Out of Reflection, Into Reality
Sequel to Dark Mirror
Cythera and Cythera. Not long ago, these two worlds were one.
Cythera in the past, had always been a world more strange than others, more connected to the stream of stars. A man, descended of Cythera and its people, ruled and shared his life with the world and became known as the Land King. The King brought peace for many years, but dark forces brought the land into a time of great need. The Land King summoned his strength and called forth into the void between worlds, for a hero to rescue Cythera from turmoil. He was successful, yet unknown to him at the time, whether because of his meddling with the void, simple chance or other reasons, a shift had begun around the world of Cythera. Beyond the weakened King's view, a mirror image of Cythera had begun to form in the void. At first it was only as strong as an idea, just a puff of smoke in a vast wind; however this cloud of smoke, though similar to it's original, followed a different set of winds. If not for the actions of single mysterious man, the reflection of Cythera would have vanished back into nothingness. Sadly, it did not. Instead, the hero was lost, the Land King defeated, the land itself, torn apart. In this cataclysmic moment, a world was split, one Cythera became two, the reflection became reality.
For years an unnatural tension has been building between the edges of the two worlds, and only now has burst. The worlds have been bridged, both spilling into each other, the paths of both entering into endless and unknowable possible directions.
Yomu stood atop the the colossal stone cut steps of the mountain pass, looking almost as if they were crafted by a man's hand. Alone, the mighty gusts and quick zephyrs made the only sound for him to hear in the somber snow-capped peaks of the mountain range.
Yomu stood and look over the horizon, taking in a long breath of air. He began to examine himself: first his arms, then his legs noting the scars, there were scars on his chest as well. His body was quite satisfactory to Firecat. "Good to see you've been taking care of yourself, Yomu." He spoke in a shrill voice.
Somewhat of an unseen spectacle, Yomu was carrying out sets of aerobics and stretches until he was interrupted by a thought.
..cat. Firecat. Firecat. The quite aggressive thoughts continued.
"Can hear your pestering quite well. Rounded up the mice yet, little ember?" Firecat spoke into the air through foreign lips.
I am watching all as you wished. Those small-timers fled the mountain dwelling, and seem to be recovering from battle. I think we can assume Selax took control. Athes thought, meditating in the woods near Land King Hall.
"Wonderful, simply wonderful. Perhaps the mice shall keep the sundial tilted in our favor, hm? Nothing has changed in this boring world, besides from the usual plots and secrets. Shh!"
What do you want me to do next?
"And we were having such a nice chat. Oh well. Carry on, keep your distance. I will use the spine of this land to propel me to our little caged bird as planned. Keep me in your thoughts now..."
Athes grunted. As if following a group that fancied a coastal hideout wasn't bad enough, a chat with Firecat made it all the better.
A stiff, wet breeze blew through the forest near the shore. "I hate the ocean." he snarled under his breath, refusing to let himself shiver. With no movement from his target, the demon's thoughts turned to that of Scry. Not worthy of being called a comrade, but a devastating force none the less. If there was ever a perversion of nature, she was it. Crafted more finely than any demon of the homeland. A toy he knew Firecat couldn't resist.
North of the road leading away from Cademia, flowers of different shapes and colors lay spotted through the meadow before the foot of the mountain. Scry sat hidden by a tree. She was waiting for a thought to come back to her. Her perception of time made it hard to focus, but for now at least, she seemed stuck on a single fleeting thought: the flowers. It was their aroma that made her want to bring her arms together to hold.. something, close to her. She wanted Firecat's help again, to remember. She felt useless on her own.
The light scent of smoke and faint sound of hammers came from Cademia, a momentary distraction. After that night, the city fell strangely quiet. The warped presences she had felt seemed to be gone, and now it was just her, and the flowers. They smelled so sweet and familiar.
An echoing shadow penetrated her serenity, "..Little bird, your mind sings a sad song."
Her mind was still unmoving, The flowers.
"Oh yes the flowers, can't forget about the flowers now can we? Nest well now little bird, I should swooping in for you momentarily."
The connection was lost. The name Evan crossed her mind and was forgotten just as quickly, leaving a only sorrow behind.
Day 11 to 18
When the heroes left Cademia behind to thwart the evil alternate Selax's designs for regicide at the Land King Hall they had left behind a city in ruins. The fire and rampaging golem had rendered a sizable portion of the ghetto to rubble and ash, and the castle had been further damaged by the altercation with the alternate Wizard and his explosive treachery. More than two thirds of the city guard were dead, their captain among them; the mages, the Judge Berossus especially, were missing; and the house elders had not yet returned from the Land King Hall. The city was in a state of near-panic as rumors spread like wildfire, and Shanadar, the last living of the ten Enforcers of Cademia, was left in the unenviable situation of holding the senior-most position of legal authority.
He had little choice, really, but to declare a state of martial law. The alternative was total chaos. The destructive events of the past few days had alarmed the populace well enough, but word had already begun to leak out about the doppelgangers. The civilians suspected the Undine, a rumor exacerbated by Shanadar had enacting in force the contingency plans to thwart shapechangers drafted after the conclusion of that awful Opheltius affair, but the Enforcer knew better. There was an entire alternate Cythera out there, full of alternate Cytherians who could impersonate them more perfectly than any shapeshifting infiltrator, and all present indications suggested that they were hostile.
Shanadar was determined to assume, and prepare for, the worst.
Under normal circumstances, the castle would have been used as a base of operations in such a crisis, but in its present state it was in no condition to serve such a function. Instead he seized the manor house of the fallen House Comana, as well as the building immediately opposite. Once, during the reign of the Tyrants, they had served as barracks; now they did so again.
