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Author Topic: March of Winter: The First March  (Read 3852 times)

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Offline CaptainPenguin

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March of Winter: The First March
« on: July 25, 2005, 08:56:28 PM »
Snow descends like a soft curtain over the chill plains of the Greater North.
 
Barren steppes deserted of Men stretch between walls of white-sided peaks lying on the edges of the horizon. Through the boulder-strewn gorse, along tiny game trails and ancient tracks shadowing the paths of the broken, scattered roads of the ancient North, come fleeing the sickened, the weak, the cowardly, the dying, the ragged refugees of a thousand fallen villages, tiny rising ghosts of smoke leaping on the far-away.

They come to Zaiyasc, ancient jewel of the old North, the Queen of Trade, an empty house of dust with fractured walls and collapsed facades, her ancient bronze gates wide to ages of snow and dust and scavengers, and to three-thousand drawn and grey shamblers, clad in filthy rags. They stream into the echoing streets of Zaiyasc, wailing, shouting, sobbing in the arms of strangers, searching for their relatives lost in a tide of panicked refugees.

This grey remnant fill the ruinous halls of their grand ancestors of the Old North, line the remaining walls to stare hard-eyed into the distance, erect barriers of ancient rubble and smashed carts and the dead across the yawning gates, all in preparation against that phantom army, that white scintillation which sweeps like terror across snow-blown emptinesses.

They arm themselves with ancient Hvironi bronze, don the antiquarian puzzle-armors of the long-gone Zaiyasc (many are killed when the puzzle-plates snap closed like a trap on their innards, misunderstanding even to the last the manner in which such armor is equipped), and craft ramshackle standards, shouting battered pride and tarnished defiance expectantly toward the empty arches of the Greater North sky.

A child is born, the first in the new fortress of refugees, and the omen-priests cry out in terror- it is a freak, a stillborn lie of nature with hideous deformities. The mother does not long live. And still, the jury-rigged refugee warriors line the ruinous walls, singing hymns to old, sad gods, making sacrafices in their signal fires, praying, praying against the day that that marching sea of terror appears whitely upon the steppe.

The red-orange gaze of dawn rolls slumberously over the steppe, sending weak and chilly rays to shine against the gazes of Zaiyasc's somber watchmen. In their hearts, there is a cold imbued by the long Northern night, a cold which does not flee after the sun has risen, not for an hour, nor for five hours, not when dented bells ring noon-temple, not when grey clouds like omens gather about the tired eye of heaven and a lonely wind tosses snow across the emptiness.

And the terror comes.
It shows itself first in a heart-freezing rumble, the sound of a thousand thousand phantom feet upon the permafrosted turf, the earthshaker roar of a vast army on the march.
Dark armadas of clouds draw evilly across the sky, dimming the waverous sunlight to a dim pale gleam, only just enough to see by. The wind wails through the empty arcades and impermanent shelters of Zaiyasc. Snow whips along corridors of emptiness.
The sentries of Zaiyasc fall against the stones of the parapets, gasping in fear.
On the horizon, there is a white ghost-gleam, a scintillation across inhuman armor, and a writhing sea of strangeness growing across the North.
The refugees tremble. There is a sound:
Ears strain to hear it.
There is a sound: It is clearer now.
It is a thousand voices as one, a thousand inhuman shouts, a thousand shrieking Not-Man yells, all as one, one voice, a terrible voice, the roaring of the demon god which has devoured the Greater North:

BEHOLD.

The flighted masses of Men tremble in their entirety.

SEE THE DOOM OF MEN.

The children of Zaiyasc wail in unison. Those dogs which have not been eaten howl in unison. The horses scream in unison. The chorus of horror grows.

DO YOU SEE?
DO YOU SEE?

The water freezes as the air becomes chill, and crackles and rings with frost. The ragged folk draw close about guttering embers, trying to no avail to escape this bone-deep cold which has seeped into the world.

SEE THE DOOM OF MEN.

