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    The Replicant
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    Default [M] Runes


    Spoiler: Secrets - Volume 1 


    Part 1 - The Enlightened


    It was not yet mid-morning, but the Enlightened city was already beginning to suffocate in the dry summer heat. Bleached marble temples sulked next to flaking mudbrick tenements, baking under the pall of dun-coloured smoke raised by dozens of furnaces and tanneries, and by hundreds of street stalls hawking food to rushed workers.

    The lifeblood of the city chugged relentlessly on, but it was a strained and furtive pulse. The tenements were marred with discontented graffiti. The workers were cagey and spoke little to each other. And the quality of the meat in the street food was even worse than usual, as the effects of siege rationing began to bite.

    As the sun glared down at the smoke-shrouded city, it was greeted by another dusty plume drifting in from the north, following the twisting ribbon of the river. The plume rose from a marching army, slowly grinding its way towards the Enlightened city. Supply wagons kicked up dust from the cracked roads, while leather-clad spearmen tramped across cotton fields and splashed through rice paddies that had been abandoned by the fleeing Lightmen. Despite the heat, the soldiers were singing as they marched - a deep, sonorous chant, syncopated by the stamp of footfalls and the pounding of oxhide drums. They wanted the Lightmen to know that they were coming.

    The threatening chant carried down to the city harbour, causing dockworkers to stop and listen fearfully until their overseers roared at them to get on. There was still work to be done, even though only the bravest or most reckless captains were now taking their ships up the river or out into the estuary. Ash longships were prowling down the coast in the wake of their army, and boarding or sinking every Lightman boat they came across. One lucky shipmistress had just dodged the Ash blockade to return with a haul of netted fish. No doubt she had hoped to sell them at a high price in the threatened city. Instead, she found herself arguing bitterly with a customs officer and his escort, who began confiscating half her catch at swordpoint for siege rations.

    The only other ship not moored was now rowing its way up the river estuary, having sailed all the way round the coast via the Flint Isle to avoid the encroaching Ashmen. The ship drew in its oars as it bumped up against the pillared wharf, and a deckhand skillfully lassoed a rope around the tying post. The shipmaster - a bearded, big-bellied man who could curse fluently in all the Valley’s main languages - stepped up to the prow and took a great sniff of the stagnant city air.

    “Now I remember why I ’ate this fuckin’ city.” he grumbled. He wrinkled his nose and looked back at the eclectic group standing behind him on the deck. “A’right you lot! If yer mad enough to want to run towards the war ’stead of away from it, then here you go. Hop off!”

    A deckhand thumped a gangplank down into place, allowing the group to shoulder their belongings and file down onto solid ground once more.

    A man who had been standing in the shade of a shop-front awning unfolded his arms and stepped out to meet them. He moved with economical grace in his armour of bronze and leather, and his skin was smooth and tawny-brown. He carried a T-visored helmet in the crook of one muscular arm, and his other hand rested on the pommel of a thick-bladed shortsword. His body was hard, compact - perfectly designed for the efficient application of violence.

    “More valiant defenders for the City of the Enlightened, eh?” The man spoke the Light language in a deep baritone, softened by a musical local accent. “You might be the last. Leveler’s army has cut off all the boats further upriver.”

    The shipmaster hawked and spat over the gunwhale. “Damn snake-eaters ain’t gettin’ my boat. I’ll moor up down by the cove an’ get the Sun Maid to cast a cloak over it.”

    “You do that.” the soldier nodded, turning to the group. He eyed them appraisingly: there was a red-headed man in loose travelling clothes, a scruffy archer, a truculent-looking woman carrying a pickaxe, and a long-haired man with raking scars down his cheek. Perhaps strangest of all was the giant of a man with the iron mask covering his face, like some nightmare rendition of a Lightmen snake-priest.

    “Right, lovely boys.” the soldier proclaimed, clapping his hands together. “And girls.” he added, glancing at the taciturn woman. “You can call me Davin, and you can call yourselves late for the muster at the plaza. I know the way, I’ll take you there. All mercenaries together, eh?”

    The shipmaster paused to snort as he poled his boat away from the wharf, and pointed at the red-headed man. “That one ain’t a mercenary. He’s a messenger boy. I rowed ’im up an’ down the river to Rise an’ Ash a few times.”

    “You mean he’ll deliver anything, to anybody, so long as they pay?” Davin shot back. “Sounds pretty mercenary to me.”

    He laughed heartily.

    “You’ve come to the right place, lovelies; the Enlightened are pretty keen to share the wealth right now. Course, if they’d shared the wealth earlier and not hogged all the runestones to themselves, they might have some battle mages worth a damn to fight off the Leveler. I hear they even whistled up the Mer for help, can you believe it?”

    They struck out into the city, past the irate shipmistress and the customs officers who were confiscating part of her catch.

    “You suck.” the shipmistress was sulking, as she plopped herself down on a tying post with her arms and legs tightly crossed.

    “Yeah, and you swallow.” the harbour official retorted wearily. “The holy Enlightened make the rules, I just follow them. Now piss off and you might be able to sell the rest of those fish before they rot in this stinking heat.”

    As the new arrivals continued into the winding streets beyond the harbour, they could begin to see the logic behind the harsh new policies. The streets were packed to bursting, as local workers shoved and cursed their way through newcomers who had fled to the city in the hope of protection against the approaching army. Every step of the way they were harassed by beggars calling out to them in broken Light, and once Davin had to unsheathe his sword to frighten off a young urchin who tried to dip her hand into his coin purse.

    They passed shops that were shuttered closed, building sites where piles of brick and timber stood unworked, and shrines that were crammed back to the approaching streets with fearful, clamouring supplicants. Priests and priestesses in gold facemasks shouted to make themselves heard, urging the crowds to trust in the holy Enlightened.

    Eventually the twisting roads opened up into a vast plaza, set below a stepped marble pyramid. Atop the pyramid was an elaborate temple villa, made of gleaming stone - which must have been washed regularly to keep away the greasy brown smoke of the city. No movement was in evidence atop the pyramid, but the plaza was thronged with men and women carrying spears, bows and other more exotic weapons. Their armour was similarly eclectic, and they chattered to each other in a hubbub of different Valley languages. Here and there the group could pick out figures wearing bandoliers and bracelets of smooth stones, etched with swirling symbols, and the air was fizzing with the unmistakable ozone smell of magic potential.

    Unlike the streets with their tall buildings and tented awnings, there was no shade from the beating sun in the plaza. Davin pointedly avoided the open space and withdrew beneath another shop front, motioning for the others to join him.

    A trumpet blast echoed across the plaza.

    “You’re about to be graced with the wisdom of the Enlightened.” Davin said, leaning up against a crumbling mudbrick wall and folding his arms. “Very fond of the sound of their own voices, are the Enlightened.”

    * * * * * *

    A tall woman clad in flowing blue silks stalked along the marble floor of the temple, her soft shoes masking her footsteps. She was copper-skinned and round-faced, with glossy black hair that had been carefully braided and piled atop her head, resembling the snakes that ringed the golden masks of the city priests. She pushed through the door in front of her without breaking stride, glancing sharply towards the two armed men who flanked it.

    “No-one else comes through this door without my say-so, understood?”

    “Yes, Blue Lady.” the guards replied hurriedly, and pulled the door shut behind her.

    Exhaling, the Blue Lady snatched a clay cup from a tray being held by a nearby servant, and took a drink. The water in the cup was lukewarm. She grimaced, and reached up to flick the cup with her right forefinger. There was a dull crackling sound, and the cup was instantly frosted over with a rime of ice. The Blue Lady felt a warning twinge fizzle up her arm, and reflected that after twenty years of runecasting she should probably not be so flippant with the gods’ gifts. Mortal humans were not born to channel magic after all, and the human body always reached its limit sooner rather than later.

    Flexing her hand to dissipate the tingling, she looked around the marble hall. Ahead of her, two spearmen flanked the colonnade leading out to the front steps of the pyramid. A group of masked snake-priests were spaced around the walls - some chanting quiet prayers, others making warding signs towards the recessed bathing pool in the centre of the room. Traditionally, the pool was used to anoint new mages, on the rare occasion that one of the Enlightened deigned to take an apprentice. Now the water was a murky pink, coloured by the bags of mountain salt that the temple servants were busily pouring into the pool.

    Standing around the pool were her fellow Enlightened, looking at her with expressions that ranged from curious to guarded. The Rose was studying her with her thin, monolidded eyes, one gull-wing eyebrow raised in silent question. The old, gnarled Hunchback kept glancing down into the pool and biting at his yellowed nails. The umber-skinned Scorpion just stood with arms folded, glaring suspiciously at her.

    None of them knew the others’ real names - and even after ten years of nominal alliance, they all still schemed to uncover them when they thought the others weren’t looking. One didn’t become a powerful mage in the Valley without a certain amount of ruthlessness, and those that did never retained their position for long without an almost unhealthy degree of paranoia. The Blue Lady had cast a memory rune upon her own family some years ago, and sent them away to live in one of the coastal villages near the City of the Risen God. Forcing them to mingle with those Risemen heretics was a harsh fate, but still kinder than some of her fellow Enlightened. The Scorpion, for example, was rumoured to have killed his family - although that might have just been a rumour he himself had started, to intimidate his foes.

    The Blue Lady was not scared of her fellow Enlightened. The knowledge of thirty eight runes surged through her mind - thirty eight pieces of the Shattered Gods. She knew more of the gods’ dreams than almost anyone in the Valley.

    But even she was scared of the Leveler.

    And so we are brought to this. She drained her cup and padded softly across the floor to the bathing pool, watching the servants pour salt into the murky water, and watching the shadow that was gliding back and forth beneath the surface.

    Suddenly there was a commotion beyond the closed doors behind her.

    “I’m sorry m’lady,” the muffled voice of one of the guards sounded, “We’ve orders to…”

    There was a moderately loud bang, and a smell of ozone wafted in through the doors as they were flung violently open.

    Out of my way, you fannies!” growled a tiny, wizened old woman as she stormed into the room, past the two singed and rapidly retreating guards.

    The Blue Lady flinched. “Will you stop saying that, Crone? This is a temple.”

    “Why?” the old woman challenged, adopting a scowl that deepened the lines of her craggy face. “We both have one.”

    “I don’t.” said the Hunchback.

    “No, but you are one.” the Crone retorted irritably. “Who put guards on the door?”

    The Blue Lady shuffled her feet. “That was me.”

    “And did you tell them to let no-one in?”

    “Obviously I didn’t mean you.” the Blue Lady said, with an exasperated sigh. “If they were a bit literal I apologise. But secrecy is important right now!”

