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Old April 9, 2019, 09:20 PM   #1
Riven Stoke
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[AP] Because War is a Drug

Late Autumn, Era XXVI

Aelyria Prime was everything he remembered. Everything he hated. A million people, all either starving for food or for power. On the long nights between campaigns, when he couldn't sleep but for the screams of the dying, he would recall his first time to the capitol. He'd think of the oligarchy who nested here, in their jewels and shining metal, while his men threw back another insect horde. So why in the hell am I back here? The question burned him the whole way along his long trek to this... glorious capitol.

When he first joined the Legions, what seems now a lifetime ago, he fought for honour. Glory. Legend. All the things bards sing about in the public houses. A shame they always left out parts about wounds that don't heal, fighting on half-length rest, and the unique smell of sweat and shat on a legionnaire's leg just before battle... those stories never seemed to make it into the songs. Like everyone else, he also fought for family; Riven left home the day he heard of Xet in Arium. But though ten men fell for every yard they retreated, retreat they did, long from home in the Libertas. No, it wasn't for family, either... Riven fought because he fething loved it. The hard-fought kill gave a rush stronger than any drug, with the same addiction to boot.

But the last time he wore the Legion's galea, he was merely another cog on the front. He had fought his way up the ranks to Cencoris in Arium, learnt how an officer's brain and lungs were as important as his sword and shield. Gods alone knew if that experience would grant him the wish he desired this morning. It was not long after the last of the rising suns when he sought to see his wishes fulfilled, at the same recruitment depot he first enlisted so many years ago.

A quick rap on the door and towards the first man he could find. Riven was a big lad, with the broad shoulders and dead eyes of a man destined for heavy infantry. He didn't imagine finding a recruiter would be particularly difficult. "Serale, comrade." Riven said to the first legionnaire he could find. He remained as respectful as possible with anyone kind enough to treat his words, but eventually dropped the hammer on his true intention.

"I wish to return to the Legions, but if it's not a trouble, I wonder if I could speak to an officer. And before you say no, please, let me show you something."

Riven quickly grabbed the worn leather rucksack from his shoulders. Inside were more than mere physical items. There were memories. The first memory withdrawn from the sack was a frayed glea, plated in brass with red plumes run medially along the top. "I got this galea when I was commissioned a Cencoris in Arium. The man who gave me this helmet died moments later from the sting of a Xetan hornet."

The next memory, a sword in elven steel. Along the wooden pommel, LEGION III is engraved along a small metal plate. "This blade was forged in High Hold, before we drove back the Xet in Enamoria. First foe this sword slew was a fellow Aelyrian, turned thrall under Xetan magic."

The final memory, a steel cuirass padded in cuir bouilli. Despite its quality, a gigantic puncture sliced through steel covering his left chest. "This gash in the plate came from a Xetan Praetorian Knight, when we conquered Paltair Castle, in Arakmat. It was this ugly, mantis-looking bastard. Joke's on him, though; we took back the castle, and I took his head."

Riven placed these memories on the nearest table. "My name is Riven Stoke. I was a Cencoris in the 3rd Legion during the Xetan Invasion. I fought the war on three separate fronts. And I know those insect freaks more than any man you'll find walking into this office.

My sword, my helm, my cuirass. They're all yours. All I ask is to speak with an officer... I want to be my best self again."
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Old April 9, 2019, 10:39 PM   #2
Straylor Leonard

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In the time since Riven Stoke left the Legions, the world had changed.

But in the center of that world was still the old capital: Aelyria Prime. It was the city where Emperors ruled and winged Ancients lingered even after the loss of their Throneworld. The fabled seat of power, prestige, and primacy had no equal in the realm. A million souls would live and die behind its walls and a million more would replace it before long. This was the promise of the eternal Empire, the legacy of its rulers, and the inheritance of the ruled.

And it was the Empire’s legions who paid for it all with blood, sweat, and tears.

For every million of its citizens, thousands of young men would have to bleed and die, to keep the throne’s promise of prosperity.

Thousands more would perish to secure its legacy of a brighter tomorrow.

