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[Jerilor] Tidings of The West Wind

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Ladika, slave-servant to Queen Cleopatra XIII of Jerilor, was a quiet girl.  The way she moved through the halls of the palace without producing a sound impressed the man who trailed her.  The Deliverer, that was his codename for this mission, and he couldn’t decide if that was clever or uncreative; but, he didn’t set his sights too high.  The Deliverer knew he wasn’t clever enough to ever have a chance of raising much beyond his current rank – much less ever becoming a Head of Babylon.  The codename was probably clever and he was too daft to get the joke – he’d see if someone would explain it when he returned to base. 

 

The Deliverer was good at his work.  He’d been hand-picked by one of the Heads of Babylon for this task.  Probably Dom, since Dom was the only one who knew him personally – but The Deliverer wanted to believe it had been one of the others who had selected him.  Dom had given him his mission instructions in the form of a letter – which wasn’t really Dom’s style; and Dominic Corso had said being selected was “a great honor” and explained at length “not to fuck it up.” 

 

Perhaps Lamont had selected him.  The youngest of the Heads of Babylon – and he’d already held multiple Head positions; he’d held Dom’s position for a time – Head of Spec-Ops – before moving on to the enigmatic title of Head of Babylon Operations, which had belonged to Donnie before Donnie had died.  Marlo seemed to have taken over Donnie’s job in addition to his own, so there were whispers that Lamont had been shifted to a different title.  The members of Babylon were still told to call him a Lieutenant Colonel – but everyone knew that was bullshit.  Lamont was a mystery in Babylon, but everyone besides the other Heads treated him like god. 

 

Wishful thinking – focus on your mission.  Lamont probably wasn’t even in Adaviel – if he was, no one had seen him.  The Deliverer watched, unseen in the darkness, as Ladika unlocked the door to the antechamber of Queen Cleopatra XIII’s chambers.  As the door budged open, sliding silently on well-greased hinges, The Deliverer brought the soaked woolen cloth up against Ladika’s face.  The slave-servant slid limply into his arms. 

 

He locked the door behind him.  The guards would be returning to their posts soon. 

 

[HR][/HR]

 

As dawn crept into the royal chambers, The Deliverer was long gone.  Ladika, however, was knelt at the foot of the Queen’s bed, as if awaiting a command.  The position was a mockery – bloodroot had rotted away Ladika’s throat and eyes – leaving only decayed holes.  The plant tore apart live flesh at a molecular level – but Ladika had died as the substance had eaten into her brain.  There really wasn’t much of a mess – some puss, a dark fluid that had used to be Ladika’s brain, and a few other small stains dotted the corpse’s gown; however, the letter held tightly by the rigor mortis inflicted fingers of Ladika’s body was pristine.

 

The envelope was unmarked.  The seal was a perfect circle of black wax without any markings.  The letter within was unsigned:

 

Queen Cleopatra XII,

 

 The wild West Wind is called the Destroyer and Preserver: uncontrollable justice.  It shall quench the fire of your reign and spread the ashes and embers over the lands.  The leaves flee it – seeking to live longer than they should.  It tears them from their boughs and leaves their corpses yellow, black, orange, and hectic red.  You are not as swift as a leaf and your sins are far greater than theirs. 

 

You shall answer for your crimes.  I wonder how your corpse will be left when the wild West Wind comes.

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"Ladika!" A smoky voice rang out through the halls of the cold, marble Jerilor Palace, the bruising presence of anger making the rooms seem silent and empty.

 

Where was that damned, useless servant girl of hers?! Could she be counted on for nothing?

 

Two guards accompanied the angry queen, their helmets hiding their faces, bearing sharpened spears and tattooed with the kingdom's symbol--two peach blossoms surrounded by a circle of three serpents. Viva la Regina was printed in capital letters along the bottom curve. It was yet another demand of Cleopatra's to have a more permanent gesture of loyalty from newly drafted guards and soldiers.

