Pre-Industrial Fantasy STGOD Story Thread.

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Pre-Industrial Fantasy STGOD Story Thread.

Postby The Romulan Republic » 2015-12-23 01:02pm

In the high passes of the Coastal Mountains, the evening before the Winter Solstice,

Fifty years had passed since the great migration. Fifty years since the people known as the Coronal were uprooted from the ancient home of their Eternal Founders, cast loose across an unforgiving and too-often inhospitable world. No more were they the Coronal. Now, they were the Wanderers. But perhaps not for much longer…

A cold, bitter wind sang through the passes of the Coastal Mountains, howling like the spectres of fallen ancestors.

Siryn pulled her cloak more tightly around herself, shivering in the harsh, icy cold. It would have been far worse if she had not been a healer, trained in magic and meditation. As it was, the cold was merely uncomfortable. To the long, straggling line of ill-dressed and hungry civilians alongside her, it was savage.

Her eyes fell on a small, twisted body lying half-buried in a snowdrift. She knew at a glance that the child was dead, but she instinctively reached out with her magical senses anyway, searching for signs of life. It was a futile effort, of course. She considered for a moment her next actions. Once, to leave a fallen Coronal behind, much less a child, would have been unthinkable. No more. She’d seen too many dead to feel more than a lingering undercurrent of bitter regret, tinged with fear of the Void beyond life.

She swiftly searched the body for any signs of his family or clan, but found none. An orphan most likely- even now, after so much hardship (or perhaps because of it), few of the Wanderers would leave one of their own fallen kin without observing the funeral rites.

She rose with a sigh and continued trudging along the line, pausing here and there to give what aid she could to the sicker or injured among the column. They were not as ill-prepared for this journey as they might have been- the damned slaving Sylix had been, if not exactly friendly, at least not entirely hostile. But this crossing should have been made in summer. Eager to reach a possible safe haven, even a new homeland for her people, the Queen had pushed to make the crossing of the mountains before the first snows, but they had been delayed, and now they were paying the price. Their were many, Siryn knew, who whispered that the Queen was obsessed, unreasoning, inexperienced… even a traitor. If they did not say it aloud. She shivered. They could not afford to turn on one another. Not again.

Her eyes moved to the figure at the front of the column. Tall for an elf, precise and elegant in her movements, Queen Zymire stood draped in a silver and green robe, gazing back over the long line. Too her credit, Siryn, thought, the Queen had stayed with her people, refusing to leave the mountain passes until this column was across. Such devotion was worthy of admiration, but there was something about the Queen that made her uneasy. The emptiness of her face, her eyes. The way she seemed as untouched by the wind and the cold as by all feeling. Yet underneath that, an intensity that burned like the fires of the Sun.

Turning to the proud, auburn-haired woman standing beside her, the Queen spoke to her First Captain. Siryn could not make out the words over the whistling of the wind. The warrior nodded, then turned and barked some command at a messenger standing nearby, wearing a long, white cloak and hood and carrying a bow and ax. He slipped off into the growing darkness beyond once more, as the column continued its agonized journey over the mountain pass.

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Re: Pre-Industrial Fantasy STGOD Story Thread.

Postby Eternal_Freedom » 2015-12-23 03:57pm

Orion Imperial Navy Ship (OINS) Indefatigable,
200 miles East of Port Rigel, Winter Solstice, 2955 AEF

Captain Sir Jonathon Baird stalked around the quarterdeck of his frigate attempting to keep warm. While the seemingly-endless rain had finally ceased during the last watch, it was still bitterly cold up here in the northern reaches of the Great Eastern Ocean. Like any sensible sailor he was well-attired against such temperatures, with no less than four layers of clothing between him and the freezing air, though thanks to his heavy gloves he was unable to smoke his pipe as might otherwise have enjoyed. He was just contemplating ordering one of the new midshipmen to fill and light it for him when a shout came from the rigging.

“On deck there! Sail ho! Two points abaft the starboard beam!”

His pipe instantly forgotten, Baird immediately stalked over to the starboard rail and called for a glass. Ah, the benefits of command he thought, not having to carry my own telescope around. The young midshipman dutifully handed him one and he began scanning the horizon in the direction the lookout reported. Nothing yet damnit. A few moments passed before he just spotted the stops of three masts. Something looked slightly strange for a moment, and then the lookout shouted again.

“Two ships sir! One’s a big merchantman, the other looks like pirates sir!”

That changed things significantly. Orion ships had standing orders to engage and capture pirate or privateer vessels whenever possible, though in reality the Empire saw no difference between the two, they were both ocean-going scum that needed to be eradicated. He handed back his scope and turned to the ship’s Master.

“Make best speed to those ships Mr. Williams, I want us there as soon as possible!”

“Aye sir!” The Master replied before turning to bellow his own orders to the sailors waiting to go aloft. Baird then turned to the Telepath currently on duty, a young lad by the name of Burrows.

“Send sighting report to the Admiralty, inform them I am closing to engage a probably pirate vessel.” The Telepath nodded in acknowledgement and then closed his eyes and breathed deep, reaching out with his mind to find the duty Telepath at the Admiralty in Port Rigel. Contact was achieved, the proper recognition codes were exchanged and the report made. When Burrows opened his eyes, only a few seconds had passed, but Captain Baird had already turned away.

“Lieutenant Halloway, we shall clear for action!” This was always both a busy and a thrilling time for the crew. They had a great deal of work to do and scant few minutes to do it in, but this meant the prospect of action and most importantly, prize money.

The frigate heeled around to starboard and began running before the wind, giving her the weather gauge for the engagement soon to come. The sails billowed with the stiff breeze and the ship sped up, the midshipman that was heaving the log soon reported fifteen knots, the ships maximum speed.

Twenty minutes passed as the Indefatigable closed on her prey. By now the guns were loaded and run out, the crews ready and waiting, the Psychomancers were working their magic to make the crew’s strength of will supernaturally potent. Even without their efforts the crew would fight fiercely and well, but with these enchantments working on them, they would quite literally follow Baird if he ordered them to sail for the gates of Hell itself.

Now the distance had closed to a mile and a half, just within range of the ship’s heavy guns. But with a neutral merchantman in close proximity such long range fire was ill-advised. Baird ordered his ship in close, aiming to rake the pirate ship astern and then pull up close alongside to finish her off.

Remarkably, the pirates (or privateers, it was unclear at this point but none aboard the frigate cared) had yet to notice the heavy frigate closing on her at full speed. The range shrank and shrank: a mile, 1,200 yards, 800 yards, 400 yards. Finally, the pirates realised the terrible danger they were in and began to hastily pull away from their prize. This was a foolish move as it gave the Orion ship a clear shot.

On the quarterdeck, Baird grinned in feral satisfaction. “Hard a’port! Mr Emerson, you will engage them with the starboard battery on my order!” The second lieutenant commanding the guns answered with glee in his voice. Baird then turned to his trusted first lieutenant; “Mr Holloway, we will hoist our colours if you please!”

The great ensign was run up the jackstaff at the stern and unfurled in the wind. Those few crew on the privateer ship who took notice realised they were likely doomed. Not only did the Orion Navy never take privateers prisoner, they had guns powerful enough to outright sink their ship. They had scant moments to reflect on this as the Orion ship turned and unmasked its starboard guns. The doomed men heard a shout from the enemy quarterdeck, now barely a hundred yards away.

“Fire!”

Smoke and flame bellowed from the side of the frigate. Eighteen 36 pdr and three 24 pdrs thundered in chorus as nearly a third of a ton of iron shot was launched at the target.

The effect was devastating. The privateer was merely a converted merchantman, her hull round and fat to hold cargo and plunder, certainly not build to withstand gunfire, and most definitely not gunfire of such weight and power. The iron balls ripped through the hull planks, sending thousands of jagged wooden splinters around the ship. The balls themselves passed on, killing anyone unfortunate enough to be directly in their way with barely a second thought. Several shots struck the mainmast and neatly severed it, sending it crashing down over the ships side in a tangle of rigging. The mizzen was similarly wrecked, though it was only clipped by one ball and collapsed onto the privateer’s deck. Finally, the shot, much of its energy spent, ripped out the far side of the target before splashing gracefully into the sea.

Only moments before there had been a fine privateer vessels, armed with ten guns and a hundred men, a hold stuffed with plunder from successful raids. Now there floated a barely controllable wreck, her mainmast trailing rigging and sails over her port side, her mizzenmast and rigging collapsed onto her weather deck. Her handful of guns were wrecked, smashed from their carriages and tossed aside.
As for her crew, only thirty-five survived, and half of those were injured.

Captain Baird looked at his prey with satisfaction. “Mr Williams, bring us alongside. Mr Holloway, prepare to board her, find her logs and the seniormost survivor, I will question them myself.”

The Indefatigable pulled alongside the shattered privateer. However, since almost all of the damage was above the waterline she was unlikely to sink for now. Boarding ramps were lain across the gap between the hulls and men and Marines swarmed aboard to round up survivors and search the ship.

Half an hour later, Captain Baird was questioning the senior survivor, the first mate who had been down in the hold supervising loading of plundered goods (and no doubt picking the best pieces for himself). He attempted to claim privateer status, despite knowing the futility of such an action against an Orion Captain. It was irrelevant anyway, as the ship’s Letter of Marque had been held by the ship’s Master, who had been rather spectacularly killed by a heavy ball and no trace of either the Letter or his torso could be found.

Eventually, it was determined what had been plundered from whom. The goods taken from the nearby merchantman were returned, since it was an Orion merchant. The rest had been seized from other nation’s traders and thus was to be taken back to port and sold, the value divided up more-or-less equally among the Indefatigable’s crew.

In his cabin, Baird ordered his Marines to take away the now condemned first mate. The survivors were all to be shot as pirates and their bodies dumped overboard. Baird turned back to his Telepath, Burrows:

“Signal command for a tug to take this hulk in for prize money, we will continue on our cruise once they arrive.” Burrows nodded and once again sent his mental message.

Soon, a small tug set out from Port Rigel for the two ships (the merchantman having reclaimed her plundered cargo and sailed on) while the frigate’s crew secured from quarters and mentally planned how to spend their prize money. As for Baird, he smiled at a worthwhile morning, and then decided to light up his pipe after all.
"I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams" - Hamlet

“I’ve always thought the Yankees had something to do with it.” - Confederate General George Pickett, on being asked why his charge at Ghettysburg failed

Corrax Entry 7:17: So you walk eternally through the shadow realms, standing against evil where all others falter. May your thirst for retribution never quench, may the blood on your sword never dry, and may we never need you again.

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Re: Pre-Industrial Fantasy STGOD Story Thread.

Postby Simon_Jester » 2015-12-23 05:32pm

Benec, Northern Marches
Headquarters of the Regiment of Fayette
[Site of OTL Monroe, Michigan]
Frostbringer 18, 224
(December 9)


Colonel Adrien Blanchard grunted, tracing his finger over the map. "One of the Kaskaskian patrols found a local peasant woman from up the Grape, probably thought they were carrying her off knowing them, from... the woods around a village that had been destroyed by evil magic- the cavalry saw smoke, but no scavengers, and no bodies. It was... ugh, could the map-makers at least remember to name all these villages? Anyhow, she speaks some local travesty against the Ohioan language, and she's a..."

Blanchard paused, biting off half a dozen derogatory terms for the worshippers of the deviant This-Star sect of the Church of the Living Stars. Captain Delatour was one of them, after all. The verdict of the Wars of Night and Day had been clear enough. One remained courteous to a the son of a viscount, even if he was a heretic.

A perceptive heretic, too. Delatour nodded fractionally, his already reserved features a mask of stone. "A day worshipper?"

"Yes." Seeing the captain of musketeers nod politely and remain respectfully silent, Blanchard went on. "Of all my officers, you are most likely to get her story straight. Clearly sorcery was involved, evil sorcery. But any details we can get from this woman improve our chances if- when we march upriver. Those people are our people."

Delatour rubbed his great beak of a nose and gazed at the fireplace, warming the common room of the little house against the chill of the month of Frostbringer. So close to the Lakes it had already snowed half a dozen times, though the last carpet of snow had melted under the effect of a bitterly cold rain yesterday.

"You wish me to speak to her, sir? I shall do so forthwith."

"Very good, captain. Orderly! Show Captain Delatour to our new guest's tent."



Recommended Listening

Captain Henri Delatour opened the door of the wooden hut the refugee had been assigned to, also home to two of the camp's bakers- who were absent at this hour, perhaps just as well. The woman- barely more than a girl, Delatour saw from his commanding height of twenty-three years- flinched. She was pale, shadowed, a horrorstruck wildness in her eyes. Whatever monstrosity had struck her village, being picked up by Kaskaskians and shoved into a rough shelter in an army camp even as winter was breathing down the neck of the North Marches had done her no good on top of it. And that was even if- he hoped- no other harm had befallen her. He had already decided on how to proceed.

"Hello. I am Henri Delatour, a captain of musketeers. And you are..." he smiled curiously.

"S- Suzanne."

"Come with me. You are safe here, even against wizards. I, for one, am past due for my noontime prayers."

The peasant girl's jaw dropped. "You, you are... but...?" Obviously she suspected a trick of some kind. The Wars of Night and Day had ended two generations ago, his father having fought in them as a young man on the losing side, but the peasants remembered bitterly. Nobles, he had to admit to himself, enjoyed an unusual safety in professing the This-Star faith... and there was probably a reason Suzanne's ancestors had moved to a village on the ragged, threatened fringes of the Empire.

The captain backed up a half step, shouldering aside the folds of the tent. "Suzanne, I am Henri Delatour, son of Henri Delatour, the Viscount of Vincennes. I extend to you the protection of my house. If anyone should trouble you on account of religion in this encampment-" he spoke in a conversational tone, but pitching his voice to carry- "it will touch upon my honor!"

Suzanne looked about nervously. There were a few soldiers in earshot- two from his own company, six he recognized by sight from the rest of the regiment. Probably some he couldn't see. As an exercise in theater, he expected it to work- word should spread that the northron was not to be troubled for her faith. The purpose was served. Oaths should always serve a purpose- that was second in importance only to the keeping of them.

He went on, as Suzanne smiled slightly. "And now, let us pray."

Delatour paused a moment while Suzanne pulled on a coat of roughly tanned furs- warm, but probably trapped by some thumb-fingered Thyr and sewn by someone little more able, if he was any judge. He led Suzanne behind the north-facing tent, laid down the saddle blanket he'd had the stable-boys loan him, and knelt facing the sun as it began its dip toward the western horizon. He closed his eyes, and heard Suzanne kneel beside him, her peasant skirt rustling, joining him with a shaking voice that steadied as he recited the verses of this most common of prayers, one only slightly altered by the Church of This Living Star.

"Oh thou Star, lord of the incorruptible void,
blessed are all works you have brought into being.
May thy glory illuminate our souls, as it does our bodies.
May all know, and delight, in thy purity and love.
Day by day, renew us with your light.
Forgive, pervade, and cleanse our inner darkness.
We pray this in the name of the saints, and of the prophets,
long may their spirits ward us and guide us. Amen."

Delatour rolled on, allowing his own cares to dissolve in the litany. It was of course impossible to find a This-Star chaplain in an army camp, but despite that it was... enough. The musketeer officer felt peace come over him, and kept on, not too worried about the time or the cold... He could hear Suzanne's voice settling beside him. He lost track of the minutes, feeling at one with the star that lit and controlled the world.

Finally, having run through a sequence of moderate length, the captain and the peasant trailed to a halt, saying their last "amens." Quietly they returned to the bakers' hut. It took Suzanne time to haltingly recount the destruction of her village, in a low voice, with more weeping than anyone should have to bear- but she told the tale, coherently. Picturing the lay of the land in his mind's eye, Delatour was already imagining a battle-plan by the time he took his leave.

On returning to Colonel Blanchard's headquarters, the regiment's commander smiled at him, seeming amused. "I am told you have a most... unorthodox way of interrogating civilians, captain."

Delatour shrugged, stonefaced save for a slight elevation of his left eyebrow. "Sir, you needed the information, and I needed her calm enough to think straight. And it was past time for my noontime prayer in any event, no?"

Blanchard chuckled. "I have no complaints, Henri. What have you learned?"

"That this renegade wizard probably is truly an outcast, like that merchant last week said."

The colonel looked intent. "Why do you think that?"

"It isn't usual for the Detroiters' wizards to practice death magic, or tolerate it among their apprentices. They've summoned... things many times, of course, but magic that strikes directly at life itself isn't their manner of wickedness. And when this sorceror attacked the village- Vignes, it was- it was some kind of death-curse."

"How so?"

"Something that could be seen. The girl says it flowed into the village 'like a cloud' in the afternoon. The harvest is already in, so it caught most of them in their homes with their livestock. She wasn't in the village proper, so she escaped- but she heard the screams, and she saw some of the dead rising afterwards.

“So… curses, and the undead. How many, do you think?”

“There were two hundred people in Vignes. If more than a dozen survived, I’ll fall on my knees and thank the stars-”

“And that merchant had rumors of two more villages being wiped out.” Blanchard shook his head sadly.

The normally reserved captain of musketeers felt, for once, genuinely aggrieved. "Sir, when will Louisville send us enough men and guns to lance this boil? This one city has spawned three renegade sorcerors in the past twenty months! Why do they do this?”

"Mmm." The colonel shook his head. "Detroit wasn't like this when I was a boy. Their wizards are going madder, and I think this one's too mad even for them. They used to be a place of industry and a certain nobility, even their magicians. If you've never seen their bronze sculptures- magnificent. But that was then. Now they're a pit, full of criminals, warlocks, and Spirit-deniers." Blanchard sighed. "Still, this isn't the walls of Detroit we're planning to try conclusions with. Only one wizard. I think we can handle him. I’ll leave a company or two of Travert’s battalion in garrison, but we'll bring Shoots-Across-Canyon's lot of Kaskaskians. He’s a flashy one, but canny, and his band’s overstrength at the moment, that'll do for scouting or rounding him up if he doesn't try to make a fight of it."

"And if he does..." Delatour smiled humorlessly.

"Why then, we shall pray." The colonel matched him. “Get your men ready, I’ll spread the word.”

The Witching Hour
Frostbringer 19


Julie'd been a light sleeper for at least fifteen winters; when Captain Delatour woke screaming from his bed she was up herself in moments. The young officer, normally a picture of physically-trained health, looked as though he'd aged twenty years in as many minutes, his eyes wide and shadowed.

"My Lord, you look like you've seen a ghost!"

"Yes, I- A dream. I saw Grandfather Bertrand and-" a catch in his throat- "Mother. I... I won't be back to sleep. I'll go check up on the sentries. Try and get some rest."

She'd already cleaned and laid a fresh uniform the afternoon before. Delatour was ready to leave the cottage soon enough, even fumbling in the lantern-light to dress and buckle on his sabre. The elderly housekeeper did notice, though, that the young nobleman, with a strange, grim, knowing expression on his face, opened a tiny locked side drawer in his writing desk, scooped up a slender pouch that rattled with a musical clinking, and tied the contents to his belt.

