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 Post subject: The Return of a Tyrant
PostPosted: August 10th, 2017, 9:51 pm 
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Duke

Joined: May 30th, 2015, 5:52 pm
Posts: 522
Location: Stirling, Scotland
It's not my best writing, but I need to get back into the lore, and the best way to do it is with death and politics.

Year 580 of the Emperor

Lord Brandon Carnoustie patrolled the high walls of Tremaine Castle, drawing his heavy cloak close about him to shield from the cold. Winter was beginning to settle upon the lowlands of Perth and already snow could be seen gathering on the highest peaks. His eye alit upon the ruined walls of the great eastern wing of the castle and once again he remembered the flames that claimed the skies that night.

It was fifty years ago, he was only a young man at the time, when the last true Duke of Carrickshire stood within the walls. Marrec of house Felandrison and his wife Amena. He remembered them well, even to this day. Marrec was a kind man, though unyielding in his dealings as Duke, and Amena had a soft heart. They had been as an aunt and uncle to him as he had lived in Tremaine, being the nephew of the late Duke of Carrickshire Brandon Carnoustie, after whom he was named. He was born after Brandon's death, and though the people spoke little of him, he had gleamed enough from his family to know his namesake was not a kind man. His father had told him he had named him Brandon in the hopes he could restore honour to that name, and to the House of Carnoustie.

Such was his devotion to this cause Brandon had devoted his life to protecting the city of Tremaine, all these long years. Again his eyes drew to the east wing. The smoke filled the air with an acrid stench, and he heard the laughter. His eyes moved down to the garden in the centre courtyard where he saw Amena's body strike the stone. He closed his eyes.

It was the damned boy, Ainmire; the crippled youth whose return had brought such hope to his family once more. Brandon was not in the east wing when it started, but his father had been with Marrec when they had discovered the boy's plot, the awful experiments he had been running. Ainmire had leapt after Marrec, but Brandon's father had tried to stop him. When he came to the fire was raging and it was too late to save anyone.

But Brandon had been there. He remembered standing on the bridge just as the mad villain's cronies had broken the wall above it. The stone came crashing down upon him, with only enough time to grab the treasure the young Niernan had handed to him; a babe swaddled in clothe.

That night, all of the Felandrisons perished but one. The child Brandon had pulled from his mother's grasp seconds before her death. His father had escaped also, but with such grievous wounds he did not last to see the dawn. It was his father who made him swear his oaths of fealty, his father who made him promise to protect the boy, the one true heir of Carrickshire; the last Felandrison.

So he had stood, for fifty years protecting the historic land of his family, protecting the secret of the boy who would be duke. Many thought the mad man had died that night, and perhaps he did, but Brandon knew better. He knew there was another, a child who would bring ruin back to Carrickshire, and he would not let this new villainy destroy the last remnants of the Felandrison House, not unto his dying breath.

Again he turned from the ruins of the castle and froze. He knew the man that stood beside him; an archer by the name of Stark, but this man was not him. His eyes flashed over the wall and for a moment he thought he saw a figure sprawled across the stone, but he dare not look away from this new villain for more than a second.

"My Lord," the man said, almost mockingly. "My apologies for startling you. Lord Murrison wished to speak with you in the high keep." Brandon cocked his head.

"Does he?" He asked, "Can it not wait until morning?"

"My Lord it cannot," the man pressed, "It is of the utmost urgency."

"Did he say what it was regarding?" He asked.

"He did sir, it was in regards to the Felandrison boy," he said simply, taking a step forward. Brandon remained calm but took in his surroundings. He was alone at the end of the wall, below was the courtyard where two soldiers stood at the far end, another two archers on the walls opposite but no one else. Brandon had his own sword, but he would not last long enough to draw it. He did have a knife at his back, but he would have to be swift. The man was armed only with a bow that he could see.

"I see," he nodded. "Lord David Murrison, is it?"

"Aye sir,"

"Hm..." He thought for a moment, turning slightly and raising one hand to his chin as he thought, using the movement to distract from his other hand which move to his knife. "Well, I supposed you should lead on then." The soldiers bowed slightly, then turned and led him back along the wall. He followed at a distance, waiting until they reached the other archer.

This man too was different from the one who had stood watch. At his belt hung a loose sack, apparently a coin purse. Brandon knew this bag was empty; it was forbidden for soldier son guard to carry purses to better prevent bribery. He let the first soldier pass the second and glanced at the other three within view. Nothing immediate appeared suspicious, but given the evidence that two of the five were compromised he was reluctant to trust them. He paused, addressing the second archer with the purse.

"You there, soldier," he said loudly. The man froze, not expecting to be called upon. almost haltingly he turned. The soldier too paused, though he did not turn fully, only turned his head slightly as to hear better. "Your purse, it's against regulations. I'll need to take it from you."

"Take it sir?" He asked.

"Aye lad, you should know the rules of the castle. No purses on guard duty. hand it over." He offered his hand, keeping his right hand near the hidden hilt of his dagger. The man glanced to the first soldier, who did not react, though Brandon noticed the third archer similarly intrigued. The man made to hand his the purse and Brandon took it. It was empty.

