attention, though, and she looked up at him again.

    "I was such a brat," she chuckled. "I'm sorry for that."

    "You were," Perseus agreed good-naturedly. "I forgive, of course."

    Cassandra smiled.
    "I'm glad we can laugh about it now." She said, sighing to herself. "It's been a long time since then."

    "It has. You have been busy." Perseus noted.

    "You heard about that, then?" She had little doubt as to what he was referring to, after all – little else she'd done would have reached his ears, she suspected. Certainly not my finest hour. I imagine Perseus would have handled it with far more grace.

    "Everyone heard about that. Your father was... displeased, when he heard the news."

    "I have Sky to thank for my survival," Cassandra said quietly, "she came to save me when I brought the building down."

    Perseus shifted slightly in response to that; as acutely aware of his presence as she was, she couldn't help but notice.

    "If you want to tell me how foolish I am..." She offered with a nervous smile.

    "If you will be more careful next time, then there is no need for me to call you a fool." Perseus replied. "If, however, you intend to fight all your battles by collapsing breweries on yourself..."

    Cassandra held up her hands.
    "I think I've learned my lesson," she winced; she still wasn't fully healed, which, given her status as Sky's rider, served as a reminder of just how extensive her injuries had been. "Next time I'll take someone with me."

    "I don't suppose you're available?" She chuckled. "I promise not to drop a building on you."

    "I appreciate the thought," Perseus replied. "Perhaps someday."

    Finally, having apparently grown tired of standing and talking down to her, Perseus settled himself down on the grass, a safe distance away from the peculiar Ascaes Erue who had seen fit to wander into their midst.

    "This garden really is beautiful," Cassandra sighed, running a hand through her wind-stirred hair. "Even if Eris says it doesn't compare to the Imperial gardens. I think it does."

    Perseus tilted his head.
    "Why did you want to see it? Most would not venture in here just to look at a garden."

    Cassandra smiled.
    "It will sound... foolish, I'm sure."

    Perseus said nothing in response, his silence inviting her to proceed onward anyway.

    "I see things," she said. "It's part of the gift of Haron, the price I'm paying for the power I called on to fight Faustus."

    "Or, perhaps," she reflected, "it's just the other part of it. I wonder if I'm supposed to learn something from it, so I find myself chasing down these... echoes, really, of things that haven't happened yet."

    "And one of them brought you here?"

    She nodded, blushing slightly.
    "Yes. It was a..."

    She looked away from Perseus, glancing at the empty spot in the grass where the two lovers from her visions would dance one day.

    "They'll stand there." She said quietly. "She takes off her mask, there," Cassandra points, "and she looks away as if she's ashamed. He tells her she's beautiful, and he means it."

    "From that moment on, he was hers," Cassandra smiled, her voice a hushed whisper. "That was all there was."

    "I've never been in love, Perseus," she said. "I thought perhaps if I chased the footsteps of someone who had... someone who was defined by it, let it fill him up and followed it wherever it led him, I might understand a little of what that feels like." She smiled sadly.

    "I suppose I should go." She said at last. "It's getting late, after all. And you," she smiled fondly, "have to rise early tomorrow, don't you?"

    As she rose and padded softly back across the grass to where she'd left her shoes, she glanced once more over her shoulder at the rising Perseus.

    "Will you show me the way?"

  32. #182
    Praetorian Quarters, Palace

    Viktor approached the airy white marble building where the Praetorians lived on a scorching afternoon. Despite the ornamentation, the thick walls were eminently defensible with slight windows overlooking open lawns shorn of cover. During times of struggle, the Praetorians were the power brokers and gatekeepers who frequently played a decisive role in the succession conflict. In days of peace like this, when the Emperor was young, hale, and unchallenged, they were mostly ceremonial. But Artaxander had courted and won some of the finest Riders of his generation over to his side, and restored the ancient prestige of the Praetorians as the best of the best. The Princeps, Lord Luis Arleans, was the jewel in the crown. Even the great Lord Eisenwald had to approach them with a degree of care and respect.

    Dragoons barred the way while their messenger checked with their master. At length, they relented and he was guided to a drawing room.

    Lady Anna Mendoza breezed in. She wore a sweat-stained shirt and no jacket, and powder stains marked her hands. “Sorry to keep you, Lord Eisenwald. Luis is on duty, so I’ll receive you,” she said.

    "It is no trouble, for it was you I was coming to see," Viktor said with a respectful bow. "It is good to see you again, Lady Mendoza. I hope I did not catch you an inconvenient moment?"

    "Not at all," Anna said. She patted the holster strapped to her waist. "I was just keeping my hand in, but unlike my esteemed Princeps, I can only practice for so long before I'd rather drown myself in the Mirrormere than continue. You will serve as a worthy distraction."

    "Yes, I can imagine." he said, thinking back at the many dull hours he spent at the archery range. "Well, I was actually dropping by to discuss matters of a more angelic nature, but I suppose I could provide you with some distraction. How about shooting at something that's more liable to fight back?"

    Anna grinned. "Why not? That should please red-toothed Akai as well," she said. She turned away and gestured for him to follow.

    They faced off in the gardens outside Anna's quarters. "To keep things fair, I won't use Lovelorn," the Praetorian said. She gestured to one of her dragoons and caught the musket he threw to her. Her eyes met Viktor's for a moment, then she kissed her fennel pendant. "In Akai's name, I will demonstrate my proud strength."

    (Anna uses Quick Draw and acts on 4. Viktor acts on -2. Situation Aspects: Close-Range Combat, Sparring)

    Anna snapped the musket up with one hand and took aim at Viktor's chest.

    (Anna rolls to attack with Shoot, 5 vs 2. She gains +1 shift from Blessing of Akai and inflicts 4 shifts of damage.)

    Anna narrowed her eyes as she fired. At this range, with both Riders close enough to hear each other breathing, she could scent blood and feel the lines her bullet could trace to paint a beautiful death. Viktor scrambled aside but the heat of the bullet's wake still seared his chest.

    (Viktor rolls Fight vs Athletics to create an advantage, 1 vs 4. Failure.)

    Viktor shook off the pain and charged in with his daggers raised. Anna gave ground with the confident footwork of a ballerina as her eyes traced the spiralling course of his blades, but he caught up with her and feinted deftly. As she raised her musket to defend her body, his blades aimed to cut her weapon into three. Then her foot slammed into his stomach and drove him back a moment before his blades connected.

    Anna followed through with surprising strength, then jumped backwards and reloaded her musket. "When I was younger, you'd have had me there," she said. "But being chewed on by Luis every day has caught me a thing or two."

    (Anna rolls to attack with Shoot, 7 vs 2. Anna suppresses her blessing and inflicts five shifts of damage. Viktor takes the -2 Consequence Scarred Cheek and 3 stress damage.)

    Anna and Viktor regathered their strength and charged towards each other. His daggers cut towards her but she planted her feet and snapped off a calculated shot just before his blades struck home. The scalding bullet slashed a line of blood across his cheek. Anna leaped backwards and shouldered her musket. "Thank you, Lord Eisenwald. Akai will be pleased by your valour," she said.

    Viktor snorted in amusement as he wiped the blood from his cheek. “You’re a better shot than the Betrayer. I at least managed to deflect his chains for a while, you didn’t give me the chance.”

    "You flatter me," Anna said. She threw the musket back to the dragoon. "I was in good form today. It doesn't always go that smoothly. Speaking of form, your ambidextrous style is intriguing. It has shades of the imperial form, but more than that, it reminded me of Luis."

    Viktor shoved the daggers back into their sheaths at his belt. "It's not a style, milady, the daggers were meant to distract you. My sword arm was broken recently, and I can't use it in a fight. I was actually planning to kick the rifle out of your hands."

    He shrugged and gave her a half-grin. "Unlike the Praetorians, there is little art or finesse in the way I fight, I'm afraid. I just use whatever means necessary to win. It rarely works against those of greater skill or finesse, though."

    "I see. I thought your movements were stiff at times, but that would explain it," Anna said. She tilted her head and grinned. "I'm afraid I'm not so easy a woman that I'll lose to an injured man. But your fundamentals are exceptional. That's why I'm intrigued by the thought of what you could become if you studied our art."

    “Who knows. I might actually win a fight for once.” The remark was said in jest, but he couldn't quite keep an element of bitterness from his tone. A sharp jolt of pain wiped Viktor’s grin from his face. He frowned and rubbed his arm, the wound on his face already forgotten.

    “I've always been fairly confident in my own skills, but the last couple of months have seen me suffer a string of rather humiliating defeats. It would be easy to blame the incident at the grove or Rilath’s influence, but truth be told it started long before that. My own efforts to refine my skill have proven to be inadequate to say the least. I'm starting to suspect there's something fundamentally wrong with my form. Perhaps a teacher is exactly what I need.”

    He caught himself before he said anything more. “My apologies, Lady Mendoza. I didn't mean to ramble.”

    "You are not weak. But you are not strong." The flat voice of Lord Luis Arleans intruded on their conversation with his characteristic insensitivity. He nodded vaguely in Anna's direction. "Shift change."

    Anna folded her arms and grinned. "So who is strong, aside from you?"

    Lord Arleans stopped in the middle of the garden and counted on his fingers. "Gawain Ashwood. Perseus Kerioth. Marton Nyilas. There may be others, but I haven't fought them," he mumbled.

    "How about it?" Anna said to Viktor. "Why not have Luis lend you a hand?"

    Viktor had seen the man hunt. He wasn't quite sure he would survive the experience of training with Luis, but he was a legendary duellist. "I would be honored. Of course, if you would be willing to teach me, Lord Arleans."

    Luis shrugged. "I am skeptical, but Anna tells me that to teach is to learn. I will do it until I lose interest," he said.

    "Attaboy. Well, I'd better take my leave," Anna said. "Now, where did I leave my jacket?"

    Well then," said Viktor with a smile, "Let's start as we mean to go on. Are you ready to spar, milord?"

    Luis nodded. His shift into a combat stance was almost imperceptible; only the slightest movements were necessary to adjust from his ordinary posture.

    "Excellent." Viktor once again pulled the daggers from his belt, then stepped forward and sent a hard roundhouse kick in the direction of Luis' head.

    Luis raised his arms to cover his face and slid his body with the kick. His left arm stopped the kick cold, then his right hand snapped in and trapped Viktor's extended leg before he could pull back. It was the work of a moment for him to sweep Viktor's leg and throw the Prussian rider to the ground. "Slow. Weak. Ill-advised," he muttered. "Get up and I'll show you."

    Anna laughed. "Not much for foreplay, are we, Viktor? Well, have fun," she said. She waved and walked away.

    Viktor rolls notice to learn aspects
    Notice 4 on Eris: Rebellious, Obedience in Form Alone
    Notice 3 on Eleonora: Master of Shadows and Lies, Love of Low Places
    Notice 4 on Mendoza: Gunslinging Hunter of Akai, Cloying Informality
    Notice -2 on Luis: Failure. Freebie: Greatest Rider of the Age
    Last edited by Kronoch; 25th Jun 16 at 8:04 AM.

  33. #183
    Forum Farseer Akranadas's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2004
    Brisbane, Australia
    Kingsrest, Sors

    It was strange, Maximillian never imagined himself back at the Emperor’s court in Sors; yet here he was and nothing here at changed. The furnishings all remained as they were the last time he bowed before the Emperor with the rest of the Princeguard… or were they Kingguard now? Still, it was exciting to walk through the halls once more, even more so a Foreign Minister for Pruss.

    Holding his arm as he walked through the halls of the royal court was Princess Louise, since their departure from Pruss, they had pretty much spent the every moment they could talking and being in one another’s presence. Maximillian knew that although Frederick didn’t appear to wholly approve of the relationship, he wasn’t one to deny his younger sister happiness.

    The court itself was lively, with all manner of important lords and ladies making their way to various business dealings, most of them probably representing some duchy far away from Sors.

    “It’s certaintly different from the last time I was here” Princess Louise said as they toured the grounds around the court “The last time was for my Brother’s wedding, I remember standing there, spying on you from afar”

    “Spying on me for what reason my Lady?” Maximillain answered, smiling down at here. He remembers the day rather fondly, it was the day that effectively changed his life.

    “You were the most handsome of the Princeguard.” She said with a slight giggle “I remember hearing all the stories from my sister about you, and this was a chance for me to look at you without having to pretend not be obvious”

    “And what did you think?”

    “I thought a many of things, I knew that you were brave, I knew that you loved my family and I wanted to know more about you” Louise continued “Then after that, you disappeared”

    “I had to find myself, find out where I fitted into this world and where I wanted to see myself”

    “And did you do all those things?”

    “I believe so” Maximillian replied, smiling to himself as they walked out into the gardens “I came back to a country I love, realised I was destined to be your brother’s protector and will be that for as long as I draw breath and more importantly, I realised that there was someone for me in this world”

    He watched as Louise blushed and went quiet at the last statement, but her face soon change from one of embarrassment to one of sadness. She stopped in a quiet part of the gardens, and took both his hands tightly in his own.

    “I am worried about you though Maximillian” she said, taking him closer and hugging him tightly “I am worried about this war that is coming. I’m worried you’ll leave and you won’t return”

    “I promise I’ll return” Maximillian replied, moving his hands to her back and head, holding her close as he could feel her starting to tear up “I know that Laksaeka wouldn’t allow a love like ours to be destroyed so easily by a war of men” He planted a soft kiss on the top of her head “I will come back”

    With that, he stood back from Louise for a moment before scanning the area to see if anyone would be listening. Then he reached into his pocket and produced a small ring, “I know this may be too soon my Princess, I know I should seek your brother’s permission but I do not know when he will call me to fight in his war.” He could see tears already forming in her eyes as he spoke “Prince Louise of Pruss, will you do me the honour of becoming my wife?”

    Roll Rapport for Pre-War Marriage Proposal.

  34. #184
    Meadow, Sors

    The dragon had made herself a nest in the meadow, flattening a stretch of the willowy grass to serve as her bed during the day.

    She waited there from the moment when dawn's overflowing light spilled across her golden scales to adorn the countryside with a second fleeting sun, to the time when light and heat retreated from the world to permit the moon's ascent.

    In that time, a few cautious farmers dared venture close enough to her to ask after her intentions, which she answered with as much grace and favour as her present irritable state permitted; upon witnessing the odd Arcadian dragon's tail flicking swiftly from side to side in a gesture of impatience, the pitchfork-equipped residents of the meadow beat a hasty retreat and resolved not to bother her further.

    It took a while for her rider to make her approach; her snowy-haired charge crested the nearby hillside at dusk, having learned long ago the best time to approach her dragon when she was in one of her moods.

    Her rider was still wincing, she noted – every time the muscles around her battered ribs tensed in just the wrong way to send a jolt of pain through her system – and berated herself internally for the note of worry that coursed through her every time that happened.

    It is her own fault. She should know better.

    Her rider made her way through the tall grass, brushing aside the thin blades at her waist to enter Sky's clearing without a word, where she sat down and put her cane aside with as much grace as she could muster.

    Hello, little one.
    Sky sighed internally, unable to keep the testiness out of her thoughts; it was not, as a rule, particularly easy to lie that way. She supposed she could if she made the effort, but in any case, she and Cassandra had made a promise never to lie to each other. If that broke, she suspected, the integrity of their very bond would unravel soon after.

    She supposed that pretending not to be angry when she very much was would be tantamount to a lie; her companion would certainly see it that way, and in any event a dragon ought to be above such things.

    Cassandra winced a little.
    "Ouch. Still angry?"

    No, your attempt at suicide was only a trifling matter. Rest assured, I have gotten over it. It did not take very long at all.

    Thankfully, obvious sarcasm was well within the acceptable bounds of their arrangement.

    "Sky, I didn't-"

    Yes. That is precisely the problem.
    The dragon shook her head in irritation.

    You did not think. You should have called for me long before then. And, because of that, your flame was almost extinguished, and I was almost left alone in this world.

    It had been quite a long time since Sky had seen fit to snap at her; the draconic term for "human" came rather close to "foolish one", but Sky tended not to think of her partner that way. She suspected, with an errant thought, that Baraq likely felt similarly about Aryeh in the old days.

    "I didn't want to burden you." Her rider said in a small voice.

    Sky stirred at that, idly contemplating throwing Cassandra a mile across the countryside at the ridiculousness of that statement. As if sensing Sky's intent, Cassandra flinched.

    "Do you want me to leave?" The girl asked. "I will. If that's what you want."

    No, little one. I don't want you to leave.
    Sky sighed. She was angry, but sending the girl away in a fit of pique would solve nothing. It was the way of mortals to quarrel and bicker over slights until all pretense of affection was lost; it was not - or, at least, ought not to be - the way of dragons.

    "I am sorry, Sky. I just... I couldn't let him beat me."

    If he were to have died, but taken you with him, that would have been his victory, not yours. You are a dragon rider, and far more precious to the world than he is to his master.

    It is not simply that you borrow my fire, as I borrow yours. If your life is in danger, I will kill those who place it in peril. If you will not allow that, then our bond is less important to you than your pride.

    "Sky, that's not..."


    "No." Her rider said, more firmly this time. "I made one bad decision. But please don't say that my foolishness means that I don't care about you. That's not true, and you know better."

    Do I? I am not so old as to know everything about the human heart.

    "Maybe not." Her rider agreed. "But you know my heart, don't you? Isn't that enough?"

    It can be, Sky allowed, so long as you assure me that this shall not happen again. I will not allow you to die that way. Not while I live.

    Her rider nodded shakily.
    "Of course. I promise."

    Then let us fly. And let us forget this.

  35. #185
    Member Deunan's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    Myska intermission a - the hunt for Akai’s forgivings

    Myska scowled at her little page of ideas. It seemed like nothing was ever coming out of it. Her talks with Pierri sadly did not help one bit. Trying to fit within the capracious mind of an entity that could just as well be a god was nearly impossible. Of course the Rexites would scoff at similar ideas. Even cultists of all the angels would look askew at any mention of something similar.

    But the truth was, the difference between an angel and a god was akin to Myska and an ant. The difference between the King and his angels was likely far smaller. There were philosophers that claimed the King was everything, but that had to be a lie. Nothing could be everything. What if the everything was nothing as well. It made no sense to the girl. To her, the King must be something finite and discrete, something that can be grasped, if not understood.

    Trying to think like a follower of the hunter proved no easier. She knew that most were not evil. Virtually every cultist was a good person somewhere deep within, they did what they did out of belief. Most of her companions were cultists in fact. Cassandra one of Haron, Pierri and Viktor cultists of Jalren and Max a cultist of the lover.

    Farruk was most likely a cultist of the drunk orator, albeit never in so few words.

    By the demons of Rilath, many would consider Myska herself to be a cultist of a kind, one that listens to Rilath’s lies. Something she would vehemently and earnestly deny. Rilath was a snake. Most of his Emissaries were utter monsters, even Pandora was terrible on many levels. But Myska felt a kinship, the way she cried for justice, for change. Rilath was terrible, but his reservoirs of power less so.

    She wondered what a Jalrenite cultist would say, if she ever described Pandora’s colours to them. Would they admit, that she might once have been Jalren’s own as well, or would they attempt to vehemently deny it utterly. It was certainly an interesting thought. But one for a later time.
    Myska shook her head and shifted around again. All of this was irrelevant in truth. None of these thoughts would give her any answers. They were all equally misguiding.

    She sighed and thought back at the person she used to be. A doer who went headfirst into any problem… or away from any problem in the very least. She was unbound by thoughts about the world and how it ought to be. The world was something unchanging and immutable, something she was completely powerless to influence beyond her mere survival.
    Then a dragon chose her and everything went to hell.

    The young woman pushed down an urge to throw the cup she was holding at the wall. It wouldn’t do anyone any good and just create questions she’d rather avoid.
    It was time to take a hold of the old Myska, the girl that did things.

    She got up, made sure that the wounds under the bandaging were healing well and took a hold of her thieving clothes from Sors.

    It was a dark firm fabric. The one she wore as a child was mostly burlap and waldmal stained with ash and burned oil. This was something completely different. Darkened silk, a headwrap woven from the strands of an intusi deamon and a the scale of a gray drake.
    The black silk, the cheapest part of the whole thing cost by itself more than a young Myska could ever hope to steal.

    She still sometimes wondered how it didn’t even amaze her anymore, that she got to wear something similar to this. The clothes she got to wear otherwise were beautiful in their own right, but they were something completely different. She could never feel like herself in them. The same went for the armour most riders and dragoons wore. One belonged to a noble the other to a noble. Myska knew she was neither.

    Before long the room she was in became empty and a shadowy figure dropped from the window.
    A very capable observer would notice the figure moving slower, more careful as if wounded.
    The young spy would show the hunter’s cult true prey.

    For a while she had considered offering them truths, pages and reports written and locked away. But something told her, that those kinds of cultists would not understand that nature of the hunt. Knowledge to them was something ephemeral, not something could fight back more than a brown bear.

    No that kind of hunt would only be welcomed by the cultists of Haron, but those would celebrate merely the knowledge, rather than the act of claiming it.

    The acolytes of the hunter sought two things. Sacrifice and prey that was once alive. The more dangerous the better. But like most nobles they were completely blind. To them worthy prey lived outside of humanity. Only in pristine wilderness could it be found.

    Myska knew better. The prey of the forest was large and regal, but it was far less cunning.
    It was not unlike the difference between a noble and a patron of the underworld. The nobles were perhaps larger, better fed, but few of them were true survivors. Push them into a corner and many faltered. The underworld was different. Members of it scurried at any sign of light, but when pushed too far, with no way to flee they fought back with a viciousness and strength that could take down an assailant far bigger and stronger.

    The same went for animals eeking out an existence around humanity. In the chaotic world of cities, they had to be smarter, faster, more vicious and bold.

    The spy did not slow down and soon she managed to get away from the quarter’s of the nobles. Familiar smells hit her. Burning oil, refuse and unwashed bodies. Piss from the alleys and cheap booze.

    In the end it didn’t matter what town or city you found. They all had the same smells. Just with a different intensity.

    After the smells came the sounds. The clinging of glasses, the sound of men and women exchanging coin for base pleasure, raucous laughter, a violin player doing a medley that held nothing in common with the high arts and even the sound of childbirth from further off.
    It was like being back home to the woman. She knew full well that it would be easy to slink back into old habits, become one with this place and none would be wiser.
    She doubted Naufragium would be able to find her a second time. At least not unless Myska would let her.

    She pushed these thoughts away. She had an obligation – to her departed grandfather, to her companions amongst the former princeguard, Viktor’s drake Pavelrinsorren.
    She had a penance to do an appeasement to the hunter for Viktor’s sake.
    The shadow that was Myska paused and listened to the night. She wasn’t listening to people, but to a layer below that. She was looking for a sound of skittering legs, tiny claws running across the floors.

    This was one benefit of being attached to a dragon. It was not just the strength and stature that improved, but the senses as well.

    Most riders were blind to it. They blundered heedlessly even before the change, becoming larger and stronger only exemplified it.

    She tensed as she heard what she waiting for. There in one of the refuse piles, just at the edge of her hearing.

    She dropped down and stealthily moved forward.
    Myska crouched down and waited. Nothing happened for a few minutes, the creature obviously sensing her.

    Another few passed before something moved in the huge pile and Myska let out a feral grin. There it was.

    Myska rushed forward a dragon in front of her. The refuse pile exploded and revealed a huge brown rat.

    Myska was lucky on her first try. The animal hissed and back away, it’s long tail swiped back and forth. It was a large critter. Myska paused for a moment. It wasn’t the rat she was expecting, but rather one of the new brown ones that had started to spread and it was a good 20 ounces in weight.

    The animal tried to pull back, but soon found itself stuck against a wall. It’s heckles rose and the hissing intensified. It was clear it was willing to fight now that it couldn’t see any avenue of escaping.

    The young spy lunged forward and tried to strike the creature. Her reward was a bite instead.
    Myska cursed and flung her hand, making the rat fly into the wall instead.
    The creature quickly recovered and continued with its.

    It was doing what it could to force Myska away, to make her give it enough space to escape. Biting, scratching, giving little nips and ticks.

    The girl didn’t let it though, she knew full well that it needed just a little bit of space to get away.
    Soon the animal was bleeding. It was still fighting viciously, but was much slower now.
    Myska saw and opening and swung forward, finally killing the animal.
    Her next few minutes were spent trying to cut out and clean the rat’s heart. Once that was done, she placed it into an oiled sheepskin.

