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Thread: Concerto di Ali: The Battle of Solocima

  1. #1

    Default Concerto di Ali: The Battle of Solocima

    (It's an all-new Concerto, so I figured an all-new thread was in order. You can view the original thread with older versions of the story here: http://apforums.net/showthread.php?t=31360)

    Concerto di Ali chronicles the epic story of the War Between Wings, a battle between opposing countries fueled by an underlying sinister plot. The Battle of Solocima, the first tale in the series, throws the reader straight into the action as a series of events unfold that change the course of the war, directly impacting the lives of those involved.

    Chapter List
    Prologue (Updated June 4, 2014)
    First Verse: The Lustful Prince (Update Coming June 2014)
    Second Verse: The Grieving Daughter (Update Coming June 2014)
    Third Verse: The Lecherous Traveler (Update Coming June 2014
    Fourth Verse: The Chivalrous Sentinel (Update Coming July 2014)
    Fifth Verse: The Orphan Fugitive (Update Coming July 2014)
    Sixth Verse: The People's Heir (Update Coming July 2014)
    Seventh Verse: The Blacksmith's Son (Coming July 2014)
    Eighth Verse: The Spurned Sword (Coming July 2014)
    Ninth Verse: The Mercenary Captain (Coming August 2014)

    Last edited by Kitsune Inferno; June 4th, 2014 at 08:38 AM.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Concero di Ali: The Battle of Solocima

    Looking forward to it.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Concero di Ali: The Battle of Solocima

    Prologue



    Spoiler:
    A small candle flickered on a large table in the middle of the room. The outside air made the candle's flame shiver about, as the cloaked person opened the large, wooden door. The flame danced more and more violently as the figure stood in the doorway, looking intently at the candle's performance before slamming the door closed. The candle slowed to a near stop, its flame swaying much more slowly and gracefully than before. A small smile formed as amusement crept upwards from within, compliments of the clever little puppet show that no doubt preambled the events that would take root in this room.

    The room itself didn't look much prepared for predestination. The candle in the middle of the room was enough to map out its general lay, but only the instantaneous and erratic flashes of lightning gave the figure a clear sense of what kind of room it was. There was a stove on the other side of the table and a large counter in front of it. To the left of the table was a doorway to the rest of the building. To the right was a set of shelves filled with Arcanzian spices. To the left of the shelves in the far corner were foodstuffs. During the lightning flashes, winemelons could be made out in the pantry, but not much else.

    The floor creaked over the sound of rain clashing against the roof as the hooded individual took steps toward the table. There were two wicker chairs on opposite ends, and it seemed proper to take seat in the one closest to the outside door. The chair creaked underneath as it supported the weight of the figure's body, which lifted both legs onto the table's oaken surface. Rain-soaked and muddied boots soiled the table beneath them as the weight of the body pushed back against the chair as far as it would allow. A brief moment of conscience flickered within, but the concern that someone would have a mess to clean up in the morning vanished almost as quickly as it came.

    Slouching in the chair, the figure's eyes closed as the muffled sound of rain and thunder slowly began to take form as a natural lullaby. Anticipation dissolved into disinterest as the howl of the wind created became hypnotic and uncharacteristically soothing. The crisp sound of the rain became rhythmic and the thunder's growl was enough to break monotony. Between that and the still visible swaying of the flame behind closed eyelids, one could have very nearly slipped into slumber, were it not for the creak of the door.

    As the door opened, the sounds of the wind, the rain, and the thunder poured in like water into a chalice. The flame's still seen dance became frenzied. The figure's eyelids flipped open as the door shut gently away from gaze, lowering the sounds of nature to their previous volume. A second hooded figure circled the table and entered the first's field of view.

    “I apologize for my tardiness,” the second figure said, though their voice lacked any hint of condolence. “These storms grow more violent by the day. A cruel joke, considering this increasingly turbulent world, wouldn't you think?”

    The first figure kept quiet, guarded against the second's false nonchalance. Without words, the first projected a sense of impatience. The night was growing darker, and there was little like of thunder to go around.

    “Sorry once more for keeping you waiting,” the second laughed before joining the first at the opposite end of the table. “You're a trustworthy one. You've served our cause admirably. That's why I trust you fully with this task.”

    “I live to serve you,” the first figure said. “But you and I know that loyalty is not enough to keep me living.”

    The second figure pulled a small satchel from a jet-black cloak, then placed it on the table. Its contents chinked together almost melodically as they shifted about within the satchel.

    “And live you shall,” the second figure replied. “Quite handsomely, I assure you.”

    The first's legs fell back to the ground as the figure reached across the table for the satchel. With a firm grasp of the satchel's neck and a slow lift, the figure carefully examined the satchel's weight before snatching it away from the second figure.

    “Handsomely, indeed.”

    “Now that the matter of compensation is resolved, let's discuss the nature of your task,” the second figure, the client, leaned in closer. The light revealed a measured grin across the client's face. “Assassination.”

    The weight of the satchel more than informed that assassination would be on the table. The first figure smiled inwardly. Assassination had been a natural born talent to the figure. It was kind of foregone that killing someone would be the nature of the assignment.

    “I'll try and be brief,” the client began. “You are aware of our cause, yes?”

    “By heart,” the assassin replied proudly.

    “You know where we stand when it comes to the War Between Wings, then?”

    “Naturally.”

    “Well, you see, its conclusion is already a formality. I've spoken with every prophet I could find worth their salt, and their whispers are unchanging and constant.”

    “I take it you're not especially fond of what they had to say,” the assassin pulled the wicker chair closer to the table, and rested oak arms upon its recently soiled surface.

    “Their whispers are of a future that does not benefit our cause,” the client continued.

    “Let me guess: there's going to be a chosen one, some arbiter of destiny, and you want me to kill them before they're even born?” The assassin was half-joking.

    “Try chosen six,” the client replied, dead serious.

    “Lots of infanticide on the horizon, then.”

    “It's going to be a little more complicated than that. This isn't some distant future. This is a future in motion right now.” The client's tone begged the assassin to take the situation just a smidge more seriously. “The prophets speak of a Circle of Six. These are people in positions of power, or rising towards them as we speak. Some Arcanzian, some Vitrasmen. And others still. Both sides of the war will play a part in fulfilling this prophecy.”

    “I see,” the assassin sighed. “So at least I'm not killing babes. My nightmares would have been a tinge darker if that were the case.”

    “The names of the suspected Circle of Six are written on this parchment,” the client pulled a piece of paper from their cloak. “We can't say for sure that these are them conclusively, but they fit the bill as best as anyone.”

    The assassin unfolded the parchment and read the names on it. “You weren't kidding about their power. There's Blackdrake on this list.”

    “You understand the graveness of the situation, then?” the client's tone grew darker.

    “And if we're wrong?”

    “We need not worry about that,” the client smiled. “We're dealing with high-ranking people on all sides here. Taking their lives would only further our own ends, especially if we can pin the murders on the opposing side.”

    “What makes you think you can change the future in the first place?” the assassin's tone shifted from playful and detached to serious concern for the first time.

    “We've done it many times before,” the client replied smugly. “This will be no different.”

    “Well, it's certainly got you spooked,” the assassin's tone returned. “How many prophets did you have to check with to be certain of this?”

    “More than that satchel of yours can afford.”

    “You're a very dangerous man, you know.”

    “I have appearances to keep up,” the client chuckled warmly. “You're no garden snake yourself.”

    “Then we both understand the power of reputation?”

    “Aye,” the client smiled as the assassin pulled a bottle of wine from an emerald cloak.

    The assassin pulled out a pair of wineglasses as well from the cloak then passed one across the table to the client. “Care for a drink?”

    “I thought you'd never ask,” the client grinned before reaching forward for the glass handed to him.

    “Illumadian grapes, about fifteen or sixteen years old,” the assassin explained as red liquor spilled into the client's glass, then the assassin's own. “I purchased it last time I was in the Valley.”

    “I see,” the client nodded before putting the cup to his lips.

    “I am a purveyor of wine, you know,” the assassin smiled. “It's perhaps my deepest vice.”

    “Shall we toast?” the client asked, raising his glass. “To good luck.”

    “I don't need luck,” the assassin replied in annoyance.

    “To riveting success, then.”

    “And good health,” the assassin smiled, then took a drink, watching intently as the client followed suit.

    “So do you have a plan?” the client asked as he set the glass to the table.

    “Plan?”

    “You've been given a tall order,” the client replied. “I'm curious if you've fully considered what it is you've gotten into, and how you plan to handle each of these assassinations.”

    “I have a process,” the assassin boasted after a drink.

    “A process?”

    “Yeah,” the assassin's own glass clanked against the oak table. “I don't allow myself to even think about the assignment. Not until my target is dead do I even give a thought to how I intend to kill them.”

    “How does that work?”

    “It's all discipline,” the assassin pointed upwards, then at the forehead. “All up here. It's unconscious. It allows me to blend in perfectly without arousing suspicion. It allows me to fully immerse myself within the mark's world.”

    “Interesting,” the client said thoughtfully.

    “You could say, I'd be the seventh arc in a... Circle of Seven,” the assassin grinned before finishing the wine. “Care for more?”

    “You truly are a scary one,” the client laughed. “I would never deign to make you my enemy.”

    “What makes you certain I'm not?” the assassin grinned darkly. “For a criminal mastermind such as yourself, you've been far, far too trusting this evening. How's the wine?”

    “It's-”

    The client's eyes locked with the assassins, who smirked sadistically as the client's flickered, and not only from the candlelight. A brief moment of tension filled the room, the flame trembling under the weight of it. After a moment, the client put his glass down quickly as what color the dim light had revealed retreated from his face.

    “You...”

    “Careful now, you wouldn't want the poison to work too quickly.”

    “How did you-”

    The assassin rose from the table as the client began coughing violently.

    “Do you need another drink?” the assassin laughed. “A glass of water, perhaps?”

    “Who are-”

    “Don't struggle,” the assassin hushed him sweetly. “Don't panic. It'll all be over soon.”

    This caused the client to thrash around violently. He fell from his chair to the floor, grasping at his throat. The assassin circled the table in earnest, inching towards the client's pathetic and hunched over mass.

    “You... who do you work for?” he strained to say as the assassin looked down on him.

    The assassin squatted to the floor, face inches from the client's. “You,” the assassin whispered with sadistic playfulness.

    The client stopped flailing. He nearly froze, if not for the heavy breathing.

    “Wait... I don't... There's no pain...,” the client heaved.

    “There's no poison,” the assassin rose to a standing position and turned for the door. “You should have seen your face. It was quite the performance, I must say.”

    “What a cruel jest,” the client climbed his way back into his chair. “You're no garden snake. You're a bloody fucking viper.”

    “Come now, don't be so cruel to me, it was merely a joke,” the assassin opened the door, exposing the room to the elements. The candle danced and shivered once more before its flame darkened to smoke and blackness. “If I was going to kill you, you'd be long dead before you even realized it. You'd be snuffed out as quickly as that candle.”

    The client gulped. The outdoor moonlight revealed beads of sweat dripping down his face.

    “Never you mind,” the assassin assured him. “The deed will be done. I'll see you in a few months. We'll meet at the theatre next time. Stuffy old kitchens only tease the belly.”

    The assassin shut the door as the scent of the outdoors filled the air. It seemed to wash away any misgivings the figure had about the assignment. There was a job to do, and a Circle of Six that needed to disappear. To do that, the assassin would need to disappear, to commit fully to blending in. It was time for the assassin's performance in the concert, and the audience was thirsty for blood.
    Last edited by Kitsune Inferno; June 4th, 2014 at 08:32 AM.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Concero di Ali: The Battle of Solocima

    Testing testing one two.
    Favor in progress. Please hold while the world ends

  5. #5

    Default Re: Concero di Ali: The Battle of Solocima

    First Verse: The Lustful Prince
    The Emperor of Wyverns
    Calls upon his warrior son
    To marry into money
    And fly their banners high


    – Lorya Fox, Concerto di Ali, “The Battle of Solocima”.

    This chapter contains suggestive content. Read at your own risk.
    Spoiler:
    His father's palace was as eloquent as he remembered it. The way the old man told the story, the Wyvern's Alcazar had been crafted thousands of years prior by alchemists and magi to shelter the emperors of ages past from the wrath of fearsome wyverns. According to the ecclesiasts, the wyverns, tall as mountains and black as the night, could reduce everything in their wake to blood and ash. But the stones of the Alcazar were said to be enchanted, warding the refugees within from the white-hot flames that threatened to consume them.

    Today, the Alcazar stood as black as the wyverns that supposedly existed long before. His father boasted that the clay-brown stones used to erect the palace had been charred black by the unrelenting beasts' flames. Despite their persistent siege, the Alcazar never fell, thanks to the magics that protected it.

