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Assassin's Pledge: Devastation

Assassin's Pledge: Devastation

The Red-Eyed Demon is back, and more dangerous than ever. But can even he and a brave group of followers prevail against two warring Assassin organizations bent on enforcing their will upon the continent of Cre' Est?

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Topics: action, adventure, assassin, death, destruction, devastation, gore, original, red-eyed demon, romance, and tragedy (Add Tags »)
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Introduction

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Welcome one and all to a story nearly a decade in the making!



Assassin's Pledge takes place in a fictional world not unlike our own. The setting of this RP is late-medieval fantasy where the recently invented flintlock pistol and rifle are the pinnacle of weapon's technology. Magic is not a thing in this RP. Sorry. But there are minor supernatural elements at play, but they're mostly environmental and not meant for being a significant part of the experience.

There are five Nations which call the continent of Cre' Est "home", and I will detail them below:

* Cre' Est - The Mother Nation, first founded, and named after the continent upon which she was founded. She occupies the center of the continent on the Western side of the Cre' Itian Mountain Range which splits the continent into two halves. She has the highest population and most stable economy of all five nations and is culturally very diverse. Cre' Est's government is a Monarchy, run by a Royal Family bearing the same last name as the nation and continent.

* Shaharan - The Desert Nation to the East of the Cre' Itian Mountain Range occupying the Northeastern hemisphere of the continent. The people who live here are tough and hardy, typically sporting darker skin tones and generally speaking are part of a more militant culture. It is a dictatorship run currently by a strict yet relatively non-oppressive man who's last name is the same as the nation.

* Triveila - Nation of Water on the Northwestern sector of the continent. She harvests the bounty of the sea and commands a respectable trade industry focused on pearls, coral, and other undersea commodities. Her people are generally peaceful and laid back and live life day by day as they watch the waves on the shoreline. The government is run on a Monarchy with a ruling family sharing the nation's name.

* Gweynura - Gweynura is the Nation of Trees located to the East below Shaharan. She is the lumber capital of the continent and also boasts the most beautiful landscapes anywhere to be seen. If you see a painting of a gorgeous landscape, chances are it's from Gweynura. The government is a Monarchy run currently by a widowed Queen who shares the last name of her nation thanks to her husband. Her son is soon to come of age and ascend the throne in his father's absence.

* Veilbrand - The Nation of Stone situated South of the Mother Nation in the Cre' Itian Mountain Range. She is the precious metal and precious gem capital of the continent and you will never find a better blacksmith than those who live here. They are also some of the finest weapon smiths. Veilbrand is run by a rather greedy dictator at present, though there are rumors of a rebellion on the rise.


Now that you are familiar with the five nations, it's time to learn about the story of the RP!



The RP takes place after the events of my previous two Assassin's Pledge RP's.

The Red-Eyed Demon, known simply as "Shadow" to the world of Assassins, is the most powerful and feared Assassin in the world. His body harbors the spirit of a Demon summoned from the Nether Realm by his mother and the cult she was attached to which greatly enhances his physical abilities far beyond the scope of normal humans.

He belongs to an Assassin organization called Te'i Sai. Due to the Red-Eyed Demon's success and how dangerous he is thanks to the Demon's spirit, Te'i Sai attempted to create a serum which duplicated the effects of the Demon's presence. They succeeded, and thanks to the serum their operatives are also much stronger, faster, more agile, and have higher reaction times than normal people.

However Te'i Sai made one mistake... They killed the Red-Eyed Demon's first and only friend. Her name was Iris Di' Nelma, and she was a beautiful and kind hearted young woman. When the Demon was temporarily banished for breaking Te'i Sai's first Commandment, "Never take the life of an innocent", she found and befriended him. She taught him things which were deliberately kept hidden from him such as the meaning of empathy and what it meant to care for someone else. She helped open his eyes to the fact that he'd lived his entire life as a puppet never making his own decisions, and thus when she was killed by Te'i Sai for her interference the Red-Eyed Demon secretly vowed vengeance and rebelled against the organization.

He killed the Grandmaster of Te'i Sai and his Second, leaving nobody in a position to take over. With the organization in chaos the Red-Eyed Demon led a small group of sympathizers to war on the organization. They had begun making headway after destroying the Mountain Fortress located in Roda Valley (a valley in the Cre' Itian Mountain Range's heart) as well as several other major Te'i Sai base locations throughout the continent, but their efforts were in vain.

... Another Assassin organizations called Roda Ah K'mht came from overseas and began laying claim to the continent. They seized control of the ruined Mountain Fortress and found the recipe for the serum used to enhance Te'i Sai's operatives. Now distributing it among their own ranks they seek to destroy both Te'i Sai and the Red-Eyed Demon and take control of the continent.

And thus we have our story...


Characters



With the Red-Eyed Demon being the sole exception as the focus of the RP's plot and story, all Player-Controlled Characters in this RP must obey these simple rules:

1) They may not be from Te'i Sai or Roda Ah K'mht, nor may they have ever had family or other relations with either organization.

2) They may not have acquired the serum which enhances their abilities.

3) They may not have any "superpower"-like traits or abilities. They're normal people.

And that's it! Keeping these three simple rules in mind you can make whatever kind of character you want from any kind of background including members of one of the five nation's ruling families.

For those wondering why I made the three above rules, it's because the point of the RP is to put everyone's characters into what feels at first like a helpless situation. The fact that Te'i Sai, Roda Ah K'mht, and the Red-Eyed Demon are all basically super human Assassins who can kill them at any moment of their choosing is what will drive the RP forward. The Red-Eyed Demon is going to meet and join forces with all Player-Controlled Characters who will find a reason to want both Te'i Sai and Roda Ah K'mht to disappear.

And about the serum... There's a reason you don't get to start with it. Spoiler alert, you get the serum later from the Red-Eyed Demon himself so you'll get to take on Te'i Sai and Roda Ah K'mht on even ground after the RP gets underway.

That's about all for now! If you have any questions feel free to send me a private message or ask away in the "General Discussion" thread!

See you soon!

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[b]Picture:[/b] (anime preferred)

[b]Description:[/b] (Please describe your character in one paragraph)

[b]Age:[/b] (21 is the youngest allowed)
[b]Sex:[/b] (obvious)
[b]Height:[/b]
[b]Weight:[/b]
[b]Voice Type:[/b] (If you're confused, ask)
[b]Body Type:[/b] (Endomorph, Ectomorph, Mesomorph)

[b]Theme:[/b] (If they have a music theme, put it here ;D )

[b]Personality:[/b] (Write their personality in one paragraph with seven sentences)

[b]Biography:[/b] (Write their bio in three paragraphs, each with seven sentences)

Rules

1) No God-Modding, Metagaming, or Power Playing.

Even with the Red-Eyed Demon's enhanced abilities, he is still human and will have limits. Your characters as well will all still have limits even after the Red-Eyed Demon gives them the serum.

I will be very strict about this. It's one strike and you're out for any of them.

2) Be realistic.

This RP is medieval-fantasy, but it's still bound by the laws of nature and the laws of physics. There are no superpowers like flight, nor is there any magic. So please be as realistic as you can.

3) Respect your fellow role-players.

We are all here to enjoy an experience, so please do not insult or make trouble for each other in the threads. If you start to have a problem with someone, bring it to my attention and I will sort it out.

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Character Portrait: Red-Eyed Demon My name is "Kyero"
Character Portrait: Linde Xe' Almna "I wish for this world to suffer no longer."
Character Portrait: Regene "Jeanne" Rhamnus "A little excitement never hurts anyone! Their pockets, on the other hand..."
Character Portrait: Marcel Starr "Sometimes I wonder whether trouble finds me, or it's a disease I'm spreading."
Character Portrait: Quinn Xe' Duzelle "We are made who we are by the history of our blood."
Character Portrait: Marcus Keller "Of course I've done good deeds. I volunteered to help carry a nobleman's heavy wallet for him."
Character Portrait: Miriam Gale "Are you not entertained?!"
Character Portrait: Era
Era played by KumoriRyuu
"I am the TRUE Red-Eyed Demon!"
Character Portrait: Sieghardt Val Lohengrin "Honor is a coward's excuse."

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Events

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Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Quinn Xe' Duzelle Character Portrait: Miranda Wavecrest
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Footnotes

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The moment Miranda blinked Marcel had disappeared to somewhere, leaving behind only a sour taste on her tongue. As she turned to return to the town, she spotted a brunette with a yellow parasol waving her over.

“Miss Wavecrest,” Quinn addressed her as they neared one another’s company. She tucked a brown curl behind her ear as her eyes scanned around and noted Miriam’s absence. “I require our healer’s presence at The Red Flask. Have you seen him?”

Miranda let out an annoyed sigh. ”How many times must I remind you, you don’t have to be so formal with me… Just call me Miranda.”

Regaining herself Miranda said, ”As for the healer… I’m afraid I have not seen him since before we came into town.”

Quinn bristled. She folded her arms and stared at a spot in the dirt a moment. “You were my senior when we were children,” she said, clasping her hands behind her back and looking up at the grey skies, “And continued to be so even when I reached the age I could call myself your ‘equal’ – as my employer. I’ll be as formal as I please.” The clouds shifted across her full-moon glasses. “... Have I told you how my parents were displeased with your penchant for adventures? That they didn’t consider you the ‘mature influence’ they intended you to be? If our families were not business partners, I may have been removed from your company much sooner. It shouldn’t come as a shock that you would have sought someone free like Miriam after carrying the burdens of someone like me.”

Quinn went quiet and still for several seconds, before blurting right as Miranda went to speak –

“I can’t believe you would fall for someone like her!” she shouted, throwing her hands up and her umbrella to the wind. She clasped her head in her hands immediately afterwards, staring at the ground and shooting off with increasing distress, “I spent three years listening to you prattle on about how fierce and wonderful she was only to discover her fierceness to be an unquenchable and misdirected anger settled only temporarily through material means and that the only thing ‘wonderful’ about her is the wonder why she is still here after all the times she had threatened to abandon me, the cause, and the honor of the dead she had pledged for! I thought – I thought, I thought she would be somebody worthy of you for a start! You had a responsibility to carry the Wavecrest family’s legacy and you used it to help a nation in need while she abandoned you to roughhouse in a desert pit! Even I thought your Beautiful Tempest must have been dead, or else she would have returned to you – not out of chance, but because she should have been looking!” Quinn exclaimed, hand over her heart. She panted, red faced from her passion, before clearing her throat and settling down, tucking her expressive gestures away by folding her arms.

“I’m going to say it, Miranda,” she sniffed, them stated after a dramatic pause, “I do not like your fiancé.”

Miranda was taken aback by Quinn’s sudden outburst. She felt an anger swell inside her as Quinn bashed her lover. She made a fist but managed to stay calm. ”You don’t know her as I do… You didn’t see the struggles she went through. Her father trying to set her on a path she didn’t want. A path that was not who she was. I saw in her the same thing I saw in myself. While my father wanted to groom me to be some nobleman’s son’s bride I sought a life away from all that. Away from the life that took you away from me.

You think my father liked that? No, so I planned my escape with the woman I love. She went ahead to make a place for us…
And I admit I was starting to doubt that she would ever send for me… But you know what I found out when we at last were reunited?

She did send for me! Letters I never got because my father didn’t want me to! So all this time she thought I had abandoned her. She has led a rough life believing all she loved betrayed her. I don’t know why I never went to her or she to me. Maybe we both gave up on each other. But now we are together and trying to heal the time lost between us.”


Miranda’s voice took a darker tone. ”You have only seen the side of her fueled by rage and you have judged her without truly knowing her. Do not try to ruin what we are trying to rebuild.”

Quinn did have the means to ruin it all. A common piece of gossip and speculation that could crush Miranda’s heart. And because she could not let herself be responsible for that, she kept it tucked within her fist. Miranda would discover it on her own eventually. Quinn would be there for her when she did.

“It’s true I do not truly know the woman you fell for,” she muttered, her cheeks flushed with a hint of shame. “I only know the Miriam poisoned by the potion she drank from the demon’s hands. I never would have seen the woman you told me about within her.” She looked to Miranda, her eyes guarded. “You told me that she had changed. That her feelings for you were the only thing you could recognize.”

Quinn took in a deep breath before what she said next, “Are you really fine with babysitting somebody you don’t know anymore?”

Miranda tried to stay calm as she listened but Quinn's last statement earned her a cold glare from Miranda. "It wouldn't be the first time," she snapped.

Quinn reflected on the kind of person Miranda had found again after all those years. Angry, directionless. The unofficial bodyguard of the brothel and source of the majority of the bloodstains in the lobby. Not the cheeky little princess Miranda had come to know. And the guarded, pragmatic commander she was now was also certainly not that.

"You can't be eight forever," Quinn said. She remembered slipping her chubby hands into clear pools of water. Watching the bigger fish chase the little ones. "Keeping to the rocks, experiencing life through pools and windows." She remembered peering through the crack of a door, watching the back of a blonde head. As the door creaked, the boy suddenly tossed to her, only to be yanked back by the chains restraining him to his desk. "Going on adventures with imaginary dangers and the guarantee we will be safe in the end. The premature destruction of that fantasy can make for some bitter people."

Quinn looked to Miranda. "Miss Wavecrest, I understand what it's like to be angry at everything. It's unfulfilling."

She turned and began walking to retrieve her umbrella. "Rebuild as you wish," she shot over her shoulder, "And I will withhold further judgement on her character. But I will not reevaluate my observations until you show me a woman that can grow up!"

She snatched her umbrella from the ground and began storming away.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Red-Eyed Demon Character Portrait: Marcel Starr Character Portrait: Miriam Gale Character Portrait: Miranda Wavecrest
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Mountains Outside Iyns

Approximately thirty minutes after departing Iyns together Miriam, Taira, and Kyero had advanced into the first layer of the mountain range. The first line of peaks were small. Barely eighty meters in height. But between them was a pathway all caravans had to pass through not because of the size of the mountains, but the sheer ruggedness of the terrain and how hard it was on the horses and the wagon wheels.

As they ascended the slope of the first peak, a roughly 40 degree angle and by no means a cake walk ascent, they crouched by the ridge at the top and analyzed the surrounding area. The rocky terrain and the slopes of the mountains nearby weren’t too bad, but they would definitely make moving at full speed impossible. Around such slopes there was no way to get your footing enough to burst properly like you could on flat ground which remained consistent in its surfacing. Dirt and loose rocks were arguably their greatest enemy here aside form the lizards themselves.