    Myska sighed, looking at all the scratches she received in this short bout. And there were still four more of the rats to go.


    Come morning a lone figure slowly approached the hunter’s shrine. Countless scratches bandaged up and with a sack across her shoulders.

    The spy clothes were hidden away once more and she was back in the long skirt.
    The shrine was completely sparse, a small altar and and a fire in the far end.
    Seeing her an acolyte sat up.

    “My lady? What brings into the embrace of Akai? Do you perhaps seek the shrine of Laksaeka instead? Rather than the pure huntress.”
    Myska shook her head.

    “I have arrived with penance. Prey I have hunted by my own hand. A pardon to the huntress as atonement.”

    She pulled out the sheepskin and placed the five hearts on the altar.
    “I have also brought a tithe of the prey to Akai’s acolytes, so that they too may partake on the hunt.” She continued pointing to the sack.
    The acolyte could barely suppress a grin. In his mind, he was faced by a young lady, one for which a palace rabbit was worthy prey.

    “I am certain that this was a hunt worthy of Akai’s own blessing.” The man said trying to keep the amusement from his voice.

    “I am certain Akai sees this as an atonement, more so if you have cleaned the hearts yourself. Now bring your tithe to the ring, so I may hunt it as well.” He continued, almost feeling the smell of a roasted hare already.

    He doubted this girl could have done much to anger Akai. And the disgust she must have felt when killing the little animals was surely sufficient penance.

    “I must warn you though,” Myska interrupted his train of thoughts, “this prey can be vicious and will not let itself be hunted easily.”

    “I am certain I will manage my lady. It would not be for a member of the cult of the huntress to fear any prey. Bring your in.”

    The man stepped, taking his spear and waited for Myska.
    The sack was untied and placed in with him.
    Nothing moved at first and so he prodded the it.

    The thing suddenly exploded in movement and something he did not expect flew out.
    Instead of the fat succulent palace rabbit he expect, a huge rat stood in front of him.
    It was indeed a monster a good 30 ounces of pure spite, muscle and ferociousness.
    The animal waited barely a second, squinting against the sharp sunlight. It was maddened having spent hours in the sack.

    “What is this?” The man shouted in surprise.
    This only made the animal focus on him and attack.
    The rat flew at him biting left and right. It darted around the spear and kept up a relentless attack.
    The acolyte did not have a chance to recover as the animal began to use him as a ladder, scratching and biting along the way.

    He yelped and finally the rat leaped free of the hunter’s ring. It reared and gave the man a last his before trying to dart away, only for Myska’s throwing dagger to squarely hit it in the size.
    Even wounded as it was, it tried to crawl to safety before finally succumbing.
    “What is the meaning of this? Why did you bring this animal in here?!” The man shouted at Myska, his shame masked by fury.

    “It was my prey, offered to Akai as tithe. It was the sixth of the five I have brought.” The girl responded calmly, collecting her dagger.
    “Are you trying to tell me, that you have hunted five others of these monsters by yourself?”
    “I’ve prowled for them from sundown to sunrise and have the marks to show it.”

    The acolyte sighed unsure how to respond. The animals were clearly unclean, an encroachment at Akai’s purity. But he could not doubt that they were prey that fought valiantly.

    “I don’t know if I ought to curse or commend you for this. What did you do that deserves Akai’s wrath?”

    “I attacked an emissary of Rilath in one of Akai’s grooves.” The young spy deadpanned.
    The acolyte’s eyes widened before he was able to suppress his shock.

    “Go now and let me think. Just please burn some incense to Akai tonight as well. Make it sandal or rosewood, not driftwood or piss. I cannot speak for Akai in this matter, but I will try to pray to her.”

    Myska’s intermission b - little spy things

    Myska squashed an urge to bite her lip. A blank face would do her far more good here. She gave a nod to Veritas, who in her own mind bore a very different name, the "Truthseeker." Then followed it up with the customary Pavesi gesture of respect.

    "I must say the cool breeze of Pruss does much to appease me. As to Pruss itself. The duchy likes to keep me around. Perhaps someone has decided that my perspective is endearing enough." She forced a carefree smile, finding ways to placate perhaps the single most dangerous woman in all of Sors.

    Eleonora chuckled and idly moved a knight. Like all her line, she was pale and dark-haired despite the searing heat of Sors, and prone to protecting her fragile skin with a parasol. Unkind souls whispered about demonic rituals to lengthen one's life, but as far as Myska could tell the reality was more prosaic, perhaps a remnant of a blood tie to the Ascaes Erue. Presently Eleonora was sheltered by the shadow of her dragon's long tail. The spymaster smiled. "Sadly that youngster Frederik isn't a complete fool. If he'd spurned you as a commoner, I'd have offered you a good business opportunity," she said.

    "She has definitely proven herself worthy of the position already," Pieri Valentin entered confidently, "Greetings, Lady Eleonora Pavesi and to you as well, Veritas."

    Lord Eisenwald followed close behind Lady Valentin, greeting the Pavesi and the dragon in turn. Though he wore a polite smile on his lips, his body language radiated discomfort and the desire to be elsewhere.

    The young woman flashed her a smile at the newcomers. "Frederik has many failings, but he does judge people less than his peers. If that is a failing or not, only history shall decide. I personally hope it shall be seen as an advantage in times to come."

    Myska took a careful look at the board. She wasn't a player and could never fathom how one could keep so many options and steps in their mind.

    "Still I am certain the duchy would not be adverse to conducting business regarding knowledge. Lady Eleonara, please let me introduce you. The Lady of house Valentin and the lord of Eisenwald."

    "Thank you, Myska. But I know them, of course. This is a pleasant surprise. The prodigal daughter returns, and she brings her fiance with her. I'm surprise two honourable knights of the sword would deign to visit my humble estate," Eleonora said. She broke off for a moment as Veritas growled a move and complied meekly. "I shall follow dear Fritz's career with interest. It is good to see that he is a friend of Sors, at least for now. How are matters in Pruss? I've heard things in our mutual vocation have become very confused after everything that transpired with the Valentin family and the shift of leadership."

    "There have been some difficulties," Pieri responded, "Mostly caused by the new path I've chosen to take, but the general impression seems to be relief at there being someone heading affairs again after the mess my father made of things."

    "No offense against your father Pierie. But unlike Frederik he does seem to have been the judgmental sort." Myska shook her head.
    "Still I do love your seat lady Eleonora. It's unusual for Sors in more ways than one."

    "Murder is a blunt instrument and should be a tool of last resort. Sometimes I wonder if multiple generations of the Valentin family forgot that fact," Eleonora mused. "Putting that aside, I'm glad you enjoy it here. Sors is a fairly unusual city, so I have to work hard to stand out here. But I do like to think I've succeeded in some small one." She moved another piece and blinked when Veritas responded immediately. A brief exchange later, she raised her hand in defeat.

    "I very much agree. My family lost their way." Pieri stated casually, "But history shows we are anything but predictable. As little as a century ago, the Valentin house was known for producing scholars and runic users. Two centuries before that and we were knights-errant. Majorly shifting the status quo every so often is Minerva's way."

    "I'm sure that's the case. Speaking of things we'll never understand, the circumstances surrounding your late father's tragic death were most intriguing," Eleonora said. "We made extensive inquiries with regards to that, of course, though I dare say we did not spend much time mourning him." She sipped her glass of wine and sighed. "I should not play while drinking."
    "It would make no difference either way," Veritas said.

    "It's a sad tale, but one best left to history. He just wasn't the same after mother passed," Pieri said with a slight frown, "In either case, I came here to assist Lady Feuergrau if needed though I still doubt it was necessary."

    "You should try a game with Naufragium. I'm sure she would love a game. Might even surprise you or stomp on the board depending on her mood." Myska sighed and steadied herself. "Thank you Pieri. Your help has been invaluable. So what did you two have to offer Minerva and Viktor's old prude?"

    As the women continued their merry conversation, Viktor studied the expertly crafted garden around them, subconsciously searching for assassins or spies hidden in the the undergrowth. Talking to a Pavesi was one thing, strolling into their headquarters quite another.

    "To history, indeed. Speaking of history, I do recall the tragic death of the two eldest of the Eisenwald line in the recent past," Eleonora said. "That must have been quite the burden for you and your family, Viktor. That case was of less interest to us, but I did have a few men look into it at your late father's request."

    "I always enjoy playing with dragons. I have played many games with the wise ancient Minerva in my time," Veritas said. "Alas, it is difficult for me to travel, but many come to Sors to sit at Baraq's feet, so I can play with them from time to time."

    Viktor expression turned to stone at the mention of his older brothers. He immediately lost interest in the garden and turned his gaze back to Lady Pavesi.

    "Is that so? And what did they find?" He smiled thinly. "I was unaware my father asked for your help."

    Eleonora put a hand on her lips and smiled. "I am in the business of gathering information, not disclosing it. My honoured dragon would be most upset if I gave freely of her horde."

    "Indeed I would," huffed Veritas. "Just as coinage can be debased to cheapen it, spreading knowledge here and there causes it to lose all its value."

    "knowledge is power, hide it well?" quipped Myska at the pair.

    "Knowledge is indeed power. The right word at the right moment can make all the difference." Pieri said with a smile, "One of my family's old mottos, if I remember correctly. The only proper way to gain access to such information is through exchange. A secret for a secret. Minerva believes in similar."

    "Sharing is only useful if you're the one that comes out on top at the end." Viktor said.

    "Wise words from one and all of you," Eleonora said. "Many Riders do not appreciate the power of a good secret. But while the truth is very powerful, lies are also a great weapon. Knowing the time and place to use such tools is what separates the journeyman from the master." She kissed the lobelia pendant of Mekine's cult that hung around her neck. "I promise to occasionally be honest in my dealings with you all."

    "Oh, but lies are always best when there's an inkling of truth to them in my experience." Pieri replied with a chuckle, "More fun that way too."

    "Walking around in truth does often bring comfort to the soul." Said the young woman, knowing full well that her lies were deep and far.

    "I say that often, but never in front of my lord," Eleonora said. "Since we're talking about lies, let me tell you a story about the shadow. Judah Kerioth is Rilath's Avatar, champion, the Betrayer, the Accursed One, the destined enemy of Patria Sole who escaped death at Aryeh's hands by Rilath's machinations, and so on and so forth. That he is our enemy is beyond doubt. But on the underside of the world, he is the undisputed king, the proverbial man who rules in hell rather than serve in heaven. He provides a definite form to a landscape shaped by will alone. And he is the only man who could possibly lead the Emissaries. Among the vermin who sit at Rilath's feet there are some who regard that as an unwelcome burden and seek to undermine him when they dare. Of course, they could not possibly do so directly. They would not survive his wrath. Far better to lead him into a trap that pits his master Rilath against a fellow Eight-Winged One and leave him there to rot. What follows from that may not entirely be to Patria Sole's advantage, however helpful it seems to be at first glance."

    "I do not think most of us are party to the bickering of emissaries. In truth it seems like something very distant. The emissaries sometimes feel like little angels so to speak. They have always been around and as such are just as inhuman to us as true angels." The young woman shrugged, feeling Eleonora's questions hit a bit too close to home.

    "Though I have a doubt many in Jalren's cult would look kindly at me calling the Emissaries little angels, don't you think so Pieri?"

    "Likely not," Pieri said with an amused smirk, "We often refer to them as demons but in the end the meaning is the same: monsters who have discarded their humanity in the pursuit of personal power. They are more than us and less than us at the same time. Make no mistake though: they are powerful yes, but even Judah Kerioth pales in comparison to the power of his master."

    (Myska rolls Deceive vs Notice, 2 vs 4. Failure.)

    "Distant? Inhuman? Do you really believe so?" Eleonora asked. She rested her chin on her hands and stared playfully at Myska. "Let us not indulge ourselves in comforting generalisations. They were born humans, strove as humans, and obtained a great power. Still, they breathe, eat, and at times walk among us. If you meet them, you can talk to them, or perhaps kill them or die to them. In that, they are no different from any other. The title Emissary implies a unity that is wholly false. We must not let our minds rest with the easy answer. We must look closer, know them better, understand them as individuals who have different values, methods, and priorities from each other. That is the respect we Pavesi show to our worst enemies."

    "Of course," Pieri chuckled, "And the enemy of my enemy can be a useful tool in the right circumstances. I remember your lessons well."

    Myska suppressed a shudder. "From what I've seen of two of them. They no longer act or perceive themselves as humans. And their unity? It's the same as the unity of Patria Sole. Everyone has their interests. You just have to find the spots in between."

    "They still have two legs, thumbs, no wings, and no tails. They remain scraps of flesh that even I could scatter with a breath," Veritas said. "That they kill is beyond doubt, but there is nothing strange in that. Two of you are knights dedicated to the blade. What men should fear is not the Emissaries, who are mere symbols, puppets to ensnare you foolish children. It is my wayward kin, the dragons who stand behind them, that are truly our immortal and unyielding enemies. Rilath fooled and betrayed us once and we remember that well. I curse their names for betraying our ancestors and returning again to sit at his feet."

    "Still, it is unfortunate for any mortal to cross paths with the Emissaries. I recall reports of your encounter with Judah Kerioth, but who else darkened your fate?" Eleonora asked.

    "I'll darken his fate" mumbled Viktor to himself as he frowned at a particularly delicious looking scone.

    "Lady Cassandra and I encountered and did battle with Faustus," Pieri bit her lip, "though the odd bit is that I cannot exactly place where and when it occurred. I think there might have been another present as well but he did not give his name from what I recall. We also as a group may have encountered Falstaff during our journey to Britannia."

    "We have also encountered Falstaff a couple years ago. The man didn't introduce himself as such, but I did some verifying. It was indeed him." Myska looked at Viktor and wondered who had the greater wings, if he or Pieri. Time would tell certainly. Not one to dwell on similar thoughts she continued. "It was not a very pleasant encounter."

    Veritas blinked slowly and studied all three Riders in turn. "It is known. The Eight Winged Ones protect you, which you should be grateful for."

    Viktor gave a wry smile in amusement. "Or we are doomed to cross paths with them until one of us is dead, which is a less enticing prospect. And considering that they're immortal, it's not hard to figure out who will perish first."

    "Praise be to the King and all that. His protection will surely avert such a doom," Eleonora said. She leaned forwards. "But in truth, I did not call you here idly. We must discuss a matter of the gravest importance, one that could shake the very throne of Sors if it is not handled correctly. It is an extremely delicate problem and the utmost secrecy is required. Before I continue, I must ask you to swear on the names of your dragons and of holy Jalren not to disclose what I am about to tell you all to anyone."

    "I swear on the King himself, Lady Pavesi. Your words do not leave this room." Pieri replied. Viktor only nodded in return.

    "Thank you. I need outsiders I can trust to handle this task," Eleonora said. She nodded at her dragon, who reared up and stood sentry over the group of Riders without a word. "A great corruption threatens holy Sors from the shadows. I have uncovered evidence of a Rilathian plot to undermine the nobility of the city using corrupted cake as a vector. I had the court archmage examine samples of this perfidious pastry and he was horrified by what he discovered. This damnable dessert is riddled with runes to ensure it is moist, delicious, and moreish. Already it is doing a roaring trade among the better sort and some of the most powerful nobles in Sors are compulsively consuming this creamy confectionary. Any attempt to move directly against the baleful bakery responsible for this bane will surely be forestalled by their newfound allies, but if nothing is done, I fear the waistbands of the knightly class will expand until we are quite powerless to resist Rilath's assault. We must take decisive action. Viktor and Pieri, you must go at once to the following address and take all necessary measures to disrupt the production process. That should buy us time to consider our next move." She slipped Pieri a folded scrap of paper. "Myska, please remain here with me. We must consider how to put a permanent end to the criminal cookery that threatens the peace."

    (Blessing of Mekine, Eleonora rolls to set a target number with Deceive +2, 6. Myska rolls Notice with assistance from Pieri and Viktor, 5 vs 6. Failure. She spends a Fate Point and invokes Always Prepared for the Worst, 7 vs 6. Success.)

    Viktor stopped chewing and looked at his scone in shock and horror during Eleonora's revelations. After a moment's inspection he resumed chewing, albeit very slowly. If this cake was a product of evil, he would have to study it most carefully. He eyed the plate of cakes suspiciously. Indeed, more research was needed. He grabbed Pieri's hand as he prepared to leave. "A truly horrifying matter. We must go at once. Come, milady Valentin, we must hurry."
    Pieri shook off his hand and frowned in confusion as she looked at the cakes before her. "What? No Viktor, that doesn't make any sense."

    Myska was taken back. The story Eleonara said was obviously nonsense, but it seemed as if the woman believed it herself. Were the stories about her madness true? What if the head of Sorsan intelligence was a raving lunatic...maybe it actually aided her job.
    She took a sidelong glance at Pieri and Viktor, raising an eyebrow trying to convey to them the bullshit Eleanora was telling them.
    "These pastries are...delicious. I can certainly taste the corruption, it's almost succulent."

    "That is Rilath talking, lady Myska. Do not let his influence win you over. A plan such as this can only spring from the most sadistic of minds. ?Judah Kerioth?! I knew we were fated to face off once more." Viktor said, the fervour burning in his eyes.

    "Oh this sounds more like Pandora. Undermine the nobility from within. Virtually her handiwork." The young woman retorted.

    "You couldn't make something this delicious without a true master of knowledge," Pieri said as she took another bite, "it must be Faustus' handiwork. Only he could devise such runes"

    "I'll teach that Rilath-sucking scum a lesson. The next cake they bake will be coated in blood! WE RIDE!" Viktor turned around and ripped his sabre out if its sheath. He produced a small whistle from his pocket and blew it. Pieri and Myska turned around as they heard a loud commotion coming from the drake mound in reaction to the ear-piercing whistl

    Eleonora rested her chin on her hands and smiled. "I'm glad someone has the appropriate sense of urgency, Viktor. Please take your noble companion and depart immediately. Time is of the essence if we are to prevent the Antagonist from having his cake and eating it," she said.

    "I'm not so sure we should," Pieri winked, "This is positively ?_devilishly_? good cake he's made."

    [Paranoia] Viktor assumes all of them have been taken over by the criminal confectionary. None are to be trusted.

    Viktor snarled at the inaction of his friends and turned on Eleonora, eyes narrowed. His hand drifted slowly towards his pistol. "What have you done to them, you foul seductress. Is seeking comfort outside of your own bed not enough for you? Must you take my friends from me as well with cakes made by the Lord of Evil himself?"

    Eleonora rolled her eyes. "Lady Valentin, you and Eisenward are surplus to requirements. Please leave immediately. I do recommend the bakery at that address, however; I would strongly advise considering them for your wedding cake."

    "You only had to ask you know," Pieri chuckled, "I suppose that's not as fun though. Watch out for this one Myska; Lady Pavesi enjoys her pranks."

    Myska tried to suppress her laughter. But it was impossible with Viktor's adorability. "Viktor, please you're killing me."

    Pieri firmly grabbed hold of Viktor's arm as he slowly regained control of his senses. Confronted by facts that did not add up, the spell gradually lost its hold on him. Lady Valentin waved at the Myska and Eleonare before forcibly dragging him back to the drake mound. With an elegant gesture she traced a bright rune in the air, causing Viktor to yelp in pain as a small bolt hit him right between the eyes.

    "Ouch. What the hell was that for?" He said, senses fully regained.

    "Mind your manners, my love. You shouldn't be rude to a lady."

    "I must always pay homage to clever Mekine. I am devout, after all," Eleonora said. "But if you're ready, Myska, let us turn to actual business."

    Myska watched the pair leave before sighing. "So do we get to business now?"

    "Naturally," Eleonora said. She slid a note across the table. "We have reason to suspect this man is the ultimate sponsor of a large-scale people smuggling ring that is taking slaves to the worst part of the pleasure quarters. I could decapitate the gang tomorrow, but that would leave him untouched, and the word of a pack of criminals will not suffice to bring him down. I need hard evidence obtained discreetly from someone who has the status to match her word against his and the skills to get it done. In return, we'll lend our aid in reconstructing the third-class operation you've been cursed with in Pruss."

    Myska opened the note. Giraldo Durante. A Rider of Sors close to Artaxander himself.

    (Myska rolls Lore, 2. She doesn't recall much about Lord Durante- he's said to be a charismatic man who is very ambitious and took the side of the Twins very early in the civil war seventeen years ago. According to her street connections, he's a man who has eyes in low places and not to be trifled with.)

    The young woman rose an eyebrow. "This isn't a name one hears every day. Dangerous as well. From what I know the man is connected. In truth if he happens to be implicated in anything, others might be dragged with him. Does something similar phase Artaxander?"
    She sighed and set up a very business tone. Trying to remember how crime bosses talked to their equals. The difference between a crime boss and a spymaster was often merely one of perspective, at least to Myska. "I strongly object to calling what we have in Prus a third rate operation as well and we both know that your direct help will leave us with more spies than we have now. But we do need the help. But I'd rather talk about sharing."
    Myska looked her squarely in the eyes. She would trawl for the man herself. A slaver in the very hierarchy of power was nothing but despicable. His men or contacts be damned. She'd just need to catch him herself, before Pandora got a wind of him.

    Eleonora shrugged. "I respect you enough not to mince words. You're good but young, and the Prussian spy network is in a bad way. I'll have your back during this war, but that diverts resources I should be using on my own problems," she said. "As for the target, just get us the information we need. The man is a war asset so judgement may be delayed until the current disturbances are settled. That decision isn't ours to make, and likewise we don't choose what happens to him afterwards either. I'm not going to guess about any further connections you find. Let's go one step as a time."

    "I'll see what can be dug up into the light. Didn't we actually talk about this earlier, how it is nice to walk in the truth from time to time. A rare thing at times." Myska stood up smoothing her dress. "Those two do look good together don't they? A kind of hope for the future isn't it?"
    "The man is a rider. Do you expect his family's wyrm to have an inkling about the entire thing?"

    "I doubt the dragon knows. Even if she does know, the dragon doesn't know. Understood?" Eleonora smiled at her own words. "It's a weird game we play, you and I. Just don't kill the man. And you're right, they do suit each other. Good luck to them both."

    Myska nodded. "The dragon does not know. I fear allying away from your wonderful seat, but I do need see to my old apartment in the city. Mutrab is probably becoming angsty once more,"

    Pleasure Quarters, Sors

    Myska strode through the elegant streets of the pleasure quarters, a strange seam in the city where high and low society met and mingled. At times the theatres, taverns, and brothels had been persecuted and driven underground, but these were the kind of clever people she knew well. They always came back sooner or later when the wheel turned again. Artaxander had made peace with this strange borderland and averted his eyes. In older days, Myska had been free to walk any street she pleased, relying on her wits and quick feet to survive when things went wrong. But she’d been changed by the dragon’s flame, and even if she was short for a Rider, she still struggled to pass unmarked in the common districts of the city. The pleasure quarters were different. These streets would never question a cloaked and hooded rider who walked fast, talked with unsavoury characters, and passed them a few discreet coins now and then.

    Nor was she entirely surprised to be approached by a beautiful young woman in a plunging dress. “Do consider us, my lady. We have company you’d fancy at any price,” the woman said confidently. She took Myska’s hand and pressed a folded up letter on the Rider before she could make her excuses and escape.

    When Myska looked closer, the fine silks and the jewellery were different in kind from the attire of the sort of woman who needed to walk the streets to drum up business. When she looked up, she could see two burly men standing with folded arms at the end of the street to keep an eye on their charge. Her interest piqued by the abnormal situation, she opened the letter.
    A black eye bisected by a sword had been burned into the paper. Even the children of the slums knew the symbol of Pandora.

    She watched the courtesan, the lustre of her dress, the deep plunging neckline, the opals studded in her hair. The woman looked utterly out of place in this part of the city. Perhaps behind closed doors and curtains were the nobility would arrive under cloaks and hoods, but outside? That was merely inviting attention of any passing Vs. Not that there were many, this part of the city perhaps a little too base for even them.

