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Age of Deceit is a sort of prequel to my fellow collaborator's, Konig Des Todes' Fall of Gods - since we have decided to merge our fanons into one - and in a similar fashion, a historical background for some of my Guild Wars 1 (and soon Guild Wars 2) characters as well.More than 300 years have passed since the human race first appeared on the shores of Cantha. After centuries of rivalry and infighting, the warring tribes and factions were unified under the banner of Lord Emperor Kaineng Tah, bringing a golden age of peace and prosperity to humanity.
In the 46th year of the Canthan calendar, the reign of a noble sovereign ends mysteriously. The still young Empire and its people are desperately looking for a worthy heir to continue their founder's vision, while the nomad tribes of the Jade Sea are considering secession.
A forgotten evil rises and begins its journey through the sea to wreak havoc upon an unsuspecting world. The Emperor and a general quarrel, brothers and sisters dissent, sons are led astray... discord spreads, doubt thrives: the Age of Deceit has dawned upon Cantha.
Now, I present you a story that will take you back to the (alternate) Cantha of old. Enjoy!
SpoilerCordrina landed gently on the rocky, moonlit beaches of the island of Kuan Jun. She folded her wings behind her back as she proceeded towards the center of the island. She did not need to worry about mortals seeing her, as it was a holy place – a meeting ground for the gods. Even then, she was still worried about other, more dire problems.
Cordrina rubbed her forehead as she hastily walked through the narrow canyons surrounding the center. This accursed noise is not ceasing… and now it’s causing me headaches, too. In the end I’ll have to ask that meddlesome Dwayna to examine it… Hmph. Cordrina thought to herself. She was experiencing a strange noise in her mind lately. At first she didn’t give it much importance, but in the past few days the noise has been increasing and it began to hurt. Meanwhile, she finally arrived at the meeting place. Most of the gods were already there, except for the god of death, Dhuum.
“I bet our newest brother is still cleaning up the mess Naraiohn left in the Underworld.” Cordrina’s lips curled into a snide smile as she approached the other four gods. “But that happened so long ago… either Dhuum is tormentingly slow or he was very thorough in screwing up the whole place.”
“Dhuum has been working hard to undo the damage Naraiohn caused to the equilibrium of the Mists.” Dwayna gave her a reproachful look. “But how should you know when you were hiding in your realm when all that happened?”
“Oh, so now I am to be blamed for not acting. Please refresh my memory: who suggested we should wait and try to reason with him? Was it you, by mere chance? Ah yes, it was!” Cordrina shook her head. “Just like when Anthiel was slain because of your naivety!”
Her last sentence struck anguish into Dwayna’s heart. She quickly turned her head away but Cordrina still saw a tear forming in her left eye.
“That was completely unnecessary, Cordrina.” Said a fierce, yet smooth, voice. Melandru quickly stepped in between the two goddesses. For a moment she glared at Cordrina before turning to Dwayna. Melandru put her soft, bark-like hand on Dwayna’s right shoulder.
“It’s okay.” Dwayna said and managed to smile weakly at the other goddess. “We came here to discuss important matters of the present, so let’s not dwell on the past. Shall we begin, then?”
Cordrina bowed her head and clutched her forehead with her hand. To the others it might have been a sign of regret, but she did it because she was in pain. The splitting headache only intensified in the quarrel with Dwayna. I have to apologize and beg her to cure this. It’s unbearable now! But only after the meeting, when the others have left… Cordrina could barely hear her own thoughts in that maddening noise.
“… and under the leadership and guidance of Kaineng Tah’s bloodline, the human race will advance and create a thriving empire that can live in peace with the other inhabitants of Tyria.” Melandru stood in the center of the circle that was surrounded by six throne-like seats with equal distance between them, each designated for one of the Six Gods. Under the goddess’ feet was a map of the world of Tyria. “Although, a lot depends on who succeeds the Emperor. Cantha has been only unified recently, and thus the young alliances need time to be fostered well in order to grow strong.” Melandru finished with a smile. She loved using nature-related metaphors.
“So, you suggest that Kaineng Tah should name his daughters as heirs to the throne, correct, Melandru?” Dwayna asked. She seemed to feel a lot better now that her sister shared the good news with the others.
“Indeed. Yian Zho is just too… dangerous. He has the same strategic and intelligent mind his father has, but his temperamental spirit could destabilize the current balance.”
“And why is that wrong?” The goddess of combat entered the discussion. “Do we really want a humanity that will slowly become soft because it thrives too peacefully and nothing threatens it? They need strife and conflict to become strong enough to hold what they claim. Because right now, they get everything they want because we stand behind them, empower them, guide them.” The goddess leaned back in her throne and started twirling her sword in her fingers as she added. “I say let them decide their own destiny. Let them fight their petty wars, and when their grand empires will fall they will rebuild them to be stronger. That will be the time when the human race will finally be worthy of conquering the whole of the world.”
Cordrina’s headache intensified. The noise was growing.
“I disagree with Keelaiah’s opinion on this.” The golden-clad god of knowledge looked sternly at the human goddess. “If humanity showed up as conquerors, my kind will wage war. No good would come out of such conflict, we all know that.”
Cordrina had to grip her head in pain.
“I agree with Agnites.” Dhuum’s dark green eyes met with the god of knowledge’s. “I don’t want to sort the souls of mortals whose time have not arrived yet… Besides, I still have plenty of work to do.”
“And what do you think, Cordrina?” Dwayna turned to her.
“I… I am…” The world started spinning around Cordrina. Faster and faster at every moment. She heard the startled words of her fellow gods no longer. The buzz deafened her to the outside world, and she felt like as if her head was splitting in two. She cried out in agony then the darkness took her.
Chapter 1 - A Tragic Hunt
SpoilerSuzehn 46 CC (Canthan calendar), Age of the Marmoset
Raijin Seritena spurred his horse to close in on the fleeing white hind. The cold, autumn air bit into his face as they gained speed. He leaned forward in the saddle and grabbed an arrow from the quiver on his side. Both the hind and horse were getting weary, but the distance and the terrain were appropriate for a clear shot. Raijin straightened his back up in the saddle, released the rein and pressed his feet into the stirrup as much as he could. The hunter swiftly nocked the arrow on the shortbow that he held in his hand since the sighting of the deer, then pulled back and released a moment later. The arrow whistled through the air before it pierced into the neck of the hind. The animal released one last cry before crashing into the ground as the limp body dragged on for several feet. The hunter rode next to the fallen prey and jumped down.
“Well, this hunting trip isn’t as bad as I expected.” Raijin murmured to himself as he crouched and drew out his knife to cut out the arrow. He was working on the hind when he heard two more horsemen approaching. He quickly finished strapping the animal’s legs then stood up to greet the other huntsmen.
“Boys, you are a bit tardy today.”
“Excuse us, my lord.” One of them apologized as he quickly bowed his head in respect. “You were already riding after the hind when we spotted it.”
“Never mind, it’s no trouble. We should get back to the camp with this deer. It’s getting dark and in a few more hours we won’t see a bit from the forest.”
Both huntsman jumped down and began working on a way to take the fallen deer back to camp. Raijin looked around and took a deep breath. He always enjoyed the silent, autumn forest during dusk.
Suddenly, he heard a bone-chilling shriek from somewhere close, followed by a frightened neigh of a horse. Silence again, only broken by the periodic chirping of a lonely songbird.
“By the Six! What was that sound?” One of the horsemen asked.
“Kei, Shinzo! Leave the hind here! Come with me, now!” Raijin ordered the other two as he jumped on his horse that also seemed a bit uneasy.
The three men rode with haste in the direction where swarms of frightened birds flew from. The place was about five minutes away from where Raijin brought down the deer. When they arrived they could already see a smaller commotion forming around something; however, a larger ring of multiple huntsmen and guardsmen stood around with weapons drawn. They were prying the area for hostiles, but the forest was just as silent and unmoving as before the shrieks. Two of them – a male and a female, – saluted Raijin as he rode up to them and jumped off of his horse.
“At ease. What happened here, soldier?”
“Sir, Prince Yian Zho ordered us to lead you to him as soon as you arrived.” The young female guard said. “I can’t tell you more, I’m sorry, sir.”
“Understood. Kei Jii, Shinzo!” Raijin turned to the riders he came with. “Reinforce this defensive ring!”
“Yes, my lord.”
“Well, soldier, please lead me to the Prince, then.”
The huntress beckoned Raijin to follow her through the area between the guards and the center group. As they were walking towards them, he tried to spy the faces of the courtiers and nobles surrounding the object of interest. Their expressions were a mixture of shock, confusion and anxiety.
“My Prince, General Seritena is here as you ordered.” The woman said as she knelt down.
“Oh, Takara, please.” A man said, brushing his way through the small crowd. Prince Yian Zho appeared before them in his elegant hunting clothes. He was a tall man with black hair that went halfway down his back. He usually let it down, but during sparring and hunting he wore it in horsetail. “I told you not to call me ‘your prince’. Not after those fiery nights we spent together.” He said with a complacent smirk, but his eyes showed only sorrow.
“I… Yes, my Pr-… Yian.” Takara stammered and bowed her head in embarrassment.
“My Prince. You summoned me, yet I still don’t know what has happened.”
“Ah, excuse me, General. Well, I’d rather show you why I called to you.” With that he stepped aside and flapped his hands so the courtiers could understand to let Raijin have a clear look at the source of the commotion.
In the middle, Kaineng Tah, the Emperor of Cantha lay unmoving. His eyes were closed, his face was calm. From afar, it might have seemed that he merely lay down and fell asleep on the fallen, dry leaves.
Raijin’s heart skipped a beat when he saw that the Emperor was not breathing and moist blood was stuck to his grey beard. At the same moment he realized that his best friend for over forty years, the first Emperor of the Dragon, was dead.
It took Raijin a few moments to pick up himself from the shock.
“How… how did he…” But he couldn’t finish his question.
“Let us discuss that in private, General.” Yian Zho stared at the older man for a second, and then turned to a royal servant. “You there! Head back to the camp and tell them to bring a stretcher and a sheet to cover… this.”
“Everything is settled now.”
“Good, General. Very good.”
They had returned to camp an hour ago. Fortunately, in the dark of dusk no one had seen whose corpse they had brought back, but the absence of the Emperor and the grave look on the faces of the returning men and women were enough for some to figure that out alone. The whispers of the tragedy had spread and panic had nearly broken out. Raijin and his officers had to intervene and calm down everyone before things could have gotten even worse. But now that it was over, he could talk to the Prince in private.
“But how could this happen? I thought he was being escorted by a Dragonguard squad on every trip. Where were they now?”
“My father sneaked out without the guards’ notice. I bet he wanted to actually catch something today. He always told me that all the animals fled when he and his small iron-clad entourage marshaled into the woods.” Yian Zho stood behind the desk of his father’s, staring outside through the tent’s entrance and rubbing his shaved chin.
“And how did he die? It makes no sense, that horse was his favorite, and he personally trained it. It wouldn’t just throw off its owner unless it was terribly frightened.” Raijin stepped to face Yian Zho as well as to block his view – it irritated him he wasn’t wholly listening when discussing such a serious issue.
He hadn’t stood face to face with the Prince for a couple of years now, as Yian Zho had spent most of his time in one of his summer retreats with one – or more – of his concubines, or in case he had returned to Raisu Palace it was the General who had been outside the capital due to military or private matters.
Raijin closely observed the Prince’s features: long cheek framed by the dark, long hair he now let down. It followed him like a shadow when he moved… an unpleasant person he was, but no one could deny that he commanded absolute respect where he appeared.
The two men glared at each other and Raijin saw the late emperor’s blue eyes looking back at him. But when Kaineng Tah’s gaze was caring, Yian Zho’s was calculating.
He inhaled deeply and decided to break the embarrassing silence.
“And by the way, what happened to the horse?”
“I don’t know the answers to those questions, General. I’ve just lost my father, yet I can’t mourn him properly right now or investigate his death. The Empire of the Dragon always needs an emperor to stay strong. We have to return to Raisu at once, bury my father, and have the crowning ceremony.”
“With respect, my Prince, we don’t know who the late emperor chose as his heir to the throne. I’m sure it is either you, or your sisters, but for as long as we don’t see Kaineng Tah’s last will, we cannot crown anyone.”
“You dare defy your Prince, General?!” Yian Zho was starting to lose his temper.
“Not at all, sire.” Raijin was just as calm as before, he didn’t show any sign of being terrified from the Prince’s veiled threat. “I concur that we should return to the palace as soon as possible, but I wouldn’t worry about the Empire being leaderless. Princess Niya and Raiya proved to be excellent governors in the past, when your father was on similar extended hunting expeditions.” He couldn’t help not smiling faintly at Zho’s growing frustration.
“Very well, General Seritena.” Yian Zho hissed as his fingers whitened from pressing the desk in suppressed anger. “Then I command you to strike camp and make preparations for the way back home.”
“As you wish, my Prince.” Raijin put his right fist on his chest and bowed his head.
Raijin didn’t sleep that night. Even if he’d had time to rest a little besides organizing the decampment, he wouldn’t have wanted to. Memories rushed his mind. Memories of how he met the man who fundamentally changed his life and the land they loved so much.
Back then Raijin was only 19 years old. He just lost his father in a raid of another warlord, and had to assume leadership of his own tribe. He remembered that he was full of grief and hatred, and as one of his first acts he wanted to destroy his father’s murderers – whose tribe and soldiers severely outnumbered his own. If it hadn’t been to the future emperor’s fateful appearance, the Seritena line and the people he was tasked to protect would have been utterly eradicated. Kaing, as Kaineng Tah was called then, arrived on the eve before Raijin’s planned assault on the hostile tribe. Although Kaing’s tribe was neutral to his, he always supported Kaing’s beliefs about unifying the warring Canthan tribes, and thus he gave shelter to Kaing’s armies in his own domain. On that night the wise lord convinced the young and brash Raijin to join his cause, and the next morning he swore his sword to the other tribe leader. Kaing honored his oath, and with their coalition of tribes they ended the treacherous warlord responsible for the death of his father. In that defining battle, he saved Kaing’s life, sealing their friendship forever.