    Dimitri Blackdrake scoffed as he tilted his helmed head skyward, examining the colossal structure he once called home. It was as pitch black as the stories said, and as tall as they boasted. Eight towers surrounded the dome-shamed castle, each one a spire piercing through the low-lying early morning clouds. Each tower wore a great wyvern statue like a midnight-colored cape. Each wyvern was different. One wrapped around its tower as it climbed down the cylindrical walls. Another hung upright from the tower, reaching outward with its right leg and roaring. The rearmost tower's wyvern spread its enormous wings horizontally, shielding the Alcazar's rear. The front gates of the palace adorned two wyverns of their own, only these were smaller and engraved into the gates, symmetrical to each other.

    “My Prince, you look homesick,” a rough voice japed jovially as the wyvern-shaped gates spread apart and drew open. Cortez Mercado's crimson armor shimmered and dazzled in the morning sunlight as he made his approach. The man was tall and weathered, though only seven years Dimitri's sire. He kept his sandy brown hair cut short and his beard cropped close. His dull and muddy brown eyes contrasted notably from his shimmering blood-red armor. The man's face was a mask of kindness and warmth, but beyond his eyes, Dimitri had always sensed something cold and serious. The Prince oft wondered what secrets Mercado kept, but he knew better than to ask. He was a loyal and true man, an exemplary knight worthy of his post. Dimitri was always certain she was in good hands.

    “Mercado,” the Prince said warmly. “I had not expected to see you here.”

    “The Emperor's orders,” Cortez explained. “He sent me to fetch you.”

    “And my dear sister? How fares she?”

    “She fares as fair as she always has been, my Prince,” the man beamed proudly. “She is at bath with the handmaids. You know the ones. Tania and the big-bosomed one.”

    “Doreen,” Dimitri laughed. He remembered the women from his last stay in the Alcazar. Tania was a quiet and shy woman, barely of twenty years, while Doreen was well-endowed and full of life, of an age with the Prince. He remembered her most fondly, and silently hoped that she had kept their nights together a secret. He quickly switched the subject back to his sister. “May I go see her?”

    “After you attend to His Grace,” the crimson knight responded. Dimitri noticed the thin long blade that hung from his hip in a burgundy sheathe. Platasangre, Dimitri realized. Dimitri remembered the stories he had heard of the blood-stained blade that Sir Hernand Mercado wielded to slay Cristane Claymore a hundred years before. “Let us go, my Prince. The Emperor ill-receives tardiness.”

    “Right away,” Dimitri nodded as he followed the crimson knight into the gates. The courtyard within was verdant and peaceful, filled with shrubs and tiny streams of water. The greenery was a welcome sight after the prince's trek through the desert. In the center of the courtyard rose the entrance to the Wyvern's Alcazar proper. Fittingly, a stone wyvern's head rose from the ground beneath it, its mouth gaping open, exposing a row of black stone teeth. This served as the Alcazar's entrance, which Cortez and Dimitri strolled through, entering the long hallways of the Alcazar's interior.

    The interior was made of towering, gold-colored walls. The palace's high ceilings were supported by large pillars, each adorning the Blackdrake banners. The morning sunlight shone brightly threw the eastern windows, which were drawn open by the servants. Outside one of the windows, Dimitri spied a pair of maids washing royal garments in a large wooden basin. Neither was Doreen.

    The walls of the hall were lined with braziers and large eccentric paintings. Dimitri took note of a few of the paintings, which he used to admire as a child. Thanks to the ecclesiasts' teachings and his personal travels, Dimitri understood what they portrayed. One was a brilliant sprawling portrait of the Valleverde, a narrow valley in the southern reaches of the realm. Another painting showed off the red and rocky badlands to the southwest, near Rotierra. Some of the paintings even featured the world beyond Arcanzia. Dimitri recognized the towering crags of the Solocima Massif, the fertile and verdant forests of Illumadia, and even the towering snowcapped fells of Vitrasbaen.

    “So, how fare things in Adrigo?” Cortez asked as they approached the first staircase.

    The prince had hoped not to talk about it until he stood before his father. “Not well, I fear,” he sighed. “The Valleverde is still fertile, yes, but that's not likely to last long.”

    “What do you mean?” the knight asked gravely as they reached the top of the stairs.

    “Vitrasmen raze the fields by night and the common folk refuse to tend them by day. There are riots in the streets of Adrigo every week now, and many ecclesiasts have forsaken the Wyverns and now pray to and teach of the Goddess and the Holy Maiden.”

    “So even the gods themselves have a hand in this war?” Mercado sighed.

    “I hadn't pegged you a godly man,” Dimitri laughed playfully.

    “If I take His Grace's word of it, you haven't pegged much of anything, if you get my saying,” Mercado face grew red with laughter as Dimitri's own turned pale white. Nobody could know about Doreen. How much does Cortez know? “Come on, my Prince, when are you finally going to settle down and take that Blancarosa sweetling for a bride?”

    “Blancarosa?” Dimitri frowned. Surely Cortez wasn't referring to Lord Blancarosa's daughter. Paloma, was it? “What are you talking about?”

    “You mean you don't know?” Mercado gave Dimitri a long look. “His Grace treated with old man Caballos a few months back. Stella was going on about how Blancarosa's daughter was going to be her new sister.”

    That bloody old fool. “If I have to guess, the old man has married me off to get his dirty hands on the Blancarosa fortune. Is that the way of it?”

    Cortez did not answer.

    “A crown for some coin,” Dimitri thought aloud to himself with a mocking laugh. “I guess it's not a bad deal.”

    “She's a pretty lass, that Paloma,” Mercado pointed out as they ascended up the second flight of stairs. “Her hair's supposedly as gold as the sun and her teats the size of winemelons. Perfect fit for my Prince, I'd say.”

    But she's no Doreen. “Yeah. I suppose so.”

    The meaning of his father's summons was becoming apparent to Dimitri. That old fool. He called me from the frontlines for a wedding?

    Dimitri was still furious when Mercado left him and the prince entered the throne room. It was as spacious and empty as he remembered it to be. The dome-shaped ceiling rose forty or fifty feet into the air, supported by a dozen or so tall stone pillars. The only furniture in the room was the throne itself, black as the legendary wyverns. On its back was another wyvern statue, its wings outstretched around the throne.

    The Imperial Paragon of the State of Arcanzia, Lord of Wyvernkin, and Son and Voice of the Gods, as Dimitri's father so sybaritically styled himself, sat upon the Wyvern's Throne. Behind the styles, his name was Sabreus Blackdrake, an intimidating and humorless man of fifty-six years. His once raven black hair which he used to share with Dimitri had become salt and pepper. His eyes had lost their violet glow, fading to a dark and deep purple. His untrimmed beard fell to just below his fat gut, which his black tunic struggled desperately to contain. At least have the decency to dress up when you treat me, you fat fool.

    “My son,” Sabreus bellowed, his voice deep and fearsome. Those not shaken by the emperor's massive size would soon fall to their knees under the weight of his words. “It has been too long.”

    “It has,” Dimitri said coolly.

    “I trust you've been well?” his father asked mockingly. “Swatting Vitrasflies in the verdant lands is warrior's work, is it not?”

    “It was of my understanding that you sent for me to address pressing matters,” Dimitri snapped back. “Not to shower me with petty jibes.”

    “Loosen up, boy,” the emperor rumbled. “Must everything an emperor says be taken so seriously?”

    “You are the Imperial Paragon. It comes with the title.” As if a man like you could ever be taken seriously.

    “That is so,” his father admitted in words, but not in tone. “I bring you good tidings, my son. Lord Blancarosa has agreed to betroth his sweet Paloma to you. On the morrow, our houses shall be joined and the flames of Arcanzia will glow ever stronger.”

    I knew it. “I presume my consent was unnecessary?”

    “The wyverns have willed it so.” No, you have. His father was said to be a pious man, who spoke with the wyverns' voice, but Dimitri knew him for the hedonistic man he was. Sabreus Blackdrake spoke with Sabreus Blackdrake's voice. Dimitri almost wished he could be there when his father treats with the wyverns in Hell, to answer for his false piety. “The smallfolk sing of the wedding, my men say. You are well-loved by our subjects, my son. Perhaps even half as much as I.”

    You? Loved? Dimitri could hardly force back the laugh. Dimitri knew that the smallfolk hated Sabreus and his reign. Their love for Dimitri was fueled by the hope that he wouldn't be as pathetic a ruler as his self-indulgent and conceited father.

    “Even your sister looks forward to the betrothal, my son,” he continued. “She so sweetly begged Lady Blancarosa to tailor her a radiant dress of violet for her brother's wedding.”

    “And my brother?” Dimitri knew he would pinch a nerve, but he could not help himself. “What does he think of my betrothal?”

    Sabreus Blackdrake's face turned red and his eyes began to flicker. But his words remained calm. “A bastard will think what a bastard will think. That thing is none of your concern, boy, and you will do well to never speak of it again, is that clear?”

    “As you command,” Dimitri replied blankly. Internally, he was smiling. “Do I have your leave to go, Father? Stella has been dying to meet with me, if Cortez has the way of it, and I'm not too willing to keep her waiting.”

    “As you wish,” his father sighed as he rubbed his temples. “Be gone. I shall see you on the morrow. Do not disappoint me, my son. This wedding is important not only to you, but to all of Arcanzia.”

    Important to you, you mean. “I know, father.” Without another word, Dimitri left the throne room behind him and returned to the hall. Cortez was nowhere to be found. He assumed he was back with his sister. Stella, my dear sister. I have returned. Dimitri turned to the left, toward the east wing. His sister's solar was in the easternmost tower, just below his own.

    Dimitri was furious that his father summoned him all the way from Adrigo just so he could marry him off to the Blancarosa fortune. Why it could not wait until after the war, Dimitri did not know. What angered the prince the most however, was the fact that his father had not asked for his consent. Dimitri understood how arranged marriages worked and knew that the wedding would serve his family and the realm itself well. Even so, it still bothered him that he had no say in the matter. And Doreen... What will she say? Dimitri lost himself in thought until a voice beckoned him halfway to his sister's quarters.

    “My Prince, how long has it been?” Chancellor Rodrigo asked dutifully as he approached. The old man was in his sixties, and served the realm well in his thirty years of service, handling legal and financial affairs for the Wyvern's Ecclesia.

    “Too long, Lord Chancellor,” Dimitri beamed with feigned interest. “I trust you've been well?”

    “Indeed,” Rodrigo replied. “The wedding will be most beneficial to the realm, my Prince. We are doing all we can to make sure the ecclesia is ready for you.”

    The wedding again? “Your efforts shan't go unrecognized, Lord Chancellor,” Dimitri responded, attempting to sound sincere. “You've done my family and the realm commendable service.”

    “Your words please me, my Prince,” he said humbly. “The word of the smallfolk is that you would make a fine emperor. I'm hard-pressed to disagree with them.”

    “See to it that they don't have to worry about that for decades. My father is still young and full of life. Do what you can to keep it that way.”

    “As you command, my Prince,” Rodrigo answered. “Now then, about the wedding, the ecclesiasts want your consent on whether or not we—”

    “I grow tired, Lord Chancellor,” Dimitri interrupted with a false smile concealing his annoyance. “Do as you will. I'm rather fond of surprises.”

    “As you say, my Prince,” the Lord Chancellor answered dutifully as Dimitri walked away. The prince heard the chancellor's footsteps taper off in the other direction. Even the ecclesiasts are making their mark on this wedding. How long has the realm known?

    Dimitri finally found his way to his sister's solar, about halfway up the easternmost tower. The standing guard let him through without question. It's been too long, dear sister.

    “Dimitri!” Stella shouted vigorously as she rushed to her brother's arms, her face melting into his chest. He hadn't even come through the door yet.

    “How I've missed you, dear sister,” Dimitri said lovingly as he placed an armored left hand on her head, running his steel fingers through her raven black locks. When she stepped back, he saw her clearly, just as he remembered her. She was of short stature, but her raven hair was long, nearly to her hips. Her eyes were a dazzling purple, much like his own, only hers were complemented by the long violaceous dress she wore, itself further accentuated with jet black frills. Despite her juvenile appearance, Stella was two years his senior, twenty-six years of age.

    Also in the room, unsurprisingly, was Cortez Mercado, keeping watch over the little princess. Such was his duty, though Dimitri oft wondered how humiliated the man was standing watch over a defenseless girl. Some said Cortez secretly longed to return to the battlefield, cutting down any foe that stood in his way. But Dimitri could never find that bloodthirsty man in Mercado's eyes. All he saw was duty. Duty and something else.

    Dimitri shied back inwardly when he spied the serving girls. Tania was quiet as a mouse, hiding behind a modest violet dress and long brown hair. She was a head shorter than Stella and a mouth quieter, but Dimitri had little interest in her.

    Doreen was just as beautiful as he remembered her. Her long blond hair glowed as gold as the sun and her pale blue eyes shimmered like water. She wore a servant's dress, much like Tania, though hers was a bit more revealing, showcasing her large breasts, which Tania hid behind frills.

    “Leave us,” Dimitri cleared his throat awkwardly as Cortez and the serving girls left the solar. Once they left, Dimitri led Stella over to her elegant canopied bed, itself sprawled with violet sheets. “You seem just as well as I remember you being.”

