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Old 11-24-2009, 03:10 AM
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Default The Call to War (Cairhien, cont)

It was with the dawn that the army of Amatsiru assembled on the field before what would one day be its massive and ornamental front gate. Danette stood silhouetted against the morning sky, her face warmed by the east’s rising sun. She was flanked to either side by a Warder, her beloved Gaul on her left and the swirling emotions of the more reluctant Ambrok on her right. Behind her stood the ever-faithful Phoenix, Kyra, and the Asha’man Ven d’Vere. Her third Gaidin, Dycin, was far off to the east with the Shukuchoku and the rest of her vanguard.

The armor of her soldiers gleamed red with the dawn sun, bringing to mind a Tairen fishwife’s proverb she’d been told once, long ago. Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in morning, sailors take warning. This dawn was an ill omen, any way you looked at it. She looked to her husband, who could obviously feel the knot of excited nervousness that was her emotions.

Danette turned to her confidante and second, Kyra Rahein. “Kyra, the Army of Hope marches. Amatsiru is yours.”

The War against the Shadow in Cairhien deserved something grand for a sendoff, but Danette left that for the Gleemen and Court Bards. She nodded at Ambrok, whose hand chopped forward, a signal every one of the soldiers arrayed before her new well. A massive cheer erupted, even as Gateways spun into existence before each banner.

Amatsiru would be crippled by the loss of her troops, but not as crippled as the invasion would be if she’d left them behind. There’d be no time for a siege.

Danette surrendered to saidar, Weaving it into a Gateway into Jangai Pass. The Aiel had refused to assist in liberating the Treekiller city, but Cor Sinistrum was unlikely to know that. Coming from the East would threaten Aiel involvement, at least.

The Dark Tower’s Master of Blades was as cunning as any Darkfriend, but that didn’t mean he was untrickable. Like any Darkfriend, he was prone to overconfidence, and the Shadowspawn at his disposal gave him an enormous advantage in numbers. Only the threat of the Aiel would fend him off long enough for her to rally the Cairhienin to her banner.

She stepped through her Gateway, directly into the camp Dycin had long since established in Jangai Pass, but which was quickly being overrun by the bulk of her own forces as they stepped through their own gateway. The extreme distance between Gaul, Ambrok, and herself was shortlived, as they were the first to follow her through. Dycin strode towards her, his usual stoic self, and flanked by the rest of the Shukuchoku. She let the Gateway collapse into itself, as Ven and Phoenix made their way through.

“Dycin, have the locals been found?” Gaul spoke up, the flash of anger in his corner of her head indicating he was still bitter that she had bonded two new Warders, when she had promised none.

“A few.” A long sentence for Dycin, who looked to the enormously muscular Mace, who stood to his left.

The dark-skinned man continued the report, “As was rumored, the majority of the Cairhienin military was crushed, and the remnants faded into the refugee population where they could. Spirit and Dagger have been Travelling to various Cairhienin communities.” Spirit and Dagger were the most ordinary looking of the Shukuchoku, and easily blended into most communities. “They’ve recovered nearly two-thousand of what we’re calling the Rising Sun Remnant, but they have many more places to Travel - including the Valley.”

Danette thanked Mace with an unmistakable grimace - they were making as much progress as could be expected, but they would still be vastly outnumbered by Cor Sinistrum’s shadowspawn. Unfortunately, she didn’t have the luxury of waiting for the Cairhienin to join the fight - even if every Cairhienin left in the world returned to the fold, there wasn’t a chance of Danette assembling the numbers Sinistrum and tsorovan’m’hael could call to bear in the upcoming attack.

She had one hope. “War council in 15 minutes. I have a plan.”

***

Kartael watched, again, as Jeordwyn Matteos deftly wove the Weave they were being instructed to make, a thing of Air, Fire, and Water which made puffs of steam. To practice, they were to make their puffs rush through tubes, making a melodious tune of the instructor’s choice. The others had quickly grasped it, and even now Jeordwyn was laughing as he played a bawdy tune from his homeland. Kartael, on the other hand, remained inept with all of the powers except Spirit. When the lesson ended, Kartael was the first out the door - he had many things to do the rest of the day, especially with his last lesson of the day ended.

