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Everything posted by Valentine

  1. Blood & Scale

    OOC: Private RP between myself and Kyo. Blood & Scale Once, a long time ago, our lands were watched over by riders astride fierce and wise dragons. Under their watchful eye, the lands of Suros prospered. Peace reigned amongst the races and cultures of our world. None went hungry and there was justice for all. But alas, it was not to last. Amongst the riders, there was none more powerful or more respected than Aemon. But this was not enough for the rider. He did not wish to guard Suros, he wanted to rule it. He forced several riders to join with him, and together they killed any and all who opposed him. He destroyed the order of the riders, and spent the next thousand years hunting them to extinction. Under his rule, chaos and strife have returned to the land. The people live in fear of the tyrant King, and have long-since forgotten the age of the riders, and hope along with it. But all is not lost, for one rider remains. One dragon. Together, they carry the hopes and dreams of the people of Suros, in the form of an unhatched dragon. One who has sensed the presence of it's rider... Moonlight danced through the trees as a figure darted across an ancient log which had fallen across a river. They were fleet of foot, agile and graceful. Running through the brush like a deer. The forest was dark and mysterious, lit only by the moonlight and a scattering of fireflies, yet it was not unwelcoming. At least, not to her. She ran up the side of a small rise and then just as quickly she effortlessly leapt onto the lowest of a sturdy old tree's branches. She climbed the tree with the skill of a monkey. Up, up, up she went. The trees of her forest were so tall that they made those of the human realm look like twigs. Eventually, she reached the top and broke the tree canopy and looked out across the forest. She had heard a series of loud cracks as something had tumbled into the forest, followed by a sonorous boom, as though Gwaen herself, Mistress of the Anvil, had struck a blow with her mighty hammer. "Well, do you see anything, Vaedwyn?!" A voice called from down below. Vaedwyn's wry grin spread across her mischievous face and amber eyes as she peered out, her long but unruly silver hair flew behind her at the beck and call of the wind. She was beautiful, of average height and slim of build, and carried with her the traits of her people - the elves - most notably her long, sensitive ears which ended in a point. Ducking back down and scrambling down the tree as quickly as she'd scaled it, she landed on the ground a moment later to be greeted by an older-looking girl with golden-hair. Unlike Vaedwyn, she was voluptuous and made Vaedwyn's beauty look plain, even boyish by comparison. She was frustrated by her excitable friend, and it was evident on her face. She didn't have the time or interest for this. "Did you hear me?" She asked again. "Yes, yes!" Vaedwyn replied and then ran on. "Well?!" The golden-haired elf gave chase. "Well what, Torenth?!" Vaedwyn asked, charging on. "You haven't heard a word I said!" Torenth called, a twinge of annoyance seeping into her voice. Vaedwyn was always like this. She was younger, much younger than Torenth. And unlike her, she was impatient, excitable and reckless. She was always chasing after her friend into some kind of trouble, usually head-first and usually that meant she was the one to get in trouble, even though it was Vaedwyn who always instigated their little adventures, as she called them. "Sorry! But look, it's just up ahead!" Vaedwyn ran as fast as she could, the trees passing her in a blur until suddenly she came dashing out of the forest into a small clearing. Long grass filled most of the clearing, with a single old tree, that looked as though it was dead. Vaedwyn ran through the grass, noting that several of the tree's large branches had been snapped. At last she stood in front of the old tree, and stared down at the peculiar object lying at it's base. Seconds later, Torenth appeared and let out an audible sigh, "Oh what have you found now..." She moaned. "I don't know!" Vaedwyn replied, smiling as she looked at the large oval object. It looked like a stone, but it was larger than her head and had a peculiar iridescence to its surface. As she bent down to touch it, Torenth released a panicked noise and she looked back at her friend with a raised brow, "What?" "Don't touch it." Torenth pleaded, nodding at it. "We don't know what it is, it could be dangerous!" "Well we're never going to find out if we don't pick it up, are we?" Vaedwyn laughed and before her friend could say another word, she picked it up and stumbled backwards in surprise, realising at once that if this was a stone, it was the lightest stone for it's size she'd ever found. It was also giving out some kind of warmth. Lastly, the surface was smooth. So smooth it felt as though it's surface had been polished by an artisan. There was no friction to the peculiar stone whatsoever. "I love it." Vaedwyn whispered, "I'm going to show this to Mogwé!" She turned and started walking back towards the village. "I give up." Torenth grumbled, and followed. And this is how it always went. Vaedwyn would find some creature or object and bring it back to the village, and then who got the blame? She did. Vaedwyn was only twenty years of age. Torenth was nearly thirty years her senior and yet even she was considered a child by their race's standards. Though she'd heard that in the human lands she was considered middle-aged. That frustrated her immensely and yet it didn't seem to bother Vaedwyn at all. She was altogether far more concerned with her ridiculous collection of oddities and knick-knacks. She knew how this would go. They'd get home, Mogwé would take one look at that thing, and then she'd lecture her for what felt like hours and she'd be sent to bed without a proper supper. "Do you have any idea what you've found?!" Mogwé roared, pacing the living room. Mogwé was one of the village elders, they didn't know exactly how old she was, but she was definitely in the thousands, yet she didn't look a day over thirty-five. Her skin was slightly tanned, and she had dark golden hair. The only signs of her age was her eyes, which were as dark as they were wise. They looked as though they had witnessed all the ages of Suros. Right now, however, they looked troubled. "I'm sorry, Elder Mogwé, I shouldn't have let Vaedwyn leave the village after night, but--" Torenth started. "We'll get back to that." Mogwé interrupted her abruptly. "Put that down, right now, Vaedwyn." "I'm sorry, Elder..." Vaedwyn apologised, hanging her head as she placed the large stone down on the table in the middle of the room. Their home was formed from a tree, a process where the most magically skilled of their people would sing to the forest, bringing a tree to life that would grow into a shape to accommodate them, including rooms and furniture that would grow right out of the floor. "But..." Vaedwyn looked longingly at the beautiful oval stone, "I just thought it was--" "Nevermind what you thought!" Mogwé growled, "I need to convene with the elders. Torenth, I want you to keep watch over that and don't let anyone near it. Nobody, do you understand?" Then she muttered to herself as she charged out, "May Algolith preserve us..." Leaving Vaedywn and Torenth on their own. Torenth sat down beside the stone, eyeing it with suspicion while Vaedwyn leant against the stairs which coiled around the edge of the room leading to the floor above. "What a lot of bother for a silly old stone," Torenth sulked, letting out a sigh, "I'm probably not going to eat for a week." "Lighten up..." Vaedwyn replied, and Torenth looked up in surprise to see Vaedwyn dangerously close to the object. "Hey!!" Torenth snapped, pointing at her friend, "Leave it alone!!!" She yelled, "You heard what Mogwé said." "I know, but there's light..." Vaedwyn looked transfixed as she approached the stone. Glancing at the object, there was definitely no light coming from it. Torenth stood up and quickly moved between her friend and the stone, "Stop it, Vaedwyn. I'm in enough trouble already, Mogwé said to leave it alone, and if you touch it you're going to get me in a lot of trouble that no- hey--!!" Torenth shouted in surprise as Vaedwyn deftly side-stepped her friend and reached for the stone. There was a deafening crack as Vaedwyn touched the stone and she yelped in pain. Torenth stumbled backwards, shielding her eyes from a sudden flash of blinding light and hit the ground unceremoniously. "Vaedwyn?! Vaedwyn!!" She yelled, her ears still ringing. Eventually the flash of light diminished and Torenth darted her eyes around the room, for both the stone and her friend. But neither were where they should have been. Instead, on the table, there looked like the hollow remains of the stone. It's iridescent shards scattered across the table. She turned her attention to the other side of the room and saw Vaedwyn lying on the floor out-cold. Torenth quickly pulled herself to her feet and ran to Vaedwyn, lifting her up. Immediately, she noticed something worrying about her friend. There was a long, thin diamond-shaped white mark, almost like a scar but defined like a tattoo, running from near the top of her forehead down to between her eyes. Further still, was the fact that her friend was unconscious. But even more so than that, was the rumbling growl of a dangerous creature that sounded so close she thought she could feel it's breath on the back of her neck. Torenth gently lowered Vaedwyn to the ground and slowly stood up, she didn't want to leave her friend defenceless to whatever was in the room with them. Whatever had come out of what was now, obviously, an egg. But it was enough to frighten Mogwé and she was a powerful sorceress, and what could she possibly do against such a creature? No, it made more sense to get help. So Torenth ran from the house like a lightning bolt, leaving Vaedwyn alone in the house. Vaedwyn awoke in a panic, there was a great weight on her chest like she'd never felt before. She wheezed and coughed and to her great relief, the weight was removed from her. She leant up, but did so carefully as she felt dizzy and had a throbbing headache. Then, as her eyes focused, they fell upon the source of the weight on her chest. The creature was around the size of a large cat. Yet it was a reptile, with four legs, and two wings. It's scales were black as jet and glistened in the orange glow of the candlelight. It had a long neck and muzzle with a pair of horns stretching out from the back of it's head. The little creature was sat, waiting patiently, almost expectantly. "Ugh..." Vaedwyn rubbed the back of her head, "What are you then...?" She muttered, eyeing it up and down, "You're nothing like anything i've ever seen before." The creature stared back at her and let out a long, purring growl, then quickly nestled up to her and collapsed onto her lap, falling asleep. Moments later, Mogwé came rushing into the room, with Torenth in tow and a half dozen other elves, including several elders. They took one look at Vaedwyn and the creature sat contently in her lap and the elders of the village looked at one another in silence. Their troubled glances all that was required. Mogwé stepped forwards and bent down, examining Vaedwyn's forehead. "Vaedwyn..." Mogwé sighed, shaking her head, "... you've doomed us all." "What?! Why?!" Vaedwyn cried, looking for support from the other elders, but finding none. Their glares conveyed their feelings, and when she turned to Torenth she could see that even her friend felt the same way. What had Torenth been told? "I-I don't understand, it's just a lizard..." The creature on her lap gave a disgruntled huff. "That is no lizard." Mogwé's eyes widened in fear, "That, is a dragon. It's bonded to you, and when it did, every rider would have felt it. And there's only one that matters... King Aemon. He knows now that there's a new rider in Suros, and he will do everything in his power to own you... or destroy you. He will burn this village to the ground, and kill everyone in sight..." "I-I don't..." Tears began to flow as Vaedwyn placed her hand along the neck of the little dragon, "I didn't know... I-I..." Thump. Thump. Thump. Everyone in the room fell silent. The heavy beat of wings from outside panicked everyone in the room. The elders scattered, fleeing from their home. Yelling that the King had come to kill them and take what was his. That his riders were descending on them. Outside, Vaedwyn heard screams and crying. She heard the clash of metal as the guards of the village charged, screaming battle cries. Then suddenly a terrifying roar echoed through the village, and all the colour drained from Vaedwyn's face. The clatter of metal as swords and shields and spears were dropped and their guards fled along with the rest of the villagers. Vaedwyn leapt to her feet, knocking the little dragon to the ground. It let out a little annoyed growl and then Mogwé grabbed hold of Vaedwyn and pulled her up the stairs. "What are you doing?!" Vaedwyn yelled, resisting futilely. "Whatever happens, I won't let that human turn you into one of his cursed riders." Mogwé snarled, and then Vaedwyn saw it. The glint of metal in her hand. She was carrying a dagger. "If I have to, i'll kill it, then you'll be nothing to him. He won't be able to use you, we'll die but at least he won't have his prize!" "Let me go!!" Vaedwyn struggled, and then suddenly the little black dragon leapt up, snarling and snapping its jaws. It clamped down onto Mogwé's wrist, drawing blood. Mogwé shrieked and dropped the dagger and scrambled up the stairs to the second floor. "I won't let anyone hurt you..." Vaedwyn picked up the little dragon and then ran for the front door, which had been left ajar. She dashed out the front door, but it was too late. An enormous, terrifying dragon stood at the other end of the courtyard. It looked bigger than a building. Atop it, was a rider. Vaedwyn's breathing quickened, and before she knew what she was doing, she was running. Fleeing for her life.
  2. Shadows in the Mist

    The walk home was quiet and Raven found herself reflective. She'd set out to snub a potential problem for Jackdaw, only to find a small-time crook trying to run a speakeasy. It wasn't much, but that was enough for Jackdaw to send in the Red Feathers. So she'd have to lie to him. Lying to Jackdaw wasn't something she did often, so she found herself asking why she was taking the risk in this case. Despite her heavy thoughts, she walked with a skip in her step. Her belly was full of food and drink, she was going home to a warm bed and one of her favourite past-times - reading a book by candlelight. It was one of the few times she could be alone. A dog barked. Raven was pulled from her thoughts and watched as a mongrel dog ran across the cobbled street and into one of the back-alleys. The light from the overhead lamp flickered. She blinked in surprise as the alley was momentarily cast into shadow and she reflexively looked up at the silhouette of the streetlamp only for it to reignite with a spark and blinded her. The white light dazzled her into a stupor. As the white began to fade, and her eyes readjusted to the light, she saw someone standing at the end of the alley. It was a young girl. Raven squinted, but couldn't see anyone else with her. She was alone. Raven took a step towards the girl, and she didn't move. "Hey!" Raven called out, "Y'know where yeh are?!" She asked, starting to walk towards the girl. Before she could get close enough the girl ran into the nearest alley, Raven quickened her pace but as she turned the corner, there was nobody there. She shook her head. The light had dazzled her. She needed to get home and out of the cold. Putting the image of the girl from her mind, Raven promptly returned to the warehouse. What she was greeted with, however, was the opposite of what she had been hoping for. "There you are, girlie!" Jackdaw cried, smiling as she stepped inside. Gone were the trading merchants, women of the night, and all manner of customer. The warehouse was dead but for a handful of people. All members of the Red Feathers. Jackdaw wiped something off his cheek. It was blood. "You're late, y'know?" "Oh... sorry." Raven muttered. She looked at each of their faces. They were stressed. Jackdaw seemed nonchalant. "What's that?" She asked, but as soon as she did, Jackdaw moved aside and she needn't have been given a reply. It was a large brown sack, tied in strange places, almost like someone was trying to make a very large sausage link. "It's our friend from earlier, innit?" Jackdaw grinned. Raven looked to Rook who was stood next to Jackdaw, his face was white as a sheet. "I'm going upstairs. Come on, Rook..." Raven held her hand out for him, and he quickly moved towards her. Jackdaw grabbed the boy. "Oi!" Jackdaw laughed, and patted Rook on the shoulder, "Where you think you're goin', fella? We got a big night ahead of us, here." Then he turned his attention to her, "An' you, what happened at that uh... the antiques place?" His question put her on the spot. She wasn't sure what to tell him. She had never had a problem speaking plainly to Jackdaw before. She'd never held the truth from him. But now her earlier idle musings were turning to reality. She opened her mouth, and found herself spinning a web of lies. "--and I couldn't get through. Don't know what it was supposed to be, I think it was just an old toy. I broke the head off just trying to get it to work." "But the man said--" Rook interrupted. "--the man was wrong." Raven stopped the boy and continued, "I didn't find anything, Jackdaw. I wasted my night trying." "Ah..." Jackdaw grunted, biting his lip thoughtfully, "Well," He laughed, "Nevermind! But you're not for bed yet, here, come help me with this, would you?" Raven nodded dutifully, putting her plans for the night on hold. She walked over and leaned down to grab the sack, but as she lifted it up, an arm fell out and as it brushed her own, it grabbed hold of her. "Mmmhrrmm..." The bag groaned. "Jackdaw?" Raven asked, trying to sound neutral. "We're goin' for a little jaunt is all, songbird, let's go." Jackdaw lifted the front end of the bag onto his shoulder and she took the back end of the bag. "You too, Rook, you're comin' an' all." Raven put her hand around Rook's shoulder and gave it a squeeze as they followed Jackdaw back out into the night. The gentle howling moan of the wind reverberated from deep within the ventilation shaft. Raven stared into the darkness and turned back to look at Jackdaw, "What're we doin' here exactly?" Raven asked, as Jackdaw pried open the ventilation tunnel. The tunnel itself was tall and wide enough that several people could simply walk into it unhindered. It was one of thousands of vents scattered around the outer edge of the city, designed to filter out the traces of mist that permeated into the city. Few people ever saw the inside of these tunnels. But this had not been the first time Raven had stepped inside one, and she was quite sure, it wouldn't be the last. "What do you think?" Jackdaw asked a question he knew she wouldn't answer. He walked into the tunnel, forcing Raven to follow with Rook trailing along close beside her. The howling wind of the tunnel mixed with the growing moans from the sack. A few seconds down the tunnel and Jackdaw pulled a breathing mask onto his face and handed one to Rook and herself. "Put 'em on." He nodded at the masks. The winding tunnels seemed to go on forever. The walls of the tunnels were cool and damp, the floors coated in a strange moss spotted amongst the little stream of water flowing through. Suddenly Jackdaw came to a stop. She could see light around the next bend. "This way!" He called, his voice bouncing around the tunnel. They turned the corner, and Raven gasped. The tunnel opened directly out into the air. Dark grey-purple mist swirled down below, and a haunting groan drifted up from deep within. Raven shuddered. Jackdaw took the sack and dropped it to the floor and undid one end, opening it to reveal a face. The face of the man they had been torturing earlier. "What are yeh goin' to do, Jackdaw?" Raven asked, "Yeh can't just toss 'im over the side an' be done with it. He's a Green-coat." "Is he?" Jackdaw asked, then bent down next to the groaning man and grabbed him by the jaw, and shook his jaw like a puppet as he spoke for him, "Well i'm darn sorry to tell ya missus but I told Mr. Jackdaw 'ere that I work for some fella named Jack, in an antiques store!" Raven could feel all the warmth drain from her face. She swallowed, but tried to remain calm. Jack's eyes burned into her own, but after a few seconds of careful examination he laughed and shrugged it off, letting go of the man's jaw and pulling him to his feet, still bound inside the sack. "So, there was somethin' in the antiques store..." Raven muttered, carefully. "Aye so there was, nobody's perfect though, songbird, so hows about you just do me this favour, would ye?" Jackdaw pushed the man into her. Raven was forced to hold him up as there was not a single ounce of strength left in him. "Kill 'im, would ye kindly." Jackdaw smiled pleasantly, expectantly. At this request, Jackdaw stepped back, and held a hand out to the open air at the edge of the tunnel, "Well in your own time, darlin'..." He then grabbed Rook and pulled him in close, "Now here, little man, is a proper killer, showed her all my tricks, didn't I? She knows right where to strike..." Raven looked to Jackdaw, holding the man upright as he spoke, "She's got a real mean streak this one, you can't teach that, and she always does as she's told, right?" As Raven held the man to the edge of the tunnel, she felt Jackdaw's words burning into her. She felt like he knew. She couldn't tell if she was second-guessing herself out of fear, or if Jackdaw truly recognised the lies she had told, but either way she couldn't help but feel as though she were being tested at that very moment. "Mm... pleash..." The man opened his mouth and blood dribbled down his chin, "Am jush... home... my ki--" Raven plunged the knife into the man's stomach and he went rigid. His eyes seemed to turn to glass as he stared off at some point beyond her, then she let go of him, yanking the blade from him gut as he fell, and a gurgled moan escaped his lips as he plummeted into the mists below. There were a few seconds of silence, a sharp scream, like the air being let from a balloon too quickly, and then silence. "Huh, maybe there's one out there now, huh?" Jackdaw laughed, patting Rook on the head, "That's cold, that." He added, ushering Rook back down the corridor as he turned back to look at Raven, still teetering on the edge of the tunnel, "Stab 'im in the gut? Could have just switched his light off..." "... it was more than he deserved." She lied. Jackdaw sucked his lips, then walked on ahead with Rook, leaving her in the tunnel. Raven swallowed, put her back to the wall of the tunnel and slid down into a sitting position. For the first time, she seemed to realise the knife in her hand, as though she was holding something so hot it was burning her skin. She tossed the blade into the mist and pulling her knees up to her chest, she cradled her head in her arms. Something in her had changed. Something had broken.
  3. Shadows in the Mist

    In the bowels of Ark Valiant, far from the crisp, cream-coloured streets of the nobility. Hidden amongst the factories, which caked the buildings and workers in soot and disfigurements in equal measure. An abandoned warehouse, or so it was claimed. In actuality, it was the base of operations for the Red Feathers. The gang that ruled most of the southern quarter of the Ark. They were cut-throats, pickpockets and tricksters. Yet for all their crimes, for all the blood that ran through the streets of the south, they were respected. They defended the poor and the starving, for their leader, Jackdaw, was known to have risen from similar beginnings. Nor did they target the nobility... most of the time. They targeted the middle-class, and so most policeman would turn a blind eye to them. To target the nobility, would force the 'Boys in Green' to come down hard. The street in front of the old warehouse was quiet. Not a single person walked that cobbled street. Houses lined either side, some of them were abandoned or dilapidated, but that didn't mean they were unoccupied. It was like cockroaches, scattering at the sound of approaching footsteps. These footsteps, however, belonged to a young boy. He darted through the streets, quick as his legs would carry him. Then more footsteps. He knew he shouldn't, but he couldn't help it - he looked over his shoulder. Suddenly two policemen sprinted around the corner and caught sight of him. "There's the little chancer! Hurry up, Burnard!" The more svelte of the pair exclaimed, giving chase. The other policeman, Burnard, tried to keep pace, but he was a little more plump. His wheezing breaths fluttered his rather large moustache as his chubby little legs worked at double pace as his colleague. "Get 'im, Michaels!" Burnard huffed, between breaths. Officer Michaels ran after the boy as Burnard slowed and bent over, suffering cramp. Michaels was in hot pursuit of the boy, he was gaining. The boy looked over his shoulder, he was about to get caught, then he yelped in pain as he struck something hard. "Oi!" The boy growled, looking up, to see a familiar face that made him bite his tongue. The policeman caught up to the boy, took a deep breath, and approached. "Miss," Officer Michaels acknowledged the young woman in front of him, taking his hat off and holding it at his side. "If you'd give me the boy, 'e stole summit an' he's gotta come with me." The boy looked up at the woman, who's hands were clasped on each of his shoulders, rooting him firmly in place. The woman was of average height for a woman in her late teens. She had a slender, boyish frame and a short mop of unruly black hair. She wore a pair of old leather trousers, a cream-coloured, short-sleeved blouse, black fingerless gloves, a black eye-patch covered her right eye and lastly, she wore a black baker's cap with a pair of goggles fitted over the top. "What's this then, Billy?" The woman asked, looking down at the child who stared up at her, perplexed. "M... hu--?" She clasped a gloved hand over his mouth. "Has my little brother been up to thievin' again, Officer?" She asked, grinning and sighing like she already knew the answer. "Yes, Miss, now if you'd hand him over..." Officer Michaels took a step closer, and held up his arm expectantly. "Well, what did he steal?" She asked. This stalled the policeman. "W-well..." He gathered himself, "A Mark." "Did you see him steal it, Officer?" "W-well... no, but--" "Then how are you so sure he stole it?" "He ran from us!" Officer Michaels barked, then the wheezing, panting mess of a partner caught up at last. "Where were you?!" "... far..." Burnard panted, unable to say anything more. He coughed up some phlegm and spat it into the street. "So he ran from you?" She shrugged, "Runnin' ain't no crime." She paused, looking down at the boy, and held out her hand expectantly. The two officers watched quietly as the boy stared up at her in defiance. She gave him a sharp, firm kick in the shin and he yelped. "Awright!" He winced, as he pulled the single golden Mark from his pocket and handed it to her. "How's this then, Sirs..." She held the Mark up to them, "You take the Mark, an' i'll see to it that I gives him a proper hidin'... every day... for a month." At each addition, the boy's mouth dropped further still, until he looked as though he was going to burst into tears. Eventually, Burnard sighed and held out his hand for the Mark. "Hey, what about the kid?!" Michaels asked indignantly. "Ah leave 'im, 'e's in enough trouble." Burnard walked up to the woman and she placed the Mark in his hand. He examined it for a moment, out of habit, and then placed it in his coat pocket. "No more trouble from you, kid, or next time your sister won't be able to talk you out of a stay in the work house." Annoyed by his partner's leniency, Officer Michaels turned and started to walk away. "Miss," Officer Burnard tipped his hat to her and followed Michaels. They remained as still as statues until not only had the two policemen both disappeared, but their footsteps had become so distant as to be inaudible. The moment they were, she spun the boy around to face her and gave him a hard slap with the back of her hand. The boy recoiled in pain and shock. "Oi!!" He growled, cradling his pink cheek. "Yeh should be glad fer that!" She snarled, "Ya any idea what Jackdaw'd do to yeh if yeh got caught?!" "I won't next time!" The boy declared defiantly. "Stow it, gobshite, go on, away wit'yeh." She shoved him firmly, and he started to run towards the warehouse. "Oi, Rook!" She called after him. The boy turned around, upset and frustrated, but saw her holding something glittering in her right hand. It was a single gold Mark. "Wha--?!" Rook's mouth hung, "How'd you...?!" "Go on now, give it Jackdaw an' don't be talkin' 'bout bein' followed by no Green-coat bastards." "T-thank you, Raven!" Rook nodded to her respectfully, then ran on. Raven let out a long breath. She was hungry. She hadn't eaten all day, and doing something like that, on an empty stomach? It was rough. Food was scarce though, like most things. Food, water, money. It was all just forms of control. Jackdaw gave them a cut, her more than most, but even then, it wasn't easy living. Raven had joined the Red Feathers nearly ten years ago. Jackdaw had found her at the southern Ark dock, where the airships came in. An airship Captain had found her amongst the wreckage of an old airship floating in the mists, the only survivor. A few more hours and she would have died from thirst, or the ship would have fallen apart, and the mists would have taken her. She had no memories, but Jackdaw had given her new ones. He was like a father to her, and the Red Feathers her family. The warehouse was bustling tonight. People were moving about, doing their own thing, talking to possible customers, showing them their merchandise. For some, that meant watches, jewellery and fine fabrics. Some it was black market goods, ink, and weapons. While for others, well, if you had an appointment with one of Jackdaw's girls, you were well-looked after. The doorman shut and locked the door behind her, and she gave him a grin before walking onto the main floor. Above, a second-floor balcony looked over the squirming mass that was the bar, trading floor, butchery, market and everything else in-between. Only the Red Feathers were allowed on the second-floor. Raven looked around, but didn't catch sight of anyone she recognised. Nothing here interested her right now, she wanted to speak to Jackdaw. She looked up to the balcony, and saw a few faces staring out at the crowd below, then she spotted him. A tall, muscular man, with a shaved head and a handlebar moustache. Wearing an aviator coat, bare-chested beneath it. His gaze caught hers, then he disappeared onto the second floor. He was waiting for her. As Raven walked up the stairs, she heard piano music. It had been quiet before, so much so that she hadn't heard it until she started walking up the stairs. But as she did so, the music grew louder, and louder. By the time she reached the second floor the pianist was slamming his fingers down on the ivories. "Hit the thing any harder, fella, an' yer gonna break it." Raven chuckled, but then she saw the pianist's face. It was blanched. He was sweating. Then she heard it, and realised why. She heard a scream come from a room at the back. She exchanged a glance with the pianist and started towards the room. Another scream. "TURN IT UP, WOULD YA?!" A deep, bellowing voice. The pianist slammed his fingers down, trying to drown the screams. Raven opened the door, swiftly closing it behind her. Inside, there were four men. Three were standing, one was sat. Jackdaw, and two members of the Red Feathers - Finch and Gull. Finch was a little fella with curly ginger hair, and a torn-up scar around his neck from an attempted hanging. He was a quick talker, jittery and nervous in his movements. He hadn't been with them for more than a year. Gull was an older man, older maybe even than Jackdaw who was already in his forties. Gull had a quietness to him, he didn't talk much. He just watched most of the time, only speaking when asked something. Grey streaks through his hair. He had an unpleasantness about him. Like if you saw him coming on the street, you might walk the other way, than pass him. Jackdaw moved aside, revealing the man sat in the chair. Like Jackdaw, he was a large, muscular man himself. He had a short scraggly mess of brown hair, and a short beard. His hair, and his beard, were caked in blood. Raven saw within seconds, that the man was missing several teeth. It was likely when he sat down, he was working with a full set, she was sure of that. Gull reached for the pliers resting on a blood-splattered side table, and Jackdaw held his hand up. "Hey now, there's a lady present." Jackdaw gave her a gentlemanly bow, "Awright there, m'dear, how'd ye find it today?" "It's quiet." Raven replied, curtsying to such a ridiculous degree that it was clear between the two of them, she was no lady. They laughed and Raven crossed the room and stepped up to the man, whose eyes were rolling in his head. She grabbed him by his hair and looked at his face in detail. "Don't know 'im." She muttered. The man's eyes focused on her, "Hep meh..." He choked, through a blood-filled, gap-riddled mouth. "Ahm purrliss, pliss.... hep meh..." Raven looked at Jackdaw. "He was bein' uncooperative, what was I supposed to do? He called my mother a whore." Jackdaw growled. "Yer mother was a whore." Raven noted. "Yeah but he didn't know that, did he?!" Jackdaw barked, "Smarmy little shit, he was a right pain in the arse. All o' south side, an' he's the only copper what won't take a bribe. Y'know he actually tried to arrest Gull there, right?!" She looked over to Gull, who simply nodded. "Right, well... don't let me interrupt." Raven crossed her arms, waiting patiently. "That's unlike you, that," Jackdaw frowned, "You've always been an impatient sort... what you done...?" "Not me. Rook." She replied, "Sticky-fingers swiped a Mark, almost got pinched." "Send him in." Jackdaw's tone was cool. "I've--" "Send him... in." He repeated, raising his eyebrows. Raven rolled her tongue around the inside of her cheek, then turned and opened the door. "ROOK!!" She yelled, then closed the door and waited. A few seconds passed, and then Rook came charging in. Now, when an animal has a fight/flight response, they sort of panic on the spot for a moment, as their brain tries to tell them which is the correct answer. Rook experienced that, as he entered the room, and saw the policeman with the missing teeth, bound in a chair, but beside him, the patiently waiting Jackdaw, who had summoned him. He wanted to run, but he found himself frozen to the spot. "Awright there, boy, come here, would you?" Jackdaw asked. "Y-yes, Sir." Rook stepped forwards, Jackdaw took him in an embrace. "You're a young one, right. I know you make mistakes, so I ain't mad, right. Now. Give us that Mark, would you lad?" The boy obliged without question. "Mmm..." Jackdaw turned it over in his bear-sized hand. "I didn't steal it!" Rook blurted out. "Shut it, yeh stupid boy!" Raven growled, but Jackdaw held his hand up. "Naw naw, its fine, go on lad, tell us... what didn't you steal?" Jackdaw nodded his head, turning it to put his ear near the boy's face. "Some fancy git gave it me, din'he?" Rook replied. "Mmm..." Jackdaw turned the coin over in his hand, "Now why'd a fella give away a Mark, I ain't never heard that one before..." "H-he said I could put it in a machine, an' i'd get a job!" The boy added nervously. "Said East Edge, Penny Farthing Antiques, that's it!" "Did he, did he?" Jackdaw mused over this, then looked up at Raven. "Here." He flicked the coin to her, and she snatched it from the air. "Go to this place, and see what it's about." "Right." Raven turned and started to leave. "Take ye knives!" Jackdaw called pleasantly to her, as he smiled at Rook. Raven left, hearing Jackdaw still talking to Rook. "Now, fella... this, is what we call a man, but he's not really a man, no, he's really more a pig, y'understand? I used to be a butcher, did ye know that, Rook?" "Yes, Jackdaw, Sir..." "Yes, well... I was a butcher, and you know what I learnt? The nearest thing to a man, is a pig. And this one's a real a pig as ye could make bacon, right, so look, you take your knife, not in the stomach, they'll just bleed and bleed, look, here's the liver, kidney, kidney, neck, and you..." The doors closed behind her, and the music and the bustle downstairs drowned out the man as he screamed once more. Raven went to her room on the third floor. The third floor was hers, and hers alone. Nobody went there, not even Jackdaw. He'd given her the loft as a gift, when she first arrived. She figured it had been because she had only been eight years old, and wanted to keep an eye on her, but whatever the reason, she was glad of it. She picked up a small bundle on her bed and unrolled it. Inside, were a dozen or so knives of different sizes and styles. In the space of a few seconds, she had placed all of them about her person, and only one was visible. A knife tucked into a small sheath strapped around her right leg. The rest were hidden from view. It didn't take long to reach the antiques place, not for her. When she stepped inside, it smelled musty, almost damp. It seemed as though nobody had been there in months. As she walked through the shop, she looked at the antiques scattered around the room. Nothing seemed worth stealing. She ran a finger across an old table, and the dust blackened her finger. But she noticed the fortune-telling machine at the back. Raven pulled the Mark from her pocket and eyed it, then approached the machine. “Do you wish to know your fortune?” A ridiculous voice asked as the animatronic man’s mouth flapped up and down. "Hmm..." Raven flicked the coin into the air and caught it between two fingers, then deposited the Mark into the slot. "Sweetheart, maybe you should ask somebody else for advice." The fortune teller replied. Raven smirked, amused by the machine, then without warning she reached forwards and wrenched the puppet's head off and threw it over her shoulder. The animatronic puppet sounded as though it tried to say 'hey' before it's motor died, and then there was an eerie silence. Raven took a step back and waited, impatiently tapping the nail of her forefinger against the sheath of her knife.
  4. Blood & Scale

