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PostPosted: Sun Nov 17, 2013 8:04 pm 

Joined: Sep 22, 2013
Posts: 874
State of Decay
by Tevish Szat
Status: Public :diamond:

Rasilla sighed heavily and looked out the window to her left before remembering that the Sea of Rot was in sight that direction. At least inside the carriage, she could only barely smell the hideous decay. She drew the curtain over the window and looked to her right, where the crimson sun, its bright disk sporting dark lesions, was beginning to dip behind the Emerald Peaks. Dissatisfied with that vista as well, she looked straight ahead, at the handsome but sometimes grating lordling, Jericho, who was her escort for the time being.

“Are we there yet?” she groaned.

“No, highness.” Jericho replied, exhausted, “We’re still quite far from Fort Beryl. I suspect it will take us most of the night to get there.”

Rasilla rolled her eyes.

“We wouldn’t be having this problem if they had just sent the skyship to the Fortress in the first place.”

“Well, highness,” Jericho said, “It is your family’s ship, and your parents agreed it wouldn’t be right for it to go on its maiden voyage without a member of your family aboard.”

Maiden voyage was an interesting way of putting it. New skyship or no, Rasilla wasn’t looking forward to meeting with every country noble’s half-wit son – which was the entire purpose of the journey.

“This whole trip is a farce anyway.” She said. “There are plenty of good matches in the Fortress itself, proper young men who would do anything for the future queen of Efaruna.”

Jericho swallowed. The only way Rasilla had ever managed to make him nervous was reminding him of his place in that number.

“H-highness.” He said, trying and failing to regain his composure, “I do not presume-“

Rasilla laughed.

“All I’m saying,” She said, “Is that if anyone wants my hand, he had better be prepared to go out of his way to get it. I’m sure you understand.”

Jericho’s face was bright red, and not just from the crimson sunlight. For a moment, Rasilla considered that she might be enjoying teasing him a little too much, but catching Jericho off guard was a monstrously hard thing to do and she intended to take a little more advantage before he recovered.

Before she could speak again, the carriage lurched to a sudden stop. Any harder, and Rasilla might have been thrown from her seat.

“What is the meaning of this?!” She shouted. “Driver!”

A moment of silence passed, and then, cacophony – a chorus of screaming and shouting from the outside. Rasilla turned to Jericho.

“I thought this road was supposed to be safe!”

Eyes now wide with fear, Jericho struggled to answer.

“I don’t know,” He said. “All the reports were that the Nightstalkers were massed west of the Fortress.”

Rasilla looked to the window. To the west of the carriage there was still only the land of Efaruna, the distant mountains, and the baleful red sunset. The picture was eerily calm and still as the sounds of battle reached a crescendo to the east.

Jericho must have seen it too. “We have to get out of here.” He said, “If we make a break for it, we should be able to get away while the guards still have whatever it is engaged.”

“What if the guards win?” Rasilla protested.

There was a ragged scream, and something hit the west-facing side of the carriage hard.

“Point taken.” Rasilla said, and made for the door. Jericho stepped halfway in front of her, and threw the door open.

The stench of the Sea of Rot was strong and close, permeating the air all around Rasilla. She gritted her teeth and reminded herself that this was not a time to worry about minor discomfort.

Jericho climbed down from the carriage, and Rasilla followed. He drew his sword as one of the outriders came into view from around the front of the carriage, his clockwork steed diligently and fearlessly carrying the coward away from battle.

He had not gotten three feet past them when something shot out at the legs of the clockwork horse, fouling its gait and sending it toppling over. Rasilla almost bolted herself, but Jericho caught her shoulder.

“Wait.” He hissed, “We don’t know what we’re up against.”

A moment later, worms began to appear from the fighting, first one, then two more of the foul, bloated, maggot-like creatures, each at least a foot in diameter and four long. The fleeing soldier was still pinned under his steed when the worms descended on him and, without hesitation, began to feed.

“I’ll take my chances getting away from it.” Rasilla hissed.

Jericho nodded, and broke into a run, Rasilla as close behind as her skirts would allow.

One breath, no disaster. Two breaths. Three breaths. She was only seconds from a low ridge, somewhere to duck under, when she felt a sharp shock around her legs. Something hard struck her, bearing her to the ground. She heard a sickening crack, and screamed in pain

“Rasilla!” Jericho screamed.

Rasilla had a chance to look at the cause. It was a bolas, a human weapon, wrapped tight around her legs, one of which even she could tell was broken by the impact.

Jericho appeared beside her, and started to help her with the tangle.

“Run!” Rasilla yelled. She didn’t know why; the last thing she wanted was to be left behind to become food for those hideous giant worms, but all she could think to do was tell him to run.

He hesitated. “Rasilla, I-“

“That’s an order!” she yelled, “Get out of here!”

Jericho ran, and Rasilla tried to struggle with her bonds. Don’t panic, she told herself. Unwind the cord rather than just pulling at it like an animal. She started, and stopped almost as quickly as the changing pressure brought new pain. Maybe if she could crawl out of sight…

She closed her eyes for a moment, took a deep breath, and told herself yet again that panic wouldn’t help. As calm and centered as she could manage to be, she opened her eyes.

