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Ambar: Snow & Ash

Ambar: Snow & Ash

In a world where old prophecies suddenly come to life; where kings squirm, and a great darkness approaches, against all odds, an involuntary band of misfits must rise up to face it. [Private]

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Copyright: The creator of this roleplay has attributed some or all of its content to the following sources:

https://www.roleplaygateway.com/roleplay/ambar-chapter-1-snow-ash

Introduction

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When I awoke,
the moon still hung.
The night so black,
that the darkness hummed.
♪♪♪


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Ambar is a vast world just like any other. It has beautiful landscapes, though some are wild, rough and even downright brutal. From the despairing wastes belonging to the orcish people, to the wild jungles of those with pointed ears—at times, a people more unforgiving than their latter, less graceful neighbors. These days, war nips at everyone’s heels and those brazen, or foolish enough to get in the way are smothered and beaten down. Little more than ash and dust.

At this particular point in time, there are two human kingdoms, two dwarfish kingdoms, an elvish kingdom and one enormous orcish empire. There are four dominant races in the lands of Ambar; elves, men, orcs and dwarves. The humans occupy the kingdoms of Vesia and Stormgarde. The dwarves have their homelands in Caeld and the isolated Dûrg-Bekári Empire. The elves reside in Rínarwin, and the orcs reign across the wastes, though their capital lies in Orgin Koor.

While a fragile peace has existed for a while, strife and bitter, bloody rivalries have begun to resurface. The orcish empire has been rather reserved and isolated for a long time, but now there are reports of orcish warbands raiding borders. They’ve begun spreading their fingers throughout the land. Telltale signs of razing villages to the ground, encroaching dangerously close into elven lands. Of course, the orcish Khan denies this entirely. Old crones and old seers claim that war is brewing. A world with darkness, so dark it envelops the world. Leaving nothing and no one.

No one wants all-out war, so diplomacy is important, but it is widely known that all kingdoms are stockpiling weapons and arming themselves. There are those, as well, who’ve taken neutral positions, such as the dwarves, settling to watch high up in their perches, uninterested in the strife those below are causing. The elves, proud and angry, stifle against the orcs, and those in the larger cities, are bent backwards, facing problems of their own. In this world, however, a select few have a role to play that is bigger than anything they could have imagined.

They will be marked.



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What no one is puzzled by, is why these things are happening. Aggression and strife and the rattling of swords happen for no apparent reason, but all races are concerned with keeping themselves safe, rather than getting to the root of the problem. Several things seem to be happening all at once. The orcs are stirring at the borders, and there’s a general unease among the people in the cities. What’s more; the granddaughter of the current king of Stormgard has fallen sick. This happened immediately after a strange mark appeared on her wrist. And finally: a town in the north-west of Stormgard has been utterly destroyed, burned to the ground. People talk of blue flame and the walking dead. And ash, like snow.

Some blame orcish warlocks, while others curse blood mages. Sme are more inclined to see this as divine judgment—punishment for wicked deeds, the sins of man. The king of Stormgard knows how superstitious people can be, and naturally wants to avoid civil unrest. So, he’s made the decision to investigate, as he believes that all of these events are suspicious in nature, perhaps linked with the recent affliction that has befallen his granddaughter, and the mark on her wrist, as well as the general ominous feeling that seems to creep through the land, hanging in the air, filling everyone with dread. A blanket, heavy.

His scribes and masters of books were set to work, to find what they could about this mark, and her illness. They found little, but did return with an old, dusty tome, which contained an image (or drawing rather), resembling the mark on the princess’ wrist. It also contained the stories of something, or someone rather, called the Heralds. The Heralds are described as seven ancient beings of great and dark, twisted power. These stories are largely considered superstition and folklore now, though some still believe in them. The Heralds are said to number seven in total, and are supposedly the ones who will bring about the end of the world, plunging it into darkness. This is the one thing all the major religions of the four races can agree upon.

All of these incidents have brought the king of Stormgard to initiate a search. A search for any and every one that might have a marking on their body, resembling that of his granddaughter’s. He has even requested the help of the other kingdoms, though all of this has been done in secret. No one but the regents of the other lands, and the king’s most trusted friends know what the search is for. The soldiers that carry out his orders, have only been instructed to carry anyone back to Fellmark.

You will be playing a character, who will be part of a chosen few. You will not, however have a say in this choosing. You have lived your life as you have, so far, but things are about to change dramatically as you are suddenly struck by dizziness and a sharp, blinding pain on the wrist. Your skin blackens, your blood feels hot and stings in your veins. You’ve been marked, and now people are looking for you.




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Toggle Rules

Private, thus far. Unless contacted through PM's.
As this is a team of dedicated players who are also on Discord daily and in this for the long-haul; we've elected to keep our group small, unless we're discussing things directly in PM's. Thanks for your consideration or for reading along. Stay beautiful.

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Painted ashes, painted snow
When the dark awakens,
souls of Gods, souls of men
Meet in cinders to ascend.
- The Seven Heralds


The King of Stormgard reached his fingers across the realms—as far as he could, at least. Sent whispers to the furthest reaches, through the slums and the cities, searching for those who bore the peculiar markings on their wrists. Ruby red; like flames, like the one that’d struck his poor daughter’s wrist. There were no answers there, only questions. Sickly as she was, it made no sense. He sent his personal guards, and elected to contact shadier organizations for word of these individuals. The Masters-of-Books could only tell them so much. Seven heralds. If the dusty tome was anything to go by… then they would find six others.

Somewhere.

A few weeks later, somehow, he’d had all six apprehended. They were tended for, albeit in differing manners. A prisoner, a half-orc, a soldier, a mage, a farm-girl, and an elvish woman. Though he hadn’t asked of their stories, he did ask them for something much different. A deal, of sorts. A lofty request that some might have seen as an honor. Not all. A handsome reward was also offered, as well as the chance to understand more of the marks they bore.

“I will not command you, or demand this of you. But I will ask and pray that you will help each other, Stormgard and me. Go to this village in the north-west, see what you can find and bring back proof that the dead walk, or find out what might have happened.”

His words echoed. Beat against them. Money or knowledge. Honor and duty. Freedom, in one case.

They were to be sent to a razed village that lied in the north-west of Stormgard, called Oakheart. Rumors of blue fire, and walking corpses had been circulating. A party of his own guardsmen had been sent to investigate, and hadn’t returned. Coincidence? The King believed otherwise. In the morning, the band set out for the village; each person as unlikely as the next to be traveling side by side. Each one with varying reasons for even going along with the King’s request.

It only took them a day to reach the village, to bear witness to the destruction that'd swept through. Leaving naught but dust and ash, buildings crumpled like open-ribs, bared towards the sky. Smouldering embers, the crackling of homes, and little more then the wind greeted their ears. The band split into smaller groups to investigate and discovered that the rumors might not have been just hearsay after all...

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Garos Sharad Character Portrait: Phaedra Mithalvarin Character Portrait: Callion Lightson Character Portrait: Mara Timbers Character Portrait: Cecilia Floros

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The horde that had managed to accumulate in front of Callion normally wouldn't have been much of an issue. He could have utilized his spells to blast a way forward, but having to maintain the shield was otherwise occupying his attention. With Phaedra and Mara within his care he couldn't allow himself to go on the offensive. While he could guarantee his own safety, he couldn't do the same for the other two if he started lighting the entire place on fire. As arrows flew past him by the surprisingly accurate Mara, his thoughts roamed to potential solutions until Phaedra took it upon herself to force open a path. Leaving the relative safety of Callion's shield, she managed to make herself useful and provide an opening for the two of them to push through. "It would appear our angry little cat has managed to unleash her claws on something other than us. Come Mara." Callion stated, managing to push through a gap in the undead and bring them into the clearing with the rest of the group.

It still took a few moments, as this required something that Callion wasn't used to honing...physical strength. The barrier could keep the undead from getting to them, but it still required someone to more or less 'anchor' the shield in place. While it did reduce the force being put against it, when ten to twenty mindless creatures slammed against it, it was still a very real effort to stay in place. As Callion and Mara managed to get to the group, Callion released the shield. It wasn't large enough to cover the entire group anyways, not without getting to know each other in some very intimate ways. "At the very least, it appears the rest of you are competent in the ways of slaughtering the brainless." Callion smirked as each of them went about swinging their weapons, casting their magic or firing their bows. Looking around though, none of this made sense. Callion's brow furrowed as he stood there, allowing the others to essentially fight while he simply thought.

The village wasn't large enough to have sustained such a massive population, which means the numbers they were looking at in terms of enemies here was simply impossible...if one looked at it from a simple matter conversion perspective. Typically speaking, in order to create undead, one would need a previously alive person to complete the spell. While there was the potential to use the long dead, buried under the foundation of the village or in its cemetery to pad the numbers, the total still didn't add up. They were very obviously affected by his 'turn undead' barrier, meaning they were exactly what they appeared, but their existence couldn't be quantified. Callion, with his nearly eidetic memory, couldn't recall anything that would allow for this to happen. Then again, he couldn't explain the marks either, nor were there any obvious signs of necromancy aside from the horde that now assailed them. Typically he would be able to sense the dark magics, especially on this scale. While he could sense magic on a scale that impressed him, it didn't feel of the forbidden arts. Even Blood Magic wouldn't explain this conundrum...at least as far as he knew.

A brief flare of 'danger' appeared in the back of his mind as he turned around a noticed a trio of zombies approaching him. A flick of his hand and glowing sigils appeared in front. They shot out as if from a cannon and impacted with the creatures, sending their charred remains back into the horde. Bringing his mind back to the present, the numbers were getting out of hand, his companions were getting tired and they would most likely sound the retreat soon.

That simply wouldn't do.

Making his way to Ragnar's side, being the de facto leader of the group after all, Callion stabbed his staff into the ground once more to summon the shield around them. "Soldier, listen well." Callion started, allowing the shield around them to buy them a moment of time to talk with confidence of not being interrupted. "I can't explain the undead presence here, nor their numbers, but I assume your most pressing desire would be to retreat from the village." Callion stated, shaking his head. "I cannot allow myself to do that, as there is no guarantee that this wasn't caused by the Heralds mark coming into existence, plus we still need to properly investigate this. Not to mention that the undead, while at the moment sequestered here, have no reason to simply remain in this location. They need no food, no water, and they never tire. Should they decide to wander, they could hit the next closest village and I refuse to let that happen because of my inadequacy."

Callion looked around at the rest of the group fighting, noticing the waning strength as their stamina started to drain. "I propose two solutions. One, we go street by street, house by house, alley by alley and we clear out every undead abomination that way..." Callion stated, knowing full well that wasn't really an option when they were struggling to maintain their own in the clearing here. "Or two, you protect me while I figure out a way to rewrite an encapsulation spell to deal with the undeath in this town. It will take me some time, as I will have to figure out the sigils, motions and mana flow on my own. I will be unable to defend myself while I do so, thus my life will be in the hands of yourself and the group." Callion looked at Ragnar, his mind already thinking about the possible rewrites and combinations to make the second option work. It wasn't a question as to whether he could do it, but rather could he do it before they were overrun. "Which would you have us do?"

”Clearing them out one by one isn’t an option.” Ragnar replied, taking a moment while he was protected by Callion’s shield to regain his breath. ”We can barely hold our own here…” Ragnar seemed to pause for a second, as if he was looking for any other potential solutions, or maybe he was contemplating running anyways. No, he didn’t strike Callion as the cowardly type. If he was wanting to run, it was because he was worried about everyone else, not himself. ”How much time?” He finally asked Callion. The Wizard’s response was a huff as the shield around them dropped, and once again set them loose against the horde that pressed in on them.