    “I have been,” Stella grinned. “Sir Cortez has been good to me, and Father does his best to keep me in good company.” Stella's grin faded and her eyes dulled. “Though I've missed you, dear brother.”

    “As have I,” he said with a warm and brotherly tone as he brushed a lock of black hair from his sister's eyes. Mother's eyes, he thought to himself. Not the color, but the shape, the sadness.

    “I've missed you so,” she began to cry as she clung to his arm. “I worry about you every night. As does Salem. He told me that—”

    “Salem?” Dimitri cut her off angrily. “You know that we aren't supposed to go into the dungeons. Father forbids it!”

    “But he's lonely, Dimitri,” she argued, her tone growing more forceful. “As was I.”

    “He's lonely because he's being punished, Stella.”

    “For what crimes?” she challenged.

    For being born, Dimitri nearly said. “He tried to kill you, don't you remember?”

    “We were kids,” she sighed. “That was twenty years ago. Hasn't he suffered enough?”

    Dimitri sighed as well. He could hardly find the words to reason with her. “That is for Father to decide,” he answered coldly. “And if Father has the way of it, he'll rot in there forever.”

    “It's still too cruel,” she said stubbornly.

    I know, he wanted to say. He was not as innocent as he made himself out to be. Dimitri recalled sneaking into the dungeons himself to see his brother on many occasions. He could still remember the anger in Salem's eyes. Or at least what remained of it for the broken man. Perhaps I'll pay him a visit tonight.

    “Look, Stella,” Dimitri changed the subject quickly, loosening a dagger from his hip. “I want to show you something.”

    “What is it?” she asked as her eyes sparkled, her anger forgotten and replaced with excitement and anticipation.

    “It's a dagger,” he explained. “I found it down in Adrigo. It's said to be an ancient dagger crafted centuries ago by the Vitrasmen to slay wyverns. See these jewels? They're real amethysts, straight from the mines of Vitrasbaen. When I first saw them, I thought of you.”

    She reached out her soft small hand and touched the blade gently. “It's gorgeous,” she whispered in awe. “Is it a keepsake? To remind you of me?”

    “No,” he shook his head as he lay the dagger in her hand. “It's a gift. For you.”

    “For me?” she asked, surprised. “But whatever for?”

    Dimitri rose to his feet and headed for the door. “My Princess, there are enemies to the crown in this city, perhaps some even in this castle. You would do well to stay protected, because there may come a time when Sir Mercado is unable to protect you. You'd also do well to carry it with you as protection the next time you sneak into the dungeons.”

    “But you said not to—”

    “You expect me to believe you'd heed me?” he laughed before clearing his throat. “Just remember that whatever happens, I love you, dear sister. After this wedding, I'm returning to the field. I may not come back alive, so if I don't, remember these words well. And stay strong.”

    “I will,” she promised with a childish grin. “You go make me a sister, and maybe even a niece or nephew. And I love you too, brother.”

    He nodded silently and left the solar and turned to the serving girls who waited outside along with Mercado. “If my father or sister require me, I'll be in my solar. Do send for me.”

    “As you command, my Prince,” Tania answered dutifully. Doreen remained awkwardly silent. Perhaps she's upset about the wedding? He took his leave of them and rose a floor higher in the tower to his unguarded chambers. My room.

    When he opened the door, a small bit of dust spilled out as the early afternoon sun lit the room ablaze with color. It had been too long since he last set foot in his room, but time seemed to have stood still in there. The books remained untouched and his wardrobe still well-kept. His bed had not even been slept in. It seemed only yesterday that he had rose from that bed and marched off to war.

    He removed his scaly black helmet, as well as all of his armor, also black and scaly. Its wyvern motif, of which he was particularly fond, earned him the title of Dimitri the Black Wyvern on the battlefield. Whatever made his enemies cower, he supposed. He went over to his wardrobe and pulled on a dull brown tunic and a pair of cream-colored trousers. He wanted something light to relax in.

    He moved to the bookcase and pulled down a book and lay down in his bed. The Pirates of the Dragon's Eye, the cover read. It was an old book, one of his favorites as a child. He vaguely remembered its plot. Something involving an adventurer and a hoard of treasure. Typical children's fiction. Yet soon, he found himself forty pages in, helplessly grasped by Alphonso's harrowing adventures. The hours melted away as the sun retreated below the horizon. When he turned the last page, the sun faded beneath the western horizon,turning the multi-colored sky a dark blue. As he finished, a light knock came upon the door. Tania and Doreen entered.

    “Ah,” Dimitri greeted them. “Just the ladies I require. Doreen, please fetch me some water for a bath. Tania, could you fetch some supper? I've longed for nearly a year to taste Greckan's lizard and blood carrot stew again.”

    “As you wish,” Tania answered flatly and took her leave, leaving the prince alone with his prize.

    “I've missed you,” Dimitri told Doreen as he rose to his feet and approached her. She took a step back. “Why so cold?”

    “You're a married man,” she sighed bitterly. “Might be that little horse of yours pleases you better.”

    “Come on, Doreen,” he whispered playfully to her, putting a firm hand on her shoulder. “I am not married until tomorrow. Tonight, I long only for you.”

    He planted a kiss on the warm nape of her neck and slid his hand beneath her dress, reaching for her right teat.

    “The bath,” she answered quickly as she broke away from him and left the room. Hard to get, is she? He grinned. She was back a few minutes later with warm water and filled the tub silently. The two of them stood silently for a moment.

    “Would you undress me?” he asked her sternly, but not unkindly.

    “As you command,” she answered sourly.

    She removed his tunic delicately, and his trousers soon after. Afterward, she helped the naked prince into the hot waters of his tub. The water's warmth soothed every ache in his body as Doreen began to scrub his back with the cloth in her hand.

    “That feels nice,” he whispered as she scrubbed his neck. “The water is lovely, dear Doreen. Would you like to join me?”

    “Not tonight,” she answered flatly.

    “Then when?” he asked her as he grabbed her wrist firmly yet gently. “Doreen, you know I didn't agree to this betrothal. You know that my heart yearns only for you.” That was the truth of it. Had his father not married him off, Dimitri would love Doreen forever. But now he would belong to Paloma Blancarosa and it would not do for a married man, a married prince no less, to bed with a lowly servant. The thought of losing Doreen pained him.

    “Does it now?” she asked, her tone hinting at playfulness. There we go, he cheered inwardly. “Aren't you confusing your heart for your cock?”

    “My cock speaks with the voice of my heart,” he laughed as he helped her out of her clothes and into the warm water. Tomorrow, Dimitri would belong to another. But tonight, he would give himself to Doreen.

    “What if Tania comes and sees us?” Doreen asked worriedly as she covered her breasts with her hands

    “She won't be back without that stew,” Dimitri assured her as he pulled her arms apart and toward him. “And it takes hours to prepare, my dear.”

    Doreen gasped silently as Dimitri found her under the water. His instincts took hold of him as the two of them kissed and hugged and copulated for what seemed like the entire night. When the ecstasy finally subsided, Dimitri found himself getting dressed again, this time in a forest green tunic and matching trousers.

    “Thanks for the bath, my servant,” Dimitri japed as Doreen helped him pull on the tunic.

    “Thanks for the fuck, my Prince,” she jibed back.

    Dimitri laughed as his forbidden fruit walked away and found her own clothes. She had been his since his thirteenth birthday. She had asked him to take her that night, ranting about how she had always dreamed of laying with a prince, even once. At first, Dimitri had been appalled by her request, but his own curiosity got the better of him. After that, Dimitri could not handle only one taste of his forbidden fruit, and soon as she ripened into a woman and he into a man, his urge for more intensified. At one time, she would give herself to him every night and he would take her willingly.

    Yet, they had both always known the ramifications of their relationship. He was heir to the realm and she was a common serving wench. Were their love to become common knowledge, an outrage would explode amongst common man and noble alike. Both of them would be ruined.

    As Doreen finished putting her dress back on, a knock came upon the door. “Ah, come in, Tania,” Dimitri replied. Was that Tania's knock though? The knock was heavy and loud, unlike Tania's soft raps.

    Sir Lucian Argonis and Sir Mikhail Nochez entered the room. Both were tall and proud knights, men of Dimitri's company who traveled with him from Adrigo back to Arcanzia.

    “What brings you here, good knights?” Dimitri asked them as he rose to his feet.

    “A wyvernwing from Adrigo, my Prince,” Sir Argonis stated solemnly. “Word has come that Brahm Brunhjart has passed on. His son and daughter have left Solocima to attend to the funeral in Osvarden.”

    Flabbergasted, Dimitri's jaw dropped. “Do you speak true?” That was a surprise. General Brunhjart was dead? “Are you certain?” Dimitri could hardly believe it. “Who holds Solocima?”

    “Claymore does, it would seem,” Sir Nochez replied.

    The time was ripe, Dimitri realized. With Brunhjart dead and his children away, the time to take Solocima is now! “Doreen, fetch me my armor,” he ordered quickly.

    “My Prince, what are you—?” Doreen began to ask.

    “I'm winning the Massif,” Dimitri said firmly, his resolve apparent. “Rally the men, Sir Argonis. Take as many new recruits as you can, as well. I plan to leave before the sun rises.”

    “So suddenly?” Sir Argonis questioned.

    “And what of the wedding, my Prince?” Sir Nochez added.

    “There's time enough for marriage after victory,” Dimitri responded. “And now is the best shot we have of ending this war.”

    “What will His Grace say?” Sir Argonis questioned anxiously.

    “My father will say what he says,” the prince grinned smugly as he placed his famous black helmet back on his head. “After this victory, he'll sing along with the rest of them the song about the Black Wyvern's victory.”

    “And what of Lord Blancarosa?” Sir Nochez persisted. “He'll take this as a humiliating slight, he will.”

    Good for him, Dimitri smirked inwardly. “Let him take it as he will. Right now, we march.”

    Dimitri left Arcanzia shortly after midnight, as his father, sister, and bride-to-be slept unknowingly.
    Last edited by Kitsune Inferno; June 28th, 2012 at 11:16 AM.

  6. #6

    Default Re: Concero di Ali: The Battle of Solocima

    Ah, your story is last for tonight. @_@
    I can only summarize it this way:
    Pros: Your writing style is much more developed and easy to follow, and aside from a somewhat passive voice you fit really comfortably into it. It also greatly helps the flow and character interaction as well.
    Cons: I hate to say it, but there's some parts of the dialogue that do seem to come out of ASOIAF. However, as you find your character's voices theses lines should change to something much more fitting. Also, the downside of a quick, flowing plot is that there doesn't seem that much room for character development. The events are cool but we're not really getting to know anybody. Thankfully this should also be easily remedied as you delve deeper into the story.
    That and plus it's 5 am here and yours is the seventh story I've read in a row so I might be kind of l@@py in this review.
    I'm still right anyway just because.
    Nighty night. Hope I was helpful. +)

  7. #7

    Default Re: Concerto di Ali: The Battle of Solocima

    Second Verse: The Grieving Daughter
    The cold heart of a daughter
    Shadowed by her sire
    Angered by his passing
    Flies her banners high

    – Lorya Fox, Concerto di Ali, “The Battle of Solocima”.


    Spoiler:
    She wore the black veil to hide her tears. To her, tears were a display of weakness, and she would not suffer the insult of being labeled weak. Her sex did a well enough job of that.

    Alysa Brunhjart stood over her family's plot in the Osvarden Cemetery. The cemetery had long been the site of countless Brunhjarts and the lesser noble families of the area. Before Alysa were grandfathers, great-grandfather, great-great-grandfathers, and beyond. Some of the headstones dated back seven centuries, the names and dates barely legible, the stones themselves weathered with age. These were the lucky ones, for there were many more gravestones that were naught but chunks of mere pebbles littering the resting place of Brunhjarts perhaps a thousand years old.

    Today, Alysa's father, Brahm Brunhjart, a well-respected and world-famous general joined his ancestors in the Osvarden dirt. To see such a great man be lowered into the earth unsettled Alysa. She knew quite well the finality and inevitability of Dethska'ling. But her father's passing still weighed heavy on Alysa, for it confirmed to the proud young woman that even men stronger and wiser than her were not immune to the Goddess's woos. And for that she resented her father.

    Alysa stood not with the black-blazoned mourners that flocked around her father's grave as if they knew him. Instead, she knelt before Barron Brunhjart's grave, her brother's grave, leaving behind a gift of Salgrawood lilies. He had enjoyed their scent in life. In a time before she had killed him.

    Alysa tried to draw up fonder memories of her dearly departed brother, but all she could recall was his untimely passing. She wanted very much for him to comfort her in these troubled days. The whole of Vitrasbaen was trembling with unrest as Arcanzia's forces grew ever more relentless. Even Alysa was not blind to the blow that the Vitrasmen now suffered thanks to Brunhjart's passing. She wished Barron were there with her to help keep the Arcanzian army at bay. Yet it was her fault in the first place that her brother was dead. It was for that reason that she wept, certainly not for her father's ill-timed passing. Or at the very least, that was what the young Lady General would allow herself to believe.

