As Above, So Below [IC]

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The Major Oak Inn was rumoured to be as old as Blithfield itself; and it certainly looked the part., all creaky lumber and crumbled stone. In actuality, the humble inn was actually in its second life after burning to the ground almost half a century ago. As had been typical ever since that wretched swamp first took a hold over the Western region, the atmosphere within the inn was decidedly complacent - the usual suspects sat at their regular tables in their regular groups, each as merry as the next as they greedily gulped upon the mediocre ales on offer at the establishment.

As tedious as they could be, Lowe Winchester was grateful for the local drunks that frequented his premises. If it were not for them, he'd wonder whether it had been worth rebuilding the Major Oak at all: it had been an arduous task full of complications and unexpected expenses. But the steady stream of traffic through Blithfield to the West was enough to make back the losses over the year that followed.

Or so, he had thought. Mid-way through the build, that damned Broadmarsh had laid its roots without warning and spread as though it were fire, and not putrid soil known to swallow horses and their owners whole. It was expected that fewer people would be heading to the West... But nobody had foreseen just quite how barren the route would become. But, his locals were here, as they were every night, and with their support and the trade of the rare visitor that stopped by, Lowe was one of the fortunate ones whose business had survived the silence.

One such visitor sat in the corner, looking every bit suspect as he shot uneasy glances around the inn. He had not yet asked for a room, and still sipped from the same jug of ale he'd bought nearly two hours ago. Whatever the man wanted, he better make it clear soon, else he'd be out on his heels.

Lowe was about to question the stranger, when the door swung open. Low-and-behold, another outsider crossed his doorstep and stepped into the inn; her dark robes damp from the fine drizzle which sprayed the village that evening. She pulled back her hood, revealing a nicely sculpted face and eyes which shone like emeralds; her dark brown locks falling into natural curls down her back as she shook them free.

"Ms Wheeler!" Lowe announced in pleasant surprise, as the woman half-smiled back at him with an air of familiar warmth as she approached the bar. "What brings yer back to these parts, lassy?" he asked merrily, leaning on his bar and looking at her expectantly. She always had some fantastic tale to tell. She smiled sheepishly.

"Actually, Lowe," she said, "I'm taking each day as it comes right now. I thought I might head home for a while, but decided I'd take a detour through the lakes. I hear they're wonderful." she explained, rather pleasantly. She was well-spoken, but her voice was tinged with an inherent strength she seemed unable to let go of.

"Well, one o' them is..." Lowe said, somewhat dejectedly. "Blith's not what she used to be. Not since that mess out West sprang up." he said, glumly. "No, yer better off stickin' to the shores o' Dunn, if yer lookin' fer the sights." He shrugged in defeat, then perked up with a wry smile. "Though, I gots t' say. I didn't have yer down fer no homebird. Where even is home fer yer?"

The woman looked down at the bar as she pulled up a stool and sat down. "Well, it's a long story." she sighed. "Neither of my parents want much to do with me," she said, lowering her voice so as not to air her dirty laundry to the whole inn. "I grew up at Bellepoint, actually," she laughed, gesturing to the Fusian pendant around her neck and poking fun at the irony. "Yes, I know... It really rubbed off on me! But, no... I can't really head back there. My father's in Silvermoor, last I heard... I figured if I'm looking for home, I ought to start there."

"Well, Miss. I wish yer the best. So long as yer not heading int' that cesspit, yer've got a good chance." he said, flinging his dishcloth over his shoulder. "Can I get yer a drink?"

"A small wine, please." she said. "And a room, if you can accommodate me. I was hoping to stay the night. And please, call me Ava."

"That'll be no problem, Ava." he said, as he began to pour her drink.

"What's happening out West?" she asked, her naturally inquisitive nature getting the better of her; far too tempted by Lowe's ambiguous references to resist politeness.

"Yer've not heard o' the Broadmarsh?" Lowe replied, sounding somewhat surprised. Ava shook her head. "Ah, well. I was just a lad, t'was when my old man rebuilt this place. But this swamp just appeared, outta nowhere." he explained, sliding her beverage across the bar. "Small at first, like," he elaborated. "But the damn thing grew fast. Whole place is a wasteland." Ava's eyes were wide, but the wheels of her mind span fast and anyone who looked at her could tell she was thinking.

"That's awful!" she exclaimed, taking a sip from her glass, though she seemed detached now; lost in thought. After a moment, she brought her gaze back up to meet the barman's. "Is there nobody that can help?"

The conversation was interrupted as the door creaked open once more.

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The door hinges to the Major Oak Inn were stiff, in dire need of a good oiling in fact, and so took far more effort than Faen would have liked to push open. After the week from Hell he'd been having he just wanted one thing, just one damn thing, to go right! But no, even the bloody door hinges seemed to be conspiring against him! It was very nearly the straw that broke the carthorses back for the 'Saint of Swords', but showing what he felt was very nearly heroic willpower he refused himself the desire to break down on the spot and begin blubbing like a little girl. Instead he just took a deep breath and heaved, the stubborn door swinging open.

Another vile enemy vanquished. Let's see the poets write about that one!

He stood in the doorframe a moment longer than necessary, eyeing the occupants. No real reason, he wasn't looking for anything in particular. It was conspicuous though, scene stealing even. People expected their heroes to make entrances like that. Just flouncing in was for normal folk, heroes had to grab people's attention. Not that he was really wanting the yokels to realize who he was - they might try and send him on a quest if they did - it was more just force of habit. No, all he wanted right now was a quiet, shadowed corner where he could sit, rest, and get pissed. . . .

Not that he had a problem, mind you, but if you'd had a week like the one he'd just had then you'd feel like you deserved a drink to!
Posing finished, he pulled the door shut and stalked slowly towards the bar, careful to hold his scabbard-ed sword close to his body, in case it accidentally struck one of locals. Last thing he needed right now was to start a bar fight with some turnip-smelling farmer.

He slipped into a booth seat, sighing blissfully as his lean frame sank into the upholstery. Upholstery was being generous, of course, as it was really just old wood polished by years of strangers arses grinding against it, but at that moment it was as good as padded silk pillows to the adventurer. He took a moment to just enjoy the sensation of not doing anything before calling out to the barkeeper.

"Barkeep, a moment?"


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Avarielle couldn't believe what she saw as the old door finally opened wide enough to allow the visitor passage. There he stood: looking every bit as majestic as the whispers had lead her to imagine. Tall, dark, handsome... He paused for a moment, and sauntered over to a private booth; his sword clutched tightly.

"Well I'll be damned..." she muttered to herself as the gravity of the situation sank in, her eyes locked upon him in unwavering awe as he sat, before calling to the barkeep. Lowe shot Ava a disgruntled look; it was not common practice to be served at tables in any inn he knew of. She beamed back at him with childish excitement as she realised the moment had been lost on him. She gasped a little in surprise that he was so clueless.

"You haven't the faintest idea what just happened, have you?" she quizzed him, taking too much joy out of the situation. She didn't particularly idolise the man: but that didn't discredit the fact he was a living legend. This was a story to tell like no other. Lowe just shook his head casually, and Ava rolled her eyes. "That, my friend," she said, pointing over at the latest client, "Is the legendary Ser Faen of Amor!"

Lowe's eyes widened in shock, as he dropped the pitcher he was cleaning onto the floor with an almighty crash; shards of glass shattering everywhere. He didn't react; his eyes fixed upon Faen. "Th-the Sword of Swords?" he muttered in disbelief. "Here? In my pub?"

Avarielle nodded. "The one and only. And he wants a drink, good sir!" she encouraged. Lowe nodded, before hurrying over to Ser Faen as casually as he could manage in his excitement. The good word of a hero like Faen could revitalise his entire business. Avarielle allowed the pair privacy, as Faen presumably ordered a drink; and possibly a room, given the time of night, though she couldn't be certain as they were out of earshot. It was late, and she imagined he'd need somewhere to stay... But with types like him, she knew better than to assume. He could have hidden hideouts all over the land, for all she knew.

As she sat at the bar alone, her mind hummed once more: thoughts of the Broadmarsh and the celebrated hero bombinating around her mind. Of course... It made perfect sense! The townsfolk needed a hero, and lo... Here was the best of them. She slid off her chair, waltzing up behind Lowe and joining him at Faen's table.

"See, Lowe," she said, placing her hand on the man's shoulder and looking down at Ser Faen. "I told you that someone would be able to fix that little problem of yours out West!" she said, smiling at the renowned hero before extending her hand to the man. "Good evening, Ser Faen. I'm Avarielle. I've heard much about you."
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The keep took a moment to finish his conversation with a robed woman at the bar before coming to take Faen's order. The famed hero didn't begrudge him that, he was in no rush after all. He just sat back, relaxed, and idly eyed the woman, trying to appraise her arse, though was forced to concede that the robes she wore were just too concealing to get an informed idea of what goods they covered. That was fine though, not like Faen would have done anything about it anyway, even if it was the best arse in the world.

Defeated in his perving, he transferred his attention to the other patrons. It was an uncomfortable fact, but in small towns like this there was usually always one tavern drunk who took umbridge to outsiders, and would try their damnedest to cause trouble. Thankfully most everyone looked innocent enough, minding their own business like good little serfs. . .. All apart from one man, that was, who was wide-eyed staring at Faen, the way the cat stares at the fish, looking as tense as a man sitting on hot coals. He didn't look like a farmer either, which worried Faen all the more. He dropped his left hand under the table and palmed a throwing knife, keeping one eye on the stranger.

The shattering of pottery jerked Faen's attention from his 'admirer', back towards the bar, where the slack-jawed tavernkeeper was staring his way, ignoring the broken crockery at his feet, looking for all the world like he'd just realized that the most famous man in Amorynthia had walked into his bar.

Crap, Faen thought, I've been rustled.

The barkeep was quick enough to hobble over then, oh yes, no doubt about to ask him to slay the rats that were infesting his cellar! Well enough was enough! If the fat man dared to say anything other than 'what would you link to drink, sir' then Faen was quite prepared to stab him in the leg! The Saint of Swords tensed, preparing himself to maim a small business owner.

Let's hear the bards make a song out of that one!

Thankfully for all concerned luck was on the keeper's side, as he quite wisely chose to just enquire as to what Faen's poison of choice was. Even better, he strengthened his position with the wandering Blademaster by uttering that most wonderful, most God's praised of all phrases, 'it's on the house'. Faen could have kissed him right about then. Of course he made the usual humble noises that were required of a man with his reputation, the 'oh no, I couldn't possibly''s and the 'I've done nothing to deserve it''s, before finally crumbling under the owners counter-arguments. After all, it would be 'rude not to accept a gift so graciously offered!'

