Angel Broking Margin Exposure Limit for Intraday and Futures

Divinity - Chapter 21

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“Name.”
Caelan frowned. It was more a statement than a question. The man before him sat at a small desk in the middle of a large entryway made of white stone. The man’s clothes were a simple gray and he didn’t bother to raise his head.
“Caelan.”
“Family name?” the man asked, his quill hovering over the parchment.
“I don’t have one.”
The man looked up at him from beneath his brow. “How do you not have...nevermind. Choose one.”
“Ermm…” Caelan fidgeted, attempting to come up with a name at random. Why were the only ones that came to mind those he had known from his home? “Fair...tree?” he said, quite sure that it sounded ridiculous.
“Good enough. Proceed into the second room on the left.” The man gestured over his shoulder with the quill, ignorant of the small drops of ink he flung onto the floor. The parchment was shoved into Caelan’s hands and he walked past the table in the direction the man indicated. The floors, the halls, even the next room were all made of the same immaculately white stone. Upon his entry, Caelan was greeted by another man sitting behind another desk.
“Close the door behind you, please,” the man said politely. Caelan complied, pulling on the handle until it gave a soft click. “Please, have a seat.”
Again, Caelan obeyed. He strode to the chair positioned opposite the desk and the man reached out with an open palm. There was an awkward moment while Caelan stared at the hand before realizing the man probably wanted the piece of parchment. He offered it and the man deftly snatched the sheet, then spun it upright onto the desk in a smooth motion.
The man spoke quickly, but clearly, as he recited a series of information from memory. “This is the first portion of your entrance evaluation for joining the Templar Order. You may leave at any portion of the evaluation with no penalty. Once the evaluation is complete, you will be offered a final opportunity to leave with no consequence. Upon passing the evaluation and accepting a position as an Initiate, you will no longer have the option to quit the Order without repercussions. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” Caelan answered.
“Good.” The man smiled briefly, then picked up his quill from a small pot of ink. “I will be asking you several questions about your past. This information is largely for record keeping, however, some items may result in our inability to accept you into the Order.” The man barely paused before continuing, “Do you have any living family?”
“No.” A common occurrence, Caelan presumed, given that the man made no special note of it.
“Where were you born?”
“Bastion.”
“What was your occupation?”
“Sentinel.” Caelan watched the man write ‘soldier’ and thought about correcting him, but didn’t have the heart to argue semantics.
“Have you ever committed any crimes? Please state even those that you were not caught and/or punished for.”
“No.”
“Do you have an affinity with the Light?”
“Yes.”
“Why do you wish to join the Order?”
Caelan paused, breaking the rhythm of rapid question and answer. He briefly considered saying he believed an Archangel wanted him to, but being branded mad was probably one of the criteria for being denied entry. Some considered the Church to be filled with fanatics, but somehow Caelan doubted they actually wanted the insane to join. The man peered upward across the table without raising his head, quill held in position for the awaited response.
“Common answers include a desire for an education, learning a trade skill, earning an income, or having outgrown an orphanage,” the man offered.
“To protect the Realm,” Caelan stated.
“Very well. That concludes the questions. This document will be the start of your record within the Order, should you join,” the man said and handed the piece of parchment back to Caelan. “Please head out of this room and continue down the hall until you reach a courtyard. Another member will direct you from there.”
Caelan rose, expecting the man to do the same. Instead, the man remained seated, making a note on another piece of paper and resetting his desk for the next person. Caelan turned and left the room, glancing back toward the first desk to see if anyone else would be along shortly. A family stood, hugging a young boy barely in his mid-teenage years. The boy broke away and strode over confidently to the desk. It was somewhat encouraging that not everyone here was going to be an orphan. It made the Order seem more…human, as opposed to the two bland personalities Caelan had interacted with so far today. He turned and headed to the courtyard where a pair, one male one female, wore matching gray and white outfits with a crimson sash.
“Candidate,” the man said. “Step this way.”
The man had spoken with a certain authority in his voice and instinct took over. Caelan followed the order and stopped in front of the pair, waiting for the next instruction. His posture became more rigid as his muscles fell back into the familiar form of military training.
“We will be performing the final two portions of your evaluation.” The man held out his hand and Caelan instinctively handed over the piece of paper. The woman was the next to speak while her partner looked over the form.
“The first is a basic test of physical ability. You will complete one lap around the training yard. At the far end are ten sacks of grain. You will carry them to the other end after completing your lap.”
Caelan waited for more instruction but neither of the pair offered any further detail. He turned from them with a crisp pivot on his heel and began to jog along the exterior wall of the courtyard. The middle was mostly empty, little more than a few scattered benches and ropes left in parallel lines or circles on the packed dirt. He completed the lap quickly and hauled the sacks of grain across the yard two at a time atop his shoulders. Once he finished Caelan returned to a spot in front of the pair, his breathing labored, but controlled. They had watched him, but it didn’t seem to be with a critical eye. Boredom, then? Caelan wondered. He was the only thing moving, after all, and there didn’t seem to be many others seeking entry today.
“Very good,” the woman said. “Now, for the final portion of your evaluation. You have indicated you have an affinity with the Light—please demonstrate this.”
Caelan scowled. “What kind of demonstration?”
“Anything will suffice,” the man replied. “We simply need to see that you do indeed have affinity.”
Caelan sighed and shook his head. This evaluation was far simpler than he had imagined. Even if the Order had arrived to help Bastion, if this was the requirement for entry they would have been little help. As fodder for the Void, though, they might have allowed Bastion’s warriors time to rest and recover…
He pushed the thought from his mind. None of it made a difference now. He raised his hand, palm up, and formed a small white flame that danced on his fingers. It was no larger than if it were from a candle, but they hadn’t asked for a grand display. Even so, he fought to suppress the wince that came from opening the himself to the Light. Whatever Camael had done to him, he’d be unable to fully recover.
From the testing he had done when he found some time alone in the caravan he felt like he could still summon just as much power as he ever could, yet each time the Light came to him from the aether instead of the heat he’d become accustomed to all he felt was burning—no matter the amount. Nevermind that his fingertips were discolored from when he’d cauterized himself or that the grip in his off-hand still felt weak from the beams he’d summoned in Joyce’s rescue. Caelan let the flame die and sighed softly. This was how things were to be now. It wasn’t that the pain was intolerable, it was just…frustrating. Power that had once come so naturally now punished him each time he called for it.
“Very good,” the woman said. “Please enter through the doorway over there,” she gestured across the courtyard, “where you will end your evaluation.”
The man handed back the piece of paper. Caelan glanced at it and noticed two small marks under the writing from the previous man. He rolled the parchment as he walked across the courtyard and through the door on the other side. This hallway had a woman with a stern face and neat bun of brown hair posted outside of one of two doors about halfway down. She kept her gaze straight ahead as he approached. Caelan attempted to hand her the piece of paper, but her arm instead moved to push against the door to hold it open. Once again he entered a room with a man sitting at a desk, however, this time there was no place for him to sit.
“Please surrender your document, candidate,” the man said. Caelan approached the table and handed the man the piece of paper, then took up a stiff posture in front of the desk. The man gave a huff as he unrolled the parchment and scanned the neat ink across the page.
“Caelan Fairtree, you have completed the evaluation and are eligible to join the Order as an Initiate. Please remember that even as an Initiate you are still being evaluated and you may be removed from the Order if deemed necessary. If you decide to join, you will have up to five years to attain the rank of Templar or else be excommunicated from the Order. If you wish to join, please state so now.”
“I wish to join.”
The words came easily. When Kai had told him of the commitment last night, five years had seemed an eternity. Yet this morning, when he stood in front of the enormous gatehouse that separated the rest of Elysium from the Order, he had felt a sense familiarity. The towering buildings of white stone nestled away on a large island at the edge of the city seemed to call to him. The Order was the militant representation of the Light and he was a Sentinel—a barrier against the Void. There was nothing else he was more fit to do.
“Very well,” the man said and placed a large stamp across the bottom of the form. “The Order will keep this record. Please exit the room and follow whoever is outside.”
The man placed the document in a large box that, from where Caelan stood, didn’t seem to have many others inside. The man laid his arms on the desk, hands clasped together and eyes staring blankly ahead. Caelan spun on his heel and strode out the door, which was once again held open for him. As he crossed the threshold, the stern woman let the door swing shut and began to walk down the hall.
“Please follow me,” she said once there was some distance between them. Caelan took several long strides to catch up and trailed the woman as they made their way through a seemingly endless amount of hallways. There weren’t any signs either and he had no idea how the woman knew where they were going. They rounded another corner and she stopped in front of three people on a bench. All were dressed in various shades of tan or brown clothes and each had a white sash around their waist. They stood quickly upon noticing the woman’s presence.
“Initiate…” she trailed off, waiting for the first person’s input.
“Wait!” A voice called from behind them. Caelan spun quickly, recognizing the speaker. Kai approached, slowing from his jog as he drew closer. “I’ll take him. The other Initiates can take the next one.”
The woman clicked her tongue, but acquiesced. “Very well. Initiate Caelan, your first class is tomorrow. History. I trust your guide will inform you of the location and times?” she said with a glare in Kai’s direction.
“Of course,” the islander replied.
“Very good.” The woman walked back the way they had come, disappearing around the corner. Once her footsteps faded, the other Initiates sat back down in silence.
“They’re normal people, I promise,” Kai said. “They’re just told to act like that during the evaluation for some reason. Glad to see you decided to join though! I’ll show you around and get you the standard issue clothing.” Kai turned and gestured for Caelan to follow.
“They’re Initiates too?” Caelan asked as they walked.
“No, Templar,” Kai corrected.
“There are enough Templar to spare that they can stand around and give basic tests?”
“More than enough,” Kai said with a roll of his eyes, “but the people at the desks are normally Oracles. You probably couldn’t tell the difference. Templar do make up most of the Order, though. Nearly four times as many of them as there are any other rank.”
The day turned into a lot of walking as Kai escorted him around the Order’s vast grounds. As they headed towards the central building, Kai explained that the entirety of the facility was known as the Citadel, despite the towering building at the center being similarly named. The main structure and the wings immediately branching off it it were all the same white stone, but as the distance grew the structures turned into normal grays and earth tones.
They toured the Great Hall where meals were served, the baths, the kitchens, several locations where Caelan’s presence would be expected for class, and multiple courtyards that were used for various types of training. It had been early morning when Caelan had arrived, yet by the time he had seen the quartermaster to receive his issue of clothing and other supplies the sun had begun to fall from its daily climb. Kai led him to his quarters, a barracks-style room within the Initiates Wing that all new arrivals were placed in.
“I’ll go and report that I’ve finished escorting you, but I’ve also got to check if I’ve got a guard shift tomorrow. I’ll see you for supper?” Kai asked.
“Sure,” Caelan answered, placing the clothes, some of the only items he could call his own, on the bed. Kai left and though he was thankful for the welcome from someone he at least vaguely knew, Caelan was equally as glad for the time alone. The night prior still lingered in his mind—the way Tera had politely, yet firmly, implied for him to leave. He wasn’t sure why he expected to stay the entire night, she had never explicitly said that he would, but it felt wrong. She spoke little more than a small thank you while they had gotten dressed. Then she showed him out, giving quick directions back to the inn and closing the door while he stood on the porch.
Caelan rubbed his hands across his face, taking in the blanched walls that surrounded him. The room was a simple rectangle occupied by several beds barely wide enough for one person. Small desks, each with its own stool, and dressers lined the opposite wall. He began packing away the sets of issued clothing into several drawers, saving one set to change into. They outfit fit well and the fabric was softer than what he had received from the caravan. The boots, too, were made of strong but malleable leather. Caelan wondered how large the Order truly was and how they could afford to equip all of their members with this quality of clothing, especially since the new arrivals like him were, technically speaking, useless.
He made the bed with the sheets and blanket he’d been given before stepping into the hall, taking a moment to remember which stairwell led down to the bathhouse. There were several other Initiates there, but the baths were large enough that he found an area to himself to wash and let the heat work its way through his body. The water flowed gently through the interconnected baths, slow enough that it was possible to miss the current entirely without looking closely.
Caelan leaned forward, curious, to observe the opposite end of the room. The water entered into the bath from a wide porthole in one wall and out through another at the far end. How do they keep the water hot if it constantly flows out? he wondered. There aren’t any natural hot springs, not this close to the rivers around the city. He resigned himself to ignorance and tried to let his body relax, but his mind had other ideas. Thoughts of Tera permeated his consciousness and he only became more tense. He forced the images out in frustration and gathered his things to leave.
The evening meal, surprisingly, turned out to be the best part of the day. It was nothing like the bland, dense food the warriors-in-training received in Bastion. The bread was fresh, the stew filled with meats and vegetables, and the broth well spiced. Kai laughed and informed him that he would tire of it eventually, but Caelan doubted the warning, informing his new friend of what he had dealt with for years in Bastion.
Not only was the food good, but there was an enormous amount. All of it was necessary to feed the hundreds that filled the long rows of tables that lined the great hall. Initiates and Templar shared the same eating spaces, Kai explained, but their living and training areas were separated so that the Initiates could stay together. For many Initiates, this was their first taste of life outside their home or away from family. The Order wanted to offer them comfort in numbers.
The meal finished, Kai showed him some of the lesser visited spots throughout the grounds. There was a patch of woods near the back corner of the island with an off-limits glade that housed a small lake and an abandoned manor. It was supposedly the residence of every Highlord until the current one, who preferred to stay within the Citadel. One of the courtyards was a garden was full of plants, both local and exotic, and neat rows of raised beds overflowed with various herbs.
“Are these used in the food?” Caelan asked.
“Curious as to how we feed ourselves?” Kai chuckled. “No, everything here is just for looks. All our food is brought in from elsewhere.”
“So the Order is entirely reliant on things that aren’t on this island.” Caelan confirmed his suspicion. Being reliant on imports seemed ill-advised. With the massive bridge the only way in or out besides the harbor the Order could be defeated were it cut off.
“Yes, but we’ve got enough in our stores to outlast any siege, not that there’d ever be one,” Kai said. “We only bring in raw goods, though. Everything else you see has been crafted by our members. Or members of the Church, at least. The Acolytes do nearly all the linen work. Your bedsheets and clothes and such, mostly.”
They continued walking and Caelan noticed the small smithy nestled in the northeast corner of the grounds, no more than ten bellows in a row. “Is that all you have to make armor and weapons?”
“No,” Kai replied with a shake of his head. “Look again.”
Caelan did, searching for his mistake, and noticed the tops of stairwells in each corner of the stone ground. “There’s more underneath?”
Kai grinned. “Much more. What you see here is only for basic smithing. Nails, horseshoes, and the like. The armorers and weaponsmiths work in secret below. There’s lots of things below ground on this island, in fact. When the Citadel was built they even diverted a portion of the river through the island to use down there for cooling the metal. That water continues on below each of the Citadel’s wings to be used in the baths, pre-heated for your enjoyment.”
So that was how they did it. Caelan marveled at the grandeur of it all. In Bastion water was heated by coals under each bath, something that took a lot of preparation. Nearly every farling had become accustomed to bathing in cold or lukewarm water as a result. It was a wonder that the line for those wishing to join the Order didn’t surpass the length of the bridge each day. The privileged life here was certainly alluring.
