Alt timeline 2: coup took place early, and this time HOT on the heels of the slave revolt resulting from Xyla going on a murder spree. Allo snatches up those legions, showers the people with food and money, buys tons of slaves, frees many, including Xyla. Allo rides a wave of popularity.
Located in what became the 8th Ward post Godswar.
Founded by Aienschynna (see character entry) and Ellis several decades ago, Soulfinder Academy has rapidly burgeoned into the finest institution of learning in the region. The depth and breadth of what is taught at the Academy is impressive, with no subject too obscure. Subjects taught are not strictly academic. Combat skills, military tactics, armor making, and so on are taught in the same institution as history, mathematics, letters, religion, and so on. Name a trade, craft, or academic field, and the Academy has an expert on hand to teach students. The teaching staff is incredibly diverse, both racially and nationally.
Aienschynna is in the habit of keeping a constant eye on the slave trade in Xoll, and she regularly invests in young slaves and brings them into Soulfinder Academy. She provides a fine education for them, then allows them to earn their freedom by working for the Academy for a series of years. Aien is a vociferous opponent of slavery, even though she herself at any given time technically owns quite a number of slaves.
Soulfinder Academy also serves as an orphanage. That children are well provided for there is common knowledge. Many orphans or even children whose parents don’t want them or don’t have the means to provide for them will make sure the young ones are delivered to the Academy. The numbers of orphans provided for by Aien and the Academy is quite significant, but it would be far greater if there wasn’t not money in selling children into the slave trade.
In addition to the ranks of the classes swelled with slaves and orphans, some wealthy in the region pay good money to have their children learn at the academy, though some more elitist minded people refuse to allow their children to rub elbows with what they deem to be dregs.
As of 798, the “evil” group went into Xoll to try to secure the rest of the snow/sink trade. That timeframe took place almost exclusively in what would later become the 7th Ward, in the Lower East Side area. That neighborhood was rough, to say the least, run by what were essentially mafia like gangs. “Cherry” Sally, his ruthless meaty fingers in many a pie, had the northern territory. Kalus Teggler, fairly involved in the slave trade and notorious pimp, held the western edge and part of the south. Magnus Haldrin, boss of the Dockside area, the rest of the south of the Lower East Side, was on the ropes and poised for full defeat. A central band of territory surrounded by the other gangs’ territories was held by the Nightstalkers, whose members always wear black masks and hoods, who have roots in Luxao, and lead by Lord Lo. Lo was a bit of a drug kingpin in his own right, and funneled massive amounts of food, opium, weapons, and prostitutes into Xoll from Luxao. The last of the “gangs” was headed by Chaser Ordus, ex-gladiator of the Fane, owned and operated a gladiatorial company, and he controlled the east.
Ultimately Cherry Sally and Lord Lo forged an alliance and drove the others out, but mostly they drove them six feet under.
I’m posting here a rather lengthy excerpt from my novel. It takes place in 813 A.D., but has a lot of useful information about Xoll in it. I’ll certainly be back to this entry many, many times. Xoll is the largest city of the region. It never dipped below a million in population even despite the plague circa the Godswar. Once upon a time nearly all human lands of the region flew the Imperial Dragon of Xoll over their battlements. Bah. I see the copy/paste ate my paragraph indentation. I’ll clean it up another time.
YinyingNù was antsy—he hadn’t killed anyone all week. And it had been even longer, far longer, since he killed anyone of note. His name meant ShadowRage. For nearly fifteen years he had worked at Selenré’s discretion, time enough to build up a reputation as one of the Shadow Society’s finest operatives, though he generally did personal work for Selenré and not the Society. The Shadow Society was the assassin’s guild that governed the city-state of Xor’Gard. While Selenré was not technically in charge of the Society, all important decisions required his nod to move forward, and it was Selenré that governed the city. ShadowRage’s penultimate goal was to be turned vampiric by Selenré, a goal he felt he was close to achieving for his many years of faithful work. The assassin was just passing his prime physically, and he was getting anxious to achieve his immortality so he could set about his most desperate desire of becoming a legend. He wasn’t sure how he would become a name on everyone’s lips, in the whole world, but he was rather certain it would happen. After he became immortal, of course.
ShadowRage was known in certain circles as a buyer and seller of slaves. When Enris met him, the former pirate spoke very highly of Morrigan, a beautiful young sorceress. He slew Enris simply because he could. Natural born killer. He didn’t think the would-be slaver showed proper intimidated respect, was unimpressed with his manners, and knew that the former pirate was not politically connected in Xoll.
The sun was setting behind the city of Xoll when Enris pulled his team off of the road and over some hills in the fields outside of the city. He told Balorn and Shorty to make camp and sit tight, and not to get drunk. He was going into the city to look for a possible buyer that may be interested in a witch-slave, figured the right buyer might pay far more for a beautiful woman with talents in manipulating Csaversa.
But Balorn and Shorty didn’t resist the temptation of the drink, and inebriation set in. Shorty wanted one last go at Morrigan and tried to convince Balorn that it would be just some harmless fun, that Enris would never find out. Balorn was hesitant, not wanting to leave fresh marks on the scrappy little sorceress, but Shorty’s pleading and the whiskey finally managed to change his mind. It was well into night, a few hours since Enris left the camp, when Balorn agreed to have Morrigan one last time.
