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A/N: Well, this is hopefully going to be my second fanfic on RW, so i hope ye all enjoy it! Any questions, and ya can post 'em on my talk page. i also apologize if it follows "haunted" a bit too much. If so, just tell me and ill fix it! Enjoy! Ariyh, Scriptor mirifice 20:49, September 21, 2011 (UTC)
Chapter One: The Monastery
Far in the north, a blizzard howls about the jagged peaks of ice and snow, rushing through frozen canyons, sending drifts of snow swirling in all directions as it does. Snow pours out of the steel-gray sky, blocking from view the tall, oddly-shaped ice sculptures created by nature herself from years of continuous hail, ice and snow, All things below are obscured; well, almost all things.
A lone figure travels slowly through the deep snow, her midsection, swollen with child, impeding her progress as she did. An ermine like herself was not uncommon here, though this far northern tundra was no place for a creature expecting. She had come a long way from the warmer northland shores, seeking solace from the warring tribes of sable that dominated the coast.
Her tribe had been brutally slaughtered by the emotionless dark-furred creatures when they had come between the two warring groups, trying to stop the relentless siege lain to the high north-shore caves and coasts. The ermine shielded her eyes in the storm, squinting as she made out a dark shape on the near horizon. As she moved laboriously onward, she could feel her body temperature dropping slowly and knew that, within minutes, she and her unborn infant would freeze to death. She had only been in the blizzard for about an hour, travelling onward when it struck suddenly, as blizzards often do in these parts. Struggling around pits in the snow and hidden ice patches, she finally comes close to the object: it is a dark spire, rising over a cliff. it was unclear as to what kind of stone is made of, but it had a shiny, glass-like texture to it. Realizing she would have to scale the cliff in order to reach it, the ermine reaches the edge and finds searches for a way down.
After a minute of searching, she came across a set of cleverly hidden stairs. Feeling her paws and tail beginning to numb, she climbed down them as cautiously as she could, careful not to slip lest she come crashing down to whatever lies below. Upon reaching the bottom, she realized that the spire is attached to a magnificently huge black-stone structure, sprawling out over the massive ice floe on which it rested. The ermine traveled along the structures walls, noticing how they continued down through the ice and into the deep-blue depths below. She soon reached the front of the structure: it was plain and flat, having no windows of any kind, inset by two massive gates that had no outward mode of entry.
The ermine began a hopeless search for an entrance for several minutes before realizing she was not going to find an entrance. Defeated, the ermine slumped against the wall and hugged her swollen midsection in an attempt to keep it warm. She was about to pass out, her body numb with cold, when a grating sound pounded in the back of her head. It took her a moment for her to realize that it was the gates opening, inching forward, painfully slow. She gazed with some trepidation into the dead black interior, wondering what was inside, suddenly apprehensive of the mysterious building. A blast of warm air ruffled her fur, causing her body to thaw somewhat. She moved awkwardly around to look inside, just in time to see a purple light coming slowly up the corridor, straight towards her.
Chapter two: Prisoner or guest?
It took several moments for the apprehensive ermine to make out the three figures coming towards her, but when she did, she gasped in shock: they were tall, dark, robed and hooded, arms and paws folded inside the sleeves of their robes, walking in perfect synch. They seemed to glide toward her, their empty hoods glaring out at her. She could feel their hidden gaze piercing her skin and boring straight into her heart, chilling it far more than any blizzard. The lead figure had a dark purple orb on its chest, blazing forth an eerie, supernatural light, illuminating the corridor just enough to throw odd shadows and sinister shapes on the glassy walls and floor. The neared her, the leader speaking in a cold, high, grating whisper that somehow drowned out the howling winds.
“What are you called, Ermine?” its voice sliced into her like a scalpel, lying bare all her fear and trepidation. “L-L-Liara S-Sir.” She managed to stammer out through her terror. The figure was almost three times her height, towering over her like a monolith of Black and grey fabric. The two shorter ones on either side came to either side of Liara, gently taking hold of either shoulder as the tall figure swept around, uttering a piercing wail as it did, and leading them on down the dark corridor. The air was cold but dense, causing Liara’s already exhausted lungs to work even harder. The corridor seemed to drop slightly, leading Liara to believe that they were heading below ground somewhere.
Just as she thought she might drop from exhaustion, they came to another passage branching off in either direction. She was led down the right passage, watching as rows of heavy stone doors progressed onwards in either direction. They stopped at one at the far end of the hall, and the door was opened. The ermine was showed inside before the door was slammed shut. Looking around, she observed that there was a small bed against one wall and a table in the middle. The walls and floors were made up of an odd blue-white stone that glimmered in the light of two torches at opposite ends of the cell. Liara sat upon the bed, thinking about her situation and wondering if she was a prisoner or a guest.
For several hours, Liara sat on that bunk, staring at the intricate patterning on the walls and floors. It looked like some beast had sown fine threads of blue, green and gold into the room, casting glittering shapes on each opposite wall. Liara had no idea how long she sat there, waiting in vain for sleep to come. It didn’t though, and she remained there, awake, hugging her swollen midriff. The ermine had twice arisen from her spot to search the odd room for an entrance, but it was an utter failed attempt; she seemed to have lost the door among all the swirling, interlocking threads on the walls.
Just a sleep was beginning to overtake Liara, she heard the door open. In stepped the most intriguing figure Liara had ever seen. It was somewhat identical to the figures that had brought her here, but slimmer and dressed in white robes trimmed with gold along the chest, hem, sleeves and hood. Judging from the overall body structure, the figure was female. One of the most prominent features was the wide steel band that ran from hip to hem, filled with small glass vials and bottles secured by metal strapping. It must have been heavy indeed; it remained still while the lower part of the robes moved like liquid with every step.
The young ermine backed up slightly against the wall as the figure got closer, sitting down on the edge of her bed. It spoke, now clearly female, its voice akin to running water. “You must be the one whom the gate guards brought in out of the storm.” Liara was slightly speechless, but was able to nod affirmatively. The figure put out a tentative paw, concealed beneath her wide sleeve. She lifted her hood up to Liara’s eyes, who nodded after a moment. The ermine felt the smooth fabric come into contact with her abdomen, smoothing her tunic over her swollen midriff. The creature withdrew her paw, folding them into her sleeves. “I apologize for the living space. I know it’s a bit small, but our council is still debating about what to do with you. We don’t usually take in guests, you see.” Liara nodded, unsure of how to respond to this. The stranger must have realized how intimidating she looked, so she slowly brought her hood down, exposing her features to scrutiny.
Liara was fascinated by the creature revealed: A long, tapered muzzle, slightly upturned, connected to a slender head with pointed, swept-back ears and large cobalt eyes. Her fur was a seemingly metallic, bright glowing silver color that rippled and shimmered with every movement. Aware that she was probably staring, Liara focused her attention on her eyes as she asked: “what’s going to…to happen to me?” The creature’s eyes were kind as it responded. “You have no need to fear us. We are a hidden community, yes, but not a cruel one either. Rest assured, we will take care of you and your child, but you must understand…It is unlikely that you will ever be able to leave.” Liara was startled by this.
“I can’t…leave? Never?” the creature folded her sleeves together, smiling sadly. “I’m afraid that is so. It is for our protection, you see. The warring sable tribes had ravaged us more than once in the past. We were once numerous as a species, populating the northlands from end to end. But we are a peaceful species, and war is not for us. When the sable came from far across the seas, we could do nothing to stop their mad rampage. Within a single season, we had lost half of our once mighty population and we were forced to submit to our enemies. We lived as servants, slaves, objects of pleasure and subservience; But that all changed a short time ago. The balance of power shifted from one ruler to the next. A monarch named Juxxan came to be emperor and he freed us, believing that it was cruel and unfair to enslave an entire species. He allowed us to live under his protection, as long as we paid him tribute. We did so, living in relative peace and in so doing, formed a kind of bond (as we often do) with our masters. However, this peace did not last, and we were excommunicated from the tribes by Juxxan’s son, Vikrant. We wandered many long seasons before coming across this old monastery…and what lies below it.”
The figure stood, holding up a paw as she seemed to read the question on Liara’s lips. “I prefer to keep my name to myself. For the time being, I shall remain anonymous to you.” Liara nodded. “Now you should rest. The council has made its decision. You will be briefed upon awakening.” With that, the figure swept around and left, sealing the door once again. Liara, slightly confused by what had just happened, remained there on her bed, pondering recent events. With a hundred un-answered questions still in her mind, Liara felt herself slipping slowly into the veil of slumber, utterly exhausted. One question remained foremost in her mind, however; what would this “council” do with her? And what would happen to her child?
Chapter Three: Reminiscence
Far from the monastery, on the northern shores resided a massive tribe of sable. Over many seasons, this particular clan had grown through conquest and alliance into a nomadic empire, governed by a single figurehead. The empire had been a paltry force before coming under the command of Juxxan Vereel, a former gate guard from the clan’s former life as a cloistered society. Juxxan had dreams to one day transform the mocked and scorned clan into a mighty and feared force, the ruling entity in all the northlands. His chance came when the clan leader, an over pressured female sable named Kevaru Steelpaw, had abdicated her position as clan leader to live a normal life with her mate, Siskin Usara. Leaderless and open to campaign, a desperate but skeptical clan council elected the young Juxxan to office, giving him, at his request, complete control of the clan.
