- July 5, 2021
Raydorn: The War in the Black (Chapter 1)
“My mother said, ‘If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?’ I told her, ‘It was my idea, mother, you birthed a leader, not a follower.’”
– Harris Thorn, Lord of House Thorn, 448 After the Coming of Almulan
“Jack, your boyfriend just cut a guy’s head off,” Andy called to the back of the cell.
The aforementioned Jack turned pink as most in the pits with him laughed at his expense.
“Hmm,” Jack grumbled before sitting up, unable to standby without watching. He walked up to the bars beside Andelyn. There she scowled and grumbled at his presence, to which he responded with a roll of his eyes.
After their back and forth, they looked out the gladiator door together upon the arena, taking in the adoring crowd.
Even when beside someone who makes her blood boil, Andelyn Stella couldn’t help but be amazed by the way the crowd cheered.
“They don’t do stuff like this back home,” Andy remarked to herself.
“Yeah, Raydorn likes to avoid all the senseless murder and violence of Krone.”
“We did help make the place,” Andy said.
Jack’s eyes squint as he thinks of a response. “Fair… but I doubt this is what we thought we were going to use it for, disgusting, bloody deathmatches.”
“God, you’re boring, why does Kion like you?” Andy asked facetiously.
“That’s, well… that’s rude.”
“Sure, yeah, the violence is gross, excessive, and rather pointless, something I might remind you, you’re about to join in.” Andy’s words made Jack grimace. “That crowd is full of people from across Raydorn, Krone, and Susanna, all here to cheer on the champions. Just… look away from your boyfriend for a second, and see how everyone’s just… happy. Not only are they happy, they’re giving us glory, they’re searing us into their memory.
“We’re becoming timeless,” she said as she pointed her gaze at Jack, clenching her hand as if reaching for something just out of her reach, “don’t you see that?”
Jack’s face became pale like Andy’s in the face of her ideas.
“No,” he said, “I don’t see this as something I want to be remembered for.”
Andy grunted as she turned from him. She shook her head at all he was about to have, and all he didn’t appreciate. “Your loss, who cares what it’s for, just care that we’re being remembered at all!”
“We?” Jack questioned, “You’re the lucky bastard who doesn’t have to fight.”
Jack smirked, as if proud to have zinged back at Andelyn Stella for once, but then Andelyn gave him the worst of all glares, and he knew he did her wrong.
He tried to apologize, “Andy, I’m-”
But she cut him off, accidentally but happily smacking him with her overly brown hair. She could hear Jack sighing behind her as she moved down the line.
Andy looked over the leaders of their mercenary band. The best warriors from across Gronina gathered to prostrate themselves in the name of a high lord’s pocket. And how would they fill the Earl of Iron Rock’s pocket?.
War is a good business as any, but there is no glory in mining or farming. There is only glory in the fight, and I’m stuck without any special powers or weapons to fight with. I’m always stuck patching up those who do.
Andy stopped when she noticed the black hole in the room. Who does he think he’s hiding from?
She crossed her arms and looked at it with a smirk. “We didn’t think you were going to make it, Mal.”
The short Susannan woman sitting next to the corner, Astrid, looked up from polishing thin air. She had a look of confusion that anyone could justify turning on her.
“Mal?” she asked.
“Did you just see me now?” asked the masked man as he appeared from the shadows.
“AAAAHH!” Astrid screamed. She quite literally jumped out of her seat and hit the ground like a sad sack of potatoes.
The figure in a black cloak and armor merely glanced at Astrid’s way before he asked Andy, “How did you see me? I thought even my mask was hidden.”
“I’m used to you sneaking up on us,” Andy said, which made the masked Malum tilt his head before grumbling something unintelligible.
Astrid bounced back to her feet, standing at Malum’s shoulder, glaring at him with burning rage… and a pole with an empty burning end?
“You can’t creep up on people like that!” Astrid screamed at him.
Malum kept his voice rather monotone to speak to her. “I’m an assassin, that’s quite literally my job.”
