Seanzilla

NC-17 Thirteen Traitors

16 posts in this topic

For the past three years time had passed ever so slowly; minutes felt like they lasted for days while days seemed like an eternity. The self-imposed solitude, endless brooding and relentless training were the only things he had known ever since that fateful day. There were times when he wondered if he would stay sane long enough for his goal to come to fruition, but that was never more than a fleeting thought buried the torrent of hatred that quickly overcame him at the thought of Duke Amarant getting away unpunished. There would be more than enough time for Donovan to go insane after he had dealt with Amarant and those who followed him.

 

It had been a while since he had last seen his companions, they had elected to spend some time apart as they waited for the opportunity to have their revenge. Whether revenge truly was a dish best served cold was debatable, but at the very least they understood that going after that man immediately would have been a fool’s errand. When Donovan caught wind of the fact that the promised marriage of Amarant and princess Jillian was to take place in the coming month, he knew that it was time for them to move and he wasted no time in sending ravens to deliver his message and order the remaining Knights of Loussier to gather in the small agricultural town of Oldden.

Late for the meeting he had planned at the rendezvous point he had chosen, Donovan made no attempt to increase his pace as he calmly strode towards Oldden while enjoying the pitter patter of the falling autumn rain. His hood was pulled over his head not to shield it from the rain, but to hide his face that would surely be recognized in Oldden. Prior to the Loussier name losing all of its claims and titles, Oldden had been part of the Loussier duchy, but had since been divided into the territories of several neighbouring duchies. It would not be a far stretch for anyone to recognize one of the Knights of their former lord.

 

 

The chains, the coat, the boots, the gloves and the cloak all felt uneasily nostalgic. It had been years since he was last dressed for battle and the events that unfolded at that time were a far cry from his proudest moment. Ever since not a day had gone by without Donovan spending at least half of it lost in thought as he sought for any signs that such a betrayal would befall them, but despite all his efforts he could not find what he had missed.

 

By the time he arrived in Oldden it was well past midday and Donovan was late by half an hour. He briefly considered blaming his tardiness on the gloomy skies making it increasingly hard for him to accurately tell time, as that would be less of an embarrassment than him having to tell them that he had somehow managed to get lost. Living as what was essentially a hermit for three years didn’t exactly do wonders for his sense of direction.

Oldden was exactly how he remembered. Small, rural, quiet and incredibly boring. No one would ever expect a group of Knights, brought back from the dead by the a god in order to exact vengeance upon the ones who ruined everything they worked for, to meet up in Oldden.

As expected, the former Knights of Loussier were all ready and waiting in the local tavern, the ideal starting location for any adventure, with Donovan being the last to arrive. “Good afternoon,†he said standing at the table. “How long are you going to remain seated? We’ve got work to do.â€

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“Just because we were dead once doesn’t mean we have nothing better to do with our lives now. Do be sure to let Donovan know that we’ve an appointment after this, and so we don’t have much time for him,†said Sir Pretentious Gray, puffing up his feathers as he perched on the cleanest spot he could find of the dingy seats in the Oldden Tavern – so named because it was the only tavern in Oldden anyway. He stroked his feathers carefully with his beak and scratched one leg with the other impatiently.

Waldo only smiled. They had no appointment after this, and it was true that they didn’t really have anything else to do with their lives now – though he had not thought himself particularly busy even before his death. Before the collective deaths of all 13 Knights of Loussier (and 1 bird), their main duty had been to defend Ethrea and the Duchess of Loussier. Now that they were revived, their main duty was to avenge Ethrea and the Duchess of Loussier. Waldo didn’t see very much of a difference.

He didn’t think Donovan was purposely late anyway. He knew how much Donovan had valued their mission. Wasn’t he, after all, the first Knight chosen by Akuji to be revived? Waldo himself had arrived at the tavern the earliest. He had made sure to ascertain the location of their meeting point, and had obtained lodgings in the area the afternoon before, to ensure no mishap that would delay them on the journey. He would have come even earlier if Sir Gray had not delayed him (fortunately, that too was predictable enough to have been factored into his plans). Sir Gray had spent hours pondering on the “appropriate headgear†for the meeting. It had been so long since they last saw each other, after all, that Sir Gray wanted to leave a good impression. Or, in his own words, “to establish who the rightful leader is in this team.â€

~~~

“You wouldn’t understand, as you’re not of noble blood, and are probably used to a commoner’s existence,†Sir Gray had said in the morning, strutting around proudly in circles in front of the mirror, with a ridiculously oversized leaf on his head. “But to battle-hardened warriors like me, we need accessories to show off our nobility. This leaf was specially chosen by my sharp eye because of the golden tint when you hold it out to the sun.â€

Battle-hardened indeed. Waldo couldn’t resist shooting a glance at the protruding paunch of the pigeon, which was threatening to reach down to his claws, and would sway from side to side when Sir Gray flew about. It reminded him that Sir Gray was indeed in want of exercise, for he swore he could hear the bird panting as he flew sometimes.

“We wouldn’t be out in the sun; we’d be in the tavern anyway,†he told the bird. “And inside it’d look just like any other wilted leaf.â€

It was only to Sir Gray that Waldo felt he could speak whatever he thought without regard for bluntness. Maybe it was due to Sir Gray’s personality, and his propensity to say whatever came to his mind, but Waldo felt a comfortable sense of freedom with him he felt with no human being.

Sir Gray put the leaf glumly away then and insisted they ought to go out now, and why was Waldo dilly-dallying so much?

~~~

Donovan arrived at last.

“Good afternoon. How long are you going to remain seated? We’ve got work to do,†he said, standing at the table.

“Excuse you!†Sir Gray couldn’t help spluttering from his position, his wings quivering with rage. “I don’t think you’d know how long we’ve remained seated, because you weren’t here! Did you expect us to stand at attention like castle guards for the whole 30 minutes, waiting for you? Coming in with not even an apology, lecturing us as if we were in the wrong! Mmph! Mmph!†His rant was abruptly cut short by Waldo’s well-placed hand, clapping his beak together. The Wood Elf stood up, his pale eyes meeting the Human’s blue ones steadily.