Now, through backstage manipulation and careful planning, the clan grew to monumental size, having ruthlessly conquered the thirteen other warring clans into submission and offering them amnesty for warfare and allowing them to join the ranks of the now many legions of soldiers, trained and courageous, deadly in combat. The surrounding tribes of barbarian ermine were driven off; lest they be subject to the same brutal assimilation as the clans of sables they had once rubbed shoulders with. But their short-lived respite was shattered as Juxxan bore down on them, driving them to the far north where he abandoned them. Some of his soldiers who had once been friends with the fierce but relatively friendly ermine revolted, appalled at Juxxan’s bloodthirsty attitude.
The revolt was crushed by Juxxan’s private force of peacekeepers, the Bloodhawks, but this only increased the public outrage within the empire. Soon, the entire military force was pitted against the deadly Bloodhawks in a desperate attempt to overturn Juxxan. The Bloodhawks might have held out, had Juxxan not used his own daughter as a human shield against an incoming ballista bolt. Shocked by the atrocity, the Bloodhawks turned on Juxxan, killing him and then taking their own lives rather than falling in battle. The feared division of the military faded until it was but a spoken terror, a nightmare of the past.
Meanwhile, the besieged and beleaguered senate fought desperately to maintain political order, but it seemed in vain; the senate would crumble and what had once been a mighty empire would fall in on itself, devolving into what it had once been many years ago. During the period of time just before its imminent collapse, the empire experienced a complete turnaround. Another young sable named Venku and his sister Shavi came into power as dual rulers. They were capable and powerful, having many friends and sympathizers in the empire. Together, they rebuilt the fragile empire, reinforcing the political offices with those they knew would use their power wisely. Tragically, they were assassinated.
Their killer was apprehended and punished, and their son, whom they had named Juxxan (in honor of the fallen warlord; despite his shortcomings, he had been a mighty warrior.) came into power. Being the current ruler, he employed many of the tactics his ancestors had, and was extremely successful until he too was assassinated. Under his replacement, the brutal but just warlord Vikrant, the peaceful Lucere were driven out, destroying their friendly relations with the empire. They went deep into hiding, becoming the monastic society as Liara had found them.
Now the mighty army, divided into legions and cohorts, stood in full array, awaiting their spoils of conquest. The clan they had destroyed had dishonored their name, spreading rumors of corruption within the militia ranks. Now, the shattered homes and fallen corpses remained as a testament of their silencing. Unfortunately, an entire village of peaceful ermine had been slaughtered, excepting a few who would be used as servants for the empire. The front rank, consisting of one hundred fully-armored sables with their respective 20 or so centurions stood silently, watching in complete silence as the exhausted, grieving survivors of the ermine village were led off to the location where the nomadic empire was currently staying.
As they passed, one ermine, a young male, tripped, falling into the deep snow with a squeak of dismay; the lead centurion walked slowly forward, her boots sinking deep into the snow. Reaching down, she wrapped a steel gauntlet around his left arm and hauled him upright. He looked with terror at the impassive steel visor before she released him, going back into line and standing with her command pike at her side. The terrified ermine ran to catch up, looking back at the centurion every so often. As the commander gave the order to move, the legions moved slowly, marching in unison; the perfect picture of terrifying military organization.
The empire’s camp was a mighty thing to behold; miles of round, silver tents as far as the eye could see, dominated at the center by a massive black affair with awnings on three of its six sides. As they approached the camp, they split off into legions, cohorts, squads and the like. Each cohort had its own tent which, in turn, housed its squads in small rooms set apart by partitions. Each legion was given very specific instructions as to how to prepare for the next day’s victory celebration, and couriers scurried here and there carrying messages to their respective legions.
One centurion, the same one who had lifted the ermine from the snowdrift earlier, was on her way to her legion as she spotted two guards (distinguishable by the blue chevrons on their breastplates) being harangued by a master sergeant. Sighing quietly to herself, she walked over to them, coming short behind the short, muscular sable who was currently cussing out the guards for some misdeed or another. The two of them couldn’t have been more than ten seasons old, and they were standing stock still with looks of abject terror on their faces.
She stood behind him as he shouted himself into silence, glaring at the two guards until the centurion decided to tap his pauldron. He turned slowly and gulped as he saw his superior standing over his shoulder, glaring down at him with a stern look on her face. He snapped to a hasty attention stance, barking out a report. “Ma’am! These two were caught sleeping on duty! I recommend they be punished by-oof!” he got no further as the centurion brought back her gauntleted paw and slammed it into his gut, snarling as he doubled over. “I don’t care what you think their punishment should be! That’s my job you brainless dolt! Now get out of my sight before I rip off your head and stuff it down your spineless carcass!!”
He stumbled off, still clutching his stomach. The centurion sighed, facing the two terrified guards. Apparently, the prospect of being disciplined by a huge sable in full armor who had just berated a drill sergeant was not appealing to them. The centurion knelt, looking both recruits in the eyes. “You know I should stake the both of you out for falling asleep on duty.” They both nodded quickly, still frightened. She sighed again. “What are your names?” the female responded first, and though she was obviously scared, she answered in a clear voice: “Sevarii.” The male was slower to answer, but when he did, he kept his eyes trained on the ground. “Koran.” “Well, I want you both on double watch with half rations. If I catch you sleeping again, I will be forced to up your punishment.”
They both saluted. “Yes Ma’am!” they chorused before marching off to their post. The centurion straightened up, dusting her armored knee of snow before turning to confront a runner who had come over to her when she had been talking to the guards. The runner was around 13 seasons old, a black furred sable with an oversized crossbow sticking out over his shoulder. “Ma’am, Emperor Vikrant would like to see you.” Her heart did a flip at the mention of the emperor’s name; their relationship was a safe secret, but she still got nervous about it. “Tell him I’ll be right there.” The runner nodded and sped off, snow flying from his heels. The centurion was glad she wasn’t a runner; they had life hard.
For one thing, they went bare-pawed and very lightly armored; except life as a centurion wasn’t a piece of cake, though it was easier than a runner. She made her way through the many tents to the center of the camp where the giant black shelter stood. Upon entering, she was required to remove her boots and heavy armor. She slipped the armored boots off, her footpaws coming into contact with the heavily oiled canvas floor, designed so that any melted snow wouldn’t come through and soak the tent. She found it unpleasant underpaw, but she dealt with it.
A flap was opened for her and she strode in to see the Emperor at a table, studying something important-looking. He looked up and saw her there, and the frown on his face was replaced by a grin. He walked gingerly over to her, trying not to slip on the slightly slick floor. He reached her and they embraced. It had been almost a full season since they had seen each other like this, and they intended to make it as memorable as possible.
“Let’s see…when was the last time you came to visit me, Kelita?” The centurion smiled back; Vikrant was the only one who knew her real name, let alone call her by it. He was also the only one she authorized to use it at all. “I’ve been…busy, Vikrant; Centurion stuff.” His grin widened. “Let’s say you take a temporary leave of absence?” Kelita smiled inwardly. Vikrant was not at all muscular, but he was very tall. That is not to say he was weak; no, simply very lithe and wiry. “I’d be glad to. But who’s going to inform my subordinates?” Vikrant winked at her. “They’ll figure it out sometime or another.” Kelita laughed. “Alright, I give, I give!”
The sun sank low over the frozen horizon, plunging the icy landscape into darkness. Two small figures stood side by side in the darkness, the light of a very small fire keeping them at least somewhat warm. Sevarii shivered, standing closer to Koran as they kept watch; her stomach growled loudly as a result of the half rations they had been allowed. Koran put his plated arm around her shoulders, drawing her close to himself in an attempt to keep her warm.
“I am never gonna fall asleep on watch, ever again.” He growled, thrusting his spear into the ground and sitting down. Sevarii sat down beside him, drawing close to him. They sat there, huddled together to keep warm, unaware that they were being watched by a pair of eyes, a good ways off in the darkness. The night wore on, and the sentry’s eyelids drooped lower and lower. Sevarii’s head now lay against Koran’s head, and he did not have the heart to wake her.
Instead, he sat alone, taking the watch by himself. However, even his eyes began to grow leaden with time. He was spared the task of waking himself as a tall, black robed figure appeared suddenly in front of him. It was very tall and had a black hood over its face, which was not visible. It knelt down as Koran gently laid Sevarii aside as quickly as he could and sprang up, spear at the ready. However, he never got any farther the haft of a huge weapon swung out and clubbed him senseless. Sevarii, who was still asleep, was struck also. She stiffened in her sleep, and moaned softly before going limp. Their fire sputtered out as the figure swept by them, radiating malice a it went.
Chapter Five: Vita Nova
Liara’s dreams were plagued by a rush of memory; recollections of the night her village had been attacked. They had come from all sides, killing indiscriminately in the dark, not caring if the creature they speared was foe or bystander. Fires burned, illuminating the horrific slaughter in vivid detail. Blood ran red over the snow, its bright color made more vivid by the eerie orange glow. Ermine scattered in all directions, shouting and screaming in terror. Chaos and consternation reigned as the sable marched through the impeding village, destroying everything in their way.
