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  2. Sorceri

    Morag stood, head jerking to one side and then the other, assessing the large, brass object in front of her. It looked as though it could hold her twice over, and was full of hot water. Steam was rising off the top of it. "Bath?" Morag quietly asked herself. She knew that word. Sort of. Get in, scrub, get out. Smell different. Smell strange. "Why bath?" Morag shivered, glancing at the brass bath and then back to Nazir who was holding a towel out to her. "Because you smell like rancid seawater." Nazir said with a smirk and gestured a little with the towel, "You'll feel better once you're clean I'm sure, or at least I'll feel better..." Morag took the towel and then turned and walked up to the bath. She wriggled free of her clothes. Standing there naked, her body was covered in scars, many of which looked like she had sustained serious wounds. Her black, inky hair only reached her chest but as she stepped into the hot bath, her hair continued it's waterfall cascade down her back and into the water, which rapidly turned as black as her hair. She sunk into the heat and sighed, closing her eyes for a moment in silence. "Bath is good." Morag muttered, "Ouch!" Morag recoiled inside the bath and looked around as though something had attacked her. "OW!!" She recoiled again and her stomach growled. "Our guts ache!" Morag looked to Nazir for an answer. Nazir's demeanour had changed slightly, he seemed a little uncomfortable suddenly. "I'll get you something to eat. What do you want?" he asked, his gaze fixed on a blank part of the wall. "We don't know..." Morag growled quietly, then her eyes blinked open. From somewhere, the sound of sizzling meat echoed in her ear. "Meat!" She proclaimed, splashing her legs in the bath. This was strange. But familiar. Pleasant, yet uncomfortable. Ridiculous, yet mundane. She studied Nazir's peculiar habits but couldn't understand his reasons, then returned to playing with the surface of the water. "Fine, I'll get you some stew." Nazir said, and he turned to leave the washroom, "Parr has left you out some clothes in the room next to this one. Report to her when you're done and I'll return with your food." He gave a stiff nod and then left. Morag refocused on the water when Nazir had left. She stared down into it's glossy blackness. Suddenly she sunk her head beneath the surface of the water, and touched the bottom of the bath. She could see very little beneath the water. The eerie green glow of her eyes illuminated the interior of the bath just enough she was able to trace the welding lines with her finger. It felt as though very little time had passed when she heard a loud surge as a pair of arms crashed into the water and frantically searched. Morag laughed, bubbles raising to pop on the surface. This was funny. She batted at the hands playfully and they refocused on her immediately. Snatching at her arms, they yanked as hard as they could and Morag breached the surface of the black water and was pulled from the bath by a woman and they fell to the floor in a heap. Morag looked down at the woman, dripping water and her long, inky black hair gently flowing down on her. "You are Par? Why do you pant and sweat, Parr?" Morag asked. "Get off me!" Parr - as it was, indeed, Parr - shoved Morag aside and stood up, patting down her uniform. She seemed more than a little shaken. "I came in to bring you your clothes and you were underwater, I thought you were drowning." Morag cocked her head at this, but said nothing. Instead, she addressed her want. She wanted the clothes that were promised to her. She saw them on the chair by the door and stalked over to them. They were new, and clean, but that meant little to her now. She only knew that it was supposed to be strange not to wear clothes. She saw their reactions to her without them. When she had finished dressing, Morag now saw her clothes were much like Parr's. They were blue, in a similar uniform fashion, with brown boots. Only, she noticed they didn't have any of the symbols and glittery medallions upon her own clothes. "You're not one of us, just because you're wearing that uniform." Parr cautioned her. Morag jerked her head up slightly and sat on the chair that had held her clothes. Parr spent a moment gathering herself and fussing over her uniform that was now covered in damp patches. She looked at Morag for a moment and scowled, "The Captain said you were a little touched in the head but..." She made a studious expression at Morag, her brow furrowing as she assessed her, "He's soft-hearted, not that he would ever admit it. What about you, Morag? Tell me about yourself." "What would we tell you?" Morag asked simply. Parr raised her brow at that, "You know like...where you come from, your family and friends, your job or..." She paused to consider, "Well...what duties you were assigned at least." She seemed to have made herself uncomfortable by saying that, "Sorry, Valkyr don't normally keep slaves. Your clan is somewhat special in that regard." "But..." Morag didn't understand, "... the man we met, he called us Valkyr. How can we be a slave, if Valkyr?" "You...don't know?" Parr asked, looking a little shocked, "Well then uhm..." She strode out of the room for a moment and returned with a thick book that she was busy flipping through, "Let's see...ah here it is - Lunéan clan. They led the last remaining Valkyr who had refused to swear fealty to the empire. It says here that their leader... Mordrang, well he entered in to a right of combat with the Emperor himself. He died in the fight and his people were to surrender as part of the agreement. His daughter... oh, wow." Parr paused for a moment, a little shaken by the words, "Mordrang's daughter ordered the armies to attack the Emperor, and then she fled the battle and committed suicide by falling from the cliffs. Valkyr traditions are quite sacred, Mordrang's daughter was branded a dishonourable coward, her actions cost the lives of many of their clan. It seems the remaining clan were enslaved and had their civil rights stripped as an example to be set for all other clans who think of betraying their ancient code." Parr had gotten a little absorbed in the text and wasn't even paying attention to Morag any more. Black tears streamed from Morag's eyes, she brought her hands to her face and brushed them away as they fell, but seemed equally perplexed, "We are coming undone..." "What?" Parr asked, looking up from her book. Before Morag could answer, however the door in the outer room sounded and Nazir called for them to come through. On the large table where their maps and books were stacked were also three pewter bowls of steaming stew. Nazir had picked one up already and scooped a spoonful into his mouth, and grimaced as he chewed on the meat. "Someone needs to tell these Valkyr what spices are." He moaned. Morag eyed the nearest bowl and swept down upon it within a moment, wasting no time she brought the bowl to her lips and slurped the stew from the lip. When she brought the bowl down she glanced at Nazir and parroted him, "Someone needs to tell us what spices are?" She asked. It was a serious question, but they seemed amused. "Ignore him he doesn't like any food that doesn't burn the roof of his mouth off," Parr said as she picked up her own bowl and ate a mouthful. She spoke again when she was finished, "So, Captain are you thinking she's possessed by a Daemon?" She asked, eyeing Morag to gauge her reaction. "I don't know. Shrike didn't seem threatened by her and I trust her instincts on such matters," Nazir explained, "Morag doesn't seem to remember much before she washed up on the shore. If we find her master perhaps I can petition them to release her. In Solaris slaves are freed if they bond a spirit usually, plenty of guilds pay slave debts off for a good sorcerer." "This isn't Solaris." Parr warned, "Morag's clan are stripped of their honour. They're essentially like a Valkyr version of Kalak." "Kalak have rights, I'm Kalak you know." Nazir said, frowning slightly. "You get my point." Parr said, "They are slaves because they are not even being given the chance to reclaim their honour. It's deeply personal to Valkyr culture." "If they don't give someone a chance to prove themselves then what honour do they really have?" Nazir replied, shaking his head. "What honour do we really have..." Again, Morag parroted quietly. The room fell silent at that, but she seemed unaffected by her own comment. "Give us that." She jerked her head at Parr's bowl of food, "We are not sated." "Manners cost nothing." Parr replied, and ate another bite of her food. "Here have mine, I can't stomach any more." Nazir said and handed his bowl to Morag, "Are you feeling any better?" Morag snatched the bowl, but jerked her head down slightly, as much a sign of thanks as she was willing to give and continued eating her second bowl of stew. "Our insides are quiet." She replied, between mouthfuls. When she finished she licked her lips with a long tongue and ran it across her canine fangs. At last, she seemed satisfied. But now she was alert. Her eyes darted around the room and swept over the table and maps and all these things she'd never seen before. "Why are you even dealing with this anyway?" Parr asked, "If she's not bonded with a Daemon then we don't have jurisdiction in this matter." "I'm just keeping an eye on her, I've never seen a bond where the spirit is... inside the human?" "Seriously?" Parr's eyes widened a little, "I seem to recall this really famous one, oh yeah, the Emperor!" "Oh..." Nazir hadn't seemed to have considered that, "That's different though, it's the Emperor we're talking about. He's a god." "I'm not comparing their power, just the process." Parr replied, "There's nothing that says a bond can't be done this way, in theory." Just then a black hawk-like bird flew through the open window and dropped a dead vole on the ground and stood next to it, looking very proud of herself.
