B1 — 16. Rise Of The Empire

POV:  Elinor’s POV

Recap: Elinor, Tiffany, Edmon, Gwen, Dalria, and Elinor’s minions are on their way into the massive city-like fortress after Edmon went into detail on some of the engineer and architecture of the colossal testament to the Quen’Talrat nation, and the evidence of its downfall.


The group fell silent as they came upon the dry moat surrounding the colossal black walls; looking up at the structure from this distance, it was more than a little intimidating.  The sheer size of the enclosure dwarfed anything she’d seen, but the signs of its defeat were evident; there were sections of the moat that had been filled in with dirt, likely brought from the jungle.

Quin’s large size and tireless body made it easy for them to scale the massive broken and decaying stones spread out across the damaged sections of the defense.  Edmon was right; the first wall had no internal corridors.  The solid towering structure was on both sides of them as Quin hopped up the rising mound.

Elinor hummed thoughtfully as she looked up; they made it inside.  She caught sight of dark clouds, and noticed a change in the air pressure, telling her a storm was brewing.

Edmon, Tiffany, do you feel that?

“Oh, yes, a storm!”  Tiffany hummed, looking up as she managed her hair.

“It’s good that we’ve found shelter.”

It was like they were entering a steep canyon; Quin descended the stair-like decline to the dry bottom without incident.

She couldn’t see a break in the second wall, but there were smaller barriers leading around the inner deathtrap.  The bottom of the channel was in a u-shape with a batter on either side of them.  The stone barriers ahead seemed to be placed every eighty meters, and stood at least fifteen meters high, blocking advancing troops if they made it beyond the first obstacle.

Edmon nodded, acknowledging her impressed tone as they continued across the smooth trench.  “This type of fortress resembles a German defensive design called a Zwinger.  The double walls, and there being defenses in between them is consistent with their construction.  We’re following the path of the raiders of a hundred years ago.”

“German?”  Dalria repeated, finding it challenging to say the word.

Everyone ignored her question as they moved forward, eyes scanning everything.

“They really do shine like a polished granite countertop,” Gwen whispered, glancing around at the fallen battlements as Tiffany’s Witch’s Fire illuminated the stone beside them.

Edmon continued to explain shortly after.  “The barriers ahead of us were only meant to hamper movement, and you can see that the attacking force decided to build ramps over it rather than taking them down; that option was rather difficult with how tall the walls are on either side of us.

“However, the price for making these stairs must have been high.  If the guards up top had enough supplies, they could throw all sorts of things down on their heads.  Dropped from that height, it would have been more than fatal.”

Tiffany pointed at metal grates inside the smaller granite walls, showing between the thick wooden barriers that were falling into decay.  Her finger drew everyone’s attention to sealed holes further up the second wall.

“I suppose they had some kind of pump or natural water source inside that they could flood this area with if needed.  To me, it looks like they didn’t design it to be a very deep moat, despite the depth.  What sort of liquid did they use?”  She whispered, seemingly not expecting a response.

Quin easily found purchase on the remaining ramps, and they continued onward.

“This is the first time I’ve witnessed this myself; it’s … much larger than I imagined,” Dalria whispered.  “This was a forbidden place by treaty between races.  I don’t know how I would have gotten over such a massive structure.”

“That’s the point,” Edmon chuckled.

They made it past a few more gates in relative silence, and everyone was forced to hang on as things became a bit rougher; Quin was forced to do some impressive acrobatics to bypass the damaged planks hampering their progress.

Elinor’s vision wandered around, holding fast to her steed; thick metal grates to their right caught her attention as they passed a spot in the wall.  They appeared to be closely linked and in a variety of designs; there were multiple frameworks inside to prevent anyone from just slipping in or sawing through one section.

Edmon noticed her stare and had Quin stop to get a better look.  “I suppose they needed some way to get liquid into the second moat; it looks like steel from the color.  Plain untreated steel shouldn’t have held up this long, and even with how thick it is, it would have been easier to go through this than these massive walls…”

Tiffany hummed with interest.  “Quin, dear, could you set Dalria down and bring me closer?”

Dalria quivered a little, having to catch herself as Quin quickly dropped her to the ground.  If Elinor didn’t know better, she’d suspect that he held a grudge against the toad-woman.

He carefully brought the witch closer to the gate, and Tiffany slid a finger down one of the rods as thick as her leg.  Her eyes widened.  “Oh, how … fascinating.”

“What is it?”  Edmon asked.

“Carbon steel mixed with…”

“Impossible.”

Edmon’s statement was flat and definitive, but Tiffany continued to examine it.

