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Random Stories and Fragments

Discussion in 'Fall from Heaven Lore' started by KillerClowns, Jun 29, 2008.

  1. Ekolite

    Ekolite Deity

    Joined:
    Sep 15, 2007
    Messages:
    5,451
    Another short story from FfhNES.

    Politics I

    Lord Agron smiled slyly, showing his pointed teeth in all their glory. Although he was now a Vampire, he had stayed on at Internal Affairs and immediately rose to the top, displacing his human predecessor. Rank truly had its privileges in Calabim society. Internal Affairs had previously been concerned only with the chasing of criminals and the general burocracy that resulted from running such a rigid and well-ordered society. But Agron had plans. After numerous ''meetings'' he had become Queen Alexis's clear favourite, and in the Empire the Queen's favour was everything. Internal Affairs was now practically the ruling party, and Agron was practically in charge. Of course, this caused some tension with the Nobleman's Council, who had traditionally been the ruling body, but his favour allowed him to brush them aside on many issues concerning the Empire. One thing that Agron didn't control, however, was the problems and situations that arose on a local level, these were decided either by the Nobles involved or by the Council, and as a consequence he was now seated at his place in the Council, with all the Noblemen and women, in the midst of a long-extended feud.

    Agron had been carefully playing both sides of the feud for many months prior to the Council meeting, working on a divide and conquer strategy aiming to gain even greater power on the Council. He now sat silently at the Queen's right, overseeing the events and barely hiding his amusement. The Council Chamber was a large room, rectangular but rounded at the far end. It was separated into many different levels, with higher ranking Nobles and Government Bodies traditionally occupying the highest levels, or ''seats'' as they were called in the government. Both the men and women of the noble families sat in the Council, in their family's seat, and families traditionally acted as the ''parties'' of the government. These parties did not vie for leadership of the Calabim, that was the Queen's job alone, but instead for local control of their territories, as well as influence over foreign relations, and in the past, Internal Affairs. Lord Agron was not particularly popular in the Council, as he had been quick to gain power over the past years and was expected to start shaking things up a little, however he was a dangerous enemy to make.

    In the low centre of the Chamber, a young Lord was speaking. He was the new head, or Uhro as it was known in the Calabim tongue, of the Daternii Family, following the suspicious death of their previous Uhro, the young man's Grandfather. ''...As such, the Daternii Family demand the rightful return of the village of Gheiraen to our control!'' he now finished his speech. Another Vampire stood up, he was old beyond imagination, although naturally he didn't really show it. Some Vampires never left politics, and these were always amongst the best in the business, leaders of the most influential Noble Houses. It was utter madness for this upstart to take him on, but under advice from Internal Affairs, he had, and it was looking like he might just win. ''The Rhorntii family are the rightful owners of Gheiraen! The village has always been a core part of our territory.'' The Council stirred uncomfortably. Haeron, the younger Vampire, had presented a pretty convincing argument as well as some fairly conclusive documents that clearly showed that the village was originally owned by the Daternii, and that it was usurped the Rhorntii in past years. A second man stood up, also from the Rhorntii seat. The Governor of Gheiraen. ''This argument is irrelevant. I will not leave!'' All around the Council, quiet murmurings confirmed what Agron had been hoping for. Although young, Haeron was the Daternii's Uhro, the man who opposed him now was a mere Village Governor, and despite his family's greater influence, it was still no way to behave in civilized society. The Council was filled with hushed talk as the argument reached some kind of mutual ceasefire. Above the noise, Agron heard the ancient Rhorntii Uhro addressing the Governor of Gheiraen. ''I told you to leave it to me!'' He hissed, ''Do you have any idea what you have done?''.

    Lord Agron sat back in his chair, relaxed. Today he would destroy one of his primary opponents, and tomorrow a precedent would have been set. The Records controlled by Internal Affairs were full of situations like the Leadership of Gheiraen, and with a few more confidence boosts like this one to the weaker Noble Houses, more and more people would be prepared to challenge them. The council's best politicians would soon be overthrown. The outcome would, of course, be a weak and disorganised Nobleman's Council, which would bow to Agron's every word. Lord Agron leaned towards the Queen to ask her who she supported in the matter. ''I think it's time we got rid of that old dog.'' She replied, spitefully. Influential politicians were the Queen's greatest danger, Agron knew from the beginning that she would take any chance she could get to remove a few of them. ''I couldn't agree more, your majesty.''

    The next stage in proceedings was the vote. This was a chance for any other nobles with an opinion on the situation to try to sway the Queen's opinion. Technically, she didn't have to listen to them, but it was important that she remained on good terms with the Council. The argument bounced back and forth, a lot of the more influential Houses supported the Rhorntii, but many others came to the agreed that the village should be transferred to the Daternii. Some seats were divided, where Vampires in the House supported different parties. For Agron, it was always good to see seats split. A House had far less influence when it was divided. The governor of Gheiraen remained silent, he noticed.

    Eventually, Alexis raised her hand and the conversation quickly died down. ''The village of Gheiraen will go to the Daternii.'' she said, decisively. She then left her throne, walked down the stairs to the Chamber floor, and out of the back door. As soon as she left, the Chamber erupted with the sounds of a freshly opened argument.
     
  2. thewyrm

    thewyrm Ambassador to Real Life

    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2008
    Messages:
    279
    When something inspires me I will. I am very critical of my own writing so I often dread posting my stuff.

    I have been reading a lot of Lovecraft lately. This, combined with your tale of the OO Lady and Kael mentioning there not being a lot of story content out there has led me to want to tackle the Overlords somehow.
     
  3. thomas.berubeg

    thomas.berubeg Wandering the World

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Ft. Lauderdale
    I was thiking of writing more, but i got no response, and thought that peope weren't interested... I have a few ideas in mind...
     
  4. Trieste

    Trieste Warlord

    Joined:
    Aug 19, 2007
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    171
    Location:
    CA
    thewyrm, thomas, your stories have been great (especially the keelyn and demons one). Please continue! :)


    btw if you like Lovecraft check out Fritz Leiber's short story Lords of Quarmall. Its in the book lean times in Lankhmar i think but it basically takes place in a occ amurite overlords civ.
     
  5. Darksaber1

    Darksaber1 Secret Emperor

    Joined:
    Jun 5, 2008
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    Location:
    Where you least expect me
    Oh yes, the are great. While their is a lot of lore for FFH, there isn'y much for mundane events, and reading about possible world heppenings is good. Wish I could write that well.
     
  6. Tyrs

    Tyrs King

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2007
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    684
    Location:
    Northern Virgina
    Heh, I should probably be more active in my praise, if that'll get you guys to write more. I've loved all the latest stories. The OO lady was an interesting look at competition between evils, and Killerclowns look at the Sheaim was cool, good cliffhanger. I love you guys' stories, post more!
     
  7. Gelvan

    Gelvan Prince

    Joined:
    May 11, 2002
    Messages:
    576
    These stories are so great! You make very good questions about good, evil, the gods and the thinking of people. This is just: Very very Good stuff. I'm addicted already to your words.
     
