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Fiction Herald Of The Old Ones

Discussion in 'Fluff and Stories' started by Mr.Crocodile, Oct 28, 2021.

  1. Killer Angel
    Slann

    Killer Angel Prophet of the Stars Staff Member

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    Beautifully violent and very satisfying! With Nurgle being responsible for the corruption being the cherry on top.

    i like the way you show the tactic empoyed by lizardmen to overcome the city, the main assault, the pinch manoveur, the sneaky part, the assault from below. really vivid, despite the confusion of such a situation.
    The various changes of perspective don't hamper the clarity of it all, so kudos to you.

    I've especially appreciated the general's pow... facing some "organized beasts" he thinks/hopes he can apply his previous battle experiences against other "organized beasts" (beastmen). What a (comprehensible) mistake, there is a whole world of difference here, and Lustria does not forgive such an approach.
     
    Mr.Crocodile likes this.
  2. Mr.Crocodile
    Chameleon Skink

    Mr.Crocodile Well-Known Member

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    Thank you so much for the awesome review. I love it when readers dissect scenes and realize precisely what I was trying to convey :D
     
    Imrahil and Killer Angel like this.
  3. Mr.Crocodile
    Chameleon Skink

    Mr.Crocodile Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 21: Embers
    There is only one war — the war against Chaos — and it has been waged by gods and titans for innumerable aeons. You are the latest footsoldier spawned for this conflict. You are a lesser footnote in the Great Plan, and that is a more prestigious honor than you will ever comprehend.’

    -Chuqa-xi of Tlaxtlan, Slann Mage-Priest

    Lizardmen Encampment, Salamander Cove
    25th of Nachgeheim, 2538 IC // 40.0.9.13.19 12 Kawak 12 Mol


    Quirigua’s limp but still breathing body clings to Roland’s chest, claws weakly digging into his chest and the leather strap slung across it. When he looks down, Roland can’t help but notice how his medallion -the large golden emblem identifying him as a Herald and emissary of the First Children of the Old Ones- is filthy with grime and blood which thanks to the humidity and the only now arriving sunrise is yet not dried up.

    Nothing a good buffing won’t fix. Gold doesn’t tarnish after all, that’s why the Lizardmen view it so favorably. They see themselves reflected in it.

    Although that reflection is quite harder to see as the skink in his arms barely manages to hiss in pained confusion due to the gruesome wounds the skink has sustained. An axe strike to the chest from one of the now decimated foes, according to Quirigua’s cohort-mates. Luckily the strike must have been a failed one, as a war ax directly digging into the Skink’s chest would have surely meant death. Under the current conditions -as he steps up from the low-tidal waters into the patch of dry land where the lizardmen had built their camp over the days before- Roland thinks his friend has a chance.

    The rest of the cohort does so after him, too tired to swim while carrying another wounded and downed skinks, with the low waterline being just enough to force them to drag themselves forward without a longer stride such as his.

    Pantoran isn’t carrying or being carried… And Roland is no fool. The cohort will have to find a new Alpha Talon soon, whether that happens before or after the Death Rites, Roland cannot guess. He is a friend, a close-marching fellow warrior, but he is not of the cohort, and it would be a great insult to intervene. And so he leaves the body of his dear friend in a leaf-weaved cot made available by the army’s healer-skinks. He rubs his head against those of the cohort to share in their grief, muttering the closest thing to mournful rumbles his warmblood throat can produce. The skinks thank him for action and intent. Especially Ra'kaka, Quirigua’s closest confidant.

    Roland marches a good way off into the camp to give as much privacy as he can, crossing paths with their skink and saurus units doing the same. Others rest, others prepare for Death Rites and begin organizing preparations.

    Roland’s tired and aching legs land him by a fire with a grid of charred sticks built over it. Meat of varying sizes and kinds rests atop it while fats drip off. The skink attending to it silently passes an especially large strip of well charred flesh once Roland has dug his polearm’s shaft into the soft soil, sinking into a cross-legged resting position. When Roland’s unlizard-like teeth tear into it, the sealed-in liquids of the expertly cooked meat explode in his mouth. Kaapiuara, the extremely fishy yet mammalian texture is unmistakable and extremely welcome. The pinkish meat juices drip over his chin and pool between his crossed legs. Roland periodically dries his hands off against his own belly, uncaring for the greasy stripes.

    He’s going to be getting dirty again soon, no point in trying to clean up now.

    The skink also passes a gourd to Roland, who grunts in appreciation before taking a deep gulp of the -yep- hard tequitl. The harsh metl-based drink burns all the way down to Roland’s stomach, much more than any fruit-pulp based liquor would. Then again, that’s probably why it was brought in as part of the Pahuax forces’ supplies. Lizardmen exhausted from combat would want someone to dull their rest-demanding brains. And lizardmen ecstatic after victory would want something harsh to celebrate with.

    Roland staggeredly continues to eat and drink, trying to refuel his -comparatively- weaker human body for the work that remains for the day. He gasps between mouthfuls, if he needs to, he can rest and sleep his way through celebrations.

    A few minutes later, as Roland goes through his third “serving” of butchered game meat, heavy thuds indicate a new arrival to the particular bonfire he seems to be the sole comensal of. Roland looks directly up while half the leg of some kind of junglefowl hangs out of his mouth.

    His eyes find themselves staring at a maw of green scales absolutely coated in a mixture of spittle and blood. Some drops of the mixture land on his cheeks, running only for a few centimeters before the mix with the mess that is Roland’s own buccal region.

    Alpha Talon Uccuchtan of the Temple of Constellations seems to have enjoyed his own meal during combat and not afterwards. An advantage Xho’za’khanxs like himself are sadly deprived of.

    Roland rises moments later, offering his gourd to the saurus, to takes it and dumps the entirety of the clear liquid into his gaping jaws, threads of tequitl dripping off between the green saurius’ teeth like a stream’s modest waterfall.

    “The Old Ones have given me and those of the Temple of Constellations a chance to serve the Grand Purpose in a way that will be recorded in glyphs for centuries to come. They were gracious in making our constellations align.”

    Roland bows in acknowledgement of the warrior’s words. If his mouth were not filled with white avian meat, he’d answer with an expression of his gratefulness.

    “The salamander handlers of Pahuax seek you out,” The saurus continues, moving close enough to Roland as to snap the roasted leg hanging from his lips, leaving Roland with a much more manageable amount of food to shove down his gullet. “Be sure to go to them quickly, we all hope to celebrate as soon as possible and they are no different.” The saurus finishes saying after gulping down the bird thigh in a single fluid motion.

    Roland bobs his head in acknowledgement again, fully rising and yanking his weapon out of the soil. After a few stretches of his sore muscles, he begins walking away.

    “Herald.” Uccuchtan’s call makes him stop, although he doesn’t turn around. “You fought well.” The saurus growls out as he takes Roland’s place by the fire. “Getting to see them… Reminds one of how much of an improvement your spawning is.”

    Roland doesn’t respond, as he does not know how to. He just gives out a surprised grunt as he continues walking away, hoping that his skin is not showing that annoying reddened hue again.


    Salamander Cove
    25th of Nachgeheim, 2538 IC // 40.0.9.13.19 12 Kawak 12 Mol


    Barra’s trusty rowboat meekly paddles its way out of the mangrove forest. Specifically, out of a hidden nook between a few especially knotted aerial roots. It’s about an hour’s worth of rowing time from the now-annihilated stilt-built settlement.

    Close enough that the downwind keeps his nose full of the odious smell of burning trash and his eyes squinting and watery with flecks of ash. Same deal for the army of ghostly children he’s found himself the impromptu caretaker of. A bunch -maybe half and a couple more- had somehow managed to fall asleep despite the distantly burning fire and the cacophony of shooting and roaring which had accompanied it, only to be woken up by a flotilla of galleys passing by of all things.

    Barra is thankful that the ones who had stayed up had been smart enough -likely out of experience- not to draw attention with noise. Although some part of him would bet good money that mentioning his blue-gold eyed friend might have gotten them a free pass with the imperially-dressing men aboard… Might.

    Then again, seeing as how with morning some still had not woken up until Barra’s rowing conked them in the head… Barra begins to realize that a night of distant massacre might have in fact been the most restful night of their lives for the orphans.

    “Not for Skewer Girl though… That one stayed up all night long… Creepy little bitch.”

    Welp… He shouldn’t complain, all those sleepers had only made his job easier after all. And it’s only about to become easier, because once he gets to the agreed-upon location -another recognizable nook in the labyrinth of mangroves, one high enough to become a dry islet during the high tide- he knows all responsibility on his part will be fulfilled.

    He does not know what awaits him in the homeland of his new business partners, but he can hardly think of anything worse than what’s happened to his previous ones. Barra laughs to himself as he and the children mill about, leaning on his oar as it digs into the soft and salty mud.

    Barra is soon enough alerted of the arrival of his escorts when one of the children screams bloody murder and begins to run. Barra jumps a bit in startelement, but goes on to move his sight towards where the kid had started his run from as the rest freeze like hares caught far from the burrow.

    Aaaaand yep, there’s it there, one of the lizardmen, of the kind as tall as trolls and with heads of wickedly curved jaws full of crocodilian teeth. A thud somewhere beyond sight makes it clear that the running kid has been grabbed, although Barra is not surprised about how surrounded he is.

    “Ok kids,” Barra claps with a nervous smile, failing to catch their attention. “I hope you are well rested, because these fine folks are here to take you to your new home!”

    Many scream, many run, most scream and run. A couple faint, piss their already soiled clothes or collapse and begin to cry. It is really awkward for Barra, but the sounds of more and more rustling all around tell him that the lizardmen have it under control.

    Skewer girl shouts in bloody murder and runs towards the saurus who made himself visible first. The coldblood grips her by the hair as swiftly as a cat batting at a fly and lifts her painfully up. She takes it in stride and begins trying to stab the thing’s wrists, only stopping when the pain becomes too vibrant and her skewer snaps in half.

    Barra then turns his head and looks up at something even more striking as a mounted lizardmen literally breaks the treeline towards them.

    “TECPOYOTL?” It roars, clearly talking at -not to- Barra.

    “Te-tecpoyotl!” He quickly bows, speaking back the saurian name for his unusual half-naked “friend’s” position.

    The leader bows his head in a distinctly avian motion, although Barra isn’t very sure if that’s supposed to be a nod, before turning to address another suddenly appearing lizardman. This one has a struggling orphan -Fingerless-Boy and some other one- under each arm, but carelessly dumps the latter and hoists the former. Around Barra, crying and terrifying children continue to be corralled.

    “What is wrong, Moqoa?” Asks the mounted leader in a language Barra doesn’t speak.

    “This one, it smells much worse than the rest, Scar-Veteran Xohpe-Xlte. And its arm is clearly injured. I think it is sick.” Answers the warrior, shaking the blabbering boy as if to emphasize.

    “Give it to me.” The Scar-Veteran commands. The saurus moves fast, throwing the boy up like a sack as the mounted commander catches him, moving his colossal head to smell at the offending limb.

    “The rot has bitten deeply.” He states a few moments later. “A Child of the Old Ones would be able to survive, this one… No, I do not think it worthwhile wasting some of the food and medicine they all need on this one.”

    “Do I kill it?” Another saurus asks as he literally herds the children into a tight pack with his spear. Barra, meanwhile, is allowed to stay back as he does his best at not being worth talking about. He uses the moment to gather his rucksack of belongings and kiss his rowboat goodbye. The old girl has kept him alive, safe and “dry” for years, a swindler couldn’t have asked for a more loyal companion.

