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Sven Diederich

Well, keep the earth below my feet; from my sweat, my blood runs weak.

0 · 692 views · located in Albion

a character in “Avalon's Dawn”, as played by Yonbibuns

Description

{Local Beefcake}
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" ... "
Conscience Killer - Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
I Gave You All - Mumford and Sons



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Name: Sven Borislav Diederich
Nicknames: Nicknames are pointless. Why have a name if you're too lazy to pronounce it? His is easy enough. If you're ballsy enough to call him something that he doesn't like, he'll probably twist your teeny body into a living pretzel or eat you alive. Or throw you overboard. Honestly, there's a long list of things he could do. Those sound as unpleasant as what he'd actually do to you, too. There is one person who persists calling him a horribly emasculating name, and for some reason unbeknownst to others, Sven tolerates it. Any comment made on it is met with one of his skull-burning shut-the-hell-up, mile-long stares.
Pronunciation: ( s-v-EH-n ) ( b-oh-rih-s-LAH-f ) ( d-EE-deh-rihk )
Age: Forty-four
Race: Human
Height and Weight: 6'2” and 280lbs

Sexuality: Heterosexual

Build: What do you get when you mix an ox with a brick wall? Or a particularly heavy-sailing ship that's got the meanest looking animals tromping down it's decks? Probably whatever Sven is made up of. He's certainly not like any slender-shouldered boy made up of puppy dog tails and snails or however it goes. Four decades breathing down his neck hasn't subdued his presence, or made him any less deadly then men half his age. He carries himself with the assurance of a natural-born warrior, a slobbering hound and a stone-sober pub brawler. Stocky, broad-shouldered and pretty damn sturdy. You probably wouldn't be surprised if he said that he benches his crew mates for chump-jokes (and surprised if you found out that he didn't). Like how does he even get through the door kind of beefy. Or how does he manage to wash his back? Tight shirts? Impossible. Those questions are left unanswered.

Appearance: First and foremost, Sven's facial features aren't exactly aesthetically pleasing. There's no charming smile hiding behind his grim expression, awaiting a single word to blossom into something even remotely handsome, so I wouldn't go holding my breath if I were you. He has seen much death and so many atrocities when it comes to war that it's reflected in the mournful look lurking within the deep blue of his eyes, like the sifting muck kicked up at the bottom of a lake, whilst his stern mouth naturally forms a flat, painful frown in times when he is lacking in composure. Stern, severe, somber. It is rare to see him smile, if he's actually ever done so in anyone's presence (it's said that his lips lack those muscles, in jest). But he does smile, or at least he's capable of doing so. It just might not be at any of your crappy jokes, is all. He's always been relatively tall for his age – and if you think he wouldn't play up his formidable height, then you've got another thing coming. No effort is needed. He just needs to stand there, cross his arms, and look at you. His hands are reminiscent to bear paws; deeply calloused and as rough as sandpaper raking across your cheek. Incredibly broad-shouldered, Sven's stature is best described as bearish, carrying on with the uncanny comparison – or at least, it's the only animal that looks anything like him.

It isn't likely that you'll find a suit tailored to fit him and it's just as well because he's not the type of guy you'd bring to parties, anyway. There's a pretty hefty mix of differing genealogies in him. It's in the sharp cuts of his cheekbones, or the rectangular makeup of his jawline. His strong aquiline nose, slightly hooked. Unassuming? Hardly. This doesn't exactly work in his favour if said mission calls for subtlety. He's best left back at home base, if that's the case. Sunken eyes chambered deeply into his face, perpetually drawn into a glare, rimmed with fatigue. He used to have something like a pompadour of thick black hair in his youth, but ever since “the incident” Sven's taken to shaving the sides of his head in memorandum, in memory of what happened and what he had to do – like shearing whatever was left of his immaturity, forcing himself to grow up a little faster. It suits him, anyway. The military had no qualms with his new haircut. Like a scrummy hedgehog. Or a fluffy cat who's been skimmed with a razor in it's sleep.

His inner workings are a mess of mechanical beautification’s. In other words, Sven's had a lot of work done because of internal damage, external damage and overall a lot of physical abuse. It's a wonder he hasn't died. There's white spinal plating down the centre of the back and sockets visible on the back of the neck and above the tail-bone; shaped like small circular disks with tiny strips of copper. It's really the only thing on his body, asides from the internal mechanisms, that don't need any maintenance. On a particular hairy mission, Sven's spine had been shattered at the lumbar and cervical sections, which forced him to have an experimental surgery involving his spinal column being replaced by an artificial, reinforced implant. These implants articulate similarly to a human spine, with no notable flexibility advantages. Instead, Sven finds himself suffering frequent bouts of back pain. Two ribs, the right clavicle and parts of his collarbone have also been reenforced. His forearms have been heavily worked on, stretching up to the highest point of his shoulders– plated with metal slats, bolts, and steam-operated gizmos that need frequent maintenance because of it's peculiar model. There's some pretty intricate tattoo work done, too. You'll probably never hear what it means or why he got it done.



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Demeanor: The Lieutenant's been called a fierce, bloodthirsty monster, but these particular tales are exaggerated, at least to the point where it could be said that he wouldn't necessarily strike before being provoked first. There's worse things he could be called than killer, ruthless sonnuvabitch, murderer. In broader terms, Sven's described as an obscure, mysterious man who doesn't take shit from anyone unless he likes them well enough to let things slide. Need something done for you? He'll probably do it if you've proven yourself to be at least a little handy. If you're as useless as a tit on a bull, then don't go expecting anything from him.

He's not evil and he's certainly not a bad guy, but his pessimism is unmeasurable and he can be particularly bad-tempered when it comes to stupidity, naivety, and gullible folk. Profoundly intimidating? Probably. He's a dangerous person to be around, and a fantastic ally to have when you're backs against the wall, in need of sharp eyes to keep your sorry butt from frying. Weathering the storm, or stomping down the unbeaten path, has always been the way the Lieutenant's dealt with things. Fully capable of taking much pressure heaped onto his shoulders without so much as complaining – it's far more difficult to ask for directions, or seek help, then to turn away and tough it out on his own.

In some ways, if you squint hard enough, the Lieutenant's incredibly classy, or else he's not some slop digging through the trash. He's not elegant, or graceful, or any adjective that'd describe dainty swans with their ballet slippers and slender fingers, but he's capable of periodical refinement. These particular traits can only been seen in retrospection, on closer examination. It'd be interesting for anyone to get that close, anyway. His cunning derives from his dark sense of humour; certainly, it's in the way he makes his peers shiver in their boots without so much as cracking his knuckles. That in itself takes some small amount of manipulation.

He may look like he's all brawn with little brain, but that's far from the truth. Experience and tragedy and hopeless situations have shaped an impressive, if not formidable, man. For all his physical strengths, the Lieutenant can appear fragile, and vulnerable, given certain perspectives. He may seem simplistic, and sometimes he really is, but there's a lot more going on beneath the surface. Trying to understand what he's thinking by his body language? Try again. Mutely looking out a window, while probably just thinking about a hot cup of coffee, could easily be misconstrued into thinking he's in a bout of sullen anger. Inapproachable, inexcusably incapable of any large range of normal facial expressions.

Highly unpredictable. The Lieutenant's pretty damn nonchalant when anyone touches on personal subjects. It's only when someone's intentionally pushing his buttons that he reacts – violently, and he always ends up completely tipping the scales of what was extended. Overboard much? He doesn't see it that way. If someone's willing to tango with him, then they probably understand what the consequences will be. His unique ability is to mess with people's heads in a really unpleasant fashion. Feeling awkward? He'll intentionally grind your gears – but he still manages to keep it light and impersonal. It keeps him spry, keeps him feeling young.

Pragmatic, straight-forward, undeniably blunt. His tolerance for large groups is pretty ignominious. For short periods of time, the Lieutenant fares well with said groups, then when he's had enough and needs to recharge, he'll disappear for a few hours and reappear as if nothing happened. Trust has always been a big issue. He keeps himself well hidden, shearing off personal questions before they're even voiced. People don’t need to know his business, and he'd much prefer keeping them out of his hair. The less that is known about him, the better. Knowledge is power, and that power can make you weak. He's more protective of himself and his people rather than any material objects he may possess, and if the former is threatened, the Lieutenant can get downright vicious. No one hurts his people, otherwise they get their heads bitten off.

Figuratively? Literally? Who knows. Sarcastic, moody, snarky. The Lieutenant has a hair-trigger, unpredictable temper when you touch on certain subjects, and godlike patience when other things should actually bother him. Confrontational? He'll get in anyone's face without batting an eye. Courage and fearlessness are two very different things and if there's anything that he knows best, it's that it's far easier to be brave for someone else than for himself.

Quirks: His ultimate weakness? Little kiddies scampering around his legs. He instantly transforms into a weird-looking mamma bear totting kids on his biceps, letting them swing around until they're good and satisfied with their game of pilot-fighter. He's never had any of his own, but he and Judith had been planning to have two or three. If a hundred-pound man making faces and making pew-pew-pew sounds unnerves you, and you're stupid enough to comment on it later on, then he'd suggest looking away. Don't even snicker, or press your hand to your mouth to stifle any giggles. He'll teach the kids how to put someone in their place in two seconds flat. And he definitely won't treat you with the same sort of ruffled friendliness. His kindness is reserved for pitiful pups and kids / or things that can't defend themselves. Otherwise, get the hell outta' his face.

Fears: If you would've asked him that years ago, the Lieutenant's response would've been much different. Losing the closest ones to him? That's already happened. Losing Judith had been on of his greatest fears. When he did lose her, all other fears seemed menial and childish in comparison. Betrayal? His brother's betrayal had been the ultimatum to rattle his senses, shaking apart every foundation of trust he'd built with his peers, his family, his friends. He's not so sure what he's afraid of anymore. Maybe it's his inability to care about dying. Or having nothing to fight for.



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Role: Brawler, head-cracker, terrifying bear-man.

Weapons of Choice: His hands? No, really. Though Sven prefers intimate combat, he still carries a variety of weapons on his person. Normally, he's found carrying a heavy double-barreled shotgun strapped to his back. Hidden in a secret compartment stitched into the sides of his boots are matching double-edges blades; made up of Damascus metal, forged elegantly. There's another hostler clipped to his thigh which holds a fixed blade; 9'5" inches, thickly set steel.

Armor/Apparel: The Lieutenant wears a sturdy nano-suit wound up with whirring gizmos and steam-operated heat packs located at all his key joints. It's essentially a powered exoskeleton, similar to what's keeping his spine from wriggling free like a shaky robot. The same technology that's been making astounding strides in creating prosthetic limbs has been applied to the GS-5 Military Suit. The framework itself has been worked on several times, rehashed and redone by the engineers in his old battalion. There's certain switches embedded into the collar of the suit that's used for specific situations; it's able to adapt and absorb energy in various forms: heat, solar, electrical, carbon and radiation. The wearer's strength can be amplified for short periods of time by dispensing adrenaline into his body, injected slightly above his hips. Sven has to continuously resupply the vials and check whether or not the needles are working properly. Using such methods have been frowned upon. The visors nothing special – just looks cool and keeps the sun out of his eyes.

Fighting Style: Fortunately for him, and unfortunately for others, the Lieutenant did serve in the military and has been trained in a healthy variety of techniques to keep himself alive. Specific techniques and martial arts such as bando, CQC and boxing have been integrated into his daily routine. Forms and techniques in bando are based on the movements of animals. Such routines include the boar, bull, cobra, leopard (or panther), monkey, python, scorpion, tiger, deer, paddy bird, and viper. The moves in each pattern are characterized by the animal which they imitate. Thus the python form includes crushing, strangling and gripping moves, the tiger form involves clawing and ripping, the viper form stresses flexibility while the deer form develops alertness.

It generally leaves the initiative to the opponent and relies heavily on countering maneuvers, but Sven's always been overly aggressive; opting to strike first, rather than utilize his opponents momentum to subdue them. If he's fighting someone, then his intentions aren't in debilitating them. Strike first, strike down. His combative training included close-quarter striking techniques, close-quarter hand-to-hand combat fighting and defensive counterstrike techniques. He's been taught to abandon flashy, complicated moves typical of most martial arts and rely on his instincts. In short, the Lieutenant specializes in close-combat; like a brawling bear with it's claws wound around your neck.



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Place of Birth: Xantus
Social Status: 2nd Lieutenant in the 236th Battalion


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Personal History: The Lieutenant was unsurprisingly born into a very militant family, shifting about Albion frequently, and as easily, as any nomadic creature could. His father was the Captain of a particularly important government warship and his mother an intelligence officer within the same Sector. His older brother was also an up-and-coming soldier who wanted to do more with his life than follow in his father's footsteps, though these particular thoughts were spoken in-between shushed whispers whenever he and Sven's father fought over his murky future. His family was rarely together at any one time. He mostly grew up by himself, only hearing stories about his absentee family members. Friends came and went. Faces blurred together. Long lasting memories weren't really formed until he was older, later into his teens. What was the sense? He wouldn't stay in one place long enough to actually make any friends and if he did then he'd just be bummed when he left somewhere else. No one would want to send letters to a non-permanent address.

“She’s not perfect. I sure as hell ain't either and we may never be quite perfect together because we've got scars that are a little deeper than the ones you can see. But she makes me laugh, makes me think twice, makes me admit that I can make mistakes so I hold on to her and give her the best of me that I can. She can’t think about me every second of the day. That's okay, too.


Her name? Judith. Judith Sibil. His first friend. His first love. His first everything, really. Before Sven Diederich became the Lieutenant, he was just a kid head over heels in love with his best friend, in a city that he actually stayed in longer than a few months.

    • Grows up with her, ends up staying with his grandparents when his parents shuffle off somewhere else but promises his dad that he'll join the Corps with he's old enough
    • In the meantime, his brother jumps ship and deserts his Battalion for unknown reasons
    • Sven and Judith get engaged and he enrolls into the military, gets shipped into the 236th Battalion
    • Assigned a mission that involves tracking his brother down and dragging his butt back for his penalty
    • He finds his brother at his house
    • In the process of trying to arrest him, his brother holds Judith hostage and ends up killing her and wrecking Sven's face with a knife before getting taken down
    • Sven continues his service for many years alongside Leo Skybound
    • Eventually joins The Guild and shortly thereafter Gwendolyn's merry crew aboard her ship

Professional History: What did he have to lose? His entire professional history, and the better part of his youth had been spent in the military. Serving was all he knew. He lived, ate, and breathed it. It ran thick in his blood, in his family. It was something that built him up from nothing and destroyed everything he'd grown to love. A rush and a shock, like surfacing from the coldest, murkiest waters. How far along did he have to go before he retired? Before enough was enough. People asked him questions. People tried to shuffle him off somewhere else where he wouldn't have to think so goddamn much – but it all flew past his head, because his mind was always ten thousand miles away in the empty house that reminded him of her, of him standing in the doorway with those empty eyes. Might as well been eyeless.

Initially, it'd been hear-say. Avalon Dawn? The Guild? What did any of that mean, anyway? His brothers moved away or died or disappeared. They weren't really brothers. Not in the ordinary, family-type way. In a deeper, meaner way. Teething against the bit for something better than to wither away on an old porch thinking about things he'd rather not remember, the Lieutenant did what anyone in his position would do – he enlisted, or at least, he joined up. It felt the same. A little less heavy. Like any rough-and-tumble establishment, Avalon Dawn could always use extra muscle. Especially if said muscle had military knowledge, and the ability to tote a weapon as well as keep his own without them.


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Their relationship is bizarre, to say the least. He sits somewhere between guardian, irritable stand-in father, bestfriend and right-hand man aboard her trusty vessel, the Elysium. Certainly, there's lines to be drawn, but Sven's constantly stepping over them. His protectiveness is borderline obsessive—as if he really were his daughter, even though he understands full-well that she is not. It's difficult to pinpoint where, exactly, he stands, or why, he follows her without question. He is duty-bound, that's for sure. Perhaps, it's actually for his own benefit. Leo Skybound was an old time friend of his, seeing him through the hardest time in his life; when he lost his loved one, and his ability to function properly. Much of his current prosthetic-limb designs are thanks to him, actually. He pulled him out of deaths throes, in more ways than one. Had it not been for his steady, unrelenting support, Sven might not be here today. So, in Gwendolyn, Sven still sees his mechanically-inclined friend, grinning back at him like a fox. He sees more and more, nowadays. For her benefit, whether she likes it or not, the grizzled Lieutenant would climb through hell and back again, wrestling his demons with one arm and her enemies with the other.
[size=80]Iron Fist.



He hasn't exactly taken Percy under his wing (besides, he doesn't want to teach him any bad habits or spoil his dreams), but Sven's grown rather fond of the kid—he's curious, he's smart, he's compassionate and he's shining with goodness. Far too good for an airship made up of thieves, killers, and folks with crooked moral-compasses. He's the type of person he'd like to surround Gwendolyn with. Unfortunately, kids like Percy are hard to come by. He's a dreamer, untarnished by the cruelty of the world, even if he struggles with himself from time to time. He's not exactly sure why, but he wants to protect him. Shield him from all of the things that ruins a person, and whether or not that's impossible, Sven will keep trying. The kid's already getting stronger, and he's happy to offer any advice or counsel should he need it.
Trust Me.


