The wind howled outside, shaking trees hard enough to keep the snow from accumulating on them. It wasn't much of a blessing, though, for the wind howled hard enough to snap branches and uproot those too weak to survive such a colossal storm. The ancient Sidhe staggered onward, eyes fever-bright and face flushed. Her breth misted before her - it was terribly cold, and she was not really clothed for a climate such as this. And why should she have been? It was deep into spring, when the snow should have been melting. Not falling. Not howling in a raging blizzard that had come down from the heights of the Spine like a feral cat, howling and gnashing icy teeth at everything. She could still see that village in the distance, six or seven miles distant and lower down. There, there could have been warmth and safety, comfort. Not misery, such as here, this cavern cut into the side of a mountain with all the strange glyphs that she didn't see, and probably wouldn't have recognized even if she had. Down, deep into the bowels of the earth, coughing and hacking until she thought her lungs would explode, her head implode. The Sidhe's thoughts flitted this way and that, never lighting on one subject for very long. It was memories, ancient memories that assailed her mostly. The terrible heat of the fever that burned in her flesh threatened to erase it all, and her along with it. Hours, days wandering in the cold, trying to find shelter. She did not know, could scarcely have strung two coherent thoughts together in any case. Rest. I need....rest... She stopped. Unseeing eyes looked frantically around a room that had opened up from the main approach, deep within a mountain. A stone circle stood in the middle of the room, radiating a sense of sorcery of the highest order. But it was quiescent, for now. Gasping for breath, she collapsed against a wall. Fleeting images danced before her eyes. And, as unconsciousness claimed her, swift and tender as the embrace of a lover, some sepulcheral fire flickered into life. Dream, a voice whispered from nowhere...and so the tiny woman did. - Standing, looking over a thriving city, its people busy going about their every day lives. Only, she knew, there was an undertone of fear, an existential terror that could not be dispelled. The peasants were not, by and large, a very intelligent group of people, but even they could smell the blood in the water. For now, peace held sway over her lands, but it would not last. Could not last. The Sidhe shook her head, and turned away from the view, looking back on a room that held a great table and only four chairs around it. The advisors that were here made these things look undersized, as if for dwarves...but the fact of the matter was, it was her keep, and things were sized to suit herself. She flexed the wings on her back, thin membranes with traceries of veins that had a brilliant azure hue, then glided across the floor towards the maps on the table. "My Lady," one of the humans said at the table, and she silenced him with a casual gesture, looking down at the maps, at the markers that indicated armies and other kingdoms, the standards either blue, gold, or blood red. Representations of the holy armies of Angelique, Leto, and Barnabas respectively. Once, there would have been green as well, to represent Oleana...but the Goddess had fallen, was no more. Her followers had been scattered to the winds, their cities and temples razed to the ground, burned and salted. The Sanguine Fate had been the last bastion of the Goddess of Nature, and they lay dead, riven stone from stone. Blood ran in those streets fit to fill an ocean. And I myself had a hand in that fall, in that destruction. The smoke that had hung over Draci, the seat of the Ordo de Draconis - Templars of Angelique and her righteous Justice - had only recently been dispelled, the fires that had consumed the Circles put out. The Goddess had rained brimstone upon those people, left them broken and bleeding before the ground forces of the Order had marched in and slaughtered all before them. In the Great War, there could be no other answer, no other conclusion. The heathens must be cleansed, and it was by fire and sword that the cleansing was achieved. "Has Callis and the Gold moved from their stronghold yet?" the diminutive fae asked, and the human that had spoken first did not immediately reply. After a long, thoughtful silence, he bowed to her. "Forgive me, Lady Dragonslayer, but there has been no report. We have been unable to infilitrate their great cities. It appears that Divine Light stands ready to receive our blessing with open arms..." She scowled. "Receive our blessing. What a quaint way of saying receive our divine judgment. Their forces heavily outnumber us, Taldric, they and their unholy alliance with