Messengers were sent the moment Scouts began to report sightings of Nightmares. They had heard enough from the many refugees they had taken in about this horde that has finally come to claim their home. If the Sanctums don’t answer their calls for aid, his home may join the others in the list of the lost. Doliff boasted a population nearing the thousands, its walls strong and its people trained and ready. But the many scenes he’s witness had doubt seeding into his soul. The images of the Ancients, beasts that in some horrific way acquired souls, played within his mind. Some were familiar, resembled their smaller children. But most were things he’d never seen, each unique, each had something special about them. Each an unknown danger, something he had only now come to realize. They had become so accustomed to the ways of the Ancients children that he and his Anointed failed to consider that things might change. That with the Ancients by their side, they might not act as they once did.
Nightmares probed the length of the Settlement, But as of yet, none had tried to breach the Wards, uncharacteristically they waited, hordes of them acting orderly if the reports his Scouts had been sending him were to be believed. It appeared they were going to fight an organized force, unlike the swarming beast they were accustomed to. Scouts had yet to report of Ancients, but Naeline was no newborn, he’d been around, dealt with Ancients before. Not to this depth, but he knew enough to know the things were out there waiting, and to his distress plotting. He reached and guzzled down another of his favored flowered spirits, as his vessel drew nearer to losing itself to worries and fears again.
“That’s what? Your seventh cup now Naeline, I’ve always known you to be a gluten but this is much even for you.” Naeline looked to the woman across the Anointed table, mirth clearly shown, and a widening smile as he met her eyes. He was going to give her a harsh remark, but he found his tongue heavy, lips horrible numb, what came out was nonsensical dribble to his embarrassment. Tuffleth savored his plunder, a wicked woman who enjoyed watching others fail, her own overindulged pleasure, though he knew she’d deny it. Instead of wasting his breath on a woman who would mock any words he gave, he raised his cup and motioned to a servant. She quickly brought over a pitcher of his needed drink, filling his glass, and the other empty ones that surrounded him. He was about to take a drink, but another voice disturbed him
“Though I care little for your habits Naeline, we still have matters to discuss, and I rather not be forced to decipher your drunken speech."
Naeline grunted at the man, the always diligent worker Donac, the one who in truth did most of the work. He slowly put down the cup, better to get these pointless matters done with so he could drink in peace. He looked to his sometime friend, leaning heavily other the table, he began working his tongue, trying to lessen the numbness, he slurred out. “What is there really to talk about?” raising a heavy fist “We fight, we die, that’s the end of it.” He lowered his hand back down.
The room fell into silence, eyes turned to him, his words to truthful, too bright for those who wished to hide behind flowered lies. Naeline didn’t care, the drink was helping him some, but he had come to accept his place in the order of things.
He heard a tired sigh from his right, Donac shaking his head “You’ve let the spirits get to you again Naeline, clouded your sight. Though I don’t deny that there will be people who will die, it’s not going to be all of us, only those who must.” People began sitting comfortably again the fear hidden away once more behind pleasant lies. Donac motioned to servants, and gestured to the drinks, Naeline growled as the women neared. “Back you vermin.” The women flinched stopped in their tracks, looking between him and Donac. While they were confused he pulled the cups closer to him, all well in reached to snatch back if any of the servants dared follow through with Donac order. Donac stared at him as if he was glaring at a child, Naeline sneered back.
Clapping interrupted them “Though I’m enjoying the show immensely, will have tasks to get done, and I other more important matters to attend to afterward.” Tuffleth said her smug smile still plastered across her face. Donac waved a hand and the servants scurried away. “Very well, back to higher matters then.” Donac voice amplified as he weaved a chant into his words, letting it echo across the domed chamber. “We’re here this Rotation to discuss matters of dealing with the horde that waits outside our walls. A horde that while I speak is measuring the size of our dwelling, we all know what comes after.” Naeline could see concern taking most in room, as it should, none of them had been under a legitimate threat for a long time.
Donac words echoing “Those who’ve recently joined our Settlement have given us their shared visions” he signaled and servants went about placing shards near each individual. “I wish all to take a moment to review them before we begin our discussion.”
As others went about connecting to shards Naeline used the distraction to take a drink from his cup, savoring the warmth as it washed down into his vessel. Donac glared at him and was about to comment, but Naeline raised a hand “I’ve already reviewed these visions, I know what we face.” The images of Ancients still burned brightly in his mind, the actual threat. If it was just a horde of lowly Nightmares the pests would already have been dealt with, a soulless construct can’t stand against the might of soul after all. The Ancients, they made him shiver, even with the spirits warming him, he could still feel the cold creeping in. Even the smallest of those horrors towered over them, frames trimmed with thick muscles and shells of metal. But what he truly feared was the souls that lied within, the vision had let him see. Let him witness their might, see the beasts wield twisted chants of their own.
