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Dust to Dust


Shadowsage
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[center][b]Words Bound Taught[/b][/center]


11.29.2045 CE

The amount of importance an oath has is impossible to understate, even more so in such rigid societies as the Holy American Empire. Millions have been killed by men who thought nothing of breaking their word; whole swathes of the globe plunged into darkness. The importance of such men who understand this cannot be emphasized enough, but at what cost do they follow their word? How can you put an expiration date on a promise?



Darkness. A city sprawls across the horizon, its' lights absorbed by the greasy looking clouds looming above. Rain torrents down in sheets from the skies, day after day, night after night. Neon signs and lights merge in the distance until the dense urban center is a single bleary smudge marking mankind's slurred defiance against the heavens. From a distance, the roar of the city is muted by the downpour which existed long before man, and would continue long after his demise. It was cold here, cold and unbearably dark, for even with the concentration of humanity clustered along there precious roads and rivers, there had never been a collection of people so alone amongst themselves.

A single figure walked down a deserted thoroughfare in the dead of night, the light of the city reflecting weakly off clouds far away. The man was clad in an ancient, dead cut of leather which seemed to darken the air all about. Moisture sleeted smoothly from the weatherproof cloak as he strode down the dead pathway. The scant few people he had seen – whether looking from windows at the rare passerby or in the occasional car – took a single look at him and made it their business to disappear.

There were many which had learned to fear the black coat.

Briefly, ever so briefly a glistening yellow eye caught the scant light just enough to glow dimly in the night. Were any so bold as to hold the figure's gaze for a moment, it would be forgivable to assume what looked to be tears was but a trick of the light, or rain sluicing down from above. Any questing looks that might have followed that train of thought were quickly dissuaded by the dully glinting... object... on the man's back. Calling it a sword was perhaps too much of a stretch. Wings reminiscent of angels formed a hand-guard sufficient for two hands. A single shaft split into two just after the hilt, running up the length of the weapon until near the top. One of these curled forward and then back on itself in a distinct mockery of a pitch-black heart, entirely at odds with the pure white blade. The other side lent itself much more to an axehead than anything else, with spikes oddly similar to diamond shards spaced out in forty-five degree increments, fading to blue as they went. Despite the other-wordly beauty of it, the weapon simply radiated menace.

For a moment, the figure stopped. His hood tilted slightly, as if an ear was cocked towards the sky. Several heartbeats passed, during which it seemed that the very shadows were whispering to him. It was only after the man started moving again that he whispered something back.

[i]'Two Become One...'[/i]

--
OOC: I've had an ancient story fragment stuck on my decrepit laptop for a couple years now, and only came upon it when I was moving files over to the new computer. I figured that it made as good a lead-in as any into a final tale that will remove the ambiguity that surrounds the last few characters I left alive when [i]The Dust Settles[/i] finished. Bear with me, as all I've really got for this is a barely written second chapter and a couple dozen plot points I'm struggling to remember the context for. I'll try to update this on a weekly basis, perhaps faster if college permits.

Here's to the last hurrah.

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5.5.2045 CE
“Throughout the annals of history, man has looked up to the stars. For what has varied innumerably; the same star one man wishes upon is the same another curses for his bad fortune. They were easy targets, these floating points of light so far beyond man's understanding. It was not until the beginning of the common era that we as a species truly began to form a shared understanding of them. Can you tell me, Melony,” the girl's head twitched suddenly upon being taken unawares, “why praying to the stars faded more and more to oblivion as the world developed?”

She chuckled a bit, relieved at the question. “Christianity, Professor.” At his raised eyebrow, she continued.

“Well, the Church was only tolerated in its' infancy by the Romans, right? They thought that the new 'jewish' cult was nothing more than another dispute between different sects of the same religion. Admittedly, they began paying a bit more attention when first the military and then segments of their society transitioned from the traditional pantheon of Roman gods and instead focused their belief on Christianity. What that has to do with the stars... Maybe they thought that the brighter stars in the sky were gods, and that didn't mesh well with God in the christian sense? So, instead of praying to the night sky they bowed their heads at mass, in the daytime?”

