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 The Ruse is Up, and there are no Martyrs here 
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Post The Ruse is Up, and there are no Martyrs here
With the isle in its current disarray and torment under the ever-seeping, always feeding, ooze, the Shade had commanded his dark servants keep watch over the isle and bring word of any other "strange occurances." For weeks now the only word that came had been regarding a Plague that continued to ravage any and all who were unfortunate enough to come into contact with an infected person. Luckily the current boarder closings of the Silent Valley had thus far seemed to prevent that particular plague from reaching them.

Alcestis sat as she so often did out on the balcony ledge of her cavern, legs dangling care free over the edge, she watched the horizon as the sun set on yet another day of the ooze rampaging its accursed way through their most-loved Valley. A tender smile crossed her pale face as the setting sun sent the horizon ablaze in brilliant crimson, purple and darker hues of blue. She expected to receive her guardian at any moment now.

And as if on cue, the shadows in the recesses of the cavern thickened and pulsed with his Presence. A flow of darkness moved over the polished stone floor and pulled up alongside the woman. She remained seated, kicking her bare feet gently in the cool breeze. The Shade pulled himself from the shadows and bent down to sit beside her, his usual greeting of a thin wisp of shadow crept from his side while he wrapped his arm about her shoulders, the sleek tendril wove itself over her shoulder and neck to alight on her cheek as a lover's kiss might do.

Alcestis smiled, comfortable and protected so near to the Shade and leaned her head against his shadowed shoulder.

"Anything at all about the blackness? Anything new?" she asked.

"No, still nothing," came her guardian's reply, "However, we do have a bit of other news for you."

At this Alcestis cocked a brow and pulled sat back slightly to look at him squarely, "And?"

The Shade allowed a small smirk and said, "My servants returned last evening with news of several people, legions of them in fact, leaving the city of Tiavain. They know not why as yet, but the city proper seems to be emptying out. I sent out your scouts to retrieve further information...a single surviving member of the party made it back to the Valley only moments ago. The rest were slaughtered."

Alcestis mouth dropped open in silent awe, "A single one? Well what did he have to say? Come now don't keep me in suspence!"

The Shade stood and pulled the woman up from the ledge with him. "The party came upon a rather large group of refugees from Tiavain, a caravan escorting a lady known as Queen Anne across the desert departing Tiavain. They no longer carried their home city's guild banners. The moment the scouting party was discovered a melee ensued and only the one was able to escape with his life to return to you and tell of it."

"Queen Anne? Have I heard of this woman? It seems so, surely our armies had crossed paths during wars in the past. I've never met her face to face of course, unless I saw her once at the Tiavain Expo and simply didn't realize it."

"Indeed," he replied, "this Queen's troops and priests have proven themselves worthy adversaries to your own in the not so distant past. She's sent a missive for you personally."

With that he produced from the folds of darkness surrounding him a letter seemingly written in Queen Anne's hand. The letter read the following.

In a land without pride, from a faith I had condemned as savage, full of nothing but gluttons, you have shown me grace. How full of surprises this land can be.

I am no match for the entire Empire, Lady. But I will not yet run to the banner of another for I will offer you a distraction. Grant myself and my army a chance to taste heathen blood once again and you shall have all the spoils you take. Just you, Lady Alcestis. Unallied. If the Isle will grant you and I this pleasure, perhaps there is more substance to the Isle of Maxim than I can see now.


Alcestis read it over twice more before folding it and slipping it into the pocket of her dress at her hip. She turned her head up to the Shade, a look of determination as well as respect shown in her dark eyes.

"I've been issued a challenge then? Very well, I shall sever my alliances with the larger armies of the Valley and send only the troops I can muster on my own to meet this woman and her deadly entourage wherever the remaining scout knew of them last."

The Shade grinned, a dark, grim look, "It's already been done, your allies below have been informed of your departure, told not to follow nor lend aid to your own in any fashion. Your troops have already gathered and been ordered to follow the directions into the desert the scout has given. If you wish to see the battle for your own eyes I will gladly take you there. By now your elemental armies should be arriving at their destination, drawing the battle line as it were."

Alcestis nodded fervently and slipped her hand into her guardian's. "Take me then, a night battle in the desert, this will be more excitement than I've had in a month! With any luck perhaps we could...persuade...the Queen to return with us, so that I might come to know this woman better. If, that is, the elementals you've sent out prove sufficient without ally support."

The Shade chuckled deeply in his throat, pulled his charge close to him and stepped into Darkness cool embrace. Traversing the distance that lay between passing through the Shadowlands, the two would soon emerge in the drawing night atop a dune overlooking the soon-to-be war grounds in the desert.




(OOC: While not noted "Closed rp" this roleplay is made to be with Queen Anne herself, any others please contact one of us if you wish to join in.)

