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Thread: Concerto di Ali: The Battle of Solocima

  1. #21

    Default Re: Concerto di Ali: The Battle of Solocima

    Where Halley was manipulative and openly lecherous while still having good in him, Cortez clearly has a conflict of interest between his duty, what is right and his lust for the person he is protecting and I find that makes him the more interesting character. I'm already waiting to see how many things go wrong with him and how he handles them. Good, bad, any decision he makes will shape who he will be in the future, I can already tell that much. To arms!

    Only one technical note I noticed: Doreen was quiet when thinking about her answer, then when Blackdrake sent her to the dungeons she was weeping. I didn't quite feel the transition there, as I didn't really see any signs that she was that close to crying. Put in a little bit more to show how scared she is and how she's trying to hide it.

  2. #22
    Stay foxy out there! Kitsune Inferno's Avatar
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    Default Re: Concerto di Ali: The Battle of Solocima

    Fifth Verse: The Orphan Fugitive

    Orphan of the Holy Land
    Decree of the Maiden
    Can a homeless child
    Fly her banners high?

    – Lorya Fox, Concerto di Ali, “The Battle of Solocima”.

    Mud had a curious way of spreading itself. Barefooted children would no doubt splash through it as they played, leaving behind a trail to their homes' doorways. Their soiled clothes would spread it to their bedsheets, and when the children would die of malady and their newborn siblings replaced them in their beds, the mud would soil them as well.

    It was an endless stain, of which no amount of washing could be rid. To the thousands that called Mud Alley their home, mud was the adjective chosen to describe their entire existence. Their lives were stained, just as their lives were a stain to the more comfortably living citizens of Illumadia. Mud Alley was a constant reminder to those people that despite the Holy Maiden's blessings, Illumadia still had its fair share of shameful secrets.

    Mud Alley was located close to the sea, and set atop the low-lying Illumadian Delta. It was just east of the hills that led into Illumadia city proper, and a good deal north of the port. The terrain of Mud Alley was borderline swampy and the weather had almost always been cloudy or rainy.

    Romilda may have known quite a lot about Mud Alley and Illumadia thanks to her grandpa's old lectures, but she was a Mud Alley child through and through. Her blond hair, her yellow dress, and even her sun-tanned feet had been caked with mud. She did bathe regularly (a few times a year), but there was always some mud she could not wash away. It had dried over the years and became a part of her.

    Romilda climbed atop an empty barrel and climbed further onto a low-lying rooftop. The structure beneath her dirty feet creaked as she scuttled across. On the other side, she climbed another rooftop to reach another rooftop. At the top of this one, she descended into a small hole that led into a small, hidden room.

    “You're late, Romy,” her friend, Tak scowled as she set foot in the small, stuffy room.

    “Sorry,” she looked down at her feet. “I didn't mean to make you wait.”

    Tak was like a big brother to Romilda. He was a few years older than her, with sandy brown hair and ragged blue overalls. Like her, he had no family and lived in Mud Alley with the other orphans. He was sort of like a leader to them. “Eh, don't worry about it. You're the first one here anyway.”

    The rest of the gang trickled in over time. First Micoz, the chubby boy, then Deltoro, the quiet brutish-looking fellow. The last two to arrive were Mika, who although was a boy, had been many times mistaken for a girl, and Shake, the oldest and strongest of the group, though he had no interest in leading it.

    The six of them were the Mud Musketeers, or so they called themselves. Their mission was to keep Mud Alley safe from brigands, thieves, and the Muddled Maskman, among other undesirables. The adults didn't take them too seriously, but Tak and Shake and the boys didn't let that stop them. Romilda respected that.

    “Anything to report, Musketeers?” Tak asked with a grin. Tak had always been overly happy about everything, and leading a rebel faction, as he called it, was no different. “Besides, of course, your obvious tardiness?”

    “Nope,” Shake sighed bluntly. “Same old, same old on my street.”

    “Then why were you late?” Tak scowled, his smile fading only briefly.

    “I borrowed a lamb from Zarath's stable,” Deltoro interjected, kicking the rock he was sitting on repeatedly. “Me and Lavaca were hungry.”

    Tak's smile faded again, this time it didn't come back right away. “You mean you stole a lamb from Zarath,” Shake corrected the guilty looking boy.

    Shake had a natural affinity to authority. He could talk down to even adults thrice his age. He only answered to one other person.

    “Yeah,” Deltoro looked down at the ground as he kicked harder. “Lavaca ain't got no meat left on her. I had to do something.”

    “But that makes you a thief, doesn't it?” Tak challenged sternly.

    “I won't do it again,” the brutish boy stammered.

    “Please don't stoop to the level of the people who ruin us,” Tak grinned again. “We're better than that. Right, Musketeers?”

    They all nodded in agreement. Micoz chimed in with a “Right!” of his own.

    “Anything else,” Tak smiled. “Shake?”

    “Yeah, I got something,” Shake harrumphed emotionlessly. “Mika can back me up on this one.”

    “Yeah,” the effeminate boy added nervously. “The reason Shake and I were late was because we were gathering some dirt on the Shadow Man.”

    “Shadow Man?” Tak's smile faded once more. “You can't mean that stranger? What about him?”

    Romilda had not seen the Shadow Man yet, but everyone in Mud Alley knew he was there. There was something sinister about the man that had the others cowering in fear, though Romilda could not say what it was. He first appeared in Mud Alley a few weeks prior, wearing strange black robes. Every day he would make his rounds, strutting wordlessly around the community as if searching for something. Romilda's grandfather had warned her sternly not to make contact with him, though she often wondered why. Could the Shadow Man be looking for Grandfather?

    “Well...” Mika frowned.