Shuddering, Delatour strode off on foot, away from the stables and toward the north, passing in among the trees and seeming to dissolve into the dappled moonlight.
This space dedicated to Vasily Arkhipov

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Re: Pre-Industrial Fantasy STGOD Story Thread.

Postby madd0ct0r » 2015-12-23 06:32pm

On Hudson Bay’s western coast
We roamed and homed in tents of skin
Till Hud himself returned to boast
And build a camp to winter in.
Whale Cove has prospered
Hunting, fighting, skinning, eating
Now summer boats nose into port
In search of brawn and furs for trading

Entering his seventh year
Hudern has never known to fail
He steps and throws his father’s spear
It plunges deep with the whale
The Monster screams and Hudern roars
As harpoons fly and heaved ropes heave
And drags the whale towards the shore.

Two are first upon the beast,
Gouging with their claws for grip.
Hudern of course, and lithe Alkor
Both seek the glory of the feast.
The great tail smashes down upon a third
A harpoon snaps, a rope is lost,
Hudern’s jaw cracks through its skull.
Into the sea he’s quickly tossed.

Spluttering and fiercely cold
he wades back up the icy shore
in time to see dripping bright
the killing stroke of bold Alkor

Later that night, as Hud’s tribe’s feast
Hud calls his seventh son outside
“So hungry yet you do not eat
You’ll starve of this vain glorious pride
Our tribe is weak, our number low
and yet our fat and iron grows
beside this icy sea.

I have a task, a test, for you
take a party west to Tehek Floe
Queen Igrabolla winters there.
Tell her you’ll to Orion go
and return with finest goods for her.
Take only young, for fresh snow
hardens under weight and biting wind
Kurt and Vogon, Yail and Alkor
Let failure follow from this shore
And fury heal your skin.
And finally,” the hyenork said
“My steel harpoon from my own task,
it has worth in ports of men
and for now at least will keep you fed!”

And they drank together then
But for that night, no more was said.
"Aid, trade, green technology and peace." - Hans Rosling.
"Welcome to SDN, where we can't see the forest because walking into trees repeatedly feels good, bro." - Mr Coffee

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Re: Pre-Industrial Fantasy STGOD Story Thread.

Postby Simon_Jester » 2015-12-23 08:55pm

Northern Marches
Northern Edge of the March of Benec
Frostbringer 19, 224
(December 10)


Shouts-Loudly, rider of the Kaskaskian Host and follower of the keen-eyed Shoots-Across-Canyon, he of the silver-chased rifle and sabre, sat his horse with the easy confidence of a conqueror as he trotted along the path between the pines.

But that was habit and a masquerade. Inside, the prairie outrider was quivering. There were far, far too many trees. Trees weren't abnormal, there wasn't anything wrong with trees, but they should know their place. Specifically, their place surrounded by lots of nice open countryside and a big sky. He should never have hired on with the Ohioan Army; the pay was good but he was a long way from home, even by the standards of a Kaskaskian rider.

The road was narrow, and the pine trees sagged low enough that their limbs brushed his face. He could hear wind in the high branches, but it didn't reach him here. He missed it... another half mile, and if he didn't run into anything, he was turning around; that was it. What was the point of trying to scout in country like this? You couldn't see- not with all these pines in the way. And the road was sinking into the ground- he could hardly see around the next bend. At least he wasn't getting a faceful of pine needles. Still, even in winter, you couldn't see properly through this kind of tangle.

You could hear, though. A faint rattle, unfamiliar, strange. He tossed his head in startlement, scowling. There it was again.

In harsh, accented Ohioan, the scout cried out "Who goes there?" No response. He looked around wildly, drawing his sword "show yourself!" The breeze, stilled by the pines, picked up. There was suddenly- too sharply, not like the natural approach of some source of noise, more like the casting aside of a veil- the sound of clattering, clopping... Like hoofbeats, but horribly not. Shouts-Loudly understood when he saw the man mounted on the skeletal horse...

He spurred his horse towards the unnatural rider, but it was too late. The man wore dark robes, raising his hand and chanting in a language no ears should ever have to hear... The Kaskaskian knew he'd found the sorceror the Chief was looking for. And the sorceror had found him. The world spun around Shouts-Loudly as wind rushed in his ears, a black cloud flowing around him, billowing... He slumped back in the saddle, and knew no more.



Eight Miles South
Four Hours Later


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VouY1c4sn0I

Staff and senior officers, heavily muffled, assembled in the regimental command tent. Outside the evening was settling in, and with it the frosty Michigan chill. Captain Henri Delatour, son of Henri Delatour, viscount of Vincennes, privately wished the colonel had seen fit to invest in a larger brazier. Did the man have ice water in his veins? If so, he was surely in his element. A few well placed candles and the star-globe resting atop Colonel Blanchard’s testament provided adequate, if dim light- but not heat, not to speak of.

Blanchard spoke, musing over the map table his manservant always put up first among the camp furnishings. "Reverend Mother, the auguries?"

The priestess, her white robes of office thrown over enough furs to thicken her by several inches about the middle, nodded firmly. "We have cast, and recast, and cast again; there isn't a sign of snow- well, not snow of importance. Yet." The worry lines of her face folded deeper. “But colonel, it is the month of Frostbringer, on the Northern Marches, and it is not given to the faithful to command the north wind or the blizzard. The weather won’t last.”

“True. Either we find him, soon, or we have to take most of the men back to winter quarters. We can keep up the cavalry patrols if that happens, but after today... I doubt whether that will be enough.” The colonel looked mournful. "I have a courier from Shoots-Across-Canyon, It’s been a dark day for our outriders. We may get a few more of the Kaskaskians reporting back; Shoots still has most of his men riding in large patrols looking for more of the scouts in case they've gotten scattered. But... I think we're missing around a dozen horse. Nor were they ambushed by the dead. Some would have escaped that; the plainsmen are well mounted. I can only conclude that even aside from the dead stirring in his service, our quarry is no normal man."

Across the circle of leaders from Delatour, a big captain of pike stroked his beard. It was an unfashionable heavy bush of dark hair, but one that somehow suited his idiom. "He is a sorceror, no doubt, and formidable in his ways... but if we find him... he is most likely a renegade, and alone. Either he's been fighting and riding around picking off our scouts all day, or he's got some kind of creature doing it, and probably had to keep an eye on it. He has to sleep some time."

Blanchard nodded; he was quite open with his captains at command meetings. "True, friend Gérard. What faces us tonight, though, is that our scouts have nothing as to his hiding-place, and it may take our full forces to deal with whatever surprises he throws in our path."

Delatour paused, contemplating the scene and missing a few exchanges around the table. Patience, constancy, thoroughness- he thought he had an idea, but... hm, yes, he recalled the book he’d read it in, he gazed at the map, considering the angles. He focused his concentration, trying to see what he was missing. He... it seemed plausible, he could find nothing wrong with the idea. He spoke. “A suggestion, colonel?”

“Of course, Henri. Go ahead.”

The captain of musketeers scooped up a handful of wooden markers from a bowl beside the map, to fix a few locations of consequence in his mind. "If our cartographers are to be believed, look at the sites used in these days by Detroit's wizard... vassals, if you will. The ones who hold the land around their city and to the north.” He planted markers on the map. “Their standing stones, their circles. Three along this line here. Two along this line. And... here and here. One of exceptional importance to their sorcery, here. Where the first two lines intersect" Delatour set down two of the little wood chips at that one.

"Go on." Blanchard waved.

"The scholars claim that the Detroiters hold to a belief, in their hubris, that they can augment their powers by tapping into ley lines and the points where they cross. Either they do this with reason, or it is superstition-” at that, the two priestesses present nodded sharply, but let him go on. “And if it is superstition, it is one they have spent considerable time and effort to honor, one which we may hope even their renegades will obey. In which case, of all the places in this district where a rogue wizard of Detroit might be found, perhaps we should look here, at the intersection of these two lines."

Blanchard's smile was thin. "Captain, you are a valiant young man and an ornament to the honor of the regiment, but it would seem premature to make reconnaissance a matter of geometric proof and formal logic."

Delatour shrugged. "I am a captain of musketeers, not Debéziers,* but it at least gives us a place to start looking, no? And I note that the territory south of this point contains two of the stricken villages... and is to our northwest, where our scouts have been disappearing."

Captain Gérard frowned, the jut of his chin amplified by his beard. “Hmmm. But if this is a powerful place that a Detroiter wizard would want to use for his wickedness, why don’t they already use it?”

Delatour spread his hands, his eyebrows rising a fraction. “Perhaps they did, once, but it was abandoned after some skirmish? It is very close to our border, which is no doubt why the renegade began raiding south across it.”

Blanchard's gaze was firm as he folded his hands, gazing down at them, clasped upon the high table. "Enough said; I am satisfied. You make a good point, Henri, and unless Shoots-Across-Canyon returns with more facts than we have any right to expect, it is the best point we're likely to see tonight. We cannot depend upon the weather in this season, so haste is in order. We advance... hm. The night is cold- but long, too. Let us make use of that; get your men some rest, but we break camp and march in the night. I want to be near this area at dawn. We march an hour past the rising of the moon.”
_________________

*Pierre Debéziers was author, or rather translator, of the dominant textbook on geometry used in an Ohioan education in the liberal arts. The actual text itself is of great antiquity. Its original authorship is, if not lost knowledge, at least rare.




Encampment of the Regiment of Fayette
Three Hours Past Midnight
Frostbringer 20, 224
(December 11)


Recommended Listening: By the Rising of the Moon

Captain Delatour stretched and walked up and down the row of tents his men were almost done striking and moving back to the baggage carts. There’d been time for some sleep, at least, before the moon came up after midnight. The men had been shivering, some of them. Even huddled three or four to a tent for animal warmth, even with as many extra furs and blankets as his craftier sergeants could scrounge, even with hot stones from the evening campfires, and with every other trick a veteran campaigner could devise, their tents of canvas from lakeshore manufactories were inadequate to the chill. There were reasons winter campaigns were rare.

He’d ordered bonfires built by the first men to rouse, and by now the musketeers of the Eighth Company were mostly thawed out. Frost dusted the grass away from the fires, which were starting to ebb- no reason to feed them, they were almost underway. The prospect of action had some of the men moving faster by itself, while others were shivering from more than cold. He kept a close eye on his musketeers, but his two lieutenants were doing a good job with that too. It was good to know that, as the job description said, the younger gentlemen could operate in his name and in his stead. Accustomed to making sure men of the lower classes were well cared for, and thinking of them as valuable assets to be conserved, was far from the worst preparation for an officer’s duties.

Delatour felt a strange, fey detachment at the business of finishing the breaking of camp. He’d done this enough times that it wasn’t a novelty. His sergeants knew their business. His lieutenants, of course, did not, but some things never changed, and they were learning well enough. And yet... something was different. The dreams had been strange, and his obedience to them felt strange, as though magic was curling around them. He knew his grandfather’s guidance was for his good, or the good, but what was going to happen, and what prices would he have to pay? Such things, no man could know; a priestess might, even a These-Stars one. But there wasn’t time to stop and explain and explore that with one of the chaplains, any more than there was for the men to build the warm log and earth cabins they missed from their permanent quarters.

Besides, the regiment’s priestesses were busy. The stars shone down on them, bright, brighter than the normal, enough that to dark-adapted eyes, the illumination was as good as a full summer moon. Over the sound of footfalls, and the packing of equipment into packs, bags, and onto wagons Delatour heard the women chanting, turning jerkily and beseeching the heavens, one star at a time. A lasting star-globe was something only an aristocrat could afford, but on campaign, when necessary, the chaplains could manage a bit of light for their soldiers.

A messenger trotted up on horseback from Blanchard's command post. The time past moonrise had passed. Fortunately his men were ready. Shouting to be heard over camp bustle, Delatour passed the word to his drummer boy, who beat the call to draw up in column of fours. The men tossed their last items of baggage into the carts and formed up, shouldering muskets; mounting his horse, Delatour prepared to lead the Eighth Company into formation.

The chaplains continued their prayers, the stars shining with such clarity and perfection that Delatour felt a brief impulse toward orthodoxy. Shaking his head and chuckling ruefully, the captain remained grateful for the illumination; it made the march safer- his horse stepped over a tree root as he led the column to the road. The marching conditions were... adequate, save only for the cold. Miles crawled by in the darkness, a thousand strides at a time along a narrow, sunken road, cavalry fanning out ahead and on parallel paths- at least, he hoped, providing enough screen that no swarm of zombies could descend on them without warning.

Then the drums rolled down the column, passing the signal back from one company to the next in the amplified divine twilight- to march under prayer. Delatour smiled slightly, relieved that Blanchard was calling for it this early. The regiment would be in combat against a wizard today, unless he was very wrong- and a wizard whose ability to kill hundreds was a proven thing. They would need the energies of their wills and spirits firmly united for this one, and the protections of their living Star.

Delatour was unsurprised to pick out from the mass a recurring thread of prayers to St. Antonia of Memphis. The Grand Army of the Ohio hadn't gone to war often against those who would raise the dead against them in many long years, but they remembered. And he'd read the notes of his ancestors' diaries. Two of them had fought at Shiloh- the day when, by the saint's intervention, the very ground of that field had been rendered sacred beyond the touch of sorcery. It was the first time anyone could remember, the warlocks of Corinth hadn't succeeded in raising the slain of their own army to renew a lost battle.

Today, such a thing would be a timely miracle indeed… Delatour mused, still oddly detached, as though some part of his mind had been taken aside by an outside force, as though he knew things he could not explain nor identify, even to himself. In his heart he knew these things would become clear, that he was rightly guided and would not dishonor himself in the clash of arms- which was all that truly mattered; things would happen as they will.

The drums shifted tempo again, into a beat every man of the Grand Army of the Ohio knew in his soul. He could hear the colonel leading along with his staff priestess, faintly in the winter wind. The drums kept the rhythm, and Colonel Blanchard's tenor formed a surprisingly close harmony with the chaplain, as the regiment began to sing the hymn of the tercios.

Pressing pike against the Devil's legions-
Thund'ring shot driving back the foeman's soldiers-
With our hearts united- stars above to ward us-
Let blood flow swiftly, as they break before us!

Banner of the River, flying in the storm wind,
Children of the saints- ah, glorious are the tercios!
Company of pikemen, hold- your flanks are shielded!
Man only stands free on the day he stands fearless!

Fight on for your fathers, fallen for the homeland!
Live on for the peace of the sacred Empire!
We are not defeated, we will not be taken!
Not even in death will our souls lie forsaken!

Coat of iron mail, and hardened vest of leather-
Back-and-breast will guard us, hear the rolling prayer!
Lift up the spearpoints, cry out our joy and thanks!
Never shall we fear, marching in the tercio's ranks!
This space dedicated to Vasily Arkhipov

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OOPS

Postby Simon_Jester » 2015-12-24 02:03pm

[SORRY, this was an accidental post, please delete]
This space dedicated to Vasily Arkhipov

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Re: Pre-Industrial Fantasy STGOD Story Thread.

Postby The Romulan Republic » 2015-12-24 07:09pm

Captain Suriv watched, iron-faced, as the long, straggling line of ragged elves trudge toward the top of the pass and down onto the lower, less deadly slopes below. A string of scattered camps already lay across the far side of the mountains, some already below the tree line, spread out and entirely too vulnerable. Yet the flow of people was simply too large to control with her own Guards, and the Rangers were spread out on both sides of the mountains, acting as scouts or rear guards.

She could remember when her people had lived free and prosperous in the cold Forests of Coronal, centuries of peace and security, but those memories were as a faded dream, faint and intangible. She allowed herself to dwell little on the subject, though a part of her wondered if she did so only for fear that to face what her people had lost would break her altogether. She knew she was not alone in such thoughts, but she buried them in the depths of her mind, to gnaw at her unnoticed.

Her eyes fell on the queen, standing atop a tall boulder at the head of the pass and watching her people pass by. The Queen had as stone cold and lifeless a face as a marble statue. Surav would have thought the heart beneath as cold if she had not known Queen Zymire since infancy. She hid her anguish, her fear, and her rage behind an implacable mask, but it remained, fuelling the relentless will that had held the Wanderers mostly together during their fifty years of homeless exile.

And now... now that might be coming to an end. The first scouts had returned from the western foothills of the mountains, and they reported a rich, green land, not far from the Great Western Sea of legends past. The Wanderers had journeyed so far from the shores of the Bay of Ice, yet the reports seemed promising. The land appeared, at first glance at least, to be largely uninhabited, and more than rich enough in life and resources to support their people. Yet a new home promised to bring about a change nearly as profound as the one that had shaken the Coronal to their souls fifty years ago. Their were those who thought that they could simply return to the way things had been, return to their old way of life, and indeed most of their people remembered still the long centuries of peaceful, settled life, as she did. And yet... so much was gone. Their were those would never accept a new land, or any land at all, embracing their new lives as Wanderers.

Division now could destroy them altogether. Her watchers among the camps spoke of angry mutterings, and more than one band of the far scattered Wanderers had not heeded their Queen's summons to cross the mountains at all. Her hand gripped the hilt of her sword hard in anger. A Guard had one purpose, to serve the Crown with life and soul. Yet she dared not act, for fear of sparking a wider revolt. Her hands were tied. She could only wait.

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Re: Pre-Industrial Fantasy STGOD Story Thread.

Postby Jub » 2015-12-24 08:27pm

Smiling Rushes' Raiding Party
The Shores of Lake Francois
11th Moon Waning, Winter of the year of Omens, 4563 (Early Winter, Game Year 1)


The journey of many days up the Nechako, from its meeting with the Fraser, to Francois Lake, was finally over. Lights of a village could just be seen through the trees though Wide Paw had smelled it hours ago. Slowly the crunch of boots and paws on fresh snow faded as the band of a dozen warriors came to a halt. Hearts raced in nervous excitement. The raid, the first for all but Smiling Rushes, was about to commence.

Motioning for the party to form a circle, Smiling Rushes drew a bundle of sage from its well-greased sack. In silence, save for the clack of steel against flint, the smudge was lit. The smoldering ember cast wane shadows through the darkness of a winter's night. As the aromatic smoke rose the leader cleansed himself with it. First his hands, then his eyes, ears, throat, head, and finally his heart. He left the circle and paused a moment in silent prayer. After the pause he started walking slowly around the circle, each footfall made with purpose, and as he walked he spoke a low whisper.

“Spirits head this call. Bless us, our weapons, our shields, our drums for this is where youth is shed. Dull the senses of our foes, numb their hands, slow their movements. For today, we come to claim them and theirs for our own.

“Blood we shall spill and our blood may be spilled as well. Those that stand against us shall die well, and may our fallen die well also.

“Today all here shall live as warriors.”

Each youth man and animal alike took in the words and bathed in the smoke. Heart beats slowed as the youths that had knelt rose as men. Warpaint was applied, weapons were inspected, and the group spread out forming a half circle a kilometer across on one side of the village. Finally, drums were raised.