"Empty," he huffed. "I'll be keeping it regardless." He tied it to his own belt. "You there," he said again, directing his attention back to the first soldier who was supposedly leading him to Lord Murrison. "Did you say it was Lord David Murrison you were taking me to?" The soldier turned, frowning at him.

"Aye sir," He nodded.

"Is this the same Lord David Murrison who left for Dunn only two days ago?" he asked, raising his eyebrow. His hand was now on the hilt of his dagger, his legs slightly bent ready to spring. "The same Lord David Murrison who was under strict orders not to return until his journey was complete?" The man stammered for a moment, then the second man who handed him the purse cursed to himself.

"He knows!" He cried, drawing his sword.

"Down you fool!" the first soldier cried. The third archer drew the arrow in his bow and Brandon ducked just in time for the arrwo to zip over his head. The dagger was draw and in his hand before the second soldiers could draw his sword. His throat slit, the man spluttered and fell against the wall as Brandon moved on the first soldier, who had drawn his sword. Another arrow zipped past them and Brandon dodged it by a whisker. The attacker to the advantage and struck but Brandon was able to catch the blade with his dagger and push the sword past him, grabbing the man's tunic with his other hand and using his momentum the throw him from the wall. His head struck the stone first and gave a sickening crunch.

Now the archer fired again, this time the arrow struck Brandon in the leg. He cursed, unable to run at the archer, he was too far, so instead he threw the dagger. It was close, but it struck the man's side and he fell to the ground, crying in pain. Brandon made for the stairs, but already the last two soldiers from the courtyard were running at him, blades drawn. He grabbed the still bleeding soldiers whose body was slumped against the outer wall and threw him down the stairs, letting his body throw the last two off their feet.

Hobbling with the arrow still in his leg, he pushed himself down the stairs far enough to stab the last two in the chest, then returned to the third archer. As he approached, the man tried to draw the dagger from his side to attack, but Brandon kicked it aside easily and stamped on the man's hand. He cried as boot struck bone and Brandon pressed the blade to his chin.

"You listen well you little shit," he breathed. "Who are you working for?" The man stared at him through tear streaked eyes, the pain almost blinding him, before he spat in his face and threw his throat upon the sword. The cut was shallow, but enough to kill him quickly. He said nothing more as Brandon watched him bleed out.

***

Five bodies lay upon stone slabs as lord Brandon stood over them. Doctor Warwick stood by the last table with Lord Cunningham. Lord Seann Cunningham was one of the most powerful men in Tremaine, his family owning a vast majority of the quarries beneath the city. He was the only other man, aside from Lord Murrison, that Brandon had seen fit to disclose the secret of the Felandrison boy's true location to.

"I've finished running the tests you asked of me," Dr Warwick explained. "The cause of deaths correspond with your explanation. They were all fit men, most likely soldiers or mercenaries."

"Did you complete the blood test?"

"Aye,"

"Any trace of Pyrencian blood?" Brandon asked. The doctor frowned.

"No, they were humans," he said, slightly confused. "I did find, this," he gestured to the torso of the nearest body where an intricate tattoo covered the left breast. "Those are Oestron runes, I had a rough translation drawn up from the librarian of the school; it's the crest of an Oestron Mercenary band operating in the Imperial sea."

"But that's the other end of Perth," Lord Cunningham objected, he turned to Brandon "all this tells us is that someone very rich hired these people to kill you."

"May we have a moment?" Brandon asked the doctor. He bowed and exited the room, closing the door behind him. Silence fell for a moment.

"It couldn't be the mad man," Lord Cunningham frowned. "That was fifty years ago, Pyrencian's don't live that long, especially with his wounds, and after the fire as well!"

"Then what? A follower?" He asked.

"It must be."

"Unless he bore a child." Both men shuddered. The man man Ainmire was crippled from a young age and driven mad with the knowledge of his Pyrencian heritage. He had gathered a following of Pyrencians in his travels and returned to Tremaine a triumphant hero, but his heroism did not extend to a love of humanity, only his own people. A child of such a cretin would not bode well for Tremaine.

"We must send for him,"

"No, if we went directly for him now they would follow us." Brandon objected. "Lord Murrison is on the road to Dunn. Perhaps he would be safer in Dunn under the King's protection. Even the mad man would never have dared attack the capital."

"Can we be certain?"

"No, but we know whoever is responsible is capable of attacked Tremaine so Dunn can only be safer." They both fell silent again.

"I should return to my home, there is still much to be done this season in the mines." Lord Cunningham began. Brandon nodded.

"I will begin enquiries to hunt out these attackers. I'll start with these Oestron mercenaries, find where they are operating out of." Both men nodded to each other, then Lord Cunningham made for the door as Brandon continued to regard the Oestron tattoo.