    “Caluvis says that the Shadow Man has a Holy Insignia,” Shake interjected.

    “What's that supposed to mean?” Tak shrugged.

    “It means he's looking for my grandfather,” Romilda popped up, though she instantly regretted saying it. Romilda remembered that her grandfather had a Holy Insignia of his own. Whenever she questioned him about its meaning, he told her quite cryptically, “When you are older.”

    “What makes you say that?” Tak scowled. “Isn't your grandfather... you know.”

    “He told me that I must not ever run into the Shadow Man,” she explained.

    “Your grandfather knew this man was coming?” Mika gasped. “Was he a prophet or something?”

    “It just means Romy's old man knew this freak show was coming,” Shake rose to his feet. “If a man like Roiche knew a man like the Shadow Man was coming, that means bad news, right?”

    “I guess so,” Tak turned to Romilda and grinned encouragingly. “Sorry to talk about your grandfather so openly like this.”

    “I'm sure he doesn't mind,” she smiled.

    “Wait,” Micoz piped up. “Doesn't a Holy Insignia mean he works directly under the Holy Maiden?”

    “Of course not,” Shake piped in. “That's not the only thing we heard, you know.”

    “Oh yeah,” Mika glowed. “Word around town is... the last Wise One went missing.”

    “What's that got to do with anything?” Deltoro asked, looking up from the ground for once.

    “It means the Shadow Man probably killed him,” Shake rolled his eyes. “Stole his Holy Insignia-”

    “And he's now after Grandfather's,” Romilda gasped, rising to her feet.

    “What?” Tak's grin faded once more.

    “I have to go,” Romilda rushed to the rope and began climbing up to the roof. “Grandfather's in trouble!”

    “Romilda, wait!” Tak dashed after her.

    Romilda leapt from the rooftops back to the ground below, and dashed in the direction of her hut. A drizzle began to leak down from the sky as she reached the small, frail-looking structure.

    “Grandpa! Grandpa!” she cried. “Grandpa come quick!”

    She struggled to catch her breathing, her heart sinking with realization that her grandfather was not here. He only came every now and then anyway, but now it was important.

    “Grandpa, please! I need you!” she began to tear up. “He's coming! He's going to kill you!”

    “Is that so?” a chilly voice behind her made her blood run cold before she recognized it.

    Grandpa Roiche was a short little old man. His hair was mostly gone save for a thin, feather white crown hat danced across his head at ear level. He had a large hooked nose and grey-blue eyes. He wore a sewn together tunic and dirty robes, and walked with aid from a wooden cane.

    “Oh, Grandpa!” she screamed in relief. “We have to hide. The Shadow Man. I know now! I know what he's here for! He's here to kill you!”

    “So I've heard,” the old man smiled weakly and pointed to a pair of stools in the center of the room. “Sit down, Romilda.”

    She obeyed, though not quietly. She panted a little in attempt to catch her breath before rising to her feet. “But grandfather! He's-”

    “Sit,” he repeated sternly, almost darkly, but not unkindly.

    He lowered his ricked body to the stool beside hers.

    “Grandpa, the Shadow Man...,” she began to whine, almost crying. “He's going to-”

    “I know what he's here for, sweet Romilda,” he interrupted her. “I fear I have misjudged his intentions, however.”

    “What do you mean?” she frowned.

    “A time of great sadness is coming,” he sighed. “Sadness far greater than that you felt last year.”

    She remembered her Grandfather's illness vividly. She cried for weeks and the tears still stained her rags.

    “Listen to me carefully, sweet Romilda,” her grandfather said lowly, almost whispering. “Survive.”

    A shrill scream permeated the air, startling Romilda.

    “Grandpa, what's-”

    She turned to see the old man had vanished again. Oh no, she began to cry. The Shadow Man!

    She bolted outside into the now heavy rain to locate the source of the scream.

    “Deltoro!” a small, frail girl cried shrily as she looked down at her brother's bleeding corpse.

    “What in the Maiden's name is going on out here?” Caluvis emerged from his hut.

    “You are the leader of these cattle, are you?” a gold-armored man emerged from behind Deltoro's hut, sheathing his freshly-stained blade as he pulled a soaked piece of . “We are of the Faith Militant. By her Holiness's decree, we are to round up every female child in this district. Try and stop us and you die.”

    Five other armored men emerged from behind him. These men were different than the white-armored guards Romilda was used to seeing around Mud Alley. These ones had the Holy Insignia emblazoned across their chestplates. Faith Militant, indeed. Romilda ducked into the shadows and watched helplessly as one of the mean chained up Lavaca.

    “What the hell did you do?” Shake growled from down the street, gripping his sword furiously. “What did you bastards do to my friend?” he roared.

    Mika stood behind him, visibly shaken. Romilda ducked behind a barrel as the clear leader of the gold-plated men approached him.

    “That pig stood in our way,” the leader explained. “Just as you are doing now. Where did you even get that sword?”

    “I stole it from a guard I killed,” Shake's lips unfurled into a feral smile. “Don't underestimate me, Goldie.”

    “No matter,” the leader unsheathed his bloody sword. “Put it down and hand over the girl behind you. Or I'll take her.”

    “What?” Mika took a step back. “But I'm not-”

    “Be quiet, Mika!” Shake snapped. “Whatever happens here, you'll always be my sister, got it?”

    “Shake, come on, that's not funny,” Mika stammered.

    “You'll die, then?” the leader asked, swinging his sword. “That works too, I suppose.”

    “I said, don't underestimate me!” Shake bellowed as he parried the blow. However, the gold-plated man was significantly stronger and overpowered Shake, knocking him to the ground.

    “Is it even possible to underestimate you?” the leader laughed as he ran his sword through Shake's belly.

