The Banners

War was unseemly. The dawning turmoil would persist within the pages of history as a dark period. On one side, the jungle will be annotated as ushers of order; on the other, her people will be labeled as foreign interlopers and harbingers of death. The truth lingered within the spine, a medium the common scholar will fail to take note of or bother to espouse. Word had been dispatched as the denizens of the jungle once more were rallied. Fathers left their families, uncertain if they'd ever see them again. Brothers abandoned brothers in the fields while lovers were ripped from one another's embrace. 

Their enemy wasn't the uncivilized sands; rather a blight far more ancient eroding at the foundations of reality just outside of their purview. These tales of monsters, forerunners of the end times, may seem fantastical. Nonetheless, the attack on Skeletal highway stood as a testament verifying their unsettling existence. The Jorgenskull name has persisted in high regard for nearly three centuries would be called into question. A byproduct that had not eluded Valerna's scope, nor would it deter what needed to be done. If left alone, the desert would continue to war and bicker. Each day of strife only brought that encroaching otherworldly force closer to their plane.

Any skepticism that might linger would soon be resolved, for the matriarch understood their emergence onto the fray was inevitable. The theater of ambivalence that had long since marred the wasteland's history could only labor as bait. And their interference will rouse them from torpidity, albeit temporarily.  The arachnid was anticipating this would transpire so that their presence might convey the necessity of unity. The defilement are detestable creatures that cared little for race or creed. In their voracious eyes, all life, regardless of its heritage, persisted as food to stoke their numbers and proliferate their necrosis. 


Her navy had docked, its ramps lowered so troops may board.  Her plan was simple, a three-prong attack to overrun the opposition on all sides. Florentina would take the ships to Sandslout and commandeer authority over their breadbasket. This, in turn, could only apply pressure to the north. While General Watari would head to Obsidian Canyon, and converse with his mother. And attempt to coerce the Khan to attack their southern flank. Meanwhile, Valerna would lead her troops to engage from the east, raiding and conquering the settlements between them and Nirvana. Her spiderlings made up a good portion of her troops, allowing them to strike quickly and with little impediment from the terrain.

There, abiding within her tent, she deliberated the prudence in this venture. Those amber eyes were scouring the map as she navigated various miniatures across it. Her mind assesses a myriad of outcomes. The troglodytes of the south were divided, weakened, and most ruinous of all were blind toward the imminent peril and strategies.  There the spider waited, having sent word to meet with her commanders before they commenced the attack. The timing was everything in war. If one facet of this tactic advanced too prematurely, it might alert the savages of the other's approach. And while they may be able to subdue them regardless, Valerna's aim was to limit the death as much as possible.


Unlike the desert and its despots, she cared for her people and saw herself as both a custodian and a servant to their continued prosperity. Of course, this realization brought with it much trepidation. After all, no ruler, no matter their counsel or experience, was immune to lapses in judgments. Her banners would flap in the wind as the various species poured into the outer rim. The officers divided them into sections and units, recounting the purpose behind their gatherings and using the defilement's brazen aggression as a motivator and reminder of what they were fighting for. Wordlessly, the arachnid sight weaved her web as that mind wandered into thought. Was she ready? Had she done enough during this perpetual odyssey to prepare the world?  And more importantly, would it matter?

What impeccable timing, the Diva had just finished subjugating the swamp and unifying her faction as word had reached her ears. Her mother had finally grown tired of the barbarians to the south. A collective of spineless louts who flouted their superiority. Ironic, given their history was sullied in blood and betrayal. Nevertheless, the possibility of establishing her usefulness and newly endowed power was far too alluring to dismiss. The Turziens and Toadlins, on the surface, appeared simple or weak, but under her guidance, they would rise to the forefront.  Her children, those bloodsuckers to most, might seem monstrous. Yet, their importance was paramount to the ensuing turbulence.

The inquisitor had marshaled her forces, propagating forth her designs as the reptilians and amphibians purled forth a warcry. They mobilized their forces, their implements of war, and turtle mounts and were off to trek across the virulent quagmire. Ultimately, they slipped into the labyrinth of trees, marching across its shade while the wildlife of this primordial world kept their distance. Never before in recorded history had that bog been unified. A task, while arduous, might yet be enough to kindle Florentina's desired ascension. Eventually, they met up with the Slakrkreen as their descended earthward from their treetop metropolis. Initially, they were weary until the Princess had dispersed such lowly concerns.

Inadvertently, rather than march as separate forces. The two armies congregated under a single flock only to then travel deeper into the jungle. The horns of their armies bellowed forth a decree just as the monk stepped from the treeline. Her muscular physique was adorned in that signature spider webbing and tortoise-shelled armor. A smile, one of repletion, rested on that face as emerald eyes looked back upon her wife Nysoesa. Who, as usual, kept her fed while roosting on that royal caboose. She had just birthed another clutch, who was wiggling across the muddied earth or were adhered to the shells of those lumbering turtles. It had been some time since she had last conversed with her mother; Florentina was curious if she'd be greeted with pride or revulsion for her defiance.

