• Crusader Kings III Available Now!

    The realm rejoices as Paradox Interactive announces the launch of Crusader Kings III, the latest entry in the publisher’s grand strategy role-playing game franchise. Advisors may now jockey for positions of influence and adversaries should save their schemes for another day, because on this day Crusader Kings III can be purchased on Steam, the Paradox Store, and other major online retailers.


    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

stnylan

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Chapter 53 New

dark_melancholy

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Chapter 53: Abdication of Responsibility

With the grand sacrifice to the Old Ones over, Amazonia's warriors begin to return to their homes. For those that remain in Ganaina there is a sense that something is brewing. At first it is assumed that another military expedition is being prepared, but the rumours that gradually spread among the well-connected seem to disprove this.

While the queen sits upon Rigg's throne once more, most assume that she seeks to guarantee its continued custodianship. After all, the gossiping aristocrats reason, the grand assembly never settled the matter of the queen's regent or successor...

Thus it is that halfway through 2044 the nobility of Amazonia prepares to meet so they may continue their deliberations. Then it turns out the annual Serena Ritual happens to fall on the week leading up to the assembly, but there's no accounting for the whims of the Old Ones... The auguries are clear about when the celebration is to take place – and the queen intends to make it a grand one.



The war against Tlanxla has been vindicated by the blessings bestowed in its aftermath and deserves celebration. As does the return of Matriarch Calypso, having recovered from the wound suffered during the aforementioned campaign. And the matriarch is certainly not one to shy away from an excuse to party.

Food and drink of the most exotic varieties flow freely, for the queen spares no expense. Even the mutinous matriarch of Mamazo, Melandra Pantheros, is offered a seat at Lyssa's side. Whether because of the great honour of such a gesture, the copious amounts of wine or Chancellor Azu's earlier amicably couched threats, Melandra is uncharacteristically well-behaved.

Putting her companions to shame, the queen seems intent to outdo them all in excess. The gusto with which she indulges in the delights of her realm makes it clear to all that Lyssa is back to her old self. As the party grows ever wilder, no one pays much attention to Chancellor Azu and her cronies hovering around the monarch. Here they stand ready to interfere at the first sign of frailty – or whenever she seems to lose the thread of a conversation. A new dish brought to the table here, a message of supposed importance there...

As usual for such a grand celebration, the most avid – and, in Amazon eyes, the most virile – continue the revelry until the first rays of the sun shine over the great temple. Thanks to the wholehearted abandon with which they have indulged in both exotic and familiar libations, no one seem to care that Matriarch Calypso has at some point taken the queen's place as the centre of attention. One moment they are drunkenly complimenting the queen's wise rule, the next they gush over Calypso's fresh scars. What matters is the sense of camaraderie.


"Love you too, bro"

The queen's absence is not the only thing put far from everyone's minds by the sheer extravagance of the celebrations. With the fertility ritual itself concluded and the subsequent overindulgence taken to its most pious heights, the morning after comes with a rude awakening.

Although scheduled, the call to assembly catches many a devoted noblewoman off guard. One moment she is passed out in a palace hallway, the next she sits in council, wondering what just happened. She need not wonder for long. As soon as enough poor souls have been rustled up to provide an impression of quorum the agenda picks up where the last assembly left off: By addressing Princess Inanna's call to abolish the assembly entirely.

The implication is that the assembly has not been worthy of the responsibility given to them. This is not something the befuddled nobles are eager to admit, but most of them are too hung over to provide a good counter-argument.

Even beyond the shock and surprise, support also comes from surprising places. In the previous session she was the most avid of the insurrectionists, but today an uncharacteristically subdued Matriarch Melandra seconds the motion.

One by one, former conspirators come out in favour of deferring to the queen the authority they previously argued the aristocracy should possess. On the face of it a complete reversal of their previous position, but quite understandable when framed as a clarification of royal power. The nobles relinquish formal influence in matters of state, but in their own domains they retain unquestioned authority.


When the choice is either higher centralization or higher tribal organization, the matriarchs prefer the one that means the queen stays out of their business.


With the celebrations, fertility ritual and politicking over for this time, visitors from the outlying domains return to enjoy that authority. After all, once back to their tribes, who cares what goes on in far-away Ganaina.

In the end, perhaps buoyed by good feelings engendered by the fun and games, everyone goes home feeling rather good about events. Well, almost everyone...