    Shake's eyes glazed over as Romilda squealed a little too loudly, catching the leader's attention. “Borinus, over there,” he pointed in Romilda's direction as the leader turned back at Mika, who kneeled over Shake's lifeless body.

    “Come along, girl,” the leader grasped Mika's arm, but he struggled to pull away.

    “Wait, let me go! Please! I'm not a girl!”

    “Not a girl, you say?” the leader raised his eyebrow. “Let's have a look then.”

    The armored man ran his blade through Mika's rags, exposing the boy's manhood.

    “See?” Mika shuddered. “I told you-” Before he could finish, his throat was slit.

    “Sorry, lad. Didn't mean to offend you.”

    Romilda began to cry as the soldier named Borinus approached her. “Hey, Arcurus, want me to make sure this one's got a cunt?”

    “Do what you will,” the leader, Arcurus nodded as he sheathed his blade. “The rest of you, let's find the rest of this pigsty's lasses.”

    Romilda was stricken with fear as Borinus grabbed her arm firmly.

    “With me, girl,” he growled.

    “Grandpa!” she shrieked. “Let me go! Grandpa, help!”

    “You want your grandpa to die for you, kid?” Borinus sneered. “I can oblige.”

    “Can you now?” a chilly voice resonated from above as a rush of black descended upon them as Romilda fell to the ground. Before Romilda could react, a blade pierced through Borinus's armor as blood began to gush from around it. The black robes fell to the ground below, identical in design to the white robes in her grandfather's wooden chest. There was no denying that this man was the Shadow Man.

    “Sorry, kid,” he groaned coldy as he removed the sword from Borinus's chest. “I'm not your grandpa.”

    “You're the Shadow Man!” she gasped as she got to her feet.

    “Who the hell are you?” Arcurus asked, grasping his blade.

    “Apparently the Shadow Man,” the Shadow Man sneered as he wiped his sword clean with his robes. “So, that bitch has reinstated the Faith Militant, has she? Somebody's scared.”

    “How dare you speak so rudely of the Holy Maiden!” Arcurus snapped. “'Tis sacrilege, an offense punishable by death. Men, kill this heathen!”

    “Ugh,” the Shadow Man groaned as he picked up a large rock and handed it to Romilda. “Nine against one? Kid, do me a favor and bash in Uncle Borinus's head.”

    “What?” she cried. “You've got to be joking.”

    “Boy, did Roiche raise you to be a softie,” the Shadow Man rolled his eyes as two of the gold armors charged towards him. “If you don't kill him now, he's going to die anyway.”

    “But...,” she stammered. “Wait, you know my grandfather?”

    “Now's not the time, sweetheart,” he parried an attack and dodged a second one. “Just kill that one for me, will you?”

    “You're insane!” she began to cry before Borinus started gurgling.

    “Help... me...,” he mouthed. Romilda closed her ties, took a deep gulp of air, and slammed the rock into his face, crushing his teeth and nose in the process.

    “Attagirl,” the Shadow Man smiled as he decapitated the first attacker after removing his sword from the second's chest. “You should probably get out of here in case one of these guys kill me.”

    Romilda nodded and bolted off in the other direction. She barely had time to process what exactly the hell was happening. Deltoro, Mika, and Shake were all dead and she had smashed a man's face to bits. It all happened so fast. All she could do was bolt her way to her house and find her grandfather. The Shadow Man knows my grandfather. But how? And why?

    “Grandpa! Grandpa!” she screamed as she burst through the door of her hut. The sound of the heavy rain hammering the roof seemed to drown out her exasperated screams.

    She slouched into a stool and began to rock back and forth as realization settled in. Shake is dead... Deltoro and Mika too... They're all dead... And I... I killed a man... Oh Holy Maiden, please help us... And then she remembered that apparently, this was all by the Holy Maiden's hand. Were we never protected...? Was there any hope for us at all?

    She sulked and swam in her thoughts for several minutes before remembering that Micoz and Tak were still out there. She hoped and prayed that they weren't hurt, but she didn't want to risk leaving them to die. Something told her she was going to have to leave Mud Alley. But never, not without her grandfather!


    Her grandfather's words echoed in her head. Did he know it would come to this? Did he foresee this? She searched the hut for a moment, but found no sign of her grandfather anywhere.


    “I will, Grandpa,” her tears began to well up. “I will.”

    She hurried out of the hut and into the pouring rain. The occasional flash of lightning and clap of thunder broke the dark grey sky and the deafening rush of rain, respectively. Romilda ran as fast as her bare feet could carry her towards the Mud Musketeers' hideout. She hoped Tak and Micoz were waiting there in hiding. She had meant to join them, if not for the arrival of a gold-plated man from between two huts.

    “You're the little swine that smashed in Borinus's face, are you?” he roared as he grabbed his blade.

    The sight of him caused her heart to sink. The Shadow Man... no...! She took a step back, but the gold armored man was already upon her.

    “I'm sure the Holy Maiden won't mind if we bring you in short a limb or two,” he sneered as he swung back his sword to strike.

    “Step away!” a familiar voice shouted as a stone clanged loudly against the gold-armored man. “Leave that poor girl alone!”

    A gathering of Mud Alley's adults had congregated around old man Caluvis. They held spades and staves, blades and spears, all of which they would dare not hesitate to use.

    “You're Roiche's girl,” Caluvis noted gruffly. “That man woulda died for any one of us!”

    “You think you can take our babes, do you?” a shrill-sounding ragged-looking woman howled. “We'll take much more 'an that!”

    “You pigs think you've got strength in numbers, do you?” the soldier turned his blade upon them. “Don't underestimate the power of the Light. We are the Faith Militant. Your transgressions against me and my men are an act of sacrilege. There will be no salvation for you traitors once you kill me. Repent now before it's too late.”

