Aurelia Oreseus stood on the deck of the Aurora and stared off into the distance as the distinctly kesiri minarets and towers came into view. The chill of the northern wind blew her leather coat back and nearly knocked the hood of her cloak off.
Land had been visible for most of their voyage from Milasylla. The Aurora, a sturdy sailing ship, had made its way down to the divided city of Pal Ador in Borua to pick up construction and farming tools, before making its way north, to Vashra.
Aurelia smiled. The Northern Lights Trading Company had been recruiting in Milasylla for caravan security up in the relatively new region of Vashra. The territory had been claimed by the Moresian Empire since the Treaty of Pal Ador was signed, but it was only in the last twenty years that the Empire had actually begun to expand its power northward of Kavdia.
Or, more accurately, eastward of Ere’Vaasra, Aurelia thought to herself. Really, where better to begin an expansion than from the abandoned port city, with its natural harbor?
Now, colonies and towns had begun to dot the formerly empty landscape. The land had proved to be rich in natural resources, and the Northern Lights Trading Company had been officially chartered by the Luminescent Emperor himself to organize the proper use and extraction of Vashran resources. They had also begun a recruitment campaign, trying to rally settlers to move north.
Ahead, the subtle spiral of the kesiri minarets blended into the organic looking stonework below. The closer one’s eyes got to the shoreline, the less organic the stone work seemed, and the sharper the corners became. The sea wall proper jutted out at regular intervals in triangles, like the arms of a star.
Aurelia shook her head. Had the kesir wanted to defend this city, it would have cost hundreds of freeman lives, maybe thousands. This fortress-city was far more defendable than Three Falls had been. Aurelia had read a depiction of that battle, and it still made her slightly queasy.
Aurelia had made a name for herself with House Nalambar, operating as an independent “problem-solver” in the capitol city. The Chancellery of Milasylla had officially recognized her actions twice, once for uncovering a smuggling operation working inside the city proper, the other time for tracking down a rogue Legion Tribune who had stolen equipment before leaving the Imperial Army to form his own mercenary company. She had been asked to “make an example of him”, a task she had reluctantly accepted.
She closed her eyes as the memory came back to her.
Rain soaked through her cloak and the inside of her boots as she attempted to make her way to the command tent. The mud made a sucking sound every time she lifted her feet, but it was nearly inaudible compared to the overwhelming roar of the rain and wind.
Two guards manned the entrance to the tent, both holding glowrods, metal sticks that stayed lit even in the rain. They looked young: one looked barely twenty, with a few scars on his face and eyes that kept moving; the other looked fifteen at most, tired and scared.
For a brief moment Aurelia paused. Taking lives had never come easily for her; she prayed to Millona that it never would. On the other hand, if either of those guards managed to make enough noise to sound an alarm, the entire camp would be hunting her.
She closed her eyes and steeled herself. For the mission, Aury, she thought.
Always for the damned mission.
She moved quickly. A dagger flew from her hand to the older guard’s throat. As he gasped and clawed at his throat, the boy looked around, scared. Just as she had predicted he would; he was too young and inexperienced to remember to make noise at the first sign of trouble. She rushed him in the darkness. A fist to the throat, a knee to the crotch, and the boy was on the ground, his breath caught in his throat. She kicked him in the back of the head, knocking him unconscious.
Aurelia grabbed the two glowrods and set them upright, wedged in between the tent and a few nearby crates. She then snuck over to the older guard, still gasping on the ground. “No offense, soldier; just business.” She whispered before turning his head away from her, twisting the dagger, and pulling it out at an angle. Blood sprayed out, away from her, as she let his body drop forward. The blood quickly disappeared into the mud by the tent, washed away by the driving rain.
She dropped to her hands and knees in the mud and approached the flap of the tent. Water now soaked into the last places she had thought dry. She grumbled under her breath as she peeked into the tent at knee height.
Inside was the rogue Tribune. He had stained his Legion armor red, but otherwise, wore all the accoutrements of his old station. He sat at a field desk, facing away from her. A few candles lit the desk, leaving his cot and footlocker on the other side of the tent in darkness.
The former Tribune was scribbling furiously. A stack of parchment rolls sat in front of him, blank. His helmet sat on the bench next to him, his dark hair wet and matted.