And speaking of Raze Lizards, the first batch were visible up ahead. There were only about eight of them at present with the rest of the den likely slumbering within the small caves dug into the face of the mountain nearby. The lizards were fairly typical in appearance sporting dark green, almost black colored scales along the body with a single bright yellow-orange stripe running along their sides. Their top scales were triangular and overlapped creating a dense armor plate which even serum empowered fists would find difficult to smash through.

But the most dangerous part was the gaping maws as they sunned themselves on the slopes. You could actually see inside their open mouths to see the fang slits in the roof of the mouth which could extend out much like a snake’s fangs and shoot a hemotoxic venom to melt and burn flesh right off the bone. Even for them as serum users, that was an almost certain death sentence. Taira explained for Miriam on the way over that if they were anywhere within about ten to twelve feet of that mouth when the venom was launched they were going to get hit because that’s just how fast the venom was launched. And if they were bitten without the venom being spit, their saliva would paralyze them if it punctured skin. And with as long as their teeth were, punctures were a certainty.

Taira turned to Kyero first.

”Remember you’re the backup. Got it?” She whispered forcefully.

Kyero made a “hmph” sound which earned a small smile from Taira who then looked to Miriam.

”So Miriam. There’s about eight there now with the rest probably inside. Do you know a way to approach this that doesn’t involve kicking the hornet’s nest?” She whispered.

Miriam was silent for a moment as her eyes looked over the lizards. ”Hunting animals is not my forte…” Miriam said as she pulled new new katar which she had dubbed Shark Tooth from under her armor. ”It would be best to hit the things from range and draw them out one at a time… But with the weapons we have now that is off the table.”

Taira considered her words carefully and glanced to the lizards again.

”Hmm… True. Picking them off one at a time would be best. But I don’t know how well they hear either. Trying to get the attention of just one could be tricky.”

Taira glared at Kyero.

”I don’t suppose you have any ideas?”

Kyero had been watching the lizards the whole time and did not turn his eyes away.

”Plenty.” He said quietly.

”Care to share?” Taira muttered.

”No. This will be good experience for you both.”

”… Right.”

She shrugged and turned to Miriam.

”Well, I guess we’re stuck with trying to use the little pebbles to get their attention and hope we don't stir the hornet's nest.”

Kyero scoffed, and Taira shot him a glare over her shoulder.

"I'll see if I can lure one in. If you can, stab through the soft flesh of its bottom jaw and into the brain to kill it right away. If it makes any noise, we're going to attract others." She whispered.

She grabbed a pebble and looked at the nearest lizard. Lining up her throat, she gently tossed it out near the lizard but still in their direction which alerted it instantly. It looked at the pebble, and saw the tip of Taira's finger over the ridge before she retracted her hand. It began walking closer, and thankfully this time it seemed to be on its own. No others approached yet.

The first Raze made it’s way up towards where Miriam lay in wait. As it neared it paused as if looking for something raising it’s head up to look this way then that.

This was when Miriam sprang into action darting toward the Raze Lizard. The lizard turned it’s head to the new threat too late. Miriam slammed into the lizard’s side as she punched Shark Tooth though the soft fresh of the creature’s under jaw. The creature tried to call out but Miriam’s blade had silenced the Lizard. It almost looked like a look of shock as the beast’s eyes glazed over and death took it.

”Let’s hope we get this lucky with the rest of them...” Miriam said as she pulled her katar from the now dead creature.

Taira nodded and helped pull the body out of sight of the others.

”Mm. I think we-”

"Should gut this guy, slap on his skin and parade as one of their own," Marcel said in a low, serious voice, crouched behind them with a long sharpened stick.

Taira jumped.

”By the Gods! Marcel! When did you get here?!” She whispered.

Kyero glared at Taira.

”You seriously didn’t smell him coming?”

Taira puffed her cheeks at Kyero.

”How am I supposed to smell him amongst all these lizards?!” She whispered harshly.

Kyero shook his head in disappointment.

”Screw you!” She whispered.

”Marcel! I told you to wait back in the village! It’s too dangerous for you here!” She whispered while flailing her arms about.

"Well, you see..." he began casually, "I'm looking to get my hands on the hide of one of these fellas. Personal purposes." He patted his makeshift spear on the Raze Lizard corpse, "... And I'm not going to just be some vulture. Just let me take down one of them and I'll be out of your silver hair, goddess."

Taira puffed her cheeks at Marcel.

Miriam knew the scent of Marcel quite intimately. She kept quiet though as the others talked though she gave Marcel a glare the whole time. When they stopped she added. ”You have a death wish or are you just stupid?” She asked shaking her head. ”You should have stayed back in town… You are useless here.”

Marcel's eye twitched. "I didn't come here without a strategy," he said, crawling over to hunker down beside Miriam. His beastly eyes trailed one of the smaller lizards. "Raze Lizards, right? Their scales flare when they're threatened. Leaves their backsides vulnerable." He looked back to the serum trio. "I can't push through their scales like you three. I'm thinking of stabbing through the throat while their scales are up." He made a strong thrusting motion with his stick, "... Which means it's gonna have to have something in front of it to be threatened by." He raised a cautious fist to be bumped. "...Teamwork?"

Taira sighed.

”I guess there’s no helping it. You’re already here so we may as well put you to use…”

She gave him his fist bump, but grabbed his wrist afterwards, pulling him in close to her face.

”On one condition: You don’t leave my sight. Deal?”

Marcel's brow raised as he found himself yanked in so close. A light smirk tugged at his lips. "I'll warn you now, I stray," he replied, "... But sure, this time I'll stick with you. If you want to keep your eyes on me that badly~" he finished with a wink.
I can't help myself.

Taira narrowed her eyes and smirked at him.

”You can flirt with me later big fella. For now, just do as I say.”

Taira leaned in and kissed his nose before letting go of him and looking back at the lizards. Marcel jerked his head back with a start, then flashed her a grin while giving her the side-eye.

”Let’s lure one in so you can kill it and get your skin and go back to the village.”

Miriam’s body gave a little twitch as Taira and Marcel flirted. And at the nose kiss she snapped, making a fist.

… From the moment she joined this venture, Taira had kept a close eye on Miriam. Even now Miriam was being kept in her peripheral vision, and she caught everything including the twitch and the fist accompanied by a subtle shift in posture. With these physical ticks, Taira glanced to Miriam out of the corner of her eye wondering what was going on? But it didn’t take more than another few moments to realize what was happening.

”NO! This is bullshit! If you really are here for a skin there is a dead lizard right here! Take it and go! If you are trying to prove something, you are failing. The only thing you are proving to me right now is how stupid you really are Marcel.”

Turning on Taira Miriam added. ”And you, goddess, are not helping by encouraging his stupid!”

… She’s jealous. Taira realized internally.

The entire time Miriam had gone off barking at them, Taira was giving her a shake of her head and hands trying to make her be quiet. But too late. Taira winced as she heard the Raze Lizards over the ridge start crying out to one another.

They heard her.

Taira sighed and peeked over the edge to see the lizards on their way, and then turned to Miriam with a rather peeved expression.

”Well… I did tell you this was going to be training.”

She stood up immediately as the first lizard reached the ridge and peeked its head over to see what was here. Taira grabbed it by the mouth hoisting it up into the air and throwing it down over her shoulder while saying, ”Lesson one,” BAM! It hit the ground and was knocked out cold.

”The serum enhances what you feel. You need to keep yourself under control or you’ll make stupid mistakes like, oh, I don’t know… Alerting your enemy to your presence?”

She turned around as a second lizard reached them, diving at her with mouth agape. She caught it by the upper and lower jaws, her fingers narrowly avoiding its teeth, and held it still.

Taira had determined Miriam needed some tough love, so no better time than now to get it out of the way.

”You already have a girlfriend in that woman, Miranda!” She said as she twisted the lizard violently to spin it onto its back.

”You have no reason to be jealous about a little casual flirting between Marcel and me. Besides,” She jumped onto the lizard’s chest to pin it with her legs and shoved its head down over the ledge to break its neck causing it to go limp.

”Casual flirting is all he’s going to get. My standards are too high for anything more.” She said with a sly smile, glancing to the man.

“Oof,” Marcel said, leaning with one elbow on the blunt end of his stick, “That smarts. Should’ve expected that from the lass who calls herself ‘goddess’.” He glanced between the two lizards Taira had decimated with perhaps 30% of her full effort, gave a discouraging sigh and unstuck his spear from the ground. He spun it around as he started to back up. “So Miss Goddess, how about we keep these lessons of yours battle related, huh? Watch yourself and keep their attention.” His spinning halted and he slunk away to get into position for his ambush.

Taira scoffed and shook her head.

”Yeah, yeah. Fine.”

She hopped onto her feet as the remaining five lizards charged their position.

”Kyero, keep Marcel out of trouble will you please? Miriam and I have lizards to kill!”

Miriam let out a low growl at Taira’s claim of her being jealous but said nothing until she was informed that the other five lizards where incoming.

”I was sick of this sneaking crap anyway.” Miriam spit out. then with a smirk she said. ”And now the fun begins!”

Miriam picked up a rock and threw it at one of the lizards. The lizard growled as the rock hit it and charged at her. ”Yeah come at me ya bastard!”

Miriam let out a crazed giggle as the lizard rushed her. Just as she had planned she jumped to the side stabbing out with Shark Tooth as the lizard passed by. The blade struck the underside of the lizard and the lizard’s own forward motion caused a huge gash to open in the creature’s side.

Miriam crackled madly as she pulled her blade free. ”Who’s next!” she shouted challengingly.

Miriam was answered by a blast of Raze Lizard spit barely missing her face. Miriam turned to the spitter with a glare. ”You Bitch!” She shouted charging the second lizard.

Miriam’s foot smashed into the lizard’s jaw with a sickening crunch. The lizard growled in pain. With the lizard stunned from the kick Miriam finished it with a Stab through the eye into the brain.

Miriam laughed again enjoying this too much. She caught her breath as she glanced over to see how the others were faring.

Taira dashed away from Kyero and Marcel to draw the lizard's attention, making little hoot noises and whistling to draw their eyes to herself. She needed to keep them away from Marcel.

The first lizard scurried to her side and attempted to bite into her shoulder with Taira performing something akin to a dance move to spin out of the way of its bite while jamming her elbow into the beast's neck. However, despite the blow having the intended effect of breaking the neck, in doing so she cut her elbow on its sharp triangular scale armor. Taira flinched back from the blow turning her arm to see the cut which was a big mistake.

Taira was slammed off her feet by a headbutt given her by the second lizard to reach her, and before she could fully recover she felt the sting of its venomous liquids striking her left boot. Taira quickly slid her foot out of it before it ate through the material into her skin and scrambled to her feet just in time to stop the third and final lizard from biting her torso. Catching it by the mouth like she did the first lizard she flipped it over her head and slammed it belly first into the ground. The blow stunned the lizard and Taira used that time to flip it over and slam an elbow into its throat to sever its airways.

With the lizard choking and dying, the final lizard was all that remained. But before Taira could reach it the creature let out a shrill cry which forced Taira to cover her ears. Kyero, meanwhile, standing over by Marcel, was brought to his knees in pain from how sensitive his hearing was.

And following the cry, as the seconds passed, more and more lizards began pouring out from the tunnels dug into the mountainside to gang up on and assault them.

So far Taira and Miriam had killed seven lizards out of an estimated thirty... And she could tell this was going to be a long and uncomfortable fight.

”Hey know that hornet’s nest you were talking about… I think it just got stirred…” Miriam said. ”So you take the ones on the left… I take the ones on the right?”

Miriam didn’t wait for an answer but rushed forward towards the nearest lizard. it snapped at her but she jumped back right into another lizard. She ducked down to avoid losing her head.

”Yeah goddess next time you sign us up for a suicide mission do it in a nation that allows weapons ok..” Miriam said as she fell back.

As Miriam retreated a lizard jumped at her from the side. a quick stab stopped the creature in it’s tracks but left her open for a lizard she did not see. Luckily a last second glance gave her enough time to avoid the creature’s bite. But as it’s fangs scraped her armored tummy she felt the lizard’s claw dig into her leg.

”Son of a Bitch!” Miriam exclaimed.

Miriam kicked the lizard sending it flying into it’s fellows. This disoriented them long enough for Miriam to make a makeshift bandage from her skirt and cover her wound. But then they were on her again.

Biting back the pain Miriam let out a growl. Flying into a rage she stabbed, punched and kicked at the lizards that came at her. Despite killing two more the lizards came on. Miriam held on her rage blinding her to the gashes given to her by the lizards. She was holding but it was only a matter of time until her rage could no longer sustain her.

When Kyero came to, he spotted his charge twenty feet away, slinking out of sight from the battle into the bushes. But Kyero wasn’t having that. However, his still ringing ears made him a bit unsteady on his feet for a few seconds. More than long enough for a stray lizard to knock him to the ground and bite into his left forearm which he used to protect himself. Smashing the side of the lizard’s head in with his right fist, Kyero stood up and dashed after Marcel, sliding in front of him with arms outstretched.

”Where do you think you’re going?”

His left arm trembled as it fought the numbing feeling that was quickly building within it.

“Where do you think?” Marcel shot back in a whisper, looking between the cave the lizards were still spilling out of and the two women fighting them off. “The Alpha is gonna come out of that cave any second now, and the ladies can’t take their attention off the swarm or they’ll be overrun. Somebody needs to take care of the Alpha while they're distracted.”

Kyero's eyes narrowed.

"You think you can challenge that creature?"

Marcel cocked his head like he was thinking, before shrugging. "Well, I'll give it a go."

Kyero crossed his arms.

”The hell you are. Get back behind the ridge over there.”

Marcel scoffed, shaking his head with a disbelieving chuckle. “You’re not grounding me from saving our asses. Come off it,” he said, moving to step around Kyero.

Kyero's eyes flashed red and his arm shot out to block Marcel.

"Don't test me, Marcel." He growled.

His eyes began glowing steadily brighter as his hand gripped Marcel's shirts and he yanked Marcel in front of him.

"Talk down to me one more time, and I won't kill you. But I will cripple you."