He chuckled at that. “Is that a question, or an answer?

“Yes, there is a lot of merit in that. But if we think for a moment that these gods actually existed, before the invention of God-the-singular, what happened to them? I don't think that they would go quietly into the night, especially considering the sheer scope of their worship across the breadth of Europe at the time. What do we know about the time period that can be considered, while we are humoring these far-fetched scenarios, a final effort by the gods to maintain their worship? Do you have any ideas, Athena?” Several in the class traded snickers at the overly-topical name of the girl.

She glared at the group laughing at her expense. When they noticed the look on her face, all traces of humor left the room. It was amazing all the things they could find to look at on the ceiling.

The girl sighed. “The Antonine Plague, sir? In the time-period where Christianity was picking up steam, soldiers returning from Middle-Eastern campaigns brought back diseases that even modern-day sciences have not managed to find traces of, let alone identify. It struck the Roman army particularly hard, and left many parts of the frontier in retreat to more defensible borders. Estimates for deaths range less than ten million but more than three.”

He smiled slightly at his pupil. It was a pleasure for the class to actually do their readings. “As an extra credit question, does anyone know the names of Ancient Mesopotamian gods, off the top of their heads?” No hands were raised at the question, and the room descended into an awkward silence. “There are quite a few, even when compared to the extensive Roman pantheon. They were old, far older even than those belonging to Europe, one of which fits the scope of this question. Nergal.

“Cuneiform tablets offer us a limited glimpse of what exactly the Mesopotamians attributed to him such as War, Death, and Pestilence. It was around the same time of the Antonine Plague that Nergal as a god truly fell into decline. His aspects as head of the underworld and martial prowess gave way to the reputation of cruelty and darkness that inspired much more fear than worship. Stop snoozing.” The command was directed at a man resting his head on a hand propped up by his elbow. He sunk lower into his seat, becoming invisible to the professor.

It was impossible not to chuckle at the way he had disappeared. “Class dismissed. I expect your reflections on this lecture sent to me no later than midnight.” The class filed out double-doors in the back of the auditorium, all talking to each other about what sorts of ideas they had for their individual papers. Despite appearances, each and every one of them were highly gifted and more than capable of learning the material.

After all, Theology 331 was an elite class, and Professor Rough would not have it any other way.

--

OOC: Shout-out to Jerrey, never gonna forget you mate. Characters taken from you are the professor, and the snoozing man (expy of the plane-terrorist from [i]The Dust Rises[/i])
Additional shout-out to AccaDacca and the character Melony (From Freeze, CNRPH)

Edited by Shadowsage
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5.6.2045 CE
[i]Nothing is left to chance.[/i]

Scenes of carnage, dozens of battlefields where men fought with the ferocity of animals. Blood ran swiftly in torrents beneath their feet, and yet not a single person turned away. And there he was, charging swiftly alongside tens of thousands in the Lorica, behind a tide of javelins tossed forward. Thousands of camouflaged warriors ran at them with just as much rage, the two armies ripping and tearing at each-other with a single will. It was as if there existed no sense of self, no aversion to throwing themselves upon the short-swords of the soldiers in Roman plate, or being torn mercilessly asunder by the camouflaged men and their intricately unique axe-sword weapons. There he was in the middle of it, throwing fire and lightning from each hand. Where he stomped, columns of earth broke the feeble bodies of men. And yet, for every man that he turned to ashes, two more took his place. For each that fell dead from lightning the ground blackened and tore open into a hellish obsidian pit, where only more of them rose.

[i]There is another.[/i]

The other blinked by in a flash. Romans clad in the Lorica were offered no protection from the unknown's blade. The slight curve of the blade ended in a wickedly barbed point, opposite of which radiated out armor-piercing spikes in a vicious arc across the back of the weapon. Effortlessly, the figure cut horizontally through a man and reversed the blade to puncture another through his skull. Wisps of pure darkness emanated from the ground wherever the man stepped as he cut a swathe through the valiant Romans. Each man downed raised himself back up again within minutes as their vicious wounds knit upon themselves.