As one the group stepped forward, beating their drums and creating a great echoing punch of sound. The next step came quicker and was slightly less in time. By the time the group reached the outskirts of the village they were all sprinting creating a cacophony of drumbeats, footsteps, and battle cries.

The battle itself was short and brutal. The elves responded far more swiftly than the raiders expected, rushing two sentries to defend the pocket of tents that the Syilx raiders converged upon. One managed to drop two warriors, in as many arrows, firing past their rawhide shields to hit one in the chest and the other in the throat. They were avenged by Wide Paw who, in spite of a trio of arrows to the shoulders, felled the elf with a blow from a skillet sized paw and a bite to the neck. Another put a sword through the leg of Rising Waters before taking a blow to the helmet from Smiling Rushes' sling dropped him into unconsciousness. A further two elves, presumed to be sentries, were seen moving away from the scene in their small clothes.

The post battle taking of spoils was over just as quickly. A pair of tents were slashed open by knives. Five elves were dragged out kicking, biting, and screaming, valuables were shoveled into sacks, and then as quickly as it came the raid was finished. The Syilx left three dead in the bloodstained snow, two of their own and an elf; corpses don't come back after raids.

The wounded, screaming and bleeding, did come back. Rising Waters was dragged out by his elder brother Smiling Rushes who saved him instead of claiming spoils for himself. This was a choice that some wouldn't have made their brothers, but this time, the badly wounded raider made it back to the waiting canoes with everybody else.

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Re: Pre-Industrial Fantasy STGOD Story Thread.

Postby The Romulan Republic » 2015-12-24 11:47pm

Captain Diiv sat on the hard, frozen earth, a little way back from the campfire in the centre of the makeshift encampment the clan had assembled, making room for the children, the sick, and the wounded to huddle closer to the flames. A healer, who's name he knew to be Avin, moved among them, administering his magic, and Diiv traded a brief but warm smile with the man.

They had been fortunate, on the whole. Their camp site was on a low hill, near water, defensible and well-situated. However, his contingent of Rangers, despite reinforcements from the Crown, was down to only eleven, including himself- Siyl had perished in the mountains, fallen to her death as she tried to help a child who'd fallen off a precipice. They'd never recovered the body, and his heart ached to think of her lying at the bottom of some ravine, her immortal life ceased. Four others were out in scouting parties, or running messages back to the Queen, who had insisted on remaining with those who were crossing the high passes. That left him with not three quarters of his full strength. Still, they had faced no hostile presence since arriving in this place, two days before.

He started up, alarmed, as cries broke out on the far side of the camp, followed by the sound of metal ringing on metal. He sprang towards the sounds, and sensed Avin fall in behind him. Frightened whispers ran through the encampment as people awoke, huddling together in fear and scanning the darkness as they clutched their weapons. He passed them by, as two other Rangers slipped out of the darkness to join him, racing towards the sounds of battle.

***

It was all over by the time he arrived. By dawn, he'd managed to piece together what had happened. A raiding party, perhaps a dozen strong, had taken the sentries by surprise, killing one and wounding another. Two others had fled, ostensible to raise the alarm. He would question them in detail later. Avin soon had the wounded Ranger back on his feet, and he reported that they had been attacked by a Sylix raiding party. Of the raiders, he claimed, two, perhaps three had fallen, and a quick search of the battlefield confirmed at least two of the raiders had perished, and that they were Sylix. Diiv ordered a thorough search of the camp, then paused to say a prayer over the fallen. Some might have looked askance at him praying over fallen foes, but a life was a life in his mind, and its end was something to be mourned, however necessary.

The fears of the clan were soon confirmed- five had vanished along with the raiders, their tents obviously looted. Diiv ground his teeth, his hand gripping the hilt of his sword so hard it hurt. It was the usual pattern with the Sylix. The captives would have been taken as slaves, back to the Sylix's home.

"Your orders, sir", his Second asked. She was a pretty lady, to his mind, but hardened by years of hardship.

He sighed. He had half a mind to order a pursuit, but that would leave the camp even more underprotected than it was now.

"Send a message to the Queen", he replied after a moment. "Inform her of what has transpired, and request additional Rangers to secure the camp."

"And the rescue?" It was not a question that their would be a rescue. Their would also be a response- one blow for another.

"Its in the Crown's hands now, Gods help us."

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Re: Pre-Industrial Fantasy STGOD Story Thread.

Postby Simon_Jester » 2015-12-26 11:02pm

Northern Marches, Michigan
Six Hours Past Midnight
Frostbringer 20, 224
(December 11)


Miles had passed by, the tercio’s pikemen and musketeers singing songs and chanting prayers all the way. The Regiment of Fayette marched amid quiet, their own voices all they could hear. Insect life had died under five weeks of nightly frost, birds had flown south; what animals and human inhabitants yet lived in this district were silenced by fear of the Ohioan host. The men took the cold without complaint, rags stuffed into their boots actually keeping their feet dry for a wonder, thanks to the lack of deep snow, and the frozen-solid state of the roads.

They marched by the glimmering light, to the priestess' prayers that seemed to make the stars flash with uncanny sharp clarity. The moon rose high enough to be visible, adding little to the lighting- a fat yellow crescent, but a waning one.

They marched down country lanes and sunken roads. They marched beneath skeletal stands of oak and maple, of blackgum and hornbeam, with their slick fallen leaves. They marched across the carpet of needles from the livelier clusters of white pine and spruce.

After five miles and two brief halts, they marched past the fields and the deserted, nearly undamaged remains of the village of Vignes.

Henri Delatour, son of the Viscount of Vincennes, wouldn't soon forget how perfectly ordinary peasant cottages could seem to gape like grinning skulls in the faintly-lit darkness. Not when you knew what had happened behind those windows and doors.

The captain of musketeers reached down to the skin attached to his saddle and took a drink- not with the bite of alcohol, that would be folly, but with the different, invigorating flavor of holly tea. His supply was shipped upriver from the south, from Turkish plantations, and very much worth the expense. He'd need his wits about him, and couldn't waste time gathering wool. The rank and file made do with chicot, which simply could not match the vitalizing, galvanizing kick... or, of course, with beer. Perhaps that was the secret to Ohio's success, an army of beer drinkers, but commanded by yaupon drinkers.

Delatour realized that the starlight, by which they marched, shone down on a patch around the Ohioan column, in the shape of a rough ellipse. As the first hints of dawn touched the eastern horizon behind them, this began to worry him rather less. But it occurred to the young nobleman that, like all forms of illumination during a night march, even the blessing of the living stars might be in some small measure a double-edged sword.

His thoughts were coming back into focus now, the tea doing its work... he watched his men for signs of stumbling or confusion, disputes or injuries. He counted carefully, riding slowly up the column to ensure there were no stragglers. He had sergeants and he had his lieutenants, of course, but these hundred musketeers were his responsibility. It came as a surprise when from ahead the drums began to play a regimental halt. He turned around, watching as the drumming spread down the line, his own boy taking it up without orders and rightly so... the rear company of musketeers, barely visible in the gloom around a curve in the road, stopped. He waited a few more paces, saw the pikes behind them stop, wait... wait...

“Company... HALT!”

With a shuffle of boots, his musketeers did- grounding their pieces and stopping in place, waiting for further orders. As the column stopped from the rear towards the front, there was no confusion, no risk of one company plowing into the next with twenty-foot spears; Delatour was pleased to see the results were orderly, at least for as far as his eye could penetrate the weakly lit gloom. Presumably there would be a courier coming down the column soon. Delatour saw no need to give orders; his sergeants were doing their jobs well, bustling about, getting the men over to the side of the road, making sure all the musketeers drank and checked their boots. Men folded their cloaks and sat down. The exertion kept the cold at bay, but some of the musketeers were starting to fall out of condition in the confined circumstances of winter quarters.

From ahead he heard the clatter of trotting horses- the couriers. One stopped among the pike company ahead, one came on to him and pulled up alongside him- moving recklessly; the captain was glad his men had cleared the road.

"Colonel's compliments, sir, and we will be making the rest of the march in silence, with only the world's light to guide us. The Kaskaskians have spotted a ruined tower about three miles ahead, and the colonel thinks it might be the wizard's lair. He wants us ready to resume the march in fifteen minutes."

"Thank you, ensign. Carry on. And master-sergeant! Get the men in line by the side of the road, we shall have a prayer before the march!" He called out to his seniormost sergeant, a tough veteran of nearly thirty years in the Grand Army of the Ohio- a commoner fit to ride herd on the other sergeants was worth a good deal, his father assured him. Delatour paid the extra salary with that unusual rank out of his own pocket, and it was worth it for his services.

The courier spurred his horse down the road to the last musketeer company, the other ensign having just leapfrogged past on his way to the pike company behind Delatour's. "Rémy, sound the call back to ranks!" The drummer, who'd stood by with commendable fidelity, began to do so... With the changed tone that meant a call to services. It was about time for their pre-dawn service, in any event, wasn't it?

Delatour's soldiers formed up. Mother Rochelle strode across the frozen mud of the road, seeming barely to notice the chill as something swept over her features, transforming them. Delatour was sure the woman didn't glow, but was... not entirely sure that he was sure. The priestess' light soprano washed across the musketeers in ringing tones, leading them through the devotionals of the pre-dawn service, drowning out an echo from up the road of what sounded like another company whose commander had had the same idea a minute faster. Then she began her sermon.

"Men of the tercio of Fayette! Behind us stands the land of the good rivers, the homes and churches of the faithful, the resting-places of your honored ancestors! Before us, is death- death militant and hungry, evil and cruel! But you need not fear!

“Yes, you need not know fear! The stars watch over us- can you feel them? You can certainly see them!” The priestess waved her arm at the still-gleaming stars that positively flamed, now, from the deep blue night. “We may have to fight, some of us-" she gestured inclusively- "may fall in battle; the risks of a soldier stand in front of us. But as the living stars are with us, no power of unnatural evil can overcome us! Follow your drills, protect your nation, your faith, your banner- and you need not fear for your souls, you need not fear the power of dark sorcery, while you stand with your brothers in the ranks of the tercio of Fayette!”

The men spoke their concluding prayers, their amens, and turned back into route march formation.

The stars faded imperceptibly from the deep blue sky as red-fingered dawn stretched out across the middle of the Empire, coloring the handful of clouds above the Ohioan host with hints of the day to come.




Half an Hour Later

Recommended Listening: Danse Macabre, by Camille Saint-Saëns

This time, quieter the march, the oppressive silence of the woods and fields creeping around them. Much the same in terms of visibility, a hint of the dawn-light's first gleaming starting to take the place of the blessed starlight that had guided them through the night hours. Delatour took hope from that; all things considered he would rather fight under the one broad, warm star of this earth than under a thousand distant, cold ones.

In silence the Regiment of Fayette advanced through the woods, the scouts' horses audible as they scoured the land around for signs of the necromancer's evil.

From ahead Delatour saw an ensign on a white horse coming back to him, this time picking his way along the roadside. Cresting a rise in a road, the junior officer became more visible- Delatour squinted. It was the new one, Travant was his name, yes? Probably another message from Colonel Blanchard, several hundred yards ahead.

“Sir, the colonel's compliments, and we are assuredly close. The scouts believe they saw a few of the walking dead... gathering firewood, of all things.”




Marc Guillory of Detroit, late a mage of the fourth circle as that city counted such things, was not a happy man.

As the sun came up, his mass of zombies ceased their labor of tending the bonfires he used to warm the crude half-shelters he'd directed them to construct around his tower, to keep the dead servants merely cold, not frozen.

It had been worth it; even a walking corpse would be none the better for freezing solid and thawing out every night. The runes of conjuration he'd carved into the brows of some of his first creations made them- or the imps that inhabited their bodies- intelligent enough to direct the lesser ones in such work. After a fashion, at least. It would probably be less work to let them sink into dormancy, and when the days stopped bringing thaws perhaps he would... except that now an army was coming toward him!

None of his witless dead had managed to notify him as he slumbered. Even the imp-charged ones were little more than automata, and even if they'd seen the outriders or the spears of that oncoming column, they would have no notion of what to do. And so Guillory had slept, while his worst enemy approached in the night. He'd been tired... but all actions had consequences, and today the price of a good night's rest could easily be the price of a shallow grave- or the stake.

He should have realized there would be survivors of the villages he'd struck to build up his servants before striking out to create a territory for himself further north. Should have known Ohio would send a hunting party, even if he only truck hamlets in the contested zone. On some level, he had- but so many? The drizzle of plains cavalry hadn't surprised him... but to see more than a thousand men, arms in hand, walking out from the tree-line as one, was more than he had expected.

The rogue Detroiter knew he could ambush a careless soldier or two. But how would his power match up against an army?

Could he escape- no. Their cavalry would have blood in their eyes after yesterday; even if none who'd seen him lived, they would know. With the sun rising to light up his escape, and his tireless yet distinctive steed to track, they would find him, surround him and overwhelm him in a running battle. His slaves would be useless; none of them could keep up with a horse and the mass of them were too sluggish and stupid to block hundreds of horsemen effectively in broad daylight.

Somehow he would have to make a fight of it. At least here, he was in his own keep, surrounded by strength.

Guillory tapped into the ley lines fueling his new home- a tower some other wizard had erected the century before, at a site which would have been reused long ago were it not so close to the boundary-stones that marked the edge of Detroit's domain.

Riding about the countryside, he could slay a man on a horse easily enough. Two, three. With time to prepare, even a few hundred, so long as he caught them unprepared. But with both ley lines carrying power toward him? Perhaps here, his sorcery was a match for an army... or so Guillory desperately hoped.

It had better work. Even now, the human soldiers were deploying into a tight order of battle, files of men peeling off from the column on the east road and forming a long line that stretched a hundred yards and more across the field of dead grass and frozen mud.

Ah well, a wide target, a narrow one, so long as he could see them and strike them with a single continguous wave of death, it would matter little. The power was there; he just had to use it.




To Captain Delatour, the old tower looked to be one good storm from falling down in ruins.

On the roof of that tower, a covering sheet of bright white canvas caught a few rays of the rising sun, and against the shadowy darkness of the far west, Delatour caught a glint of sickly green light- a flash- a robed figure standing there on the battlements.

"Oh, for a wall-gun and a stand! I could end this right now!" Guillaume, ever the flamboyant image of a musketeer, with a scarlet hat Delatour would be sad to see go if the Army ever tightened its uniform restrictions, waved his free hand in the air.

"At seven hundred yards? Really?" The man next to him, dark and nondescript, grey cloak wrapped around himself in the chill so that the captain had to pause a moment to recognize him as Renard, snorted.

"I make it more like five hundred, and you know I could always-"

"Shut up. Don't tempt-" Renard's eyes widened and his voice fell "-fate..."

A cloud of blackness flowed down from the top of that ruined tower, coming on fast as a galloping horse. They had at most two minutes, if that. Cries of alarm rose out from the ranks to Delatour's left and right, a few from his own company. He had to-

"SILENCE IN THE RANKS!" Lieutenant Jourdain, without a single battle to his credit, had gotten the same idea Delatour had.

"Close ranks! STAND! STAND!" The drummers did their part, tapping out prayer cadence, though Delatour could see that little Rémy's face was pale as he saw the death that had swooped down upon Vignes, ripping the soul from the body, casting aside the former to enslave the latter...

The prayers resounded, a great sea as every man fell back upon his faith. No synchronization, alas, but the pikes and musketeers stood strong. Delatour stared into the black cloud, mustering what defiance he could- he could not help but think this might be the end of him, or of all that made him himself even if his body went on as some rotting puppet... But no, his heart cried, the words of Mother Rochelle were true, orthodox though she be. He need not fear evil, need not fear sorcery, around him stood brave and faithful men who would not fall, the living stars would not permit it, and the dawn was rising behind them and all doubt fell from his mind, though not all fear...

The captain could hear snatches of speech. Snatches of the same prayers he himself was running through, quietly, circling ever back to the first verses of the Litany to the Heavens.

"Oh thou Stars, lords of the incorruptible void...
illuminate our souls... renew us with your light.
Forgive, pervade, and cleanse... darkness.
... in the name of the saints...
ward us and guide us. Amen..."


Behind them the priestesses were chanting no longer. They sang, now, in a language that might have been the old High Speech but might have been something else, a thing so pure it was incomprehensible to a captain of musketeers whose gifts were all those of war. His mind knew that it was proper, that their words were being used for the good of all.

Onward the man-killing, soul-eating fog, the visible manifestation of evil magic, coming closer, little more than musket-shot away, less. Delatour knew in his mind, this could not stand, this was blasphemy against the Spirit of Man and the life which flowed from the stars, from The star behind him, backing him as the dawn rose and chased away the merely natural shadows. But the unnatural shadow came on, on, and his belly did not know what his faith told him...

Strangling that he kept his war-face like stone, some of his men glancing back at him, their own fear obvious as they clutched amulets with the hands not needed to support their guns. The musketeers of the Eighth Company prayed with the fervor of men who knew they were damned otherwise, the zeal of those whose only salvation from the executioner's block was a stay of mercy from above.

The cloud came slower now, but tall, tall, like the wall of a great castle, an impossible and unholy one, a structure of darkness that marched across the field to crush him and all that was his. Looming overhead, over the pikes and the mounted officers and the musketeers, the cloud rolled forward at a lazy, strolling pace. Was the warlock trying to toy with them? Slow... crawling... slower... still, at twice the length of a pikeshaft, the hungry darkness billowing forward, but now the more like a wall as it rippled back, held up by something invisible, unknown, perhaps one barrier, perhaps a shield-wall of a thosuand.

In the core of his spirit, Delatour was no more confident now than he'd been a minute ago... in his faith, he knew. But his guts un-knotted and his breath came a little less forced... as the Regiment of Fayette cheered wildly, saved by the miracle they had so fervently desired.

Looking to his left, Delatour could see the cloud creeping closer to the six score or so plains horse screening their flank, who had stood slightly to the Ohioans' rear... A few riders cried out and spurred their horses 'round, but others whooped and screamed angrily, waving their swords in the face of doom. Few of the plainsmen knew the living Stars, but they had courage.

Another prayer ran through his mind... For those who kneel beside us, at altars not thine own, who lack the Lights that guide us... Stars, let their faith atone!

The captain saw other men glancing left and right at the commotion, some muttering the same words rather than merely cheering their own salvation, the tone of the priestesses' singing changing, but the fog was breaking there too. It could not overcome so many faithful soldiers, could not bite even the infidels who guarded their backs!

The cloud of wicked sorcery began to thin out, fade, sink into the merely normal dark of the twilight that itself evaporated before the morning sun.

Colonel Blanchard shouted something that Delatour could almost hear, even over the cheers of the tercio. Certainly he could hear the drums beat out his command to the men- advance!




Marc Guillory of Detroit, mage of the fourth circle no more, slumped, weary at the flood of mana he'd drawn from the ley lines. They'd taken some of his own power with them, and struggling to control the energies of the tower was in itself enough to exhaust a less determined man. And despite all that power, he had nothing to show for it.

