Two hundred and seven years ago the Northern Continent was wracked with war, a hateful war that would become known to future generation as the Seven Kingdoms War. The seven kingdoms of the Northern Continent all vied for power and their respective claims to land were ardently contested by furious battles and continual, amorphous alliances that stood strong for a few months then dissolved almost as quickly as they arose. The Seven Kingdoms War claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in the process. But that was until one figure, a minor nobleman by the name of Nolst, was appointed as the head of the army of kingdom of Greater Teruvia. With his phenomenal leadership as well as the backing of certain states in the Southern Continent, Nolst swept his armies across the face of the Northern Continent and one by one her crushed each and every royal house that had stood against them. Old alliances were broken and yesteryears mightiest vanguards became as nothing. Within the space of four years Greater Teruvia was the undisputed ruling state of the Northern Continent.
Though it took many lives to bring it about, the Northern Continent was finally at peace. And as a result of that popular opinion began to turn against monarchs and monarchies. "War is for Kings!" became a prevalent slogan amongst the peasantry. So quite naturally it was only a short time after the conquest that the noblemen of Greater Teruvia 'gently' persuaded Nolst to have the Teruvian monarchy, the last royal house on the continent, murdered. Each one of its eighty-nine members were rounded up and executed publicly. Subsequent to that it was a simple matter of Nolst assimilating the seven kingdoms under one form, the Elcourvian Empire, and appointing himself Emperor.
Well over two hundred years had passed since the unification.
The current emperor, Nolst IV, had been the only one to oversee any serious threat of war in his lifetime. That of course had been the Barbarian Invasions of 200-3 CE. Despite serious procrastination and numerous controversies (such as that of the so-called `Dark Lion Prince', Allyn Arceneaux) Nolst IV had succeeded in doing down the barbarian hordes and routing them at their main stronghold in the cold northern lands of Silesia, the infamous kraal known as K'lak Bluud. The leader of the `coalition' of barbarian tribes, Salganhuuk, was killed in battle, and Silesia (which had once been considered an unconquerable dwelling ground of primitive clansmen) was amalgamated into the Elcourvian Empire. Silesia was the very last of the mainland territories of the Northern Continent to maintain its sovereignty. Once it fell to the Elcourvian sword there were only a handful of territories left in the continent to have that status, and they were hardly as sizeable.
The Duchy of Equia was among them.
In recent years, the Elcourvian Empire had been pushing and straining against its limits. The tiny island nations lingering off the east and northern coasts of the Empire were one by one being drawn into its web at the promise of better trade and the protection of their lands by its armies. The idea had been the promotion of a unified world, one in which the horrors of the Seven Kingdoms War and the Barbarian Invasions might never occur again. But what some had felt was far different. Some people felt, implicitly, that the Empire's grasp would prove to be a poisonous one. Many of the coastal nations shared this feeling but at the same time had stark knowledge about the power of the Elcourvians. Not a single one of them could challenge it. That made the fringe nations all the more fearful and thus each time the Empire pressed one of them for a tidy submission the reply was a quiet yes.
Equia seemed to be next in line.
In the past two months more than ten envoys from the capital of the Empire, the mighty city of Teruvia, had been sent to the Equian capital of East Chelsea. They offered terms for the assimilation of Equia into the Empire. Though no hostilities had been suggested should the nation refuse the offer it was clear that that would be the result if it did. It was a trying choice. Most Equians were anti-Elcourvian in their alignment, as had been its ruler, Duke Galstrom.
And now Galstrom had been assassinated.
It was a staggering piece of news that Rosa found too convenient for the Empire not to be involved in. People like Galstrom were symbols amongst men, symbols that in their own way represented the common man's need to live free from imperial dominance. To kill him like this was its own act of war... assuming that the Empire was behind it. But quite honestly Rosa was certain that they were. And her pondering the idea actually gave her something other than Catherine to think about for once.
As soon as she left her lover's home (the Nicolai Manor on the suburban edge of East Chelsea) Rosa journeyed into the cobblestone streets of the inner city by a quick horse-drawn carriage she had flagged down. It took her all the way down the churches and haberdasheries of Potters Street to cut across the Riddlehurst market plaza. To pass the time Rosa observed the townsfolk whilst they went about their everyday business. Russet cloth blanketed oaken planks and iron bars for stalls. Each one boasted a different series of products that complemented a diverse whole -- fish, grain, milk, cotton, silk, even weapons. Woman sauntered around them looking for good trade while their young children were close at hand, holding their mother`s hand or playing giddily with each other. But the excitement of those children was theirs alone.
