Anacrusis

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Of The Villains

Of The Villains



Gather your rosebuds while ye may

The deathly horn of bright

Stalks ever near on a grim railway

And riding is He who might

Take ye eyes or mould ye fayte to suit His will.

Don’t carry out His will.

N’ as the crow flies ’cross the river of Downside-Up

It turns a mortemous eye from the tripping, stumbling, fantastic light.

Don’t let ’em take your eyes.

And everly in a world outside His plight

They

Will run like buggery straight through that dark eternal night

Ney,

Will ride the wave goodbye ’till dusk’s gotten bored and given up trying,

and thought twice about who is dying,

because he knows that in the end all will be right.

Yes all will be right.

Not a creature will stir in the dark, eternal night.

[The Barracks, Criochan docks, Eastern Otum, Otum.]

Tripphire rolled out of her dormitory bunk with a clatter – she had been so tired last night that she neglected to take off her armour before bed. Bronze had been calling on her for the past ten minutes, and only now was she conscious enough to fathom what her fellow cityguard had been shouting.

“Tripp! You have to go now or they’re gonna leave!” Her voice boomed – deeply, carrying the effect of a large stone thrown into a very deep lake - from right outside the door. She lifted a fist like a boulder and pounded on the door, which rattled the screws in the hinges loose.

THUUM, THUUM, THUUM it said.

“Ah!” Tripphire panicked, scurrying out of her fallen sheets. This couldn’t be happening… Well, evidently it could be, because it was, yet it was not very likely and Tripphire didn’t believe it to be so.

“Direct orders from the Queen herself, Tripp!” Bronze reiterated.

“THANKS FOR THE REASSURANCE!” Tripphire blurted and rushed out into the hall. She wasn’t good at getting shouted at or put under pressure - It had always been one of her many weaknesses. “Which headgear would you think most appealing to someone of Queenly influence!?” Tripphire frantically presented her good friend Bronze with two helmets, trying each on. One covered her third eye (which was a dark brown and lay in the center of her forehead - a band of blue glyphs stretched across her brow and tied it to her left eye. It was typical for Triclopses to have these markings, but the ones Tripphire had were very rare, and were considered a bad omen.) and had a glaring ruby set on the front. It was a shiny silver, and of elvish make. All round it was more of an aesthetic helmet than the other, which left her third eye bare and able to see, whilst also providing more protection to the scalp and sides of the face - though it looked like every other Criochan guard helmet. Because it was their uniform.

“Look up.” Said Bronze, standing a good three feet taller than Tripphire, who was rather small for a Triclopse, but not quite as small as a tallish Dwarf. Bronze, on the other hand, was very tall for a Morgus-Staig - and surprisingly far more muscular than the average Morgus-Staig who were the most muscular of the Staigs. This helped immensely when it came to her other trade – she was the barracks’ best weaponsmith, and had recently been recognised by Criochan’s chief General, who had recommended her for an apprenticeship somewhere far away from the barracks if guard duty ever failed her. “Tripp, the Queen won’t care if you’re a Triclopse. You don’t got to hide it.”

“But Bronze, you know what our military reputation is like!”

“The uniform is by far the most practical. I think the Queen will appreciate it if you try to look as well-protected as you can be, you can’t have a bunch of weak, form-over-function pretty people patrolling your cities, that’d just be lame! Besides, your glyphs are still showing.”

“Oh.” Tripphire decided to take her advice and leave, in a hurry. Under the brick arches of the barracks she waved goodbye to Bronze, who tossed her a breakfast cereal bar before going about her usual guard duties in the city of Criochan that was built into a partially flooded valley by the sea. Tripphire flung herself into the green carriage, and a very posh half-man half-horse trotted her away from the barracks on tapping hooves. He turned his head to her and spoke:

“You’re late, Miss, and quite frankly I can’t be bothered going any faster than usual for a Tricloptic city-guard.”

“S-sorry.” Said Tripphire, cowering in the corner of the roofed carriage.

“Shame on you to keep Her Majesty Queen September the Only waiti-” His voice cut out and his eyes turned into deep wells of circles, drifting in the void. His mouth hung open and he turned to the road, trotting noticeably faster than before. Tripphire had not witnessed this as she didn’t like looking people in the eye. See, Tripphire had curious condition of the mind that limits one’s ability to deal with stuff most others find easy - such as talking to people, or feeling sorry for people, or getting to bed early - you know, just stuff. Most people with the condition are advantaged in some other areas of life to balance things out a little - but unfortunately for Tripphire this was not the case, though she did know a fair bit about biology and wildlife, even though she did not care for the subject whatsoever and even slightly despised it.

