Here is a second run-through the first chapter (what I call ed 3.2). It’s a bit of a read and I would appreciate any comments.
Chapter 1: Assigned to Utyirth
‘It is an honor to be sent on such an endeavor by our Lord Demigod Emperor, an honor only exceeded by death during this endeavor.’ Philosophical Lessons from Utyirth (Volume I: Captain).
Ganis walked back and forth on the deck of the Siren’s Tear, the Sennan vessel which would take her to the distant lands of Utyirth, where she was told the notorious rebel Naa’tas escaped to. She would join nine other Parthans, people from the western reaches of the Nosgardian Empire, in this perilous journey, as she was told by her master, Lord Asclepius of Katabasis Keep.
A cool wind breezed through her blond hair, braided into one thick bundle and held together with a long black leather strap wrapped around it. It was a practical choice for anyone who intended on keeping their hair long while on the front; although she never cared much for wearing it down regardless of how many compliments it brought her.
Why did Lord Asclepius send me here? Ganis thought, her black eyes wandering with fiery anger, haphazardly looking at whatever met their path.
Commodore Habitus shouted commands at his crew, “Stock these crates here…Make certain we have replenished our stocks of heaven’s weed” – his favored pipe stuffing – “and enough rom” – his favored drink – “to last us for twice the journey we plan.” He kept shouting commands to his crew with impossible vigor – of which all seemed to Ganis trivial, never a command to prepare the ship itself for sail.
And Ganis continued to walk back and forth. She cared little for the blue sky above her or the calm seas embracing the Siren’s Tear, reflecting the flight of seagulls gliding in the air. It was, by all means, a beautiful day for anyone who took the time to enjoy it.
A Red Parthan Ona, the most well trained and seasoned warriors the Nosgardian Empire had to offer, would be her new troop, the only link she would have to Nosgard, her home, once they reached the shores of Utyirth.
The Demigod Emperor Servak himself commanded that they discard all things Nosgardian before their arrival – their weapons, armor and all crafts imperial – for it would do little good saved to aid in identifying them in an environment of which they knew nothing.
Utyirth was but recently discovered when a Sennan vessel was lost at sea for many crescents, yet the Cult of Naa’tas – the rebels who rose against the Nosgardian Empire during the events of the recent Ancient’s War, the very first test of the Demigod Emperor Servak’s worth – somehow knew of it.
Against all odds the Emperor managed to keep the people of Nosgard unified against the mighty threat of the Ancients, but the few who doubted his claim escaped his attention, and the Cult of Naa’tas was formed.
After the Ancient’s War ended, the Emperor’s spies, known to a few as the Guild, were freed to investigate and eliminate the rebels. They were all but destroyed. Naa’tas, the leader of the rebellion, escaped to Utyirth with a handful of mercenaries and loyalists.
When Naa’tas eluded all attempts by the Emperor’s forces – the warden order of the Silver Stags, the Emperor’s law enforcers the Peacekeeper Core, and the notorious Guild of spies and assassins – Prince Iolcus, the once-kingdom of Partha’s leader, promised that his First Ona, the very best soldiers Partha had to offer, would be able to bring him Naa’tas, dead or alive.
Yet these events alone would not make Ganis, a servant of the necromancer Lord Asclepius, join the First Ona, for she was not one of them in training or by blood.
A Parthan Ona, always ten, was a selected group of proven warriors who spent enough time together that their minds melded into one. The Red Onas, the very best of them all, were capable of fighting truly as one. Some said that a Red Ona took a life of its own at the expense of ten, but few saw just how deadly a Parthan Ona was and lived to tell the tale.
Ganis had never trained with a Parthan Ona, even though she was defeated by them in the Second Civil War of Man – where she supported the very same Council the Demigod Servak, before he became Emperor, fought against. Her servitude to Lord Asclepius was the Emperor’s punishment for her actions, and Asclepius saw it fitting that she should be sent to Utyirth under Captain Pertinax the Second’s command, the Ona’s leader.
If only I died back then, Ganis thought, boots beating mercilessly on the ironwood deck of the Siren’s Tear. She often thought of how simpler it would have been if she died during the Second Civil War, as an officer in the Peacekeeper Core. Perhaps, she would think, there would be some afterlife awaiting me. The thought never lasted, no matter how bleak things seemed to be.
But now she was not regretful of her past, just angry at being sent away like a common servant by a man she was forced to call ‘Master’, an act she always found demeaning, but could do little to avoid without suffering from an even more demeaning punishment.
Another reason for Ganis’ anger was her ignorance about those she would join on their mission. She knew that they were nine others, two Turians, Ninazu the Alchemist and Sigurd Ironskin, and the rest Parthans, Captain Pertinax the Second, Hephaestion the Scholar, Thalia the Artisan, Priestess Eirene, Monolos the Beasthandler and the Twin Spies Percival and Dindrane. They were many names to remember.
The Turians she previously met were all of incredible determination, a truly proud and capable nomadic people long separated from their lands, and she could but feel humbled by their deeds of which she heard.
Lord Asclepius, she recently discovered, was also a Turian, although he came from a different age and few living Turians would consider him anything other than a relic from the past. His knowledge of necromancy gave him an unusually extended lifespan – a gift he bestowed on Ganis as a reward for her sacrifice during the Ancient’s War, even though she thought it a curse.
