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 Post Posted: Fri Jan 04, 2013 7:00 pm 
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At the far Eastern edges of the Empire of Arcana, over the Akaine Mountains…

“And they say that war never changes.”

A tall, bearded man smiles as he surveys the force arrayed before him. Airships fly overhead, some docked at towers rising from the city of Sirroca as troops load into them. Laborjacks – great, hulking bulks of semi-sentient metal – load food and arms into vehicles even as warmachines are maintained by their warcaster with their assortment of crew. The leather vambraces flex as he grasps the controls of his vehicle – a chariot with gravs instead of horses that hums as it hovers just above the ground.

“Look at it, Strength. Such a sight has never been seen in this world! This is how an Empire should go to war! Those poor desert fools will never know what hit them.”

The man next to him in the chariot, old, aged, white in hair, sighs. “Because they will be wondering why we even bother. There’s no reason for this war, and you know it. We can trade for the spice we get from the desert people, we can fly over the desert instead of traveling through it…” The man known as Strength says tiredly, with the air of an argument well-worn. Despite his seeming age, his leap off of the chariot is smooth and easy. “This is a fool’s war, Chariot.”

“Do you question the judgment of our Emperor, Strength? It was his decision that we would at last bring the desert tribes under the fold of the Empire.” Chariot grins wickedly down at his companion, his teeth gleaming through his black beard.

“No. I question yours. It was your urging that has steered the Emperor onto this course. Yours and… his. That Devil.” Strength spits onto the ground with derision. “I’ve always told you that we don’t know what the desert tribes are capable of. There are stories---“

“Yes, yes, yes. Stories of warriors who can fight for days, with arms that have the strength of mountains. Mages who can make the desert itself rise and fight for them. And of course, the great ‘monsters’ of the desert! HAH! I’ve never heard such ridiculous tripe. Don’t you think that, in the long course of our trade with the desert folk, that we might have seen such a thing? Stories are just that. Stories.”

Strength shakes his head. “I just think we should have scouted it out. Maybe try to bring in the desert folk peacefully. They’ve always done good by us. Granted, they don’t follow the Stars, but not all of our subjects do either.”

“They would not have accepted the castes. You know that, as well as I.”

Strength is silent for a moment, and then nods his head in acknowledgement. “True.”

“There you have it. They’ll never accept our rule unless it is forced on them. Taking this desert gives us control over the spices that the desert folk charge us exorbitant amounts for, and gives us free passage to the plains and forests of plenty on the other side. And think of it! All that land – wood, farmland, all things that the Empire needs! We MUST expand, or we will outgrow ourselves. We cannot cross the oceans to the north and west – the great storms prevent it. You know as well as I the fate… of the last attempt…”

For a moment, both men are in accord as they bow their heads in silence. “It should have worked.” Strength says quietly. “She believed it would tame the storms. It DID work, in the tests.”

Chariot says nothing for a moment, then, “There is something strange about those seas… some… witchery. She would have tamed any natural storm, but…” His voice cuts off momentarily, his voice too thick to continue before he controls himself. “You heard what the sailors said – the last thing they heard as the storm rose. Drums… drums, in the deep.”

The two are silent for a moment more, then Chariot cracks his arm against the controls of his vehicle in anger. “No. We can’t explore the oceans, and you persuaded the Emperor quite nicely to stop us from expanding to the south across the Southern Sea. No. This is my war, Strength. She saw the fate of this Empire. You’ve heard what the sages say. A time of change comes. The winds of fate ride, and I, for one, plan to ride with them.” His arms push forward on the controls of his chariot, and it shoots off into the distance rapidly.

Old man Strength watches his friend take off into the distance and shakes his head. “No, my friend… in this you are wrong. You are young yet, to not understand the truth that all soldiers know.

He stares sadly off into the heat and haze of the desert, at the men and women marching off into the sunset.

”War? War never changes.”