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Sat Jun 05, 2004 6:45 am
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Sister Aventine, my most senior Clergy member, reported on the status of our army. In the shade of a large rock, the blue ink of the religious tattoos carved into her shaven head looked black. Sister Aventine unquestioningly led the armies from the City and was not at all nervous about the hazardous journey through heathen-infested lands. In fact since I had issued the challenge to the Foretian, she was all the more enthused. There were many reasons why Sister Aventine was Head Clergy. She was unflinching in the application of her faith, her loyalty to me was without question, she was adept with the Art of Illusion and she could kill with her bare hands.

Matriarch, they have been deployed as you requested, the Clergy members will hold them invisible until your command. Our scouts will see the heathen if they come.

She will come. But will she come alone? I could not believe the heathen would pass up the opportunity to fight us at the very least. A dying heathen scout had offered up the name of their Mistress, the Lady Alcestis. A name that rang with slight familiarity, as a heathen leader among the Cacophony. But while my war Clergy had seen her armies before, they could offer little clue as to her character. She had made no instant reprisal against my forces as she could have, and her scouts were defending themselves nothing more. I was no fool however and I would most likely not offer the honour of a fairer fight to a heathen if I had the opportunity to simply crush them underfoot. It would not surprise me if she brought down the entire Silent empire upon us. But if there is a chance that my challenge carried some appeal to this foe, then I will have at least succeeded in selling our lives as dearly as possible.

They will see our largest force when they arrive. We will most likely be outnumbered. Once engaged the invisible units will take turns to flank them and make brief attacks. While a Clergy Illusionist remains with them, they will use Illusion to disengage while another unit attacks. We will fight until a full defeat is inevitable but then we must take those survivors with us that we can and leave.


I had no wish to die in this battle. But no-one could travel throughout these lands bannerless with impunity. The conflict was inevitable, but at the very least I would leave this struggle with the most capable of my force and have a better chance to travel undetected until I found a stronghold again.

Gray pennants fluttered from the opposite dune. My army tensed, a crimson mass of mostly human desert warriors, loose, darkened blood red uniforms moving in the breeze. The perpetually harsh desert sunlight glinted off their curved blades and turban spikes. Officers sported more black in their uniforms as they moved through the ranks offering words of encouragement in harsh voices. The invisible units stayed silent, further hidden by dunes to the left and right of the main battlefield. Another unit would encircle the enemy army to come up from the rear…if indeed there was a rear. Sister Aventine, along with myself and my elite guard stood on the top of a dune behind the main army shielded with invisibility. The baggage train along with all but the most sacred treasures were behind us. We could easily see and give commands from the vantage point, sending sound illusions to the army and other Clergy. We would also be able to use the Art to further bamboozle the enemy.

To my army I spoke through the Art of Illusion, my voice clear to their ears,

See now as the heathen comes and we are ready. Find your faith now my People, for only the very strongest will survive this. Isonia's axe is there with you and She delights in the blood of heathens. Spill their accursed entrails upon Her sands as a worthy libation and even should you fall, you will be eternally blessed and remembered as Martyrs in Her name. Show no mercy to those that defile Her, for they are not worthy of it. We shall swim in their blood this day and She will be pleased.

As the full extent of the heathen force came into view, I noticed that this was not the vast army of the Silent empire. This was quite likely the sole force of the one whom I challenged. Did I feel respect for this heathen for honouring my request? Not quite, but at the very least I felt pleasant surprise that this heathen leader had chosen to grant me this largess. We awaited the impending charge.


Sat Jun 05, 2004 4:58 pm
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Once the desert was before her eyes, they could both see the battle front clearly, but yet the Shade kept them behind the Veil. The view from the Shadowlands was like peering into a softly frosted windowpane. Alcestis watched as her elemental troops moved themselves into position. The woman had only seen battles for herself perhaps three, maybe four times in the past. Usually the Shade led her forces into war alongside those of her brothers from the Valley. Very rarely had she been allowed to leave her mountain home to venture to a battle front herself. Her guardian had deemed it unnecessary, and quite dangerous.

But this was like no other battle she'd been called to fight since coming to the Isle. No other leader of this land had ever issued her, nor any of the Silent Ones that she knew of, a personal, one on one challenge. And so this was a battle Alcestis must see for herself. She wasn't exactly well-versed in the art of war, she did not know what the particular formations were called or which units would be called upon when or where. All she had to do was ask the Shade and he would tell her all she wish to know of it, however she chose to watch in silence and learn from it that way for now.

In life before the Isle she'd espoused the politics of her then husband's realm. A Queen herself at that time who had done all the duties of ambassador in times of war or peace, the one called upon to mediate between warring Houses when the need arose. She'd been glad to have fallen easily into much the same role alongside Hesketh here on this Isle.

Quickly her eyes panned over the scene looking for the woman that may be Queen Anne. She saw the Isonian forces mustering into formations, flanking here and there and poised to defend the impending attack. Her own forces likewise did the same, though they were not aware of the Isonian units that had moved around to the rear. Her own position with the Shade had them so that they looked out over the battlefield not from behind but from a side view. She still could not see the one that would be Queen Anne.

