The Wounded King

Discussion in 'ROLEPLAY GRAVEYARD' started by Asmodeus, Oct 23, 2012.


  1. [​IMG]
    [​IMG]




    CHAPTER ONE
    The Dragon Lords

    [​IMG]

    Of all the strange and archaic festivals held across the fractured land of Deluvian, the Feast of Fools was perhaps the most bizarre. At once a celebration and a mourning of the late King Ranthos, this event was chaos in yearly incarnation. A festival for jesters and artists, for poking fun at priests and humiliating rulers. Wine, song, dance and disorder. For but one night it was tolerated.

    The mythology was well established. The Great King Ranthos, he who once united the known world, had here in Argeria succumbed to his final madness and crumpled into dust. And from this all men drew the lesson... that even the highest crown can fall... and that fools and kings can change places at the turn of Fortune's wheel.

    Tonight every street was dressed in greenery, with flowers strung between the rooftops. And any house large enough had been thrown open for the sale of wine and beer, and for the serving of soup. Bakers had emptied their stores and players had occupied the town squares. In every earshot was lute and pipe song, laughter and firework flash.

    Not only was this a convention for artists and fools, but for the finest storytellers and sages of the heartlands. Any and all who had knowledge of the Ranthos Sagas, or the history of the Old Kingdom, had come here to share their wisdom. New books would be written, new songs sung, and old plays re-enacted.

    These were the best of times... the best of a world built and ravaged in one man's madness.

    And there were heroes to be found here...
     
  2. She’d forgotten. In all the time she’d been in the forest, becoming one with nature and the seasons, she’d quite forgotten that this time of year was marked by a festival, the festival. She’d noted the disturbances of the forest as more people than normal had passed through on their way to Argeria, but Synae had not quite made the connection, and thus she stepped into a world of unfamiliar chaos. She’d known this world once. She remembered being younger, being a part of these revels. And yet now, it was foreign to her. But it mattered not. She needed to be here, today, in Argeria.

    The noise was almost overwhelming. The scent of revelry and the close proximity of the unwashed and active swept over her after she had passed through the city gates. Her sickle had been left, tucked inside a hollow tree just within the boundaries of the wilds. She had only a long stick, still covered in bark and a few dead branches. A walking stick for a shrouded lady. A weapon, if need be. As much as she had wished to bring her sickle, it was not proper, she remembered, for an unescorted lady to carry such a weapon within the city confines. For that matter, it wasn’t very proper for her to be unescorted, but she’d dealt with that when acquiring supplies in the past.

    At the memory of her vision, she shivered, pausing in her steps before a pastry vendor. The vendor, mistaking her as a potential customer, shoved a pastry woven to look like a basket and filled with sweet, fresh berries at her. For a moment, that smell was prominent over the other scents of town and her stomach growled with hunger. With regret, she waved the pastry pushing vendor off from attempting the sale. She had nothing to pay with and hadn’t brought anything to trade. Besides, she was here for a reason. Carrion birds would not have been surrounding the town in her vision if there wasn’t soon to be danger.

    Normally, she didn’t venture out of her forest for sacred duties. But this vision had been sent and she intended to follow it. It was leading her here for a reason. Perhaps to help defend the place, defuse the danger, or even some other, unknown reason. She was sure she’d find her reason for being here, though. She just had to keep her eyes and ears open. She had another matter to attend to, as well, and soon.

    In a crossroads, some young men and women were assembling a makeshift stage out of barrels and a pavillion cover nicked from a shop owner who was laughingly complaining but otherwise making no real gesture of interference. Most people were edging around the obstruction of the stage, but a few were starting to gather, curious as to what was about to occur. Synae found herself drawn to this latter group, looking up at the show that was beginning. A crossroads like this was as good a place as any to watch for further signs.

    One of the men, barely out of childhood, leapt up on the stage.

    “Ladies and gentlemen, we have ‘ere for yer very soon to be abundant entertainment: the Ballad of Ranthos, as performed by... well, this lot of idjits ‘ere! So stand, sit, eat, drink, but please do listen. It’s a good story, even if the costumes ain’t fancy-like.” With that, he hopped from the barrels and made way for a few others, some children, some like him: barely adults.

    The first to sing, however, was tiny. A small girl in a tattered dress, a tablecloth wrapped round her shoulders like some great cape. When she sang, it was one of the most beautiful sounds Synae had ever heard, taking her away from the thought of her quest in sheer shock.The notes, pure and high, caused some of those passing to turn and gather. So this tiny girl, barely eight if Syn was judging correctly, was the narrator (of a sort) of the “ballad”, which seemed more like a small play. Syn wondered if the rest of this cast was as talented. She also knew that she couldn’t give them too much attention.

    With abrupt discomfort, she realized the crowd was beginning to pack tight, that it would take some effort to leave if she needed to. With a sigh, she resigned herself to remaining for a moment. While stuck there, she could at least see if she could feel out any warning signs or spot dangerous people. Uttering a soft prayer for her own peace of mind, she let herself eye the crowd from beneath the hood she wore. Faith and trust would guide her. The crowd didn’t appear to be dangerous, so after a few verses, at the point where the crowd was joining in on a familiar part, she ducked out, weaving through the packed group and glad she had nothing worth stealing in her cloak.

    The streets of the town were almost impossible to navigate through the jam of people, but occasional lulls in the crowd allowed her moments of clear thought. At one such point, she stopped, opening a pouch on her belt and checking that the contents, a garland woven from late forest blooms, had survived the crowds. Thankfully, it seemed only mildly bruised on a few petals. Bracing herself against a moment’s sorrow, she pressed forward. It had been four years, and still the thought of visiting her sister’s grave was difficult. She doubted it would ever be easy. But while she was in town, she always made a point of visiting, and just because there was danger on the wind, that was no reason not to pay her respects.

    So she walked on, past vendors, musicians, and jugglers, past those trying to sell things to her and children trying to catch a peek at her face. Finally, she reached the graveyard her sister was buried in, behind one of the smaller chapels that had been added when the population had boomed some decades back and before the large church had been renovated to seat more parishioners. She paused. Something felt off.
     
  3. Forty years since Ranthos vanished.

    Four years since Vorde's heart was ripped from him.

    It would end tonight. Behind the Pallatine Chapel, at the eastern wing of the Church of Argeria, a stretch of thyme-choked grass was enclosed by yew trees. It was a little grove, preserved from the bakery street and the walls of the governor's house. And tonight this enclave was painted by a palette of moonlight, lampglow and fireworks. It cast eerie hues on the back of Aderas Vorde, the dark-cloaked man who knelt before a grave.