At that time, a second army of sable had appeared, slaughtering the assailants with frightening efficiency. At the head of the column stood a massive figure flanked by smaller ones on either side. It was armored heavily, with long blades and flanges sweeping away from the suit. The figure stood still, impassive, as it watched the village burn down to the snow-covered ground. It was then that Liara had been knocked over into the snow, the dead body of an ermine on top of her. She choked back a sob when she realized it was her long-time friend and unofficial mate, Klanden. The scene dissolved into darkness and Liara felt a sharp pain in her stomach.
She awoke, breathing hard. Though her vision was blurred, Liara could barely make out two robed figures standing over her. The pain persisted, and she tried to sit up to get a look at her abdomen. However, it seemed that one of the figures had other plans for her. His voice was frightening; that same, grating, cold hiss as before, when she had first entered the monastery. “Lie still. It appears that the time for you to deliver your child has come. Remain calm, and we will continue with the procedure.”
Liara wasn’t sure how she felt about these unusual creatures operating on her, but she figured that she wasn’t going to go anywhere else anytime soon, so she gritted her teeth as the contractions started.
The whole ordeal was over in an hour, and Liara was sleeping peacefully with her infant nestled in her arms. Chief medical officer Zivago was puzzled by the child; though his mother was white as the driven snow, her child was a deep blue-black with iridescent sapphire streaks in his fur. The rules of hereditary succession dictated exactly the opposite, which is why he was confused. However, he shrugged, reasoning that the infant’s fur color would change as he grew older. Almost as an afterthought, Zivago picked up a pair of surgical scissors and snipped a small amount of the infant’s downy fur off with them, depositing it deep in his cloak. It wouldn’t hurt to test it, would it? Zivago thought not. Such was his thought as he dimmed the lanterns and left the room, allowing the ermine a much-deserved rest.
Zivago walked quickly through the myriad of passages that composed the warren-like monastery, as he made his way down to the lowest floor of the structure, walking quickly and silently. As a scientist, he wore not the heavy metal boots of a common citizen, but rather soft, durable, thick soled boots of an odd material that easily repelled the dangerous chemicals in the labs where Zivago worked. He entered a long, dim corridor lit by blue-flamed lanterns. The flames were conceived of an odd chemical reaction that caused the flame to burn at a medium level of light while remaining cool to the touch. Upon reaching the far end of the corridor, Zivago was greeted by a huge set of obsidian double-doors, inset with a large glyph that symbolize a warning against trespassers or others who knew no the dangerous chemical compounds that lay within.
Slowly, he pushed them open, careful lest they grind against the smooth polished floor of the lab and destroy the chemical-proof coating that prevented corrosives from burning through the floor. He turned and made his way through the brightly lit room, between massive shelves of various chemicals in various beakers of varying sizes, to where his own workbench sat at the far end of the room. Placing the small number of deep blue fibers on the table, he selected an assortment of fluids and several silvery instruments. After igniting the burner bolted to his desk, he placed a beaker of a clear, semi-viscous substance on its tri-pronged stand and observed small bubbles beginning to form.
After what he deemed the appropriate amount of time, Zivago dropped a single hair into the liquid, watching as the pigments separated from the actual fiber, leaving a dull-colored strand of fur in the beaker, surrounded by a swirling mass of pigments.
With a pair of slim tweezers, Zivago extracted the hair from the liquid, discarding the beaker’s contents in a small bucket where the liquid continued to bubble and ooze. Carefully, Zivago placed the fiver on a brightly lit space of white marble and examined it closely, the pointed fore-hood of his garment nearly brushing the desk as looked at it carefully. Finding nothing unusual about the fur, Zivago stood and dismissed the anomaly as a genetic flaw; however, the fur seemed to be the only thing that had changed in the infant. Other than this, he was just another ermine child in appearance.
Shaking his head, Zivago prepared to clean his instruments when something occurred to him; a slow, nagging doubt ate away at his mind until he confronted it, only to feel a cold chill travel up his spine. He allowed the instruments to clatter to the desk as he dashed out of the room.
Orderlies and Couriers veered out of Zivago’s way as he walked quickly to the magistrate’s office, speaking to none, his metal boots echoing in the silent obsidian passages.
Several turns and a large iron door later, Zivago stood before a massive set of brass doors, etched with the teardrop-over-arrowhead symbol that was the signature of the magistrate of this particular district of the cavernous underground city. He waited impatiently, boot tapping against the floor as the magistrate’s assistant pulled open the heavy portal, allowing Zivago inside.
The stately, well-groomed magistrate, dressed in dark blue robes trimmed with emerald, sat behind his desk, arms paws folded on the desktop. He lowered his hood, revealing piercing violet eyes and the slim head and neck that is the trademark of his species. “You wished to see me?” Zivago nodded impatiently. “Yes sir, I came to deliver important news of-”
He was cut off by the magistrate, who held up a paw. “Be careful how you tread, officer Zivago. Do not say anything that you may take back later.” Frowning at the reference to his notorious inability to communicate properly, Zivago cleared his throat and started anew. “The infant belonging to the newly-arrived ermine fits the description of one who has often been spoken of in prophecy. Here lie the similarities: His fur is dark blue shot through with lighter, light-sensitive sapphire streaks.
Also the time of his birth and his mother’s species and description also run the same.” The magistrate folded his arms across his chest. “Go on.” Zivago took a deep breath and recited the prophecy, delivered first from the mouth of the very first high magistrate over two-hundred seasons ago, when they had still been a nomadic tribe. The magistrate blinked once, and spoke after the medical officer had finished.
“I will consider what you have said here. Tell no one else but those you very deeply trust. You are dismissed.” Slightly disappointed looking, Zivago bowed, replacing his hood and sweeping out of the chambers. The magistrate stared after him, tapping his paw on the desktop. “Hmmm…I’m going to have to watch him…” he thought, replacing his own hood.
Zivago gritted his teeth angrily as he banged his fist hard down on his desk, placing emphasis on the words which he ground out through clenched teeth. “He has to be the one; I’m sure of it!” His assistant, a younger male named Korsua watched him slightly apprehensively. “Won’t he listen then? You are a senior officer after all.”
He pointed out, obviously seeking to calm down his frustrated mentor. “Instead of another outburst, Zivago shook his head, sighing heavily. “He’s skeptical, as always. I doubt he will pay heed to anything more I say on this matter.” Korsua chose his words carefully. “I will help you to convince him as far as it resides in my power to do so.” Zivago glanced gratefully at his assistant. “I appreciate your offer; I’m going to need all the help I can get.”
Korsua inclined his head. “As I stated at my apprenticing, it is my duty and my obligation to serve you in any manner possible.” Zivago nodded, speaking quietly. “Yes, and now is the time at which you make good that promise. If we do this right, we can prove to him that this infant is who the prophecy states he is.” Korsua had another suggestion.
“What if, at the right age, we take him to the caverns and show him you-know-what?” Zivago slowly nodded. “That is a good idea. Mayhap when he sees it, he will realize who he is.”
Chapter Six: Revelations
Three seasons later…
Zivago stood before the council, a look of desperation on his face. “Please! You have to give me a chance! Just a little more time is all I ask!” The lead conciliar magistrate slowly shook his head, heeding not the Lucere’s plight. “We have given you adequate time to prove your theory, and still the oracle remains silent. We have no choice but to ask you to recant your assertions or we will be forced to condemn you as a heretic.” Zivago’s eyes took on a steely glint. “I will not recant; I know I am in the right.” A second member sighed, answering in a resigned tone. “We had hoped it would not come to this. Chief Medical officer Zivago, you have exactly a quarter season to rethink your decision. Council convened.”
However, the determined scientist was going to make his opinion heard. “You may have my answer now. I will not change my beliefs and I know and have known, from the child’s birth, that he is the one of whom the prophecy speaks. If you wish to condemn me, then so be it.” He fell silent, replacing his hood and standing obstinately still. The lead magistrate shook his head, retaking his seat at the ring. “We as a council hereby condemn that of which you speak as heresy. As an addition, we have made the choice to force you into exile. It is not a happy one, but we do not do it lightly. We must then ask that you forfeit your rights and privileges as a citizen here and also your rank as chief medical officer. You have two days to pack your belongings and report to the main gate for dismissal.” Zivago nodded stiffly, bowing, before turning on his heel and walking quickly from the room under escort. Korsua watched helplessly as his mentor completed preparations to leave the community, packing his lab tools and various other implements into a large sack. He exchanged his medical robes for closer-fitting garments mores suited to cold weather. “Let me come with you, I beg of you!” he blurted out, a desperate tone to his voice. Zivago’s reply was unusually icy. “No, Korsua, you must stay here. I need you to do one last thing for me.” Korsua’s eyes were moist, and he nodded slowly.
