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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]Name:[/b]
[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: Red-Eyed Demon Character Portrait: Regene "Jeanne" Rhamnus Character Portrait: Quinn Xe' Duzelle Character Portrait: Marcus Keller Character Portrait: Miranda Wavecrest
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For someone whose voice was nearly gone, the Red-Eyed Demon didn’t half go on, Marcus thought to himself. The thief listened to every hoarse croak as best he could, though with a skeptical ear. He felt little reason to trust a man who needed this many words to defend himself.

Marcus narrowed his eyes when he heard his pardenaire speak up. As much as he liked Jeanne, he couldn’t help but shake his head at her naivete. “The first time we met, Jeanne, he tried to kill us, and he’d have gone through with it without his minder there to stop him. Not just that, he is still a stranger to us, been up to gods only know what. He knows what we've been doing in the Revolution, but how much can we say for certain about him?”

“He works in shadows,” Quinn uttered, looking at the back of his head with a jaded expression, “For everything he may have done for us, we only have his word to prove it.”

Miriam brought up a valid point on the issue and Quinn steeled herself at the gladiator’s comment on Xia. She didn’t even let herself look up at Miranda as the smuggler gave her request. The only sign of the anxieties rising within her was the slight quickening of her breath, which only the Demon could hear. Soon, Marcus, Quinn and Jeanne had been left alone with the Demon, and Marcus was quick to snap down at him.

You have succeeded in preventing any more deaths? From what I’ve been told, it was Linde doing all the hard work for you, making sure you weren’t able to kill anyone. She’s been doing this for you the last three times it happened. And now she’s not around to make it four.”

“Now,” Quinn continued as she lowered her head to rest besides the Demon’s. Her lips nearly brushed his ear as she whispered,

“I am.”

Quinn’s grip on his hair slowly released, only for her hand to snake around and cover his mouth.

“Let me make this perfectly clear,” she said in a low voice, “Who you are, all your regrets and everything you value mean nothing to the Demon within you, nor to the gift Linde gave me. Nor to the hand that will use it,” she emphasized. “When that creature takes over – by your own definition, you ARE a weapon, Kyero."

There was something disingenuous about the way she said that name.

“Try and tell us otherwise all you want, but you’re just as much a threat to the common folk as Te’i Sai and that tentacled tart,” added Marcus. “You have the power to do practically anything and get away with it. At least Egruus’ atrocities are out there for everyone to see, I’ll give him that much.”

“... You can do anything with that power and yet you claim to want to be my ally,” Quinn said after a moment. Her eyes narrowed at him and she slowly lifted her hand away from his mouth. “You know I am willing to end this. You know I have no trust for you. Do I still have your pledge?”

Kyero's features relaxed as the corners of his mouth curled into a gentle, almost unnoticeable smile. He opened his eyes and looked Quinn directly in hers. His voice was barely a wheeze now, but he made his point clearly despite that.

"You have my pledge, Maiden. Egruus will die by your hand, and I will protect you, and all of your other allies, with my life until that day arrives."

Quinn gazed at him emotionlessly before removing the dagger from his throat and standing, not shifting from her position on top of him. She pointed the blade directly between his eyes.

“Can you kill her?”

Kyero's features tightened slightly, and he looked at his left arm which was still charred and darkened from the ordeal of freeing them from the darkness. He glared at his arm, laying limply on the ground, as if he was willing it to move. And finally... His hand twitched.

His smile returned, slightly more noticeable this time. His gaze shifted to Quinn, and despite the smile he was deadly serious about his answer.

"Yes."

Quinn’s brow quirked up at him. With a tense sigh, she lowered the dagger.

“Make no mistake,” she warned, “This is the only reason you’re not dead.” She brought the dagger up, running her finger along it to hover at its tip, “I apologize for all this,” she said, recalling something said so long ago... “I had to be sure of your convictions.”

Her eyes flashed dangerously as she practically spat out that word, before she turned from the Demon and strode to Marcus, returning the dagger to his already outstretched hand.

“Get him on the wagon,” Quinn muttered to him and Jeanne as she passed them, "And just ... cover him up."

Though the dagger was sheathed inside his trenchcoat, Marcus still had his pistol drawn. As Jeanne arrived to help him load the wagon, he took one last look at the Demon’s sorry state on the ground. The rarity of the occasion was not lost on him. Holstering his pistol, the thief strode over to one side of the Demon and, between him and his pardenaire, they were able to heave the assassin into the wagon like a sack of potatoes.

Quinn bee-lined to where Miranda waited patiently. The Maiden's steps slowed as she neared her, that anxious feeling curdling in her stomach again. Clenching her fists by her side, she pushed herself forward.

“Miss Wavecrest,” she addressed Miranda from behind, looking at the back of her head. She took in a deep breath and moved to stand at her side. “I’m sorry you bore witness to all of this,” she said stiffly, “This was... not what we had expected to encounter. Not exactly.”

Nothing to see here. Move along, 2766582.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Regene "Jeanne" Rhamnus Character Portrait: Marcel Starr Character Portrait: Quinn Xe' Duzelle Character Portrait: Marcus Keller Character Portrait: Miriam Gale Character Portrait: Miranda Wavecrest Character Portrait: Sieghardt Val Lohengrin
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Sieg watched the horizon. Golden rays of sunlight juxtaposed against the blackened ruins around them. His knuckles rested against his hip. His form stood tall and still as a statue as Miriam, then Marcel, followed after him. The knight’s eyes turned straight forwards while he shifted into a walk, side by side with his fellow warriors. Xia’s terror-laden face flashed in his mind as Miriam brought her up. He shut his eyes and exhaled. No doubt that decision would have riled many in this group. Had the Demon not shown himself afterwards.

"The demons sure talk a lot, don't they?"

Marcel's quip drew his attention. The knight tilted his head with a clink, catching the swordsman from his peripherals. ”He had a lot to say. Most could have waited. She was just decadent,” came his gravelly-voiced dismissal. Sieg folded his arms and straightened his head. Suddenly, his heart skipped a beat as another image flashed in his mind.

Long, lithe legs. Hair as black and full as night. Her hips swayed with every step, rocking side to side and hiding none of her figure. And those eyes. Crimson, bright, bewitching like a forbidden fruit. Like herself. He felt her lips press so close, blocked by the black steel that caged his face. So close, that he recalled the scent of blood and iron...

“... ieg?”

The knight brought his giant meaty hand over his face, hiding red hot cheeks and a wide glare from his peers. He grunted once to acknowledge Marcel’s call. ”Apologies. I was distracted.”

Four months. It had been four long months. Sieg had hoped to push the thoughts away. But a man has his needs. And they could only be denied for so long.

“I was just saying,” Marcel began again, “Decadence and droning aside, what she said...” He glanced between Sieg and Miriam, rubbing the scar beneath his collarbone, “She must’ve been tracking us all the way from Cre’ Est’s capital. Every time we were up keeping watch on the dark, she would’ve been there, looking right back at us... yeah, there's a thought to fall asleep to.” He smiled through a grimace, "I'll stop."

The knight pulled back his hand. His eyes darted to Marcel. Then Miriam. Then forwards. ”Hmm,” he grunted in reply, a clank following his every stomp. ”No way she’d been dogging our every step. Not directly. Likely possessed wild dogs or cats to do it,” Sieg proposed. His idea about the existence of two demons were vindicated, after all. Perhaps Lightning could strike twice.

Sieg’s eyes flicked to the corner, meeting with Marcel’s bitter expression. ”She should have better things to do with her time.” The knight cocked his head to the side, and for a brief moment, between that visor, Marcel saw his cheeks raise in a... smile? ”Like paint her nails.”

Clink. Clink. Clink.

”So. Gladiator. Swordsman.” the knight began, catching the Demon from the corner of his eyes being hoisted aboard the wagon. ”Between the three of us. If things go to pot. Can we hold him off long enough for Lady Duzelle to use her tranquilizers?”




Jeanne kept her head down as Marcus contested her point, giving a little nod, then two more towards his arguments. ”You’re right, you’re right, she sighed. ”I just… The jester cast her eyes to the side and whispered, ”He seemed so sincere… long winded, but sincere.”

Eventually, Quinn accepted the assassin’s pledge, and Jeanne’s shoulders lowered, free of tension. The jester gave a vigorous nod at her friend’s next order, and wandered to Kyero’s other side to haul him on board. Despite her small frame, and thanks to her pardenaire’s assistance, Jeanne broke little sweat in the endeavor, her arm muscles tensing with the strength of an archer. ”Careful! A little to the left, a little more, and- Wait, wait! Slower-!”

There was a drop, then a thud. A wide-eyed Jeanne covered her mouth with both hands. She worried for a second, two seconds… until an unmoving Kyero let out a groan. The jester exhaled in relief, then spun to Marcus and jabbed him lightly on the arm, her brows furrowed, an exaggerated pout on her whispering lips. Sacre bleu, pardenaire!

“Ahh, he’ll be fine,” Marcus replied with a dismissive wave of the hand. “It’s not like he’s made of porcelain or anything.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Regene "Jeanne" Rhamnus Character Portrait: Marcel Starr Character Portrait: Quinn Xe' Duzelle Character Portrait: Marcus Keller Character Portrait: Miriam Gale Character Portrait: Miranda Wavecrest Character Portrait: Sieghardt Val Lohengrin
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Miriam walked along with the Sieg and Marcel. She was silent for the moment before letting out a sigh. "Every time I see this Kyero he seems to be a different person..in the same body... When I first saw him I thought he would kill he the moment I saw his eyes... but we just spoke and he offered me the serum and a place in his little crusade..."

Miriam paced as she spoke. "But then i saw him almost kill Marcus and Jeanne... I was wondering if I had trusted the wrong person... Even more so with the crimes of this woman....if she can be called that being thought to be Kyero's crimes...

Miriam looked over at where Marcus and Jeanne where helping Kyero on the wagon. "And now I see him like this weak and broken... like a human just a man not the demon of the legend...I don't know what to think about him anymore... there is just too much about him...too many sides...

Miriam sighed again her eyes trailing over to where Quinn and Miranda where speaking about something. Miriam seemed to be lost for a moment gazing at her lover.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Red-Eyed Demon Character Portrait: Regene "Jeanne" Rhamnus Character Portrait: Marcel Starr Character Portrait: Quinn Xe' Duzelle Character Portrait: Marcus Keller Character Portrait: Miriam Gale Character Portrait: Miranda Wavecrest Character Portrait: Sieghardt Val Lohengrin
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Marcel gazed at Miriam, whose eyes were fixated elsewhere. Suddenly, his fist came down into his palm.

“Right! Plan,” he declared, gesturing both of the warriors in, “Come on, heads together.” Reaching up for both of their heads, he tried to yank them down, hunkering into a tight circle.

“First thing that goes is his feet,” he whispered, “I can distract. Shark, you’re fast, you get the feet, and Sieg can pin him down, right? Greatsword through the head ought to do it.” As he relayed this little prospective plan, his hands moved in gestures, adopting each warrior’s action.

The knight raised his left brow. His eyes locked onto the swordsman’s hands as they swerved and swept. Sieg waited until Marcel was done before he inquired, his voice earnest and steady as stone, ”I saw what you could do with that shimmering sword. Against the bandits. Seems like a waste to demote you to diversion.” The knight’s head tilted with a clink. His glare wandered to the scar between the swordsman’s collarbone. The scar Era brought attention to.

”It’s amazing what you can take from someone with a single finger. A warrior’s pride

Sieg’s eyes flicked up to meet Marcel again. ”...You fought against their ilk before. The Te’i Sai.” The knight’s gaze did not blink. ”It did not go well?”

Marcel choked on his saliva.

"Well," he said with a nervous chuckle. He ran his tongue over his dry lips. "Shiver wasn't always so green."

He averted his eyes from the dark knight. That man had taken on a serum user and matched blows with her. Marcel's 'fight' would have been an execution had Master Ven seen fit. This wasn't something the swordsman could freely discuss with the knight. Ven hadn't taken all of his pride. Marcel cleared his throat and continued.

“Ahem, right, so, he's got better senses than us. For this kind of thing to work we’re gonna have to blind them or something – ask Jeanne to make another one of those little horses, or whatever.” He grinned, "I think we could do it. Unless we cut off his feet and he flips around and starts running after us on his hands. If we're not already dead from laughing, us and a ton of others will be dead when the ten seconds are up."

Sieg's blue eyes stared right through Marcel, his face an unmoving slab of rock in the face of the swordsman’s jape. ”Hmm.” The knight pulled back from the huddle, and looked to the wagon waiting not far away. Jeanne stood on her tippy toes besides her pardenaire and waved at the three warriors, her vermilion garb like a beacon amidst the gray ruins. ”We’re expected. Let’s move.”




"You don't have to be so damn formal, Quinn. Well, unless it is on my ship, then it is Captain Wavecrest.... unless you want to walk the plank." Miranda gave a half smile before her face darkened again.

"You are right. I have seen things I didn't think I would... like demons and you about to kill a man..." Miranda glanced over to Mira, her Beautiful Tempest, with a sigh. "Just what have you and my fiancee gotten into anyway?"

Quinn’s head lowered slightly. Miranda, thinking she would never see Quinn about to kill a man... Was that naivety on Miranda’s part, or just telling of exactly how much Quinn had kept from her all these years? One thing was for certain. If Miranda kept on this path with her, there would be no more hiding from the smuggler’s judgments.

“When I first met that... man,” Quinn forced, “He was saving me and my companions from the blade of a Te’i Sai Master Assassin.” Her dangerous gaze slid towards the wagon. “Only to turn his blade on my throat and threaten the death of Marcel. To test my convictions, apparently.” That word dripped with deadly venom. Her face soured and she shook her head slowly at the memory.

“I won his respect that day.”

She sounded repulsed at the thought of it. She shook her head again and turned from his direction.

“For being a moron.”

Her chin lifted and eyes shut as she let out a weak exhale, before she admitted quietly, “He had power, Miranda. It was uncontrollable. It was unstable. It was unearthly. But it was overwhelmingly close.” Her hand reached in front of her, subconsciously. “Power that I have learned, after time, and time, and time, I can never match. If I could... control just a bit of it... make it mine...”

Her fist clenched. Her eyes opened to regard it with disgust.

“That’s what I thought then.”

Her fingers unfurled to reveal an empty palm.

“He’s going to swallow me,” Quinn uttered.

Miranda listened and considered the words Quinn spoke. Looking over to Mira, she sighed.

"And Mira was with him, wasn't she? I don't know all of her reasons for taking this serum and following this demon, but she seemed... confused. Like she wasn't sure what to think anymore..." Miranda sighed. "I don't think she trusts you either, and I can tell that she has changed. The only thing the same seems to be her feelings for me, but I fear for her and for you. I fear what these demons have done to you."

The crack of a whip. The touch of skin. The melting of flesh. The scent of submission. The stench of death. The depravity of beasts. The pain of fighting. The words to lead. The betrayal of comrades. The fear of violation. The sins of the father. The guilt of living. The selfishness of sacrifice. The selfishness. The selfishness.

The selfishness.

THE SELFISHNESS.




“What the demons have done to change me?"

Quinn said.

“You give them too much credit,” she continued as her hand came down to her side.

“Humanity can fuck itself just fine.”

Miranda looked down at the ground. "So it can..."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Red-Eyed Demon Character Portrait: Regene "Jeanne" Rhamnus Character Portrait: Marcel Starr Character Portrait: Quinn Xe' Duzelle Character Portrait: Marcus Keller Character Portrait: Miriam Gale Character Portrait: Miranda Wavecrest Character Portrait: Sieghardt Val Lohengrin
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Hours had passed since Quinn gave the order to move out.

Beneath the “hood” of a blanket laid over his body, Kyero’s eyes slid open to observe the fuzzy and distorted image of the cloth over his face. Seated next to him was Xia, who had tended to some of his wounds while he slept. Across from Xia was Jeanne, who seemed quiet and somewhat nervous. And across from Kyero was Marcel, who’s eyes were glued to the blanket with one hand on Shiver’s hilt just in case something should happen.

The blanket moved, and Marcel’s grip tightened as Kyero lifted it off of his face to look up at Marcel. As they stared, Kyero gazed deep into Marcel’s very soul through the windows that were his eyes. Marcel may have even felt a brief chill run down his spine.

Kyero’s eyes then slid to Jeanne, who met his gaze before promptly turning her head to avoid it.

Kyero then looked to Xia, seated next to him. She seemed lost in thought. A thousand yard stare in her eyes as she gazed through the floor of the wagon into the world below. The rocking of the wagon as the horses drew it ever onward helped shake the haze from Kyero’s mind as he looked at Marcel once again.

”You’ve come a long way, haven’t you?” He asked, his voice having returned in the hours he was asleep.

He glanced to Jeanne.

”You as well, jester. You have… Grown, haven’t you, since last we met?”

Jeanne’s eyes widened, her beryls shrinking against the white. ”Me?” She looked from the Demon, to her chest, then back again. A hint of pink surfaced on her cheeks as she folded her arms over her bosom. ”I-I… ehm…”

Marcel’s arm swung over to be held out in front of Jeanne’s chest, blocking it from the Demon’s view despite Kyero not having looked at them once. “If what you mean by that is ‘seen shit we wish we didn’t’, then yeah. I guess we have,” he grunted, his eyes narrowing with distrust at the demon.

Kyero glanced to Marcel and gave him a slow blink like a cat.

"That is not what I meant..." He began, his eyes narrowing slightly.

He closed them and took in a breath, letting it out on a sigh.

"However, I understand your response." He said matter of factly.

He opened his eyes, looking at Marcel with a much calmer expression.

"You have come a long way since we first met." He said, glancing to Shiver.

A slight smile crept onto his lips.