From atop the stone roof he'd had repaired and covered against the weather with stolen canvas, he surveyed the lands around... seeing what had approached him in his sleep as much by his arcane sensitivity to life-force, as by the faint light of dawn that was only now reaching the ground at least a score of yards below his elevated position.

Guillory was not a happy man.

The wave of death he’d used to consume villages and bind them to his service had... failed, had not merely achieved less than he had hoped, but had failed altogether. His power had been rebuffed, defied, repelled by a magical shield he could neither analyze nor understand. Concentrating with the full power of his second sight, he thought he could see knots of spiritual essence, swirls of power and rays of energy darting back and forth among the Ohioan tercio. But there was nothing he recognized, no spell of protection. No rival mage worthy of the name, none powerful enough to stand against him, perhaps none at all.

And yet... his spell had recoiled, defeated by that power vacuum, that nothingness he could not see or grasp, that total absence of sorcerous might. The ranks of pikemen and musketeers drew closer, blocks of men five, six, eight ranks deep. Cavalry fanned out to their flanks, cannon were towed up behind. Could he avoid them? Not their plainsmen horse, not in daylight, and the sun was just coming up in the east, behind the Ohioan ranks.

He had an army of his own- after a fashion. He had a thousand or so minions, such as they were. His zombies were, in all honesty, not the equal of a skilled fighting-man. One could animate the dead to fight on that level- beyond it, even. It had been done, was done. But there were arts required, to reinforce tissues threatened by decay, to repair damage that the walking dead could not heal, lacking the natural processes of a living creature. To bolster their strength and coordination. And in his handful of snatched texts, from before he had been driven out by the arrogant lords of Detroit for combining their demonology with necromancy... he did not know enough! His research into the lore of the death-lords from before the War of Souls, and of the more modern- and more ancient- treatises of Tarn, had been incomplete!

And grimly, Guillory realized that the same death-lords he'd thought to emulate had been overthrown by the very ancestors of the army that faced him today.

For all his arrogance, Guillory was not a complete fool. He knew he would need reinforcements of some kind... powerful ones. Falling back on his classical training, mind racing to the most powerful being of whom he knew, Guillory began tracing the proper polygons of augmentation in chalk, to boost and enhance the circle engraved on the floor.

He had never performed a summoning like this, but he knew the formalism from the lesser ones of his apprenticeship. With the augmentations, the magic that would command a lesser demon could also command a greater. And while another might fear the power of such a being as a shadow-lord, Guillory would remain safe from the entity's wrath, inside the bubble of defense generated by the graven circle in the stone, empowered by his knowledge of the true name of that which he was conjuring up.

Guillory's preparations were such that he needed no sacrifice at this moment, not as such. But he was in a hurry, one was desirable- and yet he was surrounded by, and in command of, only the dead. Wincing as his ceremonial dagger pricked the ball of his thumb, he allowed a few drops of his own blood to fall on the critical node. Further risk- but he could feel the resilient power flowing into his defensive wards, and it was working!

A cloud of darkness materialized around the circle of conjuration, congealed into a humanoid figure, fourteen feet tall if it was an inch, heavy-bodied but clad in dark, light-drinking anti-flame that swathed its form like a robe. The shadow-lord loomed before him, blocking the rays of the morning sun, emitting palpable heat from its balefires. It gazed down at him, eyes glaring with a yellow brilliance and a penetrating intelligence. It looked around, then focused on Guillory.

“Xazonar, by power and blood I summon thee..."

"I see that... but where is thy sacrifice, hedge-wizard? I have had only a taste of blood... but I would have it all!" The demon's voice, gut-shaking in its depth and resonance, was also transparently mocking. "So tell me, little mage, where is the rest?"

Guillory hurried through the formalisms as the overpowering monster examined his wards, with a curious eye... and a practiced one, he feared. The circle would hold, it had to...

Almost gasping, the renegade shuddered through the words "By th- this circle I bind thee! H- heed my words, oh, oh... shadow-lord!”

”No.”

Guillory had used as the basis of his magic circle a remnant six generations old, by human reckoning. He had reshaped a few of the stones himself, repaired some of the damage so that the outer curve of his protective barrier at least potentially strong. It was, in fact, fairly forceful. Ideally, strong enough even to ward against a shadow-lord. The ideal was not the reality; the barrier was not, as it so very much needed to be, truly circular. This introduced a flaw, a weakness, in the summoner's warding. Guillory never had been the best of geometers... or of stonecarvers.

Overconfidence, it turned out, had only almost killed the renegade. Mistaking the radius of a circle for its diameter proved rather more fatal. Xazonar grinned as only a demon could grin, and burst Guillory's dome of force with a single blow of its immense, burning fist.




Delatour's eyes widened, and the common soldiers gave in to cries of shock and dismay shook the Ohioan ranks as the coal-black fiend rose atop the tower, unfolding itself, easily twice the height of a man and wrapped in a veil of dark un-flame that seemed to devour the sunlight. Its eyes burned with a piercing quality that gave it it a definite, distinctive, gaze when Delatour looked at the creature's face, despite the great distance.

The colonel's drummer beat for a halt, and all were only too glad to obey.

Shock turned into confusion as the devil turned upon the glinting bubble of sorcery the warlock had woven, shattering it; from four hundred yards one could only know so much, but what Delatour could see was enough to tell him that the evil wizard was finally and definitively dead.

Spontaneously, of one, the regimental chaplains began the prayers of protection from evil once again, the star-robed women speaking slowly and clearly as their litanies were put to the test in terrible earnest. For whatever reason, the prayer was not granted at once- the fiend on the tower did not vanish. They shifted to the songs of protection and deliverance.

To his right, near the center of the regiment's line- yes, it was Travant riding out, flag of truce clipped to his saddle like it was the shaft of a lance. Colonel Blanchard must have decided to talk...

Delatour's surprise breached his war face, the men murmuring superstitiously, as they saw the young ensign ride across the field to parley with the devil on the tower.

Quietly, Delatour dismounted- the better to load his pistols from the musically-jingling pouch at his belt. Talking with devils was famously risky, after all, and a captain of musketeers would be wise to listen to his ghosts when such matters were afoot.




Xazonar the shadow-lord looked down from the height of the half-ruined tower, not particularly discomfited by staring into the teeth of the rising sun behind them. Fire, it was comfortable with; fire was an old ally.

This realm was apparently a human realm, at least this part of it was- wintry enough to be uncomfortable even for them, but clearly they were making the best of it. Otherwise, there wouldn't be an army of a thousand-odd human soldiers drawn up in array before the tower on which the feckless mortal wizard had summoned him.

One warrior on horseback rode out from the ranks of the human host. Either a champion or a messenger; either was likely when mortal armies encountered it, in its experience. This one had fixed to his saddle a banner of white- probably not a war-flag, it lacked decoration, and there was no magic attached to it. Also with some sort of crudely made trumpet in his hand... Though the human bore a sword at his side, and a few other devices Xazonar did not know, in places that suggested they were meant to be drawn quickly and wielded in battle.

A messenger. On another day, Xazonar might have mocked or obliterated a messenger sent by humans. But this particular lot of mortals were new to its experience, as was the heat-shimmer glow of wards in front of the ranks of their spears. The demon was not in the mood to trifle with a new force that might be some kind of a threat, even if they were uniformly its lessers. Not to the extent of disregarding an ancient propriety such as the safety of heralds.

The human messenger drew closer, reined in his horse, and shouted into that speaking-trumpet. That cone of brass amplified the voice of a plains ape into something almost respectable in its intensity.

"Hello the tower! I bear words from Sieur Charles Blanchard, knight of the Falls, baronet of Broken Ridge, colonel of the regiment of Fayette! Can you understand the Ohioan speech?"

Descrying the intent of the words, the shadow-lord replied. It recognized this language, a slightly debased version of one common in a human realm it remembered from, oh... four or five centuries ago. It needed no amplification to be heard clearly by the rider, probably not to be heard by the human army a hundred or so strides away. It certainly didn't bother with any.

"I can. But what hast thou to say to me?"

"We came for the wizard, and he is dead! Depart from this world, trouble our lands no more, and we will not come against you in war this day!"

Xazonar glowered at the human army. These were some very insolent mortals, clearly in need of instruction in the natural order of things. There couldn't possibly be more than fifteen hundred of them, with a double handful of things-on-wagons that it thought might be scaled-up versions of those clever new alchemical stone-throwers humans used.

The shadow-lord thought quickly. What were its assets? It had a commanding height on which to stand without undue exertion, giving it good survey of the human ranks. It had the stones of the tower, which were charged enough with the magics of the local ley line to permit some interesting possibilities. It had- about a thousand knots of death-magic, troublesome to take over from the dead necromancer, and... its brow wrinkled in distaste. These were some very low-grade zombies. Not worth the trouble to seize command of, really. Oh well, at least it could use them for raw materials. This could actually be challenging.

And the decades had been long since it had gotten a chance to instruct such a host in this way. To be sure, propriety should be observed even with mortals, but for them to challenge a shadow-lord thus in formal

Stepping off the tower, Xazonar folded its arms, grinning with fanged maw as it stood as firmly on the air as it had on the roof. Perhaps more firmly. Unlike the slain Guillory, its sorcery was reliable and solid, the product of millenia of practice and a nature closer to the heart of magic than any human's. By contrast, the roof of the old tower had groaned to bear the weight of the shadow-lord's dense body.

In a voice deeper than any human throat could have duplicated, it replied, so very audible to the humans across the field. It then laughed as the herald wheeled his horse and departed at a frightened gallop, hearing its words.

"You should have brought more soldiers, little ones. Come at me if you dare!"
This space dedicated to Vasily Arkhipov

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Raw Shark
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Re: Pre-Industrial Fantasy STGOD Story Thread.

Postby Raw Shark » 2015-12-28 11:05pm

It's midnight at the Plumed Serpent, and I'm three or four double rum and chocoatls deep. This place is kind of run-down, and the dancing girls aren't particularly attractive, but they make strong, spicy cocktails with a late happy hour, the cheap ceramic knock-offs of those mugs with the funny faces from the Dragon Isles make me smile, and most importantly, especially since it's been pissing rain all day (thanks be to the Rain God), it is directly on my way home from work.

I'm not going to say that I'm always broke and I come here a lot, but the bartender knows what I'm drinking, and the girls know better than to ask if I want to buy a lap dance, so feel free to infer whatever you like. I shouldn't be this drunk when I have an opening shift tomorrow, but work was a cast iron bitch today. The Feast of Xoco-Fucking- I shouldn't even think it disrespectfully, but sometimes, when one is in one's cups, one just doesn't give a fuck about the-

I should've been a surgeon, like my father. I would've had career options, then. I could've joined the army, sailed on a ship... Seen the world! Or had a cushy private practice slicing warts off the wealthy or assisting a flesh wizard if I chose to stay here, in Tenochtitlan. But no, now I'm stuck here, in a shitty basement hovel with inadequate ventilation in the outrageous humidity of the rainy season, rooting through entrails at the Grand Temple if I ever want to have an upward career trajectory in the priesthood. All because I had to be special. I had to be a part of something bigger. No ordinary life for me! What a fucking joke.

I order another drink. The bartender gives me a skeptical look, but pours.

A guy in his late 50's, early 60's in the just-not-shabby-enough garb of a low-level bureaucrat takes the stool next to me. He raps the bar with his knuckles. "I'll have what he's having!"

I'm not usually talkative at the bar, especially not a strip club. I'm sitting here with a semi-erect penis, it's just weird, okay? But I've had a shit day, I'm a little hammered, and I'm feeling convivial. Might as well have someone to bitch to, right? Besides, there's something about this guy. "It's good, here," I grunt as cheerfully as possible, raising my mug.

The guy clinks me. "Damn straight. I come here all the time myself. Cheers, my friend."

The fog clouding my mind takes a few seconds to clear as I process his words. "Really? I've never seen you before..."

He shrugs. "Sure you have. You've just had a few too many of those." He gestured at my mug with his own. "All of them, technically. You should know that, being an acolyte and all, instead of a surgeon like your father."

My blood runs cold enough to freeze me in place, drink midway to my mouth as I meet his eyes and instinctively know his name. I'm at the titty bar sitting next to Left-Handed Hummingbird, of all the fu- My mind races. Too quickly, without the proper cadence, I stammer. "G-great and Magnificant Lord, if you should strike my head from my shoulders for my blasphemy, I shall consider it your blessing! I swear on my mother's grave I'll never, ever drink again, and I promise-"

"Shhh." He holds up one finger and I fall silent immediately, afraid to even breathe. "Calm down, kid. I'm here to relax, and you're not helping. Drink your drink, we're all grown-ass men who make mistakes here, right?"

"Yes, my lord. Whatever you say, my lord." I try to smile and take a big gulp, choking a little on the burn of the hot red chilis in it.

His face is stern. "Dispense with the formality. Now." He holds the look for a long second, then flashes a mischievous grin. He has really nice teeth, some tiny voice in the back of my mind notes over the scream of adrenaline in my blood. It is said that this god, more than any other, savors that particular cocktail above all, the part of my brain that is somehow thinking WAY too much despite being drunk also points out, but he seems to have a taste for chocoatl tonight, the way he knocks it back. "You know, kid, I like you."

"You... Um, thanks?" What the-?

"I've been watching you. Don't worry, nothing weird, just at the temple. Your hands are like poetry, and you keep the sacrifices alive for so long..." He inhales deeply and heaves a long sigh. "You got talent. You're gifted. You're gonna go far, if you listen to me. There's hard times coming. My people will need a guy like you, to rise to the occasion. To read the entrails, and guide their way. Are you man enough to step up for them?"

"Um, with respect-" He favors me with a raised eyebrow and cold stare over the rim of his tiki mug. My spine tingles and I break into a cold sweat. "Sorry, I mean, um... if you want us to know the future, why not just tell us?"

He shrugs. "What can I say, kid? I love to watch. And the first rule of the scribes is, 'Show, don't tell,' right? You took that semester of creative composition at the academy, you know that. But take it from me, you made the right choice." He claps me on the shoulder like we're old friends. I manage not to scream like a recently-weaned kid goat. "Now finish your drink, go home, hydrate, and get some sleep. You have a lot of work to do."

"Do I really look like a guy with a plan? Y'know what I am? I'm a dog chasing cars. I wouldn't know what to do with one if I caught it! Y'know, I just do things..." --The Joker

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Re: Pre-Industrial Fantasy STGOD Story Thread.

Postby madd0ct0r » 2015-12-29 09:50pm

Queen Igrabollo’s conquest of
The shield lands and the mammoth tribes
Was driven by the purest love
That of men for golden bribes

The river mouth is hidden yet
From all but those she trusts the mst
She sends a summer party there
And with the gold she funds her host
Her mammoths carry bartered guns
Iron mouths that roar and bite
There was no answer in the plains
And yet it was a bitter fight
A hand of hands of years has passed
Most tribes now bow and pay her tithe
But now and then the raiders roar
The way of war, the way of life.

A mammoth tent is tall and wide
Low walls and roof of lashed bone frame
Sealed from the winds with layered hide
Around a greasy cooking flame
The Queen’s tent swallows ten of these
Topped with a soaring tusk framed dome
With candles burning in the dark
Their light reflecting off her throne.
She wears her wealth with practised ease
Fat and strong with meat and age
An Iron crown and Iron teeth
Ambition in a fleshy cage

Swallowing her nervous fear
Magrallo bowed before the queen
Face averted, neck exposed
Silver scars where claws had been.

“Magrallo, you have a task.
Southwards go into the Blight
Return with magic gems of cold
And glory of defeated night
Take a pack and get you gone”
The drummers pounded once
Magrallo fled to roar her pack,
They roared in response.

Hudern’s sleds were hauling in
Now he stands before the Queen
Throat exposed and shoulder stooped
But in his eyes there’s still a gleam.

“Fifty tusks, a ton of gold
500 furs, of weight three ton
Twenty sled to draw them down
To warm and soft Orion.”

“And back again,” his orders were
“Gunpowder, cannon, tools and spice,
As much as you can fit,
By Summer solstice or your tribe
Will pay the full forfeit.”

He fed that night
but passed the steaming bloody spit
from claw to claw
and from each he licked a little bit
And smiled.




ACTIONS
- Magrallo’s pack head southwards on mission to Blight (former Elven Kingdom)
- Hudern’s pack head SW to Orion border fort on shores of Hudson’s bay.
"Aid, trade, green technology and peace." - Hans Rosling.
"Welcome to SDN, where we can't see the forest because walking into trees repeatedly feels good, bro." - Mr Coffee

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Re: Pre-Industrial Fantasy STGOD Story Thread.

Postby Simon_Jester » 2015-12-31 04:43pm

"You should have brought more soldiers, little ones. Come at me if you dare!"

The humans were surprisingly quick to respond. They were a warlike breed, with a few tools at their command Xazonar had not before encountered.




Northern Marches, Michigan
Minutes Past Dawn
Frostbringer 20, 224
(December 11)


Listening to a devil speak was... jarring. Captain Delatour allowed himself not a sign of it- which was not easy. His musketeers, though, looked to him- some literally- and looked away. Always, constancy.

Colonel Blanchard gave the command, of course, in a leather-lunged voice with anger behind it to give it force, enough so that no battle-drum was required. He waited only for young Travert to clear the line of fire, such as it was with the fiend floating on thin air a dozen yards or more. "Gunners- FIRE!"

The Regiment of Fayette had the usual allocation of field artillery assigned to it by the marshal, and had left none behind. With the good sense of prudent fighting men, the artillerymen had trained their pieces upward, estimating range as best they could and using their elevating screws accordingly, trying to place balls as close to the top of the tower as they could.

With BANG!s like huge doors slamming, three guns spoke off to the right at least four companies' width away. Then three more, one after another, closer, with ear-bruising thunder, as the left and right demi-batteries opened the battle at a range of four hundred yards.




These new engines of war- Xazonar was not sure it liked them. They bellowed prettily, and the faint smell of their fires was delightful, but they were loud, even by demon standards, and that suggested a certain power upon them. As did the hisses of iron balls flashing through the air past him, too fast to track. It would be best to observe their effects more... definitely... upon some lesser breed of creature.

The engines' human servants seemed to be dancing around the carts on which they lay. From a distance their rituals involved... bathing them? Pouring powders and rags into their mouths? Confusing, ultimately irrelevant. Clearly these were not fast-acting weapons, nor quick to replenish their energies and hurl another bolt. Nor were they particularly accurate. Some of the mortal engines' bolts had even missed the tower behind Xazonar, and the building was a far bigger target than it was.

Though the larger target was, disconcertingly, was not taking the bolts that did strike home very gracefully. The tower was old, held together none too well. And these engines were definitely better at cracking up stone than anything it remembered humans using from the past. The tower's walls groaned and swayed slightly. Still, though, these mortal weapons were slow- Xazonar took some time to think, while the human servants tended their engines.

The shadow-lord didn't know artillery, but it knew humans and flame- when the master gunners reached for the staves with smoldering fires at their tips, Xazonar sensed another assault on its person. It relaxed the spell of levitation, allowing itself to descend to the ground at a leisurely pace. Another wave of iron balls whirred past, fast, again so fast even its superhuman senses couldn't track them, only perceive that they'd flown past. Overhead, nearly all of them.