"My love, we have arrived. It is time we show this world our splendor and carve our name into the annals of history. Fret not, in the end I will ensure your safety and the advancement of our family no matter the cost."

War

Ignorantly, the primitives went about their day. Oblivious that forces exceeding their control were dispersed to subdue them. The populace solicited after wares, and gallivanted the streets with their family while the armed guards patrolled those sandy roads. There was a mundane air about that breadbasket; nothing hinted at the looming ruination originating from the sea. Farmers toiled the earth, using a scythe and undead labor to accumulate grains from a bounteous harvest.  Across that expanse of dunes, fungi forest had been attacked. Cannon fire enkindled its stalks while the foreign meddlers dispatched the turziens to rise from the waters to conquer the facilities and adjacent towns.

The choir of bereaved mothers and babes reverberated within what was to be an idyllic retreat from the desert. Victory had been secured, although, much to Florentina's chagrin, little opposition presented itself. How lamentable to think that this was the best the Eternal House could muster? These wretched vermin were spineless louts; miscreants bent solely on the consumption of their brethren. Fools who are far too rabid to unite against the jungle's forces. The ships wasted little time docking, sending forth from the skeletal bowls a horde of toadlins. Nysoesa, the inquisitor's lover, left to govern those amphibians with the aid of their wondrous offspring.

The giant portion of her forces stayed within those crafts, watching as the turziens commenced their march under Xib's orders. They'd follow the river, cutting off any retreat from Sandslout. Florentina doubted their intellect; however,  she conceded that, in all likelihood, such a visible landmark would deter them from roaming in the wrong direction. The agent conferred them an adequate headstart. Before she'd sail, leaving the fear-stricken varenkun and researchers under Nysoesa's supervision to do with them whatever she willed. It was then, as all seemed well, that horns began to blare. The people initially were confused, many chalking it up to some sort of drill. It wasn't till they beheld the bustling of that lackluster guard force that they'd begin to dispute if, perchance, this was something more.

The doors were sealed, banners raised as the walls were mounted. The sentries peered across the desert via spyglass. It was with such instruments they beheld a thousand turtles waddling menacing in their general direction. The desert dwellers had never seen one of their kind. Their alien appearance disseminated even more discord amongst an already frightened unit. Nonetheless, it wasn't till they turned those visual aids and regarded the fleet that they'd question their capacity to hold the territory. Twelve vessels in all, composed of bone followed closely behind what appeared to have been shells with fortifications installed on top equivalent in number. There, flapping in the wind, they could hardly make out what was the Jorgenskull banners.

Pandemonium settled within the fragile hearts of the people, a group whittled already by years of infighting. Some would retreat to their homes, others rushed the sealed gates, and a few lucky souls took their fishing vessels and withdrew to the sea.  Haughtily, Florentina smirked as that prize crept over the horizon. She had been here before, twice actually. She detested them even back then, but her disdain only amplified with time. For now, they'd maintain their heading, crashing against the waters as their navy rocked from the swelling waves. Blood and fear were in the air, and it was beyond intoxicating. 

Their siege weapons were loaded and ready to engage their targets. The vessels, keeping a moderate distance from the shore while the giants onboard with a few goatkin grinned, excited to finally claim dominion over what was a fertile patch of soil. Florentina would turn to face those occupants within the lead warship. The inquisitor discovered their enthusiasm to be indisputably tantalizing, if not contagious.

"We will strike fear so great into their hearts. That future generations will marvel at this day. A morning when the crops soaked up their ancestral blood to the point that not a single grain could grow for decades. We will rape and pillage, shatter their wills and spines. Their widows will weep, smothering their enfeebled babes into their bosom just to save them from our clutches. We will rip and tear, disembowel, harvest their innards. The mountains will quiver, the foundation quake as the firmament is reeled back like a scroll. Our display of carnage will be so legendary that even the Elder of war will think twice about challenging us. Conquest is not our goal. No, we will aspire for something greater. My men, you will soon know the ecstasy that is the breaking of men's will to fight. Ultimately, we will triturate their very essence as a community. The body may be resilient, nevertheless, the mind, not so much. Worry not, morality, fear, war, and your nightmares are temporary. But the glory of the Jorgenskulls, that is forever!"

Motivated, they each hastened to their stations while the bone-clad commander moved to the front of the ship. Those emerald eyes veered to the shore, watching as they passed the farmlands. The workers, fleeing, grabbed their casterarms. "Good, resist. I will enjoy breaking you all..." Florentina mumbled.

