Ulthuan

Ulthuan, Home of the Asur
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 12, 2014 9:31 pm 
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Ultimate End Times Chronicler

Joined: Wed May 25, 2011 9:10 pm
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Part One – The Great Ocean


The wind was cold off the waters of the Great Ocean. A clingy icy hail that stung flesh and hardened cloak. He breathed slowly; the air before him turned to white vapor with each escaping breath. He could hear the gulls now; their shrill cry echoed near and far, lonely and desolate in their repetition. Land must be near.

The Yvressi captain was on deck and slowly approaching him. The elf’s face was drawn with too little sleep and too much worry. He came to a stop beside him. “Any news?” he asked the captain.

The captain stood there not saying anything for several long seconds. Slowly his head began to shake in the negative. “Nothing. Just the same as before. The birds are carrying the warning. Just like in ancient times.” His voice was strained and his eyes were distant as he spoke. Slowly, he said, “’Turn back. Seek safe harbor elsewhere.’ That is all the signal says. But it is for all ships. All merchants and ships of the fleet. I…I do not know what it could mean.”

Neither did he, so he said nothing. And turned his eyes back to the prow of the merchant-ship, and the ocean beyond. Grey waters and grey skies. The cries of gulls. Cold wind and rocky waves. It was a day on the north sea, like ten thousand before it. But somehow…it felt different. Something was changed.

He had been gone too long. On the orders of the Phoenix, he had traveled to distant Cathay and to the mountains in the wasted interior. The Roof of the World the locals had called it. The highest peaks known to man or elf. Vested in eternal snow they stood as the last bastion between the men of the east and the chaos winds of the darklands beyond. Terrible creatures transformed by the raw power of Chaos were said to haunt the valleys and peaks of that foreboding land. But men dwelt there as well: garrisons and settlers from the Jade Empire, as well as brigands and doomsday cultists, holed up in valley fortresses or aerie-like monasteries clinging to clifftops above drops of thousands of feet. It was to one of these that he had been sent. Into the most foreboding reaches of that wasted land. There a secret sect of men worshipped the Chaos God of Deception. And in their worship they hardened their bodies through long regimens of training, so that they could express their devotion to their master in the most perfect, the most artful, kills. For that is what they were – a cult of assassins. Known ancient in the Jade Empire, their very name was enough to instill fear in the hearts of the men. Even up to the boy seated upon the Emerald Dragon Throne…. They were dreaded beyond speech. Avoided. Whispered about in the dark corners of the night. Invoked as dire threats in the complicated politics of the families of that ancient realm. They were paid. They were appeased. And above all they were avoided. For they were deemed unreachable in their mountain monastery. Far beyond the laws of civilization.

Except…they had reached out and one of their curved knives had claimed the throat of the ambassador of Ulthuan.

The Emperor himself had offered his condolences. Saying that it could not be helped. That he would try to find the one responsible, but that there was little hope. That was the way of the assassins: to strike, to cut, to disappear back into the everwhite realm of ice and twisted monsters that was the Roof of the World. That no one would be foolhardy enough to pursue them into that waste…. It was madness and terror….

So the Phoenix King had sent him. For what were madness and terror to the Nagarathi?

And now the cult was no more. Their bodies filled the silent corridors of their ancient monastery. Broken and cut. Blood stained the stones and the altars. Their final sacrifice to their Chaos God had been their own lives. Because they had dared to touch one of the Asur.

And the Asur had responded. The mortals thought they commanded the shadows. In their final hours they had learned how very wrong they were.

Yet so much time had been lost. He had been gone from the world in this pursuit for nearly two years. Two years climbing, tracking and scouring that vast waste. With nary a word or whisper from the Ever Empire. Finally, when his job was done he had turned south and found passage on this Yvressi merchantman. Finally, he could make his way home. To Ulthuan…. To Nagarythe…. It had been too long.

And then the birds had shown up, carrying the runes of warning. The ship had turned aside. And his return home was delayed. Again.

“We are almost there,” the captain spoke. “See there. Through the fog.” The tall Yvressi pointed. “That is Eless’Tan. What the men of these parts call the Silent Isle. Beyond it the man city of Bordeleaux and then the Forests of the Chanelith. The men call it the Forest of Chalons. Since the time of Bel Shanaar this place has been named Asylia, a Haven for the Asur. Hopefully, we can get some answers there.”

He nodded. When he said nothing more the captain swallowed, paused, then uttered:

“My lord. I am…glad… that you are here with us now.” There was pain, fear and worry in the captain’s face. “Do you think it could be another invasion? Many are saying they heard strange sounds. Saw strange lights at night. Could it be the Druchii have seized Tor Yvresse? My home. My wife. I….”

He reached up and placed a reassuring hand upon the captain’s shoulder. But said nothing. What could he say? But the Yvressi looked relieved.

“Thank you, my lord,” he said, and then wandered back to his post at the stern of the vessel.

He turned back to the ocean, the mists, and the distant grey shores that was the Silent Isle.

My lord…? He thought, and his eyes drifted downwards. He saw the armor upon his chest. The black and gold. Even after all these years it seemed to fit him ill. It was too large; made for broader shoulders than his.

Those tears. Those rents. He knew them as stories. Some as stories from his own life. But others, so many others, from those that came before…. One in particular, he still felt as a cold pain in his chest. He reached down and touched the rents in the armor. The tears across the mail of the belly and the chest. In places the rings had been made new, but he still could find the old scars in the armor. And as he touched the cold metal memories buffeted him. A gravel beach next to cold northern waters. And the face… the face of his Prince lying upon the ground, bloodstained and white. And yet somehow, still beautiful. He had cradled that head and wept. And those eyes had turned to him and said:

“Do not grieve, my brother. At last I am free.”

It was the pain that would not leave him. Even after all these years. That memory. This armor. He had taken it upon his shoulders when the clans had called. And yet, still, it did not seem to belong to him.

My lord…? Was he? He did not know. But he had memories. So many memories. Of command. And regret. Lives saved. And so many more taken. All because of his decisions.

Was that what it meant to be a lord?

He closed his eyes then opened them and focused on the isle. The Silent Isle. Off the coast of the man kingdom Bretonnia. He had been there before. To the north was the haunted city of Mousillon. A terrible place, filled with the calls of the dead and should-be-dead. He had fought there once. Many years ago. Cut his way through street and ally. Sword swinging under the light of dim streetlamps and silver moon. The nightmares he had faced there had been terrifying. But there was an artifact of ancient Nagarythe hidden among those tombs. And it had to be reclaimed. So reclaim it he had. Despite the blood and fear and the deaths of those that accompanied him.

For no price was too high to pay for Nagarythe….

The island was growing large in his vision now. He could see its sandy shorelines and the gnarled roots of the trees growing close to the waters. It was a place untouched by the men of the realm. It had never known the woodsman’s axe or the farmer’s plow. Cursed they had called it. Protected by angry spirits of wood and stream. And that may be true. For who knows what magics the ancient magi bound into a place named Asylia? Wards to protect and to discourage, most likely. Spirits named friends of the Asur set to watch over their ruins. And wait for the elves return.

And here we are. At least one small vessel, on this day. The ship was rounding a point of the islands coastline. Just thick copses of oak and ash, and bushes thick with bright red winterberries. The water was growing calm at last. And then the ship passed the point. He gasped in surprise, and drew close to the ship’s rail. Before the ship lay a small bay…and it was crowded with Asur sails!

What is this?! He looked about. He recognized the pennants and colored main-sails of half a dozen kingdoms among the waiting vessels. And many more dozens of heraldry of various lords, all intermixed helter-skelter in the narrow waters of the harbor. Vessels as small as a two-elf fishing dinghy, to as large as a mighty Eagleship that towered above the fishing and merchant craft. It was a veritable bazaar of Asur craft. And it was completely a jumble. A kaleidoscope of sail and colors and ships butting up against each other. In the center he saw a white stone quay, ancient in appearance and design. Some long forgotten dock of the ancient Ever Empire stood waiting and ready. The merchant craft he stood upon turned and was making for that.

The captain joined him once more. “So many ships…. From so many kindgoms. Small vessels not fit for the open ocean. I don’t understand.” He had nothing to say to that so remained silent. “I…I sent word by messenger falcon last night. Before us, my lord. At least they should be expecting our arrival.”

He nodded at the captain’s words but did not take his eyes away from the crowded bay or the waiting docks. In a few minutes the merchant craft had slowed to a stop and pulled along the end of the quay, just barely fitting between a pair of hawkships showing signs of storm damage.

The crew was busily lowering the gangplank. He walked over and waited. The gangplank in place he stepped out upon the board.

“Safe travels, my lord!” the captain called out to him, his face still full of worry.

“And to you and yours,” he called back, mimicking the old Yvressi exchange. Then he quickly walked down and stepped out upon the old stone quay.

The docks and surrounding ships were crowded with elves. And not just sailors; men, women, and children of all ages festooned the decks of ships, hung limply from spots in the rigging, or sat on parcels and crates strewn about the quay. The faces that looked to him were dirty and hungry. And the eyes were filled with despair and dejection. It was something he had never seen among the Asur. But it was something he had seen before among the children of men. Those displaced by famine and war. The refugees fleeing the orcs. Or the few survivors of a Druchii raid. The faces of the desperate he had encountered in caves cowering after the last corsair vessel had sailed.

And now those faces were Asur. What could this mean?

He wove his way through the throngs atop the wharf, making ever closer towards the wooded shore and the hodgepodge of tents and log dugouts that waited there. Yet suddenly the crowd drew quiet and parted before him. He could see a retinue of Asur warriors waiting at the end of the wharf. They were nearly ten strong and dressed in the armor of the Citizen Levy. Two of them however wore the mismatched armor of the Guardians of the Temple. The helms and hauberks of clearly different design.

What could this mean?!

From the center, an elf in richly appointed scholar’s robes stepped forward. He carried a scroll-case in one hand and wore a long sword on his hip.

“I am Seeker Olannon,” the elf declared. He glanced down at the scroll in his hand. “And you are one…Tim. Of clan…Narrin.”

He felt his brow furrow. That…name. Narrin’Tim. It was a name he had not heard in a long time. A very long time. It was a name he had thought to never hear again.

He looked to the elf before him, felt his jaw set. “I am the Shadow Prince,” he said simply. The warriors standing behind the Seeker shared nervous glances at that, and there was some murmuring amongst them. But the Seeker simply stared back, his face impassive and imperious.

“No. You are not. You are one Tim, of clan Narrin,” he said, once more glancing at the scroll in hand. “And by order of the new King you are under arrest!”

He felt his brow furrow even further. New King?! Had so much changed in the time he was away? What could this mean?! And soldiers to arrest him?! He looked hard at the elven warriors standing before him, taking in their youthful faces. One wore Chracian braids. Another the shaven temples of Ellyrion. All young. All weary. And behind them at the edge of the dock, seated atop a white steed, he saw the pale visage, and hard features of a….

“Druchii!!” he hissed and reached over his shoulder for the blade that waited there. “Get down!” he ordered the warriors before him.

But instead of obeying the young warriors simply shared nervous looks among themselves. And in turn the Druchii on his steed continued to sit there and watch impassively, eyes hard.

But the Seeker laughed. “Fool!” he said between guffaws. “There are no more Druchii!” he wiped the tears out of his eyes, and returned to leveling a contemptuous gaze in his direction. “Now there are only loyal servants of the Eternity King!”

The Seeker’s eyes cooled a degree or two. “Or traitors,” his mouth uttered under that frigid gaze.

Traitors?! What is happening?! Could this be some dream? Some nightmare of the Netherrealms that haunted his sleep? One that he could not awaken from??

He looked at the two Phoenix Guardsmen standing behind the others. Could this be some vision of the future? Like the one contained in his memories. The memories of his old teacher…? Perhaps he had been lost in the reverie of those that had come before him?

He reached inside himself, trying to find the memories. Trying to find the voices that were always there whispering at the edge of his consciousness. But…nothing! He heard nothing! The whispers were gone! His teacher! And all those in the thousands of years before him. WE!! The Shadow Prince. Nagarythe!! We are…gone? No….

He shook his head and focused on what lay before him.

“Now, lay down your weapons and come peacefully, Tim of Clan Narrin. You are under arrest,” the Seeker said.

“What are the charges?” he asked.

“Treason,” came the answer. “Treason against the Eternity King and the Phoenix Throne.”

He stood there, and let that word wash over him: treason. He tried to think past it. All those years. All those slain. A life spent in service to the Host. In service to the Crown and the Everqueen! This must be a mistake. Somehow.

Or the madness had finally taken him, and he knew not where he was. Raving somewhere beneath Anlec….

As he stood there the Seeker gestured to one of the soldiers beside him. “Seize and disarm him. Prepare him for travel back to the court for trial.”

The boy stepped forward cautiously, one hand limply upon his sword’s pommel. He sent the boy a look. “Are you sure you want to do that, son?” he said softly.

The boy stopped, and looked down and glanced at the waiting Seeker. “Seeker,” he pleaded. “He IS the Shadow Prince of Nagarythe!!”

“No he is not!” the Seeker snarled back. “He is a traitor. And our King has demanded his arrest!!”

The Nagarathi’s eyes narrowed and went hard. He stepped forward, coming closer to the elves before him. “I am no traitor,” he said in a hush voice. “Everything I’ve ever done, I did for the Crown. And for Nagarythe.”

The Seeker turned to him with a sneer on his lips. “Well…. Too bad. ‘Cause Nagarythe doesn’t exist no more.”

The Seeker’s mouth turned hard. “Now…do you have anything to say for yourself?”

“Yes.”

He ducked his head forward and felt the satisfying snap of cartilage meeting the bone of his forehead. The Seeker dropped where he stood. Behind him, at a glare the first soldier turned and fled back down the dock. But the one beside him was stepping forward, with a spear in hand. The Nagarathi’s hand darted forward and jerked down upon the shaft. As he felt the warrior instinctively pull up and back, he reversed his force and pushed the shaft back into the face of the young soldier, sending him reeling backward and off the edge of the dock. As the next two stepped forward, he flipped the spear up and horizontal and shoved it into their chests, knocking those two into the water. He ducked a clumsy swing from behind him, and brought the butt of the spear down on an instep. A knee leapt up and met the bent over face, howling in pain. It went silent. He saw another reaching for his sword so he spun and lashed out and brought the end of the shaft across the side of his helmet. A peal-ly note rang out, and the warrior slumped to his haunches. At a glare the rest turned and fled. He glanced up and to the end of the dock: the Druchii rider was gone.

He dropped the spear and turned back and strode towards where the Seeker sat, grabbing at his broken nose. He reached down and seized the elf’s collar.

“I wanted to say,” he hissed and bared his teeth into the frightened face below.

“WHERE I STAND IS NAGARYTHE!”

And then threw a fist into the jaw that dropped the elf like a weighted sack.

“Oh, and next time.” He stepped over the supine figure.

“Bring more warriors….”



***


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 13, 2014 8:24 pm 
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I actually clapped and laughed as I read that last line. Very well done. =D>


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 15, 2014 10:09 pm 
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Ultimate End Times Chronicler

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Part Two – Bretonnia


They had more warriors. Many more. Soon the camp resounded with the calls of searching patrols of spear and sword armed Asur warriors. He ducked and weaved his way among the tents and muddy lanes, seeing clumps of elves seated dejectedly around small open fires, or standing in long lines before scribes in robes who held long quills in hand and called out ‘name’ and ‘clan’ and ‘country’ in weary voices as they scribbled upon parchment before them.

What was happening? A new king the Seeker had said? But that made no sense. Finubar had been well the last he spoke to him in that tower in Lothern. Did he take to the Fading? Or was there an assassination? But who would do such a thing? Surely the King’s agents would have had a suspicion about that and would have warned him before he left. It did not make sense.

And as he knelt behind the edge of a low tent, he could see Druchii among the searching soldiers. Their armor and colors were mismatched and disorganized, but there was no mistaking them. He had fought them for too long – all of his life – to mistake those hard faces, those cold eyes, the Nagarathi nose and cheek bones that his kin and they shared. And here though they were standing shoulder to shoulder with warriors from Etaine and Ellyrion, searching for him! How could that be?!

Another patrol was coming around the corner and into the lane he now knelt in. He rose and turned to go the opposite direction. He must be careful. There were too many now to overpower with ease, and he dreaded being forced to draw his blade. He did not want to kill Asur. He had too much Asur blood already on his hands. He would avoid shedding any more if possible. He hurried down the lane between tents on one side and low cut log dwellings on the other (Chracian hunting cabins? Here?!) when he heard the voices and sounds of another patrol approaching from the opposite direction. His eyes narrowed, and reluctantly his hand went to the pommel of the sword on his back.

He heard a creak of wood. He glanced to the side – a door to one of the cabins had swung open and a slender hand emerged and beckoned to him. Hesitating only a single moment he ducked inside.

The interior was gloomy and lit only by the light coming through the half opened door and a single burning tallow candle upon a table. The door was quickly closed to but a small crack behind him, and as his eyes adjusted to the darkness he saw two elves within. One, a soldier square of jaw and in unadorned mail, stood a little ways away, his hand warily upon the pommel of his sword. The other, next to the door, a small elf child, a girl of only a dozen winters or so. She was fair in visage with dark hair and large blue eyes. She looked at him and held a finger to her lips. Then she peered out the door crack.

He waited breathlessly, watching as the patrols merged outside and then passed. He held his breath until the last soldier had disappeared behind a turn in the lane. He then turned to the two in the interior, eyes searching their faces.

“Thank you,” he whispered. “Who are you?”

The warrior said nothing to his query, but the little girl stared at him with those big eyes. “Is it true?” she said softly. “Are you the Shadow Prince? The Shadow Prince of Nagarythe?”

“Yes.”

She cocked her head and looked at him with curiosity for a few seconds. “Then you must go. Leave this place now,” she said and stood up from her crouch. Reaching out she grabbed his hand and pulled at him towards the back of the cabin. “There is a boat. A little one. Tied up behind the cabin. Take that and go to the mainland. You will find an old road there. You must go north.”

She paused in her quick instructions, still holding his hand, the tiny fingers wrapped about his callused thumb and forefinger with a firm warm grip, she looked at him and in a voice even softer, whispered, “Do you know the Cursed City?”

He frowned. “Mousillon? Yes.”