Those Against the Darkness." The two coalitions - guilds - had been working closely together, an unholy alliance of the pagan worshipers of Leto. The God of Chaos had no idea what kind of chaos was coming his way, though. Both of those heathen guilds were massive - the last reports, before the borders had become too closely guarded for any of her sprites and drow to pierce their defenses, had shown their armies numbering in the millions. They were a people of weak faith, though, and Seska was confident that they could slaughter them before they even reached her own borders. "Do your job, Spymaster," she replied acidly. "We need intelligence if we are to prosecute this Holy war properly. "Our forces stand ready, my Lady," another of the people at the table spoke up. The man was a beast, standing so tall he actually had to stoop down to avoid hitting his head. A nubash of the Droben people, he was surprisingly articulate for one of their kind. Long limbs and a hard carapace of stone, the black eyes close set in his squat face regarded the Ascendant of the Order placidly, gleaming with the rare intelligence that he possessed. "We have trained some sappers this time, Great One. The Ordo shall not be stopped by the fortresses and walls of the heathen. Not this time." To emphasize the point, the great creature flexed its muscles, the crackle of sinew and plates of stone rubbing against each other loud and, though she would never admit it to anyone, intimidating. "Very well, Teren. All of you keep our expenses to a minimum right now. I wish for our coffers to be strong when the peace is brok-" "My Lady!" The tiny woman snapped her head to the door of the chamber. A youth, wearing the gold and red of the Ordo, stood there, panting. Sweat streamed down the youth's face. "What," she began, eyes narrow, "are you doing here, boy? Surely there is nothing so important that you need to jump the chain-" she continued, but was cut off by the youth. "The Light has moved, my Lady! Lady Eisheth has been overrun. The city of Daemonica has been overrun, and the Warlady has fled the city, and the Letites are slaughtering everyone...." Silence cloaked the room. Even the Sidhe was at a loss for words. Obviously, there was little honor in war...but a certain code of conduct had always been expected among the guilds. Callis had just thrown it all away, striking a much weaker foe in a bid to finally bring the Great War to a close. Secretly, she was surprised it had taken so long. Composing herself, she turned to the others in the room. "It is time, then. Do not let the populace know. Not yet. Put our plans in motion." The others nodded to her before bowing, and leaving to take care of their tasks. Soon, very soon now, would the temples and the circles raise their prayers to the heavens, beseeching the Great Goddess' intervention. Memories of the fall of the Sanguine flitted about in the sorceress's head, of the divine retribution and the blood that would flow in the streets once more. The only question was whose blood would flow the most, by the time it was all said and done. - The undercurrent in the city was indeed that of fear. For years the wars had raged unchecked, realms falling by the sword or by sorcerous fire or, quite often, by both. Thieves in the night coming to slit the throats of the people, to instill fear and despair among the populace of various realms as the leaders of the great warring nations fought their battles using the citizens as chips in the great bargains and gambles. The peasants knew that their lives were worthless to those that ruled from the top. And that there was a Jihad ongoing, the three great Churches of the world tearing each others' throats out...well, that was known too. Among Draci, the city of the Ordo de Draconis - the Order of the Dead Dragon, slain by the great guilds' own matriarch - the chief religion was that of Angelique, the Goddess of Order and Justice. Her temples were in many parts of the city, and it was to these places that people went to worship, to pray for an end to the violence that was killing millions of people across the world. Their 'great' leaders ignored the pleas of the common folk to bring an end to the strife, to coexist with their neighbors in peace. It wasn't the mighty, after all, that were the true victims of the constant bloodshed. It was the common man who suffered beneath the yoke of war and the terrible oppression of serfdom. While their aristocratic elites might think they could hide the truth from those within their domains, they were of course sadly mistaken. Word of the imminent war was already there, being whispered among the common people, who looked to the north and west with a sense of foreboding and fear. The banners of the Divine Light could be seen, if only in the minds