    She rose from the soft Osvarden dirt and brushed her fiery hair from her emerald-green eyes. Dark clouds had begun to roll in off the Gulf Betwixt, and the rain had already begun to sprinkle upon the cemetery. Besides, she had suffered long enough with have to wear her late mother's disconsolate mourning frock.

    Alysa belonged on the battlefield, sporting a full sheet of armor. Even off the field, rare was the man who set eyes on an unarmored Alysa. She did not care to admit that she was a weak woman, physically and mentally. She would not suffer the chance of someone deeming her such.

    As she left the cemetery, the rain heavied moderately as the air began to chill. The walk to her family estate was not a long one. The chill of winter had left much of the vegetation brown and lifeless, but the coming spring brought with it a few eager sprouts, unaware of the coming snows that would cut their ephemeral lives short. She could not help but compare the plants to her own ill-born brothers.

    Alysa was the third of no less than nine Brunhjart children. Her eldest brother succumbed to malady before his first birthday, while her second managed to live nine years before his own untimely passing. Her third brother was stillborn, while the fourth was assassinated at the age of four. The fifth made it out of the womb, but his was a mercy killing. The next brother had a nasty fall, breaking his neck in the process. Next came Barron, whose death was her own doing. He and the youngest, Braig, who fortunately still lived, had been the only Brunhjart sons that managed to reach adolescence.

    Snow flurries blended with the steady rain as the winds began their cold howl. A shiver ran down Alysa's spine, but not of chill. Alysa was attuned to the cold, an affinity birthed in childhood. Her mother would often scold her as a girl for fleeing outside wearing naught but a thin evening gown. Alysa had been a strange child, one who never took chill.
    Despite these boasts, Alysa hurried her pace, unwilling to bring dispute upon them. It did not take long for her to arrive at the gates of the Brunhjart estate. Beyond was a small village where the servants resided, but behind that, the Brunhjart Manse rose from the earth. The Manse was quite the marvel, itself exemplary of the limitless imaginations of ambitious architects. The path from the gate to the Manse was alit with perpetual torches, which Alysa had never seen snuffed, even in the mid of day.

    The Manse itself was constructed of tempered limestone, shaped by Brunhjart slaves perhaps a millennium or two past. Ballista Brunhjart was said to be the genius mind behind her design. The shape of the Manse was that of a sword immersed in a sea of flame. The entrance to the Manse proper was the tip of the blade. The interior of the Manse was a long hall that made up the spine of the blade. Each room that left the hall had been carved into the limestone flames that bled from the blade. Alysa walked the span of about half of the hall before turning off to her own room. A handmaid had been tending to her sheets when Alysa entered.

    “Leave me,” Alysa stated coldly as the maid silently obliged, leaving Alysa alone.

    Outside her window, the sleet gave way to a full on snowstorm, caking its sills with pearl-white dust. She drew the curtains closed, then planted kindling into the brazier before lighting it. As the dim light filled her room, she pulled her mother's dress over her head, exposing her naked body to the chill. She replaced the dress with a soiled gray leather tunic and over that, she wrapped herself in chain mail before placing her blood-stained plate mail atop.

    About that time, someone began to rap on Alysa's door lightly. She rolled her eyes and sighed. “What is it? I'm busy, you know.”

    “Lord Braig wants to see you, my Lady,” the voice on the other end squeaked meekly. “He requests your presence at dinner.”

    “Tell Lord Braig that I will come when I will,” Alysa replied icily.

    She had little love for her youngest brother. He was like a younger Barron in appearance, but he possessed none of her deceased brother's unassuming geniality. Braig had done little to irk her in the past, but now that her father was dead, the little bastard had taken to calling himself Lord Brunhjart. The whelp was only fifteen, eight years younger than her, yet her father's claims passed down to him, because he was a man. Alysa hated the word fiercely.

    She cursed the Goddess everyday for her cruel jape. Alysa had the fighting spirit and the raw tenacity that men only dreamed of possessing. It said something of her skills that she became the first female general in Vitrasbaen's long history. Admittedly, her father played a hand in those politics, and it was a rather controversial decision, but Alysa liked to think it was her skills alone that allowed her ascension to the title. After all, if someone like Christophe Claymore, that excuse of a man, could carry the title, she surely could.

    Deciding that she had irked her brother long enough, she left her room and proceeded down the Longsword Hall to the banquet room. Inside, a great deal of men jollied and drank themselves into stupor. Landlords sat with Lord Braig at his table, chattering on about reevaluation of land division and such nonsense. These were politics that Alysa certainly cared little for.

    “Sister!” Braig hailed, splashing mist from his goblet. “Come an' sit with me. We must talk at once.”

    Alysa rolled her eyes and took a seat next to him. Up close, the little lordling looked a great deal like his brother. His face was round and his skin snow. His most defining features were his eyes of jade and his hair of scarlet. The only difference between he and Barron was Braig's lack of scar on his eyebrow. Alysa briefly recalled giving Barron that nasty, but eerily becoming scar during a training session.

    “I know you're still upset about father,” Braig composed himself, though his speech still slurred thanks to the mist. “But I hear tell that Arcanzia is moving again.”

    “Of course they would be,” Alysa answered impatiently. “We just lost the only General that meant a damn in holding Solocima.”

    “Claymore still stands there,” Braig reminded her.

    “Let me put emphasis on the meant a damn part,” Alysa replied curtly.

    “I don't doubt his skills,” Braig assured his sister. “He will hold for now, but that's not likely to last long. I'll have you return to Solocima at daybreak.”

    Alysa smiled at this. Well, he's not so dim after all. “Well decreed, Lord Braig. That's an order I haven't the mind of challenging. As for you?”

    “I must treat with His Majesty,” Braig answered. “I need to be officially recognized as the Second General of Vitrasbaen, Senator of Osvarden or something.”

    “Sentinel,” Alysa reminded him not unkindly.

    “You know I have ill love of titles,” Braig chuckled. “But yes, I will go and treat in Vitrasfell, then I will return with thirty-five thousand sword-arms by my side. I have the mind to join you in holding Solocima. Arcanzia is focusing everything they have on taking that fortress. I will not sit idly as they attempt it.”

    “Spoken like a true man,” Alysa congratulated her brother with subtle mockery. Let's see how you hold up when you're not clouded by mist.

    Alysa rose from the table and left the dining hall. She hadn't been very hungry, and smoked bison did not sound terribly appetizing to her. Outside the windows, the late afternoon snow continued to pile upon the Manse. The Goddess tried her damnedest to snuff out the Brunhjart Manse's flames, but Alysa took solace in knowing that her family's flame would never die. Not as long as I breathe.

    She waited outside the dining hall for Löehngrim. Löehngrim was a man of her father's, gaunt and weathered, in his mid-fifties or so. He had been a faithful man of Brahm's for thirty years. She hoped his faith would be hers as well.

    “Good evening, Lady Alysa,” Löehngrim greeted her warmly as he exited the hall about an hour or two later. “To what do I owe this... chance meeting in the hall?”

    “I have matters to speak of, Aurus,” she answered him flatly.

    “As you wish. I was your father's man,” he replied with a smile.

    Was?” Alysa scowled.

    “Yes, was. I am your brother's man now. I suppose he is young, but he is my Lord all the same.”

    “Yes, yes,” Alysa interrupted impatiently. “Treat with me in the conference room in two hours. Bring Skaarström and Kinfrey as well. This is an urgent matter.”

    “At once, my Lady,” he bowed before taking his leave.

    He arrived on schedule with Olav Skaarström and Majoli Kinfrey at his side. Olav was a rotund beast of a man, thrice as wide as Alysa and a good head or two taller. His face drowned underneath his scraggly black beard, only his icy blue eyes shone from beneath it. Majoli Kinfrey was a large woman herself. Not quite as large as Skaarström, but still a round woman. Kinfrey wore her long blond hair in braids, which made her look far less menacing than one would believe. Alysa knew differently.

    “Out with it, girlie,” Skaarström bellowed rudely. Alysa knew he had little love for her. Especially after she humiliated his little whelp Jameson on the training field. “What reason have you for separatin' me from my feast?”

    “Shut your fat lips, Olav,” Kinfrey rolled her eyes. “You're speaking to a lady, by the Goddess!”

    “Ladies don't wear armor,” he challenged hotly. “Both o' you, I've the mind to name you freaks.”

    “There will be silence,” Alysa spoke up sharply. “I didn't bring you to quarrel. I've brought you here to mobilize you.”

    “What?” Skaarström's eyes grew wide. “Mobilize us? For what cause?”

    “My Lord Brother has asked me to take three landlords' armies of my choice with me,” she lied convincingly. The joke would be on Braig when she would leave with the three largest armies in Osvarden. She intended to win the war and hold the fortress, not wait round for Braig to show up whenever he fancied. “We're to depart for Solocima on the morrow. We are to join with the standing armies there and hold the fortress against Arcanzian invasion.”

    “Hold on just a minute!” Skaarström challenged, raising his voice to deafening heights. “You're forgetting something: we're men of Osvarden! Why don't you take yer pickings from yer own jurisdiction?”

    “Olav,” Löehngrim spoke up. “The Salgrawood is several days in the opposite direction. Lady Alysa requires us. She may be the Sentinel of Salgrawood, but we're all Vitrasmen, aren't we?”

    “I suppose,” the fat lout answered gruffly. “Don't mean I have to like it one bit, though.”

    “These are just as much Lord Braig's orders as hers,” Kinfrey added. “The armies of Kinfrey are yours, my lady.”

    “As are mine,” Löehngrim agreed.

    “Then we are in agreement,” Alysa ended the meeting with a grin. “Mobilize at once. I will leave before sunrise.”

    The three landlords left the hall as Alysa sat still for a moment, gloating inwardly about her devious ploy. Lord Braig would not take her duplicity well. She personally hoped that the case. She was familiar with the Brunhjart temper, and it would bring her great satisfaction to turn her father's or her brother's faces as red as their hair. To Alysa, it was a sign that even a man had at least one weakness. Ofttimes, she found her insubordination a sharper weapon than even Freija.

    She rose from the table and left the old conference room a few moments later. By now, the afternoon sun was low on the horizon, shining through breaks in the snow, illuminating the otherwise dim halls of the Manse. She made return to her room, but on the way there, found her brother's wrath.

    “You detestable harlot!” Braig bellowed from the other end of the hall, storming towards her with furious resolve.

    “Can I help you, Lord Brother?” Alysa asked with a pronounced sneer, looking forward to what Braig would do next.

    Surprise spread across Alysa's face as her brother planted the back of his hand on her left cheek, forcing her to stumble back in shock. This is new, she told herself. Thinks he has balls now that he's a general, does he?

    “What in the Goddess's name—”

    “You know damned well what that was for!” Braig roared furiously as Alysa rubbed the stinging mark on her face. “What are you playing at? You've slipped under my nose and took three of my largest hosts for your own! What is the meaning of this? Answer wisely, or I'll pretty your other cheek, sister.”

    “Next time you dare lay a hand on me,” Alysa dodged the question purposely, tapping her sword-hilt subtly. “I'll introduce it to Freija. She's been thirsty for the blood of fools.”

    “Enough nonsense,” Braig brushed off his sister's insult, yet his face still brimmed with annoyance. “ Löehngrim, Skaarström, and Kinfrey! What business have you with my landlords?”

    My father's landlords,” Alysa corrected him coldly. “You presume too much, little brother. You think the title of General suddenly makes you important?”

    “I am your Lord Brother, not little,” Braig replied darkly. “Do well to remember that, Lady Alysa.”

    “Now you want me to call you Lord?” Alysa chuckled. “So much for that ill love. Has the mist already run its course?”

    “You've had your fun, sister!” Braig raised his voice, which echoed down the hall. “Now tell me why you've taken my landlords? I had meant to take them to Vitras City with me.”

    “And now they're mine,” Alysa smiled. “I intend to win Solocima, not hold it. With the strongest landlords of Osvarden at my call, that will be a reality.”

    “And risk thousands of casualties?” Braig scowled. “Sister, that's reckless!”

    “I have no intention of losing. Arcanzia will know the full strength of Vitrasbaen.”

    “You are a woman. What can you hope to accomplish?”

    Alysa glared at her brother for a long time. Instead of welling with anger, she merely cracked a cocky smile. “I will accomplish so much more than any man could ever dream. I am the Lady General Alysa. Brunhjart blood lights my ambition. You would know that feeling if you were half the man Barron was.”

    “A dead man,” Braig corrected her. “A man that would still be here, were it not for someone's err.”

    This time, Alysa repaid Braig for his earlier gift, only she put twice the force behind her slap. Her brother stumbled to the ground as Alysa's eyes fixated on him. Her emerald-green eyes flashed fiercely as her brother scrambled to his feet in surprise.