    "I see you are a seeker of justice then. Tell me, is yours blind, holding the scales of history, or does she perceive what makes others thick?" Myska asked carefully. A spy would try to choose the nicer option, try to play on Pandora's supposed morality. But only one that truly knew her would know the true answer. Pandora's justice was blind. There were no shades of gray to it. Either you were guilty or you were not. In that Pandora was to destroy the world as every other Emissary.
    Still the answer of the courtesan was crucial. Until it came, Myska would not know what to expect. The recognition of Pandora's symbol was something forgivable. Willingly going to one of her coven's less so.

    The woman's painted lips curled into a smile. "My only hope is to speak of the excellent company you can find at the Inner Temple Garden. But one of our most valued clients frequently speaks of such things, and I have learned much at her feet. Fiat justitia ruat caelum." Her Latina was surprisingly good for a commoner.

    "Qui est absque culpa." Myska replied, her latina having seen significant improvements over the years as well. "I do wonder if I will ever get to meet Justitia, the great dragon clad in gray." She shook her head and motioned to the woman to lead, wondering just where this would take her. Who knew, maybe she would get time to practice some of those runes she copied off of Pieri and Cassandra. Hopefully not.

    "You wish to meet the Kerioth's beloved fledgling? My lady has eccentric tastes," the courtesan said. She took Myska's hand and led the Rider through the maze of streets. The bodyguards followed at a respectful distance and warded off the opportunists. They crossed a bridge over a narrow canal and reached a large building with an elaborate edifice dedicated to Laksaeka and her angels. The white marble and carved pillars recalled the angelic temples of old that had been abandoned to the elements under the rule of the Ascaes Erue. Several more burly bodyguards parted to permit entry to perhaps the most exclusive brothel in all of Patria Sole. An impeccably dressed receptionist bowed to Myska as she entered. "Welcome to the Inner Temple Garden."

    "She's a guest of the Lady of the Amber Room," the courtesan said. She smiled at Myska. "Do you wish to ascend immediately, or would you prefer to linger? The Lady has learned patience in her time, and is in no rush. I would be happy to entertain you over tea and cake."

    "I am afraid I have had far too much of both." Myska replied and wondered what exactly were Pieri and Viktor up to right now. "I must say, I feel almost out of place here as on the streets these days. A very exotic feeling would you not say?" She nodded towards the staircase eyeing the bodyguards. "May I?"

    "By all means," the courtesan said. "I can assure you that we entertain noble women as well. Besides those who follow Laksaeka's lights, there are simply those who sicken of the hypocrisies of the court and merely wish for pleasant conversation free of the web of judgement and obligation society subjects them to. We hope to entertain any guest who passes through our doors. Still, many find this a strange place at first glance. We would not have it any other way; there is a distinct romance in such discomfort." As she prattled on, she led Myska past the garden at the centre of the square. Beneath low, lush, foliage, a number of nobles sat at tables with beautiful young women and drank tea or wine. They mounted the stairs at a sedate pace and finally reached one of the most exclusive rooms at the very top of the temple. The courtesan knocked five times with a careful rhythm, then bowed again to Myska. "Please enjoy your stay. If you wish for refreshments or entertainments, simply ring the bell inside, and you shall be attended to."

    "Enter," Pandora commanded. She nodded to Myska as the Rider did so. Still dressed in her trademark white and black, she looked stiff among the decadence around her. She perched uneasily on the corner of a chaise lounge chair and folded her hands on her lap. "It's been a while, Myska."

    "A year here, a year there. What's that to someone blind to the vagaries of age." Myska replied, her conversation with Eleora leaving her a bit testy.

    "Still I very much did not expect to see you in person Justice. In a dreamscape perhaps, but so in the open? I would have expected you running around in Rus, making the locals fear you as you mete out punishment. At least considering their own nobility." Myska deflected. In truth it was a question she meant to ask often enough. Why was Pandora so seemingly focused on Sors, when the excesses of places distant were much worse. Could it be that the emissaries had the world divided and some stood away from certain lands?

    "I met one of your colleagues not too long ago actually. Man has a wicked sword arm. Ribs still fear sore. Still I wouldn't be here if you didn't feel I could help you with something. Considering your usual meticulous control, I'm almost dreading what it is, that it has you at such unease."

    "I travel the world, but my will shall be done everywhere. This city is no exception to that iron law," Pandora said. She gestured for Myska to sit down. "The matter with Judah was very unfortunate, but considering who you were dealing with, you should be happy that you survived at all. Mercifully, my understanding is that he plans to exact the blood price for that incident from Faustus when he finally escapes his prison. You are below his notice; if it were otherwise, I would fear for your life."

    "I see rumours spread quickly." Myska sat down and looked up at Pandora. "So what brings me to you?"

    "What happened to Judah is a crisis in a place you can't see," Pandora said. "But that is my problem, not yours. Our work never changes; we must judge those who abuse their power. Giraldo Durante is one such man, but he is clever and careful. His estate has been protected by ancient runes that exclude those marked by the Children, and he almost never leaves it save to go to war. I need you to subvert that barrier from within."

    Myska raised an eyebrow at that. "You're not the first to mention that name. Did he do something wronger than usual recently?" She paused and collected herself. "He is a man I plan to bring to justice. Though I would rather it be on my terms. I want him to know justice is coming, that he cannot stop it. For the dread to slowly cling to him. From what I know, he is an evil man, if smart like you say yourself. I do think others deserve to mete out their justice as well, wouldn't you agree? A slow, cold and dispassionate justice, deaf to his pleas." Myska voice grew cold at the end. Durante was everything she hated about the nobility. A quick death from Pandora was far too kind for the likes of him.

    "An eternity is not long enough for me to attend to every sinner who must be punished. It is only recently that I returned to Sors and learned of his crimes," Pandora said. She stared hard at Myska. "My symbol has embodied justice since the time Jalren placed her puppet on the throne of Patria Sole. When I kill, it is not merely a punishment, but an example to all who think of sin. Why should I yield this matter to you?"

    "You said it yourself. An eternity is not long enough. Your symbol is one of scarcity and random occurrence. There is a fear behind it, but not one of justice. Of getting caught. Punishment must be recognized. I will yield to you in those you have brought to justice in the past. The proof was tenuous, nebulous and no could decide. That called for your justice, a justice that is blind and acts when it merely knows. The matter of Durante calls for justice that can also prove." She paused and collected her thoughts. "Without this, his victims will never learn of why this happened. With it though, some can rest easier where possible."

    "If you trust in the 'justice' of the Ascaes Erue, you will frequently find yourself disappointed," Pandora said. "To them, the truth is merely one of a number of considerations. I have seen innumerable occasions when the hopes of the common folk have been betrayed by the interests of the nobility, which ever desires to look after its own. When and how will you make him answer for his crimes, and what will it cost you? I have no patience for such compromises. I would not let him live for another day, not while his men continue to move women and children like cattle and his victims cry out to the heavens in vain for vengeance."

    "Oh I think you misunderstand. While I do wish to leave his life in the hands of the Asceas Erue, I will not have him await their justice untouched. The man will suffer for every life destroyed." Myska took a long breath "If you punish, he will merely be replaced. I intend to see what he built destroyed, the angels or their intentions be damned." She fixed her eyes with Pandora. This was something Pandora needed Myska for. In the first time forever, they were almost equals in a relationship. Myska wasn't just a random mark, no she was important precisely because she would never take up the mark.

    Pandora rested her chin on her hands. "Very well. If you are willing to go that far, I will leave it in your hands. But you should be careful not to confuse personal satisfaction with our duty to the forgotten. If you make that mistake, it will be my own as well. And I always correct my mistakes."

    "If I could mend the world with a flick of my fingers with no gain for myself, I would do so, alas I cannot, so what I do will have to suffice." She breathed a slow sigh of relief. "Now, you would not have called me in directly just to tell me about a man whose defences you wish to have suppressed. So why did you really call me."

    "That was the most important matter at hand. A Rider is no easy quarry, even for me. You should be careful," Pandora said. "As to the rest, you know what I want from you. After five years, you've become a noble, Rider, and a servant with many masters. Duke Frederik, Lady Pavesi, and myself. For now, that's fine, but sooner or later you will have to choose. And I can assure you that the Pavesi can be quite short with people who have betrayed them."

    "Much if what that small scarred girl wrapped in your chains said five years ago is still very much true, if tempered with experience, but" her voice grew harder "I do not serve. I work for the duke because I think he will be a decent ruler, I work for the Pavesi because our interests coincide, I work for you because I believe you mean to help the world, I work with Naufragium , because she ultimately means well. But I am in no one's servitude. To be a servant is a weakness, that much you have taught me." Myska knew she was on very thin edge. "I value your opinion, hold myself below you and I will keep paying you respect. I know my worth. Still, you certainly had an angle in mind with Durante. How would you have someone approach his operation?" The young woman was at an edge, the emissary may dislike her words and strike her down, but she figured it was worth the light push.

    Pandora snorted. "You speak bravely of freedom, but it is very difficult to be truly free. Patria Sole is founded on a web of obligations that ensnare everyone within from the day they are born to the day they die. A meaningless blood tie and your dragon's will ultimately gave you the power and authority you currently enjoy, but that inevitably implies the duties you owe to your dragon, your duke, and the Emperor. You are free to disregard all of that, but the moment you do so, you will be punished without mercy by society. What you speak of is freedom in form alone," she said. "Under the Ascaes Erue, servitude is a commonplace. At most, you may aspire to the freedom to choose your masters, and even that is a privilege of rank. But I will not pretend that I am any different. To pursue my own values, I serve Rilath; my submission to him is absolute."

    The ancient Rider stood up and crossed the room to the window. She stared out over the garden beneath. "Still, your pride and your independence of mind is suitable for one who follows me. That is exactly why I want you to understand that you must choose. If you dedicate your life to the pursuit of your own ideals, you have the potential to become someone who can truly stand by my side as an equal. Not many humans born in any given century can be said to have such a possibility, much less realise it. Even so, it will all be for nothing if you do not make the choice to pursue the limits of your own potential."

    Myska nodded. "I believe I have some dirt to dig up. We'll see each other when we see each other I presume. Also do say greetings to Faustus, I heard he didn't like the fire." The young woman got up, ready to leave.

    "Very well. We'll meet again when the time is right. As for Faustus, he will soon be living in interesting times," Pandora said. "But do give my words some thought, Myska. One day , I suspect, you will actually have to believe in something."

  36. #186
    Kingsrest, Sors

    "You know," Hanna groused, lengthening her stride to match Cassandra's (keeping pace with a Rider, even an injured one, is typically rather difficult unless they deliberately slow down for your sake), "it's not exactly easy to keep a close watch on you if you sneak out every night."

    Cassandra paused, favouring the shorter woman with an amused smile as she waited for Hanna to catch up.
    "I thought a demon hunter would be a better tracker..." She mused idly to herself, cheerily brushing off Hanna's fierce glare.

    "I usually know when a demon's about to burst from its fleshy prison and flee into the sewers like some kind of unhinged snake-hydra!" Hanna protested. "It's what they do! They're unpredictable, so I can predict them! You are supposed to be resting, yet you insist on visiting the Forbidden Annex instead of getting dinner!"

    "I suppose that would prove problematic, wouldn't it?" Cassandra hypothesised.

    "Yes! Yes, it would! Humans are supposed to eat their dinner instead of bothering Kerioth, and that goes double for Ascaes Erue! What were you doing over there, anyway?"

    "Would you believe me if I said I was looking for a reference from your former employers?"

    "No! I wouldn't!"

    "Mm. It wouldn't be a very good lie, I suppose. Not that I was ever terribly good at it."

    "Well, Aryeh's eyes probably balances it out a bit, what with other people not being able to lie to you either. Which is beside the point. Why bother to have a bodyguard if you won't let them know where you are?" Hanna pouted.

    Cassandra chuckled.
    "I was quite safe, don't worry. Unless you think I'd be in danger a mile off the ground atop Sky, of course."

    Hanna muttered something unpleasant about "flying rilathi death eels", but otherwise settled for relaxing her glare only fractionally.
    "And the annex? What were you doing there?"

    "I wanted to know if it was the right time for me to see something happen," Cassandra replied vaguely. "Sadly, I don't think I am. Perhaps in another few decades or so?"

    "Oh. The Haron thing. I see." Hanna frowned to herself and shook her head. "That was it, then?"

    Cassandra flashed a daring smile.
    "No. That's not it. But I'd better not tell you the rest."

    Hanna frowned.

    "Sorry, bodyguard. But some things are best kept secret, wouldn't you agree?"

    "... I thought you Haron lot were supposed to be all forthright and honest."

    "We are. I'm being very forthright, am I not? I haven't told you anything that isn't true."

    "If you've got questions about demons, you know, you can always ask me. That is my job, after all."

    Cassie laughed.
    "Don't worry, I wouldn't bother the Left Hand just to ask him how to kill monsters."

    "You're bothering the Left Hand?"

    "You'd have to ask him if I'm a bother, I suppose," the snow-haired rider replied airily. "I can never tell, considering the masks. I think Eris finds me annoying, though. Ah, well. It can't be helped, can it?"

    "You sound almost fond of them," Hanna observed.

    "Well, I should at least learn their names if I am to disturb them at home, shouldn't I? I can hardly burst in and shout 'You! Kerioth dog! Attend to my caprices!', can I? Well, I suppose I could, but it would be quite dreadful of me."

    "I don't think many people would really stop to think about it."

    "Perhaps they should," Cassandra shrugged. "But I suppose we're often just not very thoughtful. As a species, I mean. Sky says that even dragons aren't much different." She sighed. "They just pretend otherwise and then growl at anyone who notices."

    "You're lucky," Hanna said.


    "Most Riders aren't that close to their dragons. It's a different relationship to what you and Sky have. She is young, though. Maybe that's why."

    Cassie shrugged.
    "Maybe. I don't think so, though. Sky is... different. She says that she'd rather collect experiences than treasures. That we can always change our perspective if we want to; it's just a question of wanting to."

    She chuckled.
    "Sky doesn't think much of other dragons, sometimes. She thinks everyone but her has got it wrong. Maybe that's the arrogance of youth talking. But then, I suppose everyone who was right when the whole world was wrong must have been seen as arrogant, in their time, wouldn't you say?"

    "I just hunt demons," Hanna grinned. "All these big questions just distract ya when there's a mouth with a thousand fangs trying to rip your face off."

    Cassie shrugged.
    "Maybe I'm just getting old." And at the venerable age of twenty three, no less.

    As the pair wandered down the loggia towards the sunset – it was Cassandra's custom to watch the golden sun as it vanished below the horizon wherever she could – she thought back to something Sky said to her, what seemed like an age ago.

    The years only melt into each other when we let them, little one. Keep your gaze firmly locked to the things in front of you; cherish every moment, and you shall never lose your way. You have a hundred years, give or take a dozen – it is enough, if you use each one.

    And if, when the time comes, you find that it is not... well, we shall attend to that on a different day.

  37. #187
    Forum Farseer Akranadas's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2004
    Brisbane, Australia
    Nautilus’ Encounter

    There was a light fog that hugged the river, coating it in a fine mist. Sitting within the water and fog was small fishing boat floated silently. Its two passengers hand thrown down anchor in the middle part of the river, from there they threw out a few fishing lines. The sun was creeping through the tree line, casting its light across the waters and onto the boat itself.

    The two fishermen sat silently for the most part, their backs to one another as they focused on their fishing, watching to see if their lines hooked a bite from a fish. It wasn’t long before the elder of the two noticed his line bouncing around, he turned to his compatriot “I think I’ve got something” which caused the other to turn around to watch his friend hook his fish.

    “By the king it must be big” he said, as he tried to reel in the line, watching as his rod began to bend before it gave way with an almighty snap, causing the fisherman to fall back and rock the boat in the process. Before they could fathom what had happened, the second fishing line began to spin as it too had something on the line. “Quick!” shouted one of the fisherman as the other grabbed the rod and began to reel it back. Yet, just like the other one it soon snapped.

    “What in the world” one of them said, holding his broken fishing rod in his lap. “What do you think it was?” but before his friend could answer, they heard the sound of bubbles reaching the surface. The both carefully leaned over the side of the boat to peer down into the cold river water, only to seeing a number of bubbles rising up. They looked bewilder at each other until the bubbles stopped, it was then that they noticed something in the depths... a large pair of eyes.

    It sent them back into the boat as they clambered for their oars to row them back to the shore, but it was too late as the creature burst up through the water, sending a cold spray crashing down upon the helpless fishermen. It flapped its massive wings before falling back down into the water with a massive splash, causing a wave to seen the small boat towards the shore. The two fishermen fell over each other trying to get out, screaming wildly as they fought against the plants that dotted the river back before they took off into the fields.

    The dragon resurface, her head just appearing on the surface of the water before blowing some bubbles and sinking back down into the depths.

  38. #188
    Wandering Swordsman Lestaki's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    London, Blighty
    Kingsrest, Sors
    Louise blushed as she listened to his proposal.

    (Maximillian rolls Rapport +2, 5. Success.)

    After a moment’s hesitation, she offered him her trembling hand. “I do,” she said. She let her love slide the ring onto her finger.

    Louise wiped away her tears and smiled at Maximillian. “We must live without fear. I will pray for your safety, but I trust that my brother’s wisdom and your skill will not betray me,” she said.

    The life of the rider nobility was one of exorbitant privilege. In return, they were invariably expected to go to war with their Duchy until the day they died. While Frederik embraced that destiny as the only true purpose of his life, Maximillian had never felt the same way. Laksaeka’s cultists knew that to love was to fear loss, and nothing took more from men with less care than war. Even so, Laksaeto was noble in his way, and there were times when a knight had to fight. This was one of those times.

    Maximillian kissed his bride to be. That was all for tomorrow. Today he was alive and by her side; there could be no more joyful thing than that.

  39. #189
    The Carnal Cavern, Sors; Five years ago

    Viktor took a sip from his wine and did his utmost best to stare a hole through the table as he tried to avoid eye contact with any of the women and patrons. Farrukshiyar had sent him an unexpected invitation for one last party before he left on his journey. The two of them had never been fast friends, but to decline would have been impolite, so Viktor had duly accepted. He had been waiting for an hour now. Farrukshiyar had not shown up yet, and neither had any of the others.

    The address specified in the invitation had been a brothel, much to the young Eisenwald's shock. Though he had jokingly claimed to Frederik that he was well familiar with them, this was in fact his first time in a house of lesser virtue, and the experience was making him deeply uncomfortable. When he grew up, the nuns had told him all sorts of horror stories about the people that visited such places, and the women that dwelled within them.

    What was keeping Farruk? Viktor attempted to attract the attention of one of the servants while simultaneously trying to avoid attracting attention.

    With his eyes so desperately fixated on the winding grooves of the surprisingly (or perhaps not so much, given the kind of activities this place was renowned for) sturdy oak table nestled into the corner stall where he'd sequestered himself, poor Viktor had little hope of noticing the raven-haired woman lithely part from the shadows and slide into the booth with him.

    When she leaned over across the precariously tiny divide to rest her head atop his shoulder (tapping his feet insistently and scowling to himself, he never really had a chance to see her coming), it was all the poor Eisenwald scion could do not to immediately leap to his feet, bolt upright and at attention, at the sheer impropriety of it all.

    Nevertheless, he could not repress a slight jolt of shock, causing some of the wine to spill from the glass onto the table. He mumbled an apology as his cheeks turned scarlet, scandalized by the behavior of the dark-haired woman. He gently tried to pull his shoulder free as his mind raced towards the obvious conclusion. "My apologies, milady. I think you've mistaken me for somebody else."

    The woman laughed.

    “Oh, that's precious.” She smiled admiringly. “I very well near assault you, and you're the one apologising to ?me.”

    She relinquished her hold on Viktor's shoulder and leaned back, raking her deep blue eyes over the novitiate Venator's lean, muscular frame.

    “Not bad,” she noted appreciatively, “though it ?does make me wonder what you're doing here. If a pretty noble like you can't get a girl of his own, then what hope do the rest of us have?”
    She chuckled; though, given her evident beauty - vividly accentuated by a black dress of gossamer-thin fabric wrapped around alabaster skin like a cloak of shadows in the dim, red light of the Cavern – it was certainly something of an odd statement for her to make.

    Despite himself Viktor smiled briefly at the woman's reply. People had called him many things over the years, but pretty or handsome was not one of them.
    "I have been waiting for a fr... fellow noble. This was the meeting place he suggested, but I haven't seen him yet." He said, feeling the strange need to explain that he wasn't here to make use of their services. "I was actually planning ordering one last drink before heading home."
    His eyes darted around, looking for an escape, but the woman had him effectively cornered in the corner booth.

    “Oh, don't worry,” she gave Viktor a surprisingly gentle smile (albeit one laced with wry amusement as she watched the man twice her size glance about for possible routes of egress), “I won't bite unless you ask me to.”

    She waited a moment, to let Viktor turn that comment over a few times in his head before continuing.

    “So, where's home for you? Is it far?”

    "I'm from Pruss, near the East Sea. It's.. quite far away, now that I think about it. I haven't been home in a long time," answered the young knight, thinking back to the monastery where he grew up before being brought before Lord Eisenwald. "And what about you? Are you from around here?"

    “I like to think of myself as... a citizen of the world,” she grinned. “If everywhere is my home, then I can stay there all my life, whether I find myself in the gutters or in the finest palace.”

    “After all, isn't that what we all want?” She smiled, tilting her head slightly. “A place where we may all be ourselves. Where we can feel safe, and wear no masks?"

    "I... suppose so." said Viktor. He was beginning to see why Farrukshiyar liked this place, aside from the distressingly small amount of clothing the women wore. He wasn't really sure what to say after the woman's statement, though, and replied with a noncommittal smile.

    "I didn't catch your name?"

    “What's in a name?” She smiled, then shook her head, having seemingly concluded something in her mind. “I could give you the name I give to everyone else who comes here, but something tells me I shouldn't. After all, you're not here for the same reasons they are – you've spent more time staring at this table than any of the girls here. Or the men, for that matter.”

    “Not interested in all that?” She wondered. “Or have you already found someone?”

    The face of the Valentin assassin entered his thoughts unbidden, but Viktor quickly pushed repressed them. Her bravery in combat was undeniable, and her thoughts on religion were fascinating. Their prayer sessions had certainly brought them closer together, but surely it was nothing more.

    "I came here to say goodbye to a friend, not to enjoy the sights. Not sure that I could." He mumbled the last line to himself rather than speaking it out loud.

    The raven-haired woman chuckled amiably and looked away to admire the dancers twirling atop the tables.

    “No? Why not? They're all quite lovely; I can assure you they wouldn't mind if you took a moment to admire the scenery, so to speak.”

    "It's not..."

    Viktor struggled for words, but couldn't think of any other way to put it. He averted his eyes again, looking back at his glass of wine.

    "It's not proper."

    The lady seemed to find this terribly funny, as she immediately burst into laughter. “Oh, what an adorable little Catholanne you are,” she said, once the laughter had subsided. “It's very sweet, really. A little quaint, of course, but sweet.”

    His eyes narrowed as looked back at the woman, all embarrassment and discomfort forgotten as his temper flared hot in his chest. "Truly? How so?"

    She chuckled. “Oh? Hit a nerve?”

    She waved a hand as if to dispel the offence, and gave a half-shrug.

    “The priests say that if it were up to them, places like this wouldn't exist, and yet no more than a month ago I saw a man who looked very much like a bishop of Sors staggering bleary-eyed into the dawn from the mouth of a place very much like this one.”

    She shrugged again. “Most people will, if they're asked, say they believe in the King, and will contend very strenuously that they are good and obedient Catholannes, or Protestators, or Constantians – or whatever name the faith calls itself wherever they come from.”

    She smiled.
    “The problem, of course, is most people are liars and hypocrites.”

    “You seem different, and that is endearing to me. Why? Does it offend you?"

    "It does when another views it as a source of amusement. What is the meaning of faith when one views is something to be tossed aside at one's convenience? What is the point of any convictions if you do not have the strength of spirit to follow up on them? It matters not to me what others believe, be it Catholanne, Protestator, Constantian, Calvinism, or whatever it is. But it bothers me when somebody professes to be something they are not."

    “I think it curious that, when you say 'it matters not to I what others believe', you list only the least contentious faiths in the world. I wonder – how far does that tolerance extend? How deep does it run, and where does it end?”

    "A person's faith does not change my opinion of them. It is not my place to tell l another what he or she should believe, but if you don't feel your faith is worthy of your full attention, then you probably shouldn't claim to be a believer."