Slowly, she raised her hand while the men adjusted the cannons and their mortars. It was then that the screams of the innocent reached her ears. How riveting, they were grieving already, and not a drop of woe had graced those parched tongues. They needn't worry; there would be enough blood to slake all their thirst. And given its abundance, she could afford to waste a few gallons. "Fire!" She cried, sending that arm forward. The drums on the back of each ship were hammered ferociously. The crooning of her people accompanied that ominous cadence. Each melody carried with it a set of orders, a methodology to effectively communicate across the distance.

It was then the tubers let loose their volley while the cannons that were aimed toward the center of town discharged their load. One hundred and twenty rounds, each mortar blast covered a five-foot area in smoldering blood, fecal matter, and pus. The dooks were hit first, glazing them in a soup of gore that boiled the flesh of anyone unwise to flee.

 

Meanwhile, the cannon's rounds pelted the bazaar and shop district. Random buildings that were poorly built collapsed under the force and weight of their sludge. A thick goo of fat, urine, and bile erupted outward in a thirty-foot radius. Thirty projectiles in all. A pause followed as they reloaded, giving the people time to wallow through the horror and repugnancy she gifted them.  They would release a few more loads soon enough, but she had to give time for Xib to move into position. While boisterous, this wasn't the true power nor threat of their attack. 

Many sand apes that all went squish. The bunny things thought themselves as smart, but none out thunk or out fast talk bonk. His people hated these softbacks, finding them to be a smooshy waste of space. It didn't matter; all their theatrical spells and tools were nothing when pitted against the might of the log and rock.  Xib found war to be interesting, and terrifying, but a different experience. This theater presented itself as a way for the turzien's to prove their worth as a people. The wise woman of the rear shell guided them. Her brain was big, very smart, as her tactics made quick work of the desert chimps.

In Xib's eyes, she was a friend, a good leader, and a prophet of the old guardian. Her word was law, endowed by divinity as she represented the swamp incarnate. Florentina's motivations and morals were never questioned, while those that had doubted her merit as a shepherd discovered her worth via this experience. Victory had been secured; the Fungi forest fell that day to their thwacking. Thunderously, the reptilians let out a gurgled cry of satisfaction as they ominously waddled around their commander. Before Xib had met his new friends, he was ostracized. Now, his people looked at him for guidance.

The turtle felt the weight of responsibility. Each brother, dead or alive, was his to govern during this chaotic and trying time. He couldn't falter; no, he had to remain true to their ways. His eyes turned to the river while a stubby digit scratched his cheek. One eye after another blinked as he struggled to remember their plan. This one was good at many things, but orders and these strategies, not so much. Bah, it didn't matter; he'd follow the body of water to the next target. All the while pondering what a volley was while they recited that song of the logs.

Their travels were met with little resistance. They were overturning and smashing a few fishermen along the way as they scoffed at the futility of their resistance. Eventually, the sound of a trumpet reached across the distance. However, given their poor hearing, it was difficult to make out. The turzien's looked upon those fortified walls, debating why such barbarians would erect such a brittle shell as a defense. The archers stayed in the rear while Xib led the forward line ahead of them to serve as a barrier should the soldiers attempt to rush their ranged troops. Xib waited, watching as the floating sea things let out boom boom balls. Many blasts, the earth's vibration picked up on as the soldiers looked toward him for direction.

Was wiggly soil a sign of this volley?  Florentina was an earth bender. Perhaps it was her way of commanding them via the foundations?  Xib's head stung from thinking; it was arduous, and he preferred to smack with lumber over leading. Still, there was no one as faithful or deserving of this station. Reluctantly, the waddling behemoth had to accept his lot. Who knows? By the end of it all, it might help him obtain many eggs from the layers. No matter, counting was tough, waiting boring, screw it, Xib will give the order and deal with wrath later if he was somehow wrong.

"We ready tiny pointed logs now!" He shouted, the command being echoed to the rear while the archers positioned their arrows across the bowstrings, pulling back while taking aim toward the center of the town. One of his sisters tottered down the line holding stick of fire, touching the tips as they, one by one, were lit ablaze. Xib would reach behind. Scratching his buttocks while he second-guessed himself. The enemy units on the wall were distressed, the foul smell of their initial bombardment and the horror of watching citizens cooked alive in that boiling soup weakening their will to resist.

A few soldiers on the wall looked toward the bazaar and shop district, their minds quickly gathering that had to be fat which only meant one thing. Before they could muster forth a counter, Xib would gurgle and let out his cry. "No, hold back let logs fly! Aim for the center, hit lardy puddles!" The arrows rushed across the heavens in an arc, their fire tips blanketing out the sky before their flaming points collided with their mark. The wind and fluids extinguished many. However, it only took one to start the chaos. That lipid in the center erupted, sending forth a wild grease fire. The civilians fled, while others meaning well, tossed water on the fire, only worsening the effects.