Morrigan heard it all develop and was ready to resist them as much as she could, her body tense with dread. She heard the men approach the wagon, followed by a brutal hacking sound. Blood sprayed onto the linen that was obstructing her view, and she heard another gross sound of blade rending through flesh. Somebody sputtered and gurgled, and the donkey, tethered nearby, brayed and bucked against its bondage. Morrigan didn’t move a muscle. She heard heavy breathing accompanying the chirp of crickets.
The cloth to the wagon was pulled aside. Morrigan saw a huge figure imposed over the dim glow of the small campfire nearby, nearly half again as tall as she was, and at least three times her weight, a huge falchion dripping with gore held easily in one hand. The monstrous man had skin as dark as the night. Long, black dredlocks spilled out from his head, framing a face with a sloping forehead and a blocky lower jaw. He had a sickly-looking yellow color instead of white in his wild eyes, surrounding irises of reddish-brown that encircled large pupils. He was wearing black, studded leather armor. He certainly didn’t look entirely human. She found herself not breathing as ShadowRage stared at his prize.
"Mmm, what a beautiful little sexling. Just like they said," his deep voice mused. He thrust his blade into the ground, emptied the wagon of the supplies, then crawled his huge body into the wagon. Morrigan noted that he didn’t stink, which surprised her. The huge man pulled her from the wagon, then ripped her chains apart with his bare hands, effortlessly. He spoke to her as she pulled the gag from her mouth: “I am ShadowRage. I want to be really civil with you, you understand?” The campfire nearby revealed the decapitated corpse of Balorn, his bloody head resting against his shoulder. Shorty, equally dead, was also lying on the ground nearby, having been cut almost in half from behind by that huge falchion. Satisfaction washed over Morrigan as she surveyed the corpses, and she didn’t really register her rescuer’s last sentence. She was, however, beginning to think everyone but her had a ridiculous name. “You’re mine now. Do you have a name?” ShadowRage asked.
”Morrigan, do you have a family name?“
”Millwraith." He had never heard of it, which was good. Morrigan stared at him.
"I guess you’ve probably not heard of me?“
ShadowRage was a little disappointed, but not surprised. He always had a hard time with an assassin’s discretion, in light of his burning need for fame. “What’s this about you shaping spells?” he rumbled. Morrigan just shook her head, still dazed, as she stared at the corpses. Her side was throbbing from being pulled from the wagon. “Are you a wizard, sexling?”
Morrigan shook her head harder. “If I was, I probably wouldn’t be here,” she said, and stared into his strange eyes. ShadowRage was pleased that it seemed the scum slavers hadn’t broken her spirit.
"Maybe it’s because you don’t have your spellbooks?" He gave a slight grin, but it disappeared when she winced after she took a few cautious steps out of the pool of blood she was standing in. ShadowRage, fast as lightning, shot a hand out, grabbed hold of her tattered, bloody shirt and ripped it from her body, dropping it on the ground. She stared defiantly at him, preparing herself for the worst. ShadowRage studied her body, and duly noted her bloody bandaging. Her face was mostly healed from prior beatings, but her nose still bore a small cut on it and the flesh under her eyes was bruised, a mix of her fatigue and previous struggles. She certainly was beautiful, regardless of being scrawny and worn down. "They weren’t taking very good care of you, little sexling, were they?" Morrigan began to speak, but stopped herself, still staring at him. “You are mine now. But I mean to take care of you. But if you’re opposed, I should probably just sell you. Probably to a vampire. Those are your only two choices. I’m as nice as they come,” he said, his face breaking out in a smile to accompany his last sentence. He had a slight underbite, and two of his bottom teeth were larger than the rest, and pointed. She realized he must have orc blood in him. She had never seen an orc before. They used to be a common threat in the region, back before she was born.
"More choices than I had moments ago," she muttered.
"I like giving choices. When I’m not killing people," he said, jovially.
"How did you find us out here?" she asked.
"Got lucky," he lied. “Answer my question, sexling.”
Morrigan picked up Shorty’s cloak, draped it around her, and then kicked his corpse, hard enough to hurt her foot and her wound. “You… you’re either going to keep me or sell me… to a vampire?” she asked.
"Yes. I’m very nice." He grinned again. “I will pamper you, sexling, as long as you behave.”
Morrigan glanced toward the dim glow of the massive city. “You live in Xoll?” He nodded. “So we’re going to Xoll, then?” ShadowRage’s grin widened and he nodded. “Wait, there was another man, a third, the leader of these shitpiles,” Morrigan’s brow furrowed.
"Already dead, sexling.“
”Yes. I’m the perfect killer." ShadowRage bent his arms, flexed, and turned his head, striking a body builder’s pose. His leather armor creaked loudly in protest. “Just wait until you see me naked. You’re a lucky little sexling.” ShadowRage shook his head and dreds, then cocked his head and glanced at Morrigan. He snatched up a nearby whiskey jug, over half gone, and took a pull so large surely the Twins applauded somewhere. “Though a sprig like you may have a difficult time receiving me.” Another big pull.
"Receiving?" Morrigan wondered.
"Yes. Receive." ShadowRage grabbed his crotch. “I’m difficult to receive. Do you understand?” He grinned massively and took another swig, then handed Morrigan the bottle.
