dark_melancholy

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Well quite a discovery - a woman with knowledge that she desires.

One can feel Lyssa's frustration.
I wonder if the Warhammer world has some sort of universal translator spell. At any rate, I'm sure pointing and gesturing wildly will suffice for communication.

Time for more wealth.....
Too bad Amazonia doesn't have many shopping malls or anything to spend that wealth at. Hmm... maybe that's Lyssa's next big construction project for when (if) she returns
 
Chapter 21

dark_melancholy

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Chapter 21: Foreign Bounty

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The two groups of islands making up Kuldevind

Isolated in the northern parts of the Great Ocean lie the Kuldevind Islands, just far enough from the Chaos Wastes to remain mostly safe. Virtually unknown to most other Old Worlders, it is the gateway between East and West for the Norscans. Thus commanding the trade across the seas north of Ulthuan, its main trading port of Funninguur has grown quite wealthy. At any one time it holds fortunes going to both the New and Old Worlds. The waters surrounding the islands are plagued by icy winds and dangerous storms, keeping pirates from discovering the shipping lanes and preying upon these fortunes. Only the occasional Dark Elf raid poses much threat. But today the sails on the horizon are neither elven nor Norscan.

Bypassing the westernmost of the Kuldevind Islands, the volcanic rock called Ildelver, the Amazon fleet catches the main islands by surprise. Advised by the Norscan turncoat she acquired, Queen Lyssa knows exactly what the juiciest target is. Going straight for the capital of Funninguur, the Lustrian invaders fall upon the Norscans like a hidden jaguar.

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The renowned warrior people are no match for an invading force outnumbering the entire population of the windswept islands. Much to their disappointment, the Amazons end up spending more time chasing down fleeing boats and scouring the outlying islets than fighting.

Previous delays off the Naggarythian coast and more time spent plundering Kuldevind seriously depletes the Amazonian supplies, but fortunately the local stores provide plenty edible – if foreign – food. Fermented fish does not find favour with the Amazonian queen, but the cheese and potent honey wine certainly helps convince Lyssa to stay a bit longer. It is best to be thorough when looting.

With little room for passengers aboard their ships, the Amazons do not take many slaves but Quihuatzin makes sure to gather a few that may prove useful later. Poetically, Lyssa tasks the recently liberated Norscan thrall with keeping them in line.

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While the more adventurous of the Amazons do not appreciate such a long reprieve from life aboard cramped ships, Lyssa's meticulousness (and/or greed) proves wise. The harsh weather shows no sign of improving, even as the season moves into spring. Once the Amazonian fleet sets sail again they are soon driven back, then driven off course. The journey to the Old World ends up taking months, with no land in sight. In the end, the queen having commanded every drop of mead to be brought on board proves fortuitous, keeping everyone from dying from thirst – if not sober.

Whether it is due to the abundance of booze or the unpredictable winds of the Sea of Chaos, by the time the Amazons finally spot land they find themselves off the coast of Bretonnia and the year is almost through. Her warriors weakened by lack of supplies and many months at sea, Lyssa declines to make landfall. She recalls the earlier warnings about the numerous warriors and little loot in this country. Instead, once the navigators get their bearings, the queen orders the fleet to sail south.

The weary Amazons breathe a sigh of relief once their destination is in sight: The northern coast of Estalia. Here too are ripe targets for a large army tired of life at sea: Nestled between the counties of the powerful Estalian kingdom of Tigarre is Edeta. The mercantile alliance in charge of this small province with its important port city, the Communards, has been preyed upon by the petty kingdoms of the region for years now. Edeta remains independent, but isolated – and the last thing its inhabitants expect is a sudden invasion from the steamy jungles of Lustria!

0WMqjTd.jpg

10.01.2028
The warm weather of early spring in sun-kissed Estalia is a welcome comfort after months adrift in the icy northern seas. Even if she spent most of that arduous journey bundled up in pelts while guzzling mead, Lyssa still relishes in having made landfall at last. Being in an opulent manor outside the provincial capital Tollada also helps her mood – not to mention the well-stocked pantry and wine cellar the owners wisely chose to leave behind when they fled.

Outside, the din of raiders feeling their strength returning can be heard, celebrating the bounty – and finally having land under their feet. Exhibiting somewhat calmer revelry in the meantime, Lyssa lounges on a divan in a secluded courtyard. There she employs a finely crafted dagger with an ivory hilt to slice off a piece of spicy sausage and pop it into her mouth.

With her are her daughter Inanna, looking rather more awkward in the excessively civilized setting, and Quihuatzin the halfling. Their pirate translator sits tucked away in a corner, brought along as an advisor of sorts. After all, this is her homeland or near as makes no difference to the Amazons.

"How long are we staying here?" Inanna asks the air, hefts her massive macuahuitl and swings it idly with one hand.

"Do you have somewhere you need to be?" Licking sausage fat from her fingers, Lyssa pauses to think before picking up one of the many goblets arrayed on the table next to her. The mansion is well-stocked with fancy cups and utensils. It's not like they are staying to do the washing up, so Lyssa figured why not just use everything they can't carry with them – and fill each cup with a different vintage.

"These weak trader folk don't have much fight in 'em," Inanna scoffs, as much disappointed as disdainful. "We should move on."

Lyssa seems to consider her daughter's words while taking a long sip from her cup. Emptying it, she tosses it aside, letting it clatter on the floor, and counters: "But Quihuatzin tells me there are still ten kinds of Easterner wine in the cellar I've yet to tried. Isn't that right?"

"Eleven," Quihuatzin corrects her, much to the queen's delight. Smirking at the reaction, the halfling asks: "While do that, should I check other pantry for more of the snacks for Her Bigness?"

Waving an admonishing sausage, Lyssa chides her daughter: "See, why can't you be more supportive, like Quihuatzin here." She turns her attention back to the halfing: "Yes we'd love some."

"I've had my fill of easterner swill," Inanna grumbles and jumps off the stone altar she has been using as a seat. Incense sticks and votive candles lie scattered at her feet. Picking up her shield and throwing her macuahuitl over her shoulder, she steps towards the door: "I'm gonna take a few spears with me and find something to fight. You can have my share."

"Don't mind if I do," Lyssa grins. Just before her daughter leaves the courtyard, she calls after her through a mouthful of creamy cheese: "Be safe out there. And let me know if you see a relief force coming!"​


As it happens, Inanna does not see any reinforcements, nor does anyone else. Scattered throughout Estalia, the estates of the Communards is under siege not just from the Amazons now ravaging Edeta. Already weakened by incursions from other neighbouring kingdoms, now their stronghold in southern Estalia is under attack. There are precious few mercenaries to spare in order to fend off fairytale invaders in a far-off province. As such, the Amazons are free to plunder to their hearts' content until they have combed through the cities – and their queen has sampled the wine cellars of every rural manor.

* * *

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The opportunities in Edeta exhausted, the Amazons weigh anchor once more. This time, it is not for some great voyage across oceans. Instead they move methodically down the west coast of Estalia, hitting towns and poorly defended cities that make for easy plunder.

