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Year 12


About NorikSigma

  • Birthday 07/03/1997

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    A little red dot called Singapore
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Mask of Time Discovered

Mask of Time Discovered (156/293)

  1. IC: Klidarg NPC IC: Reekla The Kaiakan watched form his vantage point as the self-claimed Warlord stepped forward gingerly, clearly on guard for some manner of trickery that might cost him his head. Then like a flash, Reekla stabbed forward and down at N'ashka, pivoting his scythe so as to draw it back from his probing blow immediately. Klidarg let out a frustrated breath. So the young one knew how to play with his overwrought toy. OOC: Surprise continuation @Visaru@Palm
  2. IC: Vekus - Spineless Bay The Ba-Skakdi could only nod in response. She tried to get her head into the moment, focused. She found herself looking over the plants too, though she was looking for tracks and marks. Perhaps she was looking for something else, too, away in the distance. It took most of the day, and they had trekked for quite a while by now, curving northward. Presently, the Kvere;Ivi loomed into view, its dead waters reflecting the sun's light, a perfectly normal body of water, yet chilling in its the void of its reflection. Vekus looked north, watching the smoke that, earlier, had seemed like fog, now coalesce into a blanket of dark grey, a fuming mass hanging in the air, its acrid smell jolting the senses awake. The Burning Steppes was seldom crossed, and even those who knew their way around the island preferred to stay away from that den of flame and Tahtorak. And the ruin that Kalzok had located just so happened to be along its edges. It was not mere chance that allowed him to locate it, Vekus realised. Close to Kalzok's old stomping grounds, the preserved ruin's surface entrance had until a year ago been part of the Burning Steppes. The unseasonal rain and monsoon last year had shrunk the lake and coast-side edges of the Steppes, putting out the unquenchable fires. Or perhaps the ******able weeds of those areas had finally well and truly burned out. Either way, with its entrance only recently becoming conducive to Skakdi habitation, and being situated along the accursed Abyssal lake, it was only a matter of time and patient record-keeping until someone with a dangerously small sense of self-preservation, like Kalzok, finally located it. They were close to the flames now, and Vekus had to pull her cloak around her and adjust her filtration mask. Pillars of smoke as far north towards the horizon as one could see, but even so, Vekus could see the land immediately around her had burnt out. Some grass grew here and there in tufts, but by and large a layer of ash and charcoal covered the land, blowing in the wind. They turned eastward again, towards the lake. A light breeze wafted towards them, mercifully blowing away some of the choking smoke. She glanced at the old Lesterin, wondering if his respirator would finally give out at this moment. It was a strange sensation: a shifting breeze on one side of largely clean lake evaporation and the itching, warm embrace of the smoke on her left. After a few more hours, the pair reached a downward slope. Vekus could see a set of bare hills seem to rise out from the low land ahead of them, a series of strange, low stone (crystal?) outcroppings surrounding it. At the centre of those shapes was the bare side of a hill, and a small group of figures. Wordlessly, the pair continued downhill, steeling themselves to reach their target and the wonders, or horrors, within. IC: Kalzok - Outside Lahi-Lore-Soka The Thaumaturge wrapped himself in his overly-loose robes, watching the sun go down on the other side of the Steppesmoke. The ruin was as untouched as he had left it. It was truly a marvel. That anything survived above ground after the destruction the Ancient Skakdi must have wrought on it, and the centuries-long inferno, was nothing short of a miracle. He wondered if the water-laden air currents of the lake evaporating so close to the Burning Steppes might have had a role in quenching some of the thermal stress. Probably not, but it would be delicious to discover that the Lake the Skakdi feared so much had a hand in preserving one of the hated enemy's vaults. He looked back to the lake, a small rowboat bobbing in the shallow waves. Kalzok was not one given to fear driven by tradition, and so when he had to avert his gaze from the waters, he knew it was from personal experience. It took all he had to remain calm as he and the Lesterin on the team took the boat as a shortcut to the ruin. At least they might have an emergency exit. If the Abyss allowed them. Perhaps the things that dwell beneath might spare me, if the lack of spines meant anything to Them. One of the excavation team called out to the others, and Kalzok peeped out from under his robes and hat. Even from this distance he could recognise Vekus' stride, and the old Broker agent with her. It only took a few minutes for them to reach the ruin. He dusted off his robes and stood up from his seating position in one fluid motion. "Glad to see we have all made it in one piece. Perhaps introductions are in order?" OOC: @Ghosthands@BULiK@Rahisaurus@a goose
  3. IC: Vekus - Spineless Bay The Skakdi followed, keeping her posture steady. The Lesterin was a valued and senior agent, and she understood his presence. In all honesty, she was less worried about Kalzok's lead turning up empty or anything similarly unproductive; no, her real worry was that her expertise proved Kalzok's words. This was a sealed ruin. Untouched for centuries. She was as superstitious as the next Skakdi in much the same way, but she doubted she could fight the undisturbed spirits of the dead the same way the average Skakdi was willing to take a fist to the usual restless thing haunting a crypt. As Vekus followed, she realised the Broker was probably going to send her along on the mission. Which meant she needed to be sure the Broker was sending the right people. "What personnel will the Broker be providing for the mission, if you know?"
  4. IC: Vekus - Spineless Bay Vekus was not pleased with her letter. She looked up at the messenger, his face impassive, before looking back down at the letter. She sighed aloud. Whatever the Broker’s judgement of her, she knew she was not… compromised. At least, not in this instance. After all, she reasoned, folding the letter and tucking it away. If he was truly doubtful, he would not have sanctioned this. "What are my orders?" she asked the other agent of the Broker. OOC: @GhosthandsVekus ready for new assignment from NPC agent.