They two were just concluding their business, Faen managing to ruckle a free room and board for the night from the innkeeper when the girl from the bar swanned up. Faen, suddenly in good spirits after his change of fortunes, was about to greet her pleasantly, when she had the bad graces to open her mouth.

"See, Lowe, I told you that someone would be able to fix that little problem of yours out West!"

He knew it. There was a problem, and they wanted him to fix it. . .

They were going to send him on a quest. . .

Those utter bastards.

That was it. The cart horse broke. Faen leapt out of his chair, screaming wordlessly, frothing at the mouth, his eyes empty of anything resembling even human emotion, nothing left but blind, hateful rage, and his knife was in his hand, and he was plunging it into the girls belly, warm blood coating his hand, his wrist, staining his already-travelstained clothes, and as she sighed her last he was screaming at her, face as close as lovers, 'YOU BILOUS BITCH, YOU SLATTERN, YOU VILE, HATEFUL WOMAN, LOOK WHAT YOU'VE MADE ME DOOOO!', and he screamed and he screamed, until his throat was raw and sounds ceased to come, until he broke down and sobbed over her cold corpse.

. . . Faen blinked, still sat in his chair, no knife, no blood, no dying slattern.

God's, that was heavy. Where on earth did that come from? He'd certainly envisioned himself knifing nosey interlopers who felt his time was theirs to take in the past, but never so vividly, and never so graphically. He would never act on it though, not usually, killing was always a last resort to his mind, but right now the urge to draw his sword and enact the visions was. . . intoxicating.

What, in the names of the Great Mother's, was happening to him?

Was he suffering a mental breakdown, the strain of serving as the people's champion finally proving to much for his fragile mind, reality taking a back-seat as murder fantasy’s take hold? Or was it a one last parting gift from that blackhearted sorcerer, Vilé, his nebulous spells attempting to break Faen in a far more insiduous manner than just simply hurling lightning bolts at him. The snake-hearted mage had certainly been screaming enough incantations at Faen's retreating backside the last they'd met, so who knows that he'd done.

Carminda's firm titties though, it had all seemed so real. If he hadn't needed a drink before, he certainly needed one now.

Not that he had a problem, mind.

The, thankfully, unstabbed Avarielle was holding her hand out, though her face showed some measure of uncertainty. Faen had no doubt left her hanging a touch longer than socially acceptable while he was lost in his own dangerous delusions. He quickly grabbed at her hand and gave it a firm, but gentle shake, keen to save what little face he surely had left.

“Sorry about that, it's been a . . . difficult week.” As this was happening the tavernkeeper tottered off, grabbed a jug of the wine that Faen had requested and three mugs, and returned. Fantastic, looks like they were planning on staying. Faen resigned himself to another long night of listening to someone else's shite.

“So, you, ahh, mentioned a problem? Out West? Something you'd like my help with?” Faen could almost feel his tongue turn black as he spoke the words, but he just had to accept that there was no getting out of it. They knew who he was, and they wanted him to do something heroic. It was the life he'd been shackled with, so he might as well get it over with, strike while the iron was hot, as it were.
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Avarielle looked at Faen with an air of uncertainty; the man seemed utterly bewildered, his gaze fixed upon nothing in particular as he was consumed by thought. She'd seen Faen before when she happened one a celebratory parade thrown in his honour, and he'd been exactly what the legends described: heroic, valiant, noble. But this man sat here seemed... Well, to say he seemed on edge would be an understatement. In some ways, it made Ava feel more comfortable around the lauded hero, and she took a seat opposite him as Lowe went to fetch drinks.

"Sorry about that, it's been a... Difficult week." Faen apologised, which went some way to explaining his disposition to the young mage.

"Not at all," she replied, smiling warmly. "I imagine a hero such as yourself endures many a trial and tribulation."

As Lowe returned with the wine and three tankards, Ava declined his offer and sipped from the drink she'd ordered earlier. She wanted to be sober for her conversation with the most famous man in Amorynthia. The most famous living man, anyway. Her desire to connect with him was perhaps not all that odd: it was a respect beyond blind worship; an appreciation rooted in her Fusian values of strength and power. Faen had used his might to make himself a living legend... That much was surely enough to earn Fusius' blessing, and if he was good enough for her God, he was good enough for her.

“So, you, er, mentioned a problem out West?" Faen asked. "Something you'd like my help with?” Gosh, Avarielle thought to herself. It was easy to see why Faen had earned such a name for himself: he'd been within the inn's walls for but a few moments, and he was already offering his services. He was a natural-born hero, driven by some godly force to serve his fellows and raise them from darkness. It was quite amazing to watch.

"Well, Ser, I'm not sure how much yer've heard o' the Broadmarsh." Lowe began. "The lands West o' here were once amongst the most fruitful in all o' Amorynthia; forests more lush than the Rythian Greenwood, independent tradesman makin' enough gold to rival them in Amor. The land was fertile an' ripe." he explained. "Then, some forty-o'-so years ago, that... Thing appeared. Ain't no one know how or where from. Started small, like... But it fast spread. Foul-smellin', unforgivin' t' feet an' hooves... Swallowed up whole towns before long." As Lowe spoke, Avarielle watched Faen became transfixed by the gripping tale. She herself found herself engulfed; Lowe had clearly told the story to anyone who'd listen, and had perfected the art of dramatising it. "Ol' Witchaven had some sense, they put all they houses on stilts. She's workin', but who knows how long fer. That blasted bog is sure to find a way to bring 'em down."

A glimmer of silver behind Faen caught Ava's attention long enough for her to spot an odd cloaked individual shifting from his seat; a blade in hand. Mere seconds passed before the shimmering dagger was airborne in the direction of Faen. She cursed loudly and lept to her feet, channelling magic as swiftly as she could and flinging her arm in the direction of the knife; it seemed to shine brighter for a second, before making direct contact with Faen's back and bursting into a soft plume of feathers that drifted gently to settle on the wooden floorboards.

Her eyes filled with rage, flames burst forth within Ava's grip as she took a few steps towards the now-panicked assassin. Visions of burning the man to a crisp flitted through her mind like birds; Lowe's desperate pleas ringing almost silently in her ears as he begged her "Not in here! No fire in here! Not again!"

Fortunately for Lowe, it seemed that Ser Faen had his own ideas about how to handle the man whom had tried to kill him.
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"Not at all, I imagine a hero such as yourself endures many a trial and tribulation."

Crone's blood, but she had no idea just how right she was. Trial's and tribulation seemed like they were becoming Faen's bread and butter, a fact that he was not fond of.

The Saint of Swords allowed the tavernkeeper -- who had neglected to tell Faen his name, though it was now to late to be considered polite to ask for it -- to pour for him, trying, and failing, to keep his hungry eyes off of the deep, red liquid as it trickled playfully into his goblet. The hero half-drained his measure in one gulp. It went some way to quenching his thirst and assuaging his grim mood, though it couldn't beat back all his melancholy. It would take more than just one cup to do that. That's a task that would take at least a jug. . . or three.

Not that he had a problem, you see, he was just having a hellish week. Even an actual Saint would take a drink after the week he was having.

Faen managed to resist the temptation to polish off the rest of his wine though, instead displaying his 'legendary' iron will by merely sipping at it while the Keeper got into his story. The fraudulent hero did his best to feign interest in the tale, all the while wishing his two drinking partners would just bugger off and let him get sozzled in peace. It didn't help that the Keeper told his tale with the flair of an amateur storyteller, a fact that hardened Faen's feelings towards him considerably. If there was one thing he hated, it was storytellers.

. . . Well, to be fair, if there was one thing he hated it was assassins, kings, Nosferytes, Dwarves, bandits, nosey ealdormen, maggoty bread, cold bath water, leaky boots, pretentious banshees and just about anything else that mildly inconvenienced him. But storytellers, well they were especially disdain-worthy in his eyes. It was partly their fault that he couldn't even get drunk in a tavern without some piefaced busy-body telling him about the terrors of their overgrown garden! They'd told everyone he got off on that kind of thing! Dicks!

So what if the Keeper was just an amateur story teller, that just meant he was an amateur dick!

There was a silver lining here though. This problem he had, it really didn't sound like Faen's kind of work. No necromancers to slay, no princesses to save, just a patch of wilderness that had lately grown a good deal more wild. They really couldn't be serious in thinking that he could do anything about that. After all, his swords were sharp, but he could hardly be expected to start chopping down trees with them. No, this wasn't his type of work at all, and he'd just have to -- gently-- make them appreciate that fact. A mage, a herbologist, hells bells, even a bloody gardener would be better suited to solving their problems. No, he'd just tell them he wasn't available, but would quite happily recommend a list of men far better suited to the task.

Pleased with this outcome, he took a victory swig, downing the last of his wine. God's that tasted good, so good he decided he'd help himself to another.

. . . Though that might not have been his cleverest move, as he must have broken some bizarre local custom, Avarielle leaping out of her seat and gesturing wildly, eyes -- HOLY SHIT, WAS SHE CASTING MAGIC!?! Faen had been around enough tricksy witches to know the signs, and she was showing all of the signs! Fusius' hairy bollocks, all he'd done was help himself to an extra cup of wine and she was going to start flinging lighting at him!

God's, what an end. He'd love to hear the singers write songs about this one, but it didn't look like he'd be around to hear them. . .

Only no lightning came. He was still in one piece. She hadn't even transformed him into a newt, or if she had he'd at least got better awful quick. He could have sworn she was casting, so what the hell was goi -- HOLY SHIT, SOMETHING HIT HIM IN THE BACK. HE'D FORGOTTEN ABOUT THE SHIFTY ARSEPIECE FROM THE CORNER, AND THE ARSEPIECE HAD STABBED HIM!

Suddenly a kind of calm descended over him. Somehow he'd always known he was gonna go out like this, completely sober with a knife in his back in some backwoods tavern.

And he'd always wanted to die of old age in his sleep. . .

Well he wouldn't have it said that he died without at least maiming someone! Spinning up from his chair fast as a viper, he shot his hand towards the general vicinity where the shifty arsepiece had been sitting, the throwing knife he had palmed earlier flying forwards, so straight and unerring it seemed the metal blade must have been on a mission from the Gods. There was no way on earth he'd ever make that shot of course, seeing as he was throwing completely blind, but it would at least scare the bugger a bit, give Faen the time he needed to draw his dagger, march forwards and cut his murderer's eyeballs out

. . . Only, and this was to his utter amazement, the throwing knife's aim was true. Not only did it hit his aggressor, but it struck him dead center between the eyes! Straight to the hilt! In bone! The chances of that happening were astronomical, a million to one, easy!