In Trastamara they scour the many Myrmidian marble temples of San Luis. In Diamanterra, the Amazons empty the stores of the only port city in Obregon. Weakened by a child king and a divisive, fanatical regency, the kingdom fails to repel the invaders. The Amazons even sack Portague, capital of the Kingdom of Portua and the wealthiest province in Western Estalia. All along the coast, their queen gets to taste new local delicacies. And with Quihuatzin's help, Lyssa makes sure to grab a few cooks whenever a regional cuisine particularly catches her fancy.

As they start to run out of coastline to plunder and larders to empty, the Amazons come upon a target that is slightly different. Marking Estalia's south-westernmost point is the long peninsula of Finterra. Apart from being the home of their pirate interpreter, by now the Amazons know that it is the starting point of many of the Estalian voyages of discovery bound for Lustria. Certainly the Amazons would use harsher words than "discovery"; it is time for some payback...

AHYcGZX.jpg

In the Garden of Day for Night

17.06.2028
The sounds of revelry can be heard in the distance, but in this secluded garden the night is peaceful. The pirate interpreter leans impatiently against a vine-covered wall. A quick bark from Inanna breaks the silence and a dishevelled man is dragged into what was once a small corner of contemplation.

The Amazonian princess stares disdainfully at the prisoner. Judging by his finely trimmed beard he was once a man of some means, but there is little else to suggest this after a week in captivity.

"Thirty years ago you took our sisters from us. Where are they?" Inanna demands angrily, her larger frame looming over the confused Estalian. She isn't aware that the Great Raid she refers to was done by people from neighbouring Tilea, but then she wasn't even born at the time.

With mild disinterest, the pirate woman translates Inanna's words and then elaborates as it becomes clear that the man unsurprisingly has no idea what she's talking about. Even then, the answer is not exactly enlightening.

"He say he not know anything," the pirate explains over the prisoner's pleas.

"Hmph," Inanna grunts. There's a slight change in her stance, the sound of rushing air and then... splat! In the blink of an eye, Inanna's massive macuahuitl has crushed as much as lopped off the Estalian's head.

The interpreter just stares at the corpse, flattened to the ground by the blow. Eventually she manages to blurt out: "Shouldn't ye be threatening him first??"

"Eh?"

"Ye need to say 'if ye no talk, ye be gettin' killed' and then they might be talkin' so ye won't be killin' them!"

"Ain't got time for that," the Amazonian princess scoffs and motions for her warriors: "Next!"

Making sure she is out of view, the pirate rolls her eyes. She crosses her arms and flops back against the wall in exasperation.

Hauled into the blood-splattered courtyard, the next victim takes one look at his unfortunate countryman, one glance at the weapon in Inanna's hands and immediately throws himself at the large Amazon's feet.

Only a pointed look from Inanna prompts the interpreter to try and translate his desperate babbling:

"He say he will tell anything, just no be killin' him."

Inanna smirks smugly at the pirate, giving the macuahuitl in her hand a quick toss: "See?"​


The Duchy of Finterra, covering most of the peninsula, split in two after a civil war in 2025. Now, three years later, it is still weakened and hardly puts up a fight when the Amazon fleet arrives in the northern Miramar area. This time they do not simply go for the quickest payday. Rather, Queen Lyssa lets her daughter wage proper war as she pleases, seizing strongholds and besieging the ducal castle.

WmC4Au9.jpg

Rumours of a strange foreign army hitting the coast have by this time reached Finterra. Speculation is rife that this heralds a new invasion from Araby or that the vile forces of Chaos have finally descended upon their blessed land. It certainly helps bring fuel to the fire of the zealots already on the rise in Western Estalia at this time, but little to help arrange a coordinated defence in an already fractured duchy. It takes two months of siege warfare, but the duke is eventually driven out and his castle pillaged and burned.

Following this victory, Lyssa orders a Feast to Serena as it coincides with the approximate time for such a ritual. Although improvised and unable to carry the full religious significance of the real thing, the festival provides a welcome reminder of home. After all, everyone in the expedition spent last spring buffeted about the Sea of Chaos – with precious few chances to carry out the seasonal rites.

Still, even this gesture can do little to assuage the Amazons' desire to go home. Having lived their entire lives in the jungles of Lustria, spending almost two years on the high seas, in freezing snow and among alien cultures has not been easy for them. Even Lyssa is starting to feel the same homesickness, no matter how much stuffed veal steak and sherry she consumes. Moreover, the fleet's holds are starting to fill up. If they are to bring much more loot now, they will need to start throwing wine barrels, cheese wheels and enslaved cooks overboard – and the queen will not stand for such wastage!

* * *​

Before leaving Estalia, the fleet rounds the Finterra peninsula for one last raid. On the other side of the Miramar hills lies San Pedro – the last Communard city that remains unsullied by both Amazons and greedy Estalian kings. Through her daughter's "intelligence gathering", Lyssa has learned that her forces outnumber the defenders almost ten to one. It is too good an opportunity to pass up.

Htodm8Z.jpg

Complacent from their neighbours being paralysed by internecine struggles, the rulers of San Pedro are completely unprepared and the weary Amazon army win their easiest battlefield victory yet. Promised that this will be the last battle before they can return home, the women fight with renewed vigour. The Estalian mercenaries are convinced they face demonic furies, not fellow mortals. But then again, to hear them tell it themselves the Amazons are descended from the divine Rigg...

Located on the south coast of Estalia, San Pedro is involved in the Arabyan trade. Especially with the ongoing siege of Magritta – the greatest trading city in Estalia if not the Old World – even more foreign goods have flowed through San Pedro. Fascinating spices and items none of them have seen await the Amazons here. Not only are they able to cram the last supplies and valuables onto their ships – there is one more discovery awaiting the Amazons here.



29.08.2028
Rushing between the throng of temporary slaves carrying the last supplies and finery to the ships, Inanna impatiently pushes them aside with little regard for the cargo they are ferrying. Like an excited child, she spots her mother on the deck of her flagship and runs up to her.

After months of fruitless hunting – and many splattered heads – Inanna has finally come upon a lead in her search for the many women lost in the Great Raid. An old merchant told her – through the interpreter now half-heartedly jogging after her – that a number of exotic beauties were brought through his former home city decades ago. The event had stuck in his mind because of the sheer number of guards and slave merchants these women ended up killing or mutilating while they were there. Inanna was already prepared to run off to whatever seedy port her helpful captive once called home when he told her he suspected they had been bought and brought to the mighty Imperial city of Mordheim.

The Amazonian Queen is observing the preparations for departure when her daughter comes barrelling towards her. Lounging on a looted divan, she is dressed in a voluminous satin robe of vibrant reds and golden thread, snacking on an assortment of meat and seafood skewers.

"Mom!" Inanna calls out informally, coming to a halt before her bemused mother.

Her daughter seemingly too agitated to speak, Lyssa initiates the conversation: "Is something wrong?"

"Mom, we can't go home yet," Inanna states plainly. "We gotta go to Mordheim!" Seeing her mother not following, she eventually adds helpfully: "Some male says... the Amazons that were stolen... they're there!"

"And what – where is that?" Lyssa calmly gobbles up a seared piece of mutton, but her attention is fully on her daughter now.

"Uhm... in that 'Empire' place somewhere I think..."