"I have made many mistakes in my life, but forging that blade for you is not one of them." He said, closing his eyes once again.

"Say that again when I have to use it against you," Marcel grumbled, slouching back on his seat and looking away. There was a question on the tip of his tongue, one he desperately wanted the answer to, but the tension over them made it impossible to choke out.

Kyero's opened his eyes, slightly narrowed from before but not in an aggressive way. More of a sorrowful and contemplative way.

"It is my wish you never have to do that, Marcel. But if you do... Do not hesitate." He said quietly.

Marcel shifted uncomfortably in his seat, but said nothing.

Jeanne looked from Kyero to Marcel as each of them spoke. A frown graced her lips, and her gaze dimmed with sympathy. Neither of them acted as she had expected. Kyero so meek, and Marcel so… hostile. Especially since he had tried to help the Demon hours ago. The jester sat with her knees together and her fingers twiddling. She hung her head, echoing their exchange in her mind. A moment of silence passed. The bump of the road and the roll of wooden wheels sounded almost deafening in the quiet.

The tails of Jeanne’s hat bounced as she did a little hop to assume a more comfortable position. She looked to the Demon with a faint smile and spoke up, ”W-well!... you’re here now, so, uhm… we might as well get to know you, oui?”

The jester’s heart skipped a beat as her eyes met his. His eyes. Do they even blink? That glow was an unnatural thing, even in their current state. Terrifying, but… she found herself unable to look away. Or even blink. ”So…!” Jeanne gave a vigorous nod and asked, ”...Do you have any hobbies?”

Kyero had closed his eyes to rest them following his brief exchange with Marcel. But then Jeanne began to speak, mentioning getting to know him and asking if he had any hobbies.

He blinked, contemplating his response.

”Hobbies…” He said quietly.

”Well… I enjoy fishing.” He replied, looking up at Jeanne.

”That is a hobby, isn’t it?” He asked.

Jeanne’s eyes took on a new light at this answer. She leaned forward, her hands clasped together in front of her chest. ”That’s something!” she replied, a nod so full of vigor it was as if the jester had a hammer for a head.

Kyero blinked, and nodded slowly.

Jeanne turned to Marcel and spoke up, ”My Mother loved fishing. We used to go all the time to Green River, on the outskirts of the Cre’itian countryside.”

Kyero slowly donned a soft and almost unnoticeable smile as he leaned his head back and closed his eyes.

The jester brought a hand to her lips to stifle her giggles. ”We caught a catfish, once. Biggest one I’ve ever seen! It was this big!” Jeanne spread her arms wide apart as she regaled her tale. Her gaze reflected the marigold-tinted sunset with a nostalgic gleam and her hands returned atop her knees. ”The stillness of the river, the gentle wind... It helped Mother tune out the voices in her head. Helped her forget the blood and gunfire, if only for a moment.”

Her smile turned bittersweet as the memories repeated in her mind. Recollections of screams, of nightmares, of their unending hold on Madame Jeanne Blossom. Her lips parted in a murmur, ”It made her… remember.”
Silence.

Kyero’s left eye slid open as he looked at Jeanne, appraising her given the sudden change in her tone of voice and the mood given by her body language, before sliding closed again.

A bump on the road shook Jeanne from her memories. She turned to Marcel with an expectant, cat-like smile, her gaze narrowed into a seductive smirk, ”So! What about you, Mon Cherre?” The jester leaned closer to him, just close enough to show off that black-framed bosom. [color]”Are you a fisher of… fish… as well as hearts~?”[/color]

Marcel startled as Jeanne turned to him. He still felt that bitter taste of empathy Jeanne had left him with as she spoke of her mother. Swallowing it down, he looked down at Jeanne’s modest cleavage before he turned his head away.

“Ah, you know, there’s something calming about it...” he began, his face flushing, “And food somehow tastes better when you’ve caught and gathered everything yours-”

Ding.

Suddenly, Marcel put his palm against Jeanne’s cheek and pushed her away, holding her away from him as he shimmied back in his seat. “Hey! D-Don’t try to get us bonding!” he yelped. He whipped his head to Kyero with a distrusting pout. ”Ata-ta-ta-ta!” Jeanne’s gibbering protest fell on deaf ears. “He called me a mouse!” He suddenly got to his feet, pointing down at Kyero as he declared,

“I can suffer abuse at the hands and heels of buxom women until my skin and heart are raw but I will not be tread on by you!”

A bump in the road had Marcel flop back onto his seat, where he sat, fuming like a grumpy puppy.

Kyero’s eyes had been closed the whole time, opening only when Marcel was finished speaking. But instead of looking at him, he looked at Jeanne.

”Jester… I don’t believe I have ever asked or heard your name.” He said.

Jeanne ceased her flailing and stumbled back onto the seat besides Kyero. She reached to straighten her head while tossing a straight-lipped, unblinking stare Marcel’s way. A hint of pink dusted her cheeks at his rant, and her lips bent into a frown as she hung her head.

”Abuse, huh?” she murmured, drowned out by the rocking and tumbling wagon. Her eyes wandered to Miriam walking ahead besides her lover. Only to flick back Kyero’s way at his query.

Her lips took on a catlike form as she flashed him her closed-eyed smile. ”So you haven’t! The name’s Jeanne. Just Jeanne~”

The jester held out one hand, and her eyelids opened to bear forth the glimmering jewels within. ”The others might be skeptical, but… I’m an inventor. I look to the future and I move forward, one step at a time. Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Kyero!”

Kyero's eyes remained glued to Jeanne's through her introduction, and as she spoke of being an inventor his somewhat stoic and emotionless face shifted into one of piqued interest. And a subtle smile crept back onto his lips.

"Jeanne... I will remember that."

He reached out and took her hand, giving it a slow shake. And upon releasing it, "So you invent."
He laid his hand on his stomach above where one of the nastier spurts of blood had come from.

"What do you invent?" He asked, tilting his head slightly to one side.

Jeanne’s smiled from ear to ear as Kyero accepted her handshake. Upon his next query, the jester paused for a second, then chuckled, a nervous blush coloring her face. ”Well… it’s more aspiring inventor, to be honest. But that doesn’t sound as good on a calling card, Oh nooo~,” the jester clarified, shaking her head for emphasis.

Before either men could say anything, Jeanne held up a finger. ”Ah, but I have had a success or two!... Or three!” She shifted towards the front of the wagon, where the group’s personal belongings lay, then plucked her satchel from the heap. ”Mostly weapons. A girl’s gotta defend herself in these dark ages, after all.” Jeanne looked into the bag as she rummaged inside, the clinking of iron and clacking of wood following her hand.

”Like this one!” a slab of wood at least one third of Jeanne herself, cut and shaped into the stock of a crossbow. At the anterior, a thick iron disc was attached above a pair of square-shaped holes, where the limbs of the bow would go. Another rectangular hole was cut on the rear of the weapon, hollowed out at least four inches deep. The jester hoisted the work-in-progress atop her lap, and with the flick of a finger, she sent the disc into a little whirl.

”I had a weapon like this before. Black and gold, Shaharan, recurve limbs for extra draw strength. I needed a cranequin built-in just to ready it!” Jeanne cast her gaze downwards as her everlasting smile took on a bitter gleam. ”I had to abandon it when I left this group. Terrible mistake.”

A brief pause. Perhaps it was more apt to say mistakes. Jeanne looked up and nodded. ”But I came back! And soon, I’ll have a new and improved version of my baby!” The jester assured them as she flashed a toothy grin.

Jeanne stopped for a moment to look over her weapon and jot down notes in her mind. Good quality sinew for the string. Render the capacity box detachable. Put some heft into the trigger. Soon, however, she turned back to Kyero and leaned forward, meeting his blood red eyes with her beryl, her brows raised as she inquired, ”You sounded… intrigued. Are you, ehm, much of an inventor yourself?”

Kyero glanced at the crossbow in her lap and his eyes seemed to brighten slightly.

"I have forged weapons such as my daggers and Marcel's sword. But I have not tried making a weapon like this."

He eyed the crossbow with great interest.

"This has great and powerful potential." He said, scanning the length of it.

Jeanne’s face lit up with a grin in the face of Kyero’s compliments. ”O-oh, well, thank you! She bowed her head and brought a hand to her lips to hold back her giggles. Praise? From a Demon? Pinch my butt, I must be dreaming!

She cleared her throat and set the crossbow back into her satchel. Her eyes darted over to Marcel, and the shimmering green blade sheathed at his waist. ”That is a handsome blade indeed. Her eyes flicked upwards to meet Marcel’s, and she winked, ”A perfect match for its wielder~”

The jester paused as she was struck with a realization. ”You mentioned daggers.” She whipped her head towards Kyero and leaned closer. ”So, your expertise is in melee weapons?” she asked in a whisper. ”Did- didn’t you make Linde’s blade? And Drake’s claymore?” The excitement was palpable in her eyes. The more she prodded him, the closer she leaned, until their faces were mere inches away from each other, with Kyero taking in the sweet scent of Gweynuran strawberries in her hair.

Kyero's eyes had been down in a thousand yard stare into nothing until Jeanne began invading his space. When she came in close, his eyes slid up to meet hers.

"I did make their blades."

His eyes slid to the satchel.

"The twine..." He muttered.

He looked back to Jeanne.

"Have you tried weaving the fur of a Shole Ram into the bowstring? When woven properly it creates a high-tensile rope that will withstand a minimum of five hundred draws before a single strand frays."

The jester let out a tiny gasp. ”I-I never thought of… my notes, my notes!” She reached back into her satchel for a leather-bound journal and a stick of charcoal, and began to scribble. ”Hmm… a material of that strength would increase the draw weight by at least twice from the base amount. I’ll need to reinforce the gear. Not a problem!”

Kyero chuckled slightly at Jeanne's excitement.

"Building a weapon like that is more complicated than a blade."

He looked at his own dagger, drawing it and putting it on the floor of the wagon.

"Admittedly there wasn't much to the construction of my personal blades. I just needed a mold for the blade itself, and wrapped the handle in two layers of hard leather. Fairly simple, really."

He looked back to Jeanne who was still scribbling.

"What material do you make the bolts out of?"

Jeanne’s eyes feasted upon the translucent sheen of Kyero’s dagger. It looked so fragile, like glass… but Marcel and Drake had shown that its frailty was skin deep. ”N-nothing wrong with simplicity!” the jester protested as the charcoal in her hand danced across parchment. With a pause and a swipe, she turned to the next page. ”Ehee, my bolts? Nothing extraordinary, Hard wood for the shaft, steel points for the head. Sometimes I use iron, or even more wood for substitute. I’ve got to watch my budget, after all.”

Jeanne closed her eyes in a huff and wagged a finger. ”You can only pull the five-finger discount on the local smith for so long before he starts getting smart!” Jeanne set aside her charcoal and closed the journal, binding the straps together for security. She looked from Kyero to Marcel, and her brows shot up as she recalled, ”That reminds me. Marcel! You’ve dabbled in archery yourself, haven’t you?”

“Hm?” Marcel hummed distractedly. He had resigned himself from the conversation. When he’d recovered from his childish sulking, Jeanne and the Demon were exchanging conversation in a language he couldn’t understand - but he liked hearing Jeanne speak it.

Her gaze wandered from Marcel’s face, to his shoulders and down his left arm, as the seed of an idea was planted in her mind. A bitter smile came to her face as she thought aloud, ”Every three nights or so, while the rest of us warm ourselves by the fire, you’re always out there, stalking a boar or deer. But seeing you track down, kill, and bring back game by yourself... and cook it, to boot!” Her mind flashed into a memory of the party, huddled around the campfire at night, all chomping down upon their meal with barely a glance or a ‘thank you’ to Marcel. She pictured him diving into the night. Shrouded in shadow with nobody to admire or sing of his feats.

A pause. Jeanne looked away for a moment. Her lips opened and closed, but she held back her words. At first. ”Maaaaaybe... I-I can help you catch our next meal?” She met his eyes again and nodded. ”I still have my shortbow!”

“You...” Marcel began, before his eyes lit up and he lurched forward in his seat towards Jeanne excitedly, “Sure, yeah! I’ve seen how you shoot that thing, and you’re probably quieter on the trail than I am.” He glanced away, a little smile that was proud to have his efforts recognized pulling at the corner of his lips. “It’s – Doing the hunting and the cooking isn’t that incredible, y’know, it’s just something that’s got to get done... but thanks.”

Jeanne’s shoulders shook as she giggled, a clear and airy sound like the jingle of a chime. ”Ehee hee hee!” Her smile was radiant even under the sunset, just like the shade of pink across her face. She lingered for a moment, meeting eye-to-eye with the swordsman. Her blushing cheeks burnt with greater intensity as she felt his breath touch her face. So close. Close enough to steal a kiss-

Before Kyero could even open his mouth, Marcel bristled like an irritated dog and drew his arms and legs in defensively as he whipped his head around to him.

“No, you’re not invited.”

The jester pulled back, then shot the Assassin a sympathetic frown. ”Your, uhm, reputation certainly preceded you.”

Kyero watched Jeanne and Marcel talk of hunting and cooking with a content smile. But then Marcel barked about him not being invited, and he chuckled, closing his eyes.

"Everyone has their duties here. Mine is killing the other Demon. I don't expect anyone to actually want me around for anything else."

He opened his eyes and looked at Marcel.

"Just keep each other safe when you hunt. You've been lucky not to encounter the worst of Veilbrand's wilds so far." He said quietly.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Red-Eyed Demon Character Portrait: Regene "Jeanne" Rhamnus Character Portrait: Marcel Starr Character Portrait: Quinn Xe' Duzelle Character Portrait: Marcus Keller Character Portrait: Miriam Gale Character Portrait: Miranda Wavecrest Character Portrait: Sieghardt Val Lohengrin
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Before the party could approach Iyns, they found themselves off the roads by a discreet hovel – a Fable Point, Quinn had explained. For this town, it was vital that they discard all weapons, armor and items of value that could be seen as suspicious. Anything that could be hidden on their person was fine, but all of those carrying bulkier weapons had to give them up. Gear could be sent to either Valoc or the Fable Point past Iyns, depending on which was more convenient.

Kyero remained covered up in the back of the wagon, far from the exchange. Quinn barely gave him a glance as she reached back there to lift out a small chest. She checked on the jeweled egg and spearhead within, unaware of the pair of golden eyes peering over her head.

“Quinn,” Marcel said, earning a jolt from the young woman. She whipped her head around to glare at him as he smiled in return. “That’s the order we went to Deadman’s for, isn’t it? Kind of... weird. What're they supposed to do for a revolution?”

“It may seem obscure, but in this chest lies the key to a nation,” Quinn declared proudly. She glanced back at him with a sly smile. “If you can’t recognize it now, you will when I get the third piece. Now, hurry up and say your goodbyes.” She gave the sword at his hilt a pointed look before she trotted over to the operative at the Fable Point, a person wrapped in black to the extent that no physical features could be discerned.

Jeanne went next, dropping her unfinished crossbow in the Operative’s hands. She flashed them her closed eyed smile and nodded. ”Please take this to the next Fable Point!” Jeanne’s head tilted to one side, her lips curled into their feline form, and she opened one eye in a wink. ”The rest I can find… other methods of concealment.” The jester skipped away, her arms swinging to her sides with a bounce in every step.

Sieg’s sabatons thumped against grass and earth. Every step brought his lumbering form closer to the hovel, until his shadow and the Operative blended as one. The knight looked upon the black-clad agent for a moment. But just a moment. An ironclad hand reached for the scabbard on his back and unhooked the straps. One by one. His fingers clasped around the sheathed blade, and with a wary overhead swing, the knight placed his weapon upon a table of stone, an asymmetrical slab cut for function over form.

Piece by piece, Sieg removed his armor. Both hands gripped on opposing sides of his helmet and pulled, upwards and off to the table. His right gauntlets followed, then the left, with his ballistic fist still attached. After that came the pauldrons, gorget, and cuirass, set one after the other along the table. The knight’s blonde locks gleamed under the light of the moon, slightly misshapen with several locks draped over his forehead. His azure eyes were locked in a perpetual glare, aimed at the faceless Operative before him.

His bare hands were hardened and toned, with a coarseness to the palms and veins which ran across the back. Each finger was thick as the handle of a mail breaker, and all of them pulled the rustling suit of chain, from his waist, up his chest, and over his head.

The knight’s body gleamed like bronze, a thin sheet of sweat polishing every chiseled bit of muscle. His abdomen and chest were hard as rocks, carved into a form that would be at home amidst Triveila’s marble idols. A thin coat of hair blanketed his chest, stomach, and arms. Dozens of marks and cuts had faded into his skin. Some barely the size of a cat’s paw. Others large enough to kill a man twice over. Each with a story of its own.

Sieg flexed his fingers into fists, released, and repeated. Every muscle on his arms bulged, with veins rising to the surface. The knight rested his left hand upon his right, then ran it up his forearm, under his triceps, over his biceps, towards his shoulder, before stopping above his left pectorals. He slowly looked over his shoulder, where at least Jeanne and Quinn stood, slack-jawed and gawking.

”...What?”

Quinn’s hands whipped up to cover her hanging mouth so fast, she slapped herself. She twirled around, steam practically escaping her ears. Her burning face displayed a mixture of embarrassment and horror. “I – I – I need to change,” she stammered out to Jeanne, before she hurried away with her head down. “Nobody follow me!”

Jeanne’s jaw remained loose as her eyes tracked a fleeing Quinn. She shook her head and slapped her cheeks twice to get a hold of herself, then moved her hands by her mouth to tunnel her shout, ”UHM, watch out for the wild animals! They’re attracted to the scent of-” The jester shook her head again. ”Just be careful!”