He looked down and found his hands shaking, the cup jittered against the table, he let go of it as eyes turned his way from the sound. He breathed in deep and leaned into his chair, repeating his mantra as he fought for calm. He wasn’t the only one, as other Anointed finished their views of the shards they to showed signs of weariness. Their skin more ashen, and they shook as quaking stone, some even had the nerve to eye his drinks. Naeline found some mirth from the sight ‘We’ll all be spirit-filled by the end of this, then they’ll see, all the lies will be washed away, and the truth laid bare.’
He took another, longer drink emptying the cup. Unlike what his sometimes friend believed Naeline had already thought everything out, gone over every detail with his loyal advisors. None had displayed a pretty picture to him, no matter the choice they make here, there’s going to be losses that will disrupt their way of life for Cycles to come. Which was troubling as that was the best outcome, them surviving, instead of his home being added to the list of others lost in this ravenous tide.
Donac clapped, gaining the attention of those lost in their depressions, none had taken the viewing well. “As you can see choices must be made, and soon, this horde unlike the ones in the past, are already well fed and led by more than one Ancient. This isn’t a Horde we can wait out.” The chamber was deathly quiet, to Naeline displeasure as he couldn’t continue drinking without drawing everyone’s attention.
One of Anointed, Ferth, Naeline believed spoke his voice unsteady. “Has word been sent to Uthan of our plight?” Donac nodded to the fool “Yes, we sent messages the moment it became clear that this horde was deemed a threat to your Settlement, but we’ve yet to receive a reply.” Ferth form shrunk into itself at the news, one Naeline had assumed was common knowledge. The Sanctums rarely, even in the worst of times sent able men to help. Oh, they would send the occasional flock full of unwanted that could barely help against Nightmares. Those on high loved doing that, even if it made matters worse with them feeding the Nightmares. But what did they care? Hidden behind Giver blessed Wards, the realm itself could delve into anarchy and they would be left mostly unaffected by the changes.
Donac continued “The Giver willing we will hear messages soon, till then we rally on our children as we always have. The first matter is deciding the size of the force we should send out to probe the horde strength.” The looks of fear and concern for their safety changed to greed and reluctance. All of them would send some of their own children, that was a given. No the concern was how many, and who would give the most. Worth was on the line, in their view, Naeline looked at them all with open disgusts. The spirits in him pushed aside any thoughts of hiding his feelings, what point was there? Soon they may very well be dead, and those among his number played games of Worth. He licked his lips eyeing the cup near his hand but stopped himself as Donac was being none too subtle in watching him. He sunk into his chair, frowned up at the ceiling as he waited for the blind to make a decision.
The low muttering of Anointed speaking with their guides, and servants lasted a Round, Naeline did his best to suffer soundlessly as these pointless matters dragged. But his hands began to shake, the spirits slowly receding and his fears taking more of him. He balled his hands into fists, doing his best to hide his display, not that Tuffleth didn’t notice, and smile knowingly at him, he scowled at her. ‘Soulless beast, I know you’re afraid to, it will show once death is before us.’ The thought had a smile mark him, that even though he was going to die, all those that had mocked, annoyed, and earned his wrath, will follow suit.
A small comfort in this waking nightmare. He tried closing his eyes, retreat into a trance of peace, but the images of Ancients surfaced the moment he tried. His eyes popped open as a vision began to replay, images of a Carver the size of small Settlement swimming through stone, bending the very ground into a weapon. That one gave him the most distress, any force sent to face it could be ambushed at any time, from any direction. Plus the fact the abomination could retreat with ease the moment things began to turn against it. Naeline breathed out heavily, as he whipped a rag across his face. His whole frame was shivering now, the warmth of the spirits leaving him rapidly, he was about to given in to the temptations of his cups when Donac voice brought people back to attention. “Time is short Anointed, the more we wait, the more the Nightmares map our home, we need a force ready by the time the beasts are done.” People gave pained looks, though Naeline wasn’t sure if it was because of the mention of a Nightmare attack or them being forced to give a number of their children for a counteroffensive. “Seeing the threat outside our home, know that all have to provide at least twenty Guards, and five Chanters to the fighting force.” People scowled, but none complained, it wasn’t the first time this had been down after all. There have always been threats, though never to this scale.
Donac went about calling to individuals, asking them to give the number they will provide. Naeline gave them looks of discontent as they offered morsels of what their clans could provide. Even Tuffleth who lead the second largest clan only offered a mere sixty Guards, and ten Chanters. Ten! The nerve of the women. ‘Giver save me from these blind fools.’
Even Donac leader of the largest house did little better in his offering, fifty Guards, and twenty-five Chanters.
Scraps they offered scraps to fight off their greatest fears, Naeline had slumped himself over the table, head cupped in his hands. He was lost in thought sending curses to all of them in varies forms, till a calling of his name broke him from his stupor. He looked over to Donac, who offered him a look of annoyance. “You have yet to display your offerings Naeline.” Donac said as if he needed to be reminded.
Naeline pushed himself upright, as he looked across the room, most shared Donac look, but there were others that shared Tuffleth mocking eyes. He looked back to Donac, sloshing his tongue a few times so the words that came out would be heard properly. “I offer one hundred fifty Guards and fifty Chanters to this force.” He said, putting as much vile into his words that he could muster, before grabbing a cup of spirits and taking a large swig. The chamber had gone silent at his announcement, only disturbed by the sound of his cup clacking against the table.