  8. KillerClowns

    KillerClowns Emperor

    Joined:
    Oct 6, 2007
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    1,139
    I must say, Kol.7, the fine art of politics in Calabim society is something I wouldn't even try to imagine, but you paint a fascinating picture of it. Backstabbing, manipulation, divide and conquer... just like high school, except the stakes are higher. :p Never thought I'd emphasize empathize so well with a vampire.

    Now, a continuation.
    Spoiler :
    "Wait," Vranton said. "Could you repeat that?" Ozziel sighed. "I am Ozziel. You may know me as the author of 'The Song of the Overlords,' 'The Rites of the Dead God,' 'Kilmorph and her Children,' and 'The Ancient Fellowship.' Vranton recognized these names; popular, if controversial, books on Erebus' religions. Vranton had heard a Runekeeper bitterly complain that "Kilmorph and her Children" was nothing more than Overlords propoganda, while a Overlords cultist had believed the very same book to be far too kind to the Dwarvern religion. Maybe this just meant he was a genuinely neutral author. Either than, or a master at angering priests of all walks. Admirabe either way. But this wasn't the part that worried Vranton.

    "No, the part about Os-Gabella wanting you dead. What in the Hells did you do, and why are you still in the Sheaim Empire?" Ozziel sighed. "The Queen of Storms keeps a private guard of virgin women. Well, I was asking around her palace, seeing how high the Veil's influence reached. I started talking to the guards, who found the concept of a man who wasn't terrified of them a strange one to grasp. Well, one thing led to another and... Os-Gabella's guard force has one less virgin." Ozziel grinned. "It was absolutely worth it, let me tell you." Vranton stared dumbstruck. He got up and began pacing around the room. "You... you... of all the idiotic things... only a Balseraph could possibly do something so... so... insane! Where you followed? Tell me you weren't followed. You realize if I'm caught with you, we're both going to be sacrificed to Agares, right?" Ozziel shrugged. "I can leave for Gaudium right now, with a book unwritten. I'd hate to be beaten by that 'Elder' Methyl again, but I'm fond of living. You can live out the rest of your life in this stinking city, and we need never meet again. Or, you can help me out, I can finish my book, and we can get out of this hellhole and go to Gaudium together."

    Vranton continued pacing in silence for a moment. Then he stopped and said, "you're a Balseraph, so you might not have noticed this. But the Balseraph Empire is totally insane. I'd rather not be kidnapped and turned into a freak for the amusement of nutty noblemen." Ozziel responded, "can it be any worse than this place? Besides, it's a small town, right by the sea. Wonderful climate, and it's too small for any horrific corruption, but big enough to have secrets to keep a private eye like you employed. Perpentach's crazier orders often get 'lost in the mail,' while his strokes of genius are quickly implemented." Vranton looked out the window and contemplated his present situation. He then said, "Tell me you at least have a plan."

    "Erm... not exactly. I was hoping you might. I need somewhere to hide. And I need information on the Ashen Veil. Beyond that, this is your town." Vranton bristled. He didn't like Galveholm being called "his town," but the Balseraph had a point. Ozziel took a moment to think. "Ok, here's where we start. I'll crash at your place. Can I do that?" Vranton thought about it. What did he have to lose? He gave Ozziel an affirmative nod. Switching to Sheaim, Ozziel called out. "Asha, we've got an ally!" A pale, fierce-looking woman in her mid-twenties came up, easily carring a very large trunk. She had a warrior's build, and dressed like a soldier, with her dark hair was cropped short. But Vranton had to admit, if this was the woman causing all the trouble, he could see why Ozziel had risked his life. "Is she..." "Yep, the reason I am a marked man. Asha, formerly of the Queensguard." Vranton raised his eyebrows. He noticed she had a sword at her side; not the glorified bronze butcher's knife carried by Sheaim guards and patrols, nor the runic sacrificial blade of adepts and mages, but a Balseraph longsword; likely as deadly as it was beautiful. A gift from Ozziel, Vranton imagined. She seemed better fit to wield it then the out-of-shape scholar. How had he even managed such a catch? He wasn't quite old enough to be the woman's father, but it was close.

    Not that it was important. Ozziel whipped open the trunk. Inside it where Sheaim-style clothes for himself and Asha. They were much more like what an ordinary Sheaim would wear, dark colors and sparse decoration. Ozziel grinned. "They're looking for a fat guy dressed like a clown. I haven't worn anything this boring in years. Should help me stay alive." Ozziel tossed his ridiculous cloak and about two thirds of his baubles into the trunk, and pulled out a brown traveller's cloak. He swung it over his shoulders and wrapped it fully around himself, hiding the rest of his absurd clothing and his face. Asha again picked up the trunk. "Are you certain we can trust this... man?" she asked. Ozziel responded, "he's a Grigori, and I've heard good things asking around. Well, actually, bad things from the lips of the Ashen Veil, but that's one in the same." Vranton briefly played with the idea of betraying Ozziel; he hadn't thought of it before. Ozziel's trust was well-placed, but was it really well advised? Vranton could hand Ozziel to the Ashen Veil, and use the rewared money to go to Gaudium on his own. But he doubted he would survive long in a culture as strange as the Balseraphs' without a guide. He contemplated other places he could leave to with a full pocket, but most were on good terms with the Grigori and thus, would put him within reach of the Concerned Merchant's Association. It was stay in Galveholm, try his luck among the Doviello, go mad in Gaudium alone, or walk straight into the CMA's hands.

    The CMA was based in Kalm, and called themselves a trade organization. In truth, they were a non-religious version of the Stewards of Inequity, and even more ruthlessly cutthroat then their religious counterparts. The two were constantly at each other's throats, and the Stewards, posing as police, had payed Vranton to get information on the CMA, specifically the identities of several of its more shadowy leaders. Vranton had, with a good deal of research identified the leaders, who shortly turned up dead. The CMA, however, found out who had been asking the questions that led to their leader's death, and decided Vranton deserved to die for his part. The CMA was relatively small, but apparently they employed excellent assassins. After moving around the Grigori, Elohim, and even Bannor empires for a few years, Vranton discovered just how well-connected they were. Their opposition to the Stewards meant that the Bannor were willing to work with them, and they'd apparently pinned Vranton as a Stewards member. With the Bannor thinking him an enemy, and the surprisingly influential CMA wanting him dead, he realized he needed to go somewhere neither could reach. The best place that fit was the Sheaim Empire.

    Vranton decided betraying Ozziel wasn't in his best interests. He'd play the fool's game for now. "OK," he said. "You two plan on hiding at my place. That can be done, but it'll be a tight fit. Save any fun until I'm not around. I'd rather not see any more of Ozziel than I already have. I hope you don't mind hard floors. Then what?" Ozziel thought. "You wouldn't be able to get your hands on the holy books of the Ashen Veil, would you? There's the Brown Book, the Red Book, and the Black Book. The Brown Book is easily availible at any store..." Ozziel dug around until he found a pair of mystical looking gloves, put them on, and pulled out an innocent-looking brown tome from the bottom of the trunk.

