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Everything posted by Kyo

  1. 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.
  2. “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.
  3. 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?”
  4. 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.
  5. 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…”
  6. 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.
  7. 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.”
  8. 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.
  9. 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=
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. BUG FIX

    Would also love this fixed plz.
  13. 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.
  14. Long Time No See!!!

    Who are you people?
  15. Grimoire (Private)

    Vincent was silent for a long moment. He stared at the space in between Ryoko and Gort from his chair by the table they had been eating at. Then he leant forward and pressed his fingers together. "Gort..." He said, "Gort...Gort?" He shook his head. He took his Grimoire from his belt and laid it on the table, thumbing through the apparently blank pages. "Are you just taking this...creature at face value?" David asked. "He could be lying. Criminals do that, you know." "Hush," Vincent said, his attention on his book. "And Spirits don't lie, Inspector. There'd hardly be any point in it." "How so?" David asked. Vincent sighed and closed his book closed again, his expression one of irritation. "Because they are eternal." He explained. "We can hurt him, imprison him, do all sorts of horrible things but ultimately, he will always return to his mountain. This is a being that has existed for...well, forever. In some form or another anyway. As the landscape changes, and the impressions mortals have also change, so too does a spirit. However, it is a slow, natural process. They do not fear it, and they certainly do not fear any repercussion we can deal it to the point where it feels it should lie." Vincent opened his grimoire once more and continued thumbing through it. "Lies are the thing of mortals, David. We can trust Gort's word." "Or so says spirits..." Ryoko muttered with a growl. "I do not trust anything that cannot die." "Whatever," Vincent replied. He continued looking through his book until he found what was apparently the exact blank page he was looking for. "Here we go." He said and he pressed his fingers across the page. Ink shot out of the paper and swirled across the page, slowly taking the shape of various scribbling drawings and notations. The images were rough but were clearly drawings of Gort. "You see?" He said, pointing at the page. "This just doesn't make any sense!" His finger indicated the blank gaps in the notations. "I've researched most of the main spirits of Edinburgh. I couldn't quite remember the name of this one, but it's not Gort." "I don't understand," David said. "You said Spirits don't lie." "They don''s just I know it's not his name. Not his true name, it's been taken away from him. From...from all memory and record. These gaps on the page are where I wrote his name." "What does it matter?" David asked. "It matters a great deal," Vincent replied. "If you take a Spirit's name, change it, then you change the spirit. I mean, come on, who ever heard of a cowardly mountain spirit? Gort is the spirit of Arthur's Seat. It's a landmark, it's a tourist attraction, a conservation site, hell it's a long extinct volcano! All of those things give it power, and yet." He gestured to the cowardly creature in front of them. "My writings describe a proud and just creature, bold and fearless. A real protector. Gort is nothing like that." He turned to the creature. "Uh, no offence." "N-none taken..." Gort muttered. "Coward!" Ryoko snarled at the spirit, and he recoiled, further disgusting her. "But you say that this is not his true form? So how would a person take a spirit's name?" "I have no bloody idea," Vincent said with a defeated sigh. "More importantly, I don't know why anyone would do that. Not to mention the door. Switching the door's location is, well, something considerably easier, but still not exactly simple magic. That's a lot of work simply to cause some chaos. If you take what we know so far, there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason for it." "Yes, there is," David said. "He's a patsy. They pin the murder on Gort, and if they've erased his...true name, or whatever. Well then people's memories of him are muddled, his identity is even fabricated. Essentially they've made him a stooge with which authorities will focus their attention on, trying to get to the bottom of things. What's more the person they have set up is no longer a potential threat to them, and is unlikely to offer anything useful to the culprit's pursuers." Vincent glared at David for a moment, then he bobbed his head in begrudging agreement. "You finally say something sensible, Inspector." Vincent said with a smirk. "Does he?" Ryoko raised an eyebrow, "Gort, or whatever he's called, is a spirit. Do you think they would pin a human murder on a spirit and expect human police officers to accept a mountain spirit as their primary suspect?" "Someone playing with magic like that probably isn't concerned with mundanes." Vincent replied. "Which means they are worried about intervention from our side. Like a Fixer, perhaps? Or maybe one of the Lords or Barons? Cowgate is Igithal's fiefdom. Don't know much about him but he seems like the kind of person you don't cross. At any rate, while we don't have any real law enforcement, there's plenty of denizens of this town who aren't afraid to do a little enforcing of their own" "Then they have killed for no reason," Ryoko stood from the table, "I am a Fixer, and I am going to find them, and kill them. Ryoko left through the front door and stepped back onto the main street and remained motionless, thinking to herself. What was her next move? The door opened again behind her and Vincent emerged with David following closely behind him. "How about we try something different?" Vincent suggested. "You go do your thing and come find me in an hour or so. In the meantime I'll babysit the Inspector here, and work a spell. Its going to take some time, and it might not turn up anything. On the other hand it might turn up something crucial. Sound good?" "Do as you wish." Ryoko replied, "But keep an eye on him." She added, looking between David and Vincent so that it was unclear whether she meant for Vincent to watch David, or the reverse. "I will speak to a broker of information." "Excellent." Vincent said with a nod. "We can meet back her in a couple of hours." He nodded for David to follow him and the two left Ryoko alone. They crossed the street and returned to the alley where they had first entered the Otherworld. "Did she mean what she said? I she really going to kill our culprit?" David asked. "Who knows." Vincent replied. "But she doesn't seem like the type to make jokes. A word of advice, Inspector. That woman is a vampire, likely with several centuries on you or I. They are an honourable lot, but they are incredibly dangerous. They have their own code of ethics which they follow, and they don't care if you don't agree with it. If you try to stop her from doing her duty, then she will kill you." "If she did then she would find herself in breach of the law. Judging by what she has said, she is likely already a dangerous criminal." David replied. "That would matter if she was in your jurisdiction, Inspector, but she isn't." Vincent said as he began to observe the alley. "You don't have authority here, you have to accept that." "I'm not sure I'd want to have authority over this godless realm." David said, contempt in his tone. "Oh there are gods." Vincent replied with a smirk. "And unlike your one, the big old capital G, these ones walk the earth." "There is only one God." David replied frankly. "David, gods are beings born of faith. They exist because people believe they do. Faith is a very powerful and mysterious magic, it's one of the forces at play that are beyond the understanding of even wizards. Just take comfort in the fact that your God exists, and focus on the task at hand." "Which is?" David asked. "Forensics, essentially." Vincent said. He sat himself down on the ground and crossed his legs lotus style, and opened his Grimoire on his lap. "Lesson one," He said as he revealed the inky pages of the Grimoire. The image across the page was a series of overlapping circle. "There are only three true boundaries between worlds. We are in the mortal realm, and so we can travel within all the worlds within that sphere of influence. So there's this place, the Otherworld we call it. Then there's your world, where all the mundanes live. There is also Faerie, where the Fae live. If you think this place is weird, well..." Vincent shook his head. "Anyway. There's also Limbo, which is a little different. Limbo is the plane where ghosts live, and while we can see it, we cannot exist within it, unless we die." "What of Heaven and Hell?" David asked. "Well, that's where the boundaries are. Those that are alive are not supposed to travel to these realms. Hell works much like our own realm, it has several worlds contained within it. Tartarus, Gehenna, The Underworld, that sort of thing. Then there is the above. Heaven, Nirvana, whatever else. I don't really know. Only the dead can travel to these places." "Why are you telling me this?" David asked. "Just a little context." Vincent explained. "Each door that exists can take people to one location within each of our worlds. Sometimes the doors and locations move, and sometimes powerful practitioners can move them. Doing so leaves evidence, not the kind you can see with your eyes or with a machine. It's something more...insubstantial. Call it aetherial energies, leylines, or something akin to that." "And you're going to look for this evidence?" David asked, raising his eyebrow. "We are, actually. Now try to keep calm. This is going to feel quite...strange." Vincent closed his eyes when he was finished speaking. Meditation was a common way to achieve extreme levels of focus and calm. It was something that took a lot of practice, but Vincent had been doing it his whole life. It took mere moments for him to have shut out all of the ambient noise that surrounded him. He focused on his breathing, of the weight his body carried. He focused on the stillness he had brought upon himself, and silenced the wandering thoughts in his mind. Then he allowed his mind to venture out from himself. He searched for the subtle, tingling energies that were always present around him, the flow of energy that pulsed around the world like a beating heart. When he located it, he grabbed hold of it in his mind and locked it there. Then he began to project. A transluscent, nebulous bubble began to expand out from him. David flinched as the strange energy moved towards him. He began to back away. "Stay still." Vincent said firmly. "It won't hurt you." David stopped hesitantly, and tensed his body as the energy washed over him. The sensation was rather like being wrapped in clingfilm. The bubble grew larger and larger until the whole alley was covered by it. Finally Vincent opened his eyes. The alley looked much the same, if a litle darker. However the ground and walls were pulsing with a network of eerie, green lights. Like veins that were rooted deep within all things. Shadows shifted and rippled, the forms of people came into being, and then disappeared, as if maintaining solidity for only a moment was all they could muster. "By God..." David whispered, staring wildly around him. "What is this?" "Reflections...imprints....patterns." Vincent replied calmly. "Just be still and let me concentrate." "I don't think..." David said frantically, "This is crazy!" He added as he turns to leave the confines of the spell. "Don't!" Vincent said sharply. "Your mind has been exceptionally slowed. That's the only way you can perceive this sort of thing. Think of every second in this field as being a minute outside of it. If you leave it without me slowly removing the spell, you could suffer brain damage." "You're lying." David said fearfully. "This is a trick!" "It's not a trick." Vincent replied. "Look at yourself, look around you. Really observe." David lifted his hand and only then he noticed the thin layer of white light that buzzed around his skin, like a fuzzy static. "What...what is it?" "Power." Vincent replied. "Your power." "My...power?" David asked. "Faith." Vincent said. "You are a man of God, and so he blesses you with his power." "I..." Was all David could say before he fell silent once more. After a time he said; "Why are you showing me this?" "Because I'm not a detective." Vincent said. "You might see something don't. Just keep watching, if you see anything strange just point it out." "This is all strange." David replied. "True." Vincent said, a thin smile appearing on his face. "Just watch and have faith. You'll know what it is when you see it." "Right..." David said, he breathed slowly, trying to calm himself. He looked over the dark, jumbled energies that shifted in and out of being around him. He wondered, for the first time, if he would have been better off going with the deadly assassin vampire. He was quite sure this was going to give him nightmares for years. But he swallowed, braced himself, and started pacing around, watching and listening.
  16. Edinburgh was always a city known for it’s rich culture and history. Recognised as Scotland’s capital from at least as far back as the 15th Century, it had become the home to nearly half a million residents. I was long known as a great institution for Education, primarily in Medicine, Law, and Literature. It could also be said that it was a somewhat peculiar place. Most cities were built up, cramped and difficult to navigate, but having been built on vast slopes, Edinburgh’s streets all seemed to be at different heights from one another, and no matter where you stood it was a simple task to see where you were going, and also what lay behind you. It was also a place of significant landmarks, with the busy Princes Street and it’s long, beautiful garden that stood in between the high street and Edinburgh Castle, stood proud atop a Volcanic Plug high over the city. There was also the Scot’s Monument, St. Giles Cathedral, and in the lower regions was the Scottish Parliament Building and Holyrood Palace, connected to the castle by the famous Royal Mile. A rare cultural treasure, the city always bustled with tourists in the summer and winter alike. Even it’s terrible history was no source of mystery, as the city celebrated it’s past, with various tours and trips that took tourist down into the winding closes, in hopes of spotting a ghost of the old city that lay under the ground. Tourists were the bane of those who lived in Edinburgh. They were everywhere, especially on a warm morning in the early summer months. Vincent particularly loathed tourists, which was odd as he had been one once, not so many years ago. He had travelled from his home in London 5 summers ago, but he had quickly picked up the local’s disdained for the international visitors that seemed to litter the place. To this end, Vincent had found himself hidden away in a lesser known café, Broughton Delicatessen, tucked away on Barony Street, far enough from the high street to avoid the curious eyes of tourists. He liked Broughton Deli for a few reasons. First of all, they made good, proper coffee just how he liked it. Black as the abyss, and rich and bitter to the taste. Secondly the Deli was housed in the Broughton barony, once upon a time famous for the practice of Witchcraft. Nowadays it was home to a number of specialty shops including quaint coffee shops, kitschy bars and even a shop where the owner made peculiar, alternative fashionwear out of real leather and fur. It was mostly frequented by unassuming hipsters, writers, and hipster writers. All of which were vastly more tolerable than the bloody tourists, or at least Vincent thought so. The third reason he liked the Broughton Deli was because they sold brunch up until 3pm, and Vincent could not recall ever waking before noon and not cursing the day. So he sat in the small café, sipping his coffee and picking at the remains of the chipotle pepper scrambled eggs he had ordered. All the while he was reading from a rather old, leather-bound book that was sat on the table in front of him. He seemed transfixed on it’s contents and, upon hearing the screeching wail of another patron’s baby, he winced from the sudden din that rang in his ears. He let out an irritated sigh and turned back to his book, frantically flicking through it’s pages. At last he happened upon the knowledge he required, and he focused himself. His mind turned to thoughts of tranquility, and peacefulness. He dreamt of secrecy, darkness and summoned the desire for quiet. He held on to that desire dearly, letting it ebb through his body, swirling within his mind, body, and soul. Then, at last, he pictured himself covered by a transparent bubble, and he loosed his will outward around him. Suddenly, and quite spectacularly, silence fell. Vincent glanced to the table where the mother and child sat, only to see that the bairn was still bawling, yet not a peep escaped it’s mouth. He allowed himself a smirk of satisfaction and went back to his reading. Vincent Hallow, or to use his full name; Vincent Gideon, Firstborn of Elias Emerich, of the Noble House of Hallow, was not any ordinary man. He was, in fact, a wizard. A warlock, conjurer, sorcerer, sage, magus, enchanter, thaumaturge. All terms were correct, but wizard was the more general term and the one he was most comfortable with. All Hallows were wizards, and notable ones at that. Yet Vincent was somewhat of a black sheep, and to look at him you would never think him of noble stock. The man was taller than most at just over 6ft, and he was skinny, pale, with a thin, scruffy beard from having not shaved in a few days. His hair was jet black, a little greasy, and tied back in a ponytail reaching just past his shoulders. He was dressed in a light grey shirt, with a slate waistcoat buttoned over it, a pair of pale blue jeans and scuffed, brown shoes. A light brown, long coat was draped over the back of the chair he sat on. All of his clothes were worn, wrinkled, and looked old and in need of replacing. Perhaps the only distinct thing about Vincent was his emerald green eyes, a characteristic trait of his noble House. After a while he lifted his arm and looked at the intricate timepiece on his wrist. The silver watch was, unlike the rest of him, quite pristine and looked incredibly valuable. As well as the typical hands telling him the time of days, there were also a number of smaller hands ticking away, apparently telling him of a variety of other unknown things. It was now two thirty in the afternoon, and he had an appointment to meet at three. With a sigh he reluctantly closed his book. The tome was quite thick, and the black leather bindings was etched with a vast array of complex runic symbols and knots. He clipped the latch around the front of the book, and gently ran his thumb over it, and the locking mechanism clicked shut at his touch. The book, much like his watch, was pristine and well-looked after, which perhaps alluded to how important it was to him. Wizards come to know a great many things, and as they tend to live longer than most ordinary folk do, usually around a century and a half, it has long been a tradition that they carry with them a record of their knowledge, both as their legacy and also for their own reference. Even with a longer life, the human mind is particularly good at forgetting the intricacies of knowledge. This book was known as a Grimoire. Vincent stood up from the table and walked away, and as he passed through his bubble he was suddenly greeted with the sudden wave of ambient noise that accompanied folks almost anywhere. He went to the counter at the front and paid his bill, and then left the café. He moved hastily up the steep streets of Broughton, his long legs making him swifter than most. When he reached the top of the street he reached a main road, where a Tram was waiting, bound for the airport on the outskirts of the city. He dutifully ignored it and crossed the road, deciding, as he always did, to make his journey on foot. He walked past the church and on to the stretch of land commonly referred as the “Top of the Walk” by locals. At the top of that street he finally began to reach tourist town, signaled by the distinct sound of a Peruvian flute band playing further ahead. Rather than head towards Princes Street he turned left and walked up the North Bridge towards the Royal Mile. The street was incredibly busy, and already beginning to fill up with bloody jugglers and dance troupes preparing for the Edinburgh Festival which was a whole two months away. As he ventured into the crowd Vincent tucked his Grimoire inside his coat, fastening it to his belt so that it bounced at his hip when he walked. He cut straight through the Royal Mile and made his way down a dark and quieter street near the Cowgate. It was here that he found the flat of the person who had requested his services. He walked up the front steps, inspected the buzzer for a moment, and then cautiously pressed on the number 7. A few moments passed before a voice crackled over the intercom. “Hello?” came a light female voice. She sounded local, and in her mid 30’s, much the same age as Vincent. “Hi.” Vincent replied, his tone was lower. “It’s Vincent Hallow, we spoke yesterday on the phone?” His voice betrayed his early years spent in Private School, one of the few remnants of his noble stock. He had managed to drop the accent slightly over the years, mixing in slang in a desperate attempt to sound even slightly more ordinary. “Oh, aye.” The female voice replied. “Come on up!” She added, followed by a loud buzzing noise and a click. Vincent pushed open the door and ascended the steps until he reached door number eight. The door opened just before he had reached it, and he was greeted by a mousy-looking woman dressed in slippers, pajama trousers, and a thick dressing gown. He smiled as politely as he could muster. “So…ghost problems, eh?” He asked. The woman looked around the stairwell nervously, searching for nosey neighbours that might have overheard. She opened the door further and ushered him inside. Once she had closed the door again, she turned back to him. “Aye, it’s like I said on the phone.” She said a little frantically. “Things keep moving about. Every time I leave my keys on the mantle they end up on the hook. I go to bed, and when I get up the dishes are done and stacked up neatly on the rack. It’s driving me mad!” “Doesn’t sound too bad to me.” Vincent said with a smirk. “You’ve got a poltergeist cleaning up after you, what’s the problem? Has he asked for a wage or something?” “It’s not funny!” The woman replied, looking worried. “I…so what do you do? I don’t need to sacrifice a goat or anything, do I?” “Can if you want.” Vincent replied with a shrug. “It won’t do anything but hey, whatever makes you feel good.” “N-no…I just meant-“ “It’s a joke, love.” Vincent said, frowning. “Lighten up, let’s see if I can sort this out.” Vincent stepped further in to the small flat. Nothing seemed overly to be out of the ordinary. He noted that there was a slight chill. Sure enough, this was one of the signs of a spirit within a dwelling, but equally he had found in his experience it was the sign of a tight-fisted scots woman who couldn’t bring herself to put the heating on. He decided to try something different. He closed his eyes and gently ran his thumb and index finger over his eyes once. He imagined putting on a pair of glasses, and conjured mental images of light, then summoned his desire for revelation. He allowed the spell to manifest, and when he opened his eyes once more he had activated his true sight. The flat appeared, mostly, to not have changed. Yet as he looked around his sharpened senses focused on the new information that had been revealed to him. Marks on the wall glowed in a hazy, blue aura through his eyes. He knew this to be residual signs of ectoplasm, a material left by ghosts and spirits, usually unseen by the naked eye. Each marking represented points where the spirit had moved between the walls, it’s form not limited by any physical barriers. “Well there’s definitely some sort of spook in here.” Vincent said out loud. “Free reign, too. That means it’s not tied to any particular object or artefact.” “Eh…artewhat?” The mousy woman asked. “Artefact.” Vincent said again. “Ghosts can sometimes be tied by strong emotions from their passing. They get tied to objects that were important to them. Not always though, this one seems to come and go as he or she pleases.” “So it’s real, then?” She asked. “You’re not just taking the piss?” “I’d hardly charge 200 quid just to fool narrow-minded, unsuspecting…” Vincent stopped when he heard what he was saying. “No…I’m not taking the piss.” “Well good…so can you er…get rid of it? Like send it to heaven or whatever?” “Not sure about that.” Vincent replied. “Heaven’s not really my jurisdiction. But I can hopefully get it to leave the house.” Vincent cautiously stepped down the hall and pushed open the doorway to the living room. Ghosts weren’t always troublesome, but he had known a few that were quite volatile, and were prone to throwing him about the place. He had since learned to exercise caution. Yet on this occasion he soon learned he need do no such thing. For the ghost was sat on the sofa in the livingroom, it’s transluscent, incorporeal form rippled ever so slightly. The ghost, a thin looking man in what looked to be his late 40’s, turned to look at Vincent when he entered, and looked surprised to see Vincent staring directly back at him. “…Do you remember who you are?” Vincent asked calmly. “Do you know what calls you here, spirit?” “Nobody calls me any more.” The spirit replied with a soft chuckle. “I’m a bit dead so I can see why.” “Right…well I’m afraid you’ll have to leave.” Vincent said. “Your invading in this woman’s home.” “I lived here first!” The ghost replied hautily. “Still had 6 months left on my lease. Might as well use it.” “Uh…okay.” Vincent said, scratching his head. “But you’re scaring the current tenant in her own home. She say’s you’ve been moving things around without her permission.” “Not my fault she’s a midden.” The Ghost replied, folding his arms. “This place would be a tip if not for me!” “So…wait you really have been tidying up after her?” Vincent asked, raising his brow with a soft smirk. “What!?” The mousy woman shrieked behind him. “What did you say!?” “Oh I just…well the ghost said-“ Vincent began, turning back to the woman. “You are taking the piss, aren’t you?” The woman said crossly. “Who the hell are you to judge how I keep my flat? Eh!?” “No, it’s not like that-“ Vincent continued, holding his hands up in protest. “Get out! Ya bloody piss-taker!” The woman yelled as she tugged at Vincent, moving him back towards the front door. “Fanny.” He heard the ghost say, chuckling softly. Then Vincent was back out in the stairwell, and the woman’s door slammed shut behind him. He let out a soft sigh and looked around at the scabby walls of the old tenement flat he stood in and sighed in frustration. Another opportunity ripped from his grasp. If he didn’t make money soon he was going to miss his rent payment. “…Fuck.” He cursed to himself as he slowly made his way back down the stairs. He had made the trip for nothing. Yet there was now nothing else for him in the town. He decided to head back to his flat in Leith, where he could at least keep away from the bloody tourists.
