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Author Topic: A Sanctum of Swords - The Blood Beneath the Earth - Scene I  (Read 629 times)

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Offline Myen'Tal

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Welcome to the start of the thread for A Sanctum of Swords, another entry to the trilogy shared with the Embers of the Past! I've decided to share some of my developments for the first chapter to begin with. This particular scene will either be the beginning action that will pull the reader in, then we'll slow down with some origin story material that dates farther back than this scene itself. For our new found character here (which she does feature in bits of Embers of the Past), or vice-versa, haven't really decided yet.

Jaleh is unique in that her backstory provides a lot of perspective on the Zar'qin Guard & the Ashen Blades of Su'khan. In fact, some of you maybe pleased to know that A Sanctum of Swords will focus on more character perspectives (will not spoil anything) from the Zar Caste, Kharan Half-Giants, and the Carth Dominion to build upon the world further and offer insight to these enigmatic civilizations of Khios).

Hope you like this snippet though!

~******~

Blood of Jerelian

Jaleh waded through the endless dead piled in Jerelian’s streets. Crimson rain came pouring down on her as the melee reached its brutal conclusion. With every ounce of her strength, her spiked mace added to the red ruin. She bludgeoned a Zarnite warrior’s helm, crushing his skull like so much brittle glass. As the corpse sagged to her feet, she cried out in exaltation to the Solar God.

She advanced at the head of the Lavender Guard’s shield wall, her brethren cheering her triumph. Denied a moment of respite, Jaleh breathed in a lungful of choking smog. She tasted a potent mixture of smoke, ash, and spilt blood on the billowing wind. Gulping down the tainted oxygen, her nearby brethren picked off the remaining Zarnites daring to challenge them.

Jaleh cursed, wishing there was some escape from the haunted streets of Jerelian. Blood soaked the cobblestone for leagues, corpses beyond count littering the main roads and walkways. Jerelian city’s aristocratic civilians numbered high among the dead. Too craven to hold a blade against a tested enemy and too fragile to take any blow of force, they had perished begging and screaming.

She replayed their deaths in her thoughts. Their collective pleas for mercy deafened her thoughts, even over her cheering brethren. Her skull still thumping from the beat of Zarna’s war drums, she shuddered from her most recent memories of brutality.

Jaleh swallowed hard, inhaling the choking scent of acrid smoke, and burning flesh. As quick as her haunting assailed her, did the cries of the slaughtered fade back into the depths of her mind. She regained her composure and looked back to the roads winding through the Gardens of Enlightenment.

Faki placed an affirming hand on Jaleh’s left shoulder, and she glanced toward her second in command. Features fixed in a tight grimace, Jaleh had not realized how high strung he truly was until now. She could see every vein surfacing on his forearm, where his cream and crimson robing was torn away.

After a quick glance around the ranks, the Lavender Guard, Jaleh’s warband, all seemed fit to explode into a blind, unholy frenzy.

Faki said, “immaculate skill at arms, crushing that Zarnite’s brittle skull.” His praise seemed at odds with the bleak situation besetting their unit. “If only the Zar’qin were all forged of such steel, sister. You strike harder than many brutes among men I know!”

A grizzly voice, scarred from a lifetime of war, interrupted her thought before she could give voice to it. “Warriors of the Zar’qin Guard! The Zarnites break! Quick, push them out of the gardens! Break the ranks, charge! Spare none the bite of your swords!”

Jaleh heard herself screaming into the wind, alongside her brethren’s most brutal war cries. She glanced once to Faki, who seemed dazed by the constant fighting throughout Jerelian’s streets. She thought no more of him, charging headlong at the fore of the Lavender Guard.

Their combined rush quaked the cobblestones beneath her feet. The Enlightened Gardens’ fertile groves were churned underfoot, leaving only a muddy mire behind. Jaleh surmounted an ornate pillar, its surface grooved, and its peak wreathed in a laurel of stone. It was one of hundreds of broken structures scattered amid the destruction.

She heard the whistle of falling arrows, lifting her shield moments before a deadly rain came down on the Lavender Guard. Zar warriors, once baying for blood, cried out in shock and agony as the rain of death brought scores of them low. The impact of steel tipped and feathered shafts hit her shield in rapid succession.

Lowering her shield enough to look around, she sighted shadowy figures loosing arrows from the dizzying heights of Jerelian’s spires and palaces, positioned on the higher reaches of the Gorgo Mountain. They showered her Zar siblings with abandon, scything down those too slow to react on a moment’s notice.

A war horn sounded from the other side of the garden. Jaleh tore her gaze away from Jerelian’s impossible heights, finding the Zarnite elite amassing to challenge the Lavender Guard.
Both factions collided into each other like malestroms on a collision course.

Jaleh screamed her war cries ever louder, her spiked mace tearing away both a helm and face of the first Zarnite piling into her. Around her, the collision of flesh and steel thundered like a great storm, until her ears about lost their hearing.

“For the Zar!” Jaleh cried, blocking a straight thrust for her abdomen on her shield. “Firstborn! Sun Caller! God King!”

Her siblings echoed her war cry, their heavy weapons bludgeoning scales of steel. Zarnites piled into the combat, throwing their superior mass around. They toppled her brethren with blows of momentous force, crushing their bones and pulping flesh underfoot. All the while, they lopped away limbs with fluid, practiced strokes of their blades.

Equipped with only their chainmail and robes for protection, the Zar ‘qin utilized their superior speed to outnumber and corner foes in packs. Their maces bashed against Zarnite steel; every blow answered with a fatal cut from their foes. Kindred heads and their limbs toppled off from their masters in splashes of spilt blood.

Jaleh’s rage swelled deep within her chest, throwing herself into the fray. She bashed her shield into a Zarnite’s chest, slinking out of reach of the counterstroke meant to split her in twain. Her mace came over her shield, landing with enough guided precision that one of its spikes punched right through her foe’s left eye.

She ripped the mace free, rewarded with a shrill cry from her wounded opponent. She bashed the heavy pommel of her weapon into the Zarnite’s nose before he could turn tail and flee. Faki emerged out of the chaotic melee, hacking his sword through the thick of her foe’s neck, up until it cracked against the vertebrae housed within.

« Last Edit: August 29, 2021, 07:13:22 AM by Myen'Tal »
“Evil is relative…You can’t hang a sign on it. You can’t touch it or taste it or cut it with a sword. Evil depends on where you are standing, pointing your indicting finger.”
― Glen Cook, The Black Company

Offline Alienscar

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Re: A Sanctum of Swords: Siege of Jerelian (wip)
« Reply #1 on: July 6, 2021, 05:37:02 AM »
Jaleh waded through the endless dead piled in Jerelian’s streets. Crimson rain came pouring down on her as the melee reached its brutal conclusion. With every ounce of her strength, her spiked mace added to the red ruin. She bludgeoned a Zarnite warrior’s helm, crushing his skull like so much brittle glass. As the corpse sagged to her feet, she cried out in exaltation to the Solar God.