    “Touched a nerve, did I?” he sniggered, though his own emerald eyes flickered with fear. “No matter, there's no sense in arguing with a crazed sow. My landlords are yours. Just make sure to bring them back alive.”

    Alysa did not pay him a response. She gazed at him fiercely, before turning to leave. She walked away silently, leaving her brother in his stupor as she returned to her room. She shut the door tightly behind her and paced to her bed. The sun had not fully set outside her window, but Alysa still undressed herself and slipped into an evening gown. As she pulled the off-white gown over he head, she grimaced at the smears that suddenly appeared on the bosom of her gown. Tears, she realized as she wiped her eyes. Weakness.

    She went to the window and opened it, letting the cold evening air blow into the bedroom. The flames of the wind lapped at Alysa's pale bare arms cautiously before consuming her within their invisible inferno. The icy chill burned its way through Alysa's skin down to her bones. Alysa winced as her body began to ache but continued to bask in the chilled winds a little longer. The breeze that embraced her lovingly and playfully tickled her bare neck.

    A half-hour or so later, her tears had dried and her altercation with Braig a distant memory. By now, the sun had tapered away below the horizon, leaving only a pale blue and mauve light to roll into the room. Alysa finally closed the window and returned to her bed, opting to rest before the morrow's departure.

    She dreamed of that day. That day when she stood alone on the stone balcony, from which she could see as far as twenty or thirty miles into the distance. This was her favorite place in the fortress, as the winds blew fiercest here and the grey and blue crags of Solocima were on full display. Alysa often spent hours deep in thought or lost in fancy as she would lean against the thick, limestone walls.

    “I thought I would find you here,” her father's rough voice spoke from the shadows as he stepped into the cold Solocima sunlight. The light illuminated his gaunt, scraggly face and caused his grey hair to almost glow. The old man limped forth, stumbling with every attempt to hide his decrepit state. “You've always been such a predictable daughter.”
    Alysa eyed her father with hatred as he staggered toward the stone railing. “Why have you come, old man?”

    “You know full well why I've sought you out,” Brahm Brunhjart grinned, his teeth in the midst of decay, yet his emerald eyes glimmered youthfully as always. “Braig says you've gone and injured a dozen cadets.” The man approached his daughter and put his wrinkled hand on her shoulder as his voice took a ginger tone. “You have nothing to prove, Alysa.”
    “Don't talk down to me,” Alysa snapped sharply, twisting her shoulder out of her father's reach and reaching for Freija. “I could kill you right now, you know.”

    “A mercy,” her father chuckled. “The Goddess should soon receive me. Why not cut me down now? You get your glory and I get my peace. A fair bargain, would you not agree?”

    “Shut up!” Alysa shouted angrily, her voice shaken. “You think me for a fool? I... I cannot strike down a decrepit old man!”

    “Then I fear you will never get your wish,” Brahm sighed. “I will be gone by spring.”

    “Don't talk like that!” she screamed as she found herself begin to tremble as well. “You must get better, Father! And stronger! Only then can I prove myself worthy by killing you. Don't you dare think to die and steal that honor away from me!”

    “Honor?” Brahm hooted. “In killing your sire? Pray tell, Alysa, tell me the honor in that.”

    “The honor in taking down the greatest man to ever live,” she growled. “Don't take that from me. If you die, then I will have nothing.”

    “Fool,” Brahm approached his daughter. “You have youth. And youth is everything.”

    “A tale for boys,” Alysa turned her head, looking at the stonework beneath her feet.

    Brahm took hold of her hair and yanked it with his shaky, lifeless hands. Alysa yelped as her father pulled her close. She felt his cold, sickly breath spray across her cheek as his leaned closer to his daughter.

    “Your flames still burn,” Brahm whispered dryly. “Mine have long turned to ash.”

    “Let go of me,” Alysa struggled to free herself from her father's surprisingly strong grip.

    “Never forget that your flames still burn,” he said as he let his daughter go and limped to the balcony edge once more. “No wonder you fancy this place. The view is spectacular from here.”

    “That it is,” she replied coldly as she rubbed her head gingerly. “That hurt, you old codger.”

    “Forgive me,” Brahm chuckled as he turned to his daughter. “Even in frailty, I forget how much strength I still have. Hopefully, the Goddess finds what I have left suitable for her Dethska'ling.”

    Father,
    Alysa wanted to say. You can't die on me. Not like this. But she could not muster the words, and only joined her father at the balcony edge, staring out at the crags and ridges of the Solocima Massif in silence. At that time, she did not know that the last word she would ever speak to her father was codger, of all things.

    When she awoke from the memory, the room was pitch-black, save for a pale brazier burning bravely in the solar. She rubbed her eyes to find them moist. More weakness, she scoffed inwardly before removing her bed quilt. She rose and slipped out of her gown and into her armor. Outside in the Manse, only a few servants appeared to be awake, but just outside the Manse, she found four-thousand Löehngrims, three-thousand Skaarströms, three-thousand Kinfreys, and five-thousand of her own sword-arms. Every Vitrasman stood with sword in hand and conviction in heart. The sheer amount of manpower she was about to march with took her breath away. Never before had she been able to lead so many soldiers to march.

    “Faithful and loyal men of Vitrasbaen,” Alysa raised her voice, attempting to sound formal yet commanding.. “We are to return to the Solocima Fortress. But we will not merely hold it, we will completely eliminate the Arcanzian army that means to wretch it from us. Stand tall, brave allies! In victory, there will be glory. In death, there will be Dethska'ling. May the Goddess smile upon us. To Solocima, we march.”
    Last edited by Kitsune Inferno; February 12th, 2012 at 10:09 AM.

  8. #8
    is Stolen Silence's Avatar
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    Default Re: Concerto di Ali: The Battle of Solocima

    you understand, of course, that this appetizer, though delicious

    will only make us hungrier for the MAIN COURSE

    my stomach growls, ser

    SER
    Quote Originally Posted by Wagomu View Post
    There's a great lighthearted vibe around here, because no matter how serious we might get, we're all together because of some magical pirate.

  9. #9

    Default Re: Concerto di Ali: The Battle of Solocima

    Not much to say at the moment except I do want to see more.
    Let's see how the politics of this works out.

  10. #10

    Default Re: Concerto di Ali: The Battle of Solocima

    I read your prologue, and it is amazing. You have grown at least twenty fold as a writer. Lorya's psyche and Lily's dialogue was very smooth. 'Aleks' is really cool too, and this is despite (I think) being your direct avatar. Normally that's a bad thing but here you make a really friendly and sympathetic character. And finally, the build up is really awesome, and I hope to see some more of the present day between songs.

    If I redo the format of Bound's prologue, I'mma' stealing your idea.
    (Not really, but I've always been tempted to present Bound as a book of prophecies/history being read by someone).

  11. #11

    Default Re: Concerto di Ali: The Battle of Solocima

    I had forgotten about the general concept of the story - the plot being sung - but I really like the device and how you use it.

    It's amazing how little time it took to get emotionally attached to Lorya. There is so much of her backstory hidden in that relatively short sequence; at times even intertwined with world building which for the most part made it not at all feel too much like exposition. I fear I don't want her to ever stop singing...
    Just something fun I made during the latest Survivor playing as Monji:
    Spoiler:


  12. #12

    Default Re: Concerto di Ali: The Battle of Solocima

    A warning: The following is pretty much just about my personal taste and what I didn't enjoy that much. I have no idea if it is helpful at all but well, here it is.

    Hm, I don't know. I couldn't really bring myself to care about Alysa. Her "woe is me" attitude is a little tiring but that might just be me. I think the biggest problem is that I don't really get her issue with her gender. Apparently she can stand up to the head of her family well enough and even get his soldiers to come with her. Sure, that one landlord gave her a hard time but in the end he followed her to war. I guess he only did it because it was on her "brother's orders" but still. I'd appreciate her stumbling a little more if you know what I mean. :P

    Also, how did Braig find out about her devious ploy so fast? Guess it wasn't the best ploy ever. And why couldn't he just order them to stay? That just makes them both seem weak to me. I mean, I can think of explanations for both things but maybe you should at least hint at them if not flat out state them?

    Other than that, I think you could get a little more descripitive. At times you paint a nice picture of the environment and especially the more important characters but other things just fall a little flat. For example, I would have liked to know whether there was anyone else sitting nearby in the banquet room when Alysa was talking to her brother. Did she mock him in the presence of his men or wouldn't she dare do that? That could also help establish her character. Maybe she gets frustrated because she has to defer to him in public even though she is clearly the superior. Or something. What do i know.

    All in all, I enjoyed reading the chapter but unfortunately it didn't really captivate me like the Prologue did.
    Just something fun I made during the latest Survivor playing as Monji:
    Spoiler:


  13. #13

    Default Re: Concerto di Ali: The Battle of Solocima

    Ah dangit Fox! I thought I finally caught up with my reading!
    I'll read the second verse this week you magnificent productive bastard!

  14. #14

    Default Re: Concerto di Ali: The Battle of Solocima

    I'm commenting here because I'm tired of seeing my thread at the top.~

  15. #15

    Default Re: Concerto di Ali: The Battle of Solocima

    Read it.
    I think we're not seeing enough examples of how oppressed Alysa is feeling. Maybe we'll see more of that later but right now she seems to be a pretty privileged female. Also, her brother finding out her plan was quite fast.
    The last note I have is that the transition to the flashback is a little confusing and you should do something to signify that.
    Other than that, please continue. :)

  16. #16

    Default Re: Concerto di Ali: The Battle of Solocima

    So Mr. Horse and Mr. Market. Forgive me for laughing at your names...

    Now, the story:
    A bit of a slow start... But it would be hypocrite of me to mention that... Some of my stories start even slower. Some parts reminded me of Vinland Saga, and that is a very good thing. The king is pretty easy to hate, and I think that's intended.
    The first chapter was overall good. And I did think there was some characterization. Specially Dimitri, of course.

    The second was also great. I'd say they were equally good, actually. The second had a bit less boring of a start, but Alysa didn't strike me as much as Demitri. I just loved how he ignored the wedding and jumped for battle. :3.
    I just don't know why the brother didn't stop his army from going, and I think he discovered too fast. I believe it would be funnier if he only discovered when she was leaving.
    But I didn't find Alysa annoying. I actually understood her issues. She was pissed because the brat got the better position. I'd be pissed too. And there seems to be something more. The incident where she killed her brother will be pretty interesting to read. :P

    ps: I really need to download the English dictionary for Firefox... My posts must be painful to read. :< I really have a tendency to commit typos and stupid mistakes :3
    Last edited by gotta<3OP; March 17th, 2012 at 03:05 PM.

  17. #17

    Default Re: Concerto di Ali: The Battle of Solocima

    Reading through the First Ballad it was a truly wonderful experience. Everything was so perfectly well-written that I find myself grasping at straws to try and find fault in it. I'd say the only issue, and it's incredibly minor, is that it does move at a pretty sluggish pace. But quite honestly, it doesn't even warrant a concern. This is wonderful work, Kitsu.

    Some of the characters' names are pretty silly but they're not so outrageous that you can't get away with them. And as far as grammar goes, I could only find one lapse that stuck out:

    She scanned the audience, taking note of the many familiar faces in the audience.
    I'd replace the second "audience" with "crowd" or something instead. Otherwise, this was a nearly flawless entry and I applaud you for your excellent work.~

    On to the First Verse. I may have forgotten to mention this but your imagery, particularly of the setting and the designs of clothing, are amazing. It's a real treat for the eyes and everything seems so movie-like in that regard. So well done.~

    As far as criticism goes though, the first verse starts off a lot less inspired than the first ballad, I'm sad to say. There was so much energy and radiance in the ballad, you could feel the characters and who they were. Maybe it's just that first person is more personal, I don't know. But regardless, things did eventually pick back up and we started getting a sense of the characters. I just feel things were less emotionally driven and more in "the motions".

    Speaking of, there's some dialogue and a few scenes that feel a bit awkward and forced. Like this line for instance:

    “I will,” she promised with a childish grin. “You go make me a sister, and maybe even a niece or nephew. And I love you too, brother.”
    It feels a bit awkward. And the pacing in the proceeding scene moved a little too quickly. It was almost as if you wanted to get out all the important lines with no regard to natural emotional transitions. If in anger, one does not simply calm down altogether. If they do, you should reflect this in description and why that is. If they don't, you should also reflect this in description and naturally progress.

    As well as, the following scene was also very quick and awkward. I know, as a sex scene, it might not be the most comfortable to write but if you're going to do it regardless, you may as well have all the proper emotions and descriptions move things along naturally. It feels disjointed from the rest of the script so it becomes really singled out. My gripes aside, however, the first verse is really interesting for all the cliche that it tackles.

    On to the Second Verse. I find it really interesting and fresh to see the story being told from both sides of the battlefield rather than just concentrating on one side. I feel as if this creates a more realistic view of war since neither side is inherently good or evil. And to be honest, I've seen very few people attempt this, less much do it successfully. I hope you'll be glad to hear that so far, I've been enjoying the way you're handling it.

