Chapter 770

Novel:The Storm King|Author:warden1207|Genre:Action
Chapter 770: Raikos

It was a beautiful day in Raikos. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and the breeze was cool and pleasant. Raikos itself was the very picture of the idyllic village, with a number of small timber houses spread out in orderly, though not particular straight rows, punctuated by quaint brick roads and fields of some of the greenest grass on the plane. The horizon was dominated by gently rolling hills to the north, and the great southern mountains to the south that formed the southern coast of Kataigida.

But as small and beautiful as the village was, it was one of the most important settlements in all of Kataigida, the island that the Imperials knew as the ‘Sky Devil’s Hell’. It was here in Raikos that the Clans of the Jaguar Tribe met, up in the fortified gathering hall on the largest hill in the village.

It was also in this vicinity that the tribal elders lived, though further south, deeper into the mountains. Every Clan in every Tribe had an elder, and these elders formed tribal councils. Each Tribe’s council then sent a representative to Stormhollow, where they formed the governing body of all of Kataigida.

The Jaguar of the West was born here. As he strolled down the brick roads, taking in the scenery, listening to the children playing and the people quietly going about their day, he couldn’t help but be lost in memory. The village was quiet and sleepy, despite its importance. However, when the tribal council gathered, the village would swell by thousands. To accommodate these people, many estates had been built nearby, and were always almost entirely empty, inhabited only by a family or two to keep up with maintenance.

If he were honest with himself, the Jaguar, for all his fame and accomplishments, greatly preferred the quieter moments in Raikos. He hated the way the city would completely change when his Tribe’s council gathered. He hated that it was just about time for them to gather again, to finally sanction one of the greatest undertakings in the history of the Ten Tribes.

As much as he wanted to continue enjoying the village’s atmosphere, though, he was here for a reason.

He soon found himself at the foot of the Tribe’s gathering hill. The central hall was at the top, but down here was a massive square where the Tribe’s greatest warriors would marshal themselves before heading out for war.

The Jaguar paused a moment in the center of the square, where a massive totem pole had existed for as long as his Tribe had. Such totems weren’t rare sights in Kataigida, but this one was monstrously large, being more than a hundred feet in circumference at the base, and nearly three hundred feet tall. Twenty figures had been carved into the pole, commemorating for all time the founders of the Jaguar Tribe.

At the bottom—the figure that bore the weight of all those above, and so was considered the place of greatest prominence—was a heavily stylized carving of a jaguar. Fitting, in the Jaguar’s mind, for it was under his bloodline that his Tribe had united.

Eighteen Clans had come together back then to form his Tribe. Things were rough in the beginning, but in the millennia since, even as the number of Clans in their Tribe grew more than ten-fold, their marriage ties had grown so intertwined that all in his Tribe were descendants of his great Ancestor, whose power he’d inherited.

All were made equal under the Old Jaguar when they formed their Tribe.

The following eighteen figures on the totem pole were representations of the eighteen founding Clans. None of them were carved to look like any specific person—not that the heavy stylization lent itself to such recognition—but each one had been lavishly painted to reflect the chosen colors of each Tribe.

The final figure on the totem pole was the one figure that was on every totem pole in Kataigida. The top wasn’t the most respected place on the pole, but it was still an undeniable place of reverence, for the top was the closest to the sky, to the place where they’d all come from. And it spoke to each and every inhabitant of the island of just how far they’d come, and how much they’d lost.

The ancient Lord, the only one that they could all follow, the only one revered by all on the island: the Thunderbird.

The Jaguar of the West had eyes only for his Ancestor, though, and he laid his hand against the dark red enchanted wood of the pole, resting it against the carved jaguar’s cheek.

“Grant me strength in the war to come, Honored Ancestor,” he whispered in prayer. “Lend me your hide, that I may ride into battle without fear of injury. Lend me your fangs, that our enemies may bleed. Lend me your roar, that our enemies may tremble at my coming. May death come to all who threaten our Tribe.”

His prayer finished, he glanced up at the gathering hall, and then walked right around it. His destination was not within, but several miles behind it. The elder of his Clan and chief elder of his Tribe was waiting for him at the Rock of Blood.

Despite the name, the Rock of Blood was but a small mountain close to the village. However, the one chosen to lead the Tribe’s warriors—known in the dark days following the Thunderbird’s fall as the chief warrior, though the title had fallen out of fashion in the past few millennia—always met with the chief elder there, for one last private consultation. It was there that their Tribe confirmed their intent to march to war, to rend their enemies and bloody their claws.

It was a short journey for the ninth-tier Jaguar. The woods were thick to the south, and the magic even thicker, warding off all who dared approach uninvited. The Jaguar, however, had been invited, and marched down the path unfettered.