Sieg watched as Quinn zap into the distance. A drop of sweat trickled down his temple, his pupils shrunk into the white of his eyes, and his cheeks flared a bright, hot pink. The knight whipped his focus back towards the Operative and cleared his throat... but snuck one final glance, only to see no trace of his charge. He moved to disassemble his greaves and boots next, with a pair of chain pants as the last item on the set. The black knight was left in nothing more than his arming trousers, knee-length and slate blue in color. His toes dug into the earth with a sense of familiarity, and the proud knight inhaled the night air, his eyes closed as he reveled in the sweet scent of wet soil. After a moment, he glanced towards the Operative from one corner of his eye. ”Take these to Valoc. I will make do without them.”

When Quinn reappeared at last, it wasn’t as the blonde haired, black clad Maiden of Revolution. Dark curls tickled her jawline and round spectacles were perched upon the bridge of her nose. Her pink umbrella was replaced with sunny yellow and her skirt reached down to her black heeled boots, her new attire as respectable and neat as a scholar. She deliberately avoided looking at Sieg as she cleared her throat and gave the order to return to the wagon. When they reached it, she turned back to them.

“I need a new name,” she said plainly. When her statement was met with silence, she moved her hand in an urging way.

“Oh!” Marcel piped up first, clapping his hands together in delight, “Maria!” Quinn’s eyes narrowed at him. “No, Marian! No. Margaret! Marissa? Mirabelle! Mirella! Mi-”

“Marcel, you’re disqualified.”

As Jeanne and her pardenaire walked over to answer Quinn’s summons, the jester slowed her steps to a halt and covered her gasping mouth with both hands.

As Quinn turned down all of Marcel’s suggestions, Jeanne pulled back her hands to exclaim, ”By Soroshii, Quinn, that pink blouse. Is. So. Cuuuuuuuute!” Her voice pitched up high and loud to emphasize the last word… with Marcus standing right next to her.

She promptly glanced to the gunslinger with a nervous chuckle and a whisper, ”Ehe, sorry!” Her pardenaire gave her an unimpressed look while he waited for the ringing in his ears to stop.

"What do I care? Call yourself -" Miriam started, but as if she could read her mind Miranda shook her head. "... Olivia, for all I care." She finished.

"Or Ruth," Miranda quickly added. Quinn's face lit up pleasantly and she gave a little considering nod at that one.

Meanwhile, Sieg leaned against the wagon, still in nothing but his pants. With no apparent intention to cover up. He looked straight at Quinn, his expression stoic as a lake. ”Carmen. You look like a Carmen.”

”Hmm~ I wonder…,” Jeanne whispered with a thumb stroking her chin. Her brows shot up as she was struck with an idea, and the jester leaned forward with a suggestion.

“P-”

”Tiffany! Like one of my former circus mates! She had spectacles like those!”

Watching this scene unfold before him, Marcus was quite visibly impressed by the disguise. Quinn looked like a complete stranger. It was only in the eyes - and perhaps the freckles - that he could tell it was really the Maiden herself. The thief glanced at Jeanne as she offered her suggestion to the already lengthy list, slowly shaking his head.

“Maybe P-”

“Tiffany? Really? She needs something that’s dignified, something to match how she looks…” The thief’s voice trailed off as he gave the matter some thought. “Hey, how does Caroline sound? That’s got some class to it, right?”

Marcel snorted. “Yeah, dignified like a grandma.”

“I – I really think –”

Kyero's head peeked over the edge of the wagon, his face half hidden by the blanket.

"May I make a suggestion?" He asked.

"Years ago, I saved a little girl from a snowy winter storm in Triveila. She was eight years old, and she fought against a grave illness for ten days before recovering and returning on her own to her family. She was a very brave girl, and one of the strongest people I have ever met despite her youth."

His head dipped slightly.

"Sadly she passed away not long after. A casualty of a secondary illness. But before she died I swore to her I would find a way to honor her memory."

He lifted his head, looking at Quinn from under the blanket.

"Her name was Josephine Dezantro."

He lowered his head again, hiding his eyes from view.

"If it is unsatisfactory, then I understand. I will find another way to honor her." He said quietly.

There was a silence that fell over the group as Quinn just stared up at the Demon. After a few more tense seconds, Quinn’s lips pressed together in a firm line and she slowly turned back to the group.

“Very well,” she managed through gritted teeth, “Please refer to me as Josephine or Miss Dezantro from this point forward to prevent any mistakes in Iyns. Thank you.”

As everybody filtered ahead to start down the road, right before the wagon began to move with them, Quinn stormed up to the back of it and pointed her bright yellow umbrella at the docile Demon.

“Just so we’re clear, this exchange has by no means brought us any closer,” she snapped.

Kyero nodded with a content smile.

"Thank you, my Maiden." he said quietly.

"Miss Dezantro!" Quinn corrected him in annoyance as the wagon started moving. It... really didn't matter what he called her when she was disguised - not like he would ever be in the open with her - but the way he smiled, so passively... she really wanted that last word.

Kyero just laid back down in the wagon, out of sight and out of mind.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Red-Eyed Demon Character Portrait: Regene "Jeanne" Rhamnus Character Portrait: Marcel Starr Character Portrait: Quinn Xe' Duzelle Character Portrait: Marcus Keller Character Portrait: Miriam Gale Character Portrait: Miranda Wavecrest Character Portrait: Sieghardt Val Lohengrin
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It was only a couple hours of travel before the group reached the crumbling grey walls of Iyns. Crooked, overgrown apple trees laden with misshapen fruits hung over these mossy walls that lined the paved road. Ahead, the roofs of stone buildings could be seen, along with ghostly streams of smoke just barely made out against the overcast skies and the snowy mountains.

There was sudden dash of movement from the wagon towards the red and brown forests to their left. Quinn’s head tossed around to catch two ruby eyes peering back at her from the canopy, nearly melting into their surroundings. A pale hand beckoned her to follow, and the Demon disappeared, melting into the shadows. Giving the order to enter the town without her, Quinn obliged the Demon’s request.

The Maiden walked deeper into the red forest, eyes locked on the rustling treeline. Her boots crunched over a thick coating of dead leaves. The Demon had disappeared, but occasionally there was movement up ahead in the shadows, luring her further. Her grip on her parasol handle tightened and she drew to a halt.

“Demon! You requested my presence. Where is yours?” she demanded from the empty canopy.

He appeared from behind a tree, just up ahead of Quinn.

”Maiden, there is much I wish to discuss with you. I know you have little time to spare, but I urge you to make time for this.”

Quinn’s arms folded and she gave the Demon an unimpressed stare. “I am here, am I not?” she drawled.

”The thief, Marcus, can afford to be ignorant of all that has transpired and prattle on about that which he has no understanding of. But you cannot afford that luxury. You must be well informed about me, Linde, Te'i Sai, Egruus, and... More.”

He stepped a tiny bit closer.

”Where shall I begin?”

Quinn's eyes narrowed. She moved backwards to settle down on a fallen log, crossing her legs. "Preach at me," she decided, then cocked her head, "Do you also intend to convince me of the merit of your character, as all your companions have attempted before you?"

Kyero shook his head without hesitation.

”I am who I am. Who that is to you is something only you can determine with time.”

He went down to both knees, sitting back on his feet.

”I'm sure Linde told you this much, but Roda I'l Lousta is directly linked to the Demon's power. It feeds on negative energy which comes in many forms including emotions. Anger, for instance, is a primary fuel source for it. As it grows stronger it communes with me by whispering in my ear to try and manipulate my behavior and actions. The more power it has built up the easier it is for the Demon to guide me down a darker path.”

"I've seen," Quinn replied flatly.

He took a breath.

”Its power also directly affects my strength. At present, because of what the woman and her Demon did to me, my Demon's power is very low and it will take it some time to recover. Any of those with the serum, including Te'i Sai, could defeat me right now.”

Quinn's brow perked with interest with that. "But they couldn't kill you?"

Kyero was silent for a long moment.

”... No.”

Quinn's face suddenly darkened, her eyes cold and dangerous like sharpened steel. She swapped her legs over slowly, regarding him as one inspects a dying insect.

"Why did you just lie to me?" she asked coolly, once she had settled.

Kyero sighed.

”It is not a lie, and that is why I hesitated. Even if they can defeat me in combat with sheer brute force, they cannot kill me. Not so long as the Demon has any power to spare.”

He dipped his head, hiding his eyes behind his bangs.

”And that... Is a reality I wish was a lie. If it were so easy to kill me, I would have done so myself long ago.”

"And yet Miss Almna carried the means to do so all this time, and denied it to you," Quinn muttered with obvious skepticism. "Is this all I am required to know of you? Keep you pleased, and the demon doesn't tell you to take our heads?"

Kyero shook his head slowly.

”Linde's method requires precise timing, and I am unable to control myself during the moment of opportunity. It must be done by another.”

"Such as Miss Almna.”

“Such as you.”

He looked up to Quinn, his face somber.

”The Demon's primary source of power is pain, and just by existing within my body it causes me pain every second of every day."

He looked down slightly, frowning and clenching his fists.

"It creates its own fuel... A vicious and self-sustaining parasitic system. It doesn't matter if you keep me happy or not. That's why Linde's method is the only one that works. When the Demon takes over during Roda I'l Lousta, my consciousness fades to the recesses of my mind. As such I am disconnected from what's happening to my body and I no longer feel anything. Its fuel supply is cut off. If my body is already weakened and the Demon's power is low enough, Linde's dart would be enough to overtake its ability to heal my body resulting in my death. And with the death of the host, the Demon would die not long after.”

Quinn was silent for a moment, mind ticking.

"... I do not care to discuss Miss Almna," she said with finality, "What have you to tell me of Te'i Sai?"

”Te'i Sai's Grandmaster is dead, and he left no heir to his position. The organization is held together by the leader of the Wraiths who seeks relentlessly to end my life... We should expect to see the Wraiths again before long.”

"And what of Egruus?"

Kyero nodded.

”Egruus is afraid of me. And after we met I sent him a message about becoming your ally in an effort to intimidate and prevent him from desiring direct conflict between your revolution and his best forces.” He began.

He took a breath.

”The method worked. Egruus pulled his most veteran forces back to the capitol to protect himself from me. And-”

"I know this." Quinn interrupted as she stood. Her olive eyes glared down at him. "You can't defend us from the Wraiths in this state," she shot, "She took your power with only a shadow, and yet you still can't die." She stormed up to loom over him. Any power she could have felt before by having the Demon on his knees beneath her had been sapped out of this moment. She had thought looking down at him one day would be a triumph. This was not that. He was still a monster, only now, a simpering one - and weak, by no means of her own. It was an incredible leap to believe that this was the man beneath the demon, and even if she could, this puppet would have its strings pulled again in time.

She still could not find it within herself to respect him.

But the war she had declared on him so long ago...

It would be a wasted effort.

"You said yourself that her Demon far exceeds yours. How do you intend to kill her?"

Kyero observed Quinn carefully as she stood up and moved toward him.

"The best explanation I can offer is that I can sense her Demon is young and inexperienced. It has a lot of power, but it doesn't know how to use it to its greatest effect. And neither does she." He said.

He looked at his left arm.

"It took more of my power to set you free from the numerous shadows than it did to withstand and heal from her attack. It should have been the other way around."

He looked back to Quinn.

"Era and her Demon have made the mistake of showing me their hand. Now that I know how much power they possess, I can adjust my strategy to deal with them more efficiently. I don't need to be more powerful. I just have to be better than they are."

Those words caught Quinn off guard. Her eyes widened as body stiffened, and she felt more trapped in place than the demon she drowned in her shadow.

"... You..." she began once she had finally found her tongue again, "... Have never... needed, to think from this perspective before, have you?"

Kyero shook his head.

"It is, in fact, not the first time I have had to think this way."

He slowly looked down to both his hands, flexing and unflexing them.

"I had to think this way to kill the Grandmaster of Te'i Sai. And to defeat the leader of the Wraiths the first time we fought."

He looked up at her.

"Though it may be difficult to believe, I am no stranger to weakness. Relatively speaking."

The fluttering breeze brought with it spiraling brown leaves from the canopy above. Quinn's boot shifted back with a crackle against the woodland floor, and she turned from him.

"... If this was all the information you had to give me, I'll be going," she said.

Kyero stood.

"There is only one more thing I would like to say."

He took a breath, and smiled.

"I think... You wear that disguise well. And I believe Josephine would have been proud to know that you are carrying her name in this revolution. "

He turned partially away.

"I am... Truly grateful for that, Miss Dezantro."

Quinn stared at him blankly. That blank face was quick to turn to confusion and apprehension.

"Yes, well, stay out of sight," she forced out, before hurrying out of the woods towards Iyns - at one point, nearly breaking into a run.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Red-Eyed Demon Character Portrait: Regene "Jeanne" Rhamnus Character Portrait: Marcel Starr Character Portrait: Quinn Xe' Duzelle Character Portrait: Marcus Keller Character Portrait: Miriam Gale Character Portrait: Miranda Wavecrest Character Portrait: Sieghardt Val Lohengrin
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Miriam walked along with Miranda glancing back at the group. She felt a stabbing pain in her chest as she saw Marcel chatting with Jeanne. Was she jealous? She got an image of Marcel and her in that hotel room. Another pain. She couldn’t get over him...Also there was something about Jeanne too… What are you doing Mira? You are with Miranda… She is who you want… isn’t she?”

Miranda looked over at Miriam. ”You ok Mira?”

”I’m Fine…” Miriam lied.

Miranda gave a look. Something is wrong… but what is she hiding from me? Does she not trust me? Is she having second thoughts about Us…

”Talk to me Mira…”

”I’M FINE…”

Miranda looked like she had just been slapped as Miriam snapped at her. Miriam sighed.

”I’m sorry… I’m just stressed…”

Miranda took Mira’s hand in her’s. ”I love you. You know that right?” Miranda gave Mira a quick kiss. ”Never forget that.”

Miriam nodded and smiled. The two kept on hand in hand until they got to the Fable stop…





”NOT FUCKING HAPPENING.. Miriam growled.

”Mira please…”

Miriam let out a real growl and stormed toward the woods edge.

Miranda looked to the group her eyes pleading for help before running off after Mira ”Mira stop! Please!”

Miriam halted. ”You know I feel naked without Mako and Thresher!”

Miranda smirked. ”I like you naked…”

Miriam just stared and grumbled. Tossing her weapons to the ground and storming off.

”I’ll buy you a nice dagger from the smiths” Miranda promised as she gathered up Mira’s weapons.

Heading back Miranda placed Mira’s weapons in the stop along with her saber and gun. She slipped Mira’s Kiss into her boot and went to join Mira.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Regene "Jeanne" Rhamnus Character Portrait: Marcel Starr Character Portrait: Quinn Xe' Duzelle Character Portrait: Marcus Keller Character Portrait: Miriam Gale Character Portrait: Miranda Wavecrest Character Portrait: Sieghardt Val Lohengrin
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A few minutes later the group approached Iyns proper. A worn out old sign hanging above the entry way between two buildings leading into the village greeted them as it waved lazily in the breeze. Around the village were half-walls, more used for decoration and establishing a boundary around it.

On the outskirts of the village near the entry way Taira stood waved to them all as they approached. Around her feet were several bags filled with… Things.

”Ah! Greetings everyone!”

She picked up her bags and jogged forward to meet them just outside the half-walled boundary.

”I’ve been waiting for you! I found some gifts for you while I was away! I hope you like them!” She said giddily.

She set the bags down and sifted through the first of them. She seemed to find what she was looking for within, and smiled as she looked up at Jeanne and giggled.

”Jeanne, when we first met you struck me as someone who is good with their hands. So I hope you find this gift useful!”

From out of her bag Taira removed a beautiful and very well crafted leather pouch with four good-sized pockets to store any small items of her choosing. Tools. Small weapons. Natural items like sticks, rocks, etc. And each pocket came with a flap and a clip on it to help keep said items held firmly in place.

Jeanne’s lips parted into an o-shape as the pouch was placed in her palms. She held the gift to the light and turned it over, a myriad ideas already swirling in her head. She clasped her hands with the pouch propped against her lower abdomen, and bowed. ”Oh, Taira, this was very thoughtful of you!” she chirped, a grin formed underneath her glimmering eyes as her body straightened back. ”...Can I give you a hug?”

Taira smiled.

”Of course! I love hugs!”

Taira opened her arms as Jeanne hopped forward to embrace her. The two shared a giggle-filled hug with Taira gently lifting Jeanne off the ground and twirling once in a circle before setting her down. Taira chuckled with Jeanne for another moment before she picked up her bags and looked over at Marcus.

”Hi there! I don’t believe we’ve met, but I’m Taira! I uh… I didn’t know you’d be here today, so I am afraid I have nothing to offer you. I’m sorry. May I ask your name?” She said with a sheepish smile.

Marcus looked the woman up and down. So this was the so-called Silver-Haired Goddess, he thought to himself. He would make sure to keep an eye on her.

“Marcus,” he replied gruffly, giving her a questioning look. “Weren’t you supposed to be travelling with the others?”

Taira nodded.

”My orders from the Maiden were to meet her in Iyns once the others reached their new base location. So here I am! It’s nice to meet you, Marcus.” She said cheerfully.

Next, she trotted up to Sieg and dug around in her bag.

”Greetings, sir Lohengrin! I don’t know how much use this will be to you, but I hope you find it useful!”

She brought out a beautiful whetstone and sword polishing kit. One fit for a king complete with a pure silver inlay along the outside edge of a vine. It all came neatly packed, and she held it up for him.

Sieg watched as Taira approached. He broke eye contact to look over the gift for a moment. ”Thank you, silver-haired one,” he spoke, his voice cleared from his helmet’s muffling effect. The knight reached for the package with one hand, then held it with both. His brows relaxed and softened his constant glare as he nodded, his eyes drawn to the whetstone. To its pale golden glint, brought out by moonlight. ”These could not have come cheap.”