    He was in his thirtieth year, but none had looked so out of age. His skin was pale, his back hunched, his face a tale of tears and sleepless torments. And his eyes were almost coal-black, all colour leached away.

    "I no longer fear it..."

    The whisper was to the headstone before him. To Lissa Meritas, his wife departed. She had always told him he was afraid. A priestess at this very church, she had strayed into the dark arts and dared her husband to follow, to keep up with her, to plunder what was long forbidden. She had dared him to earn her love, to earn a family. And fate had struck her down. Four years to this day since she was killed in the Fool's Day revels, by a soldier-drunk from the Lomass Province.

    The gods had taken her.

    And Vorde, in turn, had taken up her craft... a greater joke.. a greater tragedy than Lissa's own demise.

    All from fear.

    His hand dragged across the stone, through the indents of the letters, across the heads of withered roses and tattered dolls. And then, with the other hand, the Necromancer gripped the chalice he had brought. Silver and inscribed, it held to the brim a coarse and noxious cocktail, brewed since the midwinter, bloated with magic.

    Enough to damn his immortal soul...

    And he would fear no longer.

    "I will share Hell with you..."

    He raised the poison to his lips.
     
  4. “There he was, britches around his ankles, unarmed, scared. Some slave trader, aye, defenseless when he takes a shit!” A round of laughter accompanied the story, rough men hewn of blades and bloody battles pressed together beneath the roof of the Grimgrout mead hall. “So. So I told him I wasn’t the sort to kill a man on the pot and let him to his business.”

    “What then?”

    Brill took a swig of the mead in his right hand, his left hand tapping on another full mug waiting to chase the next, “I waited. Took him almost an hour to finish. He stepped out, eyes like a rabbit, thought I would have gone away by then, but there I was, waiting in the same place.”

    “You let him go?”

    Brill raised an eyebrow at the man who questioned him, shaking his head, “Nope. Stabbed him in the gut. Job’s a job, but let it never be said I sent a man to the Gods with shit on his arse.”

    Again, laughter swelled among the mercenaries and they turned back to their drinks and jokes. Honest folk kept a wide berth of the mismatched men, afraid the dogs would bite if you leaned too close, that money wasn’t the only collar that held them to their craft. More the better then, less of the marks got into their circle, the less they could gouge them with prices. Hard to tell a man like Brill that your promised sum of gold was too much when you didn’t know a thing about him. Mercenaries lived in the enigmatic world of double dealing and rising prices. It was said, among certain circles, that mercenaries were merchants of Death, every bit as smooth and fast as those turbaned Kalims from the South. But while the Kalims sold scarves of silk and fine perfume, mercs sold the skin of men with debts and hate, poured blood of libation to their equally enigmatic god.

    “To Athermon!” Brill roared, raising his glass, “God of thieves, merchants, and mercenaries. May he bless our blades to cut and bless our customers to hate and lust for plenty more to test our edge upon!” He was championed with a roar, a thunderous appreciation. Here, a man was not measured by the weight of his past, but by the weight of his grip behind his weapon. Thieves, looters, deserters, and cowards sought the Rust, named so for the habit of blood to dry upon their armor, but only the worthy stayed alive…and even then, not all the worthy enjoyed a full life.

    The Argerian military fought for home and country. The Rust fought for gold, nothing more. Country and home were luxuries most could not afford.
    Draining his first mug, Brill picked up the second and swallowed it down in three tremendous gulps. Cheers accompanied his feat of hedonism and he departed the mead hall amid thunderous applause.

    Outside, the evening had taken on a dreary note, despite the colored penants and fools cavorting in the streets. Drunkards lay strewn in alleys and whores slipped skin from their frocks and sung the men on. Brill smiled, adrift in the swaying warmth of his bosom friend, mead. With an unsteady gait, the armored mercenary pushed past the festivities and toward the tombstones. Argeria’s graveyard stretched across two hills, silhouetted markers to remind the people that their celebration came at a cost. Lomass had devastated Argeria some years ago, and even in the truce that followed, the military grimly accepted that it was only by Durell’s respect of the Wounded King that kept them sovereign. Here the dusty bones of men and women were commemorated. Long after their family died, and their family’s family perished, these stones would still stand.

    Pushing through the gate, he nearly pitched into an open tomb, a yawning mouth prepared for no man and all men at once. “Not today,” Brill slurred, balancing himself on the headstone, “Got plenty of fight left ‘fore I go to ground.” Stumbling away from the ill omen, he crossed himself twice, his hand rising to the crown of his head and drawing down like a blade in front of his face. Two to be safe, leave the ill omens for the unwise fools. This grave waited for a body and it was not particular on which it would have to eat.

    His sheathed sword clanged against the tombs as he walked, narrow paths between the weeds and briars echoing loudly with his passage. He came to rest beneath a Willow tree, gnarled and ghostly, protectively protecting a patch of land from the invasion of military. Here, the honored druids and priestesses were laid to rest, their souls laid at the highest point of the cemetery and protected by a sacred tree. It was one stone he kneeled before, though, pulling out his wineskin and upending it on the cold soil. The wine was expensive, but then, he felt it was deserved. The richness of his glee ran out of him like wind through a cloak, passing through the holes in every bit of him.

    “ ‘m sorry,” He said to the gravestone, “Sorry for what I did ta ya, ta ya kid. Forgive this poor fool today on Fool’s feast for his crime. I didn’ mean it. Never did.” The grave was silent, and a burning itch still pulsed beneath his skin. “Still cursed, then?” He asked it, patting the headstone almost fondly, “Guess I’ll haveta come back next year, then. See if ya change ya mind.” Wheeling back from the grave, jerking with the overcompensation of his inebriated body, Brill focused on the gate at the bottom of the peak.

    He was in the wrong spot. Blinking blearily, he remembered that her grave was behind the Pallantine chapel, ringed by yews, not up here on a hill. Sighing, he started down. “Means’a same n’matter where I’spilt.”

    He ascended with some difficulty, but descending was a process in vain. He tumbled, crashed, flew headlong over graves on his passage down the hill. The clatter raised the gaze of the villagers, but none stopped to lend a hand or their insults. His armor was the brown of rust, and that alone made him dangerous.
    Stepping back onto the street, Brill took one of the flasks from his belt and swigged its properties, swilling the spirits with his tongue.

    “Gods’n Gods’n Gods above,” he sang, throwing out his arms and turning in an incomplete, wavering circle, “Do I love the Feast ‘ve Fools.”

    ************************

    He found his way slowly, winding through alleys and merry makers. But moonlight led his path to the Pallantine chapel. He passed in front of a cloaked woman, nearly knocking into her. Grunting an apology, he pushed behind the chapel and through the yews with a calamitous crash.

