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VVesley

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805 I Make This Look Easy

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  1. Sorry I've been a bit busy lately - didn't mean to go so long between chapters. I rescued a dog a bit ago, and these last few weeks have been crazy as I adapt to a new member of the family in my home. She's a sweetheart :D

    1. C.Arthur

      C.Arthur

      Also have a newly adopted Fur-Baby

      2BF31C9E-657A-401F-920D-50B985957CCD.jpeg

  2. The Dragon Eye - 3

    This is a great start to a story - really looking forward to reading the rest of it soon!
  3. Chapter 22

    Ha! Is it ever? Thanks for reading and reviewing!!
  4. Chapter 22

    Indeed, it is tough for them! And we'll have to see I know where Jared's storyline goes in the future, but as for right now, lots could happen! Still so many decisions to be made about this battle.
  5. Chapter 22

    We'll have to see which way the internal fight goes for her - jury's still out
  6. Chapter 23

    Carl was there when the fighting began. He had only been at the camp a short time before it all broke out – he hadn’t even had time to find Alex, or any other commander besides the two Nandras that he had traveled with. He had admired the location of the camp from afar, but reevaluated when he had finally arrived and war broke loose. Evidently, Alexander had chosen to go for a high visibility, fully open layout for the armies he commanded. The Davora estate was essentially one giant wall, built into a hillside that had been carved into a palace hundreds of years before Nabius had even existed. Its great wall of sandstone faced north, looking down upon a vast clearing of cracked ground that was littered with intermittent shrubs and patches of grass. The expanse was almost completely flat, and large enough to house the many tents of the Di Coteau military. To either side rose thick forest with trees taller than any Carl had ever seen. He estimated that one could only see 30 or 40 feet deep into the green before it became too thick to make anything out, and saw immediately why Alex had opted for the unprotected valley that was exposed to the sun. Being out in the open would be better than being in the midst of all that vegetation… setting up camp there alone would take days. Too much brush to clear… and besides that, there’s no way anyone could coordinate within that mess. Half of our men would probably get lost within an hour… That was what he had thought, at least. When Carlisle had reached the camp, the sun had almost entirely sunk beneath the horizon. Mosquitoes were buzzing everywhere, and a couple of campfires had been lit. A couple of soldiers trotted about here and there, but for the most part everyone seemed to be in their tents. Alexandre’s tent was large and circular, dyed in shades of grey and red in the traditional Nabian colors. His emblem had been painted on the sides and top, a clear symbol to those looking down upon them from the Davora estate’s wall. His banners streamed lazily in the light breeze that blew, and Carl thought the quiet was almost peaceful as he made his way towards the general’s tent at the end of camp that was closest to the wall. The light was orange as the sun set, and it glared brightly at eye level. When Carl had reached approximately the middle of the camp, he raised a hand to block the light that was so bright that he couldn’t even make out the General’s tent. He was caught entirely off guard when the deafening blaring of war horns sounded from all sides. Men screaming and horses galloping erupted in his ears, and the yells of soldiers and rings of steel on steel clanged loudly. It appeared that they were caught off guard, entirely unprepared for the onslaught of riders coming at them. Carl drew his great-sword off of the scabbard on his back while atop his horse. Enemies were flying past him on both the left and right, lobbing lances and shooting arrows through the tents that formed straight rows through the camp. Are they coming from the forest…? He looked around to see the head of his army fighting with enemy Nabians that were indeed coming from the trees. He wondered how they got horses to ride through that kind of terrain, but didn’t have much time to think. Ahead of him, Laura Nandra launched a savage punch at the head of a passing rider with her iron fists that he knew would be fatal. Behind him, Almanita Nandra cracked a whip that latched around the neck of another horseman who was quickly jerked out of the saddle and on to the ground. Alex. He looked towards the front of the camp and saw that the majority of enemy horsemen were charging towards the largest camp. They were coming at the structure from all angles, and he knew that anyone inside stood virtually no chance. No. No no no. He kicked his heels into his horse, urging it onwards, and deflected the passing sideswipe of a combatant. I have to get there in time. He had almost reached the outermost ring of enemies when a flaming arrow fell out of the sky and onto the general’s tent. The next thing he knew, he had been thrown to the ground, winded, and heard nothing but a faint, high-pitched ringing. He lay gasping on the ground, coughing in the smoke and dust that was now everywhere. He noticed charred bits of flesh and armor around him, and the mangled hoof of a horse nearby. What… his head hurt and his vision was blurred as he struggled to make sense of what was going on. What did they do? They’re all dead… where did this fire come from? Where is Alex… Alex? He heard the grunting of a voice so familiar, and the war cries that he had heard so many times during training at the Di Coteau household. You’re… behind me? When Carl twisted his head around to look towards the source of the voice he was desperate to hear, he saw a blood-spattered vision of a man in shining silver armor. “Carl, get up! Get up!” his lover cried. Carl was on all fours, and looked away for a second as a stripe of blood flew threw the air and slapped his face. The hook on the end of his left-handed blade had wedged through the eye socket of a man and protruded through his temple. Alexandre spun, ripping the blade free and opening the mans face, and his right-handed hook sword lodged itself into the neck of a swordswoman coming towards him. He kicked out the leg of a third enemy, who fell to one knee, and yanked both blades together horizontally to cleanly decapitate this outmatched enemy. “I need you!” he called out, all business and no emotion. Later. Right now, he’s right. Carl shook his head, still feeling dizzy from the force of whatever it was that had hit him, and stood up to join the fight. He cut diagonally from where the shoulder meets the neck down to the stomach region of an attacker, and then pressed back to back with Alexandre to continue fighting. *** Jezebel slit the throat of a door guard from behind silently, catching the body before it hit the ground to mask the sound. Too easy. This is pathetic. She slinked through the Du Vance estate silently, with just four other soldiers following behind her. Her cloth shoes made no noise on the polished stone floor, and she had armed herself with nothing but a few daggers. The long hall that she suspected led to the General’s hall was almost entirely unguarded, and she wondered where the majority of Jack Du Vance’s army was. Or does he even have an army beyond his personal guards? Fucking useless… as she walked the halls of the estate that was soon to be hers, she looked on at the statues and artworks that filled alcoves and various frames. As she passed a nude depiction of Saint Koba with a large snake, she paused. Maybe it won’t be all that bad… but it’s definitely not Davora’s palace or army. My family will pay for this insult. The soldiers behind her were annoyingly noisy, and she walked quickly to try and distance herself from them. They quickened their pace to keep up, much to her chagrin. She reached a great set of wooden double doors that was where she figured was the general’s study, and slowly pushed one open to look through the crack that made. A single guard and an old woman… that’s who he has around him for protection. Unbelievable. She could see the old general eating from a bowl at the desk that was at the head of the room. A spearman sat near him, and what looked to be a maid tended over his meal. Jezebel rolled her eyes and pushed the two doors open full force, no longer caring about making a stealthy entrance. “Time’s up old man,” she shouted as she strolled in. The general stood up shocked, spilling some of his food in the process. An arrow whizzed by Jezebel and hit Du Vance’s bodyguard in the chest, where he fell to the ground gasping. “What is the meaning of this?” The General demanded angrily. Gods. He even sounds old. The fact that he’s been allowed to have this position for so long is actually disgusting in itself. “What do you fucking think? Do you know who I am?” Jezebel continued walking, right up to his seat, and stopped just across from the deck. She flicked a finger, and another arrow flew from behind her into the elderly maid, who tried to make a run for it. General Du Vance was startled at that, and stared open mouthed as she fell to the ground. He looked around, seemed to shake, and focused on Jezebel’s face after what felt to her like an eternity. He squinted, and realization began to dawn on his face. “Di Coteau… you’re a Di Coteau. Jezebel or Talia, I don’t know which.” That annoyed Jezebel greatly, and