  3. Sorceri

    After a moment Nazir quirked an eyebrow at the woman in the cage. She did mostly look like a Valkyr woman, but her hair, eyes and teeth were distinctly inhuman. Was she a spirit, perhaps? A Daemon like the guard had suggested? Nazir’s gaze shifted to the guard, and then to Shrike who was behind him, leaning against a wall in a dark patch of the room. The spirit was eyeing the woman in the cage with an intense stare, something anticipatory about the look in her eyes. “I know why you hate him.” Shrike said to the woman as she gently pushed herself off the wall and walked towards the cage, her approach was cautionary but there was no fear to it. Hate me?[/i}, Nazir thought. How could she hate him?, she didn’t even know him. His expression tensed as he suppressed his frustration at the thought. The Valkyr had a poor association with the Solari since the war, but it had been centuries since then and he hadn’t fought in that war, nor had any living Valkyr. Or, perhaps it was because he was a Sorceri. He’d learned quickly that people generally grew uncomfortable around him because of that. He didn’t especially blame anyone for that though. Nazir’s focus fell back to the woman in the cage, who was now looking at Shrike, her expression ponderous. "You're not like him." The ink-haired woman jerked her head at Nazir. It was almost bird-like. Shrike smirked and shook her head. “No, not like him…” She said, “Look at that smoldering face!” She gestured at Nazir and his frown deepened. “See?” she continued, “You think he’s grumpy but that’s just his face, see [i[now he’s getting grumpy!” Nazir’s expression darkened further, then it softened a little as he tried to fight it. He was playing right in to her hand. “So I can see why you would hate him for that, but I don’t think he can help it. Humans are quite stupid.” “Hey!” Nazir cried, but Shrike only rolled her eyes. Focused on Shrike, she no longer took notice of Nazir, "He is upset, because he is not stupid..?stupid...?" She asked, quizzically, still addressing Shrike, who responded with a slight tilt of her head, her expression becoming confused for a moment. “…Are you sure you’re not stupid?” Shrike asked, her eyes narrowing. “Miss…” Nazir interjected, but he paused as he realized he didn’t know her name. “I am Captain Nazir Szash. I’m a Sorceri. The guards have imprisoned you in this cell due to suspicion that you have been involved in Daemonic magic. Do you understand?” There was a long pause as the woman considered everything he had said. "... No." But as soon as she answered, in a matter-of-fact way, she refocused on Shrike. "What does the wind feel like beneath your wings..?wings...?" She asked, "We don't remember..." “We?” Shrike’s eyes glittered with intrigue and she edged closer to the cage. She got so close that she could wrap her hands around the bars, “Are you a we?” “Shrike, what are you talking about?” Nazir asked. “She is a we.” Shrike replied as if it was now completely obvious. “There’s only one person standing there.” Nazir replied. “One vessel.” Shrike corrected him and then she addressed the woman, “Who are you?” "We are..." She came to a halt. The question had obviously phased her. She stared at the stone floor for a minute or so in silence, then answered, "We are Morag." “Where did you find this woman?” Nazir asked the guard. “Down by the ocean, she was feral.” The guard replied, eyeing Morag timidly. “She attacked you?” Nazir asked “No…not, well…” The guard blustered, “She got really angryangry, so we had to club her.” “You knocked her out with a club!?” Nazir asked incredulously. “Well what were we supposed to do?” The guard asked “You could have killed her!” Nazir snapped at him, grabbing the guard by his coat and pulling him close so to his own face, “No wonder she’s talking nonsense!” “But she’s a Daemon surely?” The guard asked. “Get out!” Nazir snarled as he released him. “But…is there a re-“ “Get out or I’m going to club you round the head and see how you like it!” The guard visibly flinched and then he ran out of the holding cells quickly. Fool, Nazir thought. If there was somethingsomething, he hated it was people who were bad at their jobs. Yet he found it all so typical that guards would throw their weight around, instead of protecting people. He turned back towards the cell and Morag. She definitely waswas under the influence of some kind of spiritspirit, but there was no real way to tell if she was a Daemon without proof of malevolence. Strictly speaking Spirits and Daemons were the same group of entities, the words only described their alignment. “This bond is very strange…” Shrike mused as she watched Morag. “I’ve seen sorcerers with strange features before. The bond can affect people differently.” Nazir replied, then he turned his attention back to Morag, “What do you remember? Can you tell us anything about yourself?” Morag answered immediately though she seemed distracted, glancing around the cell. "We are storm. We are wind. We are rain. We are flight. We are freedom. We are Morag." She fell to silence. It seemed as though she had finished her thought, but then after a minute of curious searching inside the cell, she resumed, "We fell. We drowned. We were cold. It was dark. Long dreams. Strange thoughts..." So, she had fallen into the water? The cliffs down by the ocean were treacherous in some places, perhaps she really was a runaway slave. If she had runaway in the nightnight, then fallen from a cliff in the dark? That didn’t explain how she was in her current condition though. Memories flashed before his mind; men screaming as they died slowly and painfully, the crash of men tumbling in their ranks as the earth grinded beneath them. So much blood. All dead. He was next. Nazir shook the thought from his head. So perhaps a bond created in a time of stress much like his own experience? If she was drowning, then perhaps a Spirit came to her aid. “Do you recall anything before that? Do you know where your master is?” Nazir asked. "What is a master?" Morag asked. Then paced inside the cell, "We do not like this..." She hissed. “I understand.” Nazir replied with a nod, “Unfortunately you have a mark that indicates you’re a Lunéans slave. All LuneansLunéans are slaves under Valkyr law. This isn’t something I can interfere with I’m afraid.” “But she is bonded.” Shrike insisted. “That doesn’t matter.” Nazir replied, “She’s still a slave.” “So were you, once.” Shrike replied, “Yet when we bonded you became a Sorceri.” “That’s different.” Nazir said. “Why?” Shrike asked “Because I was a military slave, and Sorcerers are valuable assets. My debt was paid for in order to transfer me to The Sorcerium.” “Then can we not transfer her too?” Shrike asked “No it’s…it’s not that simple.” Nazir said irritably, then turned to Morag, “You are a slave. I can’t help you.” Morag stalked to the back of the cell. "... We understand. We will not be caged." She rushed to the front of the cell in a gush of wind and slammed into the bars. They dented sharply. She remained stuck to them, but she was not holding onto the bars to remain perched halfway up. Morag had shifted her centre of gravity. She leapt to the back of the cell (up for her) and then plummeted back down at twice the speed she had struck it the first time. "MOVE!!" Morag commanded, and crashed into the bars. She yowled in pain as the bricks holding two of the bars gave way. Morag and the cell bars went flying. She hit the wall outside the cell and ran along it horizontally until she suddenly shifted to the floor and came to a halt, pausing just long enough to assess Nazir's intent. In the chaos of what had happened Shrike had disappeared, and Nazir stood alone with a sword in his hand. It was a sabre with a black grip and a pommel and cross guard that looked like they were made of obsidian. The blade was curved and razor sharp. “Where will you go?” He asked her, his expression a hardened battle focus. He wasn’t attacking, but he was ready for her. “If you flee you’ll be caught if you follow the main roads, but if you stick to the wilds you’ll stand no chance of finding the next town and you’ll starve or freeze to death. I know what you’re feeling right now.” He did. He had not been born a slave, in fact he had been free for the entirety of his childhood. His father had sold him into slavery in order to pay some family debts. Ultimately he had found a good life within his years of enslavement, which was more than many could say. That wasn’t lost on him, and he remembered those early days, how much it hurt. He had thought about running then too, but he had not yet become the competent soldier he was today. “It’s not fair…” Nazir said to Morag, “But it’s the reality of your situation. If you want to get out of it, good. Just be smart about it.” Morag hesitated, "You will not bind us. Take us to the master." She took a step back and visibly relaxed her stance. Nazir stood for a moment with his sword ready, but then the sword rippled and disappeared from his hand, and Shrike emerged at his side. “Boring!” Shrike cried and let out a huff, “I haven’t had a good fight in ages…” “No bonds, but you remain at my side and follow my orders. Understood?” Nazir asked Morag. "We understand." She nodded, and swiftly moved to his side. Relaxing almost immediately now she was free of her physical bonds, yet she still seemed uncomfortable. “Come with me to our quarters first. We can get you a bath and some clean clothes.” Nazir said. “And food for the vessel!” Shrike added.
  4. Sorceri

    Valkheim. 200 years ago. The cold, salty air buffeted her pale skin. Whipping her long, white hair about her face. Her long, pointed ears twitched at the sound of two people approaching, clad in armour. Morag yawned and rolled over, opening her eyes, which were a shade of crystal blue. She slept in a large tent. Larger than most, as she was the daughter of the Chief, Mordrang. Two figures paused outside her tent and stood in silence, casting a shadow over her. "Morag, your presence has been requested by Chief Mordrang!" A man yelled into the tent. "You'd better go." Morag glanced over and saw her partner, Grelka, had woken. Grelka had a thick mane of white hair that cascaded back and was woven into braids. "I suppose you're right." Morag muttered, sitting up. The covers fell from her and she stood and crossed the tent, pulling on a pair of dark brown trousers and a white blouse, she picked up her blade, a longsword, and fixed it to her belt. "I don't know how much longer we can do this." "What do you mean?" Grelka asked, brushing hair out of her face as she pulled herself up, drawing the covers close to her. "I mean... one by one, the clans are falling in line. Father says the Emperor wants to erase our way of life. Every day I wake up, I hear another clan has been... absorbed, into this Empire of his. Now our scouts say they've found the northern pass. We're next." Morag sighed, sitting at the side of the bed. "Remember who you are." Grelka cautioned her, "You're a Swordmaiden. You have to leave your feelings here, with me." "What if I can't?" Morag muttered, looking down at her hands. They were calloused and rough, scarred from years wielding the blade. "You have to." Grelka rested a hand on Morag's shoulder. They kissed. And Morag left. "Show me to my father." Morag barked, as she strode out of the tent. The men nodded and led her through the war camp. She heard the clash of metal on metal as hammer struck blade, still hot from the furnace. Sparks flew into the muddy, snow-blanketed path. A man was cooking fish over an open fire. While another man was dropping things into a stew pot. A woman passed her, and noted the scar on her collarbone. In the shape of a downwards facing crescent moon. The clan symbol of the Lunéan. Every Valkyr held a mark from their clan and she bowed to Morag. While the Lunéan. were the last free clan of the Valkyr, hundreds of other Valkyr from other clans had joined them in resisting the Empire. Morag returned the bow, when one of the men indicated the tent ahead of them. It was perhaps twice the size of her own, but then it also held the war table, with a map of the surrounding regions and all troop movements by the Empire. Morag knocked the cloth cover aside and stepped inside. Her father, Mordrang, noted her with indifference. He was flanked on either side by several warriors dressed in full armour. One man, three women. They were arguing with one another over the placement of the models that represented their forces. Morag had just long enough to notice just how few figures on the map belonged to their forces, and how many more figures were now planted on all sides but north of them. That was not useful, however. Only a few hundred feet to the north was Valk's shrine, and beyond that, only a sheer cliff. "Father." Morag nodded to him. "Oh, Morag... yes, good..." Mordrang looked up from the war table. "I want you to go to Valk's shrine." "Why?" Morag asked, frowning. She saw something in her father's face she'd never seen before. She didn't know exactly what it was, but it seemed like he was afraid. She opened her mouth to argue, she didn't want to go anywhere, but at that moment, a scout ran into the tent, unannounced. "What is the meaning of this?!" Mordrang snapped, angrily. The council of advisers fell silent. The scout stepped forwards, panting. "A dozen figures are coming up the southern path, Chief Mordrang!" His blade was already drawn. Mordrang crossed the room and grabbed his blade, a longsword like Morag's but it was longer and larger, and certainly a lot heavier. It took two men to carry that blade, but her father slung it on his back like it was an infant to be carried, unconcerned by the weight. "To arms, then. The Emperor has come for Valk, and we shall not give her to him." "I'll fight with you." Morag added, her hand on her blade's hilt. "YOU WILL DO AS YOU'RE TOLD!!" Mordrang roared, losing his temper. "For once... in your life, Morag. Do this, for me." Morag grit her teeth, her nails biting into the skin of her palm as she clenched her fists. "Fine. I'll go to the shrine." She started to leave. "Daughter!!" Mordrang called out, as her hand reached for the cloth partition. Morag glanced back and they shared a look for a moment, and then she was gone. Morag walked out into the frigid air once more. She was out of the camp within a few minutes, and she started up the steep path to the shrine. An ancient building that sat atop the cliffs. It was a long climb, but she had promised her father. What she would do when she got there, she did not know. She knew only that the Emperor was coming, and she was not allowed to fight. Tradition would not allow it. If both she and her father were killed, then who would lead the clan? Mordrang breathed a sigh of relief. His daughter was safe. For now, at least. "Gather all our remaining warriors. Today is a good day to die..." Mordrang reached over his shoulder and drew the blade from its scabbard and rested it on his shoulder. "Now let us go and see what the Emperor wants..." He stepped out of the tent, flanked by the four other warriors. As they moved through the camp, dozens more joined them. More and more joined their ranks until hundreds were marching down the path to the southern tundra. They walked in silence. Armour rattling. Swords clinking. Heads raised and sure footfall. The Valkyr had lived in the cold all their lives. They were accustomed to it. But it made outsiders sluggish. They were stronger, faster, more capable. One Valkyr Swordmaiden was equivalent to a dozen Solari fighters. But there was so few of them now. Less than a hundred. It wouldn't matter when the armies of the Emperor washed over them. Mordrang had never met the Emperor. He imagined he was like any other Mesmeri. Small, tan skin, round ears. But whatever else the Emperor was, he knew he was a threat. He had already gained the favour of the other clans, essentially undoing years of work. Mordrang had spent nearly two decades trying to unite the clans. Now the Emperor had all but done that under his rule. Mordrang stopped, his feet crunching in the snow. There ahead of them, lay the tundra. Snow slowly gave way to tufty grassland dotted with snow. It was still cold, but the bitterness had been taken from the air. About fifty feet ahead of them, stood a man dressed in a simple sarong, but he also adorned himself in golden bangles and braclets, jewels and all manner of finery. Mordrang - a Valkyr warrior - saw them as ridiculous trinkets. Unnecessary. He was used to a spartan way of living. "Greetings, Emperor Reshik Esperitus Hashiram!" Mordrang yelled, over the intermittent howl of the wind. "You've come a long way. The north isn't suited... for some. Perhaps you'd like to go home, sit inside your palace, and count your coin. I would gladly point you in the