Ambrok had been missing ever since the battle with the Fade weeks ago. The rest of the squad had been nearly ransacking the city searching for the Under-Commander, but it was increasingly certain the leaders in the Valley had found and removed Ambrok. As far as Kartael knew, Ambrok was dead and buried somewhere.

Kartael slowed when he heard a feminine voice shout his name, drawing his attention back to the real world where he was nearly running through the halls. He turned, to see Melle Davian walking quickly towards him, a wide smile on her face.

“How’d it go?” Melle was cheerful, and skilled with the One Power. Her lessons seemingly always went well.

Kartael answered by demonstrating the Weave he’d just been practicing, seizing saidin. Fire, Water, Air, just so… pfft. A small jet of steam which hadn’t been able to make the organ pipes whistle in the slightest.

Melle’s face sunk. She hid it well, but she, too, was ashamed of Kartael’s failures. It was her kind personality that kept her from abandoning Kartael’s friendship. She reached out to touch his arm, but he avoided it by continuing back towards his quarters. She followed him, anyway, hurrying to walk beside him.

Laughter down the hall echoed, as Bane walked alongside Birgitte, the female swordsman with the Archer’s name obviously having just told the popular Dedicated one of her dirty jokes. People liked Bane. Bane was strong in the One Power, and his ’instruction’ at the hands of der’sul’dam Algenna had helped him to his higher rank over the others.

Melle’s glance at Kartael when she saw Bane made it clear that she, too, did not forget why Bane had received that training. They’d been looking into the activities of an apparent Darkfriend in the Foregate, when Bane and Kartael had been captured by members of the same Ever Victorious Army that none but Bane knew Kartael and Ambrok belonged to.

The ordeal had drawn Kartael and Bane together, but Kartael couldn’t bear to face him any longer. With a murmur of farewell, Kartael turned away from his friend, endeavoring to take a different route back to his room. Ignoring Melle’s protest with a backhanded wave, he stalked down the hallway. It was certainly the long way, but Kartael was still happy when he fell into the chair in what passed as his living quarters.

He sat leaning forward, his head in his hands in exasperation. Why will they not leave me alone?

There was nothing Kartael desired more, at that moment, than to take his sword to the Training Grounds and engage the gaidin-trainees and guardsmen in sparring matches. He stood up and crossed to his wardrobe, where his sabre hung on its shoulder belt. Strapping it on, Kartael turned back to his door - where an Ogier stood, blocking the doorway. He was terribly disfigured, an old cut through his lip splitting it in two. His hand was curled into an unmistakable sign - the Ogier was a Gardener, an elite Seanchan warrior.

A sword’s hilt rose over the Ogier’s left shoulder, and Kartael’s hand flew to his own, drawing it free in a single motion. The Ogier crossed the room in a single lunge, his hand reaching for and catching Kartael’s arm even as Kartael whipped his sword at the creature’s enormous torso.

With strength only an Ogier could have, the Gardener slammed Kartael onto his own bed, and hissed at him. “Are you all such light-damned fools? If so, Ambrok is welcome to the lot of you. Hopefully one of you gets him killed.” The Ogier held Kartael’s sword as if it were a dagger at Kartael’s throat.

“Ambrok? What?…How?” Kartael lay there, shocked.

“Blood and Bloody Ashes… You’ve got a head injury.” The Ogier lifted the sword from Kartael’s neck, and looked at it a second before tossing it across the room. “Here, you can still read, yes?”

The Ogier tossed a sealed envelope to Kartael, who caught it with his chest before sitting up on his bed. He turned it over, surprised to see Ambrok’s signet on it, unsurprised to see that it had been sloppily lifted at one point.

“You come from Home, Ogier. What’re you doing here?” Kartael could not believe that a Gardener would be in the Valley - was the Ever Victorious Army close to an invasion?

“I’m delivering a damn message.” The Ogier shook his head, still staring down at him. “Once you’ve read it, I’ll be at the Flame and Fang. We’ve much to discuss.”