    "By the Hammer of Crona!" Bradan growled with disbelief, "Would'ja look at that?! There's no way we can fight that, even wi'a couple a dragons!" "I know what we need to do!" Vaedwyn shared her thoughts with Auriel, who after a moment's hesitation, acquiesced. This wasn't something they could just fight their way out of. They were trapped, surrounded on all sides. They knew they had to get to Burrow. What was the one thing that Aemon's lieutenants would never do? How could she show these soldiers that they were not Aemon's dogs? Auriel flew low to the ground, sweeping over grass and flowers until at last her paws struck the ground and she quickly began to slow. Before Auriel had come to a complete stop, Vaedwyn threw herself from the saddle and landed in front of her dragon. Try to look small. Vaedwyn asked of her partner. I'll try... Auriel replied dryly. She fanned out her wings, pressing them to the ground, lowered herself onto her belly and rested her head upon the ground. Vaedwyn thanked her for swallowing her pride, and turned to face the oncoming army. She pulled her sword from it's sheath and thrust it into the ground and then knelt beside it with her head bowed. "You'd best do the same." Vaedwyn spoke to Agron, as Bradan fell to one knee and watched the oncoming army with trepidation. There was a sudden beat of wings, and a thump as Agron landed on the ground, Atma landing not far behind him. They stood next to Vaedwyn and Bradan as Turiel flew low to the ground, flying closer to the army ahead. "Too proud." Agron said, shaking his head. He winced as Turiel finally fanned his wings and landed on the ground, craning his head up to face the sky and letting out a blood-curdling roar. The front line of soldiers steadied their spears, and the archers prepared to fire, but their arms shook with fear. I dare you! Turiel projected, not that any of the men could hear his voice. Who among you is so bold as to loose the first arrow upon me? Who among you is brave enough to suffer my wrath!? No sooner had he thought it, than an arrow flew through the crowd and caught him in the upper part of his leg. The arrowhead was wedged between his scales but ultimately the wound was harmless. Turiel growled and looked forward as a figure carrying a bow emerged from the waiting army. She was far from imposing. The woman stood an inch short of 5 and a half feet, and she was dressed in form-fitting, black leather armour with golden trims, and a white tabard with the emblem of a blazing sun covering her chest. She had short, thick black hair that made her look like a pixie, or perhaps a young boy. Her figure was feminine but muscular, and her face looked plain and hardened, but it seemed that she might have once been beautiful. The woman carried a sword sheathed at her side and had not bothered to prepare another arrow in her bow as she walked closer to Turiel. When she came to be but an arms length from the dragon, he leaned down towards her, snarling viciously. The woman folded her arms and scowled back at him. "Stop that!" She barked. Turiel snarled again and pushed his head towards her, baring his teeth. The woman, who might have seemed to some to be insane, leaned forward until she was holding her upper body inside Turiel's gaping maw. "Go ahead, then!" She said. Turiel hesitated. "Hm? Oh don't tell me Turiel the Great Northern Squall was just posturing?" The woman leaned out of his jaws and looked up expectantly. Her cold, blue eyes brightened for a moment, clearly amused by the dragon. "Well?" She asked. In response Turiel huffed and turned around, stalking back towards Agron. The woman allowed herself a smirk, and then turned around, her face cold and plain once more. "AT EASE, MEN!" She roared, her voice projecting so far back that it was fairly possible the whole force of soldiers could hear her. She ushered for one of the officers to come to her and he did so dutifully. She issued a few whispered orders and the officer nodded, and left to spread them to the troops. As the formations began to part and reorganise, the woman walked towards the company. She eyed each of them in turn, but eventually her eyes remained focused on Agron. "12 years gone, and this is how you saunter back, is it?" She asked, her cold stare biting at him like winter itself. "You better have some explanation." "Aye, course." Agron said, folding his arms. "Thought I'd test yer defences. Live trainin's good for the troops, naw?" "I will decide what is and is not good for my troops, Rider." The woman snapped. Then her gaze flicked to Vaedwyn, and her eyes narrowed. "You are either very brave or very foolish, child. Our armies are trained to attack the black dragon, Moriel, on sight. The wiser path would have been to go through our proper route, where we could have verified that you were not our enemy." "I expect i'm a little of both." Vaedwyn replied, still kneeling. At last, she stood, dwarfing the other woman in height. "I am Vaedwyn, i've come to seek aid from Burrow." "Aid from us?" The woman frowned, and then shook her head slightly. "And what exactly do you require us to aid you with, young lady?" "I have one goal, to end the life of the tyrant, King Aemon." Vaedwyn reached forwards and grabbed her sword, pulling it from the ground and replacing it in it's sheath, "To that end, I intend to unite the many races and factions of our lands, because only through unification can we defeat him and his lieutenants." The woman did not respond immediately. She just stared at Vaedwyn. However this was not the stare Vaedwyn normally received. She was not awed or stunned. She was not proud of Vaedwyn, nor fearful of her. The woman's stare was cold and entirely unimpressed. "You can go unite the rest of Suros. My people shall pass on your offer of a quick death." "Now hang on, Freya." Agron interrupted. "You will address me as Lady Commander, Rider." Freya snapped back at him, her tone icy. "Remember where you stand. You have sworn no fealty, and this is my land, my people. You will remain here only as long as I allow it, and don't forget that." A bellowing trumpet sounded from behind Vaedwyn, she had no time to intervene, she believed even if she had there would have been no stopping it. Auriel raced towards the woman Agron called Freya. Knocking the soldier to the ground, Auriel pinned her there with her talons placed on either side of her body. She roared at Freya, and raked her talons across the ground, leaving two large scars of dirt either side of her. What will-- Auriel spoke and Vaedwyn quickly conveyed it to the Lady Commander. "--you allow?!" Vaedwyn was uncomfortable repeating words she didn't necessarily agree with, but it was her partner's right to speak as much as anyone, and further, there was no use in getting in a dragon's way. "You cower in the rabbit hole, thinking the fox will tire and sate his hunger elsewhere! You could not stop me from reaching you, and I am a yearling! Vaedwyn is a fledgling Rider! You would wither and turn to ash before the four Betrayers and their mules. You might well avoid a quick death, but in so doing you would die a slow and painful death." Auriel lifted her paw from Freya, and huffed a short breath of smoke form her nostrils at seeing more than a dozen soldiers at her sides, with spears at the ready. Freya got up hurriedly, and her nostrils were flaring from adrenaline and most likely anger, yet she kept it in check when she spoke. "Threaten me all you like, Dragon. I will not budge. Look upon Burrow." She gestured towards the city. "We are rebuilding, growing in number. We will take the fight to Aemon, when we are ready. Yet I will not let countless innocent people die on the command of your prideful lot. The Riders failed, and when they did the rest of us suffered, because we relied on you. No more shall we rely on you." Freya planted her feet and folded her arms, her eyes narrowing as she met Auriel's. "I am no appointed Queen or Empress. My people follow me because I have sweat and bled for them. And when necessary I have put my boot to their arse to make them follow me. I will not cower to you, Dragon. I will not cower to Aemon himself." Freya turned around, showing her back to Auriel and gesturing for her soldiers to stand down. "Posture if you must, as Turiel has." She said, shaking her head. "But the old protector knows that I do not yield, not here in my domain. So you shall follow me, Dragon, or you shall begone. Am I clear?" I like-- "--this one." Vaedwyn repeated Auriel's words, with a smile, "She'll do nicely." Then Auriel sauntered off in the direction of Burrow, but not before snarling at the nearest group of soldiers, who quickly fled at her aggression, having seen what she had done to their commander. That too, gave her pleasure. Vaedwyn let out a breath she hadn't realised she'd been holding and nodded to Freya. "Thank you," She said, "For standing your ground." She started to walk, adding, "I know fighting Aemon now would be a mistake. I didn't come here to gather an army and march on his castle... not yet, anyway. I came here to ask for aid, I need a willingness to join forces when the time comes. You said yourself, that you're training your people to fight back against Aemon. I think that day is coming, and sooner than you think. We will all need to be ready." "And who exactly are you speaking for, girl?" Freya asked. "You and the old Nord may be Riders, but the two of you alone are not a force strong enough to convince me to march, I can assure you." "There is three of us." Agron pointed out. Freya looked around and then her eyes fell down to Bradan, and she frowned. "...Sorry is the hairy child supposed to impress me?" She asked "Are ye speakin' t'me, girlie?" Bradan looked around and pointed at himself and then shrugged his shoulders and laughed, "Lissen, feek, if ah wanted'n impress yah i'd drop mah pants." And gave her a quick wink as he joined the procession. "So thas' three, an' if ye like what ye see, maybe i'll show ye mah sword." Atma walked up to Freya, ignoring Bradan, and held up four fingers. Six. Auriel added. "Seven, if you count Jona, and you should." Vaedwyn couldn't help but smile. "Seven, fantastic." Freya said, rolling her eyes. "Look, I'm having enough trouble in my own city. All is..." She hesitated, "...all is not well here at the moment. I'm afraid I cannot speak more on the matter." "Vigo...still?" Agron asked. "I said I cannot speak on it any more." Freya replied, frowning. "Vigo and his Nords do not follow me, and if we cannot unite then I have a hard time believing we can convince the other nations." "Vaedwyn convinced the Dwarves to poke their heeds oot the ground." Agron said, beaming at Vaedwyn. "She can be surprisingly convincin' if ye let her." "Of course she is, I'm sure everyone is very excited about a new Rider. Her existence heralds the return of your order and renews the people's hope." Freya still frowned, however. "But we shall see how hopeful they remain when Aemon begins to butcher them." "I don't intend to return the Riders to power, Freya." Vaedwyn stated. Freya stopped walking at that. She turned to Vaedwyn, and for the first time her gaze was not cold. It was searching, earnestly, trying to see if Vaedwyn spoke the truth. It was momentary, however, and her coldness returned. "Lady Commander." She corrected, and continued walking. "I haven't the time to welcome you properly. If you require food and drink you best have coin. If not you can eat in the mess with my men, and you'll earn it with a day's labour. You will find Burrow is spacious, but few of our buildings are built to accommodate Dragons. Perhaps speak with Vigo, he has always ensured that his quarter is fit to accommodate the saviour." "I'm no saviour, any more than you are my Lady Commander, Freya." Vaedwyn smiled at her, "Thank you for welcoming us to the city. I'd like to speak to you again." Vaedwyn gave a short bow to the woman, and jogged up to walk beside Auriel. I'm impressed, that was rather eloquent. Auriel turned to look at Vaedwyn. I'm sweating like a pig. Vaedwyn replied, trying to stop herself from visibly shaking. Well yes, obviously. Auriel noted, a tone of amusement to her reply. "Er, lass." Agron jogged up beside her, and he was chuckling slightly. "I'm not wantin' tae burst yer bubble or anythin' but..." As they approached the main gates of Burrow they began to hear a rhythmic chanting. "When the Lady Commander was talkin' about the didn't mean you." As they passed through the gates, Turiel soared over their heads, and there was a sudden gasp within the rhythmic chanting, and then it continued. As they drew closer the chanting became more distinct and they could hear the words. "Turiel! Turiel! Turiel! Turiel!" Over and over the people chanted, and Turiel let out an impressive roar, which only led to cheering and clapping from the city dwellers who were out on the streets, revelling in the return of their saviour. The streets of Burrow were wide and had plenty of space. The streets were cobbled, and the houses had been built up on top of each other to conserve space and accomodate their rise in population. The entire city was surrounded by a large wall, with guards along the parapet, and stationed at each of the gates. As the group reached the central square they could see that the city itself was sectioned in to various quarters. It seemed that to the south the design of the building took a drastic change, resembling the long houses in the ruined Nord villages they had seen on their travels up. A large keep could be seen in that direction, and there was another large keep in the opposite direction, which is where Freya had gone with her forces. "There's two Garrisons in the city, one for each army." Agron explained. "Ye've met Freya and it might be worth holdin' off on meetin' Vigo, maybe we could...Ah, here we go..." Agron sighed. They had reached the centre of the square, and Turiel had stopped to pose and posture next to the large, brass statue in the square that was a much smaller bust of his own head. It's a lovely statue. Auriel looked the bust up and down, You're much fatter in real life... "Don't poke the bear." Vaedwyn said aloud, scolding her partner who took Vaedwyn's words with a mental smirk. Atma walked up to the statue, glanced at Turiel and hesitated for a moment, but then she kissed her hand and put it to the statue's muzzle, and quickly excused herself. Vaedwyn watched as the soldiers returned to their homes or their posts, each of them repeating the same action Atma had done just a moment before. So, you're something of a celebrity here, hm? Vaedwyn looked to Turiel with a wry grin. Agron and I faced off against Kardran and Uruk. We prevented them from discovering Burrow. Turiel explained, and his tone did not seem especially prideful despite all his posturing. They understand little of the bond between Dragon and Rider. As a result, they do not recognise Agron's contribution to the fight. "I'd like tae keep it that way." Agron said, shaking his head irritably. "Last thing I need is a bunch o' bampots fussin' o'er me, ken?" It feels good to be appreciated. Turiel said warmly. We have spent so much of our lives alone. I enjoy the brief visits here. "Brief it may have to be. I'd like to conclude our business here as quickly as possible and look at completing my training." Vaedwyn looked to Turiel's statue for a few seconds, "Whatever the people here are dealing with, it can't be as important as dethroning Aemon." While that may be true, a Rider should never turn away from those in need. Auriel reminded her, to which Vaedwyn simply nodded. "Agron!! You old goat!!" Vaedwyn frowned, unable to process what she'd just heard. She'd never heard anyone refer to Agron like that before, including her in her most ample of tantrums. She turned to see a large, muscular man with a bald head and a thick black beard. He was at least eight feet tall, and must have weighed the same as a bear. Or perhaps he had eaten one. Both were plausible. The man thumped Agron on the shoulder and then grabbed him and pulled him into a bear hug that looked as if it had been anyone but Agron, they might have been suffocated. "Yer a sight for sore eyes, Gethari!" Agron said with a grin as he released the embrace. He slapped Gethari lightly on his bald head. "Look's like yer hair's finally finished migratin' tae yer chin!" "Looks like yer finally able tae reach it, ya wee thing!" Gethari laughed raucously. "It's great tae see ye ol' friend." Agron said with a grin and a slight shrug. "Especially since a thought ye were deid, eh." "Aye is no bad like, is it?" Gethari frowned, "So why'm ah dead an look be'er an' yoo?" Then burst into laughter again, "So tell us eh, pipsqueak, what yeh been doon wi'yehself?" "Aw y'know, ye go fer a wee stroll an' afore ye've noticed it's been o'er a decade, eh." Agron said with a shrug, then he thumbed in Vaedwyn's direction. "Truth be told I wis daein' ma rounds down south an' ma last egg jumped right out ma satchel. Wis keen tae meet her new partner." Agron gestured for Vaedwyn to come closer. "Vaedwyn, this is Gethari. Atma's husband, an' a Rider." "It's an honour to meet you." Vaedwyn approached, and offered a bow. "An yer the wee thing what got an egg tae hatch eh?" Gethari raised an eyebrow and smiled, "Well good on yeh lass, there's no a thing yoos want more'n a dragon in yeh life, am sorry t'say but mah beastie kicked the bucket savin' mah life like, but he gie'd it laldy, so I cannae fault 'im." "Yeh bloody massive..." Bradan muttered, staring up at Gethari. "Aye alright down there, wee fella, gaw look'atcha, yoos lot're a right wet mess." Gethari's smile turned lop-sided as he looked across the party. "Aye well it's been a bit o' a long journey." Agron said. "We'd probs be deid anaw if it wisnae fer Atma findin' us." Agron gave a soft, slightly embarassed chuckle, and then his stomach made a noise like distressed sheep. "Er...sorry. Fair starvin' if am honest." "Righ', les get ye fed!" Gethari walked through the streets, and people naturally moved either side of him, making it easy for those walking behind him to get through the crowds. As they walked, Bradan tugged at Vaedwyn's sleeve, she turned to look to him and saw him grinning. "Look right," Bradan whispered, "Ah've ah great idea, what if ah grab mah axe, an' sit on 'is shoulders, an' we form like some kind of double giant?" Vaedwyn could only shake her head and laugh, "Ah know!" Bradan exclaimed, his grin widening, "Ah it'd be grand like..."
  5. Blood & Scale

    A flash of light, Turiel's fire, then the ground was rushing up to meet them. Darkness once more. Bradan gripped onto Vaedwyn's waist tightly, she could sense his fear and if she let it, she would have given in to fear herself. But the rush of flight, danger and the unknown, kept her senses sharp. Suddenly, she felt the air pressure change. "Now!!" She yelled, trying to pull up as Auriel fanned her wings and tried beating them to slow their descent. Vaedwyn felt a heavy vibration rattle through Auriel, and through to her, they had landed. Bradan tried to slide out of the saddle, but simply collapsed onto the ground and breathed a sigh of relief. "Aw thank ye, Gods..." He wheezed, gripping the dusty cavern floor. "What's next?" Vaedwyn asked, asking Agron, but staring ahead at the pitch-black tunnel. Scent will guide us. Turiel answered before Agron could. There was a crunching of heavy feet moving in the darkness as the dragon proceeded through the tunnel. Moss and damp signal water's trail through the cracks. Yet more subtle is the fresher scents of wildflowers that carry in the slightest of breezes. Follow that and we shall reach our goal. Avoid the paths with the stench of rot, only death awaits in those tunnels. "Death?" Vaedwyn frowned. In the dark, some things need not be disturbed... Auriel noted, staring out at the inky blackness. "Dragons are needlessly cryptic sometimes." Vaedwyn replied, then held her hand aloft and spoke the elvish word for 'light'. A strange luminescence coalesced at her palm, with brilliant shades of green and blue mixed with the most brilliant white light. For a moment, she was dazzled. The tunnel lit up around them, and Vaedwyn shivered in discomfort as a number of things retreated into the shadows. "Aye alright this is more like it..." Bradan strode on ahead of them, his eyes searching the tunnels ahead. "Scent will guide us..." Vaedwyn muttered, repeating Turiel's advice. The orb of light hovered along in front of the group, guiding them down the tunnel. Eventually, the tunnel came to a stop, branching off in two different directions. Bradan looked at each of them in turn, his head shifting from one to the other, and back again. He turned and looked to Vaedwyn, giving her a shrug. Stepping forwards, Vaedwyn moved down into the tunnel on the right. She smelled the air, and could feel Auriel doing so as well behind her. She wasn't sure what she was trying to find, there were no particularly powerful smells. Just a mild, dampness to everything. She could hear water droplets splashing on the ground up ahead. She walked out and over to the tunnel on the left, and wandered down a short ways. At first, there didn't seem to be anything different. It was Auriel that noticed it first. Sour... Auriel made a hacking noise as though she'd gotten a bone stuck in her throat. She was right. There was a smell, quite distant though it was, of something rotting. Maybe something was dead and decaying, and maybe there was something waiting for it's next meal to replace the scraps it had left behind of it's previous visitor. They'd take the tunnel on the right. She didn't fancy coming to the source of whatever that smell was. "So, then..." Bradan spoke, breaking the silence that had held for several minutes. "Agron, will ye tell us wha' dragons were like 'afore they were pairin' wi'elves, an' then yeselfs? Y'know there's a lot t'be tol' in Dwarf texts but not eh lot of it's on dragons, i'll tell ye that much." "Well... am no exactly a Historian or anythin', Bradan." Agron said with an awkward shrug. "Yer talkin' about a long time a'fore a was born, an' even that was over a millennia ago." He sighed and rubbed his hands together, warming them as he contemplated his next words. "So, before they bonded wi' the Eladrin-" Agron paused, knowledge passing through his mind, supplied by Turiel, "Before the Eladrin even crossed the sea tae come tae Suros, actually. During that time the Dragons ruled this land uncontested. There were no creatures as strong or as intelligent as they were." Agron paused again, apologetically holding his hands up to Bradan. "Or, well, at least they thought so at the time. There was nae dialogue between the ancient Dwarves and the Dragons. They considered yer folk tae be primitive and uncivilised, just like the rest of the animals." "Bloody sky lizards..." Bradan grumbled. Well this sky lizard knows better. Auriel continued walking as Vaedwyn relayed her comment to Bradan. "Ah, ah well ah meant no offence, that is, present company excluded, an' all that, and eh..." He trailed off into silence. That's alright, no offence taken... Auriel replied, then a beat, ... bearded rock ape. Vaedwyn grinned as she spoke Auriel's words aloud. For a moment, Bradan looked stunned, then lines spread across his face as it screwed up in laughter and he had to hold his sides as he walked. Auriel chuffed, a sound as close to laughter as could be made by a dragon, and even Vaedwyn found herself laughing, a beautiful, lyrical series of notes that echoed through the tunnels and though he would not have said aloud, made Bradan glad to have been a man who could appreciate the company of a woman that could bring light to even this dark place, in more ways than one. "So, before the dragons were bonded to the elves, they were wild..." Vaedwyn mused, glancing at Agron. "Wild, aye." Agron nodded. There was a loud snort and Turiel pushed his head forward, bearing his teeth a little. Are you implying we are now tamed? He asked Agron, a testy edge to his tone, as if daring Agron to say it. "Right, sorry. They are still wild." Agron corrected. "It's more dae ye say it?" Primal. Turiel offered, 13 centuries and you're still in dire need of a dictionary. "Oh shut up!" Agron snapped back, frowning. "Okay, so they were primal, okay?" He turned back to the group to continue. "They did not speak to each other with their links as they do now. There was no need, they just...well." Turiel let out a low, rumbling growl, followed by a hiss, as if to demonstrate. "Aye, that." "Y'know..." Bradan cleared his throat, "Ah sometimes think y'all are messin' wit' me. How d'ah know fer sure that these dragons can talk, an' understand like we can? I mean no offence but i'm a sceptic, an' ye could jus' be sayin' wha'ever ye like we'er this one says it or not." He jerked his head back at Auriel, who responded by stretching out her long, crane-like neck and gently bumping Bradan in the back. The dwarf hit the floor like a bag of wet sand and scrambled to get back up to his feet. "Righ'! Right'ye are then, right... obviously..." His face turned pink in embarrassment. "I'm sorry, Bradan," Vaedwyn smiled sadly at the dwarf, "I know its hard for you to understand. You only had one interaction with a dragon, and... I understand." The stump sells himself short, as usual. Turiel mused to the group that could hear him, He understands our communication well enough. A nudge, a snarl, a hiss. That is all our ancestors needed for expression. We only learned to speak this way because the ones we bonded with could not grasp our language. Yet the Dwarf grasps it well enough. He ended by letting out an approving little chuff, moving his head in a slight, upward nod towards Bradan. The tunnels seemed to stretch on and on, with no sign of ending. The initial choice of left or right, soon became far more complex as the tunnel system expanded into dozens of paths. It became harder and harder to discern if they were going the right way. Sometimes, Vaedwyn and Auriel found themselves sat positioned between two entrances, trying to gauge which one might have been the slightly less foul-smelling tunnel. After walking for several hours, Bradan began dragging his heels. "How much longer is it?" He called out to the group. "A while longer, I expect." Vaedwyn replied, but noticed the exhaustion on his face. It seemed the dwarf's gusto for the tunnels had run out when they didn't soon end at a bright light and a hot meal. Though she didn't disagree, she was getting tired and felt claustrophobic. She wasn't used to being so cramped. Even in the dwarf city, it was far more open, so much so that it often didn't feel like they were living inside a mountain at all - at least until you looked up and saw darkness far above the city. Vaedwyn knew she wasn't the only one, either. Both Auriel and Turiel found it difficult to move in the tunnels, unable to fly and at points they even had to squeeze to get through certain sections. "We should bed down for the night." Vaedwyn let out a short breath and walked over to the tunnel wall and slid down on her back until she was sat on the floor. Auriel slowed and shuffled over to one side and laid down, giving Bradan just enough room to sit on the other side, while Agron and Turiel were just behind them. After a couple of minutes, a chill set in. Vaedwyn moved closer into the middle of the group and went to create a flame. Then it occurred to her, that she would have to funnel magic into the fire constantly, as there was no fuel source. That was no good. Instead, she grabbed a dozen or so stones off the path and put them in a pile, then cast heat into the centre of them until they were glowing red hot. Then, she only needed to occasionally warm them, and the stones would give off enough heat to stave off the cold. "I wonder what i'd be doing right now..." Vaedwyn said quietly to herself, but Bradan caught her eye and she explained, "I mean, if Auriel had never come into my life. If... all of this... had never happened. I think I would still be hunting in the forest. I wonder if I would have been allowed to leave my village and go to the city one day... i've never seen the city of my people. My... Mogwé used to tell me that we're very different from other elves. The elves in the city are dreamers, magic-weavers, artisans and warriors... maybe now i've got you..." Vaedwyn put her hand on Auriel's flank with a warm smile, "Maybe i'll see the city now... I think Torenth would have liked that..." Caught off-guard by her own emotions, Vaedwyn fell silent as tears welled in her eyes. After everything that had happened, she had been so busy she had all but forgotten her friend. Whether she was travelling, training or in peril, she was kept occupied. How could she have forgotten her so soon? She slumped down and laid back on Auriel's side. "Y'know, there's a sayin' that folk have; it's 'don't dwell on the past', eh." Agron said out loud as he lay down on the rocky ground. "They say that because they live short lives. The past, if they dwell on it, can distract them from the now. It can fill them with pain and misery, and there's no sense wastin' a short life bein' miserable." He sucked in a breath and was silent for a moment. There was an echoing drip sound from water droplets somewhere deep in the tunnels. "But I say ye should dwell sometimes." He said finally. "Elves, the ones in the city, the dreamers. They contemplate their past and their memories wi' a depth an' clarity I could ne'er truly understand. Y'see when ye live that long...if ye don't stop to remember at forget." Agron smiled weakly as he recalled memories from a past that seemed like a different life altogether. "I had a younger brother and sister when I was your age." He said. "Hamer and Roan. My father was called Aran, my mother, Shae. They were my family, my world, my everythin' an' the thing is... they were all gone before I was barely 120 years old. I've outlived my family by countless lifetimes. I've watched my nephew's nephew's nephew grow old and die. If I did'nae stop tae remember them... well it'd be all too easy to forget 'em." Agron's story lay on Vaedwyn's mind as she closed her eyes to rest. It had been a long day, and there was much yet ahead of her. She wondered on the trials she would need to pass, the obstacles she had to overcome. She wondered about the lives of those who chose to take up the mantle of 'rider', and even spared a thought for who Aemon might have been, had he not done the same. Would he have still been the person he was now? Was he destined to become a tyrant, or could destiny be shaped? Sometimes your thoughts baffle me. Auriel brought her head down to eye level with Vaedwyn. Our ultimate goal is the destruction of Aemon, but you wonder who he might have been? What does it matter. He is a monster. That is the truth of this world. That is the truth of your world. And for many, but I don't know if it is the truth for him. Vaedwyn replied. Auriel snorted, That, would be a fiction of his own creation. Maybe. Maybe i'm some... hero, who is here to save the world and unite everyone under one banner, but i'm sure for many i've brought a lot of pain and hardship to their lives. I have to keep an open mind, I think perhaps Aemon is who he is, because he closed his mind to others... Well, I shall eat him, Auriel stated matter-of-factly, as she yawned, coincidentally flashing the weapons of said deed. The light hovering from Vaedwyn's magic had dimmed, the stones which had once been red-hot coals, were now glowing a gentle orange. Bradan, Vaedwyn, Agron, Turiel and Auriel were all asleep and had been for several hours. The tunnels were quiet, but that quiet was just enough, that if you listened closely, you could hear the little scurrying of insects, the digging of a mole, and all the little things that lived in the dark. Suddenly, however, all these whispers... fell silent. The silence persisted, if only for a few minutes, then slowly, very slowly, there was the quietest of short, rough, scratches. And another. And another. Tiny pebbles and dust fell from the ceiling of the tunnel, peppering everyone below. The scratching, scraping, gnawing at the rock above, continued. Soon, little flecks of rock fell from the ceiling, harmlessly landing in the dust of the cavern floor. The noise grew louder, yet still it was almost unnoticeable. All the more so to those weary from their travels. At last, a small opening formed in the rock above their heads, something emerged. It's head was grasping, clawing at the air. It sought purchase, and when it found none, it wriggled to get free of it's tunnel, so that it could enter the cavern below. Even as it was writhing out of it's opening, another opened in the tunnel ceiling. And another. And another. Soon, there were dozens, maybe hundreds of fist-sized holes opening above. The creatures - each of them the length of a man's arm - fell silently to the floor. Some landed directly on the sleeping travellers, some even landed on the dragons, but they were so light, that nobody was woken. The creatures had swallowed air as they breached their tunnels, and drifted down to the floor so as not to disturb anything, or anyone. They wriggled and writhed over the party, each worm finding an ideal purchase. Then each, in turn, raised their bulbous little heads which exploded open like a blossoming flower, each petal ringed with teeth, to attach themselves to the bodies of the party. Agron, Vaedwyn and Bradan had at least half a dozen sucking copious amounts of blood. The disgusting, cream-coloured leeches quickly changed in colour. From cream, to pink, from pink to bright red, from bright red to a dark crimson. Their bodies pulsating with each gulp. Auriel and Turiel were covered in them, dozens of them attached in every nook and cranny the vile creatures could find. A few minutes passed, no-one was waking. Vaedwyn, Agron and Bradan looked ill, the colour was drawn from their cheeks, along with the warmth. Auriel shivered, as she too was affected, and her enormous, vibrating body shook Vaedwyn awake. It took her mind no more than a second, to pull itself from the haze of sleep, and realise she was covered in huge, pulsating leeches. She screamed in surprise, shoving at one on her arm which reluctantly detached, hissing at her as it fell to the floor. Her scream had already woken the rest of the party, who had had a similar reaction. Auriel roared in shock and panic, trying to stand only to find the tunnel ceiling too low for her to gain full height. Her tail swung dangerously back and forth as she tried to whip the leeches with her tail, and bite at them from where she could reach. "Agron!!" Vaedwyn screamed for her mentor as Bradan hopped on one foot, trying to grab the leech that had affixed itself to his other leg. Agron spat a series of guttural Nordic curses amongst what was likely a fair amount of terrified gibbering, his hands flailing to swat the nasty creatures from his flesh. "Gah! Run, lass! RUN!" He yelled frantically as his legs began moving. A great roar thundered through the tunnels as Turiel thrashed in sheer anger, snapping and swatting at the creatures, his scales rippling as the dragon bucked and flailed to throw them from his body. Vaedwyn, Agron and Bradan sprinted through the tunnels, blind as moles with the leeches still trying to find purchase on them, even as they knocked them from their bodies. They ran, not just because of the creatures sucking their life's blood, but because they had two stampeding dragons, charging behind them. Vaedwyn had never seen a dragon in such a state of panic before. It was clear, that not many had ever found themselves in the depths of these tunnels and the horrors within. Everything their ancestral memory taught them about, prepared them for and educated them, had not seen fit to include enormous, blood-draining leeches capable of piercing a dragon's scaly hide. They careened through the tunnels without regard for those running in front of them. Vaedwyn dodged as Auriel's head swung through the cavern, almost clipping her and dashing her against the wall of rock. "Keep running!!" She yelled, over the noise of the enraged dragons. Vaedwyn put out her foot in front of her, to take the next step and found nothing. She had no time to scream, or warn the others, and suddenly she was falling. Tumbling over herself, down a steep, scree-covered decline. She felt sharp rocks slash at her limbs and face, she heard the dragons bellow as they too fell over the edge and were falling behind them, ready to crush them at any moment. She heard Auriel's long tail whip over her head, and was glad she was not a little taller, for it might have decapitated her. Then just as suddenly, she hit the ground and scampered out of the way. Agron and Bradan landed next and both of them knew just as quick to move out of the way, and then with an ear-shattering clatter, Turiel and Auriel landed behind them. They were all of them, free of the leeches. However, now they had another problem. They were lost.
  6. Dreamers