Taira giggled.

”Oh, please don’t worry about that! My work back home affords me more than enough money to afford gifts befitting my friends and allies needs.”

She then happily trotted up to Marcel while shuffling through her bag before landing on something with an excited smile.

”Marcel, I noticed that you have an orichalcum blade. I don’t know if this is to your taste, but I hope you like it! I thought it would go well with your blade!”

From the bag she removed a small box and handed it to him. Upon opening it he would find inside a decorative bit of twine which could be attached to the butt end of Shiver’s handle to give her a little extra flare. The twine was dyed with a deep magenta, an obvious attempt on her part to match it to some of his clothing.

Marcel’s face lit up to receive the gift, peering inside eagerly. He lifted the twine out with a glint in his eye and went to wrap it around Shiver - to find only air where her hilt should have been. Right, forgot about that. Instead, he yanked our his braid and entwined his orange locks with the magenta twine, their colors blending together like a vibrant sunset.

“First the donuts, and now you’re buying outfits for my girl?” he mused as he admired Shiver’s new look, “I like you.”

Taira smiled, and giggled in response.

”Thank you so much!”

Taira looked around.

”Where… Where is the Maiden? I have something for her too.”

She brought out a beautiful pair of black knee-high boots, obviously custom made. With a one and a half inch heel, and having been internally reinforced with steel toes and soles along with comfortable padding to offset the metal additions, they were both a functional and fashionable statement for the Maiden of Revolution.

“You mean Miss Dezantro?” Marcel said, looking over his shoulder back at the forest Quinn had slinked into, “She went off with your Red.”

Taira blinked.

Dezantro?… Josephine Dezantro?”

She looked towards where Marcel pointed, and a warm smile graced her lips.

”I see. So he finally…” She whispered.

She shook her head, and handed the boots to Marcel.

”Would you please be so kind as to deliver those to Miss Dezantro for me?”

She turned towards the group.

”If anyone needs me, I’ll be at the stables. I heard a commotion earlier about a problem with the horses, so I’m off to investigate!”

She started to trot off, but stopped at the last moment.

"Oh! I almost forgot!"

She turned to the group.

"Feline is waiting for the Maiden at the tavern. So please see to it that the Maiden knows and goes to see her. And I believe the blacksmiths who were traveling with Feline have settled in the northeastern section of the village for anyone who wants to see them. Take care everyone!"

And with that, Taira trotted off with empty bags wrapped around one arm and disappeared around the corner of the first building up ahead of them.

Nothing to see here. Move along, 2766985.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Marcel Starr Character Portrait: Sieghardt Val Lohengrin
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Once in Iyns, Sieg set his eyes upon the town smithy. His bare feet pressed against the stone road, undeterred by the Autumn chill. Marcel walked five paces ahead, his stride suggesting a shared destination. Sieg hastened his steps to join him. He glanced from the corner of his eye and inquired, ”Feeling naked without your blade?”

“Bare-assed,” Marcel shot back with a grin. “This isn’t the longest I’ve been without her, but in these circumstances?” His voice dropped lower as he observed the activity of guardsmen in the marketplace. “She won’t mind me getting a little something for reassurance.”

They continued along the northern path until the road forked. The familiar, monotonous clangs of a blacksmith’s hammer sounded from the east, and as the two disarmed swordsmen approached, they caught the flash of a soot stained cap and strawberry curls.

This smithy was far larger and open than the old underground abode, with designated workshops for dying and leatherwork rather than a cramped corner, and an entire shed for finished works. The fresh air, the spaciousness and the dozen smiths fixed on their tasks were blessings, however, despite the improvements upon workplace hazard, there was one thing that the Arklay Mines lacked that Iyns was subject to: a patrol.

“Halt!” A guardsman, a foot shorter than Sieg yet seemingly undeterred, stepped up between the duo before they could get any nearer. “This is an Egruus To’ Veilbrand sanctioned weapons dealer. You commoners have no business here. Move along.” Sieg’s brows lowered to frame his glare. He scanned the guardsman from head to toe. Leather lamellar. No weapons. If things get ugly, they could take him. Two hits. Three at most. Before he calls for backup.

Marcel gave Sieg a sideways glance, a sneaky look that asked ”Are you ready?” Whether the knight was ready or not, Marcel had already stepped forward with his arms out in a quelling motion.
“Good morrow, sir,” he began pleasantly, “We don’t mean to step on toes, but we had business with – the Atwoods, was that right? Yes, that was the name.” He covered his pause as he searched for their name in past conversation, looking back at Sieg for assurance. “They have an order for us.”

The guardsman’s brow furrowed with suspicion. “Where are the papers?” Marcel blinked innocently. “Are you new around here, foreigner? No commoners can place orders without them being approved by the Captain.” He looked over his shoulder to Liz, oblivious and beating a greatsword into shape – and looking like she absolutely hated it. “I’m hearing that these ‘Atwoods’ went against protocol.”

“Oh, they’re not the ones who should be getting punished tonight,” Marcel interrupted smoothly, “... We’re the ones who ... requested that this order be taken care of as discreetly as possible.” His hands went to his face in embarrassment. If you threw a dress on him, Marcel would’ve been the perfect vision of a demure maiden. “Ah, that sounds so bad! We promise it’s not anything...” Marcel slid closer to Sieg, his hand snaking up his bare back. He gave the guardsman a coy smile. “It’s just very... personal, if you catch me.”

Sieg’s eyes did not ease off from the guardsman. Not since Marcel started speaking. When the swordsman’s hand wandered, the knight’s only reaction was a mild pursing of the lips.

A second passed. Then another. All sound seemed to drain in the area, with neither Sieg, Marcel, nor the guardsman willing to back off. And then, Sieg’s lips parted.

”It’s an anniversary gift. Five years together. Pooled what little savings we had from a lifetime of mining.”

The corners of the knight’s lips pointed upwards in a smirk. His dark eyes lit up with a wolfish gleam. ”A harness for the ass. Triveilan style. Custom fitted.”

Sieg’s meaty palm hovered behind Marcel’s ass, then gave it a tap. The juicy, sharp slap that came was as clear as an eagle’s cry. ”A one-to-one replica of my shaft fitted ar the rear. Premium stuff.” Sieg leaned above the swordsman’s ear and whispered, ”Isn’t that right. My caramel pudding?” All this delivered without raising his voice beyond his gravel-like growl.

“Honey bear!” Marcel gasped, batting him away in a “fluster” and praying to Heresta that he wouldn’t laugh. “I told you I want this discreet! If you keep giving away your secrets, all the men will want you.”

“... And you said the Atwoods are supplying you?” The guard spoke up, unabashedly disturbed. Her looked back at Liz – still oblivious – as if seeing her in a new light, then shuddered. “Just... Just go. It’s better for everyone this keep quiet. Move along.” He waved them through. “We’re... We’re keeping an eye on you.”

“You know, I'm going to make sure it fits before we leave,” Marcel piped up as he passed.

“Move along!”

Sieg and Marcel were triumphant. Marcel struggled to keep his face straight as they drew nearer to Liz, his arm still on Sieg’s back. He badly wanted to express his admiration for how well the knight had dealt with that set up, but right now, with all the guards that were still watching the smiths work, it didn’t seem wise.

Liz's soot stained face at last looked up to wipe the sweat from her brow, only to be greeted by the sight of a shirtless goliath of a man and a Shaharan with a cheery gait walking towards her. Her brow furrowed as she tried to recall their faces, and as the Shaharan put up his hand to wave, it hit her.

“W- How did you –”

“Miss Atwood, right?” Marcel greeted her stammering.

“How did you get in here?” Liz hissed in a quiet, urgent voice, looking around. Her angular eyes caught sight of the guardsman and the way he was looking at her. “... And what did you tell Steven?” she asked, voice heavy with apprehension.

Sieg’s smirk had faded back into his typical scowl as he marched, chin up and eyes ahead. He entered the smithy, greeted by roaring forge fire and the percussive symphony of hammers, and lowered his gaze to meet the much shorter Liz. His face was still as rock as he answered, in his usual matter-of-fact manner, ”We scarred him. Mentally. For life.”

The knight took a moment to catch Marcel from his peripherals. ”Wasn’t my first time. Didn’t seem like yours, either.”

“There’s nothing a traveler hates more than a path he can’t venture,” Marcel replied, then gave the man a congratulatory clap on the back. “Good job back there, by the way,” he said sincerely, an impressed smile spreading from cheek to cheek, "I owe you a beer for that." One corner of Sieg’s mouth rose in a smirk. ”I’ll pay for the chicken wings.”

Liz looked between the two men with increasing anxiety. “Wha-”

“Ah, right. We have an order,” Marcel remembered. Liz’s mouth snapped shut and she rubbed her temples, leaving grimy marks behind.

“Come here,” she snapped, turning and leading them through the forge, to settle behind the building. She glanced around for spying eyes, and upon finding none, whipped her head up to glare at the men. “What do you think you’re doing, marching right up to me in front of them? Our hands only reach into so many pockets,” she reprimanded them in a hostile whisper. “It doesn’t take that long to find our people and learn the methods here, especially when she’s with you. You don’t. Take. The front. Passage.” Her head gestured towards the tree line, “Rodents burrow out the back.”

Sieg listened to Liz’s chastising without interruption. His eyes shifted to follow her head, then returned. ”We’ll remember for the next time,” he assured her.

The knight folded his arms. The bulging muscles seemed twice as large against his chest. ”We need to see your brother. The swordsmith. Can you guide the way?”

“Unsurprisingly, he’s with the rats,” Liz said stiffly, before leaning over and whispering, “Further north-east from here, there is a stump with a carved silhouette of a rat. The trapdoor is nearby.” She straightened up with a bristle, and waved them off. “Now, get out of here before you attract too much attention.”

“Thanks, Miss Atwood,” Marcel graced her, with a small flourishing bow as he walked backwards towards the direction she’d pointed them in. “Thank you, for more than you know...” Sieg gave her a curt nod, then turned to stomp after Marcel. The knight’s expression did not change when the swordsman began to moonwalk towards their destination.

”Watch out for the-”

Whack!

The back of Marcel’s head struck against a hard, towering form. Sieg’s brows shifted into a furrow.

”....Tree.”

Liz watched them leave with Marcel's ominous gratitude floating in her head.

“Velran be kind, what did they tell him...?!”

Setting

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Character Portrait: Regene "Jeanne" Rhamnus Character Portrait: Quinn Xe' Duzelle
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And so, Jeanne entered Iyns, a satchel by her hip, with Taira’s pouch secured inside. Concerned about the attention her showy garments would bring, the jester switched to a blouse and pencil skirt combo, the latter secured by vermillion suspenders, the former accented by a carrot-colored cravat. A pair of leather flats kept her feet protected, and they tapped against the stone road as she took in the sights. A humble town, with few grand buildings or noble holdings. Not a viable place for a thief to make her living. A more honest sort, on the other hand…

”Iyns sparkling Cider! A family recipe! Warms the home and heart!”

A woman’s voice called out, and Jeanne instantly turned her head. There stood a stall of planks and striped cloth. An older woman stood behind the counter, her features callused by decades of hard, honest labor. Her wrinkles and snow-colored hair only brought out her smile as her eyes met with Jeanne’s. ”Hello dearie, want a sample?” Jeanne’s gaze lit up, and her nose twitched as she caught a certain juicy, floral scent.




Quinn burst out of the forests, her breath short and wig askew. Straightening up herself and her hair, she let out a long breath of relief. Ugh, what was that supposed to be? The unwarranted sappy sentimentality of his words after declaring something so damn...

“Relatively speaking,” she mimicked the Demon, then again, with her hand on her chest and nose up in the air, ”Relatively speaking, I know weakness – relatively. Piss off!” She squeezed her parasol with a growl and stormed into Iyns to meet back with the group, wherever they had scurried to.

Mademoiselle! Mademoiselle! A high-pitched chirp beckoned her attention. Despite the change in attire, Jeanne’s voice and bright red hair was unmistakable no matter the distance. The jester jogged towards her friend, an amber-colored bottle in hand. Quinn turned to face her, and Jeanne’s eyes shrunk into the whites for a second. ”Wh-whoa.”

The jester kept her head down to hold back her chuckle. ”Ehee hee! I’m sorry, I’m sorry. It’s just…” She looked up and pointed towards Quinn’s spectacles. ”You look way scarier with those glasses.” Her lips curled into their cat-like form as she poked the air in front of the frames. ”It brings out your eyes, you know? It’s like, your eyes were a gun and those glasses its barrels!”

Quinn pushed the glasses up her nose, a pink tint coloring her ears beneath her brown locks. "M... My eyes are really so hard to look at?" she stammered. It was clearly the first she had heard such a ... compliment. Unusual, considering her permanent glare. She bristled and gave Jeanne's new attire a scan.

"Well, it's good to see you out of that garish concoction of checkers and buttons and purposeless buckles that is, quite honestly, not only best viewed upon a stage, but has no right leaving one," she said bluntly without pause for breath. She gave a short huff and turned her eyes skyward, "Simplicity suits you, Jeanne."

Jeanne’s jaw hung for a moment as she blinked once. Twice. ”Purposeless?! I’ll have you know, those buckles serve a single, essential cause: ” her head tilted to one side, and she brought two fingers by her face with a wink. ”Looking absolutely cool~

The jester folded her arms and turned around with puffed-up cheeks, her pouty lips twitching to hold back a grin. ”The tights are actually rather comfy, you should try them sometimes. Hmpf!”

Her chest rose, then relaxed as she let out an exaggerated exhale. Her feline smirk had returned when she tossed a squinty glance over her shoulder. ”Well, Madame Dezantro, since you are such an expert when it comes to Haute Couture…” Jeanne held her arms to the side, then bounced into a little twirl, juxtaposing the white and black of her outfit with its vivid accessories.

The jester’s spin came to a halt, and one pair of green eyes met the other. ”Do you have any suggestions to enhance my ensemble~?”

Quinn's eyes flicked between Jeanne’s slim skirt, her suspenders and her short hair, its loose locks drawn up with strawberry clips.

“... Movement,” she decided. Jeanne’s brows jumped up in query. Quinn waved her hand over Jeanne as she elaborated, “All of this – it’s all, very compact. Tight. The eye is naturally drawn to movement. Right now, my eye is drawn to... that.” Quinn pointed with her umbrella handle to the bow tied at Jeanne’s chest. Raising her umbrella, she directed it towards Jeanne’s face. “... We want to look here.”

She leaned forward, giving Jeanne a critical look. “Something subtle, but catches the eye as it... dangles! Earrings!”

She came to that conclusion with unusual enthusiasm, before she caught and composed herself.

“... That is my suggestion. Do not tarnish it with baubles and glitter.”

Jeanne’s eyes did not blink as Quinn shared her analysis. The jester had seen her speeches as the Maiden before, but this time… there a different kind of passion in those words, in those eyes. Like an artist who knew, and loved, her craft. Jeanne could not hold back a grin when, for a second, that passion slipped to the forefront.

”Mm!” she nodded once Quinn had finished. Jeanne clasped her hands together and spoke, ”Oh, this takes me back! When I was but a small Jeanne, my Mother gave me these little painted teardrops. The jester held up her index finger and thumb as a visual guide. ”They were antiques from her home country of Gweynura. Golden, with flower-patterned inlays.”

A bitter smile. Jeanne’s gaze wandered into the distance. ”I cherished them to bits. Always thought they made me look like a princess~” Her bosom heaved in a sigh. ”Anywho! I suppose I should start saving up.”

The jester pressed a finger against her chin and glanced upwards. ”Hmmm…” her eyes flicked back towards Quinn as a realization brightened her smile. ”I know! The next time we visit a jeweler…” Jeanne leaned forward with pumped fists and a catlike smile. ”You should help me pick out the best pair!”

Quinn’s head tilted, her eyes narrowing at Jeanne exuberance.

“Gweynura... I haven’t been. How Master Aloi reprimanded me for that,” she shook her head and rolled her eyes at the memory before snapping, “Your shapes are too predictable. Intricate, without effortlessness. Break the traditions of human constructs and adopt the hand of nature, yet do not mock nature with your imitation – join its Gods. Do as the Gweynurans do, and flourish, darling, flourish!”

Jeanne brought her fists over her chest, her smile risen into a grin. The flamboyance in those words and their delivery… the jester could not hold back her snickering. ”Ufufufu! This is too authentic, It’s kind of scary!”

Quinn had gotten herself quite caught up in her impersonation. When she settled back to earth, she did so with a huff. ”Whatever lesson he was trying to convey through this nonsense-speak...” she glanced Jeanne’s way, picturing her in that sneering hat and gaudy attire, “... Despite your apparent ineptitude in this regard, as a Gweynuran, perhaps you have something to teach me of it.”

Jeanne repeated three simple words in her mind. Don the tights! Don the tights! Don the tights! With a grin that spread from ear-to-ear, the jester visualized Quinn in her circus costume. The blonde was broader and taller than she was by a fair margin. It would be quite the tight fit, for everything but the hat. But the reaction it would elicit from the boys…

Jeanne’s palms rubbed together under her cat-like smirk. A wooden wheel spun in her mind, weaving schemes like a seamstress weaves a thread.

Quinn graced Jeanne with an unsure yet pleasant smile. As if she wasn’t sure whether she should allow herself the novelty. Jeanne withdrew her hands behind her back.

“Don’t fear, the lack of ‘Gweynuran flourish’ in my work doesn’t mean I don’t know flair when I see it,” she reassured with pride, “I won’t let you adorn your lobes with anything less than perfection. If it’s a princess you want to be, it’s a princess you’ll be again.”

