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Rioneer Aset


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#1 Nihilio

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Posted 05 Μάιος 2004 - 02:44

Kόσμος(Σύμπαν): Exalted
Copyright: White Wolf
Είδος: ηρωική φαντασία
Βία; Ναι)
Σεξ; Ναι
Σχόλια: Exalted fanfic, έχει κολλήσει στο 6ο κεφάλαιο



I
[despair]

The swords clashed, ringing loudly. His was a carved iron sword, crafted for a warrior of his class. Hers was made of red jade, one of the five magic materials, fitting her noble breed. They both retracted their swords. He tried to slash at her, but she was fast enough to parry his strike, positioning her sword vertically. Although its bulk was noteworthy, she was able to use it with ease. She was one of the dragon-blooded after all, an exalt, and her manipulation of essence allowed her to do so. It was time for her counterattack. She tried to stab at him, but he sidestepped, his sword parrying away hers. Mechanically he lunged at her, while her defense was open. But she was able to parry his attack with her off-hand weapon; a short sword made of iron and adorned with a silver hilt. Her eyes, flaming with passion, locked with his. She puffed, the reddish skin bathed in sweat. Her flame red hair were embracing her face and her red plate mail protected her slender body. Cathak Aisida was a worth opponent, trained by the best weapon masters in the realm.
But so was her opponent, Asset Rioneer. Born of a humble family, a former servant in a minor dragon-blooded house and a soldier, he lived a poor childhood. His father taught him the way of the sword since he was a little boy. He died in a battle somewhere in the north. He sworn to him he would be one of the best swordsmen in all creation. He did his best to, worked hard to afford permission in a military academy, was taught under a few tutors and joined the legions of the realm, as had his father. He exeled in melee combat and especially in the sword. But he would never hope to surpass the skill of the dragon-blooded: Exalted by the five immaculate dragons, these gods among men were the nobility of the Realm, an once vast empire now declining in power. Founded and being ruled by the Scarlet Empress for eight hundred years, stationed in a large island in the middle of Creation, it ruled the entire world. Today the empress has gone to seclusion five years ago. Since then, the Realm seems to boil, like a civil war is about to erupt. Last years that passed since then found him a legionnaire. The dragon he belonged to was sent to the south, to the city of Paragon, in order to provide stability for the subordinate city-state.
About a year ago his fang, the fiery eight as they were known, was sent to scout for a band of thieves, raiding the farms outside Paragon. It was one of the hot days of the southern continent, known for its hot climate, and they were scouting, when they fell victim to an ambush. Lightly armored outwitted and outnumbered, they were falling one after another. The rascals they were facing were untrained in the art of war and not disciplined, but their numbers were overwhelming. In the end only he was left alive, severely wounded in the leg. Around him lurked about ten bandits, like jackals waiting for their prey to pass away to feed upon it. But he was not going to just sit and die: He would take as many enemies he could. The bandits reluctantly closed in. He raised his sword and gripped his buckler. One of them tried to spear him with a crude weapon the immaculate dragons knew were he got it. He parried the strike with his buckler and lunging forward he impaled his foe with his blade. The remaining bandits stepped back, surprised he would not be an easy kill. All but one. A blonde-haired woman raised her sword in both hands charged him screaming. But he was faster, slamming his buckler in her face, knocking her out, while the straps holding his buckler broke. The bandits regained composure and started closing in again. He gripped his sword in both hands, sure he would die this day, lamenting he would not fulfill the promise he gave to his father. He fought hard, cutting the thread of many lives and taking one too many wounds in the process. In the end he was crawling on his knees, his sword broken and his lifeblood running short as it soaked the sand. The three remaining thugs closed in for the kill, when wet thuds and screams of pain filled the air. Reinforcements had arrived, killing off the surviving bandits. Being given first aid, his life was saved.
Later on, his wing's major, a fire-aspected dragon-blood called Cathak Nemekos, visited him. Impressed by his valor and his mastery in combat he made him a proposition he could not resist. He was to be transferred to his personal guard. He would be provided with a room in his manor, a better salary and a less risky occupation. He gladly accepted. His task changed abruptly, when his benefactor's daughter returned to her father's house after her strenuous training at a military academy. She was to be appointed to the army as an officer and he was to be her bodyguard. He could still bring to memory their first duel.
They both were in this same room, a place for battle training. She stood against him, armed in the same heavy armor and wielding the same weapons. "I heard you are good with the sword mortal" she said, "Want to prove your value against me?". He could do nothing but accept. Dread filled his heart, as he stood against her, his fighting skilled seriously diminished by that feeling. After a few fumbles and a couple of minor slashes on his body, she looked at him in with a sly smile and told him "You don't try your best. Let's make a deal. Beat me and you shall sleep with me." He was shocked by this straightforward approach that he didn't notice her tripping him. The next thing he knew was that he was on the ground, Cathak Aisida over him. "You don't think I am THAT unattractive" she mused, the same sly smile on her lips.
He stopped daydreaming as soon as Aisida's Daiklaive swung, aiming his head. He raised his sword to parry. The blades clashed. The power of the strike was too much for the blade to handle. The iron blade bent under the force of the jade artifact to the point it could take no more pressure. It broke into fragments. A tiny one hit him in the face, scarring his right cheek. Her sword stopped right above his head. "Seems like I've won again" Aisida said "And I owe you a sword…"
***

"I cannot beet her" though Rioneer as he strolled in the market. Dusk was approaching and he had to buy a new sword. The business was dying down as the sun began its declining course. Usually the market was crowded with people, but not right now. The traffic was bearable. But not the quality of the swords he had found at the moment. When your life depends on your sword, he mused, you better have the best possible.
His thoughts wandered back to Aisida. Yes, she was attractive to say the least. And a worthy adversary. If only was she not Exalted, then they would be an even match. But her magical sword and her channeling of essence allowing her to enhance her abilities made her far superior than him. He still wondered whether or not would she keep her promise in case he beat her in a duel. He thought it would be unlikely to, since she was already engaged to a young diplomat named Pelleps Encanti, an air-aspect Exalt.
"You look a fine warrior," said a man that stood before him, just like he came out of the thin air. "I bet you would like to see what I have to offer you." The man was average height, his cloak hiding most of his face and his cape his body. His voice was that of a young man and his movements smooth and steady. Probably he was a warrior too. He somehow seemed familiar to Rioneer.
"Come on, follow me," the man urged him "you really have to see this." Grasping Rioneer's arm, he shoved him inside a deserted alley. There, opening his cape, he pulled out a sword. It was an unwieldy construct, crafted from a material that looked like it was made of gold, yet it was not. It had the size of a greatsword, yet he somehow knew it was one handed. Its straight blade was sharp, almost too sharp, its hilt was adorned with representation of lions. Reluctantly he reached for it. The merchant, if he was such, let him take it. Rioneer's hand froze just above the hilt. He slowly lowered his hand, touching it, his fingers slowly griping it. Then a flash of bright light blinded him…
***

He was under a very bright sun. He wore a heavy armor (Something he eschewed, since it decreased his mobility) and wielded the same sword. In front of him stood a man, surrounded by the brightest halo imaginable. He was aflame in a radiance of pure sunlight, majestic as no man he had even seen, even more than any of the dragon blooded, whose anima flared in their aspect element. The man, were he a man and not a god, reached for him, touched his forehead, where he felt a strong burning sensation, and told him in a voice that made him shudder with reverence "You are Exalted Rioneer Asset to serve the Unconquered Sun." Thousand of memories run through Rioneer's brain, in a chaotic pattern, memories of an age long passed, when the true chosen of the gods ruled. The golden age of the Solars.
***

He blinked in disbelief, as the chaotic vision he experienced faded away, the man nowhere to be seen. The sword was still in his grip, too heavy and unwieldy for someone to use. In curiosity he swung it. It slashed the air, its edge sharper than everything he'd ever seen. He swung again and again, each swing progressively easier. He felt the sword warming up in his hand. Soon it was as easy to use as a normal sword. Or ever better. Then, for the first time, he noticed the night has fallen. That and the strange light he emitted. It looked as though it came from his forehead. Reflexively his left hand went up there, touching a warm spot. His eye caught a glimpse in a piece of broken glass that was thrown there. On his forehead something shone: An image of a dawning sun. He felt the pangs of panic rising in him. Instictively he knew he must hide this mark. He cloaked his head with a ribbon of cloth that was tied to the sash given to him along with the sword.
Soon he felt the light fading away, dimming to invisibility beneath its cover. The night had fallen and he knew he needed a drink. His steps led him to a tavern many legionnaires frequented. It was called "The laughing squirrel" and was stationed in one of the notorious neighbourhoods in the city of Paragon. A two-story building usually packed with soldiers, offering them spirits, smoke and the occasional drugs or prostitutes. Upon entering the derelict tavern, a cloud of smoke, mixed with the smell of sweat and alcohol hit him. The tavern was not full. The cutdowns at funding the legions had reduced both the number of soldiers and the wages of the remaining ones. At the bar was a big man, Thousand Ox his name, due to his great strength. His large biceps were adorned with many tattoos. He was the owner of this place and said to be a member of the guild, the mighty merchant organisation that ruled trade all over creation. Waiting the customers were two waitresses that one could consider pretty had he drink one too many of the drinks served. Considering the customers, he could see few known faces. Most were men, with the odd woman sitting at their midst.
One of the waitresses approached him, teasingly waiting to take his order. He could not tell whether she was after money or pleasure. His good looks had made one too many women desire his company. He was tall, lean, agile, his hair an uncommon red, his skill at arms unsurpassed, at least considering the mortal standards. Rumors had it that in fact he was the offspring between the union of a dragon blooded and a servant, his exalted blood running pure in his veins. Probably what just occurred to him was his exaltation, the moment a dragon blooded reaches maturity. Maybe one of the Immaculate Dragons had chosen him. But, no matter how little he knew about religion, he was certain there was no Immaculate Dragon named Unconquered Sun. Deep in his thoughts, he passed by the waitress and went to sit at the bar. He ordered a mug of ale and paid with some silver pieces, still oblivious to his surroundings.
"May I join your drink" aid a female voice, dragging him out of his trance. He raised his eyes. She was a soldier of the legion, her skin chocolate brown, her hair black, her eyes brown, her muscular body leaning against the bar. Without waiting for his permission she sat by him. Quietly she sipped some ale from a mug she was holding. He, still pondering upon the situation he was facing, paid her no attention.
"You look worried Rioneer" she told him surprising him. She probably saw it in his face, because she was quick to add, "I bet you don't remember me. I am Arrowcatcher Merlen. We have met this place before."
"Sorry, but I did not," he said. A recollection of their meeting flashed in his mind. "Are you of the Purple wolves?"
"Looks like you remember me. I am off to a mission tomorrow afternoon." She said in a bitter voice. "Are you off to somewhere to?"
"No, it's just something personal. I don't want to discuss it." He added hastily.
"Neither do I." She replied "I just want to relax."
The small talk that followed made him forget his worries. She was originating from the South, something her dark skin proved. Her great grand father was a famed martial artist who could catch arrows in mid-air, thus her family name. She joined the legions to continue the valorous family tradition. And to get rid of an irritating suitor.
After an hour or so of chattering and one too many drinks being drunk, she was leaning against his shoulder. "This girl need some company tonight. Will you be that one?" she said half-drunk.
***