Nalixo

02.06.2044
Light streams into the darkened hut as Ixchel pulls aside the curtain covering the doorway. The only response is a pained groan – not pitiful, but very, very angry. Ixchel is unfazed by the growls from the bed, instead calmly placing a bowl on the nightstand. A towel is slung over her arm.

Seating herself on the bed elicits a particularly fierce snarl. “It's just me,” Ixchel states firmly.

“I know...” Inanna's tone is almost apologetic. “It just... urrgh!” The princess writhes onto her back with a frustrated roar.

Ixchel unwraps the towel and dips it into the bowl of warm water. She turns towards her lover to offer a sympathetic, if somewhat patronizing, look: “What did you expect, taking Serena's elixir but, ah, failing to complete the ritual.”

“That's easy for you to say... you've never been pregnant. Haven't had to... with... ugh, never mind. It's all awful!” After several failed attempts, Inanna's earlier pregnancy had been a hard and ultimately futile one. Above all, it had kept her away from the one thing she is good at: Fighting.

Briefly lost in thought as she watches Ixchel put the warm cloth on her abdomen, the princess eventually just sighs angrily: “But you wouldn't know, would you...”

“I don't. But then I'm not heir to the Queen of Amazonia.”

“Don't remind me...” Inanna growls before biting into a blanket against the pain. She may have evaded the fate her mother had planned for her – and now suffers the consequences of that deception – but there's always next year. And the year after that. And if she's unlucky, perhaps even a few years after that.

When she left the ritual bedchamber without fulfilling her duty she had not thought that far ahead – and she doesn't want to start doing so now.

“Ugh... Phaedra, why'd you have to lose your fucking mind...” Inanna laments, then sighs. “Even Maya is better at... all this queenly stuff than me.” Through clenched teeth, she channels her anger at her sisters, as if her own shortcomings are their fault.

Ixchel lies down next to the despondent princess and gently massages the warm cloth against her skin. “Hey, everyone has their strengths, okay? Maya might be easygoing and clever with words, but can you imagine her wielding a macuahuitl? Or lead women into battle?”

Inanna can't help but snort derisively at the thought, her chuckle devolving into a groan as she quickly regrets clenching her abdominal muscles.

“You're lucky the queen is recovering. That gives you time to study what your mother is doing, while finding your own way to be queen – when the time comes. You don't have to become your mother.” Ixchel gives her lover a mischievous look as she runs her hand across Inanna's washboard stomach. “In fact I'd prefer if you didn't,” she chuckles. “For one, I'd rather not be crushed to death in bed.”

About to give Ixchel a kiss of appreciation, Inanna quickly pulls back with a look of disgust on her face: “Nooo...! You made me imagine my mom... ugh... doing it!”

Giggling at her lover's discomfort, Ixchel hugs herself close. At least it takes Inanna's mind off her cramps for a moment.
 

stnylan

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I think Ixchel is taking entirely too much pleasure at this situation :D
 

dark_melancholy

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I think Ixchel is taking entirely too much pleasure at this situation :D
Taking full advantage of being one of the few people who can poke fun at Inanna without getting her face punched in.

Even in her somewhat impaired state, Lyssa remains just sharp enough to realize that she can still get her way when everyone else is brought down to her level ;)
She uses her powers of debauchery to full effect!

Wooooo!

Great to see this! Nice, soft fluffy update really if not very substantial.
I couldn't bring myself to writing another big council scene, so we get some fluff from the aftermath.


As always, thanks a ton for reading! I'll try to keep the updates coming as best I can :)
 
Chapter 54 New

dark_melancholy

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Chapter 54: Familiar Footsteps

The year 2044 has been one of uncertainty for the Amazons, not knowing whether their queen would live or die – nor who would succeed her should the worst happen. Her eventual recovery would not be a solitary blessing, however. Rather it heralded a series of events on the path to normalcy.

Queen Lyssa rose from the dead to bring the blessing of the Old Ones upon her people once more. Her position thus strengthened – and the conspiracy arrayed against her fractured – the queen wisely ensured the unity of the realm by abolishing the bickering assembly.

Content that things have returned to normal, the brave Amazons grow restless. Although recovered from the Tlanxla campaign, the new year does not bring them renewed warfare. While the queen busies herself with affairs of state, the chiefs sail forth with their tribes to raid. Some are more motivated than others.