When he looked about the people now, everyone gave him looks of disbelief, even Tuffleth had lost her irritating grin. If it had been another time he would have smiled, gloated, and sang his songs of Worth, but now? His face warped, anger marring him, his voice heated as it rang around the chamber. “You’re surprised? Have we all not seen the same visions? Seen that there will be ANCIENTS at our gates.” His breathing grew haggard, his frame no longer shook out of fear for the death that comes, anger claimed him, and he let it. “And you all sit here offering slices to deal with a threat that has claim scores of our people.” He rose knocking his chair over, his fists pressing into the table as his channels brightened, his soul aching to be released, to dispatch these unwanted before the Nightmares did it for him.
A hand laid upon his shoulder, he nearly lashed out as Donac spoke to him “Peace Naeline, please, we understand the threat.” Donac gave him a look of concern “This is just the first of many we will use to map the enemies strength.”
“Fool” he smacked Donac hand away “You would feed our children to those monsters a morsel at a time, just like those in the visions”. He stepped back from the man that would lead them all to ruin.
“Enough” screamed Tuffleth, her mask of mocking calm gone “You’ll sit back down you drunken buffoon and act benefiting an Anointed, we will plan our defense.”
Naeline shrieks of rage quelled her words “There is no defense! These Wards mean nothing with the Ancients leading the charge.” his words earned surprised gasps, many had formed close beliefs, bonds with the workings of the Wards they had made, he, once among them. But the visions had laid bare the most painful truth, they weren’t safe, not anymore. The Wards will fail them, just as they did for all the Settlements that had come before. “Better if the plighted things didn’t surround us, least then you all would act properly, throw everything you have at this threat, instead of hiding behind lies.” They stared at him shocked, his voice became pleading “How do you all not see, not understand, we’re all going to die if we stay here hiding.” His voice lowered “The Ancients will get to us no matter what we do.”
He looked around surveying those amongst him, hoping, searching for at least one to see the truth he showed them. All he found was fear filled eyes that looked from him, then to Donac “The spirits have taken you Naeline, warped things beyond what is real. We are safe still, the Wards will not fall, not with our children manning them. The others lapped up his words, ears upright begging to hear more of his blissful lies. Naeline closed his eyes, forced himself to think of some way he could help them see.
No inspiration came, only the images burned into his mind, the Ancients staring down at him, eyes so cold, so murderous. He couldn’t help but open his eyes, the truth was before him no matter where he looked. Unlike his brothers that stared at him, most with disgust, ‘You fools think me mad, but I’m the sane one here’ he began to chuckle at the thought and continued even as Tuffleth spoke. “You’ve lost yourself Naeline!” her words a trigger as other began throwing ridicule at him.
He shook his head, the laughter refusing to leave him even as he spoke “No, I see the truth, but all of you refuse to acknowledge it. Fine.” He headed for the exit Donac calling out to him “It’s alright Donac, you’ll have my children, all of them. Send a messenger to my estate when you're all done lying to yourselves.”
He left them, numb, and tired, so very tired. The anger took much of him, but he regretted none of it. All he spoke was true, they can’t hide from it whether they like it or not, his people will be forced to face their Nightmares. He’ll be ready, as will his children.
Rubbing her temple Yordeen fought the urge of quitting for the Rotation and saving the painful task for later. Much later, perhaps never, groaning she looked up at the newest shards placed before her. The Giver had provided some mercy, as the quantity had gone down. But in return the visions were more stressing, the scenes detailed in expects of death. Word must have been sent to agents in the lower realms to gather knowledge on the horde. These shards were full of details the old ones never bothered to consider, mainly because they were focused on running for their lives.
Reaching out she plucked one, and took a deep breath before plunging in. She was outside, hiding in foliage watching Nightmares digging feverously into a cavern wall. Eyes not her own moved slowly, surveying the landscape, the details crisp enough for Yordeen to study them when she found time to do so later. But at the moment her more pressing concern was gazing at the Ancient that stood watching the Carvers work. It looked to be the father of Grounders for all she knew, the resemblance though warped was clearly defined. It had its four arms crossed about its chest, as the rest of the piercing appendages hugged against it back. The thing head moved slowly back and forth watching every moment that was happening at the carven wall. The ground shook and continued to do so, each quake greater than the last. There, breaking through the plant life strode a Nightmare the likes she’d never seen. A mass of clumped together flesh, hide, and shell. The thing towered over everything its mass held up with six armored leg stumps. It came to a stop next to its fellow Ancient, let loose a screech she hadn’t heard before. The four-armed Ancient echoed it, along with a multitude of other screaming sounds. This went back and forth, even in the vision, Yordeen could feel her body shiver. The things looked like they were having a conversation, no mere gruntings of animals. She was so focused on the scene that when a normal Nightmare screech echoed the vision nearly broke as she yelped. All eyes turned to the wall, at the Carvers that circled around a certain spot on the wall surface, digging out the frame of a door.