_________________
Ainmire Sera-Blodh of House Flenadrison, second of his name, King in the South, Ruler of Carrickshire, and slayer of false Kings.
"The Crippled King"
"Flanders"


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PostPosted: August 11th, 2017, 8:17 pm 
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Echoes of past events still carrying consequences even to this day. Where will this tale end?

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Gold Roads. Fractal Mining. Lore Compliance Ducks.


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PostPosted: August 12th, 2017, 12:09 am 
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Joined: May 30th, 2015, 5:52 pm
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Location: Stirling, Scotland
Year 580 of the Emperor

Darkness consumed the landscape, a single clusters of tents forming the only rebellion against the night. It stood in the centre of an open plain, a river carving it's way to the northern waters of Loche Aberdeene and to the west was a small clump of oak trees. Within these trees Brandon sat upon his horse, his fingers flexing on the hilt of his sword. Around him stood a squadron of cavalrymen from Tremaine. His investigations had led him to find the Oestron mercenaries camped just beyond the eastern border of Carrickshire. By their appearance they had been here for some time. He guessed their reserves were dropping and from their exposed position either they were arrogant enough to think they would not be attacked or inexperienced enough to not consider an ambush as a threat.

"Shall I give the order, my lord?" the captain asked. Brandon watched the mercenaries for a moment longer. The sun broke over the horizon and shards of light broke through the morning mist which gathered in the lowlands around Loche Aberdeene. Brandon nodded. Together they drew their swords and the squad around them followed suit. Slowly at first they began to ride out from the trees, gathering speed. At only a few dozen feet away they broke into a gallop. The Captain let out a war cry just as they breached the edge of the camp and together they smashed into the tents and trampled hte occupants beneath their hoofs.

***

Brandon sat by the fire, tugging at the meat from the chicken bone in his hands as he looked out across the water. The sun had risen now and the soldiers had finished stacking the last of the Oestron Mercenaries on the pyre and had now began to take stock of the supplies. As Brandon took another bite the captain approached him.

"My lord, we found this," he handed a small book to him. "I'm not that fluent in Oestron, but from what I could gather it appears their leader was killed in a mutiny after the attempt on your life failed. The others were attempting to return to the Imperial Sea."

"Does it say who hired them?" The captain shook his head.

"As I said, I'm not that good at reading Oestron, but from what I could make out it does not mention them." Brandon took it and flicked through the pages. He could not read any Oestron, but he could see where the handwriting changed, presumably after the mutiny.

"What of the supplies?"

"They were running out of food, as you suspected, probably the cause of the mutiny especially if they hadn't been paid. We found some scattered coins so probably they were not." Brandon frowned, then a smile crossed this face.

"They haven't been paid..." his mind raced as he concocted the plan. "But they mutinied, probably broke camp to move away...Captain, we passed a campsite a few miles back didn't we?"

"Aye sir, what of it?"

"Have the men break this camp and move it all back to that site. You will remain there and wait for the payment to come. I will return to Tremaine and have this book translated in case it holds any clues or further instructions. If we're lucky, their employer might return to them."

***

Brandon and Lord Cunningham stood in the library of the school as the Librarian read through the last pages of the journal. Finally he straightened up and addressed them.

"There is no name, but it says payment was being withheld until they had completed their mission."

"So there was a mutiny over payment," Lord Cunningham nodded.

"So it would seem. I can only assume the mission was Lord Carnoustie's capture."

"Capture?" Brandon asked.

"Yes, the journal is very clear; their orders were to capture you alive." Silence fell for a moment, then Brandon asked tentatively.

"Was it only me they were to capture? No one else?"

"Only your name was mentioned." The librarian nodded. Lord Cunningham cleared his throat as he considered the knowledge.

"So they still need me captured..." Brandon trailed off. "Does it state what they are to do when they have me?" the librarian frowned as he looked again at the journal, then shook his head.

"No, but I can keep looking and see what I can find." Brandon nodded for his to proceed then he and Lord Cunningham turned to leave. Just then their was a knock at the door and a runner boy threw himself into the room. He dropped to one knee and raised a hand, a scruffy and torn parchment in his palm.

"From Dunn, my lord." he said simply. Brandon frowned, took the parchment and read it swiftly. His face turned pale and he lowered his hands slowly.

"What is it?" Lord Cunningham asked, but Brandon only handed him the parchment. As Lord Cunningham read Brandon said only "Leave us." The boy stood and hurried from the room. "You too," the librarian stood, bowed, and left, taking the book with him. Lord Cunningham read the parchment in silence.

"What does this mean?" Lord Cunningham asked.

"It mean we've run out of time." Brandon said simply. "They've capture Lord Murrison. Sooner or later they will have the location of Lord Felandrison."

"Then what do we do?" they both stood in silence for a moment.

"We have no choice. Lord Felandrison must be moved. If they get to him before us his life, and the line of Felandrison, is forfeit."

"But if we go they may follow us." Lord Cunningham objected.

"No, if I go they may follow," Brandon corrected him. "The orders only said to capture me, not you. These mercenaries at least do not know about you."

