Solo Ancillary Risk

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Syka is a new settlement of primarily humans on the east coast of Falyndar opposite of Riverfall on The Suvan Sea. [Syka Codex]

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Ancillary Risk

Postby Antelokes on April 17th, 2022, 7:14 pm

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37th of Spring


Antelokes hefted a piece of driftwood in his hand, testing its weight. It was a sizable piece and seemed quite dry, but it was just a little bit heavier than he expected it to be. On suspicion, he braced the driftwood against his knee and pulled back, snapping the wood with a thick crack. A shower of soft, rotten splinters spewed out onto the sand. Sure enough, the wood was wet and rotten on the inside. If he tried to light a fire with this, it might still catch, but much of the flame’s energy would be wasted on drying out the log.

Casting the pieces aside, Antelokes resumed his search. He’d been about it for several chimes now, and his modest pile was neatly stacked higher up on the beach near the edge of the jungle. He wanted to build a fire. Not a forge fire, a cookfire, or even a campfire for warmth. Antelokes just wanted to build a fire for the simple pleasure of doing so.

As he picked across the beach a voice called out behind him.

“Hey! Mind if I join you?” Glancing back, Antelokes saw that it was the fire dancer, Rainmere.

“Not at all,” he replied, “though I’m afraid it might not be particularly interesting. I’m collecting firewood.” He gestured to the fruits of his labors so far. Rainmere flashed a smile.

“A bonfire on the beach?” she said, “that’s something I’m always interested in.” She fell into stride beside him, walking with a lilting gait that reminded Antelokes of her dancing, albeit more subtle.

“You’re marked as well, right?” he asked her. “By Ivak I mean.”

“That’s right,” she said. “I’ve had it since I was born.” She let out a quick laugh. “My parents blamed it for some of my more fiery arguments with them when I was younger. What about you?”

“My mark is… newer,” said Antelokes. He cast his mind about for a way to change the subject. “My father worshiped Ivak my whole life, though I never quite understood what that entailed though, not until more recently.”

“Worshipping Ivak can entail a lot of things,” Rainmere said. “I for one never feel closer to him than when I’m dancing!” With another clear note of laughter, Rainmere stepped forward and spun elegantly on the toes of one of her feet, stretching out her arms in a graceful display of balance. She quickly fell back into step with Antelokes, a smile still plastered across her face. “What about you?” she asked, inquiring. “What do you do?”

For several seconds, Antelokes didn’t answer. Lost in thought he bent down and retrieved a promising piece of firewood, small and dry.

“I’m not sure,” he finally answered. “I try to follow the advice he’s given me… and I do my best to help others in the same way he helped me.” Antelokes’ eyes were downcast. “I’m not very good at it though.” Rainmere punched him lightly in the arm.

“Come on!’ she said, voice bright and energetic. “Don’t be like that. If you were marked, you were marked for a reason. I don’t think Ivak marks people who are bad at doing what he wants them to do.” Antelokes considered that. It made sense, but truth be told Antelokes didn’t feel like he’d done anything worth marking.

“Maybe,” he replied. “I don’t think Ivak came to me because I ‘earned’ it though. It felt more like an investment. Like he wanted me to go out and do something.” Antelokes gripped the firewood tighter, as if to express his frustration. “I just wish he’d told me exactly what he wanted me to do though.” Rainmere seemed apprehensive.

“Do you really though?” she asked, dipping down to pick up a piece of firewood of her own. “I mean, if he told you exactly what to do, exactly what to become… that would be a little restrictive. I know I wouldn’t like that.” Antelokes sighed.

“Maybe, but a little more specificity would be nice.”


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Ancillary Risk

Postby Antelokes on April 18th, 2022, 4:07 am

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Antelokes and Rainmere gathered firewood for several more chimes and the conversation turned to lighter topics. Still, under the veneer of mindless chatter his soul was still mired in their first discussion. It was more than just a question of worship; it was a question of identity.

Antelokes loathed stagnation. Routines were maddening to him, and he avoided them at all costs if he could help it. Still, for all of the motion and actions he had taken—including coming here to Syka—he couldn’t help but feel as if he were marching in place. He was moving, but not advancing, not doing anything meaningful. Antelokes enjoyed his work, but he would not be content to spend the rest of his life making nails and nothing else.

Soon, the pair of Azenth had gathered a sizeable pile of firewood that seemed sufficient for their purposes. The sun began to dip low on the horizon, and Rainmere grew visibly nervous.

