Discussion in 'THE ASCENDER CHRONICLES' started by Effervescent, Mar 4, 2017.

  1. [​IMG]

    Arabella followed close on the heels of Aegis as they left the upper room. A door cracked, and she cast her eyes towards it, and for one terrible moment she expected to find fog pouring out at them, corporeal and volatile, like a cornered animal, but somehow the sight of the girl - the screaming, crying girl - carried with it the same level of awesome fear. She knew what she'd heard in those terrible moments. It could only have been clearer if Danielle had been standing in front of her. Yet there she was, unscathed... wary, but alive. Arabella's eyes narrowing, she looked to the back of Alex's head... Their conversation was far from over. Whatever he had heard, it wasn't over.

    The driving silence in the tavern as they reached the foot of the stairs was unnerving enough that for a brief moment, she could put her concerns aside. At the scream that rose from beyond the door, though... that gut wrenching sob that only one who had endured loss could possibly fathom... Arabella forgot herself entirely, moving with the intent to step around Alex. It was only the ringing of steal as his sword was pulled free that stilled her, and pausing, she looked over his shoulders to the creature that stood on the other side of the doorframe.

    She had never seen a Gar'm... not in person, but she had heard of them, and somehow, she wasn't entirely surprised by the sense of indifference with which he addressed the Aegis. They didn't seem the sort to put much stock in position, and after her uncomfortable moment with Saren earlier, she could almost... almost appreciate the notion.

    "Threw himself to the..." She started to question, as she followed Alex beyond the threshold, but the words died out at the sight of the blood splashed against the opened door, the woman sobbing over the figure. She looked away quickly, and her stomach dropped, her eyes falling closed. Even now, so many years later, the vision of her father's body haunted her... It hadn't been a particularly violent end, but it clung to her mind, as fresh now as it had been then...

    This was carnage. This was violence unlike anything she had witness, and it took everything in her not to buckle. It was only the sobbing woman... His mother, no doubt, that kept Arabella from crumbling completely. It wasn't her right... falling apart.

    Curling her hands into fists tight enough that her nails bit painfully into her palms, she forced her eyes opened again, damp and red, and looked to Marnia, whose presence alone was oddly comforting.

    #101 Elle Joyner, Apr 2, 2018
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2018
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  2. Marnia Belhund
    squire to Aegis Vallane

    As they approached the darkened inn, with firelight the only illumination through the half-open door, Marnia caught a glimpse of a hand laying in a stream of light. As her eyes adjusted, it didn't take her long to connect the shadows leaned up against the foundations of the inn and form the whole picture - Hayden, his body rent and torn, his eyes lifeless as they stared out. No matter how many times she encountered the freshly dead, it was still a convolution her mind had trouble encompassing, that she had seen this boy alive not an hour ago, and now he lay here, an empty shell.

    The cry that Hayden's mother let fly tore apart the insides of her chest as the squire put a hand to her mouth and shut her eyes. But even behind closed eyelids, the sound continued - a primal, unearthly keening that sought to wind its way into the brain and grip one's throat. It was not a sound she was unfamiliar with, for the T'Ousand Rills were not kind to children, and ague season often brought about the keening from more than a single mother. But again, each time - that cry was unique and fresh and raw, as stark and bitter as the taste of blood.

    There was work still to be done, however. She opened her eyes and scanned about them, the dark seeming to encroach the inn, and her eyes snapped towards the door as she heard Alexander's voice.

    "State your nature!" the Aegis shouted, and Marnia let out a low sigh of relief. She was about to calm the older man, but Korvackt seemed perfectly capable of saying as much himself. She listened to Betta's explanation, the reason behind Hayden's seemingly suicidal run, and her eyebrows drew together. She had heard of those sorts of tales from her aunts and uncles, that sometimes people heard things that drew them out into the Fog, thinking they had seen or heard a lost loved one, or a child of theirs who had died, or even a pet. This, however, was the first time she had ever seen it with her own eyes. Hayden hadn't been in his right mind when he'd arrived, of course, but...

    Marnia strode forward toward her liege, and she glanced at the two girls behind him, automatically taking stock. So they were safe - a good sign. But what could all this mean?

    "We need to talk. 'N they ain't gonna be privy, neither," Marnia said in a low voice to him, standing nearly eye to eye with him, nose to nose, her usually cheerful face atypically somber. She nodded her head to the girls and those in the inn, before looking back to the Gar and Zahar.

    "I think it be best you come inside fer the mo," Marnia suggested.

    @Effervescent @rissa
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  3. Maes Harrow

    The face was obscured, somehow, though whether it was from vile twist of darkness or from some other means, Maes couldn’t tell. He stared at the crumbling ceiling, watching in cold ambivalence as the structure that he’d poured so much of himself into, the building that had housed his dear family for so long, broke down, dissolving into gray ash. Above him still stood the Robed Figure, still unknown and unknowable to the farmer, still unmoving. From within its endless covering, a blackened hand lined with the hard edge of death exposed itself to amble toward Maes’ chest. In response, the farmer’s heart began to beat with minutely more ferocity than it had been, as if the animal instinct to flee at least struggled against the ennui that otherwise held Maes in its grip. It was a vain effort; in beating the harder, Maes’ heart suddenly grew more weak from the exertion, and growing chill, it slowed to a mere patter. Lungs, diaphragm, all of his life-giving organs, began to simply give up the fight, and Maes breathed a single last sigh of relief as numbness overcame his body.

    A massive pressure fell onto his stomach, as if his mare had sat on it. As if it weren’t enough, lancing pain exploded within his chest, causing his heart to find purchase on its own rhythm. This caused a chain of awakenings within his body as blood infused with a life he couldn’t explain shot through his veins, permeating first his failing organs and then his decomposing frame. Color returned to his cheeks, fullness returned to his face, and strength returned to his limbs. The quilt, wrapped so tightly about him, loosed, and he shrugged it off with surprising ease.

    The Robed Figure recoiled in apparent confusion, retracting its hand in fear. Whistling filled the air, piercing and shrill. Arrows, as red as shed blood, blasted through the open doorway and impaled the Robed Figure through each limb. Each shaft was followed by lines of red that disappeared outside into the obscuring brilliance of the rising sun. Each line went taut and pulled, and the Robed Figure was drawn slowly but irresistibly out into the morning. And as the full might of the sun reached into the cottage, driving away every thought or rumor of shadow within its halls, Maes awoke with a start.

