“You imbeciles!” raged Henceforth.”You incompetent fools! You utter, fucking morons! You had one job!” He waves a scroll at his [Royal Court]. “Throw a party, spread your legs, and get a trade agreement signed! Instead you returned with this!” He throws the scroll on the table. It slides across the surface and only Jade’s quick interception keeps it off the floor. “A declaration of war! Against me!”
“And your fucking alliance,” [Royal Strategist] Jade adds unhelpfully.
“My liege,” Avena shifts in her seat, “I understand your apprehension, but it is only a declaration. There is still time to negotiate and apologise.”
“Negotiate!?” Henceforth bellows. “You come back to me after this catastrophe and tell me to fucking negotiate!? What the fuck was your job then!? They’re declaring war over mere [Priestesses]. Nobody declares war over a handful of Eir’s sluts! You couldn’t just apologize and spread your legs a little wider? Munch some carpet? Maybe offer them a tariff?”
“My [King], please calm yourself,” Ventis interjects with hands raised. “This is indeed a setback, but can we not turn it around?” he asks. “Sanavil declared war on not only us, but all of your allies. Even if they’re powerful, directly involving our allies shows their hastiness. Our combined forces will be more than enough to defeat them. Even Dominus doesn't dare to fight a decisive battle against us.”
“The dying old fart is right for once. Let’s just fuck Sanavil up,” says Jade.
The [King] glowers at Jade. “You think you can fight an army led by a [General]?”
Jade snorts and smiles, revealing her crooked teeth. “With forty seven armies, I can fuck that piece of cocky shit into the ground.”
“No need to be hasty, let us discuss this first,” [Royal Knight] Peris interrupts. “My subordinate, Gavis, reported that he was brought to a room filled with over a hundred individuals over his level. He also stated in his report that Sanavil has walls several times thicker and taller than Skalag’s.”
He pauses, remembering the one thing that scared the shit out of Gavis. “He also warns us that Rathos isn’t even human, but a powerful archdemon.”
“Aw… big, bad genewal put on some scawy awmor.” Jade lifts one of her breasts, “Does the wittle boy need his mommy?” She gives Gavis a flat look. “Grow a pair, dipshit. Demons don’t fucking exist anymore.”
“I’m just reminding you all of the report.” Peris taps the papers on the table. “Attacking Sanavil could lead to dire and unexpected consequences; we sent a delegation there with an information deficit and are in a worse situation than what we began with. We do not know enough. We should look at all avenues before making such a decision.” He gives a pointed glare to Jade. “Also, if the rumors from the North are true, then demons have returned to Orbis. This Rathos may very well be one of them.”
“And we should do what? Bend over so he can shove a demon cock up our asses? Jade sneers, “I say we get a big fucking army and shove it down his-”
“Enough!” Henceforth yells. The four court members go silent as they look at the annoyed [King].
“Enough bickering. We have a unique adversary that needs to be quelled. Either we do so through violence or diplomacy. As of this moment, I don’t believe a diplomatic solution is viable. They have instigated war against several dozen kingdoms over a minor issue.”
Henceforth gives a pointed look at his court.
“But, before I declare war in return, I will listen to your advice.”
Peris clears his throat, taking the initiative to share his thoughts first. “War with Sanavil will thin our defenses against Dominus,” he glances at Jade, “and will deprive us of our strongest asset against the [Marauder Warlord]’s aggression. On top of that, we know too little about Sanavil. Until we know more, I recommend a diplomatic approach.”
Henceforth nods. He strokes his beard as he sits back into his chair. Peris's argument is rather sound.
“Unlike the tit-sucker,” Jade begins, “I am for a war. Give me the troops and I will blitzkrieg those fuckers so fast that shitstain [General] won’t know what I shoved up his ass. Once I’m done with Sanavil, I’ll turn around and ass-rape Dominus from the rear.
“Yes, and while you go about waging war, everybody else suffers,” Ventis, the [Royal Merchant] gripes. “We’d have to ration food and take over the economy to provide you supplies. Never mind enough soldiers to win the battle, you need boots, blankets, tents, carts, food, and animals to get them there. Everything has a cost, and a diplomatic solution has a much smaller one.”
Avena coughs into her fist. “I don’t believe the [Nobles] would take a positive stance towards another declaration of war. Many of them are strained and annoyed with our current one. If we wage war against Sanavil, there may be unrest. I recommend a diplomatic course for this very reason.”
Henceforth closes his eyes as he allows a smile to grace his lips. He was mentally prepared for another war, practically expecting it, but it’s clear from his court that he was rushing his decision. A diplomatic solution, an attempt at the very least, would not lose him anything.
