Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Lands of Light: Northern Leonais

Few of the Lands of Light present as much contrast as Leonais, with its "civilized" south, and its "savage" north.   And yet for all that the former has come to dominate the land, it is in the latter that Leonais began, and--some argue--that still remains its beating heart.  From the inhospitable coast that the Pescheours ruled for generations before Seisyll the Great inserted himself into the civil war that marked the Holy Empire's death throes, to the wild hills of Almace and the cold grandeur of Durandel comes much of the soldiery that fights the kingdom's wars.  It is the rule of this hard land that has let the Leonais hold off the Nightfolk and the Easter King, as well as dominate other more friendly neighbors...

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Lands of Light: A Shared History

In the past, much was written of the Holy Empire.  This is important, for as opposed to the Lands of Night, the Lands of Light share a common history--a brief one, in parts, it must be said--as one state.  The closest equivalent in the Lands of Night would be the era of the Amontides' preeminence--and even at the height of Sutekh's rule, they didn't not rule all of it.  For the Lands of Light, the Empire unites them into a common nation--it is something that all the states in it define themselves in relation to.

No matter how deceptive that may be.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Siege of the White Mountain, Vol. 3: Due to the Dead--Part 39

The Great Tower of Saint Simon loomed over the city of Carcosse, an expanse of dull grey stone that pointed towards the heavens like an accusing finger.  The shadow of the tower lay heavy on the city, and this was not some mere abstraction, for the long shadow of the tower at the city's center was something to be avoided.  It was dark, a heavy clinging darkness that blotted out sight, and it was cold, a cold that struck the marrow, and gave people strange chills if they stayed in it too long.  Older inhabitants of Carcosse swore the shadow hadn't always been so uncanny, that once it had merely simply felt wrong to stand in, and yet when pressed, they admitted they were repeating stories their parents had told them. "And yet it was not so bad, when we were children," they would hastily add, and as none of their listeners could, as a rule, contradict that, the listeners would merely nod, and glance worriedly at the Tower.

For most, the strange nature of the Tower had simply become part of the city, the area around the Tower having become, over time, a virtually abandoned ring of crumbling buildings, what few permanent inhabitants there were being a bunch of the desperate poor, outcasts with no where else to go, who spent their time moving as quickly as they could, in hopes of staying out of the shadow.  And though many pilgrims came to Carcosse, for wisdom, for council, for the strange absolution the Knights of the Tower offered, none went to the Tower, only to small chapels at the outskirt of its shadow.  Only the Stylites went to the tower, in small little knots that walked in straight lines towards its grey expanse and paid no heed to the other inhabitants of Carcosse, and only the Stylites knew what lay within it, from the great heights above, to the deep basements below.   And even the Stylites did not enter the room at the top of the tower, where the one they knew as Grandmaster Radiance stayed.

Grandmaster Radiance stayed in this room, and he did not leave it.  He could not do this, in fact, for his form had long become motionless, his arms and legs rigid as stone.  If any had entered the room--which they could not, and would not--they would have seen a mummified corpse, grasping a large silver plate that it seemed to stare at intently.  Grandmaster Radiance could have told these confused souls that it was not the plate he stared at, but what the plate allowed him to see, for it was the charms placed on it that allowed him to communicate with his underlings in the order.

"And so you allowed the Dark Lord to see you for what you are?" he snapped to the one he was talking to at this very moment, with a voice that was not in truth a voice.

"I had little choice, Grandmaster," replied the Stylite known as Nitre in a wheedling voice.  "He had  the Sword of Night!  It sliced through my defenses like a knife through butter! I was fortunate to escape in the condition I am in now!"

"Doubtless we must all be thankful for your stirling heroism," muttered Radiance.

"A medal would be nice," said Nitre in a tone of agreement.

Radiance gave a snarl.  He did not like Nitre, who had come to the Order centuries ago older than they liked their recruits, where he had been caught using the "gifts" his Nightish taint had granted him for theft and burglary. He had, in time, been beaten and moulded into a proper shape for a Stylite, but it had taken a while, and he had never quite become as he should.  And yet Nitre remained active in a manner that most Stylites of his age found difficult, heading out when most could only stay in the Tower and add their voiceless voices to the spells necessary for the Stylites' survival. 