she resisted the urge to lunge at him. He pulled a knife from his belt and aimed for her gut, but Jezebel caught his hand and wrenched the weapon from it in a flash. Much too slow. Quicker than I thought and definitely ambitious, but slow. She pushed the knife back at him, sticking it straight through his hand and pinning it to the grand wooden chair that he had previously been sitting in. The general howled in pain, and thrashed his legs out as he fell to the floor. He tried to smack her with his free hand, but Jezebel caught that too and held against him. He’s so weak, she thought. He barely has any strength left at all. “Why?” he panted out, cold sweat beginning to form on his brow. “I voted against your cousin, but I’ve supplied no armies to his enemies. I’ve allowed passage through my lands… I’ve done nothing to harm any other general in years.” He looked pleadingly up at the Di Coteau noblewoman, and she sneered back at him. “You harm Nabius by having existed so long. Even this shithole you call a territory has some value, and it’s going to be mine for the time being.” She licked her lips, and pulled out one of her own knives, spinning it lazily between her fingers. “Any last words?” She looked down again at Jack Du Vance to see his face display a whole range of emotions. Initially, he showed defiance, and pride. This progressed to realization of defeat, then sadness, and finally a kind of stony resilience. He had accepted his defeat, and eventually spoke to address it. It wasn’t the absolute horror and panic that Jezebel typically liked to see in the eyes of her enemy, but it was satisfying nonetheless. Another one down. “I will bequeath this land to you and accept my defeat, Jezebel Di Coteau. Honor it, and do Nabius proud with your reign as a general.” Jezebel grinned cruelly, and he continued. “The position of General is the highest that one can achieve in this great nation, and by taking my life and presenting yourself as a replacement to the thirteen, you will take on several duties. These include: hosting the next conclave of the thirteen should you still be the most recently appointed general at that time; overthrowing at least one Ironian faction, Tomacian stronghold, or tribal leader of the provinces within one year of your appointment; establishing trading routes with – “ “ – You’re stalling old man,” Jezebel said. “I know the duties.” “With the Frays of the Illjard or whomever may be in power at the time of your reign; identifying a Saint of Nabius of your choosing that – “ “ – Silence” she spat. “ – will be publicized as the dominant saint to whom prayers must be cast for your corresponding – “ “- Shut up!” Jezebel shrieked. She grabbed the knife that was currently pinning Du Vance’s hand to his chair and twisted it free of the wood that it was lodged into. This caused him to wince in pain. Jezebel relished that, and plunged the knife into his arm again, this time lower. She aimed for directly below the wrist, meaning to push the blade between the two bones of the forearm. She missed slightly, feeling the metal bounce off of bone and slide jaggedly through the muscle. Du Vance yelped out in pain, but to his credit did his best to remain composed. Indignantly, he spoke out . “As a general, it is my right – “ “You have no rights,” Jezebel hissed. “You’re a dead man.” She removed the knife from his arm, and moved it to his cheek. With delicate precision, she razed a piece of skin off the length of her thumb. She used one hand to hold the knife, the other to pull off the skin, and her knee to press against the old general’s face against his chair. He squirmed, but didn’t give her the satisfaction of yelling out. “Tough dead guy, huh?” she asked. Du Vance looked up at her from his position now half in the chair and half on the floor, his eyes full of defiance once more. It’s almost like my stopping his speech made him more angry than my coming to kill him. What kind of a pompous old – “OW!” She screamed out, looking down horrified at the old general. He had bitten a chunk of skin out of her leg just above the knee, smiling savagely at her as blood ran down his face from the corners of his mouth. “FUCKING PRICK,” she yelled as she crammed that same knee back into his nose. From that point on, it took Jezebel almost three more hours to finish off the once great Jack Du Vance. His flesh was burnt, melted, exposed to acid, or removed almost entirely, and he eventually gave into her urges to break him down. Jezebel smiled when he peed himself, but wrinkled her nose in disgust when his bowels finally gave way and his life left his body. All this was done there in the hall that now belonged to General Jezebel Di Coteau, and she wondered if the stains that she had made would come out of the floor. It wont do to have the floor looking so tarnished directly in front of my seat. How annoying. She wiped her hands onto the shirt of one of the guards that had accompanied her to take over the Di Coteau region, and left to inspect the rest of her new home. “Clean that shit up,” she told the remaining soldiers. *** “But how did you know?” Carl asked while Alexandre was pressed up against his chest in a hug that had lasted far too long already. Alex thought there was something almost funny in the way that Carl had been so amazed by a battle tactic other than just charging head on. Tomacian as ever… so well read and knowledgeable, but still so far removed from real life. “You know this one, my love. The wall palace has seen many a war, long before General Davora inhabited it.” He looked at Carl, thinking, and watched as some sort of clarity made its way into his face. “The wall is easy to defend, and armies that camp out before it have usually all fallen. They’re subject to artillery from above and sweep attacks from the sides.” “Exactly.” Alex could tell Carl still did not understand, so he explained further. “I took the risk that Davora would try and sweep us from the woods while we appeared to have retired to our tents. He did, and thus we set the trap.” Carl nodded, and kissed the top of his husband’s head. His hair was matted and filthy from sweat, dust, and the gore from the battle he had fought earlier that day, but Carl didn’t care. “You filled the General’s tent with – what was it again?” “It’s a black powder that Mikhail and his father’s forge had been producing. It’s highly combustible, and made with charcoal and the saltpeter in the caves by the bloodlilly fields. You’ve been there before. It’s where you almost went swimming in a flower pit.” He saw Carl grin with embarrassment, and nod. Probably not easy to forget a time that you almost jumped into a pit of acid… “I remember the place.” Not the only time I’ll save you either. Alex thought of the long war ahead that would have to be fought, and he was not looking forward to it. “The generals of this estate have used the woods and clearing to their advantage for years here. It’s in every book that the wall palace must be approached from the south to wage any kind of war against it. I’m sure Tomacian histories indicate the same. Most armies that approach in this clearing are ended with a pincer maneuver.” Carl shrugged and grinned sheepishly, indicating to Alex that he probably hadn’t read too much on the subject. Somehow, Alexandre wasn’t surprised. He continued on. “Anyway, with the largest tent filled, all of our troops crammed into the tents towards the back. We had hoped to get more of the cavalry in the blast, but when I saw you riding towards the front of the camp…” “You fired the arrow before I could get too close.” “I’m glad your horse wasn’t faster. You aren’t hurt, are you?” Carl rolled his eyes, smiling down. “For the thousandth time, I’m fine. My ears are still ringing a little bit, but I feel lucky in comparison to the soldiers that were closer to the blast. Besides, I wouldn’t worry about me being hurt now, while you’re in my arms. There’s plenty of opportunity for that in the upcoming few days.” Alex frowned, knowing that was true. “At least the odds are evened out a bit more now. We were able to clean up most of Davora’s ground troops after today, but even when outnumbered he should be able to put up a fight with the defense of the wall.” Carl said nothing, only nodding solemnly. “I wish we didn’t have to be out there ourselves. If either of us falls…” “We won’t,” Carl said steadily. “We can’t. And if we can’t even fight for ourselves, we can’t expect others to.” “I know.” Alex made eye contact with his lover, and sighed. “I’ve missed you.” “I’ve missed you too.” They pressed together closer, and simply enjoyed each other’s presence. Carl tilted the young general’s chin up with one hand, and their lips met gently. They kissed long and deeply, and Alex felt Carl’s fingers running through the back of his hair. Alex felt himself stirring, and let one hand drop to grab Carl between the legs. He was also hardening, and Alex began to rub his hand slowly over the bulge in Carlisle’s undergarments. “Alex… now?” Carl was at a whisper, and looked around to see if anyone was near the openings in the tent that they were currently within. Alex was exhausted, down to the bone, but had suddenly found new energy when breathing in to Carl at such close quarters. He kissed his husband once more, this time a little sloppier, and then began to work his way down the taller man’s body. “No,” he said between kisses. He went from the neck down the front of Carl’s torso, kissing and licking gently as he descended. “This is just the first course. We’ll do much more later, when we