“My lord…” A familiar voice brought Raijin back from his memories. Kei Jii stood behind him with bowed head.
“What is it, Kei? I thought you were relieved of duty.”
“Yes, I was, but I couldn’t rest, so I went back for the hind at dawn to bring it back. The deer was gone, probably a predator dragged it to its lair, but I found something else.” The young scout looked very excited.
“What did you find?” Raijin raised a grayish eyebrow.
“Follow me, my lord.”
The general and the soldier hastily crossed the busy camp and entered a larger tent that served as a stable. Raijin’s eyes grew wide from the sight. Before them stood Kaineng Tah’s jet-black stallion, blowing and anxiously pawing the ground with his hoof. Raijin wasn’t sure whether animals could show more complex emotions, but he could see terror in one of the horse’s eyes. The other eye, strangely, was blind.
“How… how did you bring it back?”
“He was very hungry. I think his hunger overcame his fear, and so I could lure him back with crumbs of food.” Kei Jii chuckled, but stopped quickly as he realized the situation wasn’t comical at all. Raijin cautiously went around and took a closer look at the horse. When he got to the rump something caught his eyes; four parallel wounds resembling the claw tracks of a wild animal. But something didn’t add up. The wounds were too shallow to fit the claw size of a larger beast, and even then, Kaineng Tah and this stallion encountered rabid wolves yet the horse never threw off his rider. And then there was the odd blindness of the right eye.
“This wasn’t just a terrible accident, Kei Jii.”
“Then what was it, General?” A furious voice sounded behind them. He spun around and saw Yian Zho with a few Imperial guardsmen. “You should have come to me immediately and reported your findings.”
“My Prince…” Kei Jii said as he knelt down. “It was my mistake. I told the gen-…”
“Silence! No one questioned you!”
“I wanted to see whether it was truly your father’s horse… my Prince.”
“Now that you’ve seen it is, I order you to take lead of the army and give marching order.”
“And what about you, sire?” Raijin said, clenching his fists. He didn’t like where the conversation was going.
“I’m going to stay behind with my personal guard for a little while. Don’t worry, General, by next nightfall we will see each other again.” Yian Zho said, flashing his smug grin.
“Understood.” Raijin quickly bowed then stormed towards the entrance. There he turned back and saw that Yian Zho was still glaring at him. For a moment their eyes locked, and then he stepped out of the stable.
“Come on, Kei. We have to return to Raisu posthaste.”
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Thread: Guild Wars: Age of Deceit
03-06-2012, 19:08 #1
Guild Wars: Age of Deceit
Last edited by Thalador Doomspeaker; 15-07-2012 at 18:46.
03-06-2012, 19:11 #2
Chapter 2 - Funeral and Succession
SpoilerThe faint sun shone brightly on the hill where the mourning crowd gathered. The people surrounded a large grave made of obsidian. For now, it was open, revealing the late emperor in ornate, traditional Canthan clothing and his hands on the hilt of his sword over his chest. However, soon the grave would be sealed and a magnificent statue of Kaineng Tah erected atop of it. Nobles from all around the Empire came to Raisu to pay homage to the deceased emperor. Some of them were his enemies once, but these former chieftains have long since understood that Kaineng Tah was worthy of becoming their ruler, and his vision led to the creation the first human empire on Tyria. They all owed him this much.
Even Kanaxai, the proud captain of the Kraken Clan, respected Kaineng Tah. More than thirty years ago, Kaineng defeated his father in honorable combat, and in return, as the leader of the Kraken, he convinced the other three clans not to take up arms against the powerful Dragon. The Luxon people saw the valor in Kaineng’s heart, and they accepted him as their emperor. He respected this, and while the Luxons and their territories were annexed into the Empire, they could more or less retain their way of life as nomadic fishers, traders and warriors of the Jade Sea.
It was Kanaxai’s turn now. He walked up to the open grave, and bowed his bald, tanned head.
“Go with Dwayna, Dragon Sovereign. May your spirit be at peace at the side of the goddess.” Kanaxai finished and stepped aside to let the next nobleman pay his respect. As he walked towards the entrance, he noticed that a Canthan lord was watching him. He turned to the older man, who in turn walked up to him. The Canthan was tall, but still a few inches shorter than Kanaxai. Despite his older age, he seemed to be just as fit as a thirty-year-old trained soldier.
“Excuse me for the stare, Captain Kanaxai. It’s been a long time since I saw a Luxon so far from the Jade Sea. I don’t believe you remember me. I am…”
“Raijin Seritena, General of the Imperial army.” Kanaxai finished the interrupted sentence. “I do remember you, General. You were there at the duel between my father and the Emperor.”
“Why, yes.” Raijin said with a slight surprise in his voice. “I didn’t think my role on that day would be remembered. I did nothing but anxiously watch the combat.” He chuckled at the old memory. “By the way, how does your father fare?”
“He passed on a few years ago. He wanted to slay a leviathan by himself… he succeeded, but then died of the blood loss.”
“Oh… accept my condolence.”
“It is no trouble. He lived a long and fruitful life, and he always said he wanted to end it like that.” Kanaxai smiled but a slight sadness could still be heard in his voice.
“I wish my father could say the same when he meets the gods.” A third man entered the conversation.
Kanaxai saw that the man’s clothes were reminiscent to the one on Kaineng Tah’s body. This must be one of the princes. He thought to himself.
“It’s good to finally meet you, Captain, although the circumstances could be more pleasant. My name is Yian Zho, but I’m sure you’ve heard of me before.”
“I cannot say that. I have heard that the Emperor fathered a lot of children… how could a mere captain like me keep track of that huge amount of princes and princesses of the royalty?”
A flash of fury ran through Yian Zho’s previously complacent face. The general who stayed silent until now couldn’t help not laughing, but tried to masquerade it as a cough. Zho turned to him in an instant.
“I believe your attention is needed elsewhere, General. Make sure no unauthorized guests enter the area.”
Kanaxai could see the frustration growing in Seritena. He quickly bowed, then turned back to him.
“I hope we can continue this nostalgic conversation someday, Captain. Farewell!”
“Yes, yes. Now, would you take a walk with me through the surrounding hills, Captain? I would like to discuss some matters with you.” Zho walked ahead then waved Kanaxai over to follow him through a small bridge leading to the next hill. They silently walked around for minutes and observed the beautiful vista of the faraway mountains to the east and the silhouettes of the half-finished parts of the grand palace to the west.
“I don’t want to toy around with you, Captain.” The Prince finally decided to talk business. Now they stood midway on the same bridge they came through first. “In the next few weeks, I will be crowned the second Lord Emperor of Cantha. It is inevitable… I just want to know whether I can count on the continued cooperation of your people.”
“I cannot speak in the name of my sisters, the other clan leaders. Besides, we accepted Kaineng Tah as our emperor, and thus we will only accept the emperor – or empress – who he named as successor in his will.” Kanaxai pondered on a bit. “What makes you so sure you are his chosen?”
“It is the most logical choice. I am the eldest son, and I inherited the traits that made him a great emperor. My sisters are too weak to properly govern an empire as big as this.”
“No, you did not inherit all his traits, Yian Zho.” Kanaxai turned away from the vista to face the Prince. “You lack the tranquility and the valor that truly make the difference between a good ruler and a bad ruler.”
“How dare you speak to me like that!?” Zho couldn’t have been more outraged than he was. Fire was kindled in his eyes, and the air started to warm up around his body. “I am your better, Luxon dog! I AM YOUR EMPEROR!”
“You are not my emperor, not yet. You are just a prince out of a hundred more.” Kanaxai was still calm, but his voice became threatening. “However, if your father actually chose you as the heir to the Canthan throne, you will indeed be my emperor. I respected your father, and I respect his decision. But until then, we are equals.” With that he turned his back on the raging prince and walked through the small arch that led to the grave. It was time for him to make the long trek back to his family and his clan. He also had to discuss the future with his sisters.
Raijin closed the door behind him and looked around in his quarters. It was rather simple: a comfortable-looking bed, a wardrobe, a desk, and stands for armor and weapon. He walked to his desk to check the letters he hadn’t read yet. Outside the sun was just setting in the west, so he didn’t need to light the candles yet. As he skimmed through the various papers, he stopped at one having a seal with the badge of the Seritena family on it – a dragon with star eyes coiled around a mountain. It was from his grandson, who was stationed in an outpost on the shore, near the delta estuary of the great Rijeka River. He knew very well what the contents of the letter would be centered around, and it brought a tear to his eye.
His son had died just days after Kaineng Tah. No sooner the hunting expedition returned with the late emperor’s body did he learn of his death. He had left Raisu immediately and traveled south, along the western shore to reach the outpost. Together with his grandson they had buried him, but duty had called Raijin back and a day later he had been riding back towards the palace. He returned only a day ago.
No… I’m can’t read this, not yet. I don’t want to remember… He thought to himself as he dropped the letter back on the top of the paper pile. Raijin’s mind was still full of memories – both sad and happy – as he headed straight for the bed, and lay down to take a short nap, hoping it would hush his thoughts away.
Knock… knock… knock.
He didn’t know how much he slept, but he felt more relaxed already and memories were not tormenting him so much. He quickly went to the door and opened it.
“Greetings, General Seritena.” An elegant, purple dressed woman in her thirties stood before Raijin. “I hope I didn’t disturb you.”
“Not at all, Minister Naemi. How can I help the Celestial Ministry tonight?”
“When Kaineng Tah gave his last will to the previous minister, he told the Ministry what to do with it and when to have it read in the event of his death. One of his wish was that you attend the reading.” Minister Naemi smiled gently. “However, I thought that you had already been informed about this. I talked with the Prince yesterday and asked him to tell you this since you two would meet at the funeral.” She looked inquiringly at Raijin.
That rat “forgot” to mention this. Raijin was getting a bit frustrated.
“Interesting… he never said anything about this, neither his servants. But… shall we go then, Minister?” He offered his arm to the woman, who accepted but blushed a little bit. Seems my charm hasn’t waned yet. He thought as he went through the different halls of the palace arm in arm with the minister. Soon they arrived at the door leading to the throne room.
“After you, Minister Naemi.” He said as he opened the door for the woman.
“Thank you, Raijin.” Naemi flashed her smile at the general as she entered the chamber. He was a bit surprised she called him by his forename, but quickly followed her into the room.
The throne room was rather large; ninety strides long and fifty strides wide, with the ceiling twenty strides above the floor. From the door two rows of pillars led to the far end, the rows being about sixteen strides apart from each other and the walls. Exquisite Canthan designs and motifs adorned every little detail, and grand carpets that covered most of the walls immortalized the many battles Kaineng Tah fought in order to unite the tribes. At the opposite end of the hall the throne stood, and behind it a giant golden dragon statue perched from a column, its wings protectively folded as if trying to envelop the throne and the prevailing emperor.
“Ah, what a lovely couple!” Yian Zho came at them with his complacent grin.
I don’t understand this pongmang. Every time he gets furious and leaves, he returns with a more irritating attitude. After his “debate” with Captain Kanaxai today, he nearly burned down the bridge he was standing on. I can’t even imagine what he will do after he finally realizes his father never intended the throne for him…
“I was eagerly waiting when the two of you would arrive. It seems the general can hold out longer than I thought.” Yian Zho laughed stridently at his own joke. It was Raijin’s turn to lose his temper. He stepped dangerously close to Zho.
“Minister Naemi came to me to inform me that I was invited by Kaineng Tah himself… my Prince.” Raijin gritted the last two words through his teeth. “She went out of her own time to do that, because unfortunately, you forgot to tell me at the funeral.” He looked deeply into the Prince’s eyes, but those were not furious this time. He was still smiling in his smug way like before.
“Oh, how true! Excuse me, General, but I had a dead father to mourn. Somehow it slipped my mind. But from what I have seen, I did you a favor by not telling you then.” Zho turned his head away and measured the embarrassed Naemi from head to toe. “A very great favor.”
Raijin opened his mouth to lash out at him, but was stopped when a hand touched his shoulder.
“Relax, General.” A gentle, white-gowned woman who was in her mid forties approached the quarrelling men. “Excuse my brother’s rudeness. He has been a bit on edge since our father’s death.” The Princess said and Zho frowned at his elder sister’s words.
“My apology, Princess Niya.” Raijin bowed as deep as he could, just to show how much he respected the Princess. “I should not have left the frustration get the better of me.
“It is normal, General.” Another white-gowned woman, Princess Raiya, said as she stepped beside her twin sister. “We are all grieving.”
“Bah… enough of this.” Yian interrupted the conversation. “I say we should listen to what father had to say to each of us. Minister Naemi, can we begin now?”
“Ahem… my assistant, Defahn, should be here with the will any moment now.”
She was right. About half a minute later the junior minister entered the room. He looked incredibly nervous, and drips of sweat ran down on his forehead. He bowed before the dignitaries, then hurried to his superior and whispered something in her ear. Namei’s eyes grew wide.
“The will… it is gone.”
The people in the throne room were all shocked. They started asking the minister and his assistant, but they were just as puzzled as the rest of them. According to Naemi, the will was enchanted with protective magic and was even cursed – in the case it would fall into wrong hands – by Imperial sorcerers. The magical wards were all broken and the will taken.
