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Monday, April 23, 2012

The Eternal Ice - Chapter 8



In search for the cure.


Chapter 8 - Skyknight

Having stated that Kjeldor was a great nation, most historians then assume that it was a single autonomous unit, like the desert tribes under Mishra or the Church of Tal. Actually it was riven through and through with innumerable cracks, schisms, rivalries, and petty politics.

To prove this, you only have to examine the plethora of recognized military units in the nation. Not only was there a guard , but there was also an elite guard , and on top of that, a
royal guard
charged with protecting the king. There were cavalry units that served only particular fiefs and naval units that pledged themselves only to particular merchant houses or trade routes. Each of the various holy orders had its own regular and elite units as well, and there were orders for every Kjeldoran virtue, with new ones appearing each generation. Any military man with enough wits to win a few battles and enough political savvy to choose good allies could establish his own order in his lifetime.

The magical organizations of Kjeldor were little better, if only because there were fewer mages. Soldev seemed to draw the artificers, but there was a hodgepodge of styles and schools in Krov - sorcerers, elementalists, and mediums all were recognized factions in the last years of the Ice Age. A great schism had occurred only a generation before Freyalise's spell, when Zur the Enchanter , in a quest for his own immortality, decimate the ranks by leading a revolt against the established magical leaders and retreating to the hinterlands. Zur's eventual and mysterious disappearance did nothing to hinder the belief of his followers in his works, and they remained one more irritant up to the dissolution of Kjeldor itself.

To belabor the obvious analogy, Kjeldor was akin to a block of ice - solid, weighty, and impressive, but if struck just right, cracks would appear and reduce the entire block to nothing more than tiny shards.

One only needed to know where to strike.

-Arkol, Argivian Scholar

Jaya runs down the stairs and curses when then the alarm sounds. Sneaking in was easy because the alarms weren't set against a mundane thief breaking in. But the magical mirror she now carriers out with her sets off every one of them.

The student and artificer that she passed earlier come running up the stairs, and Jaya yells at them that there is a thief up in the tower. She's going to go run for help. Jaya then runs on past. Jaya quickly shrugs off her disguise as soon as she returns to the room that she entered, and makes her way down her grappling hook as quickly as she can.

Up in the sky, summoned blue phantoms and skyknights fill the air, and activity begins to stir at the other towers in the city. Even the people in the streets start filling the streets wondering what all the commotion is all about, and so as soon as Jaya reaches the crowds she turns to look in the same direction as everyone else as a means to blend in. But instead of being able to look up into the sky, she finds herself facing a man in the winged helmet of an elite guard who demands to know what's going on.

"Some kind of wizard battle," she said, "up at the Royal Academy."

The great-helmed soldier looked up at the spiraling patterns in the sky and sneered.

"Damned mages. If it's not one thing with those moth-eaten book bangers, it's another." He turned to one side and spat.

It seems like she's going to get away when the elite guard tells her that she better come with her. Jaya stumbles forward, pretending to feel light-headed thanks to all the excitement going on and asks if he can escort her back to her hotel. He looks at her suspiciously when something explodes up above. He doesn't have time for her and everyone crowding the streets to disperse for feel the might of Kjeldoran justice.

Jaya heads straight for the barracks of the skyknights and flashes the badge she swiped from the elite guardsman. Jaya walks straight on in with no problem and heads for the officers quarters. She slips inside an empty room, opens up one of the armoires, and closes the door behind her and goes to sleep.

(And why is this a good idea? It didn't work last time trying to escape from Tresserhorn.)


...Later...

A door slams open and Jaya wakes. From her hiding spot she can see an exhausted blonde-haired woman in the armor of a skyknight enter the room.

"Bad day at the office, honey?" Jaya chirped.

The skyknight was on her feet again at once, her hand gripping her short dagger. Then she recognized who was speaking and gave the task mage a wary nod.

"Why am I not surprised you'd show around now?" said the skyknight.

"It's fate, Lieutenant Bell. It's providence. It's one of the mysteries of magic." Jaya beamed at the skyknight. The task mage slipped from her perch and pulled out two goblets, along with a dusty wine bottle of dubious vintage.

(Oooh... Jaya is a wanderer. Makes sense that she has allies all over, including here.)