  17. A Dragon's Soul

    Aime's cafe was a small, narrow building. The front door was a dark mahogany with frosted glass and gold lettering plated over it. When the door opened a brass bell above it rang to let the staff know when customers entered. Inside the cafe was decorated in the same dark mahogany the door was made of, with a cream coloured ceiling, and a black and white tiled floor that looked like a chess board. Tables and chairs were lined across one wall, separated by wooden dividers, and at the far end there were booths. Near the front of the cafe on the other side, there was a counter next to a glass cabinet which housed a wide variety of sandwiches and fresh pastries. The smell of ground coffee was strong in the air, and the source of the aroma came from the large contraption behind the counter that wheezed and belched, steam whistling out of funnels, and every so often there was a loud grinding noise, as coffee bins disappeared from a large container at the top. "Two Cappuccino, one eclair, one brioche." The barista said from behind the counter as he worked the machine with a confident grace that only came from experience. He had prepared each cup and collected the food on plates, and had then placed everything on a tray and left the counter, taking the order to one of the tables, where he neatly placed the drinks and food next to the two elderly women waiting for them. "Thank you dear." One of the ladies said, "It all looks lovely." "I'm glad." The Barista said with a smile and a nod. "Please enjoy." He added with a soft bow of his head, and then he left the women alone. He moved back to the counter, grabbing a cloth and wiping over the counter, before replacing the cloth in the sink and then turning his attention to the machine. He tapped his foot against a pedal on the floor and the contraption wheezed in response. Then he pulled a small lever and it let out a long, whirring, grinding noise. Satisfied with that the barista removed a drawer and dispensed the contents, a heavy collection of coffee grounds, into a refuse bin at his feet. He replaced the drawer and repeated the process in reverse, the machine hissing and grinding again. When the bell rang once more the Barista tensed for a moment, and then left the counter to go for the entrance, and stopped in front of Alice as she entered. "Welcome to Cafe Aime." The Barista said with a short bow. He had tied his inky, black hair up in a ponytail behind him, and aside from the black apron he had not changed his clothes. With his hair away from his face the boy looked less sullen, his dark, sunken eyes still wide and bright, giving him a peculiar, frantic look. "I am Felix your Barista and Waiter. May I take you to a table?" Felix gave Alice a rehearsed smile, and waited for her response. "It's you!!" Alice croaked in surprise as she almost fell back out the front door. "What are you doing here?!" She asked, looking around the café. "You can't possibly be working here?!" "I...I can't?" Felix asked, a confused expression appearing over his face. "But...I do work here. So it has to be possible." Felix smiled a little, satisfied with his solution to that conundrum. Then he frowned, as if remembering something. ", where was I? Oh, yes. I am Felix your Barista and Waiter. May I take you to a table?" "N-no... I mean..." Alice found herself taken aback, she hadn't been expecting to see Felix again so soon. Furthermore, this didn't seem like the kind of environment he would be suited to. But, she supposed, she'd seen stranger things. "Hang on..." Alice held her broom aloft and said, "Okay, back to normal!" The broom instantly collapsed in on itself and the twigs made a popping sound as they turned back into feathers. Then she pointed the feather duster's handle at herself and said, "Dry!" The moisture from her clothes quickly evaporated, and at last, she felt comfortable. "So, i'm looking for a job." "Oh..." Felix said. "I...can get you coffee, or tea, or a bun or something like that?" Felix suggested. "But I'm supposed to seat you first." "Felix!" Another voice barked as a large gentleman stepped up behind the young boy. "What are you doing?" "Well I was trying to seat the customer but she didn't want coffee, or a bun, she wanted a job.But I can't give her a job, I can only give her drinks and food and service with a smile so I-" "I think I get the picture." The large man interupted, sighing. "Go back to grinding beans, you're good at that." "Oh...thank you!" Felix said with a sigh of relief, and he went back behind the counter, leaving Alice alone with the large man. "Greetings." He said with a smirk and a nod. "Welcome to Aime's Cafe. I'm Aime!" "Oh, hello! My name's Alice, i'm a Witch from the Academy," She paused, looking at her robe and hat, "Well... I mean that's obvious, but I need a job, and I was hoping maybe you have a job going?" She glanced past Aime, to Felix, "Is he okay?" She asked. Aime turned his head back towards Felix who was busy working the various levers and pedals of the coffee machine. "He's fine. Quite capable, actually. He just get's a little too literal about everything, you know?" Aime said, folding his arms. "Anyway...I suppose we could use an extra hand around here. You seem friendly enough, and maybe with you and Felix together you two might make one decent, fully functioning employee. How does a trial sound?" "Fantastic!" Alice grabbed Aime's hands and shook them fervently, "Thank you so much, boss! I need a job so bad! Gramps will never forgive me if I fail to get one..." Finally, she let go of Aime's hands, having shaken him to within an inch of his life, "What can I do first?!" She asked excitedly, holding out her feather duster."Well...." Aime said as he raised an eyebrow. "You can put that away and put an apron on. While I admire someone who brings their own tools, we have a cleaning cupboard full of supplies. How about you start by greeting our patrons and taking them to a seat. Take their orders to Felix, and then serve them once he'd made them. Okay?"
  18. Grimoire (Private)

    The bathroom in Vincent’s 1 bedroom flat on Dickson Street was. He was quite certain, once upon a time nothing but a fair sized cupboard. He had left the door to the tiny bathroom open and grungy rock music blared from somewhere within the flat, muddling itself with the hissing rush of the water coming from his shower head. “Whoa-oh, heaven knows! We belong way down below-oh!” He sang, off key, into the shower head, using it like a makeshift microphone. It took him another few minutes before he finally began to notice the rhythmic thumping that was travelling through his flat. He turned the shower off and stepped out, grabbing a towel to dry himself. The thumping continued as he left the bathroom and went down his hall, and into his spacious livingroom/kitchen, the only reasonably sized room in his flat. He turned off the beaten up, old CD player that he had apparently recovered from some point in the early 90’s. He listened to the silence for another moment, and then came the thumping again. Someone was banging on his front door. He wrapped the towel around his waist and went back into the hall, making his way to the front door. On his way he grabbed a pack of cigarettes from the small table in his hall, and with only the slightest consideration of intense warmth, and passion, the end of the cigarette lit all by itself. He took a drag as he answered the door and blew smoke out into the hall, where two figures were standing. Standing in front of him was a man who very nearly reached his own height. He was of a wider build than Vincent, a healthy man with what looked like natural weight and muscle. He had short, brown hair, cut neatly, with a tidy, trimmed beard. He was dressed in a simple, navy blue suit with the jacket open, a thin blue tie and a white shirt. He looked more than a little irritated by Vincent’s presence, yet he did not react. Clearly he was a patient man. Behind him was a shorter woman dressed in a similar suit ensemble, but with no tie and a blouse instead of a shirt. She had short, blonde hair and looked decidedly more approachable than her partner. The man looked to be in his late 40’s, while the woman was a good ten years younger than that. Vincent couldn’t help but notice her briefly lower her gaze towards the towel at his waist, and then back up. “Mister Hallow?” The man asked. “Vincent, yes.” Vincent replied, raising his brow. “Can I help you?” “Detective Inspector Argent.” The man said. “And this is my Detective Inspector Evans. We’d like to ask you a few questions.” “Oh come on, the music wasn’t that loud.” Vincent replied, frowning. “We are not here about a noise complaint, I assure you.” Detective Argent said. “May we come in?” Vincent paused a moment, taking another drag of his cigarette as he considered the request. His nostrils flared and expelled smoke as he relented, then he stepped aside to allow them passage. “Yes, of course.” He said, smiling quite falsely. They nodded and entered, and Vincent closed the door and led them to his living room. He made his way to the small kitchen area as the two officers examined the room. Detective Argent took particular interest in the large bookcase on the far wall. It was crammed full of books. Most of them were nothing he had ever seen before, but he recognized the books that dedicated one section of the top shelf. Copies of various religious texts including the Bible, The Torah, The Quran, and various Sutras and Vedas. “Religious, are you?” Vincent asked, noticing his stare. Argent turned and gave a soft smile. “Just your average Catholic boy.” He admitted. “What about you? Trying to pick one or something?” “Well, why pick one?” Vincent replied, genuinely a little baffled by the question. “Anyway, can I get you a cup of coffee or something?” “No, thank you.” Detective Evans said with a polite smile. “We’re here on an investigation. If you don’t mind we’d like to confirm some details before we begin.” “Sure, fire away.” Vincent said as he leaned back against the kitchen counter. “Firstly, you are Vincent Hallow, correct?” She asked. “Yes.” He said with a nod. “35 years old, you’ve been residing in Edinburgh for almost 5 years now. Your occupation is a…psychic?” She asked. “Oh no.” Vincent shook his head. “Charlatans, the lot of them. No, no…I’m a wizard.” “I wasn’t aware there was a difference.” Detective Argent chimed in. “Let’s just say you’re a…self employed freelance agent, shall we?” “If it makes you feel better.” Vincent said, rolling his eyes. He finished his cigarette and extinguished it in his kitchen sink. “So is there a point to all of this?” “Were you at the residence of a Miss Rachel Yates yesterday afternoon? Around 3 O’Clock?” Evans asked. “Yes. She had a ghost problem. Well, still has actually. She decided against utilizing my services.” Vincent replied. “Uh, right…” Evans said as she scribbled the details down on her little electronic tablet. “So you admit you were at her flat at 3PM yesterday afternoon?” “Well, yes.” Vincent said, frowning. “What’s going on?” “I’m afraid Miss Yates is dead, Mister Hallow.” Argent said. “Strangled. Nasty stuff.” “But…” Vincent’s frown deepened. “She was fine when I saw her. She lived alone, well, more or less.” “Indeed. And no one has been seen entering her premises since then. Which means, Mister Hallow, that you are our sole suspect.” “Me?” Vincent smirked. “Why would I do that? I don’t even know the woman.” “It’ll be up to the prosecution to figure that out, I’m afraid.” Argent said. “Vincent Hallow you are under arrest for suspicion of the murder of Rachel Yates. You have the right to remain silent, however anything you do say may…” Argent continued reading his rights, but Vincent wasn’t listening. It didn’t make any sense, the police were making a mistake. He hadn’t killed that woman, but who had? What if it had been the ghost he had seen? He didn’t seem the type, sure enough, but he had shown himself capable of moving physical objects. It was, at least, possible that he could strangle the woman. Not that the police would ever believe such a thing, of course. “Uh, names and badge number please.” Vincent said, cutting Argent off. “Oh and since I am not resisting arrest, I do hope you’ll allow me to put some clothes on before you haul me out.” “Abigail Evans.” The woman said. “367. And yes, you can put some clothes on. David will monitor you.” “David?” Vincent asked, turning to Detective Argent. “David Argent, then?” “Indeed.” David replied. “Come along now, get dressed.” David escorted Vincent to his room where he got dressed in the same clothes he had been wearing the day before. He took care to put on his watch and grab his Grimoire, fastening it to his belt. When he was done he walked into the hall with David and they rejoined Abigail, and together they made their way to the front door. “Oh, can I go for a pee?” Vincent asked, nodding towards the bathroom. David walked to the bathroom and took a look inside. It was a small room with no windows. “Fine, quickly.” He said. Vincent nodded and made his way to the bathroom door. He went to go in, but then paused and turned, closing the bathroom door shut. “Oh, I did mean to say. While I’m not resisting arrest, I would like to point out that I’m denying the charges. I didn’t do it, you see.” As he spoke he pressed his fingers against the door, delicately feeling his way over the painted wood. “If you are innocent then that will no doubt come out in the process.” David said. “I’ll take note of your lack of resistance, and if you truly are innocent I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough.” “Well, thank you very much.” Vincent said with a nod. “I’ll only be a moment.” He turned and opened the door, stepped inside and closed it behind him. The two inspectors waited outside for a couple of minutes. After the fourth minute passed David wrapped on the door of the bathroom. “Mister Hallow?” He called. There was no reply. “Mister Hallow, I’m coming in.” He said a moment later. He turned the knob and entered, only to find himself staring at the same empty bathroom, sans Vincent. His eyes widened in utter bemusement. “Abby, put a call out. I want every officer looking for him!” He said frantically. “He’s gone!?” Abigail replied, peering into the bathroom. “But…but how? There’s no way out!” “I…I don’t know.” David said as he knelt down on the bathroom floor, feeling for a lose floorboard, or some sort of secret escape hatch. There was nothing. “Something isn’t right…we need to find him. He could be extremely dangerous.” Doors are strange things. Most ordinary, non-magical folks, Mundanes Vincent liked to call them. Well Mundanes never really seemed to consider the concept of doors. They were points of entry and exit. Thresholds between one space and the next. Thresholds held a great deal of power. Now, Mundanes open doors and they always lead to the same place, day in and day out. Yet for those in the know, doors can reach multiple places. The world was not as simple and linear as people like to believe. A threshold, be it a door, a gate, an arch, or whatever else, is a portal between point A and point B. Yet sometimes, in certain places, there exists multiple point Bs. If Vincent’s bathroom was point B1, then with a little trickery and know-how, why could the door not lead him to another point B, a point B2? Multiple locations operating within the same space, resonating on different frequencies. It was about as close as Vincent could ever explain the concept to a Mundane, at least. However the point was that while he had entered his bathroom door, he had not passed through in to the tiny room with a shower, a sink and a toilet all crammed together. He had arrived in a different place entirely. Yet even the universe is not beyond a sense of humour. For Vincent had arrived in a bathroom, of sorts. He was standing in a steam-filled bath house. The walls were a beige-coloured marble, and before him lay a great pool of hot, steaming water. The occupants were far more colourful than the Mundanes he normally surrounded himself with. A couple were human, but there was also a man covered in horrible pustules, and another with scales for flesh. On the far side was a non-corporeal creature, hovering above the pool with only the vaguest shape of a form, and a pair of glowing orbs for eyes. Vincent had never seen a Djinn visit a bath house before, and wasn’t entirely sure why they would bother. Yet he had no time nor desire to think more on it. He made his way out of the bath house and found himself on the hidden streets of Leith. While the overworld of Leith had become a somewhat rundown yet surprisingly multicultural burgh, it was also a waterside burgh. The Leith he stood in now, was one of the few areas not owned by man or beast. This was due to the river that ran through it that reached the Firth of Forth at the shore. The Water of Leith was a source of great power, so much so that it had manifested itself into an entity capable of consciousness. Thus Leith fell into the area where the great river spirit joined with the ocean, and it was here that his power and influence were strongest. Vincent made his way up the Walk, the long road that led away from the shore. Where the overworld buildings consisted of pubs, chip shops, hairdressers and half a dozen polish and Chinese supermarkets, this version had stayed true to it’s roots. On either side of the road were hundreds of stalls selling various sea and river-related products. There was fish, and seaweed vendors, and a sudden warmth in the air indicated that glass-blowers were in the area, harvesting the sand to create vials and decorative ornaments. Vincent had no time to stop and look around, however. In half an hour he had travelled across the nether-city of Edinburgh until he found himself at the Cowgate. The streets grew darker and more menacing. The residents began to turn more ugly, dirty and dangerous. Cowgate and the Grassmarket were considered the domain of the lower classes. It