“Anything, my teacher.” Zivago met his gaze. “I need you to watch over the ermine; see to it that he sees the oracle at the appropriate time.” His assistant nodded. “I-I will.” Zivago nodded, hoisting his pack onto his back. “I am going to the spires; my brother, the last exile, promised to see me there sometime. I suppose all that time he spent with the oracle before his eviction paid off.” He said this jokingly, but Zivago sorely missed his brother Kishkinev, and looked forward to seeing him again. Korsua gave a nod to his mentor before Zivago pressed something into his paw; a small scroll, tightly rolled and sealed with the oracle’s cross. “Give this to Zafir when he’s old enough. Promise me.” Korsua nodded as if in a daze, amazed by the power he had just been entrusted with. “I promise.” Zivago looked relieved. “Good. I must be off now. Good fortunes go with you, Korsua.”
“And with you, my teacher.” With this final farewell, Zivago departed, making his way to the main gate to begin his exile. Later, Korsua sat with Liara, still rather numb with shock at his newly appointed position as Zivago’s replacement. The poor ermine had felt strongly guilty about Zivago’s exile, claiming that it was her fault that he had been cast out. Korsua had ensured her that she had had nothing to do with his master’s exile, doing his best to comfort the distraught ermine. She had fallen asleep soon after, having sat in brooding silence for quite some time. Her child, Zafir, was really quite remarkable.
He stared up at Korsua, His wide turquoise eyes taking in every inch of the officer’s medical garb. He was quiet as well, having made little noise as a child other than persistent, annoyed squeaks or whimpers when he was hungry, coalescing into a taciturn, observant infant with a talent for remaining unobserved, despite his unusual appearance. The iridescent sapphire streaks on his back danced when he moved, casting pale reflections on the smooth walls and floors as he sat, silent, staring; always watching. There was something in those innocent eyes that made a shiver go up Korsua’s spine, causing him to involuntarily look away from the penetrating gaze. Despite this, Zafir was little more than a toddler, though quite well spoken, due in part to his constant interaction with the literate young of the community. His mother had also taken great pains to educate him, though her own learnedness was limited in itself. However, he was an easy learner, and Korsua was quite intrigued by his ever present lack of discomfort or annoyance. All in all, Zafir was the most unusual and easygoing individual he had ever encountered. Time passed in like manner, peacefully and without incident, until the time at which Zafir would approach his twelfth season drew closer with every sunrise. Little did the occupants know just how terribly chaotic things were about to get…
Meanwhile, at the Imperial camp…
Kelita stood in line, shoulder to shoulder with the other centurions, cohorts strung out behind them in uniform lines. They had been called together to witness a public execution, though she knew not who the victim was. Several minutes later, the executioner appeared, sharpening his axe on a grind-stone; the rasping noise of his blade against the rough granite wheel grated against Kelita’s nerves. A flourish of trumpets sounded the arrival of the prisoner; Kelita’s throat constricted as she saw who it was.
Vikrant, former emperor and Kelita’s lover was led by a chain to the block, and made to stand, his expression stone faced. She resisted the urge to run to him, to shield him with her body. And then she remembered: The figure, tall, cloaked in ragged black robes, had come to the two of them in the night, predicting the downfall of the emperor. Vikrant had not worried about it, working hard to please his subjects.
And yet here he stood, shamed, about to be executed. It was then she noticed the pompous-looking figure standing near him, holding a scroll with a look of supreme smugness on his face. Tavor; that cheating, lying, thieving, murdering coward had clawed his way into the senate, often complaining about Vikrant’s many policies. Now, quite obviously, he wanted to put an end to the strict regime. He raised a paw, and all the troops stood to attention. Then he spoke, in a high pitched nasally voice. “Former emperor Vikrant here has been accused of treason against the seat of his position, as well as the senate through his much undermining of the senate’s decisions, all for the greater good, of course.”
He sneered at Vikrant, stressing “the greater good” with a spitting hiss. “But” he continued in his pompous squeak, “He has been caught in the act of treason, trying to thwart a recent proposition, made to increase the safety of travel in these forbidding lands. So now, we have acted accordingly, apprehending the traitor and we are moving as quickly as possible to install a new emperor.” He gestured to Vikrant, and the executioner shoved him forward. It was at this time that Kelita nodded to the centurion next to her.
Together, they shouted in chorus: “COHOOOORT…READY! PIKES FORWARD! AAANNNNNDDDDD MARCH!” To Tavor’s utter shock, their two cohorts marching forward, and pikes at the ready. Kelita’s voice rang out. “Rank one! Please remove emperor Vikrant from the block!” The first row of troopers moved to take Vikrant, seizing his arms and pulling him into the middle of the ranks. The executioner growled, and tried to swing his clumsy axe at the guardsmen. However, the rear-guard ran him up to the cross-guard of his leaf-bladed javelin, thrusting his transfixed body into the snow, staining it red with blood.
Kelita spoke once more: “Tavor! As you know, these cohorts were picked as the emperors personal guards! Any attempt to stop us will result in a massacre! Do you want that, senator?” The sable hissed with suppressed rage, gesturing to his own guards. “Get them!!” His cohort marched forward, only to meet their end on the pikes and swords of the seventh and first cohorts. The emperor’s guards now formed a mobile barricade with their heavy wall shields. Kelita conferred quickly with the Vikrant, and spoke on one final occasion. “We are leaving for now, but fear not, good imperial citizens! We will return to free you from this cowardly tyrant!”
Tavor watched, quivering in fear and shame as the two cohorts marched away, bearing the emperor out of the camp towards the shores where the imperial fleet was harbored. He growled under his breath: “I will get you, Vikrant; and you as well, centurion. I know your secret and I shall reveal it for all to hear so that you might return not in triumph, but in shame!” He looked at the remaining centurions before screeching in a haughty tone: “Well?!? What are you waiting for? Get back to your posts!” The army dispersed, Justas the sun set, heralding the end of an eventful day. Tavor spent the remainder of his time brooding about how he might exact his revenge. And from a high cliff top, a black-robed figure watched…
Chapter Seven: Secrets and Lies
Korsua glanced furtively to the left and to the right as he crept down a gilded corridor, making sure that he had not been followed. The passage wound onward, sloping steadily downwards as it snaked its way beneath the huge glacier that housed it.
Soon, he came to a sort of atrium, round in shape and having but one door at the far end. A heavy steel bolt and bar secured it into place, and it took Korsua some time to pry it open. When he did eventually gain entry, he gasped in shock at the sight before him: a huge, glittering, glasslike cavern laid spread out before him, with thick walls of ice that could be seen through, exposing the deep blue depths of the great body of water in which the glacier rested.
A mammoth shape, no more than a shadow to Korsua’s eyes, drifted slowly by the giant window, a low rumble emanating from it as it passed. Now slightly nervous, Korsua quickly walked across the magnificent cavern, passing statues of creatures that had existed long before him; ancient statues depicting an ancient people who had long ago died out, forever preserved in glittering images.
Still rather apprehensive, Korsua made his way to the huge set of gold double doors at the far end of the cavern, pulling one open with some difficulty. Before he entered into the mysterious chamber that lay within, he reminded himself that before him, another individual had been caught down here and exiled for his transgression.
But he had to know what was so fiercely guarded by the council. He had an idea or two, and had even harbored a thought that the oracle resided here. But of course, that couldn’t be true; everyone knew the oracle resided on the highest level of the monastery. Steeling himself, Korsua stepped into the room, his boots clanking softly against the smooth stone floor. He was met by inky darkness, but soon his eyes adjusted. An icy feeling ran up his spine, and a feeling of disbelief took him over. Before him stood a huge column of solid ice, ribbed and veined with darker and lighter portions, wide at both bases. A kind of dais sat the lower base of the pillar, and two guttering torches flanked it. On it laid the most unusual creature Korsua had ever seen: Pitch black fur, half-open molten gold eyes, a narrow muzzle and delicate, pointed ears. The creature’s slender arms were splayed out on either side, and her legs were stretched out; she seemed either dead or else sleeping in a very odd position.
She was painfully thin, and garbed only in a thin cloak. Her paws were manacled to the pillar, as were her ankles. A kind of brass brazier stood before the dais, and dark grey smoke wreathed the creature on the platform. An inscription in a language Korsua could not understand was engraved on a black-stone plaque above the dais. The young medical officer felt drawn to her, and he felt some dismay as he began to move inexorably towards her.
This disappeared as he saw the look in her eyes as she noticed him; a kind of deep, intense suffering, the likes of which no living creature could ever understand. A profound sense of pity overcame Korsua as he neared her, kneeling by the dais. He slipped a paw beneath her head, supporting it gently; her fur was heavy and thick, and had a texture like soft wax to it. Her eyes opened just slightly to look at Korsua. “Who are you?” he asked. Her voice was soft and melodious, but so quiet that Korsua had to lean slightly closer to hear her answer.
“I…am…the oracle…” Her eyes closed once more. These few words hit Korsua like a sledgehammer: if the oracle was here…then who was in the tower? And if the oracle in the tower was a fraud, than all that the public had been told was a lie, which means that something was being hidden. Her eyes flew open, and she looked urgently at him. “You must go; they are coming.” Korsua’s ears pricked in alarm, and he gently laid her down once more. “I will be back. I promise.”