Kartael couldn’t help but sigh in relief as the Ogier left his quarters. He opened the note, seeing Ambrok’s familiar hand.

I march with the Flame of Hope to Cairhien. Even in this land of Oathbreakers, none shall live beneath the Shadow. The Land of the Rising Sun’s banners are called, and I expect you and the squad to be among those who answer her summons. We wait, Ever Victorious. Ambrok Chiqel

Kartael stared at the paper for minutes. There’d been rumors of war in Cairhien, but none took them very seriously - there was always war in the Shadow-ruled nations, and the Aiel hated the Cairhienin, didn’t they? Yet clearly, Ambrok was involved, somehow. He had to ask the rest of the squad - Richad, in particular, would know. He’d been investigating the Foregate. Even the rest - Lisha, Matrim, and Zecher - would know more of the war than he did trapped in this Tower.

He rushed out of the room, only to run right into a pair of people. Excusing himself, he walked more quickly through the hallways and into the Valley of marath’damane. An overdo conversation with his squad mates beckoned.

***

Birgitte saw Kartael change direction, abandoning Melle at the sight of her and Bane. He’d been off ever since they’d returned from Falme. Even Bane didn’t talk about what he’d undergone after he’d been captured by those monsters.

They approached Melle, who stood looking forlornly after Kartael. Birgitte was first to speak, “What’s up with him?”

Melle shrugged, turning her body but continuing to stare down the hallway. “He just had another lesson.”

Birgitte understood a little - she’d been disappointed to learn that she’d never Channel when she first arrived, if only for a short while. For Kartael, it must be worse - he was born with the Spark, but a Spark that was barely useful. Strong in Spirit, and very, very weak in the other four - nearly worthless, in Channeling terms. She tried to hide a wince from Melle - for some reason, Melle seemed to like Kartael.

Birgitte put her arm around her friend, “Well, why don’t we go talk to him? He needs to stop this moping - maybe we can help him?” Bane snickered, earning himself a kick from Birgitte for his dirty mind.

“Shouldn’t we give him some time to himself?” Melle didn’t seem the most confrontational girl, though she was very brave when it had mattered.

“Fine, we’ll walk Bane back to his room first.” And Birgitte kicked Bane again for good measure, ignoring his pleas of innocence.

Bane’s quarters in the Dedicated section were on the other side of the Light Tower from Kartael’s quarters, but not a difficult walk. Bane and Birgitte continued telling all of the dirty jokes they knew, making Melle blush red as a rose and causing them each to crack up in hilarity at their shyer friend.

Dropping off Bane, Birgitte put her arm around Melle once more. “Don’t worry, Melle. We’ll talk some sense into him. And if not, the two of us can beat it into him!” Melle gave Brigitte a little smile. Good enough. They walked the path they’d only just walked, then took the short way to Kartael’s room, only to find the door open.

As they walked into the room, they were met by Kartael, who was practically sprinting out of his room. The three of them went down in a heap, but Kartael laid on the ground before standing up in a rush before taking off down the hall.

Melle called after him again, but Birgitte’s attention was on the open envelope he’d dropped. Melle flapped her arms in exasperation, and Birgitte pocketed the envelope. “I’ll catch him, you stay here in case he comes back and I lose him, okay Melle?”

Birgitte took off, grateful for the physical exercise the Warders were making her do. She assumed he was leaving the Tower, and so took the quickest route outside, her speed quickly letting her catch glances of him in the longer hallways.

Outside, she tracked him as he hurried through the streets, making his way… out of the Valley? What could he be looking for in the Foregate? Birgitte’s natural curiosity had its clamps in her now. She jog-walked after him, keeping close enough he couldn’t lose her in the crowd or with any of his seemingly random twists and turns.

He ducked into an Inn, unnamed, but with a sign showing the Rising Sun of Cairhien and some creature of the Aiel Waste. Birgitte looked around the area, quickly spotting a barrel in the alleyway beside the Inn. She took a seat, and then took out the paper Kartael had dropped, unfolding it and taking a gander at its contents,

I march with the Flame to Cairhien. Even in this land of Oathbreakers, none shall live beneath the Shadow. The Land of the Rising Sun’s banners are called, and I expect you and the squad to be among those who answer her summons. We wait, Ever Victorious. Ambrok Chiqel.