"Inanna... my dear... going there might take months or even years. What if they aren't there?" Lyssa takes a swig of wine. "What if this male is lying?"

"Then... then I'll slaughter him like the worm he is and–" Inanna pauses, trying to remember if she already killed him or not. It can get to be a bit of a blur sometimes...

"Mordheim be far away from sea," the pirate interpreter warns them as she approaches the two, having just caught up with Inanna. "More important... if your people be comin' here when that man say, everyone knows... soon after... well, you see, Mordheim be smashed by fire-rock from the sky. Ain't be anythin' left but ruins way I hear it."

"N-no way!" Inanna blurts out, caught gaping as her brain tries to process the shock into anger like usual.

Lyssa looks thoughtful for a moment, then calmly puts down her snack. She takes Inanna's limp hand and sits up while pulling her daughter towards herself and into a hug.

"You did well," the queen says emphatically. "Rest assured, that disgusting city was certainly destroyed by the gods for its crimes. Perhaps our sisters never went there at all. Rigg willing, one day we will find out and we can enact her vengeance on anyone who escaped it. But right now we need to return home. There are thousands of sisters waiting for our guidance and protection."

Lyssa releases her daughter from her grip, just enough so they may look each other in the eyes. Inanna's lip quivers with helpless rage. Lyssa offers her a small smile, stroking her cheek: "A young shieldmaiden can run off in pursuit of honour and glory, but we... we have a responsibility to lead our people."

Mollified by her mother's touch, Inanna helps Lyssa off the couch so they stand together, there on the chimeric Amazonian flagship.

"Before me, our people was broken and scattered," Lyssa reminds her proudly. "I can't let them down."

The queen pats Inanna on the shoulder and gives her an encouraging smile before taking a big bite out of one of the skewers. She chooses not to mention her fear that if they stay any longer, the foodstuffs on board might not survive the journey home.​
 

stnylan

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So all in all some important learning experiences for Inanna here, and room to grow.

It sounds like Lyssa might be growing too :)
 

dark_melancholy

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So all in all some important learning experiences for Inanna here, and room to grow.

It sounds like Lyssa might be growing too :)

ieWsRBG.jpg


Yes, I to grow when I eat like that. :p
Hmm, are you saying you're Amazon Queen material? :D

Even if her ultimate goal for the expedition has gone unfulfilled, Lyssa has certainly left her mark on the Old World with a harrying that will not soon be forgotten.
It will be interesting to see what future impact, if any, her little visit might have across the pond
 
Chapter 22

dark_melancholy

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Chapter 22: An Unexpected Welcome

LyqurWi.jpg

12.01.2029
Leaning back in her seat on deck, Queen Lyssa lets the sun and breeze of her homeland kiss her face. As much as the Portuan wine in her glass and Obregan beef in her belly gives her great pleasure, she is very much looking forward to coming home. Now, after so many months at sea and in foreign lands, they are so close she can feel it. They have been making decent speed following the same route as Old World conquistadores once did, only stopping briefly in Tlax to replace consumed supplies with more loot. The holds now filled to the brim, it is time to show their contents to the people of Amazonia. The queen sighs contently, a smile spreading on her face at the thought.

"Meal is to the liking of Your Bigness?" Quihuatzin asks, taking Lyssa by surprise.

"Uh, that's not... well, it was excellent, of course! But I was just... thinking of home." The sudden question throws her off and prompts this candidness. Lyssa swirls her cup and chuckles to herself: Or maybe it is the wine.

"Oh, Your Bigness has the anticipation for it?" the halfling wonders, her curious eyes carefully judging the queen's reaction.

"I suppose I do. It's been so long." Lyssa looks from her drink to the Miyan woman: "Don't you wonder how things have been while we were gone?"

Quihuatzin seems to consider this for a moment. "Is hard to know. Much can change in the years."

"I'm sure Calypso has everything in hand," the queen states confidently.

Making sure her mistress can clearly see the worry on her face, Quihuatzin nods slowly: "Maybe too much in the hand..." she muses cryptically. Asked for clarification, she elaborates:

"Calypso is the strong woman. Many other strong woman left behind. Maybe they think they doing good without a queen." The halfling leans in, lowering her voice conspiratorially: "Maybe there is the new queen..."

"Calypso wouldn't do that," Lyssa says firmly.

Quihuatzin shrugs: "Then maybe Kriemhild. She marshal and make the new army. Hard to know..." Offering an apologetic smile, the halfling stacks a few more cheese rolls on Lyssa's plate: "Is not saying the power is taken, just that... years make for much of the difference. Can be hard to... settle back in."

Lyssa's brow furrows as she nibbles thoughtfully on a roll. "There's gonna be... a lot of work involved, is what you're saying," she mumbles with a certain measure of dread.

"Could be that," Quihuatzin nods solemnly. "Of course, Your Bigness not alone..."

Assessing the halfling's meaningful look, the queen guffaws rather involuntarily: "Inanna might have a mind for military matters, but I don't trust her to integrate the new shieldmaidens with the army I bring back!"

"Of course not!" the Miyan blurts out in frustration. "But also there is me! Let me help with it!"

Lyssa gives her servant and occasional commander a level look: "You know I cannot put you in overall charge like that, Quihuatzin," she says solemnly, then takes a big bite out her snack and wags it at the halfling for emphasis: "More importantly, what would happen to the kitchens without your supervision!"​

sL4RCwI.jpg



19.01.2029
In the early days of the new year, Queen Lyssa steps off her flagship at the port in Zalli. Rather than coming home to a coup, she receives an enthusiastic welcome on the wharf. In fact, everyone seems to meet their well-travelled sisters with reverence and curiosity about their epic voyage. Some are more forward than others.

"What's up with the getup?" Phaedra asks her mother, tugging at a baggy silk sleeve.

"Befitting a queen, don't you think?" Lyssa counters with a smirk. She takes a good look at her daughter and sighs: "It's good to be back."

Ambling after the queen, Inanna thumps her macuahuitl onto the ground and stops to survey the welcoming committee with mighty disinterest. "So, what you've been up to while we were gone? Sitting on your ass like usual?" she scoffs at her sister.

"Actually," Calypso interjects – then pauses to greet Lyssa with a strong warrior's embrace. Holding her queen's shoulders as if getting a good look at her, the appointed regent smiles: "Everyone have been quite inspired by your expedition and have taken to the seas to raid far and wide. Your daughter here even sailed for Ulthuan and braved the gates to their island."

"That sounds awfully risky," Lyssa tuts, patting Phaedra's cheek – much to the young woman's embarrassment.

"Mother, please. I know what I'm doing. Calypso made me Chancellor and everything!"

The Jaguar of the Sea answers Lyssa's questioning look with a quick smile: "It is up to Your Highness to decide if she should continue to serve on the council, of course. But I must say, your daughter has been an inspiration to everyone.

"Even Belyse is getting in on the action," the regent laughs, shaking her head at the thought of the drunken matriarch leading a fleet. "Last I heard she was heading north, sailing in your footsteps."

"No one's returned with... nearly this much stuff, though!" Phaedra exclaims, marvelling at the exotic goods being unloaded from her mother's ships. "What is that??"