The dusk rings like a iron bell, the light of dying day is muffled behind an overcast wall of cloud, like the funeral shroud of the sky.
Across the steppe, the Not-Men are seen.

BEYOND MEMORY, WE ROSE IN THE LAND, AND BATTLED MEN. BUT MEN FOUND HEART IN THE FIRES OF THEIR SOULS, AND DROVE US AWAY, FAR, SO FAR AWAY, INTO THE FARTHEST NORTH BEYOND WALLS OF ICE, TO GUTTER AWAY, TO DIE LIKE A FLAME IN THE RAIN.

An indescribable horde, a writhing carpet of spidery jointless freaks with soft bones; perfectly-orderly columns of snow-white beings on six-legged horses which snort mists of blood; clots of tattered, emaciated Men, the enslaved ones, their eyes closed forever with masks of iridescent metal; and others, impossible shapes, nightmare shapes, howling fear-dreams which curl and gesture on the horizon, imposing fractured realities upon this one which has frozen and darkened.
The demon hum of the Voice, that hideous blend of a thousand thousand shrieks, wails, roars, shouts, cries, cracks like buzzing thunder again across the plains.

BUT WE DID NOT DIE, WE DID NOT GUTTER AWAY. WE WERE LESSENED, AND GREW WEAKER FOR A TIME, BUT THEN WE FROZE, HARDENED INTO A COLD HEART OF ICE, UNBOWED, UNBENT.
 
UNCONQUERED.


The first volleys of hard arrows soar over the walls of Zaiyasc, blackened lengths of metal which land in a perfect sweep in the frozen ground, each arrow crowned with a human head, partially-decayed, frozen in rictuses of unimaginable fear.
And the sentries of Zaiyasc, flee, scatter, break, shatter, collapse like a layer of rime over a stream, minds decaying into a madness of fear.
And the Voice booms on, that shuddering intonation ringing from the ultimate north, the voice of Gholgoth Throne, the Seat of Skulls.

BEHOLD.
WE ARE THE LORDS OF WINTER.
BEHOLD.

SEE THE DOOM OF MEN.
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Offline CaptainPenguin

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The High Conclave, 3670, Early Spring
« Reply #1 on: August 01, 2005, 01:38:18 AM »
Xiaphein tl Xaxan, Aspect-Emperor of the Llanei Empire, Master of the Mandutari People, Most Exalted One, sat statuesque upon the commanding polished-basalt throne in the Hall of Conclaves, the only place in the world where all were equal to the Emperor, at the center of a vast maelstrom of shouts, calls, accusations, repudiations, bitter words, insults, and calls of "The Emperor wills it!", and all debating on the issue of war.

For once, Xaxan wished that he could have followed the lead of some of his crueler Imperial ancestors- it was said by the Imperial ancestor-priests that before his own dynasty, the illustrious House of Xiaphein, had abolished it, it had been the practice of Aspect-Emperors to keep beside them bowls of molten gold, which they would hurl at those with whom they were displeased.

Boredly, the Most Exalted One put an intricately-tattooed hand to the white-dyed hairstyle of jnas, and imagined Grandee Pholaak tl Huar screaming on the floor, rolling in molten gold and sizzling blood, bringing the whole room to silence.

The Grandee Kostaan, his face tinged with an impatient anger which was very unlike him, raised himself upward to whisper into Xaxan's ear. "My friend, I believe that it is time to put this sham to an end. The High Conclave will never resolve itself if it is mired in argument."

Xaxan gave the slightest smirk, the most allowed in the laws of his jnas. "Give them a little time, Kostaan, to drown out the d**ned Table of Peace idealists. And Kostaan... This anger is quite unlike you. Generally, the roles are reversed."
"The Table of Peace is a rabble, with barely enough votes to be noticed. Let them have their say- idealism is necessary-" Kostaan replied.
"Oh, I foresee a pious quotation," Xaxan whispered sarcastically.
Kostaan continued, arching an eyebrow. "Idealism is necessary. As the Rib of God tells us, 'Water without fire is depth without brightness. Fire without water is brightness without depth'."