have more privacy.” Alex had made his way down below the navel now, and Carl let out nothing but a heavy breath in response. I’ve gone too long without tasting you. Alex released the leather ties on Carl’s undergarment, and his erection sprang out eagerly. Alex kissed it gently, and began to swirl his tongue along it’s stiff shaft. “It’s been a while since… I might… not last,” breathed Carl. “I don’t care,” said Alex, muffled. He slid Carl’s length into his mouth, relishing every moment. His right hand spun circles around the bit that he couldn’t get all the way in, and his left was providing much needed self-pleasure. It only took a couple of bobs of the head, and Carl moaned out. Hot ropes of seed exploded into Alexandre’s mouth, and he felt himself burst in his own hand at the same time. He held Carl in his mouth until the prince reached his final pulse of ecstasy, and then slowly slid off while swallowing down the essence of his man. Alex got off of his knees, and kissed Carl once more. “Come on. Lets go to the bathing tents, I’ve got much more to discuss with you.” “And to show me,” replied Carl with a devilish grin that showed some serious satisfaction. “Exactly.” *** Talia had heard the blast from the other side of Davora’s wall, from the supply room that she had been in for almost two days. It had been shockingly easy for her to infiltrate Davora’s estate, so much so that it had concerned her at first. She had only needed to kill two of the estate guards, whom she then stripped and framed as if they had fallen to common robbery. With their post abandoned, she was able to don a kitchenmaids uniform and shuffle around the palace with her face hidden. It only took a few hours to locate the closet that she was now hidden within, which was chosen for the amount of dust inside. Evidently, this area wasn’t checked frequently. Talia lay in wait for two days, listening and waiting, only sneaking out to gather information each night when it was late. Sleep came and went, but Talia never truly felt rested, as she perked up and all of her senses spiked whenever someone came near to the door, at any second potentially walking in to find her. Two days had felt like forever with nothing to do but sit in a closet and listen to passersby, but she knew that much longer stakeouts were possible. Still, she grew tired of eating the stale biscuits she had brought on her journey, and sitting next to a bucket of her own urine. The glamorous life of an assassin, she thought. When she did finally hear the boom, she knew that something big had happened. The intense beating of Alexandre’s war drums had sounded just hours before, announcing the arrival of the rebelled territories. Talia estimated that sometime around sunset was when the noise had startled her, and she knew for certain that war was going on. What the hell was that? She thought back to an earlier discussion with her brother, where he simply informed her that he “had a plan” when it came to the siege of the wallpalace. She knew of the powder that Mikhail had been synthesizing, but didn’t realize that Alex was already planning to put it to use in terms of warfare. Actually, that’s stupid of me. That’s probably the first use he thought for it. And I suppose in large enough quantities… Talia had seen how quickly it took to flame. Interesting. With that noise as her signal, Talia stood up off of the ground, and began stretching out her cramped muscles. It’s time. She did a few quick breathing exercises, and tuned in to her most honed senses. Her pupils grew in size, the hairs on her arms and the back of her neck spiked up, and she quietly pushed open the door just a sliver. Good, she thought. No one’s near. Most of the soldiers are probably down on the offensive below, or manning the wall. And Davora… his bedroom or his study? Talia had studied the layout of the place well on her way there, and knew exactly how to orient herself. This is a general of Nabius, and a pretty successful one too. Odds are, he’s in his study. She walked down the right corridors, making turns and avoiding house servants as necessary. When she was getting closer to her destination, she could feel the presence of guards around the next corner. She breathed, put a hand on the hilt of the dagger at her waist, closed her eyes, and listened. There’s only two of them in this hall. One is closer to the corner, and one is further along down the corridor. She exhaled, and made her move. When she ran, she was almost silent aside from the shuffling of weapons that were strapped down to her body. The nearest guard let out a small noise of shock when he saw her, but she was much too quick for him to react. She ran and jumped straight at him, thighs wrapping around his head. She was practically sitting on his shoulders, and she drove a knife through his left eye. As he fell, she ducked into a somersault forward. She used that momentum to launch a knife as she stood up, which spun neatly into the neck of the second. His armor was heavy and made an unfortunate racket as he fell to the ground, but Talia would never have been able to make it all the way down the hall to him to drop him quietly before he had alerted the other guards. “What was that?” she heard from around the next bend, close to where the door to General Davora’s office would be. Now or never. She again took off in a bolt, ducking down to remove the blade she had thrown from the neck of her most recent victim. She turned the corner ducked and low, her head at the knee level of the soldier that was coming around from the other direction. Her knife slid easily into the soft area of flesh just above the kneecap and below the quadriceps, which made the poor man howl in pain and bend over as a first reaction. Talia took advantage of this, locking her elbow around his Adam’s apple and then rolling sideways back to back over his bent over stance. The pressure created by her rolling over the man caused his neck to twist up and around, and a couple of crunching noises let Talia know that he was finished. The next guard had made his way almost all the way to her more quickly than she had thought, and she had to duck from a vicious swing of his sword. She unsheathed the blade of the man behnd her as his body fell to the ground, and parried the next blow that came her way. A few sword strokes later, Talia let loose a savage horizontal swipe that opened up the belly of her opponent, who looked down, stunned. She took the opportunity to shove the sword upwards through below the chin, where the tip of the blade emerged from the top of his head. He dropped slowly, and Talia let loose a breath of relief. Whew. And the General’s office door is open. Here goes nothing. She felt the many throwing daggers that were placed on her thighs, torso, back, and arms, and steeled herself for a battle with a Nabian general. Though she had never truly envied her cousin Jezebel before, she admitted to herself that the prospect of fighting Jack Du Vance versus Pitor Davora was a lot more desireable. She rounded the corner, and burst into the office of the general. She had expected him to be sitting at his desk, or brandishing his weapons, ready to take her on, or even to have tried to catch her off guard with an attack at the moment she walked in. Instead, she froze. Oh fuck. There were somewhere between thirty and fifty crossbowmen in the room, all nocked and pointing their weapons at her. The general stood in the middle of them, wearing a stony, but pleased expression. His stern gaze and dark hair with streaks of gray reminded Talia for a brief moment of her father, but his crooked nose and bald patch on the top dispelled the illusion when she focused in on him. I can’t win this. Her hand twitched briefly, and she wondered if she could land a dagger in his face before he could react. Doubt it. And I think odds are at least one of these people will let an arrow fly before recognizing me as their new general. Oh shit, this is bad. Nothing had been said yet, until Davora broke the silence and appeared to read her mind. “Don’t even try it girl.” He clicked his tongue in disappointment. “It was a nice effort, but you’re cornered now. Try to run, and we’ll mow you down. Try to fight, and you’ll be riddled with holes.” Fuck, fuck, fuck. “You’re Talia I assume?” Her throat felt dry and cracked all of the sudden, and she could only nod as an answer. The general looked her up and down, and a look of general disapproval crossed his face. “Di Coteaus. You’re all the same.” He shook his head to the side. “So very predictable. Did you think the oldest trick in the book would turn my men and win you this fight?” She said nothing. “I knew your father, and his father before him briefly. Your family has used the same tactics for years, and I’ve seen them work countless times. You should have known better than to come for me with that.” Dread was now starting to set in, and Talia wondered if she was about to lose her life. “I…” was all that she managed to say. “You nothing.” The older general sighed, and turned his back on her, more relaxed. “Chain her up boys,” he said while walking back over to his desk. “Every bit of her. Give this one an inch, and she’ll take a mile.” Talia dropped her knives, and soldiers approached her from all sides with chains and cuffs. A few moments later, she was encased in metal links that were secured tightly enough to break a rib if she took too deep a breath. “Alex,” she cried out softly as she was shoved to the ground, and men began dragging her away by the feet.
  7. Chapter 22