If anyone else knew the sense of loneliness that comes with the inability to belong anywhere, it would probably be Kethyrian. Perhaps, not intentionally—or maybe, he's getting the wrong vibes and she's desperately trying to piece herself into the group they've assembled. Her personality says otherwise, but at least she's got friends. Someone to talk to when the weight gets too heavy yo bear (though, her friendship-choices leave little to be desired). If he were to be stuck in a room, he'd count her as someone he wouldn't mind being stuck with. It's the best way he can describe it, though he does not actively seek her out for conversation. They both seem as equally comfortable in silence, without feeling as if they need to break it. Certainly a trait he holds in high-esteem. She's a tough-thing worthy of his respect. He counts himself lucky to have her as an ally given the nature of her abilities, and if there were ever a time where he could be useful as a friend, he'd be a silent listener.
Get Home.


Kill The Turkey.


The Truth is in the Dirt.


Cough Syrup.


R-e-s-p-e-c-t, consequently. His opinion of Lohengrin has changed over the course of their little misadventure, probably after he stopped thinking that he was as irritatingly egoistic as Theon (or when he was able to finally differentiate the two). He isn't actually egoistic at all, just tenaciously matter-of-fact. He gets to the point of it all without feeling the need to sugarcoat what he's going on about—another voice of reason without trying to spare someone's feelings, which is always refreshing in his books. With each battle, Sven's appreciation for the not-Mutatio, scaly-lizard man has gone up. Picking on the smaller members of the group, however, is met with stern disapproval (though, he's been easing up a little because the scaly-brat is growing on him). Maybe, it's the mystery that-is-his-pedigree. Yes, he's curious. No, he probably wouldn't venture to guess what he is, or why he's with them, unless it directly involved someone he cares about. Thankfully, it goes both ways. The lack of sympathy for his current ailments makes him feel younger. Subsequently, Lohengrin's a pretty good guy to have around and he's handy with all of those light-show abilities he has (i.e. burning everything around them and creating snazzy bonfires).
Beat the Devil's Tattoo.


Keep Your Eyes Open.


You Don't Know Me.


Still Broken.


Nitesky.



So begins...

Sven Diederich's Story

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

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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: Sven Diederich Character Portrait: Theon Zeona Character Portrait: Vivian Zeona

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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

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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: Mordecai Character Portrait: Sven Diederich

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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

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

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

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

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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

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

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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: Percy Galath Character Portrait: Sven Diederich

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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: 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

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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

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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: Sven Diederich Character Portrait: Theon Zeona Character Portrait: Vivian Zeona Character Portrait: Diomache Castillo

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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: Gwendolyn Skybound Character Portrait: Mordecai Character Portrait: Sven Diederich Character Portrait: Theon Zeona

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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: Lohengrin Character Portrait: Sven Diederich

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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: 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

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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

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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: 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

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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

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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: Lohengrin Character Portrait: Sven Diederich Character Portrait: Diomache Castillo

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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

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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.

Straightening, she shook her head. “That’s all I have. Our best option right now is to keep moving. The sooner we find whatever’s here for us to find, the sooner we can be done with it.” And she was really looking forward to that part. "I agree," Percy added quickly. He then turned toward Sven and asked, "Can I... Borrow this?" He asked, tugging on the man's arm. Percy didn't trust himself to walk straight.

The Lieutenant stood like a tower, immovable. He appreciated Gwendolyn's help, gathering up Percy between them. Perhaps, more from a fatherly standpoint then anything else, though it no longer surprised him. If anyone was in need of anything or was in any sort of danger: she would be there, bearing down on them with an affection that tethered them into her own circle. To be surrounded by so many kindred spirits, while he simply was not, made him feel awkward. All things considered, he wasn't a bad guy, but he'd done things in his life that kept him apart. Had he acted out on the unpleasantness he felt inside, much like Theon and Lohengrin seemed to do, things may have been easier for him. Suffering quietly, she liked to tell him, was the suckers way out of things. Funny lady with a sailors mouth. Surrounding himself with these types of people, and acting the silent guardian, was the least he could do, and performing any kind of duty, it seemed, had become his purpose.

He watched as daffodils and tulips curled up from beneath Kethyrian's feet. Wondered absently if the forest was a means of showing what kind of people they really were. With him; an angry beast, prone to bouts he could barely control. Truly, a feeble metal-man who clung to ghosts, unwilling to live for himself. Gwendolyn with her longing, desperately missing what she could not bring back and Percy, struggling and somewhat broken. A mess of nerves and curiosity, seconds away from disappearing into the woods that plagued them. Theon and Vivian exploding like fireworks, clashing against themselves, and everyone else, too. Lohengrin—scaled, not-so-cold and getting closer still to his truth. Electric, and fearful of herself. Dio's moral compass was admirable, as was her selflessness, but still afraid of what she might do. Mordecai with all of his whirring gears, barely holding himself together to keep himself from hurting anyone. The act in itself was the most telling of his nature, his kindness. Lastly, Kethyrian with her brusque, slender fingers, pressed to Percy's forehead. A healer who did not really like people, but chose such a position anyway. Maybe the flowers signified something as well.

He bobbed his head in agreement. They were right. The only thing they could do now was press on, now that Percy was able to walk. Get the hell out of the woods, kill whatever was sinking its teeth into them, or find what they were looking for and leave the damn place. No need for anymore words. Gwendolyn and Theon would lead them, and he would follow. Percy's voice pulled his attention back towards the ground, accompanied by a light tug on his arm. Borrow this—Sven's furrowed brows softened, as did his solemn expression. It was all he could offer, always. “Of course.”

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 Character Portrait: Artorias Pendragon

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At the top of the world, where the Genesis began, all was deathly silent save for the song of the siren's. Genesis, as her name implied, was the lifegiver for this part of Albion, her waters nourishing what would otherwise by a uninhabitable desert. From her shores, trees sprung to life, grass rose from the ground, and she gave life to all the creatures that inhabited the forests. The wellspring stretched out as far as the eye could see, the other shore sitting somewhere far over the horizon beyond sight. Everywhere she touched, she gave life-- everywhere but here.

Here silence ruled. There were no chirping birds, no whistling winds, and no footfalls of creatures either big or small. The only sound that remained was the haunting siren song. This shore was completely empty. Completely empty save for one resolute entity. He stood atop the water where he faced the shore in a silent vigil. His armor was a cloak of brilliant greens, from forest, to sage, to even accents of lime. Engravings of roots and vines etched deep into his arm, dancing across the metal organically as if they too were alive. Impressions of leaves rested upon his shoulders and his breastplate. Atop his crested helmet sat a pair of intertwining antlers.

In his hands rested a massive greatsword, as wide as a small child. Its tip dipped into the water only slightly, and every breath he took caused the water around it to ripple ever so slightly, breaking the illusion of stillness. Here he waited, without word or without movement. Here there was only him and the siren song that draped over his shoulders. His silent vigil was broken by the sounds of life. Echoes of footsteps drifted toward him, labored breathing followed closely behind. His lonesome watch became not so lonesome anymore. He made no movement, nor acknowledgement. He simply waited.

Well. This was just charming, wasn’t it? Kethyrian was getting really sick of the music, frankly, because she didn’t like being jerked around like a dog on a leash, and, mentally at least, that’s exactly what it felt like. Collar her with old thoughts she didn’t want, tether her to some damn temptation, and pull. It was honestly a wonder she hadn’t gone off by herself towards it yet—or may the greater surprise was that she hadn’t turned and fled from it. She wasn’t stupid, after all: this was a spiderweb, and they were flies, one and all.

She shouldn’t have been surprised to see some idiot bedecked head-to-toe in green metal standing on the surface of the water, but if this was what that song had been trying to tempt her to, either she or whatever was singing was more confused than she had imagined, because she was entirely nonplussed by whomever this was. She was pretty sure none of her deepest desires involved knights in shining armor, thank you very much. “Well,” she supplied bluntly, “I’m guessing we don’t just get to mosey on through, do we? Is there a ‘you shall not pass’ in here somewhere, or do we just have to infer that from all the silent ominous standing around you’re doing?”

Well, the elf was even less patient than usual today. Not that he blamed her for that, exactly—most of them were. Still, pissing off someone whose status as ally or enemy you did not know seemed like a rather counterproductive approach. Lohengrin almost wondered why it was that he stood by so much water when the song had been promising him the freedom of endless sky. Perhaps he was simply destined to be forever disappointed as well as forever disappointing. There was a certain kind of symmetry to the thought, at any rate. “Gonna go out on a limb here and suppose that he’s not going to speak with us. Anything supposed to happen now?” This, he asked of Theon, given that nobody else around here dealt in prophetic dreams.

"Fuck if I know," Theon said, shrugging. "Everything I saw in the dream's already happened. The singing bullshit, the lake, this asshole in the green not saying anything to me. I even shot him in the dream, but it just bounced off him. All he did was open his visor, but I didn't see anything inside." He'd have shot the floating knight now, too, but he didn't want to bother with reloading, and also didn't want to drop the duckfoot in the water.

"You sh-shot him?" Dio asked, notably standing out of the water. It might have looked quite refreshing to her, but she wasn't going to risk another electrical burst going off while she was in it. "W-why? Did he d-do something to you?"

"He wouldn't let me go in," Theon explained. "Oh come on, it was just a dream, it's not like I actually shot him. Fuck off." Dio narrowed her eyes at him instead. "Well, m-maybe he knows you attacked him in the dream. We don't kn-know that he's an enemy. You don't have to go and m-make him one."

"We don't know he's a friend, either," Theon said, rubbing at his temples. The little girl wasn't helping with his headache any.

The Lieutenant readjusted himself, keeping his arm steady as a pillar. Green knight, indeed. His gaze raked across the vibrant cloak nestled over the thing's shoulders, hardly flapping like it should have been. A general unease settled over his own, weighing heavy on his neck. As if someone were pressing down on him with great, unyielding hands. Bigger than his own, and volatile in nature. He had trouble differentiating whether or not this green knight was human or some sort of creature, or neither—perhaps, a God. Not that he believed in anything that he couldn't see with his own eyes, but days before, Sven never believed in age-old guardians either. His mouth tugged into a rueful smile. A goddamn good fight was going to happen. He could feel it in his bones, gathering in all the tight spaces of his muscles, screaming for release. Bent, twisted, angry. All of the temperance he'd cultivated over the years was slowly going to waste, trickling through a sieve, growing larger and larger, the longer he listened to that fucking song.

Now that they were close enough to see him with their own eyes, Sven could see her as well. Beckoning him to leave the group and drop the boy, come to the woods with her and leave everything behind—because they would be all right they would always be fine without him but I need you I do. She peeked behind branches, only long enough for him to blink her away like a mirage. Like an ill-imagined vision. Her voice, however, did not leave him. It lingered, whispering how this was his only chance to set things straight and do the right thing. His mechanical arm twitched and rose from his side. He settled the rubber pads of his fingers against his forehead, rubbing small circles against his temples. Half measures. He was always taking half measures, half steps, half decisions, especially when all he really needed was action. Kethyrian's collar may have been an annoyance, of things long past, but his collar felt like an anchor, dragging him down. Sweat beaded his forehead, slick against his palm. He felt like he was fading.

"We could sit here and continue to bitch," Vivi spoke up, airy tone evaporated. The siren's song had wrung every drop of animation out of her very soul, and what was left was only the bitter rind. If only she could find the source of the song, she'd make whoever was singing it suffer until she got tired. Unfortunately, no such sirens were found, only a jackass in green armor. "Or we can get on to whatever it is we were supposed to be doing here. Don't know about you, but I want to leave," She hissed out. Then her arm swung wide and pointed at the green jackass. "If what we need is past him, then we go past him. There are nine of us and one of him-- I mean, what the hell?" She said already going for the sword on her back.

Percy on the other hand was much more quiet and much more thoughtful-- as thoughtful as he could be with his scattered brains. Speech had become more and more difficult to come by, and once instead words a buck's grunt left his lips instead. He had since resigned himself to one word responses when he needed to speak, and nothing more. He had Sven's arm clutched in a hard grip. He fought the urge to drop to all fours and walk that way valiantly, and if the large man wasn't around Percy wasn't so sure he could have stopped himself. On the lakeside, he did an admirable job of tuning all the other voices out, instead keeping this "Green Knight" in focus.

Was he a man? Or was it a constuct? Perhaps whatever it was, it was of the same type of thing the guardian was? Surely it wasn't a guardian itself-- these creatures did not seem the type to simply appear and wait. Percy's antlered head tilted in curiousity as he took everything in and processed it. Perhaps more slowly than usual thanks to his current state-of-being, but Percy was still Percy, the animal couldn't change the man. What caused it to stand on the water? Some kind of magic? He squinted and then noticed that it wasn't standing on the water at all. The knight stood on top of a shallow sandbar, obscured by the reflectiveness of the water.

That answered one question, but many still remained. Who, or what was this knight for instance.

Perhaps ordinarily, proud Kethyrian would have simply ignored the presence of the knight and marched right past him, or at least been willing to try her luck and see how he reacted, but she was having a problem. A very large, wellspring-sized problem. She stood at the very back of the group currently, eyeing the water with more than a little trepidation evident on her sharp features. Her scowl looked less angry than usual and more… apprehensive. She’d never gone so far as to tell anyone, but Kethyrian had nearly drowned as a child, and had feared sufficiently-large bodies of water ever since. It was something so banal, so ordinary and weak of her, that she couldn’t stand it about herself, and seldom chose to give it any thought. This situation, however, was giving her no choice, and she shifted from one foot to the other with discomfort, her long-fingered, claw-tipped hands wrapped around her biceps and crossed protectively over her chest.

#9 was having its own issues. At some point during the walk, it had lost its ability not only to communicate in the common tongue or dialects of it, but even to understand spoken words. It knew that it was not to harm these people, it knew that they needed to get past the being wearing green. It did not have any protocols suggesting that it was to respect the ground that the knight was clearly guarding, and so its reasoning process, stripped to bare logic and probability, free of any of the more cumbersome attachments such as feeling and rightness, presented it with the obvious conclusion. Without anything blocking the way mentally, it immediately acted in accordance with the conclusion of its calculations, and went to cross the water. It was, of course, built to resist damage from such things, and it felt none of the Favisae’s reservations, simply moving through the water briskly until it alighted on the sand bar the green-clad creature occupied and then continued walking forward.

Mordecai would find the way forward wasn't so simple as taking a step, at least not without stepping through the Knight. The tip of the greatsword lifted out of the water and turned, the knight taking a step to the side to put him in the direct path of Mordecai. He had been tasked to protect this place from all those who dared approach, no one was going to pass while he still stood.

Mordy's steps though paved the way for others. Vivi in particular was the next to follow. In fact, as soon as the Automaton took the first steps into the water she followed close behind, wading into the Wellspring. She watched as the knight moved to stand in Mordecai's way, leaving the path she took wide open. At least, for the time being. As she drew closer to the invisible threshold, her progress was blocked by the knight's greatsword. Held out with a single hand, he barred her passage further into the spring.

Glaring at the knight, though his eyes were locked on the automaton, Vivi then tried to duck under the sword, only for him to lower it. Then she rose to try and step over it, only to find it rising with her. Hate filled her eyes as she tried to step further around the sword to find that blocked as well. The knight angled his sword and corraled her back to her initial position, like a mother would a child. That managed to draw hostility. In a moment Vivi's pistol found it's way to her hand and in another a crack echoed through the forest. The ringing of metal filled the area as the knight's head ripped back grotesquely. He stood like that, head ripped back and staring at the sky above before it slowly fell, unseen eyes drifting down and finally toward Vivi where they stayed.

The shot was then replaced by Vivi's defeated scream.

Gwen rubbed a hand down her face, murmuring something probably unflattering and colorful, though the slight tremor in her shoulders made it just as likely that she was laughing, as absurd as that would have been in a situation such as this. So much for getting on with it, as Vivi had so inelegantly phrased her suggestion. Well. Either they fought the knight, or they talked him down. Considering he’d taken a point-blank gunshot both in dream and reality without appearing at all fazed, she was really hoping that talking was going to get them somewhere.

“Ahem,” she started, drawing some attention to herself and waving sardonically at the… being in armor. “Hi there, ser knight. I don’t suppose there’s some nonhostile way to get past you, is there? It’s a bit of a matter of life and death, fate of the world and all that, so we can’t really just leave. I’d also really rather not die, so. Well, you see where I’m going with this. I don’t suppose there’s some kind of fetch-quest option? Some object to retrieve, a riddle to answer, maybe? Anything at all?”