Their screams could not be heard, but Xib liked to imagine they went oowwweeewaaah nu! Stupid sand chimps, they soon learn the wisdom of rear shelled commander. Hoisting his log, Xib would scream, waving it about while charging at the wall with a dignified waddle. "For bonk! For thwack! You no kill chimp, me kill you! We show softbacks might of the hardbacks!" The others followed his lead, keeping their shields at the ready as they moved in a formation to block any potential arrows.  The archers stayed behind, preparing another volley in case the second barrage of bodily concoction wasn't somehow set ablaze. Never before had the men of the sands beheld something both comical and horrifying.

Fear is a compelling motivator. Florentina had anticipated this initial onslaught to have roused forth some resistance. Yet, the sands and their denizens appeared content to grovel under her heel. Pitiful, they were an unsalvagable lot. Why would her mother squander their time subjugating such reprehensible vermin? The inquisitor observed the initial carnage, watching as belatedly Xib had enkindled the adipose her vessels had scattered athwart the market. The people's ululations were no longer music to her ears. Their inability to fight or marshal had spoiled any prospect of enjoyment.

At this point, within those austere eyes, she had considered this an insulting affair. The effrontery of which wouldn't be exculpated so effortlessly. No, if Florentina is to abide by this jeering, she'd do so with a fatigued heart. Begrudgingly she'd groan, rolling those emerald orbs before peering back at her troops as they loaded the cannons and mortars. That perfume of gore, while offensive to the uncouth, persevered as the only solace her sense could obtain. A reminder that sometimes an artist must engage in their craft, regardless if they had the essential muse to invigorate them. Nevertheless, a girl gotta do, what a girl gotta do.

Theatrically the agent raised her hands, the drums slowing down their rhythm as they waited for the command. The time for the second gifting of hell and flesh was upon them. And, it would be rude and boorish to keep their amiable hosts waiting too long. Without further delay, she'd send her arms downward, commanding the next volley. The mortars let loose first, connecting just beyond their initial mark to spread the influence of their feces. The ships rocked while the cannons once more followed behind. The globs of fat collided near the borders of that organic lake of fire, approximately doubling its reach while the ships moved close to the port. The opening line of blood and shit had tempered down, with the second laboring as a barrier so that they may more unobstructedly dismount from these vessels.

The warships lowered their ramparts, smacking against the harbor while the infantry scurried from within the bowels assuming their formation. The shelled monk had seen enough. She rather be making love to her wife on Samara's corpse, than misuse further time loafing and torturing such droll company. The men poured forth (2,500 in total), rushing down before setting up a line with their bone tower shields. Their spears formulated a thicket of death as cooly Florentina paced back and forth behind them. Her hands rested behind her back just above her godly rear while she prepared to address the soldiers. All the while the siege weaponry initiated their reloading process waiting to render supportive fire upon request.

"Unworthy prey. I apologize that we must sully our honor with such unbecoming crud. We came bearing our spirits, and, all they could offer were dull pleas. Pathetic. I have decided, we will not spare them. Kill everyone that offers any resistance. The men of the sands have no cocks, and thusly are not deserving of a warrior's death. They are swine yearning, no, imploring to be slaughtered. And, it would be most inappropriate for us not to oblige. Men, advance toward the border of our line, hold your position, and prepare for the greatest display of carnage this dried pussy of a realm has ever known!"

Her troops obeyed, lifting their shields as they stepped to the very end of that first bombardment of filth only to lower them once more. Archers, what few they had made up two lines (40 across) in total per vessel prepared their arrows. Outwardly, few would suspect what force they held. But anyone with a mite of engineering or warfare knowledge would understand the bigger the bow, the more powerful the delivery. Those marksmen swelled in size, as Bersia took charge over the ships and their ranged units. The blonde huntress smiled, presenting Florentina a nod of affirmation before the commander veered her gaze across the burning town.

"Frivolity, thine name is Sandslout." Bersia murmured, before steeling herself for what was to transpire.

"Comeon, show some spirit. I want to bleed, suffer and evolve." Florentina thought, voraciously craving some manner of opposition.

The troops gazed into the inferno. Their eyes squinting as the victims' lamentations echoed within the immolating pool only heightened their morale. While they might have earned a degree of satisfaction, Florentina on the other hand, found this all to be boring. Ever since she was a babe the blonde envisioned this very moment. And now that her aspirations were unfurling, it all was tasteless and colorless.  No matter, she'd give the command to her troops to proceed through the puddle of excrement once it had cooled.  Uniformly they'd march forward, the sound of their footsteps along with the distant explosion inspired fear across the town.