And a hundred thousand after that would be sacrificed so that the suffering so many experienced every day could be justified in the name of progress.

Riven knew his role as a cog in this great wheel. Every oath he spoke and broke, every man, insect, and beast he killed, and every man he lost was for the glory of the Empire. And now, it seemed, he was back to rekindle that fire once again.

That morning, Riven found that the recruitment centers of the Jade Legion were no more, replaced instead by a series of white canopy tents with rows and rows of men (and a few women) of varying ages and positions in life. Some were clearly farmers, low born folk, while others wore fine linen and had the look of someone who was cared for, even adored. Long wooden tables greeted the fresh recruits while uniformed legion recruiters sat behind each desk in a series with parchment, quills, and inkpots.

When Riven’s turn came, he happened upon a bearded Medonian who looked at him quizzically. “Comrade?”, he repeated with a hint of amusement. Clearly it was not lost on the man that Riven might either be a very enthusiastic recruit or someone already commissioned into the Legion but somehow got lost during a transfer. “An officer? Return?” Now that was an odd thing to say, particularly since legionnaires regardless of their rank, do not have the freedom to discontinue their service in the normal sense of the word. There were only really three ways you get out of the legions: discharge, desertion, or death.

Before the recruiter could respond, however, his eyes widened at the mementos that the stranger produced. His expression varied from suspicion, to surprise, and then curiosity after each of Riven’s stories.

“Bring this man to the Centurion.”

--

Riven Stoke was escorted by two armed legionnaires to the compound belonging to the First Legion. They were headquartered in Old Prime, a stone structure built with the capital’s familiar flair and historic architecture. There was a training compound where fresh recruits were broken and honed for the Jade Legion, the sound of marching orders, shouting, groans, and grunts ringing in the air. From there, Riven was taken to a small office where he was greeted by a mousey clerk who asked for his Imperial Visa. She had dark hair and wore a white blouse with the legion’s insignia.

Then he was shown to an empty waiting room where a hard wooden bench leaned against an empty wall. It must have been a half candlemark or more before another clerk fetched Riven and escorted him to the centurion’s office. The young man seemed nervous and he kept giving the stranger sidelong glances even as he opened the door for him, revealing a cramped space reserved for the highest ranking officer charged with recruitment.

The centurion glanced up at Riven and motioned for him to sit on a wide chair across from him. A narrow desk separated the two of them in the spartan office with only maps and some reference books serving as decoration. The middle aged human regarded the newcomer for a moment, his salt and pepper hair cut short. He wore a long-sleeved quilted undershirt beneath his chainmail. A kite shield and longsword rested on the wall behind his high-backed chair.

“I am told that you are a deserter, Stoke”, the centurion said without preamble. He nodded at some paperwork on his desk, likely the result of a quick check into personnel files after Riven’s identity was verified. “But my men outside say you have a lot to tell me. And that you bring ...gifts.” His clean shaven face twitched into a half smile. But his green eyes remained fixed on Riven.

“Before you say anything that may convince me to arrest you here and charge you for desertion --- listen to me first.” He raised a large hand that was missing his middle, ring, and little fingers. “I do not know your story. But your battle record check out. In my experience, deserters do not come back. Hence, the desertion bit. Least of all to the gods-damned capital of all places, where the price is usually hard labor or death. Sometimes both.”

“So you are either very brave or very stupid, Stoke. And I do not take you for a fool.”

“But that does not change what it says here: you broke contact with the legion. That is ...less than ideal. Now”, the centurion paused for a moment, "that does not change the fact that you are here.”

“As it stands, we could use someone with your experience. I got a letter this morning from an outpost in the Khardran Mountains. Nasty things going on there. The Second and Third Legions could use you and I could ...overlook this gap in your record. The last time we sent fresh meat from the Jade Legion, they were ambushed and we lost nearly half of the boys meant to reinforce our outposts.”

“I fought in the Frontierlands, too, Stoke. I lost some of my best men out there. Now they have me recruiting illiterate farmhands and soft merchant sons with only one good hand.” He chuckled mirthlessly at the thought. “But today, I meet someone who wants to come back -- after seeing the whole world go to Umblat. So I told myself that I better meet this bastard and look him in the eye.”