Hellothern


12.09.2044
Arm wrapped around the mast for support, Inanna stands on her toes and cranes her neck. As if getting just a little higher up will allow her to peer through the fog ahead.

Content to stand on the deck of the large war canoe rather than precariously perch herself on the thwarts, Ixchel keeps her attention on their flanks. To their right a pale blue light shines from on high, not enough to fully pierce the fog but sufficient to guide their way.

“We've passed the outer archipelago. If we are to turn around we have to do so now,” she warns the princess, but it is clear from her tone that she knows it is a perfunctory gesture at best.

“We won't turn back,” is Inanna curt retort.

Perhaps it's more accurate to say she will not turn back, but the princess is not built for that kind of introspection. Going home empty-handed would be shameful enough, but more importantly returning at all would mean facing her mother. No longer is it possible for her to hide the fact that yet again she has failed to conceive an heir, so the further away the better.

“If the fog lifts we'll be spotted immediately.”

“Wendala is with us,” Inanna assures her companion. “Besides, if Phaedra can do this so can I!”

As if on cue, large shapes appear in the fog to loom over them. In front of them, around them. A flickering light in the gloom, then another, then dozens more. Hundreds of lanterns lighting up almost as many elven ships lest they collide as they crowd into the narrow strait.

And then, rising up before them to blot out the night sky: The mighty Emerald Gate that blocks entry to Ulthuan's Inner Sea. The pair of gargantuan locks that denies entry to unwelcome guests are invisible to the Amazons thanks to the fog, but they know they are there. And they are closed for the night.

“Abandon ship,” Inanna says firmly.

Ixchel nods without hesitation. Soon urgent whispers spread throughout the ship. One by one the Amazon warriors slip silently into the water. The princess is the last to do so, climbing down to come up beside Ixchel.

In the darkness they can't see each other, but Inanna can feel her lover's presence and that's enough. “I'll see ya there,” she whispers, then curses herself for not thinking of anything more elegant.

What would mom say... the princess muses to herself, but there is no time for second chances. She feels Ixchel's lips on her cheek before she slips away. All they can do now is swim.



Even carrying her weapons and equipment, Inanna glides through the water with ease. However, even the strongest Amazon can see in the dark. Moving slowly and methodically she can try to use the faraway lantern lights to orientate herself – but patience has never been one of Inanna's virtues.

Realizing she has lost track of the lights in the swirling fog, Inanna quickly decides she never needed such a crutch to guide her anyway. Hardly missing a beat she keeps her eyes fixed forward, willing herself to swim in a straight line.

Stroke after stroke and still no land in sight. Doubt starts to creep in. She doesn't fear for her life, but what if she fails... She would return to Amazonia twice-shamed. Even her mother might be lost for words in berating her for her failures.

Unable to process her worries, Inanna starts slowing down. Then in the distance: a flickering light. At first glance a torch fluttering in the wind, but on closer inspection it twinkles in a curious pattern.

The sight immediately reinvigorates the princess, her woes quickly forgotten. Guided by the light she soon reaches the shore, where she is met with a helping hand. The faint glow of a dying High Age mana battery in her other hand reveals Ixchel's face. Its purpose served, she quickly stuffs it into her uniform.

Neither of them say anything. Instead Ixchel leads Inanna away from the water, feeling her way around the rocky outcroppings as she goes. Hidden in the broken terrain the rest of her troop is waiting. Only the occasional whisper betrays their presence, but it's enough to recognize that most if not all of them made it.

“Get ready to move out.” Even in a hushed tone Inanna manages to be commanding.

It is none too soon. Already by the time they are formed up to head out the night has become noticeably brighter. Dawn is approaching.



Inanna leads the way up the craggy hillside. There is just enough light to navigate the treacherous path, but the broken terrain also provides plenty of cover. Enough to keep them hidden from preternaturally keen elven eyes. Just as Inanna expected.

She might have been more tolerant of Phaedra's boasting had she known the tales of her exploits would later help her like this. Now Inanna is literally following in her sister's footsteps. The first Amazon to brave the Straits of Lothern.

That was almost two decades ago. The warband can hope it is enough time for the elves to have grown complacent, but even so there is likely to be more security on this route than it was back then. Elves might be fickle creatures, but they are not stupid.