“Well, are you trying to assassinate anyone here?” Astrid asked before gesturing to the lot of them in the pit.
“If I am, I’m not exactly at liberty to say,” Malum reasoned, shrugging at her with no answer.
Astrid squinted her almond eyes at him, and pursed her dark lips too, her whole face contorting in a way that made her mouth expressions appear smaller and smaller. At the same time, his mask hid any and all reactions. In this tiny little mutter, Astrid told him, “I see you’re still an arrogant ass.”
“And you’re still a petulant child but I keep that to myself,” Malum retorted as he aptly sat where Astrid was sitting and took out his cloth to polish his blade.
Andy tried to hide her chuckles with her hand. Who could blame her? Astrid appeared like an overgrown child with the way she thrusted her hands down into fists and her face grew red like a tomato?
Astrid screamed as she raised her pole, and then fire shined from its top.
That’s when Andy remembered that the axhead was invisible.
“Astrid!” Andy screamed, drawing the attention of almost everyone in the pit as she slammed it down towards Malum’s head.
“Huh?” Astrid said as Malum’s head remained completely intact, and Andy’s arms wrapped around her chest.
Malum turned his head and found Astrid’s ax embedded into the wall, inches away from cutting him in half.
He huffed and continued to polish his sword.
Astrid looked between Malum and her weapon, and immediately her shoulders slumped in a sort of defeat.
Andy opened her eyes and saw how Astrid messed up.
As Andy let Astrid go, the short woman’s mouth started to pucker before she squeezed her eyes shut and pressed both hands to her cheeks.
“Aaahhh!!!!” she screamed, “I made the blade too big!”
They could hear Malum audibly sighed. “I see that I live another day.”
Astrid stepped back, squatted, and pointed her finger violently at Malum. “We’ll see about that!”
Then she went to pull her weapon out of the wall.
She tugged and it didn’t move an inch.
Andy could barely cover her mouth.
“Oh no,” Astrid squeaked, then threw her whole body into trying to make her invisible ax move. She jumped on the wall, planted her feet on the handle, started trying to stomp on it, making unintelligible whines the whole time.
“I’ll be fine,” Malum told Andy as the medic barely contained her laughter.
“I’m sure, but what about her?”
“She’ll figure out the solution soon enough… or she won’t.”
Astrid paused and put her angry face right next to his… upside down.
“Were you talking about me?” she mumbled, with air in her cheeks.
Andy’s attention was torn from Astrid and Malum as she heard Harry call her name from the back.
In the dark depths of the pits, another would not have seen him without his torch.
The warriors were stuck in the old sanctums of Krone’s gladiators. They would wait there in the dark before they were unleashed for the crowd.
The man called her over, one named, Harris Thorn, Lord of House Thorn, owner of their Black Legion, Earl of Iron Rock… or Harry to her.
“Harry, what the fuck are you yelling my name for?”.
“Quintus here cut himself after that whole… whatever that was. Can you patch him up? We don’t have much time before he’s up next.”
Andy took her first step just before she hearing the loud snoring on the stone seat next to her. She then heard Harry also ask her to, “Wake up Lucy, would you? No one needs to see her dumbass fight half-asleep.”
Andy looks down at the woman from the far east below her. I still wonder how she got here. You would think the pirate clothing would give Andy the answer to her question, but one would have to sail around the continent to get from the east side of Krone to Raydorn by boat.
Andy kicked Lucy’s knee, making her shutter and drop her sea captain’s hat to the ground. Lucy’s head came up for air with her eyes half-open and twitching as she remembered where she was.
Slowly, with long, tangled, brown in front of half her face, Lucy looked up at Andy and cried, “Whhhyyyy?!”
Andy crossed her arms, as she smirked down at the woman. “No wants to watch you sleep.”
Lucy presented her wheatish complexion with her hands and said, “But I’m adorable.”
“I do not!”
Everyone in the pit together agreed, “You do!”
Lucy looked at everyone with a look of betrayal before she put herself back together. She sat up straight, lick her hand, righted her hair, and crossed her arms. “This hardly seems like the time to let me know.”