eye, and the terrible armies that would topple the walls of the city first, and then rape and pillage their way to the gates of the great Dragonslayer's keep itself.... They knew. Quietly, in ones and twos, they tried to flee the city. Only to be stopped at the gates, and turned around. There was no escape, and so many resigned themselves to their fate, while others tried to prepare for what was to come, knowing full well that it was unlikely that any would survive. - Morning sunlight streamed in through the window, landing on her face. She was already awake, staring at the cobweb infested ceiling and wondering, not for the first time, where the hell she was and how she had come to be here. Aeyliea sat up in her bed - well, a bed. Motes of dust danced in the shaft of sunlight streaming through that window, and she took a moment to take stock of her surroundings. The room was small and cramped, the bed she had been laying on narrow and hard, the mattress lumpy and uncomfortable. She could smell smoke quite heavily in the air, and sense the heat as well. Somehow, she knew this was somewhere in the mountains, and that the heat was a blessing of the work she had done her whole life. Strange. The information seemed to come from long experience, only the old horse warrior knew that she had never lived in the mountains, too. She had been born on the plains, a tribeswoman of the Norei...and at the same time, she knew that she was a blacksmith for Torey Gildhorn, working in his smithy in the city of Draci. She remembered apprenticing under the man, a rare woman working in this occupation. Only... ...only, looking at herself, she was exactly as she knew herself to be. What was she doing in a city she had never heard of before, with the memories of a person she was not? It stank of some kind of magic, and she made a superstitious gesture to ward off evil. Was she caught in some kind of twisted spell? Or was she ill, having a fever dream? It was awfully fucking realistic to be a fever dream. Dressed in a woolen shift, she stepped out of the cramped room and directly into the forge itself. The fires were burning low, and no one was tending them at the moment. A variety of tools in various stages of being forged lay around the place; she knew that the classic image of a blacksmith was nothing but swords and lances, but the truth of it was that they did far, far more business making horseshoes, nails, hammers, and other tools of that nature. Which makes absolutely no fucking sense, she though to herself. She knew how to plan raids, knew how to fight, knew the tactics required to defeat an enemy. Knew how to wield a sword with deadly efficiency...and yet, she also knew how to make that swords. And that was not anything she knew that she had done before. The odd duality was...disconcerting. Activity. A man with large muscles stepped out of a side room, the wild light in his eyes indicating something was clearly off. "Ah, Alanna," he said in a clipped manner, looking her up and down in a very deliverate way, if a bit distractedly. "We need to go, my dear. They say we can get out of the city from the south, that they are not turning people back just yet. Not just yet." She could hear the lie in the man's voice, could see the despair and the resignation as well. Whatever the strange memories in her head were, they said nothing about what he was speaking of. "I....what are we leaving for, Tor?" she asked. Other memories surfaced. Indecent ones. She pushed them aside. "Don't be daft, girl. The Letites are on their way. Sharpened teeth and all." His eyes looked wild at the prospect, and not in a good way. "Angelique should protect us from them but...you know what they do when they catch unbelievers in their pagan God, right?" She did. Somehow, she did. Burned alive, at the stake, or cut to pieces. In her particular case, they would probably rape her, and then kill her in the most agonizing way possible. There were never any stories of survivors, or people kept under thrall to their new Lord and Master, only that of bloodshed, of no quarter given. Aeyliea knew she should feel terror at the prospect - all the things running through her head, as if another person was there and she was just playing the part. That sickening ball of worry did not affect her, though, not as it should have. By the ancestors, what sorcery is this? Aeyliea - the real Aeyliea - felt an intense disquiet. Here was a situation she did not understand at all. There was simply nothing to do except play the role given, until a reason not to. "Lets go, Alanna," he said, and she shook her head. "Let me get dressed, you great oaf," she replied, and then hurried off to do just that. All the while trying to think about what it was she was going to do, and what the hell, exactly, was going on.