The new engines of war were not fast-reacting, nor were their human servants adept at tracking the shadow-lord's movements. Good to know. But for this next working it would have to stand still... Xazonar added a lateral element to its descent, and ducked behind the tower to begin the task of shaping. The stone walls would at least offer concealment, if not cover. Come to that, it doubted the siege-bolts could penetrate the mound on which the tower stood.

Xazonar would need foot-soldiers. The only creatures available in any number were the mortal hedge-wizard's profoundly inferior breed of zombies, a few of them livened by the most pathetic glimmer of hell-spirit. These were lesser servants; it would need greater ones.

A drumming of mortal siege weapons thumped out of sight, and Xazonar ducked lower, its feet touching the ground near the foot of the hill. They couldn't see their real enemy... but the Ohioan artillery saw no reason to leave the tower itself standing. A second salvo of cannonballs crashed into the foot of the half-wrecked structure- and this time, it was enough to bring down the rickety stone building.

The shadow-lord backed up a few paces, raising an arm to shield its face from the rocks that shot forth from the collapse. Some of the heavy building stones bounced against its flame-wreathed body, and Xazonar fell back further with a pained grunt. A pall of ancient dust filled the air.

Rallying, the shadow-lord resumed its plans. It began a chant in its native speech- by mortal standards a language of high and dark wizardry. Gesturing, Xazonar singled out the knots of unguided death-energy still shambling or crouching stupidly around the foot of the tower. With its arcane senses it could spot them unerringly, regardless of whether wood, earth, or stone barred the way... and begin the rendering of them into what it needed.

Soulless and mindless, the zombies had no presence of will or thought capable of resisting the transformation. Nor had they any master now, who might have countered this manipulation with their own magic. The zombies felt and knew nothing as Xazonar's magic unraveled their flesh and bone, collapsing into amorphous pools ready for the shadow-lord's working.

It was a pity the humans couldn't see the process properly, it might have helped them appreciate just what they faced this day. But the zombies' lairs were behind the hill, tucked into the hollows on the west side of it. The hill thus blocked their sight, and the dust from their destruction of the wizard's tower did so besides.

Truly exerting its power for the first time, Xazonar spun a planar portal wide with its mind, drawing fully on the two ley lines crossing the site, to stabilize the dimensional rift and pull through only the spirits it desired to conjure. It drew the needed hungry animal-spirits by the dozens, the scores, the hundreds, directing them into the masses of flesh to form themselves bodies like the ones they'd known in their fire-realm.

The shadow-lord then unleashed its summonings, formed from the reshaped flesh of slain Guillory's minions. It unleashed the howling, the savage, the fiery beasts of Bogazdan!

The beasts slashed forward, panting and gasping to prepare themselves to belch flame upon the human host, covering the distance. Xazonar was sure they'd been farther away when it ducked behind cover. That was unusual. Xazonar felt true interest. how would its hounds perform, against mortals bold enough to advance against it, armed with these cunning new weapons?

It was about to find out.

The mortals' ranks ceased their advance and grounded their pikes making ready. And with another BANG!, one of the replenished, recharged war-engines hurled its bolt in among the packs of the beasts.




For a few long minutes Captain Delatour dared to hope that the devil across the field lay slain or at least disabled in the wreckage of the fallen tower. Blanchard's drummer sounded the advance. The Regiment of Fayette lifted its pikes and began an advance- at a slow walk, for pikes could not keep up any great speed on the field while preserving their formation. Delatour remounted his horse and trotted at the head of his musketeers. Then the faint, gristly sounds began, in the distance.

A shiver ran through the ranks. The shiver grew stronger as the roars and howls started. A pack of wolves might howl so- if there were ever a hundred wolves, or more, and if they were ever stricken with madness.

Delatour didn't need to see the horned silhouette of the devil climb atop the rubble heap left of the tower by the regiment's guns to know the fiend still lived. Or to know that nothing like the creatures he was hearing belonged in the natural world.

They trotted over the ridge, the devil on the rubble gesturing them on. Lower to the ground than a man, clearly four-footed beasts, perhaps some evil, otherworldly version of the dogs he'd taken them for at first. The men let out a superstitious murmur. Delatour shouted to the Eighth Company, pumping his voice with bravado. "At last! Something a man can fight! Stand fast!"

The drums sounded prayer cadence once again. The creatures came closer at a brisk pace.

Delatour's vision was fairly good; he could start to make out details before the creatures had advanced more than fifty yards over the ridge. They were... not entirely unlike hounds in their basic body plan, but stockier and more thick-bodied. They trotted forward in small packs Their howls shriller and yet less steady than those of wolves, their dark fur patchy over scarlet hides. Their eyes, which burned with dancing orange flames- less piercing than the gaze of their master. They clustered up into little packs of twenty or so, rather than a solid army with evenly spaced ranks.

BANG! A gun jumped backward.

Regimental tradition allowed the occasional cheer to interrupt prayer drill- that was just part of the spirit of the corps, and dispensations were invariably granted. Delatour felt the urge to cheer himself, as the first four-pound cannonball grazed in among a pack of the burning beasts at just below knee height on a human soldier. That would have been deadly shooting against an army of normal men. Here, it worked about as well.

The first hellhound splashed, torn apart by the cannonball, which plowed through its scabrous body into the one trotting close behind- and another behind that. The diminished pack whined, milled, ran around like panicking dogs at the sudden death, for a moment, before either their natural viciousness- or their evil master- could rally them. Another gun barked, its ball whirring over the entire body of the creatures. Another- the same. The fourth, by chance or fine gunnery, struck a stunted, disease-wracked tree on the field- which burst into fragments that sprayed forward into the beasts' mass. Howling, half a pack curled on the ground, riddled with splinters... some bleeding out quickly, though not with the red blood of men.

More guns sounded, rolling backwards with the thunder of their powder charge- a few more of the hellhounds died... but they grew closer, closer.

One of the advantages of sitting a horse in battle was that it gave you height; Delatour could see over the heads of his men, and partly through the hedges of grounded pikes, to keep an eye on what the enemy was doing across the two hundred yards of the regiment’s frontage.

He would have expected a host of animals to attack the musketeer companies first, but the dog packs trotted for the blocks of pikes. What did they know about their own powers that he didn't? Perhaps they had reason to think they would fare better closing in on the spearmen than against his own men with their bayonet-tipped flintlocks.

If so, they were misestimating the situation in an important respect. Delatour smiled grimly. His men, and all the rest of the gunmen in the proud, hardened pike-and-shot team of the Regiment of Fayette, would screen their brothers as fiercely as they defended themselves.




Delatour reflected, for the thousandth time, on the advantages of careful, thorough training. Colonel Blanchard had taken pains to ensure his men were drilled in Maurice of Milwaukee’s best methods. The captain wasn’t entirely sure what he thought of the foreign drillmaster’s approach of fire and countermarch by section files as a response to monstrosities, but he saw a use for it today. So, fortunately, did his lieutenants, who had the men in the proper formation even before Delatour had made up his own mind. They were good young fellows...

Already standing in staggered ranks, the front two ranks of musketeers shouldered their weapons, leveled... Delatour took command, trying to gauge the moment rightly. The beasts were within two hundred yards now, getting closer, closer. The captain of musketeers surveyed the field, picked out a pack of hellhounds, and gestured with his sword. Sergeants shouted, directing the men's attention and preparing them to give fire.

"FIRE!"

Delatour shouted, and a gratifyingly crisp crash of musketry rolled from the two lead ranks, thirty-odd bullets whistling down and out. The front two ranks of each platoon whirled, backing up through gaps in the formation left by the third and fourth ranks, who stepped half a pace forward themselves and leveled their pieces. Delatour's eyes were all on them, not on the enemy. Accuracy didn't matter in the long run. What mattered was the volley in and of itself, and the men's ability to give fire effectively.

"FIRE!"

Another wave of lead flailed the hellhounds, third and fourth ranks spinning back to reload- "FIRE!"- and that was the third and final salvo while the first gunmen sped through the reloading drill, the fifth and sixth ranks now countermarching to the back of the formation.

Two dozen Beasts of Bogazdan had become twenty-three in the first salvo of bullets, had taken wounds from the second, and more from the third that sent another of their pack to its knees with a shattered foreleg.

Men hardened to the particular inhumanities of gunpowder warfare would have known to press into the attack. Aggression and all-out commitment would carry them through the zone of danger; stopping to lick their wounds would just draw another volley. Who hesitated was lost, where the steadfast met their reward. The demon dogs, animals with no special training for this sort of war, howled and started zig-zagging, blindly attacking the air as though they could bite or claw the thing that was killing them invisibly.

On a good day the Eighth Company could manage four vollies in a minute, though rarely eight vollies in two. In the morning cold, men's hands were stiff and they had to take care not to spill powder and shot, but the first two ranks were nearly done reloading nevertheless.

"FIRE!" Almost as crisp as the first shots, the first sections of his company let fly with more leaden hail. "FIRE!" the captain of musketeers shouted again, the second wave of flintlocks going off as the front-rankers whirled back through the line, the formation slowly giving a few grudging yards of ground one salvo at a time. "FIRE!" and the milling hellhounds cried out in anger and confusion as bullets whirred past or tore at them.

Left to their own devices they might have run, but the shadow-lord's will drove them on. It thought ferocity into the packs of beasts at the front of the charge, and their heads lifted, eye-fires brightening as they began sprinting the last dozens of yards.

Delatour gave the commands once again, modified only slightly- "Buck and ball- PRIME!" and ordered vollies as fast as the ranks could level, pull their triggers, and wheel into the countermarch. Three more salvoes, a hundred bullets more, with the slight rattle of buckshot driven down the barrel before the ball. The musketeers' fire was oblique now, starting to take the hellhounds in flank as they bore down on another part of the Ohioan line. More crashes, the storm of musketry ongoing from left and- mostly- right as four more companies more poured fire into the summoned monsters. The captain nodded to himself; intuitively he'd felt that placing his company far enough ahead of the pikes to allow nine sectional vollies was right, in spite of the speed of the beasts. He'd been correct, and the last countermarch brought them right back to their place in line-

"Front ranks- brace to receive!" The two rows of musketeers knelt, the creatures only seconds away, and formed a hedge of bayonets against the monsters. One that, Delatour realized, they would not be needing at first.

In spite of the bloody hail of musketry lashing the flame-shot creatures' lead wave, Delatour saw that the leading wolfpacks were still loping toward the pikes of the Eleventh Company, to his right- whose long spears would pose an impassable barrier to any creature large enough to be struck at. What had the devil on the hill been thinking- oh. Rather than charge in among the pikes, the creatures stopped, eight, ten paces from the Ohioan ranks, close enough that many of the musket companies could not fire full vollies without shooting their own men in the sides and back.

Smoke and flame quivered from the creatures' throats as their eyes flamed brighter still, building with deep inhalations of breath. The drummers kept up the tone, the men their muttered prayers... just because a foe could be fought with steel didn't mean steel would be enough. Indeed, it would not; these hellish dogs had the hellish breath to go with their origin. Cones of flame, broad, red, sooty, shot forth from the mouths of the Beasts, engulfing the Ohioan front line.

The pikemen held, their front-rankers' eyes tight shut, praying as magical flame washed over them- over their heavy leathers, mail, and breastplates. Some garments, decorative ones, caught fire, men dropped spears to beat out the flames- but not many. Armor held, the pikes held. Their ranks were, miraculously, singed rather than seared.

At the fifteen or twenty feet of distance imposed by the bright blades of the Ohioan pikes, the demon's minions lacked the power to reliably put down a warrior of the faithful with their hell-breath. Held at bay, the summoned creatures snarled at their human enemies...

And then a crackling volley from the third rank of Delatour's left-hand musket platoon slammed into the beasts, crossing their own frontage and firing past the corner of the Eleventh Company's pikes. The eight-round salvo struck home with a few balls; the others darted back reflexively- and Delatour's lieutenants shouted as one.

"FIRE!"

Both platoons' next files crashed and bled the fiends, countermarching again, the next ranks stepping up to ready their pieces in case the hellhounds didn't break and run, preserving the strength of the firing line.

Still the front two ranks of musketeers crouched, warning off the fiends with bayonets. A smaller pack was trotting up even now, and others were peeling away from their blunted attack pikes. They stopped, and a few began the long inhalation-

"FIRE!" Lieutenant Carpentier of the right platoon, directly threatened, gave the command; his next file with loaded pieces put three bullets out of eight into the pair of hellhounds preparing to drown them in flame. One creature fell, the other yelped as a graze drew blood from its hind leg and a few bits of buckshot riddled its rump- but that still delayed the threat for a few seconds more, for the next fusillade, and the next-

Viciously, the demon dogs lunged- met by more section vollies, several creatures almost torn apart by half a dozen musket-balls apiece, and the remainder trying to drive in with fang and claw where flame hadn't served. They were met with disciplined thrusts of the bayonet to throats and bellies, Twisting and snapping at the guns rather than the men, in the manner of an animal, the hellhounds were momentarily stymied. They could not bull past the steadfast courage of Delatour's front two ranks, who held their ground kneeling, fighting with the brave desperation of men who would be instantly overrun if they failed.

And each pair of bayonet-men in front in turn bought time for their four fellows in back...




The cries of "FIRE!" lashed out every few seconds now, the lieutenants trusting their men to pick individual targets, firing over the heads of their comrades down into the beasts who snarled at bay or leapt in trying to twist past the bristling double line of bayonets. The monsters most ready to use their burning breath were already dead, gunned down by Ohioan fire in turn. Still, the hellhounds pressed the attack.

A beast gripped madly at a musket, tearing its lips on the steel blade fixed to its tip but tearing it from Renard's grasp, another leaping forward to savage him, landing and driving him down even as the plume-decorated musketeer behind him ripped its belly just behind the ribcage with a lunge, levering it off him; a pair from the third file broke ranks to haul Renard back and one stepped up to take his place.

His men fought and strove, standing their ground, meeting flames with bullets and teeth with steel. Delatour took a moment to see the shape of the battle- more of the same all along the flank, the pikes holding their own with what cover the musketeers could provide, the musketeers- with some alarm Delatour saw the Sixth Company even harder-pressed than his own, at least a dozen of them screaming and afire on the far side of a block of pikes, but he could do nothing at the moment. Blanchard was shouting to his reserve, that should do it, assuming- oh.

Not without alarm, the captain of musketeers looked to the left and right. This devil evidently knew something of tactics. The tightly knit ranks of Ohioan soldiers were withstanding his attack, but the dogs were fast and individually deadly. Loping hellhounds trotted around the flanks of the Imperial line- and the cavalry horns sounded from the rear.

Two arcs of Kaskaskians, extending the line, howled ululating war-cries as they spurred their horses to the gallop in the freewheeling lance charge that made their kind masters of the Illinois prairie. The collision was grim, the Kaskaskian horses swooping down fast enough that the hellhounds struggled to find targets for their flames, often spitting fire at horsemen who were gone before the hounds could finish drawing breath. Long spears punched into the red-and-black bodies of the otherworldly creatures. They died hard, snapping at the lance-shafts, but they died... and certainly were in no shape to wrap around the flanks of the regiment's line while tangling with the cavalry.

A third pack had come up against the Eighth Company's front, Delatour's carefully conserved sectional vollies, from behind the thin hedge of blades had let him hold the line like a castle made out of men. So far, he'd taken few losses... which the devil's hounds were trying to change, crushing his 'castle' by weight of fury and flame.

Five dogs drew breath at once, and two survived unharmed long enough to finish. Jets of fire washed across the front- six men went down crying out and rolling, with only the stars' own mercy to save the charges of gunpowder in their cartridge-boxes from exploding. One's screams ended in a ghastly parody of a firework's pops as it did. More screams. The burning men scrabbled to extinguish themeselves in the frozen mud, their fellows battling madly to save them from being torn apart by hellhounds.

Out rapped the command of "FIRE!," again and again, one file at a time, separately from each platoon, rippling bullets into the most dangerous of the beasts in front of them to drive back the threat, before the weakness in the front could be opened fully. A hammerblow was still striking the hellhounds every few seconds. Again, again... it felt like hours; Delatour saw where three dogs died dragging down the bayonets and opening a hole at the join of his two platoons. His sword was already in hand; he spurred his horse forward into the melee, struck down at one hound, another- hardly sure his blade was even touching them, whether it scratched them or cleaved them apart, barely able to care-

The lieutenants shouted again, simultaneously, "FIRE!" More of the hellhounds fell, the mass of them seeming to change, the spells controlling them finally cracking under the weight of blood and fear. "FIRE!" as the two ranks in reserve stepped up and leveled. And that last blow, so close upon on the heels of the first, was at last more than even a pack of savage hounds from hell could stand, turning and running back, the three packs they'd broken tangling with a fourth the shadow-lord had directed in after.

Blanchard's shouts were audible clearly, even with Delatour's ears ringing from the guns and the pulse hammering in his veins, as the colonel advanced on foot, sword drawn, at the head of the flying column of musketeers he'd peeled off as a reserve from the companies he'd left at base. The rumble of the Kaskaskians' hooves as they swept in, cutting at the flanks of the milling mass of Beasts, shook Delatour's chest.

The hounds, slashed and speared, with further volleys tearing into them even when they broke away from the Ohioan line... shattered. Peeling back even from the battered Sixth Company, they fled, yelping, driven to collective panic, the pack mentality turning them from savages to cringing curs in a heartbeat. Beaten, fleeing- still the sabres and lances of the plainsmen carving into them, driving them back toward the evil ruined tower... though when a bugle called from Blanchard's side to halt the pursuit, the Kaskaskians obeyed far faster than was normal for their wild breed.

The devil's hounds might be beaten, but their master still stood, like a statue twice man-height, darker than night, arms folded, eyes burning... the shadow-lord raised a hand, and hurled a javelin of lightning at the center of the tercio's lines.




As the great mass of the Beasts of Bogazdan ran back toward him, galled beyond endurance by the spears and bullets of the human phalanx, Xazonar felt not only frustration, but confusion.

His beasts should have been able to win on this field, against that number of humans, even given their too-clever stone-throwers. Their breath should have charred the flesh of armored warriors, not singed their hair. They should have had the strength, the augmented courage, the fast-healing and enhanced senses to break in among the long spears and feast on the warriors thus cooked.

And yet, where there were supposed to be hundreds of charred corpses, with a thousand screaming, panicked apes fleeing and casting aside their weapons, there remained an army. A somewhat bloodied army, but one very much battle-ready.

Something was guarding these humans, damping the planar magics... Yes, there was a power upon them, brought now into focus as it defended them. The shadow-lord paused to analyze the defense. Much as the effect of the human cannon upon the tower and Beasts of Bogazdan had revealed their powers and limitations, the peculiar magic-resistance of the human soldiers, acting upon the Beasts' innate magical abilities, revealed much about the nature of that defense. And where a mortal sorceror like Guillory would simply perceive that he had been thwarted, Xazonar possessed entire sensoria unknown to lesser beings, and arcane knowledge pillaged from the ruins of otherworldly empires. It could discern what truly guarded the legion before it.