Birgitte gulped once. Twice. She knew there were Seanchan in the Valley - everyone knew they sent people to the Valley every year as peace offerings. But this note… it didn’t seem Kartael was one of those. Those two words, ‘Ever Victorious,’ were famous in Saldaea these days. In the wake of those words, Birgitte’s parents, four brothers, and her older sister had been butchered.

‘Ever Victorious’ was the battle cry of the Seanchan‘s Ever Victorious Army, and had been since the time of Artur Hawkwing. Kartael was a soldier. A Seanchan soldier. Melle would be heartbroken.

Birgitte was angry, but not so angry to storm into the inn, probably full of Kartael’s Seanchan friends. She snuck up towards the building, intending to look into a window and see who Kartael was talking to inside. She didn’t peak over the railing, instead looking into the room on the diagonal before switching sides and scouring the other half of the room - Kartael was nowhere to be found.

As she was pondering what to do next, she heard voices from deeper in the alley, apparently coming from the yard of the Inn. She made her way down the inn, quietly as possible. Eventually, she could make out the words.

“What we need to do, obviously, is get out of the Valley of the marath’damane, especially if, as you say, we have been declared traitors to the Empress, may She live forever. But Cairhien? If Ambrok is even there, it’s months away.” Birgitte didn’t recognize the speaker, but she certainly recognized the man who answered.

Kartael replied, in something barely over a whisper, “There is a way - one of the girls -”

“One of the marath’damane,” the man corrected, the scorn obvious in his voice.

Kartael continued on his sentence, “- Melle, she created a Hole, in the ground. We were standing here, in the Foregate, and ended up in the Academy. When they came to rescue me, we walked through the same type of hole, to end up back here in the Valley. Perhaps they can travel all the way to Cairhien through one of these holes.” Sometimes it baffled Birgitte what the Seanchan didn’t know or had forgotten. Clearly, they were talking about Travelling. Though, this talk of traitors was something she hadn’t known - who were traitors? Kartael and this man? And they were talking about the Ambrok who had written the note! “What, exactly, is going on here?” She didn’t notice that she’d whispered this last part.

The other man held up his hand to keep Kartael from talking, “Did you hear that?”

Kartael looked around, “No, Richad. I heard nothing.”

“Someone was whispering, over by the alley.” Birgitte ducked back, pressing herself against the wall, as if trying to push herself through it. She heard the footsteps of the man, Richad, walking over, and knew that running would only give away that someone was, indeed, listening in on he and Kartael’s conversation.

Birgitte felt as much as saw the man grab her by the arm and fling her towards the courtyard, his leg tangling in hers to send her sprawling to the ground. She tried her best to roll, as she’d been taught, but had been thrown very awkwardly in the first place.

As she stood up, Richad was on her again, his fist driving the air from her lungs with a sharp blow to the sternum, and dropping her back to her knees.

“Richad, wait!” Kartael’s voice seemed in the background as Richad spun in place, adding momentum to the kick which drove her into unconsciousness.
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Old 12-12-2009, 11:02 PM
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Tol Gorrin sat in the shattered citadel at the heart of the city which had once been Shol Arbela. The City of Ten Thousand Bells had held out, foolishly. In return, their towers and walls lay smashed, new rents in the earth crossed their streets. Where there had once been city blocks, or architectural masterpieces, now lay only rubble. The Arafellin had fought bravely, but the escape of the Aes Sedai within the city had necessitated the city’s demise. Tol Gorrin’s search had been very thorough.

The throne he sat upon had once belonged to the King of Arafel, but the capital of this Borderlands nation now lay in ruins. He’d intended to use the city as a base of operations for his campaign against the Shienarans and Malkieri, but all he’d left standing was the Palace. For now, it would have to do.

Tol Gorrin ignored the man who hung suspended in the air above the throne, who had once been the rightful King of Arafel. For his devotion to the Light, he’d earned the destruction of his Kingdom. Tol had been contemplating whether to simply kill him and leave him with the rest of the dead in this once great city, or to kill him and have his body delivered to Indirian in Fal Moran as a warning of the price of his stubborn resistance.