With these words, he stood quickly and entered a hidden supply tunnel that Kishkinev had used when visiting the oracle some years ago. He closed the small stone door just enough to allow himself a glimpse of the cavern, and was surprised to see three guards walk in, placing a package at the foot of the dais before bowing out and disappearing. Pondering frantically what he had just seen, the medical officer slipped up the tunnel into his laboratory, quietly shutting the door and unlocking the one to the main hall. Thoughts of what he had just seen and heard whirled throughout his head as he continued through his daily work.
The head magistrate of the northland monastery stood before the emaciated figure, frowning. “Well? What of the prophecy?” The unusual creature recited the prophecy in a dull, flat tone: “In the land from whence the warlord came From humble beginnings brought forth; The child of snow with hide of blue shall wake the sleeping flame. From frozen fire comes chaos grim; the ancient shall the growing flame dim. They of the Red stone never have such terror seen, and shall send warrior’s spirit forth; But should he fail, and the flame increase, than chaos will take her course.
“Is that it?” The creature nodded dully, answering in her lightly accented voice, her eyes downcast: “Yes, that’s all of it.” The magistrate nodded, thinking silently for a moment before gesturing to the guards on either side of the oracle. “Take her and secure her in her cave. Post no guards.” The robed and hooded figures silently complied, leading the oracle off. The magistrate turned his back to them, thinking hard. The oracle was not safe in the cavern. She had to be moved deeper… The magistrate’s paranoia took over, and he began to look for a ‘better’ place to conceal his darkest of secrets and lies.
If Korsua wanted to help her, than he would have to move quickly; for the day of Zafir’s adolescence was drawing closer, and that was the time at which the prophecy would become active. And if that happened, than all that the magistrate had worked so hard to conceal would be revealed…
Chapter Eight: Escape and Refuge
Zafir paced around his quarters, a nervous feeling in the pit of his stomach. This was it; the day he would be considered a true adolescent in the society. His mother, Liara, had been speaking with Korsua, though she had returned a short time ago with a look of anxiety that had disappeared as soon as Zafir had caught sight of it. She had presented him with a set of black robes with a red cowl and sash, and told him that in a short time, he would have to go with Korsua to a rather obscure part of the monastery for a short time. It was thoughts of what might be waiting for him that consumed the young ermine; so much that, he failed to notice when Korsua entered the room. A tap on the shoulder was sufficient to bring him back to reality, and after saying a quick farewell to Liara, they set off down the passage. Zafir knew enough to keep silent in the medical officer’s company, and was surprised when Korsua addressed him once they had left the public area. “What do you know of the oracle?”
Zafir had learned just enough about the oracle to keep him longing for answers about the mysterious creature. “Not much sir; only that she lives in the tower at the very top of the monastery.” Korsua nodded in what seemed to be resignation. “Of course they told you that.” The ermine looked at the officer quizzically. “What do you mean? It’s true, isn’t it?” When Korsua didn’t answer, he repeated the question: “Isn’t it, officer Korsua?” Instead of responding, Korsua drew a large, heavy-looking key from his belt, walking quickly to a rather small door with a large brass lock. The officer inspected the lock before muttering to himself: “They changed it…:” Placing the key back on his belt, He drew out a small vial of dark green liquid.
Looking furtively from side to side, the Lucere opened the vial and shook three drops of the odd liquid onto the lock. To Zafir’s shock and amazement, the lock began to smoke; a thick black smoke, accompanied by a subtle metallic tang. The lock began to drop lower in its holder, before falling off completely. Korsua caught it before it could come clanging to the floor, and quietly tested the door: it didn’t budge. Cursing in a language that Zafir could only guess at, Korsua strode across to the other side of the room and locked the entry way, welding it shut with another chemical. He then walked back to the previous door, looking back to Zafir. “Stay back.” With this, the tall creature placed his huge metal boot in the center of the door before drawing it back and slamming it into the door. The Lucere’s great strength shattered the timbers, sending the door waffling off into the room beyond.
Still with a look of amazement, Zafir walked through the door, his bootless footpaws making no noise on the smooth floor. It took his eyes a moment to adjust, but he soon found himself with Korsua in a Long, vaulted cavern with a long line of statues on either side of the room. A huge set of doors were set into the wall at the back. Walking quickly, Korsua made his way to the doors, forcing Zafir to run in order to keep up. The walls of ice groaned loudly as Zafir walked through the hall, following the officer closely. The doors opened up to reveal another cavern, lit by several torches. There were also several guards in the room, absorbed with something at the base of a huge pillar of ice. A look of anger took over Korsua’s face, causing Zafir to step back in trepidation. He spoke softly to the ermine.
“Cover your nose; now.” With this, he drew something from the folds of his cloak and lobbed it at the guards with one fluid motion. It shattered on the floor, letting off a loud bang as it did. The guards coughed and wheezed, dropping the torches and falling to the ground, tears squeezing from the corners of their eyes. Quickly, Korsua sprinted into the thick blue-grey smoke and hoisted something off the floor. He beckoned to Zafir, motioning for him to go to the left wall. Upon arriving, the officer instructed the ermine on the opening of a small, hidden door, cleverly hidden at the back of the pillar, just where it met the back wall.
Korsua shut the door behind them, moving quickly up the passage, a black bundle cradled in his arms. Zafir knew better than to ask, but he couldn’t help but wonder what might be so important that Korsua would risk his life and career to rescue it. They soon came to the end of the passage, and Korsua pushed open a segment of wall to reveal a long, low, dimly lit room with many benches, many of them covered in bottles and vials that bubbled and frothed. Korsua locked the front door, and set his package down gently on an empty table. He went to a footlocker and pulled out a set of robes and a cloth-wrapped package. “Here; put these one.” He said, pressing it into Zafir’s arms.
“What’s going on, sir?” The ermine asked eyes narrow. Korsua did not answer, but dug into his robes and brought out a small roll of parchment. Wordlessly, he gave it to Zafir. Now curious, he unrolled it, reading the writing there: If you are reading this, Zafir, then the time has come for the second stage of my plan to come into play. By now, Officer Korsua has discovered the secret of the oracle, and has followed my orders to the letter. You, Korsua, Your mother, and the oracle must leave this place. If the magistrates won’t listen to me, I must take drastic action in ensuring that the prophecy is fulfilled. My assistant has all my instructions; you are to follow his lead. I wish you good luck, and you have my sincere hope that the prophecy is fulfilled for the better of us all. –Zivago
Zafir looked up, a dubious expression stamped on his face. “If this is all true, then I will follow you. But…how can I be sure?” Korsua gestured for him to don the garments he had given Zafir before answering. “I didn’t expect you to believe me right away, but I had hoped. In any event, you will see my proof in a moment. Now come, we must depart as soon as you are ready.” The robes that he had been given were black with silver trimming, and underplayed with a kind of sturdy but light armor. Heavy dual-layer boots made of the same material as Korsua’s and a black waist sash completed the outfit. The heavy cowl with its cloth visor (used to conceal the wearers face completely) sat on his shoulders and close-fitting black gloves covered his paws. Inside the robes was a kind of cloth bracket that held forty or so crystal and obsidian vials, all filled with different chemicals of many various colors. Taking up his burden once more, Korsua beckoned silently for Zafir to follow, indicating that he should remain silent.
They met no one on their way, as everyone had long since gone to their quarters; Korsua had been careful to plan their excursion at a time when all of the population was asleep. It was a long but uneventful walk to their quarters, where Liara greeted them, a look of utter relief on her delicate face. She looked questioningly to Korsua, who nodded in response. “It’s time; we must go now if we wish to leave unnoticed.” Zafir spoke up then, doubt in his voice. “How are we going to get past the guards? And where are we going to go? We won’t last long out there unless we have some kind of transport.” Korsua looked back at his the bundle he had been carrying, and then back to Zafir. “I have…friends outside the monastery. We will be able to get to the ships, if all goes as planned.”
It just so happened that Liara, in her restlessness, had packed provisions from the kitchens; massive, low-slung rooms with long steel pipes leading up from the bulky stoves, to transport cooking emissions out of the monastery. The small ermine was a common sight in the kitchens, and well-liked by the resident cooks for her newly-developed culinary skills. Three skillfully-packed haversacks of provisions sat stacked neatly at the back of the room. Two of these were given to Zafir, who secured them to his waist-sash by their straps. The third was taken up by Liara, as Korsua was already weighed down with his own burden. Before they left, Korsua checked his package, and Zafir posed another question. “Who, or what, is that, Sir?” Korsua was silent for a moment, but then turned and said: “Very well; given that you are to be travelling together, I see no need to conceal her any longer.” Liara looked on with a curious look on her face. “Her?” She queried. Korsua nodded, setting his burden down on a bed and allowing it to open.