    A man stood above her grave, silver chalice in one hand. Another reveler, lost probably. No one visited this grove, not anymore…and he was just drunk enough to assume he was the only one who paid respect.

    “Not’safast,” he grumbled, and the pale man turned sharply, his lips stretched against a scowl and his eyes flashing in the dark. “Thisseere’s a tombyard, nah a tav’rn.” His words slurred and he blinked, desperately trying to focus the pale man in his gaze. With speed born of honed reflexes and surprise brought of his unpredictable swaying, he came forward and grasped the cup, pulling the goblet away from the pale man.

    “S’Fool’s feast!” He bellowed, “An I…I wan you to share it wif me. Here a…mong the honnered dead.” Holding up the cup, he toasted the air, pouring a little out over her grave, much to the shocked dismay of the necromancer. Then, raising the cup to his lips, he took a gulp.

    It tasted like fire, fire and rot.

    Sputtering, hurling the chalice away from him, dashing its contents, Brill reeled away and fell headlong over another grave. “S’what, s’what. S’whattzat?!” he sputtered clutching his throat. "Ah beeen pois'nd! Ah ben pois'nd!" His body buckled, twisted, pumped uselessly at the air. His muscles tremored and his entire figure seemed to tremor, every inch of him. His head bashed against the grave beneath the necromancer’s feet, his tough skull cracking it, before he rolled away into the low cover of the yews, hissing and spitting and…finally going still.
     
  5. There was a feeling, nearly buried and hidden, a soft tang of something very wrong. It wasn’t corruption, nor was it the feeling of natural death. That latter was here, of course, but it wasn’t what had given her pause. Someone passed by, but she ignored him. Frowning, she sank down and pressed her hand against the ground, reaching out with her senses. The city, with so many humans in it, was not within the normal realm of her gifts. She was attuned to the forests, not to this world of buildings and anxiety.

    Still, she hoped perhaps she might be able to coax something. What she felt was nothing she expected. It was only in its familiarity that she felt it at all, and even then she wasn’t certain what it was. It was familiar, that was all she knew. Familiar, twisted, and wrapping itself in death. A sort of death that was not the natural order of things.

    She rose quickly to her feet, rushing around the curve of trees and picking up speed. Her hood, neglected in her hurry, fell back to reveal her features, brown hair whipping back as she moved. Eyes swept over the graveyard, came to rest on her sister’s grave, on the man before it. He had something! A chalice raised to his lips. This, man and chalice, were the source of the strange feeling. And there was another! A second man with his hand now on the chalice, drinking the contents. Shouting. Falling.

    “Stop it!” she called, putting new speed into her movements, hitting the ground as she approached and sliding on her knees for the last foot and a half. Her hand flashed out, knocking the chalice far from either man. It smacked against the gravestone, the silver ringing from the impact. What had been left in the chalice-- just a mouthful-- splashed out, a few drops reflecting the light of a particularly bright fireworks burst before hitting and staining the arm of her robe.

    She ignored this, moving to grasp the fallen man in browns’s throat with one hand, her other hand pressing against his chest as her staff thudded softly into the grass. Oh please let this work. Her healing energies rushed into his body, pressing through him. It would not have been pleasant, that much bright-feeling, invisible energy coursing through a body not accustomed to it, pushing the poison up and out, gathering it at his throat, pushing it up and out, removing the toxic concoction.

    The poison spilled up and out of his mouth onto her sleeves, soaking her robes. She paid it no mind, holding his throat with one hand still, the other knocking the chalice further out of the man’s reach.

    “Stop it, please. You don’t wish to take your life. Not here or now, please,” she spoke.

    It was only then that she really took time to look at the other man, haunted and older looking than she remembered it ever being.
    “Aderas?!” She released the fallen man and turned to Aderas fully, noticing the drops of poison on his lips. “Not you, too!” Her hands moved to the throat and chest of her childhood friend, the magic again reaching to gather and pull the poison from his body, out of his mouth to splash against her robes.

    “I’m sorry, dear friend. But I really can’t let this happen.” She released him, looking back and forth at the two and hoping she’d been fast enough.
     
  6. Aamira pushed through the crowd, regretting her decision to leave the inn. She had thought that it would be less crowded in the streets, but was ever so wrong. In all the years she had spent away from home, she had never encountered this festival or any like it and as a result, underestimated it completely. Sighing, she resolved never to assume that humans would behave anything like her people. When she had first heard of the Feast, she felt happy and excited. She missed such gatherings, and looked forward to the festivities that were to come. Perhaps the elves' feasts were more rowdy than she remembered, but even so this was more than she could have ever expected. A drunk man stumbled before her, laughing as he collapsed. She glared down at him, not in the mood to deal with someone in such a state. He winked at her and slurred out a few words that she could only guess had something to do with her physical appearance and alcohol. I new that there were men who were fond of the drink, but this many? Gods, this is horrible. I'm surprised that this town hasn't drunk itself into oblivion... Her thoughts drifted to the past and she shook her head, willing the memories to go away. Another expectation this festival had failed to meet. She had hoped that it would distract her from her home sickness. Instead, it made her feel worse than she had felt in weeks. Coming to a halt, she briefly considered buying a drink herself, knowing alcohol to be a depressant, perhaps something that could dull her mind. Moments later she nearly gasped in shock at herself. I will never allow my pain overwhelm me. This was my choice, however uninformed I was when I made it, and I must live with it... Perhaps I can find peace in a church... Glancing around, she located the nearest chapel and headed towards it. Arriving at its doors she found yet another group of drunken story tellers and walked on, hoping to find peace in the graveyard. She preferred not to wander in to them without good reason, but her head was throbbing and her lungs longed for fresh air, so she continued on. Much to her surprise, she stumbled upon a rather upsetting scene; Two men were on the ground and a woman in white was kneeling beside them. She hesitated, unsure of what to do. She silently scolded herself for her lack of familiarity with human etiquette in these circumstances. Should she run, should she offer help? How could she know what was expected of her? Seconds passed before she finally spoke.
    "What on earth happened here?" She blurted. Why did I just speak? That was the second time in a half hour that she had shocked herself. Well, I might as well go with it. How I wish I could take back my words, though...
     
  7. For all his years in death's shadow, picking through old texts, chasing bones and robbing graves, this one thing had eluded Vorde: the pain. Nothing had prepared him for it - that thrashing, suffocating totter at the threshold of worlds.