At once, she panicked, for one of the great white maggots was almost upon her, followed closely by a bulky man in ragged robes and a brightly colored cloth mask, carrying a red-tipped, gnarled wooden staff.

Rasilla tried to squirm backwards, but made almost no progress. The worm seemed to sniff at her foot for a moment, and then the man made a hissing noise and tapped it with his staff. Mercifully, the worm turned away from her, and with another few hisses and jabs of the staff at the air, began to crawl back to the wrecked wagon and carnage there. Unmercifully, the man walked to Rasilla’s side and , grabbing her arm, pulled her rudely to her feet.

There were another two men approaching, in garb as ragged as the worm-guide’s, but of different styles.

“Definitely her.” One of the new men croaked.

“A man got away.” The one holding her said, “I was out of bolas.”

“Bah,” The other, presumably the leader, said. “It’s probably for the best. Long as we have our prize!”

All three laughed, and the leader started back towards the wreck as the other two bore her along.

Rasilla wasn’t sure she wouldn’t have been better off as food for the worms.


Rasilla scanned her surroundings. The small shack was constructed of a motley mix of materials. The floor was made of a strange, fungal wood and the most important parts of the structure of rusted metal. The walls were some sort of leather, probably several sorts, given a little extra shape by braces of carved bone.

Despite her predicament, she had been given enough time to admire that someone had made an acceptable whole from wholly unacceptable parts.

Her hands had been bound together after she tried to strike one of the worm-guides and make a break, while her captors had not bothered with her legs. They said it was so she could hobble along rather than having to be carried, but really Rasilla suspected that the worm-guide had wanted his bolas back, and she wasn’t going anywhere on her own with a broken leg.

Though there was little she could do but examine her surroundings in the candlelight, Rasilla’s mind raced. Her injury was, of course, the biggest hurdle to escape, one she would have to overcome in order to win her freedom. By comparison, her bound hands were the least of her worries, while the worms – the teeming masses of vile larvae, maggots, and other filth-feeding crawlers that their party had passed through on the way into the Sea of Rot – rated somewhere between the two.

Already, she had thought of and discarded at least in part perhaps a dozen schemes. They all started the same way: testing the metal about the room for a rough edge she could use to free her hands. They all ended the same way too: without a good means of transport or even the ability to do more than hobble and hop, she could perhaps struggle far enough out to be eaten alive and no further.

All the same, she was considering testing the metal in earnest when a new figure entered the room.

The man wore a robe of brown cloth with a heavy hood, painted here and there with tracts of green and the occasional swatch of yellow. Rasilla guessed the marks signified his rank among these savages, but she had yet to discern their exact meaning.

The man hesitated a moment in the doorway.

“Stay back.” Rasilla hissed. “Don’t come any closer.”

“Apologies.” He said softly, and walked over to her as she squirmed ineffectually towards the far wall. He knelt before her and placed a hand on her foot.

“I can help you with that leg if you’ll allow me.”

There was something strange about the man. His hands and his face were, as far as Rasilla could see, free of the lesions and sores that were common to the other folk of the Sea of Rot that Rasilla had seen. Further, everything about his demeanor was soft and calming, determined in its own way to soothe away the fear she felt.

In any case, Rasilla was for what was perhaps the first time in her life in no position to object to anything.

“If you say so.” She said, and clumsily lifted her hopelessly soiled and damaged dress away from her shin, exposing the break. It was easy enough to see at least, a ruddy purple bruise spreading from where she felt the break.

The man gingerly touched the injury. White light bloomed at his fingertips, and Rasilla felt a warm, tingling sensation spread over her lower leg, numbing the ache. After a moment, the man began to whisper, and the bruise began to fade away. The light faded away, and so did the odd, prickly warmth.

“There,” He said, moving back a bit to give her space, “it should be fixed now.”

“Impressive,” Rasilla said, “where did you learn to heal like that?”

“From my father.” The man replied.

“And I suppose,” Rasilla said, “Now is the part where you make a demand of me? Don’t think I have to do what you say now. Your people are why my leg was broken in the first place.”

“I intend to make no demands.” The man replied, “Though in that I do not speak for all the Rot dwellers.”

Rasilla took a deep breath. For the time being, at least, this man was acting the part of a reasonable human being. If anyone here had the barest shred of compassion for her status as a woman abducted, or reverence for her status as the Princess of Efaruna, she might be able to use that to escape.

“What’s your name?” She asked

“Norathascus,” he replied, “Norathascus Emiyarani. You can call me Norath. Everyone else does.”

“But,” Rasilla said, taken far off-guard, “That’s an elven name.”

“Oh!” Norath said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to surprise you.”

He lowered his hood, allowing her a clear look at his face, the left side of which was marked by an intricate tattoo of spiral branches. His eyes were vivid green and had an odd yet not displeasing slant to them, while his ears were somewhat pointed. None could doubt his elven features and yet… his hair was bright red-orange, a color never found among elven king. This one fact, drilled into Rasilla’s head long ago by some forgotten tutor, led her to the impossible conclusion.

“You’re…” she stammered, “You’re a half-elf?!”

He nodded.

“On my father’s side.”