“You must go there. There is an old castle on the outskirts of the Cursed City, standing next to the ocean,” she whispered quickly. “You must make for that with all haste!”

His frown deepened. “I know of the castle you speak of. But…why? What awaits me there?”

She smiled sadly. “Friends.” She looked to the door suddenly. There were more voices outside. “But go. Now!” she hissed. “Before they find the boat!” She pulled frantically at his hand and pushed him towards a low cut entrance in the back of the cabin. Before he knew it he was out in grey daylight again. There was a muddy hill, lightly wooded before him and the sea lapping at a gravel shore at its base. He glanced around. There was no one here, yet. But that could change in an instance. He heard the sound of orders being barked nearby, and in the distance the bark of hunting dogs. (Chracian lion hounds? Here?!)

He hurried down the hill sliding past tree and root to the shore. There, as the little girl had said, he found a small boat; a slender thing of wooden frame and taught deerskin, like the river canoes of Yvresse and Cothique. There was a single long wooden paddle inside, and a flask of water, and nothing else. Quickly he shoved it out into the ocean’s water. Here was at the lee of the island, the inlet between the island and the mainland lay before him and in the distance, but a half mile away, he could see the wooded coast, so the waters here were placid. A thick mist hung above the shallow waves and on the distant shore. The clouds were thickening and he could smell rain upon the air.

Wet up to his waist he clambered into the boat, and picking up the oar, he pulled towards the shore. In minutes he had crossed the channel and scrambled up the bank on the other side. It was thickly wooded here, but much of the growth had fallen with the turning of the seasons. He could not linger. He hurried up and through thicket, still hearing the braying of dogs in the distance, until, through a gap in the woods he spied a track of packed dirt and pools of mud. He stepped out upon it and looked around.

Bretonnia. It had been a long time since he had been here. But it was unmistakable. The woods thick with oak and ash. The elder berries and vines upon the roots of the trees. Even the smell in the wind told him where he now stood. He remembered these sights, these smells, memories welled up within him. The first time he had stood upon this land. Centuries ago. Then he had been but a young archer. A Shadow Warrior in the Host of Nagarythe. One among many. And another had worn the armor….

Pain gripped him even after all these long years, at the face that swam into vision. His old teacher. His Prince. He saw those black eyes and the long raven hair. Remembered the voice as if he had just heard it yesterday. He had saved his life even then. From a Dawi catapult stone. It would have crushed him if the Prince hadn’t have pushed him out of the way. And then the resulting battle, when all had seemed lost, he had watched the Shadow Prince stand before the elite guard of the Dawi army…. Stand as they charged with blasts of brass horns. And cut them down to the last. Not a wound upon him or the unit he stood with….

All those times he had saved me. And did I ever say thank you? I cannot remember.

The memories were a threat to the Asur. And especially one such as he, who had lived so long, and known so much war. It was too easy to stand, lost in the myriad yesterdays as the world turned and lived about oneself. The Fading they called it. Still living yet the death of remembrance. Entombed in memories and dumb to the world. Already it had begun to rain as he stood upon that track. His armor and cloak were soaked, and the road turned into a damp mire when he became aware again. Now was not the time to lose himself. He needed to move.

North? To Mousillon? Do as the girl said? He did not know her. But then, he knew no one in this land. Nagarythe was too far. He could not go back. No, there was no choice but to hope. Toss the dice and hope that just once more Loec would smile upon him.

But he would not make it far nor fast upon foot. He turned aside off the road and slipped into a pasture he found there. It wasn’t long before he spied what he was seeking for: a slung-backed plow horse stood idly chomping in the field. There was a farmhouse, small and dilapidated nearby, but a quick inspection showed it to be deserted. He hesitated beside the old horse, for just a moment, and then reaching into his satchel he tossed a pair of silver Leafs upon the ground (more than what the horse was worth), and climbed atop its back. Using his knees and heels he guided it back towards the road, and north….

***

The sun was growing low in the sky when he came upon the bridge. It was not much of a bridge: just a small arch of cut stone that crossed a waterway that was more ‘large stream’ than ‘river’. And yet still, the horse shied at the approach. He frowned and studied his surroundings carefully. The rain and mist were light but still palpable, a thick clinging presence around him. From under his cloak’s hood he let his eyes sift into the shadows among the trees. Nothing. He had seen nothing larger than a deer in the woods for half a day. No men. No elves. The land seemed deserted. Which was odd in itself. Even in this season he would have expected to come across hunter’s parties, or foragers looking for wood and winter roots. True this place was in the shadow of the Cursed City, but when he had been here before he knew that some woodsmen braved this place for game and scavenge. And there had been farmholds built up until the last bridge to the wood about the city.

Strange….

The horse jerked and whinnied in fear. His eyes shot before him. He saw movement; a slippery something in the shadows beneath the bridge. And then a hillock arose from out of the bank, scale and slime and mud and broken twig, rose up out of the ground and lumbered into the path before the bridge. There was a fetid stench in the air, and a pair of mismatched, watery yellow eyes glared out at him.

“Hungry,” the maw beneath the eyes groaned.

He looked at the beast. A river troll. Dangerous enough to passer-bys in this part of the Old World. It was ten feet tall and as muscular as an ogre. And covered in a coat of hard fish-like scales capable of turning aside even tempered boar spears. Still, he was not afraid.

“Turn aside, troll,” he said with a shake of his head. “There is easier prey in these woods this eve.”

“Hungry!” the troll repeated, and took a lumbering step forward.

He raised his hand in the air before him and clenched it into a fist. He called upon the Netherrealms to tear the soul from the soft flesh before him.

And…

Nothing.

He did not see the world as wraiths did. No blue witchfire filled his chest. He did not taste the wind of Khaine’s realm. Nothing.

And then the troll’s claw was swinging about in a terrifying swipe. He felt the blow like a white hot pain in his arm and shoulder. He heard one terrifying scream from the old horse and then he was flying through the air. With a thud and a careening spin he landed upon mud and bush, tumbling to a stop. His arm was in agony, and he felt warm blood upon his hand. And yet all he could think was…

Nothing! He had called, and there was nothing!

But the troll was still there. And he still had the Avelorn bow upon his back – his constant companion, almost as old as he. He fumbled for it and an arrow from his quiver. Turning, however, he saw the troll had set upon the horse, already breaking the poor animal apart and feeding upon it. The monster’s hunched back was to him as it fed, apparently satisfied with its meal.

Slowly, he stood up and turned away from the grisly sight. He broke into a jog and crossed the bridge, heading north.

***

It was night when he came upon the village.

It wasn’t a true village. More of a stop upon the King’s road. A tavern and stable and a few adjoining buildings was all there was to it. Yet, it was a welcome sight; his arm burned, and his head was growing light. His feet felt heavy and he needed succor.

Still, he did not know these mortals, and despite the blood and pain, he waited in the woods edge at the outskirts of the little hamlet. It was dark. No torches burned before the inn. No lanterns sent out a warm glow from the buildings interior. There wasn’t even the sight of woodsmoke coming from the building’s chimneys. Not even from the kitchen.

Strange this time of the year. He waited another minute. The blood was staining his pants and dripping upon the ground. He was leaving a trail. It needed to be seen to. Still he waited. There was no sign of movement from within. No riders upon the trail. Slowly, gingerly, he rose and moved towards the inn building, cradling his wounded arm beneath him.

The front door opened at the slightest push. He saw a common room interior. A few tables gathered between a cold fireplace and a wooden bar. Behind the bar were rows of glass bottles upon shelves below a polished brass mirror. In the dim light he could see a few of the bottles placed upon the bar top as if set out for service. But no sign of anyone to serve or drink them.

He hesitated and then stepped within, eyes shifting about the room. There were two doors behind the bar. One most likely led into the kitchen. The other was open and disappeared at some stairs leading up. To the sleeping rooms above, he would guess. In his long years he had stayed in places like this throughout the Old World, traveling on missions for the Phoenix King.

Like the last….

He shook his head. Once more he tried the sigil with his left hand. He called upon the winds to heal his injured body. Nothing. Nothing happened. The wound should have closed upon its own accord. As long as he touched earth, the power of the Eternal Mother should have healed his injured body at the conjuring. And yet nothing was happening.

He clamped his jaw shut and made his way across the darkened interior and to the dim steps beyond. Carefully and silently he climbed up the stairs, his one good hand upon the sword at his back. He reached the top of the short flight of stairs and saw a darkened corridor with a bevy of wooded doors along its length. They were all open. He moved to the first. A room. A straw bed. A little woodstove. Nothing of much use. The next however held a spinning loom and he felt relief well up in his gut. He moved inside and searched until he found needle and thread, and a patch of cloth. Then he returned to the hall.

In the last room he found what he suspected was the building’s owners. A family – a man, woman, and child – lay side by side upon the inn’s largest bed, curled up together and still. The marks of some disease were upon the dead faces. The eyes open and yellowed with time. The child still clutched a toy before it, holding it even in the embrace of death.

He left the room and closed the door behind him.

Suddenly there was movement in the hallway! With long experience his hand seized the sword from his back and freed it, bringing the tip out and before him. He stared down its length and saw… a cat hissing at him at the top of the stairs. He lowered his weapon.

“So you are alone, little friend. I think we are the last in this place,” he said softly. He returned his blade to its sheath and passing the cat, climbed down the stairs.

Once in the common room, his fingers on his left hand brought his flint and tinder to the wick of an oil lamp. Once more he was grateful that Lileath had blessed him with the agility in his fingers. Since he was a small child he had been equally as good with both hands. A skill that had helped his archery immensely, when hunting as a small boy in the mountains of western Nagarythe. He could still see the thick black pines and rolling streams within the canyons. Smell the evergreen scent upon the breeze. Feel the first snowfall upon his cheek…

“There is no more Nagarythe,” the Seeker had said. What could that mean?!

Grinding his teeth he forced the questions from his mind. The lamp now lit he placed it upon the end of the bar. Then next to it he unshouldered his bow and quiver, and then the satchel that carried his few goods. Lastly he unhooked the harness that held his blade: the straight Avelorn longsword that he had named ‘Regret’ when he had passed the First Death….

More memories. Of putting the armor on for the first time. The black obsidian steps of the Temple of Khaine. And the burning red runes of the sword within. The darkness. And the gold fields….

He shuddered at the memories. That was a time before. A time before who he was now. When he still walked this earth as Narrin’Tim, a warrior of the Romani of the Western Hills. Before he became the Shadow Prince.

When he yet lived….

No. No time for that. He took the needle and thread and a bottle of alcohol from behind the bar and saw to his arm. The cut was deep, but thankfully it still looked clean. He poured the alcohol upon it, grinding his teeth against the pain. And then saw about sewing the flesh back together. It was slow going. With many a stop and a grunt, despite his dexterity. But in the end, the stitches were in place. He wrapped the cloth about it with more of the alcohol upon the rag, and tied it in place. Then he turned and loaded the common room fireplace with logs and kindling he found in an iron stand nearby. With oil from the lamp he lit the pile. In seconds a fire was glowing warm and vibrant in the hearth. He held his hands out towards it, and enjoyed the feeling.

The cat mewled and whimpered beside him. He looked at it.

“You are hungry too, huh? Yes, we should eat. I will see what I may find in the kitchen.”

There was little there, but he managed to find a pitcher with milk as of yet unspoiled, and a hard loaf of bread with a bit of the pungent cheese the locals favored. He poured the milk into a bowl and set that before the fire for the cat, then sat down upon a chair nearby for his own meal.

His eyes wandered across the empty room. It was obvious disease had swept through this land. Who knows how many small towns like this one had been emptied of life, turned into forgotten places filled with ghosts and memories?

And Nagarythe was no more? A place like this, abandoned of life? No. That was impossible. And yet the elves of Ulthuan in the camp had come to this foreign land, with little but the clothes on their backs. Why?

And why did the winds not heed his call? He looked at his bandage arm. He had never been talented with the gift of magic when he was a youth. A bow and a blade had been his skill, and the senses of a hunter. A ranger of the Western Hills, knowledgeable in woodlore and tracker’s craft. It was only after the ritual, after the Sword in the ruin, had he felt the winds of magic upon his face. Felt them answer when called. But the troll… And his arm…

His eyes drifted across the room to the bar. The magical Averlorn bow sat there, still gleaming as if possessing a moonlight of its own. He had received it in the enchanted forest many decades prior. A true heirloom of that sacred place, blessed with the Grace of Isha and the strength of Kurnous. It was made of the wood of the Boddhi tree, the first tree it was said from which that Asuryan crafted the elves. It still dwelt within the winds of magic. And yet, he….

His eyes drifted to the brass mirror above the bar. He saw a face staring back at him. The tall thin cheeks of a Nagarathi warrior, covered in scars. The head, clean shaven (if a little patchy with new growth) with a narrow strip of braided black hair down the center from forehead, to the dangling long queue behind him. The fashion of the Romani. The nose, broken a few times over. The scars on the chin. All of what he saw testified to a life spent in battle. Faint white lines on cheek and forehead told of blows and blades, long forgotten. Of battles won, and some, lost. Of fear, and war cries and volleys of arrows filling the sky. He had seen so much war. All in the service of Nagarythe….

He looked to the eyes, old before their time. Old with weariness and a bit of hard earned wisdom. They stared back at him. Two grey orbs filled with pain and exhaustion. Cold and empty, and grey as a winter sky….

Wait. He sat up, and stared. The eyes! They were grey! And not midnight black! Those were the eyes of his youth. Of Narrin’Tim! Not the solid onyx of the Shadow Prince! The ancient eyes of an Asur warrior that lost both iris and pupil. These were the eyes of a youth who knew only a few centuries.

What is happening?!



***


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 15, 2014 10:51 pm 
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Regret. I like it. I think I know what is happening with Tim/Regret, I think it has something to do with Widowmaker.

But an awesome read as usual :D

I wonder who, and how many, his friends are?

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Besides, the battle of Finuval Plain was more a minor skirmish anyway. A good enough summary would have been "Teclis and Malekith ran into each other. Teclis cast The Dwellers Below on Malekith with IF, and Malekith failed his Strength test." Not much more to it then that really.


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PostPosted: Wed Dec 17, 2014 8:13 pm 
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Part Three – The Cursed City


He stood upon the edge of a hill watching the road slope down before him. Another stone bridge was there; old, crumbling, and overgrown with moss, beyond it began a forest of trees twisted and lifeless. And beyond that, a jumble of jagged spires and burned artifices that rose up into the sky like the fingers of a skeletal hand…. The Cursed City of Mousillon.

Legend said that this city of men had been destroyed by skyfall. A star came to earth; but one made of darkness and not light. It had struck the city and killed its thousands of inhabitants in a cataclysm of witchfire that lasted seven days and nights. And some said that the star still burned within the heart of the ruins, waiting. For what? No one knew. The End of Days? The return of some ancient prophesy? It burned in the heart of the city and its power corrupted those it touched, making the dead sleep uneasily, and twisting the bodies of men and animals into terrible, craven creatures that hungered for flesh. It was said that this was a punishment for the actions of the men of the city. That their lord was both a coward and glutton that preyed upon the youths of his land for purposes decadent and vile. That the people had turned to worshipping the Dark Powers and made sacrifices both unholy and profane in the quiet hours before dawn. Of that, he did not know. All that he knew was that the place was both evil, and deadly.

Memories came to him, of a time before. When still a young Shadow Warrior he had traveled to this cursed place. He wasn’t alone then. The faces of his companions swam before his eyes. Syllion of Avelorn, tall and fair, and almost as good with a bow as he. And Oris, the bladesmaster from Lothern. He had been a duel instructor within the palace district there for some years before the calling had come. In Estalia they had acquired their guide… What was his name? Even after all these years he could see the mortal’s face: his long hawkish nose, and the pencil thin moustache. Joseph. Yes, Joseph…something…. of Marienburg. He had carried a blackpowder blunderbuss that was worthless at ten paces, but incredibly effective at three. And then there had been Tann, the small, beardless dwarf. The locksmith that claimed to be able to open any door from Altdorf to the sunken cities of the ancient desert kingdoms.

Five had entered the city, those centuries ago. And only one had walked out.

“You are a survivor, Narrin’Tim.”

Those words…. He heard them as clear as if they were just whispered in his ear. But no, they had been uttered to him by Dalyth, a prince among the Averlornians, when he had come to tell him that once more another of his people would not be returning home. When Dalyth had uttered those words he had thought them a faint praise, but now, now he wondered. Perhaps it was not Loec’s blessing that kept him all these long years, but his curse? Perhaps the trickster god kept him around to continue piling misery upon misery upon him. He had long outlived those better than he. And he was forced to remember… the kind eyes and sad smile of Syllion. The dwarf’s laughter when he had taught Tim that card game. The Marienburger’s wink, and discourse on the art of cheating. Oris, naming each of his blades after a lover from home…. They had been so alive then. And now, perhaps in all the wide world, only he still remembered them.

There was a stirring at his side. He looked down and saw his satchel quiver. He reached and unclasped the fastening. A pair of paws emerged, shortly followed by a whiskered muzzle.

“You are hungry, little one?” he asked the cat. “There is not much left, but I will see.”

It had been two days. Two days to walk here from the abandoned inn. Two days of crossing a countryside unnaturally desolate and abandoned. There had been no time to hunt, and so he was forced to exist on what he could scavenge from the abandoned dwellings they crossed. He found a piece of wax-cloth buried within the pockets of his cloak. Unwrapping it he produced a lump of cheese as hard as a stone. With a grunt he broke off two pieces, placing one in his mouth and holding the other up before the cat.

The cat sniffed at it and mewled.

“I don’t like it either,” he commented, between attempts to break the hard lump in his mouth. “I don’t like it even when it’s fresh,” he added with a chuckle. “What I wouldn’t give for some Romani hash right now. Or a Nagarathi pot pie. That is good both cold and warm, my friend.”

He closed his eyes and tried to summon those memories of the tasty dish. Served at camp when there was enough time to dig the fire pits and break out the thick clay pots. A time when they weren’t moving or fighting. When someone would find a lyre, and song would carry out over the twilight. And then the smell of the cookfires would fill the camp and they would all gather around the cooking pits, and trade stories. Calo’Puck was there, with his twisted smile. And Avyn’Pol, the prettiest among them, or at least he had so claimed. And Palin’Lileath, grinning because she had placed a burr in his sleeping bag, and he had failed to notice it for two days. All those nights in Nagarythe, the black pines swishing softly in the breeze. The scent of snow and sea upon the air….