Maybe it had been doing the God's will?

Faen only just managed to stop his jaw from hitting the ground, instead watching impassively as the lifeless, would-be assassin sunk to the floor, his already glassy eyes seeming to stare up at him, full of accusation. Don't look at me like that, Faen wanted to say, you started it. I just finished it.

Speaking of finished, shouldn't I be dying, he realized. Only, he didn't feel like dying. Maybe that's all dying was, just a slow, painless slip into eternity. If that was the case then he was forced to concede that it didn't seem so bad, in retrospect.

But hell, it was taking a long time. He was still standing up, for Ahimoth's sake! Dying men should be sitting down, that much he knew! He reached around towards his back, looking for the knife that he was sure was there, meaning to give it a little shake to see if he couldn't speed up the process, only to be strangely disappointed when he found a fat lot of nothing. Not even blood!

First time he'd ever been upset not to see his own blood. Strange, how today was turning out.

He looked around confusedly, before his gaze alighted upon something on the floor. Was that a feather? He crouched down, picked it up, confirmed that it was indeed a feather. He stood back up, mystery feather clutched between thumb and forefinger. He eyed it suspiciously before turning to Avarielle, the only other person in the tavern who wasn't staring white-faced at the swiftly cooling corpse in the corner.

"Did you. . . did you do this?" What it was he was asking she did, he had no idea. All he knew was that this whole thing didn't make a lick of sense, and she was the only person who didn't look like they were on the verge of pissing their britches.
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Avarielle stood in shock as Faen's knife split the assassin's skull in two; straight between the eyes, she thought to herself in amazement. The more time she spent around Faen, the more he lived up to the stories that she and anyone else in Amorynthia had heard. Nobody had aim like that... Nobody. The lifeless husk lay on the ground, a pool of blood spreading from his head as a tribute to Faen's skill: Ava had a feeling that once people saw Faen in action, few were foolish enough to try him.

As he picked one of the many white feathers that scattered the floor up between his fingers, he looked at Ava with an unease that she couldn't quite place. He seemed disconcerted; which in term made Ava shift awkwardly. It was probably nothing... Well, it was probably the fact that he'd just been the victim of an attempted assassination... But perhaps this kind of event was a daily routine for the celebrated hero.

"Did you... Did you do this?" he muttered, holding the feather in her direction.

She nodded apprehensively. "Yes. I'm sorry it's a little... Primitive, but I saw him draw the blade and had to act fast." she said, feeling a little self-conscious about the flimsy and near-whimsical nature of what she'd done. She was a fearsome mage, but all she'd demonstrated to Faen in trying to protect him was a mere party trick. "Fortunately, you had it all under control. That shot was really remarkable, Ser. It stopped me in my tracks..." she said, "Which I'm sure everyone is thankful for." she chuckled nervously, shooting Lowe a glance. He looked positively white with fear.

Ava thought for a moment, before a quizzical look consumed her visage. "If you don't mind my asking, Ser," she probed. "But why would someone try to kill you? Does that happen often?" She couldn't help but wonder how one might survive in a world where everyone knew who you were. Jealousy was an ugly thing...


Original poster
Faen nodded slowly at the woman's explanation, absorbing the information like the stupid child in class finally learning his letters. So, she was a mage, but she'd been casting spells in his favour, which he was immeasurably thankful for. Now that he'd realised he wasn't dying he was as protective of his own mortality as he'd ever been.

The feather spell was a pleasant little surprise too. She was obviously quite a powerful caster, and yet she chose to to turn the knife into feathers rather, than say, blowing the assassin up. Whimsy was quite a refreshing change in mages. Usually they were all sound and fury folk, eager for everyone to see how mighty and powerful they where, caring not a jot for who gets hurt in the process. Yes, feathers where a nice touch. And yet. . .

“Knew a man once,” He muttered, still twirling the feather between his fingers. “Was deathly allergic to feathers. Couldn't go anywhere near them.” Thank the Crones that Faen didn't
share that affliction, eh?

Avarielle was still speaking though, commenting on his incredible marksmanship, probably just as amazed by it as he was. Well, it wasn't like he was going to admit it was a fluke now. She'd just have to – he lost his train of thought as a foul, earthy aroma permeated the tavern. He resisted the urge to sigh as he transferred his attention back to the body. Sure enough there was a swiftly spreading wet patch around the corpse's groin area. That was the thing the songs never mention, that folk void their bowels pretty quick after breathing their last. He pointed it out to the tavernkeeper, figuring the fat man would want to clean up.

"But why would someone try to kill you? Does that happen often?"

“You'd be surprised.” He replied, tone so dry that if it was timber it could have burst into flame at any moment. Sometimes it felt like it would be quicker just listing who wasn't trying to kill him. He'd spent a lifetime inardventally making enemies, and it really could be anyone one of them.

Shame he'd killed the assassin, he coulda clued them up double quick on a lot of things.

“Some people just try and kill me so they can say they were the one that finally put to paid the Saint of Swords. He mighta been one of those. Mighta been an assassin. He might have something on him to fill in the blanks.” He crossed to the body, refusing to breathe through his nose, the tavern keeper -who had made no attempt to clean anything up- and bar patrons looking on in grim fascination as he quickly rifled through the dead man's pockets. They were mostly empty, save for a money pouch that he grudgingly tossed to the Keeper for all his trouble, and a rolled up piece of parchment.


He gently unrolled the paper, careful not to rip it. The contents weren't quite as illuminating as he'd hoped, just a short, scrawled message, the handwriting uniformly bland and impossible to identify.

Faen will be at the Major Oaks Inn within the week. Kill him then return to the guild.

Well, all that did was raise a whole lot more questions. How the hell did whoever wrote it know he'd be here, when he'd hardly planned it himself. And what guild were they talking about? And why did they want him dead.

Fusius' balls, but he was confused. . . And not just a little afraid. This was a mystery in need of answers. . . Or at the very least it was a mystery that required him to hide out in the wilderness, bury his head, and wait until the whole thing blew over. Yeah, that was a plan. All he had to do now was shirk any other, less important responsibilites that folk where trying to foist on him.

"Nothing." He said aloud, allowing his very real frustration to colour his voice. "Nothing to explain who he is, or what he wants. I'll have to speak to my contacts, do some digging to find out who he is. . . "

". . . Though, I'm ashamed to say, while I handle that I wont be able to deal with this 'Broadmarsh' of yours. It would just be too dangerous to let killers of this ilk roam the lands freely while I stumble in the dark, trying to figure out the mystery of your marsh. I'll put word out though, get some friends to come and lend a hand."

There, problem solved. The Broadmarsh situation was under control, his reputation was still unassailable, and everyone would be happy!

Now all he needed was for someone to clean up that body and everything would be peachy!
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Avarielle wrinkled her nose as the corpse emptied itself; it hadn't taken the stench long to reach her. Faen pointed it out to Lowe, expecting the man to dispose of the mess, and yet the innkeeper simply stood looking somewhat sheepish. Faen continued regardless.

“You'd be surprised.” he said, rather coldly as he crossed over to the soiled body of his would-be murderer and began to dig around in his possessions. Faen explained all the various reasons that complete strangers try to kill him; it all sounded rather ghastly, actually... It's like he was some rare game creature, some sought-after trophy... That sense of being consistently hunted must be enough to drive a man mad. And yet, here Faen was, sane as they come...

"Nothing," he announced dejectedly, reading from a scroll he'd found on the corpse.

The was a quiet disappoint amongst the inn, as it became clear that the great Ser Faen would not be the one to liberate the Western lands from their swampy plight. There was the obvious flare that came with including the fabled hero in a town's history books, but there was also the fact that nobody in the last forty years had been able to do anything about the swamp. If Ser Faen couldn't handle it, who could? Still, Lowe thought to himself. Faen had kindly offered to reach out amongst his circle for someone able to undertake the job. It ain't that tricky to change a name when ya tellin' a story... Y'know, fer dramatic effect.

Avarielle was the next to speak up. "That's completely understandable," Ava said, thought she was a little disappointed to not be present as Faen was sent off on his next world-famous escapade. "Whoever tried to kill you, they're dangerous. Where would the land be without our most potent hero?"

Lowe chimed in. "Aye. A threat to Ser Faen is a threat to us all."

Avarielle moved over to join Faen by the corpse, breathing as little as possible. "Here, let me see if I can help. It's the least I can do." she said, rummaging around the corpse for anything that might be of use. She found a rather unusual-looking amulet, carved from stone and hung on a thick, dead-looking vine. She pulled it up, observing it in the light of the tavern. "Hmm," she said, furrowing her brow and observing the amulet's intricate markings. "It doesn't seem to be magical."

"Destina's eye!" Lowe announced, as he realised what Ava held. "We ain't seen none o' them around here fer years. Must be at least twenty years." he bellowed, hobbling over and inspecting the amulet further. "Aye, it's one o' them fer sure. Bunch'a trouble causers, called 'emselves the Righteous Guild of Adilah's Servants, or summin namby-pamby like that. Religious whackjobs obsessed with takin' matters into their own hands, executin' what they saw as 'true justice'. Had a fancy buildin' out West, we just assumed it got eat up by the swamp. Never heard from 'em since, so I dunno where they based now."

Avarielle's eyes lit up. "I have my ways of finding out." she smiled, before letting go of the amulet and allowing it to hover before her. She muttered in a strange, arcane tongue beneath her breath, causing the amulet to rotate and its marking to illuminate a brilliant green. When she stopped, it dropped into her hands, and she held it by the vine once more. A few seconds passed, and the pendant shuddered, before pulling towards one of the tavern's walls as though by some magnetic force. Ava beamed triumphantly.

"I've always wanted to use that spell." she grinned, before realising that it required an explanation. "It's typically used to deliver items back to where they're from; if I were to let go..." she said, doing just that and causing the amulet to fly rapidly through the air and collide with the wall. It stayed there, fixed to the wall, and Ava retrieved it. "It would try to follow a straight line back to wherever it came from. Of course, Ser Faen, as long as you keep hold of it, you can simply follow the direction it's pulling in and it'll lead you straight to the source."

She handed the necklace to him, rather pleased with herself. She'd been a help to the great Ser Faen; this was definitely a story to tell. "I wish you the best on your travels, Ser."

A cough interrupted the exchange, as Lowe stood with his arms folded, looking at the two quizzically.

"Have yers not yet realised where that damn things pullin' yer to?" he said, nodding in the direction the amulet had flown. As the truth dawned on Avarielle, Lowe grinned, knowing he'd gotten his way before the conversation was even finished. Turning to address Faen, he continued. "Well, my good man. Looks like yer'll be able t' check out the Broadmarsh after all. Seems yer friends are still out there in the bog!" he laughed, absolutely thrilled with way Destina had spun things. Oh, yes, this was a most satisfactory outcome.