was where the more affordable housing was located, under the control of Baron Igithal, a man Vincent had never met, but by his rather bloody reputation, he was certain he had no desire to. Therefore, as soon as he was able, Vincent found himself a door. He pressed his hand against it before opening it, once again delicately feeling the wood and weaving his will through it. He pushed it open and stepped through it, finding himself stepping out of a bathroom stall. He closed the door behind him and left the bathroom, to find himself in a busy pub. He knew it to be The Tron, a pub across the street from where Rachel Yates’ flat was. He exited the pub and made his way across the street of the over-city, and stopped outside Rachel’s flat. He observed on the road nearby that two police cars were stationed outside. The investigation was still ongoing. Yet he had to get inside. Getting in would be easy, but the police might have been tipped off about him, and besides which they would never allow him to set foot on a crime scene. “…What a mess.” He said, sighing to himself. It was at this point that a sudden wave of dread rippled over his body. He felt the hairs on the back of his neck go rigid, a primal reaction he had little control over. He turned, sensing something off approaching. Something that was not often seen in the world of the mundane. It was a woman, and to any passing observer she looked perfectly ordinary, even quite attractive. Yet Vincent could see her for what she was, and the realization made him frown. “Don’t see vampires in Edinburgh very much.” He said to the woman as she reached the door he was standing at on the street. His tone was suspicious. Why would a vampire be going in to Rachel’s building? Ryoko's bright blue eyes looked the man up and down as a lop-sided smile spread across her face. "More's the pity." She retorted, looking over at the police stationed just outside the building before her gaze wandered over the man's grimoire, "So what's a wizard doing here then? Don't tell me you're a necromancer...?" “More like a jack of all trades.” Vincent replied, giving the police a nervous glance. “Are…” He wondered if it was okay to divulge his information, but at present he was disappointingly shy of allies, and considering where she was going, the woman was likely already involved. “Are you here because of the murder? The Mundanes have got me muddled up in all of this. I need to get in and find out what happened up there, but it’ll be tricky with all the police around.” "You say that humans have you muddled up in the crime," Ryoko nodded ahead, "Yet you wish to involve yourself further? Have you ever heard the phrase, 'cut and run'? As for me, I need to get inside that building, it won't be difficult..." “I already did the cut and run part, you just missed it.” Vincent replied. “Now I’m doing the part where I find out who’s responsible and make sure they fess up, so I can get on with my life. Which would be somewhat difficult from behind bars.” Vincent pressed his hand up against the buzzer and allowed his will to filter out into the wiring underneath. There was a buzz and a distinct click of the door unlocking, and he pushed it open. “After you, then.” He said. Ryoko stepped through and looked around, the hall was quiet but she could hear voices upstairs. The police were likely in the apartment itself. "I could remove the police from the situation, that might be best..." She mused, as she started up the stairs. “You do your thing.” Vincent said as he followed her. He began to concentrate on the image of himself slowly fading away. He clung to uncomfortable thoughts, ones of fear, and the desire to hide. “I’m just gonna stand back and keep my mouth shut.” He added. Becoming invisible was tricky. There were so many senses to account for, that it usually required layers upon layers of magic, and most importantly the time to prepare. Vincent didn’t have those things so he settled for what he could do. With luck, while the officers would see him, if he kept quiet and didn’t do anything to attract their attention, they would find him to be quite insignificant. If he stayed quiet, he would be no more to them than a random passerby on the street. "That might be best, if they saw you here, you wouldn't have much of an argument in, 'I came to prove my innocence'." Ryoko chuckled and as she reached the top of the stairs she clocked one of the police. She began checking her pockets as she approached, and the nearest officer paid her little attention. She pulled a set of keys from her pocket and turned to face the door to the adjacent apartment. As the officer turned his attention back to the inside of the apartment, Ryoko darted towards him and was on him in mere moments. She grabbed him from behind, clamping her hand over his mouth as she bit into his neck and began to drink. She took long, deep, ravenous gulps of blood. After a few seconds, she released him, licking his wounds which quickly healed leaving behind two small white dots for scars. When she laid him down in the hall, it was clear he was alive, but asleep. She stepped inside and there was a dull thud as the second officer collapsed to the floor, "You can come in now. This one is sleeping also." “I thought you were going to distract them, not eat them.” Vincent said with a scowl, and as he spoke his minor illusion shattered. He stepped inside the house and once again placed his fingers across his eyelids, as he had done the previous time, and he looked around for the ghost. “Something tells me you’ve done this sort of thing before. You’re a fixer, right?” "I was hungry, and they were an obstacle. I removed them from our path, sated my hunger and removed any chance that they might injure us, or we them." Ryoko looked around the room, spotting a phone in the centre of the floor, "If your intent is to chastise me for my actions, might I suggest you do so once you have finished snooping around the crime scene for which you are being investigated in connection with." “I’m not your mother, I was just…caught a little off guard.” Vincent replied, rolling his eyes. “Not everyone lives the high octane life of kicking arse and taking names. I just want to get back to making rent money.” Vincent looked around the room but the ghost was nowhere to be seen. He sighed. “Excuse me…hey…Mister Sheen!” He called out. “Get out here or I’m going to wipe my dirty shoes on this nice cream carpet.” “NoooOOOooo!” A ghostly wail reverberated around the room. Suddenly the ghost from before passed through the wall, a look of panic on his face. “Don’t you dare!” “Well that was easy.” Vincent said with a smirk. “Now, what the hell happened here? I hear your roommate was killed.” “Oh, tell me about it!” The ghost sighed. “It’s been a nightmare! I thought she was bad enough when she was alive, but ugh! Now she can see me and she just won’t shut up. She’s driving me crazy!” “Uh, that’s not what I-“ The ghost cut him off. “You!” He said, pointing at Ryoko. “Are…are you the Fixer? It’s about time you showed up!” “Since when do ghosts hire Fixers?” Vincent asked, raising and eyebrow. "They don't." Ryoko turned and made for the door, "How is a ghost going to pay me?" She asked, letting out an audible sigh. "You're not the only one with bills to pay, Wizard." “Oh, no, no, no…” The ghost protested, and he shot forward, whizzing past Ryoko and floating in front of her. “Please! You have to help get her out of here! She’s driving me nuts. She won’t stop crying, I just…there must be something I can give you. Anything!” “Wait, who’s crying?” Vincent asked. “Rachel? She’s here?” “Well who else?” the ghost replied. “She’s in her bedroom. Poor thing is having trouble accepting what happened…but that’s not my problem! I am NOT a shoulder to be cried on!” "She's having trouble accepting what happened?" Ryoko asked the ghost, she glanced at the wizard before turning back to the ghost, "This Rachel... she was the one who was killed?" “Yes.” Vincent replied, for the first time feeling a little sad for the victim. “I don’t know much about her. Just a client, well, she hired me then fired me without payment so whatever that is, I guess.” "She hired you, and then refused you payment, and now she's dead. Yes, I can see how that might look..." Ryoko couldn't help but smile despite the grim nature of their surroundings, "So now the important question - you're here to find the killer, but why? To clear your name, or to catch the killer?" “Catching killers is a job for a police officer, or whoever runs this fiefdom, or, well, you I suppose.” Vincent replied. “Me, on the other hand, I just do the odd exorcism and lift curses. That’s on a good day. Most of the time I’m rejecting requests for love potions and playing tourists out of their cash with card tricks. I’m a scholar, I study magic. I don’t use it to thwart the evils of either world.” "What a waste." Ryoko replied, "If you have the ability to do some good, why not do that? Who says that catching a killer is the sole work of a police officer? A bunch of humans who have never caught anything but a raise." Ryoko turned back to face the ghost, "You've both lived here at one point or another, you either learn to live with one another, or you move. You could start by showing some compassion, as I am for you, spirit." Ryoko then looked to the wizard, "I'm Ryoko, what's your name, wizard?" “Vincent Hallow.” Vincent replied. “Full name, Vincent, did not ask for a lecture, Hallow. So you’re some righteous do-gooder, well that’s just great for you. Fantastic. You go girl. I, on the other hand, am a grumpy, selfish man who just wants his life back. Now, Hajimemashite, dozo yoroshiku and all that jazz, I’m going to go speak to the recently departed.” Vincent walked away from Ryoko and went through the hall and into the bedroom. There on the bed, the incorporeal form of Rachel Yates was sat quietly sobbing to herself. When he entered she looked up, a little shocked, and then stood up from the bed, still hovering a few feet in the air. “You!?” She said angrily. “G-go away.” “I’m not going to do that.” Vincent said calmly. He took a step inside the room. “I want to talk to you Rachel…I’m…sorry for what happened to you.” “I don’t care if you’re sorry! It’s none of your business.” She said, sobbing once more. Vincent let out a short sigh but tried to keep his expression neutral. It would do no good to mount his problems on her in the state she was in. It wasn’t going to get him anywhere. “Rachel…let me help you through this.” Vincent said as he reached the foot of the bed. “It might be difficult but you have to accept this one, simple fact. You are dead. Nothing is going to change that.” “That’s your idea of helping!?” Rachel yelled at him, ghostly tears streaming down her transparent cheeks. “Do you think that makes me feel better!?” “No, of course not.” Vincent said. “But accepting things will. Now, your…house mate. He’s what we call a poltergeist. He’s haunting this house, and he seems quite happy with that. You, on the other hand. You’re tied to this place much like he is…but you don’t have to be. There are other places for the dead, better places.” “What…” Rachel sniffed. “You mean like Heaven?” “I…I don’t know for sure. It’s not for the living to know. However, I know there are demons, and I know there are angels. Seems likely that there’s some sort of God out there. What I do know, from experience, is that those who leave this world through acceptance, often do so with peace.” “But…I don’t want to leave my life.” Rachel said, shaking. “I know…but perhaps you need to look at this another way.” Vincent said. “Have you ever been on holiday? Do you like travelling?” “I do but…I haven’t done it much.” Rachel said. “It’s quite expensive and I don’t make a lot. I went to Spain a couple of times.” “Well…now you can go wherever you like. Great thing about being dead is the free travel. And…now you have all the time in the world. You could go explore to your hearts content, or you could even go explore somewhere that you never could before.” Vincent smirked. “The next life. Whatever it is, I’m sure it’ll be an experience like never before. If you could I’d even ask you to send me a postcard, and tell me what it’s like.” “I…I never thought about that.” Rachel said. “But…my family.” “You can see them whenever you like, too.” Vincent replied. “Or, if it’s what you really want, you can stay here with the clean freak.” “Oh…God.” Rachel said, shivering at the thought. “…I’m scared though.” “So you should be.” Vincent said, now coming closer and standing next to her. “Big adventure like this, you’d be a fool not to be. Whatever you do now is your choice, Rachel. You are truly free. That being said…if I can, I might ask something of you.” “What?” Rachel asked, her eyes suspicious. “The police believe that I killed you.” Vincent said. “If I can, I want to make sure the person who did this to you gets the punishment they deserve. Do you think you could help me with that?” “I…” Rachel looked terrified. Reflexively she touched her own neck. “I don’t know…I just…someone came out of my bathroom. Like they just appeared out of nowhere. It was…It wasn’t human. It…I don’t think it meant to be here, it looked confused it first. But when it saw me it…it just came at me and…all I can remember afterwards is darkness, and just being so scared…and then I was like this.” “I…I see.” Vincent said, nodding. “This creature, can you describe it for me?” “It…it had horns on it’s head…and it’s body was furry. It was filthy, caked in dirt. I…I can’t remember. Except…” She paused. “It’s eyes…they were bright yellow…piercing and fierce. Eyes like snakes.” Vincent tried to think of who or what she could be describing. With the little info he had gotten, it could have been any number of things. Yet he had at least confirmed a few things. The killer had entered through the bathroom door, and it was unlikely it had crawled through her window. A door was a strange thing, but he knew how it worked. So now he had a lead. “Thank you, Rachel.” Vincent said finally. “Would you like me to come back and check on you later?” “I…you don’t have to but…” She gave the softest hint of a smile. “You’re much kinder than I remember.” “Don’t tell anyone.” He said with a smirk. “I have a reputation to uphold, after all.” He made his way out of the room. “I’ll come back in a few days, okay?” “Okay…thanks.” Rachel replied, and then he left her alone again. When Vincent re-entered the main room, Ryoko was in the centre of the room, with her legs crossed, and her hands on her knees. She would have been sitting on the floor, had she not been floating two feet from it. Several other objects were floating around her as though she had some kind of gravitational pull. Her eyes were closed, but her sensitive hearing caught his approach. "So, a furry, horned thing, then?" She asked, raising an eyebrow while keeping her eyes closed. Then she stood up, still floating in the air, and as she turned to face him she landed back on the floor and the objects floating around her dropped to the ground. “Yes, Master Yoda.” Vincent replied, smirking. “What do you care anyway?” "I'm going to catch the killer." Ryoko replied, ignoring Vincent's comment. "You're welcome to come along, if you like. You are, after all, the primary suspect." “Thought you had bills to pay?” Vincent asked. “And besides, I think the folks at Lothian & Borders might have a hard time arresting a furry goat or whatever this thing is. Time to face facts, I’m pretty much screwed.” "She didn't say anything about goat. You shouldn't paint a picture in your mind with anything but the words she used to describe the creature. It had horns on it's head, had a furry body, so it was naked, at least from the waist up. It was covered in dirt... and it had yellow, snake-like eyes." Ryoko mused on the facts they'd collected so far, "I have bills to pay, but I will make do. Anyway..." Ryoko turned and started to leave, "I never said anything about arresting it." “Great, well I know where you can start.” Vincent said. He walked up to the bathroom door, pressed his hand up against the wood, infused it with his will, and then pulled it open. “Since nobody saw a scary horned thing rocking down Cowgate I’m going to guess that it left the way it came in. Have fun with that.” "Alright, thank you." Ryoko bowed slightly to Vincent, as she stepped through the doorway without hesitation, leaving Rachel's bathroom behind, entering the unknown. Vincent grabbed hold of the door and went to close it as Ryoko left. However just as it was about to close, another door opened. The front door of the flat swung open and a familiar face stepped through it in the form of Inspector David Argent. “You!” David yelled as he caught sight of Vincent. There were sounds of more people, likely police, ascending up the stairs. “Ah, shhh-“ “Come here!” David roared at him and suddenly the burly Scottish detective was coming at him with surprising speed and athleticism. Vincent turned in the only direction he could, he swung open the bathroom door and ran through after Ryoko. He pulled the door shut behind him, but was surprised when David squeezed through the gap and tackled him, sending them both crashing to the hard, cobbled floor. The door closed shut behind them. “What in the-“ David gasped as he got up, grabbing Vincent and cuffing him with his hands behind his back. “How…you’re coming with me!” He said, and he opened the door again. However what he found on the other side was an old storage cupboard full of brooms. His mouth fell open, and he began to take stock of where he was. They were outside on the street now, and it was no street that the Inspector would likely recognize. The ground was filthy and cobbled, like something from the distant pass. They were in a wide alleyway, on the side of some as yet unknown street. “What is going on!?” David snarled at Vincent. “That is…well…” Vincent paused for a moment. He had allowed a Mundane to venture into the nether-city. “…This is bad.”