Those closest to the docks were the first to be mutilated or gathered. Those unwise to capitulate were massacred like cattle, being bequeathed not an ounce of clemency. Bersia could hear their bellows, her heart going out to the people albeit in secret. Nevertheless, as a faithful member of the Verdant Dynasty, she wouldn't falter. War was certainly an unsightly affair, although losing one was far less advantageous. Her thoughts concerning the politics that led them to this precipice were irrelevant. No amount of wishful thinking or studious contemplation could annul the reality lain out before those steel eyes.

The huntress prepared her arrow, pulling back the string as she managed her posture and breathing while taking aim.  Without further delay, she'd let it fly. The other marksmen followed her lead as they too would unleash that aerial torrent of death. The enlarged projectiles ripped through the air while they arced only to then descend to the earth. Anyone outside the buildings would find themselves being impaled. This downpour of spears collided with the various stone fortifications, piercing through them with the force of a ballista. This display guaranteed that what spirit remained would plummet, particularly when aligned with the realization the Turziens had ruptured through their feeble barricade.

Florentina commanded her men to break into squads, clearinghouse after house, while others remained outside to engage or subdue any wanderers. It was then she entered Izmail's home, the Alchemist was stricken with despair as revoltingly his family groveled. Those green eyes gazed down at him, discerning the sigil of the eternal house on his exceptional silken raiment. 

"Why do you not fight for your comrades elf?"  She questioned, his knees trembling as the reek of their first bombardment had whittled his stomach's capacity to keep itself from disgorging its contents.

"I have to take care of my family. Please, let them go I be-" His words cut short as the vermin dared to reach out and touch the inquisitor in some pitiable bid to elicit sympathy.  The monk sent a palm strike, smashing the side of his head before slamming that cranium on the wall, bursting it open like a melon. The blood and gore decorated the stone before Florentina glanced over those shoulders at the family who at this point was beyond terrified.

"Kill them for stomaching such a pathetic excuse for a son." Florentina stepped out the door. She could hear their cries and execution, only to be ensued by silence. The Eternal House were her enemies, but their lack of fighting spirit in her eyes made them all unsalvagable.

"Men, encircle the center! We will meet the Turzien forces and proceed to clear the flames while marching and freeing the heart of the town. Leave a few detachments to subjugate those that surrender. Keep them like cattle trapped in a few homes and execute them all should one venture to resist."

The men nodded before hastening off to relay word while Florentina gazed back over at the vessels. She'd smirk as belatedly Bersia and her troops sped down the planks and proceeded to secure the high ground. The archers kept their formations, preparing their bows while her sister left officers in charge. Eventually, she'd stand by Florentina's side as the two smirked at one another before staring across that pond of lard and flames.

"Flora, what will you do with the survivors?" Bersia inquired, apprehensive to receive the answer.

"Make an example of a few, let the rest live. The Eternal House has spat on our spirits by dismissing our challenge. It is only fair we do this realm a favor and imprison, torture, or kill such spineless parasites."

Bersia sighed, readying her arrow before biting down on that lip as if distressed.

"Is something wrong sister?" Florentina inquired with a smile. Bersia shook her head only to sigh.

"No, such is life. I may not like it, but even I understand we are beyond the point of shaking hands."

The inquisitor laughed, patting the archer's back as they moved across the outer rim of the fire before seeing the kitsune Gana hanging out the window.

"Hey! Fox! You wanna live? Bring me the head of an Eternal house member!" Bersia peered at her sister, disconcerting why she appeared to take delight in this bloodletting.

"Watch, as they rip and tear themselves apart. It is the only thing they know, the one truth about their nature." The inquisitor susurrated, Bersia was compelled to agree. Truthfully, she loathed the fact she couldn't dispute her younger sibling's statements.

The shelled warriors let out their watery growls as the last of the defenders of the wall went splat. Xib had a goofy smile resting on his face as he looked over toward the burning center, only to see the pointed logs of the giants collide against the surrounding buildings. The logmancer shouted out his commands as he waddled from the edge with his troops close behind. The turtles would fan out, forming a line that quickly encircled the rim of that still-burning fat. There they waited, hurling out a series of cries while Florentina's forces continued to round up the survivors. He'd look back, scratching the back of his head as he made out the Khan and her retreating forces. There were alot of sand chimps; this realization led him to question why they didn't try to retake the settlement.

It didn't matter; in the end, he would be a good turzien and wait along with the others. These softbacks thought of themselves as smart and sophisticated. But, their manners and brains were nothing when pitted against the might of the rock and log. All their shiny toys and whizzy pew pew gadgets couldn't stem the horde of bonkers. Their cries had no effect on those foreign behemoths of the shell. Their people were used to war, however not so much on this scale. The effective execution only caused them to see the wise woman of the rear shell in a more favorable light. Indeed, Florentina was the most suitable one to rule and manage their people.

