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A note from Wutosama


Amnesia: Memories Review – Visual Novel Reviews
The Raven's Wail
by  Aluminium Aligattor
(Image for eye-catch only :D)


 

Strun of Jildam hung by the tail in the shadow beneath the evergreen palms, camouflaged by the innate craft gifted by his grandfather's training.

A bowshot away, the Horse Lord's fort burned blue with thundering spellfire.

Lord Golos, a disciple to the Pale Priestess of the Dark Wyrm, was thoroughly enjoying himself at the expense of the Rat-kin's former Masters.

Uphill of the oasis, Strun's kin watched the spectacle below. Half of the Centurions had offered to join the fray, but it was self-evident that there was no need— for the difference in power was simply too great.

How strange, Strun realised as he licked his cracked nose. For so long, he had thought the Horse Lords some higher, nobler existence— insurmountable in their power and grand in their majesty. Ever since he was a pup, he had looked up to these magnificent specimens of Demi-human dominion, whose legacy stemmed from the Golden Khanate of yore.

"FOR TEMIR KHA—"

Not far from Strun, a desperate cry for honour ended with a resounding splatter of meat and bones on apathetic sand.

The Shaman Sigils protecting the gold-clad Jagun shattered from a single blow from Lord Golos' tail, dissipating like a puddle of blood-tinged water. In the next moment, the Wyvern's implement passed without impediment, as though the Centaur's powerful body was air, sending up a cloud of pink mist, leaving only the horse-half.

"HA!" With a swish, Lord Golos swiped his supper aside;
poignantly, Strun recalled that the Wyvern had been grumbling for horse flesh since the Badlands.

Pilums from the Jagun's guards struck, leaving no more than white marks against the Wyvern's brutal, lightning-charged armour that melted the iron spearheads.

In retaliation, the Wyvern accelerated. The horses scattered too slowly, and with little to no effort, the top half of an unlucky Centaur lifted into the air, where Golos shook him like a doll, then toss the inert body at his despairing companions.

Seeing that their efforts against the Wyvern were fruitless, the survivors refocused on the Pale Priestess, thinking that perhaps killing the Mage would banish her creature.

Strun had to circulate vital energies to his abdomen to avoid bursting into laughter and falling off the palm frond.

Drawing their curved blades, the Horse Lords charged the Priestess, who even now leisurely strolled with his grandfather with the air of an Elder inspecting a campsite. More pilums were lunched in flights of fanciful futility, clattering off her shield, then just as the Centaurs thought they were within reach—

Lord Caliban burst from the sand and transformed itself into a seven-headed Wyrm, the likes of which Strun had never before seen. In a flash, its bloated form snatched up the closest Centaurs, invading their screaming bodies with rope-thick tongues that penetrated the Shaman's protective blood haze as effortlessly as poking through wet paper with a sharp claw.

The rest attempted to flee, then was caught by an abruptly materialising wall of swirling, inky blades that reduced the riders to mince.

At the horses' renewed despair, Strun's body flushed with spine-tingling thrills. As he swept the battlefield, he noted that another squadron sought to flee by abandoning their kin. If discovered by the Khan, it was an act that would warrant a slow and very public execution.

"Lucky fools," Strun mouthed to himself.
Not because the fleeing Centaurs could escape, but because it was infinitely better to die by Lord Garp than by Caliban.

The Rat-kin held his breath, counting to ten. The fleeing riders made it just to the outskirt of the oasis when the ground turned to quicksand, miring their hooves before Garp's enormous head burst from under the herd, taking the trapped patrol in a single swing. In its wake, a natural trench some seven meters across and half as deep ensured no other survivors could pass where the Sand Wyrm marked its territory.

"SCREECH—" Strun raised his head, perceiving in his Essence-fuelled vision that an Eagle-kin, the messengers of the Khanate, had chosen this precise moment where Lord Golos was distracted to flee.

Strun did not cry foul, for the Priestess could not hear him amid the fulminating chaos of Lord Golos' passing.