“I’m ready. What’s the plan, Donovan?†he asked simply.

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The past 3 years had not been kind to Amon; where there was once life and pep in the street urchin's eyes, there was now bitterness and a sense of emptiness. His comrades, his allies, his brothers, each having deciding to go their separate ways had only accelerated his downwards spiral into apathy. For 3 whole years he roamed the land of Koin, listlessly wandering from town to village, from keep to castle, stealing from the coin purses of the Ethrean nobility to even the furtive Faesalian dark elves. When his bounty on his head became too big to ignore, he simply ran. Running. That was all he ever did, for he had no reason to fight those who pursued him. Any reason he had was lost when Duke Amarant butchered his fair mistress in front of him, stealing her glory and honor. There was no reason left to fight, no reason to feel, no reason to live as he far as he was concerned.

 

And yet, here he still lived. As much as he hated to admit it, that bastard Amarant may have had been his sole reason why he hadn't given up on himself, why he struggled through each waking moment scrapping together enough to eat and survive, only to repeat the cycle anew each day. All for that one moment to make sure that bastard died slow and painfully. To make sure that revenge was served, to avenge his mistress. He yearned for the day when he would one day reunite with his brothers, to make sure that their oath was delivered, 1 bloody head at a time.

 

So it was with great joy when a raven delivered a letter from Donovan, stating that it was time for them to reunite in the town of Oldden. He wasn’t sure how much of his memory was tainted by nostalgia, but he had always viewed Donovan as the de facto leader of their motley crew when the Duchess wasn’t around. Kind, generous and helpful, he was like a big brother to Amon, though he wasn’t too sure Donovan reciprocated that feeling. Regardless, all that changed when Akuji revived them.  Now embittered and hardened, Amon felt like he had lost more than the Duchess that day.

 

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

 

Oldden was just as Amon had remembered it. With a quiet, rural charm, no one really expected anything to take place here, just people carrying on with their lives. Sadly, that meant that people born here stayed long in the village, which meant it wouldn’t have been a far cry for one of them to recognize him as one of Loussier’s knights. Luckily for Amon, he looked nothing like a knight after his three years of solitude. The noble blood red garments of his uniform had been worn away to literal rags. His wore nothing on his torso, only adorning a headband and loose pants made from the remains of his uniform while tattoos covered every inch of his body, and then some. Right now, as he sat in tavern with the rest of knight, waiting for Donovan, he could already see some of the locals giving him the stink eye and mouthing, “Dirty foreignerâ€. To be fair, he could hardly blame them either.

 

When the door threw itself open and Donovan finally appeared before them, Amon couldn’t help but break into a smile. “So, our dear leader has arrived,†he spoke, a huge grin on his face. “Not only late, but telling us to get ready? What bravery – gall, nerve, bravery – you have.†Downing the rest of his drink in a single chug, he stood up, slamming the mug hard on the table.

 

“Lead the way, my brother. That plate of revenge is getting warmer by the minute.†

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Syl’Reina was not the mopy sort, she didn’t feel bad for herself, her other revived comrades, the still dead ones, or even their deceased Duchess, she had stood up after Akuji revived them and felt only anger that she had died at all. Over the past three years her desire to torture the bastard had only festered, but she had still survived, no, she had thrived. With all the training she’d undergone under the Duchess watchful eye she had become a creature no one wanted to fuck with anymore.

 

Her loyalty to the Duchess had been a thing of servitude; it was the price she paid for messing up, without the Duchess to guide her along a righteous path she easily fell into her old habits. Though her targets had escaladed, no longer did she still from traveling caravans and merchants, she found more thrill in snatching the jewels from a Lady’s throat. Not that she particularly wanted them, but money was a form of power, and that was something she very much liked having. She hasn’t gotten caught once, generally she gets in and out and no one is the wiser, though occasionally she’ll kill guards if she simply doesn’t have the patience to wait for them. Killing the prey though isn’t any fun, no one would notice something missing if the person she stole from was dead.

 

Tormenting peasants no longer had the appeal to her, so she tended to torment nobility, leaving nasty poisons in drinks, some of them fatal, many of them not, just to ruin someone’s day, or week. She even took up forgery, forging legal documents to better herself, more than once she’d veered all suspicion off of her tail by means of forgery.

 

Occasionally she would do things just for the sake of making someone’s life difficult, but most of the time the actions she took all lead in the same direction, somehow, someway, she was manipulating politics and the public into viewing herself in a better light. She’d already become a self-proclaimed noble. ‘Lady Syl’ they called her, as she couldn’t very well use her full name.

 

She’d poisoned the previous Lord of the estate she had claimed as her own, and then with a few forged documents she made herself out to be the Lord’s Mistress whom he left everything to. The Missus hadn’t been too pleased to find out her husband had been cheating on her with a dark elf. The woman had sworn she’d ruin Syl and Syl had politely told the woman to get out of her house. To add insult to injury Syl had enthralled the woman’s only daughter and convinced her to stay with her. The daughter ended up telling her mother that she was an ugly old crone and if she had been a better wife father wouldn’t have cheated on her. The mother left in hysterical tears. While the daughter wasn’t anything special Syl was certain she could manipulate the delicate teen into something useful, even if it was just to marry her off for a political bond.

 

The raven came through her window one day and by that night she had headed out to the rendezvous point. She left the daughter, a teenage wood elf named Namira in charge, it had been a year since she’d taken over the domain and Namira was as obedient and subservient as ever.

 

Now she sat with her other companions, gathered around a table in Oldden Tavern. Her bow felt deliciously familiar against her back, her hands were clenching and relaxing over and over with excitement of the coming events. The things she would do to this man….

 

A rather large black spider wandered down her forearm to the back of her knuckles and sat there, its legs could reach either side of her hand. She watched the arachnid as it eyed her companions curiously, then turned back to face her, its little eyes too big on its head. They are the ones of before? The ones who lay in the blood with you? The spider’s thoughts were simply in her mind, as if they were her own thoughts, yet the arachnid spoke differently than her.