“Seventy-three percent carbon steel as a base and for flexibility, twenty-five percent cobalt to increase resistance to wear, hardness, and toughness, and two percent chromium for anti-corrosive properties.”

“Like I said, impossible.  There’s no possible way they could even forge something like that in the first place; it’s difficult enough on Earth without proper equipment and knowledge.”

“How did they get it, then?”  Tiffany challenged.

“I don’t know … it’s just … there’s something wrong with this,” he growled.  “The work that went into this is just beyond thought … a fantasy.”

Tiffany smirked.  “Look at us, dear; I’m a Witch, and you’re a Doom Guard.”

He looked up at the shadow above them, everyone following his gaze.  “This is something … overblown.”

“If we can use it, then great; they must have some kind of forge or manufacturing plant here or close by.”

“I’d like to see that,” Edmon grunted.  “Anyways, let’s see what other mysteries this fortress holds.”

Quin replaced Tiffany next to Elinor and reached down to grasp the stationary toad-woman below.  Dalria was paying close attention to their conversation, but let out an odd high-pitched noise as Quin’s hands closed around her.

“Quin,” Elinor chided.  “Dalria is important for information; don’t break her.”

Both of the gorilla-beast’s heads lowered, and she could feel his wordless apology.

She rubbed his shoulder bone.  “I know, she used to be my enemy, but now she’s helping me.”

A low grunt left Quin’s polished jaw, green flames flaring slightly.  

Thick metal gates were leading to the external moat along a few sections; filling the channels would actually take a bit of prep time.

Eventually, they made it to the side of the wall where, according to Dalria, the toads had been based.  There was an impressive looking metal gate that was still standing, open to the world; the gateway was crafted above the normal terrain height, requiring a ramp to be used on the opposite end.

Elinor caught movement by the ramp; several furry animals jumped up the rise, seeming to follow a well-marked path for their small frames.  They appeared to be a mix between a mongoose, monkey, and fox.

She thought they appeared somewhat cute with their multi-colored fur, long bodies, puffy tails, and monkey-like arms and legs.  They were at least two feet tall, and they had feathers between their arms and legs that were even brighter than their fur.

One of their less attractive features were their four eyes, two in place like a normal fox, and two diagonally placed to the sides of their forehead to view their surroundings.

Two out of the four stopped for a moment, whiskers twitching as they sniffed the air and stared at their advancing party; it was only for a moment before they swiftly ran inside.

“Yaltha’ma,” Dalria stated.  “I’m surprised they came this close; from what I  heard, they were slaves to the Quen’Talrat.”

Elinor turned her attention back to the battlements.  The drawbridge between the gates had been broken, showing metal chains hanging uselessly above them, but the race that had managed to penetrate the fortifications to this point had built another makeshift ramp to get to the gate, apparently opening the gate for the toad forces.

Edmon had them stop at the top, surveying the gatehouse.  “You said they wouldn’t be a threat?”

“No,” Dalria stated with a sharp shiver.  “Not to you.”

Tiffany hummed thoughtfully.  “Still, we should be on our guard.”

“I agree,” Edmon muttered, helmet assessing the passageway.  “Dalria, if something attacks, then you must restrain it.  Do not kill it; an example must be made.”

She nodded mutely.

“Right,” he whispered, head turning to the open metal gate.  “This is fascinating.  The outside gate was opened from the inside, taken by force, but the defenders managed to break the drawbridge beforehand.  That must have bought them valuable time.  The front gate had a rise, double portcullis, and gatehouse … heavily fortified.

“The second wall seems to lead into a long tunnel, but because of how thick it is, they can have several portcullis’ and deathrooms within.  This must have been a nightmare to take.  It would have been much more efficient to starve them out, if possible.”

“They tried,” Dalria muttered, a little overwhelmed by the size of the gateway; it could have comfortably let a dozen Quen’Talrat Elite Hunters inside, shoulder by shoulder.  “The battle lasted years … the Elders speculated that they were eating each other like savages, but … I was told that they had many hidden supplies below, and means to store them, in caves … goods stolen from their conquest.”

Edmon continued to analyze the engineering aspects of the structure as they went down the long, pitch-black gateway, under the wall of the city within.  The portcullis’ were forced open by heavy metal levers and wedges that still held.

“Dalria,” Edmon pointed between a few of the devices as they moved on.  “Which race created these?”

“Umm … the ones who opened the gate for us were the Yalmáth; it might have been…”

Edmon didn’t respond, turning his attention to the massive space they’d entered.  They were still underground; the vaulted ceilings a good twenty meters above them were held up by pillars throughout the area.

