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The mission was simple, and for that Sergeant Emile Gareau was thankful. After the mess that had been the Doughton hivemind raid, going back to simple, uncomplicated jobs felt like a blessing. There would be no collateral damage in this mission. No worrying about killing anyone who didn't deserve it. All he had to do was hunt down some local criminal raiding the villages of a local group known as the Half-Men. Though strange-looking, they were good folk, who simply wanted this dangerous criminal apprehended. People like them were the reason he had joined the Military in the first place. Currently he was sitting in the village tavern, waiting for his backup to arrive. Command hadn't told him who exactly was coming, only that he would know them when he saw them. The notion had irritated the sniper, but he didn't argue. Orders were orders after all. @amenities
“Look up. Cília, to the heights you wish to reach. Reach out, reach out and grow, girl.” “Ah!” She yelped, as the tree limb snapped, and fell. For a moment, one quick and threatening moment, her hands were empty and her feet had no purchase. She flung her arms out as she fell, grasping wildly at the stump the limb left behind. One hand stuck like glue but the other had no such luck. She began slipping. With a small grunt and practiced effort she reached for an adjacent growth and gripped as firmly as she could muster. At the same time she kicked her legs forward and braced them against the truth. It worked well enough, but her neighbor Lullig would laugh at the way her feet scrambled on the bark. She made a face.‘Sure footed bastard.’ Her position somewhat secure, she took a deep, calming breath. Aethelcília shook her long black hair out of her eyes and dug her hard-soled boots further into the tree. The perch secure enough for her liking, she grabbed a small, wet bag, from her hip with one hand. Opening it revealed a grey, mud like substance. She balanced the bag on her leg, and rubbed the paste into her hand and fingers as best she could. Her legs, and arm, were trembling now. Her brow was furrowed and her face was scrunched into a stern focus. She brought the hand to her face and glared at it, as small, quiet words, escaped her lips. “Gaia, bring me closer to your way…” The paste on her hand began to quake slightly, and shift. It took on a solid look, like one single layer, and from it a hundred small needles protruded. She smiled, and brought the hand to the bark. It latched on as it had many times before. She knew now that hand could not be moved by anything less than a hurricane. ‘Or my father.’ She did the same to the other hand, and both her boots. Both her hands left the tree and she tied the bag back to the belt around her waist. She sighed in relief, placing her hands upon her hips, and stood at a 45 degree angle from the tree. She glanced down briefly, to see the limb she had grabbed previously lying on the rainforest floor, at least 40 feet below. “Yikes,” she intoned quietly. And after that small break she climbed on, quickly reaching the top of the Aspyn tree. She scanned the horizon. From here, all of Aspyn stretched into the horizon. Smoke burned from chimneys, people scurried about like ants. The cityscape sprawled from dirt inroads and farms, to wooden homes of the laymen outside the walls; but as her gaze wandered further inwards, the city morphed into more and more modern. Cobblestone, brick homes, and the ants growing busier and thicker. An excited breath escaped her nostrils, and her eyes sparkled with the wild spark of curiosity her parents had dealt with since she was a child. She rested her awhile, eating a sandwich she had prepared. She watched the noon sun rise. Peace came in in bundles up here. “Cília! Damn you! Come down from there and get back to work!” She looked down at her father, Finnigan of Aspyn, who had his hands cupped to his mouth and his face was red with either a mix of effort, or anger. Probably anger. “Cilia!” He yelled again. “Ugh,” she grimaced, and then grumbled a quiet reply, “Okay, okay, alright.” “I’m coming do-” She began, only to be cut off from her father below “I will cut this whole Aspyn down you silly girl, get down here!” He stamped his foot and pointed to the ground when he said down. “Okay!” She shouted down, pantomiming him mockingly as she walked down the tree. ‘Work this, work that. I can’t have an hour to myself?’ As she reached the bottom, her father cuffed her ‘round the ear, “Yer duty is first to yer family, and second to you.” He said, with a lilted background to his voice. “When yer work is done, you can wander all you like. But not before!” She quickly reached to the side of the head he slapped, glaring at her father. “Fine.” “Don’t fine me! Your evocation ceremony is days away, and you still worry your mother!” He yelled, exasperated, waving a dirt covered hand animatedly. “Okay! Alright! I am sorry.” She drug out the sorry, sneaking twinges of sarcasm into her voice. Her father glared, and eventually his gaze softened. “Come on, we have work.” He sighed, rubbing his temples and walking in the direction of home. Cília huffed, and followed. Her evoking day had been talked about her whole life. The day she would be an adult, free to make her own decision. Recognized in their small neighborhood outside the city, as an equal. Free to make her own business, her own home, marry, and even sire children, should she choose. Most importantly, she would be recognized as a child of Gaia, and finally learn The Woad. It was tomorrow, and she could not wait. She had had enough of the rules, of the curfew, the duties, and obligations. It was a four day venture into the woods, and they would be led by the old crone, or ‘The Druid’ as her parents called her. At the end of that journey, on the fifth day, the ceremony would take place. She had been there before, to the great huge tree at the center, surrounded by ancient stones. She had tried to climb the tree, but the bark was too tough to pierce and too tall to climb without tools. But until then, for today, she would be milling lumber and carving chairs for the thousandth time. -The Next Day- “Come on then, it’s time.” Her father rustled Aethelcília awake. “Come on, Cília.” He said again, gently, as she rocked her. “Uh?” She complained, covering her eyes irritatedly as Finnigan opened the curtains to the dawn. “Nooo.” She whined, drawn out and pitiful. “Yes, you dumb girl, lets go.” Finnigan said, firmly. He tugged her blankets off. “Don’t make me get the bucket.” “No! No, no, no.” She responded quickly, waving her hands from underneath her covers, pleading. “I’m up! I’m up, pa.” He squinted for a moment. Finally, he sighed, and smiled.“Atta’ girl, go get some breakfast.” He said with a smile and a nod as he turned out of the room, pushing aside the curtain that separates it from the rest of the house. The smell of food now wafting through the room quickly roused her, far better than Finnigan could ever hope to. She groaned again, but this time it accompanied the swing of her legs and the cold slap of her feet upon old, creaking, floorboards. She stretched, and rose to dress herself. It was the day. She blinked. ‘Oh, my sweet Gaia. It’s today.’ The thought stunned her, her eyes searching for something in front of her. She attempted to process that, as best she could. She had waited for her evocation for so long, and yet now that it had arrived, how was she supposed to feel? Bigger? Stronger? Wiser? Anticipatory? Scared? “Honey! Come get your food before it gets cold!” Her mother said loudly, and then continued. “Baby come on out, and eat quickly. Half the folks are already outside!” Aethelcília squeaked a small, annoyed, apology. She dressed herself in her tunic, grey pants, and leather coat. That leather coat was old, worn, and obviously stitched in areas like the shoulders or back. She had caught, skinned, and worked the material herself. It was, along with her bow skills, her most prided joy. Tying her long brown hair with twine, she swished aside the curtain The food was in front of her on the kitchen table, the only table in a small and modest two story home. Her parents were there too, dressed to hike. They bore tribal markings from herbal mixtures and dyes, significant to their heritage and journey to come. They would apply these to Cília as well, and reapply them for the whole journey, up until the evocation. There they would be washed of those markings, and her parents the burden of a young child, and her from her childhood. She sat down to eat her meal, scarfing it down as quickly as she could. In between mouthfuls she noticed several heavy and food laden rucksacks lay next to the door. Looking back to her parents, Finnigan and Aileen smiled, Finnigan placing her forehead on hers. “Try not choke before you get there, eh my Cocomo?” She rolled her eyes, a grin failing to be restrained. Cocomo, a type of tree frog native to the Aspyn rainforests, were migratory and were famed for their poor temperament. They also slept through much of their lives, to preserve energy. Cília’s father had long ago donned this name for her, saying it simply fit too well, and to refuse such a similarity would, “Besmirch Gaia’s good earth.” It reminded her, again, of her fleeting childhood. But once more she had no time to ruminate. She had eaten too quickly, and her parents had waited too long. They strode to the door, Aileen hefting her pack over her shoulders. Finnigan put his on as well, and held Cília’s out expectantly. “Let’s go, Cocomo.” He said, a sly grin still creasing his weathered face. It was getting more wrinkled, faster than she would like. ‘When had he gotten so old?’ She pondered, sadly. She was getting into her own head, she resolved. Time had always moved, regardless of her cares. Cília just never noticed it, too busy in the trees, avoiding work. She smiled lightly, trying to squash her blooming sadness. She took the sack, and strapped it onto her back. Her parents opened the door and she followed closely behind, the early dawn light blinding her momentarily. When her vision adjusted, she saw a little over a dozen people here. She was the only child to be evoked this year, but the township had always treated her like the daughter of many, and not just two. So more than just her parents, the druid priest, and her, showed up. It brought a real smile to her face. “Off, then, to new times.” Intoned the druid, softly, yet clearly. There were several cheerful nods, and the pack set out and off, as the druid said, to new times. -Three days later- Traveling had been wonderful. The trees spoke to them with the chirps, coos, caws, and screeching of birds. Monkey’s had hung from their trees to howl at them. The caravan passed troops of apes and monkeys, the druid and some others had worked the Gift and Discipline, speaking to them. They exchanged gifts. The group had passed gorgeous streams, discovered albino and multicolored Aspyns, they had made clay statues from silt in the creeks and left them on the shore to bring luck to other travelers. Cília’s father had found a dead tree, and gave it the honor of rebirth and finality. He also used it to cook the deer they had all hunted, and it flavored the meat wonderfully. They buried the antlers, and sowed seeds under them, to bring life where they had taken it. She had imbibed the druidic concoctions, and smelled colors move. The trees bent and her father spoke tongues. For a moment, she spoke to the monkeys, and the group laughed. When the effects of the brew passed she could not replicate their tongue, though she tried many times, much to the delight of the bored pilgrims. At the end of this third day, when the fire was dying down, their stew was empty, and their bellies full- the druid stood atop a high stump and said, “Tomorrow, we will reach the evoking stone.” She paused slightly, and gestured kindly to Aethelcília. “Tomorrow, we evoke a name, and bring Aethelcília into new times.” The group cheered, raising mugs and horns filled with ale. Cília raised her own, her father sneaking some to her under the guise of ‘apple juice,’ a day early. “Here, here,” she said sloppily. Her father beamed, and her mother chuckled a knowing laugh. “Sleep off that brew girl, you’ve got a day ahead of you you’ll need to be sober for.” Finnigan teased, throwing a blanket at her head. The world spun, and her horn went tumbling out of her grip. The group all laughed, watching the child fall backwards to the soft, wet, earthen floor. “Urgh,” she moaned, consciousness fading. -The day of- It was midday, when Cília tore through the trees in excitement and fell face first into a huge, bald, grey stone. She yelped in pain, and fell backwards onto her pack. More raucous laughter from behind her. A firm hand from a carpenter she had known since she was a baby helped her to her feet, “How’re ye’ ever gonnae find yer feet as an adult, when ye’ couldnae do it an hour ‘fore?” The carpenter said, in that lilted tongue his father spoke in when he was as inebriated as Cília was last night. She rubbed her nose, and simmered in her embarrassment. When she raised her gaze once more, her hand froze, and her jaw dropped. Before her lay a huge clearing, completely devoid of trees or foliage. Four concentric rings with eight stones each, separated by rings of water with each ring becoming smaller the further towards the center you go. The stones were highest in the center and smallest at the furthest ring. The smallest was only 3 feet, but the single highest obelisk in the center was easily 30 feet vertically, and six feet across. All the stones bore glowing green and gold sigils, like the ones she had seen the druid inscribe upon the stag's horns, or her parents had painted on their faces. They pulsed with a power that took her breath away. And just like that, before she could have any time to react, it had started. The towns folk, her family, waded into those concentric pools surrounding the center. Two pairs of hands gripped her arms and back. Her parents, they smiled at her. Then the chanting started, and Cília found a horn offered to her. She blinked, nervous. “It’s quite alright honey dear, same as what you had before, Cocomo.” This time it was her mother calling her that damned frog. Her cheeks flushed, the chanting suddenly had a few chuckles mixed in. The druid reprimanded them with a shush. Cília’s cheeks reddened further, and she paused a moment, before downing the contents of the horn whole. Finnigan took it from her grasp, and the three of them began to walk slowly down to the first pool. The people here were friends of the family, those she knew the least but still smiled at them as their faces and her vision became slightly cloudy. The chanting got louder. She was raised from this ring, humming that chant to herself now, and submerged in the second. Here she was passed from person to person, hugging and speaking to her. Her vision was better now, but with the wrong colors. The chanting could be seen in the air to her as golden runes, exiting her family’s mouths and entering her ears. The chanting got louder. Finally, her parents stepped her to the third ring, with no one in it. They were speaking tongues to her and she was speaking them back, understanding the love being