"But if they've capture Lord Murrison whoever hired them might." Lord Cunningham objected. "For all we know there is a third party who are after only me." Silence fell again before Brandon cursed.

"Our enemy is organised, they are cunning, and they have the advantage of secrecy..." He thought for a moment, then straightened. "We must place our trust in another. We are all three of us compromised. Anyone in Tremaine acting under our orders might be equally as compromised."

"We need to get Lord Felandrison somewhere safe," Lord Cunningham continued. "We also need to unmask our enemies, draw them out."

"If he can get the location of the drop off point," Brandon thought allowed, jerking his head to the door to indicate the librarian, "Then we can fake my capture and lure them out that way."

"What of Lord Felandrison?" Brandon thought for a moment longer, then nodded to himself.

"You will go to Sigh glen on a routine trade discussion. Enlist the help of their elders, I know Hemariah was always loyal to the Felandrisons. We must appeal to him for his help. The Aethen must go to Lord Felandrison." Lord Cunningham stood slowly and walked to him.

"Are you certain, we have kept this secret for fifty years...to relinquish it, and not even to a human..."

"The Aethen are allies of Perth," Brandon nodded, "If it is the Pyrencians we are against, it may not be an option they anticipate. I think we have no choice now."

***

The sun was setting in the valley south of Tremaine. The captain of the squadron had dressed in the armour of one of the Oestron invaders, as had the other soldiers. Brandon stood with his hands behind his back, rope tied in knots around his wrists but loose enough for him to shake them off at a moment's notice. He stood slumped slightly and with red ochre paste over one cheek. In the gathering darkness if appeared as a bruise across his face. His knife was again at his back, hidden beneath a cloak, but his sword was in the hands of one of the other guards.

The cool evening made him shiver. He would have preferred to wait for the librarian to decipher enough of the journal to figure out who they were facing, but with the capture of Lord Murrison they did not have the luxury of time. The guard captain held his arm in a tight grip, occasionally shaking him a little in an attempt to pull off the appearance of the Oestron invader.

"One O'clock," one of the guards said quietly. They all straightened, casting their eyes forward. A small group of four stepped out from around the cliff face and were making their way toward them. They were dressed in dark cloaks, indistinct and common. they waited impatiently for the strangers to approach. Finally they stopped a few feet away. The lead figure stepped forward.

"I am pleased to see you have brought him," it was an older voice, light and almost mystical. Brandon tried to look up to catch a glimpse of his face, but in his current position he could not see it easily.

"We made an agreement didn' we?" the captain asked roughly, imitating the Oestron accent. He had spent some time on the eastern coast of Perth and had the most experience of dealing with Oestron.

"we did," the man said, a smile playing in his voice. He gestured to one of his comrades who stepped forward and offered a large burlap sack. It clinked as the captain took it. He handed it to one of the other guards, who took it to the back and began to count.

"You'll find it's all there, all four thousand gold pieces." The leader said, almost mockingly, but Brandon did not hear him; his eyes were fixed on the sleeve of the man who had offered the gold. Beneath the sleeve of the cloak was a dark blue fabric, he recognised it but the thought made his heart stop. Such was his confusion he continued to stare as the man stepped back. The Captain noticed and tried to disguise it by pushing his roughly.

"Calm yourself!" He yelled, pulled him back to him, feigning a struggle. Brandon played along and the captain hit the back of his leg, forcing him to his knees. Brandon grunted, then threw his head back and looked up at the leader. The man before him stared down at him. He had never met him before, only heard of him, heard the description of the man who now held his life in the palm of his hand. Despite the knowledge of his own trap, and of his guards, and of the knife at his back, he could not help but feel fear grip him.

***

Lord Cunningham stepped down from his horse and motioned for the guards to do likewise. He barked orders to unload the stone from the carts before turning to a woman who approached from the store rooms. Night was falling and he could feel the tug of sleepiness, yet the knowledge of his true mission kept him alert.

"Lord Cunningham," she smiled as she bowed. "I am Lady Geldrid. My father, Lord Hemariah is preoccupied with a previous transaction and has asked me to greet you."

"My lady," Lord Cunningham bowed. "I would really rather speak with your father; it is a matter of import."

"I am sorry, but he is not available. He will return in the morning. He has asked me to deal with you this evening." Lady Geldrid explained. Her voice was firm and gave no option to dispute her words, so Lord Cunningham accepted and followed her into the office she had come from. They took their seats on either side of a desk and Lady Geldrid lit a few more candles to keep back the gathering darkness.

"So I understand you are here to negotiate a new term for the trade of you diorite?" She asked.

"My lady, might I be brief," she gestured for him to proceed. "The true nature of my mission here is much more important. I must ask for the help of the Aethen, which is why I would prefer to speak with your father, one of the elders."

"I am afraid he is not in Sigh Glen currently. This is why he asked me to meet with you instead. I give you my word, I will take your words to the elders if it requires their approval." She offered. Lord Cunningham sighed heavily, then swallowed before proceeding.