With the unofficial portion of the tour finished, Caelan attempted to lead them back to his quarters, each of the numerous incorrect turns met with a laugh from Kai and a mocking finger pointing a different direction.

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The days passed slowly as Caelan became more familiar with the grounds, navigating to and from his quarters, finding classes held in buildings around the complex, and locating the training courtyard and Great Hall for meals. Each morning the Initiates were taken through several hours of drills, though the instructors allowed Caelan to move over to the group performing unit movements and group-based attacks after three days.
The training was tedious, but afterward most in attendance left the grounds and Caelan enjoyed the relative freedom to train as he saw fit, drilling sequences with wooden weapons and running laps around the island before the midday meal. It was the classes that bored him most, each of the lessons covering what he had already been taught as a child. Every afternoon brought the same order of instruction: reading, writing, basic mathematics, and the history of their world. Kai wouldn’t hear his complaints, reminding him that the Order accepted everyone, to include the young and those that were too poor to afford any sort of education. The scolding did nothing to alleviate Caelan’s boredom.
His history instructor, old enough that his hair had lost even the faint color of gray, finished another long-winded story and came to rest behind the desk at the front of the room. “Now, can any of you name the seven Archangels that comprise the Seraphic Council?” the old man asked. One young Initiate in the middle of the room bravely raised his hand. “Go ahead.”
“There’s Netzach, the Archangel of Eternity, Jophiel, the Archangel of Wisdom--”
“Please, just the name and aspect, if you will,” the instructor interrupted.
“Right. Well, Camael of War, Raguel of Justice, Sachiel of Mercy, Sabriel of Miracles, and…” The Initiate struggled to remember the last.
“Phan…” the instructor offered.
“Phanuel! Archangel of Repentance,” the Initiate finished.
“Good. Now, the Archangels...”
Caelan sighed in the back of the room and slumped deeper in his seat as the instructor droned on about the first appearances of the Archangel’s on the grounds the Citadel was built on. The Archangel’s had apparently worked alongside the Church and what would later become the Order, too. Caelan’s thoughts turned to that of the next meal, wondering if there might be more fruit pies from the previous evening. He was startled out of the memory of the sweet jam-like insides by a question from the boy sitting immediately to his right.
“What about the other Angels?” the boy asked in a timid voice.
“Ah, you mean the eight Ascended, I assume?” The instructor perked up at the sudden participation. “Yes, in the midst of the Void War all seven Archangels, who were known as the Seraphic Council mind you, raised eight humans as Angels. They were each given their own Aspect by the Archangel that raised them and they represented humanity in the Void War, fighting alongside the Lightborne from the High Heavens.”
“Where did they go?” the boy asked.
The instructor frowned. “We know very little about them, admittedly. It seems that not even our archives list their Aspects. As for where they are now, there are many theories: that they were permitted entry into the Heavens after the war, that they returned to being normal humans, or that they all perished, but the short of it is that no one truly knows.” The question satisfied, the old instructor quickly returned to the lesson with a tiring explanation of how the Kingdom of Elysia had once spanned the entire Realm prior to the rebellions.
Caelan sat through the rest of the class, painstakingly retold the lessons from his youth. He remembered Ulrich quizzing him as a young boy on names, places, and years of major events throughout history. Every wrong answer had meant another round through the training course. Covered in mud, scratched from splintered wood, and freezing from the bitter wind, he would attempt to recall information that simply would not come. Ulrich would shake his head and nod towards the beginning of the course. Upon completing another round, Caelan had complained that the information didn’t matter, a statement that Ulrich took as an incorrect answer to a question that hadn’t been asked, and sent the boy through again. As Caelan aged, the questions changed, requiring more specific answers, and so too did the physical demands escalate in turn. The process, over years, was one of several methods Ulrich had used to hone both body and mind.
The flashback was interrupted by the class rising to leave, the day’s lecture complete. Caelan stood, stretching his legs and back that had gone stiff from the wooden chair before heading out to the training ground. Kai leaned against the courtyard wall with two wooden poles, waiting. The two had made it a daily routine to spar prior to supper, a habit Caelan was all too happy to indulge.
“How was class?” Kai asked, white teeth from his wide smile contrasting dark lips.
“Were I a decade younger it would’ve been interesting, I’m sure,” Caelan replied. “Shall we?”
Kai chuckled and tossed him the extra wooden pole. The islander was stronger by a decent margin, but Caelan was faster. They warmed up with basic sequences, yet when the short bouts began in earnest so too did Caelan’s enjoyment. It was a race, a test of skills—could he break through Kai’s guard faster than the islander could wear him down with powerful strikes? Several clacks of wood later and he held his weapon against Kai’s neck, having closed the distance between them faster than Kai could counter. They went again and this time Kai pulled him off-balance before giving him a playful jab in the ribs.
“Come on Kaikoa, you’re only feeding the Initiate’s ego.”
Caelan and Kai separated at the end of their round and turned to face the critical voice.
“Why are you here, Eligor?” Kai asked. “I’ve never seen you on the mixed grounds.”
“I’m free to observe, am I not?” The stranger, Eligor, was about Caelan’s height and strikingly handsome. Blonde hair was painstakingly combed into holding its shape and the newcomer carried himself with shoulders raised and head held high despite the arms crossed over his chest. It was the air of arrogance, Caelan realized, that gave him the instantaneous feeling of hatred towards Eligor.
“Of course,” Kai admitted. There was something off in the tone, Caelan noted. The islander always had a hint of joy that came from the permanent smile plastered on his face, yet it was absent now. “Caelan, this is Templar Eligor Belestram. His family financed Joyce’s caravan over a decade ago when she was first starting out. They’ve fallen on some hard times since then.”
Eligor cleared his throat. “It’s of no consequence. Nalani asked me to tell you if I saw you to find her at supper.”
“I will. Thank you,” Kai replied. The three stood, Caelan eyeing both parties. Eligor remained motionless, arms folded on his chest while Kai gently tapped his pole against his boot to knock away some dust.
“Please, continue training,” Eligor said exasperatedly and waved a hand toward them.
“I think I’ve had enough for the day,” Kai replied.
“Well your friend here has hardly worked up a sweat,” Eligor declared. “Come on, Caelan, was it? What do you say?”
Caelan looked to Kai for some sort of sign, but the islander simply shrugged and handed over his pole to the blonde Templar before stepping away. Eligor assumed a wide stance, off-shoulder leading the rest of his frame. Caelan tightened his grip on his own weapon.
The two took small steps to the side, maintaining mirrored positions, before Eligor took a half lunge forward. A quick jab of the pole followed the step. The wood clacked as Caelan parried the attack easily and they returned to their original forms. Eligor tested several other quick strikes, looking for slowness or a weak off-hand that would afford him the opening to decisively win the bout. He found such an opening and Caelan was greeted by a sharp pain as the wooden pole cracked into his shoulder.
They reset, but three more short bouts led to similar results. Caelan knew nearly three dozen sequences, but Eligor apparently knew more. Worse, the blonde Templar wasn’t pulling the finishing blows. Every mistake made was met with punishment. Caelan ground his teeth. Had it been Kai he might have accepted the lesson, but not from this prick.
The fifth bout began and Caelan committed to a powerful strike at Eligor’s shoulders. The blonde Templar stepped forward to intercept, but found air to block rather than Caelan’s weapon—the feint had worked. Caelan dropped his staff behind Eligor’s leg and pulled. When the wood freed his opponent of his gait, Caelan brought the other end to meet the side of Eligor’s head with a satisfying thump and the Templar went limp. Caelan turned without pause and strode towards the training yard’s exit.
“Light, did you kill him?” Kai asked, hurrying to catch up.
“No,” Caelan answered, “but he won’t be happy when he wakes in a few moments.”
They made it to the wall and Caelan placed his pole in the rack along the stone. They were about to cross the threshold out of the courtyard when Kai hesitated at the weak voice calling out to them.
“Initiate!” Eligor groaned.
Caelan saw Kai turn and caught Eligor hoist himself onto his hands and knees out of the edge of his vision. The blonde Templar attempted to stand, but stumbled in a daze and found himself sitting in the dirt. This isn’t the time to dawdle. Caelan continued through the archway and headed down the hall towards the Initiate’s quarters.
“Initiate!” Eligor’s voice was louder, but still lacked the vigor of full mental clarity.
“You’re going to get in trouble for that,” Kai said, catching up again as they reached the stairs.
Caelan raised a doubtful brow. “For winning a training bout?”
“He’ll say you attacked him or something, I’m sure,” Kai insisted. “Eligor is very...guileful.”
“He’s too proud to admit being bested by an Initiate,” Caelan retorted.
“We’ll see.”
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Lot of into in this one...woof. I did my best to not make it just straight exposition, but let me know if it's too brutal, it's one of the ones I have marked for a rewrite once the whole story is complete. But hey, what's fantasy without some world-building, right? Happy Saturday!
If you're new, Divinity is a web-serial I've been working on for a bit now. There are 22 parts/chapters "published" already, so I'll be posting one a day on HFY to catch up, then fall into the rhythm of one chapter a week posted every Saturday. Feel free to read ahead if you'd like, the links are above. If you like it I'd love to have you subscribe to any of the sites and/or leave feedback!
If Sci-Fi is more your thing, check out my short story, Valkyrie! It's 3 chapters plus an epilogue. You'll read about Cara, a public affairs officer on assignment to cover a story of growing public unrest for the war against the rebellion, though she ends up learning the harsh realities that come with even a limited conflict. Enjoy!
submitted by Lightenant to HFY [link] [comments]

3.01 - Hallowed

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“Name.”
Caelan frowned. It was more a statement than a question. The man before him sat at a small desk in the middle of a large entryway made of white stone. The man’s clothes were a simple gray and he didn’t bother to raise his head.
“Caelan.”
“Family name?” the man asked, his quill hovering over the parchment.
“I don’t have one.”
The man looked up at him from beneath his brow. “How do you not have...nevermind. Choose one.”
“Ermm…” Caelan fidgeted, attempting to come up with a name at random. Why were the only ones that came to mind those he had known from his home? “Fair...tree?” he said, quite sure that it sounded ridiculous.
“Good enough. Proceed into the second room on the left.” The man gestured over his shoulder with the quill, ignorant of the small drops of ink he flung onto the floor. The parchment was shoved into Caelan’s hands and he walked past the table in the direction the man indicated. The floors, the halls, even the next room were all made of the same immaculately white stone. Upon his entry, Caelan was greeted by another man sitting behind another desk.
“Close the door behind you, please,” the man said politely. Caelan complied, pulling on the handle until it gave a soft click. “Please, have a seat.”
Again, Caelan obeyed. He strode to the chair positioned opposite the desk and the man reached out with an open palm. There was an awkward moment while Caelan stared at the hand before realizing the man probably wanted the piece of parchment. He offered it and the man deftly snatched the sheet, then spun it upright onto the desk in a smooth motion.
The man spoke quickly, but clearly, as he recited a series of information from memory. “This is the first portion of your entrance evaluation for joining the Templar Order. You may leave at any portion of the evaluation with no penalty. Once the evaluation is complete, you will be offered a final opportunity to leave with no consequence. Upon passing the evaluation and accepting a position as an Initiate, you will no longer have the option to quit the Order without repercussions. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” Caelan answered.
“Good.” The man smiled briefly, then picked up his quill from a small pot of ink. “I will be asking you several questions about your past. This information is largely for record keeping, however, some items may result in our inability to accept you into the Order.” The man barely paused before continuing, “Do you have any living family?”
“No.” A common occurrence, Caelan presumed, given that the man made no special note of it.
“Where were you born?”
“Bastion.”
“What was your occupation?”
“Sentinel.” Caelan watched the man write ‘soldier’ and thought about correcting him, but didn’t have the heart to argue semantics.
“Have you ever committed any crimes? Please state even those that you were not caught and/or punished for.”
“No.”
“Do you have an affinity with the Light?”
“Yes.”
“Why do you wish to join the Order?”
Caelan paused, breaking the rhythm of rapid question and answer. He briefly considered saying he believed an Archangel wanted him to, but being branded mad was probably one of the criteria for being denied entry. Some considered the Church to be filled with fanatics, but somehow Caelan doubted they actually wanted the insane to join. The man peered upward across the table without raising his head, quill held in position for the awaited response.
“Common answers include a desire for an education, learning a trade skill, earning an income, or having outgrown an orphanage,” the man offered.
“To protect the Realm,” Caelan stated.
“Very well. That concludes the questions. This document will be the start of your record within the Order, should you join,” the man said and handed the piece of parchment back to Caelan. “Please head out of this room and continue down the hall until you reach a courtyard. Another member will direct you from there.”
Caelan rose, expecting the man to do the same. Instead, the man remained seated, making a note on another piece of paper and resetting his desk for the next person. Caelan turned and left the room, glancing back toward the first desk to see if anyone else would be along shortly. A family stood, hugging a young boy barely in his mid-teenage years. The boy broke away and strode over confidently to the desk. It was somewhat encouraging that not everyone here was going to be an orphan. It made the Order seem more…human, as opposed to the two bland personalities Caelan had interacted with so far today. He turned and headed to the courtyard where a pair, one male one female, wore matching gray and white outfits with a crimson sash.
“Candidate,” the man said. “Step this way.”
The man had spoken with a certain authority in his voice and instinct took over. Caelan followed the order and stopped in front of the pair, waiting for the next instruction. His posture became more rigid as his muscles fell back into the familiar form of military training.
“We will be performing the final two portions of your evaluation.” The man held out his hand and Caelan instinctively handed over the piece of paper. The woman was the next to speak while her partner looked over the form.
“The first is a basic test of physical ability. You will complete one lap around the training yard. At the far end are ten sacks of grain. You will carry them to the other end after completing your lap.”
Caelan waited for more instruction but neither of the pair offered any further detail. He turned from them with a crisp pivot on his heel and began to jog along the exterior wall of the courtyard. The middle was mostly empty, little more than a few scattered benches and ropes left in parallel lines or circles on the packed dirt. He completed the lap quickly and hauled the sacks of grain across the yard two at a time atop his shoulders. Once he finished Caelan returned to a spot in front of the pair, his breathing labored, but controlled. They had watched him, but it didn’t seem to be with a critical eye. Boredom, then? Caelan wondered. He was the only thing moving, after all, and there didn’t seem to be many others seeking entry today.
“Very good,” the woman said. “Now, for the final portion of your evaluation. You have indicated you have an affinity with the Light—please demonstrate this.”
Caelan scowled. “What kind of demonstration?”
“Anything will suffice,” the man replied. “We simply need to see that you do indeed have affinity.”
Caelan sighed and shook his head. This evaluation was far simpler than he had imagined. Even if the Order had arrived to help Bastion, if this was the requirement for entry they would have been little help. As fodder for the Void, though, they might have allowed Bastion’s warriors time to rest and recover…
He pushed the thought from his mind. None of it made a difference now. He raised his hand, palm up, and formed a small white flame that danced on his fingers. It was no larger than if it were from a candle, but they hadn’t asked for a grand display. Even so, he fought to suppress the wince that came from opening the himself to the Light. Whatever Camael had done to him, he’d be unable to fully recover.
