Offering – 3rd Revision
Far beneath the scorched sands of the Southern Wastes – a murmured prayer vanished amid the murky alleys of the Royal Den of Vipers. Voshki absconded in absolute terror through claustrophobic passages and debris strewn roads. She scrambled over toppled pillars and raced onto hidden, off-beaten paths to escape a gruesome death at the hands of the Obsidian Vipers.
Here and there, a blazing torch would beat back the shadows and unveil the path ahead. She plunged headlong across crumbling underground bridges and into the abandoned ruins of forgotten strongholds.
She traversed shady and forgotten halls – made dangerous by great piles of debris from long ceased sieges. She charged through every cracked open door into cobweb infested rooms and abandoned dungeons. Dusty tables were tossed, and bookcases toppled to stall her pursuers. At the first sight of an escape, she leapt through a gaping hole in the dungeon walls back into the twisted maze of the Den.
Voshki had no choices left. She had not even a lead save only a direction. She had no solace of a safe card to draw from the deck and lay down on the table. She was shunned and denied refuge from the surface world. So, she fled in the only direction available to her to escape the hands of the V-
A half-collapsed door within proximity of her burst open. A lean figure of dark caramel skin appeared - garbed in black leathers and fiery robes emblazoned with gold. Off footed by her own surprise, Voshki slipped and lost her footing amid the scattered debris, tumbling to an abrupt halt.
The Obsidian Viper stormed toward her and reached out the moment he came in arm’s length of Voshki even as she struggled to find her feet. He rattled with dark laughter and caught hold of her by the scuff of her collar.
Voshki twisted in his reckless grip, regaining her footing. She grasped at the hilt of a dagger hidden in her clothes. She lunged into her captor - a glimmer of steel in her hand thrust upward into her assailant’s throat. She buried the dagger to the hilt in the Viper’s neck and twisted for good measure.
As the Obsidian Viper choked to death on blood and steel - Voshki relinquished the dagger and resumed her flight. Several voices ushered into hearing - so near that their breathing echoed through the cavern. The sound of their footfalls in urgent pursuit hastened her to the height of her limits.
Voshki escaped the claustrophobic confines of the abandoned stronghold through the old dungeons. She descended into the caverns underneath even the forgotten ruins buried beneath the Den of Vipers. She reached out with bloodied and grasping fingers for any purchase to find her way forward.
The Vipers screamed blood curdling threats as they gained ground on their quarry. A light flickered in the darkness, so intense that it caught nearby shadows aflame. An invisible force snuffed out the light and left only darkness.
An explosion of flames took her by surprise. Voshki lifted her hands in pitiful defense of being reduced to ashes as the flames washed over her. Tongues of fire lashed about – but did not burn her. Her pursuers screamed – more from actual terror than death.
Voshki did not realize that her eyes were shut until her ears ceased ringing. She peered through the choking smoke wafting from braziers embedded on vine-coated walls of weathered stone. Crystalline waters streamed through ornate drains about overfull. Onyx doors marked with calligraphic characters stood in front of her.
Armored footfalls approached her from behind – hesitant.
‘Encircle her.’ One of the Vipers commanded. ‘Don’t stand so idly! Do your damn jobs!’
The Obsidian Vipers scurried to obey, but their eyes continued to steal glances around their enigmatic surroundings.
‘Don’t just stare at her, fools!’ He commanded again. ‘Seize her!’
An armored boot kicked Voshki across the temple and onto the stonework. Several more vicious kicks made her double over on her side in pain. Scarred, mutilated hands seized her by the arms and pinned them behind her back. She felt the heated burn of rough rope being pulled tight across her wrists.
A faint voice crept out of the dark behind the syndicate henchmen. ‘What’s happening out here?'
The Viper nearest the source scrambled forward with an open palm raised.
‘Halt!’ He screamed, but Voshki detected a note of terror behind all his bluster. ‘Back the way you came, hag! This doesn’t involve you.’
‘Are you jesting?’ Another Viper questioned his comrade. ‘Skewer her and let us move on.’ He spat in the direction of the mysterious voice.
Their commander began to issue orders. ‘Faris, guard the girl! The rest of you, encircle our hero here and silence her protests.’
The Obsidian Vipers unsheathed their blades – brutal weapons laced in dark crimson venom. They stormed forward and cornered a patch of outlying darkness untouched by torchlight.
‘Offerings for the Lady of Misery and Sorrow.’ The voice proclaimed in low undertones. ‘Join the Black Descent then, cowards.’
‘Enough…’ The grey viper commanding the rabble pointed toward the hazed outline of a woman eclipsed by shadow. ‘Break her limb by limb. Bring me the head when you’re done.'
