B1 — 15. Mysterious Marvel

POV:  Elinor’s POV

Recap: Elinor told Dalria that it was her responsibility to make her not want to eradicate her entire race, and Valdar died after being shown by the jungle Elinor, her new minions, and the Vastness.  Pulling back the veil was too much for the old Toad’s heart.

Karava, the Chief of the orange Ri’bot tribe, has stated that he will pull together all the tribes to deal with this new threat.

Elinor waited by Quin as Tiffany gathered what she needed in her new bag.  Edmon stood beside her, arms folded; she knew he was bitter about Tiffany deciding their seating arrangements.  Her emotions were mixed about their rivalry; she felt slight happiness from it, but that was repressed by Emotional Loss, and what came through was interest.

Gwen stood on Quin’s opposite side, waiting quietly to leave; she knew the woman was dealing with a lot internally after the short outburst she’d displayed before.  She was near blind without Tiffany’s fire.

She turned toward Dalria; the toad was getting ahold of her emotions; she’d been silently crying on the same stone she’d left her at for the past few minutes.

A caustic smile touched Elinor’s lips.  “You were so full of life when you killed my parents.  What happened to that energy?”

Dalria cleared her throat, holding her left arm as she rose to look at her boots.  “You … wouldn’t understand.”

“Try me.”

Gwen and Edmon seemed to be listening intently.

“Yes, please do!”  Tiffany’s lively voice called back through the cave; she returned from around the corner, lighting the grayish-black stone around them.

Dalria’s frightened blue eyes darted to the witch as she rounded the corner.  “I—I was a Xaria … I should not—have never been in this position.” She mumbled.

Elinor looked up at Quin.  “You can explain it to us while we move.”

Sensing her desire, Quin gently picked her up and placed her on his left collar bone, setting Tiffany beside her shortly after.  Edmon leaped up the fifteen feet to his position on the skeletal beast’s right shoulder; Gwen and Dalria tensed as his massive hands scooped them up, and her Skeletal Toad jumped up to hold onto Quin’s ribcage.

You really are quite the steed, Quin.

She could feel his joy at her praise, and they began moving toward the keep; it seemed like he knew which direction it was in.  The rustic ground was clear as day to Elinor’s vision, but even Gwen should have been able to see a decent distance with the bright stars and two brightly lit blue moons overhead.

Elinor was momentarily stunned by the beauty of the sky; it was much brighter than what she remembered on Earth.  She could see nebulae, and the stars shone with different colors that made the sky sparkle like a billion gems had been cast into space.

“Such a clear night,” Tiffany commented, following her gaze across the heavens.

“It is,” Elinor whispered.  “I suppose we can go into space … being undead.  That’s an interesting thought; perhaps we’ll have to test that theory out at some point.”

“We do have the time,” Edmon agreed.

Her gaze dropped down to Dalria’s lowered head, staring at Quin’s four feet as he moved expertly across the hazardous landscape.  “So, Dalria. Tell me about your sudden change; explain it to me.”

The toad was silent for a few moments, likely trying to figure out how to respond as the hex would cause her pain if she even desired to refuse an order.  “It’s … Xaria are not supposed to be captured … never give the enemy information. The moment I was captured, I was supposed to take my own life, but … I can’t … you made it where I can’t.”

“Oh?”  Elinor questioned, glanced to her left at Tiffany as she dexterously balanced on Quin’s shoulder beside her.

“She was ordered not to attack anyone, and that includes herself; if she intends to harm herself, then she will also have her mind filled with pain, breaking any attempt,” Tiffany replied brightly.

“So, what does that mean for you?”

“It means—I have disgraced my rank … I am a traitor—honorless … unable to join the Xaria of the past in the great beyond.”  She said, throat constricting as a quake ran down her body.

“The great beyond,” Elinor mused.  “Perhaps there is such a thing as an afterlife if there are spirits.  Who knows which philosophy is correct, but at the very least, I know there is a link to pull them back attached to their bodies.  It’s an interesting concept to ponder.”

“Indeed,” Tiffany chimed in.  “The thought did cross my mind, as well.  It might even be possible without their bodies,” she mused.  “We have much to experiment with; isn’t it exciting!”