The Grandee of Hroan, Ghaidakki tl Tharsan, stood from his seat on the arena-tiers about the Emperor's seat. A tall, silver-haired man with a silver Hroanutari nose-ring and a trim goatee, his sudden rising put a large part of the Conclave to silence, as many turned to hear what Ghaidakki the Elder's word was on the issue of war. Long ago, the House of Ghaidakki had been the Imperial house, but had been brought low by the Rebellion of the Dragon of Zarhe; unlike most dynasties, the Ghaidakki had not been destroyed, but had lived on as a series of influential Grandees of Hroan, and for many, the Ghaidakki had a mandate nearly as strong as the Emperor. Many whispered; it was expected that Tharsan would vote against the Emperor, and if this was so, it could very well be the deathblow for Xaxan's nascent war against the northern barbarians.

Tharsan's footman, arrayed in gleaming ceremonial armor, raised the red and white standard of House Ghaidakki. The Grandee cleared his throat; the room quieted to a sussurus of echoes.
"Let all know that I, Ghaidakki tl Tharsan," said the Grandee, "Lord of the People of Hroan, who has struck down the raids of Immbiir the Charunani in the name of Llanei, am no friend of the Most Exalted One, the Aspect-Emperor, may his voice be always upheld..."
"The Emperor wills it!," came a solitary shout from the uppermost teir of the lowest Grandees.
"But though the Aspect-Emperor is to me a wild and uncontained whirlwind, who is like an undutiful grandson, I shall tell you that I must give my word on the side of the Emperor-"
Once again, the Grandee was interrupted, as the Hall erupted in shouts and howls and the furious shaking of standards.

Finally, Kostaan, fist to forehead in aggravation, flew from his throne. "SILENCE! SILENCE! LET EACH MAN HAVE HIS SAY!" screamed the Grandee of Hiulan, his voice booming forth over the tiers and echoing through the Hall until the whole Hall once again was silent.

Kostaan sniffed and continued, in a brittle tone: "Let the Grandee of Hroan speak. He is an eminent and respected colleague of us all, and a dutiful servant of the Aspect-Emperor. Let it be known that he has cast his vote for the Emperor, a vote of great honor!"

From the upper tiers, Sharghad tl Kiaxaf, the upstart Grandee of Tuarhiz, rose and pointed accusingly at Kostaan. "Let honor be d**ned! Llanei is a great empire, nay, the greatest empire! But what does the Aspect-Emperor propose, Grandee of Hiulan, all Grandees here today? What is the will of the Emperor save the ruination of all the greatness that our ancestors have built? The Most Exalted One, may his voice always be upheld, has mired the Imperial treasury in wars, wars, wars, wars from Soel to Chistaani, wasted lives in conflicts which Llanei has never needed! Do we all not recall the fiasco of the Imperial Navy's engagements against the Corsairs? Do we not remember the dishonors that some of us," Kiaxaf threw a knowing glance toward a group of Grandees led by the haggard-looking Jnadir tl Thoss, "suffered in the Emperor's pointless sortees against the Herulutari? I mean no disrespect to the Most Exalted One, but he does not bring pride to his ancestors by so sullying the glorious name of the House of Xiaphein."

Kostaan lay back in his seat and closed his eyes, pressing a palm to his forehead. A slave rose from his side with a bowl of cool tea. The Emperor put a silk fan inscribed with the Xiaphein family curse before his face, and chuckled quietly in a way that his Jnasic Priests would not have approved of.
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Offline CaptainPenguin

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March of Winter: The First March
« Reply #2 on: September 30, 2005, 06:11:46 PM »
Xiaraysh, Grandee of Cictlapar, pared his nails with a dagger, and chuckled under his breath. "Boy," he said, motioning to a slave.