    "Nasty dark magic, even in this basic thing. Even the Overlords are happy with just paper and... well, they usually bind their books in human skin, but nothing magical about that. This, though... not sure, but it's weak enough only physical contact could activate whatever magic is in it." Ozziel stuffed the thing back to the bottom and handed his gloves to Vranton. "You'll need these. The Brown Book only contains basic information in the Ashen Veil. Agares' version of his fall, in which the other angels betrayed him out of jealousy. Still no mention of the mysterious One... I'm starting to doubt that theory. Also contains simple rites for summoning Agares' aid. Basic demonology, if you will. Probably not a good idea to test them. Finally, there's a lot of fables and such. Most of them are strongly in favor of putting your trust in Agares, and say that with hope, anything is possible. Sort of like Kilmorph's fables, except here it's the lazy dreamers, not the earthy workers, who triumph. Leaf through it some time if your bored. I wouldn't read it aloud though, just in case. Make sure you wear those gloves."

    "The Red Book is given to all priests of the Ashen Veil, and some other loyal followers; family matriarchs, high-ranking nobles, et cetera. From what I gather, it's mostly a magical tome. Stuff certain to get Agares' attention. And get you killed, if you don't have a damn good reason to summon him or his henchmen. A lot of people are scared of the book, even those who actually own it. I got a chance to skim it once. It's mildly enchanted, but actually less dangerous in of itself than it's common equivalent. Unless you're an angel or holy priest, in which case it will basically try to kill you. But you aren't either. You could try stealing one from a priest, but the best bet would be to trick some fancy-pants customer of yours into giving it to you. Maybe someone with doubts about the Veil."

    "The Black Book scares the hell out of me. It's actually alive. Contains the soul of a minor demon. I saw one copy in the palace, but that one is Os-Gabella's. I don't think she'd let me borrow it. A few of the highest priests of the Ashen Veil have one, and maybe some archmages. I don't even know if there's one in Galveholm and, honestly, I'd be willing to go without it. But if you could get it... oh, the look on that One-worshipping fool Methyl's face would be priceless! I dare not ask what the book contains, but it'd probably be really, really juicy. Forbidden secrets... rites to summon the most horrific creatures imaginable... if half the rumors are true, that book would be worth an empire's treasury. Then again, there's a funny little cult among the Bannor, the 'Order,' recently founded, that I think has a lot of potential. They seem to really hate the Ashen Veil. I think they'd let me into their trust if I gave them this book and instructions on how to control the thing, and destroy it once they have the information they need. It would make writing about them a lot easier. I can't imagine they'd get along well with Methyl..."

    Asha interrupted him. "We don't have all day to discuss books. Every moment we spend here, the odds increase that somebody will mention your presence here to the guards. We can continue talking later. I am tired of carrying that damned thing on my own," she said, motioning towards the trunk. "You two grab it. Let's get moving, before I have to kill another over-curious chatterbox."

    Vranton wondered how the woman had carried the thing on her own. He and Ozziel grabbed the trunk between them, and they somehow managed to haul it to Vranton's dingy house. His homewas a small, squat, ugly thing. Not quite a slum house, but nowhere near as pleasant as his home in Kalm had been. Then again, even a Sheaim manor wouldn't have been as pleasant as Kalm. Vranton showed them his study. Or rather, what passed for a study; a handful of books on Sheaim culture, some notebooks, and a desk to write on. Like most of Vranton's house, and Sheaim homes in general, it was sparsely furnished. "You two sleep here. I hope you brought something to sleep on."

    [Elder Methyl of the Luonnator is the one quoted for the disciple 'pedia entries; the nightwatch, acolytes, savants, et cetera. Excuse the slow pace, it's setup.]


    Secondly, the seed of an idea that's still in the vaguely-floating-in-my-head stage.

    Spoiler :
    Ystar was the best. He was the fastest, stealthiest, and deadliest assassin the Svartalfar had since the death of Alkazan. He was ruthless, efficient, and never made mistakes. He was given only the most dangerous and vital of jobs. He knew all of this, and made sure everyone else did to. The rest of the Svartalfar empire despised him, and yet loved him. Ystar lost track of how many assassins had attempted to replace him, and died trying. Everyone wished an assassin would finally succeed, and yet cheered as Ystar stylishly disposed of yet another would-be slayer. He would have been executed long ago for his insults to the Svartalfar royal court, if he wasn't so hard to replace... and to kill.
    He'd been meditating in a cave on a personal pilgrimage in Esus' name when the package arrived. The envelope was red. Urgent. He was needed immediately. As well as the envelope, there was a very large box. Sadly, the fool who had delivered box and envelope had escaped. Ystar was not kind to those who disturbed him, and would have loved to skewer the idiot, just as a matter of principle. "Shadows damn them..." he muttered. He opened the envelope, read it, and smiled. The letter was formatted as all missions were, although the details were somewhat abnormal.

    TARGET: Mulcarn, God of Winter
    OTHER ALIASES: Auric Ulvin
    RACE: God
    GENDER: Male
    HEIGHT: Gigantic (exact measurements unavailable)
    HAIR: White
    EYES: Blue
    OTHER IDENTIFYING FEATURES: [this field was left blank; the letter's author assumed Ystar would be able to identify a god without assistance]
    LAST KNOWN LOCATION: Garduk, Illian Empire
    PERSONAL THREAT LEVEL: Incalculable
    PERSONAL CONNECTIONS: Rules Illian Empire
    NOTES: Use of Godslayer (included in mission package) highly advised for successful completion of mission.

    REWARD: Agent may keep weapon used for assassination. Agent will receive 3/4 of royal treasury, plus significant donations from various other empires.
    POTENTIAL THREATS: Annihilation by target or target's servants. Death from cold-weather related maladies.
    RECOMMENDED REFERENCES: Epic of Kylorin
    OVERALL THREAT LEVEL: Incalculable

    Ystar shrugged, pocketed his mission orders, opened up the box, and examined the Godslayer. He'd heard it'd been a large two-handed sword, but what he saw was a lithe assassin's blade, beautifully carved with the symbols of the 21 gods and flawlessly balanced. Ystar took it with a flourish. "Finally," he muttered, "a task worthy of my skills, and a blade worthy of my hand."

    [Any resemblance between Ystar and whatever intolerable-but-talented superstar you care to imagine is completely coincidental. Probably.]
     
  9. KillerClowns

    KillerClowns Emperor

    Joined:
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    Messages:
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    :bump:

    Spoiler :

    Several days passed without incident. Then Ozziel decided it was time to move. "Have you been working on getting the Red Book yet?" he asked. "No," Vranton responded, "I haven't..." Ozziel sighed. "Look, this is very simple," he said. "I need that book. Otherwise this is all for nothing. Do you have any friends, or customers, or anybody, who is high up in the Ashen Veil, but would either be willing to give you the book, or from whom you could steal it?" Vranton thought back. "Well..." and that was when he decided to talk to Orenmar.