right direction." Mordrang held his sword forwards and pointed it to behind the Emperor. "It would be that way." The Emperor did not reply at first. He looked at Mordrang with a penetrating stare, golden lines within his pupils that were the shape of a five-point star. A buzzing ripple of energy cut through the wind from where the Emperor stood. "I have come to end this," his voice was deep and calm and carried in the distance even though he didn't appear to be yelling. "This need not end in the death of your people." Mordrang smirked. But he felt a shiver as his body tightened, he felt a kind of pressure coming from the Emperor. He had never known this power. The wind whipped his thick, mid-length white hair about his face, and watched as the Emperor stepped forwards of his accompanying figures. Mordrang gazed out and caught a face beneath a hood that he recognised. "Baldur!" Mordrang yelled. The figure recoiled, "Aye I see you, you old goat!!" "What of it?!" Baldur yelled back, standing behind the Emperor. "Valkyr do not bend the knee, Baldur! You and all your lot have forgotten the old ways!!" Mordrang spat on the ground. "The old ways are dead! The old gods are dead, Mordrang! They are spirits!! ONLY SPIRITS!!" "BAH!!" Mordrang snapped back, "So what of it, Reshik?!" Mordrang yelled, refocused on the Emperor. "You can prevent our deaths! You need only walk away. This, is our land. That," Mordrang pointed his blade to the building in the distance casting shade upon them from on high, "--is our shrine to Valk. And Valk, belongs to none. You have come to take her, or kill her. I cannot allow it." Reshik's expression did not change as Mordrang spoke, and after a moment he nodded his head just once. "I understand." He said, "Yet I cannot acquiesce to you. I am not taking this land from you, for this land has always been mine. Your Daemon is not welcome within my land, but your people are. I could see you made Highlord of Valkyr, Mordrang. Your people would be united under you. Daemons will be scoured from this land but all else can remain, and more could grow if your pride allowed it." There was sincerity to what he said, despite the measured tone. "You call them Daemons, but they're a terrible bondage for both host and spirit. You don't respect the sacrifice that's made when even one is bonded to you." Mordrang sliced a line through the snow and frozen mud and turf. "No further, Reshik. Our lands are ours and Daemon is an ugly word for a Spiritling. Take it back with you, if you like, and teach it to your court, i'm sure they'll have a great laugh." "You will not win." Reshik said with certainty, "You will die to protect the Daemon, I see that now but your traditions allow for it to end another way. I challenge you to fight me in combat for the fate of your people. If you die then they will surrender to me, and they will be spared." Mordrang felt the bite of the cold. He swallowed. He had never felt the cold, until now. The Emperor stepped towards him, and he felt a weight press against his chest. Mordrang lifted his blade, it was heavy. Heavier than he ever remembered. So this was what happened when a Spiritling took more and more until their power was leaking out of them. To him, it looked like the Emperor was broken, cracks of light almost seethed from him, but it didn't matter, it was terrifying. Mordrang roared in rage and bloodthirst. It was time to give his ancestors a song to sing in Korvortor, the after lands. Mordrang ran at Reshik, whipping his sword up through the air as he skid to a halt in front of the Emperor and swiped to cleave the man in two. There was a sudden rush of power and suddenly the sword shot off in the opposite direction, pulled by a powerful force. Reshik's eyes narrowed at Mordrang and then he forced Mordrang back with another blast of powerful wind. The snow flurried around Reshik in a spiral, and his clenched fist tightened as he took a step forward. As he slowly advanced toward Mordrang roots began to emerge rapidly from the ground beneath him, earth parted and rose into the air, orbiting the Emperor as ancient roots rose around him like a network of sentient vines. So, the stories were true. Mordrang brought his arms into his sides and focused, tapping a power he had kept caged for a long time. It's fury in being released was enormous, fire burned from within and before he knew it, it was around him in a swirling inferno. The other Valkyr retreated, even the Swordmaidens fell back. Mordrang stepped forwards, fire swirling around him, forming around his limbs and body. He felt a presence, then. I'm out. I'm out. It's time? The fire took shape, and when Mordrang stepped forwards, his Valkyr body was somewhere inside an enormous bear of living fire. When he spoke, it was like a combination of Mordrang and whatever was with him now. These are our lands. We hunt here. You are in our territory. LEAVE!!! Ursun. A spirit of the wild, one that was focused on the control of territory and those that violated its perceived boundaries. The Ursun/Mordrang bear of flame and anger charged Reshik, melting the snow with a hiss with each stomping stride. The bear roared, and a wave of heat struck the Emperor moments before the bear opened it's maw and leapt to strike. Reshik grimaced and shot his hand forward in a command and the roots suddenly began growing rapidly, exploding from the earth and coiling around the creature as it ripped and tore at the vines. rocks and earth rose up to compact itself between the vines, then Reshik countered with his own intense heat as fire scorched the compacted earth and rocks, melting them into a burning magma. Finally the magma cooled rapidly and became solid as the heat was sucked out of it. A small tower of scorched vines bound together by black rock now stood within the field, Mordrang contained within. The wind howled mournfully for a moment, and between them a cracking could be heard from within the structure. The rock exploded from within, as the bear grew to twice its previous size, it roared in anger and pain as it's fire went from red to blue and its heat grew ever more intense, then suddenly it was over. Mordrang jerked as something hit him. He looked down at his chest and saw his own blade. He reached to his chest and touched it as though he wasn't sure it was really there. His eyes drifted up, he saw the Emperor with his hand outstretched. It seemed, the act was over. He would never have been victorious. As he collapsed to his knees, the fire dispersed around him. Where do spirits go? To Korvortor...? Ursun asked. "I don't know..." Mordrang muttered aloud, and then as the Emperor approached him, he saw a figure standing behind Reshik. It was his daughter, Morag. There will be rage... "Don't--" Mordrang whispered, his world turning to black. "You're not-- supp-- be here..." He felt a hand grip the hilt of his blade. Morag screamed in horror and anger as her father's sword was yanked free of her father's corpse. The body collapsed to the ground, eyes glassy, staring to the sky as blood pooled around him. Her anger and hurt and sadness funnelled into outrage as her gaze fixed on Reshik. A dozen warriors, and three Swordmaidens stood between her and Reshik. Morag drew her blade. "You monster..." "He chose this," Reshik replied, his tone measured. "Do this and you will dishonour his sacrifice." "What good is honour, when we have forgotten all the songs and tales of our people. I defy you, and everything you stand for!" The Swordmaidens grew restless. "Don't do this!" Baldur piped up once more. "Morag! You have a greater responsibility--" "Kill them." Morag growled. The warriors charged, but the first to reach the Emperor were the Swordmaidens. Their blades fell at different points to cut the Emperor down but he was too fast, he spun, blocking two of the strikes and grabbed them, throwing them into the men behind him. The remaining Swordmaiden, clad in the typical white armour, charged and fought with the Emperor in one-on-one. The other two Swordmaidens easily dispatched several of the Imperial-sympathetic Valkyr Chiefs, but by the time they reached Baldur, vines struck them and pierced their bodies in multiple places, ending them. Then a gust of wind pulled the final Swordmaiden's feet out from under her, and a blade found her back. Morag ran. As she fled, the remaining warriors threw themselves in vain, upon the Emperor. Like a wave crashing against a mountain, it made little difference. She heard their screams as they were cut down. She had to reach the temple. She could hear rapid footfall behind her. The Emperor was not just following her. He was chasing her. She was in terrible danger. She heard Baldur screaming something as she raced up the old stone stairs. Disappearing into the shrine. By the time she reached the statue of Valk, the Great Raven, she heard the doors open a second time as the Emperor's shadow was cast through the shrine, shrouding her. "Great Raven, protect me, give me the strength to dispatch our enemy..." Morag put her hand to the breast of the stone raven. "Great Raven, help us in our time of need." The raven remained motionless, she heard footsteps. Morag whirled around and drew her blade as the Emperor approached. "I won't let you..." The blade was ripped from her hands and pinned to the wall. The Emperor narrowed his eyes at Morag. "Step aside," he ordered. Morag charged Emperor Reshik. Anger and sadness welled up inside her, and she gave in to her emotions. She grabbed for his throat, but this was not a being she had ever faced in combat before. He moved so quickly she barely understood what had happened. One moment he was there, the next he was passing her, and she felt a rip and something hit the floor as she suddenly felt lighter and off-balance. Then waves of pain tore through her and she saw her left arm had been severed. She fell to the floor as the Emperor passed her and stood before the Great Raven. "No..." Morag growled, picking herself back up. She turned and ran once more at the Emperor. He seemed absorbed, long enough that she was able to grab his neck from behind but then suddenly he was mist, he reformed behind her, and she felt the blade pierce her back and saw it extend before her. She felt the blade drag its way out of her body but she was numb to the pain now. She hit the freezing stone floor and blinked, trying to focus on the Emperor. A brilliant flash of green light, thunder, rain and lightning cracked inside the shrine. The statue glowed with green light as it gave off black smoke and pulled itself away from the stone itself. An enormous raven, formed of glowing green light and black smoke took flight. Morag heard the Emperor yell, and then something struck her in the chest with a force strong enough that she felt herself become airborne and land at the top of the stairs leading out of the shrine. There was footfall again. She had to get to her feet, now. Her doom was coming. Fleeing the shrine, Morag ran for the cliffs. The camp was overrun now. There was no going back. To her surprise, she saw that while she had been inside the shrine, the weather had changed. A storm had developed. Rain began to fall. Lightning flashed in the distance. And the sky grew darker and darker. Reaching the edge of the cliff, Morag looked down and saw the ocean churning below, crashing against the rocks. She glanced behind her, and saw the Emperor approaching her once more. She had only two options. Stay and die with certainty. Jump and die in all likelihood. "I defy you..." Morag repeated. One day, she would have vengeance. She would not die. Not today. Korvortor would have to wait a while longer for this warrior. Morag Lunéan, daughter of Mordrang, Chief of the Lunéan Clan, Captain of the Swordmaidens, leapt from the cliff. As she tumbled through the air, the spray from the ocean hitting her face as she descended. She saw the face of the Emperor, staring down from the edge of the cliff. Then her world collapsed in on itself, as the rush of water enveloped her and the world above became a murky illusion of light and memory. Valkheim. 200 years later. Darkness. She felt fuzzy. She couldn't focus. She tried to take a breath, and pain filled her. Her eyes shot open and she gagged on water. She kicked her legs with all the force she could muster, and just as her lungs were beginning to burn she breached the surface and took an enormous breath. She kicked with her legs, and her only arm. She only had one arm? The shore wasn't far, but it certainly wasn't any easier only doing it with one arm. She had to fight the current all the way there. When she finally pulled herself up onto the beach she was exhausted. Her clothes were in tatters. She checked herself over. Her left arm was missing. A large section of white scar tissue spread from her shoulder where an arm should have been. And there was a white scar in the shape of a large, slim diamond, both on her front and, as she discovered in checking,on her back as well. Where was she? It was freezing. Was that normal? "Who are we.. we?" She said aloud, her voice was authoritative, yet she hardly had the knowledge to back it up. And it had a kind of resonance to it, as though two were speaking at once ever so slightly out of sync. She coughed again, feeling a bit better and stood up. As she did so, she noticed she was a few feet from a harbour. It was completely unrecognisable to her. Ships were moving back and forth, people were everywhere, all kinds of people. Some of them looked like her, at least what she could see in the reflection of the water, but a great many more looked very different. None of them seemed to pay her any mind. Why would they? She was just some woman in rags. She felt strange. Like she was having a conversation with herself. Her thoughts were all jumbled up, and she couldn't remember anything. "Hey!!" A voice called. She looked up and saw two men in light armour with an emblem of a wolf on their uniforms. That emblem meant something, but she couldn't think what. Had she known? "Look!" One of the men said, "She's got a Clan mark of Lunéan. Black hair, but... I know that symbol anywhere. She's probably run off from her Master-- Hey!!" He yelled down at her, "Wait there!!" She bolted. She knew that whatever was going on, these men were not here to help her. She ran as fast as she could, but she felt so weak. Suddenly, as she turned a corner, she bumped straight into one of the men who wrestled her to the ground. "Alright, alright, that's enough o' that, you're spendin' the night in a jail--hey!" The guard paused and looked her over, "There's something wrong with her..." "Don't worry 'bout that, just report it to that Sorceri and maybe we'll get a reward," The other guard chuckled and leaned over her, "An' in the mornin' we're findin' your owner." "NOTHING OWNS US!!" She snapped, the very idea of this suddenly enraged her. She began to thrash violently. Something would take her freedom away? She was freedom. She was flight. She was... something struck her in the back of the head, and everything went dark. When her eyes next opened, she was in a cell. It was freezing and damp, but she was alive. She didn't even know who she was. But she was alive, and that was a start. She heard footsteps. The voice of a man talking to someone. He was describing something. "Like a Valkyr woman, only hair is black an' it's like... smoke or ink or somethin', an' her eyes are green. Green-eyed Iceheart, ya ever hear a such a thing?! An' talkin' funny--" She listened intently. A Valkyr? She was a Valkyr woman, then. She reached up with her right arm and brushed hair out of her face. They were right, it was almost like a waterfall of ink pouring over her head and vanishing around her chest. When she moved it with her hand, it was like correcting a trail of water, laced with black smoke. But she was not so different from them. These beings were like water too. But she was even wetter than they were. Is that what it meant to be Valkyr? But she felt like a storm, a tempest, a-- then she saw a face that made her angry for a reason she couldn't describe. She didn't know why it made her angry, but she knew she was in danger. Like an instinct. She fled to the back of the cell, into the shadows. Her eyes, glowing in the darkness, black and emerald smoke rising from them. The guard banged on the cage, "Aye she's in there alright, Master Sorceri. She's a Daemon i'd wager, an' uh, don't suppose... there's a reward?" The iron bars of the cell clanged as she slammed her body against the metal, one black-clawed hand outstretched, she bore her teeth, which were more like fangs and grasped at the air, inches from the man with the face she hated, "Why do we hate you?!" The guard leapt out of his skin and recoiled until his back slammed up against the wall. But the man she hated, well... he didn't move an inch.