    His mouth tasted of iron, and his chest was sticky. He probed his shirt, checking what it might be. At the sight of the blood, Maes shivered and glanced around. Aveline seemed a little out of sorts, and the growing line of red on her palm confirmed his fear. Had … had she done her magic on him? Stomach churning in revulsion, Maes twisted around, trying to find his balance enough to at least sit up. And trying desperately to keep the bile threatening to rise below his mouth.

    Yet it seemed that the small group was not out of danger just yet, and Ender’s warning brought a panic to Maes’ heart. Casters, too? When would the madness end? But his limbs moved on their own, driven by the necessity to defend himself against the reported threat. He rose to his feet and hurriedly began searching for a weapon of some kind amidst the corpse-littered ground. Silently he regretted giving his sole knife to Geirolf, but how could he have known he’d need to defend himself so soon?

    Ah! A short sword. Grunting with the effort, Maes bent down and retrieved it, whispering a half-considered prayer for the soldier by which he found it. He weighed it in his hand as he hurried back to Ender’s side.

    “Okay! Er, now what?”

    @Effervescent @Shizuochan @CloudyBlueDay @Bears
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  4. Abrecan Scand

    Still he carved, even as the strength left his spindly fingers, even as his blade could scarce find purchase upon the shell of the summer-melon. Another hundred or so years, and the blade rusted over and splintered against the skin of the fruit, which remained unfathomably whole, reconstituting as Abrecan gnawed upon it with jagged edge. And when the jagged edge shattered into kaleidoscope pieces, he had set upon the carapace with gnarled nail, which had grown brittle and brown upon his fingers.

    It had been a thousand years more, perhaps, before Abrecan felt the pull of something other.

    “... a customer… do I hear a customer...?” He muttered to himself, glossy eyes widening as if he had glanced upon some grand revelation, “... all this work, and finally a customer. Oh dear… a customer at last, and I am still unfinished...”

    He lamented the monstrous inequity of it all, and awakened.

    He awakened to the taste of blood, and the stench of the dead. He awakened, and lashed out.

    “Is this the…” Abrecan began, and stopped just as suddenly, sputtering blood from his mouth, “... the fuck? Is this the extent of your protection?”

    He glared at Ender as he spewed his vitriol, as he killed the thespian-sensibilities, the disingenuous kindness of his voice. His calloused hand reached for the knife upon his person, as his mind desperately fended off the possibility of remembering.
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  5. Saren Dynagra
    The Soper Inn and Tavern

    Saren trailed behind the Aegis, keeping abreast of the Dane woman. Her eyes darted feverishly from one side of the hall to the other, from the ceiling to the floor and down again as if the shadows in the corners might suddenly morph into a fog that would creep out and wrap around her in a suffocating, deathly grip. She kept her hands clutched tightly in the folds of her cloak, the rich red folds concealing their subtle trembling.

    A side door opened and she started, relief flooding her as Danielle’s face appeared. More than the ease of knowing there was no immediate threat, a heavier burden ascended from her shoulders. Nothing we’ve done has brought harm to her. She’s alright. She’ll be alright. We did nothing wrong. I did nothing wrong. Clinging recklessly to that thoughtful hope, she hurried to make up the distance she had lost between herself and the others while she’d been busy gawking.

    The sight that greeted her at the bottom of the staircase churned her stomach to the beat of the woman’s pained wailing. Her muscles felt soft, robbing her of strength. She reached out to tightly grasp the back of a nearby chair to steady herself, quickly ducking her head away from the gruesome sight that was now forever burned in her memory.

    Guilty. We’re guilty. We brought this here. I’ve done this.

    Hearing the Aegis bark out a sharp command, her head snapped up, and eyes widened. A hideous monstrosity stood outside, a monster that looked ready to pounce and tear her apart for her sins. A muffled scream tore out of her throat and she stumbled backward, her hands feverishly groping for some kind of weapon or shield. When they found none, she panicked, her breaths coming in quick rasps. Her gaze was drawn again to the carnage at the door, and combined with her rioting terror, the last of her self-control dissipated and she sank to the floor with a quiet whimper, staring aimlessly into the distance.
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  6. [​IMG]

    The second scream came from behind her and all comfort went dark for a moment as Arabella spun to their noble companion, half afraid she might find some remnant of whatever terror had undone Hayden lingering within the tavern.

    But somehow the sight of Lady Dynagra, so shaken, weeping on the floor was all the more shocking. And clarifying. Her own fears, her own grief somehow felt inconsequential at the sight of one so defiant to the confines of emotions, breaking down...

    Blinking, Bells stepped forward, apprehensively at first, then with just a touch more confidence, and dropping down before the woman, she stretched out a hand, touching Saren's shoulder with a cautious delicacy.

    "...Come now, Lady Dynagra. The floor is no place for a woman of your status." Dropping her hand to her side, she stared ahead, frowning in thought. There was no sense asking if she was alright. None of them were. Not really, "Take courage, and up with you... Let's see about making you some tea."

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    Pulling herself up, Aveline grunted. The visions the shade had implanted were but one of the many horrors Aveline was used too, and she knew it would take more than that to keep her down. It had been some time, but if she was quick about it, maybe she could still catch at least one of the casters. It was then that Ender came running in, her eyes narrowing. “Oh, look. The coward. I assume your shade was pleasant?” A mean spirited joke, and her words were filled with venom. Obviously he hadn’t had such luck as the rest of them. Peculiar how easily he could disappear when he was actually needed.

    With a huff Ave brushed herself off and took her knife out once more, this time in the hand which was not bleeding freely. She made it a point to brush past Ender as she pulled her sleeve down and clenched it against her bleeding palm.

    If these people would not trust her.. Maybe it was time for her leave. Perhaps she could come with a trophy or two from her excursion to spare her the wrath of, well, whoever the hell was to punish her or the High Ruler herself.

    Their darkened souls stuck out to her like splatters of ink on a canvas. And now she was filled with fury, the vigor to fight. Before she flung open the door she could sense the presence of two right behind the door, and as she chanted beneath her breath, blood soaked knife gripped tight in her other hand.

    Aveline kicked open the door with a burst of power, hoping it was enough to alarm the other as she plunged her knife into the first, chanting under her breath, allowing poison to overtake him.
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  8. Hadoume

    A waltzing step, a halting breath, and all the silence in between. His hand caressed the metal pommel of a hilt that drew the song of steel from its sheath, the narrowing eyes of focus and calculation fixed upon the sounds about the darkened halls just outside the door. Aveline shifted the play as blood painted the skin of her palm and the force of her food thrust open the door.