Most obvious to Xazonar's witch-sight- the ghosts. Buzzing, swirling ghosts, bound to the ranks of human infantry it knew not how, with none of the signatures of death-magic normally required to enslave mortal spirits. As there was a material phalanx of pikes and stone-throwers across the field from him, likewise there was a spiritual phalanx.

But ghosts were, on this plane, generally puny things. Creatures of dreams and visions and the most trifling scratches and bumps in the night. The idea of a phalanx of ghosts was like the idea of a phalanx of thistledown. What source of energy could be powering such a peculiar defense?

The Ohioans were chanting; it was hard to pick out individual voices but Xazonar suspected they were crying out, beseeching some entity. The chant elicited some degree of power, the glow of at least a thousand wills, individually tiny, but collected together like the rays of the sun in a burning-glass. And, to complete the metaphor, there was a focus, a reflecting mirror, of course.

Even through the distortions of the ether behind the veil of the Ohioan ghosts, Xazonar could tell that much. The energies liberated by the human prayers were channeled to the robed women tucked behind their phalanx. To them, and then- somewhere- a destination surely not of this world, perhaps not of this plane. And there was most definitely a return stroke coming back, amplified and matching and bracing the latent sparks even mortals held within themselves.

That was a power it liked not at all.

Experimentally, Xazonar reached up and stirred the air, tossing a modest thunderbolt at the pikes, to see what would happen.

The return stroke, the channel of power flowing into the robed women, brightened, sharply. Power in turn flashed out from them, at first seemingly aimlessly- but no, it was flowing to the ghosts. Which, in turn, brightened, fast as thought, flickering into the path of the thunderbolt, resisting Xazonar's own sorcery with surprising subtlety.

It was not impossible that the air over the field of battle might be charged and discharged in such a strange pattern. It was not unthinkable that Xazonar's spell should ground itself into the dirt fully fifty yards short of its target. Unlikely, granted... and yet the thunderbolt did, blasting a small crater in the dead grass. The shadow-lord tried again, a bit more forcefully, concentrating its will. The bolt landed closer to their phalanx, spraying a few pikemen with earth and scraps of flaming turf. Gratifying that this was not an unstoppable wall- at least not to a shadow-lord. A bit more focus and it would have burned through. But no feeble, casual effort would penetrate it. No wonder the mortal wizard Xazonar had killed had been so desperate as to conjure up a demon he couldn't hope to control.

Meanwhile, the mortals did not stand idle. Xazonar had experience of mortal warfighting, and had worked out within a few minutes the human use of drums to coordinate their actions. What the drum signals meant, it could learn only by observation. But this one obviously meant: Attack!

The human horde marched forward, wills interlocked. bodies moving in time as though puppets even though he detected no true control on their minds. Xazonar had been present for- a participant in- the fall of Atlantis. It remembered the phalanxes of the city's guardians- like this, but unlike this.

It had fought- had been summoned to fight, and bound more competently than today- in tropical wars, and recalled watching a swarm of conjured army ants creeping across the field- unthinking, relentless, seeking the life of those before it- and again, like but unlike this slow-marching block of men.

In spaces spread along the human line, between the ranks of spears, the ones with stone-throwers stopped. Leveled their weapons at it. The crash of their firing, the pouring wall of gunsmoke- briefly reminded Xazonar of home.
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Raw Shark
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Re: Pre-Industrial Fantasy STGOD Story Thread.

Postby Raw Shark » 2016-01-01 09:29am

Though it is the rainy season, my talents are not disregarded. The weather patterns are erratic in this land, as suits the whims of the gods, and a good cactus waterer with a reliable mule train is hard to find.

The bulk of the cacti that guard the hot zones are out in the northern frontier, so I'm able to bring two squads of the Emperor's musketeers with me when my apprentices and I dash across the open desert to prime the needlers with enough water to choke a camel. Each of us works out for eight hours a day, just to be in top form to make this single 60-minute run, but the benefits to our forces are immeasurable and our espirit d'corps is high.

Sometimes, when I empty my water skins over a cacti's roots, I feel like we are as one with each other, the cactus and I; that our minds are connected. Nothing has ever come of it before, until today. As I shake my skin empty, the cactus begins to quietly yodel and quiver. It is not the only one. My head darts around, searching for the threat, but I can't make out anything... Within seconds, the cacophony reaches a crescendo and the cactus nearest to me is violently shaking! I throw myself to the ground, just as it detonates, and everything goes a little...

"Do I really look like a guy with a plan? Y'know what I am? I'm a dog chasing cars. I wouldn't know what to do with one if I caught it! Y'know, I just do things..." --The Joker

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Re: Pre-Industrial Fantasy STGOD Story Thread.

Postby Zwinmar » 2016-01-01 01:39pm

A white blanket of snow a meter or more deep lay heavy over the frozen plains. High over head in the chilled air dark wings beat in a rhythmic staccato as sharp amber eyes follow the grid of depressed snow which leading deep into the broken landscape in the west. Even in the height of summer the eyes can follow the same grid, though then it is of worked stone beside which the yellow grasses flow in undulating waves. At precise intervals a low mound reflected by its warm updraft lies adjacent to the stone roads housing way stations at the smaller seemingly simple domes of earth housing travelers from the elements. Each of these are situated a quarter days ride of the next, with every fourth being much larger encompassing a large earthen embankment carefully shaped geometrically into five pointed stars with heavy cannons at each point.

These fortifications house a platoon of wolf mounted cavalry which patrol the square grind which each is housed. As well as a more permanent company of infantry which operate the cannon and provide security for the trading post within. At each gate a large stele composed of iron or stone capped by a wolf's head of the same give the basic laws of the land. It is only before these that arguments may take place, whether verbal or physical. Each of these way stations also hold something vital, and the primary reason for the troops present, a kennel of the fastest wolves with special harnesses for holding letters.

Even now, the amber eyes can track a brace of said wolves tearing down the snow covered road depressions at a fast clip. They are remarkably silent as they sprint their large paws barely breaking the crust of the snow. The distance is long but they are accustomed to the run, taking pride in how quickly they can make the next station where they will be greeted with cool water and hot meat.

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

As the eyes stray from the running brace across the distance to the station a group of four can barely be seen waiting, their cloaks blending seamlessly into the background with only the steel helmets giving away their presence by the disembodied dark spot over green skinned, tusked heads.

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Re: Pre-Industrial Fantasy STGOD Story Thread.

Postby Dark Hellion » 2016-01-01 11:29pm

Haze-a-sur looked out from the peaks of great Northern Mountain at the dragons below. She had watched them for ten thousands of the humans years. Such a short time. In this, she had seem them grow from little more than intelligent animals into a civilization. They had not achieved what the lesser races had in this time, which disappointed Haze but she could expect little more. It had taken one hundred million years for dragonkind to achieve their previous heights, so taking less than one percent of the time was still well on track.
Smelling the wind, Haze thought back to the last glimpse of the prophecy, an army of light facing off with a creature of darkness. Haze would have scoffed at the pathetic power of the lesser creatures against such a weak foe but she had to admire the courage of the humans. She saw the way the humans sparkled, bright as stars. There was a beauty to it. She watched the struggles, over and over on the tides of magic she saw in her dreams. She almost thought she should help, to crush the pitiful darklord between her claws and feel its darkness ooze out between her talons. But that fight wouldn't be for centuries. And the real effects of the battle wouldn't be for years beyond that. So Haze watched and waited as she had done for twenty centuries and would do for millenia more.
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Re: Pre-Industrial Fantasy STGOD Story Thread.

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-01-02 01:37am

Recommended Listening: Mars, Bringer of War

The human horde marched forward, wills interlocked. bodies moving in time as though puppets even though it detected no true control on their minds...

In spaces spread along the human line, between the ranks of spears, the ones with stone-throwers stopped. Leveled their weapons at it. The crash of their firing, the pouring wall of gunsmoke- briefly reminded Xazonar of home.


Lead was the basest of metals, and the shadow-lord's presence and Will were among the highest order that this plane commonly saw. Xazonar drove the volley of bullets away from itself. No, more than that, it simply rejected them, ignored, declined. No mortal toy had power over his kind. More than a man-sized target, even at this range it might well have been struck by a few dozen balls- probably had, for it felt pressure, blowing it back faintly, like a wind. Wind would probably have accomplished as much.

The musketeers whirled, a practiced dance of some kind, then another row leveled and fired. Another... Xazonar let out an avalanche roll of laughter- interrupted.




Captain Delatour kept his features immobile as the devil across the field laughed, seemingly unharmed by the musketeers' fire. Somehow, he sensed, closing on the beast wouldn't help the matter. Not allowing himself a quaver, though, he bellowed with a trained voice designed to reach ringing ears, "Prime and load!" The soldiers, reflexively, turned to ready their weapons.

BANG! He was quite surprised when one of the regimental four-pounders barked to his left. Another on the right end of the line. But he did not allow himself the slightest quaver, and if his men were pale, few of them fumbled as they drew the little wooden cartridges from their belt-boxes and poured powder into the flintlocks.

BANG! BANG! A pair more from the center battalion. The first few cannon-shots must have missed the demon outright. Then a fourth gun barked, and the monster flinched, a shower of sparks flying as an iron cannonball slammed against unholy wards.

Permitting a smile to crack the stone of his war face, Delatour kept one eye on his men and the other on the devil. They weren't completing the musket drill as fast this time, but the rolling drums and the steady murmurs of prayer on their lips kept their minds from cracking at the impossibility of the task. They stood, they prepared, they would give fire again. And again. As many times as it took, or as many times as fate permitted them. The Regiment of Fayette would hold, and not break, and stop this fiend before it became a menace on the northern marches... somehow.

With a weight of resignation, Delatour was beginning to realize how. The effect of the field guns was a disappointment on that level. And the grandfather of his dreams had spoken truly... The young captain could hardly suppress his fear. The murmured prayers he'd been keeping up along with his men... he concentrated on them, felt the peace of the stars, of his Star, so far away, beyond even the evils of demons. He remembered himself, all that he held true and loyal to, steeling himself for the duty it seemed Fate was guiding him to.

He checked his pistols again, kept an eye on his men, shrugging slightly. Who could know? Perhaps his grandfather's ghost was talking nonsense, and the bitter chalice might pass from him.

Whatever happens... constancy. In victory, in defeat, always constancy.




Xazonar reeled under two blows from the human siege weapons. They were swift, swift, like few things it had ever encountered before, too fast to block or dodge. And unlike the lesser stone-throwers carried on the shoulder by mortal soldiers, the impetus of the heavy iron balls was enough to exert meaningful force through the shadow-lord's wards, its innate immunity to weapons of base metal.

Pained by the impacts, it regained its footing, knowing it would have considerable time while the mortals fed and prepared the engines for another attack. The lesser stone-throwers let off another one of those little dances, but those blows it could ignore.

This wasn't the first time, nor the twentieth, that mortal weapons had at least managed to cause Xazonar discomfort. It knew the possibility and had accepted it the moment it decided to go into combat against such a host of soldiery. But there was still that stinging sense of offense, of a lesser creature daring to strike at a greater.

Did the humans think they were immune to the power of a shadow-lord, because their arms had defeated its minions and their ghosts were interfering with magic? Then it would not strike them with magic- not directly. It would strike them with the most mundane of destruction, with the very stones of the earth!

Grunting with effort, Xazonar spread clawed hands wide and lifted, making throwing gestures as it stirred up the reservoir of power it had amassed while the Beasts had harried the human phalanx.

Beneath Xazonar's feet, the rubble left of the ruined tower broke up, portions lifting into the air, and cries of dismay broke into the rhythm of the human drums. The drums shifted, the humans beginning to pray again- as well they should, as boulders began arcing through the sky to fall among their ranks. It noted with satisfaction that the sight of a sky-avalanche had at least momentarily delayed the humans serving the siege-weapons. Did they think they were the only ones who could move great things, or do so swiftly?

The shadow-lord paused, then, propping up its spell with much power but little concentration, and ignoring another pointless wash of bullets from the musketeers, to isolate something... the first hint of real wizardry it had encountered on this day, aside from its own and that of the slain hedge-wizard's.

Xazonar's human enemies showed no sign of intelligent direction of the power that flowed into them from... elsewhere. The only threats at their disposal would come from their blades and bullets. And it understood such a threat, in broad if not in detail. But this was different- NGH!

The humans were bold, even as boulders slaughtered the spearmen and stone-thrower-men around them, they still served their engines. Xazonar staggered back another pace up the hill, struck by cannonballs in the calf and shoulder, two more eruptions of sparks and dark antiflame bursting from the barriers of force that guarded its flesh. Hissing, it suppressed the urge to rub its leg.

A pity it couldn't effectively direct its sky-avalanche from behind the hill, as it had summoned the beasts of Bogazdan... But let it never be said that Xazonar couldn't withstand a little pain for the sake of victory.

In any event... no, the wizardry it detected was definitely not human in origin. Too proud to tolerate intrusion lightly, but trying to finish before the next volley from the Ohioan four-pounders, the shadow-lord probed that trace of magic...

And abruptly cut off its spell of investigation, lest it probe too deeply into a threat beyond even its considerable might. Whatever entity deigned to scry on Xazonar... was both distant in time and far too powerful to even contemplate launching a counterspell against! Xazonar took a moment to fervently hope that this distant power remained distant.
_____________________

Captain Delatour watched with trepidation- this was fell magic indeed, and in his belly he once again felt the certainty of ruin coming down upon him and his. The magic that blasted so many tons of rock into the air, hurling them like darts across hundreds of yards, he shuddered to imagine. And they kept coming, more and more flying into the air in waves every few seconds... the first few were tumbling out of the air, growing larger, sliding sideways across his view.

Screams began from the Ohioan ranks, stones landing with bone-shattering force, killing, sometimes one man, sometimes more... The devil continued to gesture, wielding its magics for unknown purposes, no doubt to the further agony and suffering of pious soldiers.

He thanked the sun above, now rising further and lighting the battlefield more properly, that the stones seemed inaccurate. And checked his double-brace of pistols for the last time; it could prove... embarrassing to have one stick in its belt.




Growling in confusion, Xazonar realized that too many- how? of the stones fell short, or flew long. Some of them soared over the human ranks, causing gratifying chaos as they slammed into pikeshafts, wrenched them loose from the holders' hands, and dropped them into the phalanx- but not enough. It had done this before, many times, and warriors huddled so tightly should have been falling much faster than this under the rain of rocks.

Its plans, its powers, were being interfered with, as with the thunderbolt! And though there was no magic in the falling rocks themselves, still there was interference! This was something new. Being no fool, Xazonar looked more closely.

The barrier of ghosts, which had damped the fires of its minions in defense of the human phalanx, which had deflected its lightnings, now scattered to bring unnatural ill-luck to that which threatened their living compatriots. Stones directed by chance chanced to bounce high, or low, to plunge into the dirt rather than roll into their feet. Some were striking, nonetheless- Xazonar grinned from ear to ear as three of the stone-thrower-men were crushed into ruined meat by the same hurtling boulder. But not enough, not fast enough… and these mortals had weapons capable of at least harming a shadow-lord, while it stood here to complete the barrage.

In any event, protected by their ghosts, this would take time, and Xazonar did not relish the idea of standing out here as a practice target for their siege weapons.

It singled out a few of the ghosts, exerted that part of its will which was not required to throw rocks, and squeezed. Their structure threatened, the anchored shades of the Fayette Regiment’s ghosts wailed with voices inaudible to human ears- pleasing to a demon’s. But more of the ghosts darted close, guarding each other as avidly as they guarded the humans marching beneath them. Xazonar concentrated, growling, clenching its fists in symbolism. At last, one of the ghosts burst.

Buoyed by success, it launched this attack again, again. Bullets sprayed across its body. a few times. Three, maybe four. Xazonar wasn’t really paying attention. Rocks fell, men died. The Ohioan line stood and took the abuse, a few gaps opening in the ranks, but frustratingly to the fiend, no movement! No screaming save from the wounded, no running about, no sign of breaking ranks, just the occasional crash, smoke-puff, and whistling harmlessness as the stone-throwers fired another volley.

Apparently, it was the custom of this race of men to stand in great boxes while certain, unavoidable death rained from the heavens, without so much as attempting to dodge. That was… unusual. Perhaps these humans were too stupid to know they were being killed? Too witless to duck?

The experience, of picking off ghosts and trying to kill off men with the boulders, was like trying to sink a floating cork with a clenched fist- an exercise in frustration. No one of the thousands of shades could withstand the crushing powers of a shadow-lord. Collectively, they did... and though it popped them like bubbles, splattered them into the immaterium minute by minute... at this rate the slaughtering could go on until this world's sun sank below the ground and not be finished. Too many to destroy!

And while the fiery lord preoccupied itself with the swarm of disenchanting gnats flittering around the mortals' ranks... the gunners had readied their engines once again.

Those were a threat. Perhaps it should attack them directly, see if that would frighten the mortals. Idly sustaining the sorcerous sky-avalanche, a bridge of flying stones still hurtling through the air to pelt the human phalanx, it pulled forth one rock in particular. Levitated it before its eyes, power flaming from its gaze... the stone glowed, melted, swirled, danced. With posturing sound and fury the humans let fly with another drizzle of bullets and failed to inconvenience the shadow-lord. It ignored them, it was busy- it looked down at its hands, focusing on the gestures-

BANG!

Another cannonball slammed against the demon's wards, drove them back and thumped painfully against its middle before ricocheting off to the side. Grunting and giving back a half-pace, it spilled some of the curled ball of magma.

Enough! Bellowing, the shadow-lord directed a jet of molten rock at another of the human siege engines, one whose servants were just now lifting the little iron ball into its mouth. Two dozen ghosts converged, moving fast as thought, seemed to pull at the lava-blast- but the magic of the deep planes was stronger, and they recoiled, wailing and reeling from the carefully aimed and sorcerously charged projectile.

Splashing lava rained across the human gunners, who fell. Those most lightly touched screamed pleasingly, rolling and clutching at deep burns. Others lay still, smoking... fires crackled on the wooden underbelly of the mortal weapon... there was a surprising CRASH! louder even than the firing of the weapon. Perhaps the energies of the engine's operation had been set loose, and turned themselves on its servants? Wood flew into splinters from the gun-carriage, and the screams came louder, now, from wider afield.




Recommended Listening, again.

Xazonar took a moment to rest; the lava-bomb had taken some real effort, especially while sustaining its sky-avalanche to batter the enemy's phalanx.

Five of the human engines remained, though some men among the crew of the engine nearest its target were down, wounded in the destruction of the sixth. The other mortals brought their long staff-torches to the rear of the devices- and Xazonar prudently took the opportunity to step to the right, so as to spoil their aim.

A second later it cursed the inaccuracy of the human engines. A four-pound cannonball struck its left horn forcefully enough to knock chips loose, wrenching the shadow-lord's head around. That would be hard to polish out.

