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Falling: An Epic Fantasy

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posted on Jun, 14 2017 @ 11:11 AM
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94 - Critical Instruction
The following morning he led Seeress Meron into the training chamber. Kaena stood in the center of the padded floor, tall, beautiful, and commanding, bathed in the early morning light streaming in from the eastern windows.

“Good morning Lord Captain, Seeress,” she nodded to each of them.

“Lady Commander,” Gaalen inclined his head.

“Lady Commander,” Siere said. There was no bow, no inclination of her head.

“Now, I realize the two of you have had some differences, but Lady Commander Milaener is the best instructor the Bastion has in the use of dual longknives. In addition, she is an expert in women’s weaponless combat. Some of the a'karana is better suited to men, and some is better suited to women. The Lady Commander will focus on the latter. Shall we begin? We will warm up with the first, second, and fifth drills of the a'karana after setting our focus. Everyone, assume lussa siertoen and prepare for the a'karana.”

Much of the instruction from Kaena proceeded without incident. Kaena seemed surprised at the Seeress’s aptitude in hand-to-hand combat, as well as her conditioning. Gaalen secretly prided himself on arranging this session. He had come to admire the Seeress, and knew in his heart that if Kaena got to know her she would like her as well.

He admitted to himself there was clearly an edge to both women’s voices when they spoke, but he was sure it would work itself out.

“No, that’s not correct,” Kaena was saying critically as she demonstrated a combination of ro-ti moves designed to bring a larger opponent to the ground. “Back stance, front stance, pivot, hook!”

“That is what I am doing.”

“Your weight and balance is not correct.”

“Then tell me what I’m doing wrong!”

“I’m showing you,” Kaena snapped, demonstrating again. “Back stance kick, front stance punch, pivot, hook!”

“Lady Commander, if I may,” Gaalen began.

“No!” they both said.

And so it progressed for much of the session, limping along while the two women sparred verbally back and forth as much as they sparred physically. A small part of him began to question his decision to involve Kaena, perhaps even regret that decision, but she was the best instructor at these particular subjects.

The women had moved into the longknives, and completing several exercises before beginning controlled sparring, while Gaalen sat off to the side, observing. Before taking his seat, he had whispered to Kaena, “Take it easy on her in the sparring, please.” Kaena had looked at him with an unreadable expression then.

They began a sparring exercise with specific guidelines. Kaena called out harsh commands to the Seeress, chastising her when she failed. Of course, Siere was a good student and did not make the same mistake more than once or twice. However, once Kaena found a weakness, she harped on it mercilessly.

Then it happened. Siere was actually performing quite well within the parameters of the exercise. Kaena broke with the scenario, performing a combination that went outside of the guidelines she had given Siere. For a moment, Siere’s eyes registered anger, but suddenly she dropped to her knees screaming and rocking back and forth, her hands on the sides of her head.

“Kaena, stop!” he called, hurrying in to kneel before the Seeress.

“What in the bloody Abyss is wrong with her? Seeress, get up!” she said with obvious disgust.

“Just leave her be for a moment,” Gaalen said, a note of irritation in his voice that he couldn’t hide. “Look at me, Seeress,” he said, in a calm but urgent voice, placing a hand on her arm and the other gently on her cheek.

Her eyes were squeezed shut and she was whimpering.

“Seeress, look at me.” She opened her eyes, and he saw panic. “That’s it, you keep your eyes right here. You’re Siere Meron. Remember?”

She closed her eyes again, and tears started to fall. “No, I can’t, they’re all dead, she killed them, oh God help me!” she gibbered.

“What is she talking about?” Kaena hissed, jabbing her finger toward the Seeress.

Gaalen ignored her and focused on the terrified woman in front of him. “No, come back to me, Seeress. You’re Siere. You’re safe. I won’t let anything happen to you. You’re safe now.”

He felt her lean into the hand he had on her cheek. Her trembling seemed to slow, and he could see her control returning. Her tears stopped, and she took a deep breath. When she opened her eyes again, her gaze was clear and focused. He stood up and offered his hand to her, which she took and he helped her to her feet.