 

Yes together we shared much blood, even our own. And now we will share the blood of Duke Amarant. Syl responded as she lifted the hand the spider rested on and let the spider crawl from her fingers to her shoulder, disappearing beneath locks of pure white.

 

Syl didn’t speak to her companions as they all became reacquainted with each other, instead she merely stood up at Donovan’s command and move towards him, ready to depart at once. 

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"Tch." Clarence made a sound of disgust as he wiped his sword on the dead man's clothes, leaving bright crimson streaks across the rough cloth. Razortooth deserved better than this scum, but petty thieves and all manner of minor criminals were all that he could find easily. As much as Clarence wished that they could go after the most craven villain of them all, Sir Donovan had insisted that they bide their time and wait for the right opportunity to strike. So for three years, Clarence had been reduced to eavesdropping on shady conversations and occasionally hunting down more serious criminals, all while staying unknown in the shadows. The glory of knighthood was not for him, and he was no longer desirous of seeing people's grateful expressions as he defended them from evil. No, it was best to remain concealed, giving no reason for anyone to ask who he was, or who could carry whispers to his greatest enemy.

But that had finally changed. With the announcement of the royal wedding, a raven had soon come, calling the knights who had survived the massacre to Oldden. Their time was finally at hand, and the old blood sang sweetly in Clarence's veins, drawing him forth to fulfill the oath he had sworn over his mistress and master's graves. He'd been so young and foolish then, drunk on his new knighthood and determined to prove himself to the knight who had been a father to him and the lady who he had only seen from a distance, yet loved with all his heart. And indeed, he had acquitted himself well against the Faesalian army, but he'd barely been able to raise a hand to defend even himself against Amarant, to say nothing of his mistress.

Leaving the body of the foolish highwayman to the animals, Clarence sheathed his sword, continuing on his way. There was still some distance to go, but enough time as well, so he strode easily, not wanting to rush and attract attention. Swathed in a plain cloak that concealed his weapons and armor, Clarence looked like any ordinary, lonely traveler on the road, which was likely why the thief had waylaid him on a deserted stretch.

Upon his arrival in Olddale, Clarence headed to the tavern where they were to meet, spotting a few comrades already seated. He joined them, sitting as far from Waldo and his talking bird as possible. The young knight's skin still prickled uncomfortably to hear the animal speak with a human's voice--not the mere, repetitive blather of parrots, but rather with some measure of intelligence. He almost preferred the presence of Syl’Reina... almost. Had the dark elf not been one of their companions, she would have been one of the craven beasts that Razorclaw would have been eager to consume. But it was not for Clarence to question the Duchess's decision, so he kept his peace.

When Sir Donovan finally arrived, Clarence instantly sprang to his feet, eager to be off. He'd been growing increasingly twitchy as the last of their party failed to appear at the appointed time, but he was calm and collected now, asking only a simple question. "Our plan?"

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“The plan,†Donovan mused for a second before answering the question. “Last we face Amarant as thirteen and we were brutally slaughtered. We stand even less of a chance as five. If we wish to succeed we have no choice but to even the odds. We must gather allies and thin their numbers before the wedding takes place. Then we take Amarant’s head.†The group set forth from the Oldden Tavern after paying their bill and agreed to meet in front of the town’s northern gate. Those who had arrived by horse took this time to retrieve their mounts while those without, including Donovan, made sure to purchase one at the local breeder.

 

How do you propose we do that?

 

“Hmm,†Donovan started as the horses began slowly walking along the dirt road, “when House Loussier was denounced property of the Loussier mansion was transferred to Amarant, as further payment for his ‘heroics.’ Alma’s husband, Dietrich Loussier was put to the sword and their son and daughter were made to live as servants in order to repay Ethrea for the sins of their parents. Last I heard Amarant rarely visits the Loussier estate, instead opting to leave it in the care of one of his knights. We will start with retaking the estate.â€

Don’t you think that is too obvious?

 

“He thinks we are dead,†he continued, rambling along with even caring if anyone was still listening, “he will not expect us to have been the ones to raid the estate. And if you fear for him knowing that someone is coming after him; don’t. Amarant is a craven and the thought that their is a blade waiting to be shoved in his back will torment him while we slowly work our way towards him. However, for now Amarant is not our main concern. Sir Banford and Sir Meliadus that guard the Loussier estate.â€

The mention of Banford and Meliadus had brought some degree of worry to the expressions of his companions, but such was to be expected. Even Donovan himself would have preferred a different route, but none of them would serve to complete all three of his goals in one fell swoop such as this. Banford and Meliadus were present at the battle three years ago and between the two of them they were responsible for the deaths of at least four of Loussier’s Knights. Banford archery had even left a scar in Donovan’s right shoulder.

 

It is only two of them. Surely that must not be a problem.

Donovan shook his head. “Since our disappearance Banford has taken the undisputed title of greatest archer in Koin and there has never been anyone who could rival Meliadus’s skill with the sword and board. You should know that in a battle between Knights, numbers are rarely the deciding factor.†Donovan looked to his side, wondering what the reaction of his companions would be when he realized that none of them had actually engaged in conversation with him. He sighed in frustration, the voice had returned.

The lands owned by House Loussier were never anything special. In less than half a day’s travel the group had reached the outskirts of the Loussier Estate, giving them clear vision of the entire estate from a small hill. Donovan inspected the land, taking note of the several dozen guards stationed outside. The pattern they patrolled in was predictable and did not differ much from the time when he used to spend time at the estate.

“Fighting Banford or Meliadus inside would be suicide,†Donovan stepped off his horse. “If we wish to properly use our strengths we must draw them out here, where we can make use of our mobility without being constrained by walls and furniture.†Donovan stretched out his arm and the chain bound to his left index finger began unraveling. A light blue hue encompassed the chain and a small steel ball appeared at the end. The ball began moving in circles of its own free will. “We need to know where Emily,†the ball stopped moving and pointed towards the third floor of the massive mansion, “and Heathcliff,†the ball jerked a few centimeters to the left and pointed to a different section of the third floor, “are.â€

What do we do now?

