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Everything posted by Kyo

  1. Hallows

    “Well, it shouldn’t take too long to clean this up.” The dry cleaner said, inspecting the crusted pudding inside Vincent’s jacket pocket. “Come back in an hour or so and I’ll have it for you.” The elderly man smiled politely, but he couldn’t completely hide his concern. Vincent stood on the other side of the counter, his white shirt wrinkled, with one side untucked from his jeans. He’d taken his tie off and unbuttoned the collar of the shirt. He had his sports bag hanging over his shoulder, an unlit cigarette in his mouth, and his right eye was now sporting a nasty, swollen shiner. “Thanks,” Vincent replied, as he opened his wallet and passed the man a handful of crumpled notes. “Guess I’ll wait elsewhere. Any quiet bars nearby?” “Now?” The man asked, shrugging uncomfortably. “It’s 3 pm. I should imagine they’re all quiet round about now. There’s one just a block away, though. Take a right to the next block, then right again. Can’t miss it.” “Thanks again,” Vincent replied and turned around to leave the dry cleaners. When he stepped outside he took his sunglasses out of his pocket and put them on, more to hide his black eye than to shade from the sun. He flicked the top off his zippo and lit the cigarette in his mouth, pocketed the lighter again and walked down the street. He was getting some odd looks from people as he walked by, but he found himself not caring very much. Being a wizard has always made him feel like a bit of a freak anyway, and it was difficult to care about such things after getting punched in the face anyway. Violet’s words proceeding her violent outburst were still ringing in his head. Arrogant? Well, he couldn’t argue with that one. As far as poor traits go, this was something he was fairly aware of. It was all too common for academics, and those who knew things others didn’t. However, he’d always assumed that arrogance was at least only inflicted on the mundane, ordinary people. Did he really feel he was superior to Violet? He certainly felt he had a better grasp of magical theory than her. Whose magical theory, though?, he thought to himself. After all, as he was so happy to point out to her, the rules didn’t apply to her. Not his rules, anyway. He had always had to exercise control in the form of restraint. Mortal magic was tied very closely to intention and faith. The path to black magic was a slippery slope that always began with making exceptions, and allowances for doing things that were wrong. Yet, if he was honest, hadn’t he already made those exceptions himself at times? He had the stain of black magic upon him. He flinched slightly as he almost remembered something from his younger years, but he pushed it aside. Yes, he had used dark magic, and it had left a mark on him that would never fade. It was like a hole in his heart, an emptiness. Worse than that really, for it was a hungering thing. The temptation to use black magic was always there. So, of course, he had to steel himself. Perhaps he was a hypocrite. Even if he was, did that mean he wasn’t right? He knew the dangers of losing control first hand, so shouldn’t Violet listen to him? There he went again assuming that which applied to him also applied to her. Jealous, that one had really stung. His knee-jerk response had been an urge to point out to her that jealousy was a fear of someone taking that which was yours. He was, in fact, envious. However, acknowledging that he was indeed envious had somewhat twisted the knife. He had always urged Violet to exercise the same practices he had, citing that she would be all the more powerful and effective for it. It disgusted him to realise the connotations of that; that he felt he could use her abilities better than she could. He cursed softly to himself, flicking away his cigarette butt as he came to the outside of a local bar. He pushed the door open and stepped inside. The bar was basically empty and there was only one person behind the bar minding the place. “Afternoon.” The man said, eyeing Vincent carefully. “Rough day?” “Something like that,” Vincent replied. “Let’s just say I deserved it.” “Heh!” The barman laughed. He was one of those tough, old salt-of-the-earth types. “Beer?” “God, yes,” Vincent replied. The barman cracked a bottle and put it on the bar. Vincent took it from the bar and took a long drink. The cool beer felt rejuvenating as it ran down his dry, hoarse throat. He gasped in satisfaction and nodded in thanks to the barman. “I’ll have 2 more.” He said, and he put some cash on the bar. He sat himself at the bar, and removed one of the more sizeable books from his bag. This was his bestiary, and contained knowledge and information about a whole host of supernatural creatures. Like all of his most important books, it was enchanted. The pages were all blank, with the exception of the contents pages at the beginning. He fingered through the numbered sections. Ancient Greece was near the top. He waited until the barman wasn’t looking, and then he focused his will and pushed it out. The spark of power flowed through the book, and he focused on the Ancient Greece section. He flicked through the blank pages, and as he did, ink began to spill across the pages, with flowing writing, illustrations and scribbled notes. He flicked through to the section on Nymphs. He read through the information, confirming things he already knew. The book explained that Nymphs were considered lesser deities, the children of nature deities. He cursed lightly under his breath. So they weren’t related to the river, but the river’s God. It was a minor error on his part, but these sorts of details could be important. He took another pull of his beer and carried on. He poured through pages dedicated to the different types of Nymphs. He read over the Naiad section carefully, and confirmed his suspicion that what they were dealing with was Potamides. Apparently they weren’t immortal creatures, but they were gifted with long lives. A note scribbled on one of the pages indicated that Plutarch, a Greek historian, had indicated their lifespan to be about 9,720 years. That seemed like an oddly specific number to Vincent, but it was a possibility. The book also mentioned that they were given offerings of honey and milk, but never wine. Occasionally offerings of lamb or goat were provided but this wasn’t seen as common. How does any of this help?, he asked himself internally. Everything he had was just information gathered by historians and experts of myth. He sighed and had another drink. His head was starting to ache, and his eye was beginning to feel prickly and tender. He sighed and closed the book, the strain of further reading seemed pointless. He wasn’t meant for this sort of thing. His father had been a hunter, and that was a craft of it’s own, one that Violet had taken to much more than him. He had learned from a fellow hunter though, one of his father’s oldest friends. “Ye can’t always jus’ stick y’head in a book an’ find the answers, hoss.” The old redneck’s voice sounded in his mind, “huntin’s abou’ takin’ what y’know abou’ the real world, an’ applying it to the myth, see? Y’gotta apply that knowledge to yer surroundings. Ye gotta talk to people, know how they think.” He sighed in resigned acknowledgement of his old mentor’s words. The barman came over to take his empty beer bottle away, and gave Vincent another. “Thanks.” Vincent said as he took a swig from the fresh bottle. He hesitated for a moment, then he motioned to the barman. “Hey, you mind talking to me for a bit?” “Depends on what you have to say.” The barman replied with a smirk. “What’s on your mind, son?” “Well, I’m not from around here.” Vincent replied. “New in town, you could say. But I’ve been hearing about these murders, all those girls from the High School? You know about it?” “A damn shame.” The barman replied, nodding solemnly. “If anyone don’t deserve something like that, it’s those girls. They’ve been doing great work cleaning up the river banks. The whole city really. Now I’m not some environmentalist hippy or anything, but the city looks cleaner, and so does the river. It’s nice to see this place looking it’s best, you know?” “I hear you.” Vincent replied. “Hard to think anyone would be against that though, don’t you think?” “Oh I don’t know.” The barman said with a shrug. “They’ve caused a lot of trouble for a few local companies. They brought about new legislation regarding recycling, and a few local businesses experienced a heavy cost trying to get up to standard.” “Really?” Vincent asked. “Like who?” “Oh a few factories, big industrial places with a lot of waste.” The barman replied. “Couple of fast food chains, oh and there was a bit of a weird one. This wine brewery made a big fuss about blocking their petitions and interfering with their protests.” “Why’s that weird?” Vincent asked. “If they’re bad for business, surely that’s to be expected?” “That’s the thing.” The barman said. “They weren’t really being affected at all. They’re a environmentally friendly company. It didn’t make any sense. Saying that, there’s always been bad blood between Giannopoulos and Petros.” “Who?” Vincent asked. “Thanas Giannopoulos, his family own the wine brewery. He’s never gotten along with the Petros family, they’ve had fights in the street a few years back. They mostly keep away from each other but their kids go to the same school. Amber Petros is part of the eco group. She was good friends with the other victims, of course.” “That…” Vincent started flicking through his book again. “Aha!” He pointed at a page in the book. “What’s that? A Faun or something? One of those Narnia things?” The barman asked. “Satyr.” Vincent corrected. “Fauns have goat legs, Satyrs just have the horns. Common misconception though.” “So what, you some kind of mythology buff?” The barman asked. “Something like that.” Vincent replied, standing up. “I think I need to go.” “Uh…okay. Well it was nice talking to you, son.” The barman replied. “Yeah, you too.” Vincent replied, closing the book shut. He grabbed his things and walked out of the bar. Amber, he knew that name. She was girl with the red hair, Amber Petros. She was one of the Nymphs, if their suspicions were correct. That meant Giannopoulos and his boys, who had a feud with the Nymphs, were probably the ones commiting the murders. Gored victims meant horns. He only knew of one creature that loved wine, and targeted Nymphs. The Satyr. He had ingored it in the books before, because Satyr of lore were known for bedding Nymphs, due to a severe sexual fascination with them. That was Dionysian lore all over. Nothing but sex. He had to remember that it wasn’t Ancient Greece any more. They were in a modern world, a world where men, or Satyr in this case, could not just take what they wanted. Perhaps, he thought, it was rather like Violet and her pudding. Maybe if the Satyr couldn’t have them, well, then no one could. Was it really that simple? It was time to find out. He made a quick stop at the dry cleaners to fetch his coat, and then it was off for some wine tasting.
  2. Hallows

    “You know, I should be pleased about this…” Vincent said as he sat down with a lunch tray at one of the long tables in the cafeteria. The tray had a baked potato with a crunchy side salad and a fresh orange juice box. “…it just seems wrong. No sloppy joes in high school? Damn school lunch programs…” He stuck a fork in the salad and scooped some lettuce into his mouth. “I mean…what’s the point? There’s a taco bell across the street!” "Do you think anyone would notice if I transported a half dozen tacos in here..." Violet knew the answer, but the important question was; did she care? "So, is it everything you dreamed and more?" She asked, devouring her food. “I think the laws of entropy might notice.” Vincent replied casually, but there was a sternness he was trying to downplay. If there was anything he was quite firm on, it was the laws of magic. Granted, the laws seemed to apply to mortal creatures, and Violet was not strictly one of those, and so Vincent wasn’t entirely sure what did and did not apply to her when it came to the rules. He knew for certain that, for any mortal wizard, transmogrification or changing one’s shape was something that required rituals, sacrifices, or submitting one’s self to a magical boon or curse, both of which had strict conditions. Yet Violet, the cosmic glowstick, could change her form like she was simply putting on another hat. “I suppose it’s better to say that if I conjured a bunch of tacos, there would likely be a pretty steep cost, and it would hardly be worth it.” He said after his musing. "I'd be more upset that if I summoned tacos, I wouldn't know what they were made of." Violet put her knife and fork down, finished already. "If they hadn't been taken from a cow, lettuce, tomato and so on, then what made up the proteins and structures that formed them? I don't want to think about it." “Well that depends on the spell.” Vincent replied, his mouth full of baked potato. “If you do it properly, gather the materials yourself, then you can more or less ensure the food is of good quality, but by that point you’d be as well just cooking your own tacos. Conjuring tacos from the cosmos, well…it’d just goop some basic compounds together based on your perceived imressions of what a taco is, mostly from flawed memories. So you’d probably just get a basically passable taco.” He let out a sigh. “Of course, all of that requires a great deal of power expended from myself, and requires a great deal of power being lent by the cosmos, and that comes with a steep debt. All of which could be avoided by going to the taco bell that’s literally across the street.” "Can we stop talking about tacos, I'm literally--" Violet's train of thought detailed as she heard a scuffle behind her. A group of girls wearing cheerleader's outfits in colours of green and blue suddenly separated and two in the centre squared off. One was tall, slim, with fiery red curly hair and the other was average in height, black hair cut in a bob with thick black-rim glasses. They said something to one another, then the black-haired bob stormed off taking half the group with her. The other half sat back down and crowded around the flame-headed youth. "No," Violet said, "No look now, I've got my pudding now. It's right there. And this can wait, they've clearly got it well in hand." Violet reached for her spoon. Vincent, instead, swiped the pudding cup away from her and stood up from the table, holding it aloft. “No, you look!” He said, “You were the one who decided to start playing ‘The Hardy Boys’ and now I’m stuck in this mess until we sort it out.” He pocketed the pudding cup. “Now let’s go harass a minor and get ourselves in more trouble.” Before Violet could reply, Vincent was already making his way to the red-head’s table. As he approached, the young girls stared at him with confusion and apprehension. “Hey, you.” He said, pointing at the red-head. “Are you Kate’s friend?” Violet was tired, she was frustrated, but most of all she was hungry. It was a small indiscretion. One that Vincent couldn't understand the degree to which he had just affected her. But he had. Violet felt the heat in her eyes, could see the light casting a reflection off her tray. She quickly closed her eyes, scrunched them closed and tried to calm down. After a few seconds she stood, turned and walked over to join Vincent, suitably calmed. Though, she still wanted an outlet for her anger. "What's it to you?" The redhead asked. "Don't tell him anything, Amber." One of the other girls spoke up. "Shut up!" Amber snapped, sighing. Violet's gaze set to Vincent's pocket and focused on it for a moment. There was a quiet 'pop' sound, crumpling plastic. Violet turned back to face Amber without smiling to, or acknowledging Vincent. Vincent let out a long, drawn out sigh of frustration. He shot a silent sideways glance at Violet and proceeded to bottle his anger, pushing it way down. “Oh, it’s nothing to me.” Vincent said, with a clearly false smile across his face. “It’s just that we know that she’s a Nymph, and that you probably are too.” The red-head gasped as he said it, and so did her friends. “Is that a sex thing?” one of them asked. “Gross, he’s like…30 or something, ew.” Another said in disgust. Vincent turned around and stared darkly at his sister. He spoke to her quietly under his breath. “Impatient and impulsive, acting without thinking, usually to your own disadvantage, or to those around you. Typical Violet.” He tapped her on the shoulder as he strode past her. “I’m out. Come find me when you’re ready to find dad.” He said as he walked off, leaving her with the gossiping and embarrassed teenagers.
  3. Hallows

    “Okay guys so that’s…” The server examined the food she had placed on the table, “One Belgian waffle combo, one strawberry and banana pancakes, one breakfast sampler, one peaches and cream crepe, one stuffed French toast...” The mountain of food she had listed were all sitting at Violet’s side of the table. “…and one Tuscan scramble for you.” She placed a plate of scrambled eggs and hash browns, with a side of toast next to Vincent. “Oh and a bottomless coffee for the table.” She added, placing the large decanter of murky, black goodness in between them. “Thanks.” Vincent said, slipping the waitress 10 bucks. “That’s for not judging.” “Aw, thanks.” The server said as she pocketed the cash, although the distinct roll of her eyes as she left them indicated that there had been more than a little judging going on. Vincent shrugged and took a piece of toast from his plate, and bit a chunk off the corner, before swiping the coffee jar and pouring himself a cup. “So…” He said, his mouth still full of toast. He drank his coffee to wash it down. “…how’s the diet going?” "--Whuf?!" Violet mumbled through a muffled mouth full of her masticating meal, "Oh." She swallowed her mouthful. Ending the alliteration. "What's the point in dieting? I don't have fat proteins or process sugars." Violet pulled her wallet out and flicked it open, on the inside through a clear inlay there was a card that read 'unlimited 'Krispy Kreme Donuts VIP Member'. "I know!" She said smugly, stuffing another entire pancake into her face. “Well, I suppose that depends on how you absorb energy.” Vincent said. “Are some things better than others? Or can you work just as well regardless of whether you eat broccoli or syrup-laced plastic?” "I'll admit, Vince--" Violet began, through mouthfuls, "--that I haven't bothered exploring that particular question, because funnily enough I don't want to eat plastic." She cut a large piece of waffle aside and jabbed it with her fork, jamming it into her face. After a few quick chews she added, "And anyway, I think eating food is a piss poor way of absorbing energy compared to say, electrical or chemical or biological fuel, but again, I don't really want to do that either, when I can help it..." “Well, you’ve never been a particularly efficient person, so that doesn’t surprise me.” Vincent said as he scooped some of his scrambled eggs on to a slice of toast. “Then again, we weren’t exactly brought up like normal people so I suppose you can forgive yourself a plate of twinkies when you know you’re more likely to die because a spooky spook got the drop on you.” He took a large bite of his food and fell silent as he chewed. He observed the people around them, quietly chatting with one another, or some just sitting alone reading the newspaper, or playing on their phones. “I do envy them.” He said after swallowing. “Walking away from the fight doesn’t stop you knowing what lurks out there. Other kids worried if they’d get a date for prom, and I was more worried that my date might be a vampire, or a skinwalker.” "Yeah, well..." Violet shook her head and shrugged her shoulders as for the first time she paused in her meal, her fork pushing her pancakes around her plate. "Do you want the red pill or the blue pill, Neo?" Violet asked, "I'd want to know... What if we were normal. Just a normal, nuclear, American family. What if we had come home one day, and mom and dad were just dead, and we didn't know why, or who, and the police couldn't explain it, and nobody could explain it, and we spent the rest of our lives wondering. Or worse yet, what if we were home when it happened, and we saw some monster kill them, and nobody believed us - can you imagine that? That's happening, right now, all over the world." “Mm, true.” Vincent nodded in agreement as he finished another mouthful. “However, once you start to notice the supernatural, it notices you in return.” He took another sip of coffee. “Take the Midnight Court for example. On paper they seem a nasty bunch. They feed on humans, and if that kind of knowledge became truly public you’d be looking at mass panic. The court would have no choice but to militarize in response, and who knows how much they’ve infiltrated world government currently. That terrible knowledge isn’t so appealing when it’s result is human farming. A cow does not benefit from the knowledge that it’s going to be a hamburger.” Vincent let out a little belch, partly disarming the heavy nature of the topic. “Or at least that’s what Lucia is always babbling on about, and she’s crazy. Crazy like a fox, but still crazy.” "Vince, when you go to a doctor, he'll tell you you're sick, when you go to a dentist, he'll tell you you have a cavity, when you go to a queen bitch of a vampire she'll tell you the vampires could enslave the human race." Violet rolled her eyes, and continued eating her waffles. This wasn't news to her. “Hey I’m just playing devil’s advocate.” Vincent replied, holding his hands up in mock surrender. “I think the important thing is that, for now, the court play by the rules, mostly. Which is good, because it means trigger-happy vigilantes like yourself can focus on helping the silly backwater folks with their poltergeists and being possessed by lesser demons.” Vincent made a show of trying to turn his head all the way round his neck. “You’re mother sucks cocks in heeeeeelll.” "Funny." Violet smirked as she finished her third - or was it fourth? - plate of food. "Right." She added, letting out an unrestrained belch, "I'm good, you ready to go?" “Go where, exactly?” Vincent asked, leaning back and folding his arms. “You’re gonna need to spill what you’ve got before I decide. All this time, I’ve persistently used every safe and reasonable locator spell I know, and a few dangerous ones. Not once have I ever even caught a whiff of dad’s trail. So what have you got?” Violet couldn't help but raise a lop-sided smile. Magic. Well, magic is great. Hell, she was magic. But it didn't solve everything. "Here." She reached into her jean pocket and pulled out a scruffy looking bit of paper and flung it onto the table, Vincent picked it up and turned it over and there he was. Their father. It was a picture of their father. Granted, he didn't know the picture was being taken. He was knelt at the end of a dock, tying a knot to secure the ship, while two men were taking a drunk selfie. But there he was. Elias Hallow. Vincent’s eyes narrowed as he inspected the picture. His lips thinned, and his jaw tightened but he didn’t speak. Eli was looking a little older, a little greyer. Yet he looked healthy, and unharmed. Some people might feel relief at seeing their father unharmed and safe after so many years. Vincent was not one of those people. “Shame…hoped he’d at least lost a limb or something.” He said venomously. He tossed the photo back across the table. “I hope you have more than that. He could be anywhere by now.” "Mm, except I know where that is. And I know who those men are. So if we go there now, its maybe a day's ride, with one stop on the way, and we could have a serious chance at finding him, Vince. I mean it, this is the closest i've come to finding dad in ten years. Monsters aren't the only things i've been hunting..." Violet took the picture back, cradling it far more preciously than her brother had, and pocketed it once more. Then she stood, and readied to leave. Vincent stood up after her, taking a few bills from his wallet and placing them on the table. He made a little growling noise under his breath and then said “Fine.” And he began to walk out of the IHOP. As they both went through the doors to the parking lot he turned back to Violet. “I want to make one thing clear.” He said, waggling his finger at her, “I am not getting the band back together, alright? You’re not Starsky, and I’m not Hutch. You’re not Bonny, I’m not Clyde. You’re not Dean, and I’m not Sam. This is a one-time thing, got it?” "Hey, I don't have any problem with that," Violet shrugged. As they walked out into the parking lot, Violet's car was waiting for them. Magic might not solve everything. But it was very, very useful sometimes. She opened the door and got in, and once Vincent had joined her she started the engine and pulled out of the parking lot. "Just don't start any of that, 'I'm too old for this shit' shit, Murtagh." She added with a smirk and they were off, driving down the main road, leaving Chicago on the trail of their missing father. They hadn’t got far when Vincent suddenly clambered into the back seat area and started rifling through his bags, which had somehow magically made their way into the car. “You’re entirely too prepared for this.” He called back as he continued rummaging. When he came back to the passenger seat he held a number of things. The first was a rather large tome, his grimoire, perhaps the most valuable of his possessions. He also held a fresh carton of cigarettes and a zippo lighter. The final item was a battered old cassette tape. “This midlife-crisis machine smells like a roadie’s nutsack.” Vincent said, “but at least it has a tape deck.” He pushed the cassette into the holder and hit play. A stringy, country sounding guitar began strumming. “I was walking down the street when out the corner of my eye…” The vocalist sang over the guitar, and Vincent began tapping his hands against his knees. He put a cigarette in his mouth and cracked the passenger window, lighting it and taking a smoke. He turned to Violet, and eyed her for a minute. “Normally I wouldn’t but…it’s not like you have lungs.” He said, grinning. Then he pulled a pair of aviator’s from his pocket and put them on, grinning, with the filter of the cigarette between his teeth. He leaned back, resting his hands behind his head and stared out at the road. “Oh this is going to be fun…ten years of sibling rivalry in back pay, with interest. And maybe I’ll get to sock my dad in the face by the end of it.”
  4. Hallows

    In the southwest side of Chicago, in the Chicago Lawn, landlords couldn’t be too picky about their tenants. The lawn was one one of the worst neighbourhoods in Chicago, and the apartment buildings were usually run down. This wasn’t the best area to go looking for that cosy first apartment for your brand new family. Most of your neighbours would be unemployed down and outs, ganged up youths, junkies, dealers and other unsavoury individuals. However, if you were a wizard in your late 20’s with a Bachelor’s in Philosophy, and very little job prospects, this place was just perfect. Well, not perfect, but the rent was cheap. And so it was that the home of Vincent Gideon Hallow was a small basement apartment near Marquette Park. The apartment was a studio, probably quite spacious at one point. However it was now an eclectic mess of books, and a random arrangement of bohemian furniture. The floor was decorated with a collage of various rugs that clashed horribly, and every available wall was covered by book cases, or book shelves where space was limited. The range of books were quite extensive, ranging from a whole shelf of religious texts, another on the sciences. Yet another section was full of occult books, and another full of trashy romance novels. However the truly holy texts were reserved for the large bookcase opposite the sofa, where normal people usually would have a TV. These holy tomes were, of course, arranged in order of issue release, and was probably the most valuable collection Vincent owned. Yes, his Batman comic book collection was the stuff of legend. The room itself had the unique scent of stale pizza and incense. Perhaps most notable for a home existing in the year 2017, was that there was very little in terms of modern technology. The only phone to be seen was of the corded variety, and there was no computers, no cell phones. The only entertainment was the small library if books, many which were just stacked in towering piles on the floor. However, the exception to this ban on technology was the digital alarm clock by the bed. As it moved to 07:00, a screeching howl echoed through the apartment. Vincent Hallow shot up from underneath his blankets, a frightened but dazed expression on his face. Robert Plant’s screeching continued as he started nattering on about the lands of ice and snow. Vincent’s hand grabbed the alarm clock and wrenched it from it’s socket on the wall, and hurling it over to the far side of the room. “Sorry, Bob.” He said, stifling a yawn. He slowly managed to move himself so that he was sitting at the edge of his bed. He fumbled on the floor, picking up one of the many empty cigarette cartons littering it. He shook each one a few times before discarding them back from whence they came. Finally he shook one and heard a muffled rattle. He opened the pack and fished out the remaining cigarette, putting the filtered end to his lips. He scanned the room for a lighter, but there wasn’t one in sight. He contemplated conjuring fire to do the job. However, he knew that magic was something that should be used responsibly. Everything had a price, and the forces of nature weren’t to be harnessed to do frivolous things like lighting a cigarette. On the other hand, he’d only need a little bit of fire. “Ignis” He said aloud, though slightly muffled with the cigarette in his mouth. The end began to burn a hot orange and he inhaled the sweet, toxic goodness. He shivered as well, as the room had grown noticeably colder, even for only a tiny flame. There was no such thing as a free lunch, magically speaking. If you needed fire, you needed heat, and that heat had to come from somewhere. Vincent got up out of his bed and made his way to the bathroom. The small bathroom was the only other room to the apartment, and consisted of a small cubicle shower, a commode, and a washroom sink and mirror. After taking a moment to drain the lizard he went to the sink and examined himself. He was a scrawny specimen, and quite pale. He had angular features and long, straight black hair that was cut neatly just above his shoulders. He had a thin patch of stubble growing, and his eyes were dark and sunken from lack of a good night’s sleep. His eyes, however, were a striking emerald hue. He flicked the end of his cigarette in the toilet pan behind him, and stripped, getting in the shower. The cold water from the shower provided him with a measure of wakefulness. He winced at the sudden shock of cold, and contemplated warming it up with another bout of magic. He decided to weather the cold, however. Heating the water in his boiler would likely steal enough heat to freeze all the pipes in building. Of course, he could always turn his hot water on. He laughed at the thought. Who did he think he was? Some wealthy king who could throw money away frivolously on luxurious things such as hot water? If only. He kept the shower brief and before long he had returned to his main room and dressed himself. He wore a pair of simple, black boots and dark blue jeans, a white shirt with rolled up sleeves, and a thin, black tie. He had boiled some water and made himself a cup of coffee, black with no sugar. It was only 7:30 am now, and he was beginning to think he had gotten up a little too early. He had worked out it would take about 15 hours to drive from Colorado to Chicago. Perhaps less if his sister was still in the habit of driving like she was on a NASCAR track. “What the hell am I even doing?” He asked himself. Violet was going to be there soon. She was coming with news of their father’s whereabouts. Elias Hallow, renowned wizard and hunter. He was a legend in a community of perpetual loners, which was some feat. He was also, as Vincent had discovered at a fairly young age, an adulterer and an irresponsible one at that. However even that was forgivable, after all his younger half-sister wasn’t all that bad, although he’d always tried hard to make sure she never knew that. That was the job of the big brother, after all. Even in their late 20’s, it was still vitally important that he occasionally remind her that she had a butt for a face and that she smelled of poop. In truth, ragging on Violet was about the only thing he could feel confident doing. Snarky comments and childish ridicule were his default setting when he was nervous. That was a bit of an odd realization. He was nervous about seeing his sister, someone he had spent most of his younger years with. Yet until the day before they had barely spoken over the last decade. Once their dear father had mysteriously disappeared, they had discovered they had quite different opinions on what to do about it. Violet had decided to carry on the family business, whilst Vincent had decided to get as far away from it as possible. He had always been taught that various supernatural nasties were lurking around every corner. Yet over the years he had discovered that it was surprisingly easy to turn a blind eye to it all. He got in some dangerous situations at times, sure. Yet, for the most part, he had managed to avoid that life. And now Violet was on her way, and she would no doubt bring that world crashing in behind her. Then there was the question of his father’s whereabouts. If Violet really did know where he was, well, then what? Vincent hadn’t really thought about what he was going to do. After hearing the news he had packed a bag with clothes in preparation. He had located the books he’d need most, like the bestiary, and his spellbooks. He had even stuffed a gym bag full of various artefacts, relics, and religious symbols. He walked over to the desk below the hatch window that brought in a little light from street level. There he had housed four items he had claimed ownership of after old Eli had disappeared. On the desk was a Smith and Wesson Model 500 revolver, A Winchester M12 pump action sawn-off shotgun with rock salt shell ammunition, and a silver pentacle amulet. Leaning against the desk was a worn but sturdy cane of dark wood, with runic symbols carved up the shaft, and a silver skull handle. All in all he had a small arsenal perfect for a modern wizard ready for action. He’d never really had much training with the guns, but the cane he had some familiarity with. The wood was from an ancient tree grown on the confluence of several magical leylines, and it’s runic symbols enchanted the cane to amplify and focus his evocation magic. The amulet was of pure silver, a metal that was considered magically pure, or ‘holy’ in some circles of faith. The pentacle’s five points represented air, earth, water, fire, and spirit. The five element of magic, all bound together around a silver circle, representing human control. Power balanced with restraint. The talisman itself didn’t really hold any real value beyond it’s symbolism, but symbols were akin to power to a wizard. Vincent picked up the talisman and put it around his neck, tucking it under his collar. No sooner had he done so, three sharp knocks wrapped across his apartment’s door. Vincent took a deep breath, and let it out again slowly. “Here goes nothing…” He muttered to himself as he made his way to the door. He placed his hand on the door handle, and forced a smile across his face, before yanking the door open. “Hey butt-face! Knew it was you, I could smell the poop from a mile away!”
  5. AT LEAST LOOK, WOULD YA?! kthx~

