Dec 22, 2005
Orange County, CA
You might have noticed that Decius pedia entry is rather barren. I could never think of something fitting, and it was complicated by the divergent path through the scenarios. Well, I think I have something here I like, at last. Spoilers for the scenarios. And yes, it is intentionally open to interpretation about several points.

The highlight of the new Capital city was the promenade overlooking the bay of Laurus, a dazzling court held up like an offering to the mercurial gods of wind and wave. Upon this meeting place and against the wall of the palace sat the Heron Throne, looking out to the horizon. Graceful gold filigree outlines the seat, showing sea horses frolicking in waves at the bottom and the namesake birds taking flight at the top.

Decius crested the stairs leading to the court. Seeing the matronly woman seated on the Heron Throne made him feel the weight of his own years, for he had first met the queen when she was in her prime and nearly as battle hardened as he had been. The years had been kind to Rhoanna, crowning her with wisdom and grace, but the greying hair and the wrinkles that accompanied her welcoming smile readily attested to the years since they had shared a crusade.

He nodded courteously and addressed her as an equal. “Queen Rhoanna. I am glad to see you well.”

She arose, walked down the steps of the dais, and clasped his hand. “All who stood with us against Mulcarn’s rebirth are ever welcome here. What tidings do you bring from the lands Myrh?”

They spoke briefly of the rebuilding of the respective nations, nothing unknown to the spies both employed but making official the news of their distant realms. Decius eyed the assembled courtiers and advisors, including his own attending sorcerer and captain before broaching the reason for his visit. “I fear the peace in my lands is tenuous at best. There is a dark taint spreading from the coast deep into the heart, one resistant to my attempts at infiltration or investigation.”

Rhoanna frowned. “The overlords.”

“Yes. Once again I see an empire riven by the sign of the Octopus. Gods know I will never see eye to eye with the Bannor, but their dim view of this cult was not wrong. Whole towns have fallen asleep for weeks, wakening in madness. Abolishing their temples has only driven them underground—literally in some cases. Their connection to the oceans is obvious and I need answers from the remnants of the Lanun.”

“Believe me, Decius, we know of this cult. It reaches into every port town, not least these in the Meditor Sea here. It is more than a simple pagan personality cult, but for some reason the actual source of its divine power has long been difficult to determine. Falamar once received a vision from an archangel of Danalin that told of some malevolent force corrupting the god of the seas. Uncovering the source and stemming the tide of the Octopus Overlords has been his quest since the slaying of Auric. He is even now at the royal docks preparing an expedition to find an island said to be to the key to this mystery.”

“That’s not enough, Rhoanna.”

“We are doing what we can.”

“All you have are empty words and deflection. We know most of Hannah’s captains have sworn to Falamar. The last time I was tasked with carving out this cult I did so by burning Lanun cities.”

Rhoanna’s eyebrows raised at his harsh tone. “Is that a threat, Decius?”

“I will do what I need to do to protect my empire. I find it interesting that you take that as a threat.”

“We will overlook the implications of your words due to our past alliance. All I have for you now is an oath on my honor that we view this cult as our enemy and an offer of cooperation in eradicating it if you reciprocate in good faith.”

The sorcerer at Decius side leaned forward, whispering “I sense no deception, lord.”

Decius gestured angrily at his to be silent and turned from the Heron throne with a last word to Rhoanna. “The truth will come out, and my enemies will pay, as ever. It will be simpler if you prove upright, but I have precious little faith to offer.” Rhoanna paced the length of the promenade and gazed out to the cloudy sea as he left.

A winding staircase carved into the bluff led down from the court of Rhoanna and Falamar directly to the docks. Past the guard stations and not far from the fish markets, the streets were crowded with beggars harassing the emissaries and merchants docking at the royal isle. Decius turned aside before the docks, taking a path up to a scenic cliff that offered a small measure of privacy, waving to his sorcerer to follow. He said to him, “You spoke out of turn, Jerrell.”

“Apologies, lord, but you seemed distrustful of your friends. I wanted you to have the information my magics could glean from them. Surely, that is why I am here.”

“Partly, yes. I need to know who I can trust. Foreign kings have their own agenda, as do my vassals, as do the gods’ tools. Everyone does.” Decius grabbed the smaller man, lifted him over the cliff edge. Holding him over a precipitous drop, he added, “Don’t they? You made me look a fool.”

“No more than your own paranoia did, my lord. Please, let us have this conversation rationally.”

“I sponsored your order so I could have a secular inquisition should I need it. But I wonder how strictly you work against my enemies.”