"EE—EE!" A piercing screech from the invisible Lord Ariel sounded, its watchful eyes keeping the foes below captive.

No less than eight orbs of foe-seeking Lightning from the divine Kirin's horns instantly surrounded the Golden Eagle-kin, reducing the scout to a cloud of flaming feathers burning the same blue flame as the fort below.

Just as Strun fought down another urge to howl in triumph, something within him tingled, igniting the Essence within his wiry frame.

The time had come.

His Pale Priestess now called upon the great tide of her whiskery worshippers, turned the hills emerald with bubbling Essence, buoyed by sympathetic bloodlust.

It was now the Rat-kins' turn to vent.

Such was the generosity of their Priestess.

Such was the Rat-kins' retribution.


Gwen hovered above the oasis, watching her Rat-kins form into overlapping circles of raggedy fur, the mischief's loci centred on the southern shore of the brightly burning billabong.

The fort's sole survivors sat in the inner ring, consisting of a stallion, a mare Shaman, and her entourage of three Şöpter slaves. The stallion was the oasis' administrator, a Centaur who had hid with the women instead of fighting. Now, the horseman knelt with the trembling women, his pale complexion and glossy fur oozing sweat, as though already in the late stages of the Blood Fever.

Not far from the docile prisoners, Golos picked his way through a pile of horse carcasses, an act that turned Gwen's stomach for reasons she self-censored. She had forbidden Ariel from taking part, offering her creature a generous pile of HDMs in place of the meaty spoils. As for Caliban, her serpent sat as a worshipped idol among the Rat-kin, enjoying their undisguised adoration.

Immediately outside the ring of rats, Garp slumbered, digesting its meal of Centaurs as a dozen volunteer Rat-kin crawled over its body with trowels and picks, working the old and loose scales, harvesting materials for protective equipment while "massaging" her Wyrm. Between the water and the undulating Shingleback, the rest of the mischief busied themselves digging semi-permanent residences, knowing that in life or death, Shalkar was now their home.

Flying here and there, Gwen set her Warding Glyphs, Alarm Barriers and Faithful Hounds at the edge of the oasis, then looked to the horizon, hoping to see a few familiar silhouettes.

By her count, it was their eighth night since leaving Nukus.

Assuming her Magisters did relay her Message, Elvia should have gotten her request for immediate aid. If she imagined that her Evee took a day or two to finish her Clerical duties, then another few days to prepare, she should be expecting her very soon. Likewise, as she and Golos had erased most of the aerial threats between Nukus and Shalkar, Elvia and her entourage should have met with no impediments.

If so, where was her Evee?

Gwen glanced at her gathered Prefects and the ring of Centurions sharpening their claws at the Centaurs and their Şöpter slaves.

She felt a little less sad that Evee was late.

Though she missed Elvia, it was best that a Knight Companion of the Ordo Bath was not partner or witness to what she had next planned.

Soundlessly, Gwen landed in the circle's centre.
As she descended, eight thousand pair of eyes converged on their black-clad deliverer.

How had she wound up here? Gwen wondered as she activated her Desolation Aura's lowest-tier domain. What happened to buying a beach house in Sydney and getting two cats? Ever since Hengsha Island and Tonglv, she had intermittently wondered about her endless tangent from her initial goal.

Since when had a business consultant become so comfortable in donning the mantle of judge, jury and executioner?

The Gwen of old felt a little horrified.

But the true horror was that in her present world, her mentors and family had patted her back, applauded her decisiveness, and given her titles and accolades for the fact, a stark opposition to say, throwing her in an asylum for possessing megalomaniacal delusions of grandeur.

Yet the script was sound, the costume fit, so the Gwen of now happily played her part.

"You." The Pale Priestess of the Rat-kin stood on air, looking down upon the Horse Lords and the Şöpter slaves, addressing the stallion draped in an embroidered administrator's tunic. "What is your name?"

“Kokochu of the Kindum Clan, son of—”

"Why did you prevent our entry?" Gwen cut the horse's sophistry with a wave. She had no interest in lineage, only answers.