    Wood cracked and splintered from being forced out of its hinges and without hesitation she used her momentum to strike the first opponent. Her dagger sunk freely into the shoulder of a man who cried out in pain. His voice was hollowed under a mask of gilded bone; the visage of a human skull in detailed silver.

    The incantation turned her blood to poison that trickled down the dagger, merging with his own pooling crimson and igniting further pain. There was a fraction of a moment of hesitation before Ender pushed past the Blood Mage in pursuit of the next, almost as if he knew where they could be hiding in the darkened halls of Hadoume. In the same moment, the attacker retaliated, striking out towards Aveline with his own serrated blade towards her torso.

    “Watch your backs!” he called out as he raced down the hall to the midway point where it opened to another path. Immediately around the corner was another just as predicted, and in instinctive reaction he engaged swiftly with a swipe of his own dagger.

    As Ender moved down the hall to disrupt the gauntlet, a cloaked figure coalesced into the storage room nearly merging with the shadows within. The figure’s silhouette was dark, the face defined only by the metallic mask. Arms rose up in a spell cast, wrists upturning the palms as the figure conjured a beam of pure Shadow towards Maes and Abrecan.

    You are engaged with what is apparently Shadow Casters. So far there are three visible: one Aveline has stabbed, one Ender is attacking, and one that has come in behind Maes and Abrecan through the window. There may be others, but for now feel free to write out your characters’ attacks and have the Casters fight back how you see fit. These you can kill if you like!

    @CloudyBlueDay @Red Thunder @Shizuochan

    The Soper Tavern and Inn

    It took the collection of the Squire Belhund to bring Alexander’s blade down. She looked serious and focused as she quietly urged a private meeting with nearly all but those in their care and the remaining tavern and inn employees. He did not need to glance back at them to follow her line of sight. It was evident who Marnia wishes to keep from whatever dimmed the squire’s demeanor.

    “We can’t leave them alone,” Alexander reminded. “They will have to remain close by and in our sights.”

    “I’m not going through that door,” Korvakt cut in with his booming, guttural tone. “Not that I don’t want to. You humans are small.”

    The door to the tavern and inn was not as wide as the residences tended to make their own. Even still, it was a slight exaggeration from the Gar, for with a bit of side stepping and bending the imposing figure could potentially fit through. It was, perhaps, meant in jest, the dryness stale above the sobbing mother. He did not smile, either. Could Gar smile?

    Alexander scrutinized the Gar with a narrowed gaze as he turned to the tavern entrance. Korvakt scoffed in a snort, though said nothing more in the matter as he followed behind the humans to the quiet structure. Pausing at the inconsolable mother, he knelt beside her and spoke lowly to her.

    “I’ll see to it Eudicia falls,” he promised. “I’ll help you bury him when business is done.” She was unable to respond with any vocalization, her voice hitched and blubbering as she pat his paw-like hand in appreciation.

    The tavern and inn was a quiet space, eerily set within the fading light of dusk. Korvakt managed to maneuver inside the doorway, albeit with some difficulty, and stood with horns barely brushing the sturdy support beams. “Make it quick,” he said to the gathered. “I’ve got promises I intend to keep.”

    “We all do,” Alexander said.

    Marnia nodded where she was, and she looked up at those who chose to remain there with some solemnity. Her grave news seemed to etch her scars deeper into her skin with a frown.

    “Obviously Eudicia’s here. Before we got ‘ere, I were attacked by Shadow Magic of a kind ‘r summat. Made me think I was with you in Redden. It were…. I nearly had the wool pulled over my eyes, but I stuck to my blade, didn’t give ‘me what they asked for - our orders.” Here she gestured to herself and to Alex.

    “The rest you know, but Korvakt, y’ don’t. He’s part o’ Blacktalon. Eudicia took some o’ their own. Seems they’s only interested in humans though,” Marnia said. “And humans who can fight. Muscle. I dunno why they want Miss Dane and Dynagra. No offense, but that don’t fit Korvakt ‘n all ‘is supposin’ they want the burly ones. This’s were a plant… ‘n he worked too well.”

    Korvakt turned his attention to the two women Marnia had previously desired to be left out of the briefing. “Mmpf,” he snorted, “maybe they’re looking for assets on all fronts. They don’t really fit what I’ve seen going on, but that doesn’t mean we overlook it.”

    He pointed a claw in the direction of Saren as he motioned to her overall appearance. “She looks like money,” he observed, and then turned the focus to Arabella. “Her, though. There must be something more to her.”

    Alexander looked from the two in their care to Marnia at the observation from the Gar. “It would explain why they are targeted,” he said, and turned to Korvakt. “But it doesn’t explain their motives. Did your surviving members glean anything from their experiences with Eudicia?”

    “I’ve only had one taken and return so far,” Korvakt corrected. “Apart from Hayden. She’s not been the same, so I’ve given her leave. Well, within reason. She’s still under our care at the Keep. She only got back to us… mmm… six days ago so we’ve not gotten anything out of her.”

    “If they are targeting people with some sort of power or influence,” Alexander said, “then this merits further investigations that may go beyond cordiality. This could be a precursor to a civil war.”

    Looking between Saren and Arabella, Alexander began to question every step beyond this point. Not only did they have to insure the safety of the two women - that for some reason now did not fit the profile of what Eudicia was targeting - but they had to continue with their own mission as sanctioned by the Aegis. As the commanding officer, it was his duty to define their next course of action.

    “Our options are becoming more limited with each passing day,” he said. “Lady Dynagra And Miss Dane have been targeted by Eudicia, and they grow ever closer to capture. I would like to consult with my people before offering up a proposition to benefit the both of us.”

    Korvakt shrugged. “Do what you like,” he said. “But you’ll have to go off instead of me. I’m not squeezing myself in and out of this hole on your whims.”

    With an agreeing nod, Alexander motioned for his group to follow him into the kitchen to speak a little more privately. Once everyone gathered, he spoke in a low tone out of sight from the gar to conduct their business.

    “Blacktalon is a mercenary gang,” he explained. “By the sound of it a capable one also investigating Eudicia. They have someone who has survived we might be able to question depending on their mental state. I propose we buy their services as protection, perhaps utilizing Lady Dynagra’s status to elevate their cooperation, with your permission of course, and then we can look into learning what they know about Eudicia through this. Miss Dane could be of great help in garnering trust with the victim if you’d be up for the task. We all have strengths we could use to help us in this endeavor. But please, if you do not agree or do not wish to participate or even perhaps have a better plan, I would like to hear it. The safety of Lady Dynagra and Miss Dane takes precedence.”