”As long as I need.” Callion stated, which directly translated to ‘It will be done when it’s done’. Ragnar looked around for a moment, seeming to regret his decision but finally nodding before shouting to everyone in range.

”Everyone! Callion’s working on a way to deal with the horde but he needs time! Protect him while he does so!” Ragnar looked back at Callion, who was already pulling things out of his bag and sifting through his assortment of items. ”You better be right about this wizard.”

”I’m always right soldier.” Callion stated with so much conviction that it bypassed arrogance into almost sounding truthful. Callion went to work immediately, grabbing what appeared to be a small mat of some sort out of his bag and placing it on the ground. There, he placed a few books, open to reveal their contents. Words written in Dwarvish, Elvish, and English were seen littering the pages. His staff, released from his hands, hovered next to him as he gave a flourish of his hand, drawing wisps of light into the air, which then formed sigils in front of him. It was then that he truly started, his mind focused on the task at hand.

Normally his turn undead spell was limited to a set circumference around the point of cast, in his case, the staff. Not to mention it was a simple barrier, not meant to inflict harm, but to prevent certain aspects of magic and life from passing through, much like a stone wall is meant to keep out invaders. That wouldn’t do, he needed to take away the ‘barrier’ part of his barrier and turn it into an offensive spell. Not exactly the easiest thing to do with a purely defensive casting, plus he had to somehow turn it into a widespread encapsulation of the village. His hands traced through the sigils, which looked more akin to smoke in front of him as he pulled segments of them apart and rewrote them in the air. As he did so, he pulled out yet another book, along with a quill, opening to another section and writing whatever he managed to learn as he did so. If need be, he would want to be able to recast this particular spell given the chance.

He felt the breath of a undead creature breathing on his neck for a split second before the sickening crunch of its head caving in was felt rather than heard above the din of battle. Callion didn’t flinch as he continued his work, muttering to himself as he went on, glancing over as someone dropped another corpse directly in front of him. ”An Elvish command maybe...mixing it with the human denotation of ‘death’? No, that wouldn’t work, too much conflicting energy spiraling in on itself.’ Callion stated as he wrote more in his book and waved through the smoky sigils in front of him, causing them to reset. His focus was so absolute that the wizard didn’t move as more and more bodies dropped around in from various party members. The sound of fighting becoming nothing more than a droning buzz as Callion lost himself in the application of magic.

”With the staff used as the anchoring point...conflicting magical energies would need to be controlled, with an emphasis on ‘controlled’. Defensive and offensive energies colliding with each other...I’m thinking about this in the wrong way, it’s not a defensive spell anymore, that needs to be stripped.” Callion muttered to himself as he wiped another chunk of the sigil away and replaced it with another. The fighting continued, and he could hear what seemed like words being yelled at him, but he couldn’t be bothered to listen. He would find a way to do this, after all, it was simply a challenge.

After a few more iterations, taking a few minutes to come together, he felt like he had something that might work but he had to test it first. He looked out at the battlefield, noting the numerous bodies that had somehow fallen in a circle around him that he had failed to notice. At the very least, they were doing their job and protecting him while he worked, it would have been a terrible way to go...or maybe the best way. Either way, Callion aimed at a still walking and groaning undead with his staff. The sigil he had been working on became more pronounced, with a slight modification to act like a ‘blast’ rather than ‘encapsulation’. It glowed with intensity for a moment at the tip of the staff, then fired into the undead creature.

It impacted with slight force, making the creature stumble and for a moment it appeared to stop. That is, before it started lurching back and forth. Callion stared at it for a moment, wondering what it was doing since it was obviously still standing, his hand on his quill and his eyes glued to it, ready to make any observations. It took a moment too long for Callion to realize he had created the equivalent of an undead ‘sneezing fit’. For a moment later, the creature seemed to regain its senses and start its attack anew. ”Unexpected, could be fun for later, but at the moment a disappointment.” Callion noted in his book as he brought the sigil back and wiped away a good portion of it.

His hands became a flurry of activity at this point, fully aware of where he had gone wrong and writing it to include some Elvish healing magic. After all, you can’t heal a dead body, so it has the opposite effect on them, wringing them of their curse to finally join the the spirits in the afterlife. The sneezing fit was because he had written the sigil without an emphasis on that aspect of the spell, not to mention he needed to correct the flow of mana through his body into his staff to allow for magic itself to have the proper effect. Once that was done, he nodded at his new sigil before someone jumped past him, swiping through the sigil slightly as a couple of undead collapsed mere inches from him. Callion gave a gruff as he reformed the sigil, pointed at the nearest walking corpse and let loose.

The effect on this one was more pronounced as it stopped for a moment, then all the flesh on the zombie fell off like like slop being poured into a bowl. The only problem was that the skeleton then continued to move, powered by dark energy. Callion gave an aggravated sigh, adding a single swipe to the sigil and firing again, watching as the skeleton then slumped into a pile of unmoving bones. ”There...that should do it...no more dark energy coursing through your body. Now to add the final touches…” Callion muttered once more to himself as he changed the sigil again. into an all encompassing one. Still, this will require quite a bit of mana...can’t be helped. Callion thought to himself as the sigil was finished and he grasped his staff with more premature triumph than determination.

With a slight toss, he threw his staff in the air, which stayed there, straight as an arrow as the sigils formed above it. Callion held his hands out as mana poured from his palms into the staff above. Normally an intangible and invisible force, the amount needed made the unseen fuel form a wisp of blue and flow through the air as his staff collected it from him. Within moments, his staff and the sigil above it were glowing with a golden intensity as it gathered the strength needed to perform. Moments later, the sensation of static shock was felt throughout the clearing, before a ‘boom’ that wasn’t necessarily heard but more felt flowed through the town. The impact from the pulse left Callion feeling as if someone had roughly rubbed him all over somehow. An unfortunate side effect that he could look into later as the pulse continued outwards.

As it did so, the undead stopped in their tracks, their flesh falling from their bodies as they crumpled into piles of skin and bones, unmoving. It took all of a few seconds for the pulse to make its way through the entire village, the feeling of being coarsely manhandled lasting for as long as the pulse did, and once it was done everything was silent. Callion breathed a sigh of contentment...then he breathed again...and again. He was out of breath. He felt like he had run a marathon and his face looked like that of someone who had not slept in days. His staff fell out of the air like a rock, slapping Callion on the back of the head as it did so, causing him to yelp out in pain slightly as he rubbed the back of his skull. He wobbled in spot slightly, feeling more tired today than he had been in quite some time.

”There.” Callion stated, having gained enough breath back to actually form words, bending over slowly to pick his staff up out of the dirt. ”Nothing to worry about. The threat has been resolved, now we can continue with...our investigation.” Callion stated, moving incredibly slowly to pick up all his books and materials, placing them in his bag. I just need...a moment.” Callion stated, moving over to one of the ruined houses and taking a seat and gripping his staff in front of him as he fought off the deep seated urge to sleep once more.

At least it wasn’t his narcolepsy, this was pure exhaustion...and that he could actually stave off.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Garos Sharad Character Portrait: Phaedra Mithalvarin Character Portrait: Callion Lightson Character Portrait: Mara Timbers Character Portrait: Cecilia Floros

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Mara felt like a fawn following its mother. Keeping close to Callion's heels, firing arrows as best she could, she couldn't stop trembling. The trembling only grew worse when Callion dropped his sheild. She heard Ragnar call for them to protect the wizard, but how? 

The horde of undead lurched toward her, Mara froze. She glanced toward Callion, crouched and muttering. He was gazing at something faintly twinkling in the air, as if fireflies had formed words for him to read. Around him, the others felled the undead, doing as Ragnar asked. But she couldn't find a clear shot with her bow, they were too close! 

Breath near her nape reminded her just how close. Mara screamed, jumping and lashing out with a leg like a startled mare. Her booted foot connect with the creature's head, with enough force to send it sprawling. It made a sickening squelching sound as it landed in nearby rubble. But more closed in, as if sensing her weakness. She frantically loosed two more arrows, but both shots missed in her panic. 

Mara faintly heard herself whimpering and cursed herself for her fear. She curled her arms in tightly, fists clenched. Was she strong enough to punch these things? And if so... what happened if they managed to bite her? Were they poisonous? She didn't know much about undead things... but she was out of arrows. As her mind toiled over what to do without a weapon, a sea of red hair moved through the horde to her aid. The groans were muffled by the sounds of bones crunching beneath steel as Phaedra fought beside her. She felt a twinge of relief mixed with guilt.

Mara had never been in a fight before. She had always run. But...people needed her. She had promised the king himself! With a cry, she threw her right fist out, swinging wildly. She managed to make contact with a decaying forehead. She felt her stomach roil at the sensation as the brittle skull caved with her swing. The creature crumpled. Either she was stronger than she thought or these things were weaker than an inexperienced farm girl, she wasn't sure which. 

The feisty red head paused for a brief moment amidst the chaos to glance over at Mara. Phaedra slammed her right dagger into the skull of the closest undead. With her hand free for no more than a second, she pulled another knife, smaller in size but still an edged weapon, from the seam of her corset. "You'll break your hands," She said as a warning, motioning her head toward Mara's approach of punching those things in the head. Phaedra quickly handed the blade off to Mara before retreiving her own dagger from the creature's skull. 

Mara took the blade, nodding her thanks. She hadn't thought of breaking her hand, though a glance down showed her knuckles had split and were bleeding freely down her wrist. She hadn't felt it. Really, even as she stared at the blood, she questioned if it were really hers. 

There was a loud groan by her cheek, and with a yelp, Mara spun and jerked the blade forward gracelessly. She stabbed the thing in the stomach, which it didn't seem to like, but also didn't stop it. It pushed forward, further sinking the blade into its flesh as it pawed at her. Mara made a disgusted sound and gave the creature a well aimed kicked to the chest, freeing the blade and regaining distance. 

Mara felt her breath quicken with anxiety. She was no good at this. What had she been thinking when she'd agreed to this? Well, this might even still be better than being back with her father. But here, she was truly a burden. 

The corpse never truly regained its balance to start nipping back at Mara, twig-like arms grabbing sightlessly at the air, mouth gawped open to display rotten, blackened teeth. A hand wrenched it further backwards, pulling down by the shoulder and tossing it to the ground before a familiar axe ended its warbling. Garos joined them at their side, looking a little worse for wear. Sweat trickled from his jawline, and dropped onto the ground whenever he swung himself back into the fray. Upon close examination… it seemed as if it was blood. A line dribbled lazily down his hairline, smeared where he must’ve wiped his hand across. A smatter of who-knows-what decorated the front of his leathers; more gore that’d be troublesome to clean off. 

Glancing their way, he dislodged the axe free from the corpses’ chest and grinned wide, as if he had anything to grin about here, in this wretched place. Relief, maybe. He drew closer to them, though he faced outwards only to fell another corpse. Seemed as if he’d heard the order well enough. Protect Callion.  The half-orc seemed only too happy to follow along with orders. Perhaps, it was in his nature to do so. His shoulders tensed as snapping jaws hobbled closer, and he stepped forward to swing his axe once more, cleaving through an arm, and following through into another’s torso. He gained some ground with a deft kick to the sternum, much like she had.