She stepped back into the ranks of the Lavender Guard’s shield wall, her brethren cheering at her triumph. Granted a moment of respite, Jaleh breathed in a lungful of choking smog. She tasted a potent mixture of smoke, ash, and spilt blood on the billowing wind. Still, she gulped down the tainted oxygen, while her brethren picked off the remaining Zarnites daring to challenge them.

I find these first two paragraphs to be at odds with each other. Describing Jaleh as wading through piles of bodies sets up a solitary image in my mind. This is because the image of wading through a 'pile' of something doesn't conjure up a spacious environment.

The second paragraph clashes in my head with the first paragraph as I learn she is part of a large group. This imagery doesn't sit well as she is able to 'step back' into the ranks where previously she was wading through piles of bodies.

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Their screams still echoed in her ears, none from the fortunate survivors of Jerelian’s conquest thus far.

I am really not sure what it is you are trying to say here Myen'Tal.
 

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Features fixated in a tight grimace

Fixated is the wrong word as it means acquire an obsessive attachment. Fixed would be the correct word.
« Last Edit: July 6, 2021, 05:47:20 AM by Alienscar »
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Offline Myen'Tal

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Re: A Sanctum of Swords: Siege of Jerelian (wip)
« Reply #2 on: July 6, 2021, 06:41:25 AM »
Hi Alienscar,

Thanks for the feedback!

I've made some corrections to reflect your suggestions.

Thanks!
“Evil is relative…You can’t hang a sign on it. You can’t touch it or taste it or cut it with a sword. Evil depends on where you are standing, pointing your indicting finger.”
― Glen Cook, The Black Company

Offline Myen'Tal

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A Sanctum of Swords: CH I - Distant From The Lantern's Light
« Reply #3 on: July 7, 2021, 09:30:10 AM »
So, this is actually the first scene of this chapter. I'll repost the revision for the Blood of Jerelian scene, which I believe is going to slot in as the second scene, but will need some modifications to make the transition between both scenes more seamless.

Still choosing between the variations of the name Jaleh, Jale, or Zhaleh

Chapter One

Distant from the Lantern’s Light

Young Jaleh waited in the light of the lanterns, watching the vivid shades of cerise in the skies fade into hues of black. Beyond the outskirts of her village, she waited for her kinsmen, for anyone who had escaped as she had before leaving everything behind. She studied the lights in the heavens, her gaze falling upon the full moon, bathing the dunes in eerie brilliance.

The cold wind almost blew away the scent of her burning village. From this sacred ground, the suffering of her kin was like a distant wail into the dune sea. Bathing in the lanterns’ warding light, Jaleh never felt so disconnected from the world around her. This was not the deliverance her father promised, but a purgatory from which there was no escape.

It was a nightmare she could not awake from, living every instance of horror from the last several hours.

From the height of the largest dune, the lanterns’ bright glow warded the Ulkin beasts away. It was the very reason slavers raiding her village had deigned to spare her. There was no doubt in her mind the raiders knew where she waited. Yet the thought of navigating the dunes without infinite light seemed to give them great hesitance. 

Alert, Jaleh climbed out of the sand, a hunting bow clasped in her shivering hands. She swept her emerald eyes over the dunes below like a hawk eager for the kill. She noticed a lone torch blazing against the night, and several dark shapes huddled together around its flickering fire.

Jaleh did not hesitate, her fingers tightening around her bow with renewed purpose. She plucked an arrow from her quiver, nocking it on her bow. Lifting her aim and taking the direction of the wind into account, she loosed her first arrow toward the dark shapes.

Their voices came creeping out of the starlit gloom. Unfamiliar, their accents were an amalgamation of rough barbaric tongues, eloquent speech of the higher languages, and everything in between. She noticed chainmail glinting in the moonlight, hidden underneath robes of cream and crimson.

Slave warriors of the Carth Dominion, Jaleh realized, braving the dunes for her.
Her arrow fell upon the Zar warriors without warning, finding purchase in the throat of the one guiding the unit forward. Stifling a brief gasp, Jaleh surprised herself with her unerring accuracy. The warrior staggered in his march, his comrades crying out in alarm when he collapsed into the sands. His Zar brethren scrambled to recover the burning torch buried in the sand with him.

She nocked another arrow on her bow, taking aim at the first warrior to pull the torch out of the dunes. She let the arrow sail once more. Curving the shot in such a way that it bent in an arc back toward the earth, the arrow descended over her mark’s round shield. Lifting the torch out of the sands, her mark was struck straight through the chest, toppling him where he stood.

The Zar’qin, translating to slave warriors in the Carthite tongue, huddled around each other. They interlocked their shields into an impregnable wall, protecting them from waist to helmet. One of their comrades secured their burning torch again, but this time Jaleh could not kill him outright. Her arrows pinged off their shield wall, harmless, as they came racing up the dune toward her.

She backpedaled from the edge of the dune, cold fear seizing her by the heart when she came back into the light of the torches. She readied her bow for a final, desperate stand. Yet, when the Zar came charging into the light, breaking their shield wall when they crested the dune to come face to face with their assailant, her body froze.

The warriors in their unit were from across a variety of sundered realms and conquered lands. Each warrior wore their scars plain on their skin, woven over their faces and across their limbs like decades-old tapestries. Studying their mixed expressions, some of the Zar’qin were outright surprised their enemy was only a young girl. Horrified, she realized others did not seem to care, storming toward her with their hands un-sheathing their swords.

A grizzled voice, scarred and hoarse from decades of ceaseless war, she imagined, locked the entire Zar unit in place. A scarred brute of a man shoved his way from the rear lines to the fore of the unit. He was twice the size of any of his comrades, his scars as long as they were wide. It was as if someone had taken a great cleaver to certain areas of his arms and face, but had proven unable to land a solid blow hard enough to truly harm him.

He said, “Stay your blades.”

“Adofo,” One of the Zar voiced his challenge. “She killed two of our own! She should be put to death without question.”

“We’re burning her village, young Magar,” Adofo replied. “You were no different when the Zar’qin proved victorious at the walls of Sarune, even for a brief while.” The scarred giant turned his gaze to Jaleh. He watched her, impressed by something he found within her. “She was scared. That should come as no surprise for any in our line of work.”

Adofo’s squinting glare brightened out of nowhere, alight with an idea. “Or, if you’re so bold, Magar, why don’t you subdue her yourself? Go ahead, test her limits at your peril. You have my approval.”

Magar did not hesitate, removing his hand from the hilt of his blade when he swept forward. He made to strike Jaleh with reverse sweep of his hand, hoping to humiliate her in front of his comrades. He wanted to prove something, she realized, that she was nothing more than a woman.