    Darkness had swallowed him, crushed every vein and put ice in his lungs. Then heat had replaced it and light had filled him. Plunged from one extreme to the other, the man cried out and his eyes, snapped open, half-fixed on the woman who gripped his throat. It was her... it was Lissa... reaching out... leading him into Hell. She was rising from the silent waters, stepping from the inferno, detaching from walls of torture. They would be together at last, suffering as one, man and wife amongst the damned.

    Then the face shifted. It was the same hair, the same complexion - even the shape of his wife before him. But it was not her. The metal tang of the graveyard filled his nostrils and poison spilled up from his lips. He choked, rolling over, curling into a ball, then just as quickly turned onto his back, arching and screaming out. The magic of blackest decay had been exorcized by purest earth-light.

    And there he lay, shuddering, wrenched back from death. His eyes found her, the poison-spattered woman who had defied his will.

    Synae.

    Of all the people who might've chanced upon this scene... The gods retained their humour... their cruelty.

    Another two were here: the drunk who had disturbed him, and some meddling woman; but Vorde's gaze was fixed upon his wife's sister... his childhood friend... the one who had murdered his children beside him... all those years ago.

    The Necromancer sat against the cracked headstone of Lissa Meritas and clutched his stomach. There were tears in his eyes and his voice was sickly. "Let me be with her..."
     
  8. Bound, he stood before the throne, a collar clasped around his neck kept his curse at bay. He could feel the fangs shifting, climbing into alignment, his mouth warping from human to beast over and over.

    "What's wrong with him?"

    Durell ran calloused fingers through his beard, watching his son's body twist and turn with both amazement and contempt.

    "My Lord," the knight who’d bound him answered, stepping forward and bowing, “Your son commited a capital crime against the gods. He struck down a priestess with child during the Fool’s Feast. This is the power of the gods upon him.”

    “The gods…” Durrell sneered, standing and descending from his throne, “Ageless children who play with mortal minds. No…I will not bend at the knee for this slight.”

    “Durell!” The knight protested, “You must not blaspheme! King Ranthos ruled with the gods, not against them. This is punishment upon your son and your house. Your hubris has isolated you from the right to rule!”

    He fell silent suddenly, realizing full well what he’d said.

    “Oh?” Durrell turned to the knight, hands folded behind his back, “Do continue, Sir Aborshade, tell me again what the gods have decreed?”

    “I spoke out of turn,” Selwyn Aborshade corrected, “But the gods have laid this curse upon your home, upon your blood. The people will not let you rule them if they know the crimes of your son.”

    Durrell’s mouth moved, but he only heard a woman’s voice.



    What had happened here. Another voice. Let me be with her. A man. Where was he?

    Breath escaped the mercenary, held pent against his will. With it, the spirits of the evening all turned and fled. They left only the ransacked cavity of his skull, throbbing for his troubles. Brill put a hand against his crown, it came back bloody.

    “Gods,” he muttered, “But do they punish the merry man.” Groaning aloud, he rolled to his hands and knees, the sigil of Lomass amulet fell from the folds of skin and cloth to dangle in the cross-shaft of moonlight. “Pardons, revelers, but I’ve forgotten where I’ve been and where I am…perhaps you can-“ But he looked up, and he knew where he was.

    Here, the moonlight filled the crack his head had made in the tombstone. Her name was divided now, shattered. The wound on his head made some sense now, and the woman in white…she must be a priestess. The man was a priest? No. Not so pale and clothed in black. A visitor perhaps? Pilgrim? Had been so awash with spirits that he hadn’t seen them here? To come and pour libations on a grave, instead he had cracked the stone.

    Gods...this curse would never be off him.

    Once more, accident had caused his hand in disgracing her further. Crushing depression nestled in his breast, but his mouth pricked up into a marionette smile. “Maybe I reveled too freely, I think. I ask for your pardons, I meant no disrespect.” He didn’t, not really. And especially if disrespect meant he’d be cursed again. He rose to his feet, unsteady, turning to go and confronted with a willowy woman with a beautiful face. He leered. “But if disrespect grants me such a supple vision, the gods are all masochists.”
     
  9. "Even the most evil people within our world have good intentions. Even when those intentions seems wrong.
    I ask you simply, what do you see in their eyes?
    Even within the darkness you can see the tiniest bit of light.
    Ask me, do all people do evil to be able to satisfy them, or do they have to do it to help themselves.
    Today's final lesson is one you shall always remember.
    As a monk do not hurt or break someone because they are people, not evil demons that lurk in the dark.
    Your final oath is this...


    It had been a long time since he took that oath. His training was over and it was time to do what he needed to. During the feast Garkin sat among the heroes, drunkards, and the average people. Garkin laughed plenty that night and sang along with the people within the town. It was a fun night, even the rather crueler jokes that people said made Gakin laugh. His time spent there was not long.

    He moved along the back alleys of the town back to his cottage which he bought with the money he was given by the order. Garkin pulled the keys from his brown leather pouch and opened his door. The door opened with a creak as he walked in, there was only one thing on his mind currently and that was potions. He pulled out a large chest that held many ingredients that he tested and experimented with. Along with all of the ingredients he pulled out many vials, kits, with his mortar and pastel.

    His work was repetitive, he mixed ingredients then added some solutions and recorded his results. It was rather boring. He did this for only a half an hour, after that he decided to go celebrate some more. Garkin locked his door once he closed the door behind him with a frown on his face. "Again, another night with not a second note of use was taken." He is persistent but recently he has been losing his push.

    Garkin moved back to the festival and he tried to enjoy himself.





     
  10. Tears leaped to her eyes at the words Aderas spoke. She looked away for a moment, inhaling sharply to calm herself before turning to look at her friend once more. In doing so, she caught sight of the other man gaining his feet and turning to the strange woman who’d spoken. Syn was caught between wanting to make certain the man in brown was safe and wanting to protect and comfort Aderas. For the moment, though, it seemed that the man in brown was distracted enough and would not stray too far.

    “Keep him here, miss,” she said, her eyes focused completely on her dear friend now as she spoke instead to the woman about the man in brown. “I need to check him for injury.”

    Instead of doing so immediately, she moved closer to Aderas, reaching out gentle hands to rest upon his shoulders. Before her hands touched their destination, she rethought this, shrugging her robes down to her hips so that he could not attempt to reclaim any of the poison. Now, hands went to his shoulders, squeezing lightly. Deep sorrow threatened to overwhelm her. She’d long ago come to terms with the deeds she’d committed. But to see Aderas in such a state hurt her in a way no blade could have.

    “I know you want to be with her. But...” she hesitated. She could say a thousand sweet words of encouragement, but she knew him. They would not help. If he was still as she’d known him, purpose might be the only thing to save him, and the thought of losing him, here on her own sister’s grave, was unbearable.