As discreetly as possible Jerrell pulled on the aether, gathering power. “Lord, let me request again, set me back on the ground unharmed.”

Decius did so. “Just as I thought. You turn your power on me at a moment’s chance, faithless dog.”

The sorcerer bent over, panting. “Only in self-defense. When you come to your senses we can ignore this rashness.”

“You have perverted my senses with your charms, traitor. Much as I wish to strike you down here and now for that affront, I just can’t bring myself to. I am compelled to do you no direct harm. The most I can do is refrain from waving at that mercenary I hired to wait up the path.”

“What?” Decius stepped back and a crossbow bolt buried itself in the sorcerer’s chest. Decius shook his head sharply and kicked the man into the bay.

The sergeant of the Guild of the Nine slung his crossbow and came up to Decius. “You did not give the signal, lord. As you said, this meant the wizard was to die.”

“Thank you, Rone. I think we need to talk about expanding our contract.” He sighed wearily. “My lands have need of a purge.”

Falamar pushed through the crowded wharf. His boyish charms long gone, his seasoned features nonetheless drew every female eye in the crowd even before they recognized his royal garb. This time he returned no longing gazes, intent on the foreign ship preparing to leave. Its owner was boarding now, he saw. An old soldier in search of a battleground. “Decius!” The emperor of Myrh turned. He looked at Falamar a moment, then turned his back on him, issuing orders to his Captain and a man wearing mercenary colors. Falamar was undeterred by the rudeness, striding aboard. “Decius, you’ve threatened my wife, the Queen, and brought violence to my streets.”

Decius gave the old pirate his attention, folding his arms across his chest as he said, “What of it Falamar?”

“If you were my vassal instead of my ally, I’d keel haul you.”

“You can try to arrange that, if you’d like.”

“Like it? What I’d like is to help you, you arrogant, plagueboil. To have you help us. What have we done to earn your distrust?”

Decius snorted. “My empire is more diverse than Kylorin’s at its height. The Malakim remnants, ambitious vampires, Sheaim refugees, lost angels, Elven revolutionaries. Do you think I hold it together by trust? There is no trust on Erebus, only strength and will.”

“There was one who put his trust in you once, if the stories are true.”

Decius grabbed the collar of Falamar’s coat. “More the fool, him! Death is my sword and deceit is my shield. There’s naught but misery in my wake.” The crew of the vessel paused their work, staring at the argument. Decius waved at them dismissively.

“Is that a boast or a lament?” Falamar replied, unperturbed.

Decius turned and leaned against the railing, gazing at the horizon. Falamar waited until finally he turned back. “What was it all for?”

“You brought us the Nether blade, old comrade in arms, upon the bleakest battlefield I’ve ever seen. Were it not for that—and everything that led to that--there may be no civilization upon this world.”

“I fought my whole life to be in control. In the end, did I make a single choice of consequence? Every decision I made--every betrayal, every death, every show of mercy or burst of inspiration, all just so you could thrust that damned blade into Auric? We’re all puppets.”

“That’s not exactly how it went down—nevermind, I like your version.” Falamar inhaled the sea breeze deeply. “Every time I step on a boat, she calls to me. The siren song of my first lover, she says ‘Falamar, Falamar, away with me forever! You were not made to be a worm shackled to the dirt, dance upon the waves and be free.’” A smile played upon his lips as he gazed briefly back towards the Heron Throne looking down on them. “And yet, I always return. I get every breath of wind into my sails so I can step upon this shore and return to give counsel and succor to my wife and queen. Which is freer self? The one that heeds his whims or the one stays bound to vow made years ago?”

Decius shrugged. “It’ll take a greater bard than you to convince me the meaning of life is true love.”

“No, that’s not what I’m getting at. We may be the playthings of greater beings--fine. But at the end of it all, we are what we choose to do. You are at another cross-road. Take a leap of faith, here, friend. You may lose something by trusting, but you will certainly lose everything if you descend into paranoia.”

Decius grit his teeth, wavering. He remembered another boat in a Lanun port, long ago, where he had faced the choice of light or dark. After a time he said “Well. Give my official apologies to Rhoanna, please. I believe I came off as more antagonistic then I had intended.”

Falamar smiled briefly. “I suppose I’ll take that.” Decius turned, and Falamar said, “Wait, that’s not all. I have a clue to the Overlords. Two, actually. I think Rhoanna mentioned the Isle to you. There’s something else, and I need your help. A wizard, or sorcerer, or something. Last seen in the Umbra Woods. He may be the key. I need you to find this man, this… Hemah.”


May 6, 2002
Great story, i love the ending. In true FfH fashion one story just leads to more.
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