"Where
is she? I cannot see anyone out here I would think to be this woman, this Queen." She looked up at the Shade, "Let us lose from your Lands. I want to see the face of the one who commands this army we now face alone then perhaps she will extend me the same regard."

The Shade did as his charge requested and with Alcestis' next breath, the Veil lifted from her eyes, darkness shimmered around the two figures as they were released from the Shadowlands. The woman's long black hair whipped in the breeze behind her back. She wore a simple black cotton dress, the sleeves dripped long over her hands and the hem blew lose and gently around her ankles while she felt the sand settle beneath her still bare feet.

Modest and unadorned, she had no need for pompous overtures of jewel-bedecked hands nor headpiece, a small ringlet of polished ebony seastone around her neck was the only thing resembling jewlery that she ever wore. The other figure, the Shade, towered head and shoulders over the woman beside him. A cowl of pure shadow hung low over his smooth head stopping short of his crimson orbs and flowed over his shoulders down his back. Darkness was his clothing.

Alcestis took a deep breath of the desert air enjoying the earthy flavor of it. Wholly unlike the atmosphere of the Valley. "Do you see her Shade?"

"I cannot see your rival either my dear," he replied. "I suspect she is here, most likely watching from a vantage on another dune herself. If she were using the pure darkness to cloak herself I could pick out her party easily, but I suspect she is using some clerical art to mask herself and those closest to her...she does hail from the city of wizards afterall. Perhaps showing yourself to her openly will encourage this Queen to do the same," he paused and looked at her plainly. "I wouldn't count on it though," the Shade added, with the slightest hint of irritation in his otherwise smooth baritone timbre.

Alcestis eyes flashed up to her guardian with a frown. "You don't know that. I think you believe too less of these people sometimes." To which he merely chuckled and pointed a shadow-drapped hand out to the unfolding scene. "It's about to begin," he said.

The elementals were now poised to attack. Their regiment leaders sounded their curved stone horns. On cue a horrific howl rent the night and the cacophony rose and filled the desert. Darkness swirled beneath and around her troops pulling up the souls of the walking damned bound to shadow themselves, the troops broke into two identical formations and charged across the sands to meet their foes.

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Sun Jun 06, 2004 4:51 am
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Curved steel flickered along the front line of my army tracing deep lines into the bodies of the enemy as they clashed. Many fell in the front but the formation held against the initial charge. The deserts sands thirstily soaked up the blood of the dead leaving stains of different hue from the blood of humans and beasts. Splitting her army was a bold move. If we had the numbers we could wedge in between and divide them fully but to do it with my present force would risk my army being fully surrounded and crushed. No, we had to retain a path for retreat.

Sister Aventine at my side, spoke, the Shadow troops of this army have been resistant to Illusion in the past, Lady. They seem to have minds we find difficult to manipulate, similar to Lord Neve's undead forces. I suspect they too are controlled by another. I have found the blessed blades which the officers and your elite guard carry are the most effective way to vanquish them…

We have too few officers here. That shadow force could carve through the men and the morale may falter too soon. I knew this was more dangerous than anything. We have no clear advantage through terrain, we are outnumbered, but morale can be the equaliser.

Send out a dozen of my elite to each flanking unit to engage the shadows. When the units engage they will be visible only to the shadows and we may draw them away from the main army. I silenced a look from Sister Aventine, the dozen of my elite guard remaining will be sufficient, Sister. And you are here with me.

Turning my focus to a shadow on the field of battle, I probed for a way to control its senses. The Art of Illusion relied in the end on the will of another. But the success of an Illusion was initially affected by the nature of it, the more natural and believable it was the less likely it was to challenge the will of another. These shadow warriors had senses but only very simple senses and they seemed to react less so to their surrounds than to the one controlling them. Was this Alcestis who was controlling them? I dared not push against the minds any more, lest it should alert the controller to my presence…but at that moment I saw the leaders of the heathen army.

The Lady Alcestis suddenly appeared on the top of a sandy ridge to one side of her army, closer to my current position than I preferred. What manner of sorcery was it that had kept them hidden? Outside of the Bainev family I was the most powerful Illusionist I knew and the Bainev Art was a closely guarded secret. She must have portalled. And it did not take a leap of imagination to realise who was responsible for that, or for those bedeviled shadow soldiers. The creature beside her was Blackness. Not demonic for I would have sensed it but some other creature of Nightmare. An unholy union to be sure. Their gaze probed the scene of the battle, searching. From their vantage point it was likely they would soon find the 'invisible' units if they were looking for them. I doubted the Clergy would have the power to hide themselves from these two.

My first flanking unit attacked from the other side, when my dozen elite guard reached them, their uniforms conspicuous in full black. A Clergy Illusionist in scarlet and black robes stayed in the rear to maintain their invisibility to as many as possible as they pierced the side of the unaware heathen force. I projected the illusion of greater numbers to further unnerve the surprised enemy while the elite sliced at the shadow legion with their holy blades and almost inhuman fervour.