“Maybe meet a good soldier one last time before I die.”

Last edited by Straylor Leonard; April 9, 2019 at 10:45 PM.
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Old April 11, 2019, 08:28 PM   #3
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His boots bring home the fresh spring mud, but he's too miserable to take them off. Mother is moments from yelling and beating her young cub when she notices the cuts on his knuckles. He's been in another fight. Her young cub is Riven, aged 10, and still not talking. It would be another three eras before he would start speaking. Another three eras of fighting off the laughs and jeers. Mother drops her fist, helps off his boots, cleans off his hands. He looks only to the tired floorboards as Mother wraps an arm around his shoulders, rests a kiss atop his head.

"Long ago, there was this prince," Mother begins. Riven's always loved her stories, even if he couldn't tell her. "One year, the prince was very sad. His father was hurt in battle, his favourite horse had gone lame, and a girl he liked didn't like him back. So his mother forged him a ring, and inscribed on the ring was the phrase 'this too shall pass.' And the ring was right! His father would heal, his horse could still walk, and the prince would find love with another, even more beautiful woman.

"So you don't speak now. Maybe the pissants with whom you attend schola are cruel. But just remember, my son, how much I love you... and that, no matter what happens in your life, this too shall pass."


----

His memories keep him sane while he waits in one room, then another. Sitting alone, unsure of the future, his mind runs away with all the 'what ifs' of his decision to re-enlist. This too shall pass. Nothing about his journey to meet an officer seems ideal. Armed guards, nervous clerks. Only person missing was a headman in a black hood.

It feels an eternity's length before he's finally summoned before the centurion. His quarters may be sparse, but given the tented state of the Jade Legion, perhaps the junior officer believes himself lucky. As soon as the door is closed, Riven falls into attention. Back straight, chest out, thumbs over fists at his side. But his chest deflates the moment he hears the word... deserter. He may as well be called a traitor or coward. Riven's hardly shut his trap since his teens, but in that moment, he's the muted boy with muddy boots once more. This too shall pass. His jaw clinches, perhaps his eyes blink a little longer to hide the fury in his eyes. But he stays quiet, and takes it.

He's about to retrieve his sword and armour for the centurion, but immediately returns to attention when he's told to listen. The officer words are relieving in one instance, worrisome the next. And then, an assignment. The Khardans. He remembers the mountains well, even attempted to start a new life at their base. A new life with a lover, now known only in memory. "I fought for the Third Legion in Arakmat, sir. Good lads in the Third... though how many made it out that Xetan insect nest in the desert, I wouldn't know. I'd be honoured to help the Second and Third however I could."

His eyes have kept straight through his time in the centurion's office. But for the briefest moment, his eyes break focus and look to his counterpart with tired, pale blue eyes. "Sir, if I may speak?" Only if granted permission, Riven continued. "I've been thinking about the Legions ever since the sands blew me away in Arakmat. I want to fight in the phalanx again. I want to learn in a real academy, for real officers, and turn these farmhands and merchant's sons into real soldiers. I only have my sword and armour to offer you... but if I'm to be the last good soldier you meet, I'll bring you Jalat's severed cock if it proves my loyalty.

"Sir."
His eyes return to straightened focus. Standing by, ready for orders. He still fears the headsman or labour warden to enter the room at any moment. With any luck, accepting a trek to the Khardans -- and promising a god's manhood -- would be enough to prove his sincerity to the hardened centurion. And if it didn't, and he was destined for Merovigard, he could always reflect on his life upon the Material Plane and remember... this too shall pass.
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Old April 13, 2019, 10:21 AM   #4
Straylor Leonard

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The centurion’s expression did not change as Riven spoke, though he was certainly given permission to do so. Then the Vagaran noticed a crack in the older soldier’s mouth and he nodded.

“Then you owe me a Jalat’s cock, Stoke”, he replied. “We leave at dawn.”