Theon probably should have been angrier at the knight for threatening his sister, but so far he hadn't seen the guy do anything more hostile than stand in their way. He was tempted to smirk, but kept a relatively straight face. "Really, sis? I told you that wouldn't work." Dio, meanwhile, had distanced herself even further from the water, a good ten or fifteen feet from any of the other party members, at which point she crouched down slightly and let off a large discharge of electricity, arcing through the air around her for a second or two before it dissipated. Sighing when it was done, she wearily pushed herself back to her feet and stepped with trepidation into the water. She didn't have Kethyrian's fear of it, but she had no desire to accidentally hurt anyone. "Please," she said to the green-clad warrior, "We really need to get by you. Can't we work something out? We don't want to fight you." Her statement came in direct contradiction to some of the others' actions, but she said it anyway.

The knight's response was a predictable empty silence. There was no quest, there was no riddle, there was no passage. He had only one task, one duty, and that was to protect the Wellspring from all comers. He made no indication that he'd even heard the women's plea, and made no move other than to deny this passage past him.

The answer was simple then—it knew that they would not get past unless they moved the obstacle in the way. It knew itself to be capable of this—no matter the being’s seeming invulnerability to damage, it could still lift and hold, and this it calculated it must do. #9 moved with surprising speed, locking one of its arms around the Green Knight’s own left one and another around the corresponding leg, and then it turned several circles on the spot about the sandbar, gaining considerable momentum, before it released the being much as an athlete would a discus—sending the mysterious armored entity flying for several yards. It opened its mouth to speak, but all that issued were strange mechanical sounds—it did not remember how.

Kethyrian watched the knight go flying with wide eyes and a tight jaw. “This… isn’t going to end well,” she muttered, still eyeing the water with evident discomfort. Maybe the rest of them could go while he was down, and she could run in the opposite direction? Maybe she’d take Dio with her—water conducted, after all, and that seemed like a bad idea just waiting to happen.

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 Character Portrait: Artorias Pendragon

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A heavy splash later and the knight had been forcibly removed from his vigil by an inhuman toss from a certainly inhuman construct. The knight, still visible underneath the crystalline surface, only stayed submerged for a moment. Like a ghost rising from its grave, the Knight broke the surface and stood knee deep in the water, his armor shimmering in the moisture. It was obvious that the only way to keep them from breaching the wellspring was by force. So it was with a great heft that the Green Knight lifted his sword out of the water and swung it menacingly in front of him, dancing across the surface of the water. Displaying immense strength he held his greatsword out by one hand before lifting it up and resting it on his shoulder. He then began his slow march forward to meet his foes.

Something resembling a growl erupted from Percy's throat, figuring this was how it was going to end once Vivi let the first shot ring out. He wouldn't just sit by this time and watch everyone else as they fought. He'd do something this time. Glancing up at Sven, Percy nodded curtly and pointed toward the Knight, uttering a single word, "Go." He'd be better off helping them than keeping him on his feet. As if to further encourage him, Percy let go of his arm and stumbled forward to the edge of the water.

There he fell to his knees and stared into the water. An antlered boy with twitching deer ears stared back, even despite the ripples caused by the Knight and his companions. He sighed deeply and simply thrust his hands into the water, letting the cool water cascade over his hands. He dipped into his druidic powers, and perhaps strangely, he found that the effort usually required to commune with nature wasn't present. Still, there were no time to ponder that shift, and instead focused on what he decided to do. He could nearly feel every creature swimming in the water, their heart beats. He could feel the life swimming in the Wellspring, invigorating him. It was old and ancient, with numerous secrets squirreled away. Sadly, neither did he have the time to wrap himself in those secrets. Quietly, he began searching for the largest lifeform he could possibly find, and began to ask for its help.

Sweat beaded his forehead, dripped down his cheeks. He stood and watched. What else could he do? Vivian had shown, in a great show of self-control and intelligence, that they couldn't shoot their goddamn way through the Green Knight and expect him to step aside or even die. Nor did he really expect any kind words to sway him, so when Dio and Gwendolyn stepped forward, Sven's breath caught in his throat. It was obvious that he was a guardian of something—that he was the source of his bleeding headache and horrible visions and Kethyrian's erratic garden blooming from her heels like a wedding-trail. Besides, Sven was watching over Percy. Using his good arm as a walking stick, because his other one was a creature of its own, reacting badly whenever he tried to settle it down. Go. He blinked in surprise and looked down at the boy. So resolute, stubborn. He may have felt Percy let go of him, had he weighed that much to begin with. Go. Like it was an easy task.

Standing stupid wouldn't help anyone. He bowed his head, breathed in deep and stepped forward, splashing into the water. The Green Knight would not let them pass, so they would plow through him. Make him kneel, destroy him, rip him to shreds, devour him, spit him out. World-weary eyes stared past their shoulders, past Gwendolyn's head of blonde hair and finally, settling on the incoming enemy, blazing with a determination reserved for brick walls and impregnable gates. What was he protecting with this much vigilance? It didn't matter. They needed entry. They needed to clamp the siren's mouth shut for good, clear their heads and give themselves a good shake. He'd try to pave them a path. He'd try to buy them time. If he couldn't even do that, then what kind of lieutenant was he? “Time for talking is done,” he grunted as he stomped past them, so sick of wading through water and woods and moist terrain. But, warfare ran hot through his veins. This, he knew best. Sven stretched out his mechanical arm, flexing its fingers experimentally. Good enough, then. Hopefully, it'd hold up against that laughably large sword of his.

He might as well start this, then. Quickening his pace, Sven's legs hissed and steamed with the exertion of pushing himself faster, frothing bubbles around his ankles. His other hand drifted towards his back and closed around the wrapped-butt of his shotgun, swinging it out in front of him. He aimed for the Green Knight's chest and fired, sidestepping to his left, while bringing up his arm should he prove to be surprisingly fast.

Dio let slip a heavily dissapointed sigh. Mordecai probably hadn't meant to do what he did, or at least, she wanted to think that. Regardless, what was done was done, and now they needed to destroy this thing in order to move on. It felt wrong, but Dio supposed there was nothing she could do about it now. Sven was charging forward, Percy was at the water's edge doing something... and there was really no way for Dio to help, at least none that she saw. Her magic would undoubtedly hurt her allies far more than the enemy here, and she was almost glad for the convenience of it, because she really had no desire to fight this thing anyway. Tiredly, she slogged out of the water and back to the shore, keeping her sword in its sheath across her back, and her pistol in its holster. The others would have to tear this thing down without her.

Theon, meanwhile, figured they weren't going to talk their way by this guy, and while he didn't really care if they murdered him or not (he actually preferred it this way, as the green bastard was beginning to annoy him with the stone wall of silence), he didn't see a way to go about the actual killing. Bullets didn't seem to have any effect at all, and he didn't enjoy the thought of trying to take this thing hand-to-hand, with movement restricted by the water, and that greatsword to contend with. Maybe the toaster would be able to pull him apart limb from limb. The scryer drew his axe, wondering if the armor had any weak spots he could cleave through, if given the right opportunity.

The Knight displayed surprising agility in an attempt to dodge the shotgun blast. However, the armor was just as heavy as it looked and he took an entire side's worth of buckshot for his trouble. The kick was immense and forced the Knight back a couple of places, but had enough awareness to spin with the shot. Using the momentum of the spin, he stretched out his sword and skimmed the surface of the water, kicking up a rooster tail of water. While seemingly childish at first, there was an intended tactic to be had. The water was eye height in attempt to momentarily blind his attackers. His sword came to rest in below the water at his back, the Knight still holding it with a single hand. A series of dents laid into the armor where the shot had connected, but the Knight seemed otherwise unharmed.

Once more bearing that surprising agility, the Knight regained the lost steps and then some behind the splash, pushing himself through the knee deep water with simple force of will. The blow that came next didn't fall from above but instead rose from below. The knight grabbed the hilt with both hands and using strength that would match Sven's own, whipped the blade upward. Curiously, instead of attacking with the edge of the blade, the flat was used instead.

The Green Knight's reflexes were admirable, given the fact that he wore heavy armor in moggy-water. Never in his years of serving had he seen such a thing. He wasn't sure what he'd been expecting but it certainly wasn't that. He may have overcompensated or assumed too much, strategically. An arc of water jettisoned into his eyes, momentarily blinding him. Instinctively, Sven took a staggering step backwards, rubbing at his eyes with his sleeve. One glimpse between fabric, metal and the Knight told him volumes. There were some dents, yes—but it hardly slowed the Knight, who gained his steps back quicker than he thought and repositioned himself so that his blade was hidden beneath the water. It did not come from above, as he figured it would. He didn't have time to adjust himself, push away, or sidestep out of range. The flat of the blade, large as it was, struck him underneath his armpit, across the chest and lifted him.

Impossible, he would have thought prior to this. The Lieutenant's feet left the sand, kicking up his own trail of water. The world spun backwards, upside down and quickly became a blur of speed and blurred foliage. Strong had been an understatement. The weight of the Green Knight's swing had knocked the breath clear from his lungs, like they'd been squished together in his gauntlet. He splashed several feet back, dipping under water. Had it not been for his mechanical limbs, he may have stayed under the surface, staring up at the sky through milky, wavy eyes. The place where he'd landed sizzled, bubbled and frothed until he resurfaced, breathing heavily. This wouldn't be easy.He placed his hands on his knees, searching for his lost shotgun. Thankfully, it sat on one of the slivers of sand, relatively unharmed.

Vivi had slipped in from behind Sven, and darted through the water. Unlike the Knight or Sven, strength wasn't her mainstay-- she couldn't just force her way through the water. It had the effect of considerably slowing her down, but in no way did it cool her fury. She had a lot of aggression she still needed to work out, and if the knight wanted to die, then she'd happily give him that. Having used Sven as a distraction, Vivi slid through the water and ended up behind the knight, where she went to work. Having the same thought at Theon, she sought to find the weak points of this so-called knight. First she drew her pistol and aimed it at joint behind the knee. There was a resulting boom, and Vivi quickly switched to her blade, holding it in a reverse grip. She came in hard and fast at the same spot, but the blade rang out futilely as the armor did its job and protected its wearer.

While most of the damage was warded off, that said nothing about the ferocity of the attack. The combination pushed his knee in and the Knight collapsed behind it. He was far from defenseless as Vivi quickly found out. An elbow struck her in the gut, doubling her over. This gave the Knight a moment to regain his footing as he turned. His gauntlet shot forward and grabbed Vivi by the throat. With the girl in his hand, he pulled her in and then cast her away instead of simply snapping her neck like a twig. Vivi dipped under the water near Theon for a moment before rising out of the water with a big gasp. Not only was she pissed, but now she was sopping wet.

"Fuck! You!" She screamed.

Try as she might, Kethyrian could not bring herself to step into the water. Not that it made much of a difference—without her magic, she was a mediocre knife fighter who knew how to parry and step into guards. That was about it. What had come after was never a matter of steel, but of sorcery, and that was lost to her, at the moment, expelled constantly into a damn chain of daisies and lilies instead of anywhere useful. She had not the stamina even for a basic shield, and if any of these people got themselves injured, they’d have to hope that someone knew first aid, because the healer wasn’t going to be much help. It was ironic, really: a mage usually prided him or herself on having talent and dealiness that could not simply be taken away. A sword could be disarmed, a hand dismembered, but magic was supposed to be intrinsic to the very nature of a person. It wasn’t supposed to fail. But it had.

#9, on the other hand, suffered from no such deficiency. It was true that the automaton was incapable of activating either of its more utile modes of combat, but it was difficult to tell whether it would have had the cognitive function to do so even if it had the magical energies required. It was obviously little more than a basic machine at this point, perhaps comparable to one of the worker-drones that bent metal and smelted ore in one of the numerous factories of the industry-cities. It differed only in size, construction, and efficiency. Well, and purpose. It, after all, was designed to kill. Lowering its shoulder, it charged right for the Knight, apparently unconcerned by the fact that it was thigh-deep in cold water.

Not even the Green Knight could withstand the full brunt of the automaton’s attack, and in fact, he was carried from his feet and back into the water. This time, however, he wasn’t going to get back up so easily. Lohengrin was no druid, but he had a feeling he knew what the deer-boy was trying to do, and for once he figured it’d be best if he put in some effort to assist. Not that he really wanted to, given what he risked exposing, but they couldn’t leave until they’d killed this bastard and found the guardian, so it was obviously better to achieve this faster. With a motion of both clawed hands, Lohengrin manipulated the water in the wellspring, forming some of it into two large tendrils that wrapped around the knight, lifting him slightly from the rest of it. With an exhaled breath, the mercenary froze what he’d assumed control of, essentially trapping the knight in a block of ice. Water was not an easy matter for him to control, and he knew that in his present state, it would not remain solid for long, but it should be long enough for Percy’s plan to come to fruition.

As the bony spines erupted from his vertebrae, he had the thought that this had better be worth the effort he was going to.

The fruit of Percy's labor began as a small shadow off of the Wellspring's shore, an omen for what was about to unfold. The strain danced acrossed Percy's face, his eyes closed in absolute concentration and his mouth working with unspoken words. Neither did he sit still for what he did. His hands paced up and down the sand beneath the water, kneading it between his fingers. The sweat dripped off of his forehead and added to the ripples playing across the surface of the water. He was totally and completely oblivious to the fight happening only a few yards away from him, so concentrated he was in his effort. The shadow slowly began to grow in size and diameter, until what was rising from the depths of the Wellspring broke the surface.

And break it did. A long armed tentacle ripped through the water tension, snaking toward the Knight and wrapping around him. Another followed suit, and another after that. The water then erupted in a geyser, throwing rainbows with the gently floating mist. The beast hiding behind the mist bore eight legs, an elongated head, and two very wide, very dangerous eyes. Percy's creature had arrived. Upon the octopus's appearance, the Druid finally wavered, all of his energy sapped from calling for aid from the beast. He found himself face first in water, completely and utterly exhausted. It was with pure survival instinct that Percy rolled himself over on his back, else risk drowning himself. When he opened his eyes, the sclera had turned dark, much as they had before, giving him the eyes of the deer. His work was done.

The octopus's, however, was just beginning. A fourth tentacle joined the last three, snapping the block of ice under the force. With the Knight now in the creature's unrelenting grasp, it forced the man back to the ground hard enough that the Knight's solid knees buckled, pushing him into a kneeling position. Tentacles continued to wrap around the Knight until he was immobile, and that's when the fifth came into place. This one wrapped around the horns of the knight's helmet and yanked, revealing the man's face.

For a man it was. Underneath the concealed helmet sat a handsome face. Messy blonde hair sat atop his head, the sideburns reaching out from either side and meeting in the middle of a chinstrap beard. A tanned skin tone graced his cheeks, along with a number of bruises resulting from the previous fight. Dark blue irises weighted heavily in tired eyes. The man's gaze darted about confused, until it finally focused on something. The gun barrel shoved into his forehead. Vivi's gun barrel. The girl had taken to opportunity to get in close and, it wasn't one she was about to waste. However, if the man displayed any notion of fear, it was hidden deep behind defiant eyes, daring her to pull the trigger.

Granting the man's desire, Vivi did pull but it lacked the explosion. There wasn't a shot, nor a bang, not even a pop. Another dull click followed another until she grunted under her breath. "Your head still rolls," Vivi demanded, raising her blade instead. A simple slice, and then all of their problems would be solved.

“No!” The shout was on a bit of a delay, as it had taken Gwen a moment to properly process what she was looking at. Once she had, though, she thanked her teachers for giving her lessons that honed her reflexes, because if she’d been one moment later in colliding with Vivian at the highest speed she could manage in water, the saber would indeed have likely severed the knight’s head. She staggered backwards a bit as she picked herself up out of the tackle, sloshing around in the water with half her usual grace, but she was standing in front of the man immediately thereafter, as if to protect him from further assault. She was glad that the only command Percy seemed to have given the octopus was to hold him, else she might have been out of luck even so.

“Don’t... kill him,” she said, breathing heavily from the sudden exertion and the panic that had gripped her upon recognizing this person. What he was doing here, instead of where they all had believed him to be, who they had all believed him to be, was a very complicated question, and she supposed the answer would be no simpler. Regardless, they needed to be able to ask it of him. She would not let him become a corpse. Even if they weren’t now the friends they had been once, she owed him much, including the chance to explain himself if he was even able.

“Something’s wrong… we’ve been hoodwinked. This is… this is Artorias, king of Albion.”

There was a silence short silence before the king finally looked up at each of the members of Avalon's Dawn. His eyes then once again fell to the water in front of him, Vivi's pistol still visible even as it was submerged.

"Fate is full of surprises."

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 Character Portrait: Artorias Pendragon

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There was something akin to a memory about the path behind them. However memory implied conscious understanding, what Artorias felt was a gut instinct that only standing at the water's edge for near about a year supplied. Sure enough when Artorias turned and looked for it, he recognized the lighter shade of water, signifying the sand that lay just beneath the surface. He then hefted his sword off of his shoulder and pointed in the direction the sandbar led, uttering, "That way," In a sure manner that betrayed no mention that he was working off of bare instinct alone. A man like him couldn't afford to appear unsure, and that skill had managed to bleed into his normal usage, along with a number of others.