 

Her dark brown hair was pulled back at the sides and bound in the back, her hazel-grey eyes burning with a fury demons would flee from. Her gauzy clothes were blood red, her outfit a simple empire cut dress with dangling sleeves. She didn't bother to wear sandals in her own home. The fabric was whipping about her almost like she was in the middle of a storm. Where was that stupid Ladika??

 

Cleopatra returned to her quarters to quite a sight--the servant girl she had been searching for was kneeling at her bed. As her face grew slightly red and a snarl appeared on her face before she stomped over to the slave and grasped her shoulder to yank her around, neglecting to use her voice alone.

 

"I have been looking--" Her angry voice broke, shattering to the floor like a piece of china. Ladika was dead, and it was not a pretty sight--bodily fluids everywhere, decomposing body, the stench wafting off of her clothes and skin--Cleopatra was surprised that she didn't notice the smell earlier, when walking in. However, the queen was not squeamish about blood and so that part didn't bother her as much as her most loyal and obedient servant had been killed for no apparent reason. Glancing around the scene, she noticed an envelope strategically placed so it wouldn't be the first thing she would observe but it would be something she picked up. Cleopatra snatched it up, angrily ripping it open and leaving Ladika sprawled on the floor.

 

"Gaurds!" Her voice boomed, and the two men entered her chambers with a look of uneasiness. "Clean this mess up, have her buried, I don't care how." The queen left her chambers, the pads of her feet greeting cool stone with every step. A scathing hot sea of rage rested under her cool facade, the envelope opened in her hand, reading the letter once before crumpling it unceremoniously in her hand. It had always been a possibility that her assassination schemes would get back to her somehow, but never had it been so damned rude. It was probably that Denfell brat, or perhaps the damned Velide queen. The dwarves would be too dumb to send a message in this method.

 

A small snarl escaped her soft lips, and she immediately snapped her fingers, a mousy, mostly naked slave appearing swiftly. "Gather some of my things, quickly. Also, find some damned clothes; you've been promoted."

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Just another day, he thought. Another day in the life of a mercenary. Another day in the life of one of Cleopatra's soldiers. Another day in the life of a man who risked life and limb for stupid money. But hey, it was the only thing he was good at. He wasn't going to eat much food from other means. Tennyson tightened the firm cloths wrapped around his palms and stood up. Time for a little workout while he still had the time. Quickly, he strode out of the barracks, hardly glancing at the few he passed by. He'd been in Cleopatra's service only for a few months, but he'd quickly shown that he had superior skills to any one soldier in the army. Two things helped him achieve this- first, his broad, double-edged sword, coated in poison. All it took was a good cut anywhere on one's body, and before the hour was through he'd have suffered a pretty painful death. Now, it wasn't the quickest way to kill someone, but still useful in its own right.

 

Second, his ability. As anyone he sparred knew, when Tennyson's adrenaline kicked in, he was granted superhuman strength. He had tried several things when enraged, and he'd successfully broken a block of stone a couple feet in length, width, and height in half. Well, it had shattered in the center, and then fallen in to main pieces and hundreds of tiny ones, but close enough. After proving his skills to his employers, he'd found himself quickly elevated to the elite guard. Not bad, but it didn't grant him freedom from the stupid tattoo they had emblazoned on him. He'd have to find a way to get that removed when he left Cleopatra's army.

 

Quickly he found himself in the training grounds. Here, the young man found a wooden post wrapped in rope that soldiers used for training. He unsheathed his sword and, keeping himself from becoming too excited, withdrew his sword and practiced the finer movements of swordplay; his parries, sequences, thrusts, advances, retreats, and so on. Tennyson worked for a good half hour, all the while making sure he didn't get too excited. Near the end, he was sweating pretty well, but hardly out of breath. Then, a thought occurred to him. He took a full-on swing at the wood pole. The sharp edge cut about a third of the way through. Tennyson shook his head a bit, then jerked the sword back out. He let out a big roar, flexing his muscles as strength poured into them. Whipping the sword back, he struck with all his might.

 

The only sound heard was that of the upper section of the post hitting the ground, cleanly sliced through. "That's better," he murmured, then put the sword back in its scabbard, laid diagonally across his back. It was about time to report back to his duties. Just another ordinary day... supposedly.