"These Tasmüyiz are diseased." The Horse Lord faced her with admirable courage and stoicism. "My men are healthy and untainted."

"Irrelevant." Gwen shook her head. "You knew that before we got here."

"You've brought too many of the Tasmüyiz." The Centaur's eyes scanned the horizon full of furry bodies. "We'll never be able to feed them."

"I left Nukus with more than this." Gwen's voice grew grim. "There would have been eight hundred more were it not for your foolishness."

"The lives of my Nokud riders take precedence," the Centaur replied. Perhaps Kokochu could not read human expressions, or mayhap that's how the Centaur thought; whatever the case, the candid words of the Horse Lord was enough to make Gwen grit her teeth until her jaws hurt. "Lord Mage— Allow this one a chance to plea. Desiring the safety of my men is not a violation of our Khanate's laws, nor is leaving the Tasmüyiz to their fate."

"Nor is their casual slaughter, so what?" Gwen took a deep breath before she could speak again, becoming reminded of Strun's mother. When she found out that the Rat-kin's mother was the one who had triggered her sympathy, she had felt overwhelmed by unfathomable repression. "These are eight hundred Tasmüyiz, Kokochu, not eight hundred bales of hay."

"Hay would be more precious. Even if we left, sorceress, how can we return when we might be infected? The filth would have left their diseased corpses at every watering hole and shelter between here and Nukus." The Centaur grew in confidence.

"The Khan gave me the oasis, gave these Rat-kin the oasis." Gwen kept her voice level. "I was there when he gave the word. So you dare to contest Temir's command?"

"Never. That is why the Tasmüyiz may rest around the oasis." Kokochu smiled cautiously. "But they may not approach the water, for they may contaminate it with their fever."

"They are not safe around the oasis," Gwen retorted. "There are Wolf-kin hereabouts and other predators like Harpies in the skies. Besides, they need water."

"The Tasmüyiz's weakness is not our concern." Kokochu's attitude grew dismissive. "We are sons of the Great Khan; they are the Tasmüyiz. Such is their lot in life, what they choose for themselves. As I have said, there is no law, nor lore, that prevents a Nokud from denying a Tasmüyiz. If you would let us live, I shall inform the Khan that this is a great misunderstanding. With your prowess, great sorceress, the Khan will be forgiving and may not even demand compensation. Neigh, you may even receive a reward."

Gwen pondered the Centaur's words in simmering silence, feeling a little deflated that the Horse Lord wasn't a raving, glaive wielding madman. In all honesty, she had not expected the dead horse she intended to flog to be an equestrian lawyer.

Was it a mistake to question the horse?

"WHAT A PILE OF HORSE DUNG—!" The timely interjection came from Strun, once more affirming why the piebald Rat-kin was her favourite. "Priestess! Allow me the opportunity to duel this foul-mouthed conniver! I will show him the conviction of my people!"

"You would dare?" the Horse Lord laughed. "A Tasmüyiz cannot challenge a Nokud."

"Refuse, and you shall die right here by our teeth and claws." Strun drew both his daggers. "A Horse Lord, murdered by the cowardly Tasmüyiz, never knowing the limitless plains where the Immortal Khan wars for eternity with his Golden Horde."

The Centaur ceased his mirth once. "And if I win?"

"If I die. You leave with your mares." Strun stared down the disapproving eyes of his fellow Centurions. "My Grandfather will guarantee it."

Both rat and horse turned to Gwen for confirmation.

"I accept Strun's proposal." Feeling the confidence radiating from Strun, she gave her consent, not because she didn't want to outright murder the wily Horse Lord— but because the theatre of the Rat-kin's victory far better served her purpose. Already, her Rat-kin had gained enough spine to stand up to the Centaurs. Now, Strun would show his people that they were no weaker than the Centaurs via the birth of a new legend.

"By Temir Khan's Blessing, I accept this trial by combat." The Horse Lord stood, suddenly standing from his kneeling height of just under two meters to three. "Enbi, gift me with the Khan's strength."