Like his understanding of the importance of time. He rested his sword against the opposite shoulder and looked back to Gwen, shrugging as he did. "I won't pretend to know all of the details of your quest, but I will wait until we return to your ship before I ask my questions. I wish to wash my hands of this place more than you do," He said, taking the first steps toward the hidden path. While the magic of the Wellspring may have played with their senses, the place had held him prisoner. He wanted nothing more than to leave as soon as possible, and if that meant leading Gwen's group to whatever they were searching for then so be it.

"Careful," Percy croaked through half-closed eyes. "There's a drop off on either side of the sandbars. Very deep," He explained. He'd seen just how deep the Wellspring went when he contacted the giant octopus. In fact, it was deeper than he could fathom, he never did feel the bottom of the wellspring-- if even there was one.

Vivi though, kept quiet, silently retrieving her pistol from the cold water and examining its barrel. It never jammed on her like that before, but then again, she'd never had it submerged completely in water. There was very little water to dip it in in the desert after all. Due to that fact, she heeded Percy's warning and kept firmly in the middle of the sandbars. Life in the desert meant never having to swim, though there were occasions where she had in the swamps around Deluge in her childhood. Though it was better to not test her rusty skills if she could help it.

Returned more or less to normal functionality, Mordecai took note of Percy’s condition, as well as all the walking that still needed to be done, and approached the young mutatio. “Please allow this unit to assist you,” he said calmly, lifting the scholar with as much delicacy as he could, which was actually a rather surprising amount, and helping him get settled against the machine’s back. He held Percy under his knees, leaving the druid free to wrap his arms around the automaton’s neck. It wasn’t as though he had to worry about choking him or cutting off his air supply, though…

“Just Dio, may this unit request a small amount of magical charge? It does not know if it will be required to enter into combat functionality soon, and it would prefer to be prepared if this is the case. If this is inconvenient, it should not trouble you.” He knew enough to understand that they were all tired and perhaps not in the best shape to be defending themselves, but that was precisely why he had asked. His conversion rates would make even a little bit of magic somewhat effective, and he felt… something… about the fact that he had been computing below standard for the last day and a half. He suspected it might be called guilt.

Either way, he was following after the king and the others shortly thereafter, sloshing though the sandbars with no sign of fatigue whatsoever. He received most of his energy from the sun, and however incapacitated he had been, he had still been able to intake the solar power.

Kethyrian, on the other hand, shuffled somewhat awkwardly from foot to foot on the shore, arms crossed over her chest mostly because she didn’t know what else to do with them. She knew they needed to move, to go follow the human king to the key, and if it was anything like the last one, it would require their presence for activation, but… even with all that knowledge, she couldn’t make herself move. She was just… the sandbars, shallow as they made the water, were not wide enough to assuage her fear, and she wasn’t… she just couldn’t bring herself to step in. Her face twisted into a scowl, but the look in her eye, the way she stayed just far enough on shore that her toes wouldn’t touch the water, betrayed her.

Dio was quite certain the automaton was using her name incorrectly on purpose at this point, but she didn't bother correcting him. For one, if he was doing it on purpose, it was likely as a sign of affection, or... whatever automatons felt that was most similar to that. And secondly, the nature of his request made her a little nervous. She had been none too keen on following the group into the water, but now that their surroundings were no longer actively terrorizing them, Dio figured she could keep a handle on things going forward. She hadn't planned on casting any magic, though. The risk of accidentally shocking the entire group was present, of course, but... perhaps if she kept it at a very small current, there wouldn't be any threat.

She pulled up beside Mordecai. Seeing as his hands were occupied with carrying Percy, she slid her left arm through his right, settling her other hand on his forearm. She was relieved when her magic did not spasm throughout the entire pool, but instead did exactly what she willed it to, and slowly began to charge Mordecai. "One of these days," she said quietly, "you're going to slip up, and then I'll have a funny literal name to call you by." She thought it somewhat strange for a machine to have developed a sense of humor, but Mordecai was remarkable in many ways, this one being perhaps the least surprising of them.

Theon, meanwhile, had no desire to walk at the front of the group with the King of the Pond, so he held up, allowing the rest of the group to go ahead. All of them did save for Kethyrian, the wall-crawler to whom he had spoken hardly a word. He watched with some amusement at how she was kept at bay by the slightest touch of the water. Even Dio had gone in willingly enough, despite her magical issues with it, so this was clearly something else. He slogged a few steps back in her direction, crossing his arms.

"Never figured you were a cowardly sort, but I've been proven wrong before. If you want me to look into the future and see if you drown in a few minutes, just say the word." It didn't actually work that way, of course. He was not so gifted in the art that he could simply call up her future at will. What he could do, however, was see if anger was capable of overcoming fear. He seemed to be pretty good at drawing that particular emotion out of people.

"As far as I know, this is a team game we're playing, which means you're going to have to come along, like it or not. If you don't feel like pulling yourself together and keeping up, I can always carry you on my back the way the toaster's carrying deer boy. Or if you prefer, I could hold you in my arms. I'll keep you safe, I promise." It was a little silly, him harassing her for her fears, when he had so many that he hid, but she needed something to hate right now. Theon found he was often the best candidate.

Kethyrian’s lip curled, and if looks alone could kill, Theon would perhaps be dead several times over in increasingly-gruesome ways. It rankled more than anything because he was right. He knew it, she knew it, and he knew that she knew it, presumably. She crossed her arms, encircling her biceps with her fingers and squeezing slightly, as if the sensation were some kind of grounding. The problem was, as correct as she knew him to be, fear like hers was not rational. It did not respond to reasons. There was no convincing or cajoling it to subside for a little while because they were walking on sandbars or because there were plenty of people with the strength to pull her up should she fall in and start drowning. Whether many of them would was a separate question, but she figured there were at least three.

Her pride, however, was affronted, and that, too, was something with a force beyond reason. What did this man understand of her fear? How dare he presume the reason was mere cowardice! Her eyes narrowed, and she raised her chin, stilling her breath for a moment and clenching her jaw. It loosened only enough for her to speak from behind gritted teeth. “I hope that some day, you are made to confront everything that you fear,” she said, the words something between speech and a snarl. Swallowing thickly, Kethyrian edged into the water, quite slowly, but steadily all the same. By the time it was knee-high, her heart was practically in her throat, and she was quite clearly shaking, like a leaf, as the expression might go. Kethyrian, having grown up in caves entirely bereft of trees, would not have understood the comparison.

It would be an exaggeration to say that things got any better when she reached the sandbar. Though the water lapped only at her ankles then, it was deeper on either side of her, and that was the real concern. Though it cost her dearly and probably wouldn’t even save her if she did fall, she kept a shield at one of her hands, which she held out to the side where the deep water was closest. Memory played over the backs of her eyelids like that screen in the cockpit of the ship, and she tried very hard not to think about it. She’d convinced herself long ago that it no longer mattered, but even she knew it wasn’t true, apparently. It was, after all, the reason for the fear.

She managed a decent pace, and though she did still trail behind the rest, it was never more than a few yards, the unwilling tail to a parade of absurdity she wasn’t so sure she wanted to be in anymore.

The trail of sandbars was far from direct, but it was continuous, and the water never went deeper than Artorias’s knees, which admittedly meant that it was slightly less than halfway up Gwen’s thighs at points. It wasn’t she who had the problem with water, however, though she was glad there were no mishaps along the way. Given what Spikey had managed to pull out of the water earlier, things could have been a lot worse. As indirectly as they were going, her sense of navigation still informed her that they were heading towards the very center of the wellspring, the origin of all water for the northern half the world.

It was, she would readily admit, very beautiful. Though they were no longer able to make out the bottom, the water was clear for a very long way, before there was simply no longer enough light penetration to see, marking it as very, very deep. She could see fish in all kinds of bright colors swimming around on either side of the ground they tread, she managing with some dogged persistence to match Artillery’s speed—when she didn’t get caught up staring at something in the water. Even the clouds reflected here, as did the marching figures of their own party, from the proud-if-bedraggled king at the front to the equally-proud, even more bedraggled Favisae in the rear.

After about an hour or so, they at last found what they sought: another platform. But this time, the jewels had been set into a floating cap of ice, which managed to be just as perfectly circular as the stone one had been. Eerily, the number of pale circles on the outside was this time ten. The atmosphere was quiet, almost as still as death, as though expectant of something.

"Is this what you've been searching for?" Artorias said, stepping up onto the pedestal so as to be free of the water. He'd spent the last hour ankle deep within the water, and if there was chance he could escape it, even for a little while, then he would take it. He knew not of the platform's nature, nor it's origin, and in condradiction against his expression and his words, he was curious about the thing. He knew the path-- or rather, he knew of a path. Finding it and following it was the easy part. If not provoked by the group's guide, he may have never even thought about it. Standing atop the pedestal, he finally noted the ten circles inlaid in it.

Another pair of legs could be heard slogging through the water, and Percy became the second to stand upon the pedestal. Over the last hour, he'd been silent, regaining his strength and throwing his mind out of its stupor. In honesty, he'd regained enough to walk on his own over thirty minutes ago, but since it didn't seem like Mordecai was bothered by his weight, and Percy really didn't want to walk unless he had to, he said nothing. But now, he spoke as only Percy could, with an intelligent dialect, a keen eye for detail, and of course a steady stream of information. "This pedestal, we found another exactly like it in the Sand Ocean," He told Artorias. Then he paused, and looked up at the King. The King. Percy had finally registered just who exactly he was standing next to.

He hesitated and stammered, his mouth working fruitlessly in it's socket. It took an urging from Artorias himself to set him back on track. The man proved curious himself. "Well, not exactly. It wasn't made of ice... And the Emerald wasn't lit yet," Percy said, crossing the disk and examining it. At least they were on the right track. "There're nine circles around the outer edge, corresponding to each person in the Dawn. As everyone steps on them then that," Percy said, taking it eye off the emerald and pointing toward the Sapphire, "Should light up." He kept a tight lip on the guardian that should appear afterward. Some things could only be believed through sight, and that was one such instance.

Artorias kept his own counsel as he listened to the Mutatio's words. They boy hadn't even shifted out of his antlers yet. But as he was winding down, Artorias did have something to add. "There are ten." His words drew the boy's questioning eyes, and he met them with his own sure ones. "The circles. There are ten circles. Not nine," Artorias repeated. On cue, the boy's head whipped around with enough force, that had Artorias been close enough, would have raked his face pretty badly. Once his count was done, his eyes returned to Artorias, this time, a gaze that Artorias knew. One that a scientist would give his newest specimen. "What?" He asked firmly.

"Best get used to it, antler-man," Theon said in a resigned drawl. "Looks like we're stuck with him now." Any grounds he'd had for getting rid of the kingly asshole vanished when he spied the ten circles on the pedestal. Apparently fate had planned this one out to the letter, predicting their pickup of the thief in Deluge, and now the King in the Pond here at the top of the world. "If it's any consolation, though, that means the bastard's also stuck with us!" Feeling that the rest of his life was sure to be a miserable experience now, Theon hopped up onto the pedestal and took his place in one of the circles.

Dio did the same near the other, happy that she had avoided electrocuting anyone on the way over here. She wasn't sure what to make of the whole King situation. On the one hand, she was a thief and a bit of a law breaker, but on the other, he certainly seemed like a good sort of man, so perhaps he would see that her end goals justified her transgressions? Of course, there was always the chance he was that sort of hard man, the kind that refused to allow laws to be broken for any reason. That would be problematic. Regardless, she was not distraught with the new addition, and waited eagerly to see what would happen here.

She really should have expected this by now, honestly. Far too cranky to say anything, Kethyrian simply jumped onto the ice, relieved by its solidity, and skated over to a circle relatively close to Dio’s, stopping on it by turning into her motion. It was quite slick, but at least she had balance going for her. It was small comfort, but basically the only thing she could think of that was actually to her advantage right now. She’d take it when the alternative was nothing. Mordecai, much less disturbed by the current flow of events than basically anyone else, stood immediately to Dio’s left. Some part of him was curiously happy that the circle even reacted to him at all. He wondered if any machine would be sufficient, but then… perhaps not. Perhaps there was something in his specifications that made him different.

It was not a thought he disliked, exactly. This thing, these guardians, treated him as if he were as human as any of the rest, or Favisae or Mutatio or what-have-one, but certainly not as a mere mechanical construction. It was… it was… he did not know the right word, but he didn’t have to. The feeling itself as adequate, and he wanted to experience it, just a little, without categorizing it. That was the human thing to do, was it not?

"I will have questions," Artorias told Percy, but he didn't elaborate. He was certain that in the next couple of moments, he'd have even more. So he'd have to wait until he gathered what questions to ask, and when the time was better conducive for them to be answered. He did make an effort to ignore the boy-- but if he was right, then he'd have plenty of time to have his questions answered. So without any more words, Artorias followed suit and backed up into his own circle, watching as it lit up under him. A breath was forcibly exhaled through his nose, and he set the tip of his against the ice at his feet, but did nothing else and waited patiently.

Percy too had nothing else to say, but his eyes were glued to the King. Did the guardians really expect him to join the Dawn on their task? Just like it expected Dio? How far ahead did they see? What else should they expect? and the perhaps the most important question was how. It was these questions that occupied his mind as he found his way to his own circle on the other side of Mordecai, his jaw working in its joints as if he was talking to himself. Vivi, completely uncaring at these unfolding events, found her way to another circle-- pointedly one far away from the so-called "King". She had just tried to kill the man not too long ago-- not the best of first impressions.

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 Character Portrait: Artorias Pendragon

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As perhaps all but one of them would have been able to guess, the air around them changed as soon as the ten of them each stepped onto a circle. The massive blank spot in the center of the ice shelf began to glow a smoky color, quite akin to that of the smaller discs they stood upon. This time, rather than a high-pitched whine which eventually translated into music, the soundscape that wove around them was mersong, similar but not the same in character from that which they had heard before. Where they was temptation and reminder, this was nothing short of exaltation, from the low-humming harmony to the soaring aria of a single voice threading with thin silver notes through the melody.

As before, the light leaked from beneath them into channeled paths cut in the ice, forming a different set of glowing lines, all leading towards not the already-lit green gem, but the still-dim blue one, the massive sapphire. When this was lit from within, the blue light of it filtered towards the very center, and the shimmering column of light once gain erupted from the ground, too bright to be stared at for long, and around them, the water swirled and rose, twisting around itself and forming into nonsense shapes, joining and separating with the underlying throb of a heartbeat. Over their minds flickered more images, these of rich underwarter cities, buildings constructed of coral encouraged to grow in specific ways, light pinks and whites, green and blur predominating. Fish swam in and out of buildings, and among them also moved the mer.

They were not as much humanoid as fishlike, most of them having human features to their torsos, but fish tails, gills on their neck, triangular, pointed teeth, and ears that resembled the Favisae more than anything, tapered to thin points an inch or two behind the end of their heads. Their eyes were uniformly black, no discernible iris or sclera to be seen, and even on their arms rested fins of varying sharpness and color. Their fins and scales came in all kinds of colors, and the underwater was filled with the low crooning of song, a conversation of sorts.

But this vision, like the last, faded, and when the light receded, what stood before them was a vaguely feminine shape, save that she was composed entirely of water, her surface covered everywhere but the joints in a thin layer of ice. The sunlight overhead reflected through her, throwing prismatic rainbows onto the surface of the ground, and she raised herself into a stand, looking about herself at them. The contour of her face that had the suggestion of a mouth curved upwards slightly, and her arms fell to rest loosely at her sides. “So, you have come, Chosen. But do you yet know why?”

"I came because I wanted to," Dio answered, shrugging. She happened to think the being standing before her was exquisitely beautiful, and rather more magical than anything she had ever laid eyes on, but there was no reason she couldn't just talk to her as though she were just a normal person, right? "Before, I was always just helping in whatever small ways that I could, but now it seems like there's a really big way for me to contribute, so I'm taking it. I guess I was just raised that way, even if my teachers didn't exactly practice what they preached..." She supposed it was her own little way of getting back at them, by living up to the standards that they only feigned.

Theon, on the other hand, was a little annoyed, which was of course unsurprising. He'd thought he had a clear handle on things. They were going to take down the King, and somehow doing that would save the world. Or something. But now the bloody King was standing right alongside them, apparently having misplaced himself for the past couple of months. He was used to being the one with the advantage in terms of knowledge, always choosing what he wanted others to know, what he wanted others to think he knew. Now he was on the wrong side of that arrangement. Fate had apparently decided to spoon feed them their destiny one mouthful at a time, probably worried they'd choke on it if they were given too much at once.

"I'm here because I'm a person of above average importance, and whatever force directs you happens to recognize that, and respect it. It's a nice change of pace from the last twenty seven years."