Pointing out the ghastly couple upon the dune, I directed Sister Aventine to concentrate on commanding the troops. I augmented those struggling units with illusions to thwart or intimidate their enemies. But I had to put more energy now into maintaining our invisibility upon the crest of the dune, keeping us hidden from the scrutiny of Lady Alcestis and the evil she kept as company.


Mon Jun 07, 2004 3:30 am
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As the fight ensued, the woman clapsed her guardian's hand tightly as the first line of elementals met the first line of defense and faltered. A hardened frown creased her face again and she questioned him without taking her eyes from the scene before her.

"The sand, they've grown too used to defending our Valley, could they have forgotten how to handle themselves in the desert?" Just as she asked her pressing question, the sand beneath her own feet shifted again as she took a step forward with one foot and nearly lost her own balance. With but a thought and before she could fall to the dirt, wispy tendrils of shadow reached out from around the Shade and righted his charge then pulled her to his side protectively.

"Could be. When we return to your Valley you might speak with Hesketh about running desert drills for all the troops to make sure they remember how to deal with the different terrain."

Alcestis nodded silently, watching, and looking for the Queen. "I still don't see her! Why won't she show herself? This is maddening!"

The Shade stretched his arm to the scene and pointed discriminately, "Do you see the troops that just mustered to engage our dead?" Alcestis simply shook her head negatively.

He saw the forces, the elite guard, shimmer into view as soon as their blades touched the dead troops. What his servants could see he could see also. He thought them surely controlled by another, most likely a cleric if his knowledge of the city of wizards was correct. The Shade scrutinized the area behind the forces slowly. His crimson orbs grew darker, his head tilted against his chest in concentration. It took several moments but finally he could spot someone.

"There. I see the clerics, faintly but they are there. You still cannot see them? Right behind the main lines." Again Alcestis shook her head and her guardian narrowed his eyes with frustration himself. He judged her own mind under some influence, some glamour or illusion she couldn't see through.

"Trust me they are there. They must be using some form of their Art to trick your mind and make you believe you do not see what I can see now. It's my own fault, in keeping you mostly sequestered to your Valley and seemingly protected that way I have failed to train you to defend your mind against the wizards of this land. That too shall change."

Alcestis heard his words and took them in but made no reply, there was none to make. If new training was what her guardian deemed necessary than it would be so and there would be no arguing against it even if she's wanted to.

Once the first line had faltered on the shifting sand and were repelled, the Isonian units that had moved around to the rear before the engagement tore lose from their places and charged, thristy for Foret blood, joining their brethren in the midst of the fray. The elemental unit leaders sounded a different cadence from their stone horns. The previously split forces turned to close the gap they'd made, converging as one on their foes like a tidal wave.

A sudden feeling of wanting to cheer for her troops like she might when watching gladiators in an arena rose in the woman and before the Shade could stop her, she'd cupped her hands around her mouth and yelled out to the armies, "Don't fail me!" That was all it took it seemed, for the commanders sounded their horns again and another wave of dead souls bound to shadow rose up, seemed to be pulled from all the shadows thrown on the ground. With the new crop of shadow troops the foes were starting to become truly outnumbered.

The Shade muttered a curse under his breath and put a finger to the woman's lips, leaning close he whispered to her, "Let's not do that again my dear, it's bad enough you've asked me to just let them see us out it in the open like this, no need to draw further attention to yourself than you already have."

Her hands dropped and she suppressed small laughter at the chastisement. Just then a sudden great gust of wind swept over the them all as a quick rough sand storm blew through. The Shade drew his arm over the woman's shoulders and she hid her face against his chest, he enveloped both arms about her and stood stock still in the flurry of sand and wind. The battle hardly skipped a beat through the few moments as the sand storm passed.

Once the wind died down again, he let his charge lose from his embrace and his eyes flashed out over the newly swept dunes around them. Blankets and a few small trinkets were now scattered along the top of the dune to their left. The shadows these items threw off gave a near-instant view of where they'd come from to the shadow's Master. The Shade let out a gutteral command Alcestis had no chance of comprehending and moved her eyes quickly to the fluttering blankets on the sandy dune.

"Where did that..." Her words were cut off as a single shadow servant's bow pulled back and let lose in the same direction the blankets had blown lose from.

Alcestis didn't have time to finish the question, just watched to see where the arrow would find its mark.

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Mon Jun 07, 2004 5:09 am
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Only one of the Clergy controlled forces outside of the main battle were left effective. They received orders to return out of sight to a rendezvous point where the remaining survivors would also meet. The other two flanking groups had long since been destroyed or joined the main force. The remaining troops, covered in either scarlet uniform or was it blood, fought exhausted in small groups, the hope of Isonia's blessing in their eyes still. They had taken hundreds of the heathen down and turned still greedily and without mercy to the next and the next. But there was no end to the enemy.