    “No? It wouldn't change your view of someone, then, if they confessed to following a fallen angel?”

    Viktor shrugged as he started to feel the influence of the wine he had been drinking for the last hour. He had spent several days with the Venators being questioned about his views and beliefs, and a similar question had been asked of him several times before. "It would not. The poor and despondent farmer will remain the same to me, as does the craven noble, regardless of who they believe in. But I would question their sanity in confessing their belief in a fallen angel so openly."

    “And it would be a confession, wouldn't it?” She smiled sadly. “For all the great works of man, a girl can have a blade thrust into her heart simply for believing the wrong thing. Hah. As if we are free to choose these things.”

    "Such is the way of things. And what is it that you believe, if I may ask?" he replied.

    “Me? I believe in freedom. Shouldn't we all?”

    "Depends of how you would define freedom. The freedom to believe what you want? The freedom to serve your lord or duke? The freedom to go wherever one pleases, to be unbound by society's natural order? What one might see as freedom, another might a danger to their livelihood." Viktor frowned as he forced those last words out. Despite his efforts to remain pure, Frederik's atrociously boring lessons and the nature of man and the philosophy of society and freedom had left some impact on him.

    “And that's the rub, isn't it? None of us are really free. Believe the wrong thing, and society will kill you for it. Refuse to serve someone who may not be your better, but has power over you by coincidence of birth, and you may well face the same. What is natural about that? And yet, such is the world we live in.”

    "Then you can do one of two things, You give up on your belief and compromise, or you are prepared to die to defend it.”

    “Never die for your ideals,” she grinned, tossing back the last of her wine, “make the other sorry bastard die for his.”

    "Agreed" said Viktor, doing the same.

    He turned his gaze to the doorway at the sound of commotion, and watched as one of the burly doormen came stumbling in backwards, blood from his chest. The patrons started to yell and shriek a the sharp bang of gunfire could be heard coming from the other side of the mansion. Some of the Carnal Cavern employees panicked, while other reacted with much greater speed and clarity of mind. Confused as to what was happening, VIktor leaned forward in his booth, hoping to catch a glimpse of the fighting, but reeled back as a group of dark dressed soldiers burst into the room.

    Evidently, the Venators had opted to skip past the formal inquiries in favour of sudden and brutal violence; or, perhaps, the reticence of the doorman – a thickly muscled and tattooed fellow a head taller than Viktor – had forced their hand. In either case, the same doorman was now stumbling backwards in a blind panic, his legs windmilling under him as his bloody hands clutched desperately at his chest. He crashed into one of the tables, sending glasses and wine bottles tumbling onto the floor, though Viktor could scarcely make out the sound of them breaking over the chorus of screams that followed.

    Chancing a second glance out into the chaos, Viktor saw a burly patron rush one of the black-cloaked Venators with a short, thick blade and half-buttoned pants; the Venatori turned aside the weapon with contemptuous ease and rammed his own sword into the man's gut even as one of his comrades fired a snap-shot that went wide and struck one of the bare-legged dancers in the thigh. Blood sprayed in a haze, gunfire echoed from above, and the Venators marched on, indifferent.

    Viktor could scarcely believe his misfortune. The brothel Farrukshiyar had invited him to had become the target of a Venator raid and he, their youngest recruit, had spent the evening getting drunk in the corner booth while talking to one of the girls. And if their methods were any indication, this place was considered beyond redemption. He reached for the dagger at his belt, but cursed when he realised that he left it back at the palace. The woman next to him watched the events with a look of frustration and disappointment.

    The heretic hunters weren't taking prisoners; though a few of the dancers - huddled together and terrified in whatever hazily safe alcoves they could find – escaped the initial sweeps by dint of being unarmed, it was doubtful how long they'd be safe, especially with the slaughter that by now echoed throughout the halls. Fighting in such close quarters was bound to result in heavy casualties, even with a disciplined and elite force like the Venatori leading the charge.

    “And so, here we are.” The woman muttered bitterly. “Anyone who won't scrape and bow at Jalren's feet must die.”

    Her words caused everything else to fall into place. Viktor sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “I see”, he said, “so this place is a cult.”

    The revelation changed nothing, of course. The Venators visited each booth in turn, cutting the down the occupants with gunfire and stabbing blades. Even though he had been accepted into their order, he would die at their hands before his first day amongst their ranks. Well, if he was going to die, he might as well go down fighting.

    When a pair of Venators halted in front of their booth, Viktor toppled the table and kicked as hard as he could, knocking them both over. He grabbed one of their fallen pistols and kicked the other’s sword away before the man could reach it. A third and a fourth Venator stepped in and aimed their pistols at his back.

    Viktor's interruption was impressive, possessed of the blinding speed and skill that would one day define him as an honoured Rider; unfortunately, whatever his intentions – to call a momentary halt to the slaughter, to die with honour as would befit a member of his noble bloodline, or to simply live to see the next sunrise – might have been, they succeeded primarily in distracting the Venatori long enough for the cultists to act.

    One of the dancing girls, safely sequestered away in the corner, rose to her feet amidst the broken glass and the gasping, dying forms of her friends. One of them tried to hold onto her as she rose, bloodied fingers clinging slickly to pale calves, leaving a bloody handprint and a smear of blood from just below the girl's knee to her ankle.

    A fifth Venator, just a silhouette backlit in the door frame, managed to cry out a warning – just a few seconds too late. The shaky dancer hurled something through the smoky darkness, something that erupted into eerie emerald flames in the air that fell upon the two Venators presently holding weapons on Viktor. One of them fired off a shot in sheer panic before the lurid green fire raced up his arms, liquefying his skin in an instant and boiling his eyeballs in their sockets - where it landed, Viktor didn't see, but thankfully it hadn't hit what it'd been _previously_ aimed at, if nothing else.

    Without a moment's hesitation, Viktor aimed his pistol and sent a bullet through the dancer's skull. He uttered a brief prayer to Jalren before throwing himself into the fray in aid of the Venators. The patrons those dancers not aligned to the cult fled the room in terror, as soldiers and cultist clashed amongst broken bottles, toppled tables and and bloodstained carpets.

    Merciful Jalren, hear my prayer

    It was a slaughter, naturally, though at times it was difficult to tell which side was slaughtering whom – the Venators, as virtually peerless killers in close quarters against deadly and unpredictable foes, second only to the raw, brute power of a Rider, tore through the cultist defenders in short order wherever they stood toe to toe; of course, the brothel's defenders did everything they could to avoid that, hurling projectiles and luring the advancing heretic hunters into corridors and pelting them with crossbows.

    Though Viktor could only bear witness to the madness unfolding in a single room, the unearthly screams that attended only the final moments of horribly wounded men – their lungs and throats warping to release horrific wails they would never have been capable of otherwise – howled through the thick wooden boards of the ceiling above, along with the sinister crackle of spreading flames.

    Half-staggering over the fallen body of one of her comrades, Hanna swore under her breath as her left leg practically buckled beneath her – she was caked from head to toe in blood, some of it Venator, some cultist, and someone she hadn't seen coming had shot her in the outer thigh, so even refraining from screaming in agony took a terrible effort. Not for the first time, she muttered an sardonic 'thank you' to whatever blessed mirrorsmith had invented the shower – she'd sure as hell need one after this was all over.

    “Viktor?!” She demanded. “What in the King's name are you doing here?”

    On the one hand Viktor was happy that at least one of the Venators was able to verify his identity, but on the other hand it did mean he had to explain himself. He didn't know the senior Venator too well. The older girl had attended one of his trials, but he only remembered her name. Viktor cursed when he raised he left the invitation back home, and panicked as he desperately tried to come up with a good excuse.

    "I... was... hoping to... meet a friend, madam? I mean miss."

    Hanna pinched the bridge of her nose with blood-stained fingers.
    “Do you have many friends in the cult of Rilath, Viktor?” She asked, her tone only mildly scathing (which seemed generous, given the circumstances). “Ugh. No, don't answer that. If you say 'yes' I'm going to have to shoot you, and if I shoot you there's nobody to stand in front of me when I clear the next room. We clear?”

    He nodded earnestly in response and tightened his grip on his borrowed sabre. "Your orders, miss?"

    Hanna gave him a grim half-smile.
    “Walk in front of me.” She said. “And try not to die until I've shot everyone, alright?”

    When Viktor left the Canal Cavern that night, it was as if he was a different man. His clothes were torn, burnt, and drenched in blood. Cuts and burn wounds marked his skin where the cultists attacks had found their mark, and he could barely hear the Venators to his right talk because of the gun Hanna had fired next to his ear. The battle had been hard and bloody, but in the end the Venators had prevailed.

    After being thoroughly questioned about the events, Viktor was released by the Venators. Though Hanna kept an eye on him for a while, the only real lasting consequence was a persistant rumor that he liked to get real close and personal with the enemy. Frederik and the Princeguard never heard about what happened. Even though she was curious Scott the cause of his wounds, Pieri was enthusiastic to put the medic skills she'd been learning to the tests. Farrukshiyar had vanished on another one of his drunken quests, and never learned of the result of his jest.

    The raven-haired woman crested the hillside of Sors along with the first rays of dawn, and let herself sink down at last to her knees. She had left her two Venator pursuers behind in the tangled back-streets and alley ways of Sors, and it didn't seem likely now that they had a hope of catching up. For that, at least, she could be thankful. She would live to see the next sunrise, and perhaps the one after that, if the fates were kind.

    She allowed herself a sigh, and a few moments of peaceful respite as she drew back her black hood to let the dawnlight dapple her face with gentle radiance.

    The battle, such as it was, had been over for hours now – the bodies of the Venators, the followers of Rilath, and innocents alike all mingling together, frozen and unmoving now that their heart's blood had left them and their flames had gone out.

    She allowed herself a moment of wistful bitterness; but, she supposed, it was as the odd Prussian knight had said – neither her friends nor the Venators could sway from their convictions, and so they had fought, and so many had died.

    Such is war, she thought to herself. The time had come for a new beginning; a change, in fact. After all, what was the difference?
    Last edited by Kronoch; 4th Jul 16 at 5:38 AM.

  40. Gamers Lounge Senior Member Boardwars Senior Member  #190
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    Sors - Pieri's quarters

    ...I must admit your methods are rather unusual, but I cannot argue their effectiveness in practice, at least. There are a few dissenters still, of course, but I am confident everyone will be ready when our Duke requires them....

    Pieri gently folded the letter from the commander of her dragoons. Thorne was your typical by the book academy raised commander, but she was gaining his respect little by little. The lack of the severe penalties for the smallest mistakes her father used to impose probably helped as well.

    She looked at the pile of encoded letters from her old agents. Week by week it was shrinking now as she convinced more and more of them to report to Myska instead. She expected a few would hold out in the long run, but that didn't prevent Lady Valentin from forwarding the information anyways.

    Pieri carefully arranged the covert documents into a neat bundle for the new spymaster and turned her attention to the books more relevant to her position: status reports of training, recruitment numbers and profiles, promotion suggestions from her senior staff, etc.

    Most of it was new to the rider, yet much of it bore little difference to managing her own estate. Recruitment was much the same, though the desired traits in candidates had shifted from the past.

    She sat her pen down, watching the setting sun. It was yet another reminder of home. She wondered what Minerva was up to. Probably deep in her studies again or chasing another artifact.

    Her door creaked open and Elma barged in, as was her way. "Sorry for interupting," Pieri's younger sister said in a tone that made it clear she really wasn't, "But I wanted to see you before you got too busy."

    "I'm always busy nowadays," Pieri replied with a sigh.

    "Then we'll need to correct that," Elma patted her sister on the shoulder, "But first, I wanted to give you something. Minerva left it in my care long ago," she held out a large jewellers box, lifting the lid to reveal its contents; a wound silver tiara fashioned in the shape of Minerva's wings and decorated with large purple and black gemstones. Pieri gasped as she recognized it from paintings at the estate; the crown of Lady Lena Valentin-Krieger, Pieri's great-great grandmother who had ruled Bremen when it was still an independant city state.

    "I can't possibly wear that" Pieri protested, "It'd be an insult to her legacy."

    Elma shook her head. "I can't think of anyone more suitable," she said with a smile, "Lady Lena was one of the most inspirational riders Minerva, and our family, ever had. Armies rallied behind her that protected Bremen from aggressors for nearly a century. She was known for showing no fear and charging headlong into battle at the head of the formation, but, even more than that, she knew the will of her people and ensured every citizen of Bremen had their necessary share. Some are calling you her reincarnation, but I just think you have similar hearts."

    "'re not going to let me refuse, are you." Pieri stated as she carefully picked up the crown and slipped it over her head. It fit perfectly and, as she traced her fingers over the metalwork, she could sense the work of the skilled metalsmiths who had resized it.

    Checking her reflection in the mirror, Pieri smiled softly. Elma was right, it did make a striking statement and, if it inspired the men, well that was all the better.

    "Now come on," her sister stated impatiently, "It's time you relaxed for a while."

    Pieri shook her head. "I will in a bit, promise, but there are people her who could use my hands first..."

    Pleasure Quarters, Sors

    Sabine de Moulin was another figure who had joined Frederik’s quiet expedition to Sors, albeit for her own reasons. She was a noted beauty who inevitably turned heads when she was presented at court, but her real business had been to meet with the Rose Cult of Sors. At her instigation, she and Pieri criss-crossed the lower districts of Sors and lent assistance to commoners in need. Sabine wore the many faces of her cult, providing counsel to the lovelorn, medicine to the afflicted, advice to the courtesans and prostitutes of Sors, and her aid with difficult births. After seeing the glittering socialite seize command of that ugly miracle amidst sweat and blood, Pieri saw a new side of the youngster.

    Pieri concentrated on the field she knew best: healing the wounded and ill, though she'd found that displays of her runic artes tended to lift low spirits as well. As she walked among the needy, she lent her aid where she could and, unusual for a cultist, rarely spoke of Jalren unless someone asked.

    Though they were an odd sight in the poorer districts, or perhaps because of it, word soon got round that two skilled cultists were looking after the common folk. Soon enough, they were flooded with requests for help and left in the painful position of having to turn down or put off pleas for assistance in favour of tending to the truly needy. Sabine doubled over at the end of another long day. "Enough, no more. If I work a single minute more, I will have no strength to face tomorrow," she said.

    "Then let us rest for a while," Pieri replied. In truth, she wasn't tiring yet, but her companion did not have the stamina of a Rider, "There is only so much two people can do, after all."

    "Indeed so. I have brothers and sisters who do this every day of their lives, but it is never enough," Sabine said. She tapped her rose pendant to convey her meaning. "So, Lady Valentin, where shall we rest? I know of a very good brothel that provides fine tea for those who have no pressing desire for sex, but perhaps you would prefer a more decorous establishment?" She grinned mischievously.

    "Tea sounds lovely," Pieri exchanged a similar grin, "The decorum of the establishment matters little, I can assure you I have likely seen places of more ill repute."

    "Lord Eisenwald must live a fretful life," Sabine said. "I will lead the way."

    They swiftly arrived at the Inner Temple Garden. Sabine already knew most of the courtesans by name and was swiftly guided to the titular garden. The two nobles settled down to tea and cakes in the calm just before the evening set in and the brothel's business truly began. "Thank you for accompanying me," Sabine said. "There aren't many Riders who would deign to do so."

    "It is my pleasure, truly," Pieri replied with a soft smile, "And you'll find I'm not much like my peers, for better or worse. I only wish I could grow gardens like this, but unfortunately the climate of my homelands would forbid it." (edited)

    Sabine tilted her head slightly to admire the inevitable roses. Their white table was half-concealed by the flowers and foliage surrounding them, as if they were lost in their own garden. "With all due respect, I've noticed, my lady. You have my respect for pursuing your love despite the objections of others. Few Riders would dare contemplate a romance with one of their own status."

    "Well, I suppose I'm not one to follow traditions either," Pieri chuckled, "Not that there were any written rules that forbid our love. I've always been one to do what I felt was right no matter the consequences. I've been called a fool countless times for it and they might be right for calling me so, but I trust my flame to carry me where I need to go."

    "Wise words, indeed. I feel the same way," Sabine said. She smiled coyly at Pieri and kissed her rose pendant. "I have followed in my mother's footsteps, and I've been called worse than a fool in my time. People would say I'm no different than the courtesans of this brothel, and they're right, but not in the way that they think."

    "Well, traditions themselves often change with time. I'm proof of that." Pieri bit her lip. It was too easy to get carried away speaking with Sabine and she had to watch what she said, especially surrounded by so many ears, "...I've chosen to not carry on my family's old ways. I suspect many of the court are relieved by this, but others would call me a radical or a traitor for abandoning our traditional duty to Pruss."

    "It's easy to forget, since we're born to rider families, but we are free to live our own lives," Sabine said. "Let the others say what they will. You can live a life in thrall to love or a life in thrall to fear, but I know which I prefer."

    "I simply chose to help people in my own way," Pieri shrugged, "To ease suffering where I can, though now I've been called to the seat of Vice Marshal I have other duties to see to as well. My father let his duty consume his entire life, I do not intend to do the same. Heck, I've even picked up some hobbies." She dug into a pocket and sat a small object on the table; a detailed figurine of Minerva cast in silver with small jewelled eyes, "Though this is only practice for my true goal."

    "Very beautiful. I think you will set a fine example for the others in Pruss. Our charming duchy can rather lack imagination at times," Sabine said.

    "We are a proud martial nation," Pieri agreed, "And armies are usually slaves to traditional methods, effective as they can be. Frederik, however, is not anathema to progress where he feels it is needed and neither am I. I have already been drafting some new tactics that I hope our foes will not expect. Of course I cannot go into details."

    Sabine waved a hand. "Oh, I'm not concerned about our lack of martial innovation. The whole duchy has no appreciation of the beautiful and lovely things in life. At least Fritz can play the flute and read books. My earnest hope for his reign is that his youthful heart won't be entirely crushed by the siren call of muskets and cannon fire."

    "I hope the same for my own house," Pieri said, "Viktor and I have both been thrust into new positions against the traditions of our families and our upbringings. We need to take care that the demands of our work do not consume us, but the future will be what it is I suppose."

    "If you can remember love is both joy and sacrifice, I am sure you will prosper," Sabine said. "I suppose I'm preaching to the choir, but though everyone knows Laksaeto's truth is acceptance, my mother has always taught me that Laksaeka's truth is just the same. To love someone is to accept them and yourself. It is easily said but not easily done." (edited)

    "Of course," Pieri sipped her tea. Sabine had been correct about the quality. "I know who I am and mostly where I am going. That should suffice, I think, but we've debated enough. Why do I feel this meeting is more than pleasantries?"

    "My vocation, if not my whole life, is pleasantries," Sabine said. She grinned. "You may consider it frivolous, but discussing relationships is a devotional act for Laksaeka's children. So I have a clear conscience when I ask you whether Lord Eisenwald's oath of abstinence to honour Proud Akai is a hardship."

    'it has caused some difficulties I admit but we're managing," Pieri replied thoughtfully, "Though I've always believed love should be more than the physical act and attraction in the first place."

    "I suppose it's no different from the abstinence our faith encourages prior to marriage, but I would be uncomfortable in your position. I'm glad you can be philosophical about it," Sabine said. She rested her chin on her hand and smiled. "Amorous congress is not all of love, but in my experience, it is vital for many people to complete a loving relationship. And much misunderstood, at that. I wish one didn't need the Rose Pendant to speak frankly of such things."

    "Oh the stories I could tell you of my younger days when I journeyed all over Sors," Pieri mused, "Yet no matter who I shared a bed with, my thoughts somehow returned to Viktor in the early hours of the morning."

    Sabine nodded. "Such things take time. How could it be otherwise? Now that it has come to fruition, I will commend you both to Laksaeka."

    "We still have to convince our houses this is in their best interests, of course," Pieri stated, "Which is going to take time I do not have available currently."
    "A thousand curses on the name of war. I have my own reasons to resent it," Sabine said. She sighed. "Still, you are the Rider. If you cannot persuade, you can command."
    "Your own reasons? Don't tell and Adalheit?" Pieri raised an eyebrow.

    "You're abnormally sharp, but I won't deny it," Sabine said. She ran her fingers around the edge of her teacup. "I sought her company with my characteristic playfulness as just another brush, but it was more memorable than I anticipated. I am practising what I preach when I throw myself into my duties to force down melancholy thoughts."

    "Well, I'm happy for you two," Pieri replied, "Though I must admit my greatest apprehension about this war is having to face her in battle. I fear such an encounter will only end in the loss of a life. More likely mine than hers, given the weapon she wields."

    "Is there anything to be happy about? We met once and no more, and I'll be on that battlefield where you fear to lose your life," Sabine said. She flicked her teacup with a long finger. "I would like to see her again if I could. But I fear I will never have the opportunity."

    "The last thing I want is for either of us to die," Pieri stated, "And I'm sure she feels the same. Adalheit and I are friends despite the wills of our commanders and we are also Riders, privy to freedoms not afforded most. I have faith in the angels, especially Jalren, that things will work out somehow. Our Duke will have his lands, a truce of some sort will be declared, and Reiter will be free to see you once more. We need to think positive and work towards that."

    "We can but hope. But don't misunderstand, our name will be mud in Austren," Sabine said. She shrugged and smiled. "Enough about trivial things. Let's talk about something more cheerful."

  41. #191
    Praetorian Quarters, Palace

    The last light of the day reflected off the blades of the duellistsas they faced each other, bathing the courtyard in an orange glow.The two had been fighting for close to an hour now, and neither appeared to be willing to back down. Major Brandt observed thepractice bouts as he waited patiently for his lord. It had been warm with a slight breeze, so the wait had actually been rather pleasant. The Major wondered absent-mindedly if he could request a leave ofabsence so he could spend some time with his wife and son, perhapseven take them to Sors. The city seemed to have an endless supply of entertainment, and the Eisenwald villa had plenty of room for a visiting family of three.

    As he watched the two combatants square off, it occurred to him that the Praetorian Commander, Lord Arleans, might be the greatest warrior he had ever seen, but that he was also one of the world's worst teachers. At no point did he attempt to explain the finer details ofhis techniques, nor the faults in Viktor's. Instead, Lord Arleans seemed content to impart his knowledge by beating it into his student over and over again until Viktor got it. The major hoped they would end their practice session soon, if only to spare Lord Eisenwald another trip to Lady Valentin to get patched up. Not that Viktor seemed to mind, but Brandt didn't feel like travelling across half of Sors again.

    Viktor and Luis cautiously circled one another, each unwilling to make the first move. The Praetorian Commander's guard was impenetrable as usual, and he had managed to make it through the duels practically unscathed. Viktor on the other, had to been forced to study the ground up close several times today. He slowly released his breath and gripped his parrying dagger tighter.

    If only there was a way to force Luis to make a mistake.

    Viktor played with the thought for a moment, then suddenly dropped his guard and pulled back his sabre. Luis reacted instantly, his blade lashing out to take advantage of the opportunity. The sword was intercepted by the Rider's parrying dagger, entangling itself in the sword's cross guard. Viktor pulled Luis' sword aside and returned the favour in kind, slashing at the praetorian's chest. The man untangled his blade with a swift twist of his wrist and narrowly dodged theblow, taking a scratch on his shoulder in the process.

    Invigorated by his momentary success, Viktor launched an all-out assault on Lord Arleans. A ray of hope appeared in his life as he managed to land a second blow, soon followed by a third. The assembled dragoons and praetorians stopped to watch this unexpected development. Could this be the day when he got the better of the famed warrior? His dream was soon crushed as Luis intercepted his final attack with contemptuous ease and overwhelmed him with an avalanche of attacks. Sword slash followed gunshot, breaking through the Eisenwald's guard and sending him sprawled on the floor once again. The praetorians returned to their training bouts, reassured that the world was back to the way it ought to be. Viktor watched the clouds drift by as hetried to catch his breath.

    I was so close...

    He turned his head as the Luis marched into view. The man remained expressionless as he regarded he prone Eisenwald.

    “We have battled enough. I will return to my duties. Seek out another sparring partner.” the man stated flatly before he walked away.

    Viktor sighed and let Brandt help him up. He knew that Arleans would tire of him at some point, but he had hoped to spend some more time studying the man's techniques. He collected his belongings and left thecourtyard with Brandt in tow. Lady Mendoza greeted him with a warmsmile when he entered the hall.