    @Doctor Jax @rissa @Elle Joyner @Starlighter
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  9. Marnia Belhund

    The squire listened patiently to her liege's suggestion, her eyes flickering to Korvackt to see his expression. Her natural distrust raised its ugly head for a moment at the thought of working with so uncouth a creature - but she remembered quickly that he had thus far cooperated. He was their best lead on Eudicia and, yes, perhaps knew far more than either she or Alex had managed to glean on the shadowy organization that was set on kidnapping their charges. Having more hands on deck would be the smartest course of action, as she had the feeling that just two sets of swords would not be enough.

    "Aye. I'll throw m' sword in with Blacktalon. I dunno if the High Queen would want us to truck with 'em, but I guess this could be considered a, uh.... what's-it... an extenuatin' circumstance," Marnie agreed. "Though I imagine they don't come cheap, nor easy."

    She glanced over at Dynagra, wondering if the girl would fork over potential coin, or stake it on her name. Then again, what other choice did she have? It was that, or walk with only two swords beside her against a whole demon's breadth of Shadowmen. She crossed her arms, and all of a sudden the weight of all that had happened fell upon her. The day had been long, and it felt like ages since she'd had proper rest. It'd been but a few hours, but travel and danger had begun to hang weights on her bones. She rubbed her eyes, momentarily swaying. It didn't help that her constitution had never truly recovered. They all needed rest.

    "Perhaps, though, it'd be best to have us a good shuteye before makin' hasty decisions though," Marnie said, yawning mid-sentence. "Things look clearer under mornin's light anyhow."

    @Effervescent @Starlighter @rissa @Elle Joyner
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  10. [​IMG]

    Tea, it seemed, would have to wait. As they were summoned by the Aegis, Arabella followed the others to where they had gathered. The conversation was difficult to keep up with, and not solely due to Marnia's accent, which seemed thicker in her state of anxiety. There were so many variables, so many unanswered questions, and for the life of her, Arabella couldn't see the forest through the trees. She didn't particularly understand why she had been targeted, either, and hearing the Gar's comments drove a spike of uneasiness through her that carried through the expression in her eyes... “Her, though. There must be something more to her.”

    What more could there be? What would paint a target on her so bright that a gang like Eudicia would come after her? She was no one, and had never done anything special. She was just a serving girl. What more was there?

    As the conversation turned in her direction, she straightened, and Alexander's words rolled over her like a wave. Garnering trust with the victim?

    "I...I suppose I could try. I would like to help."

    Marnia spoke up and Arabella's gaze flickered over to her. She had a point... They had been traveling for a good while, now, and the events of the day were draining. But somehow the idea of sleep seemed less comforting than Bells would have hoped. The image of the poor boy outside lingered in her mind... the screams she had heard. And more than that, there was the worry. She was a target, and she couldn't ignore that, but more than worrying for herself, Arabella's concerns were for the people who had thrown in their lot with her. Without meaning to, she had put their lives at risk, and it was a burden she didn't want...

    Her father had been murdered in his sleep because he had tried to protect her from the unwanted advances of a coward. How many more people had to die, unnecessarily? The risk outweighed the gain, but there seemed to be no way out of it. Alexander and Marnia would never walk away, and leaving on her own would only make matters worse.

    Maybe sleep would be the best course of action... Or at least a decent enough distraction from the frustrating thoughts raging through her mind.
    #110 Elle Joyner, Jun 4, 2018
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2018
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  11. Maes and Abe - credits to @Red Thunder


    Maes cut to the side, toward the door through which Ender had disappeared suddenly, throwing himself unceremoniously against the wall with a dull thud. The roiling mass of blackness meant for him smashed through the abandoned space and impacted the far wall. Sword still clutched securely but awkwardly in hand, as if it were some lifeline he didn’t quite know what to do with, Maes scrambled to his feet.

    “Abe!” he huffed, breath short with adrenaline and eyes trained on the enemy. “You okay?”

    “Verily…” Abrecan’s response came from beside Maes, uttered through gritted teeth and labored breath, “Move!

    The caster’s arms, wreathed in darkness, were in motion again. Abrecan’s calloused hands briefly grazed the farmer, as if he had intended to move the man out of harm’s way, before thinking better of the laborious task. He flung himself against the opposing wall, shoulder barging painfully into stone.

    Twisting blackness once again barreled toward them. Maes found himself alone as his companion dodged to the side, escaping the attack by moments. Eyes shifting nervously from friend to foe, the farmer wracked his brain, trying to consider a plan of action of any kind. But nothing came to mind; his experience was one of slow labor and not fast paced combat. So he did the first thing he could think of. Screaming at the top of his lungs, Maes sprinted at the Shadow Caster, sword held high with both hands. And the Caster, hand emanating darkness, stepped forward to meet the charge, caught Maes’ face in his hand, and lifted him off the stone floor.

    Behind them, Abrecan shuffled alongside the wall, searching for an escape that never presented itself. A curse escaped like a whistle between pursed lips, as he brought his dagger to bear. His face grimaced, and settled into a reluctant, angry resolve.

    He bound to the opposite wall again before leaping forward, hoping that Maes’ body would serve as an adequate blindspot. His roar faded into a shrill rasp as it died in his mouth, and he realized that it would not.

    The Caster heaved the farmer towards the con, the latter having barely enough time to move his dagger out of the way before being struck by the man’s weight. And not one to scorn opportunity, he raised a hand toward them, almost lazy in surety. A shadow of deeper darkness than was natural crept toward them along the floor, slow but unpreventable. The stone it infected withered, crumbling to ash where it touched.

    Maes’ grip, already tenuous with inexperience and fear, broke with the force of the Caster’s brute strength. Positioned as it was above the farmer’s head in attack, it fell toward its intended target, striking the metal mask with a sharp ringing tone. Though it lacked the force of a true swing, the blade still managed to bite into the metal mask he wore and drag it heavily across his face. The mask’s sharp edge caught in flesh, tearing into it deeply with bloody reveal. Screaming angrily in pain, the Caster doubled over as he raised a hand to his wound in an attempt to stem the blood flow. The shadow disappeared, the Caster’s attention elsewhere.

    Maes groaned, untangling himself from Abrecan even as the sword hit the floor. He grabbed a hold of Abe’s shirt and pulled, trying to help him up.

    “C’mon! We have to go!”

    “Obviously!” the conman grunted as he rose, the flowery affectations of his speech thoroughly forgotten. Exasperation colored his expression, before his eyes caught the sight of the pained Caster, and went alight with the gleaming spark of the opportunist. “... he’s… not casting…”

    Almost immediately, he pulled at Maes’ hand again, placing his dagger nearabouts the farmer’s palm, “He’s bleeding. You. You finish him.”