    Ysabel and Marcus rode in their caravan through blazing heat, taking little refuge in the shaded – but stuffy – interior. The sun was shining high, and there were no clouds above the small stretch of desert that now fell outside the governance of Nabius. They were to the south of Yago Clarion’s territory, having taken a pass through the mountains that formed the lower border of Nabius into the lower provinces. Marcus’s village was in this small section of desert, built near an oasis that supposedly was placed there by the gods for them specifically. Like I believe that croc of shit, Ysabel thought. Just as she was beginning to wonder how much further they would need to venture into the wasteland, one of the few soldiers she had brought with her cried for halt, and the caravan door was opened for her to descend out of. Finally. She stepped out onto the cracked ground and took the site before her in. Three enormous houses made of clay and straw… the one in the center must be their congregation point or chief’s – leader’s? I don’t know the term – home. And smaller straw huts all around, with the order of an army. All straight rows, front facing… I like it. She began to walk towards where a crowd was forming, on the edge of a small pool that glittered clear in the bright light. Ysbael couldn’t resist squinting and putting a hand above her eyes in an effort to block the sun – she noticed some of the tribesmen and women halfheartedly doing the same, as if they were thinking she was preforming a salute of greeting. Funny. Marcus walked beside her, rigid and glowering as always. “General Clarion, they await your introduction.” Ah, right. Marcus said that the speakers for villages here greet another with distinctive war cries. I’m not exactly in a screaming mood, but hopefully this will suffice. It works for my own people in battle, after all. She let out a long whistle, high-pitched and extremely loud. Almost at once the tribe members formed ranks, turning what looked like an ordinary village life scene into the quiet semblance of an army. Discipline. A gruff yell that went up in pitch and then back down to lower than it was at origin came from the large, central building, and out stepped a warrior dressed in lavish silks. He was beaded and pierced all over, and Ysabel knew that this was the authority figure. “That is Skorpa,” said Marcus. “He is king here, and the most revered by our gods in this land.” Ysabel noticed that all of the people there had turned 180 degrees simultaneously to face this leader, and their backs were now to her. Where there was skin exposed, she could see the odd, melted formation of scar tissue that fire leaves on the human body. Like Marcus, many warriors were covered in drooping, misplaced areas of flesh. Revered, she thought, more like gluttons for suffering. While Ysabel agreed that there was practicality in ensuring a soldier could withstand pain, she wasn’t sure deep-seated nerve damage was the answer. “Hello,” said Skorpa in the standard tongue. “And welcome to our humble home.” He smiled, and Ysabel fought the urge to recoil. His teeth were white, but it took Ysabel a moment to understand why she could see so many of them. Skorpa’s face seemed to be missing its cheeks; large rings held open circles on both sides of his mouth, and she could see almost his entire tooth structure plainly. “It’s a great honor to be received here,” Ysabel said back politely. “You must be Skorpa; my name is Ysabel Clarion.” Ysabel tried her best to appear gracious and demure, but was quite sure she probably didn’t look that way. “We are fully aware of who you are, General. We’ve been very excited to meet you.” As he approached closer, Ysabel noticed that the warlord was wearing a necklace made of human ears. She also saw that some of the embellishment on his outfit was comprised of teeth and bone, which she presumed also to be human. “Have you?” She asked coyly. “Well, Marcus has told me all about you. I’m very interested in the history of your tribe, and your warriors. I think we might both find – “ Ouch, Ysabel thought, as Skorpa cut her off by grabbing ahold of her forearm and yanking her forward to walk with him. It made the demon flare up inside her, and rage began to creep its way into her mind. He’s lucky we don’t cut his fucking arm off for that. “I suppose diplomacy is over,” she said starkly, almost with a hiss. Skorpa let out a cackle as he drug her on, towards the larger building. “We can talk later. Now, we feast.” Ysabel looked at Marcus who was following behind her, and he nodded. It must be their custom. “I see,” she said. “If you insist.” “The test,” he muttered, almost to himself. When they crossed through the entryway of the main building, his words began to echo. At first she thought they must be in a large open chamber, but she quickly realized that there were more people inside. They walked between two crowds of elders, men to the right and women on the left. These elders seemed to bubble with excitement, whispering “the test” over and over. Their accents suggested less of a command of the common tongue than Skorpa’s, but evidently this was something that caused commotion. “This way,” he yanked on, as they walked towards a massive table at the opposite end of the banquet hut. It reminded her vaguely of a Nabian reception hall, with a large table for the nobles at the head of the hall, and other smaller sitting areas and tables strewn about the rest of the room. This made her feel more comfortable, and she was glad to have some notion of familiarity in this new culture. At least there are some semblances of civilization here… it’s actually quite a nice arrangement as well. This food looks like a real cook prepared it. She scanned the table, finding many dishes she recognized, and many she did not. And the centerpiece… what… Ysabel held her breath for a moment and paused briefly when she realized what it was. This made Skorpa yank on her to continue, keeping his iron grip around her forearm. Interesting, she thought, hesitantly. How beautiful, whispered the demon, eagerly. On the center of the table was a headless human body, with the flesh opened up and peeled back towards the table. Bone and ligament was pinned down with sharp stakes to reveal the insides plainly, and bowls containing dishes that Ysabel could only assume were made with organs in their corresponding locations filled the carcass. The skin was lighter than the people of this region, cluing that it must have come from Tomacia, Nabius, or Ironia. “We sit,” said Skorpa, leading her around to the other side of the table. She was in a large chair that sat next to Skorpa’s throne, at the center of the table. Marcus was next to her, and several dignitaries of the tribe filled the rest of the seats. Skorpa finally let go, and her claws sprang forward unintentionally. The warlord looked down at them, laughed, and called for silence. “My people, this is General Ysabel Clarion, from Nabius.” The guests all shouted in a singular syllable foreign to Ysabel. She assumed it must have been an acknowledgement. I wonder where the head is? She thought while glancing down at the table before her. “She comes asking us to fight for her – this, we know.” Ysabel looked over at him and then at Marcus, wondering what exactly he had said. “And this, I know,” Skorpa continued on. “It is always our duty to serve the gods. One living goddess already honors us. Karna is known to us all, and she has been merciful in providing us children, relief, and comfort in the aftermath of war.” Ysabel raised her eyebrows at this, looking towards where Skorpa had gestured with his left hand. To his other side sat a young woman who was entirely naked, save some jewelry and intricate scars that seemed placed on her body to emphasize the breasts. Ysabel had assumed she was his concubine or wife, but apparently she was a living goddess. She must be very good in bed to have him thinking that. Ysabel resisted rolling her eyes. Good for her. At the mention of Karna’s name, the people cheered and murmured with raised glasses in agreement, and Skorpa waited until the noise died down to continue. “Today, should our Marcus be correct, we are blessed beyond measure.” The crowd began to hush and buzz excitedly once more, and Ysabel felt eyes on her. “General Ysabel Clarion is said to be the Goddess Nymeria made flesh once again!” Skorpa shouted proudly. “And Marcus has found her for our glory!” Ysabel whipped her head around to face her captain, instantly on high alert. While the people below her were near celebrating and were talking excitedly in a language she did not understand, she hissed at him. “What did you tell them?” Marcus raised a hand to calm her, looked her in the eyes, and nodded. He was signaling for her to trust him, and Ysabel sat back a bit more cautiously. “General Clarion,” said Skorpa, now facing her. “If we find that you are indeed our goddess alive, it will be our honor to follow you. For a goddess never truly leads her people to doom.” Ysabel smiled, feeling stupid for not having any faint notion of knowing what to do. “I… Yes. That’s… good to hear.” Skorpa cocked an eyebrow, but turned back to face the villagers, who almost all had now congregated into the great house. “We may now begin the test.” The crowd instantly hushed, and a young girl stepped out from the crowd carrying an ornate platter on top of which sat a human head. “I suppose that answers that question,” Ysabel muttered dryly to herself. “Come,” Skorpa urged the girl forward. He lifted the platter with the head from her smaller hands, and turned it to face Ysabel. Huh. He was Tomacian. “Inside is the lifeblood of our people and our deities.” He nodded down towards the top of the head, which Ysabel could see had been hollowed out and formed into what amounted to a goblet. Inside was what looked like a mixture of blood and wine. Lovely. “The test,” he said again. “One sip, and we will know.” Ysabel paused, looking doubtfully at the warlord, and then at Marcus. “You want me to drink that?” “You must,” spoke Marcus. His soft tone of voice told Ysabel that she didn’t really have a choice, and she was quite sure that her visit might end badly if she refused to do what Skorpa said. She sighed, and grabbed the head off of its tray with both bladed hands. Fuck it. I’ve probably done worse. She lifted the fleshy cup to her lips, and took a long, straight-faced swig. After swallowing she took a breath, trying not to gasp but still reveling in the awful taste that coated the inside of her mouth. Vile. She set the head down on the table, and looked up to see all eyes on her in hushed silence. No one was reacting for the most part, and she felt a small prick of concern. Did I…. do something wrong? All at