  5. OOC: DOUBLE POST BECAUSE NEW SOFTWARE DOESNT LET US DELETE POSTS AND I POSTED A DRAFT ACCIDENTALLY IC: Kalzok - Squal Outskirts Kalzok smiled. The Broker was a reasonable man, after all. He thanked the messenger, a scrawny runt of a Skak, with a single mitt of currency. The kid smiled a toothy grin and disappeared. Kalzok got to his feet and packed his stuff, before exiting the abandoned hut for good. In the days since he'd waited for the message, Kalzok had toured the Squal, taking in the old sights and sounds of the benighted town. It was a rotting, decaying, broken mess; its zealots were as zealous as ever, its deprived as poor as ever and its 'fixers' as incompetent as ever. The processions in the past week had led to clashes between rival Nakihl cults that resulted in dozens of casualties. Home sweet home. Alas, it was a home he would have to leave. And soon, Kalzok told himself, as he hurried south, away from the shanty-tropolis and back to the coast. He took one more look back at the Squal before hurrying away from the angry mob of Nakihl attendants on the horizon, looking to avenge their casualties on one of the men who'd caused it. OOC: Kalzok to Westside to meet Broker
  6. OOC: sorry for the delay, but I'm finally free! @Visaru @Palm IC: Klidarg "Well? Who's first? Don't tell me you're too scared to fight?" Klidarg called out to the Skaks. Inwardly, he smiled at the blade-wife's plan. The leader of the Skakdi in the clearing, obviously bristling at the N'ashka's challenge. He dropped his makeshift spear and unsheathed a weapon from his back. Klidarg was surprised to realise he recognise it: a replica of Crescent Scythe, Nektann's legendary weapon. "I am Reekla, scion of Nektann:Dii. Chief and Warlord of this warband. I accept your challenge, Ash;tak. May the ancestors favour the worthy, and the defeated find a place in Kino-Ur," he repeated the customary challenge. Klidarg continued to keep an eye on the ambushers from behind, his bow still drawn. "Compatriots," Klidarg whispered. "If you are in need of my bow... call me." The Kaiakan felt a pang of excitement and even devious pleasure in the possibility of... unfair assistance. Enough that he almost forgot how unlike a Kaiakan this behaviour was. Almost.
  7. :gregpilled: love the parts selection and classic matoran build!
  8. for those waiting for me (in the two zakaz topics) I will soon be free to write and post
  9. IC: Klidarg - Eastern Zakaz - Abandoned Fort “What do you think?” N’ashka asked. “It is a ruin, nothing more than an expanse rubble, the last remnants of a once mighty fort. There is some kind of hut made of stacked rock in the center there. Not original construction. Someone is living here. They may know something. They may try to kill us. Either way, we must address them." Klidarg grunted his agreement, though he felt a slight sting at his ego regarding the state of the fortress. True, it had not even been originally his, and it was no shame that it was in this state after such a long (for this region, anyway) period of neglect, but it was still, for a while, home. Before Klidarg could tell Tarrok to split up and approach the small hut from another angle, three Skakdi seem to pounce into the open, roughly 30 feet ahead, from the craggy ruins into the only open clearing between the travellers and the structure. They were dressed in torn armour of different hues and brandished a series of eclectic blades. None of these concerned the Kaiakan but their eyes gave him pause. They had the intense hunger and fear of cornered predators. They would fight for this place unless Kaiakan and his compatriots could somehow talk them down. A holler came from the top of the hills behind them. Klidarg whirled around and saw two Skakdi at the top of the steep walls they had just passed, crouched against the sky, further off than the three Skakdi were from the travellers. Klidarg instinctually raised his bow to his eye and pulled the string back, the mechanism of Starslayer whirring as light seem to coalesce from the surroundings into a shining bolt nocked in the bow. Klidarg cursed himself silently for missing the two that had no doubt been shadowing them. “Drop your weapons!” one of the Skakdi in the clearing called out. “Three in front beyond the rubble, thirty feet. Two behind up on the hills,” Klidarg spoke, loud enough for N’ashka to hear. “Don’t try anything!” One of the two from above called out. “How would you two prefer to deal with this? I am amenable to wounds or words,” Klidarg asked his two companions. OOC: @Palm @Visaru
  10. IC: Klidarg It had been several days since the Kaiakan had made his pact with the two Skakdi. They had been making their way down from the Jaw at a reasonable pace: Klidarg led the way and made sure the footpaths they had chosen were at least traversable by N'ashka's condition. The going was slower than Klidarg liked, but it gave them leeway to resupply from streams and copses. His fellow travellers were a satisfactory bunch, all things considered. Tarrok was still guarded, but at least there was little hostile intent. The Blade-Wife was laser-focussed on the task at hand, and while it made her impatient, it also made her willing to put up with the inevitable difficulties of traversing the Jaw length-wise. Not a bad trade. Their skills had also come in handy. As they left the unspoken peace of the Tooth and reached the lower passes of the Jaw, passers-by were replaced by wary vagabonds, which were in turn replaced by full-fledged marauders. Two separate gangs of the latter had attempted to hold up the trio, but even now Klidarg was satisfied to see that the dismissive attitude most warlords had of "crotch jumpers" (bandits inhabiting the Jaw and Badlands) still held true: they were dispatched without loss nor wound to the trio, though not without some effort. "Unworthy," Tarrok had simply muttered, at the end of the second fight, cleaning his Sword Hammer. "Do not underestimate them," N'ashka had replied simply. "At least we know who will not be given the privilege of employment," Klidarg had added, though his words rang hollow even to himself. Sure, if the wanderers here were no threat, that meant re-establishing his fort (or merely taking shelter) would pose little trouble. But it did not bode well for the quality of bravo that they could hire in this region. Presently, Klidarg led the group down a steep path seemingly cut into the rocky hills, the sides of the path rising several feet above the travellers, giving some welcome shade from the oppressive sun. Klidarg wanted to say he recognised the path, but though this place was presently empty of souls, the continual destruction and reconstruction of the landscape that even a fistful of Skakdi could do, coupled with the tumultuous winds that rushed down from the Jaw into the Nameless Plain that Klidarg once inhabited meant that whatever geographical knowledge he had was likely outdated by now. He was the first to clear the pass and exit the high-walled path. N'ashka muttered something approving about the shade from behind but he was too distracted by the ruin less than a hundred feet away. Klidarg pulled Starslayer from his side as he called back to the group. Its walls were torn down, its foundations uprooted, and the central hold was nothing more than a few stones stacked into what appeared to be a makeshift dwelling, but there was no denying: "We're here." OOC: @Visaru @Palm