    “Well done, Lord Eisenwald. I actually think you managed to impress him.Not that Luis would admit to such a thing, of course.”

    “Thank you Lady Mendoza,” Viktor replied with a smile. “He doesn't want tospar with me any more, though.”

    “It speaks volumes that you've managed to hold his attention for so long. But doyou feel like you've learned from the experience?”

    Viktor thought back to the praetorian's fluid combat style, moving from oneweapon to the next with stunning grace and deadly precision. He had memorized the man's moves, even though he wouldn't be able to replicate them. Not yet anyway.

    “Yes,”he said. “Yes, I think I have.”

    Königsberg, Pruss

    Jägerwaited patiently for Eline to regain her composure as the lattermarched circles in the room, shouting and swearing. The cause of herfrustration was the letter she held in her right hand which detailed,in neat penmanship, Elma Valentin's latest set of demands regardingthe impending marriage between Viktor and Pieri.

    "She wants us to waive the dowry?" Eline shouted. "Has she completely lost her mind? Who do they think they are?"

    Jäger, who had endured Eline's tirade stoically for the past ten minutes, shrugged."The best course for any negotiation is to start high and meet each other halfway."

    "This isn't a negotiation. She wants us to throw away an ancient traditionthat exist for a bloody good reason! All of our riders, all of ourhouse members have paid or received dowries when they got married.Why should Lady Pieri be any different?"

    "I would remind you that your father and grandmother did not marry a rider like them, nor tried to ally with another rider house. This is a fairly unique situation. I think we can make a few exceptions in this case." Jäger tapped the ground with his cane and changed the subject. "Forget about the dowry for now. What else is in the letter?"

    Eline quickly scanned the letter for the most important parts. "An exchange of gifts for Lady Minerva and Lord Soltríer... well obviously. Reduced trade rates... acceptable, but the rate she asks for is near cost. Unli... Oh this is ridiculous. Unlimited access to Eisenwald trading posts and offices! Does she expect us to hand her our trade secrets on a silver platter? This is utterly unreasonable!"

    "I think she's using the same tactic you did when you asked for the assistance of the Valentin information network and only offered them a quarter of the profits," the Steward replied calmly.

    "That was something completely different!"

    Jäger shrugged. "Does she say anything about future children or where our Lord and future Lady will make their home?"

    “Nothing.But it's far too soon to talk about it anyway.” Eline let herself fall into the chair and waved the letter. "What am I supposed to do with this?"

    "Well,milady. If you would see things from their perspective for a moment.It's very clear to us how we will benefit from this alliance, but Ido not think it is as clear to them how they will benefit from it. Ibelieve it will be to our benefit in the long run if we accept theseproposals, if you make clear that the particulars will have to be negotiated."

    He raised his cane to pre-empt Eline's protest.

    "Need I remind you of thething you told me several weeks ago? Their House is still recovering from the reign of the previous Lord Valentin. His actions cost them alot of influence, and saw the Valentins greatly reduced in strength.Lady Pieri has brought them back from the brink, but they are stillin precarious position. Our House is far larger and wealthier than the Valentin house. We can afford to make sacrifices, but they cannot. If we put aside our pride for a moment and help them recover even a fraction of their former strength, we would benefit from it in the long run. And even a little information can spare us a lot of expenses and increase our profits tenfold."

    Eline thought long and hard as she considered the old man's words. Eventually she came to a decision.

    "I suppose you're right. Now, shall we start on a reply?

    Dear Lady Valentin,

    I hope this letter finds you in good health. We have received your letter in good order and have considered your terms.

    First things first. We would like to give you better terms on our previous proposal. In exchange for the co-operation of your Valentin information specialists, we are willing to offer 40% of the additional profits and savings. If the alliance comes to fruition you are allowed to make use of our facilities. We are even willing to fund the creation of new workspaces, both shared and individual, as long as these facilities provide a clear benefit to both our Houses. We also find the exchange of gifts for the dragons and the reduced trade rates to be acceptable. We will send a representative along shortly to discuss the particulars of these arrangements.

    With regards to the access to our trading posts and offices within the city, we find your request for unlimited access unacceptable. Please understand that as you deal in sensitive information and secrets, so do we in our own way. Giving the Valentin House unlimited access to the post is tantamount to exposing our trade secrets to the public, and would do nothing except compromise the position of our House.

    We are open to negotiation on these subjects however, but would prefer to discuss these matters soon and in person, with representatives of both our Houses.

    Kind regards,

    Lady Eline Eisenwald

  42. Gamers Lounge Senior Member Boardwars Senior Member  #192
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    Drakkneheim, Berlain

    Ralasouikis touched down gently in the courtyard of the Eisenwald Manor. The journey to Berlain had been uneventful, giving her plenty of time to prepare for the upcoming meetings. The negotiations surrounding the Valentin - Eisenwald alliance and the preperations for Viktor and Pieri's union had been unsurprisingly challenging, as both families sought to gain the upper hand in the relationship. But she knew she had to be fair to the Valentins for her brother's sake, at least.

    Eline waited for the servants to help her off Ralasouikis' back. She was nearing the end of her pregnancy, and long distance travel had become very tiresome indeed. The drake sank to the ground to make it easier for the servants to help Lady Eisenwald dismount, a fact for which she was very glad.

    "Thank you," she said softly as she put a hand on her loyal drake's slender neck.

    She took a quick bath and changed her clothes in the hours before the meeting with Elma Valentin. As the houses were based on near opposite sides of Pruss, they had agreed to meet on neutral ground in a central location. The Duchess had been kind enough to offer space in Drakkenheim for the negotiations, no doubt to keep an eye on the proceedings himself. (edited)

    The Eisenwald party left for Drakkenheim with plenty of time to spare. Even so, moving through the castle proved to be difficult for Eline in her current condition, and they arrived at the meeting chamber mere minutes before the agreed upon time.

    Elma Valentin was already waiting at the far end of the room. Dressed in the formal black and silver colors of her house with little decorum outside of the tight-fitting but somewhat utilitarian dress and travelling cloak. A small crowd dressed in the dark dresses of Valentin servants were gathered around the room, but all gave the noble a wide berth unless specifically called upon.

    "Greetings Lady Eisenwald," she said politely, her eyes revealing little through the square lenses of her silver eyeglasses. The lighting in the room only seemed to make the old, deep scar across her cheek seem more prominent, "I trust your trip was uneventful?"

    "Greeting, Lady Valentin," Eline replied with a smile, suddenly feeling less bothered by the idea of making the Valentins wait. "It was a journey like any other. I hope your journey was as uneventful as ours."

    She gestured towards the long table in the centre of the room. A number of the Duchess' servants were lined up along the wall, ready to offer refreshments and listen in on the ocnversation about to happen.

    "Shall we?"

    "It would be my pleasure," she tapped the floor once with the scabbard of her sword and the various servants around the room began setting the table like clockwork. Two of the Valentin girls gently assisted the Eisenwald woman in finding her seat as Elma found her own, ensuring that they were seated closely, limiting what the servants would overhear.

    Elma lit a long pipe as she waited for the servants to back away again. "I apologize for the theatrics but we must keep up appearances. Every family has enemies and our house in particular has a long line of rivals who would exploit any weakness they could find. Thankfully we are very good at removing those weaknesses."

    She breathed deep from the pipe, exhaling perfectly formed rings of smoke into the air above the table.

    "Which brings me to our current affair. We both know this alliance is a mistake for both of our houses."

    Eline allowed herself another smile, but a genuine one this time. "Mistake is not the word I would have used, but I share the sentiment. Out of all the available options, it appears our respective siblings have chosen the most difficult path by wanting to marry another rider."

    "Indeed they have and I suspect I will be unable to convince dear Pieri otherwise," Elma's amber eyes, a common trait of her blood, were still like daggers. Even she had picked up a few things from their father. "Her stubbornness has usually been a boon as of late but in this I cannot consent. I also see little benefit in mixing our house with a, no offence intended, guild of traders. We serve and will continue to serve the Throne of Pruss in our duty, even if that duty is changing. We will not use our resources to line the pockets of bankers and merchants."

    "No offense taken. Our family has never attempted to hide what we are, even if our chosen path is seen as less noble amongst the houses. And though I may not agree with my brother on all things, I will still try to help him best I can. Even if that means brokering this alliance." Eline's reply was calm and friendly. She had long since gotten used to the casual disdain with which the other noble houses treated the Eisenwalds. "You say you have no interest in talking about this alliance, and yet here you are."

    "I was hoping you could convince Viktor to give up this crazy dream," the Valentin woman stated with a heavy sigh, "But I get the feeling you're as bound to your brother's wishes as I am to Pieri's."

    "He ?is? the Lord of our house after all. He does get the final say, even if he rarely chooses to exercise that right." Eline accepted the glass of wine offered to her by one of the servants. "And I don't intend to sabotage his wishes. Not intentionally, anyway."

    She took a sip from her wine before casually asking, "Do you see us as a threat to House Valentin?"

    "Only in that this alliance might hurt our reputation further," Elma Valentine stated curtly, her face remaining a mask, "My sister is working hard to make our house more...honorable, I suppose is the best word to use. Everyone knows what our business used to be even if we didn't advertise it. We didn't ?have? to."

    "And now, under Lady Pieri's guidance, you have turned away from that path. A very noble goal. But also a difficult one, given the position that the previous Lord Valentin's isolationist tendencies have put your house in. It is no secret that your House's holdings and influence used to be more substantial before his later years." She looked Elma in the eye, trying to gauge her reaction.

    "That much is true," while Elma's lips formed a slight smile, it seemed completely disconnected from the rest of her body, "But we are one of the oldest houses in Patria Sol. If any trait has defined our entire history, it is our tenacity and ability to survive. but enough games I suppose."

    All of the tension seemed to leave the Valentin woman at once as she laid back in her seat, putting both feet on the table, "You only know of the Valentin family of Salvatore and Brunhild before him. Our family's greatest strength and tradition is changing to the whims of our Riders and dragon. In that Pmy sister is no different, but as before, I must ask what your really believe we can provide your house. The services you've requested are likely to no longer be provided by us in the future."

    "That what we always seek. Though you might see us as bankers or merchants, what Lord Soltríer has always asked of us is stability and security. And if what we desire most of all is making sure our house is secure and our homeland stable, the best way to do this is to ally ourselves with another House. The services I requested are based on our idea of how we might best help each other, but they are mere suggestions. If the terms are not agreeable or not even possible, then of course we open to any other suggestions. Even if the arrangment is temporary, House Eisenwald will take very good care of their allies."

    "We may not have finalized all the details, but if I know my sister I suspect she wants us to be seen as protectors," Elma smiled, a genuine one this time, as she absently adjusted her eyewear, "And I daresay she and I have done well to rebuild things as much as we have in the past five years. We border on prosperity once more, though gold and other resources would of course quicken the pace.

    So what I propose is simple: our men protect your caravans and other assets in exchange for a reasonable cut of the profits. Sure, mercenaries might be cheaper sometimes, but you can never trust them to not help themselves to the merchandise. We, on the other hand, will have a reputation to uphold."

    Eline quickly made a calculation in her head. All the caravans were expected to suffer a certain amount of accepted losses, but if the Valentins proved capable and honest that number could be adjusted downwards. The extra profits would be substantial, depending on the Valentin's cut of course.

    "That is acceptable," she said, waiting politely for the other woman to continue.

    "Well, that seems to be a start. Perhaps this arrangement isn't as foolhardy as I expected," Elma raised a hand as if to snap her fingers, but instead clicked her tongue a few times in an obviously rehearsed pattern. One of the Valentin servants approached carrying a bottle of wine, "A toast then? To our siblings, foolhardy and headstrong as they are."

    "A toast." said Eline with a smile. It was far too small as an alliance yet, but it was a start at least.

  43. #193
    Wandering Swordsman Lestaki's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    London, Blighty
    Ballroom, Kingrest
    At the appointed hour, an elite gathering of masked Riders and their partners met in a lofty ballroom without a roof. The stars shone down on them from above, while the forest of pillars outside were filled with dragons. Summoned by the swift messengers of Baraq’s brood, Oberhoheit and around half of his trusty Skyflight broke bread with the World Throne and her comrades. The horn-crowned red dragon bowed in submission to the invincible all-mother and closed his eyes as she greeted him.

    Inside the ballroom, Augusta held court with grace. Her usual severe robes were replaced by a flowing gossamer gown of white and purple and she let her considerably shorter husband take her gloved arm. Her delicate silver mask paid elegant tribute to the theme of the evening and served as a sharp contrast with her brother, who had not deigned to dress up at all for the occasion. It was widely understood that Artaxander would retire relatively early in the evening, but for now he stood by his sister and his wife and gruffy addressed those riders bold enough to approach him.

    Frederik, Amelia, and Hans arrived together, clad in outfits tailored for the occasion and fine white masks shaped to represent Aryeh, the original Augusta, and Judah respectively. Amelia’s lacerating wit was plainly behind this shocking choice and was on full display as she greeted her newfound namesake. “Greetings, my lady. I trust I find you well,” Amelia said.

    Augusta smiled and gestured for the Duchess to straighten from her curtsey. “The better for meeting you again. A most entertaining choice,” she said.

    “My original intention was that my lord should be Augusta, and I should be Aryeh,” Amelia said. “But I’ve learned from watching you that the truth should only be approached obliquely.”

    Frederik coughed. “I am sure no one desires to see me in skirts,” he muttered.

    He was swiftly rescued by his old friend and new rider, Lord Odysseus Ascaes Erue. The nephew of the Emperor by a long-dead brother was far removed from the succession but had made a name for himself as a valiant rider and a leader of men. Handsome and languid by nature, he was undoubtedly the most eligible bachelor in the room. He wore a well-tailored doublet and an elegant gold mask. “If we gnaw on poor Fritz any longer, there will be nothing left for the vultures,” Odysseus said. “Let us speak of philosophy, where he is on sounder ground.”

    “Gladly,” Augusta said. “A Prussian who knows of such things is a rare creature indeed.”

    Lady Anna Mendoza wore a scandalously bold gown that was offset incongruously by a well-worn pair of leather riding boots and the finely carved pistol she had belted to her waist. She wore a finely carved wooden lion’s mask and greeted her fellow desks alongside her stolid, dutiful husband. She wore her fennel pendant with characteristic pride.

    Lord Luis Arleans was technically another eligible bachelor of the court but had made no effort to change out of his usual uniform. He leaned against the wall at the edge of the room and tapped his foot as he counted the minutes until Augusta would let him escape.

    Lady Eleonora Pavesi also attended with her husband. Her shameless and unmarked white porcelain mask was designed in the Kerioth style and served to conceal her face completely. She fanned herself and rested at the edge of the ballroom without showing much interest in the occasion.

    With characteristic elan, Sabine De Moulin had slipped into the ballroom as the companion of a less-known imperial rider from Apamea and now conversed with any guest who struck her fancy. Her figure-hugging dress and dainty pearlescent mask let her stand out in a formidable crowd as perhaps the most beautiful woman in the room. She, too, wore her rose pendant freely before the father of the Catholanne faith.

    The low hubbub of conversation was suddenly silenced when two uninvited guests strode inside. Lady Adalheit Reiter had tied her hair back and wore a man’s doublet and leggings. Her stylised golden sun mask only partially disguised her narrowed eyes and slight frown as she tilted her head this way and that, a wild animal in strange territory searching for threats. Her eyes glanced off Sabine’s face and skittered away.

    Lord Marton Nyilas showed none of Adalheit’s fear. His face was a cracked and moss-lined rock and he walked with the aid of an ebony staff, but the dark eyes beneath his ivory facemask were sharp and unblinking. His huge body was aged before its time despite the strength of the dragon’s flame, and his rough-cut and hard-wearing travelling clothes could not disguise the emaciated skin clinging to his bones. The legendary Archmage of the Eight Ways had served as Austren’s foremost rider for two decades. He was undoubtedly the oldest rider in the ballroom, but if rumours whispered Haron’s truth, his power had only grown with age.

    Augusta Ascaes Erue swept forwards to meet him. “Lord Nyilas, this is an unexpected surprise,” she said.

    “Is it? You should know me better than that,” Lord Marton said. He chuckled to himself. “When I was a stripling and your father was on the throne, I learned that the easiest way to get on in this city was to invite yourself to everything.”

    “We do things somewhat differently from our father did,” Augusta began.

    “I’m sure you do. Why, your brother let you live,” Lord Marton said. He leaned on his staff and smirked at her. “Did I ever tell you about the time I broke Faustus’s enervating curse and saved your father’s life in the Battle of Wenetoi?”

    “Several times, my lord, but it is a worthy story. I would be happy to hear it again,” Augusta said.

    Lord Marton nodded in acknowledgement of her tacit permission to remain and rapped Adalheit on the shoulder with his staff. “Have you met this youngster? Amazingly enough, she’s not completely useless,” he said.

    Adalheit bowed to Augusta and Artaxander. “I’m Lady Adalheit Reiter,” she said. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

    “Remember the name. She’ll give you cause to recall it soon enough,” Lord Marton said. He scratched his cheek. “And for my part, I suppose I should find out whether or not time’s rust has fully locked up these old bones. One way or another, you’ll hear of that as well.”

    “We’ll look forwards to it,” Artaxander said. He glanced sidelong at Luis, who has woken from his fugue and was staring intently at Marton.

    Austren was renowned for its careful diplomacy. But when such artifice failed, it was always Marton who they turned to at the last to remind the world there was a balled fist beneath the velvet glove. He was most at ease when he was surrounded by enemies.

    On that discordant note, the ball began in earnest.

  44. #194
    Viktor rolls Athletics to dance, 5.

    The Ball

    With a an extravagant flourish, Viktor expertly led the young lady into the finale of the dance. He complimented the girl on her dancing skills before saying goodbye with a smile on his face and confidence in his step. He was enjoying himself immensely. The endless dancing lessons had paid dividends, as the glances he had snuck around during the dance had told him that he was one of the better dancers tonight. He looked down and brushed off his dour Prussian uniform. In hindsight, he could have worn something a bit more fanciful, but he felt more comfortable in military gear. The crowd milled around as the orchestra prepared another song.

    Right, now to find another partner for the next dance.

    Sabine de Moulin had fulfilled her obligation to dance with the rider who had brought her with finesse and grace. Several others had been watching her and moved to catch her eye the moment she broke away from her partner, but she looked past them and surveyed the whole room as if looking for someone. It was clear the competition for her next dance would be intense.

    His curiosity piqued, Viktor didn't hesitate and crossed the hall with rapid strides, stopping another man with a casual but warning glance. He approached the gorgeous woman from the side and caught her attention with polite cough.

    "Are you looking for someone in particular, or are you willing to grace me with the next dance? Good evening, Lady Du Moulin. You look radiant as usual."

    Sabine blinked and took a moment to arrange her trademark serene smile before replying. "I am always happy to dance, Lord Eisenwald. It is one of the great pleasures in life," she said. "Especially with a handsome flatterer such as yourself."

    "That would be the mask, milady. I assure you I'm still the same old mundane man beneath it. Your beauty on the other hand, is shining so brightly that we aren't even fit to cast shadows in it."

    Viktor took her hand and gently led her towards the dancefloor. "Now if you would be do kind to share who you were really looking for, then perhaps I can drop you off a lot closer to your destination."

    "There's no point in undertaking the journey until I know what I'll do when I get there," Sabine shot back. She followed Viktor's confident lead and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Confidence is a fine thing, but are you sure you can afford to dance with me in Pieri's presence?"

    "Well I did ask, but she didn't appear to be in the mood," he replied, a hint of disappointment in voice. "Besides, it's just a dance."

    "Wise words indeed. But one must be sure your partner feels the same way," Sabine said. She moved smoothly in time with the music and spoke again in a low whisper. "Don't kill Adalheit."

    Viktor hesitated. It was not the first time somebody asked him to spare an enemy, and he always found them exceedingly difficult to answer.

    "A promise is easily given, milady, but often a lot harder to fulfill when somebody is trying to slash open your throat with a blade."

    "If you gave it easily, I wouldn't believe you," Sabine said. "But I will persist in the asking."

    "If I offer her the option of surrender, do you believe she will take it? Do you believe she will extend the same courtesy to us? What if she lives, but gets horribly wounded in the process? Is that something you'd be willing to accept?"

    "We are bound by honour that gives some shape to war. And wounds are nothing to a rider's grace," Sabine said. She smiled. "I am not asking for prophecy. I am asking for your best efforts."

    "Have you ever been to war, milady?" Viktor briefly thought back to all the horrible things he witnessed during war and the Venator hunts. Honour and the rules of war were a nice thought, but tended to be forgotten in the thick of it. He shrugged. "Never mind, don't answer that. I can't give you any guarantees, but I will try."

    Sabine put a hand on his cheek. "Don't ask a lady how many men she has killed. Despite all this, Lord Eisenwald, I am a rider's child."

    He looked away embarrassed. "My apologies. I meant no offence."

    "None was taken. I am ashamed, not proud," Sabine said.

    "Don't be. Slumped shoulders don't fit with the dress." He looked around, hoping to catch a glimpse of Adalheit himself. "If it's within my power, then I will attempt to spare her, or try to convince the others to."

    "Thank you, Lord Eisenwald," Sabine said.

    As the music slowly wound down, Viktor realised that the song was coming to an end. He spotted Lady Reiter near the edge of the dancefloor and alerted Sabine to get presence.

    "I believe I've spotted a lone warrior in need of companionship. Would you like to move closer before another handsome flatterer whisks you away?"

    Sabine sighed. "I will run to my fears. That is our way," she said. She curtsied to Viktor and set off.

    With Sabine on her way, Viktor around for Pieri. Even though he preferred to dance with her, he wasn't quite ready to leave the dancefloor just yet. He smiled as his eyes finally settled on his beloved Pieri. Sabine might be the fairest of them all, but in his eyes even she paled in comparison with Pieri's raw beauty. No matter how many times he saw her, she still managed to make the breath catch in his throat. At times like these, he felt like abandoning his vows and spitting on his faith. By the angels, he wanted to be closer to her. He carefully rearranged his mask and set forth.

    "Now will you grace me with a dance?"

    Pieri smiled behind her her round mask; a golden piece in the shape of a smiling fox. The rider had chosen an ornate dress of a similar color to her mask, assuming it would complement her crimson hair nicely. She'd also chosen to wear the crown of her ancestor, the ornate circlet pulling her hair bag so it wouldn't become entangled with her other adornments. As typical, she'd tied a few crystals in her hair, though this time she'd limited herself to only the ends, weaving the dark jewels within braids.

    "It would be my pleasure," Pieri answered. She supposed it was tough for a rider to play the usual games of a masquerade, especially one with such distinguishing features as hers.

    Viktor took Pieri's hand and led her to the dance floor. Not for the first time this evening, he cursed his choice of clothing, but at least Pieri would look even better next to his bland uniform. He grinned as the orchestra set in a slow waltz and leaned forward.

    "Should we steal the show like we did last time?" He whispered in her ear.

    "Tonight I would prefer not to draw too much attention," she casually gestured towards Lord Marton as she took Viktor's hand, "The candle that burns too bright burns out quickly, after all."

    He frowned behind his back. The Austren's sudden arrival was no doubt a move to sow doubt and mistrust between Sors and Pruss. "Merely a show of power. Are you worried about them?'

    "It's more like overcompensating," Pieri forced herself not to chuckle, "But that's men of Austren for you. Men like Lord Marton have built their careers on intimidation, but if the stories I know of him are true, he is dangerous nonetheless. I have no doubt in my mind we will cross swords or rather, spells in this case. I actually look forward to that particular challenge."

    His eyes lingered on Marton for a moment longer. He didn't really understand magic, even if his recent near burial had given him new respect for it. "Hmm. I doubt it. I believe summoning a steep incline in front of him shall be his undoing. But I really meant her."

    He nodded to where Sabine had cornered Adalheit.

    "I'm less worried about her," Pieri shrugged, "Adalheit is strong and will oppose us, but she is young like us and about equally skilled. It is not like we'll be fighting Luis out there, thankfully."

    "I nearly bested him in our last duel," replied Viktor slightly offended.

    Pieri squeezed his hand tightly. "I know, which is why you'll do fine in the battles ahead. It's me I'm worried about; it'll only be the second time I've been a commander on an actual battlefield and the first time Jalren did most of the work."