"This one waits now." Xib whispered as one eye after the other blinked.

 

That armored reptile drooped his tongue from that snapper as the taste of burning hair and flesh wafted across his oral sense. Besieged, those unfortunate enough to escape the grease fire would be met with the power of the song of 99 logs in the bog. No matter how many times they recited it, the number always remained the same. "This one give command when hot soup cools down. We wait, and sway menacingly till then!" The other turtles appeared satisfied with this plan as they commenced their horror induce wiggling.

The organizer of this sea-to-land invasion stared out across the carnage of her design. The peoples' continued butchery elicited no external or internal responses. Her dependable turtles had succeeded in mopping up the walled fighters. The dock and exterior of the agricultural community had already been mutilated or herded like cattle.  It was then those green eyes beheld a flicker of potential- the arrival of possible challengers who might make this insipid meal into something savory after all. This, in turn, sparked a fire in those green eyes and prompted a smile on that face. Only to be nearly instantly snuffed as the reinforcements stormed off across the knolls, discarding the prey to their predetermined fate.

Ganas reply was disregarded for now. Her eagerness to capitulate was all the ammunition the stalwart commander needed. Bersia was soft, having a gentle heart. However, perhaps that declaration would present itself as enough evidence to solidify the diva's point-the affidavit to support her callous spirit to prevent any animosity down the road. Bersia frowned. The peoples' abandonment coupled with that solitary kitsune's retort kindled a stupor. This meditative state sequentially pushed to the side as she nodded to her younger sibling.

"Have fun, it seems I was wrong." She spoke before returning to her ranged troops. 

The blonde huntress grappled to come to terms with the propaganda she had been fed. On one hand, she wanted to believe this lot was redeemable. On the other, all testimony promulgated the reverse. Florentina said nothing. As an inquisitor, she had a knack for discerning when her victims' spirits were fractured. Bersia, along with this execrable village of savages' were both under her heel. Their bodies were soon to be mashed under the gravity included within her ubiquitous shadow. Wordlessly, while waiting out the fires, the agent moved about the line as her forces girdled the edge of the market district, just outside of the flames' reach.

Eventually, her ears picked up on the sobbing of some babe. She looked around. Those green lanterns could see some feline with her leg pinned, enveloped by their smoldering lipid. The fires were dying down, and while her flesh was badly burnt, there was a distinct chance that this imbecile might yet live. The diva stepped forward, the troops on all sides closing inward behind her. The whining necromancer would soon gather a loud stomp as that foot clad in bone smashed next to but missing her head. Haughtily those emerald jewels looked down at this burnt and pathetic animal with absolute disdain.

"The reclamation has arrived..."

This would be the last thing the necrotic cat would hear. The other foot was raised, only to grind itself against her knee, breaking it. The weight, joined with the giant reached down, clasping the nape and dragging the body, separating the leg from the whole. This trapped woman was weak, unwilling, or incapable of making the necessary sacrifice to save her life. Florentina, not being above charity, chose for the lady.

"Even an animal knows when to gnaw away its foot when ensnared. It appears their will to survive eclipses yours."

She'd wave, as one of her men picked up and hauled the burnt and now one-legged necromancy off, throwing her in with the others where she might receive medical attention. Ultimately, her ability to live was bound to the one thing seemly absent, her will. There, the conquerer would look around, grinning as she prepared to deliver a speech.

"You are beaten! Make no mistake. This was no battle. We obtained no glory and instead suffered the mockery of your unwillingness to fight! Each and every one of you are vermin. Pest graveling under a rock as if hoping for what? That my coming judgment might pass you by? Such arrogance, such jeering will not go unpunished!  Scurry forth from your position, drop to your knees and plead for my forgiveness! Or, remain hidden and prepare to be exterminated by the coming light that is my glory. I am nothing, if not amenable and extraordinarily humble! For the first time since our arrival, I am giving you the power of choice, it would be unwise to defy my charity!"

Florentina yawned, finding this all to be riveting, Smacking those lips as she queried what her wife was doing? Poor thing, Nysoesa must have been bored and lonely within that fungi forest. Separated from her spouse, she pondered if her better half was equally annoyed by these foreigners? How she longed to be coiled by those tentacles and ravaged. Next to their sex life, this theatre seemed lacking when it came to the ambivalence that is strife. 