What a bizarre reception, this was. The Lieutenant stole blatant glances at the King. Stared holes through his skull, mutely wishing that his glares could do what Vivian's pistol could not. He'd been an enemy only moments before, and now he was an impromptu Chosen-one standing alongside them like he'd been there this entire time. It was difficult to sift through his anger and find a more tolerant measure of his personality. It was even more difficult to wrap his mind around the fact that this situation was far more complex than he'd originally concluded. There was an evil doppelganger running the country and sending automatons after them, hounding their steps wherever they went and the real King was on this accursed spit-of-land, bound to a casing of green armour that had apparently whittled away his memory. He rubbed at his temples, summoning enough composure to focus on the task at hand. Here they were again—standing on pedestals, speaking to another guardian who was showing them peculiar visions. Of mer-folk? Living, breathing mer-folk.

He suddenly felt very old. Like a father who's children had disappointed him by walking down terrible paths and never visited him, even once. Or maybe, it was just his creaky limbs protesting all of the water they'd just slogged through to get here. The Lieutenant rested his weight on the pedestal and released a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding in, ripping his gaze away from the King and onto the silhouette-of-a-creature forming in front of them. Beautiful, indeed. Far different from the rock-like thing they'd encountered on that other planet. Her voice felt like water ripples, tranquil and serene in nature. The question seemed rhetorical, but some of them were answering anyway. He wondered whether or not saying anything was necessary at all. Heavy eyebrows raised briefly. There was a brief flash of his youth spent in the military academy—of standing at attention, belting out his identification number and name and squadron over and over again.

Unlike Dio and Theon, Sven did not know why he was here. It was his duty. His duty to follow and fight and gnash his teeth on command. His duty to Gwendolyn, he supposed. To him, as well. Was he more than that? No.

Percy stole a glance at the King, searching for some sort of reaction from what was unfolding before him, and he wasn't disappointed. To a duller mind, it would have been easy to miss-- Artorias guarded his emotions well, but Percy caught the singular moment where the stoic facade wore off and the king displayed something. The shifting of his hands on the pommel of his sword, the slight hitch to his breath, but it was in his eyes, mostly. The widening of eyelids, the intent staring, and the sparkle of wonderment. Percy simply smiled and turned back to the Guardian.

Why had they come? It was a queer question, and one that was difficult to answer-- for himself, it seemed. Theon and Dio both answered relatively quickly. But the answers they gave weren't good enough he felt, and neither were the ones he could come up with. Because Myrddin told us to or because the last guardian led us here left a sour taste in his mouth. It made them sound as if they possessed no free will of their own, hopping around the planet to the beat of their drum. He trusted Myrddin's judgement, just as he trusted the guardian's judgement, but the answers weren't good enough.

The man they thought they were fighting against now stood next to them-- one of the chosen as well. In his place, an unknown doppelganger stood. Who knew what that man's plan were? They had no answers, only questions, and one cannot hope to answer a question with another question. Or... Could he? "I... No, I do not." He was a poor scholar-- he was supposed to be the one to know all the answers. However, it was in asking that knowledge grew, and in their knowledge was power. "Do you?" He didn't care much for the answers they gave, but rather, the answer she was expecting. Perhaps that answer could guide them better than their own.

Artorias kept his own counsel, and remained silent-- more than content to just wait and watch. The only sound he managed was a scoff at Theon's answer, but kept his eyes locked upon the... creature in front of him.

The Guardian was beautiful, she supposed. Not that most Favisae had much of an aesthetic sense. If it wasn’t useful, it had no place in the underground. And particularly elegant or exotic facial or bodily features counted there as well. Still, presumably she was precisely as she needed to be to do what she did, and Kethyrian could appreciate that much, anyway. The vision of the underwater world struck her not unlike the previous one had, of the forest-city with the flickering people. Only… it was a bit less impactful, because she was not looking at her own progenitors this time, rather something entirely alien to her. Whatever the case, her answer to the question was nothing worth saying, at least not the parts of it that had not already been said. She was just ready to be done, with all of it.

Mordecai was just as fascinated with this as he had been with the rest of it, but Automata were not the kinds of creatures that were naturally disposed to ask why. Generally, they were given a command, and that was all the why they needed. He was a little different, and more inquisitive, but even so the questions he knew how to ask were mostly of the how variety, because these were the kinds with physical answers that were comprehensible to him. Even so, there was something, some part of his programming that he could not quite reach, that stirred in response to the question. Did he know why? If so, why could he not call the information to the fore of his processing?

The Guardian did not seem to take any of the answers one way or another, varied though they were, but she did turn her head to regard Percy when he questioned her in return. At least, Gwen was going to assume it was a her—she wasn’t really sure if the creatures had genders, but her voice sounded feminine and her shape seemed to suggest it, at least. “That is a question with many layers, many answers,” she said, and then she seemed to frown, shaking her head and producing literal ripples in the parts of her that resembled strands of hair. “Unfortunately, there are some things that can only be known, and never said.” She turned slightly, so that she was looking at Lohengrin when she pointed that out, and if he didn’t need her to be free of his damned obligations, he might have cursed her for it. He did anyway, just not out loud, feigning obliviousness regarding her motive for addressing him when she said it.

“What I can tell you is this: She is in peril. This was once Her home, but compared to the place it used to be… the spring runs dry. In time, it will cease to produce any water at all. This planet was not meant to be banded by desert. Once, by Her grace, it was lush and prosperous, and there was no need for any of its denizens to live always in the dark. But then they sealed Her, and claimed the surface for themselves. If you are here, it means that the Wizard, Her old companion, has deemed it time to save Her.” Her chin tilted downward, as if pensively. “Even I do not know his mind, but there must be a reason he waited until now. Waited until you.”

Her sigh was a gentle sea breeze, though she lamented that none of these children knew what a sea was. Even their ships sailed only on air. It had not always been so, but the time of oceans and forests was long past them now. Perhaps it could come to be again, if the Wizard was right. He must be right—there would be no more chances. “He deemed you worthy, and I can see that Earth has done so as well. I follow, for the mercy you showed one who had lost his way.” She paused, her attention flickering to Artorias, and frankly Lohengrin thought she overestimated their mercy—no few of these people had wanted to kill him. Then again… maybe it was enough that they as some kind of dissociated whole had managed not to fuck it up too badly.

As the previous Guardian had, this one manifested a key. From the way clouds of steam rose off of it against the air, it was quite chilly to the touch, and seemed to be made out of sapphire. “Conquering one’s fear is more admirable than fearing nothing,” the Guardian said with a hint of amusement, and the object moved to hover in front of Kethyrian. “Take heart, deep-child. All is not lost.” The Guardian’s form began to waver, the ice that comprised her outer layer cracking. “I have done all I can do for you, Chosen. Your next destination lies deep in the Skyteeth mountains. You would do well to learn one another—for you will need the knowledge in the times to come.”

And then she was gone.

Theon had some lofty notions of his own importance, and placed a rather large value on getting to be the hero that saved the day, but rescuing damsels he tended to leave out of that equation. It was never as glamorous as it was made out to be. Whoever this Lady was, it was likely not going to be a matter of swooping in aboard their mighty vessel and making off with her before the evil ones could get at her. No, if he were to use that metaphor, they'd likely have to wade through all the evil ones with axes and guns, and they'd be covered in blood and filth by the time they got to Her. She'd probably be a little less grateful to see them then, and likely not understand what they were even doing for Her. Deciding that he had taken the metaphor a little too far, Theon sighed. They still had only as much as they needed to go on: a location. Theon figured they should be off, before his boundless mercy was put to the test.

Kethyrian knew exactly who the She was being referred to, but this was not to say that she quite believed it. She was a natural skeptic, and disinclined to take strange water-constructs at their word. She would not deny that the words of the last one had gotten them this far, but she had yet to see any actual evidence of the Lady’s involvement. Indeed, if anything, she was beginning to suspect that someone was just yanking their chain. For what reason, she had no idea, but in her experiences, people didn’t really need reasons to be assholes.

The key hovered in front of her, and honestly for a moment, she contemplated not taking it. Screw these people and what they thought they knew about her—they had no damn idea who she was. While she lacked Theon’s inflated sense of his own importance, she did not simply accept that these people had all the answers, especially not when it came to her. How could they, when she didn’t even have the questions? Nevertheless, she reached out and grasped the large sapphire object. It was cool to the touch, but more than that… it felt restorative, like it as replenishing the magic that had to normally restore itself via sleep—of which she had lately had but little. She was loath to admit it, but that would be useful to have around.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sven Diederich Character Portrait: Artorias Pendragon

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Meet at boiler room,

Sven


Scribbled in thick handwriting with violently corrected rectangles, hiding initial mistakes and hastily rewritten; one could almost feel the annoyance oozing out of the note (if you could call it that). He slipped it under the King's door exactly fifteen minutes ago and was currently waiting in the underlined location. There was much he needed to talk to him about. Or rather, warn him about. Talking over people came as second nature, as did lecturing and giving stern-eyed premonitions for the future should anyone step out of line or presume too much. This was different. He'd known Artorias longer than he'd care to admit. Not longer than Leomaris, but he'd been there during the revolution and took part in the lengthy war with his stiflingly loyal companion, siding with the boy King even though he himself did not care for all of the politics. If he, too, believed that the boy-King could make some kind of difference, then there might have been some truth to it. Gwendolyn's father was no fool.

Things had only taken a turn when Gwendolyn lost her arm saving Artorias' life. An automaton gone haywire, and what had that girl gone and done? Jammed her ineffectual fist into its chest and effectively burnt it to a crisp. The pain must have been unimaginable, and for that, Sven could not forgive him, even if it had been her choice. It was a childish grudge to bear, but in Leomaris' place, he often bore things that made no sense. He had no children. She was not his to worry about, but when she'd returned—missing an arm, with a strained grin and a ready tale on her lips—his heart tightened, forming a fatherly fist that built walls around them. His familiar demeanor changed whenever he was around; crisp, frigid and certainly without any explanation. Unfortunately, trying to keep Gwendolyn from doing anything you told her was impossible, so piling on tasks and jobs usually kept her busy. He'd voiced his concerns to Leo once, but his response was only laughter and a knowing look, stating: you would have made a good father.

Perhaps. Perhaps not. Did fathers allow their children to face all of these dangers? Crawling through ruins and evil jungles. Facing drooling monsters and only barely coming out alive. Running from militant automatons, raiders and false-kings while searching for something intangible. He was not her father. Strangely enough, Sven imagined that Leo would have allowed his daughter to do all these things because it would have made her a better person. A stronger woman capable of taking on the world. He would have said that she could do these things simply because she could. Worrying would only grant him more gray hairs, after all. It was stupid. Still, the Lieutenant crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the copper pipes that entangled like great serpents, occasionally hissing and trilling with running water.

His forearms wheezed and creaked, finally puffing jets of steam out of the vents. He had to uncross his arms and shake them out in front of him to prevent the metal from overheating and burning his chest. They'd been slightly tweaked by Gwendolyn and Mordecai both (rather, the curious automaton was used as a model) so that they'd behave a lot better under duress. Prosthetic fusion was dangerous, especially in their early stages. There was no guarantee how long the tweaks would last, but for now, they would do. Few understood the pains of missing limbs. He wished Gwendolyn did not. He sighed softly, staring at the doorway that into the chamber. Would he even come to speak with him? Some part of him wondered why he would bother or if he expected what was to come. Would he ignore the message completely, or remember fighting alongside him? He hadn't even been sure if he had returned to his chamber. Either way, appearing or not, would be a deciding factor.

Twenty minutes.

The lettering of the note, with it's harsh lines and violent letters, felt more like a death notice than simple directions. Had it been written by an unknown party, Artorias would've never have risked venturing into the boiler room entirely unarmed. Yet it was Sven's name printed on the note, so telling of the man's character that it caused Artorias to huff unsurprisingly. To him, it was no choice at all. He folded the letter neatly and slipped it into his jacket pocket, turning on his heel and following the path that led him to the destined meeting place within the ship's bowels. Artorias was not a man who ignored such beckons, nor was he the coward to pretend he never saw such a letter.

They were soldiers. Both of them, Artorias and Sven, and even though the former had ascended to the throne, he'd never forgotten that. Sven had been one of the many who had participated within the revolution, whose sweat of brow installed Artorias upon the throne. There was a respect there, so deeply ingrained that he overlooked Sven's obvious dislike of him. What it was rooted in Artorias did not know, but he held the feeling that he was about to find his answer in the boiler room. Taking the one last turn that lead him to the door into the boiler room, there was no hesitation in his hands as he reached for the handle.

As the door opened, Sven's unmistakable silhouette hung high against the dim light of the room. Artorias strode into the room with his back straight and his face even lined, shutting the door behind him. He strode forward and stopped in front of the man, crossing his own arms and spoke expectantly.

"Sven?"

The longer he waited, the stranger he felt standing there, awaiting something he'd rehearsed in his mind. Pictured clearly, concisely. The reasons, at the time, appeared necessary. Now, they just appeared foolish. Like a parent stamping his foot and saying that things must be as they are because it is so. True enough—Artorias and he had more in common than he'd care to admit; both soldiers, both men born with sweat on their brows, and both somewhat weary of what they'd had to carry. Born from nothing and even still, managing to close his hands around the throne and lead it far better than those before him was certainly a feat he could not ignore. He respected the boy-king and he'd once considered him a friend, that much was true.

What were they now? Sven did not know. Not enemies, not friends, not acquaintances. All soldiers in the midst of war got to know each other with an intensity similar to family. Blood brothers, battle companions. There were many words for it, but they all meant the same thing. Admittedly, in Artorias, there was little to hate. It was difficult to dislike him based on such a childish stance, but even more difficult to let go. He needed to protect those he considered in his charge. If anyone posed any threat to them, then he had to make it clear that he would do anything in his power to dispose of them before they could betray them. He did not think Artorias capable. However, precautions overrode trust. His family could attest to that.

He heard the door creak open, and instinctively tightened his arms across his chest. Pulling inwards, steeling himself for polite conversation. A small sound rumbled from his throat: pleased. So, he'd come, after all. That much had not changed. He watched as the silhouette ducked into the boiler room, without hesitation and with little more than a passing glance before he stationed himself in front of him—good. With a meaty hand, Sven patted the pipes beside him, indicating that he should relax and face the doorway. No need to face off as if one might throw a fist. He was calm, calmer than he'd felt when first laying eyes on him in that accursed jungle.

“Is just for conversation,” he greeted, nodding his head. He uncrossed his arms and rubbed his chin thoughtfully, piecing his words together, “Vhat your, uh, kasten?” He tapped his head, then added, “Goal. Be finding you in jungle. Vith armor, and no memory. Now, two kings. One not real, and you, far away from throne. Vhat will you do?” Meaning, what would he do down the road. Obviously, the talking statues meant to include him in their little adventure. He had a pillar after all. Would he abandon them to reclaim his throne, or expect them to stray from their mission? This strayed away from his original point, but he wanted to know either way.

Satisfied that the death letter was anything but, a certain amount of tension released itself from his shoulders, like letting a spring gently expand instead of allowing it to fire off into the distance. Artorias did as Sven asked, finally breaking eye contact to linger with his back against the pipes, though never actually leaning against them. Grease, dust, and oil often found their home in places such as that, and the King did not wish to dirty the jacket he'd spent so much time cleaning and straightening. Still, he tried to appear somewhat relaxed. He crossed his own arms and adopted a not so staunch stance, though it would be unfair to call it lazy. Nothing about the man was lazy.

He let his head tilt toward the man as he spoke, sifting through the heavily accented words and deciphering their meaning. Artorias nodded along with the familiar question, as it had been one he'd asked himself not too long ago. It seemed that fate had plans for him, and desired him to venture along this quest of those, though for reason he could not fathom himself. "Ultimately, I would see the throne placed back into my hands," He answered, though there was an unspoken but in the pause after the sentence. "It is not so simple as that, however," he said, a sigh hiding behind his words.

There was the fact that, to the common people, he was still in control of the throne. If he attempted to retake it by force, it would throw the kingdom in turmoil, far worse than the rebellion had been. Two kings, identical in appearance and reign, would tear the kingdom he worked to hard to place on the right path apart. This was something he could not simply force to happen, no matter the strength of will he possessed. Artorias ran a hand through his sandy blonde hair, and then set about straightening it again with that same hand. "I can't wrest control from my own hands, and if I tried, I'd throw the kingdom in confusion in the attempt. It needs strong leadership, even if it's only an illusion."

It was a frustrating thought, he had no real recourse. He wouldn't throw the kingdom into another war just by resurfacing. Even if he were willing, it would be nothing like the rebellion, this time he'd be by himself. Myrddin was in the imposter's hands, Morgause had grown reclusive, and Leomaris was no longer with them. He was alone this time, and the thought ran a shivering finger down his spine. He'd always had them to rely on, and now they were out of his reach. "Fate seems deadset that I accompany you all on this venture, and there are no other options left to me that wouldn't result in bloodshed,"

Artorias shook his head as he spoke, clearly unhappy with the choices left to him. "So that's what I will do. I will see this quest to completion and hope that our goals do align in the end," Artorias answered, though he was quick to throw a glance at Sven, "Unless this imposter proves to be a poor monarch. In which case I will take the throne back by force. I watched a king abuse his power once. I will not see it happen again." Once those words escaped his lips, the strength he used to project them seemed to withdraw, and was replaced by an edge of exhaustion.