Jaleh blocked his strike with a raised forearm, smashing her white-knuckled fist hard across the bridge of his nose. Beneath the strength of her tensed muscles, she felt the cartilage in his nose crunch to an awkward angle. Blood sprayed from Magar’s broken nose, just when Jaleh swept a powerful kick into the side of his left knee.

She dived after the Zar warrior when he toppled like a pile of stone. Catching him by the neck in a choking grapple, Magar managed to tear himself free with several savage elbows into her flank. Jaleh released her grip, lashing out with a ferocious kick straight to Magar’s temple when he made to stand. She watched him topple back into the sand.

Adofo was the first to wheeze with hysterical laughter, chortling at Magar with the rest of the Zar’qin as he struggled to find his feet in the dune sand. Their commander held a hand over his gut, cackling when he raised his other to halt the fight.

“Girl, that’s enough!” He said, “Serves you right, Magar, for trying to beat a young woman. I had a feeling there was strength in her. She strikes harder than most young males her age, I’ll give her that! Well done, a good bout of entertainment, at the very least.”
Adofo sobered, and called out to the young girl in their midst, He asked, “What is your name, girl?”

Jaleh let her silence speak volumes.

Adofo’s expression took on a more serious aspect. He insisted, “Jaleh, isn’t it?”
She froze, horrified by the forbidden knowledge he possessed.

“Listen, young Jaleh.” Adofo extended his hand in offering to her, saying, “the reality of this situation is that you have three options to choose from. I could have my Zar subdue you by force, and have them drag you in chains into the Dominion of Carth. I think after the beating you’ve given Magar, all of us here like you enough that we’d rather not have our hands forced. The other option is that you can take my hand, and we can journey toward your new home together, where I’ll put in a good word for you with our masters. If you desire to see your father again, this is the best option for you.

“The third option is that you’ll starve out here in the desert on your own. Not much of an option, sadly.”

Jaleh studied Adofo’s scarred features for any sign of deception, but she knew as much as he did, that she had little choice. She was now enslaved by the Dominion of Carth. She should choose death, she thought, but knew her father would be forever shamed, in either death or life. She had no way of knowing if Adofo spoke the truth about him. Yet her desire to keep living, made her eager to uncover the truth behind his words.

Cautious, Jaleh approached Adofo, reaching out and taking his hand in acceptance.

Adofo smiled, nodding. “A good decision. I’m glad you’re as sharp of mind as strong of body. The Zar’qin Guard will put you to good use in our ranks. You’ll not regret the chance for adventure and living a life free of the mundane toils of the others in the Zar caste. Now, let’s be off. Zar’qin, move out!”

Scene End
« Last Edit: July 10, 2021, 12:39:05 AM by Myen'Tal »
“Evil is relative…You can’t hang a sign on it. You can’t touch it or taste it or cut it with a sword. Evil depends on where you are standing, pointing your indicting finger.”
― Glen Cook, The Black Company

Offline Alienscar

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Re: A Sanctum of Swords: CH I - Distant From The Lantern's Light
« Reply #4 on: July 8, 2021, 10:12:28 AM »
Quote
Beyond the outskirts of her village, where the fertile valley withered into the arid dunes of the Golden Desert, she witnessed her place amid the starlit heavens.

Whilst this sentence is very poetic in tone I can't seem to make sense of it.

Quote
She studied the void between the stars, fixed on the full moon bathing the Kingdom of Zarna in eerie brilliance.

I also find this a bit confusing. Is she studying the void, or is she staring at the moon?

Quote
billowing cold

Billowing is the wrong word to describe something like 'cold'. Cold can't billow as it means to fill with air and swell, or move with an undulating motion.

Quote
Desert winds scouring the Golden Desert during the day, rattled her bones with its billowing cold in the night. Longing for the embrace of home and hearth, Zhaleh kept her memories close to her chest always. Forgotten to the quiet dead, she waited in the light of the lanterns for deliverance.

The cold wind almost blew away the scent of her burning village. From this sacred ground, the suffering of her kin was like a distant wail into the dune sea. Bathing in the lanterns’ warding light, Zhaleh never felt so disconnected from the world around her. This was not the deliverance her father promised, but a purgatory from which there was no escape.

Over all the first paragraph of these two is a bit meandering and I think you would be better off just moving straight to the second paragraph.

Quote
Voices carried on the billowing wind came within earshot.

Their voices came creeping out of the starlit gloom.

These two sentences are too similar and it makes me think I have read the same thing twice. It is like I have gone backwards after reading a couple of sentences.

Quote
He said, “Stay your blades.”

His voice came casual, like he was making a suggestion rather than an order. Still, every Zar within earshot heard him, obeying without question. With hesitance, Zhaleh could see some among the Zar were eager to question their leader’s decision.

“Adofo,” One of the Zar voiced his challenge. “She killed two of our own! She should be put to death without question.”

It would improve the pace and tone of the section if you removed the middle paragraph.

Quote
“the reality of this situation is that you have two options.

“The third option is that you’ll starve out here in the desert on your own."

Hmm, so she has three options then?
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Offline Myen'Tal

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Re: A Sanctum of Swords: CH I - Distant From The Lantern's Light
« Reply #5 on: July 8, 2021, 11:49:40 AM »
Thanks for the pointers, Alienscar! I've implemented some revisions  :).
“Evil is relative…You can’t hang a sign on it. You can’t touch it or taste it or cut it with a sword. Evil depends on where you are standing, pointing your indicting finger.”
― Glen Cook, The Black Company

Offline Myen'Tal

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Re: A Sanctum of Swords: CH I - Distant From The Lantern's Light
« Reply #6 on: July 10, 2021, 09:11:32 AM »


~***~


Jaleh could still recall Adofo, Master of the Zar’qin Guard, and her first introduction to their ranks. He said to her like he did all the women in the legion, “You maybe strong for a woman, Jaleh, but the Zar’qin Guard prize cunning and endurance to compliment this. Under my instruction, you’ll become strong among the Zar. We’re never given much, but the standard, just enough to complete our never-ending tasks. I’ll mold you into the warrior who will make the greatest use of it and survive all the battlefield has to throw at you.

“Who are you, Jaleh?”


Jaleh had cried out, her voice echoing into the arid wastes like rolling thunder. She said, “A demon of war, the exiled soul forgotten to kin and kingdom! A sacrificial soul to be offered on the pyre in the stead of our masters! A disgraced warrior of the past, and a redeemed champion in the chains of the Dominion and its God King!”

She always recalled Adofo’s final addressal before her full induction into the Zar’qin Guard.

“Then leave the comfort of the Royal City behind, and devote your life to the great war without end! Offer yourself to the fires of battle, in return for freedom and glory! Grind your foes into the arid sands of Khios, and die amidst the fires of gruesome battle when your life is finally spent!”