“Well, the children are far enough from harm, so we cause a ruckus and draw out the Knights.â€

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“I don’t like horses; riding them makes me sick,†declared Sir Gray pompously as Waldo let out a whistle to call forth his equine friend who had agreed to be on standby for this occasion. Caramel, a handsome brown mare, cantered up gracefully and met his snooty eye with her own proud one.

“I do not like you either,†she said with equal pomp. “And Waldo, please do not let him ride me. His claws dig into my skin.â€

Waldo chose his words carefully. “Sir Gray, if you feel any discomfort, then, would you mind-“

“Yes I would,†he interrupted, but took to the air anyway, though not without leaving a well-placed pile of droppings on the horse’s head.

They caught up with Donovan and his own mount shortly after, riding along at a leisurely pace behind him, with Sir Gray trailing right overhead. Donovan started speaking not long after, continuing from what he had said before.

“Hmm, when House Loussier was denounced property of the Loussier mansion was transferred to Amarant, as further payment for his ‘heroics.’ Alma’s husband, Dietrich Loussier was put to the sword and their son and daughter were made to live as servants in order to repay Ethrea for the sins of their parents. Last I heard Amarant rarely visits the Loussier estate, instead opting to leave it in the care of one of his knights. We will start with retaking the estate.â€

“Do-“ Sir Gray was about to say, but Donovan started talking again.

“He thinks we are dead, he will not expect us to have been the ones to raid the estate. And if you fear for him knowing that someone is coming after him; don’t. Amarant is a craven and the thought that their is a blade waiting to be shoved in his back will torment him while we slowly work our way towards him. However, for now Amarant is not our main concern. Sir Banford and Sir Meliadus that guard the Loussier estate.â€

“Well it’s ju-“

“Since our disappearance Banford has taken the undisputed title of greatest archer in Koin and there has never been anyone who could rival Meliadus’s skill with the sword and board. You should know that in a battle between Knights, numbers are rarely the deciding factor.â€

Sir Gray fluttered down onto Waldo’s shoulder, out of breath from the brief exercise and scratching his head with his wing.