-------------------

In middle of the Sirrocan desert…


A man shuffles and stumbles, his steps seemingly random as he chants aloud. It is night, and cold in the desert, with the moon shining brightly and the stars gleaming in the sky. Though he is clad only in rags, the cold merely makes him laugh, a slight mad cackle that huffs out as he skips and dances crazily from sand to rock and sand again. Though old, with weathered skin and a great long white beard, he seems as spry as he is spindly. Again and again he says the same thing as he continues his mad dance across the desert land.

“Break step, step, step. Break step, step, step. Break step, step, step. Walk without rhythm, it won’t attract the worm. Walk without rhythm, it won’t attract the worm. Walk without rhythm, it won’t attract the worm.”

Suddenly, the mad dance stops as the man stares up at the moon, its light glaring off of his steel eye.

“If you walk without rhythm… ah, you’ll never learn.”

-------------------

Next day, dawn, at the village of Tamlinsen, just across the Akaine mountains from the Sirrocan desert…


The village celebrates the beginning of this year’s Trial as the youths gather at the edge of its’ lands. The village Elder, Brion, waves all of the participants forward. “Come on! You need to set off quickly if you want to reach the Caves before nightfall! Is everyone here? Come on, gather up!”

“Sound off! Who’s here?”

“Jaen, here!” A short, brawny young man comes forward – a Wand, a simple farmer by the look of him.

“Selei, here!” A young woman with a short cap of blonde hair comes forward, wearing the traditional white with red accent robe of her Order – a Cup and acolyte priestess, her face a smile of anticipation.

“Alicia, here!” Another young woman, this one wearing a white tunic and long, black hair, steps forward – her stance and air of readiness gives her away as a Blade.

“Lacek, here!” A tall, beanstalk of a youth comes forward, his hands flicking a Coin nervously between his fingers.

“…”
“…”
“…”

“Where are the rest of them?”

“Ahhhhh…” the four youths look at one another and shrug. “Sleeping?”

“WHAT?!”

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 Post Posted: Fri Jan 04, 2013 10:30 pm 
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No sooner does Elder Brion begin shouting when the sound of fast moving hooves can be heard off in the distance. As the group turn their heads to look at what's coming, a moderately sized peddler cart, pulled by two galloping horses, comes flying around the corner and heads straight for them. Seeing the group up ahead, the driver pulls on the reins of the horses to get them to stop, doing a complete one-eighty turn at high speed and halting just a foot short of Elder Brion himself.

A vision of a young woman with silver eyes and raven black hair sits in the driver's spot, holding the reins on the horses. She wears a shiny new leather tunic with pants and boots to match, a bandoleer of throwing daggers resting across her shoulders and chest. "See, Richter? I told you I'd get you here on time!"

Everyone can hear a rustling coming from the back of the cart. A moment later someone with a blonde head, green eyes and a black scarf, clearly dazed and confused, pops up over the side of the cart and falls over the side. Landing on his back with a thud, the young man moans out of either pain or nausea. Possibly both. "Dammit Karissa! You could have killed us both!" The young man yells from the ground as he picks himself up.

"It's your fault for sleeping in, it's your fault for breaking the wheel on my cart, and it's your fault for not holding on harder!" Karissa snaps. "Seriously, Richter! You need to stop hanging out with your friends so late at night and take things more seriously."

"Yeah, yeah..." Richter replies, dusting the dirt off of his embroidered scarf and cricking his back. "You need to move or you're going to be late meeting Starla at the gates. Have a safe trip."

"Good luck with your trial!" Karissa yells, cracking the reins to get the horses going again. Halfway back down the road, she turns back around and yells, "I'll tell Starla you said hi!"

The whole ordeal, from start to finish, somehow manages to take less than thirty seconds.

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 Post Posted: Fri Jan 04, 2013 11:50 pm 
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From the opposite direction of the horse and cart, a lanky youth approaches. His hazel eyes are rimmed with deep black bags, and he covers his mouth with his left hand, hiding a deep yawn before placing the hand on an item hidden underneath his grey overcoat. The figure runs his other hand through his dull, silvery hair, idly scratching the back of his head as he watches the scene with the merchant unfold. All in all, it almost appears as if a ghost is approaching the group. Despite the yelling, he does not quicken his steady pace.