Lyssa turns her head and looks at a horned creature bellowing mournfully as it is led down the docks. "It's a 'cow'. They make for really good eating and we might be able to breed them."

"Surely they are fearsome battle mounts as well?" Calypso asserts, studying the animals' horns.

"No," Inanna laments with a sigh of lingering disappointment that has yet to subside. "They're pretty much just for making food."

The queen surveys the crowd once more, doing a regal sweep of her luxurious robe to cover up the pause. "I can go through everything we've discovered later. Perhaps over dinner – there are many things I can't wait to show you. Now... do you mean to tell me everyone else is too busy raiding to come greet their queen?"

"Priestess Feidlimid and your daughter Maya are no doubt on their way from Kavana as we speak," Calypso explains, motioning for Lyssa and her entourage to follow her.

VHHL9rz.jpg

While they walk towards the main keep of Zalli fort, the regent goes on to tell her queen about the work those two have been doing in the recently reconquered Triad Islands. As commanded by Lyssa before she left for the East, efforts have been made to restore the islands properly to Amazon rule.

Although Feidlimid's proselytizing has largely been fruitless amongst the infidel foreigners still living there, steward Azu can report that the largest island has cast off its pirate trappings. While controversial, she maintains that as governor of the islands' only real town, Maya has done much by integrating its inhabitants. Foreign women have excitedly adopted Amazon customs under her guidance to improve their station – and no doubt get back at their wretched menfolk. While not all the inhabitants of Xocibiki – the largest of the Triad Islands – can be called true Amazons, at least the atmosphere is a lot less foreign. And after all, the legends say that the Amazons have taken in honourable women into their ranks before. And those that refuse to cooperate... well, there's always room for more slaves.

Gfinu0q.jpg

"Meanwhile Kriemhild has her work cut out for her trying to hold on to her recruits. Seems all the youngsters want to do these days is go sailing," Calypso chuckles. From the ramparts of the fort, she looks down on the huge amounts of food, finery, curios and more still being off-loaded and sorted. "They won't be any less eager once they hear of this. Not that everyone has seen success..."

"How do you mean?" Now that the local servants have finally figured out how to tap one of the kegs of strong export beer they brought back with them, and she has a full goblet of the stuff in her hand, Lyssa is feeling much more comfortable.

"Tisiphone returned from Ulthuan two days ago," Calypso says solemnly, eyeing the drink Lyssa just thrust into her hands warily. "The elves captured her during a raid and... before they released her they put her eyes out!"

"Oh what a terrible tragedy," the queen says nonchalantly. Thoroughly unmoved by her rival's unfortunate fate she takes a big swig from her cup and looks out at the myriad masts silhouetted by the setting sun. Yes, nothing but good news.

Lyssa nearly drops her precious beverage when a young Amazon comes flying out onto the ramparts. She's running so fast she nearly goes over the battlements before she manages to come to a halt in front of the queen.

"Your Highness! The spymaster... Cassiopeia... found her... Your Highness, she's dead!"

* * *​

GLbkdb0.jpg

21.01.2029
The small room is silent but for the swish of the light linen dress flowing through it. While enamoured with the flashy silks and satins also taken from Estalia, Queen Lyssa has found this loose-fitting garment quite suitable to hot and humid Amazonia. Especially for returning to the palace; she must have forgotten just how many steps there are to the upper quarters.

Worried she might start sweating just thinking about it, Lyssa consoles herself that she is inside now. Inside the palace and in the quarters of her late spymaster. She had barely set foot in Amazonia before word came that Cassiopeia's corpse had washed up on Ganaina's shores. How she ended up there was anyone's guess. However, a rather obvious clue was that, in addition to her body being battered and bruised, she had arrows of Elvish make sticking out of her gut.

Others might consider the case open and shut, but Lyssa did not like the theories one bit. Even if Cassiopeia had tangled with the High Elves of Ulthuan to uncover their secrets without anyone's knowledge, the queen was certain she would be too cautious to get caught. And even if she was caught, Lyssa always assumed her spymaster would be shot in the back, running away like a coward at the first sign of trouble.

The queen quickly appointed a new spymaster, of course, but this Valli has yet to find anything. No matter how well Maya says they cooperated on integrating Xocibiki. Not that Lyssa has had much time to talk to her daughter since coming home. She had invited Maya to feast with her upon her return, but Cassiopeia's untimely demise had ruined those plans. After all, what is the point of having all this foreign booze and finery if one cannot use it to throw extravagant parties? But with her underlings failing to come to the bottom of the mystery, it falls upon the queen herself to solve it.

bq26iQ0.jpg

Sorry. No fun allowed.

Of course, spymaster Valli has already looked through the room. How Lyssa intends to succeed where she failed is anyone's guess, but true to form the queen has an unshakeable confidence that she will set things right... somehow.

So far she has found nothing, however. Nothing but a few personal effects, all arranged so neatly it's almost offensive to the notoriously lax Lyssa. Cassiopeia was far too paranoid to leave anything incriminating – or illuminating – just lying out in the open.

Tracing the edge of Cassiopeia's writing desk with her palm, Lyssa sighs when no solution seems willing to just manifest itself. Simply idling at this point, her eyes are easily distracted by the food plate sitting opposite her. The queen forces herself to refocus on her objective, tearing her gaze away. For a lack of anything better to do, she examines a small decorative bowl with an intensity at odds with how utterly unremarkable it is. Turning it upside down in her hand, Lyssa furrows her brow. It is more theatre for an audience of one – herself – than anything else.

Having demonstrated her thoroughness, Lyssa grumbles to herself and puts the bowl down. Then she turns her attention to the multicoloured straw mat covering most of the tabletop. Her fingers play over it, looking for an esoteric clue in its texture that will answer everything.

Unaware that her other hand has been wandering, Lyssa realizes she is chewing on a pie from the plate on the table. Before she can stop herself, pain shoots through her jaw as she bites down on something hard. Angry rather than worried, she quickly spits out the offending object and glares as it settles on the desk. A small metal cylinder, the queen doesn't care that it might be an assassin's tool and snatches it up. A lid at one end pops off with a quick flick of her thumb, revealing a tiny scroll inside.

Licking crumbs from her lips, Lyssa unfurls the hidden message. She scowls as she starts reading, the pain in her teeth still lingering.

My Queen, the tiny scribbles read. If you are reading this, I'm dead.

I have discovered a plot, but now fear I will not leave this room alive. The last couple of days I have seen the same male following me around. They say I imagine things, but he is outside even as I write this. I can feel it.

Lyssa squints to make out the purported plot, gasping once she makes out the words.

...details in the other messages so you may root it out, the scroll continues. Long live Amazonia. It has been an honour serving you, Your Highness.

P.S. You should not eat things you find in a spymaster's office.

Crumpling the letter in her fist, Lyssa feels her pulse racing. "After all these years..." she exclaims in disbelief. Frantically she unwraps the other pies and digs out the remaining messages. Holding the tiny cylinders in her palm, the queen smiles at the former spymaster's thoroughness: "Good girl!"

Clutching the extra messages tightly in her hand, Lyssa makes to leave but stops at the door to look at the room one last time: "You were too bloody talented to deserve this..." she mutters, then barges through the doorway with terrible purpose.