    “Oh?” said the Crone, folding her arms and hunching her stooped shoulders. Her eyes were shrewd and searching - young eyes in an old face. The Blue Lady had no idea how old the Crone really was. She might have seen eighty summers, or she might have been only slightly older than the Blue Lady herself, prematurely aged by the rigours of runecraft.

    “Yes.” the Blue Lady confirmed. She raised an elegant finger and pointed towards the murky salt-water pool that dominated the room. “And that’s why.”

    The water hissed, swirling around the desired location that was marked by the Blue Lady, taking the form of a circle. Foam gathered in response to the increased pace of the water, and the sensation of a new presence was felt by all standing near, as if heralding the coming of new meeting.

    And so it was.

    The voices were weak at first. Mumbles that stirred as if through a filter, but still detectable. A clicking sound, similar to that made by a dolphin or a whale, but not exactly alike. And when the sound stopped, images poured forth. To each one it was given individually, spilled right into their minds. All experienced something, but each of them saw something else; a different memory, but a welcoming one.

    The Rose stepped backwards, frowning, and the Scorpion hissed through his teeth.

    “What runecraft is this, Blue?” he shot at his blue-clad counterpart.

    “Not mine.” the Blue Lady replied. She thought she knew what was happening. The Mer wanted them at ease.

    The Mer arose by splitting the water apart, as effortlessly as if she had been touched by all the runes of the river titan. At first only her head and shoulders were visible, her hair cascading down and thrown over her by the ethereal wind. If her hair had not had such a fiery bright shade, it could have easy passed as water dripping down her blue-tinged skin. Her eyes reflected the deep depths, but they glittered in the torchlight of the temple, appearing alien azure - a shade much more beautiful and bright than that of the Blue’s Lady’ attire.

    The Crone inhaled sharply, and most of the priests standing around the hall drew back, making warding signs with their hands. The Mer swam closer to the edge of the pool, but not close enough to touch, as if still testing their reaction.

    “You brought…” the Hunchback began, staring at the ethereal creature.

    The Scorpion talked over him, rounding on his fellow Enlightened. “You brought a fucking Mer into our temple, Blue? Have you gone soft in the head!?”

    “This is heresy.” the Rose agreed, uneasily.

    “Their kind were banished.” the Scorpion rejoined. “Did our grandfathers fight the War of Faith for nothing?”

    “Oh shut your faces.” the Crone growled. “I assume Blue has a good reason for all this.” She narrowed her eyes at the Blue Lady. “You do have a good reason for all this, I trust?”

    “Desperate times.” the Blue Lady said, stepping out of her slippers and striding down into the salty pool. The water lapped at the hem of her gown, staining the material a darker blue.

    “Not this desperate.” the Scorpion hissed. “Are we not the will of the gods?”

    “Not for much longer if the Leveler gets here.” the Blue Lady countered. She took a deep breath. “This...is the Ambassador.”

    The Mer nodded without a word. She seemed to understand, but was not yet willing to communicate by manner of words. As the silence lengthened, the Blue Lady’s fellow Enlightened were clearly wondering if she was capable at all.

    “An impressive entrance.” the Crone observed dryly, and put her hands on her narrow hips. “But for an ambassador she doesn’t say much, does she?”

    For another long moment there was silence, broken only by the uncomfortable shuffling of feet as the humans and the alien Mer stared at each other.

    “Are we supposed to talk first?” the Hunchback ventured.

    The Blue Lady chewed the inside of her cheek. She looked into the Mer’s azure eyes, which gazed back placidly. “Umm...so, like I said down at the seafront, we need your help.”

    “We don’t need anybody’s help.” the Scorpion scoffed. “We require service.”

    “Service is a strong word…” the Hunchback said hesitantly. “How about assistance?

    “Collaboration?” offered the Rose.

    “Shut up.” suggested the Crone, rolling her eyes. She leaned over the edge of the pool towards the silent Mer.

    “There’s a bad...witch...coming.” she enunciated with condescending slowness.

    The Blue Lady gripped the bridge of her nose.

    “She wants to burn...down...our...city. Can you help us out with that or not?”

    The Mer nodded again, but then pushed her shoulders and arms out of the water and waved her hands together, spreading them apart and then slowly turning to move them over her face, hiding it from view.

    All five Enlightened stared at her blankly.

    When the Mer realised the meaning was lost to them, she swam much closer, and soon reached the edge of pool, and just like that she began to crawl and climb onto the dry land, water dripping from her naked body and her monstrous fishtail, her blue-tinged skin glowing. The Blue Lady understood that the Ambassador was taking a great risk by moving outside the water, but it seemed like she either was naive to believe that none of them would harm her, or she thought that their minds were in such disarray that she decided to risk approaching them directly.

    Soon the Ambassador’s tail vanished, and instead she sprouted legs, mottled with the same scaly texture. The metamorphosis drew yet another gasp from the priests - even with runes, no human could change their gods-given form. It was against the will of the shattered pantheon.

    Or at least, the Blue Lady reflected, it had been until a few weeks ago.

    The Mer crouched and used her hands to push herself up, and then she started to stand, but it took her some effort until she fully gained her balance.

    “Umm…” said the Rose, averting her eyes.

    It seemed that the idea of modesty was lost to their guest. The Hunchback tilted his head, and turned to the Scorpion to nod appreciatively, but received only a slap in response.

    “Abomination.” the Scorpion scowled.

    “Oh for gods’ sake,” muttered the Crone, and snapped her fingers at the nearest priest.

    The man crept forwards, his golden snake-mask failing to hide his apprehension. “Yes, holiness?”

    The Crone gestured at the naked Mer. “Your toga, if you’d be so kind.”

    “My…?” The priest faltered. “For the unbeliever, holiness?”

    “Yes,” the Crone affirmed impatiently, “Or you’d best believe I’ll fire you over the city walls. I can’t be bothered watching Rose and Hunchback gawp like a pair of schoolkids.”

    Reluctantly, the priest stripped down to his under-tunic and handed his toga to the Blue Lady. The Enlightened mage took the garment and gently wrapped it round the uncomplaining Mer, who seemed slightly bemused by the whole exchange.

    Once it was done, the Ambassador started to walk in their direction, looking from one Enlightened to another and reaching one of her hands forward. Scorpion stepped backward, grimacing as if he feared a plague. Rose and Hunchback hesitated. In the end it was the Blue Lady that moved for her.

    Once their fingers touched, the Blue Lady felt a tingle of pain, similar to the casting of a rune. Not so sharp a pain though - something very subtle, a sensation of a light pinch or needle sting. She twitched, shaking her head.

    Several of the priests stepped forward, eager to leap at the two as they sensed a threat, but the Blue Lady halted them in place, trying to learn more of this strange behaviour and what the Mer was trying to accomplish.

    “Words…” the Mer said in perfect Light, opening her eyes, “Words changed.”

    Her voice lilted in the strange Mer accent, rising and falling like the gentle crashing of surf. She let go of the Blue Lady’s hands.

    “So much has changed…landwalker are a cause of a change…” The Mer looked at the Blue Lady, “This…new change…one of you, is it now?”

    “Yes.” The Blue Lady said, while her fellow Enlightened watched suspiciously. “She calls herself the Leveler. She has an army and she’s bringing it to destroy us.”

    “Landwalkers… always quarrel. Not a change. Destroy others. Kill mer. Fight for more land. Not a change at all.”

    Her delivery was monotone, yet still the Blue Lady could see her fellow Enlightened seething. “Not like this.” she argued. “The Leveler has a new power...power that we thought only you Mer could have.”

    Around her she could see the priests making their warding gestures again, and the Rose joined them.

    “People fleeing before her have said they saw her change her form.”

    “The art was not a Mer’s gift alone. But it was shunned. Forsaken. Killed. Like the Mer.” The Ambassador’s eyes averted away from all those present. “But… As I glanced through the memories to learn of the words you landwalkers use now… I noticed... a feeling. Fear. Something which is unlike you, lady in sea clothing. Why?”

    The Blue Lady tried hard to conceal her shock and discomfort. It had been claimed that some Mer could read minds by touch, but she had never seen it done, and she had not realised that that was what the Ambassador had been doing when they joined hands.

    “The Enlightened fear nothing.” the Rose interrupted, warningly.

    The Mer throw her gaze at the woman, as if stabbing her with her eyes alone, “No fire in sight. Wander forever without a sight. But what if they come from out of there? In a place where you have no control.”

    The Blue Lady had no idea what she was talking about, but the Rose evidently did, because she went very still and swallowed hard.

    The Ambassador then looked at the Scorpion. “They will come, crawl over you, around your body, into your clothes, hiss with gentle wave of wings, gentle sound… but not so gentle on the skin. Scorpion is a poor name for one with such fear.”

    The Scorpion’s neck muscles twitched, as if words he wanted to speak were congealing in his throat. Even the Crone seemed lost for words.

    The Mer looked at the Blue Lady. “Fear is part of everyone. It will be a mistake not to acknowledge it.”

    The Blue Lady took in a deep breath and let it out, raggedly. “Yes. We’re afraid. We’re all afraid! The Leveler is coming with magic that shouldn’t be possible!”

    “Why aren’t you preparing for war, then? Surely landwalkers proved more than once, that they are capable to silence any threat, be it real or imaginary... Or maybe, this change...will prove to be a needed one instead?”

    “Preparing for…?” the Hunchback spluttered, and waved a gnarled hand in the vague direction of the colonnade leading out onto the plaza. “Didn’t you see…?”

    “This is asinine.” the Crone growled. “We’re talking about a wizard who can reshape the whole Valley, and trample over all of us to do it! Is that a change that you think is needed!?”

    “You think only with your eyes.” The Ambassador covered her face with her hands; the same gesture she had made in the pool. “What about the others, those that you don’t give the time of your day to. Can you honestly say even, that all under you are thinking as you do? What this Leveler hopes to accomplish… from what I saw… was very noble and justified, was it not?”

    The Mer stared at the Blue Lady. The copper-skinned witch sighed, knowing that she understood - and if not agreeing with the Ambassador’s words, then still seeing the reason in them. To the Mer, there was not a single truth. The Ambassador would deem the way that they humans behaved and acted - or even the way they thought - as meaningless.

    “I assume you’re referring to the Leveler overturning the old order in the city of Ash.” the Blue Lady said quietly. “Yes, she freed the slaves, but do you know what happened when she did? Thousands died. If she comes here to overthrow us, then thousands more will die. If she’s so noble, then why is she sending her army here, when last year we had peace with the Ashmen?”

    The Blue Lady folded her hands over her stomach and exhaled.

    “I can see you don’t believe me. Well see for yourself at least.” She pointed out towards the sunlight beyond the stuffy temple. “Look at the army the Leveler is bringing to kill us all. And if you see the Leveler herself, pray to whatever gods you mer believe in that she kills you quickly.”

