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Derendis, the City of the Grand Tributary

Kolast

 

They were leading one of the heretics through the town square.

 

What she had done, Cavalier couldn't say. They had cast her in dirty cloth that he couldn't entirely say was clean on animal waste. Her head had been shaved bald, and her mouth was fitted with rusted iron. As far as he could guess, she might have tried dealing in one of the forbidden arts. Like making thunder from the stinking earth, or concocting potions that could drive out the so-called "invisible demons" that brought men to ruin. All men knew that ruin was the gods inflicting disfavor. Or calling the anointed home. One of the two, and you could never tell which was which.

 

It was all the province of the gods.

 

Cavalier drew up his cloak and tried to look away. Intervention would just raise a hell of a lot of questions - questions they could not spare. Questions that would eventually end in fire and restraints. They had a target to find.

 

"You guys got anything on this 'Anointed of Olaya' yet?"

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Skirris's irritated snarl rasped right next to his head "No, becaussse you sssaid yourssself I'm 'irresssponsssible and recklessss' and wanted me by your ssside at all timesss." Cavalier could feel the anger radiating from her at the captive before her, invisible clawed hands clenching audibly.

 

The musclebound Haasaan hyperspeedster had a low-power light-bending field attached to her silvery suit. The slender circuitry made sure that, at least on the outset, the Praetorians and their Star Knight associate wouldn't have to figure out how to sell a giant snake person on a more Lor-like planet. However, she was required to be close to Kyle as much as possible after some nigh catastrophically-poor decisions nearly exposed the team. Keeping her almost literally at arm's-length was the only reasonable way to keep her from trying to, say, free every prisoner on the planet at once.

 

So, for the last while, someone who could jump through hyperspace to the fringes of the system and back in moments had been looming over Cavalier's shoulder, grousing and hissing to herself at his every decision.

At least she had the presence of mind to keep her voice low and be mindful of her size relative to Kolastian natives.

 

The climate was also very agreeable. After being cooped up on CoVic Station for so long getting to stretch her scales out in dry, hot sand was Heavenly. The people were intriguing as well, Skirris edging as close as she dared to listen in on conversations, trying to tease out how their faith worked. That's what she told Kyle, but it was obvious there was another reason.

 

She wanted to catch every hint she could of the Stormbringer. 

 "Alssso, actually it'sss 'anointer of Olaya', every victory wassshesss her clean of the grime of fear, that ssshe may rissse in fire."

Edited by Ari

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Paradigm

 

In another part of the city, Paradigm did her best to move through one the city's markets without attracting any attention.  The Naram had a long, plain dress over her costume, with the addition of a cloak and hood to further conceal her features.  Subtle investigation had never been one of her strong suits.  For the Delaztri Empire, she had been a projection of their power, a visible symbol of the empire's might and justice.  Since her reawaking at the start of the Communion's invasion, she once again had become a symbol, but one of safety and stability, as she and the other Praetorians had taken on their new role of working alongside the Star Knights in defending the galaxy.

 

But right now, visibility would only hinder her and the other Praetorians on Kolast.

 

"So far I have only heard a few rumors, many of them contradictory."  She replied quietly as she stood off at the entrance of an alleyway.  "But, if I know Sitara, she has likely already found the perfect tavern in which to gather information."

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Sitara wasn't in the local tavern for once, though she'd scouted the area out if needed later, instead, she stood in the shadow of one of the buildings overlooking the unfolded scene.

 

"Actually the pubs a terrible place to gather intel on such things. And I make a point to avoid politics, religion or the local sports of choice unless I'm looking tom start a fight."" any humour quickly drained away as she turned to more serious things.

 

"Last time I was in these parts I'm sure they were still getting the hand of farming. The name doesn't recall anything from that time so it might be newer than that?" she watched grimly for a few seconds before adding.

 

"Are we really going to let them go through with all this? A few quick stun blasts and we can be in and out before they even know whats happening."