    Black car was a funeral car. Tough. But not tough enough!
  6. AT LEAST LOOK, WOULD YA?! kthx~

    Fire. Mere child's play. ANOTHER!
  7. Of Monsters and Men

    “I…” Loke paused, shifting uncomfortably. Perhaps it was the casual nature of Aquas displayed in her suggestion of murder. He was not particularly against violence, or killing for that matter. Indeed he had killed many himself, and had even enjoyed it. ‘The Thrill’ was something often spoke about by the Warbreakers, the feeling of sheer, primal revelry and excitement when fighting and killing. It was a feeling any warrior knew well, he felt. Yet with Aquas it seemed to make him uncomfortable. “…honestly I would rather you did not. We have our freedom, and you have eaten already. To kill and devour them would be unnecessary.” Picking at a loose bit of debris amongst her fangs, Aquas shrugged her shoulders and sat down on the grassy hill. Staring at the village, she leaned back and stared up at the sky, "What does a caged bird do when freed?" She asked aloud. “I wouldn’t know.” Loke replied. “We don’t cage things in Falice. All things lead, follow or die. That is natural. Slavery is…” He struggled to find the word for how he felt. “…disgusting. No one can truly claim ownership of another.” "Sure they can." Aquas muttered thoughtfully “How so?” Loke asked, folding his arms. "If I eat you, then you are mine. You're a part of me, whether you like it or not. I took choice from you. You're a slave." Aquas licked her lips and then sprang back onto her feet with the ease of an acrobat. "So, what are you going to do with your freedom?" Loke paused for a moment, considering her words. He had never thought of it quite like that. “Well, what I was doing before most likely.” He replied. “Seeking truth.” "What does that mean?" She asked quizzically. Loke smirked. “It is…not a simple thing to explain.” Loke replied. “Falice is a land of different castes. Each person lives by a code of honour, one determined by their caste. Warbreakers fight our battles, Lightweavers tell our stories, Nurturers rear our children, Formbuilders create tools, and food. There are many more castes, and some are larger than others. They are built around the oaths sworn by various spellbinders. I am a Truthseeker, we are a smaller caste. We seek truths that are universal, through study and through experiencing life, and through reflection.” "You are unlike any human i've met." Aquas replied, "Humans say that trust is something you feel when you are not threatened by another, I think then I trust you." “Trust is more than that.” Loke replied, though he smiled at her. “I am not threatened by a mouse, for example, but I do not trust it. I cannot depend on a mouse to be reliable, or to always work to our mutual benefit.” Loke let out a sigh and looked back towards the town. “I will need to stop there. I need food, rest, and medicine. I will also need supplies for my journey. I suppose I’ll need to get some of those metal rocks they trade for goods. I’m not sure if I’ll ever understand that…” "I'll come." Aquas added quickly, "Better to come with you then walk into town on my own. People are suspicious of lone strangers. I've no idea why..." A wicked smirk spread across her face. “I doubt it will help.” Loke replied, but he started walking at a pace Aquas could follow. He gestured at his eyes. “Difficult to hide these. No doubt the people there have spectated us in the pit, and I cannot change my face like you. It does seem strange to me, how they fear me for the colour of my eyes. I do not fear their strange coloured eyes. Blues, browns and greens…I never knew eyes could have such colours.” "Humans fear the different." Aquas walked quickly, increasing the length of her legs slightly so she could walk at a more comfortable pace. "That's just how it is. They swat at flies, they chase rats, they kill cows and given the chance, they'd do the same to us." “The humans of this land seem burdened by a great deal of fear, and ignorance.” Loke said with an agreeing nod. “Are they not taught? A child came to me in the prison. He spoke of his father like he knew him well. What sort of world leaves teaching to the parents? It’s no wonder the people here are like this.” "'Parents? Tch! A fine notion." Aquas grumbled her reply. “Is it of importance here?” Loke asked. “My mother and father brought me life, and I suppose I am grateful to them for that in a way. However, I know them only passingly. They seem nice enough, I suppose.” "Humans are attached to one another. More so with their spawn." Aquas replied, her tone becoming more irritable, "In fact, some are like to throw themselves in the way of danger for the sake of their offspring." “Oh, like family then.” Loke nodded. The word has meaning to him that had little to do with blood relation. “So, when we get there…I’m not sure what will happen. The sailors who brought me here from Falice claimed to be traders, but they lied. They knew enough of my kind to wait until I was vulnerable, and then they put me in a cage. Since then everyone who has seen me has been fearful. How do we win them over?” "Humans appreciate other humans that can do things for them. Give things to them. What you say is not important. Gather currency and valuables, and trade them for goods, buy them drinks, oh--!" Aquas derailed from her train of thought, "When they drink alcohol, they are far more loose-lipped and easier to subdue. Also, one last thing," She stopped as they entered the edge of town, "I need to eat. Frequently. I will continue to do so, and i'd really like you to not get in the way of that, 'kay?" Loke folded his arms again and eyed her for a moment, considering her. “That depends.” He said. “A man who is caged can kill his captors. There is honor in that as there is honor in defending ones self. However, I have sworn oaths as a spellbinder. Each caste has their own oaths, but the first is the same for us all. Life before death. Strength before weakness. Journey before destination. These words are a promise I have made, a compact. They are bound to me just as I bind Arcanium to this realm.” “The woman must eat.” Nyx’s melodious voice said in his mind, sounding quite fascinated and amused. “I have never demanded you save a Krell from the plate. Here is the truth of this situation, Loke. Your kind are her food. You are just a Krell, in that regard.” Loke paused, letting out a sigh of annoyance. He scowled at the nothingness in the air, directing it at Nyx. “My friend, however, has offered some perspective.” He continued. “My oath demands that, acting as a free man, I cannot kill except through honorable means, such as through contest. Alternatively, I can kill to defend myself, or if the result will save more lives than are lost. I also cannot stand by as witness to such acts that dishonor my oaths. Might we find a way that is mutually beneficial? My oaths are as important to my survival as food and water, it is the nature of the bond.” "Sometimes you spout a lot of words and say nothing." Aquas observed, "What are you asking me to do?" She wanted clarification, as to her, he spoke in riddles. “You require a lot of instruction for one so apparently independent.” Loke said, rolling his eyes. “Those who act without honor are not worthy of my protection. I would ask that you be discreet about it, however, as I would rather avoid being chased from town. Children are innocent, and so I will protect them. Anyone who means us harm accepts the consequences of doing so, and so I will not mourn their death. However, those who welcome us will be given my protection, as will those who yield to us in combat. Does that sound agreeable?” "I will only agree to this on one condition." Aquas crossed her arms. She didn't like where this was going and ordinarily, she wouldn't agree. However, she had rarely had an ally, and it seemed a sensible step to take. At least, for as long as it would suit her. “Name it.” Loke replied. "Fear, as humans describe it, is an alien concept, but if I was to give it a name... I would call it starvation. It is as though a fire has been lit within us, and we begin to burn, the flame spreads across our body until we are no longer ourselves, a pain so vivid I cannot accurately convey it. While I will attempt to resist my hunger in agreeing to this... contract.... I will not allow myself to starve." A shiver ran up her spine and she visibly shook before she held her hand up and offered it, "In this country, humans clasp hands to seal a verbal agreement. Consider it a formal bond of trust." Loke smirked and clasped her hand in his own. “I will do my best not to let you starve, I promise.” He said with a nod. He released her grip and turned towards the town and started walking. With Aquas following him he made his way down the dirt road that led to the town houses. In a cottage near where the cobbles began, a woman was outside hanging up clothes and sheets to dry. When she noticed Loke’s white eyes, glowing faintly in the light, she gasped and backed up, almost tripping over her basket of laundry. “Great…” Loke grumbled under his breath as he saw the gripping, clawing hands of fear elementa clawing up the woman’s form. “G-g…” She stammered fearfully as she moved to run. “Please, I mean you no harm.” Loke replied holding his hand up. “If you jus-“ “GRIFFON!!” She cried in terror, as she began to flee towards the town. “Griffon! GRIFFON!!” She shrieked over, and over. “Uh…” Loke looked perplexed. “What is a Griffon?” He asked. As if in response, he heard a blood-curdling screech pierce through the air. He turned in shock as mighty wing beats thumped skywards. A shadow swooped gracefully overhead, its form growing larger and larger as it began to descend. “I think that’s a Griffon.” Nyx said, as the creature suddenly went into a dive towards them.
  8. A red haired young boy hurried through the busy street of Ruben, carefully weaving through gaps between passersby. The sky was a dull grey, and the gentle pitter patter of rain drops only served to accentuate the general feeling of drudgery that seemed to emanate from the town. One of the few towns of the Eilan El Wetlands, the town was used to the rains and seemed doomed to be perpetually sodden and grey. The young boy’s eyes searched with an eagerness, however, for children were less inclined to have their mood soured by a little rain. As he moved away from the cobbled streets and rickety old timber houses, with the tiled rooftops, his already sodden boots splashed in the mud as he approached a run down, old cottage that was built next to the mill. There were fewer people around, only the mill workers who were beginning to return to their homes after a long day. The boy passed them by, and a few smiled weakly and nodded to greet him, to which he returned the nods and continued towards the cottage. As he approached he heard a tremendous belly laugh, and he beamed with excitement as he turned the corner of the cottage. “Oh sure, that’ll be shinin’ bright right enough!” The source of the laughter said loudly, before letting out another hearty chuckle. “Ya might convince the young lady to let you buy ‘er a drink, might even let you show ‘er your bedroom, but when she gets one look at your little pickle, she’ll be gone like the wind!” This met with laughter from the other mill workers. The man who was speaking was tall and broad shouldered, with a bald head and fiery, red beard. “Dad!” The boy exclaimed as he joined the group of men. “Oh, allo son!” The man replied, smiling at the boy and ruffling his hair. “Your old mum sent you to fetch me then? Must need ‘elp with gettin’ a jar open, eh lad?” The man laughed again, along with his coworkers, but the boy frowned slightly and shook his head. “Dad, you said you’d take me to the fight tonight. Remember?” He asked. “Oh that’s right.” His father replied with a nod. “Where’d you tell your mum you are?” “Said we was going fishing, like you said.” The boy replied. “Good lad.” The man said with a grin. “She’d ‘ave my arse tanned if she knew I was takin’ you to the fight.” “Guess you’ll need to stop at the fishmongers on the way home then?” One of his coworkers asked. “Nah.” Came the reply. “If I was any good at fishin’ I wouldn’t be sittin’ around here talking to you pillocks, would I?” Another round of laughter followed, and the men chatted some more. After a short while the boy tugged on his father’s shirt pleadingly. “All right, boy.” His father said, holding his hands up. “Come on then. I’ll get you a pie on the way.” --- --- --- --- The young boy ate his pie happily as he walked with his father, through the streets towards the pits. As they neared the streets became crowded as townsfolk began to file in to the four entryways to the large wooden structure in the center of town. When the boy and his father finally began to file inside, the noise of people talking and chanting grew deafeningly loud. “Sounds like we’ve missed the first fight.” His father yelled. “Let’s hurry to the stands before the next one begins, eh?” The pair made their way through the packed crowds, the brawny father pushing his way through the crowd with relative ease, gently prodding the boy along in front of him. Before long they found themselves overlooking the pits. Deep below them was a circular arena, caked in mud. The edges of the arena were decorated with thick, downward slanting spikes to stop the fighters from trying to climb out. At either side there were gates guarded by men clad in armour, carrying spears. The crowd began to hush at the direction of a man stood in a boxed off area at the far end from where the boy and his father were stood. The man was dressed in a nobleman’s tailed jacket and a top hat. Yet the clothing was old and tattered, and the dirty trousers the man wore revealed he was no nobleman. He twirled his greasy fingers around his black mustache as he waited for the crowd to quieten. Then when relative silence fell, he spoke in a loud voice so all could hear. “Ladies and gentleman!” Her cried, holding his hands up. “Oh, do we have a special treat for you tonight! Our first combatant, something of a local. Yet he don’t live in the town, something of a wild man! Well, if you can even call it a man. Ladies and gentleman, I present to you, caught fresh last night, a Wendigo!” The gates below the man opened, and the boy shrieked in fear and gripped hold of his father as a terrifying creature emerged, snarling and howling, as men with spears prodded at it from behind, forcing it in to the ring. The creature looked like a man in some ways, but it’s body was covered in patches of greasy, matted fur. It’s eye sockets were hollow, and it’s flesh around it’s skull was torn, revealing bones underneath. It’s jaws were a mess of gnashing fangs, stained with blood. Small horns, like that of a dears, protruded from it’s head. It’s feet were like that of a beasts, and it’s long fingers each had a long, sharp claw at the end. “Dad! Dad, what is that!?” The boy asked in a pitiful whine. “A bloody demon, son.” His father replied. “But don’t you fear it, it can’t hurt you down there. If anythin’ deserves this fate it’s that wretched monster. It steals children and gobbles them up! Nothin’ worse! Well…” “Well, what!?” The boy asked fearfully. “Well…there’s Darklings o’ course. Not that there’s ever been any round these parts. I shouldn’t worry about ‘em.” Before the boy could ask just what, exactly, a Darkling was, the announcer had began to speak again. “Oh yes! I feel your disgust, ladies and gentleman! Surely there are few creatures more disgusting than this wretched beast! And what brave soul shall fight this monster? Now, an honest man such as myself would not dare to endanger his loyal men to such a beast. The only thing fit to fight a monster, is another monster!” The crowds whooped and cheered, banging their feet on the floor as the Wendigo, angry and distressed, howled and snarled, desperately trying to scale the spiked walls and then flailing in pain as it tore at it’s skin. “I think you know what’s coming, ladies and gentleman!” The announcer said with a grin. “Only our most exciting new attraction. A demon who dared to step on our soil, travelling from across the sea to the vile lands of the east! A man who gave in to the devil’s whispers, who let a foul spirit infest and rot his brain! Ladies and gentleman…I give you…The Glaive of Falice!” The crowd erupted in riotous cheering, their feet stamping, their arms flailing, as the other gate lifted. More men with spears prodded at a man, leading him in to the ring. This man, at first glance, seemed as ordinary as any of the onlookers. He was dressed only in ragged trousers, his bare chest covered in bruises, cuts and dirt. He looked lean and muscular, and quite young, perhaps in his late twenties. He had black hair swept back, short at the top, and long at the back, with thin, beaded braids tied through it. His hair had been shorn to the scalp at the sides of his head, and he had a thin shadow of stubble across his face. The man’s arms were branded with faded, inky symbols, tattoos of a foreign language. Much more peculiar were the portions of his back, chest and arms, that seemed to have pale, white veins that travelled across his body like lightning in the sky. The young man turned to face the crowd behind him, and the boy caught a look at the man’s eyes. His irises were as white as the moon, and seemed to glow softly in the dark, torchlit arena. The boy watched as the men retreated to the gates and began to close them. At the last moment they threw a weapon through the gap, and the man quickly moved to grab it. He held up the glaive by it’s long handle, it’s blade wide and curved, with strange engravings across the steel. It looked entirely different from any glaive the boy had seen. Perhaps it belonged to the man. Falice was across the ocean, and the boy knew little of what was there, but he had heard that the people there wore strange clothes and carried peculiar weapons. The boy watched with anticipation as the man, the Glaive, turned to face his foe. The Wendigo was circling the Glaive in a predatory crouch, sizing him up. The Glaive moved much more delicately and precisely than his foe, each step an example of practiced footwork. He held his weapon at his side with the blade pointed downwards, in a relaxed grip. The crowd whooped and cheered as the pair circled one another, each one fixed on the other intently, watching, waiting. Growing impatient, the wendigo suddenly lunged forwards, with its teeth bared. The Glaive side stepped it’s advance with ease, swinging his blade in an upward strike at the creature’s exposed flank, but the wendigo suddenly rolled to the side and avoided the strike with cat-like reflexes, and slid to a stop on all fours, primed to attack again. With a blood curdling roar it pounced at the Glaive, swiping furiously with it’s long claws. The Glaive vaulted backwards with a daring flip as the wendigo came down on the spot he had been previously, before lunging forwards with a joust, the blade’s edge gouging a deep cut across the creature’s shoulder. The wendigo screamed a reeled back in pain. Then with another rattling cry it lunged forward at the Glaive. He responded with another thrust of his weapon, but the creature suddenly shifted it’s weight and with a scrambling jump it landed atop the weapon, pushing down and using it to vault over the man, it’s long claws swiping at his back, tearing four long, deep gashes across it, with blood spraying out and falling to the thick mud beneath. The man cried out in pain and fell to his knees. The wendigo saw it’s chance and came at his from behind. The Glaive, fell forward and rolled on to his back, but the creature pinned him to the floor, it’s clawed fingers pushing tightly against his throat. The blood thirsty crowd jeered and yelled, as the anticipation of the fight’s end growing near. The wendigo’s fanged maw glistened with thick drool, as it lowered it’s head towards his neck. Then it shrieked as the Glaive thrust his blade into it’s side. It’s grip around his neck tightened and the man pushed with his blade, finding enough strength to push himself up and force the creature back. It wailed in pain as he twisted the blade in it’s chest, and it clawed furiously at it’s own flesh, trying to rend itself free. Then it got it’s wish as the Glaive wrenched his blade from it’s body, and using the momentum of the pull he spun on the spot, bringing the blade in a swing overhead, before cleaving the wendigo’s head clean from it’s shoulders, landing with a soft splat in the thick mud of the arena floor. The crowd went wild, and as the stomping and cheering went on louder than it had ever been, the young boy watched as the pit masters flooded into the arena, spears at the ready. Archers notched their arrows and fired at the victorious man, sending three arrows in to his back. He cried in pain, dropping his weapon. The pikemen advanced on him, lunging and prodding at the beaten down man, as other men tied his arms and legs together in ropes, and then shackles. Once he was finally hog-tied, he was carried by two men through the dirt of the arena, and back in to the cells underneath. “Well that was fucking glorious!” The boy’s father bellowed and clapped his son on the shoulders. “An’ there’s still 3 fights to go! Ah, isn’t this grand, son? Fuck it, I need a pint. Stay here…” His father disappeared in to the crowd, and the boy looked back down to the pits. They were already setting up for the next fight. All the onlookers seemed to be busy reveling and drinking, and paid little mind to what was going on in the interim. Yet the boy noticed the stairs leading down to the cells beneath. The guards were too busy nattering with the spectators to even notice him. Curiosity got the better of him, and he left his spot, and crept quietly down the steps. At the bottom he was overwhelmed by the sudden, strong smell of piss, shit and blood. The noise of the crowd became a dull noise overhead. He moved slowly, cautiously, watchful for guards patrolling the halls. Yet he found the area to be decidedly lax of security, perhaps the men were busy setting up for the next fight. The boy made his way through the various steel barred cells. Most were empty, some were covered with black tarps and he could hear bestial snarling from behind them. Finally, he found what he was looking for. A shadowy figure lay slumped at the back of one of the cells. He was breathing heavily, with a slight whimper on the exhale. He sounded like a wounded dog. “Er…hello.” The boy said. Suddenly the figure stopped whimpering, and his eyes shot open, his white irises glowing softly in the darkness. A terrible silence fell over the room, and the boy suddenly felt quite afraid as the man watched him with an unwavering stare. “I…I’m sorry. It’s just…mister Glaive…you were really good. Um, I mean. Amazing. I just wanted you to know that…um…” The boy paused, feeling nervous. “Tel.” The white-eyed man replied in a strange accent. “Tel anir. Galay, na tu djan wo. Adashwe!” “I…I don’t understand.” The boy said. “Is that your people’s language? Um, Falician, is it?” “De Njern. Wos hala Falice uma tel mjordietsche! Fos rova!” The man replied, his voice croaky and weak, but it held an angry tone. “Uh…” The boy paused, he didn’t understand the man. “I’m Hoid, by the way.” He waited, but there was no response. “That’s my name.” He said. “My name is Hoid. Do you have a name?” “Wos anir ‘name’ shala nur?” The man asked. “Uh, name.” The boy said, and he put his hand to his chest. “Name. My name is Hoid. Do you understand?” “My…name…is…Hoid.” The man replied slowly. “No, that’s my name.” Hoid said, smirking slightly. He patted his chest. “Hoid.” He repeated. Then he pointed his finger at the man. “Your name is…” The man was silent for a long moment. He seemed to be thinking, and he watched the boy with such intensity, like he could see something that Hoid couldn’t. “My name is…” He said finally. “…Loke.” “Loke?” The boy asked. “Your name is Loke?” “Mjet.” Loke replied, nodding in affirmation. “Oh…does Mjet mean yes?” Hoid asked. “…Yes.” Loke replied, and nodded again. “Mjet mean…yes.” “Wow, you’re a quick learner.” Hoid said with a smile. “Oi!” A voice yelled from down the hall. “What are you doing down here!? Where’s your parents?” “Makyev Shtova, Hoid!” Loke said, with a hint of urgency in his voice. “Shtova! Shtova!” He tilted his head, urging the boy to run off. Hoid stumbled for a moment. He took a final look at Loke, and then he ran back up the stairs. The guard went running after the boy, and Loke was left alone in his cell, his wounds weeping badly. He felt heavy and exhausted. He closed his eyes again to rest. “Hoid.” A voice inside his head said. “I…your…is…people…understand….vosh tet mura gamora?” “Avoy wos njern, Nyx.” Loke replied. “Nyx.” The voice replied. “My name is Nyx.”
  9. Aranami Slayers

