Some of the army's excitement waned as we stumbled our way through the twisting forest paths of Lesser Nah’Ke’tzin: now tame Surfacer forests of beech and oak. Scouts like myself had chosen a path that took us in a circuitous route around Rising Heath, and we could let our guard down for the first time since we had come in from the ships. We marched in single file along deer trails, stepping in each others’ footsteps, moving only like the akor’mari can with complete silence, as if we were all playing Stalk-the-Nekru in the close tunnels of our homeland. I wondered then if we had only been taught those games to prepare us for something like this, not just our own childish amusement.
Our nerves and the excitement came back all at once when we finally found ourselves up on the gray cliffs overlooking Sun-On-The-Lake. It was just past dawn, and we could see the waters of the city’s namesake, Lake Ta’hiki, through the mist.
I have been to that city in the years since the war, and it is now not nearly so magnificent, I am genuinely sorry to say... On both sides of the caldera lake, the grand structures of the wuyon’mari reached right up to the feet of the protective ring of mountains. Their dwellings did not yet spill past that ring as they do now, and there were no ramshackle huts of refugees and outcasts lined up on those slopes like shells dropped in the bottom of a barrel – I would see the advent of those in my time there.
Instead, the tips of the city's spires glinted golden in the light, their white walls stained red with the rising sun’s light, like an omen of what was to come the following night. Their guards patrolled their streets more out of pride than necessity, and I swear I could see one that had fallen asleep above the palace gate -- although in reality I was too far away to be able to tell.
Our units retreated down off the cliffs to hide and take a quick nap; they were ordered in ranks and ready to fight before the first stars began to appear that dusk. I was among them, my use as a scout depleted now that we had reached the city. It was like the quieting of a crowd before a bard takes the stage, where everything seems silent for all of one minute. Then the play began.
I had been in many battles before, but there was something different about that one. Our plans had worked in-as-far-as the wuyon’mari were unprepared. Some of them were still having their supper in lavish dining rooms with their family. Our officers waited until they could hear the changing of the guard: little musical bells chiming throughout the city, marking the hour. Guards stamped their feet lazily to bring the blood flowing back into them, exchanging half-hearted little greetings as they returned home or came on duty. In the middle of that sleepy bustle, we charged.
My unit leapt forward as one when the call came, and I went along with them, not being able to break away, even if I wanted to in the press of bodies. A shudder like an impact went all the way down the ranks as our front lines reached the wall. Some akor’mari up on the cliff behind us were calling for the archers to ready their bows. There was a whistle of arrows above my head, and then booming and bursts of multi-colored light up front of as the magi began their own assault on the wall’s foundation.
Assaulting a city on the Surface is different than attacking one that lies in the Reaches, and our subterranean tactics might have been our downfall if we did not have the numbers that we did. In the Reaches, our troops will gather in ranks all around our target, packed tight against each other like fish in a barrel, waiting for our sappers to do their work and knock in a hole between ourselves and our quarry. We specialize in melting stone and cracking rock, and none of us expected the walls of Sun-On-The-Lake to last long. What we were not expecting was the many arrows and fireballs the defenders could fling at us until then.
Like cockroaches fleeing from the light, we crept behind trees, up against cliffs, and dove under knots of shrubbery to get out of line of fire. There was lots of screaming and shouting; my ears were one long ring. Color sprang back up in my surroundings as my eyes adjusted to the flashing light of the spell blasts, then went dark again, blinding me in between. The intermittent sight of red blood splattered everywhere was somehow more terrifying than all the times I had seen it in the colorless twilight of Bataklik. Perhaps you Surfacers are used to it, but to a little akor’mar, the counterattack seemed like the very heavens were caving in on us, but with fire and lightning instead of stone.
That part of the battle only lasted minutes, even though it felt like hours. As I said, we specialized in destroying walls. Somewhere close to me, the walls broke, and our soldiers poured through it as if there was a void portal on the other side drawing them in. I was pulled with the crowd, again, suddenly surrounded by white walls and golden arches instead of trees; there were cobblestones under my feet instead of trampled mud. The memories come back to me like it was a mere cycle ago. Here the cobbles were veined with ice, the handiwork of a mage who had been killed only seconds ago. Over there it was slippery with blood, two fighters only feet away, locked in a death struggle.