Marcel couldn’t suppress his grin. “Oh, there he is. Now that’s the face our Maiden remembers.” He didn’t struggle in Kyero’s grip. Instead he looked over his shoulder. “Look. I do reckon I can take the big guy. Not cos I can punch harder than he can.” He gave Kyero a wink. “I’m resourceful.”

He whipped two fingers up to his mouth and gave a shrill whistle. Kyero cringed from the sound and loosened his grip, as three lizards redirected their path from Miriam towards them. Marcel slipped out of Kyero’s grasp and dived out the way, disappearing into the shrubbery. Kyero swiped at him with a growl, but couldn’t retrieve him before he had venom spat at him from three angles.

Kyero was able to bend his body out of the way of one, but the other two both splashed onto his body. The first did so harmlessly against the lower half of his cloak around the backs of his legs. But the second splashed against the top of the cloak near his shoulder which allowed a small portion to splash into his face across his left eye.

Kyero gripped his face in agony as the venom began eating away at his flesh. He had a small flask of water at his side, but it would have to do. Kyero brought out his flask and emptied all of its contents across his face to wash the venom away, but even as the water did its job he was beset upon by the three other lizards.

Kyero’s eyes flashed brilliantly as he let out a horrific and double-toned growl and spun to face them with a vicious snarl on his face. The first lizard to arrive had its head literally punched off, the force of Kyero’s assault tearing the flesh around the base of the neck sending the head rocketing and skipping over the mountain’s sloped surface into the face of it not far from Marcel’s shrubbery. The second met its end when Kyero gripped it by the mouth and wrenched its body left to right a few times at a violent velocity, snapping its neck thrice over inside its body effectively decapitating it like the last one. Tossing the body aside, the third backed away following the display. And as Kyero’s eyes flashed at it, the beast fled towards Taira and Miriam.

Kyero eyed the beast which still had its head with his now one good eye, the left half of his face having since partially melted away including part of his left eye lid from the venom’s effects. He opened the creatures’ mouth and gathered a handful of saliva and smeared it over the wounded half of his face to numb it to the searing pain now flowing freely through it. And thankfully the method worked though it also numbed his hand along with it.

Kyero took out his blindfold and tied it at an angle to cover that side of his face as he tossed the hood of the cloak back and threw a glare at Marcel’s shrubbery. But before he could make any moves towards it, Taira could be heard yelling at him, ”Kyero, what in the name of the Gods are you doing?! Where’s Marcel?”

Kyero ignored her, fighting hard to control his breathing and his elevated heart rate as his fists shook at his sides. He didn’t much care to right now, but he forced himself to relive the pledge he made to the Maiden and grit his teeth as he began a patrol for Marcel starting near the now abandoned shrubbery.

Kyero had to give him credit for one thing though… He was faster and stealthier than he’d been given credit for so far, to slink away without Kyero noticing even if he was combating those stupid lizards.

With Kyero having gotten in trouble for losing Marcel, Taira was distracted just long enough for a lizard to run up and bash her in the lower back with its tail causing a rather nasty bruise to appear almost immediately beneath her clothing. The impact also tore part of the clothing above the small of her back and the rough skin dragged across her flesh left a friction burn behind as well.

Taira slid across the loose dirt and gravel of the mountainside, unable to get proper footing. She was then charged from the front by another lizard which she thankfully jumped to avoid. But its thrashing tail caught her on the side of the face leaving a red tail-shaped mark on her right cheek. She hit the ground hard and was pinned by that same lizard. But before it could bite down into her she kicked it in its soft underbelly sending it into the air. She flipped to her feet and kicked straight up in a near perfect split to slam her heel into its throat to cause its airways to rupture.

With that lizard now choking to death and gasping for air, she turned her attention to the one which lashed at her with its tail. As it charged she slid to the side using the gravel to her advantage and grabbed it by the tail before spinning it around causing its head to slam into two other lizards which had been coming in fast to assist in the kill. They were both knocked away as Kyero slammed the one in her hands to the ground severing its tail in the process. The impact broke its back, and it would not be long for this world.

With two more lizards down, totaling thirteen dead so far given that Miriam had since killed two more and Kyero had killed two of them before losing track of Marcel. They were in fairly good shape. However, Miriam seemed to be struggling to maintain her her composure in this fight with a clear rage building in her eyes.

Taira darted to her side, sliding into one of the lizards about to bite her leg.

"Lesson number two!" She called, grabbing the same lizard and tossing it into a gaggle of others.

"Anger encourages the release of adrenaline. Learn to focus that burning rage forward rather than letting it run free. The more you focus your rage, the longer it lasts and the more your adrenaline will serve you in conflict."

Taira looked out in time to see that five lizards were heading their way from the front and one more from Miriam's right side.

"I'll take these three! Focus Miriam! Focus your rage into a weapon! Don't let it run free or it will burn out like a weak candle flame!"

Miriam barely heard Taira’s words only gibbers and three words Rage… Focus.. Weapon…

Rage…

Focus…

Weapon…

The words ran over and over in Miriam’s head as she faced the lizards. She waited just long enough for one of the ones in front to charge her just at the same time the one from the side did. With a quick jump back Miriam caused the two lizards to crash into one another. As those two snapped at each other Miriam turned to face the third one.

”Rage… Focus… Weapon” Miriam said unwittingly aloud.

The lizard spit at Miriam but she dodged it. ”Missed” Miriam taunted.

Miriam leapt forward and thrust Shark Tooth through it’s skull. It let out a hiss that alerted the other two that turned from their snapping to charge her. One pulled up letting fly it’s spit. Miriam dodged the deadly spray but she had moved right into the path of the other.

With a crash Miriam fell under the impact of the lizard. The lizard now on top of Miriam snapped at her fangs inches from her face as she held the creature at bay. Get off of me!” Miriam shouted kicking the lizard off.

Miriam hopped to her feet before either lizard could finish her off. ”Rage… Focus... Weapon… I am the weapon..” Miriam whispered.

The lizards made another charge. Miriam sidestepped the first but the second clawed her leg. Letting out a growl she kicked the creature throwing her rage into the kick. A snap was heard as the lizard’s bones snapped.

”Rage...Focus…” Miriam got it now as she looked at the broken lizard.

The last Lizard let out a cry surely calling more as it fled towards the cave. It wasn’t fast enough to outrun Miriam and it’s cry was cut short by Shark Tooth’s cold blade.

But the damage was already done...

Taira's three lizards were smart. They came at her one after the other at awkward angles so that her defense against one did little good against the next. Wether this was dumb luck or something more was open to debate, but regardless it kept her on her heels, literally, as she backpedaled up the slope to keep ahead of their snapping jaws.

The first lizard to go down did so because it slipped on the gravel and gave her a much-needed opening to get in close and pull both of its eyes out. As it screeched and struggled to continue attacking in its rage, Taira slid to the side and caved in the side of its skull with a single mighty punch. But unfortunately for Taira her luck had run out. Her leg was bitten by one of the other two lizards, and the effect of the numbing saliva was almost immediate.

Taira pried its jaws open and twisted it over onto its back to temporarily prevent it attacking. The third lizard rushed in and tried to ram her with its head only to be grabbed and thrown into the air. Grabbing the tail of the one on its back Taira swung it around in circles before throwing it up into the one falling back down. They collided in mid air and came crashing down on top of one another. Taira quickly moved in and slammed their heads together, splitting both of their skulls like watermelons against one another.

But now she was without the use of one of her legs which now hung limp beneath her, and Miriam was still in a blind rage despite the lizards all beginning to flee from her.

”Rrgh… Kyero! Kindly bring her here please!”

Kyero glanced to her from the corner of his eye, as he had been in the middle of searching for the slippery Marcel. However when he saw Taira’s leg hanging limp he sighed and did as she asked.

Kyero slid in front of Miriam, arms outstretched.

”Time to calm down, Miriam.”

”Out of my way!” Miriam growled.

Miriam took a swing at Kyero but missed badly. Her mind raced as she snapped from her rage. Vision blurred she stumbled forward. Then the pain came… All her wounds, the cuts, the bruises. All at once the pain that her rage suppressed came to her.

With a cry of pain Miriam fell to her knees holding her head her brain feeling like mush. Miriam’s rage was spent and now she had to pay for it.

”I could have went on… Miriam muttered as her eyes closed in rest.

Kyero sighed and knelt down, helping her to her feet by giving her his shoulder.

"Pull yourself together, Miriam. Taira needs us."

And it was true. Without the use of one leg Taira was struggling to maintain her ground against the other lizards which had gatheted around her.

"Lesson number three, I believe it is?" Kyero began. "When wounded and in pain, use the serum's enhancement of what you feel to your advantage. Focus your mind on anything that gives you a sense of tranquility. The pain will subside as long as you hold that thought at the forefront of your mind." He said, kicking away and scaring a charging lizard.

"Your injuries won't heal any faster, but the blockage of pain will help see you through this."

Think happy thoughts...feel better…

Miriam thought of Miranda… her kiss… the feel of her skin… it did help a bit but it was hard to keep focus with the sound of incoming lizards.

At last they reached Taira's side, and Kyero let go of her so she could stand on her own two feet.

"Thanks for coming..." Taira said as she collapsed to one knee.

"I was starting to worry about you Miriam." She said through a grimace of pain.

Taira had been gashed on her good leg by three claws. And the cuts ran deep.

”I’m fine…” Miriam muttered in response to Taira. Looking around, she noticed someone was missing ”Where’s Marcel? she asked worriedly.

”Resourceful little bastard slipped away from me.”

Taira chuckled.

”Well, I suppose things could be worse couldn't they?”

No sooner had Taira said that than a horde of lizards began pouring out of the caves in the mountain face… And despite all they’d killed, the number they saw now was a lot more than the initial thirty they expected.

Kyero slowly turned his head to glare at Taira who chuckled nervously.

”In my defense, they only said they saw thirty of them.”

Kyero growled a little as he drew his daggers.

”No! Put those away right now! We can still fight!” She barked as she made a move to stand up after binding her leg with a torn piece of her sleeve.

Her leg buckled and she was forced to sit down, a moment. But she forced herself to her feet shortly thereafter.

What was strange, however, is that the lizards weren’t attacking. They were just pouring out and beginning to surround them. Had to be at least twenty five lizards in the area now. And the answer as to why they didn’t attack yet came a few seconds later as a thundering roar emerged from the caves followed swiftly by the appearance of the Alpha as it burst out the mountain face.

The behemoth stood at least fifteen feet tall, if not more, in a bipedal posture with forelegs resting against its belly. It had much larger scales along its back and had an armored belly making previous strategies of dealing with a softer side null and void. Its teeth were longer, its mouth longer, and its eyes more forward facing like that of a predatory cat.

”Oh boy…”

”So it finally shows itself.”

The Alpha growled and unleashed a horrifically loud roar which shook Kyero’s head and made Taira and Miriam hold their ears. And within seconds the horde of lizards began rushing in to attack the trio. As they engaged, their bipedal leader came down to all fours, its scales flaring in a show of dominance –

When it was stabbed by a stick.

Marcel had darted from behind, jabbing his spear into the left of its neck into the flesh its flared scales exposed. He was quick to yank out his spear but was immediately struck and flung aside by the creature’s tail before he could make a dash for it. He was smacked against a wall of the cave’s entrance and fell down, half cast in shadow. The beast raised up on its hind legs to come to twice Marcel’s size with a pained hiss and squinted around for him, sniffing the air with a growl. Marcel took note of that. When it found its assailant, it let out a high pitched whine and all lizards in the area turned their attention from what they were doing to their leader. Then all charged to protect it.

Senses. Lazy. King. Senses. Lazy. King –

“Keep their attention!” Marcel shouted, his voice carrying poorly from his position, “Red! I need you!”

He sprinted into the dark of the caverns, the Alpha prowling behind.

As the lizards began swarming towards Marcel at the behest of their Alpha, Kyero sprang into action, but not before tossing both Taira and Miriam one of his Orichalcum daggers. He dashed between and around the lizards and halted as the Alpha blocked his path while it crawled into the cavern after Marcel forcing him to choose another entrance with other lizards in hot pursuit behind him.

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Character Portrait: Red-Eyed Demon Character Portrait: Marcel Starr Character Portrait: Miriam Gale
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”Marcel, you are an idiot…” Miriam muttered as she watched him attack the Alpha.

Soon Miriam found herself in battle once again as the Demon’s dagger was placed in her hand. With the Demon’s dagger in her right hand and Shark tooth in her left, she felt back in her element wielding two blades. Pain shot through her leg but she able to mostly blocked it out with Kyero’s happy thought cure mixed with her rage making a comeback.

”You scaly bastards! Fight me!” She shouted.

Pounding her chest she let out a battle cry. ”Νίκη ή θάνατος!”

Miriam made a limping charge towards the back ranks of the Lizard horde. Two turned to face her, one from the left one from the right. She used Shark tooth to hold off the one on the left while she slashed the one on the right under the jaw with a look of shock in the lizard’s eyes as it’s jaw literally dropped having been severed by the Demon’s dagger.

I’ve got to get Mako and Thresher upgraded with this. Miriam thought as she turned to the left lizard. Keeping it’s snapping jaws at bay with Shark Tooth she worked herself closer to the lizard until with a swift thrust the Demon’s dagger stabbed through the lizard’s skull into it’s brain.

More Raze Lizards now saw Miriam as a threat and five of them turned her way. Making sure to set her weight on her good leg she made her stand. Two of them charged her. She parried them slashing one and stabbing the other. As she finished them off two of the others spit at her.

Splat! The acid spit hit Miriam’s leather breastplate. ”Shit!” She growled as she saw the acid burning through her armor. ”You fucker!” She yelled, throwing Shark Tooth into the throat of one of the spitters.

As the spitter choked on Shark Tooth’s blade Miriam ripped off her ruined armor before the acid could reach her grey toga. Throwing it aside Miriam turned to charge the last spitter. That was when the fifth Raze Lizard struck.

Miriam cried out in pain as the lizard jumped her from behind slashing her back with it’s claws and she fell to her knees. The Lizard turned to finish her off but met with the Demon’s dagger instead. As that Lizard fell a hiss reminded her of the last spitter. It raised it’s head to spit but never got the chance as she threw the Demon’s dagger into it’s face.

”Victory...or Death…” Miriam mumbled as she pulled herself from the ground and stumbling to retrieve her weapons.

” Νίκη ή θάνατος… Victory or Death..”

Taira was not pleased about the idea of just keeping the lizards distracted, but what choice did she have? One leg was numb and the other was gashed.