    The farmer’s face paled in response, and his hand refused to close around the hilt.

    F-finish him? This isn’t some animal we’re about to eat; this is a person!” Stammering, Maes looked at their enemy, trying his best to suss out another means of protecting themselves. Another means of subduing the threat. “What if- what if we break his arms instead? We don’t need to kill him!”

    Some distance away, the screaming was lessening, turning to a thin hiss as Shadow magic stitched the wound together in slow and unnatural repair. It wouldn’t last, and in some small time, it was likely to set the wound to rot; shadow magic was not meant for healing. But it would give the Caster time, and that was good enough. For now, however, he remained doubled over against the immobilizing pain, giving the duo some small time yet.

    Abrecan’s gaze twitched and fluttered with uncertainty, blinking to and from the shadowy stitches and the farmer’s reluctant hand. He prodded the hilt once more towards Maes’ palm, and perhaps another half-prod before relenting.

    “You… you coward.” Abrecan spat, frightful. “I will do it.”

    He consolidated the knife into his grasp once more, and made for the helpless one.

    “No, you won’t!”

    Rushing forward, Maes took hold of Abrecan’s wrist and darted through the outer door, back toward the open alleyways. Beyond, the cart stood as it had been left, braced against a few rocks to prevent it from rolling off. Abe was drawn along in the farmer’s irresistible grip, pulled away from his target and out under the sky. Behind them, the Caster growled angrily at his retreating prey, and with slow heavy steps, he followed.

    “You mad dog,” Abrecan yelped, wrist straining and reddening beneath the laborer’s deathlock. His head moved wildly upon his neck with the jolt of a thrashing fit, torn between the knife and the imminent shadow of the Caster. And all the while, the Caster trudged on as if a force of nature unbound, draped and woven in shadow. He would be upon them.

    Somehow, Abrecan freed himself from Maes’ grasp, perhaps aided and abetted by the slick of their perspiration. The knife, miraculously still in hand, flashed in a flicker of steel, before vanishing, as if magicked out of existence.

    One could hear the clink of steel on stone, the blade having bounded off a mound of viscera unto the road. Before them there was only the Caster, and his arm, wreathed in black, fist clenched from having batted the weapon away. Sneering in a horrifying grimace, he opened his fist and began raising his fingers toward Abe.

    Suddenly, the Caster’s head was snapped back forcefully, as if someone had taken hold of his hair and yanked it behind him. A greenish sphere bounced off his face with a crack, crushing the man’s nose against his face and spraying blood in every direction. A few bits of green rind and yellow vegetable flesh stuck to his face as he fell, and the impromptu missile fell to the ground alongside him.

    Maes lifted another green round vegetable in his hand, ready to let loose another barrage. It seemed it would be unnecessary; the Caster lay for the time unconscious in the street, and the farmer breathed a hesitant sigh of relief.

    “Looks like his intentions have been squashed.”

    Abrecan, delirious, could only laugh.
    #111 Shizuochan, Jun 15, 2018
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 11, 2018
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  12. Saren Dynagra
    The Soper Inn and Tavern
    Slowly, Saren forced her head to rise enough to look Arabella in the face. Her shoulder twitched nearly imperceptibly at the bare touch, and she recoiled ever so slightly. With a hefty sniff that might have been a sneer or an attempt to curtail her sobbing, she latched onto the nearest chair and hauled herself upright, glowering ferociously. Before she could compose herself enough to speak steadily, the two Aegis and the Gar took up their discussion, and she fell silent. Throughout the entire discourse she remained quiet, gradually evening her breaths and steadying the rate of her heart.

    By the time their small gathering took to the kitchen, she once again held her head high, and all traces of tears and terror had been subdued. Though her face was neutral, her eyes were cold.

    Before giving her answer, Saren paused to consider the matter, her gaze directed at the ovens, but her focus somewhere far more distant. Her hands, previously held neatly before her, now clenched tightly into fists. As convenient as a simple yay or nay might have been, it felt ill advised to make a decision without fully considering the risks and rewards.

    She released a slow sigh, and dipped her head in a half nod towards Alexander. Ultimately, there was no real choice. Survival had to take precedence over other concerns. She’d be glad to have something to worry about later. As long as there was a later to worry about. “Whatever you need that I can provide, you shall have,” she said at length, resigned to the burden of necessity.
    • Nice execution! Nice execution! x 3

    Sure her plunge of the knife would incapacitate him, Aveline focused all her energy into the chant that would poison his blood. She was foolish to think she had won so quickly, and when the knife came for her side, she reacted too late to stop it. It sliced through cloth and flesh and Aveline cringed, hand falling to her side as blood crept through her fingertips. Letting out a string of curses, she pulled her blade free of the man’s shoulder, and inserted it into his chest.

    The caster sunk to the ground and Aveline pulled her knife free, hissing through the pain that originated from the wound in her side. It wasn’t over yet. With a limp in her step, Aveline pushed forward in the direction she had seen Ender take off towards.

    She found him engaged with another caster in the hallway, Maker knows where the other two bumbling idiots were. As she slowly crept into view, trying to get a better sense of who had the upper hand, she couldn’t help but feel as if Ender was holding back. That, or he just didn’t know how to fight, which she hardly believed.

    Gritting her teeth, Aveline crept up behind the shadow caster and pulled him off of Ender with a grunt plunged her blood soaked knife into his chest. Once more she sent poison through the writhing caster’s body with a chant under breath, and sent his twitching form to the floor.

    With a deep breath, Aveline returned her hand to her side, bright glowing eyes staring back at Ender. “You couldn’t even handle the one?” She deadpanned, followed by a wince. “Are there are any more? We should get out of this wretched place if not.”

    @Effervescent (@SquashBros)
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  14. Hadoume

    Another body down slipping with the potency of poison coursing through their blood, pushed through by Aveline’s blade without remorse or second thought. Her quip to Ender did not register in his mind at first, eyes fixated on the figure as breath hitched in their chest. Casually, she posed her question, muffled by the heartbeat drumming in his ears. He looked over at her almost begging for her to repeat her words with a pointed expression of confusion.

    “More?” He repeated the word as if it were foreign, but only for a moment before he shook his head. “Likely so, but-“

    A scream of pain resounded from the storage room where Abrecan and Maes were left to defend themselves. The pair took their fight out from the room into the courtyard with the enemy not too far behind them, unmasked and spattered in red.

    Shadows loomed with the palest of light slipping through the windows providing just enough to see each other’s silhouettes. Ender was left to navigate down the darkened hall with intent to aid the others in their pursuer.