The look lingered on his face, and his shoulders sagged around his neck."I wonder what Leo would've thought about all of this?" He wondered aloud. They shared many things, but not least of all Leomaris's friendship.

Glad to see that Artorias complied with his gruff suggestion, Sven's own shoulders and arms seemed to settle against his chest bereft of its initial tension. No longer did he stand as if an enemy were to kick through the doors at any moment. Stubbornness was only as strong as the emotions you fed it and it was only a matter of time that it would fade away. Devoid of fuel or logical reasons, his dislike was foolish. With every conversation, and every flicker of a memory, Sven found his own slipping away like a veil being unceremoniously tugged off his head. It was difficult to stomach letting it go, and admitting he was wrong. He'd become a stubborn old dog over the years. It wasn't something he was proud of.

He, too, watched the boy-king from the corner of his eye, sitting slightly askew. Fate—he'd never thought that he'd ever utter those words aloud, let alone believe that fate existed. Life seemed as if it were composed of spontaneous flashes. Never the same, and with a little more direction than a broken compass. It was what you made of it, he supposed. If you looked at it in a certain light, you might have been able to see glints of fate. The kind reserved for good men and women, stretched along a tapestry of true, honest roads. Artorias' answers were, in a way, unsurprising. He'd forgotten that he wasn't here by choice; that he'd woken up in some strange jungle, like a bedraggled islander trapped on an island of steel. Fate. Or unusual coincidences. “A second rebellion?” Sven mused softly, rubbing the back of his neck, “Fighting vith, uh, lookalike for kingdom. Sounding like bad book to me.” Dry humor was the only flavor he was capable of. That much hadn't changed.

Optimism had long since vacated his presence, but for whatever reason, he'd believed that Artorias could simply waltz back into the kingdom and slay the doppelganger where he stood. Sit back on his throne and resume his reign. The train of thought conflicted so strongly with his normally steady, sound reasoning that he couldn't help but shake his head, crinkling his eyebrows. Perhaps, he wanted Artorias back on the throne. Where he belonged—partially, because he was a good leader and because it would be easier not to doubt his intentions towards Gwendolyn. Even if they might have been nonexistent, they'd been something before. Gratitude for saving his life, or no, his motherly instincts were made out of raised hackles and barred teeth. With the mention of fate, one more, Sven nodded gravely. “King's burden, ah. Never believing vhy you wanting it.”

Choices, restrictions, responsibilities. Burdens, worries, and a legion of people under his care. The weight must have been impossibly heavy, at times. Too heavy to carry alone. His lips twitched into a ghost of a smile, and a touch more of his unreasonable animosity flecked off his person like specks of dust. “He would be saying to keep going. Together, like rocks say. And he would have taken Mordecai apart to put him back again,” his laugh was throaty, short-lived but genuine, “Danke, Artorias. I, uh, am difficult man. You know this.” He paused briefly and shifted his position, clearly uncomfortable with any topic where he'd have to apologize, or share any personal thoughts. He demanded answers, but hardly offered any of his own. “For vhat it is worth, I am thinking only you are good for throne. Thinking that then, and still, now.”

"If not me, then who," Artorias answered in agreement. Someone needed to be king, and who better than him? Years of discipline as a soldier and warrior, as a man who once walked among the people. Saw their plight and the corruption that dripped from the so-called nobility. There was nothing noble in resting on the back of the common man, and who better to be king than a common man. Only his shoulders were strong enough to carry that burden.

Artorias finally allowed himself a small smile at the memory of Leomaris, nodding his agreement with Sven, "He would've. And we will." Shrugging, he allowed the smile to fade, though the air of gratitude still lingered on in his tone. "You are," He agreed with Sven's opinion of himself.

"But what we do isn't easy. Never is. We need difficult men to keep us sharp and to tell us when we're flagging."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kethyrian Tor Character Portrait: Sven Diederich Character Portrait: Vivian Zeona

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Kethyrian had been told they’d be making a stopover for supplies in about an hour, and though perhaps this alone would not normally prompt her to pass the remaining time out on the deck, she saw no reason not to. Truth be told, it still fascinated her, the way they were this high up. Though she’d told nobody about it, the first time she’d emerged from the underground, she’d become almost immediately fascinated with the sky, which seemed to her then to go on forever. Fascinated, and a little bit afraid. Heights had never bothered her before, when she was climbing rooftops in the cavern-city, but then the heights had never been so high. With time, she’d acclimated to them, but there was a lingering sense of wonder.

Naturally, she had no time for such things, and so she spent most of her time belowdecks, refusing to indulge her childish flights of fancy. This was only an hour though, and simply standing at the railing was not likely to give anything away. It was an indulgence, still, and she sported the customary scowl because of that, but it was a small one, and she might even be willing to forgive herself for it, later. At the moment, however, the only thing she really cared to be doing was peering through the cloud layer beneath them, trying to make out the general shape of the landscape. It seemed they were over the lower mountains, soon to become the rocky steppes before they transitioned once more to rolling plain. Perhaps they wouldn’t be going that far, though—plains meant cities were near, and it was hard to hide a ship of this size on a terrain so flat.

Despite herself, Kethyrian stood on her toes, such as to lean further over the railing, tilting her head to the side and trying to decide if she was really seeing a river below or if that was simply a different hue in the natural green and grey-blue of the mountain range. She was in no danger of falling over the rails, given her grip and her innate sense of balance, but she did look a bit peculiar, perhaps. For once, however, she did not particularly notice, which meant she did not correct it for the sake of dignity.

“Looking like you are wanting to fly,” he commented wryly, cutting through the hum of the engine and the gentle breeze whistling across the decks. He stood on the stairway leading up to the upper portion of the ship, caught in mid-stride. Either way, Sven was surprisingly quiet for a man of his stature. Big, burly, hardly graceful. Still, it seemed as if his mechanical parts were behaving for the time being. He finished climbing the stairs and looked over Kethyrian's head. Perched on her tippy-toes like a bird testing its wings on a branch, poised for the horizon. He could not make out the expression on her face, but imagined it was different. Whereas Gwendolyn might have been doing the same thing—leaning precariously over railings, fearless and breathless and reaching out into the sky as if she could harness the sun, Kethyrian seemed as if she were made up of comets and stardust, streaking across it.

Strangely enough, Sven realized that he did not know much about Kethyrian. About where she'd come from and why, exactly, she was here, leaning across the railing and staring so intently at the ground below. Had she ever sailed on an airship before? Did she see something that they did not? The questions remained unvoiced. Instead, Sven inclined his head, but did not join her at the railing. He settled his metal arm against his hip and tipped his head back, studying the clouds. He'd found this fascinating once, but repetition had a funny way of making everything bland; like a monotone slate, bereft of childish wonder. Soldiers had a funny way of making everything efficient. Packed and planned. Flying felt as natural as marching. Unimaginable wonders existed, but they thought little of it. He supposed that he missed that.

Kethyrian recoiled from her position as if struck, straightening her posture and smoothing her face into the usual resting scowl, turning to the side slightly so as to regard the speaker. To her own surprise, she relaxed—just minutely—when she registered that it was Sven and not, say, the lizard. Shaking her head slightly, she flipped a quarter turn so that she was leaning her arms against the railing again. She never caught any of the crew looking like this whole flying thing was something of great importance, and so she decided to take her cue from the experts, staring out now at nothing in particular. Snorting softly, more a swift exhale than anything, she finally found the voice to answer. “I haven’t had a notion so foolish in a long time,” she said simply.

She wasn’t sure she’d ever wanted to fly. What would the point be, underground? Climbing was much more effective, and generally better at getting one from place to place. Such impractical thoughts were hardly allowed of her, even in her hardscrabble childhood. If she didn’t disdain metaphors, she would doubtless have several for growing up under a ceiling. It almost brought a bitter smile to her face, but Kethyrian Tor was not in the business of smiling. Not even in bitterness. “And how about you?” She asked, though she wasn’t sure why she bothered, exactly. “Did you ever want to fly, or did it simply happen?”

Heavy eyebrows twitched up when Kethyrian startled back like a bristle-backed feline, though he offered no apology. Without asking any personal questions, there were still small inklings into who she really was by how she reacted. Conscientious, always alert—even when she should've been feeling safe and comfortable. The airship was as secure as ever, and if anyone ambushed them they'd already have a good idea how long they would have until contact. Perhaps, she was used to much a much harsher environment. While mulling over his thoughts, Sven parked himself a few feet away to her right and leaned across the railing. He crossed his arms over one another and studied the clouds. “Not alvays bad to having notions,” he replied, inclining his head towards her. Disallowing yourself simple joys, he'd found, only clamped shackles around your heart and mind.

What he did know about Kethyrian's race was that they lived underground. He imagined looming stalagmites, a hidden network of caves and the smell of earth. None of it sounded unpleasant, but he couldn't imagine being cheated out of pale sunrises, painting pastel pictures across the sky as if an artist had brushed them there himself. He couldn't imagine not being able to count the stars, pinned brightly against a bluish backdrop. The sky symbolized much more than the beauty it held—to him, and to others. Freedom and hope, mystery and wonder. He understood, then, her fascination. As he grew older, however, he'd begun to lower his gaze. Fly. The word curled around his mouth, unspoken. Had he ever wanted to fly? Or had he just been following Gwendolyn all this time? It was difficult to separate the two. Wants and needs; was their a difference?

“No,” he admitted softly, idly drumming his fingers against the panels of his forearm, “I never wanted to fly.” It was the truth. Enlisting with the military hadn't been a choice, either. More of a family duty than anything else. Choices were precious commodities he could rarely afford. Responsibilities and duty, on the other hand, were two things he had in abundance. He was a flightless bird who much preferred being grounded, but still chose to keep throwing itself from branches to support a much larger picture. How would he even explain that? He made a rumbling noise and looked away from her, turning towards the ant-sized hills. “Supposing it just happened.”

"I'd always wanted to fly..." That flighty voice cooed from above them. If either were to glance upward from where it came, they'd see Vivian with her arms tangled within the rigging for support. One of her booted feet hung in it to ensure her balance, but the other dangled freely in the open air. Despite being above an already airborne vehicle, Vivian seemed no less at home than she would on the ground-- perhaps even moreso. The usual lackadasial look in her face was replaced with something more... real. Something almost approaching thoughtful. She'd been doing that a lot lately, thinking. The whole episode she had with Theon had managed to do something few things rarely did. It slowed her down.

Vivi then tilted her head backward and used her free hand to imitate an airship flying over her. "Even in the slums you could look up and see airships coming and going. I always wanted to be on one of those ships one day. Even tried to stowaway on one or two, but I always got caught," And punished, but she'd rather not reveal that much about herself. She was enthralled with the freedom of it, being able to simply leave whenever they wanted to, and go wherever they wanted. It was part of the reason why she threw herself at Theon's departure, she supposed. Maybe she just always wanted to leave.

Then she chuckled and let her hand fall and dangle at her side, "But if you told me I'd be on one a few years ago, trying to save the world and all that, I'd..." She said, her words trailing off. She had been about to say laugh in your face but thinking about it, would she have? An eyebrow arched as she thought about it-- and there she was, thinking again. Shaking her head she continued, "Huh... I guess I'd said I know," She said, sounding surprised herself.

Shrugging it off as only she could, Vivi began bouncing in the rigging as her speech shifted just as quickly. "So are both of you telling me that you'd take the boring old dirt over the marvelous and exciting and fresh open air? Because then you're just silly," She couldn't understand it really. Why were they content to have their feet stuck in the same dirt forever?

"Why? I mean, just... Why?"

I'd always wanted to fly. Supposing that he was speaking to Kethyrian, and hadn't expected or heard Vivian musing from above, Sven made a short, clipped noise that may have been mistaken for surprise—it might have been, though he was quick to swing his gaze upwards, locking onto the little bird entangled in the rigging. Little monkey, more like. She looked far more at home on the ship than either of them did, and it made him wonder whether or not she'd been some pistol-whipping pirate-kid in her youth. However long ago that may have been, because she still looked like she was wading through childhood, in his opinion. Everyone on this ship, save for him and Artorias, looked far younger than their factual ages gave them credit for. Who knew how old Kethyrian was, the age of her race was still a mystery to him, and he doubted that asking her would be any less rude than asking human women.

He also doubted that Vivian would be talking to him if Kethyrian were not present. If he minded, he certainly didn't show it. Dallying with crew members, fated companions or not, had never been on his list of priorities. Blame it on all of the strict regulations the military he had to carry throughout his service. Stubbornly stuck to his brain like an old habit he couldn't quite shake; it was a nuisance, sometimes. The distance it created never bothered him, but he knew that teams worked far better when the relationships were give-and-take. Simple conversations such as this were tiny, shuffling steps towards being less self-destructive. He knew that Gwendolyn appreciated his efforts, as well. Threatening to throw everyone someone at the slightest shift did not strengthen morale, nor build trust and respect. Though, it was amusing.

“Always wanting to be like bird, then,” Sven chuckled softly, watching Vivian mimic a flying ship. He could almost imagine it. Loud, whirring engines breaking through the busy markets and maze-like slums like something out of a story. For someone like Vivian, airships and pirates and sailors would have been great wonders. A chance at escaping a life she was unhappy with. He'd never understand what it was like to live in those places, but he'd known those who did. Good people, they were. Great soldiers, as well. They appreciated life, and simple things, much more than those borne to privilege. Freedom meant much more to them. He'd never been without food in his youth, but he also never had as much freedom as he would have liked. Military families had expectations. Refuse your father's footsteps, and you might as well throw away your family. His life was decided before he'd ever opened his eyes.

“I never said that,” Kethyrian replied, hardly surprised by Vivian’s entrance into the conversation. She didn’t hold to many norms of politeness, that girl. Kethy didn’t even really care—she would do what she wanted, and that was just the way of it. Even if the Favisae had been inclined to change that about her, no testy words would have done it, and she wasn’t inclined anyway. They were somehow past that point with one another. Or perhaps they had yet to reach it. Whichever. “But there were no airships over my head when I was so much a fool as to concoct fancies for myself.” She hadn’t even known such machines existed or were possible until she’d come to the surface. The very concept of flying itself had been quite foreign. It was a thing that insects and bats did, and they were hardly the sorts of creature that figured in flying-dreams, most likely.

Her petty childhood dreams had been of warm arms encircling, warm voices speaking her name with affection she could not find anywhere else. But she certainly wasn’t going to admit that—why admit one used to be a fool when one had long since rectified the mistake? She didn’t intend to torment herself; there would be no purpose to it. “It is not an unpleasant method of travel, I suppose, merely unsought.” At least by her.

He listened quietly. The banter between them was familiar, and refreshing. Had he not known them, as little as he did, Sven would have thought that Kethyrian saw Vivian as an annoyance, and that Vivian was simply bored and enjoyed bothering her. Not so, he noticed subtle changes whenever they were around one another. Vivian's telltale snap, and aggressive bark, was far more passive and friendly around the Favisae, while Kethyrian seemed far more relaxed and comfortable in the flighty woman's presence. A good match, all in all. And another reminder that their mismatch of personalities aboard the ship was indeed strange. Listening provided him with the best means of understanding other people, even if he had no way of communicating properly in return. As if small, picture-windows were being opened up to glimpse pieces of their pasts. Sven lowered his gaze away from Vivian and looked back across the horizon, silly would have been nice. But, airships and sailing through the clouds and not having his feet on the ground reminded him of a vicious cycle of thoughts that he'd rather keep buried.

Loss. It reminded him of loss.

Instead, Sven rolled his shoulders and shrugged, “No grass, is vhat I'm saying. No flowers. Nothing but clouds.”

"No sand either," Vivi replied with a furrowed brow. "One-hundred times better than walking through the Sand Ocean, I can tell you that. I've done it before, for four years. Shit's hot as hell. And the blisters! I'd take nothing but clouds over none and the suns beating down about my head and neck." Despite the words, her voice was softer after Kethy had spoken. Sometimes she forgot that Kethy didn't have a childhood on the surface like she did. Hers was spent underground as it was with most Favisae, a vastly different experience than hers. At least, that's what she believed. To be honest, she didn't know much about the woman's history other than that.

"Hey Kethy... What was it like? Underground I mean. Was it... Was it different?" She asked, displaying genuine curiosity.

Kethyrian spared a glance over at Vivian, blinking slowly. Her eyes were always narrowed when it was as bright out as it was presently, the day full upon them. That was really the main thing, in terms of environment. “Of course it is,” she groused, though there was little bite in it. “Human eyes would be almost useless in the tunnels, for one.” Not as much in the cities, lit by magic in all kinds of colors, giving wash to the obsidian and ivory of the buildings, but… definitely in the tunnels. “There’s stone on all sides. I hadn’t seen the suns until I was more than two decades old.” Twenty-and-five, she’d been, back when she first emerged into the surface world. She’d nearly collapsed from the pain of the light exposure, only pride keeping her from screaming, and then only thinly. She’d bitten her tongue until it bled, but perhaps that was something to refrain from mentioning right at this moment.