Watching Merlen, Rioneer could only think of Aisida. It was no use lying to himself, he lusted after her. Or even loved her. Compared to Merlen they were both so similar, yet so unlike. They both were strong women, living by the sword, following a family tradition in warfare. But looking at Merlen's body, lying fast asleep by him, he could not but notice the scars on her back. She had many fights and many injuries, while Aisida had no real war experience. For Merlen war was to survive. For Aisida to prove herself. They both had an irritating suitor. Merlen ran away, Aisida was honor-bound to marry him. Aisida was what he thrived to be when he was younger: A heroic champion, wielding his sword with honor and valor. Merlen what he had become after his first real battle: A true survivor, striving to make it to the next day. He had to stick with Merlen, because life was not fair. Aisida was for those chosen by the five elemental dragons. And he was not. Thinking of this, he fell asleep.
***

In his slumber, he had the weirdest dream. He was clad in the same outfit as in his previews vision. Now, he was standing against a group of young soldiers, all of whom wore jade armors. They were not against him, but under his commands. He was their superior, their general, their ideal. They wanted to be as strong as him but could not, because he was chosen to be their superior, chosen by the gods themselves.
***

"Rioneer wake up"
Merlen's voiced pierced through his slumber, reaching his conscious and pulling it out of his strange dream. He woke up, the rays of the sun illuminating the room. He was in the guestroom he was given to him by Cathak Nemekos. It was luxurious for a soldier, having a not so hard bed, an adequate closet and a window providing it light. Merlen was lying by him, covered with a sheet. She caressed him gently, then stood up and started getting dressed. He could do nothing but follow the intricate patchwork of scars on her body: Her fang was known as one of the most ferocious ones and every member had at least a dozen scars on his or her body.
Then a gentle knock on his door took his gaze away from her. Aisida had opened the door, the look on her face awkward. She and Merlen looked at each other for a moment, then Aisida was quick to apologise and asked Rioneer to meet her at the training room in half an hour and then rushed out of the room.
Soon both lovers were dressed and ready to part. Rioneer had to go for training and Merlen to a mission.
"Goodbye," he told her, "perhaps we shall meet again when you return".
Her lips formed a bitter smile and she kissed him goodbye then left the room.
Rioneer went for his sword. The mysterious golden sword he was given the previous day and he had forgotten up to that moment. To his surprise he didn't find it. In its place there now was an ordinary slashing sword, it's edge sharp and its point wicked. He took it and donned it, pondering whether or not the whole incident was dream caused by alcohol, like the other dream he saw his commanding of Dragon-blooded troops.
He had to clear his mind of this. A long day awaited him.
***

"Someone would expect you to be tired" remarked Aisida, a smug look on her face.
"Guess I am not" answered Rioneer, parrying one more of her slashes. He was feeling lighter than ever, his body more agile than usual. Too agile he would add. His use of the sword was better too. Not much, since he was one of the best mortal swordsmen in creation, but enough to consider his skill the human maximum. He felt his sword lighter, easier to manipulate. His pacing was much better, his endurance better too. A tough challenge for Aisida.
"Seems like you shall pick up women more often," she said followed by an attempt to stab her opponent with her Daiklaive. Rioneer was ready to parry both her physical attack and the attack in their battle of wits. His sword swept away the jade blade, as he pointed that picking up women made his less motivated to win.
His verbal counterattack struck true, because it was followed by an irritated comment Aisida made. According to it, his being a mortal did not allowed him to beat her.
Rioneer felt a rush of rage rushing through him. Her arrogant comment made him wanting to want him, to harm her so it would prove her wrong. He was not worse than her, just not born of a Dragon-Blooded Dynast. He had struck true at the verbal fight and it was turn for a physical hit. He focused all his senses to his sword, he felt part of his essence to merge with it, enabling him to use it better. Aisida was raising her Daiklaive to slash vertically at him. He took his time, waiting for her to attack. She lunged at him. He raised his sword wielding him in two hands. The two weapons clung and then the jade sword was stopped by the iron one. Before Aisida had a chance to react the sword was moving forward, its wicked point aiming at her neck. In vain she tried to parry with her off-hand sword. The moment it connected to Rioneer's sword a small drop of blood was tickling down from her neck. The skin of her neck was punctured by the sword, this indicating her defeat.
***

As Rioneer recalled their match, he could not but believe it was some sort of a dream, a life-like fantasy of him being superior. He was standing there in the bathroom next to the training room, a towel around his waist, the slave bringing him some steaming hot water to wash off the sweat from training. It was a standard procedure for him and his mistress to bathe after training. The bath consisted of four smaller rooms, divided by brick walls and having curtains. He was about to start washing, when he noticed the curtain opening. It was Aisida, paying him a visit, as always not knocking or telling anything. She was also wearing but a towel tied high just bellow her shoulders. Most probably she had run out of soap, as she usually did when she paid him a visit.
He turned against her, watching her coming closer to him, the thought of her slender body comelingly covered underneath the towel arousing him. She came in front of him and pushed him against the wall, the towels they wore falling, his from surprise hers deliberately. She kissed him tenderly, then gazed him in the eyes and told him: "I am a person of honour and I keep my promises."
***

Life could not be better Rioneer mused. This day had been the best in his entire life. He opened the door to his room, the taste of Aisida's kiss still on his lips. But what he found in the room surprised him. The sword he was given was lain his bed. But most weird was the fact that next to it sat the merchant who gave it to him.
"Who are you," he dared whisper, both frightened and frustrated.
"The point is who are you" he replied.
"What do you mean?" Rioneer said, his flesh creeping.
"Have you noticed something weird," he asked "a mysterious light? Dreams? Your being better at things?"
"Yes," answered Rioneer, trembling "Do you know what it is?"
"Simply" the man relaxed back "You've become one of us. What people call an Anathema."


Έχει και δεύτερο μέρος που είναι στα σκαριά. Περιμένω απόψεις.

Edited by Nihilio, 02 Μάρτιος 2008 - 21:27.

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- Civilised men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.

R.E. Howard - The Tower of the Elephant

#2 Βάρδος

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Posted 08 Μάιος 2004 - 12:34

Ωραίος. :thmbup:

Σίγουρα κινείς το ενδιαφέρον του αναγνώστη για να δει τι θα γίνει στο επόμενο. Μόνο το flashback στην αρχή δε μ'άρεσε, διότι κόβει τα δράση απότομα και είναι πολύ μεγάλο, χωρίς να προσφέρει κάτι το ιδιαίτερο. Μη βιάζεσαι να μας δώσεις πληροφορίες' είναι πιο ενδιαφέρον όταν ανακαλύπτουμε σιγά-σιγά το παρελθόν ενός χαρακτήρα. ;)

Καλή δουλειά, πάντως.


Κάτι λεπτομέρειες.

Cathak Aisida was a worth opponent, trained by the best weapon masters in the realm.
But so was her opponent, Asset Rioneer


Το ένα "opponent" καλύτερα να γίνει "adversary", για να αποφύγεις την επανάληψη.

Its straight blade was sharp, almost too sharp, its hilt was adorned with representation of lions.

"Almost too sharp";; Δηλαδή; Για μένα δεν προσθέτει κάτι: καλύτερα να σβηνόταν.


"No, it's just something personal. I don't want to discuss it." He added hastily.
"Neither do I." She replied "I just want to relax."


Τα "είπε", "πρόσθεσε" κτλ δε στέκουν μετά από τελεία, αλλά μόνο μετά από κόμμα. -- Neither do I," she replied. "I just want to relax."


"Who are you (εδώ) " he dared whisper, both frightened and frustrated.
"The point is who are you," he replied.

"Have you noticed something weird (εδώ) " he asked "a mysterious light? Dreams? Your being better at things?"


Κάτι ερωτηματικά λείπουν. Επίσης το "you" στην απόκριση του μυστηριώδη τύπου, θα μπορούσες να το τονίσεις για έμφαση. -- "The point is who are you."

#3 Nihilio

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Posted 09 Μάιος 2004 - 01:15

Ευχαριστώ για τα σχόλια και τις παρατηρήσεις Βάρδε. Μόνο πως δε κατάλαβα για ποιο flashback μιλάς. Για τη μάχη με τους ληστές ή τη στιγμή που πιάνει το σπαθί; Στη πρώτη δείχνει ένα σημαντικό γεγονός από το παρελθόν του που τον θέτει πιο άξιο από το μέσο άνθρωπο ώστε να εκλεχθεί, ενώ το δεύτερο είναι η εκλογή του από ένα θεό.
Η συνέχεια γράφεται αυτή τη στιγμή και κάποια στιγμή θα δημοσιευτεί.
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- Civilised men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.

R.E. Howard - The Tower of the Elephant

#4 Βάρδος

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Posted 09 Μάιος 2004 - 01:59

Μιλάω για το flashback της πρώτης σκηνής (μέχρι τα πρώτα αστεράκια). Πιστεύω ότι κλέβει το spotlight από την πρωτεύουσα σκηνή, που είναι η επι του παρόντος εξελισσόμενη μονομαχία.

#5 Nihilio

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Posted 09 Μάιος 2004 - 02:15

Βασικά η μονομαχία είναι κάτι το ασήμαντο στην όλη υπόθεση. Είναι η εισαγωγική σκηνή που θα μας γνωρίσει τον πρωταγωνιστή. Απλά αντί να ξεκινήσω με το "ήρωάς μας είναι ο Ριονίερ, ξιφομάχος που..." τον βάζω μέσα στη μέση της δράσης, δείχνς περιληπτικά το παρελθόν του, αυτό που τον κάνει αξιόλογο ως ήρωα και τελειώνω τη σκηνή με την ήττα του, το "δραματικό" στοιχείο που δίνει ουσιαστικά το ζουμί της υπόθεσης, δηλαδή το: "άτιμη κοινωνία, άλλους τους ανεβάζεις ψηλά και άλλους τους ρίχνεις στα Τάρταρα" και το "γιατί αγάπησα πλούσια ο φτωχομπινές" μόνο και μόνο για να γίνει πιο έντονη η αντίθεση μετά τη μεταμόρφωσή του. Επίσης έπρεπε να δείξω τις δυσκολίες που πέρασε και για ένα λόγο που θα φανεί στο δεύτερο μέρος της ιστορίας. Αλλά αυτή τη στιγμή καλύτερα να κάτσω να το γραψω, παρά να αναλύω το πρώτο μέρος.
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- Civilised men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.