--

That night, Riven slept in the barracks after he was given new equipment (if he needed it) but he was allowed to keep his equipment. Most men joining the Empire’s professional army was too poor to afford their own gear, but having your own armor and weapons generally came with experience and time served. But despite being in bunks surrounded by freshly minted legionnaires, Riven realized that word about his dramatic arrival had spread. There was talk about an old dog of a deserter having come home. Others talked about a retired Xet-killer who wanted more. Then there was the buzz about their old centurion accompanying them to the Mountains for the first time in years.

Dawn came quickly that morning and the blaring of trumpets jolted the forty or so legionnaires into a frenzy. After a short time, they were in straight lines with their packs and all their equipment readied for the journey. Riven found himself somewhere near the front of the train and he could see the centurion with his plumed helm and a few other officers leading the vanguard on horseback. It was a cold morning and their marching orders were brisk, just below a jog. Loaded with equipment and gear, some of the legionnaires started to tire around Riven.

According to their itinerary, they were heading to Rynum to resupply and then rendezvous with another cohort whose mission status was pending. Riven learned from the other new recruits that there were rumors of bandits in the area and several small cohorts were sent on a search and kill mission three cycles ago. They haven’t been heard from since, so this small pitstop was intended as a resupply as much an exploratory mission.

After several long hours of marching, the centurion barked orders, which was repeated automatically down the line until each legionnaire fell into single rows on either side of the highway to rest. The river was not far and a group of men was sent to fetch water while Riven and a handful of nervous-looking soldiers were assigned to dig latrines some hundred or so paces away from the road.

“Feth me”, muttered an olive skinned recruit next to Riven as he started using the head of his axe to shovel dirt. He was called Combs and he had short cropped hair. It was unclear if his surname was ‘Combs’ or that was his nickname but he must have been no older than nineteen or twenty summers. He was a lanky lad, which made his standard issue armor look a little ill-fitting.

“Oy shut it over there”, another recruit snapped as he, too, began to use his sheathed sword to dig. The redheaded lad was called Surrey and he was freckled with green eyes. Riven remembered him because he talked about food the entire march over. “The sooner we get this done, the sooner I can lay down and die in it.”
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Old April 16, 2019, 04:10 AM   #5
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Try as he might, sleep would stay elusive the entire night before their march. He hadn't the greatest hearing, but wasn't so deaf to miss the whispers as he walked out his tent, or passed a campfire. Even Riven couldn't confirm which stories were correct, or at least had merit. So instead of sleep, he decided to polish his galea one more time. With every brush of his cloth against the metal, he remembers the officer who gave him the brass-plated helm. He remembers the colour of the officer's blood sharing hue with the crimson plumes across the helm. He doesn't deserve to wear it, not anymore. So with the moon at its zenith and the camp quiet, the large Vagaran ventures to the edge of the Jade Legion's holding, sword in hand. A small hole is carved into the ground, then its dirt returned over the buried galea. Perhaps, many moons from now, Riven would return to reclaim what was once earned by a man now unworthy to wear it.

The sandman must've taken Riven at some point during the night, for the trumpets raged him back to life with the dawn. His torn cuirass and gladius were strapped on tightly, followed by a trio of pilum over his back. And of course, his family's bear pelt was strapped over his back, its black skull resting on his shoulder. He fell in line in the column, greeting a pair of lads named Combs and Surrey, and carried on.

The march is harder than he recalled, though he can't be surprised given the time it's been since he last fell out. After hours of marching, holding to dig latrines was almost a reprieve. Almost. Surrey's conviction at least drew a smile despite the undesirable task.

"You dare die in this latrine," Riven started at Surrey. "And the last thing you'll see is me dropping a shat on your deflated chest. Much more pleasant dying with a sword in your hand, innit?"

Riven continued to dig out his part of his latrine with sword as steady as possible. "Tell you what, Surrey. If you and Combs can finish digging your latrine section before I can, the first five rounds back in prime are on me.

I mean... unless you don't have the stones for some competition?"


Riven gave a sly grin and went back to digging. It was all he could do to distract himself from digging troughs to introduce some action.
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