    The Mer moved slowly and started to walk around the woman in blue, “No. You don’t believe in that. You may think you do, you may convince yourself that is the truth, but you doubt…”

    The Ambassador stopped and closed her eyes. She appeared to be mesmerised as she recited the words - words which, the Blue Lady now realised, she saw engraved within her own mind.

    “The one you call Leveler won’t stop there. No she won’t. And she will call to the Mer… they will flock to her like hungry birds and she will deliver, just to spite the rest of us a little more. And the Mer are simple, they will not rebel. Not unless given a reason to. And she won’t give them a reason to. And in her hands she will hold the Book, a gift from her new allies, and around her an army growing ever stronger. No. We Enlightened must be first to get to them. We must convince them to give us the Book first.”

    The Mer opened her eyes and stared at the silent mages.

    The Book?” the Hunchback asked, “What Book?”

    “The book of true names.” the Rose answered him, folding her arms. “A few generations ago, a mage from the City of Ash managed to create a spell that would write down the true names of everyone who had ever been born or ever would be. As soon as he realised what he’d created he threw it into the sea, because he thought that only the Mer could be trusted not to use that kind of power.”

    “Well that was smart.” the Crone said, acidly. “The Leveler’s true name would be very useful right now, since seemingly no-one can take her in a straight fight. The refugees coming down from the mountains were claiming that they saw her kill the Immortal, and he was pretty much the most dangerous wizard out there until she showed up.”

    The Blue Lady chewed the inside of her cheek and looked at the Mer Ambassador. “She’s right. No-one has ever had power like the Leveler’s before. She could become anything, recover from any wound...if the legends are true she could even make herself live forever! And if you Mer know everything you claim to know, you must see that she could overturn the whole world with a power like that. She might promise your people peace but she’s a liar.” The Blue Lady balled her fists, vehement. “She’s a liar. No-one with the power of a god uses it only for the good of others.”

    The Ambassador blinked her cerulean eyes. “So much noise from all of you. You speak of such danger that requires the knowledge of names. A power that should never be given to any of you landwalkers. You are too young. Unworthy… But,” The Mer moved a little further away from the Enlightened, even as they bristled at her words. “There is such a sensation of wounded pride. Coming here. Hearing me speak. This all upset you greatly, and you would have rather avoided it if possible… So you must be sincere...”

    The Mer closed her eyes.

    “Very well, I will see this danger with my own eyes. I will form a temporary pact with you. I must consider the will of my people if they are to be hurt, but if no harm is to befall them… perhaps it won’t be you that shall be given our support. It is a risk. A double edged sword. Are you willing to accept the conditions?”

    “Do we have any other choice?” the Crone asked, arching her eyebrows. Next to the pool, the Scorpion clenched his fists, but said nothing.
    Spoiler: My RP links 

    PM me for novelised versions of any of my RPs, or ones that I have participated in. Set by the awesome Karma.


  2. #2
    The Big Meme
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    A bead of sweat trickled down her neck and danced over countless scars before being lost in harsh dirty fabric. The heat was like nothing she had ever experienced before. It filled her lungs and had its filthy fingers tight around her throat. Her eyes remained closed, giving her a calm serene appearance, though she rarely slept. Slaves were not heavy sleepers, the slightest of movements and her body would screech itself away. A half muted song pierced through her light slumber. Her awakening was not as sudden as it usually was, her left foot slid forward and lay flat against the worn wooden floor. Her knuckles slowly turned white as her grip tightened around the axe that never lay far from reach. Finally, her eyes flickered open.

    The Enlightened City. Perhaps she had built it up too much in her mind. She expected temples that brushed the clouds, pure air that felt like your first breath and colours…Oh the colours she had expected. Yet, ash coloured buildings nestled closely together and smoke seemed to kiss every surface, leaving the city feeling positively…beige. The ship master seemed as disappointed as she did, she could almost see his harsh words paint the air before her. Thin fingers slid up the handle of the axe and she planted it against the wooden floor, using it as leverage to push herself to her feet. The stained axe was swiftly swung round to resting against her back. A threadbare sack held all of her possessions and was easily tied to her wrist by a thick cord.

    Every step was like walking through a thick disgusting soup of sweat, tears and dirt. Her eyes narrowed with the newcomer, he looked too new. A man whose armour shined as brightly as the sun above them had surely never seen a proper fight. The Wanderer’s jaw tensed with the language, she had picked up some phrases but still she struggled. Concentration etched itself onto her forehead as she didn’t wish to appear stupid or useless. A single arched eyebrow shot up as he called her a girl, she’d let it pass this time. Dust floated around her ankles with every step and the smallest of smirks passed her lips for a brief moment.

    No response was gifted to Davin from the wanderer. She did not believe that they had called for the Mer, surely they were not that desperate. Fear curled around her throat as they entered the crowds. Crowds were easy for anyone to hide within, she would be surrounded at all times…and she didn’t know if she trusted those she travelled with to watch her back. Each breath was harsh leaving her dry lips, her knuckles felt fit for bursting and every slight passing brush of a stranger had her flinching. Soon the herd thinned out and only the beggars remained. It was the sharp noise of an unsheathing sword that had the fear slowly dissipate from around her throat…only to be replaced by a pin prickle of anger.

    The child was desperate. The child was hungry, alone and was resorting to dangerous thievery. Three deep scars ran across the wanderer's back for trying the very same thing. Wetting her lips, she let out a soft whistle. Just loud enough to capture the fleeing child’s attention. One nod was gifted before a worn coin was flicked towards her which was swiftly clasped in a grubby palm.

    ------------------------------------------------------

    Her fingers curled around the coin, it was caked in dirt but she found it herself. She hadn’t stolen it, she hadn’t done anything untoward to get it. It had glinted at her in the dying sunlight. Her eyes were badly blood shot and she hadn’t slept in days. Blood still speckled her skin and the heavy slave torc remained pressing into her collar bone. Tears dribbled down her cheeks as she knelt by the beaten dirt road. Hope flooded through her body, it felt stupid to be crying over a single coin. But it was more than she had ever owned in her life and properly owned. Even the runes that gave her some meagre sense of power…were not truly hers. She stole them. She had not used them even once since her escape, she needed to blend in. Well, blend in as well as an escaped irate slave can.

    The first coin that was truly hers and she couldn’t bare to part with it. It took her time but she eventually drilled a small hole, just big enough to loop a piece of worn twine through it . It rested just below her torc and it was a subtle reminder to herself that she was free. Waking each morning and feeling it rest against her skin was the only thing that would quell the fear in her stomach. It went ignored by most who encountered her…by most. The exhaustion soon captured her in its steely claws. Her body folded underneath a dying oak tree. She thought she would be safe, it was far from the path and reasonably hidden. The nativity of a recently escaped slave got the better of her that night.

    A sharp pain seared through her neck, jolting her awake from her deep slumber. Her hands barely flew out in time as her face hit the muddy grass before her. The air was torn from her as her torc slammed against her wind pipe. “Move. Up on your feet.” The voice was unfamiliar but the tone was easily recognisable. It was the way you speak to animals, to dogs who disagree with their owners and kick their feet in. Fear pierced through every fibre in her body, wide green eyes snapped up and settled on two men. A burning bright torch sat between them. “I wont say it again girl. Up. Now.” Like a well trained dog, she pushed herself to her feet and stood shaking before them.

    Rope had been threaded through her torc, like a make shift leash. One harsh tug and she stumbled forward. A breathy chuckle left the man on her left, “I know that brand. I’m sure he’ll be missing you eh.” Her dress had sighed further down her shoulder, revealing the deep swirled brand. “Come on then.” Another tug and she kicked her feet in. “N…No.” He didn’t respond to the shaky confidence the slave showed. Her fingers moved up to wrapping around the rope. “N…No.” Anger echoed in the man’s voice, “Fuck sake. Move before I break your fucking legs.” The threat was nothing that she hadn’t heard before. It was accompanied by another sharp tug on the rope, forcing the torc to clash against her neck.

    Fear churned her stomach as she refused to move, something deep within her kept her feet rooted to the ground. “You can’t make me go back there.” The smallest flicker of defiance rang through her green eyes. “I can make you do whatever I want sweetheart.” The man on her right started to walk towards her, the grass licked his boots as he advanced on her like a predator does their prey. His eyes hungrily dragged down her body as he got close enough that she could smell the stench of his breath. “Now move before I force you onto your knees for the rest of the fucking night.” That was it. She was done with feeling like a dog. The rope snapped like a blade of grass between her fingertips and then the torc was between her fingers. It took no effort at all for her to bend it out of place. A sickening smile brushed onto her lips as she held the heavy torc in hand, watching fear enter their eyes. She could get used to that sight.

    ----------------------------------------------------

    “Children. Fear not. Trust in your holy leaders.” The words pierced through the fog that covered her eyes. Her fingers had absentmindedly brushed her throat, the torc had left a heavy scar from her lifetime of wearing it. Weary green eyes sought out the owner of the shouts and her jaw tensed as the gold glinted back at her. This was why she had nearly not entered this city. That gold, she knew where that gold came from. The blood that was spilled to get that gold and they so happily wore it around their necks while slaves felt the heavy torcs rest against their collarbones, a sensation that little would ever live without. The wanderer felt every bit like the slave that she was when they entered the plaza. The weapons they held were sharp and made for battle, their clothing was fresh and magic seemed to reek off them.

    Wisdom. She knew that word. To hear it in the same sentence as the Enlightened made her shake her head softly. If they had such great wisdom…they would not need all these warriors. They would not need all this magic. Her back hit the wall as quickly as it could. She preferred keeping herself up against a wall. Her gaze picked over the crowd, searching for someone that she knew would not be there. Her threadbare sack hit the ground by her ankle, a soft clanging sounded as the hidden wrangled torc made contact with the stones beneath her feet. Her voice barely louder than a mumble sounded in a vague response to Davin. “This better not take all day.”


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  3. #3
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    The hot wind rustled the trees along the banks of the nearby river, lashed to a bobbing dock a single boat was all that marked the half hidden port of a nameless town of perhaps little importance, it was well out of the way of the destructive path this "Leveler" marched through the valley, it was quite and content to remain so, but even as such, the dire need of the Lightmen still overruled this desire for peace and quiet.

    In this nameless village's sole pub Killian, under the alias of Mora sat relatively alone surrounded by a thin wispy smoke that hovered above the heads of all the guests, in his hands an earthenware cup of a dark ale, probably a local brew, slowly emptied itself, each pull of the harsh liquid taken in long slow draws. Killian was not normally one to spend time in pubs and taverns, but he was on the trail of a dangerous individual, someone who was living proof that mankind was not to be trusted with the power Runestones granted them. The Seeker was stopping in this particular pub to gather news, it had been some time since he had lost track of his quarry, and in that time she seemed to have caused quite a few issues. The Ashmen families running south from their overthrown city were testament to that.