R.E. Howard - The Tower of the Elephant

#6 Nihilio

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Posted 13 Μάιος 2004 - 00:57

II
[rage]

The fights that ensued where ferocious, the combatants alternately winning. Their couplings were no more results of a victory, rather than a matter of their schedule, endurance and desire. Most often she was the winner. But he harbored a secret not for he was not what he seemed.
In ages old and long forgotten, the Gods had chosen mortals to be Exalted, gods among humans, to wage war against their enemies. Their victory let them with the world at their command. Those exalted by the celestial gods, The Unconquered Sun, Luna and the Five Maidens were few but powerful, while those exalted by Gaia were numerous but of less significant potency. And among the exalted those chosen by the Unconquered Sun, the Solars, where the mightiest. Kings upon Exalted, they ruled during a golden age. But no things are meant to last. Overthroned by the overwhelming numbers of the Terrestrials, the Dragon Bloods, dubbed Anathema and hunted as beasts, they lived in the twilight of their long lost kingdom, it's ruins ravaged by the wyld and being the base for the empire of the dragon-bloods, founded by a woman who managed to save the Realm from the invading fair folk of the wyld. The empire she founded stands still, eight hundred years after her assignment in rule. All this time Exalted were born most of them hunted down and killed by packs of Dragon Blooded warriors, the so-called Wild Hunt.
Merek, the mysterious man who gave him a Daiklaive, a sword made of Oreichalcum, the magical material given by the Unconquered Sun, was one of those that survived the wild hunt, thanks to a brave fighter. The fighter who died heroically in combat and now his soul was Rioneer's. Or so he was told. Every second night, Rioneer found his way out of the mansion to be trained by his former student. Trained on the secrets of manipulating Essence, the inner force an Exalted used to perform acts beyond human limits.
"So, you think you must stay here", Merek told him, their swords crossed "They will come for you and I won't save you."
"I do not think so" Rioneer replied. "The Realm is not in a healthy condition. There is abundant strife and a war is being about to break out. A civil war, mind you. Plus, there are too many Anathemata, crawling out from every hole, like an outburst."
"Don't be so overconfident." Merek said "Many have made that mistake before. And it cost them their lives."
"As you did back then" he murmured to himself.
***

"So, how is Aisida doing?" Pelleps Esrin asked Encanti, feigning interest, though making little effort to be believable. She just waved her fan, watching her cousin and lover as she was lying on the divan they previously shared. "And that good-looking bodyguard of hers" she added, finally succeeding to anger Encanti.
Esrin was a sorceress. Trained in the house of Bells, adept in the secrets of occult and having the power to perform feats seemingly impossible even to dragon bloods. She was a small woman, her white hair long and straight, her body lithe. Her blue eyes held a spark of cold light, both attractive and terrifying. She always carried a fan, a masterwork indeed, dragons carved on it.
Her cousin, Encanti, was a diplomat, son of an influential family. He was tall but thin, lacking the solidity to be a good fighter. And he was not. However sharp his sword was, his wit was sharper and his social skills the key to succeeding his goals. His face was handsome, with white flowing hair. His moves were slender and graceful as he was reaching for the window and watching the busy road outside. It was a hot noon, just past midday and the bazaar was at full swing.
He was dressed and ready to go meet his fiancee, much to Esrin's dismay. And soon he was on the road to her house. Despite the crowded streets he was able to get there in little time. Inquiring a servant about Aisida's whereabouts, he was directed to the training room. Indeed her father, however low he was in rank for a Dragon blood, he was able to maintain a decent manor. Probably due to his marriage to a wealthy mortal, his second wife after Aisida's mother death. Mortals were always so fragile, he mused as he entered the chamber, the sound of swords ringing filling the air.
Aisida and Rioneer were fighting for quite some time, sweat glistering on their skin, puffing for some breath. So absorbed they were that they did not even noticed him. Their gazes were locked, their bodies trapped in an intimate dance of thrusts and parries. How fitting do they seem, thought Encanti. For the first time he noticed the heat in Aisida's eyes, Rioneer's proud posture, his skill with the sword, his graceful movements, his handsome face. He felt a hot harsh wind ravaging his insides, the pangs of jealousy. Aisida was his and his alone and no mortal should have her. However willing she was.
With a long stride he got closer to them, making his presence known to them. Aisida was surprised to see him. She held her sword in midair, then quickly recovering her wits put it aside, wiped some of her sweat with a towel and then came closer to him and kissed him, though there was a coldness in her kiss.
"How from here?" she asked him.
Rioneer was watching the entire scene silently. His lover and his rival in a tender embrace. This was annoying. No, it was not annoying. It was outrageous. He was supposed to watch like nothing was happening. Some time ago he could, but not now. His exaltation had given him a nasty temper. It was much easier for him to get mad at something, however trivial it might be.
"Well, I came to see you and your servant having a fight," said Encanti staring at Rioneer meaningfully, emphasising the word 'servant'. That was how they though of him, he thought, a servant, a plaything for his mistress. He felt so insulted. If only they knew how much better than those two he was. He had an impulse to rush forward, slicing this maggot in two with his sword. He bit his tongue not to answer, trying hard to remain calm.
"He is indeed a great fighter" Aisida said, a tone of admiration in her voice, "he can even outfight an Exalted" the latter said as a jest.
"I bet I can take him down." Encanti snapped at her. It was too late to rephrase his sentence, for Aisida had already handed him a sword, a well-crafted straight sword made of iron and was sitting in a bench. "Seems I will watch an interesting fight," she said a wide ironic smile in her face.
"Indeed" Esrin's voice sounded as her silhouette appeared in the doorframe, the bright sun behind her, making her white hair look ablaze. With an elegant manner she went be Aisida and sat next to her, her fan always at hand.
Encanti turned and looked at her puzzled, then at his opponent. He was a sessioned fighter while he just knew only the basics of swordsmanship. He awkwardly held the sword in both hands, trying to get a solid grip of it but his sweating hands made it hard to. He locked gaze with Rioneer and knew it would be a hard battle, if not an already lost one.
He focused on his rival and tried to think of an attack plan. Finally he decided to launch forward, trying to impale him with his sword before he could react. He feinted trying to slash him from the left, then jumped straight towards Rioneer, his sword pointing at Rioneer's heart. He expected a solid blow to his rival's chest, but instead he only saw Rioneer's sword effortlessly parrying away his weapon, then, in a blur of motion thrusting towards him, slicing his tunic just above his sternum. He knew it would take some dirty tricks to win. A rush of wind surrounded him, making him light as a feather. He jumped backwards, far away from Rioneer's second attack. He though he was fast, faster than his rival, but, as he landed upon a bench, found out a sword was beneath his chin. Rioneer was holding it, a mocking smile on his face. A similar smile was both on Aisida's and Esren's face. He was defeated. For now.
***

The scented oils were a luxury he had never before experienced, unlike his companion. Lying in the bath he was relaxing his strained muscles. Too much practice, both daily and nightly had exhausted him, no matter who of the Gods have chosen him. Aisida was out of the bath, getting dressed and ready for the party she was to attend. It was a dynastic only party, some young Dragon-Bloods in a joined feast of depravity. Considering they were not more than ten who could fit the description of a young Dragon-Blood it was obvious who they would meet this night. For he was to accompany her as her bodyguard. She wore a dress, large enough to be considered a dress and translucent enough not to hide anything. On her ears hung sword-like earrings made of silver. Her body was bearing the odor of the oils she used for their bath. Her hair was tied up in a bun with an exquisite pin, a gift from Encanti. No bracelets adorned her wrists or any necklace her neck. She just put on a coat both to cover her revealing dress and because nights bore a chilling breeze.
Walking hand to hand they got to the street. Soon they were outside the manse the party was taking place. He was to wait outside, while she was to go in and join her peers. Rioneer sat there patiently and let his thoughts take him away… away to an age long gone, when the Unconquered Sun shone high above his children, his chosen. They were kings of the Exalt, gods among mortals. It was an age of prosperity. Of light. Of…
A vision came to him. He was in a golden palace. In a great chamber. He was on a divan, holding a cup of exquisite wine in his hand. A slave was coming his way, holding a dish with a bowl of red soup. His hands were shaking. The slave was not older than twelve years old. His body was frail. He was silent, due to the fact that his tongue was cut. He reached him, the dish shaking in his trembling hands, leaning over Rioneer - however he was called back then - and spilling some of the steaming liquid on him. The boy tried to mutter something shaken, letting the bowl fall. And it fell, its content painting his master red. He stood up, a cold gaze in his face. The boy tried to clean his master. Then the room was painted red, both from the soup and the boy's blood, as his head tumbled in front of the feet of his master.
Rioneer was shocked from the memory. He had not… He could not… He ought not to commit such a heinous act. "Don't repeat the same mistakes" a voice whispered in his head. "Was their age truly as magnificent as Merek had described," Rioneer wondered. "Was their fall just? Was he truly an Anathema?" Self-loathing and anger sprang inside him, coiling like snakes around his spine, finally reaching his brain, coiling around it, slowly crushing it. He bit his tongue once more, trying to remain calm.
***

Encanti was hugging Aisida, while Esren sat against them, franticly waving her fan. It was a sign of her irritation. Encanti was kissing Aisida's hair, making Esren all the more frustrated.
"Don't you think it's time to retire, darling?" Encanti asked Aisida. "There is an agreement between us that still stands."
"Well," Aisida said, "I guess you are right."
Without further words they stood and went to one of the private rooms, leaving Esren boiling with jealousy. Frustrated she stood up and went to the balcony. Around her the party had passed its peak. From the seven starting participants only she and Pelleps Negolt remained, the latter too drank to remain conscious. Aisida and Encanti were having sex in one room, the other three in the other. And she was left alone. Perhaps it was the fear for her powers. A sorceress held at hand great power. She could call upon magic to flay a man alive by summoning a swarm of obsidian butterflies. She could ride the wind to far away lands. She could command spirits and summon demons from the bowels of the thousand Hells. And yet she bore a stigma, a price for her immense power. Nobody trusted a sorceress for nobody understood her. Her only companion was her cousin, and among them a love-hate relationship was established. What started as a game of manipulation ended as a web of lust, desire and betrayal, engulfing them both in it, allowing the spider of passion to feed on their hearts.
She slowly walked to the balcony, to get some fresh air. As she stood there, letting the night breeze to caress her, she noticed the servants that have accompanied the Dragon-Blood guests. Among them she saw the man she wanted to talk to in private for some time. Now it was her chance.