The jester had frozen in place as Quinn begun her declaration. Her lips parted into an o as she paid attention to every word, every subtle shift of the eyes and chin. She leaned back, a forearm pressed against her forehead and over a closed-eyed, content smile. ”Ohhh, Mademoiselle,” The jester shuddered. ”You need to talk more like this… this, this style, this panache!... it’s enough to make us peasants blush!”

A pause. One of Jeanne’s eyes opened in a wink. ”Ufufu… in any case, ‘Josephine’, I have complete faith in you~” She glanced to the side and shrugged. ”But, ah… don’t recommend anything too expensive!... Marcus wouldn’t let me hear the end of it.”

Jeanne straightened and swerved to walk side-by-side with her friend. ”Oh! Before I forget…” She held up the amber bottle with one hand, a cork sealing its mouth. Mademoiselle, you must try the local cider! I had a sip to sample, and… Ooh la la, I just had to buy a bottle afterwards!”

“Iyns Cider? I... know of it,” Quinn said, eyeing the bottle with a quirked brow, “Famous as it is, it was never my drink of choice. I prefer my vice more...” Numbing. “... Bitter,” she finished distractedly, glancing ahead to a familiar head of pink hair. Jeanne’s eyes dimmed as she lowered her gaze, a sight blurred into the background once Quinn shifted her attention.

Feline, arms crossed and tapping her foot outside the entrance to the tavern, waited silently for the Maiden of Revolution to arrive. And as she came into view, Feline did a double-take. Spectacles. A different dress. A... was that a wig?

Feline blinked, while Quinn approached and quickly shook her hand before Feline could let a name slip.

"Greetings, I'm Josephine Dezantro. Have you been expecting me?"

Feline, despite her inward surprise, nodded firmly.

"Indeed I have, miss Dezantro. Please, come inside. We have something important to discuss."

She turned on her heel and walked into the inn, gesturing that Quinn should follow. Quinn let out a heavy, dreading sigh.

“We’ll talk another time, Jeanne,” she excused herself, and trudged into the building behind Feline.

Jeanne’s eyes shifted into a closed-eyed smile as she waved from her wrist. ”Okay!... Take care of yourself, Mademoiselle. She leaned close towards the doorway and waved again, ”Ooh, and Feline! Bonjouuu-

Thud!

The door slammed shut before the jester could finish her greeting, and she was left hanging, her mouth wide open, a dainty palm suspended mid-air. ”...Huh. ” Jeanne whipped around, her nose twitching as they picked the scent of ash and iron in the air… directly north of her position. ”Well! Guess I best keep myself busy.”

With a hop and huff, Jeanne skipped off towards the smithy, one arm reaching into her satchel, and her thoughts leaking aloud between her lips. ”If Liz is around, this will be the perfect time to present her those schematics.”

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Character Portrait: Marcus Keller
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As the group dispersed to each conduct their respective business about Iyns, Marcus once again walked his own, solitary path. He was in his element here, and he knew how to take advantage of that. Hidden in plain sight. One unremarkable face amongst many others. Might as well take a stroll around town, with an eye peeled for any dangers or opportunities to alert the others’ attention to…

The thief felt little need to see Fable’s operative, choosing instead to keep his weapons concealed about his person. As a matter of principle, he did not trust leaving his armaments to someone else outside of repairs or other such work that was beyond his understanding. Besides, with not just Te’i Sai but now the second Demon to watch out for as well, he felt the need to remain about as well prepared as he would ever be.

Eventually, Marcus’ route took him to the town square. Casting his gaze over those gathered in the square, he spotted a familiar face around the edge of the square. Short lad, looked a bit like an overly friendly ghost. The priest of Velran, he recalled. With little else to do, Marcus walked over to him.

“Didn’t expect to see you here,” he remarked. “Something interesting going on here, then?”

A pause.

“Y’know… I don’t think I got your name. I’m Marcus.”

Kade glanced Marcus’ way, his mouth opening to say something with a slight crease in his brow, when he reconsidered and dipped his head down.

“My name is Kade Dunzt, sir,” he murmured. His white robes had been shed in favor of a pale tunic and breeches that clung tight to his flesh and flaunted his slender, feminine legs. His flowery sunhat remained a constant. Kade’s grey eyes flicked up to the market square and what was occurring within.

People were lining up before two smoking barrels, arms filled with books that were being sorted through by soldiers brandishing Egruus’ crest. Most books were being returned to their owners, whereas some had passages torn from their spines and tossed into the flames. At one such book, a soldier paused, before gesturing for the man who had presented it to be hustled away. The entire volume went up in flames.

“So it’s October already,” the priest said in a soft voice as he and the thief watched together. “The Eve of Remembrance is upon us.”

Silence. The distant crack of a whip could be heard over the commotion around them.

“You’re Veilbrand-born, aren’t you?” Kade inquired quietly, turning to look at Marcus, “Do you recall when music wasn’t tainted by his name? When we learned on this day from our past, good and bad, not...” he gave a discreet gesture to the barrels, “... Burned whatever he decided was untrue this year. We’re losing so much more than lives, and our homes. We’re... losing ourselves.”

Kade’s eyes were as glazed as the overcast skies above. Then suddenly, like the flip of a coin, his face lit up with cheer. “Umm... ahem, I, uh, I heard some things here you might find interesting,” he piped up. He gave Marcus a disarming smile, his face brimming with youthful innocence and the desire to be helpful. “Whispers speak the loudest to people like you, don’t they?”

Marcus looked on at the book burning, teeth gritted and fists clenched as he recognised it for what it was. As much as he wanted to stop them, these instruments of the tyrant’s will, he was all too painfully aware that without anyone to back him up, his efforts would be in vain. A lesson he learned many years ago.

He stared into the fires. Trying his best to remember… remember a world before Egruus. A world before each day was a struggle to survive…

“Marcus, run! Run!”

The memory hit him like a knife to the chest. It was all such a blur. The sound of splintering wood - something being forced open - and the feeling of being let out of the rear door of a building, accompanied by a woman’s voice, urging him to run. The sound of his heart hammering in his chest every step of the way. The sound of a woman’s screams…

Marcus quickly averted his gaze from the burning and towards Kade, who seemed to have perked up despite what they were both witnessing, while the thief looked about as pale as the priest. Silence reigned between the two of them for a good while before Marcus spoke up in response to Kade.

“Sorry. I, uh… I went somewhere for a minute there. Oh, and… please, don’t call me sir. I’m anything but a sir.”

There was another uncomfortable silence, albeit a brief one.

“So… you said you had something to tell me? Lucky for you I’m a good listener…”

Kade gave a little nod before looking back to the market square. He shut his eyes a moment, before glancing to their left and whispering, “Those children. They wondered if ‘Gert’ would be telling stories this year.” He looked to a twig thin woman with a ruddy complexion, her straw blonde hair yanked into two tight plaits. She leaned over a market stand, presenting various odds and ends from clay tableware to rope. “She told them not to talk of him. Sounds like a secret.”

He turned his head, back to the soldiers burning the books.

“... It’s not here.”

Kade gestured to the soldiers with his head, then looked up at Marcus seriously.

”It’s not here. That’s what they said.”

Marcus followed the little priest’s gaze. First to the woman, then to the guards, and finally back to Kade. Talk of a storyteller, possibly in hiding, and Egruus’ soldiers apparently searching for something. All on the Eve of Remembrance, of all days. Curious…

“Whatever it is they’re looking for, I can take a guess as to what they’ll do with it,” Marcus muttered. “And if they’re specifically looking for it, then it must be something valuable. Best we do something about that, eh?”

The thief habitually glanced around and made note of how many guards there were, and where they were positioned. As he was doing so, one question did occur to him.

“Problem is… where do we start looking?”

“We?” Kade repeated, eyes widening at the raggedy man, “A... As in, us? Y-You want me to –?” He tugged the brim of his hat down to hide his glowing face, his lips set in a wobbly line. “Oh... Okay.”

Kade took in a deep breath before looking closer at the book burning. His attention narrowed to the guardsmen’s hands, brushing covers, thumbing violently through pages, passing volumes with the care of a toddler. Searching. Disposing. Unceasing.

“... Where do we find books?” he answered Marcus with a whispered question.

“Not that I’m much of a bookworm, but I’d say a library’s our best bet,” the thief replied sardonically. “Really though, I doubt it’d be that convenient. Guards would’ve ransacked the place, assuming there ever was one in this town to begin with. No… if there’s anyone who would know where to find a very valuable book, I bet it’s this Gert bloke. But where to find him…”

Marcus looked over to the woman with her stall full of bric-a-brac. She seemed like she knew something about Gert…

“Kade, follow me. I think we might have a lead we can chase up…”

The two of them skirted around the edge of the market square, avoiding any undue attention from the guards as they made the long but subtle route towards the stall. Once they drew near, Marcus quietly told Kade to play along as he approached the woman.

“Excuse me, we’re looking for a man called Gert. You happen to know him?” The thief kept his voice low, discreetly glancing to either side as he continued. “A little birdie told me and my friend here that he was in some hot water, and… let’s just say that our people would rather that wasn’t the case, if you get my meaning…”

The woman’s eyes went wide at Marcus, her red knuckles turning white against the store counter. “What are you...”

Kade sprung to action, drawing a small Velran symbol with his finger on the stall. He then gave the woman a bright smile, his cheeks tinted their permanent pink. “We’re here to help, ma’am,” he reassured kindly. The woman looked over the two men with a guarded expression, before her eyes flicked back to the book burning and she nodded.

“Knew all you people would come knocking eventually,” she grunted and leaned over the counter, “Now, I don’t want no business with you folks, and neither does he, or he’d’ve sought you out already. It ain’t my place to send you and your troubles to his door, but if that trouble’s already coming for him... he’s gonna need ya,” she grumbled.

“South-east, in those woods. The only path to it was made by young’ uns. Easily missed, but you better keep on it. He’s had twelve years to prepare for trouble.” She glanced around, and continued to whisper, “How t' talk to him? That’s a bigger challenge. Not even I’ve exchanged words. Only people who can say they have...”

She tilted her head back at the two kids drawing in the dirt behind her stand.

“That’s it. Now get out’ve here. I don’t know you.”

Marcus nodded understandingly. “We were never here.”

The thief turned away from the stand and moved on, with Kade by his side. He glanced at the two children for a moment, considering enlisting their help, before thinking better of it. Better to not drag any innocents into this lest they get into trouble. With the attention focused on the twisted festivities, it was easy for the duo to slip back out of the market square unnoticed and leave the awful sight behind them.

“Good thinking back there,” Marcus said to Kade as they walked down the street. “That might not have worked as well as it did otherwise.”

"Th-Thank you sir - I mean, Mister Marcus," he stammered, and continued to walk beside him while fighting back the urge to skip ahead.

“No, it’s just…” Marcus began, before giving up. The lad was learning on his own just fine. He’d get it right soon enough…

Setting

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Character Portrait: Quinn Xe' Duzelle
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Feline guided 'miss Dezantro' through the tavern to the barkeep.

"We need a few minutes with our guest, good keep." She said, flicking him a pair of silver coins.

"Of course. Right this way." He said, opening a section of the bar for them to pass through to a door that was behind him.

Feline walked her through and opened the door for her, closing it behind them and walking with her through a hallway leading to a stairwell on their left. They went down a few turns and came to a door on the right, which led them to the basement storage unit of the tavern.

"Pardon, Maiden. But I shall enter first this time, just in case." She said.

She opened the door and walked inside eyeing the Te'i Sai agent she'd captured with a dangerous glare. Both of his hands were bound behind him around an empty barrel, and both his feet were cuffed together. For good measure, his stomach was bound with several wraps of twine, making it difficult to breathe. Quinn’s own breath hitched when she saw him. She held back hesitantly, one hand on the wall.

"I've been using a sedative to keep him quiet." She said over her shoulder.

She walked forward, standing before the agent.

"I'm almost out... Shall I wake him?" She asked.

“W... Wait a moment,” Quinn said, breaking out of her stunned state, “Just wait.”

She walked forward and came to a stop before the assassin, looking down at him. His bruises were old, and Quinn had to wonder how long he’d been held captive. Squeezing her umbrella hilt, Quinn steeled her mind.

“... I need wire,” she said coolly, “And cutlery. Any kitchen utensils you can find. A corkscrew. Potato peeler. Anything that can be utilized for pain. While you’re at it, get me a bottle of the strongest liqueur you can find. No. Get two.”

Quinn’s head turned slowly to Feline, her gaze hard and cold.

“Once these are laid out before me, then you may wake him.”

Feline nodded to the Maiden and set about her task. She meandered to a few nearby cupboards along the wall and found utensils and cutlery, as requested. She found a steak knife, a bread knife, a potato peeler, a cheese grater, a metal spatula with grooves in it, a nut cracker, a pair of metal tongs, and she bent a metal bowl so its base was now a sharp point.

She laid all of these out for Quinn on a small table she pulled up near the entrance to the storage unit, and went about finding the strongest liquor she could. She wasn't much for the stuff, but she knew names. She sifted through the higher quality alcohol until she found a name she recognized well: Manson and Rhulas, one of the premier alcoholic brewing companies in the world, based right here in Veilbrand actually.

Feline took two bottles of the stuff and brought them to the table, setting them down and folding her arms beneath her breasts. "Is all of this enough, Maiden?"

Quinn scanned over the collection of makeshift torture instruments before she set her parasol down and picked up one of the liqueur bottles. She popped the lid and took a burning swig, then picked up the potato peeler and came to stand over the agent.

“Wake him.”

Feline nodded. Walking up to the agent, she raised her right and up, palm exposed, and slapped him across the face... Hard. The resounding slap sounded more like the crack of a whip than flesh striking flesh. The agent quickly groaned and grumbled, shaking his head as he blinked awake.

"Wh-... Where am I?" He asked. He looked up and made eye contact with Feline who was standing over him with a scornful glare. "I remember you..."

"You speak only when spoken to." She growled. She knelt down quickly and punched him in the stomach, knocking the wind from him. The blow was withheld just enough to cause pain and breathlessness, but not enough to cause any damage that could prevent him from being interrogated.

“That’s unnecessary, Feline.”

Feline stood up and turned, looking to Quinn and stepping to the side to give her access to the man. Quinn gave the man a long, emotionless stare.

“I’m sure you know how this goes,” she spoke up at last, lifting the peeler, “You don’t give me answers, and I work my way down the line.”

She moved to lean over him, letting the mouth of the liqueur bottle hover near his lips. “This is the one courtesy I am extending to you before we begin. It helps with the pain. Will you take it or go without it?”

The agent gazed at the bottle and then at Quinn.

"What are you talking about?"

He tried to break his chains to get free, but Feline stepped forward and pinched his neck just below the nape to squeeze the muscles together causing intense pain which stopped him from further straining the chains. Otherwise he'd snap them. When he calmed down and stopped trying to pull free, she let off the pressure but kept her hand ready in case he tried it again.

Quinn sighed and stood up, taking another gulp of the bottle and setting it aside. “It’s here anytime,” she said, then settled beside him and held the peeler above his bicep, “Let’s start simple. What is your name?”

The Te'i Sai agent spat on the side of Quinn's face nearest him. "I do not answer to you, wench. Get me out of these chains at once! Do so, and I'll spare your life."

Feline's eyes narrowed. Quinn’s gloved thumb moved up to wipe the spit from her face in a composed manner.

“If you cannot remove those chains yourself, how do you intend to kill me?” she asked, like a mother speaking to a disobedient child. She turned her attention back to the peeler. “A name is not worth bleeding over.” Holding the cool metal against his skin, she pressed, “How many strong is your organization? I need numbers. Exact numbers.”

The Te'i Sai agent scoffed. "You believe I can't snap the chains?" He began to tense, but Feline was ready and once again pinched the muscles below his nape causing intense pain down his back preventing him from pulling his arms appropriately. When he gave up, she let go.

"You were lucky to escape us with your life, girl." He said, looking up at Feline. She only glared silently at him. He looked back to Quinn. "Don't get smug just because she's keeping me pinned down. If it weren't for her you'd be dead already, you little wretch."

“You shouldn’t be smug while you’re in this position,” Quinn returned darkly, dug the peeler’s blade in, and drew it slowly up his bicep. As the utensil was drawn across the arm, it cut into and beneath both flesh and muscle. The peeler's blade cleaved a long, thin strip from his body. The agent growled and yelled in agony, clenching his fist trying to flex his muscles against her. But it was no use. His arm was in just the wrong position to allow him to tense enough to fight it. His flesh was helpless to save itself now.

“Don’t let him bite his tongue!”

Feline moved quickly to a spare chair, snapping off a leg and marching back to jam it between the agent’s teeth. The strip curled back and promptly fell to the floor as the peeler was pulled free. Blood flowed freely to the floor from the wound as exposed muscle and sliced veins were now on display. The agent took long deep breaths and bit down hard against the pain as he glared at Quinn out of the corner of his eye. Quinn saw that glare. It wasn’t enough. She re-positioned the peeler, and did it again.

“Numbers,” she demanded.

The Te'i Sai agent screamed again and tried to fight against what she was doing, but Feline would not let him. Every time he began tugging on the chains she pinched his back to send a shock down his spine and prevent him from breaking free. The peeler was pulled free and another long hunk of flesh fell to the ground. The agent panted heavily as he fought back the pain.

"Y-you... You ‘on't..." He coughed and glared at her. "You ‘an't do ‘is ‘o ‘e!" He growled, choking on his own saliva.

Quinn moved to do it again, but something made her stop. She looked back to the agent. There was something different about the way he behaved in those chains, something she hadn’t seen before. A refusal to accept what was occurring. A weakness so deeply ingrained in his pride... he couldn't understand the position he had found himself in.