Then as if to get under Andy’s skin, she whipped her arm into that of an octopus to snatch her hat off the ground and put it back on her head.
Andy stood back in disgust, before taking it as the taunt it is. A taunt Lucy continued as she righted her hat and smirk, before deciding to ball her fists.
“Andy!” Harry called to her again, as the unkempt brunet kept wildly gesturing to a supposedly bleeding Quintus. The poor man kept trying to shake his head with this awkward smile that garnered more pity from Andy than he intended.
Andy looked back at Lucy whose already trying to get back to sleep, before stomping toward Harry and Quintus.
Quintus was a man even darker than Lucy, and he towered over Harry and Andy by nearly afoot. Even sitting down as he was, he was not looking up much. People from across the Secan Sea tended to be tall, but few like him.
Andy had put a bit of thought into whether they were as gentle.
Quintus tried to assure her, “The cut was nothing more than a graze, can’t even see it.” His accent was the heaviest when he spoke Rayne. Sometimes it sounded like someone from Seca, which he was, with the way he emphasized vowels with an added ‘g’ or ‘h.’ But other times he uses Kronish pronunciation, emphasizing the ‘c’.
I get what Harry was talking about. I could honestly listen to Quintus read a thesaurus, Andy thought back then. Many found Quintus to have this calming energy about him.
Quintus maintained his awkward smile as he tried to tell her, “I wanted to shine my club, I hear all the time that folk in Gronina like shiny things, what better way to catch their attention?”
The need to refuse help made Andy shakes her head at him, and prompted her to take his hand without asking. “Spare me the excuses,” she said, “just show me your hand.”
He presented his large hand to her, one which made both of hers seem small. She checked it over, finding a bit of blood but no cut. No need to break out the kit, more like a handkerchief for all this blood.
“Do you need this?” another voice said behind her, as he handed her a handkerchief.
Quintus and Harry both jumped and screeched as Malum appeared behind her. He shook the handkerchief as she turned around to glare at him.
“You knew I was here,” he stated, more so than questioned.
“Sorry,” Andy said as she took the handkerchief, “I forgot to be afraid of you.”
“Hmm.” Malum turned and walked back to his seat at that, his black cloak flowing behind him.
“Show me the other hand,” she told Quintus after cleaning the blood off a hand that’s clearly never been wounded.
“It was this one, I’m telling you, I’m-”
“Oh god, just show me your other fucking hand,” she snapped him, assuming him to be lying.
“Okay,” Quintus said rather quickly, as Harry laughed beside him.
As she found with Quintus’s other hand, this was both devoid of blood and a wound. She shot Harry a quick glare, causing the Earl of Iron Rock to make an exasperated face at Andelyn. “What’s your problem, did you talk to Jack already?”
Andy gasped before grinding her teeth and throwing Quintus’s clearly intact hand aside.
Harry chuckled again at her expense, even going so far as to wag his finger at her. “You know you’re not supposed to do that until you get your morning coffee.”
Her fists twitched at her side and she appeared as if she were about to strike him.
Andy threw her hands up, shouting, “Oh fuck off!” and she spoke with disgust, which only made Harry laugh harder.
She sighed, “Men,” before looking to Quintus, arching his brow at her from his seat. “Am I wrong, Quint?”
Quintus chuckled and wiped his hand of it. “You will have no argument from me.”
“Good,” she said as she took a seat next to him.
Harry muttered, “Hey, that’s my-”
She ignored him to ask Quintus, “Are you ready for your match?”
Quintus looked away to sigh, showing off his white pearls as he grimaced. “I’m ready for today to be over.”
Andy let out a little groan. They’ll never have a chance like this again, and they’re all treating it like a job.
Well, it is a job, but it has so many fun perks after you’re done fighting everyone.
Still, she nudged Quintus’s arm. “Don’t tell me that the adoration of a roaring crowd doesn’t excite you? They’ll call you their hero when this all over, even if you kill people from their side.”