  11. IC: Kalzok and Vekus - Outside the Squal Kalzok nodded, relieved. “That’s good to hear.” The silence stretched out again, but it was not altogether unpleasant. “Well, I’m not sure I can beat the crowd right now. Maybe in a few hours, when things have settled a bit in the Squal.” The comment caught the Thaumaturge by surprise. He watched as she shifted her weight from one leg to the other, her eyes focused on the crystal. “You don’t happen to have any plans in mind until then do you?” Without thinking, Kalzok replied: “Actually, I was thinking if you would like to catch up on old times. That is, if you’d like,” he added. Vekus looked up, surprised at the offer. “I can start with explaining my spine.” “Okay, yeah, that would be great, actually.” *** The conversation was long, and as the hours passed, they left the now dead campfire and decided to rest inside one of the abandoned huts, picking the one that seemed least like it was eaten by the earth. They spend some time verifying the crystal again, making scratchings and diagrams to convey the information back to the Broker. Kalzok even handed over an inactive shard he’d dug up from the undisturbed ruin. Not precious enough to be tossed away to the Broker for free, but enough to verify that there was indeed a new ruin. The rest of the night was a pleasant evening, as pleasant as one spent with an ex-husband could be, with the din of the processions and rituals slowly fading throughout the night. Vekus was glad she managed to bring two bottles of scratch-ale. Nowhere near as strong as Irnakk;Pii (or really, any drink that wasn’t flavoured Lesteri:Nii dew drops), but then again, Vekus knew Kalzok never did appreciate the harder stuff. This suited them both fine. They were going through the last bottle when she finally asked: “Have you been doing anything else other than mutilating your spine for occult powers?” Kalzok leaned back, seeming to deflate into his cloak. He seemed smaller now, less intimidating. “I might ask the same of you. I doubt the Broker leaves his agents time for frivolous activities.” Vekus was silent. Did Kalzok just imply this was a waste of time? What the is his problem? "Sod off,” she growled. Kalzok looked up. “What?” She bit her tongue and sighed. My nerves really are getting worse. “Never mind.” The silence was smothered by another swig from the bottle. Vekus stared out into the night. “Well, if you must know, employment under the Broker is a flexible work arrangement, but we don’t exactly choose the hours. Sometimes it’s nothing but running from angry warlords for weeks on end. Other times, staving off boredom in a safehouse is what occupies your attention.” “Surely there’s other amenities near these safehouses.” “Mhm. Especially if it’s the Tooth or Zarrava-“ she stopped herself, turning slowly to look at Kalzok, her mouth slightly agape. “Did you just-“ Kalzok gave a short, sharp laugh. “Relax, I was not fishing for information. Just… honestly wanted to know if work was treating you well.” Kalzok looked away, which Vekus was glad for, since he wouldn’t see her expression. Get a grip. Stop blushing like a Lester:nii fishwife. You’re not even a wife anymore! She cleared her throat. “Thank you for your concern, but as far as things go, working for the Broker is a savoury gig. That’s enough out of me though,” she continued, passing the bottle to Kalzok. He took the hint and the bottle. “Robbing tombs, skulking in caves and delving dungeons does not leave one with much spare time, I must admit,” Kalzok said in between sips of the bottle. Vekus couldn’t help but grin when she saw his curled lip upon tasting the liquor. “Still have a preference for cadaverol?” “Heh. I have grown to like that sludge a lot more these days.” The pair shared a laugh. The silence that followed was not altogether unpleasant, she thought. *** They continued talking until the bottle was drained. It was the twilight watch, the watch just before dawn. The noise from the Squal had indeed settled down to a low buzz. Before dawn came, there would be another round of discordant chanting and music as the Covens prepared their new arrivals for the upcoming weeks of tests and rites. Kalzok was quietly staring at his shotgun, still surprised at its condition, when he heard Vekus speak up. “Alright, I suppose it’s time I went and talked to the courier.” Kalzok turned away from the hat and nodded. “Thank you again for relaying my message. And for saving my belongings.” Vekus nodded in return and began to pack up her belongings into her bags. “Take good care of that gun. And like I said, no promises on the message, but my judgement is that the Broker will at least not dismiss this out of hand.” He noticed that she stopped after that. “Kalzok, I… after I pass the information over, the courier will continue communication with you. I will have to go, after that. Away, I mean. I have another assignment from the Broker.” “I understand.” The words seemed to stop after they left Kalzok’s mouth. He didn’t know what else to say. How far is it? How long will it take? Will you be safe? They were no longer… together. Surely it made no sense to prod about this. And it was clear Vekus did not appreciate it when he tried earlier in the night. “Vekus-“he started. She looked up from her sack, her eyes as still as the moons. “It is good to see you again.” Vekus cracked the old half-smile, wry and satisfied. A smile that brought back memories. She slung her pack over her shoulder and stood up, heading to the doorway of the hut. She stopped and looked back. “Likewise.” He watched as she left the hut, walking towards the horizon. He continued to watch even as she disappeared, finally falling asleep as dawn broke. OOC: @Ghosthands Vekus delivering message to the courier and ready to begin her own assignment