Naivety.

Quinn gestured Feline to remove the chair leg.

“You...” she said slowly, “... Have never been prepared for this, have you?”*

The agent growled with every breath against the pain and glared at Quinn out of the corner of his eye. "Te'i Sai agents are not interrogated. We do the interrogating!" He yelled through grit teeth. He growled again and hissed with each breath in as he fought to try and break the chains once more. But this time Feline didn't pinch his back. She punched it, cracking three vertebrae along his upper spine around his shoulders to put him in permanent discomfort without crippling his ability to talk.

Quinn couldn’t help herself. She laughed.

“You arrogant,” she began, her eyes sparkling with dark amusement. She moved to face him and dug her nails into his cheeks, forcing him to look up. “Blustering little man. You have given me your greatest weakness, and your hubris leaves you blind to it. You are nothing but a pompous doll – no, you lack that splendour in your phrasing. Everything that comes from your mouth is nothing but empty bravado befitting a blackout brawler looking to feed his crippling sense of masculinity – not an assassin.” Quinn’s lips lifted in a scornful smile. “Your people don’t know desperation, nor do they know the innovation that comes with it. They don’t know compassion, and the lengths it drives us.” Her heeled boot ground against his groin, hard, earning her a hiss and uncomfortable squirm. “I am not willing to accommodate your misguided belief that ’this can’t be happening’ to spare your poor, confused little brain from a reality check. Those chains may hurt you more than any pain I can bring you, but I won’t hold back. This is only the first instrument at my disposal.”

She grabbed the hair on the back of his head, yanking his face upwards as she positioned the peeler along the side of his exposed neck.

“Now, I have two theories floating around my head,” she hissed near his ear, “The first is that your power and desire to control us has left you deluded. You think you are Gods, and your bloated image of yourselves has driven you far from the humanity you wanted to ‘save’. You have become our enemy, and us yours. And as I am learning to understand you, it is becoming evident to me that you no longer understand us at all.”

The peeler drew a drop of blood.

“Second theory. Just like that drunkard at the bar, you’re posturing.” Quinn’s glare darkened as she locked eyes with him. “I think,” she said with conviction, “Te’i Sai is not as strong as you say it is.”

Silence.

“Am I wrong?”

The agent glared at Quinn unflinchingly.

"You are wrong on all counts, wretch." He grunted in pain as the peeler drew its second drop of blood from his throat. "Te'i Sai understands humanity better than you could ever dream. Our organization has been guiding its course for centuries. We do not seek control. We seek utopia. And in only a few short years we could guide you all there if the traitor would stop interfering and resetting our progress. Do you not want to live in a world without strife, confusion, war, or needless death?"

His voice was growing hoarse from lack of fluids.

"I don't expect you to understand what we do or the logic behind the methods. We are the only ones who can bring utopia to this continent. And believe me, we will accomplish that goal regardless of whatever misunderstandings arise between us and you."

Quinn gave an undeterred shrug.

“So, that is what you believe.”

She took a thin piece of skin from the agent’s neck, careful not to cut too far and catch a major vein. He grimaced, but kept his voice in.

“That you don’t support needless death?” she continued, her incredulous smile returning, “It is my understanding that you support Egruus’ rule.” She snapped her head around to Feline, “Watch his tongue. Stand by with the nutcracker.”

The chair leg was shoved back into his mouth carelessly. A single bead of sweat appeared upon the agent’s temple.

Quinn tilted her head. “Is Veilbrand utopia to you? There is no possible way you are blind to what is happening here. Twelve years he has ruled this country into ruin. In twelve years, he has slaughtered thousands for praying to a god that preaches the peace you fight for. In twelve years, he has taken sons from their homes to be indoctrinated into instruments of war. In twelve years, he has ordered the defilement of women and CHILDREN while the men burn alive in mass graves! Innocents have been fed to the dogs while they are still screaming, all because they wanted to feed the impoverished. IS THIS YOUR UTOPIA?!”

The agent’s eyes widened, ever so slightly. His lips tightened. His hands clenched. His jaw was set. And his eyes became less and less filled with defiance and more with disbelief and confusion.

Quinn couldn’t keep her snideness the longer she spoke. Pure fury rose to the surface, as all the images came back. Quinn put a finger in the air. “Oh, but if you crush the rebellion – as you are no doubt intending – there will be no more cause for this violence. You’re wrong. Veilbrand is not so cut off from the outside as you think. Our neighbors from the sands have been waiting with bated breath for an excuse to flex their armies. War is coming – because of you.”

Quinn drove the peeler down his chest. The agent cried in pain.

“The rebellion fights because of the crimes committed by a King that Te’i Sai supports!”

Again. The cries fell on deaf ears.

“Veilbrand is on the brink of invasion because of what Te’i Sai did in the name of ‘utopia’!”

Aga- Quinn paused. She slapped the agent’s face lightly, bringing him back. He grimaced, panting hard.

“See, this is the part of the narrative that I need you to help me understand,” she continued calmly, as if her outburst had never occurred. She gestured for Feline to take back the chair leg, and she did – making sure the nutcracker caught the agent’s eye. “If you truly believe that your intentions are pure... why do this?” Quinn let the bloody peeler drop to the floor and stepped back, releasing him from her cutting grip. Her eyes flicked over to Feline and the nutcracker. “Feline, can you be ready to crush his fingers? Thank you.”

She gazed back at the bloodied agent.

“So long ago... a raven told me your reasons for allying with this monster. I believe it was... funding, weaponry and... tunnel access?” She scoffed. “I can’t believe that this is worth throwing away your ‘honorable’ organization’s beliefs, not while you flaunt those ideals with that much conviction. I do not take you for such ignorant fools. There has to be some semblance of intelligence behind your alliance.”

The agent scowled and breathed through clenched teeth at her. What she was saying...

“The only reason I can imagine you allying with him, as much as you do not expect me to understand...” Quinn trailed off. “... And it all comes back to this again,” she muttered. Her eyes burned through the agent as she demanded, “I want to know numbers, and I want to know the reasons for your alliance with Egruus. Your full reasons. No more diverting, no more swaggering, no more belittling. Only answers. I will not relent until I walk away knowing –

How strong is Te’i Sai, really?”


He looked at the floor as sweat began to drip from his face.

"... We are..." He started. Feline knelt down, nutcracker in hand and clicked it a few times in front of his face with a cold, empty stare. He gulped and looked away from her to the wall. "Even lacking significant numbers as we used to, we have more than-"

"Too many words!" Feline cut him off.

She moved to the side and set the nutcracker around his left index finger and squeezed hard, breaking it on the spot and sending small spurts of blood to the floor. The agent cried out in pain and panted afterwards as Feline did the same to his middle finger. The same result, from both the finger and the agent. Feline set the nutcracker on his ring finger, and he yelled for her to stop.

“One at a time, Feline,” Quinn warned. Feline paused, but kept it primed in case Quinn gave any indication to take that finger as well.

Through his panting he said, "Seventy left... And falling."

Quinn’s brow shot up.

“Good, good,” she said, coming to a kneel beside him and resting a hand on his shoulder. Soft as her touch was, it was enough to draw a flinch. “You’re doing good. So your members have been decreasing. Does this have any connection to your alliance with Egruus?”

The agent glared at her out of the corner of his eye.

"Less to do with that and more to do with... Another problem," he grunted reluctantly. Feline pinched the nutcracker a little, making him flinch and gulp down a lump in his throat. He hung his head. "Our Grandmaster, peace be to his soul, was the glue that held us all together. Now that he's dead, the leader of the Wraiths has taken over. But unlike the Grandmaster, he is focused on eliminating the traitor. He throws us at him like a regular drunkard throws back drinks."

He took a deep breath as the pain building from his wounds was starting to intensify as his adrenaline began to recede.

"I'll have that drink now myself, if you don't mind.”

Quinn let out a breath of relief and nodded. Reaching to the side, she brought back the liqueur and cradled the back of the agent’s head to prevent spilling as she tilted the bottle back against his lips. They could prevent some from spilling over his chin as he pulled away. Quinn watched silently as he coughed. She looked up at Feline and made a gesture for her to pull back.

"I don't know why he does this to us...” he choked out, “It's suicide to stand against him, even in groups. But our leader continues to do so over and over as if trying one more time will change anything."

“... He knows it won’t,” Quinn murmured after some time spent pondering over the agent’s confession, “Your Grandmaster is dead and your organisation is dying, but you can’t afford to appear weak to your enemy. He’s ... trying to trick the Demon.” She grimaced as these thoughts dawned on her. “He can’t be sacrificing you without an end in mind. There must be something he’s working towards, something he must distract the Demon from... and it’s nothing you would have the clearance to know.”

"Sacrificing... " the agent repeated, "... If he is working towards something, he'd better reveal it to us soon." He said through gritted teeth.

Quinn’s hand on the agent's shoulder squeezed. "Will you tell me now,” she urged, "What Te’i Sai has to gain from Egruus’ tyranny?”

The agent requested another drink, which Quinn gave to him. Once finished, he cleared his throat.

"As much as I hate to say it, we need him." He coughed, clearing his throat again. That liquor was stronger than he expected. "Vile as he is, Egruus keeps Veilbrand in line for us. Ever since the Grandmaster's death, and as our numbers have dwindled, our influence in each nation has faded and now we are treading water in our efforts to reach utopia." He sighed. "Egruus made a deal with Te'i Sai several years ago. In exchange for keeping order and not driving his nation to war, he became Te'i Sai's ally and received the serum as a reward for his cooperation. Now more than ever we need that cooperation, and not just from him. We're trying to get it from the other rulers as well. We no longer have the numbers to guide the continent as directly as we once did just a few years ago."

Quinn stared at the agent intently.

“And you have seen what Egruus calls ‘order’?”

The agent dipped his head, and replied with resounding silence. Quinn lowered her head along with his to force eye contact.

“You are not what you think you are,” she uttered softly, “You haven’t been for a long time.” Quinn stood, walking back from the agent. Any softness she held before was gone, replaced with her air of authority. "Feline, we're done for now. Do what you can for his wounds before I send in our healer."

She picked up the second bottle of liqueur and her umbrella before heading to the door. As she reached it, she paused.

"... There's a funny thing, about your idea. Utopia. An ideal world," she wondered aloud. She glared over her shoulder to the agent. "Veilbrand is a utopia - to Egruus. To us? Utopia is life without him. I have to wonder... if Te'i Sai lowers itself to serve him in the name of an ideal world... what does your utopia look like, really?" Turning her head back, she declared, "And if you don't believe we have the power to fight you, or for peace of our own, then you don't understand humanity. At all."

The Maiden left the room.

Feline knelt down in front of the agent. He slowly looked up at her through his long straight bangs, glowering at her.

"... Your utopia doesn't exist," she muttered, her voice tinged with bitterness, "If it did..." Pause. When she found the strength to look back to the agent, there was something chilling behind her gaze - blame. "Little girls and their mothers would not be violated and made impure by men like Egruus and his ilk without consequence."

The agent lifted his head slightly.

"Is that what happened to..."

Feline glared at him into silence without emotion before tending to his wounds as ordered, though only just enough to stop the bleeding.

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Character Portrait: Miriam Gale Character Portrait: Miranda Wavecrest
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Miriam was still nursing her grumpy mood as she and Miranda entered into the town of Iyns.

”Oh do cheer up babe! This is just like old times me and you out on the town having adventures!”

Miriam just let out a grumpy huff which caused Miranda to let out a pouting sigh…

”Come on the smiths are just over there that will cheer you up right?”

Miranda took Miriam’s hand dragging her along until a man came bounding up to her. “Miss Wavecrest… At last I have good news! We found the one you seek your lost Shark!”

”Oh really?” Miranda asked giving Miriam a smirk.

“Yes Miss my sources say that without a doubt that Miriam Gale is in a small logging town in Gweynura called Glade’s End.”

Miriam was trying not to laugh as Miranda grinned like a cat having caught it’s prey. ”Is that so?” She turned to Miriam. ”Would you care to introduce yourself to this man My Tempest?”

The man looked confused as Miriam walked up to him and gave him a mocking little bow. ”I am Miriam Gale! The Shark of Triveilia! The woman that without a doubt is in the forests of Gweynura!”

The man turned pale like he had seen a spirit. “I...this...this can’t be...I… I must go…”

With that Miranda and Miriam where left on the street giggling like school girls.

”Oh the look on his face.”

”See this is what happens when we are together Awesomeness happens!”

With that adventure behind them the two made their way across town. Miriam caught a glimpse of the Silver Haired Goddess making her way to the stables. She wanted to speak with her but would hold off for now walking with Miranda towards the smiths.

"Hey, when we get done at the smiths I'd like to check out the stables."

"Ok, hun we will swing by there after we talk to Liz."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Regene "Jeanne" Rhamnus Character Portrait: Miriam Gale Character Portrait: Miranda Wavecrest
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With a hop and an exhale, Jeanne made her way north of the tavern. Her lithe frame sank into shadows cast behind sun-lit structures. Her emerald eyes twinkled in the dark as she leaned from behind cover to observe the local patrol and their patterns.

Jeanne’s steps made barely a tap as they kissed the earth, obscured by the rustling grass and blowing wind. The jester took no chances, moving only when the guards were distant, yet still within sight. Compared to the capital cities, sneaking in Iyns was child’s play. The only watchmen were stationed at the main gates, while patrols in town were far and few in between. She wagered that her Pardenaire could do this in his sleep.

The jester stepped into the fire-lit room, and inhaled. The pungence of iron, the heat of the blaze. The creaking bellows, the hiss of steel as it soaked in the trough...

Ah… home sweet home.

Jeanne’s beryl eyes shifted from one corner to the other… and there she was, one stout arm bringing down a hammer upon white-hot steel.

”Liz! Liiiiz!” Jeanne waved from her elbow. Her smile shone like a beacon even amidst fire and flames. ”You look well, maitriser!”

Her eyes wandered slightly towards what Liz was working on. A greatsword. Cruciform. Primitive. Too mundane for Ernie, and too… pointy for Liz. Jeanne’s lips turned straight as a line and she corrected herself, ”W-well-fed, I meant!... Yeah. Well-fed.”

The jester leaned closer and gestured to the sword-in-progress, her brows furrowed to accompany a wry smile. ”Keeping up appearances, oui?”

“J-Jeanne!” Liz greeted her with pleasant surprise, right before her soot-stained face went pale. “How did you - nevermind! Get over here!” Slipping under the watchful eyes of the guards, Liz abandoned her greatsword for the second time and snatched Jeanne’s wrist up in her powerful grip to drag her behind the smithy, where she had led Marcel and Sieg only a few minutes before. A wide-eyed Jeanne stumbled for a spell. There was a lot of power in that diminutive frame, not unlike a honey badger.

“If you snuck yourself in here just to say hello –” Liz muttered, not finishing the thought before releasing Jeanne and sending her staggering, “Jeanne, it’s dangerous here! This better be work related!”

Jeanne stepped forward once, twice, and regained her balance. The jester looked to her, grinning ear to ear as one hand reached into her satchel. ”L-Liz, you and I, we are going to make history.” Her dainty hand drew yellow-brown scrolls from within, then propped them atop a crate by the wall.

The scrolls were unfurled, and a burst of furnace flame shined a light upon their contents. Sketches, scribbles, and doodles done in charcoal, covered in smudges and crossed-out words, phrases, even whole sentences. Entire pages were blotted out by seas of letters and hasty drawings. It was the ravings of a madwoman.

But, as Liz flipped through the pages, the mistakes lessened in number, and the gunsmith’s eyes were drawn to certain focal points, conveniently capitalized on different corners of different pages. ‘ONE GUN’. ‘SIX SHOTS’. ‘NO RELOADS’.

To bring her idea to life, Jeanne had laid out several more refined sketches: a cylindrical mechanism, six holes hollowed out to house six bullets inside. An experimental pistol, with this mechanism built between the barrel and the flintlock. And, on the bottom corner of the second-to-last page, a caricature of Miriam’s head, popping from the jaws of a beady-eyed shark costume. Each drawn in multiple angles as well as an isometric view. Some with perhaps too much time spent on it.
On the very last page, underneath a set of recaps, was a single word in big, bold letters:

’REVOLVER’

It was the sharp hiss of a blade being quenched that snapped Liz back to reality. With a jolt, she ducked down to roll the scrolls back up into neat cylinders.

“Jeanne,” Liz huffed as she gathered the paper, “I want ... to take your brain... and keep it under my cap.” With a creak and a hiss, a pair of bellows pumped the flames atop a nearby forge, and setting it alight in tandem with Jeanne’s beaming visage. The gunsmith rose to her full height, thrusting the scrolls back to Jeanne. Her amber eyes shone bright as the forge with enthusiasm. “This could win us the war!” she whispered excitedly, “I don’t say that lightly, Jeanne, I m-”

Liz cut herself off as she lunged at Jeanne and proceeded to squeeze the life out of her. ”Eep!” The jester’s brows shot up with a squeak within Liz’s vise-like embrace. This was not a woman she would want to wrestle against.

“To the north-east there’s a tree stump with a carved rat. The password is ‘Rodents burrow out the back’. I’ll be with you when I can,” she whispered into Jeanne’s ear, before pulling back and clapping her on both shoulders. “Now get that incredible mind of yours out of here.”

Jeanne lingered for a moment, as if to savor Liz’s reaction. The jester’s grin had gotten so bright, her cheeks started to hurt. She looked towards her colleague and dabbed her eyes, then gave a nod so deep, it was almost a bow. ”Mm!” Jeanne grabbed hold of Elizabeth’s wrists and assured her, the jester’s high-pitched voice full of vigor, ”I won’t let you down, Liz! Ever!”

