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alsoquin In the vast tree-city of Viridian, Thirteen and his compatriots have stirred up the citizens -- who have long suffered under the predations of the Bone Dagger Kings -- to rise up and follow his rule. Now, it falls to the Solars to begin their next move.

Thirteen ::Cerin, please be so good as to seek out any Fallen in hiding among my warriors.::

Cerin ::Of course.:: Cerin prowls amongst the Heartwood Spearfold, seeking those of Ash. Any he finds are subdued with swift flashes of essence that come near silent from beyond sight.

Thirteen ::Birds, please be prepared. Your mobility will be essential to our attack.::

alsoquin There are not a great number of such individuals in Viridian today; either some have been lost, or not enough have come to yet overthrow the city; nonetheless, Cerin efficiently dispatches no fewer than 15 such creatures in his pass-through of the city's streets.

Birds ::I have already made peace with the local fauna and prepared my weapon.::

Thirteen ::Then let us march.::

Thirteen ::We may interrogate the Fallen on the move.::

alsoquin In a surprisingly small amount of time, Thirteen gathers a reasonably impressive force -- 2,000 men strong and well-armed. With war preparations always ready at hand in these times, the group is ready to move quickly, and the Solars begin their march upwards, out of Spearfolk lands and towards the dangerous Highbranches....

Thirteen "We shall proceed towards the largest stronghold of the Kings. Please thus direct the troops," Thirteen instructs his relays.

Thirteen is then silent, carefully cocking an ear for news of his enemy on the advance.

alsoquin A citizen by the name of Western Shade seems to take up the duty of guiding the troops. Considering the options, he points the troops upwards, towards the highest of the Highbranches, and the Spire -- where Thirteen, long ago, completed the trial of Wei Dan.

alsoquin Near the back of the column, Cerin walks with a heavily restrained Fallen, quietly drilling information directly from his mind.

alsoquin Most of what the individual knows is what he knew in life -- his human mind and experience is not altered. However, there is a twisted... not quite intelligence underlying his thoughts (...)

alsoquin Cerin notices during his apprehension, of course, that the great bony object shoved into the person's back is alive, with a Primordial resonance; it emits an Essence field that serves to bridge the human's souls, and simultaneously exerts unnatural influence on his mind.

Thirteen ::Hm.::

Thirteen ::What do you think would occur if you were to remove that?::

alsoquin As such, he can be said to "know" that he was captured in a raid, that under cover of darkness he Fell, and gained a new, overriding hatred that could only be satisfied by rising up against his former kin when a signal is sent to him.

Cerin ::I think that he would die, and soon after so would the creature. I am not sure that the Sesselje could act fast enough to save him.::

Thirteen ::Would that Zahara were here.::

alsoquin Otherwise, the Fallen seems much like a normal God-Exalt in many ways, and the human personality remains intact enough to present a believable front.

Thirteen ::Can you analyze the Essence patterns of the object, so as to interfere with or track the communications that take place along this channel?::

Cerin ::I can attempt to do so, yes.::

alsoquin At one point in the past, Cerin might not have been able to work out the nature of the communications leading to the Fallen, but with his recent study of Malakim and related phenomena, he is able to discern the cross-spatial connection that ties the dagger to some distant source.

Cerin ::mmmm, yes, it will not take too much concentration. I shall alert you if anything should change::

Birds ::What a fascinating technology.::

alsoquin The group's march is now crossing the border of the Bone Dagger Kings' land. Once the border lay far uptree from here, but recent depradations have driven their holdings almost to the capital.

alsoquin The first real signs of the difference come in the small pyres that have been set irregularly about the branches in the nearby area. What were once human bodies now lightly smoke into the air, only their blackened bones remaining.

alsoquin In the distance, the Solars begin to hear for the first time, the sounds that every one of the Wasirru natives tense up at -- the clattering, dry moans that rise up from distant parts of the tree.

Thirteen tightens his jaw and arranges his forces in the posture of the Screaming Wind.

Birds takes a deep breath and floats out to a gap in the branches, where she is three breaths distant from the nearest place to stand.

alsoquin Cerin is the first to see them descend, of course. Thirteen is well familiar with the shape, sound, and smell of the Bone Dagger Kings, but to the others they are a new sight.

alsoquin As a cloud of them barrel downwards a nearby branch, running in a horrific, bent-over gait, Birds gets her first look at the Kings -- like humans with paper-white skin, shrunk taut over elaborate fractal bone structures set at unholy angles, as their joints move in the unnatural fashion of one dead....

alsoquin Their facial features are small, set close together; black mist flowing out of their faces, trailing behind them as they charge. And the clacking, clattering noise, like bones smashed together, grows louder and louder....

Thirteen raises his spear, glowing, as always, like a bonfire.

Thirteen "It is time. Slay them now, or be lost forever. Charge!"

Thirteen ::Cerin, please identify the leaders of the Kings as possible. Birds, assault their position when they have been pointed out.::

Cerin ::I shall do so:: Cerin examines the oncoming horde as he readies his glowing bow.

alsoquin Elevated by the presence of their god-emperor, the Spearfolk charge with a fervor unknown to them for years past, and their weapons are hefted with great joy, which makes the sickening crunch as the front rank engages with the Kings all the worse.