    "Frederik didn't choose you based on a single event, you know that. He chose you because he recognized you had the talent required for a field commander. You've earned the respect of the troops, again, and you have the blessing of an Angel with you. You can't keep doubting yourself"

    He looked up at her with a grin. "And of course you have me. So obviously you can do no wrong."

    "I know," she replied, "It's just everything's still new to me. I need to make sure I do things right. The upcoming war's going to follow me throughout my hopefully long career." Pieri sighed, "I'm sorry for bringing such unpleasant things up. It's just all I can think about lately."

    "Don't worry about it. We know you're going everything you can to make this a success." They twirled around a pair of elderly dancers. "On to happier subjects. The news about Maximilian and Louise made me realise something."

    "I'm happy for them," Pieri said with a smile, "How ironic that marrying the Duke's sister is easier than another Rider, though."

    "It is, but that was not what I was getting at. I realised that I never actually asked you to marry me. Not in those words, anyway."

    "Viktor you should know by now I'm not one for traditions," she chuckled.

    "Yes, but... It just bothers me. We never actually asked each other, we just assumed that we would." He looked away. "But nevermind, then."

    "If it bothers you, we can do it," Pieri got down on one knee, which was rather awkward in her extravagant attire, "Viktor Eisenwald, would you do me the honor of becoming my husband?"

    "Of course," he replied, startled by her sudden movement. "Now get up, you'll stain the dress."

    He helped her up with a swift tug, then sighed as he stared at an undefined point on the hem of her dress. "Too late. I guess there's no choice then, the dress will have to come off. Let us find somewhere more private."

    "I'd love to, but this isn't the time," Pieri said with a sigh, "I look forward to that day too, you know."

    "I know," he replied with resignation. "I'm sorry. If I hadn't been foolish we would at least have had a choice."

    "It'll only make things better when the time comes," Pieri flashed a reassuring smile.

    "Then I suppose we should make the best of it." He pulled her a little closer and together they elegantly weaved their way through the crowd of dancers. "Your form is excellent, milady. Have you been practicing?"

    "Only a little," she admitted, "But I think all of the combat drills with the dragoons have helped a bit."

    "Close formation flying is like dancing?"

    "It helps with timing and coordination," Pieri chuckled, "Plus, the way I do things it often feels like a dance. I figure the best way to teach is to make it fun."

    "I think Bazdanvan would prefer your way of flying, if that's true. He hasn't really taken to the Eisenwald methods." Viktor mused.

    "Dustvael argues with me about it all the time," she did her best to mimic the drake's gutteral, low tones, "'You're not taking this seriously enough to be their alpha' and all that." Pieri laughed.

    "Is he still in the habit of throwing you off to fight?"

    "Thankfully, no," she laughed again, "I think we've come to an understanding. He respects people who do things their own way."

    "That's good to hear. I don't want to complain myself, but Myska's brood have some strange habits." Viktor frowned behind his mask. "You know her drake kept sneaking into the healer's tent? Bazdanvan keeps trying to sneak into our mansion. And the other drakes are starting to follow him. I'm starting to think I should have all the double doors replaced by single ones."

    "Every brood has its traits," Pieri stated simply, "Minerva's for some reason keep stealing books from our library, even though they can't actually read them. Drakes tend to follow their dragon, so it sounds like Soltríer needs to put his foot down in your case."

    "Stealing books? How? Don't they damage them?"

    "Sometimes," she sighed, "Which is why Minerva keeps the valuable books in her lair."

    "That's a shame. Sounds like Minerva needs to put her foot down," he replied with a wink and a grin.

    As the music slowly wound down, they manoeuvred themselves to the edge of the ballroom dancefloor. Viktor grabbed her hand, bowed and gently pressed a kiss upon her fingers.

    "I could not have wished for a better partner, milady. Dancing with you is like a dream, one from which I do not want to wake up from."

    "I feel the same," Pieri pulled him closer for a moment, "But then reality intrudes as it must."

    They enjoyed the brief moment together, before letting go one more. He had already seen the noblemen (and a fair amount of women too) prowl around with their eyes on Lady Valentin. Though he would have preferred to make absolutely clear that she belonged to him, but this was a masked ball. It was unbecoming to act like that. "

    "I wish you a pleasant evening, milady. I fear the other nobles might challenge me to a duel of I keep you to myself for much longer."

    "They could try, but I wouldn't bet on their chances," Pieri winked, "A pleasant evening to you as well, sir."

    As he walked away, the other men and women moved in. He caught Pieri's eyes twinkling with amusement as they struggled with one another for her favour.

    Viktor absentmindedly rubbed his arm as he approached the banquet. He had been dancing for quite a while. Perhaps it was time for a different form of entertainment.
    Last edited by Kronoch; 18th Jul 16 at 2:16 PM.

  45. Gamers Lounge Senior Member Boardwars Senior Member  #195
    FREEZE! Mokino's Avatar
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    Oct 2007
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    Ballroom, Kingsrest

    While others danced, Lord Marton Nyilas drank a leisurely glass of wine and watched proceedings from a corner of the room. His beloved wife Jeanne had died two decades ago, and it was said he’d never so much as looked at another woman since, even though they’d both been less than faithful to each other while she was alive. His face was concealed beneath his smooth ivory mask, but his sharp eyes still darted from place to place and dwelled on Adalheit’s abrupt encounter with Sabine. He narrowed his eyes slightly and tapped his staff against the ground.

    Pieri Valentin casually approached the Austren archmage. She knew speaking with the man was risky, but surely Marton would do no harm in the presence of the Emperor?

    "Is something the matter, Lord Nyilas?" she asked in a carefree manner, taking a delicate sip from her own glass, "Surely it cannot be the wine as tonight's vintage is rather spectacular."

    Marton chuckled. "I have no complaints about the Imperial wine cellars, I can assure you. Lady Pieri Valentin, I assume?" His eyes swept over her and searched for cracks.

    "You assume correctly, sir," Pieri smirked under her golden mask, "Please forgive my intrusion but I desired to speak with another of our craft; there are surprisingly few of us present."

    "Since the days of Aryeh, this society has favoured the knight who channels runes in their inner world over we bedraggled few who focus our efforts on the outer world. Men will always go where there is most honour, after all," Marton said. "In that regard, however, you are neither one thing nor the other. I've heard that you're hale enough to keep pace with Adalheit, even if the weapons you wield are materialised from your soul."

    "We are all shaped by our history and mages are no different in that regard. My family has always preferred the weapons of a forge and in that way my instructors were no different," Pieri stated with a hint of pride, "My skills were, I must admit, rather average and it took much convincing to break with tradition so that I was allowed to embrace my true calling. The weapons I wield exist and yet do not. They are light as a feather yet strike as the heaviest claymore should I wish them to. Yet if I were to form a blade and give it over to anyone else, the tool would be as awkward and unwieldy in their hands as their non-magical sword would be in mine. In that way Lady Reiter and I are close to matched in battle, despite our skills differing greatly."

    "Quite so. We nobles have been granted the leisure to explore our own potential, so it would be remiss of us to do anything less than perfect ourselves," Marton said. He shrugged. "No one expected anything of Adalheit Reiter. Neither her family, nor her lord, nor I, nor any other. Only the dragon saw a truth veiled to others, as is their wont. I am sure you are the same. The child of a brainless murderer, taught only to kill, would not ordinarily have the standing to sit here at the Emperor's feet. You changed your own fate. Perhaps that's why you, like her, strike me as less than completely useless. At the least, you have the courage to approach me here."

    "I chose long ago to not be my father," Pieri agreed with a nod, "I knew that the path I was about to walk would be a difficult one, but it was necessary for both myself and my house. Mark my words, Marton, I will see House Valentin returned to greatness in my own way."

    "So you have convictions. But she too has her pride. In every generation, Austren's champion and vanguard is the Reiter who wields Sunbrand and guides Germania's chosen to victory. Not an easy role to play. Adalheit knows well she has yet to achieve anything in this world. As a Magyar, that story has nothing to do with me, of course. But I made a name for myself by killing numerous others and gained a long-winded title as a result. My own pride, I suppose. It would dishonour those I slew then if I went quietly into the night now," Marton said. He tilted his head. "This is a zero-sum game, Lady Valentin. If you wish for honour and glory sufficient to wash away the sins of your ancestors, the blood of others must flow. Are you prepared for that?" (edited)

    "I will do what is necessary," Pieri stated confidently, "When soldiers take to the field, they know they may die; a risk they willingly take. We Riders are no different in that regard. It is as you say. To not fight is to dishonor those whose lives you've taken and those who died in your stead. Should we meet on the field of battle, I would not dishonor you or Adalheit by holding back. It is not the way of Pruss and it is not my way either. Yet, when the battle is over, I would not leave the injured to suffer; I would save as many as I could, regardless of their country. I suppose that is my own pride and perhaps the act of a fool should they return to fight another day, but if we do not have principles then we have nothing."

    "Fine words. You will be put to the test soon enough and judged by your deeds," Marton said.

    "I look forward to it," Pieri replied, "A good evening to you, Lord Nyilas."

    Marton chuckled. "If you look forwards to battle, you're a damned fool."

    "I look forwards to the chance to prove myself, that is all. Battle is often a necessary evil." Valentin replied cordially.

    "Necessary? It was necessary for Pruss to descend like a jackal on our lands while we wrestle with Franks?" Marton said. "Very droll for a Prussian, my lady. But I shouldn't be churlish. My lord uses force to accomplish his own ends, just as every Duke does. If you can face your men and say this war is necessary and mean it, that's for the best, I'm sure."

    "We are all bound by the will of our Lords, that is simply how the world is," Pieri stated with a hint of apology, "Truly I would rather fight alongside Adalheit again rather than face her but it cannot be helped."

    "On that, we can agree. No one is born free of obligations," Marton said. "Do enjoy the evening, Lady Valentin. In retrospect you will learn to treasure these days of peace like never before."

    (Pieri rolls notice: 2 vs 2. Failure)

    (Marton has the high concept of Archmage of the Eight Ways, a powerful sorceror who invokes the names of the angels, including Rilath, in his spells regularly. There are also rumors he is a necromancer.)

  46. #196
    A long, long time ago.


    "You DARE to serve me this... PIG SLOB!?" roared Lord Lappacio AscaesErue as backhanded the maid that brought him the soup. She screamedand dropped to the ground, crying while holding her face. He dumped the remaining soup over the sobbing girl and smashed the bowl on thefloor. "Get me something that is edible immediately! And cleanup this mess, or I will have you all executed!"

    Lappacio turned his back on the staff rushing to the girl's aid and dropped back in his seat. He snatched up the nearby wine decanter and poured himself another glass. Ever since the messenger had returned with the news of the failed assassination attempt, his humours toxic. After all the favours, contacts and money he had expended to arrange the assassination of his cousin, the last thing he expected was for it tofail utterly. He executed the messenger and had his corpse dumped inthe river, of course. Can't be too careful. And it was only a matterof time before they'd discover who hired the assassins. He needed to flee the palace. No.. the country. But where would he go? Hedrunkenly got up and staggered to the window. As he desperately triedto think of a means of escape, his eyes fell on the column ofsoldiers marching by.

    The war in Germanica! Of course! By the time they discovered that he was the one who sent the assassins, he'd belong gone. His alcohol-addled mind imagined him sipping wine in a luxurious tent miles behind the front line. He'd return a hero, and then nobody would dare to call him into question. Or even better,he'd conquer his own territory, and then he'd be untouchable! The perfect plan. There was only one person he needed convince.

    Soltríer had snorted in disdain as Lappacio explained his idea. He didn't doubt for second that the plan was as laughably transparent to other humans as it was to him. Soltríer had warned Lappacio against his ambitions, but the noble refused to listen to the advice of those smarter than him. His rider might be Ascaes Erue to others, but the Pale Bastion saw nothing but a proud and skilled warrior who had devolved into a pathetic, wretched little man over the years.

    Nevertheless, Lappacio's clumsy grasp for power had provided Soltríer with an opportunity. Sors had become a little suffocating lately, and he hadfound himself disagreeing with his mother, The World Throne, on more and more accounts. Perhaps the time was right to strike out on his own. The mother dragon was grooming Yasha when he approached her,with a few of his other siblings lazily spread around the palace gardens. "I have come to say goodbye."

    Baraqflicked her tail and stared evenly at her son. "We gave you no such orders. Where do you go in a time of war while we stand ready to defend our city with fire and blood?"

    "My rider has been wounded deeply by the plight of people in Germanica,and inspired by the dedication and courage of our troops. As such he feels compelled to join the war effort and reinforce Imperial rule in their lands immediately and post haste. I cannot bear the thought of not supporting him in his noble efforts." Somehow, Soltríer managed to utter the entirety of that preposterous lie with a straight face.

    Yasha thumped her tail and roared with mirth. "This is a strange omen.I fear the sun will set in the east tonight," she said.

    Baraqignored her daughter's outburst. "We must always lead from the front. Your Rider's spirit is worthy, and your resolve to join him in his battles is in accordance with our way. We will permit you to depart," she said.

    "Thank you, mother." Soltríer bowed deeply to the World Throne beforesaying goodbye to his siblings. He turned back one more time as hespread his wings. "I have no doubt that we shall return soon."

    Baraq thumped her tail. "Follow your flame," she said. With a great leap, Soltríer launched himself into the sky. He circled the palace one last time before joining Lappacio and his dragoons. Even though he was about to set out on his own, for today it was still his home.

    Baltic Sea, 1249

    The ship's mast shattered as the dragon's tail swiped through it. Soltríer darted to the side and skilfully avoided a hail of arrows from the soldiers on-board of the vessel. They had been searching for the vessel for weeks before they had finally tracked it heading to an old harbour at the edge of the Baltic Sea. Lappacio yelled an order, andthe Imperial Dragoons descended on the stricken vessel. The fight wasshort and merciless, with the dragoons finishing off the remaining soldiers with brutal efficieny. Lappacio jumped down onto the vesseland engaged the captain in single combat. The man put up a valiant effort, but was no match for the rider's overwhelming strength and endurance.

    Soltríer carefully descended onto the Imperial dragonship and stretched his wings. The ship creaked in protest of the dragon's massive weight,sinking deep into the waterline. Lappacio gloated as the remaining crew was captured and the vessel's cargo brought over to one of hisown ships. He appeared happy with their success, even thought the campaign had been largely unsuccessful.

    Once they had arrived at the front, the officers had quickly seen through thefaçade of strength his foppish rider put up and kept him out of thewar room discussions as much as they could. Dissatisfied with the lack of respect and awe of his status Lappacio had led his forces north, hoping to conquer a province for himself. Despite having thepower of a dragon behind him, the rider had made several disastrous decisions had wasted their success. His subordinates were tired and angry, and Soltríer knew that it was only his presence that prevented them from turning on Lappacio.

    Soltríer noticed some of the captured crew staring out to the shore and followed their gaze. In the distance, too far for human eyes to see,the blocky shape of an old fortress was visible on the shore of the inlet. So close to their goals, yet so far away. His curiosity awakened, Soltríer beat his wings and took flight. Ignoring thecries of confusion of his rider, he set off towards the shore and the distant fortress. A squad of dragoons quickly mounted their drakes and followed the dragon.

    The fortress was old, perhaps several hundred years if Soltríer was any judge. The surrounding settlement had been abandoned long beforetheir arrival, the buildings crumbling and the roads overgrown. One of the more literate dragoons found a few old books in one of the fortress rooms, judging them to be written in old germanica. So it wasn't a coincidence that the men had fled to this place. They had known about it in advance. His curiosity sated, Soltríer prepared to depart. It was then that he noticed the odd shape of the hill towering over the town. Surely it couldn't be. Soltríer slowly walked the perimeter of the mound until he found what he was looking for.

    The dragoons ran to their drakes once they heard Soltríer's roar of challenge echo across the inlet. Lappacio, who had just arrived on his own drake, ordered the troops to disembark from the ships and form up and the shore before rushing to the dragon's aid. He found Soltríer sitting at the edge of town, waiting patiently while staring intently at the hill. The dragoons who had followed him were stationed close by, sharing nervous glances with each other as the dragon issued another roar of challenge.

    "What is it? Enemies?" the rider asked as he dismounted.

    The Pale Bastion nodded to the hill. What had first appeared to be a shadow on the side of the hill was revealed to a overgrown cave with rocks piled in front of it. "What do you see?"

    Lappacio squinted in the sunlight and shrugged. "A cave entrance? Maybe?"

    Soltríer snorted in contempt. "A cave? No, you fool, look again. The hole is much too big and too regular to be a natural cave. That is not a cave or a mine. That is the entrance to a mound."

    The humans reacted in shock and scanned the skies with fearful eyes. Soltríer waited patiently as the troops disembarked and eventually made their way to the abandoned town. Several hours had past since the ships had made harbor in the inlet before he finally sat up and turned to his rider. "Mount up. We are going in. The rest stays put."

    The dragon burned away the vines with a blast of fire, and smashed the rocks aside with a swipe of his claws. The darkness was oppressive, and he lit the way with his flames every now and again. Everything pointed to the mound being as empty as the town next to it, but Soltríer wasn't about to take any chances. He slowly made his way into the mound, stopping and listening carefully at every twist and turn in the cavern system. His rider tried to help with a weak light spell, one of the few magical talents he had. Lappacio remained quiet, scared by the thought of being ambushed by an enemy dragon. That changed however, once they reached the central chamber.

    "Well, would you look at that." Lappacio said with a whistle and a nervous laugh. Soltríer took a few moments to absorb the scene before him as the rider climbed off his back. All around them, piles of treasure and gold were scattered around the chamber. The rider laughed as he gathered up some of the disorganized treasures. Soltríer on the other hand, was fixated on the object at the back of the chamber. Curled up against a wall lay the decaying corpse of a dragon. There was little left except bones, and a few scraps of scales and leather, but its shape was unmistakable. The dark spots a tracks he had seen confirmed what he had suspected. This dragon had been wounded in a battle a very long time ago, and had dragged itself back into its mound and blocked off the way in. He didn't recognise the breed, but that didn't matter.

    He turned his head as he hear Lappacio call for him. The rider had climbed up an ridge overlooking the chamber and was waving at Soltríer. "There's something in here!"

    The pale Bastion leapt up and scrambled for a foothold for a moment before clambering onto the ridge. There was a different smaller cave behind it, hidden from sight if you looked at the ridge from below. The rider was laughing out loud, praising the angels and his fortune. Soltríer glanced inside and froze, utterly shocked at the contents of the cave. Lappacio wiped the tears of happiness from his face. "Finally. With this... I can... We can... I'll be so..." He stuttered and tried to find the words, overcome with emotion. Soltríer still couldn't quite believe what he just saw, and blew another gout of fire into the cave. His rider almost yelped with joy as he realised the chamber was much bigger than he thought before.

    "With this, I'll return a hero. They won't be able to touch me."His laughter echoed of the cavern walls. "With this, I can build an a..."

    His words turned to screams and the dragon's fire incinerated him.


    The knight roared and slashed as hard as he could. The blade violently bounced off the dragon's scales, sending a painful reverb through the man's arm. Soltríer chuckled as swords and lances brokeon his scales and bowled the attacking knights over with a contemptuous beat of his wings. Realizing the futility of their efforts, the knights withdrew as quickly as they attacked.

    "Do you truly believe mortal weapons can pierce my scales, achild of the World Throne?"

    In response, the Pruss triggered their catapults and sent a rain of heavy rocks flying towards the Pale Bastion. The dragon caught the largest boulder between his talons, and reduced it to splinters with a mighty squeeze. The soldiers on the walls of Twangste fortress cheered him on, their spirits lifted by this display of raw strength.

    "Leave, before I reach the limits of my generosity!"

    The Pruss forces halted their assault and withdrew, hoping to regroupand strategise. Without the support of their own dragons, they werehorribly outmatched. Soltríer watched as the army gathered their wounded and returned to camp. In truth, he didn't really feel like engaging the humans in extended combat. He had not taken on a new rider companion since Lappacio's unfortunate death, and the time without one had left him feeling diminished.

    The Crusade had already claimed vast swathes of land in Northern Europe. With the success of their dragonflight, led by the Red dragon Oberhoheit, the Pruss had gone on a campaign to reclaim what they considered their ancestral land. When they arrived at Twangste, they were shocked to discover that the town had been taken over by a force of rogue Imperials. Both sides were unwilling to compromise, and the forces soon came to blows over ownership of the land. Though the Imperial forces fought valiantly, the Pruss vastly outnumbered them, and soon marched on the fortress of Twangste.

    They had not expected a dragon.

    Infuriated by the Pruss encroaching on his territory, Soltríer hadmade short work of their attacks. Nothing in the Pruss arsenal couldtruly hurt him, but they tried anyway. Commendable, in a way. He was impressed with their dogged, even suicidal refusal to back down. The Pale Bastion crushed one of the abandoned catapults as he considered his options. Once news got back to Nuremberg, it wouldn't be long before the Pruss skyflight would show up. He considered himself strong, but no dragon could face a the power of a skyflight by himself. But he could not leave this place. Soltríer looked back at his mound. He would not allow it's bounty to fall into the hands of another dragon. As the sun started to set, the Pale Bastion reached a decision.

    The Pruss general tried to reassure his drake as the dragon sauntered over to them. A messenger from the Imperials had arrived late last night, offering parley with their own commander. Surprised by this sudden development and demoralised by the dragon's attacks, he had accepted the offer. None of them had expected the dragon to show up by himself.

    “It's a trap. He's going to kill us all!” shouted one of thetroops.

    “Steady your blade, soldier.” shouted the general. Though he shared their fear, it would not do to show hesitance in front of the troops. “We shall not break the sanctity of parley. Will you abandon your honour because of fear?” Inspired by his words, the dragoons steeled their resolve as the dragon towered over them. In the dim light of the morning, the glow behind his scales seemed all the brighter. Just one blast of fire and we're all dead, thought the Pruss general. The dragon chuckled, an unearthly sound to the small humans.

    “Behold, mortals. Soltríer, the Pale Bastion, child of the Baraq, has come to share his wisdom. Identify yourselves.” the dragon boomed, its voice almost painfully loud.

    “Leopold Eisenwald, General of the Northern Crusade!” shouted the Pruss general. “We have come to reclaim our ancestral lands. The Imperial forces are trespassing on Pruss territory!” The dragoons shifted nervously on their drakes at their general's defiance. Showing courage in the face of death was admirable, but challenging a dragon was usually a bad idea.

    “You are mistaken in your claims. These lands are mine.” stated the dragon flatly.

    General Eisenwald reached into his bag and pulled out several scrolls. “These documents detail our claim on these lands. The fortress and the town were build with Pruss tears, sweat and blood! I am under direct orders from Lord Hohenheim to pull these lands back into the fold, and I shall do so. With all due respect, Lord Soltríer, but you should not be here.” The soldiers reached for their weapons as the glow reached the eyes of the dragon, curls of smoke escaping from between its jaws. Leopold held onto the documents as if they would shield him from the coming fire.

    “And yet I am not leaving.”

    “Then we will fight you.” replied general Eisenwald.

    “Then you will die.”

    “So be it. But our forces will return. This land will be ours.”

    The dragon regarded the Pruss for a long moment before speaking again. “Your courage is commendable, but futile. If you continue to resist, I will annihilate your forces. Your death shall be in vain, and no-one shall remember you and your troops for your sacrifice. ”General Eisenwald raised his hand to stop his troops from drawing their weapons. “However, I believe we can come to a compromise. You can return to Berlain a hero, and I shall remain here.”

    The general frowned in confusion. “I don't understand.”

    “Here is what is going to happen. Your forces shall lay down armsand cease all attacks on Twangste and my subjects. After a week, when everybody has been informed of our arrangement, I shall allow to claim this province and move in to Twangste, where you shall live alongside my subjects. I do not care how you mortals make it work. Just do it. If I hear of any violence or conflict, I shall annihilate you. If my subjects are hurt in any way, shape or form, I shall annihilate you. Trespass into my mound, and I shall annihilate you. You can report your success to the Duke, and I shall offer you my protection.”

    General Eisenwald blinked as he tried to process what the dragon just said. “I don't... Is this an offer of surrender?”