    “You cannot die. Not yet.” She would buy time, give herself the precious days needed to work to save his life... if whatever was coming didn’t devour them all. She moved closer, lowering her voice to a near whisper. “You’re needed.” More emotion slipped into the three syllables than intended, so she rushed onward with her speech.

    “Something is coming, Aderas. Something dark. Dangerous. Coming here. And I need your help to do whatever it takes to help the people of this town. Don’t dismiss this, please. If not for all of those here who need your aid, do this to help me. Because whatever comes, I will be fighting it and I know you don’t want ...” She moved to hug him, tears now fighting for escape and trickling down her cheeks as she whispered.

    “Please. I need your help.”
    Those had been the simple words so many years in the past. This time, though, they were words that might bring light instead of darkness, and she moved to look into his eyes as the crash of drums began somewhere in the distance, a dance beginning. She resisted the urge to move, to check and see if the other man was there. She kept her gaze on her friend. Yes, her words might hurt him, but they might spur him to action. She only hoped they would inspire the right sort of action.
     
  11. [size=+1]“And so what do they call you, friend?”
    “Stow it!”
    “A most perplexing name. Might I enquire what it means?”
    “For the tenth bloody time, prisoner, I’m not telling you my name!”


    The guard’s yell echoes through the block of Argeria’s prison, along the cells filled mostly with the drunk and disorderly dragged from the revelries that have overrun the city. Yet at the end of the row of cells, closest to the door and thus closest to the guard on watch, is a prisoner entirely out of place. Skin too dark, hair too black, his clothes, accent and demeanour foreign to these lands.

    “Very well,” the prisoner says in a tone all too cheery for someone locked up, “Allow me to introduce myself at least. I am Skelter Braan. A pleasure to make your acquaintance.” The guard grunts; he’s resolved to ignore this bizarre, funny dressed lunatic until his relief comes in a few hours. Unperturbed by the guard’s unfriendly demeanour, Skelter continues. “If you do not wish to tell me your name, I suppose I am left with no choice but to concoct one for you.” A grunt is the only response. “I am very good with names, you see.” Another grunt. “It is something of a skill of mine.” A look of concentration falls over Skelter’s face as he stares intently at the guard for a moment.

    “I think I shall call you… Bob.” The guard rounds on him, an incredulous look on his face.
    “‘Bob’?!”
    “You strike me as a ‘Bob’, is all. Why? What is wrong with Bob? It is a good name, no?”
    “I dunno,”
    the guard says, frowning, “It just seems so… dull, I guess.”
    “Not at all, my dear Bob!” Skelter exclaims, “It is a proud and astute name! It proclaims reliability, solidity. When they hear tell of a man named Bob, they know he is a man to be trusted. To be tasked with responsibilities above that of lesser men.”

    The guard now looks rather pleased with himself as he regards Skelter.
    “You reckon so?”
    “I do indeed, Bob. So tell me, how does an upstanding member of the City Guard such as yourself find himself tasked with guarding prisoners in the midst of such wild festivities?”
    Bob’s face returns to that sour, dejected look.
    “Long story.”
    “I am not exactly going anywhere anytime soon.”
    “Well, y’see,”
    Bob begins, “My sister got married the other day.”
    “My hearty congratulations to your sister.”
    “And there was the wedding and everything. You know, marriage ceremony followed by a party and all.”
    “We follow different customs where I come from, but go on.”
    “Well, it’s considered customary to drink. Y’know, to the bride and grooms’ honour.”
    “As is only proper.”
    “And my new brother-in-law, he likes a drink, y’see? And he wanted me to drink with him.”
    “I do believe I am becoming aware of the direction this story is headed.”
    “I mean, what was I supposed to do? He’s my new brother-in-law. It’d have been rude not to.”


    Skelter nods sagely behind the bars.
    “A most perplexing conundrum, friend Bob. I guess you were somewhat worse for wear the next day?”
    “Still drunk when I showed up for my post.”
    Bob looks slightly amused by this still. “Never seen the Watch Captain turn such a shade of purple as he did when he bollocked me for it. Anyway, now I’m stuck on prison duty whilst the others get to be involved with the Feast.” Skelter chuckles.
    “For what consolation it is, you have been most excellent company so far. And the night is still young, friend Bob.

    Who knows what it shall bring?”
    [/size]
     
    • Like Like x 1
  12. "Please. I need your help."

    There was brilliant sunlight. It drowned them as much as any winter mist. Synae turned from him, kneeling at the grave, tears streaking her face. "I can't, Aderas."

    He hung in the shadows of the yew trees, still in mourning black. It had been two days since Lissa was killed. Neither had moved on. "She's kept them alive... in the woods... the children."

    Synae buried her head, clutching her ears. She could not stand to hear this. She could not accept what her sister had done, in these last months.

    "They're an abomination, Synae... please... you have to..." He was growing paler each moment, fading into grey, as if his soul was leaching out. There were no more tears to cry, no more love to give. This one purpose possessed him, filled the hollow of his grief.

    And she knew he was right.


    * * * * *​

    Vorde blinked, drawing breath as Synae embraced him. Four years had passed. Four winters of solitude, four summers of shunned harvest, four autumns of decay. And it was like they had never left this graveyard, that their conspiracy to infanticide had been some dark dream. The words echoed, a mirror of that day... a favour to be returned.

    "Synae... you're here..."

    Then her words filtered through, like ice tendrils through the poison and the death-so-close. He had been ready to depart this world, and now she spoke of it with urgency, with terror... with love. Vorde clutched his wife's sister by the shoulders, held her at length, fixed her eyes. "What is it, Synae... what is coming?"

    Beyond her shoulder, the drunkard loomed, making eyes at the prying girl who had come their way. Were they a couple? It was no matter. Anger swelled in Vorde and he yelled over Synae's shoulder, directly at Brill. "AWAY WITH YOU!"
     
    • Like Like x 1
  13. "Now look at you, up on your feet and shouting like some highborn lord," Brill had turned to the two of them, one clutching the other "Prithee Lord Paleface, do forgive mine intrusion on thy midnight reverie." What guilt he'd felt was swallowed, devoured, without a trace. The priestess had cured him of his liquor, and that liquor had cost good coin. Damned if he didn't want to spend the rest of the feast in unfamiliar arms, both those of the drink and those of flesh. Now she'd gone and purged him of his merriment. Chuckling at the two, he crossed the hollow and retrieved the silver chalice, lifting it up to examine the edges. It was fine work, the lip was gold and the rest was delicately carved silver. Not the most sturdy cup, but a pricey one to be sure.