  19. closed Avatar: Roots

    After giving Yoko a short time to calm herself, the woman pushed open the door to the Avatar's room and stepped in, looking around. "You know, that garment was hand woven by temple acolytes." She said in a calm but slightly annoyed tone. "People worked hard to make it, and you destroyed it without a second thought. Is that really a quality you wish to have within yourself?" "I dunno, it made me feel better." Yoko growled, as she shoved things into her pack. "And why, exactly, did you need to feel better?" The woman asked, raising her eyebrow. "I did not seek to embarrass you. I wish only for you to reach your full potential, something which I thought you also wanted. Yet I have been met with opposition from you which I, frankly, cannot fathom. Why would you refuse a teacher?" "Because I don't even know who you are." Yoko retorted, "Because I keep telling you my name, and you keep calling me 'Kiyoko', because you're a so-called teacher that said i'm worse than your worst student." Yoko shoved another garment into her now bulging pack, "Because I don't know where we're going, or what we'll do, and i've barely been outside these walls, never mind outside Republic City. The Order just keeps me here because it gives them something to do, otherwise they'd be extinct... Nobody knows what the Avatar is any more, and nobody cares. If the Avatar is bound together, then really we're the same person, Korra obviously knew something, because she left for the spirit realm and never came back. Now the world is at peace, we live in harmony wi--" Yoko trailed off as a small wisp of cloud flew through the wall to her right and coalesced into a little white orb of light which danced around her for a moment before gliding away, "... with spirits... and people sort their own problems out. Nobody wants me." "I see..." The woman said, lowering her head in thought. "Well, I never said you were worse than my worst student. None of my students are bad, I make sure of that. Air Bending is a diverse art, but it's primary use is for pacifism and defense. Naturally, my students are skilled in avoidance. As for where we are going, and what we will do...well that all depends on you." The woman smiled. "Air Temple Island is only a short ride over the water from Republic City, you can see it off the coast. That is my home, and where we will train. However I suggest we travel further afield in time, there is much to see in this world, and the Spirit World for that matter." The woman held out her hand and the little wisp returned to her, hovering around her hand for a moment, before bobbing up and down, swirling around her, and then flitting away again. "Do you know much of your predecessors? Korra, Aang...further still there was Roku, Kyoshi, Kuruk, Yangchen...I could go on." "I have studied the history of our world, and of the Avatar. My father told me stories of Aang, and I have my own stories to tell of Korra." She said finally. "My name is Jinora. Aang was my grandfather, and Korra...a dear friend." "You're Jinora?" Yoko dropped her pack and turned back to face her. "Yes." Jinora replied with a smile. "I take it you know me?" "You?" Yoko pointed at her in disbelief, "You're Aang's granddaughter? You were part of the stealth team diversion that helped fight Kuvira... and you're Master Tenzin's daughter, and you single-handedly defeated Warlord Lokai Wen and restored peace to the fire country... you're that Jinora?!" "Well...I'm glad they let you read a book or two here." Jinora replied with a smile. "Yes, I am that Jinora. However, what I am most proud of is my hand in restoring my people after the Harmonic Convergence. My father, Tenzin, wanted nothing more than that and I helped him achieve it. I take no pleasure in my actions during the war with the Earth Nation, or my triumph over Lokai Wen. Korra believed that true peace came from understanding each other, not fighting. It is my hope that I can train you, so you can maintain the balance as your past lives once did." "What balance?" Yoko laughed, "There's no war, and humans and spirits live in peace, more or less." She sat down on the edge of her bed and shook her head in disbelief, "What is there for me to do? When the last Avatar was found, she was heralded and fussed over and people cared about how she would help shape the world, and take care of it. When I was found, I was taken from my parents and kept here... I don't even remember their faces any more..." Yoko shook herself out of her melancholy, "Look, what good do you think I can do that Korra hasn't already covered? She left for a reason. The time of the Avatar is gone. I don't even know why i'm here." Jinora frowned slightly, folding her arms in front of her. "Korra was trained under the watch of the White Lotus just as you were. When my father refused to train her, she fled in secret from her home in the Northern Water Tribe. Korra was not always heralded by everyone, in fact there were times when she suffered their hate and fear. She struggled with her responsibility just as anyone would. She is remembered as a symbol, but please do not think that she was anything but an ordinary young woman like yourself, once. She did not have all the answers, and in the end she followed her heart. Her decision was right for the time, however..." Jinora paused, choosing her words carefully. "Aang lived a childhood of relative peace. Yet war was just on the horizon, yet he was not aware. Korra, too, began her journey from her home with only dreams of mastering her art and becoming a pro bender. Threats are always on the horizon." "I truly hope that you do not experience the hardships of your predecessors, but there is still much you can do. We live in a time of peace, but there is always people in need, and you can help them. I do not expect you to do this right away, Korra and Aang did not do so. Come with me, train, travel and learn. When the time comes, you can decide what your path is. How does that sound?" Yoko thought for a long while but eventually she found herself needing to ask another question, "How did you even know I was here? How did you get here so fast? Nobody uses cars any more, and I was told that the Order was only going to release information on finding and training me in the past two days." "Well, I met you once when you were a child." Jinora explained. "But it is true that your location for the past few years has been a mystery to me. As for how I got here, well..." Jinora turned for the door. "Join me outside and you will see." And with that she left Yoko to unpack. ".... what...?" Yoko picked up her pack, took one last look around her room, and realised then that she didn't actually have anything more to bring with her. And although she might miss the familiarity of these walls, she had never made friends here, nor turned her room into a place of comfort. Somehow she always thought she'd leave one day, and here it was. It was like she'd been on hold until now. She stood, grabbed her bag, and walked out. In the courtyard Jinora was stood next to a mountain of white fur with brown ears and brown stripes down it's back. The large Bison turned it's head as Yoko approached and let out a rumbling noise. Jinora stroked the large creature's furry head and giggled. "Yoko, I'd like you to meet Nutmeg. She's a very good friend of mine." Jinora smiled again and continued rubbing the Bison's fur. "Nutmeg?" Yoko queried as her eyes betrayed her astonishment at the enormous creature before her, "This... this is a flying bison..." As she spoke, Nutmeg sidled forwards, and gently butted her head into Yoko's stomach, "H-Hey!" Yoko grabbed hold of her head and held on to stop herself from falling over, but quickly realised Nutmeg was asking to be scratched. "Correct." Jinora said with a nod. "Flying Bisons are very dear to my people. We each bond with one during our training. I bonded with Nutmeg's mother, Pepper when I was a young girl. There are more on Air Temple Island, if you'd like to meet them." "Can I bond with one?" Yoko asked, looking over expectantly to Jinora. "Well, that depends how seriously you take your training." Jinora replied. She extended her arms to show her tattoos. "It wasn't very common for non-air nomad Avatars to obtain the tattoos, or bond with a bison. It's less about air bending and more of a cultural thing, I suppose. But never say never." Jinora smiled brightly and climbed on to the large, circular saddle on Nutmeg's back. "Come on then, before the White Lotus decide to chase after you. They'll be welcome to stay and guard you at Air Temple Island, of course. but they'll have to catch up to us." "Uh..." Yoko walked around to Nutmeg's side and tried a number of different ways to pull herself up, but it was all too awkward. A few seconds passed, then she leapt up into the air, propelled by quickly summoned earth pillar beneath her foot. She landed gracefully on Nutmeg's back and let out a short sigh, "Let's go then, before I change my mind." "All right then, hold on." Jinora said as she gripped the Nutmeg's reigns. "Yip yip!" She said cheerily, and Nutmeg responded with an approving rumble, before pushing off against the ground on it's six legs, raising effortlessly into the sky with it's large, flat tail beating softly behind it. Nutmeg took them high up above the temple, before disappearing into the wild, mountainous regions, heading straight for the Republic City far below, and onwards to the small island off the coast, Air Temple Island.
  20. It is said that in ancient times our world, Gaia was a harsh and unforgiving place. In this time it was not our kind who ruled, but the beasts. In this time our kind, humans lived among the creatures of Gaia. To survive we had to live from the land, hunting creatures smaller and weaker than ourselves. In time, as our species grew and obtained knowledge, we learned how to manipulate the land. With care we treated the earth with water and seed, so that vegetation would grow just as we intended. We discovered that from nature’s elements we could craft tools to help us hunt, and grow, and build. We began to prosper, no longer merely surviving. Finally we began to live. In time humanity grew to heights beyond our imagination. The more we learned of our world, the more we discovered how to harness it’s power for our own gain. Science became our ideology, and technology our tool. We became so knowledgeable of our world that we learned the replicate the natural occurrences of our world, focusing and harnessing them to our own specifics and standards. Through our knowledge we have become the uncontested rulers of our world, we shape it as we see fit, and not even the sky is beyond our limitations. In time other races followed similar paths, and we were joined by the proud and strong Komoda, the swift and valiant Lepan, the sneaky and resourceful Roden, and the strange and elusive Laxi. With such races joining our society, our culture shifted and blossomed, incorporating the vast talents of diversity. Yet there is a part of our history that has become almost lost to us. For when humanity first began to understand nature, there were those who led the way. People with greater knowledge and understanding of nature, of the elements. Such people understood the intricate foundations of nature, and were able to harness it’s power through sheer will, using a strange and mystical art known as Alchemy. These Alchemists, harnessing the very power of nature as an extension of themselves, paved the way for humanity. Through their understanding humanity established it’s own, baser knowledge of the world’s machinations, and through their tutelage alone were we able to survive as long as we have. And when war inevitably reared it’s ugly head, it was the Alchemist who settled the great battles, using their awesome power to cease all threats. And so the Alchemists became our protectors, our leaders. Yet as our knowledge grew and we gained our own prosperity, the power of the Alchemists became less needed, and soon their numbers dwindled, until their existence almost disappeared into legend. Yet one man lives to prove their existence is more than mere legend. King August Vermillion Rhapsody, ruler of the lands of Velice, residing in the great city of Fortuna. Also known by his other title – The Branded King. King August and his family are the last of the Alchemists, and his power is the greatest of them all. For the needs of Alchemy have dwindled, and even among those able, the desire to learn has faded. Yet the loss of ancient practices is, perhaps not something to be mourned. For science has brought us power beyond that of Alchemists. With technology we not only shape the world, but shape ourselves, becoming faster, stronger, and capable of things that were never thought possible. The time of Alchemy has ended, now that all of humanity can become Gods. The sky above Fortuna was cloudy, but streaks of sunlight cut through in places and provided a comfortable warmth to the city. In the lower districts, where the narrow streets were darkened by tall buildings towering above street level, the people seemed in quite a hurry. All manner of race were out in force, preparing for this very day. It was the annual Reverance Festival, where the city of Forrtuna celebrated the anniversary of its founding. Many had taken the day off work, and others were busy setting up stalls to sell their wares during the event. Sparkling lights littered the streets as old and young all wore crowns and hats decorated with tacky, multi-coloured lights that were always worn during the festival. In the higher reaches of the city, in the various plazas, street performers juggled batons of fire to the audible gasps of the rapidly growing crowds. A parade of floats made its way through the wider streets, led by a smartly dressed troupe, each playing musical instruments, while their leader twirled a baton as he marched ahead. Each float was decorated in a different way. Some were shaped like the various native beasts of Velice, others decorated with beautiful floral arrangements, and yet more were dedicated to various companies, projects and art commissions made specially for the event. The crowd marveled at the life-like spectacle that led the floats. It was a giant stage with three enormous dancers, who were not real, of course, but rather were being projected by a series of bright blue laser-lights, their forms visible even in the light of day. The people roared and cheered as the floats passed them by, and watched intently until they moved out of sight. Then they continued on their way, towards Rhapsody Stadium, where a concert would be held, along with a speech from King Augustus Rhapsody himself. Yet the concert would not begin until nightfall, and King Rhapsody was far from the cheering crowds, up in the highest reaches of Fortuna, in the large palace that stood as the jewel at the top of the city. Augustus was walking the across the sprawling balconies that looked down on the city below, but his attention was focused on the tablet in his hand. He scrolled through streams of text and graphs, sighing to himself in frustration. The King looked to be in his late 50’s but in truth he was significantly older. He was a tan skinned man with a wrinkled, tired face. He had a thick head of jet black hair with thick wisps of silver, and a short goatee shaped to a point. He was dressed in a black and white pinstripe suit, with a red shirt and a black ascot tie with intricate, red floral patterns woven in to the silk. His dull gray-blue eyes scanned the contents of his device and he let out another frustrated sigh. “Sire?” The man next to him was younger, in his late 30’s. He had tidy, blonde hair swept back over his head, and was dressed in an impeccable, white suit, with a black shirt, a thin white tie, and a red rose pinned to his lapel. He wore a pair of thin-framed sunglasses with red lenses, which seemed to occasionally streak with a fuzz of static on occasion. “Speak, Lyude.” The King replied, not looking away from the screen. “Perhaps if you allow me, Sire…” He said, holding out his hand. The King glanced at him for a moment with a frown, and then he let out a resigned sigh and handed the tablet to his younger companion. “Let’s see then.” Lyude said as he ran his gloved hands over the device. He made a few swiping gestures, removing sections he deemed unimportant, and then he made another few taps and smiled, pleased with himself. “I think we should be okay. If you move your meeting with Duke Archibald to after the ceremony then that should free up enough time to take care of your other duties, no?” “Archibald has been requesting a meeting for months.” The King said, shaking his head. “I can’t make him wait any further. He wants to discuss the trade disputes going on with Avara at the moment. You know he has a firm stance on employment, and this dispute is costing jobs.” “Wouldn’t that be the responsibility of the Foreign Trade Council, Sire?” Lyude asked. “Yes, but they keep dodging his requests for talks. He knows they wouldn’t ignore a direct request from me.” The King Replied “Well, that is quite the conundrum. However, the responsibility does lie with the FTC. If he wishes to raise issues he should be taking it up with the Internal Inquiries Division, surely?” “Yes…but he’s an old friend and…” The King sighed. “…it’s fine. Reschedule his meeting until after the ceremony. I have a duty to my people, first and foremost.” “As you say, Sire.” Lyude replied with a smile and a nod, and he went to work tapping away on the tablet again. The King allowed him, glad to have the blasted thing out of his hands for a moment. He looked out at his city from the balcony, and watched as hundreds of balloons rose up over the skyscrapers. He smiled contently. His work had become tiring of late, but he reminded himself that he would always endure, for the sake of his people. He turned back to Lyude. “And what of my son?” He asked “Prince Oranyx remains locked up in his chambers, Sire.” Lyude said with a soft sigh. “I fear he is not in the mood for the festivities today.” “His mood is irrelevant.” The King growled in annoyance. “He has a responsibility. I am tired of his childish attitude.” “Well he is only a boy, Sire.” Lyude commented with a sympathetic smile. “He’s 18, and that’s a man in my eyes.” The King replied. “Does he not answer his summons at all?” “Rather he says nothing, Sire.” Lyude replied. “Probably playing that game I should imagine.” “Blast it!” The King snapped, and he whirled around on the spot, marching back down the balcony and into the palace corridors, with Lyude hurriedly chasing after him. “Sire, we have to-“ “Quiet!” The King snarled. “I am sick and tired of this nonsense! The boy has no respect!” They continued down the corridor and then down two flights of steps, all the while the King’s anger bubbled beneath the surface. Finally they came to the door of the Prince’s bedroom and the King pulled open the door and marched inside. “Oranyx, now you listen to me, I-“ The King stopped. Sat on the edge of his bed, Prince Oranyx sat dressed in a pair of skinny, black jeans, and a plain gray t-shirt. He had a pair of headphones sat over his thick, messy-but-stylish, black hair. Over his eyes was a transluscent laser-light visor with streams of data and imagery flashing over it. The Prince was engrossed in the game he was playing, his thumbs twiddling over the controller he held between them. With a furious growl his father charged towards him, snatching the visor from his face and throwing it against the wall, shattering it. “Wh- Hey!” Prince Oranyx gasped as he blinked, looking at his broken visor with sheer outrage. “What the hell, dad!?” He added. “People have been calling for you for hours!” The King yelled. “And here I find you playing that…that stupid game!” “Only you think it’s stupid!” Oranyx bit back. “I suppose you’d rather I play your stupid game, then?” “Your responsibility to this city is not a game Oranyx.” The King replied. “NYX!” The Prince yelled so loud that it echoed through the corridors outside of his room. “I’ve told you a thousand times to stop calling me that! It’s just Nyx, okay?” “And I’ve told you that Oranyx is your name, like it or not. It was your grandfather’s name.” The King said testily. “Well you should have let him keep it.” Nyx replied, rolling his eyes. “Now get out of my room.” “I think you will find this is my room, young man.” The King replied with a frown. “As is every room in this entire palace.” “Oh here we go again!” Nyx yelled. “Yeah, yeah, it’s all yours dad. That’s great. Well why don’t I just get the hell out of your way then?” “That is not what I meant!” The King snapped back. He sighed, trying to calm himself. “Look, son, today is an important day for Fortuna. I only ask that you get dressed and come with me to the ceremony. The people expect to see you there.” “Yeah?” Nyx replied, scowling. “And what about what I want? I couldn’t care less about about this stupid festival.” “Ora-“ The King stopped himself. “…Nyx. You must understand that, while it can be hard, there are expectations of you as a Prince. You are my only son, and I have know that you have your father’s strength. One day you will lead these people, it’s important that you come to know them.” “I already know them better than you do.” Nyx said, shaking his head. “I’d be down there with them all right now if you’d only let me.” “You know I cannot just let you wander the city on your own like that, we’ve been over this. You are the Prince and-“ “Well maybe I don’t want to be the Prince!” Nyx interrupted. “Did you ever think about that, dad? I don’t want any of this! I just want to be a regular kid, all right?” “Son…” The King said softly, he looked hurt by Nyx’s words. “Please…I know you don’t mean that.” “Yes I do.” Nyx replied, getting off of his bed and pushing past his father. He slipped on a pair of black leather boots lined with three buckles on each calf. Then he opened his wardrobe and pulled out a thin, black jacket, with silver buttons over the lapels, and silver pendant of a lion’s head attached to the front zip. He zipped up the jacket and put on a pair of blue-lensed sunglasses. “I’m out of here.” He said as he went for the door. “Now just stop this right-“ The King began “Leave me alone!” Nyx snarled before quietly adding, “…I hate you.” As he left his room, and his father, who stood frozen by the pain and shock of his words, which had cut him deeper than any sword. Nyx took off down the corridor until he reached the spiral staircase at the end and began to descend them. As he reached the bottom he noticed two of the King’s guards advancing up towards them. They were Laxi. They stood taller than humans, and their flesh was protected by a hard carapace shell that covered their entires bodies. The colour of the shell was a combination of oily black with patches of sickly yellow. Each of their six eyes were entirely black, maing it impossible to tell if they were looking directly at your or not. The moved towards him without words, not unlike them. The Laxi were excellent guards, unquestioning, hard-working and efficient. As they met him on the stairs they reached out to grab them, but Nyx was ready. He leapt on to the railing of the staircase to avoid the first lunge at him, and quickly rebounded off again as the other reached for him. He landed on the stairs behind them and began sprinting hurriedly down the stairs. Unfortunately with their long legs the Laxi were also quite fast. They gained on him in no time as he reached the next floor and sprinted along the corridor. On the long, straight sprint his pursuers held the advantage and managed to grab him by the arms, holding him tight. “Let me go!” He yelled angrily. “Apologies, young Master.” One of the Laxi said, there voice was strange to hear, you could hear a buzzing vibration behind it. “All the guards have been instructed not to let you leave the Palace unattended again.” “I’m not leaving the palace, I was just going to get some food from the kitchens.” Nyx protested “Apologies, young Master, but we will not fall for that one again.” The other Laxi replied. “Ugh…fine.” Nyx said with a sigh. Then a slight smirk spread across his face, a capricious glint in his eyes. He felt a prickle on the back of his neck as he activated his power. From his jeans pocket two thin wires of metal shot out like a snake, and coiled itself around the feet of the two Laxi, wrapping tight and binding them together, until they both stumbled to the floor and let go of him. Nyx let out a mad chuckle and stepped away from them. “Sorry, didn’t want to have to resort to that!” He said with a grin. “Later!” He added with a wave, then he ran off down the corridor once more. By the time he breached the palace doors he had 5 more guards sprinting after him shouting and hollering. He ran past one of the waiting staff who was carrying a metal tray of plates and cups across the garden. As he passed her he grabbed the metal tray, and the woman shrieked as her tray morphed from it’s original state in Nyx’s hands, and by the time he hurled it at the floor behind him, the tray had shattered into a mess of shiny, metal ball bearings that rolled across the ground behind him. The guards tried to stop but they could not in time, and slipped over the ball bearings, crashing in a heap on the ground. Finally Nyx reached the enormous, metal grates that were closed and barred, blocking his way into the city. He gripped the gates in his hand and the metal re-shaped as he willed it to, creating foot holds up the bars for him to climb. As he scrambled up the gate the footholds disappeared behind him, until he reached the top and vaulted over it, landing with a thud on the either side. He quickly picked himself up and dusted off his jeans. With a final smirk he looked back at the guard who were stuck on the other side of the gate. He pulled his headphones over his head and gave them a final, casual salute, before turning and disappearing into the city.