    “You've got the Light you say?” Caluvis sniggered. “We've got something more powerful.”

    “What's that?” the soldier sneered before the edge of a blade ran across his throat.

    “A Shadow.”

    The soldier fell to the ground as the Shadow Man cleaned his blade.

    “Let one get away, I did! Well, two, if you count the one who ran.”

    “Shadow Man!” Romilda screamed as she ran up to him. “Thank you!”

    “Later, kid,” the Shadow Man turned his attention to Caluvis. “Thanks, you old goat. I almost lost her.”

    “Anytime, Balte,” Caluvis nodded. “Sorry we were helpless to stop the casualties. We lost some good children to these bastards.”

    “That you did,” the Shadow Man sighed. “Pity.”

    “How many died?” Romilda interjected. “Where are Tak and Micoz?”

    “Nobody's seen them,” Caluvis lowered his head. “We'll look for them. You two better get out of here.”

    “Out of here?” Romilda asked. “What?”

    “You're coming with me, Blondie,” the Shadow Man looked down at her. “We have to get you far away from here and fast.”

    “Why?” she frowned. “Who are you? Why me? What the heck is going on here?”

    “I'll tell you,” the Shadow Man kneeled and rubbed the top of her head. “When you're older.”

    She slapped his hand away. “Just who are you?”

    “Apparently, I'm the Shadow Man,” he smiled. “But you can call me Uncle Balte.”

    “Alright, Uncle Balte,” she crossed her arms. “Where are you taking me?”

    “To Vitrasbaen.”

    She eyed him puzzledly. She'd never been out of Mud Alley, much less the country. Who was this man? And why was he taking her away? Who was she to him? She needed her grandfather right now.

    “I wanna see my grandfather,” she said stubbornly.

    Balte paused and looked at her. “And I wanna see my mum. Come on, kid, we better get a move on already. The rain won't let up and the sun will be setting soon. We gotta get out under the cover of darkness.”

    “I wanna see my grandfather,” she repeated without relent.

    “Where you're going,” Bolte sighed. “You'll probably see him a lot. I might even let you go see him for good once business is taken care of. But right now, I need you to come with me. I need you do this one little favor for me, kid.”

    “What?” she scowled.

    “I need you to survive.

  3. #23

    Default Re: Concerto di Ali: The Battle of Solocima

    I know this is your first draft but it's never too early for comments.

    -'Faith militant indeed.' That didn't feel like something a child in her situation would think. :/

    -The comment of Batle about her being raised a softie and him wanting his mum made me laugh. XD

    -There needs to be more shock and confusion described as the Militant starts this atrocity out of nowhere.

    -I felt like I was in Mud Alley based on description alone. :)

  4. #24
    Stay foxy out there! Kitsune Inferno's Avatar
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    Default Re: Concerto di Ali: The Battle of Solocima

    Sixth Verse: The People's Heir

    A prince marches to war
    Against his father's wishes
    Demanded by his subjects
    To fly his banners high

    – Lorya Fox, Concerto di Ali, “The Battle of Solocima”.

    Arcanzia was a vast land. Among the three nations of the Realm Between Wings, it contended with Vitrasbaen for the title of largest country. Both countries were expansive, though Vitrasbaen measured up to Arcanzia thanks to its frigid and inhospitable polar islands to the north. Though one could make a similar argument against Arcanzia. Despite being large, Arcanzia sported the smallest population of the three countries, largely due to inhospitable regions of its own.

    To map out Arcanzia would require splitting the land into three pieces. The smallest of which would make up the southern and extreme eastern portion of the empire. The region was known as the Valleverde, and sported the largest population of the three regions, thanks to its numerous coastal and agricultural villages, but also to the city of Adrigo. Adrigo was a bustling trade city on the northern edge of the Valleverde. All trade routes from Illumadia and Vitrasbaen, and even the nations far off in Moiterra, ran through Adrigo on their way to Arcanzia City.

    After removing the Valleverde, if one were to take what is left of Arcanzia and run a vertical line through the middle of it, the line would run right through Arcanzia City. To the west of the city were the Western Wastes. In this treacherous land, very few people lived. The earth was rocky and barren, almost entirely unable to produce food. What few villages existed were usually along rivers and coastlines, though that tended to make said villages completely isolated from the rest of the region.

    Finally, the entire eastern half between Arcanzia City and Adrigo made up the Great Arcanzian Desert. Though more people lived there than in the Wastes, thanks to the many oases dotting the massive body of sand, it was just as dangerous and inhospitable a place, if not moreso. Between the two, already the vast majority of Arcanzia's land area was unusable.

    That was one reason the war broke out, so many years ago. Once, Adrigo was in the southern reaches of the Valleverde, before the Great Arcanzian Desert continued to eat away at the verdant and fertile lands over hundreds of years. Dimitri's ancestors had decided that seizing land from the other two countries was a necessity, thus sparking the ages-long War Between Wings.

    If nothing, the Great Arcanzian Desert served as the perfect defense for Arcanzia's capitol. Very few were capable of crossing the sandy wastes, thus leaving the capitol virtually untouched by war. Indeed, a journey across the desert would take even the most prepared party nearer to a month to cross the desert.

    And that was why Dimitri found his father's summons so insufferable. Nary a day had passed after spending a month in the blistering heat did he have to suffer another. Unlike the journey from Adrigo, this trek was hasty and unprepared, and his host of twenty-two hundred was likely to bake before they'd even reach Sheeba.

    Here the twenty-two hundred of them stood, two days' march from Arcanzia, facing the edge of the Great Arcanzian Desert. The Great Arcanzian Death Route, Dimitri thought to himself as he rode his steed, Salamander, forward.

