And So It Begins

Shalia stood before the Helian workers in Aquilo, examining their faces prior to speaking. All of them could be dead right here before her in a matter of minutes. Would the very idea of that frighten them, make them angry? Urge them to be more compliant? Once more it felt like the weight of the world was perched on her shoulder.

Back to Helian it was. Seeing as Balt was long gone--and good riddance--she was the most valuable tool here for that reason, too. Communication. But she wasn’t the greatest communicator, truthfully. At times mincing words, occasionally letting temper or annoyance take the reins, maybe speaking too flowery for common ears. She would simply have to try. They were just laborers, after all, and she knew the road ahead of them better than anyone. She held an advantage.
Shalia would speak with the serious voice of a leader, but made sure the words weren’t too sharp or hopeless. Coating the edges with a softness, a sincere concern she hoped would move them more coming from a woman with their blood and features.

They should be scared. They should be persuaded even more so because of it.

"Many years ago I was in your position. A citizen wanting a new life, escaping my past and praying this land had something purposeful in store for me. That I might be a part of something. But I sat idle, watching the months pass me by with the same lonely routine. That first winter, as I’m sure you’ve heard, was a tragedy and it changed everything.” If it was going to haunt her forever, she thought she might as well weaponize it. Use it for some good. She sighed before moving on.

“I was there when it all happened. In the beginning, the Empire cared more for conquest than properly supplying their shitty ‘settlement’, leaving us to freeze to death and starve, even cannibalize one another. I was tired of it. Told myself…if I am to die it isn’t going to be here. It would be on my own terms. But that didn’t go as planned either when I left. One morning, I found myself at the Aghul village, scared and weak at the feet of the War Chieftain himself, silently pleading for a swift death to get it over with. Yet instead, before I knew it I was among them and thriving. The happiest I have been in a long time. He saw promise in me as he does all of you today. I do not regret my decision. Do not regret yours here today, either.”

The witch paused to let her words grow heavier in their ears. She faintly smiled at them in a reassuring gesture before it wavered away and her brow furrowed.

"You need not be afraid as I stand before you, unless you choose unwisely.” At her sides, the pale hands of Shalia Nix rested on two daggers in her belt. Magik would have been an exciting show to hear their afraid cursing or see hatred light up in their eyes, perhaps making up for not having the honor of executing an officer herself, but she did not want to scare them from joining the likes of her and the mountain folk with something that taboo. The time would come for terror and vengeance against those she truly loathed and they were not these workers here. Not exactly. There was something more satisfying about taking control of enemy assets rather than destroying them.

"Pledge loyalty to us. What we ask is the same service you’ve been providing: every ore mined and every weapon crafted. All of your greatest secrets of the forge will belong to us, especially that of steel. Your skills will be of great use here, and after it is all said and done, you may walk among us as people who can finally put everything behind them. No debts to the Empire, no chains holding you to Helias, no flames or worms eating at your corpses. You may begin again, anew. But if you should refuse, not a single one of you before me will live to see the next sun rising. Who is to say you cannot walk a similar path as I have? An opportunity has been presented that will never come again. You have the power now to decide,” her green eyes gazed into theirs intently. “I take it some of you have never been given much power or choice before. I know that feeling.” Stares wavered with intimidation, a few unmoved, the rest simply too tired this morning to deal with such dire consequences and shifted to look at Markus for a decision.

She concluded finally after another moment. “Don’t die now and waste everything you have worked for. Brilliant minds and hands turned to rot, and for what, pride? Swallow it. If you truly want a new beginning, it starts here with us.” Shalia looked to their unspoken leader and awaited his reply. His response was crucial, but she had a feeling he might need more influencing...

Shalia still couldn't quite place if she genuinely wanted to see them all dead anyway or if some mercy was in order for those that weren't part of the problem. Not directly involved in the crusade against witches. But they were part of conquering this new land, weren't they? In ways like the Empire, in other ways not. This lot, who the Empire relied on primarily for supplying Ostiarium, could benefit them significantly and she was not forgetful of Sister Locust and Koshnem’s eagerness to take more laborers during the war. She had to think more like them--progress for the future and not just her own personal grievances. Death and justice only went so far in the grand scheme of self-interest, but they brought her where she was today. Standing here dangling the lives of foreigners over their heads. The ambitions had coexisted so far; war on the Helians meant protecting her new home and simultaneously cutting down those who forced her to destroy her life and that of others before.

But the world now was all so much bigger than her, and yet, she sat front and center here still. Returning from the desert had brought something darker out in Shalia, the War Chieftain could tell. But it wasn’t only an empty shadow--there was something seemingly melancholic and fearful in there, too. So angry, so full of dread. And she channeled all of the horror and rage and uncertainty into talks of war, impending slaughter as if waiting with bated breath for it. That was the final stretch and then everything before wouldn’t even matter. When the enemy was gone and her fixated goal complete, she could live. Really live for a few years at least. One day soon she could rest after sleepless years of always looking over her shoulder.

They all could.

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