Defeat was becoming inevitable. It was time to salvage those heroes I could and retreat. How easy it would be to mount my horse and ride away with the remainder of my guard and Sister Aventine. Away from the thousands of corpses, with many heathens among them, away from this cursed desert. I could most likely even take the Temple treasures with us safely and without notice if we left now. But this was not some chaotic rout. This was no humbling defeat whereby the victor would take all. While I still breathed this was merely another round in a never-ending game. And a Queen does not leave her hand and walk away from the table before it is over. And She does not leave Her faithful on the battlefield.

We must make our move, I ordered Sister Aventine and my remaining dozen bodyguard. It is time to draw out the Isonian survivors; the veterans of this battle are tired now and they must live to fight another day. I will be able to pull them most of them out. Turning to Sister Aventine, I cannot do this and continue to hold us invisible. You must hold up our cover. Be sure the two over there do not find our position. She nodded and began to weave our forms away from the top of the dune, focusing carefully and delicately to manipulate the images her victims received.

The task before me was daunting. I would in effect be controlling the senses for the entire remaining heathen army. I would have to use the simplest illusions possible on a grand scale in order to extricate all of my warriors. Calling on the grace of the Goddess I began.

The battlefield before me shimmered. Picking out the groups of Isonian fighters I imparted orders for their ears alone. They began to slowly edge out from the fray. A scarlet warrior stepped back from his melee. To his surprise, he saw 'himself' dodge the blow from the heathen and then retaliate. Around him, other Isonians were watching their own images, eerily lifelike and solid, while retiring from the battle. The transition wasn't always seamless. A heathen passed his blade right through an image before it gained a more convincing semblance of solidity. Sometimes the images flickered to the puzzlement of the enemy. And by the time most of my remaining force had filed silently from the battlefield, I was all but exhausted.

I faltered as the sandstorm hit without warning, such were the dangers of the harsh desert climate. My guard did their best to shelter me while I maintained my sorcery. Straining to see the scene of the battle in front of me, the best I could hope for was that the storm sheltered the retreating remnants of my army. It whipped over the dunes and passed as quickly as it had come. I resumed my contact with the minds of the heathen army as quickly as possible, this time only hiding the last few retreating Isonians. I barely heard the light gasp from Sister Aventine as she discovered that the sandstorm had knocked a few items from our horses to the sands near us. And then so bent on covering the tracks of my army from the confused heathens who were now suddenly grappling air, that I didn't notice Sister Aventine as she brought her hands up to her neck choking silently on an arrow that had lodged through her throat. My guards sudden movements as they watched her fall backwards in the sand broke my concentration at last.

The last remnants of the wild winds pulled at the skirts of my corseted gown and the sun picked out the rich gold brocade on the deep purple fabric. Only one strand of dark hair had escaped during the turmoil, the rest of it remained tightly bound at the back with an ornate golden clasp. All too late I realised that Sister Aventine was down and the Illusion of invisibility was gone.

We stood in plain sight. I turned my head towards the sandy ridge where I last saw Lady Alcestic and the Shadow creature.


Mon Jun 07, 2004 6:24 am
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When the sand storm hit, the Shade was wrapped with his charge enclosed in shadows to protect them, even with his own thorough sight it was difficult for him to have a clear view of the battle while the storm blew threw. He did not see the retreating troops and their cleric's masterful illusionary doings in removing the 'real' troops from battle whilst leaving what would seem to be ghosts in their stead.

Alcestis' fighting forces swung their blades, war clubs and axes through the sand storm, some with clenched eyes even, they hardly noticed the change to the Isonians themselves. The few that did 'swing through' their opponents were so caught up in it all they hardly gave it a second thought and charged on with renewed vigor.

With the sand storm passed and the Shade bellowed his order to open fire on the other dune, the single arrow let lose and mere moments later the entourage there was plunged from their Illusionary folds. The Shade couldn't decide what to watch, the now falling woman with the arrow through her neck, or the battle scene itself.

Alcestis gave a sharp gasp seeing this new development and flew a hand out to the Isonians gathered there on the dune. "I knew she had to be here somewhere!"

The second the arrow-pierced woman fell to the sand, the Shade turned his attention back to the battle and cursed again now seeing what he'd been missing all along. Some how the Queen had worked her venerable sorcery and withdrew her troops without anyone realizing it had happened. There were mere spectors out there keeping the fight going now. The Shade raised his arms and his deep voice roared from his throat and out over the sandy blood-pooled scene.

"HAAALT!!" With a wide sweep of one hand every single shadow creature scattered and melted back to nothingness. The remaining elemental contingent began looking around for their foes in confusion. Their unit leaders sounded a final call from their stone horns and most of the troops began slumping over supporting themselves on the hilts of the weapons. Several others, the Earth Elementals among them, started to go around to their fallen brothers and see their bodies returned to the earth as ever they did after battles. These elementals kneeled over the dead, their hands pressed to the bloodied and cleaved chests, and with a quick but consecrated litany, the bodies were swallowed up by the desert floor in an instant.

