Voyage of the Hildegard

Chapter One

Nexus, a city that never sleeps. Resting between the Yellow, Yanaze and Gray Rivers, it forms the melting pot of Creation, and the beginning of a new life, for two successful men. Kas, the great gladiator, known to many as one who fights with a burning passion, but seems to dedicate his victories to the souls of those who have died, is one such hero. The other is Haven Tsuanti, overseer for The Safe Return, a band of extortionists who harass Scavenger Lords and in return, provide protection from others who would do likewise. In Firewarder District, they both live and sleep. And it is in Firewarder that their destiny changed.

With the sun having set many hours ago, the streets crawled with that peculiar form of life which seems to only show its face where light does not shine. Ruffians, assassins, thieves and beggars all seem to grow in number, and become more determined and ruthless in the dark hours. Unfortunately for some, their enthusiasm gets the better of them, with a poor selection of targets, and sometimes, the intervention of the greater forces in the world.

Returning from Bastion District, performing for the brutal tastes of Milo Frek, Kas was accosted by bandits. A poor choice, by all accounts, given Kas' reputation in the pit. However, their choice was made all the worse, when the Unconquered Sun exalted Kas in his image, raising him into the ranks of Bronze Tigers without saying a word. Although confused and terrified by the transformation, that was nothing compared to the experience of the bandits before him. Knowing that it was too late to retreat, and too afraid to offer their surrender, they fought meekly, and were quickly cut down. After the smatterings of blood had cleared from his eyes, Kas noticed a similar bonfire of light to that surrounding himself about two streets down. Knowing that he should go there, light a moth drawn to a flame, he began to move, but was halted in his path by the arrival of Udelph, who holds the position on the Council of Entities of Doctor. Responsible for the wellbeing of the people of the city, Udelph is known to be willing to make any sacrifice to see that the city does not come to harm. Though short and plump, his stern demeanour and determination, along with his position on the Council, dissuade most people from arguing with him. Confronting Kas, he first ensured that Kas knew what he had become. Then, without any hint of regret, he issued two options; departure or exile. Whatever the choice, Kas would no longer be able to call Nexus his home. For the sake of his future, Kas chose to leave voluntarily. In sympathy for his plight, the Doctor gave him information and advice as to how best to leave the city, then turned and departed towards the nearby pillar of light.

Meanwhile, the enforcers of The Safe Return were extracting payment from Guida Teb, a member of the Society of Distinguished and Gentlemen Explorers (commonly called the Society of Gentlemen), and band of Scavenger Lords who operate out of Nexus. According to The Safe Return, Guida had failed to pay for protection on his most recent trip, and as such, something simply must happen to him. While it was originally intended that he would be left with a few broken bones, and possibly deprived of one or two small objects, fate had a crueller punishment in store for him. Instead of leaving him bleeding and crippled in the sidewalk, the Unconquered Sun chose that moment to Exalt Haven Tsuanti, the overseer of the thugs pounding Mr Teb. The resultant light-show provided both a distraction, and something of a startling experience, such that both the assigned thugs took leave of their overseer, and Mr Teb attempted to do likewise. Unfortunately, with several broken ribs, he didn't get far, before his lungs were punctured in several places, and he died within two hours. Not that Haven knew this, because before he really knew what to do, the Doctor arrived from his previous discussion with Kas, and issued a similar ultimatum. Again, Haven saw the wisdom of leaving voluntarily, especially with the belongings which Guida Teb had left behind, when he feebly crawled away from the newly incarnate godling. Chief amongst these possessions was a mysterious cloak, etched with streaks of gold, looted from a tomb in the Scavenger Lands.

With the blessing of the Council of Entities, Haven and Kas were accepted onto a merchant ship, bound for Lookshy. Advised to keep below deck by a captain fearful both of the potential for earning their wrath, or the wrath of the council, the voyage took several weeks, with a few stops in minor ports as the ship sailed down the River of Tears. In time, the lightshow which had surrounded them faded, with only their caste images still burning, though not enough to be seen through crude bandanas, fashioned in order to allow the two of them to function in polite society. Accepted as Proreus and Proreus' man on "Sweet Danaa'd", a merchant ship operated by the retired Lookshy captain, Deneb Malshar, they set sail for the West.

The months passed, and eventually, the Sweet Danaa'd was about two weeks out from Abalone, the capital of the Wavecrest Archipelago. Haven and Kas had performed their tasks well, with the crew either fearing or respecting them. However, their sleep was, on one particular day, interrupted in the early hours by a shout from the topsman, "Anathema sighted. Dead ahead."

Meanwhile, after several weeks of preparations, Cid, slave bound for the Realm, to be sold as a house servant to the Dynasty, renowned for his fine manners and approachable personality, was leading an uprising against the owners of Order's Bride, with logistical support from a strange outcast from the Dynasty, Nellens Tadaal, who seemed fixed on the idea of freeing slaves, the hierarchy of the ship was overthrown (and the old guard thrown into the water) just as dawn crept over the horizon. Standing at the prow, with command of his own ship, Cid heard the voice of the Unconquered Sun "Your righteous determination freed these people, through your perseverance. Now, go and do likewise for others, but with my blessing." Surrounded by an eruption of light, Cid was soon startled as a giant orca leapt out of the water, transforming in mid-flight to land on the deck of the ship with a thud, in a terrifying mix of woman and beast, brandishing a silvery spear. Recalling bodies in the water, the creature announced herself as Kiss of the Wave's Red Maw, and declared that she had been searching for a great warrior, like him. Confused at this creature, and certain that he was no warrior, Cid was flustered, but managed to convey his impression that this woman was mistaken about him.