    Orenmar Dvin was a skinny old patriarch, and the unquestioned head of the Dvin clan. He'd originally been Elohim, but exiled for the crime of comitting incest with his sister and the resulting daughters. His inbred clan had established suprising power in the Sheaim empire, although Vranton shuddered to imagine what sort of ugly shrub the family tree must be. By Sheaim standards, Orenmar was positively tolerable, and despite being a despicable pervert, among the closest things to an honest man in all of Galveholm. Vranton decided to pay him a visit because he knew the old creep was cagey, and not too fond of demon-worship in general.

    When Vranton arrived at Orenmar's manor, the old many invited Vranton in. "How nice to see you! I really can't thank you enough for saving my niece from those damned thugs those years ago... you have no idea how dearly I love her." Vranton remained silent; he didn't want to know. He'd refused payment at the time, considering it his duty to make a doting uncle happy. This was before he'd realized the secret of the Dvin clan, but it was just as well; Vranton had earned an ally. "So," he asked, desperate to keep the old man from prattling on about his "beloved" family, "what do you make of the Ashen Veil?" Orenmar frowned, and asked, "what is it to you?" "I'm doing a bit of investigation for a curious client." "And?" "I was wondering if you might have any... interesting resources." Orenmar grinned. "I know you. You're too smart for the Veil. You want my red book, don't you? Oh... those idiots think I'm one of them. I follow at their chants. I nod and smile at the right times. But we Elohim, we're pure. We're incorruptibe." Vranton managed to keep a straight face as the old man continued. "The don't entirely trust me yet, with good reason... if my book were to disappear, they'd be in no hurry to replace it. The might start asking awkward questions. But I know this much... if you want the red book, go to the crossing of Broken Alley and the Reveler's Lane. You'll see an old reveler with the book. Tell him, 'I am sent by the Ancient Monk,' and he shall give you the book.

    Vranton thanked him, but then noticed the old man seemed nervous. "Where's Cassandra?" Vranton asked. Cassandra was Orenmar's favorite granddaughter. An outside observer would have thought Orenmar the best grandfather in the world. She rarely left his side, and she positively adored the old man. Poor, foolish girl. And yet she was missing now. Something wasn't right. "Oh, she's gone out to get herself some new jewlery. I'm sure she'll be back soon... but really, don't let an old man keep you waiting." This was odd; normally Orenmar was hellbent on dropping every bit of gossip on Vranton's ears, and it was a struggle to excuse himself. Now he was hurrying to get Vranton away. Vranton left, and reported his findings to Ozziel.

    "A trap." Asha said bluntly. "But if the book is genuine, we could kill the reveler and take the book. Make it look like a mugging." "That seems unlikely," Ozziel put in. "Revelers are difficult to kill, and while I don't know much about them, I know they don't die easily and are hard to deceive. Again this is assuming the book the reveler carries isn't a fake or a trap, as a precaution." Vranton nodded. "Yeah... Ozziel, you mentioned that the Red Book was enchanted. Could you, from a safe distance, detect its enchatments?" Ozziel laughed. "I'm not a mage; I'm barely worthy of being an adept. I can do a few tricks here and there, the sort of thing you need dealing with potentially hostile religions, but that'd require someone who knew what they were doing."

    Asha thought a moment. "This Orenmar has probably betrayed you already. Why not kill him and take his copy?" Vranton stared at her. She asked, "is there any good reason to let him continue to live?" Seeing Vranton's stare, she put in, "the Ashen Veil won't miss him, from what I hear, if they have to hold his granddaughter hostage to assure his loyalty. We skewer him, take his book, and our problems are solved. Or, if it bothers you, we just steal the book. But it's easier to take things from dead people, and if he fails to guard his copy, he's dead anyways... though I suppose you would be the primary suspect. Who else can we kill?"

    Vranton thought about that. "Maybe if we find his granddaughter..." Ozziel laughed. "And return her to the old freak? Then what? He's not coming with us to Gaudium. Even we Balseraphs have some standards. Guy in Jubilee did something similar, screwing his daughters and whatnot. Perpentach had him cooked in a pie, and fed the fool to his own children. And if Orenmar stays in Galveholm, he's dead; it'd be a mercy to kill him rather than let the Veil do it. I hate to say it, but I'm with Asha. Murder the fool, take the book, and call it a day. Get out of town before anyone realized the old codger is in some layer of Hell, getting violated by the local brand of demon." Vranton sighed. "I want no part in this..." "Don't worry," Ozziel said. "Asha, care to do the honors?" "Where's he live?" Vranton gave her the location, and she slipped off into the night.

    She returned, with a suprisingly small amount of blood on her, and the book. "That was the easiest job I've done," she said. "Too easy..." this wasn't bravado; she seemed genuinely worried. But Ozziel grinned. "Ah, yes... the Red Book. Well, we've got what we need... now, we..." but he was interrupted by a harsh knock on Vranton's front door. Followed by, "in the name of the Queen of Storms, open up!"

    Vranton peered out the window. A detachment of four guards. "Easy," Asha said. "The Galveholm city guard is poorly equipped. Poorly trained. I could kill them with my eyes closed. But they're just glorified messenger boys. We mess with them, they'll call for reinforcements. In other words, my sisters. Only the best of us get to be palace guards," she added with a note of pride. "But unfortunately," she continued, "we'd be outnumbered, and even the lowliest of my sisters are quite deadly. And we're not above dirty tactics. If we're going to kill them, best make them disappear without too much fuss." Vranton looked nervously at Asha, before carefully asking, "why do so many of your suggestions end in murder?" "It's what I'm good at." He could believe that.

    Vranton decided to see what they wanted. The leader of the group was a man Vranton knew only as Grub. Grub was a short, ugly man that resembled his namesake, but without the charm. Corrupt, lecherous, and personally unpleasant, Grub was often seen on dangerous missions. Rumor had it his superiors were hoping one would finally kill him. "Oi, Godless! We been sent to investi-ma-gate yer 'ome fer illegal immy-grints." Vranton considered his options. He couldn't refuse them. What had Asha said? "Best make them disappear without too much fuss." "Well, by all means," Vranton said. "Come inside." "You 'eard the man!" Grub said, "come on! 'Cept you, Thick Mike! Stay ou' 'ere an' make sure nothin' suspicious-like occurs. If we ain' out, an' you ain' 'eard from us, in ten minutes, go fetch the ladies. Got it?" The group's largest brute, presumably Thick Mike, nodded. So much for that plan...

    Vranton brought the guards in. "So..." Grub said, "dingy place. We're gonna 'ave to..." Asha slipped out of the shadows and dispatched Grub's henchmen before they could draw their weapons. Grub was suprisingly quick, however, and parried her blow. Asha swore, before delivering a particularly cruel low kick. Grub doubled up in pain. "Tell your lackey things are going well." Grub complied. "Thick Mike! Things could take a while! Find somethin' to keep yerself busy!" Silence. "Thick Mike can't speak. Dropped on 'is 'ead as a babe. Tha's why he's Thick Mike, see?" "Whatever. Who sent you, and why are you here?" Grub shrugged. "I was sent by my commandin' offica, as per pro'ocol. 'E said there were rumors some idiot schola' 'ad been 'idin' out 'ere. So I's sent to 'ave a looksees."