"But don't worry," he said, almost mocking in the way only an innkeeper could carry. "I'm sure Miss Wheeler'll join yer, won't yer Ava?" he asked, expectantly. Ava's eyes burst wide; she wasn't looking for another adventure... She was heading home! "It's a weird land out there. Magic's a good thing t' have."

Ava said nothing. She looked at Lowe, and then at Faen. Who was she kidding? Of course she wanted another adventure...


Original poster
". . . Where would the land be without our most potent hero?"

He really couldn't tell, but he was willing to bet that the 'hero' in question would be a good deal happier.

He took a step back as the woman began to rummage around the corpses belongings, unearthing an odd looking amulet. Faen wasn't quite sure how he missed it, as it was fairly unique looking. That said, he had just been the victim of a pretty serious assassination attempt, so he reckoned he was allowed too miss a trick or to. He wasn't infallible, regardless of how many people seemed to think that was the case.

He listened on with vague interest as the bartender mentioned recognising the object, and being familiar with the group who once used it. The Righteous Guild of Adiliah's Servants. Well, they must be the guild that the note referred to, though what Faen had done to offend them he had no idea. Not that the knowledge of who they were or where they bided really mattered, not like Faen was planning on tracking them down. They'd already tried to kill him once, and he wasn't keen on giving them a chance at a second whack.

Shame he couldn't tell Avarielle that though. Coulda saved her the trouble of casting her wee tracking spell. Too keep up appearances he accepted the necklace with a grateful nod, before looping around his neck and stuffing it down his jerkin front. He could feel the stone thrum impatiently, desperate to take off back towards it's home. He suspected that would get damn annoying. . . annoying, that was, if he wasn't planning on ditching the pendant as soon as he was out of sight. Which he was.

Then ol' goats breath the innkeeper piped up, all happy with himself because the pendant was heading straight into the Broadmarsh. The smarmy git thought he had Faen over a barrel, thought the Saint of Swords would just have to kill two birds with one stone. Ha! Well you can smile out the other side of your chubby face, thought the swordsman, cause I ain't killing no birds! He smiled magnamously at the fat man.

The smile faded pretty quickly when the sneaky bastard offered up Avarielle's services though. Just for a second he glared at the innkeeper, letting his true, innermost feelings be known, subjecting the whoreson to all his frustrated, impotent hatred. If looks could kill, well that bastard would be shitting all over the tavern floor too. A moment, that was all Faen allowed himself before he mastered his feelings once more, slipping on the mask of the humble, yet irritated hero once more.

"Brave of you, to offer up the services of someone else for a task you're too feart to tempt yourself." His tone was acid, and the innkeeper obviously realized he had overstepped a line with the swordsman. He quickly hobbled away, gathering a group of men to help him drag the body away, covertly stealing glances at the Saint of Swords and the sorceress. Faen ignored him and stepped in closer to the woman, looking deep into her eyes, fixing her with his gaze.

"You don't have to listen to him, you know. You don't have to come with me. It could be dangerous. No, it will be dangerous. I've never set out on something like this that didn't end in blood. People die around me, that's a fact. You don't want any part of that. Not just because of some big mouthed tavernkeeper who's never set foot out his own village. Trust me." He was pleading with her, begging her. He wasn't too proud to beg, he knew that. And it wasn't just cause he knew it would make ducking out of solving the Broadmarsh problem harder if she was hanging off his elbow, though that was part of the reason. The bigger part was that he couldn't stand to see her getting forced into this life, just like he had. Sure, she looked eager for it now, but that's with her head still full of kids stories and her heart full of fantasy. The cold reality was something much, much worse, the kind of thing that could kill those fantasies dead.

He didn't want her ending up as disillusioned and as unfulfilled as he was. Nobody deserved that.

That, and it would be really fucking difficult to lose a second mage!
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The air between the two men seemed to thicken as Faen spoke, his very gaze burrowing into the innkeeper's skull. Ava remained quite as the slightly menacing tone of Faen's words bounce off the woodwork, turning Lowe white as he hurriedly gathered help and began disposing of the body. Faen turned to her next; pleading with her to see reason in the situation. It was rather unexpected, if she was honest; she had expected a man of Faen's reputation to champion the very notion of adventure, and here he was trying to tempt her out of it. She swiftly decided he was simple being respectful, and was worried that having her onboard would slow him down in his mission. How very noble.

"You need not worry about me, Ser," she said, smiling reassuringly. "I've been travelling for a while now. I can hold my own and wouldn't expect you to carry me." she spoke firmly, and with purpose in her throat. "If you don't mind, it would be an honour."

The rest of the night struggled to mask an underlying tension; Avarielle had sat with Faen for a while, and whilst he politely engaged in conversation, the occasional glance betrayed a secretive dread in his eyes. In the sweeping allure of alcohol, the night's events seemed to blur into one. Avarielle had never been a big drinker, but Faen seemed to adopt a different stance. She was certain he could drink any of the men in the pub under the table. He didn't stay up long, though; Avarielle assumed he was tired from his travels, and followed him upstairs.

Lowe had allocated them the only two rooms on the corridor. "I'll place some sigils," she said to Faen before he entered his room, then began drawing the ancient marks along the walls with chalk all down the hall. "They'll activate if anyone comes along here. I don't think anyone else from the Guild will be bothering you this evening." As each symbol was drawn, it began to glow a faint but just-noticeable blue; imbued with Avarielle's magic. "Goodnight, Ser Faen," she smiled, retreating into her own bedroom. "I'll see you bright and early."
Morning came, and Avarielle rose from what had been a surprisingly good sleep; one she'd needed, of that she was sure. She felt refreshed and energised, stretching her limbs as her body pandinculating in preparation for the day ahead. After removing the magical sigils from the walls, she headed downstairs and found the bar relatively empty; including an absence of Ser Faen.

"Morning, Ava," Lowe muttered from behind the bar. "Can I get yer anythin'?"

"No breakfast," she said. She'd never been one to eat first thing in the morning. "But I'd love a cup of tea." She sat at the same table they'd occupied last night, waiting. Waiting for her beverage; waiting for the day to really begin. Waiting for Faen.​
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Faen could hear the voices of Avarielle and the arsehole bartender who had tricked her into probably getting herself killed were so loud that he could hear them from his bed upstairs. Then again, Faen's head was so fragile that he fancied he could hear the cacophony the butterfly two streets down was causing by beating it's wings. He'd already wished a set or fatal heart attacks upon the butterfly, the bartender, and the girl, but so far all three seemed to be keeping rude health. He wasn't too surprised.

Nothing ever went his way.

He momentarily toyed with the idea of just staying in bed, dragging the sheets over his head, and waiting there until the outside world forget all about him. God's, of all the fantasys about him, that was the one that appealed to him most. Shame no one would ever let him live that one out. With a world weary sigh he rolled out of bed, nearly tripping over an empty wine bottle. He'd 'borrowed' a few reds from behind the bar the night before, feeling they'd be apt compensation for whatever dangerous nonsense he'd have to get involved with because of that fat bastard bartender. He hoped the bottles were bloody expensive, but judging by the taste he sincerely doubted it.

The sigils that had kept him locked in his room all night were gone. Typical. 'I don't think anyone else from the Guild will be bothering you this evening.' Little did she know, she bothered him far more than any would be assassin could have. He was used to assassins.

Entering the main room, he stomped towards the bar, little care given to appearances. It was the only time he allowed himself to act like himself, when he was hangover. It was the only time he couldn't be arsed with the act.

The bartender glanced up at him, looked like he was going to say something but then thought better of it, before returning to polishing his glasses. Just as well. If he'd tried to infringe upon anymore of Faen's time then the 'hero' wouldn't have been responsible for his actions. He didn't even acknowledge Avarielle's existence before dragging a stool out and slumping at the bar.

"Eggs. Bacon. Stale bread. Beer."

The innkeep and the girl were both, praise be, clever enough to get the message. No conversation before breakfast.

Faen glowered at everything in sight, and nothing in particular, feeling particularly malicious towards the world at large, though whether that was because of his ill health or the knowledge that of what he was going to have to do after breakfast, well he didn't care to muse on. All he knew was that he was pissed off, and it was everybody else's fault.

Breakfast came, and Faen wolfed it down like he hadn't eaten in a month. He knew that when he was rough there was only a very finite amount of time in the morning that he could actually eat anything and hold it down, so he had to take advantage of that while he could. Using the bread to mop up the last splodges of grease, he washed it all down with his third mug of beer. He was always a firm believer that the hair of the dog that bit you was the best medicine, and after all that he was feeling decidedly more human, though still far queasier than was the norm. If he thought he could get away with it then he'd beg off their 'quest' due to his fragile stomach, but by the looks of Avarielle's eager little face he knew that just wasn't going to fly.

With a sigh he resigned himself to getting on with it.

"So. . . Ready to go?"
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Something about the growl with which Faen had ordered his breakfast warned Avarielle that the Saint of Swords was not a morning person. She smiled discreetly at that, sipping on her tea as she mused upon the idea of such a famed hero struggling to rise with the sun. It had always come naturally to her; she'd been up before sunrise for as long as she could remember, obliged to witness the dawn every day back at the abbey where she'd grown up. The Sisters of St. Caroline were firm worshippers of Carminda, and the beginning of the day brought with it the marvel of the sun and the divine dawn chorus for which the sisters would routinely show their appreciation. It had essentially been bred into her and she always found it amusing when other people showed their disdain for the early hours; even since turning her back on the abbey, the dawn was her favourite time of day.

She held the icon of Fusius that hung from her neck with purpose, allowing the pendant to fall between her fingers as it caught the light. The chain it hung upon was long enough that she was able to inspect the icon whenever she pleased, and often found herself doing so in the midst of whatever she was dwelling upon. She was under no illusion as to the perils that lay on the boggy path before them; she would need the blessing of her God to survive, of that much she was certain. But something about the mission called out to her; beckoned her to explore, and unearth its secrets... If there was one thing Avarielle had learned upon her travels, it was that secrets were powerful things.

"So... Ready to go?" Faen called, interrupting her trail of thought. He seemed invigorated by his breakfast (and the several mugs of ale that had accompanied it), and had his minimal possessions ready to embark on their journey. Avarielle, too, was long-since prepared.