The pale child approached. Xiaraysh regarded his hooked nose and towed lock with contempt. "Bring me beya. I tire of this mummery." He cast an ugly glance toward Sharghad tl Kiaxaf. "His heart is correct, but he goes about it the wrong way. We cannot escape this war with outbursts and shouting in the Conclave. It is all a joke- nothing is gained. The Xiaphein will always get his way in the end."

"My lord?" said a member of his entourage, bowing his head slightly.
The Grandee smiled. "Nothing, nothing, Tsikuur. Only the musings of a madman."
The hanger-on chuckled artificially behind a polite hand. "A good jest, your grace."
"Mmmm, no, I don't think so," said Xiaraysh. Sycophant, he thought with loathing.

His gaze drifted. There the war hawks, proud and rich lords from the coastal regions, fitting finely in the jewelled imperial palm. There, the beaten-down and tired western Grandees, gathered under Jnadir tl Thoss, allied in principle to the angry young Grandees of the northwest, the Sharghad boy's followers and allies, shouting now at the Aspect-Emperor, and his crony, the Grandee of Hiulan.
Xiaraysh met the eyes of several Grandees, keeping them in his gaze for a short period. A motionless nod passed between them. Wait for the march north, Xiaraysh thought, imagining glorious swords in the night.

Note: "Beya", mentioned above, is a mildly-alcoholic beverage which is a mixture of tea and resinous wine, served warm.
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Offline Wogden

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March of Winter: The First March
« Reply #3 on: October 01, 2005, 07:42:36 PM »
Beyond the protective bulk of the enormous, lavishly decorated Conclave doors; past the landing where the Hrandilutari, the Aspect-Emperor’s most exalted guards stood stone-like in their resplendent war-gear; and down the stunning flight of long, low stairs to the entrance hall; an enormous force of the palace guards was stationed on both sides of the long, immense room – easily three hundred men, all still, silent and imposing.

The Great Conclave was more than just a meeting: it was a prime opportunity for sabotage, invasion, and even squabbles breaking out within the hall itself. The presence of so many guardsmen deterred all but the most heinous attempts on the lives of those within, but as the Rib of God stated, “Vigilance invites safety, while negligence invites death.� And vigilant they were.

Past these ranks of immaculately polished spears, through the magnificent outer doors, and down another flight of equally glorious steps to the Imperial courtyard, yet another contingent of guards stood, less silent, but just as powerful. This was the column of soldiers, most of them simple caste-menials, who had been given the great, almost unthinkable honour of serving as outer guard to the Great Conclave of the Aspect-Emperor himself.

Each man, armour polished to the best of his abilities, stood with his head high and his chest out, knowing that he represented the entire army of the Emperor as he stood here – protecting the very Exalted One himself and all the Grandees, so high and powerful, that gave him the advice and information he needed to govern the entire Mandutari people and their realms. It was truly the greatest honour any of them could imagine.

Huanxan tl Po resisted the urge to scratch his neck. Patience and utter stillness would be rewarded, he knew very well – whilst any reprehensible actions would be instantly punished. Even without the threat of punishment, the thought of shaming the exalted Aspect-Emperor himself with a sudden movement was too terrible to contemplate. Like all honourable soldiers, Po loved the Emperor like he loved his own father.

The itch grew worse. Po ignored it, his thoughts turning to his father. He wondered desperately what Huanxan tl Lau would think of his firstborn son if he were here now, watching him uphold the Emperor’s honour by protecting him from evils in the outside world. The man would cry with pride – assuming he was still alive.

That was another reason Po was standing here so still and mute: his family. If his conduct remained faultless, he might be granted a period of leave someday – and be reunited with the father, mothers and brothers he so yearned for during every waking moment. The thought almost brought the familiar tears to Po’s eyes, but he fought back, blinking violently and fervently hoping no one would notice.

None did. All heads were zealously held forward, the soldiers desperately trying to keep even their eyes from straying, lest they do the Emperor a dishonour by seeming too interested in his magnificent palatial dwelling. Apart from the slight rustle of chain mail against the soldiers’ heavy surcoats and the heavy breathing of five hundred excited and nervous men, all was imbued with the silence of a memory-shrine.
There is very, very good reason why I believe Life to be a gummy bear, but the exact wording of it escapes me at present. It was something about sugar, anyway.