    Aveline carries the advantage in her magic. Their souls would glow like white fire in the pitch, each with subtle differences to denote their identities. Down the hall leading out to the courtyard, she would be able to note three distinct souls faintly glimmering behind the stone walls. Abrecan and Maes rushes from the scene, and while their attacker had melted into the shadows she could still see the glaring soul.

    Another soul remained within the storage room Ender nearly passed. He caught sight of the silhouette of Geirolf and paused. “Come on!” he beckoned.

    To Aveline, Geirolf’s soul flickered a bit more thickly, and as he took a step there was a noticeable shift, almost as if it were elongating and then breaking in two. Only she could see the hidden individual tucked away in the dark spaces of the storage room, and before anyone could register a stranger in their midst, the darkness within grew.

    Black enveloped the back portion of the room and consumed Geirolf before dissipating. Aveline could watch as three souls turned to one in an instant, and Ender was left with nothing but unsettling silence that pushed on his ears.

    Geirolf was gone, and he didn’t even have a mark.

    Ender lingered in the doorway for only a moment, body tense with a brief thought that dissipated with focus towards those that remained. By the time either of them reached the pair the fight had come to a close with the last aggressor lying unconscious on the dirt courtyard.

    Glancing down at the bleeding figure, Ender pursed his lips, brow furrowing in a thought he elected not to share as he knelt down to study the unconscious man. He turned his head where he clasped the stubbled chin. The blow to his head would be survivable with the proper medical aide, but it was more likely to claim a slow death.

    “Pack up,” he said as he peeled open one of the man’s eyelids. His dark eyes were rolled upwards in his state with the whites more prevalent. Something about the man’s appearance struck Ender, the uniformed man eventually rising to march into the halls where the other two bodies lay motionless from Aveline’s quick skill.

    As he investigated the fallen, there was almost an urgency as he removed the metal masks from their faces and checked them over right down to their lifeless eyes. Mask still clasped in his hand, Ender rocked back to sit beside the body as if in relief. But he would not allow himself to linger for long.

    Collecting himself quickly, Ender gathered what remained of what little they had to begin with and entered the courtyard. “They were lackeys,” he explained. “The pick-up crew. Looks like they were sloppy. The last one took Geirolf instead of either of you, so we need to get a move on before they figure out their mistake. Give me your marks.”

    He waited near impatiently to be handed over the pieces of paper they had received with the mark of a bladed flower drawn onto its fibers. In a swift motion he would take his fingers and tear through the parchment right through the insignia, a soft unnatural pop emanating through the sound of torn paper.

    A curse escaped through his teeth, and he looked to Aveline. She would know from the pop the ink had been laced with blood; blood that was used to track them to Hadoume and would have likely been a beacon for each step. And for the first time since their convergence, Ender looked as though he did not have all the answers lined up to his lips. They parted, but the wander in his eyes as he looked out at the creeping light of dawn kept his words at bay as he searched the fading night for some semblance of direction.

    “We can still lose them in the Winded Woods,” he said. “There are people in there who know it better than anyone and can get us through.”

    Ender suggests pressing on, but that does not mean you have to agree! Do you see a better path to take? What are your thoughts of his behavior? It may seem he knows more than he is letting on.

    There are supplies to gather for the trip, and the horse needs to be hitched to the cart before leaving. Debates and inspection of bodies are welcome! If you do inspect a body, please let me know so I can provide details!

    Are there any injuries? Just because Ender doesn’t notice doesn’t mean it should go unheard!

    Your character doesn’t have to give their mark. Just state as such! Feel free to question the motives.

    A lot has happened to give your characters things to react to, so please engage in retrospect!

    @CloudyBlueDay Aveline will notice the pop as a blood tracking spell. There would be no indication of blood being laced in the ink at a glance, and this is a new discovery in the plot surrounding Eudicia. No one ever suspected blood magic to be involved, much less the marks given to targets being used to track the whereabouts of their victims. It would appear suspicious that Ender just happened to guess this given the investigations never thought to look for such a thing before.

    @Shizuochan Abrecan’s extensive background as a conman makes him keen to liars and suspicious activities. Ender is quickly becoming recognizable as a conman himself. While his angle is not yet known, he would be able to tell Ender is facing a moral dilemma that is breaking down the facade.

    @Red Thunder there’s a sense Maes gets that Ender is confused by the appearance of the man he and Abe took down in the courtyard. Not so much familiarity, but perhaps expecting it? He does, after all, rush off into the fort in the direction they came after seeing the man almost as if in dedicated search for more answers. Maes would also be keen to the conflict that seems to stump Ender before he makes the decision to continue their trek to the Winded Woods. He would be more aware of travel and distance and know they would reach the Winded Woods by nightfall with little stops. His horse is rested but still at an unease in Hadoume.

    @CloudyBlueDay @Red Thunder @Shizuochan

    The Soper Tavern and Inn

    The kitchen held just enough room for the group to huddle next to the stove still warm from dinner. Alexander’s plate armor clicked against the stonework as he shifted his stance, eyes searching Saren for a moment as he tried to gauge her willingness to cooperate. It was a lot to ask of her, even just for show.

    “None of us have the money to pay them upfront,” he continued as he addressed them all. “Lady Dynagra is only to suggest further incentive. It could also help their desire to protect you for the larger payout, but I don’t plan on you having to pay a penny when this is all said and done. I can petition the High Queen for the proper compensation. The plan will be to work with this organization. Marnia, Zahar, and I will focus more on gathering information about the Blacktalon right down to anything we can use to our favor without getting on their bad side. Perhaps anything criminal we can look to pardon or offer them a voice in any concern. I would like to avoid anything nefarious.”

    Turning to the two women under their charge, Alexander’s tone took on more warmth and less command. “We won’t have you out of our sights,” he said. “We all need to agree to work together in this, not just for your safety but to figure out a way to end what plagues Estwynd. We can’t live like this forever, and we still don’t know to what end they operate. The proposition will be to line their pockets richly in exchange for aid both in protection and in investigation.”

    There was a moment of uncertainty as he exhaled a wavering breath and turned to the tavern’s main hall. Negotiations were not common for the Aegis, at least not on such a scale as this. He and Marnia dealt more with protective details and escorts for diplomats as of late. The gar was intimidating and imposing in his lack of knowledge about them. Even as he stepped back into the room where Korvakt patiently waited he couldn’t help but note the length of his claws like scythes.

    “What’s the verdict, then?” Korvakt prompted.

    “Payment for the services of Blacktalon in exchange for protection and information,” Alexander proposed.