    OC: Private RP between myself and Kyo. Dreamers The room was almost pitch black, save for the tiny slits of orange light cast from the early morning sun, peaking through between the slats of the blinds. An electronic cigarette rolled between the lips of the woman on the end of the bed. She took a long drag, making the light on the end illuminate. Then she exhaled slowly, blowing the harmless smoke-like vapour into the air. The woman was in her late-twenties, to early-thirties. Her messy hair was a dark brown that matched her tired eyes and stopped at her shoulders. She was slim, athletic and tall. The former two came from her police background. Rubbing at her sleepy eyes, she asked gruffly, "What time is it?" Her voice was deep, authoritative. The room replied in a gentle, feminine voice, "Good morning Sergeant Yume Akiyama, it is 5:43. A.M. September 26th, 2084." "Wh...?" A quiet stirring accompanied a confused mutter. Yume turned and looked back at her bed. Her wife, Shizu, was lying partially covered in their sheets, having attempted to - as she often did - kick them away some time during the night. Shizu had much longer, straight black hair and a more feminine figure. She was a lawyer employed by the government, a prosecutor. It wasn't long before they met, fell in love, and soon after they had a daughter together, Nyoko, who was now three. "Ssh, go back to sleep, it's early." Yume replied. "Mmm..." Shizu muttered, rolling over, "Don't forget... dinner... don't be late..." "I won't." Yume smiled, took one more drag of her E-Cigarette and then put it in the inside pocket of her leather jacket. Then she stood, gave her wife a kiss on the cheek who while still half-asleep made a kiss with her lips and then went back to sleep. Yume quietly crossed the bedroom and looked in the crib. Nyoko was still fast asleep, good. She didn't want to disturb her daughter, as she was often difficult to put back to sleep, so she just smiled and walked out of their apartment, closing the door quietly behind her and locking it once more. The hall outside their apartment was a stark contrast to their living quarters. Inside, it didn't look too bad. But they had worked on it. A lot. They couldn't afford a big apartment in a nice neighbourhood, in inner-city Tokyo. In the police force, Inspectors made a damn sight more than she did. She was just a glorified team leader. As for Shizu, well, the money was in being a defence attorney. But Shizu was into putting criminals behind bars just as much as she was, so that wasn't a reality. The hall light flickered as she walked down the corridor, then she noticed a needle in the corner of the stairwell on her way down. We really need a better place, she thought. She picked up the needle using a clean tissue and smelled it. There was a bitter, vinegar-like scent to it. Heroine, or some other opiate. It definitely wasn't a diabetic syringe. She took a small plastic bag, found the needle cap and pushed it back on, then dropped the syringe in the baggie and put it in her outer pocket. She'd take it to work with her and have them analyse it. Maybe it would come up with a print and she could get one of the problem tenants arrested. Stepping out of the building was a secondary shock. Sometimes she forgot just how much noise the windows and doors in the apartment actually muffled. The pavement was crowded with throngs of people moving about their day, even at this early time. The sky was full of angry-looking clouds, it was likely going to rain later. Her assessment had been spot on. On her drive to work, she'd barely gone a mile before the skies opened and a heavy downpour blanketed the city of Tokyo. For all the advancements in medicine, science, technology and everything else, they still weren't able to predict the weather. The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department - or the MPD for short - were a force of more than 60,000 in total. Policing a city with a population of over 21 million. The city had been restructured in 2046 to become 10 distinct districts. She was the Sergeant of District 6's Homicide department. It was a busy job, despite crime being lower than ever, at least that's what the higher up's claimed. The only department technically busier than hers was Cybercrime. They dealt with everything from online terrorism to the ever-growing issue of Augment crime. Augments were people who had - for whatever reason - augmented themselves with technology, hence the name. 'Technically' because although the statistics said that Augment crime was higher than ever, the Cybercrime department worked apart from the MPD, so she wasn't privy to the details. Most, if not all of Cybercrime's Officers were Augments themselves. Augmented Officers or AO's had to work apart from the rest of the MPD, it was just the way of things. They were considered mentally unstable, emotionally detached, prone to violence even. Their bodies were often more machine than human, with any number of dangerous augmentations. Couple all that with the significant amount of negative press and public scaremongering, they were kept apart, from both the main department, and the public at large. Only allowed out to perform their duties while under supervision from a government-mandated android 'guardian' that was designed specifically to be both assistant and chaperone. The brass would say all of this was for the 'safety' of the AO's. The fact was, however, that after decades of seeing Augs - and the occasional rogue AO - on TV, having committed terrible crimes, AO's were as hated by the general public as regular Augs. The MPD building was tall, and in a city that was built with one layer on top of another, to maximise space in an age of overpopulation, it needed to be. The building was home to over a hundred different agents, from a dozen different departments. From Traffic, to Homicide. Yume drove off the main road that was so congested it had taken her nearly an hour to get to work, and into the MPD car park. She turned her car around and backed it into a car-sized elevator. A voice came over the intercom. "Sergeant Yume Akiyama. Level 2, Homicide." "That's me." She said to herself, the elevator doors closed and up she went. She watched through the glass opening in the front of the elevator, as she left the ground level of Tokyo behind. It was darker down there, it had to be, it was under two other layers of industry, each with their own pavements, traffic, buildings and a wholly different class of people. As she ascended into the second layer, the sunlight coming down cast less of an orange glow over everything, and felt a little more like natural sunlight. The roads were still busy, but traffic was constantly moving, and it looked reasonably less crowded. You had to have some serious money to live on the second level. Money she didn't have. But one day, she told herself. Finally, the elevator doors hissed open, and she drove the car out into the second layer car park and got out. The car locked automatically as she walked away, and she entered her work place and looked around as she walked down the hall. At first, she saw the receptionist, giving him a nod and a smile. His name was Minoru. He was only 22, and eager to please. He wanted to do what he called 'real' police work, but because he'd scored low on one of his tests, they'd put him behind a desk. But that hadn't phased him. He was there, just about every day, working harder than most of the jerks in this building. Minoru nodded to her and ushered her over with a jerking hand motion while he was still on a vid-call. "--yes, I know. We'll find your cat, Mrs. Ariwa..." Minoru nodded quietly as an elderly woman stood in front of him on his desk, no larger than an action figure. In her bathrobe. "I keep calling, and calling, and nobody calls me back, I don't know where he is!!" She turned and looked back to him expectantly. "We're looking into it, Mrs. Ariwa. I'll call you back." Minoru ended the call and let out a long sigh, "Sorry about that, she calls now and then." "What about her cat?" Yume asked. "Oh, oh don't worry about that, Sarge." Minoru replied, laughing nervously, "She calls every now and then, her cat's been dead a year, but she has dementia and every now and then she finds a phone and calls us. She used to call us about her cat, so I guess that's how she remembers our number... but not her cat...?" "Memories are weird, Minoru, you're better off not dwelling on it. But good job, it's tough having the patience to deal with things like that, day-in day-out." "Oh thanks, Sarge!" Minoru's face lit up, "Can I get you anything? Maybe a coffee, I could--" "--I can get my own coffee. Thanks." She gave him another smile and then walked on through to the main office. The main floor was busy. A dozen or so Homicide cops made up her department. They were on vid-calls, or at their desk on the computer, or talking amongst themselves. When she walked in there was a general rumble of welcome. Everyone acknowledged her, and she returned the favour. Most of these guys were simple, hard-working cops. They expected the best. Because she was a woman, she had to work twice as hard to be noticed. But they respected her, hell, most of them feared her temper, but they had a good working relationship. She would take a bullet for any one of them. Yume walked up to her desk and sat down, stretching as she logged into her computer with an eye scan, but before she could get started, a voice summoned her. "Akiyama!" The yell came from across the room, and made every man and woman in the place physically tense. Captain Honda. The Captain was a man with short, sharp hair and a moustache, with tired eyes and a gruff demeanour that matched her own at times. She got up, left her desk and made her way to the Captain's office. "You called, Captain?" She asked, noticing someone she'd never seen before sat in one of the chairs opposite to her Captain. He was a short, muscular man, with very tan skin and slicked back hair with a greying streak through it. She might have even called him handsome, but for his obvious vanity. "Yes, sit down." The Captain ushered her into a seat. "Who're you?" Yume asked, looking the man up and down. "Play nice, Sergeant. This is Inspector Kagawa from District 4, he's been working a homicide that has apparently leaked into our district." "Right. Our district. So this homicide is ours now, right?" Yume grinned, looking over at Kagawa. "Not quite." Captain Honda threw a folder onto her lap, and she picked it up with an audible growl and opened it, scouring the contents as the Captain spoke, "His name is Tsuji. It's the only name we have on record of him. No prior arrests, nothing. We ran his face through a scanner, but he's clean. However, he's been described by witnesses at over half a dozen murder sites." "How do we have a name? And you're telling me," She turned to look at Kagawa, closing the folder, "That after a half dozen murders, with witnesses, you haven't caught him?" Kagawa cracked the knuckles in one of his hands and smiled at her in a way that made her uncomfortable. "This guy stabbed every one of his victims and then fled the scene. We got a name because at least one of his victims knew him, called him Tsuji. But we got a tip that he fled District 4, hoping to evade arrest, because we were close to catching him." "Good job." Yume clapped slowly, her face neutral. "So now you're here, and what... we're giving the case to this idiot, Captain?" "No, i'm giving it to both of you idiots." Honda growled at her, "You're to work with Kagawa, he's told me he has a tip that Tsuji has been spotted at the Yamanouchi processing plant. I want both of you to go down there, now, and look into it. Even if he's gone, he might have left something behind that could give us a little more information on him." "Right." Kagawa nodded, "Shall we go, Sergeant?" "... right." Yume rolled her tongue around in her cheek, then stood up, and they left together. "So, Yume--" Kagawa started. "We're not friends, Inspector. I'm Sergeant, or Akiyama to you." "Hey--" Kagawa put his hand in front of her before she was able to open the door to the car park, "What's the deal here?" She scoffed in disbelief, "Every time there's something interesting in our department, some dickweed like you turns up and claims they got here first, and suddenly it gets taken out from under us. We've had more than a dozen cases taken from us, after we had most of the work done, and then someone swoops in and takes it from us." "This ain't that." Kagawa defended himself, "I've been following this guy for a year, you've just got this case, I know this ain't my district, but damn if you Sixers aren't hostile." Yume paused, considering Kagawa for a moment. Had she misread him? She shook her head at him all the same, "Come on." She muttered. They got into her car and left the MPD building. The drive to the Yamanouchi processing plant took nearly a half hour. They sat in silence in the car. Neither one wanting to be the first to speak. When they finally pulled up to the processing plant, Kagawa leapt out of the car and began pacing. "What's the big deal? Calm down. You're like a rookie or somethin'..." Yume smirked at him. "I can't help it. I've come so close to catching this guy, but every time he slips through my fingers, like he's made of sand. I'm a laughing stock back in D4, all because of this guy. Some random nobody that keeps killing while I chase shadows. It's hard being singled out." "I can't imagine what that feels like." She replied, sarcasm hidden in her statement. The pair walked up to the large double doors, large enough for a shipping truck to enter. Kagawa motioned to her, and pulled his pistol. She did the same. She shook her head at the main doors, and jerked it at the small red door near the corner of the building. He nodded with a smile, and the pair quick-stepped up to side entrance. 'Ready?' He mouthed silently. She nodded. '1, 2, 3!' Kagawa kicked the door in and charged inside, she was just a second behind. By the time her shoulders were passing the door frame, the deafening sound of gunfire already rang through the plant. Something sharp bit her in the shoulder, and she hit the ground. Hard. "Argh!!" She grit her teeth as the pain started to assert itself. It was white hot, burning. She'd caught a bullet in the right shoulder. She felt a pair of hands grab her by the jacket and yank her behind cover. "It's a trap!!" Kagawa yelled, over the gunfire. "NO SHIT!!" Yume snarled back at him, suppressing a yell. She pulled herself in tight to the machinery they had hidden behind. Several men were firing down on them from the second level. "Where's Tsuji?! Is he even here?!" She asked Kagawa. She couldn't believe they'd walked into this. This was beyond rookie. Something had gone wrong, and she didn't know what, but whatever it was it was going to cost them their lives. "I don't see him!" Kagawa yelled back, "Are you alright?!" She shot him a look that answered that question. Kagawa recoiled as a bullet pinged off the edge of the machine next to his head. "Shit! That's getting close, they're moving!!" He looked around the other side, "Can you move?" "I'm fine!" Yume growled, looking down at the blood oozing from her wound, "Gonna need a new jacket..." "Funny!" Kagawa replied, but smiled despite his sarcasm. She smiled too. "Alright, circle 'round, i'll draw their fire, if you can get around the other side of this machinery, you should have a clear line of sight on the men on the platform above, I don't see a lot of cover up there." "Right, you ready?!" She asked, holding her pistol in one hand. "Go!!" Kagawa yelled, and she leapt to her feet and started running. Dizziness hit her immediately. She could hear how close the bullets were. As she ran, she heard Kagawa open fire on the gunmen. For a few seconds, their fire shifted entirely to Kagawa, she turned the corner, raised her pistol and got off three shots. The first hit the first gunman in the knee and he crumpled to the floor of the gantry, the second hit the second gunman in the head, dropping him like a puppet with it's strings cut. The last shot missed the final gunman who took notice of her immediately. He turned and fired on her as she ran for cover, but a bullet whipped through her right leg and she collapsed to the floor. She was expecting to hear one last shot. She made peace with herself. She thought of Shizu, and little Nyoko. Then Kagawa was screaming at her, "Akiyama!" Slowly, she tried to pull herself to her feet, to look to Kagawa. Her head turned, and she saw Kagawa raising his gun to her. For a moment, her brain couldn't process what was happening, then suddenly she heard very clearly what he was yelling at her. "Aug! Aug!! Aug!!!" Kagawa fired once, and she heard a metal pang. Then suddenly something grabbed the back of her neck, pulled her to her feet and she was deafened by a gun being fired at her ear. The world was spinning, she felt nauseous. She watched as Kagawa crumpled to the floor, and blood spill out over the cold stone. A powerful hand wrenched the gun from her arm and spun her around. She recognised the face immediately. It was Tsuji. His eyes were wild with triumph as she wrestled to break free from his iron grasp, but it was no good. She managed to get one hand free and she punched him in the face and yelped as it felt like she'd just struck a metal wall. Tsuji punched her in her wounded shoulder and she gasped as a sharp, unbearable pain washed through her. She collapsed to the ground, but as she did so, she tried to reach for the gun she kept holstered at the back of her waist. Tsuji was too fast. He kicked her to the ground once more, and stomped on her back. She heard ribs crack. He grabbed her by the wrists and began to lift. She was in agonising pain as her arms were pulled back beyond their breaking point as her back arched, trying to compensate. Then at last, two loud snaps signalled what Tsuji was looking for. Yume wailed and fell limp against the floor, unable to move. She felt pressure, and she was being lifted effortlessly. The ground was moving beneath her, she blacked out. She was still being moved when she opened her eyes, then the ground opened way to a long drop. She saw people walking by far below. She had no idea how high up she was, but it was high enough. "Oi, cop!" Tsuji shook her, making her wince, "Say hey to that shit Kagawa for me, he's a real asshole!" Tsuji laughed, and then she was falling. The last thing she saw was the ground rushing up to meet her, and then nothing. It was over, at least. Several people screamed as a body hit the pavement and they leapt back in surprise. Blood was already beginning to pool. Several began taking pictures while one man called an emergency air ambulance. "Hello, yes a woman just jumped from the Yamanouchi processing plant, you have to hurry, I think she's still alive..." He leaned down and delicately opened her jacket, and there inside was a badge, "She's a police officer... Sergeant... Yume Akiyama, please come quickly, it's bad!!" "Sergeant? Sergeant...?" "Mmm...?" Yume groaned. Her throat was like sandpaper. Slowly, she opened her eyes and looked around. The room she was in was a brilliant white, and there was a blinding light overhead. "Ugh, lights!" She muttered. Nothing happened. "Shizu... the lights... are playing up again..." She tried to lean up but found she couldn't move, it was as though she'd been tucked into bed so tightly that she was trapped. Then suddenly, everything came flooding back to her and her eyes shot open. She was lying in a hospital bed. There were straps over the top of her to secure her. Why, she didn't know. "Let me up..." She muttered, struggling. "Hang on, Sergeant." She recognised that voice. Yume looked over and saw her Captain sat beside her bed. "Oh, Captain, what happened?" Yume asked, "My throat is dry, can I have some water?" "Sure." Honda leant over with a plastic cup and let her sip from it, "You died." He said bluntly. She couldn't help but choke a little. "What?!" Yume croaked. "You lost a lot of blood. You had multiple gun shot wounds, broken bones, a fractured skull, your arms were a mess, several of your organs were mincemeat. I'm surprised they managed to save you, to be honest." Honda leaned in again, his face grave, "You need to be brought up-to-date, but..." "But what...?" She asked, blinking herself awake, "I feel... weird. Not terrible though..." "I'm not the one to explain..." Honda excused himself. "Hey, hey! Captain!?" Yume pleaded, but Honda was gone. A few seconds passed, she heard Honda say something outside in the corridor, but missed it. Then a minute later a man walked in. Well, that wasn't entirely true. It looked a bit like a man. But it was an android. "What the hell...?"
  7. Blood & Scale

    Snow drifted down onto the balcony from where Vaedwyn knelt. The clouds hung heavy, but the winds were calm. She held herself against the wind biting her cheeks, and chapping her lips. Her hands tightened into fists placed upon her lap. She had grown accustomed to the silence, save for the howl of the wind. So when the sound of heavy paws padding, and talons scratching stone approached her, she was all too aware of it. She felt a warmth touch her mind and she knew it belonged to Auriel. Her mind was still guarded, but she was able to link with her dragon without yielding her defence. I was wondering when you'd show up, Vaedwyn continued looking out over the balcony. The stone railing had been knocked away, or worn over time, and so the view was clear and unobstructed, though it would be easy for one to fall over the edge. Auriel came closer but stopped near the balcony and glanced down at the floor with a look of suspicion. Do you think they made even the balconies with a dragon in mind? Auriel asked, sniffing the floor. I expect so... Vaedwyn replied, and waited. She could sense that Auriel was uncertain. Baby, she added. Auriel snorted in disgust, and stepped forwards, joining her. I was thinking of your safety, you know. I'm the one with wings, remember? Auriel laid down beside her rider and looked out at the view she now shared with Vaedwyn. The mountains were beautiful, mysterious. They seemed to stretch on forever, reaching for the stars, enshrouded by cloud and mist. The gentle snowfall tickled Auriel's snout and she shook her muzzle and made a long sighing noise that sounded almost wistful. The snow was beautiful, and she was glad to be here, but she did not like the cold. The silence grew between them, it was comfortable, easy. They needn't fill it with prattle like new friends. They were old souls, content to be in one another's company. Silence had a time and a place. Vaedwyn decided it had had it's moment. I spoke with Jona. He showed me a memory, the battle... The skirmish against Naerwen, Auriel finished. Vaedwyn had shared her thoughts in full, and in this respect, Auriel knew everything she knew. Yes. You know more today, than you did yesterday, yet your thoughts are troubled? Auriel nudged her rider and Vaedwyn smiled, but the smile quickly faded as she continued to stare up at the large amber eyes of her dragon. She couldn't begin to imagine what it would be like to lose Auriel. Naerwen... batted them aside as if they were nothing. Vaedwyn waited, expecting a response, but Auriel just stared off at some point ahead of them in the mountains. Are you listening?! Jona and Sariel, Agron and Turiel. All four of them fought her, and she cast each of them aside like they were little more than a nuisance. Were it not for Sariel's sacrifice, they would all be dead. You can't know that, Auriel cautioned. And yes, I am listening. Her dragon was a bit like you, Vaedwyn mused. She was nothing like me! Auriel snarled, her neck coiling back as her muzzle retracted in distaste. No... I suppose not... sorry... Vaedwyn leant back on her legs and looked up at the sky. I can't help but feel like something is missing. Everyone acts as though they've told me everything. I can protect their secrets, because i've learnt how to guard my thoughts. So why does it still feel like i'm missing a piece of the puzzle? She shook her head in frustration. Maybe it is a piece, they do not have? Auriel asked thoughtfully. You may be right... Vaedwyn leapt up from her kneeling position and stretched after a prolonged period of stillness, she was stiff. Shall we go? Lead on, Auriel playfully shoved her in the back, pushing her forwards. It was time to get ready... for the gauntlet. Vaedwyn, flanked by Auriel, walked into the main hall. Jona and Agron were in heated discussion, but the moment they entered, their argument fizzled out. They were talking about us, Auriel observed. I know. Vaedwyn agreed, from across their link. She approached the table and nodded to her mentors, "We are ready." Agron and Jona looked to each other briefly, and then back to Vaedwyn. "It appears you are..." Jona said with a slight pause and a sigh. He glanced at Agron for the briefest moment before rubbing his palms together. "Then it is about time we tell you what it is you are truly about to do." He turned to Agron and offered his hands out for him to explain. "" Agron said, scratching his head. "That is tae say...Vaedwyn. When we run the gauntlet, well, it's a one way trip. If ye choose tae dae it now, then we'll no be back here for a long while. That" "It means that if you choose to continue your path, then your training here will be complete. It will be the next step in your journey." "I..." Vaedwyn hesitated. We are ready, Auriel reassured her. "I... have a lot to learn. But my time with you has... has come to an end." She bowed to Jona. A smile spread across Jona's lips. "No, child." He said. He looked both happy and sad as he came to stand closer to her. "We shall see each other again. Just... not for a little while." Suddenly Vaedwyn surged forwards and gripped Jona in a hug, pressing her face into his chest to hide her tears. To her, it had felt like moments, and yet in her long stay here, despite her demons, she had found a measure of peace. Now that was all coming to an end, and she was afraid she would never see Jona again. Jona squeezed her tightly, smiling as he did. "I'm glad." He said happily, "That you did not come to hate me as I had feared." "That makes two of us." Vaedwyn muttered sheepishly, smiling as she brushed aside her tears and composed herself. Auriel took a step forwards, closing the distance to Jona. She stood, towering over the two-legged, pointy-eared humanoid and studied him carefully. Finally, she turned to look at Vaedwyn. I am ready. She said simply. Ready? Vaedwyn asked, confused. To cast my thoughts and link to those who are not my rider. They will hear me, as only you and my kin have heard me. And at that, she cast out her thoughts and touched the minds of both Agron and Jona. Then she greeted them, as she would old friends. It is liberating to speak to you directly, at last, Anarion... She said to Agron. It was 'Father' in the Elvish tongue. She looked to Jona, then. Tornoyo'em. 'Master'. Then to the surprise of everyone - most of all Vaedwyn - the great dragon fell to her haunches, her neck lowered, and she bowed to them. Agron let out a small chuckle and folded his arms in front of him, nodding approvingly. Jona paused for a moment, caught off guard. Then he slowly lowered his head, and moved his hand to his face to wipe at his eyes. Finally he lowered himself until he was bowing lower than Auriel. "It is an honour, Auriel." He said, still in the bow. "Aw fer gawdsake nah..." Bradan muttered, stomping down the stairs and shattering the moment entirely, "Why dont'cha jus' ge'a room an' be done with it, ya bunch'a weepy-eyed sad sacks." Bradan loosed a raucous laugh and threw himself into the nearest chair. "So whassis then?" He asked, looking around the room as his pipe was placed in the crook of his mouth. I never thought there would be a day when I found myself agreeing with the runt. Turiel's voice echoed through the minds of all who could hear him. The dragon had been snoozing in a corner, and had lazily opened his eyes before opening his jaws in a great yawn. If we stay in this keep any longer you shall all grow plump and slow. Turiel chuffed as if annoyed. Set your sentimentality aside for a moment little cloud rider. If Auriel has finally found her voice, then perhaps you have found your ears. "I have found more than just my ears here, old one." Vaedwyn replied, looking to Turiel. "I have been given purpose. Now, I would set it to task." Turiel's chuckle resonated pleasantly through Vaedwyn's mind. It does feel so good to be heard. He said to her, and his sleepy eyes became alert and fierce. To be heard... it makes me feel like a young buck once more. No better time to fly, do you not think? "Think you can keep up?" Vaedwyn asked, a wry grin spreading across her face. Turiel responded with a thunderous roar of challenge that echoed through the halls, shaking the old stone. Then he nodded at her approvingly. There's that fire! He said to her, and then he stalked off to leave. Jona, until next time my dear friend. He said to the half-elf as if he was going to be back in just a short time. Though, to such an old creature, perhaps the wait really would feel so brief. "Right then." Agron said, clapping his hands together. "The decision's been made, I suppose. Let's go." "Be careful." Jona said. "The trial ahead... it's dangers are real. Proceed knowing that a mistake could cost your life." "Wha'?!" Bradan choked and coughed on his pipe, pulling it from his lips as he stood up, "Er, 'ello? I asked ye - wh'the feck is goin' on 'ere, hey?!" "Come on, i'll explain on the way." Vaedwyn clapped Bradan on the back, and with that gesture alone, he chuckled and shrugged off his confusion and everyone filed out of the hall. The next leg of Vaedwyn's journey was underway. The gauntlet lay before her. She was ready. At least, that's what she kept saying to herself.
  8. BUG FIX

    This is like my number one thing I would like fixed. :D
  9. Blood & Scale

    She pulled the covers closer around her, looking for warmth. Vaedwyn tried to sleep, but the dragon eyrie built into the mountainside gave little protection from the elements. Shivering as she turned over, a draft of cold air danced across her back. Her eyes shot open in surprise. Auriel was asleep behind her. She was thankful that her surprise hadn't woken her dragon. Vaedwyn pulled the sheets up around her and decided she wanted to sleep directly beside Auriel. Putting her feet to the cold stone ground, she quickly darted across and stepped over one of Auriel's hind-legs, then laid down beside her dragon's stomach. She touched her hands to Auriel's scales, and found instant relief in her body temperature. Outside, a storm was raging. Snow and hail flashed past the cave entrance, whirling around in a dancing flurry. For a while, she was content to sit there, watching the storm, until her hands were warm enough she pulled them from Auriel's hide. She tucked them inside her covers and rested her head against Auriel. The sun was coming up, soon Jona would announce that she was to begin another day of training. "Ouch..." Vaedwyn pulled her hands out from under the covers and looked at them. The scarred white flesh of her palms aggravated her, but that wasn't the problem. Her hands still felt warm, no, hot even. And they were getting hotter and hotter. Suddenly, she heard a wet pat, as something splashed onto her covers. She looked down and saw red, then winced as something got in her eye. She held her hand up reflexively, and found a painful strike running down her face. She was bleeding! Vaedwyn leapt up from under her covers, her face was bleeding! Her left eye, there was blood in her eye! She winced, trying to wipe away the blood using her hands, only to recoil in pain as the heat in her hands exploded with intensity. She looked down, squinting through her one good eye, to see her pain was not unfounded. Her hands were ablaze with fire. She screamed, turning to look to Auriel for help. But she was sound asleep. "AURIEL!!" She screamed, beating the fiery balls of her fists against her dragon's side, but there was no response. She slept as soundly as before. Then she felt a hand on her shoulder, pressing down firmly. She turned, and saw Aoife, Moira's child, standing in front of her. "It's your fault." Aoife said simply. "What?!" Vaedwyn recoiled, pressing her back against Auriel. "It's your fault i'm dead." Aoife took a step towards her. Vaedwyn turned and saw the hand on her shoulder, it belonged to Aemon's sorceress. She gripped Vaedwyn ever tighter, forcing her to kneel, "Submit!!" She yelled at the top of her lungs, and Vaedwyn awoke screaming, drenched in sweat, despite the cold of the eyrie. Auriel was shoving her firmly, desperate to wake her rider, but to no avail. Jona!!! Auriel called to him, even as Vaedwyn continued screaming and clawing at her bed-sheets, living a waking nightmare. Auriel roared so loudly that it shook the walls of the eyrie, little stone chips fell from the ceiling and vibrated on the ground. The roar of a dragon in the night, a call Jona had not heard in several lifetimes, woke him with a start. The elf's eyes immediately became sharp and focused, he rose from his cot. A dagger, previously hidden, appeared in his hand in a flash as he stared into the darkness of his room. His body was tense, and ready to face danger even in the very moment of waking. A low, rumbling growl came from the floor beneath him, and Maugrim's eyes glinted in the moon light from his window, as the old wolf roused and got up from his resting place. "The lofts..." Jona said softly, "Come, my friend." And with that he shot out from his bed, draping a robe over himself and moving hurriedly through the stronghold. It was not long before fast, heavy feet sounded through the halls alongside him. Then Agron, bare chested and in a panic, strode past him with uncharacteristic speed, drawing on that strength that is often found in parents when their children are in danger. When they had reached the large double doors of the entrance, there was a dull thud from the other side, and the doors were slowly dragged open. Turiel's silhouette was dark against the pale blue night as he let out a soft growl and lowered his head. Agron leapt on to his back without a word, and Jona latched on to the dragons spiked crown, hauling himself up as Turiel was already pushing off into the sky. Their journey was brief, climbing to the heights of the stronghold, to the lofts where only dragons could reach. When they landed at the balcony of Auriel's cave Jona took the lead, with a murmur he called forth subtle power and the blade of his dagger began to emit a cool, blue fey-light to guide them. "Lass! Are ye hurt!?" Agron called. "She yet dreams" Jona replied, his voice calm and rational. "Observe." He cast the strange light of his dagger over the scene, Auriel's form hunched over Vaedwyn, fierce and protective. They slowed their advance considerably, wary not to provoke Auriel. "Speak with me, Auriel. Tell me what troubles her mind?" Jona asked. Pain! Auriel lashed out with her mind, her strength bombarding Jona with a series of images relayed from Vaedwyn's waking nightmare. Help her! It was not a request. Jona moved closer as Auriel allowed him to kneel by Vaedwyn. He stared at her for a moment. Her suffering was clear enough by her pained expression. He touched her brow lightly, she was sweating but her skin was icy cold. He pondered for only the briefest moment, and then he beckoned for Agron to join him. "Come, be close to her. It will help." Jona said. Agron complied but his expression was worried. "What are ye gonnae do tae her?" He asked. "Whit's wrong?" "She is lost in the dreaming, it is swallowing her." Jona said, as he allowed his own mind to reach out to Vaedwyn's. "We must find her in the dreaming, guide her home. It..." He trailed off, his thoughts becoming vague and cloudy as his consciousness entered Vaedwyn's. "A dreaded passenger rakes at her soul... dark tendrils... thorned barbs tightening... torture... pain... fire... it burns at her." "Jona!" Agron snapped heatedly. "Snap out o' it! What are we tae dae?" Jona stared blankly for a moment, and then he twitched his head slightly. In but a moment his healthy features looked drained and tired. "She suffers, Agron." He said in a croak, and he swallowed to moisten his throat. "I know you are not Elf, your mind is unlike ours but... you must be with her. Show her you are there, that we are all here, and she is safe." "I dinnae ken how tae dae it like ye do, but ye ken I'll bloody well try." Agron said with a nod. "Reach out to her as dragons do. Delicate, unobtrusive. We must enter her mind but we cannot simply kick down the door. It would be far too traumatic for her. Instead we must simply knock at the door, call out to her." "An' what if she does'nae open the fuckin' door? What if she cannae?" Agron asked "We must... trust that she will, that she can." Jona said gravely. "Now, together, with me..." And so Jona and Agron reached out with their minds. Quickly they found each others, and then together they began to delicately delve into Vaedwyn's. They were greeted with frantic alarm, pain and fear. Their thoughts became less distinct as their minds coalesced. The pain and fear rattled at Jona's mind, the old Elf's sensitive emotions causing him considerable pain. Yet from Agron's mind came a rebellious, impetuous disregard for fear. Sensitive he was not, Agron had long rid himself of the fear of pain and darkness. His bravery, and his will to protect emboldened Jona's mind, and together they pushed on once more, gently calling for Vaedwyn. Voices. Voices in the darkness. Vaedwyn turned her ear to listen for them, but the sorceress stood over her, cloaking her in shadow. Vaedwyn saw figures, silhouettes amongst the shadows encircling her. The darkness tore at them, but they were forcing themselves towards her. "Agron? Jona?" Vaedwyn frowned in confusion in her dream-state, even while her physical body stared blankly into space, guarded by Auriel. "Get thee gone, you are not welcome here." The sorceress stepped between Vaedwyn and her comrades. "Ye got that arse backwards!" Agron snarled back at the sorceress. "Now fuck off back tae the hole ye crawled out o', ye two bit shade!" "Caution, friend." Jona warned. "In the dreaming a nightmare can be as harmful as a steel blade to your neck." Jona turned his attention to the sorceress. "Besides, there is no sense speaking with such a creature. She holds power only because Vaedwyn allows it." "I may only be a memory, or a shade, of what I really am. But it is enough." The sorceress replied, she was clad in the armour the day she had fought Vaedwyn in the city of the Dwarves. Her face obscured by a white mask, it's only features - two black slits for eyes. "And you, Jona? Are you enough? Or you, Agron?" Her grip slid up from Vaedwyn's shoulder, up to her neck, and her fingers elongated and wrapped around the girl's throat, slowly constricting like a hungry snake. "I fear not a shade who gloats of her mastery over a child's mind." Jona replied. "I seek no harm on any creature, but do not mistake my caution for weakness. It is a far greater challenge to face me, I assure you. I am a dreamer, and I have dreamed for centuries." As he spoke there was a very subtle shift in the shadows. Something large stalked within them that had not been there a moment before. "Vaedwyn." Jona spoke calmly, but when his voice came forth it was huge. Not loud, but huge, all encompassing, with no apparent source. "Remember what I told you, do not get distracted." There was a sudden, loud bang that shook the ground. The sound was a memory, the noise of Jona's fist smashing against the table, that had pulled down her carefully constructed mental walls. Vaedwyn jumped with a start, and both her mental and physical selves turned to gaze at Jona. As she pulled from the grip of the sorceress, she returned to the waking world in full. But as Jona and Agron left her mind, an echo faded away amongst them. You are ours... "Agron!" Vaedwyn choked as she launched forwards and grabbed her mentor with relief. At last, Auriel's jowls finally lowered, hiding her fangs. Her talons relaxed and her neck raised so she could look down upon the scene in front of her. She had felt the fear, pain and panic of the waking nightmare as much as Vaedwyn, and it had hurt her to be unable to stop it. "Aw, thank fuck for that." Agron sighed in relief as he hugged Vaedwyn close. "I dinnae ken what just happened, but I'm glad yer safe, Lass." "I don't feel safe..." Vaedwyn muttered, when she finally pulled away, she held firmly onto Agron's hand, "The sorceress. I think she left some part of herself inside me. While I was trapped, I could feel whatever that... shadow of her... whatever it felt. I understood. It was like..." She scrunched her face in trying to describe it, "It was like... pain, and frustration, and... shame. She wasn't what I imagined... and there was one other thing..." "Tell us as much as you can, please." Jona asked, giving a slight nod. "We must know if we are to stand the best chance of helping you." "The sorceress..." Vaedwyn frowned, "She knows us. I don't just mean you, and Jona. I mean she knew who I was. And I think... I think she knows we're here." Jona was silent for a long time. Nobody spoke in the interim, they all seemed to be waiting, unsure what to make of this new knowledge. Eventually he let out a short sigh. "It is possible. It seems that we erred in thinking the amulet would protect you." Jona said. "If she has woven some sort of dark link within you then... I am uncertain how much or little she could know." "Should we be expectin' a fight?" Agron asked. "Unlikely, but not impossible." Jona replied. "There is a reason we have made our home here all this time. This is our land, and so we know how to traverse it's treacherous routes. Still, we should take precautions. I will send Maugrim out to find his pack. The wolves will scout for us, bring us news of any forces that draw near." "I'll no risk Vaedwyn's life on the word of some big dugs." Agron said with a frown. "Even with a small army we could'nae defend this place if Aemon decided tae bring down the hammer." "Then why hasn't he done so, in all these years?" Jona asked. "This is Ethanriel's seat of power, our home. You should trust that it will protect us." "I'd trust it a bit more if we had a few hunner men and some siege." Agron grumbled. "Regardless, Vaedwyn will always be at risk no matter where she goes if she does not complete her training. So much so that you hide certain truths from her still, and she is smart enough to see it." Jona replied. "I... er... aye, well..." Agron looked annoyed, and a little ashamed, hazarding a guilty look at Vaedwyn. Vaedwyn looked from Jona to Agron, gripping her mentor's arm ever tighter, "What is he talking about?!" "Lass...I cannae..." Agron's eyes focused on Jona and there was a quiet anger boiling within them. "Consider it just another motivation." Jona said, ignoring Agron. "Show me that you can protect your mind, and then Agron can tell you everything. Otherwise providing you with guarded secrets is as good as telling the witch that has latched on to your mind." Vaedwyn accepted Jona's compromise, albeit in frustration. She bid them goodnight, and they returned to their quarters, while Vaedwyn wiped the sweat from her brow and fell in a heap against Auriel's side. "You were strangely quiet." She said aloud. What more was to be said? Auriel replied, her tone implying something. What are you getting at...? Vaedwyn asked with a barb of irritation. I felt the same thing you did, little one. The sorceress is bound by Aemon's magic, as he does all his slaves. One such order, as I now know, was she was not, under any circumstance, to harm you. But I understand now, that the wound she gave you, Auriel lowered her head so that her eye was level with Vaedwyn's gaze, Was not to take your sight, to debilitate you, but to take your head. I know... Vaedwyn scratched at the scar on her cheek, But why would she try to kill me, if Aemon wants me alive? That, I cannot tell you. Auriel's gaze lowered as her expression seemed to become introspective, then she lowered her head to the ground. Sleep now, you have training in the morning, and you will need your strength. I will watch over you. As you have always... Vaedwyn ran her hand along Auriel's muzzle, But I think tonight, I will not rest. Vaedwyn laid down and placed her head upon one of Auriel's forelegs, yet she was exhausted in spite of her words, and soon she was sound asleep. Auriel lay awake for the remainder of the night, watching her with a keen eye, and relishing in the steady rise of the morning sun.
  10. Long Time No See!!!