  12. IC: Klidarg - Here and elsewhere He dreamed of the wind. In the half-real haze of slumber, Klidarg could feel the cold again, if dully. It lightly grazed against his cheeks, the rest of his face covered by a mask. No, not this mask... The vision shifted. No longer the indistinct blur of shape, he saw the stark white of snow. Snow, all around, blanketing the ground. No, not this again. Not here. Sharp pain shifted his vision again. Wooden spikes dug into his forearms, spikes linked by a chain to two large Kaiakans. Red and White they were clad. The Eyrie's colours of death. You will not take me, he wanted to shout. But the mask clamped his mouth shut, and he could but grunt. The sensation of time passing washed over him again, and though he knew this to be a dream, it still felt as if he had skipped over hours of being dragged up the Magister's Road, up to highest peaks of the Eyrie. The ground was flat now, and the entourage had by now enlarged to more than just the chain men, a veritable host here to witness his end. They were dressed in their Hostcolours, none speaking, though several began to play ceremonial chimes. He willed the dream to be over, to move quickly as if time was sped up. He only succeeded partially. Klidarg looked up from the blanket of snow covering the ground and saw he was now kneeled in front of a Tooth Fort, a court hastily set up in the open as the snow beat down and wind began to rise. The Kaiakans that were here to witness his end waited in a circle around the court and Klidarg. Directly in front of the chained man were several Kaiakans, weighed down by heavy robes of red and white. They wore masks of wood and bone, adorned with the symbols of the clans. "Tlaw, Scion of Clan Beom. The ancestors are in attendance in this grave council," a voice boomed from on high. Klidarg already knew who it was. The dream had been relived so many times. "father..." he struggled to speak through the mask. "The accused will not speak to the presiding magistrate," the facespeakers intoned as one. Klidarg felt a knot tighten in his stomach. Wake up, curse you. He forced the dream to end, rushing past the arduous process of accusation. Again, it only partially worked. He was only half-aware of the court's back-and-forth with him as time seemed to stretch and compress. It was as if he was in his body, but watching it from the outside. Klidarg could feel the words in his mouth, playing out the same way it always did. He was not even sure if he spoke them this time. His own voice and that of the prosecuting magistrates rebounded in his mind, a rising cacophony. He knew it was useless. His fate was already decided. But the dream was yet unfinished, and had his part to play. "...usurpation of the highest order..." "...unity of the clans..." "defiance of..." "...another way" "subverting the grand councils!" "...bleeding us..." "...rejection of the ancestors..." "...slaves in arms..." The commotion suddenly disappeared. Klidarg was now painfully aware of inhabiting the dream again. Inside his body. The snow had piled heavily around the speakers and the court but they had not moved. The witnesses in attendance had disappeared from his periphery. Either an imperfection of the dream, or those who had come to see him die were none too pleased about the weather. He could feel acutely the snow smothering him. His father finally stood up. The charade was over. The movement of his hand on the slab, the turn of his head. This was the moment. The one burned in Klidarg's mind. "The accused has been found guilty of conspiracy to subvert the rule of Lord Nars of Clan Beom, of attempting to violate the Eyrie's Peace, and betrayal of the highest traditions of the clan by turning away from the path of the ancestors to that of the Spined Barbarians. "Has the accused anything to say." Not a question. One last tainted mercy. A gift wrapped in molten iron. "This is wrong. I have been misjudged, and the clans will suffer for continuing down this road, continuing into a slow, painful death." "No. My clan will not burn in the fires of your ambition." He felt the heat rise to his face again, an almost juvenile indignance. "You are an old fool, and your idiocy will be the death of the clan." Even in the dream, Klidarg quailed before the cold stare of his father, colder than the piles of snow threatening to smother him. "The accused is no longer recognised as a Scion, and it no longer has a clan. Its name is stripped from its flesh and its soul no longer has a place After. It will be removed from the sight of the ancestors. Forever." His father finally pronounced. A gong sounded and the chain men abruptly pulled Klidarg up and out of the snow. The facespeakers did not even bother to chant a dirge for him. The wind began to whistle faster into his mask as he was dragged backward. Frantically, Klidarg willed himself to wake, but he felt something blocking his mind. He was no longer conscious that he was in a dream. The fear, cold as the wind, dug into his mind. He turned his head and saw the edge of the clearing approaching. Below was nothing but air and a long way down to the Tears. He could see the chained men, now four of them dragging him along. Klidarg looked back to the front, and one of the facespeakers (not of his clan. He no longer earned that right) approached, mask permanently set in an expression of stern judgement, its clan symbols weaving around its frozen features. His father was gone from his high place in the Tooth. Rage and fear mixed in his heart, a heady mix that threatened to shut his limbs down. Instinct finally kicked in, and he felt deep in his bones, that this was the end, unless he did something, anything! No. I will not give them that satisfaction. Klidarg stared into the facespeaker's mask as the chain men threw the weights off the side of the mountain. The chains rang as the falling weights pulled on the slack. He stared even as the facespeaker gave him, now nameless and clanless, a meat-thing, no longer a Kaiakan in the eyes of his people, a single, hard, shove, pushing Klidarg over the cliff and into the air, into the snowflakes, into oblivion. He dreamed of the wind. OOC: @Palm @Visaru
  13. finally, i can try out the game i never got to play. thanks BULiK!
