Wednesday, 3 December 2014



The lone figure paced among the rubble, bulky silhouette picked out by the early rays of dawn sunshine. He’d been lucky to get out, it had been a close run fight at times. Then the Previous decided to turn everything upside down in a calamity of sound and dust. He’d seen such dark magic before, counted himself quite experienced fighting in the realm of Previous sprites, been injured by them more than once. People had tried to insist that there were more sensible explanations, that he was overly superstitious. But where were they now? Littered among the rubble he was sure.
He had been able to drag a few from the collapsed building, friend and foe alike. From the top of the pile he just crested he could see the small triage centre that he’d overseen the construction of. Against the Previous all were equal, and he insisted they were treated in this manner. A Drakhan commander had attempted to interject otherwise, but when he called upon his men to seize the lonely figure, none would comply. They were too tired of the battle; too few even understood what they were actually fighting for. A call for an end to the hostilities from the big man therefore found a receptive audience.
It had been hours since the explosion now, little hope of finding more survivors. But he persisted. Would not rest until little hope turned into no hope. Something in the rubble glinted a little way down the pile he had just crested. He stomped over to it, rocks tumbling down the hill, dusty eddying in the cool morning breeze. It looked like a pebble, but it had straight ages. The man frowned. He bent to pick it up, it was rectangular in shape, smooth edges. Fit in the palm of his hand quite snugly. He turned it over in his hands. One side and the edges were a pale stone in colour, but the other side was a glossy black. There was a slight indent on the top where he rested a finger. The glossy black changed colour, colourful shapes flowed across it, dancing in front of him.
The man yelped, dropped the stone which bounced a little way down the rubble pile. He looked around quickly, checking if anyone had heard or seen him yelp. He cared little for how other perceived him these days, but all the same, being seen to be scared by a stone was too much even for him. No one had looked up from the triage centre, attention fixed on more pressing matters down below. His gaze returned back to the rubble pile, from which the odd straight edged pebble still glowed.
Tentatively he stepped towards it. The shapes had stopped swirling, replaced by a more static glow. He frowned, a vague recognition echoing in his mind. A large hand reached down, first prodded the device, and when no Previous spirit emerged, picked back up the dark technology. The recognition intensified as he turned the device round so the glowing side was the other way up. It had Elder writings on it.
He squinted. No one would describe him as an academic, but he did have some writings. It had been a while since he had used them, but if he could just wrack his memory then he was sure it would come to him. He scratched his head, yes, it was starting to make sense.
“Welcome” made it seem friendly enough, but could easily be a Previous trap. He needed to be careful. “To the” was obvious enough, then there were a few words he didn’t really understand, other than “free” which if it was attached to the word “beer” was his favourite word in the whole of the seven counties. But there was no mention of beer. Instead there was “Encyclopaedia”. Now that was an odd sounding word, but it was familiar. He’d spent some time with some clever folk in the past, tried his best to pay attention. An encyclopaedia was some kind of fancy book that explained everything in all the lands. Could be useful. But also could be some sort of trap. He peered closer. Underneath the large letters was a smaller entry.
Please enter your name or logon details:
He had no idea what a “logon” was, but the other words seemed to be asking for his name. Seemed very polite, maybe it was not so bad after all. Or maybe that was what the Previous wanted him to think. His face hardened. How would he tell? This could be a valuable find, but it could be a devious Previous plan to suck out his soul.
His thumb brushed against the front of the device. All of a sudden, as if in response, a grid appeared, filled with a combination of Elder letters and what he presumed were Previous symbols. Tentatively he put a finger against one of the letters. That same letter appeared in a box next to the weird “logon” request. The Previous device obviously wanted to know his name. For what reason he could not tell. Maybe to see if he was worthy of the information within? Or perhaps to identify the poor sap whose soul they were about to steel?   
He needed to be cunning. He’d worked with cunning people before, some of the best in the lands. What would they do? The frown deepened. So the Previous wanted a name, but did it matter what name? Don’t given them your own name, he thought, that might give them power over you. So another name. But what? Completely different and the previous may spot the ruse. Something in between. Not his real name, but something he’d been called before, perhaps. A lie, but not a complete lie. In an instant he had it. Chubby fingers pushed at the letters on the device.

