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Cry of Freedom (Chapter I)

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Scrasamax:
The last few years have been busy ones. The old king of Honuntton, Tonhel VI passed away, much to the great grief of the people of Honuntton. The funeral services lasted for four weeks before the body of the great King was relinquised to the catacombs deep within the stone heart of Hal-Honuntton, the capital island of the Kingdom. His son took the mantle Tanquebel IV, naming himself after a lineage of warriors and conquerors.

The Hy-Oritzi Combine caused many people to shake their heads in bemusement, for after sixteen days of deadlocked debate and filibustering, the Combine Council made their formal decision in the matter of Pirate Hunting to be 'Decision Pending'. This has left many of the Combine ship captains in a state of disbelief while pirates and privateers, constant parasites on Combine traffic and holdings, have praised the wisdom and courage of the Council.

Newrock Island rose from the oceans, shedding water for days before the surface became dry enough to set ship down on. The top is still spongy and thick from whatever dwells beneath the waves, and it will be some time yet before saplings and grass sprout on its surface. Already some make moves to bring the newly risen island into their realm of control and power. 

The explorer and Aeronaut Tajes launched a new expedition into the Upper Reaches, taking five airships and 700 men hunting for Phantom Island. It has been three months since their departure, and not a word has returned of their fates.

Yet with rising, comes falling. The island of High Temple, the central bastion of the Paladins of the High Temple also broke the surface of the endless sea. Yet the temple was rubble, and the island was wormed through with holes, for almost every piece of pantarbe ore had long since been extraced. The Paladins are little more than a scattered dream, the survivors more than a year and a half later have yet to make any visible sort of recovery.

Chancellor Ildech of Notar's Realm announced that Grand Admiral Shaesel Ion Notar the XIX daughters, Osuzu and Ta, are of age to be courted for marriage.

Sharashka, a once great power, drifts in ruins, the cities that dotted it little more then burning slag and fields of corpses. The Sky Knights, among the proudest and valorous of orders failed to defend the island, and paid for their failure the lives of themselves and their entire nation. Since the devastation, miners and harvesters, scavengers and thieves have turned Sharashka into a den of murderers and criminals. All the while unscrupulous enterprises burrow vital ore out of the heart of the island.

Sutherland Isle
A rocky island blessed with several large plateaus, Sutherland has a pleasant climate and a growing population. The most prominent of the isle's communities is the trade city of Aenallophos. While nominally an unclaimed island, Sutherland has been a free island for centuries, a trading post and a waystation.

(OOC - Players, please feel free to post your introductions, Aenallophos is a large city by Epoan standards, as as a free port, ships from all over the local region make harbor here.)

Ancient Gamer:
Strong winds buffeted the giant crane fly, blowing the insect native to the shipping island of Akhone back up into the air.

"Whoa, Zizi, don't you lose control on me now!", the rider shouted, a soaking wet brown cloak clinging to his leather armour and tanned face. The insect responded to the soft tugging of the reins, and with a jerking motion it resumed its descent.

******************

Thirty feet below a street girl gaped as she watched the insect rider maneuver his mount through the air and into the narrow alley she was standing in. Most people used authorized landing squares or the landing ground outside the stables, but this fellow was apparently intent on landing his mount in her alley.

Squeezing into a narrow passage between two houses, she watched as he landed and subsequently dismounted. He threw back the wet hood, and she saw he was a handsome man, his head shaved bald and his nose somewhat crooked. The little girl knew that her older sisters would have giggled and stared, but she did not, for she sensed something about him that made her keep silent.

The stranger threw his cloak over his shoulders, revealing brown leather armour beneath, then he started walking towards the doorway belonging to Seth, a local fence. Three taps on the door was followed by two, then four and shortly thereafter the clicking sounds of sliding locks could be heard from the other side of the door.

"You are late Naraias", Seth grumbled in his usual dour manner.

"Well, you know how it is on the lowest islands Seth. I had to brave a storm, and a fierce one at that. What counts is that I got your package, right?", the voice of the insect rider was cheerful, which she found odd given how dour Seth was and the weather he had ridden through.

"Very well Naraias, you do have a point", Seth said and then they swapped two leather pouches.

Seth closed his door with a grumble, and shortly thereafter Naraias mounted the giant crane fly. The rapid beating of fluttery wings sounded and when she peeked out again, he was already at roof level. Something shining came falling down from above, and instinctively she reached out for it.

Opening her palm she found a silver coin.

Dozus:
Another groan came forth from the mouth of the elven girl as she writhed in bed, drenched in sweat.  Her parents, weeping from a corner of the room, said she had been sick for weeks.  They had tried to get help from the hospital of Aenallophos, but their city medicines had failed.  They needed a Kaduai shaman.