    Welcome back! From my late reply you can probably tell i'm a little AFK, i'd be on more but dont have anyone to frequently write with. Ah well, nice to see folks still on here!
  11. A Dragon's Soul

    "But..." Alice looked down to her trusty feather duster. It was the tool of her trade. Her most valuable possession. The object through which she channelled her magic, and Aime was telling her she had to put it away and use old-fashioned elbow grease, like normal people. Alice swallowed nervously but shook it off, she had to show her boss she was capable or her next visit to Gramps would likely be her last. "Okay!" She nodded, shoving her feather duster into her robes. Then she took her pointed hat off and tried to smooth out her long, unruly white mop of hair. Failing that, she placed her hat to one side and grabbed her robes and tried pulling them up over her head. Alice stumbled backwards, almost tripping on her robes as she struggled to pull them off. She clattered into a table, forcing a couple of customers to steady their drinks. At last, as she tripped over her own feet, Alice yanked the robe free and fell to the ground. "There..." She muttered, picking herself up. She brushed herself off, and kicked her robes, "Oi! Hang up my clothes!" The robes lifted, suspended by the feather duster inside them, and Alice plopped the hat on top of the floating bundle as it shot through the café, seeking a coat hanger. The bundle of robes whipped into Aime's face as they passed through into the back, Alice sheepishly grinned and quickly made herself scarce. Beneath her robes, Alice wore a pair of black jeans and a white tank top, over which she pulled her new work apron and tied it behind her back, clapping her hands together in readiness. She grabbed a pad of paper, a pencil and walked back onto the floor, ready for business. She looked around, Felix was busy working the contraption behind the counter, and Aime had wandered off somewhere. Alice found herself stood in the middle of the floor, frozen by indecision. Was she supposed to go up to people and ask them what they want, or stand behind the counter? She'd ask Felix, he'd know. Hopefully. "Felix...?" Alice asked, sidling up to the young man, "Where do I take the orders?" "It's a table service," Felix explained. "When guests arrive you greet them and take them to an available table. Then you take their order, I'll get it ready, then you take the order to the table." Felix paused for a moment, trying to remember if that was right. "Oh... and you need to smile, and talk to them I guess." "R-right..." Alice nodded, taking in Felix's instructions, one by one. Just then, the doorbell jingled and in walked a couple. "I've got it! I've got them!" Alice said quickly, scattering to get to the end of the counter. A quick leap, and she slid over the counter top and grabbed the male customer's hand, "Come with me!" "Hey!!" The man yelped as he was pulled across the room, the woman he was with in hot pursuit. "Here you go!" Alice said cheerily, pushing the man down into a booth, and as he adjusted himself Alice quickly walked around to the other side and pushed the woman into the opposite side. "Here's our menu, we have lots of lovely things to order!!" The couple looked visibly out of breath as two menus were shoved into their hands, they tried to speak, but were stuttering and just as they tried to place an order, there was another jingle. Alice vanished before them, as she ran to grab the next person. "Hi there!" She greeted the customer and started pulling him to a table in the corner, as she passed her first customers they tried to grab her attention. "E-excuse me, Miss, I--" "This way, Sir! I've got the table for -- what?!" Alice whirled around to address who had called her and knocked into someone else, who spilled their drink all over a woman sat in a nearby booth. She stood up in shock, knocking her chair into the backs of Alice's knees, and she fell over the side of it, back into the woman's table. It was like watching a stack of dominoes falling, one after another. The table flipped, sending everything on the table - food, drinks, cutlery - in every direction. Aime walked out of the kitchen and ducked as a knife skewered the wall an inch above his head, then a fork, just to his right, and a spoon hit him in the gut before at last a glass flew directly at his face. The customers who watched all of this unfold flinched as the glass made it's way towards Aime's face. A brief second before the glass collided, however, something flew out of Felix's thick hair and shot across the room like a dart. A small gust followed it's path, napkins and spilling into the air. The tiny creature struck the glass with a kick and knocked it off course, shattering harmlessly against a wall. The little creature stopped and dropped down onto the floor. It was only about 5 inches tall and was thin and graceful. It's skin was pale, but most of it's body was covered in a thin mess of green, leaf-like scales. A pair of translucent, insectoid wings protruded from it's back and fluttered gently. The little creature turned to Alice and it opened it's mouth, shouting something with an angry expression. However, instead of words coming out, it's voice was a chorus of jingling bells. "That's not a nice thing to say..." Felix said, looking a little nervous. "I don't think she meant it, Windy." The little creature, Windy, turned to Felix and took off speedily, appearing at the tip of his nose. She let out another chorus of obnoxious bells before turning her back on him and folding her arms in a huff. "D-don't be like that..." Felix said, sounding a little sad. Windy pointed her chin at him and blew a raspberry, before turning back away. "Oh what have I done..." Alice groaned, as customers began picking themselves up off the floor, which was still littered with food, drink and all manner of utensils and broken cups and plates. Alice shook her head in disbelief. The other Witches called her a 'Walking Disaster', and she'd done everything she could to get away from that, but here she was proving them right again, as clumsy without magic as she was with it. She was supposed to be living up to a legacy, and instead she was destroying everything she touched. Alice glanced one last time at Felix, he was still debating with the little creature. Alice whistled, and her bundle of clothes came flying towards her from within the kitchen. She quickly shoved her hat onto her head and pulled out her feather duster and rushed outside. It was still raining as heavy as ever. Alice quickly pulled on her robe and told her duster to turn into a broom once more, and as she sat on it, she looked out at the port and kicked off from the ground. The broom was stopped in it's tracks as Windy flew in front of it. She thrust out her hands and hurled a small gust of air that forced the broom back only slightly. She glared at Alice, her lips tight and her arms trembling. Then she barked out a short little jingle, before huffing and folding her arms. "Um, Windy says she's sorry for speaking to you that way..." Felix said from behind Alice. He was standing by the door to the cafe, avoiding looking directly at her, and rubbing his arms. "It's not her fault!" Alice called back to Felix, smiling weakly at Windy. She turned around and directed the broom back down to the ground and stood in the rain, looking into the café, "I'm better off on my own... I keep messing up, and somebody's going to get hurt next time!" "I...I don't think it's better to be alone." Felix replied. "I've tried that. It doesn't make anything easier. If you're struggling then you should ask for help, and in turn, if you see someone struggling you should help them." Felix almost smiled, but then his expression became a little melancholy again. "If it weren't for my friends I'd never be at the academy." Alice considered Felix's words for a long moment, he seemed a lot smarter than he appeared. But then, "Friends?" Alice asked, frowning. She thought back to the Academy, and the complete lack of friends Felix seemed to have. She didn't want to be rude but, what friends? Then again, she wasn't one to talk. She held her broom to one side and stepped under the awning of the café and as she watched the rain splashing off the road, she realised then what he meant. "Oooh..." Alice turned to look at Windy. A vibrant flash of light streaked the sky for an instant, and a second later, there was a deep, billowing growl of thunder. Windy flinched at the noise, and her boisterous, arrogant persona seemed to melt. She let out a little shiver and zipped off, disappearing inside Felix's hair once more. Felix shifted uncomfortably in the rain. "Windy doesn't really like storms." He said. "I'm not exactly a fan... of getting wet, anyway." Alice shook her robe and looked back out at the storm. It was getting worse and worse. The ships in the harbour were rocking back and forth, those closely moored together were knocking off one another. The lighthouse's beam flashed out towards the sea, and for an instant, it danced over something. Alice blinked in surprise, her brain unable to process what she'd just seen. If only for an instant. "Hey, did you see that?" Alice asked, pointing out at the storm. The clouds had darkened the sky so that only the lightning, and the beam of the lighthouse illuminated the waves and the skyline. "See what?" Felix asked, frowning. "I don't know, I..." Alice squinted through the rain. For a time, there was nothing. Just angry waves, endless sheets of heavy rain, and rumbling clouds full of thunder and lightning. Then suddenly, there it was again. Glistening black scales, reflecting the beam of the lighthouse, and a pair of enormous, serpentine eyes. "Hey!!" Alice pointed at the lighthouse. A figure was inside it. Suddenly the light inside died, and the thing hidden amongst the storm, vanished into the darkness as though it had never been.
  12. A Dragon's Soul

    OOC: Private RP between myself and Kyo A Dragon's Soul Stonegale, as towns go, is quite exceptional. Not just because it's a coastal town that trades with some of the most prosperous cities around the world. Nor because it's countryside is among the most beautiful, framed by valleys, mountains and rivers. No, Stonegale is exceptional for a wholly other reason. It is home to the Stonegale Academy for Witches and Wizards. At the north end of the town, beach gives way to a large harbour, where ships of all shapes and sizes come to trade and set sail. The harbour is, in turn, shadowed by a tall cliff, upon which sits the enormous Dragane Castle. The home of Stonegale Academy. "What is a Witch or Wizard?" The teacher asked. She was tall and slim, in her mid-thirties, with fiery red hair and serene eyes which gave her a sort of apathetic expression. The classroom remained silent. She smiled and reached into dark purple robes and pulled out a short black branch. Tapping her desk with the branch, she knocked back her pointed Witch's hat with a finger, before directing the branch at the class before her, a group of thirty or so teenagers. "Light!" She commanded, and at once, all the candles lighting the large stone room exploded ferociously, startling several students. All were paying attention now. "A Witch or Wizard... is what?" She asked again, eyeing her students now, branch in hand, pointed threateningly towards them. One young boy raised his hand and she nodded. "A Witch or Wizard is a person capable of using magic?" He ended his statement as though a question, unsure of himself. "Yes of course!" The teacher agreed, "But more than that, Mr. Gillian..." She looked around the room once more, scanning the faces of her students. Some looked bored, some were talking amongst themselves, or staring off into space. Then she homed in on her target. A girl sat one row behind the boy holding a conversation with himself. She was short, even for her age, with elf-like features and big grey eyes. Most unusually about her, however, was beneath her pointed hat lay a thick mop of snow white hair. "Miss Pendragon - Alice!" The teacher called out, addressing the white-haired girl, who reflexively groaned at being selected. "The same question!?!" "A Witch or Wizard is the centre of their community, Miss Priscilla." Alice replied quietly. The muffled sound of laughter made her whirl around in her seat and scan the back of the class, but she couldn't see who was laughing. Slowly, she sat back in her chair as Miss Priscilla clapped. "Spot on! A pillar of the community!!" Priscilla looked to one chair in front of Alice, at the boy talking to the window. "Mr. Lindström!" She called out, "Would you like to continue that conversation later? I would like you to introduce yourself to the class, if you please. Mr. Lindström is a new transfer student, and I would like you all to treat him with the same respect and kindness you give one another!" She held her hand up for the boy to stand and introduce himself to the class. The boy was abnormally tall and rake thin. A single manic-looking eye peered out from the gap in his inky, black hair that was so straight and smooth that it clung to his face, more like a single, fluid entity rather than individual strands. Despite the dark shadows under his eye, it appeared to be wide and alert, if a little glassy. The eye twitched frantically around the classroom, then at the boys feet, then back to Priscilla. "Oh..." he said softly, as if he has only just understood her meaning. "Um... No thank you." He said softly, but confidently. Then he relaxed himself and went back to staring off at nothing in particular. "Right... well..." Before Priscilla could form a thought, the classroom was disrupted by a loud bell. The students stood and began to leave, "Alright well just remember everyone to study for our next lesson on broom flight! I expect you all to know the three do's and don'ts by tomorrow!!" By the time she'd finished speaking, almost everyone had left. Priscilla picked up her bag and walked out, leaving five students still packing up to leave. Alice tried to stand up, but felt a hand forcefully sit her back down in her seat. A trio of students surrounded her and the boy in front of her, Felix. A tall, muscular boy sat on Felix's desk, eyeing him up while a girl with a sharp, angular face smiled at her. No, it was more like a sneer. The last student was a girl with short curly brown hair that seemed disinterested with the whole situation. Alice found herself reminded of their teacher. The boy was called Gunther, the curly-haired girl was Helena, and the leader of this little trio was Anastasia. "So, what's your story?" Anastasia asked Felix, looking him over with a critical eye. "Um..." Felix replied as he looked upon each of them in turn, like a startled animal trying to decide if the creatures around him were friend or foe. "... I'm sorry, do you only have one story? Mother told me many..." his tone was not facetious, but rather seemed one of genuine befuddlement about the question. Anastasia was not pleased with this response. Her face screwed up in a mixture of distaste and confusion, "Where'd you find this kid?" She asked, her eyes rolling over to look at Alice. "Did he crawl out of the same place you came from?" She muttered, staring at Felix. Alice stood from her chair and kicked it out from under her. "Just leave him alone..." Alice growled, gritting her teeth in anger. Anastasia laughed, looking down at Alice's pearly whites. "Great white shark!" Gunther chimed in, laughing. Pointing at Alice's shark-like teeth. "Don't call me that..." Alice pushed her lips together and reached inside her robes. "A-Ah!" Anastasia warned her, and Alice noticed then that Anastasia had a fireplace poker directed at her face. "What about you?" Anastasia asked, looking at the boy's clothes, "You should be wearing your robe over those... clothes... and don't you have a hat?" She asked, raising an eyebrow. "I like these clothes." Felix replied, as if that's all the explanation that was required. He turned and glanced over the length of the fire poker, before standing up from his chair and leaning closer, staring at it studiously. "What's that for?" he asked curiously. "Is he special or something?" Helena asked, looking at Alice quizzically. "It's my Focus, duh!" Anastasia replied, "Every Witch and Wizard needs a Focus to use magic." To punctuate this, she pointed the poker at Alice's hat and said, "Come!" Alice's hat was torn from her head and flew into Anastasia's waiting fingers, "See?" She grinned wickedly, twirling the hat on her right forefinger. "Give it back!!" Alice growled, but as she tried to step towards Anastasia, Helena got between them. "What's your Focus?" Anastasia asked curiously, looking at Felix with a keen eye. Felix ignored the question, his eyes darting from the hat in Anastasia's hand, and then back to Alice. "But... Couldn't you have just asked her nicely? If you needed the hat so badly I'm sure she would have given you it..." He tapped his index finger gently against his lip, thinking for a moment. "It seems like a pointless way to use magic... Is it not?" "Magic shouldn't be used selfishly..." Alice muttered. "It wasn't selfish. I was making a point. Have the stupid hat, it's a tattered hand-me-down, anyway." Anastasia shoved the hat back into Alice's hands and walked away, flanked on either side by Helena and Gunther, "That's so sweet, Alice. You've finally found someone as weird as you. Everyone needs a friend, right?" The trio laughed as they left the classroom, leaving Felix and Alice alone together. "I'm sorry about them... Anastasia is just... mean." Alice dusted off her hat and shoved it back on her head at an angle, "But she was right about one thing, you're not exactly like other Wizards, are you?" She asked, grabbing her satchel and slinging it onto her shoulder. "Mm... I'm not?" Felix asked, pausing to ponder on it. "Are Wizards all the same? I have yet to meet one human that is quite like the other... it's why I find them confusing." "Well... no, but... well there you go again, you call people 'human' like you're not." Alice shook her head and flashed a toothy grin. "Wait... you are human, right? I mean i've never met any other creatures before but Miss Priscilla told us there are lots of weird and wonderful beings, and some of them are even human-like." "Oh... no, sorry. I am human." Felix replied. "But I know myself so... I don't confuse myself. It's other humans that are confusing. For example, they ask a question, then continue talking, then ask more questions, and they haven't even had the first question answered. I never know what to respond to first, or if I should respond to only the last question, or if I should even respond at all..." Felix trailed off after that, once again staring at a pocket of the room where there seemed to be nothing of particular interest to see. Alice frowned and followed Felix's line of sight to the corner of the room. She saw nothing. "Alright, well... I should probably be going. My grandpa said I have to find a job in town this year, so..." "Oh...okay." Felix said, not looking back in Alice's direction. "It was nice to meet you, Alice Pendragon." He said, giving only a faint smile. "Actually... mostly it was confusing and a little distressing. But you seem kind... so I guess it is nice to have met you, don't you think?" She wasn't really sure how to answer. Alice found herself nodding quietly with a lop-sided grin plastered on her face, before she retreated from the classroom and ran for the front doors of Dragane Castle. However, as she stepped outside, she was immediately drenched. It was raining. She quickly fled back inside and reached back inside her robes. What she pulled out, could hardly be thought of as a tool of the magical. It was an old, wooden feather duster with a thick plumage of black feathers. Holding the feather duster with the wooden handle pointing up, she spoke directly to it, "Into a broom, if you please!" The feather duster shuddered in her hands, threatening to fly out of her grasp, but then quickly, the handle shot out until it was taller than she was, and the feathers elongated and became a dishevelled bundle of twigs. "Right then..." Alice muttered, pulling herself onto the broom, "Behave yourself now... fly!" Alice's squealing scream echoed through the corridors of the Academy as she bolted up into the driving rain of the dark and stormy sky. "Not so fast!" She screeched, and the broom promptly obeyed. By stopping. Her screams reached such a pitch they almost became inaudible as she dropped from the sky as quickly as she'd ascended into it. "Now, really, behave yourself!!" She thumped the side of the broom handle and it levelled out. Alice carefully re-positioned herself on the broom and then took off back down towards the town. She flew over the streets, looking down at the scattered townsfolk fleeing indoors in response to the torrential downpour. Over the course of an hour, Alice visited a dozen different places. Pubs, bakeries, pharmacies, grocers and markets. Everywhere she went, she was given the same answer. No, sorry, there were no jobs available. Her clothes were soaking wet, and she was chilled to the bone. She was hungry, tired and she knew she couldn't go back to her grandfather with nothing to show. Then she noticed a small light in the window of one of the shops along the edge of the harbour. Last chance, she thought. She sped towards the shop and noticed a steady stream of customers escaping from the rain. Then she noticed the name, 'Aime's Café'. Perfect, she thought. If there wasn't a job, at least she could get something to eat.
  13. Grimoire (Private)

    She took a deep breath, and exhaled with relief. Ryoko felt far more comfortable in Edinburgh's 'other' city. The Undercity, the Nether-city, the Otherland. There were many names for it, but it was the place where the weird and wonderful - and sometimes dangerous - lived and worked. The air was musty with the smell of strange spices, the cobbled streets were caked with the dirt of a thousand years, and a hundred different species of creatures, ghouls, spirits, monsters and many others walked together in a bustling street. Ryoko heard yelling behind her and turned around to see Vincent step through the door, and then to her surprise, a human followed him into the city of the supernatural. "You... idiot." Ryoko growled, and marched up to them as Vincent was hand-cuffed by the detective. "You're right, he is!" Vincent replied, smirking to hide his annoyance. "That's enough from you." David said as he fastened Vincent's cuffs so that his hands were tied behind him. "You're under arrest." He added as he marched Vincent back towards the door. He pulled it open and paused, momentarily dumbstruck as he found himself facing a dirty, old utility closet. He frowned, closed the door, then opened it again. He stepped inside the closet to find that it was, in fact, very real and not a trick. It was black with dust and soot, and contained only a few old brooms, a carriage wheel that looked like it was not from this century, and three sacks full of rubbish. "Wh-what is this?" "It's a cupboard, Inspector." Vincent replied. "Yes I see that!" David snapped. "This is where we came out though, wasn't it?" "Well, yes." Vincent replied with a nod. "And no. It's not easy to explain to the likes of you." "So some sort of trick, then." David grumbled, searching for some sort of panel, perhaps the room was an elevator that lead to the flat they had come from. Yet when he looked up he realised that there was not tall flats above. This was a single storey building, what looked to be the side of an old factory, and certainly not a place familiar to the Cowgate he knew. "I think he's starting to understand." Vincent said to Ryoko. "...This is a dream." David said to himself. "Or not." Vincent added, smirking again. "He cannot stay here." Ryoko looked David up and down, then she grabbed Vincent's hand-cuffs and tore them apart with her bare hands. She turned her attention to David and grabbed him by the throat, "I do not want to kill you, but I..." She paused, looking to Vincent, "Here. You're a wizard. He's your problem, fix it. Make him forget or something, and send him back through the way we came." "I could have taken them off myself, you know." Vincent said as he rubbed his wrists. He placed his hand on Ryoko's wrist gently. "Let him go. There's no need to be violent. I'll just open the door and he can go back where he came from." Vincent moved away and placed his hand over the door for a moment, and then he opened it again to reveal that it once again led to Rachel's flat. "See? No problem." He said, as Ryoko began to move David towards to the door. Before she had reached, however, Vincent closed it shut once more. "However... now that I think about it. This could be a good thing." "You're annoying me." Ryoko squeezed on David's throat reflexively and he let out a choked cry, "Oh..." She loosened her grip slightly on David then looked back to Vincent, "He's a human, do you honestly think he can understand this world, let alone keep it a secret?" She threw David into Vincent and crossed her arms. Vincent struggled to stop himself toppling over as the much larger man hit him. He pushed David off of him and dusted himself off, sighing. "Look, he probably can't and I'll have to deal with that at some point, somehow, but for now having him here could be valuable. Nobody is going to believe anything about this world, let alone the police. If I show him the real culprit, I can at least prove my innocence." Just then the sound of a radio crackle sounded. "This is Detective Inspector David Argent. I need all available units at..." He paused for a moment. "At Cowgate, I'm not sure where but-" "That won't work." Vincent cut him off. "The frequency won't reach this place, trust me." "What do you mean this place!?" David yelled back at him. "Just take a look around, Inspector." Vincent replied, throwing his arms out. For the first time David really examined the nearby street, and his eyes widened as he realized the passers by were not all human. There were little people, the size of mice, scampering along in small groups, and there were fur-covered men and women of all shapes and sizes. Across the road in a shop window, three old crones were cackling madly as they each took turns in stirring a large, steaming cauldron. "I... are they witches?" David asked. "Absolutely." Vincent nodded. "But they are also cooks." He added. He stepped out on to the street and pointed to the sign above the door to their shop. It read; The Three Sisters Soup Kitchen. "Soup Kitchen?" David asked. "They are making soup?" "Oxtail judging by the smell." Vincent replied. "Look, Inspector. You're a man of God, right? If you believe in a celestial sky fairy, then why does this seem so unbelievable. What you've just stumbled upon is a truth as old as time. There is the world above, where you reside, and then there is the world below." He cast his hand out over the area. "So... like Hell then?" David asked. "Oh no, no, no." Vincent said with a chuckle. "That's below the below. Way, way below. This is just where we all go to keep out of sight of you lot. Quite necessary, I'm afraid, what with your penchant for burning and drowning witches. And those nasty tales in your story books don't help. Bram Stoker has a lot to answer for, wouldn't you say, Ryoko?" Ryoko raised her eyebrow at Vincent before turning her attention to David, "I suppose it is unlikely that anyone from your world would believe anything you see here, but as Vincent has so... astutely pointed out, those who see our world may also have a profound impact on it. They can also impact your own. Bram Stoker was very ill as a child, one of our race, a Vampire who belonged to the Healing Caste, took pity on the boy, and healed him. He never suffered from illness to the end of his life, but betrayed the trust and generosity of one of my kind, by writing slanderous and fancifully wild tales that you know as 'Dracula'. Do not make me suffer the same fate as she did." "And you just expect me to believe all of that?" David said, folding his arms. "You can believe what you want but it won't change anything." Vincent said. "We are here to find Rachel's killer, her real killer. Now, without our help you can't get back to your side of the fence. So, come with us and see how this plays out. If you still want to arrest me afterwards then I'll come willingly." "The last time you said you'd come willingly you did a little disappearing act." David said, frowning. "I expect you gave him no choice, as you were labouring under the delusion that he was the culprit. He's an idiot. Do you think him so capable of that crime? He walked right back into the crime scene while it was full of police. He knows, however, that when we find the real killer, you will have no reason to arrest him, so there is no reason for him to worry. Assuming we find the killer..." Ryoko turned her attention onto the main street, "Besides, detective, do you think your eyes betray you?" She indicated the streets that laid out before them, then indicated herself. "The devil is said to use illusion and trickery. How can I be expected to trust this is not his doing?" "Because the devil runs a night club in Los Angeles, he's a very busy man." Vincent said with an impish grin, and David wasn't entirely sure if he was joking or serious. "I can't just conduct an investigation with our main suspect. That's not how the law works." David said. "Well that wold matter on the up side, but you're in the nether, where the laws are different. Someone from this side has killed a mortal, and so they should pay the price your laws dictate. I can help you do that, but not from inside a cell. Understand?" "I don't." David replied, before sighing. "But... I suppose I don't have much of a choice." "Maybe he can learn." Ryoko grinned and walked out onto the main street, "Can you do anything to narrow our search?" She asked, looking to Vincent. The throngs of the supernatural went about their daily lives as Vincent and David followed her out. As David stepped out into the street he almost stepped on what looked like a mouse walking on it's hind legs. "Hey i'm walkin' here!!" The mouse barked up at David, then scampered on. "You should be as careful with your walk, as with your eyes, detective. There are things here that are just as likely to squash you were they so careless." And as if to punctuate her statement, a heavy thud shook the street and a shadow cast over them for a second. An enormous, scale-covered paw rushed over the houses, forcing a wind to rush through the street. A second heavy boom as it landed somewhere in the next street, and then it was gone. Just a distant rumbling. "The best bet is to just ask around." Vincent said. "This street is pretty busy, someone probably saw something. There's nothing I can do with magic until we find something more substantial. An object or piece of fur carried by the killer would do. Until then though, let's just take a look around and speak to some people." "Local shop owners are normally the best source. They are here most hours of the day, they also come to recognize regulars, and those who are unusual or acting strangely." David said. "See, Inspector, you can be useful." Vincent replied. "So how about some soup then?" The door to The Three Sisters opened with a jingle as Ryoko, Vincent and David stepped inside. The room was expansive, and dimly lit by candles dotting the room and tables of the patrons who ate and talked amongst themselves. As Ryoko stepped up to the front desk a wisp of black smoke shot across the room and expanded over the desk and took form. The smoke coalesced into one of the three sisters, a witch. She had long, greasy black hair and a long hook-nose, and yet she was otherwise quite shapely and attractive. "Customers!" She cooed, clapping her hands together, "Welcome to our fine establishment, i'm Priscilla, your hostess with the most-est! We'd love to have you for dinner." She laughed maniacally and her laugh echoed as two more wisps of black smoke surrounded them and formed the other two witches of the trio of sisters. The second witch ushered them towards a table. She was tall and lanky, and had a prominent chin and short scruffy straw-like hair that stuck out at every angle from beneath her pointed hat. "I'm Helena, i'll be your waitress today!" She looked to David, and flashed him a wink as she seated them. The third and final sister thumped her palm down on the table, and pulled her hand across the air, as a quill formed in her hand and she began writing in mid-air. The words being formed looked like nonsense but she seemed to understand her own writing. "I'm Teresa! I'll be your chef," She was a plump woman, with piercing eyes and a mop of dark brown hair, "We have Oxtail soup, Black Eye soup, or Chef's special and..." She trailed off as she looked at the three of them, "My my, a Vampire... from the Religious-- no... from the Warrior caste, how rare... and a wizard, and not just any wizard..." "No sister, that's a Hallow!" Priscilla chimed in. "Lovely..." Helena added. "And a mundane..." Teresa rolled her eyes and started to turn away. "Not so mundane," Noted Helena. "Do you know these women?" David asked "Not at all." Vincent replied. "But it's not uncommon for some witches to be prescient. Especially triplets." "Not uncommon among the uncommon, some might say that's rare young man." Helena said with a scrutinizing stare. "Don't be selling us too short, hm?" "Aye, well some are shorter than others, dear sister." Teresa added. "What you have in height, I have in beauty." Helena said haughtily. "Now now, sisters," Priscilla squeezed in between them and the three sisters loomed over the seated trio, "So you'll have the Oxtail," She indicated David, "You'll have the Chef's special," She nodded at Vincent, "And you'd like a Bloody Mary?" Ryoko couldn't help but smile at Priscilla as she seemed to know what they wanted from the outset. "Heeey..." Helena pushed Priscilla out of the way, "I'm the waitress, remember!" "So what am I doing with this?!" Teresa threw the quill into the air and stormed into the kitchen. Priscilla and Helena both grabbed at the quill and eventually Helena wrestled it out of the air, and Priscilla huffed, returning to the front desk as Helena licked the tip of the quill, and finished writing. Then she swept her hand across the floating golden text, and it whirled into smoke and shot into the kitchen. There was a loud clatter of falling pots and pans. "Not so bloody fast!!" Teresa's shout carried out from the kitchen. They waited for their food in relative silence. Occasionally David would pinch himself, or mutter the odd prayer to God, but was always disappointed to find himself still sitting in a strange little inn run by three old crones. Vincent eventually turned to his Grimoire, searching through what appeared to be completely blank pages, until eventually their meals arrived. David was given a bowl of dark brown broth with chunks of meat, the Oxtail. Ryoko was given a tall glass of dark red liquid, and Vincent was given a golden coloured broth with strange looking lumps of vegetables and herbs that David had never seen before. Vincent took a spoonful of the soup and nodded to show it was good. David tried his own tentatively, but was pleasantly surprised to find it tasted quite delicious. Grabbing the bloody Mary, Ryoko pulled the celery stick from the glass and sucked the liquid from it before setting it to one side. She took a long gulp of her drink, licking her ruby lips afterwards. Placing the drink on the table, she called for Priscilla. The witch finished writing at the front desk and stood before them in an instant. "Yes, dearie?" She asked. "Priscilla, you see a lot of customers come through here, do you ever remember seeing one with horns on it's head? It would have had a furry body, caked with dirt, and yellow eyes, like those of a snake. Does that ring any bells?" Ryoko asked, smiling patiently. "W-well, we do see a lot of customers, but uh... no... no I-I don't think that really rings, I mean, it's so hard to remember so many." She quickly turned to leave. "A little nervous?" Vincent asked, not looking up from his Grimoire. "A moment ago you were forthcoming and confident, and now you hesitate. Are you quite sure that you saw nothing at all unusual?" "Surely you didn't forget someone like that?" Ryoko rubbed the side of her glass thoughtfully, "I mean, we all forget things, the older we get, and some of us are very old. But someone like that? Surely, you wouldn't forget them..." Ryoko looked up and locked eyes with Priscilla. For a long while, they stared each other down. Then, if only for a split-second, Priscilla's eyes darted to her right. Ryoko quickly looked to the left and saw a bathroom. She stood and quickly marched towards it, unsure of what she'd find inside, or who. "Do your job, detective!" Ryoko called over her shoulder, as she walked into the bathroom. Vincent snapped his Grimoire shut and it clicked as the lock on the front activated. He re-attached it to his belt as he stood up from the table. "I suppose we better follow." He said as David rose with him. "You first, Inspector. Can't say I'm too good with hostile situations." "Nor was it expected of you." David said as he marched forward with Ryoko. Pressing her ear to the bathroom door, Ryoko could hear nothing but silence. She waited until David and Vincent were behind her, then she quickly pushed open the door and rushed into the bathroom. For a moment, it seemed they had missed their target. It looked as though a hurricane had been through the bathroom. Muddy water covered the ground, and hand prints on the sinks and doors. Then she saw the tip of a long tail sticking out from underneath a cubicle door. Ryoko quickly marched up to the cubicle, took a step back and kicked the door in, breaking the lock. A shrill noise made everyone in the room cover their ears in discomfort. After being dazed by the cry, Ryoko looked into the stall to see a creature sat on the toilet. It was furry and still wet from having cleaned itself using the bathroom sinks. It had bright yellow eyes, like a snake's and curved horns atop it's head. It's face was elongated, with a long muzzle. She had never seen anything like it. "Get out of there!!" Ryoko growled. The creature shrieked once more in terror. "Hey, HEY!!" Ryoko yelled and the creature eventually stopped shrieking. "Please don't hurt me!!" It's voice was deep and throaty. "I'll do whatever you want!!" Ryoko frowned and shared a look with Vincent, "You're not a killer..." "No!" The creature recoiled, stung by her words. "Well do you mind explaining why you were in an apartment with a dead body?" Ryoko asked. "No of course not... but..." The creature remained sat on the toilet, looking back at them with expectation. "Right, fine." Ryoko, David and Vincent walked back out. A few minutes later, the creature walked out of the bathroom. Priscilla chided him both for having ruined their bathroom and for not having run the moment he saw them coming into the café. According to Gort - as that was his name - he had intended to travel back into the human realm, as he was an Earth spirit, specifically he was the spirit of Arthur's Seat, the main peak of of a group of hills. Gort explained that when normally he travelled back to his peak, something had struck him as he passed through the doorway. Instead of arriving in the hills, he was in Rachel's apartment, covered in blood. He panicked, and retreated to The Three Sisters as they were friends, and he sought their advice. That was when Ryoko, Vincent and David had arrived. Ryoko rubbed her temples as she tried to piece everything together, "So, you say you're not the killer. The killer bumped into you, when the doorways crossed for some reason, and it left you in Rachel's apartment. You scared Rachel, she scared you, and you ran. And you were on the toilet because...?" "Well..." Gort scratched the back of his head and laughed nervously, "I was terrified, and--" "--alright!" Ryoko held her hand up, swallowing slowly, "Any thoughts?" She asked, turning to Vincent and David.
  14. Grimoire (Private)

    Edinburgh is a city like any other. It has a bustling shopping district, where tourists find dime-a-dozen knick-knacks to send to their loved ones. It has bars and nightclubs in the hundreds, almost enough to support it's busy night life. And it has an active supernatural community that the world at large is mostly unaware of, with a few notable exceptions. The world of the supernatural is often not so different from that of the human world. The creatures, spirits and oddities of the supernatural have jobs, pay taxes and sit down with their families at the end of a hard day just like humans do. Unfortunately, just like humans, not everyone gets along. That's where Fixers come in. Freelancers who will take on any job if the pay is right. They say if you need something doing, all you have to do is blood summon, begin a séance or simply turn to 'F' in the Yellow Pages. After all, in a world without structured law, you have to be able to turn to someone for help, even if it does cost you an arm and a leg, sometimes literally... The dull resonating footsteps echoed through the hallway as the woman dressed in black ascended the stairs of the small apartment complex. Her pale hand reached into her pocket and pulled out a smartphone, careful not to scratch the screen with her long black nails, she slid her finger across the screen to unlock it, then read the message aloud. "Please help, my room-mate is getting violent, I need a mediator! Apartment 6..." She had lived in the west for several years now, but she had yet to lose her Japanese accent in it's entirety. She put her phone back in her pocket as she reached the top of the stairs and turned down the corridor. At the end, she saw a red door with a small metal '6' on the front. Her almond-shaped eyes narrowed as a toothy smile spread across her face. As she approached the front door, she could hear yelling coming from inside. Two people were arguing passionately about something. She knocked. The arguing continued. She knocked again, and then suddenly there was a deathly silence. A moment later, the door swung open and before she could introduce herself, an enormous hand grabbed hold of her and pulled her into the room. The arguing quickly resumed. "How dare you pull her in like that! She's our guest, and that was rude!!" A woman with feathery emerald green hair yelled, pacing back and forth. She had plumage coming out from the corners of her cheeks, and there was definitely something avian about the way she moved. She was a harpy. "Oh that's just like you! Putting me down, how am I supposed to feel? You didn't even give me any notice!!" The man roared, and when he spoke he drowned out all other noise. He was a Minotaur, that much was obvious. He was twice the size of either of them, far taller, and he had the head of a bull. "Look, i'm sorry about this--" The harpy began. "My name's Ryoko, you--" "You're not listening to me!!" The Minotaur yelled. "Inside voices, please!" Ryoko asked sternly. Both tenants stopped arguing for a moment and turned to look at her. At last, she had their attention. "Okay," She nodded, "Please explain exactly what the problem is..." "He won't leave, and i've asked him several times already, I want my boyfriend to move in and he's being difficult!" The harpy explained. "Alright, what's your name?" Ryoko asked. "Cynthia." "Alright, Cynthia, you're being unreasonable--" "Unreasonable! That's what I said!!" The minotaur roared, shoving a sofa across the room with a single push. "And what's all this yelling and throwing your weight around, Mr...?" Ryoko asked, waiting with a raised eyebrow. "Philip, you can call me Philip." "Philip," Ryoko continued with an exasperated sigh, "Cynthia is only going to be unhappy for the next month, if you stay. She wants to be with her boyfriend, do you really want to get between them?" She asked, reaching up to put her hand on his shoulder as he slumped down onto the sofa. "No, I suppose not... but I paid a whole month and--" "Can't you just give him back his rent so he can move out?" Ryoko asked, turning to Cynthia. "He signed an agreement! I don't have to give him anything!!" Cynthia replied, turning her nose up at the idea. "But he's calmed down, he's not being violent, and--" Silence fell upon the room once more. Ryoko frowned, there had been a sudden shift in the tone of the room, but she wasn't sure why. She looked over to the Minotaur, Philip, and saw a look of panic on his face. Then it dawned on her. Cynthia was not her client at all, it was Philip who had sent the message. "You told her I was being violent?!" Cynthia roared, descending on Philip. Ryoko quickly darted between them, but Cynthia was not stopping. Enraged, she grabbed Ryoko and threw her at the window with all the force she could muster. Ryoko saw the room go hurtling past her and a sharp sting as she crashed into the window, and then she was falling. She fell down three stories before she slowed her fall with the use of levitation and lay suspended a foot above the ground. The people walking by had stopped to gawp at the scene unfolding before them. Ryoko brushed the broken glass off her clothes and straightened her long black leather jacket before reaching up to her face, where she felt a piece of glass had punctured her cheek. As she pulled the long shard out, an old witch paused and looked at her. "Oh those two again, always fighting..." She muttered, and waddled off down the street. The moment of excitement had passed, and everyone quickly resumed their own business as Ryoko righted herself, licked the blood from the shard of glass before casting it off, and then quickly rose back up to the broken window and stepped through back into the apartment as the open wound in her cheek slowly sealed shut. "Please, don't do that again..." Ryoko asked, as her phone vibrated in her pocket. Cynthia and Philip began arguing again, as Philip apologised profusely. Ryoko looked at the message on her phone, and read it silently. It didn't make a lot of sense. It looked as though it had been written in haste. 'Pls hlp wmn drivn me crezy, I cant lv lik ths' "Okay, Philip!!" Ryoko yelled over the both of them, replacing her phone in her pocket. "You signed an agreement, Cynthia doesnt have to give you anything, but Cynthia is a reasonable harpy, so she's going to give you half of your rent, and you're going to move out at the end of the week, that way you have enough time to find somewhere else to live, and Cynthia's boyfriend can move in early, happy?" "No," Cynthia muttered. "Not really." Philip sighed. "Good. That's called a compromise. Pay me." Ryoko held out her hand. As she stepped back out onto the street, Ryoko pocketed her pay and sent a message back to her new client saying she was on her way, but had to cross from Brookback street, which was one of the hidden supernatural streets in Edinburgh, and cross half the city to the address he had provided. This was just what she needed, she thought sarcastically. Two domestics in one day. Whatever happened to kittens lost up trees and broken drains full of goblin hair? She missed those days. She crossed the street and walked down a back alley that ended in a brick wall. She studied it for a moment, pressed her hand against the cool stone, and then stepped through the wall as if it wasn't even there. She stepped into darkness, and it was a little disorienting for a moment. Furs surrounded her, then a t-shirt pulled across her face and suddenly she felt something hard in front of her and she pushed it open and stepped out into the middle of a quiet living room. That was the downside with using the convenient doorways that connected the human world to the supernatural, sometimes their connections left something to be desired. It seemed this one had put her in the middle of someone's house. "Oi, where the fuck'd you come from?!" Shouted a man who dropped his cup of tea in surprise. The cup had barely smashed as Ryoko apologised profusely and ran for the front door, leaving an extremely confused human searching his closet. The regular and the supernatural were often scarily similar. In her 500 years as a Vampire, Ryoko had seen a great many strange and wonderful things. She had learnt a great many things, but none of them were more true than this. It didn't matter if you were a King or a pauper, a human or a hobbit. It was life. We all go through it, and some have a harder ride than others. She'd stop by her apartment before she went on to the next job, she had to feed her cat. Mr. Jangles. A surly, black Tom cat that liked to scratch the arms of her chairs and silently judge her. This was her life - an ungrateful pet, a judgemental family, a disagreeable habit, a thankless job and a tiny apartment. Maybe she needed to call a Fixer?
  15. closed Avatar: Roots