“This confirms my suspicions.” Yian Zho looked on the others, to whom it was obvious that another grand speech was coming from him. “Our Empire is targeted by some cowardly menace that strikes from the shadows. The death of the Emperor, our father, was not an accident. Someone spooked the horse which threw him off. And now, on the very day of his funeral, his last will is stolen by forces unknown.” The Prince paused for effect. “We have to act quickly if we want to save the Canthan Empire, our father’s dream. Since this is a time of emergency, it requires emergency actions. Thus, I hereby announce my claim to the throne, and would like to get my sister’s approval… and their resignation from the same claim.” Zho finished, Namei gasped, Raijin was taken aback. Only the two sisters remained calm, but they looked very sad.
“We do resign our claim to the throne.” Princess Niya replied after a long moment of silence.
“What? But…but why?” Raijin stammered in disbelief.
“Not now, General.” Raiya said sternly to the confused man. “We would like to speak to you in private later tonight, however.”
“As you wish, Princess.” He murmured as he bowed again. When the twins left the hall, Raijin looked at the jubilant Crown Prince.
“Well, General, I have to take my leave. I need to announce the crowning and start the preparations for the ceremony. That is, order the servants to start the preparations.” The soon-to-be emperor left the throne room while laughing heartily.
“With respect, but I cannot believe how you could have relinquished your claim to the throne… it doesn’t make any sense.” Raijin was furious as he paced up and down in Niya’s quarters.
“Calm down, Raijin.” Niya told the General for the second time tonight. “If we had retained it, the Empire would have been plunged into civil war.”
“Our brother gained more and more allies over the past few years.” Raiya continued. “If it came to war, he would surely rally the allied nobles and lead them against us and those loyal to us.”
“So? We could surely defeat them. Much of the Canthan military answers to me and some other high-ranking officials. I know them well, and they don’t like Yian Zho either. Then the Celestial Ministry under Naemi’s lead would surely side with us. What is more, the Canthan people love you. We can still end this insanity here. Princesses, please, let me arrest him.”
“No, we have decided, Raijin. You are very kind, but we do not want the innocents to suffer because of our lust for power. Then we would be no different from our brother at all.” Raiya smiled sadly at the man.
“Indeed. The Empire is too young to fall into a civil war in less than a half of a century. However, we would like to ask something of you, dear General.” Niya said as she put her hand on Raijin’s shoulder – again, for the second time tonight.
“Anything, your highness.”
“You have been the truest friend of our father, and you always took the Empire’s needs to heart. We ask you one last thing: keep an eye on our brother and try to reason with him when he loses his temper. We trust you can talk him off of his wildest ideas if you remain calm and respectful. In the end, he may prove to be an excellent ruler if he is given enough time and patience.”
“We know this is a very hard task, but you are the only person in the court who can actually argue with him.” Raiya stepped beside her sister. “He is not going to remove you, because a large part of the army is overly loyal to you, and he knows that you are a great tactician yourself.”
“For the good of us all, I hope you are right.” Raijin sighed.
“May the gods help us all.” The three of them said in unison.
Chapter 3 – The Crowning
SpoilerA hundred trumpets caroled as the large oak doors of the throne room opened, heralding the coming of the Crown Prince. Yian Zho sublimely moved forward between the armor-clad lines of disciplined Dragonguard soldiers who held back the enthusiastic Canthan nobles that returned to Raisu for the second time in a fortnight. Among them he could see several counts and countesses of the Kurzicks, but not one Luxon leader, which offended him. I am not going to let the absence of those barbarians ruin my finest hour. Yian thought to himself and smiled as he arrived before twelve men and women in regal robes and clothing. The six high priests and priestesses and the six Sacred Guards of the Six Gods formed a semi-circle around him. Six of them stood on his left, five on the opposite side, and one elderly man right in front of the Prince. He knew the process, as his father told his children how he had gotten crowned so many times, and was aware that the coronation was only about formalities. He knelt down, bowed his head, and then looked back up at Dwayna’s patriarch. In his hands he could see his father’s crown glinting in the light.
“Crown Prince Yian Zho.” The old priest began the ceremony in an elevated tone. “You have appeared before us to gain the approval of each and every god and goddess, the protectors and saviors of our race, and the shepherds of humanity in Cantha and beyond. We, the humble servants of our divine leaders, will relay their holy word to you and those around. If they deem you worthy, each of us will bless you with a trait that you will have great need of in your reign as the mortal ruler of humanity. Are you prepared?”
“Yes, I am, Revered Father.” Just the usual “blessing giving,” and soon my father’s crown will be on my head now. Yian chuckled in himself.
But suddenly, all six Sacred Guards moved in and surrounded him in a tight circle, stretched out their arms and pointed at him. At the tip of their index finger small orbs of light – a purple, a dark green, a sanguine, a blue, a lime green, and a yellow – formed. The orbs then flew away and coalesced into one greater orb in front of him. The Prince’s eyes grew wide, and he left his mouth agape. What is this? This was not part of the p-… The glowing orb of light flew right into his head. Zho closed his eyes, and then started panicking in his mind. He feared the secrets he hid from the world would now be revealed, and the deeds he did would be known by the priests and guards, who would tell their respective gods. The scrutinizing orb strolled through the various vistas of his mind – both good and bad, but when it got to certain memories Yian feared would mean his end, it only saw a silverfish fog, censoring the details and only presenting misty silhouettes of places, persons, and distant echoes of sounds and noises. A forest, feathers, a foreboding laughter. The probe stood puzzled at these strange memories, and in its moment of confusion the mist struck into its surface and slithered into its core like a snake.
Then it ended. The orb flew out of the Prince’s mind. It hovered in the space above Yian’s head so everyone could see it.
“Show us your judgement.” Dwayna’s patriarch issued his command to the orb. The probe obeyed, and it turned even brighter.
Yian sighed in relief. He passed the test. The orb flashed one last then dissipated in the air.
The Sacred Guards who were just as indifferent as ever backed out without a word and let the priests move in. It was their turn to surround the Prince.
“Yian Zho, as Dwayna’s patriarch, I bless you with her compassion.” He touched the crown with his hand and passed it on to his right.
“As Melandru’s matriarch, I bless you with her harmony.” A tan skinned woman said as she passed on the crown to her right as well.
“As Keelaiah’s patriarch, I bless you with her strength.”
“As Agnites’ matriarch, I bless you with his wisdom.”
“As Dhuum’s patriarch, I bless you with his justice.”
“As… as Cordrina’s matriarch, I bless you with her inspiration.” The young pale woman with dark hair nervously passed on the crown back to Dwayna’s patriarch, who took it and stretched out his arms with the crown in his hands. All the other five touched it once more.
“In the name of the Six, you are hereby crowned as the second Lord Emperor of the Canthan Empire. May your father’s spirit and the Celestial Dragon watch over you.” The priests and priestesses sang the coronation blessing together as they put the crown on the Crown Prince’s head.
Emperor Yian Zho rose and turned to the crowd of nobles as the twelve men and women lined up behind him. He raised his hands in the air and smiled. I am the Emperor of Cantha!
The throne room erupted in cheers. His eyes moved among the courtiers and he pleasantly noted that everyone clapped, even General Seritena and Minister Naemi, although they didn’t seem too enthusiastic. His eyes moved on to his allies whose grin ran from ear to ear, but then his eyes fixated on two white-robed women. Only one more threat remains to my reign. That is, two, but they form one. Which means I can kill two birds with one stone. Yian Zho laughed as he had himself celebrated.
“It seems our plans for the succession failed completely, Dwayna.” Melandru walked up to her sister, irritatedly twitching her bark-skinned wings. “I don’t understand…”
They stood on one of the steep hills surrounding the Inner Sanctum of Raisu Palace. The goddesses had their backs against the sun that shone brightly. When a mortal looked in their direction, all they would see is the burning light that they had to shield their eyes from if they didn't want to go blind. As of now, no one tried to do that.
“It is done now, Melandru. We cannot interfere into their lives more than necessary.” Dwayna turned around and smiled faintly at the goddess of nature. “Instead of struggling against the branches of fate, we have to accept their decisions and help them ensure they come to fruition. It is the only way they can learn to stand on their own feet.”
“You are right, and I’m sorry I let this frustration get the better of me, but it all seemed so perfect.” She bowed her head, her hair of liana and leaves rustling on her shoulders. “And now a brutish, brash man takes the throne. He could ruin everything! Everything, Dwayna!”
“That likelihood wasn’t unforeseen to us. Keelaiah was right about one thing: they can learn from their mistakes as well, even if it hurts us to see them squander our gifts.”
The goddesses fell into silence for a longer time. Dwayna turned her head away, deep in thoughts, before she decided to speak again.
“However, there is something that bothers me to no end.”
“What is it?” Melandru looked inquisitively at her sister.
“The way how Kaineng Tah died, followed shortly by the strange disappearance of his last will.”
“And you suspect Yian Zho being the one who orchestrated those?”
“I am not sure… he passed the test, after all, but he was still on the winning end of those events… more or less.” Dwayna curled her hair behind her left ear. “Maybe one of his allies worked without the consent and knowledge of the prince to help him to the throne…”
“Unlikely.” Melandru said, shaking her head. “Very few of them possess magic, and even then, they cannot command it to such extent.
“Hmm… then we have to find who’s behind this through the Emperor himself. I will talk to my Sacred Guard and ask her to investigate.”
“And if it turns out he had a hand in those crimes?”
“Let’s worry about one issue at a time. A lot could change by then.”
Silence enveloped them again and only the cheering crowd could be heard from down below. There was an issue that endlessly grieved both of them but they had no other choice but to discuss it.
“You went to visit her, didn’t you?” Melandru asked, knowing the answer.
“Yes…” Dwayna let out a deep sigh, her shoulders and wings sinking in sorrow. “I should’ve felt it, Melandru. She fought it so strongly… her stubborn denial put it to a halt.” She smiled weakly at her memory. “I could’ve saved one of us at last, but when she needed me I failed to realize.”
“None of us can defeat it… you couldn’t have cured her, you know that.”
“And she stood there, shackled… raging against the chains, but I could see it in her eyes that she knew what was coming.” Dwayna looked Melandru in the eye, her eyes glowing with a bluish flame that was her way of showing anger. “She’s still fighting it. Hoping she can destroy the corruption… Oh Cordrina, why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
“It pains me, but I must ask this, Dwayna: have you found someone who can succeed her?”
The goddess of life closed her eyes and let go of the painful memories. When she opened them again they were back to normal.
“Yes, I have.” Dwayna drew a circle in the air. The particles her finger touched coalesced into a bright frame and inside the pool light gathered from all across the world, swirling like a liquid substance. Glimpses of people, places, and events flashed before the goddesses, but Dwayna was searching for one particular person. The images changed with remarkable speed until they stopped at a twin of young women, immersed in dance: their lithe figures of exquisite beauty entwined in a mesmerizing dance, much to the delight of the men whose faces were lit by campfire the twins were moving around.
A satisfied expression appeared on Dwayna’s face as the pool zoomed in on one of them.
“There she is.”
“How did your choice fall on her?”
“Magic runs strong in her. The whole family is magically adept, but she and her sister are exceptionally powerful. Combined with her inner traits she’s the perfect choice.” Dwayna touched the surface of the swirling light and the pool collapsed, the unseen components of the frame returning to the air once more.
Melandru considered the options before she spoke.
“I support you decision, sister, and I’m sure the others will, too.”
“Thank you, but I am… I’m not planning to make her a successor right now.” Dwayna confessed to Melandru, her graceful wings strained with tension. “She’s so young. She could enjoy the free, mortal life for a few more years before we take away that freedom and replace it with burdens instead.”
“I understand… but what about Cordrina? She would have to suffer through all those years alone, fighting and slowly succumbing to it.
“I… I know.” The conflict in Dwayna’s heart grew. She snapped her head away and clenched her fists. “Maybe we can find a way to ease her suffering. All five of us, together.”
“Let us hope we can.”
The goddesses stared down at the joyous masses – both nobles and commoners – that surrounded Raisu, celebrating their new emperor. However, their attention was still focused on the throne chamber, where destinies were decided at a whim, based on what the owners of those lives said. Their enchanted eyesight pierced the material walls of the ornate palace and fell on the people inside.
“I, Raijin Seritena, swear my sword to you, Lord Emperor Yian Zho, just as I swore it to your father many years ago. I will defend you and Cantha to the death. My loyalties lie with you and the Empire alone. Should I break this oath, my soul will never find peace in the Mists.” The General knelt in front of the stairs leading up to the seated emperor. He rested his hands on the pommel of his sword, with the blade’s tip on the floor.
“I accept your fealty, General Raijin Seritena. Rise and take your place at my side as the other nobles swear their loyalties to me.” Yian waved him to his left, and Raijin walked up to his post. “Is there anyone left waiting outside, Minister?”
“No, no one is left, my Emperor.” Minister Naemi looked up from her records book. “General Seritena was the last.”
“Good… then let us solve one more issue before we finish for today. My dear sisters, please come before me.” Zho pryingly watched as her sisters moved before him and bowed.
“Brother, if you may let me speak first.” Princess Niya asked and the Emperor waved that she may. “You do not have to issue the ungrateful act of our exile from the Empire. We wish to leave Cantha and head north on our own.”
Yian leaned forward in his throne, and a spark of interest kindled in his eyes.
“Interesting… what do you have in mind, dear Niya?”
“If you grant us a company of soldiers, a few sorcerers, and four ships with enough supplies that may last for about a year or two, we will travel north with our families and servants and explore the islands and continents there.”
“If we find a place that is worth colonizing, we will send you back a ship with its crew so they can guide your forces there while we resupply and move on.” Raiya added to her sister’s words.
