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Avalon's Dawn

Avalon's Dawn

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<Arc One Complete> The king is a good man gone too far. The wizard has an agenda. The world could use a little saving. The members of Avalon's Dawn are nobody's noble knights in shining armor. But maybe they don't have to be.

2,903 readers have visited Avalon's Dawn since Kurokiku created it.
Talisman are listed as curators, giving them final say over any conflict & the ability to clean up mistakes.

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Introduction

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Times are changing in Albion.

For the first time in centuries, the ruling dynasty has been overthrown, replaced with a revolutionary, an idealist with plans to change the world. Artorias the Hero-King is as far from the corrupt, lazy monarchs of old as it is possible to be, and he has but one goal in mind: purge the world of its festering scum, starting with the lowlives and the criminals.

Unfortunately for some, it looks like the members of Avalon's Dawn, an adventurers' guild made up of members various and sundry, willing to hire out for just about any kind of job, somehow made his blacklist. The Guildmaster, the wizard Myrddin, prepares his subordinates and comrades to flee on the mighty airship Elysium, to take to the sky and escape to the one refuge they have left: Deluge, the decadent metropolis of opulence and sin. When the king's soldiers come for them, they will take wing, guided by Myrddin's will even in the absence of his presence.

What none of them yet know is that there is so much more to their future than a struggle to keep their lives and their freedom. For Myrddin has plans, and, whatever they were expecting, it probably wasn't this.



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Welcome to Avalon's Dawn, a steampunk-style roleplay with Arthurian and fantasy twists.

The story enters around some of the members of the eponymous guild. They come from all walks of life, several different races and economic backgrounds, but in some way or another, their circumstances all led them to the Guild. Avalon's Dawn takes all kinds, because there's no telling if a client will need a warrior, an engineer, a scholar, or a mage. Under the watchful eye of Myrddin the Wizard, they have honed their respective talents and made names for themselves in a bustling, thriving world. Players will be taking on the role of one or two such guild-brothers and sisters, as they are forced to flee their headquarters in the grand city of Galatea for the dangers of the Sand Ocean and the equitorial crossing to the city of Deluge in the south.

What none of them have yet realized is that events have already been set into motion. Myrddin claims that their choices will make them heroes, and some of them believe him. Others would rather just make it out with their lives still intact. Either way, they're all along for the ride, and quite a ride it will be. Ancient artifacts, giant colossi, dragons, and the unraveling of a delicately-spun web of lies and deceit. What they do with this information is entirely up to them, and that is cold comfort for the fate of the world, all things considered.




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Gwendolyn Skybound, an outgoing, talented engineer and captain of the airship Elysium.
Percy Galath, Myrddin's young, Mutatio apprentice with a penchant for history.
#9 "Mordecai", an automaton crafted by a master of the trade, slowly attaining independence.
Lohengrin, an immature youth with a sharp tongue and a big secret.
Kethyrian Tor, a Favisae refugee and healer with a glacial bedside manner.
Sven Diederich, a former soldier with a towering presence and a gruff demeanor.
Theon Zeona, a desert raider and a scryer too accustomed to being used.
Vivian Zeona, a bright young warrior with a skewed moral compass.
Diomache Castillo, a good-natured thief who goes where life takes her.
Artorias Pendragon, the ousted king of Avalon.


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The Story

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Characters Present

Character Portrait: Percy Galath Character Portrait: Mordecai Character Portrait: Kethyrian Tor Character Portrait: Theon Zeona Character Portrait: Vivian Zeona Character Portrait: Eli Noir

Earnings

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Prologue: To the Skies


The uniform clang of metal boots striking stone pavement was the overwhelming bassline to the melody of this early morning in Galatea, and beneath its onslaught, the trebles and harmonies of hawkers crying their wares fell to near silence. The streets cleared before the advancing platoon, each one’s uniform pressed and polished to a striking picture of dignified violence. Each wore a clockwork rifle over one shoulder, and carried a broad-bladed saber at his hip, the silver shine of pommel, scabbard, barrel and armor a striking counterpoint to the hunter-green of their uniforms.

For hunters they were. The coloration gave them away to the savvy as an elite unit, fifty men strong, designed and trained for specialized combat operations against unconventional foes. Artorias would not meet mercenaries with a proper army; he was far too clever for that. Their orders were clear: the Purge was to continue, and this time, it was Avalon’s Dawn that would surrender or face death. The Guild, though powerful and influential under the leadership of the wizard Myrddin, was small in number, and many of its members were noncombatants. It was not to be an issue for fifty of the King’s Viper Regiment. And each of them was confident that it wouldn’t be.

The cacophony died in their wake, the other denizens of the market streets during the early morning hours slowly filing out from their hiding places and resuming their business. It wasn’t that most looked poorly upon the Hero-King- quite the opposite. But Artorias and his methods were the result of a man much better than most taking a position where he was forced to confront the imperfection of others, and unfortunately, he seemed to take it for granted that this imperfection could be rectified in the same way he quashed his own: through strict military discipline and the enforcement of a code with stringent demands on personal conduct. The King’s Law was something, most thought, that it would take some getting used to.

But the march of the Vipers continued apace, and would not be halted. The heavy thudding of greaves on the streets was the only sound they made, and it rang authoritative down every alley and byway they crossed. The building they approached was a small tower, the center of its own modest district in the city, and the reaction here was much different. Those who lived in the shadows of the Avalon Spire were a hardier bunch, and none retreated, several glaring at the intruders with open hostility. None made to stop them, however, as these were those fighters long past their days as mercenaries, or those who had let to earn their stripes, and there was nothing they could do.

At least, not directly. When a gnarled hand moved to his shoulder, a young boy nodded, face set into a scowl, and clambered up the nearest drainpipe, hauling himself onto the roof with graceless resolve. Running over the rooftops was easily the most efficient way to traverse Galatea, with its narrow, winding roads and many canals, and as he scrambled from building to building, he quickly outstripped the deliberate marching of the soldiers, taking a last running jump to catch onto a windowsill with a grunt of effort. The window was open, as it always was, and he fell from it into a crouch, wiping the back of his forehead with one grimy hand, then thinking better of it and using his tattered shirt instead. He was off again shortly after, shouting his little lungs out. “53! 53! Code fifty-three!” He banged on as many doors as he could manage in his mad sprint to the wizard’s office, probably succeeding in waking a good number of the Guild members from their rest in their tower apartments. That was, after all, the point.

Code 53, as the high number might indicate, was a recently-invented shorthand for ‘the appearance of military elements, probably hostile.’

Without so much as a knock, he burst into Myrddin’s office, only to see the kindly old man behind his desk, flanked by his apprentice the deer-man and the scary-looking machine-man. “’S them Vipers, sir!” he yelled, not precisely in control of his volume, given the amount of adrenaline coursing through his veins.

Myrddin didn’t look all that surprised. He turned first to his apprentice, speaking low, but urgently. “Percy, take anyone you can find and get out of here. Make for the Elysium and leave.” They had known this was likely to happen eventually, and as a result, he’d posted Captain Skybound, Lieutenant Deidrich, and the Guild’s goblin artificer Gorlak on the ship, ready for immediate departure at the drop of a hat. He’d expected to have at least two more days, though. Gritting his teeth, he decided he was going to have to change the plan a little. “Mordecai. Engage protocol thirteen. Go with them. I will hold the King's men off for as long as I can.” It hadn’t been his intention to send the Automaton with the others, but as Mordecai was the only one with certain pieces of information that they’d need to know, it would have to be done.

A few floors down, the Guild secretary on the first floor dropped her morning cup of tea when the tower door was struck with force, the sound thundering through the receiving hall and startling all present. The tinkle of the delicate ceramic shattering on the stone floor was inaudible over the shouts of the Vipers’ captain, demanding access to the building.

"Engaging protocol thirteen," Mordecai replied immediately, starting forward at what was best described as a brisk walking pace. He scooped up the child in one arm on his way out the door, ignoring the young human's protests at being so handled. With one hand, he swung the youth gently as he was able over his back, waiting patiently until he caught on and wrapped his small arms around the golem's neck. "This unit suggests that you hold on tightly, young Master," he cautioned, giving a space of 3.5 seconds for compliance before he took off into a breakneck run. Well, perhaps the speed would have been "breakneck" by ordinary standards, but for an automaton, it was hardly peak efficiency.

Protocol thirteen was one of his more complex command sequences, and the first part involved getting as many Guild members out of the tower safely as possible. Several already appeared to be trying to evacuate out a window, probably one the boy had come through, and Mordecai did some internal calculations before coming to a dead halt. He'd be ten percent more likely to survive if he accompanied them. Very well. Handing the child off to one of the departing group, he continued down the stairs to the recieving hall, where the staff were arming themselves and getting behind wooden tables and the like even as the hinges on the door started to groan under the pressure of holding against the incoming soldiers. The chances of convincing any of these to evacuate was small; his best option for ensuring their survival was to pause his protocol and engage directly.

A creature made of metal and stone gained little from taking cover behind wood, and Mordecai did nothing of the sort, simply positioning himself in the center of the room, so as to be the first thing the Vipers laid eyes on, and ideally, the first thing they attempted to shoot at.

Percy jerked his head in understanding and turned to head out behind the Automata. He had his own job, given by Myrddin himself. Find whoever he could and bring them to the Elysium. While he was torn on taking the airship and leaving others to fend for themselves in the Guild hall or on the streets, he had his commands and he wasn't about to start contesting it with his mentor, especially not now with soldiers breathing down their neck. Percy took off, fighting the urge to shift and perhaps even match the golem in his speed, but he needed his mind intact and unaffected by the primal urges being a deer would bring. Plus, chances were he'd need to talk. So it was with that and the goal of saving everyone he could find that set his pace.

At one point the Changeling lost sight of Mordecai, though the machine was probably somewhere doing his part. He was reliable if only for his nature as an Automata. Percy figured he'd see the man in one piece again eventually. Instead of making his way to the recieving hall where likely the fighting was to be the heaviest, Percy turned and ran down the hall leading to the sleeping quarters. Those just now awakening may be confused and he could lead those to the safety of the Elysium.

Anyone who spent more than a few days in the desert developed a healthy respect for orcs. As Theon forced himself from his bedmat on the sand, the sounds of a slaughter outside ringing in his ears, all he could think was that somehow he hadn't respected them enough. For years he'd avoided them, only fighting when the odds were vastly in their favor, or a proper plan could be developed. But all it took was one mistake, one lapse of vigilance, the green fuckers were swarming over his men, hacking them to bits.

Theon was only thinking of the quickest and safest way out of the camp when the first one cleaved through the canvas and made his way inside, followed by two of his fellows, wielding jagged axes. His hand darted to the loaded duckfoot pistol by his bed, leveled at the greenskins, and--


Bang. It didn't make the right sound. His pistol exploded like a thunderstorm in your hand when it fired, not like... a fist against wood. Theon scowled, shaking his head out of the dream of the past, like any other person reliving a memory, only with significantly more clarity. He'd had that one a few times now. It was already getting old. He pushed himself up to set his bare feet on the floor, yawned, and stretched. A few moments were what it took to realize the sounds from his dream were remaining. Different from before... but that same urgency. Shouting and running outside, heavy and light footfalls side by side. The hell was going on?

He rested his hands lightly on his knee and closed his eyes. It didn't take much effort to view the immediate vicinity through farsight. His senses expanded away from him, taking in sights, smells, sounds, a veritable cacophony of stimuli compared to the empty expanse of the sand sea. It was almost enough to give him a headache in this early hour of the morning. Instead, it almost made his heart stop. Soldiers were at the doors, trying to smash their way inside. King's men. Some of the Guild looked to want to fight, others to flee. He tried to locate Vivian, but another pound on his door shook his concentration. There was too much going on here. He knew what he needed to know.

Fuck, not again.

He had experience getting dressed quickly, and Theon put it to use here, throwing on pants, a sleeveless tunic, belt, socks, armor, boots. His pistol he snatched from his bedside and clipped to his belt. He grabbed the scythe on the way out the door. He looked to be ahead of many of the others, nameless faces who he didn't know and didn't care about. One was running down the hall, about to pass him, a dark-haired boy. As he was about to pass, Theon reached out and snatched the front of his shirt in a powerful hand, trying to bring him to a stop.

"Vivian Zeona. Where is she?" he demanded. The answer had better come quick, too, else he would probably toss him aside and search himself.

"Vi-Who? Look, the Vipers are knocking down our door. You need to come with me and get to saf-" Percy tried to persuade the man who had him by the collar. Though a racket a little bit further down the hall managed to cut the rest of his words off, even over the wailling din of panic. The source, a woman fighting to get her boots on but her hair was in a bedridden ragged mess and she was even still wearing her night gown. She had a sheathed blade slung under one arm, a pistol in a hand, cocked and presumably loaded, and she looked ready for a fight, looking for one even-- except for the fact that she still wore her night gown of course. She even had the telltale gleam of steel gauntlets under the loose folds of her sleeves. It was an... Interesting sight.

This woman had awakened to the pounding of hands at her door and the cries of Code 53. While she wasn't well versed in what Code 53 exactly entailed, she did know that it involved a fight with someone. That promise alone was enough to throw her from her bed, throwing her arms in her gauntlets and gathering the important things, clothes apparently lower down on the list than normally. She did not so much open the door as she did kick it off of it's hinges (with the one boot she had on at that time) and storm out into the hall seeking to quell the commotion with bloody glee.

"Where's the fight!? Where're the bastards at!? Haha! I've got something for them as soon as I get this damned boot on!" She yelled as she stomped her foot down into the boot and began to make her way down the hall, looping the sheath around her back. She was looking too far ahead and trying to find a fight to notice the pair arguing about a Vivian Zeona.

It was perhaps not two hours from the time Kethyrian Tor had managed to bathe, undress, and collapse into bed after a long night operation that she woke to the sound of pounding on her door, the rhythm far too frenetic to be some sort of perverse echo of the throbbing in her skull. It was with the willpower of a bloody martyr that she managed to force her eyes open, blinking blearily at her surroundings in time for a shrill cry of Code 53! to assault her sensitive ears. It didn't take too long to run through the mental catalogue of all the things that could possibly be until she stuck on the right one, and she resisted the urge to groan into her pillow, if only just. Forcing life into deadened limbs with a jolt of magic, Kethyrian threw open the doors to her armoire and threw on the first few garments she came across, finishing with a pale hooded cloak and a poniard on a belt, gathering her peculiar striped hair into a tail.

"If this is someone's idea of a poor joke, I hope they'll be laughing through their coronary," she muttered darkly to herself, stepping out into the hall in enough time to notice that Vivian was half-dressed and already trying to make her way to the nearest confrontation. "Stupid girl," Kethyrian sighed, though it was largely bereft of venom. "Vivian! A code 53 calls for tactical retreat. Don't tell me you're really interested in that hearing for insubordination they threatened you with last time?" Charging into situations with but a harebrained plan wasn't exactly unusual for the younger woman, and it was usually her Favisae sort-of friend who wound up patching the damage afterwards.

"We should move. Now. Same goes for you two," she called to the two men a little ways off, apparently in some kind of confrontation of their own. She scoffed beneath her breath; this was hardly the time for that.

"You mean their tactical retreat, right Kethy?" Vivian answered, her blade now free from her sheath and in her hand.

The look she was given in return could have peeled paint.

It had been one of those sleepless nights for Eli. The boy lay in bed, eyes pressed shut, clutching a pillow to his chest, trying to keep himself calm enough to at least manage a morning nap. Still in a sweat, he opened his eyes and turned face up on the bed. "Who needs sleep anyway?" he muttered to himself, his eyes heavy and more than a little bloodshot. The sound of commotion outside his door actually came as a welcome surprise, giving Eli an excuse to throw the blankets off his perspiring body, slip into his robes, and see what the ruckus was about.

He peeked his head out the door tentatively, intercepting Kethyrian's glare. At least he thought that's what her name was. Eli made a bit of an effort to at least memorize the first names of the people in his immediate area, but often had to resort to referring to them by key descriptors. He turned to see the intended recipient of the glare was "Excited Murder Girl", with "Quiet Scythe Guy" and "Deer Boy" arguing in the background. His hazel eyes darted around from person to person. He swallowed and his head fell, his hair obscuring his face. "Code 53… we're leaving right?" he muttered quietly, stepping out of his room starting briskly down the hall.

Downstairs, matters grew only more pressing, as the hinges on the tower door finally gave way with a great creak, the wooden portcullis falling inwards and smashing against the stone floor with an unmistakable noise. Unwilling to risk being hit first, the Vipers opened fire on the first enemy they saw- in this case, Mordecai. Seventeen filed into the room under that covering fire, taking up positions in the entrance hall, but the remaining lot either made for the sides of the building or attempted to bull-rush past the dismal fortifications and get themselves deeper into the tower.

Mordecai glanced with apparent disinterest at the metal projectiles embedding themselves in his synthetic flesh, then back up at the people shooting them. "This unit's safety protocols require that you are warned ten seconds before this unit engages berserk mode. You have been notified." For five seconds, there wasn't much notable reaction, except one of the Guild members behind an overturned table yelling at him to 'hurry it up, you stupid machine.' Mordecai thought it would be rather unnecessary to inform the speaker that he was in fact calibrated for very high levels of intelligence and processing power, since it was not likely this was the time to discuss the matters. Besides, he was down to three seconds, and given that much of that processing was about to be converted into a very different kind of energy.

"Berserk mode engaged." Perhaps due to some inner sadism on the part of his creator, Mordecai was programmed to say this with a tone of pleasant cheeriness, less than a nanosecond before his systems shifted function, backlighting his eyes an eerie red and turning several unused synthetic neurologial pathways under his skin the same hue, spiderwebbing the translucent flesh substitute on his limbs with pulsing lines. It was at about this moment that one or two of the Vipers realized what they were dealing with, and concentrated all of their fire on him rather than the other members of his guild.

Well enough for #9, who sprang forward with unnatural speed, bringing one of the gunmen to the ground immediately, his windpipe crushed under the extraordinary pressure of manufactured fingers. Those in his proximity drew melee weapons, abandoning the notion of shooting when so close to each other, and to their credit, they were professionals who didn't hesitate about it. It made none of what they did any more useful, and the automaton was through another three in seconds. The activation of berserk mode narrowed his focus, and so he was unable to keep track of all fifty, and about half that number successfully escaped to the stairs. Mordecai, ripping a man's arm from its socket with a sickening crunch followed by a wet pop and throwing it into another Viper's face, did not notice.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Skybound Character Portrait: Percy Galath Character Portrait: Mordecai Character Portrait: Kethyrian Tor Character Portrait: Sven Diederich Character Portrait: Theon Zeona Character Portrait: Vivian Zeona

Earnings

0.00 INK

Gwen stretched languidly, stretching the muscles of her back and arms leisurely, smiling broadly when her vertebrae popped audibly into place. She'd been napping in the rigging, which wasn't terribly unusual on a day like today. Of course, given that it was so soon after sunrise, it was a bit of a wonder that she was napping at all, but she'd always been like that- unable to sleep for more than a few hours at a time, and content to do so often. So far, it looked to be another boring morning sitting at the airship docks, waiting for something she wasn't even sure was ever going to actually happen. Artorias was a very... intense man, but she'd never thought he'd turn out to be anybody's despot. Her father had believed adamantly in the better part of his nature, after all, and if there was one thing true of Leomaris Steele, it was that he was both a great engineer and a good judge of character.

The blaring of the ship's alarm, then, shot her eyes wide open, tensed her from her languid coil, and nearly tipped her out of the rigging. Holding on only by dent of a years-honed acrobatic dexterity, she righted herself and clambered down the ropes, hitting the deck with a soft thud. "All right everybody! That's the signal! Get yourselves up and at 'em, boys and girls, we've got a job to do!" Her shouts were a staccato beat, matched with the ease of practice by the footfalls over her crew, and she knew they'd be ready when they needed to be. They were the best like that.

As for herself, she disappeared below deck to the control room, where she knew her ever-vigilant best friend and Lieutenant (for some reason, everyone always assumed he was the captain) was probably already waiting. Her chief engineer, Gorlak, was on standby as well, and the 'stowaway' Myrddin had insisted they take along was reclining in one corner, apparently unfazed by the suddenly incredibly active goings-on. "Morning Sunshine, Froggy, Strawberry," she greeted them in that order, ridiculous smile still plastered to her face. "Do we have visuals on the escape route yet?" Her nicknames produced a sound of displeasure from the sullen-looking redhead, but he made no move to correct her. He didn't want to start a fight with the brick wall, after all, and it was pretty obvious that nobody else got away with calling a guy like that something as ridiculous as 'Sunshine.'

When the ship's alarms wrangled through the ship's coppice, the Lieutenant sprang into action, ignoring the betraying squeaks his spinal cord made when executing such impetuous movements. The Lieutenant had not been sleeping. Instead, he'd been surveying the crews efforts to get back in the swing of things, to hastily tie up their belongings and heave coal into the awaiting furnaces. In brief spurts, he joined them at their sides, rolling his sleeves to his elbows, smearing grease across his cheeks whilst wiping sweat and hefting shovelful after shovelful into the beast's metal-jowls. Even if he wasn't truly the lookout, he'd still been watching the horizon with tentative anticipation, as if expecting something to happen. He was always waiting for something. Drumming his fingers soundlessly across the metal contraptions strapped to his arms, digging ruthlessly into his tendons and wound around his muscles like automated leeches lending him strength, and subtle reminders that he was only human. He wasn't a fearful man. Far from it, he prided himself on his ability to deal with difficult and dangerous situations with little more than a strained frown. That was his job, and what he had been trained for, for as long as he could remember. If Gwendolyn was napping – in all likelihood, she was probably curled up in the rigging somewhere – then he would act as her eyes, always.

He was a creature, a being solely obsessed with the essence of duty, before he had been destroyed; his duty to the military had been paramount, even over his duty to his family. Now, the Lieutenant's duty lied solely with protecting Gwendolyn and her crew; and, all of Avalon's Dawn's guild-members. Such a small word, four letters, with only one of which was a vowel yet it was so powerful, so binding, so meaningful and so very controlling. It'd lost him his fiance – his life, and for brief periods of his life: his mind. Sleep does not come as it once did, not without her in his arms. He doesn't really sleep anymore, not before it's absolutely necessary. Stumbling around the decks in a sleep-deprived stupor, and still attempting to maintain order on the ship was near-impossible, so he still allows himself short reprieves, slumped somewhere in the control room. Mostly, the Lieutenant spends his nights prowling amongst the sleeping, muttering under his breath, eyes darting back and forth. Searching, observing. Watching, waiting.

He gave short barking orders, in his clipped accent, before disappearing below decks to prepare three steins full-to-the-brim with coffee, cocoa and an odd mixture of strong liquors – never enough to really do anything but certainly enough to open your eyes wide enough to greet the morning. Half-sloshing chipped mugs; nearly the perfect analogy. He'd already dropped one in Myrddin's awaiting hands, unusually careful not to drop any of its steaming contents on the man's papery fingers. An informal grunt accompanied his greeting. Already, Gorlak was shuffling around, tapping buttons across the console and bobbing his head like some sort of peculiar marionette-machine. Everything was already underway. As soon as the remainder of the Guild members hopped aboard, they'd be sizzling out of the city, out of whatever-enemies reach, and towards their destination. The engines were roaring with heat, anticipating takeoff. “Destination Elysium, 'veady to go. On your words.” Absently, the Lieutenant offered her the mug, completely unfazed by her aberrant nicknaming. Had anyone else decided on that course, then they would've been unjustly thrown, by the seat of their pants, out the window. He still shot the redhead a withering look, like a sheet of deadpan glass reflecting the younger boys' face. Or else, maybe that's how he always looked. Nothing else needed to be said – when she said go, they'd be gone.




Kethyrian had been opening her mouth to answer Eli, but she wasn't even through the process of relaxing her jaw before it tightened again, her ears twitching at the sound of regular footsteps coming up the stairs. There weren't that many people who wore heavy armor in the Guild, and they certainly wouldn't be retreating right now. Sure enough, within moments, the first of the Vipers to make it up the stairs came into view, and a series of trilling syllables flowed from the Favisae's tongue. The uneducated might assume that they had something to do with the translucent wall of force that careened down the corrdor and slammed with extreme prejudice into the unlucky soldier and two of his fellows, throwing them against an opened door with enough force to snap the hinges. Truthfully, she'd just been swearing in her native language.

"Oh, we're going. Now, in fact," she said flatly, putting one hand on Vivian's shoulder and the other on her elbow. "And that includes you. Come on, there's sure to be more enemies to fight once we reach the airship and you put some clothes on." Not entirely certain of the veracity of that statement, Kethyrian was nevertheless convinced that it was a safe bet. If that cormorant on his throne had gone to this much trouble already, he wasn't likely to give up just because they fled into the wild blue fucking yonder. She paused infinitescimally, but continued upon mentally confirming that she had not said that last part out loud. She did have a reputation to maintain, and losing control of her crude tongue wouldn't be very much in keeping with it.

She tugged on Vivian, but they weren't going to make it far unless the other woman cooperated and both of them knew it. Kethyrian may have been taller, but she was also Favisae, and that meant more slender of build. She did not spend her days swinging a sword around, after all. "There's a window at the end of this hall. It doesn't let out onto the roof next door, but there is a drainpipe we can use to get close enough to jump. Or I can do it, then set up a barrier for the rest of you to walk on." She hoped climbing was still second nature, but trusted that muscle memory would serve her well enough to manage even if it wasn't.

"Sounds like a plan to me," Theon said. He had roughly released the boy upon seeing his headstrong sister's entrance into the hall. At least she hadn't made herself hard to find. He didn't know who the wall crawler was that had Vivian by the other arm, but that could be said for pretty much everyone in the Guild at this point. It didn't matter. She seemed the most sensible of anyone he could see right now, and that was fine with him. He took one look at the soldiers starting to rush upstairs before seizing Vivian's other arm in a powerful hand and helping the feydusk keep her from getting herself killed.

They'd done their share of wrestling as children, with Theon usually ending up the victor due to his superior bulk. That wasn't to say that Vivi didn't employ a few tricks of her own, but Theon liked to think he'd wisened up to them by this point. He certainly wouldn't be letting her get out of his grasp now. "Don't make this hard on us, sis," he warned. "I'll drag your idiotic ass out of here if I have to." She'd know he meant it. Theon would smack her 'til she went limp as a wet noodle if it meant getting her out of here alive.

"But..." Vivi whined, her head whipping back and forth between both Kethyrian and Theon. "They're so close though," she continued. Though it was clear that the intervention of Theon had managed to erode her will enough so that it seemed likely she'd managed to leave the hall without spilling blood... Yet. The brown headed boy-- now released by Theon-- quickly straightened his shirt and pushed himself into the conversation. "Which is exactly why we need to leave right this instant. If we can get to the Elysium then we can get out of here alive. The Captain should have the ship prepped for us. So let's go."

Vivi pouted, her voracious grin now turned into a childlike frown. "Fine, fine. Let's go. I never get to have any fun anyway," Vivi said, trying to weasel her way out of both Kethy's and Theon's grasp. She sheathed her blade on her back and turned her pistol towards the window way down the hall that Kethy had mentioned. A pull of the trigger started the reaction and the contained explosion echoed down through the halls. The sound of shattering glass and the barrel revolving was her just reward. "That's one shot. I'm going to be disappointed if I don't get to use the other two," she said with child-like innocence, though the display of chaos did set her in a brighter mood.

Percy turned toward the now paneless window and spoke, overcoming the shock of surprise of the gunshot. "Er... Right. While I have no doubt that you can climb a drainpipe Miss Kethyrian, I believe I shall spawn some vines to help the lesser inclined of us out. Unless you think can climb and cast at the same time." He didn't want to envision what may happen if she suddenly lost focus while they were midway across one of her barriers. He reckoned that a splattering sound was involved though.

Keth had been planning to climb, jump, and then cast once she'd landed on the other side, but she could see that they were lacking time. Even now, the first couple of soldiers were starting to recover, and more were coming up after them. It was a relatively slow trickle, but there was no telling how long the Guildfolk below could hold out. She nodded simply, and the five of them were able to make for the window, their footsteps urged on by the sound of yet more gunshots close behind. The healer threw up another shield, but they were far from her specialty, and she knew from field testing that they wouldn't stop a bullet, just slow it enough that it probably wouldn't be fatal if it his somebody. No guarantees if the aim was good, though.

Reaching the end of the hall, Kethyrian let go of Vivian, satisfied for the moment that either the girl was really going along with this, or the man on her other side was concerned enough that he wouldn't let her change her mind, whichever. Kicking out the shards that remained caught in the windowframe, she hopped nimbly onto it and peered out. The nearest rooftop was too far away to jump, but there was a building much closer to the tower about ninety degrees around. It should be manageable, since none of them were excessively bulky and covered in plate armor. "I can hold the barrier behind you for another fifteen seconds. I hope you're all out here by then." If she didn't see them, she'd certainly try to keep it up longer, but she wasn't sure if she'd be able to manage. It had taken quite a beating already.

Standing on the windowframe, she jumped to catch the top one and pulled herself up, hooking her foot into what should have been an impossibly small indenture in the stone. Reaching the drainpipe was a bit of a stretch, and involved holding on with only one hand and one leg, essentially plastering herself to the side of the tower, but she managed it, grasping the cold steel with both hands and bracing her feet flat on the blocks. Lingering only made the prospects more dangerous, so she hurried, sidling across with celerity until she had the jump she wanted. It would involve launching backwards off the tower and trying not to miss the roof, but it shouldn't be too hard. Walking her legs up underneath her torso, Kethyrian curled around herself as much as possible, stilling for a moment when the drainpipe creaked ominously. The sound faded, and she took a deep breath, pushing off the wall with all four limbs. It carried her into a neat flip, and she landed about two feet from the edge of the next building.

Her barrier inside the tower had dropped long ago, and she erected a new one, this with much less haste and more care, extending it out over the end of the roof by four feet. That was as long as it could get and still remain strong enough to hold anyone who landed on it, so that was as much leeway as they were getting. It was now a seven-foot jump horizontally to the edge of safety, but if they'd followed her route, they'd also have ten feet of extra verticality to take advantage of.




Mordecai's olfactory reception system was telling him that the room began to smell of blood and death. They were not odors he particularly enjoyed, but he had grown somewhat used to them, and was able to catalogue the information without needing to make any queries on the subject. Just as well; that would have required disengaging Berserk Mode to bring his processors back up to full capacity, and he did not calculate that this would be the optimal response here. Removing his foot from the soldier's throat, the Automaton found himself once again facing down a large number of foes, only... one of them appeared to have procured a piece of heavy artillery. Where it had come from, the golem could not say, but he knew that it meant trouble if used. He was more durable than the average stone wall, but even he could be taken apart with enough firepower.

He still did not hesitate, and was halfway through lunging for the man when he drew up short, blinking as the fellow was incinerated by a large fireball instead.

Behind Mordecai and just in front of the line of Guild gunners stood the Guildmaster himself, looking slightly perturbed but otherwise fine. His hair was a smidge askew, as though he'd moved at a faster pace than normal for some exended period of time. It was true enough. Quickly taking in his surroundings, he looked to the Automaton. "#9, tactical retreat. Rendevous with Skybound. The rest of you are with me." He'd expected the golem to have left already, but apparently the number of enemies was slightly greater then he'd anticipated. His thirty-person Guild could likely handle the first fifty, but these would not be the only foes on the way. It was necessary to act quickly.

With a single shouted word, the old wizard opened the floor where Mordecai had been standing moments before, swallowing a good ten of the Vipers into the gaping chasm in the stone. "This leader of yours will not earn his victory lightly," Myrddin warned. "If any of you are less that perfectly certain of your devotion, you may leave now." Not a man moved, and the elderly fellow smiled bitterly. "Ah, yes. I'd thought not."

The chorus of human screams followed the Automaton up the staircase.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Skybound Character Portrait: Percy Galath Character Portrait: Mordecai Character Portrait: Lohengrin Character Portrait: Kethyrian Tor Character Portrait: Theon Zeona Character Portrait: Vivian Zeona

Earnings

0.00 INK

Percy was the next up to the window sill. He hesitated for a moment, mostly admiring the dexterity of Kethyrian and wondering if she expected the rest of them to do that. Vivi, she was more entertained than enthralled and when Kethy landed, had burst out into applause, much to Percy's chargin. He spared her a stern looked before he got to work spinning his magic. His magic, the magic of the druids and of the natural world, did not spring only from the mind. Rather, from the mind as well as the world around him. He willed the natural world to bend around his whim. Or rather it would if he was a great wizard, though a great wizard he was not... Yet. His skill level wasn't so great as to deserve such grandiose words.

He did will life to where there were none though, sprouting a thick mat of vines and moss around the drainpipe as well as a majority of where Kethyrian had jumped around on. Perhaps his net was larger than what the feydusk needed, but he trusted himself least of all to make these jumps and wanted as much to grab on to as possible. The whole process took moments, as time was obviously of an essence. Once his magecraft was over he turned to the pair that remained and said, "It is done. Let us hurry." He then bolted to the broken window and jumped, catching hold of one of the vines and quickly began to heft himself up, following the path Kethyrian had made.

It was Vivi who took the next step forward and turing around, coming face to face with Theon. She smiled bright and said, "Ladies first, right big brother?" She chuckled and bolted out of the window next, without giving him enough time to respond. It was a blessing she didn't try to do a flip on the way out...

Theon saved his eye roll only because he was sure Vivian would do something more worthy of derision in a moment. He wondered who had taken over the job of stopping her from getting herself killed once she'd left him in the desert with his gang. The wall crawler, probably. No doubt she'd be happy to give him the job back.

Not exactly graceful, he clambered up into the window and jumped, catching hold of a vine, searching about for a moment to make sure his sister wasn't a splatter on the ground below before deciding he would have enough difficulty keeping himself alive for the moment. Through no small amount of awkward flailing and displays of raw strength did he maneuver himself high enough to clear the gap, landing on the feydusk's platform with a heavy thud and an ungainly roll, his weapon clattering to the rooftop beside him.

Mordecai bolted up the stairs, the impact of his feet unnaturally-heavy on the stone, and took a sharp left, bowling past several Vipers on his way. The window appeared to be clear and broken both, so the Automaton gathered speed down the straightaway, gatering his piston-powered limbs underneath him and launching himself straight out into the open air. The force of the motion carried him further than it should have a body of his size, and he landed on the roof directly facing the window. Looking around hismelf, he could see a trail of vines on the side of the tower, leading around to the other side. He calculated the probability of that being the remaining Guild members at seventy-nine percent, which prompted him to jump buildings until he spotted the Favisae healer, Kethyrian. She was standing on a roof facing the tower wall, while several others clung to the thick, ropy vines embedded in the stone. The work of magic, doubtless.

Hopping the last rooftop, he landed heavily next to the elf, close enough to scan the vine-climbers and recognize several of them. "Mistress Kethyrian," he stated formally, "This unit has been advised of the most efficient escape route. Orders are to rendezvous with the captain and crew of the Elysium and make for Deluge. Once the others are across, this unit requests that you follow it."

Kethyrian, too busy maintaining that extra platform space, simply nodded, this time unable to be even vaguely unnerved by the fact that Mordecai referred to himself as an 'it.' She knew what a golem was, of course, but the Favisae did not have them, and frankly, he looked and acted too human for her to be comfortable treating him as a simple object. Once the others had made it across though, she released the spell she was holding and fought not to sag against the chimney. She was already exhausted from yesterday's mission; two hours of sleep and a whole lot of spells were not helping things at all. Nevertheless, she'd have to hope that adrenaline was enough to keep her going until they reached relative safety. "Lead the way then, if you know it," she said, taking off at a run after the Automaton when he complied.

Mordecai was not unaware that organic beings lost energy at a different rate than he did, and he slowed his pace to a quick, but manageable run, leaping only those rooftops which were close enough together for everyone to manage without needing to slow down. As the group approached the airship docks, however, it became quite clear that they would have to make at least part of the journey on the ground, and the golem scanned for a suitable jumping-off point veering right and treading down a sloped roof until he reached its end, at which point he simply dropped the ten feet or so to the ground. The Favisae followed without nearly as much noise, but her breaths were coming sharply, short and a bit ragged.

"Approximately one-half kilometer remains," he noted, his tone largely encouraging. "The crew have been told to make ready for our departure." So saying, he checked to make sure nobody needed to be carried and continued, weaving his way through the largely-empty side streets rather tha attempting to navigate the increasingly-busy main thoroughfares. The shipping district always awoke considerably earlier than the rest of the city, after all.




Gwen accepted the coffee from Sunshine with a happy trilling hum in the back of her throat, but she was too busy to make a bigger production of it. Tapping a few keys on her console, she brought up a large, panoramic view of the area surrounding the airship dock. A few more keystrokes angled the camera in on the approaching group, currently moving through the alleyways of the dockside district. It looked like the plan was going off without a hitch, at least until Strawberry spoke up. "Hey, hold on a second," he said, leaning forward in his seat. "Can you zoom that back out a little? I think I saw something." Gwen blinked, but complied, moving the view out a bit until she heard a terse "stop-- there, to the left," at which point she adjusted accordingly and whistled low.

"Uh-oh. That could be a problem." She informed the rest of the group of this with what could only be described as glee, causing Lohengrin to raise a speculative eyebrow. These people were just... weird, and he hadn't even met most of them yet. He could almost feel the metaphorical iron shackles closing around his wrists and his neck, informing him in no uncertain terms that he was stuck with them for the foreseeable future. He should have known this wasn't nearly as simple a job as the old man had made it sound. And it had sounded pretty damn complicated.

About to intersect with the fleeing group of adventurers was a small platoon of blue-clad army regulars. They weren't nearly as fearsome or specialized as the Viper squads, and they looked like they were just out on a normal patrol, but there was simply no way a group of that constitution wasn't going to look suspicious. They might be able to talk their way out of it, but they might also have to fight and run. "Ooo-kay! Sunshine, Strawberry, why don't you two head up onto the deck to make sure they all get aboard intact, hm? Froggy, you and I are going to get the old girl ready for the quickest takeoff any of these mooks have ever seen!" She waved a hand dismissively in Lohengrin's direction, and though he sighed irritably, he complied anyway, since it was sort of what he'd been hired for. Adjusting the sword strapped to his back, the mercenary took the stairs two at a time and hauled the cockpit door open, blinking slowly in the sudden light with both sets of eyelids before he remembered himself and corrected the odd behavior.

The gangplank was already down, manned by two sturdy-looking crewpeople, one on either side. There didn't seem to be an immediate need to do anything, and he'd leave the barking of orders to the captain's hellhound. Lohengrin folded his arms, leaning against the railing with obvious nonchalance. It was a matter of waiting, for now.




As predicted, the departing members of Avalon's Dawn soon found themselves face-to-face with a group of fifteen or so soldiers, all armed, but clearly taken by surprise, as none had their weapons drawn. It took only about two seconds of silence for the woman in the lead to gather her thoughts and her wits about her and address the group. "Halt. You don't look like dockworkers. State your business." The day's only commercial airship flight left in the afternoon, and none of the other vessels had requested clearance for liftoff that morning.

"Oh!" Percy cried out in surprise but quickly reined his shock back in. At first he had thought that these soldiers were more of the ones enacting the Purge in the guildhall, and just about bid the grass to rise up and tangle up their feet, though the mere fact they took time to speak to them, and the fact that they didn't know who they were told him that this was not part of the Vipers chasing them. Just a usual patrol in all likelihood. That meant with some clever words and a bit of persuasion, they might could get out without a fight. That also meant they had to try and act with relative normalcy and restraint. He desparately hoped to the old kings that Vivi's brother could keep a tight lid on his sister, it'd already be strenuous enough to explain her ridiculous outfit. A nightgown with heavy boots and gauntlets, with a sword strapped to her back and a pistol hanging loosely from her pocket. Part of that was why Percy moved to try to obscure her from the sight of the patrol. Better to cross that bridge when they came to it rather than address it now. That also put him immediately beside Kethyrian.

"Ah, well you see, I told my friends here about a particular airship, and how grand she was. See, I have a friend on board this airship, and she said that I could bring my friends along this morning to have a look around it. She should be expecting us at any moment. We haven't been on many airships you see, and personally the way they work greatly interests me," he then chuckled a very convincing chuckle, though more to the fact that this was the most ridiculous lie he'd ever told. "Guess I still have a heart of a little boy, fantasies about airships and what not. Still waiting for that day where I have the chance to save the world, you know," Percy said with a very warm smile. Old kings above, he hoped this worked. He also hoped the others would play along. He did a lot of hoping that morning

"There isn't a problem, is there ma'am?" Percy asked.

The redheaded woman's eyes narrowed in suspicion. She wasn't stupid, and that boy was talking far too quickly and too much as far as she was concerned. "Which airship?" she asked sternly. It wasn't illegal for the group to be there by any means, only very suspicious, but she was beginning to get the feeling that it was more than even that. Behind her, several of the men caught on to her caution, and hands went to rifles and cutlasses alike, though nobody drew as of yet.

"Elysium," Mordecai supplied when nobody else answered immediately. "We are expected by Captain Skybound." Unfortunately for the group, it was in his programming to respond to questions directed at him, and he had not yet achieved the level of independent thinking and creativity required to tell a lie. The first question had been fine; since Percy had answered immediately, he had not been required to 'state his business' as the phrasing had gone.

Behind the Automaton, Kethyrian successfully resisted the urge to sigh, though not because the situation didn't demand it. Rather, she was so far short of full steam right now that she needed to save the energy if nothing else. She didn't like her chances if this turned into a fight: she was exhausted, and not terribly adept at combat to begin with. In fact, without her magic, she'd be more hindrance than help, and given the numbers, she'd need to save that just in case someone got a limb hacked off. The Favisae eyed the soldiers warily, clamping down on an instinctively-sharp comment, perhaps something about harassing ordinary citizens. She was, above all else, practical, and if keeping her silence increased the chance of walking out of this situation alive, she'd mute herself for as long as it took.

The officer's eyes moved to the strange-looking man close to the front of the group. The Elysium. Now she understood why they looked like a bunch of rejects from a circus show. "Right," she said, putting two and two together. "I guess that explains why the crew's been scurrying around up there since dawn." It didn't explain why one of the women in this group was indecent by most standards, but given the eccentricity of those affiliated with the ship, the officer wasn't going to ask questions. Shaking her head, she waved her men down and stepped aside. "Please make directly for the ship-- I understand that you may be worried about drawing... er... attention, but there's really nothing to worry about. Good day to you all."

Nodding smartly, the officer moved off and down into another alleyway, apparently quite content to leave it at that. The rest followed her lead without comment, though there were a few curious glances leveled at the Favisae, so uncommonly seen as they were. Every one of them being a strictly-disciplined military sort, they didn't even spare Vivian's state of undress a second glance, and if they did happen to look at her, their eyes snapped immediately to her face. No benefit a roving eye could garner was worth the punishment for impropreity the King enforced. Not one bit.

Theon exhaled, moving his hand away from the trigger of the duckfoot pistol. He'd been certain they'd have to fight their way out after the boy-man's moronic attempt at a lie, something about airships and being interested in how they work, which was completely ridiculous considering the state they were in, sucking wind and sweating from the run, his sister largely undressed except for her gauntlets, boots, and weapons. But, through sheer luck the toaster's honesty flew with the officer, who apparently hadn't yet gotten the memo that they were all supposed to be dead men and women by now. Theon actually wouldn't have minded a fight, but taking on an entire patrol of trained guards next to a bunch of people he didn't know wasn't something he was looking to throw himself into.

But... considering the toaster's presence, they might have had a decent chance of getting out alive. He'd never seen it in action, but he was willing to bet it would pack quite a punch. "Let's get out of here before we have to do that again," he growled, encouraging their guide to get moving.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Skybound Character Portrait: Percy Galath Character Portrait: Mordecai Character Portrait: Lohengrin Character Portrait: Kethyrian Tor Character Portrait: Sven Diederich Character Portrait: Theon Zeona Character Portrait: Vivian Zeona

Earnings

0.00 INK

Percy's eyebrow raised in surprise. He didn't think that getting past the patrol was going to be that easy. He knew he wasn't that good of a liar, and the cold honesty by the golem should have made matters worse, not better. Though he'd rather not look a gift horse in the mouth and ponder upon these curiousities, they'd been given a chance to get to the airship without blood, and he intended to make it count. The only comment he offered on the situation was a shrug and a mention of, "Well, that was easy." A heavy, exaggerated sigh behind him revealed that some weren't so thrilled about the outcome. The expected whine came from none other than Vivi, "Yeah, too easy. I never get to have any fun," she said while pursing her lips into a pout.

The only thing that kept her from just lunging into the fray was a combination of the surprise from running smack into the middle of a patrol, the aclarity as to which Percy had spoken, and the haggard state of Kethy. The woman was tired, she could see that, and she'd prefer not to give her much more trouble. Say what they will about the spirited girl, she had a general idea on how far to push the Feydusk. It also wouldn't do to anger the one that would end up healing any injury she would get throwing herself into a fight. Also, there was the knowledge that the woman could kill with the same power that she used to heal... No, it would be down right stupid to lunge into battle at that moment. That's not to say that she didn't want to.

"Right, what he said. Let's get to the ship before things get worse," if that was even possible. Percy took the lead, angling his heading towards the Elysium with all due haste. He wasn't running, but still. It was quite a spirited walk. It'd do no good to attract even more attention to themselves. It wasn't long before the mast of the Elysium was in sight. Luckily, they were expected and the gangplank was drawn for them. Percy skirted on to the ship and spoke to the first man he saw, a redhaired, hard looking man. He didn't appear to be part of the crew, but he didn't want to waste time on semantics, "We're here. We met a patrol on our way, so it's best to just get the ship into the air and leave. I don't think any others are coming..." He added seeming a bit troubled about that fact. He had to believe the rest of the guild had made it out though, lest the guilt drown him.

Lohengrin offered a shrug by way of response. "I'm guessing the captain has figured that out already. We had you lot on some kind of visual feed." He wasn't actually sure how it had worked, but he was willing to wager it was some arcane mix of magic and technology. He'd seen similar things a few times before, but it wasn't exactly common. Seriously, though, was this all they had? A Favisae, four humans, and one guy who looked kind of human but somehow... off. Maybe it was a magical thing; Lohengrin wasn't going to pretend to care. As long as he got them where they were going, they could be a small horde of trolls for all he was concerned. The comparison might even turn out to be fair.

Vivi however, seemed thrilled at the thought of being on an airship, even grounded as it was. Her first stop was not a crewmate, but the bow. As in, the railing that kept people like her from falling off. She had hopped from the deck to the railing, with only her balance to keep her from falling either way. It was a good thing that she was a very balanced individual, where equilibrium was concerned. "Look Teo! We made it to the Elysium! Isn't she great! We can go anywhere now! Ahah! Imagine the adventures! Nothing like the dry things we had in the desert!" She chittered about. It wasn't the first time she had been on an airship, a couple of jobs she had taken on involved them. However, she always got giddy when she stepped onto the deck of one.

"You're going to want to get down, birdy," Lohengrin pointed out flatly, eyeing where the oddly-dressed (or not so dressed, whatever) woman was perched on the railing. As if on cue, the engine rumbled to life then, setting the deck planks beneath their feet a-trembling with suppressed energy. "The captain's crazy, and I may or may not have heard something about a 'speed record' regarding this launch." That was all he was going to say about it though; if any of them were stupid enough to ignore him, that was their own problem-- he for one would be holding onto the railing quite tightly.

"What?" Was the only answer Vivi could manage. Theon had enough time to roll his eyes, take a firm hold on his sister's arm, and yank her off the railing.

The ship gave what seemed to be a massive shudder, and the crew drew up the gangplank, their shouts to one another just barely audible over the hum of machinery as the thrusters engaged, belching pale steam into the immediate area. This was obviously a matter of some concern for the dockworkers below, many of whom seemed to stop in their work and stare. It was fairly obvious that this was an unauthorized departure, as the sound of an alarm quickly followed, only serving to increase the cacophony of the present soundscape. Lohengrin's resigned exhalation was lost to the rest of it, and then the ship lurched, throwing forward anyone not attached to something sturdy. After that, though, the rest of the takeoff was surprisingly smooth, and they lifted away from the docks with a minimum of difficulty but quite a bit of fanfare. The bow of the vessel rotated until it was facing nearly due south, and with another small lurch, the thrusters changed direction, and they were moving forward at an impressive clip.

Ever present, and dutifully forlorn, the Lieutenant's tree-trunk arms were crossed tightly over his chest, fingers tap-tap-tapping as each guild member clambered aboard. He did not comment on the flighty woman's choice of perch, nor did he arch an inquisitive eyebrow when her older brother yanked her off so that she didn't slip and plummet to the ground below. Even as the ship's engines roared to life, trembling its energy across the decks, Sven seemed immobile, seemingly anchored. He did not reach for the railings, and seemed rather amused that the strawberry-haired one was gripping it so. Said amusement appeared in the form of an upraised nostril, down-turned frown, coupled with his terrifying eye-squint-glare. Much like an ornery ox shaking it's head – it was hard to say whether or not he was genuinely being amiable or wondering how much effort it'd take to throw you overboard.

The Zeona siblings had gone to the ground when the airship lurched forward, the awkward forces of pulling or being pulled combined with the shifting beneath their feet being too much for Theon's poor sense of balance to withstand, and his iron grip on Vivian dragging her down with him, since there was basically no way he was letting go. Once things settled out, however, he released her, clambering to his feet and dusting himself off. "You're right, this is going to be fantastic," he said sarcastically, noting how she had already employed her childhood nickname for him that she had never grown out of. Vivi may have been on an airship before, but the same could not be said for the scryer. His first impression was that they would be lucky to survive every minute they spent on this flying death trap.

"Fucking Vipers and the damn king. No better than greenskins and trolls in the sand ocean," he grumbled to himself. "Can't get a moment of peace." "Well, at least they aren't as ugly, right Teo?" Vivi offered, sitting upright after her abrupt fall to the deck. Instead of rising to her feet as Theon had did, she opted to just... sit and ponder how close she came to being not on the ship anymore.

"Have you ever considered that you might be in the wrong line of work?" Kethyrian replied offhandedly. As it turned out, her 'something sturdy' to grab onto during the more arduous portions of launch had been the Automaton, who seemed to accept the extra force of motion with the same slightly-creepy equanimity that he'd taken their headlong flight from the tower. Now that they were up in the air, though, she was curious to know what things looked like. She'd been on an airship once, but that had been one of the commercial models, in which people sat enclosed for the duration of the trip. Cautious steps threaded her over to the railing where the redhead stood, and she leaned against it with some measure of trepidation, looking out over the city below.

It was... certainly different from being underground. Buildings tended to mimic that sensation a bit, but this, this was an entirely different experience. Kethyrian found that, unlike her first attempts at navigating water, flying induced no fear in her at all. Granted, she wouldn't be stupidly jumping over the railing anytime soon, but... the free movement of the air about them was actually nice, and it had the added bonus of lifting he heavy hair from her back and cooling her somewhat. It wasn't a particularly hot day, but the sun was merciless to someone like her, so any relief was welcome indeed. There was something just a tad humbling about watching large buildings become tiny dots beneath you, and for someone with as much obvious pride as she, that was really saying something. She could almost understand why the prospect of flying on an airship had Vivian so excited.

Mordecai, long familiar with the technology and experience involved in airship travel, was a bit more interested in the other people aboard, and chose to settle himself near the mainmast, where it was easiest to keep an eye on everything happening at this level. Something about the situation was not computing correctly-- more specifically, he did not understand why, if Artorias was sending his soldiers after the Guild, he didn't think to have the Guild's airship grounded at port. Should it really have been that simple a matter for them to escape? Perhaps the king's logic was simply imperfect; that seemed to be the explanation that best fit the available facts, anyway.

It was no more than ten minutes later that the airship finally cleared city limits, flying now over less-densely-populated farmland, the nutrient-rich soils that supported the majority of Albion agriculture and thus the population itself. They’d be over this for some hours before they hit the steppes, but Gwendolyn judged that for now at least they were in the clear. Adjusting a couple levers and one switch, she practically leaped from her chair, stretching upwards and bringing a palm down on the kerchiefed head of the goblin sitting copilot. ”Okay, Froggy! You’re in charge of looking after the autopilot systems for a while. I’m gonna go see the new kids, mkay?”

Gorlak rolled his eyes, but his smile was good-humored, and he gave a lazy salute as the captain darted up the stairs, throwing the door open with a maximal amount of dramatic flair and then kicking it shut behind her. That was all right though; the ship was built to withstand a whole lot more abuse than that. She would know—a good part of the design had been hers, though the majority of the credit certainly belonged to her father.

Bringing her thumb and middle finger to her mouth, Gwen whistled sharply to draw the crew’s attention. It clearly worked, as any work that wasn’t absolutely necessary stopped immediately. ”All right, kids! Listen up! We’re geared for a transcontinental, and you know what that means! Everyone but Alpha shift, get yourselves down below to the mess, and then to sleep. You’re going to need it. We’re expecting pursuit, but not for a while yet, so keep your wits about you! Ducky, I want you up in that nest, and don’t come down unless someone shoots you down first!” This produced an audible sigh from someone, and Gwen giggled, probably losing any remote trace of authority figure she’d had going on just then.

”Oh, and we have guests! So be nice to them!” So saying, she practically skipped over to the biggest knot of said ‘guests,’ beaming widely and lacing her fingers together behind her back. Luckily, none of them had gone far; the only strangers she could see were either at the railing, or close by on the deck, but one of them was all the way over at the mainmast. That one, she gestured over, along with the ones she’d have to shout at to be heard by.

Once everyone was more or less around, she planted her feet shoulder-width apart and cocked her head to one side, still smiling like this was the best thing that’d happened to her in a while. ”So… how many of you know what The Plan is?” she asked, the capital letters clearly implied in her tone.

Theon didn't plan on responding to the wall-crawler, whatever her name was, and now that some other girl was speaking to him, it seemed he didn't have to. This... was captain Skybound? Theon almost sighed. As if his sister hadn't already given him all the energeticness he could put up with. This girl that was apparently piloting this death trap was positively bubbling. Considering the morning he'd had so far, that wasn't a great thing. "No clue. Enlighten us."

Percy had finally made his way back to his feet when the airship had made the most abrupt takeoff he believe he'd ever experienced anywhere. In fact, it took until the Captain finally made her way to the deck for him to collect all of his scattered brains. He should have taken the redhaired man's advice and grabbed on to something, and not look at him questioningly. He made a note to try less question things. If someone runs past him, he's not going to ask why... He's going to run behind them. Especially on this airship. The Captain, Miss Skybound, had burst through the door, absolutely excited, which was almost too much for Percy to handle after being thrown to the ground like a ragdoll.

When she posed her question, Percy looked around him for a moment and at the others before timidly raising his hand. "I... I do. Myrddion told me in preparation for the Purge," he said. Old Kings, he hoped that Gwen wouldn't run over and hug him for that. He couldn't take it. He'd have to halfchange and fend her off with his antlers if he had too.

Vivi however, seemed to be the opposite of both Theon and Percy. This woman seemed to invigorate her and her excitablity brought her to her own feet. She strode forward to take a standing position beside Theon and lightly elbowed him in the arm. "Come on, be nice to the birdy. She did just pull us out of the fire after all," she said. Though truth be told, she did wish she could had stayed in the fire a little bit longer but it seemed that luck favored everyone but herself and they managed to escape without much of a fight. Though, of The Plan the birdy and their guide spoke about sounded as exciting as she believed it to be, then that would be rectified eventually but first...

"As much as I would like to hear all about this big secret "Plan"," she said, putting the word in between air quotations, "I'd really like to get out of these pajamas first... You wouldn't have anything nice to wear, would you birdy? I seem to only have brought the essentials," she said with a coy smile and outstretched hands, revealing the only real bits of clothing were her bits of armor and weaponry draped over her person.

Oh, for the love of the Lady, why did the captain have to be so much like Vivian? Though Kethyrian would never admit it, the slightly-crazed desert girl had managed to find herself a place on the very short list of people the Favisae gave a damn about, but that didn't mean she appreciated the personality type much. Still, the woman seemed capable of getting a crew of considerable size to heed her, which was perhaps the only solid evidence any of them were going to get of her competence. Trying not to imagine all the headaches in her future, the night-skinned elf obediently, if grudgingly, left the railing to gather with the others. The question had her shaking her head; she wasn't nearly important enough to know any of the wizard's grand plans. She just got told where to go, what to do, and occasionally who to kill, and did it. It wasn't the grandest of existences, but that was fine by her. She'd endured enough grandeur and splendor to last her the rest of her lifetime, and she hadn't much liked it anyway.

Mordecai, on the other hand, knew the Plan. In fact, Myrddin had given him pieces of information and directions on when to dispense them which were unknown to anyone else on the boat. That, however, was something that he'd been explicitly told not to say, and so he simply affirmed. "It seems wisest to discuss this elsewhere," he put in, glancing about at the other crew members on deck. Though they were under the employ of Captain Skybound, not all of them were technically members of Avalon's Dawn, or so he had been informed.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Skybound Character Portrait: Percy Galath Character Portrait: Mordecai Character Portrait: Lohengrin Character Portrait: Kethyrian Tor Character Portrait: Sven Diederich Character Portrait: Theon Zeona Character Portrait: Vivian Zeona

Earnings

0.00 INK

The Automaton's advice proved prudent, and the assembled group followed the spritely Captain below deck and towards the messhall. During the walk, Vivi split off from the group with directions from miss Skybound where could get out of her pajamas and into something a bit more proper to wear. Before long, the party found themselves in the Elysium's mess, a large hall full of wooden tables and benches. The hum of the engine was also louder here, due to its creeping proximity to the ship's heart. Percy was the one who strode forward and chose a table for them to discuss the "Plan" as it were.  He picked one of the middle most tables and stood behind it, leaning against it as he awaited for his assembled Guildmates to gather.

As soon as he was sure he had the attentions of those gathered (except maybe for Vivi, airheaded thing she was), he finally spoke, "As you all know, the reason we are gathered here now is because of a Purge enacted by the King Artorias. The only reason we're even alive is by our Guildmaster Myrddin's foresight," he said, an edge of pride to his words as he spoke about his mentor. Though truth be told, he didn't know too much about the wizard other than his name and the power that he held, but Percy respected that power. He could only dream the he could be as wizened and powerful as the wizard one day. But that day was not today, and he had a plan to reveal.

"Myrddin knew this day was coming, and he entrusted a task to the Guild. And though most of our allies and Guildmates are not with us, it is up to us to complete the task," he said, now a different emotion lining his words. Guilt perhaps, melancholy. He wished that more of the Guild, small enough as it was, had been able to make it. It seemed like a too important of a task for only the few of them to undertake. Still, he did not choose for this to happen, they'd have to make due with what they had. "The plan begins in Deluge," Percy began, finally explaining the task in earnest. He was glad that Gwen also knew the plan, in case he left something out. "Apparently, there's something in Deluge that's supposed to help us fight against King Artorias. A... Hidden passage. I believe. It'll lead us to what we need," Percy stated. Though that's only first stage. He knew there was more too it, there just had to be. Though, they'd need to take things one step at a time and worry about things like that when they came to it. No use in solving the entire riddle right there, especially when they didn't have all the pieces.

"The passage is an ancient thing, dating back all the way to the age of the Inflectori and the Dragons. I'm... Not quiet sure what we'll find in there. But before we can even worry about that, we need to find it first. That means asking around Deluge... That also means not getting killed in a back alley. Deluge is a dangerous place, a slip of the tongue or a misstep a dangerous thing. So be wary of yourself when we get there. I'd hate to lose more Guildmates," He said, then turned to Gwen, "Did I miss anything, miss Skybound?"

Gwen snorted, the unladylike sound mostly the result of being addressed as 'miss.' If people used a title with her, it was usually 'captain' or something mildly derogatory. The last person to call her 'miss' hadn't used Skybound, either-- that was how long it had been. "Nope, that's about as much as I know. 'Cept, I guess the old man knew we wouldn't have a clue what we're doing, because Strawberry here--" she pointed to Lohengrin, who was sitting at one end of the table, looking very much like he'd really rather be elsewhere-- "was hired to be our guide." The question as to why they'd need an outside guide to Deluge when many of them had been there before hung in the air for a moment, and Lohengrin sighed heavily through his nose.

"What you're looking for is underground, and this might be considerably more work than you bargained for," he warned pointedly. He knew what they were going to find, but he certainly wasn't going to say. As far as any of them would ever discover, he'd heard about a door with some scribble on it in a cave and that was it. "So happens that said underground passage is best accessed from the city itself, and if you know anything about Deluge, you know it's going to cost you something. Dunno what, but once you get down there, I can get you where the old bastard wants you to go. Of course, you could also just not do it, which would be fine by me." That was clearly all he was willing to contribute to the conversation, for he lapsed into sullen silence thereafter, suddenly very interested in the grain pattern of the wood on the table they were seated at.

The Lieutenant followed the fledgelings down the stairwell, eyeing each one through lidded half-masts. They were fledgelings. How long had it been since each member of Avalon's Dawn had been gathered, and how long had it been since he'd recognized them all? These boys and girls would only ever see him as a grizzled apparition of the man who'd kicked down doors, roughed up loud-mouthed mercenaries and tousled with the best of them, and if they didn't remember that, then they'd probably been recruited straight off the streets not long ago. A sour frown pulled down the corners of his lips, tethering into his usual scowl. Bushy eyebrows raised incredulously as Percy strode forward in the hopeful intentions of explaining where they were setting off and what the plan involved. He took his own place by Gwendolyn's right-hand side, stippling his bulky arms behind his head. The muscles in his back protested, crackling like a skin-drum chock-full of loose bones. Time sure was a lonely bastard. 

He might have thought the only one who looked moderately the same age was that guy sitting off to the corner, but there was no one even close. Perhaps, age-wise, the closest one aboard the ship near his own age was Gorlak. That suited him just fine. These younglings, however skilled, were the new generation of guild-members taking new opportunities, showing interest, crafting preposterous propositions, and cutting shifty deals for end-results. He would observe, quietly. He would offer advice, in the form of rumbling grumbles, head-slaps, and squinting glares. His inability to smooth anything over with his winning-charisma had always been salved by Gwendolyn's wildly intrusive input, ironing out the crinkles of his intentions. It would be the same, most likely. He nodded squarely, arching another bushy eyebrow. Imperceptibly prodding Percy to finish his train of thought and stop gushing about Myrddin's brilliance. The would respect his wisdom by carrying out whatever mission they'd been given. For Guildmaster Myrddin, that had always been enough.

Details, details, details. The Lieutenant had never cared about the politics of any of his missions, or why, exactly, they'd been there in the first place. It was easier to carry things out in darkness. Definitive information could cloud your judgement, arouse anger or sadness or any other emotion you'd rather bury beneath your heels. If they pointed him in the proper direction, then he'd plummet through like a cannonball, leaving the specifics with studious people like Percy. That's how it'd always been, and that's how it would stay. He absently probed the old scar tissue spliced across his inner palm, fingernails brushing over roughly healed flesh, fitted with mechanical apertures below the thumb joints; smooth, numb in certain places. He followed Gwendolyn's waggling finger, fixing Strawberry with a briny look. So, they needed a guide? Just as well. Said guide seemed perpetually grumpy, quickly ascertaining that he didn't give two shits whether or not they carried this mission through, soon after busying himself by staring down the table – as if it'd click it's wooden heels and magic him far, far away from them.

They'd get along fine.

Kethyrian wasn't sure what their tour guide's problem was, but she fixed him with an imperious look before shrugging and glancing away. "So it's hard. So what? We're mercenaries, and if we ever want to get paid again, we probably ought to secure the safety and happiness of our employer." She wasn't going to pretend like she had some kind of sentimental attachment to the old wizard, because she didn't. She didn't exactly do attachment anymore, not after what had happened last time. Even so, her lip curled at the mention of Deluge. She'd never been, but from all she'd heard of it, it was an absolute cesspool. Grimy buildings, grimy people; Vivian was lucky to have gotten out of it from what she and others had referenced of the place. That was perhaps the only thing that prevented the Favisae from deciding she'd hitch a ride as far as the swamp-city and find new employment there. There were such things as standards, after all.

Mordecai, who had thus far remained perfectly still and refrained from speaking, seemed to find his tongue again at that. "It may run more deeply than that," he pointed out blandly. "Chances are good that Master Myrddin has been captured. He informed this unit that it was the most likely outcome of his staying behind to purchase time. If so, the Guild Registry may well reside in the hands of the King, which is likely to make each of you a wanted criminal, and this unit slated for destruction." He blinked, more because he'd remembered he was supposed to than because he needed to clear his visual field. It was rather ponderous news, he was aware, as it meant that Deluge may well be the only respite left to them, and that for a limited time. The king's reach was great, and growing greater almost by the day.

Theon liked what the red-headed guy had said, about not doing this. He wasn't exactly fond of having an employer at all. He preferred the word take rather than the word earn, and his reasons for allowing the Guild to take advantage of his skills like everyone else in his past was one, so that he could get a roof over his head and get out of the desert for a while, and two, so he could confirm his sister hadn't gotten herself killed. Ideally, he would have arrived to find out that Vivi didn't need help stopping herself from getting killed, but he was unsurprised to learn that some things never changed. 

It so happened that the scryer was already a wanted criminal, for the rather unsavory work he'd done in the sand ocean the past few years. Perhaps it was only fitting that once his raiding was put to a halt did he encounter real difficulties from the King's men. This was... complicated. He didn't trust these people (he didn't really trust anyone, for that matter), but more than that, he didn't trust Deluge. Growing up there had indeed instilled a rather deep resentment for the place and the people. He probably fit in there better than anywhere else, selfish being that he was, but the past was the past, and his past left marks. 

Despite living there much of his life, he'd not heard much about anything under the city besides filth and trash and rats. He hadn't seen anything under the city, either, but that could have been due to any number of reasons. Scrying was still largely a mystery, even to him. About as much a mystery as this currently proposed trip under Deluge was. "And what exactly are we supposed to be looking for? Are we just supposed to take it on faith and an old man's word that there's something useful down there for us? As far as I can remember, the only thing that ends up below Deluge is shit, though most of the time is doesn't even make it that far." 

He had slouched somewhat back into his chair, hands tossed into his lap, the bottoms of his feet propped upon the edge of the table. He wanted to sleep on this. He always dreamed if given the time, and though it wasn't always useful to him, it was always something. Something to go on, something to give him an idea of how to move forward. "I don't know about the rest of you, but I prefer to believe in what I can see." 

"Well, if all else fails, we could always just go to burn down our old house," Vivi offered, rubbing Theon's back. Something about her tone, it had a serious lining behind it. She really wanted to burn the house down. It didn't hold any memories after all... well, any good memories anyway. The fact that Deluge was the destination didn't bother her, or at least it didn't seem to. The only thing that she seemed to have in mind was the opportunity to set fire to their house and their past. That and the fact that there was adventure afoot.

A tunnel under Deluge? She thought she'd crawled though every corner of the city, and saw every thing the city had. Apparently she was wrong. And that interested her to no end. She shrugged, "Either way, we're fugitives... Well," she paused glancing towards Theon with a mischievious smile, "Fugitive-ier for some of us," she teased, chuckling. "It's not like we got anything else to do, and I'm curious about this tunnel. What's in it, what's it look like, how long it is, what's it do, you know, the essentials. I'm in... We're still burning the house down though, right?" Vivi said, bringing her gaze back to Theon. The scryer lowered his gaze somewhat, smirking to himself somewhat at the idea. It wasn't like it would change anything, but perhaps that was just the reason he was feeling very warm to the idea. "Sounds like fun, actually," he admitted. "Best reason to go back to Deluge I've heard so far." 

"Well, aren't you all just a meadow of flowers in springtime," Gwen singsonged, clearly not at all bothered by the fact that the balance of personalities in the room was obviously tipped towards broody, or at the very least reticent. "Lemme put it this way: the ship's going to Deluge. We've got the fuel, and stopping before we reach the Wetlands is out of the question. The Elysium can outfly anything in the Imperial Fleet, but only if we keep her in the air. So, you all stick around, make yourselves as much at home as you can, eat my food, drink my booze, and make with the merry or the grumpy or whatever it is you do, and when I let you off in the city of sin and plunder, you go where you want, mkay?" She grinned broadly, smacking the wood of the table with her metal palm, which appeared to startle the man at the end, as he looked up sharply.

"But! Before you leave, I get your names. That's the deal. Don't worry, I won't use them, and I'll probably forget them, so it's really like you get to have the run of this lovely bird for free." Apparently, she thought it was a good bargain, because she didn't leave room for anyone to argue and just plowed on forward. "Your friendly neighborhood pilot and captain is Gwendolyn Skybound, but I nickname, so I can't well tell you not to." She stood, poking Sven in the arm with her fleshy index finger instead of the metal one, imploring him to introduce himself or she'd do it for him, and if he didn't want everyone assuming it was totally okay to call him Sunshine, he would. The same thing was conveyed to Strawberry with a look, though she might have already ruined whatever-his-actual-name-was for them.

Her prodding elicited a slight eye-roll, and a gruff rumbling sound which finally conceded into what might've sounded like, “Sven. Sven Diederich.” His name would not be sullied unless Gwendolyn paraded about the ship, scattering Sunshine across his shoulders like an undignified cape composed of dandelion fields – which seemed entirely likely, given her disposition. In turn, the Lieutenant watched as the others introduced themselves.

Said recipient of her dubiously-valuable attention shook his head, but complied for the sake of reducing this spectacle to a memory as quickly as possible. "Lohengrin."

Perhaps strangely, Theon had a way with names, and had no doubt that these ones would stick with him, even if he greatly desired to forget them. "Theon Zeona," he said, offering his own. "I'm a scryer, if you're curious." No doubt knowledge of his abilities would be interesting to them, and considering that they needed to work together at least somewhat to avoid the King's men in the future, it would probably be helpful to know. Vivi chuckled as her brother introduced himself and then offered her own name. "And I'm Vivian Zeona. The younger sister. Though I do prefer Vivi. I'm his bodyguard," she said, jerking her head towards Theon. "I'm your resident scrapper, fighter, warrior empress. Pleasure to meet your acquantiance," she finished, offering a mock bow. She did seem proud of her statements though.

"Percival Galath," he offered, his hands finding their way into a crossed position over his chest. "Everyone calls me Percy though. I'm a scholar and historian. The past facinates me and I intend to unlock her secrets," He said before shrugging, "But in practical terms, I am a druid, with a dabbling in alteration. I can make anything and everything grow given enough time. I am also a mutatio, so do not be surprised if I shift at some point," he finished.

"This is All-Purpose Unit Number Nine," the Automaton contributed, in the style of a recitation more than an introduction. His tones, however, changed somewhat after that, more correctly approximating the ones a human would use to introduce himself, if he were polite and composed. "This unit's creator designated it with the name 'Mordecai,' if that is preferred. It is an unmarketed model capable of domestic, industrial, and battlefield functions, and runs primarily on a self-contained energy module. Higher-order functions require the application of magic, for which the unit has a conversion rate of seven-to-one." There was just the slightest hint of pride in the last pronouncement, though he was aware that it would be largely meaningless to most. 

Kethyrian, being only somewhat familar with even the most mundane of human technologies, had no idea what the golem was on about, but it sounded relatively important. She supposed a name was a simple price to pay for what was apparently free, no-strings-attached passage to Deluge, but she was far too cynical to believe that everything was really going to be this easy. She still desired to have her uncomplicated life and less-complicated job back, so she at least would probably be stuck wandering back under the surface to find who-knew-what. Far from an optimal situation, but necessary to achieve her goal. "I am Kethyrian Tor. More importantly to some of you, I'm a healer, subspecialty in warding." she shot a certain look at Vivian with that statement, though it wasn't exactly unfriendly. Exasperated might be the better term for it. Vivi returned with a coy wave.

She was also incredibly tired, the fatigue weighing down on her muscles. Her last mission had possessed a duration of just over twenty-four stright hours, and considering she'd been able to sleep all of two hours since it finished and was drained magically besides, she was feeling more than a little under the weather. Luckily, nobody had yet said anything particularly stupid, so she wasn't aggravated, just numbly exhausted. "Is there somewhere to sleep on board?" She glanced between the captain and the massive human that seemed to behave as the woman's shadow, figuring that they were most likely to give her a useful answer.

Mordecai's recitation meant something to Gwendolyn, though, and she was across the table and literally perched right in front of the golem within a blink. She must have looked a strange sight, crouching on the tabletop and peering into the Automaton's eyes with an air of obvious scrutiny. She took his jaw in one hand and moved his head to the side a bit, attempting to get a better look at his left iris. Lo and behold, it was there. Amidst what was otherwise a jeweler's bright green was a delicate overlay of gold, centered aroud the pupil and shaped into what appeared to be the petals of some exotic flower. The grin that split her face could have lit up a cave, and she patted his cheek briskly. "I don't believe it," she proclaimed giddily, "You're Morgause's last project, aren't you? Seven to one... What I wouldn't give to open you up and see what makes you tick." Shifting in her crouch, she picked up one of his arms and turned it over, examining the palms of his hands. 

That such a marvel of craftsmanship had just walked up the gangplank and into her home was simply extraordinary. Gwen had always fancied herself damn lucky, but this probably took the cake. The engineer in her soul had just died and gone to gearhead heaven, she was certain of it. "Is your AI removeable? Can your internal systems differentiate between types of magic? There was a rumor she'd engineered your synthetic neural network to feel pain. Can you feel this?" She squeezed his wrist as tightly as she could, quite obviously intent on picking his aritificial brains.

Mordecai endured the prodding with patience, somewhat nonplussed to be faced with questions that were not only fired in such a rapid barrage, but also relevant. The woman had referred to herself as an engineer, though, so perhaps she also had some experience with constructs such as himself. "Yes, yes, and yes, though it is not painful. The Mistress decided that pain receptors would be counterproductive, though it is capable of feeling things."

"Well, she's good as gone," Lohengrin pointed out, then shot the Favisae a glance. "Crews' quarters are out the door and to the left. You find a free bunk and put something on it, it's yours. There's a few empty rooms still." He shrugged. "I'm going back above. Might as well do whatever you want. There's still probably some food in the galley, if you want it. That's to the right." So saying, he tossed a mock salute and headed out the door and up the stairs to the deck above.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kethyrian Tor Character Portrait: Vivian Zeona

Earnings

0.00 INK

After their little meeting, Vivi immediately left the stuffy mess hall and the rest of the lower decks and emerged right back on the upper deck. Never the one to be kept inside when the outside was so much more beautiful and inherently fun. Plus, considering her feydusk friend and her brother both seemed to be doing something else of value (in this case, sleep), she had to make her own fun. She had found herself perched in one of the out of the way corners on the deck, quietly (surprising) watching the crew do their work on the ship. The quiet could only last so long and it was only after a couple of minutes that she hopped back to her feet and threw her restless heart into work. Vivi offered her arms and hands to whatever the work the Birdy dubbed "Alpha" crew was working on at the moment.

The crew was hesitant, but due to the eagerness of the woman and perhaps most poignantly her inability to take no for an answer, she found herself being taught the ropes and putting her boundless energy to good use instead of just fidgeting around. While hard, the work proved to be fun, though Vivi had a knack for making anything she did fun. She managed to even learn a new sailing song as well. The hours passed and before she knew it, Alpha crew turned in to allow the next crew (whom she dubbed "Beta" crew, following Gwen's theme naming) their shift. At this point dusk was on the horizon and Vivi allowed herself to settle down, though she refused to enter the holds just yet. Once again, she found herself watching the next shift do their work, and though she didn't immediately offer her aid once again, she still felt... Energetic. She still wanted to do something. She watched the man so affectionately called "Ducky" that morning take his leave from the nest.

Vivi chewed on her lip as the cogs in her head began to turn. Her eyes went from the nest and then to the quickly approaching sunset, and then right back to the nest. Her eyes lit up with the idea that only she could have come up with. She stopped the fellow that apparently was going to replace Ducky and said, "No, no, allow me," with that mischievious grin. Without allowing time for an answer, the fleetfooted woman went to the mast and began to ascend it at a rapid clip... Too rapid, it turned out, as her foot missed one of the rungs. The miss was abrupt and staggered her clip, throwing all of her motion into chaos, causing her hand to miss it's mark. She felt the solid mass beneath her foot give away and her hand to lose grip. Before she knew it, she was falling.

Instead of screaming or the normal thoughts of excrutiating pain or even death, her mind went only to one thing.

Theon's going to kill me...

Kethyrian had slept the sleep of the truly exhausted, deep, dreamless, and prolonged, and by the time she awoke, it was to the sound of many feet moving over the deck above as the shift changed. Rolling herself out of bed, the managed to avoid any entanglements with her sheets and landed lightly on the smooth wood of the bunk-room she apparently shared with Vivian and a few female crew members. Stretching languidly, she sighed in satisfaction when a few joints popped into better places, then yawned widely. This, getting up just as the sun was going down, was the way things should be. Padding on bare feet to the corner of the room, she rummaged through the belongings she'd been provided-- apparently, a sudden departure from the city had not been entirely unanticipated-- she dragged up some new garments and shucked her old ones for them. The boy's shirt was pleasantly loose, and the trousers cut off at the knee, not so different from what she'd seen some of the crew wearing.

It would suit her purposes just fine. Tying her peculiar striped hair up on her head, she thought about getting something to eat, but given the shift change, the mess was bound to be crowded, and she'd much rather wait. Instead, she ascended her way up and onto the deck, blinking to adjust to the remaining sunlight beofre spotting a figure climbing the mast.

At first, she simply assumed it was one of the crew, perhaps headed up for a turn at watch or something, but upon closer inspection, the Favisae sighed and shook her head. No, that was definitely Vivian, and she was hardly surprised. Well, fine. It wasn't as if she existed just to stop the girl from doing silly- you've got to be jesting. But alas, she watched with mounting anxiety as first a foot, then a hand, and then the rest of the young woman's person slipped from her hold on the mast, and she was plummeting downwards.

Kethyrian didn't need to think; she simply reacted, throwing up a barrier to intercept Vivian's downward motion. Unlike the ones she'd used earlier that day, however, this one was flexible rather than solid, which she soundly hoped would prevent any broken bones. Not that she couldn't just mend them, but that was rather beside the point. They'd hurt the same either way. As soon as the shield had served its purpose, she carefully guided it back down to the deck with her hands, bringing her human-sized burden to rest on the floor. Gritting her teeth, she advanced across the deck at what was perhaps best described as a flit (she couldn't help it, such movements were practically ingrained in her genetics), and offered Vivi a hand.

