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Friv
Essence 6
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Title: Splinter of Mokrelus
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The Dynasty's Shadowed Light, Part 21: To Break A Mask

01 Jun 2007, 16:06

As the far sky started to grow light, five people stood on a hill and surveyed the battle raging below.

Tepet Ejava, called the Roseblack, stood in the centre, and looked out over the lines of her war. A part of her cried out at the necessity of the battle, given what she was about to do, but she knew that without it, the Mask would never have been so bold as he was know. A mere mile away, the Juggernaut stood, blotting out the sky, and the Mask’s dark necromancy shrouded the landscape – dawn was nothing but a hint on the horizon, and would remain so no matter how far into the day this battle progressed. In the absence of the sun’s gaze, zombies, war ghosts, and the dreaded undead horrors that the Mask wielded fought alongside his Thornguard and mortal conscripts, bolstering their ranks from a few thousand to over twenty thousand monsters.

Ejava had five thousand of the Realm’s finest soldiers, along with a host of artillery, two talons of warstriders, and more artifacts than she would have thought credible. But against the unceasing assault below, her early victories against the Mask’s attacks had transformed into a holding action, a staggered defense based around buying time with as few lives as possible. Now, it was about to pay off.

“Looking bad down there.” To Ejava’s right, her uncle surveyed the scene grimly. It had taken all of Nagazzer’s capabilities to convince General Tepet Arada, the Wind-Dancer, to come out of retirement and act as his niece’s advisor, but she was glad that she had – as, she suspected, was he. “Give it another hour, and we’ll have a real problem on our hands.”

“We only need a few minutes.” Only four people in the legion knew the secret that Ejava had worked to conceal. The third, her adjunct, studied the sky with a critical eye. “We could move now, though. Dawn is best, but we have lives to think about.” Ejava didn’t know the man well, but he came highly recommended, and she had to admit that he had been extremely useful so far. Cathak Tyr had a grasp of military bureaucracy that left Ejava’s head spinning, and his logistical capabilities had saved a number of battles and marches. She sighed, and nodded, and turned to the last two. The first, one of her lieutenants, saluted grimly.

“I feel like it should be me.” Ejava’s voice was soft. This was the hardest part of command.

“With due respect sir, absolutely the hell not.” Cathak Seranos smiled faintly, inclining his head. “The Realm needs you. I’m more – expendable.”

“Never that.” Ejava laid a hand on Seranos’s shoulder; behind her, her companions watched solemnly. “The world will know of you sacrifice, Seranos.”

“You’ll make me cry, sir.” Seranos smiled again, but there was a brittle edge to it. He turned to the last of the five, his voice hardening. “I’m ready. Let’s get this done.”

“Very well.” Bowing, Kyla set herself into a spellcasting stance, her tricoloured anima sparkling around her as she cast the spell that would be needed for this plan to be a perfect success. A Splinter of Mokrelus, she was acting as a coordinator, and was not officially present in the army at all; she was disguised as one of the drovers who handled the wagons. Now, however, she let her power flow freely, reaching it out to envelop Seranos. Lights swirled around him, dissolving into nothing, and carrying him with them towards his destination. The others watched him go, grim-faced. Arada was the one to break the silence.

“Here goes everything…”


A mile away, standing on the top of the highest tower built on the back of his devastating war-beast, the Mask of Winters watched the fight develop, his Tragedy Mask facing forwards. Flanked by two nephwracks – his Abyssal servants who could fight already committed to the war – he was an imposing figure, his shadow casting out over the battlefield below. Soon, he thought, it would be time to deploy another spell – something to break the morale of the Realm, not just their bodies. Raising their fallen comrades, perhaps. He smiled vengefully beneath his mask. Mnemon had delivered him a fine feast of treacherous Dragon-Bloods, and he intended to savor their fall. That it might benefit her as well did not concern him – the Dragon-Blooded had walked into his valley trap as expected, and none would escape. Their jade and corpses would cause his own forces to swell.

Even as he considered his impending victory, the Mask’s attention was suddenly drawn by sorcery forming behind him – powerful sorcery, stronger than any the pitiful Dragonlings possessed. The Mask began to shape a counterspell, but stopped as he realized the spell itself had been cast far away; it was only its effects taking place here, and those did not target the Mask himself. Curious despite himself, he gestured for his servants to wait, and watched the shape taking form behind him.

It was a Dragon-Blooded, young and full of life, wearing only what appeared to be a dinner jacket and a light cloak. His daiklave glittered in his hand, and he regarded the Mask solemnly. “Mask of Winters. It ends now.”

“Excuse me?” The Mask laughed, then shifted posture. His limbs twitched and cracked, inverted, and suddenly he was facing away from his foe instead of towards him. He stepped to the balcony, looking down over the battlefield. “You must be mad. You have a simple weapon – you aren’t even wearing armor. I doubt very much that you could so much as scratch my plate if I stood still and let you try.” He glanced over his shoulder, the Comedy Mask that adorned his face now smiling merrily. “The only thing that you could do up here, fool Dragonling, is…” Abruptly, he broke off, and his eyes widened.

“Die.” Seranos completed the sentence smoothly, taking a breath. Before the Mask could draw himself from his shock, the Dynast swiftly reversed the daiklave and plunged it into his own chest. The two nephwracks watched in confusion, glancing at one another with raised eyebrows.

“No!” The Mask started to run forwards, as Seranos collapsed forwards onto the sword. But something remained behind. For a moment, it seemed that Seranos both hung in the air and lay on the ground, and then he spoke.