A servant came to Rioneer, disrupting his gloomy thoughts, to call him inside. Rioneer dragged his body inside, following a complex of corridors to a vast hall. There a woman waited him, Esren
"Greetings Rioneer" she told him, while she waved the slave to leave them.
"Greetings lady Esren" said Rioneer bowing.
"There is a something we must talk about. Would you follow me?"
Rioneer felt stressed. Was he discovered? Was he about to be destroyed?
Esren led him to an elegant bedroom. A large bed dominated the room, while a closet was covering an entire wall. She stood behind him and cradled his head in her arms. A slight breeze filled the room, carrying words of love, whispered oaths and moans of passion. He could make out whose voices where they: Aisida's and Encanti's. He felt his stomach twisting, a sudden urge to throw up. Jealousy was eating him deep from the inside. Jealousy and a rage burning like an iron left in fire for hours. He could know about their infrequent intercourse and had gone to terms with it, but listening to their tryst was far beyond his capabilities.
"I feel the same way you do" Esren told him tenderly caressing his cheek. "I love him and you love her. Seems we have something in common."
Rioneer felt something was amiss. She had an ulterior motive.
"Really who are you Aset Rioneer?" asked Esren . "Or, to phrase it better" she added "what are you?"
Rioneer was like struck by a lightning bolt. "An ordinary human" he replied "the Immaculate dragons did honored me by choosing me to Exalt."
"Don't lie to me," she replied, her face coming closer to his. "I know you are Exalt". Rioneer's legs almost betrayed him. "Probably the illegitimate son of a Dynast, aren't you? A fire aspect probably. Don't try to deny it, nobody un-exalted can take down an exalted fighter in a fair fight."
Her hands were now caressing his sternum "Marry me!" she finally told him.
Rioneer was speechless.
"I know how it feels. Being an outcast. I can offer you a position in the Dynasty." She examined the surprised expression in his face. "Why you? Simply, she has the one I love and I have the one she loves."
"And what if I am mortal?" Rioneer murmured "Probably there would be more suiting suitors for you."
A harsh ironic smile formed in Esren's lips. "Being stigmatised by sorcery is enough to repel many suitors". "And being barren" she added in a sob "most of the others. You are handsome and have the qualifications to get a high rank in the army. A good husband. Plus it's our vengeance to our loved ones next door."
Dragons, this is sick, though Rioneer, then remembered he was not to mention the Immaculate Dragons, the religion of the realm, but his patron, the Unconquered Sun.
"No way" he told Esren shoving her away from him and left. But he felt her vengeful eyes stabbing him in the back as he turned his back to her exiting the room.
***

Rioneer, his mood foul, was walking the midnight streets holding Aisida in his arms. The opium she had inhaled at the party was too much for her even to walk. Now she was hanging from his neck, giggling and mumbling incoherently. The more he saw her the more he loathed her and her kind. How could he be so foolish to fall in love with her? The last question was not to be answered but to add to his frustration.
Having these dark thoughts in mind he got her home, to her room and lain her to her bed.
"Come join me" she said, tugging him, teasing him to join her in her bed..
Rioneer felt disgusted. Her half-naked body was truly appealing to him, but her attitude enraged him. She was so arrogant, so careless about other people's emotions, so despicable. And yet his body ached to join her in a night of passion. Was he mad at her or at himself. Or was his rage a flaw, a curse bestowed to him by this god who chose him.
No matter what he had to go out to take some clean air. He went to his room, got his hidden Daiklaive, put on a cloak so that he could hide its bulk, then got out of the house. The night streets were empty. Rioneer inhaled some air, tried to clear his mind and drifted aimlessly for a while. His steps brought him out of the laughing squirrel. Rioneer grinned. Perhaps he needed a drink. Or to get drunk. Or to find comfort in the arms of one of the courtesans. At least they would be honest to him. Or finally he might meet Merlen. Since the night they spent together he had forgotten her. And now she crept into his mind, a reminisce of a random encounter. Perhaps coming here was no coincidence but an arrangement Venus, the Maiden of Serenity. Probably the Lovers were beaming their light to him up from their place in the sky.
Taking some hesitant steps he entered. Once more a wave of depravity hit him, this time not from the ruling class but from the peasants. One of the waitresses greeted him meaningfully blinking to him. Rioneer ignored her and stood on his toes to scan the room for known faces.
Sitting at a table nearby were two men who accompanied Merlen the night they met. They were somewhat drunk now and the mugs in front of them indicated they planed to become fully drunk as the night went on.
He went to their table and greeted them.
They ignored him.
"Has Merlen returned?" he asked them
The two men laughed, their laugher a mocking chuckle. Rioneer felt his blood streaming to his head.
"So you don't know, eh?" one of the men told him. "The night you… slept with her she did not tell you she was going to a wyld hunt. She is dead." Rioneer felt the ground give way beneath his feet "Yes, he was the cannon fodder for the dragon bloods to slay an Anathema. But what would a lapdog like you know?"
Rioneer would like to answer back, to explain him he was wrong. But the only action he performed was to grab a mug and slam it into his face. The mug caught him in the nose, breaking it and the man ended up out cold, blood running from his nose. The other man stood up and lunged at Rioneer. So did some men and women from nearby tables, all of them eager to participate in a brawl. Rioneer dodged the punch that was coming to him with ease. Truth was, however skilled was he in melee, when it came to brawling he was clueless. That's why, while rolling away from half a dozen punches, he raised a chair and slammed it in the head of an assailant. The chair broke and Rioneer held one of its legs. Using it as a club, he took out three opponents in one sweep. Then ducking he evaded a mug. The woman who threw the mug, a soldier with a patch covering her left eye, tried to grab another but didn't make it. Rioneer had already leaped towards her and slammed his makeshift club on her face. She was unconscious. Then, with a sweeping move Rioneer blocked two clubs coming to his head from behind. With a quick turn he caught his opponents with a swing of the club, breaking one's knee and knocking the breath out of the second. Two more strikes and he was unable to continue the fight. Then the original attacker came to Rioneer swinging his sword. With a rapid move Rioneer smashed his club in the sword hand, knocking away the sword. Then battered the man three or four times until he was unconscious. Turning away from him, he saw three of the thugs that frequent the tavern looking him from head to toe. Let them come, he thought, clutching his club with both hands.
***

Exiting the tavern, he stretched his fatigued body and strolled away in the dark of the night. Perhaps he should go to his meeting place with Merek for their usual training. Dragging his legs he went for the deserted house they used. He was neither fatigued nor injured from the fight. Only still heavy hearted and feeling guilty for all the pointless violence he had inflicted upon the patrons. Maybe he indeed was an Anathema.
He was halfway and still he felt eyes on his back. It was like a hidden adversary tailed him. It was no wonder though, since the city was full with thugs. Probably it was just one of them.
Alone in the shadows Iselsi Ragnas was watching Rioneer. The Anathema was about to die. He gripped his twin jade slashing swords while, using the empathic link they had established, he mentally ordered his partner Nellens Eselsi to send in the troops. Then, channeling some of the power that was swirling around him he honed his abilities in order to jump right in front of Rioneer. A freezing gust of wind swept his cloak as he did so.
One moment Rioneer was walking on an empty street. Next moment he was surrounded by thirty soldiers, their poles aiming at him. Then a dragon blooded in a black cloak landed five steps from him holding twin white swords, one in each hand. Melting out of the shadows another dragon blooded made her presence known, a dark haired woman in a blue armor. She was not armed but her gauntlets featured many spikes, obviously aiming to rend his flesh from his bones. He shot a glance to the soldiers. They all looked scared, all showing the same heroic determination to sacrifice their lives in order to rid the world of a monster like himself. The memory of Merlen came to his mind. He now recognized her expression as they parted being the same with the one these soldiers did bear. But they needed not have the same fate.
He gripped his sword and brought it to his front, its sheath still covering its gleaming golden blade. Calling upon the powers bestowed to him by his patron he channeled much of his inner energy to sharpen his reactions. Then, like a living avalanche, he was on the troopers, each swing knocking out a bunch of them, each stab of their poles being parried effortlessly. It took little time for Rioneer to stand triumphant upon their limp bodies.
Iselsi Ragnas was wise enough not to have underestimated his foe. In the blink of an eye he was on Rioneer, both swords coming to him from different directions. No man could deflect or dodge this strike. Rioneer sent his daiklaive, now bare of its sheath, to his right, parrying away one sword. Ragnas was sure he would feel his left sword dipping deep into the Anathema's flesh. The time almost froze, his sword coming closer to Rioneer slowly, Rioneer's sword blurring as it was coming from right to left. Less than a centimeter from Rioneer's shoulder did the two swords clash. Ragnas barely had the time to move his body to one side as Rioneer finished the parry with a counterattack. Had he not turned the sword would have been thrust deep in his belly. Now it barely scratched his amps. However little it touched him, the wound it caused was bleeding profoundly, a line of agony on his body.
Eselsi thought Rioneer's defenses would be down as she charged him. Her punch was like a wave, swift and furious. Yet the sword was parrying away the wicked spikes of her gauntlet from their target. She barely managed to hit Rioneer with a liquid motion. Her spikes bit deep into Rioneer's flesh. It would be an agonising wound had Rionner been an ordinary man. But now it was no more than a bad bruise, a bleeding one but still a bruise.
Mad with pain and rage Rioneer shot back, his sword in a vertical chop, the daiklaive slashing the air. The strike was solid, the sword hitting her hard. It cut a long vertical scar in her face. But it could not chop her head in two, because the sword was too big not to him much of her armor. And because the power of the impact sent her body slamming against a nearby wall. A trail of blood, starting from her forehead running down her face and dripping from her chin pooled in a lake right in front of her.
Ragnas, still airborne, kicked a nearby wall, reversing his momentum. He turned over, his swords high, trying to score a blow. Two parrying attempts later, he found himself kneeling on the street, another slash depriving him of his Dragon blood. Slowly he stood and eyed his foe. He was not an ordinary man, that he knew. What he was told was that he would fight a young Anathema, still weak and unable to fully use his potential. Yet this foe was formidable. What kind of monster was he. If he could reach his full potential then only the Dragons knew what could stop him.
Ragnas stood, bit his lip and moved to face Rioneer once more. Their gazes locked, as Ragnas took a defensive stance. The Anathema surely used some sort of defensive magic. It would bide his time to exhaust it. So he went on the defensive. In the meantime Eselsi was up and coming towards Rioneer, her charge a mighty blow enhanced by essence. A watery aura surrounding her made her look like a wave ready to crush her rival. Her paunch went for Rioneer's sternum but ended crushing against a nearby wall; Rioneer's sword had cut her right arm just bellow her elbow. A piercing scream escaped her lips as her blood was splattering the street and her soul returning to the Immaculate Dragons. Then Rioneer was on Ragnas, slashing at him with ferocity.
Wild as the lion on the pommel of his sword, Rioneer was more than a challenge to Ragnas. The Dragon-Blooded assassin had killed many of his kind during the fifty years of his life. Still young by Dragon Blooded standards, it was his first wyld hunt. Yet he could see it was going to be his last. It took all his skill to fend off the attacks. He did not know how long could he last. He had already taken a couple nicks here and there, even one or two wounds. Yet it took more physical injury than this to render him incapacitated. A gust of freezing wind was surrounding him, the result of essence expenditure as he tried to parry and dodge his rival's attacks. Yet his tactics had failed him. His rival seemed not to be exhausted. It was time for a fast and furious counterattack.
Leaping high in the air he tumbled and reversed the grip of his swords. He descended with a scream, a shout of primal rage, as he tried to slash his opponent. A blizzard of ice shards was surrounding him now, all the essence he could gather in a final outburst of brute force. The white jade of his swords covered with ice, his moves swift as the spring breeze and ferocious like a winder storm, a living avalanche of essence. His swords went down, stabbing at Rioneer. But he was faster. Raising his sword he managed to stop both the descending swords in one sweep, then posed the daiklaive vertically. There was no way for Ragnas to reverse his momentum. He impaled himself on the orichalcum weapon, his blood painting the golden blade dark red.
Rionner was standing still, shocked at what he had done. He had killed before in battle but this time it was different. Two Dynasts were dead at his feet. Two gods among humans. Yet he had overpowered them and left the battle with nothing more than a small wound. It was something unimaginable.
"Good work" said a familiar voice. Rioneer turned to see Merek standing next to him.
"You were watching me fighting them?" he asked him.
"Yes, a spectacular fight indeed." Merek remarked "lucky you they were but a couple of youngsters. Next time it may be monks. You won't be able to make it on your own against them."
"Then you could help me" Rioneer replied.
"I don't think so" came Merek's answer, "your training here is done and I shall help you no more. It's time for our paths to split. Better get out of this city while you can." Without further talking, Merek melted in the nearby shadows and disappeared, leaving Rioneer confused.
***