Please enter your name or logon details:  a misterius avenger


Chapter twenty five

The plan stank. Aesara stank. Everything stank.
Admittedly this was par for the course when one took up residence in a sewage pit below the latrine.
Aesara had cut a new slit in the side of the archive and made her exit after she had worked out the guard patrol and was confident she’d have enough time to limp to the latrine. Once in the cavernous tent she had chosen her ultimate destination carefully. Just jumping into the nearest pit was insane. Jumping into any latrine pit was idiotic, the sewers gasses that built up could kill a man in minutes, so avoiding the most frequently used seemed slightly less mad.
 As a sentry she knew a lot of the tricks that the lower level camp followers used to make their lives that bit more comfortable. The sentries’ hiding hole was one example, but there were plenty of others. Including the so called golden toilet. This was the facility over to the back right hand side. With most university residents just happy to spend as little time as possible inside the latrine, the facilities nearer the entrance flap were more well used. However, for a sentry after a hard night’s patrol – or a sentry looking to shirk part of a long night’s patrol – they wanted a more relaxing visit to the latrines. So they found the least used facility, then by calling in some favours with the labourers – another group not averse to making life a bit more easy for themselves – saw to it that this facility was also the one cleaned out last in the day. Thus, come the nightshift, there was a little square of sanctuary to grab a quick nap, or take some other form of comfort break. Good local knowledge Pyrrho had pointed out, infiltration comes easy to you. Although if easy meant prolonged periods spent covered in effluent, Pyrrho could keep his infiltration to himself, Aesara thought.
So here she sat – there was not enough space to stand – waiting for her father. She still lacked a clear plan of action for whenever he did decide to acknowledge the call of nature. His personal guards would still be around, but with Father being a proud man Aesara doubted he would permit them to watch over him in the toilet. They would first search the latrine for any threats, although not search all aspects of the latrine, then they’d stand guard outside. At least that is what she would do. But she would also spend heck knows how long sat in a thin layer of muck quietly talking with the memory of her recently deceased brother, all while the occasional suspicious lump gently sloshed against her hip.
Periodically someone would use the facilities. Aesara had spread some unmentionable substances around the canvas lined cubical she resided in to dissuade anyone from using it. While this prevented her from having to endure the worst shower imaginable, it also meant a lack of visual on whoever entered the tent. This didn’t matter for the first couple of visitors, a tuneless whistle and mutterings, respectively, neither of which sounded like her father. The third occupant was quieter and so Aesara had been forced to slowly crawl from her position to investigate. It was just Farrow again, the incontinent old bag. Aesara slunk back to the pits below.
There was no means of measuring time down there, but the rank smell did at least mean that the risk of drifting to sleep and missing her father was minimised. She toyed with the idea of simply leaving, putting this all behind them, leave no trace other than a suspicious mucky trail. Her father would assume she perished in the explosion, that he was safe from her revenge. Perhaps she could come back another time, but then again, he would almost certainly resume his research, build up his guard once more. No, she had to finish this now, tonight. She would have to continue her dark and smelly wait. You are finally learning patience Pyrrho giggled in the dark.
Aesara snapped to. She hadn’t been sleeping, but had lapsed into a sort of waking unconsciousness, forged by long nights on guard. She strained to hear the conversation. Was it a conversation? Or was it orders? Regardless, the sounds were getting closer.
“….tear in the archive”
“It’s not my problem if the damn university can’t maintain their facilities. Why should that stop me visiting the lavatory?!”
“Can’t rule out infiltration, we have bedpans in the marquee”
“You get above yourself boy. Suggest I piss in front of that idiot Celcus? I suggest you remember your place”
“Good. Tomorrow we will survey the damage to my facility on the hill. That damage, I fear, won’t be patched up with a needle and yarn. Now leave me be”
“We need to check….”
“GET OUT!” this accompanied by what sounded like a slap against leather armour. “Supposed to be elite” muttered the now sole other occupant of the latrine “Couldn’t guard a boiled egg”. Footsteps neared Aesara’s position. “What the? Oh, the cleaners will hang for this” the footsteps receded a little. A rustling of cloaks, the sound of someone sitting, then the tinkle of water.
Aesara climbed from the pit, silent other than the wet splat of a couple of lumps falling from her legs onto the wooden seat. She unsheathed the knife, cut into the neighbouring cubicle, then the next. Here she paused. Father was in the next one, with his back to her. She took a breath, savouring the slightly clearer air, then another to steel herself. Aesara stood to her full height, lent over the canvas screen between them and put the knife to her father’s throat. Her plan had been to make the cut then and there, finish it quickly. But some other instinct took over and instead she spoke.
“Make a sound and I will rip your throat clean out”
“S..Sara, is that you?” father attempted to turn, but stopped as the knife bit in, enough to break the skin but no deeper. Not for now anyway.
“I believe I gave you an instruction” she paused, waiting for another indiscretion from father, but he remained silent.  “Good. I came here to murder you tonight. To end your plans for domination once and for all. To extract my revenge. To extract Pyrrho’s revenge”
“Where is that idiot son of mine? I thought skulking around the shadows was more his business than yours” her father croaked, then stopped as the knife pulled a fraction tighter. A blood drop ran down onto his chest.
“People change. I am no longer a warrior. Pyrrho no longer an infiltraitor. And you no longer an overlord”
“Finish me then”
Aesara smiled. “That would be too easy. You see I’m not going to kill you tonight” the new plan was forming just as quickly as she was talking, but it felt right. “You deserve to suffer like I did, like Pyrrho did.”
“I only wanted what was best”
“You wanted what was best for you, for your quest for power. But I am different. I want what is best for all of us.”
“You think yourself special?” he wheezed as the knife began to press on his windpipe.
“Not at all. I have made many mistakes. But I now have it in my power to reverse at least some of them.”
“I will destroy you. Not in combat, as the warrior within me cries out for. No, I will destroy your credibility, your legacy. Many Drakhan died today.  A word here, a nudge there, it will not take much for them to come demanding answers from you”
 I’m liking this her brother’s voice echoed in her head.
Aesara continued, “Your power base will recede. If you are lucky you will escape with the clothes on your back, but little else. The university will certainly flee as the Drakhan come to view all of your research as cursed.”
“You will destroy any hope of unlocking the Previous technology that could propel mankind forward”
“Not at all. After I have turned the Drakhan against you, I will spread rumours of what went on up here. Few will believe me, but legends will grow. A few hardy adventurers will investigate, Previous artefacts will work their way back to society across the lands. The information will be spread far and wide. Mankind will progress on a far more equitable plain, no one person will horde it for their own desires”
“A pretty picture you paint”
“There will be struggles along the way. Mankind is a violent species, we have all seen ample evidence of that. But this competition will propel us forward, rather than your domination holding everyone but your close allies back.”
“You are quite mad”
“Perhaps so. It does seem to run in the family. One more thing”
“What?” he hissed
“Pyrrho says to say hello”


Time was against Aesara but she could bare the smell no longer; she needed to at least wash the worst of it off. She limped away from the university for a final time, having left her father tied and gagged back at the latrine. He would be found eventually, and would almost certainly demand that she was searched for. But the Drakhan numbers were low, and they were tired. If she could put enough distance between them, then she would be ok. But first, a quick wash. The old well loomed into view as she came round the broken down Elder building.
Onatas stood next to it.
“I thought myself silly to keep coming back here” he said, showing no surprise at her arrival. “That somehow the circle of my life would come back to finish here, much like how it had started”
Aesara moved towards him, silent.
“I presume you do intend to finish it this night? The price for my betrayal?” he looked intently at her, before turning away  “ It is funny, all the time we spent together on our cross country search I feared death at almost every turn. But now I have no fear.” Onatas spoke softly, but with a determination Aesara had not heard from him before.
“The price for your betrayal is the memory of it. I will perpetrate no further violence”
“You have already finished father then?”
“In a manner of speaking”
“The knowledge we will lose. What have you done Aesara?”
“Perhaps the right thing, perhaps not. But if one person was to control such a wealth of knowledge, it should not have been him. No one else alive knows that better than me.”
“Only you? You think I have not suffered?”
“I regret what I did to you back then?”
“Not you at your hands Aesara. By his” Onatas pointed in the general direction of the ruined Previous castle. “It wasn’t until you did what you did to me that father even acknowledged I existed. Until then I had been merely the result of some dalliance with a servant. Even as I recovered and entered into his service, I was almost always aware that I was, even then, only a tool for him to manipulate”
“Then why did you let him?”
“Because the Previous knowledge is more about one man, or that man’s offspring. It can make too big a difference for that”
“It still will”
“How? Father is finished, the research is largely destroyed”
“No it is not”
“I am in no mood for riddles Aesara”
“It will live on within you. On our journey, your treatment of Volk’s wounds. Tell me, was that learning really from some tatty piece of half complete Elder writings, or was it from your prior studies of the Previous?”
“I have been able to learn from a range of materials”
“And now, freed from the influence of father you will continue to share that expertise. You see Onatas, progress is not measured by how we go about collecting knowledge, be it in stuffy archives or from Previous technology, rather progress is about disseminating knowledge, putting it to good use.”
Onatas did not reply, he looked from the floor, to the well, then to his half sister. He nodded.
“And now I must leave you. I am sorry we first met how we did, but I am glad we shall separate as we do now” Aesara rested a hand on Onatas’ shoulder. Neither minded the smell.
“Where will you go? What will you do?” stammered Onatas, a tear pooling at the corner of his eye
“I have one or two tasks in mind” she answered as she turned away from him “But the first will involve beer”

Lots of beer said Pyrrho. 