    He sniffed the contents, winced.

    So. It was poison after all. At least he remembered tasting that.

    "Yes, yes priestess. Darkness comes upon this town. I sensed the lantern by yonder street flicker when I passed." Putting up a stoic grimace, he faced the lithe girl and pantomimed seeing, hand flat and level, his index finger pressed against his forehead. "We must be ever vigilant on this, the Fool's Feast." The pale fellow followed him with his eyes, each step another curse vexed of pale gaze. Brill had grown accustomed to all sorts of looks in his time in the mud and rust, so it was no surprise that the intensity barely ruffled him.

    "They say the spirit of Mad Ranthos comes to those who do not celebrate the Fool's dance," He warned, his voice growing low, "Drink and laugh lest ye be victim of the Mad King's Curse!" Chuckling himself, Brill approached the two and tapped the silver chalice on the nearest headstone, clear metallic notes ringing out in the night, synchronizing with the lazy arc the sigil of Lomass took about his body. "A drunker man might draw his sword for letting him quaff poison, but I'm a forgiving sort. I'll return to you your pretty poison chalice if you'll consent to walk with me a ways and share a drink." Glancing over his shoulder at the other maiden, he winked.

    "Tonight's a night for friends and bygones, lovers and well met souls. You have tomorrow and every other day to pine at your dead, but today....today we drink and celebrate our lives."

    Why here? Did the fellow know the girl? Was he a relation of hers? He was certainly the pretty sort, one easily mistaken for a young girl under the right light. More than likely he was some fop, despairing lover married to the notion of tragic love. The young ones always were these days.

    Waving the chalice, he turned and walked out past the girl, passing by her and pausing only briefly to smack an open palm on her rump before continuing on. "Come now, Lord Paleface, Lady Priestess, Lady Voyeur. I'll sell this chalice for coin and drink to your name if you insist on dreary graves and dramatic self pity."
     

  14. The opulence struck her first, the laughter and the flowers, couple with the booze that seemed to flow freely from flagons onto the street. The cheers and calls of the revelers could be heard nearly a town away, judging by the cacophony that they were creating. The cheer and the noise, the celebration and the excitement, Tem did not understand what she had walked into. It was something wholly unlike anything that she had ever experienced and she wasn't sure how she was to feel about it. Her first tentative steps into the town, however, were met with someone tossing flower petals at her. Initially, she was on the defensive, whirling to face them and find what they had tossed, but upon realizing it to be petals, she smiled, her fierceness fading. The one who had thrown them seemed alarmed, but returned the smile once it was given.

    "Would you be able to tell me of any rumors here in this town, anything amiss?"

    The person with the flowers laughed loudly, clearly thinking the question some sort of joke and, before Tem could stop them, they had danced away into the celebration once more. With a small frown, she cast a glance around the town and ventured further into the festivities. There was a din pressing in from all sides and more than one errant hand on some part of her body, but she cut through the crowd with relative ease aside from that. She was a calm within this storm and for that, she seemed oddly imposing, though her expression held no hint of anger. She merely wanted to get through the party and find her way to the inn, which would hopefully have room for her to stay a night.

    The keeper of the inn did in fact have a single room empty, and charged her more than it was worth when he saw that she was uncertain with her money an looked at it with wide and oblivious eyes. He reminded himself that he could have ripped her off for more and only took a little festival dues, which made him feel better about it. He told himself that he was doing her a service, giving her his last empty room during such a busy time. He was, however, less sweet of word and mind when she tucked away her coin and looked him in the eye once more. Had she known? She looked something of a feisty one.

    "I heard that there were rumors of black magic around here?" she asked bluntly, her expression intent. The innkeeper's lips turned down sharply and he shooed her away, calling her "such a strange girl, asking questions like that". Honestly, she wasn't certain what she'd done wrong, but figured that the people were not in the mood for questions of gloom when there was obviously a celebration in town. Reluctantly, she decided that she would stay an extra day or more, to wait until this festival was over, that people might be more inclined to gossip once again. For now, if she was stuck here, she thought that a drink might not hurt.

    Making her way into the center of the town, she did not at first think anything of the people pushing against her from all sides, but it was not much time before she was pushing away hands that lingered too long on her thin armor. Confused and annoyed, she pushed them away from her. That seemed, however, to be a bad decision on her part and a hand closed down around her arm, halting her progress. She turned and glared, her hand flying to the sword on her hip. She hand let go and the owner disappeared before he could be seen.

    When she finally reached one of the hubs of activity, it was with no small measure of relief. The perhaps hour she'd spent here already seemed to have drained all her energy. Her fingers closed gratefully around a mug at last and she planted her butt firmly on a stool, her eyes now watchful for more peculiar behavior.
     
  15. <img src=http://i94.photobucket.com/albums/l81/Asmodeus1845/Stories/wizard.jpg align="right" width="180">
    One smack was followed by another.

    Brill had barely passed the girl and cleared the row of headstones when another object struck his head.
    Not as hard as the gravestone, but more precise, and delivered with a force of rage.

    Vorde followed up with another blow, bringing the Lomass mercenary to the ground. He had his Grailwood
    staff, gnarled and raven-sheened, twisted with Necromantic power. And with each strike his eyes shone,
    furious.

    "Get out! GET OUT OF HERE! Lomass shit! Leave this ground!" His voice had turned rasping, burnt by the
    poison, leaving his lungs in horrid, scratching tones.

    The chalice rolled away, coming to rest against a headstone, and in moonlight the silver reflected their
    violence.

    "I'll fucking kill you, Northborn!"

     
  16. "Keep him here, miss..." Aamira nodded, though the woman who had spoken wasn't looking. She stood silently in front of the man in brown, unsure of how to go about keeping a soldier in his place. He's probably too shaken to leave anyway, right? And if he does try to leave... oh hell I'll have to use words. She stopped herself from rolling her eyes at the thought. It was times like these when she wished that she knew more about combat, or at the very least enough to keep a man in one place for a few minutes. But all she knew was how to wield a small dagger and basic self defense, and when it came to the dagger her lack of skill was laughable. Yes, I will have to speak to him if he wishes to leave...