Which is why he had been sent to Montalban--in truth, there'd been no choice.

"Well, perhaps a medal is a bit much," said Nitre, "but come... aside from this... little setback, we are doing quite well, I'd say.  Really, if you must get upset, get upset with the Prince.  The man's collapsing much faster than we thought he would..."

"The Prince remains useful for the moment," said Radiance.  "And easy to discard if that should prove necessary.  As seems likely."  The Grandmaster felt a sudden urge to nod that he suppressed, reminding himself that after all these centuries, surely he would be used to not being able to move his head.  "He is making his way up north.  Follow after him, and make sure his... activities can be put to good use."

"Of course, Grandmaster," replied Nitre pleasantly.  "I am eager to be of service. As always."

Radiance sat in silence for a moment.  Times like this made the pain of his existance, all the more acute.  Born damned, the touch of Douma Dalkiel heavy upon him, he had managed in time to find a way to serve the Holy Light, and even to make others like him pledge such service--but the cost had been heavy, and there were always a few such as Nitre who seemed not to realize their state, no matter how much it was drummed into them. And then there was the other...

A shadow covered the plate.  "So," came the familiar voice, "the Cthoniques begin to realize things."

If Radiance had still been capable of shivering, he would have been. "We knew this would happen eventually," he stated to his... senior partner in all this.

"But not so soon," hissed the voice.  "Do not underestimate that family.  They have long been a thorn in my side..."

"I know, oh, Eternal and Unequaled Splendor," said Radiance.  "But we do have... measures in place to take care of them after all.  And whatever they may suspect, surely they do not suspect you, Undying One."

"Most likely not," said the voice, after a moment of silence.  "Very well.  Move the next pieces into place.  And let us see what happens.  The feeding proceeds well, after all, and that is... our primary goal here.  Take care, disciple." The plate cleared, as the ponderous presence of the ancient evil of the King of the South drew back.

Grandmaster Radiance felt a wave of relief.  As always happened after one of their chats, he was left wondering if the ancient sorcerer had discerned his true purpose in all this.  Whether he had or not, he knew that the thing didn't trust him, and was likely planning to betray his supposed "disciple" at the first opportunity.  But the Stylites would stay on the path their master had chosen for them.  For a chance to send the Undying One to death...

That would be a sweet thing indeed.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Siege of the White Mountain Vol. 3: Due to the Dead--Part 38

Eustace de Calx sat at the Great Table of the Copper Hall, where he'd just headed the meeting in the place of young Prince Pellenore, and sipped his wine. 

"That was a stunning success, really," he stated aloud.

"Sir?" came a small voice.

Eustace, who'd been under the impression he was in an empty room, glanced towards the door to see a young woman scrubbing the floor.  He stared at her for a moment.  "Who are you, may I ask?" he said, then coughed.  "If it please you."

The girl stood and gave an awkward curtsy.  "Amanda, your honor."  She gestured to the rag she was using.  "I clean the floor after meetings."

Eustace blinked.  "Really?  I was unaware they had someone for that..."

"Oh, they have to," she said.  "Many of you have such muddy feet."  She shuddered and wrinkled her nose. 

"True enough," said the old Duke with a chuckle, as he stood to his feet.  "Well, this is what comes of always rushing out of these meetings.  One misses the chance to meet such interesting people.  How long have you done this, Amanda?"

"Oh, years," said the young girl.  "Since I was... a little child." 

Eustace tried to figure what that meant in her eyes, and gave it up.  It would simply make him envious, he decided.  "And you enjoy it?"

"It's better than the street, sir," said Amanada, as she went back to cleaning.

Eustace chuckled.  "Tell me, my dear, do you know who I am?" he asked, as he stood up.

"The Duke of Tranchera," she said.  She looked at him.  "Is it true?"

"Amanda," he said, as he walked towards her, "they say many things about me, many of which--perhaps even most of which--are true.  Please be more specific."

She stared at him, eyes wide.  "Did you really save Joyeuse?"

"Ahh," he said.  "For the moment, perhaps." He gave a shrug.  "Frankly, I am rather surprised myself."  Amanda seemed about to say something, when loud footsteps rushing towards the door caught both their attention.

"So you are still here," said Count Jeronim."Duke... it... we must... you..."