    “Yes, but not here, they are extremely emotional at this stage, and don’t have even a dusting of the understanding of the Great Plan the xho’za’khanx of Pahuax have.”

    “What is your command then?”

    “We take them all, once we reach the jungles, bash its head in once it falls behind and the rest leave it behind without realizing.”

    “Can we eat it, Scar-Veteran?” The growl of a fourth saurus interrupts.

    “I just said the rot has taken, mudbrain. Of course you can’t eat it” Snorts the leader before making his massive bipedal mount face Barra with a twist of the reins.

    Being face to face with the Lustrian equivalent to a meat-eating horse-crocodile is not fun. But as the reptilian rider stretches his trunk-like arm out, he becomes even morse pale.

    It -he- wants Barra to… Ride with him?

    “Truthsayers… And I can’t even say I didn’t earn this exile… If only I had kept my dick in my skirts…“ Barra the Entrepreneur curses in his native Albionese and…

    Takes the offered claw as the cold one growls and children bawl.


    The two ancient salamanders dredge the waters looking for fresh corpses to swallow whole. Both of warmbloods -human and otherwise- and of fallen skinks and saurus. None of the lizardmen try to stop them from eating the latter. For as the beasts have dutifully served their purpose in the Great Plan as living engines of war, they should now be allowed to serve their purpose as carnivores of the swamps.

    Still, lizardmen do mill about, particularly those of the hunting packs, trying their hardest to keep their own much smaller salamanders from cavorting off with the hormonal males. And yet, the ancients do show strange behavior. Where a day before they would have fiercely fought each other for territory, they now mill around uncomfortably close to each other, keeping themselves occupied by eating despite already being full.

    “I have seen it before,” Akro the skink rests like a squatting bird on a low branch as his own tamed salamander suns itself below him, tired and bloated enough to reach the closest thing to pet-like behavior the loyalty-incapable animals can approximate. “During a skirmish, a shaman called forth a swarm.”

    “I didn’t invoke them like a swarm. I am no shaman or priest of Itzil.”

    “Obviously, but you are as Chosen of Itzl as the rest of us. Speaking the beast tongues is your gift from the Three-Horned Ruler as ours is to master the salamander… Roland…”

    “I know, I know…” The human sulks and rises up from his own spot, walking by Tlahui as the carrion bird pecks into the open chest cavity of a fat but unrecognizable humanoid. The bird does follow, though, hopping along until Roland reaches the water’s edge and then jumping up to his shoulder guard with a ruffling of his wings. The blood-soaked head and neck to the bird snake to look at him, delivering a questioning squawk.

    “I.. Yes, thank you.”

    Roland wades deeper and deeper into the water, which is somehow even more full of pollutants and yet feels cleaner. Using his halberd to push floating pieces of charred wood and body parts away.

    The pressure at the back of Roland’s mind mounts and mounts, he can feel and see life returning to the tidal brackish lake, called by the abundant food. Birds first, yes, hundreds walk on top of floats and bloated corpses or fight over strips of flesh in the sky and branches. But fish, turtles and reptiles swim unseen below, bruising his legs as they realize that he’s not dead meat and that more attractive targets exist. As he beholds the burned-out city he says goodbye to the ancients. This is why what once was Swamp Town feels cleaner. Because now it's deeply unnatural decay, locked into a single self-feeding phase of constant worsening, has rejoined the great circle of nature. Now decay feeds new life instead of itself. The corpses won’t remain, they will fuel plants to grow and animals to breed. Birds will nest on floating wrecks and transient animals will use the lagoon to rest.

    And salamanders like the two massive individuals he finds himself before will use it as a nursery for their hatchlings. Some day salamanders the size of newts will snap at the insects and smallfry who will colonize the water and air, and then they will move onto bigger and bigger prey until one day…

    One day, a few will be large enough to burn cities as their progenitors did.

    “Thank you.” Roland mutters in the language of reptilian predators as both reddish fire-breathers twist their snaking bodies to look at him like coiled vipers. “Thank you, we -you- have served the grand purpose. This is your territory now. And I thank you for cleansing it so.”

    The response is immediate. The animals don’t so much bolt as they thunder with an explosion of movement that makes him stumble back and almost throws Tlahui off. In a matter of seconds, the ship-sized animals are just gone with only large missing trees to mark where they have broken into the mangrove labyrinth to return to the centers of their overlapping territories.

    And for a moment, just a moment…

    The pressure relents, and the voices of a thousand beasts turn from a violent cacophony to a distant melody.

    “Roland!” Akro shouts out from his tree branch, standing up and pointing at the eastern edge of the mangrove-covered horizon.

    Roland follows the guiding clawed hand until his eyes land on…

    What can only be Siegmund Armburster at the helm of a ship carefully mooring ion the lagoon. And the distinctively female shape by his side?

    Can only be the clay tablet to his mace. Elma.

    Roland laughs, it is a disjointed and maddened laugh, one of loose ropes snapping. And for the first time, the idea of a night of celebrating the massacre he has orchestrated becomes undeniably appealing.

    Now all he needs to do is invite the governor-general, does he not?


    The Citadella, Re Island, Port Reaver, Settler’s Cove
    26th of Nachgeheim, 2538 IC // 40.0.9.14.0 13 Ajaw 13 Mol


    “Call for a council.” Says the hedge mage as he looks out of the fortress’ narrow stone window.

    “I am going to wait until my spies -and my men’s contacts- send back information from Sudburg. Those fires could have come from nowhere but Swamp Town and Sudburg is closest there. If anyone has information, it’ll be those who survived whatever happened… Or Sudburg.” The king answers, nursing an opaque glass of rum as he pensively looks up at the rafters.

    “We know that you will likely get no survivors. We know what happened. And who did it. And why.”

    “Point by point: The council will take days to assemble, waiting one more to gather information will not hurt and a pirate knows not to trust chance. We don’t know what happened, it could have been what you hoped for… Or a peatbog wildfire, or an accident, or that cesspool full of worthlessness might have simply tore itself a new asshole..”

    “Be honest, Bastjan. Honest kings make for good kings…” The ancient birch tree of a man smiles, taking his lord’s words without a single grain of seriousness.

    “I am not close-minded. And I agree that it would be too much of a coincidence for your call to parlay to happen the same night that a section of jungle so large we can see it from here suddenly starts to burn. We don’t see fires that big and concentrated even at the height of the dry season. I just want assurances.”

    “More assurances than what your court wizard can give you? tsk-tsk.”

    “Will you stop bothering me if I call for my council to meet tomorrow?”

    “Mmmmh,” The wizard audible fake-thinks.”Yes, those are the ones that we need on board the most at the practical level, even if they lack the resources your little friends have.”

    “My ‘little friends’ are the most powerful pirates of the New World…”

    “I know what I said. Rabble, just component rabble…” The king ignores the fire-stoking words. “In the meantime, I need men.”

    “So soon? What for?”

    “Nothing as big or as demanding, just an escort, I need to travel inland to an old site and want someone to keep an eye on Stefan as we go. A day’s trip there and back.”

    “Ask me again tomorrow, after you spend today doing your job.”

    “Ahhhh King Borġ,” The wizard bows. “Always a pleasure to serve you.”


    Lizardmen Encampment, Salamander Cove
    26th of Nachgeheim, 2538 IC // 40.0.9.14.0 13 Ajaw 13 Mol


    In the eyes of Siegmund Armbruster, his “allies” celebrate their massacre of a victory exactly the way he would have expected them to. Around him, hundreds of the reptilian folk trample the soil as they “dance” with a strange combination of coordinated sways, tail stops and claw-raking. They dance to a music of massive flutes, thundering drums and their own animal roars and bird-like trills.

    He, of course, participates from the edge of the encampment as more of an observer, sitting on a mostly flat stump with a bowl of meat-based stew on the ground by his side and a gourd for a cup on his hand, filled with his own rum. The few times he’s tasted lizardmen alcohols, he’s found them either too sweet and juice-like or too dry and earthy.

    The stew is perfect, however. The taste of the meat is unmistakable, close to that of the venison he would have eaten as the rare locally sourced game during a campaign, so it likely comes from marshland deer, a breed not too dissimilar from his own homeland’s reh . But what really improves the taste are the large chunks of the yellowish root the lizardmen call “papa.” He had once been untrusting of the tubercule, having seen the lumpy roots covered in mud and dirt being pulled from the ground by farmstead-attempting settlers.

    Now? Well, he can say that he’s a big fan of the soft but slight firmness of the earthy ingredient, specially with how starchy and thick it makes the rest of the stew, and how the salt and herbs in turn soak into the unpeeled chunks.

    And he is not the only one, considering how much settlers at Sudburg have taken to incorporating into meals, or how he keeps hearing of more and more lords in the Old World introducing -often by force- their peasants to the farming of it. According to a few Kislevite mercenaries who’ve used the portuary colony as their supply depots, their people have even started using it as the main ingredient of their vodka in replacement of the usual grains.

    While he is not exactly sure of why his visibly carnivorous hosts would farm them, he is certainly not one to complain. The meal is so filling that it keeps his mood relatively high despite the general views he is subject to.

    While their deep rumbling music and dancing are large components of how the lizardmen seem to celebrate -truly not too different from the drunken singing he can hear from his men on their galleys if he focuses enough- it is not the only one.

    The reptiles eat a lot, and they do so messily. The ceramic-wear cauldrons they use might be filled with simmering stews, but they are greatly outnumbered by fires upon which sticks, skewers and entire branches are used to hoist clumsily butchered prey, from small fish, rodents and birds to animals large enough that he could use their glistening ribcages as a tub.

    A lot of them are braising and roasting. But… even more seem to just be closeby to the fires to keep them warm, as the lizardmen tear at the raw flesh. Some even go to the skinks once they are done, so the smaller lizardmen may use stone-and-pestle-like implements to expertly snap and crack the bones to make the marrow quickly accessible.

    Although others, like a saurus nearby, are content just using their own teeth and clubs to leverage massive femurs and other pieces still covered in speckles of flesh until they crack.

    The more he is, the more glad he is about having decided not to take escorts. Most of his men do not have the nerves to calmly eat a meal with such things being done around them. But he does, by Sigmar he does and he hates whoever cursed him with the destiny of having to make use of the ability.

    Still, it will all soon be over. As the Herald explained earlier on the morning, his appearance is a perfunctory one as one of the “jaw’s teeth” as he had described leadership within a lizardmen army. He is not exactly sure that his blunt and squat teeth fit in with the lizardmen’s own dagger-like fangs, but taking part in a feast is quite literally the least dangerous or head-ache inducing component of the entire venture so far.

    He spies said Herald among the crowd after he leans down to grab his bowl again, getting in a good spoonful as he recognizes both old and new details. The Herald remains tall and strong, that much is obvious, a trait emphasized by his standing by the side of his sister, the siblings sharing what looks like a bowl of small and deeply charred pieces of meat… Odds are, they are eating some kind of bug or grub.

    But where “Welser-Nakor” usually is decorated with colorful paints across his entire body, covered in the glinting gold of trinkets and tools… The young adult instead has gone for an extremely simple garb, a brown skirt and little else, with no halberd to be seen. Siegmund guesses that his usual attire may be getting cleaned by some servant-skink, as he did note it being as grimy and filthy as any other fighter’s during the aforementioned encounter early in the day.