Seeing Garos seemed to snap something back into place. Some kernel of courage, unearthed in her chest. Mara cried out, in anger or fear, she wasn't sure which. Like a cub trying to roar. Feeling emboldened by Phaedra and Garos's presence, she hefted herself atop the crumbled remains of a home and using the leverage, began to launch herself onto the back of the nearest creature. As she hung in the air, she held the  knife in both hands and swung downward for the strike. Yet, before she felt the impact there was a blinding flash of golden light. Mara flinched from the brightness. She felt the hairs on her neck and arms shiver, and a sensation similar to being flung to the ground during her father's rages filled her chest. Was this... what magic felt like? 

When the light faded, Mara found herself standing on a pile of unmoving corpses. She stared in amazement out across the ruined town, to see all the creatures had stopped and appeared to be now actually dead. Not far from her perch, she heard Callion remark that the danger was done. Relief surged through her tiny frame. She could feel the tension in her shoulders unknot and much to her shame, felt the warmth of tears roll down her gore streaked cheeks. She quickly swiped at them with her filthy sleeve as she carefully climbed down from the mound of unmoving dead.

Her body trembled, a leaf in a breeze. She tottered unsteadily toward Phaedra and Garos. She could feel her braided hair plastered to her nape with nervous sweat. 

  "T..thank you both... she murmured, voice raspy.  

 Before Mara could attempt to give Phaedra back her blade, the red head extended her hand to stop her. "Keep it. It suits you," she said as she wiped her daggers off on tattered cloth wrapped around one of the corpses. "It suits you." Mara looked at the blade dubiously. It was clear she disagreed, but she only tucked it into her tattered cloak lining. 

Mara wanted to say more. She wanted to apologize for being weak, burdensome, but the words all felt trite. Instead, she began to busy herself with her pack, trembling hands, finding herbs and bandages and a vial of salve she had made back home.  

  "Garos... that blood...is  it yours? And Miss Phaedra, how do you fare? If,If anyone is injured... I have enough herbs to help." Mara glanced toward Callion, seeing him seated, she wondered if he had used all his energy for that spell. She didn't see any large wounds on the wizard from here. 

As Mara approached, the concern seemed to have left Garos’ face. Perhaps, he thought their chances better than they’d been before. He seemed confused for a moment, eyebrows drawing together, before he drew a hand up and touched his forehead. When his fingertips came away wet, her drew his head back and laughed, eyes amused. “Just a scratch. Must’ve hit my head in all the fuss.” The fuss, as if nearly being gobbled by inhumane creatures was something small and insignificant. There were deeper scars there, lining his forehead and tipped across his lip. This, it seemed, would be another.Mara was not bold enough to insist.

"I'm fine," Phaedra replied as she pulled a cloth from her satchel and began to clean herself the best she could. The woman didn't seem to be any pain, but she looked otherwise. Not much was left of her blouse and what remained was held in place by her corset. Pale, freckled arms were covered in scratches, blood and who knows whatever else. And the bandage Mara had fastened around the red mane was long gone. Mara watched the woman for a moment, brow furrowed with concern. Yet still, she was not able to insist she be allowed to check her wounds either. Garos's voice drew her attention,

“I dunno about you all, but before we settle down and lick our wounds, I’d like to find a nicer spot. Y’know, less smoulder. Less bodies.” He gave Mara a wink, whirled on his feet and closed the distance between he and Callion. Despite everything else that had just happened, Mara felt her face go hot when she caught the wink. She was glad his back was to her. She watched as Garos hunkered down beside the wizard’s grasshopper-thin frame, already wrapping one of his arms around him. He stooped lower to snatch up the staff, only long enough to push it against Callion’s chest and draw them both back up. A small laugh sounded with a tinge of surprise, “Gods, yer’ light as a feather, Cal.”  

Mara hurriedly looked away before Garos could catch her staring. As she turned, Mara saw Cecilia in the corner of her eye, bloodied, but not as plastered with filth as one would expect, possibly due to the range her rapier provided her. She seemed less concerned about leaving the devasted village and more focused on gathering whatever samples of flesh she could from the corpses. "I'm not sure what use this will be to us now that whatever magic kept them mobile has been completely removed... but it's worth the attempt if it'll get us closer to figuring out what happened here."

Surprisingly, out of everyone to offer up a solution, it was the mysterious stranger. "There's another town about... 10 miles that way." Phaedra pointed West with one of her daggers before sheathing it. "It's not close, but there isn't anything closer that people haven't abandoned." Her head fell slightly while she pursed her lips. "Some people I know work there. We'll have food and beds." With that Phaedra hooked her thumbs around her belt, shifting her weight to her left leg.

Mara nodded, absorbing Phaedra's words. "Thank you... that will be most welcome... please... lead the way." Mara scanned their battle worn group. Everyone here could surely use a rest... and a bath.

She hoped once there, she could manage to treat everyone,maybe she would feel less shaken and could find the courage to insist.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Garos Sharad Character Portrait: Phaedra Mithalvarin Character Portrait: Callion Lightson Character Portrait: Mara Timbers Character Portrait: Cecilia Floros

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They’d left the horses tethered just on the outskirts of the village—safe, and out of range of the hobbling corpses, hopefully. Garos dreaded the thought of making any trek further out on foot. Sure, they’d get there eventually… but he s’posed they were on a tight schedule, seeing how they’d just walked in on exactly what the King feared. Blue fire and the walking dead. What was prophesied. Whatever that meant, anyway. It all sounded like fairy tales, like the kinds of stories his da’ used to whisper about at night; of days gone by. Things you tell children to get them to behave, more like. Now this, this was different. Nothing he’d ever heard of before, that’s for sure.

He readjusted his grip on Callion, feeling his fingers run across rake-thin ribs. He really was light. Felt like the gangly colts he used to have running around their homestead; all awkward limbs, bones sticking out through new, paper-thin coats. Though, the wizard didn’t really remind him of that at all, what with the magic show he put on. His power. Like the stars, exploding. He’d felt it rippling through his skin. Electric. Alive, buzzing and all at once, uncomfortable. It was something he’d never experienced before. Seemed like he was having a lot of those lately. He led them a few paces from where they were, stepping around the rubble, and ashen mess Callion had created. Almost looked as if the corpses’ had returned to dust and ash, like they should’ve always been.

There was a sense of something. Something he felt, rather than saw. An absence. Hollow. He stopped in his tracks and glanced over his shoulder, the feeling of relief sagging into something heavier. A stone in the pit of his stomach. He’d felt it before, that absence. “Wait—...” His eyes roved across the others; one by one, doing a mental tally. One, two, three. Four, counting the new one. Fiery hair catching the light of the sun. Wildfire, almost. She certainly seemed like it. His eyes landed on Mara, then flit away. Past her, searching. Seeking. Finding nothing. It hit him then, what the absence was. Why it felt so strange leading the way through the wreckage.

“Where’s Ragnar? Thomas?”

Callion's head lifted slightly, his brows furrowing as if deep in thought. His eyes though, tired as they appeared, scanned the rubble with Garos as he sniffed slightly. Was he trying to... smell them? It was then that his eyes appeared to lock on something. "I found Ragnar..." Callion stated, but it wasn't of happiness or relief, it was the sound of resignation. His arm lifted and pointed, and from beneath ash and stone was the familiar glint of metal armor laying in a massive pool of blood.

Cecilia followed the motion of Callion's hand, catching the small shine that they had all come to associate with Ragnar's armor, in spite of the short time that they had all spent travelling together. Her eyes seemed to harden almost instantly. She kept her face composed, but behind it was something that resembled an anger threatening to boil over.

Mara made a sound that was something between a gasp and a sob. Rabbit-like, she skittered toward the blood, but upon reaching it, seemed to lose any focus she had. A bandage was gripped in her left hand, but even she seemed to know that her efforts would be wasted here.

"Oh..." was all she managed to say, putting a hand to her mouth. Tears traced lines down her cheeks through the gore and dust. He saw Mara's head turn slightly, her form stumbling a little as she tripped over something. He heard her stifle another sob. What was left of Thomas was just under her soiled boots. His form had been torn apart, limbs gnawed beyond recognition, yet somehow his face and torso remained mainly intact. Mara knelt, trembling visibly, and with a shaking hand closed the man's open lifeless eyes. She stayed crouched that way, back to the group for a few moments, as if thinking. Then, she rifled through her pack, seemed to find what she was searching for, and leaned over the corpse. She stood, and repeated this motion over the dented armor of Ragnar. When she moved away, small white flowers had been placed on or near the corpses. Chamomile.

Though soft, a sound soon came from the farm girl. Muffled by grief, but still recognizable, she seemed to be singing softly.

"Do not stand at my grave and weep... I am not there... I do not sleep."

The mysterious woman stood slightly away from the rest of them, her eyes downcast at the sight of Ragnar's corpse. With Mara's words echoing throughout the lifeless village, the stranger's strong dimeanor seemed to waiver. Maybe it was because she thought no one was looking, but she almost seemed... sad. From what Garos saw of her, the red head presented herself as a fierce force, not one to really show any weakness or vulnerability. But in that moment with the song carried softly on the breeze, she appeared fragile.

Her scratched and blood covered hands fell to the leather satchel that hung at her side. The woman seemed far off, her eyes never focusing on one thing nor what her hands were doing as they pulled a single charred shoe from the bag. Soot covered her finger tips as she tried to wipe away the devastation from it, like somehow it could erase away the past with each brush. A soft sigh left the woman's lips as she stepped forward, placing the shoe upon a piece of rubble... Perhaps a memorial for someone she too lost.

Mara did not lift her face, but looked upon the dead, singing their last dirge with soft, sweet dilligance.

"I am the thousand... winds that blow... I am the diamond glint... on snow... I am sunlight on unripen'd grain... I am the gentle autumn rain... do not stand at my grave and cry... I am not there."

Mara lifted her face skyward, voice faltering as she struggled with the last words. Mara's small fists clenched and unclenched at her sides.

"I... did.... not... die." Mara finished, so softly, it was as if she were afraid to wake the sleeping dead nearby. The girl turned, expression numb with grief. Looking to the group, for answers? For comfort? He was not sure which.

"I would... like to go now... please." Mara muttered, voice rough with tears.

If the hollowed feeling in his gut could grow any deeper, Garos feared he might fall into it. He’d seen this before, though it made it no easier. He’d hardly know them—couldn’t admit to knowing them at all. Ragnar had been everything he’d wished he could’ve been as a kid. A true warrior, a leader. Knightly. It made following after him effortless, natural. He was sure that he’d done this before, leading people into battle. But this, this was no natural occurrence, and they hadn’t fought people this time. People could be predictable. He’d seen this all before, but even so, even so, he felt his eyes water.

Ragnar’s armor, though smattered in gore and dented in some places, caught sunlit and shone brightly. Seemed like the brightest thing here, it did. When Mara stepped over Thomas’ crumpled form and stumbled backwards, his eyebrows drew together. Dropped down to her feet. His remains. He'd been a quiet one; he'd never know what kind of man he truly was. It took everything in him to control his face, temper it into something more manageable when her voice rose above the new silence that had taken over since the mewling of dead has ceased. Loud as bells, carried across the wind. He dashed a knuckle across his eye and made a small noise; a huff of breath. A sigh.