“Then it's decided; we’ll prepare another delegation to Sana-”
The door to his council chamber slams open. A man rushes inside and almost trips over his feet.
“My liege!” the [servant] exclaims with a scroll in hand. “An urgent message has arrived.”
Henceforth glares at his [Servant] for interrupting him.
“Hand it here,” he orders. The servant nods and gives him the scroll. The seal carries the stamp of [King] Bisque of Cheshie, alongside the word “Urgent”. With practiced ease, he breaks the seal and reads the scroll. His face goes white.
“My [King]?” Peris calls, worried.
With a shaky hand he puts the scroll on the table.
“[Lord] Cuber of Akatosh and [King] Ferederic of Grift are dead, their cities conquered. The city of Cheshie is currently under siege by Rathos,” he pauses. “[King] Bisque requests immediate aid.”
“Fuck yes!” Jade calls out with a cackle. “It’s time for a fucking war!”
When the powerful brood, it is felt by all those present. The leader of Odin’s mortal flock glares at the war table. His aura leaks, distressing the [Seers] around him, but the [Grand Chancellor] does not reel his emotions. Such setbacks are… unacceptable.
“Have we found out how they are communicating?” he asks, already knowing the answer.
One of the [Head Seers], the highest leveled among them, chooses to bite the bullet and says, “Nothing concrete, but rumors say they use demons.”
Frode frowns. Communication between armies is the most important aspect of any war. Disrupting the enemy’s command and control almost always guarantees victory. “Demons,” he mouths, trying to understand how and in what way. His own army utilizes [Seers] whose [Farsight Clairvoyance] can see miles away. Currently, he senses hundreds of eyes staring down at him and the war room. They await his orders at all times and will relay them immediately to the field [Generals].
Messages can also be delivered through [Greater Teleportation], but the spell is costly and requires very specific, high-level classes to cast. The East lacks high-level [Mages], so teleportation, greater or not, is ruled out.
“Have they been using [Couriers], [Beast Masters], or flying mounts?” he asks, but is met with a shake of the [Seer]’s head.
“Early on, they had [Couriers], but those have almost completely stopped,”the [Seer] explains.
Frode crosses his arms and glares at his halted armies. Their advance had slowed over the weeks as the Olympians became more organized, then recently halted altogether when the Amazons joined the war. That was an inevitability. Sabotaging their boats was only a delaying tactic so that he could take as much Olympian land as possible.
It worked, and now he has a firm foothold in their lands and can directly deny them trade with the South. Without a constant supply of [Slaves], their armies will eventually dwindle and be destroyed… so long as the Amazons are handled.
“[Generals], with the onset of the Amazons joining the war, I am removing all unit restrictions. You may release the [Valkyries], summon [Archangels], and use the [Heroes] as you see fit. Destroy the Amazons once and for all.”
At his command, the table glows with the movement of troops. His [Generals] have heard his order and are already giving their own orders. Within the next week, this war will be at its bloodiest.
Leaning back into his chair, Frode gazes far north of his army. The [Frost Jarls] continue to wage their own war, albeit at a slower pace than he planned. He’d expected them to have taken over a city by now, but for whatever reason, a single [General] is somehow slowing them down.
He taps the table lightly, annoyed that another one of his plans isn’t going as expected. He pans his view to show his greatest fear. He points and frowns at the Island of Eternal Night. So far, other than a Lycan army, nothing else has left the island. He knows the seal is broken and that demons are likely running around, but he doesn't have enough forces currently to do anything about it. He can only hope that the damn bats can hold the demons off long enough for Umbra to finish his trip south.
Speaking of which.
“Where is Umbra?” he asks the [Head Seer].
The man closes his eyes for a moment. When he opens them, they are glowing. The [Head Seer] frowns.
“Umbra is… here.”
The magic lights in the war room dim. The holographic map, created by the war table, darkens.. The shadows in the room start to twist and dance to a nonexistent wind. In the darkest end of the room, where light is absent, a form rises up. A man’s masked head resolves in the gloom.
Umbra turns to the [Grand Chancellor].
“We have a problem.”
Jusuf’s caravan trudges onward. Thirty-two sleds pulled by sand crawlers, seventy camels, fifty [Guards], twenty [Slaves], a single [Runed Slave], and five guests alongside their walking carriage. He takes a moment to eye the carriage as it treads across the sands with ease.