Instead, Tol’s single blue eye was fixed on the tall black man, known as Mace, who stood before him. “Are you certain?” Tol didn’t need insults, unlike some of the other Chosen.

“Yes, Great Master,” the man’s groveling was overdone, but Tol felt no need to correct him on it, “Danette is in Cairhien, with the bulk of her followers. Only a token garrison defends Amatsiru.”

Of all of his Lieutenants, he trusted Mace’s word of Danette the most. The man had gotten as close to her as any he’d sent - the damned woman had a nose for Friends of the Dark. If Mace said Danette marched on Cor Sinistrum, it was certain she marched on Cor Sinistrum. Which left Amatsiru wonderfully empty, ripe for the taking, and nearly as well placed for an assault on Shienar as Arafel.

Tol Gorrin hoped Danette succeeded in killing Cor Sinistrum, the swordsman was far too valuable to the Nae’blis. That didn’t mean, however, that he’d thank her for it. He would assume her home for his own, then follow her to Cairhien while she was weak and finish the job. The Great Lord would be pleased at the death of Danette Galliana. Tsorovan’m’hael’s reign as Nae’blis would be replaced with Tol Gorrin’s, as soon as he killed the Flame of Hope.

“You have done well, Mace, at a very opportune time. I find myself short on Dreadlords, and so name you one. You will return to Danette, and make sure none of her bodyguard survives her battle in Cairhien. Fail me, and not even the Great Lord will be able to save you.” Tol Gorrin turned in dismissal, his eyes now looking southwards, towards his next destination.

He seized saidin, reveling in its painful sweetness. With a simple weave, he amplified his voice so that it would be heard by the remainder of his army. “We march. Assemble to the South.”

***

Kartael hurried over to Birgitte as she lay unconscious on the ground. He could hear her breathing, but the heavy heal on Richad’s boot had done significant damage - she certainly had at least a concussion, and Kartael could help with that.

“Richad. Get the others, I know someone who can get us to Cairhien. You just assaulted an Isai, and we’ll need to take her with us, now. Go, quickly.” As Richad slipped into the Alley, Kartael seized saidin, laying the lesser Healing weave, which he could handle, upon Birgitte. Luckily, it relied largely on Spirit, and Kartael could actually do some good for Birgitte.

The bruise which had spread across the side of her face disappeared, but she stayed unconscious. Kartael picked her up and dragged her into the stables, hiding her in a back corner. Looking around, he found a blanket, and covered her in that for good measure.

He needed to find Melle, since he wasn’t strong enough for a Gateway. In any case, women Travelled differently - she didn’t necessarily need to have been to Cairhien to get there, like he would have - at least, he’d thought that what’s what Agnes Sedai had said.

He had to hurry, Richad had said to meet him in half a bell, after he’d gathered the others. And Light knew where Melle had gone off to. He hurried back to the Light tower, where he’d seen her last - outside his room.

When he got to his room, he was immensely relieved to see Melle sitting in his chair. “Melle, good. Listen-” he stopped short when he saw what she held in her hands - his sword, its blade broken off an inch above the cross guard.

“Melle, I…” he stammered, “Will you come with me? It’s not safe here.” Which wasn’t really a lie, when you paused to examine it. If that Gardener could find him, in the heart of the Light Tower, than anyone could. And the number of damane openly in Falme could only mean one thing, and that meant Melle was certainly not safe here any longer.

“Not safe? How are we not safe?” Melle looked confused, but Kartael could only place his hands on his neck before slowly lowering them in exasperation.

“Remember Falme?” When Melle nodded, Kartael continued. “That kind of not safe. We need to go. Quickly.”

“Falme? But… how? The Seanchan won’t attack - there’s truce!”

“Melle, please. Trust me when I say this - the Ever Victorious Army doesn’t make truces. We won’t make a difference in the battle, and I’ll be killed if the Valley falls. You’ll be collared. Ambr- Elriq is in Cairhien. Let’s go there.”