Offline CaptainPenguin

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March of Winter: The First March
« Reply #4 on: October 01, 2005, 08:23:00 PM »
With a suddeness that startled some of the rawer soldiers at the stairway, the intricately-painted doors of the Hall of Conclaves flew wide, and a pair of Hrandilutari, in the chrysanthemum armor of the Imperial Mandate, stepped forth, slamming heavy ceremonial swords into slots to hold wide those enormous wooden portals.
From within the Conclave Chamber there was heard only a low rumbling of hushed conversation, and the wailing prayers of the priest-officiate, who splashed a mixture of blood and wine upon the steps below the Aspect-Emperor's throne.
Through the doorway came dashing Biagushai tl Biajnokki, the scion and only surviving son of the Grandee of Urumpecictli, who had been chosen for the honor of being the Celebrant of Decision, the messenger who would reveal the results of the Conclave. In a ceremonial, orange-and-purple robe, with great ceremony, the Celebrant swept forward gracefully, slowing to a quick walk. In his hands he carried the ivory tube which contained Symbol of Mandate. Coming to the head of the steps, he held the tube over his head.
Below, Columns of the Imperial army, arrayed in ceremony armor, awaited, along with a rabble of caste-menials and caste-beggars, who gazed from a restrained distance.

Biagushai tl Biajnokki trembled slightly as he slid off the cap of the tube. Dropping the cap at his heels, he shook the Symbol of Mandate out into his palm- a black-painted thighbone, the ancient symbol of War. Then, with a sharp cry, he threw the Symbol to the foot of the steps, whirling to face away from it, by ancient tradition.
The crowd gasped- a cry went up: "It is war!" "War!" "The Emperor wills it!" "The Gods will it!"

The plaza erupted in cries. The standard bearers of the columns raised the ancient cheer-

"Husaaaaa! Hu-husaaaaaa! Husaaaaaaaa!"
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Offline Maggot

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March of Winter: The First March
« Reply #5 on: October 03, 2005, 08:29:16 AM »
As the thick press of unwashed bodies around him burst into their an exuberant rendition of the ancient Mandaturi war cry,he gave a satisfied little smile. A non-descript man dressed in the humble grab of a caste menial,the eyes of any casual onlooker would have slid past him,instinctively discounting him as just one of the riffraff crowded outside the immense dwelling of the Exalted One.

Only the faint touch of madness in his dark eyes would contradict that notion,were any alert enough to look into their burning depths. Only a determined individual would recognize the man for who he truly was:Zhan tl Soran,fallen Mandaturi Knight and one time favorite to the Grandee of Huilan.

But that was another life time ago. As far as the world was concerned,the man once known as Zhan tl Soran had vanished long ago into the wilderness of the barbarian lands that overlapped the furthermost frontiers of the empire,never to be seen again. Many believed he had perished in those dark lands,hacked to bits by the brutish inhabitants or a victim of  starvation. Either fate would have been far too lenient for a man whose hands were stained with the blood of the daughter of his one time mentor and protector.

But survived against tall odds,had Zhan tl Soran. Nothing of this world could bring him to grief,not as long as his beloved guardian shone like a blazing beacon on the great path of destiny that stretched out before him,taking him one step closer to his destiny every time its invaluable advice saved him from the unknown perils that dogged him. With its unsurpassed wisdom and foresight guiding him on his path,he feared nothing.

And now,the prophecies it had unveiled to him were finally falling into place. As the Ancestor had foreseen,the Aspect Emperor in all his blind hubris,chose to do wage war on the fearsome barbarian hordes of the great plains,unwittingly putting motion the great scheme that the Gods would soon unleash on the world. Already,the vultures gathered around him,crowed,eager to gorge themselves on the spoils and chaos soon to follow. But even they would not be pared for the unrelenting misery and strife that would soon blanket the world. Their ranks like the rest of humanity would hardly escape unscathed,but they knew that not,immersed in their blissful ignorance. As they should be.