His gaze dragged away from Ragnar’s chestplate. The redhead seemed smaller in that moment, as if she’d pulled into herself. He didn’t doubt that she’d never seen something like this before: this death. How she’d fought earlier gave him the impression that they were similar. Survivors. Though, not in the sense of how Ragnar had been. But here, now, she looked smaller, cradled in Mara’s grief-stricken song. His eyes flicked to the small shoe, a woman's, though he made no comment. When she was done, and all was silent once more, Garos gave a nod and inclined his head to where they’d tethered the horses.

He’d like to have buried them here, proper like. But… he doubted they’d find any feasible tools beyond the charred remains in the village. It made it all the worse; leaving them like that. “You’re right,” he cleared the roughness from his own throat, “We should tell the King about this. Have them come back proper. Bury our….” he readjusted his grip on Callion and shook his head, “y’know, honor them.”

"A loss caused by the unnatural manipulation of life." Callion's words were softer than before, but they still held a distinct lack of compassion or sympathy. Looking at the man he was currently holding up, Callion's face was rigid and his eyes stared holes into the corpses of their comrades. While he couldn't claim to know what the man was thinking, it didn't appear as if he was unaffected by the turn of events, but rather spurred on to action of some sort. "A burial would be proper, you are correct." Callion stated, his eyes darting to the bits and pieces of the undead that remained in somewhat of a solid state. It almost appeared as if he was angry, but not at anyone in particular. "The plan failed... I have to be better." Callion stated, before finally containing his thoughts to himself.

The redhead cleared her throat, gaining the others attention. She didn't raise her voice nor sound as dominating in the moment. She might have been mysterious but she seemed to have a silent respect for the dead. "We should head out if we want to reach the next town before sundown." She secured her daggers in their holsters at the small of her back and stepped forward, nodding in her head in the direction they planned to travel. "If we cut across country we can shave an hour or two from our journey." Her gaze drifted over toward the horses where her expression twisted in confusion as she noticed Callion's two rather encumbered horses. "But, we'll need to travel light," she added looking back toward the group.

After a moment of silence, the woman brushed back crimson locks from her face. She began in the direction she had pointed out to the others, adjusting the strap of her satchel upon her shoulder. "I'll start ahead. Catch up when you are ready." She didn't say any words of condolences. But the redhead made her way farther into the woods, almost like a unspoken moment of respect, giving the others the chance to mourn over a fallen comrade.

Soundlessly, Mara untethered her mare and followed the red head.

Garos watched as Cecilia wordlessy rifled through her satchel and pulled out a small glass vial full of what appeared to be grounded spices. She then approached the corpses of Ragnar and Thomas with a stoic coldness that he imagined could only be achieved through countless years of practice. The anger that was almost palpable before seemed to have exhausted itself in seconds. "This will help stave off decomposition. Perhaps it'll be enough so that their bodies remain distinguishable, although I wouldn't hope for much. This is far from the proper process. She gingerly covered the bodies as best as she could, leaving her hands slick with blood and clumps of spice. Whether she had done something like this before was difficult to ascertain. Her face remained impassive, but her eyes were sharp, fixated on the task at hand.

As Cecilia finished, she stood and pulled out a small cloth, rubbing her hands clean, staring down at the bodies that laid at her feet. "What a sad waste of life." Words that normally were ones of grief, said in a tone that seemed almost perfunctory. Mechanical, as though the phrase was part of a daily routine. In a way, it sounded like someone lamenting the loss of a useful tool.

She replaced the vial and cloth in her satchel before following after Mara.

Garos halted in his steps long enough to glimpse Cecilia hunkering down beside their corpses—sprinkling an unknown substance across their bodies; their faces, and whatever else was exposed to the open air. Something that would keep their bodies intact. He’d be lying if he said he understood how any of that worked. Her movements, her reaction to all this, almost seemed as mechanical as Callion’s. As if they’d done this before, or maybe… they just didn’t feel the same way. The loss. The emptiness. He supposed he shouldn’t either, but he had a bad habit of getting too close to people. In his line of work, those sentiments might mean death. Or vulnerabilities he couldn’t afford to have.

Unfortunately, he’d never been smart enough to slough any of that off. He had more scars than he’d care to admit because of reasons like that. Letting people get too close. Taking far too many risks for people he hardly knew. Acquaintances. Friends. The Hooded Company hadn’t trained him to be soft, nor overly friendly. These were clients, and at times, targets. People he’d steal from and lie to. Still. He couldn’t help it.

Of course, they hadn’t known Thomas and Ragnar long at all. Barely a couple days, and under circumstances that gave them no reason to tarry too close; to make anything anymore personal than they had reason to. Beyond them all having the same tattoos on their wrists, emblazoned in the flesh, they had nothing in common. A sad waste of life, she’d said. He grit his teeth around those words, and hunched his shoulders, following after the others.

It damn well was.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Garos Sharad Character Portrait: Phaedra Mithalvarin Character Portrait: Callion Lightson Character Portrait: Mara Timbers Character Portrait: Cecilia Floros

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As the group trudged on towards whatever village was the destination, Cecilia rode near the back of the group, her face as unreadable as it usually was. It bordered on the line of both calm and irritated, and this uncertainty was reflected how she was feeling at the moment. Nothing felt entirely wrong, but nothing felt right either. The sun shined blindingly on the horizon as it began to set, Cecilia readjusted herself in her saddle multiple times and slouched over the reigns, the sluggish breeze was just a tad too chilly; this could all be easily tied to the fact that she felt the gnawing sense that everything would've been avoided, that Ragnar and Thomas didn't have to die, torn apart by raised corpses.

She had grown irritated in the village as she had fought her way through waves of rotted flesh and broken bones, and now she felt justified in that irritation. It was entirely pointless. They had learned nothing about the mark that had embedded its way into each of their wrists, and now they were short two skilled fighters, having nothing to show for it. "A waste of life..., she murmured on a low breath, barely aware of who'd be around to hear her say it. The thought remained in her head as she focused on the fields in front of them. They had left the smoldering village behind, along with the corpses of both the villagers and what were newfound friends. Possibly. At any rate, it'd be better not to dwell on it for too long.

With a sharp breath, she righted her posture, resuming the air of elegance and narcissism that elves were so often known for. Traits that she had worked to make herself known for. She gazed at the red-head, the one who was leading them to the village. Phaedra, or at the very least, that's what Cecilia had overheard Mara address her as. So, how far away from this village do you suppose we are now?

The red-head glanced back over her shoulder toward Cecilia almost like she wasn't expecting someone to speak to her. This caused the strange new woman to slow in pace, but silently nod her head forward as a quiet gesture to tell them to continue on without her. She raised her hand and gave the side of Mara's horse a gentle pat as they passed. Mara's horse grunted, but the farm girl stared blankly ahead in silence. Once Cecilia was a bit closer, not so close as if to suggest they were strolling side by side as companions but to avoid shouting and potentially alarming anyone nearby, the woman looked back up toward her. "Not much farther."

The new addition to the group glanced up at the sky like she was trying to gauge the time by the sun. It was late, and within the forest they had all but fallen into shadows. But a few glimpses up through the leaves showed soft rays of a setting sun, nearly dusk. "A couple of miles," the red-head added as she kept her gaze forward.

Garos seemed content to let his silence drag for once, which was peculiar. Ever since Cecilia had met him, he'd be incessant. Constantly jabbering. Bubbly, by all accords. Now, he rode slightly ahead of her, eyes focused on the path ahead. He only glanced over his shoulder when she, and Phaedra, spoke, before readjusting himself in his saddle, and continuing forward as he'd been instructed. There was a bunch to his shoulders, as if he held his reigns a little too tightly.

It was unsettling, to say the least, and it threw Cecilia a little off-kilter to see Garos acting so unusually. He always gave the impression that he was one to laugh away his worries, but now there was no laughter to be had. Concern brought another image to Cecilia's mind, of when she had covered blood and bone with spices. It was a cursory glance at Ragnar's wrist, but now that glance had grave implications. The mark that had etched itself into his wrist was gone, leaving behind nothing but pale, unmarred skin, as if it had never been there in the first place. Thomas was torn apart completely, there wasn't much left besides his torso, but Cecilia had the sinking feeling that the mark had left his body as well. That had left only the obvious conclusion, forming a pit of nerves in her stomach and a lump in her throat. Cecilia drew a quick breath, steeling herself for the words that were about to come out of her own mouth. No. It'd be better to not say anything at all. Not yet. Fighting back the urge to speak, she focused again on the road ahead of them.

As the final rays of sunlight disappeared beyond the slight arc of the horizon, she saw the faint view of the outskirts of a village.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Garos Sharad Character Portrait: Phaedra Mithalvarin Character Portrait: Callion Lightson Character Portrait: Mara Timbers Character Portrait: Cecilia Floros

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#, as written by Scar.-
The sun fell behind the tree line just as the small village came into view. Phaedra let out an audible sigh at the sight. Her feet were aching, the silence was deafening… But worst of it all was the knowledge, or lack thereof, regarding everything that has happened to her within the past day, which weighed on her like a sack of rocks.

Phaedra’s hands gripped the worn leather strap of her satchel, adjusting it across her torso as her steps hastened, carrying herself to the front of the group. Her feet pivoted on the hearth, her boots twisting in the mud and grass as she face the small party, putting her hands up in a silent gesture to halt. She brushed loose curls back from her face before addressing the others. “I have to go in alone. If I go in there with you all, I doubt I could get us any aid.”

These people had no reason to trust her and Phaedra knew it. In all honesty, she didn’t need to help them neither. She could have parted her own way and left them to fight the undead to live or die as they would… And she thought about it. But leaving wouldn’t get her answers. It would not solve the mystery of whatever the hell the mark on her wrist was, what that strange tablet was or why these others had the same mark.

Phaedra’s eyes closed as a soft sighed escaped her lips. She then tentatively removed her satchel. With the straps grasped in her left hand, she stepped toward the timid Mara. For reasons she couldn’t quite explain, she seemed to trust the girl. Maybe it was because, even though Mara didn’t know her, she helped Phae while she was unconscious. Or maybe it was because someone that gentle and meek couldn’t possibly be terrible. ”Watch this for me?... Please?”[/b] She didn’t add a comment about not stealing or sticking her nose where it didn’t belong, Phaedra felt like she didn’t need to.

”Get the horses some water and rest,” Phae said toward the group. ”If anyone asks, you ran into bandits on the road and I lent aid.” Her gaze shifted to each of their party as she spoke. She doubted anyone would object, aside from Skirts. But until they knew what was going on, causing panic was not a solution. ”I should be back soon… hopefully,” she added under breath as she turn from the group and made her way toward the tavern.

The exhaustion felt heavier. It weighed on her like a drenched cloak, clinging to her form, feeling heavier by the minute. There wasn’t much left in her and the others didn’t look much better. She stopped outside the entrance of the inn and glanced over her shoulder, briefly looking back at the others. She inhaled sharply through her nose as she shook her hands at her sides and rolled her neck as if stretching. Mustering what energy she had left, Phaedra ran her fingers from her forehead back through her hair. As her digits parted her crimson mane, her appearance began to shimmer like sunlight on soft rippling water of a still lake.

The dirt and blood seemed to disappear from her. Red curls appeared messy but not matted with the aftermath of battle. A swollen lip and various cuts and injuries faded to feint bruises or small scratches, while tattered clothes mended themselves aside from a rip or two. And the foreign marking on her wrist vanished, revealing smooth ivory skin. Phaedra didn’t have the strength to make herself look as she normally did and for the story she was about to weave, that wouldn’t be believable.