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Arian watched the young man practice. It was an amusing sight to her. If she were a few years younger, and not married... But no, she was most likely twice, if not three times his age and she was married. No matter how she got at her husband, she'd never do that to him.

When Cleopatra roared out, she half turned to see what the woman needed. That woman needed someone to stand up to her, not a bunch of mewing runts who said yes to everything. Arian went to find the queen and ask what the matter was. Though she was a queen, some days, Arian felt like strangling her. It was, she assumed, a mutual feeling. She wasn't a bad soldier, not by a long shot, but she was rather argumentative.

"Your Highness." Arian made a deep, almost mocking, bow to the queen. "Is there anything you need? I heard you yelling for the guards a few minutes ago. But I was occupied, otherwise I would have come sooner." She kept a smile off her face. She hadn't seen anything worth doing for days. Maybe that man she was watching chop up a practice post would give her a nice challenging duel.

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Not even bothering to look one of the sparse female guards in the eye, she waved dismissively to her chambers. "Like I said, there's a dead fucking servant in there." Cleopatra had bigger things on her mind than the attitude of another disposable guard. 

 

"While you're at it, please assemble a small force with sufficient supplies to last at least two weeks. I will be leaving the Keep shortly, I tire of this palace." If there was one thing the new queen was extremely skilled at, it was ordering inferior beings about. This message, the one left on the dead Ladika, was a definite warning. A blatant one, no matter in what enigmatic and ambiguous way it was delivered--and although the queen hated to give in to any enemy, her best choice right now was to save her strength and flee to a safe house, attended by a loyal noble family. Her mother had many of them built during her rein, a display of her wealth and paranoia that few knew of.

 

The newly promoted maid servant returned to Cleopatra's quarters, bearing several large traveling bags. The sun had already set, and a pale twilight drifted through the windows, carrying the scents of tangerine blossoms and jasmine. A cool twilight radiated throughout the coast, the rhythmic caress of the waves meeting the shore lulling the swallows to sleep, to dream of the fresh dawn. Night would be the best time to travel.

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Mona bowed to Queen Cleopatra and immediately scampered off to fetch clothes.  She hated the bitter chill of the air against her bare breasts, but she hadn’t been allowed to wear more than what was necessary to cover her other feminine parts – slaves had a choice between which part they wanted to conceal, but she wasn’t about to cover her breasts and run around with her crotch exposed. 

 

She found a silk slip and bound it at her waist with a ribbon.  She didn’t dare to search for more clothing – she had to hurry back.  One of the female guards crashed into Mona as she was running to fetch Cleopatra’s travel gear.

 

“The Queen wants a force assembled,” the guard said.  “Who do I go to?”  The woman was in tears – Queen Cleopatra didn’t think about who she ordered around.  A female royal guard didn’t train with the general forces.  She wouldn’t have any idea who would be best for a protective guard. 

 

“Go to the west pavilion training yard.  Get Arian – she’s a ranking guard.  Make sure you find Tennyson too – he’s a big man that was recently recruited.  Tell them to gather four others and then hurry back to the Queen’s rooms.  They’ll go find the Captain of the Guard and have him relinquish the right people.”  Mona kept her voice calm and kind.  The slaves had to know everything about the palace – every important person and how the place worked; otherwise, they wouldn’t live long. 

 

Ladika had held some protection as the personal slave-servant to Queen Cleopatra, and Mona was second-in-line for the position, although she doubted the Queen knew that.  That was the reason why she’d been on hand for the incident.  She’d been trailing the Queen from the minute Ladika was late. 

 

She watched the guard sprint off to the west pavilion and tugged at her shift.  It wasn’t really long enough to be proper, but it would have to do.  She went and grabbed the bags for Cleopatra and brought them to the Queen. 

 

A few minutes later, Arian, the female guard, Tennyson, and three others had shown up.  From the look on the female guards face, the Captain of the Guard had assigned her to this escort duty. 

The sun began to set.

 

They would leave soon.