From the testing he had done when he found some time alone in the caravan he felt like he could still summon just as much power as he ever could, yet each time the Light came to him from the aether instead of the heat he’d become accustomed to all he felt was burning—no matter the amount. Nevermind that his fingertips were discolored from when he’d cauterized himself or that the grip in his off-hand still felt weak from the beams he’d summoned in Joyce’s rescue. Caelan let the flame die and sighed softly. This was how things were to be now. It wasn’t that the pain was intolerable, it was just…frustrating. Power that had once come so naturally now punished him each time he called for it.
“Very good,” the woman said. “Please enter through the doorway over there,” she gestured across the courtyard, “where you will end your evaluation.”
The man handed back the piece of paper. Caelan glanced at it and noticed two small marks under the writing from the previous man. He rolled the parchment as he walked across the courtyard and through the door on the other side. This hallway had a woman with a stern face and neat bun of brown hair posted outside of one of two doors about halfway down. She kept her gaze straight ahead as he approached. Caelan attempted to hand her the piece of paper, but her arm instead moved to push against the door to hold it open. Once again he entered a room with a man sitting at a desk, however, this time there was no place for him to sit.
“Please surrender your document, candidate,” the man said. Caelan approached the table and handed the man the piece of paper, then took up a stiff posture in front of the desk. The man gave a huff as he unrolled the parchment and scanned the neat ink across the page.
“Caelan Fairtree, you have completed the evaluation and are eligible to join the Order as an Initiate. Please remember that even as an Initiate you are still being evaluated and you may be removed from the Order if deemed necessary. If you decide to join, you will have up to five years to attain the rank of Templar or else be excommunicated from the Order. If you wish to join, please state so now.”
“I wish to join.”
The words came easily. When Kai had told him of the commitment last night, five years had seemed an eternity. Yet this morning, when he stood in front of the enormous gatehouse that separated the rest of Elysium from the Order, he had felt a sense familiarity. The towering buildings of white stone nestled away on a large island at the edge of the city seemed to call to him. The Order was the militant representation of the Light and he was a Sentinel—a barrier against the Void. There was nothing else he was more fit to do.
“Very well,” the man said and placed a large stamp across the bottom of the form. “The Order will keep this record. Please exit the room and follow whoever is outside.”
The man placed the document in a large box that, from where Caelan stood, didn’t seem to have many others inside. The man laid his arms on the desk, hands clasped together and eyes staring blankly ahead. Caelan spun on his heel and strode out the door, which was once again held open for him. As he crossed the threshold, the stern woman let the door swing shut and began to walk down the hall.
“Please follow me,” she said once there was some distance between them. Caelan took several long strides to catch up and trailed the woman as they made their way through a seemingly endless amount of hallways. There weren’t any signs either and he had no idea how the woman knew where they were going. They rounded another corner and she stopped in front of three people on a bench. All were dressed in various shades of tan or brown clothes and each had a white sash around their waist. They stood quickly upon noticing the woman’s presence.
“Initiate…” she trailed off, waiting for the first person’s input.
“Wait!” A voice called from behind them. Caelan spun quickly, recognizing the speaker. Kai approached, slowing from his jog as he drew closer. “I’ll take him. The other Initiates can take the next one.”
The woman clicked her tongue, but acquiesced. “Very well. Initiate Caelan, your first class is tomorrow. History. I trust your guide will inform you of the location and times?” she said with a glare in Kai’s direction.
“Of course,” the islander replied.
“Very good.” The woman walked back the way they had come, disappearing around the corner. Once her footsteps faded, the other Initiates sat back down in silence.
“They’re normal people, I promise,” Kai said. “They’re just told to act like that during the evaluation for some reason. Glad to see you decided to join though! I’ll show you around and get you the standard issue clothing.” Kai turned and gestured for Caelan to follow.
“They’re Initiates too?” Caelan asked as they walked.
“No, Templar,” Kai corrected.
“There are enough Templar to spare that they can stand around and give basic tests?”
“More than enough,” Kai said with a roll of his eyes, “but the people at the desks are normally Oracles. You probably couldn’t tell the difference. Templar do make up most of the Order, though. Nearly four times as many of them as there are any other rank.”
The day turned into a lot of walking as Kai escorted him around the Order’s vast grounds. As they headed towards the central building, Kai explained that the entirety of the facility was known as the Citadel, despite the towering building at the center being similarly named. The main structure and the wings immediately branching off it it were all the same white stone, but as the distance grew the structures turned into normal grays and earth tones.
They toured the Great Hall where meals were served, the baths, the kitchens, several locations where Caelan’s presence would be expected for class, and multiple courtyards that were used for various types of training. It had been early morning when Caelan had arrived, yet by the time he had seen the quartermaster to receive his issue of clothing and other supplies the sun had begun to fall from its daily climb. Kai led him to his quarters, a barracks-style room within the Initiates Wing that all new arrivals were placed in.
“I’ll go and report that I’ve finished escorting you, but I’ve also got to check if I’ve got a guard shift tomorrow. I’ll see you for supper?” Kai asked.
“Sure,” Caelan answered, placing the clothes, some of the only items he could call his own, on the bed. Kai left and though he was thankful for the welcome from someone he at least vaguely knew, Caelan was equally as glad for the time alone. The night prior still lingered in his mind—the way Tera had politely, yet firmly, implied for him to leave. He wasn’t sure why he expected to stay the entire night, she had never explicitly said that he would, but it felt wrong. She spoke little more than a small thank you while they had gotten dressed. Then she showed him out, giving quick directions back to the inn and closing the door while he stood on the porch.
Caelan rubbed his hands across his face, taking in the blanched walls that surrounded him. The room was a simple rectangle occupied by several beds barely wide enough for one person. Small desks, each with its own stool, and dressers lined the opposite wall. He began packing away the sets of issued clothing into several drawers, saving one set to change into. They outfit fit well and the fabric was softer than what he had received from the caravan. The boots, too, were made of strong but malleable leather. Caelan wondered how large the Order truly was and how they could afford to equip all of their members with this quality of clothing, especially since the new arrivals like him were, technically speaking, useless.
He made the bed with the sheets and blanket he’d been given before stepping into the hall, taking a moment to remember which stairwell led down to the bathhouse. There were several other Initiates there, but the baths were large enough that he found an area to himself to wash and let the heat work its way through his body. The water flowed gently through the interconnected baths, slow enough that it was possible to miss the current entirely without looking closely.
Caelan leaned forward, curious, to observe the opposite end of the room. The water entered into the bath from a wide porthole in one wall and out through another at the far end. How do they keep the water hot if it constantly flows out? he wondered. There aren’t any natural hot springs, not this close to the rivers around the city. He resigned himself to ignorance and tried to let his body relax, but his mind had other ideas. Thoughts of Tera permeated his consciousness and he only became more tense. He forced the images out in frustration and gathered his things to leave.
The evening meal, surprisingly, turned out to be the best part of the day. It was nothing like the bland, dense food the warriors-in-training received in Bastion. The bread was fresh, the stew filled with meats and vegetables, and the broth well spiced. Kai laughed and informed him that he would tire of it eventually, but Caelan doubted the warning, informing his new friend of what he had dealt with for years in Bastion.
Not only was the food good, but there was an enormous amount. All of it was necessary to feed the hundreds that filled the long rows of tables that lined the great hall. Initiates and Templar shared the same eating spaces, Kai explained, but their living and training areas were separated so that the Initiates could stay together. For many Initiates, this was their first taste of life outside their home or away from family. The Order wanted to offer them comfort in numbers.
The meal finished, Kai showed him some of the lesser visited spots throughout the grounds. There was a patch of woods near the back corner of the island with an off-limits glade that housed a small lake and an abandoned manor. It was supposedly the residence of every Highlord until the current one, who preferred to stay within the Citadel. One of the courtyards was a garden was full of plants, both local and exotic, and neat rows of raised beds overflowed with various herbs.
“Are these used in the food?” Caelan asked.
“Curious as to how we feed ourselves?” Kai chuckled. “No, everything here is just for looks. All our food is brought in from elsewhere.”
“So the Order is entirely reliant on things that aren’t on this island.” Caelan confirmed his suspicion. Being reliant on imports seemed ill-advised. With the massive bridge the only way in or out besides the harbor the Order could be defeated were it cut off.
“Yes, but we’ve got enough in our stores to outlast any siege, not that there’d ever be one,” Kai said. “We only bring in raw goods, though. Everything else you see has been crafted by our members. Or members of the Church, at least. The Acolytes do nearly all the linen work. Your bedsheets and clothes and such, mostly.”
They continued walking and Caelan noticed the small smithy nestled in the northeast corner of the grounds, no more than ten bellows in a row. “Is that all you have to make armor and weapons?”
“No,” Kai replied with a shake of his head. “Look again.”
Caelan did, searching for his mistake, and noticed the tops of stairwells in each corner of the stone ground. “There’s more underneath?”
Kai grinned. “Much more. What you see here is only for basic smithing. Nails, horseshoes, and the like. The armorers and weaponsmiths work in secret below. There’s lots of things below ground on this island, in fact. When the Citadel was built they even diverted a portion of the river through the island to use down there for cooling the metal. That water continues on below each of the Citadel’s wings to be used in the baths, pre-heated for your enjoyment.”
So that was how they did it. Caelan marveled at the grandeur of it all. In Bastion water was heated by coals under each bath, something that took a lot of preparation. Nearly every farling had become accustomed to bathing in cold or lukewarm water as a result. It was a wonder that the line for those wishing to join the Order didn’t surpass the length of the bridge each day. The privileged life here was certainly alluring.
With the unofficial portion of the tour finished, Caelan attempted to lead them back to his quarters, each of the numerous incorrect turns met with a laugh from Kai and a mocking finger pointing a different direction.
###
The days passed slowly as Caelan became more familiar with the grounds, navigating to and from his quarters, finding classes held in buildings around the complex, and locating the training courtyard and Great Hall for meals. Each morning the Initiates were taken through several hours of drills, though the instructors allowed Caelan to move over to the group performing unit movements and group-based attacks after three days.
The training was tedious, but afterward most in attendance left the grounds and Caelan enjoyed the relative freedom to train as he saw fit, drilling sequences with wooden weapons and running laps around the island before the midday meal. It was the classes that bored him most, each of the lessons covering what he had already been taught as a child. Every afternoon brought the same order of instruction: reading, writing, basic mathematics, and the history of their world. Kai wouldn’t hear his complaints, reminding him that the Order accepted everyone, to include the young and those that were too poor to afford any sort of education. The scolding did nothing to alleviate Caelan’s boredom.
His history instructor, old enough that his hair had lost even the faint color of gray, finished another long-winded story and came to rest behind the desk at the front of the room. “Now, can any of you name the seven Archangels that comprise the Seraphic Council?” the old man asked. One young Initiate in the middle of the room bravely raised his hand. “Go ahead.”
“There’s Netzach, the Archangel of Eternity, Jophiel, the Archangel of Wisdom--”
“Please, just the name and aspect, if you will,” the instructor interrupted.
“Right. Well, Camael of War, Raguel of Justice, Sachiel of Mercy, Sabriel of Miracles, and…” The Initiate struggled to remember the last.
“Phan…” the instructor offered.
“Phanuel! Archangel of Repentance,” the Initiate finished.
“Good. Now, the Archangels...”
Caelan sighed in the back of the room and slumped deeper in his seat as the instructor droned on about the first appearances of the Archangel’s on the grounds the Citadel was built on. The Archangel’s had apparently worked alongside the Church and what would later become the Order, too. Caelan’s thoughts turned to that of the next meal, wondering if there might be more fruit pies from the previous evening. He was startled out of the memory of the sweet jam-like insides by a question from the boy sitting immediately to his right.
“What about the other Angels?” the boy asked in a timid voice.
“Ah, you mean the eight Ascended, I assume?” The instructor perked up at the sudden participation. “Yes, in the midst of the Void War all seven Archangels, who were known as the Seraphic Council mind you, raised eight humans as Angels. They were each given their own Aspect by the Archangel that raised them and they represented humanity in the Void War, fighting alongside the Lightborne from the High Heavens.”
“Where did they go?” the boy asked.
The instructor frowned. “We know very little about them, admittedly. It seems that not even our archives list their Aspects. As for where they are now, there are many theories: that they were permitted entry into the Heavens after the war, that they returned to being normal humans, or that they all perished, but the short of it is that no one truly knows.” The question satisfied, the old instructor quickly returned to the lesson with a tiring explanation of how the Kingdom of Elysia had once spanned the entire Realm prior to the rebellions.
Caelan sat through the rest of the class, painstakingly retold the lessons from his youth. He remembered Ulrich quizzing him as a young boy on names, places, and years of major events throughout history. Every wrong answer had meant another round through the training course. Covered in mud, scratched from splintered wood, and freezing from the bitter wind, he would attempt to recall information that simply would not come. Ulrich would shake his head and nod towards the beginning of the course. Upon completing another round, Caelan had complained that the information didn’t matter, a statement that Ulrich took as an incorrect answer to a question that hadn’t been asked, and sent the boy through again. As Caelan aged, the questions changed, requiring more specific answers, and so too did the physical demands escalate in turn. The process, over years, was one of several methods Ulrich had used to hone both body and mind.
The flashback was interrupted by the class rising to leave, the day’s lecture complete. Caelan stood, stretching his legs and back that had gone stiff from the wooden chair before heading out to the training ground. Kai leaned against the courtyard wall with two wooden poles, waiting. The two had made it a daily routine to spar prior to supper, a habit Caelan was all too happy to indulge.
“How was class?” Kai asked, white teeth from his wide smile contrasting dark lips.
“Were I a decade younger it would’ve been interesting, I’m sure,” Caelan replied. “Shall we?”
Kai chuckled and tossed him the extra wooden pole. The islander was stronger by a decent margin, but Caelan was faster. They warmed up with basic sequences, yet when the short bouts began in earnest so too did Caelan’s enjoyment. It was a race, a test of skills—could he break through Kai’s guard faster than the islander could wear him down with powerful strikes? Several clacks of wood later and he held his weapon against Kai’s neck, having closed the distance between them faster than Kai could counter. They went again and this time Kai pulled him off-balance before giving him a playful jab in the ribs.
“Come on Kaikoa, you’re only feeding the Initiate’s ego.”
Caelan and Kai separated at the end of their round and turned to face the critical voice.
“Why are you here, Eligor?” Kai asked. “I’ve never seen you on the mixed grounds.”
“I’m free to observe, am I not?” The stranger, Eligor, was about Caelan’s height and strikingly handsome. Blonde hair was painstakingly combed into holding its shape and the newcomer carried himself with shoulders raised and head held high despite the arms crossed over his chest. It was the air of arrogance, Caelan realized, that gave him the instantaneous feeling of hatred towards Eligor.