Of the city guard, there was little left, and the prospect of further subversion among the ranks as-yet undiscovered remained a lingering concern. Faced with an acute shortage of manpower at a time when the city could least afford it, Shanadar began drafting civilians, however temporarily, into the ranks. At first he'd begun with the obvious choices, like Oeneus and Laomedon, but he'd been forced to turn to the dregs of society as he fast ran out of suitable reputable candidates. Tavern regulars, ratcatchers, ruffian thugs; he'd even found a place for that damned fool Deiphobus in the ranks (scoundrel though he was, at least he took his duties seriously). And as one of the few well-equipped and seasoned warriors left in the city, the adventurer Talos defaulted to a de facto position as the Enforcer's second in command.
The inventories of the local artisans were requisitioned to arm, armor, and otherwise provision the newly-expanded city guard; even Eteocles found himself suddenly short on boots, shovels, and explosvies. Even as Shanadar ran the city's coffers dry, he ordered the coiner Autonous to cease minting oboli and lend his skills at the forge to aid the blacksmith Thoas in the production of military equipment. Likewise he requested that his companion Silverfish lend his esoteric natural talents to do the same.
The Enforcer mandated regular patrols, but for all their searching they found no sign of Andru, Katerei, or Yomu. He ordered sentries to once again be posted at the western and southern city gates as had been done in days long past, and put the city's unemployed population of beggars to work repairing the crumbling walls. It was a token effort, but it kept them preoccupied and everyone feeling–however undeservedly–just a little safer. And that had, at least, succeeding in repairing the portcullis of the western gate.
He ordered that during the day, no one was to travel unarmed, without escort, nor beyond the city limits. In his broadest and most unprecedented exercise of his authority, he enacted a strict curfew and evacuated the entire city into his makeshift barracks during the night. For the first time in memory, Cademia was quiet after nightfall. The city was in total lockdown.
These measures were, of course, extremely unpopular, and such melodramatic appellations as 'the reign of the Fourth Tyrant' were bandied about behind the Enforcer's back. At times he questioned his own decision to put the entire population in one location, but in the face of the current crisis it seemed the best way to undermine the efforts of any would-be infiltrators. He had to keep the city safe. He had to keep the people safe. Until relieved, it was his responsibility.
It had been more than a week now, and neither the wayward adventurers nor the absent mages nor the house elders had yet returned. Tensions were high, and Shanadar could only pray that the situation changed soon.
This post has been edited by ~vIsitor~ : 30 August 2011 - 04:18 PM
The Smith's Guild, as they were called now, soon discovered that though Silverfish could produce a decent blade given sufficient time, the results were better when he processed raw ore into rough ingots, Autonous roughed out the tool or weapon, & Thoas did the actual smithing. Indeed, the process was efficient enough that Silverfish spent a good deal of time scrounging up scrap metal, & even extracting it from the dirt. A pale dent was beginning to be obvious along the south side of the city.
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Avatara leaned back against the old tree and closed his eyes, letting the fatigue overtake him. A light rain pattered down through the forest canopy around them, soaking the ground and turning exposed dirt into mud. The sky had been gray all morning, preventing them from making further progress without risking being caught without shelter. Not that they could have gone much further anyway.
It had been three days since they fled Land King Hall after the strange explosion from the Crolna threatened to bring down the mountain on top of them. The ranger Rapierian had suffered a broken leg during a skirmish with Selax, which Katerei was able to splint and partially mend, but not before his wound suffered an infection, sending him into a delirious sleep with a high fever. They had also found the comatose body of Moonshadow during their escape, and while the helpless elf was an unnecessary burden, Avatara found himself unable to leave her behind.
With two wounded patients, Avatara and the two Katereis had fled north to the shoreline, desperate for any kind of cover that would hide them from potential pursuers. The first night lasted an eternity, all three of them awake and on edge, watching for any sign that Selax was about to descend on them and kill them all. The risk of residing so near to the fallen stronghold of Land King Hall was so great that they set out early that morning, over Katerei's objections that the movement could make their injuries worse.
They headed west along the shoreline, hugging the northern edge of the mountain range, at a gruelingly slow pace. Avatara was forced to carry a then-unconscious Rapierian while K carried Moonshadow, freeing up Katerei to scout a safe path ahead and still be able to monitor the deteriorating health of her companions. Eventually they made it into the uninhabited forest west of the mountains and turned south, hoping both to put extra distance between themselves and Land King Hall and to put themselves within reach of the healers at Pnyx, should one of them greater medical attention.
Rapierian woke up on the second day, and while he was unable to eat anything at first, his fever had abated. With the help of a makeshift staff, he was even able to limp along on his own.
Moonshadow finally woke up sometime during the morning of the third day. She wasn't able to stay conscious for very long, just enough to reveal she had lost her memory of everything that had transpired after Cademia. While brief, her awakening dispersed the heavy gloom and tension that had settled around the party since their escape. Even K seemed more cheerful afterwards, despite being otherwise uncomfortable around the elf.
Perhaps it was the gentle sound of the rain falling, or perhaps it was the relief he felt after seeing Moonshadow would recover, but Avatara found himself lulled into the most restful sleep he had experienced in weeks.
When she woke up again, Moonshadow felt somewhat better. The last few days had passed as glimpses of green and snatches of sound between prolonged periods of darkness. Disoriented by pain and unable to think clearly, she'd had no idea where she was or what was happening, only a vague impression of being moved…carried by someone. It hadn't seemed to matter very much regardless.
Now the pain had lessened and the strange disconnected feeling had begun to recede, being slowly replaced by a sense of urgency. She had to find out what had happened, where she was, and with who - not to mention take stock of her injuries and set about healing them.
She thought she'd seen familiar faces when she'd awoken before. Distinctive blue skin… Katerei, and somebody else. Avatara? She'd seen neither of them in a long time… how had she ended up with them, now, and wounded as she was? Or was her mind playing tricks on her?