The ground shook again as the towering Ancients move forward, their smaller brethren scurrying away as they neared the wall. The largest one kneeled positioned its bulk so it aimed at the door, then the realm was filled with a far too familiar hum. The door and much of the wall surrounding it disintegrated, Yordeen mind went blank as she watched the scene unfold. Nightmares poured into the breach, the two Ancient’s slowly, but effortlessly molded stone, opening the gap wider for their own forms to fit. The vision ended afterward, leaving Yordeen staring dumbly at the shard in her hand.
The thought of sleep or stopping was ruined now as she placed the shard with the others she’s to offer to those higher than her. ‘I hope they’re becoming just as sleepless.’ She thought before slumping her mass on to the table. Sighing she pulled the tray of shards lazily towards her and picked another up. She took a few centering breaths, waited for her heart to settle, and then closed her eyes.
She was running down a Warded tunnel bathed in crimson light as the Wards pulsated with alarm. Then the lights went very dim, the abrupt change had some ahead of her stumbling, an act that saved those individuals lives. A breath later the Wards went out, a beak smashed through the wall clasping down on the nearest victims before pulling them out into the unknown. The precession halted, none willing to venture closer to the large breach. They stood perfectly still, not a single sound was made, as the group listened. With the Wards spent the tunnel shook with the movements of the beast, none of which was promising as the ground quaked and another section of tunnel was punched through. The victim’s screams lasted a breath before they were cut short, and pulled away from the host.
Yordeen found herself running with an abandon now, people pushing and pulling, their once secure home turned into a death trap. Yordeen expected the vision to cut off, for death to claim the holder as breaches happened all around her. Instead, the lucky individual was one of the few to make it to the block that they threw open as quickly as possible. The holder looked down the passage they had traveled and got a glimpse of the creature as it smashed through the tunnel. Yordeen froze the vision allowing her all the time in the realm to study the Ancient. A Carver by the looks of it, though enlarged to absurd proportions. The thing head alone was larger than the tunnel it had rammed through. Her jaw clenched as she studied the Ancients beak. It glowed, and even with time stopped she could see stone was warping around the maw. Even though studying the beast gave her chills, she wanted to see more, have a better picture to send to those on high, but she couldn’t. She had the vision start again, but had it play slowly, watching the Ancient as it pulled away. She grunted in annoyance as the Holder turned away from the scene, and Yordeen had it play at regular speed. Once turned the Holder didn’t even wait to see if the block resealed, she continued running at full speed not once looking back. She ran all the way to the Core, with most of the tunnels she traveled under varying degrees of attack.
Placing a key to the block it rolled to the side as she dashed through, the Holder spared a moment to bring the block back down, before she was pushing her way through the mobs of people. A voice not her own called out as she entered the main chamber “Anointed I acquired the sight you seek.” The Individual didn’t speak, only held out a hand, where she placed the shard. Yordeen perspective shifted, and she now looked down at the scared women. He turned from her, the Anointed voice speaking loudly in Yordeen mind.
He gave lists of detail, images of Ancients and their chants at work. It continued till She half listened as the information changed to a message she had heard a multitude of times already. She cut off the vision completely when it showed that was all that remained. The name of the Settlement sounded familiar and when she bothered to look over at the Atlas she found it to be one of the last standoffs. The horde will be moving in full force now, heading for largest Settlements left, those nearest Sanctums. Those on high will want another report before answering any calls for aid the unwanted will requested. Laying her head back down, she connected with more shards. By the time she had cleared most of the visions, she’d curled into a ball. Her mind swimming with the many images of Ancients, Ancients that didn’t resemble any of their young. Each was different, but all shared the common theme of being able to cast a chant. The most common was wind, but there were others. Such as one that controlled water, that had caught many by surprise. The beast sent it ramming into unprepared lines, then froze them in place, those that didn’t die instantly got to watch helplessly as Nightmares swarmed over them.
She shivered and tried pushing the scenes from her mind. To focus on something other than death, but the images remained, her people cornered and hunted in the very halls that were to keep them safe. It was almost laughable how useless the Guards had become, no longer even able to act as shields. Their spears worthless, the armor they wore doubly so, the thought brought back a scene. Lines of Guards positioned ahead holding off Nightmares while Chanters rained down death. Then an armored monstrosity hammered through a section of cavern and headed straight for the line of Guards. Its movements were slow, weighed down by layers of shell that encompassed its surface. Then it rolled in on itself forming a ball, its shell glowed, and the thing speed towards them. People cried out in alarm, Chanter fired off Chants, all of which shattered uselessly against the beast. Angered Chanters sent the Givers wrath at the monster, the attack left scorched marks, chunks of shell broke apart and fell away, only to reveal more underneath. They didn’t get the chance to fire off another volley before it rolled into the Formation.
She rubbed her eyes, tried smearing the vision way as the images of people being crushed beyond recognition was displayed to her.
“Yordeen?” she flinched, her head snapping forward towards the sound before her mind had time to register. Her eyes focused, and she found Poegol standing on the other side of her desk, giving her a look of concern.
