April 2nd - Koolaris
(OOC: This is a response to Tom's excellent IC [Fool's Day prank])
The journey from Alebad had been a perilous one but Cathal's men had borne the hardships well and now that they'd reached the safety of the northern plains their spirits were much improved. Tonight they had feasted well on wild boar and fresh vegetables purchased from a local farm washed down with the heady wine of the south, the first since they left the capital. After two weeks living on trail rations it seemed a banquet fit for royalty.
"My friends, you've marched halfway across the continent with me without ever questioning my purpose, and along the way we've lost many good comrades to the blades of our enemies."
"We're your sword brethren," Emrys staggered to his feet, goblet shaking in his hand and voice slightly slurred, "where you lead we follow, even to the Gates of Hell themselves. For Minas Thalion!" he slumped back to his seat amidst a strong chorus of approval, drinking vessels slamming on makeshift trestles and hands trained to the grim work of battle slapping cunningly wrought pauldrons. Cathal waited for the cheers to subside before continuing.
"Tonight brave Emrys you will learn just how far fate may carry us along that path, for the Gates of Hell stand closer than most will ever realise."
There was a murmur of bemusement.
"Be still and hear me out," Cathal raised his hand and a wisdom seemed to settle on his brow which was quite at odds with his youth and the generous ration of wine he'd consumed, "This night the Gods have hallowed and I may share with you some echo of the knowledge which has haunted me these many years. It is not a thing for the feint of heart, but having stood alongside you in the heat of battle I know your strength and as brothers we should have no secrets."
A hush fell as Cathal began to chant softly in a long unspoken language, the tongue of Alowca in the world's youth when men's eyes were still fresh to wonder:
"Udh'kvar ithbar na elith sunil Khagister, Courethad manil ser gerith Alodhc admanar Alimnar, Kiril, kiril, tets'kvar en Harith moneth Khagister, Monereth kamidh angothar na Alodhca sunil Alimnar."
There was a beauty to the strange cadence of the verse, accentuated by that quality of sadness which haunts all shades of happier times. And as Cathal repeated the verse a woman's voice joined his, speaking the words into the common tongue:
"Before the vault of heaven rose there was the gift of Khagister, And by his hand so deftly sure he raised Alowca the sanctuary of His Covenant, So bright, so bright, upon the gleaming cliffs blazed the knights of blessed Khagister, A blessing and protection to all from Alowca the gift of His Covenant."
Cathal stood and embraced the black-clad woman who stepped from the shadows behind him.
"I've missed your voice sister, speaking the old tongue in the temple."
"And I've missed your sword arm brother, guarding my back in battle. But are we not here for a purpose?"
"Aye, let us continue," Cathal moved towards the fire, drawing a small cloth purse from his jerkin and hurling it into the flames as the pair repeated the Alowcan hymn. A flash of green shot through the blaze and a heady freshness seemed to catch the air.
For a long moment the soldiers stared at the fire, wondering what would happen. It had been well known in Minas Thalion that the Lord Elect was an adept of arcane teaching and many rumours had circulated of the strange visitors travelling from the north to converse with him. But here in the northern wilderness their leader - a knight considered by all amongst them a paragon of chivalry and virtue - stood revealed as a power.
The wine worked with the incense and chanting to draw them beyond the narrow confines of their fleshly senses, and as if gazing upon the death mask of an old friend they found themselves shocked to find that what they had taken to be a solid form was instead the hollow mirror of a much richer reality.
"We have stepped beyond the curtain my friends to the realm where the Gods play their games and shape the lives of us mere mortals. Here where our eyes may see the unseen I will show you the true threat against which we prepare."
Cathal snatched up a stick and began to inscribe a map in the soil, and as he did so it was as if the Colonies were laid out in all their vivid glory. City by city the deceits of Valast were laid bare, trapping the great and small alike. And imprisoned most deeply a brother and sister, the heirs of Valast.
"This is the war of the Valastrim. But it is not the war against which we prepare," Cathal's stomach heaved as he drove the stick into the earth, and the company stood amidst the charnel stench of Portion, a baleful black wind cutting deep into their bones.
"Brother, I... can mortal men truly stand against such horrors?"