"Are you incapable of logic, or do you just not like it?" she hissed. "You know what? Don't answer that; I'm not sure I want to know."

"Oh Kethy. You're awake," Vivi offered rather calmly seeing how she could have just been a bundle of broken bones not two seconds earlier. She looked up to the woman from her back, whos head was upside thanks to their relative positions. She then shot back into a sitting position and accepted Kethyrian's hand, bringing her back to her feet. Instead of looking at the clearly incensed woman in front of her, Vivi's eyes went to the the mast, her brow furrowed, looking a bit irritated herself. It was like it was mocking her, goading her, denying her the pleasure of scaling it. Oh, she'd show it. She'd show it. Vowing various curses and promises to her... rival, she reluctantly looked back to Kethy.

"I would have had it you know. I just... missed is all. A rung must have been missing or something," she lied. Oh, she knew it was her fault, she just had to try her best to save whatever face she could. She had been so excited and so intent on making the top in record time, her feet got tied up and she fell. Well, at least Kethy was on deck, because then the Beta crew would have been mopping her off the deck and to Keth's quarters to mend like an old sweater. "And I'm going to get it too. Watch me," Vivi stated as a challenge. Rather. She stated it as if she was accepting a challenge. Now that the gauntlet was thrown Vivi took a purpose filled step towards the mast with a fire in her eyes.

Whatever the reason, Vivi's nonsequitur response had its usual effect, which was to say Kethyrian's frustration sputtered out like a dying flame, and she was left to sigh her resignation, which, as always, was a gesture that fell on deaf ears. She looked from the mast to the girl and back again, entirely unconvinced by the game attempt to blame something other than pure recklessness. She was wise to the ploy by now, not that it made a lick of difference. Vivian was Vivian, and she was going to do whatever ill-advised thing she liked, heedless of anyone's advice to the contrary. All that could be done was give her a chance at not killing herself by doing it.

"If you're going to climb something, you establish grip and balance first, then speed," the feydusk pointed out as the other woman turned to have another go. "Ridiculous humans. You don't even have claws, and you're clearly not built for it." The last was uttered under her breath more than anything, and she shook her head, figuring that she was stuck on deck until Vivi got this out of her system, however long that was going to take.

Vivi shrugged and held her hands up, making her fingers dance in preparation for the next action. Though she played at Kethy, pretending like her words didn't register with the human girl, she heard them and intended to use the information so that she may slay the mast. Well, perhaps not slay. Vivi was pretty sure the Birdy wouldn't like that. Conquer was perhaps the better word. Conquer the mast then. She grabbed on to the first rung with a steel grip and hoisted herself on to the bottom couple of rungs and then established her balance as the feydusk suggested. Though before excitability kicked in, she hung off of the mast, keeping her grip with only one hand to better look at Kethy. At least from this distance she had nothing more to worry about than scrapped knees and injured pride.

"Not built for it, huh?" Vivi asked, making a silly face in the process, "Well come on then miss claws, if the feydusk is so much better at it than I am, let's say a little race to the top? Surely you'd have no problem beating silly ol' me," she said, sticking her tongue out. "Say... On the count of five? One..." She began the count, swinging back to the proper position, "Two... she adjusted her grip and found her balance. "... Five!" and the race was on, whether Kethy wanted it or not. Vivi ascended the rungs in a good clip, though she made sure this time that her feet and hands always had something solid, else she'd be climbing nothing but air. Say what you will about the girl, she does know how to learn.

"Absolutely not-" the response began, but in truth the challenge had brushed proud Kethyrian's hubris, and she bristled at the thought of being bested by a human at this of all things. She, who had grown up in caves with sheer rock faces, learning to climb almost before she could walk, in order to get at precariously-located food sources. As though her pride would let her suffer the insult. Still, it was at war with her sense of dignity for too long, and Vivian was a few seconds past the end of her count before she finally gave in and ran for the mast, jumping and catching onto the other side of the mast, shooting up the glorified vertical pole with all seriousness. Perhaps it did not justify such effort, but... she was hardly one to back down from an actual challenge. It was the one glaring failing in her pervasive practicality.

Hand over hand, foot over foot, and in the end, it was still as natural as breathing. Just as well, perhaps: she knew well that her friend had a marked advantage in several other pertinent areas- she would not allow herself to lose this. And, true to form, she did not, pulling herself into the crow's nest with little discernible effort. For once, she wore a smile, more because she was glad to reaffirm that this skill was not one that left a person when a person left the subterrane. She allowed the ghost of it to remain when Vivi joined her, though she said nothing on the subject. Now that it was all said and done, she felt a little foolish for reacting the way she had, but there'd been something exhilarating about it as well. She wondered if perhaps the desert woman spent so much of her time doing needlessly-dangerous things for that feeling.

Unsurprisingly, eagerness and a can-do attitude has nothing on raw skill, as Vivian hauled herself into the crow's nest far behind Kethy. Somewhere, deep within that thick head of hers, she knew that the Favisae would win, even with the surprise she threw at her. Claws were better at climbing after all, and having lived, breathed, and ate climbing in the underground tunnels tended to give an advantage over one girl's sudden fancy. Still, she put on a irritated face and looked up at the victor. "You cheated," she accused. A flimsy excuse, and a joke by the way her lips turned into a smile. She grabbed the edge of the crow's next and brought her legs under her again, looking out over the horizon.

Her smile was almost as bright as the sunset. The two suns were visible on the horizon, as the large one was beginning its decent and the smaller bluish one hovered just slightly above it. The smile still plastered her face as she looked to Kethy again, "Just in time. If we'd been slower, we'd might have missed this marvelous view," she said, conviently excluding the fact that it had been her who had been the slow one. She nudged the taller woman in the ribs and asked, "How about you? Have you seen something as grand as this underground?" she asked, unaware the question might appear to be blunt or rude.

The Favisae, quite used to being blunt herself, took no offense. "I think comparing anything underground to this would be like comparing a pomegranate to a peach," she replied simply. She wasn't going to admit that she usually woke up at the time she did so that sunset would be the first thing she saw every day, because that was sentimental and beneath her. All the same, the sight never quite lost its wonder for her, and she was quite happy to while away several minutes like this. "Underground, much of the beauty is in the archiecture. The Favisae built their cities into the stone, and some of the more impressive buildings are just carved straight into the cavern walls. Others are made with particularly exotic materials, like obsidian or white marble. The rest is the work of magic-- multicolored lights that throw patterns onto the surfaces and such. I imagine it would be as disorienting for you as bright sunlight was to me."

She shrugged, as though none of it really mattered. Then, perhaps only because she actually liked Vivian most of the time, she volunteered something else to the conversation. "Deluge... you are from there." It wasn't a question, exactly, but it was perhaps best construed as an invitation to comment. Beyond the simple fact of Vivi's birthplace and the fact that she never seemed too fond of it, Kethyrian knew nothing of her opinions on the location, nor why she had left in the first place.

"Yep," she answered. The idea that the question might actually be more than a question, didn't quite register with the girl. Being as straightforward as possible didn't leave room for tact on her part.

A whilte eyebrow acended a dark grey forehead. Perhaps she should have expected a response of that nature. Then again, they honestly hadn't been acquainted for long; there were still aspects of conversation that were bound to be... strange. Especially considering the parties involved. "Would you mind telling me what drove you from the place? Why you are not there any longer?"

She was met with a wide eyed response, realization completely filling her face. "Ooohh," she cooed nodding as she found her a seat on the lip of the crow's nest. The fact that the fall behind her was a long one didn't seem to register either, though she was forward a bit to help not dying. "Well," she stalled, collecting her thoughts, "Hm. It was Theon's idea, actually. He had had enough of life in Deluge and he was setting out on his own. Being the faithful sister that I am, I followed him. Deluge never really felt like a home I suppose. Exciting, yes, adventurous, yes, dangerous, oh definitely yes. Though, if it wasn't for Theon I might not have left. Or I might have. I haven't really thought about it much. One day he just up and told me he was leaving, and so we left for the desert. I had many adventures in that mudhole, but I wanted to see the world. When given that chance I took it and I regret nothing."

Deluge always felt cold, impersonal for her. Though she scampered through many of the streets and alleys, it just didn't feel like a home. It didn't feel like she belonged. Truth be told, if she didn't leave she might have ended up in one of the crime families or dead in a gutter, neither would of been good for her spirit. Though the option she took wasn't far from the idea of a crime family, but the desert held many secrets and adventures for her, and she wouldn't willingly abandon her brother... Would she? She chuckled, throwing the thoughts out of her lofty mind and joked, "I suppose you could say that it felt cold, so I traded it for the heat of the desert," she said, a smirk on her face. She was clearly pleased by her own cleverness. "How about you, I suppose? What drew you out into our world?" She replied, question for a question.

Theon... she supposed that must be the brother, the newest of the Guild members, and one she'd never spoken to. It was hard to picture that Vivi was related to someone with that kind of demeanor, but she supposed stranger things had happened before. "I left the underground for a similiar reason, I suppose. There was nothing left for me there, so I decided to see what there might be up here." That was perhaps whitewashing the point a little bit, but the intricacies of subterrane politics would likely bore her audience half to sleep anyway, so she didn't bother making the attempt. The fact that she'd rather not think about it factored in as well, clearly. "I can't say I was expecting to go back during my lifetime, but apparently that's what's on the agenda." Just whose agenda it really was and for what purpose it was written was a question that bothered her somewhat, but this too she kept to herself.

"Maybe we won't stay for long," she offered. There was nothing in Deluge for her either. Well, except a house in dire need of a good burning. She found herself watching as the suns finally descended beyond the horizon, leaving only part of the blue sun to light their world. She found herself laughing again and then shrugged, "It sounds like an adventure either way. Come on, let's go back down," she said, popping off the rim of the nest and looking down at the deck below. ".. Er.. After you!" Vivi gestured, allowing the feydusk to go first. If she fell again, she'd like someone to be down there to catch her after all.

Kethyrian shook her head, but preceded her friend down anyway.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Skybound Character Portrait: Theon Zeona

Earnings

0.00 INK

Theon had never been inside a throne room before, and yet there was no mistaking it for what it was. It probably said more about the interior decoration that the King employed than the scryer’s perception. Theon found it a rather Spartan room, quite devoid of personality, but that could very well have just been the dream. His visions rarely constructed anything with any resemblance to reality, let alone exact replication. The edges of his visions shifted and blurred like the horizon on a hot day in the sand ocean, but the center of his view was clear, focused on a throne of white marble and blue veins perched atop a raised dais at one end of the hall, and the man sitting in it.

The scryer had never met King Artorias before, nor seen him from afar, but he could only assume this was he, sitting with his perfect posture upon his royal butt, his military getup black and gold and organized to perfection, the amount of medals perched upon his puffed chest clearly compensating for something. Perhaps Theon wasn’t being fair to the man, but he didn’t make a habit of being fair to anyone. He’d killed men who had played fair, and it hadn’t helped them any.

A pair of guards held an old bound man before the king, who Theon recognized to be the wizard Myrddin, despite the sparse few days he’d known him. The old bugger was chained at the wrists, each of the guards holding one. They were speaking to one another, the king and the wizard, and his vision was kind enough to grant him hearing as well.

“They
will succeed, and you will be overthrown,” Myrddin insisted, but Artorias did not seem hardly convinced. “A scant handful of common mercenaries? I think otherwise." If he was referring to the few of them that had made it to this ship, Theon had to agree with the king. While he had to admit the idea of overthrowing the king sounded invigorating, it also sounded impossible, considering that a single unit of the king’s men ambushing them had forced them all to run for their lives.

"They are no common mercenaries,” the wizard continued, “Each of them is immensely-talented, and among them there is even a scryer. Nothing you do is secret." Oh… that was great. Now he was being mentioned to the king, being used to threaten the king. If there was a single thing on this earth Theon hated more than anything else, it was being used. He didn’t remember signing up with the group to overthrow a king. Perhaps he’d misread the contract he didn’t remember signing.

Perhaps Theon had stopped paying attention, but the king had replied with something, and he hadn’t heard it. Whatever it was, he seemed unmoved by the mention of a scryer. And Myrddin hadn’t even told him that Theon had never received a proper lesson in his life. A self-taught mage wasn’t exactly much to be feared.

"Even kings should know they can't stop prophesies,” Myrddin went on, “You were doomed to be defeated before you had ever claimed victory. Give up now, and spare us all the pain." If his intent had been to piss off Artorias, that had done it. A short barked order later, and Myrddin was thrown from the room, Theon along with him…


He woke with a start, requiring a moment to remember where he was. He was with his sister, aboard some girl’s flying deathtrap, running from a king and his army, who all wanted them dead. It was just what he’d had in mind when he joined the Guild to see his sister and get a roof over his head. He groaned, realizing how dead tired he was, and then realizing what time it was. A glance out a window revealed complete darkness, save for a bright light in the distance that was one of the moons. Sighing, he made a lazy attempt to undo his bedhead, and then got up.

There would be no more sleep for him tonight. There never was, not after a vision ended. Had he been lucky enough to have a dream of the past, he might have simply transitioned through it, but anything involving the present or the future left his mind reeling, spinning, processing, and rendering him incapable of falling into a sleep once more. There was nothing to do now but wait it out, and begin his day long before anyone else.

Despite his misgivings about the height, the scryer took himself up to the main deck, deciding the feeling of air rushing by him might help calm him. It had never really worked when the air had been thick and hot, but up this high, it was cooler, thinner, cleaner even. Still, he made a point of not walking too close to the railings.

He was surprised to find their captain out here, seemingly wandering about aimlessly. He thought for a second she might have been sleepwalking, but then reasoned that if she was a regular sleepwalker, surely she would have walked over the railing and killed herself by now. He stopped where he was, narrowing his gaze at her slightly. “Not a heavy sleeper, I take it?”

Gwendolyn had been prowling the decks by night, as was her wont. She never slept for more than three hours at a time, four on a good day, and tended to compensate for this by napping rather frequently. This left her with odd hours of wakefulness, and by now the skeleton crew that ran the ship by night was quite accustomed to seeing the Captain just wandering about, seemingly without direction or purpose. That she gave this impression was fine by her-- it meant that nobody approached her and asked what was on her mind; she could only manage the energy for so many hyperactive deflections in one day. Though her enthusiasm was at times nearly boundless, she was not without some more introspective tendencies also.

That someone actually spoke to her startled her, and she whipped around in a minor symphony of clinks and chimes to note that her unexpected guest was one of the Guild members. His name, she recalled, was The-something. Not that it mattered, because that wasn't going to be how she addressed him. Of course, until she decided what word she was going to use, she avoided it altogether. "Nope," she replied with a grin. "I can sleep when I'm dead. Until then, I'd rather be awake as much as possible." The statement was accompanied by a shrug, but then she tilted her head sideways at him and blinked. It crossed her mind that he was standing in the middle of the deck, which was just strange, really. Maybe he'd never been on an airship before?

"You know, usually people stand at the sides. The view's much nicer, if that's what you're here for." She avoided asking the direct question, because, pushy as she could be, she knew there were only a few reasons any normal person was up at this hour, and it wasn't really any of her business. Pushing was all well and good, but not when it came to things that might actually be important.

“I could see the view just fine from here if I wanted to,” he said, though he wasn’t feeling particularly like being obstinate at the moment. Deciding to compromise, he took a daring step towards the railing, and then promptly taking a seat on his rear, draping well-built arms to rest over his knees. Sitting was a far more stable position than standing, and when he was this high up in the air, stability was valuable to Theon. “I figured the air might do me some good. Help me slow my mind down. It’s always like this after a vision.”

Gwen was untroubled by visions but all the same, she could relate. That was, after all, why she was here at this very moment, walking around to sort out her thoughts. Oftentimes, they weren't anything more earthshattering than new schematics or plans for engine modifications, but sometimes she was troubled, and there was no mistaking that walking around on deck helped just as well as anything else she'd ever tried. If she had her guess, though, the man had more to say, and since there was nobody else around to listen, she took a seat across from him, drumming a mindless rhythm on one knee with the fingertips of her metal arm.

He believed he had mentioned being a scryer to the group at large earlier, so that shouldn’t have come as a big surprise to her. Not that she was like to care, as she seemed to enjoy her machines a little overmuch, considering how she’d practically jumped into the toaster. “It was about the old guy, Myrddin, if that’s important to you,” he figured it would be, and it was really the only reason he was sharing with her, “He was having a chat with the good king while in irons. Something about us overthrowing his ass, the stick up it and everything. Mentioned me specifically, actually. That was nice of him.” It wasn’t as though Theon hadn’t already drawn the ire of the king before, but that had been indirectly. He’d been a speck of sand in the ocean at Artorias’ feet. The king wouldn’t have seen him even if he’d looked down, as all the medals surely would’ve gotten in the way. Theon had liked it that way. Powerful enough to have his way, but small enough to avoid organized attempts at stopping him.

"Well, that's an ambitious thought for a man in chains, now isn't it?" she mused thoughtfully, though she didn't bother to hide her snicker when he mentioned the stick. Artorias had always been far more formal than she really knew what to do about. For all her bluster and silliness, she spoke much more plainly than courtiers did, and all the unnecessary manners were a bit unnerving, honestly. "Mm... still, it's not like he used your name, right? If things go that far south, can't you just, I don't know, act like you're not a scryer?" She waved a hand. "Maybe not; I'm a scientist, not a mage, so I don't know anything about it. Engines, golems, sure. Anything about magic or healing or whatever... you might as well be speaking orcish." There was no denying that it was interesting, of course, she just didn't really have a good grasp on it. If it couldn't be quantified and predicted at least a bit according to laws or formulas, she was at a bit of a loss.

"Thanks for saying so, though... seems like it might be important, not that there's much we can do about it." She hummed a pensive syllable in the back of her throat for a moment, then shrugged. "How does it work, anyway? That whole scrying thing you do?"

It worked however he said it worked, that was how. In practice, that was truth. No one knew the content of his dreams other than him, and thus he was free to share what he wished when he wished to, to omit or deliver half-truths, or to outright lie. Being as rare a power as it was, it was woefully undocumented and extremely hard to train, and thus Theon could take advantage of it. “There’s a few different parts to it,” he began, seeing no real reason why he shouldn’t say anything to her. “Anyone can call them what they want, but I call them Hindsight, Foresight, and Farsight, Hindsight being the ability to see the past, Foresight the future, and Farsight being distant or near locations in the present.”

He shifted slightly, the ground of the ship deck not exactly soft beneath him. “Now, I’m mostly self-taught, so I don’t know how other scryers have done it, but for me, Hindsight and Foresight occurs in the form of dreams. They’re usually abstract and a general pain in the ass to interpret, but most of the time they mean something or other, and they always take themselves too seriously. I’m assuming my dream tonight was either very recently passed, or is just about to happen, given the content.” Theon… actually didn’t talk about this very much, but it was refreshing for someone to ask him about it and not want something from him. As far as he could tell, Gwendolyn wasn’t looking to use him for anything. Curiosity he was okay with.

“Farsight is what I’m best at. If I can concentrate, I can see the lay of the land for miles around, essentially know where everything is and what it’s doing. Basically it involves a lot of sitting, waiting, and face-scrunching, and then I can tell you anything you need to know about the world within fifty miles or so.” There actually wasn’t that much face-scrunching, as Theon was old enough to understand that concentrating didn’t go hand in hand with looking like you were constipated. Still, some people seemed to think screwing up one’s face actually helped them think harder. Morons.

"Sounds nifty," Gwen replied, which was a bit of an understatement but more or less a genuine sentiment all the same. "But mostly just bothersome. Not sure I'd want to know all that, myself." Her nose wrinkled slightly, and she appeared to be actually contemplating the possibility of knowing vague things about her own future, then shook her head. No, she really wouldn't. Still, you did the best you could with what you had, she supposed, and surely it had its conveniences. She looked down at her metallic arm for a second. Yeah, maybe she knew some things like that.

"Well, I don't know how often you get them, but if they bother you again, feel free to skulk around up here. The crew's used to people doing that by now." She grinned widely, something slightly sheepish in it. It was an obvious indication that she was the reason. "Dunno if talking helps, but I'm pretty good at it, too, if you want." A pause, and she stood, rotating her good shoulder and looking around. "Not like there's much of anywhere else to be, you know?"

Theon was about as good at talking as he was at scrying. Which was to say not so good. But if they were going to be on this ship for a while, maybe he would get some practice at it. “We might be seeing each other a lot, then. It happens pretty regularly, but the severity isn’t always the same. Talking… slows things down, though it was usually just listening on my end in the past. Vivian does enough talking for the both of us, when you get her going.” He stood as well, stretching.

“I think I’m going to go walk around some more, maybe lie down and stare at the ceiling for a while. Or maybe the sky. It’s a nice night… morning, whatever it is.” He looked about to leave, but then thought better of it. “I was a bit of an asshole earlier. I was having a bit of a bad morning. Feel free to ignore me when that happens. You’re alright, Gwendolyn.” That had sufficiently exhausted his compliment quota for the week.

That actually drew a short laugh out of the Captain, but she nodded anyway. "You've got it." That was pretty much her default response to more prickly attitudes anyway. She'd grown up around Sven of all people; she could handle reticent and grumpy without so much as blinking. "And you're not so bad yourself." Tossing him a wave and a loose salute, she made her way to the mainmast, intent on climbing the rigging and maybe finding a nice place to sleep up there, at least for an hour or two.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Percy Galath Character Portrait: Lohengrin

Earnings

0.00 INK

The noon suns were high in the sky, which signalled to the reptile in his blood that now was the perfect time for a doze. Of course, Lohengrin hadn't made much habit of heeding his instincts, and while he did feel a little sluggish and was content to enjoy the warmth, he didn't sleep. Rather, he stood on the upper deck, keeping out of the way of the crew and generally looking sullen enough that nobody really wanted to approach him. It was working out well, actually: he was alone and pleasantly heated, and far away from anyone who knew anything about him.

He'd had the peculiar sensation that the old wizard had known, or at least suspected. It was really why he'd taken this job; something had given him the impression that refusing would be unwise. Even so, to know that he'd be able to locate the Door and guide other people to it... few people even knew about its existence anymore, and even he'd only learned incidentally. There was something about this situation he disliked, but he was being paid very well to undertake this task, and if the fools were insistent on completing it, he'd at least earn his reward. If not, well, he couldn't say he'd be disappointed. This whole thing smacked of ugly conspiracy, and it was treading ground far too close to his own misgivings for him to remain apathetic about it.

Hopefully, they'd see what was before them and give up. It would be the smart thing to do, but then he wasn't sure how many of them actually fit that adjective to any degree.

Down below the decks in the crew quarters, Percy had staked a claim on one of the bunks. He laid there, exploring the recesses of his mind, considering that there wasn't much for him to do otherwise. Had he had enough time to prepare and possessed the necessary foresight, he would have thought to brought along one of his innumerable tomes that Myrddin's library held. Yet, while Percy possessed a healthy enjoyment of knowledge, foresight didn't factor into it. A funny coincidence then, that currently he was mentally examining his own lack of foresight. Percy chalked it up to his mutatio blood. Foresight never really factored into creatures either, why else would they attempt to steal food from a trap?

Luckily, he was not in a trap (unless suffering from boredom counted as a trap). Instead, he found himself holed up in the bunkrooms, thinking about stuff... Well, perhaps he was in a trap. Again, his found his mutatio blood coming into play. He was getting antsy, he was fidgeting, he wanted to do something (like reading), not just sit around and laze about. So it was with a certain hop in his step that he dismounted his bunk, slipped his buckled boots back on, and ducked into the hallway, setting his sights on the upper deck.

He emerged into the open air and the warmth of the sun. He had to throw up his hands to block the rays of the sun, giving his eyes a minute to get used to it again. Though, now that he was on deck, he didn't know what to do... So, he began to just mill about, slowly wandering from point of the ship to another-- careful to duck out of the way of any of the crew. It was during this meandering (Some would say grazing) that his path brought him by the red haired Lohengrin.

Narrowed eyes had tracked the beast-man's presence across the deck lazily, as all such predatory glances are naturally drawn to movement. Why anyone would choose to assume the form of a prey-beast was beyond him, but he supposed that at least they had antlers. He'd once known a Mutatio who took the form of a rabbit-- though perhaps that in itself was some defense. No hunting creature worth the name oft bothered with something so small, though he could recall clearly afternoons spent shadowing an elk or such from the sky, swooping in on it when the mood took him, feeling steely talons close over its warm softness. He wondered if he'd be tempted to do the same should the stag ever shift himself. Perhaps not; knowing that something was human under there tended to ruin the appetite. They probably tasted awful.

"Lost, Deer-boy?" he drawled from his position against the railing. He didn't bother to hold onto it once the lurching was done- it wasn't as if a fall from this height could kill him before he could... fix the problem, so to speak. What were skies to a dragon but a second home, more dearly beloved than the ground beneath? He was hardly a dragon, really, but it was true even for his ilk.

Percy's head swung around to the owner of the voice, Lohengrin. He must have missed the man during his lap, still as he was. His steps ground to a halt as he opened his mouth to reply. "No, not lost. Restless. The view might be nice, but there isn't anything stimulating to do on the ship-- don't tell the captain I said that," He followed up. She didn't seem like the kind to take disparaging remarks about her ship lightly. Kings forbid if she heard him say that. Unpredictable as that one was, there was no telling what she would do to him...

Eyes drifted over the man as Percy sized him up. He was an astute kid, of the perceptive variety. Obviously. Otherwise he wouldn't have introduced himself as a scholar. From what he had seen from the man, it appeared as if he wanted to be anywhere else but on the ship. A dour attitude, sarcastic at times. Percy allowed himself an inward sigh. Between this man, the one called Theon, and Kethyrian, they weren't the brightest crew on Albion. The other half being Vivi, Gwen, Sven, and Mordecai, he felt as if he was the only sane man on the ship.

Still, that didn't give him a reason to be rude, now did it? "What about you? You certainly look like you don't want to be here," ... Well, at least he tried.

Lohengrin chuckled darkly, eyes receding to slits. The tilt to his lips was far from friendly, but it wasn't exactly hostile, either. It looked... fitting in his face, in a way that a genuine smile probably would not have. His head lolled lazily to one side, as he appeared to consider the answer. A lift of a single shoulder almost might have been all there was to it, except he found himself in a mood to talk. So he spoke. "I can't imagine what gave you that impression," he enunciated lanquidly, the syllables remnicient of the deep echoes of stones clattering against one another, overlaid with a lighter hissing rasp. It was similar to the kind of voice a human might have, were he one who took often to the pipe, but stronger than that. Indeed, he reached into a pocket of his clothing, withdrawing a long-stemmed one of the same, plain laquered wood and brass in construction. With a snap of his fingers, he conjured the smallest of flames to the tip of his index, and held that to the crushed plant-matter in the bowl.

"Is it not the way of men to prefer being manipulated over choosing? Such is the manner of my employment here." It was impossible to tell from his tone alone if he was serious or not, and the long draw he took from the pipe didn't elucidate anything further. He blew the smoke from his nose in what might have been a contented sigh on anyone else. "It's just that the sooner you lot give up, the sooner I can collect and be on my merry way. Additionally, you have no idea what you're about to step in, and I happen to know that it will be most... unpleasant."

Not that he expected his words to move the boy. Lohengrin had lived many a year, and after a while, one came to understand certain things about the human condition, including their foolish notions of loyalty, duty, devotion, and the lingering impression of immortality. Not that it was only humans that carried these peculiar burdens, of course, there were just more of them around to annoy him. What the Favisae did in their caves or the orcs in their deserts hardly concerned him, after all. It was not they he lived among, and not usually they he killed, either. From the perspective of a a being with a much-longer lifespan, the whole thing was either funny or tragic. He preferred to laugh.

Percy chuckled, not for his own sake, but at the idea of changing the minds of someone like Vivi or Gwen. While he did not know the girls on a personal level, he knew their type. Stubborn adventure seekers. Even so, Myrddin had given them a task, and he was not the one to disappoint his mentor. One way or another, they were going to investigate this ancient tunnel. Though... the mere idea of an ancient, little seen tunnel with some import tickled the scholarly bone within the boy. He wondered what it looked like. He wondered what it's history was like. He wondered a good deal about the tunnel. Though not in the present conversation. Ignoring the man's words in order to pick through his thoughts was rude and poor form.

"You really don't know us that well, do you?" he posed hypothetically. "We're... Some of us are not the giving up type. Personally, my curiosity has been peaked by this little venture, and besides that point, it's Myrddin's will. Being my mentor aside, he is our guildmaster-- his word is law after all. As for what we're about to step in... I'm sure Vivi will fling herself head first into it if it seems like a remote chance of fun." Percy had to admit to himself that he didn't much care for the man's tone. Perhaps that was the stubborn scholar in the boy, but from the way the man spoke as if he was trying to change their minds, he didn't appreciate it. Also the riddle-like final denoument itched him.

"If you know what we're going to step in, as you say, then why not tell us so that we won't slip when we do?" he asked.

"'His word is law'?" Lohengrin repeated with a faint note of incredulity. "Be he mere man, or god, I wonder? It seems the former strive ever to be the latter." He snorted derisively, producing another smoky burst of air from his nasal passages. Shaking his head, he took another draw from the pipe. "Maybe, if it were up to me, I would. Maybe not. It doesn't really matter, because it's in my terms to let you figure things out on your own if you decide to go for it. Even warning you at all is exploiting a loophole. So be warned, and maybe you won't 'slip' after all." He shrugged.

"And maybe you will. It's all up to chance and fate now. I doubt skill will have much to do with it, in the end." That was a subtle warning, too, but a painful twinge at the back of his head let him know he was treading dangerous ground by continuing to speak, so he fell silent again. He was hardly pleased about this contract, but it wasn't as if he'd been in any position to choose the terms. He had something that these people needed, which meant he had something the wizard wanted, and that was the end of it, really. The only ways he got out of it were by the completion of its terms, or the death or giving up of all the other parties involved. Apparently he wasn't going to succeed in convincing them to give up, which meant unless he murdered them all himself, he was in this for the long haul.

Even he wasn't that ruthless. At least, not yet.

"Should've figured this would turn out to be harder than I wanted," he mused flatly. What wasn't, really? Curling his toes absently into the wooden planks of the deck beneath his bare feet, he yawned and shook his head. Fixing the young man with a speculative look, he figured a free tip couldn't hurt anything. "You know, it's not as if the crew's illiterate, Deer-boy. You could just ask the good captain for a book or something. Save you the trouble of talking to charming vigilantes like myself."

"If I recall correctly, it was you who spoke to me first," Percy said, crossing his arms. This man certainly was a bundle of sunshine, especially when compared to the brightness of Gwen and Vivi. Either way, they managed to even each other into some sort of neutrality aboard the ship. The druid in him appreciated the neutrality, but the boy in him was irritated. It was clear the man wasn't going to reveal much, and instead string him along. If Lohengrin wasn't careful, Percy would begin to believe the man enjoyed dangling the carrot in front of his face-- or salt block, as it may be. That's not to say that Percy merely threw aside Lohengrin's warning, but rather tucked them away for him to think on later.

The whole adventure sounded like it was going to end up being more than just finding this tunnel and whatever lay at the end of it, but then again when dealing with wizards of Myrddin's caliber, that was likely to be expected. Who had ever heard of a story where the adventurers finished their quests after one measly trip-- ah, but that was the little boy in him talking about age old tales. What stood before them was a task left behind by their guildmaster, and ever the loyal student Percy would see it through.

He then straightened his arms out and bowed, adding "Thank you Master Lohengrin for your suggestion. I shall attend to that immediately," Percy said. If he wasn't careful, the boy might actually start to mock the man.

A low chuckle followed him away from the mercenary, but no more than that.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mordecai Character Portrait: Sven Diederich

Earnings

0.00 INK

It was a few days into the journey, and Mordecai felt that he had adequately explored the vessel itself, cataloguing this data and that until he was certain he had everything that it would be relevant for him to know. Now, with little else to occupy his time, he'd taken to conversing with members of the crew, when they were available, asking them about their livelihoods, and how they'd ended up with this job, of all those they could have had. Most of them gave him stange looks he couldn't quite recognize upon that question, then snorted and waved him off. A few were obviously incredulous, and one even shot the question back at him. "And just what else would I be doing, golem?" It was fair to say, therefore, that while his understanding of the ship's aerodynamics and engine capacity and schematics was nearly faultless, his knowledge of the people aboard it was clearly missing something. He could not guess at it, and though perhaps repetition was not the best way to move forward, he reasoned that as long as he was moving forward at least a little bit each time, it was all right.

No particular desire to continue his polite interrogations placed him on the deck that morning, however. It was instead a peculiar feeling, one that he could best describe as a certain kind of wistfulness. Spending too much time below in the hold or the mess reminded him of what he was not; as a machine, he required neither food nor sleep, and this was what seemed to primarily occupy the humans in those areas. Something he did have in common with them, though, was a certain liking for the feel of air moving over his skin and through his hair-- artificial as both of these things may be, his maker had not spared a detail, and he could feel. Whether he felt in the same way others did was a question he did not know how to answer.

The crew was moving about with the same busy efficiency as ever, directing this or that sail to turn and catch the tailwind just so, and the Automaton stayed well out of their way. It was not his wish to interfere, however ceaseless the questions circulating his mechanical mind might be. He did not know if people lacked his fathomless hunger for information, or if all the things he sought after were what they were gifted by the fact of being born organic, and raised to life with others like them. There was no being like Mordecai, and sometimes, this thought produced a curious sensation in his chest that he could not put words to. He did know that it drove him only harder to grasp with so much struggle what seemed so simple and intuitive to them. For a moment, he paused in his motion, watching with evident interest as two crewmen yelled across the deck at one another in some kind of clipped vernacular that he was uncertain of. Nevertheless, they produced perfect understanding in one another, and laughter accompanied the words. It had not seemed a humorous exhange, at first, but now he wondered if he might have misread its intent.

Shaking his head, a gesture he'd picked up from Myrddin, who did so often when perplexed, he advanced to the prow of the ship. The large lieutenant was there, perhaps overseeing the shift; Mordecai could not say. The Automaton smiled, a gesture that had to be consciously produced, and greeted the man. "Good morning to you, Master Sven." This too was habit. Anyone without a title that superceded it was called 'master' or 'mistress,' often followed by their given name. It was part of his programming that he'd often wondered about. It seemed in keeping with his protocols regarding politeness, and yet it was also unmistakably servile. The logical conclusion was that he was created to serve humans, not stand on equal ground with them. Perhaps this was reasonable.

Hadn't it been for Gwendolyn's occasional intrusions, insisting that he make-nice and introduce himself further, rather than grunting and mutely bobbing his head in feigned interest then, perhaps, no one would have noticed that he'd disappeared for the better part of the voyage. He'd only surface, like an astute swimmer, to give further commands, barking out orders in his rumbling tenor, before disappearing once again to the ship's inner belly. It wasn't that he was antisocial. He just didn't like people. He spent the majority of his time pattering about the grimiest, loudest parts of the ship – the engine chambers, scuffling about like a hard-heeled elephant and frequently checking steam-operated pipes, oiled chains and intricately-designed levers, ushering crew-mates away so that they could socialize above, or grab a quick snack to eat. He always preferred to toil away, rather than laze around. It kept his thoughts busy, stilled his harried mind. The Lieutenant hadn't taken the time to entertain, or mingle, with the newcomers aboard the ship, for he had no wish to know more about them. They were a part of Avalon's Dawn. It was all he needed to know. If they so needed his strength, or his abilities, then they'd have his gunslinging-arms.

As always, it seemed, the Lieutenant was busying himself by flipping through notebooks, littered with Gwendolyn's undecipherable scribbles, with a hefty amount of useless doodles, and lastly, annotated to the side was his own tidy, bold reports. He'd already had his morning coffee with the ship's resident goblin – possibly the only other inhabitant aboard the steamship that had the opportunity to trade words, and trivialities with, besides the captain herself. He didn't mind him as much. He'd spent the majority of his thirties working together, after all. With that promptly finished, the Lieutenant sighed softly, hooking the notebook back where it belonged before resuming his stomping march, hooded eyes scanning the various gizmos whirring around him. Perhaps, he was much more wooden, much more mechanical, then people gave him credit for. Being of the fleshy variety did not mean he yearned for human contact, nor did he feel as if he were obligated to seek some sort of skewed acceptance amidst his peers. It wasn't something he actively sought out. He was comfortable by himself. Besides, he was too old. Sometimes, it felt as if his weathered heart could no longer accept any more inconsistent, reckless intruders.

The whir of the engines had always been mildly comforting, reassuring him that all was going well. If it hadn't been for that little room, settled just out of the way, just out of sight, then he might've given into the temptation of throwing wayward fists whenever someone stepped out of line. It was the only place he could retreat to, and allow himself to wander, arms laying lax and far away from his barrel-chest. The grumpiness would slide away, subsiding into tiny eyebrow arches, and a little smile that indicated he was thinking about something a little happier. He could drift off, and at least think of her – whiskey eyes, soft smile, always demanding that he apologized for something rude he might've said to his friends, something he'd eventually regret if it hadn't been for her chiding. He dreamt about her. He breathed her in, still. He was not curious about the newcomers aboard the ship because he didn't have any space, anymore. Not while she inhabited nearly every space of his brain, sweeping up memories with that stupid broom of hers, and spinning around like it was her hair that was billowing in the wind. Like it was her skin that tingled when she stepped out onto the decks.

Enough sulking. The musing was always wistful, reminding him that he had better things to do then stare off into space, wondering what could have been, or what should have happened, when he was just as hopeless as the rest of them in predicting the future. The Lieutenant's fingers clicked against the railing before he resolutely turned away. His heavy footfalls brought him above the decks, until he was standing near the prow; where he quickly traded clipped words with one of the crew-mates until he shuffled away. He was leaning against the railing, contemplating the height and looking out into the empty air when the Automaton approached him. He was peculiar. From first appearances, or at least when he'd heard his introduction, there'd been no cracks skittering across his persona – if anyone was created perfect, it might've been that one. The expression on his face lightened, softened somewhat. Who would judge a grump like him? Certainly not an Automaton. Telltale eyebrow raised speculatively, accompanied by an eye-roll, as if he were trying to wrack his brain for the correct words.

“Mornin', eh, ein maschinell, er... Mordecai,” seemed perfectly appropriate, and then, for good measure, “Is good to see you. And just Sven is good.” His curiosity was not as intrusive as Gwendolyn's, but still, he couldn't help but find himself admiring the Automaton's construction.

"This unit comprehends," Mordecai demurred, but he made no promises to call the man by his given name. It was, after all, against his written protocols. Until this point, he'd not trusted anyone to rewrite them, as he was aware it was something that took more than considerable technical skill. Additionally, there were certain aspects of his... personality that he would not like to be rid of so quickly, and it was hard to accept the fact that he could be fundamentally altered with a few lines of code. That was grossly oversimplifying things, of course, but someone with the right kind of knowledge could make him anything they wished him to be, and Mordecai was not sure how he felt about that, only that he did feel something. It was perplexing, but he was at least cautious, and until he could work it out, he would not be asking anyone to overwrite his protocols, even the somewhat-inconvenient ones.

But he knew it was impolite to go too long without speaking, especially when he had been the initiator of the dialogue, so he left those thoughts to turn over in his subsurface functions for a while, until he could more properly examine them at a later date. He seemed to be doing this with some frequency lately, a fact that he observed but did not judge. This was the case with many facts; without a particular moral drive, he was simply left to study and learn, but usually not to assess for any quality but rationality, sometimes plausibility. It had been 5.2 seconds since he'd last spoken, though, and he thought it was perhaps best to rectify this.

"Likewise, of course," he settled on at last, dipping his head deferentially. "This unit has spent the last few days exploring your vessel, and it must confess that it has never seen something of the kind. May this unit inquire as to how she was obtained?" It was true; none of his data indicated that ships the style of the Elysium were available for commercial or military acquisition anywhere. He wondered, perhaps, if the ship were like himself-- something not ever intended to be replicated. Did its engineer hold it particularly dear? Or had they simply been unable to build again, or to pass their superior skill onwards, as was the case with the Mistress?

The Lieutenant watched him, arching his eyebrows, nearly imperceptibly, before they settled back on his head like two, angry marching caterpillars facing off in battle. For the millionth time in his life, in the face of conjuring up possible conversation topics, he couldn't seem to think of anything – and he wasn't honestly trying, because what do you really say to a friendly Automaton just trying to have a chat? He realized, quite quickly, that he didn't know very much about Automata, and didn't truly understand where they came from, or what one should do if they found themselves dallying on a ship, trying to have a civil conversation. Didn't they just look for a person's weaknesses, and their vulnerabilities, and think in precise contingencies? Like clockwork or intelligent drones. He wondered, vaguely, if Automata looked at the same sky he did and saw opportunity; saw something absolutely untouchable, with infinite mysteries, impossibly beautiful, expansive, quiet. Did they?

He did not mind the silence in the least. Silence, in his mind, walked hand in hand with comfort, with being able to stand the ambient sounds whirring in the background and not feel awkward about it. The Lieutenant was just as pleased to stand there, arms smartly crossed over his chest, analyzing his peculiar acquaintance. His head tipped to the side, belying a look that might've come across as interested – or at least, a wee bit confused as to why he was being approached when there was no apparent question to be asked. This was, of course, remedied when he confessed that he'd been exploring the airship and wanted to know where it was acquired. The question simpered in his mind, absently whirling back to when Gwendolyn's father had begun constructing it, with the help of her tiny, wriggling hands; and of the day he passed away and she'd taken it under her own flighty wings. Usually, when asked, the Lieutenant shlepped it off with a grunt or made up some sort of weak lie that involved a grand adventure.

To this Automaton, however, it didn't seem necessary. The grizzled man nodded his head, slowly. “Ship vas not acquired. Ship vas built by Gwendolyn's, how you say, vati.” His explanation fell flat when he mimicked patting a child on the head, briefly touching his chest to identify the relationship he was attempting to describe. It might've appeared strange given his stature, but he only shrugged his shoulders. Inwardly, the Lieutenant scrabbled for the word, searching through his English repertoire with stubby, sluggish fingers. Finally, he looked towards the sky, smiled softly, and added, “Pappa. Ship is really special.” It was close enough.

"You are understood using either turn of phrase," Mordecai replied with a simple nod, fanning a few tendrils of ruby-black hair over his shoulder. The notion, that this great mechanical construction had been left in the hands of its makers, was quite satisfactory to him. He remembered feeling... empty for quite some span of months after he'd been forced to retreat from his, as though he really were nothing more than a metal shell with a few wires running through, as everyone seemed to believe he was. Maybe it was true; maybe that didn't matter. It was difficult thinking for a creature like him, though doubtless a human or suchlike would have had little trouble understanding what the question meant and why it was important. With this, he struggled.

He shifted his head, turning just slightly so his field of vision was filled with the finite sky and the distant horizon, suns blazing away that their apexes, or a little off in the case of the larger. They were not perfectly in synchronization, or rather, the world was not so tilted that they appeared to be. Nothing was perfect. Was this a tragedy? "This unit had a Schöpfer, if you will. This is what everyone calls it. But... sometimes this unit thinks the right word is Mütterchen." His programming encompassed all known dialects in Albion, and so using this one did not trouble him, and seemed somewhat more comfortable to Sven. "It is... well that both of his Kreationen are together. They are able to aid one another."

The Automaton smiled, a brief flashing of porcelain teeth, as though the thought either pleased or amused him somehow, and if perhaps lumping a person and a ship together under the same word was strange, he did not see it so. The same man had been partially responsible for the genesis of both, and though they were otherwise different as any two things might be, it was difficult for him to think he'd failed to hit upon the important bit in the comparison. "This unit thanks you for your time, and your answer." Though egress was perhaps called for here, he was not compelled to it, and so remained looking out over the railing, content to lapse into silence. Speaking was something Mordecai only really did with cause, and though his questions were far from over, he understood that the generosity required to answer them was not endless, and for now, he felt no excessive need to press further. A creature of his nature felt neither hurried nor slowed by the passage of time, after all, and so it was not something he valued overmuch.

Although Sven might've not understood where the automaton was going with the conversation, he still nodded, wringing a sopping-wet frown from his repertoire. It was strange enough to hear someone talking about how they were created, about their creator, and how they felt about it. Even still, the Lieutenant agreed. It was best that this ship hadn't landed in anyone else' hands. It solely belonged to Gwendolyne. For as long as he still stood, and he still had the capacity to fight, then he would make sure it stayed that way. He was also pleased that Mordecai could switch dialects, and he quietly approved of his presence on the ship. If he could speak German (and could understand his blithered attempts at English), then he wasn't entirely useless. So it was. He knew that if he mentioned this conversation to Gwendolyne, then she'd only say something about her sunshine finally making friends.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Skybound Character Portrait: Percy Galath Character Portrait: Mordecai Character Portrait: Lohengrin Character Portrait: Kethyrian Tor Character Portrait: Sven Diederich Character Portrait: Theon Zeona Character Portrait: Vivian Zeona

Earnings

0.00 INK

Part One: The Prophecy



The journey to the south of the world took around a fortnight total, during which the intrepid travellers were allowed plenty of time to rest and converse, if not much else. The airship proved to be an interesting-enough place, if one were willing to wander its depths unaided, but it was far from the size even of the tower they'd occupied two weeks before. For those unaccustomed to it, such sustained air travel was hardly exciting, and by the time they made port in Deluge, even the captain had to admit it was nice to see the rise and fall of a cityscape again.

Over that two weeks, the weather around them had transitioned from hot and dry to humid and sticky, still a little too warm for comfort, the desert sands giving way to verdant plains and then gradually to swampy jungle terrain, the thick canopies of trees obscuring the city itself until they drew quite close. The buildings were usually built low, with grey metal facades that quickly tarnished but still stood, or else the dark, exotic woods of the rainforest edging them. Some of these older places were being slowly reclaimed by the forests, ill-looking red lights casting illumination on the grey-viridian vines and growths that wrapped around those structures, enfolding them into a tight, strangling embrace.

The residents had learned from the forest, and evident in the faces of ragged-looking citizenry was the kind of wariness that came only from the constantly-watched, those who knew that glancing over their shoulder would yield them nothing. The agents of their criminal overlords were much more subtle than that, and it was only when one woke to find that one's spouse, sibling, child, or parent had suddenly vanished with the night that their presence was revealed, in the absence of another. The disappeared were usually never seen again, though on occasion one would return, unwilling or unable to speak a word of that which had occurred, if indeed their tongue had been left for them to speak at all. For all that, the city was vibrant, a panoply of humming neon and xenon lights, in exotic colors casting blushing shadows over faces of all hues. Here, the Lords of the city could be goblin, human, mutatio, or Feydusk, here most often called as they were named underground-- nightfolk. Rumor had it that one of the most powerful men in the city was even an orc. Race and blood were unimportant; all that Deluge required of its sovereigns was their ruthlessness and savvy cunning.

The aerodome at which the
Elysuim docked was a relatively new construction, one of those refreshed every few years to ensure that visitors were suitably impressed by the wealth and power on display. The shining sphere reflected the sun brightly, a hazard to pilots who didn't know what they were doing, and a deterrent to unwanted intruders. Gwendolyn called ahead for docking permission, and the vessel was immediately directed to its usual place, the voice of the dome's hired commander perhaps even a little pleased over the static. This particular ship always brought excitement with it, after all, and that was very much something Deluge appreciated.

The ship's engines gradually slowed to a halt, and the gangplank lowered onto a metal-grate platorm, which would carry the disembarked passengers into the aerodome proper, and then out into the heart of the city, as nobody in this place even bothered with the facade of a customs checkpoint. Smuggling was the lifeblood of Deluge, and whether it be illegally-obtained feydusk gemstones, pelts and ivories from those dwarves and orcs who made hunting megafauna their stock and trade, or firearms made by engineers without government contracts, it enriched the cormorants nesting here, and sometimes even their employees.


The group disembarked from the ship with a minimum of ceremony, though honestly, anything with Gwen involved was something of a production, and she appeared to share this quality with Vivian, at the very least. She'd told her crew to continue running their normal shifts, and though a few had grumbled about the lack of shore leave, she'd promised to make it up to them with bonus pay, which had stopped the discontent right then and there. Gesturing Sven along, she'd decided that there was simply no way the Guild members proper were doing this without her, so she and her stalwart lieutenant had made ready to depart as well. Their footsteps, however light, clattered slightly on the platform, sloping downwards to the ground.

Lohengrin, for one, made no effort to lessen the noise, stepping off the platform with solidity and turning to face the rest. He'd been hired to act as guide; maybe it was about time he started acting like it. "Welcome to Purgatory, ladies and gentlemen," he intoned, gesturing lazily behind him. The dome itself wasn't actually bad at all-- the architecture was a rather interesting marvel of metal and glass, which itself was quite rare as a substance, requiring an abundance of resources to produce. He wouldn't call it hell, exactly, as he was fairly sure that was somewhere else he'd been. But purgatory was close enough. "I hope you didn't plan on sightseeing, because you'd be sorely disappointed. The man we're looking for lives on the other side of town, so you'll figure it out for yourself anyway, I'd imagine. Argus Hooktooth, if you're interested, which you shouldn't be. He's small-time, but he has the most easily-accessible entrance to our destination under his thumb, so we're going to have to deal with him. Any questions? No? Good."

Not that he really gave anyone much time to ask, of course, instead turning smartly on his boot-heel (as much as he preferred bare feet, only an idiot walked through Deluge without shoes) and conducting them in a more-or-less orderly way out of the aerodome. He wasn't too pleased to be back in his hometown, but then anyone who had this pit for a place of birth probably wouldn't be.

"You weren't the only one to live here as well, ya know?" Vivi cut in, her tone surprisingly harsh. No doubt her homecoming was putting her in something of a queer mood, Deluge wasn't a memory full of rainbows and sunshine after all. Looking back though, her entire existance wasn't much better. The only brightness she could remember was of herself (and perhaps the occansional glimmer from Theon), smiling in the dark, daring adversity to try better. Still, Deluge was a place she would have been happy to leave in her past, unless her present allowed her to burn the whole place to the ground. Alas, the whole town would probably end up unharmed, and the only thing that was going to burn was their house. A fair compromise, in her eyes.

Memories of childhood came back at the taste of the soggy air. The nooks and crannies of this damp place was not unknown to her in her childhood, and certainly it couldn't have changed that much in the intervening time. It didn't seem like it changed much. Sharp angles cast large shadows, haphazard buildings sinking into the mushy ground. The smell of wood rot and rust was strong on the air. Home sweet home. She found herself wondering if her hideout was still intact. An old abandoned shack on the outskirts of town, bare aside from what knickknacks and discarded furniture she dragged from the trash. That fort felt more like home than home ever did, which wasn't saying much in the first place.

Home. She wondered how home had fared since their departure. She imagined their parents had vacated the house soon after Theon and her left. She did run away with their golden goose after all, and without him their income was reduced to zip. The thing about relying on another person for your next meal, once they fled the nest, then you didn't really have any other skills to fall back on. Still, Vivi couldn't care less about them. She never really felt like their daughter, she was just... There. In the way most of the time. To be seen, not heard. Especially when Theon had visitors. Her eyelids drifted half-closed in irritation at that thought. Right. The house was definitely getting the flame now.

Whatever else their "guide" had said, ended up drifting lazily over Vivi's head, enthralled in her own thoughts as she was. She never was the one to pay attention when the time called for it, and when he finally drew to a close she hooked an arm around Theon's and spoke. "Well, while you guys go and talk to this Argus fella, me and Teo here have an errand to run. A fiery errand. A pity we didn't bring marshmallows," she said, plastering an innocent smile on her face. "You guys don't need us for that right? I mean it's not like I could do anything anyway. We'll meet up with you afterward."

"Affirmative," Mordecai replied, though truthfully he was cautious about just letting two members of the group split off by themselves. All the data he had collected about Deluge led him to the conclusion that it was unsafe, even for people in reasonably large groups. Two people would hardly be a match for some of the 'enforcement' he knew the criminals here were capable of employing. Yet, it seemed that the one called Vivian had quite clearly made up her mind, and there was perhaps little time for delay. The longer they spent in this endeavor, the longer their leader was enchained. So he nodded, the motion too mechanical, and continued to follow Lohengrin's lead. Myrddin had not preprogrammed him with coordinates for the location they sought, though he had, for some reason, uploaded several programs into Mordecai's system that the Automaton could not identify. It would take some skilled hacking to uncover them, but the golem didn't mind. He trusted that they would be revealed when they were needed, and so he saw no reason to attempt to prematurely access the data.

Kethyrian was also less-than-enthused about the idea, but she didn't show it, instead shrugging and eyeing the two siblings, mostly Vivian. "Any injuries from stupidity and you'll recieve no help from me," she pointed out with a sniff. Of course, they both knew that things were a little different when push came to shove, but it soothed the Favisae to be able to act otherwise. Things were much simpler when you could move about at a distance from them, observing if you wanted to but never directly involved. That attitude had been hers even during her jobs for the Guild. Go here, heal that, kill him. Just a list of tasks, to be performed without caring too much about the results. She was tired of puzzling out implications and trying to please people. She almost envied the Automaton, so logical and detached, able to calculate precise outcomes and act accordingly without ever once needing to give a damn about any of it. Had Mordecai heard the thought, he would have corrected her, but as it was, she simply nodded at the both of them and then turned around, padding after the machine and the mercenary with a wary look over her features. She didn't like Deluge.

Theon wasn't the type to place much actual value on physical objects from his past, and as such, burning down his former home was not as important to him as it may have been to his sister. Of course, if it was important to his sister, it was important to him. In his own mind, he'd already burned down any attachments he still had to the place. If his parents were still there though... well, he wasn't sure if that would make him want to burn down the place less, or more.

Attachments or no, Deluge brought forth... bad memories. The familiar of being akin to a dog on a leash welled back up in him just smelling in the air. It already constricted around his throat, made him itch, increased stress. The city had been a different place for him than it had been for Vivi, perhaps because he'd always had eyes on him, whereas his sister had been basically invisible, even if she'd wanted to be seen. So many days spent sitting, relaying information, having men standing over him when he woke up, telling them whatever he saw fit, letting them attempt to use it... and receiving nothing for his efforts. Used.

Yeah, so maybe burning down the house would be nice.

"We'll be fine," he growled, "We know our way around this shithole. We'll meet you and figure out our destinies or whatever once we're done."

"Right, well, yes, whenever your personal business is concluded, do find us. Or don't, it doesn't make any difference to me," Lohengrin replied acerbically, rolling his eyes and recieving a smack to his arm for his trouble. Normally, this wouldn't have been a major concern, as he was rather more durable than he looked, but unfortunately the limb in question was made of metal, which hurt. He shot a glare at the offending captain, who to his surprise was wearing a rather pronounced scowl rather than her usual manic grin. "What?"

Gwendolyn pursed her lips. "You let them be, Strawberry. Haven't you ever had something you needed to do?" The statement perhaps displayed a surprising intuitive understanding of the nature of the so-called 'errand,' but she wasn't about to press for anything further. "Good luck, you two. Come back soon, now!" she waved them off, ridiculous smile plastered back in place, then turned on her heel and urged Lohengrin forward with a flurrying of rapid hand movements, earning herself a resigned sigh, but more walking. The group was moving again, and as they went, the buildings became first worse and then much better, as they approached the district run by Argus Hooktooth.

The crime lord's residence itself was quite readily visible on the skyline, as one of the only buildings taller than two stories in the entire neighborhood. Things were usually built low in Deluge, and only those with considerable funds could afford the materials for the extra structural support needed to build anything taller and keep it from sinking into the loamy ground. That required proper foundations and regular maintenance, which few could manage on the kinds of wages one brought in around here. The building was also conspicuously free of rust, and had behind a wrought-iron fence with imposing spikes a proper garden, lush with bright flowers and succulent greens. The house was domes and parapets, a full four stories in height, and sprawling in its width.

"Actually getting in to see him might be problematic," Lohengrin mused. "The old man didn't tell me exactly how to do that."

Gwen shrugged dismissively. "Seeing him won't be too hard," she replied knowledgeably. "The problem will be getting access to his entrance. Argus doesn't do anything for free." Still, she could get them in without trouble. A guard manned the gate, and she sauntered forward, her very stride radiating confidence and familiarity, as though she damned well belonged there and knew it without the faintest hint of doubt. From the distance the rest of the group maintained, it was impossible to hear exactly what she said, though at one point, mingled laughter did filter back to them, and it wasn't more than two minutes before she was turning over her shoulder to wave them forward.

Well then. That was one bit done.

They were led through a luxuriously ornate doorway into a parlor that did not fit the recent descriptions of Deluge. Where the city was dirty and smelled of rot and decay, the Hooktooth estate was neat and clean. A breath of fresh air where Percy was concerned. Though there was something else in the air, something.. Oppressive, and dangerous. There were clean cut men in suits, some orcs, some humans, carrying weapons. Enforcers most likely, to make sure Argus was as safe as possible in his manor. While the scent was a nice change, the manor had felt more dangerous than Deluge proper. The group was led upstairs and down a hall, where they were ushered in a set of double doors.

Inside the double doors, behind a polished desk of a dark wood grain and flanked by two enforcers sat Argus Hooktooth. A large, rotund goblin sat behind it smoking a cigar and looked to be waiting for him. His head was bare save for the warts and a few stubborn hairs. A vicious scar cut it's way over his right eye leaving the organ a milky white. His other was of a brilliant gold, hidden under heavy flaps of green skin. A grey goatee adorned his corpulent chin which hid his neck and most of his collar. Smoke wafted lazily from a lit cigar between his fat fingers and a pile of ashes graced a white marble tray off to his side. If anyone looked more like a crime boss, Percy hadn't had the pleasure to meet them.

The man disgusted the young Changling. He had to catch himself and block off his nose in order to keep himself from being choked by the foul smell from the cigar. The man himself was no different, living in luxury while the city around him cried. It sickened Percy, but this man was their only ticket to seeing Myrddin alive. That alone was perhaps the only reason that kept him in the room and not on his way out of the door.

"Ah, Miss Skybound. I hope you didn't come all this way just to threaten my guards," Argus said, bringing the cigar to his lips and taking a drag. Percy couldn't hide the wince as the goblin exhaled. "Instead, I hope you've come to do business. I'm still willing to buy some of your inventions for a very modest fee after all," He said, steepling his chubby fingers. He didn't get to where he was by being stupid, and Gwen had plenty of notes and blueprints that could easily turn a profit in the underworld. Other crime bosses would kill to get one of her weapons schematics.

If Gwen felt some portion of Percy's disgust at her surroundings, she did not indicate it, smiling broadly as she usually did and flitting about the room to examine this or that knickknack, occasionally coming perilously-close to touching something, which she never quite did. Most would know to expect this kind of behavior from her, but unless she wanted to make a point, she was careful not to cross certain lines, though it never seemed so. When the goblin spoke, though, she turned to him, grin growing only brighter, if that were possible. "Oh, you know me, Toady. I just can't resist poking a little fun at a serious face." As if to confirm that this was indeed the case, she reached over and pinched Percy's cheek, giving it a gentle tug so that half his face was a rather gruesome-looking facsimilie of a smile.

Letting go as quickly as she'd taken hold, she pretended to consider selling for a moment, then shrugged carelessly. "Actually, today I'm here to buy. Mate of mine heard there was an entrance to the underground 'round here somewhere, and that everybody's favorite goblin overlord had the keys. I just so happen to have some business in the underground, and I'd like an entrance that's not all covered in sand and scorpions and nasty stuff. Fancy that, huh?" She put her hand on her hips, a rather impressive air of nonchalance settling over her shoulders. "Figured I'd come to Toady first, because he knows when he sees a good opportunity. Said that, didn't I, Sunshine?" She paused for a moment, looking back to her Lieutenant, then turning back and winking at Argus. "Well, I did, anyway. So how 'bout it, Toady? You selling, or do I have to take my burning curiosity about caves and feydusk elsewhere?"

The Lieutenant fell into step like a hulking shadow, a mass that would've be moved even if someone stepped in his path. He'd been only a few steps behind Gwendolyn when she was talking to the guard manning the gate, arms crossed over his shoulder, glaring sourly beneath bushy eyebrows. Any other distance would have been unacceptable. Besides, he'd been here before on one of their other excursions and knew Argus just as well. It wouldn't have struck him as odd if Argus had shared stories, or what they looked like, to any of the guards currently in his repertoire. They were knowledgeable creatures. He allowed himself a pleased nod as he moved along beside her, shuffling only to allow room for the others to pass him if they wished to do so. Had this been his first time in Deluge, facing such shady individuals, then he might've crinkled his nose as the young changeling was doing now – but it was not and it certainly wouldn't be the last time, either. Instead, the Lieutenant dropped his large hand on Percy's shoulder just as Gwendolyn finished pinching his cheeks, directing him a little way out of the goblin's rolling wave of cigar-smoke, then released him with a throaty grumble.

He, for one, did not agree with doing anything that involved giving Leo Skybound's secrets away. That ship had been everything to him, and more importantly, to her, as well. Sven had no doubt that she'd skitter around Argus' relentless offers and come to a more favourable proposal that had nothing to do with her ship. With Gwendolyn’s nonchalance and smooth charisma, the Lieutenant's attitude was exactly the opposite. If glowers could seethe through a man's skull, then his was certainly burrowing a large hole through the goblin's flapping jowls. He did not play with others. He did not cater to their needs or kiss their knuckles whenever they had something dangling over their heads. There were enough silver-tongues in the group not to bother with smooth conversation – those particular crinkles could be dealt by them, whereas he'd simply stare and do his duty by having his fists at the ready. “Ja. 'Es good opportunity. Smart man would take deal.” This came from deep in his belly, though he paused momentarily, looking skyward to search for appropriate words. They always repaid their dues, anyway.

Percy found himself being assaulted from all sides by the chittery Captain and the looming Lieutenent, though he was in no position to do anything about it. Swatting the Captain's hand would probably end with him being subjected to something equally innane, while trying to duck out of the way of the Lieutenent's bear paw may put Percy on his bad side. He'd rather not be on the man who could easily snap his neck's (while in fullchange at that) bad side. So he soldiered on. Not that Argus gave one damn about the deer-boy. Or any of them, except for Gwen and maybe the Feydusk. His singular golden orb lingered on the ashen skinned fae for an uncomfortably long time. He had never seen a skintone so regal as her. But he was a business man at heart, so he had to tear himself from her and focus on the business at hand.

His plump face drooped as he sighed "Pity. Can't even buy secrecy nowadays. I find myself wondering where this.. Mate.. of yours heard about my little trophy," he said, eyeing Lohengrin suspiciously. "Still, the cat has slipped the bag. If it's business you're here about, then it's business we can do." He said, shooting a glance to behind the party. The suited enforcer occupying that corner nodded and closed the door behind the party. "Now, would any of you like anything? Wine, cigar? Whiskey? It's all safe, I promise-- if you're man enough to handle it." he said, staring at Percy with a particularly throaty laugh welling up. He stuck the cigar back in his lips and raised his hand, as a Favisae servent girl stepped from behind something in the room and awaited the party's orders.

"Now. To business. I have something you want and you have something I want. I have access to this tunnel and you have all of your gadgets. Surely we can come to a deal agreeable to both sides." he said, grinning and revealing his namesake. Argus would get what he wanted, he always did. But he was not an unfair man, he was sure they could come to a satisfactory arrangement.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Theon Zeona Character Portrait: Vivian Zeona

Earnings

0.00 INK

Vivi took point, slipping in and out of Deluge's slimy streets. At a glance it'd look like the girl knew exactly where she was going without a doubt in her mind. It was a little off from the truth. She had no idea where she was going, not a clue. She knew all of this could have been easily fixed by a simple "Where we goin' Teo?" (the perks of having a scryer as a brother) but a muleheaded stubborness prevailed and she'd fumble her own way through the streets. It'd... been a while since she had been alone with Theon. Chatty as a tweetybird as she was, she didn't quite know what to say in personal situations such as the one she seemed to have tripped into currently. From what she remembered Theon and her didn't leave on the best of familial terms. It left her feeling a bit ashamed and immensely awkward. Had she known the air would end up like this, she would have gladly accepted company. Kethy especially.

A step brought her uneasily to an intersection and she found herself at a loss for what to do. Right, left, back and forward, they all looked the same. It seemed the years between their leave and their return had changed the city, or maybe her memories of home had built up a couple of cobwebs. She stood hesitantly at the crossroads, wondering which direction to take.

The scryer had remained in Vivian's shadow as they passed street after street, his hood drawn up over his face. It probably wouldn't help too much to disguise who he was, but still, there were a few people in the city he had no desire to see again, and it couldn't hurt. The streets looked different to him as well, but he was willing to chalk that up to the fact that he never really bothered to put things down to memory. His mind tended to do that for him, for one, and he could also essentially pull up a map whenever he needed to. He would have done so already if Vivi hadn't been so urgent in her pace. He had found out the hard way that walking and scrying at the same time typically had very poor results.

So when they finally pulled to a stop at the intersection, he found himself compelled to say something. What, exactly, he didn't know. He was willing to wager that the exact same thing was on both of their minds: the last time they'd been together, and the rather unpleasant discussion that had led to them parting ways. Theon knew he wasn't quite the same person as he had been then, but he still felt rather strongly that some key differences between them would still drive them apart if they were brought up. Their opinions on the Guild, for instance.

They weren't talking about the Guild, though, they were just trying to find the site of their old home. He moved up beside his sister and put a hand on her shoulder, his significant height advantage allowing him to do it comfortably. "We taking a shortcut, sis? I'm not sure I remember going this way before." His tone wasn't harsh or ridiculing, more an easy teasing, the kind he was only willing to show when it just the two of them.

"... Neither do I," Vivi admitted after a little bit of hesitance. A fidgety glance both ways revealed to her nothing else that she didn't already know. She was lost. The thought that Vivi, the Empress who had owned these streets not so very long ago had forgotten her way stung her in the worst of places. Her pride. If Theon listened especially close, then he would be able to hear the slow whine of air leaving a balloon. Still she floundered though. Maybe if she waited a little bit longer it'd come back to her. She knew better of course, but it didn't hurt to try. It was a fruitless effort, and the sooner that she came to terms with it, the sooner they could do more important things. More... flammable things.

The whining balloon finally popped as she spun on her heel and threw her arms up. "I'm lost." It was a nonchalant tone, but it was the closest thing the blockhead could get to asking for help. She didn't want to ask him for help, but she needed it. It'd been a while since she asked him for help, and if it wouldn't have been so awkward, she would have asked him now.

He gave her a gentle pat on the shoulder, as if to console her. "Right, I'll get us sorted out. This'll take just a minute, just... make sure no one tries to mug me or anything." It had most definitely happened before, thus the warning. He removed his hand from his sister's shoulder and shifted over to the nearest wall, leaning his back up against it and crossing his arms, letting his head fall towards the ground, and closing his eyes. It was a familiar feeling, stopping to use his farsight in the middle of the city. The company had always been worse though, save for the scant occasions he'd been able to escape with Vivian like this.

His consciousness left his body proper and floated upwards, retracting away from the grimy streets and into the sky, looking down on the world. The overall layout was immediately familiar to him, even if the fine details were more or less constantly changing. After orienting himself and getting a grip on where exactly they were at the moment, he was able to discern that they were not actually that far from where they wanted to be, only they were too far south. It was difficult to locate the exact position of their former home, as admittedly things looked rather different. Still, he couldn't simply forget the general location, and soon enough he was pulling himself back into his own mind. Normally his tasks took him much longer, if he were spying on someone, or trying to locate something very specific, but thankfully, he wasn't.

He opened his eyes once more, and then gestured for them to take the left turn at the intersection of streets. "It's this way. You weren't too far off, sis."

She had watched Theon as his mind left his body. How many times had she watched over him as he used his farsight? Many times, enough that all of his farseeing sessions began to run together in her own mind. It wasn't odd for her to watch him in this state. It didn't matter where, whether they were in Deluge or whether they were in the Sand Ocean, she always watched after him. Or mostly tried. The mugging incident he had mentioned wasn't the proudest of her sisterly moments, but hey, that mugger never bothered anyone else ever again. Certainly not a scryer and his lovable sister.

Still, despite all the memories it brought back, of her playing the role of faithful younger sister, it reminded her that she hadn't been there for him in last year either. She was off in her own world, having her own adventures as he sweated in the sweltering desert by himself. A pang of guilt sacked her and she averted her eyes, playing the part of the watchful look out incase he returned soon. "Of course I wasn't," Vivi replied, a bit of air rushing back into the busted balloon. It was still busted though, and her tone didn't return to it's natural sureness. She didn't return his gaze, only sweeping her vision down the indicated path. "Now where were we?" She asked rhetorically as she skipped down the path. Perhaps a little less skip than necessarily Vivianesque.

True to his word, they came upon the house without any delay. While the Deluge surrounding the house may have been different, the house itself looked the same as it always had. A dingy, rundown looking thing, sandwiched between two others like it. She stood in front of it, just looking at it trying to remember what it looked like as they have left. For the life of her, she couldn't remember. Maybe that was because when they left, she didn't spare it a backward glance. When Theon said he was leaving, she never looked back. Yet. Here she was now, looking back. Even she could appreciate the irony in it. Still, a couple of memory-laced stares weren't going to burn it down, and that's where the fun part began.

Vivi walked up to the door and tried the handle. Locked. Obviously. It looked as if the house hadn't been inhabited for some while. Nothing a skeleton key in the shape of her pistol wouldn't cure. She placed the locked end of the barrel against the locked door handle, averted her eyes and fired. Fire and steel shattered the wrought iron handle, and the warped door lazily drifted open. With the portal now opened Vivi turned back to Theon and shrugged. "Shall we? Unless you've learned how to burn stuff with your mind, we're going to need something to lighter 'er up." With that, Vivi took her first steps back into the house in five years.

The interior wasn't much to gawk at, never was. Bare naked walls, tables with ample layers of dust, empty rooms, no one had lived in the house for a while. Not surprising, considering their meal-ticket up and decided to leave one day. They probably didn't stay that long after, packing up what they could and pawned what they couldn't take with them. Would make finding a decent match point in the bloody place no easy matter, but Vivi loved nothing if not a good challenge. "Welcome home," she monotoned as pulled a lead ball from the pouch at her waist.

While he wasn't sure shooting the door was the best way to get inside, it did seem to have his sister's flair, and he made no comment, following Vivian inside. It looked more or less like they left it, plus the dust, minus the parents. To be honest, Theon was surprised no one was squatting here. It wasn't so bad a place that no one would want it. Perhaps things were even worse in Deluge than they had been when they left. Theon didn't really care, though. It actually made things quite a bit easier. Finding living occupants in a house you were planning to burn down tended to add... complications. The scryer was looking to stay at least a little low profile while he was here, and forcibly removing someone from their home before burning it down in front of their face wasn't the best way to do that.

That, and he was really glad his parents weren't still here. He really wouldn't have known what to do with that.

Call him paranoid, but Theon was beginning to dislike this. Not the act of burning down the house, but the fact that it was this easy. He'd been a wanted individual in the city before he left, and his time among those with power had taught him that all of them had eyes and ears, even if they weren't in the sky. There was no way that no one knew he was here yet. It just remained to be seen what, if anything, they would do about it. Theon would be the first to admit his benefits as a scryer could be limited, and his future-seeing was unreliable at best. Perhaps he would simply be regarded as too much trouble for the reward.

Still, it couldn't hurt to be prepared. His duckfoot was loaded and ready to fire into a group if need be, and his hooked scythe was strapped to his back. Yeah, kinda hard to be inconspicuous with that, but at least he hadn't worn it before leaving the city. And as ever, his fists were more than ready if they were needed. "I'm going to keep a lookout, just in case. Take your time. Or don't. Just... you know, let me know when there's a fire." As he'd done many, many times before, he sank to the ground in the living room, as comfortable a spot as he could find, resting his arms on his knees and leaning his head back against the wall, closing his eyes.

The area wasn't the most populated in Deluge, and the lack of bustle made things extremely easy for Theon. He watched only the immediate area, listening and watching... well, everything. In such a small space, he could effectively be everywhere at once. As such, it didn't take him very long at all to notice the men in suits approaching the house from essentially all sides. There was even an orc among them, as Theon noted with no small amount of displeasure. He wasted no more time, as it was clear who they were here for, and Theon didn't really care why. Shoot first, ask questions later.

His eyes opened, and he was on his feet in a second. "On second thought, we should probably get this over with right now. Got some company with clubs and guns and axes and an orc. Thought you should know."

Vivi had managed to wander off in short order as Theon sat up watch. Mostly just looking for anything dry enough to catch fire. She was currently testing one of the ragged drapes still attached to the back window when he issued his warning. "Company, hmm?" she cooed as she shifted focus from the drapes to the window proper. Sure enough, she saw a couple of the wily creeps slipping up toward their back door. Not that she didn't believe her brother, just that seeing for herself helped with the process. Or something. Funny, she wasn't sure why the goons were surrounding the house, especially when they were that well dressed.

"It's a shame. I don't think we have enough silverware to entertain our guests," she said, taking her leave of the drapes and planting herself in front of the back door. "Suppose we'll have to find other ways to entertain our guests. You take those, I take these?" she offered hypothetically. Obviously they were going to take care of business. It wasn't the first time the brother-sister pair had been in a scrap and considering their circumstances, it likely wouldn't be their last. Fortunately, Vivi loved a good scrap and she'd been sorely missing the exhilaration. She tossed her pistol into her other hand, and drew the sword from it's sheath on her back.

It was much simpler dealing with physical problems such as these than with the personal demons that lingered in the house for her. Vivi leveled her pistol in the center of the door as she awaited the thugs. The sound of the first boot stepping on the stairs leading up to the backdoor gave her all the signal she needed. The gun thundered to life as the powder ignited and sent the lead ball through the door and into the shoulder of the first thug. Not the one to fight on another's pace, she followed by kicking the door with all of her strength, snapping the rusted hinges off of the frame and into the injured thug, sending him right back into the street. The next thug in line leveled a flintlock rifle at her breast (though his nifty hat was the second thing she noticed), and it was on her quick feet that she darted back into the house. A gunshot struck the air where she was just standing, lodging somewhere in the ceiling.

" 'Chout bro, they're packing," She tossed helpfully to Theon as she peeked around the corner and fired off another shot.

Theon went with a similar approach, although he chose to kick the front door before using his gun. It flew forward enough to smack the first man squarely on the forehead, and by the time he'd cleared it from in front of him, Theon's duckfoot was leveled squarely at his chest, and the second thug coming up the stairs beside him. With a thunderous boom it fired in a puff of smoke and a bright flash, blowing Theon's arm back and sending the pistol clattering to the ground, but not before it more or less eviscerated the two thugs, sending them back to the bottom of the stairs in a bloody pile. Well, that would wake up the neighborhood.

A musket ball cracked into the ceiling above his head, forcing Theon to duck his head down and take cover beside the doorway he'd just kicked open. His carapace armor had taken bullets before, but that didn't mean he was going to stand in their way. Instead he rose to his feet and listened through the din for the sound of footsteps coming to the front door, taking his scythe into his hands and preparing a swing. He timed it correctly, the weapon hurtling around in an arc to slam through the thug's chest, coming out his back. To be honest, Theon hadn't expected it to go all the way through him. It was immediately awkward trying to retract the weapon, as it had lodged on something, and the thug's limp weight wasn't helping matters any. When he did finally free it, he turned to the door to see the massive frame of a seven foot tall orc wielding a massive fanged battleaxe. "Fucking greenskin..."

It was all he had time to murmur, as he had to throw his scythe up to block the orc's first downswing. Sadly, the wood couldn't hold up under the crushing weight of the axe, and snapped in two after a brief moment of resistance, enough to stop the axe from cleaving open his chest when it hit his carapace armor. The orc followed with a kick to his chest, sending him sliding backwards along the floor almost to where Vivian was. As if to state his victory, the orc spread his arms to sides and bellowed at him, something Theon had seen a few times before. He responded in the usual manner, taking the broken blade end of his scythe and hurling it into the orc's face from where he lay on the ground. It cracked one of his lower teeth and silenced him, at least before he roared louder and charged. "Yeah, that just pissed him off."

"You have that effect on most people," Vivi quipped as she knelt beside Theon. While there was an orc bearing down on them with all of his rage and another thug attempting to make his way into the backdoor, she was much more worried on whether or not Theon was okay. Once she was satisfied that his brains weren't liquified, she sheathed her blade and grabbed the shoulder of his carapace armor, whispering something into his ear, "Hope nothing's broken, else this might sting."

She then took a readied stance, and swung her pistol around, pointing the barrel toward the heart of the lumbering orc. She was on the last of her three shots, so this one had to count. She waited until the last possible moment before she pulled the trigger, rocking her. Instantly afterward she threw herself and Theon to the side, allowing the Orc an uncontested path through where they had been and right out the door... Right into the last thug trying to slip into their house. A muffled shout was their answer as Vivi sat up and tried to get a look out of the door. "Doubt his buddy's dead. Probably stuck under the greenskin. Why don't you go help out while I finish this?" She said, standing and offering her hand to help him to his own feet.

"Oh! He had a hat too! Try not hurt it? I'd like it." She added quickly.

"Anything else I can get you while I'm at it, princess?" Theon said as he took her hand and pulled himself to his feet, a little grin on his face. Had he saved the shot in his duckfoot, that orc wouldn't have been a problem, but as it was, that had been quick thinking on Vivian's part. She had always been the most inventive of all the scum he'd rallied out in the desert, and certainly the most valuable member of his little would-be organization.

He dusted himself off before moving to the doorway, taking note of how the orc's bulky weight of both body and body armor had pinned down the final thug. Theon casually moved to where the orc's great axe had fallen, picking it up by the handle and testing the weight. It was a wicked weapon, fanged along the edge of the blade, a pointed spear tip in the reverse direction. He liked it. And since the orc had taken his last weapon from him, it seemed only fitting he use it. It was perhaps a little heavy, but with both hands he imagined he would be able to use it effectively.