    “Are you sure we're ready for this?” Sir Mikhail Nochez asked through his purple and rose-crested helmet, which bore the Nochez sigil, a rose-colored crescent moon on its front and sides. “We're probably two thousand men too many for our supplies at this rate, my Prince.”

    “Aye,” Dimtri reluctantly agreed. “It was ill-thought of me to leave so hastily after all.” Dimitri shook his head. No, there was no time to waste. Brunhjart was dead. “But we have to strike now. We may never have another opportunity as ample as this.”

    “I suppose,” Nochez sighed. “I worry we won't be enough stocked to live the desert, though. Last time, we were one hundred fifty and we lost nineteen. Imagine our losses with this number.”

    Nochez was right. With this many men, they'd be marching straight to their deaths. They needed more supplies, but Dimitri could not afford to turn the host around. Not now. I need to end this, his eyes glimmered with unbending resolve.

    As he faced down the desert sands that spanned forever across the horizon, an idea popped into his head. With a host this size, it was certainly plausible, and would boost their survival chances dramatically.

    “Fetch me a wyvernwing, will you?” Dimitri ordered Nochez. “And send for a scribe.”

    “We are not going to continue our march?” Nochez frowned beneath his helmet. “It is still early in the afternoon.”

    “And if we go any further without salvation, we'll march right into starvation,” Dimitri replied coldly. He didn't have to explain his reasoning just yet. “Fetch me the damn bird and a scribe.”

    “Right away,” Nochez nodded as he tugged his reins, calling his white mare to gallop off into the party.

    Salamander whinnied in response to this as Dimitri tugged his reins slightly. “Come.” The red-haired stallion responded dutifully as he turned toward Argonis's wing of the host. He needed Argonis for the next phase.

    “My Prince,” Sir Lucian Argonis bowed upon Dimitri's arrival a few moments later. His gold and red armor shone brilliantly in the sunlight, exemplary pf his family's sun sigil. “What news doth you bring?”

    “Inform the men that we camp here tonight,” Dimitri relayed his orders. “We lose a few hours, but it allows me to prepare some things to hasten our march in the long run. Is that clear?”

    “Yes, my Prince,” Argonis gestured obediently. “What else would you have me do?” he asked before leaving.

    “Just keep serving me as dutifully as you always have,” Dimitri grinned warmly. He was most pleased with Argonis's unquestioning leal. “You're one of my best swords, Lucian.”

    “Your words are most appreciated, my Prince,” Argonis also smiled. “Pray that they never lose that warmth, lest they be no better than your father's.”

    Argonis walked away as Dimitri frowned. It was not uncommon for his men to speak favorably of him compared to his father, but it was still strange to him that men so freely spoke ill of their own Emperor. Not that he didn't himself, but it made him wonder even more critically about how his subjects really felt about his father.

    “My Prince,” Nochez's hailing caught Dimitri's attention. The feeble-looking boy scribe walked briskly behind the mounted Nochez, visibly struggling to make pace. “I've brought the scribe.”

    “Ah,” Dimitri dismounted Salamander and greeted the frail boy. “What is your name?”

    “Steban, m-my Prince,” the boy stuttered. “I-I am good with letters, if th-that is what you wish.”

    “I believe that's what a scribe does, Steban,” Dimitri japed kindly before stretching out a hand. “Shall we then?”

    “Y-yes, my Prince,” Steban gestured enthusiastically. Dimitri left Salamander with Nochez as he and Steban found their way to the newly-erected Commander's tent.

    “Now then,” Dimitri collected some parchment and ink from a helping hand before entering. “I need you to send a message to Sediente: they are to send seven-hundred pounds of supplies via cargo ship to the Hidden Wharf. They know the one. Did you get all that?”

    “A-aye, my Prince,” Steban nodded dutifully as he accepted the paper and started writing it down. “Y-you know, if it's no trouble, I can t-teach you letters. I'd be honored to. A Prince who knows letters is a m-mightier Prince than any other.”

    “Do you take me a fool?” Dimitri lashed back angrily, though not intentionally.

    “N-no, my Prince,” Steban glanced away, clearly ashamed. “I-I am sorry. I made a bold assumption. F-f-forgive me.”

    Dimitri was silent. “No, Steban, forgive me.” Dimitri sighed in embarrassment. “You merely offered me a kindness and I so rudely pushed it away. My pride precedes my gratitude, it would seem.”

    Steban sat still, unsure what to say next before silently writing away. Dimitri looked at his hands and sighed. It was a silly thing, but even though Dimitri knew the letters, it shamed him so that he could never write them properly. He took several years of formal lessons, yet his writing was virtually unreadable. He could not understand why, nor did any of the scribes in Arcanzia, but there was naught that could be done.

    “Be sure the wyvernwing is sent to Sediente, Steban,” Dimitri commanded not unkindly before leaving the tent. His next order of business was finding Nochez and Argonis for the final phases of his plan. He found Nochez near the makeshift stables, tending to his horse.

    “My Prince,” Nochez bowed when he noticed Dimitri's arrival. “Has the letter been sent?”

    “Soon,” Dimitri found Salamander and began petting the horse's muzzle affectionately. “Have you seen Argonis? I need to speak with the both of you at once.”

    “I have not,” Nochez shook his head. “Is it urgent?”

    “It is. If you see him, tell him to meet me at my tent in exactly one hour.”

    “My Prince,” the purple-donned knight bowed before disappearing into the host.

    Dimitri thought it best to wait by his tent for any signs of Argonis. As he arrived, Steban was just finishing up the letter. After looking it over, Dimitri approved it—admiring the boy's penmanship in the process—and sent him on his way to the cages. With his only company gone, he waited impatiently for the arrival of his trusted men. He was relieved when Nochez returned with Argonis nearly an hour later.