Warriors lifted their voices in their hundreds, snapping Jaleh back into awareness. Resting where she stood, she leaned against Adofo’s flank, head nestled on his shoulder whilst she rested her eyes for the last hour. Her brethren’s combined shouts snapped Jaleh wide awake, quaking the debris crumbling down around them into the city streets. 
   
Zarnite war cries deafened her, spilling around the clustered unit of Zar’qin Guard as their warriors came charging out of the smoke wreathed flames. Pushing herself off Adofo, scrambling to reclaim her shield and morning star off the ground. Adofo chortled aloud at her, assuming a defensive stance as a hundred elite warriors came charging into the shield wall.
   
Half-drowsy from lack of respite, the ensuing battle became a blur around her. Sluggish, Jaleh defended herself, striking only when she was certain her morning star would strike a foe. Every connection of kinetic force was like a jolt of lightning to her system, rousing her out of her waking dream. She rained down several hacking blows on a Zarnite trying his best to break through the shield wall, each strike rewarded with the sound of steel scales breaking, flesh tearing, and bone breaking.
   
Beside her, Adofo threw his bulk into another Zarnite warrior, battering the armored brute down onto his knees. Hacking his blade downward, he severed the foe’s head from his shoulders in one blow.
   
He called to Jaleh, “Awoken on the eve of further fire and blood, like a true demon of war! Warriors of the Zar’qin Guard, hunt the Zarnites down in the streets and in their homes! Leave none alive when the city falls!”
   
Jaleh waded through the endless dead piled in Jerelian’s streets. Crimson rain came pouring down on her as the melee reached its brutal conclusion. With every ounce of her strength, her spiked mace added to the red ruin. She bludgeoned a Zarnite warrior’s helm, crushing his skull like so much brittle glass. As the corpse sagged to her feet, she cried out in exaltation to the Solar God.

She advanced at the head of the Lavender Guard’s shield wall, her brethren cheering her triumph. Denied a moment of respite, Jaleh breathed in a lungful of choking smog. She tasted a potent mixture of smoke, ash, and spilt blood on the billowing wind. Gulping down the tainted oxygen, her nearby brethren picked off the remaining Zarnites daring to challenge them.

Jaleh cursed, wishing there were some escape from the haunted streets of Jerelian. Blood soaked the cobblestone for leagues, corpses beyond count littering the main roads and walkways. Jerelian city’s aristocratic civilians numbered high among the dead. Too craven to hold a blade against a tested enemy and too fragile to take any blow of force, they had perished begging and screaming.

Her skull still thumping from the beat of Zarna’s war drums, she shuddered from her most recent memories of brutality.

Jaleh swallowed hard, inhaling the choking scent of acrid smoke, and burning flesh. As quick as her haunting assailed her, did the cries of the slaughtered fade back into the depths of her mind. She regained her composure and looked back to the roads winding through the Gardens of Enlightenment.

Faki placed an affirming hand on Jaleh’s left shoulder, and she glanced toward her second in command. Features fixed in a tight grimace, Jaleh had not realized how high strung he truly was until now. She could see every vein surfacing on his forearm, where his cream and crimson robing was torn away.

After a quick glance around the ranks, the Lavender Guard, Jaleh’s warband, all seemed fit to explode into a blind, unholy frenzy.

Faki said, “immaculate skill at arms, crushing that Zarnite’s brittle skull.” His praise seemed at odds with the bleak situation besetting their unit. “If only the Zar’qin were all forged of such steel, sister. You strike harder than many brutes among men I know!”

A grizzly voice, scarred from a lifetime of war, interrupted her thought before she could give voice to it. “Warriors of the Zar’qin Guard! The Zarnites break! Quick, push them out of the gardens! Break the ranks, charge! Spare none the bite of your swords!”

Jaleh heard herself screaming into the wind, alongside her brethren’s most brutal war cries. She glanced once to Faki, who seemed dazed by the constant fighting throughout Jerelian’s streets. She thought no more of him, charging headlong at the fore of the Lavender Guard.

Their combined rush quaked the cobblestones beneath her feet. The Enlightened Gardens’ fertile groves were churned underfoot, leaving only a muddy mire behind. Jaleh surmounted an ornate pillar, its surface grooved, and its peak wreathed in a laurel of stone. It was one of hundreds of broken structures scattered amid the destruction.

She heard the whistle of falling arrows, lifting her shield moments before a deadly rain came down on the Lavender Guard. Zar warriors, once baying for blood, cried out in shock and agony as the rain of death brought scores of them low. The impact of steel tipped and feathered shafts hit her shield in rapid succession.

Lowering her shield enough to look around, she sighted shadowy figures loosing arrows from the dizzying heights of Jerelian’s spires and palaces, positioned on the higher reaches of the Gorgo Mountain. They showered her Zar siblings with abandon, scything down those too slow to react on a moment’s notice.

A war horn sounded from the other side of the garden. Jaleh tore her gaze away from Jerelian’s impossible heights, finding the Zarnite elite amassing to challenge the Lavender Guard.

Both factions collided into each other like colliding storms.

Jaleh screamed her war cries ever louder, her spiked mace tearing away both a helm and face of the first Zarnite piling into her. Around her, the cacophony of war deafened her ears until they about lost their hearing.

“For the Zar!” Jaleh cried, blocking a straight thrust for her abdomen on her shield. “Firstborn! Sun Caller! God King!”

Her siblings echoed her war cry, their heavy weapons bludgeoning scales of steel. Zarnites piled into the combat, throwing their superior mass around. They toppled her brethren with blows of momentous force, crushing their bones and pulping flesh underfoot. All the while, they lopped away limbs with fluid, practiced strokes of their blades.

Equipped with only their chainmail and robes for protection, the Zar ‘qin utilized their superior speed to outnumber and corner foes in packs. Their maces bashed against Zarnite steel; every blow answered with a fatal cut from their foes. Kindred heads and their limbs toppled off their masters in splashes of spilt blood.

Jaleh’s rage swelled deep within her chest, throwing herself into the fray. She bashed her shield into a Zarnite’s chest, slinking out of reach of the counterstroke meant to split her in twain. Her mace came over her shield, landing with enough guided precision that one of its spikes punched right through her foe’s left eye.

She ripped the mace free, rewarded with a shrill cry from her wounded opponent. She bashed the heavy pommel of her weapon into the Zarnite’s nose before he could turn tail and flee. Faki emerged out of the chaotic melee, hacking his sword through the thick of her foe’s neck, up until it cracked against the vertebrae housed within...

“Evil is relative…You can’t hang a sign on it. You can’t touch it or taste it or cut it with a sword. Evil depends on where you are standing, pointing your indicting finger.”
― Glen Cook, The Black Company

Offline Alienscar

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Jaleh could still recall Adofo, Master of the Zar’qin Guard, and her first introduction to their ranks. He said to her like he did all the women in the legion, “You maybe strong for a woman, Jaleh, but the Zar’qin Guard prize cunning and endurance to compliment this. Under my instruction, you’ll become strong among the Zar. We’re never given much, but the standard, just enough to complete our never-ending tasks. I’ll mold you into the warrior who will make the greatest use of it and survive all the battlefield has to throw at you.