    But then the sister notices his staring, and points at him with inaudible words from within the crowd. The Herald’s sight follows, and with a nod the siblings separate, disappearing into the crowd in opposing directions under the shifting bonfire shadows.

    Siegmund doesn’t need to wait long before one, the brother of course, reappears. Followed by two saurus carrying massive and tightly woven baskets. The reptiles lay the containers at his feet as he gets up, leaving his almost finished bowl on his “seat” and making himself presentable by adjusting his cuirass and the clothing under it.

    Two sights almost make his eyes bug out and a gasp leaves his stew-smelling lips. One, the first one, is that he catches a glimpse of the baskets’ contents. Each is as large as a barrel and filled to the brim with ornamental pieces of silver and gold. More than enough to… To… He can’t even think of all the ways in which he, his men or Sudburg could spend that much gold!

    But then, the second creates questions. Questions he will not ask, but questions nonetheless. Because the Herald -who usually has his skin decorated with either menageries of painted images or a mix of sweat, faded paint, grime and blood after combat- in his simple and undecorated dressage…

    Looks like a daemon. His skin coated in a thick layer of matte and sooty blackness, painted on with none of the finesse usually seen. The paint employs the shape of bones in a vaguely patterned shape, with the upper arm being not decorated with one, but a ring of long bones meant to simulate the humerus. His face is painted as well, with a black skull that looks like that of a lizardman, creating a strange illusion when drawn on a mostly flat face. A massive gash of red paint covers his chest and belly, covering where the painted ribs, sternum and backbone should be. The young man’s eyes shine with that gold-ringed blue of them. They literally shine, like those of a nocturnal predator peeking out of the shadows.

    “A supplementary form of payment for you and your men. My sister has informed me that while you agreed to looted goods and slaves as recompense for your services… The amount obtained of the former has been barely worth your efforts, and the latter of questionable quality. This here is for you and your soldiers to share in whatever proportion you may see as fitting. I hope that it shows my lord’s commitment to fostering our mutually beneficial relationship in the long term.” The Herald bows, a flick of his wrist dismissing the two saurus as the words leave his black-painted lips.

    Siegmund bows back, clearly understanding both the stated and unstated meanings.

    “Then, I hope you will translate my most effusive gratitude for this gift. And that my intent is to carry out and enable further collaboration between our honorable polities.” His own hidden diplomatic message is shared too.

    “Grandiose, your fleet was truly key to the containment of the disease, we could not have afforded for any higher level of spillage… I trust your men will keep any confidential information to themselves.” The Herald offers his arm.

    “You can trust them to brag for as long as they have cocks, but you can also trust that they cannot share what they do not know. To them, we were there to raid a pirate haven collapsing due to a rogue imperial deserter's arrival and attempted takeover. That is what they will boast about.” Siegmund takes the offered hand, relaxing as he sees the Herald barely contain his laugh.

    “Splendid… Now come, I sadly must leave to honor fallen friends, but my sister wishes to entertain you with our kin’s foods and arts before you two must leave for Sudburg come morning. Your payment will be there once you are escorted back to your moored ships.”

    “Oh, jolly…” Siegmund takes a deep breath.

    A breath full of not rancid air, but the smell of food.

    At least on that front, the Settler’s Cove has seen marked improvement.


    The Geomantic Web, Everywhere and Nowhere at Once
    26th of Nachgeheim, 2538 IC // 40.0.9.14.0 13 Ajaw 13 Mol


    “Reporting success. Objectives have been achieved.” Speaks across the roiling Whill of Order a voice of Shifting Ash And Dying Coals.

    “Congratulations.” Answers the sound of Tectonic Plates Scraping Against Each Other And Mountain Ranges Rising From The World Pond.

    “The sickly Anathema has been extirpated?” Questions A Million Newts Swimming In A Million Streams.

    “To an absolute degree.” Comes the answer, making the previous voice unfathomably proud for a millisecond of emotion.

    “How many rearable individuals have been collected?” Asks the Asker Of The Three Questions.

    “Toll cannot be taken until final arrival.” The first voice once more answers, sharing at the same time a billion probabilistic estimations.

    “Shall the next phase begin?” Asks the Meeter Of The Fourth Race.

    The vote tally is taken. By a margin of 0.75, the will of The Old Ones is made clear.
     
    thedarkfourth and Killer Angel like this.
  4. Mr.Crocodile
    Chameleon Skink

    Mr.Crocodile Well-Known Member

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    So, what do you all think? Did you enjoy the arc? Did events catch you offguard?
    I feel there's a marked improvement between the first arc of this fic and Skeggi Burns. It's a more streamlined and focused story thanks to both experience and a stronger effort to draft and plan out chapters ahead of time. What do ya'll think?

    In any case, I hope it was an enjoyable read and that you will stick around for the next Interlude: The Voice From Beyond the Fog.
    And specially for the next arc: Robber Killer


    I hope you enjoyed the story and I honestly appreciate all and any kudos or comments you may be gracious enough to gift me! And in case any of you are interested, here's the link to my Discord server, where I discuss my projects and all are welcome :D

    It would be great if, if you enjoyed the story that is, you took a second of your time to go over to ao3 and left a kudo and a comment over there, since it is my main posting site.
     
  5. Killer Angel
    Slann

    Killer Angel Prophet of the Stars Staff Member

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    After the previous climax, this was a nice ending of this story arc, with enough loose ends that will be presumably developed in the incoming second chapter. :)
    A great short novel, high quality stuff. A pity it's not (apparently) appreciated by a greater amount of readers on LO
     
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  6. Mr.Crocodile
    Chameleon Skink

    Mr.Crocodile Well-Known Member

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    Interlude II: The Voice from Beyond the Fog

    “Truthsayers, not druids. It is easy to understand the confusion but -believe me- you do not want to call one of those withered old Albionese wackadoos druids. Call them Truthsayers or Soothsayers.

    What’s the difference? Druid is just another name for a hedgewizard, a wizard of the Jade order. You might say they look the same, but that’s because you have never seen a Truthsayer. Druids, who take their name from the priests of the Old Faith, are scholars of nature, just like how alchemists are scholars of metal and pyromancers are scholars of trouble. You will see them -old men, withered like crooked oaks- draped in their green robes, covered in pouches and satchels full of more herbs and shrooms than you could ever name, muttering about some short of new discovery or experimental potion while palming their herbalist tools. They visit the fields, orchards and tamed forests, they will make them plentiful with their magic for a price. Or even for free, if you are lucky to come across with one who cares as much about farmers as he does about moss.

    But a Truthsayer? Nay, not a druid. Those hermits have more in common with a deranged warrior priest than with even the queerest wizard-scholar. They live as exiles to their own tribes, estranged advisers and leaders of Albion’s savage clans. They move around half-naked -yes, the females too, but the crones and gaffers too, so it’s not as fun a detail as you think- wearing trinkets and assorted armor pieces of copper, gold and bronze. Their naked skins? They paint them with this dark blue dye that stays on the skin for years, like a tattoo, in some of them, it stains so deeply into their old bones that they look like frozen corpses. They are tenacious things, ranting and raving, casting old magicks that change their shapes into those of Albionese beasts and wielding their skull-capped ivory and wood staffs to imbue their clansmen with mind-altering hexes, making them fight like madmen, to their deaths and without an ounce of fear.

    So, yeah, don’t call them druids. To them an Imperial druid is little more than a propped-up healer punching above his station. Even in the off chance you ever get to talk with one, I don’t want to hear of another lad getting brained because he didn’t know his Albionese basics.”

    -Piece of Advice by Manfred Horlacher, veteran of the Neuland city guard.

    The fog is clogging, humid yet heavy with volcanic ash, and it is getting closer.

    Túathal Malter knows himself to be dreaming. It’s being far too easy, effortless even, to change shapes as he flies over forests and dells. He knows well how to recognize the dreaming realm, its strange geography and unfathomable features.

    And yet, he knows himself to be in danger. He who has dream-walked almost every fortnight of his almost sixty winters upon Albion is terrified in a way only one connected to nature can be.

    For he knows himself prey, stalked by a predator that will not relent.

    He has taken the form of the salmon, and fled up and down a dozen rivers, jumped up and down a hundred cascades. And the fog has given chase.

    He has taken the form of the hare and the field mice, running across the clearings and pastures. And the fog has given chase.

    He has taken the form of the boar and the elk, and trampled his way through the deepest of forests. He has taken the form of the deer and the fox, scampering between the fallen logs. And the fog has given chase.

    In the form of sheep and cattle he has hidden amongst the herds under the cu sith’s protection. But the fog has given chase, swallowing both hounds and livestock.

    In the forms of bats he has hidden deep in crags and caves. In the forms of toads he has hidden below the mudflats. As the great heron he has made himself unnoticeable in the bogs. But from the smallest dragonfly to the fiercest bear, the fog has given chase.

    The fog has given him chase as a seabird over the coasts, as a swift over the meadows, as a silent owl and a brisk harrier over the forests, as a starling or wren below the canopy. Not even the form of the swift has managed to make the bodiless predator relent.

    His body, his bodies in all their forms, ache and tire. One would expect physical exhaustion to be unknown in the dreamers’ lands, and yet the mind is the mind, and all exertion demands a price.

    He has flown, ran and swam the width and height of half of Albion, and he has no delusion that the fog will not chase for twice as much.

    The daemon, for it can be nothing else, has latched onto his dreaming mind. Too deeply for awakening to be a venue of spake. And yet not strongly enough as if to force a confrontation. Túathal knows not whether this is a curse or a boon. For he has fought the parasites-from-beyond-the-veil before but never in his own mind. Never unprepared, never ambushed.

    In truth, he has never before heard of one of his kindred being besieged in such a way. His heart is filled with no courage or valor. His only chance it to-

    The hawk’s diminutive body collapses, tumbling into the cold snowy ground. Not by any fault of his own. He is exhausted but not yet collapsed, he could have kept up the efforts for longer still.

    He has not fallen down, Túathal realizes. The land has risen to meet him like a hillock-sized understrike with a club. And then the rest of the land ahead of him rises too, and rises more.

    And more.

    And more.

    And More.

    And in a minuscule amount of time -for real time is inscrutable in the dream realm- Túathal, great Truthsayer of Clan Malter, no longer stands somewhere in the expanses of Albion.

    He stands at the foothills of the Beast Peaks. Albions sole -albeit massive- mountain range. The dreamworld is shaped by the thoughts, memories and nature of the dreamer. The fact that it could be changed against one's awareness -for this is no mere nightmare- consent is… Is…

    “What daemon could-”

    The fog rushes. All around him the world becomes a maelstrom of ash-clogged fog as gray as a wolf’s coat. Túathal twists and turns, trying to remain facing whatever may come from it with his raised staff.

    But the fog rushes past him, treating him like a sole rock breaking the waves, and continues forth.

    Forth, and upwards .

    The clouds of fog thicken and condense as they climb up the mountain like parodies of mountain streams. They flow upward and into converging channels that resemble canals more than anything found in the real mountains these have taken the form of.

    The fog climbs hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of meters in a lightning’s snap, disappearing beyond the peaks as they shear and grind them, falling into the opposite side’s slopes.

    Túathal sags, gasping for breath now that he is not being hunted. For a moment he tries to make sense of the dreamwa-no, vision, for this can be nothing less than a godly vision- as the hill he stands on lowers itself like the restful breath of some buried giant.

    And then the Beast Peaks crack and boil.