"Yeah," she said softly. She grabbed the jug, looked away, and took a gulp. Mostly horrified. But a tiny bit curious. ShadowRage gave the little camp a rapid search. He only took a few pieces of jewelry and the coin pouches off the would-be slavers, while Morrigan kept at the whiskey.
"Come on, little sexling!" ShadowRage bellowed, as he snatched her up and flung her up to his shoulders.
"My name is Morrigan," she informed him again through teeth clinched against the pain in her side from being hoisted to his back.
"Maybe. We’ll see," he answered with a smirk. Morrigan rode him piggy-back down the sloping, cobbled road to the enormous city, and sipped on whiskey.
YinyingNù was twelve when Selenré discovered him. The young quarter-orc killed and robbed one of Selenré’s couriers. Selenré sent out two relatively capable agents to track him down and capture him, to bring him in for questioning. The agents never returned. Selenré investigated the matter himself. Witnesses saw the quarter-orc, already well over two hundred pounds by then, rip one of the agent’s throats out with his bare hand, then dropped another with a smash to the nose with his forehead, followed by a stomp to the face that ended his life. The black-skinned hulk never bothered drawing a weapon. Selenré tracked him down and vampire-charmed him. Glamoured? Whatever. That.
Selenré put him through an absurdly difficult training regimen for the next five years. Natural born killer, seriously. But crude, impulsive, illiterate, governed by passion and not reason. Extremely violent temper, on a hair trigger. Selenré changed all that, though the temper became, well, tempered, but always lurking. His pupil was ambitious, so ambitious.
The quarter-orc was an orphan. Didn’t know his parents. Selenré, whose vampirism made him quite psychic, gleaned the truth. A dark-skinned Salimari woman of exceptional stock raped by a veteran half-orc soldier of Xoll. ShadowRage was left to die in a gutter. A poor fisherman’s wife found him and nursed him to health. Then sold the baby into slavery for a few gold coins. When he was nine, already sizeable from rapid growth due in part to his orc genes, he strangled his master and escaped. Three years as a violent street urchin. Thief, burglar, murderer. He claimed no name when Selenré found him, stated that he would wait until his reputation named him.
When his training was complete Selenré forged two large tattoos on him. On his back, the Chinese symbol for rage. “You must keep the rage in your past,” the vampire-elf told him. On his front, spanning most of the length between his two nipples and running almost down to his naval, the Chinese symbol for shadow. “You must always keep the shadows between you and your foes.” His pupil knew the shadow part was both literal and metaphorical. Know your enemies. Don’t let them know you. He was beyond honored. He took the name YinyingNù, ShadowRage.
Selenré had the extreme distinction of having access to a small library of texts surviving from Lhane’s time. His knowledge of history and politics had few rivals.
There were two primary continents on Earth. Tectonics had reshaped the globe since Lhane’s time, and sea levels were higher, there was less land mass. The western continent was somewhat meandering and in places serpentine, around rather small stretches of sea that divided it into technically five smaller continents. Mini-continents, really. The top part of the mainland was in the shape of a foot, more or less. The Gravas, home of Seth-ra and also littered with giants and ogres, would be the ankle of the foot, and above it the Icewood, and above that the tundra, the latter two being the territories of the tribes of barbarians that gave homage to Urstag, the North Lord. At least they were referred to as barbarians by outsiders, more aptly they could be referred to as technologically archaic, without any real notion of government, and more connected to the land. The heel of the foot would be Celestra, and then moving East was Ne’Vu, The River Kingdom, Xoll, Strongal, Athalgard, Nayonia, Baloria, Iveria, and finally Llelliava, which housed the eastern shore.
Xoll was built at the north end of an isthmus that connected the northern land mass, the “foot,” to a mass of land that contained Charnos, Dematoria, Ghan’Thadarun, Blingellum, Lu’Xao, and Urev, the latter a republic situated on a tail at the southwest of the mainland that was barely divided by sea from the larger southern lands, which were wholly orc territory.
The isthmus, in addition to Xoll at its northern end and some of its territory south of the capitol, contained the kingdoms of Law, Bloodhaven, and Necros. Law was ruled by John Law, a local demigod who in life was a paladin of Rhithain. John Law fell during the Godswar, and his namesake kingdom fell to Necros. Bloodhaven was an orcish nation, also home to many ogres and giants. It was typically considered to contain the most civilized orcs, particularly in comparison to the southern orcs. Necros, situated in The Black Fields, seemingly endless plains of vampiric, magical vines of bad-day-giving, was the seat of power of Vey’Ghul and the Nexus of Death, home to many vampires, a smattering of feyries, various liches, a very old shadow dragon, and so on. The four primary political entities of the isthmus had a long and checkered history of warfare with one another up through the Godswar.
The Nexus of Death, for thousands of years in all its many locations, paid people for corpses. Any corpse. Clergy also often served as funeral directors, among other things. There weren’t all that many bodies that, big picture, escaped being reanimated on the sly by the Nexus. By the Godswar, they had armies of countless millions of lesser undead minions. Then the plague ravaged the region, which added far more millions to the ranks.
Directly East of the isthmus was the small island nation of Valakis, known for olives and a fearless, disciplined military. East of that was the land of Rylisia, comprised of West Vorland and Airia, the latter formerly being East Vorland until a rebellion led by faithful of Or’Dukall established a theocracy, essentially. Cross the ocean further East from Rylisia and you would eventually come across the Isles of Xynndarra, assuming it was at a time it was still on Earth.