He looks around again and barks an order. A column that was lagging picks up its pace and once more centers its position on the [Runed Slave] for her protection and theirs. He looks at the sky. The sun shines brightly, high above and just past its zenith. Normally, he would depart when it starts rising, but the Foreigner demanded they leave immediately. Jusuf obliged after striking a surprisingly lucrative deal.
Speaking of the foreigner… Jusuf looks around for him and finds the masked man traveling next to the [Runed Slave]. He’d bought himself a Camel and is now riding alongside the woman.
With a slight kick, he moves his own ride and reaches the two. “[Mercenary] Bone. I trust everything is to your liking?” he interrupts the two.
“Hm?” Bone looks over, “Oh Jusuf, yeah, everything’s great, I was just asking Garessa about her tattoos.”
Jusuf looks at his [Runed Slave], who politely bows towards him. “Master Jusuf, I hope it is acceptable if I answer Bone’s questions?”
“Of course,” he answers quickly. “Bone is an honored guest, so please treat him with the utmost respect.”
She bows again and looks at Bone. She raises her uncovered arm to show the man the markings that extend across her body. “These runes are applied by the [Empress] to those [Slaves] picked to become [Runed Slaves]. So long as the markings are unmarred, then no vermis will attack me or those I travel with.”
“But you don't know how it works?” he asks.
Garessa shakes her head. “The magic within these runes are a very closely guarded secret of the [Empress].”
“The most closely guarded secret in the entire Empire,” Jusuf corrects.
The man snorts. Slowly, he removes his mask, revealing a face lacking the darker colors of the Empire’s peoples. “Most closely guarded? Challenge accepted.”
The man's eyes glow violet. He stares at the [Runed Slave]; his eyes rove over the woman's body. Garessa, though not naked, is only wearing underwear and a binding over her chest. For the magic of her runes to work properly, the markings must not be covered.
The man scratches his clear chin. “Fuck, I hate runic enchantments, especially when it’s on the body.” He blinks once and his eyes stop glowing. “The markings are giving you [Greater Heat Resist], [Greater Cold Resist], and some kind of modified vibration disruption enchantment, which I guess is probably what's keeping the, um, vermis at bay.”
Jusuf blinks in surprise. He figured all that out with just a look?
“Are you by chance an [Enchanter]?” Jusuf asks.
The man gives a so-so gesture. “I dabble a bit,” he frowns, “but not enough with runes to understand what the hell is happening.”
He looks out over the desert. In the distance, mounds of sand rise and fall, dunes undulating across dunes, as large and terrible beings roam beneath the sands. “I suspect that the vermis are able to sense vibrations through sand, which is how they find their prey. Logic states that if you remove the vibrations, then you won’t attract them… which isn’t a really complicated thing to do. If it was that simple, then it wouldn't be such a secret and any [Grand Enchanter] could easily reproduce the effect. Which begs the question, what am I missing?”
“You are perceptive,” Jusuf comments, impressed. What Bone suspects is what every [Caravan Master] learns over the course of their life. They also learned that the Runic markings have never, not once, been reproduced… Well, there are rumors that the elves had figured it out once, but those are just rumors, after all.
“Damn, this is bothering me.” The man's eyes glow again. This time, he stares at the desert below their feet. “It's not neutralizing the vibrations, but changing them. Why? To what?”
“That is a question many have asked and none have been able to answer,” Jusuf explains, “but the closest theory to the enchantment's origin is that it’s a Bloodline skill the [Empress] has.”
Bone frowns and shakes his head. “Not a skill. This level of detail and the specifics in the enchantment can't be solely the result of a skill. A skill may be involved to make the enchanting easier, but it’s not a skill in it of itself. The enchantment is too adaptive to be the result of a single usage of a skill.”
Jusuf shrugs. “It’s merely the prevailing theory. Better men have tried, and all have so far failed.”
“Well, I’ll figure it out before we get to Luxor,” he grumbles. Bone looks over to Jusuf. “We’re still heading to Luxor, correct?”
Jusuf nods. “Yes, though we will need to stop at two cities for supplies,” he explains, “and when we get there-”
“You’ll get my carriage,” Bone finishes with a wave. “I won’t need it anymore once I’m at Luxor.”
Jusuf smiles and nods. He shifts so he is more comfortable on the camel. “Will you tell me the reason why we needed to leave so soon?”
Bone shivers, not from the temperature, but from a memory. “No, and you never will. Be thankful for that.”
Garessa hums curiously. She sniffs and frowns. She sniffs again and follows the scent. She looks above Bones head.
“Bone,” she points at his tall top-hat, “your hat’s on fire.”