"Now if you'll hold still," he said casually down to the still pinned thug, "this will only take a second. I would say you won't feel a thing, but sadly my experience with being beheaded is limited. I actually have no idea how this is going to feel. You'll have to let me know." The thug spat at him from the ground, trying to struggle free. "Fuck you!" Theon hefted the axe up onto his shoulder. "If you want, I can always make it messier. I'm trying to do you a favor, man. Oh, and the hat!" He stooped over and snatched the fedora from the man's head, putting it on his own. "My sister thanks you for the gift." And with that the axe fell, cleanly removing his head and ending his torment. Or so Theon believed. He didn't actually know, as he had said.

The orcish axe still resting across his shoulder, he made his way back up to the house, smoothly flipping the hat off his head and into a hand, offering it to Vivian. "He was more than happy to part with it."

Just as smoothly, Vivian accepted the hat and with a flourish placed it on her head. "I bet he was. Don't I just look dashing?" She joked, donning the sauvest facial expression she could (a cocky half-smile and a raised eyebrow) before she started twitching her hear. "It feels heavy on one side," she noted. Vivi took the hat back off and examined it. There was something bulging in the band around the hat. A quick inspection revealed an ornately engraved lighter. She turned the lighter over, praising her luck before showing it to Theon. "It's like destiny wants me to burn this house down..." she noted in relative awe. A grin spanning ear to ear quickly replaced said awe.

"Who am I to disappoint destiny? We're lightin' 'er up!" She exclaimed, slamming the hat back on her head. A couple of skip-laden steps brought her back to the drapes she was looking at before being so rudely interrupted by a couple of thugs. A quick flick of the wrist popped the top open and a strike of the flint ignited the gas. She passed the light under the drapes, setting them aflame. For good measure, she also lit the other drapes on the other windows before skipping out of the door.

Vivi left the house, not even passing backward glance at the quickly engulfing fire. Just knowing that the house was in flames was enough to satiate Vivi, though it didn't make the memories-- or rather lack thereof-- go away. It wouldn't be that easy, it would never be that easy. Still. She got to set something on fire, and fire was always fun again. She also managed to get into a fight, so it was almost like old times. Fighting alongside Theon against all comers. It was a dysfunctional family, but it was a family nonetheless. She had forgotten how much fun it was being with Theon, even if he was a wet lump on a log sometimes. "Come along Teo, we've got people waiting on us," she said, hooking an arm around his.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Skybound Character Portrait: Percy Galath Character Portrait: Mordecai Character Portrait: Lohengrin Character Portrait: Kethyrian Tor Character Portrait: Sven Diederich

Earnings

0.00 INK

As someone who'd grown up under the ground, it was not often that Kethyrian felt at all uncomfortable in enclosed spaces. They were kind of the norm for her, and honestly, the first time she'd seen the sky, she'd wondered how the surfacers didn't get dizzy from the sheer scale of it. She herself had fallen to the ground from a fairly-even mix of awe and sheer exhaustion; her flight had not been easy, and the Zar'Thrak not eager to keep her, though they had helped. Despite all of it, she'd been unable to look at much else until the suns had started to rise, and she'd realized just how painful that was for eyes made for the dark. Only then had she stirred herself to action and begun attempting to get by with so many miles over her head.

Right now, she'd take it. This crime lord, this filthy Argus, was staring at her, and she hated it. It wasn't exactly uncommon; most people had never even seen a Favisae before, so eyes tended to follow her wherever she went. That was something she'd grown used to along with the sky and the suns. Oftentimes, she still managed to feel like the freak implied by the eyes that watched, but then drawing her pride about her and walking taller was enough of a solution. Sometimes, there was simply curiosity, and that was perhaps the easiest. Yes, I walk and talk like you, I need food and water and sometimes occasionally even conversation. She couldn't condemn those people; she'd felt much the same upon encountering her first roaming band of dwarves upon the surface, and that had been mutual, she was certain.

But Argus seemed neither disgusted nor particularly ignorant, and that set her teeth on edge. That look was much rarer for her than the other ones, and she hated how it made her want to hide. She had nothing to fear from this pustule, and she would not behave as though she did, even if it just made things worse. When he called for refreshements, she declined, studiously ignoring the presence of the snowy-haired serving girl in the corner. They were only here to get access to the underground. That was it. And then she'd be taking her leave of this place, this city, hopefully for the rest of her life.

Lohengrin had also caught the direction of the green bastard's eyes, but he was more inclined to laugh than wretch. If this guy wasn't in the flesh trade, he'd cut off his right arm. That wasn't normal lust, that was someone trying to determine the material value of an object. How quaint, these mortals and their undertakings. He didn't often feel so far removed from them as he did now, standing in a back corner and watching the insane captain tease Deer-boy while the old goblin tried to figure out what he could extract from them most easily. And he was content to watch, too; this was all really none of his business, and he'd keep telling himself that for as long as he could without sounding like a complete idiot. So, probably not much longer now, unfortunately.

If Gwen noticed anything untoward, she pretended quite effectively that she didn't. "Oh, me!" she answered eagerly, volunteering herself to consume some of Argus's alcohol. "I'm definitely man enough!" Apparently, she did not consider this an insult to herself, and accepted the crystal tumbler from the serving-girl with a bright grin, which she held sort of awkwardly until she provoked a matching one from the Favisae woman with the decanters. There, that was a little better. Throwing back the whole lot, she thunked the glass onto Hooktooth's desk with a short laugh, tipping her chin up in a gesture that might have been a challenge were it anyone but her. The manic grin just softened things, though.

"I'm listenin', Toady, but you know how this works. None of the old man's stuff. As for anything else, well... you know what we want; what're you after? I've got a nice new propulsion system for recreation-class airships; I know you have a few of those laying around. Hasn't hit the market yet..." In Deluge, half the point to owning anything was owning a better version of it than your competitors. It was a sign that you had the best connections and thus more leverage in important places. What she was offering wasn't as small as it might have sounded, though she wasn't sure he'd go for it.

Percy too, not to be belittled by the filthy goblin, struck forward and accepted a glass of spirits along with the Captain. He was plenty man enough and no longer a young buck. He tossed the crystal back just as he'd seen Gwen do it, but as soon as it biting liquid touched his tongue he realized his mistake. Bitter wasn't the word to describe it. Pickling was the better word. It was awfully stout, and burned his throat as it snaked his way through his esophagus. Despite his bold actions, boldness couldn't hold back the choking that followed. Argus watched the boy's hoopla with apparent satisfaction on his face.

However, he wouldn't spare the words to call the boy out for playing the part of a man. He had better business on his plate. He too took a glass of stout, the same drink that the captain had consumed, and downed it as well. A sort of twisted good will if there ever was any. He placed the glass back on his desk and hooked the cigar in his mouth. "One of these days Skybound, I'll get my hands on your projects. This tunnel of mine, it's quite the prize. You know how the... Favisae," he said the word with another lingering glance on Kethyrian. "Guard their tunnels. Especially this one. This isn't your ordinary hole in the ground Miss Captain, this one is special," at that he merely waved his hand, "But you already knew that, else we wouldn't be in this discussion."

"I'm going to need something more than just Recreation-Class engines." He said, but despite himself he mulled over the thought. Perhaps he could have his people reverse engineer the systems, maybe see what went on in that head of the captain. There was a chance he could find some sort of trade secret and apply it in more... Lucrative ventures. That, and they did have something else he wanted. "How am I to know you just want skip out when the deal is done? You and your friends do look like the pirating sort. I'm going to need insurance that you'll honor your end of the bargain... If I may make a suggestion, Captain," he said, his gold orb shifting from Gwen to the Kethyrian.

"Say keep one of your friends here to keep you honest?"

"Yeah, and never see 'em again," Lohengrin murmured darkly, but he clearly wasn't planning on offering any more input than that. If the elf wanted to volunteer herself to be a prisoner or the others wanted to force her into it, he couldn't honestly care much less. None of this had anything to do with his job, and they did need him to get where they were going, so he had no concerns about getting sold to a goblin, however temporarily. He'd been someone's property, once, and then close enough a second time. It was not an experience he had any desire to repeat, nor to approximate.

Gwen, on the other hand, had to deal with the problem. She honestly hadn't seen that one coming, and that may have been her shreds of naivete talking again. Biting her lip, she considered that this must be what most people described with the phrase 'between a rock and a hard place.' What a 'hard place' was, she didn't know, but it probably looked something like this. Argus had made his terms very clear: either she offered him something much better than she just had, or he'd be taking prisoners, and she wasn't quite naive enough to believe that he'd willing give Kethyrian back when they returned. Still, the alternative was handing him an invention that could level half the district, or... not going underground.

"Oh Toady, you're so funny," she trilled, as though he'd just made a joke. The idiotic smile was back in a flash, but it was honestly just a delay tactic. If he had to take the time to explain that he was serious, she had a few more seconds to think. Not much for most people, but the engineer was far from most people where thinking was concerned. Still, even her considerable intellect might be stymied here, by the sheer explicitness of the conditions. There weren't any obvious loopholes here, and Argus was holding all the good cards.

It was a bitter resignation that pushed the air from Kethyrian's lungs, the sigh probably sufficiently noisy to draw the needed attention. It wasn't like the swine wasn't watching her already anyway. "Don't bother, Captain. Just take the deal. It's me he wants, and I think that's quite obvious." She contented herself with a hard glare in the goblin's direction, her pride balmed somewhat by the fact that she was assuming this burden of her own free will. She wasn't one to wait around and let others make her decisions for her, and while she appreciated to some extent that Gwendolyn was trying to avoid the inevitable on her behalf, she'd rather just cut to the chase. Efficiency was cut into her bones, basically; there was no other way she knew how to act.

"I will remain within the bounds of the grounds here exactly until the time that my allies return, and not a moment longer. That should be sufficient to keep them honest, wouldn't you say?" The Favisae crossed her arms over her chest, straightening to stand as tall as her limbs and torso would allow, though the movement was entirely unconscious. If she'd realized she were doing it, she might have stopped, but then again, perhaps not. Any advantage she gained by playing meek was unlikely to be worth the cost to her self-respect, depleted as that could be.

It was difficult not to wrap his hands around Argus' thick jowls and squeeze until he stopped lewdly eyeballing their resident Favisae – and it wasn't exactly because of who she was, or that she was one of the guild-members. No matter how much he imagined how he'd feel if she were Gwendolyn or even Judith being stared at, Sven couldn't find himself caring all that much. But that particular look annoyed him. They weren't objects to be bartered away. He'd seen his fair share of slavers shipping crates and cages full of emaciated bodies and they all had that look in their eyes while they poked protruding ribcages, pinched arms and checked teeth. In all the time he served the Alliance, those had been the only cases that felt entirely justified. He flexed his fingers at his sides, then closed them tightly. They probably wouldn't fit around his neck, anyway. For certain, all of those piercings wouldn't feel very good if they were being ripped out. He seriously considered doing this while eyeing the drinks the snowy-haired Favisae was offering.

He wasn't big on words; he preferred actions. He was a soldier; a dying warrior race, and as such, war was in his blood, riddled through his very DNA. But he wasn't an animal, far from it; he was a consummate professional, a killer. All of this talking left him feeling tired. He'd never been good at settling any negotiations, so he usually remained quiet until Gwendolyn smoothed things over herself. Any bat of her eye, or flick of her wrist indicating that someone needed to be roughed up was met with dutiful assurance. So, when Argus proposed that one of them stay behind to make sure they didn't hightail it as soon as they were finished, the Lieutenant settled a hand on Gwendolyn's shoulder, briefly letting it sit there before crossing his arms over his chest. If she wanted him to stay behind with the favisae, then he would. If she wanted him to go along with them, then he would comply, as well. Sven glanced towards the Automaton, arching shaggy eyebrows before settling them back down into their usual furrow.

She hated to admit it, but the Favisae was probably right. She couldn't see much of a way around this... Gwen might have refused anyway (though she'd been more than once involved in activities of... questionable legality, she would never deal in people), but the large hand that engulfed her thin shoulder gave her some hope again, and she smiled. That, in the end, was why he was always Sunshine to her. Because when she lingered over the complexities, more uncertain than she'd ever let on, a fluttering wren on too-small, panicked wings, he was there with the steadiness of a hound, reminding her that sometimes, the answers were simple. And he was more reliable than anyone she knew; she could trust him with anything, even to keep her grounded. That was no small endeavor, all things considered.

"Well, Toady, I guess that settles it. You're getting two hostages for the price of one. Lucky you, huh?" Clapping her hands together, an act which produced an odd sound given their differing compositions, she turned and nodded, just once, to Sven. So much of what they said was never uttered aloud anyway; he would understand. He always did.

"You get Thistle, and Sunshine too. I do want them back, though; they're lovely. We'll be back shortly, I'm sure. Now, shall we?" She looked around at all the others, as if including them in the decision. Really, it hadn't belonged to any of them, but Argus instead. Still, a little showmanship was necessary at times like this, and though she perhaps should have been, she was no longer worried at all. The captain had lost track of the sheer number of times Sven had saved her from the consequences of her own folly, and she knew he'd do the same no less faithfully for anyone else, for no other reason than because he'd told her he would.

Lohengrin nodded simply, more than ready to leave and get this endeavor over with. He still thought the lot of them were idiots, but admittedly if any of them could stop one of these enforcers dead in his tracks, it was the big guy, so that made sense, he supposed.

An irate gold orb lingered on the looming man for a minute. He wasn't part of the deal. Even so, Argus knew that the possibility of dissuading the bear of a man otherwise would go poorly for all involved. So it was that he was stuck with two bargaining chips instead of one. He had enough faith in his enforcers to quickly quell any uproar these two may cause, and it was only with that reaffirmation that he nodded his acceptance. "Two for the price of one," he echoed in agreement, "Three, really. He's quite the... Specimen. What do you feed him, Captain?" He said with a hooked smile. He'd deal, he always had, and his investments never failed yet.

"I'll send a man along with you to show you the way. The location is in a remote part of the jungle not far from the city proper. Still, in these dense woods, a single wrong step... Well, your friends'll never see you again," He warned as he raised a hand. The man flanking the left of the goblin strode forward, another human and almost as large as Sven. Whatever Gwen were feeding her crew, Argus was feeding his too, Percy thought to himself. The deer-boy never had the best physique, and being in a room full of muscle bound soldiers made him feel very small indeed. He quitely slipped in with the rest of the group as the enforcer stepped forward.

"We have a deal captain. Your people will stay safely with me until you return-- and I recieve your schematics of course. Until then, I do wish you an uneventful journey and a hasty return." With that, he put two fat fingers in his mouth and let loose a peircing whistle. The doors behind the party swung open and the group found themselves flanked by an entourage of enforcers, while the two volunteers were separated. The group proper was led to the exit of the manse, while the other two were led to an isolated part in order to ensure their safe keeping.

While she hadn't asked for the assistance, and part of her did rankle at recieving it, Kethyrian's practicality won out over her stubborn hubris for once, and she accepted that it was likely to be helpful to have the large human around. The fact that Argus didn't seem to like it much caused her a small spike of satisfaction, anyway. She moved neatly out of range of any actual hands, though allowed herself to be cut off from the rest of the group, watching them file out expressionlessly. It seemed she was a prisoner of her own choice now, and the revelation brought an ironic slant to her mouth.

And she'd warned Vivian against doing anything stupid.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Skybound Character Portrait: Percy Galath Character Portrait: Mordecai Character Portrait: Lohengrin Character Portrait: Theon Zeona Character Portrait: Vivian Zeona

Earnings

0.00 INK

Those of Avalon's Dawn were led through the city of Deluge by a brutish Enforcer. While finely dressed with ironed suits and black ties, it was exceedingly clear that the enforcers were walls of muscle behind the clothes. He said nothing aside from a few grunts during the short trip, mainly thrown in the direction of the Captain. He wasn't paid to talk to people, after all, but rather enforce Argus' will. The route they took to the outlying forest was a direct on, often cutting through alleyways that normal folk would consider too dangerous to take alone. Normal folk they were not, and with Argus' man leading the procession, lowlife thugs knew better than to attempt anything.

It was an uneventful trip, at least until they approached the border between the city proper and the rainforest. Before they broke the threshold, a high pitch voice halted the group. "Found them! Told you they were this way, Theon," Vivi said, striding towards the party confidently in her new hat. Despite her bold words, chances were Theon was the mastermind behind locating the party, considering her recent record of finding things wasn't spotless of late. Far behind them, a dense cloud of smoke rose from somewhere in the city. "Make a new friend while we were out?" Vivi asked, noting the large muscle leading them. Something pegged her familiar about the dress, it was like the suits the thugs that had accosted them wore."Not by choice..." Percy quipped. An eyebrow arched Vivi's face, hidden by the brim of her hat, but she realized something much more pressing.

"... Where's Kethy?"

Gwendolyn frowned just briefly, before she shook her head. "Argus wanted collateral," she replied, tone intentionally clipped. She had to pass it off as though it weren't bothering her as much as it was, because to speak too much in front of this man was a bad idea. She wasn't sure how easily she could convey this to either of the other parties, though, nor even if they would understand if she could. Still, it was of vital importance to try, and so her eyes found Theon, guessing that he'd probably be a little more perceptive than his sister when it came to subtlety, though that was really still just a guess. "Just business as usual. I bring his muscle back, I get mine returned, you know?"

She hadn't missed Vivian's look, and though she didn't know exactly what it meant, it was imperative that if they'd already had a run-in with these enforcers, they kept it quiet. Argus would not take kindly to knowing that some of the members of the Guild had killed his men, whatever the reason had been. That might not even be it, but she wasn't looking to take chances with Sven and Kethyrian's lives hanging in the balance. Hopefully, the implied trade would make that obvious enough, though she did certainly want to know where they'd been, she wasn't going to ask. Their business, and hopefully the whole situation just had her too much on edge and there was nothing to be worried about at all.

Lohengrin understood, but kept his peace, as more assurances would just look odd, if not downright suspicious. He had no doubt the group could take out this muscle-bound idiot, but he also didn't doubt that Hooktooth was keeping their two allies under lock and key, and this guy coming back alive was probably necessary for them to survive their imprisonment.

"... You left her?" Vivian asked in shock. Once the initial realization was done, her expression shifted to angry instead. "The hell were you thinking?!" She snarled. She hadn't quite realized that the large lump of muscle Sven wasn't around either, and didn't put together that Kethy probably wasn't alone. Truthfully, she wouldn't have cared even if she did know. The idea of leaving Kethy behind in the grubby mitts of some goblin crimelord didn't sit too well with her. Her narrowed vision shifted from Gwen to the enforcer leading them. In that moment, she decided that if anything had happened to Kethy, she'd make him suffer.

Despite her strong feelings about the whole mess, Vivi saw that it had been decided (without her, at that) and there wasn't any way she could change plans now, unless she stormed to Hooktooth's estate and razed it to the ground too. Not that the idea was tempting, just that whatever they had in store would probably end up being the shortest route. "Fine." She hissed, "But if anything happens to her, it's on your head," she glared at Gwen, before shooting an icy stare at the enforcer. With that, she settled in with the group, though she was tight-lipped and her eyes dark. Percy wisely decided to edge out of the fuming woman's way.

Well... this was awkward. Theon found himself hoping the orc enforcer hadn't been one to make friends, considering that the scryer was currently wearing the guy's axe on his back, and his sister was wearing another one's hat. He was quite certain at this point that it had been Argus' men that had tried to kill him and his sister. He'd suspected when he saw the enforcers himself, and this just confirmed it. The one or two meetings he'd had with Argus and his enforcers earlier in his youth helped give him the knowledge of his men that was necessary. It was hard to forget the most well-dressed thugs around, after all.

He understood the delicate nature of the situation, and how Gwen's business as usual statement was very true. Thankfully, hostage situations were something Theon was very good at keeping track of. If nothing else, he could ensure that the other side stayed honest. "Lucky them," he commented with a level of disinterest that was either genuine, or very well hidden. Vivian tossed a hard stare in his direction. "Let me know if you want me to check up on them." It really wouldn't take long, either, considering he knew more or less the exact location of many of the crime lords around the city, Argus Hooktooth included. Her glare then softened a little, but she said nothing. It was too late, the deed was done.

Gwen nodded, just once, choosing to ignore Vivian's outburst. Though she wished to answer it, she knew that this was not the time, and not the company. "Only if you want to," she replied to Theon, resuming her tread after the enforcer, who was moving once again. Honestly, she wasn't sure how helpful it would be to know their status, given that it would change basically nothing. They still had to find whatever was underground here, and though she was fully willing to admit that she'd storm Hooktooth's mansion by herself if she thought that it was necessary to help Sven, she also knew that it wasn't likely to achieve much. Their best bet was to do this as quickly and cleanly as possible, and the fewer variables she had to work with, the easier that could be. Pushing her worry down and locking it in some distant, ill-used corner of her mind, she watched with interest as they were led into what appeared to be an ordinary, run-down shack. Once inside, the man hauled up a trapdoor, gesturing to the hole it had once covered.

"Down this way," he said bluntly. "This is the only exit, so I'm waiting up 'ere." He glanced the group over for a minute, then sighed. "Look, be careful down there. I dunno what you'll find, but the boss told me not to follow you down, which is a good sign it won' be nice." He shrugged, apparently satisfied with having said that, and Gwen flashed him a bright smile.

"Thanks!" she chirped, hopping down into the exposed entrance with no preamble anyway, leaving the rest to follow her or get left behind. As it turned out, the initial drop was only about eight or so feet, though she was dropped onto a slope, and so maintained balance only by reflex. "Careful!" she called up at the others, "You land on an incline!" Her warning delivered, the girl continued forward, unsurprised when she heard a thud and a muffled curse as Strawberry landed considerably less lightly than she had. Wordlessly, the mercenary took point, clearly as familiar with the layout down here as promised. Gwen trailed only slightly behind, interested in the way the cave walls seemed to be carved into smoothness, or worn that way with the passage of time and perhaps quite a lot of water.

There was nearly no illumination down here, and though he wasn't particularly in need of it, Lohengrin lit a bright red flame over his palm, casting a wide circle of flickering light around himself. It was certainly enough to see by.

A wet thump of Percy was next, conjuring up a mat of vines for better grip. He couldn't stifle the chuckle at Lohengrin's decidedly ungraceful landing, but otherwise made no comment. He left the mat sitting in order for the others to use it as well. He wasn't nothing if not courteous. Though, his landing was decent, Percy figured that something like a tunnel would still be rough to navigate. He placed a hand on near wall and closed his eyes, dipping into his source of magic. A low rumble emanated from his hand and as he pulled away from the wall, a thick wooden staff followed it. He pulled the wood out of the dirt until it was chin height, then severed the magic, cutting the wood. With his freshly conjured walking stick, he shot a wink to the Automaton Mordecai.

The group then began their descent into the tunnel in earnest. At first, the passage was rough and bare, something Percy noted as being very un-Favisae. To him, it looked like the tunnels were dug out by crude tools and even in the low light, he could see the gashes in the rock where uncaring hands dug. At least, that was the sight for the first couple of minutes or so. Suddenly, the rough-hewed tunnel took on more of a refined taste. "Favisae architecture," Percy explained. "Ancient from the look of it," he added, running a hand along the wall as he walked. "My guess is that the original passage was lost to a cave in, and a new one was dug by less skilled hands..." He mused. "Perhaps that shack we saw was the base of operations for an unsavory group. They probably dug into the ground in order to hide smuggled goods." He finished.

Vivi couldn't care less about the history lesson, worried as she was about Kethy. She had a lot of time to stew about it too. The passage took another hour to navigate, spaced between various tidbits of Favisae history by Percy. He noted the incline, taking them deeper into the heart of the ground, he also noted the architecture, and even more useless information, as far as Vivi was concerned. She was under the impression that Henny was their guide, not Deer-boy. Even so, she didn't have to suffer the lectures for long as the passage opened up into a large room.

The room was semicircular in shape, the sides arching out from the door and disappearing into the darkness, only to meet again in a solid stone wall in front of them. In the middle of the wall, there was a great stone door, rising from the from the floor all the way to the ceiling, and was wide enough for five of Argus' enforcers to walk through side-by-side. For once, Percy was struck silent as he looked toward Lohengrin for answer.

The door was supported by a marbled arch, the stone of which it was constructed seemingly interwoven with the many-splendored lights of magic. These seemed to trace in unreadable patterns, alternately growing brighter and dimmer as though pulsing in time with some great heartbeat. The door itself was void-black, interrupted only by a semicircle of five fist-sized circles, each with a differently-shaped indent pressed into the pearl-grey of its surface. These were rimmed by gemstones in glorious colors: ruby, sapphire, citrine, emerald, and opal. These five circles framed a much larger one, outlined in what appeared to be prismatic diamond, and set into this ring were several lines of script, which Lohengrin recognized but the rest would not. He also wasn't about to give it away, as that was assuredly not what he'd been hired for.


Image


Myrddin had promised that one of the Guild would be able to read it, and it obviously wasn't deer-boy. He was hoping it wasn't one of the two they'd left behind. "Don't look at me," he said with a lazy shrug. "I just knew it was here. That's old magic, right there, and you don't want to be messing with old magic if you know what's good for you." That bit at least was true, especially so if you didn't know what you were doing. The lines of the prophesy drew his eye as they always had, but he was easily able to affect mere curiosity, and not the slight revulsion he really felt. Prophecy; he despised it with a passion, really, especially when he was forced to become involved in it. Last time, he'd been able to run, but Myrddin's terms were quite binding, and he wasn't sure he'd be able to on this occasion.

Upon seeing the door set at the far end of the chamber, Mordecai was aware of a protocol whirring to life somewhere in his vast AI networks. Normally, he knew everything that happened above certain levels of processing, and could consciously control even something as basic as temperature regulation if he wanted to. As it was, however, he knew nothing of this program, nor exactly what information he was presently downloading, at least not until the words on the wall started to make sense. Stepping closer, he scrutinized the runes closely. "The script is draconian," he informed the others blandly. "This unit believes that Master Myrddin programmed it in knowledge of what was to be found here." Which, of course, suggested that the wizard knew exactly what they would find beneath the ground in Deluge. His plans were well-laid, indeed.

Without further preamble or any sort of warning, really, the Automaton ran the provided translation algorithm, supplying the results to all present, with a few adjustments for proper rhyme and meter.

With the Dawn, an old enemy rises anew,
the halls of men shall tremble.
A tyrant seizes power undue
as the Lady's blood runs blue.

But each new day has its end
And Dusk will ever follow Dawn
Across the world their trail shall wend
As they seek his wickedness to transcend

The elements lend their favors
With the discovery of the keys
And with the completion of their labors
Albion shall know its saviors.

They all shall be tested
And if their hearts be true
Each trial shall be bested
And in them, sacred power vested

The first key lies in the desert
At the nest of the sand-beast
If their minds remain alert
They will emerge unhurt.


Blinking unhurriedly, the golem turned to the other members of the guild, arranging his features into something speculative. "This unit understands, but it does not comprehend." Metaphor and allusion were not exactly in the repertoire of beings such as himself, those without imagination or creativity. He solved problems with mathematics, not innovation. Even what little bits of his electric consciousness were no longer perfectly adhered to his base-level programming did not constitute enough to properly interpret something like this. That said, he was a wealth of more standard information, so if any of the others knew how to phrase this more plainly, he may yet be of assistance.

Theon scratched his head while the automaton rhymed in front of him. He was left to assume that was an accurate translation of the words written on the wall. There were... actually a lot of parts of that that made some amount of sense to him. A tyrant seizing power, traveling across the world, finding some kind of keys, being some kind of saviors of the world, tests and trials, a particularly interesting bit about sacred power, and of course... the desert. He didn't know what the sand-beast was, but if it was the sand ocean it was probably something really nasty.

"Don't sweat it, pal," he said, giving the automaton a small pat on the shoulder, before speaking more to the group. "I think what the toaster just said was that we, assuming this wall is talking about us, have to do a shit load of work, and if we do, we become heroes or saviors or whatever." He paused, scratching the stubble on his chin for a moment, preparing to deliver the next part, where he stated how all of this sounded extremely stupid, and suicidal, and how they'd be insane to even think about following the vague directions of a wall underneath the most disgusting city in the world.

"I say why the hell not?" Wait... that didn't come out right. He knew, he knew that he was going to hate this, and yet he could find no reason to object. There was probably a really important personal reason for why that was, but frankly Theon didn't feel like doing any introspection at the moment. The words savior, and sacred power were sticking out to him, and were just enough to overcome any snide remarks about how ridiculous this all was.

"Daisy's got the right idea!" Gwendolyn put in, crossing her arms and examining the wall. She kept her distance from it, though, as it was evident that this was no technology she could decipher. If Strawberry was right and it was really some kind of old magic, she was far, far out of her depth here. Not that such considerations had ever stopped her from jumping head-first into things before. That usually took arms a good deal stronger than hers and the strength of will to withstand her rather formidable sad-eyes. So, really, what it had always taken was either her father or more recently Sven. As neither of those persons was present, she was entirely unbothered by considerations like logistics (it could be done, and that was the important bit) or responsibility or what-have-you.

Still she wasn't stupid, and she knew they'd need to take this down at some point. Of course, the Automaton's memory would serve them quite well for now. "Any idea why the one in the middle looks different? The first five'll probably take a key, but that doesn't look much like it."

Lohengrin, who most assuredly did know, said nothing, and the group was spared whatever modicum of silence would have followed when his ears picked up on something foreign. A scratchy, rasping sound, quiet at first, soon grew in intensity until it was echoing throughout the cavern. "Watch yourselves, kids, we've got company," he said, drawing the bastardsword from his back and about-facing towards the tunnels they'd come from. Well, damn. He'd thought this bit was a little too easy; it only made sense they'd have a run-in with some of the underground's resident mega-fauna. And indeed, the cause of the noise was soon apparent: the tunnel was apparently flooded by enormous rats, each more-or-less waist-high on him. About a dozen, all told. Fan-fucking-tastic.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kethyrian Tor Character Portrait: Sven Diederich Character Portrait: Diomache Castillo

Earnings

0.00 INK

It had taken perhaps thirty seconds from the time Argus was certain that the others were gone before he had his enforcers strong-arm the two of them into a smallish room with no furniture and lock the door. Kethyrian didn't waste the energy pretending this was a surprise, but nor did she resist. Either he'd let them out when the others returned, or he'd have a fight on his hands. It wasn't like she really cared either way. In fact, the opportunity to rupture the scumbag's intestines was beginning to look rather attractive, all things considered. Of course, the downside to this situation was that she was now locked in a nearly featureless room with the Lieutenant. It wasn't that she disliked him, necessarily, it was simply clear that the two of them would never really have anything to do with each other unless they had to, and he wasn't exactly built for her preferred method of escape (nor she his, if she were being perfectly fair).

Selecting a corner of the room (near the window, which was locked, as she'd suspected it would be), Kethyrian lowered herself into a crosslegged repose, draping her arms over her knees, straight-backed and haughty even still. It took much more than a disgusting goblin and a few guards to bring her off the sand-built pedestal she'd constructed for herself. By all rights, it should not stand, but she was holding it up with a mixture of magic and sheer force of will, with a healthy amount of self-deception to boot. Since it was all she had left, she'd continue to do so, for as long as it took to find something else to live for.

Seeing as there was nothing else to really do, she decided that a question to the room's sole other occupant might not go astray. Besides, she was curious, something that didn't happen all that often anymore. "Why stay?" she asked him. "It doesn't make any sense. If necessary, I could escape by climbing, something which I doubt you can do as well. Your loyalty to your captain is obvious, and in leaving, you've deprived them of a strongarm they might need for whatever they find underground." Her voice was largely flat, the words blunt. It was not her intention to offend, but she wasn't going to waste time softening them, either. As a creature of practicality, the choice seemed nearly incomprehensible to her, and she wished to understand it.

The Lieutenant hadn't seemed to put up much of a fight either, but neither had the two burly men put their hands on him. He'd simply raised his hands, opening his palms wide, before nodding his head and stippling his arms over his chest in a defiant gesture that indicated they better lead him along or he'd make this endeavour a little less pleasant then they'd hoped. He understood well enough that he'd have to obey for the time being – at least, until Gwendolyn came back and gave him further orders. If the order to strangle that disgusting goblin was offered, then he'd gladly take it. He'd never been fond of over-privileged fat-cats and their self-righteous attitudes. Unexpectedly docile, the Lieutenant stepped into the empty room, glancing quickly around the quaint chamber before taking residence in the opposing corner. It wasn't as if he was going to offer anything in the means of conversation, either. What would he have to say to her, anyway? Nothing that needed saying. She seemed clever enough to figure out how things were going to carried out and how things would unfold.

He did not look at her, but stared at the door they'd come through instead. Fastidiously inspecting the bolts, the fastenings holding the bolts together, the material the door was crafted from and whether or not the locks were at all possible to pick given the right tools. It wasn't likely that Argus would place them into a room that could be easy to escape from – most likely, the locks were impenetrable to all but those who remained outside of it. Fair enough, then. Though most would have immediately taken him for being stupid, he'd been in several situations in the past, while serving with Gwendolyn's father, that involved breaking out of locked rooms, prisons, ships. The Lieutenant did not unbind his arms from his chest, merely flit his murky gaze over the doorway, then the ceiling tiles. He studied everything, committed each detail to his memory. Willingly submitting himself as a prisoner never felt right, even if it was for Gwendolyn's sake.

It came to him as a surprise when Kethyrian broke the silence. His eyes traveled across the small expanse of the cramped chamber, towards the other side where Kethyrian sat, cross-legged and astonishingly unruffled. Had he been trapped with anyone else, possibly one of the louder ones, then he might've been ill-tempered. He arched an eyebrow, levelling her with a stare. Somehow, it struck him as strange. His reputation amongst the guild members, and it's subsequent affiliates, had grown over the years – dark and legitimate alike. He'd been ruthless, and his name had been whispered with fear and awe. Maybe, he didn't look as young as he used to, or maybe Gwendolyn had ruined every ounce of fear with her horrible nicknames. He frowned. Hadn't the reason been plain enough? “Bad knees.” The Lieutenant offered lamely, gesturing with his hand. His gaze lifted skyward, then settled back on her, or rather a few feet over her head. “Vhy? Stronger than she looks, da' fraulein. Vertrauen. Er, no trust in Guild, or on ship, then no good to anyone.” The explanation might've not made sense to anyone who didn't know him well, but it was accompanied by a shrug of his shoulders. If she chose to climb, then they'd eventually have to open up the chamber to see where she'd gone. He'd take whatever opportunity to clobber them and escape – that was his way of doing things.

“Hoping I can kill goblin vith pipewrench. After, probably.”

Kethyrian's lips twisted, the resulting smile not at all friendly, but the half-snicker, half-harrumph that accompanied the gesture was at least a clue that any bitterness here was not directed towards him. "Now there's a mission I could get behind," she muttered dryly, leaning her head back so that the crown of it touched the wall behind her. The Favisae exhaled slowly, letting her eyes fall almost-closed, until little was left but aureate slits and her vision was obscured by her eyelashes. She was tired of this place already, tired of Deluge and of crime lords and of the surface. But where else was there for her to go? She had nowhere, and nobody, really. Vivian was the closest thing she'd had to a friend in years, and as much as she liked to think otherwise, Kethyrian still needed people from time to time, as everyone did.

"I think I get it," she said at length. He might be a bit more like her, practical where other people were about ideals. He just had the long view of it, something which was admirable, she supposed. She didn't exactly know whose trust was supposed to be bolstered by this act, though. The captain clearly trusted him with all her too-bright little heart, and she wasn't arrogant enough to assume that most of the rest of the Guild really cared about what happened to her. Vivi hadn't been there, so it wasn't for her benefit. If it was Kethyrian's own trust he was after, he was looking for something that didn't really exist, at least not in any way resembling anyone else's. Or if it still did, it was half-rotted and insubstantial, like a ghost where a person should be. Hollow, was the word. She was hollow. And lonely, maybe, but far too wilful to ever admit it, even to herself, and so she cast the thought away.

Maybe he was more than she'd guessed, after all. Without any real need or desire to say anything else, she fell silent, content to simply wait, either for her deliverance or her death, whichever came first. She would not be made anyone's servant; that humility was not in her, and she truly would rather die, rather stop her own heart, than submit to anything of the sort. Of course, she'd rather just stop Argus's heart instead. The thought quirked the corner of her mouth, but she kept it to herself, already aware that he was of like mind in that much, at least.

Outside the mansion, or rather on the outside of the mansion, a young woman was busy trying to keep a bead of sweat from rolling down into her right eye. Irksome thing. Her crimson desert headscarf was wound tightly about her forehead, only her eyes exposed to the world, but this annoying little bead had formed right on her eyebrow. Thankfully, the tilt her head currently had allowed it to roll off to the side. Perhaps it was a sign that she needed to get moving. She could only hang on a ledge for so long, after all.

Dio had known this job would have complications. Everything that had ever been important to her always managed to complicate itself if she waited long enough. This was no exception. She'd been looking forward to coming into direct conflict with Argus Hooktooth for some time, the despicable goblin who sold flesh to her family. Of course it wouldn't be easy. These things never were. If there was one thing the exiled Castillo had learned by now, it was that a lack of difficulty meant you were walking into a trap. Doubly so in Deluge.

She'd heard the majority of the conversation that had taken place between Argus and this group of outsiders, perched outside a window she'd cracked just slightly ajar on the second floor, steady hands gripping firm stone of a rather interesting statue of a merfolk adorning the outer wall. Guards patrolled beneath her occasionally, but they rarely thought to look up. She took no chances when they did, calling on a bit of alteration to blend in with the surroundings somewhat, and hide her from notice. Concealed, she'd listened in as the Favisae among the group was forced to stay behind, the large man electing to stay with her. She frowned. A woman of lesser morals might have been pleased with the development, as this would actually work in her favor if she were not interested in the well-being of the two captives. For what she had planned, these two would no doubt take the blame, and the reaction, drawing attention away from her. But that was not Dio's way. No one deserved to suffer at Argus' hands, and certainly these two were no exception.

And so the thief found herself scuttling along the outside of the mansion along the second floor, nimbly hopping from handhold to handhold, soft sandals finding purchase in the smallest of places, her weight evenly displaced across supports so as to not overly stress any of her grips. She stopped at the windows to watch their progress, determining that they were being led to the second floor "guest" room. From her initial scoutings, she'd suspected the large empty room would be used for such a purpose. This would be difficult... the guest room was a long, awkward way from where she wanted to be, especially if they were in the company of one who could not climb as she and the Favisae woman could. She briefly considered the possibility of helping them escape, and doing the rest of her job tomorrow... but no, it needed to be today. The representative from her family could arrive early, after all. Dio wasn't rilling to risk the lives of the captives like that. No, she'd have to adapt.

She came to a halt outside a high window of the guest room, carefully peeking through to see if they were alone. They were, and so she waved a brief bit of alteration magic upon the window, unlocking it with a small click, before she pushed it open enough for her to slip through. She threw herself over, rolling horizontally to squeeze through the small area, catching the inner ledge of the windowsill and planting sandals on the wall to stop herself, before dropping lightly to the ground, catching her weight gently with bent knees, dropping low enough to touch a hand to the floor.

Dio's first action was to pull her cloth mask away from her face so that they might see her better, and to put a finger over her lips, asking for silence. She did not want to seem threatening at all, since there were no doubt guards stationed right outside the door. She was armed, a scimitar sheathed across her back, and an ornate flintlock pistol at her hip, and for the moment there was no way for them to know that these weapons were quite harmless to them. Glad to finally be given a break from climbing and vaulting for a moment, Dio took the opportunity to rest an arm on her knee, while the other knee bent to touch the ground. She spoke in a low voice, a little more than a whisper, but still very quiet. "Sorry to intrude," she began, "but I'm afraid you're both about to take the blame for something you had no part in planning. I hope you weren't planning on staying here long." She had noticed that the Favisae had striped hair, which was rather interesting to her, but there was no time to think on it.

An imperceptible scrunch of his nose overtook his normally dispassionate, enduring expression. He thought he might've understood small pieces of this woman sitting coolly in the opposing corner – how she thought, how she worked, how little she wanted to trust or even like anyone else aboard their merry crew. Had he known anyone else with the same temperament? A few individuals stuck out like sore thumbs, glumly offering him hazy images he'd rather bury underneath his heels. Dead friends, dead teammates; corpses rotting in the ground somewhere. Maybe, they weren't so different, after all. His eyes dropped a few centimetres, surveying the Favisae's dampened demeanour, clearly tired of being in this place, then fell back on the door he'd been previously assessing for weaknesses. It struck him as odd that he didn't really know anyone in Avalon's Dawn – not anymore, anyway, because he was getting older and those he'd known had already passed away or they'd went along with him and joined Gwendolyn on her steamship. Did these kids still sleep in cramped bunks, pressed tightly together, surrounded by Myrddin's books and crumpled posters hanging over their beds?

His heavy eyebrows remained overcast, tossing shadows over his eyes until he looked up at her. The Lieutenant shifted his weight, tilted his head a little to the side and remained mute save for the brief flicks of his pupils. His practicality stemmed from a lengthy period of time pushing his life, however nonchalantly, however carelessly and deliberately into other people's evasive hands, plopping it on their shoulders. He did not fear death. He did not fear punishment – not in the physical sense, at least. Death was an every-present companion, hardly interested in an old soldier. It was hard to fathom a clean break of his duty to Gwendolyn. But, what he'd initially meant was that trust begot trust. There were enough swarthy, dependable people accompanying her that he didn't need to worry whether or not she was in any danger, or whether his brawn was actually needed. She wasn't a bad shot, either. She'd wriggled herself out of more horrible situations then he'd care to count. It might've been admirable if it weren't for the fact that she found it amusing how close she could dance with death, knocking elbows and scurrying away with little more than cuts and bruises. She was not clumsy but careless, and careless to a degree that astonished him. Hopefully, they'd keep her in line while he was away.

In the end, whether or not he thought it was best, the Lieutenant would form decisions based on his years of experience, based on his grisly intuition. Old geezers tended to take things slowly, rather than headbutting their way through unfavourable situations. He was no different, even though he'd wanted to throttle Argus the moment he'd opened his mouth. He let the thought fall away from him, knowing that it was better left unexamined, for now. Affording any ill-intentions now would only bring those travelling underground trouble. There was nothing else that needed to be said, so the Lieutenant merely bobbed his head accordingly and leaned against the wall. There was such a cold cast to his eyes, as if he were an icicle that had finally melted to reveal the core of it; entirely set-in-stone. In between the lulls, in the threads of silence, Sven thought of her. Before his thoughts had begun – they were interrupted by a peculiar person slipping soundlessly from the window, kneeling lightly in front of it. He read into threats more so than most, and his shoulders automatically slackened, loosening their initial tension.

Woman, he reflected. The Lieutenant's eyes narrowed critically, taking note of the weapons she carried. Questions flung themselves haphazardly through his mind with no readily apparent answers, though they remained unvoiced. “Schwierigkeiten, Fraulein,” He grumbled sourly, curling his lip. His expression softened a bit. Her eyes were familiar – warm, brown, inherently kind. It was difficult to scrounge up any further annoyance at such a ridiculous statement. Certainly, it didn't help that she looked younger than Gwendolyn. “Vhat planning?” His arms were thrown wide, as if to indicate their predicament. He wondered whether or not this was some sort of shoddy rescue effort. Was she going to bust them out?

They might have passed the remainder of their time thus—each to their own contemplative silence, and she wouldn’t have thought it ill-spent, as far as such things went, but ‘twas not to be, if the muted click that signaled the window mechanism opening was anything to go by. Kethyrian watched with dull interest as a slender figure slipped in through the opening, landing quite noiselessly. Impressive, for a human. Sven’s question was the only pertinent one, and so the Favisae kept her silence. Something about this woman’s face… it was familiar, only in that way in which things tug, long-forgotten, at the back of one’s mind. She could not place the sensation, however, and frowned.

Questions were good. Well, relatively. A lot better than punching and raucus noises and overreacting. Dio was going to explain to them anyway, it was just safe to wait until she knew they wouldn't try to attack her or anything first. Her posture loosened somewhat, but her legs stayed coiled, ready to send bounding back up the wall and out the window if she needed to. After all, there were armed men nearby, and they certainly meant business. "You probably already know this," she explained, "but our goblin friend has no intention of giving you up. You in particular," she said, nodding to the Favisae. "That's just his... taste, I guess. He deals in flesh often, and I don't doubt he thinks the pair of you would make good additions to his collection."

Her eyes darted to the door for a moment, certain she'd heard movement outside, but as soon as it came it passed. "I'm not here for you. At least, I wasn't. I'm here for the cargo of flesh he's keeping in the basement, on behalf of an interested party in the city, and myself. They're going to be sold tomorrow, to a group of people they really don't want to meet. I'm not going to let that happen."

There was no separate reaction from the Favisae to being addressed; the woman told her nothing she didn’t already know. A rusted tin soldier and a night-skinned harpy? Argus’s standards were not particularly high if they were worthy collection pieces. She’d been counting on either the others making it back in enough time to secure their escape, or else attempting to fight her way out alongside the wall of muscle on the other side of the room. Probably, she should have darted for the opening first chance she got and never looked back on any of it, but she couldn’t bring herself to leave him behind when it was her fault he was here in the first place. Trust, was it? Foolish, she called it, but even she was not so low as to flee while another remained.

Still, that didn’t mean they had to help this thief, whatever her reasons might be. Attempting to get down to the basement, free a bunch of hostages, and then somehow get them out safely was not an easy prospect, not considering the amount of guards the goblin employed. Still… golden eyes flicked from Sven back to the woman, still faintly familiar. ”Interesting,” she hummed flatly. ”There are two guards directly outside this door, which happens to be locked. If you can do to it what you managed with the window, I am sure myself and my… ally here would be able to deal with at least that much.”

She wasn’t sure she wanted to commit to helping this woman in her endeavor, especially not without knowing what Sven thought of it, given that he was bound to be a much better combatant than she, but she could not deny that either way, they’d have to take out the guards, and she wouldn’t mind putting down a few of these enforcers on her way to Argus, if at all possible. Vengeance wasn’t really Kethyrian’s thing, but her displeasure at being treated like saleable goods was rankling, and she would at least prefer to be out of this room.

"I'm sure you can," Dio agreed. They looked capable, after all. "It's just that... I have a distraction of sorts on the way. Something that will probably get the attention of every thug on this estate. I had originally thought to draw them all towards the commotion, but considering the circumstances, it seems more likely that they'll suspect some kind of foul play on your part. It doesn't change much for me, the guards should still be drawn away from where I need to be, I just would prefer to avoid sacrificing the pair of you. I'm not asking for your help in freeing the captives... I guess I'm asking if you'll accept my help in escaping."

She didn't doubt that she was coming across as a bit of a strange thief to them, willingly turning down a significant advantage in order to help two people she had never met. She shrugged. "You can call me Dio, by the way. If you want."

Kethyrian raised one white eyebrow, rising fluidly from her spot on the ground. Lovely. It seemed that they were being deprived of their options at an alarming rate, not that they'd had many to begin with. It would make far more sense for this woman to help them out of this room and then set them on their way-- the more places enforcers could be directed, the more mayhem Argus had to divide his men between, the better. That she was instead concerned with foisting her assistance upon them was a fairly solid clue that the amount of actual assistance involved was going to be dubious at best. Even so, Kethyrian wasn't sure that she wanted to be part of the distraction, and it was likely strategicaly advantageous to take what was offered.

"Exactly what kind of distraction are we speaking of?" she asked, voice sharp with suspicion. Exhaling and letting her arms drop, she realized it probably didn't matter; they were going to be implicated anyway. Shaking her head, she turned to Sven. "What do you think?"

"It's a pair of gunpowder barrels situated on the far side of the mansion from the door down to the basement. Should be big enough to blow a decent hole in the wall." She left out that she'd specifically picked a spot where a thug wasn't posted on the other side, so as to avoid any casualties, but they probably didn't care to know that.

"The people I'm working with are going to blow them in a few minutes. This isn't a one-woman operation, nor did we come up with this yesterday. I know this place inside and out by now, and I know Argus' thugs like I knew my own sisters. What I don't know is whether I need to help you escape, or if I can count on some backup." She glanced to the big man. "Best decide quick, mhm?"

Having his options so brusquely stripped away did not sit well with him, though it didn't seem like he was going to have a say in the matter, regardless. If they didn't act quickly, then this woman's plan – as she promptly introduced as Dio – would unfurl without their say-so, and they'd be forced to bully their way out of Argus' headquarters in a much more personal, unorganized fashion. All of the goblin's intentions were rotten. He'd done business with him in the past, even if the drudger didn't recognize him. Certainly, Argus' hadn't planned on willingly, easily giving up his original prize, but he'd been certain that if Gwendolyn and the other's returned, that he'd settle for what the deal had entailed. With this woman's assurance, and her knowledge of his dealings, everything was promptly screwed already. His lips formed a straight line, clearly weighing his options. If Dio's urgency, and caution, were anything to go by, then they didn't have much time.

If Gwendolyn were here, or even if she was here (under the unlikeliest situations), then they would've gladly elected their aid in helping the sorry cases in the basement, terrified bludgers awaiting their horrible fates in the morning. They had nothing to do with their current predicament, nor did it involve their current mission. His heart was not warm, not so easily swayed – not anymore, not ever. Kethyrian seemed nonplussed by these new change of events, clearly fluid in whatever decision was made. It was likely that she just wanted to get the hell out of this place; which, he reflected stolidly, matched his own desires to vacate this area as quickly as possible. His vertebral spine, muddled together with bits and pieces of metal, protested as if to disagree. In younger days, filled with possibilities and options and friends who'd always choose the right path, Sven's heart would've already been pounding in his chest, ready and willing to take up her offer. It was noble, wasn't it?

“Ja. Be doing this quick. Better then staying put.” The Lieutenant added in, glancing in Kethyrian's direction. If they stayed inside the chamber, they'd be forcefully roughhoused into another cell, anyway. They'd be implicated for the explosions, and possibly cut off from the group for a longer period of time. It would be best if they just went along with Dio's plan, escaped themselves and caught up with everyone else in a safer location. She was the incessant chirping in his ears, knocking elbows with him and insisting that walking away was the wrong thing to do. He didn't care. A small exhale from his nostrils was the only indication to his displeasure. He always looked sullen, so it was difficult to tell. This woman's vitality was familiar, blinding, and a little irritating. “Kus vola – never any sense. Ve vhill help, only little. To get out.” The Lieutenant gestured with his hands, bringing them together. Implications aside, if they met up with Argus, then there'd be a strict penalty to be paid. He would die. “No deal anymore.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Skybound Character Portrait: Percy Galath Character Portrait: Mordecai Character Portrait: Theon Zeona Character Portrait: Vivian Zeona

Earnings

0.00 INK

Lohengrin's warning had Mordecai immediately on-alert, and the Automaton did not so much run as appear at the man's side, peering down the cavern with backlit eyes and remaining at the ready. He did not engage either of his usual combat modes, however, as he was currently only charged for berserk, and the space here was far too small and crowded with people he should not harm for that to be warranted in any but the most dire circumstances. The first rats appeared seconds later, falling on the group with more coordination than the golem would have expected. Perhaps their enhanced size also gave them increased brain capacity, he could not say with certainty, though there was no mistake that the organs were a larger volume.

They seemed mostly to ignore him in favor of attacking the others, and Mordecai supposed this was because he did not smell like something made of flesh. Frowning just slightly, he grabbed one by the tail as it tried to get by him and heaved, dashing it against the wall a few times, the wet crunches that accompanied this a sure sign the bones were breaking. The screeching was hardly a pleasant sound, but it ceased eventually, and furthermore they were all screeching, so it was different only in pitch and volume. He considered muting his auditory sensors, but that could prove to be disadvantageous later, and so he did not, instead catching the next incoming creature with a curled fist to its snout, driving shattered bits of cartilage into its head.

Percy had taken the lull between the discovery and the attack to slide closer to the door. Perhaps not slide, but... Sprint. He had never seen anything like the artifact that stood before him, nor had he ever read anything about it. It wasn't Favisae architecture, at least not their recent works. This door was ancient, and engraved with words no one but the Automaton knew it seemed. A program installed by Myrddin if he had his bet. The strings were there for Percy to connect two and two and realize that perhaps the Wizard knew what they would find, but he was too entranced by the door for that. He ran his hands over it, feeling the ancient stone between his soft, bookish hands.

It was magnificent. It was the entire reason he was a scholar, to learn about their world, past and present. To see the secrets the sand has hidden from them. And in front of him stood a monument to all that desire. The only thing that could trump this discovery was the chance of opening it and seeing what hid behind it. Alas, the door soon became the least of his worries and their guide spotted something. He loathingly tore his eyes from the door and peered into the dark. At the first glimpse of light reflecting off of something's eyes, the changeling instinct took over. In a matter of moments, antlers sprouted from his head and his eyes took on a feral green color.

The trained halfchange drained a bit of his energy, but nothing a fullchange was capable of. He was still combat able as he brought his conjured staff around to face their foes. Foes, who turned out to be rats. "I'm sure that I don't have to iterate how many legends begin with the heroes slaying rats in some basement..." he left the implication in the air as he took a steadying step. He held his staff in a low guard as he awaited the first of the rodents to attack them. However, it was not his staff that was first to strike, but rather a rough tree root. Even all around him, he could feel the life of the earth around him. Deep reaching tree roots even delved as far as they were, and here, they were his allies. The roots burst through the ceiling and caught the rat before it could lunge.

Instead of ending the poor creature's life with the barbarism the Automaton showed, Percy displayed a more merciful nature. He strode towards the rat and put a soft hand on it's head. The rat slowly stopped it's thrashing and looked up at Percy in what could only be described as admiration. With the heart won and pact sealed, Percy allowed the roots to dispel, and freed the rat from its prison. The rat turned away from the druid and fell at his side, turning its beady eyes to aid the party in their fight against its breathren.

Lohengrin had to admire the sheer efficiency of the Automaton, who clearly had no moral compuntions about ending the creatures in the most brutally-efficient manner possible. Apparently, deer-boy was a bit more of a soft-touch, which you could probably afford to be if you were a druid fighting animals. He was not, and swung his sword in a broad vertical arc, cleaving into the base of the nearest creature's neck, issuing a spurt of crimson blood and dropping the rat to the ground. The next one caught him by surprise, and the man grunted as he felt teeth close around his ankle, sharp enough to bite through the worn leather of his boots and puncture the skin beneath.

He retaliated with a blast of concussive energy, realizing that to set it on fire in proximity to people who would burn was not the best idea. Though... enough collateral damage and he might be free of this damned goose-chase... but no. He wasn't quite that ruthless, at least when there was no guarantee it would work. Several bones snapped under the pressure of the kinetic burst, and his other hand plunged his sword directly downward, ending the creature cleanly. Wasn't its fault that intruders had found their way into its tunnel, after all. He didn't doubt that some people deserved to suffer, but simple rats were not among them.

"Yeah?" he replied to Percy. "And just how many of these 'heroes' were alive at the end of their stories?" he asked, referring obliquely to the long history Albion had of a preference for tragic protagonists over comedic or happy ones. The answer was 'not many,' but of course there were counterexamples to everything. For once, he rather hoped he was one, because if he remembered rightly, the wicked tended to die earlier in the stories, usually after having done something incredibly stupid to redeem themselves, and frankly he wasn't interested.

There was a loud 'crack' over his shoulder, and the next rat that had been advancing on them recoiled, a large chunk of its face torn off by a rather close-range gunshot. Lohengrin shot a glance backwards in enough time to see the captain flinch, just a bit, before her usual inane grin took up residence on her face, and she blew a coil of smoke from the barrel of her rifle in a playful gesture. "Probably all the ones with smart backup," she answered blithely, cocking the hammer again and sighting forward.

"Well, the ones I heard never got beaten by a pile of rats. So we got that going for us, right?" Vivi shivered. She hated the creepy crawlies that dwelled in dank places. The only silver lining that she could find was that they weren't spiders. She hated spiders-- and considering the size of these rats, the spiders she was most likely to encounter were super spiders, bigger than her head. A chill crept up her back as she brought her pistol to bare. A thunder of fire and steel blasted the rat in her sights, but it was only a skimming shot thanks to the amount (none) of light. Still, the action warded the rat off as it wisely decided to fight something other than the girl in the foppish hat. Unfortunately, the choice wasn't his, and a two more shots followed up the first, effectively emptying her turreted pistol.

Empty it may have been, useless it was not. A rat jumped her from the side, and she had just enough time to throw up her arm to intercept the teeth meant for her throat. Heavy metal was substituted for soft flesh as the rat bit into her unyielding gauntlets. A swipe with the butt of her pistol knocked the rat down, and a swift punt from her boot put the requisite distance between them. "Eww..." She whined as she tried to wipe the drool off of her gauntlets. The rat wasn't done however, as it tried it's lunge again, though Vivian knew it was coming this time. She spun as the rat closed, clocking the creature in the back with the pistol butt as it passed. A punt wasn't his reward this time, but rather the sharp end of her sword.

"Careful now Henny," she cooed, noticing the holes in Lohengrin's boots, "The captain pawned off our only healer," she stated with no small amount of bitterness. She still wasn't happy about that.

Theon wasn't thinking about the wall-crawler's absence, but rather how these ugly things had interrupted his moment of reminiscing on how he was destined to be some great and powerful being. Unlike his sister, the sight of creepy crawlies did not inspire shivers, but rather the urge to stomp downwards with a boot and crush them underfoot. Sadly, these rodents were a little big for simple stomping, and so out came the duckfoot, the scryer pushing his way to the front to ensure no one got in the way.

He kicked the nearest rat into the ones behind it, slowing up a group of them, giving Theon the needed time to level his pistol and pull the trigger. The thunderous boom of four fat barrels going off in unison echoed powerfully through the tunnel, ringing in his ears, the pistol itself blowing backwards violently, but Theon was able to keep a grip on it this time, and it quickly found its way back into his holster. He gripped the heavy orc axe he'd recently acquired, bringing it down in a great whoosh on the first rat to come forth after the group in front of it was obliterated by the barrage of pistol fire. The fanged head cleaved through a majority of the rat's upper body, splitting it to the floor and spattering the scryer with blood. He turned to kick the next rat in the underbelly, not bothering to note how the rat wasn't actively attacking any of them, since it was the one that had switched to their side. Once it was on its back, Theon chopped down again like a headsman performing an execution, cleaving it cleanly in two.

Lohengrin shrugged. "It's a rat," he replied flatly. "We'll have her back before the gangrene sets in, I'm sure." Not to mention that his genetics had a tendency to help him out in situations like this: most toxins could simply be burned from his system if he raised his core temperature high enough. Of course, it was probably better if he didn't do that, since it would require the use of his actual body. Still, he wasn't going to die by any means.

His free hand clenched into a fist, then opened, producing a little ball of light from each of his fingers, which grew as they drifted toward the ceiling. He hadn't missed the fact that they were fighting blind, mostly, though somehow the captain had been able to fire a shot from a fair range and not hit him by accident. Still he'd rather not risk it, erratic as the woman seemed. As the spheres grew bright enough to see by, cloaking the area in a wash of red-gold light, Gwen removed the goggles from her eyes, wincing slightly as she did. Maybe she should tell him to warn her next time he turned on the lights; that hurt. Blinking a few times, she adjusted and fired again, this time catching what appeared to be the last rat.

The group had made quick work of them, all told, and the small woman took a moment to reload, snapping the barrel back into place with a decisive click. "Well," she said, letting out a breath with the word, "Much as I enjoy a nice diversion, maybe it's time to get back to the mansion and retrieve our Thistle and Sunshine, hm?" The rifle, she slung back over her shoulder, safety mechanism in place, and adjusted the strap so it sat comfortably over her chest.

Sadness washed over Percy at the death of his ally rat, and then was evaporated by anger. Sure that the rest of the rodents were taken care of, the druid turned on the offending Scryer. "For someone blessed with Farsight, you don't see much. That creature you just murdered was our ally," Percy hissed, looking distraught over the split rat. The whole ordeal affected him, not just the one rat. Percy never did enjoy slaughtering animals, a drawback of being a druid. If he had his way, he would have pacified them all and sent them away, however there was no time for that and he just had to deal. He wasn't so naive to believe he could have saved them all, but still. It stung all the same.

Theon just raised his eyebrows at the druid as if to say seriously? He lugged his axe up onto his shoulder, and shrugged. "Oh well. S'not like the rats beneath Deluge are going extinct or anything. I'd say we could get you another one, but I'd probably just kill that, too." He absent mindedly shoved the lower half of the rat out of his way with a boot, making his way back closer to the wall, to look at it a little closer, while also going about the process of reloading his duckfoot pistol. "Nice antlers, by the way. Very cute."

Sensing a potential argument, Mordecai took the oportunity to speak, though any pacifying effect he might have had was perhaps dampened by the fact that he was currently using his hands to wick large amounts of blood off of himself. "The captain's words seem wise. This unit does not know much of this Argus Hooktooth, but it is given to understand that those who make their living in crime are not necessarily disposed to honesty, nor bound by their word. If you wish to retrieve Master Sven and Mistress Kethyrian, you should act with celerity." Having mapped the route on the way down, Mordecai no longer needed to follow anyone else, and he for one was quite prone to taking logical advice. That in mind, he set off back down the tunnels, his visual network adjusting for the diminished light as he drew further away from Lohengrin's conjored orbs of illumination.

"Play nice with the deer-fellow Teo, what if he killed your cat?" Vivi said, gently tugging on his ear. Still, even she didn't see the point in the man getting worked up over something as minor as a rat. They did manage to kill its entire family, so in fact they did the druid a favor. While she didn't speak animal, she'd imagine that conversation would be awkward as hell. Still, she wasn't in the mood to play Theon's conscience, and left the man to his spat with the druid. She was going to follow the Automaton and find Kethy. She skipped along, trying to catch up with him, calling out, "Hold up there Mordy, I'm coming with!" she said pulling up beside him and taking a hold of his arm. She wasn't as adept in seeing in the dark as the mechanical man was, and she'd need a guide. Mordecai halted immediately, and did not resume until the girl's arm had wrapped around his own, which he considered to be tacit agreement that he could proceed forward, more or less.

Percy, on the other hand, was undeterred in his glare. As much as he loathed to admit it, Mordecai and Gwen were right, and there was nothing left for them there, only blood. What he wouldn't give to stay and research the door... But recent events put a sour taste in his mouth. So with a straight back, he pushed past Theon and followed behind the Automaton. He didn't revert his antlers either, and instead walked with a proud gait. He wasn't ashamed of who he was, and he wasn't ashamed of his antlers.

Lohengrin snorted at about the same time as Gwendolyn sighed, but then he shrugged and followed the rest. Wasn't like he gave a damn about their little interpersonal disputes. He'd probably cause no small number of his own before he was free of them; that was what happened when you threw a bunch of people together who'd never pick each others' company in a lifetime. What really happened, not the ridiculous notions of banding together and overcoming differences. That was all well enough-- in stories and for exactly as long as it took to kill whatever they needed to kill, not a moment longer. If it got bad enough, it wouldn't even last that long, and their coordination would suffer. Then maybe they'd all die and he could be on his way again, as though he did anything useful with himself at other times.

His morbid thoughts lay over him like a cloak as, with a gesture, he bid one of his orbs follow him, the rest winking out like dying suns, and the remaining sphere floated some distance above and to the left of his head, throwing illumination for about five feet around, though admittedly he didn't need it. His species, as he'd been constantly reminded, had begun here, in the bowels of the earth, though they were ever more suited for the sky.

For her part, Gwen just shook her head, shooting a glance at Theon. "Well. Dunno about you, but I'd rather not get stuck back here. I guess you'd be fine, but I'm awful with directions." Shrugging, she nevertheless waited for some kind of forward progress from the scryer before she picked up her own tread. It was a quiet policy of hers, often unnoticed behind the much more bombastic ones. Nobody gets left behind. It was why she was so hesitant to leave Sven and Kethyrian with Argus, and why nothing was going to prevent her from retrieving them.

It had actually taken Gwen's voice to rouse Theon from his little daydream. The scryer had more or less immediately put the antler-boy from his mind in order to speculate on the possibilities of the wall, if it was indeed referring to him. Perhaps it was wishful thinking, but Theon had always known that he was somehow special, different, better than the common man. It was why everyone sought to control him, to leash him and use him. He was better, and he was valuable. He was wanted. All of this seemed too great in magnitude to be coincidence. It was hard for someone who could see glimpses of the future to not believe in some kind of fate, and Theon had always been certain his fate was an important one. Something he could devote himself to.

He gestured lightly for Gwen to go first, holding out an arm. "After you, ma'am. I'll make sure none of the rodents bite at your heels." He'd never really been one for a chain of command, unless of course he was the one at the top, but he supposed if he was getting involved in this after all, then she was his captain.

"Would you really?" Gwen jested, placing a hand over her heart and pretending to go a tad weak at the knees. "How very gallant of you, sir," her reply was nothing if not tongue-in cheek, but she grinned and preceded him anyhow, leaving enough room to her side that he need not actually walk behind. That was stuff for courts and queens and things that she was not. Even if she bore the title captain, she walked always with her crew, if she could, and she honestly preferred to lead by pushing from behind, even if she appeared to be pulling from the front. That, and the members of the Guild seemed to belong somewhere else in her midden heap of mental categories, a place distinct from 'crew.' Sven had his own little niche, always had, and that one carried many labels. Friend, brother, savior, guardian, comrade, right hand.

The others would earn their designations yet, she knew. Nobody was so rudimentary to warrant none, but she was careful with these things, at least the ones she kept to herself, and she'd allow time to tell her what this moment alone could not. Caution and meticulousness were not words anyone should be associating with her, unless they'd somehow managed to catch her down in the engine room, tinkering with this or that valve or sprocket. Then it might make more sense.

Freshly bled but with the information they were sent for firmly locked away in Mordecai's mechanical mind, the group turned and headed for the exit of the tunnel. Not a moment too soon for Percy, who was beginning to feel the air under the ground constrict around his throat. It felt like a cage pressing against his heart, and with him shifted halfway into his stag form, he was more raw. There was a saying about caged animals that came to mind, but he found the thought disgusting. He was not an animal, he was a Mutatio.

After the same amount of walking except in the other direction, the group grew close to the exit. A shaft of light shone through the open trap door, and lingered lazily upon the mat of ivy Percy had summoned hours ago. "Thank the Old Kings..." Percy said sighing. He was tired of walking and all he wanted to do was get back to the ship and sift through the information they had learned. Vivi tossed a look up at Mordy with a wide smiled and then looked back at the others. "All's up who's goin' up!" She said, climbing up the eight foot drop with what look liked ease. Hard-headed or not, she seemed to have taken the climbing lessons Kethy gave her to heart. Once up, she whistled and called to the others, "This is weird guys. You need to see it."

One of the less inclined to climb, Percy, instead summoned a series of vines, moss, and ivy along the the drop, to better aid in his ascent. The act drew a bit out of his already flagging tank, but regardless he ascended the wall as well. What he saw at the top was, just like Vivi said, weird. Around the shack there were cages strewn about. Large cages, and whatever inhabitants were probably unfriendly, considering the notches on the cage walls. They were almost rat sized, Percy noted as he knelt by one. There were scuff marks around the mouth of the entrances, suggesting whatever were in the cages were then dumped into the tunnels.

That wasn't the end of it. Vivi had exited the shack before Percy's crest and found herself staring at the Enforcer that had guided them to the building. Well, the body of the Enforcer who looked like he was nearly beheaded. Vivi leaned forward, a bit too close for a normal girl, but then again she was not normal by any means. If she had her guess, someone had slit the Enforcer's throat from behind-- his weapon wasn't even unsheathed. Impressive, she thought. Though she was miffed by it as well. She wanted to kill him.

Mordecai didn't quite know what to make of the scene. In one way, what had happened was obvious: someone had killed the guard in order to set the rats down into the tunnel. But who, and to what end? If anyone knew enough of them to know they were down there, surely they should also have known that it would take more than a few large rodents to slay them. Also, why kill Hooktooth's man? Perhaps it was to frame them? They couldn't retrieve their comrades without bringing this man back alive to Argus, that was in the terms. But... perhaps the crime lord had killed his own enforcer in order to keep Mistress Kethyrian and Master Sven. If so, the rats should not have even been necessary, unless they were purely for the sake of misdirection.

How peculiar; there were simply too many unknowns to compute one most likely cause. In the end, however, that seemed to matter less than the effect, which was the same no matter who was responsible. "This unit advises haste," he pointed out. Whether they had done so intentionally or not, they had violated the goblin's terms, and that put their comrades in immediate danger.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kethyrian Tor Character Portrait: Sven Diederich Character Portrait: Diomache Castillo

Earnings

0.00 INK

Dio screwed up her face a little at the big man, trying to make sense of the words. "That was... a yes? I'm sorry, it was hard to tell. I've got an exit planned for the slaves that isn't the front door, if you were--" She was cut off by the sound, and the force, of an explosion from the far side of the mansion, the sound of a crumbling wall, shouting voices. Dio quickly got to her feet, quick small steps taking her silently over to the door, a wave of her hand unlocking it. She moved her mask back in position over her faces until nothing but her eyes remained visible to them.

"Okay, that was our cue. Listen carefully. We're going to wait for them to gather around the door, they won't come in without strength knowing a guy as big as you is in here. Leave them to me. I'll give us an opening to get through, and we make a run for it. There's a ledge straight ahead, vault over it and fall down to the first floor, immediately turn around, and take out the two guards that will be keeping watch over the door to the basement. We get in, we bar the door behind us, and the rest is easy. Got it?"

Assuming everything went according to plan, this wouldn't be so bad. Of course, very little had gone according to plan so far, but she was nothing if not an optimist. This would work out. "Oh! And I need names, otherwise I have to come up with nicknames, and you'd probably hate them, I'm terrible at it. Quickly, please." She then moved to grab something at her belt, some kind of metallic cube with sides of about three inches, plated a dark bronze color. This she idly tossed up and down in her right hand while she listened at the wall for the thugs to gather on the other side.

"Kethyrian," the Favisae supplied, though her attention was elsewhere, more specifically, on the door. "And that's Sven." She could just catch the first hints of footsteps headed in their direction, likely to reinforce the two already outside the thing. Unless that cube contained some kind of magic or explosive, she was skeptical of the woman's ability to handle all of the guards on her own, but said nothing of it, simply drawing her poniard from its place at her hip. Argus hadn't even bothered to disarm her before throwing them in here, likely (correctly) assuming that her more relevant talent was not one that could be taken from her. Still, every little bit helped, and she'd ensure that someone paid for that mistake, eventually.

The plan was good enough, as far as such things went, and she had confidence in Sven's ability to manage a ten-foot drop without breaking anything. The man gave the impression of being built of stone and mortar, even more than the actual golem did, so there was that. She was still far from pleased that it was essentially being foisted on them; the choice between help free a bunch of future slaves and wait around to be blamed for an explosion was hardly a choice, after all. That didn't mean she'd half-ass her efforts towards it, of course. It might be their only chance to get out, and that warranted everything she could give it.

It was at this point that the footsteps became more thunderous and obviously clearer, meaning that they were drawing close. Low words were exchanged, and then someone barked an order at them. "Oi, you lot. Stand aside, we're coming in!" Well, that was nice of them, broadcasting their intentions like that. Kethyrian's grip tightened on her dagger, but she otherwise did nothing, already off to one side as per Dio's instructions.

Kethyrian. Sven. Simple enough. Well, Kethyrian might need to be shortened into something, but she'd have to worry about that later, as it was currently show time. "Right, we'll have a few seconds," she said, and then decided to add, "No one needs to die." Their weapons looked very much the lethal sort. Dio was going to do her best to ensure that they didn't need to use them lethally, but she would certainly not be surprised if they did so anyway. Without further ado, she pulled the door open just enough to toss the little cube outside, the sound of metal sliding along the floor the only thing for a brief moment.

Dio had never been the best at magic, and as a matter of fact, everyone in her family had managed to outdo her in that regard. Her primary failing was that she was simply poor at conjuring things out of thin air... it just didn't make sense for her mentally for some reason. And while that had more or less crippled her in the majority of her formal lessons, she learned on her own that she was much more capable of creating magic when she had a visual aid to call upon, something to envision the magic coming from. Otherwise useless objects served as conduits for her power, and though it was still not as impressive as others, it was nothing to be trifled with.

On this occasion she had employed the little metal box, a multi-purpose tool, but in this case, acting as a bomb. Her open right hand clenched suddenly into a tight fist, a short sound of static all that preceded the explosion of magical lightning outside the room. A chorus of surprised shouts erupted from the thugs as they were stunned by the energy now coursing through their veins. Dio shoved the door open all the way now. "Go!" she called, leading them out into the hallway, head and body low, her right hand near the handle of her scimitar in case it was needed, her left hand scooping up the cube as she passed it.

By her count there were ten or twelve of them in the immediate area, armed with a variety of weapons, though she didn't see any firearms on them. No doubt they were supposed to contain the situation and keep the captives alive if possible. All of them were stunned and in pain, but it would last a few seconds at best. The energy required to blast them all into unconsciousness would have taken a toll on her that she wasn't willing to give at this point. She already felt like she'd been sprinting across the mansion as it was, as that was one of her most advanced tricks. Her course of action was clear: flee.

Dio darted forward, sidestepping one thug as he struggled to breathe. She leaped towards the ledge, catching it as she flew over and twisting herself around to plant her sandals on the outside of it, halting her for a brief moment before she let herself fall to the first floor, bending her legs and rolling forward to absorb the fall. The two guards were outside the door, just as she thought, trying to figure out what was going on above them. Her scimitar was out in a flash and a ring of dulled steel against the sheath. She parried the first downstroke of a club, spinning left and bringing the blade into the back of his knee, the hit combined with the shock she sent into him taking him to his knees. With her off hand she snatched her flintlock from the holster, aiming the empty weapon at the second thug. When she pulled the trigger a concentrated pulse of electricity slammed into his chest, and he spasmed for a brief moment before falling unconscious, at which point Dio flipped the pistol around and smacked it into the first thug's head to knock him out the old fashioned way.

Muscles were already tensing across the Lieutenant's hulking shoulders, hunched as if awaiting an impending crash through the door, and if he weren't so bearish-looking then his defensive stance might've appeared as elegant, as graceful as one belonging to the feline variety. His breathing was levelled, controlled. Kethyrian was no ribcaged china doll, too fragile to fight her own battles, so he didn't really worry about whether or not she could hold her own – it was in the way she stood now, as unruffled by the explosion and approaching footsteps as he was. They were both ready. Fear stopped crackling his bones long ago. He didn't welcome death, but he certainly didn't shy away from it, either. However, the Lieutenant faltered slightly, nearly imperceptible by all but those perceptive enough to catch it, when Dio mentioned, as an aside, that no one needed to die. Thick eyebrows screwed up, and he glanced at Kethyrian. Had he heard her wrong? The question remained implicitly wordless, though it'd clearly crossed through his somber gaze. Whoever this woman was; thief, burglar, merciful vendetta-maker, she didn't spit into fires when she saw them.

He'd never been asked to hold back before. The odd requisition was alien, but still positively sterling. She wouldn't have mentioned it if it didn't mean something to her. The Lieutenant cracked his knuckles in his opposing palms, glancing towards the door before moving off to the side as instructed. If it meant escaping from this place, from these backstabbing bludgers, then he would (normally) incite no mercy, no honour-filled actions that would promise only bruises. No mercy for the soulless, he might've said. He was inclined to believe that Kethyrian would agree. He opened his eyes (which he hadn't noticed he'd been closing), too blue, that crackled with the memory of his brother and, more importantly, her. He'd been merciful back then, he'd hesitated and it'd cost him everything. Now wasn't the time to question Dio's motives, her tender hearted statement. But, it all came down to it, if he had to, he would, he'd do it again, and again. If she had the means of moving them safely aside, and they could go in the opposite direction without confronting the Argus' footmen, there'd be less bodies littering the hallways. Simple as that.

As soon as Dio signalled them into the hallway, preceding an impressive display with whatever she'd had clasped in her palm – a little box, from the looks of it, the Lieutenant pushed through the door, thundering close to the woman's heels and a little off to the side in case anyone decided to steer away from whatever explosion that had erupted from her contraption. Quickly head-counting the guards, Sven pushed his way past them, bowling over three disoriented guards with his broad shoulders. His knees, and his plated spine, protested against his brusque actions. If he did break anything in this fall, then he hoped he'd land on one of the guards in the process. Surprisingly nimble for one so large (but still not as graceful as Dio, and probably not as skilled as Kethyrian, either), the Lieutenant reached the straight ledge, planted one hand down and vaulted himself over. His landing was not so great, but he recovered quickly, rolling onto his shoulder and punching himself quickly to his feet. By the time he swung around, the two thugs had already been dealt with; unconscious. He wondered, idly, whether or not she'd intended to jump first for that reason only.

No one needed to die, was it? The thought was almost laughable. Technically true, maybe. But practically irrelevant, and likely to get someone killed, ironic as it may be. Kethyrian let it slide without comment; she didn't take orders from this woman, at least not past what was required to get out of here, and this one was more a request, anyway. Everyone died. It was only a matter of how long it took and what brought it about. She, who'd spent so much time trying to gain mastery over the very forces of life and death, knew that better than anyone.

The Favisae blinked aureate eyes and waited the few extra heartbeats for whatever magic Dio was working to take effect, then for both the woman and Sven to precede her out the door, and she followed, treading lightly and unheard over the din of their passing. She might well have been the big man's unusually-diminutive shadow, but her knife did not leave her hand, regardless. Her delay in leaving meant that the one closest to the outside of the knot of them recovered as she breezed past him, with enough surety of mind to make a grab for her arm. Kethy's forward progress was halted, and by the looks of things, the others were not far from regaining control of themselves either. She glanced haughtily at the sausage-fingers wrapped around her thin wrist and sneered. Making actual contact with her was the most foolish thing he could have done.

The ripple of magic was easy, called forth from somewhere in her sould or blackened heart, she knew not where. It locked on to the murmur of his heartbeat, the steady sursurration of his life, and it smothered. The man gasped for air, his hand sliding from her arm as his blood failed to move in his body, and she released it even as he released her. The heart attack was not exactly deadly; she would have had to hold it for far longer than that, but it was effective, and he fell unconscious. Not that she was around to watch it; her fleet feet carried her quickly back to the others, and she leapt the ledge, sailing over it and landing lightly on the floor beneath. She turned with Sven, but did not stop to figure out how or why the thugs were down. Instead, she threw up a temporary barrier, preventing any of the recovering thugs on the upper level from following them down by the same route, then darted past Dio to haul open the door to the basement.