West of the isthmus was the last mini-continent, the western half mostly desert. The eastern half had a handful of nations, the northernmost was Salimar. Southwest of Salimar sat isolationist Gadoo’Ba’Du. Southeast of Salimar was Dagoon, long ago a grand civilization, now a shattered zone of badlands ruled by hundreds of brutal warlords, having lost out in horrific fashion in an ancient regional war with Gadoo’Ba’Du, the latter having, remarkably, a permutation of Islam as their state religion, and whose powerful earth mages shaped the lands to redirect all rivers from the mountains dividing their nation and Dagoon to flow away from their enemies and into Gadoo’Ba’Du. Zhandimar was the final, southernmost country of the western mini-continent.
((Just merge the above w/ Isa’s lessons? ))
Xoll was built emulating ancient Rome, and not by accident. Its first emperor oversaw the construction of the massive Imperial Canal, branching off from the Imperial River and wholly severing the isthmus from the northern region by water. The canal connected the Karaedian and Rylisian Seas. The narrow tip of Redwin Bay, home of the island-nation of Sekella, black magic capitol of the world, reached like a watery finger from the Karaedian Sea to the mouth of the Imperial River. Xoll was built sprawling from that mouth along the canal, nearly the entire width of the isthmus at its narrow northern end. Over a million souls of a wide variety of races and sub-races called Xoll home, mostly human.
Miles of fields surrounding Xoll were aglow with hundreds of thousands of iron rods stuck into the ground, a permanent white light radiating from them. No force would ever creep up on the city at night, for a fact. Countless flags bearing a purple dragon set against a crimson background adorned the city’s gargantuan ramparts, walkways also well lit with magical luminsence, some of the walls reaching as high as six score feet. A cobbled road, called The Jangle Way, led ShadowRage and his rider toward the city’s eastern gate. The road was congested with travelers, pack animals, caravans, and locals trying to sell stuff as the strange pair closed in on the city, though they rarely even garnered a second glance. A skyskraper of a stone tower sat astride the gate, and the Jangle Way ran for a good fifty yards or so underneath that tower. The roof over the road through that length of tower was one large trap door after another. Oil, kept bubbling-hot by permanent magical fires sat in large vats stationed next to each trap door.
Morrigan was rather wide-eyed as they approached the eastern gate, still a half mile away, among the glow of the poles. “Know much about Xoll, sexling?” ShadowRage asked.
"Not much," Morrigan conceded. Morrigan’s knowledge of geography, history, and politics was nothing short of dismal.
"I’ll stick to current events. After the Godswar and the removal of the emperor’s smug head, Xoll was carved up into nine wards, each governed by a lord magistrate, in the most complex power sharing agreement of all time. The First Ward, the heart of the city up on that mountain," ShadowRage pointed to the palace seated near the top of a small mountain, situated deep in the city and overlooking Redwin Bay, “…contains the former emperor’s palace, now occupied by High Lord Magistrate Allovandrosos, generally called Allo, often just called the emperor by the dregs. Allo has a tight grip on the food supply of the empire. He’s the one who created the Fane of Blood.” Morrigan nodded. Everyone knew of the Fane of Blood. It made Rome’s colloseum look like babytown frolics. “Rumor has it Allo has millions of slaves, no way to confirm that though, and I would suspect that can’t possibly be true. But he has lots, no doubt. His coin purse pays for nearly all of the former imperial legions. Were he to die, regardless that he’s thousands of years old supposedly, despite being human and un-undead, I have no doubt he would duly be throned by Zuthal as the god of enigma and puppet-mastery.
”Second and Third Wards, combined with the First, make up the Old City, contained within the city’s oldest battlements. Second Ward is Zan’s, twin brother to Emperor Xyv of the nascent Athonia. He has orchestrated some particularly impressive trade arrangements with Seth-ra and Blingellum, as well as Athonia. He and his brother make mountains of coin from the Snow trade. Whiskey!" ShadowRage held a hand up beside his head.
"Um. I drank it all." Morrigan dropped the empty clay jug, and it shattered on the road. Her vision was fuzzy. Morrigan heard of Snow, always wanted to try some. Expensive drug, relatively new to the region, often snorted.
ShadowRage grunted, then chuckled. “I like you. So the Third Ward is Kyumi’s. Kyumi is…” ShadowRage trailed off, and brought his right hand down to adjust his crotch as some blood started to stiffen his junk. “I like Kyumi. It’s a damn shame she’s a feyrie, that’s a vampire fairy, because I want to breed with her. Really, really want to breed with her. She likes me, too. We fuck now and again. Not nearly often enough.” Morrigan frowned from atop him, but ShadowRage couldn’t see it. “She’s extremely well connected. Basically rules over Deepwater, and therefore the whole of The River Kingdom, these days, too. Nobody can work a man’s mast like she can, even my lordly one.”
"And the Fourth Ward?" Morrigan tersely asked.
ShadowRage chuckled again. After he became a vampire, he intended to pursue a more significant relationship with Kyumi. All in due time. “Lord Morguestorm has the Fourth Ward. Used to be a top man of the church of Qivos, Fortress Ironstorm, now he’s the top man of the Nexus in Xoll. Grim bastard, him. Commands a few legions.” ShadowRage pointed out Fort Ironstorm, situated on another, smaller mountain, within view of the palace.
