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The Alexandrian

Salvation Through Steel

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[En Route to Telerian - Ham's Repose - 1916]

Her forces were too few and her enemies too many.  She was the pebble that sought to dam the river, the goblin that sought to bed the troll.  Hers was a mind set on suicide.  She had traveled far just to off herself, but who was he to correct a Patian?  A great man once said, "Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake."  It was advice he had taken to heart.

So said the gnomish barman to the heavily armed centaur.  He was flanked by four ugly delinquents: a drug fiend with bloodshot eyes and a nervous tic, an eight foot tall orcish steroid freak, a maladjusted woman with a face painted in the style of a voodoo priestess, and a whale of a man with wooden teeth.  The barman had severe halitosis; he took deep breaths of noxious air and planted himself atop a wooden stool so Ker could better appreciate the malodorous scent of unchecked bacterial growth.  In the end, he would take his unsolicited "advice" to the grave.

Ker peered through the slit in her visor at the mental midget in wide-eyed astonishment.  He was an exceptionally daft motormouth, treating a centaur in battledress armed to the teeth with both sharp and blunt implements designed expressly to sunder flesh and bone with such irreverence.  Without a word, she indulged the bumpkin, weathering gibe and physical harassment.  Raucous laughter erupted from the patrons as the stunted comic denigrated her, the patrons themselves quipping whenever the barman paused to catch his breath.  Coarse voices barked at Ker through billows of smoke as though she was a marbled steak and they were a pack of famished hounds.

"I've got a carrot for you right 'ere, horsey!"  "Jus' look a' 'er, standin' 'ere and takin' it like a good lil Terran bitch."  "She musta been touched in the 'ead.  You better speak real loud and slow to 'er, Hamilton!"

Their vulgar words escaped through fissures in the plaster, polluting the frigid air beyond.  These men and women were dim, as dim as the room in which they sat shelling out coppers for tankards of watered-down booze.  They were farmers.  They were uppity peasants living in the ass end of nowhere poking fun at a knight because they had nothing better to do on a Friday night.  Moe, Larry, Curly, and Curly Joe were self-proclaimed adventurers of no bona fide import.  During Whispernight, they stood their ground against a dozen undead, and they fancied themselves heroes.  To compensate the party members for their valiant deeds, the barkeep awarded them discounted food and drink for the rest of their mortal lives.  The party's heads were swollen, balloons that could, at any moment, rip their feet from the dirt-encrusted floor, while the peasants' heads were empty, the breeze whistling a merry melody as it strolled from ear to ear.  There must be lead in the water 'round these parts. 

The barkeep detained Ker for approximately thirty minutes.  For thirty consecutive minutes, he yammered on and on and on, um-ing and uh-ing as he recited what could only be the contents of a worm-eaten joke book line by line.  For thirty consecutive minutes, brain-dead peasants hurled fistfuls of rubbish at the veteran warrior.  They rubbed their greasy mitts on her shining armor, slathering on a fresh coat of oil and grime.  A team of bucktoothed hicks even attempted to tip the centaur.  All the while, Ker did not stir.

The barkeep smirked in smug satisfaction, basking in the limelight the "dumb animal" afforded.  He had run out of breath, he had run out of material to plagiarize, and he had run out of time.

Are you done?

Ker inquired, her tone inexplicably neutral.

Do you belong in a stable?  Scram, horsey, 'fore I hitch you to a plow!

The bilious barkeep retorted.  His crude sentiment was again parroted by the audience.  After receiving his answer, Ker faced about, her motions marked by the very same indifference with which she listened to the barkeep's speech.  It was the second sign of life Ker had exhibited since the barkeep began to orate.

And are the rest of you done?

"Yeah, piss off into the night!"  "'it the road, freak!"  "We're sick of ya.  If you want company, go find a stallion in the stables."

These were the choicest last words (that I can safely relay) of all of the peasants assembled in Ham's Repose that fateful night.

I don't serve your kind or fancy dancy aloe-pea -

 


Word Count (Total): 753 Words

Edited by The Alexandrian
Prelude

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Ker is a warrior, strong and true.  She is Death's champion, a rider on a white horse.  At her command, hundreds perished in a clash of steel, and by her hand, thousands had been spared a violent, lonely death in a faraway land.  Her deeds were lost to history, eroded by the grains of sand that trickled through the neck of a cosmic hourglass.  In another world and in another time, people, her people, had honored her as a hero who could do no wrong.  Ker had fallen from the crown of the heavens through the earth to the core of hell.  So far removed was she from her past that she laid the name her mother and father had given her to rest; all that remains of their dear child and her romantic spirit is a woeful pawn in a game of gods.