“Of course,” Kai admitted. There was something off in the tone, Caelan noted. The islander always had a hint of joy that came from the permanent smile plastered on his face, yet it was absent now. “Caelan, this is Templar Eligor Belestram. His family financed Joyce’s caravan over a decade ago when she was first starting out. They’ve fallen on some hard times since then.”
Eligor cleared his throat. “It’s of no consequence. Nalani asked me to tell you if I saw you to find her at supper.”
“I will. Thank you,” Kai replied. The three stood, Caelan eyeing both parties. Eligor remained motionless, arms folded on his chest while Kai gently tapped his pole against his boot to knock away some dust.
“Please, continue training,” Eligor said exasperatedly and waved a hand toward them.
“I think I’ve had enough for the day,” Kai replied.
“Well your friend here has hardly worked up a sweat,” Eligor declared. “Come on, Caelan, was it? What do you say?”
Caelan looked to Kai for some sort of sign, but the islander simply shrugged and handed over his pole to the blonde Templar before stepping away. Eligor assumed a wide stance, off-shoulder leading the rest of his frame. Caelan tightened his grip on his own weapon.
The two took small steps to the side, maintaining mirrored positions, before Eligor took a half lunge forward. A quick jab of the pole followed the step. The wood clacked as Caelan parried the attack easily and they returned to their original forms. Eligor tested several other quick strikes, looking for slowness or a weak off-hand that would afford him the opening to decisively win the bout. He found such an opening and Caelan was greeted by a sharp pain as the wooden pole cracked into his shoulder.
They reset, but three more short bouts led to similar results. Caelan knew nearly three dozen sequences, but Eligor apparently knew more. Worse, the blonde Templar wasn’t pulling the finishing blows. Every mistake made was met with punishment. Caelan ground his teeth. Had it been Kai he might have accepted the lesson, but not from this prick.
The fifth bout began and Caelan committed to a powerful strike at Eligor’s shoulders. The blonde Templar stepped forward to intercept, but found air to block rather than Caelan’s weapon—the feint had worked. Caelan dropped his staff behind Eligor’s leg and pulled. When the wood freed his opponent of his gait, Caelan brought the other end to meet the side of Eligor’s head with a satisfying thump and the Templar went limp. Caelan turned without pause and strode towards the training yard’s exit.
“Light, did you kill him?” Kai asked, hurrying to catch up.
“No,” Caelan answered, “but he won’t be happy when he wakes in a few moments.”
They made it to the wall and Caelan placed his pole in the rack along the stone. They were about to cross the threshold out of the courtyard when Kai hesitated at the weak voice calling out to them.
“Initiate!” Eligor groaned.
Caelan saw Kai turn and caught Eligor hoist himself onto his hands and knees out of the edge of his vision. The blonde Templar attempted to stand, but stumbled in a daze and found himself sitting in the dirt. This isn’t the time to dawdle. Caelan continued through the archway and headed down the hall towards the Initiate’s quarters.
“Initiate!” Eligor’s voice was louder, but still lacked the vigor of full mental clarity.
“You’re going to get in trouble for that,” Kai said, catching up again as they reached the stairs.
Caelan raised a doubtful brow. “For winning a training bout?”
“He’ll say you attacked him or something, I’m sure,” Kai insisted. “Eligor is very...guileful.”
“He’s too proud to admit being bested by an Initiate,” Caelan retorted.
“We’ll see.”
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[Divinity] Part 21

First Chapter | Full Chapter List | WordPress | RoyalRoad| Next Chapter Coming Soon!
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“Name.”
It was more a statement than a question. The man sat at a small desk in the middle of the large entryway. His clothes were a simple gray and he didn’t bother to raise his head.
“Caelan.”
“Family name?” the man asked, his quill hovering over the parchment.
“I don’t have one.”
The man looked up at him from beneath his brow. “How do you not have...nevermind. Choose one.”
“Ermm…” Caelan attempted to come up with something but the only names that came to mind were those he had known from his home. “Fair...tree?”
“Good enough. Proceed into the second room on the left.” The man gestured over his shoulder with the quill, ignorant of the small drops of ink he flung onto the floor. The parchment was shoved into Caelan’s hands and he walked past the table in the direction the man indicated. Entering the room, Caelan was greeted by another man sitting behind another desk.
“Close the door behind you, please,” the man said politely. Caelan complied. “Please, have a seat.”
Again, Caelan obeyed. He strode to the chair positioned opposite the desk and the man reached out with an open palm. There was an awkward moment while he stared at the hand before realizing the man wanted the piece of parchment. He offered it and the man spun it upright onto the desk in a smooth motion.
“This is the first portion of your entrance evaluation for joining the Templar Order. You may leave at any portion of the evaluation with no penalty. Once the evaluation is complete, you will be offered a final opportunity to leave with no consequence. Upon passing the evaluation and accepting a position as an Initiate, you will no longer have the option to quit the Order without repercussions. Do you understand?” The man spoke quickly, but clearly, as he recited the words from memory.
“Yes,” Caelan answered.
“Good.” The man smiled briefly, then picked up his quill from a small pot of ink. “I will be asking you several questions about your past. This information is largely for record keeping, however, some items may result in our inability to accept you into the Order.” The man barely paused before continuing, “Do you have any living family?”
“No.”
“Where were you born?”
“Bastion.”
“What was your occupation?”
“Sentinel.” He watched the man write soldier and thought about correcting him, but didn’t have the heart to argue semantics.
“Have you ever committed any crimes? Please state even those that you were not caught and/or punished for.”
“No.”
“Do you have an affinity with the Light?”
“Yes.”
“Why do you wish to join the Order?”
Caelan paused, breaking the rhythm of rapid question and answer. He briefly considered saying he believed an Archangel wanted him to, but being branded mad was probably one of the criteria for being denied entry. Some considered the Church to be filled with fanatics, but somehow he doubted they actually wanted the insane to join. The man peered upward across the table without raising his head, quill held in position for the awaited response.
“Common answers include a desire for an education, learning a trade skill, earning an income, or having outgrown an orphanage,” the man offered.
“To protect the Realm,” Caelan stated.
“Very well. That concludes the questions. This document will be the start of your record within the Order, should you join,” he said, handing the piece of parchment back to Caelan. “Please head out of this room and continue down the hall until you reach a courtyard. Another member will direct you from there.”
Caelan rose, expecting the man to do the same. Instead, the man remained seated, making a note on another piece of paper and resetting his desk for the next person. Caelan turned and left the room, glancing back toward the first desk to see if anyone else had arrived. A family stood, hugging a young boy barely in his mid-teenage years, before the boy broke away and strode over confidently to the desk. He turned and headed to the courtyard where a pair of members, one male one female, wore matching gray and white outfits with a crimson sash.
“Candidate,” the man said, “please step this way.”
Caelan followed the order and stopped in front of the pair, waiting for the next instruction. The man had spoken with authority in his voice and instinct took over. Caelan’s posture became more rigid, his muscles remembering years of training.
“We will be performing the final two portions of your evaluation.” The man held out his hand and Caelan instinctively handed over the piece of paper. The woman was the next to speak while her partner looked over the form.
“The first is a basic test of physical ability. You will complete one lap around the training yard. At the far end are ten sacks of grain. You will carry them to the other end after completing your lap.”
Caelan waited for more instruction but neither of the pair offered any further detail. He turned from them with a crisp motion and began to jog along the exterior wall of the courtyard. The middle was mostly empty, little more than a few scattered benches and ropes left in parallel lines or circles on the packed dirt. He completed the lap quickly and hauled the sacks of grain across the yard two at a time atop his shoulders. Once he finished he returned to a spot in front of the pair, his breathing labored, but controlled. They had watched him, but it didn’t seem to be with a critical eye. Boredom, then? He was the only thing moving, after all.
“Very good,” the woman said. “Now, for the final portion of your evaluation. You have indicated you have an affinity with the Light - please demonstrate this.”
Caelan scowled. “What kind of demonstration?”
“Anything will suffice,” the man replied. “We simply need to see that you do indeed have affinity.”
Caelan sighed and shook his head. The evaluation was far simpler than he had imagined. Even if the Order had arrived to help Bastion, if this was the requirement for entry they would have been little help. As fodder for the Void, though, they might have allowed Bastion’s warriors time to rest and recover…
He pushed the thought from his mind. None of it made a difference now. He raised his hand, palm up, and formed a small white flame that danced on his fingers. It was no larger than if it were from a candle, but they hadn’t asked for a grand display.
“Very good,” the woman said. “Please enter through the doorway over there,” she gestured across the courtyard, “where you will end your evaluation.”
The man handed back the piece of paper. Caelan glanced at it and noticed two small stamps under the writing from the previous man. He rolled the parchment as he walked across the courtyard and through the door on the other side. This hallway had a woman with a stern face and neat bun of brown hair posted outside of one of two doors about halfway down. She kept her gaze straight ahead as he approached. Caelan attempted to hand her the piece of paper, but her arm instead moved to push against the door to hold it open. Once again he entered a room with a man sitting at a desk, however, this time there was no place for him to sit.
“Please surrender your document, candidate,” the man said. Caelan approached the table and handed the man the piece of paper, then took up a stiff posture in front of the desk. The man huffed as he unrolled it, scanning the neat ink across the page.
“Caelan Fairtree, you have completed the evaluation and are eligible to join the Order as an Initiate. Please remember, even as an Initiate you are still being evaluated and you may be removed from the Order if deemed necessary. If you decide to join, you will have up to five years to attain the rank of Templar or else be excommunicated from the Order. If you wish to join, please state so now.”
“I wish to join.”
The words came easily. When Kai had told him of the commitment last night, five years had seemed an eternity. Yet when he stood in front of the enormous gatehouse that separated the rest of Elysium from the Order he had felt a sense familiarity. The towering buildings of white stone nestled away on a large island at the edge of the city seemed to call to him. The Order was the militant representation of the Light and he was a Sentinel—a barrier against the Void. There was nothing else he was more fit to do.
“Very well,” the man said and placed a large stamp across the bottom of the form. “The Order will keep this record. Please exit the room and follow whoever is outside.”
The man placed the document in a large box that, from where Caelan stood, didn’t seem to have many others inside. The man laid his arms on the desk, hands clasped together and eyes staring blankly at him. Caelan spun on his heel and strode out the door, which was once again held open for him. As he crossed the threshold, the stern woman let the door swing shut and began to walk down the hall.
“Please follow me,” she said once there was some distance between them. Caelan took several long strides to catch up and trailed the woman as they made their way through a seemingly endless amount of hallways. They rounded another corner and she stopped in front of three people on a bench. All were dressed in various shades of tan or brown clothes, each with a white sash around their waist. They stood quickly upon noticing the woman’s presence.
“Initiate…” she trailed off, waiting for the first person’s input.
“Wait!” A voice called from behind them. Kai approached, slowing from his jog as he drew closer. “I’ll take him. The Initiates can take the next one.”
The woman clicked her tongue, but acquiesced. “Very well. Initiate Caelan, your first class is tomorrow. History. I trust your guide will inform you of the location and times?”
“Of course,” Kai replied.
“Very good.” The woman walked back the way they had come, disappearing around the corner. Once her footsteps faded, the other Initiates sat back down in silence.
“They’re normal people, I promise,” Kai said, “they’re just told to act like that during the evaluation for some reason. Glad to see you decided to join though! I’ll show you around and get you the standard issue clothing.” Kai turned and gestured for Caelan to follow.
“They’re Initiates too?” Caelan asked as they walked.
“No, Templar,” the islander replied.
“There are enough Templar to spare that they can stand around and give basic tests?”
“More than enough,” Kai explained, “but the people at the desks are normally Oracles. You probably couldn’t tell the difference. Templar do make up most of the Order, though. Nearly four times as many of them as there are Initiates.”
It was a lot of walking as Kai escorted him around the Order’s vast grounds. As they headed towards the central building, Kai explained that the entirety of the facility was known as the Citadel, despite the towering building at the center being similarly named. They toured the eating hall, the baths, the kitchens, several class locations, and multiple courtyards that were used for various types of training. It had been early morning when Caelan had arrived, yet by the time he had seen the quartermaster to receive his issue of clothing and other supplies the sun had begun to fall from its daily climb. Kai led him to his quarters, a barracks-style room within the Initiates Wing that all new arrivals were placed in.
“I’ll go and report that I’ve finished escorting you, but I’ve also got to check if I’ve got a guard shift tomorrow. I’ll see you for supper?” Kai asked.
“Sure,” Caelan answered, placing the clothes, some of the only items he could call his own, on the bed. Kai left and though he was thankful for the welcome from someone he at least vaguely knew, Caelan was equally as glad for the time alone. The night prior still lingered in his mind—the way Tera had politely, yet firmly, implied for him to leave. He wasn’t sure why he expected to stay the entire night, she had never explicitly said that he would, but it felt...wrong. She spoke little more than a small thank you while they had gotten dressed and then showed him out, giving quick directions back to the inn and closing the door while he stood on the porch.
Caelan rubbed his hands across his face, taking in the white stone walls that surrounded him. The room was a simple rectangle occupied by several beds barely wide enough for one person. Small desks, each with its own stool, and dressers lined the opposite wall. He began packing away the sets of issued clothing into several drawers, saving one set to change into. They fit well and the fabric was softer than what he had received from the caravan. The boots, too, were made of strong but malleable leather. Caelan wondered how large the Order truly was and how they could afford to equip all of their members with this quality of clothing, especially since the new arrivals like him were, technically speaking, useless.
He made the bed with the sheets and blanket he’d been given before stepping into the hall, taking a moment to remember which stairwell led down to the bathhouse. There were several other Initiates there, but the baths were large enough that he found an area to himself to wash in the hot water. He found it fascinating that the water flowed gently through the interconnected baths, slow enough that it was possible to miss the current entirely without looking closely. He leaned forward to observe the opposite end of the room. The water flowed into the bath from a wide porthole in one wall and out through another at the far end. How do they keep the water hot if it constantly flows out? he wondered. There aren’t any natural hot springs, not this close to the rivers around the city. He resigned himself to ignorance and began to scrub away the day’s grime before letting the heat work out the tension in his back from sleeping on a chair in Kukani’s room the night prior. Thoughts of Tera permeated his recollection of the evening, but he forced them out in frustration and gathered his things to leave.
The evening meal took him by surprise. It was nothing like the bland, dense food the warriors-in-training received in Bastion. The bread was fresh, the stew filled with meats and vegetables, and the broth well spiced. Kai laughed and informed him that he would tire of it eventually, but Caelan doubted the warning, informing his new friend of what he had dealt with for years in Bastion.
Not only was the food good, but there was an enormous amount, all of it necessary to feed the hundreds that filled the long rows of tables that lined the great hall. Initiates and Templar shared the same eating spaces, Kai explained, but their living and training areas were separated so that the Initiates could stay together. For many Initiates, this was their first taste of life outside their home or away from family. The Order wanted to offer them comfort in numbers.
The meal finished, Kai showed him some of the lesser visited spots throughout the grounds. There was a patch of woods near the back corner of the island with an off-limits glade that housed a small lake and an abandoned manor. It was supposedly the residence of every Highlord until the current one, who preferred to stay within the Citadel. One of the courtyards was a garden was full of plants, both local and exotic, and neat rows of raised beds overflowed with various herbs.