“He’s just talking to himself, isn’t he?†the bird said. Waldo shrugged. The Wood Elf had seen the flicker of frustration on their leader’s face, and he wondered.

~~~

Cause a ruckus. That had been Donovan’s instruction. Waldo looked around at the bare grounds outside the estate, then at the guards stationed around.

“I can attract the attention of those inside, easily,†he said. He tapped a foot on the grass, and at once a crowd of rats scurried past them towards the estate. The guards’ eyes widened at the sudden plague, which looked like a large black squeaking sheet streaming around their legs into every nook and cranny they could find at the castle doors. Some illustrious rats crawled up the pipes or through the windows. Banford and Meliadus would have to come out to identify the source of the plague in no time.

And just in case they needed some help as to where to look, a gigantic, translucent beast emerged in front of Waldo’s outstretched hand. It was ten times the height of a human – certainly easy to spot from a distance – and began thrashing about, its short scaly tail knocking down every tree or shed in the vicinity. Waldo stepped aside in an agile motion to get out of the way of its stomping legs.

“This illusion beast was made much bigger than is practical,†he told the others, “and so is a little unstable. It probably won’t be able to withstand any attacks, but it’ll do for attention.â€

As if on cue, the beast let out a thundering roar, sending Sir Gray scurrying into Waldo’s pocket. Even Caramel looked a little pale, and promptly bolted off to blanch.

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The children. The thought of them lingered in Amon's mind as he snuck through the brambles. Emily and Heathcliff, the only remaining children of Duchess Loussier. He remembered them fondly in his mind, which was why he chose to disregard Donovan's plan and secure the children. He was but a young whelp at the time when his mistress took him in, and both siblings seemed rather afraid of him, and rightly so. After all, he lacked the grace and discipline of the rest of the knights back then. As time went by however, they would be one of his closest friends, due to him being the youngest of the knight. Often at times, they would sneak him treats from the kitchen when he was forbidden to eat them on his training, and in return, he would regale them with tales and plights from the seedy underbelly of the city, things that people as privileged as them would never have imagined. And yet, here they were, forced to work as indentured servants to repay the sins of their parents. Amon laughed at the cruel irony as he scaled the mansion's wall, easily flicking the window latch open with his epieu as he entered the hallway silently. "Third floor, right wing," he muttered to himself as he snuck down the corridors, the shadows accepting him as one of their own as he silently moved past door after door, before coming to a stop outside a door. From the inside, he could hear a soft sobbing sound; a female's to be exact.

 

"Emily?" he whispered, lightly rapping on the door. "Is that you?"

 

"P-please, n-no more, Master B-Banford," a tortured wail came from inside the room, "Please, j-just let me s-sleep tonight..."

 

Amon's eyes widened. Without sparing a second, he rammed the door, the old hinges giving way as he stumbled into the room. In a dimly lit corner sat a young girl clad in rags, no older than fifteen, cradling her knees, tears dripping from her eyes as she looked towards Amon, his face illuminated by the flickering light of a lantern.

 

"W-Who are you?" Emily asked, her voice shaking and fearful.

 

"Emily!" replied Amon, quickly crouching down towards her, "It's me, Amon? Don't you remember? The street rat?"

 

For a moment, Emily just stared unblinking at him. “N-No, it can’t be,†she mumbled, “You’re supposed to be dead. Amarant killed you along with mama and everyone else! I can’t…this…it…it really is you, isn’t it, Amon?†Emily’s eyes widened as she finally realized what was happening.

 

“Yes, it’s me Emily,†whispered Amon as he cradled the poor girl, “Just what the hell did they do to you?â€

 

“Banford, he…he…†Emily couldn’t continue as she broke down in tears as Amon grit his teeth. If he was in his younger, more impulsive years, he would have immediately dropped any semblance of discipline and go after Banford, but he now knew better. His priority was their safety, and he wasn’t going to risk them getting hurt for a chance at revenge. “Emily,†he whispered, “Do you know where Heathcliff is?â€

 

Emily nodded, crying her tears as Amon helped her up. “Good,†he continued, “I want you to get him, and quickly find a way to the main gate. Donovan and the rest are there, they should be able to protect you better than I can.â€

 

“Donovan? He’s alive too? Who else is-“

 

“No time, move now!†he quickly pat Emily on the back as she nodded, dashing through the hallway. Turning around, Amon sighed as he drew his glaive, holding it in a defensive pose.

 

“I know you’re there, Banford. Show yourself.â€

 

There was a slow clap as a man walked out of the shadows, his armor emblazoned with Amarant’s crest, alongside a nocked bow. “Perceptive and sensible, whelp,†Banford mocked as he aimed his bow at Amon, “I see Loussier taught you well. Unfortunately, all your training has come to naught. I’m not sure how you’re still alive, but allow me to rectify that.â€

 

Amon grit his teeth as Banford let loose the arrow at him, the vicious steel tip flying straight at him…

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Syl's steed was a black stallion with eyes as red as her own, they looked like a formidable demonic pair. She followed her old companions, trailing lazily behind, while not much conversation was made on the journey over, not a word was spoken from Syl's dark lips. The familiar domain came into view as Donovan began speaking to himself. His one sided conversation seemed to answer any questions that she might have posed. As soon as Donovan pointed out the location of the children Amon disappeared into the familiar territory. He always did have a soft spot for them, unlike Syl whose only interest in the domain had been in Duchess Loussier and how much she could offer Syl. 

 

Waldo took charge in playing the distraction as Syl slipped off her horse and disappeared into the forest, tailing the edge of the forest until it stopped abruptly at the wall encompassing the estate. The shadows offered her near invisibility but as she stepped into the light her figure appeared like an out of place shadow, the light would quickly dispel the effect, but her intentions would be quick. Pressing her palm against the stone wall small black spiders skittered out from beneath the sleeve of her black shirt, they were quick, jerky moving arachnids that easily vanished into the cracks of the stones. Their venom wasn't lethal, lethal spiders generally took too long to be effective, at least in this kind of situation, they were better for poisoning someone's food, or to inject someone while they slept. The spiders she unleashed on the guards above now would make things very difficult for them, their eyes would go blurry, they would become dizzy, and some if they were particularly sensitive would become nauseated. 

 

As Waldo's distractions took effect and guards started bounding out of the estate her little spiders bounced on top of them. While they were too distracted to notice the tiny arachnids they would slip beneath their clothes and inject their venom into their throats, sometimes several of them on one guard. Their trained formation was swiftly growing rickety as they bumped into each other, blinking rapidly to try and clear their vision to no avail. They drew their weapons but their hands shook as they struggled with the spider venom. Waldo had been worried about how many attacks his spectral beast could withstand but unless these guards figured out how to fight through the haze it seemed they wouldn't be fighting at all. 

 