Needless to say the tone of the older folk was subdued. In truth it was quite a sad day. Duke Galstrom was not just a favoured political figure. As far as Equia went he was a hero. He had balked publicly at the prospect of his duchy's assimilation into the Elcourvian Empire and was known as a great reformer. He crafted and passed tax-reducing legislature that eased the suffering of the Equian people after the islands were impoverished by the trade shortfall that came subsequent to the Barbarian Invasions. Many loved the Duke. He would be deeply missed. Rosa herself, despite her aversion to authority, even thought well of him. She'd long since grown to distrust politicians and noblemen, but Duke Galstrom was one of the few exceptions to the rule. Thus his untimely passing (and the circumstances behind it) caused a thick cloud of melancholy to descend upon East Chelsea.
Eventually the trots of the horse came to a close. Rosa glanced out the carriage window and saw that she was where she wanted to be, Langston Street. So the ex-soldier climbed out of the cab by setting her boots to ground just as the driver leaned over his seat to glance. Before he could even ask her for payment Rosa tossed him a gold piece as her fare. With a grin he snatched then pocketed it, before giving a quick whip at the reigns of his horse to propel him forward.
One might have wondered why he was so quick to leave. You need only glance at the expanse of Langston Street to know why. It was the most well known slum in all of East Chelsea. Just a stone's throw from the docks, one could tell from the whine of the seagulls and the stink of saltwater in the air. It was a fetid place that had long since attracted the scum of the city. Brothels and whorehouses abound on Langston Street. Effeminate men and women who catered to the needs of the perverse found their corner here, far from the scope of the constabulary. It was because the area had such poor housing, old two-floor wooden buildings barely supported by stone. If the windows of each house were not broken then they most certainly were cracked, across the paving one often saw tramps and vagrants fouling up the streets -- their breath stinking of ale and their garbs stinking of them. Rosa often wondered what it said about her that she would choose to live here -- but then always reminded herself that she had no choice. Langston Street might have been the most decrepit district of East Chelsea but it was also the cheapest one to find accommodation in.
From one of the deep pockets of her jacket Rosa withdrew an iron key. With it she unlocked the door and stepped inside her meagre home. It had naught but one floor (the second floor was owner by a fisherman and his wife) and only three rooms -- a bedroom, a common area and a pantry -- all that she really needed. Rosa yawned whilst walking into her room to collect a pouch of coins from the `security' of her beaten-down wardrobe. Once she had it she put it away in one of her pockets. That was all she'd come for, a lingering vestige from her last contracted job, three weeks ago -- the slaying of a wild beast (which had been terrorizing the traders by the coast) to her recollection. Moments later she left her home to spend that money.
Down the street for yards and yards was the pier. It overlooked the shipyard as well as the galleons anchored at port. There were many shops along the pier's breadth too, one of them being a blacksmith, which was where Rosa was presently headed. Bells jingled at its door as she entered and she was treated to a whole host of weapons and armours when she did. They were all hung upon the walls, boasted different sizes and shapes in their elegance. Then from the rearmost room appeared their inventor, a chiselled yet ingenious old man named Woodbury.
As soon as he saw Rosa he pulled a wide grin, wiping the rust chips from his hands by means of a nearby cloth. "Ah! If it ain't the girl mercenary? You didn't come a second too late, love. I just finished her -- she's my best yet."
"Let me be the judge of that." Rosa replied squarely.
"Right, right. I'll just bring her out then."
Whenever salesmen bragged about their merchandise Rosa often found herself being cautious. But what Woodbury said of his creation was no lie. When he came back he held in his hands a sword of the utmost beauty. It was a claymore, at the moment unsheathed, brandishing a `wing-like' cross-guard of gold and ivory. The material of the grip had been cleaved from the scales of teenaged wyverns that were no more than eighty years or so in age, making it as soft and as firm to the touch as leather. Its pommel bore no jewel though, and despite its ornate appearance the sword was made for killing. Its gleam and sharpness of edge were testaments to the fact.
Rosa took up the beautiful weapon. With a single hand she made a slicing motion in the air. "Excellent..."
"Ye, he, he, he, he!" Came Woodbury's oily old laugh. "I outdid myself with that little maiden! You take good care of her and she'll fend off the grave for years to come."
Woodbury had also brought out with him the sword's dragonskin sheath. Rosa clasped the scabbard to sheathe her new blade. "What's her name?"
"That is an odd name." She stated.