A stone staircase had been carved into the side of the mountain, winding around it until it reached a simple platform upon the wide summit. There, something akin to an altar had been carved. Wrapping around the edge of the platform an enormous statue of the Old Jaguar, his eyes set with dozens of glittering rubies, and his claws made of sharp obsidian that seemed constantly damp with crimson liquid—blood, the Jaguar believed, though he’d never worked up the nerve to confirm for himself. Stone clouds had been carved above the jaguar, and if the Jaguar of the West listened closely, he could hear the sounds of faint thunder.

Though the jaguar statue had the air of an altar, it was but a place of reverence, not a place for worship, sacrifice, or any other ceremony.

Sitting cross-legged on the bare stone in front of the jaguar statue was an old man, gray of hair and heavily wrinkled, but still with a robust ninth-tier aura. He was at least a thousand years old, but even though he showed many of those years, he was still strong and sharp. He tilted his head slightly as the Jaguar of the West finally reached the platform, his pale golden skin gleaming in the sun.

“You’re finally here,” he observed.

“Yes, Elder,” the Jaguar replied, showing nothing but the utmost respect. They were of the same tier, but the elder was centuries his senior, and had trained the Jaguar to boot. The old elder had instilled in the Jaguar fierce pride, but even fiercer discipline, and those old habits die hard.

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“You’re early. That eager are you to kill the usurpers?”

The Jaguar frowned and didn’t immediately respond. Instead, he stayed near the stairs, respectfully standing even as the elder refrained from commanding him to sit.

“What is on your mind, child?” the elder asked after several moments of silence, his tone softening by a tiny fraction.

“The campaign,” the Jaguar admitted. “The Tribe is ready. The fleets are assembled. We are ready to launch the raid just as soon as the Thunderer orders it…”

“… But?”

The Jaguar sighed. “But I still don’t like it. I don’t approve of this attack at all, and even if I did, I’d rather be a part of the assault on the Sword, not attacking Argos.”

“And why’s that?”

The Jaguar paused a moment, searching for the right words. He didn’t think his old master, his elder, the man he most respected in the world, would think him a coward, but the pride the old man had given him still demanded he word himself correctly.

“It’s… too political,” he neutrally stated.

“The movements of armies are always political,” the elder replied, still not changing his didactic tone.

The Jaguar wasn’t perturbed; this was always how the elder acted. The elder likely already knew what was on his mind and had likely contemplated the same things the Jaguar had, but he was still prompting the Jaguar to speak his mind.

“This one is designed to harm us,” the Jaguar continued. “The Thunderer wants the glory of trampling the Sword. He doesn’t want to share that with anyone. He also wants Argos destroyed, and if that can’t be done, then he at least wants our Tribe smashed upon its sea walls and impaled upon its Lances. Either way, so long as this raid is launched, the Thunderer wins.”

“Who is our greater enemy?” the elder asked. “The usurpers? Or the Thunderer?”

“The usurpers,” the Jaguar replied. “Those savages bring their children up to hate us. If we were all to die tonight, the Empires would celebrate tomorrow.”

“But the mist has always held them back.”

“Not always. They’ve launched attacks on our island before.”

“And been repelled.”

“All the same, they are our greatest enemies.”

“Then why are you so concerned about attacking Argos?”

“Because I hesitate to deliver a win into the Thunderer’s hands. Though the usurpers are our greater enemy, the Thunderer is still an enemy. He intends to destroy our Tribal bonds and reduce us to servitude under him. He wishes to destroy Kataigida’s oldest traditions and declare himself King.”

“Why would that be a bad thing?”

“The Thunderer would see us all dead in service of his vanity. We would be slaves, little more than fodder for him to hurl at the savages across the sea. He wants power at the expense of all. I question his morals, I question his ability to lead, I question his intentions.”

“The Elder Council declared him Thunderer. Do you object to their decision?”

“The Elder Council is wiser than I could ever hope to be. But I can’t help but be suspicious of all those who wish to make themselves King over the Ten Tribes.”

“You still hold to the old prophecies, then?”

“I’d rather you not refer to them as ‘prophecies’, elder…”

The elder finally turned to look the Jaguar in the eye, a smile playing at his aged lips. “Why not? Do your beliefs embarrass you still?”

“My beliefs? No. But when someone calls them ‘prophecies’, I believe it detracts from any fact buried within them.”

“And what facts are those?”

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The Jaguar briefly bit his tongue. Despite what he’d just said, it was still a childish belief that the elder wanted him to give voice to, a thing not spoken of in dignified circles. It was a children’s bedtime story to get them to sleep at night, to think that the Thunderbird was still out there, watching over them.

The Thunderbird survived its death and the fall of its Clan and to this day, still watched over its people. It watched over Kataigida, its will smashing the usurpers’ ships upon the rocks and breaking them in the shallows hidden by the mists surrounding the island.