"Guards! Get me Kriemhild; spymaster Whatshername; everyone! I need to finish something!"​
 

Specialist290

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Cassiopeia was loyal to the last... and she knew her queen entirely too well ;) Such a talented spymaster will certainly be missed, and I pity whoever it was that is responsible for her death for what they will undoubtedly be facing.
 

stnylan

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Never trust the pies - just never trust the pies.

A lovely little bit of chicanery there from the spymaster. I do think that the halfing may be right, there is work to do.
 

dark_melancholy

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I'm wondering how Inanna will function as a queen ...
You can deal with complex political machinations and administrative challenges by punching them real hard, right? And if that doesn't work get mad and punch even harder!

I like how the spymaster knows her queen very well!
That's the talent for observation that lands you the job (you get to keep the job depending on your talent for keeping your mouth shut)

Cassiopeia was loyal to the last... and she knew her queen entirely too well ;) Such a talented spymaster will certainly be missed, and I pity whoever it was that is responsible for her death for what they will undoubtedly be facing.
People skilled in skulduggery and intrigue don't exactly grow on trees in Amazonia. Someone must indeed pay for this!

Never trust the pies - just never trust the pies.

A lovely little bit of chicanery there from the spymaster. I do think that the halfing may be right, there is work to do.
The best place from which to call out your monarch: Six feet under.
 
Chapter 23

dark_melancholy

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Chapter 23: Forgotten No More
wfpVgEo.jpg

Lyssa, have you been taste-testing the loot again?

When their queen returned victorious with the greatest treasure haul in ages, the inhabitants of venerable Ganaina had expected a lavish parade. Instead they find the capital on full lockdown soon after Queen Lyssa's arrival. Sisterhood agents prowl the streets and rumours abound as to what is going on.

Has something happened to the queen? Is there a power struggle in the making? Matriarch Calypso has been regent for two years and might have gotten a bit too comfortable ruling. And then there's the clique formed around the shrewd steward, Azu...

As it happens, Calypso has indeed been the target of a conspiracy, but not mundane palace intrigue – as if an Amazon would stoop to such trickery. No, as detailed in Cassiopeia's hastily scribbled notes there is a sinister mastermind at work here that Queen Lyssa had long since banished from her mind.

Somehow working through minions to circumvent its imprisonment, the vile vampire Louis the Necrarch has plotted to destabilize the regent's island domain of Quetzlpan. No doubt unable insert its agents in heavily protected Ganaina, the beast took advantage of Calypso going to the capital to rule in Lyssa's stead to strike her power base instead.

Mzr2UWl.jpg

Fortunately, Cassiopeia's investigation uncovered the conspiracy before it could be put into motion. However, by the time the spy master felt she had enough evidence, the regent had left to meet the returning Lyssa. Not trusting anyone with the information, Cassiopeia set out to warn Calypso... and thus met her end.

Now the hunt is on to see if the conspiracy sticks deeper, but Lyssa is already acting on her former spymaster's findings. A crack strike force led by Kriemhild is dispatched to Tecnotica and the vampire's lair. Time is of the essence, but when they arrive on the island they find that at least the wards holding their quarry at bay remain intact. This time the queen's orders are crystal clear: There will be no trusting in magic to contain the beast. It must die.

Braving the labyrinthine caves, the Amazons expect massive losses fighting the vampire on its home turf. However, what they face when they reach the inner sanctum is no cadaverous Necrarch.

epNsOHq.jpg

Incidentally, finding a picture of a lady Blood Dragon is hard!

29.01.2029
Realizing the jig is up, the vampire Louis has fled into the endless caverns, leaving his bodyguard Eliza to deal with the intruders. A member of the martial Blood Dragon bloodline, she is as far from a feeble scholar as one can get. While the undeterred Amazons engage the undead knight, the Necrarch slinks through winding paths too numerous to block off.

Moving with unnatural speed, the Blood Dragon cuts down the brave Amazons one by one. Their spears break upon its ornate armour. Arrows that find weak points do not seem to bother it at all. Bathed in the blood of her enemies, the vampire licks her lips and arrogantly waits for the Amazons to re-engage. Gritting her teeth, Kriemhild commands one of her soldiers to run off and fetch reinforcements.

This is the chance Louis has been waiting for.

The Amazons do their best to keep the Blood Dragon occupied while their sisters make their way to join them through the treacherous caves. Filing into the inner sanctum, they prudently keep their distance. Only once everyone is in place does the vampire knight realize that, rather than shrink back in fear, they have in fact formed a ring of spears around her.

Stepping into this human arena, Kriemhild challenges the undead knight in the name of Rigg. Around them, the Amazon ranks tighten, preventing the Blood Dragon from using her unnatural mobility. Using her shield to deflect incoming attacks, Kriemild pushes her enemy into the spears, catching her as if in a Venus flytrap. Using the momentary opening while the vampire breaks free, Kriemhild slashes with her curved blade with all her might. An otherworldly screech reverberates through the caves for a split second, then ends abruptly. The armoured figure crumples, its severed head coming to rest at Kriemhild's feet.

Night falls as the remaining Amazons rush through the caves, but the battle against the Blood Dragon has taken too long. Arriving at the entrance ahead of them, their quarry unleashes its foul magic upon the few guards remaining there – few enough that even an emaciated Necrarch can overpower them. Amazon bodies flung aside by necromantic blasts disturb the wards put in place to contain the creature. The vampire is free.

Joined by Kriemhild, the surviving guards give chase through the dark jungle. Heedless of any trap the vampire might be leading them into, the huntresses have their tracking abilities pushed to the limit. Fearing they have lost the trail, Kriemhild splits up her forces to cover enough ground to make up for this.

Certain she still has the scent, a young huntress bursts through the undergrowth ahead of two of her comrades. Her feet land on a sandy shore glittering in the moonlight, but all she can see of her quarry is a small sailing boat disappearing on the horizon.​

IQqgjpA.jpg

"Au revoir, suckers!"



31.01.2029
"They did what??"

In the throne room, the council looks shocked by their queen's outburst. Always collected and affable, Lyssa is quite livid at the message from Tecnotica that her daughter Phaedra has just relayed to her.

Leaning forward on her throne, Lyssa throws her arms out in furious exasperation. "How could they let that thing escape!" she yells before throwing herself back in her seat. With a groan, she rubs her forehead: "Ugh... Valli and Kriemhild are both responsible for this failure. Perhaps there are more suitable candidates for the council..."

Standing anonymously off to one side, Quihuatzin lights up and almost steps forward to interrupt her betters. Before she can do so, steward Azu taps the queen's shoulder and hands her a cup of wine.

"Seems it was a nigh-impossible task," she says carefully, then pauses to let Lyssa take a large sip. "Don't you agree, Matriarch Calypso?" the steward asks with a sly look her way.

The Jaguar of the Sea looks a bit surprised at the sudden request for her counsel, but she eventually figures out what Azu is getting at. "We – ah... they – had no idea. Nobody knew." Hastily she adds: "That there were two vampires, that is."

"Just goes to show..." Azu says evenly. "...the queen's previous decision to seal away the creature instead of attacking was very wise indeed."