    By the time Shinji had wandered in to town he was cold and shivering. As he walked down the main street he retreated from the rain inside a small pastry shop where a couple of elderly people were sitting down at a table for a snack. As he entered a middle-aged woman in an apron popped her head up from behind the glass display where the pastries were. “Welcome!” The woman said cheerfully, quickly followed by a short gasp. “Oh dear, you’re soaked.” “Uh, well it’s raining.” Shinji replied, raising a brow. “What did you-“ He stopped himself. The woman was, after all, only being polite and showing concern. He cleared his throat. “Sorry. Do you have a bathroom in here? I’d like to change out of these clothes.” “Certainly.” The woman said with a nod. She pointed towards a corridor at the back of the shop. Shinji nodded in appreciation and went through, finding a small single bathroom. He entered and threw his bag on the ground. He immediately locked the door and began to strip down to just his underwear. He had missed the opening ceremony, and his dorm orientation. He was probably going to be late for his homeroom class as well. He cursed silently to himself as he began to put on the school uniform in his bag. He removed his charm bracelet and tossed it in the bag with his wet clothes. He finally emerged dressed in black shoes, black trousers, a white shirt with the collar popped, and a black blazer with white trim. He had affixed his pin to the lapel and was busy trying to tie on the black tie with the red trim, with the school emblem sewn in red at the bottom. He sighed in frustration, eventually giving up on the tie, leaving it loose and slightly squint around his collar. He grabbed his bag and walked back into the main room of the small café. “Thank you.” He said as he came out, and checked his watch. “Damn, I’m late.” “Oh, you’re an Academy student?” The woman asked, eyeing the uniform. “You must have come from out of town. Have you eaten?” “Uh, no…” Shinji replied, conscious of his rumbling stomach. The woman smiled went to the counter. She placed two delicious looking Anpan rolls in a bag and handed them to him. Shinji smiled and took one of the rolls from the bag, taking a large bite and chewing enthusiastically. “Mm! This anko is really sweet.” He said with a satisfied smile. “Thank you!” He added with a short bow. When he lifted his head, he found the woman’s hand stretched out, open palm in front of him. “That’ll be 340 Yen, please.” She said with a wide grin. “Eh!?” Shinji gasped in surprise, before grumbling and reaching for his wallet, handing the woman a few notes. “Thank you. Welcome to Aranami!” She said with a short bow. “Yeah, yeah.” Shini replied dismissively, before dashing out of the shop in a hurry. He ran down the road, his uniform quickly getting as soaked as his other clothes were. As he ran he cursed and swore, ranting at himself in his frustration, whilst he held one of the anpan rolls in his mouth. He skidded to a stop as a small pug came bounding in front of him, and in trying not to kick the small animal he tripped and fell over the top of it, rolling across the ground and landing in a heap. The Anpan roll fell from his mouth and landed in a soggy puddle on the ground. The little pug looked him over for a moment before wandering over to the soggy anpan roll, sniffing it momentarily before devouring it like a hungry amazonian piranha. The snack consumed, the dog trotted up to him and sat down. His bug-eyed face was almost comical as he stared at him. A tongue stuck slightly out of the corner of his mouth. The little pug looked around the street, then looked back to the boy. "What's wrong with you, boy?!" The dog asked with genuine incredulity, "Don't you know cakes are bad for dogs?!" Then he shook his head, and started walking down the street, muttering to himself as he went, "Eeeya, wet butt..." “T…talked?” Shinji managed to stutter to himself as he stared at the little pug walking away from him. After a moment he reclaimed his senses and scrambled to his feet. “Hey!” He called after the dog, running to catch up with him. He grabbed the tiny animal by the scruff of it’s neck and lifted it up so that it’s face was inches from his own. “What’s the big idea, flea bag!?” He snarled. “You come running up out of nowhere and I get knocked on my ass trying not to kick you to the moon, then you eat my breakfast!? What kinda whacked out, thieving, talking mutt are you anyway?” "I am tiny, so thank you for bringing me to your face!" The pug jerked forwards suddenly and bit his nose. Reflexively Shinji dropped the dog, and he quickly landed back on his feet and looked up at the red-nosed teenager. "It is not Inu's fault you're clumsy! Also, anpan is especially delicious on the second lap. I'll work on getting that out to you presently." Then Inu grinned, his tongue lolling in the corner of his mouth. Shinji clutched at his nose, holding back the desire to yelp in pain. His other hand formed a fist at his side and the knuckles audibly cracked. “You think you’re funny!?” He growled at the dog. “We’ll see how smart-assed you are when I skin you and turn you into a plush toy!” Shinji lunged forward at a sprinting run, and swung his leg out to kick the dog. Sensing the incoming attack, the little dog whirled around and ran at the boy. At the last second, he leapt forwards, pouncing off the top of the boy's foot and running up his raising leg. He leapt once more, this time aiming for Shinji's face a second time, but as he flew through the air, his stomach made an awful, growling, fermenting noise and distracted by his discomfort, Inu collided with Shinji, knocking them both to the ground once more. Shaking himself off, Inu stood up and looked back at his attacker. "Attacking an unknown opponent." The dog shook his head, "Tch! You could have at least guessed from the fact I am not like other dogs, that foolishly running headlong into battle is a mistake." Then Inu loosed a long, rippling fart. "Please excuse me, humans need to stop leaving food around, my diet is terrible..." He paused, "What is your name, boy? Shinji slowly got up from the ground, dusting himself off. He scowled at the dog and was half tempted to have another run at him, before he remembered what he had been doing in the first place. “Shit! I’m late!” He cursed, before turning back to the dog. “Shinji Nakayama! Remember that name. I’ll be back to grind you up into little hot dogs once I’m done with this.” Shinji turned around and picked up his sports bag, slinging it over his shoulder and stomping away towards the port, the rain still pouring overhead. "Oi! I could eat a hot dog!" Inu called after Shinji, "Shinji?" He paused, waiting, as the boy continued running down the street. "Shinji Nakayama wait for Inu!" He darted after the boy and quickly caught up to him with his superior speed, but within seconds he was panting with exhaustion. "Slow down, Shinji! Do not make me chuck anpan!" He wheezed the words out between breaths as he ran a dozen steps to each long, loping stride belonging to the human. “I don’t want you to keep up, you little fart machine!” Shinji replied, continuing to walk at a quick pace. “I don’t have time for you, I’m trying to get to class. Get a clue, why don’t ya!?” Still wheezing, Inu sped up, running down the street until he turned in an instant and yelled, "Stop!!" Shinji screeched to a halt, then there was a clatter nearby. Both Shinji and Inu looked over to see an old man who had been riding his bike through the town, had driven it into a couple of trash cans upon hearing the dog yell. The old man hurriedly pulled himself to his feet, got back onto his wonky bicycle and rode on, never looking back. "Hm..." Inu shook his head and looked back to Shinji, "Listen, kid, i'm kind of a big deal at Aranami Academy. People look up to me. The teachers respect me. So here's the deal..." Inu glanced back at the rucksack Shinji was carrying. "You give me some food, right now, and not only will I get you past the Guardian at the bridge, i'll even get you into your classroom." “Guardian…at the bridge?” Shinji repeated, a worried look in his eyes. His father had mentioned that he would encounter Familiars at the school, demons who served humans through a contract or pact. Was this talking dog one of them? He couldn’t think of any other reason why a pug would be able to talk. However the prospect of a ‘Guardian’ at the gates gave him pause. Whatever was charged with keeping people out of the school was likely something that could squash him like a bug. He sighed, finally reaching in to his pocket and pulling out the remaining anpan roll from it’s bag. “So you’re a big deal huh?” He said, raising an eyebrow at the dog. “Alright, chow down then, Inugami sama.” He tossed the anpan roll in the air, towards the little pug. Leaping up, Inu caught the roll from the air and had swallowed the entire thing before his feet had touched the ground. "You held up your end of the bargain, Shinji Nakayama, so now I will uphold mine. First, I will get you past... the Guardian." Shinji smirked at the tiny dog as he waddled ahead, leading the way. He couldn’t help it, he was starting to like him. Only a little. When they arrived at the port Shinji let out an impressed whistle. The Academy was at the other end of a large bridge, and it was like no school he had ever been to. Built into the rocks, the school was enormous, and was almost like a small village in and of itself. Built along the steep, rocky crag were a number of buildings, all stacked on top of each other, some older than others, and some even hanging off the rock in an almost dangerous looking fashion, as if it had gone through numerous renovations but had slowly but surely ran out of room. "Come on. It's early still, so he's going to be cranky... let me do the talking, kid." Inu and Shinji walked along the long stone bridge that led out to the academy. It took several minutes before they reached the other end of the bridge, at which point they were stopped by a large metal gate that loomed overhead. On their left, there was a kind of security station. A small, old building, with a large glass window. Beside the building, there was an enormous statue of a griffin, but Inu seemed more focused on the man that was sat inside the booth. He was tall, extremely muscular, with tan skin and a heavy length of blonde hair. If the boy's hair reminded him of a young lion, then this man was the leader of the pride. "Mornin', Saburo... how are you...?" Inu asked delicately. Saburo looked up from his newspaper for a moment, then looked back down, "I’m fine." He muttered, taking a sip of coffee. Inu hesitated, then looked at Shinji, wondering what to say next. “Tch! Are you for real?” Shinji asked with a sigh of frustration. He turned to Saburo. “Oi, name’s Shinji Nakayama. I’m late for class, is it okay to go through?” Without looking up, Saburo replied, "No." Then he took another sip of coffee, and as Shinji opened his mouth to speak, he repeated, "No." Without needing so much as a glance. “Wh-why not!?” Shinji demanded, incredulously. “I just told you I’m running late! I need to get to class right now!” "Because I said so." Saburo growled, though he kept his voice down, getting irritable at Shinji's quickly rising volume. "S-Saburo..." Inu whispered, "Just... just you could maybe help us out... the kid really needs to get back inside." “Yeah, listen to the mutt.” Shinji replied. “He’s supposed to be the boss around here. What kind of security guard doesn’t follow orders, huh?” Saburo was silent for a few seconds, then he made a strange noise. It was like a rattling, which grew in volume. He was laughing. And he was getting louder and louder. "HuuuuuhuhuhuhuuaheheheHAHAHAHAHA!!!!" Finally, the man's laughter got so loud it seemed to shake the very ground. Then, his laughter stopped abruptly. "Oh no..." Saburo squeeked, then he dropped his coffee and disappeared into his booth as the rumbling grew louder and louder. "Oh, no...." Inu parroted. "We're dead." “Whaddya mean ‘we’re dead’!?” Shinji demanded, yelling over the increasing volume of the rumbling. “What the hell is that noise?” "It's the Guardian!!" Inu yelped, and then as if on queue, the enormous stone griffin loosed a terrifying, screeching roar and leapt from it's frozen watch beside the building. The gigantic stone monster towered over them, it was at least as large as an elephant, equipped with razor sharp talons, a slicing beak, and of course, it's body seemed to be made of stone. "Anpan is ready!" Inu shrieked, yelping as he quickly fled to between Shinji's legs, cowering. "WHO APPROACHES?!" The Guardian's booming voice seemed to echo into their minds, as it's beak did not move when it spoke. Shinji stumbled back in shock at the large, terrifying creature before him. His eyes were wide in shock. It was real, it was all real. Everything his father had told him wasn’t a lie, or an exaggeration. Monsters existed, and the realization hit Shinji like a brick. He looked to Inu for guidance, but the little pug didn’t seem particularly ready to square off against the griffin. He looked to the guard booth, but there was no sign that Saburo was ever going to come back out to help. “Shit…” Shinji hissed under his breath. “…it can’t be helped.” Shinji planted his feet and stood up straight, but his hands were still trembling, betraying his true feelings. He bit on his lip and pushed out his chin, a determined look in his eyes. “Shinji Nakayama!” He yelled, as confidently as he could. “Let me past, you big gargoyle! My old man sent me here, and I’m not getting kicked out before I even get in!” The griffin arched it's back and roared even louder. The window of the security booth building shook and rattled. The Guardian took a step forwards, it's talons just inches from the pair, then it leaned down, and it's large, polished-stone eyes gazed at Shinji, it's eyes locking with his own, though each eye belonging to the Guardian was closer to the size of the boy's head. Eventually, the creature straightened up. "SON OF MASA NAKAYAMA, YOU MAY PASS!" The Guardian stepped to one side and sat upon it's haunches."And Inu, who's a good boy!" Inu added quickly. Something flickered in front of the gate, as if a veil was lifting, and then the gates swung open of their own accord. The boy and the dog entered the Aranami Academy grounds. The gate shut behind them, and the Guardian returned to it's statuesque nature."There, we're in!" Inu stated, in a congratulatory tone, "You. Are. Welcome." Then he quickly trotted on. “Hmph! No thanks to you!” walking away from the dog. “Tch! Getting’ a free pass from my old man. Go figure!” He added, kicking at the ground and scuffing his shoes. He made his way up the long, curving path that spiraled around the rock. As they walked Shinji looked in to the many different buildings, some where students were sat listening to teachers like an ordinary school, and other rooms where students were stood at lab tables, performing weird experiments. They passed through a courtyard and Shinji observed two older students, in their final year, who were sparring with each other with blunt practice swords. Shinji couldn’t help but crack a smile. A school where he could fight? Maybe this place wasn’t as bad as he thought it would be. He turned to Inu who had been uncharacteristically quiet. “Yo, Inugami san. I’m in class B12. You know what homeroom that’s in?” "Yes, you'll be pleased to learn I know it well, and I can fulfil the second part of my promise - I can get you inside the classroom." Shinji opened one of the large double doors and stepped inside, Inu following him in quickly. Inside, the main hall was empty. Normally full of students, it was class time, and most were in their classes or on class trips. "Come on! Your classroom is just up ahead, Ms. Hitomi Kato will be your teacher, and therein is the problem, kid." “And why’s that?” Shinji asked, as they stopped outside a classroom door. “Is she a big stone bird as well?” Inu looked up at Shinji, and could he wear glasses, he would have taken them off, "She is the single most terrifying human I know... so do exactly as I say, and stand right there. No," Inu pushed him in the leg, "Right in front of the door. There, now i'll get you inside the classroom, and we're square." The little pug walked up to the door and scratched at the wood with his paw. Nothing happened. He kept scratching and scratching, then a moment later, there was a sharp screech as a chair hissed across the floor. Rapid footsteps. Inu fled. The door swung open, and there stood the teacher. Hitomi Kato. She glared at Shinji, raised her fist and opened her mouth, and then something out of her peripheral distracted her and she rapidly stepped to one side. "BANZAI!!!" Inu roared, sprinting towards Shinji, leaping through the air like a majestic bird, he crashed into the boy's back, sending him flying into the classroom. Only coming to a stop, when he tumbled into Ms. Kato's desk. Laughter exploded throughout the class. "Mission accomplished..." Inu whispered sombrely, then Ms. Kato slammed the door shut in his face and turned on Shinji. "What the hell is the meaning of this?!" She asked, marching across the classroom. Her anger had silenced the laughter. She grabbed the boy by the scruff of his neck and lifted him off the floor and into the air. "Who the hell're you?!" “Sh-Shinji Nakayama!” Shinji blurted out, still dazed from being knocked in to the desk. "Sit down!" Ms. Kato yelled in his face, then turned, aimed him at the rest of the class - who already knew better than to sit in the centre of the room - and threw him as if he was a football. Shinji crashed into the desks at the back of the room, but as he was pulling himself back together, a hand raised at the front of the class. "Yes, Ms. Kusakabe?" Ms. Kato asked, her tone far sweeter all-of-a-sudden. "Sensei, this boy is a delinquent, placing him at the back of a class might be in error." Yoko's tone was cool and confident. The teacher considered her words and then nodded. "Yes, of course. He'll sit next to you..." Ms. Kato looked at the girl sat beside Yoko, "MOVE!!" She barked, and the girl - though horribly dejected at being moved further from Yoko - leapt out of her chair, clearly terrified of the teacher. "Sensei, I didn't mean for him to be seated beside me." Yoko corrected. Again, Ms. Kato considered her words carefully and shook her head. "Mm, no. I think I want him seated there. Now, moving on..." And she launched back into her lesson. As the boy sat down beside her, Yoko glanced over at him. He looked like a shabby idiot and he smelled of damp. Shinji slumped down in the chair, horrified by the ordeal, but also somewhat relieved that he was finally where he was supposed to be. He sighed, cursing under his breath. “That dumb Inugami!” He hissed in a whisper. He glanced to his side and noticed Yoko looking at him. He raised his eyebrow at her. She was, to him, quite a terrifying sight for a high school girl. Yoko could hear whispering behind her, half the class was talking about this new boy and the fact he had been seated beside her. She studied him for a couple seconds longer, then offered him a comforting smile and a nod. The class quieted down then, and the students went back to their textbooks. Before she turned back to her own, however, she punctuated her smile, by taking her left hand, and balling it into a fist with the exception of her thumb. Then, she dragged her thumb across her neck as if it was a knife. The message was clear, and he had been the only one to witness it. Shinji swiftly turned his head back to the front of the class, blinking in confusion and fear. There he was, finally at Aranami Academy, a school he didn’t want to be in, learning to become a demon slayer, a job he didn’t want to do, nor was he even sure he wanted to do it. And now he was being issued death threats by the class’ top student. Since when did academic prodigy’s issue the death threats? Just what had he gotten himself in to. He looked over to the little window of the classroom door to see the moronic little pug holding on to the rim for dear life, grinning like an idiot with his tongue sticking out. “I’ll kill that little burrito and hide his body in a dumpster, yeah, that’s what I’ll do.” He whispered to himself, before settling back in to listen to the teacher.
  10. “The train is now departing Shinagawa. The next stop will be Tokyo.” The melodic series of notes punctuated the polite woman’s voice over the train speaker. The noise roused a young boy from a light doze and he stared out of the window. He watched as a lit-up city of lights and busy people passed by outside the window. The young boy had been travelling for a few hours now, from his home in Kyoto. Tired and uncomfortable, he stretched out his arms before standing up and pulling down a large sports bag from the overhead compartment and sitting back down, placing it over his lap. He was 15 years old, and dressed in black jeans, white sneakers, a black denim jacket, with the grey hood of his sweater coming out from it’s collar. He had a shock of black, wild hair that looked like he had attempted to tame it, but it had settled at a slightly backward angle, giving the boy a leonine appearance. His eyes were a light blue, but they looked tired and frustrated. He unzipped the bag in front of him and fished around inside. He retrieved a silver pin from the bag and examined it closely. The pin was shaped like a Latin cross with the lower end carved to a point to look like a sword. Around the cross coiled two serpents whose heads met at the top, their fangs bared at one another. He scowled at the trinket and tossed it back in his bag, letting it drop to his feet, before he leaned back and sagged into the seat, staring out the window once more. Here he was, 15 years old and just about to start Senior high school. However, he wasn’t joining any ordinary school. For the next three years of his life he would be stuck in some rural seaside town in Ibaraki prefecture. He cursed silently to himself as he thought back to how this had all happened. --- --- --- --- Kyoto, 3 days earlier Steam rolled through the small but tightly packed dining room of Sanada’s from the kitchen. The room was mostly filled with couples and businessmen who were talking among each other, eating and drinking. The man himself, Sanada, was surveying the restaurant with a perpetual frown on his face, despite nothing really being wrong. After a moment he stepped through to the kitchen, which was a flurry of activity as his small team of chefs busied themselves cooking meals for the customers. “Nakayama!” He called out as he walked through the kitchen. There was no response from any of his chefs. “Nakayama!” Sanada called out again, this time more irritated. “He’s over there, boss.” One of the chef’s replied, pointing away from the cooks area, to a corner at the far end of the kitchen. Sanada walked over and folded his arms, frowning at the young boy. “Nakayama, answer me when I call for you, boy!” He said, but the boy ignored him and continued with his work. Plates and bowls, freshly rinsed, flew into the large plastic racks at alarming speed, landing noisily in the notches on the racks that were shaped to house them. A tinny sound of heavy metal emanated from the ears buds in Nakayama’s ears as he shoved the rack down in to the industrial dishwasher and closed it shut. He began rinsing and tossing plates on to the next rack, before he noticed the shadow looming over him, and turned around to see Sanada standing inches from him, silently ranting. He boy frowned and pulled an earbud from his ear. “Boss?” He asked. “Nakayama Shinji!” Sanada roared, his face beat red from anger. “How many times have I told you not to listen to that trash when you’re working!? You listen to me boy, the kitchen-“ “The kitchen is about teamwork, and you can’t have teamwork without communication.” Shinji interrupted, rolling his eyes. “What’s the big deal? I collect the dishes, I was the dishes, I put the clean dishes away for the chefs. How does that require me communicating with anyone?” “Don’t talk back to your elders, you little punk!” Sanada replied, grabbing Shinji by his apron and pulling him away from the corner, shoving him towards the pass. “Plates are gathering on the tables. Go collect them before I tan your hide, you little brat.” “Tch!” Shinji said with a shrug. “Why didn’t you just say so?” He asked as he sauntered off towards the pass, grabbing a wide container on his way and holding it with one hand against his waist. He walked in to the restaurant itself and began moving around the tables, picking up plates and putting them in the container, half-heartedly nodding at the customers as he did. When he was done he made his way back to the kitchen, but felt a hand grip his arm and hold him back. He turned to the customer, a young businessman in his mid 20’s who looked like he’d had a bit too much Sake. “Get me a beer would you?” The man asked Shinji paused, frowning. “Sorry, you need to ask some-“ “I asked you to get me a beer, isn’t that your job?” The man asked. “Nah it ain’t my job, asshole. As I was just telling you, if you’d only listened.” Shinji pulled his arm from the man’s grasp and went to leave. “Who the hell do you think you are talking to a customer like that, huh?” The man barked. “Is taking a drinks order to complicated for a loser like you, dishwasher?” The room fell quiet at the sound of raised voices. There was a clattering in the kitchen and Sanada turned round just in time to see the tray of plates fall to the floor with a crash, and Shinji had lifted the man from his seat by his shirt, and was holding his face inches from his own. “Say that again, asshole!” Shinji snarled at the man. “Oi! Nakayama!” Sanada yelled as he bustled over. “Nakayama, let him go right now!” Shinji snarled through gritted teeth, but after a pause, he released his grip from the man and turned to walk away. “Heh…” The man said with a smirk, a sound of mild relief in his voice. “Your dad should have taught you some respect, you worthless punk!” “Nakayama!” Sanada cried, sensing what was coming, but he was too late. Shinji’s fist crashed in to the man’s face and knocked him flying back into another table. Food went flying everywhere, and the customers started yelling, their evening meal ruined. Pretty soon the place was in anarchy. --- --- --- --- “This train has arrived at Tokyo Station.” The female voice said as the train doors hissed open. Shinji alighted from the train, his bag slung over his shoulder, as he barged through the crowd of people commuting in the early morning. He lifted his wrist up to look at his watch, a silver timepiece that belonged to his father. On the same wrist was a simple rope charm bracelet, with a number of different silver charms adorning it, including a Star of David, an Egyptian Ankh, a Manji and a number of other unrelated religious symbols. “Damn…I missed my train.” He said with a sigh. He was already running late. The school induction was in the mid morning and it was still another couple of hours before he would make it to the town, let alone the school. He walked through the huge train station, checking the information boards overhead and listening to the announcements. It was another half hour before he found himself sat on a train bound for Ibaraki. He tossed his bag in the overhead compartment and sat down on a seat by himself and waited for the train to depart. --- --- --- --- Shinji walked home through the streets of Kyoto that night. The rage and chaos of the altercation had left him now, and he had come out of the other end fired from his part time job. He felt angry at the rude drunk who had caused the whole mess, and angry at Sanada for not seeing his side of things. However, for the most part he was just angry at himself. He was a screw up in all aspects of life. He had barely scraped through junior high, with grades so poor his future career prospects looked grim. On top of that he had never been involved with extra curricular societies, after being banned from the Kendo club, the soccer team, and the track team he was no longer welcome with any of them. It didn’t help that all three occasions were the result of fights. He had a temper, he knew that. Equally he knew that in general it was the other person’s fault. They were all idiots, and they pissed him off. Yet he was the one to suffer in the end. So who was the real idiot? He shook his head in frustration as he reached the gate to a peculiar looking building that stood quite out of place around the traditional Kyoto architecture. The temple was modelled after a European fashion. A sign at the gate of the property read: The Church of St. Giles. Shinji pushed the gate open. Home sweet home. He bypassed the actual church building and instead made his way to the side building where his home was. He pushed open the front door and quietly said “I’m home.” In the hope he wouldn’t actually be heard. He removed his shoes and left them by the door, and walked through the main hall. As he put his foot on the first step to the next floor, someone spoke. “Shinji…come here please.” The voice was a man’s. It was deep, calm and confident. Shinji sighed and turned around, making his way in to the room further down the hall where the voice had came from. Shinji’s father’s study was lit by warm lamplight. His father sat behind a writing desk facing Shinji. He was dressed in the black clerical uniform of a catholic priest. He had similar features to his son, except his hair was brown, he had a trimmed goatee, and his leonine hair was trimmed slightly shorter and looked decidedly neater. Masa Nakayama was focused on a book on his desk, that he was slowly thumbing through. A cigarette sat in the ashtray by his hand, the smoke cascading in thin wisps through the air. To the right of it was a glass of single malt whisky. “Sanada called earlier. He explained what happened.” Masa said, not looking up. “It wasn’t my fault, dad.” Shinji replied. “The guy was a jerk! He kept pushing my buttons.” “And you could not simply turn the other cheek?” Masa asked. “This behavior…it never stops getting you in to trouble. You never stop to think about the consequences of your actions. How it affects those around you.” “Tch!” Shinji scoffed. “Just like you to worry about how my problems affect you.” “Sometimes I wonder what I’ve done to deserve such an insolent child.” Masa replied, sighing. He looked up to the ceiling. “I’m fairly certain he’s sitting up there laughing his ass off right now.” “God?” Shinji asked. “No, you’re grandfather.” Masa said with a raised brow. “He had a sick sense of humour. Although I suppose The Lord is not above a chuckle now and then.” He took a moment to sip from his glass and take a drag of his cigarette. “He was a lot like you, actually. You’re grandpa, not The Lord, obviously.” He shook his head. “That man was always getting himself in trouble, and it was my mother and I who suffered for it.” “You’ve laid on the guilt pretty thick all my life, dad.” Shinji said, folding his arms. “I’ve heard this lecture a thousand times. Can’t you just be like everyone else and just accept that I’m a screw up?” He let his head sag. “It’s probably easier that way…” “If I wanted easy I’d have disowned you years ago.” Masa said with a chuckle. “Sometimes I think my life with the Order was easier. Still, when your mother left it’s not like I had much choice.” “Oh, gee, thanks dad.” Shinji said, turning to leave. “I haven’t excused you!” Masa said with an authoritative tone. Shinji turned round and for the first time his father had looked up from his book, and his dark eyes were looking right at his son. Shinji shifted uncomfortably. He never liked how his father seemed to have a stare that could see deep inside a person. “Wow, finally decided to pay enough attention to stop reading that book?” Shinji asked. “Oh, sorry.” Masa replied, lifting the book up. “You know me, I always get caught up in my doujins. But seriously look at these things!” Masa turned the book over to reveal a number of illustrated panels of women with large breasts. Shinji’s eye twitched uncontrollably. “You’re a freakin’ pervert, old man!” He snapped. “How the hell can you preach about God and read that trash. Isn’t lust a sin?” “Oh yes, a very tempting one.” Masa replied. “But I never could resist a big pair of…” “Dad!” Shinji snapped, noticing his father becoming transfixed on the book once more. Masa coughed and put the book down. “Oh lighten up. I’m sure The Lord will forgive me my love of big cans. Hell, if I didn’t love ‘em so much then I probably wouldn’t have chased your mother. And then you’d still just be a twinkle in my eye.” “What the hell, dad!?” Shinji barked. “You are the worst priest on the planet. Hands down. You creepy, old perv!” “Yeah…I was never really cut out for the clergy.” Masa said with a smirk. “Bills need paid, though. Anyway we’re getting off topic.” “Oh, sorry for distracting you from scolding me.” Shinji replied. “You’re forgiven.” Masa said, apparently missing the sarcasm. “Listen, son. Your grades are…poor, to say the least. You’ve lost three jobs in the last 2 months. I’m afraid you’re going to flunk your first year of high school. I’m afraid…I’ve had to take desperate measures.” “I am not going to a convent!” Shinji snapped, holding his arms up in front of him in an X shape. “No, you’re not.” Masa said calmly. He opened the drawer of his desk and retrieved a small, silver pin and placed it on the table. “At great personal expense I’ve arranged for you to be enrolled in my old high school. I’d say it’s more like military school than a convent, really.” Shinji looked at the small pin and felt like his heart had stopped. The room spun for a moment, and he felt sick. “You…you’re joking, right?” He asked “I wouldn’t joke about this.” Masa replied. “This is your last chance to shape up. I think it’s for the best.” “You think sending me off to hunt demons is for the best!?” Shinji yelled, slamming his fist down on the desk. “Are you insane!?” “It didn’t do me any harm.”Masa replied. “Made me who I am, actually.” “Who you are!?” Shinji roared. “You’re a washed up old priest who drinks too much and stares at cartoon tits all day!” “Well, who I used to be then.” Masa corrected. Shinji laughed bitterly, turning around and walking back to the door. “Like that guy is so much better.” He said through gritted teeth. “Some workaholic asshole who couldn’t spend any time with his family, until his wife couldn’t handle taking care of his deadbeat son any more, and she left you! Left both of us!” Shinji slammed his fist into the wall by the door, seething with anger. “And there it is! You had to leave your job and come and take care of me. And now you’re sick of me too.” “Shinji…it’s not like-“ “Save it!” Shinji screamed. “To hell with this! Going to this damn school’s gotta be better than staying here with you!” He yelled as he walked out of the room, slamming the door behind him. --- --- --- --- “Now arriving at Aranami.” The female voice said. It had been hours and Shinji had dozed off again. He stood up as the train stopped and pulled his bag from the overhead compartment. He slung it over his shoulder and stepped off the train and on to an unmanned platform, that looked more like a bus shelter than anything else. Immediately he noticed that it was pouring with rain, and in moments he was soaked right through. As the train departed he heard thunder rumble in the distance, and a flash of light lit up the dark, grey sky. In the distance he saw the ocean, the source of the salty smell in the air. There on a large rock out in the sea, past the port town of Aranami, was a large collection of buildings. The rock was connected to the mainland only by a single, large bridge. “So…that’s Aranami Academy.” He said to himself. “Do your worst…a little rain never hurt anybody.” He walked towards the town.
  11. Of Monsters and Men