All that remained to him now,was to await further commands from the Ancestor.

Heeding his unspoken plea for guidance towards the next stage of the cosmic plan that had him entwined in its tentacles,the familiar figure of the bearded elder appeared in front of him. Soran closed his eyes reverently and let the smooth music of the spirit's gentle voice pervade his very soul. It was peaking now.

''Listen well,child of my blood,for all hinges upon your obedience to the will of the Gods. As fate has decreed,you will accompany the soldiers of the Exalted One as they march to do war. Sneak into their camps,disguised as a servant and take the final step of your journey that will bring you at last to the Celestial Ones that hold the key to your true fate''.

Oblivious to the surprised stares of his closest neighbors,Soran whispered his assent. ''It will be as the Gods have decreed,grand father. As it was decreed so long ago,so it shall begin''.

Oh,begin it would. And before fate wa was done with it,all the world would be bleating in agony,screaming to be released from its misery. Only he would not join its tormented chorus. Only he would not.
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Offline CaptainPenguin

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March of Winter: The First March
« Reply #6 on: October 05, 2005, 10:15:24 PM »
Maitan braced his shield against the waving fists of the crowd. Behind him, the columns nervously stamped, their sudden jocularity lost amidst a wave of peasant frenzy. It was possible that there would be a riot- such things occured. At the last Sacrafice of Uqonshaa, an entire district of Biaxif had been burned down.

But Maitan was not concerned. He stared stone-faced into the crazed eyes of the caste-menial who was striking his shield. Maitan spat, as if to remove a bad taste from his mouth. Then, swallowing a lump in his throat, he dealt the man a sudden and unexpected blow, and a small whimper emerged from him.
The menial recoiled suddenly, and roared in Maitan's face. Having resumed stone-faced distraction, Maitan began to push with his fellows against the crowd, driving them back down onto the Avenue of the Amber Falcons, so that the soldiers could pen up the troublemakers in the alcoves between those great eidolons, gold-gleaming raptors in the torchlight.

As he dealt a light doff to the head of a woman, who howled and tore at the hem of his dull blue tunic, his glance went to the palm of his hand, where red crescents showed the influence of his nails. He took a quick glance over his shoulder.

The columns were cheering again, their standards raised high, and the Celebrant was being bathed in blessed water by priests as Grandees flooded outward onto the steps. From within the Hall, the wailing and chanting of priests could be heard, purifying the path for the coming of the Aspect-Emperor.
Emerging from the doors came the head of the priestly procession, a dancing priest in white robes, as pretty as a woman.

Maitan looked away, and concealed a sudden burst of emotion from the people around him by shoving his shield forward with renewed brutality, oblivious to the shout of "My father, my father!" from the other side.
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Offline Wogden

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March of Winter: The First March
« Reply #7 on: October 14, 2005, 06:43:26 PM »
The cries spread like a wildfire, and Po somehow found himself echoing them with fervour, his heart pounding and his voice nearly cracking with pride in his beloved Emperors's decision. "War! For the Emperor and for the Gods! For my father!"

He hardly knew whether it was the holy figure he spoke to, or his true father, suddenly floating like a spectre in his tear-clouded vision. Such thoughts were near heresy - but Lau would have done the same...

"War! War! War!" In the jubilation of the multitude, the thoughts of the self are so easily forgotten. In an instant, Po loved war - yearned to stride to battle with the violent fervour befitting one who fought for the glory of the Aspect-Emperor. His fingers itched to cleave flesh, his eyes burned with tears of zealous joy. He knew that, at this moment, he would gladly slay a thousand men at a word from the exalted one's perfect lips.

It simultaneously emboldened and terrified him. Amidst a screaming throng of ecstatic faces, Po's stomach suddenly felt very empty indeed.
There is very, very good reason why I believe Life to be a gummy bear, but the exact wording of it escapes me at present. It was something about sugar, anyway.