    Without warning, a blast of sulfurous flame obliterated Vranton's front door, and most of the wall around it. "Thick Mike" held a Black Book, and now carried the unmistakable staff of a Profane. "Simpering idiots," the formerly mute guard muttered. "Grub! Get your pathetic hide over here!" Asha drew her sword, but the Profane flicked his wrist and sent her flying. "Mike... you... you can talk?!" Vranton had known Grub to be a bit slow-witted, but that was remarkable even for him. The profane snorted back a laugh. "Of course I can talk. Indeed, I'm rather suprised you are capable of the same." The Profane then turned to Ozziel. "Your time in this mortal world ends here, scholar. And as for the traitorous wench? Os-Gabella needs to test her latest scheme on mortal flesh. You may serve her in death as you failed to in life." And with a wave of his staff, a portal to Hell itself opened. A stench of sulfur filled the air as a great Balor stepped out.

    Ozziel stared at the behemoth, vaguely aware he'd soiled himself. The Balor looked at him and his compatriots before speaking. In flawless Balseraph, it said, "new toys!" Ozziel blinked. The Profane looked confused for a moment. Apparently, he didn't speak Balseraph. But the Balor was still intent on killing, and that was all that mattered to its summoner. "Wait," Ozziel said, "we're not the toys you want!" The Balor was unimpressed. "Mr. Purple gave me you to play with. I want other toys, but I obey purple man. You will be my toys." Realizing he had no other option, Ozziel continued trying to reason with the beast. "But there are better toys!" Ozziel pointed to Grub, who was still staring dumbstruck at the Profane he had mocked as an idiot. "Look at him, for instance! He... um... he's crunchy! Yeah, I'm too chewy. And he says funny things." The Profane was yelling at his Balor, but to no avail. Attempting to prove his point, Ozziel grabbed Grub's arm and bit it. "Wha' the 'ell wazzat abou'? Fear o' death drivin' you bongo?" The Balor grinned. It was the single most terrifying thing Ozziel had ever seen in his entire life. Then it spoke. "He's funny. I'll take him." The Balor charged Grub. Asha, realizing this was her chance, went for the shocked Profane, who tried to defend himself with his staff. But in a whirl of steel, he was slain. The Balor was sent back to Hell, but he took Grub with him.

    "What the hell did you do?!" Vranton demanded. "I didn't know you spoke... Demonic!" "Wasn't Demonic. The Balor spoke Balseraph. High class sort, oddly enough. The kind they teach to noble brats. Emphasis on the proper sounds and such. Very simple as well; childish, even. How a Balor of all things learned to speak like a rich little Balseraph girl is beyond me. I'm sure there's some real interesting story, but right now I think we should be working on getting out of town. I doubt we'll get that lucky again." Ozziel hurried to his trunk, grabbed his gloves and his books, and examined the now blood-stained Black Book. "Tali protect me," he said, and took it.

    [Murder, incest, betrayal, demonology... Just an ordinary day in the Sheaim empire. If you have a guess about who the Balor learned Balseraph from, odds are it's right.]
     
  10. evanb

    evanb Prince

    Joined:
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    Introducing Keelyn into the lore must be one of the best ideas the mod ever got!

    Another great story, KC. You should compile them and release them as a volume: Short Stories of Erebus :)
     
  11. Ekolite

    Ekolite Deity

    Joined:
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    5,451
    Quite a long one. (Also written for FFHNES)

    Politics, Taxation, and a Love Triangle.

    Lord Agron sat, amused, at the round table of the Internal Affairs conference room. Also sat at the table were several of his employees, and Asterna Lae. Agron had always loved Asterna, even as a human. She had a warm, golden skin tone, that had at one time caused her family to be investigated for Empyrean heresy, and long, dark brown hair. Her eyes were the colour of warm honey. Perhaps the exact antithesis of Lady Alexis, Agron considered. At one time, Agron had considered asking her to accompany him to dinner, but he had decided a woman so accomplished as her would never consider such a lackey as he. Of course, the tables had turned, and he was now on top, but still he had not made a move, fearing that if Alexis ever found out, he would lose her favour, and thus his political influence. Still, he knew she understood, and he knew she loved him too. Only Alexis kept them apart.

    However, now, he looked at her, stunned, his mouth had dropped open and his eyes were wide.

    ''You want me to tax the Nobles?!'' He spluttered.

    ''My Lord, the Empire needs money.'' She replied earnestly,

    ''We have humans, why not raise their taxes?''

    ''They have no more money to give, they are already taxed so heavily...'' Agron could hear the compassion in her voice.

    Agron sat back, and closed his eyes, trying to think. Asterna was unfortunately right, he knew she was right. The only problem was that, despite the fact that they could well afford to be, no self-respecting noble would ever pay taxes. They preferred to make token ''donations'', in return for government favours. The nobles would do nothing without an incentive.

    Agron sighed heavily, ''You are dismissed,'' he told the others, ''Asterna please stay a moment.''

    The other, lowly, members of Internal Affairs, stood up, and filed out of the room. The door was shut, and Agron knew that the Moroi on guard would ensure they would not be disturbed.

    Agron stood, and paced in front of the burning fire. He was pleased to notice that Asterna seemed flustered now that she was alone with him.

    ''Do you have any idea how the nobles would react to being taxed?'' He asked, sternly. He did not wait for an answer,''My position would be destroyed!''

    ''But my Lord, not necessarily. I have thought it out, some.''

    He remained silent, in invitation for her to continue.

    ''You see,'' she said, eyes fixing on a point somewhere between his feet. ''I thought we could present it as a kind of donation, like the nobles are accustomed too. It would only be a one-off sum. Then, at the same time, we leak the fact that we have discovered more dirt on the Great Houses. Like, for example, did you know that the late Lady Herrtia, of House Korouen, was not even a vampire! ''

    ''What?''

    ''Her husband, Lord Jokein, faked her gift. They were in love, but Herrtia told him she would never become a vampire.''

    Agron physically gasped. ''If that ever got out...''

    ''They'd be destroyed.'' She finished, ''the whole House would be, and House Korouen is one of the largest in the Empire, 27 nobles. Each of them would pay to have this secret protected. We have in our Archives two eye-witness accounts of the faked gift, and a recording of a conversation between Lord Jokein and Herrtia.''

    ''And you have more like this?''

    ''Lots more.''

    Agron slumped onto an armchair by the fireplace. He was amazed. Asterna was brilliant, and he loved her even more for it.

    ''This could work, you know.'' He said, finally. ''And... It could work even more in our favour. This could destroy the influence of some Houses entirely. I take it only a few Korouen know about Herrtia?'' He continued without letting her answer. ''They would never forgive Uhro Jokein.''

    ''That is correct.'' she answered, almost gleefully. ''It will only benefit your plan in the long run.''

    ''Our plan'' he answered, lovingly.

    ---

    The next day, Agron woke early, dressed, and left his room at the Palace. He strolled around the Palace grounds for a long time, until he came to a lake, one of the four. He looked around, and appreciated it's tranquil setting. He often came here when he needed to relax after a busy day, or to think over his next move. He sat at a bench, and looked out over the water. Presently, the pleasant, warm breeze, appeared to stop. The atmosphere, for only a moment, felt stuffy and suffocating. The water birds and crickets were muted, if only for a second.