    “My Prince,” the men hailed in unison.

    “Argonis, Nochez,” Dimitri smiled and bowed politely. “I have a task for the two of you of grave importance.”

    “Does it have to do with the supplies from Sediente?” Nochez asked soberly.

    “It does,” Dimitri put on an authoritative face and turned to the purple-armored man. “I require you to march with five hundred of our men and a quarter of our supplies.”

    “What?” Nochez was visibly taken aback. “Why so many?”

    “I need you to fetch the supplies from Boca Puerto,” he explained. Boca Puerto was a port at the mouth of the Sheeba River. It was the largest port this side of the Bahia Lagrimas. Bandits and rebels usually scouted the coast, looking for the alleged secret Imperial port in vain. But that didn't change the fact that Boca Puerto itself was a dangerously lawless area. It did help, however, with masking the Imperial shipping site in plain sight. “That's why I'm sending so many of you: it's important that we get those supplies.” Five hundred men may been a bit overmuch, but Dimitri was not willing to risk the failure.

    “As if I would need so many,” Nochez grunted, taking the Prince's precaution as a slight. He hadn't intended that.

    “That's why you're spearheading this,” Dimitri smiled sincerely. “You're the best man for the job. Anyway, once you procure the supplies, follow the Sheeba River to the northeast and rendezvous with us at Sheeba Oasis. We will wait for you there. If you arrive first, we will do the same.”

    “You don't wish to meet at Tormenta?” Nochez questioned, his coldness from the moment before gone.

    “No,” Dimitri shrugged.

    “What are your orders for me, my Prince?” Argonis interrupted.

    “You will lead the host,” Dimitri gave an encouraging smile.

    “What of you?” he inquired with shock. “You will march with Nochez?”

    “Nay,” Dimitri morioned toward the stables. “I am riding at dawn.”

    “Riding?” Argonis scowled.

    “I will ride a day ahead of the host,” the Prince continued. “With twenty men.”

    “Only twenty?” Nochez also frowned. “Are you mad? If you were to run into rebels-”

    “They'd attack and I'd kill them,” Dimitri smiled gravely, his expression darker than his jet-black armor. “But we're traversing the Duna Caliente route. The rebels on that route have all but evaporated.”

    “Duna Caliente?” Argonis was not convinced. “With our supplies as paltry as they are, we'd be condemning ourselves.”

    Argonis was right. Through Tormenta, they'd trek along the Rio Tormenta for a long stretch of the journey. But his men were very much understocked. And the Rio Tormenta has been crawling with rebels on his trip home last time. A host as large as his would make for sitting ducks.

    “Fetch me my helmet. I intend to slay any rebels that cross me.”

    “And if you are killed yourself?” Argonis still didn't take too warmly to the idea.

    “Then they'd face the might of seventeen hundred of Arcanzia's finest the next day,” the Prince's smile was beginning to curl. “But don't worry, I want to weed them out with this. Take them by surprise. They'd think us a small party of novices, completely unaware of the full brunt of an Empire's might as it weighs down upon them.” That was, if the Black Wyvern himself didn't cut them down. “Argonis, you will hold the host here tomorrow and ride out the next day, is that clear?”

    “Yes,” Argonis sighed, unwilling to argue. “I pray you are careful, my Prince. The route to and past Duna Caliente is unfathomably dangerous.”

    “Do not worry yourself,” Dimitri smiled. “I am a very hard man to kill.” Even the rebels wouldn't strike down the People's Heir so willingly.

    * * *

    Five days passed since Nochez and Dimitri left the host. Mikhail rode south toward Tormenta, while Dimitri pressed east for Duna Caliente. He left with an entourage twenty and one, but now he was eighteen. A day after entering the desert, a miserable moppet passed out from the sheer heat. Was he expecting a stroll through the flowers? Dimitri had only shook his head at the sight of the collapsed boy and left one of his sturdier men to watch over him. If he didn't die, then the host behind him would catch up with them, and he'd receive medical attention.

    The third man he lost was the day before. The man, clearly suffering in the intense heat, fell from his mount. Before the beast had even noticed his rider had fallen, it already made a shoe of the poor man's skull. The more squeamish of his company had not taken to well to the display, but alas, they most likely got over it. If they hadn't, they would die soon enough anyway. They left the man's body behind, for the sand would not make an adequate grave. He'd be wasting his time digging one, only for it to be exposed in a month. He did hold a small service for the fallen man whose name he did not know.

    Despite the lesser men in his company he lost—and the lesser men that still remained, he was rather pleased with the performance of a few of them. Among them was Segador, a raven-haired youth who thought to leave Arcanzia in search of greener pastures, quite literally in the Valleverde. Dimitri would not have it, however. A sword-arm like Segador was just what he was looking for. He had a mind to spirit the boy away with him once they reached Adrigo, yet the boy was unyieldingly strong-minded. But Dimitri was not going to take no for an answer.

    The second desirable man in his entourage was Trabajo Dificil. Trabajo was a big burly man, always dripping with sweat, most likely to keep him cool in the Arcanzian sun. He certainly looked weathered, but never did he complain or even give a hint that he was too tired to continue. He was most likely lowborn, but there was something unmistakeably honorable about him. Dimitri took to the task of placing it as their journey progressed.

    The highest born of the men in the company was a mountain man named Colm Nuncanieve. Colm was a handsome man in his late twenties, but he also had a very rustic and rough air about him. No doubt because of his life in the higher elevations of the Wastes. He was, however, very devoted and prideful, and Dimitri didn't even need him to prove that to see it.