“Yes … it is exciting,” Elinor smiled, vision sliding back to her Skeletal Toad.  “We must first carve our place in this world.” Her focus returned to Dalria. “How do you feel about my request?”

“I…”  She cut off, pondering her question, and after several seconds, shook her head.  “I don’t … really know what to think. I don’t fully understand your decision … it’s confusing.  You’re giving me a chance to save my people, but I don’t know how I could convince you. I partially believe you gave me this request to torment me.”  She whispered.

“You’ve lost your freedom, and I’ve given you a request that gives you a semblance of that back.  You couldn’t even so much as desire to oppose us without the hex activating … what does it feel like?”

“Hot,” she muttered.  “It’s like putting my hand in the waters of this waste … but it’s everywhere … inside me … raging.  I’ve never felt anything like it … like knives slowly … constantly … splitting me open, but—but I don’t die, and it continues … until I give in.”

Tiffany nodded brightly.  “That’s a decent description.  Your body isn’t actually getting hot, but it’s a trigger in your mind that doesn’t translate to your body.  Such a fun ritual.”

“Fun,” Dalria mumbled.  “How can such a … I don’t think I could ever understand.”

“Were you not having fun when you were killing us?”  Elinor asked.

“Not fun … I was interested in your responses, but I had no fun killing your parents.  It was just something expected of me.”

“Hmm, perhaps we are somewhat different as a species,” Elinor mused, thinking back on her conversation with Demon.  “Humanity has a very savage nature that can be brought out if pushed.”

“Hum—humanity?”  Dalria tested the word on her tongue.

“Our race—I suppose former race,” Tiffany giggled.  “This body was a human before you killed it. What do you call your race?”  There wasn’t a hint of regret or anger in her voice, only interest.

“I—we’re known as Ri’bot.”

“How funny,” Tiffany giggled.


Elinor couldn’t help chuckling a little herself.  “It sounds remarkably similar to the sound toads make in our world.  Nevermind that; I’ll just call you toads. In any case, tell me what you know about the war with the Quen’Talrat and the Fire Wars.”

Dalria swallowed hard before clearing her throat.  “I—was raised on the stories. Even the oldest Elders were young during the latter half of the Fire Wars.  The foul beasts crossed over their borders and attacked the northern race…”

“Yes, I’m aware of their slaughter of the Trelmere.”

Her brow seemed to crease as her head slowly rose.  “H-how did…”

“Oh,” Tiffany’s eyes sparkled.  “Did Demon tell you about the history of this world?”

“D-Demon?”  Dalria stumbled over the word.  “An evil being told you about the Fire Wars?”

“That must be the translation at work,” Elinor hummed.  “I suppose it’s an accurate description. Yes, something ancient and very powerful … although I hate to inflate his ego.”  She muttered. “He lives in the ground … some dark force. It was the real threat that Tiffany dealt with while you watched.”

Elinor’s eyebrow rose as she saw a slight change in Dalria’s blue spots; her markings had turned a shade lighter.  I must not have noticed it before.  What does that mean?

“The—are you talking about—about the vastness … the unseen eye?”

“That’s an interesting description of him … very accurate,” Elinor said.  “What do you know about the vastness?”

“It’s … dangerous.  The Elders spoke about a whisper that promised great things if you were to do their bidding … only the strong could hear his voice, and the Xaria must be wary of its sweet promises.”

“Typical,” Elinor sighed, transmitting the information to Tiffany and Edmon.  Of course, only the strong would catch his notice.  I suppose the mountain he wishes for people to enter must have powerful protection.

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“He actually wished to use you as some … some carrier pigeon or proxy?”  Edmon growled.  “The arrogance!”

“I don’t know, Edmon.  I feel like this creature is more intelligent than that.”

I agree, Tiffany.  I suspect Demon has examined many different cultures and learned from each, but none of them had as drastic a change as humanity.  The adaptability of humanity really caught his interest, and I expect he’s already whispering to the humans captured, trying to learn more.

“What a troublesome foe,” Edmon muttered.

“Indeed…”  Tiffany’s focus shifted to Gwen as she asked, teeth chattering.

“I-Is this—t-thing … really a d-demon?”