    ''My Love?'' A voice called out, quietly.

    He turned, Alexis stood a little way behind him. He was surprised to see her outside. As far as he knew, she had not stepped outside since the Great Migration. Where the Calabim had left the caves of Al-ash-Ir, for the new world above.

    ''What are you doing out here?'' She questioned him, caringly, ''You may catch something. Remember how Lady Herrtia died? It was a disease she caught from a human.''

    ''Don't worry, my Lady. There are no humans here.'' He said, smoothly. ''In fact, I often come here when I need to think.''

    ''I see.'' She replied, with obvious disapproval.

    She stood awkwardly, and looked very unnatural against the backdrop of green hills and flowers, Agron noticed. There was a short silence, each absorbed in their own thoughts.

    ''What are you doing out here?'' He asked, at last.

    Suddenly, Alexis broke down. She stumbled towards him and fell at his side. Tears streaming down her face.

    ''Oh Agron!'' She cried, while Agron tried to keep a straight face as the woman worshipped for being unshakeable by humans and Vampires all across the Empire, collapsed at his feet. ''It is him!''

    ''Who my Lady?'' Agron replied, uncertainly.

    ''My Brother! He is alive! He is coming to Prespur!'' she wailed, as Agron quickly scanned their surroundings, making sure no one could see their Queen in such a state.

    It was mostly unknown that Alexis had a brother, and Agron had been shocked to discover it. It seems in fact that she was not the only gift from the heavens. At the same time she arrived in Al-ash-Ir, so did her brother, and for the first hundred years or so they ruled the city together. However, they came to a disagreement. Alexis wanted to spread the gift to her most loyal servants. She claimed that a permeable society would encourage Human loyalty and servitude, whereas her brother claimed that creating more Vampires would endanger their position as rulers. The feud continued for almost a year , and their arguments became ever more violent. It is written that, for almost a month, the people of Al-ash-ir were too scared to leave their homes, lest they were caught up in the fight.

    Finally, one day after a particularly violent fight between them that took place all across the town, Alexis pushed him from the Palace rooftops, which were written to almost reach the cavern's ceiling, hoping to kill him once and for all. However, her brother survived, but was disgraced. His followers rejected him, claiming Alexis to be the stronger and more worth ruler. He had informed her bitterly that she had won, for now, and that he was returning to Heaven. But one day, he would return and have his revenge.

    In hind-sight, Agron wondered if this was why Alexis had been so accepting of the existence of the Upper World, while so many other Vampires at the time claimed it was a lie. She had physically watched her brother leave to the surface, and hadn't she originally fallen from there? She had known of the existence of this ''Heaven'' before Agron had even discovered it, and yet she had seemed surprised, and had rewarded him greatly for his work. ''How strange...'' Agron pondered.

    ''He is coming for his revenge! He told me he would have revenge! I humiliated him in front of our servants, he will come to kill me.'' Her eyes were filled with genuine panic.

    Agron, not knowing what to say, remained silent. Alexis seemed comforted by his presence, at least.

    ---

    Agron lay in bed, but unusually for him, could not sleep. Flauros was returning, and who knew what kind of spanner he would throw into the works. He had spoken to Asterna as soon as he could return to the Palace, and told her of Alexis's break down. She could not believe her ears, but had suggested what Agron already knew. ''Alexis is not as strong as we thought.'' Asterna had told him that the rumours that Internal Affairs possessed incriminating evidence against several of the large Noble Houses, Korouen, Umtilii, Gaeroen, Yraia and Junear, were out, and that she had already received offers of donations from the smaller, more ambitious nobles, in order to ''spill the beans'' so to speak. Of course, she had not accepted any of them. As the noble Houses themselves would surely offer far greater amounts in order to keep her quiet. Agron had paid for an armed body guard of Moroi, led personally by General Hoaro, to accompany her at all times and guard her room and possessions, to protect her from any other ways of persuasion, that were more preferable to the Houses then bribery.

    Finally, Agron drifted off into an uneasy sleep.

    ---

    The Nobleman's Council was called early in the morning. The Council Chamber was ablaze with the shouts and gossiping of the Nobles, as they awaited the entrance of the Queen. It was most unusual that she was not present, half an hour after the Council had been called. Another ten minutes passed, and some of the council members began to feel uneasy. It was not uncommon for an ambitious Nobleman to occasionally hire an assassin to ''remove'' her, but none had ever succeeded in this task. Perhaps this time it had? Finally, there was a knocking at the large, oak doors. The Council fell silent, and Agron called out, ''Enter!''.

    Cowering in the doorway was a messenger, holding a piece of parchment. From which he now read. Asterna Lae, from Internal Affairs, stood boldly behind him. ''The Honourable, Queen Alexis, Supreme and Eternal Ruler of the Calabim Empire, will not be attending Council today. The Lord Agron is required to take her place on the Throne during this meeting of the Council.''

    The Chamber immediately descended into the chattering and arguing that seemed unavoidable in any large group of Vampires. What did this mean? Why was Alexis not coming? What kind of power did Agron now command, that meant he was sitting on the Throne in Alexis's place?

    Asterna walked up the central aisle, slowly and purposefully, as the oak doors swung closed. Agron stood, and sat down again on the Throne to his left, and Asterna replaced him in the seat of Chief Advisor. Agron had had a feeling this would happen, and had asked Asterna to be on standby to take up his position on the Council just in case. By tradition, each seat on the council must always be filled. Although some looked on it with distaste, it was not unusual for Humans to control some seats of the council, traditionally several government agencies were run by Humans, although these generally had little political power. No human could ever hope to possess the seat of Chief Advisor, even if only temporarily.

    Agron raised his hand, and the nobles fell silent. ''You are summoned here today to discuss the voluntary donation of gold from the Houses Korouen, Umtilii, Gaeroen, Yraia and Junear to the Government. This will be a one-time payment, payable to Internal Affairs.

    The Uhro of House Yraia, Uhro Hesper Yraia stood and addressed the Throne, angrily. ''What mischief is this Agron! What have you done with the Queen?''

    ''I understand that the Queen is recovering from a very long day and short night yesterday, she will be available to hear you at around midday. For now, you will address me alone.'' Agron replied. ''May I ask, what is your opinion on the donation?''

    ''House Yraia is honoured to offer the Empire as much gold as is necessary to protect our lands from the foreign Heathen.'' He countered.

    ''Excellent, sit down.'' Agron ordered. Enjoying his short time as ''Queen''.

    The Council continued for three hours, during which each of the donor houses displayed a zealous and honourable attitude towards the new tax. It was quite amazing what a little incentive could do, and each of them now suspected that Alexis was weakening. She was known to sleep for only a few hours a night, so Agron was clearly hiding something. They would want to be seen in a good light by the other Noble Houses if they wanted to stand a chance to grab the throne upon Alexis's inevitable assassination.