“But that’s impossible!” Rasilla protested, “Elves kill half-elves. Most humans would turn one out into the wilds, too.”

Norath sighed. “Those were the ways… but things are different in the Rot. Elves like my father and my half-sister… they had to give up the old hatreds or die, and the humans sent here to decay with the forest were more than happy for their help.”

“And why is that?”

“They were exiles,” Norath said, “From all of your nations, even far Dorias, sent here to live out their lives on this poisoned land, with the worms and the fungus. They were riddled with diseases that do not plague elves or those like me, and didn’t largely know the art of surviving in what amounted to the wild.”

“And the elves taught them?”

“Some elves, at least. The exiles adapted too… elves make poor worm-guides, but humans wouldn’t have figured out on their own.”

“How about you?” Rasilla asked, “Halfbloods, I mean.”

“I’m not the only one, if that’s what you’re asking. We don’t get sick the same way humans do, and have a bit of a knack for certain kinds of magic, that’s all. Other than that, we’re like anyone else.”

“And they just accept you? Both sides?”

“Well,” Norath said, “You seem rather more interested than I’d expected. It’s probably a good thing… it’ll make the others more likely to trust you. Anyway, to put it briefly, things are a bit different in the Rot than in the rest of the world, so I understand.”

Outside, a rough male voice shouted.

“Norath!” he bellowed, “Norath, do your job and get back out!”

He winced.

“Well, it seems I’m needed elsewhere.” He said, “Until next we meet, princess.”

With that, he left the room, disappearing through the crude door he had entered by. Though Rasilla was not ill disposed towards the man, however unfortunate his background, she did find herself wishing he had thought to untie her hands.


Rasilla tried to sleep after that first meeting with Norath. How long she attempted to fend off nightmarish thoughts of those horrible worms, Rasilla could not say. However, she must have been successful eventually, for she was awakened gently by Norath’s return

“Ugh,” she said. “When is it?”

“Just after sunup,” the half-elf replied. “Here. You must be famished.”

He set a crude platter with what looked to be some sort of dried meat and several small mushroom caps on it beside her, and next to that a ceramic pitcher and cup. Nothing looked terribly appetizing, and the stench of the Sea of Rot was all-pervasive, but Rasilla was hungry all the same.

Still, she had enough of her wits about her to think of other needs as well.

“If you don’t mean to feed me by hand,” she said, “You’ll have to untie mine.”

“Oh!” Norath said, “Sorry.”

From his side, he drew a small knife, and in a moment’s work had cut Rasilla’s last bonds. She was now, she realized, as free as she was likely to be without making some effort of her own.

Her eyes darted to the pitcher. It had a convenient handle and certainly looked heavy. If she were to strike Norath with it, she might be able to make a break for it.

All the same, she would rather not hit the only person to, so far, show her any kindness in this place. Rasilla looked at the platter.

Hesitantly, she reached out and picked up a strip of the meat

“It’s not…”

“Not what?” Norath asked

Rasilla looked away from him “Human… or anything else that can talk, I guess.”

“No, it’s-”

“I don’t want to know what it is.” Rasilla said hastily, “Just what it’s not.”

She tore into the meat.

“Not that I’m sure I’d want the answer,” Norath said, concerned, “but why exactly did you fear it would be human?”

“No offense,” Rasilla said, “But in the Fortress, they’ve always said elves steal human babies to eat.”

Norath winced, “I’d heard some of the more recent exiles say things like that. The funny thing is, elves made the same claims about humans.”

“What, that we stole your babies for food?” Rasilla asked, horrified.

“No,” Norath said, “They claimed humans eat their own young.”

Rasilla swallowed quickly, before further conversation robbed her of what little appetite she had without taking the hunger pains with it.

“In any case,” Norath said, “That’s hardly talk for breakfast.”

“How about this one?” Rasilla said, “Why am I here?”

“I don’t really know.”I don


“They haven’t decided yet.” Norath said. “Everyone… all the decision-makers, at least… they decided when we heard about your trip, that we had to do something. I think most of them still have their heads screwed on right and see that we need your help.”

“What? Why my help?”

“Because,” Norath said, “It’s not just exiles here. In fact, most of the people in the Rot are the sons and daughters of exiles, or their sons and daughters. Generations of people doomed for the crimes of their forbearers, dying of plagues and not knowing whether the nightstalkers will move in or the worms turn on us, or what have you, but knowing that however bad it is here the worst is yet to come.”

“That’s terrible.” Rasilla murmured.

“But no one will listen. They aren’t allowed to leave this place, and while we know it’s not exactly well policed, the only thing worse than staying would be being driven back.”

“If you’re looking for someone with power,” Rasilla said, “you kidnapped the wrong princess.”

Norath looked down. “I wouldn’t say that too loud.”

“Why not?”

“Because some of them don’t think you could bring our plight to the royals of Efaruna, or change anything. They want to hold you here and threaten to kill you if your parents don’t accept their demands, or just kill you to send a message.”


“Like I said, I think those are the minority, and if they aren’t, I…”

He trailed off.

“You’ll what?” Rasilla asked

Norath put a hand to his forehead. “I don’t know. You’re quite certain you’re not working spellcraft?”