"Take a deep breath, Count Oriflamme," said Eustace quietly.  "What is happening?"

"The Easter King!" snapped Jeronim.  "His forces are on the move from Precieuse."

Eustace nodded.  "Ahh."  He sighed.  "Well, it appears I must try it again." He glanced at Amanda.  "Now then, my dear, would you care if I bought you a meal."  Count Jeronim stared at him in shock.  "What?  The poor child looks hungry.  Surely it would do no harm to give her a good meal."

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Siege of the White Mountain Vol. 3: Due to the Dead--Part 37

Ludovico sat on the great gate of Montalban, strumming idly on his lute. "Oh, red, red, red ran the field," he sang, "red ran the field with blood.  It... something something, and then, something, and then... la la la mud."  He frowned quietly.  "No... no, that's a crap rhyme."

"I'll say," muttered a familiar voice.  Ludovico turned to see the tall, grey-skinned Marsh Erl standing nearby, black and gold cloak fluttering in the breeze.  "Never heard that one before."

Ludovico stood up proudly.  "For a simple reason--it has not existed until now!  I am writing it, even now--a lay of the great deeds done here, before the White Walls of Montalban, by your Dark Lord, our Duke, and of course, all of us, their humble servants."

The Marsh Erl nodded.  "I have to say, it was a surprise seeing you Pal... people, out there."

Ludovico glanced out over the wall.  "It was a surprise to be there."  And it was.  When Duke Renaud had called for pikmen to issue forth, it had been the Palazzos who had taken up the call, they the lowly of Montalban had answered, and been among the first to face the foes that had besieged them in battle.

It really was quite remarkable.  Ludovico had never heard of anything quite like it happening in the city's long history.  And he even recalled the tale of the Duke who'd killed his wife after she'd gotten back from a pilgrimage to Carcosse, which was not a story the Lazaliezes liked repeated far and wide. 

It was... quite amazing, really.

"So... why are you writing it here?" asked the Marsh Erl.

"Well, it's a lovely spot," answered Ludovico.  "And it gives an excellent view of the field. But mostly, it's a lovely spot, Sagramont."

"Sacripant," said the Marsh Erl.  "My name is Sacripant Fenswater."

Ludovico bowed.  "My apologies.  Still you must admit, that is excellent for a man who has heard your name... only once."

"No, I don't," replied Sacripant.

"Then what's my name?" asked Ludovico.

Sacripant frowned, and began to scratch his forehead.  "It's.... got... an 'e' in it, somewhere," he said.  "That much I'm sure of."

"Then you sure of nothing," said Ludovico.  "Because I have no 'e' in my name whatsoever."

"You're joking," said Sacripant, squinting at the Palazzo minstrel.

"No, I am not," replied Ludovico.  "Not even a little."   He gestured out towards the horizon.  "Nor am I joking about this view.  You can see for miles upon miles here, out to Agrismont, and..."

"What's that?" asked Sacripant, pointing towards the distance.

Ludovico turned and blinked.  "I... assume you mean the menacing black pillar of smoke in the distance, yes?"

Sacripant gave a nod.  "I do."

"Well, other than a menacing black pillar of smoke, I have no idea," said Ludovico.  "Save for a vague suspicion that it is... trouble."

"Sounds about right," muttered the Marsh Erl with a frown.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Siege of the White Mountain Vol. 3: Due to the Dead--Part 36

There were three of them, at the mountain pass at which a minor battle had been fought--the Ogre, the limping Erl, and the tall figure that most considered an Erl for convience sake.

Nisrioch Cthonique glanced around the pass, his rainbow-colored eyes sparkling and shifting.  "You know... this is quite a lovely place, when you get down to it."  He smiled sadly.  "One could build a rather nice house here."

Rodomonte glanced at him.  "Really?"

"Oh, yes," said Nisrioch.  "Consider the views."  The Ogre raised an eyebrow. Nisrioch frowned.  "Come now," he muttered.  "You're a Troll. Remember Kitvekh!"

"Always," said Rodomonte, glancing at the harsh terrain.  "But Kitvekh lies in a lovely valley, and is a place of peace, and gentleness.  This... is a less pleasant area."

Ruggier gave a nod, and glanced over at a mound of bodies, laying on the ground.  "And we know why."  He gave a bitter sigh. "This is all my handiwork, at the root of it."