“Poegol,” she said, her skin changing in embarrassment as she fixed her messed hair and clothes, had hurriedly sat properly in her chair “What brings you here at such a late Round.”
“The Anointed have sent me, they’ve become quite interested in matters belonging to those below.” Poegol look of concern was gone, but he still studied her, giving off movements of annoyance. “They’ve been sending us around all Rotation now, they’ve become quite obsessed about the unwanted situation.”
Yordeen gave him a small smile, as she forced herself to sit straight, hoping that her appearance was orderly enough. “You’ve not taken a peek inside the shards? Not just a little?”
“Not after the last time I took a message of yours to their chamber” he looked almost angry before annoyance claimed him again “You could have warned me of the images that laid within, I enjoy my rest Yordeen, and those sights of yours ruined it for a Tempo.” She chuckled, which had him glaring at her
She breathed out, her body sagging, the morsel of merriment bringing forward fatigue as her muscles loosened. “Then I warn you now if you thought the last message was bad, anymore I send their way will be much worse, you’ll lose more than a Tempo this time.” He frowned at her words, looked down at her table filled with scattered shards “Is it truly that bad?”
She waved lazily towards the Atlas “Take a look.” He did for the shortest of breaths before turned away from it, his complexion lessening even from such a meager view. “I regret asking, next time Yordeen just tell me I don’t want to know, I'll believe you.”
She Hummed “It must be nice being able to ignore problems.” Poegol smiled at her “There are benefits at times of being of lesser Worth than others, but it comes with the downsized of being very busy. I need another report to send, calls for aid have started to trickle in from nearby Settlements.
“Already?” her voice displaying more worry than her normal self would have wanted, but right now she didn’t care. She was fighting the urge of curling back into a ball again. That she couldn’t let Poegol see, not a second time, the man was already frightened over the smallest of glimpses. If he saw her in such a state, word would spread, rumors would go ramped, all wondering of the things going on outside these walls.
Poegol called her name again as the silence dragged on “Sorry” she said “Was organizing my thoughts, I expected more time to prepare another report.” She drew his attention to the table “as you can see I’m not done viewing all that has been offered to me.
Poegol took her lie gladly, the growing alarm at her silence fading away as he smiled. “That’s fine, the Anointed will accept anything you have to offer. As I said they’re obsessed, want a real clear view of things before making a decision.
Tiredly she nodded and pulled out a shard from her drawer. “It’s going to take some Sequences, this new batch of shards was filled with far more needed details.”
“That’s fine,” Poegol said, “I’m not behind schedule, the Anointed are just being very pushy on this subject.”
“I’m sure they are, things have become very interesting for our people down below.” She said motioning to an exit to her right. “Help yourself to the garden, or spirits if your inclined, I’ll be with you shortly.” Poegol bowed to her before heading off in the direction she pointed, leaving her with a raddled mind that had to put the horrors she seen into some form of order so those above could learn from them. Poegol will be back soon, it was a certainty after he sent this newest nightmare show, the Anointed will want to see everything.
She was breathing heavy by the time she was done filling the shard, the scenes played a second, still brought the same amount of panic into her bones. She could have called for Poegol, but instead, she rose, and stretched her cramped legs, taking her time walking towards the Garden. Poegol was quick on his feet the moment he heard steps coming towards him, he raced over to her smilingly brightly. “You had me worried, almost thought you’d forgotten about me.” She frowned at him, then saw the time on the chronicler, saw that more than half a Round had passed. “My apologies Poegol, there was just so much to offer to the shard, I lost myself in the task.”
He continued smiling “It’s alright.” Even though by his posture, and how he offered an eager hand to take the shard, that it wasn’t. She handed him it but held on when he tried to take it. He gave her a confused look before she spoke “Let only the Anointed see into this shard Poegol, it’s full of things not meant for weak souls to witness. The scenes will haunt them for a long time if they do.” He looked down at the shard, not as thrilled to be holding it now. She let go, and he pocketed it “Of Course Yordeen.” he bowed once before quickly leaving
She popped her neck as she slowly walked over to the garden, grabbed a flower to chew on, even though she had no appetite. The sweetness helped lift her tired mind, she wanted to sleep, to have a moment’s peace. But the images would follow her there, and the last thing she wanted was cursed dreams. ‘A bath, maybe a bath will help me.’ The thought of incense came to mind, laying with a bandmate, but no that would take too much of her time. There was still much to do, and Poegol would be back soon enough. Looking up at the mesh of Wards she called for a blessing ‘Giver I know of the things I asked before, but please changes things back, return to me the times of mundane reports. Of mere unwanted complaining of things they’re undeserving to receive.’ She continued her new mantra using it to block unwanted thoughts, thoughts best left for a later time.
Dailin eyes cracked open as his mind finally came to, he was instantly assaulted by the complaints of his body. All of his muscles ached from the night activities, it would take a second for him to remedy the problem if it didn’t come with consequences. He dared not move a muscle out of fear of waking the many women that were sprawled around him, and some on him. He ignored the pains the best he could and took this need moment to improve himself. An increasingly difficult hobby for him to indulge in, as true to Younna word, his every waking moment was planned for.