Focus! she admonished herself. First things first. Eyes closed in concentration, she set about taking stock of her injuries with small pulses of magic. It was exhausting and slow work because her mind kept drifting, but also provided hopeful results - it seemed she had been hurt badly, most notably a gash in her side and a concussion, but someone had been taking care of the injuries. Healing them completely would take more energy than she had at the moment, but at least she could speed the healing process along a little.
She opened her eyes just a little, taking in her surroundings. A bit of blue sky, viewed through a cover of leaves…the smell of roasting meat… She turned her head slowly right, careful not to make a sound.Trees… a small campfire, built to produce little smoke… a man with white hair, sitting next to it with his back to her, tending to the fire. Slowly she turned her head left, looking around the rest of the clearing they were in. There was no sign of Katerei, but there, leaning against a tree a bit off to her left, was Avatara - sleeping peacefully. Moonshadow relaxed a little - she'd not imagined him then, so maybe Katerei was nearby as well.
Her throat was dry and the smell of food made her stomach rumble, but sitting up proved to be a challenge. The noise attracted the white haired man's attention, and he turned to face her, surprise on his face.
"Don't do that - you'll only re-open your wound!" a stern voice admonished her, and the man looked up, past her. Moonshadow, too, turned her heard slightly to see who had spoken.
This post has been edited by Avatara : 07 September 2011 - 10:52 PM
Reason for edit: You know, there's an invention we like to call the "newline"...
North of Cademia, a thin trail of smoke rose into the air. Cautiously, a group of guards approached. Shanadar had sent out this patrol, led by Talos, as soon as the smoke had been spotted. Coming up to the source of the smoke, they found a small fire, burning low and nearly out. Placed under a rock near the fire, there was a small piece of parchment. Carefully, Talos picked up the paper. Across the top of it was written: To Shanadar, Talos, Silverfish, etc. Underneath this introduction was: Lord Rapierian (The Real One). Eyes widening, Talos opened up the parchment and began to read. Skimming the first few lines, he hurriedly stood up and turned to the guards.
"Come, we must return to the city at once."
In the distance, Rapierian sat, watching the guards heading back toward the city. Satisfied, he leaned back against the tree he was sitting under and pondered the situation. In his note, he had enclosed a brief discussion of the events at Land King Hall as he had seen them. He had included some of his own speculations and some of the vague hints that he had gotten out of the Chronicles of Therac regarding what had happened. As far as he could determine, it appeared the alternates had won the battle and now held Alaric prisoner.
Rapierian had debated about whether or not he should should let Shanadar know of this development but had ultimately concluded it was the only just thing to do . . . that is, it would be the most amusing course of action. Whatever his opinion of Rapierian, Shanadar could not afford to ignore the news and would have to act on it in some way. Knowing that having to rely in any sense on Rapierian's word would infuriate the Enforcer, the necromancer was quite gleeful about his venture. He had even found amusing ways to warn the other cities. In Odemia, he had thrown a rock with a note around it through one of the windows in the wall. In Catamarca, he had used the news as an excuse to visit of couple of old acquaintances (who had been less than happy to see him).
Contemplating, he decided that he would leave it to Shanadar to send word to Pnyx. Keeping one eye on his surroundings, he again opened the Chronicle of Therac and began attempting to decipher its strange text.
Katerei hastened to make sure Moonshadow didn't injure herself further, but the Elf insisted she wanted to sit up. Katerei reluctantly helped her to lean against a tree, padded with Avatara's cloak.
"Are you sure your wound is all right like that?" Katerei fretted.
"It's fine," Moonshadow said and smiled weakly.
"Here - you should drink something." Katerei fetched a water skin and held it carefully to Moonshadow's lips. "There's food cooking, too."
"Was it you who tended to my injures?" The silver-haired woman peered upward after drinking, her eyes still a little unfocused. "Thank you."
Katerei sat back on her heels and shook her head. "As if I could do very much out here, while we're on the move. You were always the better healer, anyway. If you or Rapierian were to have gotten worse, I don't know what I would have done." She spoke quickly, the stress of the last few days causing her mouth to move faster than her thoughts. "I learned a lot while I was at Pnyx, but obviously it wasn't enough or-"
Her eyes widened suddenly and she stopped mid-sentence. "Never mind," she stuttered and stood up. "I'm sorry. You - you just woke. I shouldn't be rambling at you."
Stupid, stupid, don't think about that, Katerei reprimanded herself as she turned away, her torn and muddy skirts swishing about her ankles. There's too much else to worry about still.
She moved toward the fire, careful not to stand too close. Rapierian was watching over a spit of meat roasting above the flames. It was slightly mangled, bearing some teeth marks, but he hadn't questioned her hunting methods.
"Are you still okay with that? I can take over cooking," she said, but Rapierian caught her quick nervous glance at the fire.
"I'm feeling better today," he assured her. "All I have to do is turn this and make sure it doesn't catch fire."
"I appreciate it. I could get K, but I don't think cooking is her strong suit either."
Rapierian chuckled. "It seems you two have some things in common."
"I'm not so sure that's a good thing," Katerei replied bitterly, and she couldn't help casting a glance at Moonshadow and Avatara in turn. She wasn't entirely sure what was going on between all her companions, but it certainly didn't make for easy dinner conversation.
K stood precariously in the top of a tall tree, holding onto a branch for balance as she surveyed the land. All she could see was forest and clouds, speckled with patches of blue sky. Even as the distance between them and Land King Hall grew, she kept worrying that they were being watched or followed. All her negative emotions seemed to be manifesting in the form of paranoia.
The others had finally begun to relax after Moonshadow woke. True, it was a weight off K's mind too, but it would inevitably bring forth a host of difficulties when the Elf was able to have a proper conversation. Despite her conversation with Avatara, there was always this... nagging at the back of her mind.
