The carriage bumped on a large rock causing the wooden vehicle to lurch to the side a bit shaking the occupants inside.
"Sorry," Yarik called out. "Bumpy road,"
Ashley opened up the carriage tarp and looked outside as what seemed to be an endless desert.
"How long until we get to this city of yours?" she asked with a yawn.
"Maybe an hour or two," Yarik replied with an unsure tone. "Most Stromheim regiments are cavalry, but the Knights of Dawn don't make much use of them so we are slowed by them," he shrugged. "We also need to keep formation in case the orruks attack,"
Ashely then climbed out of the cart and sat on the seat next to Yarik. She, just like the other Stormheimers, wore red and yellow jacket and trousers with leather boots. Jayne did say that the crew can sit upfront with Yarik, but explained that they shouldn't draw attention to themselves. Ashley looked around at the sand covered wasteland. She had seen places like this before, but there was something about this place that just felt wrong.
"They call this the Realm of Beasts, right?" she asked. "Why haven't we seen any?"
"Not all beasts are hungry for human meat," Yarik replied. "Some are as tame as a dog; others are world eating monsters. It all depends where you look,"
"World eating monsters?" she gave him a look. "Reminds me of Thresher Maws,"
"What are they?" he asked with a genuine curiosity.
"Big nasty tentacle beasts with the goal of eating anything," Ashely replied. "And that is the part you can see,"
Yarik, to her surprise, scoffed in amusement. "That just sounds like an average beast," he said making her look to him with wide eyed. "Here, there's more out there than just beast that will eat you. I don't know what you have seen, but here everything is bad,"
Ashley nodded at that. "What do you know of Jayne," she asked.
"The Star forged?" he asked. "Many things, Stormcast are immortal so there are many rumours about their past. It's said that she was plucked from the stars by Sigmar himself for a future he has foreseen," Yarik shrugged. "Given what I have seen, that seems truer than ever,"
Ashley's brow furrowed. "How many gods do people worship?" she asked.
"Many, if you are worried about others trying to attack you for your faith, just be aware that there is a reason for it," he said in a slightly hushed tone. "Other than Sigmar and his pantheon, there are other gods. But the ones that people are afraid of, well I assume that the Starforged talked about them?"
Ash nodded. "I assume that not talking about them is a way to avoid their gaze?"
"And corruption," the Stormheimer added. "Before the Stormcast and Sigmar, their forces dominated all realms except Azyr which Sigmar blocked. From the stories I heard, and from what I have seen, the corruption is still around," his face darked as the memories resurfaced.
Ash said nothing but the silence was killing her, and the ride didn't help. "I would ask if you wanted to talk about it, but I feel that's too much of a bad spot," she gave a wry smile and shrug. "But some things are best left forgotten,"
Yarik smiled at that. "I agree," he nodded. "Ahh, see that smoke up ahead?" he asked pointing, to which as nodded. "That's Stormhiem,"
Ash didn't as much, but as they got closer, she realised the scale of the city. "Holy shit," she muttered as she stood to get a better look.
The walls were made out of some kind of reddish stone that rose up into the sky. They stood a good 15 meters high. Yellow stone battlements sat atop the walls with multi-barrelled cannons and soldiers patrolling them. Red and yellow flags with an emblem of a dragon holding a lightning bolt in its claws. As they approached the others from inside the carriage also looked in awe at the city.
The regiment and host approached a golden gate in the shape of a double headed griffon. But from a distance it looked more like a double headed eagle then a griffon. They as they opened, Ash got a good look at the inside of the gate. The first gate was the first line of defence, but it was a trap as there was a second wall further in. The space between the two walls was large and acted both as a killing field and staging area for regiments.
As the regiment poured in, Ash looked up to see another Dawn Knight standing before them. But this one looked grander. The armour she wore was more ornate and a red and black cloak flowed behind her making her look like royalty. Once the gates closed, the knight called out.
"Knights!" she declared. "Who here remembers?" she asked.
"I remember!" Jayne called out holding her glaive aloft.
Wide eyes turned in her direction. Muttering's began as well as Jayne lowered her weapon.
The woman on the battlements smiled. "Jayne Starforged, I will see you in the arena!" she declared which was followed by a loud cheer.
Gallus walked up to the carriage. "We are to wait until the others have left," he explained Ash and Yarik nodded.
As the other regiments began to filter back into the city, Miranda popped her head out. "What's this arena thing?" she asked.
"Every time a host comes back, Kaira challenges the leaders of the host to a duel if they remember who they are during the heat of battle," Gallus explained. "The fight to show the Commander what they remember,"
"So, it's not so much of an honour, but more of a personal thing," Miranda muttered with a nod. "Given what Jayne told us, it makes sense,"
Gallus shrugged. "It's also meant to be an insult to some of the other Storm hosts who think that they shouldn't remember," he then looked around only seeing a few stormcast. "All clear, let's move," he said and the crew exited the carriage and followed the hunter prime to a Stormcast only part of the city.
They did get a few looks, but few said anything. The ones that did ask where only answered by 'Starforged orders' as Gallus led them to the arena. Given what they had seen already, it was getting hard for them not to be in awe of the city. While they have seen bigger and better cities before, they were in a city that was essentially a fantasy geek's wet dream. It was also impressive with what the inhabitance managed to create.