    OOC: Private RP between myself and Kyo. AVATAR ROOTS It has been 40 years since Avatar Korra vanished into the spirit realm, never to be seen again. While Republic City has remained a hub for the four nations of Earth, Water, Air and Fire, it is not as it once was. Spirits roam our world freely, and after the horrors of war touched the hearts of the people, there has been a strong outcry for the destruction of all unnecessary technology. Cars, radios, and many other technologies considered luxuries were thrown into the streets and destroyed by the vast majority. The world has moved on, and many have forgotten the role of the Avatar in our world in spite of the greater number of benders. It is a time of peace amongst nations, and an uneasy peace between humanity and the spirits. However, twelve years ago a new Avatar was discovered, a young girl from the Earth Nation called Kiyoko. As she sets out to experience the world and master her powers in a time where few care about her role in the world, a new force is rising. Insane rumours of a long-dead master of bending, risen from the dead, and consuming the power of those he fights. Together with her friends, Kiyoko will need to learn where she fits into the world left to her by her predecessor, and how she will make her mark, for better or worse... A trio of footsteps rapidly crossed the stone courtyard. Their pace was quick, because it was set by the Mayor of Republic City, Bo Lam. His pace was quick, because he had been informed only hours before that the Order of the White Lotus - the society that finds and trains new Avatars - had found Korra's heir. However, he had also been informed that they had found her more than ten years ago, and had been training her in secret due to what one of the Order had called, 'an unstable climate'. Unstable indeed, Bo thought, huffing. He came to the far end of the courtyard and turned up a path, dotted with steps. The path seemed to stretch on forever ahead of him, and he was already out of breath. He was in his forties and he had to admit now, not in the best of shape. By the time he reached the top of the winding path, he was speechless. In part, because of the beautiful vista he saw before him. The Order of the White Lotus had their headquarters at the highest-most point of Republic City. Even he didn't have views like this, and he was the bloody mayor! But he was mostly out of breath because he always stopped for a sweet roll at the local stand, because they always gave him one for free. Excuses, excuses, he mouthed to himself, wiping his brow. "So, where is she?" Bo asked, looking around the stone courtyard, and the ornate classical building at the far end. There were guards around, no doubt for her protection, but little else. There was no sign of this 'Kiyoko' at all. This was probably some elaborate joke, no doubt orchestrated by his staff. Suddenly, there was a loud crash, and Bo was pulled from his irritable thought train. "What was that?!" He growled in surprise, his eyes scanning for activity. Moments later, the doors to the building ahead of them were torn from their hinges and flew out, crashing into the middle of the courtyard. A dust storm exploded outwards, and something was riding inside it. It was a young woman! Bo watched as a panicked instructor came running out of the building, chasing after the girl who couldn't have been older than seventeen. "Wait, Kiyoko!" The man yelped breathlessly, "I just--" "Yoko!" The girl chided her elder, and rode the dust storm across the courtyard, destroying it in the process as she rode the earth like a surfer might a wave. Then she spotted the new arrival and she leapt off the short earth pillar and the dust storm came to a halt. "Hey, who's the old guy?!" She asked over her shoulder. The woman was of medium height, slim with tan skin and brilliant white hair which came down to her chest but was shaved on one side. "'Old guy'?" Bo raised an eyebrow as he looked to the instructor. The man was clearly way out of his depth. He caught up to the girl and was saying something to her hurriedly before collapsing onto his backside and resuming his wheezing fit in silence. "Well are you the Avatar, or aren't you?!" "Sure am," She replied, straightening out a simple dark green kimono designed for ease of movement, "Yoko, Avatar, nice t'meet ya," A grin spread across her face as she approached him, and Bo noticed she had a dozen or so small scars on her face. Little nicks and cuts here and there, with a particularly noticeable vertical scar running through the left side of her lips. Despite her wounds, she was an attractive young woman, who carried herself with a swagger. "So you're the Mayor of Republic City? Why haven't you been up to see me before?" She asked. "This is the first i'm hearing about you, if i'm to be honest, and--" "Riiiight, right..." Yoko muttered, looking him up and down, "Well I guess I was busy anyway, these jokers--" She thumbed over her shoulder to her instructor, "Have me training day-in, day-out, and it's not like i'm even allowed out. I can't even use my powers outside of the grounds, can you believe that?!" "It's delicate, I know--" "I know, right?! It's so unfair..." Yoko muttered, cutting the Mayor off. "Enough!" The instructor finally growled out, catching his breath. He stood up and brushed off his crimson robes before pulling a small clipboard from within it's folds and a little pencil, "Now then, you're supposed to finish your exam, can we do so without further interruption!?" The instructor asked, exasperated. "Yeah, but i've only got the combat portion left, and that's kind of my speciality, right? I mean, I am the Avatar... that's gotta be good for somethin'..." She chuckled but lost her smile when she saw her instructor's pleading eyes, "Oh fine, right, right... come on then..." She muttered, walking back into the centre of the courtyard. "You will demonstrate your ability with the four elements, and must succeed in at least three categories." Her instructor took a step back and nodded towards the building. Yoko turned and looked back, to see several people dressed in black, all holding clipboards and studying the broken doors. As one, they began scribbling on their pads. For a moment, the colour drained from Yoko's face. "Alright, come on then!" She clapped her hands together and made fists, assuming a combat stance. Four members of the Order of the White Lotus stepped forwards, surrounding her. As they did, a woman stepped up to stand beside the Mayor. Bo turned and gave her a casual sideways glance and muttered, "Why didn't that tire you out...?" As if it would anyone, it should have been her. The White Lotus guards charged as one. Yoko stomped a foot down onto the stone and she was thrown high into the air by a pillar of earth below her, which followed her up into the air as a large cylinder. She whirled around in the air, and smashed her fists into the pillar, and the solid cylinder split into a dozen enormous discs of stone that whirled like boomerangs around the courtyard and clobbered two of the White Lotus. As she landed she deftly dodged to one side, missing her opponent's attacks, "Earth!" She cried with victory, and as she rolled out of the way, the roll turned into a leaping twirl that ended in a vicious kick wreathed in flame. Her foot came down on the man's shoulder and he collapsed to the floor while one of the other guards who had been hit pulled himself to his feet. There were still two standing. "Fire..." She added, then ran at the nearest guard. "Water!" She cried, and drew from the ground water of the morning's rainfall. The water leapt up, rolled around her arm and she directed it straight into the guard's face. But instead of collapsing the guard jumped in surprise as he was splashed with as much force as the drink in the face he'd received the night before from that girl at the party. He recovered quickly, and went on the offensive, and Yoko found herself trying to block his attacks while being mindful of the man behind her who ran towards her. But she was faster, at the last second, she turned and yelled, "Air!" At the top of her lungs, and thrust her fists forwards. She did so with such conviction that the guard actually recoiled, assuming the worst. But nothing happened. "Air!!" Yoko yelled again, thrusting her fists forwards, but again, not so much as a light breeze. Then the guard's foot connected with her back, and she went tumbling across the ground until she connected with one of her fallen discs and finally came to a stop. The fight was over in a matter of seconds. There was neither cheers, nor boos. Just a deadly silence filled the gap, as she picked herself back up. "That's so stupid... air is rubbish, look it's just air," And she blew out of her mouth to demonstrate, "Earth is better." She added, then kicked one of the discs into the air, and roundhouse kicked it so hard that it flew across the courtyard and crashed into a display vase. The instructor's face turned ashen white. "Whoops..." Yoko grinned sheepishly. "Well... three outta four ain't bad, right?" She asked nervously, scratching the side of her shaved head. A gentle giggling broke the silence. A woman dressed in a red and golden robe was sat cross-legged, and had been watching the trial. A crimson cape was draped over her shoulders, it's length covering her entire body like a blanket, with her red-sandalled feet crossed in front of her. She was an older woman in her 50's, but she looked thin, healthy and graceful apart from some minor wrinkles around her hazel eyes. Her dark brown hair was straight and cut straight at her shoulders, and a straight, fitted, golden collar went the length of her neck. Perhaps most notable was the blue arrow tattoos that came out of her robe on the back of each hand, and a larger arrow that pointed downwards on her forehead from beneath her hair. "What're you laughin' at, Grandma?!" Yoko huffed, crossing her arms and switching her attention to the newcomer. "You, obviously." The woman replied without skipping a beat. "You're quite amusing. Do you have a problem with that?" Yoko opened her mouth as she raised her forefinger in protest, but slowly closed it after a moment, "Well you do better then, go on, airbender, bend some fire..." She started walking up to the woman. "No better yet, how about some earth? Or some water? Yeah, water. Start with that." She nodded and waited expectedly. "I can bend fire, earth and water no more than you can bend air, Avatar." The woman said with a faint, patient smile. "I never will, no matter how hard I try. However, you cannot bend air, and yet you should be capable of doing so. Do you think that your ability to bend all the elements makes you superior? Hm?" "I think it will when I figure out air..." She growled, and turned her back on the woman, muttering quietly, "... and water..." She cleared her throat and started back into the middle of the courtyard. "Uuuh..." Mayor Bo shook his head and then turned to face the woman, "Sorry, who are you?" "The Avatar's new mentor, of course." The woman said with a smile as she looked at the Mayor. "Clearly she lacks even the most basic comprehension of air bending, so it seems I have arrived just in time." "We're doing what we can with what we've got!" The instructor piped up, "She's been through two water instructors and four air instructors in the past year alone, in all the history of our order, we've never known of anyone as... as..." "Rebellious." Yoko muttered off a suggestion, which was clearly the word the instructor was looking for. "Rebellious! None as rebellious as, well..." "Avatar Aang." Yoko sighed, "But you never trained Aang! You're so full of it..." "No, we never trained Aang, but he told my grandfather a great many stories about his youth and sometimes I think about how Avatar Aang turned out and it's really the only thing that gets me through the day, I mean if I didn't have that, i'd probably..." He trailed off as one of the guards took his shoulder and gently led him away. "Your grandfather was a lucky man to have met Avatar Aang." The woman said with a nod. "I never met him, but I learned of his life from my father..." The woman paused for a moment and stood up. "...Tenzin. You may remember him. Avatar Aang's eldest son, and the mentor of Avatar Korra." "Touchy man." The woman said, shaking her head before standing up. She addressed the Mayor. "Mayor Bo, I mean no disrespect to Kiyoko's tutors. I mean only to provide my services where they are needed. I have personally trained three generations of Air Nomads, and I have...endured the annoyances of youth. I am the oldest of four, after all. At least Avatar Kiyoko doesn't employ flatulence as a form of martial arts... or at least I hope not." "--Yoko." She corrected the woman, "--Yoko!" She did so again, getting annoyed, "... I ain't trainin' under you, Grandma." "Nobody asked you, Kiyoko." The woman said sternly. "The fact of the matter is, I will train you, regardless of who objects. It is a promise that I made to you a long time ago, when you were just a small child. Fortunately you couldn't speak back then, it was decidedly more pleasant." "I must'a smudged you from my memory..." Yoko muttered, "Promises get broken every day, lady." Yoko waved her hand dismissively at her, "See ya 'round." "A wager then." The woman said with a smirk. "Since air bending is so useless, it should be no problem for you to accomplish this task. Use all your bending to strike me just once within one minute, and I will leave you be. Fail and you will train under me. How does that sound?" "What part of 'no' don't ya get?" Yoko shook her head with a smirk, turning back to face the woman, "I'm already walkin' away, I can't win a wager I already won. All i've got is to lose. You don't bet much, huh?" She muttered, looking the woman up and down, "What else ya got?" She turned her head, curiosity sneaking into her voice though her eyes were as narrow and sceptical as ever. "I offer you my tutelage, if you do not see it's value then that is no fault of mine." The woman replied. "You act confident but you are afraid to prove yourself. If you truly think so little of me then you should not fear my challenge. Air bending is rubbish, right? Prove it." Yoko's face moved through a number of expressions ranging from anger to confusion, back to anger, indignation, further confusion and then finally serenity as she fell upon her response, "I ain't a coward, and I ain't afraid of your stupid test, I just don't fancy hurtin' some old lady..." She let out a short huff through flared nostrils. "Hurt me?" The woman giggled again. "You won't be able to touch me, Kiyoko." The woman stood expectantly as she watched the young girl bubble with anger. She raised one eyebrow expectantly. "Well?" "Tch!" Yoko snuffed the old woman's words and faced the woman head on, "Have it your way..." She raised her arms, forming fists. Yoko waited for a few seconds, but when the woman didn't move, she charged. Running straight on for her target. At the last second, she darted away, then whirled back, slid across the ground and tried to swipe the old lady's legs out from under her. She was over feeling any guilt now. She just wanted to teach the old bag a lesson. The woman stepped off the ground with the lightest touch, spinning gracefully as her robes swirled around her. Air carried her upwards, effortlessly avoiding Yoko's reckless attack, and as the young girl slid under her and away, she landed back on the spot where she had stood before. "You strike without consideration of your opponent. My youngest students could have avoided that." "Give it a rest, wrinkles!" Yoko barked, flipping up onto her feet. She circled the old woman for a few seconds then ran forwards, kicking forwards to raise an enormous rectangular block of stone from the ground, then she kicked it forwards. Meanwhile, as the wall rushed up to meet the woman, Yoko used the wall to hide her second attack, and pulled a second stone rectangle from the ground behind the old woman, and then quickly ran forwards and pressed them together, intending to crush the woman between the two walls. Rolling her eyes the woman rose up in another graceful swirl as the stone blocks crashed into one another beneath her. With a push from her palms she blasted air towards the ground and moved her body backwards across the sky, before landing on the ground again. "Diversion, good." She said approvingly. "However, an air bender is not limited to one axis. Strike me from left, right, back or forwards, as long as no ceiling is above me you will not succeed with such tactics." "I'll give you no ceiling..." Yoko muttered, pacing back and forth. Her anger was getting the better of her. But she'd decided on her next tactic. But she knew she was running out of time. She quickly ran towards the old woman, intending to strike from within melee range. But at the last second Yoko rose a slab of stone up from behind the old woman, pressing her into a wall. A second slab was already waiting overhead, as the shadow loomed, then suddenly Yoko whirled around, slamming her hands and feet down on the ground, and the final three walls rushed into place, trapping Yoko inside. Yoko surged forwards, she had only fleeting moments left. She brought her arm back and smashed her fist through the stone without effort, and grabbed, clutching onto something. Success! She felt cloth in her hand. "Are we done?!" Yoko yelled from outside the stone prison. There was a sudden blast of air that shattered the wall and sent Kiyoko flying backwards across the dirt, along with the red cape that the woman had been draped in. The woman herself emerged from inside the earth trap, dressed only in a red and gold outfit fitted tight to her body, with lengths of fabric attached in the space between her wrists and legs, appearing like the wing-like membranes of flying lemurs. "Your tactics are good. You assessed my actions and adapted your offensive, however, you think only one move ahead. In future you should always consider what to do if your attack fails." The woman put her hands on her hips. "Also your time is up." Yoko nodded quietly, and bundled up the red cape before throwing it back towards the woman. However, before it could reach her hands, a blast of fire scorched it to ashes and once the smoke cleared Yoko was already disappearing into the large building at the back of the courtyard.
  16. The Branded Prince (Private)

    "Hmm..." A cloaked figure mused, watching as the Prince evaded the guards and fled the castle. He stepped out from his hiding place and walked up to the guards. They turned, took one look at him, and saluted. Standing beside them, his height was suddenly far more noticeable. He was well over 6ft in height, and though his hood covered his upper face in shadow, his elongated muzzle stuck out from beneath it. He had a nose shaped like a 'Y' and his fur - not skin - was short, rough and white as snow. He was Lepan, that much was clear. A species evolved alongside humans. While humans came from monkeys, Lepans came from hares. "The Prince won't get far, we'll--" The Laxian guard began, but he cut him short. "--leave him to me, huh?" The snow-furred Lepan replied, grinning. He crouched, and leapt high into the air, clearing the wall effortlessly before landing on the other side. Then he disappeared into the winding streets of the city. It didn't take long to find the Prince. Nyx was busy ogling a merchant's wares when he came up behind him, moving through the crowd like a knife through butter. The crowd parted mostly as they recognised the symbol of the crown on his cloak. He towered over Nyx, casting a shadow over the merchant's goods, and put one large, clawed paw on Nyx's shoulder with a pat, "Now where'd ye think you're goin', hmm?" Nyx pulled himself out of his grasp and glared at him contemptuously. "Buzz off, Scar." He said as he stepped away from the stall. "Leave me alone." "I would..." Scar muttered, as he followed the boy, keeping pace easily with his own long, loping strides, "... had I chosen to be a fishmonger, or a carpenter, but fer some foolish reason I decided to be a royal bodyguard. So unfortunately, Prince Oranyx, yer stuck with me." "Nyx." The Prince corrected. "Anyway I don't need you around. Nobody was paying me any mind until you showed up with that coat. Might as well just wave a royal flag and sound the trumpets." He rolled his eyes and turned away from Scar. "As ever, Prince Oranyx, yer skills of perception could use a little work." Scar turned his head, careful not to pull his hood down, "I can hear a merchant on the other side of the courtyard telling a group of men who you are, and offerin' them a great sum of money fer yer head." "Yeah, right." Nyx said, laughing a little. "We're in the middle of Fortuna, Scar. Do you see what's happening around you? People are celebrating. You really think I'm going to believe I'm surrounded by assassins?" "The fact ye believe you're not, would imply it would be an excellent time, yes." Scar replied, genuinely, he watched carefully as the trio of men snaked their way through the crowd towards them, one of them pulled something from their pocket, "Are ye ready, Prince?" He asked. "Are... are you serious?" Nyx asked frowning. He watched the men advancing towards them and apprehensively stepped back. "Get behind me!" Scar growled, and the Prince did as he was told. "PRINCE ORANYX!!" One of the men yelled, charging forwards as the other two flanked him. As they broke free of the crowd, the forerunner bowed and held up his Vidphone, "We're sorry to bother you, Prince, but we saw you from across the way and we'd like to take a picture with you?" Scar turned to face the Prince and crossed his arms, "What do ye think, my Prince, are ye feelin' brave?" A grin spread across Scar's face. "You're an idiot." Nyx huffed as he pushed past him. He smiled politely at the gentleman and allowed them to gather around him. He put his arms around them and held up his fingers in peace symbols, and smiled for the Vidphone. When they were done the group thanked him and he nodded in response, turning back to Scar. "Head-hunters... sure." He grumbled. "Are you done embarrassing me now?" "Well, calling you 'Oranyx' had gotten stale." Scar retorted, "So what pushed ye into the city today, then?" He asked, and as he did so, he pulled the hood down, revealing his head in full. Scar had the incredibly long hare-like ears of his people, he had a mop of white scruffy hair that fell just below his furry brow, his eyes were a striking light blue, and his face and neck were covered in scars. The most prominent of which was a three-claw scar that ran from the top left of his forehead, down and across the bottom right of his muzzle. He looked as though he'd been through several wars. Or perhaps been attacked by a large monster. He brushed the hair out of his eyes and stretched before pulling the cloak from around his neck, revealing his clothes underneath. He dressed in white, but wore no shoes as his powerful feet were more effective bare. Over everything he wore a long white coat, though his clothes were not uniform, and held no sigils. "Nothing, just tired of being stuck in that place." He nodded towards the palace which could be seen on high from all over the city. "Put bars on the windows and the palace would be an asylum for the insane. All the rules, procedures and pleasantries. It's enough to drive anyone crazy." "Ye don't know how easy yeh got it," Scar replied, sticking his paws into his coat pockets, "Ye don't have to worry about work or money, about how you're goin' to pay for things, or feed yourself. Ye don't have to worry about safety or security. You're cared for. You've got the easy life, kid. Most people would kill to be in your position. Probably literally, but hey--" He pulled out a paw and jabbed a furry thumb at himself, "--just as well, else this guy'd be out of the job." "Yeah it's just great getting to sit on your ass and do nothing, occasionally having a break to wave at the little people down below." Nyx replied, shaking his head. "I can't even take a stroll without you following me. It's disgraceful. If dad really trusted and cared for his people then he would know I'm safe in their presence. Nobody wants to hurt me, they're far too busy fussing about the new Vidphone." Nyx smirked. "Have you seen it by the way? It's the first one to have high-speed wireless deepnet access, and you can play Galactica on it and..." He went on listing the various features of the phone. "That's nice, kid." Scar interrupted, "But i'd rather do without that tech stuff whenever possible. We're all caught up in all that junk we can't see the things around us that really matter any more. Heck, most o' us are as much machines as people." "Careful, Scar, you sound like an old man." Nyx smirked. "Where would we be without tech? Aria made augments to help people y'know? Amputees can walk again, the blind can see, and the communication network in the deepnet is about all the fun I get in the palace. I play games with kids from Regulus and Trident, how else could I do that without tech?" "Whatever makes ya happy, kid." Scar replied, looking around the courtyard, watching people weave back and forth, the occasional person gasping as they saw the Prince, or marvel at the height of a Lepan - which despite their large families, were the rarest amongst the races. "I'll take alchemy over technology any day." "Most people can't do that." Nyx said, shrugging. "Besides, just because we can use Alchemy doesn't mean we can't enjoy the regular things in life. Besides, what use is it? The only time I use alchemy is to escape to the city. What else is it good for? I can turn a metal fence into a sword, but so what? There's an entire armory of them in the palace." "If it keeps a gun outta my paws I don't much care." Scar muttered. "Is there any point even arguing with you?" Nyx asked. "You're so stubborn." "Yes I am, and no there is not." Scar replied, nodding to himself, "How much longer we gotta be out here for? It's just a little celebration, kid. Nothin' much goin' on here but stalls and parades and whatnot. Load o' fuss over nothin'." "Don't let my dad hear you say that." Nyx said with a smirk. "...He loves the Reverence Festival. I remember when I was little he used to take me to see the floats. Nobody had to guard me with him around. It just felt... ordinary. I don't want to go back just yet. The moment I step through those gates I'll have a queue of people waiting to berate me, dress me, fix my hair, speech rehearsals, protocol... it's all so pointless." "When I was a kid, I didn't have anyone to fuss over me, I had thirty-six brothers and sisters, and we were poor..." Scar let out a short sigh, "Probably because I had thirty-six brothers and sisters." He chuckled and a lop-sided grin spread across his face, "But look, y'all gotta do it. It ain't about the dressin' up, or the speech, it ain't about the event even. Ye get out there, let people see ya, cus one day you'll be King, and the more they feel they know ye, the better." "And what if I don't want to be King?" Nyx asked. "King, don't be King. It don't matter." Scar jabbed a finger into Nyx's chest, "But for now, ye gotta suck eggs. Or don't. Who am I to tell ye..." Scar chuckled and shrugged his shoulders before shoving his paws back into his pockets. As they talked, the crowd parted to let a large parade float move through the courtyard. "See?" Nyx asked, holding up his hand towards the float. "What's the big deal? Just stand here with me and enjoy the parade. It's basically a paid vacation for you." Nyx reached into his pocket and pulled out his Vidphone. He engrossed himself in it for a moment as the parade of floats drew nearer, and the people around began whooping and cheering. "Check this out." Nyx said, still staring at his phone. As the main float passed by, complete with enormous holographic characters dancing and waving, a screen appeared with streams of text flowing across it. Then a particular phrase flew across the screen: Free copies of Galactica today only courtesy of the Velicen Royal Family - See your nearest Royal Official to collect a coupon. Very quickly the crowds began to gasp and murmur amongst each other, hands pointing towards Scar, many of the people remembering seeing his insignia not long before. As the crowd began to flock towards him like a crazed mob, Nyx let out a sly grin. "Sorry Scar, but I need some alone time." He said with grin, and he disappeared into the oncoming crowd.
  17. Blood & Scale

    Vaedwyn and Auriel spent most of the day walking around Luftjall, taking in the sights. At first, she'd been quite excited to see one of the strongholds of the Riders. But the more she explored, the quieter she and Auriel became. Eventually their conversation fell into silence, and Vaedwyn trudged through the snow, listening to the howling of the wind. The snow was as deep as her waist, and she struggled with every step. As she walked, she saw great statues of both Dragons and Riders. None of them meant much to her although a couple of names flared memories from Agron's passing mentions. She walked through what she assumed was a large courtyard and noticed that one of the walls had broken away. Her curiosity peaked, Vaedwyn stepped through the large break in the wall. She could hear Auriel's yell in her mind but it was too late. Vaedwyn placed a foot out in front of her as she looked out across the mountains, and shrieked in surprise as her foot disappeared deep into the snow. The snow from all around and below her gave way, and suddenly she was tumbling down the side of the cliff. Something struck her in the ribs and knees. Something hard. She fell through an opening and hit the ground as a pile of snow fell on top of her. Are you alright?! Auriel yelled to her. I'm fine, just my pride... and my ribs... Vaedwyn growled, taking a cautious breath to see if her ribs were cracked. They were not, thankfully. She took another, deeper breath and then pulled herself free of the snow and stood up as best she could. She was surrounded on all sides by walls. Or rather, the ruins of walls. She'd fallen into a building? Maybe that was what she'd fallen through. There was certainly no roof to speak of. Vaedwyn... Auriel's call was quiet, yet urgent. She was upset. What is it? Vaedwyn asked, trying to squeeze between two sections of the wall closest to her. It was only upon leaving the building that she realised it was not a man-made structure at all. She turned, and to her horror realised she had been standing in the ribcage of a Dragon's gigantic skeleton. Words could not do justice the emotions that ran through her. She fell backwards into the snow and sat there for a while, as Auriel drifted down from the cliffside and landed with a heavy thump into the snow beside her. Neither said a word to one another for a long while. Vaedwyn's eyes slowly scanned back and forth, from the Dragon's tail to it's snout. It was far larger than Auriel or even Turiel. It must have been ancient, once. Come on, you'll get sick, we should go inside... Auriel said at last, standing. Please... Vaedwyn spoke softly through their link, and Auriel craned her neck down to catch Vaedwyn's eye. Please don't leave me... don't do anything that... I can't... I can't imagine my life without you... I just... I don't think I can... Tears started to flow and she wiped them from her cheeks quickly, so they would not freeze on her skin. I'm not going anywhere, little one, Auriel replied solemnly, giving Vaedwyn a very gentle push so that she fell back into the snow, causing Vaedwyn to smile, if only a little. They stood and Vaedwyn pulled herself into Auriel's saddle and she took off, bringing them back up to the cliff-side so that they could return. "I can't believe how cold it is here..." Vaedwyn growled irritably, she walked into the hall with Auriel by her side. Her dragon easily stepping through the enormous double doors. Slowly, she pushed closed the doors behind her, shutting out the cold as much as she could. After brushing off her cloak, she tried warming her hands by breathing hot air on them and approached Jona and the others. "Ah, good." Jona said as they neared. "Dinner will be ready soon. There's some bread on the table, that is if the Dwarf hasn't eaten it all." "Y'see anythin' nice, lass?" Agron asked. "What dae ye think of ma home?" Bradan ignored Jona's poke at his appetite, as his face had only just emerged from his tankard, his beard sopping wet with mead as he then leant forwards and grabbed another chunk of bread and stuffed it in his face, before leaning back on his chair with a content sigh. "Nice?" Vaedwyn parroted the word, unsure what to say. "Yes... I like the statues..." She said at last, smiling as best she could. "I...see." Agron said, a forlorn expression on his face. "Er...well that's guid, lass." He nodded. He sat himself down at the table and sipped from his tankard. Jona watched the exchange with little more than a raised brow to show his interest, but he refrained from remarking at all. Instead he sat himself down at the other side of the table and clasped his hands together in front of him. He eyed Vaedwyn. "Are you cold?" He asked. "Yes." Vaedwyn said, without hesitation. "I'm not... i'm not used to it being this cold. Outside the forest, it's quite cool, but I never thought it could get this cold..." Vaedwyn breathed into her hands once again and approached the table, her eyes scanning it for food. "Then I suggest you [i[warm yourself." Jona replied, as if this was the easiest thing in the world to do. Vaedwyn looked from Jona to Agron to see if she was missing a joke, she didn't want to be rude and she hadn't entirely gauged what kind of person Jona was. Eventually she nodded to herself, thinking she understood him, but then found herself apologising, "No, sorry, I don't understand. How do I do that? I don't see a fireplace..." "Agron, have you taught her nothing?" Jona turned his eye to his hold friend. Agron looked annoyed at the question. "I was teachin' 'er how tae survive, how tae fight an' hunt." He replied defensively. "And teaching her how to keep herself warm even in the coldest climates is not a survival skill, then?" Jona looked unimpressed, but he eventually smiled and turned back to Vaedwyn. "Agron might not have taught you, but you are an Elf, and you seem perfectly capable of using your brain. There are a number of solutions that are at your disposal. Can you truly see none?" "Well you said I was an Elf - you're implying I should use magic?" Vaedwyn frowned, "I thought magic was only to be used as a last resort... it can be dangerous." "Oh yes, absolutely." Jona said with a nod. "But short of a fireplace, or some blankets, extra clothing, or anything else. Well... wouldn't you say that magic is the last resort in this situation?" Jona unclasped his hands so that they were flat against one another. Then he began to rub his hands together. "It's the friction between our hands that create warmth when we rub them together. But as you likely know, doing so can be tiring after long periods, and serves only to warm your hands. However, consider what it is that creates the heat, and how it can be applied to the entire body." Jona stopped rubbing his hands and clasped them together once more. "Or, if you like, you can make the walk to the upper floors and retrieve some blankets." "Right..." Vaedwyn turned and looked at the stairs, they seemed to go on forever. She'd use magic if she could. First, she tried using fire. That was an immediate mistake, and she felt the panic as readily as Bradan's expression, when she caused a ball of fire to erupt in her scarred palms. Unable to immediately stop the ball of fire, Auriel had to knock the doors open and Vaedwyn was forced to throw it out into the snow, where it disappeared into a hole of it's own making and left steam coming from said hole for several minutes. A dozen or so more tries as she worked through a method to bring her heat safely. Each time it was a failure, and she was getting tired. Using so much magic was taxing, regardless of what she'd been told about an Elven Rider, it certainly didn't feel like she had endless energy. Not yet, anyway. She gasped as her next attempt took a heavy toll on her reserves, and quickly abandoned the magic, thankful that she had been taught about absolutes. She was certain that a few seconds maintaining that magic would have stolen her life. Eventually, she fell upon the idea that creating heat had nothing to do with friction at all. When blood is spilt it is hot from the body, and in many climates their bodies are able to adjust to an extent. So perhaps she could simply encourage her body to raise it's temperature. It took nearly an hour, but eventually Vaedwyn found a way. It wasn't ideal, and it certainly wasn't 'pretty' magic. But her now numb fingers were beginning to tingle and return to warmth at last. The rest of the table ate as they watched Vaedwyn, though none were more studious than Jona. After a short while he had abandoned his dinner altogether, and simply watched Vaedwyn with his chin resting gently above his clasped hands. When she had seemed to have resolved her dilemma he let out a disappointed sigh. "Very slow to come to conclusions which should be obvious." He said to her. "I shall have times of study added to your regime. You know little of the world, and that must be remedied with haste." "I--" Vaedwyn held her finger up to defend herself, but could find no hole in Jona's statement. It was true. Instead, she grabbed a piece of bread, kicked over a stool in anger and began the long march up the stairs. "She has a fierce temper." Jona said, rolling his eyes at the childish display. "Not unlike someone else I know." "Aye, well ye could have been a bit nicer about how ye went about it, ken?" Agron said as he picked the last remaining bits of meat around a lump of fat in his hand. "Ye have to mind she's far fae home, and well out o' her depth." "I was being soft." Jona replied. "The Elves would tear her to shreds the way she is now. You cannot teach her the same way as you were taught, or indeed how I was. Her kind weave magic as if it were second nature. Suros remember them as unstoppable fighters, but you know well that it is an offensive claim. Her people's strength lies in their great minds. She must learn to use hers." "Aye, fair enough." Agron said with a nod. He considered the bare bit of grizzle in his hand for a moment, trying to find any last scrap of meat. Then he gave up and popped the whole thing in his mouth and chewed on it. "So when does she start?" Agron asked "Tonight, of course." Jona replied. "We will require absolute privacy." Jona turned to Auriel. "Even from you I'm afraid." Auriel felt Jona's presence touching the barrier on her mind, and she lowered it enough to allow them to speak. I fail to understand the need for privacy, there are no secrets between Vaedwyn and I. Auriel snorted, a plume of smoke wafted through the hall, and smothered Jona for a moment before passing through him and along the hall. My apologies, Auriel added, her tone not entirely genuine. I would not expect her to hide my teachings from you Jona replied calmly. However, some of her lessons will require her to rely solely on herself. Your presence gives her strength, in so many ways, and I would not have that. She must grow strong on her own, so that the two of you can be even stronger together. Besides, I think you will be kept busy anyway. Jona turned his head towards Turiel. Dragons train dragons. That has always been the way. I may be elsewhere, Arndwyn, but I am ever close. A growl rumbled deep in Auriel's throat. You are her teacher, and she your student, but she is still a Rider. She is not your chambermaid or cook. Solitude is a feeble excuse for poor manners. Auriel stood and turned for the stairs. That one also has a fierce temper Turiel's voice said to Jona. Auriel is typical of a young one. They always think they know best. Not your concern, however. Thinking oneself right is not a trait exclusive to the young, Auriel retorted, chuffing. Then she started up the stairs, and before she broke contact with Jona, she added, I don't like you. With that said, Auriel disappeared upstairs. Jona said out loud with a smile. "Rather, it is yours, Turiel." He got up from the table and retrieved some of the left over food and put it on a plate. "I will go make amends." He said with a short bow. Then he too made his way up the stairs. He travelled a great height before he found Vaedwyn and stopped at the threshold of the room she was in. "May I come in?" He asked. "What do you want?" Vaedwyn asked coolly, stroking Auriel's muzzle. "To talk, for now." Jona asked, and he waited at the threshold. "I brought you some more food. I'm sure you are likely hungry after all that." "What do you want to talk about?" Vaedwyn asked, looking over to him. She nodded at the table beside the bed she was sat on, indicating where he could put the food. Then she returned her focus to stroking Auriel's snout, looking up at her large amber eyes as they stared back at her own. "Anything you like." Jona replied and he entered, placing the plate of food down. "Perhaps you could tell me of yourself, your thoughts and fears. Or perhaps you have questions for me. I would be happy to answer them all, it has been a long time since I have had new friends. I do hope that we become such." Vaedwyn glanced at Jona, assessing him quietly and without expression. Something she had yet to realise she was rather good at doing, and was unsurprising as silent judgement was a trick most often used by most Elves. She took a deep breath and let it out, ignoring his last few words, and focusing on his request instead. "I came from a small village of misfits and outcasts," Vaedwyn began, "I spent my life in solitude, with few friends, abandoned by my parents, raised by an Elder of the village." She paused for a moment, "I spent my days learning to hunt, to speak with the animals, hoping that one day I would see the rest of the world. I got my wish - a Rider burnt down my village. He has probably killed everyone I know... I don't have many fears any more." She paused again, turning to face Jona, "Because most of them have already come true." Jona did not respond too quickly. Instead he simply nodded, and his expression became deeply somber, which seemed more of a match to his eyes, which had always portrayed little more than pain and sorrow. "Truly I know your pain, that of grave loss." He said finally. "I apologise if I have come across as unwilling to help you. My intention was to see your capabilities, and yet I was quick to offer unwanted criticism, and offered little in encouragement. It has been a long time since I have even tried to teach another, and when I saw an Elf... I presumed too much from such a thing." Jona found himself a seat and sat down. "I should know better, after all." He raised his hand to his ear. "Appearances can be most deceptive, and offer little of the soul inside." He was silent for a moment, then he looked up at Vaedwyn. "Apologies, please go on." "I can tell." Vaedwyn nodded, "I don't know what proper Elves are like... but I know when I look upon an 'Unseen'." Vaedwyn spoke the Elvish word for an Elf often seen as undesirable, as she looked over Jona, "I don't expect you to hold my hand, y'know? But I came here because I needed help. I don't need to be treated like a child, even if I am young, I know I am..." “I will ensure that I do not.” Jona replied. “Yet you must also understand that my actions are not always as they appear. Throughout your training I will do and say terrible things, things that may seem exceptionally cruel. It is not who I am to do such things. It will… pain me terribly. Yet it is something that must be done, and I have chosen to take responsibility for it, to enact suffering upon you that Agron cannot do, for he fears that you will hate him for it.” Jona looked sad at the mention of his friend. “He looks to you like a daughter. He has not said as much but his eyes are very telling. He could never do what is necessary and so I have chosen to do it in his stead.” Jona held his hands out in front of him in a motion of submission to her, like a beggar. “It is my wish that we share with one another, and become true friends. This is important to me, for when we are finished, you may very well hate me. And I would not blame you for it, either.” "I don't think I could hate you, not really." Vaedwyn shook her head and sighed, "There is only one person I really hate, and I won't be able to hold a grudge for very long, if you can take me down the next path that will ultimately lead me to stopping him." “I hope that you do not…” Jona said. “…but I fear that you will. For the essence of your training lies in protecting your mind from Aemon. In order to do that I will have to attack your mind… quite relentlessly. I will not hold back, I will rake at your thoughts with all the strength I can muster, for Aemon will not show you mercy, and thus I cannot either.” Jona turned to Auriel. “And that is why you cannot be present, great one. I fear you would seek to shield her, as is your nature. But to do so would only serve to endanger you both in the times to come.” "He's right." Vaedwyn muttered, and her hand grazed the air as Auriel pulled her head back out of her touch. Auriel's head craned up and then she turned and left in silence. "Auriel knows you are too, but... she says that doesn't mean she has to be happy about it." Vaedwyn let a laugh escape and she reached for her food. Again, he was right, she was starving hungry.
  18. Blood & Scale

