Urbites stepped onto the parade grounds and met the messenger near the gate. The man snapped a smart salute. The new uniforms really transformed the members of the Band. The sharp, clean lines of a crisp uniform always improved the human form to his bird’s eye. This one was also in the Sodality based on his insignia. Likely a magus given the longsword at his side. They kept arriving, day after day, week after week. It was getting hard to keep track of all the names between everything else. Urbites was reasonably sure he answered to Hywel.
“Greetings and well met Blade Hywel.”
“Greetings Urbites. I bring word from the gate — another recruit wishing to join the Band. She has asked for Prime Theurge Yorastor specifically and appears to be well equipped. Shall I permit her entrance?” Hywel gestured back up the path towards the recently constructed wall and gatehouse.
Internally, Urbites sighed. They almost always asked for Yorastor. Some of the late asked for Mistress Kohra but the bulk that reported to Urbites were here for Yorastor. It was perpetually upsetting to the him. It took a portion of his day to welcome and place them, sometimes testing them even. While he welcomed all that came he also disliked the constant interruptions. This would be the first of the day but the fourth of the week. Last week had three, the week before five. It never seemed to end, however.
“No need, I’ll accompany you back and lead her in. Well, equipped you say? Well, perhaps it is another veteran. We can make use of all sorts I suppose. She must pass the First Test, however. I’ll confirm that and then see her to the Prime Theurge. Lead on, Blade Hywel.”
Urbites knocked on the door to Yorastor’s small room in the Summit. He kept a room there with barest of items — just in case he tired and/or needed to stay overnight. As with all rooms he’d seen the First stay in it was spartan in the extreme. Nearly all the Yorastor needed, and owned, he carried with him.
“Come in please Urbites.” Came the smooth, strong voice from the far side. Urbites could tell his friend and mentor was well and not too absorbed in his work. Otherwise it would have been a testy, “Yes?” instead.
Urbites opened the door. It was smooth and quiet. All the doors were smooth and quiet — they were brand new.
“I have another recruit Prime Theurge. She is well-equipped, well trained and capable of quite good arcane power. She has passed the First Test, I personally confirmed it, and vouch for her skill. I would recommend you meet her now sir. I think it will be worth your time. She will be a Blade I think and, with your leave, I will the Magus Marshal Rhys to prepare the grounds for the Second Testing.”
Urbites paused and awaited the reply and confirmation. Much of this conversation was for the benefit of the lady behind Urbites; Yorastor and he knew how to communicate with phrasing to provide more information than the mere words would convey. Urbites could see the emotions flit across Yorastor's face as the words tumbled from him. At first, annoyance for the interruption, then a hint of satisfaction at his confirmation of skill and finally a bit of surprise at the last. While the Second Test was required for all members of the Sodality the selection of the Witness as their most powerful fighter was not. It meant Urbites thought she had sufficient skill to warrant their best perform the test — otherwise a more suitable Witness would have been recommended. Urbites could note the curiosity growing in his mentor — a trait he’d seen bloom time-and-time again in the last months.
The answer was immediate, affirmative and direct. All good signs.
“Of course, Urbites. I will pause these efforts to meet with our newest recruit. You know we place great weight on these efforts. Please do notify the Marshal Rhys of our need. I will send the lady to you both as soon as we complete our conversation. What is her name, by the way?”
“Her name is Lady Ayil Talilis.”
Urbites stepped out of the doorway and waved Lady Ayil through, watching with a certain smug satisfaction as Yorastor’s curiosity was rewarded and his surprise evident. It was minuscule, just a slight flaring of the nostrils and eyes but it was there if you knew what to look for. To Urbites raptor-like eyesight it was clear as day.
Yes, Yorastor, I thought that might be your reaction to the fair Lady Ayil…
Yorastor sighed at the first announcement of yet another follower arriving. While each recruit increased the might and reach possible of the Red Band of the Sodality specifically. It amazed him the growth of the group – but then it never hurt to have a lesser worshiped god nudging followers to show up.
Thank you Nethys, for this. I think.