One rogue swept forward, aiming to cave in the hazed outline’s skull. A brutal hack from his club withered the illusion into shades of wet mist. None of them had noticed their leader's severed head tumble from his shoulders until it smacked the ground with a wet thump.
The remaining vipers regarded the corpse with a begrudged disbelief. A fell chill breezed into them as they readied their weapons for another assault.
Two of the henchmen charged with war cries on their lips. The woman neatly lifted her slender blade and parried a reckless hack of a nicked and tarnished weapon. Her physical form seemed to mix into the shadows as she stepped around the vicious swing of her other attacker.
The spiked club gripped in both hands cleaved harmlessly through insubstantial mist. Instead, the reckless blow caved in the teeth of the Viper who had charged in with him. Knocked out of consciousness, one of his comrades mercifully ushered him from the mortal plane.
‘Thrice-cursed will each of your deaths become.' The woman coalesced between her assailants and answered with an effortless flurry of cuts.
One Viper’s weapon clattered to the ground, an urgent hand over the wound gouged into his heart. The bruiser with the gore-slick club staggered and wheezed out an agonized scream as his torso began to fall apart.
‘Begone from this place.' The woman demanded of the three remaining souls seized by horror. ‘The Black Descent has claimed more than its share.''
The Vipers heard her command and scrambled to obey. The one named Faris considered the adolescent girl in his grasp. He relinquished Voshki deliberately, then vanished into the shadows after his brethren.
‘And what manner of stray has wandered into my domain?’ Her mysterious savior cooed from out of the dark. ‘Another troublesome adolescent fleeing the venomous bite of the viper. The Lady of Misery and Sorrow must watch over you. The sacrifices made here are worthy of her dark blessing.
‘Tell me, who are you?’ A woman garbed in quilted armor the shade of dark storm clouds stepped out of the shadow. Polished steel plates reinforced her armor in the form of gauntlets, greaves, and pauldrons.
Endless falls of raven black hair fell to the small of her back and spilled over her shoulders in a mess of serpentine coils. Four similar scars – a form of ritual scarification – were etched over her left emerald eye. In the dim light, her right eye shone as a dark veined silver.
Voshki hastily slipped from out of her bound restraints. She picked herself off the blood-slick stone and ignored the splattered gore caught in her clothes. She bowed her head out of submission, kneeling among the dead offerings claimed by Alastrine, Goddess of the Underworld.
‘I am nameless.’ Voshki replied in hushed undertones. ‘I am only a passing shadow. I would join the ranks of the Ashen Circle and learn the ways of its warriors.’
‘Amusing, an aspirant?’ Her savior considered the thought. ‘We shall see how bad you truly wish for that.’ She snapped her fingers and the braziers lit on the wall were extinguished.
‘I am Shoushan.’ She called from the shadows. ‘Do you fear what dwells in the night? Does your heart shiver in terror at the thought of death? Does your mind become your enemy, when faced with a threat that you cannot trace with mortal eyes?’
Voshki felt her heart still within her chest. ‘Of course not.’
Shoushan filled the abyss with echoes of amused laughter. An oppressive silence filled the emptiness it left behind.
‘Perhaps there may be some potential there. To what degree we shall need to discover. I bid you welcome, Voshki of the Ashen Circle. Never betray hidden knowledge and avoid death in her every guise. Those are the only rules that you should abide by.’
Shoushan snapped her fingers again. Dormant braziers ignited back into life. Voshki searched the corridor and found her waiting by the onyx doors. ‘Come, Voshki, and step into these hallowed halls. We will see if the clandestine arts are meant for you.’
Post Merge: December 25, 2020, 02:15:43 AM
In the future, please use the modify button. Double posting is against the forum rules, and for that reason, the system merged your posts.
'To kill a queen shall be no simple task…'
Forked tongues of bruised light bristled in the bellies of storm clouds. Thunder cracked open the midnight skies and a deluge descended from the heavens. A freezing wind howled out of the Black Solitude Forest to beset Drake's Bridge.
Ceaseless rain flooded the ravines beneath the ancient bridge. A lonesome road wound through the hills over yonder into the moorlands beyond. A solitary tower – more fortress than a token platform to keep a vigil from – guarded the Heartlands of the Old Myrian Empire.
Voshki stood alone on the Drake’s Bridge. Constant rain crashed over her, soaking through her midnight cloak and raven-clad leather armor.
‘Arshavir!’ Voshki challenged. ‘Arshavir, you coward! Come forth and face this challenger!’