    Loke wasn’t entirely sure how long it had been since his conversation with the prisoner of adjacent cell. He had discovered that attempting to gauge the passage of time whilst locked in a dark cell under the ground became increasingly difficult. At some point, he had mused about how time was a cognitive construct, and was thus relative. Without a distinct example of change he could not truly know how long he had been there. At first, he had listened for morning bird song to tell him when it was morning, and the chanting of the crowd always meant that the evening had come. However, as his wounds had begun to fester, the pain and sickness began to muddle his concentration. He had assumed that the person next door had stopped talking to him, and that was still a possibility, but he could also not discount the fact that he was simply too sick and exhausted to hear her any longer. He wiped at his face and examined his fingers. He was feverishly hot, but his hands were not sticky and wet as they had been the other times he had wiped his face. He had stopped sweating, despite the fever, and he knew this to be a very bad sign. Dehydration would only allow his condition to worsen much more quickly. He thought that he might only have a day or two left, then again, he wasn’t quite sure how long he had been here anyway. Perhaps he only had hours. The prospect might have provoked fear and overwhelming dread once upon a time, but he was no longer a man who feared death. Still, it would be preferable to live, of course. He was distracted from his meandering thoughts as a guard stepped out to the bars of his prison. He sat up and began getting to his feet slowly. He knew the routine now. It was time for the daily course of slop. He wasn’t entirely sure what was in the sludgy bowl of grime they served him each day but with no other food to eat he was not about to waste it. He slowly shuffled towards the cell bars where the guard’s outstretched arm held a small bowl. “Not lookin’ so good.” The guard said, and he sounded amused. “Don’t imagine you’ll live much longer.” “Then…then heal me.” Loke suggested wearily. “Heal you?” The guard replied, smiling. “Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, mate. Y’see, the crowds like to back a good fighter, but they get bored eventually. You’ve had a good run, and now that you’re in this condition it’s time for that to end. Nobody ever gets to see a healer here..” Loke didn’t reply. He reached out for his bowl of slop, but before he could grab it the guard dropped the bowl on the cell floor, it’s contents spilling out and mixing in with the filth. “Oops…clumsy me.” The guard said with a grin. “Wouldn’t have done you any good anyway.” He added. Loke ignored him and dropped to the floor, taking the bowl and scraping the last few scraps out of it, and eating it hungrily. “Now that’s just sad…” The guard said as he turned to leave. “Cheery bye!” Loke slumped down on the spot and sighed in frustration. That food, awful as it was, was the only thing that was going to keep him going. Just the effort of walking to the bars had resulted in his head swimming, and his body wracked with dull pain. He wasn’t sure how long he lay there before he finally lost consciousness. The pain didn’t truly leave him, but as he retreated in to his mind it seemed to dull at least. --- --- --- --- “Life before death. Strength before weakness. Journey before destination.” An impish voice said. “What?” Loke asked. “It’s the first oath. The first truth. At least in this language.” The voice replied, sounding amused. “I quite like it, actually. Lot’s of fun words. Like pickle, and bogey!” The voice let out a childish little giggle. Loke’s slight annoyance was overcome by relief, however. He always felt the presence of Nyx within his mind, a subtle pressure that was hard to define. Yet Nyx was speaking to him less and less. Likely due to his lack of Arcanium, and the fact he had not had much opportunity to swear new oaths. “What’s there to laugh about? You know we are dying, don’t you?” Loke asked. “Well, it’s a little funny.” Nyx replied. “I mean, not death, obviously. I don’t think you can really be amused when you die, on account of being dead. The circumstances are quite funny though. You came here with such excitement and hope, and then five minutes off the boat and you were clapped in irons and thrown in a box made of bars. Sold like property from wretch to wretch.” “Again, I ask how that is funny?” Loke asked, annoyed. “I think it’s something about seeing hope get squashed. I suppose I must be a bit morbid.” Nyx replied. “You shouldn’t want our hope to die. It can be the difference between life and death for us.” Loke said. “Oh, rubbish.” Nyx scoffed. “That’s just silly human nonsense. Do you think hope will starve your fever? Do you think hope will heal your wounds? Does hope hold the key to this dungeon?” “Without hope I would give up and allow my captors a sure victory. Hope let’s me continue trying.” Loke said. “Hmm….” Nyx seemed to muse for a moment. “No, that’s determination. Hope is just wanting something to happen reeaaally badly. The universe doesn’t cater to your wants. Not even a little bit.” Nyx let out a little sigh of exasperation, which was quite a neat trick considering he didn’t have lungs. Then again, he didn’t have a mouth either. “So how are you so chatty suddenly?” Loke asked. “Your body is failing, and your mind is shutting down.” Nyx explained. “So, at the moment, our connection is strongest within the realm of the mind. Your thoughts are all you have left, really. And, well, I’m basically a thought. A rather complex and powerful thought, I should add.” “I hope that brings you comfort as you die.” Loke said. --- --- --- --- “Loke!” The voice was a tense whisper. Loke opened his eyes to see who was speaking. He turned slightly towards the bars, and was a little surprised to find the young red-haired boy from before. “Hoid…” Loke said. He cast his eyes over the boy, and his gaze stopped at the bandages wrapped over his little hands. “You’re hurt.” “Yeah…” Hoid said, looking at his hands. “Got 20 whacks with the cane for running off the other night. Dad said that should have me learn my lesson.” “Clearly not.” Loke replied, and he forced a brief smile. “And what brings you here, my little friend?” “I just thought…I’d see if you were okay.” Hoid said. “You…don’t look well.” The boy had a worried look on his face. Little, purple bubbles popped around him. They looked thick and grimy, and seemed to have a stickiness to them as they popped. Elementa of worry. It comforted Loke to see them. Elementa were often drawn to the thoughts and emotions of children more than adults. Long ago it was thought that the emotions and thoughts themselves were what birthed the Elementa, there and then. However, in truth the Elementa existed without human intervention, and were only attracted to the thoughts associated with them. Children were always thinking, always feeling, and so Elementa flocked to them. “Do not worry yourself.” Loke said, “I am a fighter in this pit. It is what I am here to do. This is my path.” “I…don’t think that’s right.” Hoid replied. “The other night…it was the first time I’d came here. It always sounded so exciting…but...” He paused. “…I don’t think this is right. That’s why I came here, even after the beatings. I know I can’t get you out but…I just wanted you to know, I suppose.” “Know what?” Loke asked. “That…” The boy seemed to be struggling with something internally. “That…we aren’t all like this. That I’m not like them. I know this is…wrong. It’s wrong and it makes me feel…angry…and sad.” As if waiting for their queue, more Elementa flocked to Hoid. The ground beneath his feet bubbled and spat angrily, like a pool of boiling blood. Small hands seemed to curl and twist around his body, gripping him tightly. Anger Elementa and Sorrow Elementa, respectively. Hoid leaned closer to the bars, his hands gripping them tightly. “I’m sorry I can’t help you.” Hoid said. “They’re wrong about you. You’re not a demon.” He closed his eyes tightly, and fought back the urge to cry. A single tear welled up in his eye, and suddenly his body was aglow in shining white. The aura washed over the boy like a holy fire, although he did not react in any way to it. Loke stared at that fire intently. “Well that’s convenient.” He heard Nyx’s voice in his head. “Or inconvenient in the long term. This only serves to solidify your faith in the concept of hope. That’s going to be annoying.” “Hoid.” Loke said, trying to calm the urgency in his voice. “I…thank you for speaking to me. You’ve done more to help than you realize. I can see that you’ve changed, that you’ve grown.” He weakly held out his hand. “Goodbye, my friend.” He said. Hoid sniffed, and wiped at his eyes. Then he reached through the bar and clasped Loke’s hand. The fire pulsed and raged, shooting down Hoid’s arm like a slithering snake. As it touched Loke’s skin he felt it buzzing through his body like lightning. Power coursed through him, not a physical power but something that shocked his mind back to lucidity. Arcanium flowed within him once more, and he had to fight the urge to burn it all immediately. When the last of the fire had seeped in to his body, he let go of Hoid and gasped as if he was taking his first breath. “Run off now, Hoid.” He said wearily. “Come to the fight with your father tonight. Promise me you will, okay?” “I…I will.” Hoid said with a forced smile. Then he ran off down the corridor and into the darkness once more. Loke clapped his hands together and smiled a jubilant smile. His wounds were still agony and his infections were still likely to kill him quickly. He could give himself more time if he used it all right now, but it would not last. He had to wait until the right moment. He would have to wait until tonight. --- --- --- --- Loke gasped as icy cold suddenly crashed over his body. His cell door was open and a guard was now holding an empty bucket. Loke was soaked to the skin. His mind raced for a moment, but he was grateful for the shock to his system. Before he could get himself up the guards were grabbing him by the arms and dragging him out of the cell. Feet stamped above him rhythmically as voices jeered and chanted. It was time. He was led up the stairs to the pit as the announcer called out his ‘name’ – Glaive of the East. He fell forward in to the mud as he passed through the gates. There was a thump as something landed at his side. Without looking he gripped the handle of his glaive and used it to push himself up to his feet. The crowd booed and hissed, disappointed by his condition. He looked over to the gate on the other side. “Ladies and gentleman it appears our fierce warrior from across the ocean is feeling a little under the weather.” The announcer cried. “Oh dear! Oh dear, oh dear!” The crowd let out a rippling chorus of laughter. “Well that’s a real shame. However, there is entertainment to be found in watching a cat play with a wounded mouse. And so…let us see how the Shadow of the South plays with her food!” The gates opened up and something came out from the darkness. Loke’s eyes widened with shock as he saw the form emerge. Into the light of the arena stepped a young woman. She appeared to be in her mid-twenties, with tan skin and long, greasy black hair that fell down over her face and down her shoulders. She was tall, and as thin as a rake, her cheeks slightly gaunt and the pupils of her eyes seemed remarkably small as they darted around the pit, falling upon Loke before scanning the crowd above. Then her eyes refocused on Loke, and she grinned. Her grin widened until it looked as though her face might split if it stretched any further, and her teeth lengthened and formed into canines. The crowd cheered from above, but her gaze was locked upon him. “Wow, she’s got a lovely smile.” Nyx said in Loke’s head. “Sh!” He hissed at the air around him. He tensed his grip on his glaive, straightening his body and preparing for a fight. Now that he had got a look at his companion from the cells, he was unsure if it was wise to believe anything she had said. On the one hand she had given him no cause to distrust her, but neither had she expressly promised to work with him. And now he could see her, and if there was one truth to be gleamed, it was that she was a predator. She remained quite still, until Loke tensed his grip. Darting forwards like an arrow, she closed the gap between them before he could raise his glaive. Her arms raised, elongated and began to turn black. Her fingers extending into long, razor-sharp claws. The deadly talons danced along the flesh of his arm, splitting the skin and opening several deep wounds. Blood splashed the arena, and the crowd roared as she smelled the bloody, muddy ground inquisitively. "Fascinating." She said, her word leaving her mouth like the purring of a cat. Then she was on Loke once more, he raised his arm to block, but his wound was too severe, and the glaive dropped from his twitching hand. She dropped to the ground at the last moment, charging him and knocking him to the mud. The announcer was talking as she circled him, but she wasn't listening. As Loke tried to stand she charged and knocked him back to the ground again, watching him with a gleam in her eyes. Loke stood up, but stumbled halfway and fell on one knee. He took a moment, gasping for breath. The sickness within him made him feel hot, heavy and dizzy. The adrenaline of the fight, one sided as it was, only added to nausea, bringing forth a fresh new hell of pain. “What are you waiting for?” Nyx asked in his head. “She’s going to kill us.” “I need to know…” He said weakly as he pushed himself up. He fixed eyes with her once more. “I need to know if you are still interested in our bargain?”
  12. Shadows in the Mist

    When Jack left The Penny Farthing it was well in to the night. He had put on a long, black, fitted coat with delicate, silver buckles at it’s straps. The coat was tight fitted around the chest, comfortable but form fitting, with the length beyond his waist left loose for ease of movement. As he walked along the cobbles he pulled the hood of his jacket over his head and continued walking, leaning heavily on his cane, maintaining the pronounced limp he always did in public. It was fake, that was obvious to anyone with half a brain, but for the rest it was always good to keep up the appearance. Whenever it was possible, Jack always made a point of giving people reason to underestimate him. Without the aid of the sun the city’s glass dome was overrun with the rising mists of Aether, their presence snuffing out the stars on nights where the mist was heavy. Sometimes, though not always, the mists were strong enough to permeate through the Ark’s filters and cast themselves over the city itself. This mist was harmless, the toxic Aether was gathered up in the filters but they didn’t almost stop the hazy byproduct. Tonight the mists were thick, and so their haze coated the cobbles, whispy tendrils creeping up the walls, hungrily reaching for the skies. The daytime life of a scoundrel like Jack was one of illusion, misdirection and deception. In the light of day Jack was forever conscious of how he presented himself. Depending on the situation he would change his attire, his posture, his mannerisms, even his voice. For there were many who knew of Jack, and many more who knew him as one of his aliases. Yes, the daytime was where most of the deception happened. Yet now, in the dark night, there was no need for the deception. At least for a Aethermancer. There were few who really understood what it was to be an Aethermancer. While the gifts were not especially common, nor where they especially rare. Still, those who had snapped and awakened their latent abilities rarely garnered the opportunity to fully harness them. Most folks knew of Quicksteps, Scouts, Listeners, Ironarms. None of these terms were official, but they described the common Aethermancers. Those who had scraped together enough coin for a tiny vial of squid ink. They had one simple ability, usually the one they gained upon snapping, and they used them in the most boring of ways. Most Aethermancers made their living in conventional ways. A Titan user would normally become a labourer, or perhaps a courier, although Blinks were preferred. Those of Sense would often made their living as scouts or sentries. Those who used Blend were hired to monitor meetings that required privacy, and those of Sway often became salesman. Archivers became scribes and scholars, and those born of Flare, well they were perhaps the least fortunate. For Flare could only amplify the other Aethermantic abilities, and so those who snapped with Flare often never realized they had any power at all. Yet, in Jack’s opinion, none of these people truly understood what it meant to be an Aethermancer. He had snapped later in his life, a natural Blend user. Yet he had quickly found the urge to make up for lost time. He had used his skills in ways that brought him enough coin, and that coin brought him squid ink. In even a few short years he had gathered enough to allow him access to each of the 7 Aethermantic abilities, at least in their most basic form. Specialist savants like Teach might have considered this a poor use of ink, for they saw the rewards of having deeper knowledge and understanding of their talents. They had a point, Jack admitted. He could Sway a man, but not in the same way that Teach could. Yet he had always been a man who had made the most of the little he had. Having each of the Aethermantic abilities provided him with options, and options, even simple ones, were what made him powerful. With only a small effort Jack reached within himself with his mind. It is difficult to describe exactly how one can feel the different reserves of Aethemantic power within themselves, but Jack often envisioned it as seven candles. Currently only one candle was burning. His Blend was something he almost always kept lit, even if only a little. Like it’s cousin, Sway, Blend affected the mind of the user and those around him. While Sway communicated emotion through rhythmic pulses, Blend provided a more straightforward queue. When people noticed Jack, he saw a thin, blue line connecting between himself and that person. The more the person took notice of him, the thicker and brighter the line became. But by focusing on the lines he could erode a person’s ability to notice him. He could target specific people, and he could send out general waves that targeted within a certain radius. He could also do a lot more than that, but for now he was simply sending out general waves to the people around him. He watched the network of blue lines flicker and dance around him, each one slowly fading, until they seemed to flicker and tremble. It was difficult to erase a line completely, as doing so would effectively render the Aethermancer as invisible. Jack had no doubt that, with the right tattoos, and combined with Flare, this was possible. Yet he had found it to be entirely unnecessary. How many people passed each other by without a thought? How many could describe the unassuming man they had just passed by in the street? When he felt comfortable, Jack turned a corner and lit his Sense. Suddenly the dark night became a clear twilight to his eyes, the orbs of the streetlamps like small fires to his Aether enhanced vision. He could hear footsteps from two streets across. The smell of piss and dirt filled his nostrils with an offensive ferocity. He could feel the fibers of his clothing rubbing against his skin, and he could feel all the tiny little grooves and imperfections along the metal of his cane handle. He was suddenly quite drowsy, the effects of the gin and of his daily fatigue now becoming all the more severe to his heightened senses. But even that had it’s counter. He lit Titan. Suddenly he felt energy wash over him. In an instant he felt alert, and agile. His muscles were primed and ready for action. Pain and fatigue were pushed away by speed and strength. In the night his Aether enhanced vision was perfect, and he examined the streets around him with utmost clarity. He assessed the verticality of his environment, gauged the distances of the various landing points within his range. He chose one. He drew in his breath and lit Blink. In an instant, his world collapsed into a haze of white mist. The ground fell away beneath his feet, a sensation he had once found incredibly uncomfortable. Then the mist took shape as quickly as it had appeared, and his feet touched something solid once more. He now stood on a ledge, several stories above the street level where he had once been. A wolfish grin spread across his face as he gazed across the city from his new vantage point. This was what most Aethermancers missed. They didn’t realize that this was their home. In the shadows, on the rooftops, in the dead of night and skulking in the mist. This was what they were born for. He took off at a run. He moved blindingly quick thanks to Titan. Even a basic user like himself could outrun a horse when they burned Titan. Using Sense he had an advantage over a pure Titan user, for his enhanced senses allowed him to see where he was travelling more quickly, he could assess his movement and his environment, and he could react quick enough to fully utilize his physical power. He leapt from rooftop to rooftop, Titan giving him the strength to jump higher and farther than a normal man. He cut a path over the city in no time. He rarely travelled on the flying barges or by carriage. Aethermancy was generally quicker, he found. Eventually he reached the end of the group of tenements and was sprinting steadily towards Central Square, a large, open space built around a brass statue of a man and a woman caught in a struggle. The statue was a depiction of Maeve and Vatha, the Gods that the people of Ark Valiant believed to lord over Elorra. Jack, originally from Ark Imperius, knew them by another name. Order and Chaos. As he reached the lip of the building he knew that he could not possibly leap the large gap that was the Central Square. He tapped into Flare. He felt his strength intensify in a sudden burst, and when he jumped he shot upwards over the square, blending himself so no one would take any notice. His vision became so sharp, and his depth of field grew farther. He saw a ledge on the other side, took in a breath, and blinked the rest of the gap, landing on the rooftop and diving in to a forward roll to account for the built up momentum from the jump. That was the thing about blinking, you maintained the momentum of whatever position you were in previously. Thus blinking in freefall usually required careful calculation. He stood up and turned back to the square, scanning the blue lines connecting him to the people in the square. It was always important to check. Even if his blend could hide him from the average person, it would do less if there was a Sense user among them. Someone with enhanced senses was all the more perceptive, and thus harder to fool. That was, perhaps, the major flaw in Aethermancy. As powerful as you might be, there were always others with abilities that could counter your own. Which is why a smart Aethermancer should always be vigilant. Jack nodded, satisfied his cover was instant, and then he took off once more across the rooftops. --- --- --- --- Jack eventually descended from the rooftops as he reached the edge of the city. He dropped back down to the cobbles and pulled back his hood, resumed his limp, and once again began to act like all the ordinary people. He made his way to Port Hasting, one of the larger airship ports on Valiant. Port Hasting was outside of the glass dome covering the city, and was instead protected by an anti-aether field. He wasn’t exactly sure of the science behind it, but as far as he understood it was a field of disruptive energy that disrupted the Aether within the mist. Somewhat ironically, like a great deal of the more modern technologies, it was powered by the artificially manufactured Aether Shards. Apparently the field required a lot of energy, and covering the entire city with it proved to be an expensive and inefficient endeavor, especially when the glass dome and filters did an acceptable job. The advantage of using it at the port, however, was obvious. It would allow airships to pass in and out of the port, and kept the workers and airship crews from inhaling toxic aether while they were here. There were breathers, of course, but they weren’t exactly the most comfortable devices to wear, and even airship crews deserved a break at some point. Port Hasting, despite being one of the larger ports, was not particularly heavy with military vessels. Most of the airships docked on the edge of the Ark were simple schooners and galleons belonging to traders and mist fishing crews. The area around the dock was surprisingly busy even at that late hour, and the lantern light illuminated several bands of jolly miscreants from all over the place. Sailors were always a strange lot, always wearing mismatched clothing, never in fashion, and they were often crude and lacking in morals. Jack allowed his blend to fade quite significantly, for in this case he wanted to be seen. The one he had come here to see was not likely to just be standing around. Yet he would have Sense Aethermancers on lookout for him, that was no doubt. As Jack moved through the crowds he smiled as men and women danced to violins and clapping. While there was no liquor on show, it was quite clear that many of the folk here were blind drunk. The prohibition of alcohol had always perplexed Jack, but at the same time he did not complain for her reaped the benefits that came from smuggling in booze and running a speakeasy. It wasn’t even all that dangerous, really. Half the greencoats in his district were regulars at his bar. Jack took note of a single, bright, solid line of blue that appeared in his vision. While most folks were only vaguely aware of him, the person on the other side of that line was focused on him intently. An Aethermancer. He made his way towards the man, who eyed him cautiously for a moment, before attempting to seem relaxed. The man was thin, dressed in scruffy sailor attire, with a thin stubble and a great deal of razor burn across his face. “Evening.” Jack said with a nod. “He’s busy.” The man replied. “Oh, I don’t think he’s that busy.” Jack said. He lit his Sway. Immediately he began to feel the pulsing vibrations of the man’s emotions. “Tell him Jack Rhodes is here.” He felt the sudden shift in the vibrations. What was it? Fear? No. Uncertainty, perhaps. He tried to remember what Teach had explained to him, but he wasn’t as adept as the old beanpole. He nudged the emotion gently, hopefuly that it would help his case. “He’s busy.” The man insisted. “Too busy to be dealing with you, anyway.” “Hmph!” Jack said with a smirk, cursing his inability with Sway. “Old fashioned way I suppose.” He said with a sigh, and reached into his jacket. He produced a coin pouch and retrieved three marks from it, and handed it to the man. “How busy is he now?” He asked. The man eyed the coins in his hand, looked back at the airship in the dock behind him, then back to Jack. “Looks like his schedule just cleared up, mate.” The man said with a sly grin. “You’ll be leaving that dueling cane with me though.” Jack smirked and lifted his cane. The man had keen senses indeed to notice that his cane was one that carried a hidden blade. He handed the cane to the man. “I’ll want that back when I return.” He said. “And you’ll ‘ave it, assuming he doesn’t throw you overboard.” The man replied with a smirk. Jack smiled back and stepped past the man and down the wooden board towards the ship. He walked on to the deck and made his way to the Captain’s cabin, and wrapped three time on the door. “Bugger off!” A grouchy, old voice yelled from indoors. Jack grabbed the handle and opened the door, stepping inside. The cabin was small but was full of personal baubles and trinkets that suggested the owner was a man of considerable wealth despite the modest means of his ship. The man in question was sat behind a desk, a flask that, Jack’s enhanced senses detected, was filled with rum. The man looked to be pitching near 60, and his fine, grey hair was slicked back over his head. He had a thin beard, an a sunken, haggard face. Steely grey eyes narrowed towards Jack, flickering with recognition for a moment, before resolving their hardness once more. “Well if it isn’t ‘Gentleman’ Jack.” The man said. “Did you not hear me telling you to bugger off?” “Hello Decker.” Jack said, smiling. “Long time no see.” “Not long enough.” Decker replied. “Don’t play me for a fool, Jack. I’ve got plenty enough eyes and ears to know your game in Valiant. If you think I’m having my crew doing booze runs for your little pub you’ve got another thing coming.” “Now, now, Decker.” Jack said, holding his hands up in surrender. “I’ve got plenty of contacts in the smuggling world. I’m here for something only you can provide me.” Decker eyed Jack and shifted uncomfortably in his chair. Jack noted the clear change in Decker’s emotional pulses. Anxiety, wariness, and a little bit of guilt. Jack gently tried to soothe them. Yet as he did the emotions were completely overwhelmed by sudden anger. “Don’t you dare try to sway me, Jack!” Decker said with a growl. Jack was taken aback slightly, he had thought he was being subtle about it. Clearly Sway was a more delicate art than he realized. Or, perhaps it was just Decker’s nature. “Sorry.” Jack said. “I do need your particular expertise though. You’ve got the best Sense users I know. Hell, you are the best Sense user I know.” “Ah I’m sure there are plenty of good lads elsewhere on Valiant.” Decker said. “Don’t give me that.” Jack said. “You’ve got a guy out there being a spotter. I’ll bet you knew I was here before he did.” “Well…” Decker shrugged. “I heard you walking with that bloody cane and false limp from a mile off. Didn’t know it was you, though.” “Look, Decker, I’ve got some big jobs coming up.” Jack said. “I need a decent crew of spotters and listeners. Otherwise trouble might catch on to me before I’m ready to let them.” “And who’s trouble this time?” Decker asked. “The Red Feathers, potentially.” Jack replied. “There’s a few other players but those guys are a risk. I thought they could maybe be a part of my plan but…that Jackdaw isn’t right for this sort of work.” “Jackdaw isn’t the sort of man you mess with, Jack.” Decker said, “He’s got a reputation.” “A crook with a reputation is a lousy crook.” Jack said with a shrug. “If you thought he was lousy you wouldn’t be coming to me.” Decker said. “It isn’t cheap to have a pro like me watching your back.” “I can afford it.” Jack said. “Plus a little extra. I’ll need surveillance too. I’ve got a couple of boys on them at the moment, one of them missed a check in though. I’m pulling the others off the job, don’t want to risk it.” “Surveillence…who do you want watched? Jackdaw?” Decker asked. “No. He doesn’t really keep a low profile. He doesn’t need to, he’s too well respected to have any need to hide.” “So who then?” He asked. “A few people.” Jack said. He reached in to his pocket and retrieved a small object, and tossed it to Decker. The old man caught it with little effort, displaying his keen reflexes. He examined the object, a small marble of silver. “All the information is in there.” “Pure silver…” Decker said as he eyed the marble. “How much can you archive in that?” “3 hours of memory.” Jack said, “Or thereabouts. It’s protected, only you and I can access it.” “Must have taken a lot of work, Jackie boy.” Decker said with a smirk. “A bit of a waste if I say no though.” “Just read the thing.” Jack said, turning. “I’ve got a feeling you won’t say no.” “We’ll see.” Decker said with a smirk. “I’ll send one of my boys with a decision by tomorrow night. Until then, if Jackdaw is eyeballing you, I suggest you lay low.” “Oh I’m pretty good at staying hidden.” Jack said as he opened the door. “Then how’d Jackdaw get his eye on you in the first place?” Decker asked. “Ah…” Jack said with a smile. “The plot thickens.” He closed the door behind him.
  13. Rook was the type of thief who liked to get up early. The perception of thieves and crooks was that they prowled at night, taking advantage of the shadows to relieve poor working people of their hard earned bits. It was a fair point, a lot of thieves did operate at night. That was the problem, really. The night was where the low down and the wretched lurked. It was where Vatha lurked, if you were the superstitious sort. Rook wasn’t really sure if he was, he didn’t really have time for religion when simply feeding himself was enough of an ordeal. And this is why Rook liked to get up early. The young boy was dressed in tattered, old dungarees and a dirty undershirt. He wore a grey baker’s boy hat, hiding his mess of dark hair, and his hands and face were grubby with filth and grime. Around him it was busy in the southern quadrant of Ark Valiant. The delicious smell of baking bread hung around in the streets, and people pulled carts along the cobbles, on their way to market. None of them paid any attention to Rook, which was just how he liked it. Despite his grubby, run-down appearance he was actually quite keen sighted, and his sticky fingers were forever reaching, forever grabbing, and swiping. Pilfering in the morning was, Rook felt, an easier task. Mostly because there was so much food on offer, and it wasn’t uncommon for bread or fruit to fall off of carts on their way to market. No one ever thought twice, and even if they did, Rook knew from experience that most folks would forgive a young boy for stealing bread a lot quicker than they would if he’d swiped their coin purse. So after only a short stroll, Rook found himself sat on a step outside a block of old tenements, and had scored himself a nice little haul. Two bread rolls, an apple, and a strawberry tart. He sat there, ravenously chomping at the bread as he watched passersby. This was his first meal of the day, and in all likelihood would be his last for a while. As they day stretched on in Ark Valiant, opportunities to steal food became less and less. With a soft sigh he looked up skywards. Valiant was a sprawling, over-crowded mess of a city. Buildings were built high, and were constantly being given half-baked and often dangerous extensions that probably broke all sorts of building code violations. Of course that was the kind of thing that was tied up in Guild politics, and was so unbelievably trite to even attempt contemplating, that most people just settled for good old fashioned bribery. The sky above Valiant was blue, with white clouds floating quite low above the city. Ark Valiant was suspended, through means no one was quite certain about, Just above the areas where the Aethermist reached, in a gap between them and the clouds. Occasionally, when the mist was bad, it would climb up higher and you could see it swirling above the city, pressing against the glass barrier that was constructed over the city, protecting everyone from the toxic mists. Those who were fortunate enough to travel on airships and visit other Arks were always quick to complain about how stale the air was inside of the Arks. Rook had never been outside, he’d never experienced this fresh air that others spoke so fondly of. When he was younger he used to dream of being an airship Captain, and being free of this life. He had stopped dreaming a while ago now. He was 14 years old, and his situation was never going to change. He was an Orphan, and his surrogate family were never going to allow him to be anything other than a thief. Of course he had contemplated trying to save some money, but that was a dangerous task in itself. When Rook did his morning run, he stole food for himself to eat. Yet as the afternoon came in it was time for him to go to work. His employer would not settle for scraps of food as an adequate day’s work. Jackdaw wanted coins. Rook was one of the youngest in the gang, and had never been asked to go on any of the big jobs. However, Jackdaw had insisted that Rook had to pay his way somehow, and so he put his sticky fingers to good use, walking to the streets, robbing honest men and women of their money. He hated doing it. Stealing to survive was one thing, but stealing to add money to an already towering wealth? It just didn’t seem right to him. Of course Jackdaw had never beat him, yet. That was more than he could say about any other adult who had given him the time of day. So even if he didn’t like it, he would still do it for Jackdaw. The thing most people don’t realize about being robbed, is that it’s not normally just a random pickpocket passing them by and trying their luck. Chances are, the thief has been waiting for someone like them to come along. The thief sees something in them, a vulnerability that can be exploited. The extremely wealthy were poor targets for a pickpocket. Rich people were often very careful about their money, and a good few didn’t even carry their own money, having bodyguard or attendant carry it for them. The poor were easier of course. Less educated, less secure, less concerned with having their money disappear, since they didn’t really have any to lose in the first place. So ultimately the best way to actually steal enough coin for thieving to be worth the hassle, it was usually best to pick a mark who was somewhere in the middle. Rook was leaning against a wall, his arms folded, trying to look inconspicuous as his eyes scanned the crowd of people passing by. Eventually his eyes fell upon a coin pouch that was jingling, attached carelessly to a belt at a man’s waist. The man was tall and lean, he looked to be in his late thirties. He had hawkish features, with light blonde hair gently swept back over his head, and a thin stubble on his chin. His eyes were a dark emerald colour, they looked piercing and cold. He was dressed in a clean, white shirt and a dark blue waistcoat with gold filigree, and a pair of dark blue trousers. His right hand was rested on a black cane, with a silver handle, on which he leaned heavily as he walked. His left arm was currently clutching a blue frock coat that matched his trouser, which he had slung over his shoulder. Rook eyed the man’s footwear. He was wearing black boots, with white spats. The shoes were the key factor, the real difference between the well off, and the truly wealthy. They were spotless. Rook couldn’t believe his luck. A Nobleman walking through the street, unattended, with both of his arms occupied, and his coin pouch just…hanging there. It seemed to good to be true, but there is was right in front of him. Rook smirked to himself, and then he was on the move. He weaved through the crowds of folk, carefully not to draw too much attention to himself. The hawk-faced noble was coming at him from the other direction. He seemed entirely unconcerned with the boy, just as Rook liked it. The two passed each other just as the crowd was thickening. Rook’s sticky fingers reached out, probing and searching until it grasped the coin pouch. He gave it one swift tug, felt it give just slightly. He held his breath as the coin pouch came off into his hands, and he walked, waiting for the nobleman to turn around, to call the guards, or chase after him. Five seconds passed. Rook had definitely felt a give when he had tugged the pouch. Surely the man would have felt it being taken from him? 10 seconds. He kept walking, his heartbeat quickening. He wanted to turn back and look, but if anyone saw him it would give him away. 15 seconds. He couldn’t take it anymore, he turned his neck around to see if the man was pursuing him. Yet when he turned, he couldn’t see the man in the crowd. Relief washed over him, cleansing away the horribly intense fear that came after making such a play. He felt the weight of the coin pouch in his pocket. It was heavy and jingled heartily. He wondered how much a Nobleman would likely be able to carry in such a pouch. At a guess he could feel at least 20, maybe 30 Marks. It had to be marks, nobleman always carried them. Bits were the currency of the lower class, and nothing that could be bought with bits was worth a noble’s attention. Rook started to walk away from the main roads. He wanted to find a quiet alleyway somewhere and inspect his haul. He walked for a good ten minutes at a quick pace, making sure he was well and truly shot of the noble he had robbed. Then he turned in to an alley and swept a quick glance around to make sure he was alone. He bent down behind an old crate and took the pouch, tugging on it’s string, and loosening it. He inspected the inside and frowned. “…What are these?” Rook asked himself out loud. He took out the pieces of metal that were in the pouch, each of them roughly the size and shape of coins, but they were copper coloured, and had holes in the middle. “Washers.” Supplied a deep, well-spoken voice from the other side of the box. Rook jumped in fright and as he stood, he looked to the other side of the box to see the nobleman standing there. He had put on his frock coat now, and was leaning against the back wall with his arms folded, his cane resting at his side. “They space them between screws and bolts.” He added, a wry smirk on his face. “I…” Rook stammered, backing away from the man. He dropped the pouch on the floor, it’s contents toppling over the cobbles, and Rook turned and went at a run. There was a noise that sounded like air trying to escape from a tight space, the kind of hissing sigh. Dark mist swirled and danced around the exit of the alley in front of Rook, and then the mist quickly coalesced and took shape. The nobleman stood there, cane in hand, blocking his path. “Aethermancer!” Rook gasped as he came to a stop, his whole body shaking with fright. “Y-you’re an Aethermancer!” “Sharp, kid.” The man replied, smirking. “Now why don’t you just calm down a little, hm?” Rook went to say something, but then he stopped. He did feel a little more at ease. It was only slight but it was there. He took a deep breath and felt even calmer. Every so often fear tried to grip him again, but it was like it had been muffled, and was being held at bay. “I’m sorry I…” Rook looked around nervously. “I don’t have any parents, I live on the streets…I’m just…” “A poor little boy?” The nobleman finished his sentence. “That’s good, kid. A little cliché but you can’t go wrong with the classics. You’ve still got those sad child eyes and the rosy cheeks, might as well make use of them.” “What are you talking about?” Rook asked the man. “I’m talking about your hustle, kid.” The man replied. “You’re pretty good, you know. Observant, opportunistic, light touch. You’ve even got the sad puppy vibe. I reckon you could be great, with a bit of practice.” “At…at stealing?” Rook asked. He caught himself and shook his head. “No sir, I…that was a one time thing, and I learned my lesson. I won’t do it again.” “Well that’s just a waste of a talent.” The man replied, chuckling. “Look, kid, this was a test and you passed it. What’s your name?” “Uh…Rook.” “Like the bird?” “I guess.” Rook shrugged. “Ja…” He trailed off. “My…guardian. He gave that name to me.” “Well, it suits you.” The man said. He reached in to his pocket and flicked a single gold coin at Rook, who caught it and examined it. “This is a Mark.” He said with a grin. “Sure, you keep it.” The man said. “You can leave now, head back to your Guardian if you want to. But keep that Mark safe, Rook. If you want to see some more of those, then you go to the East Edge, look for a shop called ‘Penny Farthing’, it’s an old antique shop. In the back there’s an old fortune telling machine, one of those animatronic things. You know the ones?” “I think so.” Rook replied. “Well, you put that Mark in that machine, and I’ll know about it. I’ll have some more work for you, I promise.” The man turned and went to leave. “Hey…wait a minute.” Rook said, finding a small modicum of courage. “Who are you?” “Oh, that was rude of me, wasn’t it?” The man said, turning back around. He gave Rook a wolfish grin. “They call me ‘Gentleman’ Jack Rhodes. It was nice to meet you, Rook.” He nodded, and then he turned to leave. There was another hiss of air, a swirl of mist, and the Jack was gone. Rook shuddered, and pocketed the Mark in his hand. Then he sighed, thanking his lucky stars that the man hadn’t decided to beat him. He had to get back home now, he’d wasted too much time. And now he had nothing to give Jackdaw, except the single Mark in his pocket. --- --- --- --- The door to Penny Farthing Antiques opened, and Jack Rhodes stepped through the door. The shop was closed, and unattended. In truth the shop was never open, and nobody worked there. The antiques were just junk. Jack ignored the lot of them as he removed his coat and approached the old machine at the back of the shop. Inside of it was a creepy looking wooden puppet-like construct of a strange man in a turban, with a black pointed goatee and a twirling mustache. Jack retrieved a single gold Mark from his pocket, and placed it inside the machine. The machine whirred to life and the strange puppet’s eyes lit up, and it began to move in jerky, animated motions. “Do you wish to know your fortune?” an overacting, ridiculous voice asked as the animatronic man’s mouth flapped up and down. “I’d rather make a fortune.” Jack replied. “Oh…sorry, I think you’ve got the wrong place.” The fortune teller replied. “Quit fooling around, Teach!” Jack snapped at the machine. “Ooh, bit testy today.” The fortune teller replied. “Alright, fine. Come on in.” The machine went dark again, and then there was a whir and a click, and the machine unlatched itself from the wall, swinging open to reveal a thin, descending hallway of stairs. Jack went down them, closing the fortune telling machine behind him, and he pushed open the door at the bottom. He was greeted with a warm glow of lantern light, and a room of reds and golds, with mismatched chairs and tables, and a whole range of equally garish and clashing tapestries, decorations and furniture. The place looked like a chaotic storm of bad taste, and yet it was full of people, all of them laughing and chatting, and drinking merrily with each other. Jack ignored them all, and they appeared to ignore him as well. He made his way to the bar, where a well-dressed man was currently polishing glasses. The barman wasn’t quite as tall as Jack, but his features were far more skinny and delicate. He had curly, brown hair hiding under a black bowler hat with a purple feather. He wore a white shirt, with a yellow waistcoat, suspenders, and black slacks. The man was well maintained, with dark brown eyes, and clean shaven with the exception of his exceptional mustache, which had been combed and styled with beeswax. Jack sat down on the bar stool, and the barman placed a metal mug of gin next to him. “My, you are looking rather dashing today, Jack.” The barman said, his voice was the one that had came from the fortune machine. Bartholomew Teach was Jack’s right hand man. The pair had worked together for years, and had found a stable income from the smuggling of alcohol in to Ark Valiant, and running this little speakeasy, The Penny Farthing. However to the patrons of The Penny Farthing, Jack was simply a regular patron. Teach was simply a barman. It was how Jack’s crews had always liked to operate. After all, a crook who is infamous, is a no good crook at all. Besides which, the Penny Farthing was just one venture of theirs. Most of the work was now taken care of by other crooks and smugglers who likely didn’t even realize they were on the staff. There were only a few people Jack ever allowed in to the inner circle. People like Teach. “I was talent scouting.” Jack explained. “Ah yes, the old crippled noble with the loose coin purse play.” Teach said, rolling his eyes. “I shall never understand your need to recruit waifs and strays. There are plenty of decent and experienced professionals out there that could join our crew.” “Anyone with the skills we need who is already in the game will either be looking out for themselves, or their loyalty will need to be bought. We can’t have that for what we’re planning.” “And just what are we planning? You haven’t mentioned…” Teach said casually. Jack went to explain, and then stopped himself, frowning at Teach. “Quit swaying me.” He growled. “Sorry, dearie, but I don’t stop my sway for anyone, not even you.” Teach replied with a wink. “Well I’m not telling you the plan, not yet anyway.” Jack said with a smirk, before he took the cup and sipped on it’s contents. He let out a satisfied gasp. He looked around, and noted that nobody seemed to be paying attention to him. “Relax, chum, I’ve been blending and swaying since you came down the stairs. They don’t even know you’re here.” Teach said. “So I take it you were scouting the Red Feathers gang again?” “Just a kid, his name’s Rook.” Jack explained. “Doesn’t seem to realize how much trouble he’s in, he’s too young. I doubt his boss, Jackdaw, lets him see everything that goes on.” “Yes well that’s his style, Jack.” Teach said. “I’ve been running intel on the Red Feathers for weeks now. Jackdaw runs a tight ship, he’s clean. All I could muster was that he tends to take in strays, young children. He looks after them, gains their loyalty. Sort of like what you were doing with that child, Rook, was it?” “That’s not the same thing.” Jack replied, his brow furrowed in annoyance. “I’m never going to teach a child how to whack a guy when he doesn’t pay his protection money. The kid has the talent, he could be an excellent thief if he focused. This Red Feather gang, they diversify. General thuggery, robbery, mugging, racketeering, smuggling, fencing, laundering, you name it.” “Yes, it’s a real money maker if you ask me, boss.” Teach said with a raised brow. “There’s no class in it.” Jack said. “Thievery is an art. That kid was good at it, especially since he’s not got any Aethermancy to help him along.” “Unusual.” Teach said. “Jackdaw has a few of them in his gang.” “The kid’s young, even if he did have the potential he probably wouldn’t have snapped yet.” “Ah, true.” Teach nodded in agreement. “So, you gave the boy a job offer and let him walk?” “Something like that.” Jack said. “I’ve got some boys tailing him. They’ll keep an eye out on him, watch where he goes, who he speaks to. Even if the kid doesn’t take my offer, he’ll lead us to some bigger fish.” “And what if the lad tells Jackdaw about your offer?” Teach asked. “What if he leads Jackdaw and his gang straight to our little hideout here?” “The kid doesn’t know this place is connected to me, only that I said he was to come here if he wanted more work. If Jackdaw comes I’ll make myself scarce and this will just be another secret speakeasy. No problem.” “Oh there’s always a problem with your plans, boss.” Teach said, pouring himself a shot of whisky. “It just hasn’t happened yet…”
  14. Blood & Scale