After an awkwardly lengthy period of time, the boy arrives in the line, quietly stepping next to Jaen, providing an odd contrast with his fellow Wand, and farmer. "Mathias," he finally says, suppressing yet another yawn, "Here." He glances over towards the other members of this little group, almost no expression on his face, then looks back at the instructor. "Not that it really matters." A sly grin appears on his face for a moment, before quickly replacing itself with the bored expression once more.

After a few moments of silence on his part, Mat turns back to the boy who arrived in the clatter, and points a finger at him. "You look familiar. Are you from here? Or do you just visit a lot from Baen?"

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 Post Posted: Sat Jan 05, 2013 2:24 am 
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A small framed girl squeaks as she leaps out of the way of the speeding off cart, watching it roll off into the distance. She moves slowly, cautiously, her arms clasped her her chest with obvious nervousness. She has long black hair that falls over her face pell mell, hiding most of her brown eyes and cheeks... oh yes, she's also entirely covered in white bandages from her toes all the way up to her mouth and nose. Over these, she wears a simple brown tunic that's far too big for her, cinched at the waist into a makeshift dress. On her arms, thick leather bracers covered in metal rivets that look far too heavy for her to carry.

She walks up quietly behind Mat and gives him a small curtsy, "Um... am I late? I got a little lost on the way..." She turns and curtsies to the other students as well. "H...hello. My nameiskarinanicetomeetyou." Another little squeak and a blush and she scurries over to Richter, whom she seems a bit more at ease with. "Where is Val? I didn't pass her on the way... is she not with you?"

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 Post Posted: Sat Jan 05, 2013 2:41 am 
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"RIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA" a voice suddenly whines just as Karina finishes asking Richter about this 'Val'.

Hobbling towards the group with her face a slightly sickening green is a young lady, leanly built and wearing a loose fitting shirt that exposes her shoulders, midriff and even a bit of her moderately ample cleavage. Her long brown hair falls in front of her face messily, obscuring one eye, and her jaw is slightly slack, as though she were of the living dead.

"RIIIIIIIINAAAAA I HAVE A HANGOVEEEEEEEEEEEEER" she whines again, her voice warbling as she stretches out her words.

As she nears the group she notices Karina and a mischievous grin makes its way from one cheek to the next. Suddenly she pounces on Karina from behind, giving her a big hug and whining some more.

"RINA... *HURK* Help your big sister out... *HARF* won't you?" She in no way seems fit to introduce herself at the moment.

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 Post Posted: Sat Jan 05, 2013 3:10 am 
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A young man with short, light brown hair, wide grey eyes, and a worried expression on his face dashes up the road, moving as fast as his body can carry him. A slightly-tattered, dull green travel's cloak trails behind him, exposing a worn leather vest, boots, and gloves, as well as a slightly-loose, comfortable-looking burgundy tunic and dark grey trousers beneath them. He doesn't stop running until he arrives front-and-center at Elder Brion, where he takes a moment to catch his breath and bows to the man.

"My utmost apologies for being late, sir! Tyr, present and accounted for!"

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 Post Posted: Sat Jan 05, 2013 3:13 am 
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Karina yelps, "Wah! Watch it! Don't hang on there! You'll make it worse! Bandages only stop so much!" She gently picks up the much larger and taller woman as it she were a pillow and sets her on her feet. "What am I going to do with you? You said you were going to have one drink so this didn't happen!" Her mock lecture is accompanied by what appears to be a smile under the bandages.

"Now hold still you." Karina takes her covered hand and places it on Val's forehead and those nearby may feel a curious sensation... as if they were being pulled towards the pair by an invisible giant hand. Val's face loses it's green tinge and Karina's deep brown skin takes it on. Karina removes her hand and drops on the spot to her kindquarters, "*hurk* t...there..." She rubs her temples and smacks her lips under her mask, "Ugh... what did you drink... it tastes like an old horse..."