Woodbury chuckled all the same. "Its the name she chose for herself, girl. If you wanna rename her that's up to you. She's all yours now."
In other words -- he wanted his money. Rosa simply threw him the bag of money she'd procured from her room. He caught it with glee. Ever since coming to East Chelsea, Rosa had been looking for a superior blacksmith. Swords tended to dull quick in her line of work -- so a good one was a necessity. But Woodbury was more than merely adequate. He was exceptional. All the more reason to part with her money so swiftly.
With Cunningham's Aria in her possession Rosa left Woodbury's Smith. At this moment she had little to do, her meeting cohorts wasn't until later this evening and she scarcely wanted to return to the Nicolai Manor. So she did what she always did when she had free time in East Chelsea. She went to visit the Arums Garden, an urbane water garden that was filled with many wonderful fountains, expertly carved statuettes and long, curving marble walkways. It had been constructed on the west side of the city in honour of a past Equian heroine, a woman known as Arums Burin, who lived during the Seven Kingdoms War period. At the time Equia was a protectorate of the former Kingdom of Lien La Los, a realm encompassing most of what is today the Elcourvian Empire's northeast province. Even though she had fallen pregnant by her crippled lover, she left home with spear in hand to resist the advance of the General Nolst's armies. It was said that she fell to an archer's arrow. Out of respect her compatriots cut open her belly and took the child back home to East Chelsea to be with its father. The Arum Gardens were commissioned as a memorial to her and her memory, such was the popularity of her tale.
Rosa often liked to linger in the gardens to think. It was a quiet place that only a few people visited from time to time. That gave it a quality of solitude. So that was where the ex-soldier headed off to after leaving the bay. But it was when she came to cross the East Chelsea river, by means of its arching bridge, that something odd was about to occur. The bridge was for the most part empty. But as she crossed it alone Rosa could not help but notice the chill in the air. It felt cold. Cold enough to make her teeth chatter. Yet a summer sun as bright a button hung up their in the blue sky. Then a series of desperate footsteps brought her out of that preoccupation. In the distance, on the other side of the bridge, she saw someone in a hooded brown cloak frantically dashing toward her. It was curious at first. Then it became chilling when Rosa spotted someone... or something... stalking just a short distance behind that person.
That was when she first saw him. Someone clad in ornate, heavy black armour that shielded every part of his form from feet to skull. The only visible bit of flesh about his person were the cold blue eyes behind the thin visor of his black helmet. All around this `knight' was a haze of some sort, a fog, a fog of pale blue, one that wafted from certain gaps in his armour to enfold him. An enormous sword was held in the grasp of his right gauntlet. Its broad, massive blade stretched to almost two yards in length, a blade that had had numerous runic markings carved into it. The mightiness of his sword keenly complimented the overall immenseness of his stature, as did the slow pace of his walk, and Rosa felt even colder now that she'd seen him. The kind of chill that rushed up a person's spine like a horror. He was truly a man of shadows, that knight, and so one could only call him that. Shadow.
The person in the robes ran up to Rosa in fright. The hood fell then, revealing to the former soldier her face it concealed. What Rosa saw was in fact the face of a young girl, someone who could have been little more than eighteen or nineteen in her years. There was something else too. She was absolutely terrified. Instinct took command of the normally disinterested Rosa then. She pulled the girl behind her and directed an angry gaze at the black knight following her.
"You there!" She shouted. "State your business!"
His slow, clanking steps ceased. One of his steel-encased hands was brandished in a reciprocal gesture."...Relinquish that girl."
"For what purpose?"
Shadow clasped that hand into a fist."That is not your concern."
"Is it not? Well then," The blade of Cunningham's Aria gleamed in the sunlight as it was unsheathed. "I shall make it so."
"Do not be foolish. Stand aside."
Rosa glared at him. "Not a chance."
"You would truly risk your life for someone you do not know?"Asked Shadow.
Rosa said nothing then, just kept her steely grip around her sword's grip. She could feel the girl shaking behind her but paid it no mind. If there was one thing that Rosa could not stand it was the sight of a woman quaking in fear of a man. Heart of that kind was what kept her from showing her back to this situation.
Then suddenly Shadow swung his free hand from his body. A tremendous burst of ice and mist surged from this to viciously vaulted out at Rosa and the girl. She saw it transmogrify itself into a swell of sharp and blisteringly cold ice javelins. Without a second of thought Rosa pushed the girl to one side whilst she dove into the other, to avoid the blast of ice lances. They struck the ground viciously, dart after dart, cracking into a glorious haze of cold glitter when they dissipated. That frosty chill in the air worsened.