Birds vanishes in a whorl of purple darkness as her anima flares. Biding her time until Cerin can provide direction, she fires attacks at anyone who looks up too curiously.

alsoquin Cerin, quickly scanning the forces, identifies some of the differences amongst the group. Most of the Kings have a thin, wiry build, and run on all fours; their vicious bone-claws are the only weapons they need. A small number have a much different build, bulky and large, and stand back, directing the others with heavy gestures and expressive blasts of mist.

Thirteen listens carefully to the battle, making minute adjustments as necessary to his formation. As the Spearfolk begin to engage in battle, a subtle keening is heard, that grows slowly louder and louder. As the screaming grows, the Essence in the area is slowly depleted, and it becomes harder and harder for even the simplest Charms to work.

Thirteen stands still, a grin on his face, in one of the few islands of remaining Essence, which moves with him and his unit as they proceed forward towards the bottleneck. The Spearfolk part suddenly, driving their foes to either side, and Thirteen advances rapidly forward.

Cerin ::Birds, concentrate on those at the back, the ones who look like this:: He draws her attention to the appropriate location of the battlefield by shooting one of the King's leaders.

Birds ::Thank you, Cerin. I will execute this immediately.::

Birds moves from void to void, searching for a better vantage point.

Thirteen ::Be wary. The Formation of the Screaming Wind drains the Essence in its vicinity. Take care to avoid the Spearfolk's positions.::

Evil Marku Though he has not stood at their front in many long years, Thirteen finds himself at home once more, leading the Heartwood Spearfolk against their darkest enemies. As one the warriors fall into the Screaming Wind formation as if born to do so, tearing viciously into the guts of the Bone Dagger Kings while stripping the very Essence from the air around them.

Birds As she tosses a sesselja at an injured captain, Birds becomes curious. ::Which constellation does Meru call the Screaming Wind?::

Thirteen ::The Screaming Wind is known as the Cry of Pain. It is one of the dead constellations.::

Thirteen ::It is ideal for situations in which your warriors are numerous but incapable of meaningful Essence channelling.::

Cerin Cerin continues picking the leaders of the Bone Dagger Kings from their positions in the middle of the ranks. Normally these are safe, of course, with the obvious problems the spearfolk have with bows. A problem not shared by Cerin.

Birds picks off the injured and distracted and makes every effort to spread out her attacks, filling the air with purple haze.

Birds The spirit of nostalgia moves Birds, as she recalls other battles. She picks a Bone Dagger King at random and dives at him at full speed. "YOU KILLED MY FATHER!!!"

Thirteen slows only briefly in his inexorable march, when his path is blocked by a few of the larger, snarling Kings. Stepping before his soldiers, he flourishes his spear, and there is a sudden burst of ivory brilliance. The bodies of the Kings have fallen to earth before the report of thunder comes.

Evil Marku The crunch and crash of battle rages on all around the solars, as Heartfolk and Bone Dagger Kings war viciously for survival, crawling over the bodies of the fallen to strike anew....

Evil Marku With a final call from Thirteen, the Heartfolk rally, given a new surge of energy as they watch the leaders of the Kings fall, slain by Birds and Cerin. A rush, a push, and the army of cruel Hundredfold breaks ranks -- many of the foul creatures fall as the remaining Spearfolk push through, stabbing viciously.

Evil Marku A few of them stand to cover the retreat, but their gesture is largely ineffective -- many more of the creatures fall as the remaining few skitter away.

Evil Marku In a moment, even the sound has faded and Thirteen finds himself standing before his army -- bloodied, battered, and lessened from earlier this morning, but intact... and with the aura of victory upon their shoulders.

Thirteen gathers his Hafts once again.

Thirteen "You have done well. All that I can ask of you, you have given."

Thirteen "The Bone Dagger Kings have been forced into a regrouping they did not expect. They will advance along the Fourth and Seventh Passages, with a feint into the Eighth."

Thirteen "They are scattered, demoralized and surprised. You do not need my hand to lead you here. Take your men. Send your runners to the other settlements, to gather what men they can muster."

Thirteen "I must return to the Spire."

Thirteen "Let all those whom I do not see again know that Thirteen Blooming Flowers looks upon them with favor as warriors unflinching and dedicated, and that he will watch over your children and your people."

Evil Marku The men look up to Thirteen, envigorated but a little uncertain.

Thirteen "Go now, and gather your units."

Thirteen kneels, and taps his head briefly on the ground, before standing and turning towards the pathway upwards.

Thirteen ::Shall we?::

Cerin ::Now would seem like an excellent time::

Evil Marku As he concludes the speech, the men are greatly enthused. They raise their spears in a joyful cry.

Evil Marku As Thirteen is about to move away, though, Western Shade speaks up. "High Chieftan!"

Thirteen "Shade?"

Evil Marku "What of our fallen? One hundred men have given themselves on this field. Who will send them onwards to tomorrow's dawning?"

Thirteen "Bring their bodies to Viridian. I will speak of them when I return."

Evil Marku Western Shade nods, then rallies the troops again.

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