“Who are you, Jaleh?”

Jaleh had cried out, her voice echoing into the arid wastes like rolling thunder. She said, “A demon of war, the exiled soul forgotten to kin and kingdom! A sacrificial soul to be offered on the pyre in the stead of our masters! A disgraced warrior of the past, and a redeemed champion in the chains of the Dominion and its God King!”

She always recalled Adofo’s final addressal before her full induction into the Zar’qin Guard.

“Then leave the comfort of the Royal City behind, and devote your life to the great war without end! Offer yourself to the fires of battle, in return for freedom and glory! Grind your foes into the arid sands of Khios, and die amidst the fires of gruesome battle when your life is finally spent!”

This is all a bit too melodramatic for me Myen'Tal, and all things considered I am wondering what your aim was with this part of the scene.

I wonder if Jaleh was meant to be day dreaming. If that is the case then her having recall something is at odds with someone day dreaming. I suppose what I am saying is, are the first couple of paragraphs meant to describe Jaleh remembering her past?

It is also not really clear to me why she has gone from the first memory of her induction to the last.

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Warriors lifted their voices in their hundreds, snapping Jaleh back into awareness. Resting where she stood, she leaned against Adofo’s flank, head nestled on his shoulder whilst she rested her eyes for the last hour. Her brethren’s combined shouts snapped Jaleh wide awake, quaking the debris crumbling down around them into the city streets.

It would be better if she only woke once. By having her 'snap' back twice offers a circuitous experience.


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Her brethren’s combined shouts snapped Jaleh wide awake, quaking the debris crumbling down around them into the city streets.

This doesn't quite work and makes me have to read it again.

I think you are trying to say something like this.

The defiant cries of Jaleh's brethren quaked the war torn city walls causing debris to fall, and Jaleh to wake with a start.

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. snapping Jaleh back into awareness.
Her brethren’s combined shouts snapped Jaleh wide awake,
Half-drowsy from lack of respite,
rousing her out of her waking dream

I think it would be better if she were wide awake, or drowsy. Being both is slightly confusing for me.


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She rained down several hacking blows

Hack means to cut roughly, so doesn’t really describe what a morning star does. The aim of mace like weapons is to puncture and/or cause blunt force injuries.
« Last Edit: July 12, 2021, 06:15:25 PM by Alienscar »
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Offline Myen'Tal

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It would be better if she only woke once. By having her 'snap' back twice offers a circuitous experience.

It is meant to be Jaleh daydreaming, but after looking at it again, I still think you're right. It's a little on the dramatic side. I think I'll take another look at it.


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This doesn't quite work and makes me have to read it again.

I think you are trying to say something like this.

The defiant cries of Jaleh's brethren quaked the war torn city walls causing debris to fall, and Jaleh to wake with a start.

Yup, I see what you mean after examining the sentence again, will make this change.
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I think it would be better if she were wide awake, or drowsy. Being both is slightly confusing for me.

I think she'll be wide awake when I make the revision here. I think you're right, choosing one would add some more clarity to the scene.

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Hack means to cut roughly, so doesn’t really describe what a morning star does. The aim of mace like weapons is to puncture and/or cause blunt force injuries.

Will make the change!

Thanks for the feedback  :).
“Evil is relative…You can’t hang a sign on it. You can’t touch it or taste it or cut it with a sword. Evil depends on where you are standing, pointing your indicting finger.”
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You strike harder than many brutes among men I know!

Just a simple 'you strike harder than most men that I know' would suffice. The structure of your sentence isn't so easy to follow.



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Their combined rush quaked the cobblestones beneath her feet. The Enlightened Gardens’ fertile groves were churned underfoot, leaving only a muddy mire behind.

I find this a bit too contradictory. That is, are they on cobblestones, or are they on soil?

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Jaleh surmounted an ornate pillar, its surface grooved, and its peak wreathed in a laurel of stone.

Surmount is an odd word to use, and I wonder if you have chosen the right word. Surmount means to overcome a difficulty or be placed on top of. By using surmount you have said that Jaleh has triumphed over the pillar, or that she has been set up on the top of it.


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They showered her Zar siblings with abandon

The word siblings only refers to blood relations it does not include brothers/sisters in arms.



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Both factions collided into each other like colliding storms.

I am not sure about this. Your use of the word like makes me think you were trying to use a simile, but because you have used the word colliding twice it doesn't quite work. Also colliding storms do not in my mind set up much of a collision as clouds/storms have no physical substance.

I think something like this might be better. With a sound like thunder the two forces came crashing together.

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Around her, the cacophony of war deafened her ears until they about lost their hearing.

Deafened and lost their hearing mean the same thing. Also you can become deaf, but your ears can't. That is, you might say that someone is deaf, but you wouldn't say they had deaf ears.

How about this:
Jaleh screamed her war cries ever louder, her spiked mace tearing away both a helm and face of the first Zarnite piling into her. The cacophony of war around her was so loud it almost deafened her.



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Her siblings echoed her war cry,

As before they aren't her siblings unless they are blood relations.
 

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Her mace came over her shield, landing with enough guided precision that one of its spikes punched right through her foe’s left eye.

The word precision, by definition, already means accurate, so it doesn't need the embellishment of 'guided'.
« Last Edit: July 13, 2021, 06:19:06 AM by Alienscar »
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Offline Myen'Tal

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Young Zhaleh waited in the light of the lanterns, watching the cerise shades in the sky fade into hues of black. Beyond the outskirts of her village, she waited for her kin, for anyone who had escaped as she had before, leaving everything behind. Lifting her gaze toward the heavens, her eyes settled on the full moon, bathing the dunes in eerie brilliance. 

 The chilly wind almost blew away the scent of her burning village. From this sacred ground, the suffering of her kin was like a distant wail into the Golden Desert. Bathing in the lanterns'; warding glow, a sense of disconnection distanced her from the world beyond her burning light. This was not the deliverance that her father promised, but a purgatory from which there was no escape. 

 It was a nightmare she could not awake from, living every instance of horror from the last several hours. 

 From the height of the largest dune, the lanterns; bright glow warded the Ulkin beasts away. It was the reason that slavers raiding her village abandoned Zhaleh to her fate. There was no doubt in her mind the raiders knew where she waited. Yet the thought of navigating the dunes without infinite light seemed to give them great hesitance.  

 Alert, Zhaleh climbed out of the sand, a hunting bow clasped in her shivering hands. She swept her emerald eyes over the dunes below like a hawk eager for the kill. She noticed a lone torch blazing against the night, and several dark shapes huddled together around its flickering fire. 