In one pull, the Horse Lord tore the cotton tunic from his chest, revealing the scarred skin and chiselled physiology of a seasoned warrior. Then, on cue and without care for the chittering swarm, his mare Shaman began to prepare the runic ley-lines along Kokochu's body, tracing the scars with her fingers.

The rats broke into a low, angry clamour.
"That's cheating!"
"Unfair!"
"Foul Horse-kin!" Protest erupted from her Centurions as well.

"I am fighting for my life and the lives of my Shaman, not to mention the honour of the Khan." Kokochu gazed up at Gwen. "Great Sorceress, if you deem fair competition excessive, extinguish us as we are— leave us not for the rats."

Gwen felt genuinely impressed, for the horses' wit was wasted on the Centaurs. The silver-tongued fucker would have fitted right in if they were in London.

But she as well had a little something up her sleeve. "Strun, approach."

Gwen descended from the air until she stood chest to nose beside her rat.

"Strun." She touched a hand to the rat's flickering ears, her fingers playing about the soft tufts of fur. "Can you win?"

The Rat-kin nodded, then shook his head. "I can deliver a fatal blow, but I do not know what their Shaman may gift through her vital blessings. Fret not, I shall do my utmost, Priestess, even if it costs my life."

Gwen nodded, welcoming the Rat-kin's conviction.

"I, too, have a blessing to offer," she said to the rat. "One that will cost you dearly and may yet cause you to perish if you cannot endure it. The reward, however, is palpable, for it shall link your vital forces to Garp."

"I shall share a life with…" the Rat-kin gulped. "A Deity of the Sawahi?"

"Indeed." Gwen nodded. "Do you accept?"

Strun fell face-first into complete prostration. "My life is yours, now and until the Elementals transmute all the sand of the Sawahi to glass."

"I'll hold you to that." Gwen then turned to the thoughtful Centaur listening to their dialogue. "I hope that's acceptable. After all, Strun is fighting for his life and the lives of his kin, not to mention the honour of his Clan."

"— And my Priestess!" The Rat-kin added.

The Centaur spoke in solemn tones to his Shaman.
At the mare's behest, the three Şöpter women bared their bosoms, allowing her to draw a smidgen of their heart's blood with a Mithril implement. The Shaman likewise bled from a point below her breast into the concoction until Gwen could sense the vital energies pulsing within, then rapidly applying the burning paste. When she met the Centaur's eyes once more, the creature's gaze remained arrogant, for this was a being who saw the world from the lofty height of old Empire and history, possessing no remorse for their careless tyranny.

Gwen riposted the glare with a smile, then returned to her nominated Champion, her rare rat with the gonads and the aggression to stand up to the Horse Lords.

Circulating her Essence, she bid her rat partake in another dose of snake elixir to fortify their link, then rested her Essence-dripping palm atop her creature's head, allowing the priceless excretions to dribble between his ears and down his furry cheeks.

For the Rat-kin to find a new path, they needed a "Che".
A representative who was young.
And fearless.
And angry.
And possessed of boundless hope for the future.
How else could a revolution take place? Any movement of any significance required a leader willing to part the Red Sea of status quo. Else, once the heat of the moment passed, the yoke of slavery without the counterbalance of Noblesse Oblige would return. That was the thing that ticked her off most about the Khanate. To have power is a fine thing, but what the fuck was the deal with Strun's mother?

The abuse of greatness was when it disjoins remorse from power.

How strange that her commitment to Henry's ideal world would manifest in the desolate sands of the Sawahi.

"Relax," she comforted her Champion. "Dream now of tomorrow. When next you open your eyes, a new day for the Rat-kin will dawn."

The aura of life and vitality around her grew dull as she switched Sigils to Svartálfar Soul Sorcery.

Beneath her hand, Strun trembled as though a newborn pup, happy for his hardwon baptism.


Strun realised as he toyed with his new Ring of Storage, just how much he and his people owed the Priestess.