    Reluctantly accepting her task, she brought her attention to the conversations being held, remaining stoic though at times she wanted to scowl. The man in brown was far too interested in her looks and made her uncomfortable. And then the man on the ground, yelling about him going away? She simply stood there, quietly wondering what they expected her to do when conflicting orders were given. Clearly, the soldier didn't feel like listening to the other man and began to speak. At this point Aamira didn't have to force herself to pay attention. Though she thought he was making quite a show of it, she hadn't heard much of superstition and lore and always enjoyed hearing it when she could. For a few moments she actually reconsidered having a drink- just one- to celebrate, before the man slapped her bottom and completely redirected her thoughts. Her hand went to her dagger and her face hardened, but before she could even stop herself the man in black was up, striking and yelling at the mercenary. She quickly stepped back, her hand still close to her weapon though she knew that it would do nothing, should the necromancer choose to attack her next. Eyes wide, she stood in a defensive stance, trying to convince herself that she was ready to fight. She preyed to her gods that the woman in white would soon intervene...
     
  17. She’d been getting through to him when the other’d started making an ass out of himself. The amount of insensitivity shown was enough to startle the priestess, but she had little more time to react, for Aderas was after the man. The strikes from the staff hit home, forcing the man to the ground with her friend’s rage.

    But the other was a mercenary and she knew that once strength born of rage waned, her friend would be outmatched physically. Or, worse, Aderas would kill this man for no real reason and propel himself back into dark depression. She moved quickly, kicking her own staff from the ground, darting between the two and catching the next strike against the tree branch.

    “Stop this, both of you. Miss, stand back. Don’t shout. No one needs to shout. We can work this out. Aderas, please.” She looked up at him, eyes pleading once more. “I can’t do this work I must alone. I would not have found you if it wasn’t meant to be. And if you get yourself locked up...” She glanced over her shoulder.

    “As for you, you need to stand, slowly, and step back out of range of that staff he’s holding. Don’t go too far. We will join you.” She leveled a stern gaze at one man, then at the other. “But first, stranger, you must realize that this is my sister’s grave.” She spoke it again, this time to everyone. “My sister’s grave. Do not dishonor her resting place by fighting above it. Nor by making light of the sorrow of her husband. Nor by being jovial about the fact that something. Is. Coming.

    “You can choose to believe me or not. If you do not, then part ways now, for my friend and I have work to do and you, sir, seem to have interests of your own. However, if you do believe me, then stay, for we need what help we can find. That goes for you, too, miss.”


    Now, her attention went to Aderas and only him.
    “We’ve been brought together for a reason. If that reason is combat against one another, we shall know soon enough, but let us at least get to know one another before we judge on basis of flag or bended knee.”

    She stepped away, speaking in a voice somehow soft and yet powerful.

    “Danger comes to Argeria. As we are all here, it behooves us to at least attempt to stay alive. And right now, your best chance is to stay with me. Or get yourselves into the company of another healer. If you will all remain calm, we can find a place to talk and I can explain what I know. Just don’t kill one another.”
     
  18. The first blow gave him pause, the second laid him low. Damn, could that frail fellow swing a stick. Rolling defensively to avoid the striking staff, Brill wished he'd brought his half plate armor. The celebration hadn't seemed to necessitate the preparation for violence, though, and so he'd left most of his gear in the inn. Only his sword clung to his waist, his shield on his back. Neither of which he could easily access on the ground. The staff came down again, and again, the furious assault mitigated only partially by raised arms and rolling dodges. The two women were lost to him in the confusion. Another blow, another, the gnarled staff cracked against his bone and bloodied his face.

    Brill's control wavered.

    When the staff came down again, it was caught by the priestess and there was a time for her to speak. Brill remained on the ground for a moment, wrestling with wild rage coursing through his body. Bones began to shift, his eyes burned briefly with an inner hatred. He came up, pushing the staff of the Priestess away and grabbing Vorde by the front of his tunic. Up came Vorde's staff, but he caught it in a steel grip. Pushing the necromancer back toward the grave. Both looked at each other with hate for a moment, Vorde framing the mercenary in the glint of his Lomass necklace and Brill seeing nothing but a detestable self poisoner before him. For that moment when their eyes connected, an eerie witch-light seemed to light behind Brill's eyes. He raised his fists, stepping forward, strength coursing through his body...and plunged them into his clothes, tearing out two fists of charms and sigils.

    "Don't like the Lomass? How about Argeria?" He forced the necklace on his neck, both metals dancing in the lamplight, "Or The Kalim-Eloam? Or the family Dunmere? Or this boar and rabbit thing that I think is also some house sign!" Each he threw on his neck, "I'm of the Rust, Lord Paleface. I have no home. No origin. No loyalty. I don't know what hate you harbor for the North, but I'm not your enemy." He took the Lomass necklace off his neck, pushing it with others back into his belt. "Ornaments, trinkets of my trade. The dead have no use for them and I like to think I travel vicariously though the men I kill."

    He turned from them both, taking a step towards the open gate when the words of the priestess fell upon his shoulders.

    Fell upon them like anchors.

    Sister. Husband. He turned back to them, face blanched white with sickening horror. "Your...wife?" He asked Vorde quietly, then to the priestess, "Your sister?" His arms fell to his side weakly and he fell back beside the willowy girl with a sigh like a thunderstorm.

    "Now I'm intruding, I took you for someone else." He wiped blood from his face and wiped it on his shirt, crossing his arms, "I don't put my faith in gods or predictions as strongly as I once did, and no one here's my kin."

    A grin found its way to his face again and he uncorked one of his flasks, taking a swig and then offering it to the girl beside him, "Besides, The Rust don't fight without good coin. Trade me your silver goblet and you'll win my service for the night, to whatever prediction that leads to." The rage was dying down inside him, his wounds already knitting together, the supernatural healing hidden beneath the smears of blood, "My apologies, I visit this grave every Feast to pay my respects to the girl that died. I...saw it happen, no one deserved what she got. I like to think I pray for the soul of any man who'd do that to an innocent and to the innocents who suffer it." he belched, ruining the effect, "But maybe it's just pouring spirits on dirt. Sure doesn't help the flowers grow."

    If the girl had taken his flask for a swig, he took it back, swigging it again.

    "Give me your poisoned chalice and I'll keep the Lomass from my neck so long as I'm under your employ." Wiping a hand on his shirt, he held it out...not to either Vorde or Synae, but between them...for any one to shake. "Can we strike a deal?"
     
  19. [​IMG]
    The screams and cries of his allies rang through out his ears. Bodies laid and littered the ground everywhere he walked. The loud bangs of cannons kept firing off, and the balls from them tore apart the cavalry units. Tears started to slowly drip down his cheeks as his eyes looked down to all of his dead friends. Why did this have to happen? Who was this enemy, who seemed to be invincible? His walk quickly became a ran. The world around him slowly seemed to become black, and he tried to run, faster and faster. He then came across a cliff, and dug his heels into the ground, stopping himself from falling over. He slowly put his hands to his helmet, and removed it before looking down, and saw the bloodied and mutilated face of his best friend, Edmond. A scream rang through out his room.