“Yes, because I would have killed someone from someone else’s. It… I am a foreigner to all the nations here, but I cannot help but find your communal practice rather sad. War… seems rather useless to me, I supposed, money being my only gain.”
“Is there no war in Seca?” Andy questioned Quintus, with a distinct lack of belief in her tone.
“I do not know, I… we… the people of my tribe did not record things like events as you do. Writing and reading is for entertainment, to pass time, and count livestock. We certainly never came together to buy warriors from other countries.
“It’s bewildering, come tomorrow maybe a third of them at most will still love use and the other two will seek our heads. Don’t forget, only one of the big three nations of Gronina can hire us. After we’re done showing them what they can buying, they’ll start the bidding war before resuming the actual one.”
Andy hadn’t spent much time thinking about that fact. She leaned back against the wall, after having her mood royally bummed.
“I mean, you’re right,” Andy said, “if we do well out there, and Krone opens its deep pockets… we could end up fighting Raydorn.”
“I don’t envy you if something like that happens,” Quintus admitted, bringing his hand to rub her shoulder. “I’m lucky, my kin are across the sea, unconnected to all that’s going on here… and if we were to fight against Krone…”
Andy looked up at him, thinking about how Quintus’s time under Kronish rule must surely twist his feelings. She looked over at Lucy and saw how it didn’t quite mess with everyone’s mind though.
“Are you still going on about that?” Harry questioned as he unscrewed his flask, a flask Andy immediately began eyeing.
“How do you sleep at night?” Quintus asked him, Rayne’s phrasing getting the best of him. Andy twisted her lips, having listened to Quintus’s caring tone not quite match his strong words.
“Listen,” Harry started, “my family helped build Raydorn, House Thorn is one of the five great houses to escape Krone. We built the country’s military, we built the Black Legion, and did it all from Iron Rock to protect the crown and her enemies.”
Harry, despite his youth, appeared so old to Andy now, with his flask in his hand, and his mustache coming down to his chin, full of resentment. He was so much younger before he had to put this all together.
“Now the crown has not only his Stormguard, but his own standing army, knighting people left and right, trying to recapture what our boy, the Aurora Knight is doing out there.”
As if on cue, they heard Jack’s partner dismember someone in the ring, causing a prompt scream from the arena. Then came Jack’s cheering.
“That king out there, Mightus, how pretentious is that? Him and his grandfather are the reason why my father started taking contracts in the Isles and the Tribal Lands…” Quintus tilted his head and stares at Harry.
Harry raised his hands and apologized, “Sorry, Seca, I know. Point is… we had to stay afloat, care for the soldiers Raydorn had abandoned.” Harry leaned back and crossed his legs, appearing accomplished despite the staining color of his beard.
He crossed his arms behind his head as he said, “I’m taking the Black Legion to its natural conclusion. I built it up with talent from across Gronina, and now I’m selling her services to the highest bidder.”
“You’d have been fucked if it weren’t for this war,” Andy reminded him.
Harry waved that off as yet another scream rang out from the arena. “Oh, this was a long time coming. Anyone paying attention could read the tea leaves. The Kronish Empire is a greedy one, and Raydorn is a country born from that empire’s deserters. This was inevitable, and Krone biting off more than they could chew going after Susannan territory at the same time, well, that was just icing on the cake.”
“To think,” Quintus muttered to himself, “if Raydorn hadn’t taken Susannan territory out from under them both, Raydorn and Susanna might have been allies.”
“Like I said,” Harry joked without being funny, “blame it on Mightus, that fucking prick. I wonder how he must squirm sitting next to the Emperor and Dynastan right about now. Who do you think is fatter? An emperor or a king?”
Quintus began to stand as he told Harry, “I’ll be sure to find out if I can get a glimpse of him. It’s time.”
Andy turned and looked up at him stupified. It’s like he can hear everything a mile away.
As the crowd’s cheers only grew louder, filling the Tribus Senso Eilean with their cries of adoration, the bars raise for the Black Legion’s champion.
The Aurora Knight.