Rasilla rolled her eyes. “If I could do that, I wouldn’t be here right now.”

“That’s fair,” Norath said. “I guess I just don’t want them to make any mistakes.”

“I wouldn’t appreciate that either.” Rasilla replied, “Though really, I’d like it if I could leave of my own accord.”

Norath took a deep breath.

“I can’t help you.” He said. “I’ve probably overstepped my bounds by freeing your hands already.”

“You don’t have to escort me out.” Rasilla said, “No one has to know you did anything, just… tell me when I might have a chance.”

“I am sorry.”

Rasilla sighed. “It was worth a try.”

“If I could help you, I would, If only because it seems foolish to expect you to help us if we do you nothing but bad turns. I swear I would if I could, but I can’t so I won’t.”

Rasilla hung her head.

“No,” she said, “I understand.”

She looked down at her plate, which she had cleared with surprising efficiency. “Thank you for breakfast.”

Rasilla curled up on herself and turned to the near wall. A moment later, she heard Norath pick up the pitcher, cup and platter and leave.


Rasilla saw no one else until the sun was setting, completing her first full day in captivity. Unexpectedly in that late evening, an elven woman burst into the chamber and tossed a bundle of cloth her way.

“Change.” The woman demanded, “And quickly.”

“What?!” Rasilla demanded, “Why? What’s going on? Who are you?”

“My name is Syrielle.” She said, “I’m Norath’s half-sister, and you must change so we can flee this place before the mob arrives.”

“Mob?” Rasilla asked, examining the bundle and finding it to be a set of heavy rot-dweller clothing the likes of which Syrielle herself was wearing.

“Too many, too angry,” Syrielle said, pacing impatiently. “Our leaders will rein them in, but they are liable to tear you to piecemeal for the worms first.”

“And I’m supposed to trust you?”

“Like all of us who still have our sense,” Syrielle said, “I know what will befall us if you die by our hands.”

She wasn’t looking Rasilla. Instead, she was probing the far wall, and, upon finding something to her liking, drew a dagger and cut through the leather skin that made it up.

“Hurry.” She said, “I will wait through this.”

Rasilla hesitated no longer, and began to hastily change her clothes. The rags that she was being provided were hideous patchworks, and more than that they were beneath her station. However, this did not give Rasilla any further pause once she considered whether her dignity or her life was more dear. Thus, as the sounds of shouting began to reach her ears, Rasilla slipped through the gash in the wall.

“You take your sweet time.” Syrielle grumbled. Rasilla, however, had a more pressing concern: they were standing on a ledge not much wider than her foot was long, and some three feet below was a surface of pitch-black mud. She couldn’t tell if it was solid or not, and was almost certain that it was infested with worms either way.

“You call this an escape?” Rasilla asked, incredulous. In the distance, she started to hear voices raised in rage. Arguing with one another, there was no doubt, but the only words she could make out were cries to ‘skin her alive.’

Syrielle looked at Rasilla. “You could stand to show more gratitude, highness, but I do not complain.”

Syrielle began to lower herself down. With some of her weight still supported by the board, she pressed a foot into the treacherous ground.

“It’s firm.” She said, “Come quickly, we must fly.”

Rasilla jumped down, sinking to her ankles in the warm earth, but no deeper. With a few frantic steps, she stood comfortably upon the surface. Already, Syrielle was bounds ahead, and Rasilla hurried to catch up.

The world closed in around the two women, the massive tower-cap fungi growing ever closer together, interspersed with white mold-palms and creeping filaments from countless other species, feeding on the deep Rot and on each other. In that darkening world of decay, Rasilla became disoriented. Never had she run so far, or so desperately. The mighty mushrooms seemed to spin and twist, their parallel stalks weaving a tangled web, Syrielle’s form threading its treacherous turns.

Rasilla couldn’t tell how long it had been when she finally stumbled, but the sun was well set and the path lit by glow-worms and the ghostly lights of spots and shelves. She put one foot in front of the other, and again, and then missed, falling against one of the stalks.

A moment later, Syrielle turned back and helped Rasilla to her feet.

“Come on,” she said, her own voice weary. “If our footprints in the mud weren’t enough, the worms are sure to be able to follow our smell.”

“Who can smell through all of this?” Rasilla asked, knowing full well that her question had already been answered.

Syrielle seemed to think.

“I suppose we have to rest some time.” She said. “We should at least find some stone to rest on… something off the Rot itself.”

Rasilla nodded, and looked around. For a moment at least, she wasn’t so tired her head was spinning, nor tormented by the fear of worms and their masters.

For one possibly deluded moment, Rasilla was at peace with her world.


The light broke over the fungal forest, and the world that had been alien and confusing in the dark was transformed by the sun’s pale red glow into something that, while still unfamiliar, was strangely beautiful.

Of course, it still stank beyond belief.

Rasilla stretched her aching legs, and slowly staggered to her feet. As she did, she looked down at herself. Was there an inch of skin or clothing that was not somehow soiled by this place? If Jericho or her parents found her now, would they even recognize her?

“We should move.” Syrielle said, having already been up when Rasilla awakened. “If we keep going this way, we will reach another camp, but it’s hard going.”