As the second man fell Dio looked up to ensure her two charges were safely down to the first floor. Indeed they were, and Kethyrian was already moving past her to open the door. That was good. She flipped her pistol back into its holster and turned, jogging through the open portal. "Sven! Inside, please! Quickly." Once all three of them were inside, she ensured the heavy wooden door was shut behind them. "Okay, now we need to--" but of course there were more. Four in fact, beatsticks in hand, responding to the noises at the door. Well, this would hopefully mean less guards near the prisoners themselves. "Shit. Sven, hold the door!" It was almost a certainty that the other thugs would try to bash their way through. If anyone was capable of holding the door shut among them, it was the big guy. They could get something to brace it, but after these were dealt with.

They split two and two, going after Dio and Kethyrian. The thief huffed a breath, raising her scimitar to block the first swipe, before bringing her sandaled foot up between his legs, hard. He doubled over as he screwed up his face, and she pulled him to her, using him as a shield to block the second thug's first attack, the club bludgeoning across his ally's face. She sent a sideways slash into his ribs, a jolt of electricity shocking him for a moment while she dumped the first thug aside, sending him tumbling to the ground. Dio stepped towards the first, sending a well placed flat-handed swipe into his throat, before winding up a little more, slashing down at his chest with her scimitar, sending a concentrated pulse of electricity into him, knocking him out and leaving him twitching on the ground.

Dio had been about take a deep breath to recuperate when a club whacked her in the lower back, sending a jolt of pain up her spine and catching her quite off guard. She hadn't expected him to get up so soon, or at all, after taking such a nasty shot to the head from the other thug. She barely managed to twist and get her blade in position to block the guard's next horizontal blow, but he closed the gap entirely and rammed her with his shoulder, sending her sliding on her rear away from him. Though it took the remainder of her wind, it gave her the space and time she needed to pull her pistol and fire a blast of lightning forking into his chest, taking him down. Her arm shook slightly as she pushed herself back to a knee, checking to see how the others were faring.

Kethyrian frowned when she was suddenly faced with two well-armed men, apparently intent on killing her rather than capturing her alive. The first lunged quickly, swiping at her with a sword. That was easy, a textbook maneuver, really: she raised her parrying dagger and caught the blade, sliding the rest of herself underneath his guard and close enough to grab his face with her free hand, claws digging uncomfrtably into his skin. Frankly, she didn't like it any more than he did, but the difference was it meant she'd already won. "Sleep," she hissed, pulling his waking energy from his body in much the same way as she pushed it inward when she was rousing someone. Every process had a counterpart, and this one took comparitively little effort to start.

The guard buckled at the knees and thudded to the floor, exhausted and unconscious before his head hit the stairs. It'd probably add a nasty concussion, but Kethyrian didn't regret that in the slightest. She'd have properly killed him, if she thought it would be any more useful, but this took less magic and happened more quickly. They'd be long gone from here by the time that one woke up, even if one of his fellows kicked him.

The second fellow took the opportunity to hack at her with a rather large axe, and his two-handed grip was a good guarantee that she was far too weak to block this one as she had the other. Sidestepping, the Favisae pushed herself up against the wall, narrowly avoiding the whistling axehead as it sliced a vertical arc through the space she'd occupied moments ago. She'd never been particularly attentive to her shape, but she was glad at this point that she wasn't any fleshier, or that would have caught something for sure. Gripping her knife between her teeth, the woman hooked her claws into the mortar-line of the stone wall and pulled, skittering her way up the surface like some kind of cave-spider. It wasn't much of an advantage-- the highest point of the ceiling here was maybe eight feet in height, which was nothing to a six-foot-something enforcer, but it would be enough.

From the corner where wall met ceiling, Kethyrian pushed off, aiming squarely for axe-man's back, which just so happened to be presented to her since he was currently trying to swipe at her. She landed about as heavily as someone so slight could on his shoulders, tipping him well off-balance as she wrapped her legs around his torso and her arms about his neck. Skin-to-skin contact worked best, and that was a rather unfortunate limitation when your opponents probably didn't bathe as often as you'd prefer. Nevertheless, she didn't hesitate, and this time, she created a tiny barrier in his windpipe, blocking off his air supply. He flailed violently, slamming his back and consequently her into the stone behind him. Kethyrian felt the breath leave her body in a rush, but fortunately, he ran out of steam shortly thereafter, slumping forward when he could no longer support her weight.

Panting slightly, she unblocked his airway when she was sure he was out, then picked herself up off him, scowling. Should've just ruptured his artery.

The Lieutenant's initial reaction had been to move forward, half a step ahead of Kethyrian, with the intent of bull-rushing the four guards squaring off to meet them, but with Dio's instructions (which seemed sounder than allowing more guards through the door), he'd merely grunted his reply and stood in front of the door, pressing his shoulder against the frame, the wall and the doorknob. If he'd been a paperweight made for doors, then he might've fared better. Idling suited him less than mercifully, tenderly bashing his opponents heads in just enough to render them unconscious. He was an anchor, a bodyguard, a frightening man who stood in people's shadows, a mass of weight holding doors promptly closed. Heavy eyebrows settled unpleasantly across his forehead, throwing up worry wrinkles and indicative notes of displeasure. He was not so immature, not so childish to admit that he'd rather be in the fray, throwing his fists, grappling and subduing his enemies, but even still, there was an inch of him that wanted to abandon his post.

Alas, the Lieutenant's shoulder jarred away from the door, which snapped open a sliver, then abruptly closed when he shoved his weight resolutely against the door frame. A high-pitched shriek filtered through the doorway, which he rightly assumed to belong to the person whose fingers were still waggling in the door, trapped and twitching where he'd slammed it. Each and every slam became more desperate, more insistent, as if the number of shoulders or feet pounding against the entryway multiplied, quadrupled. Even still, Sven held onto the door. It would break before he let it swing open. Occasionally, the man glanced in Kethyrian's direction, glimpsing Dio, as well, in his peripherals. Just to be sure that they were doing fine – though he still did not doubt their abilities, given what he'd seen already. Nimble as tigers, they were. It was something to be admired, for certain. He imagined his spine sprouting vines, digging deep into the ground in which he stood. It was easier that way, because he felt as if it'd snap into two clean pieces, shattering whatever bone structure surrounded it.

A light smile tugged at the corner of his lips, quickly slaying itself back into its usual frown. The four thugs were down, now, and unconscious, not dead, from the looks of it; chests rising and falling with their laboured breaths, however Kethyrian had managed to deal with things without outright killing them. So, even she had listened to Dio's request. He was not so sure if he'd comply, given the chance. The door jolted him awake, reminding him that they'd better vacate the area before the entryway completely splintered around him. He grunted in response, digging his heels into the floor. “Good idea is to be leaving,” He began, cut off sharply with another barrage of kicks, “Jetzt!”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Skybound Character Portrait: Percy Galath Character Portrait: Mordecai Character Portrait: Lohengrin Character Portrait: Kethyrian Tor Character Portrait: Sven Diederich Character Portrait: Theon Zeona Character Portrait: Vivian Zeona Character Portrait: Diomache Castillo

Earnings

0.00 INK

That would hopefully be all the fighting Dio would have to do today. It certainly wasn't her favorite activity, nor her best, especially after weeks of intense planning and preparation, hours of climbing and jumping and sneaking and tense moments, not to mention copious amounts of magic use. It was safe to say that she was glad that was through. Sven had even managed to hold the door, which was very good, considering that they would otherwise currently have about a dozen more thugs dogpiling them if he'd failed. A nearby table looked like it would help, solid and heavy and long enough to seat a large number. If propped against the door correctly, it would no doubt be able to hold them for the time they needed.

"Help me with this!" she called to the Favisae, jogging over to one end of the table and getting as good a grip on it as she could. Kethyrian nodded curtly and grasped the other side. Together they were able to move it up against the door, tilting its weight downwards to hold it shut. There were other things about they could use to brace it further, but frankly Dio preferred the idea of just getting the rest of this done and getting the hell out of here. "That should hold them, at least until they get a battering ram or some explosives. Come on."

She didn't know the exact layout of the estate's basement, considering that it had been impossible to scout out from above, but she knew the relative size of it, judging by the reports the diggers had brought back. Dio led her pair of helpers away from this first hallway, to the nearest set of stairs she could find, and then it was down, down, down, a spiral leading away from the surface, darkness prevented from overcoming the place by a few scant torches that gave the whole place a very medieval feel. It wasn't the first time she had descended into a pit full of slaves, but it was the first time she did so knowingly.

At last the stairs ended and they came out into an open area, or rather, one that would have been open if not for the walls of criss-crossed iron bars on either side of them, forming a hallway with cells on either side. Dio slowed to a walk and pulled her mask away from her face, surveying their condition. How many cells were there... she counted ten on each side, all identical in size, all filled with slaves. There were at least four to a cell, but some had as many as seven or eight peering at the new visitors, all different races, and none treated well. They were thin and barely clothed, pitiful things, but at least none of them appeared crippled or otherwise unable to move. Dio didn't doubt the slavers simply did away with those that couldn't keep up. The feeling she had now was nothing when she discovered her own family had been involved in the trade of flesh, but still... seeing these people treated like this, the poor and lost of Deluge with no one looking out for them... sadness and anger danced with each other in her chest.

A few were calling out to them, and no doubt they had heard the explosion from above, or at least the rumbling of it. "Let's get these people out of here," she said rather softly, before moving to the nearest cell on her left and crouching down, taking a hold of the thick padlock and using her magic to will it open. They probably only had a few minutes to empty these cells, and hope their exit came on time.

The Lieutenant clopped down the spiralling stairway, dutifully bringing the rear. He occasionally glanced over his shoulders, wary of any distant sound. He strained his ears for incoming footfalls, but heard nothing but the outlying din of nearby moans, growing louder and louder as they neared the end of the staircase. He paused briefly, tipping his head back. Recollections of other dirty, musty basements collectively invaded his memories, colouring his eyelids with murky smudges and sharp ribcages, knobby knees, hooked elbows and skeletal fingers waggling towards him, bleating for freedom, barely breathing. He'd seen things like this before, in wide scales, in smaller scales, but they'd always felt the same. Iron bars blockaded the malnourished denizens huddled within the cages, open-spaced and tightly packed against the long hallway (where he assumed Argus' men walked down to check on their products). Lost souls who'd been captured, kidnapped, or left for dead in the streets of Deluge. His frown deepened, forehead creasing.

It stank down here, the fetid odor of unwashed flesh and disease just on the cusp of manifesting. She recognized from not extraordinary olfactory capacity but simply from familiarity. One didn't become a healer without spending too much time in places with this smell, not if one wanted to be good at it. If you wanted to keep being good at it, you eventually learned to accept what you saw without letting your guts twist up too badly. Pity was for people who had the time, and didn't need their heads clear for more important things, but even she was not quite so hard-hearted that the predicament these people were in made her feel nothing at all. It was just... understated, easily-ignored, jaded, perhaps.

She had not the elegance of alteration magics at her disposal, and was left with something a tad more brute. "Stand back," she said flatly to the prisoners in the cage nearest her. They obliged, whether from the seriousness of her tone or the sheer dumb hope that she actually meant well, she could not say. It hardly mattered, because the actual act was all she required. Taking a pace backwards herself, she eyed the rusty lock with derision, manifesting a hand-sized barrier and concentrating on its density, packing as much strength as she could into the slightly-shimmering surface area and then hurling it, guiding it to smash into the lock.

And smash it did, the sound ringing hollowly throughout the cell block, buckling the metal surface of the lock until it cracked and broke with a decisive snap, dropping with a muted clink to the stone floor beneath. She repeated the process on another two cages before she swapped tactics, approaching those who seemed to be moving a little sluggishly and tapping them on the temples, imparting small, temproary bursts of energy, enough that they'd be able to run relatively quickly if that was what the situation required. If Kethyrian Tor was going to do something, she was going to do it right, after all.

Instead of trudging past Kethyrian with the intentions of manhandling the locks with his bare-hands (which would've ended badly, either way he looked at it), the Lieutenant patiently waited for her to make her way over, while she paused in front of each barred cage, idly touching the locks until they snapped open like metallic clams. He had no powers to exploit, though he did have experience dealing with frightened, doe-eyed victims who wanted nothing more but to get the hell outta here, but weren't entirely sure where they were in the first place, so he moved from one person to another, employing a kindness that seemed ill-suited for someone so intimidating. His whispers were soft, and measured, assuring their safety. As if he'd done this before, under happier circumstances, the Lieutenant's hand rested easily on their shoulders, brushing back thick clumps of hair and pulling them back up to their feet. He'd act as their immovable rock, their heavy-browed pillar, until their jelly legs found themselves again. This was better then trying to attempt any long-winded speeches of why they were there, what their intentions were, or how, exactly, they were going to manage to smuggle them away from this horrible place. He offered no such things, alternating between offering his shoulder for balance and catching someone who hadn't quite managed to catch their breath – caught between disbelief, and desperation.

When everyone seemed to be on their feet, encouraged by whatever forces Kethyrian proffered by touching their temples, the Lieutenant shifted his position, holding a smaller woman by the elbow, and faced Dio. What plans did she have next? Would there be more explosions? The soundless, unvoiced question reflected in his eyes. It was unlikely that they'd backtrack up the staircase unless Dio knew of an alternate course, circling around the thugs and guards who were presumably pounding their fists, feet and shoulders on the door – or, as Dio had sensibly quipped, a battering ram. Again, the Lieutenant's gaze swings over to Dio, though he only adjusts his grip on the woman, muttering under his breath.

Dio double checked and triple checked the rows of cells, making sure they hadn't missed anyone, hadn't missed some hidden stock of the especially valuable or especially troublesome. No, they were thorough, and all the would-be slaves and test subjects (she shuddered at the thought) were up on their feet and very ready to leave. So was she, to be honest, this mission had been far more complicated than she'd originally anticipated, but of course she should have expected that given the people she was trying to undermine here.

"Okay, okay, I just need everyone to stand back away from the far wall," she explained, moving to put herself between the masses she'd just liberated and the mentioned wall, slate gray and smooth and utterly unremarkable. Fighting had unfortunately scrambled her mental clock a little, to the point where she didn't know exactly how much time they had left. Hopefully not much, since they were ready to go right now.

"That's it, just stay calm. My friends are going to be creating a way out of here, we just have to wait for--" she was cut off by a series of four booms in quick succession, accompanied by the sound of cracking stone and crumbling wall. "for that," she finished, turning to see their exit. A hole had been opened up in the wall, perhaps six feet tall, certainly small enough that Sven would have to duck into it to avoid hitting his head, and probably four feet wide. It was about a half foot off the ground, so they'd have to step up into it to get out, but in all, Dio was impressed. This would do.

A young man with sandy blond hair and a prosthetic lower right leg came out of the newly created hole in the wall, kicking aside the stray rubble that blocked the path, shoving his goggles up onto his forehead. "Hope I'm not late," he said rather cheerily. Dio would have quipped back, but they were short of time. "Right on time. This is our way out, everyone. We don't really have time to explain right now, you're just going to have to trust me. We'll clear everything up once we get to safety. Let's go!"

When the other option was a dark cell in a dark dungeon, they didn't need much convincing, and very quickly the first slaves began working their way into the tunnel behind the man with the goggles. Dio made sure to wait until the last of them had entered the tunnel before she followed, passing a woman with the same color blonde hair, attaching small explosive devices to the roof of the little tunnel they'd created. "That going to take long?" Dio asked, and the girl smiled as she shook her head. "Nope! We'll have this collapsed in no time. No one's following us this way." Dio nodded in approval. "Good." She picked up the pace to catch up with the rest of the group, falling in beside Sven and Kethyrian.

"Like I said," she explained, "a lot of work went into this. These tunnels will lead the captives back to a safe place, and we'll help them on their way from there. I don't suppose you know where you can find the others from your group? They'll probably be worried sick when they see the state Argus' mansion is in."

"I imagine they'll be eager to find us when they notice the giant smoking holes in the building," Kethyrian pointed out flatly. Otherwise, she had a feeling Sven would probably know where Captain Skybound was most likely to look and head there. She'd simply follow if that turned out to be the case.

Letting the escaped prisoners clamber up ahead of her, Kethyrian stepped up and into the passage without trouble, as her size meant that her head came nowhere near brushing the ceiling. Presumably, their way out would be caving in on them shortly, and she had no intention of still being down here when that happened. It wasn't like tunnels were exactly unfamiliar, besides... and then it clicked. For some strange reason, the thought of tunnels was enough to link her to the memory of the woman's face, though at the time it had looked considerably worse for wear, sunburned and scraped, though that had hardly been the worst of it. She'd been half-dead, and it had taken a good few hours and Kethyrian's last deed as a denizen of those tunnels to bring the stranded human back up to functionality. It was enough to bring the Favisae pause, and she glanced back over her shoulder at Dio. "Come a long way from a dehydrated, dying foundling, haven't you?" she murmured, caught somewhere between her usual blunt acidity and marginally gentler amusement.

Of course, now was hardly the time to discuss it, and she disappeared up the tunnel's incline thereafter, headed back for the surface, which would hopefully smell better.

Dio almost stopped entirely, her confusion momentarily stunning her. "How did you..." but the words didn't really come after that, and before she knew it the Favisae was putting distance between them. How did she know about that? Dio was very certain she would have remembered a woman with hair the likes of hers. It would certainly require further questioning, but now was probably not the best time. She could hear the rumbling of their exit collapsing behind them, and the demolitionist jogging back their way shortly after. A successful operation if she had ever seen one.




Gwendolyn's feet were crossing the threshold that invisibly marked Argus's estate grounds off from the rest of Deluge when the last explosion produced a rumbling beneath them, which might have even thrown her off-balance, had she not spent the majority of her life on a ship. The moderately-sized plume of debris and smoke that rose into the skyline to join two fading comrades was... somewhat discouraging, even to her. "Well, that's certainly not what I was expecting," she noted lightly, turning back to glance over her shoulder at the rest of the group. "Gonna go out on a limb here and say that someone's not too happy with Toady, which means Toady's probably not very happy with the world in general. Keep a hold on those weapons, okay?"

That said, she wasn't exactly sure where to go. The property was relatively large, and they were looking for only two people. She was pretty sure neither of them had either the magic or the equipment to create an explosion like that, so the smoking holes in the building probably weren't that helpful, really. "Um..." To the side, Vivi couldn't contain the dangerous glare that haunted her eyes. If Kethy was hurt, then it would all be on her head. For her sake, she had better hope that Kethy was the one causing the damage. However, her sharp tongue was held at bay by an interruption from Theon.

Theon jumped into action, well aware that this was a situation in which he was most useful. "Give me a minute, I'll find them. Somebody shake me if we need to move." If they were on the goblin's turf now, that meant they were in danger. The green-skinned asshole had already tried to have his peons take care of him and his sister, so he definitely was willing to try, and if he suspected their involvement in whatever attack had just occurred on his base, the scryer could foresee how their presence here might become a problem. Positioning himself up against the nearest wall, he sank to the ground and draped his arms loosely over his knees, letting his head fall forward and closing his eyes.

There were a lot more people here than he expected. A good deal of activity, heartbeats elevated and temperatures high. The area immediately around the estate was a mess, mostly thugs trying to restore some sense of order. He found Argus quickly enough, absolutely livid and shouting at some of his henchmen. Other than that, most of them were clustered below ground, working extremely hard on something, a sense of futility hanging over them.

Seeing beneath the surface brought... complications, but it wasn't anything that couldn't be worked around. It became more like fumbling around in the dark, reaching out and using touch along the walls to guide himself. The thugs beneath the estate were blocked by something, and they couldn't move forward. Theon could, passing right through and flying forward, at least until he sensed a large amount of people, pushing through dim light, some clutching each other, the stink of fear hanging on them, but also an overwhelming joy. There were a few among the group that weren't possessed of such emotions, and it was these he focused on. The one in the back was... very ecstatic about something. Reveling in her work. Theon got the sense she was a little too pleased with herself. Strange.

The one in front of her was also female, but this one was confused by something, accompanied by a relief that didn't match the rest, relief that came after months of hard work. In front of her were two, side by side, and Theon picked up on slight levels of... well, grumpiness. Surely that was them? If Theon had to guess, he'd say all these people had just left Argus' estate, given that they were walking directly away from it, at the negative elevation of the thugs trying to dig through some kind of barrier.

"They're underground," Theon said, raising his head to look at the rest of the group. "With a large group, mostly terrified people, heading north. Should be easy to follow." he stood, pleased with himself. Very few people could hide from him. "Shall we?"

"... What?" Vivi managed, tilting her head. Underground? Large group of people? The hell did they get themselves into if they were traveling underground-- well, Kethy, she understood. Favisae did tend to like underground carvens. But that wasn't the point. She managed a look at the ground at her feet before she shook her head, disregarding her own question a moment ago. "Yeah.. Right. North. Let's... go give them a hearty welcome?" she asked in a confusion laced tone. Still, there was a chance Kethy was among them, and she never doubted Theon's power. It was better than walking into the hornet's nest that was Argus's manor-- well... As much fun as that sounded, she'd rather find Kethy first.

Mordecai, in accordance with what seemed to be the expressed will of the group, found north and headed in that direction, choosing to largely walk the perimeter of Argus's estate rather than simply go through it. There seemed to be a good deal of confrontation happening already, but he wasn't sure if there was actual combat involved, or if someone had simply decided to deconstruct the house with incendiaries. Either way, it would perhaps provide them an opportunity to escape the area without needing to undergo what was sure to be a rather unpleasant encounter with the goblin.

By the time they'd reached the area some distance behind the manor, several people in poor conditioning were already making what appeared to be a run for the jungle beyond the property, and a few others emerged behind them, at a somewhat-more controlled pacing. "Visual confirmation," Mordecai intoned. "Master Sven, Mistress Kethyrian, and others." He pointed in the appropriate direction, the movement catching Kethyrian's attention.

The Favisae peered over the distance, her eyes a good deal poorer than the Automaton's, especially in such direct sunlight. Still, it was hard to miss a group with a composition like theirs. "Sven, they're here. We should go."

Had it been the Lieutenant squinting his tired eyes into the horizon, then he might not have spotted the small dots freckling the stretch before them. His eyesight wasn't horrible, but he'd suffered old injuries on his eyes – cataracts that often caused lights to appear darker, and darkness to become an obstacle he couldn't navigate himself out of. So, it was by Kethyrian's superior vision that he learned of their arrival. He paused momentarily, swinging his steady gaze back to Dio. A thought occurred to him, but sifted away as quickly as it'd come. If he thought she'd join them, given the abilities and fore-planning he'd seen her display back in the manor, then he would have offered the position, but it didn't seem as if she would be interested. She had her own rules, her own way of doing things. Sometimes, they killed people, if they stepped in their way, if they stopped them from doing something important. Worse yet, they didn't feel bad for doing it. They didn't think about their families, or friends, or their lives being prematurely cut off. Would she accept being a part of something like that?

The thought trailed off, replaced by a low rumble bellying from his chest. The Lieutenant stepped forward, offering Dio a rare smile that still looked a little glum on his face and placed a hand on her head, barely ruffling her hair, “You did some good, Fraulein. Sie haben meinen Respekt. If you are needing help, someday.” He retracted his hand, and thumped his chest to finish his broken sentence. The indication, he hoped, was clear enough. There weren't enough good people in the world, so if he could be a part of something like that, then he'd gladly offer his hands, his shoulders, his strength, to any cause that made someone's life a little better. He'd almost forgotten what that felt like. Helping someone without rhyme or reason, because it was the right thing to do, after all. Gwendolyn would like her. He took another step past her, and ponderously glanced over his shoulder. “I'm thinking. You should be meeting Gwendolyn.” The offer was there, if she so chose to take it. He nodded again, flashed a look at Kethyrian and began tromping in the direction she'd pointed in. The Favisae offered Dio a nod and followed after.

As the group emerged from the tunnels and into daylight once more, Dio's job was complete, and with it, the weight gone from her shoulders. She sighed happily with the relief it brought. None of these people would be shipped to Xantus or wherever else her family was doing their work. The others would give whatever help they needed, if they wanted it, and then get them all on their way as best they could. Their power to help was not limitless, of course, but their drive to was, and Dio found that willpower could do incredible things when given the right direction.

But now that she was finished here, she supposed that meant she was free to go where she wished. She was half-curious who, if anyone, from her family, would have been making the transaction and acquiring the slaves tomorrow, escorting them back to Xantus. It really wasn't worth thinking about, as that line of thought only led to trouble. Her family did not yet know of her survival, and it was much better that way. Easier to subvert them. On top of that, there really wasn't anyone from her family she wanted to see again.

Maybe it was one of her older sisters, finally risen in the ranks enough to be included in their games, having earned enough trust, or brainwashed enough, to cooperate. Hmph. Hopefully coming back empty handed would earn her a good glare from mother. The thought made her smile a little.

Dio was pulled back to the present by Kethyrian's mention of their companions being here. Dio frowned a little. That was odd, that they'd be able to find them so easily. Suspicious, too, but Dio was willing to believe there was a good reason behind it. At Sven's compliment and offer of assistance, she smiled genuinely, a rather broad, shining thing that she wore well. "Some good is all I ever hope to do, Sven. I'm glad I was able to help you." She had thought they'd simply leave, but then he suggested she meet someone named Gwendolyn. Probably their leader, the one she'd spied talking with Argus before the split had been made. If this was for the purpose of rewarding her or something, it wasn't necessary. Of course, she was rather interested in meeting them, given that they certainly didn't look like an average group of travelers. A rather odd assortment. She nodded her acquiescence and followed.

At the sight of the black and white hair dancing in the distance, a squealing "Kethy!" was heard, followed by the sound of feet stamping the ground. Next came the loud thump of a rough hug as Vivi took Kethy in an possibly unwarranted embrace. Kethyrian endured it with a long-suffering sigh, though for all that, she did reach up a bit and tousle Vivian's hair.

"I almost can't believe it," she intoned dryly, "but it looks like I managed to find more trouble than you, this time."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Skybound Character Portrait: Percy Galath Character Portrait: Mordecai Character Portrait: Lohengrin Character Portrait: Kethyrian Tor Character Portrait: Sven Diederich Character Portrait: Theon Zeona Character Portrait: Vivian Zeona Character Portrait: Diomache Castillo

Earnings

0.00 INK

Though an immediate departure may have been preferable, Gwendolyn knew it was going to take Argus a while to figure out what had happened, and when he did, she suspected the chances of him suspecting their involvement would go down, not up. Personally, she wouldn't have minded being associated with whatever stunt Kethyrian, Sven, and their new friend had pulled off, seeing as how it involved freeing a number of future slaves, but it was probably better for all involved if the culprits remained unknown. So instead of fleeing immediately for the ship, she led thr group back into Deluge proper, along the winding, dusty dirt roads, the little clouds kicked into the air by passage of cart, carriage, and feet illuminated in hazy haloes by the buzzing xenon lights in a fair panoply of colors and shadow.

The day had drawn late, and evening was in its infancy when the bombastic captain flung open the doors to a small, out-of-the way building, striding inside with a swagger in her step that suggested she owned the place. She may well have done, for all eyes swung to her and the motley assortment behind her, suspicious expressions melting into knowing smiles when wary eyes landed on the youthful face and shell-strung braids. Her visage was clearly well-known here, and welcomed. "The sky-bird seeks refuge!" she sang, and several grins broke out around the room.

"Go down, you blood-red roses, go down!" came the response, much less melodious but in a mix of voices, from the raspy and masculine to the airily girlish, that from the bar-maid.

Gwen's smile was bright to match as she gestured behind her to her companions, bidding them enter behind her. "But it's mighty draughty in damn Deluge!" A chorus of laughs met the second line, and that was as much custom as anything.

"Go down you blood-red roses, go down!" The little ritual completed and the identity of their guests verified (as if anyone hadn't known who the sprightly blonde lady was), most turned back to their business. The barmaid, however, left her job polishing a dark wooden table and approached the group, a broad smile gracing her wrinkled features. She looked to be in her late fifites or so, but for all that there was something about her that bespoke authority and ease both. She was flanked by a man of considerable height and girth, and from the odd similarity in their rough features and dark hair, it was perhaps surmisable that they were realted. He was no older than thirty-five, clad in rough linens with leather in spots more prone to wear. A pistol hung at one hip, and his mother carried a slender rapier.

Wiping her hands on her apron, the woman held her arms out, and Gwen stepped without hesitation into the embrace, careful with her metal limb but otherwise clearly pleased to be there. "Auntie George! You're as lovely as ever!" That drew a chuckle from the elder woman, and earned the captain a swat on her flesh-made limb.

"Aye, and you're still a scrawny wench, Gwendolyn Skybound! Look like you'll blow away in a storm, you do. Keep sleeping up in that rigging and you'll fall right off your ship one day," she replied knowingly, then turned to Sven, clapping the Lieutentant on the shoulder. "Now you on the other hand look like you still have that appetite, m'boy. There's a mince pie in the oven with your name on it." She made a gesture with her hand, and the man behind her nodded curtly, disappearing behind a door set into the opposite wall. From the rolling gait he possessed, it was obvious to an airship sailor that he'd been one, too, once, though he tread with a pronounced limp. "As soon as you tell me what's going on, that is. You're not dragging trouble to my doorstep again, are you?" she asked suspiciously, sharp blue eyes flitting over the rest of the group, lingering perhaps a tad longer on Lohengrin and Theon than the rest.

Gwen bit her lip in an exaggerated motion, swinging her own gaze to the ceiling in a parody of innocence, rocking back and forth from her toes to her heels. "Weeeellll..." she drew out, "Not if you don't want to know about it. Really, we just need a good meal and a place to lay low for a few hours, I promise. There most likely won't be any armed guards this time." The woman gave a disbelieving snort, but if she was truly disturbed by the news, she didn't give any indication of it. Gwen threw a glance back at the others. "Everybody, this is Astrid George, better known as Auntie George, and former cook aboard the Elysium. The quiet one from earlier is her son Daniel, the best damn rigger we ever had. Nowadays, she runs this place, and we're safe as can be as long as we're here."

In short order, the group was led to a long table and seated, and it was mere minutes before they all had heaping plates of hot food laid in front of them, and mulled wine besides, bread and cheese and butter occupying the middle of the wooden planks that served as their dining surface. One of the small miracles that was Auntie George, as far as Gwen was concerned. Everything was delicious as she remembered it, and for his part, Lohengrin agreed, occupying himself with eating while Gwen turned to the newcomer seated across from her. "So," she said, largely without preamble, "Sunshine tells me you helped him and Thistle escape that place, and a bunch of other people besides. Sorry for dragging you here, but I didn't think sticking around Toady and the minions with the angry-faces would be all that conducive to talking, you know?"

Dio nodded enthusiastically, unable to speak for the moment due to being caught with a mouth full of delicious food. She'd been a little put off by the group at first, mostly by the one with the big axe, but if this group was actively trying to get her to lower her guard, they were doing a damn good job. This place, and the people that worked, were about as homey as anything she'd ever seen. Her stomach had been rumbling after a hard day's work, the smells of the cooking proving a little too powerful for her to overcome. Thus she found herself literally biting off a little more than she could chew, and half-giggling when she attempted to recover.

When she was at last able to speak, she smiled apologetically. "Certainly not. I'm very grateful for the hospitality, this was just what I needed, I think. I stretched myself a little thin these last few months, to be honest." It wasn't the first time she'd allowed herself to be swept away by winds that came her way, so to speak, and it wouldn't be the last, certainly not when it led to things like this. "My name's Dio, by the way. I hope you'll forgive me for asking, but... I'm curious what I've stumbled into here. You seem... a rather odd collection." Her eyes lingered on the automaton in particular. She thought she might have seen something similar once in Xantus. "Are you a crew, or mercenaries?"

"Gwen," the engineer replied, then cocked her head to one side, producing a faint jangling sound, and considered the question, chewing over a mouthful of potatoes. "A little of both, mostly neither, I think. Ever heard of Avalon's Dawn? It's an adventurer's guild, based up north. That's where most of these kids are from. I work for them, too, as an airship captain." There was a pause, and the usually sort of happy daze that existed over Gwen's eyes cleared, and she studied the other woman with something resembling astuteness. It lasted for only a moment, though, and then she shrugged, receding into something a bit more congenial if less... sharp-looking.

"You've managed to trip right over a quest to save the world, if you'd believe it." The pilot's tone suggested that it didn't much ruffle her feathers if Dio chose not to, but she did think a statement like that merited some explanation. "Captured mentor-figure, obscure prophesy, implication of great trial and disaster, the whole box and dice, actually. Started with a troop of Vipers attacking the Guild Tower, it'll end... well, who knows? Wouldn't be obscure if I knew where we were going to end up, now would it?" She flashed a smile and popped another slice of potato into her mouth, looking at Dio rather expectantly, though what she was waiting for was anyone's guess. She wasn't all that certain she knew, herself.

Saving the world, huh? Dio wasn't quite sure she wanted to ask from what. She wasn't aware that the world was in any particular danger, apart from the evils of many individuals that were seemingly a part of daily life. She had heard of Avalon's Dawn, though she'd never given them much thought. For most of her life she'd had the mindset that the only organization she was bound to join was her own family's, the group that she could now only see as more of a cult. She remembered that her mother had not spoken of them fondly on any occasion, for whatever reason. That actually won them quite a few points, now.

"Wow," she said, honestly a little dumbfounded by the response. "That... sounds a little overwhelming, actually." She didn't really know what other words to come up with. She'd been more prepared to tell the woman how much she adored everything she'd done with her hair, with the beads and bandannas and braids, but suddenly everything seemed so irrelevant now that the subject had been moved to saving the world. "I'm... a little more small time myself, I'm afraid. I'm from Xantus originally, but I've been in the south a while now. I work as a freelance thief and saboteur, though I seem to have a habit of doing good deeds."

There was really no point being coy about what she did, considering that she was dining with an adventurer's guild after they'd seen what she'd done to the estate of a major criminal lord here in Deluge. And maybe she was a little crazy for thinking this, but she currently had no employment and the freedom to choose wherever she went next. The idea of joining a guild was certainly tempting. It presented an opportunity to improve herself helping in ways she could, to prepare for her return to Xantus, and if these people were actually trying to save the world from something... wouldn't she be an awful person to avoid trying to help?

Gwen's indomitable smile returned, and she swapped from holding her fork in her left hand to her right to knuckle the other woman on the shoulder, nothing more than a gentle shove. "You're only small-time for as long as you don't think big enough. I'd know, so trust me on that." The metal implement was crossed with an odd sort of daintiness over the ceramic plate, and Gwen propped an elbow on the table and her chin upon that. "So how 'bout it?" she asked, half reading Dio's thoughts from her face and body language, half guessing and going ahead with asking a question that might have been too presumptuous for anyone else to dare. The captain didn't have many reservations, though; she'd long since left them in the dust. "The way I see it, we could use all the help we can get, and what grander good deed could there be?" She raised a brow, inviting an answer, but pushed no further than that.

It seemed her life would only ever take her places she never expected to go. Dio's quiet life helping the people in Xantus seemed like a future dreamed by another person, and maybe it was. So much had happened since then. Maybe it was unwise of her to continue as she did, thinking so little and simply acting on feeling, but despite all that had happened to her, she didn't regret where it had led her. She always judged her options as best she was able, and then did what she could with the choices she had. And she was quite certain this was not an adventure she could opt to join in on later, when she'd had more time to think. As ever, she could try to clutch at rocks and hold herself stationary, or she could let herself be swept away in the storm, navigating it as best she was able on the fly. The choice was clear.

"I don't know how much help I'll be, or what exactly is involved in saving the world, but I'm in. I don't suppose we know where we're headed next, or what we're doing? Oh, and names real quick, just throw them at me, I'm really good with them." It was true. So long as she made some attempt at pointing out which name belonged to which body, Dio probably wouldn't forget.

Gwen laughed, a light sound infused with mirth and faint traces of something else, though it was hard to say what. "We're not exactly sure what we're doing either, though once we get back to the ship, we should have a better idea, I think. None of us were exactly expecting this to happen, I'm pretty sure." She glanced speculatively some distance to her left, at Theon, then shook her head. He'd said something about foresight being tricky, hadn't he? It seemed unlikely even the scryer had known it was coming.

"Mm... Sven, Percy, Kethyrian, Vivian, Theon, Lohengrin, Mordecai, and myself," she fired off rapidly, following a circle around the table, more or less. "Or as I'd say it: Sunshine, Spikey, Thistle, Rosy, Daisy, Strawberry, Gadget, and, well, I suppose I don't get to nickname myself, do I?" She managed this in a single breath and seemed quite unperturbed aferwards, the rapidity of her speech ensuring that it didn't steal all the air from her lungs to manage it. Shrugging, she stuck out her right arm for Dio to shake. "Welcome to the club. Glad to have you along."

With a throaty laugh that seemed misplaced in such an imposing figure, the Lieutenant drummed his fingers against the table, furrowing his eyebrows. “Bumble – like little bee,” He indicated wryly, gesturing with his forefinger and index. He'd used to call Gwendolyn that when her father was still alive, sweeping her up into the air like the insect he'd so aptly nicknamed her after, swinging her in the air while making buzzing noises. Too big for that now. Sometimes, in his gloomy dispositions, he wondered how she grew up so fast. Now, she was the captain of a prestigious ship, a member of a renowned guild and friend to many unsavoury characters. If Leo were here, what expression would he make at such news? He could only imagine. He nodded briskly, glancing at the opposing tables. He was glad of the recent events, of how things had panned out – he certainly approved of Dio and Gwendolyn's effortless alliance, and so he crossed his arms over his chest, offering a slight smile that told Dio that he, too, was glad she'd agreed to join their merry little crew.

Dio took the names, and all the nicknames, down in her mind, and though she hadn't expected to have to remember two names for everybody, but she didn't mind the challenge. She took the metallic hand easily. "Glad to be along."




Seated relatively far away from the locus of conversation that was the captain and Dio, Kethyrian busied herself ignoring their conversation and picking at her food. It wasn't that it didn't taste good; she'd just never been much of an eater. Meals underground were small and economical, the flavors bland and generally not all that varied, and as a result eating had always been more of a necessity than a pleasure. Actually, she was glad she'd managed to retain her portion habits, else upon coming to the surface she might well have gorged herself at every opportunity and become incredibly fat. Instead, she tended to savor as much as possible, and this food certainly warranted it. What they recieved on the ship now was not bad at all, but it was obvious the crew had suffered genuine loss when Astrid George had left it to start her business in Deluge. At least there was something to like about the place.

Of course, now that she was settled and no longer running for her life, Kethyrian had to admit to some level of curiosity as to what had transpired while she and Sven were elsewhere. Vivian was perhaps not the best person to ask for detailed or technical explanations of anything, but then, as far as Kethy knew, that wasn't the kind of thing she needed. Turning to the overly-energetic warrior, she posed the question in the same blunt way she said everything else. "So what happened underground?"

"Thunnels," Vivi answered with a wad of half chewed food in her mouth. Unlike the Favisae, she was barely visible over the mound of food she had collected. Blessed as she was, the girl had a metabolism on her that could rival even the biggest of men. The hyperactivity displayed came to no surprise after a viewing of her portions and eating manners-- which is to say none. Vivi had to answer Kethy between mouthfuls of whatever she had shoveled on to her plate in order to avoid spraying everyone within ten yard radius. But, when Kethy spoke, she had calmed herself to about the rate of a normal person. She then smiled, and nodded, knowing that such a simple answer wouldn't do with the Favisae. Their last conversation told her that much.

"Anthient thunnels." Still wasn't getting it, but she was getting there. She finally swallowed and began to really elaborate. "Ancient Favisae tunnels, from what Deer-boy said. They took what felt like hours to walk through. They went from ugly to pretty really fast-- something something digging, uncovered Deer-boy said," She said, illustrating the scene with her fork. Of course, it wasn't the tunnels themselves that was the the interesting part, but what lay at the end of the tunnels. "There was a door at the end, a huge one. You could stack Muscles and Mordy on top of each other and just barely touch the top. It was locked though, so don't know what was on the other side. There was also some writing on it, but I only have the gist of what it said. If you want the fully translated bit, ask Mister Mechanical Mordy with his steel trap of a mind."

"Also, there were some rats that attacked us. Huge things, like dogs really. Didn't stand much of a chance in all honesty. Deer-boy got his antlers in a twist when Theon killed one of them. Then we left and more stuff happened. Etc, etc,"
She finished, digging back into her food.

Theon chuckled a bit to himself beside her as he continued working on a leg of chicken. Antlers in a twist. He'd have to remember that one.

At the words 'Mister Mechanical Mordy,' Modecai glanced over at the Favisae and the energetic young human, nodding in a slightly awkward movement that he seemed to need to think about for a moment. Body language didn't always come most naturally to him. He was the only person without a plate of some size in front of himself, given his lack of a digestive system, so the burgeoning conversation would give him something to do, which was welcome as far as he was concerned. He obliged Vivian's suggestion, reciting the verse in a vice low enough that nobody not at the table would accidentally hear. Kethyrian listened intently, then shook her head. "Lady's sodden garters," she replied, apparently unaware of the fact that she'd even uttered the oath. "I knew this would be trouble. I suppose we're just going with it, aren't we?" There was no way they weren't, not with the captain in charge and a crew consisting of people like Vivian. She was surprised that a few of them didn't look more sullen at the news, though. Except maybe Lohengrin, but he always looked sullen, so it was hard to tell.

Mordecai nodded, assuming that she question actually needed an answer. "So it is," he offered mildly. "And what of the two of you? This unit did not expect to find you already outside the house upon our arrival." He included Sven in the question, and Kethyrian huffed a sigh through her nose, waving a hand to defer the question to the large man.

The larger man had already ambled over to their table, plopping down ungracefully and forcing the table to jump while he eased himself into a more comfortable position. It wasn't his fault that his knees knocked against the underbelly of the boards, lifting them momentarily before settling back down when he stretched his legs out. There was no indication that he noticed the beverages hop-skipping across the surface, reposing noisily when their owners scooped them up, or tentatively wrapped their hands around them. His own goblet was clutched tightly in his hand, occasionally brought to his lips. He'd left Gwendolyn chatting with Dio, though he kept his good eye on her – out of habit, more than anything. The duty of caring for Leo Skybound's only daughter was something he'd never been lax on. Never had he taken such a thing lightly, despite how capable she'd proven herself to be. He still pictured curly pigtails flying behind her head, whipping about in the wind. A little girl with a penchant for getting herself into trouble, finding it wherever it might've been.

In infrequent internals, the Lieutenant's heavy eyebrows rose, attesting that he was paying attention to what Vivian was saying, of what they'd found down there, after all. He hadn't had the chance to ask Gwendolyn about it, but he wagered he'd hear differing recounts of the tale by the time he reached the ship. Of course, it didn't surprise him in the least when Mordecai easily translated what had been on the door, nor was he surprised at what they'd eventually decide to do. They were pirates, after all. When Kethyrian brusquely gestured with his hand, designating him as the one who should tell the tale, Sven couldn't help but laugh – though, it sounded more like a bark than anything else. His broken English would do little to convey what they went through, but he thought he'd try, anyway. He released his goblet, upturned his hand, and unfurling his palm. “Vhe vas in little cell vhen she,” the Lieutenant hooked his thumb towards Dio, then nodded, “Jumped through vhindow. Vhanted help to be freeing slaves, vhe left. Riesegexplosionen – boom, vhe are seeing you.” To any normal person, the explanation was rotten. He looked at them expectantly, as if he'd just filled in all the obvious gaps.

Vivi's eyes drooped a bit at the poor explanation and turned to Kethy, hoping she'd provide a better picture of what had happened. If this was how Kethy felt when Vivi tried to explain something, then she'd have to keep a mind about doing a better job at it.

The Favisae sniffed slightly, shrugging thin shoulders. "It's as he says, more or less," she said, though even she wasn't sure exactly how or why she'd apparently understood most of what Sven was saying. Maybe it was just because her language had been similarly broken upon her first time aboveground. Who knew? "We were locked in a room, at which point Dio broke in through a window. She was there with the intent of freeing some other captives from the basement beneath the toad's home. Our options were go along with it or get blamed for it anyway." She paused to take a bite of food and chew, and Mordecai took the opportunity to reenter the conversation.

"And so you made your way out from the subterranean section of the house. This unit comprehends." The explosions had likely been for that reason, hence the coils of smoke stil issuing from the area when they arrived, and the people disappearing into the jungle. The Favisae's reply was to nod. "And yet this unit did not percieve any deceased security personnel. Were the fatalities truly null?" It was something that struck him as odd; the most efficient way to win the freedom of the captives would surely have involved the deaths of several such persons, but perhaps all the necessary killing had taken place inside.

"Fatalities, yes, casualties no. You'll want to take that one up with her," she jerked her chin in Dio's direction. "Bit of a bleeding heart, that one," there was a faint hint of disapproval in her tone, but she said nothing further about it. "But... Ifsn't phathalithies and casualthies the same phing?" Vivi pondered between bits of food. Growing up in Deluge certainly left the girl bereft of manners. But finally she managed to choke down what food she had in her mouth, and her next sentence was much more clear. "So I guess we're adding another birdy to the flock, are we?," She said, throwing a curious glance Dio's way. "Eh, bleeding heart or no, she's another body between us and a bullet," Vivi added rather darkly. She wasn't entirely fond of the good ones. Honor, tolerance and the like were foriegn concepts, that killed just as many as they saved. "So, what's next?" Vivi asked, shoveling more food into her mouth. The Lieutenant made a deep noise that might've sounded half like a dog locked in his belly, and half like a disgruntled animal clawing up his throat, at the suggestion that Dio would act as a meatshield for the sole reason that she was kind (perhaps, a little too kind). It was true that he'd struggled to keep himself from merely disposing of the toad's henchmen, but if Dio could effectively dance around doing the deed, then she was useful, if not entirely vital for such a group as theirs. They needed bleeding hearts, as much as they needed cold-hearted killers willing to dirty their hands. Honor could be salvaged with a sound mind, and those particular traits could be found in people like Percy, Dio, Gwendolyn. His heavy eyebrows raised once more, surveying Vivian's table manners. He'd seen much worse, though he still felt it neccessary to add, "Klein Bär," under his breath. Little bear was a suiting nickname.

"Casualties include mere injuries as well," Kethyrian informed her friend simply, but she had no idea how to answer the next question, as she hadn't even been there underground. Vivian's morbid comment didn't even faze her, but neither did she agree with it verbally. It just sat there, at least until Sven half-responded. The Favisae only shrugged in response. It all hardly mattered. They would do what they needed to do to survive, or they would die. That was the only fact that really had any bearing on the situtation. The rest was just subjective dressings on that fact.

"This unit suspects we will follow the clues," Mordecai put in from his spot. He wasn't sure what had Sven making that kind of sound; he'd not particularly heard it before, but he was aware that the human vocal apparatus could do a number of strange things that his could not. "They seem to lead presently to the desert. Are you ill?" he asked of the Lieutenant, deciding that it was probably best to make sure. Ah, but social subtlety was entirely lost upon the golem.

The Lieutenant didn't exactly wish to voice his squeamish, softhearted thoughts aloud, for it'd ruin the nasty reputation he'd built. He scratched idly at the back of his neck, rolling his eyes towards the ceiling. “I am fine.” He rubbed his stomach absently, waving his free hand in front of him as if he were refusing a platter of passing finger foods. “Indigestion. Ja, ja.” He didn't like deserts. The sand in his boots, in his trousers, down his neck and back – it was almost as bad as throwing him in a large body of water and expecting him to float. He couldn't say that he was surprised. They always ended up in one desert, or another.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mordecai Character Portrait: Diomache Castillo

Earnings

0.00 INK

After enjoying the hospitality of Astrid and Daniel George, the group left the pub as soon as they were able, ducking and meandering in their route back to the ship so as to avoid drawing suspicion for going with too much haste. A daunting fellow Argus Hooktooth may be, but in the end, he was but a small-time player in the grand scheme of things, and once they were beyond his territory, there was precious little he could do to reach them, so the extra measures were simple precautions. Or so at least Gwendolyn had thought. This proposition was thrown into doubt when they reached the Elysuim, only to be greeted by a thickset man wearing the garb of one of Argus's enforcers. Though several weapons were drawn on him, the captain held up her hand for restraint.

The man carried no visible arms, and indeed seemed unconcerned with their show of force. Upon closer inspection, it was easy to see that this was not a man at all, but rather an Automaton. His carapace was relatively well-constructed, but the proportions of his arms and legs were off, giving him a vaguely simian appearance, and his synthetic skin lacked the craftsmanship of Mordecai's, appearing more a steel grey than anything, too light to belong to a feydusk, but in the wrong spectrum to count as anything else. It was, she knew, one of Morgause's #7 line, which were mass-produced but expensive. She didn't think that someone of Argus's status could afford one, even, as to her knowledge they were retained almost exclusively as menial servants for the highest of noble houses in the North, only rarely making it this far beyond the capital.

When Gwen inquired, the Automaton simply presented her with the following message: "This is your last chance to give up, Dawnsmen. Go no further, return to whatever holes you crawled out of. The king's reach is far, his influence extends even into this cesspool. All who oppose him will suffer and die."

After this perhaps needlessly dramatic pronouncement, the golem simply walked away, allowing the Guild members to board the ship once more. From the sounds of things, Argus, or at least some of his men, had been in the employ of the king, but Gwen wasn't so sure she was willing to believe that. What she knew of Artorias told her that he'd sooner cut off his own hand than dirty it by associating with someone like Hooktooth. Had he really changed so much?





Once everyone was back on the ship and it was safely in the air once more, Mordecai had made his way to the prow of the boat, looking out upon the seemingly-endless horizon. It was finite, of course, like everything else, and he knew if he chose to devote his capacitites to the calculation, he could determine the distances involved via mathematics. But... for some reason, he didn't really want to. He'd always had an insatiable desire for new knowledge, but he found himself perpetually unsatisfied even when he obtained it. He was beginning to suspect that it was not enough to know, or that maybe, just sometimes, knowing might be somehow counterproductive. It was an odd feeling, one that he neither liked nor understood, but he could not shake it.

There was a .03 per cent probability that some freak wind or movement of the ship could lurch it with sufficient force to send him over the prow and possibly to his death. Even a being constructed as sturdily as he could not survive a fall that long. His terminal velocity was considerably higher than a human's, due mostly to his density. He could probably catch the railing in such an event-- given his reflexes and reaction speed, as well as his current orientation, that was a conditional probablity of .972. But were words like 'death' and 'survive' even the right ones? The question vexed him more than it had any right to.

The #7 that delivered them the message would never think to ask any such questions. It would never be tormented by these thoughts, nor indeed by any thoughts at all. It was logic and pure calculation and simplicity. It was as an automaton should be. It was as they were designed and created and built to be. What did that make him? For once, his mouth turned down into a small frown without him needing to think about it. Indeed, he did not even notice.

Dio was not frowning, nor did she believe anything would be capable of making her do so at the moment. The scryer had come close, though, what with the way he'd brushed her off after the briefest of introductions. She was just trying to make the rounds and introduce herself. Regardless, she wasn't really bothered. Maybe he would come around eventually.

She was currently making her way up to the... top? Deck? Highest floor, whatever, part of the ship. She'd never been on a flying airship before, though most of her sisters had. Occasionally some members of the family would get to fly up to the capital, but Dio was never invited along for these trips. Instead, she stayed in Xantus, very much enjoying the time she was given, reveling in the occasional moments of solitude she could get. Usually she spent a good portion of that time talking with the family's automaton, a number eight model. It never made for the most enlightening conversation, but it was utterly refreshing to be able to speak with someone that would not judge or even care at all for what she thought. When Bru wasn't around, she spoke with Aden, as he was named.

It came as no surprise then when the thief quickly made her way to speak with the Dawn's automaton, who she only recognized as such when she noted that he hadn't touched any of the food at the feast. She didn't recognize his model, but he looked much better than Aden did, and if this group was as capable as she expected (enough to warrant the king's ire, apparently), then he was probably useful for far more than simple housecleaning and domestic servitude.

With a hop in her step Dio made her way up to the prow where the automaton stood, stopping about five or so feet from him, taking a moment to take in the view before speaking. "Hello," she offered gently. "I thought I'd take the time to introduce myself to everyone, since I'm accompanying you for a while. My name's Diomache Castillo, but I prefer just Dio." She let that hang for a moment to get his response, curious how one-sided (or not) this conversation would be.

At the light footsteps of an approaching person, Mordecai glanced sideways, though he did not turn until he was spoken to. After all, the crew moved about all the time, and he had no desire to disturb them any further than he already had. When he did move so as to make eye contact with the human speaking to him, he was a bit surprised to find that it was the new member of the group, the one who had assisted with the release of Lieutenant Sven and Mistress Kethyrian alongside the captives held in Hooktooth's basement. She introduced herself, and the golem smiled pleasantly, dipping his head in acknowledgement. "A pleasure, just Dio," he replied, though in truth, it was a tad tongue-in-cheek. He knew what the expression meant, but he was not often expected to, and from time to time, calling attention to the odd little tics of human language amused him.

"This unit is #9, though it is given to understand that names are preferred. 'Mordecai' is its appellation, if you wish." He was unsure if she was simply doing as she had stated and introducing herself, or if she wished to linger and speak, so he decided to fall silent, and let the decision be hers. It was only polite, and if nothing else, he was most certainly programmed for that.

"Ah, my mistake," Dio said. "There's no 'just.' Call me Dio." She definitely hadn't caught it if the automaton had referred to her as such even despite understanding that her name was not 'just Dio'. Aden had never willingly deceived her, and so she was not expecting this one to, either. "Mordecai, huh? I like that name." She didn't know if it was supposed to mean something, but it sounded nice.

She studied him for a moment. Her seeming comfortability at being around and in conversation with an automaton may have given away the fact that she was quite familiar with them. "You're very beautiful," she said, not shyly at all, perhaps sadly her tone seeming more fitting for judging a piece of art than giving another person a compliment. It made sense, given her experience. Aden had never had any value assigned to receiving compliments, so telling him that he was well-made was rather meaningless. It was more of a statement than a compliment.

"Are you... one of Morgause's models?" Dio asked, cocking her head slightly to one side. "My family has one of her number eight's. I actually miss him more than any of the other Castillos. You seem... different, though, if you don't mind me saying."

"This unit thanks you," he replied simply. He was not unaccustomed to such judgements on his workmanship, and he knew them for what they were; compliments directed at his maker rather than him. So strange, that the same thing given to another human was about they rather than their parents. Perhaps because the creation of a human was indirect and random to an extent? But it still surely had nothing to do with the person themselves, as they'd had no more say in their genetic material than their ancestors-- less, actually. For this reason, it might actually be the case that such commentary made more sense when directed at golems.

"This unit is #9," he repeated with a small smile, "The last of Mistress Morgause's creations. It was created for the personal service of Mistress Morgause, and never replicated. It is unsure why it was given such extensive combative functions, but supposes that the Mistress found a single mechanical bodyguard preferable to several organic ones. She was never the most sociable of humans, and tended to limit her company when it came to other flesh-beings." There was a slight delay, and then he moved his shoulders up and down, as he'd seen several of the others do in similar situations. "Unfortunately, it seems that even this unit was deemed inadequate for the Mistress's purposes."

Another pause, as he tried to detemine the best way to answer the implied question in the last part of the statement. That he could even pick up on things like implied questions was something of an answer in itself, really. "This unit's construction was... imperfect. Its protocols have a tendency to slip, and its emotional capacitors now function independently of its probability calculations and facial recognition systems." Most automata of similar complexity were programmed to "feel" either as the situation seemed to logically demand according to specific algorythms or empathetically, based on the emotional reactions of the humans surrounding them. A crying face might provoke sympathy and trigger investigations into the best methods of comfort, or at least he had initially been so designed. Now, such a thing would cause him to recognize distress, but he was not automatically pulled to feel the same way, nor to act in any certain fashion. The choices, such as they were, were his.

A number nine... wow. Her curiosity caused Dio to slowly reach out and gently grab a few strands of Mordecai's hair, figuring he wouldn't mind, as she just wanted to feel it. Honestly, it felt much better than her own hair did. It was... silky, and soft, whereas hers often felt coarse and heavy, a nuisance more than anything. She released it, studying him for a moment. He was clearly far more complex than any automata she had encountered before. Hell, just the way she'd found him staring at the horizon confirmed that. She suddenly felt rather awkward for treating him like as much of a machine as Aden had been. He was still a machine, of course, but Dio had never encountered a machine that wondered about things, and that seemed like a very human thing to do.

"Do you... think we could talk some more, in the future?" she offered, almost cautiously. A small gust of wind caused her hands to rise to her head and adjust her beanie. "It's just... back in Xantus, I used to be able to tell Aden, our eight, whatever I wanted to, and he would never judge me for it. I don't mean to force my company on you or anything, but I guess I kind of miss that. I'm not saying you're on the level of an eight, though, I didn't mean that." She raised her hands slightly as if to apologize for what she was saying.

"My friend... Bru, always used to say I was born with two hearts and no brains." She smiled a little at the thought. "I'd be very interested in getting to know you better, I guess is what I'm trying to say." Sheesh, was that so hard? She shook her head to herself. "Oh! And if you ever need to be charged, just let me know. I did that for Aden most of the time."

Mordecai remained perfectly still as he was examined, which in itself was not particularly unusual. He supposed he should feel some measure of pride in his uniqueness; humans seemed to do so with regularity. But even if he was different, it was not of his doing, and so connecting the trait with any particular judgment at all was difficult. Perhaps it was enough that he would rather be what he was than an eight or a seven.

He considered the human's words for a moment, rotating his head a few degrees to one side. "This unit cannot promise that it will not make judgments. Such abilities to render opinions are part of its operating procedures. However... it can guarantee the proper engagement of secrecy protocols, if that is what you wish." A pause, then: "Having two heart-organs would be beneficial for physiological purposes, but this unit finds the lack of 'brains' to be unlikely." He smiled slightly, to convey that he did not actually believe she was under either abnormal condition, but the metaphorical meaning of the words was lost on him, at least for now. The next bit was something of a mystery, though, and he blinked.

"That would not require any particular interval of time," he pointed out. "This unit can recite the majority of its relevant and non-confidential specifications within a matter of minutes. Nevertheless, if you believe time gaps of some nature would be helpful, it shall comply. It offers gratitude, and a question: with which sub-class of magic do you work? It is programmed to differentiate."

"I'm a combat mage," Dio said. "Not the best one around, but I manage. I channel electricity, mainly. And if you run out of things you want to tell me, you'll just have to do the listening instead. I could go on for days about the places I've been." She didn't feel it necessary to try and explain the hearts and brains metaphor, as she really hadn't expected him to get it in the fist place. Honestly, most of what she said seemed to be more for herself, as whatever she needed from Mordecai she could probably just ask him, without all the explanation.

It was a little awkward, she'd always treated Aden as more of a... diary, a journal or something, a human-shaped wall to talk to, to vent about what she felt and what bothered her and all the things she had no control over. It didn't really seem right to try and use something that formed opinions of its own as a personal logbook. Diaries never talked back, they just listened.

"I think... if we're friends, that making a few judgments won't hurt. Friends always mean to help each other, after all, even if they disagree. We could ask or tell each other anything we want, and just be honest about it. Does that sound alright?"

Mordecai had only heard of friendship in the abstract, and so he wasn't entirely sure what she was asking. That said, he decided that now was perhaps not the optimum time to ask, and as at the very least he seemed to be contracting himself to further conversations with Dio, he reasoned that he could bring it up at some other point. Still, it sounded like nothing overly taxing, and he could see no reason to object. "As you wish," he said simply. "This unit agrees to the terms it comprehends."

"Good," she replied, pleased. "I'll see you around, then, Mordecai." And with that, she waved a goodbye and wandered off to find someone else she hadn't met yet.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Lohengrin Character Portrait: Kethyrian Tor

Earnings

0.00 INK

The ship had been back in the sky for long enough that Kethyrian was able to sleep off her fatigue, subtly avoiding Dio's evident "tour 'round the deck" when she did reappear at dusk. That was a conversation she just didn't really want to have right now, as it would involve speaking of her last days underground, a topic best avoided whenever possible. So now, having bathed to get the smell of Hooktooth's house off her and slept to her satisfaction, she was wandering the upper portions of the ship rather aimlessly, or so it would seem. Actually, she'd managed to pull the full story out of the golem earlier regarding what had happened underground, and there was someone she desired to question about it.

She found him at the rear portion of the topmost deck, long-stemmed pipe dangling from his mouth and apparently not doing much of anything, or at least nothing useful. That worked well enough for her purposes. Leaning up against the same railing, she faced the opposite direction of the one he was looking in, but stood close enough that it was evident that her intent was to speak with him. "You knew what they would find down there," she said flatly, and it was so obviously not a question that an answer would have been silly. The next part was where his participation in this conversation was required. "What else do you know?"

Lohengrin didn't appear much fazed by the rather abrupt appearance of the Favisae, and indeed he took his time answering, tapping the bowl of his pipe against the railing to rid it of the ash, which blew away with the breeze, falling far down into the space between ship and ground. Vast as it might seem to such ground-bound creatures, to him it was as nothing. The muscles in his back twitched, and his shoulders tightened reflexively. Damn, he missed flying something awful, most days, never more acutely then when aboard the little sprite's bungling airborne kettle of bolts. Hmph.

"So I did," he replied, entirely unconcerned with the whole affair. Pressing a flaming digit into the pipe, he rekindled the dried plants there, shaking out the cherry-red tongue of fire with a careless gesture. Deluge was disappearing off the end of the horizon now. He wondered if these kids had any idea where the hell in the desert they were even going. Even he wasn't completely certain, though he had a good guess. Maybe the old man had gone so far as to give the machine the directions? Perhaps not; that might be a little too easy.

At length, he raised a singular brow, turning his head just slightly so that he was glancing at the woman's profile out of the corner of his eye. Sharp-featured, like most of her sort. Always looked out of place in the daytime, but she'd blend into the sky soon enough. He wondered how she'd come by hair like that, not that it really mattered. Blowing smoke out one corner of his mouth, he chuckled. "You don't pussyfoot around, do you, elf?" There weren't many people left who called her kind that, though it wasn't a perjorative, just an anachronism. "What if I don't want to tell you, hm? What will the lash-tongued little Darkling do then?" He didn't give a damn about the information, actually, but there wasn't much he was yet allowed to give out, and frankly he was more interested in provoking her, since she seemed like the type to take such bait. A little too high-strung and serious.

"Insolent, aren't you?" she snapped, and that was surely a hint of former entitlement showing through, wasn't it? She might have regretted that, if she weren't so irritated with him. Kethyrian did not enjoy being toyed with, but Lohengrin was making it abundantly clear who was in the superior negotiating position here, and she didn't have to like that, either. There were lives at stake here, and while that ordinarily wouldn't have moved her much one way or another, one of those lives was hers, which she did care about. Vivian's, too, if she were being honest, and maybe even Sven's, now. Just enough to have some consequence here.

Still, his question hung in the air. What would she do, if he refused to say? It was something of an oversight, that she hadn't even bothered contemplating the possibility. Even now, it was a bit difficult to believe that he had a decent reason for not telling her what she wanted to know, though in the end, there were men in the world who didn't need a reason to make someone else's life worse. She knew that for a fact. But he'd helped them this far, whatever his motivations might be, and she couldn't discern any possible scenario in which stopping now benefited him. Well, aside from the obvious one, wherein if he kept quiet, they never got where they were going and probably didn't get killed by it. But surely, he could guess by now that there were those among them who'd rush in even without the extra information?

Maybe now was the right time to call his bluff. Glancing down out of the corner of her eye, she found what she was looking for and encircled his wrist with a hand. "She'd refuse to play games," Kethyrian answered simply, letting the magic light her hand blue-purple. She could feel his pulse under her hand, steady and strong, but she knew from experience that with a little magic and a lot of knowlege, it could be stopped. It wasn't something she particularly wanted to do, nor something she would resort to except at the last, but if necessary, she would knock him out, just to prove a point. If you let people beat you even once, they started to think they could do things like that whenever they wanted, and she wasn't about to give him or anyone else the satisfaction.

Well, that had escalated quickly. She didn't mess around, did she? Too serious, indeed.

He glanced down at the point of contact, noting with interest that she seemed to be refraining from trying to actually enter his bodily systems, at least yet. Probably fortunate for him, as what she would be able to find would be nothing like what she was expecting. Oh, his organs were all human enough, maybe, but there would be no stopping them with whatever trifling amount of magic she'd think to use, not at all. His heart may be a tenth of its natural size, but he lacked none of his ordinary resilience. He supposed if she made enough effort, she might force the transformation, when his human body shut down. Perhaps. Lohengrin raised a brow, glancing back up at her and chuckling, the sound low and raspy and not at all mirthful. "Cute," he said dismissively, but then an idea struck him.

He could impart more information than they were supposed to know, but it would have to be done in the most subtle of ways. Fortunately, he could provoke her into the necessary action, he was quite sure. Shifting a bit, he turned himself niety degrees and leaned forward so that his nose was a few inches from hers, very deliberately invading her personal space. His free hand brought his pipe down and away from his mouth, and he exhaled the last of the smoke in a cloud, grinning with no friendliness at all. "Just try it," he murmured darkly.

She would fail-- his very nature would ensure it-- but it would hopefully teach her something important.

Kethyrian's lips pulled back from her teeth as well, but the resulting expression could hardly be called a smile. It was perhaps closer to the snarl of a wounded animal. Wounded she was, in fact; she had been insulted more times than she cared to count, for various reasons, some of them wholly deserved, but she had not been so casually dismissed in many, many years. Not since she was a small child, and there was a reason for that. People knew how dangerous healers could be, when the intent took them, and despite his words, he too surely knew something of magic, given that he used it.

Inhaling only shallowly-- she would not wave away the smoke he'd blown nearly right into her face, no matter how much she wished to-- Kethyrian tipped her chin upwards and narrowed her eyes. "Don't forget that you asked for it," she replied waspishly, and reached in for his lungs, thinking to still them long enough that he'd pass out. Unfortunate, and certainly enough to make her point, but she suspected that they'd need him yet, so she couldn't kill him, even if that brutal bleeding pride of hers did rather demand it. Unmoving, she sought to still the bellows that moved air to and from his system, only to find that she couldn't. The right amount of magic sank in, and the motion stilled for just a heartbeat before continuing as though uninterrupted at all.

The Favisae's eyes widened; she drew back just an inch and furrowed her brows, trying again, this time with more effort. She succeeded for longer this time, his breath halting for a full three seconds before starting up again. But that... a third time, and this with enough force to kill a person outright, paralyzing the organs in place. Except... ten seconds this time, but still nothing permanent.

She was doing better than he'd expected, actually. He could already feel some of his internal physiology trying to reorganize itself to compensate for the interruptions, his blood vessels expanding in size so that fewer breaths were needed to sustain him. He didn't stop the changes, but he couldn't intentionally affect them, either, and the evidence needed to be much more obvious than that. The inch she gave, he took. "Try harder," he said, and his voice was a harsh, rasping hiss, which might have helped a little.

Her face fell into a scowl, and she tightened her hold over his wrist, inadvertantly digging her sable claws into the skin there. Abandoning caution for the moment, she shoved with her magic, giving it almost everyhting she had, and the result was not at all what she expected. The actual effort to stop his breathing was once again rejected, but apparently not without consequence. Close enough to tell, she watched the brown of his iris flicker and, as though his eye had started bleeding from within, turn varying degrees of red from pupil outward to sclera. Creeping lines of equally-scarlet scales climbed slowly up his neck and onto his jaw, fading back into skin just before they reached the cheekbones. He was still grinning, only his teeth were triangular and pointed, apparently in more rows than one.

Kethyrian reeled backwards, releasing her hold abruptly and grabbing the railing for support. That was not something you saw when you were doing this kind of magic. "...the fuck are you?" she managed, having lost the first word to something like garbled shock. "Mutatio?" But nothing she did should have triggered the change, so unless he was doing it just to screw with her (a very real possibility), she didn't think it was quite the right answer. She somehow felt she'd caused it, though. Whatever was going on, she'd never been taught to expect it.

”Maybe,” he replied, stepping back and cracking his neck both ways as the scales started to recede. ”I have been called an overgrown lizard on more than one occasion.” He felt the spell catch in the back of his head and knew he’d almost given too much by dropping the hint, large as it had been.

Once his eyes returned to normal, he blinked a few times to readjust his vision and stuck the pipe back in his mouth. “I do know more, but there’s a difference between what we know and what we may say, hm? Surely you’d know that, wouldn’t you?” He eyed the woman speculatively. It wasn’t hard to guess that she had her own fair share of secrets; elves weren’t common up here anymore, and the way he understood it, their cavern-cities did not easily relinquish them. Still, he did not doubt that there were things about her people, secrets she could have sold for a fortune, that she was keeping to herself even now, her own personal ones notwithstanding.

”Look a little deeper, elf. That’s all I can say.” Waving a hand dismissively, he turned and left her there, deciding to head below the deck for a while and see what he could do about something to eat.

Look deeper? It struck Kethyrian then that his taunting may actually have had a purpose and she wasn't sure if that made it better or worse as far as she was concerned. Either way, he'd almost certainly successfully baited her into acting as she had, and that stung a bit. Was she truly still so easily to manipulate after all this time? Was she doomed to fall into every trap that used her pride as lure? As long as it was her sole protection, probably. Then again, she'd lived otherwise before, and look at how well that had ended.

Frowning, she reexamined the course of their conversation, alighting on a few peculiar word choices and some actions that seemed a bit out-of-place, but in the end she could draw no definite conclusions. It still seemed most likely that he was some kind of reptilian mutatio, but she'd never known any natural species of lizard or turtle to have scales so brightly-colored. Maye some kind of rainforest amphibian? Did that part even matter? Huffing to herself, Kethyrian shook her head and decided her time was better spent climbing the mainmast to the crow's nest and leaving it be for now. She didn't currently want to be seen or found, and aside from the engine room (which was sometimes occupied by he captain), the lookout post was the best place to... hide. Fine, yes, she was hiding. So be it. Nobody had to know.

His smug expression surfaced in her mind, and the frown dropped into a scowl. If he told anyone... She let the threat go unfinished, since she wasn't sure there was actually any way to complete it, given what had just transpired. What mutatio can't be suffocated?

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Percy Galath Character Portrait: Sven Diederich

Earnings

0.00 INK

The Lieutenant took a right turn, then hesitated, backtracking a few steps. Had he gone down the wrong hallway? There had been days where he could have navigated the ship blindfolded, spun in dizzying circles, with a broken leg. But, now, he'd found himself on more than one occasion turned around in the long hallways, meandering in the opposite direction he'd meant to go, only to find himself in the engine room. He scratched at his chin, grumbling softly. He'd never admit to going soft, or not being able to find his way through the holds, but he couldn't deny, at that moment, that he'd taken a couple wrong turns, and was now in another part of the ship. He was getting older; his bones ached, and his vision was something less than desired – he was degenerating quickly, far quicker than his species usually did, and if he'd been bereft of his enhancements, then he might've been able to direct himself back to his chambers. Power always came with a price.

He pressed his forefinger and thumb to his forehead, rubbing his temple with the heel of his palm. Everything – his spine, his mechanical joints, his prosthetic limbs and bolts and attachments – would pay it's own dues, in due time. It was something he'd accepted long ago, so there was no point whining about it. The offending limb, as if listening in on his internal rantings, creaked by his ears, twitching against his forehead until he jerked it back down, gripping it by the wrist with his living limb; his strong, healthy arm. Relaxing his hand, the Lieutenant tromped back through the hallway, occasionally peering into rooms, and offering only a low rumble in the form of an apology when he interrupted the inhabitants, brusquely moving back into the hallway. He wasn't even sure whom he was searching for until he paused in front of another doorway, throwing it open and climbing the stairwell back onto the deck.

Percy.

Reading a book, no less. The boy, ever since they'd welcomed the guilds-men aboard the ship, seemed to solely busy himself with new books or a cluster of documents with papers slipping every which way. He couldn't fault his drive. She'd loved reading, too. Fanciful books about unlikely fairytales and books about the very mechanical devices that plagued him. She read through the mornings, through the evenings, until he reminded her that she'd better go eat before everything got cold. Of course, she didn't read anymore. The Lieutenant strode forward, looking up and down the deck. He dropped down onto the nearest bench, whittled into the ship's railings, and let his head loll back, so that he was staring up at the sky. It was a surprisingly clear day. He closed his eyes, frowning.

“Vhat you are reading?”

Percy looked up from his book and up to the owner of the baritone voice. So intent in his reading, he didn't even notice the man when he had sat down, despite the staggering wall of muscle he possessed. Percy stuttered for a minute, trying to shift gears in his mind from reading and learning, to socializing and talking. Once the gears caught though and they began to spun, Percy finally began to spit words out. "Err. History, actually. Well, a mix of history and myth I suppose. Sprinkled with a bit of legend," Percy explained. "Old King Alsont, one of the Old Kings we revere today, his story teaches that skill, intellect, and wisdom can trump raw strength."

He watched the man for a moment before folding a dog ear on the page to mark his place and closed it. "Some think it's a dying religion, now that Artorias broke the lineage but... I'm not so sure. The men we revere were good men, even if their ancestor was overthrown by a soldier. We shouldn't forget them just because the bloodline is severed. There are more important things than blood, after all," Percy said before shaking his head, brown lock flying around. He had since reverted back into his human form, sans the antlers, once they boarded the ship. No use walking around with things specifically designed to poke an eye out on a ship. "Sorry Sven, I'm rambling. What do you believe in?" He asked.

The Lieutenant knew that he wasn't always such a big softie – or maybe he was, and it was the opposite, perhaps he was gruffer than usual, and a little less put together, but the crew, and the guild, had managed to whittle him down into someone he hardly recognized. It was a lot easier to pretend he wasn't lonely when there was no one else around, but alas, there were far too many people aboard the ship to entertain himself with his gloominess. Not that he would've ever admitted to seeking anyone out for conversation. He watched the flustered boy compose himself, very nearly patting down his ruffled feathers, before answering his unsubtle question. History, was it? She liked reading those sorts of books, as well. Used to tell him that anyone who'd done something for the greater good, or on the other hand, chosen to do abominable terrors, could write themselves into future generations, in literature. We could make history, she'd say to him, dark eyes alight.

Intellect, skill and wisdom trumping raw strength? Too true. He admired cleverness, patience and scholarly virtues. Believe it or not, the Lieutenant had to have other skill sets to earn his rank – he was accomplished in military operations, in formal planning and strategy, where his strength had been little more than an afterthought. A clever, ruthless tactician; one who was always getting the job done. Those were only teasing half-memories of when his body obeyed his mind, of when his joints didn't creak, so completely mutinying against his wishes. He nodded his head curtly, communicating that he agreed with the statement. It was one of the many reasons people like Percy were indispensable aboard the vessel. “Ihr recht. You are right. But people vhill alvays be thinking of Artorias, now. People remember vhat vhe destroy, and not good things. Good people,” He mused in a low rumble, frowning when the man's name was mentioned.

He came to the conclusion, whilst looking at Percy's shaggy head, that he wasn't all too knowledgeable about his race, at all. The Lieutenant had had the pleasure of working alongside different species while he served, but never a boy, or man, who'd occasionally sported antlers. Could he control his appearance at will? What, exactly, was he? A deer, a man, or something in-between? He wasn't curious by nature, but it seemed peculiar that he'd only noticed now that his antlers were missing. “It's fine vith the rambling,” He rumbled, dismissing his apology with a paw-of-a-hand. She used to talk his ear off until dawn, until the dusk, chattering endlessly about her legends and heroes and courageous foot soldiers. Entering another world, another era, she'd say, like he really understood what she was talking about. 

What did he believe in?

The Lieutenant leaned forward, elbows poised on his knees. His thumb and forefinger twitched a little, annoying him with shuddering twitches, numbing his fingertips. He ignored it, for the most part. The question was strange, seemingly out of nowhere, but he still looked at Percy, unwavering and thoughtful. He'd had many beliefs, in the past, but just like all things in the past, it felt as if they'd all been left behind. “I vhas believing in people, once,” He responded, tilting his look skyward, then thumped his chest, rolling his eyes back down, “and in goodness, in justice. Doing the right thing, alvays. But, even family can be ruining everything.” He sighed softly, scratching the back of his head. What did he believe in? Friendship, in the way that they wouldn't leave him alone, even if he wished it. Faultless loyalty, as well. “I'm no good at believing.” He paused, eyebrows raised. “And you, kleine?” Little one. It was suiting.

Closing his mouth, Percy collected his thoughts and smiled. "No one's terrible at believing Sven, their beliefs only change," he said sagely. "Even so. Justice. People. The right thing. All good things to believe in," And he wondered what made him stop. Sven had the look of a soldier about him, plain and simple. The man knew how to fight, that much Percy knew without having to see it first hand. But it had to have exposed him to some things, perhaps some things left alone. He didn't know what Sven had went through to for his beliefs to shift, and Percy wasn't going to ask. Not yet. While the changeling lacked tact, he knew better than to apporach heavy topics like that.

"Now, don't think me too sentimental," Percy began, slowly raising his book, "But I believe in the past." Simple from a literal standpoint, deep metaphorically. "You know. The history of the world, the history of people. What has happened, the past, it's unchanging. We should look to yesterday to find tomorrow's answer. Cryptic, I know. Mages, right?" Percy chuckled. But it was more than just that, than just surety in the matter. The past held meaning for those brave enough to dig. "Those ignorant of the Past's mistakes are often the most likely to repeat them, after all," He added. Nodding sagely.

"We learn through our past. We learn and we adapt. We make mistakes, but we grow stronger from them. Everyone makes mistakes, and so we should learn from them too. We should learn all that we can. From us. From the past, so that we can seize our future," Percy's gaze shifted during his spiel, looking out over the bow. The book he had held up moments ago found it's way back to his lap and he looked relaxed, sure. Then another chuckle escaped his lips. "Alright. Sentimental and naive." But it was okay. He'd make his mistakes, but he'd learn from them and become stronger for them. It wasn't his past that would define it, it would be his future. And with examples like Alsont and the rest of the Old Kings, he'd learn enough to seize it for himself.