  5. Darkpine Valley

    The engine of the Pontiac GTO muscle car roared with bubbling menace as it glided through the winding roads framed by nationally-protected forest on either side. The enormous pine trees glistened off the ruby red, well-maintained body of the vintage car. A voice wailed from inside the car, the radio playing 'Immigrant Song' by Led Zeppelin. A pale hand tapped on the driver's wheel, their nails almost like claws, filed to a point and painted with black nail polish. She leant back in her chair and shoved her boot up against the wheel, holding it steady. Reaching into her black jean pocket, she pulled out a black lipstick and re-applied then took the wheel once more. Her amber-coloured eyes glanced at her road map. The town of Darkpine was only another mile into the heart of the national forest. Up until the 1980's, Darkpine had been a mining and logging town. When the surrounding forest became protected land, all industry stopped and Darkpine became focused on conservation, education, and wildlife protection, which brought in tourists and all kinds, but it kept the town afloat. So said the flyer, at least. She wasn't coming to Darkpine for the conservation though, unless that is, it was her own. Her name was Alice, and she had seen a few things. A few things that most people would scarcely believe, even if they saw for themselves. She brushed her medium-length scruffy raven hair out of her face and refocused on the road. She saw a sign approaching but her keen eyes quickly noticed it was so worn that it was illegible. There was a gas station coming up, and from there, several roads going in every which way. She'd have to stop and ask for directions. Alice pulled into the gas station and killed the engine. The music continued to wail until she hit pause and got out of the car. As she did so, two men stepped out of the gas station shop and approached with a wave. "Evenin' miss!" The man called out, "Hang on--" He leaned over and pressed a button, the gas station lit up with an assortment of lights. "Sorry, I know it's already pretty dark but we're savin' energy, gotta be mindful o' the environment, y'know?" Alice smirked, canines gleaming, "Sure." She looked the man up and down. He was tall, balding, wearing denims. Alice glanced behind him and her eyes were met by the second man. This man, she did not like. She recognised in something she knew all too familiar. He was quiet. He was meticulous. He was a predator. When her eyes caught his, he looked away sharp. "So," She turned back to the man in denim, "Which way to Darkpine?" "Darkpine!?" Denim repeated, blinking in surprise, "What'd ya wanna go there for, Miss--?" "Alice. Do people need reasons t'go places these days? What's it to you?" Alice asked, putting a hand on her hip, her tone accusatory. "Oh no, nothing. Just bein' curious is all, sorry, Miss. Take the road to the left there, you'll be on Darkpine in no time." "Thank ye." She nodded to him, then jerked her head at his colleague who was now walking back to the pumps, "What's up with him?" "Oh, don't mind him, Tom's a good kid, wouldn't hurt a fly." He brushed her off, "Name's Jack. I'm the only gas station for miles, well..." He paused, irritably. "Well?" Alice asked, her brow raising. "Besides that one in Darkpine, lord knows how they got the contract to that town when i'm stuck out here on Route 14, but--" Jack took a deep breath and shook his head, "That family's old as this wood, so what's a guy t'do?" He laughed and started back towards the pumps. "Bathrooms over yonder," Jack nodded in their direction, "If you want something to eat, or fuel up or anything just come in the shop, we'll sort you out." And with that, he left. Alice whipped the keys around on her finger a few times, considering her options. Throwing the keys into the air, she snatched them and shoved them into her pocket. The gas station door jingled as it opened. Jack's eyes lit up and he nodded to her, "What'd ya need?" "Wanna fill up the tank for me?" Alice asked, flashing a wad of notes. She paid for the gas upfront and walked outside as both Jack and Tom rushed to service the car. Jack grabbed the gas and started filling it up, while Tom was hoovering the inside. Alice tapped her short-cut leather jacket. She felt the pack of cigarettes inside and reached in, pulling one out and lighting it. She took a deep drag, savouring the flavour for a moment, then exhaled it from her nose like a dragon and wandered into the women's bathroom. To her great surprise, the bathroom was incredibly clean. She figured they didn't get many visitors. She crossed the bathroom and entered the furthest stall. She had time enough to close the door, when she heard the bathroom door open, and a second person walked in. To the average person, it could have been anyone. But Alice knew who it was. She recognised his smell. She felt the weight of his footsteps. And he favoured his right leg. His heart was also beating out of his chest, just as it had been when he first saw her pull up. The old work boots stomped across the slightly damp tiled floor. She heard him pause at the first stall. Alice walked to the back of her stall, put the seat of the toilet down, and sat upon it. A few more steps. The door to the second stall was knocked open. A moment's silence. Then more footsteps. She looked to the bottom of the stall, and saw a shadow cast from the other side. She could feel the heat of his body. Then it happened. Tom kicked the stall door open with a single attempt and took one step towards her. He didn't speak, he didn't even really acknowledge her. He let out a long-held breath, and advanced. "Aww for Christ sake, would you look at all o' this..." Police Chief Andy Marchand growled in disgust. He had just arrived after poor Jack, the owner of the gas station on route 14 had reported an animal attack. Whatever it was had gotten Tom. There was nothing to be done. When Andy stepped under the yellow police tape and walked into the bathroom, he had to steel himself or lose the contents of his stomach. It was bad. Real bad. He almost tripped on something as the front of his foot got caught. He looked down to see a clutched hand and stumbled back, "Aww Christ, geezus!!" He croaked, but he hadn't even seen the worst of it. Blood everywhere. On the walls. On the ceiling, still dripping down onto them like it was raining indoors. The body was in several pieces, and it had lost most of the blood. That much was obvious, from the copious amounts splattered on everything in the bathroom, and the grey, wrinkled body. "Fuck." Andy cursed, clenching his fists. "FUCK!!" His yell echoed across the bathroom. A flash brought him back to his senses and he saw a woman taking photographs of the fallout. Another flash from her camera. "Hey!" He called out to her, "You got a sec?" Andy asked. "Sure." She let the camera fall limp around her neck and carefully crossed the room, missing the worst of the blood pools. "What's up, Chief?" "Is this the only body?" He queried. "Yep. Jack said there was a girl came through here not long before the attack, but luckily she left before whatever it was took out poor Tom over there... and there... and there." She pointed at the dismembered arm. "Well i'd like to speak to her, maybe she saw something before she left, or maybe she left quick because it was already there when she left..." Andy rubbed his face, running his hand through his thick moustache as he often did when he found himself thinking. "Did you get a name?!" He yelled out to Jack, who refused to come back inside the bathroom. "WoooOO!" Alice hooted, "Now we're cookin' wit' gas!" Her playful drawl was unmistakably from New Orleans. The Pontiac sped past a sign saying 'Welcome to Darkpine!', as Alice used her long tongue, to lap up the last streaks of blood on her lips. Darkpine was a small town, population of a few thousand. Most everybody knew everybody. Facebook made that all too clear. Alice threw her phone onto the passenger seat and then glanced up in the rearview mirror. "Dang it!" She pursed her lips as she reached back for her lipstick again. She found it and looked at the road ahead. She was coming up on the other side of the town, almost home. One last road, pub on the left. Not a car or person in sight. Alice glanced up, quickly grabbing her lipstick. She rolled it across her lips, pursed and rolled her lips so that it re-applied. Her eyes caught movement in her periphery but by the time she looked, it was too late. A drunk, stumbled out into the middle of the round, and she had been speeding. There was nothing Alice could do. An instant later, she hit the man, her windshield cracked and he flew out ahead of her as she brought her car to a screeching halt. The man hit the concrete, she heard a terrible 'crack' and he tumbled and finally hit a tree on the other side of the street. Alice hesitated behind the wheel. Alice felt the need to bail on this situation looming. Self-preservation. She was very good at that. But now she wasn't sure. Alice hesitated. But then she saw a couple walking towards the body. "Aw SHIT!!" Alice leapt out of her car and sprinted towards the couple, "Sir! Ma'am!!" She yelled out. "Hey is that man--" The man squinted in the darkness, the nearest street lamp was too far away. Alice caught up to them, "Sorry folks, sorry! Don't mind my friend, he's had one too many." "He looks hurt!" The woman gasped. "Hurt?!" Alice whipped her head back to look at the man. He looked, well... he looked dead. His limbs were splayed in all directions and his neck was definitely snapped. But then she realised. It was as though it hadn't registered at first. This man, the one she had hit with her car, was not dead. Well, he was dead. But only as much as she was. Alice looked him up and down, "Well... maybe a little more dead..." She thought aloud. "What--?!" The man yelled in surprise, "Did I hear that right?!" "Bed... BED!!" Alice clicked her fingers at them and laughed, "Sorry. Bed. Maybe he needs a little more bed, y'know. Time to sleep." She ran over to him and picked him up, "See he's fine look, he's helping me carry his weight look, i'm five foot nothin' and half his weight, for sure." The man looked to the woman and she shook her head insistently and the pair darted off. "Right then..." Alice muttered, turning and hoisting the corpse of the man onto her shoulder effortlessly. "Come on, then, best get you home..." With the Pontiac parked, Alice got out of the car and pulled the stranger's corpse with her, shutting the door behind them and locked it. "Welcome to ma maison!" She cooed as she walked up the drive to a modern-looking house with lots of glass - though it was all deeply tinted, nothing could be seen of the house inside. "Just like the estate agent said--" She pulled the house keys from inside the soil of the potted plant beside the door. Opening the door, she pulled the corpse inside and shut the front door behind her and locked it. "Best get ya some fresh clothes or somethin'..." He was mangled. Alice frowned and went into the kitchen and came back with two glasses and three bags of blood. The first bag, she pierced with one of her nails and then emptied the contents down the corpse's throat. Then she stood over him, grabbed his head and with incredible precision - perhaps as though she had done this a great many times before - she snapped his neck back into place. Then she sat back down, and pierced the other two bags and emptied them into the glasses. By the time they were full, she heard moaning. She brought one to her lips and took a sip, then offered the other to the man who still had several bad injuries that required healing. "So..." Alice held the glass out to him, "You're a vampire? Like me, then." She smirked, her canines hanging over her bottom lip.