“It can’t be harder than last night.” Rasilla insisted. “Nothing could be harder than that.”

“I’m afraid the world has surprises for you still,” Syrielle replied, “Last night, we didn’t have to deal with worm-beds.”

Rasilla’s heart sank “And those are?”

“Around any settlement, there will be loose earth that the worms till. No one knows how deep the pits can go, but if you step in, you might find out for yourself. I knew where they were last night.”

“But you don’t know if they’ll be in our way at the next one?” Rasilla asked, “What good is getting away if we die in a worm pit?”

“You could always back.” Syrielle said, “If you’d rather trust to the mercy of a mob denied, be my guest, but I would think a royal would be smarter than that.

Rasilla sighed. “You go first.”

“Very generous of you, highness.” Syrielle growled, and began to walk onward.

The day’s trek was hard, and Rasilla’s body was not yet used to such exertion. She had run herself ragged in the night, and now she pressed forward without fear to sustain her flight. Still, the trudging was almost automatic. Though her feet and legs protested, she could keep putting one foot in front of another. As her mind, initially refreshed on waking, began to succumb as well she came to two realizations. The first was that if she stopped walking, she wouldn’t be able to start again any time soon. The second was that Syrielle was completely in her own element.

Was it being an elf that let her ignore the pain and exhaustion that dragged Rasilla down, or was it living her life in the Sea of Rot with chores to complete trudging across the boardwalks and fetid earth, breathing in the fungal miasma and eating scraps stolen from the worms?

Whatever the cause, the elf was certainly made of sterner stuff, and for the first time in her admittedly short and sheltered life, Rasilla was made to feel a twinge of jealousy.

She didn’t resent Syrielle her strength, but she did desire the same for herself. And so she trudged, ever onward, determined to not be the first to cry out that she had gone far enough.

Some time after mid-day they rested at Syrielle’s sign. In the time Rasilla spent nursing her legs, the elf foraged about the locale, finding small mushrooms that she guaranteed were good to eat, and grubs that even with such assurances Rasilla was not willing to touch, at least not when she could still see them twitching.

The second leg was more difficult yet, but as the afternoon wore on, Syrielle spied churning earth that was no doubt a pit of tame worms, ready to devour anything so unobservant as to fall in.

The worms, she said, appeared just after the forests died. They were in the ground throughout the Sea of Rot, but only when tamed were they kept in such large numbers as to render the soil nearly liquid with their constant motion. The pits, such as they were, drifted slowly, forcing local exiles to keep aware of their motion and build the boardwalks that would survive a worm colony moving beneath them.

Rasilla wasn’t sure what was more frightening: the thought that there were enough worms in the pits to do that, or the thought that one of those hideous, white things could be beneath her feet, even on solid ground. She had wished for much of her royal life in brief days since the ambush, but never before something so simple as bedrock to stand on.

Before nightfall, one of the scouts of this new hell found them and led them in to the center of the town. As far as Rasilla could tell, it was the same as the last, a thought that made her sick when she saw what that status was.

There were huts and hovels built up with the fungiwood boardwalks between them. A few used one of the titanic mushrooms for support, or were carved into one or set atop the stump of another.

The squalor inherent in the construction was one matter. The squalor of the people living in it was entirely another. Most faces were covered in boils and sores of years in the Sea of Rot. Some were scarred, and barely any would have been presentable even in the lowest reaches of the Grand Fortress. These people, in their current condition, would not have been deemed fit even to serve the royalty of Efaruna.

That thought was, in and of itself, frightening. To realize, see with her own lives that people were condemned to live in such a way was bad. To see the children among them, and realize that most of these folk were no doubt blameless of the crimes for which their ancestors had been sentenced to Rot?

It was almost beyond comprehension.

And yet, despite all that, they were warm to their guests. They had little food and drink, but shared what they did have without being asked. They found beds, as good as any of their lot had, for those who had come unannounced. When they noted Rasilla’s fear of the hideous, gigantic maggots, the worm-guides quietly shooed their pets from sight.

Rasilla considered asking Syrielle if this was normal, or if they would be expected to make some manner of dire repayment for the current hospitality. However, before she did the answer occurred to her. It was not out of a gentle goodness that these practices must have been born, but out of necessity. Any less generosity towards fellow men or women damned to the Rot would have seen all dead in short order.

She did ask Syrielle how long they would expect to stay in the village. Syrielle replied that she would send word (by what means, Rasilla didn’t ask) to her brother, and that when it was safe to return he would reply, or if it was not to be come himself and help to plot their next move.

Any time in the Sea of Rot was too long by Rasilla’s judgment, but at the same time there was a part of her that wanted to be here, to know what this condition was that was so untenable as to drive her kidnappers to their excesses.

It seemed she was going to learn that first hand, in any case.


Sunrise, light filtering through the overlapping caps of the mighty mushrooms. Time to wake up, and start a new day living the life most removed from the one Rasilla once had.

It was five days in the new camp, and Syrielle said it wasn’t surprising she hadn’t heard back. Rasilla still worried, of course, but in those five days it had been surprisingly easy to fall into a new routine, one that started with rising at dawn.