    Shadows sifting through rays of light. They moved through the twilight, a muffled noise echoing around them. The sound of heavy boots marching across stone. The figure approached a tall flight of stairs, but dared not ascend a single step. They knelt before them, prostrating themselves. Their body formless, little more than smoke and shadow. They raised their head, their mouth moving, but their words were muted and indistinct. A hand raised, cutting them short. They recoiled as a ferocious roar knocked them onto their back, a terrible screeching cry that took the warmth from their bones. They pulled themselves back onto their knees and lowered their head before the accuser. Shadow seemed to bleed from this figure, dripping down the steps of the long staircase and pooling around the one who knelt. Pain. The air was drawn from their lungs, their skin was on fire, their eyes were blind, their thoughts were nothing but noise and they begged for death, and were denied. But then relief. Something stopped it long before it's time. The dark figure stood atop the flight of stairs turned and looked directly at her. It's eyes were darker than the shadows that formed it's body, and they were looking right through her. She was screaming, running. But she couldn't get away. It knew her. Intimately. "--like you--" His words were mocking, his voice a rumbling of thunder. Vaedwyn woke screaming, clawing at her bedsheets in the darkness. She felt a presence in her mind. --dream! It's just a dream, Vaedwyn, wake up!! Auriel was yelling in her mind. Vaedwyn finally slumped over and clutched at her face. She was sweating profusely, her bedsheets were damp and she felt like she'd not slept a wink during the night. She'd never had a nightmare so vivid before. Tell me again, Auriel, or else i'll think i'm still dreaming, She pulled herself out of bed and started to wash. It was, just a dream, little one, Auriel repeated, then paused, Are you up, then? She asked gingerly. I suppose I am, Vaedwyn muttered, taking a deep breath and letting it out with a sigh. She could see a glimmer of orange light from the lamps outside their room. There was no indication of time, but it didn't matter, she wasn't going back to sleep after that. Everyone's still asleep, will you come for a walk with me? Auriel asked. A walk? Where? Vaedwyn asked, looking to the back of the room. Auriel lifted her head from the pile of hay that was her bed - a considerably smaller bed than before now she'd grown - and nodded to her. I'll show you, come. Is it much further?! Vaedwyn asked. She could think of no time where she was more thankful for the link between a Rider and their Dragon than now. She was out of breath and her legs were on fire. They'd been walking for hours. And by walking, according to Auriel, that meant scaling up a mountain. Her Dragon seemed to do so with little issue, her claws raking into the stone and scaling it with little difficulty. However, despite Vaedwyn's agility and endurance, even as an Elf, she was reaching her limit. Twice she'd almost tumbled down the side of the mountain only to be snatched by Auriel's tail and placed back up against the rock face. Not much! Auriel replied. She'd said that a half dozen times already. I'm exhausted! Vaedwyn heaved herself up onto a boulder and then had to quickly scramble up onto the next ledge as the boulder gave way. As it tumbled down the side of the mountain, Vaedwyn looked down and realised she could no longer see the entrance to Baile. They were up so high that she thought if she reached up she could touch the clouds. I think i'm afraid of heights, She added. Nonsense! Auriel laughed. You won't be laughing when i'm sick on you... Vaedwyn grumbled. Come on, slow poke! Auriel replied chuckling, and then suddenly she disappeared. Auriel?! Vaedwyn called. There was no response. She could still feel the presence of her dragon, but there was silence. She took a deep breath, readied herself once more, and leapt up and grabbed the next ridge, and to her surprise, a pair of hands grabbed her around the wrists and pulled her up onto a relatively flat surface. Vaedwyn thanked the Dwarf who nodded to her, muttered a guttural 'Vargr' with a smile, and rejoined his comrade beside Auriel. The two Dwarves were fussing about Auriel who was stood, watching them disappearing beneath her, fastening buckles and clasps as she stretched and adjusted her wings and shoulders and moved her legs when they requested. "What is that?!" Vaedwyn asked aloud, her eyebrows raising in surprise. "Is ah Dragon saddle, Rider," One of the Dwarves replied, making the final adjustments, "Was requested by yeh teach." "Oh, but..." Vaedwyn looked around them. The ridge they were stood upon stretched out around the side of the mountain and a long stone platform had been built into the side like some kind of runway. "What are you...?" Vaedwyn frowned, and turned her attention to the saddle. "You can't possibly think..." It's time, Auriel replied, confirming. You are my Rider, I your Dragon. We must fly together. B-but we're not even ready?! Vaedwyn shook her head, You've barely reached maturity, I can't see out my left eye! We'll adjust, Auriel raised her head and lowered her body, Get on. I... I don't think-- --Vaedwyn, Auriel interrupted her, Do not let fear rule you. You are the bravest person I know. I know this, because we are one now. There are no secrets between us. You fear many things, but you have not let them stop you coming this far. That is true bravery. I have never flown before, and yet... it calls to me. I must... Vaedwyn hesitated, but reached out and grabbed the edge of the saddle, I feel it too, She said, and pulled herself on. We weren't meant for the ground. We can be free of it! Auriel dug her claws into the ground, and spread her wings. The Dwarves ran back out of the way. A strong wind kicked up and the Dwarves pressed themselves against the side of the mountain, but Auriel stepped out and weathered it, the freezing cold air felt bracing against Vaedwyn's skin, and cast her long silver hair behind her. We can be free... Vaedwyn repeated, staring at the ground far below them. The trees little more than tiny green dots. You have but to ask it of me!! Auriel yelled excitedly, craning her neck around so that one large, glassy amber eye gazed upon her Rider. Vaedwyn stared back at her, and for a moment, it was as though she was staring into her true self. A wry grin spread across her face, and it was as though her demons could not touch her. Not here. "FLY!!" She yelled at the top of her lungs, and Auriel roared triumphantly and leapt from the mountain. Vaedwyn's scream drowned out the howl of the wind around them as she clutched on for dear life. She could feel the wind trying to pull her straight out of the saddle. She clutched onto the handles of the saddle until her knuckles were white, and quickly readjusted herself so her feet tucked into the holds and she no longer felt as though she were going to fly out. It was only when she overcame her immediate fear of falling out of the saddle, that she realised Auriel had closed her wings, and they were plummeting towards the ground like a bolt from a crossbow. Auriel? Vaedwyn asked nervously, as the ground came rushing up towards them. Auriel?! She yelled. NOT YET! Auriel yelled back at her. Vaedwyn gripped tightly to the saddle and pulled herself in, and then suddenly something strange happened. As the trees turned from indistinct green blots, and the details of the ground below came into being, Vaedwyn realised she never wanted to touch it again. She was no longer a creature of the earth. Being there was only a temporary state, one she could not maintain. A weight was lifted from her shoulders and she screamed, not from fear or pain, but for joy. Vaedwyn whooped and hollered, she thought that she saw, just for a moment, a smile trace the edge's of Auriel's lips. Then her partner spread her wings in the twilight of the dawn, as the fingers of the sun grasped and gripped the earth and began to pull itself across the landscape. The sudden lift from Auriel's outstretched wings pulled them from the ground at the last second, dust dirt and pebbles flew across the ground beneath them as Vaedwyn marvelled at their speed. Trees flickered past like bolts of green lightning. Within seconds they had crossed the valley and with a single mighty beat of Auriel's wings they lifted up into the mountains and then dived back down into another valley and made a beeline for the lake ahead of them. "This is amazing!" Vaedwyn yelled, leaning back on the saddle. "Are you happy?!" She asked. I could ask to be nowhere else! Auriel replied, and suddenly she darted down towards the water and Vaedwyn was forced to grab onto the saddle once more. Auriel tucked her wings into her body and they dropped into the water with an almighty crash. Vaedwyn almost gasped as the water was freezing, but fought the instinct and blinked until she could see. Auriel darted through the water as easily as she had flown through the air. Fish spooked and swam in every direction to avoid the alien invader. Then as quickly as she had entered it, she swam for the surface and breached, spreading her wings and beating them until she gained enough lift to soar back up into the warmth of the early morning sun. Auriel and Vaedwyn flew for several hours, tracing the lines of the mountains and exploring everything the area had to offer. When Auriel told her it was time for them to return to Baile, Vaedwyn sighed and nodded with a smile still touching her lips. Auriel took them higher and higher until they must have seemed like a wisp of black smoke rising into the heavens. Vaedwyn realised she was taking them to the tip of the mountain, that had been hollowed out, but as they reached it, she realised there was no entry. So it was magic. Yes indeed, the Dwarves use an illusion to protect themselves, Auriel confirmed. But then, couldn't Aemon and his lieutenants destroy Baile if they knew about it? Vaedwyn asked. Possibly, possibly not. I don't pretend to know what their mages have done, all I know is we will be able to enter. And as she finished speaking, they approached the tip and her talons sank into the mountain, disappearing. Vaedwyn watched as the snowy peak smothered her and as her head disappeared inside, she saw Baile laid out below her. But something was wrong. As they slowly circled down to the city floor, a large procession of soldiers marched up to meet them, and with them, Agron. Vaedwyn leapt from Auriel and landed on the ground before them and stood to her full height, and she saw reflected in the eyes of the Dwarves, how she appeared to them. Her hair was windswept and as wild and unknown as her eyes, her movements were fluid and quick, but purposeful. She realised then, who she was, and she had many to thank for that. Mogwé, Agron, Auriel, Turiel, Bradan, Eirnin and all the Dwarves and so many more yet to thank. She had become who she had always intended to be, but never knew. "Sorry we've been gone for so long," Vaedwyn nodded to Agron, "What's wrong?" She asked, looking at the Dwarven soldiers who remained silent. "Best ye see for yersel', lass." Agron said gravely. He held his hands behind his back and stood aside so that Vaedwyn could go ahead of him. "Alright..." Vaedwyn frowned, looking back at Auriel who only nodded at her. She turned and moved at a quick pace, flanked by the Dwarves, with Agron beside her and Auriel bringing up the rear. She reached the top of the steps which led directly to the palace, but before she could enter the main doors, she heard something off to one side. A side path off to the right. She turned and looked to her comrades for explanation but none replied. She went with her instinct and followed the winding path until it fanned out into an enormous courtyard with a large white ash tree with pink blossoms at it's head. Thousands of Dwarves stood on either side of the courtyard, and the rumbling of discussion died down into silence. Vaedwyn couldn't quite believe what she was looking at. She saw King Eirnin stood before the white ash tree, flanked on either side by the Clan Lords, including Bradan, and once more she turned back to Agron for explanation. "Go on." Agron said with a soft chuckle, and he shoved Vaedwyn lightly. "This is yer problem, lass, no mine. Deal wi' it however ye must." Hesitantly, Vaedwyn stepped forwards. Each step she took, she looked at the faces of the Dwarves as she passed them. In some, she still sensed distrust. But there was no animosity as there had been when they'd first arrived. She felt safe walking amongst them. Many of them were friends, people who had offered her advice, kind words, or better still, words that had been hard to swallow, yet were for her benefit. A confused, lop-sided smile started to spread across her face, and moments later, she heard a noise behind her. She turned to see one of the Dwarves, a young girl, clapping. Then, more joined in. And more. And more. Until thousands were clapping and cheering and shouting her name. Vaedwyn! Vaedwyn! Vaedwyn! By the time she reached the King, the deafening crowd began to silence itself at the King's request, and Vaedwyn bowed to the King out of respect. Eirnin smiled warmly to her and as Eirnin ushered Agron, Turiel and Auriel to join Vaedwyn at the front, Vaedwyn glanced to Bradan who gave her a quick wink, before resuming his composure. Agron rolled his eyes as he came to stand with Vaedwyn, and was surprised when Turiel nudged him from behind, making him trip and nearly fall over. The dragon made a strange, rhythmic noise in his throat that sounded an awful lot like laughter, and then he turned to Vaedwyn and nodded to her. King Eirnin cleared his throat and stepped forward, looking at Vaedwyn, but addressing everyone present. His voice was loud and clear, and carried across the courtyard without issue. "We've lived in an age o' silence!" He let his words echo around the courtyard before continuing, "But we'll be silent no longer! Aemon's choked the voices o' tha free peoples o' Suros fer far too long, an' we've been deaf to their cries! But we'll be deaf no longer! The age o' wonder is before us..." Eirnin paused and motioned to Bradan who stepped forwards, he was holding a sack of red cloth. "In ages past, our ancestors held moot to honour our allies. Those warriors an' scholars what did us a great honour." Eirnin ushered Bradan forwards and grabbed hold of the edge of the red cloth, "But only those strong enough t'accept the mark o' the Dwarf can be considered kin! Will ye?!" And Eirnin pulled the red cloth from the bundle in Bradan's hands, and she saw a branding iron with a symbol of a hammer, the head facing down. She thought carefully on what Agron had told her. About making promises. She would have to be mindful with her words, but giving a part of herself to the peoples of Suros seemed the right thing to do. "I will." Vaedwyn nodded, "I WILL!!" She yelled, and the crowd cheered. Eirnin took the branding iron and asked Vaedwyn to lower her shirt so that her lower neck was exposed, he turned and held out the branding iron for one of the Clan Lords, the leader of the Clan Conmara. The Dwarf stepped forwards and held the branding iron between his hands and began speaking in Elvish, a great long string of words spoken so quickly, and with hushed tones that she only heard a number of words. But the phrasing was inoffensive, the gist being 'Hammer of Suros', it was not a binding incantation. She heard words of healing muttered over the brand, and then the dwarf quickly released it and when Eirnin faced her again, it was as hot as the sword she had picked up to defend herself just days ago. The reminder caused her to look to her palms once more. "Prepare yehself!" Eirnin called out, as Vaedwyn knelt and lifted her head back. Eirnin positioned the brand before her neck, between her collarbones and then pressed it into her skin. Vaedwyn grit her teeth, the sensation of burning made her want to recoil or cry out, but she couldn't. She remained knelt before the King until he lifted the brand from her and to her surprise, he then knelt and lifted the brand in turn. "You are Dwarf kin, Vaedwyn of Elflands! Select your brother, and know that I, Eirnin, King of Dwarves do give yeh my family as yeh own, should yeh want it." He pulled down his shirt to offer his own skin. Vaedwyn didn't know what to say, or how to act. She wanted to turn to Agron for help, but realised almost immediately that this was something she had to choose for herself. "Your offer is greatly appreciated, King Eirnin!" She replied loudly, so that all could hear, "And I would accept you as a great honour, but there is one other, who I would call brother..." King Eirnin nodded with a smile, and Vaedwyn turned to look to Bradan, who immediately dropped the branding cushion in surprise. "M-me?!" Bradan stuttered, "A-Ah don' know what t'say, girl..." He looked like he was getting ready to cry and so Vaedwyn smiled and quickly grabbed his hand. "A-Aye, o'course ah want t'be yeh kin, yeh are in all bu'name already..." He knelt before her and pulled his shirt down and braced himself. Vaedwyn held the brand with the head of the hammer facing down, just as the King had done, and then she hesitated. She didn't want to hurt Bradan, regardless of tradition. But Bradan had already noticed, and quickly pushed himself into the brand. His face turned red as he weathered the pain and then Vaedwyn quickly pulled away. The pain was already diminishing and when she looked down she saw that the hammer of the brand was not a burn at all, but metal. It was already cool to the touch, it was as though someone had forged a hammer into her very skin. Bradan stood, and she saw the matching hammer on his own body. He offered her his hand, and she threw herself into his arms, hugging him. "So be it!" King Eirnin called out, "Vaedwyn, o' Clan O'Ruairc, Vargr, Rider of Auriel, the Obsidian Queen!" Not bad, hm? Auriel gave Turiel a playful shove with her shoulder. Not bad, indeed. Turiel replied, a note of amusement in his voice. But why don't you get back to me once you have songs written in your honour. Turiel shoved her back, showing that their earlier altercation was resolved. "Enough o' that." Agron said out loud to Turiel. "Yer heid's awready the biggest yin in the room, literally." Auriel made a snort sound that sent Vaedwyn into fits of laughter, and a number of the Dwarves joined in, adding cheering yells to Turiel and Auriel both. It seems old wounds are healing... Auriel mused. About time, Vaedwyn nodded, stroking Auriel on her flank. The cheering from the dwarves didn't seem to be stopping any time soon, Vaedwyn was content to remain there for a while longer, but then she felt a hand on her shoulder and Agron nodded to follow her. Bradan gave her a pat on the back and joined in the celebrations as Auriel and Turiel watched them leave, entering a small room at the back of the courtyard. Inside, the room was fairly bare save for a small candle burning on a table, and a cloth-wrapped bundle sat on the table beside it. "That was... something." Vaedwyn said, laughing. "Mm... that it was." Agron said with a nod. "I wis wrong about aw this, I thought... I thought it'd be a poor decision ye'd make. But... ye've gave them hope. Got them backin' yer corner... an' that's no small thing. Ye've done well, lass." "It's a start, at least." Vaedwyn nodded, then quickly sat up on the table, her hand traced below her neck where the hammer lay in her skin, "What now?" She asked. "Well, I said we'd stay here until ye can fly...and now ye can." Agron said, looking extremely proud. "So...we'll be leaving. Going into the heart of Nordúr to Luftjall, where ye'll be trained by someone who's been waitin' for ye. It'll be quite different fae all o' this, so I suggest ye drink it in while ye still can." Vaedwyn looked back, she knew Auriel was outside, she could feel her presence in her mind, but she didn't need to discuss this with her to know her feelings on it as much as her own, "We're ready to leave now." She said at last, "We have to continue my training. I have to get stronger, or i'll never be able to stand against Aemon." "Aye, true enough." Agron said. "But dinnae ye rush yersel'. Ye've made friends here, they deserve tae see ye off. Luftjall...once upon a time it was a beacon fer ma people, the true home tae Riders in Nordúr. But it's a ruin now, lass. We'll be alone up there, which is why it's the best place for yer trainin'." "No tha' alone!" Bradan barked, banging his fist on the door frame to signal his entrance, "I'd fancy comin' along, if yeh'd have me? Ah'm ah great warrior, an' ah know ah have the blueprint fer ah Rider's blade in 'ere," He tapped his head with his knuckles, "An' besides, ah've ah score t'settle..." "Yer more than welcome tae." Agron replied with a grin. "But I warn ye, once yer wi' us, yer wi' us until the end. Vaedwyn must train alone at oor destination, but ye once asked me where the fight was in this age. It's time ye knew." "There's naught fer m'here now," Bradan replied, folding his arms, "Ah'll stay here an' drink an' bicker wi' the Clans, or maybe ah can help yeh on yeh gran' adventure, learn a few thins an' wi' luck shove m'boot up Aemon's arse. That'd suit, yeah." "That'd suit us jus' fine, lad!" Agron said with a hearty laugh, and he clasped Bradan's hand in his own with a firm grip. "But have ye thought aboot this clearly, short arse? We'll no be travellin' on donkeys y'ken. Never seen a Dwarf fly, an' I think Turiel'd sooner paint his scales pink than have ye on his back. Proud, y'see?" "Well ah suppose ah'll jog, so?" Bradan grinned at Agron. Vaedwyn turned her attention to something outside and Bradan turned to look at her. "Wha's it, girl?" "Auriel says, 'I would allow none to ride me but Vaedwyn herself.'" She paused, then continued, "She says, 'Neither Agron nor a King of Dwarves may know my speed." "Well ahm shit outta luck..." Bradan bit his lip. "However," Vaedwyn continued, with a smile, "Seeing as how you're kin to my Rider..." "Ah thas grand, that." Bradan choked back a tear and then he remembered, "Oi!" He poked Agron, "Have yeh not given 'er the present yet?!" "Nah no yet." Agron confessed. "Been too busy flappin' oor gums, ken?" He gestured towards the wrapped cloth on the table. "Go ahead, lass. Have a look fer yersel'." Vaedwyn frowned and walked up to the table and pulled the cloth covering away. Beneath, was a set of beautiful plate armour. Despite it's strength, it felt very light, and was designed between the main armour pieces to look like scales. Vaedwyn smiled appreciatively and then noted the long black cloak beneath the armour. She immediately began to change, and Bradan marched out, muttering, "Ever in'a state o' undress, is no bloody right..." Vaedwyn chuckled at Bradan's embarrassment. After a few minutes of figuring everything out, she tied the last armour pieces on her back and then the final pieces - her forearms. "Would you?" She asked, holding them up to Agron. "Certainly." Agron said as he stepped over and started working at the fastenings. There was a moment of silence as he did so, and there was an air about Agron like he had something he wanted to say, but he just couldn't find the words. "What?" Vaedwyn frowned at him. "Aw, lass..." He said with a sigh. "...I jus' feel like I failed ye. A kept ye away when I should ha'e kept ye close. Ye could ha'e' that's ma fault. I told ye tae stay in that house, I left ye there like a bloody fool. I...I'm just, I'm so sorry." "Thanks," Vaedwyn pulled her arms back, and reached over for the cloak. She pulled it around her shoulders, fastening it to her armour with the clasps and then sighed, looking back to Agron, "Things happen, Agron. You were never going to be able to protect me. I chose this life, as much as it chose me. The scars I carry, i'm responsible for, and i'd have far worse to show for it if not for you. I owe you a lot." She reached out and grasped Agron's shoulder and gave it a squeeze before hugging into him. A minute passed and she heard Bradan clear his throat. "They're waitin' fe'yeh," Bradan muttered, "Sorry." "Alright!" Vaedwyn took a deep breath and stepped back, "It's time to leave Baile. Agron, Bradan, Auriel and Turiel, I know I can trust you with my life, but more than that, I hope you can trust me with the fate of Suros, I won't let you down. That's a promise I will keep, no matter the cost." She nodded to Agron, then turned and walked back out into the light of the courtyard, to the sound of trumpets and the cheering of the Dwarves that once cursed her name.
  19. Blood & Scale

    Vaedwyn walked across the room, stopped at the wall, turned and walked back to the other side. She'd been pacing for a while now. Still no word from Agron or Turiel. She wanted to run after them and help. She was worried they were in danger, but Auriel refused to let her leave Moira's home. She also had Aoife to take care of. The young girl remained sat at the table, her little legs kicking over the side of the chair as she stared at the ground. Vaedwyn couldn't look at her. Every time she did, she started to well up with tears. She saw a lot of herself in Aoife. A young girl who had lost her mother. Mogwé was the only family she'd ever known, though she knew she was not her birth mother. She had been raised by the Elder, and saw no difference between the two. Now Aoife had been touched by Aemon's darkness, just as she had. Vaedwyn turned and walked back to the other side of the room once again, when she heard a quiet but distinct sound. Crying. The muted sobbing stopped Vaedwyn's pacing, and she turned to look at Aoife. The young girl was hunched over, wiping furiously at her face. Vaedwyn walked up to her and knelt beside her, putting her hand on the little girl's hand and gently lowering it from her face. "You don't need to hide it." "A-Ah don't want t'c-cry..." Aoife stuttered, trembling. "Sometimes its better to cry, Aoife." Vaedwyn rubbed the girl's hand gingerly. "M-Me mammy s-said it'd b-be awrigh'," The tears flowed freely down her cheeks and Vaedwyn clenched her jaw, trying to stay strong for her, "Bu' e' wasn', it were horrible." Vaedwyn nodded quietly and pulled Aoife into a hug, and the girl erupted into sobbing, wailing for her mother. They stayed like that for a long while until Aoife's sobs turned into quiet murmurs and eventually fell silent. Soon after, she straightened up and wiped her eyes, "Yeh tha Vargr, ain'tcha?" "Y-yeah, I guess..." Vaedwyn muttered, letting out a short sigh. "Didja see tha' 'orrid fella hurt me mammy at 'er work?" Aoife asked, expectation in her voice. "It's not..." Vaedwyn started, but trailed off, "I can't see everything, Aoife. Riders watch over things, they look after as many people as they can." "Oh... thas' why yeh couldn't save me mammy...." Aoife whispered, and bit at her thumb nail. Vaedwyn's shoulders shook as she tried to stay strong for the little girl. She could tell her it was alright to cry, but that was a luxury she couldn't afford for herself. Not right now. But as she stood there, staring at the girl, something she'd said suddenly came to the forefront of her mind. "Did you say the one you hurt your mother... did you say he hurt her at your mother's work?" Vaedwyn asked, frowning. Aoife nodded silently. "Your mother was a blacksmith, wasn't she?" Again, Aoife nodded. Vaedwyn gave the little girl a squeeze on the shoulder, "Thank you, Aoife..." Her words were feeble and ineffective, but she knew there was little she could say to help right now. Vaedwyn stood and let out a deep breath before asking if Auriel had been listening. Yes, of course, Auriel confirmed. And it's a bad idea. Hear me out, Vaedwyn replied irritably. We have nothing from this place but a couple of bodies, what if the doppelganger left some clue behind that would reveal its motivations, or maybe something that could directly link Clan Duinn to Moira's death? Isn't that worth knowing? Vaedwyn could feel an uncharacteristic indecisiveness to Auriel's thoughts. ... It's still a bad idea. She replied, eventually. Agron and Turiel are dealing with who-knows-what, and we've been given charge of Aoife. Well we don't even know where Moira's smithy is, but Aoife could show us, then I could check inside while you look after her? Vaedwyn reasoned with her partner, and she felt Auriel weighing her options. Please, I have to do something to help, Auriel. Don't you want to do something too? Of course I do! Auriel growled from outside the house, but then moved away, and the orange glow of lamp light shone into the room once more. Fine, but let's hurry. "It's down there..." Aoife pointed down the road. Past the rows of houses, across a bridge, there was a large open-walled blacksmith's positioned beside a small waterfall that turned a wheel, and operated a number of functions. It seemed like a perfect location. Vaedwyn was yet again impressed by the ingenuity of the Dwarves. She couldn't see anything wrong with the smithy from here, she had to get closer, look around inside. She turned to check on Aoife, who looked understandably uncomfortable. She hadn't wanted to take the young girl as far as here but they'd been unable to find the smithy without her help. Admittedly she hadn't been many places, but Baile was far larger than her own home town. She gave Aoife a little squeeze on the shoulder, and asked her to stay. The girl didn't need to be back there any time soon. If that was where it happened, it wasn't a place of good memories any more. Vaedwyn touched the pommel of the sword Bradan had given her, hoping it would imbue her with something. What, she didn't know. Courage, perhaps. The wisdom to find something of use. Please, be careful, Auriel reminded her. You be careful. Vaedwyn retorted, and walked over the bridge, leaving them behind. Being this close to the waterfall truly brought home just how powerful a thing it was. She felt the cool spray dancing across her skin even though she was a stone's throw away from it. As she reached the other side of the bridge, she wandered over to the wall-less smithy, it's roof supported by dozens of enormous stone columns. At first, nothing seemed amiss. She saw tools out, the forge was still hot. A number of projects were laid out, waiting for their master to return. Then Vaedwyn noticed something about a large stone container full of water. The water itself was incredibly dark. Vaedwyn pulled her sleeve back and dipped her hand into the cold water, and when she pulled it out, it came out red. She looked at the ground around the container, and saw pink splotches dotted all around. Reluctantly, Vaedwyn rolled her sleeve all the way up her arm and reached back into the container. It was deep. The blood-rich water was almost at her shoulder when her fingers scraped the bottom. Slowly, carefully, she ran her fingers across the stone, searching. After a minute, she felt something tap off the side of her forefinger. She reached back to grab it and before she could fish it out of the water she felt the most intense panic she'd ever felt in her life. Vaedwyn opened her mouth to call to Auriel, but a hand grabbed her hair and plunged her head underwater. She was drowning. She felt white hot pain as she struggled to stop the water from entering her lungs, but they were on fire. She needed air. She struggled, kicking out as her hands desperately sought the edges of the container. At last, she found purchase on the other side and with all her strength, she kicked back and hit something hard. Suddenly, the pressure on her head was no more and she yanked it back out of the water, gasping for air and choking, coughing up bloody-water. Vaedwyn whirled around, drawing her sword, and in the same instant she saw Auriel across the bridge. Her dragon laid on her side, she wasn't moving. Boiling anger rose up from deep within her. She drew her sword and turned on her attacker. The figure before her was cloaked in black, a white mask with black eyes obscured their face. Whoever they were, it didn't matter. Vaedwyn charged, and despite her anger, she remembered her lessons. She was careful not to overextend herself, her form was as close to perfect as she'd ever managed. She started to raise her blade to land her first blow, then her enemy spoke one word. "Heat." Vaedwyn screamed and dropped her sword in surprise. As the sword clattered to the ground, she saw it was white-hot. The palms of her hands were horribly burnt and blistered. It didn't matter. She reached over her shoulder, pulling the bow from her back but before she could nock an arrow, she felt a presence in her mind. But it was not Auriel. No, this was something alien and unwelcome. She panicked, she knew she had to protect herself, but she wasn't sure how. She tried to block out her thoughts, to guard them from the interloper, but she couldn't stop it. The walls she rose were as brittle as old clay, knocked down as barely more than annoyance. As she tried to raise a defence, the pain increased. She could feel the probing tendrils of the interloper seeking out every piece of information, and then she realised what it was looking for. It wanted to find her true name. Vaedwyn had yet to learn her true name, but the thought that this enemy could learn enough to guess it terrified her. She redoubled her efforts to defend herself, but the pain forced her to her knees. Don't fight it. The voice echoed around her mind. The more you fight, the more it will hurt. The words reverberated around inside her head until she was no longer sure if they were the interloper's or her own thoughts, telling her to give in. She screamed in pain and frustration and then suddenly the tendrils of the interloper's mind withdrew from her, leaving the whole world spinning. Vaedwyn fell to the ground, and emptied the contents of her stomach. She couldn't even sit upright, let alone stand. "You are weak." The one behind the mask growled, their voice feminine but stern. "If not for Agron and Turiel, you would be dead." She spoke their names with as much familiarity as she would have herself. Vaedwyn felt shame, for being unable to fight this enemy. For being unable to protect her thoughts. "You don't even know your own name." "Please don't hurt Aoife..." Vaedwyn pleaded. As if on command, Vaedwyn looked up to see the young girl stood beside her attacker. "Run, Aoife... run..." "I have no reason to harm her." She replied, looking down at the girl, "Her mother was an inevitable casualty." "Don't talk about her like that..." Vaedwyn growled, trying to pull herself to her feet. The masked woman knelt down and picked up Aoife and held her in their hands, "Come with me now. Command your dragon to do likewise, and i'll leave them in peace." Vaedwyn shook her head, she wanted to scream out for Agron, Turiel, Bradan, anyone. But no-one was coming. She was alone, even Auriel was unable to help her. Vaedwyn dropped her head to the floor, and touched her forehead to the cold stone in defeat. "Good." The masked woman nodded, "I'll wake your dragon." As she turned away, Vaedwyn pulled her head from the ground and reached for her sword. The weapon was still white-hot, but she picked it up regardless, screaming in pain as she yanked herself up from the ground and charged. The masked woman whirled back on herself in shock. Unable to draw her blade in time, the masked woman blocked with the only thing she had. Aoife. She raised the little girl into the path of the attack, and Vaedwyn screeched in agony as her blade struck the girl in the shoulder, killing her instantly. Vaedwyn tumbled forwards as the masked woman drew her sword. She hit the ground, rolled across the floor, and as she came to a stop she turned and tried to get to her feet, the sword still clutched in her hands. The masked woman struck only twice. The first attack knocked the blade from Vaedwyn's hands, and the second sliced up the left-hand side of her face and she crumpled to the floor. The masked woman sheathed her blade but as she reached forwards to grab Vaedwyn she yelled in pain and her knee buckled, forcing her to kneel. She clutched at her head as though she was in terrible agony, "No!" She roared, "I had to!!" Then she turned and fled, leaving Vaedwyn lying on the cold stone floor. The deep gash in her face bleeding profusely, the blade had taken the use of her left eye. Vaedwyn slowly turned her head to the side, and saw Aoife's lifeless corpse beside her. Pain and despair were the last things she felt, she closed her one remaining good eye and let darkness take her. To where, she did not care. Slowly, Vaedwyn opened her eyes. Everything hurt. She groaned as she tried to pull herself up, but a hand was gently pressing her back down, encouraging her to remain in the bed. She tried to focus, and saw Agron looking down at her. For a moment, she couldn't remember what had happened. Then suddenly everything came rushing back to her, a flurry of images and suddenly tears were flowing down her cheeks again. Agron's expression was worn, tired and riddled with guilt. His eyes were dark, and he looked like he had not slept in days. Yet even as Vaedwyn began to cry, he did not soothe her with comforting words as he was prone to do in times past. He remained deathly silent, his eyes watering, expressing his pain on her behalf, and finally he lowered his head in shame. "I'm so sorry..." Vaedwyn whispered, "I should never have left Moira's house..." She stared down at her hands. Her palms were white and felt strange, they were rough to the touch, like sandpaper. They had been healed, but of course, the burn scars remained. Vaedwyn reached up, remembering the woman's final attack. She closed her left eye, and touched her eyelid, she felt a line running down it, which went from near the top of her forehead, down to the bottom of her cheek. She closed her right eye, and her world turned dark. She was blind in her left eye. "It's all my fault..." She muttered. "No, lass..." Agron replied, his voice hoarse and quiet. "The fault is ma own." He let out a heavy, shaking sigh, and his frame seemed to slump from the pressure. "I should never o' left ye alone... again. I thought Baile would be the safest place for ye, but a was wrong.'ve suffered grievous wounds, an' yer in more danger than ye ever were tae begin wi'... an' it's aw ma fault." "You couldn't have known..." Vaedwyn muttered, and closed her eyes. Aoife's lifeless face stared back at her. Vaedwyn quickly opened her eyes, shaking her head, "I'll never be strong enough to fight Aemon... I don't know who or what that was, but she was powerful... she was so powerful, I couldn't do a thing to her, and when I..." Vaedwyn broke down again, she couldn't stop thinking about Aoife. "Perhaps a showered ye wi' too much praise." Agron said softly. "Ye mastered the sword, but a should ha'e been clear...that even that is'nae enough. A've been a poor teacher tae much ye have yet tae learn, an' that I cannae tell ye because ye lack the skill tae be trusted wi' the knowledge. I should never ha'e stopped here...we should ha'e kept goin' to oor true destination. I'd hoped we'd be faster if ye learnt tae fly but..." He fell silent once more. "I'm not strong enough..." Vaedwyn laid down and turned onto her side, "I was never strong enough. Auriel choose wrong." Something moved across her skin and fell onto her arm, she looked down and saw a small, smooth stone pendant with an Elvish rune on it. Agron must have given it to her. She laid her head down on her pillow and stared at the wall. "Dinnae think yersel' so wise as tae question the choices o' a dragon, lass." Agron said. "Yer strong. Stronger than me... Ye remember the bridge?" He smiled softly. "I did'nae tell ye... but that kind o magic ye did... a Rider's never managed such a feat so soon intae their trainin', an' every day we trained yer speed an' grace became greater than a could o' hoped. A'm an old man, Vaedwyn. What ye've accomplished in weeks, took me months... years in some respects." He rubbed his hands together, softly, as if polishing a small stone between them. "Dinnae feel scunnered due to the skills o' yer elders, they've had much longer tae hone their skills. When yer ready, ye'll fly, I'm sure o' that." Agron lifted his hand to touch the small rune pendant on her neck. "Never take this off, from now on. Yer encounter wi' that... monster, it's left ye open to them now. Until ye learn tae block yer mind, they'll be able to reach in an' see what they like at any time. Until then, this rune will stop'em. But... ye've become a danger tae the people o' this mountain. As soon as yer able, we'll be leavin'." Vaedwyn didn't reply, she grabbed her sheets and pulled them up over her shoulder and lay there with her back to Agron.
  20. Blood & Scale