”Hey! Stinky brains!!”

Several lizards turned on her upon her shout, and Taira readied the orichalcum dagger as they charged her. The first to reach her had the side of its mouth, jaw, and neck split open as she slid to the side letting it race by, while the second nearly managed to bite her left arm. Luckily she managed to pull her arm back far enough that only the lips pinched her flesh which didn’t tickle, but there was no danger of numbness from that. She stabbed through the top of its head to take it down, and had to immediately pull the dagger free for the third and fourth lizards that practically stumbled over themselves to reach her.

Using the dead lizard as a shield, she pulled herself over it and pushed it towards the others to give herself a bit of space. The pair clambered over the body of their dead ally smacking their jaws at her while she did her best to limp backwards to give herself a few precious extra moments to bring up the dagger and defend herself.

As they reached her she still hadn’t managed to recover fully from repositioning herself and she was forced to use her left arm as a shield against one of their snapping mouths while using the dagger to kill the other by spiking it through the bottom of the chin up into the brain. The other nibbled on her arm drawing blood and causing one of her forearm bones to snap from the pressure. She grimaced and slammed the dagger into the side of its skull watching its eyes roll back into their sockets before it fell off her arm.

Taira saw Miriam being slowly being overwhelmed and limped over to her side, fighting off one last lizard on her way before reaching her.

”Hang tough Miriam.”



The Alpha slowly stalked her prey.

Her claws dragged across the ground with every step, her scales flaring slightly in anticipation of an encounter. Her poor eyesight was abandoned in favor of reliance of her other senses. Her tongue flicked between her teeth, tasting the air, when – up ahead. Something splashing.

The Alpha’s pace quickened. She lowered herself to the ground in preparation to strike. The sound had stopped, but the scent of an intruder was growing stronger down this path. The shallow wound on her neck throbbed, blood dripping down her scales. She could hear the wails of her children outside as they were carved into. But they couldn’t distract her, no, her pride took precedence.

Scent was stronger now. Filthy and male. It was strongest here. Where was that horrid little creature? She began to snarl as she sniffed around for him. Wait – had he...?

Suddenly, movement. Something was flung at her, something that reeked of the intruder’s scent. She snarled and swiped at it in confusion. At that moment, in the tunnel before her, two glowing red orbs appeared and – flash. For a split second, the red lights became blinding. The Alpha cried, writhing and shutting her eyes. The red light continued to fill the caverns. The Alpha’s scales flared and she gave the command for her children to come to her.

A call for help that was soon reduced to a gargle... then silence.

Taira and Miriam had managed to scramble up the mountain slope to a more defendable position… But things weren’t looking good.

The two women had found a small ledge up the mountain from the cave entrances to sit on, but it was still difficult to defend. The Demon’s daggers had been either slipped from sweaty hands or knocked away by flailing tails and claws. Without their weapons, the girls had little left going for them as they fought to maintain their position on the ledge with the still near two-dozen lizards scrambling over one another trying to reach their prizes.

One lizard managed to get its claws over the edge of the ledge and tried to pull itself up and was quickly punched in the face by both women sending it flying down the side of the mountain and rolling into the small valley below.

”Come on boys!” Taira said breathlessly.

Another lizard attempted to approach but was knocked away like the last. However, it was quickly replaced by two more. The women tried to kick them away, but one of them was stubborn and dug its claws into the ledge to help keep itself there as it snapped at them. A quick punch in the eye from Taira and a kick in the jaw from Miriam finally sent it away.

But again it didn’t seem to matter. They just kept coming one after another like a massive school of piranhas on a corpse. And by this point the girls were so exhausted they had long since stopped caring about precision and struck wherever they could to knock them away.

“Coooooooeeeee!!”

A loud, shrilly call echoed from within the depths of the mountain cave, followed by a whistle and a few clicks. As the whistles grew nearer, so did the sound of something heavy being dragged. Finally, the whistles lost their echo, and there came a whump.

The Alpha laid still before the caves, its body unmarred but for a bit of blood on its neck and a broken, sharpened sticking piercing beneath its scales and protruding from its maw. Kyero released its tail and stepped back as Marcel pranced forward and around its body. His jacket had been discarded somewhere within the caves.

“Your leader is dead!” he announced dramatically, giving the body a kick. He gave his audience a dazzling smile. “... That’s code for, ‘scatter’.”

He clapped his hands twice and watched on with amusement as the Raze Lizards parted ways. Few were slow and unsure, but most darted for the trees with a hiss. Some of those lizards would move on to adopt the characteristics of an Alpha, while others would try to join a new clan and consequently be torn apart. Such was life.

Taira watched the events unfold and chuckled softly as she laid down on her ridge beside Miriam, holding a thumbs up over the side for Kyero and Marcel to see.

”Good job boys!” She called weakly. ”Mind coming to get us, please? Moving is a little difficult right now.”

“My job, actually. This is mine. My dead thing. I did this,” Marcel blurted with a foot on the corpse, pointing to it. He caught Kyero’s glare in his peripherals. “... Red was a valuable... I’m coming up!”

Marcel bounded his way up to their ledge and pulled himself over. “Oof,” he cringed as he saw the state of Taira and Miriam, “They really did a number on you, huh.” He turned around, pointing with his thumbs at his back. “Alright, who wants a ride down with the hero of the hour?”

Taira glanced over, still on her back.

"Miriam... Mind if I hitch a ride? My legs aren't working." She chuckled.

Miriam glared at what was once her armor. Armor that had got her through many battles. Armor that had saved her life more times then she liked to admit. One final time it saved her today. Like a sister to her now dead…

Miriam let out a sigh as Marcel and Kyero come back, Marcel acting like he had won a damn war. She huffed. Here she sat in a ripped toga, her armor gone, and everyone was happy? Sure they won, but at what cost?

Miriam was still brooding when Taira’s question came. ”Ride whatever you like.” she grumbled.

Taira chuckled.

”And the jealousy continues… Oh well. Hopefully you figure out who you really love before long.” She mumbled under her breath.

Not waiting for any sort of reply Miriam made her way over to Kyero. ”Guess you want this back…” She said handing Kyero back his dagger.

Kyero silently received his dagger from Miriam as Taira was pulled up onto Marcel’s back. ”Hey… How’d you do it?” She whispered.

“Ah, well...” Marcel began as he cautiously made his way down the slope. Damn, he kept forgetting how heavy these serum-enhanced women were. “She relies on scent to track her prey, right? Let’s just say I masked mine with something stronger.” He reached the bottom and gave a shrug. “Pretty common trick.”

Taira chuckled. "No silly. I mean how did you kill her?"

“Alright, alright, hold your horses, we’re getting there,” Marcel ‘exasperated’ jokingly, “So there I am, it’s pitch black, the place smells like piss and is echoing so damn much I don’t even know which way our girl’s coming from. And I’ve got a stick. Finally Red shows up and his eyes are the only light in the place. Oh hey, Red, you found me! Of course. It is easy to sniff out cowards. They make smelly fluids. Now stand back you mortal weakling as I tear out its spine with my pinkie finger.” he boomed in a grave, stoic voice as he set Taira down.

It was then Kyero arrived.

”The cocky little prick threw his jacket into a puddle of piss to distract her as the signal for me to, as he put it, “turn the lights on.” She’d flare her scales at me and he’d stab her in the neck.” Kyero said as he put a hand on Marcel’s shoulder and gave it a firm, mildly painful squeeze. ”Not the most graceful method, but it got the job done.”

Marcel disregarded the pain while he reached his arm around to put his hand on Kyero's opposite shoulder. His fist rested on his hip as he declared, "And that's how we became friends."

Taira, despite her pain and exhaustion, was being overcome with laughter as she sat on the ground watching the pair.

”You two do seem rather close all of a sudden.”

Kyero growled and pushed Marcel’s hand away as he took a step towards Taira to lift her up into a piggy back ride. Once she was on his back, she gave him a pat on the head which he winced at. ”What’s up?” Kyero responded simply by turning the side of his head with the blindfold wrapped around it towards her. ”The little bastard got half my face burned by that venom.”

The pair continued their conversation as Kyero started marching back towards Iyns, Taira chiding and joking at his expense the entire way.

Marcel watched them go for a moment, his chest swelling with satisfaction, then he turned around with an unwavering grin and walked over to crouch beside the Alpha’s body. Just one of the very, very many dead things strewn about them.

“Hey, Shark,” he called out, beckoning for Miriam, “Do you mind if I borrow that new blade of yours for this?” He knocked on the corpse’s hard scales, then gave a grimace at her expression. “... You’re really gonna leave me out here hacking at this guy with a rock, huh.”

Marcel’s voice broke Miriam from her brooding. She gave him an annoyed look and said. ”So you can cut off a trophy and show off your inflated ego? No thanks. Besides, Miranda wouldn’t like it if you used her gift to me… You are on your own.”

She stood up and turned back towards town.

“Actually, that trophy is yours, Shark,” Marcel called after her while he stood up and stretched, before searching around the area for something sharp with patient steps. “You’re going to need more than bites and bruises to prove that you finished the job. You’ve done this gig before, right?” He crouched down to pick up and weigh a sharp-ish rock in his hand, when his eye spied something green. He snatched up the orichalcum dagger Taira had carelessly left discard and stroked it with love in his eyes. He gave Miriam a friendly wave with it and retreated back to the lizard.

“I told you, I’m just here for the hide,” he said, “Blacksmith’s orders.” He hovered over the body thoughtfully before pulling his shirt over his head and tossing it far away from the splash zone. His boots and pants swiftly followed it.

“So...” he trailed off as he made the first incision, “... She doesn’t know, does she?”

Miriam let out a groan. He had a point... But it was what Marcel asked that stopped Miriam in her tracks. "What the hell are you talking about?"

“I’m asking if your fiancé knows you let some bastard into your bed,” Marcel replied casually, continuing to slice through the Alpha corpse, “I’m looking out for my own neck, here. I don’t make a habit of taking someone bound to another. It’s messy and ends with a pickaxe through somebody’s head. So, am I expecting the assassin sooner? Or later?”

"It's... Complicated. .. Miriam answered. "I, for many years, thought she had abandoned me... You are not the first during that time... Just the most recent.... She knows I ... Went around while we where apart... But not with who..." Miriam sighed. "It's best if we just forget what happened..."

“So we’re going with what she doesn’t know won’t kill her, huh? Fine by me,” Marcel grunted as he sliced orichalcum through bone with a heavy crunch. He lifted the head and looked like he was about to toss it Miriam’s way when he stopped. He held the head up and out of her reach and gave her an expectant look.

“We’re going to try something,” he announced, “Called, ‘being nice to Marcel.’” He elaborated before Miriam could retort, “Here I am, standing with the head of the beast I just killed to save you. The head I’m about to give to you to collect your reward for killing it. There you are, having said some very mean, untrue things and not apologizing for it. I mean, fuck, if you can’t apologize, can’t you at least admit I’m not as stupid as the lizard?” He asked, giving the head a shake.

"I'm not nice..." Miriam said snatching the head from Marcel before he could react. Looking back, Miriam gave a playful smirk. "You're smarter than a lizard. But not by much."

Marcel blinked at his empty hands, then looked up to watch Miriam striding off with her prize. His shoulders deflated.

“Proogressss,” he cheered dully, making sarcastic jazz hands before turning back to finish the flaying, alone, nearly naked and surrounded by corpses.



That evening, as twilight set in, Miriam met Taira at the stables where they turned in the head of the Alpha as proof of their accomplishment. And in exchange, they were rewarded with three new horses. Taira kept a golden palomino with a black mane, nose, and stockings on its legs. However she didn’t feel she would keep it for long. Maybe just the night. She’d probably give it to Quinn to give to whoever she wanted, or keep it if she so desired.

But for now, with new horses in hand and as part of their group, they returned to Iyns going their separate ways. Taira, given the state of her legs, limped to a stump near the stables to sit down and rest them.

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Character Portrait: Sieghardt Val Lohengrin
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A downward blur, a vertical chop.

Clatter!

Two halves of firewood tumbled onto the grass, joining piles of bisected logs. Sieg stood in front of the chopping block, a shirtless, sweat-drenched giant. A fuzzy white shape peered from inside his pocket, its eyes like black dots as it took in its surroundings. The knight-turned-lumberjack propped the axe against the stump, hoisted an armful of cordwood, and marched back into town.

Iyns. The calm before the storm. A moment of peace before their major operations in the Capital. But a warrior like Sieg could not afford to lollygag, lest idleness dull his body and mind. To that end, he offered his service for the Red Flask; Manual labor in exchange for coin and hospitality, with the waitress entrusted to keep an eye on the colorful man - Colaus’ - child.

As the dense forest faded into the clearing of town, his eyes shifted towards the stables, where he spotted a familiar head of silver. Taira. The girl from earlier. The one with many gifts, and even more smiles. Her stride was uneven, her balance compromised, her hand tugging at the reins of a gold-black mare nearly twice her size.

Sieg raised a brow. He hastened his steps, a weighty thud, thud, thud which alerted Taira to his presence. The knight stopped by the entrance, stepping over to avoid a pungent-smelling bucket.

His eyes did not blink as they wandered to Taira’s leg, bloody gashes and skin showing through tears on her trousers. Sieg’s brows lowered, his lips drawn into a frown as he observed, out loud, ”You need help.”

Taira, holding the reins softly in her hands as the mare nibbled at the grass beside her feet, smiled warmly at the beast as her ears alerted her to the approach of heavy footsteps. She turned her head towards the source of the booming boots and beheld Sieghardt, shirtless and sweaty from his manual labor, which made her arch an eyebrow as a tiny hint of pink appeared in her cheeks. But as her eyes traced his line of sight to her leg the pink disappeared as she threw him a teasing stare.

"Admiring my legs there, Sir Lohengrin?" She joked with a chuckle.

Sieg’s eyes narrowed into a squint. His head leaned back, a trickle of sweat slithering down his temple. His lips gave neither motion nor voice. But it was easy to tell that her jape caught him off guard.

She shifted her weight on the stump to face him, a slight grimace in her face.

"If-... Ngh... All jokes aside, if you honestly don't mind lending me your shoulder back into the village I'd much appreciate it. I'm-" She winced with a tight shut of her left eye before opening it again slowly. "I'm a little the worse for wear thanks to those lizards. And I'm out of personal medical supplies."