once, Ysabel felt herself lose control of her body entirely, giving way to the control of the demon. My turn now, it laughed, while using her throat to scream out and her arms and legs to leap across the table. Her right claw slammed into the gut of the girl who had just presented her the head with all five blades, and she lifted the body above her head before throwing it down hard onto the dirt floor. All at once, her every instinct was heightened and she saw red. A throat was opened with a simple slap of her left and, and a man’s chest was punctured with a dart of her right. She was weaving her way through the crowd, slaughtering villagers all while the demon shouted profanity and spewed its disgusting thoughts. It took three men on each side of her to eventually get her to stop, though the demon wouldn’t stop sputtering out nonsense and raging noisily while they stilled her. Ysabel felt panic, and was completely unable to control her own body. She felt as if she were an onlooker in the back of someone else’s mind, restrained and unable to affect the situation in front of her. What is this? I’ve lost control before, but never been completely helpless. This is my body now bitch, said the demon. Ysabel wanted to recoil with fear, but couldn’t do anything. The demon fought and struggled with the men holding on to each of her limbs, until it finally focused on the man looming above her. “Finally,” said Skorpa with palpable glee. “You are back.” He almost looked as if he were going to cry with joy, taking in every inch of Ysabel’s face. Eventually he turned to face the people, who seemed entirely undisturbed by the loss of their fellow clansmen. “My people,” Skorpa addressed, “Nymeria is back. We fight with her to the end!” *** Carl sat atop his horse exhausted, annoyed, and covered in grime. He had ridden hard at the head of Tomacia’s royal army, pushing both himself and his soldiers to make it to General Dmitri Orr’s border in a timely fashion. The road back to Nabius hadn’t been hard from the capitol, and General Laura Nandra had guaranteed their passage back. Into the country and through her lands The long trek across Elsa Torne’s territory was a different case, however. Nothing but fields and farmhouses, Carl mused. Though Elsa Torne was arguably one of the more powerful generals in that she controlled the Capitol, her territory didn’t boast much after that. There was no shelter for the sun or forests to camp in, and hunting on the road was limited to the field creatures that roamed the farms outside of the city. Since Carl felt that it would probably be wise not to march the Tomacian army through a very divided, large, dangerous city, he and his companions were forced to travel the entire length of the central territory without much help in the way of resources. Though I don’t blame her, no one could. For some reason, Carl felt confident that Elsa Torne was a reliable ally. She was always kind to us and seemed to be onboard with the cause. Now that I think about it, she actually really does seem to be less violent than the other Nabian generals. He thought to how she had only brought a couple of close guards to the summit that Alex had called for, and how she had never sent troops to either Tomacian or Ironian warzones. I mean I’m sure she sees her fair share of violence behind closed doors, running the Capitol and all… but still. Compared to someone like Ysabel, or even Alex… He looked behind him on the massive parade of people that followed behind him, and sighed. Unfortunately that means she doesn’t have much to contribute now though. Elsa Torne had only sent 27 soldiers to head south, keeping her remaining 33 to keep the peace within the Capitol. Carl had been running numbers all day while he rode, and did so again. Okay, okay, lets break it down. My army, minus those kept on the Tomacian front. Alexandre’s army. Devan Di Coteau’s, Laura Nandra’s, and the 150 men that Damien had sent. Wish he could have contributed more, but that’s what you get when they all rebel and you have to have your sister in law demolish your own men… what a poor excuse. Anyway. The 27 from Torne, and… and that’s it. Okay, not bad, not bad. And on their side… full armies from Generals Orr, Davora, La Croix, and Lafeye. At the moment, that’s about four fully-fledged armies versus another four. If approximately the same number of rebel Nabians were left to fight with the Tomacians that I had to leave to defend our borders… He frowned, not exactly liking that they were near even. And that doesn’t include if Giovanni Nandra decides to break his word and fight against us, or if Yago Clarion decides to join in. Carl didn’t know what Ysabel’s brother had in the way of an army, but then again neither did anyone. Yago Clarion had an extensive system of tunnels, mining shafts, and mountain paths and fortresses at the south of his territory. The generals that had occupied his territory before him had always used them to conceal their strength by setting up encampments there, and Yago was no different. Carl only prayed that Yago would not go into war against his nephew, but he doubted that it was completely out of the realm of possibility. Latest scouting reports and correspondence with Alexandre had indicated that Yago was still perched at home, but Carl dreaded the moment that might no longer be true. He turned to his right, where Laura and Almanita Nandra rode beside him. “General, are you absolutely positive that – “ “Yes I’m damn sure,” snapped the older woman. Her hair was tied into a tight gray bun, and the wear of the journey was beginning to show on her as well. She and her army had joined Carl’s at the crossing of the pike, and the two banners had traveled side by side the entire way south thus far. Everyone in Nabius knew about the symbolic march by now, and it made the war all the more real for Carl. “Giovanni would never raise arms against me, his own sister. Besides, it’s not a cause he’s passionate about anyway. The only war he’s profited on has been the one with Ironia – he wouldn’t give two hoots if Tomacia up and floated off of the continent. Now stop asking boy, or I’m turning my army around and marching my ass home.” Her voice was gruff and impatient but reassuring in its grumpy determination. Carl smiled, making eye contact with General Nandra’s wife. Laura’s crankiness was endearing to him, and Almanita seemed to feel the same. Okay, okay. So no Giovanni to worry about. I just… still. I hope that Alex has some tricks up his sleeve. He hung his head, exhausted, and ready to be comforted by the consolidation of the four armies. Maybe once I get a look at them all together, I’ll feel better. Not half an hour later, Carl saw the Di Coteau banners rising above tents, makeshift stables, and rows of people. The tents were all red and black, and the order within the camp on the field before him suggested one thing to him. Alex. *** Jared Coyne felt awkward in the colors of Nabius. He had been constantly looking himself over, feeling that the greys, silvers, blacks, and reds he wore were too noticeable, or too different, or stood out to much against his lanky Ironian frame and shock of golden hair. But I’ve been assured they were pulled from a Nabian nobleman’s wardrobe, and are consistent with the fashions of modern Nabius… ha. Fashion. In Nabius? He had to admit that Nabians weren’t known for their superb choice in garb, as they namely only dressed up to show off or exert power. When it came to armor and battle-wear, they always just went with what worked for them on an individual basis. There’s something smart about that, but I think I’d prefer a regular suit of armor. Jared felt unprotected in his suit of scale, boiled leather, and chainmail. Whatever works. He had successfully made his way through the territories of Marie Lafeye and Giovanni Nandra, and was now in Elsa Torne’s jurisdiction. His companions were two females, of entirely unknown origin. His cousin Marion had said to trust them as if they were his sisters, but somehow that just made Jared even more cautious. “At least it hasn’t been a bad four days,” Jared said, trying to make small talk. “Indeed,” said one of the girls. He called her ‘Tall’ internally – the other one was called ‘Short.’ Not much of a talker, are ya Tall? He sighed, and rode onwards silently. In the first three days, neither girl said a word to him save the essentials. They spoke to each other occasionally, always referring to one another as “sister.” He got the distinct impression that they were not actually sisters, which made their interactions all the more puzzling. The previous night, he was made aware for certain that they weren’t sisters. In the middle of the night, Short had wordlessly come to his sleeping sack and dropped all of her clothes. She mounted him, and Jared didn’t complain. At least she was a good lay, and it felt good to be buried inside a woman for a little while. Only when he had thrown his head back in the final moments of pleasure did he realize that Tall had been watching them, silently pleasuring herself to the viewing. He had tried to make conversation with them the morning after, but they continued on as if nothing had happened. Very ‘duty first’ kinds of gals. I guess not opposed to fun on the side, but I really wish Marion had chosen more conversational traveling companions. “This is as far as we go,” said Short suddenly, stopping her horse. Tall had stopped as well, and Jared had walked on just a couple of feet in front of them. “Wha – what? I thought you two were supposed to get me into the Nabian army?” “We’ve done our work. Your clothes and horse will allow you to blend in as the four armies under Di Cotaeau converge. We will inform our sister Marion that we have done what she has asked,” said Tall. Sister Marion? What does that mean? The two women began to turn around, clearly no longer interested in Jared’s wellbeing. “Um… okay? Bye! I guess.” He got no reaction, and turned around as well. So fucking weird. He shook his head, and ran a hand through his hair. He could hear the faint rustlings of camp life on the wind, realizing that this must be what his escorts had heard as well. I guess they did get me all the way to the brink of battle… I can do this. His horse sauntered on, and the distinctive sounds of an army preparing itself for war became clearer and clearer. Yes, I can do this. By the time he saw the first banners, Jared knew that he would have no trouble assimilating into the army. He saw the banners of Alexandre Di Coteau, Laura Nandra, and Devan Di Coteau; but only one for General Elsa Torne and just a few for Damien Di Coteau. Where is Ysabel Clarion’s army? He shrugged, and began to make his way in. Your clock is ticking, Alexandre.
  8. Chapter 21