From those buildings' the rodents emerged; fifty people had survived the barrage of organic soups and volley of arrows. The death toll, whatever it may have been, was hardly deserving of note. This abhorrent lot of parasites were undeserving of clemency. The amnesty yielded thus far was a testimonial of the inquisitor's forbearance. They need only capitulate, swallow their defeat, and relinquish themselves 'neath her stern rule. However trivial, it appeared even this minor act of fealty exceeded their capability to execute. The woman she had saved, the necromancer incapable of sacrificing a limb to ensure her inexcusable existence retaliated. 

How lamentable, if only they had offered up such resistance during the engagement. Maybe then the giantess would have been amendable to view them as warriors. But no, instead, they groveled behind their sandstone walls. Conclusively, this made her enfeebled tussle and scratches come across as an effrontery, one the commander couldn't abide. The diva had issued her orders, establishing a standard those beneath her charge were obligated to administer. If she had waned against her declarations she could only appear weak. And if there was one thing she had fostered within her soldiers' it was the gravity of one's convictions. 

How fortuitous that the survivors had slithered forth from their holes. If nothing else, that feline's martyrdom would have an audience. The imminent execution might tarry as a warning, albeit one short-lived given what her responsibilities necessitated. Florentina raised her hand, silencing the bereaved citizens before whistling. Her men, who were still contesting with the unruly, barely conscious prisoner desisted their movements. Wearily, they stared at one another, before turning around to bring the defiler of the dead back to their leader. Bersia sighed, shaking her head as she could see from afar how things would invariably play out.

The puerskar was dropped to the earth by Florentina's side. The feeble spell weaver had difficulty warding off torpors call due to blood loss. Weakly, she bobbed back and forth while the soon-to-be executioner scrutinized the scene. The line behind her readied their spears, forming a thicket of death that surrounded the marketplace, toiling as a barrier. That silence had enveloped the region, accompanied by an eerie discernment of apprehension.  The atmosphere was palpable, yet electrifying as if the very ionization of the particles could be savored within the air. The diva sanctioned this pause a moment longer, staring at the Kitsune as she finally saw fit to join the gathering to some capacity.

"I came to liberate you from deficiency. Look around, the Eternal House is inept. Their foundations are eroded, unsuited of proferring even the scantiest semblance of security. The sands have fallen, not due to a foreign meddler. No, if you wish to behold the offender, you need only gawk into a mirror. You are all the root of the plague, and while I could squander my time treating the symptoms of your infirmity. I rather purge away the source of this condition. Even now, without a glimmer of hope, you have elected to glut yourself upon that bile. The decomposition you surfeit on has tainted your very cells." 

Florentine would move behind the cripple, only to slide her muscular legs alongside the puerskar's face. Tightly they'd grip the cranium as ineffectively the necromancer objected to this public humiliation. "Look upon this woman! I saved her, gifted the ingrate with a second chance, a road to redemption. Rather than be thankful, she opted for defiance. The very same doggedness that has cost you your homes. Let what follows persist within your memory. May it manifests itself as a guiding light should you ever feel inclined to lap up that vomit!" Those legs pressed firmly as the skull ruptured like a melon. That claret gore and bits of bone varnishing what was once blemishless. This defacing, while improper, was inescapable.

Some within that crowd regurgitated, others became a ghostly pale, while a few watched undeviatingly in horror. The prisoner's body fell back, leaving a puddle of blood as the muscles spasmed, a terminal expression that the ghost had been untethered from its earthly coil. The diva smirked, considering their aversion to be the only morsel thus far worthy of chewing on. Though, whatever nutritional value it contributed was at best empty calories.  Confidently, the general paced back and forth, eyeing what remained as the distant sound of butchery echoed across the hamlet. Those who had previously been restrained were now more akin to lambs to the slaughter. Their bodies, the sacrifice upon the tabernacle that is Florentina's hubris.

"Do you hear their psalms of praise? They are appreciative of my kindness. Vex not, you too will have time to deliver your vespers. Fortunately for you, I believe in second chances. So, we will play a little game. Two of you may leave, missionaries to carry forth the word of my gospel. Such an honor I do not hand out lightly, and so, a test in is order. You will use your hands to kill one another. The blood of your brothers will baptize you, exonerating you of guilt. No poisons, no spells, no tools. Failure to comply will result in calamity. For, it is through flesh and its skinning that we truly come to terms with ourselves."

The inquisitor chuckled, turning her back as she made her way behind the line. The soldiers created a brief opening before closing that tiny gap in their formation. The bowmen on the buildings took aim, while the cannons loaded the next bombardment. Behind the spearmen, soldiers wielding caster rifles remained, keeping their barrels pointed toward the bewildered prey. 

"Ah, one last thing. Failure to comply speedily might result in the side effect of naval bombardment. I heartily encourage you to hurry along, lest my perseverance diminishes."