"Do you know of the Duke of Carrickshire, a family known as Felandrison?" Lady Geldrid stared at him for a long moment.

"I do," she said at last.

"Then you also know of their demise fifty year ago, when the castle of Tremaine was destroyed."

"Indeed. It is common knowledge, along with the knowledge that the house was destroyed in that fire." Lord Cunningham licked his lips at this.

"I'm afraid, that common knowledge is not quite accurate." He began slowly. "There was another who survived. Ronan, son of Helori, had a son. The boy was pulled from the fire and his existence kept secret. Only a handful of others know any of this. I would not speak of it with you unless I had no other choice, however we are facing an enemy who has threatened lord Felandrison. I must ask your help. The Aethen are separate from the schemes of this matter, and we need a trusted ally to find Lord Felandrison and take him deeper into hiding."

Lady Geldrid considered his words for a long moment. Finally she stood and walked to the window. She stood still for a moment longer, then turned to him.

"You ask the Aethen to risk our lives to save a forgotten nobleman who has never known us, never known our struggles?"

"I ask the Aethen to help protect the rightful Duke of Carrickshire." She looked away for a moment, then nodded slowly.

"I think it was best you came to me. The elders are set in their ways and would never have considered such a plot. But I am not my father, and I understand the importance of bringing the Perthians and the Aethen closer together. I believe this may be exactly the kind of thing that will help in this venture. Tell me, where is the Duke hidden?"

"We took him to the town of Innean, in the Ilminite Coast." Lord Cunningham said quickly, hardly believing she might actually be willing to help.

"Innean," she said quietly. "Yes...I know it." She placed a hand on the shelf behind her desk and drew her fingers over the wood carefully. "What name does he go by?"

"He was called Harris, though his real name was Ferris. He would be fifty now, last I heard he had taken over the sheep farm in Innean, that was the family we left him with." Gildred nodded slowly.

"Harris, the sheep herder..." she trailed off, then drew a dagger from the shelf and turned to him. "I must say, when my father got the message the Oestrons had actually capture Lord Carnoustie I could barely believe it, but now I see you here I understand it must be true; no other news could make you so desperate to come to me for help." Lord Cunningham's eyes widened. He stood suddenly and she dived at him. He kicked the desk and it struck her middle, forcing her back. He rushed for the door and threw it open. He saw the Perth guards struggling against the Aethen, locked in combat. Several lay dead across the forest floor already. He ran forward and grabbed the sword from one Aethen, knocking him over and parried the blow from Gildred as she chased him.

The horses cried in desperation, pulling on their reigns to flee the fighting as Lord Cunningham did his best to deflect the Aethen's blows. He was not a very good swordsman, and she was clearly practised with a dagger at close quarters so he quickly lost ground. She caught his cheek and forced him back to his own men. the Aethen had them surrounded on all sides. To their backs stood the walls of the stables. Only five other Perthians still stood, three guards, a stone worker, and a boy who was responsible for looking after the horses. Lord Cunningham glanced behind him and saw a slim opening in the stable wall.

"Cover me," he ordered, then lifted the boy and pushed him feet first through the gap. "Grab a horse, go to Lord Carnosutie. Warn him it isn't the Pyrencian's, the Aethen want Ferris Felandrison dead. They know where he is. Brandon must ride for Innean. Go!" the boy nodded, then jumped down into the stable. Lord Cunningham turned in time to see Lady Gildred lunge for him, two sodliers already fallen behind him. He raised the sword and the steel clashed.

***

Brandon stood over the fallen Aethen. His guards had taken out the three others while he had sliced the leader's leg and kicked him down. Now he knelt over Lord Hemariah, the elder of the Aethen settlement, and rested a hand on his chest.

"Why?" he asked, frowning.

"Why?" he mimicked, smiling. "You humans think Perth if yours. Long before Scrios founded this kingdom, we Aethen lived in these lands."

"But I thought you were loyal to Felandrison?" He dying man barked with laughter, then spluttered and blood dribbled from the corner of his mouth.

"The House of Felandrison," he began, "built the monstrosity you call Tremaine. They brought Perthians south, they disrupted our way of life. You Perthians have such selective memories. You do not remember the insanity of that line. Ferris, Felandris himself, even your namesake, Brandon. They have brought nothing but misery to the south. When I learned there was another Felandrison I knew I had to act, to stamp out the disease before it could return."

"How did you find out about Ferris?"

"Ferris?" Hemariah asked, "You mean...there is another?" Brandon's eyes widened.

"Whom do you speak of? You're dying! It makes no difference now just tell me!" Hemariah laughed again, his voice garbled by blood as he pulled Brandon closer. He could feel the warm flecks of blood touch his skin as the dying elf spoke.

"Ainmire...the Pyrencian..."