“Hmm…” Yian started rubbing his chin. They are right. This way I can show the people that I am not just a tyrant removing my own sisters because they threaten my reign, but a wise ruler who begins the exploration of the world northwards… and who kindly supplies his pioneer siblings. Excellent, this day just keeps getting better and better. “I really like this idea. Niya, Raiya, I will commission the building of the fleet you want. Before the beginning of the next year, you can embark on your grand journey. Come here, please.” As they walked up to him, he stood up. When they were in arm’s reach, he hugged them.
“Thank you!” He whispered in their ear.
Niya and Raiya returned the hug.
Last edited by Thalador Doomspeaker; 15-07-2012 at 19:29.
03-06-2012, 19:15 #3
Chapter 4 – Kanaxai’s Destiny
SpoilerKanaxai ran as fast as he could in the direction of the rising pillar of smoke. From afar he already felt the smell of burning wood and flesh. His lungs were becoming full with the poisonous smoke as he was drawing closer to the source of the fume, but he just ran and ran… until he arrived at the horrid sight.
A pile of corpses rose in front of him.
No one was spared: Kanaxai could see women and men, old and young. Everyone was dead. He wanted to believe that his son, his wife, or somebody survived and escaped, but all his hopes were quickly destroyed as he looked at the top of the pile… they were all there, leaned against a tall pole around which the corpses lay. Kanaxai looked at the top of the pole with teary eyes, and in that moment his grief turned into limitless rage and hatred: it was the banner of the Canthan Empire waving defiantly in the wind. He clenched his fists, fell to his knees and cried, for he knew that he alone could do nothing.
In this helpless, unable state he listened to the crackling of the fire. Kanaxai lost his perception of time; he might have been curled up in front of his slaughtered people for hours… he didn’t know.
Suddenly, the muffled sound of screams and howls from the harbor’s direction reached his ears. Someone could still be alive! Maybe there’s resistance! Kanaxai rose up with a newfound strength and fury, and ran as fast as he could, despite being choked by the smoke.
The shore was not far from the place of the massacre. Even from afar he saw the contours an anchored vessel in the bay, illuminated by the rays of the setting sun from the back. With each scream, Kanaxai doubled his pace, even though he was on the verge of collapse now. And again, he arrived at another heart-wrenching sight: three limp figures on noose-tied ropes swaying from the mast of the great freighter.
“NOOOOOOOOOO!” His yell echoed sharply through the cove – the hanged figures were his sisters, the other captains.
Kanaxai could still hear some screams coming from nearby. His eyes were drawn to the source: hundreds of Luxons, all shackled and broken, were being tossed towards boats guarded by grim, Imperial soldiers.
Kanaxai’s interior burned from the rage that seethed within him. He reached for his double axes on his back, and let out a mighty battle cry. He would’ve wanted to charge at the accursed Canthans, but a terrible pain struck into his lower back. The cry of battle turned into a cry of pain as he fell to his knees and dropped his axes. Blood gushed out from the deep wound: his kidney was basically torn apart in the stab. As he finally regained his vision, a tall, smiling man stood in front of him. In his hands a small dagger drenched in blood.
“No, no, little captain, don’t let the anger flow through you. Remember what you told me at my father’s funeral?” The man laughed out at the mention of the memory. Kanaxai wanted to say something, but he started coughing up blood. He collected it in his mouth, and then spat it in the face of the man.
“Disgusting animal!” The man’s smugness disappeared, replaced with fury. He kicked the wounded captain in the stomach who fell into the sand on his back and cried out even more intensely – the sand now got into his wound. They let him writhe in agony for minutes until he was grabbed and forced to his knees by two iron gloves belonging to a guardsman. Kanaxai managed to focus his sight, only to see two young women, similarly on their knees. The evil man pressed the edge of the bloodied knife against the neck of one.
“Look what I have here, little captain! Your nieces, the beauties and pride of the Crab Clan and the Luxon people! They are truly breathtakingly beautiful, I’ll give you that.” With that, the man slit the throat of one of the girls. Her lifeless body collapsed into the sand on her left shoulder, locks of her white hair covering her dreaded face. “Oops! What a pity… well, at least her sister’s still alive!” He pointed at the other girl. “Take her to my ship! I guess I found another concubine.” Another Dragonguard grabbed the living twin sister under her shoulders and began dragging her towards one of the boats. The smiling man leaped right in front of Kanaxai, and stared into his eyes.
“Now you can see, little captain, that you are not my equal. You are below me.”
“Why… all this?” Kanaxai managed to cough out a few words among the blood that foamed from his mouth.
“Why, you ask.” The man straightened up and with hands clasped behind the back he began walking around the defeated captain. “Because you defied me! Now all of Cantha will see that those who insult their emperor will pay the price a hundred-fold. My wrath will be directed not only at them, but at their families and their people as well. No one will defy Emperor Yian Zho ever again!” The Emperor started into his long, strident laughter as he arrived before Kanaxai again…
But he couldn’t bear it any longer. He turned all his pain and grief into rage that he added to his already fleeting strength. With a strong tug he freed himself from the ironed hands of the bodyguard, jumped on his feet and charged at the laughing man – he wanted to tear out the man’s throat with his own teeth.
The surprised and dumbfounded Yian Zho could only watch the enclosing jaw in terror – he was given no time to prepare. Then, when Kanaxai was an inch away from the Emperor’s neck, his vision dimmed and the darkness took him.
Kanaxai suddenly sat up, breathing heavily and sweating. He quickly reached back and touched the part where he was stabbed. Nothing. He looked around and saw his wife sleeping peacefully beside him. He jumped up and went out of his tent. Everything was peaceful. The other tents were set up nicely, the camp fire flickered, and a few sleepy guards patrolled among the rows of roundish tents. Kanaxai looked up, but only the Kraken Clan’s banners waved idly in the small dawn breeze. The clouds over the Jade Sea were dyed orange from the rising sun, and the light of the million stars above waned already. Kanaxai let out a great sigh of relief, and silently watched the beautiful sunrise. A few minutes later, soft, feminine hands touched Kanaxai’s still tense shoulders and started kneading them.
“Why are you awake so soon? Did you have a bad dream?” His wife, Arianthe, asked. Hearing her voice and feeling the touch of her hands were enough to sooth Kanaxai.
“Yes. But it was just that, a nightmare. Everything is fine…” For as long as that wretched Prince Yian Zho does not become emperor. Kanaxai thought to himself. He turned away from the entrance to look into his wife’s brown eyes and comb into her long, brown hair. “Don’t worry, love. You should lie down and sleep a bit more. You and the baby need to rest.” Kanaxai smiled and put his other hand on Arianthe’s growing abdomen.
“Why don’t you join me?” She was smiling mischievously.
“I’d like to but I can’t… I have to check if the preparations for the Convocation are going well. My sisters deserve a proper welcome.”
The current campsite of the Kraken Clan was bustling in the early afternoon. The people were busily preparing for the Convocation. Hunting parties were organized to catch the most delicious of beasts and fish, so that others could cook them for the grand occasion. The artisans of the clan crafted various goods: from wooden pots and cups to deadly spears and blades that they could trade with members of the other clans. Others wove various rugs and carpets so Kraken could nicely accommodate the visitors.
Kanaxai stood near the center of the camp and observed his working people. Arianthe stepped beside him and leaned her head on her husband’s shoulder. He put his right arm over her.
“This will be a memorable Convocation, I can feel it in my bones!” Kanaxai was very enthusiastic, but a sudden thought crossed his mind. “Haven’t you seen Zannos?”
“He told me he would go down to the shore to meditate. But it’s been some time since he did.” Arianthe sounded a bit worried.
“Ah… I am sure he is fine. That boy was probably blessed by the gods themselves!”
“Are you speaking of me?” A young voice came from behind. The surprised couple turned around to face the unexpected newcomer – who seemingly came out of nowhere. The boy in front of them was only fifteen years old. His figure was thin but had well-defined muscles that he seemingly took pride in: he usually walked around either half-naked or wearing clothes that still showcased his physique. However, his striking features were his blonde hair and green eyes – in spite of the fact that both his mother and father were dark-haired and brown-eyed. Given his age, he was still at least one foot shorter than his tall father.
“Son! How’s your training going?”
“Rather well. I am ready to face the best warriors of every clan. I can’t wait for the dueling night.”
“Hah… I remember that I was just as eager before my very first Convocation.” Kanaxai laughed as he patted Zannos on his shoulder. “I am sure you will not disappoint us.”
“Where were you for so long, Zannos?” Arianthe still looked inquiringly at her son.
“I met a Canthan trader in the bay. He and his crew anchored down to refill their supplies before moving on. I took them to the nearest fountain and had a chat with them. Did you know that the second emperor was crowned about two weeks ago?”
Kanaxai became tense under a moment’s notice. The mention of Imperial matters brought back images from his nightmare.
“Who is it?”
“Yian Zho. The trader said he is the eldest son of Kaineng Tah, and that there was some sort of scandal around the inheritance.”
“What do you mean?” Kanaxai’s eyes grew wide in terror.
“Basically, some courtiers say that Kaineng Tah had a last will that disappeared, while others say it never existed at all. But this Yian fellow became the Emperor while his sisters are going to leave the continent and head north.” Zannos finished his report with a sigh. “I wish I could go with them as well… life gets boring around here.”
“Zannos!” His mother’s angry look made the boy laugh.
“Okay, okay… I was just joking!” With a wide grin on his face he turned to Kanaxai. “Anyways… what can you tell me about my opponents, father? Any weaknesses I could exploit?”
But Kanaxai wasn’t listening. He was staring into the distance in the harbor’s direction. Flashes of his vivid nightmare rushed his mind again: the banner, his sisters hanging from the freighter, the enslaved Luxons, the stab, the slit throat.
“Father, are you all right?”
“Yes, dear, you look very pale.” Arianthe looked worriedly at her husband.
Kanaxai finally snapped out of it. He tried to focus and hugged his wife and son.
“No… no… it’s nothing. I just remembered something that could be done for the others’ arrival.”
Be sure to listen to this playlist (tracks picked and arranged by yours truly) in the background to enhance your reading experience.
Chapter 5 – The Convocation
SpoilerOver the next two days the other three clans arrived one by one. The clans of the Luxon Armada always stood within reasonable distance of each other, in case something befell a member of this great family. The Turtle Clan made the trek along the eastern shore and came in from the south on their giant turtles, while the Crab and Serpent clans arrived from the west by ships. All the attendants were in Maishang Hills by dusk, although a few more guests still showed up every hour. The celebrating Luxons cordially greeted their friends and acquaintances who they haven’t seen for years. People were drinking, eating, debating, laughing, and waiting for their captains to announce the start of the duels.
Kanaxai rested his head on his left hand that the right hand held at the elbow. It was dark in the tent with only a few candles illuminating the people inside: Arianthe and the Captain of the Serpent Clan, Alua, sat on a couch-like, padded furniture. They were silently talking to each other. Ione, the Captain of the Turtle Clan, leaned at one of the sturdier support beams of the tent with crossed arms. Only Elora, the Captain of the Crab, faced Kanaxai. She glared at her brother and shook her head.
“You cannot be serious, Kan. We can’t break out of the Dragon just because the very first meeting you had with the new emperor ended badly. He was obviously mad with grief, that’s why he reacted so… heatedly.” Elora was inspecting Kanaxai as she combed a curl behind her ear. Kanaxai looked up from his pondering pose and similarly stared down his sister. Her white hair that she usually wore in a bum was intimidating in the semidarkness of the tent.
“You were not there, Elora. You did not see the burning anger and outrage in his eyes. Your daughters could confirm my feelings if they met him… although I would never endanger them by taking them before Yian Zho.”
“Why is that?” Alua asked, looking quizzically at her brother. “I don’t really understand your almost paranoid fear of the Emperor. From what you have told us, back then you lectured him very boldly… maybe you did take it a bit too far, but remember what Elora said: he was probably on edge from his father’s death.”
“No, it’s just… it is complicated.” Kanaxai started scratching the back of his neck. “Well, I had this dream about…”
“Dream?” Arianthe looked up suddenly. “You never mentioned a dream. So this is why you have been so tense in the past two days.” She tried to stand up but had to clutch her abdomen in pain. Alua helped her sit back as Kanaxai ran to his wife’s help, crouching beside her. Kanaxai wanted to ask if she was alright but Arianthe reached out and touched his lips with her fingers.
“Why didn’t you tell me, my love?”
“I… I didn’t want to frighten you. You are up too much and don’t rest enough. I was worried for your and the baby’s health.”
“It is pretty pointless now… Please, tell us about this dream.”
Kanaxai straightened up again and took a deep breath as he recalled the horrible scenes of his nightmare.
“Zho and his soldiers killed everyone here. He had you hanged; sisters, and then he went on to enslave every Luxon.” He finished and rubbed his eyes with the tip of his fingers as sharp images from the rest of the nightmare flashed into his mind. They don’t need to know the gruesome details.
“If Kan had a vision from the gods…” Ione started into it but was cut short by Elora.
“Who said that the gods gave him this dream? They would never incite humans against other humans, especially not in such a horrible way! They would first try to solve the dispute peacefully, possibly not in person, but acting through their priests.”
“And what if even the gods can’t reason with Zho anymore? You heard what brother told us about the scandal around the succession. Maybe they realized that they had to warn us before the threat becomes real.” Ione uncrossed her arms and pushed herself away from the pillar to face Elora better. “Besides, I think it is time to leave their little empire and do things on our own.”
As Ione finished, Elora opened her mouth to respond.