Rioneer woke up next morning by the sun entering from his window. He had cleaned himself from the blood and the gore, had tied his wound and was getting some rest. A gentle rap on his door forced him to wake. He put on his trousers and opened the door. Aisida was standing on the other side. "May I come in?" she asked.
"Sure," said Rioneer letting her in and closing the door.
"Are you hurt?" she asked when she saw the bandages on his side.
"Got involved in a bar brawl and someone used a cestus."
She got closer to inspect the wound, but he dismissed her telling her it was nothing serious.
"You had to relieve some tension" she told him as she lay on his bed.
A moment of silence followed, each one staring the other.
"About last night," she said laying on the bed "what got into you?"
It was the final drop. He could take no more of her arrogance. She asked him WHAT GOT INTO HIM? The point was WHAT got INTO her! He could take no more of keeping his thoughts for himself. It was time to teach her he was not her plaything. But first he had to smash something.
A punch smashed a hole in the door. Rioneer was seeing red. Aisida got from the bed, shocked at the transformation.
"I AM NOT A PUPPET DAMN IT" shouted Rioneer, his face distorted by rage, his voice a feral growl.
"I HEARD YOU LAST NIGHT"
Aisida was shocked.
"I HATE YOU"
Her expression was that of a hurt puppy
"GET OUT OF MY SIGHT"
Aisida did so, running out of the room, while Rioneer was smashing his bed.
***

She spent her day sobbing in her room. She had no intention to hurt him, yet she did. She had to balance her duties and her heart. According to her there was a solution. She could merry Pelleps Encanti and Rioneer could remain her bodyguard and her lover. Yet Rioneer could not accept that. Neither could the possessive Pelleps. That she knew. But she was sure he could reach an agreement with both men. Yet Rioneer's newfound temper had worried her. She could not imagine that someone of his class would talk to her that way. To her worldview it was unbelievable and unacceptable. Yet she had to recognise that a mere mortal may not be able to withstand stress the same way one of those chosen by the Dragons to be their champions could.
A rap on her door disrupted her train of thought. She splashed some water on her face to hide her tears, then opened the door. Rioneer was standing outside. "May I come in?" he asked in a humble voice.
Aisida let him in. She gave him a seat, then sat on her bed opposite to him.
"I'm sorry about what happened," Rioneer whispered loud enough to be barely heard "anger is like water. It gathers little by little until it breaks like a crushing wave."
"I understand" Aisida answered dryly.
"That's why I decided to quit my post and travel somewhere far away." He continued.
Aisida was struck speechless. She couldn't, ought not to understand what he just said.
"What for?" she finally asked, an edge in her voice. She was annoyed by what he just said.
"I don't like to, but I have to" he told her calmly. One look in his eyes though made Aisida afraid. What she saw was a flame of anger burning in there. She was sure another word could make him blow. And perhaps even she could not be able to control him, despite the power given to her by the Dragons themselves.
"Good luck wherever you go," Aisida told him, while Rioneer was turning his back leaving "I shall love you no matter" she muttered once he was out of the room, her heart broken, a wound that would not heal so easily.
***

It was dark while Rioneer was on his way. He had read an announcement, asking strong mercenaries for a mission in the Southwestern islands. The fleet was leaving next day. He better had to go to the docks and spend the night there, so he could enlist in time the next morning.
Passing through one of the notorious alleyways of Paragon he caught a group of shadows with the corner of his eye. He stopped and turned to their direction. Out of the shadows came five figures. The rugs they wore and the crude swords they held indicated they were street thugs. But their moves were those of expert killers. Seemed like someone has arranged his murder. Probably someone named Pelleps Encanti. He went for the slashing sword tied at his belt but stopped. Instead he pulled out his daiklaive from its hiding place.
The thugs came in one after another, coordinated in a way that no man or dragon-blooded could counter them. But Rioneer was neither. Forcing his essence to flow, he blocked the leader of the gang as he thrust his sword to his lung. Rioneer was burning with rage. Those rascals would pay for what they were about to do. Ferociously he counterattacked, slashing the leader in two. Just in time he parried the dagger coming towards his eye then slashed the wrist of it's wielder. A crimson spring spout from the amputated member, as the thug screamed. As a third sword aimed Rioneer's leg, he leaped forward and decapitated his foe before he could attack. Then ducked as a fourth blade was aiming at his back. The fourth blade ended up over and beyond his head. Rioneer reversed his sword and thrust it under his left arm and into the thug's belly, producing a wet splashing sound. The final attack came from Rioneer's flank. Having no time to pull out his sword he shove the corpse at the end of his blade in the way, the incoming sword stabbing the dead thug's spine. The assailant dropped the sword and run away, but Rioneer was faster. Pulling his sword he jumped over the corpse and onto his fleeing rival. When he was done with him they were both covered with blood and gore. The blood of the would-be assassin.
Rioneer cleaned his blade and his face and looked at his dead opponents. Creation was a jungle and the stronger survived. He ought not to have any delusions. He was a lion, stronger than most of the other animals, their king, their predator. He had to survive, to be better and to get his rightful place as a king. Yet he had to be less arrogant than his past life or the lives the Dynasts led. With that in mind he was ready to roam the land and be better, stronger, more cunning. Who knew what awaited tomorrow. Anyway, he would face it no matter what it would be.
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- Civilised men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.

R.E. Howard - The Tower of the Elephant

#7 Nihilio

Nihilio

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Posted 02 Δεκέμβριος 2004 - 00:21

Μετά από πολύ καιρό το τρίτο μέρος


III
The ship of the dead


The rocking of the ship reminded him of pleasant days. It didn't matter which ones. They were not many to say the truth. And most of them ended in pain. Such as his turbulent romantic relationship that should not be. And had this relationship never occurred, he would not be on this ship, a war galleon named Crimson Hawk, thinking at it with mixed longing and pain. Life is such a paradox and fate is cruel, especially if you are one of the Chosen.
Rioneer was in a foul mood. His constant state of anger wasn't of any particular reason. He was just mad at the world. And the world was mad at him, constantly making him suffer. Were these melodramatic thoughts of a person much stronger than everyone around him or the harsh reality mattered little to him. He just felt that way. At least it would be hard for his anger to break out, like the last time. This time it was not rage he felt, but stress. And he could control it by just grabbing something and holding it tight. At this moment it was a rope, which he slightly pulled.
Back to the decks too men were ready to start a duel. No, it was not some sort of a drunken brawl but a martial arts contest. On the one side was Merek, a scholar-martial artist. He was a tall and well-built man, having black hair and wearing a blue cloth of western origin. On the other side stood Arejuno, an immaculate monk, a heavily built man, having dark brown skin and only wearing a pair of trousers. On his side was a black panther, his pet. Rioneer would bet on the second, the Dragon-Blooded. Few mortals could match an Immaculate's prowess in martial arts. So thought most of the crew. They had gathered around them, waiting to see the action start.
The leader of the operation, not much of a fighter, truth be told, but an excellent tactician, a tall and lithe Dragon Blooded named Cathak Sarana, was the one to give the signal for the contestants to begin. And so she did. The two rivals rushed at each other, Merek with snake-like grace, Arejuno with the stability of rock, his aspect.
Arejuno was the first to strike. He sent his fist towards Merek, who easily dodged it, then counterattacked ferociously. His open palm strike hit Arejuno in his abs, but it didn't seem to hurt him the least. Before Merek could attack again, he was spinning in the air. Such was the strength of his rival.
Merek managed to land on his feet, an impressive task considering his rival. Rioneer's interest was piqued by this turn of events. Probably he was about to see the clash of two capable fighters.
Merek crouched close to his opponent. This time it would be harder for Arejuno to hit, everybody seemed to know that. Closer he crouched, weighing his opponent. Arejuno was standing still, watching at his opponent, waiting for him to move.
He did not have to wait for too long for this to happen. Merek sprung at him, all the while Arejuno turned his massive body in an effort to hammer him with his fists. But Merek was expecting such action. He grabbed the monk's fist with his left hand and in a blink of an eye he was in the air, over his foe's arm, punching him in the face.
Arejuno staggered back, somewhat dazed from the hit he had taken, but far from incapacitated. Instead he was ready to take his blood back. Merek on the other hand was on his feet, waiting for the dragon-blood's move.
Arejuno rushed in, his massive body having the force of an avalanche, threatening to overrun his foe. Merek stood ready, springing forward, ducking under his foe's fists. Both martial artists clashed, the scholar punching the monk ferociously while the monk kicked him. Both opponents fell back, staggering on their feet. There was not much fighting left.
Both of them tried to collect what power was left inside them .It weren't much to tell the truth. "Let's call it a draw," offered Merek. Arejuno smiled. "True, you are a worthy opponent, I underestimated you." They both shook hands and the combat was over. But Rioneer had a good idea to both gain some money and ease some tension.

