The call rang out loudly from the crow’s nest. “Two ships spotted! Both flyin’ the colors of the Kaokuro Empire!”
As word of the sighting spread quickly across the ship, the deck began to teem with the sailors on board. Escorted by two warships, the ship christened the Star-Bound Bounty hailed from the Empire of Thorns, and carried with it an important mission. Those onboard were proud members of the Dodeeja race, a species made up of humanoid rats, and in their world were seen as the most wide-spread and advanced people of all.
The Star-Bound Bounty rolled up its sails, and slowed to a crawl until it met on Port-Side with the ship sent by the Kaokuro Empire, the Fleur de Mer, and her sailors began to secure planks between the ships.
Members of the Ri’pado, a race of humanoid hares, stood proud upon the deck of the other ship, their long ears and short tails dramatized by their frilly attire.
A well-dressed dodeeja stood up before the main plank that connected the ships. Unfurling a long rolled up parchment, he cleared his throat. “By decree of King Jaojin Dujada Do’uzzan, and the signing of the Trade Agreement between our Lord and the respectable Queen Galencia To’que which occurred at the dawn of the 4th of Summer in the grand port city Kun’doajjie.” Pausing, he took note of the sudden fog. It struck him as mysterious on a day with clear skies only minutes ago. “The Empire of Thorns christened ship the Star-Bound Bounty will hereby unload its cargo of gold into the care of the Kaokuro Empire in exchange for their cargo of grain, wheat, jerky meats, and sun-dried fruits upon this, the 63rd of Fall in the seas between our two nations.”
He stopped as he tried to read on, but the mist began to thicken so bad that he was unable to see as far as his forearm. Looking away from the obscured parchment he saw the darkened figures of his brethren around him.
The Kaokuro Ambassador called out from his ship; “What trickery is this, dodeeja?”
Crews from both ships began to argue across the waters, as accusations and denials were shouted back and forth.
The commotion was interrupted by a series of thundering explosions. The mist lit up a violent red with each of the three blasts, and the seas aroused in chaos, rocking both of the ships as waves pushed against the sides with an incredible force. Two of the planks connecting the ships fell into the ocean, and the fog began to clear as if the clouds were being pushed away.
A look of horror painted the faces of both crews, the escorting warships from the Empire of Thorns, and the escort battleship from the Kaokuro Empire were gone! In their place was only floating debris of their remains. Cracked wooden planks, torn shreds from their sails, and lifeless corpses littered the area.
In the distance, a massive vessel was seen as clearly as the light of day. It wore crimson paint with blackened edges. Dark grey sails were tugged by the wind upon each of the three masts, and the black flag strung upon the main mast fluttered in the breeze and prominently displayed the red symbol of twin daggers.
“Battle stations!” the dodeeja captain cried, as confusion and panic struck the crew. With their warships demolished, many of them wondered what chance the lightly equipped cargo ship could stand against the massive pirate vessel.
The remaining planks between the two empires were retrieved and their sails loosened, but it was as if the air had been stolen away.
As the pirates drew closer, the waters around the Fleur de Mer became rapid and began to swirl. The ship uncontrollably spun, and its bow crashed into the Star-Bound Bounty’s port-side. The cries of the crew being knocked off of the ship overlapped with the screams of those already in the violent waters.
Red lights lit up along the deck of the Fleur de Mer, and dragged long trails across the floor. Ri’pado fell to the ground in agony as their feet were ripped apart from the energy, painting the deck in their spattered blood. The lights converged on the forward mast, and an explosion like a grenade going off lit up red and threw more of the crew overboard as the mast itself fell forward and tangled in the fabric and ropes of the Star-Bound Bounty’s canopies.
Shouts for “everyone for themselves” erupted amidst the chaos, but those who dove overboard found themselves boiled alive by waters that burned with magical energy.
As the dodeeja captain tried to assess the situation, he turned back to the pirate vessel. It appeared to be growing bigger, and the ocean’s waves were getting larger. His attempts to make sense of the situation ended in vain, as a bright flash of light clouded his vision.
The waters calmed, and the fog dispersed completely. Boiled corpses littered the sea where both ships had been, but there was no woodwork left to be seen. The pirate ship turned its sails eastward and made its way back to its home port.
So ended the trade between the two empires on the 63rd of Fall, 205 P.D.