given. The paint was gone from their faces, now. They hugged her, kissed her, and apologized. ‘Wait, apologized? Why would they’- The chanting got louder. Her parents spun her to the center stone, no longer grey but green opal with a golden tip. It glowed, and the druid stepped forward, extending a painted white hand. It grew the fingertips of the Cocomo frog. Cília smiled, giggled, and accepted. The chanting got louder The druid hauled her to the center circle, the last ring. The stone in the center bore a small raised mound before it. There was enough space for one person in front of the obelisk, on top of that mound, and one at the edge of the water. This is where she was, standing at that edge of her history, washing herself through childhood and vaulting into adulthood. Ownership. Land. Profession. Family. Loneliness. The chanting reached its climax. Now a drone that altered pitch as often as her vision. The golden runes going into the golden, glowing peak of the obelisk. It all spoke to her, it assured her. The druid began taking the water, and cleaning her face. She painted her in new dyes, white, and green, and gold. She was kneeling now, absorbed in the song. The druid raised her arms, and spoke the same tongues as before. He evoked her name, “You are Aethelcília, of Aspyn.” The chanting stopped. And now, it was true. She was a woman, she was Aethelcília now, Cocomo no more. She closed her eyes and basked in this feeling. She lost herself in the love she felt, in the future she wanted, and the past she would miss. She embraced it all, and let it go. It felt like ages she sat there, arms outstretched. It felt like the world had turned several times, since she opened her eyes, and the druid had evoked her name. How long had she waded in these cleansing runes, and waited for her to greet the sun? When that time felt like enough, when she felt she had mourned her childhood too long, she opened her eyes. She opened her eyes, and the druid had stepped away. So, she turned to greet her family. Except that as she blinked in confusion and growing fear, looking around and- Aethelcília of Aspyn discovered she was the only one in the clearing.
It felt strange. 'It' might well have been everything about, from the charcoal black clouds, to the slick mud below her feet. It might have been the way in which the city across the hills seemed to stand there in absolute defiance of this foreboding nature, its igneous wall both a physical and almost ephemeral bulwark against any darkness that dared to encroach against it. Perhaps it was the city itself, which while certain resembling such at its core, was as much tents and prayers. Perhaps it was the path she had taken to get here, along with the rest of her colleagues - rather than enjoy the full comforts and safety of a voyage, they had taken the overland passage, stopping briefly at the Abbey along the way, before making their trek northward, carrying them through the ruined and desolated city that stood at the heart of the island. The path was a carefully regulated one, managed by soldiers who seemed to have been stationed there for far too long. Many, by their glances, resented these new faces for not yet bearing the weariness that theirs did; that was strange for Hela too. She was used to odd looks, but for often different reasons. Still, she soldiered on, soon joining the rest of the dispatch that had gone on ahead of her. It was not just walls that seemed to separate Aspyn from the madness that surrounded it, but a forest that hugged it thick as well. Here and there Hela could see a bird of some great size fly about, though she could not discern the kind at this distance. As they approached, it seemed as though even the sun grew brave enough to shine through the clouds, heralding their approach to the city guards, who saw them from afar. Papers were exchanged, identities verified, and soon they were amidst the sea of tents, wading their way through to the heart of this perhaps some day great city. One could see the ambition there, as those that had come to feel the earth beneath their feet was familiar enough that they were erecting the frame of a household around them. One could see the people here had an abundance of wood as provided by the forest, and Hela had a curiosity as to how they might develop with time. But first, she had to make herself familiar with a particular patch of dirt beneath a vast, somewhat blocky building that stood, visibly tall above most buildings that stood here - there was doubtful to be any true skyscraper to obscure its sight for some time. At the entrance there were signs for many services, but it was one that was studied by Hela's group in some detail: That which read 'Terran Embassy', with indications as to the relevant sections of the building. Already, she could hear some of them murmur about their desires to be posted somewhere else, in time. That irritated Hela, making her visibly twitch; but another thought took her, a dissatisfied murmur escaping her lips as she looked up at the building. What did it say of the state of things, that citizens of the empire