The magic was simple, but Phaedra could already feel it draining her. So, without wasting anymore time, she pushed open the door. The scent of ale, sweat and other bodily fluids bombarded her senses like a wave. Instead of the sound of heavy chatter, the giggles of whores or the clanging of mugs, it was silence. The type of silence that hung in the air like a fog. The tavern was filled from one wall to another of people. Some drank, some didn’t, but none spoke. Were these all refugees? People who fled from their village in any direction to get away, to get find aid, safety or just… Other life? The thought sent a chill down Phaedra’s spin.

The crackling of the hearth and the sound of Phae’s own footsteps echoed like screams in the quiet as she traversed the room toward the bar. ”I need to speak to Ryland,” she said toward the tavern wench who seemed almost surprised to hear another person speak. The young blonde gave a nod of her head and disappeared into the kitchen.

A few moments later a brunette dwarf walked out from behind the counter, drying his hands on a dish cloth. Ryland was handsome for a dwarf, strapping, muscular and, to most people’s surprise, not bearded. He began to speak with his gaze fixated upon the ground. “I apologize miss, but we are—” His voice trailed off when he looked upward. “Phaedra?”

”I need your help.”

“Outside,” Ryland responded, taking hold of her arm and guiding her through the kitchen and out the back entrance. Phaedra tried not to wince at his touch as he grasped at an unseen wound as he brought her along. “What are you doing here? What happened to you? I thought you were supposed to be in Highspring?”

”I was—that’s not why I am here—I was returning when I came across a group of bandits beset upon a party of travelers.”

Ryland sighed as he draped the cloth over his shoulder before crossing his arms. “Phaedra…”

”They need to see to their wounds, a bath, fresh cloths and a warm meal.”

“I don’t know if you saw in there, but there is barely sitting room, let alone extra rooms to give away. Refugees from Oakheart have been pouring in for weeks. We’ve barely been able to feed them… I had to slaughter the dogs just to put food in bellies,” Ryland scolded under his breath.

”Just one night, and we’ll be gone by dawn.”

”We?” Ryland looked up at her with furrowed brows. “Are you going with them? Phaedra, you have to report in. You cannot go wondering off with vagabonds.”

”Ryland, please?”

“Phaedra, I—”

”I can pay. 20 gold for your help… and your silence.”

Ryland’s jaw clenched as a groan rumbled from his throat. “25 gold and you can stay in my room. I’ll… spend the night in the brothel.”

”Done.” Phaedra grabbed a hold of either side of his face and placed a kiss upon Ryland’s forehead. ”Thank you, my friend.”

“But you better be out by dawn,” Ryland called after her as she made her way for the tree line.

Phaedra trudged her way through the tall grass and mud, pushing past branches and bushes to rejoin the group. ”I got us a room. It’s not a palace, but it is a roof over our heads and a warm meal.” She made her way toward Mara, giving the girl a slight smile as she took back her satchel and draped it over her shoulder. ”The horses can go in the stables for the night, they too need some rest,” she said giving Mara’s mount a gentle pat to the shoulder.

She didn’t try to coax unneeded conversation from the others, instead allowing them all to mourn or cope in their own ways. Phaedra simply took the reins from Mara’s horse and guided it toward the stable adjacent to the tavern. There was plenty of hay and water to keep the animals content through night as they all got some rest.

With the horses secured, Phaedra lead them inside the over crowded tavern. The refugees gave them all weary glances as they weaved their way through the bodies toward the counter. Ryland waited with a displeased grimace on his face. Without a word, he extended an open palm toward her motioning for the payment. Phae sighed as she sifted through her satchel and retrieved the agreed upon amount of gold, only leaving a few pieces for herself.

“Room’s upstairs at the end of the hall. Serena will bring up some stew once it’s ready.”

Phaedra nodded her head toward the stairs as a silent gesture for the party to head on up without her. ”Thank you again, Ryland. I owe you.”

“That you do,” he said with a slight smile as he grabbed a stack of clothing from behind the counter. “It’s odds and ends, but there is enough there to at least give you all something clean to wear.”

As Phaedra reached out to take the stack of clothing, her skin flickered like a twinkling star. Her strength was wearing thin and for a brief moment her true appearance shined through before the illusion took hold once again. And even though the slip up was small, Ryland’s eyes widened as he withdrew the clothing from her grasp. “Phaedra, what in the—” he hissed.

Phae quickly took the clothes from his hands, shaking her head slightly. ”Don’t ask questions you don’t answers to.”

Ryland didn’t argue but his face showed concern and confusion. But before he could try to say anything else Phaedra made her way up the stairs and down the narrow corridor. With her free hand, she opened the door into their room for the evening. It was small. Cozy for the five of them, if there were anymore it would be cramped. There was a single bed on the far wall that could fit two if they slept close enough together. On the left side was a small hearth already crackling with a fire. Two chairs and a small table sat along the other wall and in the far corner was a tub behind a small divider.

Once the door was closed, Phaedra slid past Garos to set the fresh clothes upon the table. ”Fresh clothes,” was all she could say, audibly winded. She took the few steps to the nearest wall, letting her body lean back against it. As she did, her illusion fell from her, taking with it her remaining energy. Phaedra let herself slide down the surface until she was sitting upon the ground. After catching her breath she spoke in a hushed tone, ”Sorry, this is the best I could do.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Garos Sharad Character Portrait: Phaedra Mithalvarin Character Portrait: Callion Lightson Character Portrait: Mara Timbers Character Portrait: Cecilia Floros

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This wasn’t the happy kind of ride to a tavern or inn that one would expect from a group that potentially prevented a catastrophe...well, another one. If anything, it felt more like a funeral procession as everyone more or less kept to themselves, with a few hushed conversations taking place as they continued on. All Callion knew was that he was tired and he had failed. Both Ragnar and Thomas were killed because he hadn’t been fast enough. He couldn’t claim to know them well, or even like them if he was being completely honest, but he had been trusted to bring them out and two of them died there. Callion’s hand had been glued to his chin as his other held his notebook, looking for any potential clues that could have made that entire scene easier, and naturally he found plenty. Had he re-written the ‘shield’ sigil from scratch to include an encapsulation appendage, it would have cut out a good portion of his time. He should have included the elvish word for ‘healing’ at the start, avoided the whole ‘sneezing’ episode he had managed to induce in one of the undead. Even from a more practical standpoint, they could have retreated from the town and come back when he had a spell ready...but he would have needed a live specimen to test it on. Callion’s eyes narrowed as yet another wave of exhaustion rolled over him. While he couldn’t claim that he had physically exerted himself as the others had, there was no denying that a mage’s magic was directly linked to their physical well being. Instead of gradually losing all of his stamina, it was like having it ripped from his body with a pitchfork. Still, sitting here and being sorry for himself wasn’t going to help anything at all, and for the first time in a long time, he felt like he could sleep on command this time around. So, placing his notebook in his bag and making sure he wouldn’t fall off his horse, he leant forward and closed his eyes.




Callion woke up every so often during the trip, mainly to readjust his position and make sure he wouldn’t fall off. It didn’t appear like he was missing anything, as everyone around him seemed to be lost in their own thoughts. Callion didn’t truly bother waking up until they were within sight of the village, yawning as he checked to make sure he still had everything. It’s not that he didn’t trust the people around him to not steal his stuff, but more that it calmed his mind performing a routine. When they did finally arrive in front of a tavern/inn, Phaedra proceeded to hop down off her horse and instruct the others that she had to go it alone and about what to say to others regarding their current appearance. Callion narrowed his eyes, looking ready to object but felt like this was not a fight worth having. For at least a little bit, Callion was all battled out and he simply gave a gruff huff regarding the situation and lead his horse to some water and food while Phaedra handed off her satchel and moved to do whatever it was that she would do. Callion had his ideas, most of them involving cleavage and eye batting from the woman cat.

Getting his horse next to the stalls, along with everyone else, he tethered them up and hopped off the animal as it started to drink from the trough and get some well needed rest. Callion patted Reynaldo, the mighty beast giving a huff and exhaling through the nose as Callion fished through the bags to grab his essentials. His essentials were basically everything he had on the horse, practically walking away with a backpack’s worth of items as he double checked to make sure he was leaving nothing outside. When Phaedra did return, Callion was struggling with some scrolls by the looks of it, before giving an exasperated sigh and turning towards the half orc. “Tusks, do you mind assisting me?” Callion asked before shoving a bunch of scrolls into Garros’s arms. “Much obliged.” Callion stated, before listening to Phaedra talk about their accommodations. Honestly, so long as it wasn’t a sex dungeon, Callion couldn’t care less about it. He simply needed a place to reflect and refocus. The majority had survived, in no short part to his efforts, but they didn’t all make it. Callion wasn’t a perfectionist per say, but losing even a single life was a major setback. As they lead the horses into the stables for the night, his eyes never exited from the state of ‘driven resentment’ towards the situation.

They entered the tavern, and immediately the eyes on them were obvious. Why wouldn’t they be? They were disheveled, dirty, bloody and looking a little bit like some kind of hell had just washed over them. Not that it hadn’t, but still this level of attention was not something Callion liked when he didn’t do something amazing to deserve it. Even though he was carrying an absurd amount of stuff, Callion did his best to walk straight and tall, as if he had everything in control as he strode past the common rabble to the apparent barkeep. Phaedra motioned them up and Callion moved without complaint. He wasn’t the one who struck the deal, he wasn’t about to pay money out of his pocket to keep it. Following the instructions given, Callion was the first to arrive at the door and press inside. Immediately he knew this wasn’t a standard inn room, as it was far too tidy and elaborate. Phaedra had either done something to warrant the deluxe suite, or this was the inn owner’s own room. Callion noticed that there was only one bed and gave a huff. “I suppose a number of us are sleeping on the chairs, table, tub and floor.” Callion’s eyes narrowed. “How refreshing…” The sarcasm dripped off his words like venom, his outward demeanor obviously affected the events of today plus the rings under his eyes dictating his level of stress and exhaustion. Despite knowing he had slept on the trip here, he felt like he hadn’t gotten a wink. It was irritating to say the least.

Callion dumped his belongings off to the side against one of the walls. As he did so, Phaedra entered and produced clean clothes for them. Callion wandered over to the clothes presented and held up a shirt. Low quality, basically a rag and strings. Callion looked down at his own robe, and despite being dirty, was still made with quality. Callion looked over at Phaedra, feeling his irritable nature taking hold. “These rags co-” Callion interrupted himself when he saw her slumped against a wall, barely able to state that that was the best she could do. Callion paused, a sort of grimace on his face as he looked from her to the clothes, before folding the shirt and placing it on top again. “It will have to do.” Callion stated, a bit of resignation in his voice as his need to lash out at someone or something was once again left unfulfilled. “In the meantime, I suggest we get some sleep as soon as possible so we can wake, get refreshed and report back to the King.” Callion stated, looking at the bed which was big enough to hold two people if they scrunched together. A portion of him immediately wanted to covet the bed, but a thought entered his mind unbidden.

Beds are for winners.

“I will take the tub I su-” Callion said as he started walking towards the tub, only for the room to start spinning violently. Callion simply let out a very quiet phrase.

“Oh piss off.”

Callion’s form wobbled for a moment before he slumped to the floor with a rather large ‘Thud’. The silence that followed was only interrupted by the very slight snoring of the now prone Callion.