It used to be her primary goal in life – to become a respected and feared member of the Gleaming Army, though that dream had been abandoned long ago when she realised that she was not even a good cityguard. In fact, Tripphire had failed her tests and held that title out of sheer lack of any other candidates.

I’m going to see the Queen! Thought the Triclopse, absent-mindedly cracking her knuckles. She was too nervous to yawn even though she would like to - it was only yesterday that she had returned from a very long, very eventful, and very gruelling voyage.

The luxury villas and cafés selling fried dumplings and salmon cleared, and the carriage looked out to the pink forests of Otum that rustle under Heaven’s ever-glowing lamp in the sky. From this vantage point, one could see right down the valley of Criochan, to where the city met the sea and beyond, and only the pollen and dust in the eternal-summer’s air obstructed one’s view to what lay on the other side of the horizon. This place was built to serve good Overworlders who had passed away, which created lots of jobs for Otum-borns such as Tripphire. Or at least, it used to. The Afterlives hadn’t much use anymore since the last soul came. The wretched Dimmer had beaten its last evil soul into good-nick purity and the last dead human had been sent to Otum, and over the course of millennia since then the natives had out-populated the Dead a hundred and five - to - one.

Anyway, the Shimmering Sea that split the infinite paradise plane in two met the pink forests, and Tripphire was at the castle gates before she could say “I left my badge of authentication in the barracks.”

“We’re have arrived.” Stated the posh horseman in a voice like a very loosely put-together harmonica with the flu, as the greeniron gates opened with a rattle of heavy chains and the shrieking of stone against metal. Inside, the carriage was brought to a halt in the palace courtyard and Tripphire could hear voices. The door opened, and outside the palaceguards stood in golden, sleek armour with heavy broadswords by their waists. They appeared to gleam in the light and held the salute of the Eastern Division - a simple fist to their chests with the pinkie out on front of them, their elbows in line with their shoulders, parallel with the ground. Her armour clinked when Tripphire realised that she was expected to return the gesture. The palace of Criochan itself was an emerald beauty, a set of steps glittered up to the pillared doorway, that had green and black draperies hanging from it.

“Your badge of authentication, soldier!” Stated the guard who had opened the door. Now, palaceguards were typically very tall, having the sort of reputation as stuck-up privileged basketball plyers, (It is said that the palaceguards of Antlewick High Peak - the domain of the Queen September Herself - are great pillars of magic that form mile-high nebulas above the clouds) and Tripphire being of a more modest stature, was quite intimidated to say the least. Now, when she realised that she had left her badge of authentication in the barracks, mere intimidation turned into horror.

“I don’t ha-”

“NO BADGE!” Declared the main palaceguard. There was a sound like a god cracking their knuckles as the edges of the courtyard suddenly became very populated with oversized crossbow-holding soldiers that filed out from… Tripphire didn’t care, frankly.

“NO BADGE OF AUTHENTICATION!” Screamed the main guard. There was tears in his reddened eyes,

“OH, LORD HAVE MERCY!” He was crying, cowering away and looking up fearfully to the sky.

“THE AUTHENTICATION!” He pulled out a brown paper bag and started breathing frantically into it, but it popped. “SOMEONE HELP ME! I’M OVERREACTING!”

He was overreacting.

Tripphire didn’t know what to do, she tried to jump back into the carriage, but it had fled. The guards were well and truly surrounding her, loaded crossbows aimed right at her chest. Curling up into a ball and closing her eyes was probably for the best, so that’s exactly ehat she did. Tripphire swore she could hear the click of a trigger, the bolt whirring through the air, the sound of it pierce her helmet. She could almost taste it.

"Stand Down.” Said a voice like a metal boulder rolling through an empty aquifer, inarguably assertive yet as calm as the eye of a hurricane. There was a clank of metal boots on the palace steps, and the entire courtyard shook.

THUUM

THUUM

The men with the crossbows couldn’t have stood down any quicker - in fact, they didn’t only step down, they missed the step entirely and willingly fell straight to the bottom of the pit of backing-off. They left, and went for a silent breakfast.

"You.” It said.

Tripphire’s eyes were still tightly shut.

"Rise, soldier.”

“nope.” Tripphire said, accidentally out loud.

"Yes…” It said. “Seriously Tripphire. Get up, will you? They’re gone.”

Huh?

Suddenly the voice seemed softer and a tad familiar, and Tripphire dared to look up. Her captain - The Captain - stood at the end of the courtyard, strange red and orange leaves larger than the ones of the pink forests trailled behind his bulk for a moment before drifting off in a breeze that seemed to be alive. Tripphire didn’t really care about that though.