A sudden arrow flew through the spectral creation, drawing Syl's attention. Following the flight path Syl found several guards who had managed to avoid her spiderlings. With a sigh Syl'Reina readied her bow and took aim. Staring down the length of the arrow, a dark grin spread across her face, a malicious glee from the disturbed mind of the killer. The string was released with a low 'twang' the arrow whistled and pierced through one of the archer's throats, the metal head protruding from the other side, blood gushing freely while the guard groped at his injury, quickly losing sense of his world as he collapsed to his knees. She took a moment to long to enjoy her handiwork before drawing another arrow, but she'd drawn their attention with her attack and gave them ample opportunity to discover her as she'd hesitated. 

 

An arrow sprung towards her, sinking into the tree behind where she'd just been. Syl latched onto one of the low hanging branches and dragged herself into the canopy vanishing easily as her dark illusions wisped up around her limbs making her appear no more than a shadow. One of the lucid guards foolishly ran into the forest after her, obviously not understanding illusions. He had drawn his sword and now walked cautiously, carefully maneuvering around roots and fallen branches.

 

It hunts... One of her spider's cooed to her. Syl remained dead silent as the guard traveled beneath her before throwing herself off her perch and landing on his back, slamming them both to the ground, her knees pressed into his spine. With her dagger already drawn she did not dally and swiftly plunged the weapon into his throat, silencing his cries before he could even make them. 

 

Snatching up his coin purse she hurried out of the forest to seek out her other companions, an arrow already sitting on the nook of her bow ready to strike at a moments notice.

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Clarence purchased a good mount, strong and steady, from the local breeder before rejoining his comrades. The chestnut mare easily kept pace as they swept back toward the Loussier estate, battle-fever singing through his every nerve. He could barely sit still, his hands trembling on the reins and constantly reaching to touch the pommel of his blade as though for reassurance. Two was a far cry from twenty, but it was still a start. He recognized the foolishness in launching an assault on Amerant as they currently were, but it didn't stop him from wishing for the craven's head to be separated from his neck.

The path was familiar, and Clarence's heart ached as he gazed upon the place that he had once called home. Smoke still rose from the kitchens while knights and squires drilled in the yard. The stones still stood strong in their foundations, weathered yet immovable. Despite the years, it had barely changed, and he could almost imagine that they were returning, successful and triumphant, to the hero's welcome that had been stolen from them. But Clarence was no hero now, if ever he had been, and he tugged his horse after the others in a brooding silence. To attack the ancestral home of the Loussiers... Had anyone told him that someday, he would ride against it, Clarence would have called the man mad.

Donovan called for a distraction, and when Waldo swiftly volunteered, Clarence slipped away just as the swarm of vermin began to march on the manor. Magic made the young knight's skin crawl; there was no honor in deception and sleight of hand rather than cold steel and the skill to wield it. With Waldo and his talking menagerie in addition to the other knights, the front should be well-attended to. But when they realized they were under attack, some of the cowards would undoubtedly flee... into his waiting jaws.

In the thick forest behind the estate, Clarence waited coldly beneath a tree, his bow strung in his hands and his quiver hanging by his side. His blade was planted in the ground beside him, where he could easily pull it loose once sturdy yew would no longer serve. It glittered faintly in the darkness as a shaft of light drifted through the thick foliage, and he waited.

When the first knight came tumbling out of the door, he sighted and loosed, already reaching for the next shaft as his first sprouted from the man's eye and he crumbled. After a few more, they grew wise and began to come out helmed, but Clarence selected arrows that glowed a faint blue and shattered iron.

The pounding of hooves was enough warning, and he uprooted his blade to catch the blow, parrying it aside to drive cold steel into warm flesh. The horse screamed as it fell, its rider tumbling heavily from the saddle. In a moment, Clarence was on him, viciously striking heavy blows that were barely parried, his opponent struggling to regain his feet while fending off the attack. But then, the other knight stumbled over a root, his heavy plate dragging him to the ground. The impact knocked the sword from the knight's hand and the wind from his lungs.

Refusing to let the opportunity go to waste, Clarence spared just enough time to kick the helm away before swinging his blade again, cleanly striking off the head. Leaving the dead man and the dying horse, he turned his attention back to his original targets.

They were struggling out of the building now, hindered by their fallen fellows. Among them ran men and women simply garbed, but Clarence ignored the servants. The fighters would come for him--indeed, they were already charging towards the woods. Grimly, he stabbed the sword into the ground once more and drew back the bowstring, loosing at the closest.

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Donovan stood back as everyone fanned out to do as they pleased. While he was sure that he would disagree with more than one of the decisions they’d make, he realized that he was not in a position to command, only guide. For the moment, Donovan simply stood and waited for the first sign of either Banford or Meliadus before acting, but the best laid plans of mice and men go awry and Donovan’s was rendered moot when he noticed two small figures trying to maneuver between the hectic soldiers and illusions. “Fuck,†he exclaimed as he dashed down the hill towards the estate.

 

That’s unlike you, Donny. It’s usually other people fucking up your plans.

 

Donovan remained silent as he nimbly weaved through the various soldiers fighting their illusory foes and closed in on the two children who had somehow found themselves on the battlefield. He told himself to remember to beat up whoever had the bright idea of sending the children outside, but for now he had to prioritize their safety. “Emily… Heathcliff…†He said as he approached the pair of confused children. “What are you doing outside, it isn’t safe here.†He placed his hands on their backs and started directing them towards the hill.

 

“D-Donovan? What is going on?†Heathcliff asked, clearly and understandably confused.

 

There he is!

 

“I’ll explain later,†Donovan replied as he shoved the two forward, “there is someone I need to attend to.†The children stopped and turned around to face Donovan, but they noticed that he was no longer paying them any attention and quickly resumed up the hill. "It's been a while, Meliadus," Donovan said, directed at the approaching middle aged man in plate armor. "I hope you don't mind our sudden appearance. I know we should have send word ahead, but we were feeling homesick and could not stomach the wait."

 

"Yes," Meliadus replied, halting several meters from Donovan, "I have always respected you as a warrior, but you have always had the uncanny gift for making me lose all said respect by opening your mouth." Meliadus reached for the sword and shield on his back when all of a sudden a hole was blown into one of the estate's walls. Both Meliadus and Donovan knew that it had to be an arrow fired by Banford for it to have caused such destruction. "I do not know what foul sorcery has brought you before me yet again, but I shall gladly take your life once more and Banford will ensure that you meet Amon." Without warning Meliadus charged, large tower shield in front in order to block anything Donovan might throw at him, and the longsword ready to strike once Meliadus had closed the distance.

 

One of the chains wrapped around Donovan's right arm loosened and fell into his hand. The ring on his middle finger glowed and an elven sword materialized in the palm of his hands. Meliadus was quickly approaching, giving Donovan little time to prepare anything elaborate, forcing him to answer with a simple thrust of his blade. With a steady stance and as much force as he could muster he thrusted the tip of his elven sword into Meliadus' tower shield. The clash had enough force to stop Meliadus in his tracks, as cracks formed on the brick road they stood on. “Old age has done little to dull your strength.â€