“Other than that… I don’t expect it’s much different. One can find self-important… people anywhere, and the ones they tread on all the same.” She’d wanted to use a stronger word, perhaps, and her tongue had tripped over one in her own language, but she chose to settle for something milder. She’d work herself up into a temper, otherwise, and she had no desire to do that. None of the people it was best released upon were here, after all. “Life is hard there, but it is difficult elsewhere also.” She lifted thin shoulders in a shrug.

"Life's only hard if you let it be hard," Vivi tweeted as she hugged the rigging. She was no stranger to a hard life herself after all, but she tried to never let it feel hard. "Some days are better than others," She said, dropping a smile below, "Though I would like to visit some time. Just for the experience."

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 Character Portrait: Artorias Pendragon

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Gorlak used his free hand to scratch the back of his head as he ran over the inventory list. He really needed to find someone else willing to do the job—the Captain tended to leave doodles on the margins of his inventory sheets. Highly detailed, technical doodles, but doodles all the same. It made them hard to read. It also seemed she’d gotten distracted about three-quarters of the way through the job, and the numbers at the bottom were all but incomprehensible. Since the last Quartermaster had retired, they had yet to give anyone else the job. He wondered if she’d forgotten. It was either that or a misplaced sense of loyalty for the last fellow, neither of which he’d put beyond her. Sighing, the goblin jogged up the stairs anyway, feeling the telltale swoop in his stomach as Gwen brought the thing in for a smooth—if slightly overdramatic—docking. These things didn’t land, exactly, but they were fitted nicely into the one docking point this particular settlement had, and the gangplank lowered.

Though most of them were doubtless eager to be on land for a while, not a one of the crew moved until they had their assignments, their pay, and leave to go, but they’d used up so many of their supplies that there was still more to get than the crew alone would be able to manage in one go, so the guild members had been conscripted into it, the promise of a meal not cooked on board the only incentive they could really offer. Hopefully, it was enough that they weren’t too put-out by the chores. It wasn’t exactly as glamorous as saving the world after all.

Hopping up onto a nearby crate, Gorlak settled himself on a barrel a foot or so higher, making himself easily visible over everyone but Sven. “Right,” he said, glancing back down at the clipboard. The same handwriting as the inventory sheets had split up the group to various small but vital tasks, and he really hoped she knew what she was doing, because he got to be the messenger here. “so we still need dry goods, ammo, cheese, and water. The captain, Vivian, and Mordecai are in charge of the dry goods—” probably because they’d need the automaton to carry the crates—“and if we could get ammo for… pretty much every caliber, looks like, that would be good. I’ve got the Lieutenant and Theon on that one. I’m told that Lohengrin knows where the cheese trader is, so that’s him and Dio, and so that’s Kethyrian and, uh…” He looked slightly unsure of himself about how to address the King, considering the man was supposed to be incognito. “Artorias… to go down to the river and fill the barrels. Percy, if you’d stay here, I’d like to ask a favor. Should be it though—you’re all good to go.”

Mordecai bobbed his head pleasantly. It was not difficult to infer that he would be doing some lifting—there were no other automata on the ship, and he’d seen the size of the crates they stored goods in within the Elysium’s hold. He certainly didn’t mind being volunteered for labor. Even if he wouldn’t exactly be able to eat the promised reward. Perhaps that had been counted on. He found it not so unpleasant, to be relied upon—despite his capacities, it was not something that happened to him often. Morgause hadn’t really needed him for anything, and he supposed that the one time she had needed help, it had been something he was entirely unable to provide. It had never bothered him, but then, he had never thought about it in those terms before. He didn’t know what to make of that, so he shifted the thought further back in his processes for now and let it sit. Something to consider later.

A flicker of open skepticism passed over Kethyrian’s face. Someone was screwing with her, sending her to the river. It seemed incredibly unlikely that someone had missed the way she hesitated on the banks of the wellspring, and if this was some kind of misdirected attempt to help, she was going to—the Favisae sighed. She wasn’t going to do anything, really, and she knew that well enough. Admitting it was difficult, but for the foreseeable future, she seemed to be stuck with these people. She couldn’t fathom why—by all counts, she should have used this opportunity to take her leave permanently. Perhaps she would, but somehow she knew she’d be getting them water first. And fetching supplies with the king of all Albion. Wonderful.

Dio was used to drawing the short stick, and she couldn't help but wonder if that was an appropriate metaphor for being paired with Lohengrin. She supposed being stuck with the scryer would be just as bad, if not worse. Still, she remained ever the optimist, wondering if she might crack through the redhead's scaly exterior and make another friend. Cheese was delightful, too. She very much enjoyed cheese.

Theon had not been expecting to get paired with a buddy for their little supply run, considering his current lack of buddies, but he figured he should have expected getting matched up with the big soldier of the group, considering that they were going off to get ammunition. He wondered who had the worse impression of him between Sven and the King in the Pond. Probably Sven, considering that he'd been around him long enough to get more of a sense of who he was. That, and he seemed a bit overprotective of the captain, who was more than capable of looking out for herself. "Come on, big guy, let's get this over with."

A deep sigh escaped through Artorias' nostrils, signifying that while he wasn't entirely opposed to the job hand to him, it didn't please him as well. It had nothing to do with the company, though to be fair he knew almost next to nothing about the feydusk to form any sort of an opinion. It wasn't even the job itself, he wasn't the type of man to believe any sort of menial labor was below him. No, it was the idea of water. Much like what went on within the Favisae's head, he thought the whole thing was too convenient to be a simple coincidence. He had spent the better part of the year ankle deep in water, only to be sent to fetch more on their first landing. To say the least, he wasn't amused, but he kept it all to himself. He'd do what he was told, but he that didn't mean he'd have to like it.

"A quest!" Vivi chirped not from the floor, but from a perch on Mordecai's shoulders. At some point between the little green guy assigning chores to the group to them actually moving out to accomplish said chores, she'd mysteriously gone from somewhere on deck to suddenly clinging to the Automaton's back. It was almost impressive, how she managed to just appear on his shoulders. It was sudden enough that Percy actually took a moment to look around to try and figure where she came from. "Maybe not as exciting as saving the world, but a quest nonetheless. Hey Mordey, didja see the dwarves? I think I saw one riding a goat. Think I could ride a goat?" While she loved flying, a little time on the ground wasn't necessarily a bad thing either.

Percy figured it was best to not ask any questions on the matter, as it was a high likelihood that the answer would be equally as nonsensical. Instead he slipped away from the group and made his way toward Gorlak, brows raised expectantly. While he'd rather visit the city and explore it, maybe check out the local landmarks, duty called first. He'd accomplish the favor first then he could play. He was nothing if not the diligent child.

With that, the group descended the gangplank in a more-or-less orderly fashion, though Gwen being Gwen felt the need to jump off the side of the thing less than halfway down and then prompt Mordecai to do the same thing, Vivian still affixed to his upper half. It made for an amusing sight, certainly.

The settlement was more like a small town, as it was one of those few that boasted actual permanent residents, dwarves that had forgone the ancestral system of nomadic herd-following in favor of acting as merchants and dockworkers, mostly. Trade by river barge was still common, if not as prosperous as it had been in the time before airships were commercially available. Zarkol, as this town was called, sat largely on the banks of the river Fandorian, the second-largest in Albion. Here, it was surrounded mostly with short, tough grasses and mosses grown into the crevices of rocks and hard earth, with the stone of the surrounding steppes being primarily shades of grey in hue. By the river, the gradations in topography were rather mild, but it took only a look out at the horizon to understand that the surrounding area, both east towards the mountains and south towards the deserts, was hard going.

Vivian had been correct in her observation about dwarves riding goats, though these were hardly the domestic variety to be found on Albion farms. Indeed, they resembled something of a cross between those and hardy mountain sheep, curled horns erupting from above their temples and curving back over and around their slate-colored ears. Many of the riders wore helms or other headwear evocative of this trait. A dwarf astride such a creature reached about five feet in height, the low center of gravity ideal for rough climbs, as any would point out. Other than that, they went afoot and wore a mixture of hide, leather, and wool, no few bearing bows and arrows, though the occasional gun could be seen as well, especially among those who carried a more town-like aspect. The buildings were squat as a rule, but not so much so that most people would be especially uncomfortable entering and moving around in one. Perhaps the especially tall would have to watch their heads, but this settlement at least had been built with humans at least somewhat in mind.

“Bit busy this time of year.” Gwen’s comment was directed at anyone who cared to listen, really. “The Green Season, it’s called. The herds can stay close to town before moving out, so there’s a lot of people around. Mind your purses—the dwarves are honest people, mostly, but their culture is based on sharing, so they don't always ask before helping themselves to your stuff.” She sounded a little delighted by this fact, but nevertheless her own pouch of coins vanished somewhere into her clothing with a sleight-of-hand trick. Lifting a hand at the rest in temporary farewell, she gestured for the Vivian-bearing Mordecai to follow her and peeled off to the left.




This was a lovely little place, wasn't it?

Dio was more used to Albion's biggest cities, Galatea, Xantus, Deluge and the like. They had their charms, of course (Deluge not so much), but she couldn't say she'd seen a town like this one. Her esteemed family had certainly never had cause to visit such a place, and it was too far out of the way, and too difficult to get to, for her to have traveled here since her rather abrupt departure from home. She wasn't fond of mountains any more than she was of deserts. But this little peaceful slice in between? This seemed a nice place to be for a little while. Dwarven culture seemed like something she'd fit rather well into.

She tucked a pesky strand of dark hair back behind her ear and under her hat, turning to look at Lohengrin. He wasn't the cheeriest of sorts, but she usually didn't have much trouble dealing with that. It took more than a bristly exterior to get under her skin. "This is a nice town to stop in, don't you think? Oh, hello there!" She waved to a passing dwarf mounted atop an impressive-looking goat, and to her pleasant surprise, he waved back, earning him a large smile from the thief. She looked back to Lohengrin. "Gorlak said you know where the cheese trader is. Have you been here before?"

“Been most places at least once.” Lohengrin’s tone of voice was perhaps not what anyone would describe as friendly, but as he was presently lacking in much of a reason to be especially grumpy, he wasn’t. He actually kind of liked dwarves—somehow, they had a tendency to piss him off less than other people. Maybe it was that sort of consummate practicality of theirs—they didn’t waste time or words or things, but they also weren’t as damn tight about everything as the elves were. Or as xenophobic. “But I don’t know which specific storefront is for the cheese guy, no. Only where it should be.” There was a defined corridor of shop-fronts towards the center of town, and it was in this direction that he steered them, walking unhurriedly and for once with shoes.

They weren’t exactly comfortable, but even he wouldn’t want to risk his soft flesh-feet on rocks the like of which one was likely to tread upon around here. The roads were mostly packed dirt, but he’d learned to stop expecting that the beaten path was the only one these people would take. Bit of an advantage, some of the knowledge floating around in his head. Too bad he couldn’t share much of it—might make things a little less…laborious.

A quick fishing trip into his pocket produced his pipe, and after checking that the bowl was properly loaded and packed, he lit it from his hand. Actually, another reason he liked dwarves was that they produced the world’s best pipe-weed, and he was of a mind to get his hands on some of it while they were here. After the cheese, though. Ancestors forbid the captain go without cheese.

“Not something they offer on the highlight tours of Albion, is it?” She had the look of a northerner about her, city-dweller probably. Bit too soft for anyone’s farm-daughter, and definitely not a sand rat, if he had his guess. “Not much to see, I guess, but if you can forgive the architecture, they make up for it with the food and drink.”

"Is that an actual thing?" she asked, genuinely curious. A highlight tour of Albion sounded very much like something she would want to do. She supposed she was getting one right now, traveling on the Elysium, but what she had in mind had slightly more good-natured company, and less violence at all the stops in between. "Architecture's overrated, really. Xantus is pretty to look at, but I bet this place has way fewer problems to deal with."

There was no obvious disparity in wealth here, while in Xantus there were streets where one side was clearly the subject of a constant flow of wealth, while the other was left to pick at the scraps left for it. The worst thing was that the wealth seemed always to be a matter of inheritance, kept in the grip of powerful families like the one she had come from, rather than being any measure of worth or effort. She knew merchantmen that had worked their whole lives to support their families, and while they struggled just as mightily, or perhaps more, than her own parents did, they were left with seemingly nothing other than their existences.

She supposed it would have been wiser for her to just accept her role as a cog in the Castillo machine, but then, Dio had never really considered herself a wise person.

"This looks promising," she said as they rounded a corner, bringing some shops into sight. "Did you grow up anywhere in particular before doing all of your traveling?" She couldn't place an accent or a look about him, if he even had one. She didn't think he was a product of Deluge, though he was perhaps rough enough to be.

Having spent a considerable amount of time in Xantus himself, prior to the old man tracking him down, he couldn't say she was wrong. The question, however, prompted him to cast his thoughts back over a span of years that was perhaps too long, and he exhaled smoke into the air, imagining for a moment that he could see familiar figures in the swirling shape of it. He wondered what the spell would let him say, and tried for something vague, but true. “That was a long time ago.” He just wasn’t sure he’d ever actually grown up, in some of the ways that people were usually trying to get at when they spoke of such things. He hadn’t ever accepted what he was or was supposed to become. He hadn’t fallen in line, nor had he passed the rite of passage of his people. He had never really even come to consider them his people, as such. They were just them. The Others, because somehow the ‘o’ was a capital. It couldn’t really be anything else.

“Don’t suppose there was really any one place. Born in Deluge, several years in the desert, then… well, everywhere else.” There was a large chunk in there that he couldn’t talk about, though that might not have been the spell. “Still, here I am now. Miserable and wretched bastard I may be, but not as miserable and wretched as I used to be.” A pause.

“Just as much a bastard though.”

He shrugged—it would seem they’d come upon the correct storefront, of the assortment of white and yellow wheels of cheese in the front window was anything to go by. Oddly, he could smell it even out here, and his olfaction was not particularly extraordinary. He frowned, hoping the captain did not have a preference for the stinky varieties. “Don’t suppose the pixie gave you a list or anything, did she?” He honestly wasn’t even sure what they were here to get.

"Nope," Dio replied, though she didn't seem too bothered by it. "Let's just get a little of everything, then! Who doesn't like trying out new kinds of cheese?" Probably lots of people, but Dio was not one of them.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Gwendolyn Skybound Character Portrait: Mordecai Character Portrait: Sven Diederich Character Portrait: Theon Zeona Character Portrait: Vivian Zeona

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This town would have been an easy take for Theon's warband, at their height. He'd have struck in the night. The terrain would have been murderously difficult to traverse through on foot, especially avoiding any main roads where they might be spotted too early, but they were a hardy bunch, and it could have been done. The palisade could be boosted over easily enough, and once they were inside, it would be all over. What militia this place had wouldn't last long. In the end, though, it wouldn't have been worth the trip. The things that were left relatively unguarded were usually things that weren't worth taking in the first place.

That was what the scryer's coldly tactical mind told him, while walking quietly through the streets with the big soldier man beside him, empty bags slung over their shoulders, to be filled with whatever manner of bullets they could find and buy. Theon still had quite a few to burn through, but considering they were heading into shit that even he couldn't predict, it seemed wise to stock up while they had the chance.

Sven seemed to know a thing or two about soldiering. He was the oldest of the bunch, so far as Theon could tell, and his whole body was a monument to murdering people for a cause, otherwise known as war. The big, silent type, had eyes that looked like he'd seen one too many bad things. Maybe he and Theon weren't all that different in their experiences. Death was death, didn't usually matter what the reason for it was. More likely, Theon wouldn't find out. They needed to get ammo, they didn't need to talk.

Drunken songs and long, long beards with bits of food snared within them. Laps sodden with hardy ales and a bonfire that would make all bonfires shiver to embers in shame. Nearly all Dwarven settlements were the same. Some of them might have been more cautious then others when it concerned outsiders, but usually, curiosity won out. Sharing their food and drink came as naturally as breathing. Besides, if anyone overstepped their bounds, it wouldn't have been too much of a stretch to toss them from their cliffs. They might've looked small, but they were still incredibly strong. In retrospect, he supposed that he didn't mind them so much. Had he any sense, he might have considered settling down in such a place. It would have saved him a lot of pain. Should've been born a Dwarf.

Regarding the landscape with far more interest than he ever allotted himself—though it would've been impossible to tell given the fact that his pleased expressions looked remarkably like his scowls—Sven nodded absently, walking alongside Theon. They were an odd pairing, indeed. Not his choice of companionship, but he supposed that the silence between them was oddly pleasant. He supposed Theon wasn't entirely useless. He was a decent marksman, after all. Admirable traits, in his opinion, hardly had anything to do with personality; however, that not entirely true, given that Theon's was poor. Supposedly, Gwendolyn could see something that he simply could not. She seemed capable of seeing many good things in people that he could not. Admittedly, there was much he did not know, but scars were something he recognized instinctively.