“Captian! Aye aye aye sir!” She lowered her head again, no longer cowering but in respect. The Captain was the definition of a behemoth, was an embodiment of leadership, a symbol of strength and a mighty captain indeed. He answered to nobody except Queen September herself; which put him on a higher pedestal than even the Otum Gods, and he was the nicest, most level-headed captain any army anywhere had ever had. The Captain was the sort to not only lend you the shirt from off of his back, but the teeth from his skull, the eyes from his sockets, the strength from his body, the comfort from his soul, the reason from his mind, the armies from up his sleevsies, etcetera etcetera. He was the only person Tripphire had ever known that had even encountered their elusive yet omnipresent, all-powerful Queen.

"You are late, Lieutenant Tripphire.” Said the Captain in his calm yet terrifying tone. “I knew you would be.”

“Sorry Captain! It will not happen again! Sir!”

"I wouldn’t have thought so.” He sighed like a tired bus and held an Infinitalium-plated hand up to the sky-lamp, which was getting in his eyes.

“I spoke to Her Majesty for you.” He said.

“Oh.” Replied Tripphire, standing herself up.

“You are not the best at, well… I thought I had better see to it.”

She bowed her head, thanking him. Then something in her Tricloptic mind clicked, and she wondered if she had misheard him. “Wait, did you just say Lieutenant? Captain sir?”

"I did.”

“... Why?... Sir.”

And so the Captain and the Triclopse stood in the otherwise empty courtyard, and he told her of a mission, a mission unlike any Otum had seen since the Valen-Reaper wars of the Afterlives, a mission that would lead Tripphire… Outside of Otum. A place where no Triclopse had ever gone, to anyone’s knowledge.

It was always her dream, her fantasy, to become a Lieutenant. She had lost hope in that dream a long time ago; there was no way she could ever be a Lieutenant. All the odds were against it, and the fact that this moment was even allowed to happen was plain illogical in her mind.

“So, Captain sir, you’re saying the Queen has appointed me Lieutenant for this? No, no there’s been a mixup! I mean… I’m a Triclopse! And I’m not even a good -”

The Captain smirked with a gruff exhale of air through the nose, “You needn’t say it. I can feel your doubt, Lieutenant, and it is not in the directions of Our Queen Above, but in yourself. It is not justified”

“But Captain, sir! That doesn’t make sense! It goes against all logic!”

“To you, perhaps.” He stood tall and puffed out his chest, which was the size of a woodland log cabin. ”There is a point in every soldier’s life when they are given a choice….” When Tripphire heard this, her eyes lit up. The Captain was about to give one of his fabled motivational speeches. “An opportunity to achieve their highest of dreams. To fight, and be noble, and to help others and do what is right for the Universe. No matter who you are, whether you’re a warrior, a cityguard, a peasant Dwarf with haemophilia and no arms, or even you, Tripphire, you are a soldier. You can become great, You can be respected, feared, You can topple giants, scale the great mountains that contain you within the waters of the odds. You can become a Lieutenant, the likes of which nobody can measure up to, yes You can and will do us all proud! The world will always need a good soldier to be there in times of need, and right now Otum, Her Majesty September, Everyone… Needs You. I don’t know why Her Magnificent Gracious asked for you specifically, but She did. You will be there when-” And it went on like this for a good five minutes.

Tripphire’s mouth hung open, her mind totally consumed by sheer motivation. It was all too clear now, hearing it in bold from the Captain himself. She was to become a Lieutenant, without a doubt. She believed it now, and the feeling was overwhelming. Tears welled up in all her eyes, and reacted with her yellow Tricloptic skin, which turns bright pink when exposed to water. She couldn’t ever remember what the mission was about at this point – something about an enchanted dagger and capturing some soda girl – but filled with childhood dreams and long-lost hope she thought would never be felt again, she was not going to miss this opportunity for anyone or anything.

Handing over a glowing silver dagger, the Captain ended their meeting.

Now Lieutenant, we have not the time to waste. May you depart, for you must ASSEMBLE YOUR SQUADRON! Meet with your General by the Forest Well, you will depart at figurative sundown with your dagger and your files on the Target.”

“Aye Aye Aye Captain!” Said Tripphire with a little added oompf. He saluted her with a salute nobody had ever given her before – the hand across the brow, the drag across the forehead, and the swipe across the chest – the Salute of Honour. Tripphire smiled so wide that the sides of her mouth ached and returned the gesture with pride and endless respect.

“And don’t forget your badge, this time.” The Captain departed, leaving her alone in the courtyard with her racing mind and enchanted dagger. She would how the Universe what she was capable of, and no Soda was going to get in her way.

She doesn’t stand a chance against me… “Lieutenant Tripphire!!” She said out loud as a continuation of her thoughts, fists clenched and clumsily attempting a victory dance, which involved a lot of jumping up and down and stomping until she realised that the palaceguards were already back from lunch and were watching her every move. She left in a hurry, feeling rather silly.

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