To the accompaniment of a spatter of musket-balls, the shadow-lord had a realization. Perhaps THAT was why the idiot mortals stood there like concussed drudge-goblins while death rained down on them! They were accustomed to weapons so inaccurate that attempting to escape death was pointless- the safest place to stand was their very target!

More stones fell, this time among a block of spearmen, actually striking a few- wait! One of the humans on horseback was moving!

Moving... towards the hill?

For a moment, Xazonar genuinely wondered if this one had forgotten the flag of truce used by the other, horn-bearing human from earlier. A rain of boulders like this usually caused human armies to surrender. Or at least back up a bit. But... no. This one was riding forward a bit faster, even, than he had an instant before.

Had these humans found a paladin?
_____________________________________

Captain Henri Delatour, son of Henri Delatour, Viscount of Vincennes, found himself fervently praying to his ancestors, both close and distant, to any star that would listen, not just the greatest and nearest. He prayed that he had understood his own dreams correctly. He prayed that such dreams offered real and honest guidance, which he had many times been told, but never himself experienced. He prayed that he would do nothing to disgrace himself, or his ailing father, or the company he commanded, or the nation and faith for which he fought. He prayed that the living stars, the living Star, would shield him from the horrible, unknown magics that the devil on the hill would no doubt unleash against his person.

He prayed, in short, that this was going to work.

At first to the gasps, then to the shouts, of his men, Captain Delatour spurred his brown gelding forward. He darted out and under the barrage of head-sized rocks- and some bigger- striking into and around the Ohioan ranks. He rode for the shadow-lord- the flame-eyed creature that stood proudly against an army of a thousand, that which spurned all of its bullets, and even its artillery. Against this, he brought his sword, his valor, the loads charging his pistols... and his faith.
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Re: Pre-Industrial Fantasy STGOD Story Thread.

Postby The Romulan Republic » 2016-01-02 03:42am

A tall, athletic elvish woman strode up the stoney, snow-speckled valley where the Queen's Council of the Wanderers had camped, flanked by two Guards in polished armour with long swords at their sides. They were with her always, a ceaseless reminder, as if she needed one, of the powers, and burdens, of her station. The icy wind bit viciously at her, but she ignored it.

A large white tent sat at the base of the southern slope of the valley, on the far side of the little stream that ran down its middle. Stepping across the stream with her accostomed grace, Queen Zymire entered the tent, trading gestures of acknowledgement with the two Guards flanking the entrance, and the long line of bedraggled petitioners who saluted her in passing. Her own escort remained outside as well. Two more Guards protected the opposite entrance. Inside, eight elves sat cross-legged to the left of the northern entrance, forming a semi-circle along the wall of the tent. As Zymire entered, they each made the traditional gestures of loyalty and service, and she replied in kind. This was the Queen's Council of the Wanderers, and though their people were scattered and impoverished, and the great towers of their lost homeland lay in ruins, still their was a formal dignity to this assembly.

Zymire noted the presence of a short, well-built elf with reddish hair- Captain Adin of the Royal Rangers. She seethed with well-concealed anger at his presence. Not out of any animosity toward him-he was by all accounts a competent and loyal commander-but because of why he was here. Her brother was theoretically the Royal Rangers' liaison to the Council, but he preferred to be deployed in the field whenever the opportunity arose, seeking glory and adventure with scarcely a thought to the duties that would have to fall upon someone else, much less the momentous blow it could be to their people if he were taken or slain. Zymire tried to convince herself that it was merely her sense of concern for the good of her people, and not personal sentiment, that caused her to fear that possibility.

She took her seat, a simple white cushion in place of the carved wooden throne that had been lost in a river crossing six months ago, and had not yet been replaced. She glanced to her left, past the wiry but proud figure of First Scholar Varyx, to the First Council's Scribe, Sedan. He began to speak at once, opening with the required formalities before proceeding to a summary of the reports from various outlying camps and scouting parties, including an accounting of which groups had yet to cross the mountains and which had refused her summons, or had not responded at all. This was followed by a summary of the state of their provisions. They were perilously short of most essentials, but that had become a customary difficulty. Zymire listened attentively, and like the others, raised her head in solemn remembrance as Sedan listed the casualties they had suffered in the crossing of the mountains. They were less than she had expected, but each death represented an irreplaceable and monumental loss, an immortal life cut forever from existence.

When the count had been concluded, Sedan asked if anyone else had business that they wished to lay before the Council. It was of course a formality-their was always a line of petitioners outside the tent, even in a blizzard in a mountain pass-but by tradition Council Members could speak first.

Captain Adin addressed her immediately.

"Your Highness, I am pleased to report that our forward scouting parties have reached the base of the mountains. Captain Everin sends his regards, and informs me that he intends to push on to the Western Coast before returning to this encampment." To his credit, the Captain kept his face blank as he delivered her brother's message, matching her equally cold expression. "All reports indicate an abundant land, largely unpopulated, which, with the assistance of magic, and our potential trading connections, should largely suffice to support our people until more sustainable agriculture can be established in the spring." That much was fortunate, at least. "Unfortunately", the Captain continued, "I have received a disturbing report from one Captain Diiv of the Aryl Clan, who is currently encamped near with a number of families and a small contingent of Rangers."

Zymire listened silently as he described the attack, and the evidence that suggested that the Sylix were responsible, as usual.

"Due to the casualties he has suffered, and his lack of additional forces", Captain Adin said, "Captain Diiv elected not to pursue, pending reinforcements or further instructions. Thus concludes my report, your Highness."

She considered the situation briefly, then turned to First Captain Suriv, seated immediately to her left.

"Can we spare a detachment of Rangers to reinforce Captain Diiv without unduly compromising our forces here?"

She noted the displeasure in Captain Adin's expression. The Rangers did not always appreciate being expected to defer to the Guard, but Suriv outranked Adin, and that was all their was to the matter.

"We could spare a score, I believe, while retaining a sufficient margin for our own defence, and for unexpected eventualities", the First Captain replied. "More, once the outlying scouts begin to return."

Zymire nodded graciously, then turned to the right to the First Scholar, and seated beyond him, First Healer Tela.

"I want you each to assign one of your order to the party. Captain Adin", she turned to the Ranger again, "Select a captain from among your number to lead them. Instruct him to respond in the usual manner." A response in kind, a life taken for a life taken, and their people recovered. "First Council's Scribe, send a message to Kelowna expressing our displeasure." It would make no difference, she knew, but the formalities had to be observed.

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Re: Pre-Industrial Fantasy STGOD Story Thread.

Postby Jub » 2016-01-02 05:27am

Smiling Rushes' Raiding Party
The Shores of Lake Francois
11th Moon Waning, Winter of the year of Omens, 4563 (Early Winter, Game Year 1)


The canoes drifted away from the shoreline loaded with raiders, prisoners, and spoils. Each canoe now only had four men guide it, but that was all the each of the sleek long craft needed to guide them out into the lake. The raiding party was soon out of sight from the shore, gone like a phantom in the night.

In the lead canoe Wide Paw stood guard over the prisoners, now trussed up and unlikely to escape, but none the less worthy of a careful eye. This canoe was the calmer of the two even with the nearly palpable buzz of excitement coming off of its occupants. These newly minted men were well trained, and disciplined but couldn't help chatting among themselves while navigating towards the eastern end of Lake Francois.

The second canoe, trailing a safe distance behind was full of rather more drama. Smiling Rushes knelt over his badly wounded brother and finally had the chance to see the wound. It was a clean stab wound deep and to the inside of the femur. Not the sort of wound that could be closed by any but the most skilled healer, or a spirit. Never one formed from the right clay to be a priest, Smiling Rushes wasn't sure if he could work with a spirit strong enough to heal his brother, but he knew he wasn't about to let the chance pass without trying.

The smudge was once again lit, but this time as a stand in for a fire. Next he took up his drum and started to beat a steady rhythm. The fire dimmed and started to let off thick black smoke, a sign that something lurking within the lake was listening. Heart racing, Smiling Rushes threw back his head and let loose a long ululating cry weaving in words like 'please', 'help', 'save', and 'anything'. The smudge went out.

Great bubbles rose forth from the lake and a voice more felt than heard boomed out from the depths, “You dare petition Gitaskog the guardian of this lake without so much as the proper rights?”

The rowers of the canoe stopped paddling, Smiling Rushes stopped his chant, and all waited in rapt silence to see if death was rushing up from below.

The voice came again, this time, smoother and accented with a dark sinister tone, “Your fear suits you well, as does your desperation. This pleases me so I shall consider your request.”

The eldest of the raiders composed himself and replied, voice steadier than he imagined it could be, “Great Gitaskog, you honor us with your reply and indebt us with your graciousness. I am Smiling Rushes and my request is that you mend my brother's wound and save his life.”

The great serpent paused a moment and responded with a haughty laugh, “You ask me, the destroyer of men, for healing? That is bold. I like bold. I will grant your request.

You need only fill a waterskin from this lake and pour it over his wound to ensure that he shall live, but know that by doing forfeits Smiling Rushes' to me.

Knowing this, do you still wish my aid?”

Smiling Rushes considered this price for only a moment before answering with, “I accept, I will trade my life for my brother's.”

“Very well,” was the short reply.

The bubbles faded and the lake was again still. Silence loomed over the boat marking an uncomfortable pause. Then, it was broken by the sound of a waterskin being dipped into the lake.

Another voice came in stirred from stupor by Gitaskog's price, it was weak and pained, “You shouldn't do this. Not for me.”

“Someday you'll understand my choice,” was the reply.

It was followed by the sound of pouring water and the cries of two anguished brothers. One's agony came from flesh being knitted with what felt like needles of ice. The other's came from a sudden burning that engulfed his body. The cries lasted what seemed an eternity, but when they ended two brothers still remained alive in the canoe. And, somewhere no Syilx had ever set foot, a dragon smiled.

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Re: Pre-Industrial Fantasy STGOD Story Thread.

Postby Eternal_Freedom » 2016-01-02 09:35am

Imperial Academy Research Laboratories,
Hephaestus, Empire of Orion,
5th Day of Winter, 2955 AEF (Early Winter, Game Year 1)


The laboratories of the Imperial Academy were, as usual, a loud and moderately chaotic place. Sounds of countless experiments filled the air, the crackle of flames used to heat mixtures mingling with the eerie thrumming of Mage abilities being used in new and potentially dangerous ways. Voices were heard, some excited at some breakthrough, some resigned at another failure, others crying out in pain as something went badly wrong; cries of help for the duty Biomancers.

There were many experiments being conducted this day. In one lab, a team of Technomancers and several attendant Mnemomancers were working on a borrowed Army field gun, or rather, they were working on the ammunition. Many spare roundshot were carefully arranged to one side, with researchers carefully examining two of them, the colouring somewhat lighter than was normal.

“Chief, we are ready for the next test shot” announced one of the researchers.

“Very well. Gunners, make ready! Prepare the target!”

Whilst the gun crew readied the heavy gun for firing another team of researchers moved the heavy oaken target into position. This was an easier task than might be expected since the target, some twelve inces thick had been imbued with Technomantic weight-reducing enchantments. The researchers were trying to see if magical enchantments could be broken or penetrated by special shot; this would of course give the Army a great advantage in fighting against demons, dragons and perhaps even the stubbornly faithful Ohioan tercios.

The gunners finished loading and primed the gunlock, attaching a long lanyard before they and the other researchers retreated behind the magically-strengthened barricades used for protection during tests. The Chief Researcher took the lanyard from the gunner, looked over the barricade one last time before calling out:

“Test firing shot one-seven in three, two, one, firing!” With the last worked he pulled hard on the lanyard. The gunlock mechanism was released, the flint flying forward to hit the surface and strike sparks into the fine priming powder below. The powder ignited and burnt rapidly down into the gun’s chamber, there setting off the much larger but slower-burning powder charge. A thunderous report echoed around the laboratory as the heavy ball spat forth at the target downrange.

It struck with tremendous force, splintering and cratering the hard and heavy wood. But it had another effect, the weight-reducing enchantments collapsed as the specially-enchanted roundshot plowed through it. After a few moments the heavy ball smashed it’s way out the rear of the target and embedded itself in the sand pile specially placed for this purpose.

As the sounds of flying splinters abated and the lab fell silent, the researchers slowly counted to ten before emerging from their barricade. The smoke was venting out of the roof vents, drawn upwards and away by the drafts. The gun had recoiled until the breech-rope pulled taught and the target, well…

The target was a mess. A huge and jagged hole had been torn through the centre where the ball struck. The rear surface was massively splintered, the debris so produced having flung itself into the sand pile, the wall, the ceiling and anywhere else it might conceivably be. The researchers approached closer, and the Chief Technomancer extended his senses, looking to see if the anti-magic properties of the shot had been successful.

“I cannot feel the weight-reducing enchantments. You two, try lifting it.” The two indicated workers moved forwards; two people should have been sufficient if the enchantments had held. They gripped the handles and strained; the block shifted slightly but remained stubbornly where it was.

“The test is a success!” The Chief exclaimed in delight. “At least, it works on these enchantments. Now we must see if it will affect others as well.”
"I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams" - Hamlet

“I’ve always thought the Yankees had something to do with it.” - Confederate General George Pickett, on being asked why his charge at Ghettysburg failed

Corrax Entry 7:17: So you walk eternally through the shadow realms, standing against evil where all others falter. May your thirst for retribution never quench, may the blood on your sword never dry, and may we never need you again.

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Pike and Shot- Faith and Phantoms

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-01-02 12:03pm

Captain Delatour spurred his brown gelding forward. He darted out and under the barrage of head-sized rocks- and some bigger- striking into and around the Ohioan ranks. He rode for the shadow-lord- the flame-eyed creature that stood proudly against an army of a thousand, that which spurned all of its bullets, and even its artillery. Against this, he brought his sword, his valor, the loads charging his pistols... and his faith.


Recommended Listening, again.

Xazonar truly couldn't understand what had brought this on. Even the humans' siege weapons weren't going to put a shadow-lord down. And what arsenal did this human bear? A fluttery little needle of a sword? A miniature version of the already puny stone-throwing weapons? Had the mounted ape gone mad? Did the mortal think these toys to be some kind of magical weapon? Had he been told he bore some ancient relic of lost sorcery? Xazonar had been attacked by such things, knew their nature. Would have seen their power on the mounted man. Nothing, no weapons, no defenses. A few of the ghosts dancing around him, only a few, not enough to delay the will of Xazonar. As soon as he came out from under the bubble of his fellows' protection, he would fall as easily as a raindrop.

Then, to the supernatural vision of the shadow-lord, Delatour erupted in a halo of warding light.

Power, on a scale fully equal to the shadow-lord's own. The alien, otherworldly power that guarded the human lines, of a quality it had never yet experienced. Power flaring so bright around the women at the rear of their formation that Xazonar half-wondered if these were truly mortal creatures, or perhaps some minor order of entity from one of the more rarefied planes. But they, at least, were not a present threat... except that the approaching horseman sat under their shield, wrapped in the energies flowing into the Ohioan priestesses and out across the field.

Hissing anger like a rockslide, the shadow-lord twisted its fingers in a gesture of ultimate contempt, of damnation and magical destruction. It unleashed a curse which had, more than once, reduced lesser demons and armored knights into scraps and smears upon the ground.

Congealed, sorcerous hate flowed from Xazonar's hand, carving forward, tearing the very air aside in its path- ordinary mortals would detect only the shimmer of distorted atmosphere, while wizards would see a bolt of crushing antiflame, like the shadow-lord's own aura but concentrated to a needle-thin, weaponized point.

Antiflame struck halo. Ethereal blazes sprung up about Delatour and his horse. The cloud of guarding energies, funneled to the musketeer from the Living-Star priestesses twisted, deformed... rebounded! Shattered fragments of darkness arced to the ground as Xazonar's curse dispersed, its energies so depleted even the dead grass of the field was unharmed...

The humans' champion trotted forward.

This was worse than trying to duel the humans' war-engines. Their defense, wrapped around their whole army, could diminish the effect of the shadow-lord's magic. But focused on a lone champion, it had blocked the attack outright!

More than a little shaken, Xazonar considered other options quickly. A more overtly physical magic, such as a blast of absolute cold or elemental heat might work... or it might not. Even if the oncoming champion was effectively unarmed, better to eliminate it at a distance. A shadow-lord's physical superiority over lesser beings, great though it was, was far less significant than its magical superiority. It would be almost embarrassing to have to rely on pure physical force against so outmatched an 'opponent.'

And besides, there was still the human army to consider. Killing their champion would frighten them either way. But doing so by magic would teach it something about the strengths and weaknesses of this accursed and frustrating spirit-protection of theirs. The human was as hard a target for offensive magic as any Xazonar had encountered in an age- but perhaps he could be distracted?




Delatour felt a sudden sense of tension, his perception of balance whirling, the horizon shifting crazily. Impulsively he relaxed his grip on his horse, began to slip in the stirrups as he tried to compensate- till his analytical mind caught up and saw the devil's trick. Ignoring the evidence of his corruptible senses, he gripped his horse with his legs and hung on.

Then the ground swelled before him, swelled and burst, a cavern opening up before his feet- but his horse, somehow, did not see it. Delatour deduced another trick, and pressed on.

Fires erupted- and this time were swiftly quenched, before he could begin to flinch. Monstrous forms, bat-winged, leaped for him from his left with talons extended. Their bodies twisted into horrors beyond imagination, even by the standards of what he'd already faced today. But before he could draw his weapons to defend himself, they vanished in flashes of blue-white light, soothing despite their sunlike brilliance.

An intensely lovely, sloe-eyed houri beckoned to him from his right, all that was beautiful in the body of a single woman, a vision fit to pull a man's soul out through his eyes. Light flashed again, and that magnificent figure was swathed in draperies, muffled, fading, her calls receding... It wasn't until her absence tugged on his heart-strings that he realized how much she seemed like an absinthe dream he'd had once, on a wild, abandoned, regretted night in Louisville. Another trick... he gritted his teeth in anger at being used so.

Did this devil think a gentleman of Ohio could be used so?
_______________________

Could he be distracted? Apparently, he could not... and if Xazonar's magics were not being directly blocked, still, somehow, the shadow-lord perceived interference by outside energies, backing the mortal's own mental resistance- which was high for his kind.

Xazonar had met a moderate number of humans it couldn't casually obliterate. And a moderate number of humans it couldn't beguile with its command of illusion. Not many who met both descriptions at once.

The shadow-lord had been assaulted by any number of self-appointed mortal champions and paladins- they started to blur together after the first millenium or two of killing. Very few had been this heavily screened against its power to bend the laws of this world to its will, though... And for today, the magic of the deep planes had a frustratingly poor track record against this race of men. It might need to act physically.



Recommended Listening: Neilsen's Symphony No. 4, "The Inextinguishable," Movement IV

Henri Delatour, riding toward a burning giant, a dark creature of unknowable sorcery and unthinkable age, quivered, his nerves racing with energy. He tightened his grip, reins in hand, amazed his horse had stayed steady so long, stunned at the madness of his action, awed by the crackling aura of- it could only be called sanctity- wrapped 'round him. His hair stood half on end from the power of the massed prayers of the regiment. Invisible power, but, he knew- power.