“Maybe we could hurry up and get the fire started?” she asked with a slight tremor in her voice. “You know… for light?” Antelokes remembered her curse. Of course, she was afraid of the dark.

With a word of agreement Antelokes bent down, finding a well packed patch of sand to build the fire in. He carefully arranged the tinder into a small nest before preparing his flint and steel. At the forge he was more used to lighting fires with banked coals, so it took him several tries for a spark to catch. He blew on it, giving the new flames oxygen. Leaving the fire nest, he stacked some of the smaller pieces of the dry woody material where they would eventually catch.

“How long?” Antelokes asked, “How long will this last?”

“How long will what last?” Rainmere replied.

“You know what I’m talking about,” Antelokes said. “The curses, the fear, this petching cloud of anxiety infecting everybody in Syka. I haven’t been here long Rainmere, but I can tell you for sure that people’s attitudes were very different on the day I got off the Veronica.” He added a few more pieces of wood to the fire and blew again. The faint glow of the budding embers strengthened and the thin lines of smoke trailing out of the tinder grew thicker.

“I don’t know,” Rainmere answered, crouching down by the fire and hugging her knees. “This has never happened before. It could be forever, I guess? But I don’t think so. Everyone here is so good at what they do… especially the founders. They’ll figure it out, they’ll fix it. I know they will.” Antelokes could tell Rainmere was mostly trying to convince herself. He could feel her worry through his gnosis, just as he was sure she could feel his through hers.

“Yes… I’m sure they will,” he said, staring into the fire. Visible flames were now beginning to lick skyward, charring it and staining black the wood that the ocean had long-since bleached pale.


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Ancillary Risk

Postby Antelokes on April 18th, 2022, 5:06 am

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“I can’t just leave it up to the founders,” Antelokes said, after a long moment of silence. “I don’t want to and I won’t. They came here and they built this place at great risk to themselves. We came here and enjoy the benefits of their work. How is it fair for us to expect them to solve this problem for us too?”

Rainmere glanced up at Antelokes, confused. The shadows on the beach were starting to lengthen, and she was growing nervous.

“What do you mean? We help, Antelokes. We do what we can for the community. Everyone does.” Antelokes added a few of the larger logs to the fire, which was now burning steady.

“Do we really?” he asked quietly. “Do we really do everything we could do?” Antelokes raised his eyes to meet Rainmere’s gaze. “We do what we have to, sure. I do my work, you do yours, and the rest of the time we entertain ourselves with whatever pastime we happen to find interesting for that day.” Rainmere raised her eyebrow in indignation.

“Entertainment is important, Antelokes. You think any settlement would survive without it? People would be at each other’s throats within a season without things like singing and dancing. It’s part of why we have tendays. And what else would you have us do? Hunt and fish and build all day? We would collect so much food it would rot on the beach, and if we wanted we could build more houses than we have people to live in them.” Antelokes inclined his head in a slight nod, acknowledging her point. She was right… to a degree.

“Surviving will take more than hunting, fishing and building,” Antelokes said in reply. He turned back to stare at the fire, eyes engrossed by the crackling flames as they eagerly consumed the dry wood. “We live on the ruins of an ancient city, Rainmere. We don’t understand it. I’m sure the founders know more than us, but I would bet my life that they don’t know everything. This curse proves that there are things at play here that nobody can control.”

“And what do you mean to do about it? Everyone here tries their best Antelokes. We aren’t choosing to live in ignorance.”

“But we do choose to live in safety,” he replied.

“What’s wrong with safety?”

“Nothing. It’s smart. Keeps you alive.” Antelokes added a few more logs to the fire. It had grown to a respectable size now, and he could feel its heat on his face. The sky had burst alight with brilliant colors as the sun set. It was clear for now with no sign of rain, which bode well. Rainmere pulled her legs in tighter and inched closer to the flames, pointedly ignoring the deepening darkness that was visible under the nearby canopy.

“However, some problems aren’t solved with safety,” he said.

“Antelokes?” asked Rainmere, worried. “What…” her words continued, but they faded away as Antelokes drifted into a vision. He recognized it this time. It wasn’t always so easy.


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Ancillary Risk

Postby Antelokes on April 18th, 2022, 6:18 am

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A smooth, powerful voice spoke to Antelokes, clearly coming from somebody standing directly behind him. Rainmere had disappeared, but the fire was still there.

“Who do presume to be, son of a madman?” the voice called out. Antelokes refused to turn around. He kept staring into the fire, as if it would carry him back to reality.

“My father was a good man,” Antelokes replied, soft and firm.