Zafir was dumbfounded by what he saw. Lying amongst the folds of a voluminous black cloak was the most fascinating creature he had ever seen. She had, or would have had, a well-formed figure, had she not been so emaciated, and her fur was a smooth black color. Her eyes were shut and her breathing was somewhat shallow. “This” said Korsua “Is the oracle; the true oracle.” Liara looked shocked. “Wait- I though…I thought the oracle lived in the tower.” Korsua nodded patiently. “Yes, that is what we all believed. But you remember what I told you, don’t you?” Liara looked confused for a moment, until a look of abject terror replaced it, vanishing after a split second. “Y-yes, I remember.” “Good. Then let us depart.” And so they did, glancing furtively from side to side as they exited the small room; keeping to the shadows as they slowly made their way to the main gate. Korsua pulled Zafir aside, saying in a hushed voice: “You are going to take the oracle. Liara does not know the way to the main gate, as I have taught you, and she will need guidance. Make your way as quickly as you can; we must throw caution to the winds now. I know you can’t hear it, but the alarm whistle is being blown. They know what we are up to, and escape is our utmost priority. Understood?”
Zafir nodded, taking up the oracle, who was still wrapped in her cloak; she was surprisingly light, and Zafir secured her closely with his arms as he clambered from his knees, standing straight. The ermine was of no mean stature; he had far outstripped his mother in terms of height and was only a head shorter than Korsua.
The group separated then, keeping close to the corridor walls as they snuck down the passages, hoping to remain unseen. However, as Zafir was rounding a corner, a patrol of two guards spotted him, screeching shrilly in order to alert the others to his presence. Cursing, Zafir broke into a run, the soles of his boots barely gripping the floor as he made a mad dash for the gate. Bulling over a civilian, Zafir burst through the foyer door and was faced with the menacing figures of the three gate guards. Frowning determinedly, he reached into his cloak and pulled out a vial of purple fluid, whipping at the feet of the guards. Much to his surprise, a wall of violet flames erupted, causing the guards to give a keening wail of surprise, allowing Zafir to slip by. However, the shortest of the guards slipped on the corridor floor as he tried to catch Zafir, and grabbed hold of the ermine’s boot.
With a grunt of surprise, Zafir wrenched hard, pulling his footpaw free of the guards grasp. However, some of the chemical residue left an impression of the guard’s hand, burned there permanently. Giving it little thought, Zafir slammed his boot down on the gate’s windlass catch, breaking off the retaining pin and causing the gate to slide loosely open. Securing his grasp on the oracle, the young ermine slid out into the snow, making his way to the rendezvous point that had been pre-designated by Korsua. There he waited for the officer and Liara, taking refuge beneath an ice-covered overhang that was overshadowing the back wall.
Korsua and Liara had chosen a much less direct route, and made it out of the monastery without incident, appearing suddenly behind Zafir. They had come from a passage, hidden by a large mound of snow. The reunited group then continued onward towards the southern shore, and the ships. At the very top of the monastery, in the oracle’s tower, the head Monarch watched the group’s retreating backs, sighing out loud. A smooth voice behind him made an observation. “Did you think that you could prevent such a fate-filled prophecy from taking place?” He turned to face the slender, white-robed figure, sitting still on her platform. “I had hoped, but I was unsuccessful, it seems.” The figure stood, speaking in a gentler tone. “I am glad the game is up. I do not enjoy lying to the public. And now that this is all over, we don’t have to remain apart any longer.” The monarch nodded, smiling beneath his hood. “Yes, that is true; and for that, I am eternally grateful. But how are we to reveal the truth?” “We had our reasons. I do not believe any criticism will arise from this. Bitterness, maybe; but it will run its course.”
The monarch turned back to the high window, now having lost sight of the runaways. “I hope you are right
Chapter Nine: The calm before the storm
Korsua looked towards the horizon, brow furrowed beneath his hood. Snow swirled down in vast quantities, screened by the cloth covering the lower half of his face, keen eyes narrowed as he watched for the dull gleam that had cut through the dismal atmosphere just a few moments ago. He caught sight of Zafir’s powerful figure just ahead, robes wrapped protectively about the oracle, whom he held beneath his inner layer in an attempt to keep her warm. He looks back at Korsua, his hood fitted tightly with a cloth mask concealing his face.
He shouted over the howling wind: “I can see something up ahead! I’m going to walk towards it!” With renewed hope, Korsua forged ahead, startled by a squeak of dismay from behind. He looked back to see Liara trapped in a sinkhole. He grasped her arm tightly and lifted her out of the deep snow, cradled her in his arms, and walked as quickly as he could through two feet of snow. A torrential sheet of white flowed down from on high, concealing their tracks through the arctic wasteland. Onward they trudged, Zafir having taken the lead, heading their unsteady path towards the object that Zafir had claimed to have seen. They had been going for quite some time, and Korsua began to worry as he looked down at the ermine he was cradling in his arms.
She was shivering uncontrollably and her eyes were half closed. This confused Korsua; weren’t ermine supposed to be used to this kind of weather? he wrapped her a bit more tightly in the folds of his cloak and quickened his pace until he was walking level with Zafir. “Where is this thing of which you speak?” Zafir did not answer, but instead pointed ahead to where a dull, barely-visible glimmer could be seen ahead through the intensifying storm before being lost to the whirling tumult of snowflakes. Determination surged anew through Korsua and he focused completely on getting to that light. Suddenly, as if they had walked through a curtain, the snow stopped.
Gazing upwards, the small group made out the outline of a tall cliff against the steel-gray sky. Sheets of ice inches thick coated the Cliffside, glimmering in the light of a large fire that burned in the opening of a shallow cave in the Cliffside. A small grouping of squat white tents was clustered at the back of the cave, surrounding a larger black tent. A shout rang out from a rock outcropping near the cave entrance. Suddenly, the area around the cliff was teeming with Sable, crossbows pointed directly at Korsua and Zafir. “Halt! Who goes there?” Zafir answered, his loud voice echoing off the cliff. “We are friends who seek shelter from this storm! Can you accommodate us?” There was no answer, but an armored figure emerged from the large black tent, advancing towards them.
Upon getting a close look at the group, the figure waved dismissively at the guards. “Allow me to prepare a moment then lead them into my tent.” The three of them were made to wait outside the tent, moving impatiently in the snow in order to keep warm while awaiting audience. Korsua glanced down at Liara, whose eyelids were starting to drop as she stood next to him, arms wrapped around her torso to conserve heat. Once more, he gently lifted her into his arms, wrapping her in his wide sleeves. Several moments later, a short armored figure wearing a breastplate decorated with blue chevrons stepped outside the tent, saluting them with a small crossbow. She spoke with a distinct imperial accent; all hard consonants in a lilting tone. “The emporer will see you.” Korsua advanced, towering over the small guard, at least twice her height. He nodded at her, before stepping into the tent, followed by Zafir.
Before them stood two sables, one male, and one female, flanked on the left side by a male guard wearing the same armor as the small female. The male was lithe and wiry, dressed in exotic-looking armor, which was decorated exquisitely with flanges and barbs on the forearms, shoulders and knees. A massive two-handed sword hung at his side. The female, in contrast was dressed in close-fitting armor, presumably designed to distinguish gender. Her chest-plate was inlaid with intricate silver filigree, and the picture was completed with a calve-length skirt of flexible pleated leather. A heavy-looking glaive was slung over her back. The male spoke in a deep voice, strangely with much less accent than the female guard. “It has been a long time since I saw one of your kind, Lucere.” Korsua bowed politely: “Likewise, Emporer Vikrant.”
He gestured to the female by his side. “This is my chief centurion, Kelita” and then to the guards at his side “And my personal bodyguards, Sevarii and Koran.” Zafir stepped forward. “With all due respect, Emporer, we have great need of a place to stay, and possible medical attention.” He said this whilst indicating the nearly-sleeping Liara and the bundle in his arms. The emporer strode forward, surprisingly shorter than the male ermine, and inspected his odd blue fur. “I have not seen one of your species with this coloration.” Zafir’s eyes hardened slightly. “It is not by choice that I bear it.”
Vikrant nodded. “I understand. I am simply surprised by the fact that your fur color is so blatantly opposite to your mother.” At this he glanced at Liara, narrowing his eyes with recognition. Liara’s eyes snapped open, and a look of fleeting terror crossed her face; an image of an armored figure in barbed armor, surrounded by flames flashed through her mind. “Y-you’re the one-” “At the village, yes.” He finished. He stepped back from Zafir, facing her. “I led my troops into battle at your home, but I was too late. I owe you my most sincere apologies for this grave error. I understand you lost much that night, and I will make it up to you in any way I can.”
Liara blinked, as if completely surprised that she was being shown kindness by this intimidating figure. This must have been apparent to Vikrant, for he moved to reassure her of his sincerity. “I have no quarrel with your kind. It is my duty as governor of these lands to keep you safe, and I failed in that duty. I am sorry.” Liara nodded, unshed tears glimmering in her eyes. Vikrant turned back to Korsua. “I can give you shelter until tomorrow. Then we move to the ships.” The Lucere looked quizzically at him. “The ships?” The Emporer nodded. “Yes; an emporer should have a navy after all. We are leaving these lands.” Korsua looked alarmed. “Leaving? Might I ask why?”