  21. Blood & Scale

    Before he left for the evening Jona had explained Vaedwyn's itinerary for her time at Luftjall. He instructed that each morning she would wake at the dawn, and before eating she would meet with Agron for sparring practice. Once Agron dismissed her, she would then be allowed to have breakfast, followed by bathing herself and changing in to some fresh clothes. Afterward Turiel would take Auriel for training and she would spend the rest of the morning and the afternoon with Jona. Afterward she would be allowed time on her own with Auriel to fly, and to explore the lands with which she was to make her home. When the night fell they would have dinner, and then she would have studies before bed. Jona had asked that she read the Elven texts in the library, to have a better understanding of the words of her people. He also asked that she learn the language of the Dwarves, and the Nords. When he was finished he bid her goodnight, and then he left her. When the sun rose the next day there was a sudden, loud noise as a hefty fist battered against her door like it was trying to break it down. "Wakey wakey, lass!" Agron's voice bellowed cheerfully from the other side. "Get yer sword and bring Auriel. I've got some fun in store for us!" "Oh, Gods..." Vaedwyn muttered, pulling herself out of bed. "The Gods'll no help ye here, lass. Get yer arse out o' bed an' meet me in the courtyard. The snow's stopped, looks quite braw actually!" The sound of footsteps fading away signaled that Agron had left her. Are you awake? Vaedwyn asked, as she finished getting dressed. Let sleeping Dragons lie, Auriel muttered, not moving. Vaedwyn rolled her eyes, grabbed her sword and nudged her Dragon as she walked for the door. Come on, it's your fault i'm here, you're not leaving me to this... I take issue with that line of reasoning, Auriel muttered in response. Without flying, the journey here might have taken months, for all we know. So come on, Vaedwyn walked out the door and started down the steps. Charming. Auriel stretched out her body, her limbs and lastly, her talons. Then yawned and trundled down the stairs after her partner. When they met at the courtyard outside the main doors it had been cleared of snow by Agron. He stood waiting, for the first time free of the armour he had traveled in. Instead he wore brown trousers and a dark blue tunic that was made of thick, warm material and beautifully detailed with intricate knot-like designs. The neck and shoulders held a thick fur line, and he wore similar gloves and boots. In his hand he held Skovaer, and he grinned cheerily as he saw Vaedwyn. "Nothin' like chilly baws tae get ye up in the mornin', eh?" He said with a chuckle. Vaedwyn shivered reflexively and looked around curiously, "I think I prefer the forest." She noted, "But i'll adjust..." "Ach ye'll warm up soon enough, lass." Agron said with a grin. He inclined his head upwards, and Turiel emerged from one of the higher roosts, and dropped off the edge, descending in a vertical dive, before finally levelling off and landing behind Agron, his frame curling around his Rider defensively. "Today's sparrin' will be a wee bit different." Agron explained. "Today ye fight as ye should, as Rider an' Dragon. Extra power, an' extra responsibility. Also, I'll be usin' magic as I have been previously. If ye want tae get anywhere, ye better learn quick, or ye'll be hurtin' real bad by the time Jona get's ye." A string of curses left Vaedwyn's mouth as she climbed onto Auriel's back, "Warm indeed..." She muttered, "It's colder up there than it is down here!" She held on tight as Auriel launched them into the sky. "Just ye wait till the adrenaline kicks in." Agron said with a chuckle. He climbed on Turiel's back and tied the harnesses round his feet. "Now, in a fight in the sky there's a lot o' considerations tae be made. Magic is the main threat, followed closely by tooth, claw an' breath. If ye get close enough tae use yer sword then do so, but I doubt it'll get tae that. Yer lesson today is about strategy. Use wardin' words tae protect Auriel, or a decent Rider'll drop her fae the skies with a click o' his fingers, ken?" Nodding silently, Vaedwyn cast an aura over both herself and Auriel, she tried to make it deflective rather than reversing anything. Hopefully that would mean anything striking them would be redirected with enough force to protect them, and at as little a cost to her energy level. Once finished, Auriel turned and banked back down towards Turiel, ready to land on the Dragon and knock him out of the sky before they barely had a chance to pull away from the ground. "Och yer no playin' fair!" Agron yelled. He thrust his palm outwards towards Auriel, and unseen force crashed into Vaedwyn's ward like a cannon ball, knocking her from her course long enough for Turiel to launch himself into the sky, flying low over the ruins of the town, and letting out a prideful roar, goading them to give chase. Auriel tucked her wings tight into her body, dropping from the sky. She picked up enough speed, opened her wings and flashed towards Turiel like a bolt of lightning. She opened her mouth and a beam of fire and electricity ripped through the sky towards them. While slower, Turiel had experience on Auriel, and had anticipated her attack. He deftly swerved out of it's trajectory with a spin, and with a beat of his wings he suddenly rose up in a half loop, tilting round to right himself in the air, and came tearing back towards Auriel. With a roar his jaws opened and his fire burst from his jaws, menacing through the air between them like a wildfire burning it's way rapidly through a forest. Auriel flew faster and faster towards the inferno until Vaedwyn was forced to tuck herself tightly into Auriel's body. The fire approached them and at the last second Vaedwyn let Auriel know she was ready. Auriel lent her strength to her Rider, and Vaedwyn held her hand out in front of her, the diamond scar on her forehead glowed as she channelled her magic and reinforced the power of her wards. The fire burst around them, leaving them relatively unscathed, and Auriel crashed into Turiel at speed. The two dragons spun through the air, locked in a frenzy with one another from the impact, and spiraled towards the ground. Gritting his teeth Agron spat a few words in Elvish, and suddenly the snow from the ground rose up, chasing towards them with speed. The snow began to hammer into Auriel, clinging to her body, and covering her eyes, before a final flurry smashed into Vaedwyn's face. Turiel took the opportunity to throw Auriel from him, and hurtled towards the ground, catching the wind just before he hit it, and rising skyward once more. Auriel darted back down towards Turiel as he rose up to meet her, she dodged his raking claws and snatched at Agron, trying to pull him from his saddle as Vaedwyn deflected Turiel's attacks. Agron drew Skovaer as Auriel's claws came at him, and with a hefty swing he sliced at her, cutting at her talons and staving off her attack. At the same time Turiel twisted and coiled around Auriel, the claws of his hind legs raking at her scales, his powerful jaws gnashing at her, trying to break through Vaedwyn's wards with sheer, brute force. Vaedwyn did everything she could to try and retain control of their duel but she was no longer focused on attack. She had been forced into switching her attention to maintaining her wards. When Turiel choose to attack them with full force, as Agron sliced at Auriel like an angry mosquito, Vaedwyn found herself unable to maintain them. She felt the warmth leak from her bones like a great crack in a dam. Auriel roared as the ward broke and Turiel's hind leg sliced through her flank, then Vaedwyn found she could no longer hold onto the bar of the saddle, her fingers could not do so much as close into a fist let alone grip, and she fell from Auriel, plummeting towards the ground as she drifted out of consciousness. Turiel immediately detached himself from Auriel and backed off as Agron prepared a spell to catch Vaedwyn, but he needn't have bothered. Even with her injuries Auriel was quick to descend and snatch Vaedwyn from the air, and began making her way back to the courtyard, with Turiel and Agron following close behind. When they landed Agron got down from Turiel and approached Auriel as she laid Vaedwyn on the ground. He sighed and knelt down next to her, placing his hands over her chest and head. Drawing energy from Turiel, he began his healing spell, allowing the power within him to flow through into Vaedwyn, and with it he sent her warmth to settle her chilled body. "C'mon lass..." He said, frowning. Slowly, Vaedwyn opened her eyes. But as the rrealizationof what had happened dawned on her she closed them again with exasperation. "I'm so sick of getting tossed about like a feather in the wind!" She griped, "Did it take you this long?" She asked Agron. "Longer." Agron replied with a smirk. "Yer trainin' wi' Jona should help. Y'see a battle between two spellweavers is a tricky thing, It's a battle o' the mind more than anythin' else." Agron grabbed Vaedwyn by the arm and helped her up from the ground. "Ye did well for a first attempt. Yer wards are strong but yer funnelin' too much o' yer power intae them. It's better tae create a series of small, delicate wards that each do a simple thing than tae create a big catch all. Deflective barriers are essential at times but they should be a last resort, as they can eat away at yer power. Ye should layer other wards on top o' them that aren't as taxing but can deal with more specific attacks. It helps tae know what yer opponent is thinkin'. Auriel had her defences up, her mind was like a fortress, but dragons are naturally talented at that. Yours was wide open though, lass." "But I don't know how to protect my mind!" Vaedwyn growled irritably. "I don't need reminders on what I'm not good at, I need lessons to fix it..." Vaedwyn brushed herself off and adjusted her sword before walking back to Auriel. "An' that's exactly what ye'll get." Agron said with a nod. "Go get yersel' some grub and get cleaned up. Meet Jona in the library. I need tae go speak tae Bradan about some things. We'll be headin' out fer a while but we'll be back for tea time, eh." "Alright." Vaedwyn nodded sullenly, and left to find Jona. She had a feeling that the past few weeks had meant little. Her real training had begun. She took a deep breath, and quickened her pace, raising her head with a renewed resolution. After she had eaten and bathed, Jona met with Vaedwyn in the library while Auriel left to train with Turiel. When Vaedwyn arrived Jona was waiting by a table among the various shelves of books. On the table was a single candle lighting the room, as well as a pot of tea and two cups. He made a motion for Vaedwyn to sit, and poured her a cup of tea. He slid the cup across the table towards her and gave a soft smile. "So, I watched your sparring match this morning. Truly you are a creature meant for the skies. In future you might want to harness your legs, but do not take that as a negative comment, you and Auriel fly well together, you move gracefully with her. I was pleasantly surprised, most novice Riders would have fallen off much sooner." "Wonderful. I'll just find a tactic where falling off my Dragon beats Aemon. Maybe if I land on him..." She muttered. Vaedwyn sat down and pulled the cup of tea to her and studied it for a moment before taking a sip. "What was it like?" She asked, looking up, "As a Rider, back then? Every time I've asked Agron he goes quiet." "A natural reaction of soldiers who have experienced the cruelty of war." Jona said with a knowing nod. "However, I have promised to give you any answers I can, and so I will tell you." Jona took a sip of the tea and let out an approving gasp, savoring it's taste. Then he placed the cup down and leaned forward on the table. "While Agron is a long-lived man, he has the mind of a short-lived species. He remembers the most recent events with much more clarity then he does the ones further back. He had a happy childhood, a loving mother and father, two brothers and a sister. It might surprise you to hear that his family were carpenters. Agron spent his early years of manhood crafting sturdy and beautiful furniture. Doesn't sound very like the man you know now, does it?" "He made furniture?" Vaedwyn's brow raised dangerously high. "I can't imagine that..." "Well, we can't all be warriors." Jona said. "However, that all changed when Agron went to see Ethanriel's eggs. When Turiel hatched it was perhaps harder for him than myself. I, of course, am a mutt of sorts. Never truly feeling like I belonged, when Sariel hatched for me it truly was the greatest moment of my life. Agron had a family though, and becoming a Rider meant walking away from his responsibility to them. He had brothers who could take the reigns of the business for him, but it is difficult to leave your family like that. Yet he could not ignore his bond with Turiel, and he soon came to accept his destiny. At this time there were a lot of Riders, and there was procedure in how we trained newcomers. Agron and I were subjected to a busy schedule of training much like what you are going through now, but it was a slower process. Magic, for example, was something we only trained Riders with when they were considered ready. A luxury we do not have currently." Jona took another sip of his tea before resuming. "Battles were fought often throughout our life, but none were quite so horrific as the war with Aemon and his Lieutenants. Many lives were lost, and distrust grew like a sickness throughout the nations. People of all races began to tire of the constant hardship, and the Riders felt this as well. With each battle we began to lose a bit of ourselves. So much death takes its toll on even the bravest of men and women. We lost our brothers and sisters slowly but surely, until only a few remained. I still remember the moment where we knew that we could not win this war. During a particularly long and grueling battle we had managed to pin down all three of Aemon's remaining Lieutenants. They were no match for Magar and his dragon, Ethanriel. However, Aemon arrived sooner than we expected. Together with his dragon he killed Magar, and with him Ethanriel, the mother to our dragons, and a great symbol to all the Riders. With her death all remaining hope was bled from us. It saddens me that you could not meet Ethanriel...her wisdom knew no bounds. She seemed to always know what was happening before it did, and while she was a fierce warrior, she was the most gentle of souls." "I wish I'd seen her too." Vaedwyn smiled and took a sip of tea before asking another question, "Why did Aemon do all this? And why was he able to overcome so many powerful riders?" " a complex question to answer." Jona said solemnly. "But, I will try. First of all you have to understand that Aemon was not always the tyrant you know him to be. In the time of the Riders he was a brilliant man, gifted in magic and swordplay. He was also a very charismatic fellow, well liked by his colleagues. Really...I fear things could have went very differently for him. He was, at one time, a decent man." Jona wrapped his hands around his cup and looked up at the ceiling wistfully. "I did not know him as well as others. He was not of the North like Agron and I, but we each met him on a number of occasions, and he never seemed to be anything other than honest and decent. However, he was born of a time when the Riders were most powerful, and their numbers had swelled. Arrogance and entitlement were always sure to follow. We are not above corruption, and while our order always maintained our neutrality, Riders began to take sides, to favour their own, or those who paid more handsomely." "We all share our part in that particular failing. Agron is a proud Nord, he held his people in greater favour than others, even still to some extent, although the war humbled him significantly. It might be difficult to hear this but Agron was not always the man you know, he was once young, arrogant and prideful. He has many do I." Jona sighed and shook his head. "Aemon was very vocal about his distaste of the Rider's corruption, and he grew increasingly irritated by the law and order enforced by our leaders. Eventually he won the hearts of many Riders, and rallied them against their own order. By the time they realised that Aemon's righteous thoughts had been twisted to a need for absolute power and control, it was already too late. In the end it was the unwavering goodness in his heart that led him to fall so deeply into the dark." "I'm afraid." Vaedwyn replied, "if he was amongst the best of the riders, but still fell to darkness... I'm afraid I have little hope. " "Do not let Aemon's path shape your own." Jona said. "Aemon made a choice to walk the path he does. He chose to enforce his vision upon Suros, no matter the cost. Yet you, Vaedwyn, so far I have only seen you stand for the vision of others. Both you and Aemon may have the same values of what is right, but the difference is that Aemon believes that his way is right, and you do not know what way is right, but you try your best for everyone around you. You are a selfless soul, Vaedwyn. Be proud of who you are." "I..." Vaedwyn stopped herself and reconsidered her question. She didn't want to talk about that any more. "What about you, Jona? I know so little, if you're to teach me, I'd like to know more about you ." "Ah, well there is much I can tell you in that regard." Jona said, brightening with a slight smile. "My mother was born of a Nord man and a dark-skinned human woman, and my father was an Elf. Obviously I was born and raised in Nordúr. My father was a Rider before me, he rode with Krioch. I never saw him very much, he was stationed in the south of Suros. My mother was a seamstress. I tried to make my trade as a hunter before I became a Rider. Afterwards Agron and I became very close. Sariel is Turiel's twin, they shared a close bond and as such so did their Riders. It is fair to say that if Agron was a proud and passionate Nord, then I was quite the opposite. I held little regard for my people when I was a young man. Rather, I was obsessed with proving my worth as a Rider. There was a time when common folk feared me. I say this with no pride in the matter...but I was quite something on the battlefield once upon a time. I killed many, and I rather enjoyed it, shameful as that is to admit. Sariel was my closest friend, I fear I allowed myself to become too much like a dragon. People died by my blade, and I felt nothing, it was just the way of things." "That is, until I spent time with the Elves." Jona said with a smile. "It was through their teaching that I learned of the sanctity of life. Yet by that point I had already shed much blood unnecessarily, and it was too difficult for me to stay there with them. I