“Elriq? That runaway?”

“Yes, Elriq. Listen, I can’t make you go. But I’m leaving. Birgitte is leaving. But neither of us can Travel.” Kartael took his sword from Melle’s hands, then reached into his wardrobe to grab a few clothes for the trip. Wrapping them up in his blanket, he tied it off and slung it over his shoulder. “Come on, Melle. Please?”

Melle’s face twisted away from its natural prettiness, in the closest thing to disdain the girl could manage. “I’m not a coward, Kartael. But I’ll help you run, because it’s you.”

It was a start, at least. Kartael hurried out of his room, Melle hurrying to keep up with him, though he wasn’t much taller than she was. Leaving the Tower was no obstacle, Isai were allowed a modicum of freedom within the Valley, which luckily included visits to the colorful panorama of the Foregate.

Unfortunately, Kartael wasn’t the first one back to the Inn behind which he’d stowed Birgitte. Richad had gathered the others - the lanky form of Zecher held the reins of the horses they’d brought with them. Matrim leaned against the frame of the stables, the fact he had taken over the murdered Timothe’s business obvious by his rich attire, the appearance marred only slightly by the addition of the well-used handle of the sword at his belt. Lisha was slight, and pretty, and dressed in the garb of a serving girl, obviously fresh from her duties at the Flame and Fang. They were all here, excepting the deceased merchant Timothe and their Commander, Ambrok.

“You’re late.” Kartael was not, but Richad was firm in his belief that anyone who arrived after he did was late.

“No. Richad, this is Melle. Melle, this is Zecher, Matrim, and Lisha. They’re… friends of mine.” He ignored Matrim’s snort - the man was as sarcastic as his namesake was storied to be.

“Hello, Zecher, Matrim, Lisha.” Melle looked slightly confused. “Where’s Birgitte, you said she was coming, too?”

“Someone.” Kartael specifically did not look in Richad’s direction, “Must have attacked her. I found her unconscious after she’d gone to get a few things. Zecher was about to go wake her up from the corner where I hid her while I went to get you.” Zecher did so, without even looking in Kartael’s direction.

Melle was not as stupid as some quiet people were. She put her hands on her hips, and looked up at Kartael. “Really? That’s what happened?”

Kartael shrugged, unable to voice the lie again. He looked up at the darkening sky, starting the accompanying nod. His mouth fell open in shock.

“Well? Kartael? What really happened.?”

“Melle. We need a Gateway.”

“No, Kartael. What happened to Birgitte?”

“Somebody kicked her in the head. Richad, do you see it?” Kartael could feel his face going pale as he looked up at the distinctive shape in the night sky. Richad’s only word interrupted Melle’s tirade.

“Raken.”

Kartael turned, and pleaded, “Melle, please.”

“Kartael, I can’t - the ter’angreal, we’re too close.” Kartael nodded, but not in agreement.

“Remember the Halfman, Melle? That was only blocks from here. You can do this.” Kartael grabbed her shoulder. “I know it.”

“Shoiya Sedai said it was probably a fluke, since it was the first time I made one. Kartael, what are we going to do?”

“What? You think the ter’angreal has a ‘first time only’ adjustment? You did it once, Melle - you can do it, again. You have to, Melle - they’ll have started closing the gates the instant one of them saw the raken. We won’t make it in time.” Not likely, but Melle wasn’t a warrior - she didn’t know that there was always time to collect the townfolk.

Melle gulped, and Kartael’s goose pimples became more pronounced as she surrendered to saidar. Kartael looked up at the sky impatiently, watching as the raken was joined by some of his fellows as they swooped down, obviously harrying innocents as they fled towards the safety of the Valley.

Kartael tried not to think about the obvious sounds of panic which were quickly surrounding them in the Foregate, instead whispering words of encouragement to Melle. When her Gateway opened, he couldn’t help but cheer her on, clutching her in a hug.

He turned to the Seanchan fellows who were all who were in the small courtyard. “Quickly, through the Gateway.” To Melle, he asked quietly, “Where are we going?”

Melle shrugged, “East, I’m not certain how far - I’ve never been that way before.”