A splash of water landed on her outstretched arm. It had rained on and off all morning with no sign of improving. K glanced up at the morose grey clouds above her head, then down at the muddy ground twenty feet below. She could see across the small campsite from here, including Avatara sitting asleep against a tree. He looked cold and quiet there, no cloak to protect him from the rain.
Almost without thinking, she reached out with her mind to the falling raindrops. She could feel their speed, the cool feather-light tingle as her magic brushed against them. They responded, and the drops that fell through the sky toward Avatara edged aside a fraction, bounced off the needles of trees and ran in rivulets away from him.
K whispered quietly to his sleeping form, so far below, but her words fell indistinguishable in the soft patter of rainfall.
This post has been edited by iKaterei : 18 September 2011 - 05:14 AM
When the guards returned from Rapierian's camp, Silver was focused on extracting metal from the ground, (an intricate process,) along the south side of Cademia, & thus completely unaware of the development.
Like a whirring fly in a much too powerful wind, Yomu, at least in body, was blown and pushed back towards the mountain tops by a blizzard of fracturing cold and seemingly maleficent intent. The low hum of his Hermes' Cloak was muffled out by the shriek of the wind and the numbing frost building around his ears. Such hellish conditions did not phase the man however, for his right mind was still hidden behind an invisible sleep. Firecat felt his host's pain as tingles in his mind, yet pushed him harder still. Such minor afflictions were nothing if they shortened the Selax's terrible grip on Cythera by any measure of time.
Still, the winds were unyielding. For now the mountain had won, and the next quickest way south was to travel around the base of the mountain range.
The specter, Firecat glided Yomu out of the maelstrom, down through the cloud layers and back to soft earth; taking glimpses of a world so familiar through strange and lifeless eyes. His subordinate, Athes wasn't far off, making sure the group of almost-heroes never ventured to far out of Firecat's sight.
He had planned to from the start, but now Firecat was presented with the opportune time to aquatint himself with the do-gooders of this world, and to recruit them into a more efficient and worthwhile endeavor. And heroes, Firecat often thought, were always reliable when it came attaining power for someone else and not themselves.
A communication from the demon Athes gave Firecat his next destination: a quiet grove secluded in the dense forest. Too bad on this altitude it was beginning to rain; still, Firecat was never one to shy away from a dramatic entrance.
With Athes nearby if need of him should arise, Yomu approached the makeshift camp cautiously. Being in a human body was not an experience Firecat often participated in. Yomu's eyes could barely make out the number of people ahead, or hear what they were doing. These among other impairments made the specter wonder how Yomu had survived for so long, as well as a bit disappointed.
He was almost there now, maybe some of the more acute ones had noticed him. Regardless he damned being cautious, and strolled forward, yelling from a distance in a voice they would find familiar, and he would find greatly amusing, "You made it! I can not believe you are all still full of life!" Yomu cried out to his former companions.
In the shelters from the rain, he saw a head or two turn his way, maybe his name spoken in question as well. At the same time, a chilling laughter echoed in the darkness of another Cythera.
"One question however, why didn't any of you venture back for me?" He spoke somberly walking into their midst, smirking on the inside.
Katerei didn't stop to think; as soon as she saw Yomu's face she rushed forward and flung her arms around her old companion. "You're alive!"
She stepped back, too stunned to feel self-conscious about her burst of emotion. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry for not coming back for you, I thought you were dead already. The whole mountain was caving in - how did you even make it out? And how did you find us?"
Her relief slowly turned to confusion. There was no way Yomu could have made it out of the crumbling hall after them; but if he had escaped before them, why didn't he wait to meet up with them? She recalled, just for an instant, the sight of a man standing amid the dust and rubble of Land King Hall, but the image slipped through her fingers before she could seize it.
"Hush," he calmed her. "I'll explain it all to everyone at once. There is something important you must know. Will you gather the others for me?"
"Yes, of course, though there aren't many of us," she replied sadly. "I don't know what has happened to the rest of our original group."
She beckoned Yomu forward into the small campsite, where Moonshadow and Rapierian still rested. The elf looked up curiously and greeted the newcomer; the ranger's face bore traces of suspicion. K had already climbed down the tree and was jumping lightly to the ground, no doubt having seen Yomu coming.
Katerei kneeled next to Avatara and gently shook his shoulder. "Avatara, wake up," she whispered. "Yomu's here and he wants to talk to us."
Avatara awoke to the unwelcome jostling of his blue companion in the damp enclosure of the camp site. By Katerei's direction he noticed his brief and former, and supposedly late, comrade Yomu approaching the fire they had managed to keep burning through the showers.
The fire caster was wary of Yomu even when they had been fighting for the same cause, but now he was even more so given the man's strange reappearance (a feeling he shared, judging by the expressions of his current company). The rogue approached the loose circle they had formed around the fire, revealing his soaked clothes as well as several sections of his shoulder covered in a sheet of stone. Avatara gave him a greeting he felt fitting, "It seems you managed to survive after all."
Yomu laughed, wringing some water from his torn shirt, "Not entirely."
The others were puzzled. Not only had his disposition oddly changed from earlier, but his voice as well: it was lighter, and long winded, as if the person speaking was in a cheery, while also condescending mood. A strange sight to see given the current going-ons in the land and being nearly killed.
Having known him the longest and the closest, Katerei was the first to realize the wrongness in what was standing in front of her. Readying herself for a surprise attack, Katerei knew the ground and sky were sopping wet: a strong advantage for her. She questioned the man unblinkingly, knowing that if he did anything foolish, it would be his last mistake. "This almost seems crazy, but just who are you?" she said even though Yomu's scent was as true as it ever was. Avatara followed Katerei's lead, wondering if this might be another one of The Wizard's illusionary tricks or even Yomu's alternate.
"No need to show teeth, little doggies. Though I do apologize, perhaps my charade was too much." Yomu spoke, dropping onto the soft forest ground, crossing his long legs as he sat.