"Certainly," she said, raising to her feet. "If you'd like me to carry anything, my pouch is enchanted." she said, unfastening the small pouch and withdrawing an entire emerald cape from it, throwing it over her shoulders as she walked towards the door. "Thanks for your hospitality, Lowe," she said, thanking the man for the free service he'd extended to them in return for their work. "I'm sure I'll see you again sometime."

As Ava and Faen left the building, the barkeep's meek smile faded and his features darkened into a grim look of despair. "I wouldn't be so sure, young Ava." the abdominous man muttered to himself, wiping away at one of Faen's mugs. He sighed deeply. "I wouldn't be so sure."


They'd been advised to head straight to Witchaven, the only surviving settlement in the West, since they would likely know the most of any movements within their territory. It wasn't a very long or eventful walk from Blithfield to the outskirts of the Broadmarsh, but Ser Faen had seemed decidedly within himself for the majority of the short trip. Avarielle had, in turn, kept to herself and pondered over the events that would certainly lie ahead. Even she knew that the quest would not be as simple as this unfitting beginning; a casual stroll through lush greenland.

And of course, her assumptions soon proved to be accurate, as the pair arrived at Widow's Pass: tall, thorny trees, that arched over each other and formed a thick canopy. The tunnel of trees seemed to lead on forever, its destination lost to the almost tangible darkness that swallowed up the distance. The pathway through the pass was overgrown through neglect, and yet the grass that sprouted so freely was thin and pale, its growth hindered by the harsh trees that towered overhead.

Avarielle looked to Faen, masking her wariness as best she could. "Perhaps we ought to check our maps one last time," she said, feigning innocence as she internally clutched in any direction for an alternate route. The magic within her was stirred by the path; everything about it insisted that she turn around. But she wouldn't... She couldn't... "Just to make sure this is the most efficient route into Witchaven." she said, producing a large, rolled-up map from her pouch and handing it over to Ser Faen.

"I'd be much obliged if you'd do the honours," she said, taking a few steps into the Widow's Pass and raising her arms. "The land here is... Strange. I want to get a feel for it."


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The fresh air was doing wonders for Faen's health, while the gently gamboling hills were so idyllic in their tranquil peacefulness that they were soothing his ill mood. This was about the one part of the life that he genuinely enjoyed, the chance to just glory in the beauty of nature, a world untouched by man. To breathe in the fresh air and get away from being him. Sure, it was nice being bought drinks and being praised as greatest man to walk the face of the planet since the last greatest man to walk the face of the planet, but only up to a certain point. It quickly got tiring, being held up to a higher moral standard and being placed on a pedestal. Out here it didn't matter who he was or what he'd supposedly done. The trees didn't care about the time he slayed the Butcher King in single combat, nor did the hills want to hear about how he razed Rat's Nest to the ground in a single night.

He didn't matter out here, and that was, quite simply, divine.

Initially he had worried that being lumbered with Avarielle would rob him of that simple pleasure, that she would insist on constantly prattling, subjecting him to a constant barrage of inane questioning about his legendary adventures, asking why he did this, and how did he feel when he did that. Thankfully he was proven quite pleasantly incorrect. She proved herself an unintrusive travelling companion, keeping to a peaceable and agreeable quiet. She even kept up with the quite punishing pace he set as standard without complaint. He was still set on abandoning her at the nearest opportunity, but at least she wouldn't be too much of a bother before that opportunity came.

The day went on, and they quickly ate up the miles. Before he knew it the rolling hills and undulating landscapes gave on the horizon gave way to a scrubby woodland that quickly sprouted into a thick forest. Quite a dark forest. . . Quite a dark, foreboding looking forest.

Oh Hells.

There was no way Faen was going in there, just no way in Hell. Bad enough it was called 'Widows Pass', but being called that and looking like this! He hadn't lived the life he'd lived without coming to learn how to tell when a place was called something foreboding just to give it a bit of local color and when it was called something foreboding when it was actually ball crushingly terrifying. To make matters worse the only reason he was supposed to go through there was to get to a place called Witchhaven. Witchhaven! A bloody haven for witches! Who in their right mind would go through Widows Pass just to get to Witchhaven.

No, he was out. He was drawing the line. He was giving up, and there wasn't a damn thing anyone could do about it..

Luckily Avarielle seemed just as apprehensive about setting foot into the place as he was. Sure, she tried to hide it behind the facade of being more 'efficient', but he knew a shiteing coward when he seen one. She was as feart of the Widows Pass as he was. She handed him a map, giving him the tools to find the out they both desperately needed. He'd pretend to find another, quicker path to Witchhaven that lead around the Pass, take her on a wild goose chase, then ditch her after setting up camp later that night. Sorted.

He was just about to call out to the girl when a shadow passed over the sun, grabbing his attention. His stomach lurched, any fear of entering the Widows Pass dissapearing, to be replaced by a far more powerful, far more tangible, far more familiar fear. He stared skywards, catching site of a distant dark speck, some way towards the heavens. It was far too far away to make out details, but still he knew that it was a brown speckled falcon named Mala, he knew it was following him, and worse, he knew who it belonged to.

He spun around, eyes scanning the distant horizons, expecting to see his pursuers baring down upon him, weapons unsheathed and baying for blood. By the Crones grace that wasn't the case, but that didn't make him feel all the much better. If Mala had found him then they couldn't be far behind. They'd know where he was, and be fast on his tail. He momentarily considered calling Avarielle, and getting her to kill the bird, but dismissed it as foolishness. That would just anger Mala's owner, and she wasn't the kind of woman you wanted to declare a vendetta on you. Not that there was any woman you wanted calling a vendetta against you, but at the moment Faen was just a job to Mala's owner, but if he made things personal then she'd move heaven and earth to find him. No, his only hope lay in losing the bird. Unlikely, yes, but it was his only option.

Fusius inch long nose hairs, why'd this shit always happen to him.

Fear of the Widows Pass momentarily abated as he realized his only option was to forge on ahead, and try to lose the bird amongst the trees. Now he just had to get Avarielle to follow him in. He'd be more than happy leaving her, but he worried what his pursuers might do to her if they found her. Torture her, definitely, though whether that would be to get information about him or to alleviate their boredom, well that would just be down to how they were feeling at the time.

"There's no other option, we must press. . . " He began, before stopping suddenly. He quirked an ear towards the trees, closed his eyes, feigning all the signs of a man listening intently. Suddenly he opened his eyes wide and pointed at the trees. "By the God's did you hear that? A woman's scream! Quickly, follow me!" He broke into a heedless sprint, straight into the Pass, praying all the time that Avarielle was following.

And that Mala wasn't.
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Though not visible to the naked eye, a thick miasma of energy swirled around the Widow's Pass. Avarielle was able to sense it as she channelled her consciousness outwards and into the depths of the dense woodland; testing the waters, so to speak. Whatever it was, the force was an overwhelming one, though Avarielle could detect no spellcasting upon the dead earth they were about to press through... And yet, the aura it resonated was almost certainly one of magical root. It puzzled the sorceress immensely, unlike anything she had sensed before - as though the very ground itself were alive, and only grew more sentient and wild the further down the pass they dared to venture.

"There's no other option," Faen interjected, breaking Avarielle's focus and allowing her grip on the land's aura to slip away. She turned to face him; he seemed anxious; perturbed; generally unsettled by the notion of having to take the unwelcoming path through the Widow's Pass. Of course, the thorny canopy of dead wood was not the most inviting of routes, and its enigmatic magical presence only deterred Avarielle further... And yet, Faen seemed visibly more distressed than she was. Did he know something she did not..? "We must press. . ." he began, before his attention seemed to be snatched by a sound within the woods. His eyes widened as he hastily pointed into the Pass.

"By the Gods, did you hear that?" he asked, a sense of urgency in his tone, to which Avarielle responded only with a quizzically raised eyebrow. She hadn't heard anything but the gentle wind and the caw of a bird flying overhead. "A woman's scream!" he reiterated, before darting off into the woodland. "Quickly, follow me!"

Avarielle obliged.

They'd been sprinting through the woodland for almost ten minutes by the time Ser Faen showed any signs of slowing; the eventual halt that became the famed hero was something for which Avarielle was highly grateful. She'd more than struggled to keep up with Faen, her robes snagging on the various thorns and jagged branches that formed the walls of the pass only accounting for half of her difficulty. The truth of the matter was, Faen had been like a man possessed; running with all the speed of a spooked stallion and he pressed on faster and faster through the long-dead forest.

Fortunately, it seemed that even the mightiest heroes needed to catch their breath, as Faen was currently attempting now in the middle of a large clearing. Avarielle looked back at the route they'd come along, the entrance through which they'd ran now long-since vanished into the thick obscurity of harsh bramble. In fact, the harder she tried, the more difficult it was to make out a path of any sort amongst the trees: it seemed that the clearing was essentially surrounded by identically gnarled trees, their clawed branches threatening to slash anyone who tried to navigate them. Avarielle sighed.

"Ser Faen," she asked, panting slightly through the exertion of keeping up with the man. "I -- I think we might be -- lost," he confessed breathily, before closing her eyes in meditation and magically scanning the immediate area with a sweeping wave of desperation. "There's -- a stream," she said, opening her eyes and looking in the direction of what she'd sensed. She staggered over to the area, her hand nursing the stabbing sensation in her ribs as she continued to breathe, before listening intently. Yes, she could hear it ever-so-faintly; the gentle trickling of what was sure to be only the most meagre of waters.

She looked back to Ser Faen, noticing that he seemed to suffer even more than she was. It made sense: he'd been running almost twice as fast, with a heavier load. And the air here was thick and near-unbreathable. "I'll go and -- investigate," she said with a slightly gasp. "It will give us an idea of -- which way to -- go. And perhaps even some -- drinkable water." she said, before vanishing into the trees and leaving Faen in the clearing.

No sooner had she left, did a shimmering silver figure appear from amongst the branches behind Faen. She was entirely nude, and by far the most attractive woman he'd ever seen: all plump breasts and curved hips, whilst the soft features of her face were framed by silky silver locks. She seemed to glow ever-so-faintly in the dim light.

"Oh, thank goodness you heard me, Faen," she said, attracting his attention as she sauntered over and draped a slender arm over his shoulder. Her eyes met his with a mesmerising intensity that lingered indefinitely. "I thought you'd never come."
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Faen didn't even think of stopping until he was certain he'd lost that damnable bird. Even then he kept on sprinting for another at least another minute, forcing himself deeper and deeper into the emerald deep. Surely he'd lost Mala now.

He'd certainly lost himself, at the very least.

You could have held a knife to his throat and threatened him to point out the path he'd taken through the woods or you'd slit him gaping, and Faen would just have to shrug and request that you make it quick, because there was no way in the Great Mothers green earth that he'd ever be able to identify that track. It was really a testament to Avarielle's dogged determination that she'd managed to keep on his heels. He was forced to admit that there was no way he could have done the same wearing a dress. Robes. Whatever.