The Jaguar was too old and learned to believe in that story, but he knew enough to recognize the kernel of truth within. When Jason Keraunos challenged the Grave Warden, he did so with most of his children—but not all of them. Two were recorded as being absent from the battle. If they lived past the civil war that followed Keraunos’ death, then there could still be those who bore the Thunderbird’s power out there. Those two missing sons could even still be alive.

Instead of directly answering the elder, the Jaguar evenly stated, “The Tribal Council decides matters for the Ten Tribes. The only King that we have is the Storm King. No others may rule over us.”

The elder sighed, finally turned to face the Jaguar head-on, and gestured to the ground before him.

“You still hold to old fantasy. What would those in Stormhollow think if they could hear the venerable Jaguar of the West speak of children’s fantasies?”

“What they think would have no bearing on how I lead my people. They could say whatever they wish, and I still guard the western shores, as is my duty.”

“A man who knows his duty is wise. A man who does his duty is virtuous. What is your duty now, my son?”

The Jaguar sat in front of the elder, his posture rigid and formal. However, after a moment, he began to slouch.

“I don’t know, elder. I cannot in good conscience serve the Thunderer. He seeks power that is not his, and throws our tribesmen to their deaths at the hardest target in the whole world. But that target is a worthy one, and the prospect of sacking it wets the tongue. No matter what happens, an enemy of ours gains from this battle. What is my duty? I cannot say.”

“The usurpers have been building up their arms, have they not?”

The Jaguar thought of the new flight gear that the savages had been using of late, and of the many recon ships they’d sent through the mists. His people had done the math: the rate of encounters with the Imperials had increased three hundred percent in the past decade. He couldn’t believe they hadn’t noticed the Ten Tribes’ own build-up of arms, but at this point, there wasn’t either of them could do to back down.

There was going to be another war in the near future, there were too many weapons in the seas for there not to be.

“They will attack us,” the Jaguar stated. “Tomorrow. Next year. Next century. They will not rest until we are destroyed. But the Thunderer…”

“The Thunderer commands by assent of the Tribal Council. His authority is legitimate. Have your suspicions, act as a check against his power, but see to the greater foe first. We are united for the first time in centuries. We have the capability to strike against the usurpers for the first time in eight hundred years. So strike against them. Deal with the Thunderer later.”

“Yes, elder…”

“You don’t sound enthusiastic.”

“To strike at Argos… we will be weakened by this. Our Tribe will not survive whatever the Thunderer is planning if we…” He trailed off, not wanting to even speak aloud his greatest fear.

The elder, clearly sensing his distress, said, “Then you only have one option, don’t you?”

The Jaguar looked to his old master, his teacher, the man he most respected in the world.

The elder smiled and said, “Win. The fate of our Tribe is in your hands, my son. It’s a heavy responsibility, but I can think of none more suited to bear it. Now, go to Argos. Break their Lances, smash their walls, and burn their city. And take as few losses as you can. Then return home with all of the tribesmen that follow you.”

The Jaguar sighed, then took a long, deep breath. The elder was the only man he would ever show this lack of resolve to, and if they were to win, then he must show his people what he’d always shown them: inspiring confidence.

It didn’t take him long to find his resolve. It rarely did.

“With bloody fangs, our enemies will tremble,” the Jaguar stated, the most often repeated line of his Tribe’s sacred words.

“And borne aloft by feathered wings, we will return home, victorious,” the elder finished, speaking the part that few remembered anymore.

The Jaguar stared at the receding coastline of Kataigida, thunderous resolve in his heart. Though he still had his misgivings, when surrounded by the kind of force that he was, it was hard to remain without confidence.

Hundreds of warships, armed to the teeth with the most advanced weapons they had. Dozens of war arks, similarly armed. Hundreds of troop transports, bearing tens of thousands of soldiers and marines, ready to have their vengeance of thousands of years of suffering and war at the hands of the savages across the sea. On the other side of the island, a smaller, though still quite significant force was sailing east, intent on obliterating the Imperial bases along the coast of the Shield Mountains, and possibly even seize control of a few of the Titanstone mines therein.

Such a massive force wouldn’t long stay united. The Sword was a long island to their west, with many bases from which the savage’s fleets plied the seas. Many detachments would separate on the way there to deal with those bases in due time, but it was the Jaguar’s own fleet that would split away first.

Almost as soon as the massive fleet entered the strip of mist that completely surrounded Kataigida, confusing the senses of all those not aboard the ships of the Ten Tribes, he gave the order to turn north while the rest of the force kept going west.

They would move with haste, but it would still take at least a month to reach Argos. But when they did, the Jaguar was fully intent on razing the city to the ground. He would destroy that city, so long used to strangle the Ten Tribes and separate them from the mainland, and return home. When he did, he would then see to the island’s would-be King, the Thunderer.