He barely got in an hours’ worth of strengthening before women began to stir, he played dead, especially when the ones on him began to move. He ignored them as he returned his focus on the workings of his body, molding the networks in him to allow the mana to flow smoothly. That alone had done wonders for his castings, the mana in him quickening to the point it could be used in a second now. He hoped that this progress would continue, that eventually he could fire spells off with the barest of thoughts. But that had to wait, as he felt hands cup his face, gently rubbing his cheeks. He wanted to keep his eyes closed, keep pretending, but he wouldn’t fool anyone, you can't stay asleep with someone moving your face about. That and the woman movements had him letting loose a groan as his muscles protested being disturbed
He looked upon the offending woman, who smiled warmly at him, they all did these days. After his second batch of children had been born and appraised, found to be of even greater Worth than the first things changed rapidly. His Maidens had been ecstatic, showering him with affection and gifts. Then the tide of requests came asking to bed with him. Offering goods of varying sorts that his lovers never bother to show or mention. The weeks, maybe more for all he knew was spent in the grove with one group of women after the other. Weeks spent smothered in the accursed incense, making most of his recollection very blurred, and suspect. He’s spent so much time in the vile stuff that his body finally started to build a tolerance to it, he didn’t lose himself completely anymore. It was more a dream state now, instead of a pure blank in time. Still, he detested the substance, and prayed every day, (when he was right of mind) that the time would come he wouldn’t need to be inflicted by its presence. That he wouldn’t wake sore to the very bone, that his member didn’t feel like it was about to fall off every morning.
His thoughts were disrupted by the sound of curtains being moved back, calls for them rise for the new Rotation. The woman above him pouted as his Maidens strolled in. Before the woman above him removed herself, she gave him one last affectionate kiss then hurried out with the others. How they had the energy, or immunity to the soreness of lovemaking was still a mystery. He hummed, and the room that was dimly lit brighten some as his chest and veins shined brighter. His muscles stopped complaining as mana rushed it them, fixing whatever had been wrong. He whined some as the length of spine popped, the sound sickening no matter how many times he heard it.
No longer filling as a lifeless rag doll he rose and was flanked by his Maidens who ushered him towards the baths. The room was larger than the dining chamber with a tub at its center that took up the bulk of the space. The rest was used for showers, which he was pushed towards first. “How was your time in the grove Steed?”
Dailin frowned at the nickname Unthee deemed to give him. One she refused to stop using since she knew he didn’t like it, he did tell her after all. He recalled how she grinned when he did and was doing now as she looked down at him, washing his air. “Well, I think? Things are still vague, the incense was thicker than it had been before.” Something he hoped didn’t continue.
She hummed as she yanked out knots in his hair that had grown to shoulder length. “That’s because you had more women to please than before, but don’t worry my Steed it won’t continue long.” She must have picked up on his worry, of the four she was the most observant of his wants.
“That’s a relief, I don’t think my body would have been up for the task even with more incense.” Though maybe it could if the mana kept improving him, if he was inclined to will the mana to prove him in such a manner.
He felt Unthee fingers tracing the lines of mana on his back “Maybe for now, but perhaps later, a Cycle or two down the line. He tensed, and she laughed “I joke my Steed” she pressed herself against him, her head sitting on top of his own as she wrapped him in a hug. “There's too many others with their hands upon you already, and my patience’s for it grows thin. Her words had grown darker at the end of that sentence, and it hadn’t been the first time, she was very possessive of him now. Where before she’d been the first to leave him after their moments of affection was done, but that was before they shared children.
“I share in your grievance Love, I’ve spent too little time with the ones I care for these last Tempos. Any idea when things may slow?” he placed his hands on top of hers “When we can be intimated?” His words had the desired effect as she squeezed him tighter. “Not long Steed, a Tempo or two more with groups as larger as last Rotation. Things will slow afterward, we’ll have enough goods and Worth saved for us to weather the growing troubles outside.
All of it was good to hear, but the last bit got his ears to flex. With the patrols behind him and the constant demands of his Maidens taking his time, he hadn’t the slightest clue of the state of things outside these walls. Something his instincts, and memories of old raised alarms over. “Have things worsened? The tunnels still barren outside? Or have the missing Nightmares finally returned? Is there."
She placed a hand over his lips “calm my Steed, these worries are below you now.” She pulled him towards the bath “Leave such pesky matters to us.” Her grip grew tight and her voice dark “We’ll let nothing near you that could cause harm.”
“That’s very kind of you Loves” Dailin lowered himself into the bath, the water warm by not to the level of boiling. “But I don’t ask in concern of himself, I worry about our children. How am I to train them properly if I don’t know what they’re going to face?” Unthee exchanged looks with his other two Maidens, Zulae and Sothsea communicating to each other with gestures that only women could. It was moments like these that made him feel like a child being smothered by over protective parents. Except for the fact they would dump him in the street the moment he was no longer any use to them.