This life is not what Ker craves but what external powers and grim circumstances demand.  Conditioned to defend the realm whatever the cost, Ker put aside her selfish aspirations at an early age.  Ker's troops were her family.  Through valor, she earned victory, and through victory, she won renown.  Blood seeped through her fingers, contaminating all she connected with.  Love, sympathy, and, more often than not, rest locked their doors and shuttered their windows when they spied her banners fluttering on the horizon.  Her legacy was a field of decomposing corpses shut into oblong boxes under a sky of black smoke.  Cheering incessantly, they amassed before her, lionizing the genocidal knight and the barbarous soldiers who faithfully served her though they were ideologically inferior to the men and women they had slain.  Even now, an unkindness of ravens roosted atop the ramshackle shed behind the bar.  "As it was, so shall it be," the gods decreed as the birds sung her praise.  Ker, Ker, Ker, queen of ravens and commander of crows; Ker, Ker, Ker, wherever you tread, a black rose grows.

Ker could not find it in her heart to pardon the barkeep for his snide shtick or the haughty contempt that defined his address.  She simply could not afford such a privilege.  Rules constrained her, rules that would imperil her reputation were they violated.  This man was, in his own way, a threat to her.  If Ker left him as he was, he would, in his hubris, recount a dramatized version of her tale to every weary traveler who entered his bar.  By the light of day and the dark of night, he would rake her name through mud.  His gallows speech evinced as much; in strident intervals, he consigned himself to an early grave.  Yet Ker could not execute a man (however churlish and countrified) for doubting her abilities.  No, she would dispel his doubt and improve his character.  She would wipe the ash and dirt off the lenses of his glasses, and he would see the world anew.

Ker acted with preternatural alacrity and precision.  Seemingly unburdened by the plate armor and barding that encased her, Ker's hind legs shot through the air as she raised her hindquarters aloft.  The outsoles of her hoof boots kissed the barkeep's forehead, smearing it with the dust of the road while applying a negligible amount of force to the frontal bone of his skull.  He was undamaged - well, as undamaged as he was before Ker "kicked" him - if unbalanced (in more ways than one), and so he stayed as he recoiled in terror, shrieked like a little girl, and tumbled off of his stool and onto the floor.  The barkeep's hair stood on end as his eyes signaled that he received her message loud and clear.  Had Ker desired, his brain would be a scramble of fat and juice sliding across the splintering floorboards.  In less time than it took for the man to piss himself, Ker could have cracked his head open like an egg.

The barkeep's flunkies reflexively flinch as Ker's fingers begin to drum on the grip of her saber after she sticks her landing, daring them to draw their flimsy weapons and have at her.  Ker may have exposed her back to the five pretenders, but they felt her chilling intent permeate their flesh and impinge on their souls.  At the first sign of the slightest provocation, she would murder them in cold blood.  If they ran from her, she would ride them down.  If they hid from her, she would exact her due from their loved ones and neighbors.

Too late had they realized that Ker was anything but a Gaian paladin.  Their lives, all that they were, are, and would be, are hers to do with as she pleases.

 


Word Count (Total): 1,535 Words

Edited by The Alexandrian

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Fools, the lot of them. Their inane antics did not surprise him in the slightest for their hubris remained a testament to the ignorance of the entities that graced this pitiful establishment. Agony had not bothered to inform Ker that he would be joining her in the endeavor. How could he when the centaur had decided to shoulder the burden of acquiring whatever treasures these lands held with crushing hoof and maiming steel alone? The Triumvirate was an organization in its infancy, only just beginning to suckle upon the nourishment that this realm laid bare for them. Ker, perhaps due to a heightened sense of superiority or insanity, had traversed her way here on her own without him or Rodan. Though doubt would never taint his view of the centauress, a trepidation surged through him concerning how she had unknowingly deprived him of the wondrous pain he could experience here and the power he could gain as a result.

 

This selfish notion was all that brought him here just in time to witness the derisive onslaught of comments thrown in the warrior’s direction. He witnessed the chorus of insults that attempted to pepper her and the statuesque indifference she effortlessly displayed until she provided but a small glimpse of the skill and power he had witnessed too long ago. This was when Agony emerged from his shadowy vantage point. The large black mass that constituted his form was decorated with several eyes, the superfluous quantity purposefully created to intimidate. The barkeep fell into the natural submission that came with the realization he was severely outmatched, the fear present in his eyes exquisite though Ker’s decision to leave the man alive disappointed the approaching Agony. It only highlighted the distinct differences he held with the rest of the triumvirs. Perhaps Ker preferred to win minds and exude example where Agony only wished to snuff the lives of those he considered a waste or a hindrance. It was this transformative manner of thinking that boggled Agony, yet managed to intrigue him enough to entertain the idea that he could actually belong to an organization that would not hinder the ascension he desired.