    The second verse started off a bit better than the first and it managed to keep its voice throughout. I personally don't see a need to give Alysa more reasons to seem depressed because of her gender. She's obviously a strong female but the fact that she is a female bothers her because of how it affects everyone else's view of her. This is easily inferred so I don't agree with any sentiments to the contrary, that she needs more examples.

    If she needed more examples, she would be a weak female and that's not her character. Although, I do agree that the brother learning what happened so quickly was slightly off-putting. It leaves the huge question of, "Why didn't he just tell them that he did not give them that order?" if he learned it directly from them. If he didn't learn it directly from them then... who the hell told him? >_>

    See what I mean? For all his apparent anger, it just seems pretty stupid of him to not resolve it in the easy way he could have. I guess he could have just wanted Alysa's answers first before making his final decision but this could have been expressed better in the exchange between them.

    Either way, for all of Alysa's apparent strength, it is nice to see that the whole of the army is being held together by two rather incompetent siblings that are really just holding on to their father's name. It's a beautiful depiction of the human weakness and I applaud you for it. Oh, and the politics of the world are wonderfully done. Great job there as well.

    Love it so far, Kitsu. Can't wait to continue.~
    Last edited by Jazzy Jinx; June 4th, 2012 at 09:45 AM.

  18. #18

    Default Re: Concerto di Ali: The Battle of Solocima

    Third Verse: The Lecherous Traveler


    A man from lands afar
    What brings him to this realm?
    Can he feed his hunger
    To fly his banners high?




    – Lorya Fox, Concerto di Ali, “The Battle of Solocima”.



    This chapter contains suggestive content. Read at your own risk.
    Spoiler:

    The morning sun was concealed by the low-lying fog that rolled over the eastern ocean since before dawn. The only sound that could be heard on the streets of the glum town was the wash of the waves. The last time Halley sailed here, on a different ship, Osterhamn was a bustling port city. Now and trace of that bustle had long since trickled away. What with the War Between Wings, he figured that Vitrasbaen hardly had time to trade with other realms.

    “You sure this is the place, Hal?” Tobey asked as he joined Halley on the deck of their run down sailboat. Generous transportation, indeed.

    “Aye,” Halley nodded. “Don't look much though, does it?”

    “I've seen pillaged villages with more life 'an this,” Tobey chuckled before turning back toward the cabin. “Oy, Salbert! Lacran! Katir! Shelbon! Flare! To the deck, you lazy cows!”

    Halley laughed at Tobey's poor memory. Shelbon had passed a week prior to scurvy, the poor lad. He wasn't the first they had lost to it, though, but his absence was still felt by all on board.

    Old man Tobey laughed vivaciously as the rest of the ship's crew stumbled to the deck. First up was Katir, a thin, small man with dark skin and wiry, black hair. Salbert lumbered up next. The beast of a man stood more than a head taller than Flare, the red-headed boy of only fifteen years who stumbled behind him clumsily.

    The last one on deck was Lacran, sporting the usual baggy rags and a large cap. One would assume that Lacran was a young man, a couple years older than Flare and just a pinch younger than Halley. Lacran made sure to pull weight on the ship, and from the first week or so quickly became one of the hardest workers onboard. Halley had suspected that it was some sort of compensation.

    And compensation it was, for Lacran had a very pretty secret. Shortly after coming aboard, the hard worker was found to be a year or so older than Halley after all. Though that wasn't Lacran's only secret, which Halley had made sure to fuck out of her once he found out.

    “It's been a shitty voyage,” Tobey bellowed with a firmness most would envy, “an' three weeks too long, if ya ask me. But we're 'ere.”

    Halley glanced at Lacran sheepishly, who paid him no heed. He took note of her shoes, or rather, the shoes she had pillaged from Shelbon's cold feet.

    “Not quite in one piece, though,” Halley said thoughtfully.

    “Aye,” Tobey replied gruffly. “In any case, we may be at Vitrasbaen, but our journey is far from over, lads. It's here we say goodbye to Cap'n Halley, who'll prob'ly be dead in a week without us keepin' 'im out of trouble, eh?”

    The rest of the crew laughed in good nature at Tobey's jibe. Though not everyone was good-natured.

    “Good riddance, I say,” Lacran grinned with a cold pettiness.

    “You gonna miss my cock?” Halley struck back with a cruel grin dancing across her dirty horse face.

    “I've had bigger,” she answered coolly. “On girls.”

    The men on deck hooted as Halley quickly changed the subject.

    “Well don't count me out that quickly,” Halley said with a confident smile. “I've got a job to do. You all got one too.”

    “That we do,” Salbert responded from behind is scraggly brown beard.

    “Freedom,” Halley said before turning to face the mainland. To be free, I really havta crawl through the Prison in chains, don't I?
    Halley was glad to be on solid ground. Sure, he'd spent most of his life on ships or in chains or on ships in chains, but to him, the earth beneath his feet typically meant he was free to do as he pleased. Unless he was in chains, of course.

    By now, Tobey and the others had raised anchor and departed with what few supplies they could manage. All of the shops were boarded up, so they had to make do with a little plundering. It was early afternoon when they finally disappeared beyond the offing on the northern horizon. They sailed ever closer to the distant fells that seemed a thousand miles away. Halley hoped he would never have to climb those.

    He knew he could count on the others, though he feared for their safety. The water to the north were usually frozen over, but with summer approaching, a path would usually reveal itself. He knew this from the old days. He wondered how long it would take for his cohorts to meet up with him on the other side. Perhaps a couple months or maybe a couple years. He could not say.

    Halley turned his attention to the quiet streets of Osterhamn. He hadn't sailed directly to the town before, so the fact that it was nothing but boarded up buildings and the occasional tumbleweed was quite the shock. Halley had heard tales from older sailors of how the town was a pivotal, bustling trade center between Moiterra and Vitrasbaen and beyond. Now it was naught but a dried-up husk of its former self.

    Halley paced himself slowly, contemplating what to do next. The plan was for him to travel on foot, away from the others. Part of the reason was that by splitting up, the chances of completing the mission successfully were greater. The other reason was that Halley always traveled better when he was alone.

    He raised his satchel from his side and fingered around inside of it. He had no Moiterran money, which would not have done him a lick of good in this place anyway, but he did have a few daggers and a single sword his client was generous enough to provide. It certainly was not enough to get him anywhere on money alone. Perhaps when he was done, he'd pay his client back for their generosity with a steel kiss.

    But Halley never got by on money alone. Though money was perhaps the most quintessential instrument to survival a man could carry, it was far from the only one. Some men survived on steel, others on books. Others still kept themselves alive with sheer willpower.

    Any good survival instrument could not only keep a man alive, but also put food in his belly. A good instrument was capable of creating great things just as quickly as it could destroy them. With money, intellect, or strength, a man could even bestow upon himself unrivaled pleasure, an eternal happiness borne of the endeavors of his chosen instrument.

    Halley, of course, had none of those instruments. He had been a poor sot his entire life, miserable with a sword, dumber than the average stone, and quite frankly, a highly unmotivated man. That's not to say his instrument of choice was any less potent of a survival tool, though. It just required a good woman to buy into it.

    Up the road ahead of Halley, a run-down building caught his eye. Unlike the other shanties near the shore, this particular establishment was not board up. In fact, despite looking in dire need of repair, Halley was relieved. Sure it was a sty, but it was the only flicker of life in the empty ghost town.

    As he approached, he could hear inaudible conversation taking place within. Upon closer inspection, the building appeared to be a tavern. At least here he supposed he could find a drink before continuing his journey.

    He walked inside the building, which was dark and dusty with only one or two candles lit on distant tables and the natural sunlight peering through a couple of small panes in the corners. Despite the sounds of conversation outside, the huge bar still felt as empty as the town itself. He could count the patrons within on both hands. At least he knew people still lived here, but it wasn't changing his impression of the ruinous town.

    “Can I help you?” a young girl asked sternly. Halley turned to see a dark-haired beauty reveal herself to him, carrying a pitch of ale. She could not have been older than sixteen or seventeen. Her blue eyes glistened in the few rays of light, but her face had a bit of a scowl to it. He smelled trouble coming off of her like a bitch in heat.

    “Yeah,” Halley cleared his throat. “I was looking for a drink to wet my throat, but I seem to have lost my thirst.”

    “Then the door is behind you,” she answered bluntly before resuming her service.

    “Wait a minute!” he called back to her. “I'm only joking.”

    She turned around as her eyes flickered with interest, betraying her stern frown. “Then, how can I help you?”

    Halley chuckled a bit and let her serve the ale before continuing the conversation. “I'm passing through, and I was hoping you could point me in the direction of an inn that's not boarded up.”

    “You're standing in it,” she replied as she cleared an empty table of dishes. “Fifty swords a night.”

    “You're joking, right?” he scowled.

    “Not at all. This is my father's inn. Business is bad and people need to sleep and we need to eat.”

    “Such a shame. What's the deal here anyway? I was under the impression that this was a bustling port.”

    Was,” she answered as she balanced a stack of dishes and carried them to the washbasin. “Then the wars came.”

    “Oh. Right.” He knew all about the war between Vitrasbaen and Moiterra a few years back. Something to do with tariffs or some nonsense that forced the two countries to end their already shaky trade agreements. Of course it didn't help that Vitrasbaen was in the middle of another war with Arcanzia. That gave Vitrasbaen even less incentive to re-establish trade agreements.

    And that's what set Halley off the most about war. The kings and lords went about getting greedy and flaunting strength, spending barely any time attending to the people like those in Osterhamn who were dying of starvation or malady. Halley was hardly surprised though. Killing it or setting it aflame was a powerful man's natural response to handling something with which he could not come to an agreement.

    “So, fifty swords,” she repeated. “And not one less. Unless of course you'd rather sleep outside.”

    “I'd much rather sleep indoors,” Halley replied sheepishly as he stepped closer and grabbed her wrist gingerly. “With company.”

    “That'd be two hundred swords,” she cracked a devious smile.

    “I've got little use for swords,” he laughed. “Except for one.”

    “That's a hundred and ninety-nine short,” she pulled her wrist away and stepped back, waving the air in front of her. And the smell would cost another hundred.”

    “That's why I could use a bed and a bath,” he egged on, making scrubbing motions. “You could even join me. I don't bite, you know.” Well, not that hard.
    “And what would father think?” she laughed as she wiped her bangs from her brow. “Surely, he would not approve me taking the hand of a curmudgeon.”

    “Who said anything about betrothal?”

    “You can't just crack the egg without staying in the nest,” she turned away momentarily as she scrubbed at the soiled dishes in the basin.

    “Hasn't stopped me before,” he challenged.

    She rose from the dishes and walked past him. “Then you'll get no quarter from me.” She disappeared into the kitchens, leaving him alone.

    So much for that, he sighed inwardly. What a crazy broad. He didn't always succeed when it came to using his instrument, but sometimes he was thankful for that. Nothing annoyed him more than the clingy ones that wanted to settle down.

    “You there, lad,” a ragged voice resonated from behind. “Come here for a moment, would you?”

    Halley turned his gaze to the source of the voice, a table in the dark corner of the room. From this distance, he could not make out to whom the voice belonged. Out of equal parts amusement and curiosity, Halley approached the far side of the room. Upon closer inspection, the owner of the voice revealed himself to be equally ragged.

    The man's balding head was his first distinguishing characteristic, which was littered with dark blemishes and the occasional wisp of white hair. The older gentleman wore rather plain clothing, much like Halley's, but far dirtier. Once Halley got close enough, the man smiled, revealing that the few teeth he had left were stained yellow and rotted black. The sight of them did little to stymie the smell of the man's putrid breath, either.

    “Yes?” Halley asked, unsure of what to make of the man's interest.

    “What is your name?” The man's tone was polite, though Halley hinted a touch of scrutiny.

    “The name's Halley,” Halley responded with cautious joviality.

    “Halley,” the man repeated. “Quite an elegant name for a lad like you.”

    Like me? Halley scowled inwardly. “Yeah, Mim was always one for fancy names.”

    “I see,” the geezer sighed gauntly. “So, what's a fancy, upstanding youth like you got shady business here for?”

    Halley liked the jest in that. “Never said I was upstanding. I'm just passing through is all. Nothin' shady about it.”

    “Nothing shady about crossing seas with miscreants?”

    “A man doesn't choose his shipmates, old man,” Halley shot back, his amicable facade beginning to waver.

    “Such a tearful goodbye for perfect strangers.” The old man's words spat like venom as his eyes glazed over with piercing ice. This one would cause Halley some trouble. “Let's stop playing now, boy. Who are you and what business do you have with this village?” The man's voice rose, which Halley could tell alerted the other patrons. The situation was bound to get nastier by the second. Halley wanted nothing less than to put Dirt-for-Brains in his place. Though with this many ears around, however few they may be, it didn't seem like a viable prospect.

