Voyage of the Hildegard

Chapter Five

Below deck, the battle continued between Haven and the two guards. As blows were traded, shields battered and hits taken, the injuries mounted for both sides, until the two guards lied dead at his feet. His work down, and feeling somewhat exhausted, Haven resolved to return to his comrades, and hobbled up the stairs to the deck.

Meanwhile, arrows continued to zip towards Kas, all effortlessly deflected, as a golden glimmer appeared in the air a fraction of a second before his sword was dragged along this perfect path to intercept the hostile thought. All this time, the arms master dashed towards him, until, a short distance out, he slowed, his feet stable, even on the spray-washed deck. Either side of the nose-guard, his eyes betrayed his regret at needing to fight the anathema. Then, as his sword was swung from low and wide on his right hand side, cutting up through the air in a style alien to Kas' experiences, he stated "I wish I did not have to fight you, but it is my duty to defend this ship." Even when faced with an unfamiliar style, the gift of essence continued to find a path of interception, swatting the stroke aside with ease. Then, as the sword moved of his own accord back up to be held ready, in a purely defensive stance, Kas saluted his opponent, and, ending the stance which had protected him so well, dispatched the adversary with three quick strokes.

Dismayed by their master's quick death, and the futility of their efforts to that point to deal with the swordsman who burned with the radiance of the sun, the three remaining archers panicked, and sought to escape. One, standing next to the main mast of the ship, dropped his bow and began climbing, hoping against hope that they would be unable to follow him. Though while he scrambled in terror, Tadaal and Haven casually walked towards the mast, and, while Tadaal was willing to climb up and reason with him, a few quick flicks from Haven's wrists saw the body crashing down into the wood below, three knives protruding from his back. The other two, standing near the side of the boat, dropped their weapons and leapt overboard, hoping that fate would somehow keep them safe. Alas, it was at that moment that Kiss and Ripfin resurfaced, and they learnt that they had dived to their death.

With the battle over, it was a simple matter to secure the ship, with the remainder of the guards crowded outside the Arms Master's office, trying desperately to break down the door, in order to retrieve their weapons. Soon, the slaves were all released from their beds, and assembled on the deck. There, they were addressed by Cid, gallantly declaring their freedom, and inviting those that would stay to join him in his quest to free slaves across the West. Groups broke off, and friendships born in darkness and the bowels of the ship survived the transition into the light, and companions wondered where their new-found freedom would take them.

Meanwhile, more serious discussions were underway among the Exalted, wondering what they would do about the ravaged. Without hopes or dreams, it is difficult to conclude whether they are truly people at all, any more. Further, without ambition, freedom means little, as they would be incapable of grasping the seriousness of the change in their situation, and continue to be only capable of following the dreams of others. In light of these concerns, two options emerged which divided the group; slavery, or murder. The hypocrisy of freeing slaves, while keeping the soulless ravaged as slaves of their own, clashed with the immorality of freeing people, only to kill those that were incapable of appreciating that freedom. Divided by this conflict of ideology, no decision was reached, and the fate of the ravaged was left to be decided at another time, in the hope that some sort of cure could be found.

In the day that the former slaves were given to discuss their fate, the ships were sailed off major trading lanes, and left in the water in the hope that they would be unnoticed. During this, Cid walked among the people, looking to persuade more of them to join his cause. Also, Kiss found that several of those freed were barbarians, and arranged for them to swear allegiance to her cause. Finally, the purser was found and, lacking any useful information, killed, as the last of the old guard to fall.

When the time expired, of the one hundred slaves which had been freed, forty chose to join the crew of the Hildegard IV in their mission, while the others made use fo the offer to be free to set about enjoying their own life. These people were deposited throughout the northwest at various ports, over the course of several weeks. Before going, Cid and Haven spoke to each of them, and they promised not to reveal the circumstances of their rescue. Satisfied that they were somewhat safe, the Exalted set sail once more, and gathered on the bridge of the Chains of Jade V to discuss their next goal.

Eager to rebuild the glory that was lost, Tadaal advised that records or living memories of the First Age should be hunted down and that knowledge used to guide the development of the empire they would create. Kiss, however, disputed this, citing her training at the feet of the No Moons that the First Age fell because it was weak, and relied on civilisation. Any new Realm which might be created could not hope to succeed if it modelled itself on the ashes of the old, and for that reason, the current Dragon Blooded world would fall. Haven, always eager to offer a novel perspective, raised the possibility of mortals ruling themselves, as he had seen no reason to believe that rule by the Exalts guaranteed a better life for the common man. However, this was also dismissed, for the Exalted are the champions of the Gods, and their gifts leave them best suited to ruling, for, in every important way, they are superior to a mortal. The next possibility which was raised, this time by Kas, concerned the hunt for relics of the First Age, in order to better arm themselves for the coming conflict. The possibility of seeking the advice of a No Moon was discussed, but Kiss was unwilling to involve his pact-mate with such a trivial concern, preferring instead to focus on acquiring territory. This prospect of territory was extensively discussed, and the isle of Evenstorm was recalled as being an ideal place for their new home. However, the danger posed by the Stormmother, since the Altaren Sphere could only protect one ship, weighed heavily on people's minds. Her death would have to be a priority. And the only ally they knew of who might know how to defeat her was the No Moon sorcerer that initiated and scarred Kiss, Caen.