returned to Nordúr as a changed man, but one willing to do the horrible things that were necessary. The war was in full swing by that point, I could not bring myself to live a pacifists life. And then...then I lost everything." Jona winced as if the memories had inflicted him like a physical wound. "I'm sorry...I do not wish to speak of that time any more. Are you ready to begin your lesson?" Vaedwyn listened in silence, nodding and watching Jona with a new appreciation for her teacher. She let out a short sigh, "Yes, I'm ready." "Good." Jona said with a nod. "Now in order to protect your mind, you must understand what you are protecting against. The link you have formed with Auriel, it is something you can do naturally with her, but in reality the magic itself is something you can do with anyone. Spellweavers can take a great many years to learn such a thing, and there are many more who simply cannot touch another's mind. Yet even those people can be taught the basics of how to protect their own mind from mages and Riders. So, tell me, have you ever encountered it. Have you ever, say, tried to speak with Auriel, and found that you could not?" "Yes, there have been times when I tried to speak with her when she was angry or upset and I felt like I was hitting a wall." Something occurred to her, "So can anyone learn to invade a person's mind?" "No, only those who can use magic. Something which is quite rare among most folk, but it is a talent inherent in Riders." Jona explained. "Now, Auriel will be naturally very good at blocking her mind. Dragon's think differently, it is easier for them to form the thought of an impenetrable wall, and keep it closed even in the heat of battle. The same technique is what is taught to most people who require it. It is a simple concept, but one that requires a lot of skill. You need to find something that is important to you, something that you can focus on and let it fill your mind, blocking out anything else. Now, there are more advanced techniques but, for now, let's start with the basics." Jona rested his hand on the table. "I am going to reach in to your mind now. It will be painful, as I will be forcing my way through. This is so you can feel it happening, that's important. You must learn to notice that sensation because a skilled spellweaver will enter your mind delicately, and quietly. So, find something to focus on, and then tell me when you're ready." "Okay," Vaedwyn concentrated for a short while, then when she was ready, she raised her head, met Jona's gaze and gave him a quick nod, bracing herself as she did so. Jona didn't make so much as a single motion to convey he had begun. He reached out with his mind and quickly found Vaedwyn's. He pushed into her consciousness forcefully, and he saw her visibly wince at the action. Immediately the image of a wall appeared in his mind. It was old, and comprised of stone bricks that were held together with crumbling concrete fixtures. With a single, sudden push the wall crumbled under his will and he could feel Vaedwyn's panic and pain as his will began to rifle through her thoughts and memories like dark tendrils, clawing at her flesh. Focus His voice thundered inside her mind. Do not get distracted. Rebuild your defensives, quickly! Vaedwyn concentrated, trying to recoup from the initial assault. She could still feel the presence in her mind, and despite knowing it was Jona, she couldn't help but instinctually want to remove the uninvited intruder to her mindscape. She tried to focus on the wall she had created and tried to reimagine it as she had experienced in Auriel's mind. Another wall rose up, barring Jona's path. He nodded approvingly, as this one was crafted much better. It was a solid wall, with no cracks he could find. He tested his will against it and found that he could go no further, but it was not the last trick up his sleeve by far. Suddenly he slammed his fist on the table with a loud bang, and in that instant he felt Vaedwyn's wall crumble. He wasted no time delving deeper in to her mind, rifling through her memories from Baile, forcing her to relive the horrible experience of her defeat by the sorceress who took her eye. Do not get distracted. His voice echoed through her mind. You must close yourself off from the world around you Vaedwyn yelped in fear, lashing out. She scrambled out of her chair, reaching for her sword. "Peace!" Jona said, holding his hands up as he retreated from her mind. "Calm down, Vaedwyn." Panting fervently, Vaedwyn couldn't remove her hand from her sword hilt even though she knew on some level that the woman who had attacked her was probably thousands of miles away. "I can't!" She growled, wrestling with herself. "Then you will die." Jona said softly, blunt as it was, his tone was full of sadness. "That will be enough for today. Please go rest until Auriel returns, then fly with her and ease your mind. I will see you at dinner." He stood up from his chair, looking entirely ashamed of himself. "That brought me no pleasure, Vaedwyn. But if one of Aemon's lieutenants reaches into your mind like that, they will not allow you to draw your sword. They will immobilise you and break you, and then kill you." He looked down at the floor for a moment. "When you are ready...I would like to talk about that woman. Her troubles me." "I don't ever want to talk about her again." Vaedwyn growled, pulling her hand slowly from her sword hilt. Then she hurriedly thanked Jona for the tea, and left, feeling ashamed of her inability to protect her mind, and more so, that she found a deep-routed fear of the woman who had attacked her.
  22. Blood & Scale

    When the time came for them to leave, Agron had spent a great deal of time going over the essentials of dragon flight with Bradan, Turiel had an expression of mild irritation and overall annoyance as Agron used him as a prop for his explanations. "So the saddle is necessary cus the scales'll rip right through yer breeks." He said as he indicated to Turiel's large, copper scales. "Now y'see these?" He lifted a set of leather straps that hung loosely at the feet of his saddle. "Normally we tie these tae our feet if we're gonnae be doin' some crazy flying, otherwise ye'll end up fallin' aff, ken? Oh that's 'nother thing I need to 'splain to Vaedwyn. Or Auriel I suppose. See the air get's dead thin the further up ye go. Then it just...stops, ken? The dragon flies too high ye could suffocate, so mind o' that as well. Oh an if a dragon ever does this..." And so he went on and on, listing a variety of situations and scenarios that could ultimately end up in death or serious injury when riding a dragon. Until finally he said, "...but truth be telt, Vaedwyn an' Auriel will keep ye right anyway. Ye can just enjoy the view, ken?" "R-Right..." Bradan nodded, seeming to take everything in, but shook his head and quietly muttered, "Is not right... Flyin' Dwarf..." "Och, away an' dinnae talk pish!" Agron said, slapping Bradan on the back. "The dragons dae the flyin', no you. Me and Vaedwyn fly jus' as well as a Dwarf does; like a fuckin' rock!" Agron laughed heartily, entirely unaware that he probably wasn't making the Dwarf feel any better. "I noticed it was harder to breath when we came to the tip of the mountain." Vaedwyn placed her supplies on her saddlebags. "But don't worry about it, Bradan." "Don' worry?" Bradan laughed, "All ah do is worry these days, girl. Is all a great modern mess! A Dwarf on a Dragon... me mam would pitch a fit." "Well ye wanted tae come." Agron replied with a grin. Then he climbed on Turiel's back and got himself settled in his saddle. "Come on then, time's wastin', I want tae reach Luftjall in a week, so we've got a lot o' ground tae cover, even on a dragon." Vaedwyn leapt up onto Auriel and sat in the saddle, then shifted forwards so there was enough space for Bradan. "Well come on then, if you're coming!" Vaedwyn laughed. "Gimme a second!" Bradan growled irritability. He tried to come at Auriel from a number of different angles and positions, unsure of how to scale her. Oh for goodness sake, Auriel turned and snatched at Bradan, lifting him from his shirt as a cat would her kitten, then plonked him down behind Vaedwyn. "One last thing, a'fore we go." Agron said. "Normally Riders can talk tae each other through our links. But, for now, if ye need tae speak tae me, jus' tell Auriel and she can speak tae Turiel, an' he can relay it tae me, ken?" "I've tried. But I haven't been able to speak with anyone but Auriel." Vaedwyn held the handles of her saddle and readied to fly. "Well just speak tae Auriel an' she'll handle the rest." Agron said. He gave an excited grin. "Been a thousan' years since a had someone ride at ma side, am fair chuffed, lass!" Then let's go. Turiel said and he let out a soft, crooning call. Then without warning he bounded forwarded, fanning out his wings, and straightening his tail, before suddenly leaping off of the ledge and soaring upwards through the mountain city of Baile, rising almost vertically towards the exit at it's summit. Auriel trumpeted in excitement and leapt into the air, beating her wings swiftly to rise faster and faster as Vaedwyn laughed, gripped tightly around her waist by Bradan who was making the most horrific wailing. In seconds, they beached the mountain top and felt the freezing cold air on their skin. Auriel banked to the side and caught up to Turiel, playfully nipping at his heels as she passed him. Turiel responded by gently flicking Auriel's snout with his tail, which amused him enough to let out a rumbling laugh. This continued for a while, both Turiel and Auriel doing various things to pester one another, and Auriel constantly trying to show off with her speed and grace, which Turiel made a point to ignore wholeheartedly, as a matter of principle. Before long they had been flying for hours. The lush scenery of greens and browns began to shift to a scene of thin plains of snow, and mountainous rocks of blue, gray and slate. Large evergreen trees formed small forest pockets in between the many rocky hills and mountains they passed. Each evening they would make camp and rest. After hunting for food they would sit around a fire and tell stories. Agron continued to train Vaedwyn in swordplay. He began to use Skovaer when fighting her, noting that she would need to understand the power of a Rider's sword, and how to combat it. Each day he began to introduce magic in to their training. Using it to misdirect Vaedwyn, or throw her off guard. Though Vaedwyn slowly progressed with her use of, and knowledge in magic, she found it difficult to adjust to the loss of her left eye. Her depth perception was off, and she had to make a mental adjustment in all her actions, which was at times quite difficult. Most often when Agron pressed his advantage and she found herself cornered. Yet Agron never offered her any respite when they trained. He was as hard on her as he had always been, perhaps harder than before at times. He kept telling her that her enemies would not care about her impaired vision, and would not go easy on her because of it. On the 6th day of their journey, the winds in the mountains of Nordúr had become bitter and biting, especially up in the sky. Snow and hail battered into them, freezing their knuckles and toes, and the dragons could not fly as quickly or as effectively as they usually could. Yet Agron would not allow them to stop for rest and to wait out the storm. He knew they were now so close to their destination. After hours of enduring the dreadful chills of winter, Turiel let out a low, far reaching cry, signalling for them to descend. Though the snow was so thick and heavy they could not see very far, Turiel descended first and Auriel followed. Before long they reached the ground, and in the heavy snow they could see shapes emerging. Old, broken long houses were blanketed in snow. Carts and stalls were left on the sides of the roads, and the destroyed remnants of ancient stone statues lay among the ruined town they now stood in. Agron stepped down from Turiel and trudged through the snow covered ground, stopping short of one of the broken statues. He bent down and swept the snow from one of the pieces, revealing it to be a shattered piece of a dragon's head. "We're here." He called loudly through the heavy snow. He stood once more and looked ahead of the group, deeper in to the ruined town. A hint of something larger lay ahead of them, mostly hidden by the fierce storm. But as they drew closer the shape became clearer. A set of grand, enormous steps led up to what appeared to be a tall, thin mountain. Then as they reached the foot of the steps, the storm began to settle a little. As the snow thinned out in the breeze, a series of lofts began to emerge around the rocks, so high above that they could only be reached from the sky. "Dragon roosts." Agron explained. "The caverns within are dark and deep, perfect for Turiel and Auriel. But the Rider's lived just ahead." He encouraged the group to follow him up the steps, where at the top they stood on a large, round courtyard that looked out on to the town that, at one time, held many people. A large, stone door stood at the base of the pointed rock ahead, it's face carved into a rough but strangely beautiful etching of seven dragons and Riders, all gathered around an 8th dragon, that towered above the rest, a true giant even of it's own race. Vaedwyn hopped off Auriel and covered herself in her cloak. Bradan jumped off and half his body disappeared into the snow. "Oof! Gawds, bloody snow!" He muttered and started to push his way across the snow, while Vaedwyn was able to move across its surface, barely breaching the snow. "Are we here?!" Vaedwyn yelled over the howling wind. "Aye!" Agron replied. "This is ma home, lass. An' I hope ye find it fit enough tae be yours tae." He smiled at her, but before they could continue their conversation the doors to the ancient fortress opened. Through the thin crack between the doors a jet of dark grey cut through the snow, bounding towards them at speed. The creature stopped only a few feet from them. The wolf was larger than any seen in the lower regions of Suros. It's bright, blue eyes were deep and penetrating as it watched each of them, wary but unafraid. Then, it padded towards Vaedwyn, staring at her the longest, as if lost in her form. Vaedwyn knelt before the Wolf and ushered it into her arms where she whispered to it as she stroked it's side. When she stood, the wolf stepped back, examining her a while longer before moving away. "This is Maugrim." Agron said, more for Bradan's benefit. "He's a big fella but he's a nae harm." Agron approached the wolf and scratched him behind the ear, which Maugrim seemed to enjoy. He let out a soft chuff, and then he walked back towards the doors, and the rest of them followed. Agron pulled the doors open properly so that everyone could fit inside. The doors led to a long corridor lit by torches along the walls. The corridor was wide, and the walls were the same stone as the spire the fortress had been built in to. Along the walls were ancient Nordic runes, carved in decorative stripes across the length of the corridor. Various armors and weapons were mounted to the walls, along with pieces of thick, heavy armor that was too large to be worn by any race but a dragon. Maugrim disappeared down the corridor and stopped short of a man who patted him softly on the head, and turned to greet his visitors. "I have been waiting for you Vaedwyn, Gardwyn vas Auriel" The man said with a soft smile. He was tall with a lightly tanned complexion. His black hair was long and tied back in thick braids, and while his height suggested he was Nord, his muscles were lean and slight. His features appeared more delicate than Nords were meant to have, and while his accent was similar to Agron's it was also eloquent, and delicate. Most notable, however, were the man's ears. They were pointed, like an Elves'. "Welcome to Luftjall, friends of Agron, Gardwyn vas Turie. I am Jona." Vaedwyn nodded to the man, greeting him with a bow. Auriel pushed her way through the snow and stood beside Vaedwyn. "Ah, you are much more radiant in person, Auriel." Jona said as he gazed upon the dragon, bowing. Then he turned to the rest of his guests in turn. "Bradan, it has been long since I have gazed upon your people." Jona said as he bowed to the Dwarf. "For you to find courage to ride in the sky, where none of your kin have before you, it is truly an honor to meet one such as yourself." He bowed a second time. Before Jona could address Agron, Turiel shoved his head between them and let out a pleasant growl, lowering his head so that Jona could touch him. The Elf smiled and gently placed his hand on Turiel's snout. "Of course, it is a great pleasure to see you again, my old friend." Jona said. Turiel chuffed, closing his eyes in a content, peaceful manner. There was a long pause as Turiel and Jona conversed at length, in the privacy of their minds. Afterwards Jona simply smiled and nodded. Finally he turned to Agron. "Always finding yourself in the heart of excitement, aren't you, my brother?" He said. "It finds me whether ah seek it or not." Agron said with a chuckle. He held out his hand and gripped Jona's firmly, then he pulled the Elf in for an brief embrace. "Sorry ah took longer than expected. A lot has happened." "Indeed." Jona said with a nod as he stepped away from Agron. "I have watched your journey through the water. It has been perilous, to say the least. We have much to do, and much to say." Jona wheeled around gracefully and addressed Vaedwyn once more. "I have long wished to have words with you, Vaedwyn. I have many questions for you, and I hope that you will have some for me, as well. But first, you have had a long journey, you must be weary. I must let you get cleaned up, and I will prepare some food. You must all be starving." "Thank you, I'm--" Vaedwyn started. "--Bloody starvin', where's this grub then?" Bradan marched on ahead to the bemused expressions of the rest of the party. "Small in stature but large in appetite, if I recall." Jona said with a genuine smile. "Please go an explore, Vaedwyn. Our halls once held many, but now there is only myself and Maugrim. You may stay in any room that pleases you. Or, if you prefer, you may live in one of the roosts above, with Auriel. There are less comforts up there, but many Riders enjoyed to rest with their dragons in the past, and you are welcome to do the same if you choose." "Away an' have a look aroun', lass." Agron agreed. "Jona and I need tae catch up. Ye'll like it here. There's a library full o' books about our history, an' there's some songs and poems in there as well. Auriel should be able tae follow ye everywhere, this place was built with dragons in mind." Agron gave her a light pat on the shoulder, and then he, Turiel, Jona and Maugrim all left to follow Bradan and prepare some food.