It was almost a minute of them relaxing in the bath before they answered his question, Unthee turned to him “We don’t wish to curse your dreams, Steed, some of the rumors are worrying.” He raised an eye brow at her “I’ve been outside Unthee, I’ve fought Nightmares since I was a few Rotations old. I’ve seen the horrors those creatures can provide. Through it all, not once have I been plagued with bad dreams.”
Nor would he, his dream world was his domain, it bent to his will with the slightest of efforts, but he couldn’t tell them that. They exchanged looks again, none of them looked comfortable, and perhaps they themselves didn’t want to remember these rumors, these tales of Nightmare. Sothsea spoke the smallest of his Maidens, but also the one that put the most effort into making sure his every need was met. “The rumors speak of the Settlements below, that their almost all gone. Taken by a horde that’s consuming everything in its path, led by” Zulae place a hand across Sothsea mouth and glared at her till Sothsea looked away. Zulae for all her charming looks, and being well-endowed, seemed to be the enforcer of the group. Dealing with problems that would occasionally arise, though he wasn’t sure what. Only that it seemed to entail making sure he stayed carefree.
Getting details of the state of his family from her was like pulling out a healthy tooth. Zulae removed her hand, and the glare turned to him, but only for second before softening. “Bondmate I understand you want to know of things happening around you, but we’ll provide such details when the need arises. Our first batch just completed their second changing, it’ll be a few Tempos before you’ll begin training them. You have no need to trouble yourself with these unworthy matters, not yet.”
“Of course Love, but does that mean when the time comes I’ll get the shards I requested.” He smiled at her, while she and others gave troubled looks to one other. It was a simple request, shards with knowledge of chants from different groups, details on the best spells to use against Nightmares, details on the Nightmares themselves. Aethin had given him much to think on, volumes of knowledge that the longer he looked through showed gaping holes on certain subjects. Nightmares being the top of the list, he didn’t even know if he’d seen every variety of the creatures.
Zulae sighed “Yes Bondmate you’ll get the knowledge you seek, but if I see one cursed dream effect you.” She leaned forward and gave him a terse look “I will have them taken.”
He nodded towards her “As you wish Love, but have no fear, I will bare hardships if it means my family is better prepared. The price of a few bad dreams is small if our children survive.” A thought that still sat ill with him, sending their children to die while they remained safe, indulging in all forms of pleasure.
Zulae gave him a warm smile, all of them were “I know my Bondmate, but I won’t allow it, not when there a chance of it tarnishing you.” They fell into silence afterward, none of them willing to continue the discussion. Their efforts to keep him protected was becoming an ever-growing annoyance. Each day they seemed more protective, it was getting to the point of scaring him. Would they one day lock him in a room, never to be let out? His every need brought to him?
No, no that wouldn’t come to pass not while he still breathed, he wasn’t some helpless tool that could be used effortlessly. He let himself sink into the waters let his fear ebb away. If his Maidens every tried to imprison him, they would see how much the mana had improved him, witness spells materialize instantly to consume their forms.
He washed in peace, all of them taking their time applying oils and scented flowers. Once dried he wore a simple robe that felt of silk. A choice he had come to after the first session with women who were there solely for his seed. They’d almost ripped the cloths off of him when he took too long (in their view) disrobing. His Maidens wore more elegant clothes, full of patterns, gems, and soft metals. But none of it was revealing, not in the way he had first met them at the brothel, where they were mostly naked. Those days seemed behind them now, they even acted as such looking down at others more often. Never at him, but he’s seen the looks of self-worth they now displayed to those they deemed below them.
Rather foolish to his perspective, but he had memories that enforced that outlook. It only took one-time dying to a lowly commoner ramming a hidden knife into his throat, for the lesson to treat people with respect, to stick. Well as long as they were in arms reach of you that is.
“Your dresses suit you my Loves, are they new?” they looked to him, Sothsea twirled the movement producing a colorful show as the lights bounced off the many precious stones “Of course,” she said, “Its only to be expected with the Worth we now hold.” Dailin stopped a frown from forming as a thought came to him “Is that how some the clans are gaining my time, with elegant gowns?” he made sure his tone was quizzical, not annoyed nor disproving. Sothsea puffed at him “Please as if we would have claimed you if your time only earned custom clothing.”
“It was a gift.” Said Zulae
“It was a bribe,” said Unthee who smiled at Zulae when the women scowled at her words. Zulae continued “A gift for allowing them to use up some of our Rotation searching for a time that one of their numbers could bed with you.”
Sothsea giggles as she walked over and interlocked with his right arm. She pulled him sideways planting a series of kisses on his cheek. “Word spreads of our children, the Appraisers must be waggling their tongues. As you’ve noticed you’re in demand.”
Dailin returned the kisses “I have, but is this normal? Our children haven’t actually proven themselves, accomplished any tasks.”