Finally, he looked down back to his book and flipped open to the middle, practiced fingers playing a rehersed action as he came to the page he was looking for. "Did you know Alsont was only fifteen when he inherited the throne? Right in the middle of the Inhuman Uprising-- the war between the civil races and the Orcs and Goblins. He was still a boy-- like I have room to talk. Thin, pale, weak in everyone's eyes but his own. However, he had intellect and wisdom beyond his years. A brilliant and spotless mind, he was able to put down the Uprising and begin to assimilate the brute races. It's said that he never held a sword in his life, and that he always looked for a peaceful solution before resorting to violence. He'd win a war through discussion rather than strength. But when arms came to bare, his tactical knowledge was astonishing-- I'm sure you've even seen some of his tactics. It's because of him that we can leave in peace with them in the cities," he said, looking up at Sven. He knew this story, it was one he had memorized, imprinted on him. Summarized in an attempt to cut his rambling. But to him, this was his favorite story.

There was an unbidden youth in Percy, like a flower with the inability to wilt. He admired that in the way he admired how plants could survive brutal storms, catastrophic winters, stagnant pools, and still find a small rock to peep out from. However, the Lieutenant couldn't agree with him on one thing; half-believers usually never made it past the front door, let alone anywhere else without losing their wits, their friends, their youth, their faith. His disintegrating body was a loud, unconquerable testament. He hadn't doubted even for a moment that he was the only one with a tragic past, with broken pieces puzzling their histories, aboard the vessel – even Percy must've been through something harsh enough to rattle his beliefs. The only thing the Lieutenant had retained from his experiences was a shambling anagram making up his code of ethics, but he did not believe as one normally would. His boyhood was far behind him.

A small, imperceptible quirk lifted his lips, then faltered back into his neutral frown. Sentimental.Being hopeful, and looking towards the future, through the past, or through his books, might have seemed sentimental, but he only shrugged in response, arching heavy eyebrows. He didn't need to agree; never needn't to, because people like Percy, or her, or even Gwendolyn could never be dissuaded from their beliefs. They were righteous, truthful, honest things. He still believed that struggles made you stronger, or completely destroyed you, and that changes made you wise, and happiness always took its sweet old time to appear, and sometimes it chose not to show up at all. These beliefs, however, were dark, gloomy things that hid under bed mattresses. They weren't hopeful, and they didn't involve sunrises, fixing mistakes, or doing things for the greater good. He did agree with Percy's last statement. Those who ignored what had come pass were bound to make the same mistakes, over and over again.

The Lieutenant wondered with a brackishness that surprised him what lesson he'd learned when he'd wound his hands around his own brothers throat, for what he'd done to him, and to her. Should he have killed him years before to prevent it from ever happening? Had there been signs, or minute details he'd missed? Things he could've known, and stopped. The boy didn't understand what he'd suffered, and how hesitation, at the hands of goodness, could cripple your actions, and that was fine. He'd erected cages and looming walls around himself, shielding himself from those kinds of mistakes. Perhaps, he'd become too strong. Perhaps, his problem lied in the little habits where he believed he had no future. He was a tool to be used, an arm to be moved. Soldiers often thought that way, and once they'd been retired from the battlefield, they always took up another similar cause.

Percy's silent companion hunched his shoulders, glancing down at the book he held. Watched as nimble fingers flipped through the pages, resting on one page in particular. Did you know, she used to say, as well, eyes radiant with excitement, and usually, he hadn't known whatever she'd been so adamant to tell him, either. He listened, though he was never really interested in history, nor the characters present. Though, the Lieutenant was still familiar with most occurrences involving wartime – it was taught to him by his father, his brother, and the academy. He was familiar with King Alsont, and his compassionate accomplishments. Of what he'd done to prevent the kingdom from regressing into anarchy without so much as raising a sword, without so much as slaughtering anyone. He nodded slowly towards the book, then leaned back in his seat. He wanted to hear more, if Percy was willing to entertain an old man.

“Judith vhould have liked you.”

Percy smiled and flipped a couple of pages in the book. The book was merely a formality at this point, as he'd had the story thoroughly memorized, along with a number of others. The book was only there to give him something to do with his hands-- else he'd be flailing about and generally making more of a fool of himself. There wasn't an instance of social contact where that didn't happen, mind, he just wanted to lessen it. He had heard the comment concerning Judith. He'd opened his mouth to ask but quite quickly closed it. Sven wanted him to tell the story, not the other way around and Percy was nothing if not eager to share his knowledge. He'd have to remember to ask him about it after the history lesson.

A pity that he didn't remember it. Once the story began, that's all there was for him. He spent more time looking up at Sven than he did in the book, regaling the events of King Alsont. The young King with a wizened tactician's mind. The child-King came into power during a dark time, with the Brute races gaining land on the Civilized races. Many of his court disregarded the Child, believing him too young to effectively run a war. Even so, he was King, and after he began to win battles, their tune changed. The King pushed the Brutal lines out of Genesis and into the sand sea. It was there that Alsont offered a truce. The King's army could have easily destroyed the Brutal races, but Alsont would not have an extermination. It would only have planted the idea of revenge in the midst of the descendents, and in another couple of years they would have another Uprising.

Instead, Alsont personally agreed to sign a Truce with the Brute commander, an intense Orc Warlord named Kiah Gnawbone. Kiah towered over Alsont, nearly three times the size of young King, yet he showed no fear or hesitation. Kiah respected the iron that the young King was made of, and vice versa for Alsont. "It was there that began the assimilation of the Primal races into our society. The Truce was signed not by fear, not by muscle, but by intelligence, respect, and an iron will. Can you see why this is my favorite story?" Percy said, drawing back his sleeve to reveal an arm composed entirely of skin and bone.

The Lieutenant understood, though he still leaned slightly forward, drawing up his own sleeve, revealing an arm entirely made up of whirring cogs, metal slats and twitching digits. He was right, after all. Without people like young King Alsont, like Percy with all of his books, and even Dio with her kindhearted ways – they were lost souls, banging their heads and their hearts against walls, composed of locked doors and bloody knuckles. He wondered how old soldiers fit into a world where truces were bound by honour, nobility, respect and a determination to do the right thing.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Skybound Character Portrait: Theon Zeona

Earnings

0.00 INK

Ugh. This dream again.

At least, that was what Theon assumed. Typically every time he felt or heard sand blowing about before he became aware of his vision, it was this dream. Pretty soon that little kid, the one with the scruffy blonde hair, the one who kept all their guns in working order, he'd come shake his shoulder, waking him from his sleep and into his dream, and Theon would smack the kid so hard he'd break his jaw. And then he'd forget about him, about all of them, and leave them to die, cutting through an orc or two on the way to his freedom. The kid probably died right there in that tent, rubbing his jaw where Theon had punched him.

He didn't have to outrun the orcs. Just the morons who wanted to fight them.

But he opened his eyes on his own this time, without the help of the little boy-outlaw. This was not the same dream. It was always hard to tell time of day in his dreams, the light was distorted and shifting, but he felt like this was day, and the orcs had struck his camp in the night. That, and... well, he wasn't in his tent, he was standing in the sands, a storm of dust and dirt trying to overwhelm him. He wore his armor, his hood was drawn up over his head, and an unfamiliar dark scarf was wrapped around his nose and mouth, for which he found himself grateful. The realization that he was dreaming about his own future hit him next. This was no past memory, and he was certain this wasn't happening in the present. That left only the possibility that this was a vague portent of what was yet to come.

He was surrounded by shadows, some of which were more familiar looking than others, but none of which he could make out, perhaps seven or eight in number. They shifted about, never sitting still. His companions, perhaps... maybe they were little more than shadows to him at this point. The thought struck him rather oddly. He didn't know what to think.

So he walked instead. The heat was oppressive, which Theon found ridiculous, considering that he was in a dream, and by all rights shouldn't have to feel heat at all, but there it was. Under his hood, his dark hair was damp with sweat, pushed back away from his forehead so as to not get in his eyes. That was the worst. Ruins dotted the landscape, ancient by the looks of them. He'd never seen any place like it while he'd been out here with Vivian and the others. Near the equator, perhaps? It had to be, if it was this bloody hot. Otherwise he would have seen it when farseeing, or something. Ruined structures, no matter how small, stuck out like sore thumbs when looked down on from above, where the sand dunes couldn't hide them.

Theon found himself walking towards one structure in particular, which was in better condition than most of its fellows around it. The least ruined ruin, he supposed. A crumbling arch remained on guard over it, and if Theon judged correctly, it too had belonged to a structure of its own, which would mean this building had been housed inside another. It was mostly buried in the sand at his feet, but a shift in the wind blew enough of it away for him to see that it was roughly circular, made of some kind of floor tiles, with inlaid patterns that almost seemed to glow before his eyes. A large, pearly circle in the center of the thing looked very similar to something he'd seen on the great door in the underground. Arranged neatly around it were five smaller circles, each a different color. Red, blue, green, gold, and silver. The green one seemed more alight than the others. Theon found himself smiling under the mask.

Whatever force had singled him out and selected him as the conduit for these visions... he wouldn't mind if it kept it up.

Perhaps he'd thought too soon, because when he reached out to touch the thing the world quite literally exploded with noise, like his father yelling into his baby ears from inside his own head, only amplified a thousand times at least. The ground left his feet somehow, but the stupid scarf had gone up over his eyes at that point anyway (who the hell gave him a scarf in the first place?) and he was blind and deaf as he fell, up or down, it made no difference...


He woke with a start and sat up quickly, drenched in sweat and breathing heavily. The world seemed impossibly quiet, and for a moment he feared the dream had taken his hearing, but the sound of his own panting calmed him down. He let his head fall into his hands and messed with his hair, wiping the sweat with a towel. There was likely to be a good deal more of that, if they were heading into the desert. It was clearly still night out, and quite in the middle of it if he judged the sky correctly. Seeing as there was most definitely no returning to sleep after that dream, he rose.

Theon didn't remember doing anything that would make him as sore as was, but he groaned all the same as he shifted his legs to the side of the bed and set his feet on the ground. Then again... he didn't scry his own future very often. Perhaps side effects were to be expected. He'd try walking it off. Throwing on a sleeveless white tunic and belting on a pair of dark brown pants, he walked barefoot from his room and out onto the deck.

He didn't find her there, so he tried some other places. As she had said, the crew mostly seemed to ignore him as he went, which he was glad for. Just because he'd made one friend aboard the flying deathtrap didn't mean he had to get all buddy-buddy with everyone that worked here. In the end, he found Gwendolyn in the engine room.

The engine room of the ship was located in its very depths, closer to the back than the front, and the walls and ceiling of it lined almost exclusively with pipes and coiling lines of metal. The engine itself sat squarely in the middle of this peculiar nest, probably about four times the width of Sven's arms wrapped around its cylindrical shape. To the untrained eye, it was mostly nonsensical, cogs and levers attached to this or that pipe or mechanism, seemingly moving under its own power, occasionally emitting steam or a puff of soot, these quickly filtered out of the space by a fan set into the hull of the vessel, which circulated air with a whirring hum. Overall, the noise level was not overwhelming, but it was clearly no place of quiet repose, either.

At present, Gwen was suspended from the ceiling by a precarious-looking tangle of chains and taut lines, fashioned into some crude sort of parabolic arrangement. From this, she dangled upside-down, feet ensnared and knees bent to keep her position, her nose almost touching what appeared to be the top of the engine, while her arms were sunk into the network of steel and copper below. From the occasional illumination of her goggled face, it was a safe bet that she was presently working with a blowtorch. For once, her headscarf seemed to serve a purpose, as it was bound up in her hair to keep it all out of the way. Most unlike her, she wore a serious expression, and below the noise threshold of the room, her mouth formed mumured syllables of some sort, though what exactly she was talking to herself about was anyone's guess.

Theon had been about to knock, but the sight of the ship's captain upside down over the engine stopped him where he stood, and he leaned up against the doorway for a moment, crossing his arms and putting his chin in one hand. He watched her work for a moment, seeming to struggle mightily with something, before he finally broke into a somewhat stupid grin.

"So, uh... how's it hanging?" He cringed a bit. It had to be done.

At the sound of a voice, the light from the blowtorch went out, and she carefully unwound her arms from the serpentine innards of the engine, drawing out that tool and what appeared to be a small hammer in her other hand. Gwendolyn looked up and over, which was a bit difficult due to the fact that her back was actually facing the door, but she managed. A gusty exhalation, like the beginning of a snicker, escaped her as soon as the words properly registered, and whatever solemnity she'd donned for the occasion was gone, cracked right to bits by her smile. Relaxing her torso, she used the slight pendulum motion this caused to help swing herself up the other way, leveraging with the mucles of her legs until she caught hold of one of the chains and pulled herself into a seated position, now looking rather like a child on a swing.

"Oh, same as usual. Absolutely spectacularly, that is," she replied, swinging her feet in alternation. Still, it was rude to sit up here while he was all the way down there, so she took a moment to get herself some momentum, jumping from her impromptu chair to another chain that conveniently hung nearly to the ground, which she slid down to place herself back on the floor where most people would say human beings belonged. "Did I miss dinner again or something? Sunshine usually doesn't like that much..." She wasn't actually sure what time of day it was, as her bizarre internal clock hadn't yet told her that she needed to sleep or eat, so she hadn't.

"Dinner?" Theon asked. "You haven't even missed breakfast yet. Unless you're talking about last night's dinner. Might want to take that up with Sunshine. Not my job to keep an eye on your skinny ass." Not that he wouldn't do it anyway, on occassion, but he was getting away from why he'd lugged himself down here in the first place. He pushed away from the doorway and took a few steps into the engine room proper, taking a moment to admire the weirdly whirring thing before jumping in.

"Anyway, I thought you might be willing to be my dream journal again. Had another interesting one tonight, which means a few things. One, I'm not getting any more sleep tonight, and two, I should probably tell someone about it, since it was pretty dramatic and had the whole save the world quest vibe, if you know what I mean." He supposed he could tell the antler boy about it, since he seemed to love to write, and would probably know a lot more about whatever ruins Theon had seen, but then again, Theon had killed the kid's rat, and he'd seemed pretty upset by that. Better to talk to someone who he was on better terms with. Someone who wouldn't sprout horns just by looking at him.

Wait. Breakfast, dinner... huh. She must have been down here longer than she thought. Oh well-- the engine calibrations weren't going to sort themselves out, and that joint really had needed some repair before it weakened further and blew the next time they needed to really put the speed on. Tugging her headscarf from her hair, she pulled her goggles up to rest on her crown, blinking to adjust to the new lighting conditions. More dreams, was it? She wondered how it didn't get too irritating to deal with. Then again, it was probably something you got used to, or at least dealt with because of the benefits, right?

"Huh," she declared oh-so-helpfully, then shrugged and planted herself on the floor. "Can do. Lay it on me, Daisy."

Theon raised an eyebrow, his scowl almost more playful than disapproving. Almost. "Daisy, is it? I suppose if the big man puts up with 'Sunshine', I can put up with 'Daisy'. That, or there's nothing we can do to stop you." Probably the latter. Why a man as deadly looking as that dude would put up with being called Sunshine was beyond him. Theon ended up taking a seat as well, leaning back on his hands.

"Right... so I dreamed about me. Not my past or memory or anything, that happens all the time, but my future. That's only happened once or twice before, see, so I gotta figure this one's important. Maybe I'm just getting better or something. Anyway, I think I was near the equator somewhere, as it was fucking hot, worse than anywhere I'd been in the desert, and I've been all over. And there were ruins. I made a habit of scouting our surroundings every morning, and I never saw any ruins like that. The only place I really avoided was the heart of the desert, so I figure that's gotta be where I was."

For some reason, he found himself not really eager to tell her what exactly he'd been doing wandering around the desert, but he probably wouldn't have to. It wasn't part of this story, anyway. "One of the structures had similar patterns on it to the door we found under Deluge, but the green bit was all lit up on this one. I tried to touch it, but then shit kind of went crazy, there was a really loud noise, and I was thrown out of the vision."

Gwen listened intently, but honestly, she didn't know a whole lot about deserts. Sure, she flew over them with regularity, and she knew the same old stories most kids grew up with, but other than that... his guess was far better than hers on where, precisely, he'd been. The mention of ruins did strike some old chord in her memory, as though someone had said something about it, but she'd only been half-listening at the time. Probably her father; things tended to happen that way sometimes. She always found herself wishing she'd paid more attention, and not always for the practical reasons. "Do you ever have nice dreams?" she asked offhandedly, but then sighed and shook her head. It was a shame, but you probably didn't get to have nice dreams when being sent on half-understood missions against the King of all people. And you didn't have to be magic to get nightmares from that.

"Well, I don't much fancy flying over the whole equator, but I'm guessing whoever built the ruins originally built them near some water. I think... it used to be that the rivers were bigger, but I'll check with Spikey and see if he knows anything about it." If so, it would narrow their search radius considerably, which would be nice. The captain grinned, but it didn't quite have the look of something genuine, and swiftly disappeared. "Seriously, though, Daisy. First good dream you get, I don't care if you have to hit me over the head with something to wake me up-- I want to hear about it." Hopping to her feet, she made some semblance of an (unsuccessful) effort to brush the soot from her pants and continued. "Since you won't be sleeping anyway, you could always come to the control room. There's coffee, and if you're interested, flying lessons." She had a feeling that one would be refused; he'd never seemed too comfortable on board the ship.

Her feeling was quite right. "I'll leave the flying to the birds and the crazy people who think they have wings," Theon said as he stood, "but the coffee sounds nice." He wasn't covered in soot like she was, but he had made the mistake of putting his hands on the floor, and wiped those off on his pants while she dusted herself off.

"And the good dreams come from good memories, mostly." So it made sense that he didn't have many at all. "But there was this one girl I met north of Rockside," he said rather slyly, "long legs, thick black hair, and totally double-jointed. Next time I dream about her, I'll be sure to tell you all about it. Or I could just wait until I get some vision of all of us feasting in a king's hall after we're all heroes. That one might be better." Theon had a feeling he knew which dream would come first, though. Ugh. Puns.

"Better for me, maybe," she replied with amusement, rolling her eyes and elbowing him in the arm with the one made of actual human-stuff. "But I'm as good as my word, Daisy. If you really wanna tell me about the lovely lady from Rockside, well... I did grow up around skyship sailors, you know." It'd be nothing she hadn't heard in excruciating detail before. Still, if your best dreams were about people who weren't in your life anymore and things that hadn't happened yet... well, that was a shame, wasn't it? Gwen, being Gwen, saw it as a problem easily-enough remedied, however.

"Sounds like you could use a bit more in the way of good memories," she mused. "Nothing like adventures with friends for that!" And dammit if she wasn't going to do her best to be a friend, all things considered.

Theon stifled a laugh through his nose. "Thought you were suggesting something totally different for a second there."

"You did, didn't you?" she replied, her smile mercurially shifting until it was something foxlike, but as soon as it had appeared, it was gone, and so was she, ducking through the doorway. "Well, come on then!" she called back, "coffee's only good when it's hot enough to burn your tongue."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Skybound Character Portrait: Percy Galath Character Portrait: Mordecai Character Portrait: Lohengrin Character Portrait: Kethyrian Tor Character Portrait: Sven Diederich Character Portrait: Theon Zeona Character Portrait: Vivian Zeona Character Portrait: Diomache Castillo

Earnings

0.00 INK

Part Two: Shifting Sands



Working with the antlered academic to pinpoint the most likely location of the ruins they sought, it wasn't long before Gwen had set a course, and within another day or so, the Elysuim was flying low over the sand, a large portion of her crew standing about the vessel, spyglasses in hand. They'd been told to look for anything that didn't belong, with special emphasis to old stone structures, and after about half a day of searching, the lookout, Ducky, at last called down that he'd spotted what they were looking for. Well, a large collection of fallen stones, anyway.

Without a proper port to land in, the ship simply descended, the engine keeping it aloft for long enough that the mages among the crew could set a more permanent levitation charm on it, which would allow it to hover in place. A few others ventured to suggest a concealment glamour, which was also readily applied. Indeed, the moment the captain stepped off the gangplank, it disappeared behind her, leaving only her companions and the desolation of open desert visible to their eyes, though perhaps the automaton was still able to see what those with organic eyes could not.



Squinting against the brightness of the suns on the pale sand, Gwendolyn wrinkled her nose and grimaced. "You weren't lying about the heat," she told Theon, tossing him a scrap of light fabric. She had about a dozen scarves; might as well pass them out to people who could use them for something, and keeping the sand out of their faces seemed like a worthy cause. Dio, she noted, was already prepared, but most of the others were not. As soon as what she had was distributed, though, she glanced around. This was actually a pretty large ruin, from what she could tell amidst the blowing sands. Based on the looks of things, she'd guess this place had been a full-blown city, once upon a time.

"So... where are we going?" she asked, adjusting the strap that held her rifle at her back. Never hurt to go prepared into the unknown, right?

Theon caught the scarf, regarding it for a moment like it had the potential to strangle him or something, but he tied it around his face anyway, pulling his hood up afterwards, leaving only his eyes exposed to the world. He glanced around at the ruins. It looked, and felt, about right, though this certainly wasn't the exact place. He'd remember if he saw it. Dreams that vivid didn't go away quickly, after all. Unfortunately, he wasn't likely to recognize it from above, so his farsight wasn't likely to be all that useful, but it never hurt to scout the area.

"I love sand," he murmured sarcastically, finding the nearest chunk of ruin he could and putting his back to it, sliding to the ground. The wind had blown the sand around too much recently for his farsight to be of much use while on the ship, but it had died down enough that he might be able to see something useful now. He let his head fall into his hands, closed his eyes, and left his body.

It was about what he'd expected. Scattered dots that he knew to be ruins all around, but no real way to determine which was the one they needed. Not from up here, anyway. Moving in a little closer, however, he spied some things that didn't fit in with the rest. "Someone beat us here," he said, with a faint hint of annoyance. "There's signs of a camp nearby. They didn't do the best job of cleaning up." There was little else to see, however, so he returned to his body fully, rising to his feet.

"Not sure why else anyone would want to come out here," Dio muttered from nearby, sounding in an uncharacteristically poor mood. She had not an inch of skin showing other than a slit for her eyes, but her body language spoke volumes. She was as uncomfortable as could be out here in the hottest part of the world, away from any kind of civilization. Bad memories. Still, this was obviously an important place, so she'd deal with it. As long as that airship stayed intact... and they didn't lose their way in a sandstorm.

The local academic had sprouted horns once again, and that was perhaps the only thing that was recognizable about Percy. He had a scarf pulled up above his nose and he had traded in his finer clothes for something more rugged. A loosefitting tan shirt tied off with a length of rope, and likewise loose fitting breeches. Part animal that he may be, but he liked to breathe. He wasn't covered in fur yet after all. In his hand stood the druidic summoned staff he'd obtained from Deluge. If only he was a bit more attuned to the weather, then he could summon a cloud, alas, his druidic profession had yet to stretch that far. Damn if he wasn't trying right now though.

"Maybe they just wanted some sun. There's plenty around," Percy deadpanned. The joke was nearly as dry as the desert around them, if not drier. He enjoyed the heat just about as much as everyone else-- which was to say that he did not. If only he was born into a lizard or snake species, then he'd love this sun. Sighing at the thought, and the misfortune of being a creature of the forest in the hottest part of the desert, he shrugged. "They're not the only ones we have to watch for. Sand trolls tend to gather in environments such as these. Less people to deal with, most likely," because that's exactly what he wanted in this heat. To fight lumbering sand trolls.

Vivi's eyes lit up at the mention of the creatures. It was the only part of her that was visible, she had the scarf around her throat hiked up all the way to her eyes. Even so, she seemed to be fairing a lot better than she had any right to. Far be it for a little sun and heat to dry the adventurous spirit out of the girl. "Sand trolls!? Sounds like fun," She said. Even if her mouth was covered, it was obvious there was a smile hiding under her scarf. Returning to the desert reminded her of the time she spent with Theon-- perhaps not as sweltering as it was currently, but still. Those were the best times of her life, and Vivi was the kind of girl that adapted to anything, provided that she could have fun. Still, Theon didn't see any of the trolls, so instead she focused on this camp he talked about. "Someone beat us? I didn't know this was a race... Raiders maybe?" she said, looking to Theon.

Either the dumbest raiders, or the bravest. Neither she nor Theon ever ventured this far into the equator, much let had the gall to set up camp in the blistering heat.

In contrast to the soft-skinned beings that surrounded him, Lohengrin was quite comfortable, even in conditions this hot. That said, this body couldn't take it for any longer than any of the rest of them, and so he'd obligingly wrapped the lower half of his face with a dark blue scarf, since the crazy captain was handing them out anyway. He didn't really want to inhale sand, though he didn't bother covering the top of his head. It would actually be kind of nice to bask, if it weren't so damn gritty with the wind moving the shredded particles of stone around as it was. His boots, he'd left in the ship, and he stood lightly atop the sand, toes spread to protect his altitude from the risk of sinking. "Maybe, maybe orcs. There's tunnels under here, too, so anything could be in them. We're best off moving quickly. Don't suppose the old man programmed you with any more directions, did he?" The man asked of the machine standing next to him.

Mordecai, not particularly needful of any extra measures to protect himself (the synthetic skin he was coated with being quite sufficient for keeping sand out of his mechanisms), had retained the clothing he wore on-board the ship, which meant that his relative formality stuck out like a sore thumb here. He didn't really notice of course, programmed as he was to tend towards such selections even in the absence of direct requests one way or another. Balance on the sand took him a few moments to get used to, during which he teetered precariously as he gained his footing. Now, however, he was standing on the sand as easily as Lohengrin, having made the necessary adaptations in calculations for movement.

The mercenary's question prompted an examination of the area, his visual cortex processing the layout of the immediate vicinity and running it past all similar data he possessed. To his surprise, it produced a vague sense of rightness, but nothing more specific, leading him to believe that the data must be part of something he could not access, a piece of information that required a specific perceptual cue to initialize. That cue was not here. "Negative," he replied, a hint of bewilderment in the tones. "This unit suggests that we move in deeper, and discern whether its own or Master Theon's perceptual apparatuses pick up on anything more utile." As ever, he implemented the logical suggestion, taking the lead deeper into the sand-bathed ruins. The air in front of them shimmered with the heat rising off the sand, grains of the stuff dancing about their heads as they walked. Despite the evidence of the presence of other sentient beings, the surface seemed entirely deserted.

Kethyrian, completely ignoring the lizard (as she chose to categorize Lohengrin now), looked after the automaton for a moment, her jaw tightening. She was not made for this, and though her light weight and balance would keep her atop the scorching sand, she already felt like she was baking, and the white scarf covering her entire head and face (minus the smallest slit for her eyes) wasn't helping that much. She had to squint until she was almost blind just to stop the intrusive light from wreaking its havoc on her photosensitive eyes. Fantastic for seeing in the dark-- absolutely horrible for navigating in bright light conditions. She actually filed herself in behind Sven, seeking to use the man's large shadow to keep track of where she was supposed to be, as well as as a shield for her beleagured oculars.

The Lieutenant's discomfort was irrelevant. The journey in the wastelands would only last momentarily, only until they managed to find whatever they were looking for and return to the comfortable, steely confines of the ship. He'd been given a scarf as well, but instead of wrapping it around his face, he'd wrapped it around his left bicep. And instead of wearing the Lieutenant's commonplace, thick-plated set of armor, with its dents and scars and stories, he'd opted for loose fitting attire that properly suited the dusty environment; selecting a thickly-woven white shirt, sleeves rolled to his elbows, with khaki pants and leather holsters settled under his armpits. The array of weapons strapped to his body were plenteous, though unsurprising. Knives were tucked into his boots, strapped to his thighs, his right bicep, and wherever else he'd managed to tuck them away. The largest weapon he'd brought along with him was his steam-powered shotgun, fastened to his back. He wasn't sure what they were expecting to find, but this was the desert, and anything could happen in the desert.

Like a hulking beast manoeuvring through the sandy dunes, the Lieutenant trailed behind them, squinting beneath heavy eyebrows. The sun was unforgiving. It bore down on their faces, offering no refuge or shade. He'd noticed Kethyrian moving behind him, so he offered a slight inclination of his head, before continuing on his way. He did not understand the Favisae genealogy, nor their habits or ways, but understood well enough that she was not keen to the direct sunlight. How could anyone who'd dwelt below the ground be used to something so tawdry, so dazzling? The heat did not differentiate between races, nor was it kind to anyone who'd forgotten to bring water. Hydration was key to survival, so the Lieutenant carried more than one canteen, swinging and sloshing in a bag tied around his waist, for whoever was foolish enough not to bring their own. If he had to act the mule, then he'd do so gladly. It would do no one any good if someone passed out while travelling to their location.

Well, as they were more or less moving anyway, Gwen decided to follow. Lohengrin's warning about tunnels was a bit... foreboding, but then if they were going to save the world or some such business as that, she could hardly expect to be easy. In fact, she might not mind a little mortal danger here and there, come to think of it. Added a little of that zesty flavor to her days.

The group advanced into the ruins behind the automaton, which was probably solid strategy considering how durable he was compared to any of them. Most of what they found was exactly as Theon had warned them to expect: hot, dry, and empty. It seemed they were going in the right direction, however, because the frequency with which they encountered piles of fallen stone and whatnot seemed to be increasing with time, the shifting sands blowing back to reveal the remnant bones of old civilization, older than the likes of her had any right to conceptualize. It was like walking with ghosts, almost, to move about the ruins like this, because it was almost as though something moved with them, pausing at each collapsed building and brushing its ephemeral fingers along the stones, adding evermore to its crushing sense of loss.

If she'd been a mystic instead of a scientist, she would have thought the grounds haunted, even, so pervasive was the general uneasiness she felt. As it was, she put the feeling down to magic, that stuff which she could sometimes but not always see, and never truly grasp. It was a gift she had not been given, but she almost knew enough to miss it. Almost.

Lohengrin, on the other hand, was facing the superimposition of an old image over a new one. Once, this place had been called Galthvega, the city of Green Earth. He had walked its mossy paths in bare human feet, but also flown the skies above it on carmine leather-wings, inhaling deeply of the rain-soaked air, the scent of things in bloom almost overwhelming to the senses. He could just about conceptualize its former denizens, the flickering forms of the Inflectori, though that memory was ancestral and not his own. When he had seen it, the city had been inhabited only by humans, and already on its way to the desert it was now, the last holdout in a world without the full measure of its water. Even that was so long ago. When in the innumerable years had it fallen to ruin? He could not recall, and for this he felt older even than he was, old enough that he creaked at the joints, though they worked as well as they ever had.

After about half an hour of walking, the group seemed to arrive somewhere new. The city-center, it had once been, where the domed Earth-Temple had stood, the being within fueling the verdant things without. He could still sense its presence, but it was weak, half-dead and useless, it seemed. Withered would be a good word. "Might want to try looking again," he suggested to the scryer. They were close.

"One second," Theon said, finding the nearest hunk of stone big enough for him to stand against and putting his back to it. Scrying without any kind of physical support while standing up was a risky proposition at best, as he was liable to simply fall over. His control over his own body was tenuous when he left it to see things from above, something that had embarrassed him on countless occasions when he was a child. He was better at it now; he had learned to speak while farseeing a few years ago, but accidents like falling on his face were still quite possible, especially after a hard trek through the hottest part of the world.

The scryer's head fell back against the rock and he rose above the group, surveying their surroundings. It was immediately recognizeable from his dream, though not in the same way. The dream had been distorted but vivid in its own way, and this scene was blurry due to the sand, but clear due to the relative normalcy that farsight had become for Theon. "Yeah, I see it. Dead ahead. Let's... wait. Is that... ?" There were figures coming out of the tunnels in large numbers, big figures, whose silhouettes Theon had learned to recognize instantly. He stayed only long enough to see where the first of them would come into view.

"Greenskins, lots of 'em, headed our way," he muttered in warning, wholly displeased with this new development. Now he would have to reload his duckfoot again. He snatched the pistol from his belt and jogged over towards the base of a low dune that separated the two groups, where the first of the orcs would appear. Visibility was poor, and they were staying low to try and avoid detection, but they were orcs, and couldn't hide from farsight, not at this range.

Theon caught the slightest glimpse of blue eyes in the first orc's head before he pulled the trigger, and at this range the duckfoot's blast was enough to blow the orc's head quite nearly clean off. The pistol slipped from Theon's hand from the recoil, to thud heavily into the sand. He cared about that about as much as the fact that orcs never had blue eyes, that was to say not at all. He was more intent on giving them a taste of their own medicine, and by medicine he meant axe.

A roar sounded above Theon's head, followed by a hulking body that leapt, with surprisingly alcricity, over the rocky outcrops. Instead of bearing down on the group of orcs with his shotgun blazing, he'd opted for his longest blade. They would use equally primitive weapon, so it seemed appropriate. The blade itself was nearly the length of his mechanical arm, thick and double-edged - something he'd acquired, and kept from serving in the 236th Battalion. The scarf wrapped around his arm flapped behind him like feathered-tendrils. His muscles tensed like retracted coils, springing into action with each wild swipe of his blade, and his mechanical arm immediately shot out to grab the nearest assailants wrinkled face, steam-billowing mechanized fingers crossing over its nose and eyes. He slammed his blade into its chest, bearing upwards. The orc let out a long-drawn wail, lifting off the ground a few feet, before being tossed to the side like a sack of potatoes. The welcome sounds of battle coursed thick as blood through his veins. It sang songbird noises through his skull, resolute and justified. It was almost like vengeance was being fulfilled again and again, as if every enemy, every assailer's face was his brothers. Occasionally, they even shared his blue eyes. It hadn't occured to him that this was unusual.

A dirty axe, wrapped in leathers and bead decorations, slammed into his mechanical arm, causing him to reel backwards and slash out with his blade. He did not stop, did not falter, did not slow his movements. The Lieutenant struck forward again, swinging his twitching prosthetic like a club. It struck the side of the orcs head, and he took the opportunity to step closer, jamming his blade into the creature's vulnerable ribs. He allowed the orc to slump forward, breath wheezing out as if its lungs were emptying, thick head across his shoulder, then stepped away, pushing him off. He exhaled sharply, and charged into another orc, shoulder down like a football player slamming into his opponent. In some sick sense, it reminded him of his childhood, of attending school, of her, of playing in the yard with him. The guttural growls added to the deserts muted ambience of whisking winds and sifting sands. The occasional explosion of bullets tearing through the air sounded off, rocketing past him into different targets. Bits and pieces splattered his cheek, his forehead. He was not like Dio - he was a soldier, and he would not mourn the enemy.

Adrenaline surged through him, electrifying his tendons, and sizzling into his fingertips. He spun on his heels, flicking his blade through the air. He did not pause to see whether or not it had thunked into the orcs forehead. The Lieutenant reached over his shoulder, fingers clasping around the shotguns handle, just in time to push it into an orcs oncoming face, jaw slackened and brilliantly blue eyes snapped wide. He pulled the trigger. If they wanted to survice, if they wanted to live, then they would have to fight for it. He would shoulder their burdens. He'd bloody his hands, and wash them off afterwards.

Violence was not his way. He was a scholar first and wizard second. Percy did not possess the raw savagery that Sven did, nor did he have the cold violence of Theon. His eyes did not shimmer in anticipation of the fight like Vivi's. Percy was calm, audibly sighing at the approach of the orcs. He was a druid, a student of the world, of both past and present. He didn't wield blades, and the one flintlock he owned was for personal defense. He was more subtle than that. He wished it didn't have to end this way, but there were no dissuading the orcs from their present course. May the Old Kings have mercy on their souls. So be it. He fought with his mind, and a mind can be a dangerous thing.

He spun his staff over his head in a circular arc before bringing it down deep into the sand. He would need the support. Percy bent his knee, kneeling in the blistering sand. His hand drifted over the tiny dunes, feeling the grit between his fingers. There was death in the sand, blood would be spilled, blood had been spelled, and would be spilled again before this world was over. Scorching suns had bleached the bones of lesser and greater creatures than himself. Everything was a cycle, what once came from the sand, would return in due time. But, even in death, there was life. They wouldn't return to that sand, they still had a job to do. Percy jammed his hand into the sand, bringing it up to his elbow. He ignored the heat coarsing through his skin, it was only temporary.

He closed his eyes and did what he did best. He listened and learned. He could feel the heartbeat of the desert in his fingers. It was still alive. It would outlive all of them, with the ruins around them as evidence. Vivi only spared the antlered boy a passing glance as she rushed by him. If he wanted to miss the fun in lieu of petting the sand, fine by her. Man, that was a weird one. Vivi paused beside Theon for a moment to get a passing shot off with her revolver, but the sand must have obscured her view. Nothing fell. Her eyes narrowed as she looked toward her brother. "Looks like we're doing this the old fashioned way, like the old times," she said, scarf obscuring her ear to ear smile. Ah, how she missed those times.

Pufts of sand rose from Vivi's heels as she darted into the fray directly behind Sven. She ducked under a swipe from a blue-eyed orc's bone-sword. Funny, did they always have blue eyes? Still, it didn't matter as she slid on her knees, lopping off a leg out from under a orc, bloodying the sand beneath them. Vivi finished the move by laying on her back and raising and then bringing her heel down on the immobile orc's throat. She was not in the best position to fend off the next orc though-- an easily rectified issue. An axe buried into the sand where she was, as she flipped her legs back and over her, bringing her to a standing position. Her spatial awareness was a godsend, as out of the corner of her eye, she saw an orc readying a roughly made rifle. An elegant spin brought her inside the axe carrying orc's guard, and a hook of her arm, brought him around to bare the gunshot for her. It echoed through the sandstorm and she felt the impact on her meatshield. Saved her the bullet. She then peaked out from behind the orc and returned fire with her own pistol. More blood for the sand, as that orc too fell to Vivi.

Mordecai, on a slight time delay due to the activation of Sentinel Mode, leaped forward next, a few degrees slower than he was in Berserk, and this time lit from under his skin with something faintly blueish in hue, quite misplaced against the tan sands. It proved to be the correct decision, however, when he intercepted the orcish axe swinging for his shoulder, catching it with one hand and twisting, ripping it from the grip of its holder and rotating it in a whirling arc over his arm to slam it right into the warrior's exposed neck. The orcs were large and strong, but only lightly-armored. Besides, however strong a flesh-being could be was not as strong as one made from metal. The strike decapitated, and though he could have retained his hold on the axe, the automaton felt no need to do so, instead hurling it with unnatural force, as though it were designed as a projectile rather than a two-handed instrument of execution.

It whipped end-over-end and embedded itself in the chest cavity of another, clearing a path for Kethyrian to duck forward, poniard in one hand, the other lit with magic already. The machine-man was drawing most of the aggression in her estimation, which probably made sense. Weren't orcs supposed to be really religious about their violence? More challenging kills were better, that sort of thing? She didn't presume to know or care, and there were plenty of foes to go around. Slamming the axed one with a barrier so that he toppled over not on top of her, she moved to intercept the next one on light feet, ducking in under his guard before he could swing. She held no illusions that she'd be able to parry a blow with such force, much less one-handed, and so she simply tapped his chest, discharging the measured burst of magic to interrupt his heart rhythms, and opening up a slash in his throat when he stumbled backwards, stunned.

"Ooh," Gwen huffed with irritation, puffing out her cheeks in what was probably a childish manner. This wasn't any fun at all. They were supposed to be exploring ancient cities and then someone just had to go and ruin it (oh, that was awful, how fun). Bandits, no less. For her part, she needed vantage to be any kind of help at all, and so she immediately peeled off to the side, clambering up an outcropping of fallen stones with a wire's-edge dexterity that nearly pitched her forward onto her face several times but never actually did. Unslinging her rifle from its place at her back, she reached into one of the pouches on her bandolier, withdrawing several extra lead balls and depositing them into a small divot in one of the stones nearest her. There was no room to lay flat on her belly, so she went down to one knee instead, sighting down the twin barrels of the gun at an orc trying to make for Spikey, who appeared to be just standing there.

She assumed it was a magic thing. A loud crack, and Gwen was thrown back a bit, though she took most of the recoil on her back leg, holding steady enough to fire again a few seconds later. She was slow as molasses with this thing, but every time she shot, another orc kissed the sand, so there was something to be said for it, perhaps.

Lohengrin, sword in hand, waded into the fray only with utmost reluctance, throwing the blade up to block an incoming swing with one arm. He wasn't so lucky with his second assailant, however, and that machete blade bit deep into his palm when he caught it. Gritting his teeth, he reached for his magic, and in this desert, super-heating the metal beyond the warrior's ability to hold was a matter of seconds. The smell of burnt flesh assailed his nose, and for once he was glad that his senses were only human-- he'd not have liked to taste it on his tongue, really. Orcs were for the desperate, or maybe some fool crazy enough to want to eat that spicy hide of theirs. He personally found the thought disgusting. The man bellowed as he lost his grip on his weapon, and in those precious moments he'd bought himself, the mercenary kicked the other one hard in the groin. There were no forbidden moves as far as he was concerned.

That staggered the axe-holder, and in a flash, his human-looking opponent had driven a solid length of steel into his chest. The other one was coming back with nothing more than his hands, and his first punch caught Lohengrin right in the jaw, dislocating it with an unsavory pop. With a gutteral sound aproaching a snarl, he wrenched it back into place, ignoring the black spots at the corner of his vision, and leapt in, attempting to pull the same maneuver on this one that he had on his friend. He was not so lucky the second time, however, as the warrior slapped the blade aside with a bracer on his forearm, and suddenly, their momentum had carried them in too close for the sword to make much sense. Dropping it, the mercenary reached up, swiping across the other guy's eyes with his bloodied hand, obstructing his vision, then ducked low, smearing what remained of the liquid in quick strokes over his chestplate, forearms, and the backs of his knees, tucking into a roll to get out of the way.

Hissing a word in a language that sounded quite like large stones grinding together, he watched with satisfaction as all the blood-marks lit on fire, cherry-red but much hotter than flames of that color would be without magic, reducing the massive fighter to a charred corpse.

"I love this dance!" Vivian yelled, looking for her next target. However, a sudden tremor caused her to pause. An earthquake? In the desert? It seemed to be centered away from her, near a grouping of orcs. They too paused as confusion wracked their face. Had they been paying attention, they would have noticed the sand beneath them sinking ever so slighty. By the time they did notice however, it was too late. They were already caught in the sand whirlpool dragging them toward the center. And in the center of the whirlpool?

"An antlion?" Vivi questioned as the sand creature began its extravagant feast. She tossed a glance back at Percy, who was gripping his staff tightly, clearly tired from the effort. Even so, she could make out the grin wrapped around his face. Huh, imagine that. Antler's animal whispering was more impressive than she first thought.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Skybound Character Portrait: Percy Galath Character Portrait: Mordecai Character Portrait: Lohengrin Character Portrait: Kethyrian Tor Character Portrait: Sven Diederich Character Portrait: Theon Zeona Character Portrait: Vivian Zeona Character Portrait: Diomache Castillo

Earnings

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Being something of a learned woman from the north, Dio was perhaps the only one among them to actually give pause to the fact that these orcs all possessed strikingly blue eyes. Given the fact that she didn't immediately leap into the fray, she noticed relatively quickly the bright hue of their eyes. The Castillo girl had always had a certain amount of interest in all the races of Albion, her genuinely curious nature leading her to learn a great deal about all of the less common races, orcs among them. Unfortunately, that meant she also knew that groups of orcs regularly attacked travelers through the desert, leaving no way to tell if whatever was plagueing them was forcing them into this aggression or not.

"There's something wrong with them!" she called, to anyone who cared to hear. No doubt it would be next to impossible to discuss in the middle of a fight, but she felt that it needed to be said. Indeed, she herself had no more time for speech, as she was forced to dart backwards in a quick hop to get out of the way of a falling axehead, which slammed into the sand where her feet had been, kicking up a small plume of sand between them. Seeing an opportunity, she charged forward, planting one sandal on the haft of the axe and rising, her next step landing solidly on the orc's shoulder. Dio then stepped right on the orc's head and leapt off, flipping neatly to land behind him. Noticing his strong hand on the way up, she preemptively rolled right and forward to dodge the orc's second swing before even he knew he was going to make it. The axe whooshed through nothing but air as the orc turned around, growling for a brief moment in frustration before five fingers of a small hand touched up against the back of his head, crackling electricity flowing into his skull. The overload of impulses in his mind would be enough to put him face first in the sand for a few hours at least.

Theon, however, was too lost in violence to notice much of anything, blue eyes and antlions included. His axe was buried so far in the skull of an orc he'd come across he hadn't been able to rip it out in time, and had since switched to a mix of his fists and a dagger he'd pulled off one of the dead. There was a nasty cut over his right eye, the blood seeping down to blind him on that side, and he was more or less covered in sand, brawling from one orc to the next, leaving the sand behind him red as he went.

The world beneath the Lieutenant shook and trembled, kicking up thick clouds of sand, and where the sandy dunes had once been, there now scrambled a great antlion who'd clawed from the earth's belly. Several of its clacking limbs skittered and kicked, flicking over orcs as if they were mere insects. It took him a few moments to realize that it'd been their resident mage, Percy, who'd called the thing from whatever gritty tomb it had come from – which meant it was their ally, for the time being. He didn't understand how one could control a creature so large, but he took care to move out of its way all the same. Those inconsequential moments, unhampered by the battles' ripping roars, clashing of blades, axes and booming gunshots alike, the Lieutenant heard Dio's call above the clamber. A statement, rather, that something was amiss. He had no time to ponder what she'd meant, as he hurtled forward to meet another orc, who'd ducked beneath the antlion's swinging carapace and switched directions. The orc swung his great battleaxe and nearly cleaved off the Lieutenant's arm, hadn't he smashed his mechanical arm into the orcs forearm and grappled onto the creature's shoulder. He gripped onto his wrist to prevent him from swinging wildly with the axe, and smashed his forehead into the orcs flat nose, spurting blood onto the sand, his own face, and his shirt-front.

Had he been able to reach his shotgun, the Lieutenant would've ended it quickly, but he couldn't risk letting go of its thick wrist. Orc's, if given the chance to hit their target, could hack them clean in half. Their strength was monumental, and terrifying. The headbutt did little to stun the orc, who bellowed loudly in his face, spit flying. It was then that he noticed – two peculiar-looking blue eyes staring at him, electrically coloured. That wasn't right. Orcs didn't have blue eyes, ever. The man's momentary hesitation cost him a full-hand of grubby-green knuckles straight to his jaw, throwing him backwards. Though he refused to let go of the orc's wrist, and pulled him along for the ride, crashing into the ground and kicking up sand as they struggled. Thankfully, the great axe had been knocked away. The Lieutenant grabbed onto the orcs face, trying to push his assailant off, while earning several lollops to the face. Blue orbs, wild and ferocious, menaced from between his fingers. With effort, Sven hooked his leg between the orc's torso and flipped them over so that he was on top, connecting with liberal overhands.

The flow of battle was interrupted by a great bellow, loud enough that Gwen was forced to drop her gun and clutch her head, lucky not to fall off the precipice on which she was crouched. Clapping her hands over her ears, she glanced around quickly, trying to assess the direction the noise was coming from, but it was just too loud to tell. It could have been from anywhe-- oh. Well, that sort of narrowed things down. An enormous club, made of what appeared to be wood with metal spikes driven through it from all angles, arced downwards to meet the antlion, and the impact was massive, causing a shudder felt even through the sand, as antlion parts issues in all directions with a wet splat.

The captain's ever-widening stare travelled upwards, flicking over the contours of an equally-gigantic arm and up, to look with unnerving directness into the face of a sand troll. Not just any sand troll, though-- this one was absolutely monstrous in proportions, at least twenty five feet tall and almost as broad, really, it walked somewhat hunched-over. Its squashed face resembled some of the apes one could see in the southern jungles, but that was where the similarity ended. It was covered in coarse tan hide, thick enough that she'd be unsurprised if it stopped most blades or bullets. Its feet were wide, with eight toes each, to help it balance in the sand. Its eyes (all three of them) were like burning coals, dark black shot through with lines of heated orange that seemed to glow from within.

It fixed on her, alone of everyone unmolested by orcs, and she swallowed past the brand-new lump in her throat. "Uh-oh," she trilled, grabbing her rifle and making a jump for it, hitting the sand and rolling into a ball to protect herself from the falling debris that had once been her perch as the mighty club knocked over the old masonry like so many pebbles.

Once he'd dealt with the fallen orc, bloodied from the pummelling it'd received, the Lieutenant grunted and pushed himself away. He had not been spared from the tousle, either; blood ran thickly from his forehead, where he'd headbutted the green-skinned creature's thick skull. He'd been hit several times thereafter, as well. Thankfully, his nose looked nothing like theirs; piggish, squished and excruciatingly flat. Nothing had been broken that he could tell. His face was in order, so he spun on his heels and only took a few steps forward when he was suddenly knocked on his rear, whipping around to face an unseen foe, an oncoming orc coming from behind him – though, his gaze drifted upward, and he sat staring up at a more horrifying sight then the antlion who'd been summoned by Percy's hand. This creature definitely didn't look like it was here to lend its aid, it's nostrils flaring and caustic eyes picking out its prey. A sand troll. A fucking sand troll. Honestly, he'd only read about them in books, whispered about them to his squad mates. Never had he been face-to-face with the ugly things. Their skin was nearly impenetrable, for God's sake!

Still, the Lieutenant scooted back onto his feet, lunging beneath the sand troll's pillar-for-legs. He was headed for Gwendolyn, and even though he knew he didn't stand a chance if the troll got close enough, he'd at least try to distract the damn thing so someone who had something a little more substantial could sneak up behind and fry it. He took a deep breath, deep in his chest and swivelled the shotgun in his thick mitts, finger poised on the trigger until he was directly beneath him. “Kethyrian!” The Lieutenant bellowed, followed by the shotgun's explosive discharge, firing straight into the sand troll's nether regions. More likely than not, it'd just piss the thing off, but at least it wouldn't focus so much on one target, and attack clumsily, out of anger. He wasn't sure why he called her name, exactly. Wasn't even sure whether or not her abilities would work on a target so large, but it had to have a heart and where there was a heart, Kethyrian could, hopefully, bring it to its knees. He wheeled back under its legs, hoping it didn't choose to squash him by sitting down.

When the antlion was smashed by their newly minted foe, a weight lifted from Percy's brow as the strain of keeping the creature under his control abruptly vanished. He winced, as disconnecting so violently and quickly came through the bond Percy had established. The effort made him drop his staff into the sand and brought him to all fours in the blistering sand. Even over the sandstorm, his single curse echoed. "Dammit!" It happened again, some idiot brute had destroyed another one of his creatures! He looked up, glaring at the Sand Troll and grimaced. He couldn't bewitch that creature. It was too large, too willful, too sapient. He'd break before the creature did. He beat his hand against the dunes of the sand, feeling utterly useless... But perhaps not too useless. He shifted focus from the Troll to Gwen, protecting herself from the falling debris. The Troll had been on his way to finish what he started.

Maybe he didn't have to fight it. His guildmates were hardier than he was, and Sven was currently doing his best against the creature. He'd only get in the way with his antlers and his staff, and though the realization stung, there was nothing he could do about it. But he wasn't going to just sit by and watch. His new position suited him well, it had been a while since he'd be on all four legs. Though his fat fingers and thick legs were ungangly for this. That could be remedied. His arms and legs began to shift, thinning and enlongating. Four sets of fingers and toes shifted into cleft hooves, heavy bones became lighter. His pale skin recieved a new sheath of tan fur, and his nose stretched into a snout. His eyes totally darkened until nothing of Percy remained but the antlers, and in his place stood a stag.

The fullshift took a lot out of the boy, a pink tongue hung freely from the side of the deer's mouth. Perhaps changing into something with fur while in the hottest part of the desert wasn't the wisest decision, but he had a plan. Tufts of sand flew upward from where the deer stood, the creature shooting off toward Gwen. He was faster than the busy troll-- he'd be faster than the dumb brute even if Sven wasn't dealing with him. No one could outrun him in this form. Tired as he may have been, he could never forget the exhiliration that came from running freely in this form. If he was able, he'd be laughing. He danced around what was left of the falling debris and came to a halt beside Gwen, issuing a loud grunt, and shook his antlers at his back. Knowing the girl, she'd take him up for the thrills alone.

Who wouldn't want to ride a deer?

Vivi had managed to cut down her last orc before the Sand Troll appeared. A quick spin to the side of the orc, a swift kick to the side of the knee, buckling it, and the coup de grâce of decapitation-- she loved this dance. She was a wild dervish amid a whirlwind, a bandit princess with joy of the fight pressed upon her lips. There was no better place to be than inside a good tussle, and the tussle only went from good to great when the sand troll appeared. The sand muffled the gleeful squee, though it could do nothing to hide the sparkle in her eyes. She reversed the grip on her sword and sped off to meet steel with beast-- though Sven beat her to it. With his shotgun. Well, if there was a grander way to garner a beast's attention, she'd yet to recognize it. Kethyrian's name was something she recoginized. She tossed her gaze around trying to locate the Feydusk-- she'd be damned if her friend was the only one to have fun.

Bricks and mortar pelted against her back and sides, but the curl she’d tucked herself into protected her from the worst of it, though she was going to be a mottled canvas of splotchy purple bruises tomorrow. If she made it to tomorrow, anyway. The scarf still around her nose and mouth prevented her from inhaling too much of the stone dust, which was now clouding the area and making it hard to see. The sounds of the sand troll doing battle with someone were at once a relief and a worry—it meant she got to live a little longer, but possibly at someone else’s expense, and that would never do.

Pushing herself up onto her hands and knees, she ignored the fact that her hand was bleeding, as was the rest of her in a few spots where jagged rock had torn through her clothes. It could be worse. She’d been shot before, and had her arm incinerated and mangled by a rogue automaton. None of that had killed her, so she had this. Right? Right.

And she was pleasantly surprised to discover she wasn’t alone. A large deer of all things stood next to each other. She knew she recognized that rack—all puns fully intentional, misplaced as they were. [color=#C12283]”Nice timing, Spikey,”
she said, her voice a bit scratchy but otherwise fine. Reaching up, she used his antlers to leverage her swing onto his back. Her size was pretty negligible, so she hopefully wouldn’t slow him down too much. Her rifle, despite her best efforts, was currently in the sand somewhere, and she didn’t have the time to go looking. That in mind, she unholstered her clockwork pistol from its place on her thigh and cocked the hammer back.

”Right. Bring us in close, Spikey. I’m gonna show that troll why I get to be captain, and you’re gonna show everyone just how fast you can run, okay?” A devious grin spread its way over her fey features, and she held on tight with her legs. Hopefully she wouldn’t fall off. That would rather ruin the whole cavalry rescue thing they had going on here.

Kethy heard her name just as her latest opponent dropped. She was breathing heavily, lungs belabored by the dry heat of the air, something she was not at all used to. The sun's heat was unmistakably pradatory to someone like her, and it was taking its toll even now. Still, she straightened, ducking out of the way of another incoming swing. She knew who had summoned her, and she could guess at his intentions, but that didn't change the fact that there were at least thirty orc-populated yards in between them, and she couldn't make it over there in good time without some help.

Fortunately, help was not long in coming. Mordecai, running tactical analysis, understood what was going on, and with Sven acting to distract the sand troll, the automaton was free to plow through the orcish lines with brutal, graceless efficiency. "This unit advises haste, Mistress Kethyrian. It will clear the way forward." If there was something to be said for machines over flesh and blood people, it was that they knew how to make a point without all the double-meanings and deception, and she simply nodded, skirting the edges of his wake to come around behind the lieutenant. The troll was enormous, though thankfully rather slow, and it swung clumsily for them. Kethyrian tucked into a roll, coming up just on the other side of a large fist. She might have scrambled aboard, but it moved again, and though she might have caught on, its arms were long, and they needed to end this more directly.

"Don't think I have enough steam left to kill something this big," she informed Sven in clipped tones. "But I can sure as hell stun it. Throw me; I need to reach its head." She assumed those mechanical limbs of his could handle hurling someone of her negligible weight, after all, or else he could swap places with the automaton, who would definitely be able to. Granted, the plan put her at more than a little risk, but of that grand distraction brewing in the back had any sucess, she should be able to manage it.

To be fair, she also wasn't leaving him much room to argue, backing up a few yards to get a running start. If he could catapult her jump far enough, they might just survive this yet.

"Mother fucker," Theon huffed, rising to one knee after putting down yet another orc. He'd seen sand trolls before, mostly from a distance, and mostly from farsight. They weren't exactly something you went looking for if you had any regard for your life. It looked like something of a plan was shaping up. Well, if you could call the captain riding the deer boy while aiming a rifle combined with the wall crawler getting ready to be launched at the thing's head a plan. Still, it was better than nothing, and Theon was beginning to see a way he might be able to contribute.

He needed his duckfoot back. It had fallen out of his hand when he'd fired it into the nearest orc at the start of the fight, but if anything was going to be able to do damage to the sand troll, it was that. A four barreled hand cannon unloading into the roof of its mouth was bound to seriously fuck up the thing's head, right? Although, that idea depended on him being able to reach the damn pistol, reload it, and also being able to somehow get the troll on its back, or otherwise reach a position to shoot it in the mouth. He suspected his companions were already working on that.

The pistol had fallen near the base of a little sandy hill, now firmly occupied by the remaining orcs. He'd never get there in good time in his current condition. He was bleeding in several places, and probably several more he didn't know about. But the little lightning devil here looked to be in good shape. A quick little thing. She had just rolled smoothly away from a swinging axe and smacked the dull edge of her useless sword against an orc's skull when Theon whistled at her.

"Hey, new girl! Could use a hand!" His tone was not particularly polite, but she came anyway, sinking to a kneel in front of him so as to be at the same level, her chocolate eyes not hard at all beneath her mask. "What do you need?"

Honestly, it put him on edge that she was so willing to help someone who'd been nothing but a dick to her since they'd met. "My pistol," Theon said, pointing to where it lay. She probably expected him to want some kind of medical help, since the request to retrieve his pistol for him got a slightly harder stare from her. "Listen," Theon explained, getting impatient, "I don't know if you've been in one of these before, but they don't have happy endings. I'm just trying to make sure the ending doesn't involve all of our corpses baking in the sun, or that thing's belly."

Dio could see the logic in that. She didn't often take a liking to cold logic, but he was right. There was no pretty way for them to get out of this. She held no favor for the kill or be killed mentality, but at the very least, she wouldn't do the killing. Maybe there was no real difference, but maybe there was no real choice, either. She sheathed her scimitar across her back and took off towards the fallen weapon. She'd run faster with it put away.

A swift feint and a rapid change of direction got her around the first orc in her path, a forward leap and roll getting her over the sweeping blow of the second. Her sandals kicked up a small plume of dust and sand as she went, planting her right foot hard and sidestepping a great axe that thudded into the sand at her side. A knife flashed upwards from her left, and she spun opposite from it, leaning backwards to avoid the slash and pushing onwards. The next was directly in her path and too close to dodge, so her hand darted to her thigh and pulled the empty pistol, raising and sending a weak blast into his chest. It stunned him enough for her to slide between his legs, right to where the duckfoot pistol lay.

She snatched it up, surprised by how heavy it was, before turning and immediately vaulting onto the orc's back, the one she had just stunned. She pushed off his shoulder hard, flying over the next two, landing softly with a forward roll, and immediately colliding with a running orc she hadn't seen. The pair of them went down in a tangle, and with Dio's right arm occupied by the weight of the pistol, she was defenseless to the orc's left hook. The entire world seemed to spin in a circle, but she used the weight of the orc's body, the hot, sweaty feel of his skin, as an anchor, and when she found the shape of a head, she released all the lightning she could muster, frying him enough so that she could stumble away.

She did just that, staggering the short ways needed to be clear of the orcs. She then tossed the duckfoot forward to Theon's feet before falling forward on hands and knees, sucking in breaths. Theon scooped up the sandy hand cannon, popping all four barrels open and beginning the tedious process of reloading each one.

"Not bad, new girl."

The Lieutenant had only seen a brief glimpse of tawny legs and brownish-hooves kicking up clouds of dust. Perhaps, a tufted tail, as well. Had the Lieutenant had time, he'd of given it a second glance – no time for that, though, as he ducked underneath the sand troll again, keeping himself just a few steps ahead of the creature to avoid becoming one with the desert. The ugly-thing bellowed loudly, trumpeting wildly. The sound itself cut straight through to his eardrums, nearly causing him to clasp his hands to his ears to drown out the noise. Instead, the Lieutenant fired straight into his back, hoping to incapacitate it by injuring its craggy spine. No such luck. The creature merely trumpeted again, banging its colossal fists against the ground like a child suffering a tantrum. Things needed to progress much quickly if they needed to deal with this thing and slaughter the remaining orcs, or at least get their ranks under control and figure out what was going on. They couldn't deal with one, without having dealt with the other first.

He spotted Kethyrian making her way over, tucking into a crisp roll so that she was beside him. If she couldn't directly kill it, then stunning it for whatever length of time – maybe, bringing it to its knees in order to reach fleshier, more vulnerable parts, was the only option they had. It was the only thing that made sense, anyway. He didn't hesitate, didn't even stop to wonder whether or not it was a bad idea. Launching one of his companions through the air onto a bulky behemoth? Sure. He believed that she could do it without getting herself killed. Her competence was not something he'd come to doubt thus far, and he'd seen her perform far greater acrobatic feats. Thick fingers pressed a couple buttons behind his mechanical kneecap and the small of his inner elbow. They hissed sharply, releasing steam from their vents. The man stooped down on one knee, watching the creature beat its chest.

As soon as Kethyrian's foot touched his shoulder, as light as a feather, the Lieutenant straightened with alarming force, hands barely touching her midsection as he bodily threw her. Just as if he'd released a predatory bird from a gilded cage, effortlessly twisting his arm so that she could sail through the air. He'd never done something like that before. He'd have to commend her later.

Well, seeing the favisae go flying was as much a signal as they were probably going to get, and Gwen put Operation: Big Distraction into effect, pausing for just a moment with the absurd thought how do I steer this thing? before she remembered that it was Spikey and she could just tell him what she wanted. "Okay, two things: don't stop moving; I can shoot from nearly anywhere. And... go!" Spikey complied in a big way, applying a burst of speed that had her holding on with her knees as tightly as she could, aiming her pistol one-handed, the other gripping a backward-facing prong to keep herself more or less steady. The gun went off with a crack and a small puff of smoke, the lead ball inside headed right for the troll's face. Her aim had been to get it in the eye, and she succeeded, grinning like a madwoman when it let out a pained howl, though it soon turned to a wince. That thing had a set of pipes, didn't it?

Not a violent person by nature, she was able to set that aside and conceptualize this situation as shooting at a target. That might not be a good thing, but seeing as how she might be several times dead without it, she didn't trouble herself over it too much. Well, it was half-blind now, though she'd have to be careful with her next shot and avoid hitting Kethyrian, who was going to be up there shortly, in all likelihood. That was all right; she had faith in her shot. She could do it if she had to, and right now, it was looking like she might have to. If it was totally blind, and Thistle did whatever she was planning, they might be able to bring it down somehow for the others to get a better chance at.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Skybound Character Portrait: Percy Galath Character Portrait: Mordecai Character Portrait: Lohengrin Character Portrait: Kethyrian Tor Character Portrait: Theon Zeona Character Portrait: Vivian Zeona Character Portrait: Diomache Castillo

Earnings

0.00 INK

With a surge of power on the Lieutenant's part and an accompanying shot of gunfore from somewhere, Kethyrian found herself flying, or as close to it as a humanoid could achieve. Though perhaps the temptation was to flail her arms or panic at the sheer weightlessness of the sensation, she did neither, instead tucking her limbs in beside herself to streamline her passage. The launch was quick, and brought her to the sand troll's arm, onto which she latched without much difficulty, finding easy purchase in the masses of its coarse fur. It smelled like rot and ill-cleaned offal from previous kills (perhaps unwary orcs), but what nearly lost her her grip was the roar it produced. Gritting her teeth and resisting the urge to cover her ears, she felt herself lose hearing in one of them, a small trickle of blood seeping out of it and onto her neck. This, she ignored for the moment; it could be healed later.

The creature was far to preoccupied with a newly-useless eye to do much about her, and she set about a swift climb, scrambling up its bicep and onto its shoulder. Only then did the creature take note of her, catching sight of the climbing favisae out of the corner of the remaining ocular. She hissed, darting around onto its back as it swung a massive hand for where she'd been a moment before, smacking his own shoulder with jarring force. With the dexterity of a spider, she moved again, coming to perch, crouched, on his head. She wondered if he was stupid enough to try and hit that.

"Shoot again!" she shouted to whomever currently had the gun and the skill at aiming to take out an eye. If this thing was distracted by pain, she might have long enough to render it stunned without having to constantly scramble out of the way of its swatting.

You got it!" Gwen yelled in reply, taking aim a second time. With Thistle on the troll's head, it was going to be harder to hit without risking her, but on the other hand, it might not move as much, either. Pursing her lips carefully, she let go of Spikey's antlers. "Steady as she goes," she said, loud enough to be heard over the din. It was her way of saying that she'd prefer no distruptions like abrupt turns if possible. Her newly-freed hand moved up to reinforce her grip on the pistol, and in a smooth movement, she cocked the hammer and fired, a blooming red spot on the troll's face confirming the hit. "Ha! Yesss!" she allowed herself a moment of celebration, pumping her fist and then using the hand to pat Spikey's neck. Was that condescending? She didn't care; it was what he got for turning himself into a cute deer.

Lohengrin, catching on to where this was going, glanced around, spotting three people relatively close to him. Two of them even looked useful for what he was planning. It would do, anyway. "Hey tin man! You and the crazy chick head for that knee and hit it with all you've got! Big guy, you're with me-- if we can knock out both, someone besides the elf might be able to get a good hit in!" At least he'd follow his own advice; gripping the hot steel of his hand and a half in both palms, he charged forward, ducking elastically under a random swing from the blind troll and heading for the back of the troll's right knee. His blade, swung with all his strength, rebounded off the thick clumps of fur shielding the creature, and Lohengrin snarled, tossing the sword aside. Blunt damage would work better than trying to cut it.

But he was also willing to bet that it was flammable. He'd let the Lieutenant get a few good hits in first; no point burning the guy's hands.

The Lieutenant nearly crashed into the troll's tree-trunk leg as someone called his name (sort of, if big guy could be counted), slipping beneath the creature's legs just in time to avoid a wild swing full of craggy knuckles. He veered sharply to the right, sidling beside Lohengrin, whilst chambering his shotgun, one-handed. Knock out the knees? It seemed like a sound enough plan. He didn't care whether or not he “got a good hit in,” just as long as the damned thing slumped on its face and died – and soon, because the wouldn't be able to last forever battling such a relentless foe. Too stupid to rattle its thick skull, turn tail and walk back from wherever it came from. He followed Lohengrin, hurtling around the clumsy swing instead as the surprisingly limber man slipped underneath. He met him on the other side, curling around the troll's knobby knee. The Lieutenant's eyebrows furrowed in question when Lohengrin tossed his weapons aside, but he still took the opportunity to fire scattered rounds into the vulnerable flesh of what he assumed to be the knee-pit, though it was difficult to tell with all those folds. Clumps of flesh, sizzling hair and who-knows-what shlepped off in shreds. Once the steaming rounds puddled around his feet, the Lieutenant stepped backwards, eyeing Daisy (or was it another humiliating flower) enquiringly.

The other eye exploded into an indesciperable pile of gunk, and Kethyrian took her opportunity when she had it, sliding down a bit so she sat upon the troll's shoulder, reaching around its massive head with both arms in what looked a bit like some kind of grotesque hug. Really though, she was reaching for its temples, and once her fingers found these, she sucked in a deep breath, seeking out its vital signs and her own, dipping deep into the wellspring of magic that for some reason existed in some people and not others. Channelling it out her hands, she shoved with as abrupt a force as she could muster, attempting to interrupt whatever processes kept this thing conscious and in control of its own movements.

Something caught, like a thorn snagging silk, and the troll staggerd massively, barely remaining upright. Its grip on its club weapon slackened, and it sort of slumped at the shoulders, many of its muscles losing tension and weakening. She'd overdone it, though, she could tell: she was currently bleeding from the nose as well as her ear, and when she remembered to jump backwards off the beast, it was gracelessly. Perhaps fortunately for her rather delicate ego, she'd never know-- she lost consciousness halfway down. Well enough, her last thought went, she could survive an impact with mere sand.

The troll was faring almost as badly, unable to move its body as it commanded and reduced to exerting all the effort it could still muster to keep its knees locked and its body upright, it could do no more than make ineffectual, barehanded half-swings otherwise. These were unlikely to hit, even, blind as it had become.

Vivi never was good at listening. She watched as everyone but her converged on the Sand Troll and gave it everything they got. She turned to follow Redhead's advice scanning the desert for Mordy, but being useful didn't lessen the sting of having to aid another and not playing a pivotal role in the downfall of the Troll. Because of that, her facial expression shifted from giddy to sour. She raised her pistol and fired a volley into the creatures chest-- nothing, at least not compared to the Lieutenant's shotgun. A snarl snuck in to her lips, but her gait never slowed. If that couldn't get through then what in the hell was she supposed to do with Mordy?

That expression changed quickly Kethy wavered. The snarl turned into a worried frown and her gait quickened into an outright sprint. She put all of her power into her legs as the Feydusk's hands came loose from the Troll head, and then she dropped her blade and her pistol when she began to fall. She appeared under the Feydusk just in time to catch her. If it could even be called a catch. She didn't account for the physics, so when Kethy fell into her arms, she fell to the ground as well and slid back across the sand. Still, her objective was completed, and Redhead could go screw himself with his orders. She had her own.

"Dammit Kethy, you should have let me help," she cursed, ripping the scarf off of her face. Underneath it revealed a worried expression, as she tried her best to scramble back and away with Kethy. It would do no good if the damned thing fell on top of them after all that. Neither the impact nor the words were sufficient to snatch the feydusk from underneath the heavy shroud of unconsciousness, and it was perhaps a small blessing that her species were built so slight, as even someone of Vivian's size could drag her with enough effort.

Mordecai, on the other hand, was very good at listening, at least in this mode. The Sentinel function was designed with coordination in mind, and he recognized the logic in the order and thus followed it, peeling away in the opposite direction from Lohengrin and making for the troll's left leg. The blind flailing had weakened until it was little but a series of token movements, and it took no substantial effort to avoid the one swing that was even in his general direction and reach his destination. Drawing back, Mordecai gave himself a few steps worth of running start, probably unncessary but tactically sound all the same. He knew not exactly how much force would be required to break bones belonging to a sand troll, for he knew not their size or density. Clasping both of his fists together, he angled himself slightly, drawing his joined arms back to the level of his head.

As he blew past the troll, he brought his hands down like a hammer. The impact combined with his velocity would have dislocated both his shoulders and probably shattered his forearms and hands had he been made of ordinary flesh and bone, but as things stood, he was only slowed. The thud was loud, and he could discern a crack beneath it, though in all likelihood what he'd managed was only a hairline fracture. His aim had presumed a skeleton proportionally like a human's, but it seemed a few things were located a tad differently. No matter. Returning, he forewent the sprint this time, instead choosing several blows over one. Standing resolutely behind and to the inside of the leg, the automaton sought the small crack he had produced and raised another hand, though this time, he cracked down with his elbow. His other followed, a repetitive motion that gained speed. Like a fault line exposed to an earthquake, the fissure in the bone grew, a multitude of associated cracks spiderwebbing from the original break until at last, with one last well-placed hit, the troll's leg shattered. Thirty-seven seconds. Suboptimal, but acceptable.

Without the strength and mathematics necessary to replicate the automaton's maneuvers, Lohengrin would have to settle for something a little more... conventional. The shotgun rounds had been damaging, and with a little more, they might well be able to devastate. Stepping back a few feet, he eyed his surroundings to be sure that everyone who needed to be out of his radius was. Despite his uncaring attitude, he did not much care to incinerate anybody but this troll. Finding that he was clear for attack, the mercenary let a ruby-red flame in each of his hands, these smattered with the occasional tongue of gold or white, then brought his wrists together. The flames melded, his fingers forming a narrowed passage through which he directed the torrent, the cannon effect acting much like the barrel of a gun to increase the concentration of the attack, aimed right for the troll’s kneecaps.

Adding to Sven’s considerable damage, the fire burned away at hair and flesh, the charred scent of living meat filling the air and Lohengrin’s nasal passages. He kept his mouth shut, from a poignant desire not to taste it as well, as the crackling of the fire grew ever louder. Fortunately, burning the entire limb off was not what was required, as that would have taken quite a bit of time.

With both of its legs entirely useless, the sand troll teetered for a moment, then began a fall that, given its size, seemed rather slow, as gravity gradually overtook it, sending it first to its ruined knees, and then tipping forward and left, given that that leg was weaker, being entirely shattered. Assuming the golem was on the alert, he wouldn’t be crushed into the sand. The troll landed with a muted boom, the impact absorbed largely with the sand, a large cloud of which was stirred up at its collapse. Lohengrin tightened the scarf around his face, glad now for its presence. Nobody wanted a mouthful of that.

Though the troll was down, it was still alive, and tried, despite its obvious weakness, to push itself up once again, using only its arms.

Theon walked rather calmly, all things considered, into the vicinity of the sand troll, his duckfoot pistol shutting with a loud snap. Not that anyone heard it, though, as they'd all need a day or two for their hearing to return to normal. The others had done a number on it, blinding it entirely and preventing it from standing, not for lack of trying. It was panting pretty heavily when Theon got under it, moving slowly enough such that he could hope to avoid drawing attention to himself. The creature's disgusting mouth breathing was dripping blood and saliva about, but Theon managed to get himself to a position near its chest that granted him an angle on the roof of its mouth without getting covered in slime. Slowly, he raised four barrels and leveled them at the troll.

"Is what it is, buddy," he said, pulling the trigger. The shots tore up into the roof of the mouth, making a mess of things internally, and while they didn't burst out the top of the skull or anything, it was as though a bucket of brain matter and other gore was emptied out the thing's mouth. It teetered slowly for a moment on the arm it had put its weight on, a moment in which Theon hastily moved away. It fell flat down on its face seconds after, kicking up another thick plume of dust behind the scryer. He picked up his axe on the way back to the rest of the group.

"In hindsight, I probably could've warned you guys about that. Loudmouth behind me made an appearance in my vision, though I had no idea what the fuck it was at the time." He shrugged. "Doesn't really matter now, though."

“Not sure it would have helped anyway,” Lohengrin pointed out, poking the troll’s arm with the end of his sword. It was one thing to know there was a troll around, and another thing altogether to be prepared to fight it. Regardless, it was dead now, so he had to admit he didn’t care much either way. Glancing around, he checked to make sure everyone was still alive (looked like it, but the elf bitch was out cold, which surprisingly brought him no joy whatsoever), and then replaced the weapon on his back.

Gwen, who had dismounted Percy after giving him a pat on the neck, shook the sand from her newly-recovered rifle and grinned broadly. “Well, now that that’s all taken care of, follow me. I think I know where we’re going now.” Her time atop the ruined wall had given her a broader view of the surrounding area, and she’d seen a lot more stonework in one direction specifically. As soon as Kethyrian had been returned to consciousness and everyone more or less patched up for the moment, the captain led them over the scorching sands, bypassing a few smaller stone ruins and hauling themselves over a few dunes until they came at last to a small valley between heaps of sand. There, laid out before them, was a series of small ruins, at the center of which lay an archway that would look quite familiar to Theon.

Passing under it would bring them all within sight of a flat stone surface. Roughly circular, it appeared to contain rings within rings: on the outside, nine plain, black circles of slate edged the pattern, each perhaps two feet in diameter. Inside that were five more circles, their centers occupied by massive gemstones, lined in mother-of-pearl, the same colors as the ones had been on the door—ruby, sapphire, emerald, citrine, and pale opal, at least six inches per gem. The emerald was lit as though from within, visible even in the stark sunlight. These were arranged around a center circle, this one a large five feet across and a dimly-shifting, smokey off-white.

“Well,” Gwen said matter-of-factly, placing her hands on her hips, “That looks important.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Skybound Character Portrait: Percy Galath Character Portrait: Mordecai Character Portrait: Lohengrin Character Portrait: Kethyrian Tor Character Portrait: Sven Diederich Character Portrait: Theon Zeona Character Portrait: Vivian Zeona Character Portrait: Diomache Castillo

Earnings

0.00 INK

Walking through a dream was a strange experience.

It was one thing to go to a place in his mind by will, look around, and then actually visit that place, but this place had come to him. It had called in his sleep, shown him things he'd never seen before, and he had come running, the promise of whatever great purpose awaited him pushing his feet onwards. And there was certainly no other reason he'd willingly drag himself out into this hellhole, to fight orcs and sand trolls with a bunch of people he still didn't particularly like. At least they could pull their own weight.

Dio had temporarily forgotten she was in the middle of a desert that could easily kill her, her attention snared instead by the massive gemstones on this stone surface. "How much do you think these are worth?" she wondered idly. It didn't really matter, there probably wasn't any way they could get them out, apart from blowing up the entire table, if any of them had any kind of explosives on them. Even then, she didn't think she'd want to; this thing was beautiful, like nothing she'd ever seen. Her mother would have sold her into slavery to have it on display. Although, perhaps she would just want the gemstones, the rest looked rather archaic. Percy didn't say anything, as he couldn't in his current form. Buck grunts made for poor communication, though he made his displeasure known nonetheless. He leveled his animilistic black eyes on the girl and just stared. She was not selling these, not while he still drew breath. They were priceless artifacts, and they belonged in a museum at worst, not on some black market. He'd much rather just leave them alone and study them from afar.

"Something's up with the green one," Theon said, before hauling himself on top of the surface. His dream had shown him this, too, that the emerald gemstone would be glowing, but all that had really done had prepared him for the sight of these ridiculous gemstones, which meant he wasn't drooling over them like the bleeding heart thief was. He crouched down over it, trying to see if there was anything inside it. "The dream didn't bother showing me what to do with this thing," he said, scowling.

Gwen hopped up onto the raised surface, ogling the gems with obvious interest, though honestly it had more to do with how the whole thing was laid out than how much it was probably worth. Not that she was going to let on, of course. “Probably more than the Elysium, all together and intact." It really was amazing, even if she didn’t particularly know what to do with it. She headed for the big circle in the center, passing over one of the smaller outside ones as she went. She missed what this produced, but Lohengrin didn’t.