Callion awoke with a start in the tub, looking around and feeling rather than seeing the effects that sleeping in a tub had on his body. Everything was in pain and sore as he made to get up only to slide back down into the tub. His left arm was asleep, most likely slept on it by accident. It felt like lead trying to get it up on the side of the receptacle, sliding a couple of times and producing a slight ‘squeek’ as he attempted to remove himself from the most uncomfortable sleeping spot he could have possibly picked. At this point, he was certain the floor would have been better, and only he could be blamed for the choice since he voiced it. As he slid down for the third time, swears and curses entered his mind as he contemplating blowing the entire tub up. Instead he waited to regain feeling in his arm and was then finally able to pull himself up. He stepped out onto the room, taking a quick glance at the others. Garos was slumped over a chair, snoring away, with Phaedra on the opposite side doing practically the same thing...maybe with less snoring. Ceclia was sleeping on the bed, but Mara was nowhere to be seen. Callion raised an eyebrow, wondering if she was somehow hiding in this small room, getting on his hands and knees to look under the bed. The only thing that stared back at him was a small collection of dust, so he stood back up. Huh, odd. She’s a big girl though, if she had been taken by force we would have noticed it...this room is too small not to. Callion thought to himself as he wandered over to the fresh clothes that had been presented to the group. He didn’t like the idea of wearing any of this garbage, but beggars couldn’t be choosers, besides he only had to wear it long enough for him to clean his robe.

Still, that didn’t mean he was going to wear any more than he had to to be considered decent by societal standards. He grabbed some pants and went back behind the screen that the tub provided to quickly change. Once he had removed his robe and donned the threadbare pants, leaving his torso exposed, he carried his robe out of the room. Wandering through the hall to exit the building, it was clear that he had once again awoken to a very early morning, as it seemed to be completely abandoned. That suited him just fine, he would like a moment to himself to collect what he could...wait, this was real, right? This wasn’t him hallucinating again? Callion paused looked at everything around him, then down at his tattoos. With his fingers, he flicked his wrist and felt the slight sting vividly. Ok, this had to be real then, otherwise his subconscious would prevent him from hurting himself intentionally...right? Callion shook his head as he continued his trek. His feet took him outside the building via the back door and towards the stable to check on his horse. After all, an animal that would carry you on its back for miles must be treated with care and respect, and he should be able to clean his clothes there as well.

As he approached the stables, he saw that his horse, Reynaldo, was already awake. “Ah a creature of the rising sun, such as myself it would seem. At least yours is by choice though.” Callion stated, giving a sniff and an internal shrug to himself. He approached his horse, rubbing its face and listening to it vocalize a bit before returning to the task at hand. He had a simple spell, prestidigitation, that would allow him to clean his clothes. It didn’t give the feeling of having something hand washed don your person, but for now he simply wanted his robes back. He looked around for something to hang it off of, and it dawned on him suddenly that hanging it on anything in here would undue whatever he did. Not my smartest moment. Callion thought to himself as he held out his hand. Will, if you wouldn’t mind, I have need of your assistance. Callion mentally instructed and waited. There was a slight thud, a small crash, followed by more thuds at which point the feeling of annoyance filled Callion’s mind. What is it? Callion asked, wandering around the corner to see the front door of the inn rattling. Callion’s shoulders slumped, as he physically resisted the urge facepalm. It’s locked, go out the back door.. There was a slight pause before Callion heard a click and his staff flew out the door towards him. Landing with a hearty smack into his palm, Callion looked at the staff, then back at the now ajar door. “How did you...you don’t have any hands…” Callion stated, earning the feeling of a wicked humor entering his mind. Callion shook his head before wandering over to the inn, closing the door and wandering back. Upright. Callion ordered, and the staff floated in the air… only to have Callion’s robe draped over it.

The indignation and disgust floating from the staff was apparent but Callion just sighed as his hands glowed and the robe started to magically clean. “Shush, it’s fine, a little zombie blood never hurt anyone…” Callion paused. “Well, that’s inherently untrue, but still, shush.” It didn’t take long for Callion to finish, holding up the robe to inspect. It was clean, but it was that kind of ‘mechanically’ clean. It wouldn’t have the feel of freshly washed clothes, but it would do the job. As he was inspecting his robe, much to the obvious chagrin of his staff, he noticed out of the corner of his eye a foot in one of the hay bales within the stable. Looking over, he saw the slightly stirring figure of Mara, who had seemingly moved out to the stables in order to sleep...or care for them, or whatever her process was. “Ah, there you are farm girl, was almost worried you had been stolen away during the night by a rich prince or a desperate slaver.” Callion stated, returning to look at his robe and make sure he hadn’t missed any spot. “Had I known you were in here, I would have been slightly quieter, although one can hardly be blamed for believing someone to be sleeping with the equines." Callion stated as he continued to look over his robe. "The sun barely rises, you still have time to rest should you choose. The others have not stirred yet…” Callion looked at his staff, and he could practically feel the shrug coming from it. “I don’t think they have anyways.”

Callion avoided the most obvious conversation topic, mostly because he himself didn’t want to talk about it just yet. He wanted to feel normal for a moment, to regain his footing and approach the situation with a fresh face and clean clothes. “Regardless… Good Morning.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Garos Sharad Character Portrait: Phaedra Mithalvarin Character Portrait: Callion Lightson Character Portrait: Mara Timbers Character Portrait: Cecilia Floros

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Mara felt the horse underneath her, the mare's strong muscles bunching and rippling as she walked. But she wasn't really there, her mind was stuck in that moment of staring down at the horrific remains of Thomas and Ragnar. Empty, bloodied, husks of flesh. Meat. Her stomach roiled at the thought, but she couldn't stop thinking about it anyway.

As if from a distance, she could hear the others around her talking softly. The horse stopped, and Mara looked up in time to be handed Phaedra's sachel. Mara vaguely heard the request to hold it. It felt foreign in her bloodied hands. Mara stared at it blankly until it wss taken from her again. It felt like time was moving in a strange way. Both quickly and agonizingly slow at once. She felt the reins leave her hands, and as if they had been in her mouth, she followed where Phaedra led her mare. She couldn't remember dismounting.

The others around her also dismounted. Callion spoke at some point. Mara felt disconnected from her own body as Phae led them into a building. Momentarily, Mara became aware of many eyes on her. The hairs on the back of her neck prickled to attention. She felt her shoulders tighten as she attempted to make herself smaller in her unease. She felt rubbed raw, emotionally and physically.

They entered a room. Phae closed the door behind them and Mara felt a distinct clawing at her chest as the crampness of the space became solidified. She felt trapped for some reason. She needed air.

Phae apologized and slumped to the floor. Mara eyed her, worried. But a glance showed that she was mostly just tired..as were they all. Mara nodded at the red head, acknowledging her efforts and trying not to look as crazed as she felt.

As if on cue to her thoughts, Callion collapsed to the floor midsentance. He started to say he wanted to be in the tub before falling into one of his sudden sleeps.

Mara knelt by him, double checking his breath. Being sure he was not just...meat...but her first thought had been right. Just his sudden sleeps. Without a word she hefted the thin man over her shoulder and dragged him into the bathroom. As gently as possible, she hefted the wizard into the tub. His head lolled, looking uncomfortable. Carefully, she took off her cloak and folded it as best she could, like a pillow. She propped it behind his limp neck. It was something at least.

In the mirror above the sink, an unfamiliar face leered back at her. She looked older, covered in gore..her own eyes frightened her. She looked away quickly, grabbing some fresh clothes from the provided pile. She closed the bathroom door, changing while the wizard snored to avoid being bare skinned in front of the others.

Mara tried to fold her dirty clothes, but the blood had hardened in strange ways. She left them in.a pile under the tub instead. Looking at them made her nauseous. She cupped her hands under the faucet and attempted to wash her face. The water in the basin was rust colored with her filth. She could smell blood.

Mara exited the bathroom in the simple white shift she'd been given. She missed her apron, but it was too filty to wear to sleep. The others had chosen their places it seemed. Mara curled at the foot of the bed, wishing herself smaller. She lay there with her eyes shut, wanting sleep. She wasn't certain how long she lay that way..but with her eyes closed she could only see their corpses again...

Mara finally sat up, overwhelmed. The room was quiet. It smelled of blood. They all stank like death. It was suffocating. Mara stood, silent as she could, and slipped out the door. Her bare feet padded on the steps softly. The tavern was mainly empty, save for sleeping drunks. They all seemed to have her father's face. Mara winced and slipped out the door into the night.

The air felt cool on her fevery skin. Overhead, the sky was bright with stars. The dirt felt familiar and comforting between her toes. She padded into the barn, and the smell of fresh hay and warm horse welcomed her. She felt her shoulders loosen slightly. Some horses, scenting her, nickered nervously as she passed their stalls. Mara found her mare with surprising ease. A horse the color of freshly tilled soil. The mare stretched her long neck over the door and grunted at Mara. Mara sighed and gently cooed at her before hunkering down nearby.

Somehow, it felt safer here. A hay pile was a welcome sanctuary. Mara climbed in, clutching the knife Phae had given her like a talisman, just in case. The scent of the barn finally lulled her to sleep.

-------------
Mara woke, startled by the sound of crashing wood on wood, and the sound of equally unnerved horses.

Mara leapt to her feet, knife readied, hay sticking everywhich way out of her dark and tossled hair. A sound somewhere between a growl and a scream rattled from between her grit teeth. Her eyes flashed sharply in her fright.

That was when she saw Callion standing in the barn, his staff hovering nearby with his clothing draped over it. He greeted her cheerily as if it were a perfectly normal morning. Sheepishly, Mara lowered the knife.

"G..good morning..." she managed hoarsely.

Mara felt her mare's hot breath on the top of her head. The mare was unimpressed by Mara's tough front and was playfully licking at the hay in the farm girl's hair. Mara grumbled and pushed the horse's snout away gently.

Mara sighed and sheathed the knife, having the self awareness to look embarrassed for being discovered sleeping in the barn. He would probably think she was some kind of little beast...but she had no words to explain herself. All she had was a soft...

"S..sorry..." Mara mumbled, looking at her bare toes. She cleared her throat a little, unsure how to proceed.

Awkwardly, she began picking hay from her hair and then lacking anything else to say she picked up a brush and began carefully brushing her dark mare.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Garos Sharad Character Portrait: Phaedra Mithalvarin Character Portrait: Callion Lightson Character Portrait: Mara Timbers Character Portrait: Cecilia Floros

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The ride itself had been uneventful. Maybe, that was what made it worse. The quiet. The silence that hung around them heavy as sopping wet rags. Clothes caked with muck and blood and worse. Garos supposed they were all thinking of it; minds worn with what they’d seen back there, in Oakheart. Such a pretty name, now in ruins. As resilient as humans could be, he doubted it would ever recover. Ever flourish as it has once done, because… it was tainted with something that they couldn’t even fathom. Blue flames and hobbling corpses; some that belonged to their friends. Ragnar. Thomas. The familiar ache of loss panged in the pit of his guts; that he hadn’t even known them long enough to know if they had any families waiting on them.

Did they?

He hung his head and shuttered his eyes closed once more, swaying with the clopping footsteps of his steed. Not much else they could do for them at this point. Give them a proper burial? Hopefully. That was all they could do. Not much else. The leather reigns bit into his palms as he squeezed them. He’d never been too good at that, he supposed. Forgetting faces. Burying them with all the others. Not Hooded material. He’d heard it before. Again and again. Whispered, spat. Too soft. Too wishy-washy. A liar. He didn’t remember sleeping, but he must have, because Phaedra’s voice woke him to the village proper. Something about staying put for now. He was only too happy to oblige, slipping from his saddle.