His lungs were beating like a blacksmiths bellows when he finally slowed to a halt, his face and hands stinging from were he'd chaotically crashed through whipping branches, and his legs felt like they were on fire. Still, it seemed to be worth all the pain as no matter how closely he scanned the skies he still couldn't spot that infernal feathered fiend. If he could actually have drawn a breath he would have sighed in relief.

Avarielle seemed to be in better condition than himself, pretty quickly deciding to go off a'hunting for running water. If he could have spoke he would have told her to sit down, rest a moment, catch her breath. No point in being a hero, after all. He should know. She was to quick by half though, melting into the brush before he even had the chance to formulate a sentence. More fool her then.

Faen took her momentary absence to have a well needed rest, toppling back onto his arse, before lying back upon his elbows and lounging upon the spongy moss of the forest floor. Gods, but it felt good to get off his feet. His hand dipped into a pocket sewn into the lining of his cloak, coming back with a tarnished flask, so old that it looked like it was probably crafted during the height of Tumeken's reign. He took a long draught, enjoying the burning sensation as the golden spirits within trickled down his throat and into his belly.

Better than mothers milk. Probably a damn sight more refreshing than whatever stagnant pond water Avarielle would return with anyway. It would definitely have less fox piss in it, at the very least. . .

The bushes rustled behind him, the sorceress returning much sooner than he would have expected. He reluctantly picked himself up, cursing her efficiency. He'd half hoped to get a little snooze while she stumbled through the foliage. Now he'd no doubt have to go tramping through the bloody woods himself, Avarielle cracking the whip on a search for the fictitious damsel in equally fictitious distress that he'd had the poor sense to invent. He was desperately trying to invent some sort of lie to get himself off the hook without compromising his earlier lies when. . . .

"Oh, thank goodness you heard me, Faen.”

The fraudulent hero spun round, all hints of his previous lethargy vanished, his sword leaping into his hand with a speed that spoke of much practice. He didn't like to have to use a weapon, but in his line of work you'd be stupid not to have one, and down right unforgivably dumb if you didn't know how to use it. It was his last resort, but a resort none the less.

“I made you up, you spooky bitch, and fine you know it!” He returned, sword point held unwavering towards the woman, remarkably calm for a man face to face with a mysterious, beautiful woman in the all together. And she was beautiful. Skin so pale that it looked like it had never even glimpsed the sun, yet as smooth and flawless as polished marble, hair so silver and so fine that it didn't look like it was made for a human head, more like moonlight fashioned by the God's into soft strands of silk. Her pink lips were shaped like rose petals, and made for kissing. She had just about the biggest doe eyes he'd ever seen, her coquettish gaze so 'come hither' that it'd pretty much become 'hurry the fuck up and come get it.'

But all that? It just wasn't enough for him. He'd looked into the face of true beauty, gazed into the eyes of a woman he'd truly loved, been held by her through the darkest nights, spent days lost in her embrace, his whole world filled with nothing but her, as close as heaven as a man is likely to come. He'd danced to the music of her laugh, revelled in the sweet smell of her hair, caressed her skin and been caressed by her, touch so electric that even to that day his skin still tingled to think about it.

Once you've done that it's hard to get all that excited about other women.

Even if those other women did have perkier tits.

He was getting ready to tell the sartorially challenged mystery woman to bugger off or get run through, doing his best impression of a real double hard bastard, all narrowed eyes and scowls, when the world started to lose focus, like he was looking at the scene through a greasy pane of glass. For half a second he considered that it might have been the whiskey he'd quaffed earlier, but quickly set that suspicion aside. He didn't have a problem, neither with drinking too much or being able to hold his liquor. So obviously something else was at play.

And Faen was willing to bet the smart money on it being magic.

He started to become aware of a colossal weight in his hand, a mountainous burden that he could remember being there before. He knew he had to drop whatever it was before his shoulder tore off. He let go, and with a soft *clud* his sword fell to the dirt. He was only dimly aware of that being a bad thing for a moment, but then the woman was upon him, and all awareness of anything that wasn't her was gone, blown away like smoke on the wind. She draped her slender arm around his neck, his body shivering uncontrollably with pleasure at her touch. It felt right, like they were both made for this, like they were two halves of the same whole, and they were only now coming together. She pulled him in close, gently but irresistibly.

Not that he was putting up much of a resistance any more.

"I thought you'd never come." She whispered into his ear.

“Nothing could stop me coming for you Irina. You know that.” He said, tone lustreless, like some village idiot who'd hit his head and was only half aware of the shite coming out of his mouth. Some small voice deep within him was screaming that this wasn't right, that those words weren't meant for her, this ethereal sprite from the woods, and that he should pull his knife and shank the whore while he still had the chance. He couldn't though, just couldn't, no matter how much he tried to focus, to force his hand to reach for his weapon, to slam his head into her perfect button nose, to fight the hold she had on him, he just couldn't.

But then, why would he want to? Really? He had a beautiful, naked, willing woman pressed up against him. Surely that's not the sort of thing a red blooded male fights? Well, he had, his whole life, all because he'd been holding to the hope that if he stayed true to one particular woman that she would see his faithfulness and realize that she loved him as much as he loved her.

“But Irina doesn't love you. She never has.”

The world came back into focus for just a moment, the sharp words the slap in the face he'd needed. He didn't know where they had come from, certain that neither he or the mysterious woman had spoken them, but they were just what he'd needed. His hand dropped towards his knife, but before his fingers had even brushed the hilt whatever force that had been disabling him redoubled it's efforts, and before a man could say “by the rosy nipples of Carminda”, he was back under whatever spell the woods witch was casting, his moment of control nothing more than a cruel trick by the God's.


“Come with me Faen. Come with me and we can be together for ever.” Said the woman, her voice low and husky, dripping with sex. Her eyes were hungry, though he didn't think she was hungry for love. Something in the way that she looked at him reminded him off the way the cat looks at the fish, or a fox looks at a chicken.

“I'd follow you anywhere” He heard himself say, that wee voice inside still screaming at him, calling him every stupid tosser under the sun now. The woman seemed happy enough with his answer though, smiling up at him slyly. That smile held a whole lot of promise of things to come, though it seemed to be concealing something. Maybe it was the decidedly feral twist to her lips.

Yup, this was gonna end terribly for him, and it didn't look like there was a damn thing he could do about it.

The woman turned on her heel, gripped his palm, and started leading him back into the woods, his legs refusing to listen to him when he willed them to stop. In fact it seemed like he'd lost all control, considering that no matter how much he tried to scream for help his mouth just didn't open. Looks like he was just a spectator on this ride again.

Oh well, maybe he wasn't in charge of his own flesh suit any more, and maybe things were starting to look decidedly grim, but there was one bright spot to this whole dark tale.

Looked like he was going to get to go out gazing at a beautiful set of tits. And really, wasn't that what everyman wanted?
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The damp earth squelched beneath Avarielle's leather boots as she forced her way through the thick undergrowth, prying her way through sharp, dagger-laced twigs and branches in pursuit of the water that was only half-promised by the faint, albeit increasingly audible, sounds of tricking water. Although, the further Avarielle pressed through the thicket, the further she was convinced that something unsavoury was afoot in these woods. Of course, there had to be a reason the Widow's Pass was named as such, that much did not go amiss on the young woman. However, with magical training and prolonged exposure to the arcane arts comes a wider universal understanding; a greater and more astute sensitivity to the very world itself. Yes, if there was one thing Ava trusted... It was her gut, and right now it was knotted tighter than the thorny brambles that entwined and locked together in defiance, forbidding her passage. Something was not right.

She looked around wearily, before casting a hand over the bone-dry shrubs, which gently caught light and burned away in a slow, almost soothing fashion: small, barely-glowing embers inching their way along the bare branches and hungrily consuming the dead wood. There was little risk of a forest fire breaking out amidst all the damp and mould, but the young witch's mastery of fire magic eliminated such a disaster with near certainty. Pushing on through the new cleared path, her damp soles sizzling on the ashy remnants of the obstacle as it was crushed underfoot, Avarielle finally set her sights on what she'd sought.

By Fusius vast strength, she had been blessed: the small stream was flowing West, free of the Broadmarsh's pollution at this point on the route... A luxury they would soon miss, if the barkeep's warnings were to be believed. It meandered without care, as though not knowing of the putrid lands into which it flowed: but thankfully its slow pace was enough to avoid stagnation, and discovering its clear waters had been a wave of relief for the mage. She supposed that the benefits ought to be reaped unashamedly; they should make the most of such blessings whilst they were afforded them, and so she reached into her enchanted sack and begin to withdraw bottle after bottle.

One by one, the empty glass vials clinked against the stone bed of the river as Avarielle lined them up neatly. Some of them contained oddly-coloured liquids, in which case Ava would quickly scan the label before either stashing it away or dumping the contents against a nearby tree, its bark withering and smoking upon contact with the various magical ointments. With a swift wave of her hand, the receptacles began levitating, lifted one at a time by some arcane force and dipped into the stream, filling it with crystalline water. Wanting to speed the process along, Avarielle took one of the vials which had been recently used and dunked it into the waters to rinse.

Instantly, she gasped, recoiling several feet backwards from the wave of dread that had overcome her as she made contact with the seemingly pleasant waters. They were tainted: their life-giving power robbed and replaced by something sinister. Avarielle had a dark feeling, looking upstream to where the waters flowed from and gulping. Every bone in her magical body urged her to investigate. She quickly dumped that evil water she'd gathered and returned the miserably empty bottles back to her satchel, glancing at the tree dejectedly as she thought of the potions she'd wasted for nought before hesitantly heading upstream.

The further she headed, the more overcome with dread her body became; shuddering violently, as would a moth preparing to take flight. The magic within her was stirring, sentient somehow as it readied itself for action... Responding to whatever dangers it knew were lurking up ahead. Avarielle was not ignorant to the arcane trepidation within her, clutching her amulet so tightly that Fusius' angular icon left red marks in her grip. An overpowering metallic taste lingered in Avarielle's mouth, as though she were sucking on a rod of iron to ease her nerves, and a smell that took Avarielle back to the time she'd briefly lived on a farm down South infiltrated her nostrils: not of meadows or fertile earth, but of the stench that hung in the air following slaughter of livestock: an omen, a reminder... Death.