“We are nearly at the end of our time, Seeress. I think that’s probably enough for one morning. I will escort you back to the Temple. Lady Commander, thank you.”

Kaena looked at Gaalen flatly, then without a word or a backward glance, turned and left.

“I’m sorry, Lord Captain, I fear I have been the cause of strife. Perhaps it is not wise to involve Lady Commander Milaener in these sessions.”

“She’ll come around. She can teach you things I cannot, Seeress, and despite her manner today, she really is an excellent instructor. I will speak to her.”

posted on Jun, 15 2017 @ 01:07 AM
a reply to: PrairieShepherd
Oh I didn't even think of that. Its like a DUH.

I got to say that WoW as in World of Warcraft came to mind for a second, but you know, it was missing that T, at the end.

I was like "what the hell is this purple people writer talking about, WoT? Is that a new trend or something weird cosplay kids do now a days, or a new acronym for wot-wot, what a weirdo".

And no my moniker on this site was not taken from that, the whole Galad thing is just a quinkidence, which is just an advanced form of a thing called coincidence. But now that I think about it, there are a few parallels to that character in that book but not really.

And ya, hit the nail on the head, shifting skirts and arms folded under bosoms, I mean there are a few more emoticons I can think of that could have been added in those instances, you know to keep it from getting annoying. Its a shame Jordan did not think of them as well.

And as for middle plodding parts of the books, really you should ask yourself should there never be a slow part of any story? even if it is annoying? Cant always be one big giant action filled constant run from book one to book 15 now can it? It would get old, not only that? But people would then start complaining that there is to much action and there should be more slow parts.

But anyways I think that was more or less Robert Jordans style or tick or whatever you want to call it. And ya I suppose you can call me a fan of the Wheel of Time series.

posted on Jun, 15 2017 @ 12:00 PM
Caught up again. Whew! Think I'll keep my running shoes on.

posted on Jun, 15 2017 @ 12:10 PM
a reply to: Night Star

LOL - Ready for another one? Everything is about to change...

posted on Jun, 15 2017 @ 12:32 PM
a reply to: PrairieShepherd
OK, the hoarding of your story did not go as planned. So now I am behind and have some major catching up to do! I got the new John Wick movie, so that is on tonight's todo list but I hope to get caught up over the weekend....just in time for the new section!

posted on Jun, 15 2017 @ 01:55 PM
a reply to: Martin75

Hi Admin! Well, then let's add one more for your hoard.

posted on Jun, 15 2017 @ 01:55 PM
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95 - Isaraleisen
Isara’s heart beat quickly. She had not seen Tirina in a very long time, and their last parting had not been pleasant. Still, she cared deeply for the woman, and hoped something of their friendship still held. She would need every advantage she could get.

The Princess had blossomed into a striking woman in the time since Isara had last been at the Royal Palace. She had always been intelligent and well-read, while maintaining an easy manner that endeared her to anyone she spoke with. Still, most women her age had been married four, sometimes five years since. Isara could not help but wonder why. Was she a hag under all that beauty? Was she so particular that no man could possibly please? And yet, Isara knew that Tirina would have Anna under extreme pressure to marry and strengthen her claim to the throne of Aavelae. Tirina would be forty-four this year. Her chances of seeing fifty were just as slim as anyone else’s. Anyone - even a Queen - could die a hundred different deaths each week in Geaomm, and the succession of the throne had to be unquestioned.

Isara smoothed the front her scarlet and gold dress, the colors of House Braeghe. She considered wearing gold and black - the colors of the Queen’s house - but dismissed it. Tirina had always had contempt for sycophants, and such a move might be taken as such. Life at court was all a chess game, and she felt rusty. Still, the old anticipation in her belly was there, she felt the tingling excitement of a move about to be played in a game where the stakes were the things that really mattered - power and influence, the ability to control your destiny and the destiny of your family.

“You may go in, Amaerke,” the guard finally said.

Amaerke Lady Isara Braeghe, of House Braeghe,” intoned the herald as she passed through the entrance to the Queen’s Parlor. This was a private audience, so the rest of the court was not present. Thank Aomm, she thought. The maneuvering vultures cannot interfere now. She would have this.