"No," said Rodomonte.  "No, young lion, it is..."

"Do not lie to me, Rodomonte," said Ruggier.  "I have studied the ways of war for... most of my life, thinking I could be of service to my land that way, even if I could not on the field."  He shut his eyes.  "And now... now I see what this means."

"Did you drive these men to war, Duke of Tremisona?  Or the men who fought them?" asked Nisrioch quietly.  "Did you place swords in their hands, and arrows in their bows?"

"No," replied Ruggier forcefully.  "I gave a plan that lead to their deaths." 

"And had you not, what would have happened?" said Nisrioch.  "Do you imagine they would be hale and healthy?"

Ruggier shut his eyes.  "I... I did not imagine it would be like this."

Nisrioch nodded. "No one ever does."

"Not even you?" asked the Ogre.

"Not even I," said Nisrioch sadly.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Siege of the White Mountain Vol. 3: Due to the Dead--Part 35

Doctor Aemilius Praetorius glanced at the coachman, and wondered, vaguely, if he gave the man the word to go if the carriage would drive off, and he would leave the world of the Prince-Regent and all his madness, and murderous lunatic thugs, and never see it again.

But then Amfortas emerge from the chateau, a pleasant smile on his face, the little... creature... Gilly following after him.  As they came out the gate, the Prince turned, and regarded the girl.  "So then, are my order quite clear, my dear?"

Gilly gave an enthusiastic nod.  "Burn it.  Burn it all down!"

Amfortas gave a pleasant chuckle, and patted her on the head.  "Very good, child. Very good."  He crossed his arms.  "Now, do it well, and I will have many, many other things for you to keep yourselves busy on this trip.  Is this clear?"  The girl gave another nod. Amfortas smiled, pinched her scarred cheek, then turned and made his way to the carriage. 

"You know," he said, as he entered it, "I really was disappointed in what they'd done with my chateau."  He sighed and shook his head.  "They'd made it so drafty.  So intolerably drafty."  He leaned back in the carriage.  "I do not know how they did it.  But they did."  He glanced at the doctor.  "I'm so lucky to have had you here. I might have died from a chill, without your services."

Praetorius nodded, uncertain whether Amfortas meant what he said, or was just imitating conversation, in that strange manner that he had. After all, other times, the Prince seemed utterly convinced the gods wouldn't let him die.  And other times... he simply didn't seem to care.

"It was my pleasure, my priviledge, and my duty," said Aemilius quietly.  He toyed again with the thought of poisoning the Prince, but a half of him suspected these requests for medicine were a game where the Prince was trying to encourage him to make the attempt, so that he could have him killed.

But then, he thought, did Prince Amforas really need an excuse to kill him?  Didn't the man normally do things--terrible things--simply for the amusement of them?  It was quite baffling to Aemilius, who after all had killed numerous people for money.   Or because they'd annoyed him.   But mostly for money.  The thought of killing... simply to kill--it baffled him.  What was the point?  Why did Amfortas do what he did?

Glancing out the window of the carriage, Praetorius saw the Chateau de Nestor was on fire.  He considered telling the Prince, but decided he already knew.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Siege of the White Mountain Vol. 3: Due to the Dead--Part 34

Morgaine leapt off the gryphon, coughing and hacking.  "Right," she said to her brother, clutching her nose.  "You know, you are so lucky that Nissy has yet to invent an alternative to this that everybody but he thinks is worse..."

Mansemat gave his beast an affectionate pat on the head.  "Dandelion can't help that he got caught in the rain, Morgaine."  He leaned forward, and rested his head on the gryphon's neck.  "Him big fluffy!  Yes, he is!  Yes, heeeee eeeeees!"

"Well, I guess that's proof that there is somebody for everybody," noted Morgaine, strolling away, with a glance at the night sky.  "That and the fact that... you know, you're married, Manny."

"And you've got Despi," said Mansemat, scratching his gryphon's head.  "See. I can be bitter and witty as well."

"But you're not as good as it as me," replied Morgaine, following it up by sticking out her tongue.  She paused a moment, looking around, and then giving a sniff.  "Right.  Not gryphon-stink.  This is..." She sniffed a bit more.  "...Heavy death magic.  And not the okayish kind--this is evil, cursey, stuff."  She glanced at her brother.  "So... it looks like you were right.  A Revenant.  Doing... bad stuff."