No. No time for this. It was yet morning, and he knew that if he was to cross the Cursed City to the abandoned castle beyond, it was best to attempt that during the day. He needed to start out. Now.

At least the cat had finally consumed its meager breakfast. He returned the rest of the cheese to its wrappings and started down the hill.

***

The desolate streets were strangely unchanged from how he remembered them. Long sloping corridors of rain-slicked cobblestones; burned out brownstone buildings, their windows warped in the heat of the cataclysm; tall gothic archways leading into shadow filled courtyards; gardens overgrown with thorn and dead vine, brown and brittle. And everywhere he looked, the fog. It hung over the streets in a thick, unnatural pall; sometimes a deep stormy grey, sometimes a blackness filled with green wil-o-wisps, lights that danced before the eye before sinking into the depths of the fog. It was said that much of it came not from the atmosphere, but from the sewers beneath the city. And it was a rare street that he walked down that did not contain at least one of the round sewer openings, their metal covers long since tossed open, leaving gaping holes into the belly of the earth open and waiting. And from each spewed forth the noxious fog.

As nightmarish as the place was, even by the light of day, he knew how much worse it would become at night. The memories of doors being swung shut. The hideous thudding on the other side. The sound of footsteps on roof. The scratching at the walls…. Brought shivers to him. He needed to cross the city as quickly as possible. And to do that, he needed the most direct route. He tried to conjure memories. His own, and those…from before. But it was difficult. The whispers at the corners of his mind seemed faint, and strange. Fears and not allies. And the fog chocked streets seemed to merge one into another: a sorcerous similitude that tricked the eye and the memory. And once he had entered the fog there was no way to make out any landmark of note. He had to trust his senses. His judgment. Or give up valuable time and climb one of the bell towers to try and get above the fog. That he was reticent to do: both out of concern for the loss of time, and a fear of awaking what may rest within.

Still, as the hours passed by and one cobblestone street eased into another, he was beginning to consider just that. When he realized he was being followed.

It was faint at first; just a shiver on the back of the neck. But he had learned to trust his instincts over the centuries. His ears listened hard as he stilled his breath: he could hear the footsteps now. Several of them. He cast his eyes about the street he stood upon. Fog. Brick walls. Blackened windows. A burnt-out storefront. There! Movement in one of the alleys; a shadow-filled corridor leading into a garden beyond. Three figures crept in gangly crouches. He could smell the carnal stench reeking from them. See the long talons upon hands, once man-like. Bone Gnawers. Those that fed upon the dead and weak. Their teeth were sharp and rodent like. Their eyes were filled with a burning crimson malice.

If he ran, they would pursue. Such was their way. Any weakness shown was an invitation to feed. So he stopped and glared into the shadows at their approach; trying to place rage and contempt in that gaze. He could slay them with his bow; he had no doubt of that. At this range it would be an easy mark for his arms, even injured as they were. But his arrows were not infinite, and he did not know when he would have the chance to fashion more. So he stood there and glared, and summoned an anger, old and familiar.

It worked. In seconds the red eyes not liking the death and ruin they saw within the stormy grey ones had rescinded into the shadows. He heard their steps grow faint as they drew away. He turned, and walked on.

Time passed. An hour, or two. He was not sure. He could feel the sun beginning to lower into the west however. Daylight was running out. And the streets continued seemingly forever. When the sound of steps returned. More this time. Clittering and clattering on the cobblestones behind him.

He turned. He could see shadows in the fog: a dozen or more. The first face that emerged, red-eyed and filled with chisel teeth, he put an arrow into. The strength of the Avelorn bow was such that the arrow punch clean through the head with the force as if thrown from a tension bolt thrower. Two more followed the first in the blink of an eye. And the remainder of the crowd turned and skittered back into the darkness. He walked on. A half minute later he could hear the sounds of the survivors feeding upon his three victims.

Then the sound he had dreaded came: the steps of those behind were mirrored by echoing steps to both his left and right. He was being pursued by packs of Bone Gnawers now, and they were coming at him from all directions.

He hesitated for a moment. If his strength was with him, he could make a stand here, right in the middle of the street. The strength of the Shadow Prince, even before a horde of such creatures was not something to be trifled with. With sorcerous fire and light he would be able to burn dozens to cinders, and the strength of his rage would allow his blade to bite many more. Yet in the days since the troll bridge not a single sigil had worked for him. For whatever reason the winds of magic were not heeding his call. He was not helpless – far from it – but he could not rely upon sorcery to win this fight. And he was alone.

He gritted his teeth in frustration, and quickened his pace as fast as he dared. He didn’t want to run outright. No that would put the pack clamoring at his heals. But he needed distance. It must not be far from the edge of the city now. Or at least, perhaps he could find a place more defensible. So he walked, in a long ground eating lope, as his eyes probed the streets before him. All the while the clatter of dozens of feet echoed in the alleys behind and around him.

There was a snarl to the right. His bow was in his hand, and the arrow released. The bodkin tip punched through the heart of the Bone Gnawer and dropped it to the ground. In moments two more ran up and started to tear at the flesh of the dead thing. He continued on.

Twice more they came at him. Twice more he used precious arrows to stay their attack, stopping them with well placed shots. But they were growing more cunning in their approach attacking him from both sides now. Soon there would be enough numbers that they would be able to attack him from all sides at once. He doubted he would be able to hold them off.

He turned to the side, and made down a darkened alley, hoping to lose his pursuers on one of the side streets. But as he moved forward the hissing and cries of many more Bone Gnawers echoed from the street before him. A horde waited in that direction. He bared his teeth, turned and climbed a wall, going up and over a hedge wall and then up a waiting trellis beyond. In moments he was upon a rooftop. He looked back….and through the fog behind him he saw what looked to be hundreds of shadowy figures loping down the streets.

“Khaine’s teeth,” he whispered to himself.

He turned quickly and scrambled across the rooftop. At its edge he threw himself full force across the gap and to the shingles of the next building, grunting as he landed on hands and belly. Behind him he could hear the cries of many guttural voices. The sound of running feet. Claws upon brick walls and cobblestones. He got to his feet and sprinted across the slanted roof, trusting in his balance to keep him from sliding off the edge and to the drop some twenty feet below. Another gap. He made for it….

Clawed hands were coming up and over the edge. Many of them. He slid to a stop, turned, and ran for the other edge. Once more he vaulted and landed, this time on his toes, on the opposite roof and without a backward glance continued to sprint.

As he ran a thought occurred to him: they are herding me. Every time he had turned aside the Bone Gnawers had closed in to block his path. But one way, before, was always open. Why? But there was not much time to think or to consider. He ran as fast as he dared across the roof, until…

The gap opened up before him, and there was no waiting rooftop. Instead there was a low stonewall. And beyond that the grey slopes of a hill, covered in tombstones.

But the carrion feeders were gaining on him. He snarled to himself and tossed himself out and over the low wall, hitting the hillside at a roll to disperse the force of his fall. He came up among the tombstones, and already heard the sounds of dozens of clawed feet pursuing him. He sprinted up the hill, his feet passing through the grey mausoleums and moss covered tombs until he emerged out on granite steps leading upwards. More red eyes awaited before him. He turned up the steps and ran.

And he saw through the fog the towering figure of the Cathedral.

He swore to himself. He remembered that building. This was near the north center of the city. He had been turned about! Driven from the edge. Forced to the center to become prey for the Bone Gnawers. The Cathedral sat upon the highest part of the city, the great hill of the Necropolis that had once housed the dead of the mortal nobility of the land. A black, evil place, but a place with stout stonewalls. If he could make it inside and find a narrow place, perhaps he could hold them off. For a while, at least.

The steps ended and he saw the gigantic double doors of the cathedral before him, opened just a crack. He pushed himself through the gap, and with a grunt threw the doors shut behind him. A crossbar was broken down the center of the great doors, so he looked about, and seized the broken plank of a pew and threw it in its place, sealing the doors shut.

Then he turned about. Past the rows of broken pews he saw an alter, overturned, and long since picked clean by the grave robbers and fortune seekers that visited the city. Above that was a gigantic stained glass window. He could see knights and winged horses and blonde maidens with flowers in their hair depicted in the window. Though the grime of the centuries had cast a pallid shade to the depictions: the maidens may have once danced in long white gowns, but now their lithe figures and frozen smiles shown out beyond a curtain of watery browns and greys.

He could not hear sound of pursuit anymore. He turned back to the door and pressed an eye to its crack. He saw the steps leading down, and then the fog. And in the fog, the milling shadows of hundreds of Bone Gnawers. But they were not advancing.

He frowned. That could only mean that there was still some protection to this holy ground – doubtful after all these centuries and horrors this place had witnessed – or….

Or that something else was keeping them at bay.

Khaine’s teeth! He turned around again.

He saw it then, standing in the center aisle among the pews. A tall slender figure in a long white gown, as if in mockery of the figures in the window. He saw the cadaverous face of what once might have been a fair human woman, but the time of undeath had turned the skin to parchment and ravaged the flesh of the body. The eyes were filled with an unnatural yellow light. And the teeth that protruded from the desiccated mouth were long and fanged.

Strigoi. He thought. A blood-drinker from the east. A ghoul queen within this cursed place. Of course, he should have known. A dangerous enough foe even with his powers. He had seen first hand the strength, speed, and sorcery such creatures possessed. And without the strength of the Shadow Prince….

“Well met little, elfling,” the voice, still surprisingly soft and maiden-like called to him. “A tasty morsel has wandered into my home. No. My children brought you here. It is good. We can dine together. And perhaps…I shall not be so lonely in this coming end after all….”

That didn’t sound good to him. No winds to call upon…. But the creature did not know that. Perhaps where strength fails, bravado might prevail?

He let a low, amused chuckle escape his throat. “It has been many centuries since some creature has called me ‘elfling’,” he said and guffawed. “But ‘my lady’,” he called with a mocking bow, “You should choose your dinner guests more carefully.”

As he stood up he threw back his cloak revealing in the wan light of the cathedral the black and gold armor he wore. And waited.

A heartbeat as the yellow eyes took in the sight, and then the monster recoiled, its clawed hand coming up to protect its face.

“No! You!!” the thing hissed. He felt a relief at the recognition he saw in the thing’s emaciated face. The yellow eyes flicking up and down over the ancient armor. But then, slowly the thing straightened, and its eyes sought his face once more. There was a cunning in them.

“But a new god has risen! The old pacts, the old powers are no more. A new Death walks this world and the next. He calls to us. But not to you…. No, the old gods have fallen silent…. You have no power….elfling….”

Uh-oh. He dropped to his knee and released a pair of shots as fast as thought. The magic of the Avelorn bow seemed to glow vibrant as the arrows streaked out through the air towards their target.

And passed right through the green mist that the creature had become. It congealed again and smiled.

Not good! He reached for another flight. But the creature was next to him faster than his eyes could follow. He felt his body picked up and hurled. Then he felt wooden pews shattering beneath the blow of his head and shoulders. He spluttered and coughed as he rolled to a stop.

The bow! The bow was not in his hands! He looked around for it frantically, and saw it lying upon the ground a few paces away, in between a pair of pews still standing. He tried to stand.

But suddenly the creature was upon him, its talons squeezing upon his shoulders as it forced him to the ground. He saw the triumph in its glowing eyes. The hunger upon that hollow mouth. He threw his forehead against the thing’s chin and felt as if he had butted iron. His eyes watered and crossed, and still his arms struggled to hold the thing from his throat.

All these years to end like this…. Was the Shadow Prince to become a creature of undeath…. No… He had to think. Had to focus as he struggled. He had fought these creatures before. What was their weakness? Fire… Yes. And something else…. Old stories from the human lands beneath the shadows of the mountains….

His eyes turned. He saw his satchel laying next to him. And it was squirming….

He braced one arm beneath the thing’s gnashing jaws and with the other hand unclasped the satchel. In a second, the cat had leapt out of the bag hissing and scratching! The vampire reeled backwards, hissing and baring its fangs at the small animal.

He breathed again, released from the thing’s weight. Rolling he reached for the Averlorn bow. He grabbed an arrow, and drew sight. The creature snarled at him just a few paces away. He loosed.

The arrow flew….

And whipped past the creatures head.

“You missed….elfling….” the thing smiled.

“Did I?” he smiled back.

In the back of the cathedral the giant stained glass window shattered with the sound of a thousand crystals dashing upon the ground, as the arrow punched through its center. And beyond, past a gap in the grey clouds, the light of the setting sun streamed through the window, gold and warm.

The vampire hissed and burned in agony. It turned towards him, trying to lunge and escape the light at the same time. He reached behind himself with a practiced hand, and drew and swung Regret. The long sword forged beneath a harvest moon and crafted from purest ithilmar swung down and true. It bit hard and deep into the outstretched arm. With a howl, the creature’s hand lay upon the ground, sizzling in the sunlight.

The thing cried in agony. “How? Why??!!!”

He felt the rage building in him as he stepped towards the thing. His eyes clouding over with bloodlust and hatred. Through gritted teeth, he said:

“I told you….”

“I am the Shadow Prince.”

The yellow eyes stared into his face. And there was horror there. “No. The old gods! No!!”

His sword pierced the thing’s chest not gently. He stabbed and stabbed again.

***

He kicked open the cathedral’s doors. In the last light of the setting sun, he looked down and could see the milling throngs of Bone Gnawers waiting. Waiting for him. He stood, staring down at them for a long moment. And then he flung his left hand forward. With a wet thud, the vampress’ head fell upon the steps and then flopped down them, rolling towards the waiting monsters below.

With two hands he gripped Regret and held the blade up and close to his cheek.

“Who is next?!” he called.

The horde of monsters waivered for a moment. Then with cries of hunger and rage they surged up the steps.

So THIS is the end.

Well, let it be a good one.

He yelled back, and charged down the steps, drawing Regret high over his head.

And then….

He heard the clarion cry of a silver trumpet, and the thunder of shod hooves upon cobblestones. And from out of the mists…. Knights garbed in silver! Knights on white steeds, with lances lowered and pennants flying in the breeze! The charge of the knights struck the back of the horde. Lance pierced body and heavy hoof crushed skull and rib. The monsters died by the dozen under the massive weight and fury of the oncoming riders!

He cut down three of the beasts, before the crowd before him dissipated in a rout. With great weariness he sat down upon the stone steps. He watched the knights turn and chase the stragglers down the streets.

And from the raised lances he saw pennants stream. Upon them… the white griffon of Yvresse….

Loec plays with me still, he thought.


***


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PostPosted: Thu Dec 18, 2014 6:12 am 
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Quote:
“What I wouldn’t give for some Romani hash right now.”


Tell Tim to stop galivanting around mon'keigh lands like some common Ellyrian and get to Athel Loren, we've got all the hash he can handle.

:wink:

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Smiths in Nagarythe that can repair the holiest piece of armour worn by the Shadow Prince himself... 0 apparently.


Duct tape counts!!


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PostPosted: Thu Dec 18, 2014 8:01 am 
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I am feeling a bit sorry for Regret. Though it's good to see that there is some fight left in the line of Shadow Princes. As mentioned elsewhere, they're an ancient institution from a time past. And have a bit of trouble adapting to the new world order...

Great read of course.

Rod

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PostPosted: Thu Dec 18, 2014 8:04 pm 
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Part Four – The Ruined Castle


He waited on the steps until one of the knights rode to a stop before him. The rider reached up and removed his helmet revealing long flowing hair, tied back from the temples, and a handsome face set around a hawk nose. He stood and the rider looked at him.

“When my scouts told me of a commotion occurring throughout the city, I knew the cause. I knew it could only be you,” the rider said with a shake of his head and a small smile upon his lips. “Well met, Shadow Prince.”

“And you as well, Prince Elessehta. Your arrival is most welcome,” he answered.

“Come,” he gestured towards him and turning in his saddle called back to his knights, “A steed for our guest. Quickly now!” Once more facing the tall Nagarathi the Yvressi lord said, “We musn’t tarry. Those creatures are easily startled. But they will be back, and in greater numbers. We can speak more once we are clear of this cursed place.”

A horse was procured and in good order he mounted and followed the knights up the cobbled streets until, at a relief, he saw the northern gate of the Cursed City before them. They passed under the broken walls at a canter and out into a grey moor of a countryside beyond. In minutes, the road had turned westward to follow the line of the coast and he could hear and see the spray of the sea breaking upon white cliffs to his left. And there, in the distance, crouched atop a cliff, the ruins of a castle. It was a mortal affair, built without an eye to either beauty or height; squat, covered with too many crenelated walls and round towers. Piles of rubble lay at the its base and filled what once must have been a moat cordoning off the headland it sat on from the vast moor that surrounded it. It was ugly and it was broken, but for that moment he did not care; he was simply gladdened to be among friends again.

They passed through the gaping castle gate. The portcullis lay in a twisted ruin to the side of the main archway; a testimony to some ancient siege and fire. Beyond the entrance was a courtyard, once more filled with piles of rubble from which weeds protruded. A pair of Yvressi standards in bright colors stood at opposite ends of the courtyard, looking extremely out of place in their drab and sullen surroundings. Prince Elessehta stopped his steed and his knights followed. Soon they were dismounting as squires hurried forth from a makeshift stable to assist their lords.

There was a squeal of delight and a small child ran out from the barn to seize upon Elessehta’s waist. “Papa!” the girl cried as she gripped the elf lord. Elessehta swept her up in an embrace raising her up from the ground and placing a kiss upon one rosy cheek. As he held her high the Nagarathi recognized her: the same girl he had met in the camp upon the Silent Isle. Elessehta noticed his expression.

“I see you have met my best agent,” he called out with a chuckle. “She came ashore yesterday with news of you. And glad am I that she did! With you here, we can finally see about getting these proceedings started.”

“Proceedings?” he asked, patting the horse on the shoulder as he stepped away. “What is taking place here?”

Elessehta’s eyebrows shot up. “Then you do not know?”

The Nagarathi shook his head. “I have been alone and tracking though snow and rock and ruin for the better part of two years, my friend. In all that time I was dumb to the outside world. I have heard the strangest utterings since I’ve returned. What has happened?”

Prince Elessehta placed the girl upon the ground. “’Essele, run to the kitchen and find me something to eat. I will join you shortly.”