An old dodeeja in a cowl sat in a dark room far below the deck of the pirate ship, and with his gnarled hand wrote delicately in ink with a quail quill. His words were crisp and clear to read, and were written upon the back of the parchment once found in the hands of the ambassador working for the Empire of Thorns. Satisfied with his accomplishment, he rolled the parchment up and tied it with a red cord to a decorative purple bag which was labeled “Star-Bound Bounty.”
A year passed by… and both empires ended up at attrition with one another. Both sides blamed one another, but neither one was willing to expend the extra resources to attack the other, especially after decades of peaceful relations. The Kaokuro Empire was bitter about the loss of gold, but the Empire of Thorns and the dodeeja residing in the land of Dodanjuka would be hit with harsh rationing, and an especially cold Winter.
Far across the waters, the sound of chickens squawking was one of the many ambient sounds in the village of Gravaad. Above, the moon and many bright stars bathed the dodeeja villagers in their welcoming light while they went about their nightly tasks.
Children laughed and screamed playfully as they ran circles around one of the city’s main Torchpillars, which were tall, thick columns that held large torches to provide additional light for the villagers. Tonight the torches weren’t lit, letting the clear sky provide its light.
A shopkeeper stood on his toes with his back to the road as he reached with his hooked cane to re-set his “Open” sign when he heard the hoof-beats and the rolling wheels behind him. His ears twisted backwards as the carriage hit a large puddle, and abruptly soaked his back with muddied water. Turning, he growled and shook his cane then lowered it with a scowl when he saw the emblem on the outer door.
The sound of hoof-beats and the occasional bump in the road was keeping Ruufus awake and restless inside the wagon. The light brown dodeeja’s eyes were transfixed upon the silver circlet he held between his hands, playing with it as he reminisced. With a solemn expression, he went over the events which brought him to where he was now.
When Ruufus was young, he possessed a special gift for magic. In his younger years, his parents were approached by an order known as The Green Flame. They wanted to take him away, to train him and hone his magical power.
In the time his parents were given to think it over, they sought counsel with the monks in his city. They offered to take him instead, for his own protection, and to keep him close to his parents.
Since then, the monks had watched over him as they monitored the rapid increase of his raw magical strength. By the time Ruufus turned 8 years old, the dodeeja age of puberty, his powers had grown past his threshold of control. The monks had difficulty keeping up with the property damage he caused by accident; many of the other boys and girls his age stayed far away from him out of fear. His mind always swam with the thoughts of the people around him, unable to shut it off… unable to make them stop thinking such horrible things about him.
One fateful night, young Ruufus huddled in his bed. His knees were pulled tightly against his chest, and his eyes were wide open. His mind was filled with images of things that were going on around him, as if he was actually there. Standing by the two monks in the next room as they conversed about how messy the animals behaved that evening. He could see the spider’s web in the next room, and could clearly hear the fly buzz in futility as the spider wrapped it up in her silk. He could even see the spry child who snuck defiantly from his bedroom for a daytime snack.
His brain swam with turmoil from the images he just couldn’t seem to stop. Suddenly, it began to die down, and all he heard was the thumping of a pair of boots.
“Ruufus...” the soothing voice of a young female came from around the corner and resonated in the mind of the young dodeeja. One of his legs slipped from the tight hold his hands had upon them and his head rose slightly so that his eyes could stare quietly upon the entrance to the room.
From around the cover of the grey stone wall came a young adult dodeeja. She wore a long black robe with a golden trim around its edges, and was wearing a white stone mask. She had a golden chain necklace tightly coiled around the fingers of her left hand. Holding it out, Ruufus could see a glimmering magenta-colored stone. His first instinct was to recoil and back away from the stone.
She shook her head and continued to approach him. “Child, your power over-whelms even your own mind. Let me take that pain away...” Much as he tried to back away, the wall was as far as he could go. As the amulet grew closer... the world itself became dull to him, and he was soon asleep.
In truth, he couldn't recall much of what had happened from then on. He recalled being tied up in a mostly empty room where dodeeja dressed in similar black robes and masks would chant over him and feed him strange liquids until he was sick. How long he was there was uncertain, but he remembered his rescuer with crystal clarity.
After the door to his prison exploded, he was first grabbed by one of his captors, held by her with a wicked blade to his throat as they faced the doorway. The female shrieked, “Not a step closer, Inquisitor! If we cannot have him, nobody will!” She held him so forcefully, it made tears streak down his face, and he tried to let out protests through the cotton binding his mouth, but couldn't get out more than muffled sounds.