    The mountains, all of them , groan and visibly bloat, and from fissures like the cracks in a shattering jug, the liquid they contain spews forth. Lava burst forth, exploding into geysers of melted rock flowing down like rivers of blood borne of some continental wound.

    And then the fog returns, this time fed by the surging volcanoes’ billowing plumes of ash and firestone. It returns, clawing as if pulling something heavy upwards. The fog takes the form of collapsing and reforming arms, which dig into the Beast Peaks with enough strength to crack them, releasing more volcanic eruptions.

    The world becomes a tornado of ash, fire and orange magma. And then, the fog finishes pulling itself up.

    It is colossal, more than any giant, more than a sky titan or a sea monster as it stands using the Beast Peaks like a table to loom over.

    Y-O-U

    Túathal’s mind shears , burning as if someone had taken a hot poker to his brains without breaking his skull first. The god made from pyroclasts with forges for eyes raises an arm the size of a thousand longboats, pointing towards an unseeable western horizon.

    T-A-K-E-T-H-E-M-A-L-L-W-E-S-T

    Túathal cries in pain and collapses to his knees. The message is not spoken in words. Each concept is a mountain crushing a hold. Each unspoke detail a thousand landslides.

    A-C-R-O-S-S-T-H-E-H-O-R-I-Z-O-N

    Túathal can feel his inner ear boil .

    B-R-I-N-G-T-H-E-M-T-O-T-H-E-C-A-I-R-N-

    “I WILL!” He shouts as the saliva in his mouth evaporates.

    B-R-I-N-G-T-H-E-M-T-O-U-S

    “I SWEAR I WILL!”

    And then the dreamworld burns, Túathal feeling every last scrap of his flesh turning into ash alongside it.

    And then…

    He wakes up.





    Inbhirlorm, Shores of Loch Lorm, Lands of Clan Malter, Eastern Albion
    27th of Nachgeheim, 2538 IC // 40.0.9.14.3 3 Akʼbʼal 16 Mol


    Túathal, elder Truthsayer of Clan Malter, stumbles out of the cave that he has lived the bulk of his hermetic life in drenched in sweat and the frigid water of one of his amphorae, the ghostly sensation of a burning much more than physical still spidering up and down his nerves.

    He stumbles out of the cave’s entrance half-naked. Meaning, more naked than he would usually be, bereft of his many charms and decorations in little more than his loincloth and old tattooed skin.

    As he does so, he overlooks his people’s home, Lorm Valley. The Lorm Valley is narrow and steep sided. Túathal can see even the most distant and stoutly fenced Keyler distillery on the eastern shore of Loch Lorm, the Keylers’ own inn not too far. It consists of three buildings surrounded by a stout fence. His sight the road running along the Loch's edge all the way to the clan’s main settlement directly downhill and on the lakeshore from his vantage point, Inbhirlorm. He’s only ever visited it a few days a year, always in special but marked locations.

    Túathal doesn’t even bother stopping to carry out his daily communion with the clan’s oldest and estranged ally, which is theoretically his sole daily duty. So frazzled he is, that he does not commune with the Monster of Loch Lorm, the freshwater beast that has long stalked the lake’s waters in a tenuous peace with the Malters: They throw animal carcasses into the Loch whenever they expect it to be hungry and keep as quiet as they possibly can.

    [​IMG]

    An Albionese traveler attacked by the Loch Lorm Monster during his crossing of the Lorm Valley along the Lorm Beck River.

    So willing to collaborate with the beast his clan is, that they never raise their voices or drop things on the lakeshore and even go as far as to muffle their boots by wrapping them round with bandages. All this so the beast may remain docile enough that Túathal himself can commune with it, making it agreeable to letting them fish and sail the loch.

    As another burning pang, a memory of those slitted eyes made of magma, strikes him, the… Connection is not lost to the truthsayer.

    The Malters have, by all rights, been burdened with an imperious purpose. A new task, a new covenant with a beast even more ferocious than any lake monster.

    And it's Túathal’s mission to convince his clan head that he is not, in fact, insane.
     
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  7. Mr.Crocodile
    Chameleon Skink

    Mr.Crocodile Well-Known Member

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    I'm sure this will have no unfoseen consequences on the overall plot of this story... Suuuuuuureeee...

    Next update we jump into the next arc!

    And for all those interested, I am currently working on and posting The Great Lustrian Bestiary, I have edited out about 55% of the working document and posted about 33%!

    I hope you enjoyed the story and I honestly appreciate all and any kudos or comments you may be gracious enough to gift me! And in case any of you are interested, here's the link to my Discord server, where I discuss my projects and all are welcome :D

    It would be great if, if you enjoyed the story that is, you took a second of your time to go over to ao3 and left a kudo and a comment over there, since it is my main posting site.
     
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  8. Killer Angel
    Slann

    Killer Angel Prophet of the Stars Staff Member

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    YES!
    Can't wait for this evening to read it :)
     
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  9. Mr.Crocodile
    Chameleon Skink

    Mr.Crocodile Well-Known Member

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    Arc III: Robber Killer - Killer Robber
    Chapter 22: Opening Move
    Long-distance communication is near-impossible in Lustria. Here, in our Empire, we can trust any important information will cross the nation if it needs to. Messengers would be able to find inns all along their routes, where they can recuperate enough to keep the rate at which they cover long distances. And important institutions -be they regional capitals, our universities and other centers of knowledge and even our valuable outlying fortresses and frontier outposts- can depend on a widespread and generally well maintained system of dovecotes or even -although reserved for the most dire situations- magics. Less speedy methods are available for the more mundane needs, obviously, as letters and the couriers who make a living delivering them are one of our strongest guilds.

    But in Lustria? One will be lucky to learn of a distant event within months of it happening, and often true and detailed accounts and communications can take months and great risks. Obviating the causeways of the native population -who don’t even depend on them, as their leadership maintains itself interconnected by preternatural means- the only safe way of delivering a message is to pay for a ship heading to the appropriate colony, outpost or settlement to take it as part of its cargo, and to trust that the ship will safely reach its destination, and that the men aboard will actually care to deliver it once they arrive. It may sound strange, a messenger refusing to deliver a message, but in Lustria it’s customary that the sender and received each pay half of the fee, and many will simply pocket the first half of payment and won’t bother with the work.

    All attempts to establish a network of dovecotes in Lustria for exported messenger pigeons have failed in impressive and bloody ways. And no messengers’ guild exists either, for such an institution cannot exist in a land where every last center of population is not only isolated, but also often dogmatically self-ruled and uncooperative.

    In Lustria, as they say, the only way to know the truth of an event is to witness it oneself as it happens. And even then, there is always the risk one’s own memories and beliefs play.

    -Excerpt from the Collected Lectures on Lustria by Gottlieb Ochsner. Volume I: Overview of Lustria’s States.

    Eriksson’s Tower, Skeggi, Settler’s Cove
    9th of Erntezeit, 2538 IC // 40.0.9.14.19 6 Kawak 12 Chʼen

    “I tell you!” The man clambered halfway up Eriksson’s Tower shouts out to the gathered crowd. “Just floating chunks of burned wood as far as I could see, not a single hut left standing!”

    Torfi listens with attention among the gathered crowd. His mother Stina, along with his two youngest siblings -Haimiaz and Eistla- by his side among the massed crowd. The small inner-settlement crossroad around said tower isn’t particularly big, but the tower’s nature as being both quite tall and easy to climb makes it easy for any news-carriers -such as the current one- to make themselves heard.

    “What about bodies? How recent was it?”

    “All the bodies we could find were picked mostly clean, the high and low tides had pushed them to the edges of the lagoon and entangled them into the roots and branches of the mangroves. They were brown-stained, little more than tendons and scraps remained.” The speaker readjusts his footing on the twenty feet tall pile of stone atop the dune-ridge that makes up the tower’s base.

    “Must have been months!” Shouts a man, clearly a seasonal raider, going by his attire and the fact that Torfi doesn’t recognize him.

    “This is Lustria you idiot!” Someone else in the crowd shouts out. “Can’t have been more than a fortnight!”

    That insult gets an argument going between the tower-climber, the seasonal raider and the local Torfi does recognize. It goes on for long enough that Torfi starts to zone out, finding his physical surroundings more interesting that what’s going on in them.

    The tower really is a sight to behold, as it is the second tallest man-made structure in Skeggi behind the “palace” built atop the King’s Hill. There’s also the scarp, obviously, a half-a-mile tall chunk of granite on the settlement’s easternmost edge which serves both as home to the thousands of scavenging and scrap-stealing shorebirds and as the premier place for one to be tested for a variety of reasons. Torfi has seen people try to climb the rough-rock for anything from impressing a possible bedfellow, becoming a sterk -a leader of a jakker gang- to even gaining audience with the King. Although most people just treat it as a drunkard’s challenge. Even failing to climb it and surviving, getting a nasty scar for it, can open a lot of doors in Skeggi, although nothing beats retrieving a live bird or intact nest.

    Torfi himself has never done it. Not only does he not want to find himself a smashed corpse on the ground or impaled on the eastern palisade, but there’s also his father’s childhood-long order to never even consider it.

    Eriksson’s tower, on the other hand, presents a much more realizable climb. According to legend, it had been built during Losteriksson’s landfall-discovering trip as a way to find his way back for years after with settlers in tow season after season. Now, with the region crawling with Norscan temporary camps, that was unnecessary, but the stone-pile had nevertheless remained a symbol of the city.

    Sitting at a central crossroads, the stack had become the default city square. When the king needs to make a proclamation, she -or her men, considering the woman’s old age- climb to the top, lift up a torch, and yell it at the top of their lungs. Lesser news is also announced at the foot or the lower levels of the stones, either personally or hammered onto the rocks or wooden stakes nearby.

    Today the tower is particularly heavy with them, making it easy for anyone looking for work or workers to walk the dirty boulevard and join the masses huddled around the signs and hawkers. And then there’s the street merchants who sell to the crowd, although those remain out-shouted by the argument.

    “WHO DID IT?” The shout behind Torfi makes him jump with a son’s instincts. For it is his mother -Huscarl Stina- killing the ongoing litanies of insults. “Get the fuck back on topic! Who burned down Swamp Town?”

    The -now half a dozen- arguing people go instantly silent, as chastised as if they were her children. Eventually, someone else, another seasonal, shouts out.

    “Wasn’t me! Our longship just got here!”

    “Us neither!” One of the arguers says. And suddenly, the crowd explodes into both people claiming uninvolvement and accusing others of having raided the piss-smelling settlement.

    It makes sense, Torfi figures, half of everyone in Skeggi is owed debts by some sod in that place, and half of everyone else uses it as a supplying stop for trips south across the Sea of Serpents down to Northern Lustria. Having it destroyed -with no sharing of booty or boasting invitations to drink, to boot!- puts a wrench in Skeggi’s main sources of income. The ruckus becomes even louder than the previous with people now getting agitated as they start grasping -like Torfi- what broad consequences losing that self-worsening slum would have.

    [​IMG]
    A map of the eastern shores of the Isthmus of Lustria, dating back to before the foundation of the Autonomous Imperial Colony of Sudburg.

    “It was the lizards!” A voice calls, not as loud Torfi’s mother, yet having the same effect. Opposite Torfi’s place in the crowd, people part. Adella of the Graelings makes her way through, surrounded by her entourage of jakkers and unmistakable with her body-hiding pelt-cloak, glinting nose and earrings, mostly shaved head adorned with a tall knot of braids and ivory, and her face covered in tear-drop tattoos.