In sharp black armor, with every end shimmering in the colors of light, he entered to applause.
Even Malum clapped his hands, letting the Legion’s best take a little bow.
The Aurora Knight, known to some as Kion, turned to Jack to embrace him, but Jack held up a hand, making him tilt his head in confusion.
Jack pointed to the blood all over the knight’s armor, before telling him in sign language, “Let me get that off you.”
The knight nodded his metalhead as Jack reminded the others of his Iligsia, none worse so than Andy.
He summoned the Wind to his hands and whipped around the Aurora Knight, cleaning him of most of his blood.
With little hesitation, the knight embraced Jack and then sought to unmask. He quickly found himself in a similar situation to Astrid.
“Is your helmet stuck?” Jack laughed out loud.
The Aurora Knight then stuck the famed and shining Aurora Blade into the ground to squat and place both hands on his head. He struggled to pull off his helm before Andy came to remind them of how little time they have.
“Sorry lovebirds, better luck next time,” she said as the Aurora Knight’s shoulders slumped at his inability to take off his helmet.
Jack signed to him, “I keep telling you to fix it.”
The knight signed back, “I know.”
Jack kisses the cheek of his helm as the others gathered for their match, bidding the Aurora Knight goodbye to his well-earned rest.
Before Andy tried to stand in front of everyone, she took another gander of Jack, which made him purse his brow in confusion.
“What?” he asked.
“Eh,” is all she said.
“Kion can do better.”
Astrid leaned towards Malum to ask, “I thought she didn’t like guys.”
Malum told Astrid, “It’s called a jab.”
Astrid looked more confused. “But she didn’t hit him?”
Harry joined in on making fun of Jack, adding, “Kion is the Aurora Knight, he can do better than most.”
Jack rolled his eyes and made an ugly face at them both. “Oh, is this just shit on Jack day?”
“It’s always shit on Jack day for me,” Andy said as she gestured him aside.
“Jealousy’s not a nice color on you, Andy,” Jack muttered to her as they passed.
Harry elbowed him, telling him to, “Calm down, Starshield, as if you haven’t had it great for so long. Take a little jabbing.”
Astrid squints and says, “Huh?” making Malum raise his hand to his mask.
Andy had a retort to Jack of her own, “It definitely won’t be when you start getting your ass kicked in a minute.”
They gathered closer, with Quintus coming and pulling Astrid’s ax out of the wall for her, much to her thanks. Her thanks seemed meaningless when she made the axhead shrink and realized she could have done that to get it out.
“You five together, are going to take on the best Raydorn, Susanna, and Krone have to offer. Think Honorguard, think Jitari Blade, think Beastmaster.”
“Which ones?” Malum asked her.
Ever the pragmatist.
“From Raydorn, its Stygis, the Wolfhunter.”
Jack laughed at his name. “I thought you said they were sending the best!”
Andy reminded him, “Stygis is not only a Stormguard with powers like you, he’s so effective he got a nickname and a promotion to Honorguard. He’ll chop your head off if he doesn’t electrify you first.”
“I don’t know,” Jack seemed to question, “I had always heard his promotion to the big, big leagues was more for show.”
“Well, I guess you’ll find out,” Andy sniped at him.
Malum appeared keen to know, “Who’s the Jitari Blade?”
Astrid looked up to him, smirking. “Worried he’ll want ours back?”
Astrid raised her Jitari Blade onto her shoulder, just as Malum continued to hide his under his cloak.
“It’s the Yuanfang,” Andy tells him.
“Yuanfang?” Malum repeated, grasping and rubbing his chin.
Lucy looked between Malum and Andy with pursed lips. “Uh, what’s the Yow-fang?”
“Yuan-fang,” Malum corrected in perfect Susannan. “It’s the first of its kind, a projectile weapon that lights saltpeter, sulfur, and charcoal on fire to send out a small, fast-moving metal ball.” Malum made a small circle with his fingers to show them the size. “It travels faster than any crossbow bolt, and it will shred your insides if you get hit.”
“So we get him while he’s reloading it,” Quintus offered as a mode of strategy.