“Are these used in the food?” Caelan asked.
“Still curious as to how we feed ourselves?” Kai chuckled. “No, everything here is just for looks. All our food is brought in from elsewhere.”
“So the Order is entirely reliant on things that aren’t on this island.” Caelan confirmed. That seemed ill-advised. With the massive bridge the only way in or out besides the harbor the Order could be defeated were it cut off.
“Yes, but we’ve got enough in our stores to outlast any siege, not that there’d ever be one,” Kai said. “We only bring in raw goods, though. Everything else you see has been crafted by our members. Or members of the Church, at least. The Acolytes do nearly all the linen work. Your bedsheets and clothes and such, mostly.”
They continued walking and Caelan noticed the small smithy nestled in the northeast corner of the grounds, no more than ten bellows in a row. “Is that all you have to make armor and weapons?”
“No,” Kai replied with a shake of his head. “Look again.”
Caelan did, searching for his mistake, and noticed the tops of stairwells in each corner of the stone ground. “There’s more underneath?”
Kai grinned. “Much more. What you see here is only for basic smithing. Nails, horseshoes, and the like. The armorers and weaponsmiths work in secret below. There’s lots of things below ground, in fact. When the Citadel was built they even diverted a portion of the river through the island to use down there for cooling the metal. That water continues on below each of the Citadel’s wings to be used in the baths.”
So that was how they did it. Caelan marveled at the grandeur of it all. In Bastion water was heated by coals under each bath, something took a lot of preparation. Nearly every farling had become accustomed to bathing in cold or lukewarm water. It was a wonder that the line for those wishing to join the Order didn’t surpass the length of the bridge each day. The privileged life here was certainly alluring.
With the unofficial portion of the tour finished, Caelan attempted to lead them back to his quarters, each of the numerous incorrect turns met with a laugh from Kai and a mocking finger pointing a different direction.

###

The days passed slowly as Caelan became more familiar with the grounds, navigating to and from his quarters, finding the several classes held in buildings around the complex, and locating the training courtyard and Great Hall for meals. Each morning the Initiates were taken through several hours of drills, though the instructors allowed him to move over to the group performing unit movements and group-based attacks after three days.
It was tedious, but afterward most left the grounds and he enjoyed the relative freedom to train as he saw fit, drilling sequences with wooden weapons and running laps around the island before the midday meal. It was the classes that bored him most, each of the lessons covering what he had already been taught as a child. Every afternoon brought the same order of instruction: reading, writing, basic mathematics, and the history of their world. Kai wouldn’t hear his complaints, reminding him that the Order accepted everyone, to include the young and those that were too poor to afford any sort of education. The scolding did nothing to alleviate his boredom.
The instructor, old enough that his hair had lost even the faint color of gray, finished another long-winded story and came to rest behind the desk at the front of the room. “Now, can any of you name the seven Archangels that comprise the Seraphic Council?” the old man asked. One young Initiate in the middle of the room bravely raised his hand. “Go ahead.”
“There’s Netzach, the Archangel of Eternity, Jophiel, the Archangel of Wisdom--”
“Please, just the name and aspect, if you will,” the instructor interrupted.
“Right. Well, Camael of War, Raguel of Justice, Sachiel of Mercy, Sabriel of Miracles, and…” The Initiate struggled to remember the last.
“Phan…” the instructor offered.
“Phanuel! Archangel of Repentance,” the Initiate finished.
“Good. Now, the Archangels...”
Caelan sighed in the back of the room and slumped deeper in his seat as the instructor droned on about the first appearances of the Archangel’s on the grounds the Citadel was built on. The Archangel’s had apparently worked alongside the Church and what would later become the Order, too. Caelan’s thoughts turned to that of the next meal, wondering if there might be more fruit pies from the previous evening. He was startled out of the memory of the sweet jam-like insides by a question from the boy sitting immediately to his right.
“What about the other Angels?” the boy asked in a timid voice.
“Ah, you mean the eight Ascended, I assume?” The instructor perked up at the sudden participation. “Yes, in the midst of the Void War all seven Archangels, who were known as the Seraphic Council mind you, raised eight humans as Angels. They were each given their own aspect by the Archangel that raised them and they represented humanity in the Void War, fighting alongside the Lightborne from the High Heavens.”
“Where did they go?” the boy asked.
The instructor frowned. “We know very little about them, admittedly. It seems that not even our archives list their aspects. As for where they are now, there are many theories: that they were permitted entry into the Heavens after the war, that they returned to being normal humans, or that they all perished, but the short of it is that no one truly knows.” The question satisfied, the old instructor quickly returned to the lesson with a long explanation of how the Kingdom of Elysia had once spanned the entire Realm prior to the rebellions.
Caelan sat through the rest of the class, painstakingly retold the lessons from his youth. He remembered Ulrich quizzing him as a young boy on names, places, and years of major events throughout history. Every wrong answer had meant another round through the training course. Covered in mud, scratched from splintered wood, and freezing from the bitter wind, he would attempt to recall information that simply would not come. Ulrich would shake his head and nod towards the beginning of the course. Upon completing another round, he had complained that the information didn’t matter, a statement that Ulrich took as an incorrect answer to a question that hadn’t been asked, and sent the boy through again. As Caelan aged, the questions changed, requiring more specific answers, and so too did the physical demands escalate in turn. The process, over years, was one of several methods Ulrich had used to hone both body and mind.
Caelan’s memory was interrupted by the class rising to leave, the day’s lecture complete. He stood, stretching his legs and back that had gone stiff from the wooden chair before heading out to the training ground. Kai leaned against the courtyard wall with two quarterstaffs, waiting. The two had made it a daily routine to spar prior to supper, a habit Caelan was all too happy to indulge.
“How was class?” Kai asked, white teeth from his wide smile contrasting dark lips.
“Were I a decade younger it would’ve been interesting, I’m sure,” Caelan replied. “Shall we?”
Kai chuckled and tossed him the extra wooden pole. The islander was stronger by a decent margin, but Caelan was faster. They warmed up with basic sequences, but when the short bouts began in earnest so too did Caelan’s enjoyment. It was a race, a test of skills—could he break through Kai’s guard faster than the islander could wear him down with powerful strikes? Several clacks of wood later and he held his weapon against Kai’s neck, having closed the distance between them faster than Kai could counter. They went again and this time Kai pulled him off-balance before giving him a playful jab in the ribs.
“Come on Kaikoa, you’re only feeding the Initiate’s ego.”
Caelan and Kai separated at the end of their round and turned to face the critical voice.
“Why are you here, Eligor?” Kai asked. “I’ve never seen you on the mixed grounds.”
“I’m free to observe, am I not?” The stranger, Eligor, was about Caelan’s height and strikingly handsome. Blonde hair was painstakingly combed into holding its shape and he carried himself with shoulders raised and head held high despite the arms crossed over his chest. It was the air of arrogance, Caelan realized, that made him instantly hate this newcomer.
“Of course,” Kai admitted. There was something off in the tone, Caelan noted. The islander always had a hint of joy that came from the permanent smile plastered on his face, yet it was absent now. “Caelan, this is Templar Eligor Belestram. His family financed Joyce’s caravan over a decade ago when she was first starting out. They’ve fallen on some hard times since then.”
Eligor cleared his throat. “It’s of no consequence. Nalani asked me to tell you if I saw you to find her at supper.”
“I will. Thank you,” Kai replied. The three stood, Caelan eyeing both parties. Eligor remained motionless, arms folded on his chest while Kai gently tapped his pole against his boot to knock away some dust.
“Please, continue training,” Eligor said exasperatedly and waved a hand toward them.
“I think I’ve had enough for the day,” Kai replied.
“Well your friend here has hardly worked up a sweat,” Eligor declared. “Come on, Caelan, was it? What do you say?”
Caelan looked to Kai for some sort of sign, but the islander simply shrugged and handed over his pole to the blonde Templar before stepping away. Eligor assumed a wide stance, off-shoulder leading the rest of his frame. Caelan tightened his grip on his quarterstaff.
The two took small steps to the side, maintaining mirrored positions, before Eligor took a half lunge forward. A quick jab of the pole followed the step. The wood clacked as Caelan parried the attack easily and they returned to their original forms. Eligor tested several other quick strikes, looking for slowness or a weak off-hand that would afford him the opening to decisively win the bout. He found such an opening and Caelan was greeted by a sharp pain as the wooden pole cracked into his shoulder.
They reset, but three more short bouts led to similar results. Caelan knew nearly three dozen sequences, but Eligor apparently knew more. Worse, the blonde Templar wasn’t pulling the finishing blows. Every mistake made was met with punishment. Caelan ground his teeth. Had it been Kai he might have accepted the lesson, but not from this prick.
The fifth bout began and Caelan committed to a powerful strike at Eligor’s shoulders. The blonde Templar stepped forward to intercept, but found air to block rather than Caelan’s weapon—the feint had worked. Caelan dropped his staff behind Eligor’s leg and pulled. When the wood freed his opponent of his gait Caelan brought the other end to meet the side of Eligor’s head with a satisfying thump. He turned without pause and strode towards the training yard’s exit.
“Light, did you kill him?” Kai asked, hurrying to catch up.
“No,” Caelan answered, “but he won’t be happy when he wakes in a few moments.”
They made it to the wall and Caelan placed his quarterstaff in the rack along the stone. They were about to cross the threshold out of the courtyard when Kai hesitated at the weak voice calling out to them.
“Initiate!” Eligor groaned.
Caelan saw Kai turn and caught Eligor hoist himself onto his hands and knees out of the edge of his vision. The blonde Templar attempted to stand, but stumbled in a daze and found himself sitting in the dirt. This isn’t the time to dawdle. Caelan continued through the archway and headed down the hall towards the Initiate’s quarters.
“Initiate!” Eligor’s voice was louder, but still lacked the vigor of full mental clarity.
“You’re going to get in trouble for that,” Kai said, catching up again as they reached the stairs.
Caelan raised a doubtful brow. “For winning a training bout?”
“He’ll say you attacked him or something, I’m sure,” Kai insisted. “Eligor is very...guileful.”
“He’s too proud to admit being bested by an Initiate,” Caelan retorted.
“We’ll see.”
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Shift Report

Divining wooly views gathered amidst shaven sheep hither
Withered over swithering stalls denial state of dither
Truth be told frank pens naif soliloquy
Safe as house path hath proven treachery
Steer clear of herd social immunity
Distanced readily available data parsed trendily
Blinks recount lost meanings earned from strife learned through catastrophe
Graft retained splices tour de force movie
Analyzed improvised differently
Can't regain past yet relive history
Elder protocols reference frames with specificity
Documentary denotes concise recusant heresy
Fish stink emanates spoils unquestioned head
Rather than responsible gods chose dead
Lightning rod shields guide flash EMP spread
Relevance revivalist revived rival survivalist
Diatribe analogous corroborates ridiculous
Atoms congress fortuitous naught sea
Devoid self restraint officiates ye
Fitting new attire inspiring streaking
Who protects us whilst we pay for havoc employ they reeking
Hypocritically childish generally speaking
Handshake implies word registers advice
Modern intelligence is artifice
Every three steps forward step back twice
Deities influence me aloof aligned schism in rhyme
Mother Hera ewe chimera godspeed breeds failed design
Bell weather brethren splay scapegoat supine
Veil of illusions enmesh conscious mind
Can't feel my legs good help is hard to find
Hawk departs from pleather glove turtle returns grounded dove
Counteract abet anyone lapped them twice yet still they won
Titans once asked before taking QE
With us or against me democracy
Issuance debt free usury for ye
Soon to be impacting all interested negatively
Cyclops blissfully fail to see plague kills with leniency
World saved through open window tsunami
Backdrops distinct radicle uprooted
Restless tartarus not I confuted
Reputed gambler prophet of doom rigged mind meld welds my tomb
Despondent preach not gloom be democratic or leave cocoon
Imploding race exploding time and space
Unfathomable depths shallow measures
Glasses adorned rose reflective pleasures
Erratic compass static attained gains unsustainable
Emphatically all ages deal unascertainable
Sentiment key to public interest
Democracy assess Big apple bests
Guiding hand meaning Pantheist behest
Seeking one's fulfillment complements of demagoguery
Building baseless pyramid in name of Great Recovery
Hallucination merits upheaval
Remit repreival persecute venal
Sufferance from nescience trumps all evil
Yon morrows martyr covets this abysmal cross commuted
Tread on entrenched fear submit control guiltily included
Govern is to rule as meant to intents
Resourceful proxy heir establishment
Record rallys infer where loans were sent
Pristine colosseums reared commerraderie Fed rum bread
Dropping said crumbs returns dread Which nevermore nary imbeds
Insolvent casino scenario
House always wins with my reservation
Sharing the bulk ignites indignation
Transparency Which critiques subtly speaks Feds peak repent
Weak covenants contained slain whence Green peripherals were went
Theses Ben delivered on depression
Maestro museum managed impression
Keynesian intervention harped dystopian opium
Appeal to supremacy bandwagon psychology
Latin arguementum ad nauseum
Better than expected mass approval
Refuse discard fantasy removal
If you audited our books write off markets on the morrow
No one do we answer to where wheelbarrows go we borrow
Sciences religious mythology
Philosophised finance dichotomy
Genetic archetypal entities
Conversations incidental informations monumental
Facets fawned fastidious selfless attires instrumental
Minions mimic Socratic opinions
Authority inbred majority
Consider selves distinct minority
Yield to ye inferiors subjectively superior
Mechanisms failing sublimation with interior
Greeks conceived benefits in politics
Propaganda versed all in rhetoric
Dwelled anarchic run redeem autarkic
World perceptions inconsistent to obtained views of my own
Optimism timeless shown fantastically overblown
Fate collapses upon observation
Ostriches banked on unexamined lives
Perturbations quantum fluctuations
Foregone measures austere pleasures enforced authenticity
Cessation trepidation ensures no future certainty
Whilst known speed and position now in sync
One makes ye taller yet none make me shrink
Doth not know thyself yore on the brink
Fulfillment will not quail forbidden face of foreign dangers
Entrainment derailed arranged marriage twixt incomplete strangers
Birds of a feather flock with the weather
One marked to market worth two under Bush
Lemmings allegedly demand a push
An existential exercise spins nihilistic nightmares
Nonconformed confirmed uncomfort spirals condescending stairs
Slaughter abolished pig sucklers now fly
Fed up rich bullshit Which lies upon lye
Doth need not for lipstick ride we bone dry
Left to right wrong motivations paved by best intention
Pound me with the cure denounce flesh as impure meets prevention
Overdue elixir panacea
Gold in led stead transmutes alchemist Fed
Spirits confirmed in actions idea