In the doorway he could see the green cassocked figure of a strong dodeeja. He raised his hand, and a bright white glow shot from his palm, washed over the room, spreading an icy chill. Ruufus' captor wailed in pain as her muscles became rigid and she dropped the knife.
Stepping into the room, his savior lowered one hand and raised the other. Aside from one chestnut-colored patch around his right eye, his face was a frosty white. “By the Order of Uzzadujoza, your heresy is at its end!” He addressed the captors with undeniable authority.
Ruufus ran into the warmth and comfort of his rescuer's arms. He buried his face into the older male's cassock as his young hands found the first comfort he's had in days, perhaps weeks.
“You're safe now, young one. You're very special... and we won't let them have you again.”
It was Grand Inquisitor Coldclaw who had rescued him from the Order of the Green Flame, and after that he was kept in Dotanzo’ukka. Here, Ruufus was trained to control his abilities, and when he was able to control them, he was taught to empower himself through them. As soon as his powers became strong enough, he was allowed to choose his own path and take control of his destiny. The devotion the order had given to him, he then decided to give back, and he chose to become an inquisitor to uphold and enforce the laws of Uzzadujoza within the mortal world.
Since his initiation in the Trial by Fire, Ruufus had a rough time as an inquisitor. Most of them had incredibly powerful combat prowess, but Ruufus was more suited for the actual interrogation part. His powers developed mostly into the area of telepathic invasions, telekinetic movements, and anything more invested into the realm of the mind. His commitment to the law and his lord however kept him pushing harder and harder until he eventually tested himself and became a High Inquisitor.
His ears lifted up as he felt the cart come to a stop. Snapping out of his thoughts, he slipped the circlet back onto his head. As the monk who drove the carriage opened the door he announced; “High Inquisitor Ruufus, we've arrived at Tuzudoka Manor. The Grand Inquisitor is expecting you.”
Ruufus stepped from the carriage and smoothed out his cassock. “Thank you, good monk. You may join me once you un-tack and stable the horses.”
With a quick bow, the monk gave a quick “ku, kaoton izzidonjo” as a response before going about the un-tacking of the steeds.
Ruufus made his way through the doors of the manor, which were guarded at either side by guards from the Kingdom Military. Entering the main hall, a well dressed female servant greeted him with a bow. “The Grand Inquisitor is in the bedchambers.”
He smiled and respectfully replied; “lead on.” She led him through the manor and to the main bedchamber. Along the way he passed rows of servants, and he caught a respectful bow from the master of the house who was kind enough to lend his home to the Order.
When entering, he could see that the place was as fixed up as it could be. More candles burned than he would find in a normal prayer service. Resting in the plush red bed was the old dodeeja, still wearing his traditional green cassock and his golden circlet. The white fur of his face had become sparse from age and he appeared to be very weak. His hands were folded upon his chest, and his eyes were mostly closed.
Ruufus took the chair beside the bed and laid his hand upon those of the old dodeeja. “Kaotu kaoton izzidonjo...” he sighed deeply as he spoke with the same affection a child would give an adored grandfather. “Coldclaw... I never thought this day would come.”
Coldclaw drew in a deep breath, and lifted one of his hands to take Ruufus' into it. His hand was ice cold, but that was how it always was. Replacing his ring finger's nail was a shimmering crystal which was cyan in color, and radiated a chilling power of magic. He turned and opened his eyes, which revealed their clouded appearance. “We all knew... it would one day.” He beckoned with his other hand, as his arms and head shook with his weakness. “Young Ruufus... come closer,” he coughed suddenly, but attempted a smile as he continued, “I want to look upon you again.”
Ruufus let his face come near the eyes of the Grand Inquisitor. “I don’t know what I... what we will do without your guidance.” He could feel himself starting to cry, as much as he tried to hide it or stop it, the tears would not stay contained.
Coldclaw brought his hand to the side of Ruufus' face. “Oh how you've grown. From a confused young kit, to a respected buck.” He brushed his thumb against Ruufus' face and pushed away an escaping tear. “Find guidance not from me, but from Uzzadujoza. You will find the strength to continue on.”
Ruufus sniffled and nodded gently, holding his mentor's hand tightly. With a sudden whine, he no longer felt like the respected buck, but more like the young kit. He drew closer and threw his other arm around Coldclaw, embracing him as he let out his tears.