Aurelia slowly crawled into the tent, keeping low until she was directly behind the former Tribune. She slowly made her way to her feet, then patiently crept forward. Her instinct was to move quickly to the target, but fast movement risked grabbing the officer’s attention.
As she crept forward, she began to slide the Legion gladius at her side from its leather sheath. She switched to a reverse grip, the blade pointing downward. She was barely a yard from the officer now. Her heart stammered in her chest, her stomach churning at the thought of what she was about to do. She forced herself to remain calm, to continue to move slowly, despite the fact that every second she was in here she risked exposure.
She pointed the blade at the back of the officer’s neck, a spot just above the collar of his armor, the blade angled slightly downward. Aurelia used her free hand to brace her sword hand, ready to drive the blade down through his throat.
The wind picked up suddenly, and one of the glowrods outside fell from its resting place. The officer stopped writing, cocking his head. He looked tensed and ready to move.
Aurelia took advantage of the moment, driving the sword forward and down. The point of the gladius emerged from his voicebox, causing a unique gurgling sound to emerge from his throat. He tried to stand, but Aurelia easily pushed him back into his seat. “The Empire would like to thank you for your many years of loyal service, Tribune Gaius Beleri. The Chancellery, unfortunately, disapproves of your retirement plan.” Aurelia hissed in the officer’s ear. “You are hereby released from your service to the Luminescent Emperor. May Millona judge you properly in the next life.”
She moved the Tribune’s head so that he was facing the corner of the tent, then pulled the gladius out. Blood gushed from his wounds. Aurelia stepped to his side and ran the gladius across his throat, and stepped out of the way of the spray of blood that followed. She released the body and it dropped to the floor of the tent. The Chancellery wanted an example made of him, she thought. Here it is.
The next morning, the mercenaries calling themselves the Crimson Legion awoke to find their leader propped up in his chair outside of his tent, with a Legion gladius sticking out of his chest with a small white and gold handkerchief tied to the handle. The message was clear: Imperial justice had been served.
The mercenaries disbanded that day.
Aurelia opened her eyes and looked down at the water. She was not necessarily proud of her actions, but it had been done for the good of the Empire. As many flaws as the Empire might have, she had seen places untouched by the Emperor’s enforced civility. Places where banditry held the population in thrall, places where mages forced their will on the “ungifted”. Places where merchants bought and sold people as if they were cattle.
Her actions might have been questionable, but it had been done to enforce the Emperor’s will. To keep the peace in a fragile Empire stretched by distance and religion. It wasn’t much of a justification, but it allowed Aurelia to sleep at night.
The Chancellery had rewarded her greatly for the action (as they called it) against the rogue Tribune and the Crimson Legion. She had been able to buy a new weapon off of Milasylla’s black market, a relic was likely far older than her own twenty-seven years, yet looked brand-new. A small sword of early elven (or kesir) make, its blade as black as night. None of the normal arcane sigils she was used to seeing on weapons were present, only the elven word for “stillness”, engraved into the blade near the elaborate crossguard marred the blade’s otherwise faultless surface.
Curious about the blade, she had asked around quietly about it. All evidence pointed to it having been smuggled out from Vashra, a land the elves had simply abandoned during their war with what would become the Moresian Empire. Curious, and with little tying her to the city, she had signed up with the Northern Lights Trading Company as a “security expert” to help in Vashra. The letter of commendation she had received from the Chancellery had ensured she would be traveling, if not in luxury, then as close as the ship she would be on had to it.
Aurelia looked up at the approaching city. The sun was swiftly approaching the western horizon; as the ship was approaching the city from the west, it allowed Aurelia to watch the light of the sun on the elven towers of Ere’Vaasra slowly turn from yellow to orange to red, the light dancing off of the exquisitely carved stone. She could hear bits and pieces of song coming from the city, as the devout of Millona followed the Mil’rei, or “sun-singer” in “singing the sun down”, or praying for the strength to see the next sunrise. The Mil’rei’s voice echoed off of the minarets, drowning out the other voices as the sound resonated across the water.
Aurelia Oreseus closed her eyes and smiled as the Aurora pulled into port. She had a good feeling about her choice to come up here.