As if confirming her suspicions, the waters slowly turned red as she continued up the path: blood, in all its unmistakably thick and scarlet hue, sat defiantly in the now still and stagnant waters, the gentle flow she'd encountered downstream seemingly attributed to an incline of sorts. Here, the ground was level, and the stream moved not... It simply sat, festering. Avarielle swallowed, noticing a clearing up ahead. A low buzzing sound was audible; humming wildly. Pressing on, she soon entered the clearing.

It was a large pool of stagnant waters; coloured green and crimson as algae and blood caressed each other in its still belly. Littered around the embankments, Avarielle set her sights on something that churned her stomach and sent her eyes wide in horror: though forced her to stay deathly quiet as she clasped her hand to her lips: corpses.

Tens of them lined the putrid waters, surrounded by flies as they entered early stages of rot. The mounds of bodies seemed mainly to be wild horses and even the odd bear, though it was only upon assumption as each was skinned, decapitated and missing large portions of flesh; exposed organs slipping from bloodied ribs and spilling onto the soil; ripe and bloated breeding grounds for the bombinating insects that buzzed unforgivingly around the clearing. The young sorceress' horror deepened still as she noticed that several of the bodies were unmistakably human; and though long-since dead, their flesh green and black with rot, each of the lost men's members were preserved immaculately, and stood to full attention.

The scene unfurled further, as Avarielle noticed movement. There were creatures there; their grim and decrepid forms allowing them to blend in amongst the corpses; these were women, though their bald heads and near-skeletal nude bodies rendered them largely androgynous. They feasted upon the rotting flesh of each grizzly cadaver in their lair, one of them silently pleasuring herself upon the preserved tools of their prey; headless, lifeless... And yet still useful for the wretched creature of lust and hunger.

Avarielle had read about these monsters during her studies at the Tower; Myremorts. The ghastly cousins of sea sirens and wood nymphs, Myremorts were said to be a more primal species: driven only by their desires. Some say they were once women like Ava herself, cursed by their own unholy longings and driven into this eternal state of turmoil and insatiability. Avarielle dismissed such warnings. They were too akin to the propaganda she'd lived amongst at Bellepoint, designed to drive shame into a woman like a stake into the heart of some dark bloodsucker. Though she knew not what they were... She recalled the beings detested light, lurking in darkened woodlands such as this and using their powers of deception to lure unwitting gentlemen to their dooms... Gentlemen like Ser Faen.

Knowing there was little she could do for the souls already claimed by this coven of evil, Avarielle was about to return with haste to where she had left her ally, warning him of the dangers that dwelled within the Widow's Pass; urging him to keep sound mind, and that they press on and out of the Pass before nightfall. And yet, before her heels could turn beneath her, something emerged into the clearing that encompassed everything Avarielle had not wanted to see: one of the vile beast-women, her skin a sickly green as scabs and boils lined the skin that so tightly pressed against her rib cage; strands of wispy grey hair falling in feeble tufts from her otherwise bald head. Her face was crooked; scarred; missing both an eye and several chunks of flesh, her long nose protruding like a beak above her fanged and yet near-toothless maw. But this did not horrify her so much as her guest, lead by hand into the sinister dwelling: a dazed and vacant-looking Ser Faen.

For a moment, she froze in shock, watching helplessly as the hero was walked through the shallow waters, catching the attention of the heathen's sisters as they lost interest in their own meals and conquests, slowly encroaching upon their new plaything from all angles. As they drew nearer to her comrade, Avarielle finally snapped into focus; the magic within her taking over as she roared loudly, leaping forth into the clearing. Each beast turned to face her, though the arcane mistress left them little time to retaliate.

Lifting her arms above her head, a ball of brilliant white light formed between her grip, projecting its beams outwards as it furiously penetrated the darkness of the Mortmyre's abode. They hissed manically, their skin instantly blistering as the invasive light met their naked bodies, their arms raised to protect their grim visages from the searing glow.

Enraged by the surprise attack, the monsters set their sights on Avarielle, moving as quickly as their frail, macabre bodies would allow. Wasting no time, Avarielle swooped her arms with purpose, a wave of flame washing over the Mortmyres and causing their bodies to catch light. They screamed in a way no human ever could: wailing and screeching with all the might of a blighted banshee and the young witch relentlessly released bolt after bolt of scorching flame; unforgiving in her delivery of each blazing fireball that left her grip. The immortal Mortmyres fell not: though their anguished screams continued as the grizzly beasts finally retreated into the trees, their bodies still burning as they recoiled from the attack, abandoning their dwelling and leaving only Avarielle and Ser Faen in its presence.

Breathing almost as heavily as she had during their sprint, the fiery rage that had been unlocked in Avarielle still burned; her face twisted into a scowl of anger in its purest, most primal form. She continued to breathe, deepening each inhalation as she made every effort to recompose herself; quelling the flames that burned within her... Slowly, the mystical energy that was her driving force began to soothe. She finally made eye contact with Ser Faen, still breathing heavily as he looked at her with an expression that Ava was unable to place.

She said nothing; unsure of how much Faen had seen, or indeed involved himself in the chaos she had unleashed. During moments of crisis such as that, Ava was prone to lose sense of her surroundings entirely: everything melting away, as her magical being took over her body like some mystic puppeteer. The only sound in the clearing was that of Avarielle's heavy breath, even the flies scared away by her infernal outburst. She waited for Faen to speak.
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The woman led him on an unerring path, deep into the woods, only occasionally taking her eyes off the forward route to make sure he was still following her. She needn't have worried though, for as long as she was exerting whatever magic it was she was using to keep him transfixed, he wasn't going anywhere she didn't want him too, regardless of how hard he tried to fight her.

Women. Always getting their bloody way.

Things got steadily worse as he realized with a start that the standard smells of the forest - trees, earth, leaves, wee adorable woodland critters that taste great in a stew with wild onions - had given way to a scent that was at the same time far more familiar and far less welcome to the Saint of Swords.


He could hardly mistake it. He'd survived enough battles, surveyed enough murder sites, dealt with enough necromancers, to be able to identify the decay of flesh by it's pungent aroma alone. Sobering thought, that one. Though even he had to admit that right there, in the middle of the Widow's Pass, bewitched by a mysterious witch, that the stink of death was un-Godly strong. If he had his way then he'd about turn and high tail it back the way he came like his arse was on fire, but he had the not-so-sneaking suspicion that his 'guide' would disagree with that course of action quite strongly. Nah, ol' Faen had been in similar enough quandaries over the years to guess that he was about to find out just what was making that fetid miasma first hand.

His guide pushed aside a low hanging branch, allowing him an unimpeded view of the glade ahead, and proving him to be right once again, to his own rising horror. He felt his stomach churn, and if he still had control of his body he reckoned he would have thrown up on the spot. The glade was the closest thing to a slaughter house he imagined could be found in a forest, partially decomposed and horribly desecrated bodies discarded with the least amount of respect around a putrid, green lake. Fly's buzzed around the gore, and the smell here was nearly overbearing, thick and cloying and eager to clog the nostrils.

It was as grim a spectacle as he'd ever seen, almost as bad as the remains of the unfortunate travelers that the Butcher King Subida used to torture to death then display along the trade routes, though all this felt less calculated, more primal. Subida had committed his atrocities to terrify and intimidate. This felt more like raw, animalistic savagery. Most of the carcasses belonged to wild beasts, though he spotted more than a few forms that looked like human remains. Skinned and chewed-on human remains maybe, but still human for all that. It took him a moment to realize that the cocks on each of the cadavers were all perfectly preserved and straight as flagpoles, though once he'd spotted them he struggled not to fixate on them. Something especially horrifying about those grotesqueries.

He didn't like where this was going at all.

His mystery woman pulled him deeper into the glade, sidestepping mounds of putrid flesh and decaying meat, until they were splashing into the dull green waters of the pond. The woman led him into the center of the glade then stopped, turning on the spot to face him.

"My sisters have been dying to meet you, Faen," She said, the first words she'd uttered since dragging him through the woods. He was only then aware that they two weren't alone in the clearing, that there was in fact several other naked women present, each more beautiful than the last, and all of them near stepping over each other to get at him. That would usually be the kind of once-in-a-lifetime situation that would get most men all hot and bothered under the collar, but considering the circumstances and the locale, Faen was struggling to get excited by the whole prospect.

Especially when he took into account that each of the corpses here had been chewed something awful and everyone of them had a stiffie. Didn't take a genius to figure out where this was headed. . .

And he still couldn't do a damn thing about it.

Well the joke was on them because, like it or not, Faen was gonna get the last laugh! It had been so long since he'd last 'been' with a woman that the bucket would no doubt empty itself in a heartbeat! Ha! They'd be left thoroughly unsatisfied and unfulfilled! Sure, he'd be dead, but in situations like this you had to look at any silver lining as the the bright side. He only wished that he'd lain with more whores in his time, then he might have passed on a dose of the clap to these magical bitches.

The other woman were getting damn close now, and the beauty that had led him through the woods had dropped the charade, openly staring at him like he was a delicious steak dinner. Gods, how he wished he could chin that bitch, just as one last act before he died, if not for his own sake then for her using Irina against him. Almost as much as he wished that he could see the singers try and put a positive spin on this one, the hero getting fucked to death then summarily eaten. Couldn't see that one getting played in the kings court.

Just then, when all hope seemed lost, salvation appeared, and it took the form of the pintsized powerhouse that was Avarielle. She leaped into the glade, screaming a battle cry that would have had the hairiest of Ithelm barbarians to flush with pride, her hand's a'fire with arcane energy. The naked woman paused in their rush towards him to search out the cause of the commotion, staring up at Ava with a mixture of curiosity and hostility, though that seemed to be exactly what she'd been planning for. The Sorceresses hands came up, and from them birthed a blinding light, like she'd pulled a miniature sun out of her pockets.

As soon as the light touched the naked women they began to scream maniacally, bestial sounds full of an enraged pain. Then, without warning, the beautiful women disappeared, to be replaced by ugly old hags, skin green and weathered, covered in warts and ravaged by disease. Faen near threw up in his mouth. He'd nearly been mounted by these pox-riddled pigs?

The hag nearest him, the one that had originally walked him through the woods, lured him in with her perky tits and perfectly formed arse, tore her attention from Ava and turned back towards him. Faen recoiled from her spectacular ugliness, almost wishing that the water witches could put their glamour back up just to save him from having to look at them any longer. This one's face looked like she brushed her teeth with a morningstar. She opened her mouth and spoke with the voice of the beautiful maiden that she'd masqueraded as, an obscene spectacle when it sounded from her lip-less mouth.