The others did not waver.
The light-hearted rogue sighed, "I suppose I better explain myself first, or my ears might remain the only open ones today." Inching his soggy self closer to the fire, Yomu rubbed his hands together and set his eyes on the dancing orange and yellow flames. "Back at Land King Hall, Yomu here nearly did die. Indeed, if it wasn't for me he would have. At last moment before one's something turns into nothing, I was able to save him through helping his body and using two very convenient nearby potions, thanks for that." Yomu glanced at Katerei briefly then continued, "Then with nothing better to do, I stopped Selax from attaining the power of the Crolna, no need for thanks."
His speech didn't seem to be winning anyone over, given its odd presentation and now irrelevant information. Katerei's mind however, flashed images of the battle, the shadow she saw in the climatic moment. She couldn't be sure, but if Yomu was telling the truth, maybe this man really could have been him. Doubt still remained, "You still haven't answered my question." she asserted, confused by the man's relaxed demeanor.
"If you're looking for a title, you may look no further than Sage," Sage brought his hands to his chest humbly, "though you can still call me Yomu if that's weird. The hidden truth is that I've been trying to help your causes all along, hidden because you couldn't know I was. It is hard getting in touch with those who wish not to be." Sage said moving closer to the fire still.
Rapierian was neither convinced, amused or interested in this stranger's ramblings or lack of proof, "Really now? And how do you suppose that?"
Sage smiled and turned to the man, "You are not of this world, correct? Then you of all people should know the answer to that. Despite how it may look on this side, the other Cythera has no real central power. I am simply just another force trying to topple Selax's reign of terror and bring freedom to our land. And you should also know the need is urgent. Our goals are the same, in this way, and I have been doing my part all the while."
Avatara lowered his stance, the obscure rogue seemed delusional more than harmful, "Well then let me tell you your efforts are in vain." The caster spoke coldly, locking eyes with the eerily still man before him, "Even all of us together, in a surprise attack couldn't stop him. I doubt there's any point in trying further, after all these years."
"You would think that, but there are less direct ways to reach this end. If his power over the land was lost in my Cythera then it wouldn't just be a few people against him like you and others have tried before, but an entire world crashing down on him. This is why I've come for your help. Assist me in tearing down his power in my world, and the rest shall follow."
The sound of cascading raindrops and crackling flames filled the small camp site, for everyone fumbled for what to say to such a fantastical proposition.
Sage spoke again, moving as close to the fire as he could without being burned by it, "And for the skeptics and non believers," Sage glanced from Rapierian to Avatara with a sweet smile, "if you choose to ignore this or the threat upon you, I can assure you it will be your downfall. Even if you can run, or hide, eventually Selax or his forces will find you, but only before destroying everything you've come to know and adore as your world."
This post has been edited by Two Jacks : 26 September 2011 - 09:00 PM
There was a moment of silence, then Rapierian said, "I don't believe you. How do we know you are not Selax or Wizard is disguise or that you didn't simply hit your head back in Land King Hall?"
Getting to his feet, the ranger eyed the other with obvious suspicion.
"You say you've been fighting Wizard and Selax for years? Then, why have I not heard of you? Why I have seen no sign of your struggle? I have heard such speeches and claims from others . . . even from the other warlords who still fight Wizard! You might be one of them, attempting to use us as pawns in for your own ambition."
Before Sage could reply, Rapierian plowed forward.
"You say there is no central power? Perhaps not, but Wizard controls most of the land and defeating his forces—-even with his and Selax's absence-—would be no easy task. Success might only revive civil war. Indeed, that is why I came here—to get the help needed to free my world. This Cythera is still largely free. If we just leave, we have no guarantee that it will be on our return."
Crossing his arms, the ranger asked, "Why should we trust you?"
The group stood anxiously around the camp fire, protected from the rain coming down around them. The ranger that had saved them in Cademia and followed them to Land King Hall stared down Sage, the quiet friend they once knew as Yomu. Rapierian stood firm waiting for a reply, even with a broken leg, it was clear he wanted an explanation or the man to leave them at once.
Sage yawned, rubbing the sides of his arms for warmth, "Is this the way in which you entertain everyone who tries to offer a helping hand? I wonder..."
"These are uncertain times, as you just described." Spoke the ranger in quick reply.
"Yes, uncertain as seeds in the ground: never knowing which might grow to be the mighty branches of trees, or the sapping roots of weeds. To which am I is to which is you, ranger. Indeed, who is to say where even your roots grow or to which height your own branches reach." As the strange man spoke he bagan rummaging through his pouch, momentarily pulling up items some of the group thought familiar. The top of beat-up red hat, half of a long blue poll, a strange harness, among other items until, "Aha!" he finally had retrieved a roughly woven and stained cloak that almost seemed too short for the man's long figure. Placing it around him, Sage finally seemed to be comfortable by the fire, though still strangely close. "Our own Cythera is full of seeds ready to bloom, they only need the clouds blown away, and the light to do so." Sage turned away from the fire and stared at the never wavering Rapierian, "You and the other crows you call warlords are the same, only wanting to clear away the clouds with smoke in their place. Your seed will always drain the land and hinder its growth in reach for its reigns, as history has cataloged so adequately."
Rapierian scoffed, as if the stranger wasn't just another radical looking for an outlet, "And I suppose you've got it all figured out? Another idealist with no practical application."
Sage smiled, "Think what you will, ranger, because for every one dog like you, there are ten to take it's place and always will be, like dogs in Wizard's so-called armies." Sage said with a curious grin, "But for those who can rely on wits alone, there is hardly ever another."