“It doesn’t matter” Unthee rose done with braiding her hair “The Givers light shines brightly within our children.” She turned staring at his chest that his robe partially displayed. “As it does in you. Once trained there would be few tasks beyond them to complete.” Her eyes linger on his form, another recurring sight, it was becoming quite common for him to catch women, even men, staring at the light that was emanating from him. The looks chilled his skin at first, eyes of wanting, of something close to hunger. He was beginning to be able to ignore the looks, at least from those in private with his Maidens, and women chosen for him. But the occasions when he’s able to leave the estate he’s been forced to wear layers of clothing to hide his light.
“Gifts, that’s kind of them,” he said as he headed for the door, his Maidens quick to follow, these days he was rarely left alone, to his grief. Unthee moved passed and took the lead, while Sothsea still remained clinging to his arm, then Zulae as she claimed his left. The halls were empty, as unlike him people had places to go, task to fulfill, all he had to concern himself right now was filling his stomach. He was guided to the dinning chamber, were (save for the Grove) he spent most of his time. The large circle table at its center a well-used meeting place for most tasks. Right now it was covered in trays of food and different drinks. Many of which had already been eaten from, but those were being taken away by his Maidens servants, replaced with new trays filled with foods he favored, which were placed near him. Accompanied by a variety of different fruit drinks.
His Maidens ignored his trays, more interested in the plates with sliced meats, or any dish that had meat in it. He hid his disgust by drinking a cup of sweet fruit that had a slight taste of mint. He knew, well was told where the meat came from, that it wasn’t Nightmares, but he still avoided it. His Maidens ate quickly, as did he but more because that’s merely how he ate. During this time of quiet, he used it to meditate, moving the mana, willing it to improve his channels. The fruit and vegetables even cooked had portions of mana within them, all of which raced to become part of him while he mediated. He had to be careful not to get lost in the act again. To wake up to the scene of his Maidens staring wide-eyed at him, as he noticed he’d emptied every tray in his reach.
It shouldn’t of happen, there shouldn’t have been room in his body to put it all, yet he did, and more confusing was his stomach was still flat as a board afterward. To his surprise the Maidens hadn’t chided him or made a big deal out of the act, merely called on the servants to bring him more, which he stopped, he wasn’t hunger after all.
“I see you four have finally decided to show yourselves.” Younna walked in, her hair tied into an elaborate knot, wearing clothing that made her appear as some queen.
“Is it wrong for us to spend some much needed time with our Treasure?” Said Sothsea between a mouth full of food.
“Yes,” said Younna. “When he as a list of women that are ready to lay with him.” Dailin let out a groan, but continued eating, he had expected more time, maybe another hour at least before the incense claimed him again.
Unthee hummed “I don’t recall there being a group set for this time.”
Younna Shrugged “it was a last sequence decision, a large br- Gift was offered that simply couldn’t be refused. Unthee smiled “Oh, I look forward to seeing the details of this bribe.” She purposely elongated the last word. Younna gave a thin smile, while Zulae glared at Unthee.
Sothsea ignored the three as they delved into some wordless women speak, and chanted her chair closer to him. He was accustomed to this affair, offering his left arm for her to latch on to and leaned into his frame. There she would stay pressing against him for at least five minutes before starting her day. He would have preferred this action while in the baths instead when he was trying to eat. But he understood the need for caution, she gets excited easily, and the act of pressing against each other nude would likely lead to more.
He stopped eating shortly after, seeing as he had emptied a single tray by himself. The other three had pulled away voices low, as they spoke of things he was deemed too important to trouble himself with. It recalled scenes of a past life, he was a mere slave listening in on royalty, scheming on removing their king. The schemers were the Kings trusted advisors, who handled most of his dealings. They succeeded in their endeavor, the king never had a clue of his end coming. He didn’t have the slightest idea of what was going on in his kingdom by the time they bothered killing him in his sleep.
Though he knew he wasn’t being set up to die, it still felt uncomfortably close to the king’s situation. Dailin had no interest in leading the clan, maybe make a choice in matters every now and then. He mostly just wanted to know what was going on, what sort of things these women were throwing at his Maidens to get in bed with him. Hoping maybe that he was getting something out of the offers as well. Shards full of life-saving knowledge, maybe armor that made him immune to Nightmare attacks, perhaps a lifetime guarantee of living inside Sanctum walls. Simple things.
Sighing he pressed nearer to Sothsea laying his head on top of her and closed his eyes. He was sure not if even a minute passed before their moment was interrupted.
“No no no, none of that Heart we have suitors wanting.” Hands grabbed his form, and he reluctantly opened his eyes as his three Maidens hovered around him pulling. “I’m up, I’m up” rising he saw Sothsea scowling at the lot of them before his attention was turned to Younna, who pulled down more of his robe revealing the light of his chest to her.
She smiles at it, then him as she kissed him on the lips. Then cupped his face with her hands. “I know your tired Heart but you just have to deal with these pests a little longer. Then you’ll be all ours again.” Her eyes seemed to sparkle with the light of his chest reflecting in them.
He pursed his lips as her words registered “Shouldn’t that last part be reversed.” She snorted and kissed him again, before taking his hand and pulling him towards the Grove. “Oh, my dear Heart you’re adorable.”