    “You got that payment upfront, then?”

    It was an anticipated reaction, but one Alexander hoped not to face. His head shook in response. “Obviously, no,” he said. “We had to leave Redden in a hurry to save the lives of Lady Dynagra and Miss Dane. But you will be compensated not just for your cooperation with the Aegis but for the protection of a wealthy Heiress.”

    The gar’s dark eyes flecked over to observe Saren with scrutiny as if to validate the claims through her appearance alone. A snort escaped him in a thoughtful huff and turned back to Alexander. “I’ll need this in writing,” he said. “I don’t do business without contracts.”

    “Understandably,” Alexander replied. It seemed Korvakt was willing to collaborate in their efforts to which he would gladly draft and sign a contract to insure it. And so as he encouraged the others to get some rest, he sat outside the rooms to write up a contract until it would be Marnia’s shift to watch over the rooms. Korvakt had gone out that night to bury Hayden behind his mother’s home and assured them he would return in the morning, though would not be stuffing himself back inside the tavern door.

    The morning came with breakfast served as best as the Soper establishment could muster. There was still a somber quality to the air, the spaces quiet apart from the clatters of plates and utensils in the kitchen. Betta’s eyes were still red and puffy from crying, her lips pulled to a thin line in emotional restraint as she focused her mind to her tasks about the tavern and inn.

    Alexander met with Korvakt on what little lawn the tavern and inn held at its entrance. The two discussed the details and eventually their signatures etched the parchment in distinctive scrawl.

    “I’ll let my people know you’re coming,” he said. “We’re currently stationed in the Labyrinth a little north of here. You’ll have an easier time spotting us from the air.”

    “You’re sure you’ll make it there before we do…” Alexander knew their gryphons were quick and unhindered by the obstacles of terrain, and so he could not be sure their only ally would make it to his camp before them. But Korvakt chuckled to brush off the Aegis’ concern.

    “Just give me a head start if you’re really that worried about my people,” he said.

    Their parting was lighthearted and encouraging. Alexander felt a semblance of hope and a bit more comfort than the previous night as he rejoined his traveling companions for breakfast. The night had been a heavy one for the lot of them that plead for reprieve. But it would be a long time before any of them could find complete comfort.

    The night has rolled into the morning with negotiations coming to a close. Feel free to write if your character manages to sleep or if they fail and remain exhausted. If they dream, consider what they went through and how that would affect their dreams. If they couldn’t manage sleep, what exactly kept them awake?

    @Doctor Jax Marnia can attend the contract signing and she would have likely been consulted in the details of the document before they changed shifts the previous night. She would be privy to what the contract entails, which is essentially what was agreed upon the night before. The contract states that Blacktalon will be compensated for their work per agreed terms, but in no way holds Lady Dynagra as a benefactor.

    @rissa Zahar is not required to take any shifts or help protect Saren and Arabella, but he is always welcome to volunteer. He would be able to tell Alexander is appreciative of his presence and help so far and includes him as a member of the team but it’s clear Alexander won’t ask too much of him.

    If anyone has any questions for Alexander in regards to the agreement, I can give you the answer for you to include in your post. If not, they should gather their belongings and head for the stables to retrieve their gryphons. It will be early morning when they leave where the sun just yellows the horizon.

    @Doctor Jax @rissa @Elle Joyner @Starlighter
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  15. [​IMG]

    Mist pooled around her ankles in swirling patterns, the damp dew of the grass cool on her bare feet. She had fallen asleep sometime after their small group had adjourned, and somehow... now... she found herself in a wide, open field,

    A crow called and Bell looked up to see the black winged bird flash across an indigo sky, silky feathers illuminated by the light of the moon. In the distance, beyond the treeline, something fluttered. Behind her sounded a growl, low ad guttural. Her breath escaped in a plume of vapor, and as blood began to pulse in her ears, a pounding tattoo against the near silent night, she could think only of one thing... Eudicia.

    Nearly slipping on the slick grass, Bell ran for the trees, glancing back over her shoulders to see it ... the fog, blocking shapes and light and sounds. In her mind she could see him, splayed by the door of the Inn... his torso marred, a mess of reds and deep purples and grey... In her mind, she could see the open, empty pools that were his eyes, the slack of his mouth, a cry of fear trapped forever on his visage.

    Quickening her pace, she poured into the trees, poured beneath their canopy, into pure, unrelenting darkness. The fog pressed on. A root snagged her ankle and Bell fell, toppled to her hands and knees, smacking hard into brittle leaves and mud.

    Behind her... the growl resonated, louder... closer.

    "No..." She whispered, as tears stung at her eyes, "Please... no."

    Suddenly, a light, piercing a bright pulsed ahead of her, a small flicker, at first, then brighter and brighter. Her eyes moved towards it and it grew, wider and longer, a figure appearing, silhouetted behind it. His voice spoke, warm and tender through the darkness, and a shiver coursed her spine.

    "Oh, Bells... Don't be afraid, my little one. All will be well, in time."

    "...P...papa?" Looking up, Arabella breathed in, ""

    "You're dreaming, I'm afraid. Come. Walk with me. I'll hold the fog as long as I can."

    Rising to her feet, Arabella glanced behind her, to see that the fog had ceased its movement, "How did you--"

    "...It's only a dream, Bells. Come along."

    She followed him, and for a time, they walked in silence, the only sounds the shudder of the trees as wind whispered through the branches, or the odd crack of a twig beneath her feet. There was a sense of peace in that silence... a feeling that Arabella had not felt for some time.

    "Papa. I'm scare." She finally said, her soft voice damaging the quiet with a punctuated sigh.

    "I know, Bells. As you should be. What you are facing, little one? It is no small thing, and you are wise to fear it. But you mustn't give in to that fear. For you are not alone."

    "...I.. I have you..."

    A soft laugh escaped her father's lips, "You will always have me, my darling. But I was referring to your companions.

    "I'm not so sure..."

    "What do you mean?"

    "...Marnia is wonderful, and I know that she will protect us. But the others? Lady Dynagra hates me. For what I am... for what you were. Zahar... he seems conflicted. And Alex..."

    "You must trust him."


    "Listen to me, Bells." He turned to her and she could feel his hands on her shoulders, giving them a firm squeeze, "If you hear nothing else... if you remember nothing else from this dream, when you wake. You must trust the Aegis."


    "He will guard you with his life. He will keep you safe."

    "How do you know, Papa?" She asked, with a small sniff.

    "...Because he already has."

    "The Fog? At the Inn?"