[i]What is it you ask?[/i]

Slowly, oh so slowly the elemental managed to catch up to the vicious black-coated figure. They faced against each-other in a field slick with blood. The two armies were still locked viciously together, all around the stillness which was the two facing each other. In an instant, the darkened figure brought the weapon up in a ready position and jumped forward. From where he leaped, the sky itself shuddered and blackened. A dome of inky darkness surrounded both of them, penetrated only by the soft glow of the stars above.

[i]You will know the final peace.[/i]

Lightning and Fire lit up the underside of the dome. The very earth shuddered and broke inside.

[i]The Missing Ache.[/i]

Thousands of yellow eyes manifested into simple bug-like creatures. Fire burned hundreds of them away at a time but there was simply too many.

[i]Everything is before you. [/i]

Flashes of memory. His mother, dead before him. Tubes from her pumping him full of some genetic goop. Unspeakable rage and grief overwhelmed him, before shorting out in an instant. No emotion. Bullets mushrooming upon themselves all about his form, robbed of inertia. Dropping harmlessly to the ground. Crushing a single vial beneath his foot for reasons that eluded him. It was important, that was what mattered. What she would have wanted. Flickering slideshows of a laboratory bursting into flames. And then...

[i]Truth.
Sorrow.
Serenity.[/i]

They dragged the elemental down, burying him in darkness. A single outstretched hand attempted to call a wind that would not come.

[i]Darker than Dark. He comes.
Rebirth.
[b]Revenge.[/b][/i]

Carl woke up screaming.

--

OOC: Shout-out to SKW for Carl, the Elementalist from CNRPH. Comments are encouraged.

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5.7.2045 CE

“...And if we take the theorem set forth by the Mexican Speaker Zzptm during his brotherhood speech with the Holy American Empire, shortly after being organized, we can see that there exists very little that prevents the Imperial Cult from being its' own bona-fide religion. We define it as having an organized set of beliefs which may or may not have proof, a focus point on which to pray or think of when clearing the mind, and some form of leader or hierarchy which serves to interpret events and writings of the faith.

“The Imperial Cult believed in the primacy of the Empire, and the virtue of the Imperials as a people.” Several people exchanged confused looks at the phrasing of the sentence, and the professor chuckled softly. The few students close enough to hear could identify heartbreaking sorrow in the sound. “I know I'm dating myself here, but back when the Empire was in the swing of things they got around to developing some sort of supranational ethnic category... Something below race but above ethnicity. It didn't matter if a person was Mexican, North American, Asian, or even Diberian,” he said without a hint of irony, “so long as they adhere to the creed and swear fealty to the Empire, they were Imperial first and foremost.

“Now, who can tell me what a tulpa is?” The change of pace was startling enough to snap Carl out of his introspective mood. His eyes found the professor's by accident, and the bottoming-out sensation in his stomach gave him a few seconds hint that he was being called to the carpet.

“Carl, do you have an answer? You're always in class and never make any remarks that reflect those high test scores!” The humor of the question did well in masking the actual concern Professor Rough felt for one of his star students.

Of course, Carl tried to rise to the occasion. “A tulpa is... a thought-form. Highly theoretical, if I'm not mistaken?” At the professor's nod, he continued. “Scientists aren't really sure whether or not it merits further investigation, because whenever they get results someone manages to convince themselves that it was nothing but a self-wrought hallucination, rather than an actual construct brought to life by their very thoughts and emotions. Personally, I think stranger things have happened. The idea of people making something be through sheer force of will is a lot more likely than some other things I can think of.”

[i]'Like Slenderman...'[/i] He thought to himself ruefully. It was only when Melony and Athena started giggling that he realized he had spoken aloud.

“Correct... I suppose.” Rough raised an eyebrow. “If you would, Carl, stay after for a few minutes. You and I have a few things to talk about.”

[i]'Crap.'[/i] More giggles from the girls, and a guffaw from Harvey.

--
OOC: The unnamed character from [i]Dust Rises[/i] is hereafter named Harvey Jackson Kurt. H.J.Kurt. I crack myself up.