His match— if a massacre could be termed so euphemistically, had lasted a minute.
Kokochu had hidden his prowess well, for Strun could see that the Centaur warrior's skill was on par with a Mingat, the leader of a thousand men. In hindsight, he should have suspected the "Administrator" who had remained, for there was no way for the Shaman mare to survive otherwise. In the Khanate, the loss of a small army was nothing compared to the death of a proficient Shaman.

Though wreathed in victory, Strun felt no triumph. When the battle had opened, he had been too slow in evading the suddenly appearing pilum tossed by the Centaur from a Ring of Storage, the kind of item that only Mingat Officers possessed. As a reflexive response to prevent the rogue pilum from striking his Priestess, he recalled channelling the vital energies of his newborn body, feeling the intensity of Garp's profound, limitless vitality oozing like molten magma into his Creature Core.

To his and Kokochu's shock, he had deflected the pilum without breaking his arm or wrist, going so far as to catch the spear by the weighted haft with a screeching scream of steel and sparks. The fur and skin of his dominant hand had sizzled like wildfire, then instantly cooled as though quenched by the life-giving waters of Shalkar's oasis.

Growling, his opponent then charged.
Once more utilising the secretive arts of the Shadow Runner, Strun had met his foe head-on, finding his foe moving in slow motion, with the instance of their encounter dilating like the slow-moving orb of the sun just beginning to set.

Reversing his grip, Strun clutched his dagger with his restored digits, ducked under the sweeping glaive of the Centaur, then stabbed at the creature's abdomen and chest.

He struck, though both weapons felt as though he'd stabbed mud. Kokochu was protected by his Shaman's art and shared life with the healer.

As the Centaur passed, Strun had struck three more times, once on the neck, once on the Centaur's spine, and another around the horseman's elbow.

He drew blood, though the effect proved less than fatal, for Kokochu turned with a reverse strike, swinging the glaive to slice Strun in twain. But, just as with Strun, the Centaur's wounds had also healed.

Procuring more vitality from the limitless well that was Garp, Strun had parried the reverse blow, using the momentum to send his body into a wild spin, then landed with both daggers down, embedded into the Horse Lord's flank.

The Centaur screamed as the Afaa al-Halak's teeth cut skin and sliced the soft cartilage holding the horses' organs intact. Usually, magical barding would have protected the Mingat. However, in his bid to appear a scholarly administrator, the fool Centaur had forgone the heavy armour that made his kind near-impervious to most melee implements.

Next, Kokochu had attempted to kick Strun with hooves the size of war hammers. Strun dodged by a millimetre, stabbed at the horses' tendons with his blades, then whipped at the Centaur's eyes with a crushing lash from his brass-bound tail, an implement inspired by Lord Golos.

His sneak attack struck true. The horse howled, blinded by the Rat-kin's fifth limb.

Strun then slid under the horse, learning from his earlier lessons to strike where the flesh and sorcery were weakest. There, he tapped once more into the blessing, drawing such a boon of vitality that his veins felt on the verge of bursting. In contrast to the slow-moving body of the giant horse, his daggers diced at the Centaur's underbelly as a bone-white blur.

In horror, Kokochu fell into a mad stampede.

Strun remained unmoved, even when a hoof crushed his chest, snapped his femur like a twig. Another blow broke his ribs and mashed his organs, bursting a lung. Shielding only his head, the sheltering seat of his indomitable will, he attacked with dagger and claws at the awful stuff that now fell from the horse.

Two exchanges later, horse and rat parted.

Strun had remained standing, covered in blood, shit and bits of minced offal, his eyes viridescent with vitality and burning Essence, hobbing on a leg and a tail.

Kokochu stood as well, trailing guts and chopped intestines, his ruined underbelly and unmentionables scattered all over. The Horse Lord's upper body was entirely untouched, but that was beside the point. The Shaman and her Şöpter slaves were ashen white, their life force quickly draining with the depleting of Kokochu's fleeing vitality.

He won, but the Centaur was the better combatant. Their difference was in the league of their blessings. That was why Strun had felt ashamed.

"Do you yield?" Strun croaked, his body rapidly restoring itself thanks to the blessing of limitless vitality, racial talent and gifted Essence.