Slumped in her throne now, Lyssa considers her steward for a while. Nodding to herself, she straightens up. "I suppose... no one could have succeeded in those circumstances," she agrees slowly, with no need to add the implicit '...even me'.

"It is lamentable, but at least we managed to chase the creature out of Amazonia before anyone else died," Calypso says with genuine relief and puts a hand on Lyssa's shoulder.

"Not to mention, Kriemhild did manage to kill a vampire, if not the right one." The queen's approving tone puts Quihuatzin ill at ease and the halfling completely deflates when she adds: "She is to be commended for her bravery."

"That said... the 'right' vampire is still at large..."

"Then let me at it! I'll find the beast and tear it apart with my bare hands!" Inanna snarls, smashing her fist into her palm with such force that the chamber reverberates with the sound.

Her sister Phaedra rolls her eyes and Lyssa looks patiently at her daughter: "You will do no such thing, young lady."

Restrained by her mother's stern words, Inanna suppresses her fury, turning herself into a barely contained volcano for the time being. Ready to erupt once out of Lyssa's sight.

Letting Inanna stew there for a moment, the queen takes her time before she continues: "You will go with a warband and help patrol our shores." Lyssa turns her attention on her full council: "We need to make sure this thing cannot return to Amazonia – and we need to root out any minions it may have left behind."​

In the end, Amazonia's spymaster and marshal are let off the hook for failing to catch the apparent mastermind behind Cassiopeia's death. The queen has a vampire to hunt and needs every woman she can get. Even more surprising, she cancels the festival intended to celebrate her accomplishments in the East. Ganaina's Amazons are mobilized into patrols rather than parades.

After months of searching, it seems these efforts are quite effective if not successful in their ultimate goal. The Necrarch vampire remains at large, but the small network of minions it had built up in Tecnotica over the last decade is eradicated. The pitiful creatures are tortured under the expert direction of Queen Lyssa herself before being burnt alive – no goddess would accept a sacrifice that foul. Their confessions reveal that the vampire's network of spies and minions was much smaller than feared – and more importantly indicate that it has given up on Amazonia altogether.

Even if the Necrarch decides to try its luck, it would have to make do without its mortal minions. And, as Lyssa points out to her new spymaster, the Amazons are now armed with the knowledge passed on by Cassiopeia, detailing the way the creature operates. Saving face by showing some initiative of her own, Valli suggests using her contacts among the foreign population of Kavana to listen for rumours should the vile Louis show up in elsewhere. After all, the creature did not originate in Lustria but came from across the Great Ocean. Good riddance in Lyssa's mind. Let the Old Worlders suffer the darkness they spawned.

* * *​

With its queen back in charge and the vampire threat handled, Amazonia remains stable and secure. However, in the fourth month of the year 2029, the land suffers another blow with the death of Chief Priestess Harmothoe – this time it is from old age. Though often at odds with Queen Lyssa, the old Sister had been Rigg's foremost servant for over three decades and in office longer than even the queen. Even if she had been ill for years, Harmothoe was a pillar in turbulent times, and her death is mourned throughout the land.

One who does not mourn more than propriety demands is Lyssa. Despite their differences, she does not celebrate Harmothoe's death, but she is delighted when the Sisterhood elects a new Chief Priestess who is far less redoubtable and ornery. In fact, so pleased is the queen that she offers this pliable theologian a seat on her council, graciously "relieving" Feidlimid of her duties so she may focus on converting the people of Kavana.

IpbpUW9.jpg

Of the councillors in place before Lyssa's great Eastern adventure, only Kriemhild and Azu still hold their positions

* * *​

The queen might be pleased with the new Chief Priestess, but it is best to make sure Rigg also approves. Eager to prove that she still has the favour of their patron goddess, Lyssa calls back the warriors who have been patrolling the realm.

It has been over two decades since the Amazons last fell upon the small Lizardman domain of Pircaro. Enough time to provide fresh sacrifices for a new flower war. More importantly it lies on the shores of the mighty Amaxon River, accessible by boat. Lyssa for one certainly does not mind not having to trudge through impenetrable jungle.

A03RSKx.jpg

Pircaro, a place you think about so little you didn't realize this is actually just a picture of Pircaro from the last time Lyssa invaded it. Nothing has really changed there.

With Inanna and Quihuatzin at her side, Lyssa sails up the Amaxon with her army in good old fashioned war canoes. Showing confidence, this time the queen relies on no tricks or ruses. Her forces make landfall and almost immediately square off against the Lizardman forces.

Although outnumbering their enemy, the Amazons find their left flank pushed back. Here the Lizardman chief himself leads the charge. From her vantage point upon her cushy palanquin, Lyssa sees her forces on the verge of breaking. Riding a cold one, chief Mazdasor cuts through an exposed salient created by the massive Lizardman push. Lyssa debates trying to detach some of her own centre force, but even if she does it seems it might be too late.

mnIu5pj.png

Then suddenly, the Lizardman chief veers erratically, clutching the reins tightly. A space opens between the besieged Amazons and the reptilian horde. Into this no-man's land steps a tiny figure. Standing half again as tall thanks to her fearsome war mask, Quihuatzin drops her sling to clutch a barbed spear with both hands. The little halfling bellows a challenge to the bewildered Lizardman chief and he obliges without hesitation. In his eagerness to fall upon this insolent interloper, Mazdasor callously lets his mount trample his own forces. The skinks scurry back, preferring not to become an impromptu snack.

The cold one snorts as its master tries to whip it to greater speed. Rather than stand and use her spear to her advantage, Quihuatzin curiously couches it like a lance and rushes to meet her foe as fast as her short legs can carry her. Taken by surprise, the Lizardman chief nearly charges past the halfling. He pulls his mount back, but not before Quihuatzin's spear thrusts into its side. Against the force of several hundred pounds of dim-witted reptile, the spear splinters upon the cold one's scaly hide. Too stupid to notice the deep gash it leaves, the beast slams its head against this tiny nuisance and knocks Quihuatzin over.

Taking advantage of his opponent's fall, Mazdasor leaps off his mount and brings his club to bear. With momentum from the jump, Quihuatzin's mask cracks under the impact from the weapon. Mazdasor draws an obsidian dagger to finish the job, but his opponent offers no counter-attack to take advantage of this brief pause. Instead the spear drops from her hand, arms falling to her sides in resignation. A split second later the knife slashes her exposed throat.

Their commander lies dead, but the lull has given the Amazons on the left flank ample time to regroup. Now elements of Lyssa's centre force comes thundering down the slight slope towards them. Suddenly finding himself as exposed as his challenger had been, Mazdasor scrambles after his mount. Pulling it around, he makes a break for it through his own ranks, sowing confusion even as the reorganized Amazons crash into them from two sides.

The Lizardmen break almost instantly and the Amazons pursue them mercilessly. Left behind in the sodden ground among the other corpses lies the body of their halfling commander. There is a peaceful look on her bruised face.
 

stnylan

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So Quihuatzin falls ... there is something there. Something hidden perhaps. Will we ever truly know?

I must agree, it might have been the wrong vampire, but it remains a bloody impressive achievement.
 

dark_melancholy

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It's almost seems as if she wanted to die.