The terrified girl glanced first at the cracks the blast had made in the ground, then at the man who was responsible for it. "M-magiks!?"
As Rosa climbed back onto her feet Shadow charged at her and even with all that armour on he moved with lightning-fast speed. When he made striking distance a more desperate Rosa quickly met him with her own steel. Their two swords clashed upon the bridge. However their strengths were far from equal. It was telling when impact forced Rosa's sword backward, making Shadow's added weight and strength immediately became clear. Rosa could do little but stand her ground as she stared into this man's eyes. Through the thin slit of his visor they could be seen. Never before had she seen eyes with such a lack of life, of vitality, of emotion.
Their swords met again. But before he could yet overwhelm her in their sword lock she pounced back. Shadow's gigantic sword looped forward to smash into the cobblestones where she once stood with so much force that the bridge itself trembled, albeit briefly. The girl he was stalking scuttled back while he dragged his weapon from the dusty welt. Rosa cautiously watched him do this.
"Walk away,"commanded the icy knight. "I am a man of honour."
"Your conduct suggests otherwise. Threatening young maidens? Where do you find the `honour' in such a deed?"
His armour's joints puffed out more blue fog."I'll not tell you again. Stand aside."
"And I'll not be commanded to by a contradiction!" Spat Rosa.
The cold Shadow growled before jutting out his free hand again. A magical sheet of ice blistered up the bridge toward and past Rosa's feet. It happened so fast she failed to notice it. But when she stepped forward to charge him her boots skidded on that sheet causing her to flop backward. Her back slapped the ground with a very heavy thud just as Shadow vaulted into the cooling air above the overpass. Midair he took his weapon into a double-handed grip and descended with another violent swing. Rosa rolled swiftly to one side just as that blade crashed into the stone once again. Once more the bridge rumbled below them. As soon as she was clear of the strike Rosa flipped back up to her feet. She first glanced at the girl to make sure she was okay, then returned her attentions to Shadow.
This man was powerful. It wasn't even clear if he was a man, but he was surely very powerful. His swordsmanship wasn't very sophisticated but his sword was built for damage -- not artistry. And his magic made all the difference. Shadow had to be a warrior mage, someone who blended the magiks of a sorcerer and the weapon arts of an infantryman. Rosa knew better than to take such a fighter lightly.
But that didn't mean she was helpless.
There was a rock near her feet. One that had been broken off when Shadow's big broadsword smashed the ground. Rosa drew her leg back and kicked it in the dark knight's direction. When he simply smacked the rock out of the air with the spikes of his gauntlet, Shadow growled with insulted anger. Then that growl mellowed into a grunt of confusion when he saw that Rosa was gone. She was no longer standing where she once was. Then quickly behind him he heard the scuff of a shoe. The metal of his helmet turned slightly, to look over his shoulder. Rosa was behind him now. What was worse... for some reason... her sword was glowing with golden white light...
"...How did you-"
Rosa bolted up into the air with tremendous agility before he finished. With swan-like grace her body danced aerially to send her up above Shadow, the maiden he was chasing, and the bridge itself, by dozens of yards. At her peak she swiftly spread her arms out like a cross whilst her throat bellowed the commanding chant,
...and slashed four precise times at the ground around Shadow. Four golden bolts of sleek spiritual energy carved a square into the stone surrounding the warrior mage but none of the strikes had hit him. Shadow grunted his confusion again, not knowing what to make of this. But the effect was telling when dust began to simmer from the welts that Rosa's needle stroke attack had made. It had cut the stone beneath him into a segment! As soon as Rosa landed the segment dislodged from the bridge's foundations and fell, with Shadow, into the rushing waters of the East Chelsea river. The washy `plop' confirmed it. Rosa peered over the edge so she could watch the tide carry him thrashing downstream.
"Humph. In battle..." Rosa sheathed Cunningham's Aria, "power is no substitute for intelligence, my heavily armoured friend."
The former Holy Crusader juddered however, when the young girl she had saved threw herself in her arms and embraced her with all her worth. Rosa, somewhat startled by that, abruptly took her by the shoulders to hold her aside. "W-wait a moment, wait. Who are you?"
"I am called Meredith," she whimpered, catching her breath. "And I desperately require your aid...!"
* I don't think anyone is still following this story but it don't matter. You ain't gettin' rid a me that easy! ^_^
* A bit more action this time around but let the chapters roll for more sex and sexuality. I will say that I won't be updating this story with the same frequency that I do My Girl is My Poison however... so it might take a few weeks.