The Queen and the Princess both sat on chairs near the fireplace. Autumn was upon them, and soon, they would enter Shadow Night for several days also. The Greatmoon was waning in the sky, and eventually it would turn dark and there would be no sunlight for nearly a week, only the light of the stars and the two smaller moons would light the sky. It was a time for fires and company, when the people of the world huddled together and stayed inside. This year would be difficult, however, as the Shadow Night was coming hard on the heels of the harvest. Many would fall trying to get their fields readied for the winter this year.

The Queen did not stand, but Princess Anna did. Isara curtsied to the Queen first, deep and formal. “Your Majesty, I am your humble servant,” she said. Queen Tirina arched an eyebrow at her, her green eyes studying Isara carefully.

“It is good to see you, my friend,” she said finally, a small smile lighting up her face. The Queen had never been as lovely as her daughters Anna and Teryn. Peraena had been the one who had favored the Queen most; the younger daughters took after her late husband Eimestar.

Isara turned to curtsy to the Princess, “Your Highness, you have flowered into a peerless beauty,” she said, eyes to the floor.

The Princess smiled broadly and stepped forward to take both of Isara’s hands in hers.

Isaraleisen,” she said, referring back to the name she had called Isara by as a child; it was a sobriquet that meant roughly, ‘Auntie Isara.’ “I have missed your presence in our lives. I’m glad you have returned.”

“Well, your Highness, it is not my intent to stay permanently in Avaanse. Since my beloved husband died,” she said with a note of sadness, “I have needed to spend all of my efforts managing the Maarke. My daughter makes things easier, of course, but she has her own family to manage as well.”

“Our heart was broken when Gesaert was killed, and doubly so when Hyn was taken, Amaerke,” the Queen said kindly.

“Thank you, your Majesty, I am honored,” Isara replied.

“Surely you find comfort in Lord Gaalen’s successes at the Bastion, yes? I understand he is quite well-respected, and in fact commands as much or more loyalty than any leader there perhaps save the Lady High Commander herself.”

“It is in fact my surviving son about which I requested this audience, your Majesty. I wonder if you would honor me by speaking of his future.” She resisted glancing at the Princess, who was studying her intently.

“I see. You never were one for extended sentimentality, Isara, this much I remember,” the Queen said with a knowing, gentle smile.

Isara bowed her head. “I fear, my Queen, I am usually of a single mind and a clear purpose. It is difficult for me to set it aside,” she smiled in self-deprecation.

“Then by all means, Amaerke, please sit, take your ease, and tell us what is it you wished to speak to us about.”

“Very well, your Majesty,” her moment was upon her. She sat and took the goblet of wine offered by Jassam at a subtle gesture from the Princess. Her heart beat quickly, and her palms were moist. There were many ways she could approach this. She chose brute force.

“I’ve returned to Avaanse to offer my son as a husband for your Highness."

posted on Jun, 16 2017 @ 01:33 PM
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96 - The Amaerke's Gambit

"I am prepared to offer a marital tribute of gold, wine, and olive oil, our finest. The union of Braeghe and Daecullon will create an alliance to secure both our families for generations to come,” she said pointedly, “and stabilize Aavelae for the foreseeable future. I request only that Gaalen be made Amaerke Uenvinala.”

The Queen’s face was blank, but the Princess was studying Isara intently. Uenvinala was fertile, productive land, but there had been no noble Lady or Lord there for nearly twenty years. The previous occupants had all been killed by alkasanni, and no one had been given the title since. There was a small village already there, and something else, she was sure of it.

Finally, the Queen spoke. “Your request is peculiar, Amaerke Braeghe. I am not in the habit of giving out noble titles to men,” she said flatly. “However, your proposal is intriguing. You are correct, an alliance of our two houses would form a coalition that could change the destiny of Aavelae. I’m willing to consider your offer only if it meets with my daughter’s approval. It will be her throne someday, and she who would need to deal with a husband who is a noble Lord in truth.” She looked up at the Princess, who still stood, considering Isara and running a slender thumb along the rim of her goblet.

