Part 98: Fake UpdateFake Update:
Here we go...
horrible regret posted:
You stand on the deck of your flagship, the Divine Hammer, as it floats over the continent of Agarheim, held aloft by the winds of magic. The very landscape roils and shudders beneath the bombardment of your fleet, one thousand ships' cannons and bombards hurling their sorcerous fire down like vengeful gods. The shockwaves began to hit your ship only minutes ago - a constant vibration that sends shudders through the whole of the ancient craft and moves your very bones - accompanied by a constant, rumbling bass. As the land's mountains begin to sink and the seas that surround it begin to boil off into the atmosphere, your first officer comes to stand beside you.
"My Lord Admiral... permission to speak freely, sir."
You nod your aquiesence, your stomach sinking as you guess at his question.
"My lord... forgive me, but how? What gives us the right? A billion lives..."
You speak without turning to him, unable to take your eyes of Rhumos, the nation's vast capital city, as it vaporizes into a cloud of super-heated gasses twelve miles across and growing ever-wider. "If you only knew the full treachery of the Agarites, First Officer Felm, one which is beyond most any man's comprehension... then you would know. You would speak of our right to annihilate them? We've no right to let them live."
"But... sir? Traitors, all of them? Surely, among the hundreds of thousands. How many innocents-"
"Silence! Speak of it no more - our king has spoken, His will be done. The task set to us is a horrible one, not fit for contemplation or questioning. There is no room for pity, no room for remorse - only *duty.*"
The two of you stand silently for a time, watching the last minutes of Agarheim. At long last you sigh... a low, stuttering exhalation that sounds as if something has broken inside you. Beneath the brazen plate that covers the ruined half of your face, your dead eye begins to weep...
"Falm... my friend... I would have you understand. I know now, as I look down at what I have wrought here, that were I to think upon what I have done... what I have *truly* done... I would be struck mad. A deed such as this... the anguish would overwhelm, destroy me. So, First Officer Falm, it must be that there *are* no innocents in Agarheim... no mothers, no children, no *people.* Only traitors. Vile, cunning traitors, who deserve no less than the full brunt of our most Holy King's wrath. Do you understand this?"
"Good. Now go... I wish to be alone, here."
"By your command, Lord Admiral." Falm bows his head and returns below deck, leaving you to stand over the end of a civilization.
indescribable frustration posted:
You can see it now, the crown of Haephon, gleaming upon a marble pedestal. No more than twenty strides away, it is... with it, you could wrest control of the armies of Aethanopolis away from your treacherous brother and restore your father's kingdom. A fool, your wretched brother was... you smile grimly at the thought... to leave the king's only daughter alive, thinking she could do him no harm.
A sound! The creak of leather sandals, the softest hiss... over there, by that third pillar! She was close now, Polaphi the Medusa, jealously guarding the crown her servants had stolen for her so long ago. Crouching behind a wide pillar, you wrap your hand tightly around your trusted Thrice-Blessed Javelin. With your Helm of Swiftness and the Hundred-Mirrored Shield, even a beast such as Polaphi would be no match for you. Any moment, now, she would round the pillar and meet the sight of you. Even if she turned away from the shield, your javelin would surely find her throat...
Suddenly, there is a gentle touch on your shoulder. You gasp, spinning around to face - of course - the Medusa. Accepting the inevitable, you only have time to loose a piercing cry of frustration before your lungs... and every other part of you... solidifies into cold, gray stone.
a vastly important secret posted:
Six Imperial servants rush ahead of you, swinging the golden doors of the Dragon Palace wide.
"Long live the Empress!" they cry in unison. "One thousand years! Long live the Empress! One Thousand Years!"
Beyond the threshold, dozens of loyal warlords, kings in their own right, drop to their knees, touching their heads to the floor in deference as you pass them en route to the grand Imperial Throne.
As you turn and face your minions, seating yourself upon the Imperial Throne, you allow a small, satisfied smile to creep across your carefully painted lips. There is but one thought in the forefront of your mind:
...that the body of the young Empress, Wu Tsun Sha, lies broken at the bottom of the Well of Solitude, and that you - Bai Hwa, a horse merchant's daughter - are at last poised to shake the Empire and the corrupt Wu Dynasty to its very foundations.
shock and a rise to seething vengefulness posted:
You stand somewhere in the nether regions of the Planes, a sweltering place where the ground is beaten copper, and the sky is of brass. Here, the bodies of sinners - petitioners in this horrid place - are rolled amongst iron brambles and bronze scorpions until their bones are fine, gray dust.
You squint at the horizon, the bone-dust rising with putrid-smelling gusts of wind that carry with them the sound of agonized moaning. There is nothing but flat, metallic landscape as far as the eye can see. The dust is everywhere, in everything... it stings at your eyes, coats the insides of your mouth with a pasty film. You spit, wiping at it with your finger, but it's of no use: the stuff's taste has fouled your mouth completely.