 

The audience that had gathered into a small crowd would quickly turn with mouths agape at the sight of Agony, diverting their attention briefly as they tried to comprehend the horror of what he was.

 

“What the hell is that thing!”

“I think I drank a bit too much guys!”

“It looks like my late wife. Maybe her wretched soul has come back to haunt me…”

 

Various other exclamations similar to those would be heard while the minds of others would shut down completely as they failed to make sense of what approached them. As his proximity increased, the crowd quickly began to disperse perhaps because they all began to realize their inferiority or because the instinctual mode of self-preservation warranted they do so. Agony’s massive body and height would be easily noticeable by the centaur as he placed himself before her, eyes shifting upon his mass and regarding those that surrounded him with disdain though he held no true sign as he held no face to properly convey it. A large slit would form in the middle of his body, a discordant sound erupting forth as he spoke rather plainly to Ker.

 

“It is time to stop wasting time with this filth.”

 

“It talks too! I’ll have another one of these drinks please…”

 

Agony paid no attention to any of the remarks or gasps that followed.

 

“Let them bask in their weakness. Discard them like the rabble they are”

 

Despite the obvious insult that was hurled in their direction, the multitude made no move to defend themselves. Whether struck with awe or suddenly feeling the creeping fondling of despair, the audience lay mute unable to fathom that they were witnessing a blob covered with eyes talking to a centaur. The Ham’s Repose would surely have a story or two to tell concerning what had occurred today but it would pale in comparison to the epic that Agony and Ker would fashion from this day forth.

Edited by Dolor Aeternum

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Men ought either to be indulged or utterly destroyed, for if you merely offend them they take vengeance, but if you injure them greatly they are unable to retaliate, so that the injury done to a man ought to be such that vengeance cannot be feared.

- Niccolò Machiavelli

For all the men and women the Shackled Overlord had slain, for the nation of orphans who so lovingly carved her emblem into their parents' gravestones, Ker could not countenance gratuitous violence.  Was such antipathy to the deeds that made a hero of her paradoxical?  In a word, no; she only defended her people from retribution, well-deserved though it was.  The acrid smoke of their impudence stung the eyes of the gods, and when mortal men strove to punish the citizens of Ninus like the depraved iconoclasts they were, to wash their sin away before they damned all who walked upon the earth, champions rose to strike the angels from the skies and drown the demons that dwelled in the dark corners of reality.  The directives Ker issued to her men compelled them to seal the devout within their sacred temples and burn them alive.  Her hands guided the flames that immolated the faithful.  The void rang with the frenetic wailing of the young and the old, of men, women, and children as Ker removed her helmet and smeared her forehead and cheeks with the ashes of noncombatants.  In this moment, Ker was a horror of war, an avatar of violent death.  She was a legendary hero; no one paid her trembling hands or wavering voice any mind.  Her ruthlessness saved more lives than it claimed.  Her humanity waned in service of the greater good.

Just as no amount of penance or prayer had the power to redeem her, no crime she could commit would impact her postmortem reservations.  In the grand scheme of things, it would make no difference if she lamed every soul within the bar or executed them on the spot.  She could sever their tendons and relish their anguished expressions as their muscles rolled up beneath their skin.  She could cleave their midsections asunder and lap up their desperation as they instinctively held in their intestines or scooped what they could of their innards off of the splintery floor and, in a panic, shoveled them back inside.  In spite of her foreordained condemnation, the images that flashed through her mind sickened her, and she restrained her bestial modes as she had done so many times in the past.

Losing face with Agony was immaterial to Ker.  Virtually every other member of the Abbadon Triumvirate would not have tolerated the levity of these malodorous hicks.  The triumvirs themselves were fundamentally dissimilar and, as Nines predicted, regularly at odds in intent but not technique.  Ker was obsessed with averting the end of all things whatever the cost.  Nines campaigned for dominion over the land and stability for her "subjects."  Rodan ostensibly hankered for knowledge, but the collaborative strategies he employed spoke well of his character.  Agony was viscous, vile, and violent.  He - or it - was unnatural in every sense of the term.  While Ker hadn't a clue as to what motivated him (he may be a sadist for all she knows), she identified an uncanny correlation between his tactics and the tactics she so actively forsook.  Ker could not dispute the intrinsic efficacy of these strategies, the cultivation of fear through an exercise of barbarism, but the toll they exact from one's spirit and the reverberations that propagate outward from the epicenter of such ham-fisted malevolence were generally unacceptable in quotidian situations.  Whether or not Agony was soulless and inhuman, someday Ker would be forced to educate him on the finer points of diplomacy and decency for his sake.  His ignorant and hasty comportment was unbefitting of one of her charges.  The consequences of his actions could very well bite her in the arse, so it would behoove her to teach him to properly evaluate all alternatives before separating a man's head from his shoulders sooner rather than later.