    “Did she just say…” Torfi mutters to his mother’s side.

    “Quiet.” She stops him, not moving her sight from the sterk’s form.

    “Keep speaking, Verner.” She calls to the man halfway up the tower. One of her Graeling jakkers, Torfi realizes.

    “Ye-yeah!” He speaks. “We found their arrows and darts, stone and bone-tipped and too different to mistake for ours. And the bodies… Bites, snapped bones and all that.”

    “Could have been the scavengers!” Another voice in the crowd counter-argues.

    “How many scavengers do you know that burn settlements?”

    “Salamanders, you fucking idiot!”

    “Oh sure! Because we all know salamanders love raiding and burning down whole-arsed settlements.”

    “Ah,” Adella makes herself heard again. “But why not both? After all, if someone is going to be employing those beasts…” The rest of her logic is too obvious to need stating.

    “A-And!” The crier speaks again. “We found some of their bodies too…”



    Someone throws a stone, barely missing the messenger. “YOU SHOULD HAVE STARTED WITH THAT, IMBECIL!”

    The crowd explodes once more, this time dominated by even wilder theories. For only the oldest of Skeggi’s inhabitants even remember the last time the lizardmen attacked a settlement. People start moving, seeking each other for rushed private conversations, and starting brawls and arguments as Adella’s crew stand in the middle of it all.

    “Get your siblings back to the kennels.” Stina gruffly commands, grabbing Torfi’s shoulder. “Nothing of worth is going to be made of this stunt until the King’s men get down here, confirm things and decodes something.”

    “Why share the news like this?”

    “And why would a bunch of her jakkers be on a ship bound for Swamp Town?” His mother counter-asks.

    “Oh… Blasted… It’s another-”

    “-Power play. That bitch and her schemes…Now go , Torfi. Get those two out of here. The last thing I need are Haimiaz and Eistla in the middle of a brawl.”

    “What about you, mother?”

    “I think I just saw a Reidarson over there, I’m going to try and see if I can kill the little whore while everything breaks down.” Is all the explanation Torfi gets before another icy look makes him grab a hold of both tykes and starts pushing out of the crowd.





    Lusty Jim’s Tavern, Port Reaver, Settler’s Cove
    10th of Erntezeit, 2538 IC // 40.0.9.15.0 7 Ajaw 13 Chʼen

    “And then-And then!” Geffray Favieres slurs as he carelessly shakes his cup of Morceaux red. And then the bastard, with that little smarmy hedge-wizard by his side, has the balls to tell us that he is raising quotas effective immediately . Another one of his pet projects fucking fails and he has the BALLS to tell us, TO OUR FACES, that he’s going to leech off of more of our well-earned gold!!” His accent gets thicker and thicker until his companion starts fearing that the Bretonnia-born plunderer will outright start switching languages.

    “Mmmh…” His drinking companion nods, taking a swig of his own much cheaper beer. “How much so? The news have yet to trickled down to the rest of us.”

    “HE’S DOUBLING IT, THAT COCHON !” The Bretonnian smashes his cup against the table, thankfully, it’s made of metal, or it would have shattered.

    “So from two, to four hundredths? Is he going to apply the same rate to the rest of us?”

    “Who gives a shit!” The Bretonnian laments, throwing an emotional fit over having to share a slightly less minuscule section of his ill-gotten gains with the Pirate King.

    I give a shit, Geffray.”

    “Ah yes,” The chronically sardonic man smiles. “My apologies, I keep forgetting that you don’t officially stand among us, Billings.”

    “That’s quite alright.” The man in question accepts, knowing that with a drunk pirate lord, it’s better to just let things go like the tide. “But you must understand, the current going for the rest of us already varies between four and five hundredths. Doubling that could… It could frankly put many of us out of business.”

    “Maybe that’s it! That’s what that pig wants, he wants to run us out of business!”

    “Unlikely…” Pirate captain Philipp Billings says. “That would be like a farmer poisoning his fields.”

    “That bastard would do that, though! Always obsessed with his projects!”

    “Did he say why he is raising the king’s fee?”

    “Yes,” Geffray recomposes himself. “Wants to pay back that old bitch at the Felldowns for all the men and timber he used up, and then he -get this!- wants to finish that wall of his.”

    “Unsurprising.”

    “THAT BASTARD!” The Bretonnian shouts out again, startling the bulk of customers at Lustry Jim’s tavern. On the other hand, almost all those customers are either men from Favieres’ or Billings’ crews, so not a single man raises a fuzz.

    “Yes, I know. But wasting your spit on cursing his name won’t get us far. So do tell me, Geffray, what are you planning? Because I know you are planning something.”

    “A couple days ago… While talking with our common friend Salhi-”

    “How’s that faggot doing, anyways?”

    “As well as one can these days, he recently caught himself a new batch of Tilieans, I heard.”

    “Good, good. Oh, continue, please-!”

    “Yes, yes! As I was saying,” The plunderer composes himself. “He and I were talking. And he mentioned that old idea of yours to me, what did he call it… A…?”

    “Guild.”

    “Ah yes, a guild. Queer tradition, that one. Imperial isn’t it? My people don’t bother with that stuff, a lord knows what’s best for his peasants after all.”

    “I’m quite sure that there’s guilds in Bretonnia’s cities, actu-”

    “Yes, yes!” Geffray ignores as his cup is refilled by the eponymous Lustry Jim. A man easily recognizable for the same trait he is named after -and not one below the beltline- as the vivid red birthmark across his face is impossible not to notice.

    Some sailors joked that it is a perfect map of Lustria’s coast. Some don’t say it as a joke, which is why Lusty Jim also has the hilarious pedigree of having been kidnapped by explorer parties at least eight times since he opened his tavern.

    “And you two talked about my idea because…?”

    “Well, we believe it could be just the thing to fix this pesky issue!”

    “And that, despite the fact that you all ,” Philipp’s eyes squint. “Were part of the reason my plan was literally murdered?”

    “Now, now, that was during the reign of the previous guy , Jack, wasn’t it? Now we have a new King! A much more meddlesome one!” The Pirate Lord says. Biggins elects not to bother with correcting his misremembering of the last Pirate King of Port Reaver.

    “And…?”

    “Well, your idea was -if I remember correctly- to put yourself up as a Pirate Lord without actually taking crews over, by way of creating a guild with the rest of the single-ship captains, correct?”

    Not in the slightest. For Philipp Billings’ actual hope -inspired by his life before piracy as a tradesman- had been to establish an honest guild, which could represent the interests of all lesser pirates across the three major Pirate Kingdoms of the Great Ocean. One which could bargain with the Pirate Kings without risking losing any of their heads. But of course, he doesn’t waste time explaining that to the drunk Bretonnian.

    “Somewhat… And you want me to…? Try again?”

    “Yes! With you on the table, backed by the bulk of lesser pirates, we stand a chance to finally dethrone that bastard!”

    “And can’t that be done the… Usual way?”

    “OH! Believe me! We’ve tried! But that guard of his is offensively loyal. And all his friends across the city -and that fortress- have killed all our beachheads so far. So it’ll have to be the boring way. Coup.”

    “Instead of assasination?”

    “For now, yes.”

    “And who’ll lead this coup? Moresome, what assurances do I have that my guild won’t simply be killed once it has helped you and the rest of the Lords?”

    Favieres looks at him with scrunched-up eyes, as if confused by the question. And that moment is precisely when Philipp Billings realizes what is going on. The Pirate Lords of Port Reaver…

    They haven’t planned anything beyond the fact that they want to dethrone the king for daring to tax them more than a pittance. And they have figured out literally nothing beyond how to rope in enough manpower to do so.

    “Great, fucking great… I’ll start talking to people. Please have some answers by the time we next meet. And don’t worry about the tab, old friend, I’ll pay.”

    “Oh, you really are a darling!”

    'Yeah, sure, let’s go with that .” The veteran pirate captain thinks to himself as he rises up, his crew following suit. “And I’m sure that once you get your coup, I’ll still be a darling, just one too big for your tastes.'





    Gardens of Upoc, Temple-City of Pahuax, Jungles of Pahualaxa
    11th of Erntezeit, 2538 IC // 40.0.9.15.1 8 Imix 14 Chʼen

    By the time Roland finishes telling the story of the battle to Chorai, the gourd of tequitl between them is fully empty, and it has been for a good full hour of the afternoon sun. Although neither have room to complain, for the Gardens of Upoc offer plenty of shade by way of their luscious fruit-bearing trees, and the water of the canals which irrigate them -perfectly potable and safe for drinking when one has their kinds of stomachs- are more than plenty.

    Central Pahuax is made up of a tiered and walled temple complex featuring the High Temple of Pahuax(1), the Grand Plaza(2), the Gardens of Upoc(3), the Temple of Uxmac(4), the Temple of Huanchi(5), the Pyramid of Itzil(6), the Pyramid of the Old Ones(7) and the Twin Temples of Tepoc(8).

    “I am curious,” Chorai speaks, his tail submerged in said water to keep his body’s temperature at its most comfortable. “What ended the tally being? I saw few when the forces returned.”

    “One hundred and fifty seven. But the bulk were shared with the local troops and communes, and even more with the Lizardmen of the Temple of Constellations.” Roland answers as he slowly inspects the glassy edges of the obstinate blade embedded into his great weapon.

    “That is, indeed, a small number.”

    “The majority were taken by the Warmbloods, as the sea was the sole chosen venue of flight for those who did so. And our strategy and tactics were not conducive to offering-taking.”

    “I see… Does the number include the younglings saved?”

    “No, effective immediately they were considered of the Second Xho’za’khanx Host, and as such part of the Pahuax contingent.”

    “And how many of those were taken?”

    “Thirty two.”

    “And on the manner of leadership?”

    “Much like how Elma was made leader of ours due to her age, the adult whose aid I enlisted has been declared Alpha Talon of the Second Host.”

    “And how is that progress going? Elma was a young female, of learning age and undeveloped, is this male too?”

    “No, he is older, although not too much older. His training will take time, but both Elma and I are making steady progress.”

    “Will he be able to learn our tongue?”

    “To hear it? Undoubtedly. It is speaking it which proves challenging. Elma believes there may be some element to the throat of the immature xho’za’khanx that makes it possible to learn the sounds.”

    “Mh… You mention Elma’s age being the deciding factor, but you took on the role once you started showing your Blessing, did you not?”

    “Yes.”

    “Will the same be done for the Second Xho’za’khanx Host?”

    “Elder Prakesh-to and Scar-Veteran Nakor will decide, but I don’t believe there to be any reason not to, as it would allow for a leader raised amongst the First Race.”

    “Like yourself.”

    “Like myself.”

    “Mhhh… Does this make you a Spawn Elder I wonder?” Chorai chortles, moving back up into the garden’s mossy soil as a skink-directed barge pulling a series of floating gardens crosses the section of canal he had been enjoying.

    “I hope not.” Roland snorts. “Such honor and responsibility is above me, and would also… I think you overestimate how much work this warmblooded body of mine can accomplish in a single day, friend.”

    “Perhaps, perhaps, although the idea… The idea is one I enjoy musing.”

    Roland and Chorai both go silent afterwards. Enjoying the sounds of the calm canal waters while birds -those of species brave enough to make their homes within the gardens of Temple-Cities- fret about the canopy above. Roland’s mind does indeed go to Barra and the rest of the new humans who have only days ago become installed on the Xho’za’khanx Favela.