  14. OOC: Jam with the other members of the Blessed Order of the Acolytes of Ahk'Rei-Ahan, @Goose @Constructelf @Smudge8 'officially' bringing the Order into the game. Thank you all for your input! IC: Such blinding fury was visited on the enemy that they trembled before the faithful For they knew then in their black hearts that on that day The LORD OF MANY VOICES had brought doom on their fetid kingdoms. The faithful rejoiced, for they knew the SAVIOUR was here as promised. And the ARCHON said, "Behold For now LIGHTBRINGER is come to you to topple the enemy. The time of judgement arrives all the same If faith holds true," Book of Salvation, Book 7, Chapter 30, Lines 85-91 - - - - - The Barrowfort - The Deep Caverns The First Speaker emerged from the Red Hall, hurriedly making his way towards the access tunnels, passing Initiates and Acolytes alike as they rushed about the complex. The dead fort was particularly alive today, and as much as Ankrahl wished to see if the reports were true, something slowed his pace. Cold iron. Dead face. Speech without soul. His dreams - the gift of frustratingly vague visions granted to Masters of the Order - had become confusing and erratic recently. Vistas of the ocean, of unfamiliar places. Of an island he had never seen in any maps. But in the past week, another set of images had flashed into his mind. Hellfire for hands. Power unchained. Eyes of light. And a name. Lightbringer A name from the Book. A title, really, but far too obscure of a reference for the Speaker to remember anything about it. Ankrahl knew that the report this morning had to be related to this. In recent weeks many of the old weapons had been reactivated or discovered, and Ankrahl knew that the recently rediscovered, buried Fort Buarkh, accessible now only by tunnels, held another gift. The Archivist department had handily dug up some records by a Nakihl chronicler centuries ago, and Buarkh was cryptically mentioned as containing some novel… something. The records were frustratingly incomplete, but with what the Knight in charge of the operation reported… this might be a new chapter of the Order. - - - - - “Please, take a seat.” The towering Lesterin stood behind his desk, with his back to Akhna. The Skakdi hesitated, then awkwardly folded himself into the too-small chair. The Inquisitor did not sit down. It was a rare dishonour to be invited into the Inquisitor’s office, a sure sign of wrongdoing or impending interrogation. Akhna allowed himself to hope that this was the rare exception, in which the Inquisitor brought someone in just to remind them that they were always under his scrutiny, lest anyone forget their place. “Your dedication never fails to impress me, Akhna.” Akhna felt the Inquisitor’s voice reverberate in his chest - the soft-spoken voice that cut through all who heard it like the bitter cold, as deep and as dark as the waters below the dungeons. To be in the Inquisitor’s presence was to be returned to that place, the cage where Akhna had spent so many nights, with nothing but steel bars and gravity between him and the suffocating death he’d seen cellmates suffer. “Thank you, Lord Inquisitor.” “It hardly seems all that long ago that you were a mere prisoner, volunteering to join us, and now look at you. A model Novitiate, well on your way to becoming an Acolyte. No small feat, for one of your… background.” He had begun to pace, meandering closer and closer to Akhna. Akhna resisted the urge to wince, out of embarrassment at his Skakdi heritage as much as at the Inquisitor’s thinly-veiled insult. “Thank you, Lord Inquisitor.” “I do wonder, though…” Akhna’s blood froze. The Inquisitor was behind him, now; he could feel the Lesterin’s shadow upon him. “It seems to me that you are unsatisfied with your current position.” Akhna cursed himself, and whatever rat had found its way to the Inquisitor’s ear. He should have known that venting his frustration upon the slaves would come back to bite him. “Lord Inquisitor, I only seek to serve the Order to the best of my ability-” “Don’t patronise me, you feckless worm.” The Inquisitor grabbed Akhna’s chair and roughly spun it around to face him, his face scowling behind his Rode. “Lie to me again and you will be serving the Order in a very different capacity.” “...I’ve proven myself capable, Lord Inquisitor. I’ve shown my dedication time and time again. I deserve the Revelation.” Akhna spat the words, finally allowing his indignation to boil over. He had been overlooked and underestimated too many times, forever treated as second-class, as unworthy. He could tolerate it no longer. “Should I be punished for ambition? For simply seeking to be more? Surely you once aspired to your rank?” “No,” the Inquisitor said softly. “You should not.” That was… unexpected. Akhna blinked in confusion, his frustration faltering in the absence of a clear target. “But there is a difference, between ambition… and insubordination. My concern is that you do not defer to our authority; you do not trust us to know when you are ready. You think yourself unappreciated, and think your betters blind. Arrogance.” Akhna now noticed the two Companions standing behind the Inquisitor, and felt acrid fear rise in his throat. “You show potential, Akhna, that I will grant you. But you have forgotten your place.” The Inquisitor turned to his Companions. “Brothers? Remind him.” The dungeon will do him good, Nessen thought, and smiled contentedly as the Skakdi Novitiate was dragged away in petrified silence. Best not to let the fear of death become too abstract. - - - - - Nessen exited his office from the front, leaving the Companions to their task. He made his way to the Red Hall, still mentally considering his next remonstrance when a voice from behind stopped him. “Inquisitor, it is time.” Surprised that he did not hear the man approach, Nessen turned. The First Speaker stood like a statue, appearing seemingly from nowhere, garbed in his robes of office, Idolscourge in hand and flanked by members of the Chorus. Nessen