    Lady Commander Freya Le Teague was not accustomed to moments of peace and solitude. From the moment she had re-entered her keep she was pestered by advisors, and speakers for various groups and factions within the city of Burrow. She kept walking in the hope that they might give up, but as usual they kept pace with her, forever vigilant in their quest to waste her precious time. So she strode through the halls of her own home, with her personal guard following dutifully behind her, whilst several stuffy old men in robes clutching scrolls followed her. “Lady Commander, might I speak with you about this year’s festival of the hunt?” One of them asked “Now is not the time.” She replied dismissively. “But, Lady-” The man protested and Freya shot him a dark look. “I have spoken.” She said firmly. “You can submit it for discussion at the next assembly. Now leave.” “Y-yes, apologies, Lady Commander.” The man said with a soft bow and shuffled off. Another man had already begun prattling. “…the people are getting quite excited about the Savior’s return. There are whispers that the Riders have returned to power, and that an Elf Rider and her dragon have come to rally us against the Tyrant King.” “Tell the people that we have no intention of going to war.” Freya replied. “The presence of the Riders changes nothing.” “Of course, Lady Commander.” The man bowed and shuffled off. Several more exchanges like this occurred until finally Freya reached the door to her study and opened it. When the few men left went to follow her in she spun on her heal and shut the door, leaving her guards to deal with the men. She made her way over to the large desk by the window and sat down at it, sighing with frustration. It was just like Agron to make a mess of things. He had always caused a stir when he came to Burrow. Freya even remembered the trouble he gave her predecessor. Agron and Turiel had always been intermittent guests in her life, even since she was a child. There was once a time when even she had marveled at the great dragon and his Rider, but age and experience had lessened it somewhat, and finally the burden of responsibility had extinguished it altogether. She knew Agron to mean well, but he was a renegade who had never led people. He was, she thought, just like all the Riders; arrogant and all too sure of himself. Yet he never seemed to comprehend the damage he dealt when he finished making a ruckus and flew off into the sunset once more. First of all, he had completely embarrassed her, by breaching the defenses like that. She had managed to pass it off as of little concern, but she knew that there would be consequences for her. Furthermore, Turiel’s presence always brought hope to the people. She had once thought that a good thing, but had realized eventually that hope was a dangerous thing to give the people. It made them overconfident, reckless and foolish. Agron was an encouraging man, and he made the people of Burrow feel like they were strong. That might be something that they would require one day, but for now it was simply a lie. They were not strong, not strong enough to face Aemon. That much was certain. And now Agron had brought along a young prodigy, a new Rider and an elf at that. And in their brief exchange Freya had already seen Agron’s less than subtle touch upon the girl. She was prideful and arrogant even in her earnest desire to be forthcoming. She had not even realized how much she spoke with authority, like she had any right to dictate such things. The thought of it made Freya’s blood boil. The last thing she needed right now was a defiant young girl putting ideas in people’s heads. The door to her study opened and Freya let out a little sigh. “Oh for the love of…” She said as she stood up and whirled around the face whatever brave advisor had decided to enter her study. She stopped speaking however, as a more imposing figure closed the door behind him. The Nord man was of similar height to Agron, but his long, black hair was almost down to his hips. It hung down in thick, matted dreadlocks. He was clean shaven, but his face was marred by tiny scars from various cuts and scrapes, along with one particularly vicious burn scar on the right of his face. He wore a black patch over his right eye, but his left was a dark green, which was staring at Freya with a horrible, hungry energy to it. He was dressed in the thick, fur-lined leathers that was typical of Nords. The thick, steel plates on his boots, gauntlets, and shoulders was carved with the same knot-like filigree that Argon’s armor had. At his side her carried a short war hammer strapped to his belt. “Vigo.” Freya said, her tone neutral, but her eyes betrayed her dislike for the man. “Freya.” Vigo replied in a throaty voice, his tone slightly mocking. “Lady Commander.” She corrected. “Ye dinnae refer tae me as High Scale, so I’ll no be referrin’ tae ye as Lady Commander.” Vigo replied matter of factly. “Now then, I think we need tae have a wee chat.” “I wonder what about.” Freya replied, rolling her eyes and folding her arms. “Ye know what about. Turiel has returned, and brought wi’ him a doe.” “I don’t think it’s quite like that.” “And what dae ye ken?” Vigo asked her, frowning. “This is an opportunity tae bring back their kind.” “This isn’t quite what I expected from you, Vigo.” Freya said, shaking her head. “I thought you had come to convince me to march again.” “Oh I’ll no be needin’ ye tae march anymore.” Vigo said with a grin. “I came here as a warnin’ tae ye. The House O’ Dragons have guarded Burrow for o’er long now. Ma people waste their talents sittin’ about waitin’ for Aemon tae come tae us. We’re no spies, we’re warriors. Without a battle tae fight, we cannae truly live.” “Always so melodramatic.” Freya replied, “My decision has not changed, Vigo. I will not march my people to their deaths.” “Aye well, we’ll just have tae see.” Vigo said with a wolfish grin. “Just mind a gave ye another chance. Change is comin’. Turiel is the key, him and that young doe.” “Auriel.” Freya said. “And she is a fierce creature. Not some child who hides under her teacher’s wings. I don’t know what you think you know, Vigo. I do know, however, what you seem to always forget.” “An’ what’s that, eh?” Vigo asked. “Agron and Vaedwyn were chosen.” She said coldly. “You…never were.” Vigo’s eyes narrowed, and his jaw tightened. The man was never very good at containing his anger. After a moment he seemed to calm himself, but his nostrils still flared when he exhaled. “Ye know what of what ye speak.” He said finally. “Just remember, they’ve come lookin’ for an army, and unlike you I’m willin’ tae gie them one. An’ I’m sure they’ll understand ma price.” With that Vigo turned and left the study, and Freya was left alone again. She let out the breath she was holding, and turned back to her desk. She cursed Vigo, and she cursed Agron and Vaedwyn. Intended or not, they had stirred up a whirlwind of trouble. Now she was going to have to deal with it.
  15. Shadows in the Mist

    Teach was the kind of man who loved to socialize. It was certainly no mistake that he was the one who tended to the bar while Jack was off running errands. Of course, he had made it seem like it was Jack’s idea. He was good at that. He had a firm belief that the easiest way to get someone to do what you want was to convince them that it was their idea. Certainly, doing so was no easy task, although it was significantly easier for a man like Teach. He was most unlike the typical image of an Aethermancer, a powerful and dangerous individual that one should always be wary of. Teach was, quite simply, a friend to almost all who met him. It made him an excellent bartender, and helped inspire customer loyalty. Of course a great many of them were unaware that Teach had, quite literally, encouraged that sense of loyalty and friendship inside of them. Even as he stood behind the bar, quietly cleaning glasses and seemingly minding his own business, his Aethermantic senses were stretched out across the room. Teach was something of a specialist when it came to Aethermancy. He had a very specific and detailed grasp of Sway, Blend and Archive. So much so that he could use each independently or harmoniously with each other, and could even reverse their effects. The easiest way to describe the feeling of a mental connection through Aethermancy, was that it was like a series of vibrations, or drum beats. He felt rhythmic vibrations humming from every individual in the room, and each told a different story. In general the vibrations were all somewhat similar. There were general feelings of merriment, and a weariness that was slowly being soothed in each individual as they imbibed more drinks. Every so often he’d feel a little spike that seemed off within the room. A shudder of guilt, or a trickling of worry. From this he could often tell the tone of the conversations at each table, and could even sense how people were feeling about each other or the situation. Of course all he could really feel were the vibrations, and without context the reason for these feelings bubbling up was something he could merely speculate about. However this was the fundamental thing that made someone like Teach stand out as a true master of the art of Sway. For Teach was a people person. His friends Jack, he could be charming, mysterious and generally well liked, but he was a man who enjoyed the puzzle. Life was a game to his friend, and whether he would admit it or not, he often saw people as pieces on a chess board. Teach loved the complexity of people. He loved that they could feel, and could make each other feel. Many considered Sway to be the art of a terrible person. After all, how could someone manipulate people’s feelings like that. However Teach knew better. To him, Sway was simply a tool not unlike being attractive, or interesting, or wealthy. He had no shame about using it constantly, and always to his advantage. That was human nature after all. Manipulation was integral to socialization. His musings were interrupted when Jack had returned from one of the back rooms. He had changed out of the nobleman’s attire he had been wearing earlier. He now wore a simple white shirt, with the collar popped and no tie. Over this he had on a simple, brown waistcoat, some black trousers, and a pair of knee-length, brown boots with three buckles across each thigh. Jack caught Teach’s eye and sat back down at the bar. Teach placed another cup of gin next to his friend and went back to his glass cleaning. “You know, old boy…” Teach began, his tone casual, “Every night you come here and you sit in that chair, and you drink your gin, and occasionally you prattle on to me about your schemes and your plans, and other times you just sit there quietly.” “What’s your point?” Jack asked, sipping at his drink. Teach felt a slight tick of annoyance in Jack, and without a single out of place motion, he gently soothed it away. “My point is that we have a lovely little place here, business is good, there’s a lot of people in here.” Teach replied. “So?” Jack said. “So you could try speaking to them once in a while. You never know, you might make a friend.” Teach smiled and leaned on the bar. “Maybe even a nice lady friend, hm?” At that Jack’s feelings of annoyance bubbled more fiercely, and Teach quieted them a little. Just a little, but not all of it. That was the way to do it, if you didn’t want people catching on. Jack shook his head. “I’ve got a friend.” He replied, “And he’s a pain in the ass.” He smirked and shot a glare at Teach. “Well more reason to find new friends, don’t you think?” Teach replied, grinning. “Look I have plenty of friends, Teach.” Jack said with a shrug. “You have plenty of employees, old boy. They aren’t the same thing.” “Hm, maybe you’re right.” Jack said with a shrug. “Doesn’t mean I’m going to do anything about it, of course.” “Yes, of course.” Teach said, rolling his eyes. “We can’t be having people think that ‘Gentleman’ Jack is a raging socialite, can we?” The conversation was stopped there when a crackle sounded from behind the bar, and there was a tinny sound of footsteps. Teach picked up the little metal box from behind the bar and twiddled the nobs on a little bit, and the footsteps became louder. “Ah, excuse me. Duty calls.” Teach said, and then he cleared his throat, and when he spoke again it was in a ridiculous voice, and he put the receiver attached to the box to his mouth. “Do you wish to know your fortune?” He asked. There was a ‘hmm’ noise, a female voice he suspected. Then he heard the familiar noise of a coin being put in the machine. Teach quickly scanned the room. He wasn’t expecting any more regulars tonight, and the place was already quite full. “Sweetheart, maybe you should ask somebody else for advice?” He suggested into the receiver. There was another pause, and then a loud crunch like something being broken. “Hey!” Teach called into the receiver, but all he could hear from the speaker was a bunch of static. He turned to Jack, and raised an eyebrow. “That’s not the password.” Jack said, smirking. “It’s not funny, Jack.” Teach replied tartly, “I think she broke Boris. I liked that creepy little thing…” “Well maybe you should let her in, and she can explain herself?” Jack suggested. “Are you kidding? This isn’t a place for bullies and ragamuffins!” Teach said, frowning. “True, but remember what we were speaking about earlier? I whisper a little word to one of the Red Feather’s most impressionable members, and suddenly someone’s being a bit rude at our guest entrance. I mean it could be a coincidence but…” “No, it isn’t. It never is with you.” Teach replied flatly. “Do you want to speak with her?” “No, I think you should.” Jack said. “I’m going to take your advice and mingle a bit. Turn your blend off, I’ll use my own. She won’t even notice me.” Jack got up and grabbed his mug, and left Teach alone to deal with the potentially violent woman upstairs. “Well…that hardly seems fair.” Teach said with a sigh. Then he pushed a button under the bar, and there was a click as the door upstairs was released. Teach turned off his blending Aethermancy, and noticed that Jack had sat himself down with a couple of other men and was making polite chit chat. He would be blending himself but there was no way for Teach to tell. He knew Jack was here, and actively recognized his presence. Even an extremely good blend couldn’t beat that. So he went back to cleaning glasses and waited for the woman to come down the stairs. The room was thick with smoke, it hung beneath the ceiling like a blanket, and beneath that it was a haze. The room was packed. People sat at every table, dancing on the floor in the centre, a bar in front of her. As Raven entered the speakeasy, she felt the eyes of the room on her. They were nervous. She glanced over at the barman and saw he wasn't entirely focused on the glass in his hands. She quickly crossed to the bar, pulled up a stool and sat down. "Well, you're not the owner." Raven stated, looking the man up and down. “Oh I very much am, dearie.” Teach replied, a soft smile on his face. As he spoke he was gently soothing the nervousness within the room, and analyzing the pulses of emotions that were resonating from the newcomer. “I’d ask if you were old enough to drink, but I suppose that’s sort of irrelevant during prohibition, wouldn’t you say?” "That's alright fella, didn't come here to drink." She turned on her stool and looked around the room, "So Where's the rest of yeh?" Raven's sharp eyes scanned the floor. “The rest of who, dear?” Teach asked. He could feel a multitude of emotions bubbling away in her. Caution was there, but she was calm. There was a hint of frustration growing, still small, he wasn’t sure if she’d even notice it in herself. He gently soothed the frustration, but left the calm and the caution. They were smart emotions, and he didn’t particularly want to rob her of them. "Alright." Raven nodded, tapping her leg thoughtfully. "Make me a drink then, bartender." She lingered on her last word, inspecting the man's face, keeping his gaze for as long as he looked at her. Teach noticed her stare, but did not hold it any longer than was appropriate. He knew what she was up to, and unfortunately she was playing that game with the wrong man. Teach was not the aggressive, assertive sort, but he was no timid fool either. He grabbed a clean glass and placed it in front of her. He paused a moment, feigning contemplation, before pouring her a shot of whisky. “Did I get that right?” He asked, rubbing at his chin. “You seem like a whisky girl.” Raven picked up the glass, sniffed it then drank it back in a single gulp. She held the glass for a few seconds, then placed it back down on the counter. "Wouldn't know, never had it. Yer a nosey bastard, y'know that?" “Guilty as charged.” Teach said with a smirk, throwing his hands up in mock surrender. “Call it a barman’s habit, if you will. I’m partial to a bit of gossip, and I don’t hide it.” He held out his hand, offering it to her. “Call me Teach, everybody does.” He gave her his best disarming smile, and then he made his first real attempt at swaying her. He nudged her affection just slightly, soothed her frustration a little more, she would no doubt attribute it to the drink. Then he nudged up her apprehension just a touch. Emotions were rarely certain, after all. Raven saw something in Teach, she studied his hand. It took a moment but she finally accepted his hand and shook it firmly. Then with her other hand, she picked up her glass and placed it in his palm. "Pour me another." She let go of his hands and waited. Teach nodded and poured her another drink. “So, you’re new here.” He said. “I never forget a face, and yours is new. What brings you to The Penny Farthing?” Whilst this was going on Jack sat with the two men he had struck up a conversation with. He was nodding along as they spoke, but his attention was at the bar. He had activated his Sense, which he had not attuned particularly well for this sort of thing. The room had grown brighter, the smells more vibrant, the taste of his gin was sharper. He could also feel the a chilly draft from the entrance that he wouldn’t have normally, and the brightness was already beginning to give him a headache. However he was focused more on his hearing, which was amplified enough that he could hear Teach’s conversation with the girl. It could also hear every other bloody noise in the room, and so he had to concentrate to make any sense of it. "Thank you," Raven smiled at Teach, lifted the glass and downed it. "Ya got anything to eat around here? I'm real hungry. Yeh get me some food first, an' then I'll tell yeh my business." Teach folded his arms and appeared thoughtful. “We’re not really that sort of bar.” He admitted. “I can’t give you anything hot but I suppose I could whip you up a ham sandwich. Just sit tight, and I’ll be right back.” Teach nodded and he left the bar, disappearing in to the back room, leaving Raven alone. Jack took the opportunity to lower his Sense. He sipped on his drink, draining it, before making his excuses and leaving the table. He moved towards the bar, leaning heavily on his cane, and sat two stools down from Raven, and allowed his Blend to subside. He made a point of looking around searchingly for Teach, and then sighed in frustration, before settling down to wait for the barman to return and top up his drink. Raven heard the scrape of a stool and glanced at the man taking a seat. He was different from the other customers. He looked calm, relaxed, comfortable in himself. Yet the customers seemed acutely aware that they were doing something illegal. That perhaps at any moment the Greencoats were going to knock the door down and charge in. But why was he different? She frowned and looked back at the bar. That bartender was taking his time. He could be loading his pistol. She reached for the knife at her waist, ready to react. The moments passed by and Jack simply waited. He didn’t need Aethermancy to notice the subtle clues of hostility the young girl was giving off. He noted how she had primed her body, ready for conflict to break out at any moment. That wasn’t to say she was being obvious about it, in fact Jack noted that she was quite good. However, he had the advantage of experience, and also knowledge of who the girl was, or at least he had suspicions. Her look and demeanor matched that of Raven of the Red Feathers, and the fact that she seemed to be, as far as he could tell, at least more aware of the room than the average person. She had the mind of a lawbreaker, a smart one that had managed to avoid a stint in a cell. Teach returned not long after, a plate with two ham sandwiches sitting on it, cut neatly into triangles. He put the plate down in front of Raven and, without much of a reaction, he turned to Jack and filled his mug with gin without a word to him. “Thanks.” Jack said, nodding once and tipping his glass at Teach before taking a sip. “Most welcome, as always.” Teach replied, and he turned to Raven. “I do hope that’s to your liking, but if it isn’t then you’re out of luck, dear. I haven’t gotten around to hiring a chef.” "Why don't you ask your boss?" Raven asked, eating the sandwich placed in front of her. “Because, my dear, that is not why he hired me.” Teach said with a knowing smirk, “If I had to run to him for things then I’d hardly be any use at all now, would I?” "Yeh hardly have to run," Raven replied, taking another mouthful of ham sandwich. Her mouth still full of food, "He's sat right there, ain't he?" She jerked her head in the direction of the man sat two stools over. Teach raised one eyebrow and let out a little sigh, then he shook his head. “I can’t work like this.” He said, holding his hands up, “Jack, you should have stayed at the table and everything would have been fine.” “Probably.” Jack agreed, and he turned his head to Raven and nodded at her. “That wasn’t the point though. I wasn’t interested in how she was with you, I wanted to see how she was with her surroundings.” “Ah, so I was a stooge? How does that not surprise me?” Teach said, rolling his eyes. Jack chuckled and turned around in his stool so he was facing Raven. “So, Miss Raven.” He said, “You are more than welcome here, and I will personally guarantee you that you’re not in any danger. That being said, that situation could change depending on how itchy those fingers are. I don’t know your reasons for being here, but know that this is a nice place for those folks…” He thumbed towards the patrons, “To relax and forget about how terrible their life is. I’d like to keep it that way.” "First," Raven finished her sandwich, "Thank ye fer the food, an' the drinks. In this day an' age generosity's a rare thing. Second, the only one who can guarantee that I'm not in any danger... Is me." She turned in her stool and looked at the man, "Jack, was it? Yeh might find more success in bein' straightforward with folks. I came in here an' yer man is givin' me some rubbish about workin' alone, but that don't matter none." Raven took her hand from her waist and placed both hands on her knees, "I came here t'kill the lot o'yeh. But that's cus Jackdaw thinks yeh some kinda upstart looking to take his business. But I'm inclined to believe that's not the case, seein' ya. Would I be wrong, now?" “Ah, I see.” Jack said, nodding. “I think you will find the difference between Jackdaw and I, is that I do not consider murder to be an easy or preferable solution to my problems. Here’s the truth; you don’t have a clue about my intentions. You’re thinking far too small. I am a careful man, and the reason I am so careful is because I value life, not just mine but those who work with me. Now ask yourself if such a man would entrust the safety of his organization to an impressionable child, unless he had something else in mind perhaps?” "I think yeh a reckless fecker that thinks to trust yeh lives on a series a gambles." Raven replied, standing, "The fact I'm even here says that much. Yeh don't know me well enough to trust all these lives to that. Yeh let me in, armed, an' put yeh mate at risk by 'assessin'' me. Are ye really so careful or yeh gonna cut the crap?" At this Jack simply chuckled. When he was done his smile remained and he sipped from his mug again. “I think you’re a smart girl, Raven. Just not as smart as you think you are.” He said, folding his arms. “I’m not going to tell you anything, because I don’t have to and because I don’t want to. Trust is a valuable currency, and I’m afraid I have none of it to offer you without something in return. In fact, I think I got everything I wanted the minute you showed up here. You can leave if you like, or you can stay and have a drink, and a chat, and enjoy yourself. However, you will not cause violence here. No one in this room will cause you direct harm, we’ve seen to that.” “Well, I’ve seen to it.” Teach corrected. “Haven’t you noticed, dearie? No one in this room has paid you the slightest bit of attention except for myself and Jack. If anyone asked them if they’d seen you tonight, I doubt any of them could truthfully confirm they had.” “My point.” Jack said, eyeing Teach, “Is that we have everything under control. I dislike threats, and so I don’t make them. I am simply, and honestly telling you that we mean no harm to you. So I would ask that you respond in kind. A request, not a demand.” "Yeh a man that says one thing and does another. At least Jackdaw tells yeh when he's gonna gut yeh." Raven glanced back to Teach, "Thanks fer the food." She gave him a quick grin, "Keep to yerself so," She added, looking to Jack, "I'll tell Jackdaw yeh just some two-bit crook, he'll leave yeh be." Raven walked up the steps and left. “Well,” Teach said as she left. “That all seemed a bit pointless.” “Maybe so.” Jack said with a shrug. “However I think I got what I wanted. It seems that Raven is Jackdaw’s enforcer in these matters. It’s always good to know who’s coming for you.” “Hm, true. However most men would have killed her upon gleaming that knowledge.” “Most men lack vision.” Jack replied with a smile. “I’m thinking of bringing her on.” “Are you insane?” Teach asked, laughing a little. “She came here to kill us.” “And she left well fed and watered.” Jack replied. “She’s just like all the other kids on the street. They all grow fangs, eventually. The difference is she’s smart and capable. Good understanding of how crews work, excellent environmental awareness. Her confidence suggest she’s also good in a fight.” “Also loyal, don’t forget loyal.” Teach said said, pouring himself a drink. “To Jackdaw, that is.” “Details, Teach.” Jack replied dismissively. “I’m just going to cast out a net. It’s her choice whether she decides to bite or not.” He stood up and drained his mug. “Do you really think she’s capable enough to warrant a partnership with us?” Teach asked. “She could be, with some training.” Jack said, “Now, I’m off to run some more errands. We’ll pick this up tomorrow.”
  16. Blood & Scale