Even as the cowed peasants began to disperse, some jumped at the chance to demonstrate their stupidity once more by cracking jokes at Agony's expense.  Such delinquency could not go unanswered; before the peasants egress, their path is blocked by a chuckling centauress.  Her left hand conceals an object behind her back, but none of her weapons are drawn.  What is she doing?  This is the polar opposite of wasting no more time on this filth!

These lowborn farmers flirt with oblivion, and you, Agony, intervene on their behalf, admonishing me to release them from the debt they owe for frittering my time away.  You would deny me the fun that is my just recompense for the amusement I have provided.  Ha!  We'll make a warrior of you yet!

Agony might feel the warmth of Ker's playful smile upon him as she raises her visor.  In time, he will learn of the commonalities between a toothy grin from Ker and the bared teeth of a beast.  Ker's expression is eerie and portentous; the warmth in it succumbs to ice and aggression the instant before anyone can smile back at her.

But you and I both know I can't let them off so easily.  Tit-for-tat, comrade.  These slack-jawed jackanapes and slatternly wenches treated me like a beast of burden, so I shall treat them like beasts of burden.  It's more than they deserve, but I am a generous individual, as you well know, which is why I am willing to overlook your transgressions against me in recognition of your dramatic entry provided you assist me in this matter.  Can you believe that I have forgotten what farmers do when they acquire new animals?  l say that we should exempt from our game the first individual who reminds us of the name of this practice.  What say you?

Ker, with perfect theatrical timing, produces the branding iron she hid behind her back while the crowd was distracted by Agony's entrance and rotates it within the flames of a nearby fire, stroking her chin with her right hand as if pondering the nature of reality.  Her eyes are fixed on Agony as the room erupts in a chorus not of insults but of hysterical shouting.  Each man wishes to save his own skin, and none wish to venture near the centaur guarding the entrance.  Only one will leave this bar unscathed.  Ker patiently waits for Agony to announce who this lucky individual will be.

Edited by The Alexandrian

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Agony was not meant for the quotidian situation. The accommodation to the pedestrian repetition of the daily and the cyclical monotony were things Agony cared little for. To cater to such things implied that he held the capacity to conform. Conformity then suggested a regard for limitation so any expectation that he would engage in such things would be folly. He had not joined this organization to be further limited by some desire to cater to ego or placate aggressors yet he was not some mindless conglomeration of violence and brutality that aimed to brandish his power like some uncompromising zealot. Lives could be spared just as easily as they could be snuffed in his presence regardless of their agencies. This aversion to pure savagery and this honed restraint was key to securing this tenuous foundation he had only recently begun to shoulder along with the rest of the triumvirs.

 

Should Ker aim to mold Agony with even a fraction of her image she would soon suffer the resistance to providing shape to the shapeless. Whatever ephemeral success she may gain would eventually evince wasted effort for such consistency made him predictable which then made him weaker. The power that came with being so volatile and breaching the normality that people encircled themselves with would never be relinquished. It would behoove any member of the Abbadon Triumvirate to cling to whatever power they have amassed for they would rue the day they allowed it to slip through their clutches for anything…not even death itself. This immovable resolve would not be tainted by anyone no matter how attractive their words or actions might be.

 

Ker’s decision to blatantly ignore his suggestion and reciprocate caused Agony’s sight to soon fall upon the barkeep. Even before Ker had finished with her inquiry in his direction, a tendril snapped out of the primordial mass of liquid, hardening slightly before it whipped around the man’s neck, coiling around its structure before squeezing with generous force. The man’s body would rise from the ground and that same tendril would retract, bringing one of the main instigators directly before Ker.

 

In a controlled display of viciousness, several other tendrils would form. Some mimicked the thinness of a blade while others expanded and thickened into instruments aimed to bludgeon. Each individual tendril sought purchase within or against the bodies of those that surrounded him who attempted to take cover behind tables or maximize their distance from the triumvirs. The majority of them managed to succeed, piercing through eyes and hearts while others crushed bone. The fear produced coupled with the agony he now inflicted caused the volume of an already raucous establishment to soar to new heights but even then his voice pierced through it all to acknowledge Ker.

 

“Will this be enough to qualify for this exemption?”

 

Agony dangled the barkeep before Ker, purposefully demonstrating his control over the man’s body while also clearly starting to limit the warrior’s options as he began systematically piercing or battering the rest. He could care less about her acceptance of the man though Agony’s calculating mind assumed that branding the man who likely still would remain limited to this place was the optimal choice should a statement need to be made. He could just as easily crush this man’s neck and leave Ker without options should she waste any more time with this rabble. He instead opted to humor the woman, somewhat excited at the prospect of witnessing the pain that she would decidedly inflict upon the man but ultimately wishing to be rid of the Ham’s Repose altogether.