“Your father went insane!” the voice mocked. In a flash, the surface of the ocean shifted, no longer reflecting the sky but now projecting on massive scale the image of an old man, hunched over and scratching in the dirt like an animal. Antelokes lifted his gaze. Rolling waves disturbed the image, mottling its surface, but there was no form in which Antelokes wouldn’t recognize his father.

“My father was a good man,” he repeated, turning his head back to stare at his fire, ignoring the vision’s mockery.

“Perhaps you begin to share his delusions?” the voice suggested, this time whispering in Antelokes’ ear. He did not turn his head. “Tell me—heir to insanity—what is more likely? That an entire community succumbed to strange otherworldly curses for no apparent reason, or…” the voice laughed in a way that sent shivers up and down Antelokes’ spine. “…or that one young man went mad just like his daddy, and he imagined it all in in the paranoid corners of his own mind?”

Against his will, Antelokes began to tremble. The visions lie, he told himself. They always lie, and they always end. Did they though? What if from the very beginning the visions, the curses, all of it had just been his own mind playing tricks on him? No. That wasn’t true. He refused to believe it was true.

“My father was a good man,” he repeated once again. No matter what confusion he was subjected to, defending his father’s honor would always come easy.

“But what of yourself, little killer?” the voice asked. “What are you? What are your acts? What legacy do you leave behind on this world?” A gust of wind surged past Antelokes, pouring through the fire and blowing a small cloud of sparks, ash and embers into the air. This cloud formed itself into the rough shape of two faces, floating in front of him. Antelokes recognized them. He saw them in his dreams sometimes, and this was not the first time the visions had conjured them. “All I see,” the voice continued, “are two men dead by your hand. Killed shamefully, and that’s not to mention what you did with their bodies…”

The cloud dispersed. Antelokes looked back down at his fire, but now nestled among the embers were two skulls, half burnt but recognizable. “The only thing you’ve ever left in your wake is ash,” the voice whispered.

“I did what had to be done,” Antelokes said with a voice like steel.

“Did you?” came the response. “Two men entered your home with the intention to cause a little pain, nothing more. They did not leave. Instead, out walked a newly minted murderer with two lives to his name. Two men dead when they should have survived.”

“I’ll bear that burden,” said Antelokes. “Call me murderer—it’s what I am—but those men needed to die.” Notes of determination crept into Antelokes’ voice. “They made their bets and cast their dice. I cast mine, and I won the toss. If I went back, I would do it all again.”

“Does death come so easy to you child?” the voice asked. “If all people reasoned as you do, then they would all kill each other before the season’s end.”

“But they don’t reason as I do,” Antelokes said, thinking. “They don’t have to. They won’t have to so long as I do. Those men needed to die, and by killing them I spared some other poor soul the trouble.” Antelokes clenched his fists. “Society needs someone to do its dirty jobs. It needs someone to roll the dice when the odds are bad.” His voice went quiet again.

“As long as I do it… then nobody else has to.”

“Whatever it takes for you to sleep at night, little madman. Like father, like son.”

That was the last straw. Antelokes sprung up, spinning around to confront the voice’s source. Nothing was there.


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Ancillary Risk

Postby Antelokes on April 18th, 2022, 6:53 am

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“Antelokes! What’s wrong?” Rainmere called out. Antelokes looked back and found her sitting by the fire, casting sidelong glances at the darkness that was creeping up around them as the sun set. He’d stood up just as she’d been talking, responding to his prior comments.

“It’s nothing,” he said, trying to center himself again.

“Don’t lie to me!” Rainmere warned. “I can feel how upset you are, I have the same mark you do.” Antelokes cursed her perceptiveness.

“It was a vision,” he admitted.

“What did you see?” she asked. Antelokes didn’t answer immediately. He let the silence hang in the air. Leaning forward he reached into the heart of the fire and adjusted one of the logs that had started to smother the embers. Flames licked up and around his hand but did not burn him.

“I saw enough,” he replied. “I think I know what to do, Rainmere. You’re right, most people here do their jobs very well, much better than I would. Living here, choosing safety is the only option… most of the time.”

“Explain yourself Antelokes,” Rainmere, said warily. “I don’t like your tone. What did that vision show you?”

“It didn’t show me anything except for my own past,” he said. “I’ve seen it all before.”

“Then why are you acting like this?” Rainmere accused. Antelokes ignored her question. He stared into the fire once more, his eyes lost in the shifting oranges and blues in the bed of embers. He needed time to think. He needed a lot of things, but a purpose was no longer one of them.

He had found one of those.


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