Chapter twenty four

Aesara prowled the corridors, exuding a confidence born out of simply not caring what challenge she faced next. Drakhan ran past her, look of concern on their faces, an order to follow, a disaster to avert. Few gave Aesara a second look. The liberated elite guard jacket help of course. Rather than go for the one that looked the best fit, she’d had to plump for the one least drenched in blood. It sat awkwardly on her shoulders. But did not seem to matter, she held her head high, back straight, gaze level. And she strode. It was a slightly limping stride, admittedly – the formal boots she still wore impeding her, her  knee agonising her - but it was confident. A woman with a purpose.
How she would fulfil that purpose, she knew not. It would not be a direct attack, that much was certain. She was too outnumbered, too hurt, too tired for that. Time for her inner Pyrrho to come to the fore once again. She smiled, doubting that he would ever leave her head now, whispering devious tactics that the warrior within her baulked at. Putting the jacket on had been but a first step. Confidently striding among the Drakhan like she belonged there was the next. Ordering them to do her bidding the third.
“Stand down” she barked at the young Drakhan guarding the stairs up to the main house
“S…sorry sir. There’s been a bit of an, erm, breech. No one else past this way. Official orders. Sorry” he nervously gripped the Elder weapon to his chest, making no attempt to aim it at Aesara, but also loathe to let it go either.
“I gave the order, you dolt. You think I don’t know firsthand about the breech” she indicated her jacket, even this least bloody one still had more than a tinge of red soaked through it.
The Drakhan paused for a second, weighing up his options “Ok sir. Sorry sir” he stood aside.
Aesara smiled “This is more like it” she said, half to herself, half out loud. The Drakhan guard looked confused as she past by and up the stairs.
She’d lost all concept of time during even the few brief days of her internment, but on emerging on the ground floor of the main house she got her bearings from the silvery moon light that filtered into the small windows of the vestibule the stairs led up to. It was quiet, the chaos of the lower floors seemed such a long way away. Aesara had to remind herself what  was actually happening down there. She moved on, through a set of double doors and into the empty kitchens. Pushing on she came out into the main dining room. Here she came across a sentry on duty.
“Where is the overlord?” she demanded, quickly slipping back into her confident Drakhan persona.
“He up in his quarters? I told the guard to move him to the safe area” she took a gamble on how the Drakhan would be responding to the trouble below.
“They…they did sir”
“At least someone has some brains round here. They go to the stables?” she guessed, no need to be right, just confident sounding.
“No sir, the university”
“Yes, something about a wider evacuation needed. Not sure what is going on down there?”
“Best you don’t boy.” Aesara made towards the exit, then paused. “How old are you boy?” in the dark it was hard to tell, but there was something about his squeaky voice.
“S…sixteen sir”
“Don’t lie to your superiors, boy”
“Sorry sir. Fourteen sir”
“Get out”
“You heard, you’re dismissed. Get out. You don’t need, don’t want to be around here”
Aesara pushed past him and into the night.
She was half way down the hill when the explosion ripped up and through the house. She resisted the urge to look back, not because it looked cooler that way, rather she didn’t want to let go of her emotions right now, as she might not be able to get them back under control. Pyrrho would always be remembered, but his memory would not get in the way of her next mission.
Some burning debris came down in front of her, quickly becoming the final resting place of her Drakhan jacket. A bush had caught alight a little further on, and that was where she kicked off the boot that had till this point hid her wooden leg. Gems glistened in the flickering fires. 
The gate into the university complex stood open and unguarded. Aesara stepped through cautiously. She knew the bulk of the Drakhan force would likely had been attempting to either quell the emerging rebellion or head off Pyrrho’s final stand, but she still expected a significant number to be left at ground level.
She needed information, an inside line, Pyrrho whispered to her mind’s ear. Aesara smiled, he certainly would not be forgotten now, would he? Moving into the camp she realised where she could get that information; the sentries’ hideaway.  Drifting through the shadows she passed by the familiar Elder dwellings of her sentry patrol that seemed a lifetime ago. The hideaway was over the other side of the track she’d been following. Firelight licked at the windows. Aesara smiled to herself again. Someone was home.
That person was Malic.
Aesara was surprised to see the overseer bent over the fire, prodding something in the cauldron suspiciously.
“No one is sure what that lump is, we ate round it”  she said to him
Malic jumped at her interruption, span round, knocking the cauldron which splashed greasy stew onto the hissing fire below.
“Aesara?! You’re alive?”
“Who said that I wasn’t?”
“We were told you’d led an attempt to destroy the university. Lost your mind. Had to be locked away for your own safety, but resisted and….” his voice trailed off.
“I don’t die easy”
“That I can see”
“Where is the overlord?”
“Down at the high council, they took over all the central camp, including my, er, your, office” he was wary of his wild looking predecessor.
“How many?”
“I’m, er, not sure” he looked down
“You don’t know how many outsiders have taken over the camp you swore to protect?” an eyebrow arched up, old overseer instinct angered
Malic just shook his head.
“They in fancy uniforms? Purple piping?”
“Er, yes, I think so”
“So at least one company of the elite guard made it” Aesara inwardly cursed. She would not be able to take them all on.
“Tell me Malic…”
“How’d you like to take the night off?”
“I, er…” the rest of the sentence cut off by him getting punched full in the face. He dropped like a stone. Aesara worked quickly to hog tie and gag him, then shifted the unconscious form out of the back of the building. She could risk no further betrayal. No one could let on that she had arrived in camp. Keep the element of surprise, Pyrrho gently whispered.
She crept into camp, not for the first time. Last time she’d done this her stealth had been aided by everyone being blind drunk, this time she was up against the best the Drakhan had to offer. Just a little step up in class, but not much. She smiled in the dark.
The arrangement of the camp was more closely pressed together this time, the Drakhan guard patterns tighter. From the shadows she watched two of them pass by the rear of the archives, counted in her head, not that high before two more passed through. Her smile had been replaced by a look of grim resignation.
On the slightly brighter side, the fact that the Drakhan had decided against trying to hold the front gate implied a lack of numbers. Almost certainly just the one unit. Although in Aesara’s current state, that was still 10 soldiers too many. She experimentally flexed her injured hand and almost gave her position away by yowling in pain.
She was, therefore, not going to be able to take a direct route to confrontation with her father. She would have to circumvent his retinue, manoeuvre through the shadows. Inner Pyrrho rubbed his hands in anticipation. Aesara shook her head, I’m going mad she told herself, even though if that madness meant her brother still being around, she would take that.
Two more guards passed by in front of her, the same as the first two she’d seen when she first set up watch here. That meant four in total patrolling the perimeter.  Assuming they were working to a shift – even the elite Drakhan had to rest at some point – then maybe another two were currently bedding down. If she knew where, she could remove the threat, but not was not the time to start searching the various sleeping quarters. Just aim not to cause enough alarm that they would be roused.
To her shame, Aesara had to keep count on her hands. So far she could account for six Drakhan. Father would keep at least two with him at all times, which left two more. Probably on guard outside whatever building or tent the overlord had located himself up. At least that is how she would arrange the guard patterns. Hopefully the best the Drakhan offered could live up to her exacting standards.
At the next pass of the perimeter guards she moved forwards, quickly covering the ground to the back of the archive tent. She’d picked the exact spot of her target from back across the path, a slightly darker shadow fell across part of the tent to the right side, this would disguise her knife insertion a little. Not perfect, but hopefully enough, especially if the Drakhan focussed more outside of the tent. She unsheathed the knife. Pyrrho’s knife, her brother subtly planting it in her trousers when they had hugged that final time. The knife was sharp, biting through the thick canvas as if it were cake. She kept the slit as short as she thought she could get away with, then crawled through.
In her head she continued to count 47…48…49. Footsteps. She crouched down on the inside of her insertion point, waiting for the guards to pass. If they noticed the slit, investigated it, then they’d get a nasty surprise when they peaked through.  But the footsteps receded. Aesara exhaled. Now onto the next part, making it through the archive. While not a regular visitor, she had a rough idea of the layout from the few times she had been there. Long dusty shelves interspersed by writing desks or reading stands. She felt her way along, only banging her shins a couple of time, thankfully the wooden one more often than the one of flesh and bone.
With a few minutes she was at the front of the darkened archive. Again she waited, listened. There were footsteps, but they were less regular, more stumbling than the patrols. They also made a slightly different sound to the Drakhan’s heavy boots. She frowned to herself. Probably meant other camp members were still about. She had assumed that they’d be confined to quarters.
Apart from the council.
Of course. Father would want to continue to surround himself with a compliant audience. All the better if fine food and drinks were involved. On all fours she edged towards the flap at the tent entrance. At the bottom of the entrance she cautiously lifted a corner of the heavy material. She could see the council marquee just a few paces away given the closer confines of the current camp layout. In front was a Drakhan guard, stood to attention, an appearance of formidable toughness and constant awareness. Or, to a soldier and sentry  of Aesara’s experience, a bored young man asleep with his eyes open. Her suspicions were confirmed when his comrade emerged from the other side of the marquee and had to tap quite firmly on his shoulder to wake him from his upright slumber. The two Drakhan briefly shared some quiet words, before the man who had been standing on guard began his turn of patrolling round the marquee.
The Drakhan may not be as alert as they should be, but it would still be a tough ask to take one out undetected. Especially as her swollen knee made a rapid approach impossible. Even if she was successful there would be other Drakhan in the marquee with father, and the whiney idiots of the council would surely alert the remaining guards. She needed a more cunning line of approach. Frowning once more she was about to close the small corner of the flap she peered out from under, take time to consult her inner Pyrrho, but it was the marquee flap that opened instead. Aesara froze.
It was Farrow, a crusty old Professor, one of Celcus’ closest allies on the council. The old woman stumbled away from the marquee, Aesara could not quite tell if her unsteady gait was drink or age driven. Farrow paused a few paces away, turned and wolf whistled at the Drakhan guard. Drink Aesara remarked to herself. With the Drakhan unresponsive to her advances, Farrow continued on her way, down between two squat Elder building towards a tent a little further away.
The latrine.
A plan was forming in Aesara’s mind. A downright dirty plan. The best kind whispered Pyrrho.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Chapter twenty three