    However, behind the closed doors of each House, the nobles were outraged. The Uhros of each knew what the Archives contained, and their House's were furious that they had been kept in the dark for so long, and that their leader had made such a stupid mistake. Even though some of the ''mistakes'' had taken place centuries ago, they knew that it would still be enough to ruin their House's chance for Leadership if the story was to get out. Some nobles suggested that Agron should be killed, but it was decided, unanimously, that this would be impossible. Agron was surrounded by Moroi at all times, and seemed to have a great deal of control over Hoaro, their human General. The Archives themselves were kept under lock and key at all times, and the entrance to them was rumoured to be riddled with deadly traps, so removing the evidence was not an option. Besides, they would have to play by the rules if they were to stand any chance of getting the Throne.

    Finally, the Council came to a close, the Empire considerably richer then before...

    ---

    In the streets of Prespur, the people rejoiced. The Haloi Agents had been ordered to spread the word that the Government had planned a new tax on the Bratavoi Caste, which made up around 85% of the Human population, but that the Lord Agron had argued the case of the commoners and placed the tax on the Nobles instead. In the coming years, Agron would become well-known for his respect and compassion for the Empire's Human Castes...
     
  12. Avahz Darkwood

    Avahz Darkwood Emperor

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    Location:
    Behind You!!!!
    More more more!!!:drool::drool::drool::banana:
     
  13. thewyrm

    thewyrm Ambassador to Real Life

    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2008
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    279
    Interesting Kol, but I always got the impression that Alexis and Flauros got on well? Will we get to see your interpretation of their reconciliation?
     
  14. thewyrm

    thewyrm Ambassador to Real Life

    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2008
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    279
    KC-

    Re: Balseraph incest

    Wait, you mean there was a Balseraph noble who actually new who his daughters were? Did he keep a harem locked in a dungeon? :)
     
  15. KillerClowns

    KillerClowns Emperor

    Joined:
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    Couldn't have said it better myself.

    I left the details to the imagination... I imagine the dungeon-harem would be the story.
     
  16. Monkeyfinger

    Monkeyfinger Deity

    Joined:
    Oct 24, 2006
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    2,002
    Wait, I'd figure Keelyn is well known. That if any Balseraph, especially a well traveled one like Ozziel, saw a Balor speaking in highbrow Balseraph, he'd know exactly where the Balor got it from.
     
  17. KillerClowns

    KillerClowns Emperor

    Joined:
    Oct 6, 2007
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    1,139
    I'm assuming this to be on the time-line before she is well known. At this point she's still the dirty little secret of Perpentach's inner court, and hasn't yet introduced them to her demon-summoning abilities.
     
  18. MagisterCultuum

    MagisterCultuum Great Sage

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Kael's head
    Ozziel has been away from his homeland for years too right? Keelyn may have even taken power recently, too recently for him to know about it.
     
  19. thewyrm

    thewyrm Ambassador to Real Life

    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2008
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    Just something quick I did while I was bored today at work.


    Spoiler :
    Once upon a time this situation would have been humiliating. Kulkal had personally seen to the torture of countless beings and yet here he was in a pastel painted bedroom braiding a 12 year old girl's hair. She had been summoning him off and on for a few months when she found out he was well versed on feminine beauty secrets. He would be lieing if he didn't admit that he sometimes wished he didn't have to go back. . . He was listening to her talk incessantly about some boy she called Jimmy.

    “. . . and then know what he said next!? He said you're ugly and stupid and can't play with me!”
    “That's too bad.”
    “Yeah so I said boys aren't allowed to talk to me like that and I'm gonna make you sorry. If you think I'm ugly I'll make you ugly too.”
    “Then what did you do Mistress Keelyn?”
    “I ran home and told Giggles to remove his skin so he would be ugly. Next time I see him I'm gonna make him say sorry!”

    Kukal decided now was not a good time to explain to her that removing the boys skin undoubtedly killed him. He hoped this incident wouldn't cause her any trouble. Then sat in amazement when he realized that he was sincere. He REALLY did hope she would never face hardship. This progression of thought was so gradual that it didn't really occur to him until it was too late. Which it was. For better or for worse he was hers.

    “All done.” He said as he tied the last ribbon in her hair.
    “Do I look pretty Kul? Daddy is home tonight and I wanna look pretty for him. Last time you put the make ups on me he spoke an entire sentence to me! Maybe today he'll smile at me wouldn't that be great!?”
    “It would be wonderful mistress”
    “Thanks Kul, you always make me feel better.” And with that she leaned over and kissed him on the cheeck. “I gotta go now so you better go home.” Keelyn undead her spell and the Physical Plane gave way to the dwelling he maintained in his true home.

    Kulkal looked at his wall and magically erased the tally marks and began them anew with one. He kept track of every day he was kept from her. He looked over to the painting of her he had forced the soul of an artist to complete for him and did something that he had never done in over seven centuries of existence. He cried.
     
  20. KillerClowns

    KillerClowns Emperor

    Joined:
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    1,139
    Thou art a continuity-problem-solving machine. ;)

    @Thewyrm: You ninja'd me. I took my time with the minor edits when I copy-pasted this from my short story .odt, didn't I? And you are wonderfully deranged. Poor Kulak... this thread is making me feel sorry for demons and vampires. What's next, dare I ask?

    But on another note, I've been feeling rather creative lately. Maybe my traits change like Perpentach's... This was sort of floating about my head for some time, but only recently did I come up with a satisfactory ending.

    Spoiler :
    Autumn had just settled upon the forest, and I had to admit it was beautiful. I let myself float only slightly above the forest floor, skimming to feel the leaves, still damp with morning dew, on my feet. A wind had picked up, blowing my hair and rustling my wings. I stretched them, hoping I could use them again soon. Flight, I considered, was a simple pleasure. But angelic rebirth made even the simplest things more beautiful. All the weaknesses of mortal flesh, gone. All the pains I'd ceased to even notice had disappeared. I saw the beauty of creation everywhere. I had ascended beyond nature, become something greater.

    And the forest hated me for it. Animals dared not attack me, but avoided me as though I carried some plague. These were elven woods. Ljosalfar. They'd refused to help us deal with the Infernal threat, citing their own little war with their Svartalfar kin. It bothered me, in a way. I should have been out, slaying demons, crushing evil, and yet here I was, fighting elves on their own ground. But I did not question Basium. Their souls would be judged eventually, and there was little wrong with hastening the time of that judgment.

    I heard a noise, a crunching of feet upon leaves. Not elves; they would not have made themselves so obvious. I smelled a hint of... sulfur? Demons. I could take on a hell hound, at best. But a pack of them, or any larger demons, would mean I would have to call for reinforcements. I turned to face my foe. An unremarkable demon, basically an armed mane. Its axe, although mithril, was crude. But there was something about it... then it spoke.

    "Hello, dear sister." Sister? "Have you forgotten me?" Who was this creature? Remembering my mortal life was like remembering a dream; it was possible, with effort, but a lot of thing that seemed important then had become laughable. Yes, I had a brother...