Elinor hummed thoughtfully, examining the area as they swiftly moved across the bare landscape.  The steam billowing off the waters and through holes in the ground moved along with the wind, giving that rotten egg scent sulfur left.

They continued toward the shiny black stone stronghold but it was still a distance away.  Above them, she could see strange four-winged birds flying about in the darkness. The damaged walls towered into the sky like the massive office buildings in L.A., but the keep rose even further, and she had to remind herself that this was a place built to accommodate creatures much taller than humans.

“I’d say think more fantasy novels; think of Demon as an energy being that is forcefully dispersed throughout the world by magical devices that keep him prisoner.  This world is exactly that—a prison for him. That tells you how powerful he is, and for him to live this long, to have so many opportunities to manipulate creatures to release him … whatever it is, it must be extremely difficult to destroy or very well guarded.”

“I s-see,” Gwen muttered.  “That really does put it in p-perspective … you guys aren’t cold?”

Tiffany chuckled.  “We are Undead, dear … hmm, I suppose the wind is coming off the mountains.  The high altitude chills the breeze.”

Elinor frowned as her eyes moved between the sullen toad and shivering human.  “Freezing to death isn’t ideal, and if you catch a cold out here … you’re likely dead.”

“Oh, I can fix silly things like colds,” Tiffany said, studying the two creatures.  “I don’t suppose your race does good in cold places, Dalria?”

She shook her head.  “I have trained in the mountains, but I must concentrate … my body will go into a state of slumber if it gets too cold.  We can survive such environments, though.”

“What options do we have?”

Tiffany hummed, lips pursed to the side.  “I could use my Witch’s Fire; it wouldn’t be draining for something so simple.  However, it would slow my mana recovery.”

“They should be grateful they don’t have to walk, and suck it up,” Edmon grunted.

“Nonsense!”  Tiffany huffed, glaring at the Doom Guard as he stood on Quin’s right shoulder, perfectly balanced.  “Gwen is a valuable set of extra hands.”

“G-Glad I’m—v-valued…”  Gwen mumbled.

Edmon looked off to their right.  “You just love opposing me … we’re being watched.”

“Watched,” Elinor hummed, scanning the darkness, but she couldn’t see anything.  “If we are already discovered, then the light won’t be a problem. We’re already exposed out here in the flats.  Go ahead, Tiffany.”

She snapped her fingers, lighting a large ball of fire that moved with them; it hovered ahead of them before enveloping Gwen, Quin lifting Gwen closer to them.  “Who’s watching us?” Tiffany asked, searching for the culprit.

“To our right, running along the ditch.  They’re small, but they’re following us … not animal behavior.  They’re likely scouts, and from what I’ve seen, they’re not toads.”

Dalria swallowed, taking a deep breath.  “Likely Yaltha’ma … they’re not that dangerous.  They might have some semblance of intelligence, but they’re prey for the monsters of the jungle.  Many creatures that can’t handle the predators of the jungle are pushed to the Deadlands.”

“Explain them and their natural weapons,” Edmon demanded.

“They’re little hairy rodents; they wouldn’t pose any danger to you.  The old … what did you call it?”

“Fortress,” Edmon responded.

“The old fortress of the Quen’Talrat could be their home.  The lingering musk of the creatures kept most others away … there’s also the caves, but…”

Elinor’s mind returned to Demon’s explanation; she tightened her grip against Quin’s neck as he shifted directions.  Both Edmon and Tiffany didn’t seem to be bothered in the least by his quick motion. “What about—the subterranean creatures.  I heard that the Quen’Talrat faced a creature that caused them a lot of trouble below them.”

“Demon, I presume,” Dalria muttered bitterly.  “Yes, I’ve heard stories. They used to have a very large empire, spanning under the jungle and Deadlands.  However, my ancestors slowly pushed them out of the jungle … we were united at that time, and the entire valley was ours.

“They had eight thin legs, and their bodies were like hardened steel; to kill them, I was told you had to aim for the joints … much like I suspect Edmon’s skin functions.”

Edmon chuckled darkly.  “Of course, you theorized how to harm me … go on.”