In the dim, crimson light she dressed herself without a maidservant and emerged from a dugout hovel into a festering, reeking mire – one that nonetheless people called home.

At first, she had been shocked and appalled by the poverty, the conditions that the denizens of the Sea of Rot were living in, but as being one of them wore away the shock, she came to realize that they were, at least, living.

It was a harsh life, without trade with the outside world. It was life that could be improved trivially by the crown at the Grand Fortress, but life still found its way. After a fashion, that was somewhat charming. This was, no doubt, what her former captors had wanted her to see, that no matter the crimes of their ancestors, they were now a people that deserved freedom from the worst parts of their condition.

The first great task of a new morning was drawing water from the well, just one of the many contrivances that the locals had to rely on in order to survive. The sides were stone, carefully wrought to keep the sludge of the Rot from seeping in, while the water was deep, deep under the ground. It took Rasilla a few minutes, at least, to haul the full fungi-wood bucket back to the surface. Of course, she was weaker and slower than anyone who had been doing it her whole life would be.

While bringing the precious fresh water back to her temporary home, Rasilla heard a commotion in the distance. Angry, no doubt loud, it came from the western edge of the village… Immediately, she tensed. Had someone learned who she was? Would she have to flee into the Rot again?

Then, there was a flash streaking towards the sky, and a crack of thunder, loud and unmistakable. Rasilla’s racing mind quickly hit on one truth in the matter: there was magic involved, for there couldn’t be lightning on such a clear day. Every instinct told her to run. Common sense told her to run away from the sound as quick as she dare, to flee from what was inevitably danger. But, there were new senses growing in her that told her to run towards it, that insisted she, as royalty, needed to know what was happening and do her best to change it, even at the risk of her occultation.

The new impulses won, and Rasilla set down the water and hurried towards the front. She caught sight of it before too long – on one side, a mob of the rot-dwellers stood, speaking all at once and creating a great cacophony. On the other was a line of armored soldiers, bearing the crest of Efaruna on their armor. At the head of the soldiers was an imposing figure, a man towering because most of his body had been replaced with or bonded in the clockwork artifice known as an Iron Frame. Only a few generals, grievously injured in some skirmish or other, had both the opportunity and inclination to suffer such a treatment.

Behind that mighty figure, astride a mechanical steed, was a more familiar one – Jericho, looking both run-down and noble. That was good news, but the tenor of the crowd was bad news. The rot-dwellers weren’t impressed by a show of lightning. Unless Rasilla did something very shortly, there was going to be a battle.

Rasilla began to push her way through the crowd.

“Which of you speaks… For this place?” The general demanded, his voice booming but slow, driven by bellows rather than proper lungs.

Rasilla couldn’t hear the reply.

“I grow… Impatient.” He continued, “I have… Questions. You will… Answer me. NOW!”

“We have no idea what you’re talking about!” the spokesman apparent for the village shouted back.


Rasilla swore, and drove her way through the mass of people even faster, hoping she wasn’t shoving anyone off the boardwalk in her haste. As she had suspected and both feared and hoped, this was about her. She could stop it.

“I don’t-“

There was a tremendous crack of thunder, another bolt of lightning from the general’s hand arcing into the air, this one low enough that a tall or mounted man might have been singed, and the entire crowd ducked in unison from the noise and fury.

“The one… You stole. Princess Rasilla. Where… is… SHE?”

“We have no idea what you’re talking about!” the spokesman shrieked, “You can’t just come here and attack people who don’t know a blasted thing! We did nothing wrong!”

The general’s reply was calm, as soft as his massive voice could manage, and very dangerous.

“I will not… Ask again… Nicely.”

Rasilla stood tall, waving her arms to be seen.

“I’m right here!” She shouted, “I’m here and these people are innocent!”

Everything started happening at once after that. The crowd, once so thick, parted. Jericho leapt from his steed, calling for her, and though she could not see the general’s mangled face beneath his helm, there could be no doubt that he felt more flustered than most people ever would in their lives.

About as she reached the former front, Jericho met her and embraced her. She responded in kind, and for a moment was too overjoyed by the reunion to remember where they were.

“Rasilla,” he said after a long moment, “Thank the gods, you’re alive, you… Your leg? What happened?”

That brought her back to sense. “I… It’s fine now. Look, Jericho, there have been a lot of misunderstandings. By us, by them, by me…”

She took a moment to look around. Soldiers had fallen to their knees, the massive general among them. Many, perhaps most of the assembled rot dwellers had followed suit

“Do you think you could come with me?” she asked, “People are staring.”

Jericho nodded wordlessly, and the general rose

“I will… accompany you… and ensure… your safety.”

Rasilla didn’t exactly want the presence of the once-human titan, but at the same time there was no good way to refuse in front of a crowd.

“Of course, general…”

“Simorah.” He replied, “At your service… Highness.”

Rasilla turned, and led Jericho and General Simorah back through the crowd, to the one private place she knew. It wasn’t much for a conference room, but for a few days at least she had called it home. It would have to do.


“So,” Rasilla concluded, “That’s how things stand, at least for now.”

“The fact remains…” Simorah said, “That you were… taken and held… against your will.”

“And I would have those responsible held responsible,” she replied, “But that is not every exile in the Rot, or even very many.”