Aesara couldn’t get comfortable. The cell, of course, wasn’t built for comfort, but still the bed she’d remembered as a child had been more comfortable than this lumpy  mess. Maybe she was just getting old.
Or maybe it was the boot on her stomach, the hands at her throat.
She’d been dozing when the Drakhan entered her room, no time to prepare, to defend herself. There were four of them, foul breath and body odour washed over her. Two held her down, the other two stood by the door, watching, smiling. One smiling out of the anticipation of imminent fun. The other smiling out of the anticipation of imminent revenge.  
“Fancy meeting you here” said he seeking revenge, one hand gripping an ornately carved staff. The other in a sling.
“I just fancy you” said the Drakhan seeking something all the more unsavoury. Aesara’s suitor from the camp, lecherous grin, saliva tipped tongue flicking the corners of his mouth.
“And I fancy knocking your heads together. How about you call off your lap dogs and we see who has their way” Aesara snarled from her position on the ground, other two Drakhan holding her there.
“What, and have you blind side me again?” the one in the sling stepped forward, but his eyes were on the staff rather than Aesara. “You know what, this is a well crafted weapon. Signs of wear and tear, but still some use left in it” he swung it one handed, metal tipped end striking her across the nose. Aesara yelped in pain, blood gushed down her face.
“Hey! Save some for me, Braun” said the Drakhan remaining at the doorway. “ I ain’t no freak, not like that overlord, she still gotta be breathin’ on my turn”
“Shut up Marston” the slinged Drakhan, Braun, commanded, angry glance flashed across the room.
“Hey Marston…you gonna…stand for him…talking to you…like that” Aesara had to gasp between words, blood spilling into her mouth
This time the staff came stamping down on her hand. Bone crunched. Aesara cried out in pain.
“Your mouth keeps getting you into trouble Sara” Braun loomed over her “You just don’t know when to shut up. When to take your punishment like a woman”
“It was…always said that…my bark…was worse than…. my bite….My mouth…it often…gallops away…from me” she smiled, blood outlined her bared teeth.
The staff smashed against her knee, ligaments pinged, Aesara yelled in agony.
Silence fell on the cell, Braun paced a little, waiting for any more provocation from his captive. Aesara spat up more blood, but said nothing. There was a faint gurgling noise. Braun frowned, looked down, but it wasn’t Aesara, she just whimpered in pain. Nor was it the two Drakhan holding her there. Braun looked up, towards the door where Marston stood. Marston stared back, vacant eyed.
Blood gurgled from the slit in his throat.
“I would ask if you wanted to take on someone your own size” said a voice, not from Marston, rather just behind him. “But how about instead someone half your size, but twice as angry?” Marston’s body collapsed onto the floor.
Pyrrho leapt.
Braun instinctively held up the staff in an attempt at defence, but Pyrrho’s momentum barrelled through it, slamming into the taller man, dagger slashing franticly. The two Drakhan on Aesara jumped up, their own weapons quickly unholstered, charging down Pyrrho. Aesara rose, Aesara picked up her staff.
Aesara did what Aesara does best.
Bodies hit the floor.
Pyrrho was breathing heavily, dagger hand and arm drenched red. Next to him his sister was realigning her nose, a meaty crunch made him wince.
“Well…” he panted “That was fun”
“Would have been more fun….if you’d got her five minutes…sooner” Aesara spat a greasy red globule onto Braun’s body, shocked look etched on his death face.
“And let these guys miss you razor whit?” Pyrrho smirked between hurried breathes.
“We need to get back to father, surprise him before he knows we’re free” Aesara limped towards the door, staff once again used as a crutch rather than weapon.
“I’ve got a better plan”
Aesara raised a questioning eyebrow at him
“Follow me” he said “I’ll explain on the way”
It took them much longer to get back to the store than it had taken Pyrrho to make his way to the cell initially. Aesara was struggling. Blood still leaked from her ruined nose, one hand almost completely out of action, one knee sending flashes of pain every step. Pure adrenalin had enabled her to take down the remaining Drakhan in the cell, but the come down from that was excruciating.
They had to pause every so often for Aesara to steel herself for the next section. Pyrrho using the respite to explain a bit more of the plan, or scout ahead. While the Drakhan presence in this part of the underground complex was less than usual given demands elsewhere, soldiers still lurked. They just needed to get back to the store, finish setting up there, then attempt to make a getaway. Hopefully link up with Volk and his crew, assuming they still held out against the Drakhan reinforcements. If everything went smoothly.
The bodies strewn about the entrance to the store immediately told Pyrrho that everything was not going to go smoothly. A small Drakhan unit, elite guard by the look of the uniform lay dead or dying. Vicious wounds to their torsos and faces, blood splattered the walls and ceiling. It had been a brutal battle. But between who? The double doors had been smashed off their hinges, big wooden splinters littered the floor.
Pyrrho hurried into the stores to check on Marcia and Niv. Aesara made her way more slowly passed the bodies, picking up a couple of axes on her way. On the far side of the store Pyrrho caught sight of Marcia. Her back was to him as she continued to lug barrels about, arranging a trail of black powder between them. Pyrrho called out a relieved greeting, Marcia held a hand above her in recognition, but did not turn round. Absorbed in her task assumed Pyrrho. Just as he should be in trying to find Niv.
Or Niv’s body.
Pyrrho froze. Slumped over by the wall facing the doorway lay his former accomplice, head slumped forward, a short sword still gripped tight in her left hand. She was covered in blood, whether her own or the Drakhan’s Pyrrho could not tell. He managed to unlock his joints and step over to her, almost slipping in a trail of blood that led there. Kneeling down, blood quickly soaking through his thin trousers, he put a hand on her head. Moving his hand down to her chin he planned to lift her head up, get a final memory to exert revenge in the name of.
He felt breath on his wrist.
“Niv?” he almost whispered then louder “Niv?” he gently tilted her head up. A deep gash above her right eye socket meant her face was as bloody as the rest of her. He tried to wipe away blood from her eyes, but it was a hopeless cause.