The akor’mari sang and hooted. I might have been, too. This is what we all had dreamed of; the city of our sworn enemies wiped away in one night of fire and blood. The army rode down the main street, trampling anything in its path. It went up across the long bridge that spanned into Yohon’nai, the center island, leading right up to the King’s Palace. The rukh-sham sentinels that guarded it were tossed aside into the lake like a child's building blocks, barely a hindrance. We all cheered as the front line burst through the double bronzed doors; in no time they were up on the walls of the Palace itself, holding the wuyon’mar King and what I guess were either his family or servants high for everyone to see. The terror of the wuyon’mari seemed like a separate animal inside of them, spilling out of their bloodshot eyes and their howls of desperation. The wail of the army -- of us – drowned them out, roaring louder and louder, like a rumble across the entire city, until the King and his kin were cast down onto the pavement, breaking like porcelain dolls. We hooted and cheered and screamed ourselves hoarse. I did not see what happened to the bodies afterward. I did not care. They would be ground beneath our feet like sand and rotten dirt.
Yes, I think that is enough for you to understand. There were other horrors like it going on throughout the city that night, and I will spare you from what I saw. What I did...
The next cycle, there was a great parade down the main street. Akor’mari lined the roads, some on nekru and some on stolen horses, and all of them holding a weapon of some kind. Behind them the last remaining buildings loomedlike broken mountains, the golden spires tarnished by smoke, the white walls no longer white. Except for where the akor’mari had cleared them, the streets lay buried in rubble like flotsam from a shipwreck. There were no wuyon’mari anywhere to be seen, no life past the road we marched along.
Sun-On-The-Lake had fallen.
A full text transcript can be found on the FoxFireFiction blog (on accounts it won't fit into a Locals.com post), here: https://www.foxfirefiction.com/2022/02/13/axes-and-lightning/
Art stream time! In this one I played with a new way of doing architecture and its shading, stumbling my way through new tools as I did so. This would probably work better in a vector program where I can make the shapes perfectly clean. Not an art I'll keep, but a learning experience.
I'm having a very productive week!
Here's the sketching phase, perhaps the most fun of the art phases aside from coloring in plate armor. Since each of these weas only about 5 minutes long, I combined them into one video.
Three World of Warcraft comics! Titles will probably be, oh, I dunno...Exception!, Siqsa's Eulogy, and Three Cloth Boots (Socks).
If you're interested in seeing the completed comics, as well as an explanation for how I got started on these, check out my blog!
The akor’mar occupation of Sun-On-The-Lake was not a certain thing by any means. On the outside, it appeared as if Sun-On-The-Lake had always been an akor’mar city, for all the wuyon’mari you saw out in the open. The akor’mari sung and celebrated and began to build up rudimentary dwellings for themselves -- and for their prisoners – as if it was nothing more exciting than carving out a new market cavern back in Vuzsdin.
Yet in the alleyways and abandoned corners of the city, there was still danger. We may have occupied the main roads and the Palace, but the rest was free-for-all. At night we were safe enough; we could see in the dark better than the wuyon’mari, and they knew it. During the day, though, where the sun stung our eyes, they came out to harass us. There were ambushes and raids and assassinations. Daily we were warned by our officers about places still held by the wuyon’mari, where they had taken pains to dig out the cobblestones and plant pitfalls or other kinds of traps. The ...
The next few weeks — or was it months? — after the fall of Sun-On-The-Lake was a blur to me. The akor’mari set up shop within the city itself, repairing some of the buildings and walls, making them battle-ready. I don't know if they planned on living in the city once it was cleaned out, or if it was simply to be a temporary headquarters for the rest of our operations in Nah’Ke’tzin. They acted as if they expected retaliation.
The rest of the army was housed in tents, set up wherever there was space for them. I slept in Sus'syri’s tent during the days, half because that's how cramped the available lodging was, and half because... I felt different somehow. And somehow, she could understand.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been the sort to be in the middle of attention. I talked lots, laughed lots, told stories. I had many friends -- or at least people I would speak with regularly; I know the word does not mean the same thing in your language. Still, I enjoyed their presence and would...