“Their bodies were thin, and their heads held sharp teeth and poison that could melt the skin or kill you with a drop.  They wove fine string into traps that could cut the flesh … it was a very dangerous foe with a difficult ability. Some that could blend into the jungle and attack you from above…”

“Spiders!”  Gwen squeaked with horror.

“My thoughts exactly,” Tiffany chimed in.  “Did they have big butts and many eyes?”

“Umm … yes, I suppose they did have many eyes … twelve, or so I’m told.  Their butts were the largest part of them and stuck high above them. They had thin, powerful legs that acted like spears, and every part of them was hard and difficult to cut.”

“Even the underside and back?”  Edmon questioned.

“That’s what I was told; there were three layers on its butt that had slight openings to attack, but they were quite thin and could close at unexpected times.  Most were black as night, and they ruled much of the jungle before my ancestors settled in this valley when preparing for the final siege against the Quen’Talrat.”

“What were they called?”  Elinor asked, shifting her legs to a more comfortable position.

“Umm … my ancestors didn’t have a real name for them, but called them The Hidden Ones.”

“A terrible name,” Tiffany sighed.  “Your people are terrible at naming things.  How big were they?”

“I’ll just call them spiders,” Edmon muttered.

Dalria’s eyes moved to examine their surroundings.  “I—guess I’ll call them spiders, then. I’m told that the largest ones were the rulers … the ones that birth the young.  They could get a little larger than the Jëlmér.”

“And what are those?”  Gwen asked.

“The creatures that—that we brought at the camp.”

Gwen’s face paled.  “They—spiders could … they could get as big as an SUV?”  She gasped.

Dalria seemed utterly confused.  “S—U—V?”

“Oh, we must look for some!”  Tiffany exclaimed, bypassing her question.  “I think they would be wonderful pets, and if they were intelligent, then they could fill the Assassin Class wonderfully.”

“We’ll see,” Elinor hummed thoughtfully.  “There could be a treasure trove of possible minions below the surface.  An army of assassins does sound wonderful.”

Dalria’s jaw tightened as her eyes fell back toward the ground, going silent.

Elinor voiced her thoughts to her two advisors.  How many minions can I summon … it says eighteen still.

“Oh, darling,” Tiffany giggled.  “You’re thinking about intelligent minions.  Ask how many unintelligent minions you can summon.”

Okay, how many unintelligent minions can I summon … eighty.  That’s…

“Small, I know,” Edmon sighed, “but you must understand that you have yet to really exercise that skill.  Once you begin to level it up and develop its Proficiency, then it will improve.  You have raised very few unintelligent creatures.”

Elinor couldn’t help but laugh, causing everyone to stare at her in confusion.  “I’m beginning to understand how powerful I really am.” She mused.

Cutting her mental link to her minions, she asked.  Does Prose of the Potentate work with unintelligent creatures … no, what a shame.  Still, if I raise a being using an Intelligent slot, then I will understand every language it does and be able to speak it.  That is surprisingly broken.

Elinor’s lifted her eyes as the full girth of their destination came into view, and it was a full-blown fantasy fortress.  Feeling slightly intrigued by the scale, she asked, Edmon, could you tell me about the design of this … it almost looks like a castle.  How would you rate it?

Edmon hummed thoughtfully, and it seemed like she’d touched on a subject that interested him.  “Oh, well, where would I start … there is much to explore, and we haven’t even gotten a look at how it was designed internally.  To be frank, from a military standpoint, it’s an intimidating structure.

Actually, we might even be able to repurpose it for our uses, depending on the work needed in restoring it; it’s a good topic to consider … is this advanced architecture for this world?”

His helmet dropped to stare at Dalria, and he pointed at the massive walls in the distance.  “Is this kind of structure common among other races?”

Dalria’s head lifted a little, turning her head as best she could to examine the looming fortress ahead of them, still a ways away.

On Elinor’s desire, Quin shifted her to get a better look.

“I … I was taught that this was a revolutionary idea, and was the cause of many deaths among the allied races.  Never had they seen such a massive structure, and the fact that it stood so high was a marvel among many of the tribes; they still don’t understand how it maintains its form.  Some have tried to copy its design, but it requires a lot of physically strong creatures and time to create … ultimately, many gave up.