    Adaptation is being… Complicated… And Roland can only guess as to how much of a hassle it had been on the first attempt years ago, as none involved then had had experience, much less the aid of ones such as Elma, himself or the other xho’za’khanxs of the First Xho’za’khanx Host.

    But nothing so far has been insurmountable, and nothing in the future will be, for the Old Ones deem it necessary that these younglings of the Fourth Race be inducted into their designated slot within the ever-grinding gears of the Great Plan.

    “I remember,” Chorai gets him out of his musings. “You told that you believed it unlikely that you would find any younglings to take back with you during your visit to the Fourth Race’s settlements. And indeed Elma and I took none with us as we departed from the Sudburg . And yet you found an entire cadre amongst a much more infested breeding ground.”

    “I was surprised too, and saddened, if I am to be honest.”

    “How so?”

    “The idea that the Fourth Race would be willing to be as lowly as to bring younglings -vulnerable and weak to both sickness of the body and nature- to birth in such a place. A place built atop a literal foundation of giving the Anathema freedom of action and affectation. It saddened me, but it also… It also makes me feel proud, prouds that we managed to excise what healthy flesh we could from a rotting body when usually the opposite happens.”

    “And what of the Sudburg ? What of their younglings and hatchlings?”

    “The aid of the Warmbloods in destroying the settlement was given with the provision that they could elect not to let Elma go to theirs. But this is only a temporary arrangement?”

    “How temporary?”

    “They have these buildings, they call orphanages , where they communally raise those younglings who do not have caretakers by way of breeding couples or close relations.”

    “What a queer thing.”

    “Indeed, but, most importantly. As Lustria is unwelcoming to them the orphanages fill fast, faster than the young become fully autonomous.”

    “Ah, so they have agreed to give the surplus to us?”

    “Yes, that way, too, they can understand the kindness of taking them.”

    “Was this your idea?”

    “I take no credit, Elma proposed it to Scar-Veteran Nakor almost a year ago.”

    “Mhhh, and how long until they reach this capacity?”

    “Hard to predict, but Old Ones willing it will take a while. For while our purpose is glorious, I believe nothing of this caliber should be hurried.”

    “Well,” Chorai laughs with a bark. “You also believed in prudency when we sat out on this trip, and the last news I got of you before we both returned to Pahuax were of you having led an ancient salamander into battle.”

    “It was two, actually, you mud-brain.” Roland bites back with a distinctively reptilian laugh.






    Canard Bleu, Bretonnian Quarter, Sudburg, Settler’s Cove
    11th of Erntezeit, 2538 IC // 40.0.9.15.1 8 Imix 14 Chʼen

    “Now, for the next -and last- piece of business which we must entertain today.” Siegmund closes out the debate on new levies while nodding for one Justus Brocco to get up from his seat and deliver his “speech.” As he does so, he glances at the hour-marking candle on the long-table, which tells him that it must be almost midnight.

    “Thank you, sir.” The cold half-tilean gets up, the papers in his desk neatly organized. “Indeed, as of today I am happy to say I have finished the commissioned report on the economic impact of recent operations by the militia. Copies of the full documents will be sent out to all your offices tomorrow, my scribes are working on them as we speak. But for now, I can give a general overview.”

    “Go ahead.” Siegmund gestures.

    “First and foremost, the physical bounty from the operation has been appraised at three thousand gold crowns. Half of this had been docked as per supplements to the pay of non-penal militias and city guards who participated, with the second half being directly sent to the city treasury.”

    Justus then looks to their resident men of faith. “Of this, a tithe has already been allocated for both Sigmarite and Manannite authorities.” Jeroen’s smile at the news is sharklike, while Oswald’s is a timid but honest nod.

    “As per the captured manpower -three hundred- sixty eight have been confirmed to have outstanding debts to the autonomous government of Sudburg and its composing institutions. One hundred and three have been confirmed to have outstanding debts to the House of Sudburgian Investments and other bancary institutions. Finally, fifty two have been confirmed to have outstanding debts to law-abiding citizens and-or business owners of Sudburg. With the remaining seventy seven having no known debts in the local market. As all material goods had been confiscated, debts have been calculated as per the average monthly income of Sudburgian citizens and translated into man hours of work. This work will be doled out as militia work, dockyard work, timberwork and construction work following imperial laws on colonial slavery. A list of these tallies will be made public, with the house of Sudburgian Investments managing payments to third parties as per a twenty five percent fee. Payments in regards to prisoners with no known debts have been averaged to three years, with payment shared equally between the colonial government and House of Sudburgian Investments.” Siegmund sees Martin squeamishly move in his seat at that. But beyond that, none of the other men bat an eye. The report, after all, does little more than put figures to a management plan ironed out even before the prisoners were captured.

    “Now, onto the economic impacts derived from the destruction of Swamp Town. Sudburg has so far seen a fifty percent rise in portuary activity, mainly derived from ships which did not yet know of the current situation seeking refugee in Sudburg after finding the ruins of Swamp Town. While this activity is expected to lessen as the situation normalizes, we expect a growth in traffic and inter-oceanic travel of between twenty five and thirty three percent.”

    “What you’d expect, right? We just removed the amount of usable ports in the Isthmus from four to three.”

    “Indeed,” Justus says, clearly raging to get deeper into the numbers. “Now, about income generation through our partnership with the Temple-City of…”





    Somewhere on the Coat of Squalls, Isthmus of Lustria
    12th of Erntezeit, 2538 IC // 40.0.9.15.1 8 Imix 14 Chʼen

    The dark steel sabaton touches down on the sandy shore as the lithe figure jumps off the ship’s bow. The calm waves lap at her heels as she moves forth, but just enough so she stands on the transition zone between flat and waterlogged sand and the crests of the very first dunes.

    Behind her, a cacophony of cruelty grows and grows with the activity of a fleet raging to start the second phase of their self-given mission.

    Before the sabaton-wearing figure stretches a long and jagged coastline of sand beaches interspeed with massive and jagged-rock outcrops and crumbling cliff-faces. And beyond it, the strange sight of a low jungle growing on a wind and salt-swept land.

    She cares not for that. All she cares for is what it hides, what lies beyond.

    Another shape jumps overboard and into the sand, splashing the water and kneeling on the spot. The sabaton wearer is too entranced by what is to come to turn around.

    “Fleetmaster Coldhide, we await your command.”

    The white-haired corsair turns around. Now the Druchii stares into a different sight. The sight of the dark nighttime horizon of a vast ocean covered in the hundreds sails of reaper-ships, enough so that their masts create a forest of black canvas-leaves.

    “Make camp.” Are the two singular words Davara Coldhide speaks before she turns around once more, and begins marching. Her sabatons leave a trail which disappears into the jungle as slaves by the thousands are made, by way of whip and spear, to carry the will of their mastering corsairs.
     
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2024
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  10. Mr.Crocodile
    Chameleon Skink

    Mr.Crocodile Well-Known Member

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    So, what do you think of the setup for this new arc? ;)

    And for all those interested, I am currently working on and posting The Great Lustrian Bestiary, the project is halfway finished, with the remaining chapters featuring the bulk of Lustria's more emblematic fauna!

    I hope you enjoyed the story and I honestly appreciate all and any kudos or comments you may be gracious enough to gift me! And in case any of you are interested, here's the link to my Discord server, where I discuss my projects and all are welcome :D

    It would be great if, if you enjoyed the story that is, you took a second of your time to go over to ao3 and left a kudo and a comment over there, since it is my main posting site.
     
  11. Killer Angel
    Slann

    Killer Angel Prophet of the Stars Staff Member

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    AH, the slow building tapestry of events soon to come.
    love it. :)
     
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  12. Imrahil
    Slann

    Imrahil Thirtheenth Spawning

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    Just finished reading chapter 8 and man, what a great story to read. I love the different storylines and am highly interested to see how these will pan out together.


    This piece in particular was superb to read. I love the depiction of all things connected to the Geomantic web to such a level that the things it self speak the words that are communicated between the Slanns.

    I will happily read thw following chapters (albeit piece by piece, when I find the time to do so)

    Grrr, !mrahil
     
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  13. Mr.Crocodile
    Chameleon Skink

    Mr.Crocodile Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 23: Setting Up Shop

    Advise on setting up a camp? Yeah. Don’t bother to try to create a clearing, it’ll be gone by morning and so will you. Look for some place that is already relatively less miserable than its surroundings and build as far from ground level if you can. A hammock between trees is ideal as you don’t want to be woken up by what travels the ground, and anything big enough to attack you at hammock-height is already too much trouble to worry about minor details.

    Always build a fire, you will need it if you want to keep your clothes bearably dry to avoid necrotic foot root. Somewhere else you might be advised not to build visible fires in enemy territory. Not in Lustria, all of Lustria is enemy territory and the enemy is the jungle, so it already knows perfectly well where you are.

    Always take every measure and precaution, even the unreasonable-sounding and superstitious-seeming ones. If your crew complains, wait until they start dying, they’ll shut the fuck up really fast after that.

    -Death and Riches: Memories of Estalian mercenary Captain Fernando Pirazzo.

    The Sunken Cloister, Port Reaver Harbor, Settlers’ Cove
    13th of Erntezeit, 2538 IC // 40.0.9.15.2 8 Ik’ 14 Chʼen

    Captain Philipp Billings’ walk and entry into the subterranean hall of the Sunken Cloister is an uneventful one. After all, he is still as much of a fully fledged and recognized pirate captain as the last time he had been -violently- forced to leave Port Reaver.

    On top of that, well… It would not do well for the Pirate King’s image to restrict the people’s access to the sole truly popular place of worship in Port Reaver. Some previous Pirate Kings had had, Philipp remembers. They had seen it as their right to collect fees in exchange for allowing passage across Re Island’s bridge alongside any ship moored close enough to lie a plank down and walk into the Island. Some even had collected a second fee at the entrance of the Sunken Cloister, the square base of the city’s eastern lighthouse.

    Such kings don’t tend to last. Pirates are a superstitious bunch, and quite trigger-happy, after all.

    Luckily, the current king isn’t that specific kind of uprising-instilling fool. Unluckily for the captain, instead the Boar King had developed a preference for making the bulk of his wealth by way of taxing vessels leaving and entering the harbor.

    Still, Philipp can’t avoid but feel a degree of comfort as he and his small entourage -a few men of his crew- are allowed in with little questions from the stromfelsite devotees guarding the entrance to the Trident’s basement. Funnily enough, the aforementioned lighthouse shares names with the guards’ weapons of choice.

    It’s early in the morning, early enough that he has arrived even before those sailors and captains hoping to lower and raise anchors before sunrise. In less than an hour the saltwater-dripping cavern will be full of men -humans, halflings, ogres- paying their dues and respects to either or both of the temple’s sea gods. For today is the thirteenth day of the month. And one does not embark on a voyage on the thirteenth day.

    To Stromfels, those arriving will make offerings as thanks for guarding from the shark god’s spawn and other sea beasts.

    To Manann, they will make offerings in gratitude for sparing them from the inclemencies and cruelties of maritime weather.

    Once he and his men finish walking down the seastone-carved helical stairs, they are greeted by darkness. The Sunken Cloister -with ceilings of thick and polished aquamarine glass- may create beautiful auroras of blues and seagreen when the rays of sunlight reach its oyster-like vaulted and ribbed ceilings. But sunlight is indeed the key component to that beatific sight.

    Without it, the Sunken Cloister is nothing more than a dark and damp cave full of the echoing sounds of dripping water and bare feet hurriedly walking and splashing in collected brine pools.