Garos was careful to notice the small nuances, even in his exhausted state. Exits, entrances. Those who squatted by the fireplace, huddled in mismatched pairs. The state of the tavern; and it’s barkeep, handsome as he was. Eyeing them as if they’d dragged in bad news by their tale-skirts. He doubted that they’d been given space at all if it hadn’t been for Phaedra’s input. Her sway. Fair enough. They were gore-strewn strangers, bedraggled to the point of suspicion. Tavernkeeps hardly wanted trouble, even if they’d brought enough coin to warrant one night’s rest.

Quiet as he’d been for the entire journey here, Garos obediently followed behind the redhead and stood idly when the door closed behind him. He felt lost, here. As if he didn’t quite know where to place himself. However, when Phaedra squeezed past him and deposited crisp, clean clothes at the bedside, he beelined across the room and shuffled through the articles for something that might fit him—which proved difficult given his stature, tall as he was. No suitable shirt to wear, though he’d found pants. Good enough. He turned on his heels, a thanks hanging on his lips, in time to see Phaedra slump against the wall and close her eyes. She looked beat, so he only offered a smile of gratitude.

Callion’s exhaustion seemed to catch up on him as well. Or else, it was that something else. That thing he couldn’t quite put his finger on. Falling asleep wherever he was, at a drop of a hat. Maybe it was something wizard’s had. An affliction of magic. He didn’t know. Couldn’t hope to guess. That stuff was beyond him. He watched as Mara huffed over to his side, fingers fluttering to his neckline. Checking for a pulse, he assumed. He softened when she slipped fabric beneath his head and skittered away. Sweet thing, she was.

Garos changed into his pants with a lack of shyness that Mara certainly did not feel, seeing how quickly she’d disappeared into the bathroom. He stood bare-chested, baring far too many scars; his most comfortable state. Sometimes, it’s what made him feel the most Orcish. He’d elected to deposit himself in a chair and lean his face into his fist. Not a particularly comfortable place to sleep, though he’d slept in far worse locations. He still felt it: unclean. Not much he could do about that until he bathed. Perhaps, the King would be kind enough to let them soak. Least he could do after sending them to their deaths. After all, Ragnar and Thomas weren’t so lucky. The thought dragged his eyelids closed and exhaustion took him once more.

He was, however, one of the first to wake, stirring at the slightest of sounds. He maintained his guise, however. Softly whisping out his breath; as if he were still asleep. It was something he’d learned to do at a young age, back at his homestead. He only dared crook an eye at half-mast, lidded enough to see Mara rising from her chosen corner of the cramped chamber. A small part of him wanted to follow after her. See if she was fine. But, by the drawn look on her face, pinched up in an expression he was all too familiar with… he figured it best to leave her to her own devices. Let her heal, in her own way. Soon after, another figured stirred. He recognized him immediately. Callion. Pacing to and from the bathroom, before shuttering the door and padding down the hallway.

He'd join them, soon enough. His stomach grumbled unpleasantly. Empty as he felt.

Another minute ticked by. Then, another.

Only then did he fully open his eyes and stretch his arms over his head, cat-like. His body felt as if he’d been dragged behind a horse. The ache of battle was familiar, though it’d certainly been awhile that he’d felt this sore. Fighting the living was far different than what they'd just been through. They weren’t as relentless as the dead—heaving back up even when their limbs had been severed. He rolled his shoulder and glanced across the room once more, spotting Phaedra still snoozing against the wall. She really had done good back there, getting them all cozy in this place. He rocked himself quietly to his feet and grabbed a corner of the scratchy blanket from the lightly-ruffled bed, pulling it free.

For someone as tall and clumsy-looking as he, Garos’ footsteps were feather-light. Calculated and careful. As if he approached everything in that manner. He paused a moment and watched her chest fall. Soft breaths. Asleep? He hoped she wasn’t as light a sleeper as he was, quick as a cat to reach for a blade should anyone rouse her. He was like that, sometimes. Too used to blades wandering close, when a business deal floundered. And he was a stranger. They all were. She owed them little, if anything. Still, it was a chance he'd take to be kind. He closed the distance between them and bent low, settling the blanket around Phaedra’s shoulders.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Garos Sharad Character Portrait: Phaedra Mithalvarin Character Portrait: Callion Lightson Character Portrait: Mara Timbers Character Portrait: Cecilia Floros

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The village resembled many other that Cecilia had visited during her own travels, and under normal circumstances, it would’ve been a nice, quaint little place to stop by for a pint or two at the local tavern. The same could be said about what used to be Oakheart. But now the burned village was a painful thought that made the dull ache in her head a sharper pain, and the eyes of the local peasantry stared at them for too long, bore holes into her that were too deep. Cecilia, too tired for her conscience to tell her any better, couldn’t help but think of them as gawking animals, and shot them a serrated glare, daring them to say something.

It wasn’t hard to understand that they were strangers to this village, a mismatched group of travelers covered in who knows what, and that clearly garnered its fair share of attention. But now the villagers seemed an added nuisance. The basest part of her was deeply satisfied when some met her glare and had swiftly looked away, glancing at anything else that wasn’t her.

Once they reached the inn, it was almost expected that it would be as crowded as it was. Perhaps these people were what was left of whatever initially happened at Oakheart. Cecilia paid little attention to them, focusing more on the dwarf that Phaedra was seemingly familiar with, a look of skepticism showed patently on her face that softened into relief when Phaedra began leading them upstairs.

Although the room that they had entered had been small, it was a welcomed sight, to say the least. Within a moment's notice, both Phaedra and Callion had passed out in their respective spots in a way that would’ve been comical if the atmosphere wasn’t already so bleak. Cecilia made herself a spot on the one bed in the room, crossing her legs before she began digging through her satchel, leaving enough space on the bed should someone wish to join her.

Her hand grazed an odd bottle, and upon pulling it out, she realized it was a small sample of wood that she took from Oakheart, and she was pleased to see that it still had the same odd blue glow. A shiver ran through her spine at the memory of how cold it was to the touch. It wasn’t much, but hopefully it would be enough, enough to give them idea of what had occurred at that village. Something to make it seem as if all that death had been worth it. Given enough time and the right tools, Cecilia could identify the type of magic from the residuals left behind, but even the thought of the amount of effort that would require caused another surge of exhaustion and pain. With a muffled sigh, she placed the bottle back into her satchel, pulling out the small piece of parchment that contained her rough sketch of the ruined village, coupled with haphazard notes she took moments before their plans had fallen apart.

She now spent time forming those notes into coherent thoughts, using the rest of her energy to draw diagrams of the undead they came across, a small picture of the sample they had taken, and a loose sketch of the red-haired woman they had come across in the village. At the very least, the king would receive a detailed summary of everything that occurred from the time they had stepped foot in that village to the time that they had left it. As she finished, Cecilia had pushed everything to the side and laid back on the pillows, and her mind wandered to how filthy her clothes were and how filthy the bed sheets would be, before sleep finally claimed her.




It was the smell of that very filth that had woken her from her sleep in the morning. She was always a heavy sleeper, and the events of yesterday had left her sleeping harder than she had in a while. Cecilia wished for nothing more than to curl back under the covers and go back to sleep, but this foul smell had to be dealt with first. Cecilia let out a groan as she pulled her satchel over to her side, digging out a small pouch of loose incense and a small dish from among the many other knickknacks that she had on hand. Usually, the incense was something that she used for magic rituals that called for it, but now she used it to relieve the smell of blood and death that hung in the room.

With a small flick of her fingers, the incense, a mixture of white sage, lavender, and myrrh, was lit and smoke rose from it, already beginning to fill the room with a much more pleasant aroma. The next order of business was putting on a clean set of clothes, a task that she had neglected doing before she fell asleep. Thankfully, since she often travelled, she made sure to pack a spare set of clothes. Every muscle in her body ached in protest as she sat up, and left the bed, noting that Callion and Mara were already absent from the room, and Garos was still awake. They were all conscious, save for Phaedra.

She made her way down the stairs of the inn and out to the stables, where she soon came across Mara and Callion. ”Well, it's good to see that the two of you are up and about this morning. Cecilia paused as she made her way to her horse, gathering her clothes before turning to the two of them once again. ”Please do make your way back to the room when you can, as there is something I would like to… discuss, and it'd be more appropriate if all of us were present.” Cecilia expression turned dark as she left the stables just as swiftly as she had entered, returning to the room to dress herself behind the divider.

It was relief to take off the blood and sweat soaked clothes, careful to not brush against any sore wounds, and she gathered them in a pile that sat neatly in one corner of the room. Though it wasn’t much, the feel of fresh clothing and the scent of incense did help, both in making her feel less like a rabid animal and in alleviating the lump that was beginning to form in her stomach once more as she sat down on the bed.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Garos Sharad Character Portrait: Phaedra Mithalvarin Character Portrait: Callion Lightson Character Portrait: Mara Timbers Character Portrait: Cecilia Floros

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#, as written by Scar.-
Phaedra had barely settled herself in a slump on the floor in the small room, when Callion opened his irritatingly large mouth to complain about the state of the clothing she procured. She gave him a sharp sideways glance as he began to speak, but thankfully his words trailed off before he finished. She didn't see him doing any better. Phaedra spent nearly all of her coin to get them this room and those rags. Of course, it was too much for skirts to seem even remotely grateful.

A scoff escaped her lips when he fell to the floor with a loud thud that shook the ground beneath her. Then it was swiftly followed by loud snores. Phaedra nearly laughed out loud. Of course he was just as annoying asleep as he was awake. Mara, although small and quiet, was able to manage moving Callion into the tub. That was nice of her, Phae would have left him there... Although he probably would have woke with a crick in his neck that none of them would hear the end of.

She didn't move from her spot on the floor, letting her body rest as much as it could. Phaedra was exhausted. When was the last night she got a good night's sleep? When she was with her last target? No. She slipped out in the night. Her legs felt like the bones were taken from them, her arms too tired to lift. The others luckily had horses, but she traversed the country on foot which took her remaining energy from her. But Phaedra knew, no matter how tired she was, she wouldn't be able to sleep... or at least not for long, but she rested her eyes nonetheless. She only opened them slightly when she heard movement, and watched in silence as Mara slipped from their room.

The morning couldn't have arrived any slower. Phaedra's night was filled with images of the battle, the red shoe of her fallen comrade and stirring questions of the strangers she now was traveling with. Her stomach rumbled and groaned uncomfortably threatening to eat itself if she didn't find sustenance soon. Did she get any sleep? It didn't feel like it. Perhaps she slipped off into a light sleep, but she remembers being wide awake whenever the others began to stir. She wasn't in the mood to deal with socializing... Not yet. So, she kept her eyes closed trying to rest as best as she could until she had no choice but to rouse herself.

Phaedra paid no mind to the stirrings in the room, until quiet shifting moved closer to her. Under different circumstances she might have been tense, thinking that someone might have been trying to kill her. But she didn't feel that way, or maybe she was too tired to care. Then a gentle weight was placed upon her. A blanket? She inhaled softly as she slowly opened her eyes and found herself met by the orc. "Thanks," she said softly toward him with as best of a smile she could muster. "I don't think I got any sleep." She gave a weak chuckle, sitting up slightly.