“Enough!” The loud yell silenced his arguing sisters. “This pointless squabbling will get us nowhere. We are all tired, so let us return to this matter tomorrow.” Kanaxai stopped for a moment and listened to the cheering attendants outside. In the past couple of minutes, while he and his sisters debated, the roar of their people increased. They sounded like a rampaging storm on the sea. “And we have to entertain our brethren or they will tear this place apart. What is more, I am sure Zannos is more than eager to finally show off his skills!
Zannos stood face to face with the champion of Serpent Clan, a nearly seven-foot tall warrior named Therios Epidierthus. The giant Luxon had green serpent tattoos from toe to face on his tanned, sculptured body and wore his dreadlocked, dark hair in a horsetail. But Zannos was more concerned with Therios’ four-foot long dual swords that the man wielded just as easily as if they were the steely extensions of his arms.
Zannos tightened his grip on his shortsword in his right and snapped the blade of his other shortsword backwards, with its tip right next to his left elbow. Therios whirled his blades in response, and the two warriors began circling each other, never taking their eyes off of each other.
Come on, I have to defeat this lumbering giant. I’m faster, I’m better. I haven’t defeated aunt Ione’s champion to be beaten by this guy. Zannos thought to himself as he tried to overcome his growing anxiety. The dueling of this Convocation began only an hour ago, and he had already defeated Turtle’s spear-wielding veteran. The battle didn’t tire him out much; however, upon seeing Therios defeating Crab’s magic-wielding champion – without breaking a sweat from his opponent’s magic-empowered counterattacks – Zannos started doubting he could defeat the other finalist…
I have to win. All that training and time I devoted to this duel will not be in vain. This is going to be my finest hour.
The two of them have been circling each other for minutes now. The excited crowd behind them remained silent for some time, but now humming could be heard in the lines.
Suddenly, someone in Kraken’s lines began chanting his name. The chanting spread and a moment later all the attending Kraken members bellowed ‘Zannos.’ Serpent Clan retaliated by simultaneously chanting ‘Therios.’ The two names echoed through the hills, resonating throughout the bay and beyond. The naga dwelling in their caves or on one of the outlying islands not far off the coast were bound to hear the names of the human champions.
Zannos was fired up by his people’s support; he inhaled deeply and lunged forward with a fierce battle cry. Therios stood still, waiting for the right moment. He pulled both his swords back, intending to deliver a dual blow that was ought to knock the boy out of his balance. But the thought to stop or block never crossed Zannos’s mind.
Therios released his brutal slash; the two longswords howled in the air, ravenously craving to bite into flesh or steel, but Zannos reclined his neck and back while dropping to his knees. His momentum carried him forward on the soil, towards Therios, while the heavy blades passed overhead. Zannos hissed from the pain of bruising off the skin.
Friction was continuously slowing down his slide, until he stopped right in front of his foe – still on knees. The giant Luxon was not surprised at all: with a quick twist of grip, his left blade changed course and was now headed for the boy’s shoulder. Zannos expected this and blocked the thrust with a quick uppercut of the shortsword. As Therios’ sword swung up, he rolled to the right and managed to cut the other’s thigh. Warm blood poured to the dusty ground.
“Aaaargh!” Therios’s cry of pain silenced the roaring crowd. But instead of slowing him down or weakening his resolve, the bleeding wound sent him into a fury– now it was Therios’s turn.
Zannos could barely stand up when a flurry of the two blades was upon him. Slash after slash, stab after stab, he evaded and parried as strong as he could, but he had to back with each strike: losing ground and getting closer to the edge of the dueling area. The strength of Therios’s strikes only intensified and their pace increased; the champion was determined to push his opponent out of the battle circle, which also meant defeat.
Zannos was weary and now only two feet away from the edge. In his panic of losing the battle, he improvised; as Therios’ final slash approached – which would have wrested the sword from his hand –, he suddenly fell backwards, dropping his swords at the same time. The slash passed above again, but Zannos was still falling. Before he could have impacted into the dusty earth, he arched his back and reached aback with both his arms. The force with which his hands touched the ground nearly broke both his shoulders, but he used the bridge-like posture of his body to kick up his legs from the ground. However, before he could have backflipped out of the circle, he pulled his calves right to his thighs and kicked out a moment later, leading both legs into Therios who was truly surprised now. Zannos’s right leg managed to kick the still-bleeding gash on his opponent’s thigh: the giant Luxon fell over.
But he didn’t count in his own weakened state. The acrobatic, desperate move drained him, and when his legs touched ground again, the convulsing muscles in his arms finally gave in: he collapsed to the ground with face up.
This is it. At least I tried my best. Zannos thought as he tried to get back up, but his fleeting strength did not allow him. Even from his heavy breathing he could still hear Therios grunting and having similar difficulties. Unfortunately for Zannos, the other man was much tougher… sooner or later the Serpent champion would be up again, ready to claim victory over a foolish boy.
After the second unsuccessful attempt at standing up, he turned to his left side and let his sight wander onto the audience. There, his gaze met that of a spectator.
Zannos forgot to breathe as he had never seen such a beautiful being before. The woman’s beauty was on par with that of his twin cousins. He suddenly felt a sensation in his exhausted self and a renewed strength flowing in his veins. He jumped up, grabbed his swords and took up an offensive stance.
Therios stood up at the same time, but he had to lean on his blade to straighten up fully. The giant warrior barely had time to enter a defensive stance, as Zannos’s surge of blades reached him in the blink of an eye.
Zannos landed blow after blow on his opponent’s waning defense, while cutting and bruising him more and more. In less than a minute, Therios was so weakened that he let his guard down, which he exploited to disarm him; wounding the right hand which dropped the blade, while knocking the other sword out of the left hand with a powerful blow. The Serpent champion stumbled back but regained his stability.
Let’s finish this. Zannos smiled as he jumped forward so quickly it was hard to follow and struck his opponent’s healthy leg with the flat of the sword. The force brought Therios to his knees.
He pointed the tip of the right shortsword at the defeated man, who tiredly looked at his conqueror.
“I yield, Champion of the Kraken.”
The crowd basically erupted. The members of the Kraken Clan cheered, roared, and hugged while chanting the young champion’s name. Even the Serpent Clan members were satisfied with what they had seen, although they were less enthusiastic about it. Meanwhile, some healers ran in to help Therios up. The Serpent warrior shook his head then turned to Zannos.
“Kid, you have my approval. I haven’t seen anyone fight like that at your age. However, don’t engage in such risky moves next time.” Therios winked as he began limping out of the ring with some help. Zannos couldn’t even respond from being dumbstruck. He couldn’t believe he won, and now that the fight was over, the exhaustion rushed him. He felt very dizzy when a tall man and a woman of his height stepped next to him and hugged him.
“We are so proud, dear. What you did tonight would have surely impressed Keelaiah.” Arianthe said as she kissed her son on the cheek. “But are you all right? You must be tired and thirsty.”
“Someone bring us some water!” Kanaxai shouted then turned to his son who was still breathing heavily and unable to speak. “Son, I don’t know what to say. You were incredible!” He laughed and hugged Zannos again while some Luxons brought water. “Here, drink a little!”
“Can I… can I get some rest?” Zannos was so tired he nearly fell over. Kanaxai laughed heartily at his son’s question.
“No, not yet! The Champion of the Kraken and the current Convocation can’t just disappear without greeting his fans first!” Kanaxai patted his son on the back. “And remember, Zhu Hanuku will come soon. I doubt you’d want to miss that!”
Zannos didn’t reply but stared almost blindly into crowd as he drank some of the water and poured the rest on his body.
I can’t believe I won…
“You were so awesome!” A young woman with shoulder-length white hair said as she hugged Zannos. She was in her early twenties and immensely beautiful – no wonder she and her twin sister were called the pride of the Crab Clan. “Luna, over here!”
“What is it, Lyss? Have you found our little cou-… oh, there he is!” Luna stepped next to her sister and kissed Zannos on the forehead. Being twins, Lyss and Luna were completely identical to each other; save for Luna’s same white hair that went halfway down her back. “We knew you would do it. We felt it.”
“Well, at least you didn’t worry much then. There were some moments when I thought defeat was at hand.”
“Oh, it is natural. But you should never question yourself, Zannos. You were truly blessed by the gods.” Lyss said as she smiled at the sight of her cousin’s blushing. “You have no reason to doubt your exceptional prowess.”
“Indeed. You have the power to accomplish the impossible. But you should never ever let fear compromise who you are. If you do, you are lost.” Something changed in the sisters’ voice. Their gaze felt otherworldly.
The eerie moment sent an intense chill down on Zannos’s spine.
“Uhm… I will keep that in mind, but if you’ll excuse me, I should greet the others.”
“Oh, of course.” The twins’ behavior was normal again. “Later, oh Kraken Champion!” They sang together in a lovely, sweet tone before they headed back to Crab’s area.
Zannos began wandering the expanded camp area, meeting Luxons at every third step. Congratulations and cheers bombarded him from every direction. Although he tried to focus on his surroundings, the things Lyss and Luna told him – and the way they did – bothered him. He knew magic ran strong in them and that they could see and feel things others couldn’t, but this was new. What did they mean by not letting fear and doubt control me? What happened to them in those seconds? Questions like these plagued him as he was walking aimlessly, getting further and further from the others. The noise of the crowd began to fade away and Zannos realized he was now on the edge of the camp site. As he looked around he spotted a few Luxons talking but his attention was drawn to a lone figure near the woods.
The exquisite pair of eyes that were fixed at him belonged to the girl who he had seen during the duel. She was more beautiful than before with that radiant, seductive smile on her face. Zannos noticed that she was about his age, probably just a bit older.
The girl beckoned to him and he wanted nothing else but to run to her and get away with her.
“Son! I was searching high and low for you.” The sudden calling of his father made Zannos turn around in an instant. Kanaxai was jogging towards him. “You need to come; Zhu Hanuku has appeared to bless the winner of the Convocation.” He put his hand on Zannos’s shoulder and smiled.
“Ah… yes, I almost entirely forgot that. I am sure he will be pleased that the champion is from the clan that bears his name.” As he began the trek towards the shore with his father, he turned back in the direction where the woman stood, but she wasn’t there anymore. He looked around, but saw her nowhere, almost as if the earth swallowed her in whole. Well, I think I ran out of luck for some time with this victory…
Last edited by Thalador Doomspeaker; 15-07-2012 at 20:00.
03-06-2012, 19:18 #4
Be sure to listen to this playlist in the background to enhance your reading experience.
Chapter 6 – Rising Menace
SpoilerZannos stood in awe before the amazing creature. He has seen Zhu Hanuku many times, but he never stood directly before the great Kraken, nor did he revel in his blessings. Zhu Hanuku was a sea spirit, as the Luxons called the souls of mighty sea beasts and creatures that were believed to embody various virtues. This powerful spirit took on the shape of a fifty-foot long kraken and has been bound to the Kraken Clan since the very beginning of Luxon history. His six transparent tentacles waved calmly in the air, while his grand eyes were fixed on the boy in front of him.
“Zannos, son of Kanaxai, you have proven yourself worthy in the battles you fought tonight. Your victory is well deserved, for you have defeated your foes with true cunning and strength.” The spirit’s deep voice that sounded like the mild waving of the sea boomed throughout the bay. “Although your actions were not seen by the gods, the sea spirits are pleased, and as your reward, I bless you. Even in the darkest hour, the sea herself will forever hold you safe.”
Although Zannos thought that the blessing was just a formality involving no magic at all – a way to show that the sea spirits were always watching and keeping the Luxons safe –, he felt some sort of energy coursing on his skin as well as through his body. The hair on the back of his neck rose and goose bumps enveloped his body.
I wasn’t expecting that. I wonder what this blessing will do…
While he was recovering from the mysterious thrill, Zhu Hanuku began to gradually fade from sight and soon disappeared completely. However, he could somehow feel that Hanuku was still around in the physical world.
I always thought that he returned to the spirit realm after the end of each Convocation… but it feels like he’s still here somewhere.
He looked around to see if he could spot the kraken, but other than the now moderately drunk Luxons that celebrated near the edge of the woods he spotted nothing interesting.
Ah well… who am I to decipher the plans of an immortal spirit? I’m too tired to ponder on that anyway. Zannos turned around, intending to head back to the camp now that he was finally allowed to rest. But a glance at the hordes of his intoxicated brethren, who would stop at nothing to deter him from his plan, convinced him not to go that way. Time to take an evasive route. He smiled and changed course for the steep wall to his left.
“Something is not right, Kanaxai.” Zhu Hanuku appeared beside the captain who stood with crossed arms on one of the larger cliffs overlooking the cove. Kanaxai was surprised that the great Kraken did not return to the spirit realm outright, but he masked his emotions. He watched his son heading for the opposite end of the cove and beginning to climb.
“What is not right, Zhu?”
“I do not know fully either. I sense something powerful… a presence that I have felt before, but I do not know where and when. It eludes me.” The Kraken waved with his two frontal spectre-tentacles in anxiety. Kanaxai still watched as the tiny figure that was Zannos reached the top of the cliffs and moved into the woods, soon disappearing from his sight.
“Do you believe this presence is malevolent? Does it pose a threat to us?”
“I cannot even feel its intentions… it is old, it is power, but it is either oblivious to the world around it or far away from me to detect its thoughts or desires. We must be incredibly careful, Kanaxai.” Zhu Hanuku was beginning to fade away slowly. “Now I return to the spirit realm, but I will be watching… we will reveal the source.” The last of his words were whispery, and it sounded as if the wind itself carried them away in the direction of sea.
Kanaxai remained at the edge of the cliff and stared into the horizon that separated the dark, starry sky from the equally dark sea. Everything will be all right… Kanaxai tried to comfort his worried mind, but now he couldn’t believe himself either. He turned away from the beautiful vista and headed back for the camp.