 

Several brave patrons attacked him with either improvised weaponry or whatever prized weapons they clung to but would find them all stuck or consumed in the viscous material that was his body. Others tugged at the coiled tendril that held their barkeep in attempts to save him to no avail. Agony seemed poised to retaliate but instead kept all of his eyes fixated upon what Ker would do next.

Edited by Dolor Aeternum

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[Telerian - 1534]

The trek from Ham's Repose to Telerian is interminable.  The roads leading to Telerian aged gracelessly in their disuse, and the uneven footing compounds the discomfort of an already disagreeable trip.  Ker trots and gallops over the rough terrain ahead of Agony, pausing for no more than fifteen minutes at a time when she is required to satisfy her basic physiological needs.  Not once in two days does the centauress trade words with the blob, though they are frequently at a range wherein conversation among friends or acquaintances would ensue.  Despite Ker's decision to say nothing to Agony, she is adamant that he allows her to split her rations with him whenever she dines, notwithstanding that she packed only enough food for herself.  That Ker gives a hoot about Agony's well-being to the extent that she willingly marches on with a rumbling stomach on his behalf even as she holds a grudge against him (for fairly obvious reasons) spices the situation with bittersweet awkwardness sprinkled with salt.  As with bittersweet chocolate, it is this salt that brings out the sweetness of Ker's conduct.

In time, Ker and Agony arrive at their destination.  Upon doing so, it is immediately evident that Telerian was a barren land long before the undead overran its defenses and eliminated its inhabitants in a wholesale slaughterfest.  The flora encircling Telerian is extremely limited; the few trees that Agony and Ker can spot decorate formerly upscale areas of the ruins of the city proper.  Unlike the Gaians, the Telerians appear to have annihilated the fauna in their region; their history being one of environmental exploitation and aggressive expansion for the good of Genesaris, the scope of this ecological devastation is unsurprising.  Nevertheless, the desolate cityscape, with its stark structures of tarnished, dark metal and cracked glass, crumbling brick and stone, and rotting wood, hammers home the emptiness of the birthplace of Genesaris's magitech.

This technological powerhouse has become a mockery of what it once was.  Drakes crowd the skylanes where airships once soared.  Wyverns ascend from their roost in Uhltorian Bridge, sullying both the memory of Jordan Uhltor, the man credited with pioneering Genesaris's airship technology and guaranteeing the quality of Telerian's educational programs, and the brave men and women who perished in Telerian's defense.  Chromatic dragons nest in the airship factory, coveting the polished scraps of metal the Telerians left behind.  Shambling creatures in tattered clothes haunt the buildings that some of the greatest of Genesaris's engineers and scientists called home, slinking through the sepulchral shade of interiors the sun will never again touch.

In the distance, two red dragons and a small, lone silver dragon engage in aerial combat.  Although the silver dragon is outnumbered, it seems to possess the upper hand, facing off with one of the reds as the second, whose wings are caked in ice, careens into the side of tall metal building and narrowly avoids being immured beneath a pile of rubble as the structural supports fail and the building folds in on itself.  As the red crashes into the street, sliding a quarter of a block on its side before it comes to a halt, a dozen gaunt humanoid figures emerge from a corner of the wreckage that has remained largely intact, mindlessly lurching toward the dragon as the fist-sized pustules protruding from their bloated, half-rotted corpses flare with sickly green flame.  One by one, they detonate, their bone shrapnel plinking harmlessly off the dragon's scales but lodging themselves within the dragon's leathery wings, inflicting no more than a superficial wound.  On average, the legs of these undead are undeterred by the loss of everything above their waist for a good thirty seconds, plodding forward with sections of their spines and hips exposed before tripping over detritus and becoming effectively neutralized.  The red rights itself but makes no effort to rejoin the fray, one of its wings having been bent at an odd angle during its undignified landing.

Ker scans the battlefield, reaching into the vacant air before her as if testing the temperature of a hot shower.  The muscles of her fingers elongate and contract as she plays with an unseen force.  She withdraws her hand, delays for a handful of seconds as she inspects it for any mutations, twisting it about the axis of her forearm so she can view it from all angles and tentatively curling her fingers into a fist, readies her lance, and, ever vigilant, addresses Agony without looking at him.

Can you feel it?  This sensation...  I had heard rumors of Telerian's magical radiation, but this...  I feel as though I am disappearing.  Something is amiss here, as if in this locale death and life become indistinguishable from one another.  Whatever this is, it isn't lethal; the silver is our pilot, but it is - it is wrong, this much I know.

To be sure, the magic of the land is itself disturbed.  It reacts to the presence of the necropolis, to the extermination of millions of lives and the inferior substitute that now pollutes the city.  Telerian is falling into the void; Ker and Agony are at the boundary of reality unmade, though they may not yet be aware of this.  Ker for one was shaken, and she hadn't wherewithal to hide it.