"Fifth Ward is Synnvol’s, Travosk Synnvol. He implemented a coup that eventually failed in Athalgard. He’s the senior Xu’Dannian in the region as far as anyone knows. He’s got deep roots with orcs of every stripe. Deep ties to Bloodhaven. Got himself a little orc army at his disposal, too. Well, not so little even. It’s orcs that police the Fifth. Oh, I should mention, each Ward has its own set of laws, determined by the Lord Magistrate.
"Sixth belongs to Cyrnella, goes by Cyn. She… is creepy. The Black Widow they call her. Never makes a public appearance without toting around the severed head of her old lover, and she set it all up so that he was never released into death. Damn necromantic head is still her old lover, can still talk to her and all that." Morrigan hoped she got the opportunity to see that. “Cyn’s independent of but deeply connected with the Nexus, and has ties to Sekella, newly independent since the emperor lost his head. She’s second only to Allo in the slave trade these days.
”Seventh ended up with the cocksmoking priss Cassyvo Lortrasennich. Sycophantic fucker of boys. Often just called The Prince, or Prince Cas. He commands Xoll’s navy. Royalty of some sort from Airia, orchestrates a lot of trade with Rylisia. In tight with Allo, or I’d likely have slaughtered him by now. Arrogant windbag.
"Eighth is under my man. Selenré Luré’Llassalla Lansadriel," ShadowRage’s tone changed dramatically from disdain to reverence.
"Your man?" Morrigan asked, her mind stuck on men having sex with one another. She shivered a little, and wished she had a shirt on. Anything more than a towel-skirt, really.
"Yes. We’re like this." ShadowRage let go of Morrigan’s arm and brought his hand up next to his head, his fingers entwined. “Long have I done work for him.” He again gripped Morrigan’s arm. “But he has so many other obligations, he lets his daughter, Aien, run the ward.”
"I’ve heard of her!" Morrigan heard tell of Soulfinder Academy one night, out drinking with Lynx, from a traveling bard. The bard had studied at the Academy.
"Serious, strict elf, her. Runs Soulfinder Academy. Safest ward in the city for dregs, that’s for sure. Vocal against slavery. Ironically owns a mountain of slaves. But she just trains them, employs them and the like. Eventually sets them free. Weird. She’s not well liked by many of the other Lord Magistrates, but she’s Selenré’s daughter, so they tongue her sweet elven ass appropriately. Selenré’s an elf, and a vampire." Morrigan’s eyebrows raised.
"Wait, you … you’re not one, right?" Morrigan asked.
"No. Not yet," ShadowRage intoned, his tone waxing deadly serious, only to rapidly fall back to his gravelly tour guide schtick. “Finally the Ninth Ward. Love the Nine. No laws. Overrun with gypsies and scallywags. Aravella’s the Magistrate, a ginger paladin type, sister of Cyn. Half sister. Talk about night and day. Anyway, the Nine is just through that giant tower closest us. Never, ever steal from or pick a fight with a native of the Nine. Also, never, ever travel through the Nine alone, or you will certainly be stolen from, and likely get in fights. Though after tonight that shouldn’t be a problem for you. Now, sexling, let’s get some meat in you.” ShadowRage chuckled at his double entrendre, but Morrigan didn’t catch it, was only thinking about food. She pined for a good meal.
They fast approached the buzz of beggars, street urchins, and vendors, many hawking stolen goods, that lined Jangle Way for a few hundred yards outside the watchtower of the eastern gate. A filthy gypsy child trying to hawk a stolen silver brooch, and pick pockets as he could, spotted ShadowRage. “Shao Fri!” he yelled and pointed at ShadowRage, words Morrigan didn’t understand. He then called out those words several times as he jogged to the quarter-orc, and filthy children seemed to materialize from the crowd like cockroaches. They swarmed around ShadowRage, who hefted Morrigan off his back and set her in front of him, his large left arm cradling her tight over her breasts against his left side. ShadowRage, a massive grin plastered on his face, picked up the four smallest of the lot, mere toddlers, one after another and tossed them up to his back. They rode him and his dredlocks like little overcaffeinated monkeys, in a storm of giggling.
The pack of children seemed to be begging him for something, and the assassin playfully played dumb to build anticipation and milk their begging. Finally he started barking orders at them in their mongrel language. The only Zarran he used was affectionately referring to them all separately as “Dirtbag” as he gave them instructions, and divvied out all the coin and jewelry he had acquired from the slavers, including Enris. One by one the urchins sprinted away from him, most toward the city, a few up the road away from it. ShadowRage again plopped Morrigan up on top of him, and by then they had indeed drawn some attention.
"What does Shao Fri mean?" she asked him.
