I'll be posting results from the latest Arakis' Quest soon. In the meantime, here's a little treat that arrived with one of the entries. Godric took it upon himself to go an extra mile and write up a story related to his choice of cards for his Alliance Quest entry. I hope you enjoy the read.
Tensions had been running high between the Crest and Folrart armies in some recent skirmishes that had broken across the border territories. The reason for why these fights had started in the first place was not entirely plain as both sides would swear that the other was the aggressor. Angered by the futility of the fighting, the Holy Emperor Retear had decided to call a truce meeting between the fighting factions.
Lacking a true representative of the Solar Kingdom forces, the mage knight Marduk who was in the area had stepped forward to represent them. She also had her own reasons for stopping the fighting as she was sure her brother Urgrant was somewhere in Crest at the time, and there was every chance that the constant warring may put them on the same battlefield. This was something they wanted to prevent at all costs.
To represent the Duchy of Crest, the titled Valkyrie Igina had stepped forward. She had been a part of the recent battles and had been surprised at the ferocity the Folrart armies had been displaying in battle and she felt something was wrong. Certainly the knights of Folrart had dedication in battle, but these recent fights had been simply brutal, not at all like the valorous soldiers she had been used to facing. She strode out to the arranged location when she heard the call from Retear for peace, but had herself prepared for the worst as she armed herself with her signature twin scythes Fear and Despair.
The negotiations were held in neutral territory, a border they shared with the Mercenary nation of Heierrat. The meeting itself was in a large church that had in all honesty fallen in disrepair from disuse, but the vast paintings that covered the walls still had an air of awe, even with their faded colours and crumbled edges. Retear had been joined by Limier as mediators between the two factions as Limier had his own reason to care for both sides.
Maduk and Igina had taken their positions on either side of a large mahogany table that served a practical purpose as well as aesthetic, as if any fighting broke out, the two sides would be far enough apart to intervene before any damage was done.
"We all know what has brought us here today" Retear spoke. The mighty dragon's deep voice echoed loudly in the acoustics of the near empty hall. "It is well known that current. relations between Folrart and Crest are touchy at best, but these skirmishes have been far from having any benefit at all, and what's more this has occurred in neutral territory. As representatives of Folrart and Crest, it would be best for both parties involved that you come to some arrangement to save further senseless bloodshed."
"Order their soldiers to leave our own forces alone and there shall be no problem hence" Igina commented, with little regard for subtlety.
"I have heard no commands to attack your soldiers Igina of Crest" Maduk said quickly to the defence of the state that had granted her sanctuary. "Folrart are rarely, if ever, the aggressors of combat, but are swift to retaliate when forced too. If you wish to prevent further needless fighting, then perhaps you should look to the discipline of your own forces before starting to point fingers."
"Are you insinuating our soldiers are disregarding our orders of non-aggression?" Igina glared at Marduk. "Do not think your own men are so high and mighty when compared to our own. In war the darkest parts of one's soul surge forth, and I have cut down enough Folrart knights and paladins to know that your hearts are just as black, if not more so, then ours."
"The Knights and paladins of Folrart prize themselves on fighting for justice and fighting with valour, they would not start hostilities with enemy soldiers without reason."
"I do not doubt them in this capability" Igina said. She leant back in her seat and crossed her arms. "But for some, the meaning of justice or the reason to draw a blade is not entirely in line with their commander's. It is how many Folrart heroes have been born in your kingdom, and from my experience has caused a great deal of insubordination in men and women hoping to copy the methods of those they look up to."
"And can you claim this is not true of your own Duchy of Crest?" Marduk spat.
Igina glared at Marduk and rose to speak, but before she could Retear's roar echoed through the halls and they both stopped to stare at the holy dragon with a moment of fear in their hearts. This was the true holy emperor after all and he did not sound happy. "This is not a squabble to re-assign blame or find who started this fight like a couple of misbehaved children!" he roared at the two. "In case you have forgotten, lives will be determined on what is agreed on here today. We are here to negotiate peace and nothing more. You may spend the time amongst your own armies discovering who is responsible for the outbreaks if that please you, but here we are to stop more lives being wasted."
Marduk felt ashamed of herself. She still did not yet feel that this was truly her country, but had leapt to its defence in quite the wrong manner, and Igina also was not proud of herself. "My apologies great emperor" Marduk said. "I let my temper get the better of me.
"I also let my pride for my home get the better of me" Igina added. "I shall strive not to let it happen again before the day is out."
"Your belief in your countries is admirable" Limier spoke up. "But the truth of the matter is that this could have been avoided earlier if given the chance."
"Very much like you Limier" came a voice not part of the negotiations.
Limier instantly had his mighty halberd in hand and looked for the source. "Who goes there? This is to be a private peace negotiation, what is your purpose here?"
The black misty figure of Animus, the proxy of Soul, strode through the door. "I come with a warning to all here assembled" he said with what could've been a smile, but his wispy form and skull-like head made it difficult to discern any type of expression at the best of times.
"Are you here to threaten those who would strive for peace over war?" Limier said, moving forward to engage the intruder.
"Do not misinterpret the meaning of my words" Animus said, holding up his hands in a sign of surrender. He did not have his usual longsword he brought to a fight, so it was likely his words were true. "I have merely come to tell you that the lives of those assembled here are in danger."
"From what source?" Retear inquired, rising from his position.
"I cannot say for certain" Animus replied. "Mercenaries, monsters, it may even be that the so called "Dragon Slayer" Bringer is amongst their number and wishes to make a fine catch" he suggested, eyeing Retear.