    On that fifth day, the sun was particular loud. This far north, the sun was not nearly as blistering as the sands near Adrigo, but it was already unseasonably warm. Considering that spring was still a week away, it was still unbearably hot. It made him very wary of the rest of his journey, especially since the last stretch would most likely occur in the middle of spring.

    Salvation was upon them, however, as the village of Duna Caliente could be seen shimmering on the southern horizon. It was a small village, probably with no more than twenty souls, but it promised at least some hint of rest. Unlike the host, his group of men had to sleep out under the stars, in the numbing cold of a winter desert night. It was certainly uncomfortable, and no doubt wore even more on the already weathered men.

    “Shall I scout ahead, my Prince?” Colm asked as Trabajo wordlessly paced behind him.

    “No,” Dimitri fastened on his signature wyvern-headed helmet and pulled on Salamander's reins forcefully. “I will.”

    Salamander dashed forward, on command with Segador insubordinately trotting close behind, mounted on his buck, Bullet. The two men galloped forth through the treacherous sand, putting distance between the other sixteen men that paced several yards behind. By the time they were upon the village, they were at least a mile or two ahead.

    “Easy, Sal,” the Prince rubbed his steed's snout gently as Salamander whinnied and halted. Dimitri dismounted as Segador did the same from Bullet.

    “Did I not say I would scout ahead?” Dimitri scowled at the raven-haired lad.

    “I'm not very good at taking orders,” Segador smirked in retort.

    “Well, if you're one of mine, you'll take them,” Dimitri eyed him darkly, ignoring the jest in his tone.

    “I'm sorry,” Segador looked away, not out of embarrassment or shame, but out of amusement. Segador was enjoying his own insubordination. He would be a tough one to rein in, Dimitri judged.

    “Pray that you are,” Dimitri removed his helmet and turned to the dusty little village.

    There was no one on the streets, which were overrun with sand. One building howled violently as the desert winds rushed through its ajar door into its hollow dwellings. There was no sign of life anywhere throughout the tiny hamlet, which continued to howl with the wind dramatically.

    “Is anybody around?” Dimitri hailed as he passed up the clearly abandoned buildings. “Hello?”

    “It looks like nobody's been here for years,” Segador gulped.

    Dimitri frowned. Surely, someone would be here. The village was isolated, but it was located at a crossroads between Arcanzia, Sheeba, Aguarena, and Tormenta. It was always guaranteed to have someone, anyone, thanks to the constant trade. Or at least it had before the subsidies stopped. Hopefully, at least the inn would still be open.

    “Is there anyone alive in there?” Segador shouted as he opened the door on the large building. “We're looking for a room! Anyone?”

    No reply. No reply at all. Dimitri shivered as he entered the building. His steel boots creaked loudly on the rotten wooden floor.

    “In the name of the Emperor, I demand you reveal yourselves,” Dimitri called out in no direction in particular. “I am Dimitri Blackdrake. If you are not a rebel, you have nothing to fear.”

    “Dimitri, you say?” a withered old woman emerged from the back room. She was weathered and dirty, and looked as if she had not eaten in weeks. Her voice was hoarse and cracked as she spoke. “Is it truly?”

    “Aye,” he pointed at his wyvern-headed helmet cradled underneath his arm. “The Black Wyvern and Prince of Arcanzia in the flesh.”

    “The heir to the Empire,” she added. “'Tis quite the honor, my Prince.”

    “The honor is all mine,” Dimitri bowed cordially. “Are you the proprietor?”

    “That's quite princely of you,” Segador jeered disrespectfully. “Bowing to a dirty old crone.”

    “Hold your tongue,” Dimitri growled coldly at the youth.

    “The boy speaks true, you know,” the woman smiled diffusively. “It is a bit... disturbing for a prince to bow before a miserable woman such as I.”

    “You don't have to be a commoner to know courtesy,” Dimitri shrugged. “I require a service of you, after all.”

    “I never answered your question, so you assume I am the proprietor,” the woman laughed feebly but jovially. “I regret to inform you this town is all dried up. The young'uns left when the subsidies stopped, including the young man who ran this inn.”

    “Subsidies?” Segador frowned. “You mean, like taxes?”

    The Empire funded supplies and sent them regularly to the village to keep it afloat. Living in the middle of the desert was a hard task, after all. But his father, the Emperor, cut the subsidies after the rebels rose. They would plunder away the shipments anyway, so Sabreus had seen fit to focus his funding less on feeding them, and more on feeding them steel. Naturally, Duna Caliente suffered for it.

    “I am so sorry,” Dimitri frowned. “I am so sorry this has happened.”

    “Don't be,” the woman smiled. “Your father is the Emperor, not you. I know you'll make things right when that old fool dies.”

    Old fool?” Segador challenged. “You can't speak ill of the Emperor like that! In front of his own son, no less.”

    “It's fine, Segador,” Dimitri shrugged off the slight. “She has a right to speak her mind. I'd rather she be honest and harsh than a lying coward.”

    “So it's okay to badmouth the old fool, then?” Segador cracked a smile. “Well then, am I going to have a grand time with this.”

    “Don't push your luck, kid,” Dimitri shot back, unamused with his crassness.

    “Who are you calling kid?” Segador refused to stand down. “Just because you're a year older than me doesn't make you forty-five. Unless you nobles shits are like dogs. Are you forty-five in shit years?”

    Dimitri tried to pay him no mind, but the old woman was clearly peeved.

    “Have you no manners?” the woman shouted. “This is the Prince of Arcanzia. Show some respect, lad.”

    “Like you just showed Emperor Shit?” Segador was relentless.

    “Well, do you see the Emperor here?” she piped back. “It's rude to speak ill of a man standing right beside you.”

    “Okay, I'll go around back and do it, then.”

    “He is also the heir to this land. He deserves at least a shred of respect.”