At length, the Princess spoke. “Yes, an intriguing offer indeed. I wonder,” she said, “about the rumors surrounding Lord Gaalen which connect him to the deaths of several Lanceguard. I understand it was poor judgment that caused the situation. How can I be certain he will make a reliable and trustworthy Prince Consort to me, much less a noble Lord ?”

“Your Highness, Gaalen’s performance at the Bastion is well-known and a matter of record. Would you put established fact up against mere rumors? I assure you, if he had a lapse in judgment, it was truly an anomaly. Gaalen is careful and intelligent, he always has been. Regardless of what may or may not have happened, the men of Braeghe Color trust him completely and obey him because he merits their loyalty. They would not follow a fool.”

“I see. And his relationship with Lady Milaener ?”

Isara was taken aback. She scrambled to rearrange her moves on the board. He can’t have married that Milaener girl, the Bastion won’t allow it. They must just be sleeping together. She kept her face as blank as she could, but the Princess had arched an eyebrow at her hesitation. Dear Aomm, she has grown up.

“I assure you, Princess, any dalliance Gaalen may have with Lady Kaena Milaener will be ended without delay. I beg you to consider that Gaalen’s kir is clean. He has always been a compliant and obedient man, and will be easy for your Highness to control. Like his father, like other men, he is a trained wolf. You give them a target and remove their restraints, and they are magnificent and dogged in their power. He will serve your Highness well, for that is what he has been brought up to do.”
She held her head proudly, gazing into the Princess’s glittering eyes. She had done her duty with Gaalen, brought him to heel when he strayed, molded and shaped him as needed. It had been difficult at times, she did not like being harsh with him. But it had been necessary, it had been for his own good.

She hoped her gamble would work. The Princess had always been a practical, efficient girl, not given to flights of fancy or foolish dreams. Pursuing this on the grounds that it made sense, would strengthen both Houses, and would secure her future rule was the safe path. But only if the Princess had not changed. If she had found love since Isara was in Avaanse last - real, life-changing love - this may not work. But, if she had been hurt, wounded in her heart, and had lost faith that real love was a myth, the girl Isara had known would jump at this chance for stability and safety.

“Very well, for consideration of this offer I will trust your word on that,” she said, looking down at her wine. Anna then looked up and focused her gaze on Isara, and she was no longer the bookish girl Isara had known. She was royalty, the future Queen, oozing authority and power. Isara knew her eyes goggled, and she didn’t care. This woman would make a true, commanding Queen, and in that moment, Isara knew she would follow her.

“Is he virile, Amaerke? This discussion is moot if he cannot give me a daughter.”

“He was subjected to several examinations, your M—“ Isara caught herself. “Highness,” she stumbled, “and found to be healthy and capable of conceiving a child.” Isara was shaken, and struggled to retain her mask. The Queen looked mildly bemused, and Isara avoided the Princess’s eyes.
After a moment, the Princess continued.

“An Amaerke must be skilled in many things, Lady Braeghe. Clearly he is a capable leader and skilled militarily, but a noble must also excel in more subtle areas, and have adequate acumen in bookkeeping and estate management, negotiation with merchants, familiarity with agriculture, as I’m certain you well know.” She turned to face Isara straight on. “Is he qualified?” she asked flatly.

“Gaalen’s education is comprehensive. His father and I felt it best to prepare all of our children for the potential that any of them may have to one day run Braeghe Maarke. Of course, my daughter Lura received the best instruction, but Gaalen is knowledgeable about the wine and olive trade, and to be honest, he has a better aptitude for accounting and numbers than his sibliings. However, where he truly shined was negotiating with the merchants. He has an unconventional method – he is not a haggler, but instead relates to them, gets them to trust him. His instincts are quite good, and with additional training, your Highness, I suspect he could sell Maarke Avaanse to you.”

“That’s quite a claim, Amaerke,” the Princess said with a smile. Isara felt a cold stab of fear. Had she overplayed it?

“Her Highness and I shall consider your offer, Amaerke. I must admit to certain reservations, particularly with regard to deliberately giving a man lands and title. However, I have not forgotten how well you served me, nor the loyalty of your family throughout the years. Please attend dinner this evening. As it was before, we meet at Saen in the Second Hall. I trust you can still find your way?”