"So ye think ye can beat me with a stick, don't ya?" bellowed Trefen, one of the most infamous bullies onboard. "And ye bet too? Let me laugh." And so he did. So did the soldiers gathered around him. They all waited for the irritating guy to get beaten.
Rioneer grabbed his fighting stick. It weren't much of a weapon, but maiming the crew was not a wise idea. Some bruises would be enough. He poised himself ready for combat, holding the stick with both hands.
Trefen grabbed his stick too. On his face was an amused expression. He grabbed the stick and charged. He wanted to end this quickly, and so did Rioneer. Trefen had raised his stick, holding it both hands and was trying to hit Rioneer with it. But Rioneer was much faster. He ducked aside and caught him in the back of his knee. Trefen screamed and fell down. Although Rioneer could have broken his kneecap he did not. There was no need to. He just hit his foe in the head, knocking him out. All sound but a hush filled the watchers' ranks.
Rioneer stood proud over his fallen rival smiling. "So who's next?" he asked.

All the while a story familiar to Rioneer was playing out inside the ship. In the captain's quarters Merek and Sarana were lying on a bed. They were both dressed but no one knew for how much longer.

"So you think you are tough, uh?" asked Erith. Back to the decks Rioneer has proven his abilities in melee combat. At least ten sailors, soldiers or brutes have been defeated. And now this woman was challenging. "Let me see you fighting someone your equal." She said.
She was a medium height slim brunette. She was pretty, that she was, but also she was a pirate captain turned mercenary after her ship was sunk somewhere outside Chiaroscuro. Truth was she was notorious. Her reputation as a fighter made everyone on the ship respect her. At last, a good fight, thought Rioneer.
She took a stick and posed herself in an offensive posture. Rioneer was at a defensive crouch. The crew was holding their breath, waiting for the clash of these two opponents. No one noticed the ship approaching…

"Do you think we stand any chance against the hordes of the Abyss, Merek?" asked Sarana, still dressed on the bed.
"They have taken over my home town," said Merek, his expression darkening.
"Don't worry, we will do our best" she whispered in his ear. Her arms were now around him.
This scholar had saved her life back then, when the men of Bodhisattva Anointed by Dark Waters, the notorious ruler of the western shadowland of Skullstone Archipelago, took over Merek's home town. Now they were on the way there, to clean it from the undead plaguing it. She wondered whether the success of their mission would keep them apart or not. She was growing fond of this man.
For Merek their encountered had stirred more than a romantic affair. It had stirred primordial powers leading to his Exaltation as a chosen of the Unconquered Sun. He belonged to the twilight caste, the caste of savants and sorcerers. He too possessed some of the sorcery of his past life, but also some memories. He knew what he was and what would happen should all Sarana or Arejuno learn it. But he was in love with Sarana, that was for certain. He turned his head and locked eyes with her. Then he leaned forward and kissed her.
And then the ship was rocking like crazy.

Erith fell on Rioneer. Up to now they both had exchanged some blows and each had scored a hit. A bruise was on Rioneer's cheek and another on Erith's hip. She was good, that was certain. Then with a loud crash the ship started violently shaking. The other ship had fell on it.
It looked like a ghost ship. Its sails were in tatters, its hull was rotting and a stench of death surrounded it. Corpse-like figures arose armed and armored and jumped on the Crimson Hawk, thirsty for the blood of the living.
Erith jumped from Rioneer's arms and pulled out her daggers. They were exquisite pieces of work, sharp and deadly, their edges glittering gold under the sun. Rioneer too unsheathed his sword. Not the sword that was tied to his belt. The sword he hid on his back, a Daiklaive made of orichalcum, a weapon worthy of his skill.
The dead had set planks to fill the gap between the ships. Rioneer jumped atop one of these. Calling upon the gift given to him from the unconquered Sun, he sharpened his reflexes so much, that now he was able to parry any attack aiming at him without much effort. His attack was so ferocious that most of the undead upon the plank either went overboard or they were hacked to pieces by his blade.
Arejuno was even more aggressive. He ordered his panther to stay, while he jumped onto the other ship. He was solid like a rolling mountain, crushing the living dead under his weight.
Merek and Sarana finally reached the decks, to see the crew and the soldiers fighting of an army of animated corpses. The stench of death, both old and new, filled the air. Sarana pulled out her Daiklaive. The green jade it was made of was glittering under the setting sun. Merek was poised for a fight.
Erith was throwing one dagger after another. It seemed like they hit and then returned back to her hands, invisible bonds of essence tying them to her.
Rioneer was ferocious, chopping undead after undead with remarkable ease. Deep inside he knew it could not be that easy a fight. And he was right. In the blink of an eye, two figures materialized behind him.
One of them was a man, heavily armored, wielding an ebon Daiklaive. The other was an unarmored woman, her white hair flowing wildly, hiding her deathly pale face. The man lost no time, attacking at Rioneer. He moved fast, parrying the strike away. But his move was too slow, the sword barely scratching him. Even though the hit was nothing more than a scratch, Rioneer felt the cold metal sucking away his life force. What unholy blasphemy did this servant of the Abyss use?
The woman, on the other hand, started raising in the air. Hovering in midair, she started uttering words of arcane power. Merek, a sorcerer himself, recognized her spell and did his best to stop it. Gathering essence around his coiled arm, he hurled a bolt of pure essence towards her. She took the hit and was knocked up and backwards, hitting the main mast. A scream came out of her mouth, as pure necrotic energy crackled around her hands.
Rioneer was on the plank, fighting the death knight. They were almost equal when using the sword, one parrying the other's strikes with ease, while both scored some hits. Rioneer's hits barely passed the protection of his foe's armor. On the other hand his light armor could not stop the unholy blade from sucking his life force. He knew this foe was no ordinary fighter. Unless he did something soon, his life would end.
Back to the other duel, Merek and the woman were glowing, him surrounded by a golden light, her by pure darkness. On his brow one could see a glowing setting sun. On her brow, the same sun was made of blood, like an open wound. The bolts of energy they hurled at each other had scored many hits. They were both in the brink of death, all the while their reserves of essence were running low. The woman drew a knife and dived to finish her rival.
Rioneer had to act. He was bleeding from five different cuts, none of them critical, but he did not know how many more could he take. Channeling essence into his weapon, he made it light as a feather. Without much thought he dived forward, trying to stab his enemy. The death knight parried the thrust, the edge of Rioneer's Daiklaive scratching his dark metal gauntlet. Without hesitation Rioneer tried to lower his weapon and slash at his rival. The other fighter reversed the grip of his Daiklaive and poised it vertically, stopping his weapon an inch before his knees. The light from the dawning sun in Rioneer's brow was reflecting on the black plate mail of his foe. Unless he scored a solid hit, this light would soon fade.
A flash of light, like the burning wings of a phoenix embraced Merek. His wounds seemed to suddenly heal. In the meantime his adversary came towards him, wailing like a tormented soul. She had raised her knife and was ready to strike, but Merek was faster. With a move that was faster than the eye, he hit her in the throat. She spit blood as she fell backwards dying.
Forcing his essence into his sword, a roaring lion made of light shimmered around him. Fast as a ray of light, he tried to stab his foe. He parried effortlessly. Losing no time, Rioneer reversed his slash. The deathknight followed this move, but he failed to fully parry. The sword connected, cutting a deep gash into his arm. Yet it was far from fatal. Rioneer pulled the sword and attacked once more, but this move was an instant too slow, enabling his foe to defend himself. The fourth attack though was an instant to fast to be parried. It broke the man's helmet and cut a deep scar on his right cheek. And with it Rioneer felt this magical momentum finishing up. He could only perform one more cut before he would have to defend against a barrage of attacks. And then his eye felt on the plank. Jumping back, he slashed vertically, cutting the plank he and his adversary where on. The wood split in two and fell into the sea.
Rioneer was agile enough to be able to land onto the other ship. His foe, heavily armed as he was, was not. With a look of mixed surprise and hatred he fell in the water. "Have a nice swim," muttered Rioneer as he turned away, only to find twenty legionnaires facing him. Their leader was Arejuno. And the look on his face showed clearly that they did not consider him friendlier than the drowning fiend.

Erith was standing awestruck. For too long now she though she was the only one Exalted by the Unconquered Sun, yet right now she saw two men blazing in His holy light. This was much of a surprise to her. She just waited for the drama to fully unfold before she took any action.

Arejuno was at a loss for words. At first it was just a bunch of zombies. Then he was surrounded by foul Anathema so cunning they were actually around him without noticing him. True to their chaotic nature they had slain one another, yet two of them had remained in fighting condition. He had to neutralize them the sooner possible. One of them was on his ship, threatening his comrade. The other was right in front of him. He had to choose which of the two to fight. It took him little time to decide. With long strides he gained momentum and leaped over the sea, on the Crimson Hawk.

Rioneer found himself facing twenty soldiers. Keeping his cool, he gathered essence around him, forging it into the image of a roaring lion. It rose like a pillar of pure sunlight, sending the troopers running. That way he found himself alone on the unknown ship. Casually he turned around to see what was going on on the decks of the Crimson Hawk. What he saw let him at a loss. Arejuno was holding the main mast, trying to hit a man, around which a golden aura was shimmering.

Merek was frantically trying to dodge the attacks. It would be hard for someone without his serpentine agility to do so. The martial artist was furious and out for blood. His blood to be more specific. Then Arejuno stopped, as if something had bothered him. He turned around and looked at Erith. A dagger in hand, she was grinning at him. Finally she has decided to take some action. Arejuno order his panther to attack her, then turned his attention back to the sorcerer.

Rioneer knew he had to do something. He knew he couldn't jump that far, but something should be done. Then his eye fell on the ballista nearby. Having little to no experience with siege engines, he tried to aim at Arejuno. He was either lucky or better than he thought, because the bolt took his foe in the chest. The power of the strike seemed to knock him back, but still he remained standing. As an answer, he threw the mast at him. It hit the hull like a gigantic bolt and broke it. Water started flooding in. The ship was sinking.

Erith was facing a ferocious panther and it was not something she was fond of. Concentrating essence in her dagger, she threw it at him. Flying in the air, it started multiplying, till it was a hailstorm of blades. They fell on the panther, piercing through his flesh, taking his life away. The animal staggered for a moment then it fell dead.