“The Quen’Talrat were such a physically strong race that … most thought it was impossible without their brute-like strength.  However, I’ve heard the Yalmáth and Ques’ká began constructing such structures. Most races surrounding us use wood as a foundation; it requires too much effort to utilize stone and to bring it into the jungle.  It’s also very cold in the mountains.”

“Interesting … we’ll have to go into detail about those two races.  If they’ve advanced to stone and steel, then they could be evolving in other areas.  It appears you have learned some things in regards to weapons, but structures still lag behind, eh?”

Swapping back to their telepathic link, Edmon continued.  “I’ve been granted a lot of knowledge about defensive structures, and your father had watched a few videos on castles in the past that was given to me.  He appeared to enjoy learning about the historical aspects of castles since he did a great deal of work with engineers.

“Based on what I know, this is a solid design, but Dalria is correct.  This would require heavy labor; it’s the equivalent to creating the pyramids.  The area around us would naturally be a difficult place to build a solid defense because of the toxic and acidic environment.  However, it appears that the Quen’Talrat had some rather intelligent individuals to direct construction.

“There must be a stone quarry further up the mountain, and they built it on a raised foundation, likely a large hill, digging out areas as needed.  They obviously understood the need to dig down to bedrock.

“A structure this massive wouldn’t be able to stand this long or survive the construction itself if they had not removed the soil to lay its foundations.  Each stone I see is likely the size of a grown man and twice as long. Surprisingly, there’s little degradation from the elements, and it seems as if there’s some kind of substance coating the stones themselves.”

Tiffany hummed thoughtfully.  “From what I can see, could they have used marble?  I do see a bit of wear on the collapsed portion of the wall.”

“More than likely, they used granite and a lot of it from what I’m seeing.  You see where they drained the moat; the river leading into the forest to our right?”

Tiffany pursed her lips as she craned her neck to follow Edmon’s pointing hand.  “That part that looks like it’s been dug up?  It must have taken a lot of effort to drain that section of that bubbling liquid … it must have been a difficult thing to create.  Mud pits and acidic pools are all around us.”

“The attacking force probably used moveable structures to provide cover support,” Edmon commented, examining several decaying wooden logs that were sticking out of the ground around the area.

“That bulge in the wall, you see where the attacking force tried digging underneath before hitting the bedrock.  That’s a batter; it helps support the crushing pressure of the structure above. The smaller the surface area, the deeper something will sink into the ground when applying force.  That batter is necessary; it displaces the wall’s weight.

“That slick, shiny substance you see surrounding it.  That’s likely what they used in place of mortar as the binding agent, and it likely acts as some kind of acidic resistor; you can see where it’s worn off on other parts of the wall.

“This was built to be a true fortress, but you can see the aesthetic choices at work, too.  On Earth, castles and fortresses were first built for practicality and efficiency but eventually evolved to incorporate beauty as a symbol that represented the ruler and the scope of their influence.  That’s why I’m having a little difficulty wrapping my head around this structure.”

What do you mean?  Something’s wrong with it?

“No, it just skipped centuries … maybe even millennia of evolutionary advancement in architecture.  It’s no wonder the other races took so much damage against a single race in such a desolate environment.  It’s hard to imagine how the opposing force would be able to conquer a structure this massive with their technology, but they obviously found a way.”

He paused, scanning the waste ahead of them, focusing on displacements in the earth, decaying wooden structures, and mounds before turning his attention back to the walls.

“The broken section in the wall you see to our left, it normally would be filled with more mortar and be placed in a much more random manner.  It would save a lot of time but would weaken the structure overall. However, this structure, at least at this point, was made of solid uniform stone, which makes me wonder how they managed to break it … no, they pulled it down.  How could they move that much weight?”

He posed his question to Dalria.

“I see,” she whispered, scanning the structure.  “You’re looking for signs to see how the assault was done … umm, to be honest, I wasn’t told how they broke into the walls.  That was done by another race that I am unfamiliar with; our race was camped on the other side of the walls, to our right, by the gate.  We were unable to break past,” she mumbled with a hint of shame.

Edmon hummed lowly, folding his arms.