  6. Sorceri

    Fade walked swiftly down the cobbled roads of Grimstone’s main street. The sketchy old town was mostly hidden in darkness at night, illuminated only by the firelight of the few homes and establishments still awake. The rain was falling in that half-hearted way it always did just before it finally gave up. Eilun, the smaller of the moons was beginning to pierce through the gaps in the clouds, casting a faintly purple light. The streets were empty, Grimstone was not the kind of place that you stayed out in after dark, well, at least if you were other people. Darkness frightened most people, but Fade was the type of creature that relished the darkness and the shadows. Of course, there were lots of dangers in the darkness, but he had yet to encounter anything that was quite as dangerous as he was. He turned on to a side street and made his way towards the orange glow of lamplight coming from a small tavern. It was a little out of the way but seemed to still have patrons. He stepped inside. Rainwater dripped from his cloak on to the wooden floorboards. He was immediately greeted by warm air and bright light from the torchlights. He noted the tiny serpent creatures that danced around the flames, fire serpents. The lesser spirits were harmless and often entirely oblivious to their surroundings, but they seemed to appear around open flames quite often. Fade stalked across the room and sat himself at a stool by the bar, outwardly paying no attention to the other patrons. He kept his hood up, obscuring his face as the barman came up to him and cleared his throat. He kept his gaze down at the scratched wood of the bar and hesitated for a moment, keeping his body hunched and cowered slightly. The trouble with small towns is that strange faces brought suspicion. Appearing weak was an effective means of lowering someone’s guard. “What’ll it be?” The barman asked finally. “Whisky.” He said it quickly, let out fall out of his mouth despite himself. It took a bit of practice to mimic the quick, desperate plea of a man who was dependent on his liquor. He did not look up but none the less he could see the barman’s expression. In fact, he could see the entire room he was sitting in. Strictly speaking all he could see was the bar in front of him, yet he had a sense of where everything was, in the way that you know what your house looks like and where everything is placed even when you aren’t in it, like a memory. The memories were not his, however. There was another presence, a light pressure he could feel against his mind, a creature that observed while he played the role of a harmless drunk. Dangerous people were often easy to spot, because you could watch them watching everything around them, assessing and calculating. Fade had kept his head down the entire time, and yet he knew that there were 6 people in the room including himself. Three of them sat at a table behind him and to his left, another was sat alone in a small table by the far wall to his right, and the barman was in front of him. He was also aware that there were at least 3 distinct sounds of footsteps from the floor above him. As the barman poured him a glass of whisky he became aware that the barman was armed with a small dirk he kept stuffed in his left sleeve. The 3 men at the table all carried swords, and the lone woman had no visible weapons. “-Spotter’s Wood has gone dark as well, what are- “ “Sh!” One of the men shushed the other one who spoke, slapping him lightly on the head. “What? It’s just some old wino.” The man replied in a hushed whisper that Fade shouldn’t have been able to hear, and yet he could. “Probably doesn’t know his arse from his elbow I reckon.” “Yeah and twits like you mouthing off is exactly why every single one of our hideouts have been cleaned out. How else do you think people find out?” Old clients, dead drop surveillance, paying off multiple informants, hiring plants to pretend to be clients. Fade listed off just a handful of the many ways in which one could uncover the secret hideouts of a group of assassins. If it was as easy as overhearing someone in a pub then he’d have finished this job months ago. 4 months, 47 people killed. 47 members of the most renowned assassin guild in The Reach, a guild known as Maelstrom. Renown probably wasn’t a great quality in assassins, but while the guild was famous, the people within it were not. Fade had tracked down most of them now. He had located their various front operations, killed their operatives and destroyed their documents. Anything of real value would be in the hands of whoever was running this operation, a person he had yet to identify. A person that he was almost certain was one of the three footsteps from the floor above. This dirty little pub was the last of their hideouts, and the dregs had come running here just as he had expected. Now he just had to think about how to end them all. Any disturbance would alert the people one floor up. If they chose to fight then that wasn’t an issue, but if they chose to flee that would be a problem. It was not worth the risk. “6 dims.” The barman said, holding his hand out for Fade to pay him. Fade reached into his cloak and retrieved his money pouch. He opened it and took out 6 small grey coins. The barman took them and stepped away from Fade, who sipped his whisky and hid his annoyance. 6 dims for this piss? In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t a large sum. He’d paid as much as 4 brights for whisky before, but stuff that expensive was in a different league entirely. Even that wasn’t a great deal of money for him. This job alone was paying him 15 blindings, he knew Lords that didn’t have that much wealth. “She watches.” A voice in his head said suddenly. It was a deep, harsh voice that only barely resembled that of a human. “The one who sits by herself, she is watching you carefully” the voice said with a throaty, purring quality. Fade did not respond; the creature could speak to his mind, but he could not speak back in the same way. Instead he began to think about his next step. The men sitting together would have to be dispatched quickly if he was to prevent them from raising alarm, yet the woman sitting by herself was focused on him, likely she was the most capable person in the room. He knew of only 6 more operatives he had left to kill, and this barman would make seven. So, the woman…had she slipped by his intel? Or perhaps one of the ones upstairs was a captive, or a new initiate? What is this woman was the ringleader? She seemed sharp enough to have caught the creature’s attention anyway. He considered his next step, and then Fade downed the rest of the terrible whisky and placed the glass back on the table. “Another please, barkeep.” He said, and he tapped his finger on the edge of the glass. The barman finished cleaning a glass with a rag that looked dirtier than what it was apparently cleaning. He picked up the bottle of whisky and came over to pour the liquid into Fade’s glass. As he began to pour his eyes focused on the glass. Fade took an inhalation of breath and held it, a rehearsed behavior for him by now, and then without warning he disappeared, leaving behind wisps of black smoke. He reappeared behind the bar, at the barman’s back, and in the blink of an eye he had grabbed the barman’s head from behind and pulled it back, as he drew the sharp end of a curved dagger along his throat. He disappeared again, and by the time the barman had fallen, the whisky bottle smashing against the ground, he had already reappeared behind one of the men at the table, and he slit that man’s throat as the other two shot up, their chairs scraping in horror. In a blink he had teleported once more, appearing in a crouch on the table, he rammed the dagger up into the soft flesh under the man’s jaw at an angle, causing him to gargle quietly as life rapidly fled from him. The remaining man was about to scream, Fade wouldn’t be able to react in time. His shadow rippled, and he felt the sudden surge of excitement from the creature. A large black cat shot out of his shadow like it was the exit to a dark cave, the creature mauled the man, clamping its powerful jaws on his throat and riding him backwards to the ground, where he menaced at his flesh, reveling in the kill. With another blink Fade was at the woman who had stood up from her chair, but as he came to face her she held her hands up in surrender, a smirk across her face. In her right hand she held an object. It was a stamp, one used for sealing wax. His eyes studied the glyph on the end of the stamp. The stylized, symmetrical glyph was not one he could read, it was a uniquely designed glyph and he was not scholarly enough to make out the script the glyph had been derived from. Yet he recognized it immediately. The black cat padded up behind him, it was the size of a large dog, lean and muscular. Its eyes were an alluring shade of purple, the pupil’s tiny slits. Kuuri was no ordinary beast. His black fur seemed to glint every so often, as if his coat were made of the night sky itself, stars twinkling throughout. “Why is she still alive?” Kuuri asked, sounding mildly incredulous. “Because…this woman is our employer.” Fade replied, and he turned towards the woman who was still smirking, and she lowered her arms. “I suppose I should be glad that you’re as sharp as I expected, or else I might have been a beautiful corpse, hm?” The woman had the light tan skin of a woman from Mesmer, she had hair the colour of sand, long with loose curls. She was dressed in a white shirt with a green jerkin, and a pair of brown breeches, and knee-high brown boots. Along with the maroon bandana she had tied around her head she didn’t dress much like a lady. “I have questions.” Fade said to her, but she held up a hand to stop him from asking them. “You are close, but you haven’t finished your job yet.” She said with that sly grin, “I’ll answer you when you’re done.” Fade resisted to urge to cut her down right there. He was not a man to be toyed with, and he had no patience for people who liked to play games with him. At the same time, he could not allow himself failure, he could not allow a contract to be unfulfilled. “Very well.” He said, and then he turned around and walked across the room, drawing the other curved dagger from his belt and held each in a reverse grip as he walked up the stairs to the next floor. Kuuri followed him without comment and disappeared inside his shadow once more. Fade’s extrasensory awareness returned to him as Kuuri returned to his shadow. While they were bonded in such a way his senses became more acute. Teleporting was harder without Kuuri within his shadow, it required more calculation. As he walked up the steps his awareness told him that one of his targets was reaching for the door ahead of them. He quickened his pace and as the door opened a balding man emerged in its frame and had just enough time to look alarmed before Fade teleported behind him and kicked him, sending the man tumbling down the stairs to the bar. Fade turned to face the last two people in the room. One was just getting up from a chair behind a desk while the other had already drawn his sword and was advancing towards Fade. The man went at a run and Fade waited for him. His attacker came at his with a strong forward thrust which Fade side stepped. The man swung the blade upwards and Fade leaned away from it and ducked as it went over his head. From the crouch he made a dive at the man, and then both of their worlds were engulfed in black smoke. There was a sudden rush of cold air, and the sensation of plummeting. The world around them was black, but below them there were some soft glows of light that were gradually getting closer. Fade let go of the man, pushing him away with a sudden blast of wind, and the man screamed as he fell towards the earth, his fate sealed. Another blink and Fade reappeared in the room. Gravity’s work on him was still going, and as he reappeared he had positioned himself sideways, and he fell forward through the room, towards the last remaining member of Maelstrom. His foot struck the man with a powerful kick, but the man did not budge. The impact was as if he’d hit a solid wall, and as he fell back and landed on his feet it was only then that he saw the thick tree branches that were coiled around the man’s legs, holding him firmly in place. “Finally.” Fade said with a nod of respect, “I figured one of you had to be bonded, surely.” “Second Awakening.” The man replied with a smirk. The wood of the floor suddenly shot up and grew around Fade, coiling rapidly around his limbs, tightly binding him until he was imprisoned in a mess of thick, twisting branches and vines. “So, you are the one who has devastated my guild? Disappointing I have to say…I thought you would offer up more of a challenge.” “…Well I didn’t expect such a display if I’m honest. How much growth did you have to absorb to pull this off? Second Awakening you said? So…years of stockpiling I imagine.” “What can I say? I’m prepared.” The man replied smugly, “I’ve been bonded since childhood, I achieved my Second Awakening almost 5 years ago now, I’ve adapted well to the power that comes with it. And what of you? Second Awakening also?” Fade allowed himself a satisfied smirk. “Seventh.” He said casually. “What?” came the dumbfounded response. Fade suddenly teleported, freeing himself from his bonds. Dread filled his target’s eyes as he flickered in and out of existence, rapidly cutting at the man, blood sprayed across the room, Fade moving and cutting at him with such speed that the poor man could not even track him. In moments he fell to the ground, his body in tatters, and the floor crimson with his blood. “Messy.” Kuuri said as he emerged from Fade’s shadow and stalked across the room, inspecting the scene. “I do enjoy the sight of blood…but this is out of character for you.” “A brief lapse of judgement.” Fade replied as he walked over to the desk on the other side of the room. In truth, for the longest time, he had become steadily bored of this work. Nothing seemed to offer him a worthy challenge any more. So, for a moment he decided to cut loose. “It won’t happen again.” He added as he inspected the desk and picked up the book on it. “It had better not.” Kuuri replied with a warning tone, “I will not allow my power to be wielded by a man who cannot control himself. Our