“Pyrrho? That you?” came a weak voice
“I’m here Niv”
“Good, good. Never did it….the easy way, did we?” a slight smile crept on the edges of her mouth.
“Be boring otherwise” he replied, still cradling her head
“Never wanted…to be…the bloody hero though”
“We don’t get to choose our destinies. Can you move? We’ll need to get out soon”
“Nah Pyrrho, I’m …done here. Took out seven of the bastards…with me though”
“Eight by my count” Aesara came to stand next to them
“Eight on one. Fancy…that” Niv’s smile grew a little wider, but faded as even that weak exertion tired her further. “Hey Pyrrho…you gotta promise me…to tell this story… round the camp fires. The legend o’Niv” a gasping chuckle “Got a ring… to it”
“Bards will sing of you for eons more” Pyrrho spoke gently
“Ha, good. But one thing”
“You know in the old…the old folk tales, when the wounded hero…says their final words?” she tried to look up at him, but her eye sockets quickly pooled blood and her head slumped forward a little again.
“Y, yes” Pyrrho replied, unsure.
“Well they always…have something clever…to say. That weren’t never…my thing….clever words. Could you make somet’ witty up….for me? Make the legend o’Niv…that bit fancier?”
“And with the final fight complete, I bathed in the blood of my conquered foes” it was Aesara that spoke, almost absentmindedly.
“Yeah! Like that” Niv sounded happy “No idea why…you said your sis…was so bad…Pyrrho?!”
“We misjudge people. But we can also admit our mistakes” Pyrrho was looking up at Aesara as he said this. Their eyes locked for a few seconds. Aesara slowly nodded.
The breath on Pyrrho’s wrist stopped.
“I am sorry” Aesara said, resting a hand on the back of Pyrrho’s now slumped head. “She was a brave warrior”
Pyrrho chuckled. “No she wasn’t. She was a bloody nightmare, but she was also my friend. My saviour. Her name shall live on”
“The Drakhan will certainly curse her for years to come. But first we have another issue” Aesara’s gaze shifted to the doorway littered with corpses.
“What is it?”
“Drakhan elite units, they come in tens. Niv took down eight, two got away. I don’t think they will stay away”
“Father will calculate our intention”
“He will. He will also be desperate, that he let elite guards leave his side to what, seek new supplies here, must mean the situation is finely balanced above us”
“Then we need to hold them off long enough to set off our last hurrah”
Aesara nodded.
“Come” instructed Pyrrho, “let us see how Marcia progresses” he got up, carefully resting Niv back against the wall as he did so. One last glance at his fallen ally, his fallen friend. He turned to head over to the other side of the store.
Marcia was still busy among the barrels as they emerged from the high looming racks of supplies. Pyrrho was first to arrive, Aesara struggling along behind him. He was about to call another greeting, but was distracted.
More blood.
The legs and an arm poked out from underneath a smashed barrel, pile of black powder spilled around the limbs. A small trickle of blood flowed from the scene.
“The ninth elite guard. So only one got away” Aesara stated, recognising the uniform sleeve cuffs on the lone arm that could be seen.
“So we nearly made it undetected” Pyrrho replied “Unless Marcia has another guard tucked away in here somewhere? Hey Marica, how about it?”
Fortunestone’s spymaster did not reply, she was still busy a few metres away from them, back turned.
Pyrrho frowned “Marcia? You ok?” he strode over to her, reached up a hand to tap her shoulder. His hand squelched, came back sticky. Came back red. “Marcia? No!” he stepped round and in front of her.
She hadn’t spoken to him as her jaw was now only partially connected to the rest of her skull. A lose flap of skin that had been a cheek dripped blood down her front. “No no no no noooo” Pyrho whimpered.
“Sword thrust” Aesara joined them “That she’s still standing is a miracle” as if to prove the point, Marcia slumped into Pyrrho’s arms. “ We gotta get her treatment” Aesara’s words flowed fast, soldiers instinct back in control.  “Carry her out” although in her head she couldn’t work out how. Aesara certainly couldn’t carry the load in her current state, and Pyrrho would struggle, feats of strength not his forté.
Marcia shook her head, drops of blood were flung off. She turned to the barrel she was next to, started tracing a line with her finger. In blood she formed two letters, GO. Marcia pointed at the door with one shaky hand, with the other she took out a piece of flint and a small knife.
Aesara’s eyes widened, Pyrrho’s face hardened.
“No” he said, helping Marcia to sit down as he did so.
“We stay then” agreed Aesara “We finish this here”
“No” Pyrrho repeated. “You will go, Aesara, you are no use here. You are unable to fight on, and it needs not three of us to light a simple flame. It would be a pointless sacrifice in a cursed institution” he stared up at his taller sister.
“But your sacrifice would not be pointless?” Aesara demanded of him.
“I will hold off Drakhan reinforcements while you get away. Only one of us can leave here, that one will be you.”
“I have never tolerated you giving me orders, little brother”
“Then listen to reason for once in your life. My life is littered with bad decisions, but two stand out. All those years ago I hid when I should have helped you. Years later I left town when I should have stayed for Marcia. One of these mistakes I feel I have atoned for this day coming for you. The other I can make good on now. But you, you still have your own demons to face I feel, demons that will not be tamed down here. Farewell, big sister.”
The two maintained a shared gaze, for once Pyrrho felt empowered enough not to wilt from his sister’s intense stare. It was Aesara that broke off first. Broke their gaze in order to slowly nod.
“Take these” she proffered the axes taken from the fallen Drakhan.
“You mistake me for a warrior dear sister” he pushed the axes back towards her “The shadows have always been my domain” he looked over to the long, tall, racks of Elder supplies. Filed not only with ample provisions, but also ample hiding places “The Drakhan will not tread easily on their approach to our fireworks”
Aesara smiled “They will not know what hit them”
“They will, for I shall scream our names to my last breath”
Aesara, normally so disdainful of warriors yelling as they entered battle threw back her head and laughed.
“Fare well, honoured brother” she grasped him to her, the hug unfamiliar, uncomfortable, but not unwelcome.
Aesara limped away.
Pyrrho turned to Marcia, sat down against the barrel she had written atop of. A small trail of black powder led from her to the arrangement of barrels all around them. He smiled broadly at her.