This time it was Kelita who spoke. “There is division among the empire. We were driven from the camp by a traitor who calls himself Tavor.” Vikrant nodded. “Indeed. I have my own reasons for leaving this place, so if you would come with us, I must ask you to not inquire what they are.” Korsua nodded, folding his hands into his wide sleeves. “I understand, Emporer.” Vikrant looked relieved as he beckoned to the guards. “Will you see that this group is given a place to stay?” The two small sables nodded, saluting rigidly before nodding at Korsua, Liara and Zafir, leading them out. They were taken to a vacant tent, sparsely furnished with three cots and a small table.
The interior was surprisingly humid. This encouraged Korsua to remove his over garment, leaving him in a kind of sleeveless robe. Both Zafir and Liara gasped in shock as they beheld his upper arms: These were very wide and composed of two solid bones, disconnected at the middle so as to appear like two separate arms until they met at the elbow joint. Korsua laughed at their expressions. “Odd, isn’t it?” All they could do was nod in response, speechless at this freakish phenomenon. A start from the direction of the tent flap made them jump, and they turned to see Kelita staring at Korsua.
“That is…unusual.” She said, indicating Korsua’s arms. Turning to Zafir, she spoke. “I came to see if you needed nourishment of any kind.” Zafir nodded, placing his bundle down on one of the cots. The tall sable looked inquisitively at the odd package. Gently, the ermine removed the oracle from the folds of the cloak, laying her out full length on the small bed. Kelita moved to the bedside, taking in the Oracle’s pitiful appearance. “This one needs attention. I will send a surgeon to attend to her. Is there anything else you require?” Korsua spoke then. “I thank you sincerely for your offer towards her, but there is little wrong with her other than malnourishment. Some food would not be refused, though.” Kelita nodded.
“I will have it brought to you, though I see much more than just malnourishment.” She says this while indicating the deep scars on the oracle’s ankles, neck and wrists. Korsua was silent for a moment, and then said in a slightly humbled tone: “I seem to have given her injuries little thought. Any assistance you can render would be much appreciated.” Kelita nodded, exiting the tent. A moment later, an orderly came in and placed a large backpack on the table. With him came a silver-furred sable in a white tunic and bleached leather armor. As they took their meal, he evaluated the oracle’s injuries and spent the next several hours attending to her various cuts, scrapes, scars and abrasions, pointing out to Korsua a worrisome scar on her neck that continued all the way down to her left thigh, barely visible beneath the heavy fur. After he finished, he announced that she was asleep and should wake upon the following morning. They paid him with what extra rations they had, and he departed.
They said little, only speaking to arrange where they would be sleeping: Korsua stated, without opposition, that he would sleep on the tent floor on his cloak so that the oracle could continue to sleep on her cot, while Zafir and Liara took the other two. The night passed uneventfully, the storm having ceased several hours ago, leaving the tall mounds of snow surrounding the camp glittering in the moonlight as the newly fallen blanket of crystalline white slowly freezes into a semi-solid crust over the barren landscape.
Sevarii and Koran stood outside the emperor’s tent, waiting for the changing of the watch, speaking to each other in low tones, discussing what they thought it would be like on the other side of the Northern Sea. Sevarii in particular was excited, her eyes shining as she envisioned what the new land would be like. They were still only about thirteen seasons old, still considered children in the ranks.
But for the Emperor’s permission, they would be slaves in the army, having come from a clan that was greatly opposed to the Empire and all that it stood for. They had been about four seasons old at the time, and Vikrant had taken pity on their ailing mother, who had begged that they would be taken care of, even at the expense of her own life. And so, brother and sister had joined the imperial guard, and begun training under the captain of the guards. They had remained fiercely loyal to the emporer, and their loyalty had paid off. Now they proudly bore the insignia of the imperial guard: The blue double-chevron.
Koran loaded a bolt cartridge into his crossbow, cocking it and leaning it against the side of the tent, watching as his sister did the same before she set it down beside his, stretching and yawning all in one movement. She smiled at Koran, removing her short infantry sword and placing it beside her crossbow. Having rid herself of this burden, she opened her arms out to her older brother, who smiled back and walked towards her.
As he neared her, there was a whistling sound, and then an odd crunching noise, like steel breaking steel. Koran looked quizzically at Sevarii, whose eyes were wide, a look of shock on her face. Then, to his utter surprise, she stumbled forward, coughing up a goodly amount of blood onto the snow. He looked down at the scarlet stain standing out against the snow, and then his features turned from shock to horror as his sister made an uncertain noise between pain and confusion, and fell to one side.
He ran quickly to her side, noticing the reason for his sister’s odd behavior: A long-handled knife was buried up to its hilt in her back, its unmistakable design sending a jolt of growing rage through the young male sable. Quickly standing, he rolled behind the tent as a second blade came hurtling through the air, narrowly missing his head. He picked up his crossbow, checking the sights before he steeled himself and spun around the corner of the tent. His eyes caught the gleam of steel in the hazy background, and he snapped his sights up, remembering what his drill instructor had always told him: “Remember; Two shots, and duck. Aim for the head or center mass. Those will have the most affect.”
Bringing his weapon to bear and drawing a bead just above the glinting effect, he fired twice, the sharp, metallic THWANG! breaking the still morning air. There was a second responding “Thwack” and a gasp from the general direction of the assailant, and Koran fired again. This time, he was rewarded with a scream of pain from behind the dune of snow he was aiming at. Cautiously, he drew one of the knives in his belt, creeping around the dune with his knife and short sword at the ready.
Taking a deep breath, he rounded the corner, taking in the scene before him. A well-camouflaged sable lay in the snow, oozing blood from a wound in his stomach where Koran had hit him with his crossbow. He stared up at Koran, panting heavily, an indiscernible look in his eyes. The guard walked slowly through the snow over to the sable, placing the tip of his sword beneath the assassin’s chin, nerving himself to thrust downward, when he felt a gauntleted paw on his shoulder.
The sable assassin took one look up at Kelita and fainted from sheer terror. The centurion looked at Koran, her eyes full of sadness, and shook her head. “Killing him won’t bring her back, Koran. I’m sorry.” As if a switch had been flicked off, all of his rage and fighting spirit drained away, and his face fell. He allowed his sword to slip from his grasp, turning and walking slowly back to where his sister lay curled up in the snow. He knelt beside her, tears welling up in his eyes. He slid his paws beneath her, supporting her head with one arm. She lifted a paw slowly to his face and touched his cheek, her breathing rapid.
=She could not speak, so she tried to put as many verbal things into her gaze as she could, desperately wanting him to know how much she loved him; an urgent, pervasive feeling, that of one who was about to leave a loved one suddenly and without warning. She could feel her chest tighten, and she coughed up yet more blood, staining the blue chevron on her chest plate a grotesque purple. She took a deep, shuddering breath, and forced out a few simple words; “I-I’m sorry…Koran…” He shook his head, and she could dimly hear him pleading for her to stay with him over the slow throb of her dying heart. She tried her best to smile as the world began to fade, and she could feel all the strength draining from her limbs. Her paw dropped limply to her chest, and her eyelids fluttered weakly as she fought to hold his gaze. She gave one last breath, eyes closed, before her body went limp, head lolling to one side.=
Kelita watched Koran cradle his sister’s body, weeping unashamedly. Tears had begun to run down her own face as she stood thusly, guarding the assassin at the point of her glaive. Vikrant stood opposite Kelita, doing much the same as her before he knelt beside the young sable, gently taking Sevarii’s body from him. He spoke to Koran in as comforting a tone as he could muster: “We will give her a proper burial, I promise you this.” Koran nodded, standing shakily and swiping a paw across his muzzle. He said nothing, but accepted Kelita’s embrace when she offered it, she having transferred care of the prisoner to a nearby soldier.
Later that day, the entire legion stood at attention, dressed in full battle regalia as the tiny body was carried between their ranks, borne by four guards and flanked by Kelita and Vikrant with Koran at the front. They approached an eight-foot deep cavity in the ground, and as they did, the lead centurion beneath Kelita began to sing. It was a simple yet eerie melody, voiced in a language beyond Liara’s, Zafir’s or Korsua’s understanding. It undulated between pitches, sending an icy chill down the spines of all those present who had never heard this particular dirge. The singers were primarily female, with the occasional deep, masculine undertone to support the alto and soprano cantors. The melody came to an end, punctuated by the near-deafening sound of spears, javelins and pikes being shifted from the ground position to the shoulder, and then raised in collective salute to the slain imperial guard.
Vikrant stood before a solemn Koran, whose grave expression nearly shattered when he was presented with his sister’s infantry sword and medallion; the only things that had identified her from the other imperial guards. As was customary, no speech was given. Instead, the five or so cohorts lined up in pairs and began to march in the direction of the nearby port town of Solana. The going was slow, and there was absolutely no conversation whatsoever. Every one of the soldiers marched in complete silence, out of respect for their fallen comrade; Sevarii had been well-loved by the senior officers, and her loss weighed heavily upon them especially. After about three or so hours of marching, they sighted the spire of Solana’s lighthouse: This structure was some seven hundred feet tall, and a magnificently enormous conflagration was kept at its summit at all times of the day.