    Vaedwyn woke with a start. Nightmares had plagued her, giving her no comfort. But even as she slept, she felt the presence of someone in her mind, calming her. Auriel. Her dragon was nearby, assuring her it was just a nightmare, and yet it was difficult to believe so when she had been asleep. She looked around the room, it was not her own. The room was nearly twice the size of her own, though the ceiling was far shorter and the door a normal size for the Dwarves. It looked as though she was in the palace. She heard footsteps. "She's not ready though!" A woman growled. "Gerronwiddit, woman!!" She recognised the voice immediately, it was Bradan. But he wasn't alone. "It's okay, i'm up!" Vaedwyn called out from her room. She heard a disgruntled sigh from the woman outside, and then suddenly she yelped and Bradan knocked the door open and barged in. "Are ye nekid, girlie? An' if not, why so?" Bradan laughed, his eyes beaming at seeing Vaedwyn, then he stepped to one side, to let his companion inside. "Oot the road ye bloody lech!" Agron shoved Bradan as he stepped past and as he caught sight of Vaedwyn he stopped, his shoulders slumping, and he let out a sigh. "Aw...lass." He said, shaking his head. "How are ye feelin'?" "A little weak. The nurse said the blade was poisoned," She quickly added, "But i'm alright now! They gave me some kind of anti-venom?" She looked to Bradan who nodded quietly, "But it's healing quickly. Auriel said she'd try to lend me some of her strength, so I think that's helping. I'm not sure, but I feel a lot better than I did a few hours ago." "Well, tha's great, lass." Agron said with a nod. "But I'm afraid we've no got time fer sittin' in bed. Lift yer shirt and gives a look." Agron approached the bed and knelt down so he was at Vaedwyn's level. "Dinnae worry." He said, "I'm just gonnae speed things up a wee bit." "Thank you," Vaedwyn replied, pulling herself up in bed. "Ah righ', aye," Bradan laughed, "Jus' ge' ou'ye knickers an' he'll jus-- AW!" Bradan whirled around, putting his back to Vaedwyn as she pulled the bandages from her bare chest. "Righ', what? Thought ah heard ma name..." He muttered, his face turning red. Then he quick-stepped out of the room as Vaedwyn frowned with confusion at him. "Fanny." Agron muttered with a soft chuckle. He turned his attention back to Vaedwyn and held out his hand at the spot where her wound was, holding a few inches from her skin. "Heal. he uttered in Elvish, and he tensed as he felt his magic going to work, the scar along his neck glowing brightly. After only a moment he removed his hand from her and let his magic fade. "There." He said as he stood up. "Ye've still a wee bit to go but ye should be able tae get about near the same as usual." Vaedwyn looked down and felt where the blade had entered her chest, and she felt something rough, "I still have a scar...?" She asked, dejectedly. She reached over and grabbed her shirt and pulled it on, then got dressed and once she'd pulled her boots on, she stood up from the edge of the bed. As she stood, the room swayed. She closed her eyes, standing as still as she could for a moment, and then it passed. "Aye." Agron said with a nod. "Scars are good. Help ye remember." To demonstrate his point Agron pulled back the fabric of his sleeve to reveal a thin, white scar running up his wrist. "Turiel, when he wis a wee newborn. Caught me wi' one o' his claws. An' that's just the smallest scar, lass." "I can't believe it..." Vaedwyn muttered, sullenly. She shook her head in disbelief, "Moira... was it really her...?" She looked to Agron. Agron didn't answer immediately. He sat himself on a stool opposite the bed that he was clearly far too large for. He hunched over, resting his arms on his knees as he faced Vaedwyn, and he rubbed his hands together, considering his words. "Aye, lass. It was her." He said finally, his expression grim. "I'd hoped ye would'nae have tae learn this quite so soon, but ye were gonnae realize it at some point. A lot of people are gonnae try tae harm ye, others'll try tae use ye, as a tool, as a symbol....or as a weapon." His expression was hard, but his eyes were soft and sad. "People are afraid, and ye are, tae them, a shinin' ray o' hope. Now, no everyone kens how tae deal wi' that. After such a long time livin' under the King's rule, people dinnae trust a good thing when they see it. Their reaction, sometimes, is tae use it tae benefit themselves, or in some cases they wish tae snuff it oot entirely, fer fear it's light blinds them." "I don't feel like a light." Vaedwyn growled angrily, and walked out of the room. She walked down the steps, finding Bradan staring at something that was apparently quite interesting on the wall. "What are you doing?" She asked, frowning at him. "Ah Vaedwyn, how were ye?" Bradan asked nervously. "I'm fine, Bradan. But I need to see the King." Vaedwyn demanded. "Wha'? Why's tha' then?" Waves of shock rippled over Bradan's face. "Because I can't let the Clan Lords see me weakened." Vaedwyn walked on, with Bradan quickly matching her pace. When Agron caught up he grabbed Vaedwyn by the arm to stop her from moving ahead. "Are ye mad?" He asked. "Last time I left ye on yer own ye got intae this mess, and then ye go runnin' off without me again?" "I'm not alone, Bradan's with me. Auriel knows i'm up and she's waiting for me in the main hall, and besides, you won't always be there to protect me. The first time," Vaedwyn yanked her arm out of Agron's grasp, "The very first time, that I was alone, I got attacked, and I wasn't strong enough. If I didn't have you, and Auriel, and healers and guards then i'd be dead. I have to get stronger." She finished walking down the flight of stairs then walked out into the main hall. We both do, Auriel corrected her. Vaedwyn smiled and looked down to the far end of the hall, to the throne. She could see the King was still deep in conversation with the Clan Lords. Good, she thought, Maybe I can scare them enough they'll do something stupid... If the Clan Lords are involved as it is believed, perhaps surprise will reveal the Lord who ordered your demise, when he sees you alive and well? Auriel mused, and Vaedwyn agreed. There were a lot of good reasons to confront the Clan Lords. She had to make her position clear. She wasn't an attendant, or a squire to Agron. She was a Rider. "King Eirnin!" Vaedwyn's voice carried through the hall. The King looked up and saw her approaching, flanked by Auriel, Agron, Turiel and Bradan. The King raised his hand to silence the Lords, "What is it, Rider?" "I would address the Clan Lords, if I may?" Vaedwyn replied, her tone and expression were stern. The King studied her a moment then nodded, and she turned to face the Clan Lords. "Some of you may be surprised to see me up and about so soon," She paused, studying their faces, "As you all know, I was attacked by an assassin. A blacksmith who has lived and worked in your city for decades." She paused again, choosing her words carefully. "I believe she was motivated to do this by one or more of you." She spat the word, and at the accusation, the Clan Lords erupted with denial and outrage. "Wha' gives 'er tha right teh question are loyalty?!" One of the Dwarves barked. "I'm a Rider." Vaedwyn replied, "It's my right and responsibility to keep peace and balance throughout these lands. One or more of you tried to stop me. Tried to kill me. Clearly, you didn't do a very good job. Might I suggest an assassin next time, and not a blacksmith?" She turned and started to walk out. "Impudent babby!" The Faolain Clan Lord snapped, "I'll not have yoo tellin' me mah business wit'--" Auriel charged forwards, roaring at the top of her lungs, and the Clan Lords scattered in abject terror. Not one of them remained but the King. The Clan Lords disappeared into the adjacent rooms and slammed the doors behind them. Auriel reared up and sat down, turning to face Vaedwyn. Well that was dramatic, Vaedwyn raised an eyebrow at her. What? Auriel replied defensively, I was simply... Terrifying them, yes. Vaedwyn shook her head but grinned all the same. "Thank you, King Eirnin. With your leave, we'll return to Moira's home and start our investigation there, and..." Vaedwyn looked to the closed doors, "... when the Lords have changed their underwear, would you inform them they are to expend every resource in finding the one who ordered my assassination?" The King nodded with a smile and Vaedwyn turned to leave. "Tha Lords?!" Bradan choked out the words, then cleared his throat, "Ah shit me cacks an' scaly were runnin' away fer me, ne'er mind tha Lords." Then started laughing nervously, his gaze wandering to Auriel with a new-found appreciation and respect.
  21. Blood & Scale

    The cool mountain air felt good in her lungs. Vaedwyn took another deep breath, trying to clear her mind. She was feeling better within minutes, but could still feel the foggy miasma permeating her thoughts from across her link to Auriel. She reached back across to her dragon and tugged at her mind. Mmm? Is everything alright, Vaedwyn? Auriel asked, she just sounded tired now. It seemed alcohol didn't last quite as long as it did with Elves. Everything's fine, but I want to go for a walk and be alone with my thoughts...Vaedwyn paused, Do you mind? She asked hesitantly. Auriel tried to hide it, but she felt a twinge of something come back across their link. She knew Auriel didn't like being parted from her for any time. Vaedwyn was growing easy being linked to Auriel also, but she still wanted some space. Eventually, Auriel's quiet reluctance shifted into something else as she came to a realisation. That's not such a good idea, actually, Auriel stated, It could be dangerous, we know we can't trust every Dwarf and-- Well of course we can't trust every Dwarf! Vaedwyn replied, annoyed. I can't trust every human, but that didn't stop me, and neither will this. I'm going for a walk, and that's that. Another long pause, and then Vaedwyn felt Auriel slowly pull away from her, and their link was severed. Vaedwyn jerked in surprise, she hadn't deliberately pulled away from her link to Auriel in some time and it was a disconcerting feeling. Like she'd left something behind she needed. Immediately, she felt cold and alone amongst the Dwarves wandering past her. Some of them muttered things. Some of which she heard, either because they wanted her to hear them, or because they didn't realise that Elves hearing is more sensitive than dwarves. Its the ears, of course. Most of their comments were positive or curious. A few were hurtful. She wanted to run back inside, apologise to Auriel and return to the warmth and familiarity of the inn. But she couldn't. She had made her bed, now she had to lie in it. Even if it was made of stone. So she started walking. Vaedwyn wasn't entirely sure where she was going, but it didn't entirely matter. She just wanted to walk. She followed a flight of stairs down through the levels of the city until she saw a passageway that looked rather interesting, then turned off down that. The houses were truly beautiful. Covered with intricately carved runes and markings and all done by a master architect that had found a way to have thousands of heavy stone houses carved out and stacked upon one another without being in danger of collapse from the weight from higher levels. Vaedwyn took another deep lungful of fresh mountain air and was reminded of how thankful she was that the Dwarves had devised some form of ventilation. She looked up into the darkness of the mountain far above, which eventually turned to light at the open top of the mountain. She was part way through trying to solve the riddle of how the Dwarves had an enormous opening at the top of their mountain - which could be rather convenient for a Dragon, such as Aemon's and his lieutenants - and yet claimed to be impervious from assault by Dragon or Rider, when a faint noise behind her pulled her from her thoughts. Vaedwyn looked over her shoulder and saw a Dwarf dressed in black, holding a long bottle, with a short dark brown beard. He took a long swig from the bottle as he slowly followed her down the path. At first, she ignored the Dwarf. He was walking down the same path as she was, but that wasn't out of the ordinary. But as her pace quickened, she heard him match it. That was when panic set in. She wanted to reach out and contact Auriel immediately. She reached out with her mind and felt nothing. Was she too far away? Was Auriel's mind too clouded by drink? Whatever the case, Vaedwyn instinctively turned back in the direction of her dragon. But that was, of course, the same direction from which she'd come, and the direction the Dwarf was now coming towards her. He raised his bottle, and pointed his finger at her. "'Ey! 'Ey, girlie!" He yelled, "C'mere a sec, hey?" There was no more time for uncertainty. Vaedwyn turned, and ran. She ran as quickly as she could, hearing the Dwarf's yelling, cursing voice behind her. It was getting further, and further away from her. She turned the next corner, but as she did so she could hear the Dwarf running up behind her. "EY!!" He yelled at the top of his lungs. Vaedwyn cursed, she started running again, but then she saw a door to one of the homes open up ahead of her. "Vaedwyn! In'ear, girl!" Moira yelled to her. Vaedwyn ran as fast as she could, not daring to look back for fear of seeing the Dwarf right behind her. She ran inside, and Moira swiftly shut the door behind Vaedwyn and locked it multiple times with deadbolts. Moira and Vaedwyn both let out a sigh of relief at the same time. Vaedwyn started laughing, and Moira joined in and suddenly she felt a lot better. They heard footsteps outside, and both of them fell quiet. The footsteps wandered back and forth for a few minutes, as though confused, and then eventually they grew faint and then absent altogether. Moira chuckled at last and let out another long sigh. "Well, my gawd, girl, if ye don' attract da fellas, ah don' know wha' wud," She shook her head and rubbed her temple before crossing the room. "I'm really sorry to intrude, Moira," Vaedwyn apologised. "Is alrigh', don' worry. Ma gaff is yers, an' ye shakin'... yeh wan' a shlice a swit cake? That'll set ya balance." "Oh, thank you." Vaedwyn nodded, smiling. Moira offered her a chair at the dining table and she took it. Moira was right, her hands were shaking. She had to get her mind off her pursuer, "Is this your home, Moira? It's very nice." "Ah yeh, it's a wee bit berren, but ah keep it neat an' that," Moira replied, she brought over a pair of plates and a large sticky-looking cake. She picked up the knife from the cake board, hovered it over the cake, and indicated, "Will this do ye?" She asked. It was too much, Vaedwyn leant over and pointed at the cake with the forefinger of her left hand. "No, just--" Dazzling pain. Vaedwyn jerked as though someone had come up behind her and spooked her. She wasn't sure quite what had happened. Moira was smiling at her expectantly, and so, she wanted to explain to her this surprising, peculiar sensation, but as Vaedwyn reached to touch her chest with her right hand, she looked down and realised her left arm was pinned to the table, while the cake knife was about two inches into her chest. "Moira?" Vaedwyn asked stupidly, her mind not quite accepting what was happening. Then quick as lightning, Moira's hand whipped from pinning Vaedwyn's arm to the table, to grabbing her mouth. Moira thought the girl was going to scream, and she clasped her hand over her mouth. At that moment, there was a deafening noise. Neither Moira nor Vaedwyn had ever heard anything like it in their lives. It was the true, unbridled, unmitigated rage of a Dragon. The noise snapped Vaedwyn out of the haze of her mind. Vaedwyn realised that Moira, sweet, kind Moira, Moira who had defended her and served her drinks not an hour ago, had just stabbed her in the chest. The realisation brought reaction. Vaedwyn reached up and grabbed Moira's hand, the one holding the knife, and yanked it away from her chest. Moira was so surprised by the girl's strength that she leapt back but she was just as quick to recover. Moira leapt at her, brandishing the knife that still gleamed with Vaedwyn's blood on it. Vaedwyn darted out of the way, trying to pull her sword. She'd barely managed to pull it a couple of inches from the sheath when Moira grabbed her wrist and pushed it back down, stopping her from drawing her weapon. But as she tried to stab her again, Vaedwyn fell back, using her attacker's weight against them and fell onto her back, flipping Moira up and over. The Dwarf woman flew across the room and crashed into the floor, giving Vaedwyn just enough time to pull her sword from it's resting place. As she tried to lift the blade however, she winced, her wound made it difficult to lift her arm above her ribs. The other arm. She would just have to use her other arm. It wasn't her dominant arm, but luckily Agron had forced her to learn with both. A skill she was reluctantly, silently, but repeatedly thanking him for right now. Moira charged her with a battle cry, and it all happened in a matter of seconds. Vaedwyn's sword clashed against a vicious-looking dagger that Moira must have had hidden about her person. She blocked Moira's attack once, then knocked her off-balance, and struck. Moira's head rolled across the floor as her body collapsed and blood quickly pooled at the point of severance. "I... I-I..." Vaedwyn stammered, the sight of Moira's corpse splayed across the floor kept Vaedwyn rooted. She saw Moira's blank, hatred-filled gaze staring back at her from her severed head, and even now she could barely believe that she had tried to kill her. She remembered she was still holding her sword and tried to sheath it, but as she looked at the blade, and saw Moira's blood smeared across it, she dropped the weapon in surprise, and nothing would root her any more. Vaedwyn fled from the house, tears streaming down her face. She could feel Auriel's presence strike the boundaries of her mind like a battering ram. She was able to resist Auriel for all of about a second, and then the Dragon's mind came rushing back into contact with her own, flooding her with thoughts, feelings, images and all manner of panicked emotions. VAEDWYN, WHAT HAPPENED?! Auriel screamed. She might not have been able to stop the link from being re-established, but she wasn't going to wait and talk. Leave me alone! She cried, but she could feel Auriel ignoring her, she sensed the Dragon's white-hot boiling rage. Image after image of Auriel's thoughts were nothing but her rampaging through the city, tearing the Dwarves asunder. Her teeth sinking into the soft flesh of their faces as they cried out and were suddenly, immediately silenced. One by one. The extent of Auriel's rage terrified Vaedwyn. As she fled the house, Vaedwyn ran down the path until she reached one of the main roads and started running down the stairs to the lowest levels of the city, but as she did so, she heard wings beating overhead and no matter her speed, Auriel landed a few feet in front of her, blocking her escape. WAIT!! Auriel roared at Vaedwyn,who turned and tried to run the other way, but Turiel landed with Agron and suddenly there was nowhere else to go. Just leave me alone! Vaedwyn whirled on Auriel. NO!! Auriel snapped back at her. You're hurt... I knew you were... Auriel took a cautionary step forwards, sniffing Vaedwyn's wound who recoiled in response and winced, gripping the site where the dagger had entered her flesh. She looked from Agron to Auriel and back, desperate to flee but trapped in a corner like a mouse by a couple of cats. "Just ye stay still!" Agron bellowed, still clearly quite drunk. "Fuckin' backstabbin' bunch o' shitebags, I'll fuckin' flay the lot of 'em!" He snarled as he closed on Vaedwyn and grabbed her by the arm, holding her in place. "Sit still!" He barked as he inspected her wound. His grip was tight around her arm, his body shaking with rage. "Who did it!? Tell me!" Vaedwyn pulled away from him, but unable to, she broke down in tears, "I-It... was Moira!!" Crippled, finally, by the realisation, Vaedwyn fell to her knees and sobbed, still burning with disbelief and fear, confusion and anger. She clutched her head with her hand and wept silently. "Turiel!" Agron roared. "Find her!" The dragon, for once, did not immediately jump at the chance of violence. Instead he stood rooted to the spot, his old ambers staring angrily at Agron. Release your grip. His voice echoed in Agron's mind, bold but calm, and full of authority. You are hurting her, you fool. Agron looked down at his own hand and instantly released his grip, seeing the bruising that was already beginning to form. Guilt washed over his face, and with a heavy sigh he ran his hand over his forehead. "Lass..." He said, his voice trembling. "I..." Auriel, Turiel spoke to her directly, projecting his voice in a commanding way to make sure his words were heard through her rage addled mind. She needs a healer. Take her, now. It was not a request, but an order. Auriel raked her talons across the ground in anger but snaked her long neck beneath Vaedwyn's arm, lifting her to her feet. From there, she pulled away and delicately nipped onto the back of Vaedwyn's shirt and carefully encouraged her to sit just behind her shoulders. Vaedwyn?! Auriel asked, but there was no response. She tried to reaffirm their link but could feel Vaedwyn drifting in and out of consciousness. There was no other option left to her. She had to try. Even if it was quite possibly the worst idea she'd ever had. She had to try. No, she would make it. No matter what. Bounding towards the nearest building, Auriel leapt forwards, her talons latching into the roof before she spring-boarded from the building, and spread her wings to take flight. The weight was too much. Within seconds she was falling back down to the city below. She'd barely made it a few feet. Auriel furiously beat her wings, trying to gain lift, she had cleared most of the buildings, it was a straight shot to the palace now, as long as she could remain airborne. The muscles in her wings were on fire, and she roared in agony. As she started to descend, she grabbed hold of another building rooftop and leapt forwards, trying to gain a little more air. She had exhausted everything she had, there was no more left. The muscles in her wings began to seize, and she tumbled from the sky. As she did so, she turned mid-air, Vaedwyn's body coming free from her back as she fell to the ground, unconscious. Auriel quickly pulled the young girl into her body, wrapped her wings over Vaedwyn and herself, and plummeted. The initial impact was so painful she thought she was going to black out. She came to a stop in front of the palace, as the doors opened and hundreds of Dwarves swarmed out. Guards, attendants, and all manner of people. Auriel rolled onto her side and opened her wings, letting Vaedwyn slide onto the floor, but as the palace attendants approached the girl, Auriel snarled at them and they immediately retreated. "Great Dragon Auriel!!" King Eirnin's voice echoed throughout the cavernous city, "Trust that no harm will come to your Rider, I will have my personal physician attend her and should any harm come to her--" Before the King could finish his sentence, Auriel loosed a bellowing, ear-splitting roar which ended in a threatening snarl. "Yes..." The King nodded, and then jerked his head at his nervous attendants which finally approached Vaedwyn, moved her onto a stretcher, and carried her into the palace.
  22. Blood & Scale

    Ushered into their new accommodations by Bradan, Vaedwyn found it to be a modest but pleasantly large room. The ceiling was so high that when the enormous door swung open, Auriel was able to step inside without needing to crouch. Bradan explained that the King had ordered two storerooms to be given to his new guests so that their dragons could bed beside them in a gesture of good will - though Auriel pointed out to her that it was more likely he wanted to discourage unwanted visitors in the night. Vaedwyn sighed, smiling upon seeing her bed. The covers felt soft and cool to the touch, she threw her pack to the end of the bed as Auriel stalked to the end of the long room and nestled down on a thick thatch of hay that had been laid out for her. Vaedwyn sat down, expecting relief, but instead, she felt something hard. She pulled back the covers, and saw that her bed had been carved out of the mountain stone much like the room itself. "Well..." Vaedwyn grit her teeth, "I guess it's off the wet ground, at least." I see now why the Dwarves are such a surly lot, Auriel quipped, nestling down on her hay. "Joke all you want, i'm sleeping next to you tonight." Vaedwyn replied. Just then, there was a knock at the door. She opened the smaller, inner-door designed for the dwarves to enter through, leaving the larger storehouse door closed, and greeted Agron with a smile, "Hows your bed?" She asked, her eyebrow raising just a touch as a grin spread across her face. "Y'mean 'how's yer brick slab'?" Agron said with a soft chuckle. He stepped inside and swept his gaze around the room. "Beds are'nae that comfy here, but a hard bed is better for yer posture anyway. At least ye can be closer tae Auriel from now on, eh?" "It's strange... I felt safer with Kardran at our backs than I did walking through the city. And yet..." Vaedwyn shook her head, "I don't know. It's hard to describe, but I want to say i'm happier here? That probably doesn't make any sense." She let out a short sigh, "So, what are we doing?" "What we always do." Agron said with a grin. "Just cause we've got a roof and a bed does'nae mean I'm lettin' up on ye. Grab yer sword an' follow me. The Dwarves have a duelin' area where they train, we can use that." "And here I thought i'd get a day off..." Vaedwyn muttered, fastening her sword to her belt and chasing after him. Don't be ridiculous, a day off? Us? Auriel chuckled and followed her out, pushing open the larger door with her snout, she walked slowly to match pace with Agron and Vaedwyn. After a short walk however, they saw Bradan sat upon a wall, smoking a pipe. "What are you doing up there?" Vaedwyn asked, frowning and looking up at the Dwarf. "Smokin'," He replied, looking down at them with a squint. "No, but I mean what are you doing up there?" Vaedwyn asked again. "Aaah..." Bradan nodded, realising what she meant, "Am sittin'," He replied, then a large grin spread across his face and Vaedwyn realised he was playing with her. Bradan hopped down from the wall, a jump that would have broken a human's legs, and then nodded to Agron, "Hows about yea, chum?" "Off tae train." Agron explained. "If yer free ye should come along wi' us. A fresh perspective might dae her some good, ken?" "O'yea ya see a law' down 'ear, big man." Bradan laughed and stamped his pipe out on the side of the wall and followed them. The training area was a large, open arena of sorts. Racks of various weapons coated the walls, and work benches sat at either side. Archery targets had been placed along the far wall, and there were a few practice dummies on display. Agron walked up to one of the racks and retrieved what was, for Dwarves, a long sword, but he held it in his hand like a short sword. He retrieved a wooden targe and fitted it to his left arm. "Right then. Ye've come a long way. So far ye've been fightin' an opponent equipped much the same as yersel', so now ye'll face an opponent bearin' a shield. This fight'll be different, I cannae draw as much power to ma swing wi' one hand, but I've got enough strength in one arm tae knock ye on yer arse all the same. But the shield gies me an advantage, so let's see how ye overcome it." "Quickly." Vaedwyn retorted, drawing her nimble longsword. Bradan sat down on the edge of the arena, where there was space for rows of stone steps used as seating. Auriel stalked around and sat beside him and the pair watched Vaedwyn and Agron size one another up. There were at least three dozen other dwarves fighting in the arena but none of them paid any attention to the Riders, if anything, they actively ignored them. With a flourish of her blade, Vaedwyn swept forwards across the arena, barely moving at all, just gliding across the dusty ground, but as she raised her sword to strike, she kicked a plume of dust up into Agron's face, and quickly followed with a powerful downwards slash. If it had not have been for his shield Agron might have been finished already. He turned his head to avoid dust getting n his eyes, and brought the targe up to take the full force of Vaedwyn's strike, and he blade battered against the strong wood with a loud thunk. He thrust the targe forward a few times, taking the force of her attacks, but also driving them back with force. He swung a horizontal slash with his sword which Vaedwyn nimbly stepped back from, but he advanced again, bringing the sword down in a diagonal swipe. His sword struck hers and the pair backed off from each other. Agron grinned and stretched his neck, tilting it with a distinct cracking sound. He remembered his first fight with Vaedwyn, and how the sheer force of his strikes had knocked her blade from her grip with ease. The young woman he faced now had an iron grip, holding her sword so tight that it might as well have been an extension of her arm. "Good start, excellent use of misdirection." He said. "But ye'll need tae try harder than that, lass!" He advanced on her suddenly, keeping the targe close to his chest, as he relentlessly swung at her, the same way he had done in her first session. Each strike that hit her sword, Vaedwyn angled the blade as she'd been shown, deflecting the majority of the force. Barely a vibration reached her hand despite the strength of Agron's blows. Vaedwyn weathered his attacks, slowly backing off, lowering her blade, feigning weakness until Agron attacked one final time and she whipped back, and snapped forwards quick as a cobra, dodging his attack and then slamming into his shield, knocking him back, and then she was on the offensive. The sight of a slight, young girl forcing back a man twice her size had caught the attention of a few of the Dwarves training nearby. They stopped what they were doing, watching with a sudden curiosity as Vaedwyn advanced on Agron, her strikes fast and true, and each time the Nord batted them away with his shield. Yet Vaedwyn showed no sign of stopping, and her strikes only became faster, and more precise. As she struck once more he swung his arm out to deflect the blow with the targe, but it had been a feint, and he swung wide. Agron's eyes widened as he saw Vaedwyn's blade piercing towards his neck. He leaned backward as the blade's edge lightly nicked the skin on his throat, and as the blade was withdrawing he fell to his left side and rolled across the floor, before returning to his feet. He drew his sword over his head and brought it back down on Vaedwyn, but she gracefully stepped aside, and suddenly she brought her blade down on his own like a bolt of lightning, and the blade of his sword split, cut clean in two. Shocked to a pause, Agron realised too late as the point of Vaedwyn's blade sat against his neck, stopping him from moving forward, even an inch. He let out a heavy sigh, but a grin spread across his face as he gazed at Vaedwyn. Not only had she bested him, but as she stood before him he could see that she had not tired, and was ready for more. "That's ma girl!" He cried, followed by a hearty chuckle. "...I cannae teach ye any more of the sword, lass. Ye've mastered it beautifully." Bradan let out a hoot and Vaedwyn smiled, taking a deep breath and letting it out as she relaxed. Auriel let out a long, trumpeting cry which she'd never heard before. Everyone in the arena turned to face her, several of the Dwarves warily backed away and yet at that moment, she realised that more than 30 Dwarves were watching them. Vaedwyn could feel a heat in her face unrelated to the duel. Well done, little one! Auriel cheered, passing love and pride across their link. Have you noticed your audience? Yes, a little disconcerting... Vaedwyn replied, smiling nervously at the Dwarves. The expressions on their faces were mixed. Some were impressed or downright awed, and yet a large number were also unimpressed, scowling or otherwise unreadable. It made her nervous. Alright, I think I want to go now... "Geez, am jaded jus' wachin' ya, girlie!" Bradan gawped, chuckling. "Bu' ya'know ye could be usin' an axe, now thas--" "Ah sling ye hook!" One of the dwarven watchers stepped forwards, "Thas' nah a weapon fer tha', look--" Then more joined in, "Slabberin' eejit, step awf, ye--" "Mate will'ye back off afore ah lose ma hed!" "Yeh full'a shite!" "Ye'ce shake ye mam an'da cocks woul' tumble oat!" Bradan whirled around and savagely head-butted the Dwarf who'd made the most recent inflammatory comment. The red-bearded dwarf collapsed to the floor like his strings had been cut, and for a frightening second there was a terrible silence. Vaedwyn had never seen things escalate so quickly, or be shut down even faster. She watched in stunned silence until Bradan started laughing, and the rest of the Dwarves joined in. "Tha' was too fair, Donal, ye stupid fecker. Ye leave a fella's mam outta da' now." One of the Dwarves chuckled. "Ri'!" Bradan clapped his hands together, "Who's t'get bolloxed then, hm?!" Vaedwyn tried to resist, she tried to explain, but it was no use. Bradan grabbed her around the shoulder and she suddenly found herself surrounded by two dozens Dwarves, singing and chanting as they stepped over poor, unconscious Donal, on the way to do... well, she wasn't entirely sure what. But she suspected by the end of it, she'd have a headache.
  23. Blood & Scale