“To go out with a bang, quite literally. This will be fun” and he, like his sister had, laughed. 

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Chapter twenty two


Pyrrho couldn’t get comfortable.  The cell, of course, wasn’t built for comfort, but still the bed he’d remembered as a child had been more comfortable than this lumpy  mess. Maybe he was just getting old. A distant thrum above his head implied the banquet was continuing unaffected by his plot. His father was probably back up there now, enjoying the limelight, celebrating his success in unlocking the Previous technology. Plotting his takeover of the rest of the lands. Designing his next set of experiments to get a handle of what the dark technology was truly capable of. Pyrrho shuddered, then briefly fidgeted to try and get the pain in his back to subside.
With discomfort, coupled with that ever present odd light from the walls, set to deny him any hope of sleep, Pyrrho replayed the events in his office back in his mind. He couldn’t decide whether his father had explained his plans to them in genuine expectation that they would willingly return to his service, or if it was more as a way to boast of his achievements, to rub their faces in what father saw as the error of his children’s ways. Perhaps it was just a simple case of megalomania as he had initially suspected.
The noise from above grew louder, the party must be picking up pace. Pyrrho sighed, thoughts now turned to his sister. Aesara had been led away by leering Drakhan in stunned silence. Knowing that the boy at the well who paid the price of her rage all those years ago had lived. More than that, knowing that he was her half brother. That would be too much to handle for even the most resolute warrior. Pyrrho wanted to be there for her now, a powerful sibling tie that he had thought broken all that time ago. He restlessly turned on the bed. The lump now digging into his side rather than back. Curious.
Pyrrho jumped off the bed and eyed the thin mattress suspiciously. Above him the raucous party began to bang and crash. Sounded like cutlery and pans banging together. The academics really can not handle their drink Pyrrho thought to himself. But his attention quickly returned to the bed, his hands pulling up the mattress. Nothing underneath on the hard ground. Made sense, too easy to check by the guards. But there was something sewn inside the mattress. Pyrrho began pulling at the seam, it took more effort than the slight man would care to admit, but after some exertion the seam popped and he could rip it open. He pulled out the rough wool stuffing, throwing it to the side. If the lump turned out to be nothing more than a dried pea then he’d be sleeping on the hard stone floor with not even the meagre comfort of an intact thin mattress. But it wasn’t a pea. It was a dagger.
It was his dagger.
He recognised the intricate design of the hilt, thin strips of leather wrapped in a tight pattern, the heel of the hilt studded in onyx. It had been with him for many years, until he had been forced to give it up at the Steed’s redoubt. Pyrrho frowned. No, not given up, rather given away. The frown turned into a smile.
Pyrrho was still sat among the innards of his mattress, knife in hand, a little while later when the footsteps began to approach. The bowels of the Previous dungeon-complex echoed sounds, and the approach of footsteps had been Pyrrho’s one advantage in his childhood. Gave him chance to feign sleep rather than risk another beating. More often gave him chance to hide whatever his latest construction designed to aide his escapes. This time it gave him the opportunity to conceal the knife in the waist of his trousers at the base of his back.
The lock in the door turned – no fancy Previous technology here, just retrofitted thick wooden construction. With the door swinging inwards, three Drakhan guards entered, all carrying knarled wooden cudgels. Time for a friendly beating thought Pyrrho sarcastically.
“What’s been goin’ on in ‘ere” the first asked surveying the torn mattress and wool strewn floor
“I was bored” Pyrrho replied
“Well we’re here to provide a bit ‘o entertainment” the second guard laughed at his own humour, slapping the cudgel into the palm of his other hand.
“Can’t wait” said Pyrrho, one hand slowly reaching behind him
“Time to get the show on the road then” said the third guard with a smile.
Said Niv.
Pyrrho’s old friend aimed a vicious blow to the back of the head of the second guard, while Pyrrho leapt at the first. Front on attack was not Pyrrho’s preference, but the element of surprise was. Closing the Drakhan down quickly, he slipped inside the stunned man’s guard and slashed at his throat. The two Drakhan hit the floor almost simultaneously.
“Just like old times” Niv grinned
“Never thought I’d be this happy to see you again” Pyrrho reflected the broad smile “Big risk on your part though, saving little old me”
“Nah, this gig ain’t for me Pyrrho, way too much messed up stuff going on here. Time to split. Saving your sorry arse is just a bonus”
“Thought you liked messed up stuff”
“In the privacy of ma sleeping quarters maybe, but you should see the weird stuff that creep overlord gets up to”
“I am afraid that I can imagine it all too well” Pyrrho looked uneasy “ So how do we get out from here?”
“Out da front door” Niv had poked her head out of the door and into the corridor, checking.
“We never were a front door sort of an operation, Niv, you getting rusty?”
“Well Volk was never some renegade leader before either. What you been doin’ to im?” she turned back into the room, satisfied no more company was on the way she began searching the bodies on the cell floor for anything useful
“I don’t follow”
“That racket you can hear?” Niv cocked an ear to the ceiling, the commotion above was still clearly audible “that’s your man at arms leadin’ the rebellion”
“Rebellion?” Pyrrho listened. The cutlery and pans he thought he’d heard crashing together before could easily be swords and shields depending on the preconception you approached it with.
“Yeah, y’know that mercenary crew you turned up with? Well he’d been thrown in the slammer with them over in the west section. Locked up proper, armed Drakhan all around. Took ‘im less than a day to organise a mutiny. The Drakhan are having to draft in reinforcements from the main gate. So, like I said, we leave by the front door”
“We’re not leaving”
“Ah, you gonna start goin’ on about honour an’ that? Cos you know me Pyrrho, not my style. Much prefer stayin’ alive in disgrace than dyin’ a bloody hero” Niv looked up from her search of the second body, pocketing some coins as she did.
“Won’t be any living disgracefully unless we stop your overlord. I need to get to him”
“No way, he’s got his elite guard with ‘im all the bloody time. You don’t screw with those fella’s”
“What about his research, who guards that?”
Niv smiled “Your lookin’ at her?”
“None other, I lead one of the watches down there. Done pretty well for myself. Mind you, not like you ‘av to be super solider to progress through the idiot Drakhan”
“Take me to it”
“That is more difficult”
“Why?” Pyrrho urged
“We guard the outside, overlord and his boffin cronies go in through some fancy Previous door. It slides right out the ceiling. Well weird.”
“There’s got to be a way in. Back door maybe?”
“No, not even through the stores that run underneath the laboratory, I checked, always good to know the best hidey-holes, that’s me payin’ attention to your learnings right there” Niv looked pleased with herself.
“The stores?”
“Yeah, its Elder kit mainly, the overlord is less interested in it now he has his Previous stuff to play with”
“What sort of kit?”
“Some writings, clothing, armour, no good weapons mind, as they’re over in the armoury”
“Anything else, anything we can use?”
“Don’t think so. There’s a lot of barrels down there gettin’ in the way”
“Barrels” a memory twigged deep in Pyrrho’s mind.
“Yeah, nothing good inside em though. I cracked one open a while back, hopin’ for a drop of booze. But na, just this black powder.”
Pyrrho smiled, the nugget of a memory sprouting into the warm glow of a devious plan. “Niv, there was a woman in the group we were captured with”
“Uh-huh, short, a bit dumpy?”
“A nice height and curved, but yes. Where is she being held?”
“Just down the hall, ready for interrogation, till Volk’s mischief interrupted”
“Good. And Aesara?”
“Big sis? She’s over the other side o’the complex, in the old cells”
Not great, but not insurmountable either “Ok” said Pyrrho, “First we go get Marcia, then you show us the stores, then I go get Aesara”
“You sure you don’t just wanna got out the front door?” a resigned Niv asked.
“We’ve never done it the easy way, no reason to start now” Pyrrho laughed. The two of them left the cell.
Marcia was waiting for them. Rather, more accurately, Marcia was waiting for them outside of her cell .
“About time Pyrrho. You getting sloppy in your old age or something? I’ve been waiting ages” Marcia greeted them
“What? How?” Pyrrho was again confused. He peaked into the cell, two Drakhan lay face down on the floor, snoring loudly.
“Security here is terrible. They’re all distracted by something going off over in the main section”
“I know. What did you do to these two?”
“Worked my charms as ever. That and a nice dose of your special brew that I smuggled in. So what’s the plan? Drakhan distracted, out the front door?”
“I like ‘er already” Niv gave Pyrrho a playful nudge
“And I am sure I would like you to, should your idiot of a companion ever care to introduce us” Marcia scolded
“Oh yes, Marcia, Niv. Niv, Marcia. Now can we get on with the plan please”
“What plan?” Marcia asked
“The plan that dun’t involve the front door” Niv complained.
“Stores. Boom. Aesara. Volk. Exit. Beer. Lots of beer” Pyrrho was getting more aware of the need to make progress while the Drakhan had their attention elsewhere.
“Sounds like fun” Marcia clapped her hands together.
“The last bit does, but if you gonna insist on the other bits, follow me” Niv set off at a trot down the corridor, leading the way to the stores.
It was like a rabbit warren. Occasionally Pyrrho would get sparks of memory from the certain way a corridor forked, or an odd looking door flashed by them as they maintained a brisk pace. All those years ago, this had been his domain, hours spent surveying the hallways and rooms during his frequent attempts at escape. Hours then spent in a windowless room being punished for trying to escape. He wanted to destroy it all.
Eventually they came to a wood and wrought iron double door. The guard post nearby was empty, all hands on deck above them as Volk’s insurrection refused to be put down. Niv produced a heavy looking key from inside her jacket and proceeded to open the doors. The room beyond them was cavernous. The eerie light from the Previous walls cast strange shadows among the racks of books and clothes stored there.
“Over here” Niv pushed on into the room, pointing towards the far corner.
They made their way through the narrow corridors created by the close packed rows of Elder materials. The racks then opened up into a wider space at the far side, filled with neatly arranged rows and columns of black powder filled barrels.
“Woah” exclaimed Marcia as they came to stand in the shadow of the mass of barrels.
“Indeed” said Pyrrho, as he ran a hand down a nearby wooden cask.
“What do we do with it all?” Marcia looked at him
“That’s where you come into it” replied Pyrrho “You’ve seen it being used close at hand, how do we make it do its thing?”
“Fire. But you don’t want to be close when the two substances meet”
“Can you set it up, get us a little time to get away, then bring it down?”
“I think so, but you sure this is how you want to do it?” Marcia looked unsure “You want to lose all the knowledge found here?”
“I don’t want to lose it. I just think it should be discovered more equitably. Not just the plaything of one man. One twisted man. Maybe if we all come at it more gradually then we won’t make the mistakes the Previous did”
“Ok. It will take me a little time to set up though. And a little help shifting these barrels around”
Pyrrho just looked at Niv
“Ahh, come on Pyrrho! I bust you out of jail and within ‘alf an hour you ‘av me riskin’ me neck in the middle of some Elder magics” Niv raised her arms in protest
Pyrrho kept on looking at Niv
“Oh altright. Geez. Ok”
“Excellent. I’ve got places to be” Pyrrho turned towards the exit
“Away from the boom” moaned Niv
“You going to get Aesara?” asked Marcia, look of concern on her face
“Common Pyrrho” said Niv “She’s all the way on the other side of the complex. Plus she can look after herself”
“She can” replied Pyrrho, his back to the two women “But I will not leave her to prove it alone. Not again” his head fell, then back up, look of determination in his eyes.