Rioneer was like a rat on a sinking ship. So he did what a rat would. He cut the ropes holding a lifeboat and jumped inside it. He hoped he would escape.

Arejuno was furious. He saw his pet dying by this creature in the guise of a woman. He would not take any more. He turned towards her and attacked her.
In the meantime Merek was gathering the last of his essence to perform a spell. As he scribed runes in the air, a soft breeze surrounded him, a breeze that soon became a ferocious tornado, threatening to overturn the ship.
He was in the eye of the storm, holding Sarana in his arms. She was shocked, that was for sure. Slowly rising in the air, he called for Erith. She heard him and run towards him, dodging Arejuno's frenzied attack. With a leap no mortal could perform she landed inside the tornado.
Rioneer was next to ride the wind. They threw him a rope and he climbed it, all the while swirling around the raging wind. He finally made it. Then the four of them were flying far away.
Back to the Crimson Hawk, Arejuno was at a loss. But he had sworn he would take his vengeance on the three Anathemata who killed his beloved pet and kidnapped his partner. And an oath of vengeance by the lips of one of the children of Pasiap was truly bad news…

Edited by Nihilio, 02 Δεκέμβριος 2004 - 01:55.

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- Civilised men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.

R.E. Howard - The Tower of the Elephant

#8 Nihilio

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Posted 13 Δεκέμβριος 2004 - 04:39

IV
[among the living are the dead]

The waves were gently caressing the coast under the waning light of the setting sun. The four Exalted Ones were lying on the sand, exhausted by their adventure. Rioneer was barely conscious, having taken too many wounds and lost too much blood. Had he been a normal human, he would be dead by now. Merek was wounded too, not that bad as Rioneer, but bad enough for sure. The two women, Erith and Sarana were in much better condition, yet they were both as shocked as the two men. Fate had played some nasty games on them.
Sarana was cradled in Merek's arms, while Rioneer and Erith had gone out to gather firewood. They had ended up on an island they did not know. A town was some miles away, but they dared not get closer, the way they were smeared with blood.
"What are you?" she asked the sorcerer, her eyes wide with fear.
"What you people call Anathema" he told her calmly "though we are not as bad as you think." He tried to stroke her hair but she shot her head back. Yet, she was holding him tight.
"What will you do?" she asked him again.
"Save my hometown, what else" he answered. "What about you?"
"I am going to go back to my people."
"Will you tell about us?"
"I do not know. Only time will tell…"

Rioneer, standing in the shadows was watching the scene unfold. He had listened to what they said, he saw them kissing tenderly and all the while he wondered what would happen had he told Aisida all this. Would she answer "I don't know. Only time will tell…" too. He hoped not.
"Peepin', aren't ya?"
He snapped out of his thoughts, as Erith patted his shoulder.
"No, I was thinking of…" he tried to answer.
"Yeah, right," she told him. She was pretty, yet her rough-and-tough demeanor put Rioneer off. "Well, you did a good fightin' out there."
"Thanks, so did you," he smiled at her.
"What should we do about her?" she asked.
"Dunno, probably let her go" he said "I do not think our friend would like his girlfriend killed." So would I, had she been Aisida he added to himself.
"Isn't it dangerous?"
"It is far less risky than a pissed Exalted trying to kill us," Rioneer told her. "At least, we can cover our tracks"
"Guess you are right."
They both turned towards the other two, to find them in a very intimate position.
"Guess we must go get that wood" said Erith.
Rioneer just nodded in agreement.

"How the hell are you still walking?" said Merek disbelieving what he was seeing. He was tending Rioneer's wounds and was surprised by what he was seeing. "It would take some time to heal. Unless…"
"Unless?"
"Unless I teach you some healing techniques," said Merek "You only need a grasp of medical knowledge to do them. Look, I'll show you"
They were in a cave, spending the night. In the morning they would go to the city. There Sarana was to leave them and the three Solars would have to run away for good measure. The Wyld Hunt, the purge against the Anathema, was merciless. And now, around the fire, the shadows looked even more frightening and the future gloomier.

The road to the city was not hard, but surely it was not easy for someone as hurt as Rioneer. He staggered on, following his companions. The techniques Merek had taught him were of little use. He still had to master them. Still, they managed to get there early in the noon. The guards were typical, asking them a few questions and letting them in.
Their first priority was finding a place to stay. Being almost broke was a problem, that it was. But they were fortunate to learn that there was demand for mercenaries to take care of public safety. Thus they ended up outside the militia headquarters.
The three of them (Sarana had left as soon as they had entered the city) went in to apply as mercenaries. They had to wait a little in a small hall, until they were finally admitted into a tiny office. Inside it, there was a tall, muscular, fresh shaven man. "Oh, you are the new recruits" he told them casually.
"Yes sir," answered Rioneer, standing straight and using all the experience he had gained as a mercenary.
"Oh, you know how to act, soldier," he congratulated him. " This is good. Now, your duties…"
It truly was an odd army force, recruiting any person that was applying. Either that or they had passed a screening test the moment they entered.
"We use to work with outside partners," the officer explained "people investigating crimes outside the military force. Well, there have been some weird murders lately."
"Weird murders?" asked Merek, an intrigued expression on his face.
"Yes. Bodies found… mutilated. Skinned… eviscerated… body parts missing… but…" there was a disgusted look on his face "but most importantly…" he shivered at the thought "the spines were missing from each and every victim."
Truly it was a murder most foul. What kind of monster could do such a thing?

The whispers, he could not bear them. They were everywhere, hidden inside every corner of his shrine of bones. The shrine, he had built for them, his whispering tormentors. He had brought people here, in this small basement, and had slain them and taken their lives and bones as offerings for the Neverborn, the dead Gods of the Underworld.
It was their wish, that it was. And he had to obey it for the whispers to pause and let him rest for the time their bloodlust was sated. But now it was not. They craved the blood of the living. They demanded it. And he had to deliver them the goods.

Strolling through the city, the three Exalted ones found out that the popular belief that people of the southwest were either bloodthirsty pirates or savages was untrue. Instead, they were inside a civilised city, with well built wooden buildings. Its people were not much unlike the people of the south. They were merchants, craftsmen, workers, everyday people...Yet, there was someone or something out there that claimed innocent lives.
Merek was leading the party, his mood foul after Sarana left them. Rioneer followed him speechless, trying to come up with any ideas on how to solve the murder mystery. Erith was walking by him, at least for most of the time. Once in a while, she would stray a bit, making a pocket or two lighter of their contents. They had investigation expenses and no means to cover them. At least, the people of this city could pay for their safety.
"He seems in pain," Rioneer whispered in Erith's ear, while his head nodded at Merek.
She just nodded in agreement. "So do you," he told him, pointing out the fact he was still limping.
"Nah, the pain is not that bad. At least it shows me I'm still alive."
"'Tis true," she agreed. "What the hell were those two? At least, this man. I have seen him before." Her voiced quivered but she went on "It was a dream. It was me and him, you know, in a desert. We were walking down a dune. I dunno, it is kinda creepy."
Rioneer could say nothing. He had seen dreams too. Dreams of a man that was he and yet he wasn't. A man strong but cruel, brave but reckless. But then, he was far from a saint himself. A constant feeling of anger was gnawing at him. He knew he would snap at any second, for any trivial matter.
"Well, ye look troubled too." Erith's words broke his contemplating.
"I'm searching for an answer on the murder case," he told her.
"No big deal. We just ask beggars and thieves for info," she answered with a wide smile on her face.

"Let the men go and talk," said Merek "if these thugs see a woman they will not take us seriously."
"Yeah, right!" Erith snapped back "like ye can deal with them scum better than me!"
"Erith," Rioneer tried to calm things down "we need you to stay hidden and scan the area for an ambush. Can you do it?"
She eyed him with suspicion, then sighed and said "Key, I will." Then she leaped into the shadows and disappeared from their sight.
The time was midnight and the place a backwater alley. They were here to meet a high-ranking member of the biggest criminal organization of this city. They had managed to contact them, mostly thanks to the streetwise Erith and Rioneer intimidating a thug by cutting his makeshift club in two with one swift move of his sword. The ordinary one.
The night was foggy and the moon half empty. Five men came out of the mists. In their midst, was a short fat man. He was bald and wore expensive clothes. The other four were common brutes, probably his bodyguards.
"So, you want to know about the murders?" he told them when he got closer, about ten feet away from them.
Merek nodded.
"The money first!" he commanded.
Merek pulled a heavy pouch out of his cloak and threw it at his feet.
"All of it!" the man ordered again. "And this nice jewel on your neck, boy" he said pointing at Merek's amulet.
"This was not part of the deal!" Merek complained.
"Don't try anything stupid, boy" the man told him. "There are at least twenty snipers on top of the nearby roofs. Will you be good boys, or will my friends here make you behave?"
Rioneer felt his blood boiling. He could hear a lion roaring inside him. And he had no intention to leave this little man go unpunished for his treachery. It just felt wrong. A wrong that must be cleansed with blood. He made a step forward, his hand moving towards his hip.
All at once, the four brutes pulled out their weapons and were ready to charge him. A golden flash later and they were on the ground, their blood mingling with the dirt, forming pools of viscous mud. Rioneer's Daiklaive was unsheathed, in his hand, gleaming golden under the pale moonlight. The blood of his foes had barely stained it, such was the speed of his horizontal chop.
The little man was pale with fear, as Merek gripped his neck and pulled him upwards. His fingers were making the criminal's breath hard. Soon, his face was red and he was puffing for air. "Let's make another deal," the sorcerer told him. "I'll let you live, you will tell me all you know about the murders."
And then the rain of arrows started. Rioneer was the one to be the target of it. The arrows fell like hail on him, yet his essence-fueled grace protected him. Swinging his sword, he parried away each and every arrow. Soon, there was a pile of broken shafts on his feet.
"Don't…" cried the little man "I will tell you." An expression of fear and agony was on his face. "He stalks in the docks, every ten days. He kills beggars or hookers. Been nine days since the last murder."
"OK, now tell your friends to stop." The sorcerer ordered him.
"Stop!" he croaked. The arrows stopped.
Merek threw him down. The little man tried to stand, then saw Rioneer standing over him. He was looking threatening, as ferocious as a lion. His sword in hand was like a claw ready to come down on the thug.
"We better not meet again" spit the warrior, "for I will cut you in two."
The man was terrified. He stood up with haste and ran away. He was so panicked that he tripped and fell. He looked back once more, then stood up again and ran with all the strength in his short stubby legs.
"So, if these thugs see a woman they will not take us seriously," said Erith as she materialized out of the shadows. Merek just tried to ignore her mocking comment.
"We have work to do," he said.