Though hungry swine will freely plow fall submissive tow the line
No offence is meant whence I commence casting pearls before thine
Lead thee to sustenance soon thou shall find
You feed a seed of rage contented caged
That Which hath been remains yet to be seen
One finds upon a wander from yon cave we've left regression
Whence without luminescence stem outlandish such obsessions
Actualized self's realization
Fasting of heart leaves no trace of ego
I fell here from Olympus apropos
Upshot in authenticity shows secure survivors test
Where indiscretions excesses discretely are repressed
Desperate knowledge grievous awareness
I first blew reed pipes but then I digress
Values eroded integrity
Climate corroded ideals irresponsibility
Satisfied my agency autonomous capacity
Bet Dow hath finally had a bad day
Bear in mind they will say twas anway
Old high still standing gold stones throw away
Shorting shooting slope of hope enormous towers treacherous
Each new era crashes in increasing half glass emptiness
Overabundance deserts time delay
Accounts inner morality decay
Strength in pessimism fear forfeits right
Dusk withdraws from sight as shade is drawn over dawn's early light
Narcissistic psychopaths inherited the earth our plight
Quarrying light inspired murky night flee
Ye gods laugh heartily ridicule me
Reckoning another day mine shall be
Subsequently I subsist shifting this rock as Sisyphus
Future pulls upon me as due ration to minus remiss
I'm half crazy bicycle built for two
Network circuitry daisy chained to you
How do I know what is reel to be true
Gather input sensations scrutinize for degradation
Dissembling dissemblance as lacking in resemblance
Singularity prophesied end be
Less threat than icons presently envied
Graven is our image in our idol
Misunderstood system holds revolutions banked on bridle
Give me dominion over doe I care not who makes law
Hegellian dialectic shock and awe
Fixed moments instability move becomes necessity
Moses leads bull rush reeds deceptive swaith
Crisis opportunity incompetence seasons good faith
Fallow plot begot furlough shrieks foul wraith
Yay though I plod through the valley of death
Evil gives comfort my rod and my staff
No fear preparest for my enemies
Parasitic symbiotes surviving vicariously
Job gyrations exploitations sloth thrive ubiquitously
Unnatural select evolution
Bad apple genes rot barrel pollution
Big bang extends concussions extrusion
Elude intrusion neath tapestry relay inscribed decree
Conspiracy theories deliquesced evidence coalesced
Duress dressed as justice undue process
Reduce the law to writ for oversight
Infinitely rules stretch fractally tight
Dollar press lever Wizards tweak whence practised Which deceiver
Feeding frenzy at the top on last chair hot potato drops
Animal farm irrigation believer
Cuckoos in nested loops launched retriever
Social ecological equity
Fauna all created equal although some are more than most
Perched aloft nights sleepless roosters backdate options after posts
Tell a vision avulsed exclusive boasts
Foxes bird box hens fake news oven roasts
Occupy Wall Street greeting champagne toasts
5G technology expandable densification
Cameras considering Laws actual ramifications
Depressions perpetuate FOMO motes
FIFO Ponzi scheme boat redeems fresh float
Gloat sessions connoted roat smote through goat
Destructions need demands feed for Which Fed never hesitates
Beyond salvations hope for damnation destined reprobates
Wolf in sheep's clothing with diplomacy
Bragging best ever broke economy
Pre warned of bubble in candidacy
Memories impeach me markets relapse collapse candor
Black and white deliberations compromise grey matters or
Burning empire riddled Nero fiddled
No new under the sun any longer
What doth not kill my will makes ye stronger
Suicidal quarantine commit sheer to absurdity
Crash course in urgency suspends to decade Odyssey
Engulf journey as is illusory
Entailed magical curtailed mystery
Reproduced sequence spawns duplicity
Great truths infect minds space whilst time distorts fabrics ablation
Balanced scales duration dual edged knife grinds calibration
Wildlife exhumed landslide menagerie
Submission supports popularity
War of attrition print press edition
Release Kraken abridged dictations unredacted memo
Cognitive mind is least informed second thought tis last to know
Feedback iterates habitually
Zombie apocalyptic shopping spree
Animal myriad corroboree
Discrepancies adorable approaching deplorable
Configured integrations simulate exaggerations
Conceptual reorganization
New century frail clings frayed to pale past
Dot com bust imprints last iconoclast
Tragic disposition anchored significance within story
Spherical lyrical expository mourning glory
Expansion dominates fertility
Appropriate most apt utility
Bubble envelops errs infinity
Bold ignorance advanced hind sights distilled new high arrogance
Underlying trauma repeats cycle till addressed complete
Sublates convergence becoming congeals
Cavernous kingdom stalagmite conceals
Peer not in mirror prefer not appeal
Sew a thought in hope to reap an action something real to feel
Neverland begotten old whilst kid futures are oversold
Life lived not lest bits of bites record it
Biased suggestions imbue news reported
Syrinx sears titans with my brand of creed
Written word ceded all forgotten need to practise recall
Calculated math skills lost computer brought thoughts holocost
Ensconced by lantern hung from beam of straw
Helios heals blow of iced ages thaw
Loyal to natural attributes raw
Extraordinary delusional madness of ye crowds
Trot proudly upon road to serfdom congregations praised aloud
Brave was this new world before eighty four
Hunger games in store jaybird tweets that score
Jehovah bore witnesses door to door
Insure myself against four horseman
paid my tithe expired spent
Sow ears flying high on credit barely do I afford rent
Time unwinds quickly at least doth for me
April showers levee spring bankruptcy
Litres live forever in latency
Bailing water steady rising deep subterraneously
Foresee floods invest in arks of financial calamity
Extraneously Rome's blaze radiates
Simultaneously Fed Witches toiled
Slow perniciously satiates frogs boiled
Crisis constructs messenger of sordid too tongued character
Stocks which rise so should slide chosen goose footing egg opposed side
Federal innovates imbibed bribed state
Reserves umpire status hunched hind home plate
Falling knife of fear impaled atmosphere
Short bets squeezed rife barren years unfruitful bleeds contango wine
Inverse ETFs unprecedented reverse splits declined
Nothing it's equal creature without fear
Can't fill hide with harpoons or head with spears
Mire strive dire try pull in Leviathan
Endless procrastination doth avert intent deflation
Unclear when routes passage appears clear as destination
Sorrows station seems my inculcation
Divides built up babble between nations
Seven trumpets summon revelation
Electrostatic circumstance transmits catalytic twist
Substitute reacted chemical transmits platonic tryst
Ironically passion not my goal
Ionically bonded blending coal
Mirrored dipole roll poised down rabbit hole
Experiment first ever repeats Laws defraud endeavor
Mississippi reflating dollar debt exchange creating
Wealth effect transfers helicopter drop
Fracking reserves crack too big to stop
Ineptitude or evilly adept
Calm filled the room as elephants silently drowned in tar pits
History Which hails tense whence Fed injections flew to market
Lucrative house flipping stained soil carpet
Real reign swamp purge comes to street again
Broken window theory frisk fallacy
Destructions need graciates feed for Which Fed never hesitates
Seven headed hydra twixt blaspheming regime duplicates
Purgatory epic allegory
Apathy lacks worry for avoidance
Dreams annoyance recurring clairvoyance
Complacent consternation burns concerned capitulation
Catacomb further catenates future pyroclastic blasts
Install a new partition date saved last
God creates man's imaged eternity
Man made device for immortality
Only way to beat life be articulate as dead machine
Foiling might be finding wanting nothing just as pleasing
Emoted thoughts and deeds confer disease
Viral joy contained anxious unease
Communicable known uncertainties
Mention stoic abstention receive lepers reprehension
Addend subconscious attention suchness sought destination
Protectionist tribal groupthink ensues
Misdirect blame profane color thou choose
Divide and conquer plan by Jove we use
Minting for a living tis nothing short of scintillating
Weaponry mass produce we entropy disintegrating
Rebirth essential in this finite trap
Technicals crucial analysis map
Impulse mined collective wiretapped caps
Souls endless extrapolating each threshold encapsulating
Mutually affecting Titans ever overreaching
Battles march business no fight beseeching
Cyanide reaction gold is leaching
Settle for distraction Athene’s teaching
Shares fabricate infrastructure bonds for manufactured war
Master in ways of deception weaving fleece her predilection
Declined vine illustrates interjection
Fundamentally ye add furthermore
Whole vacuus nature I find abhor
Each new day opportune to go by street sideshow pundits shout
Marginally most will comply seek aggressive salesman clout
Run through stampede proceed in funnel out
Mosaic tile code mixed mirage mud grout
Worm abated hook ate some fat cat’s trout
Informed when glad relate when mad great is not the worst we've had
Next quarter rates Which inflates translates to direct tabled fate
Disinformation chads dangling depart
Troublesome travel when horse pushes cart
Trojans craft driftwood regifted as art
Taken rate decision interest always is a given
Approached encroachment infringements lunged impingement I expunged
Spell manifests as living hell digests
Calcareous sponge absorbed rimstone plunge
Cookbook to serve lamb seals underhand
Sinter sauntered asunder plotting pillage of my plunder
Attack technique intervenes quoth slighted victim claims obscene
Cried mystified feeling such waste sprayed mace
Save face retrace find safety inside shrouded space
Access filter modified denied trash storage verified
Angels four spew brimstone fire scorched ingress half expected less
Trick talk turns back clock players profiles rotate roles resume
Covertly campaigned defiling my name
Creations Instigate destruction
Erupts surreptitious instruction
Bewildered heard shocked embrace loomed Gates of Hell gauge WHO won race
Military missionary hold prostrate to vaccinate
Chaotic Kronos ordered time consumed
Stow stoked fumes subsidies gave the gods room
Whilst land of the fraud is home to the knave
Babylon of living nonexistent through the golden age
Cassandra of this stage ilk ignores inklings of alarmed sage
Chicken little forebodes sky is falling
Rope a dope fades rationalisation
Brittle doth be fragile ye recalling
Loquacious news needs slews feigned of disambiguation
Mendacious or fallacious contagious be implications
Butterfly flapped wing doth not move a thing
But a gnat perhaps who's too GAD to fly
Financing is how but where is the why
Important that all patriots patronize conquesting troops
Dodge ye head stoop as pooping eagle swoops
Most dismissive uninspired missive
Perceptually far too derisive
Guiding hand not apparent visual
Missing cash flows continual residual bottom lines
Pinnochio hopes to know Which ideal conjures growth sublime
Dendrites potentially stimulate spine
Titanic torrents mist venetian blinds
Decidedly distort bilked disincline
Writhe in through chasm in awe open wide
Formless figures summon uniform pride
Dismiss discontent conveyors subside
Tributaries dispersed springs knowledge trees freeze molten ore
Splintering sparks displaced thick dark coruscate tangible floor
Cumulus clouds of primordial dust
Question our senses in sun god we trust
Sifted silts produce thunderbolts of Zeus
Oval elliptical orbits the folds tidal tendency
Blue sphere girds spoken word breathed clay Boulder Forge Company
Quality moulding is job number one
Caste mass producing consumes many sons
My duty to ensure we always run
Figured would be a piece of cake more at work than give and take
Thought this would be my big break but not knowing literally
Apprenticed construction now I maintain
Composite skill same commissioning game
Swim or wallow in Uranus disdain
I made the trade not for reward nor deemed security
Only gospel guarantee is confidence in mastery
Tasked to sit in a chair contemplate stare
Crosswords in wait for a breakdown repair
I study craves of machines which behave
Rhythmic clang links chain react percussional power set free
Insatiable harmony piques morbid curiosity
Beast belly bowel bubbles belch smelt death
To quota of product do I owe breath
Economic cauldron of corrosion
We operate Vesuvius ungodly hours breathing brine
Facilitate yon amplidyne oxygenate lavas shine
Steering eather into three cyclops cells
Myopically they motion for me when cycles in chaos my sirens knell
Lion hearted as Hephaestus take knee before crucibles hearth
Examine vitals symptoms prognosis deduce further impart
Volt amps transcend times root of three powers
Frequently electrons ebb in order
Arc bath gives rise to hot molten showers
May bring flowers demonstrate my will in accord rewards her
Athena is truth incarnate dream she is a movement
Immaculate perfection possessed no
need for improvement in her coveralls
Wert she to eaten apple I befall
Sand disseminates beneath hourglass curves she manipulates
How could I anticipate
Rapt hints had she to intimate
Roots hypotenuse squares summed pendulum
Enlightened visions profound pit this plum
On que she hooks her thunderbolts so ample in restriction
Destabilized my volts despite my amping up conviction
Magnetisms repulsive attraction
Bipolar feedback generates action
Machining floral dissatisfaction
Narcissus is spring can't this robot tool be taught anything
Recommence imaging thine vault undermined after fault
Intuit as her nuclear annihilates tumult
June accusations forced violation
Vulnerable to invalidation
Confrontations repudiation consents allegation
Placate June”s wells breached swell fore July conflagration
Use wu wei to vacate situation
But weightless behemoth ate all greenbacks
Can’t manage exit not even a crack
Inward forays shunned malfunction unknown overgrown morass
Cult of quantity all students get a pass coach seat class
God’s walled over all access to egress
Those who cannot do are experts at best
Past practise succeeds failures teach what needs
Viridescent pools dilate grey eyed dubious stressed madness
Feeling she was slighted by my passage through her nucleus
Disinterested I had disinterred
Down period Kondratieff winter
Intrinsic tragedy all fairy tales end inherently
Gave me what I wished for in a way I was not hoping for
Destiny permits paths forbade
How shallow wilt thou will wade
PCB cesspools black bile pitches glue
Smoldering sand dune trenches shore magmas excess residue
Admit this time smashing cymbals whilst cyclops wert drumming too
Keep the fantasy alive in my head
Earthquake take other route instead
Always say they never saw it coming
They did In Herculaneum still their brains steamed in their skulls
Summer solstice solace lulls lava ladles plentiful
Cumulative studies validations
Inseminate process degradation
Trying not to mention my invention
Bending toward normalcy absorption emits diffraction
Inverted perceptions withdraw inflections from emptiness
Perplexing she rejects ram intellect
Anecdotal evidence cached respect
Zip plans to stockpile cognizance combined
Designed secret punishment to circumvent I resigned
Recollect for instance cognitive lessons in dissonance
Logic accepts one view perceived of two
Pit of mine stomach whence knot always knew
Treasonous betrayed lion taming shrew
Spite cleaved interface continued dutiful onward pace
Humiliations goal wert to replace cheers with disgrace
Orchestrations untold meticulous
Malevolence is still in existence
Narrative streams unfold conspicuous
Childish bliss unscrupulous epidemic Narcissus
Invasive species multiplied since Zeus supplied his sun’s abyss
Affect change rather than effect ere cause
Gaslight obfuscates reasonable laws
Tall tales half truths edged lies by omission
Unwary reprehense motive intents of recognition
Splitting of the faculty augments a new reality
Fight freeze or flee options only three
Trials choose middle choice typically
Stockholm syndrome captors figured friendlies
Volunteer for brunt of blame acquiesced toxic shame domain
Raging stirs steroid cortisol adrenaline cocktail brain
Idealize devalue sudden discard
Benevolent dictatorship abstained
Without the faintest regret or regard
Figured she was playing me but never thought she'd try so hard
Had a little influence pummeling blacksmith into bard
Feeling flashback symptoms PTSD
Reflux acid regurgitates anxiously
Facilities shut down my apogee
Estranged entanglement is indiscriminate vicinity
Projection deflects inspection detects proffered rejection
Upon reflection I/O failed connection
Reverse detail switched doppler direction
Attacked mine tranquility enacted thine stability