“But papa!” the girl started to protest.

The Nagarathi stepped forward. “And perhaps you could see to my charge,” he added with a smile as he opened his satchel. “He is the most brave of felines. A true enemy of darkness. And for that, I think he deserves a bowl of cream.” At sight of the cat the girl’s face lit up and she smiled with squeals of delight as she embraced the animal. She turned and sprinted with cat in arms across the courtyard.

Elessehta turned and walked slowly in the opposite direction. The Nagarathi fell in beside him. “It has been a most tumultuous year,” the Yvressi said in a tired voice. “Calamity after calamity has befallen us.”

He readied himself. “Tell me.”

“War tore Ulthuan apart,” Prince Elessehta continued. “The Eagle Gate fell. After six thousand years and onslaught innumerable…she finally fell. And the armies of darkness marched across our kingdoms.”

It was as he feared. The armies of the north had returned in his absence. In strength it would seem. Still, to break the defenses at the Eagle Gate? Only his worst nightmares saw that outcome. “How?” he asked.

The Yvressi’s face tightened in pain. “Treachery,” he spat the word out. “Treachery most vile. But that is not the worst of it.” The Yvressi prince slowed his stride and looked at him. “Malekith was victorious. He defeated the armies led by Prince Tyrion, and now rules from the Phoenix Throne. He…he passed through the flame and is Asuryan reborn.”

He could feel the muscles in his face tighten. The eyes seeming to squeeze in their sockets at those words. Thoughts shot through his mind like chaotic fireflies, lighting and disappearing all at once.

“And there is more,” the Prince said in a voice solemn and pained. “Ulthuan… The Vortex… The ancient magics collapsed. Or were undone. The Vortex turned in on itself. And with its destruction, so fell Ulthuan. The island… All ten kingdoms… were torn asunder and sank beneath the Great Ocean.” The Yvressi Prince’s voice broke and he swallowed. “Ulthuan is no more.”

There was nothing. Just a blackness at those words. He stood and breathed, and yet nothing.

He was aware of the Yvressi Prince still standing beside him, though it felt as if he might be a thousand miles away. The Prince was gesturing towards an opening in the castle wall and a stairwell that waited beyond. “Tomorrow there will be a Conclave. Perhaps the last this world will know. A Shadow Conclave in honor of once was. And we must make decisions on what to do with our remaining days. But in the meantime, there is another that you should speak with, Shadow Prince. He has been waiting for you. I…I think you should go and talk with him. He…he is not at his best.”

Somehow he felt himself nod and pass through the indicated arch. He even managed to climb a few of the steps, until he was certain he was alone and out of view of those in the courtyard, before he stopped. His eyes wavered. The world seemed to tumble and slip around him. His hand darted out and tried to seize upon the stair wall. Everything…. It was all…tight about him. A dark corner, closing, closing fast upon him. His breath came in short, raspy pants, as if he were breathing through a burlap sack.

Ulthuan gone! Saphery! Eataine! Cothique! Chrace! All the ten kingdoms! Gone!! Beneath the sea!! As in the Sundering. But made a thousand times worse! The nightmare visions of that time. The memories of the first Shadow Prince welled up into what was left of his mind. Torrents of water rushing across field; tearing oak from root; crushing wall and dam. The bodies being swept up high in the wake. Dashed upon stone, and then dragged out to sea!

NO!!

Nagarythe…. Nagarythe… His home. Everything he had fought for. Had watched his friends die for…. The flowers in the high meadows…. The fern filled canyons and gullies of the western hills…. The Black Forests of the eastern reaches filled with crimson elder berries, and legends of the White Hart…. The tombs of his forebrothers…. All gone.

All gone.

All gone.

All gone.

He couldn’t think. Couldn’t breathe. Those words repeated themselves over and over again, and the world was no more with them.

Perhaps Elessehta lied. The thought like a flash of lightning penetrated the darkness. But no, even now he couldn’t believe that. He had known the Yvressi for many decades. Had known his wife even longer. Numbered them among his few friends. He would not deceive him on such a matter. If he said it, then it must be so. Or at least, believe it to be.

Perhaps he was misinformed….

That small area of doubt. That infitesimal notion of possibility, allowed his feet to come to life once more and continue climbing the steps. The stairs passed before him as if through a tunnel, and he was standing at a closed door. Without knocking, he seized upon the handle and pulled it open. The stench of spilt wine buffeted him. He stepped inside.

“You,” a voice greeted, weary and bitter beyond measure. “You,” the word repeated, and there was a slurring to it. “They told me you were dead. I told them they were fools.”

Prince Malossar of Caledor sat alone at a long table, a trio of decanters before him. Two lay upon their sides, with some of their contents spilled across the wooden table top. The third was lifted clumsily to fill a flagon until it too overflowed upon the table. The flagon tipped, and spilled, and there were curses. Behind the elf lord a fireplace with only a wisp of flame and a pile of embers in it provided the room’s only light. The Nagarathi sat down at the end of the table without word or greeting.

“I said,” the Caledorian prince continue, flagon once more in hand. “That when the Shadow Prince dies the world will know it! Even…. Even in…. Even in times like these!!” He gulped at the wine, spilling some across his chin and down his torn and stained doublet.

In the ruddy light the Nagarathi could see the Caledorian prince. The handsome side of his face was to him: a tall nose, and high cheekbones, with an eye both bright and black with age and experience. He knew that in the other side, no matching orb shone forth; it was hidden under a leather patch and scar gained many years before. That side of the face had been ruined by battle, the one scar joined by two more. But on this side, the ancient Caledorian prince still bore the visage of his noble father, Mentheus, the conqueror and knight protector.

Today though, the rest of him did not match his noble lineage. His shirt was drenched. His long platinum hair was matted and unkempt. His lips were swollen. And his eye wandered.

“The Shadow Prince doesn’t die with a whimper!! He…he dies with a roar!! Like a…. like a…dragon!!!” the Caledorian bellowed. But then his head fell and his face was lost to shadows. The warrior’s broad shoulders began to shake. Whether from grief or rage he could not tell. In time words escaped that huddled figure:

“You were gone. Gone. Disappeared into the east. When we needed you….”

He felt his head hang. Felt a pain fresh and poignant in his breast. “I am sorry,” he whispered.

The Caledorian’s words came again, dead in tone and yet somehow still full of suffering:

“Spite…. Vaal…. My friend…. He would have been there. He wouldn’t have abandoned us. He…he wouldn’t have let this happen…..”

The pain inside him redoubled. He had failed. He knew it. Had known it since he first put the armor on. He was a failure. He had let down everyone that depended upon him. “I…am sorry,” he whispered again.

“Vaal…is dead. Kurnion is dead. I am the last. The last of the three. No more. To linger in this broken world….”

That was new to him. “How did Kurnion die?” he asked.

The figure reared up from its hunched position and the black eye blazed with rage. “Imrik! Imrik that traitorous bastard!! He slew him. Slew him upon the hills of Tor Choi! In single combat! And his dragon tore the body asunder!! Ah!! At the head of the Black Host!! My friend! Felled by treason!!”

He couldn’t believe his ears. “Imrik?! Imrik turned traitor?!”

“Aye. May Khaine feast upon his bones!! That bastard claimed my vassals!! He took my army from me! The dragons of my house!!! All but Adder. They flew north! I thought…I thought to lift the siege. But no!!! Gods, no!!! Let this not be happening…. Let this not be happening….” The Caledorian reared up in his rage and grief and threw his flagon against the wall where it shattered into pieces. Then he gripped his head in both hands as he slipped back into his seat. “Caledor turned traitor! Standing shoulder to shoulder with the Witch King!! And for what? Dragon eggs! And pride!”

The Nagarathi stared at the wall before him. There were ghosts in the room now. Ghosts waiting in the shadows. The room was full of them. One stepped forward and claimed the seat opposite of him. He saw the familiar face. The knot of white braids about a face that was all scar around a pair of obsidian shards. The pink gash across the throat. And then that same gravelly voice.

“It’s been some time, boy.”

“Tanith?” he whispered.

“Don’t act so surprised,” the shade said with a guffaw. “You knew that I wouldn’t pass up the chance to say ‘I told you so’. That’s why I’m here.”

“I…”

“What did I always tell you?” the old Shadow Walker barked.

And it was just like he was a fresh recruit, new to the Host once more, his breeches still soiled after his first battle. And, he knew what he spoke of. “Never trust a Caledorian,” he whispered.

“Aye. They will turn on you. Always.” The eyes glared at him. “They are play warriors. They play at war in between tying ribbons in their hair. They aren’t like us ‘Rathi. They don’t know what it is to fight, really fight, for all that you are worth.”

“I…I didn’t…” And there was nothing to say. No. There was something to say.

He looked to the shade across the table. “I miss you, old crab.”

And the shade settle back in his chair and sent him a sad smile past all those twisted scars. “I miss you too, Romani dirt farmer….”

“I….”

“What? What did you say?” came to the slurred words of the Caledorian prince.

The shade was gone. He blinked and saw Prince Malossar trying to fill another flagon. He could see the debris of many others lying on the floor about the room. The Caledorian had obviously been here for some time.

“I went to Nagarythe you know,” the dragon lord said between sloshes of his shaking cup. “I took what remained loyal of my house and went to Nagarythe. Skulked to the Shadowlands, they said. And I did! I found the Host. We fought as hard as we could. In Chrace. And then, when it got worse…. When Tyrion took the sword…”

“What?!” the Nagarathi snapped, sitting up suddenly and surprising the Caledorian out of his stupor. “What did Tyrion do?!”

“He claimed the Sword of Khaine. The Widowmaker. From the Shrine,” the Caledorian glared back at him with his one good eye.

No. No. No. That was wrong. No. That was utter foolishness. Madness!! Tyrion. He had met Tyrion several times. He…he was many things. Handsome. Charming. Courageous. Stalwart. And yet…

He had never liked him. There was something…. Something hollow about his core. He was an elf that had never been tested. Not truly. Someone for whom the exceptional came easy. Someone for whom what he wanted was always within his grasp. Who had never failed, and failed hard. He did not have that hardness to him. That humility that came with trying with all your heart and still failing to reach. To get up in the morning and look in the mirror and continue on, knowing that all your dreams were not possible. But what was, was enough. Tyrion was no match for the Sword. He wasn’t even fit to be a Shadow Prince. To die to the sword’s blade. Let alone claim it!

But Malossar was continuing to speak. “We fled Ulthuan then. As many as I could take. From Caledor and Nagarythe and Chrace. Went by ship north to Calaydra.” He shook his head. “Lili came. And is with me,” he added with an almost sheepish look in his direction.

It seemed that the Caledorian was trying to convey something with those words but he did not have time to heed them. His mind was reeling with the sudden ramifications of Tyrion claiming the awful power of the Sword of Khaine!

“What happened?!” he asked fervently.

“He took the sword, and led the armies as Khaine’s avatar,” the Caledorian explained slowly. “Until he was defeated. By Teclis, his own brother. Or the Witch King. The reports are confused….”

“And the Sword? What became of the Sword?!”

“They say it was undone. Unmade and cast from this world. By the power of the new Asuryan,” he finished with a bitter laugh.

The Nagarathi staggered to his feet. Suddenly it all made sense. His fading power. The whispers of the others that had come before him. All drifting into oblivion! Because the Sword. The artifact of Khaine in this world; that which bound the Shadow Princes to the Netherrealms! Was…no more….

And so… The Shadow Prince was no more….? He was lost. They are all lost to us? The voices. The memories. The wisdom of six thousand years!!

He lurched towards the door, his mind reeling and tumbling as thought battered thought. His hand had seized upon the handle when the Caledorian’s voice cut through his inner turmoil.

“NAGARATHI!!!” Malossar yelled. He turned to look. The Dragon Lord was staring at him with his one black eye.

“You told me once…. You said to me…. That even if these be the last days of the Asur…. That we should face our end… as the Heroes of old!! Sword raised against evil!!”

He turned back to his cup and drained it at one go. Wiping his mouth, he muttered, “But what now? When all I see is evil all around me? And the world falls away beneath my feet. What now? Where shall I bare my sword? Who do I stand to protect?! What would… What would the heroes of old do now? Tell me! TELL ME!!!”

Another flagon shattered against the wall, and the Caledorian slumped in his seat. His shoulders curved in on themselves. He shuddered.

“Tell me… please….”

He had no words to share. He turned and left the room, leaving the Dragon Lord to his brooding.


***


Last edited by Headshot on Sat Dec 20, 2014 6:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Thu Dec 18, 2014 8:52 pm 
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Location: Tor Lupa, Saphery (or Manchester, England)
Wow. I've just been asked if I'm ok. The grief of Regret (or is he back to being Narrin'Tim now?)and Mal comes across really strongly. You really are a master of emotions. Fantastic stuff.

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rdghuizing wrote:
Besides, the battle of Finuval Plain was more a minor skirmish anyway. A good enough summary would have been "Teclis and Malekith ran into each other. Teclis cast The Dwellers Below on Malekith with IF, and Malekith failed his Strength test." Not much more to it then that really.


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PostPosted: Thu Dec 18, 2014 9:45 pm 
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=D>

God damn headshot. Just, god damn.

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Makiwara wrote:
Smiths in Nagarythe that can repair the holiest piece of armour worn by the Shadow Prince himself... 0 apparently.


Duct tape counts!!


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PostPosted: Fri Dec 19, 2014 1:04 am 
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And the enormity of Ulthuan sinking finally hits you.

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Im not above whoring myself for a good cause. ;)


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PostPosted: Fri Dec 19, 2014 7:08 pm 
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Annddd I know where my vote is going... lol well done headshot, as always.

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 22, 2014 10:11 pm 
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Part Five – The Shadow Conclave


Sleep would not come to him and thus the opportunity to wake and believe that everything that had happened was just the imaginings of some cruel nightmare was denied him as well. Instead pain and panic sat atop his head like a shroud, omnipresent, and coloring everything he saw, every breath he drew. He sat alone in the room provided him until the walls threatened madness, and then he went outside to spend the night walking barren ramparts; a lonely vigil with only the clouds and moonlight for company. In the morning he saw ships nestled in a cove at the base of the cliff behind the castle. His feet drew him there.

It was a small harbor, sheltered from the currents of the sea by the projection of the castle cliff. The stone quay upon which the ships clustered looked old and weathered. Perhaps elvish; though that was impossible to say, as the tides had turned the structure into little more than a long pile of stones, built and rebuilt more than once. But the ships were at least familiar: hawkships from Yvresse; shallow draft longships from Chrace; even a wide-bodied Ellyrion schooner sat and waited there. And there was one, towering above all the others at the end of the docks. A new arrival – he had not seen it there earlier - an Eagleship, a mighty ship of the line of the Asur fleet, stood tall and proud. And he knew her colors.

A familiar figure was walking down the gangplank from the Eagleship. A smile lit up the handsome features.

“Well, well! As I live and breathe! The Shadow Prince of Nagarythe! Here! Before me! Hah! I bet there are many a curse being uttered beneath the boughs of Athel Loren this morning!”

“Aerion Flynn,” the Nagarathi greeted with a nod. His eyes wandered to the Eagleship behind the Eatainian captain. “You serve Spires now?”

Flynn came forward still beaming from ear to ear and seized his arm to shake it in the northern fashion. Aerion Flynn was from the south of Ulthuan but he had lived and worked in Nagarythe for so many years that he had adopted many northern customs.

Though did any of that matter anymore….

“Yes. Yes I do,” Flynn answered with a chuckle. “Spires has the largest fleet now, and he needs captains with experience. And he made me quite the offer!” He swept his arm back behind him indicating the vessel there. “I got a bigger boat!” He laughed like a young boy opening his winterfest presents. “More sail! More crew! More silver! And a manor! Did I mention the manor I received? No? Well it is quite lovely. Hibiscus in the garden! Oh, and three maidens to clean the place. And occasionally to give me baths,” he added with a sly wink and a rueful chuckle. “All in all, not a bad way to spend Armageddon,” he finished with another laugh.

The Nagarathi said nothing. He turned and slowly walked back down the quay. Flynn fell in beside him. “Besides,” the Eatainian continued. “I am not trading in an ocean going vessel for some riverboat scow! What use is there for me traipsing about the trees of Athel Loren? No! It’s a mariner’s life for me! Or none at all.”

He sent the seafarer a sidelong glance. Flynn’s easygoing countenance colored a bit. “Now don’t look at me like that,” the Eatainian groused. “What choice did I have? The Fleet scattered or surrendered. And there is no way that I would serve…him.” He shook his head. “I guess some Nagarathi rubbed off on me after all.” He closed his eyes. “No, not after all I’ve seen. I couldn’t swear the oath to the new King…. So it was off to the east, and safer harbors.” He opened his eyes. “Now I lead the van squadron of the fleet of the City of Spires.”

The Nagarathi said nothing. Flynn glanced around. “That is when I am not running these little errands now,” the Eatainian continued and gestured towards the elf disembarking from the ship behind. The Nagarathi looked back. He saw a shaven headed elf wearing robes of white and purple. An eastern minister’s garb. And a familiar face.

Aerion Flynn rubbed the back of his neck as he looked up at the ruined castle above them. “Now let us see what this little shindig of Prince Elessehta has to say….”

***

There was a hall in the castle’s main keep; just a box of grey granite with some support columns that had been swept clean by Ellesehta’s servants. As he entered he could see that on the seaward side the windows had been thrown open, allowing the morning sun and ocean breeze to waft in; on the opposite side stood a hearth from which a fire roared. Warming braziers filled with charcoal had been scattered about the room to provide additional heat and light. The center of the room was filled with a long wooden table about which sat a score or more mismatched chairs.

About a dozen of the chairs were occupied. He knew most of the occupants - if not personally than by reputation. Elessehta was there of course; as was Malossar, now cleanly dressed and face washed, if his eye still seemed a bit ruddy from the previous day. And around them sat a collection of lords wearing a hodgepodge of clothing and armor gathered from the other ten kingdoms of Ulthuan.

Which were no more…. He closed his eyes and waited a moment, before opening them and continuing on.