Clouds rolled over Maishang Hills on the next morning, although it did not seem to begin raining soon. The participants of the festive Convocation day woke up soon, even when a lot of them felt a bit hangover after the last night. Now they’ve been working hard to strike camp and return to their original site. Many of the guests still decided to remain even after the Convocation, having found partners to go on a perilous endeavor against some fearsome creature or a lover to stay with. The captains, their family, champions and closest elders always went back to their then current realm. However, this time the three guest captains did not help in organizing the journey. They had more important matters to attend to.
Kanaxai, Elora, Alua, and Ione sat tensely in the captain’s tent.
“The time has come to decide, sisters.” Kanaxai said in a stern tone. “I suggest we secede from the Dragon Empire and take our future into our hands.”
“I’m in full agreement on this with Kan.” Ione said. “It was good while it lasted, but the Luxon Armada doesn’t need babysitting anymore.”
“I, however, must object to your proposal, Kanaxai.” Elora said, glaring at her sister and brother. “This is not the way to acquire more freedom for our people… For the love of Dwayna, we did not even tell the Empire about this planned secession! What will they think when they learn about this? I will tell you: they will brand us all traitors to the emperor and declare war on us!”
“Calm down, Elora.” Kanaxai tried to comfort her furious sister by putting his hand gently on her right shoulder. “They cannot brand us traitors. Remember, father accepted Kaineng Tah alone, and none of us have sworn fealty to Yian Zho. We simply decided to move on and shape our destinies alone.”
“Very well… I am not going to support this, but I also know I can’t change your minds. I just ask you one thing: if the Imperial navy appears at the seabed, don’t lament and pray to the Six for mercy. End the conflict as soon as possible with the least bloodshed.”
“We will fight with the might of the gods and the spirits of the sea behind us.” Ione proudly remarked. “We will show the Dragon that the Luxons don’t bend to anyone.”
“That is what I fear.” Elora pursed her lips as she sat back. “Alua, the future of the Armada is in your hands. What do you say; secede or stay?”
Alua remained silent in the whole quarrel. She looked up and her siblings could see that her expression was careworn, but her gaze was determined.
The four captains stepped out of Kanaxai’s tent. Their people looked up from their work and saw that something big was about to happen. Most of them abandoned what they were doing and flocked to their leaders.
“Krakens, Crabs, Serpents, Turtles! After much debate, I and my sisters, your captains, made a difficult choice regarding the future of our Armada.” He paused to look around: every eye was focused on him and the large camp that was busy a minute ago was as silent as a grave now. “We will leave the alliance of the Canthan tribes and secede from the Dragon Empire.” Many gasped at the news but he went on louder to be heard among the shocked whispers. “The four clans will become the foundation of the Luxon nation. From this day, the Luxon Armada is a master of its own!”
The people did not know what to make of this. A few hardliners roared, but the majority only clapped. Seeing this, Ione raised her arm in the air, which served as an incentive for the confused Luxons who also raised their hands and began to cheer.
Kanaxai could see from the corner of his eye that Elora put her palm on her forehead and shook her head. When he turned to Alua her sister looked away with downcast eyes, and it seemed as if she was blushing in shame.
For all our sakes, I hope this was the right choice… Kanaxai thought, but again, he doubted himself.
Excuse me for the thread bumps. I wanted to post all six in the OP but I didn't know I can only post 30,000 characters at once. Also, could someone tell me how to resize the image, please?
Last edited by Thalador Doomspeaker; 15-07-2012 at 20:01.
08-06-2012, 18:59 #5
Okay, a little heads-up:
I won't be publishing chapter 7 this weekend as it is BWE time for basically everyone - including yours truly. This hiatus will give me some time to work on the story (I feel like I should be updating the now published content as well - like I did with the title of chapter 1) since I'm rapidly falling behind: I'm at chapter 10 at the moment and it's soon exams time for me, which will rob me of my free time.
Also, with chapter 6 everyone minus one presented on the book "cover" has been introduced. Hurray! Don't worry, there are still many new characters waiting to be revealed.
11-06-2012, 09:27 #6
16-06-2012, 20:17 #7
Unfortunately, I will not be posting Chapter 7 this week. Since it turned out only yesterday that I'm among the firsts who will have to take the exams (literally: whole thing starts early Monday morning and I'm with the first group that goes in at 8 AM, local timezone) I need to make something of my time - however little that is - and try to learn a tiny bit. Although I'm not really frightened... I know I can do it. :)
But this unexpected turn of events made me postpone chapter 7 'till next week (it was mostly done but it still needed some polish, plus I don't have time to look for appropiate tracks for the experience-enhancing playlist). It MAY be published on next Tuesday (if not, it goes up on Saturday as usual), and if everything goes well I would love chapter 8 to be ready for Saturday, too, but that's more like wishful thinking... Still, anything can happen. ;)
Again, sorry for the delay! See ya all on the boards!
@ monthefratellis: Thanks! :) I'll try not to fail you and improve on the quality even more so.
24-06-2012, 15:22 #8
Well, everything went south with my overly optimistic plans, but Chapter 7 is finally here.
Be sure to listen to this playlist in the background to enhance your reading experience.
Chapter 7 – Diplomacy
Spoiler“It is an outrage! How dare these savage barbarians leave my Empire like that!” The second Emperor of the Dragon was almost as hysterical as a child whose favorite toy was taken. He stamped with his feet and hit the intricately carved armrest at every word, while the courtiers and servants worriedly looked around, fearing the Emperor might start a fire in his anger. “I will show them that traitors will be dealt with extreme prejudice. General!” Yian Zho looked sternly at the armor-clad statue that stood beside the throne. Raijin thought that he had to wear his heavy war uniform the whole day as a form of punishment for his former disobediences – or to break his will.
“Yes, my Emperor.”
“Prepare three legions to move out and notify Admiral Fai Zahn to have the Third and Fourth Fleets ready to sail to the Jade Sea through the canal. We are going to quell this little insurgence posthaste.”
“With respect, my Emperor, but is it the right course of action?” Raijin collected his strength to reply in a respectful and paternalistic manner. “As your military advisor, I suggest you to observe this situation cautiously… If you may let me elaborate.” With that he bowed his head.
“Go on.” Zho sighed and rolled his eyes.
“Thank you, my Emperor.” Raijin went ahead to face Yian Zho. “I cannot really fathom why the Luxon Armada seceded from our great Empire, but it is… probable that if we react aggressively, we might unintentionally strengthen their defiance and awake some sort of hatred against the Empire. Thus I strongly recommend finding a diplomatic way to bring them back. It will certainly ease tensions between our peoples and convince them that it was foolish to make this secession… as there is nothing really going on in the Empire that would rightfully evoke such an unusual step.” He averted his gaze for a moment then looked back into the Emperor’s cold and calculating eyes. “This Kanaxai is a sly man. He may be testing your wisdom and ability to rule based on how you respond now, my lord. This predicament can be resolved quickly and peacefully if you maneuver well. The Empire could even achieve a more beneficial treaty with the Luxons… one that obligates them to contribute more to the good of the Empire.” Raijin finished his short speech and bowed his head once again, awaiting his sovereign’s reply.
“Hmm…” Zho leaned back in his throne. He was a lot calmer now than before and was seemingly lost in his thoughts. “It is a counsel worthy of consideration. I must say, a treaty that binds these primitive tribesmen even stronger to us would be necessary indeed. But, first things first, I would be content even with the peaceful retrieval of Canthan lands and property.” Yian Zho leaned forward and rubbed his hands together. “Very well, General Seritena. I accept your suggestion. You are going to oversee the talks between our diplomats and them. You will also relay every development of the treaty to me.”
“As you wish, my Emperor.”
“Then I believe it is settled then.” The Emperor stood up. Everyone in the throne room straightened up and bowed. “You are free to leave… I am too tired and distracted to continue with more frivolous matters.”
Raijin was relieved that he could finally get out of his heavy armor. He was walking down the hallways of the palace and thinking about the past hour while on his way to his quarters. Raijin was pleased with what he had accomplished. He successfully talked the Emperor down from engaging in a confrontation that would’ve strained the Empire’s resources, and – more importantly – Yian Zho actually listened to his counsel.
The princesses may have been right about their brother after all.
He arrived at the corridor where his room was, but something was amiss. A thin streak of light was cast on the floor, coming from his room. He knew someone passed through recently because he always locked the door when leaving.
Raijin unsheathed his sword and tried to be as silent as possible, although it was mostly impossible in his heavy plate armor. Getting right beside the door, he slid the blade into the tiny slit and charged in.
“Oh, by the goddess!” The young woman doing something at Raijin’s desk gasped as she span around. She was wearing the ornate clothes of a Sacred Guard – specifically the robes of Dwayna’s Sacred Guard. “It was not necessary to startle me, General.”
“Excuse me, honored guard, but may I ask what are you doing in my quarters?”
“I… I really shouldn’t be here.”
“What were you doing at my desk?”
“Leaving a message… now I really need to leave.” With that she hastily walked for the door but Raijin blocked her way. “Don’t uphold a Sacred Guard in her duties. And put that sword down.”
Raijin sheathed his blade but still did not take a step away from the door.
“What is this about, priestess? You can tell me now that we are here in private.”
The woman let out a resigning sigh, placing her hands on her hips.
“I see you won’t give up until I tell you, General… Very well: the goddess appeared before me and told me that something was off with the coronation. She said Yian Zho might have involved unknown forces to ensure he will succeed his father.”
“The last will’s disappearance…”
“Yes… and more. The goddess also told me to inform you somehow, knowing your reservations about serving him.”
“This is… a lot to handle.” Raijin averted his eyes, contemplating what was just said. Did he steal the last will to prevent his sisters from inheriting the throne? But if that is true, what about… He looked into the Guard’s blue eyes. “Are you saying Zho might have had a hand in his father’s death?”
“I am not sure, but it is entirely possible. General, with your authority you can acquire clues that I alone cannot and vice versa. Together we can prove that the Emperor is guilty…”
“IF he is guilty. I don’t like him but I can’t imagine he would go to such lengths for power.”
“And I can’t imagine my goddess lying. Do you?” Her voice now carried a veiled threat. “So, will you help me or not?”
Raijin inquisitively measured Dwayna’s Sacred Guard. Fine features framed by long, auburn hair. Her fairy-like look was deception only, as her willful determination coupled with the near-fanatical devotion to her goddess gave her a form of fierceness that few men had.
He pondered on what she had said. He still couldn’t fully believe it himself, but he doubted she was lying. And if Dwayna herself told her about Zho’s suspicious activities then he had no right to question them.
“Yes… Yes, I will help you.”
“Good. Where will you start?”
“I’ll ask around and try to learn why he stayed in the forests for another day after we’d left for Raisu… after Kaineng Tah’s death.”
“Excellent. I’ll start with the coronation since I was there personally…” Her strict expression softened for a moment. “And thank you, General.”
“You are welcome. I just hope none of us will pay for investigating behind the Emperor’s back.”
“I certainly hope that, too. May Dwayna watch over both of us!”
Last edited by Thalador Doomspeaker; 15-07-2012 at 20:02.
01-07-2012, 21:22 #9
Be sure to listen to this playlist in the background to enhance your reading experience.
Chapter 8 - Awakening
SpoilerShame. It was the emotion he felt most of the time during his long imprisonment. Shame and guilt.
For how long has he been imprisoned? He did not know, but it has been a long time since he last saw daylight. Or saw anything for that matter. He did not feel his body. He had no connection with the world. His consciousness was stuck where his hibernating body was. What little he could do was to lose himself in his memories; dwell on his failed mission, think about his god, and ponder on where it all went wrong. How did they fail their divine duty and why did he survive when all his brothers and sisters died? Why did he have to suffer the consequences and live in shame, all alone? This is how he spent the unperceivable time of his confinement… lost in thoughts, thinking about possibilities for the present that could never happen now and questioning his miserable state, but not being able to give answers.
But most of all he cyclically relived the events leading up to their failure and his captivity. It all started when the enlightened of his race realized how much of a fool they had been for joining the unworthy and fighting him. Declaring themselves the Oratuss, the prophets of their god, they traveled to his tomb together to atone and receive guidance. However, knowing the terrible, rightful wrath that would have awaited them, they first took precautions: having learned techniques in the ancient war with which they could safely communicate with their god and harness a part of his power – only to understand his wishes and better serve him – they relished in his blessings. He was among the firsts to undergo the rite and knew he had done the right thing.
But not all of them agreed. While the True were distracted with marveling their newfound strength, some of their brethren betrayed the god’s benevolence. They feared him, having seen what he was capable of… they were afraid of his power. Thus the treacherous heathens decided to kill the god’s chosen: by combining their power they were strong enough to unleash a powerful explosion that brought down the walls of the trench, threatening to crush them. They all flocked to their sunken, sleeping god and miraculously they all survived in his shadow. With no way of getting back to their people and extracting revenge on the traitors they went the only way they could: through a deep tunnel. The passage was excruciatingly long. They thought they were going to die there, but silent whispers from their god urged them to go on. And in the end they all arrived at a land they only knew from legends; a land where their cousin race had lived.
They knew that destiny had called them there just as the whispers had kept telling them to find a lost, defeated prophet somewhere on this continent, but soon the suggestions stopped completely. Being completely clueless where to look, and experiencing the sensation of a strange feeling of being free they decided to change the course of their plans. First they were going to help their cousins become the superior race they were supposed to be and enslave the inferior. He personally became a great preacher, and where he spoke dozens joined their holy mission. A mission they soon began.