Awesome chapter!
Hmm indeed. At least she went out with some panache.
Glad you liked it. Writing about the conspiracy was tricky, but I suppose throwing random vampire knights into the mix always helps! (in my defence, the game put her there :p )

So Quihuatzin falls ... there is something there. Something hidden perhaps. Will we ever truly know?

I must agree, it might have been the wrong vampire, but it remains a bloody impressive achievement.
Kriemhild is pretty amazing. Almost as amazing as Lyssa.
...and if Inanna was queen I'm sure she wouldn't be so picky about whether you kill this undead hellspawn or that.
 
Chapter 24

dark_melancholy

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Chapter 24: An Abundant Display
The reptilian defenders of Pircaro are crushed, broken and scattered. The Amazons are free to plunder at will, but their queen does not allow them to simply grab a few sacrifices and go home. Although his army is shattered, chief Masdazor is still at large and Queen Lyssa insists on scouring his swampy domain until she finds him. Over the next months, the Amazons raze every holdfast and burns every hut in their search. The surviving Lizardmen are taken as slaves – or sacrifices.

However, their target still eludes them. Only after more than four months brutal inquisition does Lyssa finally give up her search for the Lizardman chief. She returns to Ganaina, leaving behind a devastated Pircaro; punishment for its failure to deliver Quihuatzin's killer to her.

H17HsTl.jpg

06.10.2029
In the soft evening gloom of the dying sun, Ganaina is ablaze with braziers and torches and bonfires. Among the glowing points of light, lines of sacrifices are carried up the steps to the Shrine of Rigg where they meet their end under the Sisterhood's knives. Reptilian blood flows down the steps – or perhaps more like drips. A significant number of captives have been taken away to become slaves, reducing the number of sacrifices available. This does not stop the newly instated Chief Priestess from proclaiming that Queen Lyssa and Amazonia indeed has Rigg's favour.

Bowing her head to "humbly" accept priestess Tanya's decision, Lyssa turns to address the gathered onlookers. The ritual platform looms high over the assembled masses, at the top of the pyramid carrying Rigg's shrine. A simple gesture sets a procession in motion down below.

Burly Amazon veterans, members of the queen's bodyguard, carry a litter upon their shoulders and through the crowd. At the foot of the pyramid, they place it on a great pile of wood. Onlookers shoot each other questioning glances as the pyre goes up in flames. Upon it, a small body dressed in exotic-looking combat regalia.

"Quiauh... xochuatzin," Queen Lyssa's voice booms from atop the sacrificial platform, struggling just a little bit to get through the halfling's full name – the first time she takes it into her mouth. "...was a hero. Although born a Miyan, she had as much bravery in her as any full-grown Amazon. Therefore, in death she deserves an Amazon burial. Her devotion to Rigg and to her queen was admirable – an inspiration to everyone here I hope – and I..." The queen swallows and pauses, stopping to consider her words. In the end she says curtly: "Her talents will be sorely missed."

Falling silent, Lyssa stands there watching the bonfire engulf the halfling commander completely. Her foreign garb, her small stature, all is wiped away and melts into Rigg's red fire.

RkqI4or.jpg

Chief Priestess Tanya steps up to the queen to get her attention and Lyssa takes the opportunity to lean in and whisper something. Her message relayed, she moves back from the edge, returning to her previous position.

"Rigg rewards all her true servants," Tanya says, though her voice does not carry nearly as well as the queen's. She refrains from elaborating, instead turning to Lyssa once more.

"My queen, in recognition of your efforts to protect and unite the Amazon people..." Two Sisterhood acolytes come up to them, carrying an arcane box between them. Its pale metal finish makes it clear it is not of Amazon make. The acolytes open it, revealing a strange metal tube with a handle in one end.

"This is a Sun Gauntlet from the Lost Age. The Sisterhood located mana vials for it in the ruins of Zarmuda, allowing it to channel the rays of the sun once more."

Lyssa's hand hovers over the gift, initially wary of touching such a revered artifact. However, self-satisfaction from the respect awarded her by this gesture quickly takes over. "Your predecessor rightly deserves credit for this accomplishment," the queen observes, picking up the mysterious weapon. A self-satisfied smile spreads on her lips as she looks past it and into Chief Priestess Tanya's eyes: "...I expect you will equal or even surpass her..."

wHJHLCU.jpg

* * *​

With the religious rituals complete, the stage is set for celebrating the queen's exploits at last. The treasure vaults are opened and the plaza in front of the royal palace is decked out in finery and exotic goods from another world.

Gardens all over the realm are harvested and the many shieldmaidens released from service after the Pircaro war organize hunting parties to scour the jungle for game. Reserves of wine and foreign spirits are plundered. The finest Amazon chefs are put to work and employ indentured cooks from abroad to provide the flavours their queen desires. They have more than enough to do: this celebration will not just be grand, it is going to last for a while.

RYjNBuR.jpg

07.01.2030
The atmosphere in the throne room is heavy with the smell of booze and grilled meat, despite the airy redecoration work. There have been weeks of revelry and competition, but also feasting and drinking – mostly the latter for the celebrated queen herself.

After so much indulging, the Amazon queen prefers the divan to the more vertically aligned throne. There she lounges at the head of a horseshoe formation of assembled guests. Finishing a plate of grilled sausage, Lyssa licks her fingers and waves a servant over.

"Hey there, can't you see your queen's cup is empty?" she chides him – with so many women busy celebrating and maintaining said festivities, there are almost only males left to actually serve the food and drinks. Her tone is playful, but the servant quickly scurries over with a pitcher of wine. He is about to pour, when Lyssa grabs his wrist and pulls him down to sit beside her, almost on her.

"C'mere, sweet cheeks," the queen smirks. Lying on her side, she slips her uppermost arm around the male's waist and pulls him closer. Tensing, the servant focuses everything on keeping from spilling the pitcher in his hand.

There are whoops and mirthful gasps of mock outrage from the matriarchs and prominent warriors lining the parade of laden tables running down the length of the throne room. Quite inebriated and merry, they seem to find much amusement in their queen's antics.

"Did you hear about my great victory over the White Host of Arnheim?" Lyssa asks the shaken servant in her grasp.

"A dozen times over at least!" the revellers exclaim and laugh heartily, quite good-natured in their protest. Lyssa throws her guests a sly grin, before continuing regardless:

"...there I was, facing the mighty phalanx of the High Elves. Never had Amazons fought them and won! And yet, I said... I said: 'My brave sisters, I shall give you a victory like... like you've never seen!' The elves thought they could hold us off, but I charged them! Charged their centre!" She holds up her empty goblet in front of the captive male's face for emphasis. "Found their weak point and then..."

The queen seems to consider the cup for a moment. Then she suddenly releases the male. Acting upon her gesture asking for a refill, he stands up and quickly complies.

Satisfied, Lyssa tells the servant to clear off with a small nod. Studying him over her wine cup as he walks past, she says seductively: "...I can tell you the rest in my chambers afterwards." With that she shifts the goblet to her free hand and gives the passing male a firm slap on the buttocks.

The crowd erupts in raucous laughter. However, one woman gets up rather unsteadily, not looking very amused at all.