The legion made an impressive sight from the walltop, for they were admitted through the town’s gates without opposition. They marched straight on through the streets, awing every onlooker with their precise militaristic uniformity. When they came in sight of the harbor, even Korsua gasped at what he saw. An absolutely cyclopean vessel rode at anchor, its seven tall masts standing erect against a hazy white backdrop of seaborne fog. A hull so long that it could barely be seen in its entirety gleamed with bronze plating, furled sails quivering slightly in the heavy wind. Vikrant broke the silence then, his voice ringing out for all to hear: “Behold, the pride and joy of the emperor’s fleet; The Maiestas!”
Hic Finit liber Primus, et Incipit Liber Duo
Chapter One: Enter the Abbey
It was a bright summer day at the Abbey of Redwall, and the good creatures that resided within were taking lunch on the main lawns. The sound of friendly voices in conversation drifted up to the highest levels of the abbey, seeping into the upper rooms through the open windows. The room through which this sound now circulated was occupied by a single individual: A young ottermaid of about thirteen seasons.
She was an unusual creature, standing approximately one head shorter than any other ottermaid of her age. Her fur was a deep amber color, streaked through with stripes of velvet black. Her eyes were deep obsidian green, and sparkled with an intensity that could be found disconcerting to some, while mesmerizing to others. Her name was Laeitanni. She had no other name, having been known simply by that name and no other since the day of her birth.
Her father, Horatio, had died when she was three season old whilst defending the abbey against an invading warlord. Ever since then, Laeitanni had become disturbingly taciturn, sharing her thoughts with no one; the only exception to this unwritten rule was her best friend, a mouse named Primrose. This particular individual was everything but delicate: at nearly an entire head taller than the average mouse and built like an oak tree, this was one Maiden who was rarely crossed. And despite her appearance, she had a gentle, motherly demeanor, and took great offense at any threat directed towards her otter friend.
The fragile otter maid watched interestedly as her best friend played energetically with the dibbuns (Abbey little ones). A light tap on her shoulder startled her, and she spun round to find herself confronted by the friendly infirmary keeper, Brother Korvo. “How are you feeling, Lee?” He asked, using her colloquial nickname affectionately. Sometime earlier, Laeitanni had saved a hedgehog babe from drowning in the abbey pond, but the ottermaid had severely overstretched her capacities, and had been unable to perform any function other than those which sustained her for quite some time.
She smiled, answering in her thick, clipped accent (Think of this as a sort of mutated Scottish accent. I probably won’t always type like she speaks, so you’re going to have to remember this fact): “’m doin’ ‘lright.” Her voice was placed at an unusual pitch; somewhere between soprano and alto, so that it played pleasantly on the ears of any who heard it. The good-natured brother nodded. “Why don’t you come outside? Everybeast is enjoying the weather immensely, and you look so lonely up here alone.” Laeitanni shook her head, smiling sadly. “I can’t; the sunlight gives me a terrible headache.” The brother shook his head sadly. “’Tis a shame; I wish I could help ye, but nothing has helped so far.” Laeitanni straightened her unusual black and red habit, remaining silent. Shaking his head once more, the middle-aged mouse left the room silently.
Laeitanni sat on her bed, wrapped her arms about her knees and hid her head from view. She sighed openly, something she did not often allow herself to do. She spoke aloud also, albeit softly. “Why? What’s wrong with me?” She looked down at her delicate, slender paws; dark amber with a split, iridescent black stripe on the back. She clenched them, grinding their heels into her forehead, growling softly. She sighed once more, rubbing the back of her neck before lying back on her bed. “What did invalidities matter?” She thought. “It would all be over soon anyway…”
Meanwhile, the Separatist imperial forces were having troubles themselves, though of a different sort. They had boarded the Maiestas successfully, but had not gone five leagues before they were besieged by incoming forces, commanded by Tavor. Standing atop the cyclopean deck, Vikrant surveyed the battlefield. Four imperial galleons had been sunk by the rail-mounted catapults and ballistae, but there still remained a further four small skiffs, which darted in and out of range with frustrating speed. The emperor gritted his teeth; for all his arrogance, Tavor was no fool. He had successfully outmaneuvered The Maiestas at every turn, leaving the much larger ship’s navigator confused.
However, these skiffs could cause no damage to the Maiestas’ hull, and served only as minor annoyances. Their crossbows could not even reach over the railings, for that matter. Sighing resignedly, Vikrant turned away from the scene and ordered all sail be piled on. Within a half-hour, the Maiestas had picked up sufficient speed and momentum to outrun the smaller ships, leaving the outraged Tavor shouting dire threats to the vessel’s rudder.
Below decks, some four levels down, Koran wandered about the massive ship aimlessly. The upper three decks held nothing of interest, and the six or so decks below him were also empty; except for the second to last deck. This was the prison deck, and an idea began to form in the young sable’s mind concerning this particular region of the ship and its occupant(s). After some initial confusion, he found the heavy oaken bulkhead that closed off the prison deck from the rest of the ship. Grunting and straining, He managed to force it open. Before him lay a room so long, it faded from view at the far end. Various sections had been cordoned off for use as torture rooms of sorts, while other sections housed heavy weights and chains. He walked among these; his absentminded examinations were often interrupted by thoughts of how things might be different had his sister survived. Slight movement at the very back of the room caught his attention, and he moved closer to examine it, dagger clenched tightly in one paw. As he neared the source of the movement, realization as to who it who or what it was suddenly dawned on him, and he reversed his blade in his grip.
Koran, however, did not expect what he saw, and he had to keep himself from dropping his jaw to the deck. Before him was his sister’s killer, chained to the wall and still dressed in a camouflage suit, which he had expected. However; what he did NOT expect was the assailant to be female. He had not noticed before due to the bulky nature of the suit, and the fact that the assassin’s face had been covered by a thick mask. Her gaze was downcast, glued to the smooth deck boards in front of her. Koran’s face was unreadable as he approached her, standing not two feet from where she was chained. Without warning, he slammed his dagger into the wall, driving it up to its hilts directly beside her head. Thrusting his muzzle close to hers, he interrogated her, his voice deathly calm.
“Why? What possessed you to go through with that plan, to make an attempt on the emperor’s life? And why couldn’t you at least have done a decent job of it instead of going and killing my sister instead?” The sable didn’t answer, but glanced briefly at Koran, their eyes meeting for a split second. In that short time, Koran notices something there that bothers him; something that he recognizes later, but cannot fathom at the present. He growled softly at her silence, and drew a second, longer blade from his belt. “What would you say if I decided to kill you right here, right now, with your own weapon?” Her eyes flick towards the blade, and a look of sincere confusion crosses her features. “That’s not my blade…” “Liar!” Shouted Koran, hurling the blade at her footpaws, where it stuck, point down, in the heavy floorboards. She looked up at him out of terrified eyes, having sensed his growing anger. “Please, let me prove it!”
Koran’s features return to their neutral state. “Then do so.” Clearly surprised by his sudden passivity, the sable stutters slightly in answering. “W-well…I need to hold it to show you…” Koran remained silent for a moment, and then burst out laughing. After he had gotten himself back under control, he shook his head, still chuckling slightly. “You think I’m just going to let you hold a blade, while you should be chained up?” Her face fell. “I-” she began, but stopped after noticing Koran had stepped closer, blade drawn. Trembling visibly, she tries to back up farther against the wall, but in vain. Koran raised his arm, and she shut her eyes tightly, expecting him to kill her then and there.
She was therefore understandable shocked when he brought his dagger down on the retaining cord that restrained her left paw. Wordlessly, he handed her the long blade, watching her carefully to see how she might prove that the blade was indeed, not hers. With great difficulty, she grasped the weapon and hefted it, shifting awkwardly in order to get into a more comfortable position in order to throw it. With an expert flick of her wrist, she attempted to send the blade spinning towards a wooden column several feet away, but to no avail. The knife spun gracefully for about two seconds, and then fluttered awkwardly in midair before hitting the column and sliding to the floor.
The sable assassin shrugged haplessly. “It’s too large; I couldn’t throw that as far as it was thrown when your sister was killed.” He nodded, somewhat shocked by this sudden turn of events. This feeling was pushed even farther when something stuck to her tunic caught his gaze; It was the light blue fletching of a crossbow bolt. He narrowed his eyes, kneeling down and grasping the short shaft. With a sharp tug on is part, and a whimper of pain on hers, he pulled it free of the wound, examining it closely. “This isn’t mine…” He said, his voice radiating confusion. He looked up at her quickly. “Who shot you if it wasn’t me?” She opened her mouth to speak, then shut it once more, as if afraid to speak. Quickly losing patience, Koran grasped her by her throat and hauled her up against the wall, growling out the question a second time. “Who…Shot you?!” She pulled weakly at his grip on her, gasping for air. He released her, and she fell to the ground, slumped against the wall.
She spoke quietly, her voice barely audible. “Back at the main camp…I was taught to throw knives by one of Tavor’s guards. He...He led the attempt on the Emperor.” “Does he have a name?” asked Koran blandly. “Sajin. Captain Sajin.” Upon hearing this, Koran stands abruptly and leaves the prison deck, short cape fluttering behind him. The Sable prisoner watches him depart, and then attempts to curl up on the deck floor, trying very hard not to shed any tears over what might become of her.