had not expected to see the other Lesterin so soon today. Nessen kept his surprise from his face as he answered. “Yes, my lord. The ruin has been secured?” The Speaker nodded. “Do not tarry. We leave soon,” the Speaker finished, before sweeping from the hall. The Inquisitor frowned as he backtracked to his office to fetch his bodyguards. It was unusual to see the Speaker so early in the day outside the Hall. He’s in a hurry. What did they find? - - - - - “I don’t think that will work, Lord Vizier.” “Nonsense.” Daegui was in one of the operating rooms used by Vizier Nahaki, the pair crouched over a corpse like carrion birds. The latter had enlisted his help to assist in the examination of a corpse, now lying on the table. Normally one of the Morturians would handle this, but this corpse belonged to an intruder, one who was caught and slain by Daegui while on patrol, but who took much more than the usual dose of poison to kill. He’d agreed to ‘test’ the vizier’s new poison as a favour, but at this juncture, he was beginning to reconsider is poking around a poisoned, bloating corpse was worth it. “When I tell you, stab.” “Trauma injuries do not release-” “Listen, the spine slug cares not for the song of the necrofinch. I have my specialty, and so do you. Now I’m telling you, stab down before the poison dissipates!” Nahaki huffed. Daegui ignored the pointed comment about slugs. Nahaki likely did not consider the species-specific nature of spine slugs, and Daegui was in general, unfortunately, becoming used to anti-Skakdi sentiment in general. He’s not even using the idiom correctly. “Three... two… one-” “Lord Vizier.” The pair froze and looked up from the corpse to see the First Speaker in the entrance of the operating room, Daegui mid-stab and Nahaki’s hands ready to dig into the corpse, outstretched and curled like claws. Their surprise disappeared in an instance and they scrambled to bow when the Speaker stopped them with a raised palm. “We are leaving soon for the ruin, if you would like to join us,” and with that, he left. As soon as he left, the sounds of accelerated decomposition began to hiss from the corpse. “The poison has reacted with the decaying offal…” Nahaki sighed. If only Daegui had listened… The curse of genius amongst rabble. “Well, that’s a bust.” Nahaki removed his operating claws while Daegui shrugged and returned the knife to its place. “Well, if you’d like to make up for that, you should accompany me. I can take my own notes while you… do whatever it is you do best.” “Fight?” Nahaki did not fail to pick up the acid in the Skakdi’s comment. Vizier of poisons, after all. “Sure, if we need to fight crumbling ruins.” - - - - - Ankrahl had left as early as he was able. Let the others catch up. He and his guards carefully navigated the winding tunnels and makeshift supports. As they exited the stable tunnel into the ‘branch’ that was recently uncovered, Ankrahl said a prayer to the Archon before stepping down the path. This path was much narrower, though better-lit, as the lightstones embedded in the walls by the excavation team splayed their light in a tighter volume. After some time, Ankrahl began to worry they had taken the wrong branch when he saw the passageway open up ahead. As they exited to a much broader tunnel, he saw the Knight in charge of the excavation up ahead, silhouetted against the lights installed in the excavated “entrance chamber” of the ruin. They had reached their destination. It was Sir Nukar, a Skakdi Knight of the Order and one of the few Ankrahl would trust with this task. The Skakdi straightened when he saw Ankrahl emerge into the lit chamber. “Report, Acolyte.” The Knight saluted him. “Master, we finally breached the gate several hours ago. Took a lot of elemental heaving and careful firepower, but we did it.” “You’ve been at this for… a week, yes?” “Yes, milord. It’s been a lot easier clearing the passageways." “Any threats so far?” Ankrahl queried, observing the large entrance. How much of its damage was from the collapse and how much was from the excavation was hard to differentiate. A shame. “None that we have seen, not worms or wild Arachnoleis,” the Acolyte said, a hint of bafflement in his voice. Ankrahl did find it strange. He believed the report, but standing here in a ruined, submerged fort swallowed by the earth, the strange feeling began to tug at his mind. “That said, there have been strange… noises. They fit with the sounds of slowly-breaking stone and metal, but nonetheless-” “You are right to bring it up. Thank you,” Ankrahl watched out of the corner of his eye as Nukar seemed to straighten with pride. Thanks were always a cheap price for loyalty. He brushed aside the thought and examined what remained of the sunken gate. Very clearly a Skakdi design, although he could not properly place its age. Somewhen after Nektann, maybe before the Dissolution- The sounds of footsteps and quiet conversation from behind caught Ankrahl’s attention. He turned and peered into the dimly lit passageway from whence he and his bodyguards came. Now comes the flock. The crowd- for that was what a dozen persons were in the tunnels of the underworld- consisted of various personages of the Order that had decided they needed to see Fort Buarkh and the rumours for themselves. Heading the group was High Inquisitor Nessen, dressed in simple clothing, the few pieces of his armour reflecting the light of the lightstones. His bodyguards were much more intimidating, prepared for war, which, given the possible hidden dangers of the sunken fort, was still a distinct possibility. Among the crowd was Nahaki, the esteemed Vizier of Poisons. The mysterious serpent man was mumbling to himself and scribbling something down in his notebook. Doubtless a scholar like himself was excited to see the mysteries of the ruin. Bringing up the rear was Daegui, a recently-elevated Knight who kept a low profile. Not to Ankrahl’s eyes. He had paid special attention to that Skakdi. There was something to his quiet ambition and too-dead