    Agron hadn't been kidding when he said it would take weeks to reach the dwarves in the northern mountains. They had travelled on horseback for weeks, training with sword and magic. Vaedwyn watched as Auriel grew in size and strength, until she rivalled Turiel in length. Her body had less bulk yet she was more agile in her movements. She had a longer tail and wings that were very large for her size which she explained to Vaedwyn - with an undercurrent of pride in her voice - the ways in which they gave her excellent control in the air. Vaedwyn quickly took her early lessons in martial combat and with Agron's help, she became a quick and tireless opponent, though still she was rarely able to win a duel but for when Agron made a mistake, for which he was quick to remind her that mistakes can be made by anyone. Even the most legendary fighter can be defeated by the unexpected, and it was that which he taught her to combat. Awareness of her surroundings, and the ever-changing field of battle. One day, while they were riding side-by-side, and Turiel and Auriel flew overhead, Vaedwyn frowned as a shadow was suddenly cast over her. For a fleeting moment, she thought that Kardran had finally found them, as they had heard rumours of a rider slowly moving north, cutting a path through every village or town he passed. It was one of the reasons their journey had taken so long and arduous, as they'd been forced to avoid places with people in the hopes that Kardran would ignore such populated places. Vaedwyn had also noted the change in herself. Her body had become leaner, her muscles were beginning to show definition, and she no longer found her sword heavy to wield in one hand. She had grown in confidence in her abilities, but still had a long way to come. However, the shadow that cast over her now, was thankfully not from Kardran and Uruk. No, they were cast into twilight as the sun touched the edges of the northern mountains, and the valley behind them grew dark quite suddenly. "Is it far now?" She asked Agron, staring up at the mountains ahead of them. She knew that the dwarves lived underground, somewhere in the mountains, but she had no idea if they were minutes or days away from them. There didn't seem to be any sign of them at least. She wondered if that was because they had learnt how to hide their presence from the King, and perhaps that was one of the reasons they had remained untouched by the betrayal of the Rider order. "In terms o' proximity, we're already there." Agron explained, and he nodded his head towards the ground at their feet. "The Dwarven tunnels are far reachin' and there are countless entry points. Yet I could'nae tell ye o' more than a handful. Even if ye find an entrance, the ancient mechanisms used tae open them are each unique and intricately clever. The Dwarves love their secrets, and they guard them close to their chests. As to how long it'll take us tae enter, well, that depends on the Dwarves." Agron gave a knowing smile and cast his eye over the landscape. "There are some things ye need tae know about the Dwarves. Firstly, they are our allies. Their cities are the last bastion of freedom from King Aemon's grasp, even the Nord's must pay a heavy price for their unwillingness tae bow tae him, we have nae cities tae speak of any more, we have tae hide in the harsher parts of our land, living on the barest we can afford without bein' noticed." "But the Dwarves..." He continued, "Their strongholds were built before the time o' the Riders. A time before Men and Elves roamed this land. At that time they were the primary source of food for the dragons, an' so they built their cities to be impenetrable to such creatures. Which is why even Aemon cannot reach them. That, and the fact that they are sneaky and careful. But even now they dinnae have any love for dragons. Turiel and Auriel won't be welcome here, but they will be tolerated only because of our presence." The Dwarves are close-minded and selfish, Auriel joined the conversation. Why? Vaedwyn asked. When Aemon attacked the Riders, and began spreading his seed of chaos across the land, the free peoples of Suros stood against him. Humans, Elves, Nords and many others joined under a single banner, but when they asked the Dwarves for help, they buried themselves deep, forsaking all. Big, hairy, ticks. Vaedwyn frowned, though she took Auriel's words with a grain of salt, she'd never heard Auriel react so negatively about anyone but the King and his lieutenants. It was enough to make her wonder about the Dwarves. "Will they be safe?" She asked. "For that matter, will we? Did the Dwarves even support the Riders?" "They are cautious." Agron replied. "Some believe them cowardly, but that's just not true. However, they care for their own welfare above others. I cannae fault that, it's no everyone's desire tae be altruistic. They are slow tae trust, and won't lend their support without a great deal of scrutiny. Everything has a value to Dwarves, and if ye can show them that ye are of value to them, they can be the fiercest o' allies. Sadly, their secretive nature left them constantly at odds wi' the other factions o' Suros, the Elves especially. Ye have tae mind that the Dwarves were the indigenous people o' Suros. The Elves came across tae this land fae a far off place, and they were slow tae hold a helpin' hand tae the Dwarves. Old grudges, tae be sure, but they still hold up to this day." Vaedwyn muttered an Elven curse and spoke up, "Great. So i'm an Elf, with a dragon. I'm sure this will go just fine." She said sarcastically. "Aye, but yer a Rider." Agron pointed out. "The Riders were the exception for the Dwarves. Our age led tae a far decreased threat from the dragons they feared. They dinnae see the dragons as the complex, intelligent creatures ye know them tae be. Tae the Dwarves they are beasts o' burden, no different fae the horse yer saddled on, except far more terrifyin'. They see the riders as great people who hold mastery o'er wild beasts that could'nae be tamed. And that holds another predicament. The dwarves covet that which is rare and special, and right now yer a young rider, fit for moldin' in an image that could benefit them greatly." Agron frowned at the thought. "It's important that we maintain our alliance wi' the Dwarves, lass, but dinnae let yersel' be manipulated, ken?" "I never realised being a Rider involved such... politics." Vaedwyn sighed, as they rode into the mountain pass. "Somehow I--" I smell something... Auriel interrupted her. Something carried on the wind, it's... What? Vaedwyn asked, frowning. She looked up at the sky for signs of Auriel and gasped as she saw two enormous bodies come hurtling towards the ground. Auriel and Turiel were darting through the sky, weaving and tucking their wings tight into their bodies to narrowly miss being struck by great boulders, rope nets attached with weights, and bolts the size of spears. Auriel flew close to the ground as a net swept over her back and missed her by inches. Her feet bounded off the ground, helping her to lift back into the sky and then another net hit her in the face and wrapped around the front of her wings. What little lift she'd gained was suddenly pulled from her and she hit the ground with an almighty crash, kicking up plumes of dust that coated the area with a choking, blinding fog. A distant voice echoed through the mountains. "Thas wick. A'Elf, Nord an' a couple a scaly gobshites. Away an' feck off with ya!" "Fuckin' arseholes!" Agron growled irritably. He leapt down from his horse and went running at a sprint with his claymore strapped to his back, he let out a sharp whistle. Turiel suddenly changed his course, pulling in to a steep dive towards Agron. As the dragon swooped down, his claws raking the earth lightly, Agron hopped up and grabbed the large horn at his nose, and Turiel took them both skyward. Showing an inhuman degree of nimbleness, Agron let go of Turiel's horn and descended down the dragon, until he sat himself comfortably in the saddle. Turiel flew high above the Dwarves, spinning at the apex, before arcing backwards and descending back to the earth, making a beeline for them. A bombardment of nets and bolts shot through the air towards them, and with a fierce roar Turiel unleashed a jet of fire, incinerating the nets to ash, before turning on his side, making his form lean and straight as he passed through the barrage of bolts. Boulders came flying next, and Agron held his hands out as if to brace himself against them. "Shatter! He snarled in Elvish, and the boulders exploded into dust that sprayed over him and Turiel, irritating but harmless. Turiel crashed into the craggy edges of the mountains where the assault had come from, and let out a blood curdling roar, as a unit of Dwarves, their hiding spot revealed, scowled fiercely, brandishing axes and swords, ready to face the beast even if it meant their death. "Put those away ya crazy, wee bampots!" Agron yelled as he climbed over Turiel and descended on to the rocks. With a flourish he drew Skaevolg from it's sheathe and brandished it threateningly. "I'm all down for a square go, but I dinnae fancy yer chances, ken?" "Aw laudy daw, ya great gobshite ye!" One of them, a dwarf with a long, thick black beard, pushed his way to the front of the group, "Beat it up ye hole!" He thumped his axe against his armoured breastplate and then levelled it at Agron, "Ya mincin' fancy, think ya a big dick wi' tha beast at ye? Feck yerself wid'it!" Vaedwyn leapt off her horse and ran to Auriel to check she was alright, she knelt beside her dragon and waited silently as Agron and the dwarf sized one another up. She gripped the hilt of her weapon, ready to join in the attack should anything happen. "Hard man are ye?" Agron asked testily. "Awright then, big bollocks, just ye an' me then, aye? Attack a bunch who mean ye nae harm and then ye go actin' the big man? Like yer in the right here? Just mind the only reason I'm standin' here is so Turiel doesnae rip yer wee baws fae between yer wee stumps, ya clown! So, aye, if yer that keen tae get knocked on yer arse then come right ahead!" "Says'a eejit what throws shapes an' comes stompin' in our mountains!" The dwarf retorted, "Wee Billy big bollox, eh?!" The dwarf yelled, to the nervous cheers of his retreating unit. "Ye an' ye King are auf ya nut, fella! Get ye gone, afer I park ma sack on ya gob!" And to punctuate this, he grabbed his junk and shook it in Agron's direction. "I serve no King." Agron growled. "Open yer eyes for a moment. Dae ye no recognize the one behind me?" He tilted his head back towards Turiel, but his eyes stayed fixed on the Dwarf. "Firstborn kin of Ethanriel. Guardian of the fuckin' North! Or have ye been hidin' in the ground so long yer heid's turned tae mush?" "Ye a fibbin' chancer!" The dwarf yelled back at him, "Full'a shite! Not a bloody one free a'his nonsense! Now, away an wash the back a'ye bollox!" "Aye, not a one." Agron agreed. "Two." He corrected. Another voice called from across the other side of the mountain pass, "Aye we've another here, Bradan!" "Bollox, is'er!" Bradan - the dwarf with the long, black beard - yelled back. "On yer ma!" The other yelled back. "Fecker..." Bradan growled, glancing at Agron for a moment, "You," Bradan pointed at Agron with his axe, "Wait right there, ya great bastard." Then he turned and quickly descended into the mountain path, traversing the loose shingle without issue. He waved his axe in front of him with disdain, cursing the dust, "Flippin' ticker'an Moira's pea sup..." Eventually he bumped into something and followed it around to see a she-Elf stood beside what he'd knocked into. A young dragon, with scales of jet. Bradan sniffed, then turned back to face Agron, "Aye, well... whas tha craic, chum?" Bradan shoved his axe into his belt and nodded to his comrades to remove the net pinning Auriel to the ground, and then walked back up the slope to Agron where he stood before him with his hands on his hips, looking up at the tall man, a winning grin on his face. "Are we square, then?" Agron asked. Far from it, Agron Turiel's voice snarled in his head. The tiny ones dealt the first blow. Yet they have suffered none in consequence. My kin demand punishment for such deeds. Wheesht, you. Agron replied, shaking his head. Bradan frowned at Agron but shook it off, "Aye, it'll do." He nodded, "Sorry, pal, but ye can't be too open-minded, ye brains'll fall out." And on that, Bradan ushered Agron, Turiel, Vaedwyn and Auriel to follow him and his unit into the mountain path. For a while, they walked in silence, until Bradan abruptly turned into a cave. It was black as pitch inside, but the dwarves lit torches and led them through a winding maze of tunnels large enough even for the dragons to walk freely down, though Turiel almost got stuck a couple of times. Eventually, after nearly an hour of walking, they saw light at the end of their path. Bradan and the other dwarves cheered and quickened their pace, which Vaedwyn matched and within seconds the light dazzled her. Stepping out of the tunnels, the place before them opened up in a way she could never have imagined. They were in the very heart of a mountain itself! The dwarves had carved out it's interior, and now there was a great city, built of mountain stone. The architecture was exquisite, even by Elven standards. "Welcome t'Baile! Home fer our kin!" Bradan clapped his hands together. As he led them through the city, Vaedwyn found herself stunned into silence. The city had been carved with the utmost of care. The city had large, winding paths that were woven throughout the dozens of levels, homes built upon homes built upon homes. The smoke and hot air vented from the top of the mountain which had been carved out like an enormous funnel. It would have been useful knowing that, we might have just flown in... Auriel thought, sharing it with Vaedwyn who nodded silently in agreement, still stunned by what she was witnessing. The Dwarves they passed came in many different shapes and sizes she hadn't been expecting, though they were generally shorter and stockier than humans, and even more so than Elves. However, Vaedwyn was equally stunned by the Dwarven women. They were all rosy-cheeked, voluptuous, beautiful women with hair in shades of blonde, browns, and a rainbow assortment of reds and coppers. They were also strong, as on their ascent to the palace at the top of the city, Vaedwyn saw women working iron, breaking stone and matching their men in every regard. Vaedwyn looked to Agron who seemed as taken with the city as she was, then suddenly the group stopped before a huge set of black marble doors, the entranceway to the palace that watched over the rest of the city. Vaedwyn couldn't help but gasp, and she even felt Auriel's amazement at the craftsmanship and ingenuity of the Dwarves, though that quickly vanished when the started cries and muttered words began to creep into Vaedwyn's ears. In her dazed state, she'd not heard the quiet rumbling of discontent as they moved through the city. She hadn't seen the figures watching from the alleys and shadows. Vaedwyn felt then, now more than ever, that she and everyone in the party were in danger. Just then, the doors opened and everyone walked inside and the doors slowly closed with a resonating boom. Bradan led the party through the great hall, until he stopped and knelt before a short flight of steps that led up to a large iron throne. Sat atop it was a dwarf with a large white beard, with a single thick braid running down the middle, and a thick white mane of hair upon which nestled a golden crown befit with hundreds of jewels. The dwarf looked ancient, and yet he seemed untouched by his age. His eyes were sharp and keen, and he watched each of them enter the hall with a glare that forced Vaedwyn's eyes to the floor. As they approached him, Bradan relayed their names to the King, and announced his name to them, "King Eirnin, the Iron Blood!" The King leant forwards on his throne, which Vaedwyn couldn't help but think was an incredibly uncomfortable-looking seat, and cleared his throat, "Tell me, Riders, what brings ye to m'land? Yeh've no right t'be here. The Dwarves want nothin' of ye, an' nothin' from ye. I should kill ye where ye stand." Vaedwyn tightened her grip on her sword, just as fear had gripped her itself. Had they walked into a mountain, or a tomb?
  24. Blood & Scale

    Once again, Vaedwyn was forced to change direction as she realised she'd taken the wrong route. At this rate, Agron would be in town while she was lost in the middle of nowhere. She reigned in her horse and looked around, she'd lost sight of Agron, and she was having trouble holding the link strong between her and Auriel. Where is he?! She asked. He's a few minutes ahead of you, he's following the road! Auriel replied, though she sounded distant. Vaedwyn cursed and set off once more, encouraging her horse into a gallop. She wasn't sure she'd ever catch up to Agron now. They'd been riding for hours and he had been consistently ahead of her. There has to be a way to get to Babbleridge faster! Vaedwyn called back to her partner. She rode in silence for a few minutes while Auriel scanned from above. It looked as though Agron had won, until suddenly Vaedwyn was forced to bring her horse to an immediate stop. An image flashed before her eyes. What was that...? Vaedwyn asked, trying to make sense of the image, even as it faded. Turn right, off the road, you can cut through and make it to town before Agron! Auriel replied, and hearing that, Vaedwyn didn't hesitate. She immediately turned her horse from the path and realised then just how muddy it was. But she was still making good ground, and if Auriel was right, then in a few minutes she would be ahead of Agron, and they'd only be minutes from the town after that. A few nail-biting minutes later, and she burst out of the brush and saw Babbleridge up ahead. Vaedwyn couldn't help herself, she let out a cheer as she came to the last stretch, she tried to tell Auriel, but she was too far away. Likely because of their proximity to the town. She brought her horse to a stop and let out the breath she'd been holding then waited. Vaedwyn dismounted and looked back down the road, but there was no sign of Agron. Then she heard footsteps behind her, and before she as much as turned, she knew it was him. "You're so fast..." Vaedwyn held onto her horse for support. "Well I did know the way." Agron said with a smirk, patting Vaedwyn on the shoulder a little too roughly. "But ye'd have still beaten me if ye'd worked together." "We were." Vaedwyn replied, a little annoyed. She wasn't sure what went wrong, whether Auriel had explained it poorly, or more likely, she'd turned off the road too early or too late. It didn't matter now. "What are we doing here, anyway?" Vaedwyn looked at the town ahead of her. It didn't look like much, even by her village's standards. "I told ye already." Agron said, folding his arms. "We're stoppin' here tae resupply, rest up and wait for Turiel." He turned back to Babbleridge. The small town was a human settlement. The buildings were comprised of wood, with thatched roofs, and no real roads to speak of. The ground was a dark, sloppy mud, constantly trodden over by the people of the town, stopping any grass from growing. In the distance there were a few small farms, but the town mostly dealt in trade from passing merchants, and so the market square was the main focus. "Folks from all o'er the place pass through here. It might not look like much, but ye can learn a lot from such places. Elven folks have their own way o' doin' things, but ye never know, maybe ye'll learn to appreciate different people, and different customs." "If you say so..." Vaedwyn muttered, looking around, "How do people feel about the riders? I know what its like in my village, and I think for a lot of Elves, they value what the riders were, but now...? I don't know. I heard stories growing up, but the Elders never spoke of them much. Maybe they were trying to bury painful memories." "Hmm...well, tae most folks the riders are just legends." Agron explained. "Yer people make a point of rememberin' history, but most folks are too busy just tryin' tae survive tae bother pickin' up a book. That's just the way things are, and probably for the best, eh?" "Why do you say that?" Vaedwyn asked, "I know the riders aren't popular with everyone, but... they brought peace and prosperity to Suros, didn't they?" "Aye, once upon a time." Agron nodded. "But that was a millenia ago. Bear in mind, with the exception o' the Elven, most folks feel pretty lucky tae reach 80 years old, but in the King's wake times have become tougher. Disease an' famine are rife. If a farmer has a bad winter, he might no see it through to the next year. An' poor crops effect the merchants tae, and with taxes bein' so high it's difficult for people tae save their coin. People are too focused on keepin' themselves alive tae worry about old heroes. Especially ones that are'nae here tae help them any more." "But we're here now, right? We both have dragons, can't we just... announce ourselves? Wouldn't that give people hope?" Vaedwyn looked out across the village, it seemed such a small, simple place. Yet the people seemed happy, at least on the surface. It reminded her of her home. "Maybe." Agron replied. "Or...we could terrify 'em. People have'nae seen dragons in years, lass. Only the King and his Lieutenants are known tae ride them, an' people fear them. Besides, the King has an army at his disposal, including a bunch o' spies and informants. If we reveal ourselves like that, King Aemon would move in and slaughter us, and then what good would that hope be, eh?" "I guess I was quick to forget how everyone reacted at my village when they saw Turiel..." Vaedwyn chewed her lip in thought. "It's a smart reaction." Agron said. "Fear can save yer life. For all yer village knew, I could have been one of the King's Lieutenants. I'd rather they feared me than welcomed me, in that regard." "I never looked at it that way," Vaedwyn sighed, "I've a lot to learn." She muttered irritably. "The world I knew is a lot smaller than I realised." "Aye, true." Agron nodded. "But dinnae be so hard on yersel', I wisnae much different when I was yer age. Probably worse, really." Agron took the reigns of Vaedwyn's horse and began to lead it into the town. "Come on, we'll get yer horse in the stable then head for the inn. We'll have a bit o' lunch an' then we can have a wander. Ye need some new clothes." "Alright." As they walked, a thought occurred to Vaedwyn as she mulled over Agron's comment about being worse than she was at that age, "Agron, do people change a lot when they become riders?" Agron didn't answer immediately. He thought about the question and sucked in his breath, humming as he thought. Eventually he spoke, and his voice was careful, and a little guarded. "People change a lot throughout their lives, even the ones that only live half a century. Bein' a rider means ye see a lot more of the world, both the good and the bad, ken? How that affects ye depends on who ye are as a person. Sometimes it changes ye for the worse, sometimes for the better. But change ye will, in one way or another." "Alright..." That was probably the best answer she was going to get out of him, for now. Vaedwyn turned her attention to the matter at hand. With their horses stabled, it was time for food, and she was starving. Who knew saving the world would work up such an appetite? When they arrived at the inn it was, surprisingly to Agron, rather empty. A couple of people were sitting at tables alone, while a pot-bellied gentleman with a balding head and a bushy, brown mustache was cleaning the tables. "Greetin's." Agron said as they entered. and he nodded at the balding man. "Are ye the owner?" "I am that." The man replied, not looking up or continuing what he was doing. "What can I do for you?" "A couple o' hot meals, and a couple o' rooms, if that's awright?" Agron asked. "Mm, really?" The owner said, and he looked up at them. "Sorry, haven't had a lot of travellers lately. Two rooms isn't a problem, and my wife is just making some stew and potatoes if you're willing to wait. If not I think we have some rolls left, and some Ardwin cheddar." "Cannae say naw tae stew an' tatties." Agron said with a grin. He reached for his belt and retrieved a hefty pouch of coins. He placed it on the table and opened it, retrieving some of the gold inside and handing it to the owner. "That enough?" He asked "Uh...yes." The owner said with a soft smile. "Take a seat, I'll fetch you something to drink. We've got wine or...?" "Could murder a pint if ye've got yin." Agron said. "Just the local piss water, it's not very good." The owner admitted. "That'll dae." Agron replied. "And...for the young miss?" The owner asked, turning to look at Vaedwyn. Vaedwyn hesitated, having been unable to follow half of the conversation, "I... I would also kill a pint." "Mhm..." The owner nodded slowly, frowning at her, then walked off to see to their menu. As she sat, Vaedwyn looked around the inn, it was small and grotty but there wasn't another option on the table, "Not all humans speak like you, do they, Agron?" "Heh. barely any." Agron replied. "For starters, I'm no human, lass. I'm a Nord. We're similar, I'll grant ye, but Nords are a bit taller, a bit hardier. We share a common ancestry, though. But I'm from the North of Suros, a land called Skovaer." "Oh..." Vaedwyn nodded at his sword, "So we must stand out then? An Elf and a Nord, carrying weapons..." "Weapons are fairly commonplace among travellers, the roads are dangerous after all." Agron said. "No that ye'll see many like mine, I suppose." Agron patted his sword as he spoke. "A Claymore's typically a Nord's weapon, a bit too big for anyone else. And this one is a bit special, but I'll tell ye more about that another time." The owner returned with their drinks, and as he laid them down Agron took his own, and then quickly took Vaedwyn's and drained half of the contents before handing it back to her. "A half pint will dae you, lass." He said with a smirk. "I've seen an Elf shoot a man off he's horse fae a quarter mile away, in that sense yer just superior. But when it comes tae the drink...well, ye've nae stomach for it." "I'll thank you not to underestimate me," Vaedwyn snatched the half-drunk pint off the table and took a swig, then shot a 'See?' look at Agron, before looking back into her cup, "What's in this?" She asked, licking her lips and taking another swig, "Tastes like bitter berries..." She muttered, taking another long draw. By the time she'd reached the bottom of her cup, she was holding her head upright with her arm, elbow to table. Staring lazily into the bottom of her cup, while pushing lumps of stew around in the bowl. She would pause to tear a piece of bread off and dunk it in her soup, but each time she left it too long and it fell apart in her hands and incorporated into the stew. "I am jusht as good ash anyone they tell you..." She muttered, eating a mouthful of stew. Just then, she heard a distant voice, calling out to her. --aren't you listening to me?! Auriel yelled, and Vaedwyn jumped in her skin, sitting bolt upright. I'm drinking berries with Agron, Vaedwyn replied, yawning. You're drunk! Auriel snapped in disbelief, I can't believe that... You're really great... y'know? Vaedwyn said quietly. Auriel failed to suppress a little chuckle.
  25. Blood & Scale

    "He's just like everyone else!" Vaedwyn muttered, stepping over a rotten tree stump as she walked through the wood. "He tells me i'm not a child, then treats me like one anyway!" She spoke with exasperation, looking to her dragon for support, but she simply walked alongside her and stared up at her silently. Vaedwyn sighed. She knew it wasn't her fault, but she wanted to speak to her dragon directly, she was tired of their indirect, broken messages to one another. She was desperate to make a connection, and she could feel that her dragon was too, but neither of them were there yet. They'd been walking for nearly an hour and seen little more than squirrels and small birds. If things went on like this, it looked like squirrel was going to be on the menu. Vaedwyn adjusted the quiver on her back and tightened the tension on the bowstring. "It's rubbish." Vaedwyn explained, when her dragon looked at what she was doing, "Look at this, just look..." She held the bow in front of her dragon's face, "Humans don't understand archery at all." She said, scowling at the bow in her hands. They walked in silence for a few minutes until something made her flinch. Then it hit her again, and she realised what it was. It was beginning to rain. Within minutes the wood was hit with a light rain that although seemed inoffensive, had actually soaked her through to her skin. She shivered, feeling entirely unhappy as they trudged through the fallen leaves and debris which were quickly turning into a stodgy mud. "Do you have a name? Am I supposed to give you a name?" Vaedwyn asked suddenly, "I mean, what else am I supposed to call you..." She looked to her dragon for advice, but she only stared back at her quizzically, "Don't give me that look. I can't keep referring to you as 'dragon', y'know." She shook her head, looking up at the clouds with a frown. Up ahead, a twig snapped. Vaedwyn's dragon froze as still as a statue, and she knelt down beside her. She looked at her dragon's line of sight and followed it back until she saw it also. A deer moving through the wood maybe a hundred yards ahead. Slowly, quietly, Vaedwyn reached over her shoulder and pulled an arrow from the quiver, and nocked it carefully. She raised the bow, took aim and loosed the arrow. The projectile flew true towards its intended target, but something startled it and it bolted before the arrow could find it's mark. Vaedwyn was about to complain when she saw what had spooked the deer. An enormous brown bear chased after the deer but at the pivotal moment, the deer managed to zigzag and throw the bear off it's path. The deer pranced away into the wood, leaving the bear panting and chuffing. Fear gripped her. She looked to her dragon who remained frozen, staring at the bear. Vaedwyn touched her on the back and silently tried to move backwards, her dragon slowly began stepping back but as they moved, something must have alerted the bear to their presence. Whether it was noise, or smell or perhaps the bear simply caught sight of them, she wasn't sure. Panic washed over her in great waves, and she felt her dragon trying to calm her, but it wasn't working. The bear turned, roared and charged. Vaedwyn fumbled for the arrows in her quiver, she pulled two out at the same time, and they both fell to the ground. She quickly grabbed one and tried nocking the arrow, but her hands were shaking. She looked up, the bear was a lot faster than she'd realised. It was too late. It was almost here. Vaedwyn screamed as she felt the bear's hot breath on her face and leapt back in surprise as her dragon collided with the bear at full force. The bear was larger and stronger than her dragon, but it wasn't as fast, and she had to admit, her dragon's ferocity made the bear seem passive by comparison. The huge bundle of fur and scales rolled back and forth, as mud and rainwater sprayed everywhere. Vaedwyn nocked her arrow and took aim, but she couldn't loose the arrow. What if she hit her dragon?! She stood there frozen, screaming in her mind, wishing that Agron and Turiel were here, or anyone. She could feel the tears flowing down her cheeks and the knots in her stomach as she fought with the contrasting sensations of being rooted to the spot by fear, and yet desperately wanting to rush into the fray and save her dragon. She heard a terrible wail as the bear's enormous maw clamped down on her dragon's shoulder and Vaedwyn screamed and ran at them, dropping the bow in the process. She reached for her skinning knife but as she ran towards them, bellowing a battle cry, the bear changed priorities. It dropped her dragon to the ground and charged her, it's tongue lolling about as great globs of spittle trailed. Up close, she saw it's matted fur, wild yet focused eyes and the dozens of wounds it had suffered from her dragon. Something was boiling up from deep inside her. As Vaedwyn charged the bear, she gripped her dagger tightly, she only had one shot. She couldn't get anywhere near the bear, it would tear her apart in the first swipe. She had once chance. One. She threw the dagger with all the force she could muster, with a single word resounding in her mind, over and over. Kill. As the dagger left her hand, she felt a chill run up her spine and suddenly all her energy was drained from her body. Her legs were weak, her knees shaking. She felt them buckle beneath her, and she was falling. The bear was charging her, the dagger was glowing white hot. And then she hit the ground, and her temple struck a stone. Darkness. "Stop..." Vaedwyn muttered. A long tongue lapped the side of her face a second time. "Stop it..." She muttered, pushing out with her hand and touching something rough. Like a lightning bolt, images flashed through her mind, reminding her of what had just happened. The bear. Vaedwyn's eyes shot open in surprise and she started to panic, looking around frantically. She was freezing cold, covered in mud and soaked to the bone. Her hair clung to her face, and her dragon licked her face again, cleaning it of the mud and blood that was caked to it. "Yeuch..." She groaned, but smiled. Then she saw the wound on her dragon. Most of it was superfluous, where the bear's teeth had scraped along the surface of her scales, but it's canines had punctured them. Thick, dark blood oozed from the wounds. "No no no..." Vaedwyn tried to pull herself to her feet and almost collapsed again. Why was she so tired? It felt like she'd been training with Agron for days, not hours. "I-I don't..." She gingerly pressed her hand against her dragon's wounds, "I don't know what to do..." She looked around desperately and that was when she saw it. The bear. The bear was dead. It's enormous body lay still. But what killed it? At first it wasn't immediately obvious. It was covered in deep scratches and bite marks but nothing that would have stopped it. Then she realised. There was something wrong with the bear's right eye. It wasn't looking at anything. And it was the wrong colour. The orb in it's socket was not its eye at all. It was the pommel of her hunting knife. Vaedwyn gasped. Had she done that? The knife was buried so deep only the pommel remained visible. There was no way she was going to be able to pull that out, she thought. She shook her head in disbelief, but then the matter at hand refocused her. She tore off the ends of her sleeves and split the cloth into four small pieces then took the first, and slowly bundled it up and pushed it into her dragon's wound to staunch the bleeding. Ouch! Be careful! I'm sorry! Vaedwyn thought, then grabbed the second piece of cloth. She bundled it up, then froze. Her eyebrows raised as it dawned on her that she had just heard her dragon. Slowly, Vaedwyn followed the long line of her dragon's neck until she was looking up at her head and into her large amber eyes. I can hear you... Apparently, she replied. I can hear you! Vaedwyn laughed, more tears streaming down her face. She leapt forwards and hugged her dragon tightly. Oof! She recoiled in discomfort, Be careful... She chided delicately, but lowered her head to press against Vaedwyn's cheek. A-are you okay? She asked, across their link. It hurts, actually. Her dragon replied, matter-of-factly. There was a level of mirth in her voice she hadn't expected, and a nobility in her tone. Vaedwyn found herself smiling like an idiot and burst out laughing, hugging her dragon once again. This time, a little more carefully. You asked me my name? Her dragon reminded her. Yes... Vaedwyn nodded. The black-scaled dragon rose to her full height, spreading out her wings, before resettling them. I am Auriel. I'm so happy to hear you at last, Vaedwyn was smiling from ear-to-ear as she felt warm feelings of love blanket her. But, how did... She looked at the bear. That is a question I think best left to Agron. We set out to find food, and that is what we have done. "I hope he likes bear..." Vaedwyn muttered aloud, grinning. There seemed no signs of the rain coming to a stop any time soon, but that didn't bother her. Vaedwyn walked up to the mouth of the cave and nodded to Agron, who was stood just inside. She was covered in mud, blood and soaked through. Missing her bow, hunting knife, her sleeves were torn and she looked like she'd been through hell, but a grin was plastered on her face. "Hey..." She said, giving him a nod. "Crivvens, lass!" Agron exclaimed as he got a look at her. "I said tae go catch dinner, no go for a swim in the mud! Look at the state o' ye!" "What are you complaining for? Aren't you hungry?" She asked with a grin, then there was a triumphant trumpet from the skies above and a howling whistle as something descended from the clouds at speed. Vaedwyn quickly stepped out of the rain, and a couple of seconds later an enormous body crashed into the ground and a moment later Vaedwyn's dragon landed beside it. The body belonged to an enormous brown bear. It was covered in wounds and the pommel of a hunting knife was stuck deep in the socket of it's right eye. "My my..." Agron said with a bewildered expression. He stood over the corpse of the bear and examined it for a moment. "You know usually we hunt dear and rabbits, lass. But... I'll gie ye points for effort." Agron couldn't help but crack a smile. "So, dare I ask what happened?" "I... i'm not sure." Vaedwyn confessed, "We found a deer, and then this bear attacked us, Auriel fought it but then it charged me and I don't really understand what happened, somehow I did this..." She knelt over the bear and pointed at the pommel stuck in it's eye socket. "I can't even get it out. I've tried. Anyway... I passed out, and when I came to, well..." "I see..." Agron replied, stroking the braid of his beard, he seemed deep in thought. Eventually he clapped his hands together and rubbed them. "Well, let's get this big bastard skinned and gutted, and I'll tell ye all about it." He walked up to the bear and gripped the hunting knife in it's eye socket. He put his boot on the bear, and with a single, firm pull the knife finally came away. He moved around the side of the bear, and as he passed Auriel, he bowed to her. "Auriel, nice tae finally meet yer acquaintance." Auriel bowed her head slightly and asked Vaedwyn to speak for her, "And you, Rider." "Well done." Agron said with a nod. He got to work on skinning the bear with Vaedwyn's help. During the process he decided to teach her some more about being a Rider. "What happened wi' ye, well, apparently it used tae happen sometimes with elven riders. Y'see it's yer common tongue, so it's all the more easy for ye to do it by accident." "Do what by accident?" Vaedwyn asked, frowning. "Magic, lass." Agron said, and he was beaming as he spoke, clearly a little proud of her. "The Elvish tongue, as ye might know, is essentially the root language of Suros. Yer entire history is steeped in the art o' magic. What I was taught, and what I'm quite inclined tae believe is the truth, is that the Elven language uses the 'true' names for things. There's magic in these true names, ye know the name, ye have power over the thing, see?" "That's what I was taught, but..." Vaedwyn shook her head, that wasn't possible. She'd never used magic before. You're a Rider, Vaedwyn. Vaedwyn turned to look to her dragon. There are a great many things no longer out of your reach. "It's been a long day..." She muttered, running her hands down her face. "Aye, it has." Agron agreed. "But it'll feel better when ye get some food in yer belly. But Vaedwyn, we need to have a chat about this. Yer gonnae have tae be more careful usin' yer common tongue from now on. Magic is very dangerous, and if ye use magic beyond yer own abilities, well, ye could kill yerself, lass. Worse yet, ye could accidentally hurt someone ye didn't intend tae." "Is that why I passed out?" Vaedwyn asked. "Aye, most likely." Agron nodded. "Magic takes a bit out of ye each time ye use it. It takes time for that strength tae come back, and it's up tae you to realise what yer limits are. I can teach ye the rules, and ye ken the words yerself, but only ye can know yer limits." You'll have to learn where your limits lie, Auriel added. "I was only thinking one word though?" Vaedwyn looked from Auriel to Agron, "All I could think when the bear attacked me was 'Kill'." "Mm..." Agron nodded. "A dangerous habit, and one that's hard tae kick. When ye use magic, ye cannae deal in absolutes, lass. Ye've nae idea how it could backfire on ye. Take the word 'kill' for example. Did ye stipulate how? Did ye say who by? Or when, even? A direct command like that, one so certain and final, it's hard tae predict how it will work." "I'm going to have to be a lot more careful from now on." Vaedwyn sighed, looking down at the bear carcass. Yes, Auriel added, brushing her cheek against Vaedwyn's. We both will. "Well ye know now, and that's what matters." Agron said. "Ye know, yer learnin' dead quick. Took me 6 months tae learn how tae use magic. Didnae speak tae Turiel for a full fortnight, either. Ye've got a long way tae go... but ye'll get there, lass." And still, i'm afraid it won't be fast enough, Vaedwyn thought. Auriel craned her neck down and picked up a large chunk of bear meat and swallowed it before walking deeper into the cave to find a place to rest. Some things we can prevent, Vaedwyn. Others we cannot, it is not good to dwell on such things. Get some rest while you can. The forest was on fire. Flames surrounded the village. There was nowhere to run. Mogwé stared in astonishment as the horror unfolded in front of her. Villagers ran to and fro, trying to stop the spread of the fire. Children were crying in the street. Animals scattering into the darkness of the forest. The full moon cast it's light down upon the village until a great shadow eclipsed it. It grew, and grew until the shadow covered the village. Mogwé looked up, gripping her staff. Her knuckles were white under tension. Again, the horn of their village sounded. But she knew already, it was too late. The great red dragon crashed into the centre of the town, snapping at the nearest villager and missing them by inches, but as a woman darted around to it's side it whipped it's head around and managed to grab her by the leg. Its fangs sunk into her leg and she screeched at the top of her lungs in horrifying pain and then fell silent as the dragon bit down on her head. It grabbed her by the torso, and swallowed the body whole. The dragon tucked its wings into its back and the rider sat upon the saddle dismounted. He was dressed in black armour with the red sigil of the King emblazoned on his chest. A sword, wreathed in flame. The rider rubbed his hands together, warming them after the long, cold flight. He stretched and looked around, his face obscured by his helmet, a great helm that matched his armour. On his hip was a single sword. He scanned the village, then his eyes fell upon Mogwé. "She-Elf!" He called to her, but did not approach. He held out his hand for her to come to him instead. He did not chase people, that was unnecessary. Mogwé considered running for a moment, every instinct told her to run. Her legs wanted to carry her in the opposite direction, even as she approached the man. But she knew that running was pointless. When she was just a couple of feet from the rider he looked her up and down. "You are an Elder, are you not?" He asked, nodding at her staff. "I am." Mogwé replied, speaking through teeth clenched so firmly together she thought they might shatter. "My name is Kardran. I am an emissary for the King." Kardran bowed his head ever so slightly. "It would seem so." Mogwé replied insolently, taking her chances. Kardran remained silent and still. His lack of anger or response chilled her and suddenly she realised that it was not the rampaging dragon, attacking and eating people behind Kardran, that the villagers should be afraid of, but Kardran himself. The rider let the silence go on for a few minutes, meanwhile the roar of his dragon mutilating her villagers went on unchallenged. Eventually, he cleared his throat, then grabbed his helmet and pulled it off. Kardran was a man that appeared to be in his forties. He had short scruffy black hair, a short black beard and a scar running horizontally through his nose and across his cheeks. He might have been handsome once upon a time, but now his face was scarred, and his eyes were sunken and dark. "Tell me, Elder," Kardran sniffed as he put his helmet to his waist and then indicated their surroundings, "Do you enjoy this, hm?" "What do you think!?" Mogwé spat, trying to keep her tears in check. "I think you must enjoy it, just a little, hm? Else, when I arrived, on a mission for which the objective must surely be clear, you would have told me immediately and thus saved your village this discomfort." Kardran looked around and noticed a child crying in the street. "Boy!" He called, the child did not answer, "Boy!!" He yelled, and the boy looked up. "Come here, boy." He commanded, and the child did so. "Don't." Mogwé growled, her hands shaking. "I--" "I know." Kardran nodded, as he took the child's shoulder and then lifted the boy up so they were face-to-face, "But you see, what I want is irrelevant, Elder. This must be done, so I offer you a choice, hm? You can tell me what I want to know now, or I can find out eventually," He looked back over his shoulder, watching as his dragon collided with the nearest tree-house, splintering it to pieces and killing everyone inside. "After Uruk has vented his frustrations." "I will never tell you any--" "LIAR!!" Kardran screamed at the top of his lungs, shaking with rage. He continued shaking, his breaths shallow. Eventually he calmed down enough that he took a deep breath and repeated it, "Liar." He clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth and then placed his helmet back upon his head. "You will tell me, or they will die, hm?" He replied, his voice tinny within his helmet. Then he put the child back down, stroked the boy's cheek and promptly snapped his neck. "NNNNOOOOOOOooooo!!!" Mogwé wailed, abandoning her staff and falling to her knees to catch the lifeless body of the child. "It was a rider." Kardran turned his attention from Mogwé, looking to the girl with the voice so quiet he almost hadn't heard her speak. He walked up to her, and she recoiled. "It's alright girl, it's alright. I won't hurt you." Kardran put a hand on her shoulder comfortingly, and nodded. "Tell me, and this can all be over." "Tell him nothing, Torenth!" Mogwé wailed, amidst her cries of anguish, "NOTHING!!" She screamed. "You can end this, Torenth. You know you can." Kardran reassured her, "I will take my dragon, hm? I will take him, and leave this place. All you need to do is tell me where they are. Where did they go? What direction? North, hm? Yes? North? South, perhaps? West, East. Spit it out, girl, hm?" Torenth hesitated, but slowly she leant in. Kardran removed his helmet and inclined his head as she whispered into his ear. "Mm, mm." He nodded, putting his helmet back on. "Thank you, Torenth. Thank you, hm?" She nodded quietly, then Kardran looked to his dragon, Uruk. There was a period of long silence. An exchange. Kardran turned back to face Mogwé, still knelt upon the ground, cradling the dead child in her arms. Tears streaming down her face in abject horror of the man stood in front of her. "You think me evil, hm? Elder? Do you?" Kardran asked, frowning. "You think me evil - for this?" He waved at the chaos, death and destruction surrounding them. "No." He shook his head, "I am the King's rage, sheathed. You will never have the honour of knowing it drawn." Then Kardran grabbed the hilt of his blade, and as Torenth loosed an ear-splitting scream, he drew the blade. The metal a bright crimson, just as the scales of his dragon. He whirled the sword around, pressed the tip to Mogwé's sternum, and drove the blade into her body. She gasped, as though stung. Then her eyes rolled into the back of her head, and Kardran yanked his blade free, wiped it on her dress, and sheathed it. Torenth was still screaming as he replaced his helm and grabbed her by the wrist and started pulling her back to Uruk. "Be you all blessed, for your ignorance of the King." He muttered. Kardran reached out with his mind, Uruk? He asked. What answered was an unintelligible white noise. A screaming roar of pain and hatred and anguish, washing over Kardran in unrelenting waves. Burn it. Burn it all! Kardran quickly withdrew from his link to Uruk, unable to stand it for a second longer. He threw Torenth onto Uruk's saddle, climbing on himself. Uruk took an unfathomably deep breath and when he opened his mouth again, he retched liquid flame across the entire village. Killing hundreds in seconds, leaving none alive. Uruk bellowed before lifting into the air with a single beat from his wings, and disappeared into the inky blackness of the sky.