    Still, all seemed well in the pub as a few men gathered and slammed down coins placing bets as they gathered up. Here was a game in the battle of wits. Nine Men's Morris was a game they had been playing all morning and a man that had gone by the name Solar. His true name was Orin, but true names were not to be used lightly where wizards were concerned. He had gained a fair amount of coins. It was his turn once again to play.

    The game had just begun, and he hoped to win this game as well. A game of luck if any yet Solar was one of the luckiest. Solar picked up his glass of darkened liquor and clenched the glass slightly as the drops of sweat (water) on the glass had refrozen to a solid state keeping his drink cold. With this he took a valued sip and placed his first token on the board placing three of the coins they had used for currency ahead. "Alright here we go, I'm wagering three coins. And I'll match any price you take." He said with a sly grin.

    A sunburned farmhand, who was taking his lunch with several buddies while they waited out the worst of the sun’s midday glare, sized him up.

    ”Alright, redhead.” he said, clinking three coins down onto the table next to Solar's. "You're on. Three coins."

    "I wouldn't take that bet." advised a gravelly voice from the next table. It came from a man in a light travelling cloak, who was watching them steadily despite the deep circles under his eyes. He spoke Light, like the rest of them, but his accent was the hard-edged staccato of someone from the city of Ash.

    The farmhand turned in his seat, annoyed at the interruption. "What's it to you, snake-eater?"

    The Ashman gestured towards Solar's ice-speckled glass. "Look at his cup. It's still frosted over despite this infernal heat. And he's got a pouch at his belt, but all the coins are going into his pockets. I'd ask him what's in that pouch."

    When asked about his pouch, Solar took a glance towards the Ashman speaking out to him. Of course his Dialect was clearly not from around here and only caused him to glare more. "Why do you have to ask about my pouch? What gives you that right."

    The Ashman flexed his jaw, peeling his lips back over his teeth and then hiding them again. "This world could use a little more honesty. What do you have to hide?"

    One of the other farmhands stood up, his chair raking back across the floor. "Mother fucker." he said. "Are you a wizard? Did you cheat me out of my money half an hour ago?"

    Yet with his statement he felt the man chime in about cheating him out of his money. "Look man, I can cheat you out all day and you'd never know it. But I can't help when you're bad at the game. If you're bad you're bad that's all there is too it."

    Several heads turned at this sudden outburst, the least of which was the head of the Seeker, Killian had heard most of the exchange, but for his part he didn't intervene, at least he didn't plan on it until it looked like things were heating up.

    "Now hold on there, I've been watching this wizard since he came in. Only magic he's done so far is to chill his ale." Killian's own voice was low and deliberate, More of an attempt to hide his own Ash accent than anything else, if the Seeker knew one thing it was that people distrusted foreigners almost more than they distrusted their own leaders. "Now I can get you a drink if you like."

    Solar's opponent swept his coins back off the table. "Not until this prick," He reached across the table to prod Solar sharply in the chest, "Shows us his runes. I want to know exactly what he's been casting."

    "Mages ain't nothing but trouble." his companion agreed, glowering. "Always swanning round, lording it over the rest of us, starting wars..."

    Solar was feeling on edge as the situation heated up. Now he was being poked in the chest which only angered him more. "Show you my runes? Why not show me yours? What's it gotta say if I don't show you mine? For all I know you might have a rune where you can use it to steal mine. Won't be having that mate."

    When the one man spoke of him only using his magic to chill his drink he held his drink up in the air a bit to note that was an agreement. While in his little pouch, Solar did have a rune where he could easily win the game just by using it he had chosen not to and really didn't want to reveal the rune here.

    As the two men argued, they were being observed by a mysterious man hunched in the furthest corner of the pub. Though his features were shadowed by his heavy cloak, his focused, ice-blue eyes shone clearly. They moved back and forth between the irate farmhand and the man with a bow and arrows attempting to calm his outburst. For the stranger, known to himself as Brannon and to all others as the Raven, there was no point to debate at all. It was clear to him from the start that the red-haired boy was a mage. Hell, he barely even tried to hide it. But from what Brannon's trained eyes could see, the archer fellow was correct. There was no sign of any trickery, just a man wanting a cool drink.

    On any normal occasion, Brannon would rarely come to the defense of a magic-user. Most, he had learned, were snake-eaters and deceivers of the innocent. But considering this was but a young man, just enjoying a gamble or two, he saw no need for any anger. Neither did he see need for intervention either, however. The archer seemed to be handling it well enough, anyways. Brannon returned to his drink, swirling the ale in his glass while keeping eyes on the men.

    The farmhand though, logic clouded with ire, apparently took offense to the Raven's curious gaze. His attention moved from the archer to Brannon, and his brow furrowed. "What the hell are you looking at?" he spoke, staring directly into Brannon's cold eyes.

    "None of your business," the Raven replied. His Ashen accent was miniscule, his tongue trained from the years of living in the city. "I suggest you take that man up on his offer and calm yourself over an ale. You could even get the kid to chill it for you." He smirked and took a sip from his glass.

    His smirk did little for the farmhand's temper. "I'll make it my business if you won't mind your own, big guy."

    Killian could almost taste the tension in the air now, or that would have been the smoke. Regardless he decided this farmhand was about to blow the lid off of an already escalating tension, and over a few paltry coins no less. So typical of 'civilized folk'

    Leaving his more deadly weapons and his mug of by now warm ale at his table Killian strode between the rustic lightman and his would be target.
    "Let's just take it easy, no one was getting involved in anyone's business, now my offer still stands, I can get you a drink if you like."

    "Fuck you, snake-eater." the farmhand said, using the typical Light slur for Ashmen. "What are you anyway, his bodyguard? Tell you what, I'll take your drink, if that little shit hands back Finn's money, and then the two of you get the fuck out of our sight."

    Solar stood up from the table and snatched his own golden coins from the group and placed them back in their rightful place. And with that snatch he took sight of a few more golden coins left on the table from yet another man. With this in mind, his slyness took over as he activated another one of his runes.

    With this, it was a quick motion that most wouldn't even take hint at seeing they were in the heat of the moment. Yet the few golden coins on the table were swapped with pieces of the game board where Solar quickly snatched those up.

    Standing as he was Killian briefly saw the suspected wizard pull some extra coin, the speed with which he did it indicative of a rune being used, Killian thought it rather petty, and most defiantly not something that would help the current hostilities. So in his wisdom he kept quite about it, only shooting a sidelong glance at the wizard instead.

    Just when he believed to get away with it he glanced up to see one man looking dead at him and the pocketed coins. It was by no means as stealthy as he had hoped, and on top of that he knew he was seen. The two had eyes locked for what seemed like forever as he watched the man process it in his head. "Shhhh...." Responded Solar to the mans face.

    While he believed the man would keep quiet, Solar's belief was quickly ended as the man pointed and shouted. "That bastard was cheating! I just saw him swap some coins!"

    Solar frowned and muttered to himself. "Fuck...." As a rather larger man nearly twice his own size turned to look at him. Solar quickly shook his head in protest but was met with a fist to the jaw.

    One punch, that's usually all it took when it came to these sorts of things. Killian had seen his share of spontaneous fights before, one could say it came with the job of wandering the valley in search of powerful magics to lock away. It was as such that Killian had the good sense to duck when the smaller framed farmhand determined that as long as someone else threw the first blow he was in the clear to throw the second.

    Then it all erupted into chaos, the bartender might have shouted something about not allowing violence, or he may have shouted something to encourage his fellow lightmen to greater acts of ale fueled justice. It really didn't matter as soon the whole room erupted as fist and mug met skull and chest alike.

    Solar found himself slammed up against the wall with the farmhand's forearm across his throat. With the hand to his throat, he grasped the mans forearm and cringed as he tried to catch his breath.

    "First the Immortal," the Lightman spat, "Then the fucking Leveler, now you. You rune-casters think you can do whatever you want and shit all over the little folk, well not in my village!"

    Nearly choking, he quickly activated the Blaze rune at his side. With his grasp on the man's arm, his hand began heating up creating a small flame. Singing the hairs on the mans arm as well as providing the man with a burn. The man let go of him and stumbled back, yelping a curse.

    Solar by no means was going to take shit from anyone. Much less one of his own kind. A lightman was no better then another and that's how Solar saw it. As Solar hit the ground in a fall, he quickly followed up with a dash towards the man giving him a heavy right hook striking in in the side of his head. "Fuck are you talking about? You're little town ain't gonna be shit if you keep this up."

    While his threat wasn't much, he knew this man also had no idea what his runes were, nor the ability they held inside. "Wanna see a 'Leveler' then I can show you. Level your own little ass." He grabbed the dazed lightman by the shirt clearly looking to beat the shit out of him. If they wanted a fight he had no problem causing one. The farmhand snarled, locked his hand around the arm gripping his shirt, and butted his forehead into Solar's nose.

    The blood quickly escaped his nose as he felt an ominous crack in it. With this, he cringed and reeled back placing a hand under his nose before taking a glance at the blood. With this he felt his anger fuel much faster. And with that, he dashed back towards the man giving him yet another strike. This time he aimed for the stomach and would only follow it up with another fist. This one had aimed for anywhere he could hit. His opponent lost his footing under the flurry of blows and crashed backwards over the game table, sending the board flying.

    Solar himself had taken pride in knocking the man to the ground and claimed his victory. "How's that for a level!" He shouted to him and turned only to take a duck from a flying chair. This one had seemed completely off course. Yet it struck the table where Brannon sat. It had enough force to likely knock anything off the table if not roll over the table completely.

    Whilst the Solar was fending off a veritable horde of angry farmhands Killian stepped back only to be met with a blow to the head.

    "Don't think I an't forgot about you snake eater!" The voice was that of the farmhand he'd stepped up to earlier. His eyes were bloodshot, and there were bruises covering his arms, whether from work or the sudden explosion of violence Killian was unsure. The farmhand took another swing, this one Killian blocked before he gave the farmhand a hard kick to the stomach.

    "You should have taken the ale friend, you should have taken the ale." Backing up to a table Killian gripped a wooden chair, perhaps a bit overkill but life rarely offered any chance for a truly measured approach.

    "I ain't interested in anything you got to say you foreign piece of shit!"


    The farmhand was rather flustered, and as if to make matters worse another local decided to join the fight, slipping behind the Seeker and trying to restrain him. Only to be met with an unexpected show of strength as Killian heaved the poor sod to the side and into a wooden pillar in time to then finish his other foe.
    He took the chair behind him and swung it around to catch the upset farmhand square on the temple, dropping him and shattering the legs of the chair in the process.