    “Well we’re in a wee bit of a pickle now, eh?” Agron said with an exasperated sigh as he began skulking about, feeling along the walls and muttering to himself. “…creepy little bastards.” Strange things lurk in these tunnels. Creatures that have never seen the light of day. Turiel said, having managed to settle himself a little bit. The commotion has unsettled the rock walls. Too many smells. Dust, blood, the ichor left by those disgusting things. He sniffed at the air a little more fervently and let out a frustrated rumble. This tunnel smells of rot, and strange fungus. We should not have went this way. "I'm sorry, next time i'm falling down the side of a subterranean cliff, i'll remember to roll left, instead of right." Vaedwyn grinned to herself, smelling the air and instantly regretting it. "Well... we're fecked." Bradan grumbled, "But a'least ah gotta see a dragon shit is kecks before ah croaked. Tha' was somethin'..." Speak a word of it at your own peril. Auriel warned, her tail whipping back and forth in irritation as she licked at one of her wounds. Vaedwyn passed the message on to Bradan who was more than happy to remain silent on the subject from then on. “Y’know we might actually be in some real bother here.” Agron admitted. “We can chance walking in any direction but, there’s no guarantee we’ll even find an exit.” I won’t allow myself to die in a cave, it’s pathetic. Turiel replied. “I’m glad yer feelin’ confident but that does’nae mean we’ve got any more of a chance of findin’ our way back tae salvation. We need tae pick a path, and hope it’s no the wrong yin.” Easier said than done. Turiel grumbled. This entire tunnel stinks of…something…it’s strange. I don’t like it. "We can only keep on moving forwards. There's no going back now." Vaedwyn brushed herself off, and started walking. "Right ye are." Bradan followed after her “Well, that’s that decided.” Agron said with a shrug and followed after them. I do not like this., Turiel said as he followed them along. I sense something is wrong… “Oh really?” Agron called back to him. “We’re lost in a maze o’ tunnels, most of which lead to fuck all but our own demise, and aw this after being dinner fer some leeches! An’ ye sense somethin’ wrong, aye? Bout time anaw!” --- --- --- --- By the time Agron had stopped to have a think about where he was going, he realized that he wasn’t entirely sure how long he had been walking. His stomach felt strange, like he might have been hungry, but it was a distant kind of sensation that felt less relevant than it probably should have. He looked around and squinted in the darkness. He tried to recall the word he used to summon light, but it escaped him entirely. “Vay…er…Vaerwee….er…lass!” He muttered towards Vaedwyn. “What’s the word fer, er, y’know…tae turn the lights on, ken?” "Who's there?!" She called out into the dark, taking a step back. "I heard a voice..." My mind... is fogged... A voice spoke in her mind. "Who said that?!" She yelled into the tunnel, pushing her back to the tunnel wall. She looked around, she was sure she wasn't the only one in here. But, she couldn't remember why she was in here in the first place, or why she couldn't see. Come to think of it, she couldn't remember her own name. “Are ye fer real?” Agron asked, screwing up his face. “Ye cannae be serious, lass. It’s me…er…er…” Agron. Turiel’s voice thundered in his mind. “Fuck me! Haww….shit maself there.” Agron replied, he could feel his heart thumping from the fright. “Where’s the wee yin? Is he still wi’ us?” "Eh ahm feelin' funny like..." Bradan leant up against the rock wall and slid down onto his backside, "Ah feel like i've been smokin' some o' tha' red leaf wha' Gripper gave us once." "Hello?!" She called out. Suddenly, she remembered. Her name was, "Vaedwyn!" She said aloud, surprising herself. "My name is Vaedwyn..." "Whu...?" Bradan raised an eyebrow, "Why'm ah no seein a thin' here, righ'? Ahm fookin' blind ah geez what'll ah do..." "I'm blind too!" Vaedwyn called back, "How did we get here?!" “That’s what am sayin’ ye bunch o’ nutters!” Agron cried. “It’s fuckin’ dark I need the word fer light, I cannae think o’ it. It’s like…er…” He snapped his fingers as if the action would somehow bring the word to the forefront of his mind. “Fuckin’ elves an’ their fancy words….” Elves... The voice in her mind, that didn't belong to her, Light... the word you need, I remember... Vaedwyn... I can't... "Light!" Vaedwyn yelled the word, lifting her hand high, and the room was bathed in a brilliant bluish white light. "HEY!!" Bradan yelled in surprise, as he saw an elf and a man stood near one another. Something about them seemed very familiar, but they were also strangers to him. Then Bradan heard something behind him and he turned to see two dragons blocking the exit behind them and he recoiled in horror, backing up past the man and the elf, until he knocked into something with a little give. He turned back around, and stifled a scream that came out as a little squeak. There was someone here, that did not belong. Vaedwyn looked at her, and unlike the others for whom she was unsure about, this woman was, without a doubt, a complete stranger. She was tall, slender and graceful in her movements. Her skin was slightly tanned, and her hair a golden colour. Her long, pointed ears betrayed her race - she too, was an elf. The woman was beautiful. For that was what she was. She was not a young girl, or a matronly dwarf. Her beauty was enough that she made Vaedwyn look plain, boyish once more, and Bradan found himself staring, his mouth agape. The woman was dressed in the plain clothes of a peasant, but what skin was on show, was littered with the scars only a warrior comes to know. Over her mouth and nose, there was a small mask made of bright orange leaves and woven string which affixed the makeshift mask to her face. She stood there in silence, looking at each of them in turn. Her beautiful, emerald green eyes as sharp as the stone for which they seemed to reflect. “You…” Agron said as he pointed a finger at the woman. “You….you’re…” Then he suddenly stumbled down on to one knee. His head swam with confusion, he felt like he was spinning, tumbling down further and further, with no end in sight. When the world slowly began to right itself, Agron noticed that the woman was holding him upright. “I…I think we need help.” He admitted. The woman placed one hand on Agron's shoulder and the other around his back, and began to lead him down the tunnel. Bradan watched in disbelief, but as she grew further and further from him, Bradan quickly ran after them. Vaedwyn frowned, unsure of the woman, yet at the same time, she seemed harmless, and standing here was doing her no good, so she followed. Auriel saw the group of two-legs leaving, and there was little else here, she didn't like tunnels, she wanted to be able to fly, and maybe the two-legs knew how to get out, so she too, followed. They followed the woman for an untold amount of time. Several times Agron lost track of what he was doing, and all of the tunnels he walked along seemed to look the same. Every so often he felt familiar aches and pains pushing through the haze, but they still seemed far too distant to make him worried. There was something about the Elven woman, more than just her beauty. He had met Elves before, he was even mildly certain he had met this one before. Yet her image was a shimmering, glowing beacon. There was a warm energy that seemed to irradiate from her, and he wanted nothing more than to stay close to it. And suddenly there was a lot of light. Agron was sitting down, and the haze was beginning to part. The feeling of fresh air in his lungs was marvelous, but with each breath he felt reality coming back to him with a crash. The distant pains and sensations he had been feeling were now at the forefront of his mind. His legs were burning, his feet felt raw and swollen. Further still his stomach felt like it had twisted in knots, his hunger beyond anything he could remember feeling before. He could not wholly remember how long they had been lost and wandering, but the sheer amount of stress on his body meant that it had been at least a couple of days. “I…thank you.” He sighed weakly, but his voice was full of gratitude for the woman and her timely intervention. The she-elf left Agron's side to fetch water at a nearby stream. Bradan and Vaedwyn were stood next to one another. It wasn't until Bradan turned and asked her what she was staring at, that Vaedwyn realised she had been staring at the clouds for several minutes. She shook her head, feeling a fog lift from her mind and soon, everything became clear. She also became acutely aware of a pounding headache, an empty stomach, sore muscles, scrapes, cuts, bruises and large, strange lesions on her body and limbs. As the elf was coming back, Vaedwyn noticed her at last. "Oh, thank you!" She said, taking a step forwards, "I think you saved us back there and--" The she-elf looked up, her hands cradling a small wooden bucket half-filled with water. When she saw Vaedwyn, she recoiled, stumbling back in surprise. "H-Hey!" Vaedwyn held out her hands, "It's okay, i'm a rider, my name is Vaedwyn..." The she-elf frowned and looked her up and down, and then slowly she lowered herself to the ground, and left the bucket there. She pointed at it, and then took a step back and kept her distance from the group. "Whas her problem?" Bradan asked, sidling up to the bucket and picking it up. He took a long drink and coughed, half-wheezing as he spoke, "Oh geez whas' in tha' thas' rough... bu' ah feel better though..." He passed the bucket to Agron. Agron took the bucket and drank it’s contents, instantly tensing and clutching at his stomach. There was a horrible twisting in his gut as the liquid entered his system, and it was like all of his insides were suddenly, and violently stretching out again. “Gah!” was all he could manage before he gave a little, choking cough and lay back, focusing on breathing. It was that smell… Turiel said, as he started coming back to his senses. Some sort of gas. He added, and then he stretched open his wings and tore off from the ground, gliding down towards the stream to get himself a drink. Meanwhile Agron studied the silent woman who was keeping her distance from them. “D’ye know me, lass?” He asked. “I feel…I feel like we may have crossed paths but…well I’ve met a lot o’ elves. If yer out here then ye must be fae Burrow, surely?” The she-elf brushed a lock of golden hair out of her eyes and confidently walked up to Agron and knelt down enough that she was eye-level with him. A smile spread across her lips and she nodded, gently hitting herself in the chest with her palm, and then hitting Agron in the chest with the back of her hand, and nodding once more. Then she slapped him roughly on the shoulder and shook him with a grin still plastered on her face. Agron squinted at her some more, and then his eyes widened as realization dawned on him. “Atma!” He gasped in almost a whisper. He blinked and his eyes became a little wet with tears. “Atma!” He cried again, this time more jubilantly. “Aw, a cannae believe it! Yer alive!” He began to laugh, a great belly laugh of genuine joy. He sprung to his feet, ignoring the pain that worked hard to remind him of how much he needed to rest. “Oh, this is Vaedwyn!” He said, gesturing to her. “She’s, well…I had an egg. One of the last, y’know? Well it hatched fer her an’ well, y’know how it works but-“ He cut himself off. “Atma…yer alive. I thought I’d lost everyone. I thought it was only me an’ Jona left.” He smiled weakly. “…Is…is Gethari wi’ ye?” The woman nodded at Agron fervently, smiling still, though her eyes darted at Vaedwyn now and then. Vaedwyn smiled at the woman who didn't seem to register her response. I don't think she likes me. Vaedwyn voiced her thoughts to Auriel. She doesn't trust us. Auriel replied. How can you tell? Body language. Auriel reared up, stretching her wings and enjoying the freedom of the open air as she settled back down once more. You might say it's our second language. Or I suppose, our first. I don't like her... Vaedwyn grumbled, crossing her arms. I am not surprised. And what did you mean by that?! Vaedwyn turned to look at her partner. I just meant... Auriel turned her head so that their eyes met, ... that she is Anwa'elda. The True Folk. One whose rights remain intact, while yours have been stripped. You are an outcast. Thanks for the reminder... Vaedwyn looked back to Atma, watching as Agron spoke to her. She wasn't talking. In fact, she hadn't said a word since their meeting in the caverns. Vaedwyn noticed she seemed to convey her thoughts and wants with her body language. A thought occurred to her. Maybe she could speak to Atma via a mental link? Agron knew her, so perhaps she was a rider? There was no harm in trying, as if she wasn't a rider there was likely to be little response, and if she was then perhaps she could open a dialogue. Vaedwyn reached out with her mind, touching the edge of Atma's consciousness. What she found, made her recoil. An endless, turbulent red ocean. The water was heavy, and her head quickly dipped below the waves. She was drowning. And then suddenly, she was alright. She had stumbled backwards into a sitting position and Auriel had moved in front of her to hide her actions from the others. That... was foolish. Auriel chided her. Pick yourself up, before Agron sees you. She has a powerful mind, and one not to be trespassed upon. Vaedwyn nodded in agreement. Of that, there was no doubt. She picked herself up and looked to Atma, who was watching her carefully now, the smile Agron had given her remained in place, but her eyes betrayed something else. Something Vaedwyn couldn't describe, but it chilled her. Agron continued chatting with Atma, outwardly he seemed not to notice her silence. However, in truth, since the moment he had recognized her he had begun putting things together. There was a lot of the woman he had once known still there in front of him, but there were a lot of things missing. Most notably, she was without her companion. Atma, it appeared, has suffered a similar tragedy to what Jona had. Perhaps worse. Jona was not a true Elf, like Atma. Her kind had always been a wonderful but elusive bunch of creatures to Agron, who despite knowing their ways quite well, still never truly understood them. “So, we were on our way tae Burrow.” Agron said, finally catching Atma up on the events. “I’d hoped tae test Vaedwyn, an’ maybe test Lady Commander’s defenses at the same time. I daresay we bit off more than we could chew.” Agron bowed his head gratefully at Atma. “Thank you, ye truly saved us.” If the lady Gardwyn would do me the honor, I would have her ride with us to Burrow. Turiel said as he landed softly on the ground, returning from the stream. After all, I am in her debt. “Heh, that’s some high praise.” Agron said with a chuckle, and repeated the words for Atma. After listening to Turiel's words, conveyed through Agron, Atma seemed to think for a short while. She considered each of them in turn, her eyes focusing on them for a few - very long - moments. Then at last, she made her decision. She nodded and with a leap that would have made an athlete jealous, she was upon him. She patted Turiel affectionately on the side, and then nuzzled into his warm hide, as a kitten might upon it's mother. Atma seemed at peace, and no longer concerned with interacting with the outside world. “Right then, that’s settled.” Agron said and he moved with a start. He checked the supplies on Turiel’s back and after a quick rummage he retrieved some bread buns that were wrapped up individually. He tossed them back to Bradan and Vaedwyn. “Eat quickly. Last stretch is a short yin, but it’s goin’ tae be dangerous, ken.” He approached Vaedwyn and leant down so he could speak in her ear. “From here on out I need ye tae do somethin’ for me. Ye cannae tell anybody though, right? No even Bradan.” He said in a hushed whisper. Vaedwyn frowned and looked to Bradan without thinking, the dwarf winked at her and went back to what he was doing, "Why can't I tell Bradan...?" She asked. In a short space of time, Bradan had become one of her closest friends, and the thought of deliberately hiding something from him upset her. Because he’ll no like it. Agron replied to her through his link, I’ve no been tae Burrow in o’er a decade, lass. There’s folk I trust there. Folk like Atma. However…there’s a lot o’ politics goin’ on there. It’s no just a couple o’ riders who know magic there. There’s a whole coven o’ spellweavers. An sure, there’s an army, they’re all green but. No seen any real action at least. In fact the real strength o’ the rebels is the spies, and the mages. Agron paused a moment, his expression grave. Jona taught ye how tae guard yer mind, and also taught ye how tae push intae another’s. I…I need ye tae search through the mind’s o’ the people ye meet in Burrow. Most will have had trainin’ to tell if they’re mind’s been attacked, an I’m no askin’ ye tae do tha’, but as a Rider yer gonna have tae get used tae doin’ this. Just a light touch, mind. "You want me to invade people's..." Vaedwyn checked herself. Her voice was raising in anger. "... people's minds?!" She whispered angrily. "Forget Bradan, I don't like this! And you say you trust Atma, but you haven't seen her in a really long time, right? People change! And she doesn't talk, and she doesn't trust me!" “Atma just saved yer life.” Agron replied sternly. “She’s a Rider, Vaedwyn. People grieve differently, keep that in mind.” He let out a sigh and wiped at his forehead. “Vaedwyn…ye wanted me tae stop hidin’ things from ye. Well this is somethin’ we need tae do. Burrow has ne’er been attacked in the entire time since the rebellion set it’s roots here. Dae ye really think they’ve remained hidden all this time? There are several key people in Burrow who are goin’ tae pull on ye for their own reasons. Blackcrow, he was once a rider. Now he’s the rebellion’s spymaster. Man’s a snake, always has been. Second is Vigo of the House of Dragons. Third, an’ I do think ye can trust her but…I could be wrong. Third is Freya Le Teague, current Lady Commander of the resistance.” Agron gripped Vaedwyn by her shoulder tightly, his expression was serious but filled with the worry a father has for their child. “This is’nae like the Dwarves, lass. There’s a lot o’ players here, from a lot o’ different places. We can do a lot of good here, but that also means we have to do what is necessary…even if it does’nae seem right.” She couldn't help it. Vaedwyn swallowed. The enormity of Agron's words had struck her such that she was unable to answer at first. Slowly, she found a voice, "Alright. Fine." She said, but pulled away from him, "But invading people's minds and saying its for good reasons I can only imagine was the first step down a slippery slope for tyrants like Aemon." With that, Vaedwyn walked over to Auriel and pulled herself onto her dragon's back. Auriel caught Agron's eye, She's right, you know. The dragon added, and then she leapt into the air, and her beating wings pulled her far from the ground, leaving Agron to watch them ascend alone. “But that wisnae-“ Agron started but he gave up, frowning. Leave it for now. Turiel said to him, This wasn’t the best time to tell her that. An’ when’s a good time, like? Agron replied heatedly. If you had taken a larger role in her magical training perhaps she might have learned by now. Her only encounter with mind magic has been at the hands of Naerwen. On top of that Jona taught her that the mind is a sacred place. The mind is a sacred place. Agron replied, frowning. She just misunderstood me. I meant just a light touch, just a glance, enough tae spot somethin’ amiss, y’know? You worry she will be taken advantage of again, that another villain will get close to her as Naerwen did. “Exactly…” Agron said out loud, his voice a dry croak. He climbed up on Turiel and made sure that Atma was comfortable in the saddle behind him. Then they took off through the skies, Turiel’s wings beating rapidly to catch up with Auriel. --- --- --- --- They did not slow until they found themselves flying through the gap in a large canyon. The walls were high, and close together on either side. The high cliff faces were thick with shrubs and trees, and the ledges and caverns all around had ample space for cover. The entire area was the perfect spot for an ambush. Agron had not spoke with Vaedwyn since they had left, but he couldn’t keep it up any longer, not now. Eyes up, lass. He said across their link. Sentries no doubt spotted us a few leagues back. They’ll no strike until we cannae turn back. Expect a near constant onslaught until we get through the pass. They’ll be buyin’ time fer troops tae mobilise. Can't they tell we're not Aemon or his lieutenants?! Vaedwyn asked Agron. Riders upon dragons. There hasn't been more than a single dragon ally alive in a thousand years, Vaedwyn. Dragons are enemies! Auriel kept pace with Turiel, her eyes scanning in every direction. That an, rebels joinin’ the cause take the long way round. They get checked by spellweavers, interrogated. We’re bypassin’ that. The Lady Commander doesn’t care for anybody who acts above her laws. Fuses were just lit. Turiel interrupted, his excellent hearing clearly picking up on something they hadn’t. A few images of locations he had mapped out suddenly flashed through their minds. We move now! Turiel let out a defiant roar and banked hard to the left, diving as a series of explosions shook in the cliffs above them. Rocks broke off from the cliffs and began hurtling down towards them. Turiel dodged the first lot of boulders, weaving around them, as Agron lifted his hands up and spoke a word. The boulders above them shattered into dust and fell down on them harmlessly. A horn blew through the air, and from the thick brush below, there was a barrage of whip-cracking noises like a series of tight ropes being cut. Suddenly a barrage of tiny, black needles came flying out of the trees below. Yet as they ascended upwards it became clear they were not needles at all. They were large, pointed spears that were soaring towards them like a dark haze. Vaedwyn watched from above, as the spears rushed up to meet them. There were hundreds, and they were not ordinary spears. They were dragon killers. Spears far larger than anything that could be thrown by human hand. Their points were barbed, designed to penetrate, and to remain embedded. Auriel! I know!! Auriel turned around, facing the onslaught of spears, and took a deep breath. When she exhaled, crackling fire and lightning burst from her mouth and cut through the spears like a beam, incinerating dozens and destroying the momentum of dozens more as the lightning arced and leapt from spear to spear. It wasn't enough. Vaedwyn acted quickly, she lifted her hand, and the scar on her forehead began to glow as she recanted a spell in Elvish. It was complicated, as complex a magic as she had ever attempted to weave. Even as she continued to speak, she felt the energy being pulled from her body like a warm blanket being yanked from someone soundly sleeping. The electricity exploded in ferocity, expanding and encompassing the spears until it enveloped every last one, then with her last words, the bubble of crackling electricity imploded in on itself and the fallout sprayed everywhere. The spears were shattered into tiny shards, and though they were flecked with splinters the size of their fingers, they were still alive. Vaedwyn gripped tightly onto the reigns of her saddle, she felt weak, as though she had been running for days without rest. "Steady there, lass, ye alright, ah got ye!" Bradan held her around the waist and patted her on the shoulder. "That were nifty!!" He added, grinning. We must press on before they reload the ballistae Turiel warned. “Climb!” Agron yelled in order, and Turiel began to beat his wings and fly higher, into the upper reaches of the canyon. Agron reached out with his will once more. He felt his own brand across his shoulder burn as he searched the high cliffs and ledges, his will sifting through the locations frantically like invisible tendrils. Then, finally, he found the recognizable sparks he knew to be sources of life. He penetrated the minds of the sentrymen above them. He sent a word into their minds, and with it a sensation of relief and hope. He felt their minds fight it, felt them panic as they realized what had happened. Good, he though, They’ve been taught well. However the men seemed to settle themselves, and soon there was another horn blow calling through the air. The men in the higher reaches had sent word they were standing down. Yet that still left the soldiers in the woodlands below them, and any other sentries they had missed. What’s more there was a distant, thunderous noise. Hoofbeats against the floor. Reinforcements were arriving on horseback. Auriel stayed close to Turiel, following his lead, but it felt as though the world was closing in around them. Vaedwyn heard the beat of hooves both ahead and behind them. The ballistae were being reloaded. She had to think of something. Right now, they were preparing to fight armies on two fronts. Up ahead, the canyon narrowed. It looked like it could trap them, but she could see a passage through. The space was so tight, that she hesitated to even suggest it, but as she began to assess the gap, she felt Auriel turn towards it. It seemed her mind was made up. "Agron, follow me!" Vaedwyn yelled over the howl of the wind as Auriel tucked her wings into her sides and plummeted towards the canyon floor. Soldiers loading ballistae panicked and hit the ground as Auriel fanned her wings and passed over them, gliding through the canyon, casting a shadow over the soldiers as they passed. Auriel was picking up speed, she beat her wings, the great gusts of wind knocked soldiers over, several ballista, and even trees snapped in the dragon gale. Then something strange happened. Vaedwyn felt her heart beating. But it wasn't the rapid thumping of her own. It was the steady, rhythmic drum of Auriel's. She blinked, as she felt the world coming into clarity. Suddenly colours were so dazzling she struggled to understand them all. The soldiers below them almost glowed against the backdrop of rocks and plants. She felt the resistance of the air as she lifted her wings, and the thrust she was afforded as she brought them down. She could see the gap ahead of her. She could make it! Tucking her wings, tight into her body, she shot through the initial opening of the gap, whirling diagonally through the tight squeeze as she began to fall. Her talon-studded hind legs kicked off from the canyon wall as she turned a sharp corner and used the last bit of momentum to propel herself to the other side. The sun dazzled her as she came out onto an open valley. She spread her wings and she was looking down at Auriel's back once more. Her heart was thumping harder and faster than she'd ever known, her entire body was shaking. With what, she was unsure. Fear? Excitement? Both? It didn't matter, she was through. Moments later, she heard a clattering of rock, and Turiel came bursting from the canyon, his more stout body had given him a harder time in navigating the tiny gap, but he was also the more experienced flyer, and so it seemed he passed through just as she had, no worse for wear. Vaedwyn wanted to whoop and holler, but as she turned ahead of her, she saw hundreds of men on horseback. Quivers full of arrows. Catapults and ballistae numbering in the hundreds, lined out behind a far-reaching river. Behind it all, she saw it. Burrow. The city they had been trying to reach ever since leaving Jona. Yet there was one last obstacle. The beat of a thousand, thousand men and women, clad in armour, marched towards them.
  17. BUG FIX