ShadowRage was beaming. “Saint Rage,” he answered. He strode past the many caravans in the queue to be inspected and cleared by the guards. They arrived at the open gate, a wall of soldiers barricading the way, some inspecting wagons, others talking to merchants, some simply blocking the entrance. The sound of music reached their ears. The guards allowed ShadowRage passage without question, and they traversed the tunnel of potential oily death to the other side of the battlements. What seemed to be an endless plane of tents, campfires, and an occasional shanty sprawled before them. Fifty animated skeletons, dyed red-orange, all armed with various weaponry, twenty also armed with instruments, played lively folk music while the other thirty skeletons danced and tumbled near the entrance to the city. Hundreds more, all armed, lined the Jangle Way that pierced through the tent city. “Every citizen of the Nine has a magic ring, funded by Aravella and forged by the Nexus, that allows them command of those skeletons,” ShadowRage informed Morrigan. Indeed, many more skeletons were hustling and bustling this way and that, performing errands. “Aravella is rarely around. Now and then she’ll show up by caravan or ship and donate vast amounts of supplies to her people. Her adopted people, I should say,” he further explained. The denizens of the Nine were, overall, dirt poor. Clothing made from burlap sacks was common. Footware was not. Morrigan’s own clothing situation seemed less critical to her. Many women of all ages were topless. Shirts among the men were rare indeed. Many children scamped around naked. Song and dance was commonplace around the campfires sprinkled among the tents. So was open-air fucking. So were scrawny dogs. Those that did speak Zarran did so heavily accented, and not many did, though they all knew a small selection of words. Every single one of the countless thousands knew Shao Fri. The assassin seemed to know most of them as “Dirtbag.”
ShadowRage stayed near the city gate while he waited on his paid help to arrive. One after another, the children delivered things to ShadowRage. A bowl, a jug of not very clean water, and a linen. ShadowRage requested that Morrigan wash up, a request she eagerly complied to. A bottle of expensive wine was delivered, and ShadowRage wasted no time in wetting his whistle. He offered some to Morrigan, but she declined, not wanting to vomit up all the whiskey. A simple black dress, close to Morrigan’s size, came next. She happily donned it. One adolescent brought parchment, quill, and inkpot, then allowed ShadowRage to compose two short letters on his back, before the assassin sent him off with the letters in hand.
An old, shirtless man with a wild mop of gray-black curls and a bushy beard crusty from hardened mead dribble, and yet damp from fresh mead dribble, a priest of the Twins, approached the pair. ShadowRage lifted Morrigan’s dress up. The old man gently stripped her bandage. He intoned a sing-song prayer, and grooved his head to the rhythm in a circle. His hands began to glow reddish-pink, and he placed them over the wound, without touching it. Toxins visibly floated from her wound, and he waved them to the dirt. Then he placed his hands gently on the wound, intoning all the while, head swaying. Slowly the wound disappeared, though the redness of the area faded only marginally. Too long it stayed open, and partially infected. She would forever bear a splotchy red mark, though it looked like a large birthmark and not a sword wound scar. ShadowRage dumped a large handful of gold into the old man’s hand. They exchanged some pleasantries as Morrigan felt all over her side where the wound had been, and smiled. She looked at ShadowRage, still smiling, and he returned her smile, his monster eyes managed to seem soft, even affectionate.
A naked old woman with a python wrapped around one of her arms and wrists, with few teeth, a wild afro, and skin darker than the deep tan of most other Niners approached, clutching a large, hinged box. “Okay sexling. Time for your first tattoo,” ShadowRage stated.
"Unless you want to be branded," ShadowRage offered. The old woman glanced from one speaker to the other, wholly patient.
"Branded? No. Why a tattoo? Of what? Where?" she fired off the questions rapidly.
ShadowRage grinned at her. “You’re a slave now, under your right armpit, a black falchion like this,” and he tapped his sword pommel.
Morrigan frowned. “Fine.” The snake lady sat down with Morrigan, opened her kit of needles and inks, and made short work of it. The pain was entirely inconsequential to Morrigan.
Just as the old lady was finishing the tattoo, four of the older children hired by ShadowRage led two fat steers down the Jangle Way and up to ShadowRage. A crowd rapidly assembled around them, among them some old men who chattered with the assassin. The crowd slowly swelled with more bodies as it moved, with the cows, to a large bonfire a ways north off the road.
The beasts were slaughtered, hacked apart, and cooked. Various clay jars of sauces seemed to appear from nowhere. Mead was passed about freely, as were a few cannabis cigars. A fiddler started a song, and many other instruments from the area joined in. Everyone sung but Morrigan. She sipped mead, smoked a little, and kept looking under her arm at the tattoo, while ShadowRage danced with the gypsies. Morrigan had the thought that so far, life was better a slave under ShadowRage than her free with Lynx. She wondered if it might truly be so. What he did with his poker would greatly matter, to say nothing of how consistent men were in changing for the worst after she fucked them.
Finally ShadowRage presented her with a clay plate of beef slathered in a savory, spicy sauce. Morrigan tore into her food like a starved lioness. Exhaustion, alcohol, weed, and itis were overwhelming her. ShadowRage disappeared a few moments and came back with some furs. Morrigan smiled at him, wrapped herself in the furs, curled up in a ball on the dirt, and slept, no matter the raucous carousing of the assassin and the horde of gypsies.
The sun had not yet cleared the eastern ramparts when Morrigan woke up. She was in ShadowRage’s arms. The sky was clear. It was unseasonably warm. There was a faint smell of sewage afoot. He had done his best not to wake her. Unwrapped her from the furs, slowly, gently lifted her in his arms, veered to the Jangle Way, and took the road West. He made it eighty paces or so before her eyes popped open. Her head hurt, but not horribly.
"Sweet rising, sexling," he smiled down at her. Morrigan rubbed her eyes and stretched, then fixated on a massive stone amphitheater south of the road. “Only true building in the Nine. Fane of Freedom. Exact mirror of the Fane of Blood, construction just recently finished. I’m curious to see what the dirtbags do with it. Nexus sure are getting savvy with their skelly laborers, I’ll tell you that.”