“I can accept that,” Jericho said, “But convincing your parents won’t be easy. His majesty’s stubborn streak is the stuff of legends.”

“I haven’t forgotten,” Rasilla said, “After all, I have one of my own.”I haven

“Ah, yes,” Jericho replied with a smile, only miming distress, “How could I forget?”

There was part of her old life that Rasilla had dearly missed. For a moment, forgetting her place, she smirked.

“Perhaps my charm simply compelled you to forget.”

“Well,” he said, grin widening “That is the most obvious-“

“There will be time…” Simorah declared, “For youthful flirting… LATER.”

Rasilla turned sheepishly away. Even as a child she had not been accustomed to being scolded. And she certainly hadn’t considered what she was doing.

“Of course,” She said. “You can forgive me some measure of comfort under the circumstances.”

“Highness…” Simorah replied, obviously trying to sound soft, “You have declared… You will champion… The cause of… these people.”

“Not just these people,” Rasilla protested, “If they’ve been here, unknown to my parents in the Grand Fortress, what is to say the cities are any better understood? The Sea of Rot is just a place to start.”

“All the same… You have… A purpose. While that… Is true… Do not forget it. If you believe… In your cause… It is my… Belief… That you must… See your path through… Even if… The costs be dire. A cause is greater… Than any man.”

For a moment, Rasilla stared at the armored visage of the old general. His words carried a weight of strength, pride, sorrow, and pain all at once. How much had he given to fight for Efaruna? His life, his limbs, even his humanity.

Would she have to give as much in her fight?

Finally, Rasilla broke the moment of silence.

“Are you with me, Simorah?”

“Until… The end.”



“Then,” Rasilla said, “We’ll go to the Grand Fortress. Not alone, though. I want to bring a delegation, to show my parents with more than words what’s happening outside those walls.”


The world outside the Sea of Rot looked incalculably different after being within, even for a short time. The soil of Efaruna’s plains was dusty and sparse, in most places blowing freely over bare stone. Here and there, scraggly yellow or red grass grew, holding the dark earth together with weak roots. On the whole, little if anything grew strong and green outside the fields of the towns, and some places, like Fort Beryl, had even pulled their powerstone-fed agriculture beneath the surface in imitation of the Grand Fortress itself. Before, she never would have noticed, but in the Sea of Rot there had always been something growing wherever you looked, whether you wanted there to be or not.

When the wind over Efaruna blew from the east, it came with a harsh reminder of her stay in the Sea of Rot. From the north came the acrid smoke of the Plains of Despair, a reminder was of what was lost before Rasilla’s time. If the wind blew from the south or from the west, the air might carry only dust and chill, but whichever way it blew it portended death.

When Rasilla and her party landed in one of the walled towns of Efaruna, she made a point to do what she never would have considered before her ordeal, and looked away from the palaces and towers to the places where the common folk dwelt.

There, she saw that within Efaruna’s borders, things were not as different from the Sea of Rot as she had hoped – people were still dying because they were ignored, succumbing to slow starvation. Everywhere was in a state of decay; an accelerating spiral down the road to dusty oblivion. The farther gone a place was, the faster it seemed to be descending.

Along the way, others had joined Rasilla’s delegation, alongside Jericho, Simorah, and Syrielle.

There was a captain of the worm-guides to represent the humans of the Rot, and Norath as well, who had made his way to the village they were staying in the day after the army did. From Efaruna proper the quartermaster of Fort Beryl came, and a woman of some standing with its guild of artificers. There were also the sons and daughters and other representatives of small-town mayors and city lords, sent on behalf of their betters to speak for their homes. Since the Skyship that had built for her in Fort Beryl was more than large enough, Rasilla brought anyone, common or noble, who wished to follow her path and be heard.

Now they stood, a delegation of two score men and women, with Rasilla at their head, feeling for once in her life like the ruler she was destined to be.

But, at the same time, they stood before the gates of the Grand Fortress, and Rasilla felt very small. She did not know how much word of her travels had reached her parents, or how they would react to seeing so many low-born in her company. Soon, though, she would have her answer either way, for they had called at the gates and been answered, and Rasilla had insisted she would not cross the threshold of the Fortress until her parents met her at it.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity standing in front of that unfathomable edifice, the great doors parted, and standing in the frame dressed in all regal finery and attended by liveried honor guard as always, were the king and queen of Efaruna.

“Rasilla, my daughter!” the queen exclaimed, “At last, you’re home! Please dear, come inside, and I promise you nothing bad shall ever happen to you again.”

“Excuse me, mother,” Rasilla said with all proper formality, aware that the success of her aims rested largely on this conversation, “And father too, but it is not my wish to return to the Fortress as it is yours?”

“What?” her father asked, “Why would that be? Surely the amusement of the company of such ruffians as those about you must be wearing thin by now.”

“And after all that happened, dear,” her mother added, “You simply must come inside! I was so afraid just hearing of it, I cannot imagine how it was for you.”