“Hold up, tiny—” he blurted, reaching up and over to grab Gwen by the trailing end of her scarf. At the resistance, she stopped, looking down at him with a raised brow. He used his free hand to point at the plainer circle she’d just passed over. “Step on that again.” He tugged, and she sighed, backtracking to do as he’d insisted, only to find that, when she trod on the outer circle, it lit up as though from beneath, the shifting light echoing what Theon was no doubt seeing staring deep into the emerald. Gwen removed her foot, and the glow died. Crouching, she tried her hand—more light.

“Wow, that’s really neat. Does the big shiny green one do anything when you poke it?” she asked of the Scryer.

"It's reacting to what you're doing," Theon said, watching the innards of the emerald swirl about with a shifting light. He rapped on it a few times with his knuckles, and the emerald responded to that too, the light rippling away from his touch like he was disturbing water. "Huh," he said. "Well... is this a puzzle or something? I've never seen anything like this before, but I'm not sure what the point is yet." Vivi leaned over Theon's shoulder as he tapped the emerald, then she shrugged. She was absolutely horrid at puzzles, but she did have a suggestion... "Start pressing stuff until something happens?" Ah, the wisdom pouring off of that one.

And now everyone was trampling on them. Thankfully, shifted as he was, he couldn't admonish the party and sit them down for a speech on the caution and care needed when dealing with such artifacts. If bucks could sigh, Percy tried his best to do so. Using his powerful limbs, he too vaulted up to the surface and watched as his compatriots fumbled around and touched everything with their fat hands. He slowly paced around the circumference of the platform, examining it and trying to ascertain-- as the brute said-- the point of this puzzle. He felt... Invigorated by this room. A piece of ancient history it was, something that a soul hadn't stepped in centuries, if not more. He'd never heard anything about it, but the planet the lived on was rife with such mysteries. It made him all but forget the incident with sandtroll outside.

Kethyrian was not so quick to forget the sand troll. Thankfully, it hadn't taken her long to regain consciousness, though the more she thought about it, the more it seemed that being knocked out would be infinitely preferable to walking around in this damn desert. She could practically feel her skin cracking, and she was nearly blind under the harsh light. The shade of the chamber they'd just opened was actually a welcome relief, and she slumped against a wall, watching the others all marvel over the stone circle. She could admit that it was pretty, after a fashion, and she knew probably better than most how much skill it would have taken to cut gems of that size and lustre, but unlike Percy, any academic curiosity she might have had was drained away by the heat, and unlike Vivian, she didn't have much of a sense of adventure.

"If the green one's lighting up, why not the rest?" she put in from her corner, vaguely curious despite herself.

Mordecai, meanwhile, had refrained from actually stepping up onto the platform, but he did observe it from where he was standing. Given his height, it hit about the middle of his chest, which allowed him some vantage, anyway. Something that Mistress Kethyrian said struck him, and he glanced at the overall spread. "What if the rings are not isolated? Positioned so, this unit believes it makes much more sense to treat everything as an integrated system. If contact with the outer circles produces change in the inner crystal, perhaps contact with more than one at once would increase the reaction." As if to test his own hypothesis, Mordecai placed a hand at the center of a different slate circle. It may not work, as he was not organic matter, but even that would tell them something useful.

The circle Mordecai touched responded just as surely as Gwen’s did to her, and the emerald in front of Theon brightened when both dark grey circles lit simultaneously. “Well, that’s promising,” the captain said, moving herself around to try touching two at once. No luck. The one she’d lit first still glowed, but the second was unreactive. Relinquishing her contact with the first, she watched the second one light beneath her metal hand. “I guess… they need to be touched by different people? Hey Spikey, step on this other one here, next to me. Strawberry, you try that one.” She indicated a couple spaces over with a grin. “I wanna see just how many we can light up at once. Good thinking, Gadget!” she praised Mordecai, beaming over at the automaton.

“Whatever,” Lohengrin grumbled, pulling himself indelicately up onto the platform. Sometimes he really hated this damn body. It was so awkward. With a put-upon sigh, he stepped on the circle the blonde pilot had indicated, a bit but not very surprised when it, too, lit. That meant three were currently illuminated, and—sure enough—the green one was getting brighter. He did a quick count, and his eyes narrowed to suspicious slits. “There are exactly nine. How convenient.” He might have said something else, but it appeared his tongue wasn’t going to let him, sticking resolutely to the roof of his mouth until he abandoned the effort to say what he was thinking. Fuck.

Still too exhausted to shift back into his humanoid form, Percy nodded his antlered head and trotted toward one of the unoccupied circles, whereby his contact lit it up like a firework. Perhaps it was fortunate he was still in his shifted form. If he had a tongue that could speak, no doubt it would consist of fawning over the ancient technology beneath their feet. However just because he did not have a tongue to voice his admiration, that was all he could think about. No answers were given by this room, only questions, and what curious questions they were. Who built the device, where did they go, why in the middle of the desert? All questions he was afraid to go unanswered, though he was not sad. He was happy for the mere opportunity of witnessing.

As if Theon needed anymore assurance that he was a very, very important person meant to do very, very important things. He stood back from the big emerald gemstone, picking one of the currently unoccupied rings to stand in. "Do you think it matters which one we stand in?" he asked. They all looked to be the same size. Theon's own ring began to glow, and it looked to be the same as the others. He frowned slightly, but couldn't be all that disappointed. He would have to settle for being one of the pretty damn important people, instead of being the most important person.

"One for all of us, and all the same," Dio said, nimbly hopping up and into her own ring, smiling a bit when it too lit up like the others. "I like it. Come on, everybody up." Mordecai, wearing an ingenue's smile at the fact that he seemed to have done something correctly, was only too inclined to comply, and hopped properly up to stand on the platform, careful not to chip the edges of the stone. He weighed a fair bit more than a human of comparable size would, after all. Stepping fully onto his circle, his participation meant a full six were lit, as Kethyrian had elected to remove herself from her shaded corner and take up one of the empty spots as well.

"You too, Sunshine," Gwen singsonged in Sven's general direction.

Important, non-important. Hero, villain. One who paved through history or one who was left forgotten, marooned out of bard-like tales and cheated of his accomplishments. Honestly, the Lieutenant couldn't have cared less about any of it. He did not know the future, but believed stolidly that he didn't take any personal interest in it either. Adventure, wealth, curiosity and history were all well and fine—but, when you were older, things always seemed less appealing. He stood a few feet away from the group, thick arms crossed over his chest. Thankfully, the blistering heat hadn't been able to infiltrate their location. Lidded eyes regarded the lifted platforms, and the luminescent green orb. If anyone figured it out, it would probably be Percy (or Mordecai for that matter), but if they wanted to press buttons until the thing responded, they were free to do so. Waiting quietly and unobtrusively suited him just fine. It was only when Dio suggested that they should occupy all of the pedestals, as well as Gwendolyn's invitation, that Sven made to move. He stepped forward, climbing onto an unoccupied space. The mossy light, in turn, seemed to glow brighter.

Vivi skipped her way over to the last remaining circle.

As soon as Vivian’s foot touched her circle, the emerald flared so brightly that Gwen was forced to shut her eyes against its radiance, and the room they were in began to tremble. At first, it was only a subtle thing, a small vibration that served to clear a little of the remaining sand from the platform, but then the high-pitched keening sound began, and it and the vibrations seemed to enter into a kind of sensory-overloading feedback loop: as the whine grew louder, the tremors grew more violent, until there was no space in between them at all. The sound altered, a cascade of notes forming at great volume, and the large circle at the center of the entire arrangement lit up.

At first, it was still the smoky, pearlescent sheen it had had before, but as the melody began to form, the light from the emerald seemed to bleed outwards, tracing in a very definite pattern cut into the stone shelf they stood upon. As though it were liquid rather than light, the bright green illumination ran in tracks, cut into the stone and heretofore covered by sand, spreading outwards until crisscrossing lines of marvelous complexity had reached each of the circles upon which the none were standing (or not standing, as the case may be). At this point, however, it no longer mattered.

So, too, did the light spread to the middle, and it bled into the center stone, tinting the radiance there with viridian hue. The light rose, into a peridot-colored column that looked almost solid, and something began to take shape within, the darker shadows moving over the surface receding inward and coalescing into a single mass. That conglomeration shifted, amalgamated, and those with care to look would note that it seemed to gain texture in its forming. As the keening reached a crescendo, the column of light exploded outwards with a sound like stone on steel, washing over each of those present and bathing them in the warmth of sunned rock, the smell of verdant forestry, and for a halcyon moment, they could see this place as it had once been—a city, built into the mosses and trees and stone of a lush forest, lacking the wetness of Deluge but none of its vibrancy. At the edges of their shared vision flickered indistinct humanoid shapes, and above them soared the unmistakable silhouettes of dragons, as free and beautiful as they had surely been in long-forgotten days of glory.

But then it was gone, and when their eyes adjusted once again to what actually lay before them, they found that, at the center where the light had been, was a squat figure. It appeared to be made entirely of stone or petrified wood, but its color was hardly so dull as to be describable as merely brown. Veins of green, red, blue, silver, gold, and even royal purple striated the creature seemingly at random, all the colors deep and lovely. The being itself was not more than four feet tall, though vaguely humanoid in that it seemed to be comprised of stones shaped after arms, legs, a torso, and a head. The head was elongated though, protruding a bit behind it and tapering to a rounded point. Where eyes would have been on another creature, it had emeralds, almond-shaped and aglow with the same light that still infused the green gemstone on the platform.

When it spoke, its voice was like the grinding of the stone that comprised it: low, raspy, and, if one could put a gender to such a being, masculine. “Greetings, Chosen,” it said, ponderously, as though each syllable had to be chewed over several times before it was spat out. “You have been long in coming.”

"Bullshit," Theon said, quirking an eyebrow. "We came as soon as we knew to. I've been waiting for you for twenty-seven years. Maybe it was your message that was long in coming." His words were perhaps not a true reflection of how he felt at the moment, which was extremely impressed, and slightly overwhelmed. Whatever he had just seen must have been powerful magic, to have survived this long and to perform something like that. Still, he hardly knew what to think, as he stared at this... thing, that was in front of them all.

"Do you mind if I ask what you are?" Dio asked significantly more politely, pulling her mask down away from her face when she spoke to him. If he could be called a him. He sounded manly enough.

"And why we're here," Theon finished for her. He crossed his arms, studying the thing that had deigned to call him Chosen. He was all for the idea of being chosen among the masses, and certainly didn't mind the thought that he was superior to them all, but some sort of confirmation of this couldn't hurt. What made this thing special enough as to know who the Chosen were, and to tell them what to do with their lives, assuming that was what this was all about? "Why us?" Theon thought differently of himself, of course, but some of the others were frankly somewhat unremarkable. Were they plucked at random? The term "chosen" seemed to imply otherwise.

The being shook its head, or what would pass for its head were it human. The grinding sound was faint, but still present. “Nay, Chosen. I have waited eons for you, in slumber.” Theon shook his head slowly. "Sorry I took so long to be born, then," he murmured, under his breath. The being appeared to focus on Dio for a moment, as though deciding how to answer her question. This took longer than one might have expected, especially for what seemed a relatively simple question. Still, Gwen thought, if the answer was true, it was quite impressive. “I am stone. I am forests and soil and growing green things. And I am old, dying.” The sheer weight of the words slumped even her shoulders, tireless enthusiasm muted for the grief in what he said.

“You’re a Guardian.” That came from Lohengrin, and though it was spoken more as a statement than anything, there was a note of inquiry on the end of it. The mercenary looked solemn, but for once his demeanor bore no haughtiness or anger. Indeed, he was contemplating bowing, prostrating himself on the stone, because he understood what this creature was, but even his battered pride would not quite allow something like that. This thing was important to them, and he was no longer as they were.

“I am. Or was. There is precious little left to guard.” The stone-man straightened a bit, turning about slowly so as to look at them all in sequence. What he thought of what he saw, it was impossible to say, as he had no obvious features with which to express any such emotions, and he did not pass any judgement aloud. “You saw… what I showed you. Once, all of the world was like it. Now, the encroaching sand covers much, and the Lady’s blood runs dry. I wither, and I rot, as do the others. This is why you are here. This is why you were chosen. Your world loses vitality, and the only way to save it is to save Her.” Another pause.

“I know not why She chose you, but the choices you make will save Her, or they will end us all.”

Kethyrian blinked at the mention of the Lady. She’d never been all that religious, but it was quite difficult to get something so engrained out of one’s system, and the mention of the ancestral goddess of her people was enough to draw her attention. She thought back to what this creature had shown them… those figures in the sky had been dragons, and the ones at the edges… Inflectori, perhaps? If so, it had been eons in truth. If that place was now this one… it was hard to imagine such massive change, from forest to desert, even over such a great span of years. “This whole Chosen business is one thing, but what does it have to do with Myrddin and the king? If I’d just been captured by some pompous noble, I wouldn’t send my only chance at escape to save the world from something else.” And how would the old man have known, anyway? She wasn’t seeing the connection.

Personally, Mordecai thought this was the kind of thing that humans and favisae and dwarves and so on got chosen to do. Automata were not the stuff of legends and heroes’ tales. He would know—he had knowledge of a great many of them. In none were things like him even featured. But… if this being was made of stone and was so important as it seemed, perhaps he, made of metal and wires and false skin, could be important, too? He’d never felt important before. He wasn’t even sure what that was supposed to feel like. Yet here he was, standing on a lit circle just like the rest, and his was no less aglow than any of the others.

“This unit requests clarification,” he put in politely. “Why did the script on the wall lead it and the others here? Does it pertain to the mention of keys?” It seemed the most logical conclusion, and Mordecai was nothing if he was not logical.

“Then it was Myrddin who sent you,” the creature mused. “That is good; he has long been an ally of the Guardians. I know nothing of human kings any longer, dark one. If there is a connection, it is not one I can make. This task needs to be completed, and he has set you on the path. For this, I owe him a debt.”

At Mordecai, the Guardian seemed to stare for a long time. It made little indication of why—perhaps it sensed his internal structure and was interested by it. Whatever the case, the gravel-voice answered this query with more certainty. “I am the first. To all of us you must go, and retrieve the keys to the door. Behind it, you will find what you need, what the Lady needs.” Waving a hand in front of him, the Guardian seemed to conjure something from nowhere. Upon inspection, it was a stone object about the length of Gwen’s forearm, cut from what must have been a truly massive emerald. Nearly translucent, it was the expected deep green color, and shaped so as to have a triangular handle at one end and jagged “teeth” at the other. It wasn’t exactly a conventional key, but it looked like it would fit the massive subterranean door well enough.

“Reaching here and defeating the Sand Troll that nested nearby required cunning and intelligence. Each further test will require it as well, but each will also ask of you something else. Reaching the end will not be easy. If there is anything else you would ask of me, ask now, before my strength fades.” A large, stony digit moved, and the key hovered in the air, floating until it came to rest in front of Percy. “Keep it well, earth-child. If it is lost, then so are you.”

Well, that was as good a cue as any to ask the obvious question, and without anything in the way of pride or shame to speak of, Gwen felt perfectly fine asking it. "So, Mister Rocky, sir... where exactly are we supposed to go now?" She wasn't sure humor worked on rocks, but she flashed a dazzling grin all the same. Stone Guardians were people, too, right? Well, she was just going to go ahead and assume they were. She already counted Gadget as a person, how different could this be? She ignored the slightly-wiser segment of her personality, which was busy informing her that it was probably quite different.

It was unclear whether the Guardian approved of her attempt to lighten the mood or not, but at least he answered. "You must go north, to the Source of the World. The next of my kind awaits you there, with the Ice Key."

Sometime between now and when the Guardian first appeared, Percy had shifted back into his halfshift, though he was too enthralled by the being to say anything. It was... a creature, born from the light. Made from stone, it was unlike anything Percy had even heard of, let alone seen. When it spoke, Percy listened with awed attention. Enough that he almost couldn't hear Theon's rude comments. And every word it spoke opened new doors. They were chosen. This had been a test. There were others, mention of the Lady. It was magnificent. There were so many questions, there wasn't nearly enough time left ifor the for him to ask all he wanted. He couldn't even think of his first question, and such the others asked for him. Then the being summoned the key, where it hovered in front of him. Percy hesitated for a moment before carefully plucking it out of the air. There he turned the magnificent emerald over in his hand before he nodded graciously.

"Th-thank you," Percy stammered out. "What... what test awaits us there?" He added.

Vivi had since grown bored of the creature and had approached closer in order to better inspect him. She silently hovered behind it, picking out the variety of pretty colors running through him and just seemed rather unenthused about everything else.

If the creature was perturbed by Vivian's presence, it made no obvious signs of it. Instead, it seemed to cock its head to one side, and then answered Percy's inquiry in the same gravelly tones. "That, I may not say. It is not for me to disrupt the domain of another of my kind. You must depart now, Chosen. Your time, as mine, grows short."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kethyrian Tor Character Portrait: Diomache Castillo

Earnings

0.00 INK

Well. This entire operation grew more complicated by the hour, didn’t it? Kethyrian was not one to indulge overmuch in the deeply-rooted superstitions of her people, but her mother had been an ardent believer in the Lady, and perhaps something subconscious about the whole affair had stuck in her mind. Whatever the case, hearing what was at stake had made everything they were doing seem so much more… purposive. The favisae was quite sure she’d given up her personal ambitions a long time ago, and the promise of glory, of being a hero, didn’t entice her… much. It would certainly be nice to have something to throw in the faces of certain relatives, even if she never actually took the chance to do it.

Surprisingly more compelling was the entreaty to save Her. It was initially a strange and jarring concept, she decided, forking another bite of whatever the cook was serving into her mouth and chewing pensively. She was too absorbed in her thinking to really taste it, though as a rule, it wasn’t as bad as she’d expected of airship fare. The Lady was accorded such a level of reverence that it was hard to imagine anything being able to threaten Her, let alone to the point that She needed saving. The Guardian had spoken so casually, taking her existence as simple fact, no question about it. She might have been skeptical of that, but after what she’d seen, what she’d been shown, she wasn’t sure skepticism was the smart response here.

Was a fallible goddess still a goddess, or something else? Kethyrian frowned, the question making her discontent, partly because she didn’t know the answer, and partly because it was not the kind of thing that she really desired to be relevant to her life. Appealing or not, the notion of grand adventure and heroic action produced more disdain in her than anything. It wasn’t something she really wanted anything to do with… right?

Dio was not really interested in the rewards of heroic action, but rather the heroic action itself. The way she'd joined this group had been almost on a whim, as it had been an opportunity that had just seemingly randomly been presented to her, and she took it up because nothing else was required of her, and because it seemed like a worthy cause, saving the world and all that. But after venturing into the heart of the desert, and standing on a platform with her eight companions, where there had clearly been nine spaces laid out for them, she couldn't help but feel strangely right, sitting at the bow of the airship as she was. She was supposed to be here now, she didn't just want to be here now. She didn't particularly like the idea that her course had somehow already been set for her, but the Guardian implied that there were choices ahead. Whatever they were, Dio would strive to make sure she made the right ones. She wondered if she'd have to sway any of her companions on that front.

Her stomach rumbling reminded her of what she was supposed to be doing, and that was eating. The fight back down on the surface hadn't been the easiest she'd ever been through, and the use of her powers had left her a little drained. A hot meal would do her good, no doubt. To that end, she cheerily got up and made her way down to the mess hall, saying hello to a few of the crew as she passed. Most of them didn't say much back, but that was okay.

Dio had traded combat gear for loose fitting garb, and her sandals flapped against the soles of her feet as she strode into the mess hall. The hat she wore over her hair was a dark, royal purple, but the simple fashion in which it had been crocheted implied anything but royalty. She went and poured herself a bowl of beef stew before taking a look around and searching for somewhere to sit. A good meal was never eaten alone, and some of the best friends the thief had around the world were made over breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

She spied Kethyrian, the quiet Favisae woman, sitting all by her lonesome, seemingly deep in thought, and Dio certainly couldn't blame her, what with the revelations of the day. She was no follower of the Lady herself, though she was as close to that religion as any other. Spending a year underground, she had learned much about the Favisae people, and the idea that they were to save such a revered being was no doubt hard for her to wrap her head around. It occurred to Dio, as friendly as she was, that she might want to talk about it to someone, because talking about things that bothered her seemed to be a good way to figure out a way around them.

"It's good to be back in the air, don't you think?" she asked pleasantly, with a warm smile to match, as she took a seat across from Kethyrian. "I've never really been comfortable with the desert, even less so recently." That brought up that other thing Dio meant to ask her about. She'd been hoping the Favisae woman would explain how she knew about the Zar'Thrak saving her life, but so far she'd said nothing. She was certain she'd have remembered her if Kethyrian had been there. With that hair of hers...

Kethyrian looked up from her meal with the faintest hint of surprise upon being talked to. She’d rather thought she’d successfully convinced everyone but Vivian that she wasn’t at all pleasant to speak with, but… ah. The girl. That explained it. There were people in the world who could take hints, and there were those who could not. The question that remained was whether Dio was here because she could, and had picked up on the fact that they were previously acquainted (after a fashion), or because she couldn’t, and was like Vivian too energetic and friendly to care that Kethy would rather not partake in conversation.

“I would expect you are not,” she confirmed bluntly, then took another bite before continuing. “Nor am I. It is bright, it is dry, and it is hot. Caves are much the opposite.” And it was rather obvious that Kethyrian had been made for caves. Photosensitivity and skin that dried out in miserable heat were not a comfortable combination, and she had not been oblivious to the fact that she fared worse than most of them out there, going so far as to stand in Sven’s shadow in an attempt to stave off the worst of it. Something humiliating enough that she would not have normally contemplated it.

"On the bright side," Dio said, after taking a spoonful of soup, "I do believe it'll be much cooler where we're going. No sand at all." Leave it to Dio to find the bright side in that. They were likely to freeze their tails off at the Source of the World, she expected. Perhaps it would be a nice change of pace.

"I've actually been curious... how you knew me, and how you knew what I'd gone through," she said, preferring just to cut to it. She suspected that was how Kethyrian preferred to converse by now, judging by what she'd heard her say (or how little she'd heard her say) previously. She lowered her voice, as she did consider this somewhat a private matter. The Favisae were private people, and did not have all that much contact with the other species. The Zar'Thrak's choosing to not only save her life but allow her to stay for an entire year was not usual.

"The Zar'Thrak let me stay for a year after I woke," she said, scratching at the back of her neck. "I'm certain I would have at least met you in that time, and that I'd have remembered you. None of the others had hair like yours..." She spoke the last sentence more quietly than the others, as she had learned enough of the Favisae to know what Kethyrian being striped meant. Until she knew the woman's opinion on her own birth, she'd try to tread lightly around it.

There was a silence from the favisae for a while after that, the downturn of her mouth growing slightly more pronounced at the delicate mention of her rather obvious bastard status, but then she shrugged. “I’m the reason the Zar’Thrak were there in the first place,” she said, meeting the other woman’s eyes for the first time during the conversation. “As I am sure you learned, they are the most accomplished scouts among our people. An exit was required, one that led out into the desert. For you, it became an entrance.”

She had no intention of giving the reason the exit had been sought for her, but she figured that Dio had as much right to her own story as anyone else, and Kethyrian happened to have a part of it that the thief would not remember. “You were dehydrated and unconscious when they found you. Zar’Thraki scouts do not often travel with healers.” She raised a clawed hand, folding in every finger but the index, and used it to point to herself.

“They let me stick around long enough to make sure you didn’t die. After that, it was off to the surface for me. I expect they wanted to make sure you weren’t a spy before they released you, but a year is irregular, yes.” She shook her head dismissively. Whatever reasons they’d had were none of her concern, anyway.

So she saved her life? Dio probably should have been expecting that, considering that the woman was a skilled healer and all, but... this changed everything, didn't it? Didn't it? It seemed like it should. She truly remembered nothing of that day beyond a few hours of stumbling in the desert. Heatstroke and dehydration had taken care of the rest. She couldn't help but wonder why they had never told her of Kethyrian, but if she'd had to leave, it was probably for good reason.

"You saved my life," Dio said after swallowing, as though Kethyrian hadn't just made that obvious. "I-- thank you, you certainly didn't have to do that, you had no reason to trust me. I'll make this up to you. I don't know if anything I could do would be sufficient, but I will definitely try. I'm good at making hats, I suppose. If you want one, I could make one, it'll get cold up north, a hat would keep your ears warm..." She was rambling a bit, but it wasn't every day that someone saved her life out of the goodness of their hearts, and Dio did her best to reward goodness in hearts when she could.

Kethyrian blinked, fixing Dio with a flat golden stare. Cocking her head to one side, she scrutinized the younger woman, as though trying to figure something out. When she had concluded her examination, however, she shook her head. “That will not be necessary,” she said brusquely. The thief’s intentions seemed honest enough, but suspicion was not the reason she was refusing anything in return. “I do not accept payment for healing. Even what the guild pays me is for the other applications of my magic.” Namely, the ones that involved killing with it.

She wasn’t sure how best to explain that, or even if she should, but something told her that unless the reasons were sufficiently clear, Dio wouldn’t simply let the matter drop and abide by her wishes. Humans were like that, sometimes, unable to see the practical around their notions of things like reciprocity and honor. Useless, all of them, but then perhaps not fatally so in a society where excess was possible. So Kethyrian sighed through her nose and gave it her best shot. “Healing is done because it is necessary. Death is a waste, and favisae waste nothing. We cannot afford to kill even our criminals. These labor, or, if their crimes are grave enough, are sent away, for even then there is a chance that they might contribute something, somewhere. That I healed you was only proof that they are correct.” After all, if they’d killed her, Dio probably would have died as well, another waste that need not have been.

“Unless you would repay a fish for swimming or a river for flowing, do not repay me for healing. It is what I am, not what I do.”

"What's your favorite color, Kethyrian?" she asked, smiling expectantly.

The favisae’s lips compressed into a thin line. It would appear that she had been thoroughly ignored. This was a road she had tread many a time with Vivian, however, and she had learned that relenting was the best way to make it stop. “…purple,” she replied in a monotone. “But I swear before the Lady, if the hat has bells or puffy anything, I’ll undo everything I did to help you.”

"Oh, if only I had bells..." Dio sighed wistfully, before realizing something. "Oh! You know who would have bells? Gwen. I bet Gwen would give me some. You'd jingle with every step!" She looked to be struggling to keep a straight face, and soon failed altogether, snickering a little to herself. "I kid, I kid. How's this one?" she flicked her eyes up, to the hat currently on her head, of plain design and a rich, dark purple in color. "I could make one just like it for you. We could match. Think of it as a gift, not payment. I like giving gifts. I do it all the time."

Really, she understood where Kethyrian was coming from, and she wholly approved of the ideal. It was one of the things she'd found so compelling about the people, that they were willing to give even their criminals a chance to make use of themselves, to contribute in some way. If people weren't allowed to show the best in themselves, there really wasn't a point. And honestly, this had really become more just about her wanting to make a hat for someone than anything. She had dozens for herself already, and really hadn't had cause to make any more lately. But she'd really have to make a neat one with some of Gwen's accessories sometime...

Rolling her eyes, Kethyrian leaned forwards and propped her chin on the heel of a hand. “I doubt very much I could stop you,” she said bluntly, raising a snow colored brow. “So do what you like. The color is quite… satisfactory.” It was, actually, being rather a favorite shade of hers, right after the slightly lighter, redder amethyst. She doubted very much that yarn came in quite that color, besides. A thought struck her, then, and she almost smiled.

“I suggest, however, that if you ever make one for our resident scholar, you include holes for the antlers.” The mental image lit a spark of amusement somewhere behind her eyes, present enough to even be observable. It seemed she was feeling rather personable today, at least compared to her usual self. Dio laughed once, imagining how that would look. "I'll keep that in mind."

She found herself quite pleased with how that had gone. Great things were often begun over breakfast, lunch, and dinner indeed.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Skybound Character Portrait: Mordecai

Earnings

0.00 INK

The cockpit of the Elysium was not at all a cramped space, actually. Perhaps this was due to the rather towering size of the first mate, or perhaps its design was an even mix of luxury and efficiency, something only her father could manage so deftly. Gwen would have been fine with crawlspaces and cramped chairs, as long as she could coax the vessel to speed enough. At least, were it not for Sunshine. And maybe, something about having a control room this big was good for her persistent desire for company as well. Whatever the case, Gwen was presently letting Gorlak handle the actual piloting, and reclining in one of the other chairs, this one actually attached to the floor near the seldom-used communications console. She’d wheedled and whined at her dad until he agreed that all the chairs in this room had to be swivel-type, even if they were bolted to the floor for stability.

Gwen could only tolerate so much stability in her life, after all.

She picked up some raunchy sailors’ tune or another, though mercifully for the easily-embarrassed Gorlak, she kept it to a hum and invoked no actual lyrics. Last time, she’d started singing one about the second-most flexible woman in Deluge, and he’d flushed a most becoming shade of blue. She’d done it purely to test the theory that goblins’ blood was in fact that color. Personally, she though he should be thanking her—the other option was to leave something laying around for him to accidentally cut himself on. Simply asking hadn’t really crossed her mind; it was far too boring.

Drumming her fingers on her metal arm in staccato time, she contemplated standing on the chair, upside-down, to alleviate her current boredom, but decided against it. Gadget was on his way, after all—she’d asked him to meet her here so she could get a better look at him, and as she’d expected, he had no reason to refuse, and thus he had not. She’d had to promise Sunshine that she wasn’t actually going to open him up and look inside. Any tests she ran would have to be conducted from safely outside his skin. She had no idea why anyone would be so touchy about that—she wouldn’t have cared if some mechanical genius wanted to have a go at her arm, after all, as long as they put stuff back together the same or better than it had been and explained things as they went.

Mordecai had taken the opportunity presented by the team’s arrival back at the ship to wash the garments that had been covered in troll blood and offal—crushing his way down to the bones of the creature had not been the cleanest of occupations, honestly. Fortunately, there was plenty of water with which to do so still aboard the ship: either the captain stocked far too much, or she had been expecting a more prolonged stay away from the rivers.

Well… maybe not expecting. It was only intelligent to plan for several eventualities when so little of the situation was expressed in know factors and so much in variables. Mordecai assessed that there was a less than 12.3% chance that he would be prompted to reenter combat today, so he left his sturdier garments to dry and donned a light, loose shirt instead. His body was hardly at risk of overheating, but there was no need to tax his temperature-regulation systems unnecessarily. Even if they did run on solar power cells.

But the Captain had requested his presence in the control room, and it was there he now headed, mapping the most efficient course through the network of hallways in the bowels of the ship and up several staircases. For a ship of its speed, the Elysium was remarkably large. Or was that statement meant to be the other way around? He was unsure, and chose not to dwell on it.

Truthfully, he’d been initially wary when Mistress Gwendolyn expressed her desire to examine his capabilities. He was not precisely uncomfortable with his nature—indeed, he knew and accepted what he was better than perhaps most sapienlike biological organisms, but… even a machine could grow tired of being reminded of its own inferiority, he supposed. But there was something about the captain that was entirely without judgement, and she expressed eagerness to know more of him, something which was seldom the case with people. For most, he was simply a thing, that carried out certain tasks upon command. Perhaps they were correct, but… he found his emotional apparatus produced more enjoyable feelings when he was treated otherwise.

He entered the space after a polite knock, observing that the goblin engineer seemed to be piloting at the moment, while the captain lounged elsewhere. He was reminded in a strange way, of a housecat. His was not a mind usually given to metaphor, so the fact that he produced this association at all was rather pleasing to him. So his vocal modulation approximated pleasant cheer when he offered his greetings. “Good evening, Mistress Gwendolyn.”

His answer, such as it was, was a wrench, thrown at his face. The motion was surprisingly swift for one so apparently languid, but then Gwen thrived on being surprising. “Think fast, Gadget!” she chirped, fully expecting him to catch the object. She was interested, though, what his resting reflexes were like. And because she was Gwendolyn Skybound and not someone with a sense of dignity or reserve, she followed up by leaping out of her chair and straight at him, cocking her metal arm back for a punch and aiming squarely at his chest.

Mordecai’s reaction was automatic: a hand snapped up, snatching the thrown tool from midair before it became much of a threat to him at all. He was adjusting his focus to give her his best approximation of a quizzical look when he realized she was apparently not done, and that wrenches were not the only non-flying objects that sailed through the air around here. He was unsure how to interpret the hostile action, as it did not mesh cognitively with what he knew to be true of the captain. The logical conclusion was that this was some kind of test.

Without knowing what the passing or failing criteria were, he could not decide how to act, and in the end, he simply locked his joints in place, steadying himself against what was likely only going to be a negligible hit, though perhaps the steely limb would make matters more difficult.

As she’d suspected, the wrench was neutralized immediately, but she’d rather expected him to sidestep her, or perhaps even catch her as well, so when he didn’t move, well… the punch landed, for all the good it did. It thudded against Mordecai’s chest with a reasonable amount of force, perhaps, but not nearly enough to move him, and the rest of Gwen followed with a much less awesome noise, followed by another thud as she landed on her arse at his feet. Gorlak, who hadn’t been attempting to hide the fact that he was watching, burst into laughter, still going even as Gwen picked herself up, giggling just the same.

“I’d say that would teach me to mess with you,” she told Mordecai with a broad grin, “but honestly it’s probably not going to stop me. Seriously, though… you’re solid for your size. Titanium?” She seemed entirely unconcerned by the fact that she’d essentially just managed a vertical faceplant against the automaton.

Mordecai was now thoroughly confused, unable to join in on the laughter even for the sake of social conformity. He’d quite nearly injured her, and she was amused by this? He should have moved, he saw that now—but at the time, he hadn’t really thought about it, which was absurd now. He felt a small twinge of shame at this, that she’d been hurt because he hadn’t thought things through more adequately.

Her inquiry into his composition was something of a distraction, however, and he inclined his head. “Yes. This unit’s primary alloy of construction is titanium, though it was also magically treated for additional resilience. Additionally, some of the typically weaker areas of bodies shaped in this have been reinforced by a diamond capping, the fusion of which is, it believes, a pseudo-alchemical process involving much alteration magic.” Morgause was as much magician as she was engineer, which he understood was the reason she was capable of producing objects such as himself.

“This unit feels it must offer its apologies, Mistress Gwendolyn,” he said quietly. “It was the cause of injury to your person.”

Gwen huffed a breath, puffing her cheeks up childishly before releasing the air and waving a hand nonchalantly. “Oh please, Gadget—if I cared about that, I wouldn’t have jumped you in the first place. I’m much more interested in what you just told me.” It was the truth, and she wasted little more time in laying his unfounded worries to rest, taking up one of his arms and prodding at it with her non-metal fingers. Her brows furrowed slightly, and she shook her head with a faint jangle. “What I don’t understand is why she chose to put all this synthetic skin on you. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Gadget, you’re impeccably-well put together, but… this just covers up all the interesting parts.”

Mordecai was here confronted with an emotion he did not quite understand, though some confusion did underlie it, that much was certain. She seemed to think his flesh unnecessary, superfluous. In a way, she was quite correct—the only purposes it served were to protect his joints from foreign matter and to provide a certain aesthetic effect. But surely she saw that? Morgause did it because looking more like a person made him better. She’d told him so, often, that he was better than her other models because it was nearly impossible to tell him apart from a human being, especially from a distance.

“It was to make this unit more human,” he replied at last, as though this were both obvious and obviously important. His confusion at her lack of understanding on this point was clear, but also innocent. He wasn’t condemning her for not knowing, he just found it… odd. The automata allowed himself to be poked and prodded, not unfamiliar with such examinations. Often, this was conducted when someone realized that he was not, in fact, what he appeared to be.

Gwen snorted, but then paused, straightening to her full height, which was admittedly still beneath Mordecai’s clavicle, tipping her head back to look him in the eye, one hand still wound loosely about his wrist. Green eyes narrowed, though not in a way that seemed immediately unfriendly. She looked at him like he was a puzzle, and she trying to find the solution, or the spot for that one piece that didn’t seem to go anywhere, but must have a place because it had come in the set with the rest of them. “Is that what you think?” she asked, unusually softly for her normally-boisterous voice. “That it’s skin and bones and muscle tissue that makes something human, and metal and wires that make something a machine? ”

Releasing his wrist, she stepped back, tugging at her own sleeve until it hiked up to her elbow, and the length of alloyed steel there was not disguised as anything other than what it was. “Am I less human than someone who has all the body parts they were born with? Both of Sunshine’s legs are metal now, you know. Is he even less human that I am?” She looked at him expectantly, if a little sadly, and maybe it was because she’d asked herself the same questions once. Am I only half a person now? Will I be, if I let them cut it off?

Mordecai wasn’t really sure what to say. It was true—by his own logic, she was part machine. And if it was also true, as he knew it was, that machines were inferior to organic humanoids, then that meant she must also be inferior. But that seemed… wrong to him, like the correct premises had somehow led him to a poor conclusion. But… she’d pointed out one of those premises, and perhaps that was the one that required modification. “This unit… does not know,” he said, allowing his confusion to write itself over his features. “It believes that both Mistress Gwendolyn and Master Sven are humans, and no less worthy than other humans it has met. But it does not… it is not… not the same. It does not think in the same manner, nor feel in the same way, no matter how it looks.” He sounded dejected, and realized he felt this way as well. He supposedly had free will, as humans did, but there was still something about him that was different.

Gwen’s expression apparently could not remain somber for too long, for the smile split her face at that, despite the obvious distress Mordecai was under. Or perhaps because of it. “Gadget,” she said, her cheer working into the pair of syllables with obvious relish. “The most wonderful thing about humans is that none of us think in the same way. Just because your brain runs calculations and feelings aren’t easy for you doesn’t mean you’re not human in the important ways. My brain’s like that too!” She tapped the side of her temple for emphasis.

“Look, I dunno what’s so special about being human to you, but I promise you that whatever it is, it doesn’t preclude you from being human if you want to be. And if it does, well… you can change. That’s a human thing, too.” She nodded with false solemnity, then grinned again. “I’m going to hug you now. That’s what humans do when they have moments like this one, and you’re going to practice with me!”

Ever as good as her word, Gwen wrapped both arms around the automaton’s middle, not really worried about squeezing too hard or anything like that, and hugged him. A proper hug, too, none of this barely-touching business that awkward people did. The pilot was sure she was plenty awkward to some people, but she was damn comfortable with herself, and she knew she gave excellent hugs, so what was the point presenting otherwise?

Mordecai had a feeling he would just have to get used to being confused around Mistress Gwendolyn. Her behavior patterns were atypical, from his observations, but that did not make them unbearable. On the contrary, he found himself rather put at ease by her words. She was proof of them herself—he was quite certain that there must be no other human who looked at the world the same way she did. And that gave him a sliver of hope that maybe he really was human in the important ways, or could be with time and… practice.

“This unit does not know—” he started, but apparently it wasn’t requisite that he knew how to ‘hug’ beforehand, because she seemed quite content to initiate such action on her own. With a meticulousness usually reserved for much more delicate matters, Mordecai did his best to replicate the gesture, though admittedly some compensation for her small stature was necessary. It was a very different kind of contact from the sort they’d had when she smacked into him earlier, and much more… pleasant? Yes, he supposed he could call it that. There was something he still didn’t understand, though.

“If this unit may ask,” he said, trying to phrase the question, “What sort of moments are ‘moments like this one’?” He had seldom if ever seen two humans engaging in this practice, and certainly none of the members of Avalon’s Dawn.

Gwen laughed, releasing Mordecai and stepping back. "That depends on the person," she said with a grin, "But I'm sure you'll figure it out." She bit her lip against the temptation to tell him to go practice his hugging on Daisy, or perhaps Strawberry, but she didn't want him to endure any of the repercussions of that, not when he was so serious about this whole thing. Maybe one day, though, when he was more confident in his status and his worth. Even she could be sensitive, when the situation called for it.

"Now-- I really am serious about the notion of putting your brain into the ship for a while. Take a seat, Gadget, this is going to be fun."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Skybound Character Portrait: Mordecai Character Portrait: Sven Diederich Character Portrait: Theon Zeona

Earnings

0.00 INK

Out of the frying pan, and into the freezer.

Well, it wasn't
that cold. Enough to make Theon shiver a little bit, rubbing his bare arms and feeling goosebumps. He really should start wearing shirts with sleeves. He seemed to be garbed typically for a dangerous affair, that was to say in his carapace shell armor, armed for murder, his duckfoot at his hip, and his axe on his back. He wondered if he'd need them. This was a dream, after all. His dream.

He was immediately aware that this was also not a place he'd ever been to before. It was chilly, but the forest around him was a deep green, as vibrant with other colors as any place in the wild Theon had ever seen. Which wasn't all that much, considering he'd been confined to the southern portions of Albion for his entire life. This must be where they were headed next, or at least a decent representation of it. If that was the case, Theon was looking forward to it.

There were like... flowers, and other stuff, all around him, only lightly covered with frost, and maybe if he'd been a girl he would have cared about that shit, but instead Theon started walking aimlessly through the forest, looking for something more interesting. If flowers were involved in saving the world, he wasn't sure he wanted any part of it. The ground beneath his feet was wet and squishy, but looking down he found it to be somewhat obscured by a fog.

He was walking one way when he began to hear something from the other way, and he stopped abruptly, spinning on one heel to listen. It was... singing. Yes, that's what that was. Haunting, eerie female tones calling out to him in a rather seductive manner, and Theon had never really been one to resist seduction too well. That, and they were really the only interesting things he could see or hear so far in this place. It was beautiful, of course, but Theon needed something to
do.

He stumbled out onto the shore of a lake while in search of these fair-sounding ladies, and blinked a few times before he was able to accept that the sight before him was in fact, real. Well, nothing was really real in a dream, but his dreams were a little more real than most. He couldn't see the other shore of the lake, it was so huge, and the
water, the water was so clear he could see almost all the way down to the bottom, where there were plants and little happy fish doing their thing. It could only be the source of the world. The lady voices seemed to be coming from in the water, as well as the fog, so Theon decided to wade on in and see what he could find. What could go wrong?

The water was really quite warm, much more so than the air around it, but what immediately caught Theon's attention was the hulking figure that rose up out of the water as soon as he set foot in. He scrambled back to the shore and pulled his duckfoot, but held his fire while he tried to discern what he was looking at. It was an armored man, only the plate that covered him from head to toe was a sort of moss green, decorated with patterns of vines and leaves. Theon happened to think the man's choice of armor was a little outdated, but then, this was a rather old place.

He rose up to simply
stand on the water, which Theon happened to think was a pretty cool trick. He carried an enormous greatsword, the point of which just ever so slightly touched the surface of the lake, creating the tiniest of ripples. Theon waited, expecting the green knight to do something, but he just stood there, and Theon was content to let the moment get a little more awkward before he did anything. When he determined that the man was immune to awkward situations (at least, more than Theon was), he tried walking to the side, to get around him.

That got him to move, and he simply slid across the water to once again bar Theon's path into the lake. He gave the knight a scrutinous look, before he splashed a bit of water out on him. Nothing. Theon shrugged. He paced back and forth for a while, letting the knight follow him around. After a few minutes, he suddenly stopped and aimed his duckfoot at him. Again, nothing. Pretty solid, Theon thought. Then, considering that this was a dream, he pulled the trigger.

The pistol popped back hard enough to fly out of his hand and splash in the water at his feet, and propably two of the four shots missed him entirely, but the other two clearly hit, and with solid and loud clanks they just bounced off, not even making a dent in his armor, or even a scratch. Theon raised his arms, giving up on the knight's game. He was never really suited for problems that couldn't be blown into chunks.

"Alright, asshole, what the fuck?" he said impatiently. To that, the knight finally responded, by simply lifting up the visor of his helm. Inside, all Theon could see was darkness, like there was nothing inside the knight but shadow...


He was damp with sweat again upon waking, but it was slow this time, the scryer slowly opening his eyes in his bunk, before rubbing his face and eyes with his hands. Downside to being savior of Albion: he never got any sleep. Groaning, he pushed himself off the bed and started to dress. He didn't know what time of night it was, but his dream journal would probably be awake, and this dream was worth reporting. The last few hadn't been so relevant to the mission, but this one obviously was.

He tried the engine room first, but Gwen wasn't there, so he made his way up to the mess hall. Also abandoned. Shrugging, he went up towards the front of the ship, and the control room, where he found big Sven at the helm, watching over the ship. And nearby was Gwen, standing on top of a chair, staring into the eyes of the toaster, probably just an inch away from his face, looking like she was really searching for something in there. Theon stopped a few steps from them, taking a moment to try and rub the bleariness from his eyes.

"There's an explanation for this that I'm missing, isn't there?" He half thought he was still dreaming. But the fact that he wasn't all that surprised by this argued otherwise.

It wasn’t exactly hard to convince Gadget to stay still in front of the chair while she examined his visual network—he seemed almost as interested to understand more of himself as she was to learn about him. She wasn’t a golem engineer, by any means, but she’d dabbled, and generally knew mechanical things well enough to talk the talk, such as it was. She’d started by waving a finger in front of his face, asking him to track it. Curiously, he seemed to have anticipatory tracking of some kind—he was just a little ahead of her at times, until she called him out on it. Turned out, he was calculating, projecting her movements over space and time, and taking cues from something. She guessed he might be reading her muscle movement somehow, as he was moderately less successful tracking her automail arm the same way.

Maybe, though, that had something more with how she treated the limb than anything about him. It was curious either way, and she’d moved in closer to peer with scrutiny at his actual visual receptors. Glass, she thought, and beautifully-colored. Only someone like Morgause would take the time to put a yellow lotus pattern around a fully-colored pupil, then surround that with a multi-hued green iris. It was an attention to detail that frankly made Gwen a little jealous. The glass lens seemed to be covered over with some kind of membrane, which gave the eyes a very realistic appearance of being moist. She was almost certain Mordecai did not need to blink, however, as he had yet to do so throughout their entire examination. Uninterrupted visual feed.

She was only distantly conscious of the fact that someone new had entered the room, and scientific interest rendered the presence irrelevant for the moment—Sven could take care of anything the crew needed dealt with. She was doing something more important. Her tune changed a little when the person spoke, though, and Gwen blinked, drawing back about a foot from Gadget and turning the full force of a mischief-laden grin on Theon. “Of course,” she replied facetiously. “Gadget here was asking about human things, so I was teaching him about staring contests. I guess the finer points of touch will have to wait until tomorrow though, right Gadget?” She paused a moment, a thoughtful look crossing her face, then shook her head, snickering.

“Dream-journal time?” she asked Theon, hopping down from the chair. She wasn’t sure if he’d want to talk about it with Sunshine and Gadget here or not, but she didn’t mind it either way. It might be good for him to talk to other people about things like this, but she certainly wasn’t going to push it. She generally tended to know when it was okay to prod, tease, and nudge, and when it wasn’t. Whether she chose to heed or disregard these cues was another matter.

Mordecai certainly knew how to be still, and save for the occasional movement of his eyes at her request, he might as well have been a sculpture. He was unsure how to express it, but he was… grateful, that Mistress Gwendolyn, while unwavering in her determination that he was ‘human if he wanted to be,’ was still willing to help him understand the precise natures of his functionalities. He knew some things, but these were mostly whats, not hows or whys. She’d submitted him to a number of small tests, but nothing overly troubling, and though spending a few minutes as the Elysium’s AI the other day had been a most unsettling experience, it was also quite enlightening.

He, not nearly so absorbed in what was going on as she was, noticed immediately when Master Theon entered, though as he had been told to remain still, he did, at least until she adjusted her attention, at which point he thought it prudent to reconfigure his own as well. For a moment, he didn’t understand why she’d presented an obvious falsehood as the explanation for their current locations, but then he thought about it, and produced understanding.

“Mistress Gwendolyn provides an explanation you do not have, but not the correct one,” he said, sounding almost proud of himself for figuring out the word game. Well, whatever the case, he didn’t elaborate, deciding that she would if it was really important. Perhaps she was trying to keep some measure of what they were doing confidential out of deference to him? That would be highly irregular—he should make sure to inform her that he did not mind her sharing the details of his specifications with others, but… maybe, maybe he did. That was a troubling thought, and Mordecai fell silent, content to let the discussion move onwards without him.

Theon just shook his head, deciding that he probably wouldn't understand what she was actually doing anyway. He pulled up a chair and fell rather heavily into it. "Yeah, got one about this source of the world we're headed to. Probably better if I don't keep it to myself."

Sunshine remained naturally quiet throughout Gwendolyn's close-quarter examination of Mordecai, occasionally glancing down from his crossed arms to see what she was exactly looking at. Hardly inches from his face, cupping his cheeks and staring deeply into his eyes—staring into glass-orbs or some sort of synthetic material that would have easily fooled him. They looked real enough, even though he wasn't blinking. It was difficult to see Mordecai as anything but human, however as soon as he spoke, it was easy enough to tell. The Lieutenant's own curiosity kept him looking in their direction, periodically listing his head to the side for a better view, only to look away whenever any inquisitive glances swept over him. He did not want to intrude on whatever Gwendolyn was trying to do, but he certainly encouraged their relationship. When prodded as to what he thought of their new companions, Sven could only say that Mordecai, in his humble opinion, was good. In whatever vague sense that was, it didn't seem to matter much.

Some may have questioned his hearing or his eyesight, but the Lieutenant still seemed very much aware that someone had joined them in the room. It may have been Theon's soft footfalls or the creak of inaudible rusty hinges. He half-turned and offered an unhelpful shrug. It hardly explained the scene before him, but he presented nothing in the form of words, either. A low grumbled-greeting slipped through his lips as he turned back towards the helm, meaty hands flicking switches and finally settling back down to his sides. Whatever conversation that needed to be said would be said with him in the room, unless Gwendolyn ordered otherwise. Either way, if Theon wanted privacy, the Lieutenant could very well tune out their conversations. When there was talk of dreams and information of the world they were about to step into, Sven pressed a button and turned to face them, expression impassive and unreadable. He, too, wanted to hear what he had to say. Gwen was nowhere near so equanimous, and hopped gladly-enough into a nearby chair, crossing her legs up underneath her and nodding. "Sounds interesting. I'd say I hope it was less... awful than the last one, but I'm not holding my breath."

"You know, it really wasn't that bad," Theon said, moving to take a seat on the ground against the wall, propping his arms up on his knees. "No blistering heat, whipping winds, scarves in my eyes, or unbearably loud noises. It seemed like a pretty nice place, actually. Which is strange, considering the world that it's apparently the source of." Shame its lushness couldn't extend to the desert parts of the world. Would have made a few years of Theon's life a hell of a lot easier.

"Anyway, I was wandering around in a forest when I heard this singing, lovely lady voices, very eerie, though, but I decided to check it out. I wander towards them and there's this lake, the clearest one you've ever seen, and the singing's coming from it, so I try to go into the lake to check it out, only this asshole comes up out of it. He's dressed in green plate armor and has a big sword, but he doesn't say anything, right? He just stands there, in my way. I try to move around him, but he just glides across the water and gets in my way. I even shot him with my duckfoot, nothing. So I ask him what his deal is, and all he does is lift up the visor of his helmet."

Theon shrugged. "All I saw under the helmet was shadow, like he was made of darkness. Then I woke up." It hadn't been as painful an experience as the desert dream, but it was no less strange or confusing. Theon had very little idea what to make of it all, which was probably a poor thing given he was the only one among them able to see the future. He had to learn how to make his powers show him something a little clearer, if that was even possible...

"Do they even have schools for scryers?" he asked, wondering if perhaps Gwen or the toaster knew. The meat slab didn't seem inclined to do more than grunt. "Seems like I need some help figuring out these damn visions. Though I can't imagine they'd have many students..." It was another way of saying he was way too important and rare of a person to fit into any kind of school.

“Pff,” Gwen replied with a wave of her hand. “Who needs a stuffy tower filled with self-important old men when you have us?” She gestured with both hands to encompass the room. There was a certain merit to the point: Gadget was practically an encyclopedia’s worth of information, and she’d know—she’d quizzed him for a few hours earlier in the afternoon. Of course, she ruined most of this merit with her next comment: “We’re more fun, and much better-looking at that. There's probably something in one of my dad's books if you're interested.” The last part managed to sound half-serious, but it was a separate issue from the one they were tackling right now, so she let it drop for the moment and went back to the dream itself. Still, it was kind of vague… the clear water reference sounded familiar, but something else he said caught her attention first.

Female voices singing… eerie and pretty… there’s no way. Is there? Gwen cupped a cheek in her hand and bobbed her head from side to side with a faint clinking. “Gadget, what do you know about the merpeople?” There were the old legends of course, but anything passed on by skyship sailors was bound to be embellished to the point of near-unreality. There was a seed of truth in most of them, sure, but it was hard to find amidst all the blossoming fantasy, so to speak. The mention of merpeople got a surprised half-smirk from Theon, and he looked expectantly up at the toaster.

There seemed to Mordecai to be a number of different places to start from, elements of the dream that could be cross-referenced with his data, but Gwen—she’d finally convinced him to drop the ‘Mistress’ bit—pointed him in a direction, and he dutifully picked up the thread of thought. “The merfolk were an ancient race of people, believed descended from the Inflectori, with adaptations to aquatic environments. The one intact merfolk fossil known to modern scholarship is kept in the Galatean Royal Museum, but it is speculated that several more might exist on the Deluge black markets. Physical characteristics include fins, concentrated on the arms, legs and back, webbed hands and feet, and gills along the side of the neck.”

He paused for a moment, then prefaced his next piece of information with a disclaimer. “Little else survives in science, but it is popularly believed that the natural magic of the Inflectori came to be largely sound-based amongst the merfolk, which led to the rumors of the unwary being led to their deaths my enchantment of this nature.” He blinked, trying to put together the information in a way that would approximate what Gwen was doubtless already thinking. “You believe that what Master Theon heard was the song of the merfolk?” It seemed difficult to believe, given their present state of extinction, but perhaps it was metaphor for something. Mordecai struggled with metaphor, and tended to misinterpret even the ones he was able to recognize as such. Gwen shrugged; as a scientist, she knew better than most that there were things in the world that science didn't know as well as it thought it did, and she wasn't going to discount anything at this point. Metaphor or no, it was an intriguing possibility.

“There is nothing in this unit’s data storage about a knight in green plate armor.”

"Well," Theon said, "if they're anything like some of the stories told in Deluge, I don't think I'd mind meeting one or two." They probably weren't, though. Magical murderers through song seemed more likely. Or maybe the toaster was just better at seeming like he knew what he was talking about than the storytellers in Deluge were. Either way, he didn't mind the way Master Theon sounded, and certainly wouldn't be convincing him to drop it any time soon. Always the paragon of maturity that she was, the captain snickered. She'd heard a fair few of those stories herself.

The Lieutenant's expression soured, if that was at all possible. His fleshy fingers drummed tunelessly against his metal forearm, beating a rhythm of mild annoyance. Theon's tone—at first peculiarly self-gratifying and gratingly proud—had begun to irk him, sullying what he was really trying to say. The differences between the twins seemed so polar, but now, it was difficult not to note their similarities. Even so, he listened. The dream itself offered him no hints. He hadn't been savvy to their first dream-sharing conversation, after all. Had he been aware of what would happen in the desert? He wasn't sure. Questioning him now seemed pretty useless. If his dreams were important enough to share, then they'd need to pick it apart and figure out if it would give them an upper hand when they reached their destination. His eyebrows raised inquiringly, swinging over to where Gwendolyn was sitting.

More like man-eating sirens. Of course, the military sashayed with the government enough to discuss everything under the sun. This usually included restricted subjects. Black market dealings and nearly-instinct races were always fastidiously swept under the rug. This didn't like being surprised and they didn't like sharing information, either. The Lieutenant only inclined his head, studying Mordecai as he relayed what he knew on the subject. He, too, had been allowed to peruse through Leo's old books—at length, whenever he was feeling blue. It was a wonder he still struggled with the English language, bumbling through the words like a child piecing together a puzzle. Never bothered him any, because he preferred speaking in his mother tongue. Only Gadget understood him. He couldn't help but snort when Theon wondered aloud as to whether or not there were more scryers, doubting the possibility. The word was familiar enough, because every sector of the government sought them out. Wriggling grubby fingers around their necks. His eyes focused stolidly on the boy, and he said, “Arroganz vermindert Klugheit.”

Arrogance diminishes wisdom. Had Percy said that to him once, or had he read that somewhere? Perhaps, it had been Myrddin. It sounded like something he'd say. Scryers were supposedly dangerous. Useful when needed and inappropriate when not. His lip curled and formed a hard line before he shrugged his shoulders, arms still crossed. Someday, like they all did at some point, he'd be knocked down a few pegs. He knew more about scryers than he did about merfolk. He knew more about other unsavory beasties, as well. He'd been in the business of hunting them down and eradicating them. Shepherding soldiers out like mercenaries had been a popular option to keep them motivated. Whether or not they still did this was unknown to him. All ties and connections had been cut since his brother's death (and more importantly, hers). A knight in green armour and merfolk. Both of which seemed threatening to them, unless the armoured-man acted as some sort of guiding figure. Another guardian?

As always, the Lieutenant kept his thoughts to himself. Theon raised an eyebrow at the one comment Sven did make, with an obvious bit of confusion. "Uh... alright then." His look didn't seem too friendly, but the guy obviously didn't have anything to say to Theon, so he just shrugged at Gwen instead, figuring he'd take his leave pretty quickly here.

Gwen raised a brow in Sunshine’s general direction, a bit confused by his apparent hostility. Sure, Theon’s thoughts and mannerisms were more than a bit… colorful, but they lived on a ship full of sailors—it was hardly anything worse than that. Actually, she thought he was kind of funny. But then, Sunshine had a lot more life experience than she did, and she knew there were things he didn’t share, even with her. Their relationship just wasn’t like that; each was allowed their secrets, and they supported each other anyway. Sighing lightly, she returned her attention to the scryer.

“Well, at least we have some idea what we’re in for, now. I’ve never heard of this Green Knight, either, but if there are merfolk about, we’ll have to be wary. If they’re just a metaphor for something… we’ll still have to be wary, so there’s that. Thanks for the help, Daisy—we’d be flying blind without you. And you, Gadget, otherwise I’d be spending hours in dad’s library right now, and I think Spikey might sleep in there…” She grinned good-naturedly.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Percy Galath Character Portrait: Mordecai Character Portrait: Lohengrin Character Portrait: Diomache Castillo

Earnings

0.00 INK

It was surprising the amount of books the stringy changeling could carry when his mind was set to it. He had another stack up to his eyes, which he dumped on the desk in the study along with two other stacks of the same size. Loose leaf paper and quills were scattered across the desk as well like some sort of academic tornado blew through the room. In the middle of the desk sat the key he had recently been trusted with. The emerald still shone in the light, and it was almost as brilliant as the light that shone in his eyes. This... artifact was unlike anything he'd ever seen. The thing had to be ancient, almost as old as the planet itself if he had his guess about it. The mere prospect of holding a literal key to the past was thrilling.

Once he managed to hoard all the needed materials (and maybe some that weren't) he sat down at the desk, cracked the nearest book open and began to throw himself into his work. Now he was in his real element. He was not a warrior, nor was he much of an adventurer. He was a scholar at heart, and with a mountain of books around him he was in his natural habitat. Within moments, quill ink was flying as he made detailed notes on the key that sat in front of him. They mostly consisted of what it looked like, the shape, the heft, and even a couple of sketches occupied it. He'd made mention of taking it to Mordecai to get a better print of the key.

So involved in his work, he hardly noticed anything else in the room.

Dio loved a good book herself, but she was really more of an escapist than a historian. She was seated comfortable in the most inviting looking chair she could find, little bare feet propped up on one of the less inviting chairs, her sandals sitting unoccupied on the floor beneath her. She'd found one of her favorite romance novels here in the study, and had eagerly gotten back into it, having sadly little to occupy some of her days on the airship. Her happy ending hadn't worked out quite right just yet, but she knew how this one ended, so she was more than content to lose herself in it for a while.

She watched Percy with some amusement as he gathered everything he needed and set to work. The look in his eyes was really not all that different from the one she usually had when on a job, when she was right in the moment. She knew that was because these different things were their respective callings, what they loved to do most with their time. She certainly had nothing against a historian; in fact, they often went hand in hand with thieves and adventurers. Someone had to do the acquiring of the artifacts, after all, and though she didn't doubt Percy's capability, based on what she'd already seen, very few had the dexterity that she had honed.

But they already had their artifact this time, and now Percy needed to figure out what it would do, and how it was relevant to them, something which Dio was quite curious about, given that she had been officially inducted as one of the group selected by fate, on those nine circular plates. She flipped the book down on the chair in front of her and stood, padding along on quiet feet to where Percy was working. "Any luck with the research?" she asked in her friendly manner, eyes taking in the magnificent sight of the emerald key. She wondered how the Guardian had known which one of them to entrust it to... or maybe it had simply guessed.

The study’s third occupant was the automaton, who, at the encouragement of Mistress Gwendolyn, was spending his spare time around other members of the group when possible. She seemed to believe that he would have exposure to a wise range of human behavior this way, and so far, she was quite correct. For the most part, Master Percy and Mistress—well, just Dio—hadn’t really done much of anything except read, and so he had taken up the occupation as well. Actually, given the rate he was capable of scanning such information at, it was more like he picked up a new book every few minutes, memorized it, then spent another few minutes sorting and categorizing the data he came across for later re-access. It was slower than having such things directly uploaded into his memory, but he found it… enjoyable, as well, allowing his own mind to separate the pieces of information and see how and where they seemed to connect with other things that he knew.

He made an equal attempt at ‘reading’ fiction as well as informational texts, because the former seemed to be what Dio was doing, and the latter what occupied Master Percy. He was broken from his ruminations, however, by Dio’s voice, though her inquiry into the progress of the young mutatio’s research seemed to go unheard, and silence reigned for another few seconds. Seeing an opportunity to benefit a social situation, Mordecai approached the desk and mildly poked Percy in the shoulder, attempting to replicate with less… enthusiasm a mannerism of Gwendolyn’s that he’d seen her use with Sven, someone he had been assured met the requirements of friendship to her, making this what he would describe as a ‘friendly’ way of gaining attention.

“Master Percy,” he said, blinking when he remembered he should. “Dio indicated curiosity as to the state of your research. This unit echoes the sentiment and offers its assistance. It has information processing capabilities that may prove of aid to you.”

Percy was torn from his work as he stared at Mordecai for a second. It was difficult for him to shift the gears in his head so rapidly and by the time Percy managed to comprehend his words, he had already finished speaking. Like a deer in a spotlight, Percy first looked to Mordecai and then to Dio and back to Mordecai before trying to answer. "Uh..." He worked his mouth trying to find a satisfactory answer. He paused long enough to close his mouth and gather his thoughts from paper and put voice to it. "Well, it's old. As if that wasn't glaringly obvious. If I was to guess, it's probably as old as the Wellsprings." He said, setting the quill down and leaning back.

"It's also obvious that this goes into one of the keyholes in the door we saw under Deluge-- you.. weren't there for that, were you?" Percy asked rhetorically for Dio's sake. He was quiet for a moment before rifling through the stacks of papers and withdrew a blank page, where he hoved over for a moment with a quill before pausing again. He looked up at Mordecai and an idea came to him. He held out both quill and paper for the automaton. The construct surely had perfect memory, and could recreate the door far better than he could. "If you would be so kind as to draw the door for her? I'd also like to have one for my own notes," he explained before continuing.

He then picked up the key gingerly and held it for every one to see. "From the looks of it, it's just one big emerald. 'Course I've never seen an emerald in this form before. That being said, you can't even see the marks from where it was created. It looks like it was found like that. I might... Experiment on it, eventually," Percy said, setting it back down.

Mordecai took up the paper and writing implement and nodded, leaning over a small corner of the desk and studying the blank parchment for a moment as though trying to find something on it. The image of the door called up in his mind, he scaled it, fitted it to the dimensions he had available, then raised the quill. Every line was sure, and none superfluous, which was perhaps a good thing, considering that he had been given ink with which to accomplish the task and not charcoal. Unlike most artists, who started with basic shapes and then gradually filled in details, Mordecai’s work was detail-perfect from the start, and he simply moved himself back and forth across the parchment, filling perhaps a vertical inch with every pass.

Though his strokes were quick and certain, it still took time, as he was rendering it in realistic detail, occasionally using one of his fingers to smudge the ink for a shadow. Even the text above the frame was exact, and in perhaps some minutes, Mordecai straightened, placing the quill back into the inkwell and presenting the result to both Percy and Dio. “This is the door. The original text is Draconian, a dialect which is no longer spoken or taught outside of particularly-clandestine academic circles. This unit has a translation algorithm available for use.”

Dio had gone from being wholly absorbed by the sight of the key, to being wholly absorbed by watching Mordecai draw. She stood close beside him and watched him work, though not close enough to risk getting in his way. "Wow. Wish I could have seen that." Not that she wasn't doing something at the time she thought just as important, but still, it looked like quite the find. Though, he said under Deluge. Even being above Deluge wasn't a very nice place, so she imagined whatever lay beneath would probably have been gut-turning. The smell at the very least.

"So there must be more of these things to get, perhaps one at each of these sites these Guardians are sending us to. That would leave four more of them." She lost herself in the emerald again, before making a rather childish look of longing at Percy. "Can I hold it? Just for a moment?"

Again, Percy was hesitant, though this time more out of the fact that he was about to hand an insanely valuable artifact to a thief over some misunderstanding. It was finally when he decided she had nowhere to run aboard the airship and no place to pawn it off that he gingerly picked it up and held it out stretched for her to take. Perhaps he was being overly careful with it. Chances were, if the airship was to go down in flames, then the huge key shaped precious gem would be the one thing that would survive. It sure felt solid enough.

Seeing how carefully he offered it to her, she took it just as gently, as though it was some kind emerald baby, and indeed, she sort of cradled the thing in her arms, looking down on it with a half smile, blinking a few times. Her family's home in Xantus had a few artifacts worth a small fortune, but nothing like this, certainly. She supposed they wouldn't be interested in artifacts meant for saving the world, but giant green emeralds would certainly do the trick.

"This thing must weigh ten pounds," she speculated. "I wonder what all of the others are made of..." The possibilities were rather exciting, weren't they? Not that they could really do anything with them other than get an extremely cool collection going. "Want a turn?" she asked Mordecai, offering the key up to him.

Mordecai accepted the object, gauging the weight in one hand, then tapping it with a digit. “Nine point eight three six pounds,” he contributed mildly, “Though this unit believes the hardness of the object to be disproportionate to its material, perhaps as a side effect of the arcane nature of it. If it may offer advice, perhaps experimentation could be initiated now?” He was actually quite curious about the object, given to them by a being that he could not classify. It had called itself a ‘guardian,’ but what was it guarding? Just this object? If so, it had parted with its duty quite easily, all things considered. “It suspects the deck would be an optimal location, in case of error.”

Percy mulled the idea over in his mind for a bit before nodding. Just staring at it and taking notes would only get him so far. They needed physical research on the artifact, and he'd already jotted down the physical attributes of the thing-- scrawling the weight of the item at the top of his notes as Mordecai suggested experiments. Once his mind was made up, he flipped closed his journal and stoppered an inkwell. He slipped the quill over on of his ears and stood, motioning for Mordecai to lead the way. "Do you have any ideas on how to begin?" Percy asked, curious as to the Automaton's methods. He had his own methods of course, but a fresh mind-- even if it was artifical-- made this process all the more rewarding. He found himself more excited than he'd been in quite some time, perhaps the last time was on the last official job for the guild. He did love lecturing on the history of Albion, after all.

“This unit recommends exposing the object to a wide range of environmental stimuli and cataloging the results,” Mordecai replied simply, leading the way up to the deck. The library was large enough for a room in a ship, but there was much more room out here, and the crew knew quite well to give the guests a bit of berth, so they were also less likely to damage something with a misaimed spell or if the key reacted oddly to whatever they chose to do to it. Picking the location with the fewest and furthest other life-forms, the automaton ended up leading them to the stern of the ship, which happened to be a bit raised above the rest, and thus ideal for what they were attempting. As it happened, however, Lohengrin was nearby, and when he saw the small group with the key, he raised a brow and did not clear the stern deck, choosing to remain where he was and observe. This ought to be interesting. He wondered if they knew what they were doing.

Percy followed alongside the Automaton nodding his agreement, "My thoughts exactly. I was planning on testing the effects of my druidic magic on it first. Perhaps if the Guardian gave it to me to care for, I might hold something to reveal its secrets-- for there are secrets in it," Percy explained. There was nothing hard to explain this feeling, only the gut instinct of a scientist and researcher. Once on the deck, Mordecai led them to an open air, in which Percy sat down his journel and inkwell, taking a seat as well. He motioned for Mordecai to hand him the key, and he flipped open his notes.

With the key sitting in his lap, held both ends with his hands and concentrated. He didn't want to use to much magic and risk breaking it, but not too little and not produce a reaction. He needed to focus for this, and be as exact as he possibly could. A moment or two passed with nothing happening, before Percy's vines began to stretch out from under his sleeves, and wrap around the corners of the key. A faint green aura resonated around his hands, but the key stood resolute and refused to do anything but sit there. Percy noticed this, and eased his magic off, rescending the vines back into his sleeve. Once they were clear, he made note of the nonexistant effects in his journal, and handed the Key to Dio. "Perhaps lightning will produce a result?" he mused.

Dio took the key rather gingerly again and took a step back away from the others. "Okay..." she said, twisting her lips sideways and frowning at the key like it had given her directions she hadn't understood. She held it out firmly in both hands and let a small amount of lightning magic escape from her hands. She was horribly poor at containing her magic when she didn't have anything to channel it through, so a few arcs jumped around a little further than she would have liked, but that was why she'd stepped back in the first place. Apart from a few residual arcs of electricity that floated around the key shortly before dispersing, nothing really happened. She looked up at Percy, shrugging before she handed it back to him. "Sorry, nothing."

Ah, so they had no idea then. He probably should have expected as much—it was not as if these things came with user manuals or convenient instructions. Come to think of it, that might be what he was actually here for, since from here on out, the Guardians would probably tell them where they needed to go. There was one specific location that they’d need him to reach, but beyond that, he might as well have been a ton of bricks for all his utility.

This, though, this he might be able to help with. Unfortunately, just saying it produced an awkward, strangled sound that had him frowning and covering it with a cough, which should hopefully draw someone’s attention. “The key was given to the deer-boy,” he pointed out. “And a Guardian does nothing without a purpose. Perhaps he should retain possession of it during these experiments of yours?” It seemed that this was all he was allowed to give them, though, and he fell silent thereafter, returning his attention to the receding landscape.

"But..." Dio said, uncertainty in her tone, "I shouldn't shock it while Percy's holding it. I'll shock him, too." Obviously the idea of accidentally attacking her teammate wasn't one that sat well with her.

The mercenary’s eyes fell shut, and what might have been a sigh escaped somewhere into the wind. If she wasn’t going to do it, he was the only choice, since the machine couldn’t use magic as far as he was aware. He wondered if it would, even if it could. Pushing back from the rail, Lohengrin eyed the other two and shook his head. “I take it none of you ever learned the adage ‘no risk, no reward,’ then…” he muttered, more to himself than any of the three of them. Percy's eyes widened at the remark of risk versus reward. He'd heard the adage, of course, but certainly didn't like what it implied, and definitely not the spark glittering in Lohengrin's eyes. He absolutely didn't like where this was going. "Can... We talk about this first?"

He, on the other hand, had no reason to hesitate. An altruist he was not, and besides that, he knew exactly what the result of his actions was going to be. He supposed that was two advantages over the girl. Well, fine… if direct intervention was necessary, direct intervention it would be. Casually, he lit a cherry-red flame over the palm of one hand, and shot it directly for the key-holding Percy. “Risk..." Fortunately, the fact that the youth was holding it was sufficient for its activation, and the key produced a transparent bubble, akin to what a barrier spell looked like, and the flame washed over it harmlessly, dispersing. Lohengrin smiled wickedly, looking rather pleased with himself. “Reward. Now you know what it does."

Percy had thrown up his arms in anticipation of Lohengrin's spell, a layer of vines wrapping around his arms under his sleeves. Obviously, vines were no match for fire, and he waited for an intense burning sensation that never came. When he opened his eyes, he witnessed a barrier of some sort wrapping around him and all thoughts of his immediate danger evaporated. He watched as the bubble dissipated before throwing himself at his journal and quickly jotting something down. Lohengrin's attempt to immolate the boy forgotten in an instant, the mechanisms in the Changling's head whirring like never before. "Need to be in... Personal Danger.. For it to activate. I need to know how strong the barrier is. How long it can sustain itself. I need more experiments, I need more data. Mordecai," Percy said, tearing his head away from the journal, "We need to find out a way to test this without putting myself in immediate, or reduced risk." And just like that, Percy felt the intellectual surge once again.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Lohengrin Character Portrait: Sven Diederich

Earnings

0.00 INK

It got colder as they removed themselves from the desert. Lohengrin hated the cold, and he knew he was in for a lot more of it, at the Source of the World. Not for the first time, he wondered what he was doing here. Not in the immediate sense—he’d been roped into this by the old man with promises of what he might obtain at the end of it all, and bargained into magical silence about a number of important facts. Not that he often faced the temptation to share them, anyway; he was selfish enough that the few lives hanging in the balance of this ship weren’t really enough to move him one way or another. People died all the time—all he really cared about was that he continue not to be one of them.

But sometimes, he was forced to take a longer view on his situation, and it was during those more reflective moments that he questioned his own sanity. His life had never been easy, but in all honesty, that was mostly his own fault. He’d screwed things up too many times to count, and here he was, on the one road that even looked like it might hold some measure of redemption for that, as though he still wanted it. Maybe he did, but if so, he wasn’t doing a very good job at being transparent to himself. More than a thousand years’ worth of memories and thoughts, observations and colorful commentaries, swirled around in his head, and in case even that wasn’t crowded enough, he could still feel the ancestral memories, shared by all of his people and mostly unconscious, like a building pressure at the back of his head.

Some days, he was convinced that all that stuff was going to explode his eyeballs trying to find the space to exist. Occasionally, he welcomed the possibility. It would be more interesting than most of the things that happened to him anymore. Interesting…? That might be the answer. Maybe the only reason he was really here was because it broke up the monotony of the last few decades. After too long doing any one thing, he would grow bored and leave to do something else. How long till he grew bored of this? Hopefully, it wouldn’t happen before his contract was up, at any rate.

Lighting his pipe, Lohengrin exhaled into the wind. Being up here on deck like this… it was almost like being able to fly again. He understood how a woman like the tiny captain could want to spend her life doing it. Ignoring the phantom twinge in his shoulders, the mercenary decided that sulking was perfectly acceptable at the moment, and sulked.

The Lieutenant was not a dreamer. He did not scour the lands for artifacts or ancient scriptures left by even older races, surfacing only long enough to explain how important they were to everyone. Climbing optimistic stairwells had always been, in his opinion, best left for those who hesitated killing their enemies. He did not yearn for adventure, nor did he involve himself in other people's business unless it was absolutely necessary—and his observations were guarded things, tightly bound between thin-lipped frowns and a steely, unrelenting gaze. No one had sent him on this adventure. Gwendolyn seemed to be the only person anchoring him in place. Had she not been on the ship, then he'd surely be wandering somewhere else. Thick fingers, mechanical and organic, pressed against his temples. The weary curl of his lips told tales of the tremendous duties perched across his shoulders, constantly pulling.

He welcomed the familiar chill, whipping across the upper decks. It was an agreeable change from the sweltering heat in the desert, and he could only count himself lucky that they weren't barrelling into another place with unbearable climate. The Source of the World, from what he'd gathered, would be a chilly place, indeed. Percy had rambled about it as soon as they'd boarded the ship—and he'd listened intently, absorbing whatever information he could. It's history didn't exactly interest him, but he didn't like being surprised. The craggy guardian was shocking enough, sending them on another errand that didn't particularly resonate with him. Nothing he'd read prepared him for that. There were limits to his curiosity, but he knew, with a certainty that did not surprise him, that he'd follow Gwendolyn wherever she so chose to find herself. It was funny when he thought about it. The living would continue paying what they could for the dead, for those who could not continue.

Duty, when nothing else did, remained.

Something was bothering him. Lohengrin, in particular. He'd seen him perform some sort of magic against the sandtroll, or cast something else entirely. It sat in his stomach like a heavy stone, irritating him to the point where sitting at his desk had become impossible—so he moved to the upper deck and watched him from the corner of his gentian eyes, hardly moving from his position. He did not know much about Lohengrin, nor did he like the fact that he didn't know much about him. Myrddin had been all too receptive to his paranoia, enduring all of his questions with ease and offering any bit of information on those who would be accompanying them. Unfortunately, Lohengrin seemed to be a mystery, plopped onto the deck without so much as an explanation. Apparently, he was guiding them. He knew no further, and wanted to enquire himself, but no time seemed to be right.

As Lohengrin lit his pipe, the Lieutenant strode down the wooden stairs. Initially, he thought of asking someone, rather than prying into someone's business. Sunshine and socializing never seemed to intermingle correctly, separating naturally like oil and water. Gwendolyn thought he only needed more practice, and he'd simply mumbled that he'd try not to offend someone straight off the decks (while they were flying). He settled himself at a comfortable distance, leaning knobby elbows against the railing. His weaknesses had become a means of exploitation and stupid suspicions—traits reserved for overly protective fathers. He was not hers. The mantra always failed him. Silence accompanied his presence, until he finally bobbed his head and exhaled, exhausted. “Vhy are you here?” It was a simple question with several undertones; why have you stayed here this long when you obviously don't play nice with others and what's in it for you. More questions bubbled up, but he only waited.

The mercenary took another deep draw, savoring the feeling of smoke coiling in his lungs, hot and dry and just the right amount of cloying. It wasn’t a matter of the tobacco itself, his little habit, nor of any particular addiction. It was… something he had lost, a part of himself that he had missed. Without it, he wasn’t even properly the creature he called himself, only in his own head. He wasn’t properly anything, not without a fire lit in his heart and a warm stone seated in the center of his chest. Not without smoke in his lungs. He was made for it, and yet… he had been unmade, as well, and now he wasn’t anything in particular. Just a being without a place to be or a cause to take up.