And also tears. 

Chapter twenty one

The bowels of the Previous castle were perpetually lit by an eerie glow from the walls and ceilings. No one knew how the old technology worked, but it proved highly suitable for its current occupiers. The workshops and meeting rooms we constantly inhabited by a range of experts from across the lands, puzzling at the ancient Previous riddles. This activity never ceased, shift after shift, hour after hour, day after day.
Deeper down were the cells, here the constant light served more as an instrument of torture than an aid to constant work as in the workshops above. Sleep was next to impossible, body clock soon out of rhythm. It made prisoners confused, more prone to cooperation, confession.
Aesara shivered as the memories came rushing back. They were being marched through the labyrinthine by a phalanx of Drakhan soldiers, some with the Elder weapons, others with wicked looking swords or axes. Resistance would be futile, but perhaps a desperate last stand would be preferable to their next meeting. She looked at Pyrrho, the cruel light highlighting the bags under his eyes and worry on his face.
They came to a halt against a matt black wall, one of the Drakhan banging on it with the hilt of her axe. There was a small fizzing noise, then a low whine as the wall, door, slid to one side. This was something neither sibling had seen before, the Previous building obviously yielding new secrets.
There was no time to linger at the doorway, rough hands pushed them forwards. The room beyond was not large, but its round shape and bare dark grey walls made it unsettling. On the opposite side to the door stood an elegantly carved desk. Dark woods inlaid with various gems and shiny metals. Much like Aesara's leg, but on a grander scale.
Behind the desk sat an elderly man, cloak hood now pushed back to reveal a bald head save for a wisp or two of white hair. Grey, close set, eyes peered at them from above a large pudgy nose and pinched mouth. He nodded the guards to stop their captives in the middle of the room, the Drakhan then spreading out to the curved walls, two with the Elder weapons stood either side of the desk, pointing them threateningly at the siblings.
 “So this is how we are to meet again. My own children seek to poison me?” the old man did not sound angry, but nor was he amused.
“We seek to stop your wicked plans” Aesara spoke up, although the wavering tone of her voice hinted at her nerves.
“And what plans are those?” their father rested his elbows on the table, knitting fingers together and resting his chin on them.
“Unleashing yet more dark technology, it is a dangerous game you play” Aesara replied
“It is no game. I bring a return of the modern world”
“You bring the curse of The Previous back upon us”
The old man chuckled to himself “Foolish girl. I thought we schooled you better than to indulge in that superstitious twaddle”
“Watching a thousand men and women die in an instant in front of my very eyes is a curse whether driven by technology or sprites”
“My technology saved your life not that long ago in the grand scheme of things” he nodded at her leg
“Kept me alive for your experiments”
“Those were difficult times for us all. I lacked for as many test subjects as I would have desired. Thankfully you and your brother bring me a fresh new crop” another chuckle.
Aesara shuddered, fell back into silence.
“Who betrayed us?” Pyrrho spoke for the first time
“Ah-ha, there's my boy, looking for an angle. All will be revealed dear Pyrrho. I have a question or two for you myself first”
“And I will keep being questioned till you have the answer you want. This will be like old times. A proper family reunion”
“The reunion is not entirely complete yet” their father smiled
“A shame mother could not be here then, what with being murdered on your orders” Pyrrho was angry, wanted to find a way to hurt his estranged father.
“Your mother was a drunk, you were better off with me”
Pyrrho couldn't help but laugh “Driven to drink by your madness more like. And if we were better off with you, I dread the alternative”
“You have been privileged to stand at the dawn of a new age, but instead chose to throw it back in my face”
“You play with technology you don’t understand” Aesara jumped back in, “You care not for the cost. Or for the fact it destroyed the Elders, then The Previous”
“Nothing destroyed them, my silly little Sara”
That use of her name, the original person to call her that, the memories associated. Aesara scowled, fists clenched tight, muscles taught. The Drakhan became nervous, both of the Elder weapons were now pointed at her. 
“What do you mean?” Pyrrho interjected, aiming to give his sister time to calm, time to lessen the urge to do something stupid.
“If you had stuck around, then you would now understand” his father chided “The Elders. The Previous. Ourselves. We are one and the same”
“What…?” Pyrrho scrunched his face up in confusion, but he was also intrigued
His father smiled, recognising the curiosity of his son in himself. “You have a nasty habit of turning from questionee to questioner” he snigger once more “But I will indulge you. Never got much opportunity to read you bed time stories before” Aesara growled, but their father ignored her and continued. “The Elders were not a single group, or a single period of time. They existed from the dawn of mankind, they were mankind, for thousands of years. They made rapid progress, developing the written word, then the technologies that would be recorded on paper to be hunted down eons later by the simple folk at the university” a casual glance at Aesara. “They progressed fast across the fields of human endeavour. Gunpowder, medicine, construction, farming. They had ambition, unlike the feeble excuse of today’s mankind” a frown “They learnt to control lightening, light, fire. Giant machines did their bidding, producing automated carriages or little trinkets. They left this planet to visit the moon”
Aesara laughed. “This is indeed a bedtime fairytale” she said. The laugh made the Drakhan even more nervous than when she was angry.
Her father continued, unperturbed. “They moved beyond simple paper. Their knowledge committed first to box like machines, then the very air we breathe. Communication was instant, global. The Elders became The Previous. With no need for paper, the Previous abandoned such an outdated form of recording knowledge. Elder archives were abandoned, or destroyed to make room for more advanced pursuits. Not out of malice, but out of a lack of need for such anachronisms of a previous age.  At the height of their powers, the Previous carried the sum total of their entire knowledge with them in a tiny personal device. Try doing that with your stuffy archives” he nodded at Aesara, who just shook her head in reply; her father had finally succumb to a madness long promised by his previous conduct .
“And you seek this technology?” Pyrrho spoke
“Not seek it, for we have now found it” their father smiled, reached into a draw on his side of the table and produced a small grey rectangular box. It was smooth, like a pebble, but straight edged. “Finding these was easy” he stared at the device “for they litter the Previous cities”
“You enter the cities?” Aesara
“Of course, so would you if it represented a short cut home, you are not superstitious like most Aesara”
“But I would not linger to play in the ruins”
“As I have already said, it is not a game. These machines” he held up the device “are the key to my, our, next great step forward”
“So if you already have the machines, what have the university been doing?” Pyrrho’s curiosity well and truly had the best of him by now.
“Having the machine is one thing, making it work another. From what we can understand, the demise of the Previous coincided with an event that rendered their technology non-functional. But now, with the university’s help,  we can turn them back on”