At first their war went incredibly well, but upon reaching a human city in the mountains that evoked an unexplainable hatred in them everything changed. They besieged it with their naga followers and when they were at an arm’s length of utter victory, a fire that burned with the fury of the heavens incinerated the victorious army. He and two of his brethren watched in horror from afar – they were bringing in reinforcements when it happened – and knew they had to flee. But they were hunted down and soon only he was left… until the day when he was captured. They demanded answers but he told them nothing. They broke into his mind but he resisted. In the end they decided that it was better to hide him from the world, and entomb him in his own mind, shackling his body with magic at the same time.
He often pondered what would have happened had the traitors gone with them. Could they have stopped the sorcerous flames? Would they have prevailed? He didn’t have the answers, just like he didn’t know why he couldn’t die with his brothers and sisters instead of this shameful existence. He was aware that he might have to endure this torment until the day his lord returned, millennia from now, and then face damnation in the form of his rightful fury, but he still remained true and nothing could have convinced him to betray his god.
This was the point where his disturbed mind fell into silence. He knew this feeling all too well. Troubled thoughts dissipated, his mind becalmed, but in a short time his upset brain would start churning out other concepts and memories that were all too familiar to him.
But something was different this time. Thoughts did not come, yet he started feeling anxiety and excitement. In the impenetrable darkness, his consciousness could spot an even darker shadow approaching. The greater blackness was terrifying; its dark silhouettes changing and moving in the gloom of his mind. As it got closer, he could see capillary-thin rays of light passing on its surface.
Then it roared. Although being deaf to the outside world, he could still hear the thrilling sound. He was paralyzed, but did not feel fear. The waving streaks of light grew, and so did the size of the shadow; it already towered above him and still grew as it came closer.
Finally, it stopped somewhere in the indiscernible distance. The deafening roar repeated and a moment later the top of the gigantic shadow came down, so it could better face him. The rays that still glided on the surface of the creature illuminated its muzzle: razor-sharp teeth and fangs in a gargantuan maw that could swallow the world, rows of enormous horns, and two grimly gleaming eyes – their cores set sternly on the ant before them. The gaze was full of outrage.
My lord… He finally recognized the titanic entity. He did not know whether it was reality or just another vision in his mind, but he was glad that something new happened, and that new was his almighty god. I…I… we failed you. The creature replied with a dissatisfied growl and the gap the size of a crevice opened larger in its world-tearing mouth, threatening to bite on him. If you give me a second chance, I won’t fail you again. But if you don’t, please, consume me here and now. At least I could serve you with my death, bringing your return ever closer! He begged his god, knowing that the dragon would end his torment one way or the other, and he was relieved for that.
The shadow dragon moved its muzzle closer to him and pierced him with its gaze. The darkness swirled like a whirlpool in its eyes. It started hypnotizing him: a vision was forming in the giant, black orbs, and it was growing quickly. The whirlpool enveloped him… then swallowed him in whole.
He stood on the rocky shores of a sea the color of jade. The clouds above him were dark, but it wasn’t raining. The winds lashed the sea around him into fury, but his attention was focused on the tall, obsidian obelisk in front of him.
Then suddenly, the obelisk broke in half. Whirling energies emerged from its broken frame and coalesced above the shattered pillar. The energy hung in the air for a moment, then swooped down towards him. Upon impact, his body jolted from the incredible force that seethed across him. He felt himself transforming; growing bigger, his insides turning to water that were ice-cold and steaming hot at the same time. He looked down at his arms and hands and saw great spikes and tentacles growing out of his scaly skin. But most of all, he felt his mind becoming almost one with his god’s. He felt its every thought and wish that he could better fulfill now. His dedication to his draconic divinity increased to unimaginable levels. But the darkness began dimming his sight again, despite him crying not to.
He opened his serpentine eyes. No, not in his dreams. He opened them physically. Although he could see little in the darkness of the cave he was entombed in for so long, but he definitely perceived the space around. He took a deep breath and felt the salty, damp air streaming into his lungs. It caused him to sneeze from the little moisture that stuck in his nostrils, but he didn’t mind as he hadn’t felt the smell of the sea for a long, long time – a smell that meant freedom to him. Hearing the silent boom of the sea from somewhere nearby filled his being with joy.
He could feel and taste and live again thanks to his god. Without his divine intervention, he would still be imprisoned. He owed him more than what he could repay under a single lifetime. And that is exactly why he had to fulfill the mission that was given to him in the vision. He had to travel to where that obsidian monument stood and become an immortal servant of his lord. Now he just needed to find the path that would deliver him to his destiny.
Out of nowhere, he heard two splashing sounds from a pond that must have been connected to the sea through some tunnels. Some things or some ones jumped in or out of the water. Huddling up he fell into complete silence and sharpened his ears.
“It wasss a bad idea coming here, Siriss. We should leave.” A serpentine voice said something, but he didn’t understand what. The dialect was not entirely different from his own, but it’s been a long time since he heard this language and had to refresh his memory.
“That carp went in thiss direction. It musst be here somewhere. Don’t worry that much.” Another voice spoke, speaking about some sort of fish that came in here. “I’m not passing up such a beautiful meal jusst becausse you are afraid of dark cavess. Have you seen the bulging muscless below those little and weak scaless? It iss a young carp, and you know what they say about them.”
“I know, but let’ss be quick about it. We find it, kill it, then we get out of here. Thiss place givess me the creepsss.” The first voice spoke again, but now he understood what he was dealing with. The familiar dialect belonged to the naga, the serpent-like cousin race of his people that he and his now dead brethren wanted to uplift. He had learned their language – which involved little difficulty – before he was entombed.
He rose up from the darkness and slithered towards the unsuspecting pair as silently as it was possible. He could see better now and tell the cave he was in was huge. The two naga were casually chatting and searching for the elusive carp that made them so immersed in the hunt that they didn’t hear the noise of his scaly lower body being rubbed against stone. Only when he was in arm’s reach of one did the naga spin around in surprise. His eyes went wide and he began screaming.
“A Corruptor! Run, Ssysna, run! We have to warn the otherss!” What the male naga said left him shocked. He was declared ‘Corruptor’ after all he had done for these snakes that had lived in the shadow of lesser creatures. He had no other choice but to share the truth with these misguided fools… again. While he was hesitating, the two naga reached the pond through which they came in, preparing to jump in and disappear in the maze of underwater tunnels. Reaching out with his hands he channeled magic into them. The pair froze in weird, twisted poses, and only the blinking of their eyes betrayed that they were not statues. Now he leisurely started to increase the intensity of his magic, using the focused power to break the nagas’ mental barriers. After the last hurdle of resistance had fallen, he invaded their mind, using vistas from his memory to serve as images for the hypnotizing suggestions.
My dear, misguided kindred. Why do you call me Corruptor when I serve our one, true god? Why do you brand me a criminal when I and my brethren freed you from the oppression of humans and showed you that they should be your slaves instead? I stand on your side. I represent the destiny of our closely related peoples. Together, we will conquer the world in his name and enslave the unworthy! His own mind was already getting filled with the feeling of adoration coming from the two naga. The hypnosis session was now over and he released the pair who fell awkwardly to the ground. When they regained their control, they dropped before him, touching the rocks with their snout.
“Excusse our former ignorance, great prophet.” The male naga said.
“Thank you for showing uss the truth and lifting the haze of liess from our mindss.” The female naga continued.
He crossed his arms before his crest and looked down upon his new converts. The powers he received from his master all those years ago were neither stripped nor weakened.
“Rise, my kindred.” He spoke to them in their own language and watched as the two obeyed and locked their glossy gaze on him. “Take me to your village!”
The small naga village was situated on the sandy beaches of a larger island. It was all silent and peaceful when he arrived with his acolytes. The inhabitants were enjoying their afternoon relaxation: naga were playing with their hatchlings on ground as well as in water. The sun glinted on the scales of naga fishers who occasionally came to the surface to haul their catch onto small rafts.
Poor children. Robbed of their future, denied of their destiny. I cannot watch so many lives wasted. I must save them.
As the trio approached the village center, more and more naga turned their heads to the newcomers. And when they saw him, they froze in one place and shock appeared on their previously calm muzzles. Those who recovered from the shock first picked up the hatchlings and slithered into the closest huts. The others grabbed whatever they could – sticks, stones, sickles, knives – and slowly converged on his location, but maintaining a healthy distance of thirty feet from him. Soon he was completely surrounded and the adults who secured the younglings returned and joined the others – now also equipped with tools that could serve as weapons as well.
“Siriss, Ssysna! Get away from thiss vile Corruptor!” An older-looking naga moved out of the ring. Judging by his looks and the staff he had he was the elder of this village.
“We won’t let you harm our true prophet, you old fool!” Ssysna said and all the naga gasped at her remark.
“He corrupted them already! Let’ss kill him to free our brother and sisster!” Another naga hissed and the others growled in fury and agreement.
“Kill it now!”
“Remove thiss filth from the world, dear friendss! Hiss foul magic will corrupt naga no longer! But try not to harm his victimss. They can still be saved!” The elder issued his commands and the others rushed toward him with great ferocity. His acolytes jumped at the attackers, but he was not terrified at all from being severely outnumbered. He raised his hands in the air and began a complex spell. Weaving his hands and murmuring an incantation in his own language, he felt as if time itself slowed down. The very air began vibrating around his body.
By the time the first assailant reached him the spell was finished. He pushed down the quaking air and a shockwave of concussive energy was unleashed in all directions. The attacking naga and even his defenders were knocked down by the force; all of them seemingly unconscious. Now he could easily tell them the truth.
“Poor, misguided souls. I am Noxallis, prophet and chosen of the One. I have come to free you of oppression and lead you to the path to salvation…”
Last edited by Thalador Doomspeaker; 15-07-2012 at 20:03.
08-07-2012, 21:20 #10
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Chapter 9 - The Calm Before The Storm
SpoilerThe Canthan diplomats left the tent one by one. Only their leader, Ambassador Baigon, remained inside. The stocky, middle-aged Canthan had a black beard around his smiling mouth with a small, braided goatee hanging from his chin. Baigon reached out with his hand to grab Kanaxai’s who towered above him by two heads’ height. The two men then shook hands.
“I don’t really understand why the General and the Emperor were so… anxious when they briefed me on this mission.” The little man let go of Kanaxai’s hands. “You see, I’m a natural optimist, Captain… I did not believe that anything could have gone wrong and fortunately, my instincts were right again.” Baigon laughed cheerfully then motioned Kanaxai to follow him outside. Kanaxai stepped out after the ambassador who had to shield his eyes from the strong sun.
“Phew… it’s only the beginning of Zhoyo and it’s almost as hot here as in the middle of summer up in Raisu.” The sweating minister started to fan himself with his own hands. “I keep forgetting that it’s an entirely different climate.”
“I couldn’t bear the heat either if I had to spend my entire day in that suit, Ambassador.” Kanaxai smiled as he inspected Baigon’s ministerial uniform: a blue tunic with dragon motifs that enveloped him completely, topped with a blue hat. The cheerful little man laughed again – Kanaxai wasn’t sure whether he was overly friendly and talkative because of his job, or if it was in his nature.
“So true, Captain, so true. I believe I’ll have a complaint to make to those imbeciles who forgot that the Dragon Empire includes climates other than the northern one.”
“These lands are not part of the Dragon Empire anymore.” Kanaxai tried not to come off too unfriendly, but he instinctively thought that one sentence would make things more difficult in the long run. Although Baigon’s mirth apparently diminished a bit, he still didn’t show any sign of that.
“Of course not, Captain Kanaxai. And excuse me, but this secession happened so quickly and not so long ago, that from time to time I tend to forget that it actually occurred. After all, the Jade Sea’s been part of the Empire for so long. I still remember that as a youngster, me and my mother spent our vacations here on a regular basis.” The ambassador inhaled deeply. “The fresh, salty air, the warm sun. I love this place. Hopefully I can come back here with my family once this business is over.” With another smile on his face Baigon went after his companions, but a couple of seconds later he turned back once more. “I think we’ve made good progress today, but we are all tired. Shall we continue the talks tomorrow around the same time as today?”
“Certainly, Ambassador.” Kanaxai replied and forced a smile on his face. He was conflicted though he couldn’t fully grasp the reason for why.
“Splendid! See you tomorrow, Captain!”
Kanaxai stood silently in front of his tent for moments staring into the distance. Finally, he came to his senses. Looking around, he saw that while his people were working and tending their own business, they were curiously watching, staring at him. I bet they were listening to the whole conversation. I wonder what they are thinking right now. Kanaxai pondered as he stepped back into the tent. I never really asked them what they wanted, but we forced this whole affair on them… and now they see me negotiating with the Imperials. It must be all too confusing for them… hell I am just as confused as them.
Kanaxai sat down on the rugs and rubbed his eyes. But for the brief moment he closed them an intense series of images flashed into his mind: he saw his double-bladed axes descending upon a man’s skull and burrowing their blade inches deep into the head. The man dropped dead and Kanaxai recognized the dreaded, pain-twisted face: Ambassador Baigon’s.
He forced his eyes open. Hands and legs shaking, he managed to stand up and stagger to the water bowl. The lukewarm water he splashed on his face and neck cooled him off a bit. The tenseness was fading but he was terribly afraid. Why nightmares? Throw the largest beasts of the world at me and I will not tremble, but I don’t know what to do with these damned dreams… I cannot fight dreams.
Kanaxai remained at the water bowl, staring at his own disturbed reflection. Unknown minutes passed again when he heard small footsteps behind him. He spun around and found his wife worriedly looking at him.
“Are you alright, dear? Did something go wrong during the talks?” Arianthe asked as she ran forward and hugged Kanaxai.
“The talks went well.” He said embracing Arianthe. “I am not sure how it will all turn out but the Imperials are hoping for a peaceful resolution as well. One that benefits both sides.” He kissed his wife on the head. They stood there entwined in each others’ arms for a couple more seconds before Arianthe released him.