Mansemat nodded.  "Truly, you are a master of description.  'Bad stuff''.  Indeed, this is potent new information that I was unable to ascertain."

"Hey--I thought we'd agreed I am the snarky one," snapped Morgaine.

"We didn't," repiled Mansemat.  "You just unilaterally declared yourself it."

"Don't make me levitate a rock on you, Manny," said Morgaine, turning.  "It would upset me."  She moved on.  "Anyway...  this stuff is... weird.  I've seen some bad things, but this..."  She shook her head.  "Nissy and I have been trying to get a bead on this for weeks now..   It's on another level from what anything of this nature I've ever seen.  Very... subtle.  And more powerful than you'd think.  ."  She glanced back her brother.  "Which is why I am having a lot of trouble figuring out just what it is, before you ask me again, all mean and sarcastic."  She sniffed.  "You are such a mean little brother."

"This gives us... some idea of what those... Stylites are, at least," said Mansemat.  He shook his head. "Still... this is odd...  Revenants are solitary dwellers as a rule, accursed, unnatural dwellers between life and death..."  He coughed.  "Ummm, right. Sorry."

Morgaine shook her head.  "Oh, no, I'm cool with that.  I'm a not accursed, NATURAL dweller between life and death.  It's a BIG difference."

"And one which I fully appreciate," said Mansemat.

Morgaine regarded her brother for a moment. "You want me to do the thing, don't you?"  Mansemat gave a silent nod.  "Fine."  She shut her eyes.  After a moment, a strange pale glow began to emanate from her.  "You have perished here... come to me.  I am the keeper of the gate, the opener of the way.  Come to me.  Come to me and go into death, and peace..."

Strange flares of light began to approach her, as the glow grew greater.  They passed into her, causing Morgaine to be engulfed in the strange bluish flame.  And then it was quiet.  Morgaine gave a shudder. 

"Yeah, that was creepy," she muttered.

"I thought you generally found it a relief to do that," said Mansemat.

Morgane bit her lip. "It was... too easy.  The anguish... the shock... the terror... it had been drained right out of them." She shook her head.  "I don't know what it is that these... Stylites are doing.  But is worse than we thought.  And what we thought was pretty damn bad."

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Siege of the White Mountain Vol. 3: Due to the Dead--Part 33

Duke Naimon Nestor stumbled into his family's chateau, wiping his face clean.  It'd been a hard ride, and he'd splattered a mud puddle, which of course had covered him head to toe in filth.  Which of course was actually making him regret wishing for warmer weather, but that was how it went sometimes.  He prayed to the Seven that the next part of his day would go better... that he would be able to reach Prince Amfortas and explain this latest setback before news--

"Hello, Duke," came the Prince's voice.  Naimon turned to see the Prince seated in a large chair that had been placed in a small alcove in the hall.  "You are back early, I believe."

"Ahhh, yes," said Naimon, as he tried to think of an answer. It occurred to him that the chair Amfortas was seated in had in fact been in his study, and that the Prince must have had it dragged out to this spot so he could sit here and wait for him.

That was discomfiting.

"You are wasting my time, Duke," said Amfortas in tones of mild, polite disappointent. "And your own.  You are back here far earlier than I thought you would be.  Now--did you, perhaps, defeat the rebels and their foes earlier than I imagined you would?"

"I... no, sir," said the Duke.  "They took the pass, and we were unable to force it.  I had to retreat."  He coughed. "Troops have been left at various fortresses to protect our main army from attack, but we..."

Amfortas raised his hand.  "Your son is with the rebels still, I imagine?"

"I... I believe so, sire," said Naimon.  "To my great shame.  Still, Belengier is only one of my sons.  To have one rebel among so many loyal and true is--"

"I had hoped you would remedy that," whispered Amfortas.  "Take care of the rebel.  But you didn't."

"I couldn't, sire," stated Naimon.  "Circumstances..."

Amfortas suddenly rose from the chair.  "Circumstances."  He nodded as he walked to the Duke's side.  "They seem very convenient for you, these circumstances."