The buildings were made out of a combination of stone, sand, bone and wood. Some were made with just one, while others were made out of multiple building materials. There was the odd metal building, which was surprising in a way. But the group didn't mind it.
As the group moved along, there was a sense of strength with what they saw of Stromhiem. These people were not to be messed with. Soon they came in sight of the arena. People were already going inside, talking about the upcoming fights. The arena itself was large capable of seating a good 20,000 people, a good indication about how much the people loved these battles.
As the group walked across one of the bridges to the arena, their eyes spied elves and dwarfs. To the humans, this wasn't much of a surprise, but to the non-humans it was a bit of a shock. They had read stuff like this in human books, but to see them for real, they didn't know what to think. Soon the group emerged to see the scale of the arena. It was big, but not too big that no one could see what was happening. The group looked below to see Freeguilders fighting each other with wooden weapons.
"What's going on?" Garrus asked as the group pulled up some seats.
"Training," Yarik said. "These guys are new recruits for the regiments. But each regiment looks for a different set of skills. So, they have the new recruits fight each other to show their skills. While there are no 'winners', there is an aim to get into the greatsword regiments. They are the Palace guards. They get paid a lot and get a house in the central district, a house and so on,"
Soon the battle wrapped up as a bell rang and a man dressed in full plate armour walked up. "Thank you all for participating," he said. "We will send you a letter for who goes were. Praise Sigmar!"
"Praise Sigmar!" the guilders called before they left.
As soon as they did Kaira and Jayne walked out facing each other. Both of them armed with long sticks. As they walked out the crowd cheered.
"Today we witness history as Lord Commander Kaira fights the Starborn Jayne Starforged!" the knights yelled. "Fighters take your places," he said before leaving.
The two discarded their armour for a pair of leather trousers, boots and wraps around their chests. Shepard's crew just looked at the amount of muscle and few scars their former commander had. While she had been like that before, the amount she had made them wonder on how she was still standing. A bell rang and the two stromcast approached until they were a foot away from each other and pressed their sticks up against each other in an X shape. As they stood waiting Jayne muttered something from under her breath.
"We need to talk," she said making sure only the commander could hear. "My past has come to me,"
Kaira didn't make an obvious reaction. "Very well, who are they?" she asked as Jaynes eyes looked toward one of the private stands. "Why are some hooded?"
"Not from the realms," Jayne said and Kaira nodded.
Their conversation was cut short as the bell rang. Jayne acted fast as she ducked and swept trying to get the commander's legs from under her. But she was a fraction too slow as the commander moved away quickly but manage to lose her balance. Jayne's attack did work, but slightly. She then jumped to her feet and swung the staff around her head building up momentum. Taking a chance, Kaira moved in as used her stick as a spear by trusting it into Jayne's belly. But the Starforged deflected and moved in bringing the stick around striking the commander in the side.
She followed it up by kicking the commander in the gut. The commander smiled as she held onto Jaynes staff. She pulled herself forward and headbutted the Lady Celestant in the head. While her nose did bleed, Jayne didn't back down. There was a fire inside her that she felt. Jayne blinked slowly as she remembered more, how her mother and father died, how she grew up on an asari world, how she trained and more. It was all coming back to her now.
Kaira saw this and passed her next attack. This wasn't a normal fight, and to her it was dishonourable to stop someone remembering during a fight. When the light returned to Jayne, she moved in with her attack by pushing her body forward slamming into the Starforged. This was a bad moved as she got in close Jayne grabbed onto the commander's arm and threw her over her shoulder.
That caused their staffs to snap and the two only had their bear hands to fight. Jayne turned as Kaira stood taking an Amazonian fighting stance. Right leg forward on her tip toes, left arm out while the right arm was close to her body. Jayne however took and unknown stance. She made the torso as small as possible by keeping her arms close to her body but her legs outward as if she was firing a gun.
Liara leaned forward, eyes wide as she saw this stance. "Kai-no…." she muttered. "That's an Asari martial art,"
Kaira smiled as the two moved in to fight. The Amazonian fighting style focused on getting into a person's sort range while Kai-no focused on and enemy's joints and vitals. As the two got in Kaira threw the first punch which Jayne blocked and countered by bending the commander's elbow and striking her in the rips. The commander countered by slamming her elbow into Jayne before turning it into an uppercut. While it did disorient the celestant, it didn't take her out as Jayne used her leg to trip the commander.
But the stance didn't allow for it, but did open Jayne up cur a counter. Kaira grabbed a hold of Jayne's arm and twisted it forming her to turn her back to the commander before she was tripped up and fell to the floor. The commander's staff was then trust into her face.
"Do you yield?" she asked.
Jayne took a quick look around before sighing. "I yield!" she declared before the commander held her hand and brought the Starforged up.
"Well done," Kaira smiled and the two thrust their hands into the air.
The crowd cheer at the spectacle while the crew just nodded.
OOOOO Lord Commanders Chambers.
It didn't take long for Jayne and the Commander to meet up in the latter's chambers. After dismissing the guards and any unnecessary eyes, Jayne's crew was allowed in. Gallus led the crew in while Yarik stood outside. Jayne did look around for any other prying eyes.
"You really are taking this secrecy seriously," Kaira said as she rested on her desk.
"All clear," Jayne said ignoring the comment.
As the crew pulled away at their clothing, Kaira eyes widened as soon as she saw them. "Ah, that's the reason why," she muttered.