He remembered in a distant sort of way that he’d been different once, more like the gaudy, adventurous captain than he’d like to believe. More like the idealistic thief, even, bent on doing one bit of good at a time, an endless litany that his longevity fooled him into believing he might accomplish one day. The breeze teased the ends of his hair, throwing a bright shade of red over his eyes, and through it, he saw the smoke blowing away, and if he unfocused his eyes just right, the world was almost as it should be, and there was no great, cold emptiness in his guts.

The big man moved quietly for someone of his size, but he didn’t pretend to stealth, and for that Lohengrin was grateful. He didn’t pretend to subtlety, either, and this was also appreciated, even if the dark chuckle that rasped from him didn’t quite sound it. He wasn’t sure he could properly do gratitude anymore, actually. Only this bitterness, this hollowness, this cold. Cold like the cavernous depths of the underground, up north where there was no earth-heat to reach them. He blinked, once with each set of eyelids, and glanced sideways at the fellow. “The elf asked me something similar. Maybe you should go find out what her answer was.” Truthfully, he’d picked Kethyrian to be immediately suspicious of him, but he hadn’t thought that Sunshine would confront him about this quite yet. He’d thought he might get deer-boy or the captain’s well-intentioned (but still annoying) prodding first.

But then, the answer was in the name, wasn’t it? Sunshine. She’d given it to him, and he tolerated it without complaint. They meant something to each other, though the mercenary knew not what, and that meant that it was probably Sven’s desire to protect his considerably more trusting counterpart. Satsified with this explanation, he returned frankness with the same. “To get you were you need to go. Beyond that, I cannot say.” Literally. Though he refrained from mentioning that part, as it fell under the broad heading of things he was not allowed to express.

Lohengrin did not prattle on annoyingly, and for this, the Lieutenant was grateful. Concise, clear, and without any hidden meanings. There were no obtuse metaphors to rifle through, nor did he seem to throw around trust until it was earned—he wouldn't presume that they were friends. Neither of them seemed interested in hand-holding or wringing flower-wreaths. Whether or not this was all about business, or something else entirely, Sven doubted that Lohengrin's intentions lied solely with guiding them wherever they were headed. He'd understood the basics from Gwendolyn, but hardly endeavoured to push for any more information. Whatever she knew, Sven was usually told. If not, then it wasn't his place to know. Things were different. The situation had changed drastically, bringing them closer to things he could not fully comprehend. Percy's explanations could only go so far—he did not know everything. Living guardians were unheard of. Orcs without swarthy, bloodshot eyes were even stranger.

Kethyrian had already spoken to him? The Lieutenant inclined his head, arching heavy eyebrows. The statement came as a surprise, albeit not an unpleasant one. She didn't seem like the type to involve herself with other people, specifically as to what their motives were. She might have had her reasons, though. They might have been similar to his own. It wasn't that he suspected any foul play, but he didn't like not knowing who he was working with. Salvaging advantages, in battle and knowledge, had always been his strongest attributes (exempting his physical strength) and being at a sudden disadvantage had him grappling for ridiculous answers. His head pounded like a flooded dam, swimming with overly cautious questions. The Lieutenant flexed his mechanical arm over the railing, mutely inspecting the whirring gears and blinking lights. It chinked somewhere in the middle, wheezing sickly until he wrapped his meaty fingers around his forearm. “Preferring to be seeing source,” He responded simply, shrugging his shoulders.

“You cannot say,” He repeated, tearing his eyes away from his arm, “But you vhill have to sooner or later, I'm thinking.” It wasn't so much a threat, as it was an observation. He would not press the issue. If the time came where it involved everyone surrounding Lohengrin, then he'd make his intentions clear. Anyone who threatened the lives, or life, of someone he held dearly would die. If Lohengrin's secrets involved another enemy, or something that would prevent them from meeting untimely ends, Sven wanted to know about it before it surprised them. Instead, the Lieutenant turned his gaze skyward and frowned. “Vhen we fought, eh. Sandtroll,” He began again, rolling his tongue around the words. Pausing momentarily, he clicked his fingers together and nodded. “You were using fire, from hands.” The mechanical hand tapped on his lower eyelid, as if to indicate his reptilian double-lids, and dropped back down as he added, “Are you like Percy?”

Lohengrin smiled mirthlessly, an ugly little twist to his lips that looked bitter as the peel of a lemon. This was much friendlier than his last interrogation, and he certainly didn’t bother putting in the effort to resent the big man for attempting it, but that didn’t change the facts of his situation any. “I assure you, the reasons for my presence will become obvious soon enough.” He blew another cloud of smoke and cursed the bind on his tongue. They had to come to understand things in the right order, the old man had said, and there was no cheating by giving them the answers ahead of time. Not that he had them all, not by a long shot. He knew some things—old things, important things, but a far cry from everything. The nature of these trials was almost as foreign to him as to them.

But he supposed Myrddin had thought himself fortunate to find a dragon at all, never mind that it was half-useless and ignorant of much that the rest of its kind knew. Maybe the wizard had even intended that, it was hard to say. How much the guy knew or didn’t know was hardly something he could guess at—he’d met him for all of a day, then been told to show up on a certain date, at a certain place, and do essentially what he was doing now.

The query into his magic surprised him a little, and this manifested as the arch of a single crimson brow. “I’m a destruction mage of some skill, if that’s what you were wondering. I… prefer fire, but the other elements are open to me if I want them.” He shrugged. Lightning was fun, sometimes, but it lacked the rawness and brutality of fire. Lohengrin was a raw and brutal person—he made no effort to conceal that. The query about Deer-boy stretched his smile until it wasn’t so ugly anymore, and he chuckled low in his throat. Was he like a Mutatio? Well, more than he’d want to be. Sven was more perceptive than he’d thought, though, to have noticed him blinking like that. He didn’t mind—he was trying to drop the occasional hint on purpose, after all. He wasn’t allowed to tell them, but if they figured him out, well… there wasn’t anything he could do about that, now was there?

“…in a manner of speaking,” he replied, and the spell allowed that. “No antlers, though.” He tapped the side of his head, then cocked it to the left. “How about you? Humans don’t come by strength like yours naturally. Part bear? Or mechanical modification?” He’d noticed steam hiss from one of the guy’s joints in the last fight, but he was curious as to how many of his limbs were mechanical. He wasn’t an automaton like the other one, but he might have capabilities that approached that.

The Lieutenant studied Lohengrin from his peripheral vision, occasionally gazing out over the horizon. He'd met many like him—disgruntled, angry at uncontrollable situations and tainted with a sadness that could not be rectified by any conventional means. The kind of sorrow that bit in deep, dug in its talons, and gnawed until there was nothing left to chew. Still, there was something assuring in the similarities. Neither of them liked sharing information, it seemed. Either way, Sven only tipped his head and accepted Lohengrin's vague response. Hopefully, whenever the time came, they'd be prepared and Lohengrin, too, would be there to guide them through whatever hardship they'd come to face. If he was sent along by Myrddin, then he must've been trustworthy enough. His judgements had always been a great deal more lax than his own, but he believed that he'd never intentionally send someone who intended to do them harm. Most likely, Myrddin had something on him. Blackmail of sorts. Clever as a beady-eyed raven, that one.

How long had Lohengrin known Myrddin, anyway? The question was innocent enough. He chose to keep quiet. Destruction mage—it made sense given the nature of his abilities, manipulated against the sand troll with a brazenness and savagery that expressed great control over the wizardry he professed to have. The Lieutenant nodded again, wondering whether Lohengrin's preference for the fiery arts reflected on a hot-blooded temperament. In spite of working with many soldiers who dabbled in the arts, Sven didn't know much about it himself. He wasn't sure where magic stemmed from, nor did he pretend to understand the boundaries to their capabilities. Was there a fringe of sorts that they couldn't cross? Steel, metal, and tangible flesh was all he knew. Death-dealing and violence in close proximity. The Lieutenant shifted his position, raking his gaze away from the lumbering clouds. Age may have been dulling his senses, but he was hard-pressed to let go of his shrewd eyes.

Mulling over Lohengrin's words, Sven took a deep breath and exhaled through his nose. He paused once more, and finally shrugged his heavy shoulders. “Another kind, I'm thinking.” He left it at that. There may have been a stream of words bellying his curt, final sentences, but Sven showed no signs of continuing his guesses. There were many, many kinds of Mutatio. Each shared a significant bond with one particular animal—some ran with wolves, while others flew on gilded wings. If Lohengrin chose to share his true lineage, then he would do so on his own terms. Sven wanted his suspicions made aware, and he'd done so. He'd still keep an eye on him. Perhaps, more out of curiosity than scepticism. When Lohengrin questioned his unusual show of strength, it was Sven's turn to laugh. Somewhat amused, entirely bitter. The accompanying smile faltered, pulling into a tight frown.

Just as though it were listening in on their conversation, the Lieutenant's forearm hissed and spat steam from the crook of his elbow, sending a creaking spasm through his mechanical fingers. He clamped his meaty hand over his wrist, nonchalantly pinning it to the railing. Laughing engines in a disruptive, harshly functioning beast. Eighty-something percent of his body had been crated and rebuilt by kind, desperate hands. It managed to run like broken clockwork. “Was once, uh. Dead, dying.” He began to say, tilting his head. “Good arzt. Fixed me up, but is not working so good anymore. Too much. Causes problems vith vhat is not changed.” He was dying. Slowly, but surely. Technology had kept him alive, but not indefinitely. His bones were weaker than the metals and synthetic-things they'd put in him. “Part bear vhould be nice.”

“Tough break,” Lohengrin said, his tone devoid of both pity and mockery. That was about as close to sincerity as he got, actually. He didn’t pity Sven, because pity was how you nicely told someone you thought they were weak, and he wasn’t stupid. The Lieutenant wasn’t that. And he wasn’t mocking him because… well, he understood. What it felt like to be half the person you were supposed to be. Less. To be missing something vital and important. To be uncomfortable as hell in a body that didn’t feel like yours anymore. At least this meat-puppet he walked around in gave him an excuse. That he was equally-uncomfortable as a mass of rippling muscle and resplendent scales was just his luck.

“There’s a healer on board now, though. Don’t like her much, but I can attest to the fact that’s she’s damn good. Between her and the pixie captain, I’m sure they could help with that, if you asked.” Not that he was going to tell. If Sven would rather stay in a pained, deteriorating body, then that was his business, and none of Lohengrin’s. If he’d already asked and they couldn’t do much, then at least the suggestion would be the last time a reminder ever came from the mercenary. It seemed so… stupid. That someone like him, even without the majority of his power and eternally disgraced, got to live on the near side of forever (at least, he’d never heard of any of his sort dying other than in battle before), and a guy like that had to die so soon just because he was human.

Well, it wasn’t like there was anything he could do about it. He smiled crookedly at the other man’s last comment. “Just growl a little more often. You’re close enough, as far as I can tell.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Lohengrin Character Portrait: Vivian Zeona

Earnings

0.00 INK

Swinging her legs in air, thousands of miles about the surface of Albion, sat little Vivi. She sat upon a section of the railing erected to stop people from doing the exact kind of stupid things she was currently doing. Not that any of the crew's shouts to that effect were heeded. Every one of them were met with a loud laugh and a wave of her arm. She liked to live life dangerously, else where was the fun? Even so, sitting on the railing and looking down upon the planet was only fun for so long, and she'd since grown bored of it. She sat, chin held up by her hand and she looked absolutely dejected. The idea of flying on a airship had since lost its novelity.

It was about then that Lohengrin made his way up to the deck. Or he had always been there and Vivi just never noticed? She was never the one to pay attention to much. The rusty gears in her head began to grind as she thought of the things she could do to stave off the boredom. Then in a moment of eureka, it struck her. Showing little to no caution at all, Vivi fell backward onto her hands, and took a few steps aways from the railing on them. Finally, she decided to let her feet do the natural thing and let them fall, standing up right. With that useless bit of silliness done, she skipped across the deck and descended, and when she reappeared ten minutes later, she held two swords. Her own, and another, unmarked blade. Apparently, someone made a trip down to the armory.

She had an idea, and she'll be damned if she'd be deterred from her set course. She continued to skip all the way to Lohengrin, until she stopped and stared at the man with her wide grey eyes. WIthout saying a word, she shoved the unmarked blade into his hand and shifted her own to her shoulder. With her now presently free hand, she reached up to grab Lohengrin's collar and dragged him toward a more open area of the deck. "Come along Henny, I'll learn ya how to fight like a man yet," Vivi said.

Luck was in Lohengrin's favor today. Honestly, if the Deer-boy had been the one she noticed instead of him, then he'd be the one in her clutches instead. She was going to teach someone to fight and then they were going to spar. May the Old Kings have mercy on their souls if they tried to say no.

He’d been contemplating pushing the little bird on the wire, just to teach her something about caution. He’d not actually let her fall to her death, of course—not even he was that cruel—but even as he was turning the merit of the idea over in his mind, she did a completely unnecessary acrobatic maneuver of some sort and disappeared. Oh well; amusement averted for the moment. He supposed there was nothing for it but to go back to brooding, something he personally thought he had down to a fine art these days.

Indeed, the flame was on his fingertip before she reappeared, and he had to extinguish it hurriedly when she shoved a sword into his hand, so as not to burn her. On second thought, maybe he should have increased it instead—it would have deterred whatever bizarre human behavior pattern this was. His eyes narrowed as she hauled him by the collar (though honestly he didn’t move unless he wanted to), and he rolled them, huffing out an irritated breath at her words. Eventually, he stopped moving, which meant that any further attempts to tug him would be quite fruitless.

“Oh?” he inquired lazily, looking the practice sword up and down, then frowning and laying it aside, to draw his own instead. The blade was chipped, the edge ragged in several places, but then, it was several hundred years old. That it was still serviceable at all spoke to the craftsmanship it had been made with. “And why would I want to learn something like that? I recall surviving the Sand Troll encounter in better shape than most.” He’d survived worse than that, too. He knew it wasn’t on his skills as a swordsman, of course—he’d never needed to learn the art of bladewielding, because he’d always had the artless strength and speed necessary to make himself more or less effective without it. Perhaps he’d be better suited to an axe, but he rather liked this sword.

Vivi produced a long, exaggerated sigh and answered him, "I said like a man, Henny, not a pansy. What if we fight something that can block your magic, hmm? What are you going to do? Flopping around with that piece of metal you call a sword isn't fighting... It's flopping." She said, taking note of the chipped piece of metal in his hands. Right, now she'd have to be careful about not breaking it, lest run the risk of feeling guilty. She sighed, but slipped her own sword out of its sheath either way, where she then tossed the empty scabbard to the side.

Clinks issued from her boots as she tapped the sword against them, making sure that the metal was still in working order. The only armor she ever wore were on her hands and feet, they'd better been in top shape. If the pieces were not kept up, then she could find herself just shy of the total number of four appendages. To that end, she tightened the bracers on her arm as well just to be sure. Now that the equipment check was done, she dropped the tip of her saber down and motioned Lohengrin to come forward.

"Come on, let me see what I'm working with."

It took a lot more than that rather sad attempt at an emasculating insult to perturb him. Indeed, the look he gave her in return was pretty much blank, as though he didn’t quite comprehend what she said. Well, the words he understood very easily; it was the intention behind them that was unclear. Why the fuck did this girl care what happened when he fought something that could block his magic? Anything that could do this was bound to be able to kill all of them without a care for what their skills were with flimsy steel, but he didn’t say that.

It was with a sigh of his own that the mercenary decided to humor her. Even if she was just doing it for entertainment, he saw no real reason to decline, and she would probably just annoy the hell out of him if he did. So he swung, checking his strength but not his speed. The point wasn’t to break her arms, after all, and he’d rather avoid the awkward questions that would come of hitting harder than a human being had any right to. He was quite sure the machine had him out-muscled, and maybe Sven’s mechanical limb did, but nothing made of flesh would. A small perk, for all the good it did him.

The blow came in diagonally, in a downward stroke from left-to-right, whistling as it cut through the air.

The gauntlet was there to intercept the blow, though the strength was greater than she imagined. It required a bit more effort to stop the blow than initially thought, but she adapted quickly enough to put her shoulder into it as well, better distributing the force more equally over a greater area. The girl wasn't exceptionally bright, and even sometimes ditzy, but that brain power was put to better use in doing stuff she thought was fun. Fighting was one of those things. Where deerboy was a scholar, she was a warrior, through and through.

Vivi looked at Lohengrin's blade with little more than boredom. No bells and whistles there, just a straight up slice. Servicable, hell it might had even taken down a greenskin or a goblin. But she was not cannon fodder, she was a warrior-empress, with a side helping of pirate. The tip of her own sword raised dangerously up from the deck and made a deal of winding up to return the blow. It was a telegraphed blow, but it was meant to be. Instead of following through with her sword, her right foot shot forward looking to kick him in the kneecap.

There were no rules in battle, and she was not fair, the only goals of any engagement should be to survive and to win, at any means necessary. "Rule one, Henny. Fight to win,"

Lohengrin was in an interesting place. Smart enough to recognize a feint when he saw it, he didn’t bother to try blocking that, but he honestly had no idea what she was feinting to cover—at least, not until a metal-plated foot cracked into his knee. With a grunt, the mercenary backed off a couple steps, testing the leg and finding it still serviceable, though the hit itself had hurt like a bitch. A breath hissed out between his teeth, several strands of hair falling in front of his eyes. He really needed to do something about that. The ridiculous nickname she’d seen fit to give him grated, but he only scowled. “Woman, if I was fighting to win, you’d be ashes. You can’t block my magic.”

Regardless, he acknowledged the point, and this time put a little more thought into what he was doing, sweeping horizontally and expecting it to be blocked or dodged, which was why he followed up by pushing forward, lowering himself so as to hit her with his shoulder while her guard was opened or she was recovering from the dodge. If that would work any better than the last hit, he didn’t know, but it was worth a try. Checking his power or not, he had the strength advantage, and was probably about as fast… but she was obviously far more agile than he.

And exceptionally more devious, he forgot that part. "Implying you could hit me at all," She said, quite pleased at the reaction she managed to provoke. His response managed to crack a smile on her face. Now things were getting fun. As he came in horizontally Vivi kept up with her erratic and wildly unpredictable style. Arching her back, she fell back into a handspring, the whistling chipped blade passing harmlessly by her lower back. Sensing that he was still coming after her, she did another handspring, again still banking on her toes to do the damage. If he didn't bite off his shoulder block, then he'd bite off her boot.

Once she returned upright she crossed her arms and tilted her head, taking on an innocent expression. "You're fast Henny, but that means nothing if you can't hit little ol' me. That's like rule two. Or something," She wasn't going to outright tell him how he could hit her. Where was the fun in giving him all the answers? She'd drop breadcrumbs, but if he wanted to do better, then he'd have to bring it about himself. Strength, speed, agility, all of it meant nothing if you lacked the creativity to utilize it. In a sense, she thought of herself an artist. And Henny would be her protege whether he wanted it not. That was his misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And this was basically how it carried on for several passes, with Lohengrin utilizing increasingly-complicated and creative attacks which didn’t actually hit (though he managed to slice a few hairs at one point, he was fairly sure), and earning the occasional new bruise when she retaliated. It was growing tiresome, and he did not find it nearly so amusing as she did. Nevertheless, it was rather novel, which he supposed gave it some merit. Mostly, though, he was just annoyed. His temper was on a pretty long fuse, but... she was pretty damn irritating, so there was that.

It was about twenty minutes into the endeavor when he decided he was done playing by the damn rules. Drawing back, he threw his sword at her—not that he really expected it to hit, but he was mostly sure he knew which way she’d go to dodge, and got there, attempting to tackle Vivian to the deck bodily, as though quite dirty as a fighter, she would be at a more significant disadvantage in a grapple than he would.

It was about time he did something about her. Truth be told, while Lohengrin was getting more annoyed, Vivi was steadily enjoying herself. It didn't hold the same novelity as a fight to the death would have. There was something about fighting for her life that ramped up the exhiliration. It wasn't a feeling that could be artificially recreated... without someone actually dying, but then it wouldn't be artificial at that point. That being said, she didn't expect anyone to die in their fight. He was their guide and they needed him after all. She wasn't so ditzy that she'd off their only guide.

When he threw his sword, Vivi batted off to the side and put her hands on her hips, "Dammit Henny, I'm trying to teach you how to use that thing. You can't use it if it's oh shit," To his credit, she seriously did not expect the tackle. She'd managed to toss her own blade elsewhere so they wouldn't fall on top of it making the whole thing moot, but still. His gamble paid off. She was on her back with him on top. Things did get dirty, something she thought about with tongue firmly in cheek. Disadvantaged maybe, but she couldn't be counted out yet. Her knee came up aiming for his crotch, as per usual the dirtiest of fighters.

Fortunately for the mercenary, he’d also been brought up in the pragmatic school of combat, and this was not the first time someone had tried such a trick on him. He shifted, and though her knee slammed uncomfortably into his inner thigh, it avoided anything more… damaging. Of course, the maneuver was also good enough to halt his attempt to press the outside of his forearm into her throat and force her to yield. His balance was thrown somewhere slightly to the left, and he swore under his breath in a language she wouldn’t recognize… unless she happened to speak draconian, which he doubted. Another bruise to add to the tally of them he was forming. Honestly, even if he managed the pin, she was going to win for hits landed. Regaining his balance, he tried to cut off her air again, but she wasn’t making it easy. Damn scrappy, this one.

So he was catching on. Good for him. It was about time he got some offense in. Though now it was really conflicting with her rule one. The knee managed to throw him somewhat off-balance, seeing how he felt unbalanced on top of her. He tried to regain quickly enough and his arm went for her throat. She admired his pragmatism, almost brought a tear to her eye. But the tear would have to wait, she was busy. He had size, weight, and strength advantage on her, so forcing him off of her that way was not in the cards. So Vivi would do what she did best. Think outside of the box and do something unexpected. That unexpected thing began her Vivi grabbing Lohengrin's collar and pulling. Instead of headbutting or something normal, she planted a kiss right on his lips.

Hoping that it would cause enough hesitation and confusion, she shoved, trying to force her way on top.

The fuck was this crazy bitch doing? He’d dealt with pretty much every dirty trick in the book at some point, but this was new. Well, not being kissed, obviously, but definitely being kissed in the middle of a grapple. Instinctively, he pulled away, perhaps thinking that she’d try to bite him next or something. There was only so much he was willing to put up with for the sake of a mere sparring victory that he honestly didn’t value that much. He didn’t realize it until he managed to yank himself free, but doing so had eased the pressure of his weight on her considerably, and he supposed he should have seen it coming when suddenly, he was looking at the sky, back against the deck.

“Fuck it,” he said, tone caught somewhere between resignation and perplexity. There might have even been a hint of admiration in it—he’d certainly not thought of that one before, though to be fair, he’d fought many more men than women and wasn’t sure he’d ever be in a position where such a maneuver was tactically sound. Also, he wasn’t completely insane, which she apparently was. “I give up, you win. Can I go now?”

Vivi now sat triumphantly crossed legged on top of Lohengrin, obviously proud of herself. Rule one was rule number one, after all. Fight to win, with the addendum of at any means necessary. She looked down upon Lohengrin as he conceded defeat, somewhat a little disappointed, but overall she was quite pleased with how the whole thing worked out. It was a lot of fun, and maybe Henny learned a thing or two. "Rule... er, last, Henny. Vivi always wins. Nice try though, lasted longer than most," She said, patting the side of his face before rolling off the top of him.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Skybound Character Portrait: Percy Galath Character Portrait: Mordecai Character Portrait: Lohengrin Character Portrait: Kethyrian Tor Character Portrait: Sven Diederich Character Portrait: Theon Zeona Character Portrait: Vivian Zeona Character Portrait: Diomache Castillo

Earnings

0.00 INK

Part Three: The Green Knight



As the Elysium approached the northern quarter of Albion, her captain elected to have the navigator plot a course that would swing them well away from any major population centers. The more of Artorias’s troops they could avoid, the better—but there was no mistake that venturing this far into civilized territory was dangerous, no matter what precautions were in place.

As if to emphasize this point, it was late one night when the emergency alert systems aboard the ship began to blare a signal—all hands on deck. An Imperial cruiser had been sighted, and unfortunately, it looked like the Elysium had not gone unnoticed, either. Though Gwen had considered flying the parley flag and trying to talk her way out of the situation, the resounding boom of cannon-fire ended all such inclinations on her part, especially when the cannonball itself smashed into the hull of her precious ship, causing it to tremble and crack as some of the reinforced boards it was made of splintered. It was a glancing blow at best, but nobody messed with her baby and got away with it. Not even Artorias.

Lohengrin was awoken rudely by the clarion call of alarms, a rather grating sound that managed to serve its purpose quite well: he was awake and armed within moments. While he wouldn’t normally have considered a shirt a very important item to have at such a point, he did have a rather telltale line of red scales along his spine, and so he threw one on anyway, grabbing his sword and running to the deck, bare feet slapping noisily on the wooden stairs up from the crew quarters. Throwing open the door, he emerged to a star-spattered sky and a lot of halogen lights, illuminating the deck for those on it, which at this point, appeared to be slightly more than half the crew.

He’d expected complete chaos, but the crew were moving about efficiently, shouting commands or requests when necessary but otherwise remaining quiet. The rhythmic pounding of feet over planks was the loudest thing—well, that and the roar of the other ship’s engine, which could be heard from over here. Were they that close? He’d have expected the captain to be in the cockpit, but she was at the prow instead, staring straight ahead with a hard look to her eye that he recognized, but would not have expected to see from her. Her rifle was slung across her thin shoulder, her mouth tugged down into a scowl that probably would have done Sven proud. She was studying something in the distance, and part of him wasn’t sure he wanted to interrupt that, but in the end he did anyway.

“What are we dealing with?” he asked, his profession for once obvious in his demeanor. The breeze of their passage played with her hair, his shirt, and he realized it was actually getting a bit cold. Fuck, he hated the cold. But neither of them commented on it, and he peered into the darkness, trying to discern anything useful of that shape he could make out ahead.

“Imperial cruiser, Class A, from the hull design and that awful engine. A war machine. We could outrun her, but she’d probably cripple our engines, and where we’re going, they aren’t allowed to follow.” It was far too soon to let anyone get an inkling of what they were doing. The mission was still in its early stages, and the team far from stable. Gwen knew this the same way she knew many things she’d never say—from observations she pretended not to make.

Lohengrin’s brows drew together. He didn’t know much about airships, but he knew enough. “We’re outgunned,” he contributed flatly. Class A ships were the biggest, baddest things in Artorias’s impressive arsenal, and while slow, they would have enough ammo to hit the Elysium somewhere important before she could get clear. The angle was wrong for an escape.

Gwendolyn smiled then, a predatory flash of teeth. “Doesn’t matter,” she said with a shake of her head. “Because we’re going to board her.”

Sleep deprived or not, the alarms did their job of waking Percy up. Face first on the desk he had repurposed for himself, the vicious sirens assaulted him, throwing him to the floor with a start. Taking a moment to realize what exactly was going on, he looked up to the flashing light and tilted his head curiously. Whatever it mean, it was obviously not good. Percy made his way back to his feet, pulling the paper that was still adhered to his forehead and slamming it on the desk. Maybe the cervine was a little cranky, but considering the lack of sleep and a rude awakening maybe it could be excused. Checking the key to make sure he didn't throw it on the floor in his fit, he grabbed his staff by the door and made his way to the upper deck.

The glancing blow made Percy stumble on his ascent up the stairs, but he recovered quite nicely and pushed ahead to the deck. It was eerily quiet. Sure, effort noises and the banging of machinery was still present, but every breath had a purpose and was not wasted. There were no shanties to keep the graveyard crew awake for now. One of the crew pointed Percy in the right direction, toward Gwen. Lohengrin seemed to have been the first to arrive, and Percy didn't seem to be that far behind him, catching most of their conversation.

He stood by the railing on the other side of Lohengrin, staff planted firmly in the boards at his feet leaving him staring sagely in the open skies. Sagely or not, Gwen's response forced Percy's head against his staff. "Of course we are..." Most of the enthusiam in his voice had been sucked out long ago. It was unlikely it was a joke, so Percy closed his eyes and began to concentrate. There were no antlions in the sky, after all. He needed to know what kind of aid he could expect.

"Damn right we are!" Came the perky voice somewhere to their right. Admist the nearby netting stood Vivi, face positively alight with anticipation. She hung dangerously over the prow with one hand holding onto the netting, the other carrying her naked sword. She itched for a fight and wished that she could jump onto the ship from there. Unfortunately, she'd have to wait a couple of minutes for them to get closer. But that was fine. She'd spend those minutes savoring the moment they board an Imperial ship.

Mordecai was not a being that had a need for sleep, but sometimes, when there was nothing else to do and the seldom-restful captain was busy, he would power most of his systems down for a little while. Everyone else slept at night, anyway, and though he still enjoyed lending a hand with the operations of the ship, he did not desire to do so all the time. Occasionally, a lack of activity was not such a bad thing. It was in this half-aware state that he was instantly roused by the sound of alarms, the tones leading him to believe that it was a call for all hands. As a being with hands, it seemed only appropriate that he answer it.

In the hallway of the crew quarters, he stepped aside so as not to accidentally run into Mistress Kethyrian, who was looking somewhat upset, her hair unbound and askew, who was just belting her knife into place at her waist. “Mordecai,” she said, voice still a bit sleep-dampened, and he returned the greeting politely. Together, they advanced up the stairs, Kethyrian blinking against the harsh lights on the deck. She’d see better against pure darkness than this, but not everyone grew up in a cave, and she couldn’t really be too upset about that.

It was easy enough for the both of them to locate their allies, and though the healer knew naught of airships, the automaton seemed interested in the specifications. They approached, both looking out over the prow at the oncoming ship. Kethy could make out figures dressed on the deck, and they appeared to be dressed in green uniforms. “Vipers?” she demanded of nobody in particular, clearly irritated. “I thought those were infantry units?” Gritting her teeth, she shook her head; it probably didn’t matter. The fact that they were boarding proved in and of itself why infantry units could be useful on a ship, she supposed.

“This unit detects cannons on the deck being loaded,” Mordecai informed them tranquilly, and Kethyrian swore under her breath in her birth tongue. They seemed to be getting closer to this other ship, which seemed like the opposite of a good idea if the lizard was right about them being outgunned. Then again… what else could they do but get in close and try to punch through the soldiers actually manning the cannons? She still sympathized with the scholar the most.

Theon found the last of the caravan's guards coughing up blood on the side of the road, coming out in red rivulets to run down his cheek and onto his neck. He'd been hit low, judging by the steadily blooming red splotch on his shirt. "Grayson, your pistol," Theon commanded, pulling his hood back and his mask down from his face. They were near the rolling dunes of the true desert now, and likely wouldn't want to go much farther north after this. It would be slim pickings up that way anyway. They cut back east, dipping south enough to avoid the majority of the orcish warbands. They could stop in Deluge and sell of their loot. The men could fuck all the whores they wanted, piss away their hard earned cash, and come begging to him to deliver them more. Maybe he'd indulge them.

A tall, lanky man handed Theon his pistol, for which the scryer did not thank him. It was expected of lessers to follow the order of their betters. He thanked them went they went out of their way for him, not before. Theon liked Grayson's pistol the most, apart from his duckfoot. The barrel was longer than most, and it fired a large shot, typically used for rifles. While the duckfoot was certainly overkill to use on one unarmed, dying man, this pistol was only slight overkill. Theon knelt down in front of the guard, wondering how much he'd been hired for. Too little, whatever it was.

"You don't have to kill me," he said, pleading with his eyes as Theon pushed the barrel up under his chin. "Just take the valuables and go. Please, I have a--" A loud bang rang out, and the shot exploded out the top of the man's skull, silencing him. "Don't tell me what to do," Theon grumbled, standing and flipping around the still smoking pistol to hand back to Grayson. "Take everything you can carry," he told his men. "We're headed back to Deluge, to see what this buys us." A cheer went up from his band of highwaymen, but it was immediately followed by a shot from a cannon, the ball landing with a heavy thud against a small dune of sand. None of the men seemed to notice it at all, which made Theon frown. He only noticed it because it had never happened in this dream before. This dream was supposed to be almost over. He walked over to inspect it, kneeling down. When he lowered his head to it, he noticed a slight hissing sound.

He hadn't taken two steps away from it by the time it exploded.


Theon woke to the sound of sirens blaring, and he cursed loudly at them. When he heard the booming in the distance beyond the walls of his quarters, however, he knew that his dream had been trying to tell him something. He threw himself back down on the bed, trying to make himself as small as possible. The cannonball exploded through one wall and out the other, the force of it passing enough to throw his bed on its side, taking Theon down to the floor with it. Thanking his dream, he scrambled into his armor and geared up, wondering why these assholes always attacked at night.

He didn't even know who they were yet, but the cannon fire told him something. He was wary enough about flying on this thing, getting into a battle with another wasn't exactly on his to-do list. Nevertheless, he made his way up to the deck, where he found Dio climbing up into the rigging to get a better look at the enemy. Gwen and the others were gathered at the prow, and Theon got his first look at the warship poking holes in them, just in time to hear the captain say they were going to board them. "How does that work? We're not just going to... jump onto it, are we?"

Gwen laughed, a sound altogether too cheery for the situation they were in, but anything about her that might have been soft was gone now. “Not quite,” she replied with a grin over her shoulder, but then she lowered her rifle from its spot at her shoulder and strode through a gap in the group to the edge of the upper deck. Her next words were shouted for all to hear.

“Listen up, lovelies! That’s a class A we’re looking at, which means the king in all his splendiferous glory has decided to pay attention to little old us!” There was a general chorus of disgruntlement to meet this statement, but it died off quickly. “That big ugly cow of a warship and her crew,”— she thrust her metal hand in the general direction of the vessel and people in question— “Think they can just fly over here, mess with our favorite lady and us, and get away with that! If the king wants a show, we’re going to give him a show!” Maybe the righteous indignation was a little much, but she was in a bad mood and she was going to roll with it.

The cheering was worth it. Damn, she loved these people. Half of them were almost as crazy as she was, and the others were just bloody loyal, and both of these things were completely okay with her. They didn’t look like much, but these were her people, and dammit all if they were going to lose to a bunch of poncy Vipers with some fancy cannons. “So get to work! Sprocket, you’re in charge of the bombardment line—set up the catapults. Ducky, bring the torches from below—I want two people to each catapult, and another two on all the starboard cannons. This is gonna get nice and ugly before we’re done. Maul, Buddy, Ragdoll, and Babyface, you’re with me!”

She turned to the more or less assembled members of Avalon’s Dawn, setting her hands on her hips. “And so are you lot.” Grinning, she waved up at Dio so the woman would know to come down and join them. Once everyone was in a group, she spoke quickly. “Soon as I give the order, Froggy’s gonna fly us in close, then a couple of the bigger guys are going to lay planks between the Elysium and the cow. Heavies first, rangers behind. If you’re more comfortable shooting things from in-between two of my cannons, do that, but don’t get in the way of reloading, please. There will be two planks, so that means two groups. I’m gonna be at the fore, and Sunshine’s in charge of the one downship. I’ll let you sort yourselves out, but try to be smart about it, mmkay?” A pause. “We accept surrenders here, but not before we knock 'em cold so they can't get us in the back. Don't kill anyone who isn't a soldier, please-- someone's gotta get the cow outta the sky when we're done. Artorias is going to get himself a nice message out of this."




In short order, the groups had taken their places, and though the crew worked fervently around them, they were for the most part, still. The approach had been steady, but, seeing that everyone was lined up where they should be, Gwen raised her rifle, bracing the butt against her shoulder, and lowered her goggles onto her face. Everything was filtered orange now, but it was much easier to see, and she picked her target with care, exhaling and holding her breath as she squeezed the trigger of the gun. It went off with a riotous boom that cut over the drone of the opposing engine, and a sailor on the other deck dropped, clutching a wound in her shoulder. That should put that particular cannon out of commission for a little while, but more importantly, it acted as a signal to Gorlak, currently engaged in the tricky business of piloting the Elysium up alongside the cow.

With the sound of the shot, the speed suddenly increased, smoothly enough so as not to jar any of those working, and they were approaching rapidly. Gwen stood back to allow Tiny and Kerosine, two of the bulkier members of her crew, to ready the boarding planks, knowing that Grizzly and Mouse were doing the same on Sunshine’s end of things.

The plan, such as it was, was relatively simple. She and her team would clear the upper deck and make a rather large distraction while Sven and his ran for belowdecks, where they would need to work as fast as possible to take out the line of cannoneers manning the bigger guns that were just now emerging from sliding wooden panels in the side of the cow. At such close range, they wouldn’t do much to her baby, but there was still a chance that a lucky shot or two could hit something important, and she didn’t want that.

Smooth as butter, the Elysium drew parallel to the cow, and the boarding planks were down before the other fools could even load their guns. Sprocket’s raspy, but feminine voice, called for the first round of catapult fire, and it was quick in coming—the arms launched large skins filled with a gooey, tarlike substance that would seriously hamper the movement of and over anything it hit. She’d already told the guild members not to step in it if they could avoid doing so. Gwen didn’t have time to make sure they heeded her though—she was already reloading, letting Gadget, Daisy, and Rosy head into the fray before her, as all of them were more disposed to getting up-close and personal than she was.

Mordecai was the first across on his end, deciding that “provide a distraction” translated in his terms to “throw lots of things and people around to draw attention to yourself.” This was, therefore, his plan, insofar as he chose one. For the moment, he held off on activating one of his combat modes, as he was unsure which would be more needed, and switching between them was quite difficult at the best of times. So as soon as he’d spotted the first wave of assailants making for himself and the others, he half-shrugged, and allowed one of them, clearly mistaking him for human, to approach, then stepped into the man’s guard and picked him up, by the bicep and then one of his legs, pivoted around a few times for momentum, and then effortlessly launched him into a knot of his comrades, taking them all to the deck.

It had certainly succeeded in drawing attention.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Lohengrin Character Portrait: Kethyrian Tor Character Portrait: Sven Diederich Character Portrait: Diomache Castillo

Earnings

0.00 INK

Kethyrian was not exactly pleased about being on the same squad as the lizard, but she would cope, she supposed. She didn’t mind Sven, and though Dio was far too… something, she was also tolerable, and all they really had to do was fight, anyway. Their job was to find some stairs as quickly as possible, apparently to make sure that their floating hunk of wood and steel did not become a falling hunk of wood and steel. Well, that was probably for the best. As the ship swooped in and the two enormous humans (not quite the size of Sven, perhaps, but close enough to her), lowered a broad piece of wood that was to serve as a bridge between ships, Kethyrian drew her dagger, rising onto the balls of her feet and dipping into the magic that rested with the ease of a calm body of water beneath her skin. She need only shape it with the vessel of her will.

For now, she did not, simply maintaining the connection for the sake of ease later. It was also, she would never admit, a measure of comfort. Her eyes were perfectly adapted for the dark, so the nighttime conditions did not bother her. For once, she could actually see better than the people around her, unlike when she was usually half-blind in the harsh glare of the suns. This, she found quite satisfactory.

The favisae followed Sven across the gangplank, dipping into the line by cutting off the lizard’s path, fleet and entirely balanced over the suspended board. They were met almost immediately by a complement of ten soldiers, men and women of varying ages but uniform humanity. She wondered if humans ever noticed things like that. She hadn’t, really, living among her own people, but here on the surface, such things were far more obvious. Picking the opposite direction from Sven, Kethy launched a shield, knocking about four of them to the ground, then darted aside so that Dio and the lizard could hit with whatever they had. One man engaged her, swinging a curved saber something like Vivian’s, but Kethyrian parried with her poniard, ducking quickly to the side and laying a hand on his unprotected face. The magic came as easily as it always had, and he dropped heavily, slave to the whims of gravity.

Gwen's warning not to kill anyone that wasn't a soldier went wasted on Dio, as she wasn't planning on killing anyone at all. The others would kill people, no doubt, some or most of them, but Dio would always seek to avoid it, soldiers or no. These were the king's men, meaning their efforts had apparently drawn quite a bit of attention. She supposed that meant they were making a difference, but if it was going to continuously force them into battles like this, it was bad news. Dio wasn't exactly the best choice in an all out battle between crews, after all. She'd take down a few of them easily enough, but it was more than a little tiring, and she was better at running, climbing and hiding than she was at fighting. Maybe there would be some way for her to be more useful here.

To start, they needed to find stairs to take them down to the lower levels, so they could avoid having holes punched in the side of their ship. She didn't know just how good their armor was, but big ships belonging to the king would have really big cannons, and they weren't shooting spitballs, as much as Dio wished otherwise. The thought actually gave her an idea. She could make them shoot spitballs of a sort, except of the variety that knocked out their own men. It would... probably put a strain on her limits, but the idea of knocking out an entire floor of enemy soldiers without killing any of them was too tempting to ignore.

The others were more than capable of engaging the soldiers who presented themselves to the group on the upper deck, so Dio darted off to the side as soon as she was able to, climbing up this ship's rigging to get a height advantage. She used this to make an impressive leap over their heads and behind them. The next soldier attempting to make a strike at Kethyrian got a blast of electricity in the back from her pistol, but Dio was sure to keep her distance as best she could from the actual fighting, knowing she'd need most of her strength for what she had planned. The stairs were just out of sight around the nearest corner, and she could hear the crews loading the first round of shots at the Elysium, no doubt almost ready. "The stairs are right here!" she called, when the others were able to move on. "Sven, I'll need your help with something. We need to secure one of the cannons below, and turn it on the soldiers, but leave it unloaded. I've got an idea." She'd never be able to turn one of those cannons on her own. Sven was undoubtedly the best choice for a task like that. Of course, they'd have to take care of one of the crews first. Quietly, if possible. She didn't want to be rushed by everyone down there.

Lohengrin snorted when the elf cut in front of him, but he wasn’t going to get miffed about it. Her petty vengeance, if indeed that was the intention, amused him greatly. Instead, he willingly filed in behind her, slicing deep into the throat of one of those she felled with her barrier-magic. The ribbons of red spilled out onto the deck, staining it darker than it was, but he had no time for the poetry of death. There were still too many enemies alive for his taste. The thief had already located the stairs, and he started to back slowly in that direction, still fending off and delivering hits as he was able, but he and Kethyrian and the chirpy one’s crewmen were about to take a lot more heat since the big guy was being called off already for some plan the girl had hatched.

He hoped it was worth it, because missing two of their little party already left them even more outnumbered than they had been to start with. Two came for him at once, the left one slashing with a broad-bladed scimitar, which he parried with enough strength to send the other blade flying. Doing so sent him a bit off-balance, however, and he was not able to take full advantage of that. Still, even as his sword dragged a line into the wood of the deck, his free hand lit up with red fire, and the ball of it smote the fighter on the right, who was trying to capitalize on his awkward position by smashing her mace into his side. That hit, he took, but not as brutally as he would have, and though he felt the splinter and crack of a rib, it wasn’t broken all the way through, he didn’t think.

The man with the scimitar came back in for a second try, and this time, Lohengrin was better, blocking with the right about of force and snaking his bastardsword around to skewer the fellow in the center of his chest, the bloodied end emerging six inches or so out the other side. It wasn’t the most elegant of kills, but it did the job, and that was two more down, at least.

The Lieutenant was not acclimatized to darkness, though there was an unusual sheen to his eyes, glimmering slightly whenever lantern-lights swayed in their direction. He made a harrumphing sound in the back of his throat, patiently waiting for the gangplank to be put into place. He knew what he had to do, and would carry it out cleanly—less from necessity or habits, and more because of Gwendolyn's precise orders. None, save for the soldiers, would die by his hand. He only had to trust that Kethyrian and Lohengrin would do the same, for he did not doubt that Dio's morals had remained unchanged since meeting her in that underground dungeon. First into battle, and first to touch feet onto the second ship, the Lieutenant stepped off the gangplank and briskly swung his right fist into an oncoming soldier's gawking face. Young man of tender age, eyebrows knit, mouth twisted, willing to confront the largest foe; formidable, but stupid. He was the first to keel backwards, unconscious. Sven shook out his meaty-hand, eyeing his companions as they engaged with their own enemies.

He may have been like that, once. Reckless, courageous, fool-hardy enough not to think about who he was fighting. Where they were from, or why, exactly, they fought. It hadn't mattered back then, and it certainly didn't matter now. The Lieutenant moved through the ranks with experienced grace, blocking with a mechanical, hissing limb and switching around to snap the butt of his shotgun into vulnerable places. Things needed to happen quickly before more damage was done to the ship. The cannons needed to be taken care of; disabled or destroyed. While the Lieutenant may have thought of a more inordinate approach, he hadn't noticed Dio darting off by herself. He could see the stairway in the distance, past the soldiers bobbing heads. Steam whirred from his joints as he spun on his heels, hurtling his forearm like a steel crowbar, and catching an older man straight in the chest—which sent him tumbling backwards into three others, who desperately tried to disentangle themselves from the mess.

The shotgun spun in his grip, finally straightening so the threatening bit pointed towards the group of soldiers, clambering over themselves to get out of the way, fumbling with swords and pistols—but they weren't quick enough and he pulled the trigger, plugging several of them with scattered buckshot. By the sounds of it, a couple of them were not entirely dead. Crushed under the weight of their fellows and yowling in pain. Probably clutching their wounded parts, but Sven hadn't had the chance to finish them off because Dio was calling his name. He took a step back and motioned towards Lohengrin, flashing a sign that might have meant keep them off of us. There was no doubt that Lohengrin's brutality, and sheer stubbornness, would keep him alive and well. Too stubborn to die, he was. Not by the likes of these men, anyway. Kethyrian, too, would hold her ground until it was forcefully pulled out beneath her. He did not doubt them.

Like the great bear he wished he was, Sven bullied himself closer to the stairs, shouldering soldiers aside and utilizing his mechanical limbs to savagely beat them away, occasionally turning his forearm over to block incoming blades. They clattered against it uselessly, and were forced backwards when Sven continued plowing towards them. The other soldiers seemed to turn on the other two still remaining on the deck. Soon enough, the Lieutenant reached the stairway, and Dio, before inclining his head. “Is good. Tell me what is to be doing.”

"Follow me, and let me go first." Sven was perhaps the least ideal choice for a sneak attack, but she would need him afterwards. The two of them started down the stairs to the lower level. Upon reaching it, Dio poked her head out, glancing around. They were at the far end of a row of cannon crews, working quickly to put holes in Gwen's ship. That wouldn't do, but they need not kill them all, or even kill any of them, if Dio could pull this off. She had to time this right...

Watching one of the cannons nearby, she leveled her pistol at the back of one of the crewmen manning the nearest gun, the one at the end of the line. In unison with the boom of the other cannon she fired a burst of electricity into the soldier's back, taking him down. She immediately darted out and gave the next a smack to the back of the skull as hard as she could, knocking him unconscious. The third had turned to face her, but there wasn't time for him to draw a weapon before Dio bonked him on the head with the dulled blade, the following shock of combat magic coursing through his system and bringing him to the ground.

"Quickly now, turn it on the crew," she said, helping Sven push, though she didn't think she helped that much. She hadn't seen the cannon loaded, so they didn't have to worry about that. All that was left to do was fire the thing. By her logic, she should be able to use the cannon as a conduit for her magic much like she used her pistol or her sword. On her own, it would be unfocused and likely ineffective, but with a tool like this to harness it for her, she would be capable of much more. "Stand back," she warned, crouching down and laying both arms across the cold barrel of the massive gun. Just as the others began to notice and turn on them, she fired.

With a boom as loud as a bolt of lightning cracking down right in front of the them the cannon fired magical energy, in the form of a cannonball sized sphere of combat magic, arcs of electricity raking through the entire room and hitting every soldier in front of them as it went. The magic was contained to this room, so the others topside or on their own ship would not be in danger, but everyone in this room was instantly taken to the ground, unconscious. The ball exploded on the far wall, give the people down there an extra zap, but after that, it grew quiet.

Dio had been able to watch it all before she grew immediately woozy. Upon trying to stand, she instead slumped heavily into Sven, her eyelids drooping down. "I... I got 'em, Sv... Sve..." But the sentence wouldn't be completed, as she passed out entirely, slumbering rather peacefully against the big man's chest.

That woman was insane, bounding ahead just so she could take out the buccaneers and soldiers in a manner that was a little less violent. Or at least, not fatal and permanent. Either way, Dio managed to knock out every man burgeoning around the now unmanned cannon before Sven even touched foot to the lower level. He could only shake his head. Agility, and a well-thought out plan, did indeed go a long way. Percy would have been proud to witness the feat—wisdom over strength, he'd said. Thankfully, he'd managed to remain relatively quiet, dogging her steps like a great mountain. The steam hissing from his mechanical limbs were receptive enough, obediently clamping down on their usual ruckus. He was close on her heels, stepping around the unconscious heaps.

But, he still wasn't entirely sure what Dio was planning until she motioned towards the cannon, throwing her shoulder into it. It hadn't been loaded from what he'd seen, either. Why did she want to use it? Eyebrows drew together briefly, before his expression smoothed out. No point arguing because the massive weapon wasn't budging. The Lieutenant instinctively grappled with its metal belly, heaving his weight into it and pushing until it pointed out across the deck. Soldiers still scuffled about, shouting to one another. Once it settled, Sven was advised to step back a few paces, which he obligingly carried out. He watched as Dio placed her hands down the barrel, readying herself for some sort of... he couldn't quite figure it out, until the thundering boom rattled through his steel legs. The hair on the nape of his neck stood on end. Electricity crackled around them, surging through the air and somehow creating a large ball of matter, knocking over soldiers like living-dominoes, before finally shattering on the wall.

His mouth worked for a response. After all he'd seen in his service, in the military and on Gwendolyn's crew, the Lieutenant shouldn't have been so surprised, but he swore up and down, in German, that everyone on the crew had an affinity for a carnal, magical element. Lightning surges, fiery fireballs, and the like. Antlers, not included. He was about to comment on her brilliant strategy when he felt something bump into his chest. His arms automatically snapped outwards, settling around the mumbling woman with a hiss—completely spent from her wild idea. He laughed, loudly. Had it been anyone else, he might have swung them over his shoulder and carried them like a wayward sack of potatoes. Instead, Sven simply drew her up in his arms, as if he were holding a child and carefully steered them back towards the upper decks.

“Ja, ja. You did good, fraulein.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Skybound Character Portrait: Mordecai Character Portrait: Theon Zeona Character Portrait: Vivian Zeona

Earnings

0.00 INK

These people were crazy, Theon was certain of it. He was crazy too, of course, but these people all had death wishes, and that was a whole other brand of crazy. They were only flying deathtraps, so far away from the ground that they'd all end up little splats of red when they destroyed each other by firing fucking cannons at each other at point blank range. This was insanely stupid. Gritting his teeth, Theon ran at near top speed across the plank to the other ship, noticing the toaster's rather impressive efforts at drawing attention. His attack resulted in a pile of soliders all clambering to get untangled from one another.

They were soon to be a bunch of meat, of course. Theon pulled the duckfoot from his belt, cocked it, and unloaded a blast on the run into the mass of flesh, blowing large holes in most of them, splashing the others with bits of blood, bone, and brain matter. The gun didn't even fly out of Theon's hand this time, so he stashed and took up the axe instead, catching the first wrist that he came across, stopping a sword slash cold and responding by splitting the bastard's skull down to his mouth with his axe.

The violence had almost made him forget how high up in the air he was, but the next blast of one of their cannons reminded him. They couldn't shoot these fucking things if they had no crewmen left to load and fire, so that was what he set about doing, sprinting towards the nearest crew, slamming his axe into the first's lower back, all the way to the spine. Tossing him aside he grabbed the cuff of the second's shirt. "Grow some wings for me," he said, before casting the man over the edge. Perhaps it was worth analyzing, how Theon desired to inflict what he feared upon others. If only he were the type to do such a thing.

He was not, of course. He would sooner remove men of their heads, as he proved immediately after. The killing spree was interrupted, however, when the last crew member plowed into him weaponless, driving him too quickly towards the edge. His legs bumped up against it, and there was a push on his chest, sending him over. Sheer terror alone made him grab the man's shirt and pull him over, too. He yelped in horror just as Theon grabbed hold of the railing, and the soldier wrapped his arms firmly around the scryer's waist.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!" he shouted repeatedly. He tried to shake the soldier off, but he had a hold on Theon's axe arm. "What are you doing? Let go! You want to kill us both?!" The silence seemed to answer in the affirmative. That was when another of the soldiers appeared on the other side of the railing, knife in hand. Theon glared murderously at him. "I got one of your buddies here, asshole. You're not gonna kill one of your friends, are you?"

Again, the silence seemed to answer in the affirmative.

There was one fatal flaw in the soldier's judgement. He forgot to check behind him. The last thing he would ever feel was the cold kiss of steel against his neck. A pull of a trigger and a resounding boom later, and there was hardly anything left of his face. A mist engulfed those unfortunate enough to be caught in front of him with blood and grey matter. He slunk into the deck and his killer took his place. A smiling face with a hint of disappointment greeted Theon. Vivi was not impressed with her brother's showing. A series of tsk's escaped her mouth as she looked over the poor sight.

"Come on Teo, you're better than this," She said, propping an elbow up on the railing. She then glanced further over the railing and noticed that Theon had company. Making friends without her, it looked like. "Uh, Teo? You've got something on you. Here, I'll get it for you." With that, Vivi leaned on the railing, dangerously stretching herself out into the open expanse below them all and placed a gun to the hanger-on's head. She wasn't foolish, she angled the barrel away from Theon. The look of absolute despair and fright in the soldier's eyes did nothing to abate Vivi's nonchalance, as she pulled the trigger like it was any other chore. Another boom, and Theon would find himself an entire person lighter.

Not one to keep her brother hanging, Vivi reeled herself back over on the deck and holstered her pistol. Then she mounted the railing with a hop, keeping Theon between her feet. With reckless abandon befitting the spitfire, she leaned over the railing and grabbed a handful of the back of Theon's shirt and hauled. Setting the gap of her soles in the railing she arched her back and yanked, trying to reel Theon over edge once more. "Now. You can't be going overboard like that. I don't know what I'd do without you," She said, displaying the sole hint of emotion-- other than excitement-- during the entire boarding. If she wasn't so damn she that she could haul him back in, she'd be freaking out. Vivi just hoped he didn't see the way she had cut a swath toward him the moment his feet left the deck.

"You," She said, jamming an acusing finger in his chest, "Are not leaving my sight again."

"You had no problem leaving me last time," he reminded her sullenly. Between nearly falling to his death and then being rescued by his sister, he was not in the best of moods, and he certainly didn't feel like being scolded. He pushed past her and started reloading his duckfoot. He wasn't sure if he'd meant to say that. Things had changed since the argument that resulted in Vivi abandoning Theon and his raiders, but he still found it irksome for her to act all clingy now, when it had been she who'd left. Maybe that was just the bad mood speaking. He was getting a headache from it all. He needed to kill someone else. The raging spark that had been in her eye moments ago was snuffed out instantly. Her mouth shut tightly, never nearing the everpresent grin that always seemed to make its home on her lips. Her body went rigid and mechanical as Mordecai's. Vivi wordlessly unsheathed her sword and went about mopping up, though the joy in the act had all been but sucked out.

Gwen, meanwhile, was encountering some difficulties of her own. A good captain, she had absurdly retained from someone’s drunken opinion on the matter, was a person unafraid to lead a charge into enemy territory. She wanted, very much, to be a good captain. The problem was, while she was indeed quite willing to get up close and personal with the kinds of people who would try to kill her friends and tear her beloved Elysium out of the sky, this was not to say she was entirely capable. While a crack shot with just about any kind of firearm, Gwen was a very small person, indeed, and as small people do, she tended to get tossed around quite easily. This, she thought to herself as she hit the deck, shoulderblades first, with a hard thud, was perhaps only compounded by the fact that she didn’t really know how to fight at such short distances.

She’d swapped to her pistol, of course, she wasn’t that stupid, but she wasn’t going to accidentally hit one of her crew or the Guild members because of all the moving around they were doing, which left her options rather limited, moreso when someone or another managed to slip past Gadget and pressure her in close quarters. Gwen yelped, ducking the incoming sweep of a scimitar, flinching a little when she felt the ends of a few hairs give, making her quite aware that her dodge had been somewhat spare as far as such things went. From her crouch, she used her legs to add force to the metal-handed punch she swung at his gut, but that only doubled him over for a few seconds, not long enough for her to reload.

He went low as she slipped the bullet into the chamber, and she managed to close it before she had to leap back into a one-handed spring, propelling herself as far away as she could. Alas, she landed atop a body rather than the deck wood she’d been expecting, which naturally tripped her, and she landed hard on her rear this time. Rolling her eyes to herself, she cocked the hammer and fired in one smooth motion, dropping the fellow she shot and picking herself up with a huff. She wasn’t really used to fighting, but she wasn’t going to tell anyone else that. She’d been raised an engineer, not a soldier, but what these people needed from her right now was a captain, and that meant she’d just have to do better.

That started now. Noting that the siblings seemed to be occupied, she sought the automaton instead. “Gad-get!” she sing-songed, barreling ahead of the majority of the fight and drawing even with Mordecai. “Please inquire of that gentleman you’re currently maiming as to the location of his captain. We have a message to send to Artorias, and I’d like it to get through.”

The skyship sailor, hearing what might be an opportunity to survive the things this machine was capable of, spoke up at once. “C-cabin. Fortified door. Please don’t kill me.” The man looked as though he’d honestly probably lost control of his bladder already, which she supposed might be a natural reaction when someone like Mordecai was tearing his way through your friends. She felt a bit sorry for him, really.

“We won’t,” she promised, with a smile that was probably not at all reassuring. “Unconscious only, please, Gadget. Then follow me, if you would. You seem like a great way to get by a reinforced door.”

Mordecai had no objections to this plan, and so, with a decisive motion, he brought the sailor’s head into contact with his knee and dropped the man there, following Gwendolyn down a series of stairs and then to what appeared to be the largest door on the ship. It was, in fact, reinforced, bands of steel crossing the wood on the outside and probably the inside as well. He studied it for a moment, then looked to the captain for confirmation that this was the door she wanted destroyed. At her nod, the automaton drew back a few steps, drawing even with the wall on the opposite side of the hallway. He was capable of breaking down the portal without any additional momentum… in one of his combat modes. As he had yet to engage one of these, he would need a bit of extra wallop.

His visual sensors picked up the most likely weak spot, and, digging his feet into the wood of the floor, he propelled himself forward into a leap, not unlike the one that Gwen had made for his person when she decided to test his reflexes the other day. Unlike that particular instance, however, this one did not end with him rebounding off the surface in question and landing on the floor. Rather, there was a mighty crack, and splinters of wood flew everywhere, a few nails from the steel supports joining them. Mordecai shifted in time to block the worst of these from hitting the captain’s less-durable human flesh, and when the door did not simply fall over, he instead ripped it from its hinges with a great groaning of planks and metal, throwing it inwards as a resounding round of gunfire perforated the air.

The door itself crashed into the captain of this vessel, bringing him down and wrenching the firearm from his hands. Mordecai wasted no time in leaping in after it, fishing the fellow out from under the metal and wood, using one of his hands to bind the man’s wrists in a hold that probably qualified as viselike, and the other to lift him into the air and set him down again atop the ruined door.

Gadget really did some excellent work, Gwen reflected as he used the massive door to block any incoming bullets. Really, if she’d just given him the message and told him what to tell this man, she would have been entirely superfluous. Then again, she liked to think she brought a certain element of style to it that perhaps Mordecai’s monotone might not have managed. Casually strolling in after the automaton, she eyed the captain with thinly-veiled contempt. The man was thin, though not lanky. More like… mousy, and the equally-slender moustache adorning his upper lip was doing him no favors in the respectability department. He looked incredibly frightened, but she supposed she could forgive him that much. Gadget was quite the opponent to face down, and her own blasé attitude, and the pistol held loosely in her flesh-hand, were likely not helping him believe he was going to survive.

“Name?” she asked, the syllable too saccharine to be at all genuine, and he flinched a bit before answering, looking furtively between the weapon in her hand and the golem holding him, apparently giving it up as useless to do anything but comply and bet on their mercy. “C-Captain Kurt Longfellow, ma’am.” He looked almost like he wanted to salute, which was kind of cute, but naturally, the lock-hold Mordecai had on him prevented most, if not all, movement.

“Well, Captain,” Gwen replied, eyeing him a bit like a hungry dog eyes a steak, “My name is Captain Gwendolyn Skybound, and I’m curious to know what possessed you to fire on my ship with no provocation.” She was mostly taunting him, now… no doubt Artorias had demanded the Elysium be shot down on sight. He didn’t have the greatest patience with his enemies, though she’d honestly never expected to be counted in that number. Her father had been a friend and advisor to the King. Strange, how things could change so quickly.

“P-please, ma’am… I’m just f-following my orders. He said… t-traitors to the crown.” This caused her eyebrows to furrow, creasing her forehead in a rare show of disquiet. Swiftly, she remembered herself and resumed the act. Cocking the pistol, she pressed it to his temple, feeling no satisfaction from the fear that played so fiercely over his rapidly-paling face.

“Traitor? Me? Someone needs to remind that man of a few things…” The fingers of her free, metal hand flexed with a faint sound, and she could almost feel the phantom pain of the limb that used to be there. Her jaw tightened, and abruptly she moved, pointing the gun at the wall and firing off a shot into the wood. The barrel smoked faintly, and Gwen cracked a smile. “Here’s how this is going to go, Whiskers. A traitor is going to show you more mercy than your king would in the same situation. You’re going to think about that later, but not right now. At this moment, you are going to get yourself to your cockpit, call off your dogs, and land this pile of shit you call a ship at the nearest port. You’re going to speak of what happened to no one until you can make your way back to Galatea and get yourself an audience with the king. You’ll tell him that the Lady Steele sent you, and he’ll let you in just fine.

“Once you’re there, you’re going to tell him that she is very disappointed in him, and that if he wants to bring this Guild down, he’s going to have to go through her, and he’ll need to try a whole lot harder than this. You’re going to ask him if any trace of the man she knew is even left under that damned crown, and you’re going to express her hope that it does. Is that perfectly clear?”
At the squirrely man’s nod, she grinned broadly. “Good, I rather thought so too. Gadget, please escort the captain to his flight deck.”

Sure enough, Gwen had reached the deck not two minutes later, when to the surprise of all the vipers aboard, an announcement rang out. “Men, this is Captain Longfellow. Stand down and surrender. We’re withdrawing.” Incredulous they may be, but they were soldiers still, and to a man, those still conscious threw down their weapons and backed away from them, though none looked pleased with the development. For her part, Gwendolyn spoke immediately afterwards. “That’s a wholesale surrender, folks, so let’s get the hell out of here before those cannons put any more holes in my ship. We have a key to find!”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Skybound Character Portrait: Percy Galath Character Portrait: Mordecai Character Portrait: Lohengrin Character Portrait: Kethyrian Tor Character Portrait: Sven Diederich Character Portrait: Theon Zeona Character Portrait: Vivian Zeona Character Portrait: Diomache Castillo

Earnings

0.00 INK

Gwen had deemed it safer to make only necessary repairs as they were traveling—landing anywhere this far north was just too damn dangerous for the moment, and they couldn’t afford to be spotted again, perhaps by larger numbers of warships. So they bypassed the forest-line of the hemisphere, everything under them turning green for at least a day before they had to land. Beyond this point, the forest grew so thick and dense that there would be nowhere to put the ship, and the rest of the trek would be the journey of a couple of days on foot. To this end, everyone had been advised to pack what they’d need, and she’d ask-forced Gadget to be burdened down with the rest—food, cookware, spare weapons, and the like. She felt kind of bad about making him the glorified packhorse of the group, but despite her flighty mannerisms, Gwen was at heart a practical woman, and he would not suffer to carry what other people could not.

The Guild in its entirety disembarked from the ship in a large clearing. The grass was vaguely wet, some combination of residual morning dew and perhaps rain from yesterday. It would rain today, too—Lohengrin could smell it on the air, though when he looked up into the circle of sky outlined by the canopies of the trees, there was not yet a cloud to be seen. Perhaps the trees would be dense enough to shield them from the worst of it—he was not at his best when wet and cold, and he grumbled slightly to himself when the chill in the air pricked his human skin with gooseflesh. Ratcheting his internal temperature up a few degrees, he resolved to ignore it as best he could. It wasn’t like he had much of a choice but to take this damned two-day hike, and more’s the pity for the fact that he had to take it with company.

The captain, adjusting the straps on the pack that held her supplies, swung the thing over her back and grimaced a bit at the weight. It wasn’t that she had that much stuff, really, but… it was better to bring too much and not need all of it than forget something vital. She wouldn’t make anyone carry her things, though—Gadget had enough on his hands with the general supplies, and she had a little too much pride to ask anyone else, like Sven. He’d do it, for her, like he’d always done anything she needed and quite a few things she hadn’t, but she didn’t want him to. She was captain now, like Daddy had been, and that meant shouldering her own burdens without complaint, and making room for anyone else’s, too. “All right, everyone; let’s get a move on while the day’s still young, hm?”

The Lieutenant welcomed the change in temperature. It was cool enough not to wear excessively-bulky outfits, and still warm enough that his mechanical joints didn't seize up like an old woman with rickety, arthritis-riddled bones, notwithstanding the occasional puffs of steam hissing from them each time he took a step. He burdened a slightly larger backpack, filled to the brim with essentials and nonessentials—things that they might have wanted, but were too stingy to pack for fear of travelling long distances and fatiguing themselves. Secreting away luxuries would keep their morals from plummeting too low, and he did not mind the extra labour. Gruntwork and drudgery kept his mind free from troublesome thoughts, chased them neatly away with the growing beads of sweat fringing his hairline. He followed along near the rear, silent as ever, but still keeping a watchful eye. Theon's warning had bothered him enough to warrant extra caution. He didn't like being surprised.

Kethyrian was a bit cold, but she was also not as badly-off as she thought she’d be, perhaps partially due to the dark purple hat covering the ends of her sensitive ears, wool and perhaps a bit ridiculous, but then, with enough haughtiness, one could learn to wear anything like a crown, and her consummate dignity did not quite allow her to look like anyone that somebody could safely laugh at. The ponytail had been taken down into a braid, and she’d fashioned it so that the white bits were only traces, and what mostly showed was black. She’d learned to do that, once—it had been the only way she felt comfortable wearing it. Not that she hadn’t contemplated dyeing it or chopping it all off, but what would the use have been? She’d still have known. Everyone would still have known. This was better, though she couldn’t say exactly how.

Her own pack was light—her people were at their very core survivors, and she no less than any caveborn. She never needed much, never would need much—and the excess of indulgence was not the poison by which she would die. Her feet were tucked into leather boots with a thick wool lining, waterproofed by a spot of alteration magic not her own. Into them, she’d tucked her masculine breeches, though her white shirt draped loosely, halfway down her thighs. She was not, thankfully, a vain woman—it might have been the only subspecies of pride that she did not possess in great spades. She lingered in the back of the group, near Sven, though she did not need his shadow this time. The light was not so bright here, and under the verdant canopies of the forest, it would be even less. She wondered if this place should spark some ancestral memory, of what her people had once been. The Inflectori supposedly had an affinity for forests, but she felt none. She could doubtless climb a tree as well as a cave wall, but the smell of leaves and dark earth did not feel like coming home.

Nothing ever would, again.

Some distance in front of her, Mordecai looked the same as ever, perfectly content with the extra supplies slung over his shoulders and affixed to his back with a system of leather straps and metal buckles. He was dressed just the same as ever—though in some aesthetic sense, had dressed for the environment, primarily in dark green and brown. It was an odd contrast with his native coloration, which was much more slanted towards the urban—black, white, red, yellow. He was obviously out-of-place, but gave no evidence of being aware of this. Though it made sense for Gwendolyn or perhaps Theon to lead, he stayed towards the front as well, calculating that any potential threat was more likely to be encountered in this direction than from behind. At the captain’s word, he set off, trailing behind her a bit like a puppy loath to leave its mother—and perhaps of everyone present, Gwen reminded him most of Morgause. Not that he thought her similarly unstable, but her odd mannerisms and cheerful, open demeanor were reminiscent of the first few years of his life, and he sought that out without quite understanding why.

Even one of her hats couldn't quite make Kethyrian look friendly. Dio was a little disappointed in herself. Maybe from behind... no, she still didn't seem particularly approachable. But it certainly helped. Dio was of course wearing one of her own, this time a light yellow wool with baby blue zig-zagged stripes stitched in a ring around the edge. They were some way from Xantus, here, but the weather was still much more familiar to her than anything near the desert or the deep south would ever be. It was the first time she'd come back to the north since her exile and supposed death. She couldn't help but wonder how much longer she could go on before her family realized she was still kicking. Knowing them, they already knew.

Theon was up near the lead, pretending like he knew where to go. His dreams were never so kind as to give him an exact location and show him where it was on a map, but people didn't need to know that. They were headed towards a big lake with water clear enough to see to the bottom of, and singing merpeople swimming around below. He assumed once they started hearing the voices, they'd all know where to go. Apparently that was supposed to be a few days from now. He'd done his fair share of walking and hiking with his bandits, so this would be no great challenge. Avoiding speaking with any of the others might be slightly more difficult. He was still in a foul mood from the air battle earlier.

He'd nearly forgotten that he was only a man with a loud gun and an inability to get a good night's sleep. It was annoying to be reminded.

Trotting alongside the party, weaving in and out of the trees, was Percy. He walked among the foliage and greenery, undeterred by the moist groud or chilly air like he was born in the forest. He might as well have been, as comfortable as he was among the trees and grass. He now sported a ten point rack of antlers, a chestnut colored coat and big wide brown eyes. What was off about Percy in his fullshift form however, were the-- well, mildly put, saddlebags weighing down on his shoulders. Provisions, a book or two, the key, and a number of other items, essential or not, ladened him down, but it didn't bother him one bit. Ironically, out of the entire party, the bookish kid was best suited for the two day hike-- if he was by himself it wouldn't have even taken that long for him.

Vivi on the other hand was not so cheerful. A dark raincloud had settled on her shoulder and she lagged far behind the rest of the party. She was in a foul mood, easily. The hurt and betrayal she had felt on the airship had quickly morphed and manifested itself into full on anger and rage. Annoyance flickered across her face and she walked with heavy steps. She carried little hardly a pack on her back, filled with the bare essentials. She had lived in the desert for a good chunk of her life, she was not so fragile as that. She was better than that.

The first day of hiking was a little more productive than Gwen had dared expect—while the group was not exactly fresh, given the excitement of the previous day, they all seemed quite inclined to get this over with as quickly as possible. For some of them, this was just garden-variety grumpiness or eagerness or what-have-you, but she noted Rosy’s sullenness and stubborn refusal to walk with anybody else, and supposed that it might be connected to whatever ants were in Daisy’s pants, so to speak. Still, she doubted it was anything she could fix, even if she wanted to, so for the moment, she just left it be. If it persisted, then she would start asking questions, but she liked to think that, all evidence to the contrary, she knew when to back off or stay out of other people’s business. It was one of those essential skills for a captain to have, after all.

She’d actually brought a map, so she was perhaps more orientated than most, except Gadget, who she suspected had one in his head and could probably read it better than she could, anyway. Gwen was actually pretty bad with directions, as that was what navigators were for, and pilots just focused on actually flying things. Not that there was anything to fly, at the moment, but the principle was more or less the same, wasn’t it? Honestly, she wasn’t used to long hikes or anything like that, but she put up with the pace without complaining, which would have been rather unbecoming of her.

A few hours in, though, and she began to get the strangest sense that she was being watched. At first, she assumed that it had to be someone in the group, but when she looked back at them, she only occasionally made accidental eye contact, not the kind of thing that indicated that anyone had been staring. And that probably wouldn’t have bothered her anyway. Not like this… her skin prickled, the hairs on the back of her neck standing up, and she took to glancing around furtively, almost certain she could see things out of the corners of her eyes, little shimmers or shadows that would disappear as soon as she turned her glance towards them. It made what might have otherwise been an uneventful walk tenser than it really needed to be.

As it turned out, it was even worse for the members of the party attuned to magic, for not only would they spy the occasional phantom image out of the corner of their eye, but also feel a strange pressure on the part of them that was magical, as though something were prodding at the very core of their being. The feeling set Lohengrin’s teeth on edge, his fingers flexing unconsciously into clawlike shapes. It felt like it was pushing him closer to the threshold over which he’d transform, with the goading persistence of a lingering itch. He hadn’t noticed, but he was giving off far more heat than he’d intended to, and standing next to him was rather like standing five feet in front of a campfire—quite comfortable given the chill in the air, but definitely perceptible.

At last, Gwen couldn’t take it anymore. “Can you see anything?” she asked Daisy, referring of course to his other ways of seeing.

Lots of trees, bushes, plants, and people I don't want to talk to," Theon grumbled from beside her, with his very grumpy brand of humor. On top of it all, now this place was closing in around him, like it was pressing on his chest, and watching him, which was bullshit, of course. Theon did the watching, and anyone else that wanted to could go fuck themselves, because they couldn't do it as well as he could. "Give me a second," he said, finding a tree and settling himself down beneath it, resting his arms on his knees and letting his head fall back against the trunk, his mind leaving his body to go explore their surroundings.

He didn't notice anything unusual, but that only made him angrier, because he knew something was there. Even now, looking down on the trees like he was some bird flying above, he could feel those eyes, that sensation that something was just on the corner of his vision, but when he turned to look, there was nothing unnatural to see. The corners of his mouth curled in disgust, eyebrows narrowing, and he continued searching, go so far as to peer around the bushes and the trees near where they had stopped to wait for him. There were animals, things that would normally live in a place like this, but nothing that could make them feel so unnatural. He stayed this way at least a full two minutes, determined to find something, but every time he thought he caught a glimpse of his quarry, it vanished before he could really see it. No one hid from him like this, right under his nose. Something was demanding to be killed here.

Returning to his body, he opened his eyes and pushed himself back to his feet, continuing on past Gwen in the direction they'd been going before. "There's nothing here," he said. "Let's keep going."

Though she’d snickered at the initial response, the actual answer was troubling. Nothing? She didn’t know much about this magic, but that was just abnormal. But if there was nothing there, there was nothing there, and there wasn’t anything she could do about it. Suppressing a groan of frustration, she resigned herself to another few hours hiking with edgy friends and no answers. Even her boundless enthusiasm was dampened a bit by that. Maybe they’d get lucky and it would just go away soon. Right. And then the next guardian will appear, hand us all the keys, and we’ll all be able to fly back to the ship like bird mutatio! Shaking her head, Gwen followed. Either way, they had to keep moving forward.

The Lieutenant was not unaffected by the eerie feeling of being watched. He occasionally looked over his broad shoulders, scanning the looming trees for something or someone, though he left his concerns unspoken. There was nothing out of the ordinary. No fleeting shadows or silhouettes playing in the canopies. He couldn't hear anything snap underfoot. No sticks, leaves, or scuffle of metal rubbing against metal. There were no visible threats, at all. It bothered him more than he'd care to admit. It was an oppressive feeling that weighed down on him, urging him to look back one more time. Had he been able to wrestle the sentiment down, drown it out in all the logical voices that told him it was nothing, Sven would have been glad to do so. Unfortunately, experience reminded him that his gut feelings were hardly wrong—and he wasn't the only one who felt off by whatever preyed in the trees. Everyone looked as if they were ready to bolt or whip out their weapons.

It was Gwendolyn who spoke of his worries first. She questioned Theon's direction, and he watched as the boy plopped down by a tree, closing his eyes to venture into whatever dream-walking land he spoke of. Either way, Theon awoke and dismissed their fears, saying that there was nothing. He couldn't believe it. There had to be something out there, stalking them. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end, bristling with tempered adrenaline. Ready to sizzle through his veins with the slightest sign of danger; with the first glimpse of an enemy. The mechanical gears whirring in his forearm tensed and seized. He clamped his hand across its wrist and attempted to stifle the jolting pain clinching where the metal ended and his shoulder began. For whatever reason, Sven's legs seemed to be acting up, as well. Biting into his torso, thundering into his spinal chord. It was enough to give him pause. Heavy eyebrows knit together, concerned and slightly irritated at his frailties.

Where the air was making everyone else uncomfortable, it was wreaking havoc on the fullshifted Percy. He'd began to drift further and further from the party, and every minute was a fight to keep the feral instincts out of his mind. He wanted to change back into his humanoid appearence, but found himself loath to leave this form. He was so comfortable, he felt like he belonged here, in the forest as a deer, and not as a boy. Fortunately, he was not a man who ran on instinct, but on cold hard facts. He knew better than to give in to the cervine inside. Avalon's Dawn needed him, didn't they? Notwithstanding that, he also had the key in a saddlebag. If he was to give in and give up and escape into the woods, so too would all their hopes of toppling Artorias. He had to be strong. He forced himself to walk within sight of the rest of the party.

While at the tail end of the party, the oppressive feeling was pissing Vivi off to no end. If she could, she'd beat the air's ass into submission, but the feeling wasn't anything tangible. She couldn't lay hands upon it so she just accepted it with some irritation. And if she ever found out who was watching them, she'd shove her metallic boot up their ass too. She was in no mood for games, much less from a forest. As she walked, her hand gripped the handle of her pistol, teasing the trigger as she went. Still, the shadows danced and unseen eyes stared a hole in her. It got so bad that at one point she stopped on a dime and whipped her pistol out, emptying all three barrels into the forest, yelling "Fuck! You!" for good measure.

Whatever grasp Percy had on himself was shattered on the resounding blasts and he leapt into the forest at a breakneck pace, vanishing from sight for a time.

Dio jumped violently at the sudden gunshots from the rear of the group, ducking down for cover, but she soon saw it was just Vivian shooting into the forest. After suppressing the temporary moment of frustration she had, she spoke, trying to be the level-headed one here. "Everyone..." Dio tried tentatively, though she had a feeling it wouldn't go over well. "Can we please just try to stay calm? I know whatever's up with this place has us on edge, but obviously getting angry at it isn't going to help anything right now." She looked around, noticing that one of them was missing. "Percy? Where did Percy go? Percy, come back!"

But it was no use, and she didn't hear him nearby either, though for a moment she thought she saw him out of the corner of her eye, only when she turned, there was of course nothing there. The forest's effects were starting to take hold on her as well. The ends of her hair were standing up rather impressively, held down only by her hat, and she was finding it immensely difficult to control the electricity. She'd already shocked several random things on accident in passing, recoiling each time and shaking out her hand. In all, it had her quite jittery, but there was nothing for it but to press on, and get to the bottom of this.