“Hmm, probably,” Malum agreed, “it depends on how many he can fire at once. If he used the magazine and clip technology of the Wuqiong, we’ll be in trouble.”
“There’s still one more,” Andy reminded them, “the Beastmaster from Krone… it’s the Boar.”
Lucy rolled her eyes and groaned, “Ugh,” even carrying on that, “sounds like such a bore, huh?”
She looked to the silence on her left.
Then to the silence on her right.
Lucy crossed her arms and declared, “Everyone’s a fucking critic, I’ll get the hamburger, what’s the worst a pigman can do, eat me?”
“Actually yes,” Astrid told her, making Lucy’s expression freeze in place. “Pigs are carnivores that can be bloodlusted with the mere scent of the air. Farmers remove their tusks because they would cut each other in the pen, and then the rest all, you know… swarm them.”
As everyone remains silent, this time by terror, Jack quietly muttered, “Is she… is she implying that pigs are cannibals?”
Astrid was not at all quiet when she assured him, “I’m not implying anything, it’s true.”
Lucy let out a long breath as she shook her head. “I’m going to disregard that fact for my sanity.”
Astrid shrugged at her. “It’s not like it’s your funeral, maybe he’ll like the taste of octopus.”
Lucy gagged at the thought.
“Guys, men… and women,” Harry called out to get everyone’s attention, stepping up to stand next to Andy before them.
He clasped his hands together, as he struggled to spit out his speech, being mildly intoxicated.
Andy had her turn to drop her head into her hands, thinking, Oh no.
Harry makes a fist and shakes it in the air at an unreceptive audience. “This is the last match of the day, of the tournament altogether! I really need you all to give it your all, show yourselves off, present to the world who I have training and building the Black Legion.”
As no one responded, Harry looked around nervously, and for some reason centered his eyes on the dark-cloaked man in the room.
“Come on, we even got Malum back for this, that should tell you how important this is!”
Still, no one ever quite grew excited for this. If anything, Astrid was getting antsy as she tapped her foot.
“So…” Harry droned on, scratching the back of his head, as they all waited for this to end, “I guess give it your all, and do really well, and… I don’t know, this is weird, we’re talking about killing people, not a game of mulaball.”
Andy finally decided to lay a hand on his shoulder. “It’s time they go out, the crowd is asking for them.”
Harry kept his hand on the back of his neck as he nodded his head. “Yeah, yeah, better let them go.”
They all started walking past him, each with their own little goodbye for him. Quintus tried to be reassuring, patting him on the back, and Jack had the same idea, promising to see him in a few.
Malum… just walked by silently, and as Lucy tried to avoid looking at him so not everyone was so helpful.
Astrid stopped with her Jitari Blade over her shoulder and gave him a thumbs up.
Harry lifted his head with a smile… before it fell into this look of terror.
Astrid had this wicked smile on her face as her invisible axhead ignited and the blade changed shape. “We’ll make you proud.”
Harry made a half-hearted smile as he waved goodbye to her.
He was still waving as Andy stepped next to him.
“She scares me,” Harry told her.
Andy nodded her head slowly, and just… agreed. “Yeah.”
The crowd started cheering as the warriors of the Black Legion walked towards the arena’s center, and Harry stepped up close to Andy to mutter out the side of his mouth.
“How do you think the speech went?” he asked.
Andy’s eyes narrowed for a brief moment before she shrugged. “Not your worst, I’m sure they appreciated the honesty.”
“Are they gonna get killed out there?”
Andy’s eyes narrowed even further for a long moment of hesitation. “They’re either going to kill every goddamn person out there or all die. There is no in-between.”
Harry pulled out his flask and said, “Go big or go home,” before trying to take a swig. Quickly, he found that it had disappeared from his hands.
“The Hedone…” he stopped mid-sentence upon seeing Andy already drinking from it.
The bars to their pit came down, and the moment they did and she was done drinking, Andy grabbed them with both hands and pressed her face between them to watch and covet the oncoming spectacle.