As this was going on, Alcestis herself could not take her eyes from the group of Isonians that had so mysteriously appeared on the opposite dune. "I suppose that's how I look to the few watchers that have seen us 'appear' from nothingness," she mumbled quietly to herself. It was all she could do to restrain herself from dashing down the dune and across the desert towards the woman and her entourage.

Her guardian cast his gaze back to the Queen and her fallen priestess, or so he assumed for now, and slowly the remaining elementals had gathered their breath, their own sanguine bodies stood erect and glared heavily at the now-visable Queen and her attendants.

The generals held their troops at bay, though a growl started to roll from their lips in unison as they waited, and hoped with all their hearts, to be unleashed upon the Isonians standing on the dune. Yet the order did not come.

Alcestis yanked on the billowy folds of palpable darkness at her guardian's forearm. "We cannot let them get away! What are you waiting for!?"

A menacing grin came to the Shade. His own shadow thrown on the ground at his side pulled up behind him causing his image to grow increasingly daunting as he glowered directly at the Queen. His shadow behind him now pulsed with a life of its own adding to its Master's horrific visage. The Shade's usual calm and even measure of voice came now low and throaty.

"I am waiting...for the chase."

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Thu Jun 10, 2004 5:17 am
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My breathing was laboured as I appraised the latest turn of events. Only my corset could keep me from slumping forward in an exhausted heap upon the sand. Sister Aventine's lifeblood seeped into the sand before me; the Head of my Clergy dead or dying with no time to mourn, and barely a moment allowed to whisper a blessing for her. Those that had fallen on the sand below us would not recieve a burial for their bodies, but their souls were sanctified and I would make sure of a memorial tomb for the heroes of this battle should I resurrect another Temple in Her name. The survivors were not out of danger yet but I was hopeful when I noticed the barest flutter of a scarlet robe in the dunes beyond. Brother Polat's flanking force had joined up with the retreat now and his ability as an Illusionist would be their salvation. I touched his senses, familiar to me from the common contact we had, Lead the army to safety, Brother. I will join you another day.

As the heathen Mistress pointed in our direction atop the dune, I knew that to join the retreat now would be to lead the hordes upon them. The riches left behind in my baggage train should at least keep the enemy engaged for a little while. And what of myself? Myself and a dozen elite guard? I needed even a small time to regain my energy. Perhaps with the treasures now unveiled, the Foretians would be satisfied to stop, more interested in hauling it back to their fortress. Then they may leave me to safely retreat.

But I would not count on their mercy, after all I would have given none. To put as much distance between my party and the heathen was all we could do before I regained enough presence of mind and energy to fully secure my retreat with the Art. And so with as much haste as I could summon of my wearied mind and body, I mounted my chestnut stallion, a light breed for desert running and ordered my guard likewise. Our steeds snorted in anticipation, shaking their heads and kicking sand up with their hooves. They had heard the carnage of battle below, smelt the familiar smell of blood and were eager to move as they were to conditioned to for war, energised by the battle.

Thirteen of us mounted, began a swift departure down the steep bank of the dune, back into the desert and away from the remnants of my former army who would do their best to find allies or at least safety in this Goddess forsaken land. A half a dozen of my elite guard rode in a tight circle around my own horse, curved and blessed swords at their sides, while the others rode in pairs further away, one pair in front with the other two pairs to the sides.

The fast pace of the horse ride was refreshing to say the least. Holding onto the reigns, I allowed myself a moment to close my eyes, feeling only the breeze pass around me, whipping the heavy purple silk of my skirts. A brief respite from the awareness required to command my army, and the myriad minds and senses of those heathen forces I had attempted to manipulate in the battle. Just a moment to clear my mind and find again the cold, calm clarity of a Matriarch of the Temple, of a servant of Isonia.

The bulk of the elemental army would be hard pressed to follow us at this speed and with the grace of Isonia, I would soon be recovered enough to deal with any few who attempted to.


Fri Jun 11, 2004 8:44 pm
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The elemental forces watched the Isonians depart, many'a call and shouting to follow the fleeing curs came from the troops even as the earth ones among their number continued to see the bodies of their brothers returned to the land. The generals knew they needn't try to keep the troops at bay, they were well trained to simply do as told and not do a single thing without order during battle. While many of them shouted their disgust and curses in their own tongue, none of the elementals moved from the corpse-littered desert arena. The generals had been charged with gathering any bounty that might come to them as part of the initial plan laid out before they had departed the Valley. It would be seen to of that the Shade had no doubt. His full attention was given to the Queen and her escort.