Whispernight.  It must corrupt this land still.  We must understand it that we may prove more resilient to it, but in my heart of hearts, I fear we cannot best it.  Truly, the best we can do is rob the dead of the final fraction of power they possess and move on.

For all her weakness, for every fiber of her being that begged her to turn back and preserve herself, Ker could not but take a step in the direction of the city.  Her instincts rebelling against her, her throat dry and her breath shallow, Ker planted her hoof in the soil and forced herself to inch forward.  Each motion was quicker than the last; the sooner her business here was concluded, the sooner she could depart.  Her strides lengthened, and she began to amble, unless Agony did something to prevent her.

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The awkwardness of this trek was commonplace for Agony who was not accustomed to the trivial pleasantries one might conjure up to fill the silence with some semblance of dialogue. The ancient being preferred this silence, not completely oblivious to his companion’s troubles or mannerisms but in the end caring little about how the centaur woman chose to travel. The roiling mass of ooze that was Obtenebra remained unhindered by the occasionally rough terrain that led them toward Telerian, conforming to the changing textures naturally as he followed his fellow triumvir without uttering one syllable until she became adamant about sharing rations he cared little for.  Finding little need for the sustenance most humanoids required, he would respond the first time attempting to refuse what she offered. Should she insist on sharing anyway, he would consume the rations simply to avoid having to discuss the matter any further.

 

The barren state of the land they now walked upon felt oddly comforting to Agony until it was clear it was a result of Telerian greed and ambition. Their avarice stunted any possible opportunity for plant and animal populations to flourish. This decision did not bother him in the slightest but he could feel the waste that it had become. Even when faced with the beautiful architecture and uniqueness of the structures around him, the fact he now traveled so freely through its ruins made him remember the wasted potential he attributed to most humanoids. To allow all of these technological marvels to fall under the might of such primitive forces simply displayed that these whelps never had the wherewithal to sustain themselves. Such was the taint of many humanoids, living their lives pitifully scraping to maintain normalcy or simply survive. Even those who considered themselves ambitious only sought to gain wealth or power in areas of little importance. Agony’s many eyes soaked in the physical manifestation of their incompetence, watching as drakes and wyverns alike confidently roamed the Uhltorian bridge and the Airship Factory in the distance.

 

Agony watched the undead battle against the dragons, their attempt to mindlessly chip away at the dominance of their draconic neighbors reminding him of the Ham’s Repose briefly. His attentions quickly diverted, however, as he began to sense an invisible energy seeping through his liquid-like exterior. Obtenebra begins to undulate as it has now encountered something it knows little about and defensively attempts to extrapolate whatever it can. Agony, in his own suspicion, begins to survey their surroundings with much more scrutiny while Ker elects to deliver some exposition. Many details regarding Whispernight had been researched by Agony even before Ker had decided to trek over to the west without him. Genesaris had always been known for intense magical phenomenon, from the magestorms prevalent in the Cold Mountains to the much lesser known force rumored to control much of Orisia. These wild and untamed powers enticed him and challenged him, Obtenebra’s hunger to consume or tap into what could be bottomless wells of potential urging his own ambition forward. It was this mentality that kept him unshaken as he saw the quiver in Ker’s stance and her subsequent lack of confidence. Agony provided a curt response.

 

“Cowering in the shadow of such vast power will not allow us to achieve our goals. I will pierce through whatever oppresses us and see it whimper beneath my power.”

 

As Ker began to push herself forward, Agony’s pace began to hasten as he now travelled with the triumvir side by side. No narrow or jagged path would prevent him from maintaining his pace, his body shifting to aid him whenever possible. He took his time to reconnoiter dynamically, sensing imminent danger as he felt Telerian radiation become much more potent as their proximity to the heart of the city grew. Eyes occasionally witnessed tattered Telerian flags, void of their magical aura with the bronze gear never fully intact along the silvery fabric. This likely source of pride had now also remained unable to withstand the onslaught of Whispernight’s horde. The sound of the Ashfall river in the distance was muffled by the shrieks of the undead and the roars of the soaring dragons above. Shattered glass littered the streets they now walked upon with the dark metal of the surrounding buildings contorted due to the intense heat of dragon fire. The Telerian city was clearly now a husk meant to be sucked dry in Agony’s eyes.

 

Another hour had passed with little to no conversation before a litany of airy words began to invade Agony’s senses. The crescendo of sounds caused him to stop as he listened intently, the many eyes that decorated his form all closing as Agony winced in pain from the superfluous exclamations that ravaged his mind.

 

“Behold the new source of Telerian pride!”

“The culmination of our beloved regent’s dedication to the prominence of our city!”