    Don't worry - both Luca and the Order will develop further as time goes on. Thank you!
  9. Chapter 21

    Indeed he is. And I think you might be right We'll see!
  10. Chapter 21

    Indeed indeed! As for the Order, their motivations will become clearer over time. Thank you for reading and reviewing!
  11. Chapter 21

    I really hope he doesn’t take this the wrong way, Luca thought while making his way towards Adrian’s quarters. He had just taken his leave from the kitchens and Alfie, explaining to the head of staff that he would be around a bit longer. Everyone had seemed to react well to that, which gave Luca confidence. I don’t want power like the rest of the people here do… but I have to admit it feels good to be needed. He approached Adrian Fray’s door, and hesitated. Well, needed for the right reasons. Is there really all that much difference between prostitution and getting married for the sake of alliance? He thought back on Carl and Alexandre, deciding that yes, there could be a difference. Of course, that’s only when there are actual feelings involved… Adrian’s door sprung open, catching Luca off guard. The prince stopped in his tracks, and broke out in smile at seeing his betrothed. “Luca! Hello.” “Oh, uh, hello.” The silence grew awkward after a couple of seconds, and Adrian raised an eyebrow. “Did you… want to talk?” “Ah. Yes. I… yes, I did want to talk to you. Sorry, I haven’t really thought out what I was going to say… I want to articulate this in the right way.” Adrian’s face went downtrodden at that, and Luca almost felt relieved that the prince had most likely guessed already. “You’re going to stay longer.” It was less of a question, more of a statement. “Yes, I am. But I don’t want you to think it’s because I’m no longer interested in wedding you. Or that I don’t find you attractive, or anything like that. I know I might have given you that impression, but I really do think you’re a great guy.” That much was true, and Luca was glad to see that it did seem to lift Adrian’s spirits a little. “No, no worries. I understand. And… as far as attraction goes, I know you’ll need time, after your past. I don’t want you to think I require… well, anything. I want you to feel comfortable.” Luca knew this already, given Adrian’s willingness to comply with their relationship being almost platonic up until now. “Thanks. I just need to stay and help. And you’re welcome to stay too, of course. I know you can’t sail back to the Illjard without a spouse, and I definitely don’t want that for you. But war is coming, and I’m going to be here for it.” “So will I.” Adrian spoke plainly, as if the matter was of no consequence at all. This surprised Luca a bit, but he supposed that it was what the Illjardi prince wanted to do. And I’m sure he’s used to getting his way. After thinking that, Luca felt guilty, knowing that Adrian probably never took things for granted. He’s just determined. “Okay… you know it will be dangerous, right? I mean, of course you do, that’s why you wanted us to leave earlier. But I’ve been in Nabius for a while now… these people have bloodlust like no other. The risk is going to be huge. Are you sure you don’t want to choose someone else?” Adrian almost looked hurt at that, leading Luca to feel even guiltier. “Of course I don’t want to choose another. I know the risks, and I’ve actually just been talking to my closest advisor about it. I like you, and he seemed to be all for staying through this war. If you win, I’ll have cemented a relationship with the Di Coteau’s for years to come, and I’ll get to keep you. If you lose… well, I’d prefer not to think about that, but I’m hoping we could ferry you out before any enemies come this far north. Either way, I’ll prove my loyalties to you and the Illjardi tradition of taking a spouse from the mainland.” “That makes sense,” Luca nodded. “But know that you may not be able to get by just as an observer. Even I have killed before, as you know.” “Yes, I know.” “Adrian. I killed a sex trafficker by stabbing him repeatedly while I watched him beat a twelve year old boy to death.” Luca said that more even-toned than he thought he could, surprised that there was no tremble in his voice. Poor Jack. This finally caused Adrian to stop with the charade of confidence, and hang his head for a moment. “I see. I’m sorry for that. I know it’s going to be hard, but I really don’t want someone else. I like you, Luca. And I’d like to stick through this with you, even if it means that horrible things are coming. You’ve survived them before, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t have someone at your side to help you through them again.” Luca sighed at that, and felt bad that his first feeling was that Adrian couldn’t handle things the way he could. You’ve been a prince all your life in a place where those in power don’t have to kill their way to it… I hope you can back up your brave words. Beautiful but naiive. He placed his hand on Adrian’s white cheek and brushed aside a strand of shining pale hair that hung there. “Okay.” *** Jared Coyne set the letter that he had just read down, sighing and rubbing his temples. My lovely cousin and her grand schemes. He had to admit that Marion had a talent for dramatics and turning tables on people, but they typically had not involved him up until this point. She took down the regime that was occupying her lands single handedly by debilitating her husband, but has to risk another noble lineage to get revenge? Jared let out a groan, knowing that – despite it being risky, foolhardy, and probably far from solid – his cousin’s plan actually did make some degree of sense. Infiltrating an army and getting on the side of Nabius; that, I can do. Killing General Di Coteau while he’s not looking; that, I can also probably do. And if all goes well and I survive and am able to claim killing a Nabian general myself, the Coyne legacy will shine on stronger and harder than ever. That may give my people more hope in the resistance against Nabius than they’ve had in a long time. But Marion knows what the Hallowed Order wants. And the death of a General that’s fighting for peace… is this the way we should go? He looked to his desk, upon which lie another letter, bearing the emblem of the Hallowed Order. The instructions that had gone out to all members were another set of instructions to attempt assassination, but this time on a different Di Coteau. But I doubt anyone could get to the Di Coteau Demon, even from behind. Jared had heard stories about how General Ysabel fought, seemingly with vision around her 360 degrees and an incredible ability to sense danger, even when there should be no cause for concern. All of the Clarion family seemed to have a knack for surviving, despite being some of the most contentious people in the history of the continent. But that’s what they do, the affected ones… Ysabel, certainly, and probably her brother Yago as well. He’d heard that Alexandre Di Coteau was a great fighter as well, and wondered if they all shared the same secret. Is it the entire family? Surely, it can’t be… who knows. But the instructions were clear. Help to rid the world of this insidious evil, to restore peace and balance across the nations. But isn’t the General trying to restore balance by ending a war as it is? He’s fighting his own country to spare another. And meanwhile, Ironia has seen more prosperity than it has in years due to Nabian withdrawal from the front line. I understand the need to destroy evil… but Marion’s request is for Alex to die, and I don’t know if that’s the best course of action. Ysabel, I have no problem with killing. Will they be together in the