He absolutely enjoyed the vigor of a good chase and hadn't had cause for one himself in too long a time. As the lady and her guards mounted their stallions the Shade spoke to his charge quickly, his eyes not moving from the Queen for a second as she prepared her getaway.

"You will stay here with your commander and return home with the troops, do not disregard me in this. You cannot endure the path through the darkness and that is the only way I will be able to follow them. Take what you will of their treasures and wait for my return."

That said, and before Alcestis had a chance to say anything in response at all, the Shade had withdrawn, a sound like a breath being exhaled went by her face and her guardian was gone from her sight.

With a frustrated sigh Alcestis gathered herself and padded down the dune. The night was starting to turn cooler and the sand shifting beneath her bare feet was an odd sensation after having been cloistered in the mountain caverns so long now. She quickly made her way toward one of the elemental generals; seeing the woman coming his way he crossed the short distance to his lady before she could get too near the bloodied ground.

Alcestis knew this one as Caminus and knew also he was one of the fire elementals. He wore seasoned leather battle raiment over his rouge-tinted skin. She raised a hand in greeting and Caminus bowed his head slightly and touched the tip of his silver, crimson stained, blade to his chest, "Dominae." Alcestis allowed a smile and replied, "Caminus, I've been entrusted to your care for the journey home. Have your brothers gather what they will from the dune there, keep all you wish for yourselves and your families. We should do this quickly and start back for the Valley. The Shade's gone following the heathen queen in the night." Caminus simply nodded and soon the elementals had finished burying their dead as they would, gathered up the possessions from the dune, esconsed their lady in a litter and started for home.

[center]~**~[/center]

Meanwhile...the Shade knew his best chance to follow at an acceptable pace was to throw himself completely into the darkness and use it to his advantage. His essence joined the dark of night and off he went on the chase. The waning moon shone high above and stars all but congested the clear night sky above. The sands rippled with his passing, a dread spectre of blackness that flowed swiftly over the ground. He sensed them a short distance ahead, could feel the beat of the horses' hooves as he moved over the ground and hear the beasts snorted breathing as they galloped away.

While it wasn't often he could manipulate the shades thrown by people unless they were rather weak-willed, those of beasts, such as horses for instance, were rather easily persuaded under his ministrations. He continued to push himself ever after his quarry, willing himself over the sands in pursuit. Once he had them back in his sight, though still a good distance from them, he reached out to one of horse of a pair that rode flanking positions further from the main group that surrounded their Queen.

What seemed slow going to the Shade began to happen in moments. He did not sway from the pursuit while his mind bent to touch the shadow of the beast that hurried ahead from him. The horse's shadow flickered on the ground beside it. The quicker the horse galloped the more its shadow pulsed alongside it until finally, like a garment come lose from a wall hook, the beast's own shadow jumped away from its owner then pulled itself up from the ground. A one dimensional horse made of shadow drew up next to its former master and whinnied at the horse and rider then began circling them in a maddening escapade. The shadow horse jumped and circled brayed and balked at the other before skittering between the pairs of horses causing as much commotion as possible.

The Shade snickered to himself and pushed on through the darkness hot on their trail and eager to see what the Isonians would make of that new phantasm in their midst.

_________________
"Experience teaches us that Silence terrifies people the most." --Bob Dylan.


Mon Jun 21, 2004 3:28 am
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The coolness of the night was welcome after today's heat. Our steeds, stretching their legs over the sands, were running for the joy of it as much as necessity. But I could not entirely enjoy it. The battle was over, and we had suffered great losses. I had lost the most valuable member of my Clergy this day. The most loyal, the most faithful servant of Isonia I had ever known. Our home behind us, some of it built with our own hands and hearts, was lost to us. Was it my own defiant bitterness that had thrown this army into the desert, knowing our numbers were too few to withstand the heathen? I was so tired. Tired of losing everything I had worked for. Tired of disappointing the Goddess. My thoughts come back to the blood as it seeped into the sands. We sped along; a ride as smooth as a horse could give at that speed while the wind whipped away a rare tear from my face.

This would not do, if I had the energy to weep over the past, then I had the focus required to lead now and think of the future. Sitting up more, I opened my eyes and looked quickly over my shoulder.

Nothing. No sign of pursuit. Good. When the horses become tired, we would veer around to the north and travel slowly back towards the remnants of the army. We could not risk slowing down until the horses had to.

Under the light of a moon, I could just make out the figures of my horsemen to the outside of us, keeping pace with us and watchful of approaching threats. A sudden shrieking neigh to the right of us caused our own horses to flick their ears anxiously in the direction of the sound. Despite the disruption they did not turn from their course and kept their speed as they were trained. As riders we looked quickly in the direction of the right hand pair of horsemen just in time to see one flanking rider thrown from his steed, his mount spooked and hysterical. I could see his partner trying desperately to control her own mount with both hands while it bucked and neighed. In this dim light we could see nothing and we dare not stop, especially now.