One face in particular he knew very well, and upon first seeing it, for a second, a nest of feelings burst into his chest. Fear. Hope. Despair. For he knew this face too well. When the boy was still a youth he had seen to it that he was carried forth from Nagarythe and through the mountains to the vales of Chrace….the last wish of the father. Long had he watched him from afar, watched him grow, saw to his safety in secret, never before to meet in person…. But the resemblance was striking and that was what had sent his soul into turmoil. But no, the father was not here. Here was Lord Trian…formerly of Tor Choi….ward of Prince Kurnion, dressed in a worn cloak of white lion’s fur, and a shirt of Chracian mail.

He walked around to the far side of the table. He could not sit down - he felt as if to do so he would fold in upon himself and disappear – instead he took a position before one of the columns next to the table. Arms folded across his chest he nodded to Prince Elessehta to let him know that he was ready.

The Yvressi prince slowly stood up. “Welcome my friends. Thank you all for responding to my call,” he glanced around the table his eyes seeming to linger moment by moment on the faces of the others gathered at the table. The colonial Minister sat at one end and nodded politely when the Yvressi’s eyes reached him.

Elessehta returned to his seat. “You will forgive me if I do not stand on ceremony or tradition today. Our need is too pressing.” He paused. “We have gathered in this place, near the center of our old colonies because I desired a meeting place as available as possible to all of us fleeing the disaster. I had…hoped that more would have joined us,” he said glancing at the empty seats along the table. He shook his head and continued, “I chose this place also out of the hopes that the dark magics gathered in the Cursed City nearby would shelter us from the Everqueen’s scrying gaze. However, I am uncertain if and for how long that screening will work.”

As Elessehta’s voice ended there was a silence about the table as those present digested the meaning of his words. One lord finally shook his head. “Has it come to this? Do we now hide from Isha’s sight like the haunted creatures of the wood?”

“I am afraid so,” Prince Elessehta responded grimly. “And now it is up to us to decide what road we shall travel over our coming days. Whether it is to be singly or together, I have called us here so that we can share council and decide what is best for we few remaining…independents.”

“What choices are set before us?” a lord from Tiranoc said glumly as he stared at the stained wooden table before them. The mortal-made furnishing was a far cry from the craftsmanship of an Asur table, and the lowly surroundings seemed to impart a desperation to the prince. His face was filled with contempt. “We submit to the Witch King, and die on his Black Guard’s axes. Or we die of hunger as winter sets in and the last of our stores is devoured.”

“Bah! It is not so grim as that,” Malossar snarled. “There is Calaydra. We have crops in the fields and fishing nets in the sea. Food can be found and provided.”

“And some of us have holdings in the Old Colonies,” Prince Elessehta added. “Lands long nurtured. Others seek new lands to settle,” he finished and gestured towards young Prince Trian.

The youth, now the center of the room’s attention, stirred. “It is true. My Auntie… Princess Tarabeth… has taken what remains of our house to the highlands of Albion and is even now searching for a new fastness in which to build. Though whether our stores will be able to see us through the winter… Or that we can get new crops in time, is uncertain.”

A Cothique lady was shaking her head. “I have seen the holdings of Calaydra. It is not enough to support all those represented in this room. Not even a half of it. There would be starvation.”

“Then seek new lands. Fertile ones. Across the sea!” Malossar snapped back. “Hurry and plant crops before the weather turns. Or if you cannot, raid the mortal coasts. They must have stores fat with grain. Take them!”

There was a grumbling among the lords at this. The Tirani glared at Malossar. “Are we to become pirates then? Shall we transform ourselves into creatures like the Corsairs of the Druchii?”

“If need be!” Malossar slapped his hand upon the table. “Necessity is our mistress now. And I would rather turn pirate then starve! Or swear allegiance to the Witch King!”

More grumbling escaped the collective lords’ throats. A lord from Ellyrion rose and shook his head. “But what of the Chaos incursion, my lords? Even if we should find sustenance and succor to see us through this winter, the armies of the north march ever southward. In the east and south it is said that there are hordes of undead that are spreading across the continents and building Black Cities that pantomime the dwellings of the ancients. The goblins are uneasy in their mountain holdings, and the Ogres march to war. What shall we do about this? How shall we stem this tide? Is it not our duty as Asur to step forth and be a bulwark to this evil??”

“But with the Vortex gone, is there even any hope to stopping the approach of Chaos?” a young Sapherian prince asked.

“Then we will do without hope,” Malossar declared grimly. “We will fight when and where we must. But our first needs must be to ensure that we pass the winter. What good will swords do if famine is our enemy?”

The Sapherian sighed and slumped in his chair. “Our only hope is in Athel Loren.” Those gathered grumbled darkly at that. “What choice do we have? Even together with walls tall and strong we are not powerful enough to turn back the armies coming from the north. You have fought the daemons as have I! You know this to be true! Without the white magics of Averlorn there is no chance for us! We must swallow our pride and return to the Everqueen’s side!”

Shouts erupted, full of anger and hatred. Words like ‘Betrayer!’ and ‘Death!’ filled the air. It was bedlam of confusion and venom for a half minute. But then, strangely enough, it was the shaven headed colonial that restored quiet. He stood from his chair and extended his hands above the table in a calming gesture. It was so untoward and unexpected that the cries died in the collective lords’ throats.

“My lords and ladies,” the Minister said in the calm that followed. “There is another alternative. In the east there is land aplenty, and silos and warehouses filled to bursting with grain and foodstuffs,” he said calmly as his eyes swept over the room. “There are mines that produce ingots of rich ithilmar, pure and filled with moonlight glow. There is a harbor both deep and wide from which a fleet led by two Dragon prows, guards our sea lanes. There are schools and there are homes aplenty. High walls to defend and alliances already forged. There is a Blue Tower standing tall and nobly, within which young magi learn the craft of the True magic. Learning how to bind and unbind the foul sorceries of the enemy’s servants. Already, several Loremasters of Hoeth have joined us there.” His eyes swept across the table once more. “And there are nests of dragons, old and young. Waiting to be trained. Waiting for riders to lead them into battle.”

There was silence in the room as those gathered listened to the Minister’s voice. Some looked thoughtful. Others, like Malossar, looked as if they had just bitten of an over-sour lime.

The Minister continued. “The City of Spires can shelter and defend you. It is strong and well fortified. And our wealth is beyond a doubt. It can become a new haven. A new seat for the Ever Empire,” the Minister said has his eyes held those in attendance. “All that is asked of you is an oath of fealty….”

“NEVER!!!!” Malossar hissed. “I would sooner chew my own right arm off than swear and oath to that poisonous leech!!”

There were shouts of agreement, though others of dissent, at the Caledorian’s outburst.

The Minister shook his head. “You would rather risk starvation? Or to stand alone before the might of Chaos??” He looked with furrowed brows at the Caledorian. “It is well known that the might of your house is much reduced Prince Malossar. That most of your dragons are gone.” The colonial swept his gaze over the table’s occupants. “And it is likewise for the others gathered here. Your lands are sunk beneath the sea. As is most of your wealth and support! Much of your armies that have not already been slain, have defected. You barely command a tenth of what you did before! And of that, it is uncertain how much longer the holds of your ships will be able to feed them!” He shook his head in apparent wonderment. “My Prince offers you a chance for an alliance. A safe haven to weather the storm to come! And yet you rebuke this extended hand of compassion with so little effort at courtesy!”

More shouts and grumbles followed. Prince Elessehta waved those present into silence. He addressed the colonial. “You speak of oaths. And a new seat of the Empire. With what, I ask. Will Spires now lay claim to the Phoenix Throne? Does he seek further civil war? Already knowing the cost the Asur have born?! Does he seek to elevate himself to the Phoenix Crown??!”

The Minister looked across the table with a saddened expression. “You do my lord a disservice, noble Elessehta. I call my liege the Prince of Spires for a ‘prince’ he shall remain. He seeks no loftier title. He simply wishes an alliance. A new Conclave to be formed in the City of Spires…where he will be the first among equals….”

“NEVER!!!” Malossar roared again, and bedlam ensued. It took some time before the efforts of Elessehta and the Minister had returned order to the room.

It was the Tirani lord that spoke next. “You say a ‘first among equals’. But by my reckoning Spires will still control the ithilmar mines. He will still dictate the terms of his harbor and shipping. He will still be master of his sorcerer’s tower, and will collect duties on his abundant trade. And now, in addition, he will be our landlord.” The prince’s eyebrows shot up. “That is some ‘first among equals’.”

The Minister smiled thinly. “He is extending the beneficence of his largesse to those in need. Do not condemn him for the foresight to prepare. And for the blessings of Lileath and Loec upon his holdings.”

That led to a new round of shouts and sarcastic snorts and catcalls. Once more when order had been restored, Elessehta addressed the colonial.

“As you have been keen to point out, Minister, that our fortunes and strength are diminished from what they were before,” he said his eyes hard and his face grim. “Why then does Spires seek this alliance? Why come all this way to court a force so weakened?”

“Why?” the Minister responded in a pleasant voice. “Because Prince Elessehta,” he said softly, “There are names in this room alone that are worth ten thousand spears. Yourself.” His eyes moved across the table. “The Lord-Marshall of eastern Caledor, Prince Malossar.” The Caledorian’s face darkened. “The Falcon Prince of Ellyrion who held the plains for a week and a day against an army thrice his in size….” The eyes turned. “Lord Olanus of Tiranoc, the faithful Sentinel of the Eagle gate, who might still be holding those hallowed walls if not for betrayal…” The Tirani’s face turned white with rage at the mention of what befell his command, and his ancient eyes were filled with ghosts and whispers. “And…” the Minister’s eyes left the table. “The Shadow Prince of Nagarythe….”

He felt all the eyes of the table drift up and over and seemingly to notice him for the first time. He said nothing, and kept his own gaze fixed upon the stone floor before him.

“Your allegiance,” the Minister continued, “would go a great way in providing legitimacy and support to my City. And would greatly strengthen our claim as the new, rightful, heart of the Ever Empire,” he said calmly. “And would serve as a counterpoint to the claims of those that now dwell in Athel Loren….”

A long silence followed the Minister’s speech. Finally, the young Sapheri prince muttered, “It is something to be considered. And in Spires we would be far from the Dark Powers. Certainly farther than such a place like the wilds of Albion.”

At mention of the northern isle many glanced over at young Prince Trian, whose face was lost in thought. Finally the young lord spoke, in a voice soft but one that somehow still managed to carry across the room:

“Would we still be Asur?” he whispered.

“What? What is that?” Malossar glared.

Trian looked up from his contemplation. His eyes were sad but thoughtful. “If the Witch King has truly received the favor of Asuryan…. Has passed through the sacred flames, as all the reports seem to indicate…. Would those that refuse to follow him still deserve the title of ‘Asur’?” The boy prince looked about the table, his face in pain. “We would be turning from our gods,” he said. “If they have truly shown favor to Athel Loren…. We would be godless. More than heretics. We would be abandoned….”

At his words a stunned silence filled the room, and no one spoke for many a minute. Finally Elessehta cleared his throat, and in a voice filled with weariness and remorse, said, “A decision must be made, I…”

Suddenly the door to the hall was thrown open and a Yvressi guard burst in.

“What is the meaning of this?” Elesshta demanded.

The guard fell to one knee. “My apologies my prince!” he called. “But a rider approaches! Carrying the white flag of parley… and the Phoenix Pennant!”

Elessehta stood. “An envoy then,” he muttered aloud. “So soon!” To the guard he said, “And they come alone?”

“Yes, my lord.”

“Send out more scouts. Make sure this is so.” He looked to the others about the room. “Forgive me. I must meet with this envoy it seems-“

“Begging your pardon, my lord. But the envoy sent word through our scouts already,” the guard said, shivering. “And, they ask not to meet with you or your council, my lord….”

The guard looked up, his face stunned.

“They ask to meet with the…. “ he said, then swallowed.

“With the Shadow Prince of Nagarythe! Alone!”


***


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PostPosted: Wed Dec 24, 2014 1:17 pm 
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I can't help but feel Ackbar's quote is appropriate here. "It's a trap!"

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rdghuizing wrote:
Besides, the battle of Finuval Plain was more a minor skirmish anyway. A good enough summary would have been "Teclis and Malekith ran into each other. Teclis cast The Dwellers Below on Malekith with IF, and Malekith failed his Strength test." Not much more to it then that really.


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PostPosted: Wed Dec 24, 2014 7:43 pm 
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Part Six – The Envoy


He stood and waited alone in the room that Prince Elessehta provided. The room was just a storage cell in one of the outer keeps, empty and unfurnished. There was a crumbling hole in one wall through which a patch of grey sky was visible. Up in the rafters, near the hole, he saw a pile of bramble. A starling sat there and watched him with cautious eyes.

The door opened. He turned.

“Tim….” A woman’s voice greeted.

And it was her. She was standing there before him. He saw her face, heart shaped and beautiful beyond words, despite the centuries and the faded white scars on both cheeks. Saw her slight figure garbed in a gown of lustrous silver - and longed to reach out and hold her. Saw her hair, the golden ringlets shimmering like a halo….

“Anna’lis….” he breathed.

And then he saw the feathers in the hair. The long bright colors of phoenix feathers, tied into a bundle behind one ear. The mark of an envoy of the King. And….

His heart, which had been pattering like a small bird in his chest, seemed to stop. A pit opened inside his stomach.

“You… are here… from the Witch King?” the words crawled from his throat.

The woman looked at him, her deep blue eyes, bright as a falcon’s, held him for an eternity.

“No,” she said softly. “I come from the Phoenix King.”

He turned and faced the wall, feeling a numbness spreading through him. Shock and disbelief. A pain in his sternum and a quivering to his face.

“Speak,” he managed.

“Tim, I….” she began. A moment passed in silence. “Tim, you must stop this. Stop this senseless fighting! Please! I implore you!” When he said nothing, she continued, “Please speak with the others. They would listen to you! You know this to be true. How many of them stay just because of your legend? The belief that the Shadow Prince will save them. If you lay down your sword, they will do the same. And peace will return to the elves. A peace like we have not known since the dawn of the world!”

Peace? He thought wearily. He had heard the word before, but he had never known it. Not in all his long centuries. There were those that said they fought for peace; but not in Nagarythe. No Nagarathi knew of peace.

“Please Tim, I…” the girl continued. She hesitated. “I bring terms from the Phoenix court. The… King says… They say…. That a pardon is offered to all those gathered here. If they only will make good their oaths and come pay respects to the throne in Athel Loren. Their titles and rights will be reinstated! They will be lords amongst the Asur again!”

Yes, the barter.

He closed his eyes. “And me?” he said softly. “I am to the headsman’s block? Is that the price for their lives and futures?”

To die…. For the people. Wasn’t that his apportioned fate? Wasn’t that the oath he had taken?

He could hear the girl shaking her head. “No, Tim. The King…. I spoke with the Everqueen, Tim. I went before her and pleaded with her! She has agreed to spare your life. You will be… you will be sealed in amber,” she whispered.

He could barely hear her voice:

“For the remainder of time….”

He closed his eyes. So that was the fate decreed by King and Queen for him? To be locked inside the magical amber. Placed in the enchanted sleep between life and death. Never to age. Never to change. A relic from a bygone era. Frozen for an eternity in golden crystal, removed from the world. Beyond the touch of those that would gaze upon his still form. And in that amber…perchance to dream…. A place of the Fading. He would not live in the world, but would lie in the memories. Memories of his long life and those that came before him. He would see their faces forever. As they once were. Speak the old conversations. Hear the laughter. Watch the tears….

It was not such a bad fate. To be with them again. Even in memories. To walk the fields of Nagarythe as they once were. A dream of holding hands and song drifting upon the breeze….

But that was not all there was to his memory…. And as he slept, the world would pass by. He would be an artifact in the royal palace. A curio hidden away in some vault. Or perhaps hung upon the wall for the amusement of the Witch King. A trophy to his ultimate triumph.

He opened his eyes. “I cannot. I will tell the others your terms. But I will not surrender to the Witch King’s vanity….”

“Tim! Please! At least you will be alive! I am trying to save you!!”

He nodded. “I know.”

“Tim, please! It’s not just you,” the girl cried out, frustrated. “This is about all of us! All the elves! These are the End Times! We must come together if we are to have any hope of surviving!” She shook her head at him. “You are an anachronism, Tim. A thing from a time past! You must change with the times!” He did not know the word, but gathered her meaning. He said nothing. The girl grunted in exasperation. “I thought the Nagarathi of all people would at least understand survival!”

He sighed. “Then you never really knew us,” he said in a voice as brittle as autumn leaves.

“Tim…”

He looked hard at her. “It was never about survival, Anna’lis,” he said with a shake of his head. “If it was, we would have boarded the Black Arks when the first waves rose to shake ancient Nagarythe. Instead of staying and fighting and dying. It would have been much easier to go. Much easier to survive. But we didn’t.” He swallowed. “We stayed…stayed with Ulthuan…because we thought it was the right thing to do….. The right thing. To stand by the Phoenix King. To fulfill our oaths to the Everqueen….”

The girl was shaking her head in frustration. “But Tim you don’t understand. We were all deceived! All of us! The Phoenix Kings… Finubar and the rest. They deceived us. They never truly passed through the flame! They never received Asuryan’s blessing. They used witchcraft and sorcery to avoid the ceremony! To trick us all into believing that they really had become Aenarion’s heir!”

“They….fooled us?”

All these centuries. All this time? And no one had known? No one had suspected the truth. All those dead… The suffering…. Hunger and weariness…. For false kings?

Did the Everqueen know? Had she known and kept it from them? Sent them to their deaths even knowing that they served a façade of what once was?!

Anna’lis was watching his face. “You speak of your oaths to the Everqueen, Tim. But she lives yet! She is in Athel Loren, gifted with the power of Isha reborn! And she is married to our new King! Asuryan reborn! As was always the gods’ intention!”

And we were fools. Fools who fought and died. And it was all for nothing. Meaningless. Wrong before the plan of the gods.

All for nothing….

Nagarythe gone….

“The Everqueen….” Anna’lis began.

He closed his eyes and bared his teeth and gasped. “Please!” he pleaded, trying to bury the pain. “Please do not speak of her! No barb is buried as deep!” He opened his eyes and stared at her. He could feel the tears. “We died for her! We died and killed! We suffered! Starved! BLED AND WERE MAIMED FOR HER! Frostbite and surgeons’ knives cutting…. Cutting off the frozen limbs!!! We went to war for six thousand years!!! Her name on our lips!! The last thing in our thoughts as the shafts pierced our bodies!!! AND FOR WHAT?? WHY??! WHY DID SHE DECEIVE US?!!”