 Zhaleh did not hesitate, her fingers tightening around her bow with renewed purpose. She plucked an arrow from her quiver, nocking it on her bow. Lifting her aim and taking the direction of the wind into account, she loosed her first arrow toward the dark shapes. 

Their voices came creeping out of the starlit gloom. Unfamiliar, their accents were an amalgamation of rough barbaric tongues, eloquent speech of the higher languages, and everything in between. She noticed chain mail glinting in the moonlight, hidden underneath robes of cream and crimson.  

 Warriors of the Carth Dominion, Zhaleh realized, braving the dunes for her. 

 Her arrow fell upon the Zar warriors without warning, finding purchase in the throat of the one guiding the unit forward. Stifling a gasp, Zhaleh surprised herself with her unerring accuracy. The warrior staggered in his march, his comrades crying out in alarm when he collapsed into the sands. His Zar brethren scrambled to recover the burning torch buried in the sand with him. 

 She nocked another arrow on her bow, taking aim at the first warrior to pull the torch out of the dunes. She let the arrow sail once more. Curving the shot in such a way that it bent in an arc back toward the earth. The arrow descended over her mark's round shield. Lifting the torch out of the sands, it struck the Zar straight through the chest, toppling him where he stood. 

 The Zar'qin, translating to slave warriors in the Carthite tongue, huddled around each other. They interlocked their shields into an impregnable wall, protecting them from waist to helmet. One of their comrades secured their burning torch again, but this time Zhaleh could not kill him outright. Her arrows pinged off their shield wall, harmless, as they came racing up the dune toward her.

 She backpedaled from the dune's edge, cold fear seizing her by the heart when she came back into the light of the lanterns. She readied her bow for a final, desperate stand. Yet, when the Zar came charging into the light, breaking their shield wall after cresting the dune to come face to face with their assailant, her body froze. 

 The warriors in their unit were from across a variety of sundered realms and conquered lands. Each wore their scars plain on their skin, woven over their faces and across their limbs like decades-old tapestries. Studying their mixed expressions, some of the Zar'qin halted, surprised their enemy was only a young girl. Horrified, she realized others did not seem to care. One of them stormed toward her, their hands unsheathing their swords.

 A grizzled voice, scarred and hoarse from decades of ceaseless war, she imagined, locked the entire Zar unit in place. A scarred brute of a man shoved his way from the rear lines to the fore of the unit. He was twice the size of his comrades, his scars as long as they were wide. It was as if someone had taken a great cleaver to certain areas of his arms and face, but had proven unable to land a solid blow hard enough to harm him.

 He said, "Stay your blades."

 "Adofo," One of the Zar voiced his challenge. "She killed two of our own! We should put her to death without question."

 "We're burning her village, young Magar," Adofo replied. "You were no different when the Zar'qin proved victorious on the walls of Sarune, even for a brief while." The scarred giant turned his gaze to Zhaleh. He watched her, impressed by something he found within her. "She's scared. That should come as no surprise for any in our line of work." 

 Adofo's squinting glare brightened out of nowhere, alight with an idea. "Or, if you're so bold, Magar, why don't you subdue her yourself? Go ahead, test her limits at your peril. You have my approval."

 Magar did not hesitate, removing his hand from the hilt of his blade when he swept forward. He made to strike Zhaleh with a reverse sweep of his hand, hoping to humiliate her in front of his comrades. He wanted to prove something, she realized, that she was nothing more than a woman. 

Zhaleh blocked his strike with a raised forearm, smashing her white-knuckled fist hard across the bridge of his nose. Beneath the strength of her tensed muscles, she felt the cartilage crunch to an awkward angle. Blood sprayed from Magar's broken nose just when Zhaleh swept a powerful kick into the side of his left knee. 

 She dived after the Zar warrior when he toppled like a pile of stone. Catching him by the neck in a choking grapple, Magar tore himself free with several savage elbows into her flank. Zhaleh released her grip, lashing out with a ferocious kick straight to Magar's temple when he made to stand. She watched him topple back into the sand. 

 Adofo was the first to wheeze with hysterical laughter, chortling at Magar with the rest of the Zar'qin as he struggled to find his feet in the dune sand. Their commander held a hand over his gut, cackling when he raised his other to halt the fight. 

 "Girl, that's enough!" He said, "Serves you right for trying to beat a young woman. I had a feeling there was strength in her. She strikes harder than most young males her age. I'll give her that! Well done, a good bout of entertainment, at the very least."

 Adofo sobered and called out to the young girl in their midst. "What is your name?"

 Zhaleh let her silence speak volumes. 

 Adofo's expression took on a more serious aspect. He insisted, "Zhaleh, isn't it?"

 She froze, horrified by the forbidden knowledge he possessed. 

 "Listen, young Zhaleh." Adofo extended his hand in offering to her, saying, "the reality of this situation is that you have three options to choose from. I could have my Zar subdue you by force, and have them drag you in chains into the Dominion of Carth. I think after the beating you've given Magar, all of us here like you enough that we'd rather not have our hands forced. The other option is that you can take my hand, and we can journey toward your new home together, where I'll put in a kind word for you with our masters. If you desire to see your father again, this is the best option for you.

 "The third option is that you'll starve out here in the desert on your own. Not much of an option, sadly."

 Zhaleh studied Adofo's scarred features for any sign of deception. She knew, as much as he did, that she had little choice. The Dominion of Carth and their Zar legions with it now enslaved her village. She should choose death, she thought. She had no way of knowing if Adofo spoke the truth about him. Yet her desire to keep living made her eager to uncover the truth behind his words. 

 Cautious, Zhaleh approached Adofo, reaching out and taking his hand in acceptance. 

 Adofo smiled, nodding. "An excellent decision. I'm glad you're as sharp of mind as strong of body. The Zar'qin Guard will put you to good use in our ranks. You'll not regret the chance for adventure and living a life free of the mundane toils of the others in the Zar caste. Now, let's be off. Zar'qin, move out!"

~***~

Warriors lifted their voices in their hundreds, snapping Zhaleh back into awareness. Resting where she stood, she leaned against Adofo's flank, head nestled on his shoulder, whilst she rested her eyes for the last hour. Her brethren's combined shouts snapped Zhaleh wide awake, quaking the debris crumbling down around them into the city streets.  

 Zarnite war cries deafened her, spilling around the clustered unit of Zar'qin Guard as their warriors came charging out of the smoke wreathed flames. Pushing herself off Adofo, Zhaleh reclaimed her shield and morning star off the ground. Adofo chortled aloud at her, assuming a defensive stance as a hundred elite warriors came charging into the shield wall. 

 The ensuing battle became a blur around her. Zhaleh defended herself, striking only when she was certain her morning star would find its mark. Every connection of kinetic force was like a jolt of lightning to her system, rousing her out of the waking dream. She rained down several hacking blows on a Zarnite, trying his best to break through the shield wall. Each impact resounded with the sound of steel scales breaking, flesh tearing, and bone breaking. 