"They are not convenient at all," said Naimon, as Amfortas placed an arm around his shoulder.

"Well, they seem convenient to me," declared Amfortas, as the pair walked further into the chateau.  "It fills me with doubts about you.  Doubts about your loyalty.  Doubts I believe I spoke to you about."  He gave a pleasant nod.  "Tell me the truth, Duke Nestor--you think I am going to do something unpleasant to your family for this.  That this is how I'll balance the scales for your treacherous son--killing one of your other boys.  Or perhaps that handsome little grandson of yours."

Naimon gulped. "My... my lord, that... that is..."

Amfortas gave a merry chuckle.  "Don't lie, Duke.  It is insults the Seven.  That is what you are thinking, isn't it?"

"I..."  Naimon shut his eyes and nodded.  "It is."

"Mmm," agreed Amfortas, as they approached a large door.  "And it is what I am considering.  Torture one or more of them. To make things clear to you."  He opened the door, and ushered Naimon through it.  "So, really, it's sort of a shame I already killed them all."

Naimon stared at the mutilated bodies of his family, all left hanging from the wall.  He gave a low moan and fell to his knees, inarticulate sounds issuing from his mouth.

"Yes," said Amfortas with a sigh. "I'm afraid I got bored waiting for you.  And besides, I felt you would need... correction. After all, aren't your previous failures what brought us to this present... difficulty?  They deserved... punishment."  He leaned towards the old man.  "And yet--this leaves the question what do I do now, doesn't it?"  He shrugged. "Vexing. Most vexing.  You must be punished for this latest failure as well.  What do I do, Duke?  What do I do?"

Duke Naimon turned to regard the man, whimpering the entire time.

Those whimpers turned to screams when Amfortas drove a knife through his shoulder.

"Yes," said Amfortas with a pleased, cheery nod.  "Yes, that's what I think I should do as well."

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Siege of the White Mountain Vol. 3: Due to the Dead--Part 32

Sylvester awoke to the sound of wolves howling.   He thought about asking his mother about this, but then he realized that his mother was dead, and had been for many years, and that he was not a boy but a man, and that he was not lying in a comfortable bed, but a miserable piece of ground.

And was possibly on top of a body.  Or a tree root.

He hoped it was a tree root.  He really did.

"Hello," he muttered dimly.  "Hello, is... there anyone to help?  Anyone?"

"Sylvester?" came a familiar voice.  "Is that you?"

Sylvester tried to move his head and immediately regreted it.   "Yes.  Yes. Who... who is...?"  Justinian Sigma loomed over him, wearing a black cloak trimmed with gold.  "Ah.  Hello, Justinian."

"Hello," said Justinian softly.  "It's... been awhile..."

Sylvester shut his eyes.  "I suppose it has."  He coughed.  "Ummm... Justininan... I... you won, didn't you, yes?"

"The Cthoniques and their allies won, yes," said Justinian.

Sylvester winced.  "Sir Georges was right--the Seven did more than enough as it was..."  He opened his eyes. "Is he...?"   Justinian remained silent.  "Never mind," muttered Sylvester.  "Knew the answer anyway."  He sighed.  "Justinian--I... what... why has this happened?"

Justinian stared at him for a moment.  "Because there are evil men in this world," he said at last.  "And Amfortas is among the worst of them."

Sylvester lay there for a moment.  "It sounds so... ridiculously simple when you put it that way."

"Sometimes, the world gives one an island of simplicity in the ocean of complexity," said Justinian.  "Amfortas is one of those."

"I suppose..." Sylvester gave a shout.  "No!  Not you!  Not now!"

Justinian glanced around.  "What?  Sylvester what is...?"

The Stylite approached Sylvester's side.  "Ahhh, now," said Nitre, softly, "do not be so nervous."  He kneeled at Sylvester's side.  "Why it is time for you and I to play..."

"Get back from him, creature," came a deep voice.

The cloaked figure rose, and stared at the approaching form of Mansemat Cthonique.  "What care you for this boy, Dark Lord?"

"I dislike watching men loot bodies," said Mansemat, as he drew Murgleys. "Now, back, thing."

Nitre paced around the Dark Lord, like a beast of prey.  "Or what, Dark Lord?  You know not with what you deal, Cthonique."

Justinian glanced around nervously.  "Sir, what is..."