    The dragon roared with laughter as its tail beat the ground. “No,little mortal. You have impressed me with your dogged resistance and refusal to give up. In the face of certain death, you have shown courage and an unyielding spirit. This is not an offer of surrender. This is an offer of elevation.”

    The troops shared glances of surprise, but none matched the look of astonishment on Eisenwald's face. “You mean...?”

    “Accept, and you shall become my rider, and Pruss shall have these lands. Refuse, and die. A simple choice.”

    Discipline broke down at the dragon's words as the troops yelled fortheir general to accept or refuse. The dragoon commander tried to restore order as the general considered Soltríer's offer. When the troops had quieted down, he looked up at the Imperial Dragon.

    “I accept.”

    Lord Hohenheim rubbed the bridge of his nose as he tried to make sense of the situation. He sighed and looked back at the dragoon before him. “Repeat your report, soldier.”

    “Yes, my lord. The Northern Crusade has been successful in reclaiming the harbour fortress of Twangste and our ancestral lands bordering the Baltic Sea. Upon arrival, we found the province occupied by Imperial forces. When laying siege to Twangste, it was revealed that the enemy focres were supported by a dragon. Though it devastated our forces, General Eisenwald refused to withdraw. After several weeks of protracted siege battles, a truce was reached between the dragon and General Eisenwald. The lands are now part of Pruss.” replied the soldier.

    "Leopold is a damned fool," Wilhelm Hohenheim grumbled."Though we were too busy to provide support, he should have given ground to avoid an impossible battle."

    Oberhoheit twisted his head. "Though you are correct, the outcome was not unacceptable. But it makes for a strange story indeed. Who was the dragon?"

    The soldier straightened and salute again. "The dragon identified himself as Soltríer, The Pale Bastion. An Imperial White,my Lord."

    "Soltrier? One of Baraq's sons is not only here but deigned to negotiate?" Oberhoheit said. The horn-crowned crimson dragon reared up and sniffed the air. "An uncharacteristic display. And when we dragons break character, there is always some deeper meaning to it. We cannot stand idly by."

    Lord Wilhelm nodded. "I stand ready, honoured dragon. Let us see for ourselves."

    The Pale Bastion opened an eye at the shouts of its subjects. He had been relaxing on his on top of his mound after the morning hunt when he was rudely awakened by the cries of alarm. The sight of the Pruss skyflight descending on Twangste didn't surprise him in theslightest. They were bound to show up sooner or later. Humans, always so overexcited about everything. He lazily pulled himself up to his full height and awaited their arrival.

    Oberhoheit descended alone while the others maintained a respectable distance. "This is an unexpected meeting, Soltrier. What wind has blown you from sun-caressed Sors to our dour land?"

    "The wind that all sons and daughters follow at some point inlife," replied Soltríer, playfully flicking his tail left and right. "Greetings, Oberhoheit. Welcome to my home."

    "I see. That is a worthy cause," Oberhoheit said. He roseto his full height and squared up to the towering white dragon. "This is a good land. I could yield it unto you in a spirit of friendship if you will lend me your mighty strength for the battles to come."

    As far as Soltríer was concerned, uninhabited land didn't belong to anyone. But he decided not to push the point and let Oberhoheit have his little victory. "Of course, a strong flight makes for excellent land. I'm sure my subjects would delighted to hear that they shall return to the fold. Forgive Lord Eisenwald's tardiness. He's still adjusting to the changes that come with being a rider."

    "It is of no concern. This is a matter that should be settled between dragons," Oberhoheit said. The crimson dragon relaxed his posture a little, content in the fact he had asserted his superiority over an Imperial White. "Germanica has no future. Soon enough, the revered World Throne will put an end to it. If youwish to live among us here, I would certainly like to hear how you think we should conduct ourselves from now on."

    "With the Germanica falling apart as it is, there will be plenty of dragons, not to mention humans, looking for an alternative. Offer them stability and protection, and they will find their way to you. Tread carefully, though. The eyes of the world are upon these lands, and the other powers will not take kindly to a flame that swiftly grows into firestorm. Best not to wake a sleeping dragon, as they say."

    Soltríer motioned to town below. "Look at them. A few years ago this place was nothing but a rotting fort witha few decaying buildings. Now it is home to humans from all over Germanica, seeking to escape the war and build a new life. The fort has been rebuild, the city is growing, the fields are being harvested, the walls are manned, and tribute is given. All because they heard there was a safe haven here."

    He looked back at Oberhoheit. "It is as it should be. It canbe more, but stability should come first."

    "It shall be so. It is always our duty to guide the foolish children towards a better world," Oberhoheit said. "We forgot the fealty we owed to the Keeper of the Lore who is beloved by Akai and followed our Throne into an unjust war. For now, we must be humble and patient, trusting only in Baraq's mercy and the dignity owed to us as dragons. Though we can build things here, it will take a long time. Nor will there be much honour and glory in it. That is why I am surprised to find you here."

    "And yet here I am. Fate leads us to many unexpected places, and when we explored this land, we found it brimming with potential. It may not be the splendour of Sors, but not all of Baraq's children desire to be coddled for all eternity." He unfolded his wings for a brief moment, making sure that all knew how big he really was.He folded his wings again, pretending is was a mere stretching of the limbs. "In time this place will craft its own glory. But I can wait. You shall have my strength."

    "Mortals hurry. We can afford to be patient," Oberhoheit agreed. He met Soltrier's gaze. "This is your land. None shalldeny that. For now, I will depart knowing that the mortals here are guided by a firm and wise hand. Come to Nuremberg when your Rider is hale so that he may meet my rider." The dragons said goodbye to each other in the ancient way and, with one last look at city, the Pruss skyflight departed. Several weeks later, Lord Eisenwald arrived at Nuremberg to reaffirm his allegiance to his lord and officially join the skyflight. Though Soltríer seemed comfortable following Oberhoheit's lead, the latter could never quite shake the feeling that the Imperial White was hiding something from him.

    Konigsberg, 1364

    The dragon fledgling slinked trough the chasm. The small serpentine body pushed itself trough spaces that sometimes not even a human would manage. She was being cautious, the smell of another dragon permeated the cavern. But it wasn't fresh. At least a couple of days old. With a final push, the fledgling burst trough the some of the rubble and found herself in what could only be the hoard room. The red and black drake got up on her haunches and examined thearea, pride clearly swelling her wings.

    Yes this place would do. Just spacious enough for a dragon of her amazing prowess and far enough from her aunt that a few missing Llamas wouldn't illicit a response.Or so the little fledgling deeply hope. The Icelandic ruler terrified her. The serpentine dragon and her haughty forbearance filling the little dragon's nightmares. The fledgling trotted deeper inside, noting the few pieces of the other dragon's horde. Maybe, she thought, she'd be nice and let the male take them away. She didn't need the dusty belonging of some old boring dragon, no she had her own! And the old dragon had foregone his claim to this chamber. He wasn't here and finders keepers were it's own right!

    Then she noticed them, a set of of shells near the corner. Curiosity took over and directed her to them. Dragon eggs! She nuzzled one of them, rocking it back and forth, trying to listen for any movement and was saddened when none came. Maybe the whelps inside were still in their slumber. She took another look at the cavern, using a claw to mark it as hers, before moving back to the eggs and curling around them.

    The fledgling was tired, the past few days full of things that happened. She spat out the pouch she had been carrying and let it spill open. A whole ten bronze were in it. The beginnings of her own grand horde, unlike any other. She wondered why the mercenary screamed so much when she dived at him, dragging him off his horse. At least he calmed down quickly enough. Maybe she might go watch him again in a couple of days. The man was interesting, if unwilling to part with the coins which were rightfully hers.

    The fledgling watched the coins tumble as she slid off into sleep.She should choose a name...maybe the thing that brought her into the wide world was a good one....

    When Soltríer entered his mound, she had already been asleep for afew hours. The journey back from Sors had been long and tiring. And yet, no journey was too long if it meant he could visit his mother and siblings again. The Pale Bastion wormed his way inside the mound with a little difficulty. Even folded, the dragon's massive size meant that his wings scraped against the walls of the path downwards. The tunnel opened up into the massive central chamber, the ligh tof his flames reflecting off the mountains of treasure scattered around the chamber. He inspected his hoard at length with a critical eye. When he was satisfied that not a single coin was out of place, Soltríer sank down on the largest pile of treasure and closed his eyes. The humans would arrive soon tomorrow to offer tribute, and heneeded to rest. But then an unfamiliar scent reached his senses.

    The small fledgling rolled in her sleep. She was dreaming of a large snow capped mountain looming straight over her. A mountain over which a storm rolled with a thunderous clap and from which drakes and men alike fled. In truth the fledgling wasn't feeling entirely comfortable, she still wished for the warmth of Eyjafjallajökull's caverns, the yelps of her broodmates. But all of them were her aunt's, she was the only outsider and it made her future always uncertain.

    The fledgling without a name tightened around the egg and tried to move her dreams away from the looming mountain, rather back to theone delicious Llama she had managed to snag before the ship wentunder.

    Soltríer searched the caverns high and low, before he finally managed to track the scent down. With a mighty leap he jumped up onthe ridge overlooking the main chamber. He peered into the smaller chambers beyond, searching for the source of the smell. Then it dawned on him. He turned towards the chamber where the mother dragon had planted her eggs. Over the years, he had scratched away at the chamber walls so he could enter the small cave, if only just. Could one of the eggs have hatched? He peered around the corner and found a small red and black dragon curled around the eggs. His tail thumped the ground with joy, but it quickly turned to a growl of anger when he realised that the eggs were still intact.

    This wasn't a hatchling. This was an intruder. An intruder had invaded his hoard and found the eggs. An orange glow built behind his scales as rage filled his thoughts.

    The thumps woke up the fledgling and she quickly roused. She shookher's head, was she still dreaming? The fledgling wasn't sure at first as the mountain was standing in front of her. After a moment a realisation dawned. This wasn't a mountain, this was a dragon! She lifted herself up, arcing her back and making sure to keep her coins underneath her. The fledling was outside of bumbling whelphood. The dragon standing in front of Soltríer was perhaps tiny, but already had a predatorial leanness, the hallmark of dragons of the far north.

    "How dare you intrude into the caverns of the grand dragon Llama!" She snapped her jaw shut. That name lacked the correct panache, the right grandness. "Naufragium, the grand and only dragon Naufragium!" She corrected herself.

    Soltríer didn't answer and smoke escaped from throat as the elder dragon bared his fangs. Not only did the tiny dragon invade his home, but she had the audacity to claim it as her own? She was either very young, or very, very stupid. He leaned forward as he dragged himself into the chamber. Venom dripped from every word as he addressed Naufragium. "I was wondering where the foreign smell was coming from, and here I find an intruder in my home. Do you know what happens to dragons that invade another's mound?"

    The fledgling shrunk in front of Soltríer at first, the Pale Bastion scaring her almost as her aunt. But feeling the bronze coins againsther belly steeled the young dragon and she dug her claws into the ground tried to make herself seem larger, even if that meant being the size of the Pale Bastion's paw at best.

    "The mountain was empty and I made a rightful claim." She hissed at him, though it was more of a pout. "And you can't be the original owner. Why would a male have eggs!"

    Soltríer turned his eyes back to the eggs, concerned that the little one had somehow damaged them. The fire in body subsided as he thought about how to best answer Naufragium. "I am looking after them,until the little ones inside are ready to emerge. Alas," he said, motioning to the two eggs at the back, "I fear some of them will never hatch. I hope for your sake that you did not damage the others." He noticed the small pile of coins that the dragon tried to protect. He leaned back slightly, giving Naufragium a little more space. As a whelp himself, he had never been lacking in gold and items offered by his rider and the members of the court. Even so, he often gathered treasure from the palace In Sors to build his own small hoard in a secluded place, much to the dismay of Baraq. The sight of it caused him to relax, slightly.

    "Where did you come from, little one?"

    "I come from the verily ancient mound of Eyjafja-" Naufragium began to say and caughed out fiery goo. She clamped her jaw shut and tried to claw as much of it away from herself. The growing pains of a young dragon.

    She hung her head, unsure just how much of her honour could be salvaged. "I came trough the fourth cave." The littledragon said dejectedly.

    "Ah, where the humans are building their estate." Soltríer settled on the ridge in a more relaxed manner. The little dragon was not a threat, and for a fleeting moment the Imperial White felt pity for her. Sensing that the dragon was no longer upset, the Imperial drakes snuck out of their hiding places, curious to see what was going on. The dragon uttered a few commands in a language strange for Naufragium, then turned back to her as a few of the drakes scampered off. "You are a long way from home, little one. No doubt the journey here must have been quite an adventure. I would be interested in hearing it."

    The little dragon perked up on that. She scooped up the coins and trotted towards Soltríer, curling up against one of his feet.

    "It'sa long story. It started when I hatched. Everyone was red and blue and aunt's, with me being red and gray aaaaand the place was soo boring. You know, the whole country is kinda barren. Too much snow, not enough horses to roar at. Seals are fun to hunt though... just avoid Polar bears. They might look cuddly, but their paws hurt. Oh and I saw a sea serpent last year, it's eyes were as big as your paw. No one believed me though. But I bet I'm the first one to pick a name."

    Naufragium was able to talk for a very long time, slowly relating her fragmentary life to Soltríer and what lead her to crawl into the cold hold of a ship destined towards the mainland.How excited she was about chasing her first deer and the sheer amount of people. As the young dragon relayed her tale the drakes returned, dragging along a couple of freshly slaughtered cows. With a little difficulty the drakes flew up to the ridge carrying the drakes, dumping in in front of Soltríer and one in front of Naufragium. The Pale Bastion chewed thoughtfully on his food as he listened to her story, the young dragon pausing occasionally to devour a few strips of meat from her cow.

    "And then I got these!" She lifted the meagre collection of coins towards Soltríer, still protective of them, just in case he wanted to take them for himself. "All by myself even."

    "I think the eggs are cold." She said. "The ground is still, I can't hear any flowing rock underneath. Maybe they need a fire or the place humans use to make their claws and shells."

    He nodded sadly at her observation."Indeed they are. Most were already hardened by the time I found them, but thereare two that still show some promise." He reached into the cavern and moved a large boulder leaning against the wall, revealing two smaller eggs in a small recess. "I worry for them, for the eggshells are already in the process of hardening. They will need to get a rider to break out, but the dragons are still far too young too survive the binding process."

    He looked back at her meagre treasure. "But let us speak of happier things. It is good that you started your own hoard already. It is a dragon's greatest pleasure to gather a large hoard, as it reflects one's honor and prowess. How much your people appreciate you." He looked up as the sounds of trumpets echoed through the mound.

    "Ah, it is time. Come."

    A procession of humans entered the mound, protecting two carts dragged by horses. They parked the carts at the main cavern's entrance and backed off. Soltríer jumped down and inspected the contents of the carts, his eyes glowing as he appreciated the relics gathered by his people. He picked up the large cart and desposited the contents on one of the smaller piles of treasure in the back, gleefully sorting the relics. The humans bowed and retreated, heading back to the Eisenwald estate. The humans next to the second cart waited nervously as Soltríer ignored them.

    The small dragon was trying not stare at the carts with too overt an envy, realising, that while the cave was empty when she claimed it,it's usual occupant could oust her without far too much effort. The carts and offerings were his, but he was at least kind enough to let her partake on the beef. Which was more than could be said about most of her broodmates. Naufragium looked back, to where the two eggs were and vowed to be back, to try and talk the two serpents into hatching. Who needed riders anyway, humans weren't the end all of everything...they did make good food on the other hand and that mercenary seemed interesting.

    After a few minutes, the dragon looked up at the young one and pointed his tail to the cart. "They have come to offer tribute to you. Are you not going to accept it?"

    She shook her head and almost missed what Soltríer said. "Me?" She stood up on her haunches and kept jumping her gaze between the great dragon and the cart and its humans. "But this is your mound! And there's so much, how can I carry anything? Can I? Can I?" The small dragon was excited.

    "It's your tribute, you can do with it whatever you like. It is the way of humans to offer tribute to use." The Pale Bastion shrugged.

    The tribute had actually been part of the dragonhoard he had found in the cave. He cared little for treasure that wasnot offered to him, so he used it to fund the construction efforts in Konigsberg. Seeing the little dragon's pride in her few coins, he decided to put it to better use. It used to be a dragon's treasure, so it belonged to dragons, not humans. Unbeknownst to Naufragium he had the drakes pass his command to the humans, and they gathered what remained of the treasure and offer it to the young one. Every dragon had to start somewhere.

    "As my guest, you are welcome to stay as long as you like." Soltríer sorted the last of the treasure and climbed back up on the ridge. "If you decide to move or return home, I will make sure your tribute will follow you."

    The small dragon shrieked in glee and plunged straight into the cart, sending the men surrounding it scurrying to safety. She rolled around in the things occasionally letting something fly up high. There was just so much, it was like leading a child that never tasted sugar into a candy store. It was a neverending cavalcade of interesting bits and pieces. Gold, silver, fabrics, gemstones. So much glinted and shone. But something was missing to her. The sheer joy she felt when she herself got the coins was unparrelled by just getting this cart handed to her.

    She went still and mused for a while, before crawling out, draped in some very expensive fabric around her neck and body, pearls and mirrorsmithing shining off of it. Naufragium tried to stand tall and imagined herself looking quite regal.

    She sheepishly walked towards the Pale Bastion. "Keep the rest for the little ones when they hatch. They'll need something too."

    "Very well," said Soltríer, nodding in approval. At a gesture, the drakes gathered around the cart and managed (with much difficulty) to drag it up into the egg cavern.

    The Pale Bastion inspected the young dragon who was draped in her new treasures. "You have a keen eye for quality, a valuable skill for a dragon."

    "Tonight, we shall feast."
    Last edited by Kronoch; 15th Aug 16 at 5:31 AM.

  47. #197
    Member Deunan's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    I should have posted this a looooong time ago.

    ##Myska intermission - hunt

    The young woman sighed and ran trough her numbers again. Her finances were running close to a limit and while she did learn a lot about her quarry none of it was first hand.
    She longed for the night's breeze on her own face, the feeling of adventure and danger of running trough the streets alone. But that would have to wait. There was only so much a lone person could learn from the rooftops of a city she was no longer a part of.

    Myska squinted her eyes and did another take of her little wall of sins. Everything she had been able to learn about Durante was on it, pieces of string making a web almost as complex as any magical rune.
    Places of business, lieutenants, victims and flows of money all slowly encircled a single man in the middle. A man Eleonora of the Pavesi wanted alive but without enough dirt to put under, and a man whom Rilath's emissary of justice wanted dead or at least suffering.

    Balancing the two would not be easy. The worst was, that she didn't even have enough to calm Eleonora yet. For that she'd have to break into his secured citadel and find some actual proof that wasn't merely composed of reports of Myska's own crooks and spiders in the dark. Or most likely Eleonora's who didn't protest Myska hiring them. She doubted the first lady of the Pavesi was unaware of her hiring. She never said whether she approved of the choices or not and Myska would not ask.
    In truth, there would be a new cache of information waiting for her soon enough. Information overheard by a washer woman that worked in one of *insert name*'s staging points. If Myska was lucky, she was the last person that had to be tracked down, a chain of informants that slowly led her right into the man's inner sanctum. His operations that few were aware of.

    Tonight, she would learn if *Insert name* decided to get a taste of his own goods or not. If he did then Myska had a chance. It meant he was vulnerable, letting his guard down in a place he considered safe.
    It also meant his bookkeeper would be there and with it enough proof to make him rot in the dark for decades.

    But first, she had someone to see.

    ~~~~On the same cold and dreary night in Sors~~~~

    A shadow slowly watched Viktor walk back home to his apartment in Sors. The man seemed utterly impervious to the rain, trudging trough the puddles of water as if they weren't there.
    Even the few gaslamps were slowly fizzing out as he walked along and the alley slowly shifted into darkness, noises covered by the sound of rain.
    The shadow got ahead of the man, scouting around to see if there were any other followers around. Finally feeling secure it stopped and waited for Viktor to pass under an eve.
    Just before the man did so, the shadow dropped in front of him, crouching to take the fall.

    "Odd time for a walk."

    His hands hovered towards the daggers on his belt, but stopped as he recognized the small figure before him.

    "I could say the same to you. But I'm not the one climbing buildings and dropping down to scare their friends.." Viktor shrugged as he readjusted his cloak. "This weather pleases me. It's as if the world is more peaceful when it rains like this. Everybody stays inside, except for those on business and those of ill intent."

    He looked down at the Feuergrau rider. Even though she was still the smallest than him, he could already tell that would be different story in a few short years. She looked a lot better since her ascension to rider.
    "And which reason brings you to me?"

    "If I said it's just to make sure you stayed alert, you wouldn't believe it would you?" The young woman responded and shook off as much of the water as she could, every droplet joining the rivulets on the ground.
    She scowled down at the water. It didn't matter how often it rained, Sors would never be clean. No matter how one disliked the biting cold of the northern duchies, at least they looked cleaner. Even if they were far more deadly.
    "Sadly this is more than just a friendly visit. I'm looking into someone for Frederik; the duke asked me to vet a possible noble here in Sors. Not happy with what I found so far, but looking for actual proof rather than just hearsay. I was hoping you could introduce me to some of your V friends, perhaps they've looked into him already."

    "My V friends?" Viktor said with a sly smile. "You know where Pieri lives. I'm sure she would be delighted to introduce you to the rest of the family."
    "Oh by the eight hells Viktor. You know who I mean. Do be careful or I am going to convince Frederik to bake your wedding cake himself."
    Myska smiled at the large man, but it didn't seem to reach her eyes. The worry in them still palpable.

    "Please don't." He motioned for her to follow as he resumed his walk. What's this about, Myska? You know the Venatori are only deployed when serious heresy is suspected."

    He carefully stepped around a puddle. Not to spare his boots, but because Myska was right next to him. "We're... ?_they're_? also not the kind of people to share information without a good reason."
    "We both also know that the Venatori are proactive and likely have a file on every noble in Sors; to Eleonora's chagrin. From what I can tell, the man is bad news and it's a good thing the duke is as careful as he is. If I'm right, even mentioning Prus together with the man might be a bad idea in the long run. I've got a few ways in, but I guess I just want someone to know where I'm heading first. Just in case..."

    Myska trailed off. While she was taking great liberties in explaining why she was investigating the man, the last part was a real fear to her. What if she would never get out. The man was a known slaver, they wouldn't just hand her over to rot in a cell.
    Likely not even Naufragium would be able to dig her out were such a thing to happen. She didn't truly need anything from the Venatori, rather just someone to confide in.

    "In case things do not work out. I can respect that. The public base of operations for the Venators is the Eyrie at the palace. But I suppose you want to keep out of sight."

    He walked down a flight of stairs. They entered one of the many nightlife districts in Sors. Despite the late hour and the heavy rain, there were quite a few people out and about. The sounds of merry making were all around them, even though a lot of it came from the drunks singing in the streets. Before too long, they were standing in front of a large, stately mansion. A weathered sign with the words ?_"The Carnal Cavern"_? left little to the imagination, and neither did the scantily clad women in the doorway.

    "Care to join me?" Viktor asked.

    Myska playfully elbowed Viktor. "Something not to be mentioned before Pieri I assume. Thank you Viktor, I appreciate it."

    She followed the man, locking step with the locals, their alert expressions and protected postures.

    You could take a girl from a street, but you could never take the street from a girl.

    *****************Has a couple of missing paragraphs - Viktor introduces the Venator*****************************

    The Venator watched Viktor leave, letting nothing slip past his expression. "So you are the Feurgrau bastard, right?" The man asked bluntly.

    It surprised Myska. The majority of Sorsian nobility, soldiers and courtiers alike tended to run in tune of propriety. A question like that was contrary to every standard people adhered to.
    "I am. " She responded calmly and took a closer look at the man. He was clearly experienced as far as Venatori went. But he wasn't hard like most she'd watched from afar.

    "So why did the bloody fart decide we should meet?"


    "Who else. Or do you see anyone else who decided doing what's necessary is too hard?" The man replied harshly. But Myska could hear a twinge of regret behind his voice.

    "It's about Durante, Giraldo Durante. I'm vetting him for the duke and I don't like what I've come across."

    "And why should the petty squabbles of border dukelings bother the Venato-."