Cloudstrider Balthustrol began his chant again, the a chant he had made for the past two hours.  Dressed in the headdress, cloak, and bangles of his people, he applied more incense and herbs to the brazer before the child.  [[Sky Mother!  Heal your people, heal with the winds,]] he chanted and sung in Kaduai.  [[Abandon not your people, people of the winds, the winds of the Six Directions!  Send the spirit of healing, let your people live!]]  At last, Cloudstrider felt a spark of life from within.  His hands oustretched, he placed the fingers of one hand on the girl's forehead, the others into the hot ashes of the brazier.  The couple behind him gasped, first at the sight of his hand in the fire, then at the sight of the girl as her eyes flashed open.  A fit of coughing came over her, Cloudstrider's firm hand still holding her head to the pillow.  She gave a sudden gasp, then fainted.

The chanting stopped.  Cloudstrider gave a deep sigh, catching his breath, then stood, brushing the soot from his hands.  "She will live," he said simply, quietly.  "Let her rest and make sure she gets plenty of water."  He reached into his medicine bag and placed a sachet of herbs on the nightstand next to the brazier.  "Mix a pinch of that into tea and make sure she drinks it once a day."

The mother wept with joy and exhaustion, and the father gave a joyous and pained laugh.  He kissed his wife and rushed to a cabinet in the corner of the room.  He threw it open and pulled out a small pouch.  "Please, take this," he said, voice still shaking, placing the bag in Cloudstrider's hand.  "It is all we have."

The half-elf felt the weight of the bag and opened it with his fingers.  He took the elf man's hands with one of his own and dumped all but a few of the coins into them.  "Keep them well-fed and happy," he said, closing the pouch.  "Kata Rangi will bless you."  The man began to weep again.

*****************

Cheff was almost asleep in the tenament alley when the door finally opened and Cloudstrider stepped out, wearing ordinary traveller's clothes with a Kaduai jacket.  He stood up quickly and followed the half-elf down the street.  "She gonna be okay?"

The shaman nodded.  "She'll be fine," he said calmly, breathing in the cooler outside air.  "She's awful lucky though, Three-stars.  A day later and she'd've been dead."

Cheff wrinkled his nose, itching at his elven ears beneath his toboggan.  "It's Cheff now," he corrected.  "We ain't in Kaduai Nation."

Cloudstrider snorted, looking the other over.  "Y'know, they always say you can take the elf out of Kaduai, but you can't take the Kaduai out of the elf.  Guesss that's wrong, huh?"

Cheff sighed.  "Epoa's changing, Cloudstrider.  Kaduai's got to change too, or she'll get left behind.  Us here, we're the new settlers, just as much as the humans on the Outskirts.  You oughta know that much as anyone."

"Yeah, I guess so," Cloudstrider said, stretching his arms above his head.  They turned the corner of the street and approached the rental stables nearby.  "I don't think it's a zero-sum game, though.  The world's big enough for everyone, isn't it?"

Cheff shrugged.  "We'll see about that, Balthustrol."  He dropped a few coins onto the stable manager's counter.  "Check under 'Cheff'," he ordered.  The bearded man nodded and shouted an order to the younger men in the back.  Cheff leaned against the side of the building.  "What's your next job?"

Cloudstrider shrugged.  "Beats me.  Reckon I'll just follow the winds, see where Sky Mother takes me."  A shrill cry came from the back of the stable, followed by a yelp.  Cloudstrider grinned.  "There's Moonwing."

The heavy stable door opened and a young man came out dragging a large hawk by its reigns.  The hawk resisted, scratching its talons backwards and straining the cords that restrained its wings.  When it caught sight of Cloudstrider, it gave another cry and hopped forward.  Cloudstrider took the reigns from the boy who had a large scratch on his forearm.  "That's some bird you got, mister," the boy muttered.

"That's a Kaduai sun hawk, kid," he said, smiling at the bird and ruffling the bright feathers on its head. "Best bird in the skies."  In a single motion, the half-elf cleric swung his leg over the bird's saddle and mounted himself.  Moonwing cheerfully hopped forward again.

Cheff stepped back.  "'Preciate the help, Cloudstrider.  You at least gonna stay in town?"

Cloudstrider nodded.  "Yeah, we'll see if anything interesting happens around here."  He reached for the knife in his belt and cut the cords tying the hawk's wings down.  Moonwing happily flapped and fluttered, preening her freed limbs.  The half-elf steered her into the street with the reigns and looked up just in time to see a huge insect flit across the sky, a small man seated on its back.  "See?  There's something interesting already."

Cheff grinned and shook his head.  "We'll see you around, Balthustrol.  Safe winds."

"Safe winds and Sky Mother's blessing to you, Three-stars," the shaman said with a wink.  He gave a short whistle and Moonwing flapped her powerful wings.  Within moments they were in the air, sailing toward the heart of the city.

valadaar:
 Tahar stood against the railing, looking out across the sky, cloud-islands forming ever-changing, wondrous scenery.  Though the High Temple lay low and desecrated, beauty still held sway in the world, and so there was still hope.