bargain can come to an end, I am not some sentimental guardian spirit who will follow you to the ends of the earth.” “I am well aware of that, thank you.” Fade replied as he flicked through the pages of the book. It was a ledger written in Ishaaran script. He had a basic understanding of the script, but he was no scribe. Even to his novice reading level the structure seemed quite unusual.” “What is in it?” Kuuri asked, as he hopped up on to the desk and turned around in a circle before sitting down, his tail flicking lazily. “It’s a cypher.” Fade replied, closing the book shut. “Probably a ledger…client list perhaps. If they’ve taken the trouble to encode the script, then it’s probably valuable information.” “Very valuable.” Said the woman from before as she emerged from the staircase, “I think that man you threw down the stairs was the scribe. His head is bleeding quite heavily…I’m fairly sure he’s dead.” “As will you be if you do not start explaining yourself.” Fade replied coldly “Now is that any way to speak to your employer?” The woman asked with a smirk. “You are no longer my employer, I have fulfilled my end of our contract. Now you are simply a woman who owes me a great debt.” Fade replied. The woman sighed and tossed a large pouch of coins towards him and they landed with a clink on the floor. “15 blindings as agreed.” The woman said, “Now I have more work for you if you’re interested.” “You are a very capable woman, you already knew where this hideout was, you knew the value of the book I hold, and you did not show even the slightest bit of surprise at witnessing my power.” Fade walked over to the money pouch and picked it up, fastening it to his belt. “I do not work with people who know more about me than I do them, especially since I work hard to keep a low profile.” “Yes, you do.” She agreed, “I am very resourceful though. Many know of the legendary assassin Fade, but I doubt many living people know that you are he. You are also Vama The Knife, Kurik Bloodstealer, and at least a dozen other identities including, once, the Lord of Duskhollow. However, I know the one name that no one else knows you by…Raze Trellian.” The utterance of that name rattled Fade to his core. That name…his true name. How could she know it? He had not uttered it himself in…how long had it been? 30 years? More? “You better have a good offer, or I’ll end you right here.” He growled. “Of course, I have a challenge that is fit only for the very best assassin Ishaar has ever seen. The reward for which is 200 blindings.” “That’s obscene, you can’t possibly have that much wealth.” Fade replied. “I can, and I do…” The woman said, “Of course I know money is not the wealth you seek. You desire a real challenge…something that will help you reach your true goal…and yes, I know what that is too. Do you think you are ready for it?” Fade was still toying with the idea of slitting her throat. She knew far too much about him. Yet she knew exactly what he was after. She had set this little job up as a test, he could see that now. Months of his life spent on a test, so that she could see if he was worthy of her true mission. What could possibly be so challenging? “Tell me.” He demanded. “I want you to assassinate Emperor Reshik Esperitus Hashiram, The Ascendant God.” She said, and her sick little grin only got wider. Fade almost laughed. The idea was ridiculous, but then he saw that despite the smirk he could see in this woman’s eyes that she was serious. “You wish me to kill an immortal being that has ruled this land uncontested for at least 2 millennia?” Fade asked. Kuuri gave an excited purr. “He is worthy prey.” Kuuri said encouragingly. “He’s God!” Fade protested “God is dead, Raze Trellian.” The woman said. “Reshik is but a man who has claimed power…just as you have. He can be killed, I promise you that.” “If you’re so sure then why don’t you do it yourself?” Fade asked “Unfortunately I am somewhat forcibly following a path of pacifism.” She replied, “Which is why I wish for you to be my knife. What say you Ra-“ “Fade, if you please.” Fade replied. “And what do I call you?” “Me?” The woman asked, “You can call me Wander.” --- --- --- --- "When I was a boy Etri helped me tend my mother's garden. All I could offer was a light touch, but time and sustenance were still necessary for growth. When I attempted to grow the plants quicker i would fall deeply lethargic and occasionally fell to illness. Yet when I was a man with children of my own I found that I could do so much more with Etri's help. Where once I drew from within I now find power from elsewhere." This excerpt from the memoirs of Manev Laerin, a horticulturalist from the 12th century is one of the earliest records of humankind's awareness of Spiritual Investment. Interestingly the absence of scribe annotations indicates that the words were possibly written by the man himself. It is interesting to see literacy in a man already specialized in another field, especially in a text from almost 800 years ago. The text contains no other mention of Investment and Manev seems unaware of what essence he drew power from. Wood elemental sorcery is known to draw Investment from plants, causing them to wither, then this energy can be distributed to other plant matter to allow for growth. This is a logical parallel, rapid decay of one source and the rapid growth of another. If this is an accurate assessment of the investment process then it indicates that energy cannot be generated via Sorcery, it is more likely that this phenomenon is simply the redistribution of energy which already exists within our world. Osha indicates that my hypothesis is too rigid, too simple. As always, he is unable to offer further extrapolation. It is a frustrating but nonetheless universal trait of spirits that their knowledge is dependent on that of their bond partner. Osha declares that he knows the answers I seek, but that he cannot summon them in to words. He described this as, "Knowledge held captive. Treasures locked within a chest. A key we must find. The right key. Discovery!" Use of metaphor is a relatively new behavior to him, in our youth together Osha often found metaphors confusing. Osha's understanding begins to extend beyond logical concepts and he begins to contemplate abstraction. The indication is as clear to me as it is to anyone who has achieved the Second Awakening and beyond; We must learn on our own, we must discover the secrets of our bond. Spirits can guide us but are unable to simply supply the answers we seek. It is interesting that with such a range of different spirits catalogued within our world that all recognize and are bound to the principles of endeavor. This may seem a digression, but I think these factors are related. Common spirits are often bound by trade guilds to enhance their craft. While common spirits can form a lasting bond, unlike the typical temporary bond of a lesser spirit, it is unheard of for such spirits and their partners to achieve anything beyond the Second Awakening. Common spirits also seem to invest in essences closer to their elemental association; Fire spirits draw in heat, Water spirits draw in water, Earth spirits draw in earth and so on. Yet these examples of broader investment seem to be relative to the potential abilities that can manifest via the bond. The Sorcerium teaches that spirits are primarily beings that represent natural forces, and secondarily they are shaped by the ideas of humans. Yet research cultivated over 2 millennia has enriched our understanding of the natural world. The five elements that Sorceri doctrine clings so tightly to has already been proven to be mere vagaries. In developing my own sorcery with water, I have discovered that this substance which we refer to as an element is in fact a compound of other elements. One of these elements I have found is quite possibly the most abundant element in our entire land, perhaps the entire world. Water can exist in a solid, liquid or gas state based on the conditions of its environment, and I have found that through deeper understanding of the very nature of this element I have achieved a degree of refined manipulation that has yet to be matched by any water sorcerer I have encountered. Is it possible that common elemental spirits are manifestations of the very common understanding of said elements? Could spirits be manifestations of human cognition in their entirety? If my hypothesis is correct, then our limitations in manipulating the forces of this world are only limited by our individual understanding of the finer workings of nature. As our understanding of the world advances will our spirits change to adapt to these refined ideas? Or will new spirits be born? As dated ideas begin to fade in to history will spirits that represent these ideas also perish? So many questions and yet if I am to answer them all I would require more minds working on the problem. Yet convincing my peers to focus on such things will require undeniable evidence. Any potential doubt in my hypothesis will result in dismissal. Unfortunately, society paints me a heretic for my ideas. “Mmm!” The approving hum broke Talena’s concentration and she looked up from her notebook to the source of the noise. She was in her study, a room of smooth stone walls the colour of sand. Her space was clean and utilitarian. Bookshelves lined the walls, each crammed full of dense volumes detailing a variety of strictly academic studies, she had little interest in the creative arts. She sat at her writing desk, towers of books and stacks of paper piled around her. The room was dim, lit only by a series of candles around the room that gave a warm, orange glow. The source of the noise was an odd creature that had been hovering at her shoulder but had now descended closer to her notebook and seemed to be reading over her inscriptions intently, which was quite odd considering it didn’t have any eyes to speak of. The spirit was about the size of a small melon and shaped like an orb comprised of a viscous, metallic substance that provided warped reflections of its surroundings. It hovered in the air without any visible supports, its surface smooth for now. “Mmm!” It hummed once more, and it’s surface buzzed with a rippling vibration, “Provocative. Mm…dangerous ideas. Many enemies could be made of this.” “You say that like I don’t already have an ocean of them.” Talena replied with a quirk of her eyebrow. “Incorrect.” The orb replied, “Your fellow humans disdain you the most. The fish have no quarrel with you, I think.” Talena rolled her eyes at this. He was getting better at metaphor, but he had clearly missed that one. “Must you be so literal, Osha?” She asked him, but she couldn’t help but smirk a little at him. “Mmm. Language is structured to convey thoughts clearly. Words have clear definitions. This is logical. Mmmetaphor is…incoherent. Mm…why do humans create rules only to break them? Then they become upset when they are not understood.” “It was a comparison. The ocean is incredibly vast, as is the collection of people who oppose my ideas.” Talena explained. “Yet the ocean is far vaster than the land. It can fit the entire human population of Ishaar within it many times over. Therefore, the comparison is…mmm…exaggerated.” “Yes, sometimes we exaggerate for effect.” Talena said as she settled in to get back to her writing. “What effect? Confusion? Inaccuracy?” “Oh be quiet,” Talena said with a huff. The little sprite was an annoyingly logical thinker at times, although he was beginning to get better at understanding the nuances of human interaction. Talena found her companion’s confusion and constant questions to be quite charming…most of the time. Osha hummed again, something he did often when he was thinking. At least she assumed that was why he did it, although he seemed to vibrate more whenever he was excited, so perhaps it was simply an expression of interest. He was quite the oddity, then again people said the same thing about her, and that was probably why they were such an inseparable pair. Osha had been with Talena since she was a baby, the little spirit had been there for as long as she could recall. For a great deal of that time he had been quiet but curious and had only started to master the art of speech when she was in her teens. Often when he spoke he came across as naïve, but other times he displayed an exceptionally complex understanding that surpassed her own. For most of her childhood she had referred to Osha as an “it”, as there was nothing about his form that implied a gender, but soon after he began to speak he had made it very clear that he was a “he” and not an “it”. She wasn’t quite sure why a floating ball of liquid metal would have such a passionate stance on pronouns, but it didn’t matter to her in any case. For all his oddities he was still her very best friend. The door to her study opened without warning and a tall, slender woman in a sleek, black dress with gold trim, buttoned up the right side of her torso from waist to neck, the collar high and fitted closely to her neckline. The sleeves were tight and went the length of her arms, the material covering her palms, buttoned in the space between her middle and index fingers. It was a dress of traditional Mesmeri fashion, the black and gold colouring indicating her position as a member of the Sorcerium. Talena knew she was no Sorceri agent or priest, however. The woman had lightly tan skin and light brown hair that was tied back in a bun, with three golden hair sticks pinning it from either side. Her eyes were dark, and she had speckles of brown freckles around her high cheekbones. “I told you to go to bed” She chided at Talena. “So? I see you’re still up.” Talena replied, rolling her eyes. “Still up?” The woman replied as she glided across the room and pulled open the curtains, then opened the wooden hatch in the window and the room was suddenly aglow with morning sunshine that briefly blinded Talena. “I’ve slept, woke up, bathed and eaten since then!” Talena groaned as she adjusted to the light. Had it been that long? She could have sworn it had only been an hour or two at most. Yet the woman was undoubtedly right, as she had been every other time this had happened. “Meridia I-“ “Three nights in a row! All this lack of sleep cannot be good for you.” Meridia said sternly, “Have you eaten?” “No I’ve just…” Talena’s eyes fell to the basin of