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 Post Posted: Sat Jan 05, 2013 3:22 am 
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Mat jumps a little bit at the sudden sound of a voice behind him, turning quickly towards the source to find a small girl covered in bandages. Mat lets go of his chest, and sighs in relief before responding to the girl's curtsy with a bow. Mat tries to listen carefully to what the girl says, but he has trouble separating her words into something understandable. Despite that, a smile seems to have grown on his face. "That explains where I know you from." He says in regards to the boy, watching with amusement as Val arrives in a haze, and the three interact. "Always in top form, as is fitting a lady of your status." Mat says to Val with a smirk. "Though I suppose I should be worried about the fearsome soon-to-be Blade taking out her first contract on the poor old son of a farmer." Mat laughs, before finally settling back into the same stony expression he had when he arrived, stimulated by the enthusiasm of the latest attendant. "So, who's left, Brion?" Mat says, turning back to the Elder. "The Blade who would be Wand? Or are we to proceed without our favorite creator?"

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 Post Posted: Sat Jan 05, 2013 3:30 am 
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Suddenly, "Val" leaps to forward, once again hugging Karina, this time from the front. With a lighthearted cackle, she squeezes tightly and kisses Karina lightly on the cheek. "KYAHAHAHAHAHHAHA! Trust me, Rina, you don't want to know what I had; Ol' Man Roman mixes the meanest Four Horsemen in all of Tamlinsen! I had one and well... I couldn't stop there! It was just so good!!!!"

Still holding Karina tightly, she turns and glares at Richter. "HEY. YOU. RICH. I thought we agreed we were to go home together from the bar from now on. What's with you leaving me behind while I'm in the middle of my third Four Horsemen?"

She shrugs off Mat completely as she turns to elder Brion, releasing Karina from her vicegrip and standing at attention, a warm, open smile spreading from ear to ear. "Valerie D'or here!"

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 Post Posted: Sat Jan 05, 2013 3:36 am 
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Karnia can do nothing but sway under the onslaught of affection. Blushing, she gets to her feet and dusts herself off... already the sick color to her skin is fading. She gives a curtsy to the elder Brion as well, "K..Karina here. I'm ready for the t... test." She seems a bit overwhelmed by it all; or maybe its the last of the hangover leaving her system.

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 Post Posted: Sat Jan 05, 2013 7:53 am 
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"Wait! Wait!" A voice calls out from the distance.

"I'm not late!" it can be heard to say. "I just had to change!"

Coming into view is a young man. His reddish hair is again smoldering, the burnt tips having shortened again. His tunic and apron are clean, but his face is covered with soot, except where the goggles resting on his forehead were covering his eyes. Running as fast as he can, he skids to a halt in front of the others, and then bends over, gasping.

L-....Leo Cadnivi, here. Just had to change into something less crispy."

After a moment he straightens up again. "And it wasn't my fault, really. The teacher already said he's waiving the repair bill this time."

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 Post Posted: Sat Jan 05, 2013 9:36 am 
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Richter is about to respond when Valerie shows up in the most dramatic way possible. Making sure to jump out of the way in time before the glomp, all he does is shrug his shoulders and laugh.

"Hey! You told me the cart would be fine, and yet I was up all last night trying to fix it before Karissa came back to pick it up!" Richter seems annoyed, but all he does is shrug his shoulders again and sigh heavily. "Well, at least we're all here now. What's up, peoples?"

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 Post Posted: Sat Jan 05, 2013 3:28 pm 
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At the arrival of Leo, Mat smirks and pats the shorter boy on the shoulder, gently. "Easy there, deep breaths. Don't pass out before we've even done anything." Mat lets go of Leo, and turns his head back. "Not much." Mathias says in response to Richter's question. "I don't know about the others, but I'm just waiting to see what happens next. Who else is going to show up in a huff and hurry, some sort of excuse ready for the situation?" He yawns again, a full ten seconds or so before shaking his head to get rid of the tiredness, and returning to the conversation. "You used to be a lot more fun to tease." Mat says to Val, almost sounding a little indignant. "Maybe I'm just being nostalgic." He sighs, melodramatically, and continues. "Oh for those days of youth, now gone. Today we leave our village as children, and come back as adults, men and women set in their ways, bound to our future, establishing our place in a world vast and new to us." He pauses for a moment, then looks over to Elder Brion. "I hope I'm not stepping on anything you planned to say. I've heard your speeches for the trial are quite motivating. I would hate to accidentally take away from that." It's hard to tell just how genuine the words are, given the expression on Mat's face, and the tone of voice in which he says them don't quite sync up.