Edited by Shadowsage
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Hundreds of thousands of men stood at attention in the midst of a ruined city. Though almost none of those present would live to hear, historians in later years would refer to the time-period they found themselves in as the Endgame. Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological weaponry had scalded the entire continent a scant month earlier. Food and Water had ran scarce for more than a week. Civilians incapable of defending what was theirs were faced with starvation and death, whereas soldiers began to truly despise themselves for what was permissible in the name of survival. The story of the horrible journey the Rim's armed forces faced journeying from Central America to the outskirts of the Winter Contingency died with the soldiers who would never admit to the atrocities they committed in the name of their beloved leader.

Archaeologists later traced their path along the continent by noting which bones had human teeth marks.

Each formation once had years upon years of unit history and pride to draw from; in the scant year since secession, every battalion had been reduced to half of its' number, forced to draw from increasingly incompetent draftees and crumbling officers. Many abandoned a cause altogether, becoming nothing more than roving war-bands with what they thought was free-reign in the Armageddon. But for each man that deserted the Lord Admiral, two more stood by his side to the end. This ramshackle force moved south with a determination that managed to hold through even the worst of times. As they went, each unit shed their banners and markings until all that remained were the camouflaged uniforms they wore and an indicator of rank each. No longer were they soldiers.

There were the last true Imperials.

The forced march which took them along the spine of South America was almost halted in the newly organized Neo Roma Republic. With so little weaponry and ammunition to go around, the uniformed mob was forced to accept massive casualties in order to close the distance with their foes and use whatever was handy to rend them limb from limb. It was brutal, bloody work and yet those who lived through it were never short on ammunition or food again. Each engagement took a bit more life out of the Lord Admiral. Those close to him could see how hard he was taking the death of so many willing to follow him to the end of the earth. Wrinkles and gray hairs appeared with startling rapidity while he herded the rabble south. All of them were more than desperate to reach the Southern Reaches, those few areas of the Empire which had sat out the civil war and in doing so were virtually unscathed. Once through Neo-Roma, the end was in sight. Many among the force openly wept tears of joy at the prospect of life again. Even Wiggin permitted himself to hope, that his flock would make it after all.

And then it all fell apart again.

There were thousands of soldiers in the south who had fought and died in the various coastal cities which had been besieged by the Federal forces. Fighting unrivaled across the world in its' ferocity and viciousness left only monsters wearing the skin of men behind. Survivors of both sides banded together in the new, darker world with living as their only goal. Creed and past did not matter. They gathered behind a single figure intent on retaking the whole of the continent once more. He promised them unity in the face of the howling night, safety against foreign invasion, and the sweet solace of a god who listened. With a unity unrivaled in South America at the time, the Dark Fist formed and began expanding their zone of influence. They, and those who submitted to them, cheered this new messiah whom had given them purpose in the same breath as they cursed the original Emperor for abandoning them in their hour of need.

Very few knew that the two were one and the same.

These two groups of degenerate humanity were unaware of the other's existence, until one faithful day. Both the Lord's Flock and the Dark Fist had discovered a significant amount of construction ongoing across the continent more than a dozen miles inside the effective borders of the Southern Reaches. The heavily defended works mounted massive batteries of artillery that fired upon scouts from either group who ventured within their effective range. In the process of withdrawing, hundreds of Flocksmen came into contact with members of the Dark Fist. The two groups immediately opened fire and slaughtered each other almost down to the last man. Those few survivors who made it back to their comrades told tall tales of monsters in gladiator armor who tore soldiers limb from limb, and camouflaged beasts that bit the flesh off a man and swallowed it whole.

No historian since has been able to identify exactly how the two groups managed it, but evidence has concluded that scant days after their first meeting the entirety of both the Flocksmen and the Fist marched headlong into a collision point just outside the desperately reinforcing Quarantine Zone. It is there that events breakdown in a distinct lack of comprehension. Even recordings taken from the walls of the newly-formed Winter Contingency were either taken by the First Speaker or destroyed. What evidence we have to go on is this – later excavations of the battleground, known to locals as Los Campos con Sangre, revealed a roughly estimated million in human remains, many of which bear signs of malnourishment pursuant to reports on the condition of the Flock. Others show evidence of broken bones, open wounds, and chemical scarring that reached deep into bones, markings related only to the hellish battles fought by those who comprised the Dark Fist. The closest estimates we have for this titanic battle place it in late spring of 2045.