_________________
Ainmire Sera-Blodh of House Flenadrison, second of his name, King in the South, Ruler of Carrickshire, and slayer of false Kings.
"The Crippled King"
"Flanders"


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PostPosted: August 13th, 2017, 11:53 am 
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Duke

Joined: May 30th, 2015, 5:52 pm
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Location: Stirling, Scotland
Year 580 of the Emperor

The Ilminite coast stood bathed in the glowing orange embers of a gathering dawn. Lord Brandon's steed drew up along the edge of a cliff overlooking a river far below. The river wound north from Strethceird to the Valyrian sea, passing the small town of Innean. Opposite stood the terraced towers of the fort of Innean, unchanged in the century since their construction. Although the town had met with no real violence in over a century, the fort remains manned at all times with a garrison to keep the peace throughout the Perth countryside. Lord Brandon blinked furiously, trying to push past the weariness that tugged at his eyelids. He patted his horse which had been riding now for two days straight since leaving Tremaine. Beside him, the Captain of the guard rode up and nodded skyward.

"A red dawn rises. Some would say that means ill fortune has been cast this night."

"Some would say," Brandon mocked. "But then again some would say we could never ride from Tremaine to Innean in only two days." He glanced back. More than twenty soldiers rode with him, their horses equally as exhausted. As the sun rose, Brandon knew there still was no time to waste, but he also knew the enemy rode ahead of them. "I'm sorry Captain, but we cannot afford any time to rest, not even now. We ride on."

His legs strained and he could feel the skin chaffing, but Brandon ignore his pain as he knew the other soldiers were. Together they kept formation as they rode the last mile to the bridge and crossed into Innean just as the light filled the air and morning truly broke upon the valley. They dismounted and left their horses where they stood, sending only one soldier to the stables to fetch a stable boy to care for them. The rest maintained formation as they marched down the steep steps to the town below.

It did not take time to reach the sheep herder's home. Brandon paused before the door, frowning as he looked at it. The streets were bare and silent. He could see a bakery nearby, but the chimney stood cold and still. He glanced at the door. It was closed and all looked normal, all except the doormat. It was squint, a minor imperfection in an otherwise perfect scene. He kicked it aside and crimson smeared the stone beneath it.

"It's fresh," the captain observed. Brandon nodded, a sick feeling filling his gut.

"Set up a perimeter around the building. Captain, you remain out here. You three with me." The captain nodded and stepped back as three soldiers followed Brandon to the door. It creaked open. The room was dark, the shuttered closed. He squinted in the darkness, then moved to a window and pulled it open. Light flooded into the room in a single beam to illuminate a scuffed floor. A chest had been broken, the shattered remains hastily drawn back. A chair stood in the corner, broken. On the surface it appeared to have been abandoned, but Brandon kicked the bed and it scraped across the stone floor, the blanket shifting the reveal the stained sheets.

"We're too late." He breathed.

"My Lord! Quickly!" the captain called. Brandon ran to the door but froze, unable to move.

Behind the door stood a figure, wide and draped in ruined clothe. It's head lay limp to one side, but it's eyes were fixed on Brandon. They were dull, lifeless eyes, not inquisitive or intelligent in any sense of the word, but staring blindly as if not understanding what they were seeing. Brandon recognised the features immediately, it was as if he were still alive after all these years.

"Lord Marrec," he breathed.

"My Lord!" The Captain's call was more urgent now. Marrec's corpse shifted, distracted by the sudden sound. Brandon struck at once, his blade splitting the form's chest. It let out a painful shriek and fell upon his blade. He drew the sword back, then slices at it's neck. It took two more blows to fell the beast, but at last Marrec's ruined form lay still on the ground. Brandon and his three guards ran outside to find the captain and his guards surrounded by the zombie forms of more than thirty figures. Brandon ran to the captain's side.

"We're surrounded!" He cried.

"There are too many of them!" Called a soldier.

"Nonesense!" Brandon called. "I just killed one in there. They can bleed; we can kill them!"

"Charming aren't they?" The voice took them off guard. Brandon spun around, his sword at the ready. The figure knelt on the roof of the sheep herder's house. It was short, but slim and carried a blade that looked delicate enough to slip between ribs while still sustaining a blow from a broad sword. "Consider them a gift, from our King to you."

"What did you do to them?" Brandon asked. "That was Duke Marrec in there! How is that possible?"

"We liberated them from their human faults." The man smiled. "Pyrencian blood can work wonders in the right hands. Did you know Snow Elves are also susceptible," he nodded past them. Brandon turned to see some of the staggering zombies carrying snow elf blades, one he recognised as Lady Geldrid, Lord Hamariah's daughter. "I hope you find comfort in knowing just how little chance you really stood. Lady Geldrid was a formidable opponent. I even thanked her for the challenge, but after she had killed the last Felandrison there really was very little left to say. She screamed though, I swear it's a miracle you never heard her."

"You bastard," Brandon called. "You Pyrencian bastard!"