"No, really!" the warrior yells angrily. She has clearly had a few cups of bloodwine too many and is noticeably slurring her words. "Tell us now! How you single-handedly won the day! How you fought the greatest warriors men and elves have to offer!"

Some of the Amazons are exchanging uncertain glances, others can't help but giggle. However, the atmosphere of the room has changed markedly in the blink of an eye. Certainly, everyone has grown noticeably quieter all of a sudden.

"Do you expect us to believe any of this?" the drunk warrior continues undeterred, stumbling as she sweeps her arm to indicate the crowd. "Your Highness, the only thing you could defeat single-handedly is a buffet! Everyone here says it!"

"Ooooh!" A loud gasp erupts from the guests, amused by the accuser's boldness rather than outraged. In fact, there are a few nods of approval.

"Ten years ago you asked if yours was the body of a slovenly hedonist. Care to ask these fine warriors that question again now?"

There are indistinct murmurs resembling "hear, hear" coming from the congregation.

Utterly taken aback by this sudden inquisition, Lyssa seems unable to retort. Or perhaps content to let the drunken heckler rant herself dry. Regardless, the queen's free hand does slip guiltily to her midsection, betraying the gut pooling over the divan. To be fair, she can at least partially attribute it to the outrageous amount of food and wine contained within, but still...

"We celebrate Your Highness's victories; victories you watch from afar because you're too fat to even put on your armour!"

One of the angry warrior's companions tugs on her arm: "That's enough, Anumeha..." She sounds worried.

"I'm just saying..." Anumeha grumbles, "...if our great queen doesn't stop eating, she'll outgrow her throne before long, not just her armour..." Nevertheless, she lets herself be calmed down, plopping down with little grace and hiding her face behind a cup of bloodwine. "Jush shayin'..." she mutters into the liquid.

Doing her best to put on an unruffled face, Lyssa looks out at the crowd. Mustering her voice, she asks as calmly as she can: "Is that all?"​

x1z4Ets.jpg

Please... it's not "obese", it's "thicc"

* * *​

The braziers have all but burnt out and the tables stand abandoned and littered with dishes and leftovers. Toppled cups have spilled their contents on the floor and come to rest between half-eaten roasts and dishevelled pillows. No servants have dared to approach to clean up the mess.

In this aftermath, Lyssa lies on her back on her divan, staring at the ceiling. Here she is alone, save for a powerfully built matriarch opposite her. For her part, Calypso is studying the last dregs of mead in her cup very closely.

Clearing her throat awkwardly, the Jaguar of the Sea remarks: "This Easterner drink is quite interesting..." She pauses clumsily, as if still thinking about what to say. "A bit sweet for my taste, maybe."

Lyssa lowers her gaze. Propped up on a couple of pillows she can see her companion's face clearly over herself. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing, I was just..."

"You think I drink too much of the stuff?" It's more of a statement than a question.

"No, that's not what I..." Calypso gives the queen a small smile: "No one can accuse you of drinking too much, not with Belyse around. I'm pretty sure today she was out cold before noon."

Despite herself, Lyssa lets out a curt chuckle, imagining all the gaffes the matriarch had done over the course of the festival. No wonder everyone calls her "the Drunkard" these days.

"People do say all sorts of other things, though. Don't they?" Despondent, the queen forcefully bites into a custard pie from the plate perched on her belly.

"What do you mean?"

Lyssa isn't sure if the other Amazon is being coy, wilfully obtuse or just wary of insulting her queen. Regardless, she is in no mood to tolerate evasiveness: "That I eat too much! That I'm fat!" she blurts out, custard in the corner of her mouth.

"You are fat," Calypso repeats evenly. "Maybe the fattest Amazon I know. And you do eat a lot. So what?"

Lyssa just blinks at the matriarch, dumbfounded. Eventually she gets her power of speech back: "'So what'?? Look at me!" She gestures at herself with an exasperated hand, then finds that she's bitten into another tart: "And I'm still eating!"

Calypso leans over and calmly takes the remaining pastries away from her.

"And yet, you've done so much no Amazon queen has ever done before you." The matriarch looks straight into her queen's eyes. "People say all sorts of stupid things when they're drunk. Don't punish Anumeha for running her mouth without thinking. If she had been thinking, she would have had a lot more to say than superficial insults.

"You've built fortresses of stone. You've crossed the great sea. While you've been queen, the Easterners haven't touched our lands; we have raided them. Concordia couldn't do that. Tisiphone couldn't do that. She managed to get herself captured when she fought the elves. And..."

The Jaguar of the Sea falls silent, her gaze returning to the goblet in her hands. She swallows and nods decisively to herself.

"...and when I faltered, you graciously gave me another chance."

The queen isn't any less lost for words this time, but she isn't one to be tongue-tied for long: "Of course! Am I supposed to ignore years of outstanding service because of one mistake? Besides, you've always been there for me..."

"I am sworn to follow you," Calypso says matter-of-factly.

"Not like that." Lyssa shakes her head. She is obviously annoyed at the matriarch for making her say it out loud, but does so anyway: "Like a friend. A damn good friend!"

The other woman clears her throat, glancing away briefly.

"I'm sorry, maybe I have had too much to drink..."

Calypso leans over to hold the queen's hand tightly and gives her a warm smile: "Not at all, my qu– my friend. We've been through a lot, haven't we?"

"You can say that again..." Lyssa chuckles. She grabs a handy cup of mead and takes a thoughtful sip. "Tell me, were you actually going to help depose me, all those years ago at the steps of Rigg's shrine?"

Calypso's words catch in her throat and she ends up simply laughing in surprise. "Surely, that's just water through the canal!" she grins sheepishly.

Smirking at the matriarch's reaction, Lyssa tips her cup: "What's a little coup among friends, eh?"

Her companion completes the toast and shakes her head: "I guess you could say... that was the day I truly saw what kind of queen you are – what kind of person you are."

Taking a long sip, Lyssa studies the other woman over the rim of her golden goblet. "And what kind of person would that be?" she asks eventually, adding some playful ominousness to her voice.

"One that never accepts defeat," Calypso says firmly. "And always endeavours to find a way to come back from one. I do admire that in you. And it is a trait any queen should possess."

Lyssa cannot help but smile at this genuine praise. "I suppose I should be grateful that you refrained from overthrowing me, then," she chuckles.

"I would not do that," Calypso tells her, before balancing the seriousness by adding: "If I return these custard pies to you, will you forgive me, Your Highness?"

Tapping her lip as if considering this carefully, Lyssa does her best not to laugh. With as much imperiousness as she can muster, she declares her terms: "Throw in some of that sweet egg-bread and you have yourself a deal, my dear Callie."​

JeuRc7t.jpg
 

Specialist290

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Two touching scenes in this chapter, with our queen showing true, heartfelt appreciation for friends present and absent.

And yet, in between... All I will say is In vino veritas. It might well be true that Anumeha's tongue was simply unbridled by too much strong drink, but the Queen's sloth and gluttony have been her two lifelong weaknesses. Even with all that she's accomplished, a certain set might not be able to see the difference between a healthy respect for the strengths of others, and a dependence on those others to make up for their shortcomings -- especially when their thoughts are already clouded by ambition and resentment.