    “I told you, old man,” Halley lowered his voice and gritted his teeth. “I'm only passing through. I'm looking for something that does not concern you, nor anybody else in this damn village.”

    A couple of men rose from their seats. Damn, not good.

    “I doubt your intentions are noble, pirate,” the old man scowled. Now there was a word Halley had not heard in awhile. “Pirates are pirates, after all. A ship does not drop off one passenger unless he's up to no good. Now be a good criminal and stand down. Miss Paricia might not have a room for you, but I'm sure there's a good cell for you at the Village Hall, yes.”

    Halley loved how everyone had a mind to imprison him. What did he ever do to offend people? Besides sleep with their wives or daughters. Or pick their pockets or rob their homes. Or sink their ships and burn their fields. Okay, maybe he did do a few things to offend people.

    “I'll pass,” Halley regained his composure and turned to leave, but the men who rose from their seats had barred his passage. “Excuse me, sirs, I have to go.”

    “He's the one who was with those plunderers,” one of the men accused. “Those bastards cleared out most of the supplies at the wharf. Saw 'em with my own eyes, I did.”

    Halley deduced that these men had watched him come ashore from the shadows rather than make their presence known. Cowards, he groaned. Ghost town, his foot.

    “Are you done with your assumptions?” he asked coolly. “If so, I'd like you to move.”

    “You're not going anywhere, pirate,” the second man growled.

    “Watch me.”

    Halley shoved one of the men into a nearby table, which collapsed under his weight. He punched toward the second man, who narrowly dodged before punching Halley square in the gut, knocking the breath from him. The first man, regaining his footing, slammed a piece of wood against the back of his head, dazing him further. The innkeeper's daughter's scream was the last thing he heard when a fist to his nose rendered him unconscious.

    A stinging sensation brought him back to his senses rather violently. When he came to, his thrashing arms nearly struck the innkeeper's daughter, who was cleaning his injuries with a hot wash.

    “Sorry,” he gulped as he winced. All of the pain came whirling back from the altercation moments before... No wait, he was in a bedchamber. Someone had to take the time to carry him here.
    “How long was I out?”

    “The better part of an hour,” she responded as she gingerly wiped his brow. “You'll have to excuse Azer and his sons. They're an accusatory sort.”

    “Tell me about it,” he groaned as he went to touch his throbbing nose.

    “No, don't touch it,” she cried quickly. “It may be broken. Leave it be until I have a look at it.”

    She turned her attention to his nose. He couldn't see it, but it did hurt like a bitch.

    “It looks fine, thank the Goddess,” she sighed in relief. “Those men really are barbaric. But who can blame them? Azer lost his wife and daughter to a pirate raid. He swears a man came ashore and mingled with the villagers before his crew raided in the night.”

    “That explains the bloody nose,” Halley tried to laugh. “Paricia, was it? How'd you get 'em off of me?”

    She nodded with a smile. “I just told them you were a friend of my father's. I was unaware of your arrival, so when I came to apologize for my initial behavior, I found that mess and explained the situation.”

    “A convincing lie, that one.” This time he did manage a laugh. Big mistake. He flailed his arms toward his face as he screamed. “Son of a bitch!”

    “Easy now,” Paricia pulled his hands back, gently but firmly. “Though it's not broken, it's still tender. It'll probably be sore for a couple of days.”

    “Thanks, Paricia.” His appreciation was genuine.

    She smiled silently and left the room, leaving Halley to himself. He glanced around at the chamber, which was small and neatly furnished. It was certainly more ravishing than the run-of-the-mill innchamber. However, he also noticed several keepsakes and belongings dotting the room, not to mention a trunk of clothing. He deduced that this was Paricia's personal bedroom. He wanted to laugh at his fortune, but his nose would not take too kindly to that.

    Paricia's absence was short, as she returned with a fresh pail of water and set it beside her bed.

    “Nice room you have here,” Halley remarked, trying to make small talk.

    “Why did you come here?” she asked. “You mentioned to Azer that you were looking for something. What is it?”

    Halley sat silent, contemplating his next move. “It's pretty embarrassing,” he replied.

    Paricia smiled sheepishly. “More embarrassing than a pathetic excuse for a bar fight?”

    He snorted. Or tried to. “Fuck!”

    Paricia burst into hysterical laughter as he groaned. It took him a minute to regain his composure after that one.

    “Well?” Paricia asked as the dust settled, not letting him dodge the question.

    “Okay, don't laugh,” he began, getting progressively more solemn. “But... I came here because I want to settle down for once. I've got a bad rap in Moiterra for being a bit of a playboy. Who can blame me though?”

    Paricia hooted as she joined him in the bed. “Really now?”

    “If you've got it, use it,” he grinned. “Anyway, what I'm really looking for is love. A good girl to take care of me. Someone who I can grow old with, you know?”

    “Says Mr. Who-Said-Anything-About-Betrothal,” she giggled as she ran her hand through his sandy brown hair.

    “I was honestly taken aback,” he replied. “I didn't expect to find somebody so quickly, you know? But I see it now.” He sat up in the bed and turned to Paricia, putting his hand to her cheek. “You're just the woman I'm looking for.”

    “You expect me to believe that?” she scowled playfully. “Mr. Pretty just happens to fall in love with me, does he?”

    Halley put a finger to her lips and shushed her as he brought his face to her ear. “Does this answer your question?” he whispered before kissing her neck.

    She responded with a shallow gasp before ripping away at his tunic. He did the same with hers, though he did not have to be as gentle getting it over her head as she was his. They let go of each other and removed their leggings before embracing once more. Their mouths, arms, and sexes locked together simultaneously as they fell back to the bed.

    Halley returned his lips to her neck as he cradled the back of it with his rough hands. With each thrust, she moaned, louder and louder, as their hips moved faster and faster. Halley's nose and skull erupted with fire, but no flame burnt as passionately as the one that spewed itself into Paricia. The two of them gasped in tandem as the ecstasy reached its climax, washing them with absolute pleasure.

    Halley had needed a good fuck after such a long voyage, and Paricia was more than adequate. As they separated and lay silent in the bed, Halley grew content with his plight. Maybe, just maybe, this wouldn't be such a bad thing after all. He drifted into much needed slumber with a well-deserved smile.

    It was still a couple hours before sunrise when he woke again. Paricia lay with her arms stretched across his chest, silently dreaming, of what Halley could not say. He brushed her arm aside as he sat up in the bed. His nose and skull still throbbed and last night's romp helped contribute to the soreness. He slipped his trousers and tunic back on and rose to his feet, sending a passing glance to Paricia. It'd been a good year or so since he had one as good as she was. He felt no shame as he left the room to rummage through the rest of the house for anything he could use on his journey before departing.

    He had a job to do, after all.

    Spoiler:
    U - I - E - A - T
    "This post is not by Kitsune Inferno, but by trappedolphin. You could it in a thread somewhere in the Help Thread, sometime in February. Oh and the thread is sticky."

    (Guess you didn't need to read it all after all. :sadface: )
    Last edited by Kitsune Inferno; October 9th, 2012 at 09:09 PM.

  19. #19

    Default Re: Concerto di Ali: The Battle of Solocima

    Woah. You edited the third without a new message. T_T
    And here I was, waiting :<.

  20. #20

    Default Re: Concerto di Ali: The Battle of Solocima

    Fourth Verse: The Chivalrous Sentinel
    Sentinel of servitude
    Serves his liege with loyalty
    Devoted to his princess
    He'll fly her banners high


    – Lorya Fox, Concerto di Ali, “The Battle of Solocima”.


    Spoiler:
    His Grace had been furious, naturally. When His Grace was angry, the veins in his face would reveal themselves, protruding as violetly, and violently, as his eyes. His breath would grow deep and thunderous and his hands would tremble fiercely. His Grace would look like his explosion was imminent.

    And then there was his voice. No man alive in Arcanzia was deaf to His Grace's routine cacophonous bellows. When something displeased the Emperor, the entire city, if not the whole Empire, would know of it within moments. At this hour though, His Grace's displeasure would no doubt displease the slumbering commonfolk as well. Sunrise was still less than an hour upon the city, but the cover of night did little to stymie the Emperor's rage.

    Cortez Mercado cared little whether Prince Dimitri was in the right or in the wrong. His departure was sure to cause more than enough headaches around the Alcazar, but as a man of war, Cortez perfectly understood the Prince's decision. Still, it did not concern him, for his duties were making sure that the Emperor did not kill himself during his fit. It would not do for Stella to watch her father die such a pathetic death, after all.

    Princess Stella seemed much more composed than her father. Her violet eyes would blink sleepily, but it was still apparent that she was more confused than anything. Her soft, pale skin seemed to glow in the candlelit throne rim as her jet-black locks gave off the opposite effect. Her periwinkle evening gown draped lazily over her shoulders and down her back. The front side of the gown was frilled and revealed just enough cleavage without being scant.

    “Bring them in, Mercado,” Sabreus Blackdrake growled when he finally decided to start formulating coherent sentences. “The maids, I want them now.”

    “Right away, Your Grace,” Cortez bowed and approached the doors to the throne room. He pulled the open with a sharp tug and in came quiet Tania and the one Prince Dimitri had been fucking. The two women approached the Emperor silently and kneeled before him.

    “Rise already,” His Grace growled impatiently. “What part did you wenches play in this betrayal?”

    Cortez laughed inwardly. Sabreus Blackdrake would take eating the last honeybird wing as a traitorous gesture. Jardus Laufferty lost a finger or two to that one.

    “I-I know not what you speak of, Your Grace,” Tania spoke up meekly. “I was sent to fetch stew for the Prince. He never spoke a word of this to me.”

    “Is that so?” His Grace scowled.

    “Yes, Your Grace,” Tania whispered. “You can... You can ask anyone in the kitchens.”

    “And you?” the Emperor turned his attention to Doreah or Dolley or whatever she called herself. “What's your testimony?”

    The big-bosomed one sat quiet for a moment. Cortez was amused by this role reversal, but he understood perfectly.

    Prince Dimitri liked to think his secret love was just that, but Cortez could tell just by looking at the sorry boy. Any mention of the handmaid and the sot's eyes would light up with unmistakeable lust. It was no surprise to Cortez that the boy had no interest whatsoever in sweet Paloma.

    “I gave my Prince a bath,” she spoke up finally. “Then a few of his men arrived and gave him news of Brahm Brunhjart's passing. So he sent me to fetch his armor and that was the end of it.”

    “And you obeyed him?” His Grace began to tremble.

    “A handmaid serves her Prince,” she responded, looking down.

    “Very well,” the Emperor's trembling ceased. “Cortez, see this woman to the dungeons. Her sincerity will be rewarded with life, but her betrayal will be punished with imprisonment.”

    “You are too kind, Your Grace,” the maid wept as Cortez approached her.

    “As for the liar,” Sabreus unfurled a cruel smile. “The ultimate treason is dishonesty. Cortez, give me the head of this traitorous bitch. Right now.”

    “Your Grace, please,” Tania began to shriek. “Ask anyone. Ask them all. I knew nothing of this and that is the truth. Tell him, Doreen, tell him!”

    “She speaks true, Your Grace,” the other woman confirmed.

    “I do not believe in the words of traitors,” Sabreus barked at Doreen before turning to Tania. “Nor the words of liars. Cortez, be quick about it.”

    “Your Grace, I beg you reconsider,” Cortez began to protest. Even this was too far of an order.

    “Do you mean to betray me, too? Has my Alcazar become a traitors' congregation hall?” His Grace spat and turned his rage to Stella. “And you, my daughter, will you betray me too? A man cannot trust his own family these days.”

    Nor can a man trust his Emperor, it seems...

    Stella sat silently, not daring to say a word. Cortez recognized this, as she often got this way when being pressured. He was afraid of what the Emperor might do in this state to her. No, he would not allow it.

    Acting quickly, Cortez unsheathed Platasangre and approached the throne quickly. His head did not agree with his actions, but his heart took control. He would not let harm befall her. Never. Not while he lived. Even if he had to soak his blade in blood for his Princess, he would. He was her Sentinel, after all.

    Sabreus turned around as he heard Cortez's approach. “Cortez, what are you-”

    One stroke was all it took. The head bounced a couple of times before settling on the throne beneath His Grace's feet. The women screamed at the site as blood began to soak the tapestries.

    Cortez would do anything.

    “You're quite a work of steel, Mercado,” Sabreus laughed as he scooped up the maid's head. “Not even your father was this merciless.”

    “I live only to protect the Blackdrake, Your Grace,” Cortez replied sternly, though he inwardly winced at the mention of his father. “I do what I must to fulfill that duty, even if it means killing a thousand squalling babes.”

    Cortez sheathed his blade and looked back at Stella, whose face was oddly expressionless. Her violet eyes seemed to stare off distantly, making no hint of a reaction. It was not uncommon for her to blank out like this, but every time she did, it disturbed Cortez. It hurt him to know that there was something about the Princess he could not understand.

    Behind them, Doreen began to sob, no doubt mortified by the display. She fell to her knees and wrapped her arms around herself.