  23. Blood & Scale

    As the days passed by Agron saw little of Vaedwyn. Her injuries and defeat had left her vulnerable, and lacking her usual optimism and passion. Equally Agron was torn up by his own failure to uphold his responsibility to her, and the promises he had made to himself to keep her safe. He spent the days busying himself in preparation to leave. He helped the Dwarves in the recovery of this terrible event that had resulted in the loss of many of their proud warriors and guardians, charged with keeping them safe. Unrest washed over the city like a noxious fog, sewing seeds of distrust and bitterness among a race that were renowned for their long-held grudges. The very revelation of Aemon's machinations to covertly manipulate the Dwarven inner council was devastating for the common folk, and sparked outrage in the loyal clan lords, who began to question the effectiveness of their elected King. I must fix this. Agron projected to Turiel as the pair sat on a ledge upon the higher reaches of the underground city, watching people move around below, getting on with their lives. I came here an' spoke o' debts owed, an' the changin' o' the ages, yet in the end it is I who now owe much to these people. You know full well that such manipulation takes time and planning. Aemon's dark tendrils has already rooted themselves deep within the rocks before we arrived. Turiel's head lowered and snaked over the ledge, sweeping from left to right, watching over the people below with far keener eyes than Agron. At the very least the subterfuge has been revealed, and King Iron Blood will not rest until he has rid his proud city of the festering weeds that lie deep within it. His title may be the cost he pays, but I feel that will do little to stop him. With the distrust among the clan lords, it will be difficult for them to unanimously decide on a new ruler, and so Iron Blood may yet keep his crown. Perhaps. Agron said with a sigh. He got down from the ledge and dusted himself off. I'll speak wi' him. There are other things we need before we leave, an' with luck he may help us. Very well, then I shall see that no more of our time is wasted. Turiel replied, rising up to his full height. It is time for the little one to cease her sulking. A duty that lies with Auriel. And so, she too must stop her sulking. Emboldening her, however, is a duty that lies with me. Well, I don't want you to push her. She's been through a lot. Agron said. You need not concern yourself with how I choose to train my charge. Turiel replied The breeze has no right to tell the tempest to calm itself. The tempest rages, and so too, do dragons. With that Turiel pushed off from the edge, and descended down through the city, leaving Agron to set off to have words with the King. Turiel found Auriel in the same place he had always found her the last few days, waiting outside the small infirmary room where Vaedwyn had been resting. He approached her slowly, making no effort to hide his presence, and when he reached her side he waited, silently. For a long time, Auriel remained silent, content to remain motionless and still, like a statue. When she finally spoke, it sounded more to herself than Turiel. She has not spoken to me in three days, Auriel lowered her head, Her mind has always been a forest, dense and alien. Yet now night has fallen, and it has become an altogether different place. The sounds which comforted me, now in the darkness, make me fearful of what lies within. I failed her. That you did. Turiel replied, his voice without any reassurance, and he did not move to comfort her. I sense your shame, and well you should welcome it. It is what you deserve. Auriel's talons raked the ground as they dug deep into the stone. Then leave me to my shame, old one. Turiel did not speak immediately, but his nostrils flared and thick plumes of smoke jetted from them, billowing and dancing in the calm, windless air. Then he said, A pity. You chose a strong Rider, one that few, if any, compare to. For her to be tied to a dragon who is weak and pathetic. No...not a dragon. Dragon's do not allow such qualities to infect them. A lizard, then? Is that what you are?" Would you like this lizard to scratch out your eyes? To be blinded by one so weak and pathetic would be shameful indeed... Auriel snarled, her gaze never leaving the room she knew Vaedwyn to be in. Plumes of smoke vented from her nostrils as her tail flicked back and forth dangerously. Turiel's amber eyes focused, his pupils becoming tiny, sharp slits. He moved suddenly, and with speed that seemed unnatural for such a large creature. With a throaty growl he snapped at Auriel, and though she was quick to react to his snapping bite, she was not quick enough to move out of his way as his huge frame charged into her, bashing his crested head into hers, before bringing his claws up and swiping her neck, pushing her down to the ground, digging his claws in to her throat. I am not Agron, and I will not tolerate insolent pups! He snarled at her. You will show respect, or you will be punished accordingly. That is how our race operate. You have no right to sulk and lick your wounds, you have no right to snap at elders, and you certainly have no right to threaten, for you are of no threat to me. Clearly you need to be educated, and at haste. Lesson one; when I speak, you listen. When I command, you fulfill it. You will be given no leniency, you will succeed, or you will fail. That is how it will be, always, until you are strong enough to stand against me. Do I make myself clear? Auriel scrambled beneath Turiel, her talons lashing out and despite her strength, they barely pierced the surface of his scales. She hissed and snapped at his face, trying as hard as she could to take his eyes. Furious rage took over and her tail lashed out from beneath him and whipped the old dragon across the face, but despite drawing blood from her whip-like tail, despite everything, she was unable to move him. As she reached forwards to bite him again, she was drawn up and slammed against the ground a second time and the wind was knocked from her lungs. Remove yourself from me... She snarled, settling down. Either remove me yourself, or yield. Turiel replied flatly. Your demands are meaningless. Only strength will be respected. I could kill you right now, effortlessly. Vaedwyn has grown stronger each day, she excels in ways she does not even realize. She pushes herself with all of her might, she is fire, and more dragon than you. And now she lies broken, her flames dim and dying. That is because while she grows strong, you are still weak. You and Vaedwyn are one, her strength is yours, and your weakness is hers. So, what will you do? Only by becoming strong can you ever hope to stoke her flames. Auriel roared at Turiel, her scales smoking and crackling as she struggled beneath him. She stretched, as her muscles tensed, and she began to grow. Her tail lengthened, the wings at her back grew larger and wider, stretching down her back. Her talons lengthened even as her legs stretched out and gripped Turiel's ankles. Her body grew in size as her neck lengthened and broadened, and as she grew her scales seemed to vibrate with electricity. In a matter of seconds, she had reached maturity. Though small for a female, she almost rivalled Turiel in size, yet not in bulk. She latched onto him with her talons and instinctively drew in breath. Crackling electricity danced along her mouth and when she opened her maw, a beam of heat and light, flame and electricity shot out, scorching Turiel from chest to neck. With a pained roar, Turiel's jaws erupted in brilliant, white hot fire that coalesced with Auriel's own breath, and the pair of dragons were engulfed in a raging storm of fire, lightning and smoke. Dwarves began to scream and cry out, gathering around the explosive scene. The two dragons thrashed, their limbs and tails whipping in and out of the smoke, until finally Auriel was thrown out of the smoke and crashed on the ground, but quickly got back up, rearing to face Turiel's next assault. He emerged as the smoke began to settle. As his body came in to view his scales on his chest and neck were blackened, with an orange glow and they hissed and sizzled. His eyes were ablaze with fury, his pride wounded, and the pain of his injuries all combined to send his temper soaring. Even with her sudden growth, she could not match the bulkier dragons sheer, brutal strength. Yet when he considered her now, his movements were careful, and far less brazen, for in that instant she had become an opponent worthy of his attention. He stalked her for a moment, snarling and growling, seething with anger at her rebellious and insolent nature. Then, with an annoyed chuffing sound, he lowered his head in a bowing motion, letting his chin sit but a few inches from the ground. Well met, Auriel. He said in an approving tone. At last, we truly meet. Auriel reared back, spread her wings, and roared. Her bellowing echoed through the cavernous city of Baile. The Dwarves marvelled as their cups shook, and their seats vibrated. The lamps surrounding Auriel glowed brighter and brighter until the fire inside them shattered the glass. Deep within the Palace, Vaedwyn stirred. Auriel!? Vaedwyn shot up in bed, and started to get dressed. She paused, looking at herself in the mirror. But then she ran out into the hall, and ignoring the protests of the nurses charged down the stairs and ran out into the street as Auriel landed back on her forelegs. Turiel turned, alerted to her presence. When he looked at her, he only let out a soft growl, and stepped aside to let her pass him, for even if he has words, he doubted he could yet reach her mind. Vaedwyn paused just long enough to nod to Turiel, before running to Auriel. She had to lower her neck for Vaedwyn to be able to touch her muzzle, and Vaedwyn looked into Auriel's eyes, each of which were nearly the size of her head. She was magnificent, regal and powerful all at once. You've grown, Vaedwyn smiled weakly, "Even I can see that..." Do not be sad, Vaedwyn. Two eyes, one eye, it matters not. You are my Rider, Auriel replied, pressing the side of her head into Vaedwyn's chest. Our journey has barely begun, but I don't even recognise myself in the mirror any more... She took a deep breath and let it out. Good, Auriel replied, Then we are stronger than our past selves. Next time will be different, Vaedwyn stated, thinking of the masked woman, Next time, we'll be ready... In the higher reaches above the scene Agron watched from a ledge as the events unfolded. At the resolution of it all, he could not help but force a small smile. Then he turned away, leaving Vaedwyn to have her moment on her own, and he made his way towards the palace to confront Eirnin. He was greeted to a greater display of security than he had saw previously, with the guard patrols trippled in number. Fortunately he was welcomed inside and made his ways through the halls to find Eirnin. The King was not sat upon his throne as usual, but was in the middle of speaking quite passionately with a unit of Dwarven warriors. The palace seemed bustling with activity, and it was clear that Eirnin was not taking recent events lying down. He stopped speaking as Agron approached, and quickly relieved the guards and turned to greet the Rider. "A see yer gettin' yer hands dirty, Sire." Agron said with a greeting nod and a soft smile. "If there's anythin' I can dae tae help, be sure tae let me know afore we leave." "There's noo a thin'," King Eirnin replied gruffly, he looked as though he'd been missing sleep. "Ah've given call fer m'folk t'up an' leave Baile, with ye both leavin' an' with an agent o' Aemon skulkin' about, we've not enough t'defend a'selves with. But we'll be alright, Baile will home the Dwarves again." A paper was handed to the King as he spoke, and he signed it and focused back on Agron, "But now a'think about it, there's a couple thin's yeh coul' do." "Name them." Agron said with a dutiful nod. "An' I'll see tae it that they're done." "Ah would've asked Moira t'make 'em, may the stone take 'er an' bind 'er..." Eirnin seemed to become sullen for a moment, but picked up, "But, first... ah've had ar'smiths make youn' Vaedwyn a light armour, somethin' fer everyday use. Ah'd ask she wear it tonight, afore ye leave, there's a celebration in 'er honour, an' in yeh own. The Clans've decided, Vaedwyn will be named Dwarf-kin, an honour that's not been given in a thousan' yers." Agron was silent for a moment, biting back an urge to say something, but then he thought better of it. He nodded in response. "A'm sure she'll be honoured. I'll see that she gets it. Thank ye...but perhaps I can ask for a few things in return?" Eirnin's expression shifted as he watched Agron, "Yeh don' approve, Rider..." "I don't." Agron replied, but seeing Eirnin's expression he was quick to add; "No disrespect, Sire. Yer people are a fine bunch, an' they've had a profound impact on Vaedwyn. It's...just who I am. Riders of ma time, s'much as they tried, always got tangled in politics, an' allegiances. It was a costly error. Yer sentiments are sound, an' I know ye dinnae dae this tae manipulate her, but Riders live long. When yer reign ends, who's tae say yer successor feels the same way? Or the one after that, for that matter. I dinnae wish tae see her make promises tae people, only tae have it used against her further down the line.'s her decision. Old as a am, ma view is jus' as jaded as anyone elses. So indulge an old man in his worries, an' let's leave it at that. I'll no stand in yer way." Eirnin nodded quietly, "Right'," he muttered, "Ah can see why that'd give yeh pause." He breathed deep and considered for a while, "It's not been done b'fore, but ah'll say it clear when 'r if she accepts, none can hold sway o'er the Riders. She may become a part o' us, but she owes us none, an' we her much. An' what is yeh requests, Agron?" "The first is simple enough." Agron said. "Auriel needs a saddle. I've got the coin fer it, I just need it made. Ye might need tae take her measures, though. She's...grown a fair bit." He gave a soft chuckle. "Yeh coin're useless 'ear, Rider." Eirnin shook his head, "Not a word from me, but ah'd wager there's not ah Dwarf'd accept yeh money if ye dipped it in whiskey. Yeh'll have yer saddle by dawn, an' no later. Is'er anythin' else?" "Aye, an this yin is a bit trickier." Agron said. He removed Skovaer from his back and place it in Eirnin's hands, the great claymore being more than twice the height of the Dwarf. "Check the blade an ye'll no doubt ken what this sword is. The works from yer forge are spectacular, but they'll no stand up against a Rider's blade. Vaedwyn will need one, an' the ways in which it's made is lost tae even me. But I'm no master smith. Tell me, is it within yer skill tae make such a blade?" Eirnin loosed a deep muttering in Dwarvish, the likes of which should not be repeated, "Ah've heard 'em say a Rider's blade was such but i'd dare not believed it meself..." He studied the blade for a few minutes, drinking it in. Looking over every inch of the weapon. "There's much wi'in are power, Rider. This ain't it. There's things needed fer such a blade. Moira could'a told yeh what... there's only one left alive now tha' could, Moira's teacher, an' he an't held a hammer since Aemon took 'is wife an' bab." "I understand." Agron nodded. "But could he be convinced tae make exception? I would'nae ask if it weren't important." "Yeh'd have t'ask 'im yehself," Eirnin replied, and whistled for the attention of the nearest guard. He spoke to the Dwarf in a hushed voice, and the guard ran from the palace at speed. A few minutes passed, and the guard came back with another stood beside him. "Yeh summoned me, King?" Bradan asked, stepping forwards, a frown etched on his brow. "'re the one who..." Agron lt out a soft chuckle to himself. "I should o' known." Agron quickly reiterated what he had said to Eirnin, and allowed Bradan to also examine Skovaer. When he had finally finished he said. "I'm aware o' yer situation...but I still have tae ask, can you do it, Bradan? For Vaedwyn." Bradan examined the sword from a distance, as he tamped his pipe, lighting it before taking a long draw. As he exhaled the smoke, he gave his answer, "No." Agron let out a heavy sigh through his nose. " disappointed, Bradan. Sure enough a' understand yer reasons, an' I'll respect yer choice, but should ye reconsider at any time, be sure tae find us. This is'nae just something I want fer Vaedwyn. She needs it, ken?" "'Cus ah were ah stupid ape, an' wanted t'live above groun' with the sun on m'back an' tha grass 'tween muh toes, ah fought m'wife, told 'er tha' Baile was not a place fer raisin' a bab, tha' we could live free in the woods." Bradan replied, "An we did, yes. Fer a while, an' then Aemon's soldiers swept o'er the wood, lookin' fer Baile an' the remnants o' the rebels. Didn't matter we weren't with the rebels, that we were peaceful. Didn't matter that ah told Aemon 'isself that i'd ne'er make another sword again fer as long as ah live, but fer him. Ah stood there, an' swore i'd do whatever 'e asked, jus' t'let 'em go. Know what 'e did, Agron?" Bradan's nostrils were flaring wildly as the pipe hung loosely from his trembling lips, dropping to the floor as he grew in volume and speed, "Aemon took mah wife an' fed 'er t'tha great brute o' 'is an' still I tol' 'im i'd do anythin' fer 'im, i'd spy an' steal an' kill an' make him an' army o' m'Clan, an' he fed m'daughter t'the beast..." Bradan's hands were trembling uncontrollably, "It didn' matter t'him. Aemon didn't care what ah did. He wanted a blade, an' ah made 'im one. He took mah wife, mah daughter, an' ah made 'im a sword! An' then 'e tried t'kill me wi' it!!" Bradan undid the piece of armour he wore over his chest, letting it drop to the floor with a clatter, and then lifted his shirt. A terrible scar ran up through his belly, winding a path like an errant river. Agron let his head drop to his feet. He felt shameful for asking Bradan to do such a thing. He felt shameful for pressuring a broken man that had already suffered so much. And he also felt shameful, knowing that even with this knowledge, he would continue to press him. " need explain no further. I understand all the reasons why ye refuse the request, an' I can only hope that ye understand an' forgive me for pressin' the matter, but ye know that a must." Agron looked the Dwarf in the eyes, and his gaze was pained but steely with resolve. "The fact that Aemon carries a Rider's sword only reinforces ma request. Vaedwyn needs a worthy blade if she is tae face that man and his army. She has nae hope without it." "Ah couldn' do it if ah wanted!" Bradan yelled, "Ah don' have th'metal, or the runes, or the know-how! It's lost t'me, Agron, don' yeh understan?!" He growled at Agron, "Tha' monster reached into m'head an' stole the knowledge from me, along wi' the faces o' mah wife an' child, jus' so i'd not remember 'em afore ah died. But ah survived an' now ah can't even tell yeh the colour o' mah wife's hair!!" Bradan's face turned red and tears began streaking down his cheeks. "Even if ah wanted to ah can't..." Agron put his hand on Bradan's shoulder, and he nodded in empathy. "Say no more, friend." He said softly. "If it cannae be done then so be it. When the time comes, I'll face that bastard masel' if I have tae, an I'll make sure he pays for what he's done tae ye." "Metal, runes, knowledge," Bradan repeated these three things, "Yeh find 'em... yeh'll know where t'find me." Bradan looked at his pipe on the floor, then turned and left them and it behind. Eirnin sighed and rubbed his temples, "Tha' man 'as suffered worse'an most. Do as he says, an' maybe a sword can be forged. Nothin' more can be promised. Ah'm tired, Rider. Take yeh things an' ready yer ward, fer tonight we celebrate. But for now, leave me t'mine." "Aye." Agron said with a nod to both of them. "Thank ye, both o' ye." With another nod he turned and left the men, and decided to make his way back to Vaedwyn. In the morning, with luck, she would be ready to continue their training.