“May Godfury be the example of the Zephyr Army’s superiority over those who wish to challenge us!”

“The legacy of Jordan Uhltor will never perish!”

“Telerian above all! Telerian above all!”

 

The pressure of the energy they felt before increased and Obtenebra shook violently as it sensed something approaching. Agony’s eyes remained closed as he continued to hear echoes of Telerian past ravage his mind, the resulting pain exquisite but also relatively distracting. This was just a portent of the dangers to come but the promise that trailed behind its cruel trajectory would be claimed! There existed no obstacle that would prevent him from exacting the purpose for which he came. The very same purpose that motivated him to endure Ker's company.

Edited by Dolor Aeternum

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Discretion is the better part of valor.  Any general worth his or her salt understood that a war is a series of battles, both physical and ideological, of varying decisiveness.  When committing assets and manpower to a foreign or domestic theater, the strategic value of and the risk posed to or by an area and its contents had to be calculated with reference to the war effort as a whole.  It would not do to eliminate alternatives from one's assessment of an armed conflict to stoke one's pride!  A tactician pressed his or her advantage when possible but did not unconditionally disregard retreat when retreat was a valid option.

Ker was a master of military tactics, military psychology, vibrational phenomenon, anatomy as it related to combat and exercise, and mounted combat.  She could deliver a speech, render first aid, survive in the wilderness for protracted periods of time, read, navigate using a map, and construct rudimentary fortifications in a snap.  She was no savant when it came to the fields of magitech, art, music, literature, language, medicine, economics, law, and most of the formal and natural sciences, yet the ramifications of being exposed to magical radiation for a prolonged duration did not weigh on her mind.  It was the uncanny vacuity that spooked her, the hollowness of her own thoughts as she, of her own volition, strode into a realm where reality had begun to melt away.  She walked into a crumbling dream, but who was the dreamer?  Not the Red King, Ker hoped, for if it was not her dream but the dream of another she would "go bang" if she tarried here until the dreamer woke.  If Agony hypothesized that Ker was "cowering in the shadow of [ . . . ] vast power," he could not see the forest for the trees.

It was as if Agony and Ker ventured into two different cities.  Where Agony beheld the beautiful architecture and uniqueness of the city, Ker saw unadorned blocks of bland wreckage left behind by an uncultured people.  Where Agony ridiculed the undead that bested Telerian's military, Ker sensed a most unnatural intelligence directing their activities.  The explosive undead made use of autothysis, a communal defense mechanism that was typical of certain colonies of insects, not armies of the undead, and this telepathic assault, which Ker was mildly resistant to at the onset on account of the everlasting anti-magic supplied by the chains and cuffs with which she was constrained, were characteristic of either a controller or a conjunction of planes.  The worlds of the dead and the worlds of the living were connected, and one, from time to time, displaced the other due to a malignant connection.  The state of Telerian was far more grave, and while Ker had successfully discerned that much, she couldn't say why.

Again, Agony's experience radically differs from Ker's.  Agony may have been petrified by his masochism and the chorus of voices shouting him down, but Ker is feeling just dandy.  These ghosts of the past have no hold on her; she shuts them out with a whispered prayer.  With an audible click, the shackles around her wrists are undone, and she is wrapped in soft white light.  Her hands are clasped and her head is bowed as the brands upon her body activate, a flash of golden light on a background of white pouring through the gaps in her shining armor.  All in all, Ker's second form is angelic.  Her code of ethics, her valuation of religion, the high-value she placed on human life, the charity she shared with those in need, her contrition for her misdeeds - all was put into perspective by the aura emanating from her body.  Were Agony to witness her, he might recall how carefully she answered Mori's query when the organization first convened.  If Ker had conned them, it wasn't by lying about what she was.

Spoiler

 

The sky darkened as the sun was eclipsed by dense black clouds.  In a matter of seconds, the anarchic clouds whorled into a calamitous vortex.  The drakes, wyverns, and dragons that inhabited the city fled to their lairs as wind raged through the streets.  The city groaned.  A burst of intense light heralded a terrible crack as the ruins were bombarded by the storm.  The light redshifted.  The ground convulsed beneath Ker's feet, seizing as wave after wave of lethal magical radiation crashed against the buildings as dark red capillaries wove through the sky.  Unsheltered drakes dropped from the skies as the heart of the city lit up with searing yellow light.

While Ker is staggered by the wind, she does not stay put and submissively wait to be killed by the emission.  Seconds after the winged beasts dive for cover, Ker, with sharp shards of metal and glass scratching and denting her armor, abides by the example they set without question, attempting to tapping Agony to get his attention and adjuring him to "Move!" before yanking open the locked doors of a building a few yards away in the interval between the second and third gust.  The office the portal led to was undoubtedly rife with the undead; the reception desk behind Ker was slathered with dark carmine "paint," and hunched figures were moving about the room behind her.