A moment of silence endured before a stern force pushed the great oak door aside. She caught glimpses of ancient and green stone inside the tower’s interior. Braziers inside the tower blazed so bright, Voshki could no longer stare through the veil – her vision obscured.
Voshki observed a guardian emerge from the tower and into the storm. His calm stride mirrored a Sage’s patient wisdom. He exuded the confidence of a warrior who knew no peer. He closed the entrance behind him and approached his opponent with due reverence.
Burning vases hidden beneath the bridge blazed against the storm – belching smoke and fire. In the bright light, the Immortal’s laminar armor gleamed like obsidian. Unsullied chainmail filled each perceivable weak point in his armor. Lavender robes fluttered where the chainmail and laminar ended on his person.
Voshki searched the calm gaze behind the Immortal’s crimson plumed helm. She lifted her long spear -The Crowned Prince – and fell into a combat stance.
Arshavir charged and quaked the ancient cobblestones beneath his feet. His speed belied his armored bulk as he stormed forth against the storm.
Voshki screamed like a siren and lunged for the Immortal’s heart. The Crowned Prince thrust for Arshavir’s chest to end the duel outright. She lashed out like a serpent with fangs bitten into a defiant threat.
Arshavir parried each of her strikes without effort. His prismatic blade reflected the light of the storm as if a rainbow’s essence were imprisoned in the artifact.
Arshavir side-stepped another rapid thrust, then ducked beneath a haphazard slash. As he made to come back to his feet, Voshki pounced and jammed the length of her spearhead square into Arshavir’s chest.
The Immortal twisted mere moments before the Crowned Prince could punch straight through his Laminar. He managed to tear himself free of the long spear’s hooked blades and pushed further into Voshki’s guard.
Voshki scrambled back for farther distance from her opponent. Arshavir proved himself a relentless warrior, and swiftly closed the distance between him and his foe. Voshki removed a hand off her spear and clutched a dagger sheathed on her left thigh. She countered so quickly her vision only detected a sliver of silvery light streaking across her vision.
Arshavir had anticipated the strike – her movement so predictable that he had already avoided the cut entirely. He replied with a diagonal uppercut of his elbow that smashed Voshki mere inches shy of her temple. She staggered from the force of the blow but refused to cry out in pain and shock.
Voshki corrected the angle of her head to stare Arshavir in the eyes. The Immortal fluidly reversed his elbow into a savage backhand that brought her down on one knee. Dazed, she bared her teeth and smeared the blood trickling down the corner of her lip on her knuckles.
Arshavir did not request any final words from her but leveled his prismatic sword with the foundation of her neck. He pulled his sword-arm back for the mortal blow - quick enough that he assumed Voshki would fail to react.
Voshki pounced into a momentous thrust, her aim focused on the spinal cord housed behind the Immortal’s throat. She blinked in the moment before the Crowned Prince slammed home. An arced spray of arterial blood rained across her vision when her eyes snapped open again.
Arshavir had artfully escaped death another time. Had she received a mortal wound in turn? No, her body had not ejected this crimson spray. Clarity refocused Voshki’s blurred vision and her keen gaze instantly homed in on the familiar figure of dark caramel skin, clad in raven black leathers – impaled on the Crowned Prince’s bladed end.
She judged from his glassine gaze off into the distance and his slack expression – that he had already died moments before she had run him through.
‘Infernal fires!’ Voshki ripped the Crowned Prince free. She shouted at the four raven-clad figures who had ambushed her opponent at the last moment. ‘Encircle him, fools! Strike in unison! Don’t give him a moment to breathe!’
Arshavir shouldered one of her warriors flat onto his back. The Immortal trampled over him after his sharp impact on the cobblestones to gain distance. The rogue he had toppled fought through the pain and snared Arshavir with an arm coiled around his right calf.
Arshavir chortled pitilessly, and then twisted so violently to face his enemies that even Voshki could hear her comrade’s arm fracture in several places. An agonized scream was drawn out of her wounded kin – in turn silenced with a merciful thrust through the throat. He removed the rogue’s head with a clean exit cut from his blade. Thwack.
Voshki had heard the distinct clink of a steel-tipped bolt being nocked on a crossbow moments before her comrades had sped to her rescue. She heard the sharp discharge of the bolt sailing free of its prison in the next moment. Arshavir cried out – struck in his right eye by the bolt.
He was flung onto the bridge back-first. A sharp crack punctuated his fall.
The remaining three raven-clad warriors rushed him from every angle. Arshavir frantically tried to find his feet as they approached. A spear thrust into his right thigh pinned him in place. An armored boot stamped firmly on his chest sprawled him back out onto the stone bridge. A wicked blade hacked into the meat and bone of his sword arm.