“These are very thick walls; I’d say it’s about two-hundred meters high … a true marvel.  Judging by the thickness of the wall from that broken section to our left, and the exposed batter to our right, I’d say it’s about a hundred meters thick at the base and sixty higher up.  Not only that, but there’s that secondary wall that we can see rising higher than the first.

“You see the passageways high up on the insides of the second wall, but not the first … likely some passages on the lower end, as well.  It’s a smart design; likely wooden bridges were linking the two walls that could be destroyed if needed. Once the first wall was breached, then the Quen’Talrat would break the links.

“There aren’t any windows or interior vents you can see on the first wall because its purpose is meant as a funnel and first line of defense that is meant to be eventually breached.”

“Isn’t that a design flaw?”  Tiffany asked, eyebrows lifting.  “It’s supposed to be breached?”

“You’d think so, but no, it’s a brilliant strategy.  Once you break down that wall, how are you going to get any kind of siege weapon inside while those massive bricks are in the way?  Normal siegecraft in Earth’s history would be things like a gallery, to protect from arrow fire; catapults got as good as trebuchets, but even things like that would be no match for walls like these.  Ballista, testudo or battering rams, and siege towers are not that uncommon.

“However, from what I’m seeing, this fortress is designed against all of that, but according to Dalria, this world has little experience with fortifications, much less how to combat them.  Even if they breach the first wall, then they’re funneled into a pit below that could be filled with just about anything, they’d enter a death pit.

“Let’s say they just build a siege tower, which would be extremely difficult to navigate on this side of the fortress … no, with its size, it might as well be called a city; judging by what we can see, I’d say it covers at least a hundred acres.  It’s understandable since they were three times the size of humans, but it’s just hard to imagine.

“If they built a siege tower that could raise two-hundred meters high … without sinking into the mud and volatile environment, bringing it up to the walls, then great, they’re on the first wall.  What next?”

Tiffany frowned, glaring at him; Quin shifted a little, causing their hair to change directions with the wind.  “That’s not my expertise … I’d just make a fool of myself.  Go ahead and tell us.” She huffed, causing Gwen to glance between them with a worried expression, but her wild hair blocked much of her vision.

Edmon must have been beaming, but he managed to control his voice.

“You can see there are small towers on the first wall, they’re not quite as high as the second wall, and the towers on the latter are massive in comparison … they must rise another forty to fifty meters.

“Each one of those towers on the first wall can be used as a defensive choke that can be used to block advancing troops.  One small section of wall falls, then they block it off, cut the wooden bridges linking the first and second walls, and the attacking force has wasted a ton of resources on a small advancement.  You have a few dozen small towers that can be used to quarantine sections of the wall from the others. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are low hanging walls between the two exterior walls to section it off further.”

Elinor studied the imposing structure with a small smile.  Interesting.  Could we repurpose it?

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“Hmm … possible, but I’d need to do a thorough investigation to identify places to repair.  It would take time, but a lot of groundwork has likely already been done. If we can get more of the Quen’Talrat, then it should be possible.  We could construct more modern means of transporting materials if needed.”

His intimidating black helmet turned to face Elinor as she spoke.  A place that most races have abandoned.  A desolate land, but Tiffany seems to find it rich with materials.  You’re impressed with an already standing structure that we can possibly repair.  Yes … I believe it would be a decent home … a structure large enough to build an Empire.

“An excellent idea!”  Tiffany said with delight.  “Perhaps we can find worthy minions for you around the area.  Although, over a hundred years of decay and in an acidic environment like this … it might be tough unless they were preserved somehow.  It shouldn’t be this way around the entire structure.”

Edmon hummed, visor turning back to study the walls.  “You’re not wrong.  With its size, I’d say we should expect much more from this fortress.  If we could find the quarry…”

Tiffany chuckled.  “This is the happiest I’ve seen you.  Your grin must be so big under that big black helmet!”

“Do I interrupt you when explaining things?”  He irritably asked.

“Oh, no, forgive me,” she said with a wink in his direction.  “I didn’t mean to steal your…”

Gwen cleared her throat, glancing between them.  “Umm—I don’t mean to interrupt … if I was. Do—do you guys do a lot of mind talking?  It’s just … Edmon growls every so often, and Tiffany giggles or glares. It’s just a bit … odd, trying to read the atmosphere.”