Another recruit meant another person to feed and house and train and tutor and, and and and. The list of ands never ended it seemed. Already the Red Summits barracks were filling fast and the recent funding of a small vessel from the Valdemar’s was perfectly timed. It allowed the ferrying of troops back and forth to Thistletop where additional work was on under well. While the people of Sandpoint looked on in awe and pride at the rising of the Red Summit few new of the parallel efforts to restore and fortify Thistletop.
It needs renaming, sorely so. Crimson Bastion? No, not quite right. Still, something.
Stonemasons toiled day after day working to build a fortified set of small towers on minaret of stone rising from the see and a matching one on the mainland. These combined into a composite structure that forced land approaches to disembark on the small middle point before the secondary drawbridge leading directly to the fortress was lowered. This dual system was rare to execute due to the engineering and topography constraints – like so many things, Yorastor new this intimately due to his extensive understanding of architecture and engineering principles.
Fortune smiles on us to have just such a structure and topography available for our secondary redoubt.
As Thistletop was not an economic bastion the impact of the two stage system was minor and it meant far greater security. Still, the overland route was only partial cleared out and many bastions of goblins still remained in the Nestlewood area. The Band’s approach by sea, and assault of the Keep from that direction meant the remaining followers of Ripnugget could, and did, slink away undisturbed. For now.
Oh, and another follower meant yet another Band needed creating – a task, so far, only Yorastor and Urbites could accomplish.
Here’s hoping a more powerful Theurge arrives soon to help with training and these tasks. Please Nethys?
The door opened, and in popped the head of Urbites to announce the new recruit.
Yorastor was flat out stunned as Lady Ayil strode through the door. He knew in an instant something even she might not suspect but the ever vigilant, ever observant Urbites would have noted straight away. She took his breath away.
She’s angel-blooded. Not a single feature is a tell but she has it for sure.
She was just too perfect. She wasn’t overly pretty or buxom. Ayil’s beauty was like that of a tea cup. Everyday, common yet perfectly made. She had bright red hair, cut in style that was feminine yet never would get in her eyes and wouldn’t prove a hindrance to the sitting of a helm on her head. Her stride was long and firm – and she was a few inches taller than Yorastor himself. A tall woman. She moved with a fierce grace and her alabaster skin was broken in only one place – that he could see – above her right eyebrow a fine-line scar. She had on a silvery chainmail overcoat, with a what a jutting crossbow on her back. At right hip was an exquisite flail with masterfully worked, yet simple, hilt. Balancing the weapon on the left, across the wide, thick weapons belt that girded the fine mail, was a short sword with small cross guard and shaped point – a weapon favored by those close in with large shields. Below the sword was a silvered dagger. On her left forearm was strapped a finely made buckler with a function small quiver for crossbow quarrels sticking out from the other side; three in total. She was appeared a consummate warrior, with her barbute helm tucked on the left arm. Per Urbites though she had magical talent as well – more than any recruit thus far.
A beautiful combination. Stunning really. Truly stunning. A paueliel crossbow of fine make and clearly used. I’d swear that chain is mithral, which would match her overall effort on mobility and casting no doubt. The dagger is silvered clearly, a smart precaution I can admire. The sword is a close in weapon for slashing or stabbing, again dual purpose and good pick for the weight. Ah, and the crown jewel that main weapon of a flail. Straight-bar in lieu of ball and spikes was simpler to work with, and a closer homage to its agricultural origins. And it is adamantine or I’m not a theurge. This lady is serious. And amazing. And more than I’d dreamed of.
Yorastor stood and sketched a smooth slight bow, his right arm swinging out to gesture to the only significant piece of furniture in the room not in use by him directly – a simple, three legged stool.
“Please join me. Forgive the simple circumstances – we are a bit tight on coin and prefer investing it into the town and the Band over ostentatious personal needs.” The Celestial rolled off his tongue half-sung have spoken with light notes and soaring vowels that seemed to lighten the very air with his utterance. Like all languages he spoke, he spoke it well. He took his seat on the stool on his side of the small desk, strewn with papers and parchments. Nearly all covered with the careful lines and ledgers of accounting or large pieces with drawings, in detail, of some architectural feature or another.
“Forgive me Lord Yorastor, I do not speak that tongue. I am not sure what you guessed my origins to be but you are mistaken. It was beautiful to hear however. Perhaps you can teach me while I am with the Band. For intend to join.”