    The Raven sighed as the chair skidded across the table in front of him, spilling his drink. The fight had been quite entertaining thus far, but he hadn't any intention of joining it. He'd been planning to meet a contact in this little village, and that task would be made much harder if he were to be thrown out. Yet it seemed inevitable, as all things tended to be.

    Brannon's gaze searched for the one that threw the chair, but the chaos made this near impossible. The red-haired boy- the careless one that caused all this trouble, Brannon added internally- dealt with the big guy, and the archer toed with another muscle-brained farmhand. The Raven also caught sight of the bartender, shouting profanities and no doubt fearing for his life. He almost felt bad for the man. Wasn't the first time he's seen some backwater town up-ended by the presence of runecasters, and it certainly wouldn't be the last.

    Finally, Brannon rose from his surprisingly-still-intact seat. He began to walk forward, ducking under a wild blow and nearly tripping over a fallen brawler.

    Solar continued through striking yet another man down. This one was much weaker then the one before him, seeing him go down after one good right hook to the jaw. The boy used his shroud to wipe off the blood that was still coming from his nose and looked for the next candidate.

    As he went for another man, he heard a rather loud bang noise from behind him. A musky looking fellow who had just blown a hole through two tables. It was then Solar had assumed it was enough and blinked staring the man down.

    The barkeeper analyzed the destruction thanking the man. He brushed his counter off and glared to Solar pointing at him directly. "Of all the fucking people you better be coughing up some of those golden coins you earned to pay for your recklessness! Or you will be casted out of this place for the rest of your time!" The man was responded to by a small pouch filled with a grand total of three golden coins and Solar shrugging. "Don't care mate, plenty of other bars to wreck."
    “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

    ― Mahatma Gandhi



  4. #4
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    29 Years Prior

    High upon a mountaintop overlooking a green valley below and the City of the Risen God further into the horizon stood two figures dueling. The first was a fully grown man with a body with a physique to rival any champion. He wore a mask, iron and crudely fashioned with slanted slits for eye-holes, two small nostril sized breathing holes at the nose, and a small hole at the lips of his mouth covered by four vertical bars allowing him to breathe and speak audibly. The rest of his garments were unremarkable: Black leather vest, trousers, and boots and silver armor plates at the shoulders and chest. He wielded a single knight sword as he faced his opponent.
    That opponent was a boy merely eight years old with very little meat on his bones. Even for his age, the child was tiny in stature, lightweight, and what little muscle he did have was lean in his arms. As fragile as he looked, there was no trace of fear in his hickory colored eyes when the man charged at him. The boy was nimble on his feet, dashing to the left side to dodge a strike aimed for his right shoulder and neck. As another blow came down at his head, he leaped backwards and landed on the balls of his feet. "Stand your ground, boy. Parry and then counter!" The man commanded sternly.
    "You're too big! You'd cut through me!" The boy protested as he dodged yet another blow and another after that.
    “Well at least you could die with some dignity then. Do you intend to simply dance forever?” The man retorted, continuing to push the offensive driving the poor child back on his heels.

    The boy gritted his teeth and came at the man from the side. Instead of attacking from a traditional stance, he leaned forward so that he was nearly squatted and drove into a sprint aiming to swing for the larger man’s legs. His attack was easily blocked and promptly repelled, sending the boy’s landing on his backside. When he looked up, the tip of the man’s blade was at his throat. Just as quickly, the sword was withdrawn and the man was helping him to his feet with a great smile spread across his concealed face. “Very good,” the man started. “What you lack in technique, skill, and size, you make up for in resourcefulness. I will grow you into a fiene swordsman yet. Now let’s get you back home.”
    “Thank you, master.” The boy said in a tired pant, his sweat covered face glowing with an expression of pride with an ear-to-ear smile.
    ~ ~ ~

    Present Day

    A single figure stood at the harbor on the edge of the dock, eyes looking out at the horizon where the ocean kissed the sky. He was completely still as if time had frozen him in place and left him to silent deliberations. No one seemed to notice him, the man in the mask, amidst the bustle of the port. The mask was made of iron and crudely fashioned with slanted slits for eye-holes, two small nostril sized breathing holes at the nose, and a small hole at the lips of his mouth covered by four vertical bars allowing him to breathe and speak audibly. His garments were otherwise unassuming: a brown, leather tristan tunic with shoulder and chest plates beneath, matching leather pants, and knee-high black ren boots. The last piece of the ensemble was a simple hood attached the tunic, overturned to keep the mask as concealed as possible. The Wraith had garnered the reputation across the lands as either a nightmarish ghost story or else a hellish reality. It was better for him to keep a low profile in the city so as to not start a panic among the populace.

    The assassin departed from the dock with but a single question on his mind. How much longer before that sweet aroma of the ocean breeze wafting through the air was tainted by the stench of war, blood, and death? He was tired and weary of these engagements, of his sworn responsibilities. If not for that damnable blood oath, he’d have broken off his shackles and shattered his mask long ago. Amidst the turmoil raging in his mind, there was one thought that was clear. A catastrophic war was coming to the valley, and it was of paramount importance that he study for himself the key figure in the heart of it before he too was pulled into the conflict. Who was this Leveler? Was her war just? Or did she spill blood for vanity and iniquity? And what was to be done about the Enlightened? Were they truly any better? Rumors of hypocrisy flooded the streets of the city like wildfire. Were they a plague to be cleansed as well? Or perhaps this was a scenario where direct intervention by the Wraith was simply not needed...two corrupt warring factions wiping themselves from the land with a victor rising more worse for the wear and ripe for the Wraith’s reaping? Where to begin? A meeting with the Enlightened? A sit-down with the Leveler? So many options, so little time...

  5. #5
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    Her voice, barely louder than a mumble, sounded in a vague response to Davin. “This better not take all day.”

    “That’s a promise they’ve never been particularly good at keeping.” Davin snarked, jerking his thumb up towards the awning keeping off the worst of the sun’s glare. “Hence the tent.”

    As the trumpet blast faded, a line of the city’s numerous priests began to file out of the temple doors. Each one wore a golden mask, embossed with wriggling casts of the water snakes that the Lightmen worshipped. One of the priests held a handful of seeds, which he scattered around the columns at the pyramids top. Others threw out handfuls of dried flower petals, letting them drift down the pyramid steps.

    “Just as the water snake guided our ancestors to the first runestones,” one of the priests called out in a sonorous voice, “So do the Enlightened guide us in our darkest hour. By mastery of the runes they are masters of our fates, and by the runes do they commune with the Shattered Gods. Bow to hear their wisdom!”

    Davin looked at Killian and the scarred woman who, not being fully fluent in Light, were struggling to make out some of the priest’s words. “Don’t worry,” he reassured them, “You’re not missing much.”

    As the priests silently knelt along the sides of the temple colonnade, a pale woman dressed in black appeared at the top of the pyramid. She slowly raised her arms, and the seeds that the priests had scattered spontaneously burst open and produced thin whips of vine. They snaked their way up and around the temple columns, rapidly thickening and sprouting thorns and small white flowers.

    “When you’re that powerful you can waste it on making it look impressive.” Davin observed.

    “The sun sustains all things.” the pale woman shouted, “Our sun is faith! Faith that we must hold ever higher in dangerous times.”

    “We welcome you.” called out a man with a crooked back, who limped out of the temple to stand beside her. “Fellow warriors of the faith, all those who would oppose evil and lay down their lives for the Shattered Gods.”

    Davin clicked his tongue. “And their money.”

    “The Leveler is coming!” roared a man dressed in overlapping chevrons of leather and dark metal, taking up position beside the other Enlightened. “With an army of heathen snake-eaters at her back! That vile witch isn’t content to tear down her own city and massacre its people, no - she wants to do the same here! But this is a greater city! This is the first city! This is the city of the Enlightened!”

    “Desperate times require us to rise above all lesser feuds.” proclaimed a lady in flowing blue as she emerged from the temple. “You are testament to that unity in the face of evil. Fight together, protect this city, and you will have the blessing of the gods as well as gold!”

    A small, withered woman stalked forward to join the other four. Before she could open her mouth to speak, however, a new sound sliced through the hot air of the plaza. It was more distant than the trumpet, and deeper. The sound of a warhorn. ahoooooooooo.

    As the crowd rippled, armoured heads turning towards the sound, it came again - loud and urgent. ahoooooOOOOO.

    “Are you deaf?” the tiny woman shrieked from the top of the pyramid. “That’s your cue, you fannies! Get to the walls!

    “Well I take back what I said earlier.” Davin said to Aggie, gritting his teeth and loosening his sword in his scabbard as he pushed away from the crumbling bricks. “I guess that didn’t take all day after all. I’ll put you on the east gate along with Shaun’s boys, come on!”

    The other advantage of being at the edge of the plaza was that they were ahead of the crowd as it turned and, by knots and by ordered companies, began to spill out of the public square towards the city perimeter. The crowds around the temples were beginning to dissipate as civilians ran for shelter, clogging the roads once again.

    “Oh gods!” a wide-eyed man shouted at the group, trying to grab onto Brannon, and then onto Davin. “The Ashmen are coming! What do I do? I’m panicking!”

    Davin slapped him out of his path by way of agreement. The Lightman staggered against a sooty tenement, clutching his cheek in shock. “Now I’m in pain and I’m panicking!”

    “Go home.” Davin suggested. “And lock your door!”

    They pressed on through the streaming crowd, passing a suburban district that Solar recognised as the one he grew up in. All around them frantic parents were shouting for their children lost in the crush, or scooping them up and running for the side-streets. A masked priest hung on to a night lamp like a man clinging to driftwood amidst a flood, heckling the group as they passed to have faith and to smite the invaders.

    Within a few minutes they reached the curtain wall of the city. It was ten metres high, made from sandstone blocks hauled into place by magic force and human labour. Stone steps clung to the inside of the walls, and at the top archers in leather armour stood ready behind the battlements.

    “Come on,” Davin beckoned them, “Let’s get a decent view of the bastards coming to kill us.”

    At the top they were greeted by the sight of a black mass, half hidden by dust clouds - formations of spearmen and archers and mounted lancers, all grinding towards the city in battle deployment. Their line stretched as far as the river, where the Ashmen had lashed their longships together to form a bridge from bank to bank. Ash soldiers were steadily filing across to the other side, forming another line that was curving round to envelop the city’s western bank.

    “Make ready!” an officer further down the wall bawled.

    The archers straightened their arms and waited, fingers curled to hold their arrows against their bows. One of them panicked, snatching back his bowstring and sending his arrow arcing over the wall with a thrumm. It fell a hundred paces short of the advancing army.

    “Hold your fire you morons!” the officer roared in rebuke.

    Davin tutted under his breath and looked at the mages beside him. “Honestly, I hope you’re better. Some of these Light archers are such bad shots I wouldn’t put it past them to shit their own pants and miss…”

    Shouted orders carried up from the fields beyond the wall, and with a resounding stomp the blocks of spearmen halted, still comfortably out of range of the defenders’ arrows. As silence fell, a handful of figures detached from the army and began to stride confidently towards the walls.