 Beside her, Adofo threw his bulk into the enemy, battering an armored brute down onto his knees. Hacking his blade downward, he severed the foe's head from his shoulders in one blow. 

 He called to Zhaleh, "Awoken on the eve of further fire and blood, like a demon of war! Warriors of the Zar'qin Guard, hunt the Zarnites down in the streets and in their homes! Leave none alive when the city falls!"

 Zhaleh waded through the endless dead piled in Jerelian's streets. Crimson rain came pouring down on her as the melee reached its brutal conclusion. With every ounce of her strength, her spiked mace added to the red ruin. She bludgeoned a Zarnite warrior's helm, crushing his skull like so much brittle glass. As the corpse sagged to her feet, she cried out in exaltation to the Solar God. 

She advanced at the head of the Lavender Guard's shield wall, her brethren cheering her triumph. Denied a moment of respite, Zhaleh breathed in a lungful of choking smog. She tasted a potent mixture of smoke, ash, and spilled blood on the billowing wind. Gulping down the tainted oxygen, her nearby brethren picked off the remaining Zarnites daring to challenge them.

Zhaleh cursed, wishing there were some escape from the haunted streets of Jerelian. Blood soaked the cobblestone for leagues, corpses beyond count littering the main roads and walkways. Jerelian city's aristocratic civilians numbered high among the dead. 

Her skull still thumping from the beat of Zarna's war drums, she shuddered from her most recent memories of brutality.

Zhaleh swallowed hard, inhaling the choking scent of acrid smoke and burning flesh. As quick as her haunting assailed her, did the cries of the slaughtered fade back into the depths of her mind. She regained her composure and looked back to the roads winding through the Gardens of Enlightenment. 

Faki placed an affirming hand on Zhaleh's left shoulder, and she glanced toward her second in command. Features fixed in a tight grimace, Zhaleh had not realized how high-strung he truly was until now. She could see every vein surfacing on his forearm, where his cream and crimson robes tore itself thin. 

After a quick glance around the ranks, the Lavender Guard, Zhaleh's war-band, were all exhausted, but ready to explode with the fury they were famous for. 

Faki said, "what a blow, crushing that Zarnite's skull. If only the Zar were all forged of such steel."

A grizzly voice, scarred from a lifetime of war, interrupted her thought before she could give voice to it. "Warriors of the Zar'qin Guard! The Zarnites break! Quick, push them out of the gardens! Break the ranks, charge! Spare none of the bite of your swords!"

Zhaleh heard herself screaming into the wind, alongside her brethren's most brutal war cries. She glanced once to Faki, who seemed dazed by the constant fighting throughout Jerelian's streets. She thought no more of him, charging headlong at the fore of the Lavender Guard. 

Their combined rush quaked the fertile groves, leaving behind only a muddy mire. Zhaleh surmounted an ornate pillar, its surface grooved, and its peak wreathed in a laurel of stone. It was one of hundreds of broken structures scattered amid the destruction. 

She heard the whistle of falling arrows, lifting her shield moments before a deadly rain came down on the Lavender Guard. Zar warriors, once baying for blood, cried out in shock and agony as the rain of death brought scores of them low. The impact of steel tipped, and feathered shafts hit her shield in rapid succession.

Lowering her shield enough to look around, she sighted shadowy figures loosing arrows from the dizzying heights of Jerelian's spires and palaces, positioned on the higher reaches of the Gorgo Mountain. They showered her Zar brethren with abandon, scything down those too slow to react on a moment's notice. 

A war horn sounded from the other side of the garden. Zhaleh tore her gaze away from Jerelian's impossible heights, finding the Zarnite elite amassing to challenge the Lavender Guard.

Zhaleh screamed her war cries ever louder, her spiked mace tearing away both a helm and face of the first Zarnite piling into her.

"For the Zar!" Zhaleh cried, blocking a straight thrust for her abdomen on her shield. "Firstborn, Sun Caller, and God King!" 

Her brethren-in-arms echoed her war cry as they piled into the combat. As blood came raining down in the heart of Jerelian, Zhaleh considered it just another day in her life. Constant battle waited with every breaking dawn, never ceasing long enough to grant her peace. Hers was the life of a slave warrior, sworn to fight and die amid the battlefield in her masters' stead. 

Zhaleh fought on, her dwindling hope for better days gone with the setting sun.
« Last Edit: August 11, 2021, 04:04:01 PM by Myen'Tal »
“Evil is relative…You can’t hang a sign on it. You can’t touch it or taste it or cut it with a sword. Evil depends on where you are standing, pointing your indicting finger.”
― Glen Cook, The Black Company

Offline Myen'Tal

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A Sanctum of Swords - The Blood Beneath the Earth - Scene I
« Reply #11 on: August 29, 2021, 07:12:44 AM »
Some of the old school readers may recall some details about this scene. One may piece together that it's a complete overhaul of a certain chapter from Embers' 1.0  8).

The Blood Beneath the Earth - Scene I

Far beneath the Hanging Gardens of Tushik's Royal Palace, Lady Siroun Akopian of Jerelian descended deep beneath the mountain city. Dawn came cresting over the crimson mountains of Goratha and the Seventh River when she had arrived. The journey from the Kingdom of Zarna into the heart of the Carth Dominion had proven taxing and miserable beyond measure, but she had endured oppressive days and freezing nights to enter through Tushik's gates. 

The City of Grand Canals, the locals called it. It was an ancient heirloom of the Sun Caller Kings of old, one of the last remaining fragments of humanity's most mythical age. Her bustling industrial complexes, formidable strongholds, and lofty palaces did not seem so unlike Jerelian, the city of her birth. 

Aghast, a foreboding thought crossed her mind upon realization. Every moment wasted traveling from the Kingdom of Zarna into the Dominion was another moment the God King's relentless hordes butchered and despoiled Jerelian. The legacy of Zarna perhaps paled in comparison with the Children of the Sun's ancient and radiant histories, but it was no less noble and legitimate than their own. 

Ancient and radiant, Siroun sneered at the thought, descending into the artificial tunnels hidden in the heart of the Golden Mountain, and underneath the entire city of Tushik. As sunlight from the surface dwindled into total darkness, Siroun wondered what dark secrets these so-called guardians of light kept locked away from prying eyes, shrouded behind an impregnable night. 

   Here, mortal hands had hewn the granite stone of the Golden Mountain. Human laborers once chiseled and carved, reshaping the impregnable earth itself into an unfathomable network of subterranean passages. The Zar who had created this cavern in particular had left behind a crude earthen passage as their legacy. 