Yorastor’s response was perfectly modulated. He had just the right appearance of rueful regret and abashed shame for miscalculating, and perhaps, offending his guest. He smoothly shifted to the Common Taldoran dialect Ayil was using.
“The apologies are all mine, milady. Please forgive my presumptions. Nonetheless, please do desist in calling me ‘Lord.’ I prefer Yorastor in public and private communications. If you feel you must be formal, ‘Prime Theurge’ will suffice or, if in a hurry, simply ‘Prime’. Unless the need is dire then ‘Hey You’ will work, of course.” He smiled at the last to help land the joke. She smiled, revealing clean, perfect teeth but did not laugh.
“Well, your intent seems clear then. I do not know what you have heard of the Band or your intentions. Let me say first, depending on your talents you may be a better fit for one of the other main factions.” He paused gestured to himself and continued, “I lead only one of the three, the Sodality of the Key, devoted to the discover new and forgotten knowledge and the preservation of our current wisdom. The Sodality celebrates the Art of the Theurge – combining and inter-weaving arcane and divine sources of magic. We also have a militant wing in the Blades of the Magi. Urbites has stated you passed the First Test of the Sodality and have some talent. What course would you like to pursue in the Band?”
While he was always clear in stating other factions existed, Yorastor seldom said more than that when recruits made it to his office or his presence. Unless they seemed a poor fit of course. A bit of a race had been set off between the factions, a healthy tension in Yorastor’s opinion, to contain and train new recruits. Given his…antics… in returning from Thistletop, along with his roots and shop in town Yorastor was at a bit of an advantage and seen the largest influx of followers join the Band. Almost half the Band were members of the Sodality. That was a lot of magic users, no matter how minor their Talent.
Ayil flicked her tongue across her lips, scooted a smidge closer, and off the stool, and launched in. “I understand mil-Yorastor.” She paused just momentarily before continuing, ”I am a skilled warrior Prime Theurge, with arcane talents as well. I have ever studied both the arcane and martial arts in a blended fashion and can channel my spells through my weapons should I so choose. I have heard of your group, your aims and your composition and I wish to join now, while small, so that I may grow alongside the organization and flourish in might. As you have, Prime.” She inclined her head and gave a toothless grin at the last.
Smooth touch – working all three in one go. Very well, you have brains after all. Yorastor nodded at the end.
“Very well, then you are aware of the need to pass the Second Test. Do you intend to stand as a Theurge or as a Blade?”
Ayil’s answer was immediate and without any deliberation.
“A Blade, Prime Theurge. I intend to lead them.”
Yorastor smiled, showing his teeth and letting the joy tinkle in his eyes.
“Indeed, that role, Magus Marshal, is held, for now, by First Blade Rhys. I am sure he will welcome your challenge and confirmation of your skills. Given your claims, and your equipment, I too will look forward to the Test. Shall we proceed directly?”
Ayil’s eyes showed a similar glow and her fierce grin was all teeth, “Yes, Prime Theurge, I would appreciate doing so directly.”
The stood in unison and Yorastor stepped around the desk, opened the door and gestured for Ayil to lead out. As she passed he stated, “To the training yard then.”
These “demonstrations” the public nature of testing new recruits was something that happened more frequently at the Red Summit. While many continued with their lessons and training many also paused to take in the new comer and see their mettle tested. It gave them a chance to see the newest recruit in action and provided much conversation for the next meal. Nicknames were formed, personalities changed – it formed the beginning of the sense of community and, yes, Brotherhood that marked the Band. It also became a tremendously speculative event for those willing to make wagers one way or the other. While Urbites never openly admitted to Yorastor he was supporting these waging efforts it seemed hard to believe he didn’t at least support them by failing to take further action. Also, too many were gathered unless the Band set up some sort of stringer system for notifying when another recruit cleared the gates…perhaps there was a simple explanation after all.
Nonetheless, the walk to the training yard was brief, and thankfully for Yorastor, silence filled. Ayil collected her mount enroute as well. It was a stunning white charger – a mare – with a high-canted saddle and round, large stirrups. Good platforms for shooting or standing and fighting. She was very similar, in that regard to Magus Marshal Rhys.