“Your Majesties,” Rasilla said, controlling her temper and suppressing her desire to scream at her parents as she had often done in former days when not given her way, “This is a formal delegation of all the peoples of Efaruna I have visited. In my time beyond your walls, I have seen many terrible things and many wondrous ones. It is my belief that the problems of the land will not be fixed from inside the Grand Fortress. We must go among our people to save them.”

“Save them?” Her father asked, “Rasilla, what nonsense are you talking about?”

“I mean,” Rasilla said, having ever more trouble keeping her feelings hidden, “That the government we control is out of control. Crops molder in the fields of more prosperous towns, while in others the commons go hungry… and that is perhaps the least of the issues aborad. I don’t pretend to have a solution for everything that’s wrong, but the crown must organize the parts of this nation if we are to survive.”

“Rasilla!” her mother exclaimed, stamping her foot, “I don’t know what’s gotten into you, but this little game has gone on far enough.” She surveyed the delegation with disgust on her face “Look at these friends of yours – filthy, most of them… and Jericho! I expected better of you than to admit this rabble in my daughter’s presence!”

Was this the thanks Rasilla was to get? Was she to stand up as a woman and a monarch and still be denied the respect the worm-guides gave to their hideous, bloated maggots as independent creatures? It made her blood boil to think that of all the men and women she had seen since her journey began in earnest, her own parents would treat her the worst.

“These are your people, mother!” Rasilla snapped, no longer able to contain her anger, “They are what you make them! If you do not like how they look, then help me to change it.”

The king stepped forward, just a little, to intercede between his wife and his daughter.

“Now, Rasilla,” he said, “You must have been very frightened. You have gone through things that no young lady should have to endure. It seems to me, that your judgment must be very clouded right now. If you return home, we can look after you, and perhaps after a year, if you still feel the need to leave the security of our home, then we can talk about… whatever it is you want to do.”

“You haven’t been listening.” Rasilla said, tone restrained to merely icy, “I will not go inside again, not until our Kingdom has been seen to as it should be.”

“Are you questioning our rule?” Her father asked, taken aback, “Our way of life?”

Rasilla thought. On one hand, it might be possible to win over her parents from within, but on the other… if she retreated inside the Grand Fortress, it was more likely that she would lose her purpose, and never again find her way out to do the good that she meant for Efaruna. And the king and queen were still her mother and father. They had to come around in time.

“No,” Rasilla said, “I questioned it long before returning here, and found my answer. The way that we have lived is wrong, and is only hurting our nation. It has to change.”

Her father closed his eyes.

“I suppose all daughters must think such things of their parents for a time.” He said. “Go then. You will always be welcome here, when you’ve seen how foolish your words today were, just return and apologize. Until then, as far as I am concerned, you can have the hard life you have asked for.”

Rasilla turned, back towards the crowd and the skyship.

“Then I’ll take the hard way.” She said, “And do alone what you will not help me with. My friends, I am sorry I have brought you here for nothing, but I promise that I will do my best to see our nation made stronger. Whatever power I have, it is yours.” She looked over her shoulder at the Grand Fortress. “Goodbye father. Goodbye mother.”

The queen was less diplomatic than her husband or her daughter. “Jericho!” she called, appealing not to Rasilla but to the man she had set as the princess’ steward, “You can’t let this happen! You promised to protect my daughter!”

“And that’s exactly what I shall do.” He said, turning towards the Skyship himself, “Farewell, your majesty.”

Rasilla and her delegation boarded the vessel defeated. There was not a one of them who did not understand that the weight of the monarchy would not stir, and thus the path to some salvation would be harder than ever before.

Rasilla, though, had some hope yet. She had friends behind her, and many years ahead of her. The path was uncertain, and she did not know if she would succeed in her aim of building an Efaruna that stood tall and proud as it had in the olden days.

But, at least she would try.

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PostPosted: Sun Jul 12, 2015 11:27 pm 
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Joined: Sep 25, 2013
Posts: 10389
Location: Kamloops, BC
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A little more than a third of the way down there's a line that reads
“I don’t really know.”I don

Same thing again towards the end.
“I haven’t forgotten,” Rasilla said, “After all, I have one of my own.”I haven

She wasn’t looking Rasilla. Instead, she was probing the far wall, and, upon finding something to her liking, drew a dagger and cut through the leather skin that made it up.
There should be an "at" after "looking".

But, there were new senses growing in her that told her to run towards it, that insisted she, as royalty, needed to know what was happening and do her best to change it, even at the risk of her occultation
I don't think occulation is the word you were going for there.

“Excuse me, mother,” Rasilla said with all proper formality, aware that the success of her aims rested largely on this conversation, “And father too, but it is not my wish to return to the Fortress as it is yours?”
This doesn't seem to be a question, or it does, but shouldn't.

Cato wrote:
CotW is a method for ranking cards in increasing order of printability.

*"To YMTC it up" means to design cards that have value mostly from a design perspective. i.e. you would put them in a case under glass in your living room and visitors could remark upon the wonderful design principles, with nobody ever worring if the cards are annoying/pointless/confusing in actual play


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 14, 2015 6:43 pm 

Joined: Sep 22, 2013
Posts: 874
Thank you. I'll examine the last two in-context when I get around to re-reading this, but I imagine "occultation" in this case is supposed to mean "affected by the occult", as in, hit by magic.

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