Mansemat raised his left hand.  "Do not worry, Sigma."  He stared at the Stylite.  "I have an idea, thing."  With a sudden slash, he sent a gust of wind at Nitre that cut the veil that covered his face.  The Stylite gave a muted scream as the veil fell, clutching his right cheek. 

"You've cut me!  You've cut my face!" whimpered Nitre.

Mansemat stared at the rotted, skeletal ruin.  "I am amazed you can tell," he said softly.

Nitre stared at Mansemat with his strange, half-rotted eyes  full of hate.  "There will be reckoning for this, Dark Lord.  The Tower does not forget.  The Darkness will not survive the Purifying, Perfect Light..."  And then there was a shimmer, and he was gone.

Mansemat took a deep breath.  "How is your...?"

"Former brother," muttered Justinian.  "Gone now. But somehow I think he went better than he would have if you hadn't been here."  He bit his lip.  "What... was that?"

"Somehow, I think that's the real threat," said Mansemat.  "Or at least, a portion of it."

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Siege of the White Mountain Vol. 3: Due to the Dead--Part 31

On a bloodied field, covered with bodies, an old white wolf lay dying.

Konstancy bin Lev, the Gali Khan, was spread on the ground, his wounds grevious, his breath coming slow and shallow.  Marfisa Mongrane held his hand.  "Just... keep calm," she said.  "I... I've called the chirurgeon."

"He would come too late," said the old man with a slight chuckle.  "And I've lived too long anyway." 

Marfisa bit her lip.  "No--don't..."  She looked away.  "Don't say that..."

Konstancy smiled at her.  "But it is true, Marshal."  He coughed.  "I am... glad to have known you.  You've made me feel a younger man.  For as long as I needed to, at least."

"You can't die," muttered Marfisa.

"I have very little choice in the matter," said the Gali Khan.  He raised a faltering hand and patted her lightly on the cheek.  "But do not be sad.  In this life, I am old... and tired.  I go now... to the Great Plain, guided by the blessed hand of our Unholy Mother in Darkness, and there... there I will see my father, and brothers, and my ancestors, and the Great Wolf whose descendent I am."  He shut his eyes.  "A land of cool breezes, and gentle fields, and where the hunting is always good..."  His eyes snapped open.   "Where is Ostrogog?  Where is my son?"

The younger Kizak, who had been standing away from his father, eyes filled with tears, moved forward slowly.  "I am here, father."  He knelt at his father's side.

Konstancy reached out swiftly, and rested a hand on Ostrorog's forehead.  "You are the Gali Khan."

"I am the Gali Khan," replied Ostrorog with a nod.

"Run swift, run fierce, and run with justice," muttered Konstancy bin Lev.

"I will try, father," said the Gali Khan.

"You will do," said Konstancy bin Lev.  "You will do."

The Gali Khan nodded.  "I... will see that your body is born back to..."

"No!  No!" said Konstancy with sudden energy.  "I have crossed the river for the last time!  Do not force me to pass it again.  Bury me here!  Here, where so many brave men of Night, and of Light have died.  Here... which has seen my passing, seen the passing... of an age."  He shut his eyes.  "Bury me... here...."  He gave a deep sigh, that sounded like a growl, and then he was gone, and all that lay there was the body of great white wolf.

"He died saving my life," said Ostrorog softly.

"No," said Marfisa, sniffling.  "Don't think that.  He died... being him."  She shook her head.  "I... didn't know him long, but I know... he didn't regret a thing."

The Gali Khan nodded.  "Still, he was my father.  And still I will mourn."  Ostrorog tipped his head back, and howled.  Around him, Kizaks in the field began to join the howling.  Marfisa sniffled, and then did her best to join it.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Siege of the White Mountain Vol. 3: Due to the Dead--Part 30

The old man walked through the forest, whistling to himself.  Glancing up at the overcast sky, he shuddered slightly, and wrapped his cloak tighter around himself.

"Oooo!" came a muffled voice.  The old man frowned and glanced around to see who was speaking to him.  Eventually a figure emerged from the trees, an ugly little man in blood-stained clothes, with a cloth tied around his face to keep his jaw shut.  "Hoooh ooo!" said the man, brandishing a short sword. "Hooo!"