Yet Siroun knew the myths that abounded across Khios about opulent tombs, buried far beneath the Golden Mountain. From her recent studies and intelligence gained through espionage and intrigue, she too had learned that these catacombs housed the deceased bloodlines of the Sun Caller Kings, God Kings of Tushik and direct descendants of Sirius, the God of the Sun himself. She knew the Gate of the Sun Caller Kings would block their path, somewhere at the end of this long descent into the Golden Mountain's heart. 

Feeling her blood boil with impatience, Siroun snapped at the nearest Zar'qin her jade green eyes spied. 

"You there, Zar!" she called. "How much farther till we reach the Gate of the Sun Caller Kings? It's as if God King Erasyl hurled the entire Royal Catacombs into the very core of Thearus. Are you guiding us there or to the Gates of Her Palace?"

Made infamous by their reputation for excessive displays of violence on the battlefield, the Crimson Guard struck a likeness, mirroring Siroun's truest nature. After hearing a hundred tales of their brutality and ferocious exploits from their War Leader Kolb, she secured the loyalty of the Crimson Guard in discretion. Her offer for a small measure of the Akopian family's affluence swayed them out of the Dominion's hands in mind, body, and soul. 

Now all their number marched for Siroun, armed against the Dominion's laws that forbid Zar from arming themselves within the ancient city itself, for the Gate of the Sun Caller Kings.

The Zar warrior swiveled his scarred visage in her direction, the flickering light of torches lending him a dreadful aspect. His grim countenance darkened, his mouth contorting into a sneer when he made to rebuke her.

Kolb's authoritative voice silenced his subordinate before he could utter a word. 

"I'll have your tongue cut out if you answer." The Crimson Guard's War Leader forewarned. "Don't talk to the Lady or even gaze in her direction. Leave any effort of communication to your commander. Now keep your eyes on the path ahead of us. If anyone loyal to the Dominion discovers us, we'll all be drowning in enough blood to earn our namesakes."

Siroun looked at the Master of the Crimson Guard, shrugging. "I thought you said no soul dwells this far beneath the city? I could believe that too, considering the absence of light in this place. Would Erasyl condemn anyone to watch over his secrets in total darkness?"

Kolb answered, "Our illustrious God King may have cast the burial grounds of his ancestors far into the heart of the mountain, but he'd be a fool to leave it unguarded. I've never verified for myself, only hearing rumors and hearsay… if any of them are even close to being true, then some of the greatest legends in the Children of the Sun's ranks could lie in wait, right beneath our feet."

Siroun did not bat an eyelash at the thought. "I hired the Crimson Guard to see this task through. Are these fables and legends going to prove too much for your warriors to handle?"

The War Leader rattled with laughter, chortling at what seemed to be the promise of violence soon to come. "I realize you are new to our fair Dominion, Lady Siroun. I'll offer you a word of advice. Should you ever seek to come into conflict with the Children of the Sun, you should know a very popular saying they like to uphold as part of their creed. 

"They never shirk from the thought of death, nor any foe worthy of them… but the Crimson Guard has endured enough violence and brutality on a hundred battlefields to make our masters look like children, playing at war. Should you need these ''fables and legends' ended as part of our arrangement, know that I've already accounted for our hidden foes. We will clear them without effort."

Siroun said, "Should we reach the Gate of the Sun Caller Kings in the next several moons, that is. We've been walking for hours… how much longer until we're there?"

Kolb's amber eyes brightened with consideration, replying, "I know the Golden Mountain is vast, and these caverns almost rival its depth. The Gate of the Sun Caller Kings should not be much farther. Beyond the sealed entrance will be the Royal Catacombs, and the tombs extend quite a way deeper into the mountain's heart, from what I understand."

Siroun paused when Kolb did. She knew without a doubt her searing glare gave him hesitance. After a prolonged period of locking eyes with one another, the War Leader turned toward the backs of the Crimson Guard, still pressing onward into the gloom. 

Kolb commanded, "Brethren, rest your feet awhile! Our march will resume in a moment…" His words echoed into the endless dark, fading back into the disquiet sounds of armor jostling and subtle footfalls wading through the sand." 

He said, "Lady Siroun, what is the issue here?"

Siroun cocked her head at him, unable to believe the naivety of the question. "I am uncertain, War Leader. Your entire war band has been absent from the Zar district since sunrise. It is likely the evening dusk by now. Are you not afraid that the Children of the Sun will notice an entire band of warriors absent in the city?"

"Honestly, Lady Akopian." Kolb answered. "The Crimson Guard can spare no time for fools, so we've chosen to tolerate none within our ranks. You hired us with your promise of compensation, worth eight times the difficulty of the task to be completed, as you said. None of the Zar escorting you are going to withdraw from our contract at this point. We're over five hundred fighters strong. Should the Children of the Sun dispatch Qin'sar after our trail, well… it'll likely be in small patrols. By the time our masters understand the severity of their mistake, Tushik will be well behind us by then."

Her jade eyes looked the scarred bear of a man up once. Something about his confidence in the face of peril and every near-instance of death etched into his flesh, she found alluring. Despite his grim nature, Kolb seemed a humble man. Siroun knew from the way he pretended to be oblivious to her appraising gaze. She spied some mischief on the blooded warrior's subtle smile when he turned his gaze back to the Crimson Guard. 

Uncaring if any of his brethren noticed, Siroun reached out. She grazed her curious fingers across the cream silk robe layered over his armored chest. 

Seizing Kolb's attention, Siroun peered into his dark amber eyes. She saw her own jade ones glinting back at her in the reflection they cast. 

She said, "Make certain the Crimson Guard are swift about their purpose. Should we encounter any resistance upon entering or leaving the catacombs, then you'll make our enemies suffer. Is that understood?"

Kolb cocked his head at her in askance, but his smile broadened when he realized the truth. As a brief period of silence endured between them, both the War Leader and Siroun shared another pact with each other. Siroun realized the likeness they both shared existed, far more tangible than she ever dreamed of. 

Kolb chuckled, the sound emanating with dark mirth. "For you, the Crimson Guard will drown our foes beneath seas of blood."

One of the Zar'qin called out from the fore of the marching column. 

"War Leader Kolb! Lady Akopian! Come quick, we've discovered something buried farther beneath the cavern!"

Severed from their moment of connection, Siroun watched Kolb tear his gaze away. He gestured for her to follow before forging a path through the formation of five hundred warriors. Hurrying after him, Siroun pressed into the opening he created, shoving aside several warriors of various strengths and size. Before long, the dense formation parted to allow them deeper down the descent, where the caverns morphed to take on the aspect of smooth granite stairs.   

Kolb's command for the Crimson Guard to continue their rest resounded through the dark, just when Siroun stood before the Gate of the Sun Caller Kings. 
« Last Edit: August 29, 2021, 07:13:56 AM by Myen'Tal »
“Evil is relative…You can’t hang a sign on it. You can’t touch it or taste it or cut it with a sword. Evil depends on where you are standing, pointing your indicting finger.”
― Glen Cook, The Black Company

 


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