ShadowRage didn’t set Morrigan down, and she didn’t ask for it. They cleared another massive set of battlements, the western edge of the Nine, formerly the eastern border of the city. ShadowRage nodded at the first major road north off the Way. “Nexus is down that way. This is the Six. Cyn’s turf. That road leads past the graveyard, the Nexus, and ends at the Fane of Blood.” Shops were everywhere in sight, and the city teemed.
The Jangle Way’s west, south-west curve turned more sharply south. The pair came to an enormous stone bridge that arced over a huge canal, brackish waters flowing perpendicular to the Way, littered with boats of all sizes. “Imperial Canal,” ShadowRage stated as they crossed the vendor-littered bridge. “Cuts the old city right in half. The Seven’s just over the bridge. Policing there is handled by Cherry Sally, and he’s backed by the Lu’Xaon drug man called Lord Lo. Sally’s called Cherry because of his fondness for putting his cigars out on people, particularly in people’s eyes. Old, fat bastard. Shows me due deference, though. Lo knows how to throw a party, he’s alright. Even got a few slaves that can manage the epic feat of mouth-fucking me to fruition. Always wears a mask, no clue what his face looks like. Together they run a fairly tight ship in this ward.”
ShadowRage turned off the Way, took a road that followed the Canal, almost all the way back to the battlements, then took a road south that paralleled the wall. They turned on a road marked New Hope Climb, leading them up a hill, a bluff just north of it, a strip of pines on the south edge. The top of that hill was a little neighborhood called New Hope. At the end of the Climb, the road formed a T onto New Hope Stop, to the left, East, was a little plaza with a well in the center, just opposite the road was a large inn and tavern, with an outdoor, second-floor balcony that overlooked the road, and down the Stop heading West was a number of three story, rather dilapidated apartment buildings. Diagonal across the road from the tavern was a large wooden building that contained Jackless Jack’s Dry Goods, Westwind Wicks, a chandler’s shop, and Forever Stroll Feetstuffs, a cobber’s shop. A porch wrapped around the whole of the building, save for the West wall. In front of the dry goods store was a large willow tree, conspicuously out of place among the many pines littering the neighborhood. It was swaying to and fro, even though there was no wind. Many jumbled, disjointed whispering voices emanated from the general direction of the tree, the words impossible to decipher. “That’s Whispers,” ShadowRage noted, nodding at the tree, as he placed Morrigan on her feet. “Haunted, or something. This neighborhood is New Hope.” He pointed at the inn. “That’s where you will be staying. Mama Mutie’s Last Stop, everyone calls it The Stop-n-Drop, or just The Drop. Lots of halflings live here.” He pointed to a large, L-shaped building that bordered half of the plaza. “Halfling orphanage, that kind that Aien gets her hands on get sent there.” He pointed across the plaza to a building adjacent the orphanage. “New Hope Brewery.” His finger moved left to the back of the building of the inn. “Sunshine Bakery. Great eats there. Murderously good scones and honeycakes.” An L-shaped porch spanned from the front of the brewery, past the bakery and ran across the front of the Drop. “Halflings run all the business here, save Jack’s place. Good folk around here, sexling, be courteous to them. This is your new home. Come.” ShadowRage walked across the intersection and into the Drop.
The Drop was a sizeable building, once a brothel of ill repute, long before the neighborhood became hobbitized. The common room was abandoned save for a dozing man-at-arms at a table, and a young, homely halfling girl with brown-blonde hair, blue eyes, and loads of freckles behind the bar, drawing doodles with charcoal and parchment. “Sash,” ShadowRage called to the halfing adolescent, who looked up from her drawing in time to catch a small money pouch the assassin flung at her head. “This one,” he nodded at Morrigan, “will be staying here a while. She’s mine. Got it?” Sash looked Morrigan up and down and nodded. She produced a key from under the bar and flung it at ShadowRage’s face, who easily caught it with a grin.
ShadowRage led Morrigan up stairs, down a hall, and into a room, one of the rooms with access to the balcony within view of Whispers. Simple large bed, a trunk at its foot, a dresser, and a wooden chair filled out the modest room. Morrigan surveyed the room as ShadowRage handed her the key. He clasped her hand and led her out on the balcony. “I’m going to tell you a secret. When I tell you secrets, you will never tell them to anyone. Mama Mutie, who owns this place, is an old, fat bitch of a halfling, wrecked by plague. Slowly dying. Torrid alcoholic. Her three adopted daughters basically run her business, and you should stay clear of the eldest, Azyla, a manipulative harpy. Sash down there is the nice one, but stays browbeaten by Azyla. Mama used to be a capable thief, went by Gem back then. Worked with Xyv, back when he was just Lord of Orides. He sent her off to Ne’Vu to get close to Besuel, which she did. She double-agented herself out to Feyzura, at Xyv’s request. Besuel was poisoned by her previously to taking the field of battle that became his grave.”
ShadowRage turned his back to the road and the swaying willow with his back against the rail. He growled out some words of power, and enormous leathery wings sprouted from his back. Morrigan was startled, but it faded quickly, replaced with admiration. The assassin snatched her in his arms and leapt into the air. The wings flapped until they were high above the Drop, and off they flew northwest toward the heart of the city. “In case you’re thinking it, we walked here so you could learn the way, sexling,” ShadowRage explained. Morrigan didn’t answer, just soaked in the sights of the city below. The wings did not allow the pair rapid flight, to say the least, but she was thrilled nonetheless.