    A few brassieres give off enough light for people to actually walk around -the temple would be impossible to run otherwise- but none are remotely close to the raised platform of stone upon which the large icons of the brotherly seagods stand.

    Philipp walks up to the raised platform, not directing a single word to the figure prostrated before and between them creating a triangle. First he casually walks up to the statue of Stromfels, taking a few coins out of his pocket and dropping them one by one on the glinting pool of water created by the figure’s curling sharktail. The total worth of coins -one hundred and thirty nine in brass and silver pieces- equal to the number of men in his ship’s crew.

    Then he walks up to the statue of Manann, and gestures for one of his crew members to pass him the fishing net he had carried slung over his shoulder. In the net a small fish which he carefully grabs, wet and cold, as not to let it slip. Then he takes a few minutes to secure it to one of the many fishing hooks hanging from the statue’s albatross wings. For the first fish caught each day must be thrown back as an offering to Manann. But it’s in good manners to attempt to return the second fish more directly.

    “It is nice to see men like yourself still coming personally to pay their respects, captain.” A feminine voice speaks behind him as the rustling of clothes clue him in on the woman standing up.

    “Is it?”

    “Indeed, we live in times during which men are quick to skirt their duties to the gods. Most will delegate the task to their first mates. A few -I have been told- will ignore them altogether.”

    “Dreadful stuff.”

    “Manann will have them, all in due time.”

    When Philipp turns around, he is greeted by the beautiful sight of Abess Baħar, who he is happy to note has not lost a sandsoeck’s worth of beauty since his last visit. Her blue robes -covered in finely made netting woven with maritime gifts and current-carried amulets- contrast with her dark skin. Some men might then try to focus on the array of her dark hair and the carved shells decorating it like a tiara in order to keep her shawl in place.

    Captain Philipp Billings isn’t that kind of man, his eyes instantly lower themselves to directly stare at her tits, the supple breasts even more beautiful by the almost-sheer and low-cut nature of her dress, and by the necklace of shark teeth framing her cleavage.

    “Captain Billings, a pleasure seeing you again.” She gives him a slight bow. “I am happy to hear that hearsay of your death was as inaccurate as many had claimed it to be.”

    “So am I,” He answers with a smile, taking off his tricorn to offer a deeper bow in return. “Bad business, being dead.”

    “Indeed. And speaking of business… Come here to try again, Philipp?”

    “More or less. Many still fear that my… Ideas, contrast, grate or go directly against our codes, bylaws and precepts.”

    “Yes, your guild. I remember it. My answer is still the same as when you came to me asking three years ago: The seagods do not care for how men organize themselves, only that they pay their dues.”

    “And, will you be willing to speak publicly on this matter, once more?”

    “I don’t see why I wouldn’t. A faithful man like yourself could do much well for the souls of this city. Who -day by day- seem more and more willing to anchor themselves to the land and give up their ways.”

    ‘Ah, seems my hunch was right. The lords ain’t the only ones tired of the Boar’s policies…’

    “I will strive to do my best to set a good example, abbess.”

    “Good. And I will pray that you see greater success on this second attempt. Now come, to my personal study. Faith is not the only… Trait I miss from dealing with pirates with a healthy respect for the sea Gods.”

    “Lead the way, abbess. I certainly would never waste the chance to listen to one of your private sermons.”

    “You, nor any other sane man.” Kelba’s shark-like grin makes him shiver.

    ‘Finally a reminder of why coming back to this shithole is worth it.’


    The Kennels, Skeggi, Isthmus of Lustria
    13th of Erntezeit, 2538 IC // 40.0.9.15.2 8 Ik’ 14 Chʼen

    After two days of hunting, the kennels feel more like home than the Ornolfsson longhouse. Especially these days, now that it’s halfway empty. Off to the side, Haimiaz and Eistla play with the newest litter of puppies. Torfi is already making mental numbers as to how soon the first stage of their training will begin.

    And he doesn’t just mean the would-be hunting companions.

    Still, he can afford to let puppies and little children be just that for one late afternoon.

    Torfi’s body aches, but at least it’s in a comfortable way, the kind that he feels after spending days braving the jungle alongside a hunting party, spending hours on end stalking, chasing and combing the jungles. He’s missed it, both the hunt and the rest it enforces on him.

    It had taken a long while for anyone to contact him as kennelmaster. Those unsure of his skill or worthwhileness as his father’s successor had chosen to let someone change a ruined hunt. And those more politically-minded had decided to wait and see if the Reidarson-Ornolfsson conflict would develop further. Some had even bet on the chance of King Inga -his dead father’s patron and distant matrilineal relative- involving herself on the issue.

    But no. No luck.

    As Torfi sits on the bench behind his mother, dressing her wounds with the last of their strong alcohol, he goes over his list of duties for the day. The dogs that need feeding -those who have been working and the pregnant bitches- are fed. The ones he wants to keep a close eye on -such as little wounded and heavily pregnant bitches- are caged, and the rest are as relaxed as they can be. An easy task, that, when you have lost so many hounds that the ones left are just happy to nap their exhaustion away between hunts.

    He’ll go out hunting, on his own , tomorrow, he plans. He’ll take Åska, Gnista and Tyr, he decides. Nothing big, just deer and peccary mostly. He’d go for turkeys -the locally common junglefowl visitors seem to be enchanted by- but…

    One needs well-trained hounds to deal with such delicate prey, and most of those hounds?

    Dead, long eaten away in some corner of dark jungle alongside his father.

    A wince of pain from his mother tells Torfi that he’s let anger distract him, making him use the stinging liquid too liberally.

    “Sorry.”

    “It’s ok, better than getting it infected, in any case.”

    The cut is neither long nor deep as it rust parallel to his mother’s backbone over the left side of her mid back. But it is a jagged cut, and that’s much worse than anything else in Lustria. The more raw surface, the more places for wound-rot to take in. The result of a nasty fall on the incline of the King’s Hill. And yet, something minor by what tends to happen up there.

    Torfi’s work, however, is interrupted moments later as a fist pounds repeatedly against the low palisade that makes up the kennel’s walls.

    “Torfi! Heard you had returned, I need to talk with you!” A familiar voice speaks.

    Before Torfi can say anything, his mother huffs out a response low enough only for him to hear. “Njal?”

    “Yeah.”

    “When was the last time you talked with him?”

    “He tried to talk with me few days after father didn’t return. I…”

    “Almost bit his nose off?”

    “Sorta.”

    “You are lucky that you are that witch’s only friend.”

    “I know.” Torfi smiles as he gets up from the bench and walks up to the simple wooden barrel-bolt lock that keeps the patio closed from the inside. Once he does so, he is greeted by the smiling face -including a recognizable chipped fang and clear blue eyes framed by choppy shortcut hair- of one Njal Halfborn.

    One of Skeggi’s few native witches, and Torfi’s sole remaining childhood friend.

    “Hound! Brother, I had missed you, you’ve been hard to find these past few weeks, haven’t you?” Njal instantly jumps to hug the taller Torfi. “I…” He whispers into Torfi’s hear.

    “Not now,” Torfi mutters back.

    “A better answer than last time.” Njal looks at him with sad eyes, then, he leans into the threshold.

    “Oh, hello Huscarl Stine, I saw the melee at the scarp yesterday, wonderful work.”

    “Thank you, Halfborn, it’s good to hear that at least a few people around here still appreciate our work.” His mother answers, referencing her membership of the Jarlvakt , the protectors of the King and Skeggi’s central streets alongside King’s Hill and the Highholt itself.

    Just a day before, a group of brazen jakkers had tried to climb the King’s Hill, boasting about how easy it’d be to kill their “crone of a king.” It is a fairly common occurrence, and it’ll only get more common as their king grows even older.

    All the bruises and cuts in his mother’s body -with the exception of a bruise in her cheek gained during her failed attempt to kill that Reidarson girl- come from that “fight.”

    None of the jakkers had even reached the upper third of the dangerous hummock. All the ones who hadn’t snapped their necks or cracked their skulls during the failed attempt had met their ends at the hands of the Jarlvakt huscarls. Hells, his mother’s own bruises almost all came from an unlucky but non-fatal stumble during the fight.

    “How’s your scars doing, by the way?” Stina asks in return, referencing the witch’s chest-wide scars. Torfi realizes that they have had such a natural effect that these days he forgets Njal had anything else before them.

    “They are doin nice, they still get pretty taught in the dry season but they are worth it! Oh, hello Haimiaz! Hello Eistla!” His friend greets. Both children are young enough that they’ve never not known Njal as he stands before them.

    Of course, as the witch tries to walk up to the children in hopes of entertaining them, he gets swarmed by dogs. He gives up after the tenth attempt to get up, knowing that when sarlish hounds demand pampering, one must give it.

    “You are too soft on them.” Torfi jokes as he looms over his friend.

    “And you are too hard! Oh stop it you!” Njal answers as Vilda licks away at his face.

    For the first time in Torfi knows how long, Torfi feels… Content?

    And even then, it does not last for long.

    “Torfi?” Njal finally dares ask hours later, once his mother has left and it’s only the two of them grooming the dogs.

    “Yeah?”

    “...I’m sorry…”

    “For what? You didn’t kill him…. And besides, I should be the one apologizing. Ever since my father died I’ve been avoiding you like a Plague Bearer.”

    “Soren told me he gave you a prophecy.”

    “And somehow that’s not the thing that has me most worried right now… If mother’s hunches are right.”

    “And they always are.”

    “Then the jakkers… Things might get ugly and there’s only two of us left around to keep the kids safe.”

    “Then you aren’t going to like what I’m about to say.”



    “Njal… I swear to the gods if you-”

    “The temple-visions are back, Torfi.”

    “It’s been years, Njal. And my father isn’t around to entertain your visions anymore.”

    “No, but you are.”

    “Are you really doing this?”

    “Consider it my revenge for you shutting me out, bastard.” Njal winks.

    “Bitch.” Torfi rolls his eyes.

    “Not anymore!” Njal preens with a goblin’s smile.

    Torfi lets out a deep sight. “Give me a few days to prepare, ok? And try to make sure this time we don’t end up trapped in quicksand.”

    “Oh come on! It only happened once!”


    Xho’za’khanx Favela, Pahuax, Isthmus of Lustria
    14th of Erntezeit, 2538 IC // 40.0.9.15.3 10 Ak'b'al 16 Chʼen

    Barra’s morning starts the way they have every day since his arrival at the terrifying beautiful “City of Ashes.”

    He is woken up by the shrill sounds of a child screaming. Sometimes they do switch it up and instead wake him up with incessant chattering or crying. But hollering is clearly the gaggle of orphans’ favorite move.

    The first few days, abject fear and exhaustion after the march to the Temple-City had kept them silent and unmoving. Just little shapes huddling in their little cots, hugging the corners of the adobe barracks they have been put to living in. But now…

    Now they are starting to understand that whatever the Lizardmen want of them, they are not planning on eating them in the immediate future. And that’s a problem for him, because that means that they are starting to move around, ask questions and investigate his surroundings.

    Thank whatever gods he’s supposed to believe in now -another of the many loosely hanging threads of his conversations with the Herald and the entity he has dubbed “the Herald’s scary sister”- for the fact that he doesn’t have to deal with the children at all.

    In fact… Considering that his duties only extend as far as “pointing things out for the Lizardmen to parse through” he is altogether superfluous in comparison with the “first batch” of humans already capable of communicating with the cold-blooded beastmen. He’s obviously never going to tell the Herald that, but still.