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"If we could arrange it, I'd be down for it, too," Cavalier said. "Problem is, this path is basically known for this kind of thing. When people see a procession, they know what it is and what's going to happen. On my planet, a few centuries back, executions were treated as fun for the whole family. Bring the kids, get a souvenir." Already, Cavalier could see people leaning out of their rooms. Some were silent, but others were calling down, raining insults upon the target. No one had grabbed a chamber pot yet, but it was likely a matter of time. "Past a certain point, we'd need to stun blast the entire town to make sure nobody remembered, and then we'd end up in the weird history books right next to St. Vitus' dance. That is, if the locals didn't get extremely lucky and we didn't get burned at the stake. And if we did pull it off, we'd need to find a good hideout for the condemned... unless we wanna take her with us."

 

Because I really want to be the alien doing the abducting.

 

Cavalier drove that thought down into the darkness. "Which is the whole reason we're here. We need to make sure that this Anointer of Olaya is just some standard divine/magical/cosmic manifestation, rather than an extraplanetary presence deciding to swoop in and play Messiah for a weekend. The sooner we vet this, the sooner we can get out of here, and the sooner Kolast can be left to desperately grasp for the Renaissance."

 

He tried to hold back the thought he'd had since touching down in Kolast - that in circumstances like this, he might stoop to conquer as well. He turned to Hyperslice. "Look, I'm sorry about what I said. I wanted to make sure we maintained operational security. Pretty sure we can handle this together. This planet's a tightrope act for a lot of us." 

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"At least when my god came demanding sacrifice they could be bargained with instead of a human they might accept an animal or even fruit, they also really liked our alcohol, and mostly they accepted the sick and dying. that's why we knew that the aliens weren't god, they actually asked us nicely!"

 

Among other things those aliens, the now gone mArttik Avata, taught her the art of warfare and how sometimes you needed to sacrifice people to win a battle. Still, it didn't mean she had to like it.

 

"Okay so while they're busy with all this why don't we use the time constructively?"

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Paradigm could understand Sitara's frustration with just watching the execution that was getting likely to take place soon.  Like many developing worlds, Kolast still had a long way to go before it could be said to possess a truly fair and balanced justice system where an accused was fully afforded an opportunity to defend themselves.  But Cavalier was correct that interfering would be difficult to do for a variety of reasons.  They were not here to interfere in this world’s internal governance, as much as they might wish to.

 

"Well, the question is how much information any of these people here have on this Anointer of Olaya.  While the city is likely within the path of the Anointer's movements, if anyone here has information it is likely to be the ruling elite and military leaders, who are not likely to be inclined to talk freely with unknown individuals.  If there are any who have fled to here from past locations the Anointer has been, they might at least have some information about where the Anointer might be."

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Though he couldn't see her, Cavalier could feel Hyperslice suddenly tense. "We don't need to ssstun all off them. Jussst need a sssingle enemy." There was a deep, hissing breath. A crunch and crackling hiss as the cloak was destroyed.

 

Then everything happened at once.

 

An explosion of silver light roared into existence around the prisoner, momentarily freezing their captors in shock. 

 

In that moment something blurred and flickered, dashing from soldier to soldier, knocking them flat with a lash of a tail or a swat from a powerful arm. In just six seconds all the militia in the area were out cold, the people in sight were starting to point, yell and run, and the silver light had flared into a raging white/black pyre.

 

Out of it, before the eyes of the prisoner, a towering serpent clothed in white crackled into existence. Bringing down their hand in a scything motion that sliced the chains like parting silk, they outstretched the other, silently offering them a chance to escape.

 

'Please, please mother, let her say "yes"'

Edited by Ari

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There's a particular certainty that comes with knowing that you may be damned. It makes you do incredible things. The woman saw the snake standing before her, that had brought light with her very movements, and thought that all her worst nightmares were true, that she truly had given herself over to the beasts in the outer darkness. But if she was damned already, what was another step? She took the strange serpent's hand...

 

---

 

"Skirris? Skirris, where did you -- ?" A bright explosion in the distance confirmed for Cavalier just where she had went. Cursing in several languages, he dialed in to the comms. "Cover's blown. Looks like we're doing an improvised exfiltration. Skirris, once you settle, give me your coordinates." The cries of city guards were rising in the distance, and seemed to be growing closer. "We may need to reconvene with you there once we lay down cover." 

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"Of all the impetuous things to do that is probably the worse thing they could have done!" luckily no one was close enough to see the smile on her face "Someone should probably go help calm the woman, I'm not sure a giant snake is the thing she needs to see right now."