"Now I'm afraid I can't allow such abusive language." The man smiled, "I think I'm going to need to teach you a lesson...perhaps our Fallen can teach you a thing or two before they pull you to pieces." He stood then, straightening to his full height. "I'm terribly sorry, but I'm afraid I'm needed elsewhere. I hope you will take comfort in knowing the Felandrison's head is currently on it's way to Tremaine. Thank you again for leaving it undefended, it will make it all the easier for our King to take it, and when the people see the head of the last Felandrison what choice will they have but to submit?" He turned to walk away but just at that moment a distant horn sounded. they all froze, even the Fallen whose blank, expressionless faces turned up to the sky. The horn sounded again and then a face appeared over the cliff above them.

"Vellor! It's the King! He's brought the Perthian army!" Brandon's heart leapt. He could hardly believe the raven had reached Dunn in time.

"Your King may take Tremaine," He called then, "He may have the head of the last Felandrison, but King Scrios will never let him take his people, and he will never allow this spawn to reign terror on his lands!" The man on the roof, Vellor, turned back to his, his sword tracing circles in the air.

"Perhaps, but you will never live to see it." he turned then, nodded to teh man above him, and then rushed for the cliff face, scaling it with ease. The man above him emptied a sack over the cliff and foul blood reigned down on then. several chunks of flesh struck the ground around them and the Fallen instantly turned to them as one, their faces igniting with fury. Some of them let out a shriek and other followed, then they rushed at them.

"Captain! I must reach the King, he must survive this!" Brandon called.

"Agreed!" The Captain called. Just then the Fallen hit the line of soldiers and blood sprayed across the crowded street. "You two, with me!" He called, grabbing the tunics of two men. "The rest of you, hold the line! For your King and for Perth!"

"For our King and for Perth!" came a chant, but it was swallowed almost at once by one soldier as a Fallen bit into his throat, ripping the blood from his flesh. Brandon turned and together the four men ran into the house, the two soldiers manned the door, pulling furniture across the floor.

"We'll get as many of them out of there, then board the doorway." One man called. "Go, both of you!" The Captain nodded to them, then took Brandon's arm and pulled him through the house. They left the back door and slammed it shut, then looked up at the cliffs above them. The Captain searched for a way up and Brandon ran around the edge of see the bridge. He could see a line of horsemen riding across the stone, the glinting armour of King Scrios at their head. He could not see what they ran at but he had seen enough to know they needed to get to the top of the cliff now.

"My Lord!" The captain called and Brandon turned back to him. "This way!" Together they climbed the cliff face and managed to climb onto the roof. They looked down to the front of the house to see two soldiers still standing, fending off the Fallen as the last three soldiers ran into the house.

"Connor! Jacob!" The Captain called, but as he called their names both men collapsed beneath Fallen as they pushed over them and devoured them where they fell.

"Captain!" Brandon called. "Focus! We need to climb!" The Captain looked back to him and nodded. They examined the cliff. Where the Pyrencian had climbed it was a sheer vertical climb, impossible for any human to manage. The Captain pointed to a ledge that cut across the rock face and met with the staircase that rose beside them.

"Let's make our way over there!"

"It'll take too long," Brandon objected.

"Do you want to break your neck?" The Captain asked. "we'll live to reach the top, it's as good as we can make it, let's go!" Together they gripped the stone and pulled themselves toward the stairs. The Captain reached it first, jumped over the banister and helped Brandon cross it. as Brandon found his feet they looked down the stairs and dread filled them. A wave of Fallen were rushing up to meet them.

"Go!" The Captain yelled, pushed Brandon toward the stairs. "I'll hold them off!" Brandon glanced at him, then turned and climbed the steps. He could hear the steal striking flesh but drowned it out with the blood pumping through his ears. He reached the top of the cliff and his breathe caught.

King Scrios' cavalry had been decimated by a crowd of children, turned into Fallen and layered in steel. They ran at the horses and cut out their legs from under them. King Scrios still stood at the head of his column, beating back the last of the monstrous, twisted forms of children. Brandon ran to him, cutting down two Fallen on his way.

"My King!" he called as he approached. "My Liege, you must get out of here! It's too dangerous!" Scrios glanced at him.

"Carnoustie! Behind you!" Brandon turned and ducked to avoid the narrow thin blade as it's sliced over him. The Pyrencian Vellor sneered at him, then brought his sword back to him. Brandon blocked it, then parried, but Vellor moved too quickly and kicked his leg, throwing him to his knees. As he raised his sword to kill him, Scrios' blade caught it in mid air and pushed him back. Two more soldiers ran at the Pyrencian as Scrios gripped Brandon's arm and pulled him to his feet.

"Ferris is dead," Brandon breathed. "Tremaine is in danger. You must leave here. This is a distraction!"

"We will handle the south," Scrios called, "But first, let's get out of this one alive." He smiled as he pushed past Brandon and struck down a Pyrencian who had ran from the stables to defend Vellor. Brandon made to follow but two Fallen laid upon him. He struggled with both, before killing one and then smashed the second in the face before hacking at it's throat. As she pulled himself free he could see Scrios fell the Pyrencian, then turn to Vellor who slashed at the last soldier's gut, blood spraying across his face.