should need an embassy within their own borders? "Up we go." She muttered to herself as she hopped up the steps, first of her bunch to do so. Pulling back the hood of her purple cloak, and brushing her boots across the welcome mat a few times, Hela then strode across to a receptionist that seemed to be at the other end of the building. Though she had a general gist of things, it was best to make it formal. "Hela," She introduced herself briefly, catching the receptionist's bemused gaze. "I'm with the Office of the Special Ambassador for the Former Dominions and Other Outlying Territories." It was only once she finished speaking it, that she realised what a mouthful it was. "...Oh, you guys." The receptionist grunted something else - something less polite - under his breath. Clearing his throat, he stated, "Hall to your right, second floor." "...Right then." Hela gathered up her belongings just as quickly as she had laid them down, and made her way across to her right, following hall to a staircase, and from that, to the second floor. "...What?" Hela looked up from where she was leaning over her desk, having been in the process of setting everything right. "We have work? Already? We just got here." "That's what I said." Her colleague threw the paperwork down on the woodwork, letting some of it spill from the folder. "But apparently this has been on the backlog for months now, and the PeaceKeeper is wanting it done. Might even try to do it himself if he has to wait any longer." "Oh, please." Hela remarked as she picked up the papers, and began to parse through them. "You know how much work a PeaceKeeper has to do? Probably just saying it to put the pressure on." "Well, you seem to be giving it some thought." The colleague gestured with their gaze towards the way in which Hela went through the material. "Of course I am." Hela answered frankly, without even looking up. "It needs doing and I can do it. Desk's not as important for a job like this." There was a silence that lasted a good minute or so as Hela read, until the colleague spoke up to ask, "What is it exactly?" "Trade talks. Sort of." Hela paused upon her page, staring intently at the fine details. "A 'city' like Aspyn is heavily dependent on what goods it gets, and the first point considered for just about everything is whether or not it'll make things easier on the six million or so that live here." "Gaia have mercy..." The colleague sputtered out, palm to their face, as they realised the scale of the population for the first time. Hela continued, "So, if things can be made a bit less 'critical', then it eases up the city's ability to focus on developing its infrastructure, and not just sustaining people. From the looks of it, if they can get this 'Fjord' fellow onboard, that's gonna be a bit help in getting people out of those tents sooner." "What's he deal in?" Came the obvious question. "Raw industrial materials, looks like. Novonium especially." Hela let out a small sigh as she set down the papers once more. "Wait, Novonium? Novonium's standard stuff, how's that critical?" Came another, less obvious question. "It's 'standard' in places that have established industries, trade routes, contacts - that sort of thing." Hela explained as she looked about, and upon finding a map of the continent, went to it. A finger pressed itself against the western edges of the paper. "But it comes from Weland Gorge. It gets distributed to the rest of the continent through major ports, megacities, so on." With some nearby pins, she began to puncture the map, showcasing examples of such places - all south and to the east of where they stood. "There's nothing on the northern coastline for over 13,000 kilometres, no-one's going to go that way for travel and trade. Meanwhile if you take it somewhere like, I dunno, Casper, then it hits markets in Ignatz and Dougton first." She gestured to the two cities, though she wasn't entirely sure what the status on the latter at the moment was. "There's very little incentive to come up this far up here, especially if you've gotta go through almost literal hell to get here." "So what makes Fjord any different?" Came a third, hopefully final question. Hela gestured to the report in question. "Because he does come here, along the coast, to buy some things. Seems his customers have taken a shine to Aspyn lumber. So our job's to try and figure out how to convince him to slot some of this," she then gestured to her spear and shield, laid down nearby, "Into his supply chain." "Do we get any help with that? List of resources we can use or offer?" Came a fourth question, proving the previous not to be so final. "...Give me a second." Hela picked up the papers again, just to double check what if anything they actually did have to work with.