 

As she spoke she prepared for the oncoming guards, deploying her armour, the gleaming white hidden under local robes. The with a flying leap she positioned herself on the roof of the nearest building, hidden behind it chimney, and clicking together her Power Pike and resting it on her shoulder ready when needed to make a stunning shot.

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Paradigm

 

Paradigm frowned slightly at the news that Skirris had taken matters into her own hands.  While the Naram could understand the Haasaan's desire to aid the woman caught up in locals' version of justice, it was not their reason for being here.  Looking around briefly, she was far enough away that the incident was not going to immediately be noted here, so there was no need to lose her cover just yet.

 

"Let me know if you need me."  She replied quietly, continuing down the street she was on.  "Otherwise I can catch up later."

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Skirris' guantleted claw gently took the smaller Kolastian's hand, drawing the woman closer.

 

With a searing roar and a gout of silver-black light, the two vanished, the concealing flare flickering out a moment later.

 

The two reappeared in an abandoned alleyway, deep within the city's original maze of twists and precariously-leaning towers. Skirris banged on her chest. "Skir-ris. Skir-ris," she gestured to herself in general "Ski-rris"

 

Glancing around, Skirris quickly made several "hold on a second" gestures she hoped would translate, then began sketching in the dust.

 

First she showed four figures: an armored one for Cavalier, one with a staff for Sri Sitara, one with a cape for Sri Val-Ren and a slightly more naturalistic sketch for herself. She showed them all following different paths but arriving at one location inside of a circled thing that might have been a city if you squinted.

 

Next she showed two separate choices: one, the prisoner and Skirris going to meet the other three, the next, showing Skirris taking the prisoner outside the city far away.

 

Suddenly recalling, Hyperslice hurriedly tapped the commlink connecting her with the others "Hey I'm still in the city, but might not be soon, uh...see you at the rendezvous. Bye."

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The woman's demeanor seemed to have shifted from the certainty of the damned to something cold and mechanical. It was something vaguely familiar to Hyperslice, especially among the hotbloods - that sense when the gears jam and the mind just processes options on the grounds somewhere between logic and reflex, as if every neuron was routed towards the singular instinct of "Well, this might as well happen." But there was likely some decision making left in her yet, as she pointed to the option with Skirris and the others. She held up one hand, with four fingers splayed out wide; then, she brought the fingers together, as if preparing to make a palm strike. But the hand didn't move. She just nodded to Skirris. 

 

---

 

Cavalier, Paradigm, and Sitara could all see guards running up and down the streets, drawing swords, bows, and... were those halbreds? God, it's like Medieval Times on meth. Cavalier pulled into the nearest side alley he could find, opening his comms. "Skirris, it looks like everyone with anything larger than a meat cleaver is drawing out. Don't think they've nailed down your location, but --"

 

That was when Cavalier heard bells ringing in the distance. Then more. The towers of the city were ringing in a chain, creating a directional arrow. 

 

"That explains all the spires, then..."

 

---

 

Skirris could hear the bells ringing in the distance. She looked back towards the city, realizing the din was pointing in her direction. But something made her look back to the horizon as well.

 

In the distance, there was a glimmer coming up from the edge. Much like a second sunrise. 

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"Oh!" Hyperslice's eyes nearly doubled in size "O-okay! Wonderful! Let'sss go!"

 

Grabbing the woman's hand, Skirris hurled the pair of them through the silver darkness between worlds, reality flitting by like tearing spiderweb. The trick with hyperspace was that the longer you spent in it, the shorter the distance you actually went. This wasn't so noticeable on anything larger than a person and most journeys between planets required distances that far outstripped that condition's meaningful effect. It also had to do with relative time scales. While it had seemed like minutes in the span between each jump in her attack on the guards, it had really been split seconds. But jumping from one end of a city to another, on the same planet, on the same continent, had a much greater risk of over or undershooting, so Skirris appreciated the extra time to think.  

 

She had plenty to think about.

 

'That light must be the Stormbringer's army. I hope. If they're this close then we can get to the truth of all this! He's probably got an adviser who makes the real decisions. If we can talk with her Cavalier and Paradigm will see we ought to help them. Then we can realize her dream of a united planet. Nothing else makes sense, she'd know all this is for nothing if the planet fractures again. Maybe the Anointer's her son?'

