For Glory, For Empire
The Cost of Shadows
The last Gathering before the Autumn rainy season was in full swing; the energy in the crowd was almost too much for Coût carrying the brazier and Kosten carrying the bucket of filings and scraps as they followed their black-clad master deeper among the crowd.
The master was formidable, over seven feet tall, dressed in the skins and feathers of black Dunyabetia, with deep violet flames dancing over mottled flesh pierced with bent nails, all shrouded in an inky indistinctness. The gathered parted well in advance of his pace.
The master never told Coût and Kosten, dark fiery brown, shaggy-furred beasts standing on slate grey hooves with horned ape heads, anything other than what was expected of them, and that was simple enough. They followed behind with their load, and watched for trouble. This Realm was preferable to their own.
There is some sort of ritual combat starting on the field ahead of them. The master stops and observes over the top of the crowd. It is two forces of Grugan, tribal divisions, chiefs fighting over a mate who sits on a palanquin to one side of the field of combat. The force on the near end of the field seems better prepared and led, and takes quick advantage.
Then both chiefs are stuck in, and the far chief tries to reverse his losses, while there is some sort of disturbance beneath the sand. The master seems to radiate with his proximity to violence.
A drunken Kambral screams from behind them, the finely-honed battleaxe in his hand headed for the master. Kosten steps in front of the blow automatically, without regard for its safety. The master smiles.
Those Meseidiaren had finally come to Areiystis, and to the Gathering, just as the oracle predicted two years ago. They indicated that the Turpan lived near them. They talked of the Temple at the Confluence, and of Staakos the Coward. Janco was not pleased with this.
With this group was a sky-lynx who insulted Janco’s skills, and the value of his craft. It was more than Janco could bear. Ruan had to send him from their cart before there was violence. And so Janco began to drink.
Amidst that drink, Janco came up with a plan. He would bring a grievance against the sky-lynx before the Oracle. He would follow the Meseidiaren back to their village, and confront the Turpan, make them choke on their shame. Then he would find the Coward and strike him down. Then Janco passed out.
It was almost dark again when Janco woke, and he remembered nothing but the frustration and anger. He walked to the south end of the Gathering and back trying to shake off too much drink and too little power that he still felt.
Janco was almost back to normal by the time he made it back to the trying field for the Grugan’s bridal match. Janco was watching like the rest, but was then jostled by a neighbor jostling him from the side as they were in too big of a hurry to get out of the way of something else. Janco was perturbed, and turned to look at the cause of this disturbance.
The hije was in front of him, back turned! Its foul servants had not even noticed. Janco slipped his father’s battleaxe from his back, raised it into a powerful, cleaving arc, and let go a powerful, vengeful cry. Sta’akos!
The axe met flesh and bone of Kosten’s left ribs, and threw him into the master who was already summoning Realm-fire. The master was off-balance, and the beam sliced wildly into the crowd, bird-men and rat-folk, and Pymlions all crying out at the pain and smell of their searing flesh.
The combat on the field was momentarily forgotten. A riot of blood and flame and steel had begun.