Kethyrian had kept her customary silence the entire time, but she was no happier than Vivi who was shooting or Vivi’s brother, who seemed to be doing enough complaining for the whole lot of them. Her magic… well, it was somewhat out of control, in what was perhaps the most embarrassing way possible. Namely, she seemed to be filtering the ambient stuff in the air and then letting it out as healing and life energies, which in this case meant that every time she took a new step, the ground beneath her feet altered, prodigious shoots of new-green grass sprouting as if out of nowhere, long enough to curl around on themselves, and usually accompanied by brightly-colored, calf-high flowers. As if to make matters worse, it seemed that she was allergic—her eyes were watering, and every minute or so, she’d have another sneezing fit. She was, to put it lightly, done with this fucking forest.

Unfortunately, Mordecai’s issues seemed to be even worse. Though not a mage himself, he was at any time storing a great deal of magic, and presently it was causing a number of small malfunctions that were proving difficult to cope with. It had started when he’d attempted to offer a hypothesis on what was causing the perceptual illusions—the phrases had come out in ancient Draconian, which he took it that nobody here was able to understand, as it was the same language he’d had to translate on the wall. The next thing he’d said had been in Dwarvish, and after one attempt that managed only garbled fragments of Old Elvish, he’d given up on speaking.

As if that weren’t bad enough, he was actually in Berserk Mode—the activation sequence had been the Dwarvish sentences, much to his chagrin. He was trying very hard not to make this obvious, as it wasn’t something he wanted to trouble them about, but there was no mistaking the slight reddish light beneath his synthetic skin, nor the fact that his eyes had taken on that color, also. As he had no target at the moment, he wasn’t exactly dangerous, but he dearly hoped that nobody tried to touch him just now. Of course, he would have told them as much for their own safety, if he could communicate intelligibly.

The gunshots had a notable effect on him, as he concluded logically that someone had found a target he could lock onto, but when it turned out that there was nothing there, Mordecai froze for several seconds, trying to overwrite his own naturally-programmed inclinations to pick one. His metal limbs shook faintly with the effort, though little sign of his struggle was evident on his face, which was at present set into the hard expression the Automata’s foes saw. When Dio spoke, his head snapped in her direction, not because she seemed a likely target, but because the calm tones she used were a welcome stimulus in the opposite direction of gunshots—they implied that there was no fighting to be had, and as soon as this was processed and weighed against the other evidence, he fortunately came to the determination that it was safe for him to move again, and did so—as far away from Vivian as possible.

As soon as Vivi discharged her first bullet, the Lieutenant nearly snatched the thing out of her hands while snarling, “Setzen Sie einen feuchten Dreck an, was weg!” And he would have if it weren't for the fact that Percy bolted off into the woods, kicking up dirt. He slowly dropped his mechanical hand, which had been held aloft, steaming and hissing. The flick of a white tail and the snap of hooves quickly disappeared. “Put away, now,” He added in a more level tone, stepping away from her and back towards where he'd seen Percy last. The sound of snapping branches receded—as if the forest was wilfully swallowing all of the noises he was straining to hear. He absently caught the tail-end of Dio trying to calm everyone down. It didn't seem to be helping. Mordecai, from the looks of it, had not been spared from whatever-the-hell was spooking them, either; curtly snapping his head towards the gunshots as if ready to attack something. The luminous glow beneath his skin was as clear as sign as any. They needed to get the hell out of here.

“Needing to find Percy, then out of woods.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Skybound Character Portrait: Mordecai Character Portrait: Lohengrin Character Portrait: Kethyrian Tor Character Portrait: Sven Diederich Character Portrait: Theon Zeona Character Portrait: Vivian Zeona Character Portrait: Diomache Castillo

Earnings

0.00 INK

Matters only grew worse after the shooting incident, and though no more sign of Percy was seen, Lohengrin almost wouldn’t have put it past a few of the others to go bounding off into the woods as well. Maybe the machine—there was no mistaking that it was malfunctioning spectacularly. Maybe Vivian, since she was fucking crazy anyway. He was getting a bit of a kick out of the way Dio’s hair was standing on end, though—that and the way the bitch seemed to be leaving a trail of delicate-smelling flowers behind her. If there was anything conducive to ruining the front she tried to put up, it was probably that. Next thing he knew, she would be followed around by small and furry animals. There was no mistaking it though—things were only growing more irritating the further they went in, and the mages were getting the worst of it.

It was almost sunset when he caught the first whispers. A low, droning hum that he could not quite discern played over the back of his mind more like a memory than a sound, and he found himself unable to cease his thoughts about things he’d rather not dwell upon. Those morons he’d used to run with. His parents, met at last after long years of searching—a meeting which had not gone exactly the way he was planning. The drone eventually took on a more musical pitch, like a chorus of voices humming in a stunningly-complex harmony, notes dropping into the silence like the last fragments of rain dripped from the subtle curve of a leaf. Unable to stop it, he countered the sound with a low hiss, signifying more than anything his agitation.

He directed his question to Dio, since the captain was too far ahead, Sven too far behind, and everyone else probably too angry to answer rationally, if he had his guess. “You hear that?” It wasn’t just buffeting his thoughts around against his will, it was making his magic itch, and the sense that his skin was far too small to contain all of him intensified until he was almost certain he must be splitting at the seams. Indeed, under his clothing, he was starting to look a bit reptilian, and though he didn’t feel it as such, there was a faint suggestion of glittering red scales around the outsides of his eyes and over his forehead and cheekbones. Nothing definitive, but certainly noticeable.

Dio had begun twitching rather severely a while back, and upon being asked a question by Lohengrin, she struggled mightily to stop her right eye from constantly spasming, or her arms from jolting this way and that. She had only moderate success. In addition, she was fairly certain this was elevating her heart rate to a level that wasn't exactly healthy. Her breathing was quickening, and she'd begun to sweat a good deal, even though it wasn't particularly hot at all.

“What?" she asked, initially quite surprised that the man would speak to her at all, considering how he’d avoided her on the ship. And she knew he’d been avoiding her, as she’d made a conscious effort to speak to everyone. She had assumed he was simply not a people person, and let it be. She twitched slightly, accidentally shocking a thick bush on her right, causing her to jump. “Ow! Uh. Yeah. I guess so. Sorry. Don’t get too close to me. I don’t want to shock you.” Halting her rambling, she twitched away from Lohengrin, trying to keep her arms to herself to prevent any more shocks. She ended up wrapping them around herself in a tight hug. It stopped her from zapping every plant within three feet of her all the time, but made the twitching worse.

Why this place was reminding her of home was beyond her. Xantus looked nothing like this. She had the sudden and troubling thought that it was simply because she didn’t belong here. She didn’t belong at home, either. She had no home. Her own would kill her if she ever showed her face. Shaking her head, several little lightning bolts cracked between the ends of strands of her hair. Dio tried to push the thoughts aside, but they were persistent.

Things were not going quite as planned. He hadn't expected to run into this type of trouble. Theon's dream-vision had only told them of one potential enemy. A green-warrior creature. Perhaps, this was his doing. He still hadn't seen anyone himself, and he trusted Theon's judgment enough to know that he'd mention something if he'd seen someone stalking them. Far too proud a person not to. How could they combat something they couldn't smell, touch, or see? Explaining it was difficult enough. Without a sound plan, they'd end up unintentionally tearing each others heads off. Even now, after he'd calmed down and retreated away from that verrückt fraulein, he could feel his blood boiling; keening to spill over. Normally, it was he who remained calm, unaffected by anyone's behavior. It felt strange to behave in such a way—childish, even. The Lieutenant clenched his hands into tight, white-knuckled fists, scanning the trees and bushes for any signs of Percy. No such luck; no cloven hooves, no white tail flagging them down. Hopefully, he'd regain his senses and calm down. Either that, or take his human form and cut back through the trees.

They couldn't continue without him or stay put.

He glanced over his shoulder, noting Kethyrian's train of flowers, sprouting stubbornly at her feet. Her sneezes would have raised one of his heavy eyebrows, or split the frown from his lips, if it weren't for the bristling adrenaline still coursing thickly through his veins, threatening to overcome his sensibilities. He hadn't even noticed that he'd trampled several patches of them. The Lieutenant hadn't noticed much, it seemed. Dio's hair was snapping on end, as if invisible currents ran through what was not stuffed beneath her cap. He bleakly wondered if Gwen's mechanized limbs were acting up as well. The uncomfortable pulses in his arms and legs seemed to grow more frequent, issuing tremors down his fingers. If he hadn't known better, then he would've said that they felt real. Like ghostly appendages, prickling back to life; no longer just stumps and useless gams. Several times, Sven found himself compelled to look at his arm, flexing the synthetic tendons and touching the crook of his elbow with his real hand only to find himself oddly disappointed.

It was also then that he noticed the whispers, briefly brushing against his ears. Hushed tones that seemed as if they didn't quite want to be heard, forcing him to pause and listen. He could have been imagining it for all he knew. The forest was playing tricks on them, stirring up their emotions and preying on their weaknesses. Was he imagining it? There, he heard it again. His gaze swung away from the others and back towards the forest. It was less like a memory, and more like vivid images painted onto a screen, shifting like a phonograph that was impossible to stop. His breath hitched, held. Meeting her for the first time; with that ugly flannel shirt, ripped jeans. Cooing words he couldn't understand. Beautiful sounds that slipped from her lips as soft as poetry, tickling him embarrassed when he tried to repeat them. Gwendolyn's father, as well—making him promise that he'd watch his little girl, because that was all that was important to him. The heavy expectancy. Those eyes, alight and fiery, practically drawing out his blood; a contract of sorts, made entirely out of friendship. He'd been there in his darkest days, after all. And his brother. Whispering feverishly do you see, now do you see, see, see? Taking everything away from him in a burst of light. There was so much blood.

The Lieutenant's meaty hand pressed against his forehead, hiding the right side of his face beneath his palm. He squashed it there, willing the memories to just fucking stop. If he just pressed hard enough, he could push them out. The whispers developed into an unusual din, or a convoluted hymn. Thousands of murmurs caroling all at once, like a horde of musical crickets; some familiar, some alien. The sound he made was strangled. He kept his hand held there, pushing. So that his memories wouldn't flood out? So that he wouldn't hear her voice again? He wasn't sure. It was too close, too local. Too personal. Instead, Sven tore his eyes away from the forest and looked back at his... what? Friends, companions—whatever, they kept him grounded. This was what was real. His eyes caught on Lohengrin and Dio, paused. His face was different, glinting this way and that. Catching at the retreating plumes of sunlight. Thin, small things. Red scales. He meant to approach them, but another spasm shot up his legs.

Of what does a machine think? Can its thoughts even be turned to darker places? Perhaps, Modecai reflected, he was more human than he’d thought—the magic of this place seemed to work on him no less, and his thoughts were jumbled swirls of language and color, and most of them were of her. Creator, mother, something like a goddess, if indeed such things existed. What else did you call the being that brought you to life from nothing but pieces of metal and wires? Emotional pain was more or less foreign to him on most days—he could not be affronted or insulted in the same way that many humans could, but he had known it very acutely the days she’d sent him away. His entire world she had been, for she’d shut him out from the rest of it, and all of a sudden he was inadequate to the only purpose for which he’d been created: to serve her.

Strangely, though she was not here, the exact feeling was resurfacing, seemingly without cause, and the pain with it. It must be a small benefit that he’d run out of energy and was not longer able to sustain Berserk Mode—but the wear was telling. His perfectly-fitted joints seemed suddenly to slide together in unfamiliar ways, producing faint creaking noises that hurt his meager pride more than his function. Mordecai had always known himself to be well-crafted, and maintained himself to the exacting specifications he’d been built. That something as odd as a place could undo that effort was disconcerting in its own right. His brows knitted together over the straight line of his nose, but he dare not say anything; he could still not seem to speak in a way the others would understand.

Kethyrian wanted to scream. What had started as a mere annoyance was getting worse—the environment was now doing more than just skimming the top of her magic to keep the plants growing at her feet. It was outright draining her, making her sway with uncomfortable fatigue, and the damned humming was doing nothing to help her. She couldn’t breathe, almost, for the heavy atmosphere pressing in over her nose and mouth. This place was nothing like the caverns that were once her home, but she was somehow reminded of them all the same. Mind-magic, but of a kind she was helpless to resist, given the constant sap effect she was under. If it didn't stop soon, she was going to collapse, and she might even die—not, of course, that she planned on telling anyone this.

And the lizard was turning red again, the memory mocking her as surely as the rest. As surely as the sneering faces of her so-called kin. As surely as her every failure ever had. Pride was a thin shield, indeed, and she could feel it wearing at the edges. Glass, slicing into her fingers. She was cutting glass and thorns. The captain had the right of it—too much the right, calling her Thistle. Prickly, but so easily crushed underfoot, as Sven was crushing her endless train of flowers. She would too, if she could.

Fuck everything.

Teeth ground against one another as Vivi marched foward. Her pistol had been traded in for her saber, now resting in her hand. The blade would be faster than reloading the barrels, though the worrying thought was what would it be faster for? It sat in a reverse grip as the tip of the blade dragged along the ground behind her, marking the trail that she followed. Even Vivi didn't know what she was going to use it for, she couldn't cut the voices out of her head after all. Hopefully she wasn't too far gone to use it on her companions either. It just felt nice to have something heavy and dangerous in her hand. It made her feel in control, even if that control was just an illusion.

She found the eye of her mind turned toward things she'd rather keep buried. Shadows and silhouttes danced in the corners of her visions, vanishing as soon as she turned her head. Her face, a stranger to any emotion other than a blissful ignorant smile, did not wear the hardened scowl well. She was being forced back into her memories, whispers of her past threatening to engulf and drown her. Normally, she'd be too hard-headed, too willful, or just too damn energetic to allow such thoughts creep back into her imagination. But with her mood and attitude already dreadfully sour, the colorful shield erected around her was torn down, allowing all the ghosts and specters free reign.

One such spector walked beside her. She walked, her head listing to the side as she stared into the vast expanses of nothing that retreated into the forests. But where there was nothing for everyone else, Vivi saw something. She watched the specter, taking every step she did, striding beside her. It was like looking into a foggy mirror. An indistinct reflection stared back at her-- no. It didn't stare back. It stared past her, like she wasn't there. Like whatever was behind her was far more interesting that the girl that stood in front of it. That's what pissed her the most. Being overlooked.

Anger was an odd property for Vivi, and one she didn't feel often. Where some would lose themselves in their anger, personified by fire and heat, Vivi's was a cold and calculating thing. She was wild when she was happy, but she was efficent when she was mad. Her eyes narrowed at the uninterested specter and she spat. There was a metaphor about her personal demons here, but she was so over it it didn't matter. Yeah, she had a problem with being ignored and being overlooked, she knew this. She didn't need a damn ghost telling her that. She tore her head away from the specter. Instead, her eyes buried into the back of Theon, unflinching and unmoving. Vivi walked with her eyes glued to him.

He was real, he was here, and they had a problem.

And yet, for all they thought and all they felt, there still seemed to be nothing there. The music was nothing more than a dull thrum, regardless of how discordant the echoes seemed in her mind. Gwen knew she probably had far from the worst of it. She could think only of her father, and those memories were so steeped in love and happiness that even the dull ache at the center of her chest could not bring her down. He’d been her hero and her protector, and she’d never outgrown things like heroes and protectors. Her smile was bittersweet, but it was a smile all the same. She could recall most clearly the nights she spent as a child on his knee, watching as he flipped through thick engineering tomes, pointing at the diagrams and asking a thousand questions. He’d never tired of them, and she’d learned to read when she ran out of queries about diagrams. My little scientist, he’d said, will build ships faster and lovelier and more efficient than these.

He’d had nothing but pride and affection for her, and she’d drunk that in like a desert pilgrim come upon an oasis. The world was a hard, cruel place—she’d always known this in the abstract. He’d not spared her the stories, but he’d spared her the reality, making their home warm and open and inviting. Even when his friends from the army days had come by, even when he’d set his skills back to work making machines for Artorias, breaking his vow against inventing weapons, even then, there had been nothing in her world but love. It was perhaps hardly a wonder that it was still all she saw.

She wanted to be just like him. To lead people through the troubled times and the trials of mind and body, to create a shield against all the bad things to be found out there, but she could not. This, more than anything, was what troubled Gwendolyn. She had ideas—ideas about what a captain should be, about who she should be, what she should be able to do, and these ideas were modeled on who her father was. But she couldn’t live up to them, no matter how she tried. She was still just a child, playing at being an adult, or so it felt to her. To most people, twenty-seven was hardly a childlike age, but Gwen had never lost her innocent fascination with the world, nor the naïve desire that it should all be as it had been in her youth; a permanent springtime of life, for whom the only trials were the occasional spell of autumn. Winter did not exist in her heart, not ever.

But she was helpless to chase it away from anyone else, just like one ray of sunlight wasn’t enough to cut through the chill of this place.

She couldn’t warm them or soothe them, but she could sure as hell make sure they didn’t run themselves into the ground. “All right,” she said, firmly enough to hopefully stave off the worst of the arguments, but gently enough that she hopefully wouldn’t snap any of the tense threads here. “We have to camp sometime, and I’d rather set it while we still have a bit of light. That clearing there should do.” They still had another day’s walking, by the initial calculation, but who knew how much worse all this could get tomorrow? It was at least best not to add fatigue to the list of their problems.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Skybound Character Portrait: Theon Zeona

Earnings

0.00 INK

There was a fire going somewhere, but Theon didn't care. Most of his memories were anything but cold, and he was getting lost in them.

He'd never been a sleepwalker before, but that was what it felt like now. It was like he was dreaming, and yet he'd constantly come half awake, sitting in the freezing cold of the fucking forest, reminded of the shithole he'd willingly thrown himself into. Not that the content of the dreams themselves were anything better. It was like his mind was only selecting the worst volumes in his library of memories, and forcing them into his vision. He sat against the base of a tree near the edge of the clearing they'd set up camp in, his head buried in his hands and his weight evenly dispersed so that he would stop tipping over. He wondered what would happen if he actually went to sleep.

He woke with a start and immediately noticed the stifling heat, and the hand shaking him on the shoulder. With a yell he swung a heavy fist into a kid's jaw, feeling it crack under the force he brought behind his fist. There were sounds of screams outside, but Theon found them to have little effect on his mind. All he was worried about was the best way to save his own-- Fuck. Theon pried his eyes open with his fingers, only to realize that he'd never closed them. This was getting really fucking annoy--

Now he was dangling from the edge of a fucking airship again, some asshole's arms wrapped tight around his legs. He looked down in time to see his head explode in a shower of blood and brain matter. Vivi grabbed him by the arm and hauled him back over the rail. Oh, good. So now he had a new one to add to the rotation. Gerard's broken leg was slowing everyone down. They were looking to him to fix the issue. Orc tribes came through here regularly, and this asshole was holding them up. The scryer, their leader, needed to make an example of him, he could see that much. The duckfoot was good at making examples. Red always contrasted so wonderfully with the sand...

He shook his head, feeling the powerful headache surging back. He thought it might have disappeared entirely when the air had chilled, but he was a fool to think so. Even if the memories weren't swarming him, the issues the others were having would have done it instead. His sister seemed the most pissed off of everyone, except for maybe the flowery wall crawler, and Vivi didn't even have any magic. How could she possibly underst--

Her palms were sweaty against his, and he watched as a bead of it rolled down her neck and onto her chest. The air in here was thick and heavy, with more than just the desert heat. There was a nasty cut across her cheekbone, and he imagined it must be stinging quite awfully, what with the sand and the sweat, but it wasn't as though he was going to do anything about that. This was for her own good, and someday she'd realize that. That was what he told himself, anyway. He wondered what Vivian would say, if she could see him now. They were some fucked up kids, weren't they?

"Fuck..." Theon said to himself, jerking back to the real world. That one in particular had been relentless lately. He sighed, letting his head fall back against the tree, wiping the sweat from his brow. It was better when they were moving. His mind went to fewer places when he was doing something with his body.

By unwitting contrast, Gwen was freezing her ass off, and it was only after donning a pile of multicolored blankets like a series of tattered capes and cocooning herself in them as well as she could that she even began to feel like she could think properly. The mood around the fire was tense, and it was making her antsy, enough so that she was fully considering abandoning the bonus warmth and planting herself and her rainbow hodgepodge of wool, silk, and cotton somewhere away from all the simmering crankiness and wariness and weariness that seemed to hang oppressively over them all. Even she was having a bit of trouble keeping up appearances—her smile faltered as often as not, and it didn’t quite manage to reach her eyes at the moment.

Daisy might not have considered his absence from the half-circle around the fire all that conspicuous, but she certainly noticed. Gwen wondered if it was just because of whatever tiff he and Vivian seemed to be having, or if this place was making him particularly disinclined to company. Well… it wasn’t like he sought a lot of company on the best of days, but when your choices were that or freezing, she’d thought maybe a former desert-dweller would have sucked it up and dealt with the proximity of other people.

Sighing to herself, she decided that it bore asking him about. Granted, there was a good chance she’d get barked at for sticking her nose where it didn’t belong, what with the mood everyone seemed to be in, but then she was entirely used to that already, and it didn’t really bother her anymore. If grumpiness was enough to ward her off, she wouldn’t be best friends with Sunshine, after all. Rocking herself back and forth a few times, she got her legs underneath her and rolled up onto the balls of her feet, ladling something from a kettle over the fire into an empty drinking vessel and doing her best to keep her metal arm within the shelter of the blankets. She didn’t want frostbite at her steel-to-flesh joint, after all—that would be uncomfortable, to say the least.

She reached the spot he’d removed himself to in enough time to catch the muttered oath. A few choice responses leapt to mind immediately, so as usual, she didn’t think too hard about it and just went with the first one. “’Fraid you’re going to have to be more specific, Daisy. Fuck what? There are a lot of choices, considering the situation.” With that little gem of wisdom, Gwen and her ungainly pile of blankets flopped with only a modicum of grace to sit down next to him with the customary clinking of hair ornaments, and her not-trapped arm extended the cup. “Mulled wine? It’s hot and alcoholic. I can’t promise any more than that.”

Theon turned to look at her, using his palm to brace his head. She'd probably be able to see the headache just by how he was squinting at her. "Fuck you?" he said, though he clearly wasn't angry with her. He eyed the cup for a moment, before taking it. "Thanks." He had no idea if it would help, because what he was going through wasn't any kind of sickness or allergy the likes of which the wall-crawler seemed to have. There probably wasn't a drink to help for constantly slipping into memories and powerful headaches brought on from it.

"If I don't say anything for a while, its because I'm stuck in a memory," he explained, stroking his temples with the hand that wasn't holding the cup of mulled wine. "This forest is a bitch. But... talking helps, I think." He hadn't slipped back into any memories since she'd arrived, which meant he was just being left alone with his headache. What exactly they would talk about, he was unsure, but if it would keep him in the present, he'd come up with something.

Gwen gave a snort at the answer, but she let it be. There was definitely a time for funny rejoinders and dirty jokes, but she decided this probably wasn’t it. Discretion may not have been her most evident trait, but she did have some of it, tucked away mostly for emergencies and existential crises. It was always good to be prepared. Seriously, though. She’d been doing enough reminiscing of her own—it was probably only worse when your memories were somehow connected to your magic, which she understood that this forest was interfering with pretty badly. She didn’t quite know how that worked, but then, trying to apply scientific reasoning to magic was probably futile from the get-go. Her mind was built and trained for engines and physics and math, not visions and magic and all that. It didn’t mean she couldn’t give her best shot at helping, though.

Donning a sly half-smile, she put her hand over her heart with an air of mock gravity. “If you look too stuck, I humbly volunteer my services in punching, if that would help.” She’d been woken from more than one nightmare by Sunshine shaking her awake. It was always initially startling, but in the end, having a few less minutes to deal with that was nice. Maybe it was part of the reason why she only slept in short intervals—she didn’t introspect enough to be sure. She preferred to focus her attention on things that were not herself.

Snaking the limb back into her cocoon of warmth, she wrapped the blankets tighter around herself and leaned her head back against the tree. “Talking, I can do,” she affirmed, though more solemnly now, recognizing that there was a gravity to the situation that, while she would not have chosen otherwise, existed here whether they wanted it or not. “Topic preferences? I have to say, I’m actually a bit rusty conversing about things that aren’t engines and sky-piracy.” And wasn’t that the truth? Her life was a tiny niche, a mere sliver of reality, and she’d been happy with that. This… it was much bigger than she was, bigger than she thought she could handle, honestly. But captains didn’t let their doubt show if they could avoid it, and she wasn’t entirely enthused with the prospect of going there. Still, this wasn’t about her, and if it helped him, well… so be it.

"No... no punching, please," Theon said, shaking his head slightly. "It's not... it's just that... I have a tendency to wake up violently, especially when pushed." He didn't want to be responsible for busting up the captain's jaw, and he also didn't much like the prospect of being whacked by that metal arm, whether she was serious or--

He shoved the kid with the broken jaw out of his way. He didn't have time to look after the weak and the slow. They'd all be dead soon enough. Some of the strong ones would probably make it out, and some of the ruthless ones, too. Theon was lucky enough to be both. One of them came at him half naked, screaming for direction, but Theon paid him no mind, shoving him aside and leveling his pistol at the massive greenskin coming up behind him. A pull of a trigger later, and he was spattered with blood and other bits from the savage's innards. All the better. The beasts could probably sniff a man out by his smell. Better to smell like one of them, then.

Theon jerked back awake with a slight start, blinking a few times and resuming the rubbing of his forehead. "Topic, right. Okay. Uh... how did you become captain of a ship like that? There's gotta be a story there." He sure as hell wasn't going to volunteer to tell stories about himself, certainly not true ones, so it was probably better if it was the other way around. True stories or fabricated ones, it was better if she was doing the telling.

Ordinarily, the question would have lit Gwen’s face up like a halogen bulb, but given all the things this forest was conspiring to do to her psyche, her smile was only a small thing, a last weary defense against that which she had no desire to contemplate overlong. Perhaps one of the reasons she chose not to introspect much was the fact that she might not like what she’d find. It was a sobering thought, for someone who made every effort to exude all the confidence she could.

Her hands clutched her layers of blankets more tightly than they really needed to. It wasn’t as though she didn’t want to say—she didn’t generally keep things from people on principle, and if someone wanted to ask the question, Gwen was usually willing to answer. It was something of a policy. “I helped build it,” she replied, a hint of pride in the words, though it didn’t seem to be for herself. “My dad’s name was Leomaris Steele—he was an aeronautics engineer. The best one, as a matter of fact.” It was abundantly clear who the regard belonged to, just by the way she said it: part affection, part reverence. “Before he went into the civilian sector, he was a military man, and joined Artorias when he rebelled. If not for him, they probably would have lost.”

She was less sure about that, really. At the time, helping Artorias had seemed like the right thing to do, but she’d been well and truly still a child then, scarcely sixteen and still naïve in a lot of ways. Regardless, they’d designed his cruisers and his flagship, and then her dad had sworn off mass production of that sort. “Afterwards… he retired, and spent it working on the ship he’d always dreamed about. And because it had always been his dream, it was my dream, too. When he died before it was finished, well… I finished it. I think maybe he was going to give it to the king when it was done, but I couldn’t bear to let it go, so I took it for myself instead. It was probably technically stealing, but I didn’t care. Still don’t, given how much of an ass Artorias has been making of himself.”

Of course, leadership of a crew was a far cry from designing and building engine parts, and though she’d been able to do the last of the math and the mechanics, she was certain she fell short of her father in this part of it. He would have known how to get everyone through this. She on the other hand, was just as blind and confused and troubled as any of the rest of them, all the bluster and swagger aside. And she wasn’t exactly doing the best job of hiding it, either. “’Course, some days I think I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. I dunno the first thing about being captain of anything.”

Theon shrugged slightly. "Sometimes, you don't have to. It's all about appearances. It's hard for people to have confidence in someone who doesn't look like they have confidence in themselves. Not that you need any more practice in that area." He was drawing some interesting similarities. He wouldn't have suspected she doubted herself in her role as captain, and that was because of the way she presented herself around her crew. How many of his own had thought him unshakeable, always one step ahead of the rest? He frowned slightly. That number had shrunk as the months went by.

"You don't even need to conform to some idea they have in their heads of who their leader should be. If you look like you know where you're going and what you're doing, and do that long enough, they'll start to believe, and then they'll go and make it happen for you." Of course, complications arose when the illusion was shattered by something, when the leader's air of authority was broken, either by him or herself or another. Then they needed proof, and that required examples, demonstrations of ability, not just confidence and sure speech. They need to be shown, not just told--

He could see it in her eyes. She hated him. She didn't realize that this was the only way she came out of this with her life. It was her own damn fault for tagging along in a caravan with a pitifully small guard force. One of his men had killed her dad or something, and she would forever loathe him. It was better that way, though. Better that her father wasn't alive for this. She'd thank him later, the bitch. When she realized what he'd done for her. Until then, Theon just looked away. He didn't care to see her judgment right now.

Theon returned to his senses, but didn't say anything else, just turned his head slightly to glance at the captain. The others were around the fire, or off elsewhere. The antler-head was still off in the forest somewhere, probably looking for his parents. He sighed through his nose. "Thanks for the wine. I think you should go now, though."

She wondered who he’d led and to what, to know all of that with such certainty. Still, it didn’t seem like a conversation he was willing to have, and she wasn’t going to push, at least not here and now. They were already under enough strain. So, quietly, she nodded, flowing into a stand. “It’s no problem. Thanks for the advice.” She wasn’t sure she believed it, as it all sounded a bit… well, it seemed like the explanation was missing something. She didn’t just want people to do things for her—the wanted them to rely on her as well. She wanted to be good enough to be relied upon. But even if she felt it was a bit off-base for her purposes, it was advice freely-given, and she had a feeling she’d learned something interesting about him from it. “If you decide it’d help later, I’ve got enough stories to fill books, and at least one for every mood, so… well, they’re there if you’re interested.” She shrugged, the motion a bit strange given her present state of enshroudedness, and smiled a bit before heading back towards the fire.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kethyrian Tor Character Portrait: Vivian Zeona

Earnings

0.00 INK

Fuck it. Kethyrian really had no option other than to put up with what was happening to her, even if it did feel like whatever might be left of her soul was getting sucked out through her feet. She was tired, almost entirely drained of magic, and still having an allergic reaction to the damn flowers she was causing to bloom. The minute they decided on a place to camp, she unrolled her light bundle of blankets and fell onto them, unable to do much more than stare up at the canopy of leaves above her and try not to think too much. Almost immediately, the makeshift bedroll was outlined with a profusion of blossoms in delicate whites, purples, and pinks. She resolved to ignore this, but her eyes had other ideas, and set to watering almost immediately.

And now she looked like she was crying. Fantastic. Whomever was responsible for this was going to die. Then again… she felt, somehow, that it wasn’t a who so much as a what, and though she couldn’t say with any certainty, it didn’t seem like the kind of thing that one could kill. Blinking the moisture away from her eyes, she sighed quietly, trying to count the leaves above her head so as to avoid taking up the mind-space with thinking about more odious things. Like caverns and relatives and dead men. She expected the others had it just as bad, in some ways, but this was mostly inconsequential to her. There was nothing she could do for them, nor they for her. This kind of trial was one weathered alone by its very nature. If there was one thing she knew how to do, it was be alone. If this place didn’t kill her in the night by outright sapping everything she had, she would survive this, too.

Kethyrian would soon find her loneliness imposed upon but none other than Vivi. Though she was still stewing in the murky darkness of her head, she realized that Kethy was fairing little better. This led to her stepping over the halo of flowers and nudging Kethy's feet, wordlessly asking to make room for her. Whether or not the Feydusk complied mattered little in the end as Vivi took a seat nonetheless. It was an act in futility telling Vivi no when she was happy, much less when there was a sizable chip on her shoulder. She didn't come empty handed either, and by the way the steam wafted it looked to some kind of hot liquid. Rather than taking a drink of it herself, she held it out for Kethy to take instead.

"It's booze. You look like you could do with a little medicine yourself," Vivi said flashing an empty smile. It was an errie thing, the way the corners of her lips drifted upward lifelessly. There was no emotion to it, no life, just raw muscle memory instead. The smile melted away as she explained curtly "It's not the wine, it's the steam. It'll clear out your nose and let you breath easy-- at least for a moment." She was still angry and the only person she saw herself dealing with was Kethy. Everyone else was too soft for her to handle in her current mood, or they would only served to further agitate her. But Kethy was Kethy, and that wasn't bound to change.

Vivi gave the woman a quick glance before she sighed. An explanation was probably in order, "Deluge's weather wreaked merry hell on the inside of my face when I was younger, so I found ways to deal. If I had a pepper in this goddamn forest, I'd offer that instead," She said. She then shrugged and continued, "Though... I never had issues with flowers, but the idea's close enough."

Kethyrian scooted herself over with some reluctance, not really keen on being sat upon, which was something she knew Vivi would do if there wasn’t a spot anywhere else. The beverage, she eyed suspiciously for a moment, but in the end she accepted it, raising it delicately to her nose and taking a sniff before she ventured a swallow. It wasn’t awful, all things considered—a little spiced and warm. It wasn’t enough to clear out her nose or anything, but at this point, even just staving off the creeping shill would be welcomed. Night was starting to fall, and while in some sense Kethyrian preferred the nocturnal hours, she could do without the cold.

“Wouldn’t be this bad if I had any fucking immune response left,” she groused as if by reply. It was one, kind of. Backtracking her own words a little, she realized she’d actually sworn out loud this time, something she generally avoided doing. Well, it didn’t matter. She was angry, and it wasn’t like Vivi was going to give a shit. “Damn forest is sucking out my magic, and when you’re a healer, that means your health goes with it.” She was probably lucky she was only having an allergic reaction.

Kethyrian was a small person, and not one to usually drink besides, so it wasn’t long before the wine was warming her guts and setting her head to buzzing in a way she couldn’t decide if she currently appreciated or reviled. At least the tenseness of her musculature was relaxing a bit—though she was still far from certain she wanted to sleep tonight. It seemed like her consciousness was the only thing preventing her death by drain… though that could just as easily be the paranoia talking. Scowling, she used her free hand to pluck one of the flowers off at the base of the stem, glaring at it as though this might cause it to wither. It was a bell-shaped thing, a light purple in color. Dio would probably like it, if she was in a condition to like anything at the moment.

“I hate flowers,” she said without much feeling. She could maintain a certain level of anger just by being alive and in the world, but she didn’t have the energy left for the bubbling fury that Vivian seemed to be nursing. Tossing the flower away with an impatient gesture, she was hardly surprised when another bloomed in its place. Stupid forest. “You wanna tell me what’s got you all twisted up, or do you want to just glare at shit with me? I can do either.” There was a hint of rueful self-awareness in the words, but they were delivered flatly, almost with an air of boredom.

"Why not both? Vivi offered instead, craning her neck around to look at Kethy in a catlike manner. She then turned right back around and picked out a singular flower to be her target and commenced her glaring. Vivi wasn't the shy one who kept all of her secrets and feelings hidden away like some kind of emotional hoarder. She was an open book, through and through. All it took to recite her pages was a simple question. "What hasn't got me fucked up?" Vivi asked rhetorically, drawing her knees in close to ward off the chill. She had found heavier clothing, but Vivi was still a tiny thing, even smaller than Kethy. It didn't take a lot of chill to make her cold, and compounding that, she was a creature of the desert, not the forest. She kept her mouth shut about that, there were better things to complain about.

Where to even begin? She never had trouble with words, not even presently, it was stringing them together that was providing the trouble. She could just start talking, but everything that'd leave her mouth would only be one long incomprehensible whine, and that was just a perfectly good waste of the air in her lungs. "It's Theon, the bastard thinks everything revolves around him," Vivi revealed, the grip on her arms tightening, "And it's the forest, reminding me of shit I want to forget." Those words brought back the anger she felt since first setting foot in the woods. It was all she could do to not devolve into a sputtering mess of imaganitive curses.

Mirroring the internal attempt to reign herself in, Vivi put a hand on her forehead and pushed, speaking so she wouldn't have to think. "I followed the fool around our whole lives, you know? Followed him right into the desert's asshole without a single gripe. I never expected a thank you but... I don't know," She said, releasing her forehead.

Kethyrian was a surprisingly good listener, and she took in everything that Vivi said with a certain studied kind of stony silence. Despite her earlier offer, she wasn’t glaring at anything in particular, but her gaze was hazy and out of focus, the near-metallic gold of her irises much less sharp than when she had proper focus on something in the foreground.

She couldn’t say she was of much use in situations involving brothers—she’d never had any. Though she understood relatives who thought it was always about them. All her relatives were like that, save her lowborn mother and the man who’d adopted her. Apparently an association that was just as illegitimate as her birth, according to that bitch of a half-sister she had. “Family sucks,” she agreed with a slow nod, “but some of them suck considerably less than others. For you to follow him around like you did, you must have had a reason.” For all her ridiculousness, Vivi wasn’t entirely frivolous. She did not devote her attention to things that weren’t worth it. Actually, as far as Kethy could tell, the list was quite short, but for whatever reason, it managed to include the favisae herself and her selfish brother. So, knowing nothing else about him, she knew there must be something worth caring about, at least for Vivi.

As for the rest, well… the forest was bothering the hell out of all of them, as far as she could tell, from the noxiously-cheerful captain down to the mechanical man. She’d not expected Vivian to be immune, either. Kethyrian certainly wasn’t. She recognized the symptoms of a headache and perhaps mild nausea, and sighed, reaching up with a clawed hand to touch Vivi’s temple with surprising delicacy, transferring just a touch of healing magic, enough to ease the ache even if it wasn’t entirely banished. It put much more of a drain on her than something so simple usually would, and she could almost feel her sinus cavities beginning to clog again. Her huff of frustration quickly became a sneeze, and she turned her head so as not to propel slightly-damp air at the closest thing she had to a friend in the world.

“I’d offer to get rid of the forest, but unfortunately I’m just as fucked as you in this respect.”

"Bless you. Could always burn it to the ground," Vivi posed reflectively before quickly shaking her head. The forest was far too big and far too wet to get a good flame going. Otherwise the nearest tree would be ablaze instantly. She had to content herself with picking one of Kethy's flowers. She turned the petals over in her hand as a flicker of an idea came to her. She picked another flower and slowly began to twine the stems together. Work, however idle, would take her mind off their current plight. It was better than driving herself mad fawning over futile frustrations.

The headache that had been building slowly began to recede thanks to Kethy's healing touch. Walking and thinking about things better left unthought had a way of driving a nail into her brain, as the emotional pangs became physical. She nodded her thanks as she continued to twine flowers together. Vivi then sighed and continued to speak, willing to keep the conversation alive, "He's my brother, and no matter how much the oaf tries to forget, he was the only thing I had." There was no hyperbole there, he was literally the only thing in the world she had when she was younger.

Theon had been the favored son, while she was nothing more than an afterthought. Hell, her parents rarely called her by name, refering to her only as "you". "Get out of the house you, Theon has vistors." The echo came suddenly and harshly, causing her hand to clench and snap the stem in her hand. Vivi could only sigh and toss the broken flower over her shoulder, picking another in its stead. There had been her, and then there had been Theon. He might not have realized it, but he was the only reason she survived to escape that hellhole.

The flower construction in her hands was coming along nicely, though she paused her work to look back at Kethy for a moment. "We're talking a hell of a whole lot about me, but what about you? I think it's your turn. Any family? Anybody you want dead? You know, the interesting facts," Vivi said, trying to force a smile to her face. What had been once as natural as the clouds in the sky was now the most difficult thing to reproduce, and it only added fuel to the fires-- so she just gave up, letting her mouth mirror Kethy's own scowl.

Kethyrian snorted, drawing her knees up to her chest and draping her arms over them. “The lists overlap almost exactly,” she replied acidically—referring to the one of her living family members and the one of the people in the world she desired dead, at least in more than a passive, apathetic kind of way. No, there was definitely active hatred going on there. And now her own head was starting to hurt. Loosening the braid her hair had been in for the entirety of the day, she let it fall loose and shuffled her fingers through it, trying to massage her scalp. Black and white strands fell into her face until she raked them all back with a clawed hand, her sniffle somewhat ruining the haughtiness she was attempting to project. Stupid flowers.

Speaking of her damn hair… Vivian had the approximate cultural sensitivity of a peach pit, so Kethy supposed that statement might not immediately make sense. “Favisae bastards are usually marked by stripes. At least, the ones where nobles cross with commoners are.” It was generally thought to be a holdover, from when they were still the inflectori, and capable of day-to-night shifts in such things. The night-black of the Balmoor was considered to be the superior adaptation, as opposed to the still perhaps day-tinted white of most of the population. Though the Zar’Thrak were all redheads, so it was probably just a crock of shit anyway. “I didn’t exactly go over well. Once, I had somebody, too, but unlike your brother, Jaenar is dead.”

She said it plainly, but her voice cracked a bit. In one sense, she hated that she still wasn’t over his death. Her people did not take much time to mourn, generally, as it tended to get in the way of efficiency and survival, so the fact that it still bothered her several years later was no small piece of shame. She could just add it to the tally of her failings—by now it was a bona fide list anyway. Still, it was evident that she wasn’t going to say any more about it, not just now.

As Kethyrian spoke, Vivi slowly slid backward until she ended up leaning against her shoulder, continuing to fiddle with the length of intertwined stems in her hands. Though her fingers danced down the flower braid, Kethy still held her ear, nodding along as she spoke. At the mention of her hair, Vivi halted her progress and took a loose strand of her hair in her hands and examined it. Odd, she never gave much thought to the signifigance of hair. It could be cut, split, and lost. It seemed stupid to judge someone on something so fleeting. Vivi was tempted to ask who this Jaenar was, and how he had died, but unlike her, Kethy wasn't an open font of information. Whether it be due to the forest affecting her, her frustrations clearing her lackadiasal mind, or something she simply knew, she wasn't about to ask. She'd cross many lines, but this wasn't one.

"Hmm," Vivi hummed. What else could she do? Apologize? Apologize for what? Kethyrian wasn't the kind of person who liked to be pitied and Vivi wasn't the pitying kind of person. Instead, she decided to not say anything about Jaenar and instead talk about her hair. "Well I think it's pretty," Vivi said matter-of-factly, gently tugging at one of her strands. "I used to have long hair too, you know?" She confessed, "All the way down to my ass-- used to have a problem sitting on it." Then she sighed, her mood darkening as the air escaped her lungs.

Dammit, why did things always loop back around to that moment? She was quiet for a moment, even her hands were still. Then she spoke in a tired tone. She was tired of being mad, but Theon and the forest wouldn't let the steam escape. It stayed built up, and no matter what she did to try and forget it always returned. "I cut it off right after I left Theon, before I joined the guild," She said, ripping the information out. "But your hair. It's pretty, you shouldn't do a thing to it... Except maybe..." Vivi said, leaning forward and placing the flower crown on Kethy's head. "For that," Vivi said. Finally, she'd found the strength to produce a weak smile.

Kethyrian rolled her eyes. It wasn’t about the hair—that was just a convenient external manifestation of the crime of her existence. But well… whatever. Vivi was trying to make her feel better, sort of, and she wasn’t so wrapped up in herself that she couldn’t appreciate the sentiment… at least, when it came from her. Kethyrian was pretty sure Vivian didn’t have it in her to feel pity of any kind for anyone, which meant that she wasn’t pitying the poor orphan bastard, which was good. She might have had to strangle someone, otherwise. The coronet of flowers was definitely a bit much, though she made no move to take it off.

“You know this is murder on my sinuses, don’t you?” she groused, though the resulting sneeze kind of ruined it. “I liked it better when we were glaring at the flowers.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Lohengrin Character Portrait: Sven Diederich Character Portrait: Diomache Castillo

Earnings

0.00 INK

There was fruit here, and a lot of it, but picking it was easier said than done, especially in Dio's current circumstances. She'd actually found a way to contain the constant shocking, but it took a good deal of concentration, and fell apart whenever she was even mildly startled. The end result was a removal of the constant sparking and zapping, in exchange for a rather violent shaking that dominated the majority of her body, but particularly the hands and arms, all the way up to the shoulders. It could have passed as shivering, given how cold it was, but no one else was shaking quite so forcefully, and she was dressed for the cold. In fact, the effort had her sweating a good deal. Screwing up now would mean a rather large and random discharge of electric energy all around her, and she wanted to avoid that if she could help it.

In any case, picking the fruit on the trees was quite difficult. Climbing them was out of the question in her current state, as a single lapse in concentration would send her tumbling to the ground, and she wasn't willing to risk a broken neck for a few extra... whatever the hell these things were. She had never seen fruit quite like this. They were colorful and did not lack for variety, and they were both sweet and refreshing to eat. They probably had some magical qualities that were just going to make all of her issues worse, but Dio had quite the appetite, and she wanted to think on the bright side here.

With a bag mostly full of the various fruits she returned to the camp, carefully setting it down where the others could get at it before taking a seat in front of the fire, some distance away from the fruit. The shaking was getting worse the longer she kept it in, but she really didn't want to discharge and hurt anyone, so she kept at it. Maybe if she could fall asleep... but it wasn't late enough, and she wouldn't be able to. Not as jittery as she felt right now.

The opportunity to get away from the others for a while had been more than welcome to Lohengrin, who was starting to fray a bit at the seams trying not to transform. The part where he crushed most of them and their stuff under his massive haunches would have been kind of difficult to explain, when it came down to it, and it certainly wasn’t a conversation he ever wanted to have. He was about the furthest thing from a hunter, but his angry stomping through the forest did tend to scare small animals into fleeing, and though he doubted most people liked their rabbit charred, he did at least try to use small balls of fire to shoot them.

In the end, he had a brace of mostly-undamaged carcasses, and that was better than nothing. He’d returned to the camp and started a fire with wood that someone had collected, fishing the large pot out of one of the bags the machine had been carrying, but beyond that, he was a little lost. He didn’t usually cook for other people, and as far as he was concerned, meat was just as good entirely charred or nearly raw, which he suspected would make most of the others sick. He honestly didn’t care if they didn't like the taste of it, but he’d prefer not to be dealing with a collection of grumpy, malfunctioning, ill idiots tomorrow morning. He wasn’t free of his damn obligations until they’d done everything the old man wanted, and he couldn't go collecting the keys by himself to save the trouble, so here he was.

It was at about this point that Dio wandered back into camp, fruit in tow. Fine, if you wanted to eat like a damned rabbit, but he frankly preferred to eat the rabbits themselves. Still… he sighed. The last time—the only time—he’d said anything to her, she’d hardly responded and looked vaguely surprised that he had a working tongue. His own fault, really, but not something he wanted to deal with again. But there was nobody else around, and he wasn't going to stand here and stare at his empty pot and skinned rabbits as though the answer would magically come to him in a dream. He wasn’t the scryer, for crying out loud.

“Not to make you believe that I’m anything other than a taciturn, misanthropic asshole,” he drawled by way of preface, “but predictably, I don’t know what I’m doing here. Thoughts?” He was aware that she couldn't touch anything for fear of killing it or at least causing it to pass out, but he could still follow directions, if he must.

"W-what?" Dio stammered, her eye twitching quite a bit as she looked across the fire at Lohengrin. She was a bit out of it, and was not immediately sure what he was talking about. Then she saw the skinned rabbits he had in his possession. Now, Dio was not a vegetarian, and indeed she ate meat on a regular basis, but she was also no huntress. Rabbits weren't exactly plentiful in cities, and she was a city girl to the bone. Sure, she'd spent a little while in a desert, but she'd done more starving than surviving there.

"Um." she pulled her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them, just as her entire body seemed to vibrate side to side. "I d-don't really know, either. Maybe someone else c-can help." She looked around for someone nearby, her eyes settling on Sven. He would have these kinds of survival skills, right? "Hey, Sven? Can you help us c-cook some rabbit?" Finished speaking, another shudder went through her. She was really going to have to let it out sooner rather than later, but she could probably hold the magic in a little while more. Maybe until she could sleep...

To say that Sven's attempts at performing any campfire chores were going well would've been a massive overstatement. When he removed several skillets from his bulging knapsack, he'd accidentally crushed one of the handles and severely damaged the second. His mechanical arm disobeyed his nerves, tensing up and curling over whatever he held like a vise. Strangling his wrist and forearm, as he usually did with his working hand, proved futile. He cursed in German, kicking the skillets away. Into the woods—they were useless now, anyway. He'd wanted to cook something to raise their spirits, kindle their morale into something a little less like lukewarm-grump. None of them felt like talking; neither did he, really. Every time he glanced around, he imagined her face. Imagined that he'd glimpsed her hair tossing in the wind, flashing behind the trees. Calling him away from his companions, away from everything that made his knees buckle. He was tempted to follow whatever he'd seen. Stumble into the woods, and get lost in his memories. He was a fool.

Instead of trying to rifle through his knapsack again, the Lieutenant took turns patrolling their meagre campsite. To be closer to the woods in hopes of spotting—... Percy, he was still gone. The little lie made him feel better. His knees squealed in protest with each footstep, threatening to spill him on the ground. This he dutifully ignored. His mouth formed a straight line, twitching into a frown whenever his gaze stretched back over the looming trees. There were no enemies, no unforeseen ambushes, but he still felt as if something would happen at any moment. Every noise made him jump, causing his prosthetic-limbs to misbehave; jerking this way and that. He'd never been a paranoid soldier. Never the sort to assume that danger was around every corner. He was a cautious man. Experience had taught him more than he'd ever have to know about the sort of tricks that his enemies may employ, but this was different. With no information or prior knowledge to call upon, Sven felt lost. Incapable of doing anything but pace around like a disgruntled bear.

The Lieutenant noticed Lohengrin returning from the woods, carrying several skinned rabbits across his shoulder like trophies. He also noted Dio carrying a load of fruit. Carefully, gingerly; as if she were afraid that she'd torch her collected bounty. He wouldn't have been surprised. Her control was admirable. He watched them for a moment and turned away just as Dio called his name—turned back towards her, eyebrows knit. The grunt might've been a yes, for Sven made his way over, towing his knapsack and hunkering down by Lohengrin's rabbits and the large pot. He kept his metal-hand planted firmly on the ground and fished out a couple of flasks, dumping its contents in the pot. Then, he retrieved a small bundle; wrapped butter. Placing it at Lohengrin's feet, Sven fished out several small vials; spices. He could cook quite well, but couldn't juggle the ingredients with one hand. Scooting closer to the fire, Sven held the pot over the crackling logs, adding a strained, “Putting in half butter, and uh, hand of spices. Vaitin' to boil, tear rabbits and be putting them in pot.”

Lohengrin was less-than-thrilled by the idea of having to do all of this himself, but apparently it was that or nobody else ate. Well, at least later, when things inevitably went to shit and someone accused him of never thinking of anyone but himself, he could point to this incident. Not that he thought it would make much of a difference. He also didn’t care, so where the fuck that thought was going was entirely beyond him. Whatever. He was just going to do it because there was nothing better to do and he was in serious need of a distraction. It was definitely true that his visible skin was obviously scaling, now, and however much he might insist to the contrary, he didn’t really look like any obvious species of lizard. Not when they had a closer appearance to—particularly shiny—scale armor than anything else.

So he didn’t complain, setting his jaw and throwing in half the butter, measuring out a hand of spice, and then adding another half, because it was Sven who’d said a ‘hand’ and his were much larger than even Lohengrin’s. The mercenary sank into a crouch next to the pot and finished preparing the rabbits, gutting them and throwing the entrails out into the forest to decompose. He’d honestly have eaten them, himself, but that was probably on the list of clues he did not need to be giving people. Idly shifting his weight from one foot to the other, listing sideways slightly in his spot, propping an elbow on a knee and his chin on that.

This was probably the spot where he should try to make conversation, but he honestly didn’t care to. He was, socially, much more reactive than proactive, and he had no desire to put himself out there to make anyone feel more comfortable. Raking his free hand through his shaggy hair, he waited until the pot appeared to be boiling, then started tearing up rabbits, generally setting the bones to the side, though he did idly crack a few with his teeth and pry out the marrow. “Any vegetable matter in your collection, Sparky?” he asked Dio, arching a brow. They could just eat meat and spices, but he somehow doubted most of them would prefer that. The Lieutenant nodded in accordance. Taters would've been nice.

At the mention of the nickname Sparky, Dio's brow actually narrowed in something that looked a little like anger. The emotion didn't sit on her face too well, and she looked more like she was having disgestive issues than anything. "Hey," she said, temper rising, "I'm t-trying, okay? I haven't sh-shocked anything for a while now. I'm k-keeping it in. I could c-c-call you Scaly if I wanted to. You're not p-perfect." She wouldn't call him Scaly, though, because Dio didn't really believe in derogatory nicknames, and while Lohengrin obviously did, she happened to think he needed to look in a mirror. She had no idea what was happening to him, but he was obviously having trouble too. So there was no need for him to go and call her that. Did he even know her name?

It was a stupid comparison, but she was starting to see him like one of her big sisters. They weren't big, hideous lizard-looking people, but they were as ugly on the inside, and they'd judged her too, for her inability to keep up with them in classes, for her tendency to run away from home and spend time with Bru on the poor side of Xantus. Who were they to tell her she wasn't good enough for the family? Why wasn't it okay for her to find her own way? They were evil, rotten people, profiting on lies and the suffering of others. She wasn't great at everything she did, but at least Dio tried to be a good person.

"I'm s-sorry," she said suddenly, finding herself wholly unable to be angry at anyone for all that long. Only her own family could get that out of her. Lohengrin hadn't done anything to deserve it. Well, he hadn't done much. "This place is... not g-good for us. I've got some vegetables. D-don't know what they are, but they look tasty." The forest was full of weird things, and Dio had plucked a few of the green ones and brought them back. Rising, she took a handful of them around to where Lohengrin had the pot, bending over to put pieces of them in with the meat.

“Indeed not,” he replied, the low rasp of his chuckle accompanying the words. Perfect, him? Oh no, not by a long shot, human child. The comment about his scales specifically caused him to tap one of his cheekbones idly with a finger, producing an oddly crystalline sound. “I’ll admit, the atmosphere’s drying me right out—I should probably exfoliate.” His smile was wicked, and he flicked his tongue, forked and snakelike, outwards to taste the air, though he had no particular need to do so. “Have to say, though, I wouldn’t have picked you for the one to go insulting a man on the basis of his unfortunate genetics, hm? Do deer-boy’s antlers bother you so, or is it a particular dislike for the cold-blooded?”

Despite the fact that he was more-or-less accusing her of racism, he didn’t much seem to mind, and in fact looked quite amused with the whole situation. This was almost as much fun as teasing the elf—and might actually work out better for him in the long run. The Favisae wench was much more likely to cold-shoulder him, but he would be rather surprised if this one didn’t come to her own defense, or at least try to justify her words as something other than a problem with Mutatio, which he already knew it wasn’t. That didn’t mean he was going to make his knowledge obvious, of course. Prodding at people was one of the few spare forms of entertainment he still occasionally got to indulge in.

The Lieutenant had already grown used to Lohengrin's unpleasantness, as well as his grumpy attitude, but he still didn't appreciate it directed towards someone like Dio, even if he was only trying to get a rise out of her for whatever reason. He probably hadn't meant to be malicious. Either way, Sven cleared his throat and eyed him over the high ridge of his forehead, eyebrows drawing together. It was a look he'd often anchored onto anyone who bothered Gwendolyn. Particularly men who tried hitting on her. It's venom was a little lacking. There were few in their midst's that Sven actually respected, and Lohengrin, for whatever reason, was one of them. Flustered women, however, still tended to be a sore spot. “Is paying to be nice,” He commented dryly, adjusting the pot, “or no stew for you.” His tone was mild-tempered and humorous—but his eyes said differently. He, too, had noticed the subtle scaling speckling the man's face, though he'd said nothing of this. To each their own; they each had their own stories.

"What?" Dio asked, a little dumbfounded by the fact that she'd just been called racist. "No, there's nothing wrong with Percy! I like him. I don't care why you have scales on your skin. I just don't think we need to be rude to each other, is all. We're a team, aren't we? Shouldn't we be trying to help each other? We all have faults. It doesn't have anything to do with..." Her words trailed off, and she looked vaguely confused. She hadn't stuttered at all throughout those sentences, had she? Did that mean...

She realized it just before it happened, but Dio could still do nothing as she doubled over dangerously close to the fire, and a torrent of zapping sparks burst from all over her body, a number of them hitting both Lohengrin and Sven, while Dio made a noise that sounded vaguely like an unnnngghh, though it was hard to hear over the constant cracking of the sparks of lightning magic. It wouldn't be enough to knock either of them out cold, but that just meant that each of the individual zaps would sting quite a bit.

When it was all done, Dio realized she'd probably made a large mistake in holding all her magic inside. She looked between the two of them, quite horrified. "Are you alright? I'm... so sorry, I didn't mean to, I just... I screwed up. You're okay, right?" She wrapped her arms tightly around her middle, to try and lessen the chance of shocking anything else, and backed away slowly, several paces from anyone nearby. The majority of the vegetables, sadly, had dropped into the dirt.

It happened so quickly that Sven hadn't had time to react properly. Her lack of stuttering hadn't sent off any warning bells, either. The jolt of electricity sizzled through his rigged spinal chord, straight through his meaty fingers and across his skin like a pealing serpent. His mechanical limbs jerked straight out from under him, and he almost sent the logs skittering across the campfire if he hadn't of convulsed backwards. And instead of unintentionally tossing the boiling pot, Sven's hand seized and clamped down across the handle, impairing his ability to open his fingers. He managed to keep his arm from completely emptying the pot, if only because his entire arm refused to budge. Though, some of scalding water careened through the air, showering the left side of his torso and over towards Scaly. He remained still, breathing heavy. Leaning heavily on his elbow, and awkwardly trying to lower his stiff metal-arm, Sven looked up at Dio.

“K-kräftig.” Strong lass, indeed. That is how it must've felt to all of those soldiers she rendered unconscious.

Lohengrin only raised an eyebrow at Sven. He really didn’t think of himself as being unnecessarily hostile—granted, he was an ass on the best of days, and this was definitely not the best of days, but he wasn’t really feeling any particular degree of anger or vindictiveness. This was honestly about as mild as he got. He wasn’t very good at switching off the snark, and frankly, he didn’t desire to be. That was just the way of things. He hadn’t changed much in the last century and a half, and he didn’t plan on doing so now. Old lizards were worse than old dogs, probably.

He did notice when Dio managed to get through an entire thought without stuttering—mostly because he’d probably stopped listening after the word team. Actually, that was rather longer than he would have listened to most sentiments of the kind—maybe he was more bored than he thought. Of course, he discovered exactly what the absence of the stuttering meant when several bolts of electricity flew at him, shocking him in quick succession. As before, when the magic threatened to harm him, he body responded by changing itself to resist the damage—and this time, with his control already on shaky ground, it was considerably worse. His eyes turned red, his pupils narrowing to vertical slits, and what had been a suggestion of scales quickly became obvious, the sides and back of his neck up to his jaw scaled over completely, the pattern spearing up and onto his cheeks jaggedly, and the ridges around his eyebrows grew thicker, replacing the hair with smooth, somewhat reflective natural armor.

Worse than that were his hands, which had lost the semblance of humanity and turned just as scarlet as the rest of him, his fingers gaining an extra joint and wickedly-hooked dark claws. That was going to make things difficult—he didn’t have thumbs that were quite as functional as those of humanoid creatures, and not shredding fabric was going to be almost impossible. As if to add to his problems, some of the soup base from the pot Sven was holding flew from it when the man’s metal limbs locked up, half-dousing Lohengrin’s right shoulder and the corresponding side of his face.

That had done it—the electricity may have knocked him on his ass, quite literally, but it was being half-drenched in what should have been dinner that was perhaps really the cause in the end. Almost gradually, Lohengrin’s shoulders began to shake, silently for a few moments, but then accompanied by rumbling laughter. At a lower register than he usually had. Not, of course, that he often had cause to laugh, not as wholeheartedly as he was doing now. Surprisingly, there’s wasn’t much in it that could be called mean-spirited, though perhaps it retained more than a little of the sardonic nature that he generally displayed. It didn’t even stop when he noted that his feet were in much the same condition of his hands and his toes had successfully speared through the leather of his boots—he just kicked them off and laughed all the harder. He really didn’t care if any of the rest found it as funny as he did, though he did make some effort to explain. “J-just… the looks on your faces…” he lost it again for a few seconds, shaking his head vigorously. “The old man swore me to secrecy, but you’re going to find out completely by accident—just—I can’t believe you people.” Unbeknownst to himself, a faint jet of smoke coiled out of his nose, though given the nearby fire, it might not be noticeable.

His mirth tapered off, perhaps tempered by the knowledge that these were the people that were supposed to save the world. If they did it, he was fairly certain it would be dumb luck and coincidence, but if it was all this entertaining to watch, well… perhaps sticking around wouldn’t be so bad after all. Of course, now he needed a new shirt and lacked the dexterity to do much about it, but there were worse things than smelling like spice, he supposed.

Dio had no idea what he was talking about. By the looks of it, Lohengrin was some kind of Mutatio, though he didn't seem to be changing into any species of lizard she was familiar with. Honestly, she didn't really care what he was. Sven seemed okay, and for that, she was relieved. Apart from that, she'd had just about enough of today. She felt immensely tired after the rush of magic leaving her, and she figured it was best to go lie down before more of it came back. Apologizing to Sven again, she took her leave without any supper. Her stomach wouldn't thank her in the morning, but if she could avoid shocking anyone else, it would be worth it.

The Lieutenant did not understand why Lohengrin was laughing. Only sat there, staring at him. Wondering if he'd missed some kind of joke or whether Dio's shock had gone straight to his skull—though, he had a hard time wrestling a grin off of his face. Laughter was contagious, even to burly, grumpy bears like him. The situation was ridiculous enough without Lohengrin's lizard-toes destroying his boots, which he casually kicked away; hardly missing a beat. He teased the whirring knots out of his mechanical limb, coaxing it to release the death-grip on the pot. Thankfully, he hadn't dropped all of it on himself, nor Lohengrin. None of the rabbit pieces had fallen out, either. He set it on the ground and wiped his hands on his trousers, smearing spice and broth alike. His mouth opened, working for an apology, but paused when Lohengrin spoke instead. Questions bubbled to the surface. He'd already interrogated him aboard the ship, and barely brushed over some of the man's secrets; nothing solid came up. Certainly nothing that he could puzzle out himself, with what little he'd already seen. All that he knew was that he wasn't allowed to share it with them, still sworn to some oath he made with Myrrdin.

This was a little different. Speckled scales seemed to burst across his flesh, exploding into fine patterns. It reminded him of webworks, appearing far too quickly for him to discern where it began. Crimson eyes, slit pupils, hooked claws and wisps of something frothing away from his mouth. Perhaps, it had been the campfire's smoke. Or his dodgy eyesight. He wanted to utter the word lizard, but somehow thought it would have been insulting. Had he even guessed correctly, Sven did not know the word in English. He chuckled softly, low in his chest. For whatever reason, he'd forgotten why he'd been cross in the first place. “Sorry,” he finally said, fishing out a square piece of cloth from his rucksack and tossing it over to him. Given the man's reaction to being electrocuted and doused with hot soup, the apology might not have been necessary, but he still saw fit to say something—after all, he'd lost control of his arm. He smiled wryly, shrugging his shoulders. All of the clothes he owned would have been far too large, and he doubted that Lohengrin would tolerate being swaddled in anything that did not fit.

Drachen. The word puzzled him. Sat idly on his lips, unspoken. He motioned towards the lizard-man, about to vocalize the word until Dio abruptly stood, backing away from them. He turned to her, waving away the apology in an attempt to call her back. It was fine. They were fine. But, she was obviously upset. Far too upset to sit back down with them. He watched her go and rubbed the back of his neck. Finally snatching up the pot and setting it back over the flames, Sven's grin simpered.

“Metal bear and lizard. Sounding like beginning of bad story.”

Lohengrin caught the rag, daubing with some effort at his loose tunic, which was now maybe not so loose, but it still fit. He hadn’t grown that much larger, which was good. He shook his head in Sven’s general direction, waving off the apology. He’d needed that, honestly. Most of the time, he knew he was a completely insufferable asshole, and that didn’t tend to bother him. He preferred things that way. It did not mean, however, that he shouldn’t suffer the repercussions of being so every once in a while. If he’d been a better man, he might have even tried to apologize to Dio, to explain that he wasn’t laughing at her as such, but he wasn’t a better man, and they’d all just have to get used to that. Sven seemed to accept it well enough.

“Hmph. Maybe,” he said, still sounding a bit like someone was running a whetstone over a blade. Certainly not him—he rarely bothered with the upkeep on his own. “But I’m willing to bet it would be an interesting story.” It was certainly turning out that way from where he was standing. It was almost liberating, not to be the type to seek happy endings or heroic narratives. It certainly let him appreciate works in absurdity and futility—appreciations he was going to need if he was to survive this with his already-shaky sanity intact.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Skybound Character Portrait: Percy Galath Character Portrait: Mordecai Character Portrait: Kethyrian Tor Character Portrait: Sven Diederich Character Portrait: Theon Zeona Character Portrait: Vivian Zeona Character Portrait: Diomache Castillo

Earnings

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Whether or not any of them got that much sleep overnight, the sun rose at the same time it usually did the next morning, and from the sounds of the captain breaking camp, they were rather expected to rise with it. If anything, the conditions had grown worse over the dark hours, the murmur of the voices in song growing louder, though perhaps in their heads rather than their ears. To Gwendolyn, they sang of years past, happiness she’d forgotten, almost as if beckoning her forward to receive it once again. It was a strange feeling—she knew, logically, that there was no getting it back. Her father was dead, Sven was still with her, the crew were on the ship, and Artorias… he was somebody else now. What she was able to keep of those times was still with her, and the rest was lost to her forever. She was trying to be mature enough to accept that, though it wasn’t always easy, and her little display on the army cruiser earlier might have made the point elegantly enough.

So she wanted it all back. Her friends and her family the way they were. Who didn’t occasionally wish to regain what they’d lost? But there was no use pining, so why did those voices tempt her so much even so? It was hard to say, exactly. She didn’t like it a bit, but among the other trials of this forest, that sort of just figured. She glanced over the camp, noting that Lohengrin, having risen with the sun as she had, was looking rather the worse for wear. He hadn’t been forced all the way into his animal shape (whatever it was) as Percy had, but he wasn’t looking swell, either. She couldn’t decide, personally, if it was grotesque or strangely beautiful, the way the scales blended with his skin like that. Then again, she’d always had a strange aesthetic sense, so there it was.

He caught her glance, and raised the ridge of skin that had used to be his eyebrow, as if in challenge. She grinned and shrugged, and he rolled his eyes. Well, that was more or less normal. Maybe they’d make it out of this without any horribly-lingering trauma, after all. She supposed that, for the moment, all she could do was hope. Scientists were not as a rule very religious people, and Gwen couldn’t say she believed in any gods, but if she did, she’d be praying, too.

Sven had awoken, perhaps, earliest of all. He wasn't sure what had been worse; sleeping with all of those whispers or suffering them while awake. He'd been quiet enough not to wake anyone, busying himself with his pack. Checking the contents, zipping up what needed to be put away and counting off the spices and preserves he'd used last night while cooking. The pot had already been cleaned and put away, tucked under a rough blanket at the bottom of his knapsack (he hadn't expected there to be leftovers, after all). After counting them for the umpteenth time, the Lieutenant rocked back on his heels and pulled the straps tighter. Faith is all we need, she'd said. Like it really meant something. What had that gotten her? Nowhere good. No amount of well-wishing could bring her back—nothing he could do about it, so why did he feel so guilty?

The forest was to blame. Every single memory seemed to drag itself out of the underbrush, painting unpleasant pictures behind his eyelids. He wanted to rub them away, but every sorry attempt to brush them off only brightened the colors; composed so vividly, so impossibly bright.

He almost missed the desert. There was an emptiness there, and a comfortable silence that drowned out his thoughts. He'd only been thinking of the sweltering heat back then, and the fact that there were blue-eyed orcs and a large, slavering troll advancing on them. This place, with whatever stinking magic it held, was far too silent. Quiet enough for his memories to intrude on him, as if it were an unwelcome guest kicking up dirty shoes through his kitchen. The siren-song drumming through his ears (or his heart, perhaps) had grown louder and far more persistent. Of course he wanted her back. Of course he wanted to rip through time, and somehow know what his brother had been planning in order to stop him dead in his tracks. It was painful enough remembering how they'd played as boys, with wooden sticks, whooping and hollering. Pretending to be big goddamn heroes. He pressed his hand to his chest, willing it to stop. No amount of brute strength could salve those wounds.

Breathing deeply through his nose, Sven dropped his hand and looked out over the campsite. They were already beginning to stir, gathering up their things. Gwendolyn was awake, seemingly lost in thought. Despite the temptation to go to her and ask what was wrong—what was on her mind, Sven knew better. He knew that look well enough. It was the same one she wore when visiting his gravestone. He rubbed his eyes, and glanced over his meaty fist. Lohengrin was awake, as well. Still looking mighty serpentine. He had to admit... it suited him.

It was sudden, one moment spent quietly as the morning suns rose above the horizon, the next filled with the laborious breath of a stranger on the edge of camp. It was unclear on when he arrived, whether or not the ones who stirred overlooked him, or he had just arrived. He had appeared without a sound, and even then his tongue worked as if trying to conjure some forgotten words. Nothing came out of his mouth but breath as speech was slow to return. Everything was sluggish, painted in hues of black and white splashed with colors. He was confused, frustrated, and most poignantly, afraid. His mouth worked faster and faster, trying to force the words to his tongue. He had been good at them days ago, but now the most simple of actions eluded him. It took all the willpower he had left to not go bounding back into the forest.

"Mer... Mercy," He whispered before dropping to his knees in a heap. What was left of Percy had returned. He still wore the antlers of a stag, yet that was not the only thing. His face was more angular and shallow than before, his nose had a darker discoloration giving it a snout like appearance. Where his two ears should have been protuded two furry deer ears, pushed back against his head and twitching in fear. But the most unsettling feature was his eyes. One contained a blue-green iris, subtly different from its default color but the other was larger in scale and completely brown like a deer's. Most of the clothing he wore was ripped and shredded, and the flesh underneath scratched.

He huddled himself clutching at his knees for fear of letting go, afraid to move even an inch. It took all of his humanity to not give into the forest's song and shift back into a stag and leave, this time perhaps forever. The whispering forest played havoc on his mind, toyed with his insecurities, and baited the animal that lay under the surface. He could try to close his large ears but he could still hear the murmur of the forest. He wanted to go to someone, but he couldn't find the strength. He couldn't fight this alone, he needed someone, he needed an anchor to keep him from losing himself to the forest. He needed someone to guide him back.

"H-help," he grunted.

Dio had woken that morning one of the more well-rested of the group. She'd collapsed into a relatively peaceful slumber after her large burst of magic the night before, sleeping through the night without interruption. The price she paid for this was waking with a growling stomach, which grumpily reminded her every fifteen seconds or so that she had chosen not to eat any dinner the night before. To appease it, she had begun munching on the fruit she'd brought back to camp, whatever was left that the others hadn't wanted. It wasn't a very well rounded breakfast, but it gave her stomach something to do, at least.

She had just started in on another of the peach-like fruits when Percy made his return, and Dio certainly did not overlook this. Dropping the food, she rose quickly and walked quickly over to where he had chosen to sit, resisting the urge to jog or run. She wanted to help, of course, but he was obviously a bit skittish while in the forest, and any number of things could probably set him off. Shocking him would no doubt be one of those, so Dio resisted the urge to give him a squeeze on the shoulder, or an outright hug, because that would end badly for everyone.

"Percy?" she tried tentatively, wondering what he needed when he said help. "It's Dio. It's good to see you. We were worried. We thought you might have left for good." Maybe the others hadn't thought that, but Dio had, and it had worried her. She mirrored the way he was sitting somewhat, though she didn't seem as tense. The idea was to keep herself from shocking him, and that meant making herself small, and keeping her hands to herself.

"Get him up," Theon said from the edge of camp. Judging by the state of his eyes, he hadn't slept very peacefully at all through the night. The scryer was geared up and ready to leave, and obviously not in a good mood. When was he ever in a good mood? "Whatever's fucking with our heads isn't going to stop until it gets an axe in the skull, so let's stop wasting time and go kill the fucking thing." There was a look in his eye that Dio did not like at all, but she couldn't place it. He looked violent this morning. More violent than usual, that was.

"Percy needs help," Dio protested, not moving an inch. "We can't move right now. Not until he's better. Just look at him." Theon looked at Percy, huddled and terrified on the ground, and appeared unmoved.

The Lieutenant, too, had moved away from his somber perch, abandoning his knapsack. He tried mirroring Dio's soft footsteps as best he could, teetering at an uncomfortable lumber. She could not touch him, for fear of replaying what had happened the other night, but Sven had at least one arm capable of gentility. Compared to Dio, he knew he was a poor substitute for tender-spoken words and comfort, but he would try his best. Putting aside Theon's heightened aggressiveness, and clear annoyance—he was correct, as well. They needed to leave this place, or find the cause and destroy it. However, Sven ignored his brusque demand, leveling him with slanted eyes. Now was not the time.

He wrapped his meaty arm around the boy's slender shoulders, blinking uncertainly. He would not let him go. If there was something he did know about, it was frightened animals. Cornered things that were too afraid, too jumpy, too predatory in nature, to do anything but flee or lash out. Animals were far easier to understand than humans. He hummed low in his throat, and called out to him, “Percy.” He repeated his name again. “You found us, ya. Safe, Percy. Safe here. Old King Alsont, you were saying about. You never told Dio that story.” Familiarity, it seemed, always worked with animals, so why couldn't it work with Percy?

"Dio..." Percy repeated, pushing a palm into his shifted eye. He tried to force the shift back through brute strength, but it wasn't budging. His ears twitched in frustration but he didn't remove his hand from his face. He didn't want the others to see that, nor did he want to see them through it. He shuddered and twitched heavily before putting on a weak smile and a hesitant nod. "Not... Gone yet," Percy stumbled over his words, but still spoke. He had to speak, anything to keep the wild animal at bay. He had to do anything and everything he could to not allow the animal free reign over his mind again. It had wrested control days ago, when he bolted from the group. Ever since then, he wasn't Percy, not so much as he was a wild animal. He'd never had trouble shifting between forms, not before coming to the forest. Here, the song didn't sing to him, but the feral nature that waited beneath the surface.

Theon spoke, Percy's one human eye darted toward him and glared. He did not like the tone in his voice, and whatever part of the animal remained caught wind of the man's unspoken feelings. Whatever the animal would have done was moot, because it did nothing but irritate Percy. It caused him to fight all that much harder. He'd show the man, he'd show him. He was stronger than that. Percy shook his head violently at Dio's next words. "Told you... Not gone," The words still fumbled out of his mouth, and they felt heavy on his tongue. Unfamiliar even, and that hurt him. He knew he used to be good at words, he could talk with the best of him, but now he could barely force a coherent sentence together. Old Kings above, he hated this forest.

The touch on his shoulders caused him to tense, but he let pass without any other action. It was Sven, and out of everyone he trusted the man the most to never let go. He wouldn't allow Percy to escape without a fight, and that remembrance settled Percy's wild soul. He was... Safe. They wouldn't let him run away again. The knowledge that he didn't have enough strength to fight it himself stung, but there was nothing he could do about it. He was still intelligent enough to understand that he needed these people, else risk grazing out in the forest for the rest of his life. "Alsont. Young. Intelligent. Strong. An iron will," Percy said, remembering the tale he had told Sven on the deck of the Elysium. As he spoke, his natural green coloration began to return to his shifted eye. Even so, Percy wished he has some of that will he spoke of.

"Maybe... The whole story. Later," Percy promised with another forced smile.

“That’s the spirit,” Gwen said, moving to Percy’s other side and helping Sven lift him up and set him back on his feet. Not that Sven needed help doing any such thing, but she figured it might at least ground Percy a little more. She wasn’t really a nature girl—she didn’t know a whole lot about animals. But Percy was a person, not just an animal, so she figured she could at least try and help out the person-bit. Those, she did know a thing or two about. “There now—those eyes, I do recognize,” she said, her grin a little more wan than usual, but definitely still present. She pressed one of the fruits from the previous night into his palm.

“Eat. I’ll carry your stuff for a while.” He seemed to have retained the majority of his belongings from his run off into the forest, and she was most relieved to note that the key was still present. Sliding his pack off his back, she hoisted it onto her own, staggering a bit under the extra weight, but waving it off as funny rather than troubling. She could handle it for long enough for him to get his bearing. That was what captains did. It was what friends did, too, and she liked to think she was capable of being both.

“Kethyrian, can you do anything for him? We really can’t afford to stay here much longer.” Though he’d put it, typically, in a ruder-than-necessary fashion, Theon was right. They had to get to the bottom of this—before it got to the bottom of them and scraped out all the guts worth having.

Kethy, who thus far had kept mostly to herself during this rather awkward spectacle of… whatever on Albion was going on, cocked her head to the side at the question. Normally, the answer would be obvious enough—what did they keep her around for, if not doing something about situations like this one? It certainly wasn’t her charming personality. Like the scryer, she was here because she was useful, not because she would be winning any awards for congeniality. But a day and a night in the forest had mostly drained her; she was running on the dregs of her own magic. Even so… she approached, picking her way carefully over the plant life she was still generating at alarming rates, and placed the back of her hand against Percy’s forehead.

She wasn’t really the kind of person to bother asking permission for such a thing, and frankly if it bothered him, he was too touchy and needed to learn to deal with things of this nature anyway. Perhaps there was some irony in the fact that she thought so, perhaps not. He looked ill, but did not appear to be running a fever, nor did a simple diagnostic check reveal that he was doing as poorly as she was in terms of allergic reaction. Actually, his vitals were quite hale, but like the rest of them, his magic was going haywire. “Doctor’s advice?” she asked rhetorically. “Get him the hell out of the forest before he goes feral or something. Barring that…” she paused a moment, dredging up the resources for at least a bit of a boost, though more than anything, she was trying to apply bits of her magic to block his, so that maybe it wouldn’t eat at him quite so badly. Since they were from opposite schools, she had a feeling it might work at least a little, but it was all she could do at any rate