 

The hairline silver cracks flexed around Skirris and the woman as Hyperslice detected the shadows of the meeting point. With a sharp hiss of breath the super-speedster flung the pair of them back into the world of light.

 

Hyperslice burst from midair right next to Cavalier, the Kolastian woman tucked gently under one arm, the Praetorian's powerful limb elegantly lowering her cargo to the ground. She flicked her tail at the far wall.

 

"Sssaw a new ssstar in their sssky. I think the Anointer will overssshadow usss pretty sssoon."

Edited by Ari

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Paradigm

 

Paradigm had begun walking out of the market she had been in, heading generally towards the main gate of the city as she listened to the alarm bells ringing and saw some soldiers rushing off in pursuit of Hyperslice.  She was not particularly worried about the Haasaan, given Hyperslice's ability to shift through reality with ease.  And while the disruption of things caused by freeing the prisoner was a bit irritating, it likely mattered little.  They had not been making much in the way of headway in learning about the Anointer as it was.


But at Hyperslice's last message about a new sun, the Naram keyed her comm to reply.  "Where did you see this new sun?  In what direction?"  She asked, thinking they might be able to get to the bottom of thing soon if it was indeed the Anointer. 

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As Sitara scanned the horizon to see if she could spot this "second sun" she mused on what power they were wielding. She had been born during a time of gods and magic, though they weren't as demanding as those here, and whilst she knew the song of her people she doubted they'd work this far from home. The mArttik Avata had taught her the sciences and she never bothered to learn about the more arcane arts.

 

Still, she was at her best when improvising so, for now, she kept her position and waiting for the truth to come there way, as long as it wasn't this second sun on its way.

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When Paradigm's message arrived she caught the tail of  "...-leer, Cah-vah-leer, Cah-wait, huh?"

 

Hyperslice had been trying to get across her name and that of the former(?) prisoner's newest best friend, the armored Terresi, gesturing broadly in a way Cavalier would have found faintly condescending long before he was on the receiving end of that in the Cloud. The metal mask that had been over the Kolastian's face was in several pieces in the dirt.

 

Tapping her commlink, the Haasaan said "Sssomething'sss ssshining out over the wessstern road, where you and Ssri Traveler changed your cloaksss. Different color than the the local ssstar. Ssseemsss to be moving thisss way."

 

She paused, tongue darting out as her reptilian eyes alighted briefly on Kyle before soldiering on: "We need to meet him. Take thisss woman with usss and talk with him and hisss advissorsss. Might jussst ssstop the army right there, delay a sseige. And at the leassst we can find out right away what the truth isss."

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Cavalier tried to slowly make his way towards the gates of Derendis. "Slowly" was partially a matter of not drawing attention, and partially a matter of trying to keep his footing so that he didn't get bowled over. Because it felt like everyone was running towards the gates now. Not just guards, but also soldiers and... 

 

He ducked out of the way as the man on horseback nearly trampled him. Yeah, they are literally sending in the cavalry. In the alley, covered in muck, Cavalier decided the time for subtlety had well and truly died. He drew his armor onto him and rose into the sky, not caring that everyone was going to see a second bolt of light tearing through. As he rose, he saw the "second sun" break over the horizon, and knew that this was going to get a lot rougher.

 

On the ground, Hyperslice could feel the army - literal and otherwise - rushing towards their position. Fortunately, they had other things to care about. The "second sun" was breaking the horizon, a bright and glowing ember wrapped in an aura of sunlight and flame. And in its trail ran a long shadow - an army, moving over the distant hills, much slower than their beacon with no less terrible a fury. 

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Paradigm

 

Paradigm listened to the additional information from Hyperslice and focused her attention in the direction of the approaching second sun.  It appeared that time for stealth had passed and they were about to meet the Anointer. 

 

"Alright, I am headed in the direction of this second sun."  The Naram stated over the comm.  With that, she then flew up into the air, casting aside her robe and cloak as her long black cape billowed behind her.

 

Reaching a point higher than any of the buildings in Derendis, she spotted Cavalier lifting into the air as well and flew up alongside the Star Knight as they both started off towards the approaching glow of sunlight and flame, and the army following behind it.