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 Post Posted: Sat Jan 05, 2013 7:16 pm 
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Tyr looks over at Leo when he arrives, then basically does a double-take. "Hey, um, Leo, was it? Are you alright? You're... kind of on fire."

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 Post Posted: Sat Jan 05, 2013 8:06 pm 
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"He'll survive. He has before. But, as thanks to your delay we do need to get moving..." For a brief moment, the Elder's eyes glimmer with wyldfire as he gestures briefly and Leo is sequencially covered in shocking cold as he's dunked in freezing water out of nowhere, followed instantly by a blast of heat that takes the water away. "Better?" Brion asks... dryly.

"Gather up. And follow me."

Without checking to see if you are, in fact, following him, Brion walks off toward what looks like a small warehouse, based just where the road ends and the forests leading to the mountains begin.

"Inside."

Once everyone is inside and the door closes, you are surrounded by darkness. The only source of light, eerily enough, comes from the Elder's eyes - they glow, ever so slightly, in the darkness. However, that is soon remedied, as with a brief gesture the sconces on the walls of the warehouse flare to life. Surrounding you on the walls is equipment - swords, axes, weapons of all types and shapes, as well as armor, rope, flint and steel fire kits - effectively everything you might need to equip a militia.

"This is our armory - generally it's left here in case the army comes this way or the militia is called out, but that hasn't happened in ages, so things have piled up in here. As we have permission to make use of it for our village, it is here that you will equip yourself for your journey."

He gestures to the weapons and armor hanging on the walls. "Most of this is... precisely what it seems. But some of it..." he picks up a small dagger, and flicks the blade with his finger - flame licks out upon it. "Is enchanted. I can tell you now that it takes an expert to tell which ones are which, and the designs aren't much of a hint, either. The most beautiful blade might be just that, and the most utilitarian and well-worn piece of crud might actually be a battle-worn magical weapon. It's really going to be the luck of the draw, and even if you DO pull one of the enchanted items, you might not know it since you don't know the trigger."

"So. Choose. One weapon, one armor, and pretty much any of the other miscellaneous crap in the room that you want to bring with you. The Caves are a days travel away on our side of the mountains, and the way can be dangerous this time of year. Stick to your training - I wouldn't get cheeky and pick something you have no idea how to use. Blades can pretty much pull out anything - you know what to do. Cups, there are rods, staves, and maces over there - odds are you'll have to enchant them yourselves... as well as wristwraps and other such things for the fist fighter." His eyes flick over Karina momentarily before moving away. "There are also robes and light armor - I wouldn't recommend trying anything too binding, you know as well as I how heavier armor doesn't interact well with casting. Coins, there are plenty of daggers and small blades, as well as lighter pieces of armor better suited for your skullduggery. Wands..."

He gestures over to a wall. Near as you can tell, it's full of... parts. Bits and pieces of metal. There's even what looks suspiciously like a small cortex - the 'brain' of a 'jack. "You guys have an option. You can either pull like the rest of them, or try to make something for yourself. Just..." for a moment, his voice grows pained as he directs his gaze to Leo. "Try not to blow up anything."

"Have at it. You have until noon to make your selections, and then you'll be off.

The others are off like a start - Jaen is ignoring the parts wall and is instead muttering to himself as he looks over a selection of hammers. Selei is browsing the rods and wans, Alicia is running her hand over a longsword, and Lacek is looking at what looks like a lockpicking kit.

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