    “Ah, shit.” Davin cursed under his breath. “Either they’re suicidally overconfident, or those are mages.”

    At their current distance, it was difficult to make out the enemy wizards clearly. There was a young man with a sun-shading shawl wrapped over his shoulders and head, and an older, stern-faced man dressed in crimson. The third man was tall, broad and bulky, and even at this distance the group could tell that there was something wrong with his face. The fourth was hooded and cloaked despite the heat, his black robes trailing so that he seemed to float rather than to walk. Two women strode among them; one with flaming red hair; the other tall and wiry, with one brown hand on her sword-belt and the other thrust up towards the sky. The group could see a greasy flicker in the air above the advancing mages - some kind of barrier rune that she was casting.

    The youngest man lengthened his stride to draw ahead of the group. He reached up and flipped down the hood of his shawl, revealing a youthful, tawny-skinned face given character by dark eyes and a straight, narrow nose. Jet-black hair was trimmed close to his jaw and rose from his head in soft curls. Now within clear earshot of the walls, he raised his gaze to the men atop them. Each of the group felt his eyes fall upon them, a mutual threat assessment, before they slid onward to the next man.

    “I speak for the Leveler.” the young man called out, in accented but fluent Light. “The Leveler opposes the Enlightened tyrants; she has no quarrel with you. Lay down your arms and we can have peace!”

    The officer who had recently cursed his nervous bowmen spat over the wall, and shouted back. “We did have peace, until you assholes came marching over!”

    Davin rested his hands on the rough stone of the battlements and frowned. “They know we’ve got mages too. If we take those bastards out, the ordinary ground-pounders won’t dare attack for a while. I wouldn’t run out there where we can’t support you, though. You can’t collect all your lovely reward money if you’re dead.”

    * * * * * *

    Back at the temple, the five Enlightened watched their rag-tag army disperse towards the walls. They turned as soft, barefooted steps announced the mer ambassador stepping out to join them, unnoticed by the clearing crowd below.

    “Well, fish.” the Scorpion muttered. “If you want to see how much of a threat the Leveler and her army are, they’re right outside.”

    The red haired mermaid smirked as she moved closer and for a moment a sensation passed right into the mind of the dark skin man. It was brief, but he could feel something crawling upon his skin to which he tried his best not to make a scene of.

    “What’s wrong with you?” the Crone snapped, as Scorpion started violently.

    “She’s using runecraft on me!” the Scorpion barked back, his eye still twitching in a madman’s blink. He rounded on the ambassador. “I swear by the Shattered Gods, if you do that again…”

    But the mer was no longer standing next to him.

    As the ambassador moved forward, it was the blue lady that hasten her stepped and stood in front of her, holding her in place.

    “You better wear this.” she said, removing one of the acolytes’ masks and slapping it upon the shapeshifter’s face.

    “Sacrilege!” complained the Hunchback.

    “Common sense.” the Blue Lady retorted.

    She also moved the robe around the mer’s shoulders, and tightened it closely. While the mermaid was now in human form, there were still marks upon her skin that would cause those who knew enough of the old tales to notice that she was not in fact a simple human being - and with all the havoc playing outside, further provocation was the last thing the Enlightened willed.

    They were soon by the porch and looked down at the towering pyramid before them. Their little quarrels did not escape the mer’s eyes and she simply grunted without saying anything further. She did look up to the blue lady, now with a mask covering her cold expression, waiting for further instruction on what she should be educated about regarding the current human’s deeds.

    “Come.” said the Blue Lady, beckoning. “It’s best if you see for yourself.”

    “I’ll come too.” growled the Scorpion, narrowing his eyes. “I’m watching you, fish.”

    They walked down the steps of the pyramid and across the now-empty plaza. Beyond the streets were in chaos, but as soon as they saw the Blue Lady’s robes and the Scorpion’s banded armour they parted like waves around a rock, scrambling aside and falling to their knees in supplication.

    “Bless us, Enlightened Ones!” they begged, reaching out towards the two, and even towards the ambassador in her concealing snake mask, “Keep us safe! Keep us safe!”

    When they reached the outer walls they were already fully manned, archers and mages standing to atop the battlements. Their attention was focused outwards, the three holy figures unnoticed.

    “They do not notice us?” the mer asked confused, “Should we make ourselves known to them?”

    The Blue Lady chewed the inside of her cheek, perhaps picturing the mer strolling up onto the battlements to introduce herself. “Perhaps we should...observe for now.”

    The dark skinned Scorpion merely grunted, “You can observe all you want, but this is not the time for that.” He looked at the direction of the mer, before reaching for the direction of one the pillars. With a swift draw of the curved dagger in his belt, he cut one of the supporting pillar’s ropes which held up a colourful banner and stormed forward, carrying the rope on his back. He then held it out for the two ladies.

    “Hold tight!” he said as he checked to see how strong the hold of it was. And without further ado, he jumped forward, letting the rope slide behind him.

    “I like him.” said the mer, jumping forward, while holding on the other end of the rope.

    The Blue Lady simply shook her head. “You don’t have to live with him.” Nevertheless, she soon followed suit.
    Last edited by Azazeal849; 06-05-2018 at 05:40 PM.
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  6. #6
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    Solar listened to ever so boring speech and yawned lightly. "Taking forever." He said and closed his eyes trying to picture something aside from this crazy situation. He hated meetings of sorts and hated listening to numerous people talk about to him seemed like nothing. He couldn't even remember the beginning of the meeting. It all seemed rather quiet boring to him.

    It was at this thought things had picked up and a lady waltzed up and strung vines with thorns and pretty flowers. That was a fancy rune to have he could admit but it still didn't make up for the whole meeting as a whole in itself. Yet the boy focused on this woman and then to the fancy vines.

    Solas felt himself growing antsy to get things moving along just when someone bursted through the door claiming that The Leveler was coming. "Thank god, we can do something besides stand here." He muttered to himself.

    Solas rushed to the front door of the building and looked outside. All he could see was streets but he could smell something in the air, it smelled off of course and he could feel it in his bones. “Let’s get a decent view of the bastards coming to kill us.” a voice echoed behind him and Solar turned to see one of the men making his way to the roof top. Solar had been one of the first to follow and quickly scale his way to the top.

    Once he was on top he looked to the archers who were by far a terrible shot and frowned. How could they do anything if they can't even pick at least one person off with a WHOLE army before them. "If only we had wind runes. Could carry those arrows right over to them and probably strike a few down in one fell swoop." He spoke mainly to the group gathering and continued staring down at everything.

    His eyes focused on the 'new' found group making their way ahead of everyone. A rather small group had made their way up ahead and seeing rather cocky on their abilities. As he looked over the town he made note of vantage points. Spots where he could easily get the drop on one or two people.

    One man in the small group stepped forwards. And damn was he ugly. Solas could see that from this point and he was a good distance away. Yet he had begun speaking "on behaf of The Leveler" claiming peace for all and stuff. After one man had spoke about how they caused destruction and we had peace before them he followed up their remark. "Yo jack ass! Pick on someone your own size. Go back to your little army and screw off! Don't wanna kill you here mate!"

    The one man who lead them up here and made the first remark, spoke of taking them out. Which he enjoyed the idea of and seconded it. "Sounds about right doesn't it? Just like in the books, bad guy wants nothing but piece but causes destruction. Now on whats his names idea."

    Solar paused once more on his thought process and scanned the buildings between him and the army. "This is my home so I know my ways around here. Not sure about you guys, but hey they want to fight we can tear through them right away. Theres a few vantage points here to give us an edge."

    While Solas had no idea if they were even listening to him he still spoke as if he had his own little fun plan all planned out and won the battle. "Now.... I have a fun little rune that can give a lightning strike and fry their bodies if you'd like. But well, not only does it take like five minutes to cast. But it takes an ass load out of me, blinds me in one eye and leaves me pretty much knocked the fuck out."

    Solar knew he may have been giving way to much info to the strangers but he really didn't want to deal with a group of mages all at once they were a pain enough when it came to battle. Not to mention last time he fought a group he lost the feeling in his right arm. Which still held a tingly feeling periodically where very few nerves spark a sense of feeling here and there. It was annoying and a bit painful. "Anywho, up to you people. Not fighting those guys on my own."
    “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

    ― Mahatma Gandhi



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    ***24 hours before traveling to the Enlightened City***
    “What has my life become? Why am I stuck in this shithole of a situation... will they even let me back into the Enlightened city or deem me as a traitor... why must I suffer through this torment of having a power hungry father and no mother ... why have the gods punished me... just.... why.”

    Sage was restless as the leveler was making plans to send her army to the city of Enlightened. She had no intention of joining this parade, but her father forcefully made her as it was “a way to better her skill.” It was physical and mental torment in the City of Ash. Constant talk of peace and taking down other tyrants, enslaving the people for power... all of this was not what Sage believed in.
    “Cmon Sage, get your ass up and get ready. We depart to the enlightened city shortly,” a stern voice said. It was Blaine, Sage’s father. She couldn’t stand the sight of him. Everything about him makes her uneasy. All she can see is the man who took her mother’s life. This man was a prime example of what greedy mages do for power, but Dage has determined never to follow that path.

    “Listen here, if you EVER speak in my direction or give me the slightest stare, it’ll be your last,” Sage threatened as she pushed herself off of her bed to gather her things. As she gathered her sword and her clothes, Blaine began to laugh. “Shut the hell up girl. You’re just like your mother. All bark and no bite. Just be a good girl and do what the leveler and daddy tell you to.” Fury began to radiate from Sage’s body as she drew her rapier and held it at Blaine’s throat. “I guess you’ll never learn,” Sage said as she ran the blade across his throat, only drawing a little blood, “next time you won’t be so lucky,” she exclaimed as she stormed out of the house and began to meet with the others.

    ***The arrival at the Enlightened City***
    This... this was home. As the army made its way to the wall, tears fell from Sage’s eyes as she marveled in the city’s beauty. “Dry those tears girl. No need to waste them on such meager things,” one mage said as he placed his hand on her shoulder. She felt the warm sensation radiating from his hand as some sort of soothing method. She simply smiled, wiped away her tears, and began to march on.

    After several minutes, the army halted as the group of mages and herself detached from the group to make their claim. “I speak on behalf of the leveler...” they young man said as he began to speak. Sage knew that this was never going to go anywhere. She knew that there was about to be a war that she would half to fight on the other side for. She knew what she had to do in order to get back into her home... but the choices weren’t so pleasant.