The old man gave a slight bow. "Hoo to you too, my good man," he said softly.

The little man gave a weak growl.  "Duh mah me!" he grunted, waving the blade.  "I a daaaherus mmmm."

"Are you now?" said the old man, calmly walking past him.  "Well, I'm happy for you."

"Aaaaayyy!" screamed the little man, rushing after him, his blade raised.  "Oooo cahh do theee ooo me!  I kuh ooo!"

The old man yawned. "Indeed," he said, stretching to face the little man.  "And how are you going to do this?"  The little man snarled and rushed at him, stabbing at him.  The old man knocked his hand aside, and grabbed his arm, then twisted. The little man gave a scream.  "Listen," said the old man. "I've seen a lot of death recently, and I'd rather not see anymore. You are a starving, injured man, and I am neither.  If you try to kill me again, I will killl you.  It is that simple."  He tossed the little man away, so that he landed in a heap on the side of the path. 

The little man snarled, and raised his hand, only to realize his knife had been knocked out of it.  He began to search for it desperately.  "Ooo ah no ay ee wuh ooo duh!  I a purr mahh!"

The old man nodded.  "Of course."  He walked on.  After a moment, he heard some scrambling behind him.  He twirled around, seeing the little man with his knife ready, making another stab.  He dodged it,  punched him in the face, then as the man staggered about dazed, tore off the cloth tied around jaw.  The jaw fell open and the little man gave a scream of agony.

Which gave the old man enough time to give another blow that broke his neck.

The old man watched him fall limp on the ground, his breathing slowing and then stopping.  Then the old man started whistling again, as he walked through the forest. After a moment he began to sing.

"Where have all the graveyards gone?  Gone to flowers every one!  When will they ever learn?  When will they learn?"  He sighed and began to whistle again, as he continued on his way.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Siege of the White Mountain Vol. 3: Due to the Dead--Part 29

All around Sylvester the battle raged, a confusing mass.  He saw the ragged forms of the army, and the Flagellants leading it, trying to hold the Kizaks back with pikes.  He saw men fall to the ground, dead from arrows, and sword strikes, and spears, and he saw them die from being trod on by horses and hundred other terrible ways he had not known about before this terrible day. And he saw things that lay inside men, and he was not talking of some metaphorical ideals, but actual fleshy things which did not look pleasant.

And he tried to keep himself from being sick.

His eyes trailed over the battlefield, trying to find Sir Georges, who he'd been riding besides, early in the battle, but lost.  He could not find him, however, no matter where he looked, and he grew worried, for he thought something terrible might have happened to the Acting-Archon, as had just happened to that Flagellant, who lay sprawled on the ground with his stomach ripped open...

He averted his eyes, and then he saw him--proud and tall on horseback, battling with a Kizak who seemed to be Sylvester's age. The pair's swords whistled through the air, as they tried to strike each other down.  Sir Georges' blade seemed to close on his foe--when an older Kizak rushed forward, shouting some... strange word that Sylvester seemed to think was a name, and put himself between Sir Georges and the younger man.  The old man's sword came out, and soon he and Sir Georges were fighting, as strange drops of red flew off him. And then Sylvester realized that the old man had taken a wound and was bleeding, but fought on.

And then suddenly he was staring a wolf, gone white with age, that was leaping at Sir Georges, and then they were toppling to the ground, and then, then he heard a shout, and this word, he did know.  "The gates!" a man cried.  "The gates of the White Mountain open!" 

Sylvester turned, and saw them, those great heavy gates that they had hoped to open for them, or to batter through if they could not.  They were opening now, but it was not a good sight.  They rode out, a group of knights in the service of the Lasliez, with Duke Rainald at their head. 

"Lasliez!" he cried.  "Lasliez! We keep our word!"

Behind them came pikemen of Montalban, and behind them... for a brief moment, Sylvester saw them.  The Dark Lord and his lady, he on the back of a griffin, her simply floating in the air, and more men on griffinback, following. 

"Cthonique!" cried the Dark Lord.  "Cthonique!  In her service!"

"Du Lac!" shouted his wife. "Du Lac!  By sea, and sky!"

Sylvester gulped and felt something strike him in the head. He was dizzy for a moment, and then he fell from his saddle to the ground, and his vision went black.