Dalria’s eyes widened.  “You can—can speak to each other without speaking?”

“Yes,” Tiffany said with a bright smile.  “We tend to talk about more sensitive subjects internally, but I think this is a rather fun topic.  Do you think it’s appropriate to discuss this, Elinor?”

“I suppose it wouldn’t hurt, and it could help calm Gwen down.  I get the impression that you’re still fairly stressed.”

Gwen forced a chuckle.  “Just—just a little.”

Dalria didn’t add to the conversation, and she seemed slightly perturbed again.

“Very well,” Edmon muttered.  “I’m explaining to Elinor my thoughts on the fortress’ design, and expressing my opinion on its construction.  We’re considering the possibility of its reconstruction and improvement.”

“Re-reconstruction…”  Dalria mumbled with shock, glancing back at the fortress.

A smile touched Gwen’s lips.  “That does sound fascinating; I’d love to listen.  It is a lot bigger than any of the castles I remember in our world.”

“Hmm,” Edmon looked back at the structure.  “I don’t know if I’d call this a castle … perhaps.  Castles are built for living purposes, while fortresses are strategic strongholds to defend key locations.  It’s big enough to be a city, though, and a concentric design, which is beautiful.

“It’s obvious that this side of the wall was a difficult point of attack with the natural defenses around the area, and with the stone accessible from the mountain, it made it an ideal place to build; I suspect that the quarry would need to be close by.  As I was going to say, before Tiffany interrupted me, as usual.” He muttered.

Tiffany looked away with a smirk.

“They must have developed cranes; based on the information I have so far about this world, they don’t seem that technologically advanced, and for these creatures to have developed cranes to raise this kind of marvel … I have to believe that they had access to someone or something that granted them a lot of knowledge to advance so swiftly.”

“Demon?”  Elinor asked.

“Possibly, but it could have been something else; the point being, I don’t think they accomplished everything they reportedly did alone.”

Dalria spoke up, and it appeared as if she was frowning.  “You—honestly believe the Quen’Talrat were that much more advanced than my ancestors?”

Edmon chuckled, and Tiffany looked at her with pity.

“From what I’ve seen,” Edmon grunted, “absolutely.  If humanity were aware of even the possibility of an assault, like the one you made, then you wouldn’t have stood a chance.  You were lucky … very lucky.

“In any case, the Quen’Talrat seemed to have jumped ages in technological advancement.  It’s no wonder it took essentially a world war to defeat them, conquering many races before finally being brought down.  I suspect this landscape was vastly different a century or two ago. This was an excellent last stand for them.”

Elinor nodded.  “It appears that it was … the allied forces lost a great many of their heroes in that war.  From what I was told, it was the spiders we talked about that really caused an opening for them … knowing or not.”

“I haven’t heard of something like that,” Dalria said, clearly uncertain.

Edmon’s armored head shifted to look across the visible wall as it drew closer.  “It makes sense; I don’t even see scaffolding holes … they must have advanced many models of cranes to create something like this.

“They bypassed hoardings and went straight to machicolations on the second wall … those large barriers on top of the second wall that can be used to defend them as they shoot down at the attacking force below.  I don’t see many creatures in this world being able to shoot over these walls unless they can construct trebuchets, but I doubt these races have advanced to that point … it looks like they might have even had ballista on the watchtowers to shoot air forces further out along this barren landscape.

“This is just too much of a leap, from going to being forced into these lands by overwhelming force to advancing to such a high standard compared to their neighbors … it’s just too much for it to be on their own.”

“Do you really suspect Demon gave them that information?”  Gwen asked.

“I don’t know, but … what was the purpose?”  Edmon muttered. “Why give this race such advances and not give them further knowledge to overcome sheer numbers?  Given this depth of defensive technology, offensive technology would have won them the war.”

“This could have been the depth of their knowledge,” Tiffany offered.

“Perhaps … it could have been a test to see how their technology would excel with the current state of this area’s races.  It would require oversight, though, and a lot of instructions. It would be interesting to see how they constructed the gate and inner-city,” he muttered as they came closer to the right side of the structure.

