OZO

"No feat is too great with the right amount of coin."

Brigands, vagrants, soldiers of fortune, and wanderers, the Mercenaries are several small collections of groups or lone individuals who sell their services to whatever cause suits their whims. Ranging from ruthless cutthroats to disaffected members of other factions, the Mercenaries as a collective have managed to carve a name for themselves in the resulting climate of the ‘Great Conflict’. 

 

Not beholden to any faction or ruler, the various sell swords of the Mercenaries nevertheless pay deference to perhaps the most successful among them, the Mercenary Queen. Enigmatic and aloof, but most of all expensive, the Queen has survived more dangers than even what rumors prescribe. While her exploits are legendary and her fees exorbitant, her results bring prestige and invaluable resources to all who would fly under a factionless banner.

 

Although they generally take no sides in the ‘Great Conflict’, pressure from the Machine, and increasing difficulty for the Pack and Underlings to pay sufficient resources, has caused many members great concern for the future. Should the Pack or Underlings fall in war to the Machine, the realm-wide conflict would likely be over, for there would be nothing to stop the Machine from stripping away everything from everyone, including the Mercenaries themselves. 

"Only a fool doesn't follow where the wind blows."

When will you return, / Oh my heart oh my passion. / Desire within burns, / For past days, how I long.

Starlit night, my golden moon / Perchance your light on me? / I’m just one devoted nun / Worshipping silently.

In the dark / On my knees / All I know / Is far from me.

In your absence darkness spills/ I’ve poured into yon earth. / Alone, devised hateful intent / Beware a people scorned.

It’s personal. It’s global. / It’s all they’ll ever know. / With your light gone now midnight born / Pestilence surely grows.

In the dark. / On my knees / All I know / Abandoned me.

Am I unworthy— / Am I unforgivable? / Do you hate me? / After all they’re just people.

Come back to me. / Come back to me. / You’re all I need. / Come back, please.

"Strength in unity."

“Mommy I’m hungry.”

“Shush now, we’ll find food soon”, replied the mother.

The little girl’s tummy rumbled. The two berries she had eaten earlier weren’t enough, and that had been many hours ago. The others in her tribe fared no better. Many hadn’t eaten in days and water had grown scarce. They were down to rationing handfuls a day and leaving the largest shares for the warriors.

A bird call in the distance. A distinctive chirp. One of the scouts must have found food or fresh water. Khaal, the Pack’s leader, directed six men to investigate. They headed off, weapons at the ready.

——————-

The scout had wandered for miles on his own in desperate search for a safe haven. After weeks of exploring, he had come upon this location, a deep valley tucked away in a mountain range near the now poisoned ocean. He breathed in. Fresh air. The trees here were still green, no maggots worming throughout. He had spotted game a few miles back and suspected, no, dared to hope, that this valley was sheltering itself from the corruption. A stream gurgled playfully like a babe and the water was clear. All good signs.

Then the snap of a twig, the falling of branches, the furious crunch of leaves. A charging bear? Two? He instinctively drew an arrow and readied his bow in one fluid motion, years of training at his disposal with nary a thought. From the brush came two misshapen beings covered in filth and looking like the echoes of recent battles. One was wearing a single sandal. 

“What Dasus trickery is this?” He let loose an arrow.

A short distance away behind the bush, the grunts and sounds of Khaal’s men could be heard as they approached.

“Please don’t attack! Something terrible is coming. We must flee”, rasped one of the filth- covered orcs.

The injured one collapsed to the ground. Staring at the arrow in his chest. With pleading eyes he looked up to his companion, terror apparent on his face. “Please don’t let me die. I don’t think there is enough left of me to make it back a second time”.

Just then, as Khaal’s soldiers entered the clearing, a swath of trees buckled like wheat under a scythe. The trees fell in a crashing roar and in their place a titan of magic-fueled metal emerged. All eyes looked to the treetops to gaze into the emotionless face of the golem before them. The Machine had come…

"Death is just a rite of passage."

With a rotten hand, she punctured the desolate earth and pulled her body from its shallow grave. This trip from the afterlife had not been an easy one. The underworld was no place for the dead. It was dangerous. She collapsed onto the infertile soil, exhausted in a way that no mortal could understand, but fear of what was in pursuit drove her onto her tattered knees, and then her sandal-covered feet. She tried to catch her breath, but her rotten lungs failed.  

“Old habits die hard, I guess”, she managed to mutter with the remnants of her tongue. 

Around her, the mass burial site was excavating itself. The groans of the dead freshly returned, echoed into the night like an unholy chorus in a disjointed paradox of harmony. The wilted foliage, sharply thorned branches, and maggot-infested tree trunks indicated the area was corrupted. It was almost too perfect. 

Then it happened. An eerie hush blanketed the night and the sound of candle flames being doused could be heard as the stars in the sky slowly extinguished themselves one by one. Cries from the newly risen Underlings began in earnest and the air grew still. There was a sudden taste to the air, foul even by the dead’s standards, a taste reminiscent of hopelessness and despair. A great multitude of flies erupted from the tops of the rotting trees like startled birds, angrily buzzing into the night. The land finally surrendered, and shuddered its last, before collapsing into itself revealing a void that yawned into oblivion. Blood began to drip from the eyes of the Underlings. Everyone turned and ran. 

Carmine, that was her name. Strange she would remember it now. She hurried through the foliage as best she could, losing one of her sandals in the process. But she couldn’t afford to care. There was a scream, actually many screams, as some of the newly dead met a worse fate. A couple of Underlings had managed to catch up to her. They exchanged glances. 

“I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die”, one man repeated as he sprinted past them, his long mane of white hair trailing behind him.  

To her left Carmine heard the other say, “You’re already dead. Just shut up and run!”. 

Carmine turned to the other and tried introducing herself. Such a silly thing but it seemed so important. 

“What?”, he said perplexedly, “Just run!” 

“My name is Harmon”, shouted the white-haired Underling from ahead of them, “It’s been a pleasure to meet you. If we surv-”.  

Harmons’ head jerked suddenly towards them, his sentence dead in the air. His body followed and then detached from his mane which fell unceremoniously but slowly to the ground. It reminded Carmine of gossamer filaments. She tried to call out to him but found she could not say his name, as though he didn’t exist. She dared a glance back but knew what she would find when she did, one word for all the horrors it entailed: demon. 

"Ingenuity and progress at any cost."

Mage’s Apprentice: “At an early age I was taught ingenuity is survival, invention is the lifeblood of our realm’s success. What about balance? What about preservation of the land, preservation of the sea?”

Mage Tryton’s Order: “Those are not questions to be answered in the present. Trust that great minds of the future will discover those solutions, do not yield focus to these problems for they will not solve the current crises on our doorstep. Our diligence in this age will inform the next.”

Mage’s Apprentice: “What about the other tribes, what is their role in the ‘Great Design’? Do they not have vision for the future, were they not part of the Forgefather’s creation?”

Mage of Tryton’s Order: “Is their self-preservation more noble then our cause? Shall progress and knowledge be halted so that the whims of other mortals may or may not come to fruition? Is the corruption of the Dasus a consequence of trying to understand the gods? Or has their blind quest to find their deities led this world to the brink of ruin?  When we try to understand the designs of the Forgefather, we seek the answers of the divine, and the divine created a world of order, a world of progress. This is our quest; this is why our cause is true. It is the only cause that can be considered moral for it is in image of the Forgefather.”

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