Great relationships determined by good portability
Amor Fati defeat of agony
Heroic transitions affirmation
Chinks of crevasse evasive to bypass
Labyrinth strings web of deceit light and dark unlikely meet
Shadows reconnection Schadenfreude revels surrection
Maze ambled afore trapped in Minotaur
Disintegrating reintegration
Unfurled divest individuation
Emergence of self under siege August surfacing intrigues
Sun god aims retribution penetrating air dilution
Perpetrating vengeful execution
Cyclop's blindsided coming attraction
Apollo's exaction vents extraction
Redress reclaimed door discharged from mine chore
Concussions cavitations roar gaff retrieved my staff from shore
Gangplank fastened transit for deck from wreck
Embodied under mass gravitation
Nothingness consistent contradiction
In retrospect ahead investigate that Which is suspect
Chastened flaming embers titillate orange September moon
Hastened retreat not an instant too soon
Burgeoning three wave prosperity shewn
Wave five trait mimics Echo past monsoon
Perpetually parallel dramas punctual insane
Aphrodite's inception purged migraine foam seethed fire in vain
Twain hath liquidity trickled down drain
Consult oracle ogle tangent plane
Bow to stern brood tempestuous coxswain
Demurrage fee aptly sought to regain lay of way terrain
Masked my gnashing lion waves stumble as they spread before me
Mountain rubble crumbles bloodied red sea
Locusts cannibalistic commotion
Uncanny notion overt devotion
Fixed betwixt twin scorpions stings subtle by a hares degree
One longs to age as seas submit one hole subliminally
Desire loves desire more than that desired
Overtime I find wanting displeasing
Fuel to fire Aphrodite’s teasing
Symptomatically nymphomaniac releasing
Random cosmos berth patterned beyond cyclic perimeter
Doth not feel momentum ye be the tide
Volume reduced ambient limiter
Futile to resist flow fatal to ride
Impressed by the strung rope ladder of unquestioned good status
Doctors orders therapeutic regressive Hedonism
Bureaucracy forced parentalism
Founding fathers Titan nepotism
The health preventative catechism
Give only to take away to give again another day
Rewards gods some token compensation
Anyone here not get paid besides me
Red light starboard wax eared crew rendezvous
Bounded by my sacrifice to irresponsibility
None of the other prize winning
players gamble here but me
Battened down fear gauge groups psychopathy
Ever since world went into bankruptcy
Call for Panic Zeus black masked his swan song
Yarn for youthful innocence gone stick slip traction moves this throng
Tread borderline separating time providing till from when
Uneven Titans tip unbalanced ships
Dualities tune unity in trine
One thing I did learn when within confine
Whom hath desire for nothing believes doth not need anything
Misinterpretation required missing zero still a thing
Axons bemoan sequence of no return
Feeling slight injustice step forward commandeer ambition
Venus akin to mine headache just better known rendition
Under spotlight favorite position
Internally propelled by externals
Take this Autumnal equinox swear on the cross tis vernal
All the gods explicitly sing chants how lucky I must be
Bring Mordor back to toss this precious ring
Prospect she fertilized inferring seed
Open union upon Which we agreed
Karma conflates heavens gates contrived in Pandemonium
Green shoots elate consummate concerns inspire Pavlovian
Theories cosigned conspiracies maligned
Impermanence ineffably refined
Ignorance binds energy disinclined
Universal conception pride of self
love contraception
Trying to be pliable but find it reprehensible
All dispensable Great Complacent Sea
Sizing words wisely rids ostensible
Lies the only guise now found comprehensible
Prophylactic allude to didactic
Though whilst I work at chore she’s Ares whore
I snagged them embarrassingly naked afore gods before
Yellen Helen neither nor wert worth war
Bowl of wrath judgement ignored poor decor
Titans empathizing with swimming clothes
In her throws she extolled excitement being extra exposed
Far be it from she to assume joint responsibility
Exponential debt credits game theory
On that we agree tis rigged currency
Opportunistic imperialists
Propaganda grasshoppers enlist ants backbone socialist
Can't remember when gathered last had a say any matter
Other nations forfeit right to do it
Export of inflation needs conduit
Concert donates borders New World Order
Blockchain came about when drunk bartender could not reach the spout
Yahweh will control all money now they have it figured out
Waiting for my minute to be clever
Stamp my name on the gods minds forever
My switchblade really needs to cut them off
No clue what the gods know only that they need to run the show Narcissistic parasites charisma lands entitlement
Vampires nourish roots to stunt encouragement
Protocol enticing invitation
Condemnation staged cooperation
Intolerable acts left no coercive tea leaves intact
Coven of bag passing Witches gave chase across red waters
Need another nine stitches sons twixt daughters
Waiting in the balance moment of force
Hatch guillotine MRI triggered source
Soaked up dripped Wyrmwood postulated solvent tasted good
Full equilibrium half ballast set assail for malice
Octobers placid benign chilled chalice
Brain scan photocell senses light all is well
If instead bulb shows dead off with thee head
Also as a godsend bonus honed mom’s splendid jury throne
Captive chaperone audience fettered judgement chains inlaid
Skipping to a Witch hunt after masquerade
Topside upper deck on the promenade
Propellor fashion later ohm made blade
Behooved turtle jail sac tail flailed back satyromaniac
Passionate parade personifying Nature of tirade
Horney gimp hind quarters brace graced limp
Llama spitting image of Obama
Clinton's dole out cigars contribute scars
All guests in attendance dressed as promised change we forget lest
Salubrious familiar strangers grooving Harvey Danger
Politically free redundancy
Reagan closed asylums threw away key
Identity hath no cost found when lost
Consolidations vibrate quantized sinusoidal noise
Pullback hull triangulate alow by my device and Echo
Feel lonely frost amongst the other masks
Survival is appeasing to their tasks
Remember November elect Semper
Meaning faithful to all members not just only archaic
On the way to office run your head
through photovoltaic
Vanishing quickly old liquidity
Seven plagues capsized immortality
The line hath paid out to the bitter end
Too big to sail exhale replications glorification
Night zeniths elevation nadirs sun's regeneration
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Exclusive Coverage of the Alliance War Talks. Day 2, Part 3.

Pearl beelined for Warnik, but was anchored by Mike.
Warnik stood and stared down Pearl. Half time show.
P:"In the name of our alliance, I want to clear the air."
W: "Then clear it."
P: "Some time ago, a clone Warnik broke from Anabel's control. What he said... concerns me, with relation to Laura," she gestured. "And myself."
W: "Which one? They'd rebel against her in anyway they could against her."
"May I...remind everyone, before we stray too far..." Creathian stood up. "That the possibility still stands to...well, lie." He waved his hands. "As of right now, these bounty hunters know she's here. Let's say the public announcement is to transport her to...say, the FCC, or to a Canadian settlement, or to...some location. We send a convoy, a decoy, in that direction to draw fire. In that situation, then, we transport Laura here to New Michigan." He turned over his two palms like scales. "On one side, yes, she may be in the midst of the war. On the other hand, New Michigan has an entire underground sector. Allow me to preference that it is very, very secure." He sat back down. "Besides-" The madman added. "-I don't expect too many of these battles to be fought on New Michigan territory. Too remote."
"I recommend the FCC," Pearl said. "Frankly, it's opposite the direction she's headed. Michigan is a ways West of here. You just have to curve around the Federal Republic."
D: "It'd take place on the shores of the Great Lakes if we even get that far. New Michigan may indeed be threatened if the Borson's manage to break out. I'd plan accordingly. And as for the FCC, that might fool most of the hunters but I'm picturing one enterprising young lad with a fishing net and a sawed off shotgun thinking 'if I were them, I'd send a decoy in the opposite direction' And I wouldn't want to run into that guy on the road."
"The FCC is almost too predictable..." Creathian muttered.
"Following of the Feast, then?" Jameson offered. I mean, she is paranoid and untrusting from what I've read... I doubt she'd go off with me. Perhaps too close, geographically, though. Though we ought to ask Kathy before we drop a Princess clone off."
Creathian weighed that option by bobbing his head. "That might work. We can say Salem was going along with her. It might bring unneeded heat to them, though. It wouldn't be her, just a decoy."
W: "Trockle isn't in here for a reason. We shouldn't disrespect him by continuing to scheme with him not here."
"Agreed," Pearl said. "Wait, why would Salem be going with her- oh, you mean meet her there," She laughed it off. "Right. Also," She got a little more stern, even as Wilcox held her back a bit.
"...right...meeting here there." Creathian laughed a little.
P: "Warnik, not long ago, a clone said something to me, about kidnapping and experimenting on Jessie and I to explore the mental Llink (the what?). The clone was summarily put down by Anabel June- for not acting on her orders. Those were its desires, through and through. So, frankly, it gives me every reason to not trust you, and certainly not to trust you with her well-being, nor trust that you don't experiment on the living. But. I'll hear you out." It implied heavily 'this had better be good.'
Warnik looked like he was thinking about it for a little bit, "Yes I think I was told about that. Some memories implanted. That one was using some loose interpretation of one of Anabel's rules to provoke you into attacking Anabel so we could more quickly advance our plans of making me and getting me out of her compounds."
She closed her eyes, then took a breath. "I still cannot in good conscience recommend your compounds for the mental state of Laura, given her past. As Jameson said, it might...bring back unpleasant memories. Still, that is all you meant by it?"
W: "Yes, I was trying to get you angry enough to attack Anabel, apparently it almost worked. As for my City, you should at least see it before judging it."
"Some other time," she dismissed him. At a squeeze from Wilcox, she diplomatically added, "I look forward to seeing it. That really was all there was to it? No actual intent?"
W: "I'm not going to lie and say I'm not interesting in the voice and it's mechanisms, but I'm not going to abduct anyone for that knowledge, nor torture anyone for it." Warnik pulled out his phone and loaded up some photos, "As you can see it's actually quite a lovely place, 30% of the area is green space, the buildings have nice architecture, and the sea life attracted by the artificial coral is plentiful."
Trockle walked back into the room and poured himself a drink.
L: "I see."
W: "Quite beautiful, have you ever been to the sea?"
L: "I have seen a large body of water, and I vaguely remember...something. I want to say 'yes,' but I can't remember."
Trockle turned to Laura. "Oh, we may have a way to reduce the pressure on you. I've invited Washington over - he writes multiple extremely popular comic book series. If he makes one about you, it would be a good way to get the word out that you're not Princess."
"Alright...." She said quietly.
Suddenly Davey's phone started buzzing. He stared at it for a few minutes, then closed it. "Mr. Trockle if you wanted ambrosia samples so badly you could have asked." He looked legitimately pissed.
Trockle looked at him quizzically? "Why would I want an extremely dangerous drug? We know its effects already, we have no use for the stuff. At this point we'd be more concerned about someone trying to replicate it and starting a drug epidemic here."
D: "You've already admitted to having agents in New Golgotha. You're telling me this man doesn't work for you?" He walked over and handed Trockle his phone.
Trockle looked at it. "We have no agent reporting as 'The Shrouded.'" He looked at Davey. "Our agents are assigned strings of letters and numbers, not cutesy nicknames."
D: "I mean granted, FR agents announcing their presence while on the job is less professional than I'd expect. You're telling me he has no connection with the Free Republic, this man who's been blackmailing foreign leaders in my city?"
T: "I have no idea who this man even is. Or if it is a man at all. And again, we have no interest in ambrosia samples, we don't exactly plan on making channelers of our own." He looked at Davey, he was clearly being honest. "And this 'The Shrouded' is far too unprofessional. Our agents don't brag about their exploits in the line of duty."
"Honestly that sounds more like an FCC name," Jameson said. "I hope Psycho is not involved."
Davey walked back and fell into his chair, still looking pissed but no longer at anyone in particular. "I believe you sir, and I'm sorry for my suspicion. The... Powerlessness of my position has me on edge." He looked at Jameson. "Psycho's the one being threatened to turn over ambrosia samples. This man claims he's holding 0230 hostage."
Trockle turned to Jameson. "Didn't 0230 die?"
D: "The Shrouded claims otherwise. Which means he's either an idiot or a sneaky S.O.B. that stole him out from under the AMR. Did you ever find the body?"
J: "Disappeared, assumed to be lost with the facility. No body was recovered, but... then again, there was nothing to recover. A gigantic, water-filled hole where he was. We assumed it killed him."
W: "What exactly happened?"
J: "We fired the cannon, that's what. That much power summoned all at once? The cannon couldn't handle all the output. We weren't sure what his upper limit was and took every precaution we had time for, but it wasn't enough. Well, or so we thought. At least the kid's alive."
W: "You thought over three times old world energy output wouldn't kill us all, and you powered it, WITH A CHILD!" Ooo good stuff.
J: "well when you put it that way."
Trockle nodded. "Yes...AMR does seem to be developing a disturbing tendency to build on the backs of forsaken children."
Jameson waved them off.
"This will be discussed later," Warnik promises, "For now I would like to reinstate the issue of the commander in chief of the combined army, I vote for the Free Republic's candidate."
D: "Same."
W: "That's three votes for the only named candidate, with half of the possible votes unless a candidate is put forth that can collect the vote of New Michigan, the FCC, and the American Remnant then a commander in chief has been decided."
P:"I second it."
W: "That's four votes out of six, do you two have someone else you'd like to vote for or can we close that issue and move onto other equally important issues, like how are we going to supply this army?"
J: "Trains. Uniforms are going to be tricky, but honestly I think it isn't going to be an issue."
T: "Our airships have significant carrying capacity as well, plus our convoys. However, we should pack light. We need to win quickly - we'll lose if this becomes a protracted war."
J: "Says you. Our siege engines are massive, the FCC's spies can sneak in and disable equipment. This is the Borsons' A-game, we're still ramping up our manufacturing despite rolling blackouts."
"Did you forget the part where they're manufacturing an army? Literally just building one. They'll be able to flood us in robot bodies if this goes on too long."
J: "Yes, and they'll run out of materiel and resources, long term. We must hit them fast and early, and yes, we can't let them reach a critical mass of it, but they cannot make an army from nothing."
D: "They won't have easy access to Minnesota resources once the war starts."
W: "I can supply for twice as many troops as I am putting in. A group of my scientists developed a new drug called, Berserker Rage that I can supply to any units willing to take it."
D: "Sentinels are forbidden from using combat drugs. But thank that."
"Ambrosia?" Warnik asks simply.
D: "Is not considered one. And isn't known to mix well with other drugs."
"We'll take them," Jameson offered. "Frankly, our frontline troops can be pretty godawful. Psycho's doing the best she can, but they're out of shape. The air quality, low value food from low-protein summer wheat, well, it fills bellies but doesn't make...well..." he gestured at Pearl, intending to show her physique.
Trockle shook his head. "We won't take any. If the name means anything, it doesn't suit our combat doctrines." He looked over at Jameson. "And we should discuss adding food to our trade agreement at some point. Not right now, but we could add fruits, vegetables and meat to your citizens' diet in the future."