Coldclaw moved his hand from Ruufus' cheek to his back and squeezed at the back of his cassock. “Hush now... this is no means for a High Inquisitor. You have made this grand mark for yourself in life, and while I may be passing on to take my seat beside Uzzadujoza in the world beyond, you must yet make your best mark upon this world. Do not dwell upon my passing, but never forget the words I've taught you... young Ruufus. It is... not how we die that makes our mark... but how we live.”
As he finished talking, he took another deep breath. Ruufus released his embrace with the old one, as he returned to his previous resting position. A weary and clouded pair of eyes closed themselves as Coldclaw said one last thing; “Now, I am so very tired... and I must rest.” A deep exhale left his lungs as he spoke, and soon his chest did not move at all.
Ruufus stood quietly and reached into his cassock. Pulling out the divine symbol of Uzzadujoza, he clutched it tightly in his grasp. Before he could go any further, the monk entered the room. He looked up, and with a shaking voice he spoke to the monk like a friend. “Could you, dear monk, please speak the prayer of passing for the Grand Inquisitor? I am afraid my emotions would make it...” he paused to take a deep breath, “difficult to finish.”
As the night dragged on, other monks flocked from nearby cities. When the dawn was about to rise, a gilded carriage arrived on the scene. This one was the transport of the Champion of Uzzadujoza himself, Blackwarp. As Ruufus suspected, the Champion did not seem too surprised by the passing of the Grand Inquisitor, and the obvious need to find someone to fill his shoes.
By the end of the night, the Champion met with Ruufus. It was a short meeting where the Champion ordered Ruufus to take a precession of monks and military guards and escort Coldclaw to the Holy City of Tao'uzzan for a proper burial. Ruufus of course complied with the request, and went to ready his selection to set out at the next sun-down.
“High Inquisitor, the dawn is breaking. Shall we rest?” The monk smiled warmly after asking and waited patiently for Ruufus to answer. Unfortunately, the inquisitor was still deep in thought, gazing upon Coldclaw’s circlet in disbelief. Finally, the monk decided to ask again. “High Inquisitor?”
Ruufus broke from his trance and his eyes shifted over to the monk. “Hmm? Oh, yes… certainly.” He nodded absently to the monk and sighed gently. Standing from his seat in the carriage, he came to the door. As he stared out into the coming sunset, he descended the steps to the dirt and looked back at the military guards. “Squad Captain Nazadar.”
The dodeeja captain came over on his steed. Both were impressively armored in plated steel and he was wearing a dark green tabard with the traditional black decoration of a crown surrounded by a thorny wreath. Holding his reigns tightly and sitting up, he leered down at Ruufus. “High Inquisitor, I prefer native tongue to the language of traders.”
“Ku, ku… Tido du dokee’at.” Ruufus conferred the message that he wanted the camp to be set up.
Nazadar appeared displeased by this, and opened his mouth to speak. Just as he did, there was an energetic blast which erupted through the air around them. His horse reared up, and he had to hold on tightly. “Azza?!”
Ruufus found himself turning in circles as he saw orange ovals being magically drawn in the air. Once each oval was completed, a blanket of energy filled them in, with a spiraling light, like a moving tunnel. “We’re surrounded!” Ruufus shouted to the others, trying to push his voice above the constant rumbling sound which radiated from each of the magical portals. “Pull in tight, and stay away from them!”
Nazadar echoed the commands in the dodeeja native tongue for the military guards. The portals rippled with energy, and human-like figures started appearing, leaping from the spiraling depths.
Ruufus’ eyes went wide. He hadn’t seen anything like them before. They stood on two feet and had two hands like him, but they didn’t have the thick fur his people had. Instead, these creatures had bronze-colored flesh, and were completely lacking a tail. To him, their heads looked close to monkeys, but flattened, and thinner. Their ears were smaller, and their lobes jagged at the edges, like arrow-heads.
One of them approached and grinned, displaying a row of jagged shark’s teeth. A flicker showed in his ruby-colored eyes as he announced. “We are the kin, and we are here to kill you, dodeeja worms!”
Nazadar gripped the reigns of his steed for a moment, then whipped his sword from its scabbard as he called out; “Deta oddo jozoda, deta oddo to!” The rest of his soldiers quickly drew their weapons with a series of shouts, and both sides collided.