The others said nothing, even though it was clear Rapierian had been insulted in someway. It was not that they shared Sage's sentiments, it was just that no one was willing to discuss such things around a man who they hardly knew anything about. It was true that going back to the other Cythera was an option they had entertained, but never like this. Rapierian also had a point, would Cythera be safe in their absence, was it even their problem, or did they even have a choice as Sage had warned? This among other questions ran through their heads as Sage brought the discussion to a close.
"Your thoughts are your own, friends. I ask you think over everything I have proposed, knowing that like that of your companion, Yomu, I value all of your lives and all others here just like those of my own people of my Cythera. Whether you trust this voice or not, we can still be of help to each other for the greater good. For now though, I'll be on this one's way." Sage smiled softly again, pulling out a torch from his pouch, "I hope you don't mind me borrowing this." He said, igniting the light source. "For it is awfully cold and wet tonight." He turned the hood of his ragged cloak up over his head and began to leave the camp. "Oh, and if any of you change your minds, just keep me in your thoughts.. and I'm sure we'll meet again." He began to walk away into the darkness of the storm, seemingly talking to himself a bit too loudly, "Now what to do about that blockade at the gateway I know so much about??" The group watched as the light from his torch twisted through the trunks and branches of the soaked forest until it eventually disappeared behind shadow and rainfall.
K watched through narrowed eyes as the stranger departed, her right hand still placed on the handle of her flail. She listened suspiciously until she felt sure that he had actually left, then turned to her companions.
"I never thought I'd say it, but I agree with Rapierian," she said. "I've known people both for and against Selax, and never heard mention of this Sage. Even if he was telling us some of the truth, he wasn't giving us all of it. I'm not about to side with someone who turns our former allies into zombie shells."
Katerei shuddered. "I don't even want to believe that was really Yomu. Sage didn't explain what he did at Land King Hall. What happened to Yomu then? Is he still in there somewhere, or is he gone forever?"
"You seemed pretty sure at first that it was him," K remarked.
"I was just relieved to see him alive." Katerei flushed with embarrassment. "I know it's dangerous to let people walk into our camp openly, and I'm sorry for that. To be honest, I think it..." her voice wavered and she paused. "I think I'd rather Yomu be dead than lost to someone like that."
"Then what do you want to do?" Avatara asked, watching her closely.
Katerei bit her lip. "I don't know. Part of me wants to go with Sage and find out what happened to my friend, but that might not be Yomu at all. And there are more people to think about too. What of everyone else we left behind at Cademia and Land King Hall?"
"Whether Sage has taken over Yomu or is just pretending to look like him, it doesn't matter. We shouldn't trust someone with abilities like that." K shook her head bitterly. "What's worse is that someone has managed to find us here. We are no longer safe. Whatever we do, we cannot stay here."
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At dawn the next day, the group changed course and began heading directly South. With Moonshadow showing signs of recovery, they no longer needed to seek out the healers at Pnyx, which allowed them to avoid risking a thorny reception. Katerei had expressed her desire to learn what had happened to those she had left behind at Cademia, and with nobody able to offer a better alternative, they set about the slow journey of returning full circle.
While Moonshadow was conscious, she struggled to walk on her own for very long, and ended up having to be carried anyway for most of the first day. As a result, they maintained their slow pace through the wild forest and camped near the mountains again.
Spirits dampened, they journeyed without speaking more than a few words. Sage's appearance had revealed that other, unknown factions were out there vying for power. More disturbingly, Sage had been able to find the group with little effort, meaning they were probably being tracked or watched.
The next few days they made progressively better progress as Rapierian's leg continued to heal and Moonshadow recovered some of her strength. On the fourth afternoon since Sage's appearance, a full seven days since their defeat at Land King Hall, they found themselves on the crest of a hill overlooking Cademia. The road from Pnyx wound down towards the city before ending in the large shimmering expanse of the sea.
"I've been thinking about how to defeat Selax," Rapierian broke the silence so unexpectedly that they all turned to stare at him.
"We tried that already, and even with an ambush we couldn't do it," Avatara said bitterly.
"Correct. I estimate that his power has grown enough to be more than a match for us, or even those left behind in Cademia," the ranger replied calmly.
"Then what good is dreaming of the impossible?" Avatara asked.
"Impossible? No!" Rapierian shook his head. "You and I are from another world, so we overlooked it at first, but there is one major difference with this place." Rapierian paused for a moment before continuing, "This Cythera still has someone who wields considerable power. Someone with a connection to the land itself that can let him stand up to Selax."
"Alaric," Katerei whispered.
"Correct," Rapierian nodded. "If we could reach Alaric, I believe he would join our cause and be enough to tip the scales in our favor."
"There's one problem," Moonshadow interjected. "Alaric has fallen into a coma that has even the mages at a loss. If he can't be woken up, he won't be able to assist us."
"Yes, I've been thinking about that too and I think I may know the cause. But there's a second problem you've forgotten," Rapierian replied. "Alaric was kidnapped by Wizard's forces while we were at Land King Hall."
"So, to stop Selax, you're saying we would have to break back into Land King Hall and rescue Alaric and then somehow revive him from an unknown illness that the best healers in the land haven't been able to explain?" K asked bitterly.
"Essentially yes," he nodded.
"We're just going in circles!" K exclaimed incredulously.
"Hold on!" Rapierian stopped her. "I also have an idea for what may be causing Alaric's blackout."
"Poison?" Katerei asked.
"Not quite. Remember that Alaric has a connection to the land. When the land was having trouble before, he became sick. But now, it's sort of the opposite problem." Rapierian replied.
"There are two Cytheras. And since ours doesn't have a Land King anymore, he could be feeling the effects of both worlds." Avatara said slowly, considering the possibility.
"Precisely. Even worse than that, the elementals in our Cythera were destroyed, so the land itself is out of balance."
"So if we can sever the connection, Alaric might wake up?" Katerei asked.