    --------------------

    Darius shot up from the bed, and looked around, before looking at the palms of his sweaty hands. He sighed before running of both his hands through his hair, and shook his head. His nightmares have been coming more frequently now, and he could not come to a conclusion as to why. Darius shook his head before moving out of his bed, and walked over to his drawer, which was placed in front of his window. His half naked self looked through the window, and watched as people danced about the streets and shared cups of ale. What exactly was all this merry celebration about? And then he realized what the day was.

    It was the Festival of Fools. He could tell by the people dressed up as the priests of the faith. He sighed as he looked at them. He became an Atheist soon after the battle with the Kingdom of Lomass. Back then, he felt as if the Gods had abandoned him. Why was he one of the only survivors? Why didn't he die back then? Why did he have to be punished with constant nightmares of the dead? He knew these questions were never going to be answered though, and slammed a fist into his dresser.

    He pulled open a slot of it, and pulled out dark leather pants, a white shirt, and his bear fur coat. He put on the pants, slowly, feeling quite lazy at the moment. He then adorned his upper body with the plain white shirt, before topping it all off with the bear fur coat. He leaned back, stretching his lower back before looking around the floor of the room, and found his brown leather boots. He bent over and picked them up, before sitting back on his bed and slipped them upon his feet, before stamping the floor with them so they could get a tight fit on. He then walked down his stairs before looking at his sword which was in its sheath, inside of his shield, and sighed.

    "Get over it Darius, you are a man, it happened six years ago!" Was what his mind was screaming at him, and he stood straight up before firmly nodding. He took up his sheathed sword and placed it at his former position, by his left waist side. He took the shield and placed it on his back, where it once always used to be. He couldn't help but feel more comfortable this way, and he pushed open his door into the outer world.

    Outside was the most celebration that he has seen in ages. The streets were packed with bodies, clumped together in packs. Children were off, playing by a stall selling dumplings filled with succulent meat. He smiled at this sight, and remembered the game he himself and his friends used to play. What did they call it again, Catch The Dumpling? One person would toss the sweet meaty dumpling as high as they could, while two kids had to hold a child in between them. They would run around, still holding the child in the middle, and the one in the middle had to catch it in their mouth. Then they would have to drop the child and he would have to eat the dumpling as fast as he could, before yelling "FOR ARGERIA!" He remembers the first time he saw the warriors come back home with a victory, and how everyone was celebrating. He wanted to be just like them.

    He shook his head, and refocused on the street in front of him. He started thinking of a way that he could break through the crowd, but he could not come up with any conclusions. He frowned before walking up to the clump and squeezed his way in. That part of the operation was done, but now he needed to find a way out of this mess and to the tavern. He was parched and thought he could use a drink to get his mind off of the horrible nightmare that he just had experienced. He moved his arms about, gently pushing people to the side and out of his way, while he made his way towards the tavern.

    He finally escaped from the bunch with a loud sigh, before looking to his left and sighting the tavern. He would drink and drink until he wouldn't be able to think anymore. He ran a hand through his hair before pushing his way through the door, and looked around. It wasn't as packed as he thought, since there was celebration and all.
    "I guess they are all out doing something..." He took a seat on a bar stool in front of the counter, and called out, hoping to get the attention of the bartender.





     

    Attached Files:

    • sol.jpg
      sol.jpg
      File size:
      18.2 KB
      Views:
      20
  20. So the drunk was a Ruster. It followed. Only a mercenary could take so many blows to the head. Vorde gripped a headstone as he stumbled and remained there, coughing black dust from his lungs. The poison had not killed him, but the necromantic payload had scarred his airways. It would take more than forest spells to cure it, and only a few drops more to finish the job. The stranger did not seem as hard-afflicted, though. They say the Rusters could not be poisoned; they were already dead inside.

    Glaring as the man ran through his repertoire of neck-charms, and as Synae repeated her foreboding words, his mind raced. The poison was gone, but there were myriad routes to damnation. He could kill the mercenary, rape the other woman, desecrate the graves, burn the church. Enough to erase the good deeds of his life and send him straight into his wife's arms. He could even kill Synae.

    Synae...

    As Brill's spirit collapsed with a sigh, Vorde's refocussed. He paid attention to his childhood friend as she spoke of being brought here for a reason, of danger coming to Argeria. It was odd to see her moved by such faith. Her time in the forest had changed her, and now her every warning sent prickling ice up Vorde's spine - enough to distract a man in the throes of suicide.

    The Necromancer wiped his mouth. Then the Ruster spoke of how he had been here, when Lissa died. The revelations fell like hammer strikes. This was the gods' doing, to bring together so connected a fellowship. He had to wonder if the other girl was some skeleton of his tangled past foisted likewise upon him. Yet for all this providence his bitterness welled. He could not do this. He wanted an end. "No deals, Ruster," he croaked. "I want nothing from you - from any of you."

    He moved through the thyme thickets and stooped to reclaim the chalice. Perhaps there was residue enough to kill him; else he would brew a new batch, of poisons less refined and swifter-acting. Or perhaps he would use it to cave in that man's sku--

    As if a blade had been plunged into him, hissing shot suddenly through his flesh and rattled his bones. At once a dozen points of agony opened in his mind and he stumbled back against Synae. The chalice was dropped, the reflection he had seen fading like mist. Terror seized his every sinew. "Oh gods!"

    Synae steadied him, but he was trembling bodily, and his flesh turned paler still. Wide eyes were fixed on the fallen chalice, on its moonstruck silver... on where he had seen the reflection of the creature. "The Dragon's Eye!" The words escaped in misting breath, horrified and urgent. Synae would know it - perhaps Aamira too - the eldest cursing mark. The Dragon's Eye symbolised ancient hatred, the revenge of ages, the sleeping, seething destruction. Vorde gripped Synae's arm and turned fully to her. "What did you see, Synae! What was your vision?"

    She tried to console him, to hush him, but with each shake he grew more insistent. "Carrion birds... in the trees around Argeria..."

    "Which birds?"

    "What?"

    "NAME THEM!"

    "Crow and Raven... Grey Vulture... Osprey and Hawk..."

    Vorde released suddenly, as violently as he had gripped her. His face was pain and apprehension. The combination of birds, their location in the vision, the size and colour of the dragon's eye... these were Necromantic allegory... the characters of a total premonition. "It can't be...!"

    "Aderas, what...?"

    He took up his staff, possessed by sudden urgency, as if life had, in but a heartbeat, turned profound. "We must leave this town. Something is waking... something beyond imagining."