    “Well aren't you a holy hypocrite! What's with your double standards?”

    “Emperor Sabreus is a fool ruler,” the woman spat. “A piss-poor man if there ever was one.”

    Dimitri stepped out into the sun, but even outside, he still heard it. It was always difficult to feel the weight of his people's burdens thrust upon his shoulders so casually. Even if he agreed with them on his father, he hardly thought he was a much better man.

    “Prince Dimitri is the People's Heir,” she said proudly. “The future of this broken empire.”

    “Bettin' coin on a guy with the same blood as the current shit, are we?” Segador laughed cruelly. “Wouldn't you have better odds siding with the rebels?”

    “Would you two please stop?” Dimitri interjected coming back inside. “That's all irrelevant. Can we stay here tonight? Our men are tired and we need a warm place to sleep, outside of the elements.”

    “I suppose that can be arranged,” the old woman shrugged. “What brings you this way anyhow? Isn't the standard Arcanzian military route through Tormenta? You know, young prince, it's been years since I've seen you pass through here, let alone any soldiers.”

    “Well, the Tormenta route was forged to throw off the rebels who waited along the old route. That's why we've come this way this time. The Tormenta Route is pretty popular nowadays.” He was too guilty to admit that the lack of subsidies also caused him to avoid the village over the years.

    “Very well,” she shook her head. “The beds are in the back. You should all rest well. You've got a tiring journey ahead of you.”

    “I thank you,” Dimitri bowed once more. “When our host passes through here tomorrow, I'll see to it supplies are left for you.”

    “Seriously?” Segador rolled his eyes. “Aren't we going to starve at this rate?”

    “Don't even bother,” the woman smiled, a warm, knowing smile, but its connotations were cruel and painful. “I'll be dead by the end of the week. Your supplies will only delay the inevitable. Use them where they count.”

    “But I-”

    “You truly are the People's Heir,” she grinned. “You are going to make a wonderful Emperor. I know it. I can feel it. It is a shame I won't live to see you do such great things.”

    “I'm sorry,” Dimitri lowered his head. “Truly, I am.”

    “Don't be,” she approached him and placed her wrinkled hand on his shoulder. “No matter how big your heart is, boy, just remember: you can't save us all.”

    With that, the woman retired back to her chambers, leaving Dimitri and Segador alone in the main room.

    “I'm sorry...” Dimitri sulked in defeat. He hated to see his people hurt and suffer, especially when it very easily could have been avoided

    “We should go find the others,” Segador suggested, breaking the awkward silence. “They should be approaching the village now.”

    “Right,” Dimitri shook his head and followed Segador outside. He didn't have to time to mull over such things.

    “Hey, wait a minute,” Segador shouted a few moments later. “I was meaning to ask... How did you know that woman was in there? You knew someone was inside, despite there being no signs of life whatsoever... How?”

    “It's simple, really,” Dimitri cracked a devious smirk.

    “Was it pre-planned? Or do you have unreal perception? Or do you shits have extremely sensitive noses?”

    Dimitri started heading towards the edge of town silently.

    “Hey, come on, Prince!” Segador cried. “How did you know she was in there?”

    “I didn't,” Dimitri turned around and laughed playfully. “Don't you know anything about archaic Arcanzian tactics?”

    “Ar-kay-nzian what?” Segador raised an eyebrow in annoyance. “So you're not gonna even give me a hint what that's s'posed to mean?”

    “Sorry, kid,” Dimitri shrugged. “That's a story for another time. Or no time at all, really. Maybe I'll tell you one day if it ever becomes relevant. But that's unlikely.”

    “You are a horny little shit,” Segador laughed, making wyvern horns with his fingers, Arcanzian symbolism and slang for a devious person.

    “That we agree upon,” Dimitri nodded as he thought of Doreen for a passing moment. Agree upon, indeed.

    Though that passing moment became an entire night. Even as he supped with his men and retired to bed; even well past midnight, Dimitri lay awake thinking about Doreen, wondering how she was doing. At least she had a lofty, warm bed back in Arcanzia, unlike his cold makeshift cot. But he wasn't complaining. He just wished she were here with him. He laughed at the prospect of how the old woman would respond if she knew her People's Heir was nothing more than a lust-drunk fool.

  5. #25
    Stay foxy out there! Kitsune Inferno's Avatar
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    Default Re: Concerto di Ali: The Battle of Solocima

    Heya, guys. It's been a while, but I'm actually writing again! I've got rough drafts of the next several chapters complete, but I'm going to update the old chapters over the next several weeks before I release them. In most cases, this will be minor edits, but the prologue in particular will be replaced with an entirely new one. The new releases will start at the end of this week, with the Prologue, then one chapter a week from there on out. Just bumping the thread for now to drum up interest. I'll update the thread and edit the posts, then update for content later when it's time, so check back frequently.

  6. #26
    Stay foxy out there! Kitsune Inferno's Avatar
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    Default Re: Concerto di Ali: The Battle of Solocima

    Post #3 has been updated with the NEW Prologue. It represents a new direction for the story, though I know the old prologue was a high point, so I hope this new prologue isn't too bad. However, it allows me to tie the disparate plot lines together much tighter without sacrificing much story, and it kind of fits more into the world. However, the musical lyrics that accompany every chapter will remain intact, and the Concerto di Ali and Lorya will show up in surprising ways, so stay tuned.

    Also, the next several weeks will merely be updates for typos and retorfitting in already released chapters. So deal with it, sorry.

  7. #27
    Stay foxy out there! Kitsune Inferno's Avatar
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    Default Re: Concerto di Ali: The Battle of Solocima

    The weirdest thing about this bot is it knows my medication list...

  8. #28

    Default Re: Concerto di Ali: The Battle of Solocima

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