He pointed out the massive city graveyard, and within its borders the Nexus. Pointed out the Fane of Blood. Their destination was a spa several streets over from the Fane. ShadowRage landed on the street in front of it and gently placed Morrigan on her feet. Two heavily armed orcs rushed up to the pair. ShadowRage fished a piece of paper from a pocket and held it out. One of the orcs inspected it, nodded, and the pair walked off. “Must be new around here,” ShadowRage mused with a frown, irked that they didn’t immediately recognize him. “Anyway, you need a license in Xoll to shape Csaversa, sexling. Stay pleasing to me and I’ll buy you one.” He grabbed her hand, dispelled his wings, and let her into the spa’s foyer. He gave many coins to a barely-dressed nubian looking girl, and pointed at a jar on a shelf behind the desk, which she promptly retrieved for him. ShadowRage led Morrigan through a door into the large, steamy, adjacent room, dominated by a massive, heated bath, the water warmed by rocks under the bath that were kept permanently piping hot from magic. An old orc couple were the only occupants. The assassin stripped his gear, armor, and clothes. Morrigan immediately fixated on his genitals. His trunk was the way you’d think of God’s as big. He smirked. Morrigan did well to hide her fear.
"Congratulations on the third leg, stranger," the old, male orc announced, in a dialect ShadowRage understood.
The female next to him chuckled. “Wonder if that human knows she’s staring at her murder weapon.” They both laughed louder. The assassin smirked larger. Morrigan finally tore her eyes from his dick and surveyed the rest of his body. Mr. Universe stuff, as if carved from jet marble, with a subtle, dark yellow mottle. He was hairless from the neck down. He broke her reverie by sliding her dress off of her. He opened the jar, and spooned some of the oily substance onto his huge fingers, then proceeded to slather Morrigan’s body, giving particular attention to legs, armpits and her crotch. Slick and gleaming nudity. Then he did the same to himself. “This will melt away all your hair. Won’t come back for a while, either. Won’t hurt.” Morrigan frowned. Her rite-of-passage pubic hair had not even adorned her long.
ShadowRage bade Morrigan to sit on a bench against a wall of the sauna-bath, left through another door, and came back with a jug of water, wonderfully cold, kept that way by, of course, magic. They shared the water and sweated, mixing with the oil slathered over their bodies, for many minutes. Then they soaked in the bath. Morrigan thought she would be positively thrilled if the spa thing became routine in her life, and tried not to think about getting split apart by her new master’s poker.
Eventually ShadowRage put his sword belt on, unfolded a very large sack from his pile of belongings, and placed everything else in it, including Morrigan’s dress. He led their nude selves out of the spa, again cast the spell that sprouted his wings as Morrigan assessed her hairless crotch, and flew the pair back to the balcony of the Drop.
Upon entering Morrigan’s room, ShadowRage immediately snatched her and pulled her close to him. He placed her hands on his phallus. Morrigan wished she was drunk. She flirted it into an erection, curious to see it so. With large eyes, she looked up into her master’s eyes. “I don’t think that will fit in me. Really.” He spit on his hands and rubbed his pole. He lifted Morrigan up and eased her on his tip. Morrigan closed her eyes, and thought of her mother’s words. “Shao Fri. Are you a good man?” she whispered.
"The best," the assassin said, with no hesitation. He lifted her up and down, slowly, taking much time and care, until the downs left him fully inside her. It certainly hurt her, but she knew it could be vastly worse, were he not so gentle. For a long time he gently lifted her up and down his pole, until Morrigan started to gyrate against it. He brought her hand down to her clitoris. He held her in place aloft, she lightly humped him and worked her clit until she came, an old hand at diddling herself.
ShadowRage felt so very proud of himself. He had come a long way from the savage he was at age twelve that would have fucked a girl like that literally to death without a second thought. Long he had patiently hunted for someone to bear him a child. He was finding it difficult maintaining his standards the older he grew, and the closer he felt he was to Selenré’s ultimate gift to him. Like Morrigan, he was a natural at shaping Csaversa. A sorcerer, as opposed to a wizard. Since the Godswar more and more were discovering they were the former. It was critical to him that his progeny be gifted in magic. Physically powerful mattered to him as well, but was insignificant in the face of magical talent, dutifully humbled as he was by his trainings with Selenré. He figured Morrigan still had plenty of room to grow, though unfortunately for and unknown to him she was almost fully grown.
He lifted her off of him with a spluck, set her on the bed, and rapidly jerked himself off to climax on her stomach. He was fairly certain Morrigan was who he wanted to procreate with, but he wanted to give it time to see if he could trust her. She was pretty sure she didn’t need that second bath, but could not have been more grateful for how it all turned out. The assassin pulled out a threadbare linen from the dresser and wiped his seed from his slave, then tossed the slimy rag into a corner. He softly pushed her down on the bed and curled up next to her. He was snoring in a minute. Morrigan traced her fingers over his massive forearm, and thought of vampires. She figured if she were a vampire, she would never be raped again. At least not without more blood. She connived on what kind of person she would be tomorrow. She deemed it critical that the assassin fall in love with her.