She rubbed her thigh beside the wound and looked up at his towering form with an apologetic smile.

"Would you mind, terribly?"

His lips curved into a frown. Without another word, the giant of a man walked closer, turned around, and dropped on one knee. With Taira aboard, Sieg stood back, locked his elbows against her shins, shifted slightly to ensure Taira’s comfort, and lumbered back into town, carrying both the silver-haired girl and his pile of logs. He blinked, bemused by her unexpected heft. But it was nothing his back couldn’t handle. Must be the serum.

Sieg’s face maintained its stone-like expression, undeterred by the occasional stares of curious onlookers. Despite himself, his mind wandered to her words. Admiring my legs there, Sir Lohengrin? The knight exhaled. He should be better than this. But the presence of beautiful women in their troupe, combined with the absence of a woman’s touch in his life made for a distracting mix.

In other words, he really needed a good wank. Tonight.

But for now, a question came to his mind. Something to keep him focused. ”I thought you preferred women?” he blurted out, his voice kept low to stave away further undue attention.

Taira settled in nicely on Sieg's back. She could see easily his size, but actually being carried made him feel even larger. She rested against him, wincing slightly as he pressed his elbows to her shins. The one leg was still numb, but the other... Ouch.

Then the big question popped up, and Taira couldn't help but chuckle.

"An inside joke between myself and Feline which we very often forget not to tell in the presence of others. She usually chides me for it afterwards in private, but I got off lucky last time thanks to Drake doing so instead."

She reached up and gave his head a few soft pats.

The man raised an eyebrow. Even after loving one and bedding many, women continued to be such mysterious creatures. But he had no cause for complain. That was part of their charm.

"If you're curious about the story behind the joke, I'll be happy to tell you later in more private circumstances. For now though, just know that I prefer big strong men..." She leaned in closer, her breasts pressing firmly against his large muscular back. "Not unlike yourself," she whispered against the flesh of his neck

A shiver traveled down Sieg’s spine. He could feel her. So close. Her breath, tickling his nape. Her bosom, so warm and silky against his body. As if she was wearing nothing at all. The knight’s brows arched downward, and a hot pink surfaced upon his cheeks. It was like that encounter with Era. Except this time, there was no paralysis to hold him back. ”Hey, don’t say something you’ll regret,” he protested, his voice tinged with more emotion than typical.

Sieg glared straight ahead and hastened towards the tavern, his face locked in a grimace. I prefer big strong men, her voice echoed in his mind. He furrowed his brows and wondered to himself. Like Drake? Under the swaying sign of the Red Flask, the knight kicked open the door. Just as he kicked the licentious thoughts out of his mind.

Life and laughter had returned to the inn, where the men and women of Iyns gathered for their dinner. Patrons clinked their mugs. Bards plucked their lutes. Barmaids moaned as drunkards spanked their rears. Sieg made his way to his table, where Colaus’ boy and his ferret sat alone, with his lunchtime waitress keeping an eye nearby. The giant of a man hunkered down so that Taira may join them.

Sieg stood and turned to the seated girl. ”I have to deliver these,” he said with a nod towards the cordwood in his hands. ”Try the stew. It’s a classic.” The knight turned towards the kitchen and walked away. A stray apple core spun over his head, missing by a mere inch. Much to the jeers of some, and the cheers of others.

“You owe me five coppers, Frank!”

“Like hell I do! You haven’t paid my winnings from last time!”

No matter how far one travels, taverns never change.

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The book-hunting duo walked back through the forest in silence. Had it been as simple as there being no book or artefact for Egruus’ men to find, Marcus could have relaxed. Instead, the dire warning from Gert had left him unsettled. After the man had shut the window and ended their conversation, no amount of convincing would get him to elaborate any further on this… knowledge that he possessed.

Once the two of them were out of the forest and on the way back to town, Marcus turned towards Kade, his gaze set in a disapproving frown. He had not forgotten the little priest’s noble intentions, so rashly carried out. “Kade… why, just why did you put yourself between me and that gun?” he asked, in a tone that spoke more of frustration than genuine anger. “What good did you think it would do? What if he’d fired just as you made a sudden movement and killed me anyway?”

Marcus stopped in his tracks, and let out a sigh.

“I know you’re one of those religious types, but… don’t be in a hurry to make a martyr of yourself, alright?”

Kade stopped too, reeling back a few steps from Marcus. The young priest peered between his silvery bangs almost sorrowfully. His lips parted, before he swallowed the words as quick as he drew breath and looked away.

“Mister Marcus,” he murmured with care, “Do you recall the man you killed to save the Maiden?” His fingertips subconsciously trailed over his stomach, where his skin was surely still tender and discolored from the blunt trauma the bandit warlord had slammed him with. “It... was a victory for us that day, wasn’t it? We were alive, and the injuries minimal.” Suddenly, he clutched at the fabric of his tunic. “... That’s not enough for me.”

He turned his gaze back to Marcus, bright with moisture yet stern, like a wet rock. “It’s not the same when I lose a patient,” he continued earnestly, “I know that I do everything I can to save them. I am not weak there.” His brow creased as his voice raised. “But in battle when the weapons are drawn you can’t tell me that standing aside is all I can do! A-And even if it is!” he exclaimed, gesturing wildly before drawing in to clasp his arms, “And, I... know it should be. I know I am weak.” He gripped his bone-thin arms tighter, giving them a look that was uncharacteristically resentful. “... Here.”

He swallowed. “But if I can move I can do something. And knowing that – I can’t... not. For everyone. ... For anyone.”

He lowered his head, his face hidden behind his brim and straight bangs.

“In the outcome of that fight,” he said after hesitant moment, “My only comfort was that beneath the beast, I couldn’t see anyone fall.”

Kade raised his head with conviction. Sunlight shone through the gaps in his straw hat, surrounding his fair face in a halo of speckled light. His fists clenched at his sides.

“Every life lost while I watch is another I didn’t save.”

Marcus’ gaze never left Kade throughout his speech. The thief could sympathise with his plight; there were likely others serving in non-combat roles in the revolution who wanted to serve the cause in a more… direct manner.

“Alright, so what do you expect to bring to a fight besides your bare fists? Can you use a weapon?” Marcus paused to consider his words. “Have you held a weapon before?”

He raised a hand before Kade could interject.

“Wanting to fight is all well and good, but you’ve got to be prepared to do whatever it takes to survive. Prepared to look a dying man in the eyes after you’ve stabbed him in the gut. I won’t lie, I don’t make a habit of doing it, but sometimes you’re caught by surprise, with no other way out.” Taking a step forward, Marcus looked Kade up and down. Mostly down. A slight, unassuming figure, with delicate but dexterous hands. Good for threading a needle… or picking a lock…

“Tell you what, if you’re still interested after we’re done here, I can teach you what I know. Wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as training from a professional soldier, mind, but it’s better than nothing.” Without further ado, the thief turned on his heel and resumed the journey back to town, beckoning for Kade to follow. “Come on. Let’s see if we can’t find another lead on that… whatever it is they’re looking for…”

The passion in Kade’s eyes died at Marcus’ words. He withdrew into himself, hiding behind his hat as the sun slipped back behind the clouds.

“I don’t need a blade to achieve my dream,” he murmured, his hands tugging at the hem of his tunic, “I’ll become everyone’s aegis without that.”

Following Marcus’ lead, slipping back into town without attracting attention was fairly easy. With their inconspicuous nature, it was as if the pair had never left. Immediately Marcus kept an eye out for guards. After sighting one of their patrols, an idea came to mind.

“You said you overheard the guards talking about looking for something, right?” the thief said to Kade in a hushed voice. “Maybe if we can find where they’re stationed, we might learn more about what they’re looking for and where.”

“Should we start at the guardhouse?” Kade whispered. He sounded somewhat ... hollow, suddenly. Detached. “Every small town like this has one. Though the men on the search may not be local, the Guard Captain of Iyns should be informed of their purpose here. Getting... inside... that might be more difficult than listening in to a patrol and hoping something drops.”

Marcus nodded thoughtfully, though not without giving Kade an odd look. The priest seemed to have taken his words earlier a little too personally. “Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve done a job like this,” he replied. “I can get inside easily enough. Mind keeping watch for me while I’m in there?”

Kade shook his head, his entire frame swaying with the motion. The duo made their way towards the building they assumed to be the guardhouse. One of the larger buildings in the village. Stone, two stories, barred windows and one man stationed in front. Despite the larger number of guards patrolling the village for the Eve of Remembrance, this particular building seemed to have lacking security. Because of their efforts directed elsewhere, surely. Eyeing the barracks, Kade reached up under his tunic and fumbled for something. His arms snaked back with a thin, silver buckled belt. His brow furrowed as he tried to make the metal glint in the light of the overcast skies.

"... I'll try to make this work," he murmured, polishing it on his sleeve. "If I can't, um... If I see someone coming, I'll gooooo..." He let out an inhuman chirrup impressively accurate to a bronze-belied warbler. "... It's nice to welcome the birds in your garden," he explained, then looked to Marcus with concern. "Um, so... What do I do if you get caught?"

“Simple. Get as far away as you can without getting caught yourself,” replied the thief. “Find the others, explain what happened, and hopefully they’ll be able to get me out before the soldiers get too creative with the interrogation.” Marcus laid a reassuring hand on Kade’s shoulder. “But I’ll do my best to make sure that won’t happen, alright? Josephine wouldn’t let me hear the end of it otherwise…”

And with that, Marcus turned away from Kade and kept a reasonable distance from the guardhouse, discreetly examining the building all around for a point of entry. A guard posted at both front and rear entrances. Windows on the floor above were unbarred. The building was right next to another one… oh yes, it was definitely possible to get inside without being seen. Just had to wait for the right moment…

While the guard was looking elsewhere, he made his way into the alleyway, coming to a stop beneath one of the unbarred windows on the upper floor. He glanced around to check that there were no witnesses, before shrugging off his backpack and pulling out a length of rope and a spare dagger to use as an improvised grapnel. With one good throw, the blade embedded itself in the timber of the windowframe, and after testing the rope to see if it held, Marcus donned his pack and shimmied up as quick as he could manage.

A few moments picking the lock on the window later, he was in. He pulled up the rope after him and searched the room, which was thankfully clear of guards.

Marcus had found himself within the private quarters of the only person he assumed would be separate from the bunks below – the Captain of the Guard. The room didn’t hold the extravagance one expected of someone in a position of power under Egruus. Bed, drawers, bedside table. Very little in the way of furnishings, and very little in the way of anything useful to him. Just a bunch of dried forget-me-nots, a display of butterflies, a dozen stray coppers and crumpled letters to a Captain Roman Geisser about a daughter growing up without him. Oh, and between the mattress and bedframe, a thin volume with the cover, “Erotic Poetry for the Military Man: The bed is a battlefield, and other stories to blow your horn to.” Items completely inconsequential to Marcus’ mission and deeply personal to this “Roman Geisser.” He had to get to the man’s office where hopefully information on this mystery item would be held.

... However, before he went to pick the lock to the room next door, he discovered something he had overlooked beneath Geisser’s pile of letters.

An unaddressed envelope containing nothing but a pupa in a little box.

Marcus stared at the pupa in puzzlement, the significance of which was completely lost on him. Was this some obscure code? Kade would have a much better understanding of what this was, and why it was in an envelope.

Setting the inscrutable find to one side for the time being, the thief made another pass at searching the room. Hunting for things that he himself could make sense of. Maps. A journal. A hidden compartment filled with valuables. Something, anything which could directly benefit the revolution. There was nothing of the sort among Geisser’s personal objects. Relieving the Captain of a tiger’s eye ring, Marcus slid over to pick the lock to the next room.

This room he was certain to be the Captain’s office. A chair with its back to a large window sat before a writing desk covered in forms and documents, while a much less extravagant chair sat with its back to another door. The room was near silent, filled with the faint beating of wings from the shelved jars of butterflies.

Marcus was quick to shuffle through the papers. The disorderly piles were of approved orders for the smiths, receipts, and patrol reports. All which would require a long sit down and read through to pick up anything telling or unusual. One letter stood out in particular. The font was unlike anything else on the table, clear and flourishing. As Marcus read it through, he discovered it to be a letter requesting reinforcements at Valoc. Information that wouldn’t be so daunting, if the capital hadn’t been their destination.

Before he could search for anything else, he caught ear of two pairs of fast approaching footsteps. Thinking fast, the thief darted behind the curtains - which were thankfully long enough to be almost touching the floor - and did his damndest to keep very. Very. Still.

“Why is it, Captain Geisser, that when you are in the search for something else, everything you had lost in the past seems to surface?” An educated voice came, belonging to a man that seemed younger by ear. “A copy of The War on Gods and The Golden Nation, relics outlawed half a decade before this day. I was not here to dig for your skeletons, Captain, but if we don’t find what we’re here for, I will have to put something in the report.”

A gruff, older sigh. There was a creak as something heavy leaned back in a chair. “I think it’s clear by now that you’ll have to write that up, Commander,” there was something tired and wise in that voice. Despite their titles, the natural authority Roman Geisser held over this young man was unmistakable. “My people don’t have any knowledge of it or the stories. Or will you torture each soul to be sure before you move to the next town?”

“You’re mocking me.”

“No. I’m asking to see the kind of Commander you’ve risen to be, Leo.” A silence. There was a sigh and a shuffle of papers.
“Make the report, Commander. Show competency. I owe it to your father to tell you that rising too far in this game is just as likely to get you killed as you are praised.” The Commander remained silent as Geisser walked to let him out, when -

“What if we’re looking for the wrong thing?” he blurted, “Captain Geisser, do you know of any suspect people in the area?”

“... What would drive you to ask that?”

Slam. The sound of two hands smacking against wood. “I didn’t take this charge before researching for it. Somebody must have taken the book from the Great Library, and I have a lead. Egruus gave the command that all Lore Keepers of Old Valoc were to be executed, but I went through the records and found two not accounted for on the date. Raimund Wallner’s remains were found among the dead of Forthal... Leaving Gildemarie Neha D’Rolovici. Reported missing on the date of the Burning of False Relics, and no remains found. I’ll confess, the sources that led me here on her trail were not of savory repute,” he admitted, “Captain, round up all women of Iyns over fifty years of age for questioning. As you do, I’m having a unit turn their search to the south.”

There was the sudden noise of something being disturbed. “Commander, I advise against that. The southern woods have been ruled as unsafe by even my garrison.”