Back on the Sweet Danaa'd, Haven and Kas had heard the announcement in this quarters, and prepared to jump ship. Using the leakage of the firedust cannons, Kas started a fire in their quarters, and then reported for duty on deck. Considering the situation, and after consulting with the kubernetes, Malshar announced that the ship would take a course around the anathema, seeking to avoid a confrontation. After sending several of the crew below deck, in order to cover their escape, Haven and Kas jumped ship, and, somehow, swam to the distant ship.

Upon seeing one another, Kas and Kiss felt a strange recollection of affection, and both pounced at one another, soon after meeting. After striking a pose of dignified captain, Cid cautioned both to avoid damaging his ship, of which he had grown quite protective. Informed that their presence was known, it was decided to chase after the Sweet Danaa'd, at which point, Kiss called upon her son, Ripfin, and another orca surfaced, with a man riding its back. This provided transport also for Kiss and Kas. Meanwhile, Cid issued orders to set the ship to intercept the fleeing merchant vessel. For 15 minutes, the whale and ship pursued their target, but it slowly became apparent that it was commanded by a captain wise and favoured in the ways of the water, and determined to escape the unnatural pursuers. Resigned to the fate that they would not catch it, Ripfin returned his riders to Cid's ship, and counsel was taken regarding their future actions. After consulting with all the crew members, Cid appointed Tadaal to be the new kubernetes, and the task fell on him to navigate a course to Coral. Unfortunately for Tadaal, this task was well-suited to his skills, and a detour via the Guild trading island, South-West Junction was required, if the ship was to avoid passing near Abalone. Meanwhile, Haven barely managed to avoid starting a direct confrontation with Kiss, their relative views on social interaction being the product of entirely different life experiences and philosophies, with it quickly becoming apparent that Haven is reluctant to back away from a confrontation, and is used to having his sometimes deadly skills respected. It was clear that, try as he might, Kas would have a hard time keeping the two from harming one another.

After a detour via the rough location of South-East Junction, the ship set sail on a northerly course, headed for Coral. It was forced ashore by a fierce storm near the island-nation of Evenstorm. There, they sent Haven to retrieve information from the townsfolk, and he became most suspicious at the assurance by the people that he would have a good night's sleep in this region. After posting guards in the hope of warding off whatever foul and malevolent forces might curse them with a good night's rest, the crew made camp near an inlet, where their ship had been beached. There, Cid announced his intention that, when the earliest opportunity presented itself, the ship was to be renamed the "Hildegard 4".

After a peaceful and restful night (which the guards failed to protect against), the crew woke, well after sunrise, rested and recovered. Alarmed by this, a delegation was sent into town, conferring with the local mayor, Waves of Evening Tide. There, they learnt of a strange pool in the centre of the island, along with the existence of a local Storm Mother, whose weather control was responsible for the beaching of their ship. Agreeing to seek out the Storm Mother, as much for their own benefit, as to assist Waves of Evening Tide's ambition to have a Evenstorm on a regular Guild shipping route, the group first explored the pool near the centre of the island, finding it to be a Wyld zone of mild discomfort. Strange and inconsistent rules appeared to be associated with the function of water in the area, ranging from the rise of steam, to the uncertain solidity and depth of the pool, depending on the mood and intent of those exploring it. After marking the area as her own, Kiss left, following the others who concluded that, while the area was weird, there was little they could accomplish there. Following this, they set course for the Storm Mother.

Once again battered by the rages of the hostile God, Cid announced his divine nature to the world, seeking the protection commonly afforded to his kind, when preparing to deal with the spirit world. Arriving at the Storm Mother's tower, a seemingly solid extension of the ocean, they eventually made their way to the Storm Mother's court, and beheld the hideousness which characterises such Gods. Though insulted by her ill manners, they managed to convince the creature to agree to offer safe passage for their ship and those of the Guild, in exchange for a relic which had been stolen from her by a former servant, an Antaran Sphere. Informed that the servant was a Siren, but with little more to go on, the group left, and Ripfin and Kiss noticed that singing of a kind which fits the legends of Sirens, could be heard underwater near the island of Evenstorm. Echo-locating and triangulating the source, Kiss found it to be coming from the centre of the island, roughly corresponding to the strange pool they had earlier found. Returning there, they eventually convinced the little God to appear, and after much negotiation, it agreed to part with the Antaran Sphere, in exchange for their promise that they would not let it fall into the hands of the Storm Mother. In return, they would benefit from its protection, and be immune to direct interference by the Storm Mother, as long as they kept it with them or on their ship. Determining this to be a worthwhile deal, it was struck and sanctified by Cid.

Leaving Evenstorm behind, without its Guild trade route, and with a greatly angered Storm Mother, the ship continued on its way to Coral, interrupted by a temporary side-trip by Kas and Kiss, guided by strange, yet familiar recollections of Kas, leading him to a palace, partially submerged, which felt as though he had ruled over some part of the West in an earlier time. Gathering up what possessions of his he could find there, including an orb from which he drew the daiklave Heartsblade and the Hearthstone of the palace, the pair returned to the ship, as it stuck on course for Coral.