Isara curtsied deeply. “I can, your Majesty. Thank you.” It was all she could do. That was as clear a dismissal as she had ever been given, so she turned and headed out of the hall to her waiting attendants.

posted on Jun, 21 2017 @ 09:23 AM
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97 - A Humbled Visitor

Gaalen stoked the fire, and then sat down in one of the chairs. It had been a long, wet, and cold day today out in the training yards of the Bastion. He had overseen a new class of cadets, girls about eleven or twelve years old. Some were frightened, some were eager, all were huddled and shivering in the rain and mud of the yard as he explained to them what their lives were about to become. He was not harsh and blunt like Lady Thorowen was, but he was not about to sugarcoat what they were going to face. Life in the Bastion was difficult, and many did not survive. He was not about to tell the cadets that they were in for soft beds and custards for dessert. Still, he felt they needed hope, so he tried to keep a hopeful, gentle tone in his lessons. You could tell the children who needed hope, and the ones who needed to be reined in with a bit of sobering reality.

He unlaced his boots and slowly pulled them off, setting them by the fire to dry them out for tomorrow’s classes. His stockings followed, hung over the protective grate before the fireplace. After removing his damp outerwear and weapons, he changed into clean, loose-fitting trousers and a warm shirt and poured a goblet of brandy. Kaena would probably be along in an hour or so, but for the time being, he would sip and read alone in the quiet warmth of the fire.

Gaalen only had a few books of his own. He kept a copy of the Book of Voices of course, as most officers of the Bastion did. He also had a copy of The Fundamentals of Tactics and Strategy, written by the ancient military historian Ghar den Ma’an, and one fictional text, Feda’ai Eisalctus yu Kei’arai, a novel about a man caught up in a contest between ancient immortal gods. The text originated from the lands across the narrow sea to the north of Greygate Bay - referred to as Norvi’zaag - and the story was quite old. His copy had been handed down from his father, and was well worn. A historian of the Temple had translated it to the modern Graytongue from Old Norviuki. The people there were a hardy, stout breed with tanned skin and dark hair. He had visited one of the coastal towns many years ago on a trade mission with his father, and remembered the thick beards and ready smiles of the men, and the bustling efficiency of their culture. They wasted little movement, and seemed to share duties equally. They also bore no kir, and yet, seemed to thrive in the cold, hard environment of the northlands.

He had just begun the second chapter, where the main character - Loake - loses his family to two hungry isbayarn] when there was a knock on the door. The brandy was just taking effect, and he had finally warmed up and dried off. With a small smile he got up to let Kaena in.

To his surprise, when he opened the door, Seeress Meron stood outside.

“Good evening, Seeress, I didn’t expect you,” Gaalen said, quickly lacing his shirt.

“I apologize, I should have mentioned I would call tonight. May we come in?”

Gaalen stood aside and gestured an invitation, as he said curiously, “We?”

Behind Seeress Meron, a downcast looking woman in conservative Temple robes followed her in. It was the Bearer who had delivered the cipher.

posted on Jun, 22 2017 @ 12:52 PM
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98 - A Battle He Couldn't Win

“What are you doing, Seeress,” he said tensely. “What is she doing here?”

“Casera?” The Seeress prompted the girl.

“Lord Captain Gaalen Braeghe,” she said quietly, “I release you from my Command.”

Siere nodded, then added, “And?”

“And,” the girl - Casera, apparently - knelt and bowed her head, “I -- I’m sorry and I beg for your forgiveness.”

Gaalen hesitated, and looked at Seeress Meron, who nodded encouragingly to him. So I’m supposed to just forgive her? His temper rose. This was not what he had in mind for this evening. He had wanted to put this episode behind him. His leg was healed, and the flashbacks while he was with Kaena had at least become less frequent.

“Fine. I forgive you, girl,” he said. He knew he had not kept his anger out of his voice, but he really did not care.

“Casera, you are dismissed. Return to your duties. I expect to see you tomorrow, understood?”