eyes. The group fell silent when they finally reached Ankrahl. He angled his head in thanks. “I am pleased you could join us,” the First Speaker intoned, his voice barely above his usual volume. “It is time we discovered what waits for us in the dark.” “This way, Masters,” Nukar spoke up. “We’ve scouted a path into the heart of the ruin and marked it, but it’s not easy going. Though, I dare say it’s well worth the journey.” The group followed Nukar into the yawning wound in the earth. - - - - - The entourage, almost a dozen strong, slowly wound their way through the sunken Fort Buarkh. Even for necromantic occultists, it was unnerving. The fort’s usual markers and features like walls, rooms, ceilings, passageways et al. were ripped, crushed, and squeezed into unusual forms by whatever catastrophe cast it into the bowels of the earth. The cleared passageway was closer to a tunnel in the earth than a hallway. Portions of walls seemed to grow out the earth on the sides, ceiling and floor ornaments were reversed, and occasionally the tunnel seemed to rotate on its side, with wall fixtures jutting from above and stick up from the ground. And yet, the phantom of a layout persisted. What now appeared to be a slope in the tunnel hinted at a grand spiral staircase, and here and there entire sideroom hallways grew out from the sides of the tunnel, almost intact. The Inquisitor slowed his step, marvelling at the seemingly frozen ruin, letting the procession go ahead. He resumed his pace near the end of the line. Daegui kept a straight face as the Inquisitor kept abreast. “Sir Knight, this place is breathtaking, is it not?” Daegui nodded. “It is, my Lord.” “Look at their idols,” he smirked, as the group passed a set of toppled statues, almost unrecognisable. “Monuments to eternal glory, reduced to a legacy of rot and decay. A reminder of the weakness at the heart of their ‘ancestors’,” Nessen continued in an eerily whimsical voice. Daegui stiffened. He clearly picked up on the Inquisitor’s meaning. He had heard rumours of increased surveillance and attention paid to the Skakdi of the Order. Was this a test? “Imperfect and vile. While their strongholds die when they sink into the earth, the Order remains strong and pure. This ruin is a reminder and a gift,” Daegui replied evenly. Nessen raised an eyebrow, despite himself. The Skakdi had parried the insinuation well. “Tell me, what have you heard about the gifts of this place?” Nessen probed. Daegui cursed himself in his heart. The rumours were only just that, rumours. Was he even allowed to know of them? Was he even allowed here? “Only what the Vizier told me when he requested my presence here,” Daegui said, carefully. If the Inquisitor wished to probe further, Nahaki would be a dead-end, with a legitimate and foolproof excuse for how Daegui heard of these things. Nessen smiled warmly. It was a deeply unnerving sight, somehow far worse than his legendary temper. “Nahaki might be disappointed. Weapons and lore abound, as we can see, but hardly any… reagents, so to speak.” This one knows his place. Both as Knight and Skakdi. “Speaking of the Vizier, I would like to know his thoughts on… well, I really should go ask him myself. Thank you for your time, Sir Knight.” Daegui allowed himself a single gulp as the Inquisitor headed towards the Vizier. The only thing he felt was a certain indignation. The Inquisitor might fancy himself a dangerous man, but the Skakdi had worked for similar shade-whisperers for years. He had not been made Knight without stepping safely around these vipers. - - - - - Ankrahl heard chatter from the rest of the group but ignored it. He was focussed on the few legible carvings on the remaining stone walls. The dim light of Purple Lightstones was enough for him to read it. We are in some sort of armoury wing. A shrine to The Brown King to the left, and what seems to be one for the Grasscutter on the right… “Milord, watch your step,” Nukar said, his voice echoing through the tunnel. The Knight lit a Glowtorch and held it up. Ankrahl saw that the group were now at the threshold of a large chamber. The entrance stretched high up and wide, its frame reinforced with metal, still not corroded after all these years. Along its edge was marked in “proper” Skakdi lettering: Vault 23. It seemed to be out of alignment with the rest of the tunnel, and the entourage had to step over the frame that jutted up from the already uneven ground. As they stepped in, the light of the Glowtorch, seemingly blinding earlier in the tunnel, was swallowed up by the dark, leaving only a strange… glow?- seemingly emanating from somewhere in the void. Ankrahl realised how massive this cavern -no, a veritable vault- truly was. “You won’t believe it, but the lighting system still works.” Nukar moved off to the side and felt along the wall. Ankrahl’s low-light vision allowed him to see that Nukar was searching for a recess in the wall, framed by some sort of unusual material. “Here,” Nukar muttered, pushing the Glowtorch into the recess. The material surrounding the space in the hole, which Ankrahl now saw was some sort of crystal, lit up, absorbing, reflecting and seemingly intensifying the light of the Glowtorch, and he watched as the light seemed to travel along a network of veins along the walls, lighting up the entire vault with a soft glow, illuminating the contents in the vault. Nessen stared, his tight jaw gone slack. It was not often he was taken aback, but this was… this was something else. This truly was a gift… by the Archon! “By the Archon!” This finally got Nahaki to look up from his notes. “Amazing.” His scribbling grew more furious. Daegui’s heart raced. This thing… he knew, deep in his bones. This ruin was more than a reminder. The dagger at its heart was a call from the past. For him. Ankrahl heard gasps and exclamation from the others, and he swivelled his head back towards what was now obviously the centre of the vault. His eyes widened, and for the first time in a long while, he felt his skin prickle. In