With the scrolls tucked under her arms, Jeanne bolted out of the smithy, behind the tall grass and the trees, her heart ablaze with purpose.

Liz returned to her task with a similar vigor, however, as she lifted her hammer to bash out the last kink in the steel... she spied an approaching head of blue. Her hammer lowered, along with her mood.

“... You... You have to be joking...”

“Halt!” The same poor, traumatized guardsman that Marcel and Sieg had slipped past went jogging up to stop Miriam and Miranda in their tracks. He sized them up and cleared his throat. “If you want to continue any further, I’ll need to see your papers, citizens.”

Miriam gave Miranda a look then looked past the man. The smuggler spoke up, "Miranda Wavecrest... Wavecrest Shipping. I have business with the smiths."

The guard gave Miranda an unfazed look. "Whoever you are, ma'am, even if you are what you say, I can't let you through without proof of your business signed by the Captain. That's how it's done in Veilbrand."

"What a douche..." Miriam muttered. She then looked around the guard to Liz and called out, "Hey, Liz! Tell your boyfriend to let us though before I knock him out!"

Liz’s face turned pale, her lips tightening into a thin line and her eyes popping with fury. She shook her head slightly at Miriam, warning her not to try it. The guard looked over his shoulder back at her, his brow furrowing.

Miranda sighed. ”Now, my Tempest, let’s be civil..”

”Right, soon as Sir Stick up Ass lets us by I will... Maybe I’ll even buy him one of those Triveilian harness things.”

His eye twitched.

”Babe, please, you’re going to get us in trouble. Please forgive my Girlfriend… she is having a rough day… I’m just trying to get her something nice.”

The guardsman stared at the two women, his pupils shrinking back into his skull.

Something nice... Girlfriend... Triveilian harness... Liz...

Suddenly, his face flushed bright red and he went to shield it with his hand.

“...the record... ke it an official... can’t...” they heard him mumbling under his breath when he waved them on, “Go in, see her. But this is getting reported. Either this business is shut down or these orders aren’t going to be off the record now. Move along. Move.

”See babe? My charm wins every time!”

Miranda just rolled her eyes and pulled Miriam past the poor guard towards Liz and her forge.

“No.” Liz shot as Miriam and Miranda came within earshot, “No. I don’t know how you managed to get past him, or out of your cage, but we don’t do business with you. Leave.”

Miriam blinked at the hostility. ”What the Hell, Liz?”

Miranda looked confused. ”Cage? What are you talking about?”

”Ask your other childhood friend sometime. Shit’s in the past. Whole thing was bullshit anyway...”

Miranda knew it was best to let it go for now so she looked at Liz. ”I don’t know what your problem with my girlfriend is but I’m here to do business. And she stays with me.”

Miranda leaned in closer and whispered to Liz darkly, ”Much of these supplies you have are because of MY ships so back off my girlfriend unless you want to find your supplies given to a friendlier blacksmith…”

Liz tilted her head, her brow twitching.

“Ships? You must be a Wavecrest,” she muttered, then hissed with venom beneath the clamor of metal, “That may have been the case when we were stationed in Arklay, but working at an Egruus sanctioned smith has its benefits. Most of the supplies here come from Veilbrand’s own resources. Consider us self-reliant.”

She tossed her head back to Miriam, giving her a hard glare.

“I don’t work with those who murder our own.”

Miriam growled. "I guess you were too busy making swords for Egruus goons to hear that Your Golden Knight acquitted me of those false charges... But this is not the place to talk about this, is it, Liz? Unless you really want that..." Not waiting for an answer, Miriam turned to Miranda and in a low voice said, "Something happened before you joined us, something best talked about with The Maiden later... but that woman we met on the road, she made it look like I killed someone... in order to cause just what is happening now."

“Woman? What woman? You can’t avert blame, you aimed for his head! The intent was -” Liz was suddenly cut off by a note being pressed into her hand. Reluctantly, she gave it a read, and all the color drained from her.

“... North-east from here there is a stump with a carved rat. The password is ‘Rodents burrow out the back’,” she whispered, before shooting Miriam a scowl, “Somebody doesn’t want their investment going to waste, it seems.”

Miranda was still a bit in shock but manage to compose herself and usher Miriam along before she could say something Miriam-like. The two made their way in silence until Miranda said, "It may be best if we don't go to Quinn with this."


Miriam just nodded. "Agreed..."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Regene "Jeanne" Rhamnus Character Portrait: Marcel Starr Character Portrait: Miriam Gale Character Portrait: Miranda Wavecrest Character Portrait: Sieghardt Val Lohengrin
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When Marcel and Sieg arrived at the stump, it took some time to figure out the password only by recalling Liz’s words. But they managed and the hidden trapdoor slid open, inviting them down wooden ladder. Marcel slipped down with ease, while Sieg required a bit of a yank to get him through the opening. Beneath the ground, Sieg’s head grazed the ceiling.

The smiths’ new hideout was practically identical to their old abode, if not more cramped. The walls were still decorated in weapons of ridiculous design and fascinating detail, mixed with sensible firearms. A chimney for air led up above ground – the keen eye could determine that it was disguised within the stump. Despite all the bizarre and colorful displays on the walls, the most eye catching design in the room belonged to an Ancient Triveilan styled suit of armor. Silver plate and bright blue, with a shark, trident, and an intricate wave design being carved into its torso.

“Yeah, yeah, be with you in a minute...” came a muttering from a shadow behind the armor as Sieg and Marcel approached. Marcel glanced around at the gaudy... art... pieces as they waited, his brow furrowing with mild concern for what he was seeing. Finally, two angular amber eyes peered out from behind the armor, and Earnest immediately bounced up. “Oh!”

Carelessly tossing his utensils aside, he charged over to his customers. “You're the Maiden’s crew! What can I do for you? Orders? Anything interest you on the rack?” His attention jerked between the two of them, his bun wobbling with each sharp toss of his head. “Did the Maiden look through my designs on the road? Was there anything she liked?”

"Ahhhh..." Marcel trailed off, immediately recalling Quinn dumping a large armful of papers into the campfire. Looking around the room now, he couldn't exactly blame her. He gave Earnest a sympathetic smile. "... I'm sure she found something she would... wear? Have you tried anything with pearls? She likes pearls." Earnest's eyes lit up and he immediately began jotting notes down on a little pad of paper from his pocket.

Sieg approached the Triveilan suit of steel, cloth, and mail, the pieces arranged in a T-shaped armor stand. His eyes wandered to the embossing, and he immediately knew for whom it was meant for. The knight turned his head as Earnest stepped out from behind the suit, excitement palpable in the latter’s voice.

The knight acknowledged the blacksmith with a wordless look for a moment, then directed his attention towards the other arsenal on display, propped upon racks and plaques by the wall. His brows furrowed, seeing props rather than weapons, fit for a stage play or a gladiatorial match rather than the battlefield. Not a blade was complete without embellishments, exaggerations, and ornamentations that would hinder rather than help. Though even he had to admit, privately… He would take home a piece or two. For display purposes.

Sieg glanced over his shoulder towards Earnest, and asked, ”These designs. You did commissions for nobles before the Revolution?”

Earnest snorted with disdain. “Still do.”

He scanned over the walls and gestured to a sword that looked as if it should belong to an angel, wings and all. It was beautiful, but could never be used for a real battle. Not with the delicate golden vines and steel roses that wrapped around its blade.

“They don’t deserve it, but it’s the only use Liz can find for them,” he grumbled, “Getting the revolution funds earned from the purses of nobility. Feel dirty just thinking it. Whatever Liz tells you, nothing here was designed to be ‘fit for nobility’.” Earnest let out a short huff, blowing the curls out of his face. “Only thought that lets me deal with it is that when the mansions come toppling, my work goes back to deserving hands.” Sieg looked to him with easing brows. These pieces were not merely the indulgence of a mad artist. And for that, he breathed out a silent sigh of relief.

The knight continued to look over the collection, until a silvery glint caught his eye. He froze in an instant, dark blue eyes staring down a basket-hilt blade. The guard had been weaved into an intricate pattern, evoking the image of a hawk in flight.

...A hawk.

His mind wandered, towards another time, another place.




The sun had risen, but not yet shined. A cold dawn shrouded by morning mist. A hillside village built on Veilbrand’s borders, settled by shepherds, drunkards, and nobles who had fallen out of favor with the Mad King. Weeks away from Valoc. From Egruus and his decadence.

Two knights walked down the long path, a behemoth of a man, and another reaching just below his chest. The first encased in iron and mail, the second in a wide-brimmed hat and gray coat which swayed against the breeze. A chorus of bleats greeted the two as they traveled, the larger knight staring straight ahead while his partner looked left and right to admire the herd.

”Sieg! Hey, Sieg! My word, look at all that fluff! So... white and pure...“ the second knight commented.
Sieg continued onwards, his lumbering form rustled with every step. ”I can’t, Ashton. It'll just make me wish I had mutton for breakfast.”

Ashton dismissed with a wave, his hands covered in bandages from the wrist to the tips of his fingers. ”I swear, your stomach is the only thing you ever think about.”

The elder knight shrugged. He peeked over his shoulder, a mischievous twinkle shining through the slit of his armet. ”Not true. I think of Shaharan dancers as well. Their stomachs are very nice.”

The younger knight scoffed in response. ”Ha! Like the foreign dignitaries we met at House Kruger? As if you have a chance in hell with them!” He pointed to his colleague’s eye level and japed, ”Besides, I saw them first~”

A herd of sheep passed them, and all was quiet but for the wind and Sieg's armor. Ashton tugged at his collar and lowered his voice. ”So. Our new liege. The Heiress of Castillo. Do you she’ll be a cute one?”

Before Sieg could answer, a high-pitched shriek rang ahead. “INSOLENT WENCH!”

A shattering noise followed. The two knights looked to each other, then hastened their steps.

Under the shadow of a stone-built manor, one man stood over his maid. Clad in a scarlet tunic and overcoat, with golden embroidery on the hems. His face was gaunt and pale, with dark eyes and a curly wig which (in Sieg’s eyes) brought to mind a heap of charred cannoli.

“You dare refuse me? I am the lord of this manor! YOUR lord!”

The maid shielded her face, her pure white apron stained with soil and dirt. “Please sir! Like I said, my betrothed-”
The noble held his hand aloft, primed for a backhand, “Talking back to me now?! Know your place, worm!” The noble brought down his hand. The maid turned away and shut her eyes, bracing for impact.

An ironclad gauntlet snatched the noble’s wrist. His hand came to a halt. The man whipped his head around and snapped, “Unhand me, you big-”

Sieg’s towering form stood before him, blotting out the rising sun. The noble’s face was drained of blood, and his jaws hung open as he gawked. The knight’s growl rumbled through his visor, his grip tight as a vice. ”That wasn’t very nice.”

Sweat trickled down the noble’s temple. His lips twitched into a scowl, then parted to protest, “This is none of your business, Sir Knight! Whose House do you serve?! Let me go at once, and perhaps I’ll refrain from writing them a strongly-worded let-” Sieg’s other palm pressed against the noble’s chest, then shoved him hard against the manor’s wall, his whimpers drowned by the thunderous thud that ensued.

Ashton slid towards the maid to help her up, then glanced to the noble with an amused gaze, ”Nice, nice. Mouth off to the seven-foot tall giant, won’t you? Truly, you blue-bloods are shining beacons of wisdom.” Ashton gave a slight nod, the brim of his hat shading his eyes, but not the frown which formed underneath. ”Alright, Sieg, I think he’s had enough.”

The noble’s beady black eyes betrayed his terror as he stared into the slit of Sieg’s visor. The knight's eyes were white with rage, hot blood coursing through his veins. His head felt light, as if he could do anything. Everything. This noble was soft. The flesh of a man who never had to work a day in his life. He wouldn't even need to try. His mind roared at him to crush, and crumple, to release the fountain of scarlet inside him. It would be such a pretty shade of red…

”Sir Lohengrin, put him down!”

A woman’s voice. Unwavering and clear as a bell despite the distance. A voice that turned Sieghardt’s head in an instant. A voice, free of fear or doubt. The knight withdrew his hands. The noble fell to the earth with a groan, and immediately resumed his protests. All of which fell on deaf ears, for Sieg's attention had shifted towards those eyes. Green, like the clear seas of the South. How they shined, even from the horizon. Even with the sun behind her.

She returned his gaze as she approached. The blonde locks which framed her freckle-dusted face danced with the wind. A pure white blazer adorned her, accented with black and lavender. White-heeled boots tapped against the grass, but any noise they made was drowned out by the wind. She held her head high, but not far, to look at the knight, and not down upon him.

He blinked first. She smiled.

...And it was a smile he would never forget, for the rest of his days.




Sieg remained silent for a scant few more seconds. He looked up, then eyed Earnest from his peripherals. ”I need a weapon that can fight the Te’i Sai.”

The knight folded his arms to consider. ”Long, to outrange their knives. Versatile, to counter every move. And fast. Faster than my greatsword, but just as strong.”

Sieg looked over his shoulder, towards a set of polearms displayed up high. ”A halberd.” The knight turned to Earnest, then took one step closer. Standing so close, the shirtless fellow seemed more boulder than man.

”I want it practical. Functional. Embellish as much as you want. Just make sure it’s a weapon.” The knight lowered his brows. ”Not an art piece.”

Sieg stepped back, arms folded over his chest. “I will need it for Valoc. I can trade in my greatsword. Plus expenses. Is this reasonable?”

Earnest looked unsure whether he should shuffle backwards as the knight loomed over him, but when Sieg stepped back and finished giving his order the blacksmith’s uncertain posture melted away. His chest puffed out proudly and he gave the knight a fervent nod before taking three leap-like steps to his desk.

“That zweihander you had on you... simple, strong make. Good base.” Earnest shot his fragmented thoughts over his shoulder as he plucked the pen from his hair and immediately scribbling down ideas. Sheets of designs fell from the desk as they were disturbed. So near to a forge, it was quite the hazard. “I’m going to need a new mold for this...” He scribbled several seconds more then scrunched the drawing up into a ball and tossed it over his shoulder into the forge. Earnest turned back to Sieg. “A weapon like this would usually run you about fifteen silver. With the trade, I can bring that price down to – I’ll put that at six and ten copper. And you know what? Shipping to Valoc is on the house. Maiden’s benefits!"

Sieg had stared at the blacksmith all this time, with the occasionally blink, but never a turn. It was only when Earnest finished that his brows arched downwards and he nodded, ”My thanks, Master Smith.” The knight reached for the coinpurse inside his pocket, and counted.

“I hope you can spare to be as generous with me,” Marcel’s said smoothly, propping the shield up he’d just nearly prodded over. Before Earnest could voice concern, Marcel bounded over. “Let’s have a gander,” he mused, perusing the wall, “I’m looking for something simple that won’t make my lady jealous. You got anything up your sleeves that can... uhhh... slip up a sleeve?”

Earnest pulled open the draw beneath his desk, scooping up its contents and spreading them out over the desk. He shuffled through the jumble of pens, fans, combs and jewelry, occasionally picking up an item and revealing the blade within or hidden in plain sight. “You hear that anything can become a weapon,” Earnest enthused, “I improve on that.”

Marcel looked over the sneaky, dishonest selection of paraphernalia with a barely disguised grimace. With a heavy sigh, he slipped on a knuckleduster from the pile. His fingers flexed as he regarded it, then gave a nod and peeled off his gloves to hide the knuckledusters beneath them. “How much?”

Earnest looked a slight disappointed that Marcel hadn’t picked one of less conventional weapons. “Those two just come to forty copper.”

“Beauty. And while I’m here, I’m thinking -”

Tap, tap, tap.

On the far corner of the workshop, Jeanne hopped off the ladder to land on her feet. A maroon satchel hung by her waist, hastily-folded scrolls peeking out under the flap. The scarlet-haired jester waved at the three already inside, then jogged towards Earnest, who appeared excited to see her again. ”Ernie, Ernieee! You’re just as stout as we left you!”

"And you're just as small," Earnest returned pleasantly.

Jeanne stopped beside Marcel, then looked around, her smile rising even higher when she met swordsman’s gaze, before whipping back to Ernie. Jeanne inquired, with starry eyes and a gasp, ”You brought the entire collection with you?”

"Of course," he boasted with a smug smile, planting his hands on his hips, "Where else was it going to go?"

Her eyes cast off to the side as she attempted to imagine just how Ernie arranged such a transport. A secret underground passage? Connections among the Nobility? Magic?

Jeanne gave a vigorous shook of the head. Focus, Jeanne, focus! She turned back towards Earnest and snatched his wrists with her hands, silky to the touch and quite unlike a craftsman’s hands. ”I need a workspace! A table, a forge, a set of tools … a-and some scrap! I have a weapon design that may require a liiiiittle bit of trial and error!”

The jester stood on her toes, peered over Earnest’s shoulder, and pointed, ”How about that one, by the rack of longswords?”

Earnest beamed. "Right! Let me clean it for you." He hurried to clear the table, completely forgetting his customer in the wake of Jeanne's arrival. "You can help yourself to anything from this side of the forge! What've you got in mind?"

Jeanne froze up, a droplet of sweat beading upon her temple. Her grin pulled back to flash pearl-like teeth as she let out a nervous chuckle, ”Ehee, well… it’s a gun.”

Earnest stopped in his tracks, his shoulders sinking.

The jester held up one finger as she moved to help the bladesmith. ”But! It isn’t just any gun! It’s outfitted with a special wheel-like mechanism which, if my calculations are correct, will cut down reloading time by 90 percent.”

With a sweep, Jeanne chucked scraps of worn leather into a nearby bin, then turned her head towards Earnest, brows arching downwards to complement her cat-like smile. ”Minimum!”

Sieg watched the two smiths interact, one brow raised at Jeanne’s pitch.