Retear looked to the side slightly uncomfortably, but composed himself a moment later. "So you have come to warn us, but from your words I gather that you are not here to help us?" he asked.
"I see they call you wise for a reason" Animus agreed. "Yes I have come to warn, but not to aid."
"Explain yourself at once Animus" Limier ordered, holding his halberd menacingly before Animus's face.
If he was at all perturbed by the threatening stance, he did not show it, and merely replied "I have my reasons, but suffice to say, I preferred you to be prepared for this conflict, as a conflict it is going to be." He turned to leave. "And with that I bid you farewell, and good luck. There's every chance that you'll need it."
At the exit of Animus, Igina said "Well, that certainly changed the perspective of things quickly. If it is for battle we must prepare ourselves, then I am quite glad I decided to do so early" She mused out loud, lifting her scythes in her hands.
"Do not be quite so hasty Valkyrie Igina" Retear warned. "You do not have your armies here with you, and I can imagine you would find yourself hard pressed to fight alone."
She scowled at the dragon. "I can be as strong as any army alone, and I do not need you to tell me how I fight."
"Very well then, do not be hasty or foolish" he said placing his head right before Igina, who stepped back in surprise. "I have heard tales of your impressive battle prowess, but like any warrior you cannot fight alone, and like any army, you must have support on the field of battle. We do not know the extent of the threat that faces us, but I can imagine that we must work together to overcome them. They would be a foolish army indeed to fight us if they had not the strength to stand against us." He turned to Marduk. "Lady Marduk, I am aware you did not come alone. What forces do you currently have at your disposal?"
"I was sure to accompany myself with a contingent of Mirror shield soldiers. They are the best in magical protection and are solid fighters to be sure."
"That is good" Retear nodded. "I was regrettably unprepared for battle, but I have a small gathering of Light magic archers loyal to me. They shall be able to support your soldiers. Unfortunately I am not sure if it is enough."
"Then perhaps I may be of assistance" A new voice spoke up.
Once again, Limier raised his halberd toward the sound. "What is the meaning of this?"
"Please, oh proxy of light, there is no need for that" the hooded figure said as he strode into the grand hall.
"You?" Marduk said. She recognized the figure from her time in Regus. This was an enigmatic character known as Galdirea. She was unsure of his purpose in the Wizard Kingdom while she was there, and leaving Regus had not changed her knowledge of him at all.
Retear looked positively fuming however. "In the name of all that is holy, what is the reason for your being here?" Retear practically bellowed, shaking the very foundations of the church.
Everyone was startled by the reaction, all but Galdirea who simply stood there smiling, and if anything, his smile grew from Retear's reaction. "To create such a reaction from the mighty holy dragon emperor himself, I'm quite flattered."
"You" Retear fumed. "I would not be surprised to hear you have some part in this you foul creature. I should rend you limb from limb where you stand."
"Ah yes" he continued to smile, tipping his head forward. "But then you would be depriving yourself of a valuable ally in this coming battle, which I assure you that you will need."
"What do you mean?" Retear asked, curious but cautious for any sign of betrayal.
"You said yourself that you were not sure if this battle could be won with your forces alone, and I am here to tell you that you are right" he replied, tipping his head enough to show the smile under his hood. "And I know what you're thinking, the other option could be to simply leave this fight, and I suppose I would not blame you if you did. You are a much more important being than any assembled here, and I would be amongst those killed in the battle that you fled. along side the two representatives who came here for peace."
Retear turned to Marduk and Igina. For a moment they looked as if they were unsure if he would truly leave them to die or not. As much as he hated it, it appeared that Retear was stuck in this battle alongside Galdirea.
"Yes, I'm not sure how exactly the two countries would see your involvement in the whole incident, but I cannot imagine it would be particularly pleasant."
"What do you propose?" Retear asked, against every feeling in his body to tear the tiny abomination of a man to shreds.
His smile grew. "I can enhance your archers for the coming battle, and make them stronger than they have ever dreamed."
"I know what you are implying with these. enhancements" he said. "Experiments in shaping flesh and bone, to create monsters completely unrecognizable from the original form. If you think I would let you do that to my loyal archers." he let the end of the sentence drop.
"I think you'll find that sometimes sacrifices must be made in war, but this is not the only thing I can offer" he claimed, turning to face Igina. "Igina, battle valkyrie, I have something you may be interested in."
"Oh?" she asked sceptically.
"Yes, it was a small. gift I received from Annarose in my last visit to Crest."
"You are familiar with Lady Annarose?" Igina asked in surprise.
"Yes. We go way back in fact" he replied with a smile. But that is beside the point. These creatures can rise up after being slain, and what's more they can strengthen you in battle as they do so."
She raised an eyebrow at this. "And this was something Lady Annarose gave you as a gift? This sounds like the foul undead."
"Some may call it that, but it is not entirely accurate. And besides, have you never been taught not to look a gift horse in the mouth?"
She stole a glance at Retear and replied "It depends where the gift comes from. But perhaps you are right and I should not think too much into it. Show me where these creatures are and I shall decide if they shall walk into battle beside me."
"I am certain you shall not be disappointed" Galdirea said, leading her away.
Once he was out of the room, Retear turned to Marduk. "Be wary Lady Marduk. There is no reason to trust that creature at his word, and whatever you do, do not turn your back on him."
"You do not need to tell me twice Holy One" she replied. "He carries an aura around that is like nothing I have felt. If he truly has ties with Crest, then I fear for my brother."
"Yes, as do I. Although I fear for all of Lavato. All we can do now is prepare ourselves, and hope we aren't falling into a trap of his design."