After issuing a command with the simplest sound illusion, one of the six riding close to me veered off sharply with orders to report back on the fate of the other two. He was ordered not to engage any threat unless to defend himself. The metal sang as he whipped out his sword and sped his horse back to investigate.

Had someone or something from the Foretian forces given chase after all? Or had we run into some other unspeakable horror in this Goddess forsaken desert. I would know soon enough when my guard returned. I felt my strength and resolve returning with the night air. My focus and energy slowly renewing at the thought of a new menace. And I welcomed the cold anger while I gripped the reigns on my horse.

~o~

Hayah! Speeding the horse back towards where the other guards had fallen back, he drew his curved silver blade, ready to use it if he must. His eyes attempted to pierce the darkness, looking for any sign of danger ahead as he approached the place where he saw his companions last. And then his horse leapt, sideways as the shadow passed next to them. It shrieked in terror as the others had and resisted his attempts to whirl around and face the danger. Not far off he spied the fallen rider climbing up with the other rider on her horse. The fallen rider's own horse was nowhere to be seen. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw blackness moving towards him. Pulling the reigns around suddenly, he hoped to get a good look but his mount reared away. Not quickly enough as the shadow horse came upon them quickly and silently. He slashed with his sword at the shadowy form but could not tell if he missed or passed straight through. But now his steed had had enough and bolted.

This was all he needed to know to report back to the Matriarch. He let the horse run for it was at least going in virtually the right direction and certainly fast enough. He slowly pulled it back properly in line to the main group and kept it racing hard to catch up. If his worst suspicions were correct, then the terror was a similar shadowkind to those dark forces on the battlefield earlier. And if that was the case then most likely the Foretian Shadow General was in pursuit.


Tue Jun 22, 2004 3:18 am
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The guard slashed at the shadowspawn, the blade stuck at first then passed through and the thing ran off wildly into the night once the guard and others had turned and retreated themselves. The small scene the Shade took in with a kind of sinister glee. The long dark of night in the open desert was before them and, for himself, the Shade could hardly contain his enjoyment.

He pushed himself further and faster. What would he do if he managed to catch up he wondered as he went. He could still feel them, the heavy beat of their horses on the ground, as he passed in darkness just above the ground himself.

Return this Queen to the Valley? That may not do. Alcestis was intent on meeting the woman cleric face to face however, and he was loathe to disappoint his charge. The pace set by the horses was tough to match. Had this chase been happening in broad daylight he would be at more of a disadvantage and his quarrey may well have out manuvered him by now. However, with his far-reaching sight in the darkness he was able to keep them in view from a longer distance. The Shade had to push himself harder than he had in a very long time to move fast enough to keep the Queen's group where he could still make them out. The sheer power and energy needed to try and keep up was nothing short of exhilirating!

Animals scurried out of the way sensing an other-worldly presence and desert cats rent their howls in his passing filling the air with terrified screams. The few unfortunate animals that found themselves not able to move out of the way in time were touched by his darkness and swallowed up, not ingested in some way by the Shade but rather enveloped by incarnate shadow and hurtled out of his path.

What would he make of the Queen should he catch her...what would she make of him? He had a limited knowledge of the clerical power the Queen possessed, it intrigued him. Should he capture this one his first intention would be to gleen all he could of her sorcerous ways. He doubted he would be taught such things willingly, though there were techniques one of the Shadowborne had at their disposal that could 'encourage' most beings to be quite cooperative.

The very thoughts gave him renewed energy and the palpable darkness surged over the desert ever closer to the Queen and her escorts. Another burst of energy like this and he may be able to get himself past them and come at them from right in front of their eyes.

_________________
"Experience teaches us that Silence terrifies people the most." --Bob Dylan.


Tue Jun 29, 2004 4:58 am
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How long had we been riding at this speed? Surely our mounts will be tiring soon, already I could hear their breathing become more laboured. I was hoping we could find them water soon lest they expire after their exertion. I could not deny the newfound respect I had for these animals, never had I needed to rely on them so much. A horseman at my side gestured towards the guard returning from before. We slowed just enough to allow him to rejoin us and after maneuvering his steed as close to mine as he could, he reported his news with no time for formalities, between his ragged breathing,

The Shadow General follows us. I have not seen him but he is spooking the horses. He could be close. We can only try to outrun him.

The man then set his face with grim determination, urging on his horse more in an effort to pick up the pace of the group. We both knew how dangerous this was. For there was no reason why a General would determinedly follow upon the heels of an already retreating enemy unless he wanted the head of their Queen…or worse. That damned creature, I would do all I could to destroy this foul wraith!

Through the Art, I sent word out to the rest of my guard so they would know what to watch for and be warned. We pushed the horses forward again, knowing they could barely continue at the current pace. Until I could find the enemy myself I could not attempt to manipulate its senses, otherwise we might have vanished already. No, I would have to wait until he made his move first and then attempt to subdue his mind quickly. If I could.


Sat Jul 03, 2004 4:48 pm
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