“Which is exactly why they must be searched,” the Commander replied with triumph, “What better place to hide than somewhere no one can go?”

“Leo, I doubt this Miss Gildemarie tamed Raze Lizards as pets –”

“I have doubt of that as well. Just as I doubt that the venom of Raze Lizards only takes effect hours after contact, as apparently your men who had ventured there before experienced before their painful, isolated deaths.”

Silence.

“I told you, Captain Geisser. I am not here to dig for your skeletons,” the Commander stressed – and Marcus felt the odd sense that he was pleading. “But if I find nothing within the timeframe, I still need to report something. Do you have any information that can aid me that you now recall?”

There was a small, careless chuckle. A little proud, a little bitter. “And I told you, Commander. You’re going to have to write it up.”

A few moments passed before the Commander’s boots clacked against the floorboards towards the door.

“It’s just a fable, Leo,” Geisser called after him, “A fable that leads to nothing but an unspectacular reality. It’s not worth spilling blood over, no matter who it’s for.”

The Commander had stopped after opening the door.

“... It doesn’t matter if the map is real or not,” he said, “It’s going to lead me somewhere greater.”

The door shut politely, leaving Geisser alone with Marcus. As the footsteps trailed away, Geisser muttered a curse and made a start for his bedroom.

As he heard the bedroom door close, Marcus waited a couple minutes to make certain that the coast was truly clear before breaking cover. The mention of a book, a fugitive Lore Keeper, the southern woods… Gert’s words came back to him, a warning of knowledge better left unknown. And Veilbrand troops were to be sent to claim it.

Marcus quietly pushed open the window before attaching his crude grapnel to the window frame and prepared to slide down, leaving as quickly as he arrived. Once he was on the ground, he yanked the dagger free and made his way towards Kade, careful not to make a beeline for the priest in case any keen-eyed sentry was to spot him.

“We need to get back to the woods south of here,” hissed the thief urgently. “I heard a couple of officers chatting about a Lore Keeper in hiding thereabouts. What was her name… Gildemarie? One of them wanted to send a unit of soldiers to flush her out.”

He set off at a brisk walking pace, urging Kade to follow.

“If we can get there ahead of them, maybe there’s something we can do to slow them down,” he continued. “I’ll explain on the way, but it sounded like it’s connected with that book…”

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As the sky was smeared with various colors of twilight and evening, Xia never moved from her position on the fallen log which served as her bench.

So much had happened recently she could hardly wrap her head around it. Her eyes shut tightly, her hands gripped hard to her sleeves, and her top row of teeth bit into her lower lip.

“How could you?” She whispered.

Everything blurred together save the look in that crazed woman’s eyes as she enveloped Xia in darkness. A horrible retching sound accompanied by splashes of liquid all around her gave way to the light of day and the knowledge that this woman had just tricked Quinn into throwing away Xia’s life in favor of saving Kade’s.

Her knuckles turned white as she curled forward on the log, her face drooping just past her knees and tears dripping to the grass below.

Why? She thought.

It was the recollection of Quinn’s stoic green eyes and the confidence in the choice she had made which caused Xia’s body to tremble.

She wouldn’t have done this without a reason, Xia… Right?

She released her grip and made her way back to the wagon to retrieve her pack and promptly made her way to the inn to rest. As she entered and sat down on the edge of the bed in her room, she noticed a pen and ink bottle on the table beside a stack of paper. Taking a seat and taking the pen in hand, she began writing.

My Lady Dezantro,

I humbly request an audience with you upon the morn. There is something I must know, and you’re the only one who can provide an answer. Please meet me in the flower fields just outside the East end of the village at sunrise.

Sincerely,

Xia Crescalla


Folding the letter and placing it in a small envelope, she delivered it to Quinn’s room and slipped it beneath the door. And with that, Xia returned to her room and laid down on the bed. Unconsciously her hand went to where her katana usually rested as she mimed the act of pushing it with her thumb out of its sheath to check the blade, and a subtle frown appeared on her lips.

She was transported back in time and standing inside the entrance to the medical tent in the old base. Linde was lying on the bed with her stomach wrapped after the events with the Assassin, and Xia’s blade was a thumb’s distance outside its sheath ready to be drawn. However, it was clicked back into place as she strode up beside the wounded doctor and pulled up a stool to sit on.

Linde’s eyes fluttered open and met Xia’s, and the two shared a long and uncomfortable silence.

”You know why I’m here, don’t you?”

No response.

”Of course you do.”

Linde broke eye contact.

”You haven’t the courage to even look at me, now?”

Silence.

”Why did you do it?”

Continued silence.

”You knew he was no threat. But you killed him anyway. Why?”

Linde closed her eyes.

”Fine. Ignore me. But you can’t run from this forever miss Almna.”

Linde’s eyebrows furrowed.

”… Must I force the answer from you?” She asked, pushing her blade out of the sheath with her thumb.

Linde’s eyes opened and locked on Xia’s.

”I thought that would get your attention… Even with the serum you still feel and fear pain, don’t you? You claim to be a doctor and desire to heal people. And yet all you do to me is let my pain fester and grow because you refuse to answer for what you did!”

Linde’s silence was met by Xia bursting into tears of rage and frustration as she stood up and gripped Linde’s lapels shoving her against the mattress.

”Answer me! Why did my brother die? Give me some closure, dammit!! Please!!”

Xia broke down into near uncontrollable sobs as she leaned down and cried into Linde’s shoulder, still gripping her lapels. Linde closed her eyes and sighed softly.

”Xia.” Her voice was hoarse and weak.

”I took no joy in killing him, despite what you remember of that day.”

Xia’s head slowly rose. Her eyes dark and filled with ire.

”That’s a lie. You smiled when he died. I remember that very clearly.”

”I was smiling at Shadow.”

”But you smiled. My brother died, and your first action was to smile. I don’t care who it was at. You felt nothing for my brother’s life. You simply brought it to an end and moved on as if he was nothing… What kind of ‘doctor’ throws away the life of another human being so casually?”

Linde’s mouth opened, but no sound came out. It was promptly shut.

”Your silence speaks volumes, miss Almna.”

As Xia let go of her and started to leave the tent, Linde coughed.

”Xia.”

Pausing with an exasperated sigh, Xia turned around.

”Tomorrow, I will tell you everything that happened from my perspective.”

”I don’t care about your perspective. I just want to know why my brother died.”

”I… Okay.”

”I will hold you to that, miss Almna. I’ll be back in the morning.”

Linde nodded, and Xia departed the tent.

Back in the present, Xia placed her hands on her stomach and heaved a sigh. Linde had disappeared that night, and the answer she was promised never came. She still didn’t know why her brother died.

But more than that she wanted to know why Quinn chose to throw her life away. Was she truly so useless that it was just that simple to say “take her” when it came down to her life or someone else’s? How did Quinn even see her? Quinn was everything to Xia. Her role model. Her source of strength and the kind of person she wished she could become. But Xia… What was she?

Tomorrow she’d find answers, because she knew Quinn wasn’t the type to run away. And that thought in mind, she closed her eyes and fell asleep.

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Character Portrait: Regene "Jeanne" Rhamnus Character Portrait: Marcel Starr
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A light splash. A sharp hiss. White-hot steel sank into a trough, and steam billowed from the water as the blade cooled into an orange hue. The revolution’s hidden forge bustled with the symphony of labor, with not a second of silence to spare amidst fire and ember.

Jeanne sat upon a crate, her skin glistened with sweat and darkened by soot. Droplets slid down her cheeks, then fell from her chin. Her apron was stained with burns, ash, and soot, having served in its duty to protect the smith. She snapped a metal tube on one gloved hand into a handled contraption on the other, and a click marked its union. Jeanne held her gun up to the forge light, and sighed her relief.

”What time is it now... Eight? Nine?" Jeanne paused for a moment, then nodded, her fire-like hair tossed from the vigorous motion. “Here’s hoping this works!” The jester’s emerald gaze wandered across the new gun, from the tip of the barrel to the cylindrical chamber and hammer at its rear. The scratches, dents, weld marks, and crooks which adorned its form spelling out its scrap-borne nature.

Jeanne turned to her left, staring straight at a wooden target practice. She steadied her aim. Elbows straight, left hand under her right. Her thumb tugged at the hammer. With parted lips, she mouthed, “Okay…”

...And pulled the trigger.




Cloaked by the night and the wind, Jeanne’s figure slid between the orchard, absent of noise or hesitance as she made her way towards the outskirts of Iyns. Even as the evening veiled her sight, the sound of moving water was clear as a daybreak’s bell, guiding her east past the apple plantation.

As she stepped out from under a calloused branch, Jeanne was greeted by the silver glow of the crescent moon, its light reflected on streaks across the stream. Her eyes brightened as she took in the river’s sight. Less than five meters wide, with water that flowed from west to east, slower than a rush but faster than a stir. Exactly what she needed.

The jester braced, then bounced forward. Once, twice, tossing aside one shoe after the other. At the edge of the riverbank, she reached to undo her black top, then slipped out of her shorts.

Splash.Splash, splash!

Waist deep within the river, Jeanne washed the grime and fatigue off her body, purifying the lily-white skin underneath. Beads of sweat were replaced by moonlit droplets, the wet gleam bringing attention to the subtle tones and lines of her physique. Her muscles tensed against her dainty form, wrought by her past and tempered by the present.

She closed her eyes and shuddered, a soft voice beckoned by cold and calm. She ran her hands up her face and over her hair, leaving no spot untouched by the river. With a shake of the head, her reddish locks tossed to scatter drops of water, their fiery color contrasting the sky, the moon, and the river alike. ”Hnnn…,” Jeanne exhaled, her bosom rose and fell under the cover of her arms. She closed her eyes, focusing on the flow of water and the occasional warble or chirp of wildlife in the distance. After so many hours in the heat of the forge, she was eager to soak in as much as the river could offer…

... Completely unaware of the creeping intruder on her blissful solitude.

Marcel too carried the scent of iron, on his bloodied pants and the red stickiness smeared across his bare chest. The garb of the victor, home called it, and the reek he carried with him from the blood and lizard gizzards matted in his hair “the scent of a champion.” Marcel never much understood the craze for stripping down to the barest necessities – well, he could understand that, but to do so that an enemy’s blood would spill on your skin? Being drenched in blood didn’t make you look victorious. Really, it just made you hard to distinguish from the corpses. And you reeked like one for days. Come on, Heresta, couldn’t a Shaharan live a life of violence and not sacrifice his grooming for it?

Ah, there, he could see the moonlight reflecting in through the tree line. Marcel’s steps sped up as he tossed the apple he’d pinched from the orchards up and caught it to bring to his mouth – but right as he went to clamp his teeth down, he saw something jaw dropping. And apple-grip-releasing.

She arched her back, red locks draped over a closed-eyed sigh. The droplets that fell from her body sparkled as they reflected the moonlight. Her arms wandered, running down between her breasts and down her navel-

Thud.

But In that stunned moment, within the time it took for the apple to fall from his hand and alert Jeanne of his presence, the visage of her moonlit silhouette had been burned into Marcel’s brain forever.

She whipped her head over her shoulder, her arms folded against her bosom, just barely concealing her nipples. The green of her eyes seemed even brighter against the widening whites. Her jaw gaped, and her cheeks burnt with a pinkish hue which almost matched her hair.

A moment passed. Even the wildlife ceased their song, with only the stir of water to color the silence. Jeanne’s lips closed, then parted, and closed again, struggling to summon her voice. ”M-Marcel!” She finally cried out, nerves raising her already high-pitched voice. The beet-like color spread from her cheeks to tint the rest of her face. She blinked once, twice, and continued, ”I-I-I didn’t expect to see you!”

Marcel stood with his jaw hanging and eyelids peeled back, his mind not yet catching up to his surroundings. “I - I didn’t expect to see... you,” he repeated, his eyes trailing down with his permission. When he caught himself he jerked his head to the side, bringing a hand up to shield his eyes and rapidly reddening face. “I mean, I didn’t. See anything. At all, really. Are you decent?” He cringed at his own flustered lies. He’d seen countless bodies stripped of undergarments, so why was he acting like this?

The jester clung to herself tighter. She turned ever so slightly, exposing her back, and the line that ran down her spine, a crisp bit of detail which stood out like a river in a desert. She reached to feel her red-hot face, her eyes cast to the waters to avoid the swordsman’s gaze, lest she lose herself in that bewitching amber...

”Ahee hee- ehm… not exactly- I mean! S-since you’re already here…,” the jester peeked from the corner of her eyes, and even with much of her face obscured by her shoulder, Marcel could almost see her cat-like smile forming as she whispered her proposal.

”Why not… why not join me?”

Marcel choked.

After a few seconds of coughing and pounding it out of his chest, he glanced to Jeanne. “That’s a kind offer, Jeanne,” he responded, trying to slip back into the rhythm of his charm. “That I’ll take you up on... at a respectable distance.”
Marcel strolled to the water’s edge a safe distance from Jeanne, careful not to look at her or appear daunted by this unexpected scenario, before kicking off his shoes and pants and wading in.

The chill of melted snow raised goosebumps on his skin and a faint, wispy cloud raised from his blue lips. Without hesitance he ducked his head beneath the river’s icy surface then flung it back, his unbraided hair flicking water in an arc over his head. His hands traveled over his face then curved to slick down his wet hair as he gazed up at the stars above. His eyes appeared paler by the moonlight. No sunlight glinted in them, making them appear as glittery, hard gold pieces. Under the moon, they took her silvery hue to appear just as soft, and just as distant.

Marcel let out a loud yawn after a moment and got to scrubbing the blood from his body, revealing an old, faded scar under each smear. Most of the scars dotting the man’s body were either too small or too old to be noticed, relics from a time more distant than the early days of his adventuring ‘career’. Soft splashing sounds were the extent of conversation between the mercenary and the jester as they bathed.

Jeanne stared into the waters as Marcel moved to join her. She rubbed away, eager to be rid of the last traces of dirt… and to distract herself from her red-hot cheeks and wandering mind. She had never been like this before. Bare naked. Vulnerable. Not in front of another, not even Marcus. Her heart thumped away at her chest with such fervor, like a squirrel that had seen the biggest, crunchiest walnut of her life, barely out of reach outside her cage.

...