They inspected the room as Quin slowly entered, stopping a few meters inside.  There were metal and wooden scraps of what looked like barriers, stools, shields, timber, and weapons too large for any toad to utilize; a lot of things were so disfigured that it was uncertain what their purpose was for.

“We’re not alone; I sense dozens of those Yaltha’ma hiding underneath all this…”  He paused as whispers began circling the room, furry heads poking up and darting back.

“The strong one…”

“The return!”

“Yaltha’ma be saved!”

“Bones … bones alive!”

“The fires return!”

“Fires!”

“Smoke rises again!”

“The old ones foretold!”

“Return!”

“Rise!”

Elinor frowned at the reception, but a thought quickly entered her mind.  “Quin, set Gwen and Dalria down, then hold me high in the air.”

“Elinor?”  Tiffany and Edmon asked.

Quin quickly complied; Gwen stumbled a little as she tried to stand, but she caught herself.  A sharp quiver ran down her body as Tiffany’s fire dispersed, now outside her range.  Dalria appeared nervous but ready to move in any direction to follow Edmon’s order.

Her two councilors watched her curiously as Quin lifted her high into the air; the whispers hushed.

Elinor’s voice was cold, clear, and commanding.  “Yaltha’ma,” she gazed across the room, “reveal yourselves to me.”

The colorful creatures poked their heads out and slowly approached, bodies trembling from her dominating aura.

“You know the Quen’Talrat?”

Two of the dozen or so creatures nodded shakily.  “Yes … Yaltha’ma knows the Quen’Talrat…”

The second picked up where the first left off; he sounded a bit younger.  “…Great ones say—they say—Quen’Talrat protected Yaltha’ma…”

“…one day—Quen’Talrat return to protect Yaltha’ma.”

Elinor’s ghostly green irises swept the crowd as more cautiously joined the gathering from around the large room, appearing from underneath rubble and doorways.  “I am Elinor, and I rule the dead; the Quen’Talrat are dead … bones, but even in death, they serve.  Lead me to your great ones.”

She was a little surprised to hear edges of excitement rush through the throng as the two that spoke bowed their heads.  “Yes—Lo’ra, and Ko’ca, takes Elinor, ruler of the dead, to see great ones!”

“How befitting!”  Tiffany cooed with glee; however, Edmon’s tone held reserve.

“Be careful … Dalria… “

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“I—understand,” the toad-woman whispered brokenly.

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Quin returned Elinor to his shoulder; he picked up the human and toad, Tiffany reigniting the fire around the woman to ease her chills.

They followed the whispering Yaltha’ma further into the structure, winding down long corridors with multiple rooms; each doorway could easily fit two Quen’Talrat.  They ascended the giant uniform steps, and the creatures used the decently sized ramps on either side of the stairs while Quin simply strode up the black granite staircases.

Elinor paid close attention to the groups of animals as they whispered amongst themselves.  The creatures each talked in the third-person, speaking their names and race.  It was also clear that they were involved in some kind of religion that had been passed down by these great ones.

In the manner they marveled and talked about Quin, they thought of the Quen’Talrat Elite Hunters as some form of demi-gods.  They worshiped their remains, which put a spark of joy in her cold heart.  She communicated to her minions through thought.

When I heard their whispers, I figured that they weren’t quite afraid of us, but more shocked.  Quen’Talrat are supposed to have been hunted to extinction on this continent, according to Demon, yet we show up with an Elite Hunter.

They were told the Quen’Talrat would return to protect them, and it’s obvious that they don’t care if it’s as bones or flesh.  Quin submits to me, which means that their demi-gods are returning with even greater power.  This is exciting for them.

They’re talking about their other bones coming back to life; death is a clear concept for them, and seeing Quin in his current state gives them an image of what to expect.  If they’ve preserved the bones of the Quen’Talrat … I’ve got my army.

“Quick observation!”  Tiffany chimed, leaning over the side to study the little furry creatures.  “I’m quite impressed, and they certainly have a strange way of speaking.  I suspect that they aren’t the brightest bunch.”

“This seems … too convenient,” Edmon growled.  “We should proceed with caution.  They could be leading us into a trap.  We don’t know what kind of defenses are still active here.”

We will deal with obstacles as they arise, but this is too good of an opportunity to pass up.

Paying Edmon a bit of mind, Elinor had Quin slow their pace a bit, allowing them to look around as they followed the Yaltha’ma.

The walls showed signs of battle, but overall, the structure was in fantastic shape.  If they brought in an interior designer, then they could really spruce the place up.  Since it was built for massive creatures, there was more than enough room to fit an army; designed to fit an army of Quen’Talrat.