"Everything… must… return… to… Oblivion" the cloaked figure was whispering, as he walked the docks. Night had fell. Now it was the time to find his prey. They demanded one. He had to grant their wish. Otherwise, he was doomed. The dead were neither forgiving nor merciful. Stalking for his victim, he spotted a woman coming by him. She looked like a common whore. A perfect offering to the Neverborn.

"This is the guy" announced Merek the moment he saw him. His investigator skills were sharp and his exaltation made them sharper. To his eyes, the hooded man was obviously the culprit. Now it was the time for Erith to play her part.
Dressed as a street girl, she walked towards the man. "Would you like some company?" she offered him.
"Oh yes, sure my dear" he told her, raising his head. Underneath the hood was an ordinary face, save for the mad glimmer in his eyes.
He followed him without further comments. The plan was working smoothly. Rioneer and Merek followed them hidden in the shadows. At the same time, Erith was ready to dodge any attack her escort might attempt
Finally, they reached a small house. They went down some stairs and he unlocked the door to a basement. He pushed her in the dark room and closed the door. Down there, it was pitch black. Erith could barely make out the form of the suspect.
But then, her instinct ordered her to dodge. Without second thoughts she stepped aside, as a small dagger was thrust right by her, where her rib was just a moment ago.
She pulled the dagger she had hidden in her bodice and tried to neutralize her assailant. At the same time she was crying for help.
The shout had barely escaped her lips when the door was smashed into splinters. The two men were inside the building, ready for combat. In the dim moonlight, they saw the man raising his knife. Merek was faster though. Gathering essence, he hurled a bolt of pure sunlight towards him.
The smell of charred flesh filled the room. But it was not only this foul smell that made the atmosphere intolerable. The flash of the bolt had revealed a grotesque thing made of bones. The stench of death, both fresh and old was offending their nostrils. And then, there was this eerie sense clinging to the air.
Without second thoughts they left the building. And found themselves in a city similar to the one they have left, had it not be ruined. A darkened sky was above them. On closer inspection, the stars were not right. A sense of gloom was upon them.
"Damn," muttered Merek, "we are in the Underworld…"
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- Civilised men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.

R.E. Howard - The Tower of the Elephant

#9 Nihilio

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Posted 05 Μάρτιος 2005 - 17:30

V
[over the mouth of Oblivion]

The city was as they have left it, if only a horde of wyld barbarians had razed it to the ground. The ruin they had just come out of collapsed right before them. There was probably no way out of this dreaded shadowland.
Rioneer was furious at this turn of events. He would love to tear the madman that led them into this mess to shreds, had he been alive. Instead, he could only kick the ruined buildings and curse loudly. Erith was as angry as he was, only she looked calmer. Merek seemed troubled, yet there was little fear in his demeanor. Either he had no sense of dread, being in this cursed realm, or he was a top class actor.
"What are we going to do?" asked Erith.
"We could wait for dawn" answered Merek "but was the ruin behind us was most probably the shadowland."
"So, unless we dig, we stay here?" spat Rioneer.
"Seems so," Merek told him as if it was a trivial thing.
That infuriated Rioneer even more. He was ready to give a much more physical answer to Merek, when the howls came.
"What was that?" Erith wondered, her voice slightly trembling.
As an answer to this question, dark figures emerged from the ruins. Their forms once were those of humans, but now they had become twisted imitations of their living selves. Grotesque figures colored black and howling for the blood of the living.
Rioneer had an impulse to rush at them and slay them, but the Berserker deep inside him held back and the Soldier came forward. They were enemy unknown and he could not say whether or not an assault would have any effect. He 'd better follow standard procedure in similar cases.
"Retreat!" he shouted, as he ran away from the ghosts. Merek and Erith followed suit. Around them, more and more shambling figures emerged from the ruined buildings. All they could do was to run towards what seemed to be the only standing building in the area.
Their destination was impressive to say the least and more grim than what surrounded it. A two-story mansion carved of black stone, its windows dripping blood. The front door was open, like a mouth waiting for food, cold air coming out of it.
"Inside! now! " cried Rioneer.
"Do you think 'tis a good idea?" Erith shouted back at him.
"It's the only place to hide in" he answered. The dead were coming closer and closer.
"Let's go!" shouted Erith and ran for the door. Merek followed her, leaving Rioneer covering their backs.
Once inside, the door closed behind them. The hall was far different from what they had expected. It was not made of stone, but of a strange substance similar to flesh, a vein-like tunnel pulsing with the dark heart of this vile realm. And to make things worse, the door they had entered from was getting away on every beat.
"What the Hell?" groaned Rioneer.
"I think it was a bad idea," commented Merek.
"Who gives a fuck what you think?" Rioneer snapped back.
"Boys" Erith intervened, "we get out, then ye fight all ye want." Having said that, she stepped further into this unholy Labyrinth.

For it was indeed so complex a Labyrinth, that one could say it was constantly shifting. They were wandering in there for hours. They were tired and scared and confused. Yet they were still struggling for an exit to the surface. Things could not get any worse, they thought.
The more they walked, the more lost they got, until they finally got to an opening. Something that looked like a city sprawled underneath them. It was a group of dark spires, defiantly pointing towards the ceiling of the cavern. There was a majestic structure made of jet-black stone at the center. It was a vertical cylinder that ran from ceiling to the ground and seemed to span even further towards the two directions. A death-like silence was making the eerie atmosphere even creepier.
And to make things worse, the city was far from deserted: its streets and buildings were occupied by dark shades resembling humans, pitiful souls mourning for their lost lives and waiting for the cold caress of oblivion.
The three chosen of the Unconquered Sun turned around and were about to flee this vile place, when a booming voice ordered them to stop. They turned to see a group of shades bearing spectral arms. The ghost that had called for them seemed to be their leader. It was a creature of dark shadows, its frame hinting that once it used to be a male, but now it was too distorted to make out its gender. Its face was pierced with countless bone rings and pins, while its lower lip was hanging loosely. Its bloated body was dressed in a black, moth-eaten tunic, most probably a shroud.
"Whoo areee youu?" it questioned in a deep, sepulchral voice.
"We are travelers" Merek tried to explain "we got lost and ended up here. Do you know how we canreturn to the surface?"
"Retuurn?" the ghost mocked him. "No-one retuurns from thee mouuth of Obliviooon!"
"We don't belong here," Erith snapped at him.
"Aall belooongs heeeere" the ghost said, sending shivers down their spines. "Aall wiiill eend heere. Your tiiime haas cooome." At his words his followers closed in at the three living ones.
Rioneer pulled his Daiklaive, Erith her dagger and Merek crouched back waiting for the attack. Meanwhile, the ghosts were getting closer.
"My master has business with those three!" someone shouted from the back. His voice was cold and sharp, yet impressive. The ghosts stopped and made room for a man to come closer.
He was a tall and handsome man, his skin as chalk white as his long flowing hair. His eyes were pitch black, the only color their red irises. His heavy black armor with the intricate curved sculls on it, his ebon Daiklaive, his movements, all betrayed his identity: He was the one who had attacked them on the ship, the one they thought drowned.
"So we meet again" he mused looking at the Solar Exalted "this time on my grounds." His lips were forming a sly smile. "Do you want to make a deal?"
"What kind of deal?" Rioneer asked, sword in hand and ready to do the job he had left undone.
"Simply, I see that you come to no harm and you will leave the island we took over alone. What do you think?"
"Deal!" said Merek after little thought. "Unless it does not include going up to the surface."
The death knight glowed with a strong, violet aura. "You are oath-bound Solar," he said, "Better not betray me, for my Masters shall bring their Wrath upon you." He paused. "Now follow me."
"Ye let go of yer home town too easy" Erith whispered at Merek as they followed the man.
"I had to," he answered, "for your safety. If we had died back there, there would be no hope for other people's hometowns, where other tyrants rule them with an iron fist."


"So, who are you?" Rioneer asked the death knight on their way to a portal to the surface.
"Why, I am Whispers Under Oblivion No Wounds, a servant of the Neverborn, under the service of Bodhisava Anointed in Dark Waters. One of the Abyssal Exalted if you want me to be less specific."
"And who were these guys back there?"
"Oh them, servants of Oblivion. A cult of ghosts advancing an agenda of complete nullification of Creation."
"Nullification?"
"Yes," the death knight answered once more, his expression that of a cat playing with a mouse "what almost happened to you, had you been thrown in the Well of the Void." Seeing Rioneer's puzzled expression he added "The tall cylindrical building in the center of the city."
They were walking through the tunnels they had come from, only that this time they had a guide, and a good one, it seemed. He knew where to turn in order to find his way through this chaotic structure that seemed to ignore the limitations of time and space.
After a long trek, they found themselves in the midst of a swamp. The air there was heavy with a stench of decay. The sky was covered with a canopy of dark clouds that did not allow the sunrays to pass through. Underneath them, the stagnant water was entering their boots, chilling their feet. There were withered trees around the swamp. No sound betrayed any kind of life around, thus making the atmosphere even more heavy.
"So this is the end of our journey" Whispers Under Oblivion No Wounds said as he turned his back to them. "Be sure to keep your oaths for your own good." Then he went right in front of Erith. He leaned forward and, to everybody's shock, he kissed her tenderly, however hard she struggled. "I was glad to see you again, after so many centuries, milady" he told her, "and I hope our next meeting will take less long to happen." In the blink of an eye he was but a wisp of smoke, leaving the three Exalted speechless.
This kiss was the cherry on the cake of this unbelievable journey to the heart of the underworld. Or so they thought, until the following day, when they found out they were somewhere in the Southeastern Creation. But for now, they could only gather back their wits for the Unconquered Sun only knew what dangers lurked in their way.


---Ένα κεφάλαιο ακόμα και τελειώνω το πρώτο μέρος, που αποτελέι την εισαγωγή.---
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- Civilised men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.

R.E. Howard - The Tower of the Elephant

#10 Atrelegis

Atrelegis

    Never about the whys, always about the why nots

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Posted 16 Μάρτιος 2005 - 12:35

Πιο πολλές μάχες από ό,τι έχω συνηθίσει, αλλά μου άρεσε παρόλα αυτά. :cool2: Δώσε τη συνέχεια!

The triumph of anything is a matter of organization. If there are such
things as angels, I hope that they are organized along the lines of the
Mafia.


#11 Nihilio

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Posted 16 Μάρτιος 2005 - 18:44

Μπα, όχι υπερβολικά πολλές, απλά αρκετές. Σε τελική πολεμιστής είναι ο ήρωας. Τη συνέχεια μόλις στρωθώ να τη γράψω.
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- Civilised men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.

R.E. Howard - The Tower of the Elephant




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