Every splash felt even louder between the silence. Plip. Plip. Plop. Plip. She brought her palms to her cheeks, as if trying to contain the amorous heat within. Can I look? Would he judge me for it?? I’m going to regret it if I don’t!...But would I regret it more if I do? OhSoroshiiwhatamIthinking?!

With her hands slid over her face, Jeanne snuck a peek between her fingers- and her eyes widened as they saw... red.

Red sliding down his body, red mixing with the water. Red dribbling from his shoulders like an overflowing cup of wine.

Jeanne whipped around, and in an instant charged towards Marcel, the loud splashes that came scaring off a nearby flock of magpies.

”MARCEL! Marcel, are you hurt? Th-that’s a lot of…”

Blood, she finished in her thoughts. But up close, Jeanne realized - none of it was his blood.

”...Oh.”

And Marcel realized that, in her haste, Jeanne had left her guard down- and her figure in full view. The outlines that connected her shoulders to her breasts emitted a soft shadow under the pale moon, framing the twin fruits at the center stage - humbler than Quinn’s or Linde’s, perhaps, but just as supple as the rest of her.

As the swordsman’s eyes wandered over the jester’s figure, a line caught his attention - a flaw in her diamond features, typically hidden by a collar or choker. A diagonal stroke below her throat, the length of a girl’s pinky finger, long-faded into a near-white color.

His observations was interrupted when Jeanne’s arms returned to cover her chest. She bowed her head in an attempt to do the same to her scar. Her emerald gaze darted downwards to avoid meeting Marcel’s eyes, but instead froze upon his body. He was muscular, but not bloated. Fine-boned, but not girlish. Just as beautiful as he was handsome, it was little wonder that he managed to leave behind a long trail of broken hearts.

Her pupils shrunk, and she raised one hand in a futile attempt to cover her hot pink face. Just how long was she staring?! The jester whipped her head towards Marcel’s left arm, taking his hand with her right. Her thumb pressed against his palm, feeling the callouses that formed from a lifetime of combat.

Jeanne lowered her other hand, showing the face now overtaken by wide-eyed curiosity. She had either forgotten, or stopped caring, about exposing herself, her twinkling gaze occupied with, in her mind, a more interesting subject. ”I’ve never seen y-... it… so close before,” she murmured.

She held his hand up and turned it one way, then the other, so that she could better see the black ink that slithered from his wrist to the shoulder, a scale-like pattern painted between the lines. ”It’s beautiful…” the redhead stood on her toes and leaned closer to search for the head of the snake, finding it just above his shoulder blade. She then straightened back in place and gave a single nod. ”A bard once told me, ‘like every scar, every tattoo has its story’," Jeanne wiggled her brows, a teasing smile on her lips. ”Mind telling me yours~?”

Despite being half-submerged in freezing water, Marcel did not feel cold anymore. And despite the goosebumps, he was sweating profusely. He was trapped in one of those fantastical scenarios he boasted about in the past – only half of which were in fact true, but all of them starred promiscuous, stunning strangers. People he didn’t care about. Nobody who would wake up the next day and want to spend the morning snuggling. Not one soul who would expect anything from him.

He deliberately looked away from her as she observed his tattoo, not noticing his discomfort. And, by Heresta’s sweet mercy, unable to peek at anything occurring beneath the water’s reflective black surface. Heresta, give me strength... he pleaded to the stars. Jeanne’s hands were far too soft for someone who worked the forge. Something as white and delicate as unfurled lilies shouldn’t have been capable of producing anything so deadly. ... And a single touch from them shouldn’t have been this tortuously effective!

At the question about his tattoo, Marcel allowed himself to look her way, forcing his eyes to lock with hers and remain there.

“... It’s not just a tattoo,” he said, uncharacteristically quiet, “It’s a Spirit Graft.”

Their eyes met, and Jeanne’s heart skipped a beat. When she peered into that golden gaze, her fingers pressed to clutch his hand, as if responding to his thoughts - and her own. ”A Spirit Graft?” she whispered to match his tone, her face moved closer as if to conspire. ”I-I’ve never heard of that term before. Does it… does it have something to do with Heresta?”

“Yeah... Yeah, kind of,” Marcel considered briefly, “It’s in Heresta’s teachings that a Shaharan’s strength comes from the first ancestors, who stole it from the Goddess herself...” he trailed off, uncertain of the relevancy, “... Right. Look, in Shaharan, we don’t believe in rewarding greatness in medals or badges, or anything so material and meaningless. If you're given a title, or did something great – these things become a part of you.”

He flexed his bicep, the dragon seeming to shift across his skin under the moon. “And greatness is carried down, just like Heresta’s strength is,” he stated, completely matter-of-fact.

Jeanne blinked, her emerald eyes captivated upon the moving serpent. It seemed almost… alive. Like it was, as Marcel said, part of him.

“I was five when my grandmother died. Got grafted at her funeral. We all were. My father, my brothers. Passed down the same Spirit Graft granny had gotten from her ancestor when they passed,” Marcel cringed at the memory, “By the Goddess, I screamed. Let me tell you now – blindfold? Not a sedative. Shouting? Tough luck. Big stick? ... You get the point,” he said with a sheepish grin, scratching the back of his head.

Jeanne’s gaze dimmed, her smile faded as the image of a screaming child Marcel echoed in her mind. ”They did that… when you haven’t even lost your first baby teeth? Th… that’s barbaric!”

Marcel gave a shrug. “It had to be done, before her spirit flew too far from this plane,” he explained, “She was a Vulkanys – descendent of Darun Vulkanys, the Dragon of Dumas. He kicked serious ass in the Third Great War. He’s the guy that thought up of using mirrored glass as a battle tactic. Those Cre’ Itians peeked the dunes to find the rays of Heresta’s forge searing right through their eye jelly, right before the burning arrows rained!” Marcel enthused, beaming at Jeanne before looking over his shoulder to try and see his tattoo. He’d seemingly forgotten about their current, bare circumstances, overtaken by excitement for his tale. He tapped the sun crowning the dragon’s head proudly.

Jeanne’s smile returned to the corners of her lips. Despite her questioning of Shaharan parental methods, the jester couldn’t help but be swept along by Marcel’s enthusiasm.

“The reason they called Darun a dragon –” Marcel’s finger trailed around the flames that wrapped the dragon’s slithering body, “He used to breathe fire as an intimidation tactic! Every hold, town, and camp that fell to him was left looking like a fire-breathing beast had razed it – that’s, uh, not the fun part. That war was pretty pointless, and he probably killed... like, what, a couple hundred innocents, but-” Marcel cleared his throat and steered himself back on track.

“You know, people started calling him a sorcerer after he was grafted,” he continued, slowing down, “He was an alchemist, actually. First to discover and start messing with that nitrate deposit over in the Barrens. First of the... damn few,” he finished, and finally, his enthusiasm completely settled. He gave his forearm a squeeze.

“I’m a bit of a rarity,” he said, his lips tweaking upwards as he shot Jeanne a wink, “You don’t really see grafted mercs. That’s graftless work. I should be back home, earning titles, trying to marry into the strongest bloodline that’ll have me...”

She nodded. Once, then twice. An alchemist? In Marcel’s family tree? Jeanne held her fingers to her lips to stifle a giggle. ”Eheehee...!” Who knew that his clan had such a storied history? The jester bent forward, her breasts hanging into a natural cleavage as she cooed, ”So, in another time, in another place, I could be calling you ‘Sheikh Marcel’?” Jeanne straightened back, her hand moved to stroke her chin as she pondered, ”I’m guessing you’d wear one of those winded scarves on your head. The kind that look like white mushrooms!… really big ones."

Marcel’s chuckle stopped short.

“... My, uh... My Dad earned another grafting. Way back.”

The heat that had flushed Marcel’s face (and other places) before had faded, leaving him blue lipped and shivering. He took his hand back from Jeanne, letting it hang limp at his side. “... I don’t know if it should’ve been passed to me by now.”

Jeanne’s hands clasped above her waist. She eyed him with furrowed brows and a fading smile. She wanted to reach out, to touch him again, to comfort him… but this was not the time. Men need their moment to stew.

His gaze lowered to the black, star-speckled river. He’d never gotten so carried away with recounting his history before, not even when he was drunk off his ass and blubbering on the shoulder of whoever he’d adopted as his new best friend for the evening. With a heavy sigh, he glanced back up Jeanne’s body – his eyes immediately drawn to her neck. That was not the kind of scar you got from an accident.

“So what’s the story behind that, then?” he spoke up, offering an echo of a charming smile, “Haircut gone wrong?” He shook his head at himself, “Sorry. It looks... You don’t have to tell me if it’s too hard,” he murmured and began to wade away, thinking to the scars on Mistress Ottavia’s back she shrieked at him for seeing.

A chill traced up Jeanne’s spine. She whipped her head up to meet his gaze. For a moment, her green eyes flashed wide and were fixed with terror. The images surfaced in her mind. A woman’s hand, white as a sheet atop a blood-red pool. A knife, pressed against her neck, the edge cold as the grave. And the fingers, dimmed by shadow as they stroke her cheek, underneath quivering eyes…

Jeanne cast her gaze to the waters. Her eyes glistened as, from the corners, Marcel could see tiny droplets form and swell. A moment passed. The silence shared between them made that moment seem like an eternity. But just as Marcel was about to give up, Jeanne parted her lips.

”My… mother,” she began, soft voice holding back tears. She inhaled deeply, then exhaled. ”My mother was… disturbed. Ever since her youth, she’s heard these voices in her head. Mocking her, belittling her, whispering these… dark, twisted thoughts inside her.”

Jeanne stepped back, her arms raised to cover her chest. ”Even so, my father loved her. And she loved him. Whenever the voices got too much, he would take her by the hand and beckon her to his voice. And his alone.”

The redhead turned her hand, looking to the palm illuminated by moonlight. ”But one day… one day, my father wasn’t there. I was. She wailed, screamed, and sobbed atop her own filth, ranting about how these strange men were after her.”

Jeanne turned, staring at the silhouette of the treeline. Her eyes did not twinkle. They were cold as the river, a pale color channeling the gloom of a stygian creek. ”But there was nobody else.”

Her eyes turned back towards Marcel. ”Nobody but me.” Her jaws clenched, and her arms wrapped tighter around her own body. ”I was seven years old. She was twenty five. So tall, so beautiful, like an oak in autumn, even with madness disheveling her hair, the filth under her fingernails, and little more than skin clinging to her bone...”

Her chest rose and sank with another sigh. ”Even today, I… remember. How she caressed my face, How my neck throbbed against the cold steel. How my dress turned wet and heavy from streams of red.”

Jeanne’s voice lowered with every sentence, until she spoke with little more above a whisper. ”...But suddenly, she just… stopped. And before I knew it, she was laying on the ground, the dagger in her throat and the light having left her eyes.”

A nod. Slow, solemn.

”Yeah. Papa- my father returned two days later. I was still there, I didn’t know what to do. When I screamed, it hurt. So I just stopped. My father was never the same after that. Always too busy with work. Always with his back turned to me. I thought-”
Jeanne choked to hold back a sob. ”I thought he hated me. That he blamed me for Mama’s suicide, that-”

With her facade whittling down, she buried her face in her palms. ”I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to dump this on you, I-I-I’ve tried… I’ve tried not to think about this for so long!” She bowed her head deeper, desperate to not let her friend see her in such a shameful state, but her cries were muffled, not silenced, forced against her will between sobs and sniffles and coughs and sputters.

Marcel could only stare. His mouth had fallen slack, his eyes bulged, and his hands twitched at his sides. From all his time spent with Jeanne on the road, he never would have guessed it. How she could hide all this pain as effortlessly as tying a ribbon over it and making it look pretty... No, it was harder than that. There was a boy within Marcel who was trying to reach for her, a forgotten face left at the bedside of a dying woman.

“If you’d left her alone, she’d still...”

Empathy dug its talons further into his bleeding heart, and without sparing a second longer, he surged forward. Water rippled outward from the pair, encasing them in a gliding, ever-stretching circle. Marcel hugged her tightly against his chest, trying to blink the wetness in his eyes away.

“I’m sorry.” Any thought to be witty or inspirational had been tossed aside as he uttered a small, “I’m so sorry.”

With a single embrace, he took her breath away.

Her hands fell beside her waist. She kept her head down, strawberry-tinted locks shielding her eyes, but not the tears. She could feel every part of him, his arms around her back, her face against his chest. His breath, a soothing breeze over her nape. Her cries ceased. Her eyes peered a crack. She had felt warmth like this before. With her mother, with Marcus...

...But this time, it was different. It was not just warmth, it was heat. Heat that bound them together and compelled her to stay. The same heat which flushed her cheeks, now all over her body, safeguarding her against the icy river. Just for another second, and another, and another. Before she knew it, Jeanne’s arms slid to return the embrace… and refused to let go.

"..."

How long had it been?

The droplets had ceased their trickle.

Not another word was passed between them, for none was necessary.

Not yet.

But despite her best wishes, Jeanne knew they could not stay forever. With an exhale, the redhead let go of Marcel and took one step back. She cast her eyes to the side, her locks no longer hiding her rose-tinted cheeks. Her nose twitched in a sniffle, and her lips turned to evoke the shadow of a smile.

”...Thanks.”

With the back of her hand, the jester wiped away traces of her tears. ”I-I… I needed-... yeah.” After a moment of hesitance, she finally returned his gaze, and even with her eyes still red from grief, her smile had expanded into a familiar grin. ”G-geeze… really, though. Making me cry like that…,” she murmured, not a trace of her false accent intact.

Another sniffle. A closed-eyed smile. Jeanne cocked her head to one side, and pointed. ”You’re going to make this up with those frikadellers.” She raised her hand and shook it into a fist. ”And they better be the best damn meatballs you’ve ever made~”

Marcel laughed weakly and rubbed at his eyes with the palm of his hand as he backed away. “Served up on gold,” he said, “That’s a promise.”

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Character Portrait: Miranda Wavecrest
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Miranda was reeling from her words with Quinn. What if she was right… Damn you Quinn… Why are you placing doubts in my head… Why Quinn? Miranda sighed looking toward the stable. ”I need a drink... She gave herself a sniff. ”...and a bath…

Miranda trudged through the town She couldn’t get her thoughts off of Mira and the things Quinn had said. As she entered the tavern the locals gave her a quick glance and turned back to their drinks.

“What will it be?” Asked the barkeep.

”A room and a bath…” Miranda said placing the fee on the bar.