Most of the furniture and doors had been devastated, leaving the rooms a mess, and most were filled with dust and cobwebs.

Tiffany hummed curiously as they began to attract a wave of Yaltha’ma, a colorful rainbow tide darting around beneath them, chatting excitedly as they ran.

“I wonder what they eat.  Maybe it’s the bugs that are attracted to the wood in the area; much of this should have already been decayed, but if they’ve been using this area as a feeding ground, then it would make sense how they’ve all congregated here.  It being abandoned by the other races and made off-limits also gives them protection.”

“I’m less concerned about what they eat, and more about these old ones.”

“My bet is that they’re just old Yaltha’ma; they probably passed down stories about the Quen’Talrat empire.”

“I’d rather not bet…”

“Boo!  C’mon, Edmon, don’t be a stick in the mud.”

“Ugh … fine, I don’t think it’s the same race.  They don’t appear intelligent enough to have a commanding leader to direct such a big following.  It could be another race.”

“Okay!  It’s a bet, and the winner gets to sit next to Elinor the next time the opportunity arises.”

Elinor suppressed a giggle, but she couldn’t help her lips twitching.

“Wait!  Hey, you’re sitting next to her right now; it’s my turn next.”  He mumbled, glaring over at the witch.

Tiffany winked.  “Scared to lose?  I mean, you have the advantage; I’m chips down on one creature while you’re betting on anything else in the universe.”

“No … I’m not scared; it’s just … it’s my turn next.”

“You’re totally scared,” Tiffany said, flashing her teeth in his direction.  “I understand if you want to back out.”

“Grr … I know you’re playing me, but … you’re not wrong.  My odds are great, and I could wipe that grin off your face.  Fine!  Let’s up the stakes, the winner gets to choose two events.”

“Deal!”

Edmon seemed to be glaring at Tiffany’s carefree face as she casually kicked her feet out, humming one of her mother’s favorite songs, Bulletproof.  The interaction brought a sense of peace to Elinor’s heart, and she turned her attention back to their surroundings.

It was like the fortress was built to be a maze, and there were signs of defensive positions that could easily be blocked off and defended throughout their rise through the structure.

Eventually, they made it outside, passing through a broken metal gatehouse with double latticework defenses.  The chilling wind shot out, blowing back their hair; the storm was advancing quickly as dark clouds converged on the Deadlands.

The inside of the city fortress was gigantic; the buildings around them rose nearly to the second wall.  The amount of structural engineering to disperse the weight almost seemed to make Edmon pass out.  He sounded like a kid at Disneyland as he took in every inch of the place while they moved through the dirty black streets, a swarm of Yaltha’ma guiding them.

“Forget my previous estimate,” he mumbled, looking down the straight street, extending into the distance.  “This is a city … it’s at least a thousand acres, and it extends into the ground.  The amount of granite … the workload, and architects it would take to just design.  This top section must be the living quarters.”

His gaze shifted to the massive keep their path lead to.  “With modern equipment, this would take … so long to build.”  His gaze shifted to metal rods in the ground around the edges of the sizable main street.  “I think … they had access to train technology; this just doesn’t make sense.”

“It is pretty, in a gothic sort of way,” Tiffany commented, giving her a wink.

Elinor chuckled softly.  You’re not wrong.  It does have a nice gothic tone to the aesthetic; the black granite is a charming base.  I think you’re right, Edmon; this could be a fantastic base of operations.

“Ignoring the impossibility of it all; yeah, I agree. They even have plant life growing up here … fruit trees and small gardens.  The more we see, the stranger it appears.”

“Alluringly strange, indeed,” Tiffany said, examining the trees and sections of dead plant life in decaying wooden troughs beside houses.  “I could see the Yaltha’ma using these resources, too.”

It took them a bit of time to stand before the gigantic center building that looked more like a palace than a keep; it towered high above the city, even surpassing the eight watchtowers surrounding the inner wall.  A path was designed around the structure, and the eight main roads splitting the town all met here.

There was glass mixed in with the stone, and sections of the building were golden and a faded cream color that at one time was likely a brilliant white.  It had a left and right-wing that stood slightly above the second outer walls and seemed more for entertainment than pure military design.

A faint red glow could be seen from the windows within, and a sizeable terrace overlooked the street three stories above, displaying an elegantly crafted metal railing that was at least twice the height of an average man.  The front gatehouse was almost a formality; it would have been much easier to attack different sections of the building.