A sheepish grin flicked the tip of the tusks from beneath Garos’ lips as he straightened back up. He puffed out a breath, “I figured. Ye’ still look pretty beat.” It was an observation, simple as that. He knuckled at his nose, and glanced back down to her. “Don’t think I did either.” The admonition came softer this time, though it sounded genuine enough by the slight bags underneath his ocher-eyes. They looked strange up close; ringed with black where the whites of a persons eye should be. Like a particularly dark night; a lighted cavern, pupils like lanterns in the dark. “Plenty of time for that, later, I think. When we get our barrings.”

She sat there for another minute or two, before she willed herself to stand. Gods was she stiff and sore. Phaedra stretched, nearly forgetting how filthy she was until she glanced down. She sighed, and grabbed the piece of clothing that remained on the table, not much caring what it was. A simple, oversized black tunic. Her pants were fine, and a quick scrub in water would fix her other clothing right up. She moved over to a corner of the room with her back toward Garos and began to unlace her corset. Once it was off, her tattered blouse nearly fell off her without even trying.

Phaedra didn't try to hide herself, she wasn't the bashful type. But she kept herself turned away to avoid making her company uncomfortable. Before she put on the fresh tunic, the large intricate marking of the Shadow Courtesans stood out predominately on her back against her pale skin. She slid her arms through the sleeves of the shirt and briefly glanced back toward Garos. "You're a half breed, right?" Phaedra pulled the tunic over her head and turned back to face him as she tucked the ends into her pants. "I mean no offense," she added with a gentle tone. "I have an eye for like people."

As unabashed as Phaedra was removing her clothes, it seemed to be the only time that Garos’ seemed entirely comfortable. Whether or not that was an indication to some sordid upbringing or questionable occupations was anyone’s guess. The expression on his face was even. Tempered, almost. Though, there was a slight flick of his eyebrow when she glanced over her shoulder. Maybe, a shadow of intrigue, before it was gone. She could hear him pad back across the room, bare-footed, and slip into the high-backed chair once more, where he folded one of his legs over his knee.

“Curious question for someone you’ve just met,” the statement held no malice, though there was a bit of humor there. A laugh that didn’t quite reach his eyes. He rubbed his hand over his face, scrubbing past his mouth and jawline. To anyone else, he might’ve just looked off. A shoddy orc. A less-than-graceful elf. Not quite like one or another. Not a simple fit. “No offense taken, ya’ got a good eye.” His manner of speech felt more like an odd mix between a country bumpkin, and someone who spent too long in a dingy tavern. A pause, thoughtful this time. “Ma’s an orc, pa’s an elf. Weren’t the most popular couple ‘round.”

Hearing that one of those in their company wasn't much unlike herself felt... Nice. It was like a little piece of her barrier chipped away. Like Phaedra popped a string on her corset and could breathe easier, if only a little. She managed a soft smile. Not something she did often, but one that wasn't forced nor fake, but content in comfort. "So am I," she added quietly, almost as if she were afraid someone else might hear. So long she was trained to act like an elf and to hide the human tarnish from her blood. "A halfbreed. My mother was an elf, my father a human." She used pieces of her ruined blouse to clean off her boots and corset as best she could absent water or a brush. She began to put back on her corset, fastening the buckles, as she glanced back up toward Garos with a more playful smirk. "Get me drunk enough one night and we can exchange stories."

A laugh, this time. Deep-bellied as always. There was a sense that he didn’t talk about them much. Or else, no one had really cared to ask. He patted his own stomach as it gave an empty gurgle, as if to stifle it to no avail. He readjusted his slouched posture, and planted his hands on his knees. “Thanks again. For everything, y’know?”

Phaedra pulled out one of the empty chairs from the table and started to wipe down her boots. As she slid her left foot into the appropriate shoe, she froze upon hearing his words. No one had thanked her. She met Garos's gaze for a moment giving a subtle nod along with a hushed, "Of course." Before she finished putting on her boots. In the silence of the room, the rumbling of their stomachs was nearly deafening. Phaedra sighed looking toward the door. "I paid for food." She left her weapons in the room on the table, but grabbed one of her daggers and tucked it in her right boot. "I'll be back."

With a nod toward Garos, she exited the room and made her way down to the first floor of the tavern. The dwarf was already there, working behind the bar and helping the numerous refugees strewn about the place. "Ryland!" Phaedra called out to him, not caring what people turned to look at them. She was hungry, running on little sleep and irritable. She slammed her hand on the counter to make sure he looked at her. "I paid you for baths and food."

Ryland gave her a sharp glare, as he continue about his work while talking to her. "It's past dawn," he said, answering her own grievances with his. "There is a creek near by. There's your bath." He then grabbed dirty dishes and headed back toward the kitchen.

Phaedra pushed past a kitchen wench, moving around the bar and following after the dwarf. "We would have been out by dawn if you gave us what I paid you for."[/b] Ryland paid her no mind, and continued about his work. "Stubborn ass dwarf," she practically growled under her breath. She wasn't in the mood to argue. So, instead, she grabbed five bowls, filling them with what stew or soup was brewing over the hearth.

"Hey! You can't do that!" Some serving girl called to Phaedra as she made herself at home, getting the food they were promised.

Without a word, Phae pulled her knife from her boot and held it out in a silent warning. Ryland waved everyone out of the kitchen with a sigh. She made quick work putting the filled bowls on a tray. Phae also snagged up a loaf of bread, along with a flagon of ale and cups. "Phaedra you can't take all that."

"Are you going to stop me?" When he didn't stand in her way, nor try to stop her, she nodded her head, tossing her blade onto the tray. "That's what I thought." Phaedra took the tray in her left hand with her right index finger hooked around the handle of the flagon. "We'll be gone within the hour. But your favors with me have run out." She stopped in the doorway, glancing over her shoulder toward him. "You're lucky it was me and not another Courtesan. You know what will happen if another finds you."

She wasn't going to give him any advice nor stay around to tell him more. Ryland knew what he did was wrong when he betrayed the order years ago. It was only out of their past friendship that she didn't turn him in. Phaedra hurried her way back up to the room, the smell of the food driving her mad. She bumped open the door with her hip and set the tray on the table before looking toward Garos and Cecilia, who must have arrived while she was gone. "I don't know what it is. But it's food." She set the flagon down on the table. "And ale."

Phaedra couldn't wait any longer. She quickly took a seat in one of the chairs, grabbing a bowl of stew while also putting bowls in front of the other seats for Garos and Cecilia. She couldn't wait to pour the ale, or waste time with proper manners. Phae took up the bowl in her hands, pressing the brim to her lips and drank from it heavily. She only took a break when it was half gone to pour them both a large glass of ale. She made sure to rip the bread into five pieces before she ripped into her own and chased it with an entire glass of ale. It was then that Phaedra took a brief breather and toasted her glass against Garos's. "Cheers." She laughed weakly, but smiled... a genuine smile. Thank the Gods for food.

Garos, too, seemed to forget his manners when Phaedra brought the wooden bowls ladden with stew. Another gurgle sounded. Insistent. He ate as if it might’ve been the best meal he’d gotten in days. As if their little feast at the kingdom hadn’t happened at all. Or else, his appreciation for food stemmed from something else entirely. He’d eaten like this there, as well. Wolfing down his meal rather than enjoy it. He only seemed to look up from his bowl once it was completely empty. He scrapped the bottom of the bowl with his portion of bread and slumped a little further in his eat. The ale followed soon after.

A satiated sigh broke the silence, as he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Gods, that was good.”

"Help yourself to my share. I'm not particularly in the mood for food or drink anyways." Cecilia said as she took a seat at the table, pushing the bowl back in Phaedra's direction. There was a slight pause before Cecilia spoke again, "If you don't mind me inquiring, how did you come to know the dwarf downstairs? The two of you appear to be on familiar terms, at the very least."

With a mouthful of bread, Phaedra froze at the question. She quickly became self conscious about the manner in which she was eating. Did she really look so starved? Then again, when was the last time she ate? Before she was at the other village, no doubt. And she hadn't the faintest idea how long she was unconscious there. Phaedra swallowed her food, and took a drink of ale as she searched for the words. She could lie, that would be easier... But for some unknown reason, she told the truth. "I'm a Shadow Courtesan... If you haven't already connected those dots."

The orc seemed to perk up when Cecilia questioned Phaedra about how she was acquainted with the dwarf below. The tavern owner. And even more so when she’d said the words Shadow Courtesans. The telltale eyebrow quirk, his inquiring gaze flicking with something that resembled recognition. Though if he recognized the organization at all, he certainly didn’t add anything to imply he did. The peak in Garos's curiosity made her chuckle softly, a tired sort of laugh of someone exhausted but relieved at a lighthearted moment. She should be used to similar reactions by that point, but true enough, it wasn't something she often shared, especially with people she hardly knew.

Her gaze was fixated on her cup as her fingertip traced the brim. She was searching for a way to answer in truth, without breaking code. Although part of her knew that not much longer in this journey and she'd be in the same shoes as Ryland. Phaedra sighed softly as she looked up, first toward Garos then Cecilia. "So, is the dwarf, Ryland. Or... was. He broke our code and before it was handled accordingly, he left. We were friends, so we kept in touch... for a time. I didn't know if he'd still be here, but it was our best chance." Phaedra didn't know what else to say, or... what she could say. She instead finished the ale in her cup, sparing brief glances at the other two in her company.

Cecilia seemed more surprised that she had told the truth at all, but that look of surprise was quickly covered up with something more neutral, devoid of any sentiment. "Can't say that I've heard of them, but I'm also not too concerned with your organizational ties and whatever baggage they might bring, and I'm sure the others aren't too concerned either. When we all first met Thomas... one of the two who we'd lost in the village, he was dragged in like an animal in chains." A small smile had crossed her lips, as if she was reminiscing on the absurdity of the event. "I don't think any of us ever figured out why he was treated in such a way, but I can assure you the reason was nothing pleasant. Even still, he was beneficial to the team, and I don't see us treating you differently if the dealings of your organization are in any way similar to what was going on with him."

Phaedra leaned back in her seat, sliding the extra bowl of stew toward Garos but kept her gaze on Cecilia as she spoke. Garos was all too keen to dig into the second bowl of stew, letting them talk amongst themselves. It was rare meeting someone so cold or stoic. Reminded her of her false father and that connection sent a chill down her spine, which she quickly tried to mask by taking a large drink of ale. What little bit of her that seemed to open up earlier during her conversation with Garos threatened to lace itself back up. Phae was certain the words were meant to be seen as comfort? But she wasn't ashamed of her line of work. She set her cup back down on the table looking over toward the silver haired elf. "If you do not care about the means by which I know the dwarf, then why ask in the first place?" It was more of a rhetorical question, but Phaedra was confused by Cecilia's curiosity which was quickly covered by indifference. "I never much cared about others' thoughts towards me and my profession. Comes with the territory."

"It was only because this Ryland seemed more than a little reluctant to help us, and you seemed to have some sway in convincing him to let us stay. In that regard, I should thank you, otherwise we would've had to camp somewhere outside of town." Cecilia stood from the table, moving towards the bed to gather what seemed to be a small piece of parchment and a vial. "Regardless, there are more pressing matters to discuss, though we'll have to wait for our other companions to join us."

"Gold can sway anyone's mind, if there is enough of it." Phaedra downed what remained of her ale, then nodded her head toward Cecilia. "You're right. As much as I'd love to spend the day drinking with Garos," she said, giving him a flirty yet brief smile. Being even so bold as to give him a playful wink. A cough sounded, this time. Muffled by the bowl held to his lips. The first reaction of mild embarrassment. "We have maybe an hour before we've overstayed our welcome beyond what my purse can handle."

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