Kartael waited until everyone else was through the Gateway, then turned to Melle. “Please, come with us. It won’t be safe here.”

Melle shook her head. “I won’t run. I’ll see you when you when I see you, Kartael.” After Kartael stepped through, he saw the Gateway turn closed, leaving Melle Davian behind.

In the distance, Kartael could hear the crash of a great battle.
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Old 04-01-2010, 03:56 PM
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“Buahle, take the Shukuchoku and see to their sentries.” Ambrok stared through the spyglass, looking upon a sight straight out of legend once again, just as he had every day since leaving Danette in the Jangai Pass. Cor Sinistrum’s hold in Cairhien was far from peaceful, if the number of Shadowspawn spread across the countryside was an indicator.

A week ago, Danette had sent Ambrok into the countryside with her Shukuchoku and her most experienced veterans. They had been tasked with eliminating the outlying outposts of Shadowspawn which had been spread across Cairhien in order to subjugate the remaining population. They had been lucky, the element of surprise allowing the Channelers among them to butcher the Trollocs and Halfmen in their encampments without a fight.

Ambrok shifted his seat upon Kelriq, loosening his saber in its sheath in the same movement. Something had seemed off all day. Buahle had been argumentative, borderline combative, in the days since Gnarled had left Amatsiru, yet had attached himself to Ambrok like a leech, prattling on about toh, which was as foreign to Ambrok as the principles of sei’taer seemed to be to the Aielman. Yet today, Buahle had ceased his practice of challenging everything Ambrok asked him to do, and it seemed to be contagious. The veterans had accepted his command as Danette’s will, but the Shukuchoku had been as stubborn as Buahle. Yet an hour ago, Willow had set the veil on Buahle without question, making the Aielman completely invisible for his approach to the Trolloc encampment.

Ambrok saw the Trolloc fall at his post, and knew Buahle’s work had begun. He drew his sword, waving it to either side of him in the universal command to form up in a straight line. In the air above them, a draghkar squealed its cry of alarm, finally noticing the dead sentries. Ambrok swept his arm forward with a chop and a kick of his spurs into Kelriq’s side, and the horse darted forward at a trot, part of a solid line of rapidly accelerating horse-flesh and steel.

Fire leapt from the line, darting up at the Draghkar, which tumbled and swerved in hopeless attempts to stay alive. The creature’s scream as it became engulfed in flames and fell to the ground was the most terrible sound Ambrok had heard in his life. In the Trolloc camp, a Halfman leapt onto his own terrible black horse, bellowing commands at the Trollocs, who charged as a mass to intercept the Amatsiran cavalry with a fearsome roar in their unintelligible language.

Ambrok lowered his lance, and as one the cavalry followed his example, forming a line of rippling steel promising death to the Shadowspawn in the moments before they would crash together. Fireballs and streaks of lightning flew over the charging cavalry’s heads, ripping holes in the Trollocs’ line. The Shukuchoku were announcing their locations to the Myrdraal, but the panic in the Trollocs’ line was invaluable in the coming moments. Even a moment’s hesitation meant another dead monster, impaled on 8 feet of steel driven by half a ton of thundering horse, or decapitated by a hacking cavalry sword with the same equine force behind the swordman’s swing.

The initial collision was unquestionably won by the Amatsirans, but the sheer mass of the Trollocs prevented the cavalry from overrunning the Shadowspawn line. Hooks reached up from the back, pulling on Ambrok, who had left his lance pinned in the dirt, a boar-faced Trolloc skewered at its point. Ambrok’s sword was a blur, pushing hooks away in a clatter of steel on steel. Though, he was busy defending himself, Kelriq’s hooves discouraged Shadowspawn bravery with steelshod hooves to the chest, knees or throat of the unlucky few creatures which entered his reach.

Out of the crowd thundered the Halfman on his horrible black steed, his thakandar wrought sword flickering out with a speed Ambrok only remembered in bad dreams of the fight in the Foregate. But that had been more than a month ago, and Ambrok had changed incredibly since then. With the burden of Danette Galiana’s thoughts had come grace, speed, and strength only replicated by years of practice on top of a natural talent for swordsmanship. His senses were sharper, his reactions quicker. With a whole army of gaidin, it was no wonder the marath’damane had held out for so long – Ambrok was twice the soldier he had been that day in Jangai Pass.