Perhaps you DO have a plan, Nethys.
The training yard was really a semi-flat space a small distance from the completed construction of the Summit. There was a good portion of room on the top of the isle and, eventually, there would be a proper arena. For now, many onlookers clustered in groups; bound by either training regime or faction. The wagers were clearly in full progress prior to their arrival. The training weapons and armor were on their racks – heavy wooden things on wheels to be rolled out and in from the Summit each morning by the trainees. At the end of the “yard” Rhys worked on a trainee’s defensive form against two-handed weapons. The bear of a man was in suit if training plate – lighter and less protective than his usual heavy, full plating. The ring of steel on steel carried across the yard, combined with the Magus Marshal’s bear-like growled commands on foot work and shield positioning. The trainee looked to be a a Warden. He she also looked to be completely rung out – fatigue in her every movement and struggle to keep the heavy shield in the up defensive position. Here weapon wobbled in a loose grip as if her muscles were struggling just to grip it.
Your respite has come, young one.
“Magus Marshal, greetings this day. I have a new recruit that wishes to pledge to the Blades and seeks your confirmation for her Second Test. Do you stand ready to validate or you prefer some respite before beginning?”
Yorastor’s first words were undercut by the sharp command to “HALT!” from Rhys to the trainee. Her eyes gained new life at the command and she carefully resumed a restive, watching pose, weapon on shoulder, shield in. Clearly, she’d already learned the Magus Marshal’s lessons on standing ready and prepared while weapons were out. Those that didn’t stay in a ready state were quickly, and painfully, shown the folly of not doing so. It was a lesson all trainees learned early and after a single session. As the words continued, Rhys straightened from his stance and shoulder the massive blade. He pivoted and paid full attention to the Prime Theurge.
A quick nod followed the close of Yorastor’s question and his baritone rolled out.
“I am ready Prime Theurge. We shall begin mounted, given the Lady’s preference and current state. Please get a lance from the rack there,” he gestured towards a few, simple, rough-hewn training lances, “and any other equipment you may require. Please do not hold back – we must see what you are capable of lass.” He grinned at the last, an open invitation to bring her worst was clear. Every signal and sign from the massive, greying man indicated he would not only weather it but give back worse. It seemed a tall claim given the fierce demeanor and radiant threat posed by Ayil but…none had yet bested the aging warrior that held the title of Magus Marshal. That included the Warden recruits.
Rhys strode quickly to his trained battle mount – an aging heavy charger, palomino in color. Without the barding the horse could pass for a farmer’s plower animal but the truth was that it was barely domesticated. Swinging into the saddle and he guided the mount to the weapons rack where, folding at the waist and leaning low, he pulled up his shield, warhammer, boarding axe and then a lance in quick succession. The hammer and axe were stowed safely on his hip and the shield he strapped down while cantering to the starting position, lance tucked under his arm and horse guided without reins at all. The two moved liked a single unit but this was simplest of things for them – in more advanced combat drills it was nearly breath-taking to watch the man and his mount weave through enemies and obstacles all while bringing their combined weapons to bear. The training field had two poles set down with a line furrowed through the rocky, scrubby dirt to denote the centerline of a jousting area. Thus far no real jousts had taken place – the line was used to demarcate many things, and for some of the most advanced Wardens, mounted weapons combat. Rhys and some of the more senior Wardens pounded these students to learn their mounts and maneuvers. The air practically hummed and shivered with the tension – this was a genuine first among the Tests and everyone was interested in seeing it.
Like many things around the Red Summit, the battle would be watched, and fought, on two levels- the mundane and the magical. Even now, Yorastor and Urbites tracked the sendings of trainees and Numbered members to others on the Summit. More Banders were streaming out of buildings and away from duties to watch. The crowd was growing rapidly.
Yorastor pivoted to Urbites, “I might have to go and man the wall myself at this rate – or do our fellow members remember their duties?” His tone was joking but sharp, and the ever perceptive bird-man caught all the tones and hints layered into the question.
“Fear not my friend. They know their duties. The wall and barbican are manned and the gate is firm. You must give them their chance to spectate. I think this Ayil could truly be something, eh?” The Tengu lifted his elongated head up to look at his friend and mentor. Again, Yorastor swore he could see the shimmer of humor in his eyes at the last and a slight grin plastered across his beak. Almost.