“Ha,†Meliadus replied, “I could say the same about you and your untimely demise.†Meliadus did a step backwards, retreating from the clash and giving Donovan the chance to materialize the second of his pair of swords. Meliadus began circling the stationary Donovan, looking for the opportune moment to strike, but he was well aware that any warrior of their calibre was not likely to drop his guard that easily.

 

Donovan took a different approach to combat. If one were to use patient to describe Meliadus, ferocious would be the word best suited for Donovan.

 

Once Meliadus had circled to his back he leapt backwards, turned and brought down his swords with all his might, only barely being stopped when Meliadus raised his shield. Like earlier, the force of the impact caused Meliadus to sink into the brick road, leaving behind cracked footprints when he took a step back. Donovan landed and immediately resumed his attack with another jump, this time rapidly turning his body like a tempest as he unleashed an endless barrage of strikes that were all met by Meliadus’ shield. Each clash had such force that the clanging sound resonated across the entire area.

Meliadus was confident that he could avoid getting hit by Donovan, but he too was having trouble finding a chance to land a clean hit, especially considering that Donovan’s agile and acrobatic fighting style was particularly annoying to deal with when slowed down by his heavy armor.

 

Seems like you’re at a stalemate, Donny. Doesn’t matter how much you jump around, you can’t hit him!

 

“Shut up,†Donovan said as he continued darting and weaving in order to find the one perfect moment to pierce Meliadus’ indomitable defense. “If I could take him by myself, I would not have brought the others with me.â€

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The sound of metal and metal drew Waldo’s attention, and he turned his head sharply in time to see Donovan and Meliadus engaged in combat. He narrowed his eyes in concern. Meliadus and Donovan had always been sworn enemies – in fact, Donovan and Clarence especially bore strong emotion toward their killers. He was worried that vengeance would cloud their judgment. That said, Donovan was standing his ground well, his dexterity and reflexes far surpassing the armoured man’s burdensome protection. On the other hand, he too could not manage a clean strike at Meliadus without meeting armour or shield. Waldo could see the battle was going to come to a standstill.

He quickly ran up to a spot behind the fighting men and channelled his powers to the ground. A trap strong enough to even break through armour. That would require a lot more time. Sir Gray hovered urgently overhead, keeping his eyes on the battle as Waldo waved his hands over the grass, forming a trap wide enough for one man to stand on. He would need more power, more time…

“They’re coming!†squawked Sir Gray. Donovan and Meliadus were inching closer and closer to them. Waldo hastily applied the finishing touches of his trap and ran off, yelling to Donovan, “Lead him here!â€

“Idiot! The other man will hear you too,†said Sir Gray, hitting Waldo on the head with his wing. Waldo ignored him. He knew, regrettably, that he did not have a bond with his party-mates so tight that they could communicate without being heard or interpreted by the enemies. However, he hoped that Donovan would know what to do nonetheless. In the meantime, he set about making more traps in the vicinity. If one failed, at least there would be backup. Waldo was always concerned about backups.

“Aren’t you going out to fight him as well?†Sir Gray asked, watching as Waldo kept an intent eye on the battle, forming trap after trap till he started to pant and perspire. “Surely you too feel resentment towards those traitors who took our lives?â€

“No,†he answered simply. “My role is – has always been – to support. The true fighters, the heroes, are people like Donovan. I don’t feel enough passion to enter the heat of the battle, neither am I as capable in the frontlines. My powers have dictated my job. Besides,†he looked up at the bird and grinned, “I have you to think about. What would become of you if I died again?â€

“Th-that’s… well, that’s a wise move indeed,†spluttered Sir Gray, a shot of scarlet appearing on his face. “I wouldn’t have allowed you to risk your life for other people too. You’re my knight after all. Who would wash my feet for me if you died? Very wise of you, my pawn.â€

Waldo only laughed, then his grin faded and he watched Donovan closely again.

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As bodies began to choke up the exit, Clarence felt himself rapidly growing anxious. This wasn't the style he preferred, picking them off from a distance; when the knight had tried to ride him down, that was when he'd felt the most alive. Fighting with his life on the line, the blood singing in his veins... before he could stop to think about it, the knight had taken his sword in hand and charged back to the manor. He moved swiftly and silently through the trees, pausing only to sight and loose at the next enemy tumbling over the bodies of his comrades.

They were appallingly weak. Green knights, squires-in-training... it made Clarence sick to think that they were so easily defiling the estate of one infinitely superior. It was like watching rats, dirty and squeaking, crawling over the corpse of a dragon. By the time he slipped through the doorway, the young fools were nowhere to be seen--it took them long enough to realize that this was only a death trap. They would be easy enough for his comrades to pick off, no matter what route they tried to escape by.

A thundering crash made the man move more swiftly through the familiar terrain, eyes peeled and ears pricked for any sign of danger. He was able to swiftly dispatch the few that he did come across as he sought the source of the commotion. In a small room with a wall missing, he found Amon facing a man with a bow. Banford. He was the only one with such power and ability.

Clarence didn't hesitate, slipping inside with his blade raised to cleave the man in two. But something must have served as warning, for Banford spun, blocking the blow with heavy wood. The younger man could almost see the enchantments laid on the archer's weapon, but his opponent's eyes were fixed on him instead, bright with recognition.

"de Esterlynne!"

Clarence smiled, but the expression was filled with bitter malice, and he inclined his head in mocking courtesy. "Indeed. I am honored that you remember me, Sir Banford. I'd rather thought you would have forgotten, after all these years."

"I remember. You were honorable once, boy. You always insisted on single combat, but what of this? You strike when my back is turned, fighting together with Amon--"

"What I learned of treachery was only what you and the other blackguards taught," Clarence snarled, breaking free to swing his sword around again. Yet, the magic bow held as it met his attack again, not even a chip falling from the pliable wood. "After all, I never saw the man who came from behind me to give me this lovely gift."

With his free hand, Clarence gestured to the thick scar about his neck, pale and knotted. But Banford barely glanced at it before sidling away, trying to keep both Amon and Clarence in his sights. Dogged, the latter continued to trail after him, still speaking, steel flashing in his hands and forcing the archer onto the defensive. Had age dulled the older man, or complacency? He should have known better than to show up at the vanguard.

"You wouldn't happen to know which of them it was, would you? I would dearly love to return the favor, my dear Banford. It's only honorable, after all."

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Amon lay on the floor, panting deeply as he noted the arrow stuck in the wall were his head was merely a fraction of a second ago. Unmelding from the shadows as black, sticky ichor dripped from his hands, he noticed Banford had turned to engage Clarence, who had now engaged in witty banter with him, forcing the archer away as Amon joined his assault. Now a two against one, the older Banford was put on the defensive as both them rained blades of steel upon him, the magical wood easily withstanding their blows as he was pushed back.

 