water that was to the right of her between two stacks of books. “Sorcery is not a substitute for a balanced diet and a good night’s rest.” Meridia said with a narrow-eyed scowl that made Talena feel like she was a little girl again. “Meridia, you are my matron, not my mother and I’m 36 years old, I am not a child.” Talena replied testily. She didn’t like anyone talking to her like that, not even the woman whose job was to look after her. “I’ll stop treating you like a child when you stop acting like one.” Meridia said as she began tidying up the room, picking up books and placing them back on the shelves. “This is not how a noble lady is supposed to behave.” “Oh I’m sorry am I supposed to fritter my time away buying gowns and courting the sons of Highlords like all the pretty little puffs at court?” Talena replied with a tone of revulsion, “Believe it or not I have more important matters to be dealing with.” Meridia stopped what she was doing and turned around to face Talena. Her stern expression softened slightly as she shook her head slightly. “Talenazerazar Esperitus Hashiram…” She used Talena’s full name, “Have you had a good look at yourself lately?” Talena looked down at herself. She was dressed in a dress of a similar modest style as Meridia’s but hers was an aquatic blue with dark blue trim and detailed filigree woven in to the fabric. She had a similar skin tone and hair colour to Meridia, as did most Mesmeri natives, but her hair was long with full, wavy curves, and her eyes were a brilliant blue. “You have a brilliant mind and I have no desire for you to dull it, but you are also a beautiful young woman and that combination makes you a force to rival the five elements. You are the only daughter, the only child to ever be conceived in the 2000-year reign of your father. You have position and power like no other and yet you choose to hide yourself away with all of these books.” “These books are the reason my mind is so sharp!” Talena said firmly. “And they are the reason why no one heeds you despite your mind.” Meridia replied, “You must make the world listens to your knowledge…you must demand their respect. You are the daughter of God, after all.” “He is just a man.” Talena said dismissively. Why did Meridia continue to bring that up? She knew Talena’s feelings on the matter. “That man saved us from the Devourers. He united us, made us whole.” “Yes, yes because he fused with the great elemental spirits and bla bla bla” Talena waved her hand mockingly as she spoke. “No, he accomplished that because he actually did something with his talents, Talena. I just wish you would too.” Meridia looked away as she finished speaking, and then she left the room leaving Talena to feel guilty and a little embarrassed. That woman had a terrible habit of always being right. Unfortunately, she had taken care of Talena since she had been a little girl when her mother had died. Her father was too busy ruling the known world to spend time parenting his only daughter, of course. “Mmm! I like her. She is wise.” Osha hummed. “Oh, shut up.” Talena bit back. The little spirit edged closer to her, and he nudged against her cheek and buzzed against her affectionately. “I like you too.” He said. “Yes and I like you too, you little demon.” “I am not a demon!” Osha buzzed indignantly. Talena shook her head, then she got up off her seat. It was time for her to get on with her day. She felt the prickling, tight sensation of exhaustion creeping up on her. She reflexively reached for the basin of water and flexed her fingers in a beckoning motion. The water rose up out of the basin and reached for her waiting hand like a vine coiling up a tree. The water enveloped her arm but then sank away as she absorbed it, investing its energy within herself. Immediately she tapped the invested power. Water – the element necessary for all life to exist, it seemed natural that it was associated with healing. She felt its properties immediately, easing away the tension in her muscles and providing her with a boost of wakefulness. She had not slept a wink in 3 days, normally at this point any ordinary person would be dead on their feet, but with just a short working of sorcery she felt sharp and ready to start her day. The nagging empty feeling in her stomach, however, was not so easily ignored. “Talena.” Osha said as he hovered by her head, floating along with her as she left her study and entered the hallway outside, “Investing heals only physical ailments…mmm…it does not facilitate biological processes required for health.” “It relieves the tension in my muscles, provides me with wakefulness and gives me strength and energy to keep going.” Talena replied. They moved down the short hallway and came out on to a small, secluded courtyard inside the palace, a simple square space with a garden, lots of potted plants and colourful flowers. The air was more humid in the outdoors, and the plants made the air smell sweet. “Mmm…sleep increases cerebrospinal fluid flow within the brain dramatically. It cleans the brain of toxins. Mmm…efficient.” Osha buzzed. Talena frowned. “And how would you know such a thing?” She asked “Humans…comprised mostly of water.” Osha explained, “Your bodies are…protected…mm…cannot be touched by sorcery. Yet external sources can enter…mmm…water invested within the body provides a map. You know this…mmm…you have seen it.” She nodded, she had indeed. In fact, it was what had allowed her to heal her exhaustion just a moment ago. It was also true that all life was comprised mostly of water, except for spirits of course. Talena had pondered why she could not manipulate the water that is within a person quite early into her sorcery training. It was considered a fundamental principle that sorcery could not be used to affect the human body. However, she herself had circumvented this, as had any who used the healing properties of water sorcery. To do so one had to introduce an external source of water to the body, a source that was already affected by sorcery. Doing so provided the wielder with a kind of sense of the body, an impression of its inner workings, like a complex diagram within their minds. They could use the invested water to locate problems within the body and often provide healing. In this sense water was like a conduit, it could transport the necessary chemicals required to rapidly heal wounds, mend bones, flush out poisons and several other medical marvels. “Yes, I have used healing sense Osha, but I’ve never seen what you have just described.” Talena said as they passed through the courtyard and through into a hallway on the adjacent side. “You are human.” Osha said simply, “Humans think in a line. They move from one point to the next. Dots connecting. Mmm…following a trail. Only one thought at a time.” “And spirits are different?” Talena asked “I am different.” Osha clarified, “I cannot speak for other spirits. It is hard to describe. Knowing yet not knowing. Knowledge there yet unable to be grasped. This realm…we forget ourselves…mmm…like fish swim in a school, we drift…coordinated yet unknowing. I see patterns…mmm…possibilities…a map with no key…no direction.” Amazing. Talena marvelled at these moments with Osha. He interpreted experiences differently from her. So often the little orb seemed naïve, and then other times he was brilliant. She had no doubt that in this spirit’s mind were the answers to questions scholars had been trying to decipher. Through simple observation he saw ideas that hadn’t even occurred to her, or perhaps anyone. “Additionally…healing sorcery requires presence of substantial nutrients…sorcery removes the requirement of time yet….mmmatter…matters. Matter, matter, matter….your language is flawed at times.” The little orb rippled in a manner that reminded Talena of someone shivering, shaking off an unpleasant sensation, “Nutrients must be present. If you do not eat then healing will consume your reserves, in time you will have none left. You will die, and sorcery will not save you.” “I see…” Talena said. As they continued through the palace the revelations had given her a rather pressing urge to eat something. She realized that Meridia had warned her to do these things as well, but her arguments came from a place of caring, she worried for Talena. Osha had provided a logical explanation for this, and it had made sense to her, and that desire to follow logic had driven her faster than the simple consideration of another person. The thought of that troubled her. Was she becoming cold? “And this…brain cleaning cycle you spoke of, is that life threatening if avoided?” She asked. “Mmm…yes, however it happens much more slowly.” Osha buzzed, “However avoiding this process effects cognitive capability. Impaired reasoning. Decreased problem-solving capability. Decreased attention span. Decreased attention to detail. Memory lapses. Depression.” “That settles it then.” Talena said, sounding slightly alarmed, “Regular sleep and food breaks from now on.” “Mmm…A wise decision.” Osha replied, sounding slightly relieved. “You should have listened to Meridia. She is smart. I like her.” “Shut. Up.” Talena demanded with a scowl, and the pair went off to finally get something to eat. --- --- --- --- The orange glow of fire light illuminated the warcamp. Out in the barren drylands of the Solari desert, away from the intense glows of the cities the night sky was clear. Bright stars twinkled overhead. Twin moons glowed like a beacon in the sky, Eilun the smaller moon that would rise first, and Makath the larger would rise second but would always overtake her sister and fall first. The camp was bustling with energy, although only a temporary military settlement it was the size of a town and was equipped with vendors, smithies, a lumber yard and large warehouses used for food and resource storage. Nazir walked through the barracks. His shoulder-length brown hair was tied back in a ponytail, revealing a clean-shaven face with dark brown eyes. Like every other man and woman in the camp his skin was the dark tan of the Solari. He had a slim, lean build and angular features, and was an average height for a Solari standing at 6 and a half feet tall. A black symbol was tattooed on the center of his forehead, three identically sized rhombus shapes, two adjacent to one another, with the third slotted in the space beneath them. The same symbol could be seen on all of the soldiers and workers around him, as they were all Kalak just as he was. The heat of the day had escaped in to the clear skies and the air had become cold. Nazir wore the standard uniform of the Ishaaran Imperial Army; black boots that went up to the knee, tan breeches and a cobalt blue double-breasted undercoat with silver buttons and a high collar, and a jacket of the same blue colouring that had a tailed back, the shoulders decorated with three silver pins shaped like triangles on his right shoulder that indicated his rank of Captain. The red sash around his waist indicated which command he fell under. Red indicated he was under the command of Highlord Vashir, ruler of Solaris. The Highlords of other nations were represented by different coloured sashes. Everyone in this camp served Highlord Vashir. This entire regiment had been out here holding off rebel armies for months now. Of some 5’000 men there, Nazir was responsible for a company of 140 men. However, now the camp was relaxing after a long battle. The air was thick with the scent of burning wood, cooked meat, and a variety of fragrant spices. Soldiers were sitting around campfires singing and telling each other stories while they ate and drank, and for a time forgot about the struggles of warfare. Nazir walked towards a fire where three other people sat. One of them waved at him and he nodded back, coming over to sit on a large log that had been placed by the fire as a makeshift bench. “Naz!” exclaimed the only female in the group. She stood up from her own log, standing only an inch or two shorter than Nazir. Her hair and eyes were dark like his, almost all Solari had dark hair, dark eyes and dark skin. Her hair was cut short, however, and generally there was little to indicate she was female at all. She wore her uniform jacket unbuttoned with a simple white shirt underneath. She had grabbed a bowl filled with rice and had began ladling a rich, orange coloured curry out of the pot placed over the fire. She handed it to Nazir with a spoon and sat back down. “Finished berating the new recruits?” She asked with a sly grin. “They needed it.” Nazir replied with a soft smirk, “Is it just me or do they get greener every year?” “More like you become more of a hard-ass every year!” She said with a chuckle. “You going soft on me, Rizen?” Nazir replied in a playful tone. “No, sir.” Rizen said with a cocky grin and she tapped her index finger against her forehead in salute. Nazir took a bite of his food. The curry was delicious. Hot and spicy just how he liked it. Rizen paused to eat her own meal along with her two companions. To her left was the shortest and thinnest of the group, he had shoulder length hair that was thick with natural curls, and his uniform was disheveled and sloppier than the other’s. To Rizen’s right was a giant of a man who looked about half a foot taller than Nazir, and about twice as broad. His hair was cut short and he had long sideburns, the closest anyone could have to a beard while serving in the military. “So, Cap, I was thinkin’…” The short man, Leven said. “Hah! Is good joke, Leven.” The large man, Biran replied with a deep, jolly voice, “A tiny man like you has no space for brain.” The group chuckled along with him. Biran had always spoken in broken Ishaaran, he’d lived in the Erduk mountains for most of his life and had never picked up the common tongue. Solari had over 32 different languages dating back from when they were scattered in to tribes, although everyone spoke Ishaaran these days. “Oh, there’s plenty of room in here,” Leven said as he poked the side of his head with his finger, “See not everyone fills the space with rocks like you do, big guy.” “If you are thinking about anything, is probably about chasing skirt.” Biran said with a soft shake of his head. “I resent that, I’ll have you know I’m a gentleman, I am.” Leven replied, holding his hand to his chest, “The ladies, they’ll tell ya. They’ll say ‘Biran, your wonderful friend Leven is the handsomest, most