The jester looked to the forge, to the flecks of embers which danced away from its surface. Her smile softened, and her green eyes took on an orange hue as they reflected the warmth of the smithy. ”If… if I succeed, it will ease the burdens of so many. My Pardenaire, the Mademoiselle... her revolution.”

Jeanne took a deep breath, then exhaled into a nod. She reached for a nearby pair of gloves, thick cowhide blackened by soot and age, and fixed them on each hand.

"If it helps the revolution, there's no arguing with that..." Earnest sighed, before giving her a stern look, "But you better not start teaming up with Liz next time she tries dismissing the work I do around here!"

Jeanne’s lips were straight as a line as she looked from Earnest, to his collections, and back again. A mischievous smile formed on her face as she replied, ”Ernie, you’ve never seen what I wear on most days, haven’t you?” The jester reached into her satchel and tugged at a pair of red and black cloth tails, revealing the button-eyed grin of her hat. ”My days in the circus gave me an appreciation for… “ Jeanne’s brows wiggled for emphasis. "...extravaganza.

Miriam and Miranda made their way into the secret forge. Adjusting their eyes to the underground light they soon could make out that most of the group was hanging out in the small room.

”Quite the party…” Miriam said as she entered the forge. Both Miranda and Miriam eyed Earnest, wondering if he like his sister would give them a cold reception.

"Hey Shark!" Marcel chided with a little wave around Sieg's frame. "Heyyyy... Captain Shark." Sieg caught them from the corner of his eyes, and nodded in greeting, his glare still focused on Earnest. The smith was there when Miriam allegedly killed that demagogue, Ian. Sieg shifted closer between the bladesmith and the two women, widened his stance and pressed his feet against the earth. Just in case.

Jeanne slipped her hat back into her bag, shot her arm up high, then waved, Bonjouuuur!" The Miras approached, and Jeanne turned to Miriam, with palms pressed together, ”Say, Miriam, what would you do with your old armor once you make the switch? ” The jester dashed towards the armor stand gleaming with silver and blue, then rapped her knuckles against the breastplate. Two solid, metallic thunks followed. ”These sound quite a bit heavier than that studded leather garb you’ve got.”

"I haven't really thought about it..." Miriam said as she moved over to the new armor, "It is everything I hoped it would be."

Miriam admired the armor and Miranda gave a little playful huff. "I'm starting to get jealous over here..."

Earnest stared at Miriam the whole while. Then he looked back to the trio that had already been in his presence, pointing at the blue-headed gladiator and asking quite bluntly, "Is she supposed to be free?"

Both of the Miras heard Earnest question and frowned. Did anyone trust Miriam anymore? Miriam sighed, her hand a fist, and Miranda gave Earnest a glare before wrapping Miriam in a hug. Marcel gave Earnest a shrug with his arms in the shape of a W from behind the embracing women. "Maybe we should go try your new armor on?" Miranda suggested.

"Is it ready?" Miriam asked, looking to Jeanne.

"Oh HO?" A very offended, disbelieving sound came from behind them. Earnest's palm was held up flat, his eyes shut and brow furrowed as an agitated smile twitched at his lips. "Did I just hear... oof, lady. You're here, so I'm guessing you got away with stomping out that snake's light. More power to you. But you don't just... and you did just... mmf!" He pressed his fist against his mouth, struggling to find the words to portray just how his passions had been insulted by Miriam's misdirected attentions without sounding downright hostile. "It is ready," he at last declared, keeping his tone civil but his death glare on, "I, the one who cut, tanned, dyed, hammered, wielded and engraved it into everything you hoped it would be, know this - because I'm the armorer. Who did all that. So you could be armored. And..." he slowed his words, trying to stifle the pride in them, "Look... gorgeous."

Earnest took in a deep breath to calm himself. His face was red from the effort it had taken him to not shout, like in a row with his sister. "You can change through that door," he let out on exhale. Jeanne reached out to pat Earnest’s shoulder and gave a drawn-out sigh, ”Miriam… I did not work on a single strap of that armor.” The jester’s lips twitched into a frown. ”I have no idea where I would even start!”

"Of course, all credit to whom credit is due,” Miriam said as she grabbed up the armor.

Miranda turned to Earnest and said. ”I’ll have you know my Tempest looks gorgeous in whatever she wears.” Then with a smirk and wink she added, ”Or whatever she doesn’t wear!”

”Miranda please!” Miriam begged, her face bright red.

Miranda just grinned wickedly and pushed Miriam into the other room. ”See you in a few hours!” Miranda said, winking as she closed the door behind them.

Earnest stared after the lovers, his eyes goggling and cheeks rapidly increasing in pigment. Jeanne gawked on, her jaw almost loose enough to collapse to the floor, while Sieg’s glare did not budge. ”Hours,” the knight repeated. His eyes flicked over to the bladesmith, unimpressed. ”Hope you left nothing fragile inside.” A squeak escaped Earnest's gaping mouth. Marcel just quirked an amused brow and whistled.

"Is it just me, or does the Shark seem happier lately?" he chimed "innocently", cracking an unfazed grin.

The jester tugged her chin back in place, looked from Sieg, to Marcel, then back to the door of the changing room. She gulped and spoke, her voice set to a whisper, ”I-I swear, they never stop…”

Jeanne’s entire body shuddered into a cringe. She bit down her lip, searching her mind for the right word…

”Fornicating?” Sieg blurted out.

Jeanne nearly jumped up, then shot the knight a dirty look. He raised one brow, the rest of his face still as stone.

The jester exhaled, then whipped her head back to the door. ”...Yeah. That. She turned towards her workbench, eyes darting from one diagram to the next. ”Ahem! Anyway, I should get to work while there’s still daylight to be had.”

At the mention of work, Earnest snapped out of his paralysis. His mouth snapped shut and his eyes bulged not with disbelief, but anger. His fists clenched, he stomped over to the door and slammed his boot against it. "LADIES," he roared, his face burning red, "IF YOU'RE NOT OUT WITHIN THE HOUR, I AM COMING IN THERE! I FIND ONE STAIN AND YOU'RE POLISHING EVERY BLADE AND BARREL IN HERE UNTIL I SEE THEIR SHINE FROM MOUNT SIIRA!" He just stood there silently heaving for a moment, then gave the door an extra kick.

Sieg nodded towards the smiths to excuse himself, then made his way towards the ladder, eager to taste fresh air again. Marcel gave the knight a casual salute as he made his way out, before calmly approaching Earnest with the intent to quell the shaking man.

"Mister Atwood, please, haven't you ever been in love?" Marcel cooed as he placed his hands on Earnest's shoulders and directed him away from the door. Earnest huffed and folded his arms, his nose deepening two shades. "I still have business with you," Marcel continued as he walked Earnest to the furthest corner from the unseen action, "See, I'm in the market for some protection, but I haven't managed to charm any old men into funding it for me - not like our party's darling, over there." He turned Earnest around and shot him a beguiling smile, "You reckon we can work something out here?"

Setting

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Character Portrait: Red-Eyed Demon Character Portrait: Sieghardt Val Lohengrin
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Sieg’s head jut out of the hollowed stump, like a mole on a prowl. He scanned the area with a couple turns of the head, before deeming the coast clear and climbing out, his feet back on the grass. The mountain breeze swept over him, and he closed his eyes to inhale. The chill brought warmth to the knight’s bosom, along with the memories of distant laughter and childhood spent in these mountains. Training. Surviving. Stumbling down the mountainside. He had not the chance to dwell on it, but… after so long, he was finally home. Sieg took one step forward, and marched.

Just need to clear out the pest.

Sieg walked by the tree line, the quiet undisturbed by his steps. He raised a hand to brush against the foliage, content as the leaves caress his fingers. His eyes narrowed as they picked out a silhouette between the trees. Human. Broad-shouldered. Male. The knight’s steps slowed, until they came to a halt, recognizing the spiky hair backlit by the sky.

”It’s you,” Sieg spoke out in acknowledgement.

He folded his arms over his chest, and inhaled. A wordless moment passed between them, with only the wind to stave off the silence. The knight relaxed his brows as he exhaled, ”I didn’t get a chance back then. Too many conflicting thoughts.” Sieg lowered his head, more than a nod, but less than a bow. ”But I want to thank you. For coming to our rescue.”

The knight’s perpetual glare remained locked upon Kyero, with not even a blink to break it. ”Didn’t much like the thought of slowly starving to death.”

The Red-Eyed Demon, known now by name as Kyero, stood tall in the gap between trees ahead of Sieg.

"... You are welcome."

Kyero was calm and silent, his face betraying very little real emotion for a few seconds. However, shortly afterwards, he let out a sigh and then shifted to bear a smile.

"Your name is Sieg, correct?"

Sieg gave a curt nod. ”That’s right.” His dark eyes stared down Kyero’s smile as he moved one step closer, ”That other Demon. She claimed credit for your crimes. Your misdeeds. Like the massacre at the tunnels.” The knight raised one brow and continued, ”Just how much of your accomplishments are the truth, and how much are mere whispers?”

A pause. Sieg shook his head, then specified, ”Your campaign against the Te’i Sai. I presume that much is true. I assume your Second, Linde, learnt how to fight them from you.”

Kyero's smile faltered for the briefest instant. However, Sieg's sharp eyes would have caught the momentary flicker of his left cheek. The subtle twitch from smile to frown and back, indicating irritation and/or contempt. However, Kyero maintained the smile afterwards.

"I don't know how much of the deeds attributed to me belong to her, but I know that I am responsible for approximately half the deeds I'm known for. The rest is either her doing or fabrication by Te'i Sai for the purpose of making my legacy even greater."

He took a breath, glancing out in the direction of Cre' Est to the North.

"... I did teach her to fight Te'i Sai. Their combat strategies and favored techniques and combat patterns. The serum makes them powerful enough that routines and practices movements are enough. But they never learn to fight."

He looked back to Sieg.

"Not really."

Sieg’s brows furrowed, and despite a blink, Kyero’s words seemed to have drawn his full attention. ”You’re saying they’re predictable. That the serum is their crutch.” The knight flashed back to his fight with Miriam. Faster than most opponents he faced. Strong enough to cut steel with arming blades. A crutch it may be, but troublesome enough to matter.

The knight unfolded his arms and stood straight, like a great oak which had weathered centuries. ”I haven’t forgot. I came here to find you. To fight you. The Red-Eyed Demon of Legend.” He leaned closer, his stony face concealing surprise at how close they were in height. ”I am not good enough. Not yet. And there are matters more pressing than my selfish desires.”

Sieg gave a slow nod. ”The Mad Tyrant, Egruus. He has the Te’i Sai in his ranks. Wind blows. Rain falls. The strong preys on the weak. Just like nature, running into them again is inevitable.”

Sieg leaned forward and pointed with one calloused hand. ”I want you to teach me. Their routines, their patterns, their techniques. If I am to fight them, then I must understand them. I must be able to defeat them.”

Kyero stared Sieg down as he approached. And despite the smile he held on his face his eyes were stone cold. As Sieg spoke of fighting him, calling him the Red-Eyed Demon of Legend, Kyero's eyes narrowed ever so slightly and his jaw set slightly more. But as Sieg spoke of wishing to know how to fight and defeat them, Kyero's eyes closed and the smile seemed to become a bit more... Genuine.

"... I can teach you, but not yet."

His eyes opened.

"We are too close to civilization to train for combating the likes of them. I need more room to move as they do for demonstration, and you need more room and open space than this forest can provide for proper retaliation."

He looked towards the village.

"Please exercise patience for the time being. Before I can show you anything I must acquire the Maiden's permission to do so. Once I have it, I will show you all I can in what time we have. And hopefully... The Maiden herself and the others as well will be there to learn alongside you."

He returned his gaze to Sieg, whose eyes never left the assassin.

"No matter how strong I am, I can't be in two places at once. The more of you know how to fight them, the better. And the more techniques you all have at your disposal, the safer you all will be during times when myself or other serum users such as Taira are away." The knight bowed his head in agreement. The Te’i Sai were practically an army, or at least a company. The Demon’s Inner Circle, not so much.

Kyero held out his hand to Sieg, a request for a hand shake.

"I do not believe I ever introduced myself... I am Kyero."

His smile had faded slightly, but he still wore a semblance of it as he held his hand out.

Sieg’s eyes darted towards Kyero’s hand, then back to meet his gaze. The knight reached out to grab his hand. Firm, like clinging to a weapon - or dear life - then shook. ”Kyero. Hmm,” he repeated the name in his head. Not one he’s ever heard of, not Veilbrand, Shaharan, or Cre’ itian. ”Well. I’m feeling peckish. How about you and me head into town for lunch?”

Sieg released Kyero’s hand, and turned his attention towards the tavern. ”A drink or two would be nice, as well.”

Kyero shook Sieg's hand just as firmly as his was shook, meeting the knight's intensity.

"Well met."

Kyero released his hand, and as Sieg offered food and drink Kyero was forced to wave his hand with a shake of his head.

"The Maiden has forbidden me from entering the village. I have no way to hide my-... Hmm..."

He turned partially away, resting his chin in his thumb and index finger in thought.

"Perhaps I could... Yes. I could do that."

He turned to Sieg.

"I will join you on one condition. If it is not too much trouble, could you find me a hooded cloak and a cloth to use as a blindfold? I can tie that around my face and act the part of a blind man. So long as nobody sees my eyes, then it should be safe for me to accompany you."

As if on cue, Kyero's stomach growled.

"... Um... Apologies." Kyero said, clearing his throat.

Sieg blinked once, twice, at the beastly sound from Kyero’s bowels. Even demons hunger, it seems. He dug into his pockets and felt around. Satisfied with the clinking of coins that followed, the knight walked first. ”Right. I’ll be back.”

A moment later, Sieg returned, a drab cloak in one hand and a strip of crimson cloth in the other. And those were not all he purchased. A pair of work boots, and a new shirt, his sculpted form still showing through the off-white fabric. ”Less conspicuous this way. For both of us,” Sieg stated.

With their new garbs, the two head into town, eager to sate their appetite.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Quinn Xe' Duzelle
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The newly christened Josephine Dezantro sat in a corner of the tavern with a glass of Manson and Rhulas, listening to the ruckus coming from the private dining room. The guffaws and shouting surely helped cover up the tortured cries sounding from below. Quinn inspected her attire for blood for the third time, as if stains would bubble to the surface. See, nothing is there. Stop fidgeting. She lifted the glass to draw another sip, when a shadow fell over her.

"Hitting the hard stuff this early, doe-eyes?" came a gruff voice that Quinn turned her cold, remarkably un-doe-like eyes towards. She immediately recognized the armor of the man standing over her table as that of Egruus' charge. His face sported a smug grin and the scruff of a reddish brown beard. Quinn glared into his lazy blue eyes and tossed her head away without a word. The guard sat down on the seat opposite hers with a whomp, and a presence like he owned the table. "Here, have a smoke on me," he grunted, offering the pipe he had drawn. "That stuff's not good for your figure." Without waiting for an answer, the guardsman slid her bottle slowly across the table to his side. Quinn glowered at the man all the while, finishing off her glass without a flinch. With a shrug, the man lit the pipe and took a draw himself.

"Excuse me sir, could you please smoke o..." the innkeep stopped his protest as the guard shifted in his seat to reveal the weapon at his side. "... Call for me if there's anything I can do for you," the innkeep corrected himself and hurried back to the bar. Quinn folded her arms and gave the guard a harsh, disgusted look.

"You're an arse," she spat after a moment, to which the guard only smirked.

"I'm in character," he said, bringing the pipe back to his lips. Quinn lunged over and snatched the pipe away. The guard froze, his eyes shut with agitation. Quinn took her bottle back.

"What do you call yourself, stranger?" she asked with a swig.

"Elias Kruger," he introduced himself, gesturing for her to share the booze, "I didn't catch your name, ma'am."

Quinn graciously handed the bottle over and declared mockingly with a flourish of her hand, "Josephine Dezantro."

"How have you been finding your travels through Veilbrand, Miss Josephine?"

"Well," Quinn began with a deep inhale, "I had some trouble through the southern pass, quite unusual given the temperament of the bandits there, a trial fell in my favor, my recent business dealings with the Wavecrests brought us closer than anticipated... and..." she glanced away, her voice lowered to a grumble, "... Yes, I have it." The guardsman gave a slow, pondering nod. Quinn shot him an accusatory glare. "What I find most remarkable is the trial. It isn't every day that a jury of twelve witnesses choose to believe a conspiracy over their own eyes." A wry smile crossed the guardsman's face. Quinn grimaced. "You just looove the angry ones, don't you?"

"Anger is just passion with nowhere to go," the guardsman reasoned casually. Quinn snorted.

"There is much more to tell," she admitted, eyeing the movement of the guard's fingers on the bottle, "Much more than the tapping of your finger will allow for. To what did I owe this pleasure?"

The guardsman slipped an envelope from beneath his cuirass and into her hand. "It's all in there," he said, standing from his seat and picking up his confiscated pipe, "My brigade is headed to Valoc now, as most of Veilbrand's forces are."

"So I've heard," Quinn muttered bitterly. Before the guardsman could get too far from her, she stood up. "I need word sent to Strathmore that I was wrong," she blurted. The guardsman stopped in his tracks. Quinn sucked up her pride and elaborated. Reluctantly. "He... came back."

The guardsman turned his head back, lifting a brow. "Which one?"

Quinn blinked in confusion, feeling her ears heat for no apparent reason. "Both of them."

The guardsman's lips curled up in a smug expression that screamed 'told you so'. Quinn couldn't help but feel her temper flare.

"See you in Valoc, kid," he said, and slunk out the door. Quinn slumped back down in her seat, blushing and frustrated to find that he had stolen her bottle.

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

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