“Sure thing Miss.” The Barkeep said as he gave a nod to the maid. As the maid went to prepare the Barkeep turned back to Miranda. “How about a drink while you wait?”

”Rum”

“Um I’m afraid we are out”

”Of course you are… Why is the rum always gone… Just get me an ale then.”



Miranda nursed her drink for some while before the maid returned and informed her that her room and bath was ready. Miranda downed her ale and followed the maid upstairs to her room.

“Let me know if you need anything.” The maid said bowing out.

Miranda gave her a smile. The room was a bit bare but it was clean. Locking the door behind her Miranda made her way to the steaming water of the bathtub her clothes finding their way to the floor along the way.

”That’s more like it..” Miranda said letting out a soft moan as the warm bath water shallowed up her bare body.

Miranda’s mind drifted as she bathed…

The water was warm but the two entangled bodies were on fire. The two barely adult lovers kissed as they made the clean water dirty.

”We will be together forever right? Miranda asked.

The blue haired vixen looked down at her. ”Forever.” She said before pressing her lips against her lover’s once more.




What felt hours passed until Miranda pulled herself from the now cold water. Drying and dressing she made her way then back to the bar below. Her eyes landed on the so called silver haired goddess. She made her way over and asked only one thing.

”Where is Mira?”

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Character Portrait: Miriam Gale Character Portrait: Miranda Wavecrest
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Miriam headed out of town almost as soon as she had entered it. She couldn’t let Miranda see her like this. Slipping into the countryside she followed the river until she found a nice place where the water was deep and no one would bother her.

”Time to lay the dead to rest…” Miriam said as she started a fire. Miriam tossed her ripped toga and what was left her armor into the flames. ”Ashes to ashes and all that...

Miriam sat on the beach and stared into the river…

”Come on slowpoke!” Shouted the teen Mira as she raced to the ocean’s edge.

”Hey wait for me!” teen Miranda called back.

”First to Rock Island wins!” Mira yelled as she dived into the sea.

The two girls swam against the waves and each other as they raced to a small island about a quarter of a mile from the coast.

Splashing ashore Mira cried out. ”I win!”

”Not so fast!” Miranda shouted tackling Mira.

The two girls broke into a tickle fight. Rolling and laughing on the beach until Miranda pinned Mira. Miranda grinned looking into Mira’s eyes…

Rock Island where Mira and Miranda first kissed. As they pulled away from the kiss. Mira asked. ”We will be together forever right?”

”Forever.”


Miriam stripped down and waded into the cold river. The water seemed to ease her pain and relax her. Splashing water on her cuts as she washed the blood and filth from her tanned flesh.

“My, My what a pretty little lass..” came a voice.

A creeper laugh. “This bitch is quite the looker.”

Miriam’s gaze flashed over to the shore where two male guards stood. She gave a glare as she covered her nudity.

“Now, now let’s not be grumpy! You are about to have some fun with us.”

“Hehe yeah fun.”

One of the guards reached to grab Miriam. Before he knew it his hand was broken. “Kill the Bitch!” he shouted to the other.

The second went for his sword but he never drew it. In a flash Miriam sprang from river stealing the guard’s sword. “How the...ughh gugllll….” was all the guard could say as his own sword ran through his throat.

As He fell into the river the broken handed guard fell to his knees. “Please… we…” His words fell mute as his head was severed from his body. Miriam sighed kicking the headless guard into the river with his friend.

A sharp pain shot through Miriam as her wounds acted up due to the fight. She let out a goan.”I need a drink...or ten…”

Miriam pulled her blue toga from her bag and slipped it on. With a grimace she limped her way back to town she headed right for the tavern.

Sitting at her table where Sieg left her, Taira gently massaged her numb leg trying to help get some feeling back into it. She was able to feel a little now, so the effect was slowly wearing off. But not fast enough for her liking. However, it was then that Miranda approached asking after Miriam.

"Oh, good evening Miranda." She said pleasantly.

"Unfortunately I don't know where she is. We went our separate ways after returning from the hunt."

That was the exact moment that the Tavern door opened. ”Talking about me?” Miriam asked making her way over.

”Mira!” Miranda exclaimed. Miranda gave a Miriam a look over. ”What happened to you?! Where is your armor?!”

”Long story I’ll tell you after a drink and some sleep…” Miriam said making her way to the bar.

Miriam ordered a whole bottle of mead and followed Miranda upstairs. She gave Taira a brief wave before the two disappeared from view.

Once in the room it didn’t take Miriam long to find the bed and flop unceremoniously on it. As Miriam drifted off Miranda gave her a massage working out the soreness in her body. "This is gonna sting... Miranda whispered taking a bit of healing herbs from her bag along with a splash of Miriam's mead. Miriam let out a hiss from the burn of the mix as Miranda rubbed it in. "Sorry...Babe it has to be done."

"I know.." Miriam muttered.

"So how did this happen?"

"In the morning.."

Miranda sighed but didn't push the issue. She gave Mira a look over as she lay beside her. Even battered and bruised she is beautiful. Miranda thought as she drifted off beside her lover.

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Character Portrait: Regene "Jeanne" Rhamnus Character Portrait: Marcel Starr Character Portrait: Miriam Gale
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At the bank of the Iyns river, two silhouettes strolled towards the village. Jeanne and Marcel, fresh and dressed for a more public occasion. ”This river is so beautiful,” Jeanne remarked, her head full of fire-like locks all too visible in the blue-tinted evening. She smiled, her hands clasped over her waist, her green eyes reflecting the azure creek and the streaks of silver moonlight scattered across its surface. She turned to her companion, her gaze turned high just to meet his eyes, "You know, when I was younger, there was this lake…” Before Jeanne could go further, she noticed Marcel looking to the side. Something else had piqued his attention. The redhead turned, and saw…

Blood. swirling and spreading and sullying the water, the deep red like a poison tainting the once-pure stream. Jeanne’s heart skipped a beat. She brought her hands over her mouth, and gulped. ”W-who…” Following the amorphous trail, the two discovered the source of exsanguination; two corpses. One headless, the other nearly headless. The bodies bobbed over the surface, halted from further down the river by a fallen tree.

Jeanne’s eyes darted to Marcel, then the corpses, and back again. ”Those-those are guardsmen colors…”

Marcel wasted no time in rushing over and wading out to them in his shoes and pants to inspect the corpses.

“They haven’t been in the water long,” he called back to Jeanne unfazed, then hauled one corpse up onto the fallen tree. The other swiftly followed, and Marcel peered and prodded at the wounds that had led to their demise. Sword severing the spinal cord for that one, probably got lucky and slid right between the vertebrae. Obviously the lack of head on the other. That cut was far too clean, like an executioner’s swing.

“... Well, shit,” he grunted, working to unstrap the guards’ armor. “I get the feeling that this mess is probably one of ours. Don’t worry, I’ll try to stash them somewhere the search party’ll find after we’ve buggered off. You OK heading back alone?”

Jeanne brought her hands to cover her mouth. ”One of ours?!” she repeated. ”But who could be so careless as to leave the bodies just like th-”

She blinked. Her jaw set and her lips pursed into a frown.

”Sweet Soroshii, Quinn’s going to pop a vein if she ever finds out.” She looked to the side, seeing the lights of town peer between the treeline, then nodded towards Marcel. ”I’ll be at the tavern. Um… Be careful!”

She turned to walk, but cast one last look to the swordsman. A bitter smile crept up her face. Always cleaning up after their messes, always taking care of their needs. Marcel may not be a powerhouse, but he was, without question, a valued member of their team.


And with that, Jeanne bolted into the night.




A leather-gloved hand curled into a fist, the knuckles rapped against the Miras’ door.

Tap, tap, tap.

Three knocks which rang close amidst the distant ambience of the bar. Under the shadow of her hood, a woman’s lips contorted to bare a fang-sharpened grin. ”Yo. Cage-Girl. It’s me,” a voice called out. A deep, resounding contralto which Miriam heard only once before. That one time was all she needed to remember.

She brought her face closer to the door, whispering between the planks, ”Y’still have my coin with ya? ‘The power of the sun, inside the purity of a teardrop.’” A chuckle. Raquna licked her lips. ”What say we have a little girl talk. Just you and me, for a spell~”

Miriam hearing the knocking and the voice eased her way out of bed careful not to wake Miranda. She wrote a quick note to Miranda saying she went for a morning walk and would be back soon. Leaving that on the nightstand Miriam pulled Shark Tooth and the bandit's coin from her pack. The latter she hid inside her toga as she headed for the door.

Silently she slipped out the door of her lover's room... a thing that Miriam realized had become a talent of hers. That thought made her feel dirty inside. She shook it off as she looked to the hooded woman and asked"What the hell are you doing here?"

Raquna pulled her hood down, revealing the ring-locked dreads of burnt sienna. She wiggled her brows and spoke, pointed canines glinting under lantern light. ”Why, I’m here to free a fair princess from her cage.”

She cocked her head to the side and pointed to the stairs with her thumb. ”But this ain’t the place to talk. Technically I’m not supposed t’be here.” The wild-haired outlaw turned, the beads and rings of her hair clattered like the rattle of a snake tail. She led Miriam down the corridor as she continued, ”Got a fat price on me head. Comes with the reputation, ya know? And while I’d do well in dungeons, well…”

A dark chuckle. Her eyes narrowed, the gold color darkened as their faces flashed before her eyes. So many hardened women turned to gibbering wretches, their names, story, and accomplishments, defiled away until all that was left was the brand on their iron-choked neck; ‘Slave’. ”Veilbrand’s ‘dungeon’ is a different- no, specific, kind of vile.”

Up the stairs, away from the rabble. With Miriam behind her, the bandit’s swaying hips were in full view, left, right, left, right. Her studded-leather skirt conformed to her rear, accentuating her curves with every step.

They approached an open window, the lock busted open and left hanging from Raquna’s earlier entry. She looked to Miriam with a grin, then gestured towards the exit, ”Princesses first~”

The rooftop. Raquna sat upon the thatch, one leg over the other. Her sun-kissed skin was a shade lighter than Miriam, cooled by her days in Veilbrand. Her fur top exposed much of her body, a bulky frame honed by a lifetime of bloodshed. She looked over her shoulder to Miriam, then patted the spot next to her, beckoning the gladiator;

”Your name… it was Miriam, yeah? C’mere.”

The outlaw closed her eyes and inhaled, her breasts rose, then sank as she sighed. A smirk remained on her lips as her eyes shot open and returned to Miriam. ”I’ve been trackin’ ya lot for days. My dogs love your smell. But I can’t, for the life of me, remember the last time you smiled.”

Raquna reached to flip her hair, the jingle of the beads like an old crone’s cackle. ”See, I have this belief - the strong should survive, yeah? But even the weak deserve t’die with smiles on their faces.”

She grinned, wagging one finger in front of Miriam’s face, then tapped her on the nose. ”And you, my cute princesss, are anythin’ but weak.”
Raquna moved closer, their noses a mere inch from each other, her breath a warm tickle amidst the evening breeze. ”So tell me,” she whispered, her lips dangerously close to Miriam’s. ”Why stay in the Maiden’s cage?”

Miriam followed the bandit her every move a temptation, a tease… finally as she spoke and led Miriam on to the roof. She came closer with each word… too close…

Miriam backed away from the alluring mynx. ”It is not wise to follow us...And you would never understand why I stay… and frankly I wouldn’t trust you with the reason anyway... You want something from me..something I doubt I can give but do get to it. Just one word of caution… Call me princess again and I’ll pull those damn fangs from your mouth.”

Raquna pulled back. Her smile disappeared in an instant. She eyed Miriam with that cat-like glare for a moment, like a lioness sizing up a rival… before she tossed her head back and cackled, a sharp, piercing noise that rung in the gladiator’s ears. Her fangs seemed even pointier in that open-mouthed howl, and she lunged forward, even closer, close enough to drive Miriam further back.

”That’s good, oh, that’s VERY good!” she shouted, her voice risen into a throaty growl, the white of her eyes wide as her fang-filled grin. ”Oh, I like you. You’ve got spirit. You ain’t easy.”

The bandit chieftain reeled back, her beads chittering. ”But you’re right. I want somethin’ from ya.” She pointed, her unpainted nail sharp as a tiger’s claw. ”I want ya to stop wastin’ that potential of yours, and join my crew - The Lawless Queen’s Mountain Lions.”

Raquna’s expression calmed into a smirk. ”I looked you up. One of me boys was a fan of ya in yer gladiator days. ‘The Shark of Triveila’.” She waggled her fingers, then slapped her palm atop her thigh. ”You were a star in your arena. But under the Maiden, yer just one of many in her army of lackeys.”

Raquna spread her arms and raised her voice, ”Come with me! Be a sovereign amongst outlaws. With your strength, your skills, your experience, you could easily be our Queen’s greatest weapon.”

The Chieftain closed her eyes and lowered her arms into a fold. ”And, who knows…” Her voice trailed into a whisper. Her tongue slithered to lick her lips. ”Maybe you and I can, well.”

Raquna moved closer. Her lips brush against Miriam’s earlobe, a moist sensation which accentuated her shudders, ”Test the bed springs together~”

Miriam considered the bandit’s words. She had a point and part of Miriam wanted to go with this bandit. Miriam knew the bigger picture and knew the threat that lie in the shadows. She couldn’t leave...besides Kyero would probably hunt her down if she left the cause…

Miriam once again pulled away from the beautiful bandit and sighed. ”If we had met a few months ago I may have taken you up on your offer. Sadly I’m part of something bigger here… Something that threatens this and every nation. I can’t leave that behind… No matter how much I may want to…

The mania from Raquna’s expression faded. Part of her had expected Miriam to lash out or curse her away. The gladiator’s solemn response gave her pause.

The moment passed between them without words. The rabble of the tavern seemed so far away. The outlaw cocked her head to the left and shrugged, ”Well, that is a shame. But I see that look in your eyes. There’s no changing your mind.” Raquna considered for another moment, then leaned forward to plant a kiss.

Chup.

It lasted less than a second, but the moisture lingered on Miriam’s cheek. The bandit chieftain backed away, then gave a final wink and a smile. ”A parting gift. We may not get the chance for such... Pleasantries… next time.” Raquna turned, raised her hood, and leapt from the roof, disappearing into Iyns’ shadows.

Assassin's Pledge: Devastation: Out Of Character (OOC)

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