Biazo Isle; But one of many places on this expanse world that he had yet had the pleasure to venture to and investigate first hand. He'd heard rumor of the bountiful harvest it cultivated, though without any proof or validity to the claims he had a hard time believing. Thus he'd come to visit now. After travelling around the mainlands of Terrenus a bit, and coincidentally making some new friends and enemies along the way, it seemed curiosity had yet to kill this cat. While he'd undoubtedly left the mainlands, he was still in what was considered to be Terrenus. In comparison, from what his sparkling, emerald eyes could see, the Cambion was already in the train of thought that this island was more of a diamond in the rough. The adversity that arose with the like of the Safeguard Act and the Civil War didn't span far nor wide enough to implicate the island so much as it had to many parts of the mainland. While he firmly believed he wouldn't find what he was looking for directly in the city life of Aspyn, the Magician was certain that this was the best viable beginning to satisfying his curiosity. Lest he wished to go on a wild goose chase without even a single lead. Even with direct witness to the claims, or discovery of some byproduct, he wished to witness first hand the native flora that was said to host holy properties. Holy properties that were rumored to benefit the user of such herbs in ways not even he could fathom. One that ingested the herbs found themselves relieved of so called Evil energy, though in his mind Evil was more a matter of perception than it was fact; At least in the realm of mortals. Being a man of half Demonic lineage, he couldn't help but wonder if these products of the land could somehow rid him of such genetics. However, he had no desire to do such a thing at this point in his life. For he did not see this portion of his heritage as any more or less detrimental or evil than he did his human half. The real question was, where to start? Should he just begin asking random passersby? Perhaps he should visit the Embassy and seek the advice of the native leadership or the professionals involved in harvesting said flora. Regardless, he'd refuse to be content without finding the source of this vegetation and it's proclaimed effect. If the source could even be identified and viewed by him directly. The one sure thing was that something was different about the plant life here than it was anywhere else he'd managed to visit. Not only could he see such with his WIZARD EYES, but he could even feel it through what he called The Great Æther. @Pasion Pasiva
“0800 is when the next caravan comes by. Tomorrow at 2000 is the one after. Scuzzballs haven’t sent any reinforcements yet, so it’s safe to say they won’t send anybody until a new deployment of soldiers comes to Aspyn next month.” Dervish the half-man spoke to his comrades in a small den off the main path from Aspyn to its sister colonies on Biazo Isle. In the boroughs of Bi’le’ah, 12 Half-man gangsters belonging to notorious Half-man crimelord the Mule planned the assault of a produce caravan heading from Aspyn to an auxiliary settlement to the northeast. Armed with rusty knives and faulty guns, half-derelict armor constructed from metal sheets and a couple highly intelligent leaders with hidden magical powers, this dozen had relieved several supply caravans of their supplies and relayed them back to the Mule. Most Half-men of Bi’le’ah were busy picking up the pieces of their broken lives since the unnatural magical hurricane and the war in which it shrouded itself, and they reviled the Mule for the stereotypes his actions cast upon them. Nonetheless the Mule persisted with his unsavory means of acquiring means to survive and, in some twisted perspective, a degree of warped lavish. “Alright.” Extending from an orb in the center of a table was a hologram of Peacekeeper Michael Commager and regent of the budding Aspyn. The filaments fit together perfectly, except for when he moved and in the pixels around his mouth; the hologram’s live feed didn’t quite have perfect resolution. This room was full of soldiers and vigilantes dedicated to stopping the threat coming from the Mule’s men. “The attacks on our caravans show all the signs of the Mule’s handiwork. We have dealt firsthand with the Mule and his men before. Escapees of his raids with tetanused scratches and bludgeoning injuries report roughshod groups of mutant-looking creatures attacking their wagons. The physical profiles are consistent with half-men, but it’s alleged that there are a couple powerful individuals among them. According to sources, they are the Mule’s left-hand men. “You will depart with the 0800 group in the morning or the 20000 group in the evening tomorrow, your choice. You must disguise yourself as caravaners and merchants. You can either capture the perps and question them about the Mule or defeat them to send a message to his men. “Afterward report back here, and we’ll take your analysis into consideration when establishing an outpost and division to deal with caravan theft. Questions, or can we begin planning specifics?” Those who didn’t know Michael Commager shuffled their feet, wondering whether or not the hologram was actually a live feed, or a recording. That was when the quizzical image of the Major shifted, his eyes scanning this way and that, dispelling any notion that this was not in fact the real Peacekeeper. “Well?”