    "Tobias?" I asked. "Indeed," the mane said, sneering. "You seem to have done rather well for yourself, haven't you?" I studied the monster that had once been my flesh and blood, piecing together the details I could recall. The creature once called Tobias Starchild continued. "Oh, yes, dear Elena. Daddy always loved you better than me... always gave you the nicer toys..." "Because I didn't break mine in angry fits," I pointed out. The mane ignored this. "When the time came to get a job, you became an accountant. A man's job! I meanwhile, was deemed fit only to sweep the floors of the brewery." "Fitting," I responded, "that a drunkard like you should sweep the factory that produces his poison." "Now, now, my dear Elena. You weren't always so heartless! Have those wings cost you your soul?" "No. I was too kind. I always saved you when I should have left you to your punishment. Maybe it would have taught you something, and you would not now be in your present, wretched state. All those times I covered for you, I should have let them take you to prison. You were a blight on society, and I was too blind..."

    An arrow from above interrupted me. Our argument had attracted at least one elven archer, and the elves saw little difference between angel and demon beyond which type of arrow to use. I resisted the urge to fly upwards; I'd gotten entangled in the trees once before, and it was an experience I was not going to repeat. Especially since I suspected the tree had been somehow trying to capture me. The mane leapt, and at first I thought towards me. But instead it skittered up the tree, and a few moments later, it flew down, wrestling with an elf. The archer managed to disentangle himself and land gracefully. He pulled out a knife and glanced between me and the demon. I didn't give him a chance to decide, but easily sliced him with my sword. "Well now," the mane said. "I see all those years of playing swordfight with sticks has taught you something. All the other boys wouldn't let you join, so you had to learn from me..."

    For a brief moment, I hesitated. The mane came at me, but I regained my senses fast enough to block. "You've improved," it said. "I remember you used to leave yourself open to a fast rush. But remember, dear sister. I usually won. And we aren't playing with sticks this time." "Tell me," I responded. "Did Lucille leave herself open to?"

    The mane's eyes glowed. "That harlot? Ha! You could say so. She'd had every other man in the village, but all she did was tease me. I got tired of her games, and decided to play my own..." I took advantage of his distraction as he had taken advantage of mine. But he spun out of the way, slamming me with the flat of his axe as he did so. I was knocked to the ground, but managed to roll out of the way of the next blow and get back up and in a defensive position before he'd readied his axe again. "How about Myrana?" I asked. "Oh, come on. I didn't force her to do anything." "You only left her with child and denied it was yours. At thirteen years, you ruined her life. She thought the world of you, and you just used her..." "Of course. I gave her chocolates and trinkets, and she gave me pleasure. How is that different than any other whore?" We circled each other, both wary not to let our anger cost us our guard, but waiting for the other to lose control. "So, dear sister. You knew, and yet remained silent. Are you not just as guilty?" "I had thought you would do the right thing. I assumed guilt would finally take over and you'd confess." The mane laughed. "Dear Elena," he said, "you were so idiotic! I had you wrapped around my little finger, carrying all my dirty little secrets. You were my co-conspirator, you were my confessional, you were nothing more than a stupid little girl..."

    I lunged and, by some miracle, struck the mane clean through the gut. It roared like the beast it was. It leapt backward, oozing some dark substance. "Spoiled brat!" it yelled. "You know it! You were as guilty as I was, you could have saved me but you were too weak! It is because of you, and your cowardice, your stupid cowardice, that I must suffer for eternity while you dine on ambrosia!"

    I had not noticed him before, so well had he blended into the forest, but a druid coughed. How long had he been there? It was no accident, but a "your attention, please," cough. We looked at him. He looked like nothing but an old man, but we knew that even uninjured, the two of us together would not be enough to defeat him. "Life..." he said. "It's not fair, is it?" His voice was eerily flat. I was silent, while the mane seethed. "There is an alternative. Angels. Demons. Creations of gods who believe the predator should be punished and prey rewarded." "Are you calling me prey?" I asked. "In a previous life," the druid said, "yes. I have gathered that much listening in on this... delightful little conversation of yours." It was all the mane could do to not charge, I could tell.

    "Do you wish for your eternal suffering to end?" the druid asked. The mane almost laughed. "Of course, you old idiot! Why do you think I fight upon this world for Hyborem? Because it's fun?" The druid seemed unphased. He continued. "As I said before, there is an alternative. Do not struggle."

    I drew my sword upon hearing those words, out of instinct, the words my brother had spoken to Lucille. He hadn't really changed that much, I thought. He'd always been a demon on the inside. The druid began to chant. The mane bent over and curled up, screaming. Then, at last, he died. His physical form was consumed by eldritch flame, and I noticed, where his heart had once been, a very small tree beginning to grow. "Angels. Demons. Only one knows the agony they suffer. But the predator does not hate the prey. Hatred is a false emotion, what separates mankind from ever finding peace." I realized I was next. I tried to run, but found myself rooted to the ground. "So much hatred," the druid said as I struggled to free myself. "So sad..."

    I resisted, at first. But as the ritual continued, I heard the song of the forest. To judge by the druid's efforts, I was harder to take down than my brother had been. I now heard my brother's voice, small, childlike, but still recognizable, joining in the chorus. "Join us," they said. "None can deny the cycle. Dance with us in the spring rains... bask with us beneath the summer sun... sing with us as autumn comes... slumber with us as winter takes its due..." It seemed so easy to just surrender myself to the forest... and then I heard my brother speak apart from the rest. "I forgive you. And I'm so sorry. For everything. Do you forgive me?" The druid went silent. There was nothing more he could do. Then, finally, I spoke the words I had been waiting so long to say...

    "No." With that, I found myself released, and my sword now blazed with the holy fire of righteous wrath. I moved faster than any mortal creature on Erebus, eviscerating the old druid before he realized what had happened. To be certain, I sliced off his head as well. All this occurred in but a second. I found the twig that contained that which I had once, idiotically, held so dear. As I held my blade near it, it burst into flame. I could still hear the forest, but now it howled. Every animal fled from me. The spirits of the trees screamed as I set them alight. "The Day of Judgment is upon Erebus!" I cried, consumed mind, body, and soul by the power of righteous wrath. The old spirits of the forest could not protect Erebus from the coming inferno, and if they would not stand aside, they would be tossed aside. I vaguely noticed the feathers on my wings were gone, burnt off but replaced now by raw fire and light. As holy flame consumed the forest, I laughed and then, collapsed onto the forest floor, surrounded by but unharmed by the inferno.

    From that day forward, I was no longer just another angel. My fellow Mercurians found me. It wasn't hard; they just had to follow the fire. When I awoke, I found my wings still alight, yet they did not burn anything they touched. I kept my old sword, although it had changed now. It was perpetually aglow, and runes had been burned into it. I was treated with a new respect by my brothers and sisters. “Seraph,” they whispered. Before I had merely been a mortal in an angelic body. But in the forest, my transformation had been completed. I had truly been born anew, my mortal life burned away like so much tinder, and the joys of eternity spent upon the righteous cause awaiting me.

    [Personally, I'd have said yes... but I wanted to take a moment to look through the eyes of a Mercurian, and they're made of different stuff than me.]
     

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