She also knew, rather thought she knew, that the Parthans would not accept her as one of them, not with the stance she took against them during the Second Civil War, and before she could see to the Emperor’s mission it was necessary to gain their trust, all while hiding her Dark Gift and the extent of her abilities.
Consumed by her thoughts, Ganis barely noticed the ship setting sail. The Parthans had arrived without her even noticing. They must have discarded their Parthan attire already, she thought. It was time for subterfuge.
Everyone aboard the Siren’s Tear was preoccupied with his own habit or duties. Ganis deemed the confusion an opportunity to get acquainted with her new companions. In spite of her objection to being sent away from Katabasis Keep, she knew that the voyage would be even more unpleasant alone.
Like a chain, an Ona was as capable as its weakest link, Ganis had learned, studying the Parthans once during her service in the Peacekeeper Core and once more under the mentorship of Asclepius. To her, being the weakest member of the Ona would be unacceptable. And not to be the weakest required her not only to be strong, but also to be in harmony with them. She would need to belong.
To Ganis, it seemed reasonable to start her introduction with the leader of the group, Pertinax the Second, whom she identified by overhearing some sailors speak. Standing on the edge of the ship’s bow in an attempt to get a better view of the sculpted Siren serving as the ship’s figurehead made the tall white-haired man easy to find.
Once Ganis approached him, Pertinax requested her to hold his hand and secure him if he lost his footing during his acrobatics. She agreed and held his hand, watching as he clumsily hung on the vessel’s grey wood. Once the air started striking his grease-covered hair, running its perfection, he quickly returned and produced a wooden comb from within his cloak.
“Thank you,” Pertinax said, combing his straight white hair. His brown eyes stared directly into Ganis’, attempting to burn an image of her in his mind.
Ganis nodded. “I just wanted to introduce myself.”
“You are Ganis, Asclepius’ companion and former Protector Commander of the Peacekeeper Core. You were captured by the Demigod Emperor Servak, Pax bless him, and sentenced to serve the released Necromancer Asclepius as punishment for aiding the Council during the Second Civil War. Although you were directly assigned to Asclepius, your second and main task was to spy on him…” Pertinax continued to flawlessly recited Ganis’ known history. Once he finished combing his hair, Pertinax stowed his comb back into the pocket of his grey cloak from which it came and continued, “I know who you are. The real question is: do you know who I am?”
“Other than being my leader and serving Servak, I know nothing of you.” Ganis was shocked by her Commander’s assiduousness. She judged that he might be a peculiar fellow from his appearance, but her assessment was far from accurate to the level of his peculiarity.
“As a comrade and a member of our Ona, I believe it important for you to know about me as much as I know about you. My story began forty years ago when I taught at the Parthan School of Knowledge. Signs of the First Civil War started worrying many of the scholars and thus, by their council, the leaders started reacting to those worrying signs.
“I was young at the time, and felt obliged to do more for my kingdom and king. Fueled by youthful passion, I volunteered to join the Parthan forces and was immediately assigned as an officer to serve in a fighting Parthan division.
“My rune-bearing capabilities and education made me privy to the best training and care, thus I was assigned to a high-ranking unit. Once my loyalties were certain and my training complete, I was carved with the same runes Parthan Protectors were required to bare, unless they had already undergone the ritual before they joined the force, of course.
“Shortly after I started my military career, the Civil War of Man broke and my duties were multiplied. Although the Parthans had the best trained and equipped soldiers, we were overwhelmed by a far larger force with far more resources.
“It was not long until the casualties started piling up and we were forced to retreat to a defensive position. With all our prosperity and military might, we were incapable of fighting the world on our own. Once we were driven into our lands, the combined kingdoms of men built a wall around Partha to imprison us, cutting us off from most of our lands and the outside world.
“We then fell into a godless darkness. This, my friend, was when I met Lyra and the Demigod Emperor Servak, Pax bless him. They showed us the path to salvation and peace, the Path of Pax.” Pertinax looked above him and gazed towards the endless blue skies.
“How did you get to be in Lyra’s Ona?”
Pertinax lowered his eyes and looked straight into Ganis’, saying, “Pax led me to her. All I had to do was simply follow the path he set me on. Tell me, Ganis, is there a deity you believe in?”
“No,” Ganis responded adamantly. She had long lost the little faith she had with the last of her dead men. “I do not believe that sins and virtues affect the path our spirits tread once freed from our physical realm. I know that there is no reward for the just, nor is there punishment awaiting the wrongful. Once we die, we just seize to exist and rejoin the earth once again. I believe, Captain, that the Gods have abandoned our kind long ago.”
Pertinax smiled and patted Ganis’ shoulder. “Perhaps one day I could convince you of Pax‘s existence and show you the degree of his involvement. I have told you enough of my past for you to know who I am. The details, however, will have to wait for another time.” Pertinax walked away from Ganis and towards the stairway leading to the lower decks. Before he disappeared into the darkness, Pertinax looked back and whispered to himself, “It will be an interesting journey.”
Although his final words to Ganis were not meant for her ears, her enhanced senses allowed them to be so. Ganis watched the skies for a moment before retiring to her quarters below, her thoughts entirely on the Parthans and the beauty of the sight escaped her.