"The bridge between worlds was probably opened by Selax or Wizard from our side though," Avatara pointed out. "That means if your theory is correct, we'd have to travel back to our Cythera to sever the connection."
"But that would take weeks! Surely Selax will have figured out what we're trying to do by then!" K protested.
"Also correct," Rapierian said. "One group cannot accomplish both objectives."
"We'll have to split up," Avatara finished.
"I'd prefer to stay here and head up the rescue. I've managed to stay out of Wizard's grasp for years, so I know a few tricks that would let us slip in undetected," Rapierian offered.
"And I guess you think I'd be more useful trying to sever the connection," Avatara said. A wry smile crept onto his face, "Well, I didn't really feel like going back to Cademia anyway."
To the north, in Land King Hall, a weary group of men were setting down several heavy crates. Hoping to have a moment to rest, Deiphobus leaned on the crates.
"You're late," a sharp voice said angrily. Turning, he saw Alcyone emerge from the shadows.
"Considering that—-instead of being able to bring this stuff through Cademia over the roads--we had to haul it through the mountains and try to avoid being noticed, it's a wonder we got here at all!" he replied.
"Save the excuses," the magess answered curtly, limping slightly as she moved toward them. "Do you have all of it?"
"It's all here: the liquid, the crystals, everything. My men didn't drink any of the stuff," the ruffian replied. "They know better!"
"I'm sure. Go to the throne room: Wizard is waiting for your report."
Deiphobus paled but hastily moved off in the direction of the throne room.
Alcyone smiled as she bent down next to one of the crates.
"Open it," she commanded.
Once the lid was removed, the magess carefully reached inside and pulled out a vial of a strange grey liquid. For a moment, she examined the liquid. Opening the vial, she inhaled the noxious smelling fumes.
"Good, good," she murmured as she closed the vial and returned it to its place. Standing, Alcyone turned to the remaining men. "Bring the boxes with me. I want to make sure that none of you messed up anything. We're going to need this shortly, I suspect."
No sooner had Avatara finished speaking then Rapierian stiffened. Pausing, he listened for a moment.
"Someone's coming," he whispered.
Quickly, they spread out, preparing to fight if necessary.
"Hello there," a voice called—-a voice that sounded exactly like Rapierian's. "I thought I 'smelled' something magical approaching and, being the kind-hearted person that I am, decided to check. Nice of me, wasn't it?"
With that, the necromancer came over the crest of the hill and regarded the group before him.
"Another Rapierian. Great," Avatara grumbled. "How do we even know it is the one from this world?"
"Hello, Katerei, Moonshadow. Lovely weather, isn't it? How have you two been doing? Foiled any villainous schemes lately? Oh, and, the keyword was 'zetacomb' or something like that," Glancing at Avatara and K, Rapierian continued, "You seem to have picked up a couple of strangers and—-" Apparently noticing his counterpart for the first time, he stopped and said, seeming genuinely distressed, "What? I had hoped you were crushed!"
"It's him," Katerei muttered, seeming quite disappointed by this fact.
"We can't have everything we want," the ranger answered his duplicate, seemingly equally annoyed.
Appearing to recover, the necromancer nodded.
"I suppose so. Well, I was going to offer my help--maybe even for free--but now…"
"I can't believe I'm saying this," Katerei mumbled reluctantly, "but we could actually use your help."
Glancing at the other Rapierian, the necromancer folded his arms and demanded, "Give me one reason--good or bad, I don't really care but it should be creative—-"
Rubbing her forehead to ward off a headache, Moonshadow interjected, "If Cythera is destroyed, you won't be able to annoy Shanadar until he snaps."
Rapierian mulled over this statement for a moment.
"Hmm, that is a good reason. Very well, I am willing to save all of you, if it will bug Shanadar."
Maybe it was just all the talk of the "Fourth Tyrant" getting to him, but Silver decided to take a break from making weapons to check on where they were ending up.
"Let me get this straight," Shanadar said slowly. "You allowed Rapierian to go to the other Cythera with this other Avatara and Katerei?"
Katerei nodded reluctantly.
"It wasn't something that we liked, but, under the circumstances, it seemed like the option likely to cause least harm."
Shanadar considered this prospect as he glanced around at the group that had come to the city gates an hour earlier. Katerei, Moonshadow, and the ranger Rapierian all sat in chairs in front of his desk. It had taken them a good deal of effort to convince the Enforcer of their identities--Shanadar being quite cautious--and almost as long to describe what had happened after they left Cademia several days earlier. Given the seriousness of the situation, he had to concede that Rapierian did seem to be a relatively minor problem. Still, he silently promised that he would deal with that problem when the chance arose.
"What do you plan to do then?" the Enforcer asked. "Just wait for this other group to destroy this portal and wake Alaric? We can't just leave the King in the hands of these invaders!"
"We don't plan to," Moonshadow assured him. "We're thinking we might need to launch some kind of raid to rescue him."
"Exactly what Selax would expect," Shanadar pointed out.
"Probably, but Avatara thought he might not pay much attention to the Hall. He believed that he might be distracted searching for something else."
"Let me guess: he believes that this Beorn character survived the battle and escaped?"
"He's certain of it," Katerei answered. "He says that otherwise Selax would have the Crolna and we would know if he did. She paused for a moment. "Avatara also believed that Beorn was the Selax from this world. It makes sense given what happened at the Hall, but I don't understand how it's possible."
"Nor do I," Shanadar replied. "However, even if Selax is distracted, that still sounds like a suicide mission."
"Do you have an alternative?" Rapierian asked quietly. The ranger had been much subdued since they had reached Cademia. He was obviously much disturbed at the prospect of his counterpart running around his homeland.
"Not yet," the Enforcer admitted reluctantly, "but I'll need some time to think on it. At the moment, I'm in charge of Cademia's security, and I'm not certain that I would be able to do much to help you. I'll do my best. If possible, we might benefit by capturing Beorn ourselves."