The girl stepped towards him her arms outreached. He held up a restraining hand. She stopped, and licked her lips, concern heavy in her eyes. “Tim…I’m sorry… Mistakes were made…”

Mistakes?

He hung his head. Mistakes. It had all been a mistake. The endless war. This was what the gods had intended. Or no, it had all been not to their plan. They had no interest in it or its outcome. No care in the sacrifices made. In their pain….

“Tim, the Druchii are not our enemies anymore,” Anna’lis said softly. “We are one people now. We must put the past behind us. Forget the mistakes that were made.”

He kept his eyes on the stone floor. Faces. Faces waited there.

“Avyn’Pol,” he whispered. “I watched as the Druchii forced him to his knees and drew the knife across his throat. They held him there while his body spasmed. His blood drenching his tunic. His life flowing out of his eyes…. I watched. And could do nothing….”

“….This was a mistake?”

He swallowed. There was no sound in the room. No heartbeats. No breaths.

“Calo’Puck. Him I sent as an agent to Naggaroth. When he was…” He stopped and clenched his teeth. “Ah!” he cried out and then hurried to let the words pour forth, “When he was found! The Druchii nailed him to a post! They put him on display outside Hag Graef! On the roadside! And the next day, they cut open his belly and pulled his entrails out as food for the crows!!” Oh gods. Oh gods. He had seen it. Seen the body months afterwards. Heard the reports from the eyewitnesses. And he could do nothing!

“And this was a mistake?!”

He wheeled on the girl. “There was village in the eastern headlands. The Druchii came and killed the men and took the women as slaves. But as a jest they left the children.” He closed his eyes. Seeing the scene again: a small village. The wooden roofs smoldering in the snow. The bodies scattered about in piles. “They left the children…. But first they cut off the fingers from their right hands. So that they would never grow to wield bows against them in the future….”

He looked to the girl. “And this was a mistake?” he hissed.

“Tim. Please.”

“Go. Anna’lis. You have my answer. Please…just go.” He turned from her.

He could hear her footsteps retreating towards the door; the sound of each step a knife’s thrust in his heart. At the door she stopped. He could hear the tears in her voice.

“Tim…. I have loved you all my life….”

He stood there. Felt the blade twist deep inside. His head and shoulders bent, curled in upon himself.

“I know,” he whispered back.

He stood up. Feeling the agony sweep through him.

“But Narrin’Tim is dead. He died a long time ago….”

He looked to her.

“I am the Shadow Prince.”


***


And she was gone. Somehow he found himself walking down the stairs and out into the courtyard. He heard Elessehta’s voice.

“What do you mean the scouts have not reported back in?!”

He saw the Yvressi prince conferring with two of his guard, his face dark. Suddenly he turned pale.

“It’s a trap! We must ready! Quickly! Now!!”

A shout came from the castle’s walls. “My lord! An army approaches from the north!”

“How many?” Elessehta shouted.

“Thousands, my lord! They march under the Phoenix standard!”

Prince Malossar pushed past him to stand at the open hole that was the castle’s main gate. He swore. “It’s an army. Big alright.”

Elessehta was standing next to him now, looking past Malossar’s shoulder. “Too big for us to face.” He turned to the watch on the tower. “Is there any sign of a fleet?” he shouted.

“No, my lord!”

“Then we must hurry!” he turned back to the crowd gathered in the courtyard. “We must hurry and evacuate to our ships. Quickly now!”

Malossar spat on the ground. “We won’t make it in time.”

“We do not have the warriors to hold these ruined walls! There are too many openings!” Elessehta protested.

There was shouting and a clamoring. Soldiers milled about, and servants panicked to run and gather belongings. Malossar ground his teeth and glared at the Yvressi lord.

And there amongst the bedlam…next to Elessehta stood his daughter. Her small hand reached out and took her father’s….

He closed his eyes. Felt the pain drift away from him.

“Go,” he said softly.

The others turned to look at him.

He opened his eyes. “Go. I will hold them. I will grant you the time to make your ships.”

The other two princes stared at him. Malossar’s face darkened. “Not alone you won’t! Foul Nagarathi! I’ll stand here right with you! We will show those traitors the might of true Asur warriors!!”

Malossar stepped forward, eye blazing, his hand upon the hilt of his sword.

Slowly he reached out and placed his hand upon the Caledorian’s arm. “No… my friend. Go. See to your people.”

He smiled sadly. “Take care of Lili for me.”

The Caledorian’s face darkened and something inscrutable was written there. Then without a word he turned and disappeared within the castle.

Elessehta looked at him for a minute. His face was tormented. “Shadow Prince…. My family. They are here. They are all that I have left. I… Please.”

He held the Yvressi’s eyes for a long moment.

“I give you my word… the enemy will not pass.”

He turned towards the broken gate.

“Wait!”

Malossar came running up to him, a bundle in his arms. “Nagarathi, wait!” The Caledorian stopped beside him.

“Here,” he grunted with his arms extended. The Nagarathi looked down. He saw a scabbard, six feet long. And from it protruded a hilt, wrapped in black shark skin….

“I went back,” the Caledorian said swallowing. “Before the end. Before the waters. I couldn’t…. I couldn’t just leave it there. On the tomb. Lost. Like he had never been. I…I couldn’t….” The Dragon Lord gritted his teeth in pain. “It is all that remains of… him.”

The Caledorian swallowed again. His face was contorted halfway between rage and agony. Finally, the Dragon Lord thrust the pommel towards him once more.

“You take it. You… Nagarathi…. Shadow Prince….”

Slowly he reached out, his eyes disbelieving. He drew the blade. Six feet of Nagarathi silver-steel gleamed in the setting sun.

Spite….


***


Last edited by Headshot on Sat Dec 27, 2014 1:51 am, edited 2 times in total.

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PostPosted: Wed Dec 24, 2014 10:40 pm 
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Just when you think Tim has no more to give...

I do pity the army advancing. That's one pissed off Nagarathi they are running into.

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PostPosted: Wed Dec 24, 2014 11:33 pm 
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Good stuff mate - this is kind of how I feel about the ET: Khaine fluff... 'irreconcilable' doesn't even begin to describe the differences in these three races.


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PostPosted: Wed Dec 24, 2014 11:56 pm 
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Even with my belief in the necessity of unity, I feel like we should all be throwing in allies to the aid of Narrin'Tim; last true hero of Ulthuan.

Go with the blessings of Loec Tim.

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Smiths in Nagarythe that can repair the holiest piece of armour worn by the Shadow Prince himself... 0 apparently.


Duct tape counts!!


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PostPosted: Thu Dec 25, 2014 12:16 am 
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HaHa a last rear guard action while the last bastion of the true Asur evacuate, maps showing the various smuggling dens near the coast will be left for when you've had enough vengeance and want to join the flotilla.

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These may be the last days of the Asur, but if we are to leave this world let us do it as the heroes of old, sword raised against evil!


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PostPosted: Fri Dec 26, 2014 8:56 pm 
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Part Seven – The Battle of the Moor


“Bosun!” Aerion Flynn called. “Any sign of sail?!”

The two elves high overhead in the crow’s nest were armed with a spyglass apiece. They had the instruments extended and pointed out to the mouth of the harbor. “None yet, Captain!” the more senior of the two shouted back.

“Well keep a clear eye Master Tonarius!” Flynn commanded. “Malekith is no fool. And if he wants his trap to work there will be a fleet coming around to pin us in place!”

“Aye, Captain!”

“That is all the more reason to set sail immediately, Captain Flynn,” the colonial Minister said fretfully as he paced back and forth alongside the Eataini.

Flynn grunted. “The Equinox sails when I will it, Minister. And not a second sooner.” He pushed his way past the shaven-headed scribe and climbed the stairs to the aftcastle. Unfortunately, the Minister followed.

“Do I have to remind you of the oaths you have taken, Captain,” the Minister warned. “To serve the City and your new Prince! And I don’t see what service you render to the City of Spires by having us waylaid in this gods-forsaken land! Or sunk to the bottom of this harbor! This is one of the flagships of the Spires’ fleet! I don’t need to remind you, do I?!”

“No, you don’t,” Flynn said, trying to keep the temper out of his tone. He glanced at the crew standing ready around the anchor wheel. Then to the spread of charts hung meticulously on the little board next to the ship’s wheel. Finally his eye went to the sky. Rain clouds out there, fat and heavy with a promise of wind. But still far.

“Then why are we still here?!”

“We wait until he returns,” Flynn answered simply, and sent a worried eye to the ruined castle overhead. All around the ships of the Conclave were already raising anchor and making a dash for the open sea. They buzzed about the mighty Eagleship like gnats around an auroch.

“What?! But your oath-!”

“I have oaths far older than those made in the Citadel of Spires, Minister,” Flynn snarled and sent a contemptuous glance in the Minister’s direction. He turned his gaze back in the direction of the castle. “I have known that elf for over two centuries. And in all that time I have never witnessed him abandon a comrade! Not once! And if you think I will forsake him now then you are sorely mistaken, Minister.”

“The Nagarathi??!” The Minister blinked and looked confused. “But surely he is dead. One elf against an army! Madness!!”

Flynn snorted. “You are going to repeat these words after me, Minister. And maybe then you will realize the depth of your buffoonery.” The Minister spluttered in indignation. Flynn continued, “Now repeat after me slowly and carefully. Try to enunciate each syllable.” Flynn cleared his throat:

“He. Is. The. Shadow. Prince.”

The Minister opened his mouth obviously to protest, but then suddenly clamped it shut and a thoughtful look came to his eyes. “Yes. I see your point.”

“Good,” Flynn said with another snort. His eyes moved back to the castle overhead.

“I almost feel sorry for the army,” he muttered aloud.

Still Tim, he thought, best to hurry….


***


Here I am. Again.

Standing before an approaching army. Except this time I stand alone. No Sea Guard stand with shields raised beside me. No longbows wait in the tree-line, shafts drawn to ear, breaths stilled, for that moment of my command. No packs of Shadow Warriors lurk on the flanks ready to loose shaft or plunge into melee at need. No, I am alone.

Am I the last? The last Shadow Warrior of Nagarythe?

And this time… Ulthuan does not stand behind me. I do not shield her with my body.

Instead before him he saw the long familiar standards of the Druchii enemy: the sigils of the Cold One Knights; the Iron Icons of the Corsairs. But mixed among them the waving banners of Cothique, Ellyrion and Lothern….

This time I do not defend Ulthuan. She stands before me….

A pain the likes he had never known filled his chest.

He stood at the end of the bridge above the causeway that bisected the peninsula upon which the castle stood. It was the last narrow spot before the crumbling walls of the keep. He stood with the greatsword Spite beside him, sheathed and upright, holding it as one might a staff, while his eyes swept across the host approaching him. They could see him now standing before their might. See the setting sun shining upon his worn armor; the black and gold gleaming. The eyes of the Druchii showed long-familiar hatred and fear in equal measure. But new to him, the eyes of the Asur regiments…. They looked upon him with doubt. With awe. With uncertainty.

They are my brothers…. And yet I must stop them….

A vanguard of riders was emerging from the army’s flanks. He could see Sapheri mages intermingled with the Dark Riders of Naggaroth. He could feel the tendrils of magic sent forward, probing, tasting him and his air. Emboldened by what they sensed, the riders redoubled their efforts to reach him. Giving war cries while they kicked their steeds to greater speeds.

I will stop them. I promised. I must stop them…

He knelt down, setting the greatsword down gently at his side. It lay there, oddly small and mundane, in the dust of the road, while he set his palms upon the stones of the bridge. He knew to those approaching what he must look like, down on his hands and knees, before the coming charge…. The final submission….

He made the sigil with his hands. And pressed them to the stones.

Nothing.

Please, he whispered in his mind. Please. Just one more time.

Nothing.

Loec! Lileath! Please! I have served you all my life! Everything I did I did because I thought it was the right thing to do! What you wanted! Please!!

Nothing. He felt nothing.

He sobbed. Isha! Asuryan! Please!! I have always defended your people! Fought in your name! I have never asked for anything for myself! I have only done what I thought was your will! Please!! I beg you! Just one last time…. Just one last time give me the strength to protect the weak! To protect those of your people in need! Please….

His body shook with grief and despair. And he looked inside….looked for the tiniest spark….

And saw nothing.

He could hear the riders approach. The thunder of their iron shod hooves. The blares of the horns, triumphant and gay.

“Khaine,” he whispered. “Please! Just one last time lend me your strength! Please! After all I have done. All the years of service! Please! I ask not for me!! I ask for them!! Just one last time!! I beg you!!!”

His arms were trembling as he stared at the stones of the bridge, his hands twisted into the sigils.

And felt nothing.

Have you all turned from me? Have you forsaken me? Was I wrong? To fight in your name? To watch my brothers die in your name? It wasn’t what you wanted?! Please!! Don’t abandon me!!! Please!! All the gods…. I never asked for myself!! Not once! I did my duty! All my life! For you. For Nagarythe! Please!!

He stared at the stones. Nothing.

Shaking in frustration he felt the tears roll down his cheeks. His nose ran and his body shook as he gasped. “PLEASE!!!”

He pressed his hands harder into the stones. All those lives. All those deaths. The pain. The terror. The loss. The bodies of the broken warriors. The children taken. He had fought all his life. Fought as hard as he could…to stem the tide of darkness. And it wasn’t enough. He was abandoned.

His shoulders were shaking with despair and frustration. The air choked in his lungs, tasting of bile and mucus.

I am Nagarythe….

He pushed his hands into the stones. Please…. Just one last time… Take me then… Take me after…. Toss my body to the flames…. Just one last time allow me to defend the weak from the strong…

I am Nagarythe….

“Please! Isha! Loec! Lileath! Asuryan! Please! Don’t turn from me!!!” he cried out.

I am Nagarythe….

His eyes were squeezed so hard that he could barely see past the tears. There was nothing. No witchfire burned within. No heat. No dark touch of Khaine. Nothing….

He gasped. His thoughts flayed to shreds, he sent them scattering upon winds and pastures that were no more. He saw… He saw golden fields….

Please….

Do not let me fail them. I beg of you…

Please….

Woe! Rage! Dread! Grief! Malice! He called out to the names of his brothers before. All those Shadow Princes he could think of. The long line of heroes that had stood for Nagarythe. For Ulthuan. He called out to them, begging.

Please….

Spite…. Please….

And then….

Then he felt a spark burst inside his chest.

He sobbed and shook. Thank you. Thank you. Please let it be enough! Please just enough….

“I am Nagarythe,” he whispered and pressed his palms into the stones.

A hand fell upon his shoulder. “No,” a voice said.

He turned to look, stunned. Past his tears he saw a wavering figure of grey and shadows. It knelt down beside him. He saw the long raven hair. The armor, black and gold. Then the eyes, a pair of obsidian shards turned to him. The figure placed a hand upon the bridge.

“WE are Nagarythe,” he said.

And then the shade smiled, a small bittersweet smile. It nodded past his shoulder.

“And we are Legion….”

He turned to look. And saw….

Row upon row of warriors. Standing tall. Dressed in armor black and gold! They stood there! All his brothers!! All the Shadow Princes that had come before!! All who had fought and died for Nagarythe! He knew their faces and names from legends. Grief from the Northern Isles! And Rage, the Daemon Slayer! And there, standing at the end, Woe, The First!

One by one, they knelt down and placed their hands upon the bridge.

His body was shaking with sobs now. And he felt….something….


***


He looked up.

He saw the mages in the vanguard. Saw their faces turn to shock as their probing tendrils of magic leapt and recoiled at what they found. He saw them, with their expressions still locked in surprise, as they were hurled from their saddles by the power they had touched.

And then he called the heat. Directed it downwards, into the stones of the bridge.

I only hope it is enough….


***


Aerion Flynn was thrown from his feet at the sound of a cacophonous roar! The earth shook and he could see the Equinox buck with the rising of a wave. A film of ash shot through the air and he coughed and sputtered.

Lying on all fours beside him, the Minister looked up, and spluttered, “What the-?”

Ignoring him the Captain scrambled to his feet. He looked back towards the land. He could see the cliff before the castle shattering! All along its length! A hundred feet deep and two hundred wide, the rock was bursting apart into dust! Leaving a yawning chasm in its wake. A massive gulf was spreading outward in a line across the breadth of the castle peninsula. He could see a new canyon growing and the waters of the sea rushing in with a roar. As the cold seawater touched molten stone there were great geysers of steam and hissing roars!

“What the-?!” the Minister repeated.

Flynn began to laugh. Wiping the tears from his eyes he clapped the Minister on the shoulder.

“That Minister,” he said between guffaws. “That is why you must never anger the Nagarathi!!”


***


He saw the chasm spread out, the earth crumbling and collapsing in a long wave before him, finally stopping before the hooves of the enemy vanguard. The steeds drew up short, rearing and shrieking, tossing their riders from their saddles, before turning and galloping in the opposite direction. In moments the sight of the army disappeared behind a cloud of mist and steam.

And he was alone again. And empty.

“Thank you,” he whispered.


***


“Captain!” the bosun called. “Captain we got sail! Lots of it! Coming up and around the south point!!”

Flynn cursed. “Up anchor and cast off!” he shouted to the crew. “Out oars!!”

He threw himself at the wheel and felt the ship come to life beneath his feet. As the Equinox gained speed he swung the wheel around. Slowly the prow came about.

“Gentlemen, pull!” he shouted. “Pull for all your worth! We must make sea before those Eagles can close the mouth with ram and fire! All sails now! Every scrap of cloth to the wind!!!”

The Equinox was picking up real speed now, pulled by oar and sail, she was shooting across the breadth of the little harbor. He could feel the wind in his hair and the rise of the deck beneath his feet, old and familiar, and welcome as a lover’s embrace.

The bosun came up beside him and laid a hand on his shoulder. “Captain! Look!” The sailor pointed aft.

Flynn craned his neck around: there he saw the stone quay now reduced to a scattered pile of plinths, and swept up in a cloud of dust and ash and hot mist….

And coming through it, leaping from stone to stone…. a tiny figure in black and gold….

He was laughing now. Laughing so hard that it hurt his chest. He swung the ship about! Fleet of the Phoenix be damned!!! He brought the prow back and around and made for the end of the quay, laughing like a madman all the time. And as he approached the stones, he let out a shout:

“NAGARYTHE!!! NAGARYTHE!!!! NAGARYTHE!!!”