“Then what is wrong? And don’t try to hide it like last time. I can feel something is troubling you.” Her imploring gaze pierced Kanaxai. “Please, tell me! Maybe I can help.”
“I… I had another dream similar to the first. This one only lasted for a brief moment and I was even awake!” He couldn’t bear the painful sorrow forming in Arianthe’s eyes. He had to look away.
“What was in it this time?”
“My axes chopping into the ambassador’s head.” Kanaxai felt better just from saying it out loud but regretted it instantly as his wife gasped in shock. “And I don’t know whether these are only bad dreams or visions.”
Silence enveloped the tent. Kanaxai didn’t know what to say or do, but helplessly watched as his wife smeared the newly-formed tears on her face. He wanted to cry, too, but was unable, paralyzed.
Suddenly, Arianthe reached out and touched the sides of Kanaxai’s face and looked defiantly into his eyes.
“No. They are not visions. The last one didn’t happen. Yian Zho did not slaughter us, but instead presented a way that would benefit everyone. This will not happen because I know you are a good man and would never hurt innocents.” She grabbed her husband’s broad shoulders and stood up to her tiptoes to better face him. “Everything will be okay.” Arianthe said and kissed him.
Kanaxai wiped the sweat off of his forehead as he stepped off the ramp leading up to the main deck. He was helping out his people with moving cargo onto the Kraken’s Dream, the largest vessel of not only the clan but that of the Armada as well – it was Captain Kanaxai’s own ship.
They were done with loading the freight and now Kanaxai was admiring the view; his beautiful ship mildly rocking on the waves, gleaming in the bright, noon sunlight.
I can’t believe she will set sail without me. The first time she goes on a voyage without her captain. Kanaxai thought to himself as he idly stood in the harbor, observing the final preparations for the departure. He felt much better this day. No doubts, no flashes, no nightmares… just the day to be seized. A new day, a new challenge. Father, your words always ring true. Kanaxai smiled and turned around. He didn’t want to keep the Canthans waiting.
“Aren’t you coming, Cap’n?” A grizzled, old Luxon with long hair and beard jogged up to him. “What’s wrong with you?”
Kanaxai laughed heartily and patted the first mate on his back.
“Not this time, old friend. I need to ensure we remain on good terms with the Empire.”
“You go do that… I’ll ride off with your ship and the cargo.” The first mate winked as he teased his Captain.
“Take care of her, you old pirate!”
“Don’t I always?”
“Just one scratch…”
“Won’t happen… she’s like a daughter to me.” The first mate smiled and saluted. “Farewell, Cap’n!”
“Farewell! We will see each other soon!” With a sigh Kanaxai began the trek back to the camp.
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Chapter 10 - Dire Decisions
Kanaxai heard the boy sooner than he saw him. He began running towards the little figure in the distance. When they got closer he recognized him as the leatherworker’s son.
“Captain!” The boy took a moment to catch his breath. “The others sent me to find you. There’s some bad news I bring.”
“What is it?!”
“A wounded hunter just returned to camp. He began shouting that all his companions were slain by snakes, then he passed out.” He nervously looked back from where he came. “Your wife and some healers are tending him right now.”
“Let’s go then! Hurry!” Kanaxai shouted and was sprinting towards the camp already.
Three minutes later they arrived, although the boy came in a bit later with tongue out.
“Get him some water and show me to the wounded!”
A Luxon guard saluted and beckoned him to follow.
The entrance of the tent from where the cry came was bloodied. Kanaxai rushed in and his eyes went wide.
“By Kraken’s Eye!”
Arianthe and the healers turned to the newcomer. The latter nodded then turned back to the patient, but Arianthe stood up and went to her husband. Her hands were also bloody.
“I’ve seen wounds and blood a lot in my life but this is…” Kanaxai was still staring at the poor victim who was silently whimpering in pain. “What happened to him?”
“We couldn’t get that out of him. All we know is that he was hunting in the hills with some of his fellows when they were attacked by a horde of naga.” Arianthe said as she washed the blood off with some water. “The naga killed all of them save for him, but they still badly tore up his arm… The healers say they will have to cut it off to save him.”
“Captain Kanaxai…” A hooded healer called out to them. “He wishes to speak with you. Please, don’t tire him out much.” With that the man and his colleagues left the patient and began preparing the scene and the tools for the operation.
Kanaxai walked up to the hunter and sat down. The man’s mangled arm was bandaged and wasn’t bleeding anymore, but he was still very pale. Kanaxai could only hope the blood in that arm was mostly gone already, thus he wouldn’t die of the blood loss after the limb’s removal.
“Captain…” The man turned his head to Kanaxai. “You need to know what… *cough* … happened.”
“I’m listening but try not to upset yourself. You are safe, you are in good care and they will heal you.”
“Yeah… but I’m not important. *cough* The things that attacked us were naga, but they were… *cough* … not themselves.” The hunter stopped, closed his eyes and clenched his teeth. “I saw them from afar. They… they were shouting something… again and again as they came. It was a mantra perhaps. *cough* I could only escape because I was picking fruits. From the tree I saw the others getting cut down and I knew I couldn’t help them. I had to run…” The memory of his friends getting killed twisted his face. He swallowed hard before continuing. “… but a lone naga sneaked up on me. He tried to kill me with a sickle but I managed to disarm him… then… *cough* …then he jumped on me and bit into my arm. We wrestled and I somehow grabbed the sickle and cut him open. I heard his friends coming and I knew they would outrun me. So I hid.” The pain surge repeated but this time the man cried out.
“I’ll *cough* get to the point. The other naga found his corpse… some of them seemed to be confused. They shook their head and began showing regret. A couple few watched with contempt and apathy instead. The ones who mourned their friend began to prepare him for funeral; I think… it seemed so. But then they froze. Another snake, a big one appeared behind them. He had bony spikes jutting out of his clothing.” The man took a deep breath. “He started arguing with the normal ones, then… when he got nowhere with ‘em, he chanted something in a weird language. *cough* Nothing happened, and he became even more frustrated. One of the freed picked up the sickle and rushed at him. He managed to cut the big one on his face, but it evaded the killing blows and then ran his own hand through the attacker, while the crazy ones slaughtered the normal naga. *cough* Their boss started hissing and growling and then they all left. I… I was bleeding badly but I waited out… *cough* …waited out ‘till I heard them only from afar… then I ran as fast I could.” The man finished and began panting.
“Tell me one more thing… this big snake… did it look like the other naga?”
“N… no. It was grey instead of green. Longer and taller than the others and its muzzle was different as well. Sharper edges, fangs protruding from its mouth. Its horns and crest were also bigger… more defined.”
The realization dawned on Kanaxai but he didn’t want to trouble the victim any longer.
“You’ve been through a great ordeal and this news – however horrid and costly it was – is invaluable.” Kanaxai softly touched the hunter’s healthy arm. “Hold out a little longer. You will be cured.”
“Thank you, Captain.” The man closed his eyes and swallowed hard. “Kill that wretched beast if you get the chance!”
“I can promise you that I will.” With that Kanaxai stood up and backed away. He looked back from the entrance once more; the man was already surrounded by the healers – all of them equipped with the proper tools.
Outside Baigon, who was seemingly troubled this time, and Arianthe were talking. They both looked up when Kanaxai stepped out.
“What did he say?” Arianthe asked.
“The naga are brainwashed… and all evidence imply that we have a Corruptor on our hands.”
“A Corruptor? What is that?” Baigon asked with great curiosity.
“It is a snake-like entity. Wielder of powerful and malicious magic. Fortunately, it is very rare. We thought we had killed the last one more than two decades ago… I was there with my father when it happened.”
“Oh… now I remember.” The ambassador took his hat off and scratched his head. “The naga lords who led their people on a rampage around these parts and even attacked the Empire. If I recall correctly, General Seritena’s wife died in their assault.”
“Not exactly. Common knowledge holds the instigators were naga, but actually they were these Corruptors. Your scholars even theorized that they are not even native to Cantha.” Kanaxai rubbed his chin. “But now we know how they control the naga; by brainwashing them magically… poor innocent souls.”
The three of them fell into silence, contemplating the shocking information. Arianthe nervously looked up. She bit into her lips, but after a few moments she decided to speak.
“What are we going to do about them?” She asked and Kanaxai now understood why she was so hesitant: she already knew the answer.
“I’m going after this Corruptor and kill it myself.”
“No! That’s too dangerous!”
“Don’t worry, love, I’m also bringing my best warriors.” Kanaxai’s wink was most telling.
“Ahem…” Baigon reentered the conversation. With a careworn expression on his face he was seemingly lost in thoughts but continued. “I would object to that decision, Captain.”
“Why is that? Don’t you want to save hundreds of lives?”
“Of course I do but in our current situation, leaving the talks would not be wise.”
Kanaxai crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes. I don’t like where this is going… not one bit.
“What do you mean by ‘our current situation’?”
Baigon could bear Kanaxai’s stare no longer. He looked away and started twiddling with the hat he had taken off previously.
“The Emperor would be left most… displeased if he learned that you marshaled your forces and left to hunt down some mythical creature in the middle of the negotiation.”
Kanaxai was taken aback by the ambassador’s accusation. He was losing his temper now.
“What?! I take the best of my clan – leaving our homes almost defenseless – only to end this beast once and for all! No marshaling, no tricks. I’m doing this not only for the good of Luxons but for all of Cantha as well! If we waver, countless more could die… they could even turn north and invade the Empire again!”
Baigon was clearly conflicted now. But he regained his words and took a step towards the Captain.
“I…I understand your intentions and know them to be honest, but… but the Lord Emperor sees things a bit differently. I must report everything to him and he could misunderstand these actions… like I just did.” He finally managed to look Kanaxai in the eye again. “Please, I beg you… don’t risk the establishment of this truce, Captain. Let us warn the Emperor and the General! They will send troops and a coalition of our forces will destroy this Corruptor!”
Kanaxai vehemently shook his head in disagreement.
“Absolutely not… the invitation of Imperial soldiers to Luxon lands would make my people feel threatened and aggravated instead! What makes you think those Dragonguard won’t just stay after the Corruptor’s been dealt with?”
Seconds passed, but they just glared each other. In the end, Baigon sighed and put the hat back on his head.
“I am sorry, but my hands are tied. Decide as you see fit, Captain, but I will report it.”
“I’ve decided already.” Kanaxai’s voice was as firm as ever even when he knew he was taking great risks. “I’m putting an end to this threat for good… and now. If you can, please convince the Emperor that this is the right thing to do.”
“You can count on that. I will definitely try.”
“Thank you, Ambassador.”
“Now hurry… the faster you kill that snake, the sooner it ends and we can all sit down and talk in peace. His Majesty expects a letter each day. Today he won’t get it.” Baigon’s faint smile contained a little spite. “But I’ll have to send him one tomorrow at dawn or else he will take actions.” The ambassador offered him a hand. Kanaxai looked at it but a moment later they shook hands. “Farewell, Captain Kanaxai. May the gods watch over you!”
In an hour’s time Kanaxai’s handpicked warriors stood ready with supplies packed. Kraken Clan knew what the group was up to and how dangerous it was going to be. Relatives and beloved ones said goodbye to sons, fathers, husbands. Anxiety was thick in the air.
Kanaxai looked at the faces of his men and their folks – some people’s eyes gleamed with tears.
After this is over, I am making peace. Seeing my people harrowed by despair grieves me… Spirits, gods, anyone! Give me the strength to finish this! He began searching for his family and found them soon enough. His wife’s eyes were full of sadness but her stature radiated strength and when their gaze met, Kanaxai knew she was proud. Zannos on the other hand looked confused and nervous.
“We will be back in no time.” He said as they embraced each other. “The last one didn’t put up much of a fight when we destroyed her with your grandfather.”
“Don’t die out there, dad.” Zannos mumbled in a faltering voice.
“Not a chance. I’ve still got a lot to teach you.”
Zannos smiled weakly and took a step back to leave his parents alone.
“I’m so sorry.” Arianthe whispered in his ear. “I promised you everything will be alright and now here’s this.”
“You couldn’t have known. And this Corruptor wasn’t in my dreams after all. Be strong… I will return as soon as possible, that I promise.” He combed into his wife’s hair and drew in her scent.
“I think you will miss the birth of our baby.” She looked down upon her abdomen and caressed it.
“I’m doing this for all of us. For your safety.” Kanaxai also put his hand on her belly. “I’ll have one more reason to come back sooner. That snake’s not going to stop me from witnessing my child’s birth. If he does, he will be sorry he was born.” The usual smirk appeared on his face but it wasn’t sincere this time. He was sure Arianthe was aware of that, too.
“I can’t lose you.”
“And you won’t. Don’t worry so much.”
“I love you.”
“I love you, too.” Their words and undying devotion to the other were sealed by a passionate kiss. While it lasted, they locked out everything around them – matters, people, the world. Time stood still until their lips parted. Husband and wife finally let go of each other. Kanaxai looked at his beloved family one last time as he backed away and brushed his way through the crowd to the front. Everyone knew that the moment had arrived. His warriors readied themselves, turning away from their family.
“Krakens! We shall go forth and destroy the last of the Corruptors! We won’t let this conflict be dragged on… we will end it here and now. The sooner the snake’s severed head is on our spears, the sooner we can return to our families and live out the rest of our lives in peace!” The furious roar of his people was a satisfactory answer to his short speech.
With an axe raised up high Kanaxai began a forced march. He heard the heavy footfalls of his twenty soldiers increasing and catching up with his pace.
Kraken goes to battle. Hopefully for the last time…
Last edited by Thalador Doomspeaker; 15-07-2012 at 20:05.