charming, most intelligent and thoughtful man I know, he is. An’ he’d have bed all of us if it were up to us, but no…he wouldn’t allow it because he’s a gentleman, see?” “On behalf of my gender may I just say…” Rizen started, and then she followed up with a retching noise that got another round of laughter from the group. “You are very strange little man.” Biran replied, shaking his head again but smiling, “spirits protect any woman who ends up with you.” “Spirits?” Leven asked, “Now that’s a fine idea, I’ll get myself a little spirit chum to give me some sorcery and then no woman will ever be able to resist me. ‘Leven’ they’ll say, ‘I see that you are handsome and incredibly smart, but I also see you can fly! I shall have to kiss you now!’ an’ that’s how The Great Leven ends up marryin’ Highlord Vashir’s daughter.” “Highlord Vashir doesn’t have a daughter, you idiot.” Rizen said, rolling her eyes. She turned to Nazir who was quietly listening to his friends and eating his food. “You’re quiet tonight, Naz.” She said with a frown, “Everything alright?” “I’m fine, just enjoying listening to you three run your mouths.” Nazir explained. It was a true statement. These three people, his old squad mates, his Lieutenants, they were the only real family he had. Each of them shared the same surname – Szash. It was the name given to those who had given up their citizenship and become slaves. Of course, they were all soldiers now. They were well-trained, they were given purpose, a bed to sleep in, regular meals and clothing on their backs. Their pay went towards paying off their slave debt. For a slave the army was the best place to be. Each of them had a tattoo behind their ear that could only be seen if you pulled the earlobe back, a small glyph that branded them as slaves. If they ever paid off their debt, which few ever did, then they would be allowed to have it covered up with another glyph that confirmed their freedom. Strangely, the thought had never crossed Nazir’s mind. He had everything he needed here. He had his friends, he had his company of soldiers to look after, and he had an enemy to face. He smiled as he looked up at the stars above, they were beautiful out here in the desert. As a slave he was sure that this would likely never end for him, and he didn’t really want it to. Yet it had. Had it? He frowned at himself. Why had he thought that? He was here, now, living this life. How could he think it had ended? “Naz?” He looked up to see that Rizen was watching him. Leven and Biran had also stopped what they were doing and turned their gaze on him. They were smiling softly, but they weren’t saying anything. “What’s going on?” Nazir asked, frowning. “Come on, Naz…” Rizen said softly, and her eyebrow quirked. “This isn’t healthy.” “What isn’t healthy?” Nazir asked, and he shifted uncomfortably. Why were they being so strange? “This thing…” Biran gestured around him, “Is not real, Nazir.” “Not…” Nazir felt confused. Of course, this was real. He was here in the warcamp, eating with his friend as he always did after a battle. “Quit fooling around, guys.” “Cap’n…” Leven smiled brightly at him, but his eyes looked pained, “You need to wake up.” “What?” Nazir shook his head. He stood up, suddenly feeling uncomfortable standing still. He needed to move. He felt an uncontrollable urge to run away. As he stood up the wind suddenly picked up, becoming violent tremendously quickly. His friends just kept watching him, and he winced as the wind hammered into him. He turned to run, but when he turned around the warcamp he had walked through was not there. He was stood in blackness. No. He was floating. He could feel the wind raging around him, feel himself moving with it, flying through the endless blackness. Yet he was not alone. In front of him was a creature. She was as tall as him and was only vaguely like a human. Her body had feminine curves, but her chest was flat and featureless. She wore no clothes to speak of, but she was almost entirely covered in black, downy feathers, like a bird. The skin exposed at her midriff and on her face was dark like his, but her eyes were entirely black with yellow pupils. Instead of hair she had a crest of large, semiplume feathers that pointed backwards at an angle. Instead of arms she had a pair of brilliant, dark wings that stretched out on either side of her, and her legs ended in a pair of sharp, black talons that looked like they could cut through steel. Those piercing yellow eyes were locked with his, and the creature seemed to stare deep within his very soul. He felt like he could not hide anything from her, whether he liked it or not. In return he could sense her thoughts and feelings as well. She was a violent, dangerous creature. Proud, powerful and unyielding. “They are gone.” The spirit said to him, her voice feminine but firm and confident. Memories flashed through his mind; a great battle. It had gone wrong. There was just too many of them, they were surrounded. So much screaming, so much blood. Ruthless violence. No! He pushed the memories away, locking them up inside his mind once more. He could not face them, not yet. They would destroy him. “They are gone!” The spirit said more forcefully this time, her eyes narrowing as her expression became a slight frown. “I know that…” Nazir whispered, his hands balled in to tight fists at his side. “I am…just dreaming.” “Must you always dream of ghosts?” The spirit asked. That was right. They were dead, all of them. Biran, Levan, Rizen…and the other 140 men and women under his command. Every single one of them gone…except for him. He cursed himself. Why had he lived? He had failed them all. Why did he have to live with that? His gaze fixed on the spirit again and his eyes burned with anger. She was the reason. She had saved him. “You are not the man I saw on that day.” The spirit said, “…I want that man. The man who lived for the fight. The man who was one with his spear. The man who fought so well that he impressed the winds and rattled the rains…the man who shook the skies with thunder. I want that man.” “That man is dead.” Nazir replied quietly. “That man stands before me!” The spirit snapped at him, her eyes blazing with fury. “You are not dead, Nazir. Only your comrades are.” “It should have been me.” Nazir replied, “I dishonored them by letting them die.” “Then honor them by living!” The spirit’s voice boomed like a thunder clap and he felt the air rattle and shake around him. --- --- --- --- Nazir shot up in the modest bed he was sleeping on and gasped for air. His shoulder-length hair hung loose, and his body was coated in a thin layer of cold sweat. He was in a room made of cold, grey stone. The roof overhead was thatched and the ground beneath him was wooden. He threw off the thick fur blankets over him and immediately felt a chill in the air. Something squawked to the right of him and he turned to see a large bird, a black hawk with golden eyes and a large crest. “Shrike…” He said as his memory of where he was came to him. The disorientation from the dream faded quickly. He began to feel alert quite quickly, old soldier reflexes kicking in. He got up from the bed and began to quickly get dressed, feeling the cold snap in the air. This blasted country was far too cold all the time. The room he had been staying in had a mirror and he examined himself. His body was covered in old scars but was otherwise fit, with lean muscles and no fresh wounds. Across his back was a large tattoo, three glyph tattoos stylized in to one large design, a maze of symmetrical lines that spelled three names; Rizen, Biran, Levan. Even in death he had ensured they would always be behind him. “Are you well?” The voice was in his mind, but it was a familiar one, and he turned to the large bird that was perched on the back of a chair in the room, as it was the source of the voice. “I’m fine.” Nazir said to the bird, Shrike. “I don’t appreciate you invading my dreams like that though.” “Well I don’t appreciate you moping around like a gloomy, lost puppy.” Shrike replied. “I do not.” Nazir replied testily. Shrike said nothing in response and he got the distinct impression that the conversation was over. He spent some time readying himself, he washed and shaved and got dressed. He emerged from the room dressed in black boots, black trousers, a black, studded leather jacket with a collar of white fur and a pair of matching gloves. Around his waist was a black sash with a gold trim, and he wore a leather pauldron on his right arm that had a symbol emblazoned in gold. It showed a large eye, but within the pupil was a five-pointed star. It was a symbol known as God’s Eye, and all who saw it knew it as the symbol of the Sorceri – agents of the Ascendant Emperor. The room led to a short hall which Nazir followed and then descended the steps to the ground floor. He was in a disused area of a small keep near the town of Vaedmire in Valkheim. The ground floor was a larger room with fur rugs decorating the floor, the walls decorated with various stuffed animal heads, trophies from hunts. There was a fire going in the hearth and a woman was stood over a large table which had a map pinned across it. The table was covered with a variety of notes written in non-stylized glyphs. Nazir could not discern any of it, which was partly why the woman was there in the first place. Parr was about a foot shorter than Nazir and had a petite, soft frame. She had striking blonde hair and a pale skin tone, with keen blue eyes that fussed over the map studiously from behind a pair of spectacles. Her hair was tied back in a neat bun, and she was wearing a crisp, blue uniform – trousers, a jacket and a pair of brown boots. The uniform marked her as a member of the Mesmeri military but her features were unmistakably Reshin. The black and gold sash around her waist, however, marked her as serving under the Sorcerium. “Good morning, Captain.” Parr said absently as she continued with her work. “Morning, Parr.” Nazir replied, “Do you have a report for me?” “Yes…” Parr replied, stilled by thought, “The accounts from our reports do indicate malevolence. Lots of farmers have had low crop yields this year. This far out from the capital, the people here are going to have to rely on supply shipments to last them through the winter. Children have also been disappearing in the last few months.” She pointed at spots she had marked on the maps. “The farming villages in this area all supply to Vaedmire. There’s no other towns for miles so the community here relies on each other and supply runs don’t come out this way very often.” Nazir frowned. They had only arrived two days ago and had spent most of that time getting accustomed to things. He had been sent here to investigate reports of malevolent activity and to hunt and destroy the Daemon who was responsible. Of course, this also meant dispatching whoever was working with the Daemon. The circumstances here were troubling, and in many ways the damage had already been done to these people. The children disappearing was far more unsettling though. It had to be stopped. “Did any of the farms have a good harvest?” Nazir asked “No…a nice thought though.” Parr said with a smirk, “It would be too easy if one of the farmers was at it to bleed out competition.” “The disappearances paint a more sinister picture.” Nazir said, “Innocents, blood magic, sacrifices perhaps. Such magic is supposed to be used to draw huge amounts of power. This could all just be symptoms of something worse.” “Then what are we waiting for?” The voice came from Shrike as she flew down the stairs into the room and then suddenly changed before them. She took the form she had taken in his dreams, all black feathers and sharp talons for feet, however the feathers of her wings had shrunk and she had formed a pair of humanoid hands with long, sharp nails. Her talons clacked on the floor as she walked towards them, her yellow pupils darting around the black abyss of her eyes as she surveyed the room. “The information doesn’t point us anywhere.” Parr said, and she looked a little nervous around the spirit, “We need to start canvassing and gathering more accounts.” “By canvassing you mean abducting your citizens and interrogating them?” Shrike asked, her eyebrow raised in interest. “Do you have a problem with that tactic?” Parr asked “Not really, but canvassing is such a boring sound. Interrogate sounds much better!” “Not if you’re the one being interrogated.” Nazir said with a smirk. “What fear have I of interrogation? I am not human, I have nothing to hide.” Shrike said, folding her arms in front of her. “Well humans don’t tend to like it. Which is why they don’t tend to like us.” Nazir replied. “Actually it is you they don’t like. I am a spirit and Parr is a scribe.” Shrike said, putting her hands on her hips and smirking, “You are the Sorceri. So people don’t like you. You are Solari, so the Valkyr don’t like you.” “Rub it in why don’t you?” Nazir said with a roll of his eyes. “I thought that was what I was doing…” Shrike said with a toothy grin. Nazir was ready to fire back another comment when they were interrupted by a knock at the door. Nazir walked across the room and opened it. A Valkyr guard was standing outside. “Uh…Sorceri…uh…sir?” The guard said awkwardly. “Captain.” Nazir corrected. “Uh no I’m just a guard, sir.” The guard said, looking abashed. Nazir held back his response and instead gave the man a patient smile. “Can I help you?” Nazir asked him. “Uh…well we picked up a slave that escaped in the night and put her in the cells. She’s…she’s not right, sir. We thought you might need to take a look at her she’s…strange looking.” Nazir turned to Parr and Shrike and they both had a concerned look about them. “Parr, hold the fort. Shrike-“ “Let’s go!” Shrike interrupted as she pushed past Nazir and then barged past the guard. She got about 5 yards away before pausing and turning back to them, “Where are we going?”
  7. What's up?

  8. How's everybody doing? What's going on in your life right now? Things are ok here. I'm working on moving to upstate New York... Again. Need to work on some cosplays over the next couple of weeks and keep on top of studying Japanese and all that other junk. I'm basically just keeping myself busy as much as I can. TELL ME WHAT IS UP WITH YOU ALL I MISS YOU AND LOVE YOU ETC
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