At that moment, the riders pivoted their mounts to around the poles, saluted each other, and then kicked their mounts into a charge. Instantly the pounding of the horses could be felt in the ground as they raced toward each other, lances held high and settled to avoid prolonged exhaustion of holding them level. The crowd grew silent and then buzzed again in small groups – but only the members of the Sodality. In her offhand Ayil was gesturing and a close view, such as Urbites could muster, revealed her muttering lips.
My word, she is casting! Rhys, you may have finally met your match. Not that this pup will supplant you as the Magus Marshal – but she could challenge you for the title of First Blade as she states. Ha! And she doesn’t primarily use a blade either! Nethys – I swear you mock me!
Yorastor’s thoughts, and breath were paused. He focused, working his magical might to identify the Lady’s spell and its effects. It was a small electrical burst, usable from close range.
She intends to foul his aim and focus. I suppose we’ll see if it works. Her timing will need to be perfect and she’ll have to release it while on the level and aiming her own lance. A truly difficult feat!
The riders thundered toward each other, sitting deep into their highly canted saddles and leveraging their large stirrups. Each bore a fierce expression and a slight forward lean – as if they willed themselves ever closer to the attack. As the distance closed, and in near unison, their lances lowered and were tucked into their armpits. Rhys had the advantage of his heavier armor providing additional bracing but Ayil’s lance didn’t waver. It appeared she knew the weapon well enough. As they began to swing their lances inward towards each other their mounts joined the expression game – each with neck straining forward and mane flowing past their riders’ legs. They churned the thin, weak soil and rocks and dirt flew from their shod hooves. The distance closed to a man’s height and all was quiet – then Ayil’s spell discharged, a small blue-white bolt of electricity leaping from her bracer arm towards Rhys. It struck him as if drawn to a lodestone – arcing over his metal armor and under to his flesh. He rocked just slightly and worked to recover his lance line yet it was too late. Ayil’s intended plan was executed perfectly. Her lance shattered off the brilliant green shield, leaving a scratched line from its passing. The impact further through the Marshal’s aim off as his upper body rocked back and spun slightly from the impact. His lance went wide and Ayil deftly slammed her bracer in it just past the point – sending it up and over hear head as she ducked under the wooden clothesline and road past. The entire incident happened in slow motion the wind stopped, the sun froze, everyone held their breath. As if an arcane spell had force the participants to move a fraction of their normal speed up to their point of contact.
Time exploded forward into normal speed and their mounts whinnied, and tried to side-step across the line to slam their opponent. The riders kept a firm rein however and kept the animals from colliding. They exploded past each other, racing their lances, Ayil’s looking like a ragged sapling shorn by the fall of a mighty oak. Laughter boiled out from Rhys as their mounts rumps cleared each other and viewers could, again, see sky between them. Rhys slowed his charger and trotted to the far pole but Ayil was still at a gallop and urging her’s yet faster. As she approached the pole, she threw the lance butt away and unslung her crossbow, her intent becoming clearer.
She’s going to shoot him before or as he dismounts!
While this action was not against the rules it was never before seen. Testee and Witness each knew magical healing was on hand. Unless a combatant was killed outright by a fluke accident there was little chance of permanent injury. Nonetheless, most held their blows and clearly did not intend to wound. It seemed, this precedent was at an end.
In smooth display of horsemanship Ayil slide off the back of her mount, pulling a quarrel from ready quiver on the buckler and cocking the crossbow. She spun, knelt and sighted down the weapon. At the far-end of the field Rhys was just arriving at the pole and preparing to pivot, he tossed the lance away and squeezed with his knees to turn the heavy mount. Ayil compressed the lever and the ch-thunk of the weapon fired. The bolt streaked across the field, striking Rhys in the shoulder and pitching him slightly forward. Those nearby heard him grunt at the impact as the bolt slide through the plates and punched through his mail to strike flesh. He swung the charger faster and kicked it to a gallop, pulling his warhammer from his belt and bellowing his war cry.
Well done milady. You have the first blood even if it was a bit underhanded…