“An event” Aesara mocked “So you admit you know not what you deal with. The event the Previous stumbled into despite all their advances”
“That is for the historians or philosophers of your collective to puzzle over. Maybe it was a war, or a natural disaster. What is more important is that I, we, can open up the Previous’ entire knowledge at once. No more scrabbling round in the dirt for a torn half a page of outdated Elder ramblings. I will change the seven counties forever. I will rule them. A society based on research and progress. Can you not see what you sought to destroy will benefit us all?” eyes wide, eyebrows arched.
“A society based around one man and his insatiable desire for progress, no matter the cost in human suffering, is not a society I want to be part of” Aesara’s retort was said with venom.
He father put the device on the desk and rubbed his eyes. “Then you won’t be part of it” he said, exasperated. “You will spend your days back where you started them. I will not have you get in the way of my, our, glorious future. How about you, boy?” he looked at Pyrrho “I had hoped to convince you both of your prior follies, to join me as I unlock the untold secrets of the Previous. But it seems you sister is a lost cause. Too damaged by past misfortune to see the way ahead. But you were always more aware of the bigger picture”
Misfortune?! Is that what you what I suffered on your orders, at your hands?” Aesara’s anger was flaring again, the Drakhan around the room shifted uncomfortably.
Pyrrho put a hand on her shoulder, she almost through it off in rage, but there was something about his touch. Reassuring. They were in this together.
“I do see the big picture, father” Pyrrho said “Tell me this, the Previous, did just one person have all of this knowledge you talk of? Or was it shared among them?”
“Some had more than others”
“But all had at least some?” it was Pyrrho’s eyebrow that was raised now “No one had a monopoly, no one person, especially not one person as, as twisted as yourself” the eyebrow was now accompanied by a snarl. “I shall have no part of this dangerous power trip father, it will not be a family affair”
Their father chuckled. “Not quite true. Not all of my blood are as closed minded as yourselves” he nodded at the Drakhan near to the entrance way, one of them proceeded to press something in the wall and the door swished open.  “Please allow me to formally introduce your half brother” he said to Aesara and Pyrrho with an ominous smile.
Onatas entered the room.
“What the…?” Aesara anger was subsumed by surprise, confusion, alarm.
Onatas carefully made his way round the circumference of the room, careful to stay out of reach of his two older siblings, also careful not to make eye contact. He stood behind the desk, to the right of his father.
“You see my daughter, I did care for your wellbeing despite what you may think. Wanted to keep you safe”
“This little pipsqueak was to keep Aesara safe?” Pyrrho spoke, Aesara still too stunned to make sense of the situation. “More likely you wanted to keep an eye on her, make sure she didn’t get in the way of you plans”
Their father held his hands up “I admit, there was an element of self preservation. But our interests aligned; I used my growing influence to stop her being taken in by any of those undesirable warlords, keep her safe from their bloodspill. But then that idiot Steed accepted her into his retinue” he frowned at the memory “that mess was a little harder to resolve. She progressed in his ranks as we all knew she would be capable of. Maybe she would even have succeeded the Steed himself one day?”
“So you engaged the Drakhan?” Aesara still could not rationalise all that she was seeing and hearing, but her tactical instinct, the warrior of her mind, was still thinking straight as it always did in the turmoil of battle. “You bogged the Steed down in combat. You oversaw atrocities carried out, the perpetual cycle of violence. When I had left the battlefield for good, you moved to destroy the Steed for good”
Her father gave a gentle clap “I already had contact with the Drakhan, providing gradual improvements in armour and weaponry. They shared my desire to unify the lands”
“To dominate the lands” corrected Aesara
The old man continued “So it became easier to influence their tactical advances, to push the Steed, to free you from his grasp. Can’t you see I wanted to protect you?”
“Protect yourself. The Steed was set in his ways, I had fresh ideas that could have turned the tide”
“And I exploited that difference of opinion. You were kept safe and, yes, so was I”
“I don’t mean to sound self centred, but where do I fit into this? You had no fear that I would return to extract revenge?” Pyrrho still had many questions
His father chuckled in response. “In the early years after your, hmmm, sudden exit, you were a long way away, with your lady in Fortunestone. More preoccupied with petty town intrigues and affairs of the heart than threatening my goals. When you left to enter the periodic service of the Steed I had my concerns, but you always seemed to be more about the thrill of the chase than any wider goal.”
“Any wider megalomania you mean” Pyrrho interjected
“However you put it, you were of only minor concern to me. Now your woman, you former woman, she was of more interest to me. I look forward to meeting her later, find out if she enjoyed snooping around my preparations for the Steed. You know I have little tolerance for people breaking into my territory” he gave Pyrrho an ominous look. The younger man now looked more like the one to crack with rage, Drakhan weapons moved to point in his direction.
“So where does he come into this” it was Aesara’s turn to rest a hand on Pyrrho’s shoulder while she nodded towards Onatas, the apprentice still stood silently by the desk.
“That was where things began to come together quite nicely for me” replied their father “There was only so much progress I could make myself, the Previous secrets required more manpower. Onatas was making good progress with me, but was capable of more. At your university he could both learn, influence, and keep an eye on you”
“And take me out of the way when you needed the university to accept your proposition to move here”
They were interrupted by Pyrrho, now a little calmer at his sister’s touch, slapping his forehead. “I should have known! Idiot” he chided himself
“Known what?” asked Aesara, their father sharing her questioning look.
“That that tubby little brat knew more than he was letting on”
“Let me guess father” Pyrrho ignored her question to ask his own “The Previous, as they developed, as they committed their knowledge to the air, did their language change? Did their writings?”
“Their society progressed universally, writings included”
“And that was why Onatas was able to read the Drakhan surrender deman at the Steed’s redoubt when no one else could. You had communicated in Previous writing rather than Elder. He was the only one there that understood it. That was also why it took Marcia’s code-breakers so long to translate the note sent to Fortunestone” a riddle solved, but Pyrrho was far from satisfied.
“Always an eye for the intrigue” his father slowly nodded “I had worried that Onatas would be unmasked, that perhaps one of you would recognise him, even”
“How would we recognise him?” Aesara frowned “We’ve never met him before”
“We have” Onatas spoke for the first time, a low resentment in his voice “Many years ago admittedly, but it was a time that I would suggest stuck in the memory for both of us” he continued
“I don’t understand” Aesara shook her head
“You were not the only one to suffer misfortune in your childhood, sister. I suffered mine when we first met…

“…at the old well”