the centre of the vault, among rows of rubble, ruined machinery, and equipment so old it was unrecognisable, stood a machine that none here had ever seen, yet all instinctively understood. It stood at thrice the height of a Skakdi, armoured in metal that drank light. Across its front was a crystalline coffin, catching light and twisting the view of its innards. In its appendages were cannons mounted with condensed hellfire, and all along its body were long, snaking vines of protosteel and unnatural alloys, which Ankhrahl knew to hold the strength of a demon. It was an Exo-Skakdi. The group began to chatter amongst themselves. Nahaki moved forward first, immediately sketching it out and making notes on its weaponry. The Inquisitor followed him, and Nahaki turned to the Lesterin. “Nessen, you don’t think that’s a functioning Fire Arrow, do you? I’m not much of a weaponsmith these days, I’m afraid.” “And there I thought poison was a weapon,” Nessen absent-mindedly replied. He was much more intrigued by its internals - its transparent front made it easy to examine from outside, and the more he looked the more his amazement turned to worry. Only a Skakdi can pilot this. It was clear from the spine-connections along the rear of the cockpit and the elemental conducting shells that lined its walls and fed into its arms. A tapping sound drew his attention. Nahaki was tapping on it with his stylus. The Vizier ignored the Inquisitor’s annoyed look. More than examining its armour (which the Iwikara knew was obviously about as thick as similar Exo-Skakdi models), he was carefully looking for rust or micro-particle flakes. To his surprise, there were none. Only dust flew off the surface. Impeccably preserved. Daegui approached too, making sure not to intrude on the examinations of one of the Lords. He could easily read the markings, and recognised it as belonging to a well-known Skakdi clan from the days of Nektann. He cracked a cold smile, as he remembered that its last known claimed descendant had died by Daegui’s hands in his days under the employ of the Nakihl. His flesh would not have frozen so easily if he was in this. Ankrahl slowly walked towards it. The armour seemed to shine with darkness. Its polished surface was unmarred, its mechanical gears seemingly untouched by age. Decorative markings along its side invoked the protection of the Skakdi’s Spawners, and named its builder in a coarse tongue. But one section stood out. In stylised font, in the script of what Ankrahl realised was the liturgical language gifted by Ahk’Rei-Ahan himself, he could make out an engraving along the flank of the machine: Blessed Mount of the Archon’s Gauntlet: Lightbringer The First Speaker almost fell back from the shock of revelation. How could this be? Why would a Skakdi of the warlords, centuries before the Archon’s return, name an Exo thus? And in this tongue? His mind raced, trying to recall if at least the title, an obscure reference in the Canon of the Archon, held any meaning to the Spine-Lords. He realised he could not recall anything off-hand, only the dreams. This was the gift. The dreams were more literal than he thought. Here was proof of the Archon’s guidance, through space and time… but how? “This weapon… it is a tool of the unbelievers. I do not doubt the Archon has given it to our possession - but I wonder if our purpose is not to use it, but to destroy it. Lest it fall into the wrong hands.” Nessen spoke quietly, now standing beside the First Speaker. It was clear he had not seen the engraving. Ankrahl shook his head, his mind now enraptured by the import of this moment. “No, Nessen. Every hand on this island is the wrong hands, and yet we work with what we have all the same. This… this will make those hands tremble before us." Before Nessen could reply, a sharp noise like a metallic shriek pierced the chamber. Instinctively, all in the room raised their weapons. Nukar cleared his throat. “The noise has been occurring for some time, esteemed ones. It might be merely the stresses of a failing ceiling, but…” The shriek echoed out again from the void. This time, something in Ankrahl’s soul recoiled. Nessen’s doubts took on a different edge now. The gift might not need to be destroyed, but this place… Ankrahl gave the order. “Bring in the rest of the excavation team. Priority goes to the Exo-Skakdi, followed by any other still-functioning weaponry. Set charges and bring down this armoury and the entire ruin within the hour, whichever comes later.” Nahaki spoke up. “But we could salvage much-” “This fort might lead elsewhere, to the fortresses of the unbelievers. This Exo is the only remaining gift the Archon has bestowed on us here. It would be wise not to try His patience.” Without waiting for a response, Ankrahl left the armoury. - - - - - An hour later “Collapse imminent!” The voice of the excavation team leader wafted down the tunnel. Everyone was now far from the ruin of Fort Buarkh, back in the stable tunnel section leading back to the Barrowfort, the Exo-Skakdi, its equipment, and reams of parchment cataloguing the inscriptions and engravings having long since been carted off. The Acolytes had even found a few more usable weapons and small quantities of Najin, but nothing on the scale of the Exo-Skakdi. Ankrahl waited as he heard the heavy footfalls of the excavation leader, the last to leave, as he ran back down the tunnel, putting as much distance from the ruin as he could before the fused explosives in the ruin detonated. A dull thump reverberated through the rock, and the characteristic wooshing noise of dust blowing into the tunnel rushed out from the mouth of the tunnel, followed by the dust itself, blasting Ankrahl with a cloud of soot and gravel. As the wind died, the excavator’s footsteps could not be heard. A minute passed. Without a word, the entourage turned and returned to the Barrowfort, their minds already focussed on the prize they had gained and little on the loss incurred.
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