The two faced off together and Scrios made for an overhead blow, Vellor met the blow and pushed it to one side, side stepping toward Brandon. Brandon made for a side attack but Vellor met his blow as well, dancing around it before meeting Scrios' parry. Together they pushed Vellor back, away from the main fighting and toward the stables. Vellor made a twirl with his blade that caught Brandon off guard and his sword flew from his grip. Scrios parried the attack, defending Brandon before Vellor brushed his sword aside easily, then sunk his blade into the King's chest.

"No!" Brandon called, tackling Vellor and pushing him from the King's side. Vellor fell back and together they crashed into the dirt. Brandon let out a fierce cry before a sharp pain pierced his side. Vellor pulled the dagger free of his side and the slipped the blade across his throat. Brandon saw his own blood spray across Vellor's face, before he fell forward and his face struck the dirt.

"Carnoustie!" King Scrios tried to call, but Vellor was already on his feet. Scrios tried to beat away the dagger, but the Pyrencian slipped past the King's feeble defences and sliced his throat in equal measure. The King fell in the dust and Vellor surveyed the scene before him. The last of the Perthians were routing and the Fallen were giving chase. Vellor smiled as knelt and removed Scrios' helm, then he turned, sheathing his knife, and retrieved his sword. He made for his horse in the stables and set off south to meet greet his King with the news of Scrios' defeat.

***

Smoke filled the air as flames engulfed the crowded streets of Tremaine. Women and children screamed as Oestron Mercenaries pulled them from their homes and forced them onto crowded carts, where they were taken from the city. Ainmire entered on horseback, his bow slung over his back, and by his side his trusted friend and ally Vellor. Together they rode through the streets of Tremaine and into the Upper city. Here Ainmire's soldiers were still hammering at the walls of the fort where a handful of soldiers fought against them, protecting a few dozen civilians they had managed to pull out of the city in time before closing the gate. As they approached, Vellor called for the Oestron soldiers to pull back. Silence fell as Ainmire entered the square.

"Soldiers of Tremaine!" He called. "I offered you your lives when we first entered this city and you refused. So we broke down your doors and took your city anyway. You cannot win; look around at the devastation this conflict has caused already. I do not wish for your deaths, only your obedience." He nodded to Vellor, who reached into one of his saddle bags and drew from it a severed head.

"See here the last Felandrison." Vellor threw it to the ground at the foot of the wall. "Your last Duke. He has failed to protect you. He has failed to save any of you. Bow to me and proclaim me your king and I promise freedom for all of you and your families." He smiled graciously at the soldiers, but they only stared back in determined silence.

"Our families will never be free," one soldier said at last, "Not so long as you breath! You're a monster! A cripple! We should have drowned your father in the loche when we had the chance!" Ainmire's bow was already in hand. Arrow knocked he took aim and without hesitation loosed the arrow. The soldier fell from the wall without another sound. war cried rang out again and Ainmire turned, his presence betraying no haste or frustration, and rode away from the conflict as the Oestron soldiers charged again at the wall.

"The gate will not hold for long." Vellor assured him.

"I know it won't. Come, I wish to survey the city." They dismounted and Ainmire drew on a walking stick from he straps of his saddle, hobbling on two crooked legs toward the tower at the gatehouse for the upper level. They climbed to the wall and looked out over the lower city. The screams were dying away now as the last of the surviving Perthians were carted out of the city. Ainmire leaned heavily on the stone parapet.

"So this is Tremaine. All my life I've dreamed of seeing it with my own eyes...It hardly seemed worth the bother to be honest."

"It is the home of your father," Vellor pressed, "And your rightful home. Once it has fallen, we shall march to Dunn and then none shall dispute your crown."

"Ah yes, my crown," He smiled. "I cannot wait to melt down that old fool's helm."

"As soon as the city if secured I shall have it done.

***

The city stood silent, the fires had burned themselves out and the few remaining soldiers were repairing the defences. The only movement in the entire city was the hammering of an anvil. Ainmire stood at the entrance to the smithy, waiting impatiently as the smell of burnt flesh clogged the air. Finally the smith emerged, shaking, and handed the crown to him. Ainmire took it and stared at it for a long moment.

The gold and iron from King Scrios IV's helm, which Vellor had brought back from Innean, had been melted down. Vellor had also brought a vial of the King's blood, which Ainmire regarded as the source of the King's power. After all it was well known that the King's right to rule was divine, and what was more divine than a King's blood? The blood had been contained within a vial specially crafted into the shape of a jewel and fitted into the head of the crown. The metal itself had been poured into a mould which was fitted to the head of Ferris Felandrison. The heat had scorched away the flesh and the metal had moulded itself to the bone. The crown rose from a bed of white bone, the brow of the last Duke still visible just above where the smith had broken it to form a cap. Ainmire placed it upon his head and he could still feel the warmth of the anvil.

"Now, I surpass my father. Now I am truly King."

_________________
Ainmire Sera-Blodh of House Flenadrison, second of his name, King in the South, Ruler of Carrickshire, and slayer of false Kings.
"The Crippled King"
"Flanders"


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