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Upon seeing her nominal superiors heading to meet the onrushing meteor of indescribable fate, Skirris whisked the smaller native onto her back and launched the pair of them into the air. She kept slow, to make sure both that her passenger didn't fall of as well as give her the chance to properly appreciate the sight and sensation of the world she knew dropping and shrinking even as the horizon expanded. Hyperslice well remembered that day she first discovered the magic of flight, it wasn't something to waste. 

 

But as she flew up, up and up, and the army below and before her simply grew and grew, she started to have second thoughts about this plan.

 

Started being the key word. They were never finished.

 

With a whoop, Hyperslice dove down, a silver streak of light hurtling for the new-born star!

 

Softly, almost without sound, Skirris landed before the Anointer, gently putting her charge down next to her. She tried to look through the radiance, to see the hero come to liberate the planet of Kolast. She raised one powerful claw, nails spread to show she was weaponless and meant no harm. Hopefully that would be understood.

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The Traveller

Sitara had the perfect viewpoint to watch the comings and goings of those on the ground without being observed, perfect if they were going to infiltrate the temple to gather the information. So obviously everyone at that moment took to the air, still, if she learned anything over her long years was that no plan lasted long with the Praetorians about. And honestly, she wouldn't have it any other way!

 

"This could be a terrible idea you know?"  

 

Of cause, she was already taking to the air and joining the others as she said that.

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"I think we've pretty much committed to 'terrible,'" said Cavalier, watching Derendis fall away behind him. "We're now at the point of avoiding 'clusterfragg.' Cover's blown, this city's seen enough 'miracles' to last a lifetime... we just need to make sure that the fire's relatively contained."

 

No matter how much we might want it to just run free and burn it all down.

 

As the four took to the sky and approached the pillar of light, they soon realized that it was more of an arc, trailing towards a long plateau. And, in time... slowing. Paradigm, with her distant senses, was first to see the man at the heart of the blinding light - or at least, the silhouette of him. He seemed to be looking down - towards Hyperslice, who was rocketing up to meet him. 

 

The voice landed in Hyperslice's ears. It was strange - it did not feel like she was hearing it at a distance, or even inside her head. It was as if the man was whispering in her ear, even though he was clearly some distance from her. 

 

"Who are you that travels through the gifts of the gods?"

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The only response for several seconds was a wave of pure, unfiltered glee. Then a voice strong and clear as a bell answered.

 

 'I am the Silver Shadow! I and my subordinates have come from beyond this world to learn of your plans for this one! Many powers have we judged, and many have fallen short, we come before you now to know your true heart!' Gesturing grandly to the woman beside her, Hyperslice glanced briefly at the other members of the investigation team. Too late to turn back now.

 

'This innocent was taken by the people of this land to be slain, accused of using unlawful powers. I have heard that the Anointer of Olaya is merciful and wise, and so will give her over to your custody if you promise her good treatment.' Demanding anything of someone with so much obvious power was a risky move, but that might also help give the impression of being on an equal footing. Now, for the truth...

 

'That city, what do you intend to do with its people? They cannot hope to defeat even you, let alone your army.'

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The Anointer looked at Hyperslice. It was hard to gaze his expression at first, especially with the blinding heat and light surrounding him. But soon she realized it was a sort of study - as if, even with the wisdom of the gods behind him, he had never seen the likes of her. Still, if he seemed perturbed, he at least had the grace not to make it obvious. 

 

"I will do what has been decreed of me," he says. "I shall address them. I shall display my might with mercy. I shall give them the chance to surrender. Those was charge me... shall face the wrath of Olaya."

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Paradigm

 

Even at a distance, Paradigm was able to hear the words exchanged between Hyperslice and the Annointer.  Frowning slightly at Hyperslice's claim that she was the leader of the group, the Naram did hear enough to recognize the need to slow her flight some as she drew near, so as not to appear as if it was an attack.

 

But even at a slowed pace, it did not take long for the Praetorian to close the distance to the pair, landing a short distance away from them so as not to appear as if she was hostile.  "Greetings Annointer."  She stated, looking at the figure as best she could through the bright light surrounding him.  "I am Paradigm."

 

"While you seem to offer those within the city behind me a fair opportunity, I believe the next question is what happens after they surrender?"

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