“Yes, your Grace,” she curtsied, then left. Gaalen watched the petite woman leave, then turned to go get his brandy. He took a long sip, letting the liquor burn in his mouth before swallowing and turning back to the Seeress.

“Lord Captain,” the Seeress began.

“We are done, then?” Gaalen interrupted.

“Yes, I suppose.“

“Then goodnight, Seeress,” he said, turning his back to her and facing the fireplace and taking another long sip of the brandy. He watched the flames dance and flicker above the heavy hiran logs, the coals underneath glowing in gentle, orange-purple waves. All he could see was the tip of his own knife, glowing red hot as Casera pulled it out of the fire.

“Have I offended you somehow, Lord Captain?” There was puzzlement, and an edge to her voice.

Gaalen ignored her. The memory of Casera’s control over him boiled up into a rage inside.

“Lord Captain?” she pressed.

“Why did you bring that woman here?”

“To release you, of course,” she began. “I also asked her to apologize, but asking for forgiveness was her idea, not mine.”

“What makes you think I need you to fight for me?”

“Fight for you?” she asked, clearly taken aback. “Whatever do you mean?”

“I didn’t ask you to take care of me, Seeress. I can fight my own battles!”

“That was a battle you couldn’t win! You were under her Command!”

“I can handle myself. Did you even consider your actions first? Did you stop to think maybe I didn’t want to see her ever again?”

“Lord Captain, I didn’t mean to upset you. I just thought,” she started, but Gaalen interrupted her.

“I know what you thought. You thought you would take care of the helpless man, because he’s too stupid to take care of himself. Because left alone, men become savages, right? Isn’t that what your bloody Temple doctrine says? You’re no better than she is.”

“I am nothing like that foolish girl!”

“Get out.”

“Lord Captain,” she seemed stunned.

“Get out! Don’t you get it? I don’t need you to protect me! Get OUT!”

“Oh, that’s rich. I seem to recall telling you the same thing the first bloody week I arrived this blasted city! Goodbye, Lord Captain.” She turned and left, storming out angrily.

For some reason, the slamming door startled him, and an empty pit formed in his chest.

“Damn!” Gaalen threw the crystal glass of brandy in the fireplace where it shattered, the liquid making the fire sizzle and steam.

posted on Jun, 26 2017 @ 11:07 AM
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99 - Apology

“Of course it would be you,” Gaalen said sourly.

“May I come in, Lord Captain?”

He made an indifferent gesture and left her to close the door herself. He was not feeling particularly charitable to the Elder Seeress this evening.

“How did you know I’d be here,” he said when she had taken a seat. He took a long sip of brandy.

“I have many resources at my disposal, Lord Captain.”

He frowned, and knew it was cynical. “None of which are my business, I’m certain.”

Her minute smile did not reach her unblinking eyes.

Gaalen shrugged.

“What do you want? Are my reports not sufficient for you? Would you like me to just send my men to you for interviews instead?” His anger at Seeress Meron’s actions earlier that evening still burned. Kaena had not showed up as he expected and an irrational worry over her had taken hold. He was simmering, a pot on a flame ready to boil over.

“Have I wronged you somehow, Lord Captain?”

“I’m not sure, Seeress. You never respond to me, you never tell me anything. I have been feeding you reports for weeks. Are you ever going to let me in on what you have found out?”

“I’m not at liberty to divulge that kind of information to you.” In disgust, Gaalen turned away from her and threw up his hands.

“Of course you aren’t. Then why are you here?” He leaned on the back of a chair facing away from her.

“I wished to apologize for my Bearer’s behavior.”

Gaalen froze. “What behavior?” he asked quietly.

“I know she took control of your kir, and forced you to,” she cleared her throat primly, “satisfy her appetites.”

“How do you know about that?” he asked, still not looking directly at her.

There was no response. He straightened and turned toward her. “Only two people know about that. How did you find out?”

“Do you really think Seeress Meron would divulge that kind of confidence to me? There is nothing that goes on in my Bearer’s lives that I do not know about.”

“You knew about her behavior beforehand? And you allowed it to continue?”

She just stared at him, expressionless. His rage smoldered at her, at Casera, at his kir, and he wanted to hit something.