The devil looked at him, cocking its head, almost... curious? Perhaps so, if the captain could read those flame-shot yellow eyes, that long, bony, patrician, shadow-wreathed face. The monster had already tried to trick him. It had already made a gesture that Delatour, in his gut, knew was far more than the a crude curse used by the rough woodsrunners of the Assiniboine. No, that had been evil magic aimed at his life, even if it hadn't bitten. What sorcery would come next?

Apparently, a rather simpler sort. The devil stooped to the ground. A massive, taloned hand wreathed in fires scooped up a boulder the size of a hogshead. The dark fiend twisted like a discus-thrower, giant muscles bulging, and heaved it at him.

A supernatural creature, or a mighty wizard, might have seen, then, the shades of the Delatours' own ancestral dead swooping to his ears. Seen them guiding, pressing him to live. The young officer had not a hint of this, knew nothing- but believed, and was saved.

Somehow, the young captain saw with a spectral clarity, as though watching with a second sight alongside his own, as he never had before. The boulder's path stretched before him as though following grooves carved into the sky. Twisting his knees and seizing the reins in his left hand with a desperate grip, the captain hauled his mount, which veered, crying out, nearly overbalancing- Delatour ducked, hugging the gelding's warm hide, muttering a few syllables of desperate prayer-

-and a stone that could have crippled a mastodon clipped the back of his hat-brim as it flew over his head.

He was close now, close enough that the devil's twelve or fourteen feet of muscled frame, blackened hide and snarling fangs loomed like a mountain. Even had it not been standing halfway up a hill, still the menace would be overpowering. And there was no chance to dance around; another boulder might come closer to the mark, and that couldn't have been a closer call.

Delatour reached down to his right hip, drawing one of the brace of wheellocks given him by his father, commissioned by his grandfather, who with them had ridden against the prairie horse of the western marches, against rebels and tough, tough hillfolk and the blazing, haughty ranks of the Spirit-deniers of Orion.

The Ohioan raised the pistol, his horse bucking, the poor creature at last realizing just how big the beast ahead was, how few of its massive strides would be needed to step over and rend man and horse to pieces. Fighting for control, Delatour squeezed hard on the wheellock's trigger-

The ball flew wide.

Casting the spent pistol aside recklessly, despairing of his life, Delatour drew again. He had none of the witch-sight; could not see his mother's shade whispering to his horse, calming the panicked beast in the face of a monster no training could prepare it for. Could not see his grandfather's ghost steadying his arm, firming his grip, the old wheellock fitting the young captain's hand perfectly now, as it had his ancestor's. An odd fatalism washed across him, expecting to miss, and die in pieces-

The jerk of his finger on the trigger came as a surprise. The wheellock sparked, fired- and this time, the ball took the demon just below the right hip, burying itself in the tough, dense flesh. It had never expected to be harmed so by such a weapon...

But then, it had never been shot with a silver bullet.

Masked by the barrels of the captain's pistols, Xazonar had failed to observe the silver balls, did not realize

There were spells, armorings, that would have protected it; no creature as powerful and long-lived as a shadow-lord would neglect to learn defenses against the weakness so many creatures of its plane shared.

Today, it lacked those defenses, but hadn't expected a problem. In the unlikely event that any human present knew to wield silver against it, and the equally unlikely event that any were carrying such a weapon, it would deal with that as it had done before. Soldiers guided by well-informed wizards had tried to strike at it with silver blades that delivered stinging cuts. Or to pierce it with slow-flying silver arrows that it could dodge or block.

But the speed with which the pistol ball closed was beyond that. The nature of the ball carried it through Xazonar's wards as though they did not exist; its momentum buried it in the shadow-lord's dense flesh.

Xazonar did not take to the experience well.

The shadow-lord screamed, a grating basso profundo that rolled on... and on... As a creature of the deeper planes, nothing could be more natural than for it to be wrapped in fire, fire was ordinarily a toy for its powers to manipulate. And indeed, the aura of unnatural dark flame flaring from its skin did not now, and never would, leave it. For all that, it had never truly experienced burning before.

Blue fires spouted from the wound, a streamer shooting from the outside of the fiend's leg, too bright to look at, damping the shadow-flame by comparison. The conjured horror buckled, falling forward to hands and knees... and the burning went on, a hiss now audible as Delatour's bullet fell through its limb, searing its way back out, carving a tunnel that was almost a trench most of the way from hip to knee before rolling onto the grass and leaving the massive slab of leg muscle half-severed, seared and useless.

Delatour checked his horse, paused for breath. Behind him, the discipline of the regiment cracked for a moment- the ranks erupted in cheers.

His hand moved to the second brace of pistols he'd hung from his saddle- flintlocks, these, newer, won at dice. Quick, quick- even crawling with one ruined leg, the beast's sheer strength was more than any dozen men could have withstood, and too well Delatour knew it, his heart racing, barely able to believe what he was doing even knowing the desperate hope of the regiment was behind him.

The demon rose clumsily on its arms, its head now level with the mounted man. Delatour drew, fired. Holstered. Drew, fired.

Two volcanic jets of lightning-flame erupted from the demon's thick-muscled breast, its voice risen an octave, now screaming horribly in a register a human might somehow have reached- though not with the rasp of that blasphemy-polluted throat, and not with the bubbling gasp of ichor pouring into its lungs through incompletely cauterized wounds. It collapsed to the ground... and the silver pistol-balls ate their way back out through its chest, sinking through like white-hot stones through butter.

The eerie, preternatural detachment shifted, the world spinning around Delatour's brain, time and fate arranging themselves. He knew, somehow, without knowing how he'd been told, that this was not the moment he'd been born for, was not his destiny- but that he'd done rightly, and that his day's work was not yet finished. He wheeled the gelding around, the horse only too happy to retreat to a distance of fifty yards or so, while Delatour tried as carefully as he could to perform a frustratingly delicate operation on horseback.

Some powder spilled, and he almost dropped a precious bit of metal- but two of his pistols were reloaded, with the last of his half dozen bullets, while the demon still thrashed and gurgled in agony behind him.

To the savage cheers of a thousand pikemen and musketeers, Captain Delatour jogged his horse into action once again. Keeping a prudent distance, with the air of an executioner, Delatour leveled one of his reloaded pistols. Fired.

The demon was fortunate as it unwisely rose to face him- Delatour's fifth ball skipped off its thick, horned skull leaving a crease of burning electric blue across its bald scalp. And still fortunate, perhaps, by some standards, when the sixth and last stopped against the bone of its brow, rather than hammering its way through. It did not die instantly, its brain was not destroyed, but ravening balefire spilled across its eyes, and ate halfway through the dense skull before Xazonar's arm reached up and clawed it away from himself, the ball flying away along with the char and ruins it had left behind.

Blind and crippled, Xazonar collapsed into a shuddering heap, rolling to the foot of the hill on which it had stood.
This space dedicated to Vasily Arkhipov

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madd0ct0r
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Re: Pre-Industrial Fantasy STGOD Story Thread.

Postby madd0ct0r » 2016-01-03 09:42am

ahem. As you begin the final year of your studies, it behooves me, Osbourne the Reliable* to instruct upon you some of the theories of magical organisation, such that you might recognise non-sanctioned magiks, but also inappropriate sources of sanctioned abilities, such as it were. ahem.

Yes Jason, raising the dead is still prohibited.

Now, if you were to cast your eyes to the image projected upon the wall (No Jason, projection is not prohibited) you shall see one such organisational theory of magik.

Image

Ahem, now there are those who talk of spheres of magic, as though everything comes down to spheres in space and in iron. Nonsense! As is clearly shown on the projected drawing (hand down Jason) the key to magic is Triangles!

Let's start at the zeroth plane. This is the fundamental one, the fabric that all others are glued to**. I believe the telepaths may interface with this plane to transmit their messages. Annoy them at your own risk!.

Next we have the three fundamental planes of matter. The most important point, er, essence, to be taken from here is the fundamental three ways these planes express magik. Amplification is the safest, but least flexible. It takes the energies of the practitioner and returns them a hundredfold. So if you feed the strength of small wire, you are returned the strength to moor a ship!
Transformation and Oblivion are as you expect, one transforms magiks or energy from one type to another as in alchemy, the other requires a sacrifice to unlock a larger energy, as in, sigh, yes Jason, necromancy. A less offensive example would be a waxy candle being transformed into a brilliant light suitable for projection, or a gold coin being sacrificed to slice through a fallen tree). Despite what some might call a shallow understanding of the planes, some of the most powerful magik of Orion might be traced to work done here.

This concludes the circle of matter. Next comes the circle of beasts and beings, but that can be left for your bestiary lecturer to cover. Put your hand down Jason, that's not what I said. Just note that there is a major type of beast or entity for each major point / intersection, dragons being the best known ones and dedicated to order, with Vampire Lords falling on the intersection between the 6th and 7th planes.

Further out we have the circle of spirit. These represent the planes that a soul travels downwards through until absorbed, captivated or sidetracked by houris. The first is the closest to the plane of matter, and as such is rather crowded/dominated by human*** souls. Rather horrible really, imagine your grandmother peering at you through the ether for years yet. It is strongly connected to the plane of order, but also bears influence from chaos. Ah, the humanity. These planes underlap our world, and are just as large. They contain different environments, political groupings and major landmasses, so consider this the tower window view.

The 5th plane is the primordial spirits. Closely bound to chaos yet with emergent patterns and order. Savage nature before Orion arose to shackle and tame it. I suspect the Hyenorks, brutes that they are, are closer connected to this plane then those of us who understand toilet paper. Beware a healer who gets too bound into this plane, not all those stories about pretty nurses are exaggerations. Hand down Jason.

The 6th plane hosts the Thirsty Gods. Chaos influenced by Oblivion. You never know where you are with this plane and they'll take more than you know. No matter the glamour, it's a gateway dark. I'd advise all of you to stay away entirely. Just say No.

The 7th plane takes us closer to Oblivion. The Necro-plane. Not a lot going on here, and absolutely no good reason for any of you to contact it. HIGHLY trained and responsible sanctioned battle mages might draw upon it to throw fear into the enemy, but that's about the only good use I can think of for it. Are you listening Jason?

The 8th plane is Oblivion bound by Order. Hell, in other words. The Bureaucracy of Hell to be more accurate. It takes a strong soul to have reached this far. Despite what some nation's priests will tell you, most of your common or garden sinners will have been snapped up long before reaching the 8th plane. Anyone who even suggests contacting this plane will be beaten by the two inch thick book of health and safety rules regarding the Bureaucracy.

The final known plane is the 9th. Order touched by Oblivion. The Heavenly Orchestra may be exquisitely powerful, but as a plane it is almost as intolerant of contact as the 8th. Unless all the proper protections are in place a inhabitant of this plane will bend you to their will, and they, not us, are the experts on protections. Rather like lawyers, they are in principal powerful allies, and in reality everyone regrets getting them involved.

It is not yet known what lies beneath the 9th plane. The cycle may continue around the circle of spirit, or perhaps pentagrams are attached to the squares that bind to the triangle located on the sourcery sphere. There is exciting work being done in this area, and once the research tower is rebuilt outside of inhabited areas I look forward to a few of you joining me. Jason?



* he flatters himself.
** he also never married, nor really understood needlework
*** and dogs, of course.
"Aid, trade, green technology and peace." - Hans Rosling.
"Welcome to SDN, where we can't see the forest because walking into trees repeatedly feels good, bro." - Mr Coffee

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Re: Pre-Industrial Fantasy STGOD Story Thread.

Postby Beowulf » 2016-01-03 04:10pm

Meeting on the High Seas
Fourth-rate Bellerophon
50 geographical miles west of Bermuda


Fregattenkapitaen von Dreibruecken waited on the quarterdeck. His falconer was scouting the area, looking for Bermudan pirates. Several merchantmen had been captured of late in this region, bringing down ice. Ice was a common thing up north, but rare to see in the Six Kingdoms until late, when a brilliant trader came up with a scheme to sell ice to the iceless. On occassion, ships from Orion would leave empty, and come back full from the Six Kingdoms, bringing spices, sugar, rum, and cotton north.

"Ship ho! 5 miles nord-nordwestlich. Flies no colors."

Von Dreibruecken looked at the ship's clock, then pulled his pen from his coat, uncapped it, and began writing in the ship's log:
Time: 1312, Loc: 32N35:53, 68W58:52
Falconer spotted possible target 5 miles nord-nordwestlich, proceeding to investigate.


"Helm! Nord-nordwestlich!"

"Aye, Kaptaen!"

The frigate turned to port. Guided by the falconer, they came upon the ship flying no colors. It was a small ship, no more than two dozen guns.

"Gunner! Clear the port and chase guns for action. One saluting charge."

The gunner went down the line of guns on the port side, cancelling the enchantments that reduced the weight of the cannon. Six 24pdrs, six 42pdrs, and a pair of 12pdrs gained their normal weight, settling the ship lower in the water. Gunner's mates loaded the guns with round shot.

"Fire the salute, Mr. Kindler."

A shot boomed across the distance. There was little point in firing a live round. It was expensive, and a salute was usually good enough at drawing attention without requiring a shot to actually splash across the water.

The other ship ran up colors, Empire of Orion colors.



Author's note: the geographical mile used is 4 minutes of arc, or approximately 7.5km, and is divided up into 24,000 feet.
"preemptive killing of cops might not be such a bad idea from a personal saftey[sic] standpoint..." --Keevan Colton
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Re: Pre-Industrial Fantasy STGOD Story Thread.

Postby Eternal_Freedom » 2016-01-03 04:27pm

Meeting on the High Seas
OINS
Timber Wolf (a sloop),
East of Bermuda


“So they deign to salute us at last then Mr Baines?” Commander Hale’s voice had a sardonic tone to it. His lookouts had spotted the Six Kingdoms vessel closing in some time ago, and whilst it was not obvious to the outside, the sloops twenty long guns were almost ready to fire; all that was required was opening the ports and running them out. It was always best to take no chances, for whilst relations between the Empire and the Six Kingdoms were generally good there were few formal arrangements between them.

Baines, the First Lieutenant, replied in an equally sardonic tone: “Indeed sir. Shall I hoist the colours?”

“Indeed. Best to identify ourselves before that captain over there gets ideas.”

Baines headed aft and quietly ordered the ensign raised. The huge flag was run up the jackstaff: a broad white horizontal stripe bordered at top and bottom by two narrower blood-red stripes. A brilliant blue eight-pointed starburst in the centre completed the ancient colours of the Empire.

The Lieutenant returned to his Commander’s side. “What do you think they want this time sir? I somehow doubt they’re just saying hello.”

“That would indeed be rather unlikely. I suspect they’re here for the same reason we are, investigating those reports of pirates near Bermuda. Naturally they would want our help dealing with such matters. Anyway, have the duty Telepath send the usual contact report back to Command and inform them I may require additional instructions soon.”

“Aye sir.”

The younger office left again, leaving Hale to stand on his deck and watch the now cautiously approaching vessel. Part of me hopes you want a fight he thought, then dismissed such a notion. Whilst the balance of firepower was roughly equal, the Timber Wolf was certainly faster and an irrelevant firefight was something to avoid. Still, the chance of action was always alluring to Orion officers.
"I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams" - Hamlet

“I’ve always thought the Yankees had something to do with it.” - Confederate General George Pickett, on being asked why his charge at Ghettysburg failed

Corrax Entry 7:17: So you walk eternally through the shadow realms, standing against evil where all others falter. May your thirst for retribution never quench, may the blood on your sword never dry, and may we never need you again.

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Raw Shark
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Re: Pre-Industrial Fantasy STGOD Story Thread.

Postby Raw Shark » 2016-01-03 06:05pm

Baby hates large crowds.

I don't blame her, really. I try to avoid them myself, when I can - much easier creeping around the edges than constantly dodging the feet of a mass of colossal idiots eating roasted squab or talking on their wind conchs and never looking down. How can you not look down!? Sure, your eyes can only point one direction at a time, I get that, but seriously, you people move like you've got your loincloths over your faces.

Baby natters, agitated. I stroke her leg, tilting the huge, flat brim, as large as a tea saucer, of the Cordoban-style hat that shields my night-adapted eyes from the sun to check the length of the line. I've been here all morning, and the noon time sun bakes the marketplace. The big people radiate heat so inefficiently. They smell like an ollamalitzli player's ass crack, pressed in this close above me. If Baby wasn't at my heel, they would stand too close to bear, but they hang back from her, with wary looks, while I soothe her.

I am a Knight of the Empire. I could order them out of my way, but I do not. It would be beneath my dignity to rob the common folk of their place in line for personal reasons, I would answer if asked. It would rob me of my dignity to bellow orders in a high-pitched voice that makes civilians who aren't accustomed to it laugh, I privately fear.

Finally, I reach the shady alcove in the northwest corner of the marketplace. It is not always occupied, but the length of the line today suggests that its owner is in residence and giving audience. Not to mention the guard, a strapping were-jag in human form, nude save for body paint denoting his tribe, and scarification on his arms indicating service in the Southern Jungle Corps. Probably considers himself one tough customer, facing down a man six times my size. I clear my throat.

"I see you," he sneers.

"Good. I am here to be seen. I request audience."

He eyes Baby and I skeptically. "What have you to offer?"

There are people watching. Besides, it's been a long morning. Fully aware of the peril, I gesture at the glazed jar hanging from Baby's neck and drawl, in a tone of utterly imperious you-are-an-idiot contempt, "Blood. For the Blood God."

His flesh and bone ripple fluidly as he drops to all fours and takes on the shape of a jaguar. Jaws that could snap me up in a single gulp come within an inch of my face and pause as the massive beast inhales deeply, then move up to the jar and Baby's throat and do the same. Time stretches out into an eternity as it levels its gaze with my own again, eyes narrowing ever so slightly.

I am a knight of the Empire! I fear no man or monster! I chant over and over in my head, silently thankful that I do not sweat outside of extreme heat, or blink.

Finally, the great cat grunts and jerks its head toward the curtain. I nod and lead Baby past him, gaze level, head held high.

The alcove would blind a normal man who had stood in the sun for so long, but my eyes adjust to darkness quickly. The Blood God is a tolerable sort, relatively, despite the aggression of his hired help. He looks like your favorite Grandpa, in a crusty reddish-brown robe. Though he is the patron God of my order, I haven't prayed to him in earnest since I took that wound to the leg that went bad on my last tour in the gulf, but he greets me by name and accepts my offering graciously. He doesn't drink it. Nobody knows what he does with it, except maybe the priests.

"It's about Baby, my lord... my Chupacabra. We're about to be deployed again, to the North, and she's been having trouble sleeping..."

"Do I really look like a guy with a plan? Y'know what I am? I'm a dog chasing cars. I wouldn't know what to do with one if I caught it! Y'know, I just do things..." --The Joker


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