Edited by Bradapalooza

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He had noticed the girl watching him. But it didn’t really matter to him. Girls weren’t of his interest at the moment- all he cared about was his job and the thrill of battle. Anyway, wasn’t she really old for her looks? He’d heard she was an elf or something of that nature. Yeah, he thought to himself. She was probably just watching him out of interest for his actual abilities.

Muscles shrank back down to their normal size as the adrenaline wore down. Thankfully, he was able to control it more than other human beings, and it didn’t wear him down quite so much as it would for someone without his powers. Tennyson still felt like he could take on anyone at the moment. Before long, he was back at his barracks. A quick wipe-down to get the sweat off him, a drink of water, and-

“Tennyson!”

He glanced up to see a female guard hastening toward him, obviously a bit distressed and in a hurry. Obviously she was a royal guard. What kind of business would she have here? “What is it?” he asked, tone unrushed and almost lackadaisical.

“The queen n-needs a forced assembled,” she said, practically stumbling over her words as they came rushing from her mouth. “You n-need to get four others and h-hurry to the Queen’s room. Someone s-said you’d go f-find the Captain of the Guard and have him r-relinquish the right people.” It sounded like she was copying exactly the words of whoever this somebody was, but it didn’t matter. She was right.

Tennyson had perked at the mention of the Queen. Finally, something interesting. Nodding quickly, Tennyson gave the guard a reassuring smile and nodded quickly. “Thank you. I’ll get to that straight away.” No sense in being callous. As the female guard hurried off, he thought for a moment. Four others to take with him? That must mean they were leaving the castle. At least, Tennyson couldn’t think of anything that would need more than five soldiers, and anyway, the Captain of the Guard wouldn’t need to know about this if it was going to be quick.

“Heh…” he mumbled to himself as he quickly grabbed the gloves and boots he used for travelling. “I’d be lucky if I could find two soldiers that‘re competent enough to protect the queen herself. Bunch of jokers, they are.” The poison he used for his sword was infused into the scabbard. He’d found a friend during his mercenary wanderings who made it that the tip of the sword got dipped into fresh poison every time he sheathed the sword over his back. Tennyson couldn’t quite figure out how he’d done it, but his friend had said it wouldn’t come gushing out if the scabbard got turned upside down.

Now, despite the trust he had for his friend, he wasn’t exactly brave enough to try it and was careful to make sure it stayed upright. He’d been guaranteed that the container was leak-proof, and it was heavily reinforced on the outside with metal. Over the year he’d used it not a problem had come up, and Tennyson took it for granted. Even if there was somehow a leak, the poison had to get into the bloodstream for it to work, anyway.

Tennyson made up which soldiers he’d take with him. Quickly he sauntered to each soldier, knowing where each one would be at this time of day. “Come on, gather your things. The Queen’s gonna need you.” He knew they’d do what was necessary. After all, they were only a little more intelligent than fighting lemmings. Having finished that and speaking with the Captain of the Guard, he quickly found where the queen was. He stood, body at attention but expression and mind at ease, awaiting whatever the queen might have for him.

So much for “just another ordinary day”. Edited by WalterF

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Arian looked Cleopatra in the eye and nodded. "Of course, Your Highness. She turned away from the Queen and wandered to the barracks, intending to grab her things before doing anything else. The smile she had supressed crept slowly on the her face as she opened the door and walked to her bunk. There stood her pack and meager possesions. The only things of value that she had brought with her to this job were a ring and her swords. Swiftly, she stuffed everything that she had brought into her pack and shouldered it, walking out of the barracks.

A female soldier sprinted towards her as soon as she had stepped out of the door. "The Queen says that you--"

Arian abruptly cut the woman's words short. "Yes, yes. I know. You just run along now. I know where to go."

Really, she didn't know where to go, but she could make a guess. It would probably be where all the hubbub and chaos was. Ah. There was the chaos she expected.

Tennyson and a few other guards were there. Wonderful! An interesting person to counteract the dullness of the rest of the group. All the Queen really knew how to do was order people around and be demanding. The guards were mindless simpletons, with no true knjowledge of how to fight.

"Your Highness," Arian bowed swiftly and stood upright. "If I may, where are we going in such a hasty fashion?"

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