  8. #8
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    The wanderer was no stranger to broken promises but she desperately wished to not waste a day listening to the prattle of egotistical cowards. It was a display of wealth that she had never encountered before. Rose petals drifted towards the crowd as the golden masks glinted against the harsh sunshine. ‘Bow’ was met with a sharp scoff of disapproval and her eyes rolled towards Davin as he tried to pass their words off as nothing much. A pale woman drifted forward from the shadows and with the raising of her arms, flowers sprouted and filled the air was a sickening stench. “Waste not, want not.” Left her dry lips in response to Davin’s words.

    A small group slowly crept into the sunlight. The wanderer let their words drift over her, the ritualistic drivel something that she cared little for. She recognised a few words spat in anger and her eyes snapped back to the man who let them leave his lips. Her fingers crept back to curling around the axe on her back, a sharp hiss leaving her lips. How dare he let his own stupid prejudice fill his words when many dotted through the crowd were from that land...and had come to help this city. The wanderer was not stupid, power radiated from the man...but his face was firmly etched in her skull for future reference.

    Her fingers stayed tight around her axe. She feared the crowd more than the individual. “Your gods maybe” Her words were spat at the woman high above them. The gods were clearly on the side of those high above them. They gave them power, wealth, health and the perfect seat to watch the slaughter without blood splattering their royal blue robes. Before another could add to her anger, a war horn sliced through the air. The clinking of armour told her that this was not planned.

    The leathered witch screeched as loudly as the horn. Your cue...Not our cue. The wanderer noted that those with power enough to waste...were not joining them. The next few moments were passed by in chaos. The previous fear of crowds was easily dwarfed by the anger piercing itself through her body. They were cattle being lead to the slaughter while the privileged watched from their thrones high above.

    “Well that is impressive.” The words left her lips in awe at the army marching towards the city. Any quips by Davin was promptly ignored as her gaze picked out the individual packs of the army before them. Ash men made up that army, she was strangely filled with pride. Those were fellow slaves… armed to the teeth. She knew that they were not truly free...but they certainly had the vague appearance of it.

    Wrinkles sprouted by her eyes as she narrowed her gaze at the individuals who left the wriggling mass of soldiers. Mages. She expected that, if the Leveller was as smart as they said...she would have as much power on her side as possible. A soft clunk sounded by her side as she let the head of her pickaxe softly hitting the sandstone, its handle firmly in her grip. It looked like a shimmer from the sun at first glance, but the wanderer knew better than to let her eyes trick her this time.

    Her chin raised as the young pup let his eyes drag over them all. She could almost feel the calculations he made, her small stature would have her coined as weak. It was truly entertaining to see the back and forth from the young man on the sand below them and the nervous officers. Before she could respond to Davin’s words of wisdom, one of the men beside her hurled his voice out into the filthy air.

    "Yo jack ass! Pick on someone your own size. Go back to your little army and screw off! Don't wanna kill you here mate!" It felt as if her eyes had rolled back into her skull. The side of her pickaxe made contact with the man’s chest in a gentle thud. “ If you aren’t going to make at least viable threats... do not speak, child.” She slowly lowered her axe, her disapproval of Solar could be left to another time. “Vantage points only help us if we bring the fight inside.” She told him bluntly and let her eyes return to the group standing on the roasting sand.

    A lightning rune….“I would say no to that.” Her words aimed at Solar without gifting him the courtesy of eye contact. “That woman down there did something. I don’t know what...but something. I would bet...my right arm..that just one of them holds the same power as all of us combined.” Her eyes rolled to Davin and waited for the nod that was surely to come. They would not send out mages that held the power of paint to attack a city wall. These ones meant business...and the wanderer was sure that they could easily bring down the wall..this was merely a courtesy warning.

    “One speaks for the Leveller...one should speak for the city...but not you.” The wanderer turned her gaze back to the hot headed one who screeched out. He was letting his love for his home get the better of him. She cared little for this city...she would do. The wanderer knew that the man speaking for the army before them was not from the city of Light, she had heard how his lips curled around the “r”’s to know he was from somewhere within her city.

    “Fine. But I am not fighting ashmen without speaking to them first.” The wanderer’s voice scratched in her throat as she shuffled her feet against the sandstone. One weathered hand was pressed onto Davin’s shoulder without his permission as she hauled herself on top of the wall. “Fuck me, this is high up.” A single jolt of fear hit her stomach before she cleared her throat. From the new view, she could clearly see the mages...but also the army behind them. The wanderer knew that many of them would be freed slaves...never having fought in a war before. They didn’t deserve this life...forced to be slaves to another. Forced to fight in someone else's war.

    Her voice was harsh, she spoke not in Light but in her native Ash. “I speak to the Ash men before me.” The wanderers voice was clear and loud, fighting its way through the soup like air to the army before them. Her chin was held high as her knuckles turned white around the axe that hung by her side. “Your freedom is a lie. You have merely found yourself a new master. You will lose this fight...and new whips will score your backs. Free yourselves before it is too late.”


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  9. #9
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    Sage knew what she had to do in order to get back into her home...but the choices weren’t so pleasant.

    The wind gusted around her motionless group, tugging at cloaks and swirling tiny dust-eddies around their feet. Sage saw the young man - the Leveler’s speaker, her Apprentice - chew the inside of his cheek as his words were met with abuse from the walls; first from a Light officer, and then from a young red-haired mage who stood among the archers.

    “They say no, then.”

    The observation came from the Blademaiden as she clasped her hands behind her back. Everything about the female mage radiated control, from the wiry muscles corded through her nut-brown arms to the cloth wrapping that bound her hair close to her head.

    “Too much talk.” growled the Burning. His lips were parted somewhere between a smile and a grimace, grinning through the scars of old wounds and magical injury that had ruined his face. Sage saw his hands twitching as the ghosts of flames danced between his fingers.

    “I agree with the Burning.” said the man clad in red, his eyes slitted as he frowned up at the city wall. His hands were twitching too, but it was an involuntary motion; nerves misfiring from the damage of too much channelling. The fate that awaited all wizards, if they used their powers too extensively. The man saw Sage looking, and balled his fist to halt the twitching.

    “This whole charade is a waste of time.” he opined, clenching his jaw against a muscle spasm ticking in the side of his neck.

    The Apprentice pulled his eyes away from the wall, half-turning his head to regard the red mage. His expression was grim, but resolute. “The Leveler wanted us to offer them a chance.”

    “The Leveler will have her prize.” whispered the Dark Man, the last of their group to speak. He was hooded and cloaked despite the heat, and the only parts of him visible beneath his hood were his pallid jaw and blue-grey lips. “Whether the Lightmen resist or not.”

    “Look.” the Blademaiden interrupted, nodding her head towards the wall. A lone woman was climbing up onto the battlements, and as they watched she called out to them - not in the slurring tongue of the Lightmen, but in their own native Ash.

    The man in red looked back over his shoulder at the soldiers ranked behind him, though none of them moved, and the Dark Man let out a hissing sound through his pale teeth. The Apprentice merely watched the woman, his fists resting silently against his sides.

    “She doesn’t understand.” he said, almost regretfully. “But she will.” He turned away from the wall towards the man in red. “Redmoor, it’s time for the demonstration.”

    * * * * * *

    The Wanderer and the others saw the young man turn away, and an older mage clad in red step forward in his place. His hands were raised into the air before him. Sensing an imminent attack, the Light officer further down the wall shouted, “Loose!”

    Arrows nocked and ready against their bows, the archers hauled back their bowstrings and let the iron-tipped missiles fly. In the same instant the dark-skinned woman standing among the emissaries threw up a hand, and the arrows struck some kind of invisible barrier above the red mage’s head, shattering and spalling away in pinging fragments.

    The red mage grinned. “My turn!” he shouted up at the walls. He spread his arms wide, and there was a thunderous cracking sound.

    Looking down, the mages atop the walls saw the ground undulate - twisting and arching upwards like a living thing. The mages felt the stone battlements beneath their feet shudder, and splintering cracks snaked up the inside of the mighty walls. The red mage lifted his arms like a conductor before an orchestra, and the ground heaved upward. The stones crumbled away below the group’s feet, and they fell.

    * * * * * *

    The Wanderer was thrown from the battlements just as the huge wall split open, spilling out the rocks and rubble that had been used to fill the space between the inner and outer stonework. It poured in a wave that became a slope, the Wanderer tumbling down it to land hard on her front on the sun-baked earth ten metres below. Everything was dust - a blinding, choking haze thrown up by the collapsing stone. All she could hear were screams and shouted orders, punctuated by sharp hisses of arrow fire.

    As she blinked her vision back to clarity, she saw a figure striding through the smoke towards her. It was the young man who had spoken before the walls, his black hair and tawny skin now mottled with grey by the spreading dust cloud. His roughspun shawl was looped around his shoulders, a necklace of runestones rattling beneath it as he walked. He wore a silk scarf around his neck, and leather bands etched with the spiky glyphs of Ash writing decorated his wrists. He looked down at the Wanderer with dark eyes.

    “You’re a good speaker.” he said in Ash as he marched through the smog towards her. “But who are you to lecture us about freedom?”


    * * * * * *

    The Wraith fell, landing among clattering stone fragments next to the gaping hole that had been the east gate. Next to him a Light archer shrieked, clutching at a broken leg. Through the slanted eye-holes of his mask he could only see shadows, indistinct figures running amid the pall of dust thrown out by the wall’s collapse.

    “Form up!” he heard one of them shout in Light, and he realised that they were allied mercenaries moving to plug the breach in the wall.

    Then he heard laughter, and a rushing sound as if the world itself had sucked in a breath of horror. Then a wall of flame blasted through the breach, engulfing the defenders. They reeled back screaming, their armour and their hair ablaze. A robed figure strode through the fallen wall, surrounded by dust cast into mesmerising swirls by the backdraft of his fire spell. His face was an eroded mass of scar tissue, and through it he was grinning.

    He locked eyes with the Wraith and raised a gnarled hand to point at him. He spoke Light, but his accent was the hard-edged staccato of the Ashmen. “Now you.”


    * * * * * *

    The Raven felt a breath of hot air scorch over him as some kind of fire rune washed past - not close enough to harm him, but definitely too close for comfort. It was enough to pull him from the daze that falling from the wall had left him in, and he clambered to his feet in time to register the iron-masked Wraith being engaged by one of the Leveler’s wizards. Before he could aid him though, he realised that he had a problem of his own.

    A woman dressed in loose black and looping gold bracelet chains was stalking towards him, a curved scimitar gripped in her hand. A Light mercenary tried to block her path, but his sword lunge was turned aside with an expert sweep, and countered by a slash that cut down from the man’s right shoulder to his left hip, hard enough to send him tumbling to the ground in a graceless roll. Even as the man spasmed and coughed blood, a Light archer near Raven scrambled for an arrow and loosed. It hissed through the air like a striking cobra, only to spin away as it deflected off a barrier spell floating six inches in front of the woman’s face. The archer still had a look of shocked horror on his face as the woman crossed the gap between them with swift strides and hacked him down.