A slight change in tactics is necessary. Which is why the Amazons now huddle together under a rock shelter overlooking the bay. The sun has risen enough to reveal the outline of myriad sails, a forest of masts of stately elven ships at anchor. They come in all sizes, but there is one small craft whose silhouette is noticeably out of place.

Inanna assumes the elven mariners have begun to notice this by now and she can imagine their confusion. Perhaps a few of the Lothern Seaguard will be sent to investigate. Barely a diversion. For now.

“Let's see if that dirty foreign magic is any good...” Inanna almost spits, but she can't keep hopefulness out of her voice. Amazon magic is obviously better, but the Sisterhood jealously hoards anything from the High Age. Foreigners on the other hand are easy to fool, or so Maya says...

Suddenly the derelict war canoe disintegrates in a thunderous explosion as the fuse finally touches the barrels of gunpowder onboard. The flash of light completely banishes the murky gloom of the early morning hours – if but for a moment. Still, it is long enough to temporarily blind anyone who sees it. The elves most of all, with their keen vision. Or so Inanna likes to think, not without a measure of glee.

“Oh I could kiss you, Maya...” the princess grins as the harbour descends into confusion. Several ships have caught fire and as the first alarms start to sound, the Seaguard scramble to close the gates that had just begun to open for the day. Procuring all that alchemical powder has left Inanna deeply indebted to her sister, but the results make it all worth it.


Prepared for this moment the Amazon warband wastes no time heading out. Under the din of chaos and the sound of warhorns they crest the top of the hill and come up along the walls of the great fortress itself. The Emerald Gates were built to withstand attacks from the sea, leaving its flanks vulnerable to a small force – as proven by princess Phaedra's raid. Against the rocky hills to the east, where no army could advance, there are no bastions or war machines. The elves are not the kind of people to change the design of their millennia old fortress just because of a minor incursion by some uppity apes.

Finding the place where the wall is lowest, the Amazons throw their grappling hooks and quickly climb up it. Inanna leads the charge as always, vaulting over the feeble parapet to catch the few guards stationed there by complete surprise. By the time the next shieldmaiden scales the wall, two elves have already fallen to the princess's mighty macuahuitl.

Inanna's sisters make quick work of the others before the hapless militia can give as much as a cry of alarm. Clearly it is not Ulthuan's finest that get saddled with the ignominy of watching this unimportant post.

“Where to?” one of the shieldmaidens asks her commander.



Inanna pauses to look around. Ahead of them the magnificent white towers of the Emerald Gate rise to the heavens, surrounded by a bewildering maze of redoubts and bastions. Even with the element of surprise the fortress cannot be taken, even by a force one hundred times their number. Fortunately they don't need to.

Here in the shadow of the massive fortress the ancient spires do nothing more than help them orientate themselves. In that direction lies the sea and, by now, thousands of guards. That leaves the opposite direction as the most obvious choice.

Barely even thinking that far ahead, preferring to act on instinct, Inanna gestures for her warriors to follow. Resting her macuahuitl on her shoulder she starts jogging along the wall. In a matter of moments the battlements blend into the city wall surrounding the city itself. The town guard are even less of a threat, busy gawking at the smoke rising up from beyond the Emerald Gates when the Amazons storm their little keep.

Before they know it the warriors are pouring into the maze-like merchant's quarter. The curious blend of elven and non-elven architecture squashed into each other is quite lost on the Amazons, but they know to appreciate the cover the narrow, winding streets and lurching buildings affords.

“It's almost like being back in the jungle,” a fresh-faced shieldmaiden exclaims.

There is no time to admire the sights, however. The warband quickly splits up into designated teams, with no mission other than to smash and grab as much as they can. The hard part is over. Now it's all about getting enough loot to make it all worth it.


Surprise!

Let loose in the city's winding streets, there's not much an army of Lothern Seaguard can do to stop the Amazon raiders. By the time the elves realize what is going on they have already looted enough shops and storehouses to have more than they can carry. The occasional city guard patrol does little to dissuade them.

Laden with plunder the warband hit the same keep on the way back. Opening the gates from inside they slip out of the city and into the hills. Now there is nothing left to do but travel overland to where the rest of the fleet lies in wait... and sail like hell.
 

stnylan

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Sounds like a most successful venture.

Some top-notch accompanying art too.