–Excerpt taken from:
Rough, Jerrey. [i]The Hammer and the Anvil[/i]. Safehold: History In Motion, 2045. Print.

---
OOC: Have put together what I had for a chronological order of events, will type it up and bring up-to-date with the current story. Thus far, there has been very little deviation on my part from what I already had fleshed out; I've mostly been filling in details and connecting loose plot points. Feel free to ask questions.

Edited by Shadowsage
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5.6.2045 CE

“This is not the way!”

The whine of bullets spinning through the air had virtually ceased. Where there once stood thousands of men locked in a furious struggle for dominance there was only ragged chunks of what once held their souls. Those few left moaned pitifully to the heavens as their life-essence leaked out upon the ground slick with so much death. Those few snipers atop the Quarantine Zone with the skill to place shots began putting the wounded on both sides out of their misery. Lord Admiral Andrew Wiggin trembled as he yelled his defiance at the only other figure left standing.

“What have you done?! These were good men, loyal! They fought against everything fate could toss their way, and this is how you repay them? We fought for YOU!” His voice trembled slightly when pronouncing the last condemnation.

If they had any effect on the Emperor, it didn't show. “They were in the way. Their deaths were regrettable, yes, but there are ample military resources in the Southern Reaches to retake the rest of the continent. Your blunders of the previous war will not be repeated.” He wagged his finger as if addressing a maladjusted child. “There will be ample time to rebuild after all of this is over. We will be bigger, stronger in more ways than you could possibly know.” Andrew flinched when the Emperor's voice took on a second layer; one seething with rage beneath a placid surface.

“There will be no more suffering, no more misunderstandings. My word will be law as it should have been from the start!” His single good eye flickered golden almost too quickly to be seen. Without conscious thought, Andrew took a step back from the man – no, the thing which had once been his friend. That was no longer Kevin beneath the uniform, he would have never let hundreds of thousands die in a futile battle the outcome of which mattered to nobody.

“But I need you, Admiral.” The suddenly soothing tone terrified him far more than he thought possible. “I need a man who can lead the people, one who has experience in all walks of life. You swore your fealty to me before, swore to be loyal to [i]me[/i], not the crown. That was your excuse, wasn't it?” The tone shifted smoothly, almost imperceptibly to mocking. “When you tore this realm I worked so hard to build apart, that was your reasoning correct? Well now, honor your oath! Kneel and accept your rightful place!”

Andrew never saw the backhand coming. Pain exploded throughout the front of his face. He was lifted off his feet by the force of the impact and staggered several feet before regaining his footing. Unshed tears welled up in his eyes. A single questing hand gingerly touched his nose, now bleeding and bent at an angle. He gritted his teeth and twisted his nose back hard. Fresh agony gripped him in a vice for agonizing seconds before subsiding to a bearable throb. He took a moment to make sure his voice wouldn't betray the pain and sorrow inside before speaking.

“I would rather die.” The officer's sword at Andrew's side came up in a flash, but the Emperor moved deftly aside. He stared dumbly at Andrew for striking him, appearing almost lost in thought at what to do. That single blue orb faded slowly to a dull yellow. The look of a man numb with the weight of a monumental decision gave way to a smile of cruelty distinctly unlike him. A single shallow wound bled lightly on his arm, and he shrugged almost comically. Kevin widened his stance and bent slightly at the knees. One hand reached behind his back and drew the ornate axe-sword that had long been his dueling weapon. Spikes extending perpendicular to the blade sung lightly as they cut the very air.

“Fine. You remember this blade. It was named for this very purpose. You will [b]keep[/b] your [b]oath[/b]!”

And with that, he charged.

OOC: Won't be hearing from me for a little while, the new Safehold book comes out at midnight tonight. Also adding dates to the previous posts.

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