"Never." The Horse Lord's pride, unlike his body, remained unbroken. "No Tasmüyiz shall—"

The Horse Lord did not have another chance to speak, for Strun's Priestess now approached him. Even as Strun's heart palpitated with the undesired possibility of his mistress offering mercy, she placed a Void-tinged hand against the creature's chest, then enacted the same spell that she had used to elevate Strun.

"Soul Tap!"

Strun's body reflexively seized, recalling the exquisite agony he had earlier experienced.

Behind her, the Shaman and the three Şöpter slaves collapsed, holding their heads in silent moans, their eyes bulging with horror, their jaws gnashing so hard that specks of blood sprayed from cracked teeth.

Strun gulped. Wasn't this blessing how his Priestess had elevated the Afaa al-Halak? How she bound him to her person? Why was she trying to Ascend the horse-kin? Strun felt a sudden sense of shame. Was his mistress that generous?

"Speak the truth, Kokochu." His Priestess' voice was wintery ice on the Caspian shore. "Why did you deny my rats entry into Shalkar? The quicker you deliver, the quicker this agony ends."

To Strun's surprise and horror, the Horse Lord whose honour could not be touched, not even by disembowelment, could not resist her compulsion.

"T-the Khan did not expect that a Mageling would s-succeed!" The Horse Lord spoke as though screaming into the abyss. "You were supposed to emerge with no more than a thousand Rat-kin!"

"Why does the Khan think I would fail?" the Priestess demanded.

"Temir had sent his Eagle-kin Emissaries to the harpies!" Kokochu continued to scream. "The Qasqır as well serve the Great Khan. At any cost, we cannot allow the B-Blood Fever to spread!"

"What else?"

"H-he wants your meddling Mageocracy to lose honour. He tires of your arrogance! P-please, no more, Mistress— banish the sand s-scorpions in my Core! Release me!"

In Strun's eyes, his Priestess watched the Centaur's suffering as though a Rat-kin saving the last bite of nan for a desperate day.

"Void Bolt!"

The screaming neighs ceased.

Four more bolts erased the convulsing Shaman and her slaves from existence, leaving only tufts of mane and a few hooves.

There was a lesson here for his kin: live faithfully to her teachings, for the Pale Priestess giveth, and the Pale Priestess taketh.

Strun mulled over his epiphany as his Priestess stared about her contemplatively, her bloodless complexion aglow in the nimbus of the Day Light Globes, gazing into the middle distance, searching for something only she could see.

"Strun, Stian, I grow tired," she declared to no one and everyone. "Prefects, set sentries while I rest. First thing tomorrow, we shall plan for the rebuilding of the oasis and its fields."

This time, without confusion, the Rat-kins prostrated as one, circle upon circles of kneeling bodies, expanding outward in concentric loops, moving as one rat, making only the sound of a single footfall.


Sawahi.
The Western Badlands.

"Lord Chaplain, we really must be on our way." The sweet voice of Elvia Lindholm, Cleric and provisional Knight Companion, implored her armoured trio.

"Peace— for there is virtue in patience, Novitiate. Your War Mage companion, if her achievements hold weight, will not be bested so easily." Elvia's senior officer spoke with a tone that made her uneasy. Arguably, anyone would be nervous when conversing with Chaplain Kent Hawkford, one of the three Inquisitors assigned to the Order of Bath and formerly Alpha Company's Knight Commander, presently seeking information on Spectre's activities in the Steppes.

"You forget the sorceress' age, Commander. Powerful she may be, the girl is no older than our Sister." The friendlier voice came from a smiling Knight with a middle-aged face that was beginning to sag. "When I was their age, I was still hunting Goblins and copying scripture at the Seminary. Besides, she's a fair lass— and we all know how the Tower can be."