One of them glanced in Voshki’s direction for an affirmation. She extended him a brief nod. He seized the Immortal by the strands of his plumed helm and made a jagged cut across Arshavir’s throat with a poisoned laced dagger.
‘Well done.’ Voshki acknowledged, her adrenaline rush beginning to subside. ‘Black-Bane Kindred, move out!’
‘Tough bastard…’ Faris kicked the Immortal’s corpse onto its stomach. ‘Pompous fool was miserable by the end of all that.’
A young woman of dark chestnut skin and glossy falls of braided obsidian hair appeared from out of the shadows with the rest of the Black Bane Kindred - Voshki’s infamous band of clandestine sell swords. A belt filled with various flasks and crossbow bolts was slung over her left shoulder. In her right hand was a hand-held crossbow. Her left hand cradled the hilt of a wicked dagger enclosed on her hip.
‘Hey.’ Anoush called out to Faris and snapped her fingers. ‘Show some respect to your enemies. It's an ill omen.'
Faris pitched his head back and rattled a mocking laugh. ‘Truthfully, whenever I wish a woman to rebuke me on matters of war, she’d be more than welcome to prove the bite behind her words.’
‘Faris.’ Voshki spared a brief glance over her shoulder from where she stood by the watchtower’s oaken entrance. ‘Goad Anoush again and I’ll have you tossed over this bridge. I am certain you would appreciate such a merciful death over the one that Old Myrian received. You believe the males under my command would follow you? You’d be gravely mistaken after they realize you’d never be able to pay them a silver coin in return for their loyalty.’
Faris spread his arms wide and made a deep bow of surrender. ‘Your command is my oath, Voshki. Anoush understands that I only jest about her abilities. I respect her, yourself commander, and every woman in this unit like they were siblings of my own blood.’
‘Enough.' Voshki rolled her eyes. ‘Get over here and breach this watchtower! Arshavir locked it behind him somehow. Strange, he carried no key, did he?’
‘Commander?’ Faris rushed his fingers through his kempt raven hair and sighed. ‘Arshavir has been this bridge’s sole guardian for the last eleven years… despite his ferocious reputation-” Faris gestured to the maimed corpse splayed out on the bridge’s stone brickwork behind them. ‘He has fallen. Never shall another man of his like return for the rest of our days. Let the watchtower stand here abandoned till it collapses in upon itself.’
Voshki clucked her tongue and shook her head. ‘Always decide with certainty, my Second. All I know in this moment is that Arshavir locked the entrance behind him, so that no soul may enter but he. Something tells me that avoiding this tower would be some nuisance for us in the end. I would rather see what lies before us and ensure our lives still are unspent on the break of another dawn.
‘Kindred of the Black-Bane.’ Voshki addressed her unit - no more than two scores in number. ‘Brethren, you know that I am not one for rousing, heroic speeches. What urgent words could I speak that would hasten all of you to inspiration?
‘All of you are children of the Southern Wastes, of the Kingdom of Sukhan. Each of you are the hardened elite of a land filled with constant strife and bloodshed. We have commended our souls to Alastrine - Lady of Misery and Sorrow, Goddess of the Underworld.
‘What is there to fear? An endless fall through the Black Descent? Is such a fate so different from the dark depths of the Royal Den, where all of us eked out a murderous existence?
‘Do as you have always done to persist and survive. Do this and victory shall be ours to reap! Thieve & murder, till the halls of Ember Hearth Palace run red with Old Myrian blood!’
The Black Bane ushered one deafening cheer and approached the oaken entrance of the solitary tower with axes in hand. Voshki removed herself from their path as her most experienced warriors began to cleave into the doors.
Midnight rapidly approached and the Black-Bane’s work was only beginning tonight. Already a hidden trail of death, cloaked in darkness across half of the Old Myrian Empire was left in the wake of their passing. Of the scores of kin that had fallen behind or separated from the sell sword band, each had claimed their own lives to ensure the concealment of their mission and peers.
Only cold corpses were left behind as minor pieces of a much grander puzzle. Cold corpses, and the Wailing Widow Banners that billowed over sites of particular significance to the Black Bane’s losses and their overwhelming successes. None would understand the origins of the banners, for they hailed from a far distant land.
Only a handful of the Black Bane had endured to this point, but Voshki was determined to spend their lives stubbornly to ensure their swords reached the Autumn Queen of Old Myria, locked away in her lavish palace in the heart of the northern moorlands.
Voshki sighed. ‘To kill a Queen shall be no simple task…’