    As he exits his small adobe one-room house, he indeed confirms how early it is by way of the thick layer of ash that pads his steps. The wind already takes care of much of the supernaturally appearing ashes every morning, but early enough it is a true blanket.

    And talking of blankets of ash. Barra finds the source of the offending ruckus in the form of a miniature dust bowl. Two of the Swamp Town kids are tussling on the ground, their new and over and undersized -courtsey of the very limited stock of human children’s clothing in a city of lizards- caked with the ash. Their skins and mops of hair are covered in ash too, giving them the appearance of two very tiny, very annoying ghosts.

    Around them, a loose ring of other orphans, even further out small lizardmen and the clearly differentiated acclimated humans -teenagers rather than children, dressed and decorated with their own facsimiles of Lizardmen fashions- mill about, doing their early morning chores and watching as the ghostlings punch, bite, claw and cuss each other out.

    And so, Barra breaks up the fight in the same way he’s broken the last five up. He goes back to his “home” -no hut will ever replace his beloved rowboat- and grabs the brush-broom with which he cleans his patio every morning.

    And proceeds to WHACK.

    He whacks away, making the rest of the children cry in annoyance at the fights premature end as the two combatants shout in surprise and become engulfed by an even thicker cloud of ash. Eventually, like the little rats they are, they scurry away. A few minutes later, Barra makes the decision to do the one thing he does commit to actually working on every day, so he passes the broom off to the first goblin-sized lizardman who crosses his path and gets going.

    His “friend” the Herald has told him that the “Skink” caretakers are from the “Husbandry Caste,” meaning beast-handlers and farmers. Barra isn’t very sure about how he feels about that. On the one hand it is entirely fitting that their cold-blooded hosts would consider both him and the children no different from any other exotic animals, and the fact is that some of the orphans -by some combination of nature and nurture- do behave themselves on the level of dogs.

    On the other hand… Well, what kind of man likes being treated like a pet?

    They do most of the work. They cook, clean, and distribute goods, that is. And for that he is grateful. Barra isn’t exactly sure what he is supposed to be doing other than breaking up fights since his lessons in Saurian are highly dependent on the availability of just two people who themselves have real duties to attend to.

    Breakfast today consists of fruits, that’s what it seems to always consist off since it’s also what he sees shared around the “original” half of the barrio and its more rooted residents. He’s pretty sure he is allowed to cook something for himself.

    He just doesn’t feel like it, but he does take a few extra pieces of fruit to the adobe barrack he walks to. This one is almost empty save for two shapes. On a cot in the distant far corner lays an unmoving and small shape that only proves itself to be alive by way of faint breathing due to the slight rises and falls of the blanket over it.

    And sitting besides that shape, one who looks up at him with fierce eyes.

    “How’s he doing?” Barra asks, setting down the bowl of assorted fruits by her side.

    At first she refuses to answer, staring up at him with violence in her eyes until she eventually relents.

    “The rot is receding and his breathing is a bit deeper.” Skewer-Girl answers.

    No, Barra has not bothered to ask for her name or the names of any other kids.

    “Good news.” Barra answers, looking down on the shape of Fingerless Boy. As he does so, he remembers the dozens of occasions of her pulling the feverish little boy across the jungle trek. Never leaving him alone. Never letting him behind…

    “Anyways,” He speaks again, beginning to turn. “Gotta look for my teachers. If anyone causes trouble, don’t stab them too deep ok?” The girl doesn’t answer to his joke. Barra doesn't exactly care.

    And to think he’s found himself at a point where he can think back of greeting and caving-in the heads of sleeping explorers had been his routine.

    To think he fucking misses it…

    “Mh,” He hums to himself as he takes a bite out of a juicy papaya . “At least the food and booze are free.”


    Coldhide Encampment, Coat of Squalls, Isthmus of Lustria
    14th of Erntezeit, 2538 IC // 40.0.9.15.3 10 Ak'b'al 16 Chʼen

    The map in Davara’s desk leaves much to be desired, acting as constant reminder that she ought to teach her cartographers -a team of druchii and slaves with backgrounds in seafaring- a hard-earned lesson on overpromising and under-delivering .

    The slight rocking of her cabin does not disturb her as she continues looking it over, measurement implements and a second navigational chart prominent among the mess of other parchment pieces strewn about.

    Under all of it, marked by the dagger which pins it down out like a lone tree in a clearing, is buried a missive from Dreadlord Drane Brackblood, wishing the “Young and venturesome Coldhide” luck on her newly assembled fleet’s maiden voyage.

    “To Lustria, of all places.” She quotes the missive, speaking with an amount of derision equal to the amount of belittling intent in the original missive. In Drakira’s name, how she wanted to see that woman’s body hanging from her ship’s mast.

    But no, no amount of fantasizing would get her what she truly wants. And what she wants is to get her retribution after she proves them all wrong. After she proves that the Young Coldblood is as capable of commanding a raiding fleet as her father.

    Of course that would also carry with it a pardon from the death sentence said progenitor had condemned her to. Cavul “The Maelstrom Captain” Coldhide had not taken well to his firstborn starting a mutiny and sailing off with a good third of his dreadfleet -a considerable twenty ravenships and as many supply vessels and prison barges- bound for the underexploited waters of the Sea of Squalls.

    A Sea framed by a shoddily-drawn coastline on the map she continues staring at. Eventually she decides that she’ll fix the problem by sending off a couple of her ships once the permanent camp is finished and she can spare them. She’ll send one up north and one down south to map out a more accurate coastline of the Lustrian Isthmus.

    Oh how she wishes she had been able to abscond her father’s Black Ark with a few of his treasured maps. But none of the team she had sent there on the day of her mutiny had returned, so that was that.

    Tock-Tock-Tock

    The sound comes from her cabin’s only -unhidden- door, and is followed soon after by the voice of Rures, one of her newly fledged fleet’s captains. “Lady Coldhide, your scouts have returned.”

    “Summon them to the deck, I’ll inspect them there.”

    “As the Fleetmaster commands.”

    Davara gets up soon thereafter, taking hold of the dagger embedded in her office table and yanking it out to place it back inside its holster. Once she exits the cabin, she is greeted by the lovely sight of her assembled ships and the ongoing work on the shore within easily viewable distance. Like ants, teams of slaves fell trees and clear the underbrush, the sounds of crackling whips mixing with the cries of seabirds. Work is being slower than expected, but her taskmasters have promised her a palisaded camp and launching point for her inland raids by week’s end, and they will deliver.

    [​IMG][​IMG]
    The Coldhide Coat of Arms & Naval Ensign.
    Ravenships, masterfully crafted engines of dark wood and flaming metal decorated with deep blue sails, sway in the late afternoon breeze, her familiar ensign fluttering from their ensigns, jacks and pennants.

    Then she looks down on the deck below her.

    And her face curls into a snarl.

    “Captain Rures?”

    “Yes, Admiral Coldhide?”

    “What is the meaning of this?”

    “My admiral?”

    “How many scouts did I send out?”

    “Twenty, my Admiral.”

    “And how many are there on this deck right now?”

    “Four, my admiral.”

    “Then?”

    “My admiral,” One of said scouts, a dark-haired male wearing mud-stained clothes and a splint on his leg, kneels as he defers to her. Once she begins to do so, the other two do as well.

    Well, the one who can’t even stand on her own groans for the slaves holding her to lower her, but still.

    “What is your name?”

    “Relec, my Admiral.”

    “Relec, care to explain the meaning of this?”

    “They are all dead, my admiral?”

    “Sixteen scouts, dead in a single day?”

    “Yes, my admiral.”

    “Explain. Now.”

    “The jungles are deadly, my Admiral, the tales from other fleets and veterans were not exaggerated. The fauna is bloodthirsty, the flora is perfidious, one must even check where they walk lest they stumble into quicksand or a-”

    “RRRRRAAAAAAAGH!!” Davara, who had been pacing back and forth before the humiliatingly short line, turns around and hoists him up by the neck.

    Before the screaming scout can grab her wrist, she’s raised and shoved him over the bulwark and into the tropical waters below. Second later, the water where he had splashes becomes a frothing pool of bloody brine. Davara isn’t surprised by that at all, she very well knows what lies below. Relec does not even have the chance to surface and take a single breath of pleading hair before he is devoured.



    “Rures?”

    “My Admiral?” His perfectly kept stance has not shifted a single inch.

    “Get me more scouts, better ones.”

    “As you command, Admiral Coldhide.”
     
  14. Mr.Crocodile
    Chameleon Skink

    Mr.Crocodile Well-Known Member

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    The plotlines of this art begin to unfold, what do you think they will lead our cast to?

    Now, for the important announcement. As many of you may know, Herald of the Old Ones is the first longfic I ever started working on back when I begun writing during the Pandemic and post-pandemic months. Because of that if you were to reread the earlier chapters, you would notice a great deal of difference in the quality of the writing along sides stuff like formatting, chapter lengths & plotting (hell, I didn't even come up with the idea of story arcs until chapter 6). But something that hasn't changed has been my drafting and long-term planning.

    While (through other projects) I have learned how much I enjoy and benefit from long-term planning and drafting of storylines and the chapters within them, Herald of the Old Ones has been left behind in this regard.

    To be specific, all my other current projects (such as a RWBY x Warhammer fic I'm currently working on) have every last story art and major plot beat hashed out before I start writing the epilogue/chapter 1. And then, I plan out every last chapter and scene within an arc before I start writing said arc. This allows me to much more easily foreshadow plot beats, use Chekhov's gun-style tropes, create callbacks/repeating elements and just create a cohesively themed story.

    By comparison, Herald of the Old Ones is still stuck with the methodology I used as a novice writer. Each chapter is planned the day before I begin writing it, and there’s 0 planning for the rest of the arc that chapter is part of. Much less other arcs in the story. At most I have a few lines of ideas scattered as bulletpoints at the end of the working document. This improvisation doesn’t make the fic bad per se. But I feel it could be much better if I modernized the way I work on it.

    On top of that, as some of you might know, my original plan was to start this story in Lustria and then turn it into a globe-trotting adventure that would hit all of Mallus’ underexplored regions (The Far East, Elithis, Lumbria, the Darklands, the Southlands, etc…). But it has become clear to me that all the effort I’m putting into exploring and developing Lustria would be wasted by leaving it halfway through the story.

    Because of all these reasons, I have decided to put posting/updating this story on hiatus. Work on it will not stop, however, as I will be taking a few months to focus on putting together a proper outline for the entire fic, including plans for all the areas I want our main cast to explore and what storylines I want to develop in them.

    Apologies for the inconvenience, and thanks for being such loyal readers of this dearly beloved longfic :)

    Tl;dr, Regular updating of this fanfic will be stopping so I may dedicate time to improving the project moving forward, with long-term planning at the forefront. Expect new chapters in late spring/early summer at the latest.


    I hope you enjoyed the story and I honestly appreciate all and any kudos or comments you may be gracious enough to gift me! And in case any of you are interested, here's the link to my Discord server, where I discuss my projects and all are welcome :D

    It would be great if, if you enjoyed the story that is, you took a second of your time to go over to ao3 and left a kudo and a comment over there, since it is my main posting site.
     
  15. Killer Angel
    Slann

    Killer Angel Prophet of the Stars Staff Member

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    Don't worry.
    Quality is worth a wait, and if you managed to keep yours to such a good standard up til now, i would certainly enjoy an ever better structured plotline
     
    Mr.Crocodile likes this.

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