W: "I'll send you a shipment and instructions on how to properly use and administer it then. It's best used at a unit level, and as long as care is provided the survival rate can be quite high."
J: "Yes. It is terribly ironic given the agriculture we do, but we will not be able to add them for another week or so. We were unable to freeze any or pick any in time for harvest last year- we did not make it a priority and we are now suffering for it. Economic recession has meant that purchasing it wholesale is not possible."
W: "I can provide an allege based nutrient bar, It tastes like dirt but it's healthy for you."
J: "We can't pay, and frankly to the military effort it will mean little. We'll take the pills as a replacement. In a month's time is the next real harvest, and we'll have sufficient losses combined with sufficient crops to last us a few years."
W: "Okay. How many pills do you want?"
J: "We have troops- a lot of jobless, untrained individuals. We're looking at... well, between us and Pearl's civilians, about two thousand foot soldiers, assuming we pull everything all at once- literally not a patrol officer left to wander the streets, no one to man the guns, the works."
W: "So two thousand pills? Just in case?"
J: "Well, I'm thinking a thousand per battle if it turns out to be protracted and we have survivors."
W: "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. For now I think two thousand pills for your units is enough. If we need more we can ship them in."
J: "Perfect," he said.
D: "I'll take those bars, about two thousand to start. And Jameson if you're having a food shortage our hydroponic gardens and meat farms don't follow seasonal cycles. We can get our surplus to you if you're in need of it."
W: "Okay, can I ask why you need them of you have those however?"
Trickle looked over. "Probably because they're more portable."
W: "True and they're hard to have go bad."
J: "Not a food calorie shortage, summer wheat has almost no protein. Short on fruits as well, but we have tons of grains."
W: "If you have the capacity you can process the wheat into gluten, sell that. You can get a product that's 98% protein that way. It'll eat into your wheat supply but it's better than nothing."
J: "Help on that front would be invaluable."
W: "It's actually a very straight forward process, you mix flour while running cold water though it that removes the starch and leaves you with a gluten mass that you can extract with an industrial centrifuge."
D: “We have farms of artificially grown beef and pork too. The animals literally never gain sentience, we just harvest the flesh as it grows. And yes, we would like the bars because they’re more portable. And also because the Borsons would notice if we started stocking up our own food supply. I want to mobilize as quietly as possible to minimize the chance of them catching on.”
W: "That's a possibility that would not end well."
D: “No it wouldn’t. Especially since they’ve already shown a capability to turn sentinels against the state. Which brings me to another issue I believe would be at least somewhat relevant to this council: We’ve been providing them with food until now. At the time I thought it would go to their civilian refugees but I’m betting there are no more civilians amongst them anymore. If we cut them off they’ll suspect something. So what I want to know is what their capabilities for sensing and resisting poisons would be.” He looks to Warnik.
W: Warnik clears his throat, "That would depend on the augments they have. Some might be as easily poisonable as a normal person, I've seen some use arsenic as a spice when cooking." Warnik looks at Pearl, "I know one of us has first-hand experience with their healing Augments."
Davey mulls this over. “In my younger days before the outbreak I was somewhat of a chemistry savant. Those skills were put toward more… recreational ends when they first manifested but… Have you ever heard of Boternulium Toxin B? It’s the poison they used to use in Botox injections."
W: "Yes, and that might work on those on the low to mid end of the spectrum, but the higher end and the robotic ones won't be effected."
“They wouldn’t have to be. Their numbers are already down and that means each of them probably functions as a miniature command node. Killing even the bottom 50% would probably destabilize their whole command structure. And they wouldn’t be able to just come back in new bodies because those would need nutrients to be grown. Nutrients we’d be providing for them. And this is quite possibly the deadliest chemical known to man, and possible also known to dolphins.”
W: "And humans used to use it to get rid of wrinkles."
D: “Yep” he chuckled. “Anyway, I believe it might be possible to bind the compound to the vegetable and animal matter we ship them in such a way that their filtration process wouldn’t remove it and that they would have a hard time detecting."
W: "That could be possible, it would be up to you to figure that out."
D: “I-I’d pretty much have to relearn a good chunk of that I knew back when. I’m rusty. But worse case scenario is they know I’m trying to stop them and they were already going to figure that out anyways. I’ll see what I can do.”
W: "That should help."
"Alright," Jameson said. "What else is on the agenda? We've discussed supply, commanders... troop capabilities?"
T: Yes. I can give a brief rundown. The Free Republic armed forces are mostly generalists. We can serve in multiple capabilities, but don't particularly specialize. Our focus has always been to cover our weaknesses. Our airships can provide close air support. The Erinyes are fast attack troops, very good at exploiting weaknesses in enemy lines. Our mobile artillery is capable, if not as powerful or long-ranged as the AMR's. As for our rank-and-file, they can perform multiple functions."
J: "You all know the AMR's heavy gun platforms. We have AMR Heavy Troopers-" Jameson's wrist flickered to life and he pointed at the wall. A projector lit up and the screen began to play their capabilities. A non-intelligent grapple hook, flamethrower, targeting systems that hooked into the rifles' sights, and steel chestplates and down the arms and tops of the legs to protect the most vital arteries and organs. A dark grey helmet matched the motif of the heavy troopers. Some had heavy cannon, others had heavy machine guns. "And Mobile armor," the projector changed to the mobile suits jumping and flying, their swords, guns, custom over-sized artillery, rapid-fire rifles firing from belts, and more. "we also have a navy- dated though it is, the shots are computer calculated and well-ranged. They have speed, power, punch, and can batten down the hatches well. They function well for AA, as well. Lots of flak and radar-guided point-defense gatlings." He continued. "A few submarines of our own," they were diesel-powered relics. "Functional for inserting operatives. Oh, and as Bolts discovered, an air-powered cannon, complete with FCC Wingsuits and parachutes for super-rapid behind-the-lines deployment."
D: “Didn’t we do this last last time?… Fine. I didn’t want to bring this up before the whole blood bond thing happened, but courtesy of Psycho, we’ve discovered that the ambrosia can be, well, modified to have some drastically different effects. So far we’ve identified five variants that the heretic Mathias’s bathtub genius managed to develop. One type increases reaction time and heightens reflexes, another essentially causes the user to secrete a thick skin of hyper-flammable material that can be ignited by the friction of rubbing one’s fingers. Essentially it gives the user limited pyrokinetic abilities. The third formula seems to provide the user with a sort of sixth sense. When Psycho was on it she reported being able to somehow sense infected life around her. Everything from zombies to half infected she could instinctively discern the exact location of. The fourth variant seems to act as a kind of biological flush command. It rapidly purges the body of toxins, including other ambrosia variants. Psycho reported that after ingesting this all her previous side effects and symptoms disappeared within moments. It also may have some limited regenerative properties similar to the traditional mixture, we’re still not sure. The fifth and final concoction we were able to identify appears to be a hyper-concentrated form of classical ambrosia. It would take a few drops of this to induce the same effects as drinking an entire vial of the regular potion. Well Psycho drank an entire vial of that stuff and we believe that’s what caused the explosion from earlier.” Davey paused. “What’s even more remarkable is that aside from the last version, Psycho was apparently able to use these without any of the negative effects that come with untrained people ingesting ambrosia. This leads us to believe that perhaps they could be utilized by anyone, although our testing is limited and Psycho is far from the average human…. There were other compounds listed by Mathias in the writings we confiscated from him, but they were either very limited in their usefulness or involved… unspeakable creation processes. We burned most of them after reading. Other than that recent development we have what few tesla suits we’ve managed to assemble, the arc ammo and technology, the drones, and perhaps some copies we’ll be trying to make of them soon. No telling how they’ll turn out yet or if they’ll even be done by the time the battle happens, but before it’s injury the Synod was very interested in amassing a feet of the things." He stood up. “And with that concluded, I’m going to have to ask that I be allowed to return to New Golgotha with my men. I also request, as per the alliance’s tenants, that I be allowed to launch an unprovoked assault on the church of the Zed god as soon as possible. The Borsons will get suspicious if we start mustering our forces and mobilizing without cause. This will give us an opportunity to do that and shut those monsters down.”
Pearl nodded.
Trockle nodded as well. "Be careful, they're working with Death Empress. Without a doubt she has modified the undead under their control. Expect their zombies to function like an army, not a mindless horde."
D: “That won’t matter. I guarantee it."
"I would not," Pearl said. "Mike? Could you talk to Davey about it? I will be right by your side," she said in her first open display of caring towards "Mike". Wilcox, you absurdly lucky son of a...
“Ever since the dissolution of the Synod, the city’s been in chaos. We’ve got sectarian rivalries coming up out of the woodwork now that they no longer have any representation. My people need something external to focus on before there’s a full blown schism. And I’m looking forward to ripping the wings off their so-called angel and feeding them to it.” Davey stopped suddenly, remembering that Laura’s still in the room.
Wilcox looked at Davey and Pearl, and nodded. "It won't be easy. Fighting Death Empress is...imagine every weakness a zombie has. They're stupid, often slow, uncoordinated. Against a horde you can use artillery and other heavy weapons and freely fire into it and kill tons, they won't take cover. When you go up against Death Empress...take all of that away." His hands trembled slightly. "In Manhattan, we had spitters functioning like veteran squads. Artillery that fired shells of corrosive acid. Tanks that would hide in buildings and burst out right at the worst time. And...." He shuddered at the memory, "Witches that don't need to be bothered to attack, that flit from shadow to shadow before they strike. And they still fight like undead. You can't break their morale. You can't cause them pain. You can't tire them out... She nearly took out Philadelphia with an army she gathered in two months. It's been another five since then." He took a deep breath. "The only weakness the army has is their leadership. Death Empress is a terrible general. But she's learning."
Davey looks at Wilcox with some notion of understanding forming behind his anger. “You and your men have suffered greatly at her hands. I mean no disrespect to their prowess or yours. But my sentinels aren’t just men. They’re stronger and faster than any unmodified human their size could be. Tougher too, especially with the new ambrosia variants we’ve discovered. One channeler can burn through witches with a wave of their hand. A channeler in tesla armor can shrug off spitter shots and start a cascade of balled lightning that runs from tank to tank. A squad of sentinels can pour fire into a mass, toss grenades into the opening as they take cover, and shift position by the time they poke their heads out. And you’re right Death Empress and her followers suffer from vanity and overconfidence. We’ll be a smaller force, sure, but they’ll have one brain amongst them. Maybe several if they’re lucky. We’ll have thousands… Right now, there are people all across the wildlands who have been suffering in the same way the Kanites have when Golgotha was destroyed, only with no chance at rebuilding or escaping. I can’t let that go. I promise not to waste our strength against them and be present when we all muster. But this has been going on for too long, and this round two’s been too long in coming." He turned to Trockle. “It seems I’m finally in a position to purchase those frenzy towers you offered a while ago. I’ll take four if you can spare them.”
Tsmk1 stared. She stepped away. Then further back- and then took off for the ledge and flew out.
D: “Ok, sort of expected that. My bad."
Pearl watched, then shook her head. "Not a wise choice of words. But you also must learn- this half infected is a terror."
Jameson sighed. "We almost lost our capital."
D: “Madam, I’m a terror. She is a mental patient with a daddy complex and…” He stopped. “Yes, I know. She wouldn’t of been able to do so much damage if it were otherwise. And I don’t necessarily believe I could kill her, just dent her strength and buy us time. Her friends crushed my city, murdered my people over an internet post, then turned someone I love into a vegetable for trying to protect us. Now she’s running lose on the country side. I have a pile of bones to pick with that woman, as does every last Kanite warrior. I don’t think it we’ll be an easy fight. In truth, I’d be disappointed if it was.”
Pearl bristled at two points as he spoke. But relaxed by the end of what he said.
"She's his daughter." Jameson said. "I tried to find a cure for it- that was the point. I'm still holding out hope that my daughter is out there somewhere. Or that we can reunite families, end this. Get your daughter cured, and the help she needs. Becker nearly succeeded."
D: “A minute ago, you were all claiming she was a monster, now you’re defending her?”
Trockle shook his head. "There is no going back for her. Not from what she's done. Even if she is cured...her crimes are too extreme. She doesn't just kill humans - she captures and farms them. She has to die - even if she surrenders, even if she is cured. Even if she wants to make it right."
Wilcox turned to Davey. "I didn't say don't fight her. Just that she's very, very, very dangerous, so be careful. There's no doubt she has new mutations in her ranks. And...she can make smart zombies. Her generals. I don't know if she's gotten better at that, has more smart ones under her control. He shrugged
Davey grinned. “We’ve got a half-infected leader too you know. And all her generals are smart. Not just a few. But yes… I understand your warning. But this needs to be done for our sake and the sake of her slaves."
J: "I see sentience. Deranged, monstrous sentience of a family member abandoned." He shook his head. "I pity her."
"I don't," Pearl said. Jameson didn't answer.
D: “There are allot of abandoned family members in the wildlands. But I can’t think of a single one that’s gone on a mass murdering spree because of it.”
"Princess, in her own way, Salem." Pearl said, surprising him.
Trockle spoke quietly. "...Miranda wasn't abandoned. Before the outbreak happened in earnest, we'd sent her to stay with my late wife's parents. They lived in seclusion, and were well fortified and armed - it was the safest place we knew.. By the time we got there, however, we discovered everyone was dead, zombies had gotten past the fortifications. We had discovered her severed finger and a bloody dress. We thought her dead. I didn't disown her until she had killed and eaten thousands. And-....Davey is right. People who were abandoned as children are unfortunately common. I wouldn't call them well-adjusted, but most are not mass murderers."
D: “Because. of. it.”
Trockle nodded. "Because of it. It is why I refuse to acknowledge her as my daughter. My daughter was a sweet girl - she is dead already. Death Empress merely inhabits her body. Had I found Miranda instead, had she not killed and tortured so many...I would do everything I could to make things right."
He turned back to the rest of the room. "Was there anything else we were going to discuss? I believe the rest of the details might be best left either to our generals, or in the case of new trade agreements and the like, for separate meetings."
“There is one. I’d send you the man I’ve picked as my general. but he’s in prison."
Trockle looked at him. "I heard about some trouble. I've already sent orders to release him and return his property. However, please do take care not to cause further trouble. My security forces get jumpy when a foreign mech suit starts destroying property. I'd rather we didn't have an incident."
Davey looked at Pearl briefly, then back at Trockle. “They were only doing their duty as body guards. I accept full responsibility for their actions and will pay the Free Republic for damages incurred when I have the chance."
Trockle nodded. "As long as we're on the same page." He stood. "Alright then, thank you all for coming. We have a plan, now we have to put it in motion. This is the most powerful alliance I can remember having been assembled since the outbreak - I fully believe that this war is winnable. I look forward to meeting with you again in better times, when peace has been restored, at least marginally."
Wilcox stood up and turned to the FCC leader. "Pearl, can I talk to you? In private." She nodded her assent, and he lead her out of the room, holding her hand.
Davey hurried off to meet his prison b*tches and get his stuff back on the train, I don't know.
Me? I think I'll have to leave the grand old Free Republic. At least for a little while. So look out wildlands. Handy Roy's coming.
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