You look down at the 'key' in your hand... a minute platinum orb... and picture the man's face who solemnly swore to you the magical portal you just passed through - now gone, of course - led to the green fields of Bytopia. Someone, by all the Powers and their proxies, was going to pay for this one.
slowly dawning horror posted:
"How good could it be?" you think, regarding the burgundy liquid carefully. Across the table from you, the twisted old man smiles slyly.
"Please, sir, try." he whispers, his hushed voice the sound of dry leaves blown over a roughly cobbled street. "Thou shall find it more than lives up to thy expectations, I am sure."
You nod at him and lift the crystal goblet into the air, watching the light play through the crimson liquor. You'd come a long way for this drink... searched long and hard for this old man... and you'll be damned to let anything rush you, now. The moment was to be savored.
You raise the glass to your lips, inhaling the stuff's aroma. The bouquet is light, sweet, intoxicating... almost dizzyingly so. You've tried countless drinks... written tomes about them, their flavors and smells, means of manufacture, in your journeys across the Planes. But this... this stuff was supposed to be legendary. No living man you'd found or heard of had tried the stuff. The stories were ridiculous - nothing could taste quite so good - but if there were the slightest bit of truth to them, this would be some fine liquor indeed.
At last, you drink of the goblet, a cautious sip...
Incredible! Indescribable! As the flavor washes over your palette, you fight the urge to shudder with delight. Nothing... *nothing* you have tried in all your long years has tasted quite like this. You look up at the old man, startled to find your glass empty - you had drained it all in a single draught. You wipe your eyes with the back of your hand, not entirely sure when you had begun to cry.
"Tears of joy, eh?" The old man laughs softly. "Quite pleasing to the tongue, is it not? Wouldst thou like some more, perchance?" He smiles at you once more.
"Yes... yes, if I might..."
"Surely." he replies, refilling your glass. Try as you might, you cannot resist downing it in a single gulp. You thrust your finger into the goblet in an attempt to find some last, hidden drop of the stuff. Several times more does he fill the goblet, and each time you gulp the stuff down as a starving man would devour a feast, unable to control yourself, to deny yourself another exquisite taste of it.
He chuckles softly once more. "A drink such as this... a man wouldst do anything for it, no?"
You nod without hesitation. "Yes, a man would..." Looking at him, his sly smile suddenly takes on a whole new meaning. A sense of horror begins to creep over you, even as you begin to yearn painfully for more of the blood-red liquor...
"Yes, yes..." The old man grins, his yellow eyes gleaming. "A man *wouldst* do anything, in the *thrall* of such a drink... even the most terrible, the most heinous of deeds... as thou shall see, my newest servant."
Suddenly aware that the hour has almost come, you leap from your bed and run flying from your cottage and into the surrounding woods. Stumbling in the dark, you come to a small, moonlit clearing... the one you had found last week and decided to use, tonight. You hastily strip off your clothes, sit in the long grass, and wait.
You close your eyes, listening to the steady chirp of crickets, the throaty croaking of bullfrogs in the nearby creek, the rustle of the grass as the wind caresses it. What would someone think, seeing this through your eyes, *experiencing* this moment and what was next to come? Soon you would travel to the city, find a cleric to rid you of the Curse... but for now, may as well make the best of things. You rub your hands together with anticipation, grinning like a bearded, fire-haired giant of a madman, sitting naked and alone in a forest clearing in the dead of night.
A prickling sensation runs across your skin, and your senses sharpen dramatically. You breathe in through your nose, inhaling the scent of everything around you: the damp earth, the sweat on your cast-off clothes, the opossum clinging fearfully to the tree behind you...
You open your eyes and look down at your forearms. The faint moonlight reveals the slightest quivering across their surface... but in moments, the flesh begins to ripple impossibly, tufts of thick brown fur sprouting forth. With a grisly crackling sound - like popping joints and grinding bones - your back and shoulders begin to hunch and broaden... uncomfortable, but not quite painful. Your muscles - your entire body mass - doubles, triples in size, and continues to grow.
Still fascinated by the transformation yourself, you watch as your fingers wither away to nothing, hands swelling into meaty paws from which burst fur and massive, black claws. The night seems to become brighter as your eyes transform, become accustomed the darkness... a wide muzzle comes into view, and you touch your wet, snuffling nose delicately, chuckling to yourself. Next time, you think, you'll have to stare into a mirror or pond as the Curse takes effect... watch your face warp and change, losing its familiar shape to become a bear's.
Soon, it becomes difficult to concentrate upon anything but your more basic urges... food would be good, right now. Yes, food - perhaps you'll get lucky and find a nice, fat catfish in the creek. You rise off your massive haunches with a *huff* and begin to amble through the trees on all fours, heading for the water's edge...