“Not everything is black and white, Lord Captain. She had to be allowed to continue in her proclivities for a time to serve a higher purpose . That purpose has been fulfilled, and she is has been corralled now. No additional men will suffer her whims.”

“And what higher purpose was that, Seeress?” he snapped. “What higher purpose requires slavery and domination?”

“You are not ready for that truth, I think,” she said flatly.

“Is this some kind of Temple requirement? Do they teach you women to assume men can’t deal with anything that doesn’t involve a weapon?”

“I understand a weapon was involved, Lord Captain,” she arched a placid eyebrow at him.

“Our dealings are through. Please leave my chambers,” he grated.

She did not move, but instead studied him intently.


posted on Jun, 27 2017 @ 01:19 PM
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100 - Disclosure

The moment stretched, the room silent except for the crackle of the fire. Gaalen’s senses were all triggered, the hair on his arms and the back of his neck standing up. He could feel the stone beneath his feet, the connection to the ground, the world, and the sky. If felt as though the Greatmoon itself pressed down upon him as he stared defiantly at the Elder Seeress.

“The gith-gesaarm attack was planned,” she said abruptly. “Someone has gained the ability to either summon or actually control gith-gesaarm, and likely other creatures as well. There is an element within the Palace that assisted with setting up a kind of beacon that draws those foul beasts. I had a trusted agent infiltrate the circle that I believe to be responsible. She was mortally injured during the attack, and Bastion personnel ended her suffering,” she looked directly at him, pausing a moment and letting her words sink in. “The attack was a distraction, but as of this moment I am not sure why . It may have been to eliminate Lady Eilana, and maybe someone else. Someone who has been asking too many questions.”

He thought back. “Eilana’s wounds weren’t consistent. There was so little bleeding,” he mused. “Was she stabbed instead?”

“It’s possible. There are ways to stab a victim and keep the bleeding internal, some of them more disturbing than others. I was unable to gain access to the body before it was burned. Still, she may not have been the target.”

“Then who?”

“Think, boy. Who else has had their life threatened recently?”

“You think it might have been aimed at Seeress Meron? Why?”

“She is chasing something, though I can’t determine what. The girl is admirably secretive.”

Gaalen grunted. “There was a vial,” he offered, “in the belongings of the murdered undervalet in the Palace. It’s similar to vials I saw at an apothecary off of Archangel Street - one that Seeress Meron discovered makes poisons. However, the markings are different and I have not been able to determine if the vial in fact came from that shop, so it could just be a simple oil or potion from another apothecary.”

She nodded, “Pursue it, Lord Captain. It could be important. Lady Eilana was unable to convey much information to me. We were going to speak at the reception following the Water Drummer’s performance. All that I have is that this conspiracy involves the Palace, the Bastion, and the Temple. There is also evidence of correspondence with someone in the Eastholds - I do not know which Maarke. It’s possible it is actually across the border into Mons Ros.”

Gaalen considered this. “You’re no longer talking coup,” he said ominously. “If you are correct, it could be the prelude to an invasion by Mons Ros.”

She nodded again. “Something does not fit the puzzle, though. Not many know it, but Queen Rach has been ill for years. She has a degenerative disease that inhibits her cognitive abilities and her reasoning. She might become quietly oblivious, trapped in a dreamworld inside her own head, or she could go violently mad and lash out, starting a war. Either way, this kind of subtlety is not consistent with what I know of her condition. That tells me if this really originates from Mons Ros, there is another actor at play we are not aware of.”

“Bloody Abyss, Elder,” he shook his head. “Is this why we are sending an ambassador to the Eastholds?”

“That decision was made by Amaerke Avaanse, not me, Lord Captain,” she said wryly.

“The Princess made that call?”

“As best I can tell, yes, the Queen deferred on it. However, I’m not sure what Anna’s motivations are. I’m still working on that.”

“You give me more questions than answers.”

She stood and smoothed her gray dress. “Keep vigilant, Lord Captain. Events are afoot that are of great import and may shape the fate of more than just Aavelae. Do not trust anyone, boy. This may reach very, very high.”

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