“I’m sorry for you.”

“I don’t need… I don’t…” The Mask stepped backwards, his magnificent soulsteel plate pressing against the stone balcony.

Seranos stepped forwards towards him, extending a ghostly hand. “I understand the pain. The fear. I forgive you your crimes. Will you seek hope again?”

“No. There is no hope.” But there was no conviction in the Mask’s words. As the nephwracks watched, shocked, he took a shuddering step forwards. “Around me there is only the darkness of the Void. I cannot see the way…”

“Let me show you.” The hand extended again, and like one possessed, the Mask took it. Seranos continued, smiling. “No more suffering for you, Larquen Quen. Rejoin Lethe. Be at peace, now and forever. No torment, no fear. Back on the cycle of life, as it should be.”

“Yes.” For a moment, there was a shuddering disconnect, as the ghost of Larquen Quen stepped out from the soulsteel that encased him, leaving behind a shuddering, faintly screaming shadow, the darkness of the Malfeans made real by its inclusion in his soul. And then the shadows fell backwards, pulling in on themselves as they drew towards the Void, and the ghosts drew upwards, a column of light surrounding them as they flew towards the sky, where they merged with the stars.

And then the magics that the Mask had worked shattered, and the sun rose over the battlefield. Zombies and hungry ghosts died in an instant – war ghosts fell into the Underworld, suddenly and shockingly freed from their master’s influence. The mortal conscripts suddenly found their positions overrun, their allies vanished, and fear and panic swept their lines. Revitalized, the soldiers of the Realm let out a roar of triumph and pressed the attack, their defenses cast aside to crush their suddenly-beaten foe.

Standing on the hill, Arada let out a whoop of joy. “He did it! Dragons bless him into his next life, he did it!”

Ejava smiled, sorrow and joy mixing in her heart. The secret to defeating the Deathlords truly was so simple that any peasant could achieve it, with a strong heart and a pure soul.

All it took was to die on Calibration, as the world reordered itself, and in dying forgive the Deathlord their sins. To welcome them into death and accept that their would be no punishment for their crimes.

Ejava smiled, and whispered softly. “You did it, Seranos. The Mask is gone.”
"Some people walk in the rain. Others merely get wet."

Patchwork Champions - You say "to-ma-toe", I say "world-ravaging-laser-beam".
 
Aracos
Essence 3
Essence 3
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Title: Consort to Ming I
Fighting Style: Wind-Blade Style
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Location: Sitting on the front steps of the Darkness Pagoda

01 Jun 2007, 16:27

Wow.

Just...wow.

I love.
The logistics are mind-boggling.
 
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Deaths Pale Mistress
Essence 7
Essence 7
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Joined: 01 Apr 2006, 02:18
Title: Deathlord-Empress of the Underworld
Exalt: Ghost
Fighting Style: Close-quarters combat
Artifact: The Kiss of Midnight
Location: Unholy Stygia

01 Jun 2007, 17:52

:shock:

...I...I disbelieve the illusion. *leave to go listen to Linkin Park*
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
 
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Epiphany
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Essence 7
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Title: Resident Novelist
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Artifact: My Lower Soul
Location: Bellingham, WA
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02 Jun 2007, 11:54

One of the most impressive things an author can do is build, build, build toward a climax over a number of chapters...and then deliver.

This was very well executed, Friv. It's dramatic, it's moving, it's carries with it a great deal of energy and emotion and left me at the end going "wow."

I admit that the Mask's reaction to Seranos stabbing himself, and then what happened next, was slightly confusing. But only in that "they both know something I don't" kind of way and you tie it up at the end very well.

As climaxes go, this rates among the best.
BrilliantRain: There are those who would note that sometimes, sometimes, you get the things you really need instead of the things you deserve.
Kailan: If people only ever got what they deserved, the world would be a more miserable place.

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Dinosaur
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02 Jun 2007, 12:13

Deaths Pale Mistress wrote:
:shock:

...I...I disbelieve the illusion. *leave to go listen to Linkin Park*


/corpus
 
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BrilliantRain
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02 Jun 2007, 12:13

I was worried it wasn't gonna work. Good job at building suspense until the last moment. I second everything else that has been said here too.
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Friv
Essence 6
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Title: Splinter of Mokrelus
Exalt: Elemental
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Artifact: The Crucible of Tarim
Location: Toronto
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04 Jun 2007, 10:29

I was pretty worried about it myself.

This was a tricky one; the secret of defeating the Deathlords managed to be both central to the plot, and secondary to the characters involved. Figuring out the right mix for it was hours of entertainment. ;)

Although I am amused that no one asked "Where the hell is Mnemon?"
"Some people walk in the rain. Others merely get wet."

Patchwork Champions - You say "to-ma-toe", I say "world-ravaging-laser-beam".
 
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Dinosaur
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Title: Social Justice Kaiju
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Location: Most Emphatically NOT in the Wyld

04 Jun 2007, 10:46

Friv wrote:
I was pretty worried about it myself.

This was a tricky one; the secret of defeating the Deathlords managed to be both central to the plot, and secondary to the characters involved. Figuring out the right mix for it was hours of entertainment. ;)

Although I am amused that no one asked "Where the hell is Mnemon?"


Probably waiting to safely stand on the armored shell in triumph.
 
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BrilliantRain
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04 Jun 2007, 16:42

Or gank control over Juggernaut.

Edit: Ok, so I was close.
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