He thought back to the last hours he spent with fellow Paladins, the terrible battle that destroyed the The Resolute. Many of his order had perished in the fight, and Tahar had nearly drowned himself after the stricken vessel settled into the sea and sank.  The quick action of a somewhat insane Sea-fisher had saved him from a watery grave, though none other of the crew appeared to be as lucky.

He spent a harrowing week on the Sea-fisher's ship.  He had trained on ships so high that the sea was just an expanse of featureless grey, and for days he was within an arrow-shot of the sea. The air was so thick it could have been soup down there, and it made him dizzy.

The work on the Bottom-Feeder was hard, and dangerous, but the captain had regaled him with tall tales of fishing expeditions.  He mentioned 'Cities below the Sea', whose lights one could see at night-time, giant Aerophins that swam below the waves, and other amusing nonsense.   He left the captain when he stopped at Aenallophos to sell his catch.  Tahar refused payment for his help and thanked the captain. 

While walking down the main thoroughfare, he noticed people looking at him with a strange, almost predatory gaze.  Suddenly, he was grabbed by the elbow and pulled into an alley.

It was Yethric, a member of his order, though he looked far from the part in the guise of a beggar.  "Stow your emblem, brother - our order is being hunted still by Tanquebel.  You are junior enough not to make his lists, but your emblem makes you a target!"  Seeing Tahar's frown, "You will serve our Liege little if you are dead, my brother.  Never deny him, but there is no need to reveal unasked.  Now, go, but take that end of the alley, and put on this cloak!"

Tahar put on the cloak and as he looked back, he heard running footfalls and Yethric was disappearing around a corner.

Scrasamax:
Most people dont tlook up when a lone rider flies overhead, but even in Sutherland a man riding his warhawk a few feet from the tops of the buildings gathers some attention. One such man was doing just that. A child pointed first as the rider, mounted atop a silvery grey great Erne came down towards the town, his mount leading several others who were struggling to keep up. The man scowled, he felt weak, something no doubt he attributed to the pair of arrows that protruded from his side and back. The armor held and he only bled instead of falling like a stone from his great erne. He spared a glance over his shoulder, the two outriders were still after him, but their aim had fallen off, both they and their smaller birds were tired from the long chase. He felt Tierney, his erne, still had a good deal of strength in her, more than he had though which was why he had angled for the island.

+++++

The three skyhawks were tiring, the chase would soon be over for Atard, Radech and Taitanath if they didnt force the Sharashkan to ground quickly. Almost as if sensing their need, the skyknight angled towards Sutherland, a good sized island. Atard gestured to his companions, "We take him, I will come above and down, you from the flank and behind." The female rider scowled at her erstwhile commander, she gestured curtly, that she would follow. Once on the ground, the skyknight was a deadman, but they had to take some care, even wounded he wasnt going to be an easy kill. These Sharashkans were as tenacious as any foe they had met. Radech goosed his skyhawk with his heels, asking for a bit more speed from the weary bird...

+++++

The Skyknight looked back, buildings whistling beneath Tierney's taloned feet. Three to one werent good odds. He raised his bow, pulling the arrow back toh is cheek and sighting bown the shaft. The rider was too far a shot and his aim was faltering, but he could still hit the broadside of a skyhawk. He held for a moment and released the arrow as one of the riders started to close on him. The crow-feathered shaft flew straight and true, piercing the hawk through the throat. The great bird sculled at the air with it's wings, suddenly ignoring it's rider for the barb in it's throat, the man atop fighting to keep control over the wounded animal, but it was not truly his mount, just one commandeered for the chase. In a few lurching seconds, the chaser lost his seating and grip on the reins.

Radech fell for what seemed like an eternity before Sutherland caught him. People shouted and pointed into the sky where the skyhawk settled atop one of the buildings, clawing at the arrow in it's neck. A few paid heed to the fallen rider, but there was nothing to do for him but to build a pyre.

The Skyknight found a smaller plaze and let Tierney take them to the ground. The erne landed with the force of a storm and the grace of a ballerina.

+++++

Naraias, mounted atop Zizi was buffeted by the erne as it passed him, then by the three chase riders in hot persuit. The rogue had a good view of the engagement from behind, and was rather close when one of the riders fell from his mount, perishing on the unyielding flagstones of the plaze below.

The shaman of Kaduai, Cloudstrider Balthustrol, saw this also though he was spared the trouble of dodging the skyhawks. The half-elf recognizes that the three persuers are Honuntton Stalkers.

Tahar is forced to backpedal as the erne landed close in front of him, a wounded Sharashkan Skyknight on her back. The man dismounts with some difficulty...

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