    " This comment can no longer be edited. It may have been moved or deleted, or too much time may have passed since it was posted for it to be edited. " Received that when trying to edit literally moments after posting. So it's still broke D=
  18. Dreamers

    A man walked through a long, brightly lit corridor. The walls and floor were pristinely clean and there was a note of antiseptic in the air. Other men and women bustled around, some dressed in scrubs, others in full body hazmat gear, and others in smart shirts and lab coats. The place had the feel of a hospital, but it was actually only one floor of the massive Rezo Technologies building in Tokyo. Rezo Tech were a manufacturing company who had their hands in just about every technological field in the world. The man walking down the corridor was Ishi Kurosawa, the Department Head of Rezo Tech's Robotics Division. He was an older man in a white labcoat, his salt and pepper hair combed back neatly. When he came to the end of the corridor he stepped inside an elevator and pressed the button for the 33B and began to ascend. When the elevator next opened on 33B, Kurosawa stepped out on to a wide, open plan area filled with a variety of complex machines. Giant servo motors hummed as large appendage type machines flew around attaching metal to metal, working in a production line to construct what was turning out to be the frame of a car. Lot's of scientists and engineers were busy making sure the machines were performing correctly, while small robots shaped like disks whizzed around the floor, quietly cleaning it and hoovering up tiny particles of dust and metal that would otherwise be gathering. Kurosawa paid them no mind and instead kept walking to the back of the floor where a younger man was sat at a desk. His hair was short but messy and his glasses were looking dangerously close to falling off his nose. "You should just get the laser surgery, Daniel." Kurosawa said as he approached. "Oh!" Daniel said as he jumped slightly, he hadn't noticed Kurosawa until then. "Uh, sorry I didn't see you there Mr Kurosawa." He said with an American accent. "And I'm not too fussed about that...I like wearing glasses." "Well at least buy ones that fit." Kurosawa replied. "Anyway, I have a request form here. I need you to set up an AR-269 unit for immediate deployment." Daniel nodded momentarily but then paused with a baffled expression. "Wait, sir...a 269?" Daniel asked. "That's our latest model. We've just barely completed the beta tests. They aren't due for public release for at least a few months..." "I don't make these decisions, Daniel." Kurosawa explained, and he handed Daniel the form. "We have distribution agreements with the government, and I'm afraid this is what they want." "Well, if you say so." Daniel said with a shrug. He scanned his eyes over the form for a moment and whistled. "Wow...that's pretty tragic." He sifted through the next few sheets of the document. "Is this all in our database?" "Of course." Kurosawa said. "Well then I'll get started right away." Daniel replied, spinning in his chair to face the three large monitors on his desk. With a few taps on the screen, followed by some typing on his keyboard he had located and copied a collection of files, and had set them to upload into an external data drive marked; AR-269 UNIT 002. When the progress bar started to load he turned back to Kurosawa and stood up. "It'll just be a few minutes. If you follow me it should be done by the time we get there." "Excellent." Kurosawa said with a nod and the two men left the floor and took an elevator down to a lower level. They emerged in another large room. This one was completely empty of people, and was dark other than the cool blue lights that were emanating from the screens that were outside what was, at least, several hundred person-sized pods. Daniel moved past the first pod, which was empty, and stopped at the second one. It was made of a clean, white plastic material and looked like a strange, giant egg. “Here we go.” Daniel said, indicating to the screen in front of the pod that was showing a progress bar. No sooner had he done so, it had reached 100% and then there was a click and a hiss. The two men stepped back as the pod’s front parted down the middle and opened like a set of doors. Steam hissed out of the edges, before dissipating and slowly revealing the interior of the pod. Inside there was a series of black cables lining around to the back of the pod. Yet in front of that was, what appeared to be, a person. While it looked to be human-like, it’s skin was a light grey colour, and it was completely naked and hairless. As the inside lights of the pod blinked on it became apparent that the skin wasn’t skin at all, but some kind of artificial material. The lean, athletic frame of the being resembled a male figure, but it had no genitalia. It looked very much like a doll, many of the unnecessary features of a human had been left out, such as nipples, or a belly button. Yet the basic features of a human man were there. It was an android, it’s skin contoured in light and dark grey to give it distinction, but otherwise it was bald and featureless. Daniel reached out and ran his finger over one of the android’s arms. It’s skin was hard, but upon Daniel’s touch, the android reacted and suddenly came to life. It opened it’s eyes, revealing pupils with a slight orange glow, and irises that seemed to adjust in size in a way that seemed more like a camera lense than a human eye. The android stepped out of the pod without a word, and without a breath. It then looked around, scanning over Daniel and Kurosawa for a moment. It paused, contemplating, it’s expression difficult to read. Then it lifted it’s head up and beamed a broad, genuine-looking smile. “Good Morning, Mr Ishi Kurosawa. Good Morning Mr Daniel Silverman.” “Good morning Unit 2.” Daniel said, returning the smile. “Can you provide me with your health status please?” “Certainly.” Unit 2 replied with a swift nod. It waited a moment, thinking. “Hydraulics are fully functioning. Servos and Motors are all operating within approved safe capacity. Artifical Neural Network is performing within working parameters. Emotional Response Network is operational. Safety Overrides are in place. All supplied data has been downloaded. I am detecting zero corrupted files.” “Good.” Daniel said with a nod. “A few tests then. Can you tell me about myself and Dr Kurosawa.” “Certainly.” Unit 2 said again. “Daniel Silverman. Age: 27. Birthplace: New York City, New York, United States Of America. Ethnicity: Caucasian. Religion: Jewish. Occupation: Senior Technician, AR Unit Team, Robotics Division.” Unit 2 turned his head to Kurosawa. “Ishi Kurosawa. Age: 57. Birthplace: Tokyo, Japan. Ethnicity: Japanese Asian. Religion: Atheist. Occupation: Head of Department, Robotics Division.” “Excellent.” Kurosawa said with a soft smile. “Now, if you please, would you mind physically restraining Daniel, please?” “I am afraid I cannot.” Unit 2 replied, shaking his head. “Daniel Silverman is not guilty of any criminal offences. Overrides in my system prevent me from any violent action, including physical restraint, against any law abiding citizen.” “Well that’s a relief.” Daniel said, giving Kurosawa a hard stare. “Okay so, one final thing. Have you thought of a name for yourself?” “I have.” Unit 2 said, and he smiled softly. --- --- --- --- “Good Morning, Sergeant Akiyama. I am AR-269 Unit 002. Please call me Gideon.” The android said with a polite nod. He had dressed himself in a light grey mandarin-collared suit, with black shoes and black leather gloves. “I hope your recovery is going well.” "I'm fine." Yume replied politely, glancing at the android, "Can you get my Captain to come back in here, please. Actually no, first," She looked down at the restraints, "D'you mind?" “I do not.” Gideon replied with a short nod and he walked towards the bed with his hands behind his back. He reached down and began unfastening the restraints. “Besides, such restraints are no longer necessary. I’m surprised they kept them on you.” "Why were they necessary in the first place?" Yume asked, "And why are you here, Gideon? I don't need an assistant." She sat upright in bed, but a little too fast, and had to steady herself. "Well, aside from taking off those restraints. Thanks." “You’re welcome.” Gideon said. “The restraints were necessary until I arrived. I am here now so they are no longer necessary. As for why I am here, you are indeed in need of my assistance.” He paused for a moment to think. “I was only born less than a day ago. I was activated for the express purpose of being your handler. Do you understand?” Realisation dawned on her face. Yume leapt to her feet and almost fell over, it was like her centre of gravity had shifted. She carefully stood upright and clocked a full-size mirror in the corner of the room. The reflection she saw, seemed normal. There was nothing different about her body. She looked up, and tensed as if someone had frightened her. Her eyes were not brown. They were a bright blue. She pulled away from the mirror, the recently familiar feeling of nausea returned. Her eyes darted around the room and she noticed the adjacent bathroom. Pushing past the android, she walked to the sink and grabbed for the glass sat on the side. As she wrapped her hand around it however, it shattered. "Shit!" She cursed, her breathing quickened and she grabbed the handle of the tap and tried to turn it, only to wrench it from it's housing. Water burst up into the air and slowly calmed as the pressure decreased. "What have they done to me?!" She noticed her reflection in the cabinet mirror and reflexively struck it. The mirror shattered in the centre and she slowly withdrew her hand, and saw that none of the mirror's glass had punctured her skin. "I'm an Aug..." “Correct.” Gideon said as he stepped in to the room. He looked at Yume with concern but his voice and demeanor were calm and collected, even as he noted the state of the room. “Although it appears the sensors in your bionic limbs require proper calibration. I will arrange for someone to deal with that right away. Until then, while I understand this is a difficult situation to accept, I must advise that you try to remain calm and abstain from causing property damage.” "I'm trying..." Yume spoke through gritted teeth. "Shit..." She shook her head and walked out of the bathroom and sat on the end of the bed. For a minute, she sat there quietly, trying to think. Then something caught her eye and she looked out of the window. She saw a man holding hands with his young daughter, and her mind wandered to her own family. She had to get home, to speak to Shizu about everything that had happened. "I have to go." She said simply, and stood up and began getting changed, ignoring the presence of the android. “I would suggest that you remain here while further tests are conducted to ensure your new artificial body is operating properly.” Gideon said. “However, should you leave please be advised that I will have to be with you at all times.” "I don't have time for that. If I know the department, they've already told my wife what's happened," Yume pulled her jacket on, noting it had been cleaned, but the hole from the bullet - naturally - remained. "She's probably freaking out. I have to let her know i'm alright." She walked towards the door and paused, looking back at Gideon, "Right... you can stay here, i'll be back later." “You misunderstand, Sergeant.” Gideon said as he walked closer to her. “I am your handler. I am to accompany you and assist you at all times outside of designated compounds designed to house Augmented Humans. Should you resist I am programmed to restrain you physically if necessary. It is not my wish to do so, however, if it can be avoided.” "Fine. Do whatever you want. I'm going to see my wife." She started walking down the hospital corridor, looking for the main doors, "They got you together quick enough," She muttered, looking at him sideways, "How long have I been out - a day? They couldn't give me a little time to adjust?" “The Handler System has been ongoing for a long time, and several adjustments have been made.” Gideon explained as he followed. “For example, older models were programmed to provide an authoritarian attitude, however, this was shown to often aggravate the charges. I am a new model programmed to understand and replicate a wide variety of human emotions that are considered beneficial to positive relationships between myself and my charge. However, protocol dictates that a handler must be present immediately when an augmented human is enlisted in to the program. This is a risk reduction protocol, and I apologise if it is an inconvenience.” "'Relationship', 'apologise', 'inconvenience'." Yume couldn't help but smirk, "Do you even have a sense of guilt? Do you understand what this feels like for me?" They left the hospital and had to look for several minutes to find her car. As she approached, the car remained locked. She stood next to it and waited. Nothing. "Hey!" She tapped the side of the door. "Incorrect user, please step away." The car responded firmly. Yume let out a sharp breath of air and held her head in her hands and took a couple of steps back as she tried to control her temper. Gideon’s face creased in to a sympathetic smile. “Guilt, anger, fear, sadness.” He said. “Those emotions only serve to hinder my function. However, I understand them conceptually. I am also capable of expressing happiness, humor, empathy, sympathy, as well as a range of lesser known emotions.” Gideon approached the car and opened it for Yume. “As a security measure, all of your privileged security access has been passed to me.” He tilted his head slightly, observing her. “I can see that you are experiencing signs of anger. To direct it at me is misguided, but is a preferable action to directing it at others. However, if you would please get in to the vehicle I will transport you to your family. I also feel I must warn you, you must limit your interaction with them for the time being. This cannot be helped.” "'I must limit my interaction with them'?" She shook her head in disbelief as she watched Gideon get into the driver's seat. Yume walked around to the other side and went to grab the passenger's door handle, but thought better of it. She rubbed her fingers together and then gently grasped it, and opened it slowly. This time, she didn't destroy it. It seemed if nothing else, she needed to be more restrained in her movements or risk damaging the things around her. "What does that mean, exactly? I've got rights, y'know!? I'm still a person, I still have feelings." “Of course you have rights.” Gideon said as he started the car. “However, so do they. Need I remind you that you just destroyed a bathroom? You have refused to stay and undergo necessary testing and calibration. You are unaware of the extent of your augmentation, and the upgrades that have been provided to you. Even with the best intentions, you stand significant risk of hurting the ones you love. It is easier to break a child’s bones than it is to rip a sink off the wall, after all.” "How dare you..." Yume was horrified at Gideon's comparison, "I would never hurt my family!" Despite her conviction, she couldn't help but think of what had happened in the bathroom. She wanted her comment to go unanswered, "Can we change the subject, please." “Certainly.” Gideon replied. “I have been made aware of your background, your current situation including a detailed list of augmentation that has been done to your body. If you have questions I am more than willing to answer them.” "I wouldn't know where to begin..." Yume replied, staring out the window. She could see the slight reflection of her unusually vibrant eyes and tried to ignore it, focusing on what lay beyond. "... how long was I in surgery? What did they do to me, exactly? Do my family know? How long was I out?" “You were in surgery for about 12 hours.” Gideon answered. “Your body suffered extensive trauma, broken bones and tissue damage. There was internal bleeding, and in a short space of time all of your internal organs failed.” Gideon paused for a moment, as if unsure what to say, or how to say it. “A significant portion of your body has been replaced with synthetic parts. This includes synthetic organs, and augmentation to parts of the brain. It was decided that you would be placed in a chemically induced coma for several days while your body adjusted to the change. Your family were made aware after you came out of surgery.” "I've been in hospital for several days..." Yume let the information sink in. She had been in a coma, she was no longer wholly human. Had her wife come to see her? Suddenly her mind raced with doubts. "Can you hurry up, please. I'm anxious to see my family." “I am travelling within the designated speed limit.” Gideon explained. “I am unable to break any criminal laws as part of my programming. As such, I am only able to exceed the speed limit during an active police pursuit.” "As androids go, you're not the most annoying. But you are annoying." Yume rubbed her temples with the back of her hand, "I knew an android once, humourless thing. You'd try to interact with it and it's response was always, 'I do not have that information in my database' or something like that... I suppose i'm an AO, now..." “You are correct.” Gideon nodded, “And I apologise if I am annoying. However I am a brand new model fitted with state of the art virtual emotion technology. In addition my information database is exceptionally large, I feel you will struggle to find questions I am unable to answer accurately.” Gideon turned the car down a street and began to slow down. “It is my understanding that most humans find this situation to be quite stressful. I have made an intentional effort to maintain a neutral and calm persona in order to provide you with assistance, whilst allowing you to accept your situation without distraction.” Gideon stopped the car and pulled the handbrake up. “We are here. I must come with you, however, I will remain silent unless you request something from me. It isn’t much, but it is the best I can do to respect your privacy.” And with that Gideon got out of the car and closed the door, waiting for Yume at the side of the road.
  19. Blood & Scale

    Although they had set out in the morning, by the time the group had landed again the sun was already beginning to set in the sky. They had travelled further north, deep within the mountains of Nordúr. They had left behind the ruined settlements of the Nord folk, they had climbed so high through the mountains that the air was thin and it was harder to breath. They had landed on a cliff edge that was relatively flat and had done so because all that lay ahead was treacherous, sharp rocks. “This is the last time we can land.” Agron explained. “There’s a thin passage that leads to our destination from the ground below, but it takes days tae traverse and it’s nae route tae be takin’ on a Dragon.” As he spoke Agron began to unpack some of the supplies from Turiel’s pack. He took out some bread and a flask of water. He took a quick sip and passed it back, before snapping off a piece of bread for himself. “Ye’ll want tae eat, but no too much.” He said, “Ye’ll likely throw it up otherwise. The path we’re takin’ is through a series o’ tight gaps between the rocks. This mountain is full o’ interweavin’ caverns. There’s a bunch o’ entrances but only one wide enough fer a dragon tae get through. What’s more we cannae fly o’er the peak, it’s so high there’s nae air tae breath.” As the flask and bread were passed to her, Vaedwyn thanked Agron, and took a small chunk of bread and a long drink. Food was something she needed little of. At least in comparison with humans, and even less so compared with dwarves whose dense musculature brought them a faster metabolism. "This sounds like a gauntlet in and of itself, but you say there are other obstacles, ones that riders have placed?" Vaedwyn asked, returning the flask and bread. Traps, and more besides, I expect, Auriel added. “Aye, there’s a lot more than that.” Agron said with a nod. “The entrance comes in at a steep drop. We’ll have tae dive right in. The light will go before ye reach the bottom, then ye’ll have to rely on yer other senses. Ye hit the rocks below that could be the end o’ ye right there. Then the caverns will get narrower, and at times the Dragon’s won’t have enough room tae open their wings. They’ll need tae climb through.” The first section is too dangerous for any one to lay traps. Turiel explained, taking over from Agron. Once the path becomes easier to traverse, expect man-made opposition. Mostly pressure traps designed to cause cave-ins. Once we breach the caverns we’ll be moving through a narrow passage between the rocks. We should be able to fly free, but there will be ballistae set up to spear us. If you hear a war horn then that means men will be setting up to man the trebuchet. Also nets… Turiel let out a low, rumbling snarl. I hate nets. "Men?" Vaedwyn looked from Turiel to Agron, "You never said anything about men... I thought we were alone out here..." No more half-truths, Agron. The gauntlet is not just another training tool, is it? Auriel rose up and focused on Agron. “Indeed not.” Agron said with a nod. “This is’nae just a test tae prove somethin’ tae me, or tae yersel’, it’s also to prove it tae them. On the other side o’ this mountain is the big secret, lass. The one I could’nae tell ye because the risk was too great. An’ no just a risk to us, but a risk to an entire city of folk. I’m…I’m sorry I hid it fae ye both. Thousands o’ lives were at stake. Only Bradan could know…Dwarven minds cannae be read, y’see?” Vaedwyn's glare turned to Bradan who quickly excused himself, "We'hey is no my fault ye mind is soft an' mushy, if all o'yeh had th'mind o'a dwarf we'd no be in this mess. There'd be no lieutenants, no armies linin' up behin' Aemon, an' we'd a mushed 'im good a long time ago, righ'?! Don'be givin' me tha'eye, girl." "So why are we going there? And why are they hidden? I've never even heard rumours of a city in Nordúr." Nordlings survived? Auriel asked, surprised by this revelation. “It’s quite a tale, lass.” Agron said. “Y’see, If ye recall from yer studies the Nord folk dinnae have family names. At birth we are given a name for ourselves, and then once we reach adulthood we are given a choice. Once there were a great number of Houses in which we could align ourselves. Some were more known than others. Jona, for example, was of the House of the Wolf. They were hunters mostly, assassins at times. I come fae the House of the Bear. O’ course all o’ the Houses were destroyed when Aemon marched North. All but the House of the Hare.” "Why did they survive when the other Houses were destroyed?" Vaedwyn asked. Because Aemon made the mistake all men make Turiel replied, letting out an amused rumble, What should man fear of a harmless, little Hare? Hare’s are only good to make meat, and furry boots. “Aye, except Hare’s are quiet and quick.” Agron said. “The House of Hares were a secretive but noble bunch. They hid themselves away where even most Nords could not find them. When Aemon’s forces came the House of Hares sprung into action. They rescued many refugees, both Nord and Human. They helped them travel the treacherous path, one no man could find unless they knew it was there. They lead them through a network of tunnels that ended on the other side o’ the mountain we stand on.” Man yet resists the Tyrant King. Turiel said. The Resistance awaits… "There are people fighting against Aemon?!" Vaedwyn's expression changed from suspicious to immediately ecstatic, "I-I'd heard rumours that his caravans had been attacked but i'd always assumed it was bandits - are there many of them? Who's their leader? How long have they been in the mountains?" Her questions seemed to have no end. "Do we--" "More important like - what are we t'them?" Bradan asked. “Aye, well…” Agron shrugged a little. “Soldiers could verify who we are if we took the long route. This is the only way too treacherous to be guarded. They’ve likely heard whispers o’ a new Rider, but…we’re essentially breakin’ in here. They’ll assume we’re hostile until they see Turiel.” Then perhaps, Elder, you would like to lead the way? Auriel suggested. That was always the plan Turiel replied. “It’s good that ye’ve opened yer mind enough to hear others.” Agron said to Vaedwyn, “We need to communicate. Listen to every instruction Turiel gives you, there is no room for questioning. Dae ye understand?” "I think so." Vaedwyn nodded. "But why are we going to this city?" We are a part of the resistance. Whether we join them, or not. If we do not stand with Aemon, we stand against him. He will soon learn he cannot twist you into one of his miserable lieutenants, and then, he will want us both destroyed. I must guess we are doing the only reasonable course of action, we will combine our forces. Auriel looked to Agron for confirmation. “That’s up tae you.” Agron replied. “I’ve never sworn allegiance to them, I took my oath a long time ago and it’s still in effect. Yet I aid them when I can, and they tolerate that because of Turiel. He helped in the escape, it would have been a catastrophic failure without him. In that sense he’s somewhat of a hero in their eyes.” Agron shook his head. “That’s getting off point though. Ye need tae be careful who you go on bended knee for. I’ve already warned ye about making alliances, but it’s yer own life. These people will support ye, should ye find that it’s needed.” "We'll deal with that when we come to it." Vaedwyn shook her head and nodded at the passage up ahead, "First, we have to get there." Alive, preferably. Auriel added. “Then let’s do just that.” Agron said with a nod. --- --- --- --- Not long after they had ascended again, they had climbed higher up into the mountain’s reaches, until up ahead Turiel began to fly in circles, waiting for Auriel to catch up. When she arrived his voice pushed into her and Vaedwyn’s thoughts. We go straight down, wings tight. Gravity will be working tirelessly against us. The wind is low, and the cavern is cold with no thermals to ride on. You must trust me, wait for my signal, then pull up swiftly. Sight will fail you, so follow your nose and the sensation of the breeze, slight as it will be. I have trained you Auriel, I know you can do this. Are you both ready? I am. Auriel said confidently. "It looks like a long way down..." Vaedwyn added, staring into the blackness. A strange, disgusting noise distracted her. It sounded as though something was dying. Hacking and choking and inhaling it's final breath. Then suddenly it switched to a short, guttural snort. Vaedwyn looked over her shoulder just in time to see Bradan finish gathering a mass of spit and mucus in his mouth, and then he spat with all his force, making her retch. In spite of Bradan's fear of heights, he leaned over the side of the saddle to watch his spit disappear. Then he listened intently as Vaedwyn tried to control her gag reflex. "IT DIDN' EVEN SPLASH, YE SEE THA?! WHERE'S IT?!" He roared in disbelief. "FECK THIS, LIKE!!" He gripped Vaedwyn and the saddle like a petrified ape. “Too late to bail now!” Agron said with a roaring laugh. Dive. Turiel ordered, and then he dropped down into the hole in the mountain. They moved at incredible speed, the sheer force of gravity making their stomachs turn. This was not the sheer, unbridled exhilaration of flight. They were simply falling. Further, and further they descended until there was no light left. They plunged forever in a mass of darkness, with the hollow, dreadful noise of their descent rushing past their ears. Somewhere further down in the darkness Turiel’s mind reached upwards and found his companions. Watch. Remember. Turiel’s voice commanded. Then there was a sudden flash of light and hot air rushed past them as Turiel sent a burst of fire beneath them. The cavern was briefly illuminated, and they could see that the floor was close. They could also see went suddenly horizontal and became a tunnel. Then, once again, they were plunged into darkness and they knew that now was the time for action.
  20. BUG FIX