fight at Orr’s estate? Jared thought this could be an opportunity, and made his decision. I’ve got two missions here, and two heads to remove. If they’re both going to be in the same place, I may as well be there too. As for whether removing the young general is the right call, I’ll have time to think on that. But I may as well tell Marion now so she doesn’t have a fit: I’ll try my best. I’ll do it. *** Jezebel found herself in a good mood for once, prowling about the numerous halls of her Aunt’s estate to the south. This seat of generalship was located in a beautiful region of Nabius, where swamps and rivers gave way to lush forests that led towards the mountains. Though it was on average warmer than the north, the area was prone to calm, consistent weather with clear skies. The day was beautiful just like normal, and things seemed to be looking up for the young Nabian noblewoman. All of my ducks in a row… first the war, now the residence with Ysabel, and soon a generalship of my own. Jezebel was most excited at the allure of a new position, now that it was practically guaranteed to fall her way. A civil war always meant the death of at least one general, and she would be the most understandable choice. Certainly there were other capable nobles in Nabius, but this was a Di Coteau war. I am a Di Coteau. Besides the fact of war on the horizon, Ysabel Clarion had just returned to her seat of power, and her niece. They had bid cordial greetings, and Jezebel welcomed her back graciously. I’m sure she’ll be annoyed that I killed that bumbling assistant of hers… but that should be nothing more than a passing grievance. This much was true; Ysabel Clarion wasn’t one to pay much attention to the help, save occasionally using them for some kind of gain or personal pleasure. And the meeting now… an early supper? It must be to discuss strategy after my upcoming takeover. She practically waltzed into the private dining quarters of the general, which was just off of her large office. “Jezebel,” said her aunt with a pearly smile, “Welcome. Thank you for joining me.” “Thank you for the invite, General Clarion. As always, it is an honor. This estate has missed you in your absence.” Ysabel held her smile, cocking her head an almost imperceptible degree. “Well. I’m sure it has. Has running an estate gone smoothly for you in the past few weeks?” It was now Jezebel’s turn to smile once again, glee bubbling up in her. “Of course. It wasn’t anything to difficult. Business as usual.” “Oh? Going on a rampage and killing the head of staff was business as usual?” Jezebel felt a tick of annoyance at that, but continued on. “Oh of course. Who doesn’t go on a rampage every now and again? You’d certainly know about that.” Ysabel’s face didn’t change at all, but Jezebel knew her reply had been testing the waters. I probably shouldn’t prod. Eventually, Ysabel nodded and relaxed, raising a glass of wine. “Indeed. I know this wasn’t the mission you wanted, but managing my lands in my absence was an important task. It keeps our hold on power strong, and shows our enemies that our family is united in all fronts. We are united, aren’t we Jezebel?” “Absolutely.” “Good. You’ve certainly shown me that we can rely upon you. In these… troubling times ahead, we’ll need someone that we can rely on.” “I’m your niece and student. I’m happy to take on any responsibilities that might help my dearest cousin in his endeavor.” Jezebel was entirely insincere, but thought the words seemed convincing enough. She worried for a moment when Ysabel seemed to dwell on them for a bit longer than expected, but relaxed when the silence was broken. “I’m glad to hear that. In fact, we do have a task for you. More than just a little responsibility to take on, at that.” Yes, she thought. Here it is. “I’m ready for it.” “We’d like to offer you a generalship in the new world that Alexandre is forging.” YES. Good. About fucking time actually. I can’t say it isn’t deserved. She nodded her head gracefully, and kept her demeanor cool. “I’d absolutely love to expect. When would you like me to leave?” “As soon as possible, my dear.” “I’ll make my preparations. The Orr border has been heavily patrolled as of late, but I think I should certainly be able to infiltrate the manse before war begins on that front. I’ll be there to remove the leadership at the right time. A family classic,” she said. Her voice was dripping with venomous joy, the mirth showing through in a smile on her face. Ysabel opened her mouth to say something, closed it, and let out a small laugh. She was smiling as well, but something told Jezebel that she wasn’t sharing in the same joy. More like she knows something I don’t and is laughing at me… is this bitch plotting something? “Oh Jezebel. You won’t be taking the Orr estate.” What…? “You’ll be taking over Jack Du Vance’s territory, to the east. Talia is already on her way to the Orr territory’s heart to take down command internally there. In the mean time, we need you to hold the line solid.” Jezebel’s blood ran cold, and the anger went straight to her head. It took all of her willpower not to glare, but she couldn’t resist revealing herself as soon as she spoke. “Jack… fucking… Du Vance.” “Yes, Jezebel. Jack fucking Du Vance.” At her aunt’s calm, almost giggled response, Jezebel entirely failed to keep her face straight. “Is this a fucking joke? First Alex gets a generalship before me, now Talia is getting one of the most powerful strongholds in the nation, and I’m getting JACK FUCKING DU VANCE’S TERRITORY?!” Ysabels face went quickly to annoyance verging on disgust, and the blade on her index finger slid forward. “This is a complete load of shit and you know it. He’s got what, ten soldiers at his command? A ghost town and a fort that’s practically falling apart?” “I’m not sure,” said Ysabel. “I haven’t been there since he was quite a bit younger.” “You all insult me. I work so hard and do whatever you ask, and you betray me like I’m some kind of worthless imbecile! I will not tolerate it! I want the Orr estate or nothing!” “Very well,” said Ysabel coolly, “Alexandre’s whore friend can have the generalship.” At that, Jezebel stood up, flinging her chair, wine, and plate to the floor where the latter broke. “I WILL FUCKING KILL THAT LITTLE SLUT AND RUIN ALEX’S PLANS TO – “ “ENOUGH,” spoke Ysabel and with a flash moved towards Jezebel across the table. Her claws were embedded into the wood, and her nose was just a hair’s width away from Jezebel’s. For a moment, Jezebel forgot her anger and let fear take its place. How the hell did she move so quickly? “If you ever threaten undermining this family again, I will end you myself,” Ysabel practically spat. Jezebel stuttered, “M-my father would never allow that.” “I’d dump your body at his feet, girl.” Ysabel’s gaze was even, and Jezebel recovered herself. Anger rose up in her again, this time significantly less hot. She let out the breath she had been holding, and released the tension in her muscles. Ysabel clearly noticed this, and sat back, removing her clawed hand from the table and splintering wood in the process. “Now,” said her aunt, “you will take the Du Vance territory or get nothing out of this war. General Du Vance may not boast the most impressive army or lands but he does control the only mining that doesn’t lie in the opposition’s hands. His claim is important, and this is the will of my son – who is also a general, by the way, and claims command over you.” Jezebel ran a hand over her head, smoothing back her hair. She returned her face to neutral pleasantness, sat back down. From there, General Clarion continued. “I’ll be on a day trip tomorrow gathering