"Gwen is no 'lady', Sir Smallwater." Their third companion, a Knight Protector of Saint Michael and Elvia's sworn fellow, shook his head in refutation of his seniors. "We should not underestimate what Evee's companion may do or dare to do. She has ambitions beyond our Ordo's understanding. Like a Drake, Gwen traffics in Crystals and power, milords, in volumes no less than the crows who sit in parliament. Her Master, if you recall, was none other than the late Lord Kilroy, and her current sponsor is the Lady of Ely."

"Thank you, Mathias, we know that you know her well," Sir Smallwater chuckled. Both of the men's eyes laid on the Spellsword hanging from Mathias Rothwell's waist. "As I said, she's a pretty one, hmm?"

Elvia stifled a giggle as Mathias' face grew stark red. Rather than a warning, the men likely thought Mattie was smitten with Gwennie. After all, Mathias was a benefactor of Gwen's connections. Unlike Hawkford's inherited blade or Smallwater's issued inventory, Sir Rothwell's blade was new— the first true Dwarf-blade in two decades to come out of Eth Rjoth Kjangtoth. If Mattie didn't share a bond with the sorceress, why would she gift him so kindly?

"Thank you, Ser Rothwell." Their Chaplain's tone was indecipherable.

Mathias lowered his head.
Not even a full-fledged knight was immune to the judgemental glare from an Inquisitorial Knight of the Order.

"Novitiate Lindholm, if you would perform the honours?" The Chaplain commanded.

"Of course, your Grace." Even as she agreed with a sun-lit smile, Elvia felt the stinging agony of sinful impatience burning a hole in her chest.

Thus far, they had stopped several times in their "rush" to reinforce Gwennie. Yet, they had been relentlessly delayed by what Elvia suspected was newfangled Spellcraft acquired via Gwen's peculiar "abilities".

Under her Chaplain's watchful eye, Elvia found a good spot among the buried ash mounds where the Rat-kin must have camped, then produced her Faith Relic.

She slowly released the Mithril tri-crown icon into the air with a gentle toss, chanting the prayer words of truth-seeking. The sun-token began to glow at once, first with a gradual radiance, then warmth, filling the air around them with illuminated threads of fading gold. Slowly, other "lines" began to appear, indistinct in their hues of lilac and black, representing the passage of various Elemental mana, Schools of Sorcery, and other crafts that had intruded upon the Prime Material.

The trio of Knights gathered around the impromptu light show and studied the results of her augury.

Looking at the lingering mana pollution, Elvia felt a strange little knot forming in her belly.

Just what in the Nazarene's name was Gwen doing?

Four days ago, while still in the middle of her preparations and prayers to gather Faith into her Tri-Crowned Sun, a Message had arrived from a flustered Magister Walken, stating that Gwen had shouldered ten-thousand Demi-human lives onto herself and was now taking them across the desert in the manner an Old Testament pilgrimage— alone.

Walken's worry wasn't that Gwen might fail in her suit— but rather feared the degree to which she might succeed and bring about some calamitous subversion of London Tower's plans to push back both the Khitani Centaurs and the Elementals.

Sensing a terrible premonition, Elvia had pledged to leave immediately, appealing to Theodora St. Claire to bless her with passage through the Ordo's secret Teleportation Chapels to Baku.

As promised, her Rectrix allowed the privilege, though unexpectedly, her entourage had increased from one Knight Protector in the form of Mattie to the addition of a Knight Inquisitor and his Senior Protector.

But why?

Elvia could only guess at the Rectrix's purpose, for the Crown's Ordo all moved with a measure of autonomy someone at her tier of authority could not fathom. Even though her achievements from the Ireland Campaign had gifted her Faith on par with a Knight Lieutenant's, her limited seniority meant she laboured only for the surface layer of the Ordo's objectives.

"This domain stinks of old sorcery," Sir Smallwater said.

"You seeing this? What does this mean?" the Knight walked around the projection. "Six Schools of Magic? Meta-magic? Some form of indigenous sorcery? And this..."

Seeing her Knights remark at the dark threads of magic, Elvia adjusted the modest collar of her Clerical outfit.

"Heretical-Class Necromancy..." the Knight Chaplain whistled. "How very Wildlands."