Greater Nah’Ke’tzin was like no place I had ever been before. It was a forest, but it was not like Bataklik. Bataklik has its fair share of trees and vines and flowers, don't get me wrong, but nothing on the scale that Nah’Ke’tzin has.
And I do mean literally the scale. Some of those flowers were so big a whole unit could have used them for cover. One of the officers even suggested that and took his men up into one to camp among the petals.
I'll never forget their screaming. We were ordered to avoid the flora after that.
It was not an easy thing to do. Nah’Ke’tzin is Lunaria's realm, and Lunaria is the Mother Goddess of nature and the Surface mari. She protects her own. The most innocuous incidents involved large fruit or pinecones snapping off their branches to hit us in the head, or roots suddenly rising up out of nowhere to trip us as we marched.
Less innocuous were the rumors that the trees moved, and whole units would get lost when a grove of trees decided to all get up and move a ...
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(For our Locals folks! With the release of Locals.com Articles functionality we are also looking into releasing the full novel here, hopefully within the next couple weeks.)
When she woke up in the Division’s infirmary, the tall hall was strangely empty. Beds lined the walls, including one with a memorial to the Ghost etched into the stone above it. Sparrow smiled at that, now knowing for whom it was named...
Yet the sheer emptiness of the place echoed, like dust dancing in a beam of sunlight or like the dull, black ache she also felt echoing inside of her. Shadow to light, light to shadow: it was like mourning, or the darkness between stars.
A healer she didn’t know came in to check on her later, briefly, taking her vitals and straightening the covers for her. Sparrow didn’t have the breath to ask any questions, even if she had wanted to. The silence, the emptiness, it all seemed to encourage sleep, for Sparrow to sink down into darkness and submit to...what was down there? Certainly not the Shadow, she thought. Althrasia had been defeated. Somehow she knew that, with all her heart, even though she hadn’t seen Althrasia die personally.
Why else would she be in the infirmary, though, if Althrasia had won?
Hours passed, or was it days? She flitted in and out of consciousness. She didn’t see the healer again. She knew, though, on waking a final time, that she had to report in to Commander Hale about the success of her mission. Tentatively Sparrow pushed herself to her feet and limped out of the infirmary.
Sparrow lingered in the great hall of the castle, standing before the great statue of Freeport’s leader, the Mogul. She was reluctant to face the commander, even though she would be returning in triumph, of a sort. Althrasia had been defeated. The Shadow and her undead armies were no longer a threat. The Singing City would be indebted to the Division, and perhaps would now accept the Mogul’s rule without compunction.
Yet at what cost… she didn’t want to think of it, of the rules the Mogul would bind the La’aln people to. So she avoided the thought, like she avoided her meeting with Commander Hale.
Finally the floor was cleared, and one of the undead was drawing a glowing circle on the floor, to mark out the boundaries of the duel. Solcadens stepped forward to face Sparrow. A couple of gangly zombies limped up, handing each of them a dueling sword and almost falling over themselves as they bowed — as it was, the one assisting Sparrow dropped a few teeth on the floor.
Sparrow swallowed her nausea, pocketing the hammer head as she took up the sword. It was a wicked thing, notched and curved, probably something Neddryn would have liked to wield. Sparrow swung it a few times, and felt horribly awkward. She had never been the best fencer, and watching Solcadens take up his blade with practiced ease, she could plainly read her own death into the situation.
Solcadens and she met in the center of the ring, saluted to one another, then turned their backs to each other as they paced to the edges of the ring. It was an old ritual she had done so many times with her father when he had deigned to teach her some swordsmanship, that Sparrow felt queasy at the comparison.
We are live!
I think. Is this thing on? Earth to humanity? No screams of microphone feedback or children separated from their lollipops? I think we're good, then.
Welcome to the FoxFireFiction Community! In this community you will of course find posts to do with the FoxFireFiction settings and news, but the bigger reason we are here is to network!
In the coming weeks I'll be investigating ways in which this community can be of best use to you, as fellow authors, artists, photographers, video game developers, and other various entertainment industry personnel. For that purpose I'm opening up this first (well, second) post with the question: What would you like to see here?
Poll added with some ideas, or post yours in a comment!