soldiers from a nearby tribe in the provinces. Marcus, my advisor, has recommended we visit his home village. He expects a new batch of warriors to be ready for purchase from his elders, and feels that they would serve to make our cause a bit more robust. I will send half of the clansmen I buy to the Du Vance estate, trusting that it will be yours by the time they get there. Agreed?” Jezebel let out one final pouty exhalation and stood up to give her reply. “Fine. If that’s what you all wish.” She turned to go, and walked directly over the shattered wine glass on the floor, crunching shards of glass into smaller pieces. “Thanks for the meal,” she called over her shoulder. Fucking bitch. I should have done her in instead of her husband. *** Adrian Fray walked through one of numerous courtyards at the Di Coteau estate, taking in the many fountains, statues, and floral arrangements it contained. He breathed in deeply, and felt calm. Not good, I guess, he thought, but calm. I don’t think he’s averse to being with me me… but what if… no, he thought, shaking his head. I can’t afford to be thinking these thoughts. Luca is a kind soul and dedicated friend. His fierce loyalty towards those he respects will make him an excellent leader and liaison to my people. He sighed. And that’s why he has to stay. Adrian knew that this would likely happen, but couldn’t help feeling mild disappointment that his fiancé wouldn’t be able to tour the Illjard when it wasn’t entirely frozen. There was also some pressure from his closest advisor to hurry up and present Luca to the island nation, but Adrian wrote that off as overzealousness. Maybe he’s right, but if I have to be married to someone he might as well be worth it. “Prince Adrian,” a voice called out. The prince looked upwards, surprised to see Alexandre Di Coteau walking towards him. The polish on his charcoal-gray armor glinted in the sun, and thin rivulets of sweat ran down his temples. He must be training, Adrian thought. Shame to waste such a beautiful day fighting, but I guess that’s their way of life. “General Di Coteau! What a nice surprise to see you.” Adrian smiled, but his smile was not returned. The prince knew that Alex was friendly, but he also knew that he was still a Nabian. It would take some getting used to, not receiving friendly gestures back. Alex did a respectful nod, which Adrian wondered about. Is that a Nabian thing, or is it from his time in Tomacia with Prince Cathcart? “It’s good to see you as well. I trust you’re enjoying the weather here today? Somewhat nicer than the typical in the Illjard, I presume.” “Yes,” Adrian agreed, “it is. Though it is a bit warm at times. Not that I’m complaining.” “Indeed.” “How are your preparations coming along?” The question was direct, but Adrian figured that most Nabians were direct too. “They’re fine,” Alex said cordially. “There’s lots to go over, but so long as no surprises pop up, I think we have a decent chance at winning this war. And if Giovanni Nandra keeps to his word and doesn’t go into battle against his sister and therefore myself, I wont even have to address his… resignation.” Resignation. That’s one way to put it. Adrian struggled not to scoff. “Well, that would be good. Is there anything that I can do to help?” “Yes, as a matter of fact.” Adrian wasn’t expecting that response, but simply closed his mouth to listen. “I’d like you to stop all shipments from the Illjard to any Nabian territory that has failed to ally with me.” Now that was a surprise, and Adrian hung his mouth open. “General Di Coteau, the Illjard has always been a neutral nation. The only wars we’ve fought were with pirates, and we certainly don’t interfere with the matters of the mainland.” “I’m well aware, Prince. But I’m not asking you to prefer one nation to another. I’m asking for you simply to support Nabius.” “Not all of Nabius.” Adrian was trying to sound diplomatic, but couldn’t disguise his shock. “The part of Nabius that matters. We’re going to win this.” “I… I respect what you’re doing, and believe in your cause, but – “ “But nothing. You either do, or don’t support me. One side will win eventually, and you’ll want to be aligned with that side. I’m asking you to strengthen your alliance with one side, the side that both of us want to win.” “General… I’m not sure how my people will take this.” “Prince Fray, will you even have people without my support?” “Excuse me?” “You want to stay in power, yes?” Adrian thought hard on that. Of course I do, but it’s for the right reasons. If I had to give it up, I could… “Yes, I do.” “Are you willing to risk it to keep doing business with the southern Nabian territories? Sending some fish to the advocators of war is worth your royal name?” “I don’t understand. How would my remaining neutral endanger my throne?” Alex finally smiled, and Adrian thought it looked a little cruel. It reminded him of the General’s mother, who always seemed like she was baring fangs rather than making pleasantries when she smiled. “Make no mistake. I will prevent you from taking home any Nabian citizen to marry if you choose to supply my enemies. I don’t want to, as I’ve always enjoyed your correspondence and respect you as a leader. But I also don’t make empty threats, and I will ensure that your mission here fails if you don’t pick your side.” Adrian frowned deeply at that, and paused for a few long minutes to think on this proposition. I suppose he is right… the Illjard has always sided with the three nations of the mainland equally, through multiple shifts in power. This war simply represents another change in leadership, hopefully to leaders that I like and that I have built a relationship with here. It might be a controversial move to my people, but of all the people to be aligned with, I’d rather pick Alexandre given that I at least know him. And if it helps me to keep Luca in my pocket… “Very well. I’ll send word to cease all shipments towards unfriendly territories. I understand your position, General.” At that, Alex smiled again, this time looking genuinely friendly. He clapped a hand on Adrian’s shoulder, and looked him in the eyes. “Thank you, Adrian. I don’t like to manipulate or threaten my friends, but I need all the help that I can get here. I promise that you wont regret throwing yourself in with me. I want the relationships between Nabius and it’s allies to be built on trust, not threat of violence. This move shows me that you trust us as well.” “Of course I do. It might be difficult to explain to the Illjard, but I have always tried to do what is right.” Alex nodded, and turned to walk away. Evidently, our meeting is over. “Oh, and Prince Fray,” Alexandre called out behind him. “Yes?” “The other thing I want to be clear about… if you hurt Luca, I will melt your great ice castles to the ground, salt your fields, and burn every last citizen in the Illjard alive. I will drag your body through the streets, and singlehandedly end your line and nation.” Adrian gulped, fully feeling the hostility that Alexandre so calmly radiated. “I understand.” “Good,” said Alex, and walked away. What a scary fucking guy.
  12. Chapter 20

    Thank you for staying around! All of these characters do indeed have their shortcomings, and they will definitely drive the plot, as you've guessed. I appreciate the review!
  13. Chapter 20

    Thank you for staying around for it!
  14. Chapter 20

    Aw, glad you like it and have stuck around! And I'm glad you are paying close attention That definitely helps with moving the future plot of the story along!
  15. Life Seed

    Miss this story - hope you come back soon!
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