"Maybe," Moonshadow said. "We considered it, but we're not certain that we can spare the time and effort for it."
"Well, I need time to think this over, and I definitely need to send word of these developments to the other cities."
Shanadar got to his feet. He sighed.
"I'll do what I can. You three might want to rest and stay the night. It may be that there are other options than directly going into Land King Hall."
"You return alone. Your meeting went miserably as I predicted?" Spoke Athes from beneath a tree as Sage arrived at their meeting ground near the edge of the forest.
Sage pulled back the hood of his cloak and went to stand under the tree's dense foliage to extend the life of his dwindling torch. "Your criticism wounds me, Athes, ever so deeply." The puppeteer replied with the pouting expression of a sadly cute puppy. Sage's humor worked as well as it ever did on Sage. The demon merely turned away obliviously and continued standing eerily still as the odd raindrop that would occasionally (and unfortunately) fall on him hissed away in a small plume of steam.
"Certainly not an entire waste of a beautiful evening. Now about our nex-"
"So I am correct." Athes interjected, "Of course. It was clear you would fail to bring them to our cause."
Athes was clearly not the most social of demons, but for some odd reason he thought himself the better spokesman when it came to such matters. Sage was a bit insulted now, "Oh dear little ember, I had no idea you wanted this job with such burning enthusiasm. Let me apologize by letting you go talk to them post haste. Clearly this darkness reveals that you are the brighter flame."
Athes grunted and ground his fangs at his so called superior's sarcasm. "A foolish request! I for one see no need in those weaklings' aid. As for you, who would trust someone with your nature and twisted words, let alone understand you." Sage stood silently with an empty expression as Athes continued his rant. "Yes indeed, walking in under the guise of a dead ally and through riddles request unconditional aid towards an uncertain cause. Clearly a most wise decision, my liege." Athes finished, his blood boiling due to an ongoing employment to Firecat.
Sage knew there was some truth to what Athes had just said, not that it mattered, just as he had seen prior. Regardless of the path taken by the heroes of this Cythera, they would without a doubt become in-twined with the plans of Firecat. However, for Sage it was certainly no place of a mere demon such as Athes to even so much as consider questioning any of it.
"Well now Athes, little ember, looks like it's not just fire and brimstone in that brain of yours. What a shame I stand in your clearly well-paved way, but let's think about it.. I'm here now, certainly you could even so far to hold this body hostage and have leverage over me, couldn't you? Maybe use such an advantage to even fulfill your own dreams? What's stopping you? Maybe... You just aren't smart enough after all. Such a pity." Sage spoke with a challenging look of anticipation on his face.
Athes's rage was beyond his reason now. His only thought was to take his swallow and slice the man in front of him into halves. The dual blade left its clasp and swung from left to right into the tree under which they stood. Sage however was not caught in the attack: only his cloak now remained in front of Athes, and Sage's torch which now sizzled on the damp earth below.
The swallow momentarily being wedged in the tree's trunk gave Athes enough time to snap back to reality. No! Damn it all, everything has been for nothing now. the red demon thought as it now appeared as if Sage had left leaving the demon alone in the forest.
With a restrained cry Athes fell to his knees in pain. Sage had silently snuck behind him and brought down a swift electrocution with the help of Yomu's thunder-head lance. "Not all for nothing yet little ember. Your faith in me will not go unrewarded as promised. That is, if you live long enough to see that day. So please, old friend, do your best to stay alive." Sage walked out from the tree and into the now sparser showers. Spreading his arms out he seemed to be spending some time just feeling the rain fall onto him.
"Ah! To feel is good. Time to move, Ember. We meet Bird near the portal tomorrow. Then all we do is wait for opportunity to fall into our laps." Sage spoke as he embraced the rainfall, remembering the ever sought after piece of crolna in his possession.
A confusing, shattered mess of memories, feelings and other worldly sensations whirled around the insides of Yomu's mind. Thankfully he was not lost in the battle at Land King Hall, but what was left was jumbled and only slowly being pieced back together. All the while the heavy presence of anothers will pushing it back into the depths and out of control, into a fog of deep sleep. A captive mind for now, Yomu would have no choice but to give in to Firecat, and slowly build his strength while hoping, if it were at all possible, for escape or even rescue.
Far to the north, in the mouth of a cave high in the snow-covered mountains, a man stood looking out over the land below him. From time to time, he examined the green crystal in his hands.
If he were anyone else, Beorn might have grimaced. Despite his best efforts, the Crolna was still preventing him from accessing its power. Contemplating the situation, he found little in it that boded well.
His physical mobility was much reduced by the form he was now trapped in; however, his magical aptitude had increased. Beorn had spent much of the past few days attempting to develop this aptitude further. His progress was slower than he would have liked, but he had succeeded in healing much of the injuries he had sustained at Land King Hall. Nevertheless, he was still scarred by the burns he had sustained earlier and he still moved somewhat stiffly.
Again, he examined the Crolna. The brief vision he had been granted when he used its power to battle Selax had been enough to awe even him. A fact which he had to admit disturbed him. He could not afford to have his mental focus disrupted. Unfortunately, combined with his earlier injuries and the gravity of the current situation, he found that he was perhaps more rattled than he had been in ages.
Shaking himself out of his reverie, Beorn looked north toward Land King Hall. He suspected that the Cytherans would attempt to save Alaric by some means. It was really the only logical solution; thus, his counterpart would certainly expect it. Unfortunately, try as he might, Beorn had not been able to determine how the King could be rescued.
At that moment, the land beneath him shook faintly.
Surprised, he stumbled, catching himself on the side of the cave entrance. Straightening, Beorn realized he could not afford to wait any longer. As dangerous as it was, he would have to move as soon as possible.
Aloud, he said, "It is beginning."