Conquest: Heroes of Arcadia
Halcyon High City of Thune
Capital of the Halcyon Empire
Thalia Valke strode through the halls of the Halcyon Imperial Palace, and for the umpteenth time she marveled at the change in décor since Ryder's ascension to the throne. Gone were the ostentatious gold-and-gemstone gilding, the imperial portraits of past kings and queens, the ornate tapestries telling tales of old victories, and the marble statues of heroes in battle.
Ryder had done away with all of it. What he put in its place was simple; elegant and modern. Sleek lines, minimal decoration - even the ceremonial throne room had been completely overhauled. No longer was it an obelisk of precious metals and decadence. It was sparse; an elevated marble throne upon marble stairs. The only ornamentation was a series of stained-glass windows depicting heroes and events of legend.
It was because of those heroes that Ryder had called her to meet with him. Not in the throne room, but his private office. That was the real seat of power. That was where the king truly ruled from. It was where he fought from now that the revolution had ended. It was where he fought to keep the peace so many had paid for with their blood. Now he believed that the old relics of heroes past would help preserve the future.
He'd tasked her with finding them - either a relic itself, or just a trace of it. She didn't understand the details of how possessing these relics would prevent further war, but she trusted Ryder. He had already provided her with a list of suitable candidates for the journey. They'd narrowed it down to five plus her. Four of them knew to meet her at the palace courtyard. Osric Roehrborn, Lhara Val’ahar, Desi Castillo, and Sirnak Fento were already waiting. The last, however...he'd been more difficult to convince. It had taken some of her more...persuasive talents to even garner his attention. Nevertheless, she was...known for her abilities to persuade even the most stubborn of people.
Lance Donovan was not one for following orders. He wasn't a soldier. He was a killer. Throughout the war he'd never seen organized combat; he never partook in drills, nor was he given marching orders. He was simply pointed in a direction and unleashed; tasked with dispatching everything that crossed his path. That was his nature, and the nature of war. Ryder and his generals knew that grim reality, and Lance was their way of keeping their hands clean of it.
When Thalia Valke showed up at his door with "orders" from Ryder, it rubbed him the wrong way. He'd paid his dues to the "Hero King" and was promised anonymity in return. That was their agreement. Lance's power for Ryder's blind eye.
So why had Ryder gone back on their deal?
Were Lance a pettier man he would assume that Ryder no longer honored their agreement; he would assume that Ryder believed his new status, and high walls, and armed guards would protect the king from the his wrath and the truth. But Lance was not a petty man. And he knew that Ryder was smarter than that. For Ryder to summon him - the way a man summons his dog - meant that something very different was going on.
It didn't help that the Valke woman was the one Ryder had sent. She was powerful. Dangerous. Even for someone like him. Their scuffle had exacerbated to the point where it seemed they'd kill one another. And Lance wasn't sure he'd be the one walking away. It was not his usual sentiment. And he didn't like it.
He stalked through the streets of the Halcyon High Capital; eager to get it over with. Cities were a mixed blessing; full of potential and entertainment - but also crowded, loud, and intrusive. It made being him much more difficult. The Need was never stronger than when he was surrounded by people, the Hunger never more intense. The Passenger whispered ever louder, more incessantly, to the point where it was almost louder than the cacophony of the city around him.
He pushed past the madness and stuffed down the Need. He forced himself to ignore it even though he knew it would only come back stronger and louder than before. He moved through the lower sections of the city and made his way towards the palace itself; where the Valke woman had ordered him to arrive.
"Halt," bid the guards, weapons at the ready. Lance hardly blamed them; even looking as human as he did he cut a threatening figure. They were right to be wary of him. "State your name and business."
"Lance Donovan," he answered curtly. He was annoyed with the scrutiny but refused to make it into a thing of note. Push through the noise and the clamor. Do what needed to be done. "I'm here to see the Valke woman. Or Ryder. Whichever one of them called me. I don't particularly care who."
The guards bristled, but checked the registry and allowed him to pass.
Once within the courtyard, he felt uncomfortable. He was surrounded; not by enemies, but by uncertainty. He had given up the high ground; he was unfamiliar with the terrain; he had abandoned all sense of tactical advantage.
The Passenger whispered, almost screaming its protest. But with a snarl he stuffed it back into the dark corner of his mind; the high towers in the dark spaces behind his eyes.
"Oh good, you decided to come." It was the Valke woman. Thalia. How grating a voice. Haughty, arrogantly noble - so full of duty and obligation. She lacked any sense of whim and freedom. "I was worried we'd have to kill you."
"We, yes," Lance muttered, looking over the group. Thalia had explained the setup: a chosen few; some of the most capable and knowledgeable of Ryder's subjects. Though Lance was now beginning to doubt that fact. First there was the tall, thin man in the fancy robes. A mage, certainly, but hardly imposing at first glance. Beside him was a smaller man; lean and wiry, equipped with a handful of makeshift weapons and cobbled-together equipment. The next two were of more concern.
The girl - a slender, petite, black-haired thing with dark eyes, dressed colorful robes - fit the bill of an eager mage. And Lance made a mental note not to underestimate her for her size. It was the other man - her traveling companion, it seemed - that caught his attention most. Tall, pale and hawk. He seemed too close to Lance's own kind. Too much like a fellow monster. Lance recognized the madness - that selfsame hunger in his eyes. He understood that. He knew that kind of man.
It wasn't someone he needed to concern himself with.
Only the Valke woman - tall, powerful, and as dangerous in her own way as he was - really warranted his concern. The rest would be easy enough to handle - to push away or pull in close - but Thalia already knew him; already crossed blades with him. Getting his way there would be infinitely more difficult.
"Well then, we have an appointment to keep," said Thalia. She spared Lance a pointed look. "Let's get started."
"We've been asked to travel east into the Orvale Republic," Thalia explained, hefting her pack over her shoulder. "The King has arranged passage for us with The Twelve. There's an old temple on one of the high peaks. Abandoned for centuries. Few people have even been there other than a few likely looters and vandals."
Lance wondered why they were even bothering then. Anything of value...or even novelty, would have been sacked decades ago. But the decision was no longer his. He'd been forced into joining Ryder's little party, and the Valke woman was adamant about seeing their "mission" through.