Tiffany whistled.  “It really puts it into perspective as we get closer … it’s massive.”

“What a phenomenal project,” Edmon whispered.  “Whoever designed it would be beyond a genius for this time.  How did they structure it to provide ease of access to import goods?”

Dalria’s eyes were big as she listened, and when Edmon stopped, she asked, “Why would you need such a thing as this?  That would require too many resources … they were working on this for fifty years; we thought that it would kill them.”

Edmon sighed, going silent for a moment.  “You’re not wrong … the amount of resources required to build this is … it’s seemingly impossible.  You’d need a trade empire to gather the workmen and supplies needed. I suppose they might have been able to work mines and monopolize everything nearby alone, but the food required for a workforce this large without farms … something more was happening behind the scenes.”

Elinor spoke up.  “Demon said that they attacked the Trelmere in the north for resources.  I suspect they must have run low; they weren’t looking to capture any as slaves for manpower, but needed goods.”

“I see,” Edmon hummed thoughtfully.  “Yes, prisoners are extremely costly to maintain … guarding, space, and food, to name a few.  If the Quen’Talrat used up every scrap of the resources they had, and once they ran out, launched their campaign, then it could account for them stripping the land of everything they could.  They prepared until the last scrap of food, then pushed north, armed with war machines and years of training. They must have sacrificed a lot to wage their war.”

“They slaughtered hundreds of thousands!”  Dalria yelled. “Why do you make it sound like it is a terrible thing that we fought back?”

Tiffany’s amused orange irises and Edmon’s black helm lowered to her, causing her to drop her head and shiver to run down her spine.  “Don’t misunderstand,” Tiffany chuckled. “We care nothing about them or you; your entire race could cease to exist, and I wouldn’t shed a tear.”

“Indeed,” Edmon snickered.  “The only thing that matters is our Empress; the only worth you have is what amusement and joy you might be able to bring her by serving her Empire.”

“I … I don’t understand you…”  Dalria whispered. “It’s madness … yet you hold so much power.”

“I don’t find it that absurd,” Gwen said, showing a sad smile at Tiffany’s curious eyes.  “Elinor is their bastion … their everything. I feel like if I had kept … kept my kids closer to my heart, then I might be there now.  I don’t know how time functions here … I don’t know if I’ll ever return, but—but I must have hope that I can. Until then … I’ll do whatever Elinor says … she’s the only hope I have to survive.”

Tiffany clapped.  “Well said! What do you say, Elinor?”

Elinor smiled, feeling a touch of compassion through Emotional Loss as she linked the woman to her own lingering human memory.  “If you support me, then I will do everything within my power to return you to your children.  There might be a way, and if there is, then you have my word … my mother will not have died in vain saving you.”

“Thank you, Elinor … what about you?  Would you go back?”

Edmon and Tiffany shifted to listen to her response.

She sighed, looking back up at the stars, and after a second’s thought, a small smile curved her lips.  “If fate is chance and chance is fate … I don’t know. If time is valued, what’s the cost? I did the things I was told to do … go to school … find someone you care for.  It all seems so small now, but … I still feel as if it was taken from me. My future … maybe I’m pursuing a lost desire. My mind’s so different.

“Right now, I’m betting my entire life with every decision.  I don’t think I’ve fully found what I’m dreaming … I haven’t even had a dream.  I have hatred inside … but I can’t help but think it’s a pointless race, yet it’s not so easily quelled.  Right now, I’m just happy to be with Tiffany and Edmon; time will tell what I decide, which is why I gave you that request, Dalria.”

“We’re here for whatever you need,” Tiffany said with a bright smile, pulling back her hair as the wind shifted directions again; Elinor and Gwen both following her action.

“Yes,” Edmon said in a soft tone.  “Wherever you lead, we’ll follow.”

“Enough of that, then,” Elinor said as she examined their position.  “How about we go through that large breach to the left.”

“It seems like our only viable option at the moment,” Edmon said, and Quin turned that way.

Dalria’s eyes fell to the earth, and Elinor noticed a few more tears falling down her cheeks.  “How could a disgraced Xaria … an honorless—be given such a mission. I don’t know the answer … how do you quell hate?”

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