    “Well, get on with it,” the Emperor bellowed. “Take that sodding wench to the dungeons already. I am to treat with Blancarosa within the hour over my son's transgressions and I'm not of the mind to honor his company with banshees nor corpses.”

    “At once, Your Grace,” Cortez nodded, glancing at Stella, who still remained without expression. He turned away from the throne and toward Doreen. He clenched her arm and forced her to her feet. After clamping shackles around her arms, he tugged her along firmly. “Come.”

    She silently nodded as they left the throne room and into the Alcazar's grand hall. The two of them paced swiftly towards a small wooden door, which Cortez forced open, leading into a dirty and ruinous hall. At the end of this hall was a small staircase leading into the dark abyss of the Alcazar's dungeons.

    They had been quiet up until reaching the descending staircase, when Doreen began to weep once more.

    “Quiet, you,” Cortez commanded. “Be content that you're alive.”

    “You killed Tania,” she screeched between sobs. “She was innocent. She spoke no falsities. Yet you killed her!”

    “Aye,” Cortez started descending. “The woman who spoke true is dead, but the woman who lied gets off with chains, is that right?”

    Doreen looked up at Cortez with confused eyes. “I beg pardon, my Lord?”

    “You left out the part where you fucked the Prince,” he cracked an ugly smile.

    “What nonsense!” she cried defensively, though her wild eyes betrayed her. “How dare you accuse me of adultery?”

    “No sense hiding it, sweet one,” Cortez laughed. “Who am I going to tell?”

    “There's nothing to tell.”

    “Nothing, is there?” he challenged. “Come now. I see it in your eyes. I see it in his eyes. You're both bloody mad for each other.”

    She shied back in a mixture of guilt and fear, before stepping forward with what seemed to be a newly discovered assertiveness. Her face was inches away from his as she snarled words he pretended not to hear.

    In retaliation, Cortez struck the woman firmly across the face with a gloved hand, knocking her to the floor and down a few stairs. “Never repeat those words,” Cortez began to boil with anger. With fear. If even a lowly maid could see it, then...

    “Then never repeat yours,” she gasped out a reply as she found her feet.

    Cortez gazed at her angrily for a moment, considering lopping her head off as well. He decided against it and the two of them continued down the stairs, neither daring to say a word to the other. After what seemed an hour, they reached the foot of the stairwell, enveloped in pitch darkness. On the other side of the room, he heard the slight stir of chains scraping against the earth. Him.

    Cortez pulled an oiled stick from his hip and struck it against the limestone walls, the force igniting the oils on the stick, which could now be called a torch. The dim orange light flooded the dungeon, revealing its many cells and the prisoners within them. Not to mention the overabundance of corpses.

    They paced past the cell containing that man, who didn't even look up to greet them. Cortez paid him little mind, but could not help noting the man's uncanny disinterest. That's the mark of a broken man.

    “Here we are,” Cortez sighed as they approached Doreen's cell. “With luck, your sentence will be short, miss.”

    Doreen walked in wordlessly as Cortez locked the barred door behind her. He turned away to leave when she finally spoke.

    “Pray to the wyverns, Sir Mercado, that you and I never meet again.”

    Such an empty threat, he laughed to himself. He paid her meaningless words no heed and returned upstairs, giving a passing glance to that man once on his way out.

    Upon returning to the throne room, it appeared that His Grace's meeting with Lord Blancarosa had long since finished. The room was empty when he arrived, even devoid of Tania's corpse. He presumed that the Princess had returned to her quarters and made his way in that direction, returning to his duties as her sentinel.

    He hadn't always had the task of watching over Stella Blackdrake. Just eight years ago, he had been nearly a General, much like his father. But circumstances had changed once it became exceedingly clear that the Princess needed much more ample guidance and protection. The only man strong enough to watch over her without dealing a blow to the Empire's militia was him. Initially, Cortez had been upset over being demoted to sentinel duty, but his spurn soon wore off and he took to performing his duties with pride. Pride and something more.

    That's not to say that Cortez didn't miss the battlefield. Platasangre didn't get her name from wet-nursing after all. But he understood well that the fact that he wasn't chopping off people's heads, the occasional maid notwithstanding, was a good thing. It meant that no danger had befallen the Princess. He vowed to keep it that way.

    He arrived at the Princess's chambers and knocked on the door firmly. “Princess, it's me,” he called out. “Are you in there?”

    The tall door creaked open as Stella stood in the doorway, her expression still vague. She had removed her evening gown and now wore a very dark purple gown.

    “Oh, hello,” she greeted him monotonously. He assumed she was probably still shook up over the events that morning, especially since she and Tania had been somewhat close.

    “About this morning...,” Cortez cleared his throat. “It was ill done of me to commit such treachery in your presences, Your Elegance.”

    “Oh?” she looked at him blankly. “No need to apologize, Mr. Mercado. He already told me everything. Tania was a liability and had to die.”

    Cortez winced at the words. Sabreus Blackdrake, you cruel bastard. “Is that so?” he asked rhetorically before turning to inspect her room. There had been
    a couple instances in the past involving ruffians breaking into the Princess's room. Cortez wanted to make sure things were safe.

    “He said Dimitri is a liability, too,” she added a few minutes later. His own son? Cortez clenched his teeth as the image of his own bastard of a father flashed across his mind. “Yes...,” Stella continued, her words distant and disinterested. “Even Dimitri will have to die...”

    Cortez frowned as he turned his attention back to his Princess. She was still beautiful, but all of that anomalous glow from the day before was gone.

    “Salem will have to die too... And Paloma and Father. And you too.”

    Cortez gulped in response to that. So, he'll kill me too?

    “He even said I have to die,” she looked up at Cortez, her eyes still blank. No emotion. No anguish. No fear. No excitement.

    “You will not die,” Cortez answered, taking a seat behind her. “I will protect you. Until you grow old, I will protect you.”

    He wanted to take her in his arms and hold her. Comfort her. He wanted her to need him. But that would not have been appropriate.

    “It's meaningless,” she responded coldly. “He says it's always been and always going to be meaningless.”

    If ever there was a time Cortez entertained the thought of killing an Emperor, now would be that time. It was things like this that made him loathe Sabreus Blackdrake. He could not bear the way the fool treated those who swore fealty to him. It made him ill to think that his service was considered nothing more than a liability.

    Mercado was an honest and loyal man though. As much as he wanted to drink Sabreus's blood with Platasangre, he had devoted that sword to keeping Sabreus and his family alive. He was the Emperor's sword, regardless of what His Grace thought of him. He had little choice but to be content with being a liability.

    Cortez looked over at the Princess, who did not weep, nor show any sign of emotion. This occurred frequently, but she always seemed to be stirred when word of her brother would reach her ears.

    “I saw Salem today,” Cortez muttered. It didn't matter which brother.

    “Oh!” she gasped, the emptiness in her eyes being filled with interest. “Is he well?”

    “As well as a man in chains can be,” Cortez replied sweetly.

    “I see...” Her lips came together in a genuine smile, bringing a flush of warmth across her pale face. “Do you... think I could see him tonight?”

    Cortez's smile faded. “Now, Princess, the dungeons are dangerous. If you were to be hurt...”

    “Don't worry,” she beamed. “I will be protected. Brother left me a gift.”

    “Did he now?” Cortez scowled. “Do remember that if your brother or father find out about this...” Cortez didn't even want to think about what would happen if Sabreus Blackdrake learned of their periodic dungeon visits.

    “I think Brother already knows,” she winked before standing up, looking as giddy as a child. “We'll be fine though. Just as long as you watch the stairs, we'll-”

    A loud knock thundered at the door. Cortez opened it to find a young maid at the door. No doubt she had replaced eight the dead one or the imprisoned one. Perhaps both.

    “Sir Mercado?” she asked shyly. “His Grace would receive you in the throne room at once.”

    Cortez sighed. “Thank you, miss. I will be there shortly.”

    “As you say, sir,” she bowed before leaving.

    “What is it?” Stella asked as Cortez shut the door.

    “Your father has need of me,” Cortez explained. “Stay here. I'll be back shortly.”

    “Alright,” she nodded warmly. “Then we can go visit Salem?”

    “Aye.”

    Cortez arrived at the throne room a few minutes later, in which His Grace appeared to be grumbling some nonsense.

    “As luck would have it, that foolish boy of mine went off with most of the Empire's bloody protection,” Sabreus had been bellowing to no one in particular when he noticed Cortez's approach.

    “To what do I owe these summons?” Cortez asked as he kneeled.

    “We received a wyvernwing less than an hour ago from Aguarena. It would seem that there is some sort of disturbance taking shape,” His Grace explained. “An uprising, if you will.”

    So the people are finally starting to take arms, Cortez scoffed inwardly.

    “This uprising is rather well-timed, wouldn't you think?” Sabreus continued. “How odd that it occurs just after my son Dimitri leaves with all of the best men in the city within his host. 'Tis suspicious, is it not?”

    Cortez silently disagreed. It would take at least a day or two for a wyvernwing to arrive from Aguarena. Dimitri had departed that morning without preparation. There was no way the rebels could have known in advance of the city's defenselessness. Sabreus was as paranoid as ever.

    “Whatever the case, I have no capable men left to put these rebels to rout,” His Grace sighed as he rubbed his temple. “No men except, of course, a certain man by the name of Mercado.”

    Cortez knew where this was going. Nor did he like it.

    “I hereby grant you, Sir Cortez Mercado, the task of quelling this traitorous rebellion and bringing me the heads of the traitorous rebels behind it. You will depart at nightfall with twenty men. A second host will follow two days later with fifty men. Act swiftly and out those rebels quickly. Should you fail, fall back and join with the fifty. Understood?”

    For a fool of an Emperor, his battle plan wasn't too insufferable. Cortez had few qualms with it. Well, other than the qualm of being forced onto the battlefield and away from Stella. But there was no one else up to the task, he knew. And protecting the Princess mattered most, even if he had to do it by keeping rebels at bay in lands afar.

    “What of the capitol?” Cortez asked as he rose to his feet. “Will it not be defenseless?”

    “Lord Blancarosa is shipping a thousand of his liegemen from Sediente,” he assured him. “They will arrive within the week. If rebels were to siege the Alcazar while you're away, its walls will no doubt hold until then.”

    “I pray you are right, Your Grace,” Cortez bowed, then turned to depart. “I will go and prepare, then.”

    “Prepare quickly,” Sabreus bellowed, which Cortez saw fit to ignore.

    Cortez left the throne room and walked towards Stella's quarters, passing up soldiers who seemed to be preparing for the mission. Cortez had a bad feeling about traveling so far from the capitol, but suppressed the feeling as quickly as it came upon him. He needed to investigate, after all. It was all in the best interest of keeping his Princess safe.

    Once he entered, Stella was humming sweetly as she rummaged through her closet, searching for what, only the wyverns knew. She seemed to be in a much warmer mood than earlier, which was good.

    “Hello, Mr. Mercado!” she shouted gleefully when she saw him. “Are you ready for tonight?”

    Not really. “I am most sorry, my Princess,” he sighed. “Your father has given me a field mission of the utmost importance.”

    “Field mission?” her smile quickly faded. “Then that means you'll...”

    “Yeah,” Cortez flexed his hand nervously. “I'll be away for a few days.”

    “Are you excited?” she asked after a brief pause, some warmth returning. “I bet you are, Mr. Mercado! It's been ages since you've last fought, hasn't it?”

    “I suppose it has been a while,” he grinned, appreciating her interest. “Though I'd much rather stay. I am your sentinel, after all.”

    “It's okay,” she smiled. “Brother's gift will protect me. Platasangre will protect you, too!”

    She leaped into Cortez's arms, which stunned him. She was like a little girl hugging her father as he left for war. Was Cortez more like a father to her than His Grace? But Cortez didn't want to be like a father.

    “You know,” she mumbled after letting go of him. “He says Brother's not going to come back alive. But I know he's wrong.”

    “Of course Prince Dimitri will come back alive,” Cortez assured her. “He is the heir after all.”

    “He says you're not going to come back either,” she added darkly.

    Cortez was surprised. How in Arcanzia could he have said such a thing if I came straight here after the briefing? Had Sabreus spoken to her about it beforehand?

    “But I know that's not true either,” she finally smiled. “You're the bravest knight I know. There's no way you could die.”

    “I will not die,” he assured her. “Not for many, many years.”

    “I'll hold you to your word,” she giggled. “So go do your best, Mr. Mercado! For Father. For Brother. For Arcanzia!”

    For you, he thought to himself.

    “I will,” he nodded before leaving for the barracks to suit up in proper armor. She waved back at him jovially as he paced himself down the hall. He turned his head and saw a warm smile dance across her face as her long black locks danced in tandem. He smiled back at her, admiring her intense unparalleled beauty. Everything he did was for her. He would live for her. He would fight for her. He would die for her. But most of all, he longed for her. He wanted her. He needed her.

    But that would not be appropriate.

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