The steel of Ambrok’s Amatsiran saber and the Halfman’s black blade rang across the battlefield once, again, and then in a near-constant clangor of sword striking sword. Kelriq and the Shadowspawn’s steed bit, stomped, and attempted to kick each other, but veteran horsemanship kept the riders mounted and their horses safe. The eyeless face of the Halfman’s mouth split into a sneer.

“You will die, gaidin, the moment I allow these beasts to close the circle.” Its voice sounded oily, even evil, “I am more than enough for you.”

Ambrok spurred Kelriq into a shoulder charge, only to have the Halfman and his steed dart out of the way. The wicked edge of the Halfman’s blade slapped across the back of Ambrok’s plate, the force of the blow rocking him forward in his saddle. Viper quick, the Myrdraal’s right boot sprung Ambrok from the saddle, and he found himself airborne, though he tucked his head with a grace he could have only dreamt of a month past and rolled along one shoulder and sprang to his feet. Through a miracle, he kept ahold of his saber, lifting it in time to block the Halfman’s wicked down swing, though he needed the support of his second hand to stop the blade form crashing into his head despite the presence of his steel.

Ambrok’s eyes widened, and he hopped backwards to create some space between him and the Halfman. Kelriq lunged into a gap, fleeing the battle without Ambrok’s steadying hand to guide him, but with an unbridled fury which more than made up for the lack of rider. With a kick of his spurs, the Myrdraal closed the gap, his sword whistling in a diagonal arc which Ambrok avoided rather than blocking, his own sword whirring until it ended with a solid thunk, cutting free the fell steed’s foreleg. With a rasp of surprise, the Myrdraal slid to the ground, his backslash weaker for lack of solid footing.

Ambrok swatted the Halfman’s slash wide, and stepped forward, punching the creature in the throat with a crunching noise as the young cavalryman’s gauntlet connected with the sinewy connection. The Halfman seemed unaffected, but Ambrok’s proximity allowed him to cut the creature’s arm free with his sword.

Now it was the Myrdraal’s turn to try to create space, but Ambrok twirled quickly, his sword slicing open the throat of a Trolloc advancing on him from behind in the same stroke it cut the Halfman’s head free. In an error of strategic thought which had plagued the world since the Age of Legends, the Trollocs collapsed in seizures at the death of their joined Myrdraal.

The battle had been brutal to the Amatsirans, a third of their number lay still or otherwise unable to participate in the butcher’s work which the rest of them fell to with zeal that would shame a Seeker of Truth. Ambrok scanned the field, seeing where the riderless horses had gathered together away from the blood and mercy killings, and was happy to see he would have more remounts for his reunion with. He sheathed his sword, leaving Danette’s zealots to the red work, and made his way into the emptied hull of the country fortress.

“You dance well, Wetlander.” Buahle’s voice came the shadows the castle’s postern gate. “None live inside the walls, this Hold is yours.”

Ambrok reached out and clasped the Aielman’s arm, the Weave which had made him invisible and so making him vulnerable once again to the efforts of the naked eye.

“Your charge was well timed – the Eyeless was forced to meet you rather than dance the spears with me. All honor on this day belongs to you, Ambrok Chiqel.”

Ambrok trusted the Aielman’s word, but this castle made an excellent point from which to await Danette’s orders to join the siege, being the last of the mountain castles of Cairhien the Shukuchoku had discovered to be held by Cor Sinistrum’s forces. Already Cairhienin resistance marched towards this destination, uniting under the banner of the Flame of Hope. Ambrok strode through the small castle’s interior, making note of areas which would need to be cleaned before they could be inhabited by higher creatures than Shadowspawn.

“Buahle, have the scouts set up a perimeter. Let’s have no more surprises, shall we? And send the Shukuchoku to me.”

Last edited by RogueSavior; 04-01-2010 at 03:58 PM.
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