"The Centaurs do have a pet Necromancer." Smallwater reminded them. "This looks more like the work of a party."

"But not Lazarus. I have his signature memorised." Hawkford walked around the projection. "His Soul Sorcery is rudimentary at best. Also, Mister Latvik is a Re-animator by trade."

Elvia touched a finger to her temple.
Should she offer the Inquisitor a short Chronicle of Gwen? How much of Gwen's ability was public, though? As a student in the Seminary, they rarely received news of the outside world, much less something with so much complexity.

Her saving grace was what Rectrix had intimated, that her superiors had bigger fish to fry, such as the hunt for the Plaguemancers working under Spectre.

"I see, but how do you explain this?" The Chaplain pointed into the admixture of mana threads, then pulled from the aether something resembling a golden spider thread, barely perceptible even to their Faith-trained eyes.

"Karmic tethers?" Smallwater's eyes widened. "Here?"

"A local land god?" Mathias volunteered. "The briefing did say the indigenous population worshipped the Sand Wyrms."

"This sort of concentration can't be superstition." The Chaplain shook his head. "Nor is this ancestral tradition nor fear. This is unadulterated devotion. "

"Mayhap the rats have found religion?" Smallwater laughed. "By our scriptures, we're in the right area for that sort of thing."

"What do you make of this, Lindholm?" Her Chaplain's Faith-laced, golden irises bore into her skull. "What does St. Claire's prodigy have to say?"

Elvia's hand came away from her neck, damp with cold sweat. Karmic threads? What did she know of it other than what's taught? That belief was a psychic manifestation and that when enough of it gathered, it gave birth to imperceptible and intangible Astral energies?

"I am unlearned, Lord Chaplain," Elvia told the truth. She did not think that any half-truths would escape the Ordo's Eyes of the Truth Seeker. Elvia could guess as to why there were Necromantic Soul Sorcery, Shaman Blood Magic and meta-magic in the wake of Gwen's rats, but why would there be Faith? She had no answers to that. Gwen can't eat her way into Faith magic.

"Sers, I don't know why there are Karmic Threads, but I know who might be responsible." Mathias, who had been inspecting their surroundings, blasted apart a pile of buried refused to reveal a mass grave of spent SPAM cans. "I know only one sorceress who uses Void and Lightning, and most importantly, carries SPAM with her at all times and dispenses it to anyone and any creature she meets, including the True Scion of a Mythic Asiatic Dragon."

"Mattie, by God's Grace.…" Elvia's words clammed in her throat. Mathias' hunger for approval from his superiors rivalled only his feelings of insecurity toward Gwen. Still, with evidence like that, it was hard to refute Gwen's involvement. Her only gladness was that Gwen's smiling face wasn't plastered over the cans as they had been after the IIUC.

"I see. In that case, Novitiate Lindholm." The Knight Chaplain brushed the motes of muted mana from his gauntlets. "Though Sir Smallwater and I are here for another matter entirely, you are still our little Sister. For your sake and in the Rectrix's interests, do you mind introducing us to this friend of yours?"

For any other Noviciate, the politically correct answer would be, "Of course, Sir. But please note that we weren't that close."

For Elvia, Gwen's booming visitations and her thunderous descents had made their dubious relationship famous across all of Battle, not to mention the reason she was the Ordo's precious "Vessel" was because of Gwen.

Whatever her personal opinions, bringing Hawkford to her long-awaited meeting was no longer avoidable.

With that understanding, Elvia lifted her face and delivered her most endearing, heart-piercing smile, appearing so vital and youthful that petal-pink blossoms and a butt-ugly ginseng root appeared.

"Kiki!"
"Sen!"

The men nodded with complete satisfaction, bathed in the warmth of her presence. Turning from them, Elvia collected her Faith relic, banishing the Light of Revelation.

"Whatever you've got planned, Gwennie..." Elvia prayed to high heaven. "Please, PLEASE don't be committing heresy when I arrive..."

 

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Wutosama

Bio: I write on the phone and edit at home. Times are tough!

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