"Faen, you must stop her fro --" The monster never managed to finish whatever she was going to say before the Saint of Swords stuck the head in, headbutting her straight on her beak-like nose. She obviously hadn't realized that she'd lost her power over him as soon as Ava struck. The hag was knocked back a step, squawking like a chicken while clutching at her face. Faen followed her, his dagger in hand though he couldn't remember drawing it. The witch glimpsed him coming at the last moment, her eyes widening in surprise just before he slammed the thrice-enchanted blade into her stomach. The beast screamed with the voice of the maiden, trying desperately to fight him off. He ignored her slapping hands and scratching nails, and pulled her close with his free hand, his knife hand twisting wickedly, working the blade through her evil guts, sawing back and forth as brackish blood oozed slowly over his fist. He was face to face with the bitch, her eyes locked on his as he worked his steel deep, not stopping his cutting until he felt the metal snag on the bone of her spine.

"You should have never said Irina's name." He snarled into the hag's ear, then with one last twist for emphasis he let her drop, stepping back from the body. He wasn't sure if she was dead. Wasn't all too certain that he could kill her. It was enough for him that he'd hurt her bad though. Bad enough that she'd think twice about coming at him again. That, and if she was anything like a regular human then she was unlikely to walk again, which was a bonus. Can't come looking for revenge if you can't walk.

He turned to survey the carnage, seeing that the only two left was him and Avarielle. The girl was breathing heavy, a stoop to her shoulders that he hadn't seen before. That was to expected though, considering the amount of magical energy she'd just been throwing around. Seemed she was one of those sound-and-fury type mages after all, and boy, whadda fury! She seemed to be looking at him expectantly, waiting for him to say something. He wasn't sure he was all that ready for speaking himself.

He clambered out of the pond and trecked up besides her, stoping at her side to gaze back out at the corrupted glade. They stood like that for some time.

"Lost my sword." He commented after some minutes of silence, mostly out of a desire to fill the silence. Back in the pool the hag he had wounded started to struggle, trying to desperately to move legs that wouldn't work anymore. Poetic justice, Faen would call that.

Though not justice enough, he decided, a thought striking him.

"Think you got it in you to burn this place to the ground?" he said to Ava, gesturing out towards the charnel house that was the hag's clearing.
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Smoke still lingered in their clothes and nostrils as the pair trudged through the swamp; leaving behind that gruesome clearing but not the morbid aroma of burning flesh and forest. It had not been a vast challenge for Avarielle to incinerate the evidence of the evils that had lived there, but she was celebrating no victory. She knew that, in the labyrinthine expanse of this wretched bog, the Myremorts were likely to be amongst the least offensive of the beings they might run into. She scowled at the thought and glanced back at Ser Faen; watching the famed hero like a hawk, lest another hungry hag snatch him away from under her nose.

The man was trailing several paces behind her, though his speed was consistent and deliberate. Now without a sword, Faen seemed swallowed by his own thoughts and the pensive silence that clung to each of their throats was as good an indicator as any that each of the duo were perhaps spending a little too much time in their own heads. As uninviting as these lands were, Avarielle reminded herself that it was probably preferable to wade through this muck than whatever doubts and darknesses were swirling around their skulls.

"I think we should set up camp soon," she announced, breaking the silence only for a fleeting moment as Faen quietly agreed. Silence smugly gripped the pair once more, and so they simply walked. And they thought.

Avarielle was beginning to panic, though she wouldn't dream of airing her worries; not least in front of Ser Faen, who still seemed so within his head that any concerns she did raise might just push him over the edge. In some ways it was understandable, considering the man had almost been devoured in every sense of the word by a coven of bestial women. On the other hand, though, Avarielle was somewhat irked by Faen's response to near-death. She would have assumed someone as... 'Well-travelled' as he would be a little more accustomed to the idea of mortality.

Men had strange ways of handling themselves, that much was certain. But the ambiguity of their thought processes made them no less visually appealing.

The primary cause of Avarielle's uneasiness was a simple one: they had been walking for almost two hours since she first proposed they think about setting up camp, and they had still yet to find anywhere remotely suitable. She shouldn't have been surprised at all, considering how stubbornly inconvenient the Widows' Pass has been thus far; to expect any form of hospitality from deadlands was the mistake of a fool. But still, she hoped... For what, exactly, she was not sure. To stumble upon a damp and slimy cavern; to find a rotten tree wide enough for them both to squeeze into and seek shelter for as long as they could hold their breath; for Fusius himself to hollow out the ground beneath them, and there in the crater build them somewhere safe to lay their heads...

The world seemed to blur with sickening suddenness, interrupting all of the mage's childish fantasies as her body hit the moist earth with a noise that was somewhere between a thud and a squelch.

All was black for a moment, as Faen's voice called out to her from above. It took her a few more seconds to shuffle into a seated position, one hand nursing her muddied forehead as she squinted up towards her partner. As her eyes adjusted, Avarielle realised she was sat within a very large, very deep hole; Faen's head peering down into the cavernous space from a good fifteen feet up. Still reeling from her fall, the sorceress couldn't quite make sense of Faen's words as she struggled to her feet and began to look around her. Darkness.

Grunting as she tried to find some semblance of concentration amongst her oncoming concussion, Avarielle managed to give life to a small ball of flame. Flashes of a young boy whizzed through her mind as she was briefly reminded of a time of wonder, discovery and innocence. She swiftly pushed those thoughts back to the corner of her mind they had escaped from and focussed on the task at hand. With little grace or poise, she directed the light of the flame away from her.

As the darkness melted away, she gasped gently; her mouth dropping in quiet surprise.

Whilst most of the pit was as one might expect, mud and thick tree roots forming its structure, one side of the cavernous space was decidedly different. A wall ran straight through the pit, built from thick, grey stone into which various symbols and insignia were carved. There was a prominent theme of eyes, which seemed to be incorporated into all elements of design; not least, as the centrepiece of the large, arched door that next caught her attention. Its wood was green and shimmery with rot, but it still maintained a lot of its grandeur; even buried here beneath the bog.

She approached it cautiously, and placed her fingers against its damp surface. She paused for a moment, trying to detect any signs of life on the other side of the mysterious ingress... Yet there was nothing. She smiled warmly for the first time in what felt like a decade, though she had only started this cursed mission that very morning.

"Faen," she called up to the man above, whom was no doubt growing frustrated by her ignorance. "Faen, you have to see this."​
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The last vestigial light of the day was being chased across the horizon by the deepening night when the riders crossed the village boundaries into Blithfield.

Never had their ilk been glimpsed in the small frontier village. Twenty strong they were, and to a man they were well armed, hard-bitten, and weather beaten. Or at least they seemed that way at first glimpse. It wouldn't be until you gave them a second, deeper look that you would realize that two of their number were women, though one was so large and so muscled that the distinction hardly mattered.

No one challenged them as they made their steady progress through the village, though what need was there for that? Though a grim lot they made no hostile move, and even if they had it was unlikely that a Blithfield local would have had the stones to face them down, as even to an untrained eye it was clear that the members of this band were no strangers to violence.

The Major Oaks inn was the groups destination, though when they arrived only six members dismounted. One of these, a tall, bald man attired in a deep emerald robe that had seen better days, ordered the rest of the riders to spread out around the village and question the locals, though about what he didn't say. It seemed that they already knew what to ask about though, as they wasted no time in following the commands, splitting into pairs and canvassing the area. The last hint of daylight had finally fled over the mountains, leaving in it's wake a world of murky dusk.

The six entered the Major Oaks at their leisure. Lowe, who had been holding court at the table of a group of regulars, couldn't believe his good fortune at the sight of yet more travelers who had chosen to cross his threshold, nearly leapt to his feet in excitement. Six travelers meant six tired bodies in need of beds, six dry mouths and empty bellies in need of succor, and six paying customers with coin to be spent. Maybe this place would be able to make a bit of money for once.

That was worth getting off his arse for.

"Good sirs and ladies!" He cried jubilantly, every inch the jolly inn-keep. It was hard not to be jolly at the thought of easy-made money. "Good evening to you all! Please, may I be of service to you? Fetch you drinks, perhaps?" His inane grin grew weaker and weaker as his new quests spread out in a half-circle around him, silent and not just a touch menacing. The noise in the inn began to die, regulars looking up from their conversations to see what was happening. It was only then that Lowe realized that all the newcomers carried weapons and wore armour. All except the tall, bald man at their head.

For some reason that made him worse.

No, he wasn't just bald, Lowe realized. He was completely hairless. Something about his hairlessness lend him a touch of the alien, the sinister, an effect which he had added to by painting black kohl around his eyes.

The bald man grinned, and that made him worse still, for his perfectly formed teeth were all stained red.

"Yes. Yes, I think you can be of service.” The tall man took a step forward, Lowe stumbling backwards to keep the distance between them. “I have some questions for you, and you shall answer them all promptly, clearly, and above all honestly.” He didn't need to elaborate as to what would happen if Lowe chose not to comply. The threat was implicit, and hanging heavy in the air.

“Now, to begin. We are looking for a man named Faen. When did you last see him?"


“Oh aye, 'you have to see this, Faen, this wondrous apparition at the bottom the the big arse, dirty hole in the ground. Try not to break your neck getting down here!'” The Saint of Swords murmured under his breath, actually managing quite a convincing imitation of Ava's voice. Just what, in the name of Fusius' fusty codpiece, could be so interesting down there, he was sure he didn't know, but the quicker he got down there the quicker they could get back up and leave.

He leapt into the pit, landing lightly upon the balls of his feet, an impressive showing considering all the mud and roots down there. He's always been possessed of an excellent sense of balance, a trait that had held him in good stead during his careers as both a tumbler and an adventurer. It also helped him from falling onto his face when he was black-out drunk.

“So what. . .” He began before spotting the well carved wall and the mouldy door, a bizarre curio in the middle of a forest, “the hell is a door doing here?” Obviously Ava was as ignorant of the answer to that particular question as he was, deigning to shrug in place of offering a real answer. Perplexed, Faen stepped forwards to tap out a inquisitive knock upon the arched door. Time rotted hinges gave way at his touch, the door tottering backwards to crash into the darkness.

"Well. . . Damn." He peered into the confines of the building, but the innards were too shadowed to discern much. The air within smelt stale and heavy though, and that coupled with the state of the door made him suspect no one had been here in a while. It was probably safe in side, and provide them with somewhere to lay down their heads for the night.

"Could do with some lights." He suggested to Ava, who was only to quick to comply, conjuring up an even larger ball of flame than before, which she sent a few feet in front of them, illuminating the insides of the building. Faen drew his dagger, reversed the grip, and with his free hand palmed a throwing knife. Better have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.

"Shall we?" He asked his companion with a playful arch of his eyebrow before stepping into the mysterious building.
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