Elinor was a little surprised to find fountains spraying clear liquid in select places around the square and sections of overgrown grass that had extended over the dirt-covered granite streets.

A granite city … they seemed to have quite a design change with this building, though.  It looks more spectacular and over the top than for pure defense.

“Yes, likely for the head honcho himself,” Tiffany chuckled.

A disappointed hum left Edmon’s throat.  “This is a bit excessive; I mean, it could be changed into a decent defensive structure, but some of the designs are … it’s not really a keep.  You’re right; it’s more like a palace.”

“Still!  It’s decent enough for someone of Elinor’s status.”

The Yaltha’ma brought them through the colossal entranceway, which lead to an extended metal bridge that could be retracted.  Beyond was another gatehouse with triple Portcullis’ that were open, as if welcoming them inside.

Gwen was more or less blind outside, silently taking in what she could observe with the support of the bright starlight and orange glow cast by Tiffany’s Witch’s Fire, but when they came upon the palace, red lights inside caught her attention.  Her mouth dropped open as they entered the inner sanctum past the guard posts.

Dalria’s head darted around like she was on a spaceship as they walked through gilded metal double doors.  The entrance hall was like something out of a princess movie, but at least four times the size; three overhanging balconies rose to the front terrace, clearly for entertainment.  The walls appeared decorated with gold and silver, the precious metals embedded into the wood lining the stone walls of the fortress.  Strange gems were fastened into the ceiling, releasing a mysterious soft red glow.

Piles of bones were gathered on either side of the main walkway, leading to the curved stairs on either side of the room, rising to the second level; similar curved stairs could be seen on the second floor leading to the third.  Ahead of them were a pair of partially opened, expensive-looking double doors beyond the arching architecture.

The Yaltha’ma seemed to be leading them that way.

“Stop,” Elinor instructed, causing the throng to hush within moments; they looked up at her, eyes wide and waiting for her proclamation.  Looking around, she smiled.

If they see this as some religious prophecy fulfilled, their protectors returning to save them … what better example.

She willed Quin to set Dalria and Gwen down; once done, he gently held his hand out for her to transfer positions.  Edmon and Tiffany kept their places on the gorilla-like monster’s shoulders.

Elinor stood tall, glowing green irises appraising the small fox-like creatures; she held her hands behind her back as she’d imagine a dignified person would do.  “Some of you may have heard rumors—hoped for the return of your saviors.  Make no mistake; the Quen’Talrat are my servants, and I, their master.  If you serve me faithfully, then I will protect you.”

She held out her arms, emerald flames birthing along their length as Herald of the Empress was activated; two dozen green butterflies left the fire, designed by her desire to create mindless Undead.  “Now, arise.”

The Yaltha’ma watched with bated breath as the flickering heralds moved to the bone piles lining the area; seventeen candidates were found.

The creatures gasped, huddling together in the middle of the room as green flames burst into life along the mass graveyard, and the low growl of their rising vibrated the air; shamrock-colored lights danced with the red glow along the walls, leaving a chilling scene to unfold before the cowering creatures.

“By the ancestors…”  Dalria whispered in horror.

The sound of scraping bone and guttural growls shook the onlookers as seventeen complete skeletal Quen’Talrat emerged from the pile.  Their enormous hands crushed the broken and damaged bones underneath them, rising to their full height to survey the room with their burning eyes.  Her skeletal toad hopped off Quin’s back to join the ranks as they assembled.

Edmon balanced dexterously on Quin’s right shoulder; his black armor seemed to absorb light instead of reflecting it, and his form-fitted armored hands were held stiffly at his front.  He silently observed the scene, but Elinor could sense his relief; he had soldiers to command.

Tiffany was the exact opposite, casually kicking out her legs on Quin’s left shoulder, hands behind her back without a care in the world.  Her crisp tone was thrilled as her orange irises appraised each new addition.  “Excellent!  Welcome to the Empire, darlings.”

The soldiers lined up along the central walkway; none were Elite Hunters, showing Elinor the differences in their physical stature.  Non-Elites appeared to be oversized gorillas with two heads, a single, lesser tail and were at least a meter shorter than their larger counterparts.

Despite the less intimidating appearance, these gorilla-like monsters gave off a sinister presence with their polished white bones licked with emerald flames.  The strange vibrating sound that they made sent a frightening pulse through the fox-like creatures; the skeletal beasts towered over the insignificant animals, flexing their fingers against the granite floor.

The Yaltha’ma dropped to their bellies, facing Elinor while mumbling prayers to some deity.

Elinor smiled wickedly.  “The rise of the Empire begins; take me to your old ones.”


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