  24. Blood & Scale

    They returned, briefly, to their quarters where Agron retrieved Skovaer and strapped the great blade to his back. He also took a short sword and attached it around the belt at his hip. He had removed his weapons inside Baile as a courtesy to the Dwarves, but the time for courtesy had long passed. "Arm yersel', lass." He said to Vaedwyn. "All ye can carry and use comfortably. I'll no have us bein' caught wi' our pants round're ankles again." He retrieved a small dagger from his belongings and slid it in to his boot. "Do you think we'll be attacked again?" Vaedwyn asked, as she tied a quiver to her back, and then shouldered a longbow. "Perhaps, but it's best tae be prepared aw the same, lass." Agron said. They left their quarters and when they returned to the streets outside Turiel and Auriel were waiting for them. "Turiel, I'll need ye tae keep watch o'er us. If we're followed, let me ken." The dragon nodded in response, and without another word he turned and took off into the skies. Bradan was also waiting for them, puffing on his pipe as usual. "Howya, Vargr?" Bradan asked, taking one last puff of his pipe before knocking out the still-burning ash. "What did you call me?" Vaedwyn asked, frowning. "Vargr..." Bradan repeated the word, tamping his pipe. "Don' tell us ye don' know Vargr?" Bradan scowled, looking to Agron with a look of expectation, then pointed the end of his pipe at the man, "Ye great dope, why ain't ye learnin'er Dwarvish 'istry?!" "Oh aye, course." Agron nodded. "I telt her about the last thousan' years o' yer contributions tae Suros, that is tae say, fuck all." "Ah ye a dry shite..." Bradan muttered irritably, "Ahright then, lissen, long afore 'em pointy-ears turned up - yeh soun' though," He pointed out to Vaedwyn, "An' way long afore any o' 'em tall folk turned up, it were jus' us an' the scalies, right? An' they were'no bound scalies like what y'are, right? Were meaner 'en mean. Killed an' scoffed us, an' are sheep an' such, an' our crops an' homes... Well, ye get the idea. Anyway, chief o' these scalies was one, 'is scales were black as night, an' he brought great storms with 'im. Crackin' lightnin' an' thunder like ye ne'er believe. We thought we'd all be scoffed, bu'then one day a young girly was at pickin' flowers, an' there was this great scaly, ready t'just scoff her, right? Well this great black dragon swept down, an' killed the other one and spoke with the girl." "But..." Vaedwyn interrupted, "Only Riders can hear Dragons...?" "Will'ye let me tell yeh?!" Bradan growled, huffing. "So, this dragon says to the girl, that ye'll bring the Clans together, an' be Queen o' the Dwarves. First o' the line." "What was the dragon's name?" Vaedwyn asked, captivated by the story. At this, Bradan frowned. "Well, I... well... there's..." Bradan chuckled uncomfortably, "I don't... there's no names given Dragons in our stories, sorry girl." An oversight we will have to rectify. Auriel replied, which Vaedwyn repeated. "Ah-- aye." Bradan smiled, "Point is, are first Queen's name jus' so happened t'mean, 'One-That-Watches'. Now, tha' name was only given t'one after, thousands a' years ago. Ye once leader o' the Riders, as a sign o' respect. But, since ye took that blade in ye chest, i've heard none but speak ye name 'Vargr'. The one that watches o'er all." Agron folded his arms and rolled his eyes, unimpressed. After a moment he cleared his throat to speak. "She has a name, an' it's Vaedwyn. A fine name it is, an' if she's tae be remembered, it should'nae be by the name o' some long dead Queen." "Yoo shut'chu fookin' mout!" Bradan growled, getting genuinely quite angry at Agron, "Ye Dragon made it clear back 'der that he's the sensible one, but i'd no realised you were so quick t'chuck mud on the fledgling respect are folk 'ave given ye, long overdue though it were, they's tryin'!!" Bradan huffed smoke through his nose, turning to face Vaedwyn, "Took all the--" Bradan muttered, while pulling something from his back, "--fun-suckin' tree-legged--" He walked up to Vaedwyn and thrust a weapon into her hands. "Have it, and may yeh stick'im widdit first!" Bradan growled, and then marched off down the steps towards Moira's house, content to walk alone for a time. Vaedwyn held the longsword in her hands for a time before she unsheathed it. The work was exquisite, incredibly sharp and lighter than the standard sword she'd been using. It was not a Rider's sword, but it had to have been a gift fit for royalty. Vaedwyn turned to Agron as she fitted her new sword to her belt. "Why did you have to say it like that? He was being kind. They're all being kind! We came here to seek safety and build some kind of relationship with the Dwarves, and you're still spitting venom at them. We have to learn to forgive, Agron!" Vaedwyn adjusted the bow on her back and waited for Agron, showing him she was ready to go. Agron walked with her, and as he did he explained his previous comments. "I've nae quarrel wi' Bradan." He said, shaking his head. "But that stunt ye pulled back there, it has ramifications. Whether ye meant it or no, back then ye showed just what kind o' Rider ye are. Ye scoffed at their traditions, their ways, an ye made it clear yer status as a Rider put ye above them. Other Riders were like that, including Aemon. That's no tae say I think poorly of yer decision, far from it. But ye need tae decide how people are gonnae see ye. Sure, I could compare ye tae the old tales of ma people, and yer the spit of Mahveir, another Elven Rider. But dae ye want people tae remember ye as the legacy o' someone that came afore ye, or dae ye want tae be remembered as Vaedwyn?" Agron let out a huffing sigh and resigned himself. "Maybe a spoke oot o' turn. It's yer own decision in the end. But I'll warn ye against placatin' tae the wants of others. Make enough promises an' sooner or later ye'll find yerself caught between loyalties. It's a treacherous game, but it's one ye have tae play. Like it or not yer words carry weight." "I've promised nothing but to dethrone Aemon." Vaedwyn replied, "As for being remembered, I don't care. History will choose to remember me as it likes, I won't be able to stop or change that but by my actions, not by who i'm likened to. They mean it only as endearment to a figure they care about." Even so, Agron has a point. You must be careful. Auriel added, walking behind them slowly, so as to keep pace. The Dwarves seem quick to praise, and quick to forget when needed most... Bradan wouldn't forget us, Vaedwyn replied irritably. We barely know him, Auriel replied. Just listen to Agron, Turiel and I. We're on your side. You're the Rider, if you say we are to fight, then we will fight. If you say we are to flee, then we shall flee. But you will take my council. Always, Vaedwyn replied, apologising. "I'm sorry." Vaedwyn said aloud, at last, glancing at Agron, "I'm just trying to figure things out." "Aye, no easy task." Agron said with a nod. "The Rider's tales are excitin', and they fill hearts wi' hope an' passion. But they're jus' tales, lass. Don't ye go thinkin' we had it all figured out. History paints us as a united clan that held dominion o'er all, but life's rarely so simple. Sororheim Makirog, they were the Rider's o' Luftjall, maself included. Make no mistake, we were Rider's o' Nordúr, first an' foremost. There were other fortresses, other Riders, an' while each made a dutiful effort tae help all o' Suros, there were times when we didn't see eye tae eye. The Elven, fer example, concerned themselves very little wi' the affairs o' others. Yer very different fae yer kin, y'ken?" "Am I?" Vaedwyn shrugged her shoulders, "I've never seen Valir, I wouldn't know. Mogwé..." Vaedwyn hesitated on her adoptive mother's name. "She, uhm... she said once that people in my village aren't like other Elves. She said it would be difficult for me... if I ever met Valirian Elves, that is." "Aye, I imagine it would, lass." Agron nodded. "Took me a very long time tae get used tae it. Aw the pleasantries, the bowin', and dinnae get me started on the bloody dancin', eywis dancin', could'nae stop 'em!" Agron let out a hearty chuckle and the pair fell into a brief silence, as they came across Moira's home, where Bradan waited. Agron nodded to the Dwarf as he met him. "Du'vrit or vasr knovar, Bradan." He said in the Dwarves own tongue. It was an apology. He pushed open the door of Moira's house and lowered his head as he stepped through the door. As Agron, Vaedwyn and Bradan stepped into Moira's home, they were greeted with Moira's corpse. Vaedwyn noticed that it had been unmoved, untouched. Being in the room again made her feel sick. She wanted to run out as quickly as she could. But she knew she had to stay. She glanced at Moira's still-staring head which lay several feet from her body. "Why hasn't she been buried?" Vaedwyn asked, turning away. Bradan shook his head with disgust, "Dwarves who were disgraced don' get teh sit amongs' the stone. She'll rot there 'till there's naught left bu' bones." Despite what had transpired between them, Vaedwyn felt pity for the woman. She didn't understand why she'd attacked her, but it didn't matter. If there's an afterlife, she shouldn't be refused. She was dead now, she'd paid enough. Something caught her eye, and she looked to the back of the room. There was a closet, and something was sticking out from the bottom of the closet door which was slightly ajar. Vaedwyn drew her blade and approached. "Careful, girl!" Bradan warned, his hand already on his axe. Vaedwyn nodded and then grabbed the door of the closet and pulled it open swiftly. Before she could react, she was pinned to the floor and let out a yell in surprise. But Bradan and Agron moved quickly to pull her attacker off her. It was a body. It was Moira. "But then... what's... what or who is that?" Vaedwyn asked, turning to look at the decapitated corpse. Just then, a noise made everyone in the room spin back around to the closet, and from behind a layer of coats, stepped down a young Dwarven girl, no older than twelve or thirteen. "Aw gawds, is Moira's snapper, Aoife. Nobody gave 'er a thought..." Bradan knelt down and held out his hands, but the girl remained frozen. Her eyes staring off into space. "Ahright 'der girl," Bradan delicately picked her up and put her face into his chest, shielding her from her mother's body and the decapitated doppelganger. "Poor thin' musta seen it all an' got trapped in there with 'er an all..." Agron let out a growl of disapproval at the situation. "Take the wee lass intae another room, eh?" He said as he knelt down over the doppelganger's corpse. "A lassie should'nae hauf tae see this." He began to examine the corpse, turning his face away from the group. A sensation of overwhelming guilt washed over him. How could he have been so mistaken? A deep frown emerged over his face and he became deathly silent. Bradan nodded and carried the girl into the kitchen, while Vaedwyn knelt down beside Agron, "So it wasn't Moira that tried to kill me?" Vaedwyn asked, her gaze turning from the doppelganger to Moira's body and back again. They looked identical, how was that possible? Agron rubbed at his beard for a moment, silent as he cast his eye over the corpse. It was identical to the real thing in every way. Even a twin wouldn't look as perfect. "S'worse than a thought." Agron said finally. "Somethin' like this is'nae just a danger tae us, it's a danger tae all the Dwarves. This here, lass...this is some serious magic. No a trick or an illusion." He gently prodded the face of the corpse as he spoke. "Flesh shaped and contorted. Brutal and painful fer the subject. What lies underneath...impossible tae tell. Could be 'nother Dwarf, or somethin' else." "Poor Moira..." Vaedwyn muttered, "I didn't even know she had a child." Her gaze turned to the kitchen as she wondered about the girl's future. She couldn't even imagine what it would be like for her going forwards. "Does this mean that Aemon is directly involved?" Aemon, one of his lieutenants or perhaps a particularly powerful mage? Auriel replied after the images of the room were shared back to her across their link. A dark thing, indeed. "Let's no jump tae conclusions. We've done enough o' that already." Agron said. "Search her body. There might be somethin' that can lead us tae whoever orchestrated this." "It wouldn't be very smart to leave something that could be traced back to a Clan Lord." Vaedwyn replied, as she leant over and tried to turn the doppelganger's body onto it's side. Unless they were sure it would succeed, Auriel replied grimly. As Vaedwyn pulled, she yelped and darted back as the corpse turned grey, cracks spread across the body and even the clothes she wore, and then the body fell in on itself, turning to ash. Vaedwyn let a string of Elven curses fly before she regained her composure. Her yells brought Bradan back into the room, having left the young Aoife in the kitchen. "Wha'whassit?! How're--" Bradan was shocked into silence. "She just..." Vaedwyn shook her head, unable to find the right word. But something glinted and gleamed from amongst the ash. Carefully, Vaedwyn reached forwards and grabbed hold of a small metal ring with a symbol of a ram's head on it. "Look." She passed it to Bradan who growled a curse and then spat on the ground. "Duinn. Clan Duinn. Them feckin' evil..." Bradan gathered himself, reminded that there was a young child in the next room, "Well... what noo?" "We confront 'em." Agron said as he rose. "Their Clan leader better have a guid explanation fer-" He cut off from what he was saying. Agron, something is happening. Turiel's voice echoed in his head. What's goin' on? Were we followed?" Agron asked. No...but there is a lot of activity. Guards lie dead at the palace. Turiel replied gravely. "Piss an' shite!" Agron swore. "Bradan, blood's been shed at the palace. Go, protect yer kin. An' Vaedwyn..." He paused, his lips tightening. He knew Vaedwyn would not like what he was about to say. "Take care of the wee yin, I'll deal wi' this." "I can't let you deal with this yourself, you don't even know what's happening! There could be anything up there, you don't know!!" Vaedwyn yelled, as Agron ran for the door, she chased after him. As Agron crossed the threshold he turned around and barred Vaedwyn's passage, his figure like a mountain in front of the small Dwarven door. "Yer not ready fer a battle, Vaedwyn. Ye can duel admirably, but in a battle against who knows how many opponents, ye've nae idea how differen' it is. Stay close tae Auriel, an' help the people here. I'm no askin' ye, I'm tellin' ye." There was a thunderous crunch from outside, and when Agron left the home Turiel was waiting outside. He heaved himself on to the dragon's back and looked back at Vaedwyn, and he looked saddened by his own actions. Then Turiel took off into the air and left Vaedwyn alone with Auriel. "I'm not waiting around any more," Vaedwyn growled, checking the sword Bradan had given her. She paced around the room for a few seconds, weighing up her options. But she'd already made up her mind. Vaedwyn rushed for the door, only for the room to suddenly be cast in shadow as a large body landed in front of it. I didn't wait a thousand years for you to get yourself killed, Auriel stated, simply. Enraged at the betrayal, Vaedwyn opened her mouth to curse at Auriel, but she was unable to say 'I hate you!' in Elvish. It was simply not true. As her mouth tried to form the words it was as though she had forgotten them, frustrated by the barriers of her own language, she yelled, "I'm very angry with you!" And to her surprise and satisfaction Auriel recoiled, stung by her words. Vaedwyn stalked back to the dining table and sat in one of the chairs. "I-Is it safe to come out yet?" Asked a quiet voice from the kitchen. Vaedwyn turned to see Aoife waiting in the doorway, and suddenly all her anger and bile washed away as she was reminded that some more than others needed protecting. She held out her hand and the little girl ran into her arms and together they sat, waiting for Agron's return. Turiel tore off across the city at speed, and in only a few short minutes he had reached the castle. They landed at the steps and Agron hopped off, drawing the short sword at his belt. Turiel sniffed the air and growled in disapproval. Blood, he said. ...and...a wicked stench. Our enemies are within. He craned his head towards the palace entrance. "Go." Agron said with a nod, and in response Turiel let out a clicking snarl and bounded forward. His wings spread out and he was airborne once more, descending into the depths of the palace. Agron ascended the steps, stopping to observe the corpses of the slain guards. They had been wickedly ravaged, not just by blade, but by magic. Agron let out a curse and kept going. He reached the gates and disappeared inside. More corpses greeted him as he passed through the great halls, and as he heard Turiel's blood curdling roar he quickened his pace. He sprinted through the doors of the main hall and emerged on a bloody scene. Turiel was stalking around in the corner of the room, sniffing and snarling. More guards lay slain, and a few of the Clan chiefs were cowering, shaken from their ordeal. Eirnin stood over a body, a great hammer clutched in his strong hands. He turned when Agron approached him, and his expression was one of grave and furious anger. "Yeh too late, Rider." Eirnin said between breaths, "Duin's Clan Lord's dead."
  25. So What Do You Think Happened?

    It's not any different than how not all westerners read Marvel and DC comics. Some people might be interested to know that there are other things to do in Japan besides fantasize about 2D Waifus and debate which Bankai is the best.