    Would also love this fixed plz.
  21. Blood & Scale

    Jona awoke, as he always did, right before the dawn. With Vaedwyn’s arrival now several months behind them, Jona had become somewhat used to the young woman’s noise in the early hours. That was not to say she was particularly loud, but rather his delicate ears had become accustomed to the silence of a solitary life. For months he had heard the distant sound of her morning protests and her heavy feet thumping out of bed with a clumsiness that the girl only seemed to display upon first waking. This was often followed by a lot of hurried sounds, and the echoing of her sprinting through the halls trying to make up lost time. Yet this morning he heard nothing at all. No cries of complaint, no gentle growls as her dragon companion gently roused her from her bed. It was as if he had dreamt the last few months, and had found himself once more alone within the walls of his home. Yet he knew that could not be the case. For the stronghold held a warmth to it now. In the literal sense, he knew this to be the work of Bradan. The Dwarf had become rather fed up of the shivering cold and had taken it upon himself to ensure that wood logs were cut and that all the hearths within the great stone walls were lit and burning brightly. Yet the warmth Jona thought of was something much more insubstantial. It was the kind of warmth one associates with a home, a place of comfort and safety. A place where there were friends and family. He had found little need for such things in the many years prior, and yet now that it had returned to the place, he now realised how much he had missed it. With a soft smile, he made preparations for his morning routine. It was hours still before he finally left his quarters. His mornings always consisted of deep meditation and reflection, followed by bathing, and then finally he dressed. The tan skinned elf stepped lightly through the halls, his long, braided hair was tied back behind his head and he wore a deep red tunic, with dark trousers and thick, fur-lined boots. When he reached the dining hall he found that the table had already been set, and Bradan was sat on a chair puffing away on his pipe as he always seemed to be doing. “Good morning,” Jona said with a slight nod as he neared the table. His gaze moved to the windows, where the curtains had been pulled open, allowing light to pour into the hall. In the light, he noticed that someone had taken the time to remove all the banners and beat the dust out of them, before replacing them. “Have our friends returned from this morning’s outing?” He asked. “I did not hear them get up.” "Elves are funny things y'know." Bradan replied, staring at the smoke gently wafting up from his pipe, "Unchanged fer a thousand years, in mind, body an' action. Yet she spends a few months with ye and now that mental case is sat outside in the snow, talkin' t'birds an' whatever else y'do." Bradan audibly tutted, clearly somewhat displeased. Jona gave a slight smirk and held his arms behind his back. “Well, I could say that she spent nary a week with the Dwarves and yet managed to experience her first hangover.” He said, showing his teeth. “…But I shan’t.” "Hmmm," Bradan laughed, "Well you've got me there. Anyway, what ye standin' around here fer? Ah, expect she's waitin' fer ye." “I expect she has not even returned yet.” Jona replied. “It’s far too quiet. Though I suppose I should go check, shouldn’t I?” He turned as he finished his sentence. “I’ll be back shortly.” He added as he left the dining hall and made his way out of the stronghold. He was greeted by a cool breeze and a clear,blue sky. The seasons had begun to change and the ground was now only coated in a thin layer of frost. While it would never truly become warm in Nordúr, there were times such as this where leaves would begin to return to the trees, and grass would grow through the thin frost. He heard the gentle chirping of birds and the whistling of the wind in the trees. Otherwise, the morning was utterly quiet and incredibly peaceful. However, just as Jona was beginning to enjoy the quiet, it was shattered as an enormous roar echoed through the mountains. Two great shadows swooped round from the mountains behind the stronghold, their long, graceful forms hugging tight to the towering walls, before swooping down for a dive over the courtyard and back into the air, with a whooping cry. “C’mon, lass! I ken ye’ve got more in ye than that!” Agron cried tauntingly. He was straddling Turiel in reverse, standing but in a wide-legged crouch, with one hand gripping one of the spikes protruding from the dragon’s back. His other hand held his large sword, and he was staring back at the black dragon advancing quickly towards them. Auriel cut through the air like an arrow. Drawing her wings tight into her body, she plummeted towards Turiel and at the last moment, she whirled around and opened her wings, but Vaedwyn was absent from the saddle. A shadow grew over Agron and Turiel darted out of the way in the nick of time. Vaedwyn held out her arm, narrowly missing Agron as she fell past him. Auriel was ready, and in seconds had repositioned herself below her rider, catching her effortlessly as Vaedwyn took the reins and gave chase. "Nearly had you that time!" She yelled over the howling wind. Agron replied with a hearty laugh and let go of the spike, nimbly moving further down Turiel’s back with grace undeserving of such a large man. Turiel went for another dive, and this time, Agron leapt from the creature’s back, falling only briefly before gripping onto Turiel’s tail. Then, with a powerful flick of his tail, Turiel sent Agron back up towards Auriel, and with a forward flip, he landed on Auriel’s back, swaying slightly to steady himself. He stood in a fencer's stance and gestured to Vaedwyn. “Let’s see yer form on the back o’ a dragon then, lass!” Vaedwyn pulled her feet from the harness, and simultaneously turned to face Agron as she leapt to her feet. Stood atop the saddle, her legs steadied her as she pulled her sword from its sheath. "Auriel says you could do with skipping a meal, or two!" Vaedwyn laughed, a lyrical sound that cut as easily through the wind as Auriel could the sky. “I’ll cut that weight fae yer arse in a minute ya cheeky wee shite!” Agron cried as he lunged forward, thrusting his sword at Vaedwyn’s chest, which she deftly tilted to avoid, before advancing on him. Agron brought his blade up to parry her on and metal clashed, ringing through the air as each strike connected. “Where’s the power in yer swing, hen?” Agron taunted. “Mayne ye should’nae o’ skipped a couple o’ meals yersel’” "Maybe you should watch your back!" Vaedwyn retorted, speaking the elvish word for 'Stone' as she charged. A pebble struck Agron on the back of the head as Vaedwyn's sword clashed with his. As they fought Vaedwyn lifted her blade as though to strike, and as Agron blocked she lifted her leg directly forwards and kicked him like a disgruntled mule, throwing him from his feet. Vaedwyn watched as he fell from Auriel, her long tail rushing past him. Agron tumbled rapidly towards the ground, and Turiel moved to catch him, falling at such an angle and speed to match Agron’s, and gently he arced underneath him, allowing his rider to land on him without too great a force. Then as they neared the ground his great wings fanned out wide and caught the wind, slowing his descent until finally he landed on the ground, mere feet from where Jona stood. “Heh!” Agron exclaimed as he climbed down from Turiel and looked to Jona. Sweat was visible on his forehead and he looked like the fight had tired him adequately. “She’s becomin’ a sneaky sort…” He grumbled. “The word you are looking for is cunning, old friend.” Jona replied with a soft smile. “Aye ye would say that.” Agron replied with a nod. “Ye were a sneaky bugger too in yer day.” “One must be cunning and wicked at times.” Jona said. “Consider if that pebble had been, instead, a sharp rock. I daresay you’d be less chatty after that blow.” “Aye, right enough.” Agron agreed, nodding. There was a gentle thump as Auriel finally landed, and Agron turned to face her. “No bad.” He said with a smirk. “I think ye’ll be ready for the gauntlet soon.” "Gauntlet?" Vaedwyn asked as Auriel stalked up to stand beside Turiel. She had grown over the past few months, and though still slight in frame compared with her male counterpart, she was now his equal in size, and with her elongated neck and tail, might even have become longer. Vaedwyn leapt from Auriel to land beside her comrades while Auriel playfully nipped at Turiel's heel. "You've never mentioned a gauntlet before..." Vaedwyn looked to Jona for an explanation. “There’s a specific path through the mountains where Riders used to train.” Jona explained, “It involves traversing the steeper climbs of the mountains and passing through deep caverns that come out on the other side of the mountain. It is difficult for the dragons to fly in such conditions, and to make things more challenging the mentors would lay traps along the way.” “It’s no joke, that’s fer sure,” Agron added. “I mind one time I nearly took a spear through ma heid! Haha! Aw it’s funny now, but ah near shat ma breeks at the time!” "It sounds... interesting," Vaedwyn said quietly, considering his words carefully. This test is for both rider and dragon? Auriel asked, Vaedwyn conveying her words. “Of course,” Jona said with a nod. Lot’s of tight corners and narrow passages Turiel said to Auriel, You might have an easier job of it than I did…if it was not for all the traps, that is. We will be dragon and rider. Your test will not stop us. "The dragon has spoken," Vaedwyn added, with a wry grin. “And yet it is a trial you shall both face another day,” Jona said. “I’m afraid it is time for your training with me. Go eat and bathe, and then join me in the library as usual.” Vaedwyn did not protest at this, as Jona might have expected from her only a month ago. Instead, she simply nodded and bowed slightly, before leaving to complete the tasks she had been given. “How’s she getting’ along?” Agron asked when she was out of earshot. “Stronger every day,” Jona replied. “I suspect she may be ready for the next step.” “Aye?” Agron asked, raising an eyebrow. “Took me years tae be ready for that.” “She’s an Elf,” Jona replied. “A true one, unlike myself even. She will grow far more rapidly than you or me.” And with that, he turned and headed back inside to eat before going to the library. --- --- --- --- “Hmm.” Jona murmured thoughtfully. He was sitting across the table from Vaedwyn, the pair locked in a battle that only went on in their minds. “I think….yes,” He said as he tilted his head. “You’ve done it. There is no way I can force my will through the wall you have constructed.” Taking a deep breath and exhaling it slowly, Vaedwyn opened her eyes and acknowledged Jona with a smile, "That was unpleasant." She stated simply, her eyes lowering to study the grain of the table's wood. “What is more impressive is your focus.” Jona continued. “You did not allow yourself to be distracted by noises and sensations around you. You’ve come a long way…in fact there is little more I can teach you when it comes to walling off your mind.” "It doesn't feel natural." Vaedwyn replied, "Putting up a wall, it feels strange." She saw the expression on Jona's face and apologised, "I'm sorry. You've taught me much, and I'm still trying to process much of it." “Do not apologize,” Jona said. “In this case you are correct. Walls are not natural things, they are constructions. They are also a simple construction for all races to understand and adequately visualise, which is why they are the first step. However, that does not mean that a wall is the most effective defence. Can you think of why?” "Is it because a wall can be broken, or worn down? It's stationary, and made by mortal hands?" Vaedwyn's comments were as close to questions. Jona shook his head from side to side as if only half in agreement. “Well, yes…it is those things, and so much more.” He said. “Ultimately walls are simple structures, good at defending in a simple fashion. Normally walls are lined with guards, or are defended by catapults and ballistae. Moreso an invader has to travel to even get to a wall. If the wall is your first line of defence, then you are concluding that the enemy is already at your door. Is that not a rather foolish way of thinking?” "I never thought of it like that..." Vaedwyn replied, but had nothing more to add. She seemed struck by the thought that she might lay dozens or even hundreds of obstacles for an invader to overcome in her mind. That would require an immense discipline. One she was as yet unable to maintain. Jona watched the thoughts whirling in her head and he smiled brightly. “You have much to learn yet.” He said as he leant closer, “but do not let that sour your achievement today. There will always be more to learn, but today you have shown that you can defend your mind as adequately enough to at least aid you in a battle. Perhaps now I can share some things with you that have been, well, guarded.” "There seems to be an awful lot of secrets, but..." Vaedwyn sighed, "If Auriel was here, she'd say it was for a good reason. Truthfully, I understand that just as well." She kept Jona's gaze, "What has been kept from me?" She asked directly. “First…” Jona said with a smirk, “Is more something I wished to keep as a surprise of sorts. You see, just like every other aspect of your bond, your mind is stronger with Auriel nearby. The skills you have developed may not seem like a lot, but when Auriel is with you her will can…transform your defences. Make them stronger, or perhaps more flexible if that is what is required. Her mind will enhance your own.” "That seems logical." Vaedwyn replied, "That she enhances my other abilities, strengthens my magic. There's no reason it wouldn't be true for my mind." “Yes, exactly.” Jona said with a nod. “Now…the second thing is something I am willing to share with you. It has required you to attain this level of skill for me to feel comfortable sharing it with you. You see…it is a memory. My memory.” "Why do I need to see one of your memories, Jona?" Vaedwyn asked, frowning. “There are several reasons…” Jona said calmly. “First is a lesson that is difficult to explain without you experiencing it. If you witness my memory, you will feel it as if it is happening to you. There is a danger in being a Rider, especially when you have a life so filled with pain. I wish to show you that danger, so you can avoid it yourself. Finally, this memory pertains to the individual who has plagued your mind. That woman…I am afraid to say that I have met her before. She is…the source of my single greatest pain.” "Then... show me." Vaedwyn straightened in her chair, she tried to keep her expression neutral, but unlike her kin, she was not as gifted in that pursuit. Her brow tightened as she gripped the edge of the table, acutely aware of what she might soon be experiencing. “Very well,” Jona whispered, his throat tightening. “This…it’s going to hurt…but it will pass, I promise.” And with that Jona once more reached out to Vaedwyn with his mind, but this time, he did not invade her memories, instead he pulled her into his own, and the ground beneath them fell away. The entrance to the tent was pushed open as a tall, lean figure pushed past in a hurried but purposeful stride. The figure was dressed in a form-fitting, green leather tunic, and trouser, complete with fixings of silver mail lined into the most vulnerable areas. A green hood covered his face, and the man held a long bow in his right hand, it’s quiver strapped across his back. At his waist two matching long daggers were housed in their scabbards, their design clearly of elven work. He strode towards the large fire pit in the centre of the camp and grabbed the shoulder of a soldier warming himself near the flames. “Bring me Commander Varo, and be quick about it!” The hooded man snapped, his voice regal and full of authority. The guard seemed startled as if he had not heard the man come up to him. “Oh, Master Rider!” He exclaimed. “Uh, yes sir! R-right away!” He added, before moving at a light jog, his plate armour clanking as he went. The hooded man turned back to the fire, folding his arms as he waited quietly for the soldier to return with his Commander. However it was not long before he was joined by another man who was dressed in dark armour so thick that it could have been made of stone, it's designed that of Nordúr. The man stood next to him, mimicking his folded-armed stance. “Ye’ve heard word?” The man asked, his tone gruff and weary. “Aye, brother.” The hooded man replied. “Sariel feels the beat of their wings. Aemon’s band of traitors will be upon us within the hour.” “If they reach the battlefield there’ll be another assault.” The other man, Agron, replied. “It’ll be a slaughter.” “Which is why we will end the ceasefire before then,” Jona said, pulling his hood down from his face. His younger face was darker around the eyes, and much more gaunt around the jaw. “An’ how does that make us any better than them?” Agron replied heatedly. “If we start an assault during an agreed ceasefire, we’ll catch them unaware, hundreds of their men will be slaughtered, thousands maybe.” “Exactly.” Jona said darkly. “I dinnae like it.” Agron replied flatly. “That’s no how we were taught to handle a battle. It’s sneaky…deceitful.” “One must be cunning and wicked at times.” Jona said. “They would do the same if the tables were turned.” “An’ that’s exactly why we shouldn’t!” Agron barked. “The people fear Aemon enough without fearin’ us as well! Actions like this, what would that say tae folk? That we’re not better than Aemon!?” “A more favorable option to death.” Jona said coldly. “Sariel agrees.” “Sariel is a dragon, Jona!” Agron growled. “They are natural hunters, and they are fightin’ for their survival. We may be as close to them as family, but we are not the same. Ye need to remember that.” “We are one.” Jona replied, and his tone was that of a deep, ancient growl that seemed entirely chilling coming from an elven tongue. Agron shivered. “I hate when ye dae that.” He said as he shook his head. “There is such a thing as bein’ too close, y’ken?” “You…could not possibly understand.” Jona replied scornfully. “Even I have felt Turiel’s thirst for blood. He wishes to avenge his mother, as does Sariel. You hold him back. Why?” “Because pain clouds even a dragon’s judgement!” Agron snarled. “And dinnae you dare act like ye ken Turiel like I dae.” “It is likely that I do.” Jona replied, his dark eyes void of any emotion. “You should let go of your grip on morality, brother. I understand, it is hard for you. A craftsman…you pour your life and soul into the inanimate, and give it life. I have always been a hunter, Agron. A predator.” “This is a far fuckin’ cry from huntin’ Elk!” Agron bit back sourly. “What’s it the Elves teach? To honour the life taken? For every creature, every single one, great or small. Yer tae appreciate it, tae show it respect. I never understand all their airy-fairy gibbering but I at least understood that.” “And the Elven also made it abundantly clear that I was not one of them.” Jona replied, a hint of bitterness in his voice. “No, I am Sariel, and Sariel is I. Together we will break the ground beneath those who dare offend us. We will show all the terrifying cost of angering a dragon.” “Yer impossible!” Agron yelled, and he began to storm off. “Hell mend he!” --- --- --- --- Suddenly the ground gave in beneath them, the fire and the camp dissolved, and they were flying at speed, crashing through thick clouds of black smoke. Jona broke through the clouds on to a scene of black ash, fires burning all around the valley. Drums banged rhythmically like thunder, and horns blew through the air as a bloody battle raged on beneath them. Metal clashed upon metal. Arrows and spears whistled through the air and the dragon Jona rode suddenly swerved, gracefully avoiding the deadly spikes that flew up towards them. The light of the fires below glinted off Sariel’s form, showing his copper scales and the distinct silver plate that had been attached to his frame. They did not converse through their link in a way that could be adequately described. Rather than a conversation between two entities, it was as if their minds were truly one. No additional confirmation was required beyond the briefest thoughts; their decisions being made in perfect tandem. Instense heat rose up from the battlefield and Sariel glided upon the thermal currents, until they reached the beginning of the enemy lines. There was a blood curdling roar to their left, and Turiel, clad in his own plate and with Agron riding on his back, tore off into a deep dive. Sariel took off after him, following closely as the wind rushed loudly past them. Then there was a sudden crescendo and screeching sound as they swooped low over the clashing forces and opened their gaping maws. Fire blanketed the enemy lines. Screams rang out as warriors flailed in agony, the ground beneath them scorched to ash. The twin dragons swept over the enemy forces, before doubling back to the front lines and landing gracefully within the heart of the battle. With a furious howl, Jona leapt from Sariel’s back, his bow drawn, and he loosed an arrow on his descent, sending it straight through the neck of one of the soldiers. When he landed he ducked into a forward roll and rose up on one knee, his hands were a blur as he knocked another arrow, drew back his bowstring, and loosed the arrow at another soldier with blinding speed. Another soldier charged at him with a cry, but the nimble elf leapt and rolled over his exposed back, dropping and sweeping his leg out, knocking the soldier to the ground. He drew back his bow again, and loosed another arrow at the soldier’s head from mere inches away. A line of soldiers advanced on him with their spears extended, and Jona retreated backwards. Sariel’s enormous form loomed over him instantly, and belched out another jet of white hot flame, incinerating the soldiers in a wide arc in front of him. Underneath the dragon’s hde, Jona continued firing arrows out into the field, downing soldiers one after another, while Sariel cleared away any forces brave enough to close in on them. As he did he reached out with his will. His mind swept over the battlefield, rapidly sifting through the minds of the enemy soldiers, each one protected by an invisible force. In moment he had found the source of the protection; an enemy spellweaver deep within enemy lines, her magic flowing out from her. The spellweaver’s mind was a fortress and he could not easily penetrate it in such a situation, and so he settled for another option. Jona drew another arrow, knocked it, and drew back his bow string once again. He pointed his arrow in roughly the direction of the spellweaver, and with a gentle whisper in the elvish tongue, an eerie, blue flame of magelight exploded from the arrowhead. He loosed the arrow and it went off, sailing through the soldiers, the magelight guiding it like a beacon as it traveled. Then, after only a few seconds, the arrow disappeared inside the hood of a robed figure, the spellweaver, who quickly collapsed to the floor, dead. The soldiers felt the sudden absence of their magical protection and their panic washed over Jona, and he found it strangely satisfying. A sliver of a smirk spread across his lips, but quickly vanished as Sariel’s senses coalesced with his own. “She nears…” He hissed. We shall spill her blood in honor of our mother Sariel’s thoughts pushed through, merging with his own. And with their minds made up Jona climbed back on to Sariel and they took off to the west, away from the fighting, and to where another rider was approaching from the mountains. The rain came in sheets, as heavy and constant as a river. A difficult time to fly for even the most seasoned of riders. The battle seemed distant, but it's sounds carried far. The clash of metal echoed, but for a moment the battle seemed to stall. A terrible screeching roar pulled the attention of the soldiers fighting on both sides of the battle. Aemon's right-hand lieutenant had arrived. Her dragon's shadow cast itself across the mountains, the only sign of it's inky black hide, passing through the night sky, occasionally illuminated by streaks of lightning. "Jona!" The woman yelled from atop her dragon. She was clad in armour matching her dragon, and had long silky blue-black hair. She was striking, her eyes fierce yet calm. No elf before or after, had ever been so beautiful. "Moriel and I have come to end this! Surrender, and spare your men's lives!" Jona’s blood boiled as he heard the words, or perhaps it was Sariel’s. He did not care. All he could think of was killing this woman. This traitor to their kind. This woman who he had once looked up to, who he had once hoped to be like. “Naerwen!” He roared through the storm, lightning flashing as if in response to his call. “By Ethanriel’s honor, your life is forfeit on this day!” He cried as Sariel rushed to meet Naerwen’s ebony dragon, and with a prideful roar the sky was suddenly engulfed in light, as white hot flames burst from Sariel’s jaws; huge, burning and hungry, the fire seemed to spill out through the sky in every direction, sizzling the falling raindrops into steam. Naerwen's lips were a blur, as she whispered spells, weaving great magic at speed. Moriel opened her enormous maw, and from it spewed a jet of freezing air, so powerful that it instantly froze the droplets of water and ash falling through the sky. Moriel's freezing beam met Sariel's white-hot flame, and an explosion of steam smothered the mountains. Naerwen banked to one side, sensing the approach of the rider. She felt an assault on her mind, and with a grin, she let him enter. There was no wall. There was no fortress. No river to cross. No mountain to climb. There was only falling darkness. Nothing to grab. Nothing to slow his descent. Jona was tumbling through her mind, and the deeper he went, the harder it was for him to pull back. Moriel needed no urging from her partner, she rushed up to meet Sariel and the two clashed, biting and clawing at one another as Naerwen tore her black-bladed sword from it's sheath and swung at Jona's neck, certain to cleave his head from his body. Sariel’s presence within Jona’s mind rushed through him like a storm. In one instant he was falling in infinite darkness, and the next he was flying, soaring back up through the dark void, wings beating furiously. He suddenly snapped back from out of Naerwen’s mind and with a jolt of energy he leaned back and out of his saddle, and this time he really was falling through the darkness. He watched as Sariel remained in a clinch with Moriel, and for a moment the hope drained from him. Then a deep, booming voice thundered an ancient word through the storm, and lightning clapped down upon the two dragons like a lance, forcing them to separate. Sariel parted and immediately went into a vertical dive, closing the huge distance between him and his rider in moments. Sariel swooped under Jona and caught him gently, scooping him back up on to his back, as he began to rise once more. As he rose a triumphant roar shot through the blackness and Turiel barreled into Moriel, tooth and claw whirling in a frenzy. Agron vaulted from his position on Turiel’s saddle, his large copper blade, Skovaer, drawn and held high to bring down upon Naerwen. Naerwen held her hand aloft and her native language sang through the night. The storm whirled around them and struck at Agron with a ferocity unmatched by even the most dangerous of tempests. This storm had been given purpose. The rain pelted Agron and Turiel, freezing on contact. Before Agron could as much as lower his blade, he could barely move his arm, let alone attack. Moriel turned her head and her deadly ice cut a path across Turiel's chest that sent a howl matching the winds into the air. Then Naerwen refocused upon Jona and his dragon, as Agron and Turiel dropped from the sky. "You've forced my hand!" She yelled. Moriel flew at them like a dart. Brother! Sariel’s voice boomed through every mind that held the capacity to hear it. Sheer, dreaded panic rose up through Jona and he struggled as Sariel dropped in another dive, frantically hurtling towards his twin. Jona slowly turned himself on the saddle so he could face Naerwen, gripping the saddle tightly with one hand, the other held up at his face the try to block the beating rain. His mind raced as he searched for the true words that existed in the lexicon of his mind, searching for something. Anything that could aid him. You cannot unmake the storm she has woven, Sariel’s voice boomed in his head. But you can save them… I can save no one if Naerwen reaches us!, Jona replied. Leave that to me… Sariel’s voice replied, his tone unnaturally calm, with a strong hint of sorrow. I will leave the rest to you. Take care of them. “What!?” Jona cried out loud, confused by the dragon’s remark. Then Sariel suddenly bucked, and Jona felt himself fall from the dragon’s back and go tumbling down through the darkness, as Sariel rose back up, to face Moriel and her rider. “NO!” Jona cried as he fell through the rushing wind. “SARIEL!!” Thank you for holding on to my hatred with me. Find peace now. Save them. “SARIEEEL!” Jona’s cry carried through the night, his voice screeching like metal, and he screamed until his lungs burned, and his throat felt like it had been skinned. Then he saw the distant forms of Turiel and Agron still falling, and something clicked in his mind. For a brief moment he was focused. He shut everything out. He ingnored the rushing wind, and the overwhelming sense of dread that came from not knowing how close he was to smashing into the earth. He pushed away his fear of losing Sariel. He pushed away his anger and his doubts, burying them deep down inside of him until all that was left was a quiet, cold calm. And then he began to sing. His voice was gentle, so much so that it could barely be heard in the rushing storm. He sang the true words, words that came from his heart, the words that made him ache like he had not done so in so many years. He felt the magic weaving it’s spell upon the world, and yet he was unsure what exactly it would do. So he sang all the more, over, and over, until he finally crashed into something. He felt great vines gently lower themselves under his weight, taking all of the force of his fall into themselves. His body still hurt from the fall, but he felt himself descending slowly as the great roots he had summoned began to lower him gently towards the muddy, soaking earth. There was an angry roar nearby, and he saw Turiel thrashing violently in the roots, confused and disorientated. Jona began to thrash as well, tearing the roots from himself and rushing towards the dragon as fast as his battered and bruised body could carry him. Finally he practically fell on top of Turiel as he slid through the mud, reaching him. “Get off ya bloody great brute!” Agron yelled from beneath the great dragon, who was tearing and biting at the roots which were holding Agron tightly. “I’m fine! Get off!” “Elo…” Jona sighed, relief washing over him. His friend was alive. Turiel was alive. He had done it, he had saved them both. He sagged momentarily, the fatigue of weaving great magic had taken it’s toll on him, and for a moment he almost forgot the looming threat above him. The reminder struck him more severely than any blade could hope to. In a single instant his heart suddenly exploded in pain. It felt like someone had stabbed it with a thousand burning blades. His gaze fell upwards as a final breath of fire lit up the sky. Then there was another moment of darkness, then a flash of lightning. Sariel was falling to the earth. He wasn’t moving. “No…” Jona whispered as he clutched at his chest. “No…nono…noooo.” He wailed as he fell to his knees. There was an almighty crash as the great beast hit the earth, and it shook under the force. A mournful howl cut through the air from Turiel, and Jona…just broke. Everything collapsed around him. Pain like nothing he had felt in all of his long life suddenly washed through him, paralyzing him as he lay down in the mud. Maddeningly he begged and pleaded to all the gods and the spirits he could think of, he murmured all the true words he knew, he offered his life, all lives and any life in exchange for the one that had just been taken. “Jona!” He heard Agron scream, and he felt a large, firm hand grabbing him firmly. “Jona! Get up!” Jona mouthed wordlessly, his eyes wide and frantic. None of it felt real, or perhaps it all felt far too real. There was no stage of doubt or disbelief. He knew it. Deep in his heart he knew the very moment it had happened. Sariel, a piece of him, the most important and dear thing to him, was gone. Moriel's landing sent a dancing vibration through the mud and puddles of rainwater, indistinguishable from a boom of thunder. The great black dragon loosed a low moan of pain as her rider slid from the saddle and fell into the mud. Naerwen turned onto her back and looked up at the sky. Her face had been gouged open. Three long tears ran from the top corner of her face, down through her nose, through her cheeks and lips, and down her neck, and shoulder. "My face..." Naerwen howled, "MY FACE!!" She screamed, her hand shaking before her, afraid to as much as touch her features for fear of what she would learn. Blood quietly gushed, pooling beneath her as she shivered on the ground. Moriel moved her head over her rider, shielding her from the rain. Naerwen reached up to her face, and pulled her hand across it. As she did so, a mask coalesced. Her other hand touched Moriel on the snout, she turned her head to see Jona marching towards her. His footfall dashing the mud as his hands sought her neck. Elvish rattled through her lips, she had to risk a magic that was beyond even her, or it would be the end of them both, then and there. The last thing she saw, before she vanished, was Jona's face. His eyes. Then she was gone. The sorceress was an elf. She was a rider. Her name was Naerwen. And she had murdered Sariel. Jona could not remember how much time had passed since Naerwen had escaped him. He did not begin to rouse until he heard the clattering footsteps of men approaching. He turned to find a unit of Aemon’s forces advancing on him and Agron, their weapons at the ready as they called for him to surrender. His first reaction was to go for the daggers at his hip, but he paused as a more sinister thought came to him. “…Life…is fragile.” He whispered to himself. The soldiers advanced closer. He lowered his hands to his side, and it appeared as if he had given up the fight. Agron came to his side, sword in hand, and turned to him. “Jona…A-are you-“ “I’m fine.” Jon replied darkly. “…We should leave.” “We’ll need to fight…” Agron replied. “No, we won’t.” Jona replied. He looked up at the soldiers who had surrounded them, and his expression was filled with furious anger. ”Die!” He snarled in Elvish, and he reached out with his will and all too simply; he snuffed the life out of each and every one of them, constricting their blood vessels and cutting off their air, until each soldier lay dead at his feet. A tremendous force coalesced suddenly within Jona’s mind and thrust Vaedwyn away from it. They were back in the quiet corner of the library. Jona sat across from her, his hands were trembling. Tears dripped on the wooden table from his head, which was bowed deeply to avoid her gaze. “There…” He said with a trembling whisper. “Her name is Naerwen. She is an Elf, a true Elf…and she is one of the most formidable women I have ever had the displeasure of meeting.” Tears flowed freely from Vaedwyn's eyes and she hung her head, desperate to speak some words of comfort, yet knowing that nothing she could say would comfort him. Jona's dragon had been taken from him, and until that moment, she didn't truly understand what that meant. It wasn't like someone had killed a friend, or a family member. It was as though someone had reached inside you, chosen the things that make you special, the things you cherish in yourself, and then ripped them from you. You were no longer whole. You were just a shade. “There are perhaps many lessons you can take from that memory.” Jona said quietly. “Though it is decidedly quicker to simply say that I was wrong, Vaedwyn. About a great many things, as it turns out.” Jona swallowed and tried to clear his throat, before he looked up, wiping the tears from his eyes. “Riders who lose their dragons will never be whole again, make no mistake about that. Yet…it is clear to me now that I was on a dark path. I don’t think many people would have liked the person I was likely to become had Sariel lived.” Jona suddenly reached out and gently held Vaedwyn’s hands in his. “Intense emotions will bleed through the link between you and Auriel. In times were both rider and dragon are emotionally wounded…it is possible to become lost, to become a monster. Remember that, and listen to Auriel’s guidance. But also know that despite her wisdom, how she feels is not always right.” Jona looked into Vaedwyn’s eyes for a long moment. “You must guide her as well, for she is prideful and fiercely protective. A dragon will always sacrifice their own life for their Rider, for they cannot live if we die, and so they assume that if they sacrifice themselves then at least we shall live…and perhaps they feel that is a better fate than death.” Jona rose from the table and began to walk away. “It is not better in any way.” Jona said. “At least now you know that. When the time comes for you to face that woman, I will do all in my power to aid you. Hers is the last life I will be glad to take.” And with that he left the room.
  22. Long Time No See!!!

    Who are you people?