Jaya and Belenda Danisdotter talk. Belenda dances around the fact that she suspects the commotion is all Jaya's fault, and Jaya dances around giving her the answer until finally they get everything out in the open.

The skyknight's barracks have special protection from scrying magic, which is why Jaya knew it would be a safe place to hide out, and she wants Belenda's help flying her out of the city since the gates are no doubt heavily guarded. For her part, Belenda wants to see what it is that Jaya stole, and wants assurances that it isn't a dangerous weapon or will in any way threaten the kingdom. Jaya tells her that it's not only not dangerous, but it's only valuable to its owner, and so Belenda agrees to help her out.


...After resting up first before taking flight...

The skyknight barrack in the city-state of Krov, and throughout Kjeldor itself, were of similar design - a legacy that stretched (it was said) back to Urza himself. Jaya could find her way around them blindfolded, as could most of the skyknights. They resembled nothing so much as great stone mushrooms blossoming from the landscape. Their circular bases rising above the surrounding buildings, then umbrellaing out into the rookery was the aerie proper, where the great birds were kept. The lower floors held the guards, the offices, and private quarters for the skyknights. But really all that was below existed to support that which was above.

Above was the aesthir stable, with four curtained off exits, one for each of the cardinal directions. It's said that Keldos herself tamed the first one, and it's the aestheirs that make the skyknights stand out amongst the other military factions, and is the reason they are the proudest.

Belenda leads Jaya to her specific mount and they take off.

They spiraled outward over the white jumble of Krov, taking a leisurely arc over the city. Below them, she could see the wide, open air markets and newer canvas-covered ones. She could see the other skyknight aeries, six in all, scattered over the city. And she could see the massive, squat blocks and towers of King Darien's castle, and beyond them, the thin, ornate spires of the Royal Academy of Magic.

There's no talking while in the air, but Belenda knows the way to the Glimmer Vale, the place where Jaya asked to be dropped off. That leaves plenty of time for Jaya to second guess everything that she's doing, and knowing she has no choice but to trust in Freyalise. If it turns out the mirror doesn't do what she was told, it's not like she can take Jodah back to the School of the Unseen where Gerda will be waiting.

They set down for the night atop a plateau, and they talk. Belenda tells her that Kjeld is changing. The city is ruled by a weak king and the merchant class has too much power. They don't realize the threat of the Barbarians is real. Jaya gently asks her what she thinks about Lim-Dûl, but Belenda outright dismisses him. She tells her that people are unnecessarily hysterical when it comes to the necromancer, and the mages of the Academy use that fear to maintain their power. The glaciers are forcing the barbarians into Kjeldon territory, and it's the living that cares about land, not the undead. It's the barbarians they have to focus their defenses on.

It's time for the true citizens of Kjeld, those who understand the ways of the great generals like Jarkeld and Stromgald . And it just so happens that there are some in each of the major military factions ready to act and revive the greatness that is Kjeld.

Belenda then asks Jaya to join them. While the Academy might be corrupt, it would be useful to have some spellcasters on their side. Jaya tells her that she's just a simple task mage, and revolution isn't her style. Belenda asks her to just think on it, and Jaya in turn asks her friend to rethink the revolution. That maybe Kjeldor isn't it's own greatest enemy just yet with so many threats out there.

In the morning they pack up the tent, and later that day they make it to their destination. Belenda gives her one chance to change her mind, because it looked like there were some barbarian tents nearby. When Jaya tells her that the barbarian camp is exactly where she's headed, Belenda asks her to at least help take them out. Jaya refuses her help again, and says that a few barbarians are no match for a task mage such as herself, and so they say their farewells.

Jaya waits until Belenda is nothing but a speck on the horizon, to ensure she doesn't come back to "help" her with the barbarians before she heads towards their camp.


...In the air...

Belenda waits until she's sure she out of sight of Jaya before steering west, straight for the Keep of Tresserhorn.

* * *


Betrayal!

Is Belenda possessed? Is her desire to see a change in Kjeld convincing her that it's a good idea to make a bargain with Lim-Dûl? Or is she simply a believer in Lim-Dûl's cause? Regardless of what it is, Lim-Dûl now has a new clue on how to track down Jodah, and he may even know the significance of the mirror and redouble his efforts to find him before the archmage can recover.


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