    Then she turned towards the Raven.

    A soft smile played over the woman’s lips as she brought her sword vertical, touching the crosspiece to her face in salute. She lashed the blade out to the side, holding it wide as she advanced towards him.


    * * * * * *

    Caught at the very edge of the crack fissuring up through the wall, the Archer crabbed frantically sideways as the stonework to his right sloughed away, taking his companions with it. Around him Light archers and mercenaries were yelping as they clung to the battlements and tried to keep their feet. An officer staggered back, arms pinwheeling frantically for a handhold, before plunging with a scream into the street below.

    The Archer had no time to search the dust-shrouded rubble below him to see if his companions had survived. He felt the distinctive, teeth-itching prickle of magic in the air, and looked over the cracked battlements to see one of the enemy mages, the one cloaked all in black, walking towards the wall. No, not walking, the Archer realised, drifting - his feet were dragging a few centimetres above the sun-baked earth. As he watched the black mage glided up into the air, floating towards the battlements where he stood.

    The Archer felt some dark spell pulse through the air, and the Light soldiers around him who had managed to keep their footing atop the wall suddenly crumpled, wailing and clawing at their faces. The Dark Man floated slowly closer, his arms held slightly away from his sides, his ghost-pale palms turned towards the Archer.


    * * * * * *

    Solar blacked out for a moment, only to awake coughing in the tumbled ruins of the east gate. One mercenary beside him was dead, crushed under a falling stone slab, while another pawed at him with a wordlessly pleading hand as he curled around his two broken legs.

    The street in front of Solar was in chaos, with Light soldiers crying out from where they lay on the ground, or else stumbling over themselves to get away from the terrifying runecraft that was being unleashed. Standing alone and untroubled by the chaos was a mage dressed in a red robe, belted with fine leather. At one hip hung a rune pouch, and at the other a curved dagger. His skin was a faded olive and his hair black with streaks of grey, streaks which were also threaded through his neat beard and long, bead-clasped moustaches.

    The red wizard’s neck twitched slightly, and he folded his arms as he surveyed the scene around him.

    “Hmph.” he mused to himself. “This is the great city of the Enlightened?”

    He did not seem to have noticed Solar.


    * * * * * *

    “Shoot him!” the Blue Lady screamed at the archers around them, and pulled back her fist to hurl a spell of her own, right before the wall heaved and dissolved beneath her feet. All three of them fell, the Blue Lady, the Scorpion and the Ambassador together, and a dozen other screaming Light soldiers with them.

    The Blue Lady twisted like a cat, throwing her hands downward. A wide circle of the unpaved earth below them turned dark and glistening, and the Ambassador splashed down into a pool of thick, soupy mud. She sank into it almost instantly, and was spat back up a second later next to her coughing, cursing guardians. The Lightmen who had fallen outside the radius of the spell were not so fortunate, landing on the hard ground with bone-crunching thuds.

    Pieces of broken stone rained down around them. One struck the Blue Lady as she struggled to rise and she fell in a splash of wet sand, blood streaming from under her pleated hair.

    “Blue!” the Scorpion called out in shock. The Blue Lady moaned, her eyes scrunched closed as she clutched at the wound above her ear.

    The Scorpion’s head snapped round, towards the roar and hiss of runes being cast as the Leveler’s mages advanced into the city. He gritted his teeth.

    “You stay here, fish.” he snarled at the Ambassador as he lurched to his feet.


    * * * * * *

    The Illusion met no resistance as she clambered over the sunken foundations, which were all that was left of this section of the wall. Among the once-proud rubble, Lightmen were coughing, shouting, and screaming in pain.

    No sooner had she stepped into the city then a fan of black needles ripped past her, whistling as they buried themselves into a still-standing section of the wall. Wheeling round to face the attack, she was greeted by the sight of a man - dressed in banded leather, streaked with mud and wet sand. Behind him, a woman in a soiled blue gown and one of the Lightmen’s gold-masked snake priests struggled in a pool of mud. The man’s broad, chiselled features were twisted into a mask of fury.

    “You bitch.” he cursed her. “You think you heretics can simply walk into our city!?”

    He drew his arm up across his chest, and then flung it out towards her. Another spread of glistening black needles materialised out of the air and screeched towards the Illusion.
    Last edited by Azazeal849; 05-30-2018 at 04:00 PM.
    Spoiler: My RP links 

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  10. #10
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    Solar looked to the ground beneath him as it began to crumble. His position shifted as he was ready to run and then took notice to the crumbling that crept closer with a quick pace. "Shit!" Solar shouted before attempting to fall back to a section that wasn't crumbling. Yet as his foot touched the edge he felt it give beneath him sending him tumbling down to the ground.

    The mage coughed from the dust filling his lungs. It was dry and rough on his throat and he fought to get it out crawling a bit from under a piece of fallen stone. With a grunt he managed to push one out the way and slowly stood up using the stone as a support to lift his figure. So much power built into one mage. And not even a shimmer in their power.

    As he stood, Solar took a glance around. It was hard to see as the debris was settling but he could make out figures. Beside him he could see the dust moving with stones stacked on top. Just beneath it was a soldier or mercenary? He wasn't sure but he could see their hand reaching up to him just before falling back to the ground. Crushed by the rubble Solar only leaned down and motioned his hands over their eyes to close them giving them a nod. "May you find peace with the broken gods." He spoke gently and looked over to his other side as he could see a few more fallen men. One was even crawling out and screaming in agonizing pain from his crushed legs.

    Solar grunted and empowered his palm with a blazing ball of fire. His eyes focused on the wizard and he took aim and threw it straight towards him. The force cleared a small but noticeable hole through the debris as it flew in the mages direction. "Alright jackass! You want to deal with some mages then lets go. Get the fuck out of my city!"

    The fireball struck the mage square in the back, splashing cinders across his thick robe. The man staggered forward with a grunt of pain, that turned into an a dismissive growl as he turned and saw the young wizard standing opposite. He rolled his shoulders, his head jerking slightly to one side as his neck muscles spasmed.

    "Go home, boy." the red mage growled, and flicked his wrist in a quick turn. The gesture tore a piece of broken stone the size of Solar's head up from the ground and sent it flying through the air towards him.


    Solar rolled his own shoulders and began stepping directly towards the man. He could see that his fireball struck him dead on. Without hesitation he whirled another one in his palm and slung it in his direction. This one had missed him by a few feet. "Go home? You want me! To go home?"

    With the finish of his sentence a stone came whirling in his direction. Solar met the boulder with his palm out, just for it to strike his hand and shatter into a bunch of tiny stones. The remainder of the stone was dropped to the ground. In Solar's hand was a stone just the size of a baseball. His hand stung from the initial blast but it quickly receded as the nerves in his hand fluctuated. The one good thing that came out of his right arm was the fact he had very little feeling. "This IS my home. Not yours!"

    Solar clenched the stone in his hand and threw it in the opposing mages direction. As he completed the throw he spun and swooped down grabbing a hand full of rocks and merged them together with his stone power. With the new stone he aimed and threw this one as well following it up with another fireball. It seemed like basic magic but Solar could see a slight blur to his right eye as it continued. He was only just getting started.The mage could see clearly with his left eye and made sure he did his best not to show.

    The red wizard threw up a fist, and in response the earth in front of him tore upwards in a curtain of sand and earth clods. Solar’s fireball burst against it, raining fire-blackened dust, and his hurled rock cracked off another stone within the seething mass before spiralling away.

    The older mage opened his hand, and the wall of rocks collapsed to the ground in a seething rattle.

    “Not mine?” he proclaimed, now striding towards Solar with his red robe snapping about his thin limbs. “I am Redmoor. Wherever I choose to walk is mine.”

    The ground beneath Solar’s boots suddenly shifted, bulging upward and threatening to throw him from his feet.


    Solar shook his head when the man said where he walks it belongs to him. "Maybe the specks of dust stuck on your boots but this is not your home." The mage reached down grabbing the rubble at his feet and quickly melded it together into one large rock. With a focus of energy the rock was set ablaze as he connected two of his runes' abilities into one and threw the flaming rock towards the man.

    He would be damned if he let someone else invade his home and then take it from him. This guy irked him and obviously looked as if he held more power then him. Solar could see the skies filling with smoke from the destruction and debris in the air. He wanted to use his other rune but knew it would only end bad and not to mention the one wizard even told him it was a bad idea seeing they had some form of barrier magic in the air.

    Redmoor raised his hand, palm outward. He gritted his teeth and the flaming ball of rock slowed, and then stopped to hang suspended in the air, spitting fire and sparks.

    "Someone needs to learn to shut their mouth." he admonished, and swept his other arm across his body. A huge brick of sandstone that had crumbled from the wall suddenly bowled across the ground, swiping Solar's legs out from under him. Redmoor twitched, the spasm pulling his lips into something like a sneer as he raised his fist high and then hammered it down, ripping a chunk of stone free of the wall to land with a crunch atop Solar's chest. More rocks rained down, slowly but surely pinning the younger mage in place.

    "So who's home is it then?" the red mage asked conversationally as he struggled. "Yours? Then you can lie there and watch it fall to the new order."

    He turned dismissively on his heel, red robes swirling, and began to walk away.


    Solar grimaced at the pain from falling flat on his back. Before the mage could react he could see the rubble from above dropping straight onto his chest. Soalr cringed with the pain now pulsing through his entire body. What power could one man hold to bring such a large stone onto him.

    With an attempt to move his right arm he noticed no movement could be made. Both arms were pinned and he could feel the pain from the left side. Yet the right held none at all. With a cringe he managed to use his rune to crumble the rock from around his left arm and then moved to the stone on his chest. With a touch he crumbled the stone across his chest little at a time.

    He knew he didn't have enough energy to fight any longer but he was going to try his best. With a decent amount left on him, he could just barely see the man who turned. He cringed at the pain once more and adjusted a little underneath the stone. It would be a stupid idea and that was for sure but he wouldn't let this guy walk away unscathed. Solar hadn't even left a single mark on the man. "Won't be watching shit fall today."

    He spoke with the last bit of energy and effort he had. His will power surely over powering his actual abilities as he raised his right arm and the lightning crackled at his finger tips. Solar focused his energy and watched the vision fade before his right eye. While his right arm had little to no feeling he could surely feel the energy pulsing through it.

    With a flash of light the mage let his arm fall with a bolt of lightning aimed directly at the man. Completely unsure if he even struck the man he was sure he would at least damage him. Yet Solar laid their for a moment seeing the lightning strike the ground just before his vision faded leaving him to lay beneath the bit of rubble on top of him
    “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

    ― Mahatma Gandhi



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