    Myska rolled her eyes and interrupted the man. "Because we both know that Durante is active in the slave trade. The Venatori just don't have anything to pin on him. And we also both know that Rilath cults fester among those who've got nothing else to loose."

    "I'm listening."

    "Why don't you order us something then and we'll talk?"

    The man just sighed at that, but gestured at one of the servers.


    Myska was exhausted, but she knew where she was supposed to be now. Information from the Venator, her informants and other various sources gave her the needed answers. She knew where Durante was supposed to be tonight. She even knew what he was likely to be doing.

    Even better, one of her informants mentioned GIraldo's bookkeeper was likely to be around. In a lot of ways, the bookkeeper was even more important than the noble himself. He had the proof, he had everything she needed for the Pavesi. On any other day, only he would be her target. But sadly, it wasn't just the Pavesi who were owed their dues.

    Myska slowly went trough her few things. Perhaps the single most important was the cloth mask, inscribed with half formed runes all on it's inside. She was hoping it would work as intended.
    Old runes of Mekine, inverted ones of Haron and some of little spirits, not even true angels; all together it was a mishmash that most loreists would pale at the sight of. But if it did work, it might give her a chance of masking herself when it counted.
    That and a small vial of a swamp drake's toxin.

    The woman moved quickly over the river docks, listening to any other silent runners in the dark. Maybe the angels of darkness were mild for once and everyone avoided her.
    One careful step after another, the distance closed and voices vafted in closer. Laughter, drunks, whatever else. Myska became more careful. Years ago, she would have been eyeing the money changing hands, every purse a couple of meals.
    There at the very edge, the clunk of metal, velvet in a place where none should be. The guards were the first telltale sign that something was off. They were far too well armed, their armour far too uniform. They were houseguards trying to look look like brigands. Someone who lived in only one world would never see it. They might notice the inconsistencies, but not where they came from. Durante was in the building, there was no other reason for the guards to be here otherwise.
    Passing around them was simple enough. Few were used to looking up and within moments she was inside.

    The woman moved further in, using the map she had committed to memory. One of her contacts had come trough in the end. They didn’t know what was where, but at least they had gotten the layout of the building. Using that alongside some guesswork, she went forward.

    The first things Myska focused on finding were the exits. Or at least one of them, somewhere near the sewers. The man standing there was completely unprepared for what followed next. The young rider snuck up to him and wrapped a satin sheet around his neck.

    The fight was a short and was over soon. The guard lay before her in a slump. He was still breathing. A corpse would end whatever plan the Pavosi had. Making sure she doused his face and clothes in some moonshine, she moved on.
    Few guards would claim to have been attacked like this, most would try to keep it secret, content that they were alive. He might even end up being lucky, no one finding him like this.
    Making her way trough the winding corridors, she began to near the sanctum. There, the bookkeeper slept, his book of accounts dutifully filled. Myska quickly paged trough it, confirming the damning proof held within. Carefully the thief arranged sheets of velum between every page.

    The velum had been bought form an archivist and cleric of Haron. The runes of certainty, knowledge and Haron carefully inscribed on them. They had cost as much as all her informants, but were worth it. She whispered the incantation and willed the contents to copy themselves.

    The book of accounts itself would remain undisturbed, it’s contents merely transferred with the help of a simple spell.

    Myska couldn’t help herself and smiled as she flipped trough her own copy. The Pavosi would like this.

    Now it was time for the last leg the mission. She pulled her hood in closer and moved to the real sanctum. There was another woman there. Beautiful in her own right, clearly not from Sors though. She barely had anything to clothe herself with and her eyes went far in shock as she heard Myska tumbling the locks.

    She wanted to speak, but the young thief interrupted her, putting a finger to her mouth. Myska's own face was hidden beneath the hood as she shushed the girl.
    “Here hold this.” She whispered putting the mask in her hand. The girl was oblivious to what was going on. Who was this stranger. Her racing thoughts were interrupted by a shark pinprick of pain as Myska stabbed her finger with a nail. “Just a drop. Don’t be afraid. Nothing will happen to you.” The thief whispered as she held the woman’s hand.

    After a few moments, Myska released her. “Go twice right and then trough the grate. It will lead you outside. Hurry and stay safe. Outside find the Peacock’s tavern. Go now.”
    She got the woman moving and breathed out a sign of relief. Everything was almost ready. Now came perhaps the hardest part, the one Myska dreaded the most.

    She locked the door again, disrobed and put the mask on. The fabric tightened and shifted on her face. It was deeply uncomfortable and Myska felt like acid was burning her face, the sensation thankfully abated soon enough.
    She quickly stashed all her gear beneath the bed, only keeping a small blade as took the other woman’s place. Making sure to check herself against one of the many mirror's in the room. For all intents and purposes, she was the woman's twin. None too soon it seemed as the door had just opened.

    “Ah, my little sampling of the crop. I see Ulrich knows my choice all too well.”

    “W..what do you want from me?” Myska replied, putting as much real fear and terror into her voice as she could. “Everything.” The man smiled viciously and closed the door behind himself.
    Giraldo Durante was usually not an ugly man. A mop of blonde hair, the build of a rider. Everything conspired to make him look dashing. It was his expression though that undid all of it. Feral and vicious revealing the monster he was.
    He grabbed Myska and pulled her closer. He was not prepared for the small blade punching his tigh.

    „What’s this bitch! Do you think that pocket knife is going to stop a rider? I was meaning to be pleasant until now.” He growled. Fear replaced the anger as his vision began to blur. The mask of fear covering Myska calmed itself as she leaned in and whispered into Giralto's ear.

    “Justice will be done.”


    Ages later a slight figure swam out of the sewers, doing what she could to hold her wits together.

    Myska had spent a good half hour trying to scrub herself clean of the man's blood. It wasn't coming clean, or maybe it was just an illusion, her skin a raw red by now.
    She closed her eyes and tried to shake the image of him sprawled over the bed away. She had to make it look good. The work of of a crazy and hurt cultist that wanted vengeance. Who believed she had killed the man. It had to look right. His bone's broken and work done all over his body. It had to look good Myska kept repeating to herself.

    "What did you do Myska? Nothing, nothing at all. All you did was put the man to sleep when he noticed your shadow. That the woman he planned to turn into a plaything was seeking vengeance is not your fault. Your hands are clean and Eleanora must believe this." She whispered, over and over.

    It was an hour later that she was able to get back home, the book of accounts careful wrapped in oil skin. Giralto was alive and the girl, whatever her name was, was outside and safe as well. Little victories, if nothing else.
    Last edited by Deunan; 12th Sep 16 at 6:01 AM.

  48. #198
    Naufragium crawled in trough her favourite crevice in Soltriér's lair. She was a harasser and still significantly smaller than the huge and ancient center.

    It was a crevice of the beaten path, a place that might keep Soltriér less on edge. She did certainly hope, that the understanding the two dragons had still held. Naufragium would sometimes pay visit to the ancient Pale Bastion and the eggs and do so in a way that was her own.

    On top of that, it allowed her to play little tricks on the Eisenwald dragon. Like that one time she managed to get a a paired casting stone from a human merchant and snuck one in Ungebrochen's feeding den and Soltriér's resting pile. She curled up around a stone pillar and wondered just how long poor Soltriér had to rummage trough his treasures searching for the sounds of a macerating second ancient dragon and passed what was a dragon equivalent of a chuckle.

    Still this was a friendly, in human terms a tea party.

    The hunter kept quiet as his prey crept through the crevice. Determined not to give himself away, he held his breath and retreated further into his hiding place. Today, he would be the victor.

    Naufragium tentatively let herself down to the ground. The cavern felt somewhat different this time, not even the mice that sometimes scoured around seemed to be stirring and darting away from her. Still the dragon was unconcerned. She shrugged and trudged upwards towards the egg cavern.

    She often brought some small trinket towards them, something the hatchlings will have fun playing with once they decide to crawl out of their shells, though she didn't bring anything with her this time.

    She hesitated when she reached the end of the cavern, and the entrance to Soltríer's hoard jawned in front of her. She ought to have reached the egg cavern by now, but all the rooms had been suspiciously empty. She glanced back at the niche to her right, noting the trinkets piled up in the corner.

    The hunter dashed out of his hiding place and launched itself at Naufragium, intent on conquering this unsuspecting foe. The small green dragon rushed the Furnace Dragon, but it's high pitched roar of fury turned to a yelp of confusion as it realised that this was not his intended target.

    Naufragium carefully stepped forward and smelled the air. The fledgling was tiny and she winced at the odour that was balking around it. It most likely had never seen any sizeable body of water and she could still smell the dried egg effluent on it. It wasn't in any danger. There was very little that dared to attack a dragon, even as tiny as this fledgling, but it would have to learn soon enough. Or it would end up like one of thse continental dragons, refusing to enter any body of water, no matter how splattered in blood they were.

    The lithe dragon darted forward and carefully grabbed the little green wyrm, carefully wrapping around it. The little creature hissed and tried to get away until she quited it with a snap of her jaw.

    "No you won't greenie. You're coming with me to the lake, before the big white teaches you how not to be a dragon. Then you'll get to hunt him. He won't be able to smell you coming from a mile away!" She yapped at it gleefully, before bouncing off towards the small underground stream.

    The hatchling hissed furiously as it tried to pull itself free, but it soon realised that that there was not escape from her grasp It mewled sadly as it was carried along, occasionally nudging Naufragium with it's beak in the hope that it would cause her to let go of him. Today was not a good day for the little one.

    Naufragium nudged the fledgling back. "Don't worry your scales will end a nice shiny..." She focused closely on the little dragon and swallowed a large amount of air and passed it trough to her furnace. A dull orange slowly illuminating the entire cave. "Green, uh you are certainly not Soltriér´s spawn. The old coot wasn´t lying. There is not a hint of white on you. Alright little one, keep your beak closed."

    The little fledgling yelped in surprise as Naufragium dunked it into the stream. Even more so, when she crawled into the water as well and blew bubbles.

    It splashed around in panic, flapping its wings and trying remain afloat as the wave caused by her entrance bowled him over. Not entirely grasping the fine art of swimming yet, the small dragon slowly spun in a circle as it treaded water. Eventually it managed to grab hold of Naufragium and bombarded her with sad whines.

    The lithe dragon lay low in the water, partially submerging herself. The fledgling now had an island on which to ride and didn't have to tread the water by itself. Soon it calmed down, even if it tried to make Naufragium very aware of how ignomable she made it feel.

    "So little one, are you a dragon or dragonness I wonder. Seems like all of us new to Pruss are the nessies, maybe you'll be one too."

    The hatchling didn't answer, its attention focused on the light of the furnace dragon reflecting off the water. Draped half over Naufragium's back, it pawed at the image of another green dragon in the streaming water, occasionally biting the mirror image when it gave him a dirty look.

    Naufragium's question was answered when a second hatchling entered the space carved out by the stream. This one was a little bigger, and the horns of its head curved backwards instead of forwards, and obviously female. Seeing her sibling in distress, it cried out and dove headlong into the water, intent on rescuing its fellow. It struggled through the water to Naufragium and tried to climb on, but was repelled when the smaller hatchling swiped at her with its claw. The cave filled itself with the cries of the hatchlings as brother and sister resumed their struggle for dominance on Naufragium's back.

    The furnace dragon harrumped at that and started throwing water at the two hatchlings with her wings. The two reptiles began to squeel in surprise and mock terror.

    Naufragium let them quiet down and contorted herself to be able to smell the two. "No, the two of you still smell rotten, worse than most people. Reminds me I need to throw Myska into a lake somewhere for a bit."

    She rested her head neck to the two, intently watching their cavorting. "Oh the jokes we three are going to pull on big old mook are going to be glorious."

    Eventually, the female managed to establish dominance by climbing on the male's back and pushing him underwater every time he resisted. Her attempt at proudly parading around what somewhat hampered by her lack of swimming skill, but she managed to do it with her head held high. With the pecking order established the two returned to Naufragium. As far as they were concerned, female meant mother, and mother meant food.

    Naufragium hissed at the sibling pair. "Go find Soltyskins for something to eat. Or Nautilus. Or Minerva, or just about anyone but me." The squeals of the hatchlings refused to quiet down and they started to slowly grate on Naufrag's will to be around. In exasperation she sunk her head under the water and began blowing bubbles. It was then that she noticed the gleam of school of small cave fish. Too tiny for a glorious dragon like herself, but maybe still fine for the hatchlings.

    Her tail made a huge splash, surprising the two hatchlings with a sound like thunder and soon a couple of stunned fish drifted to surface. "Go eat that."

    After the hearty meal, Naufragium made her way to the mound's main chamber with the twins in tow. Soltríer was lying in his usual spot above the hoard, his eyes closed as he dreamed about ever increasing treasures. He woke up at the sound of the hatchlings loudly announcing their presence, opening an eye at their approach. He pushed himself upright as he noted Naufragium's presence. The male hatchling his under one of Soltríer's wings, while the female climbed onto his back.

    "I thought I heard something skulking about," he grumbled. "The mound has a main entrance, you know."

    The young dragon stretched her wings, letting water drip off of them. "And miss pouncing on your drakes and servants? Why would I ever do that." She leaped forward and brushed against the Bastion like a cut would. "I was planning to berate you about poaching my alphas at first. But really, I trust Mutrab to know what he's doing. If that drake was a dragon, he'd make Ungebrochen seem fun. Seems you've got your wings full though."

    "The incessant noise and constant need for attention. I cannot fathom how mother puts up with it." He grumbled. Meanwhile the female had reached his shoulders and started on the ascent to his head, grabbing for purchase on the Imperial White's near impenetrable scales. "They hatched a fortnight ago, and they haven't stopped making noise since."

    Naufragium bumped her snout against the female hatchling on Soltrier's back and grinned as tiny dragons scrambled for purchase on top of him. "You could always ask Minerva. I'm sure she has some experience on how to mother dragons. Or your own mother. Though if you do that, I want to be around. Listening to you telling Barraq that you decided to start a nest will be golden."

    He snorted in contempt, spread his wings and roared. "That know-it-all Minerva? Never!" The effect was somewhat ruined by the hatchling finally reaching the top of his head and imitating him, spreading her wings and squeaking her victory. The Pale Bastion dipped his head, causing the small dragon to fall off and expertly caught her between his teeth before gently lowering her to the ground. The female quickly scrambled upright and paraded around with pride. "I have no time for this. War is at our doorstep, and these two decide to hatch at the worst possible time."

    Naufragium leaned in against Soltrier. "Oh don't be such a bore." She grinned, picked up the tiny green dragon and placed her on the Bastion's snout. The hatchling roared in glee and spread her wings wide. "Being a great wyrm with obligations looks good on you. Wars happen, wars pass, Pruss grows and put our humans on fire to make them more interesting. Getting to ask the great Dames about experience is something you get to do only once on the other hand."

    The Pale Bastion grumbled and uttered a command in the ancient language. Drakes flooded from the caverns below carrying several large pieces of meat with them. They deposited it in front of the dragons in two near piles, one for Soltríer and one for Naufragium. The hatchlings immediately rushed towards the food, but stopped at a snarl from the great dragon. After his guest had selected a choice piece of meat, he grabbed one for himself and gave the hatchlings permission to eat. They assaulted the food with the same vigor they reserved for fighting amongst themselves, snacking on the heavily salted meat as if it was the first food they'd seen in years. Soltríer thoughtfully ripped off a side of beef as he considered the options.

    "Perhaps I can somehow leverage this to my advantage for the marriage arrangements. But first things first. These two still need names."

    "Give them time. A dragon that names itself always has a more powerful name." The lithe dragon grinned, "I would know." She smacked in the salted meat absentmindedly. "You know, we could always try to sneak them towards Gegenwind. I hear she is terrified of green things." She lay her head gently on top of the tiny male, ignoring it's squeals of anger. Soon enough it's sibling came to it's aid, scrabbling on top of Naugragium.

    "It is a great honor to receive a name from the World Throne as an Imperial White. A name should be powerful, one to strike fear and respect into the hearts of dragons and men. Otherwise they might end up as the grand dragon Llama, just to name an example."

    He scoffed as he watched the tiny dragons struggle against Naufragium. "Surely you can best one measly dragon? Fight harder, young ones!" Though she couldn't quite understand the adult dragon yet, the female hatchling reared her head back and started furiously headbutting Naufragium. "Ever seen a Cypriot Burrowers before? Their preferred method of attack appears to be slamming their face into the opponent. And the humans wonder why they nearly went extinct."

    Naufragium played mock defeat, slowly shifted her snout in time with the female's headbutts. "Don't you dare mock the great dragon name Llama. I still like the sound of it." Suddenly she fluttered and quickly enveloped both the hatchlings, holding the the two under her paws. "Stop fighting little ones and go to sleep." She growled over their protests. "Who knows, maybe we could teach them to divebomb ships. Though I doubt Nautilus would like the idea."

    "Divebombing is the only acceptable way of going anywhere. Animals, humans, dragons... They all scatter before our arrival." He chuckled while remembering a particularly successful divebomb. The hatchlings wrestled themselves out from under the Furnace Dragon's claws and trotted over to the Imperial White. Despite their constant complaining, they were gently nudged back towards their nest in the former egg cave. "Finally some peace and quiet. You should visit more often."

    -> "And miss out on all the fun of watching our humans flounder around?" The furnace dragon took a look back at the hatchlings and ran some ideas about them in her mind. Things Soltriér may not entirely approve of, but which may end up being fun. "Just saw mine earlier actually. Girl doesn't know what she wants I think. Smelled like she swam trough a sewer. Knowing her, she has the unsense to actually do something like that if it makes whatever she does easier," she said scratching herself, "still at least is willing to get dirty, unlike that useless father of hers. Thinking of dropping him on a mountain somewhere, but humans always ask silly questions when I do that and I think my human is happier not knowing who from the good for nothings sired her. Maybe I should drop them all off on a mountain. Might stop them from asking too much. What about your human? He giving you any trouble? And is Minerva still talking about the times she used to eat them?"

    "My human is still infatuated with Minerva's rider. Female riders make for good breeders and strong, healthy children, but if Minerva thinks she can mooch off my wealth and poach my rightful heirs, she has another thing coming. Their lives pass in the blink of an eye, so he needs to start siring offspring soon."

    Behind Soltríer, the hatchlings snuck out of the cave very slowly. As the Pale Bastion delivered his speech on the nature of man, the hatchlings very carefully lifted a jewel encrusted lance from a nearby treasure pile. The both of them worked together to make as little noise as possible sneaking back to their nest under Naufragiums amused gaze. She turned her attention back to him as he reached the end of his sermon.

    "I assume you have a plan for your human as well?" He asked.

    Naufragium spotted the duo and gave them a wink, a very human gesture. Soltrier might consider them to be somewhat daft, but she saw promise in them. All they needed to shine was likely to be challenged and getting around an old wyrm like Soltrier would be just the right challenge.

    She shook her head to hide any grin which may have started creeping in. "I haven't considered her much. I picked her young enough, to mold how I wanted to. She's refusing to be molded." The furnace dragon scowled. She knew she shouldn't have. Independant humans were better, more fun and what she liked. But at the same time Myska's staunch refusal to be a copy of her grandfather or her grand grand father irked her. "Still I was surprised when I picked the smell of my humans in a city where I knew there weren't any."

    Naufragium tried to keep Soltrier busy for a while longer. "So how did you actually pick your human? Rather than the female human from the same brood?"

    The Pale Bastion smirked and beat the rock with his tail. The hatchlings froze in midstep, and then resumed once they were certain the Imperial White hadn't spotted them. Soltríer thought a moment before answering her. "Normally I let the humans sort it out themselves, but this time was different. The boy wasn't the only candidate. By the time it became clear my rider would soon be unable to perform his duties, there were eight children."

    "The women had all been married off to different families, except for the youngest. The men were still at home, vying for the position of who would become my next rider. Despite their adequate performance in the challenges their father set for them, he still had doubts about his sons. So he brought them before me. And I saw nothing but weakness in them. They would sooner sell their own mother than protect the house until death. They were unworthy. The girl was a good candidate, but she didn't have the necessary drive to become a rider. And then they brought to me the boy..."

    The dragon stood up and leaped down into the hoard, raising his voice so Naufragium could hear him clearly. The hatchlings scampered off with their bounty, but at the nest entrance the male let go of the lance and trotted back to the pile of treasure on the overlook. After a moment's inspection, he started to tug on a very large bag of coins buried beneath some artifacts.

    "He was much younger than the others, and oh so full of emotions. He had a real... hunger driving him. A desire to prove himself, rage about the injustices inflicted upon him and a need to know more about his origins. Not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but malleable. He also was far superior to the others in physical terms. He would do nicely. Of course, when the older brothers learned of my preference for the youngest, they were filled with jealousy and rage." The dragon's demeanour turned to anger, a glow building in his chest.

    "They tried to murder the boy during a hunt. They were disloyal, they questioned my designs!" His tail swept through the gathered treasure, sending it bouncing through the cave in a rain of gold, jewels and artifacts. "And so I _burned_ their troops and had the brothers devoured by the drakes. None dare question my intentions now."

    He calmed down, picking up one of the artifacts he had scattered and inspected it for damage. "The boy survived, and became my rider. As it should be."
    Naufragium eyed the little hatchling as it was sent scurrying by Soltriér's tail. The ancient dragon didn't even notice the green blue, but still managed to get it to make itself scarce, but not before sneaking a few of the coins into it's mouth, like a cat with a mouse.

    The furnace dragon chuckled at the Pale Bastion's outburst. "You imperials are always so dramatic. Should just have picked them up and do a count of how long it takes each of them to fall. Might even get to get something out of it, their builds might lend to different aerodynamics which would influence their speed...Minerva has been rubbing off of me I fear."

    She flipped her own tail to hide the hatchling from sight.

    "So when will you and Minerva talk about the situation. I'll sound a bit like Ungebrochen, but when two of our most venerable ancients and bicker, the skyflight suffers. Under normal circumstances I wouldn't mind, since its not me he laments and sermons about, but I like you and Minerva. You maybe a bit more." She grinned and remembered her time as a fledgling in a then alien country, "it even seems my humans likes both yours and Pieri's, so the two of you talking would help all of us. If worst comes to worst l, both you and Minerva have enough cadet families. What can I say? I've only got one human in the current generation."

    "That will not do. She is fertile, is she not? You must see to it that she gets pregnant as soon as possible."

    Naufragium leaned in on Soktriér. "Eh, she's young enough, I think she's somewhat afraid of males, but doesn't want to admit it. But what about you and Minerva, now that your humans are bonding up, you should drop an egg together, symbolize your truce and who knows,what....i am certain your mother would approve."

    She sent him a toothy grin, sweeping the male hatchling into the cavern with her tail, golden coins not even making a sound.

    If looks could kill, then Naufragium would be a red smear across the cavern walls. A low, rumbling growl escaped from the White's throat as he expressed his displeasure at that idea, but a blast of trumpet music cut through his grumbling. The dragon's turned their attention to the entrance as the humans announced their presence. The hatchlings came rushing out of the nest, squeaking with excitement at the unfamiliar sound. Ignoring the Pale Bastion's warning roar, they sprinted into the tunnel to investigate.

    "Stop them, they're not used to humans yet," Soltríer hissed as the green tails vanished around the corner. The murmur of conversation turned into warning shouts and screams of fear a moment later.

    Naufragium leapt forward, her lithe body flowing down the cavern like quicksilver.

    By the time she caught up with the two hatchlings, they were yapping at the small huddling humans. She wasn't certain what it was,they were after, the prancing humans themselves or the meat they were carrying.

    It was good that the hatchlings had eaten the fish earlier, else the humans might have found themselves being nibbled on already.

    She lashed out and pushed each of the hatchlings down with a paw. The two little green hatchlings hissed and mewled, but she was relentless and chastised them with a hiss of her own.

    The humans cowed and shrunk when she looked at them. "Go, your lord awaits you deeper in the cavern, I'll deal with these two troublemakers." Se sent them scurrying.

    Once they were gone, she pulled the tiny dragons closer to herself. "Hrrmpf, you'll get humans to play with, once you have sense not to break them..much. But you can't act like wild animals l, takes away from our amazing mystery. Be aloof and capricious and keep them guessing. Or be a dour old fart like Soltriér, just make sure to be regal enough about it."
    Last edited by Kronoch; 3rd Oct 16 at 4:22 AM.

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