***


Last edited by Headshot on Sat Dec 27, 2014 2:39 am, edited 3 times in total.

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 27, 2014 12:24 am 
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Headshot wrote:
Spite…. Please….

And then….

Then he felt a spark burst inside his chest.

He sobbed and shook. Thank you. Thank you. Please let it be enough! Please just enough….

“I am Nagarythe,” he whispered and pressed his palms into the stones.

A hand fell upon his shoulder. “No,” a voice said.

He turned to look, stunned. Past his tears he saw, a wavering figure of grey and shadows. It knelt down beside him. He saw the long raven hair. The armor, black and gold. Then the eyes, a pair of obsidian shards turned to him. The figure placed a hand upon the bridge.

“WE are Nagarythe,” he said.


Well that's me in tears. Supreme work Great Chronicler.

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 01, 2015 8:53 pm 
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Part Eight – The White Lilies


The arrow shot forth with a thunderclap and a streak of light. When it struck they could hear the cracking of timbers from a half a mile away. They watched as the Hawkship’s mast careened from its base, ripping and tearing at the manifold ropes and tethers, while her crew cried out and scurried from rigging to deck. With a final jerk that tipped the entire warship the mast broke off and fell into the sea.

He returned the Avelorn bow to its customary position across his back. His quiver was near empty. But the fighting was over: the Phoenix fleet lay to their stern. The last pursuit ships were turning about to help their floundering comrades.

“You know,” Aerion Flynn said with an agreeable smile, “I think they were trying to kill us.” For what seemed the first time in over two hours the Eatainian took a hand from the ship’s wheel to lift a white kerchief from his jacket and dabbed daintily at a cut on his brow. “If you ever get tired of being a ranger of the forests,” he said with the same rogue-ish smile in place, “I think I could find employ for you as a ship-board ballista. You made no friends among the Witch King’s shiny new fleet. And you broke more than a few of his toys. Hah! He won’t be happy about that!”

The Nagarathi nodded and moved to stand beside the ship captain. He was tired, and sore, and covered with a sheen of sweat. And he just wanted this day to be over. The castle and the Bretonnian coast lay behind them, disappearing at a rapid pace, and before them were the open waters of the Great Ocean.

“Master Tonarius!” Flynn called out. “What’s the reckoning?!”

The ship’s bosun was up near the fore of the craft, halfway up a sailor’s ladder to the foremast. He paused in his ascent to look back at the captain. “We’ve lost a sail and a good length of rigging, Captain!” he hollered. “And we’ve got cracked timbers in the portside! But tis nothing that we can’t have the ship’s carpenters work at while we are at sea! All above the waterline!”

Flynn let out a breath. “That’s a relief,” he muttered to the Nagarathi. “I was worried that Hawk’s ram might have gotten lucky and punched a hole. Looks like she crested a wave just before she hit. So we won’t be manning any buckets just yet.” He looked back to the bosun. “And what of the crew?!” he yelled.

“One dead; four wounded! They are with the healer now, Cap’n!”

The Eatainian’s expression turned sour. “Well, we’ve both seen worse.” He glanced back to the ships fading in their wake. “And that’s over. There is no way those scows will be able to catch the Equinox out on the open sea!” His expression took a disdainful air. “That’s some piss poor seamanship among the Phoenix fleet now. No professionalism! Swarming like that, without forming a proper line of battle! All they had were numbers. Like goblins! Like they forgot everything they learned in Lothern. Shameful.” He tsked.

The Nagarathi just nodded. They were safe. For the moment at least. And though the horizon ahead promised rain, the sea was still a welcome change.

Flynn was humming to himself now, strumming his fingers upon the ship’s wheel in time with the tune. He stopped. “The carpenters will be able to patch those cracks with tar and board, but we’ll need a dock to do proper repairs. I don’t like the look of that crack on the foremast. It might’ve split the center. And we will need to replace the sail lost,” he mused aloud. “Still, we can pick up supplies at some of the old outposts along the southern continent. And that should be enough to get us back to Spires and a proper refit.” The Eatainian sent him a curious look out of the corner of his eye. “You will be coming back with us to the City of Spires, won’t you?”

He made no immediate answer instead letting his eyes linger upon the dark clouds that hung over the horizon. As the seconds lengthened, Flynn turned his head to stare at him. Finally, he moistened his lips – so tired and sore…. – and said:

“I want you to take me to Ulthuan.”

Flynn’s eyes widened in disbelief, and his eyebrows jumped to his hairline. “But she is gone,” he said. “Ulthuan is gone. There is naught there but water!”

He nodded to show his understanding. “I need to see for myself.”

“But-!” the Eatainian began but then thought better of it and clamped his jaw shut. “Yes, I understand. It’s still hard for me to believe too. I mean I know it. I say that she is gone. Make plans around that fact. But somehow, it doesn’t….feel that way, does it?” He said with a pained expression. “It’s like she is still there, looking over my shoulder. Still egging me on. And sometimes I wake from a dream and its like I can just reach out and stretch with my fingertips,” he said and pantomimed the gesture before him with a blank look on his face, “and my hands would come up full with sand from Yvressi shores…. It’s like the memories of old sailors. Those who have lost limbs, but can still feel the itching behind knees no longer there. It’s like that for me.”

He sighed and rubbed at the back of his neck. “But she is gone. Make no mistake about that. Ulthuan is no more.”

“Please,” he replied in the silence that followed, “Just take me there.”


***


Four days. Four days surrounded by the creak of wood, the lap of waves, and the sound and songs of colonial voices. On the second day it began to rain – a frigid torrent that fell in sheets upon an otherwise quiet and calm sea. It gave him an excuse to stay below decks however. He spent his time helping the crew as much as he was able, chiefly in doing dull repetitive manual jobs as he was no sailor and had little to offer other than the strength of his arms and the agility of his fingers. The crew was quiet and respectful in his presence, but they were foreign - strangers to him - speaking of places he had never seen and of lives he had never known.

Then on the fifth morning Aerion Flynn called him to the deck. The sun had come out again, and he was greeted by a surprisingly warm autumn’s day.

“Well, there she is,” Flynn greeted from his customary position behind the ship’s wheel. “Ulthuan. Nothing but water now. Water and wisps of cloud. But by star and chart from here we should be able to see the coasts of Cothique and the outer isles. Maybe even catch a glimpse of the misty mountains of Yvresse behind…on a clear day.”

The gaiety in the Eatainian’s voice was forced; there was a rare graveness to his speech and eye. The Nagarathi turned and could see it was as the ship’s captain had spoken: the rolling waves of the Great Ocean, under a sky dimpled with a few tired rain clouds. And no more.

“Can you take us closer?” he asked, his eyes fixed upon the blue-black waves that lay before him as far as his vision could pierce.

“That I cannot do,” Flynn answered immediately. “There are entire mountain ranges down there now. And cities’ worth of flotsam in the water! It is too dangerous to take a ship any closer. New maps will need to be drawn. New shoals marked off. New currents laid out. Ulthuan is destroyed, but what became of her dying body, and how that will change the seas, well, that is unknown.”

The Nagarathi watched the blue-black before him. Finally, he said:

“Then I will need to borrow one of your longboats.”

“What?” Flynn was taken aback. “Here?! In the middle of the Great Ocean?! That is madness! There is nothing out there! Just water for thousands of miles in every direction!”

“I have to see for myself,” he answered quietly. As no one was moving to respond to his request he went forward and began untying one of the ship’s shore skiffs himself. This was something he was practiced at: a lifetime of leaving ship to force a landing on hostile shores had taught his hands the skill needed to ready the craft quickly and quietly.

Flynn was standing behind him now. “Don’t do this,” he said imploringly. “You will die. Alone in that vastness. She is gone. You have to accept that. Change to it. Please, listen to me!”

He began to lower to boat to the waves below. It settled down beside the much larger ship and began to gently nudge at her side in time with the waves. Strangely it reminded him of a fawn, nestling beside its mother. He had few belongings – never had – so it was a simple matter of retrieving his cloak and bow and tossing those down into the waiting boat. Then the swords…two of them: Regret and Spite. Those he carefully strapped to his back before making his descent into the little boat.

By then the entire ship’s crew seemed to have become aware of what was happening. He could see them crowding the deck and rigging, staring down at him, some with wide eyes, others with blank faces. None comprehending the act. The Minister was standing next to Aerion Flynn now looking down at him as if was a curious insect behind a magnifying lens. Flynn was shaking his head, but he tossed a parcel down to him.

“Water. And bread,” the Eatainian grunted, without meeting his eye.

“Thank you,” he called back. Then set about untying the craft’s oars.

“Please, it is not to late,” the Eatainian tried again. “Come with us. Back to the City of Spires. You could build a life there!” He hesitated his face torn between earnestness and doubt. “No, you will never come to the City of Spires,” he mumbled to himself, and there was a sad regret in his voice.

The oars free, he pushed off from the ship. “Farewell Flynn.”

The Captain looked down at him with a face set in stone. The Nagarathi dipped the oars into the sea and began to pull. Flynn watched him for a half minute, then suddenly stepped up on the Eagle’s rail.

“Shadow Prince!!” he called out. “Narrin’Tim! Whoever you are now.” He swallowed his words and looked confused. Then the Eatainian looked back at him. “You have always been my friend!”

There was a pained almost surprised look in the Eatainian’s eyes at that. Then he turned and disappeared behind the bulk of his ship.


***


He pulled on the oars until his shoulders hurt, and until the sails of the Eagleship were just a white dab upon the horizon.

He was alone. Flynn’s parcel sat at his feet. The two swords were now tied together and lay against the seat behind him. The bow, and near empty quiver, were wrapped in his cloak next to him to protect the wood and string from the salt spray. And that was all that was left of his world. A lifetime spent in the service of Ulthuan.

The service of False Kings….

He pulled on the oars. It was nothing. Just a motion of muscle and bone. And yet it was something. He did it over and over again, carefully keeping his position to the sun, making his way south and west.

Towards…. Home.

Sunset turned the skies orange, ochre and fuchsia in a band upon the horizon. The waters deepened into a syrupy indigo about him, only occasionally being broken by froths of white waves. He had found a current that flowed in a southerly direction, so pulled up the oars and rested his arms and tired back. He settled down upon the cloak and bow. The familiar presence was calming to him. And he looked up, up at the colors of the sky. Waiting with baited breath as the scintillating palette was washed away, and the sky too turned to indigo. Then, in the darkness and the cold, the stars came out, one by one. Old friends here. He knew these constellations. Had grown up under these skies.

Thoughts turned to a mountain vale. Climbing up the long rugged grey slopes, being oh so careful to avoid the patches of poisonous red lichen. For that was the Shadowlands; even the heath had its dangers. But he knew them well. He was young again, but wise in the ways of the woods and meadows of Nagarythe. And he led with a sure foot. His hand stretched out beside him, holding the slender hand of the girl following. She who was the moon and the sun; the breath and the light. Anna’lis, her face all furrowed into frowns of concern and curiosity, lugging a knapsack full of her books and journals over the other shoulder. Until he reached that spot: the quiet pond under the pine tree, and he could lay out his cloak and stretch out upon the boulder beside the pond, and watch the star-rise, the girl settling down uncertainly beside him. Until the spectacle of the summer skies took even her jaded breath away, and they watched the stars shimmer together in awe. He whispered the secret names the Nagarathi had for them: the Blade and Bow-seeker. The Crescent Knife and Winter’s King. And she in turn would tell him the names they were called in Saphery. The Stag and Harp. The Wand and the Forgotten Maiden. Then she would launch into a discourse on the latest theories of the stars that she had learned in one of her classes at the White Tower. He would not understand her words, but he would listen. Listen with joy just at the sound of her voice. The way she snuffled when she wiped her nose with the back of her hand. And the stars would burn far overhead, suddenly mysterious all over again, through the girl’s learning.

He settled into the bottom of the boat and simply, remembered. He let the Reverie take him then, fully, powerfully. An embrace about the chest. A mother’s hand upon a child’s brow. The Reverie swept him up into its arms and he was there, young upon the heath of Nagarythe, listening to Her tell him about stars, with a smile upon his lips.

The sun came out and the spell was broken. He drank from the flask Flynn had provided and ate half of a biscuit. Then, judging his position in the current as best he could, he pulled at the oars and made for a position that was west.


***

Sometime around mid morning he saw the first thing in the water. It was a patch of white in the otherwise dark seas. Curious, he pulled his little boat over towards it. In a few minutes he saw what it was: a carcass, probably of a cow or auroch, floating in the seas. It was bloated and distended. Tiny remoras swam about it in schools, occasionally ducking in to burrow at the belly of the thing, their tails thrashing behind them like eels.

He turned the boat away from the grisly sight and pulled onwards. In a half hour though there were more. Three white carcasses floating in the water. Each with a cloud of scavenging fish gnawing and tearing at the putrid flesh. And then he was passing through what must’ve been dozens of carcasses, all tossed about on the waves. Below he could see the dark bodies of things much more massive than the parasites. Long shapes, sinewy in the deep, would swim and circle the carcasses. Never revealing themselves to the light of day. But sometimes, he would see one of the corpses jerk and bob in the water, like a fisherman’s lure, as something heavy seized upon the underside of the thing. The meat.

And then he was through it, and he was floating onwards upon the back of the current again. Southerly and westerly. It would do.


***

It was the second or third day. He wasn’t sure; the time in Reverie had broken his sense of passing of suns and moons. When he saw the clock tower.

It floated upon its side. At one end was the jagged ruins of its base. At the other the steepled roof, still with a handful of shingles in place. But the clock itself was most visible: the hands frozen in time. The glass broken. The white face looked up to the sun and it was like he could see the very moment of Ulthuan’s dissolution. To the minute if not the second. When the terrible forces shattered whatever building this tower sat upon. Some mountain hamlet in Saphery he would guess, by the shape of the roof. It sat in the water, baked by an autumn sun, a broken thing. Unable to tell any more time.

And then it was gone, behind him. And the skies were clouding over.


***

It began to rain that night. He took Regret and cut the boat’s tarp in two. One half he stretched between the ribs of the front of the boat as a rain catch. The other he used to wrap himself and the two swords he clutched to his breast.

He sat there in the belly of the boat, head bowed, listening to the patter of the rain upon the bodies of the tarps. The sound of the sea being replenished all about him. The groan of water, flowing, pushing, falling and heaving all about him. And the Reverie took him….

He was in the belly of the Black Ark, Infinite Despair. There was a green witchfire burning in brazier nearby. And he could hear the cries and moans of the prisoners in those dark tunnels.

But he could do nothing. He was strapped to the table. Found out. Captured. He had been slow and foolish. And soon he would be dead. But to capture a Shadow Warrior of Nagarythe was a rare prize for the Druchii. So first they would have their fun.

He felt the irons pushed into his chest. Felt the burn. His breath screaming from his throat. Then the witch elf, leering above him. With the tongs in her hand. She clamped them upon his ear and pulled. Pulled and twisted until his eyes swam black and he could not scream anymore. Then he was laying there as she stood over him, tossing the piece of bloody flesh that had been the top of his ear into the witchfire brazier.

And he felt the knives cut upon his chest. He could see them drawing out his arm upon the block. The meat cleaver waiting and ready in hand, to cut through the wrist. He felt the terror all over again. He would not wield a bow. Would not be able to fight. He would not be able to continue. But the pain. The pain of the blow. And they were smiling at him. Smiling….

But the blow never came. Calayran had saved him that day. He remembered the mage’s face. Though little else of what happened. All he could remember was the sound of blood falling from his body. It hit the stone beneath him with a sound…like rain upon a tarp.

***

He blinked. There was a rumble of thunder in the night sky. He double checked his belongings. Took a drink from the flask. And wrapped the tarp tighter about his body, as the wind picked up and the rain began to fall in heavy sheets.


***

It was dawn again. The storm was behind him and the skies were clear and blue. He sat in the back of the boat and stared at the greatsword set upon the seat before him.

Spite. He had not come to him. Not in the Reverie. Not in the dreams. Had he been real in the moor before the castle? A vision sent by Khaine? He did not know. But he had not returned in any form. No matter how fervently he wished it.

He was alone upon the seas. And he would die here. Just as Flynn had predicted.

And that made him…feel very little. He just wanted to see him. One last time.

Always, one last time….


***

He awoke from a doze. There was something different. The sun was shining and he was laying in the belly of the boat, with the tarp stretched just over his head. He couldn’t quite put his finger on what had woken him. Then he realized it: the seas were quieter.

He sat up, and rubbed at his sun burnt face. He saw water spread out about him as far as the eye could see…. Always the same. And yet…. It was flat! The sea here was flat and calm and as placid as the surface of a pond!

He sat up and rubbed his eyes again, certain that the Reverie, or his dreams, or his exhaustion, were playing tricks with him. But when his hands came away he saw the same: the tiny boat, weathered now and stinking of salt and drying wood, and a sea spread out around him, flat like a looking glass.

He frowned, and adjusted himself in the boat. It shouldn’t be this calm. The waves just don’t abate for no reason. Then he saw before him… a line of white. Like snow upon a shore!

His frown deepened as he set oars into water once more. He pulled and turned the craft towards the line of white, each sweep of his arms bringing him that much closer to the strange sight. And then, before he knew it, he was passing among the glistening white, and he saw….

Lilies. White lilies set upon green pads! Hundreds of them! Thousands of them! They were set about him upon the ocean’s roof like a fresh snowfall, completely covering the dark waters below. He gasped in astonishment, and craned his neck around. Disbelieving he reached out and claimed one. He felt the soft petals in his hand. The rubbery texture of the lily pad between his fingers.

He laughed. It was so unexpected. It was madness. Or….

He returned the oars to the water and pulled. He watched the lilies pass him by. Watched them envelop the craft on all sides, so that the path the little boat had taken became a little dark stream behind him. Out there, in the distance he could see the deep blue-black and the rising waves of the Great Ocean. But here…nothing but a sea of brilliant white!

And then…he heard….

Music. Music! Music upon the breeze. He turned in his boat, his ears following the sound of lyre and voice. Elvish music! Here in the middle of this strange ocean! His eyes sought out the source of the sound.

And he saw it: in the distance, standing taller than a mountain….

A lonely white tower.