Ker couldn't drag Agony with her, but she could stop the blasts of wind that nearly threw her onto her side from slamming the doors of the the safe haven shut behind her by digging her hoof boots into the ground and resisting the forces exerted on it with all of her might.  Although the wind gradually pushes her backward, she holds it back for as long as she is able or until Agony is "safely" inside.

"Hnngh!"

Ker pointedly ignores the things in the room with her, whatever they may be.  Propping the door open for any length of time requires all of the strength she can muster; she cannot both defend herself and keep the way open for Agony and thus will suffer an amount of damage proportionate to the length of time it takes for Agony to escape/be felled by the emission.

Edited by The Alexandrian

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The divergence of ideals and thoughts blinded Agony to the truth of what Ker thought or who the warlord was. Agony’s limitation stemmed from the fact he could only rely on the physical, having refused to investigate the motivation that drove the centaur toward their common goal. Ker’s actions had yet to disprove her words and as he continued to become bombarded by the din of Telerian’s past, their charismatic intonations reminded Agony of the small weight he gave to the words of his fellow triumvirs. The unlikely agreement that was fashioned by their fateful meeting had been decorated with promises and goals that relied on the belief that they would not waver from them. Agony did not hold such a belief.

 

Abandonment and betrayal were foundations from which he built his namesake. In his own ignorance he had allowed others to dictate what he was, who he was, and who he could be. Agony’s reluctance to join the Abbadon Triumvirate had been clear but Ker had managed to convince him that he would hold power over his own actions and they would lead as equals. The search for uncontested power, however, hardly ever led to the synergy that was inferred by the organization they intended to create. Pessimism or the taint of Agony’s past would not allow him to accept this new venture as anything more than the ephemeral step he would use to ascend.

 

Ker’s sudden burst of light caused the many eyes resting within Obtenebra to slowly begin to open, Ker’s angelic form snapping him out of his labyrinthine mind and into the reality that they now faced. His fellow triumvir had failed to disclose this form from him perhaps out of chance omission but Agony would not soon forget it. The ground beneath him began to convulse, half of Agony’s conglomerate of eyes witnessing the chaotic maelstrom in the distance form. The gusts that came caused the primordial ooze that Obtenebra consisted of to spray in all sorts of directions but the bulk of the mass remained as it dug into the convulsing terrain underneath him. Even as he was assaulted by the change in weather, he continued to hear even more words that continued to echo from Telerian’s past.

 

“Start her up men, man the weapons! The undead are no match for Godfury’s might!”

“But sir. All of the men are either dead or have run away. Should we do the same?”

 

Agony’s eyes shot out toward Ker who told him to move and beckoned him forth, noticing the strain she was enduring solely to provide him an avenue to shelter. Suddenly the image of her form was replaced by a man clad in green with a beret upon his head. Holding the door in the same positioning as Ker, he began to shout in Agony’s direction.

 

“Run! I will close the doors and keep them at bay. You need to get out of here!”

 

The radiation seeped through his form causing the roiling mass to convulse violently while Agony witnessed the undead encroach upon what he could tell now was a member of the Zephyr Army. A skeletal figure lunged hard in his direction swiping a sword at the man that found purchase and sliced vertically along the man’s left shoulder. Another clambered over the reception desk, spear in bony hand and propelled it, the tip of the spear barely missing the man’s head and embedding itself into his body. It wasn’t until he noticed a group of vampires closing in with inhuman speed that he saw the man was no man but his fellow triumvir. Incognizant as to why Ker defiantly held the door, Agony launched himself forward, Obtenebra’s tendrils latching on to the frame of the door to provide the force necessary for the momentum. Obtenebra shifted shape immediately, separating suddenly as it avoided Ker entirely, but she would find herself briefly surrounded by nothing but black for a few seconds as the liquid shifted past her from all sides. The skeletal beings were bowled over by this move but it was the vampires who nearly ignored the new entry into the office that would find themselves stuck in place by the liquid like mass. The eyes now decorated the floor beneath him, a few deciding to focus on Ker and her wound.

 

A plethora of guttural sounds could be heard in the distance as it was clear that the small group they now faced was simply one that had been more passionate in their approach. The liquid rippled slightly before several sharp protrusions would emerge from the now planar surface of Obtenebra, impaling the vampires that were present. One of the vampires, glowing an eerie green color, shrieked from the pain, the echoing sound reverberating through the office halls which would undoubtedly give away their position. The shriek soon ended as Agony decapitated the creature but not before its corpse exploded, the shockwave of radiated energy temporarily disabling Agony as the pain that it caused Obtenebra was immense. Ker would be left with a floor decorated with his form and an incoming swarm of undead that cared little for the wound she had just suffered.

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