"I have qualms against you, old man," remarked Amon as he swung his blade low (which Banford predicted and blocked with ease), "After all, I can hardly blame the loyalty of a dog who merely follows his master's orders."

 

"A filthy scamp like you calling me a dog?" Banford laughed as he lashed out with a spinning kick, sending both of them flying backwards as he nocked a glowing arrow. "Pathetic, the both of you. Disappear from my sight at once."

 

Releasing the shot, time seemed to slow down as the enchanted arrow flew towards the both of them, the tip glowing a dangerous red. Gripping his arms tightly around the surprised Clarence, he whispered a couple of words into his ear.

 

"Hang tight."

 

Falling backwards into the shadows, the shadows twisted as an inky black consumed both of them, melding them into the shadows as the arrow exploded above them, tearing apart the hallway in a explosion of wooden splinters and glass shards. Almost as he was resurfacing from a lake, he pushed himself and Clarence out of the shadows, finding themselves in the spacious lobby of the mansion, albeit with a gaping hole in the ceiling. He could hear Banford already making his way downstairs, intent on finishing them off.

 

"Clarence," he spoke, his eyes darting to a hanging chandelier, "Can you hold him off for 30 seconds while I get into position? One good strike at his neck, and I'll make sure the favor is returned." Without waiting for a reply, he dashed towards the wall, nimbly scaling it as Banford's footsteps approached closer and closer...

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None of the hustling guards noticed her as she exited the forest, but she noticed all, her blood eyes taking in the scene before her. The handful of guards not dead or poisoned by her spiders looming around Donovan and Meliadus just waiting for a chance to tip the odds, several others falling prey to Waldo’s traps. And then Waldo being as foolish and naïve as ever, did he really think yelling out his plan would work? It didn’t matter though Donovan’s moves were dictated by Meliadus, the wrong step would earn him another scar.

 

Syl bounded around the opening, watching as Waldo laid more traps, she might be able to lure Meliadus to one of the other’s if she could get his attention, assuming he hadn’t been calculating and watching each of Waldo’s traps. At the very least she could give Donovan an opening.

 

Pulling an arrow from the quiver on her thigh and notching it she drew her bow back, muscles flexing as she held the pose. With a deep breath and a slow exhale the tip of the arrow shimmered with an angry red glare. Syl never played fair. Just as her fingers pulled free the reflection in the black bow’s perfectly glossed surface drew her attention. Syl jerked throwing herself to the side just as the blade came down at her back, the bow knocked the arrow as it had been unleashed – it went haywire.

 

The arrow still landed in the ground several feet from where Donovan and Meliadus fought and it still did as she’d enchanted it to do. Several seconds after implanting in the ground it exploded, dirt and rocks flew, disrupting the pair.

 

Syl didn’t get to clean up her mess as she felt blood trickle down her back from the superficial wound. What good are you if you’re not going to warn me when someone comes at my back! Syl hissed to the many spiders that lurked within her clothes and hair. They didn’t answer her and she didn’t care at the moment as the warrior lunged for her again. She blocked with the bow, throwing his weight to the side before drawing a dagger from beneath the folds of her clothes. Syl pounced on him taking him down with the use of her weight, fearless of his weapon as she swiftly disarmed him. No time to enjoy her kill she plunged the dagger into his throat between the plates of armor and silenced his life.

 

She was up and aiming again but this time she caught Meliadus watching her from the corner of his eye. Syl hissed and lowered her bow. Glancing around she saw she was for the moment alone and then combed her fingers through her hair drawing out five or six little spiders, Get on the damn arrow and hold on for dear fucking life she sneered at the little arachnids but after a moment they obeyed climbing onto the arrow, binding themselves to its length with their silken threads.

 

Syl notched the arrow with the little spiders, their many eyes peering at her curiously as the bow was pulled taunt. Meliadus locked eyes with her briefly before she released the arrow, he grinned at her and swiftly avoided the shot but the spiders did as they had been taught and as the arrow soared harmlessly passed him the spiders leapt off, their webs dragging them until they landed on Meliadus, quickly freeing themselves from their own bondage. He might have managed to swat away one or two but the others swiftly weaved between the plates of his armor, disappearing beneath his clothes as he panicked, trying to squish the bothersome creatures that escaped beneath his armor.

 

Just as they had with the other guards they sunk their little fangs into him wherever they could - injecting him with their venom. It wouldn’t take long, a minute, maybe less until the effects would take hold. Donovan would finish him with ease. 

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The young knight barely gave his companion a glance as Amon joined the attack, materializing from the shadow in which he'd hidden to avoid Banford's shot. But even with the both of them, they were hard-pressed to restrain the archer--while they managed to shave off chips of wood, the heavy enchantments prevented any serious damage. The thunk of metal on wood was almost hypnotically rhythmic as the three struggled in a stalemate.

A misstep gave their opponent the opportunity to throw them both away and nock another arrow. Clarence was already leaping out of the way when he was grabbed from behind, a whisper the only warning before grasping shadows engulfed him.

The touch of magic crept along his skin, and Clarence thrashed wildly in a panic as the thick, oily sensation seemed to be trying to drown him. It weighed on his limbs, slipped in through his orifices, heavy and suffocating...

He was sinking, fighting helplessly against his bonds. They chafed the skin raw, swelling to hold him even more tightly. And when he opened his mouth to scream, thick, frigid fluid rushed in instead of air, choking him. He could feel the clammy fingers of Death drawing him into the darkness with every second. His struggles weakened, a last thought flashing through his foggy mind: "I don't want to die!"

Then it was gone, and the man was kneeling on cold, reassuring stone, trembling and gasping. He dry-retched, a voice above him coming from so far away that he couldn't comprehend it, trapped in the grasp of pure terror. Blind to the world, he didn't see Banford burst out onto the landing in pursuit of the two of them.

Amon was already out of sight, but Clarence made an attractive target, crouched in the middle of the hall, and Banford wasn't one to squander such an opportunity. In a blink, another glowing arrow was soaring straight at the young knight. But before it found its mark, a flare of energy burst from the target, meeting the projectile and reducing it to a rain of splinters and metal fragments. Another flare flashed toward Banford, and he recoiled in shock, already drawing back his bowstring on another arrow.

The second shot met the same fate as the first, and yet the magic still grasped further, shattering the bow in the man's hands. With the threat to the knight's life neutralized, the power began to lash out indiscriminately, tearing at wood, cloth, and stone, threatening to bring the whole manor crashing down. Yet, Clarence still didn't move, the magic serenely pulsing around him and protecting him from harm. One burst even smashed the wall beside Amon, missing him by a breath.

"It was an accident! I didn't mean it!"

But the eyes that stared at him were cold and accusing, and he flinched beneath their gaze. He'd only wanted to escape, he would have never imagined...

And as suddenly as it had started, the fit passed, and Clarence's vision cleared. Pale and unsteady, he stumbled to his feet, covered in a thin sheen of sweat as he tried to assess the current situation.

"Distraction enough?" he called up to Amon, smiling weakly.

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