***


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PostPosted: Fri Jan 02, 2015 5:55 pm 
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Headshot, you are a great chronicler. I like your tales and can't wait for the next instalment, so to pass the time I too have purchased your ebook to keep her highness in shoes. Please keep up the great work.


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 04, 2015 10:29 am 
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Eerie... You gave me a few ideas for the piece I want to add. Time is not friendly to writing right now though.

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 04, 2015 12:16 pm 
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I think this is the please sir may I have some more part; I'm not satiated on this tale yet. More Great Chronicler, more I beg!

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Smiths in Nagarythe that can repair the holiest piece of armour worn by the Shadow Prince himself... 0 apparently.


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 05, 2015 8:14 am 
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Well played Sir
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Mate, your stories are always good, but half the fun in this is seeing all your new fans gushing at you ^_^

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 05, 2015 9:42 am 
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Spires to the rescue! As mentioned elsewhere, come join the colonies. We've got cookies...

@Makiwara, if you would like to read more stories by our lovely resident chronicler, then look no further. There are several more stories by his hand right here in the storytelling forum. Just scroll down the forum and open any topic started by headshot. There are already 4 of them on the first page and a bunch more on the second page.

Rod

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 05, 2015 10:28 am 
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Chronicler

Joined: Mon Nov 10, 2014 11:47 am
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Location: Brisbane, Australia.
@Spires, I've been on board since Tarabeth broke Tim's nose, just lurking in the shadows.

Like a ninja. :D

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Only in the Dreaming Woods are Mortals truly free, t'was always thus and always thus will be.

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Makiwara wrote:
Smiths in Nagarythe that can repair the holiest piece of armour worn by the Shadow Prince himself... 0 apparently.


Duct tape counts!!


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 06, 2015 12:23 am 
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Ultimate End Times Chronicler

Joined: Wed May 25, 2011 9:10 pm
Posts: 577
Part Nine – Hoeth


He tethered the boat to a statue of one of Aenarion’s peers. The statue was bronze, and twenty feet tall. It clutched a massive dragon spear before it in a stern two-handed grip. And now it served as a convenient boat-tie.

The marble steps lay between the statue and its twin. They ran down into the lily-dappled ocean, disappearing into the calm black waters below. And up. Up past more statues, hundreds of them. Up in the distance… to the White Tower itself.

He shouldered his meager belongings and began to climb. More of the peers of Aenarion waited for him, always in twos, armed with sword and shield, staff and wand, they looked out to the horizon from beneath helmeted, furrowed brows, daring the forces of destruction to fall upon them. And then he was among the lords of Saphery, great wizards and sorceresses, mage-princes and scholars, cut in white or black marble, they sat upon rows of plinths, sometimes helter-skelter to the broad steps that rose and wound among them. For the Sapheri were not a people of straight lines: the stairs meandered. Meandered as if it was working its way through a garden that only it knew. And the statues were set along its passage, sometimes facing the steps, sometimes staring out at some beyond, backs to the penitents climbing. In time he came upon the Griffon, white stone, reclining in a leisurely pose upon its belly, head tilted just a touch, while its marble eyes watched the steps beneath it. Tiralya. He stopped, and as generations of students had done before him, he reached out and rubbed the griffon’s beak. It was well worn by the years of petitioners – polished to lustrous sheen – and he stood there and thought back the centuries to a time when he had sheltered from the rain beneath that noble visage.

Yet then it was time to move on. He climbed the steps and lifted his eyes to what waited. The Tower. She rose up into the sky so high that he lost her peak in the thin autumn clouds overhead. He could just barely make out the signs of wings banking and circling up there. Pinions of gold and russet, as the great eagles swam through the sky in turns and with shrill cries upon their throats. The White Tower…. More ancient than anything known to man or elf…. That it should still stand! Upon a quieted sea! It was inconceivable. And yet, somewhere deep inside, he was not surprised.

The Threshold lay before him. A broad avenue flanked by columns depicting nymphs and draiads, sylphs and fauns. It was hundreds of feet wide and more in length – large enough to be a parade ground for the mighty hosts of Aenarion in the time before. And it ended at a pair of silver doors, inscribed with the swirling boughs of boddhi trees shimmering beneath moon and star, each door over thirty feet tall. Each door weighing more than a ton. And yet as he walked across the Threshold, coming closer to the doors with each step, he saw them swing open effortlessly, and from out of the interior an honor guard of a dozen white clad swordmasters swept forth taking up positions along the avenue before the door, great blades held at salute before their eyes. It was a gesture of routine and formality – as if the cataclysm that had swept Ulthuan beneath the waves had never happened. The guards stood there, perfectly still, perfectly silent, at repose, eyes fixed on the shimmering blades before them.

And then, in the shadow of the open doors, he saw Her. If the Everqueen was Summer, she was Winter. Her skin was a frost-kissed alabaster, pure and white. The only color in her countenance being the bright red of her lips that shone forth like winterberries in a field of snow. Her cheeks hard angles, high and sharp. And she had a nose small and dainty. Her eyes were grey one moment, than sky-blue the next; before disappearing into a forest of emerald and golds with the passing of her fancies. All this set within a veil of long hair, black and lustrous as raven’s wings that swept about her free and unbound. The wind from off the sea gently lifted a strand, out and streaming, like a banner. She was dressed in a simple gown and over-robe that hung loosely about her shoulders in long bands of blue and white.

He was walking between the guard now. He stopped before her and bowed deeply.

“Princess Aicanor,” he greeted.

“Shadow Prince,” she answered, cordially. “Please rise.”

He stood straight and looked upon the elf princess. He had known her in passing for some time now, but as he stood there he realized that he hardly knew anything about her at all. Not even her age. She looked to be about the same age as his earthly body - before the ritual had placed the wisdom of ages upon him; perhaps younger. But the sorceries of Saphery were heavy upon her – a luminescent aura that seemed just beyond his sight – and was as colored and variable as the eyes that stared out at him.

“I am afraid,” he said carefully, “that I am unsure as to your full titles.” He cocked his head and looked at her awkwardly. “Are you the Lady of Irian? Or perhaps…the Lady of Spires?” He hurried to add, “I apologize. But I have heard little news for some time.”

Her nose crinkled in distaste. “I am afraid that all of the old titles now taste like ash upon my tongue.” She shook her head. Then she fixed him with a stare. “I am now simply a Loremistress of Hoeth. And strange for me to say, but I am the first of my sex to hold that title. It seems that only now, at the endings of things, do old prejudices fall by the wayside,” she finished with a rueful turn to her lips.

He nodded his understanding remembering another time when Spite stood before the elders of Nagarythe. Then it was for the purpose of bringing elf maidens into the Host – a decision that was beyond controversial; it had nearly cost him his life. Many of the clan elders opposed that decision – the armies of Aenarion were men; only the depraved Druchii brought women to the battlefields. But Spite had persevered and overcome with the simple argument: ‘Necessity’ he had said. And in the end the Elder Council had narrowly voted to approve his decision, and thus he had avoided the long walk into the Underdark of Anlec. The customary sentence for Shadow Princes that had failed Nagarythe - to die fighting the enemies of Ulthuan that dwelt in the deep dark places beneath the earth. Stripped of the armor and their powers, they entered the tombs of the ancestors, and from there, the Labyrinth into the Black Below….

And even that fate is denied to me. Me who had failed more than any Shadow Prince before….

He realized there was a pained turn to his mouth. A creeping agony in his eyes. He could see that Aicanor was looking upon him with concern. “You are the first to come here since the waters,” she said cautiously. “And we welcome your coming.”

He nodded at her gracious words. “Please. May I enter?”

“Yes, of course.” She turned and gestured with her hand towards the interior of the tower. He entered with the princess at his side. The guards followed for a moment, before returning to their positions about the silver doors. The great gate swung shut silently behind him.

And…it was as he remembered. Long halls of gleaming white; vaulted arches that towered far overhead; cool pathways of columns and mixed shadow and light; large open areas filled with tables and rows of books, endlessly turning and twisting into mazes to drive a first year student mad. Hoeth.

“It is….as it was before,” he said amazed.

“In some ways,” the elf princess agreed. “Many of the students are gone. Taken by the demands of their home kingdoms to serve in the civil war. Hoeth tried to stay neutral, but we couldn’t keep the young away from the callings of liege and kin. It was….difficult. Difficult to see them go. To see the empty classrooms.” There was a kindness to her face that he had really encountered in her before. A lowering of the guard of a noblewoman used to playing the games of Lothern – where any open expression might be seen by enemies at court, and turned against you. Now she spoke as a teacher. And a leader. Lamenting the follies of youth. “It was even worse when we lost many of the previous loremasters,” she added.

“What happened?” he asked.

“Some went with Teclis. To serve whatever ends he sought,” she said from out of tightly pressed lips. “Others were lured away…by the promises from the colonies. My former fiancé among them.” He noticed the emphasis paced upon the word ‘former’. There was a touch of venom in the sorceress’s voice. And in her eyes. Then it was gone, and a great sadness filled them. “Tiralya… He gave his life to break the ancient seal that would enable the tower to survive the floods. It was the only way. I tried to do it. But he…tricked me. And then he was gone.”

He hung his head at her words, sharing in the pain. Of course. Of course that is what Tiralya would do. Of course he would sacrifice himself to save the place that he had spent a life nearly as long as Ulthuan serving. In his mind’s eye he saw him as the elder white haired elf, sitting with a pot of tea in his office, a calm, reassuring smile upon his lips. How he could listen, listen and look into you, without judgment, without reproach, but with a great deal of understanding. Thousands of years the loremaster had lived and served. A seemingly permanent fixture at Hoeth, with a memory that stretched back to the dawn of the Ever Empire.

He closed his eyes. He reached out searching for the memories. They used to be right there. Permeating his very thoughts, lacing among his own dreams, his own past. The lives of all those that had come before him. But since his return, they had been drifting further and further away. Whispers now at the corner of his mind. Only coming forth in the hazy silver light that exists between sleep and wakefulness. But…yes, there. He found it. A memory of an ancient Shadow Prince. And there was Tiralya, young and precocious, snot nosed and fumbling with his hiking stick. He was hurrying to keep up with the Nagarathi hunters as they loped through the forest in search of their Druchii prey…. Tiralya…the youth…huffing, sniffling, staggering, but earnest. Earnest in his desire to prove himself equal to the task. Worthy to be seen amongst the Host of Nagarythe.

He looked about the memory and saw the Host in the forest. Thousands of Nagarathi archers. Thousands of Shadow Warriors, all with long bows in hand. It was so much larger than the Host he had known. The faces of the warriors so aged and stern, with piercing eyes and marks of clan upon cheek and brow. So unlike the gaggle of young elves he had commanded.

And there was young Tiralya, struggling to keep up. A bookworm among hunters. It almost made him laugh.

He opened his eyes. Aicanor was standing next to him, her attention out upon a veranda and garden beyond. “Because of his sacrifice,” she said appreciatively, “We have been able to preserve some of what was. A piece of Saphery. Here in the White Tower, like an ark.” She gestured. “We have gardens that hold the last of the flowers of the vale, white, blue, and lilac. And above us, in the warden and game reserve, dwell some of the few remaining blue fawns and silver elk. All the creatures of Saphery, magic and mundane, that we could preserve, we brought here. To live in this place, so that they wont be forgotten.” She nodded with satisfaction as her eyes drank in the garden. Then she turned to him. “And we saved what people we could. From the nearby villages and homesteads. Many hundreds fled to the Tower in the end. We gave them shelter and succor when they needed. And afterwards they elected to stay with us. To serve the Tower’s needs.”

“That is good to hear,” he answered.

“Thank you.” She smiled at him. “But you must be tired after your journey.” She gestured towards a waiting servant. “Please show the Shadow Prince to our guest quarters. Provide him with a meal and bath.” She turned back to him. “We can speak more later, Prince.”

He nodded back to her. “Thank you. I would like that.”


***


He bathed, enjoyed a change of clothes (white Saphery linens), before consuming the bowl of fruit alone in his quarters (all ‘grown from the garden’ the servant that brought them had said). By evening he was standing alone upon the guest quarters’ balcony, watching the stars glisten above the ocean, when he heard the sound of someone approaching: it was Princess Aicanor, now dressed in an evening gown of white and silver lace. She came and stood beside him.

He nodded in greeting then turned back to the view. “Sometimes,” he said after a few seconds, “when I squeeze my eyes just so… I can see the green and blue fluorescence of the Sea of Dreams….shimmering as it did before. And beyond it the misty greens of Avelorn, just a swath of shadow in the distance.” He hesitated, and took a deep breath. “And beyond that….the white caps of the Annulis, and…home.” His voice broke on the last word.

The sorceress said nothing; just simply stood there, with her hands resting upon the marble rail before her. After a minute she spoke:

“Did you know that my family shares a connection with Nagarythe?” He shook his head. “It is true,” she continued, her eyes fixed upon the waters before them, “in the time of the Sundering many Nagarathi left for other kingdoms, and one married into my House. It was something of a scandal at the time, and throughout Saphery the other Houses often attributed our…oddities…to this mixing of lineages.” She gave a small laugh. “And yet it was something that I was always proud of.”

He listened to her talk. Her voice was pleasant and calming. Even when she gave a chuckle as she did now. “And of course there was always gossip about my own mother,” she relayed and shook her head. “Though whether there was any truth to the tale she would never say. She took her secrets with her to her grave.” The Sorceress took a breath. “Yet I have always felt a certain connection to Nagarythe and the Nagarathi. They were always welcome in the halls of Tor Irian. And, I would hope to think, that pieces of Nagarythe continue on. Here, in the White Tower. In some of the students that remain…. And in me.”

“Thank you,” he answered. “I would like to think that too.”

“And yet it brings you no succor?” she prompted.

He winced. “It brings me some. But Nagarythe was my home. I was sworn to defend her. The Shadow Prince….my life was hers.”

He could feel her eyes upon his face as the seconds lengthened. Finally:

“You have suffered much…. For Nagarythe… For Ulthuan….” He felt a slender finger of her hand tracing one of the long scars upon his brow. Then it was gone, and she was smiling at him.

“Did I ever tell you that the Shadow Prince was something of a romantic figure in the boudoirs of Tor Irian?” she said with a twinkle in her eye.

“Truly?” he said and raised a skeptical eyebrow.

She laughed and it lessened the gravity of her features. She seemed a young elf maiden once more. “It is quite true. My family history again and all. My mother used to love to regale me as a little girl with tales of the dashing exploits of the Shadow Princes! It was our nighttime ritual. Colorful northern rogues doing the impossible. Before one little girl would go off to slumber.”

He gave a light laugh at that. “There is nothing dashing about being the Shadow Prince. It is years of fighting. Over and over again. The killing…. So much killing…” His voice trailed off and he felt cold inside. He stared at the stars – at the empty place where the Annulis should stand – and said, “I was sworn to protect her…. After all those years…. All that death… and I failed her. And I…the Shadow Prince…remains. While she is gone. And that seems wrong to me. So very wrong. Like the world has been turned on its head…. I should have died for her. That was what was intended. It was what…. I wanted. And yet I remain… and I have no purpose. What role should the Shadow Prince play in this new world?”

He stood there and let the silence sweep up and around him. He watched the waters and the skies, and tried to will mountains and forests from the aether. But the seas remained. With horizons empty.

“Perhaps,” Aicanor said thoughtfully in a quiet voice, “It is as you said. Perhaps there is no place for the Shadow Prince in this new world. But be that as it may, this new world…this End of Times…must have a place for Narrin’Tim. He… You… are still needed.”

He shook his head sadly. “Why? I can wield a bow, certainly. And fight. But my enemy are no more, they tell me. I am to call them brother…and I cannot. The pain…the pain and rage is still too great. The memories….” He sighed and swallowed his words and felt back the violent tremors he felt inside. Finally, he began, “And I have very little to offer. I am not smart. I have read few books. It is difficult for me to finish them and follow the words. I struggle with them. And I am not wise in the ways of the world. All I have known since the time of my coming into adulthood was war. Fighting in the Host of Nagarythe! And nothing else! Where should I go? What good would I be to anyone?”

She looked at him for a long while, her eyes shifting from a rich indigo into a pale violet and back. She placed a comforting hand upon the back of his where it squeezed – white-knuckled - the balcony rail.

“Long have I watched you, Tim of Clan Narrin,” she said softly. “Even from before the time you were… transformed by your oath. When you were just a lowly ranger of a northern Host. I had heard of you from my cousin. Heard the admiration in her voice. The fondness and… the desire… in her words. And I found myself intrigued, despite myself. I watched and listened for word of you over the years. The exploits of the common ranger of the north…. And a Princess of one of the Greatest Houses of Saphery…. It was assumed to be one of my many idiosyncrasies.” Her eyes took a pinkish color as her lips turned a playful grin. “But what she had told me… and what I saw when I met you myself…in passing…just a word of courtesy exchanged here and there over the years…. Has convinced me….”

She paused and fixed his eyes with hers. “You are the best of the Asur, Narrin’Tim.”

He was stunned, and shook his head. She squeezed his hand. “Please, listen to me!” she insisted. “I do not give compliments lightly, or make vacuous statements like an Eatani courtier. And I know the Nagarathi are not ones for words. But just now, please heed mine.” She moistened her lips, then continued, “You have fought bravely and selflessly for centuries! You have served your kin beyond any reasonable demand! An entire life of service, without asking for anything in return! That is a virtue little known in this selfish age, Narrin’Tim! And not one to be scoffed at. It is the trait of the heroes of old. The peers of Aenarion were said to be of such stock, and when I look at you… I see an elf that the peers would not be ashamed to welcome into their ranks.”

“I,” he fumbled. “I…do not know what to say… I…”

He felt her hand reach up and seize upon the back of his neck. And then he felt the embrace. Upturned cheeks and eyes a soft silver. Then red lips upon his mouth….


***


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 06, 2015 8:30 am 
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Well played Sir
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Joined: Fri Dec 10, 2010 1:46 pm
Posts: 7798
Location: Queensland, Australia
Cheeky Miss!
The tower would be a great place to look for a new Yvresse, if Tiralya can be found, if a moments peace found too, I may have to make the expedition.

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Beastly member of The Mage Knight Guild.
Narrin’Tim wrote:
These may be the last days of the Asur, but if we are to leave this world let us do it as the heroes of old, sword raised against evil!


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