    "No, my love. Think... It's there, in your mind, but you're afraid to grasp it. Afraid of what it could mean. But I know it's there..."

    He released her and Arabella stepped back, eyes widening, "...That night... When you were..." Trailing off, her hands stifled a small gasp, as she shook her head, "It can't be!"

    "Oh, my little darling. I think you know it is. I think you've always know."

    "Oh, Papa..." Lowering her hands, her eyes filled again, and he reached up to brush a thumb across her cheeks.

    "...Be fair to him. He carried a great deal upon his shoulders. I'm sure he would have told you in time. I must go, Bells. And you must wake."

    "Don't go, Papa. Please, don't..."

    "You know I must. But I promise you, I will be with you, always." Leaning forward, he pressed a kiss to her forehead, and in a moment's time, Arabella woke to find herself in the darkness of the room, tears leaving streams down her cheeks.

    Later, as the sat for breakfast, the sky outside lightning its pitch, she wore distraction like a cloak, her mind revolving around the dream, around the words her father had spoken. When first they met, she thought that she had recognized Alexander, and had seen in him a certain recognition as well. And he had known her surname... something she had never told any of them... and had simply suggested he knew of her father, yet her father had never made mention of him, before...

    His insistence upon protecting her, despite Lady Dynagra's importance, and the manner to which he responded to her cruelty the night prior... It all made so much more sense.

    Her eyes flickered several times to the Aegis, sitting a short distance away, having returned from his negotiations. Inside, she warred with whether or not to say anything at all, but her thoughts were fixed firmly on what she had seen in her dreams, on what she knew in her heart. She had to find out the truth.

    Pushing back her chair she rose, and approached him, pausing by his side.

    "I need a word with you, before we leave. In private."

    @Effervescent | Mentioned: @Doctor Jax, @rissa, @Starlighter
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  16. A cool fire emanated from myriad aches and bruises, and Abrecan realized that he felt, on the whole, rather swell. Some trembling, pulsing force impelled itself upon his joints, the small of his back, the base of his neck, spreading outwards like waves from a rock dropped into the waters. He surmised, on the smallest of reflections, that he was experiencing the catharsis of dolts and brutes, the mind-numbing release of battle that made dullard warriors even stupider. There was the small, cynical hope that similar experiences could be avoided in the future, yet some jittering intrusion persisted; a sort of giddiness, like a smile incessantly threatening the visage of a dour man in the wake of a truly elegant jest. They had, after all, felled some shadow-bending assailant with a vegetable.

    or is it a fruit?

    Taking care not to indulge the thought and the preposterous idiocy of its conception, he had made to take his leave from the scene. An idle hand, perhaps still compelled by the virulent idiocy of combat, made to slap Maes across the back, a mark of appreciative affection and camaraderie that had belied the tenuous nature of their impromptu partnership. Where moments earlier he had called him ‘coward’, had feuded and wrestled over approach and the grip of a crude blade, now:

    “Well done, friend, well done!” Abrecan proclaimed, joviality returning to his low, rumbling timbre. The almost-condescending glint of faux affability had returned to his eyes by the time Ender had come upon them in the courtyard.

    He watched on, with some amusement, as Ender inspected the fruits of Maes’ handiwork, half-expecting a rousing congratulations for a job suitably, if not typically, done. There was, however, only his pointed, silent urgency and economy, poking holes aplenty in his less-than-generous imagining of the typical warrior's capacity for brainwork. It had taken the time for him to leave and return before he remembered the web, the spiders, the passing of one hundred excruciating years in his dreamscape, and awakening with someone’s blood in his mouth. The failings of their protector, eclipsing their transient triumph. Set upon in the stench and darkness, cast into nightmare and, in the Wolf’s case, lost.

    Abrecan had held no love for the Wolf, and bore sympathy for precious little in general, but acknowledged Geirolf’s value as a combatant, and – in all his savagery – the lack of agenda; the same could not be said of their guide nor, in his opinion, any of the blood mages. Perhaps, most of all, his fate was a portent of Abrecan’s own, if he were to remain under Ender's hand.

    He relinquished his mark, eager to be free from the purview of blood magics, studying Ender’s expressions as he handed off the inked trinket. His very first impression of the man had been that he was a being of a certain conviction. This much, he believed, still held true. He wondered, perhaps, if the difference was clarity, be it in direction or purpose. Abrecan had known schemer aplenty from his time in Ecksoh, men and women who rallied miscreants of similar standing through gilded tongue and force of will. All too commonly, the world would conspire to chip away at the sheen of their tongues; a setback too many, a crisis of conscience, or the crushing weight of inevitability that dashed the caper.

    Even so, a schemer would never back away, for there were only jagged edges behind them.

    He sensed, perhaps, that Ender’s predicament rang similarly.

    “The Winded Woods? Begging your pardon." Abrecan said, in a tone that sounded distinctly unapologetic, "But it's hardly a place to wander in, un-knowing. ‘People’? Can we be assured of their assistance?”
    #116 Shizuochan, Jul 27, 2018
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2018
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  17. Maes Harrow

    “I mean, can we be assured of anything at this point? We both are apparently targeted by a group of people who want us dead for no readily apparent reason. We’ve driven many miles, looked to take refuge in a known protected place to only find that it has been ravaged by some kind of … Shadow magic, probably. And we’re now down-“ He paused, voice catching. Ender’s news had given Maes serious pause, and though he didn’t know Geirolf to any real degree beyond that of traveling companion, it was still a blow. After all, if Geirolf, a battle tested veteran, could fall, what chance did a simple farmer stand? He unhitched his mare and led it to the wagon, rubbing her nose gently as he did. “Anyway, whatever waits in the Winding Wood can’t be as bad as this place. The sooner we get moving again, the better. It won’t take us too long to travel anyway.”

    He had to stay busy. He had to be busy. For the first time, he realized as his breath calmed and the full weight of events in Hadoume broke upon his mind, Maes felt scared. He was actually scared, the feeling building out from the harrowing nightmare he’d suffered, and heavy beads of sweat began tracing paths down his brow. The paper with that damned flower was gone at last. He’d felt palpable relief as Ender destroyed it; he wasn’t even sure why he’d held onto it for so long.

    Yet, despite the relief, Maes held Ender in his gaze for a long moment. The uncertainty the soldier had demonstrated previously seemed shaken, and not merely because of the attack. Not only, but Ender was apparently reluctant to take the chosen path, and Maes felt a knot develop in his stomach at the thought. So he remained quiet, busying himself with preparing the wagon and gathering what supplies he could from the corpses that surrounded them.

    @Effervescent @Shizuochan