What inanity. The diva had extended them a blessing, an unprecedented opportunity for some of this awful lot to survive. However, rather than rise to the occasion and establish that the sands had even an iota of saving grace. The fools were content to flout her authority, vagrantly contesting her decree. Florentina could not abide such a disease. Their effrontery was only eclipsed by their unwillingness to persevere. The denizens of this arid land were irreparable. Hopeless vermin who wallowed within the filth that blemished the soul of this land. Its heart was fat, suffocated by the exuberance that had bred debility. 

Those emerald eyes witnessed the conjuring of that flame. Unapathetically, the inquisitor grimaced, condemning those too engrossed in their skirmishes to infer that they were already dead. This disregard for the contest sealed their demise. They could plead, weep and chisel till their throats were raw, and eyes bled. Yet, their silencing from this plane would verify itself as hollowed as their existence. Sandslout, like a pig, would be gutted. Its carcass eviscerated onto the granules while her soldiers ransacked through the sooty remains. And beyond these walls, the world would continue to revolve, unimpacted by their expiration. 

They needn't chafe over such matters, for the dead were incapable of vexing. And while their countrymen might be prone to forget, Florentina wouldn't. Their legacy would be the ruination that ensued in her wake. Their lamentations are the fuel to kindle forth the inferno that is her glory. Nysoesa, how she wished her noodly bitch could behold such a travesty. To make love on their desecrated carcasses would be the only fame these simpletons would achieve in both life and death. The commander rose her hand with a smile, balling it into a fist before thrusting it forward. That soundless command was distributed forth like a wave, from one end of her army to the other.

Those within that arena discontinued as an ominous aura inundated the marketplace. The air chilled as they looked about with dread. There were many reactions; some stood still and embraced oblivion. Others fought in some pitiable effort to solicit commiseration. At the same time, the truly weak ran in the futile hope that they might escape their impending judgment. The suns that once kissed the town with its warmth were blotted. As if a cloud had passed over them. 

Those brave enough to gawk to the firmaments would observe a blanket of arrows. The cannons at the docks fired, resonating forth like thunder. While the marksmen let loose a torrent of explosive caster fire.  Those who had rushed off were first to die, the round erupting and tearing their bodies apart into minced meat. The smell, their terminal wailings, were the last sensations those within would know. A wave of scorching heat followed by grease and fire accompanied with arrows that smashed and fragmented in a spherical pattern. Their nerves were fried, yet the psychological horror of being roasted alive inspired many to flog helplessly.

Not once would Florentina shunt her gaze, smiling as she believed justice had finally been dispatched. Sandslout, a den of cowards, had ascertained reclamation via her hands. She had done them a service. Her charity was beyond legendary. In contrast, some might perceive such a macabre spectacle as uncivilized. The diva counted it as a belated abortion. Honestly, Samara should praise her for removing this cancer from their lap. One by one, each house was cleared. The occupants were dragged out and executed. Their corpses were piled as their worldly goods were taken as property of the Verdant Dynasty.

Regardless of race, creed, gender, or age, they were each bequeathed equality. Unfortunately for the residents, this meant a swift and unmerciful exit from this world. Standing there, overlooking the fruits of her labors, Florentina perceived a sense of repletion. The inquisitor recalled how she vowed to saturate the land in a torrential downpour of blood. Generations will find remnants of this butchery. The land itself was marred and stood as a testament to her crusade. They refused to serve her well in life, but they had little say on the matter in death. Their corpses were placed on stakes, while other cadavers were stripped of valuable biological materials. 

Skin flags swayed in the wind as banners, kept in place by the pieces of bone and tissue they had deemed undeserving of acquisition. The battle had been won, yet they couldn't rest on their laurels. Immediately, Florentina instructed her men, still inebriated on triumph, to fortify their location and prepare for the next onslaught. Once the central fire had died, the commander strode across the scene only to look upon the charred remains of Scor and Gana. Their bodies melded, perpetually declaring the triviality of their contest. 

"Should have brought me that head, kid." She added before raising the foot and stomping their carcasses into chunks. Bersia approached, still holding her bow as she looked upon her sister. The blackened trails of smoke still expanded to the welkin bearing forth the odor of carnage.

"What's next?" Bersia inquired.

The brood bitch groaned while peering over her shoulder at her sister. "We prepare, do our job, and finish this war. Otherwise, all of this was for nothing. Relay word to those under your charge, load the ships and commence the bombardment of Emerald City. Leave behind a sizable garrison, and what we can spare will march with us to Nirvana. I will trust Xib to hold the line in our absence. Also, convey word to my wife. I want her by my side when I overtake Samara. I'll entreat mother to allow us to fornicate on her corpse."

Bersia bowed before stepping off. Florentina spat to the earth, clenching her fist while she stared into the sky. "Elders know I need a good fuck..."

"Sandslout."