Throughout his entire life, he'd never been good at making friends. In his youth, in war, in anything else that required some measure of teamwork and cooperation—the Lieutenant floundered. It was little wonder how Leo had put up with him for so long and even stranger how someone like Judith could see anything but his awkward inattempts to behave like a normal human being. His grouchiness, nowadays, knew no bounds. Better that way, he supposed. His mouth twitched into something that might have been a jovial attempt at a smile, but failed miserably; like a snarly dog crinkling its nose. “You never did looking like ah, person who is vanting to join crew,” butchered as his words were, he hoped the meaning got across, “Vhy did you? At stones, you are almost looking like little kid at Midwinter.” He had been curious. Theon might have been just as excited as Percy, though he may not have shown it as loudly.

"You obviously never saw my sister and I as little kids at Midwinter," was Theon's immediate reply. He spied the gun supply store down at the end of the street, well fortified, as any place with an abundance of weapons and ammunition should be. He almost left the conversation at that, but decided if the big guy was looking for some conversation, he could always try his best to respond. He could have sworn Gwen appeared behind him to nag him about making friends. "I don't know if anyone else in our little crew understood the gravity of being in the center of the universe. We've been told, to our faces, that whatever the hell we're doing makes us the most important people on the planet, and given ample evidence of the truth of that. First present I've ever been given, honestly."

It was more than just being important, of course, even if that was what he insisted on telling everyone. He'd been used his entire young life, and then rebelled against that by attempting to use everyone he came across. In the end, it was a petty revenge, and never felt like anything more. This was really the first time he'd felt like what he was doing was actually worth something. That was still something that he had to prove to himself, even more so than he had to prove it to the world. He had to prove that he was worth something, and this was the way to do it.

"What about you? You just the dutiful soldier of captain and king, following your orders? Doesn't seem like any way to live, if you don't mind me saying." Even if Sven did mind, he'd said it, and he'd say it again. Having loyalty from friendship was one thing, but from what he'd seen of the big guy so far, he didn't have much more free will than most toasters.

Heavy eyebrows responded in kind, arching briefly, then settling back down; grim as two dark clouds. He could hardly imagine Theon and Vivian as kids, hunkered down somewhere on Midwinter's eve. Stranger still, he could hardly imagine anyone as children, except Gwendolyn. To him, everyone else appeared to be cut from tougher cloth—as if they'd simply skipped that part of their lives, himself included. Making friendly conversation seemed harder than he'd imagined, because he found himself lulling back into comfortable silence, as broody as he appeared on the outside. What Theon was in the process of saying was, in many ways, correct. He doubted that he, or the others, truly understood, or appreciated, what had happened to them, and what would continue to happen until they completed whatever he could call this journey. What then, he wondered. They'd cease being the center of the universe, and they'd become like everyone else. Chosen Ones who'd served their purposes. He chose not to say so when he added, “Good first present, I'm thinking.”

Dousing water across a person's spirits was an uncanny ability he had, however unintentional. Gwendolyn had made a point once that sometimes, it was better to leave things unsaid. Whether or not he agreed was another matter altogether. He left the matter alone. If a person wanted to make this mission into some sort of entitled gift, then they were entitled to that as well. He supposed that being a soldier ruined any aspects of self-importance. This was just another duty. Just another job to complete. When everything was all said and done, there would always be an end and they would always be who they were: soldiers, vagabonds, wanderers and whatever other parts they cringed away from. Used and set aside. Tossed was too strong a word, but soldiers understood the concept just as well as the used-and-abused.

He cocked his head to the side and rolled his eyes skyward. Dutiful soldier of the King and Captain—saying that he was anything but Artorias' old friend was a stretch. They'd mended their burnt bridges in the boiler room and though he'd willingly fight for his cause to regain his throne, he was, and would always be, Gwendolyn's guardian. Once, he supposed, he tried reminding himself that he was wild before he knew the world. Lost in the world of little wonders and trees and plains that spanned as far as he could see, and the skies, he'd loved them so, once. Strangely enough, he'd never been asked before. Ballsy for a dreamy-eyed, grouchy boy. Spoiled brat might've been a stretch.

Sven had never been a good man, a righteous man. Never a man who picked his way down the road of morality. His road was littered with corpses, and that was fine. He never waged wars, or knocked elbows with friends, not anymore. He was just a guy in a trench; with rotten boots and a sopping wet uniform. “Yes,” he answered, curt but not angry. He didn't mind. Theon might've been right. He rubbed his chin. “Vhat are you calling gun vith no one to do the shooting? Useless, yes? Something like that.” Something caused him to stop in his tracks. A small, persistent tug at the hem of his shirt—belonging to a small Dwarven lad, gap-toothed and starry-eyed, ranting on about foreigners and wondering where they were going and could he help because he was strong and his pappy said it was good to help others. He blinked down at him, paused briefly and scooped the boy up in his arms, plopping him down on his bicep, flexed in the air so the lad could hook his arm around his forearm. Ja junge! Vhill need better post to be seeing, I'm thinking.” The laugh, to anyone who knew him, appeared as odd as it was natural, splitting a smile across his scarred face. The boy was whooping and pointing to the location Theon had already spotted. “Would be making good first mate, eh Theon?”

The scryer supposed that it was an attempt at a joke from the half-metal man, but Theon was perhaps not the right crowd to use it on, as he just raised an eyebrow up at the dwarf kid in return. "He's got no idea what he'd be getting himself into." Neither did they, he supposed, even with all of his magical future-visions, but at least they had the skills and the grit to survive it.

Probably.




The walk to the dry goods pickup was relatively straightforward—quite literally, as it involved walking straight down the central road in down to a long, low building used for the storage of such goods. It was a bit of a walk, but Gwen was quite used to such things for someone who seemed to spend most of her life in the air, and she very much doubted that Mordecai would ever tire as such. If he ran out of power, he stopped, but the solar cell harvesting energy from the suns above them should prevent that theoretically forever. If there was one thing Albion did not lack, it was sunlight, from the hot and dry to the damp and sticky.

They were, perhaps, the strangest group to exit the ship, considering Mordecai’s not-quite-human appearance and the fact that Vivian was hitching a ride on his shoulders, but golems, though rare, were not unseen in Zarkol, and indeed, they passed a worker model working on a construction project alongside several dwarves not long after disembarking. It was an old model, to be sure, one of those that was more a vaguely person-shaped hunk of metal and gears than anything, but it still functioned just fine, all fifteen feet of it. Gwen winked at one of the construction workers as she passed, but her attention was drawn immediately afterwards by the next thing, as it always seemed to be.

For a settlement of the size, it was rather bustling, and the people seemed quite industrious in spirit. Gwendolyn happened to know from personal experience that the dwarves, while hard workers, were far from as boring as the people she encountered in more staid cities, concerned with status and nobility. By tonight, all of these people would be around massive bonfires in the plains, celebrating the life given to them by the land and the river and the herds in the best way to celebrate anything: with drink and dancing. “Do you dance, Rosy?” The question was rather abrupt, but perhaps that was to be expected. Gwen cocked her head to the side, smiling up at the other woman in a way that could best be described as facetious.

"Do I dance, she asks," Vivi chuckled. She'd since quit hanging from Mordecai's back like some sort of floppy cape and instead had climbed up, where she now straddled his shoulders. She threw her head back to give the show of a loud guffaw, careful to keep a hold of her vehicle's forehead so she didn't end ass first on the ground. "Every time there's music," She asnwered. Sometimes, even when wasn't. A fact she proved by immediately moving her arms to some imaginary beat drumming inside her head.

That being said, her life was sorely lacking in music recently. Not a tune nor melody one to be had since they had departed the guild, and with the little birdy bringing it up, she was aware just how quiet her life had been recently. Hopefully she had a remedy in mind. Without pausing the number she was doing atop Mordecai's shoulders, she responded, "Will I get a chance to?" She asked, her tone hopeful.

“You will!” Gwen replied with a bright grin. “ As it happens, there’s a big party tonight, out on the plains. I was thinking it might be nice to drag everyone down there and have some fun, but I’m going to need some help with the dragging.” She, for example, believed her own chances of coercing Thistle to make merry in any capacity were slim to none, even if she tried to apply the full force of her charm to the task. She’d noted, though, that Vivian seemed to be at least a little close to the grouchy Favisae, and so it might be worth it to enlist her help. She could already picture trying to get a few of the others to agree—maybe it would be better if Vivi asked Strawberry, too. Whatever the case, having someone else on her side here would be helpful, and it wasn’t for her own amusement alone that she wanted everyone to have the experience.

Though perhaps it was better to let it seem as though it were.

“May this unit inquire as to the nature of the celebrations?” Mordecai had been to a few parties before, but this settlement seemed to be lacking in buildings grand enough or people wealthy enough to create the settings with which he was familiar. The Mistress had been of a mind to take him along with her to many such functions, whereupon it was not uncommon for people to ask him all kinds of questions, as though attempting to determine his schematics by interview. He wasn’t sure why—his specifications were relatively simple to recite, and anything that wasn’t would likely be unclear to anyone without an engineering background anyway. Whatever the case, it seemed at odds with the ways he observed life being lived around him.

He seemed almost not to notice the fact that Vivian was atop his shoulders, or at the very least, not to mind it in the slightest. It was not as though something of her rather negligible heft was a significant drain on his resources, and indeed they were making good time through the center of town.

“It’s probably nothing like you’re thinking, Gadget,” Gwen said with a giggle. She’d been to the annoyingly-staid parties as well, once upon a time, and always felt a little bit like a freak at them, not because she couldn’t blend, but because she seemed to be the only person who didn’t want to. Blending, she thought, suited her terribly, and she generally chose not to do it. Maybe she liked sticking out because she was so short, and if she didn’t make a big ruckus, nobody would ever notice her existence. It seemed like the kind of thing that made at least a little sense, didn’t it? Certainly better than the real reason. “There’s big ol’ bonfires, and lots of homebrew, and drums and singing and dancing.” Her tread, always light, seemed to morph for the moment into a skip for emphasis, and she turned a whirling circle n the middle of the road, hair ornaments clanking.

“It’s good fun—or whatever kind of fun you like, really.” Some people got a little salacious about it, and she’d never deny that this was definitely an option in the Greenseason celebrations, but that certainly wasn’t a requirement. “I bet all the girls will want to turn a step with Gadget, don’t you think, Rosy?” As if to demonstrate, Gwen picked up one of Mordecai’s hands and spun herself beneath it, ending in a dramatically-flourished bow. Releasing his hand, she darted back ahead. “And the more colorfully you dress, the better. It’s like they invented a holiday just for people like us.” Well, more herself and Rosy than Gadget, who seemed to stick mostly to black and white. She could fix that, though—and she probably would.

"They can't have him, he's mine," Vivi said, wrapping both arms around Mordecai's forehead and even attempted to shoo Gwen away. Though she didn't take her arms away from him, the chuckle that followed betrayed the joke. All of the talking about it they were doing served to only excite her further. Soon she'd begin to fidget with all the excitement building up inside her. As it stood, her eyes viciously scanned the buildings around them searching for a very particular shop. "They've got to have a dress shop somewhere around, right? I mean... Maybe we could visit it, see what we can see," She said as she twirled a lock of Mordecai's hair.

"I want to be colorful," She added, completely unaware of the fact that the group she was in may be the most color in the entire town, even with Mordecai tagging along. A break from it all didn't sound that bad. All they've been doing since they left the Guildhall was fly around and find these guardian-whatzits, and while adventurous, lacked her particular kind of fun. "Tell me I'm pretty Mordy," she said, all of a sudden.

“You are pretty, Vivian,” Mordecai replied without so much as missing a beat. Of course, he wasn’t sure exactly why the request had been made of him as such—surely he was not an expert on aesthetics anymore than he was an expert on emotion. His judgements tended to have more to do with symmetry and mathematics than anything else. He’d only used the word pretty 34 times since his inception, and not all of them were of this particular connotation. A good twenty of those were paraphrase or quotation, besides.

He was unsure about most of the conversation as it pertained to him, actually, having little background with which to synthesize it. He had been asked to dance before, of course, but that generally had the expectation of a sort of assessment about it, and that did not seem to be the case here, if he was interpreting the implications of the conversation properly. Even so, he did not mind, and assumed that likely, whatever was taking place this evening would be a learning experience for him. He was not, as a rule, in any way averse to those.

Gwen laughed, the sound easy and light, shaking her head all the while. Gadget was… charming, was the word, and Rosy wasn’t so bad herself. “As far as dress shops go… hm. Probably not anything in sizes other than dwarf. But you do have a captain with a pretty big closet. I’m sure we could find you something.” It wasn’t like she ever wore anything in boring colors, really. At least no more than was strictly necessary.

They’d arrived at the appointed warehouse, however, and the moment of levity was sadly interrupted by necessity, invention’s much less-lively mother. There were about three large crates full of supplied to haul back to the ship, and a few smaller boxes. Gadget was quite capable of lifting all the crates himself, and probably balancing them well enough, too, so Gwen took a few of the lighter items, leaving the other half of those for Rosy. It was relatively simple work with three people, one of them incredibly strong, so they were one of the first group’s back to the ship.

She wasn’t about to let them go so easily, however. “All right both of you—let’s see what we can see in my closet and trunks, shall we?” Maybe they could invite Tammy and Thistle, too, and make a bit of an afternoon of it.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mordecai Character Portrait: Sven Diederich

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#9 had for the moment been dismissed from the company of Gwen and Vivian, though he was now significantly more colorful for the effort, looking rather more like someone with their clothing preferences than Morgause’s. It was a little odd, but he couldn’t say he disliked it. Somewhere between the broad red headband and the odd strings of trinkets woven into pieces of his hair, the loose shipwear with multicolored sashes and the strange amount of bands around both wrists, he looked a little more like he belonged.

It felt like a gift, somehow, and Mordecai was not accustomed to receiving those.

Presently, however, he was helping with supply storage, which was to say that a few of the crew had asked him if he wouldn’t mind assisting them with moving goods back and forth from their original containers to their places on the ship, and he’d seen no reason to disagree, not particularly inclined to be doing anything else at the moment. Besides, it was a rather dull task, and even while his body simply went through the motions of it, his mind was easily able to be elsewhere—several elsewheres, as a matter of fact. In preparation for this evening, he was accessing and reviewing data his library contained on celebrations, of which there was little, the physical symptoms and recommended treatments for intoxication, of which there were more, and anything he could get on dancing, because he’d come to believe that it might be necessary or polite for him to do that at some point this evening, and he really did not want to accidentally step on someone’s toe. He would probably crush it, given his weight.

“You are looking distracted.” Balancing several medium-sized boxes in his arms, Sven settled them down next to the others, adjusting them so that they sat symmetrically. To say that he enjoyed monotonous, hard-working tasks, that relied less on combat and more on organizational skills, wouldn't have been much of a stretch. A good sweat did a body good—and idle hands, in his opinion, amounted to far less. Overseeing such duties might have been in his job description as First Mate, but he enjoyed contributing far more than standing by and barking orders. He was pleased when he'd spotted Mordecai moving containers aboard the ship, though he still bore burdens much heavier than any normal person was capable of man-handling. Several crew-hands whistled appreciatively, moving towards smaller loads, or cooperating to move slightly larger containers.

Looking more closely at Mordecai, he looked as if he'd always been on the ship. Thanks to the Fräulein's efforts, no doubt. The trinkets jangling in his hair, and the bangles decorating his wrists, were clear indications of a certain someone's influence. It did not look bad. Far more familiar than what he'd been wearing previously. A small smile ghosted across his lips, and brief as ever, settled back into a neutral frown. What a banded assortment they were. Between snappy lizards, grouchy veterans and cheery pirates, skittish knowledge-seekers and inquisitive automatons—they would be a strange group anywhere they traveled, but it might've been the only reason they had such a chance of success in what they sought to achieve, as well. Individuals only failed in organizations bred for compliance. This was much better.

He moved alongside him, grappling containers and plopping them down in their allotted places. Rearrange and line up, repeat. Though, Sven did pause to scrutinize Mordecai's flashy apparel. He, himself, had never thought to don any ship wear. Far too contrasting for his liking. It did, however, strangely suit him. He pinched his chin between metal forefinger and thumb. “Looking like true sailor now,” he acceded, “You know, if you are letting them do this once, they vhill start braiding hair and finding excuses to dress you up. Fräuleins.”

“This unit does not mind,” Mordecai asserted in response, reorganizing his cognitive priority queue such that the conversation occupied a higher place than his passive data retrievals. He’d been told it was polite to do that, and he had no wish to be seen as impolite—he suspected he’d been programmed to care a great deal about social protocol for some reason. Most automata did not, operating more on simple command structure with nothing superfluous. But Mordecai had… Mordecai had the bells and whistles. That was the correct idiom, he was almost certain of it. Of course, he literally had bells now, but that was not what was meant, he thought.

For all the superfluous things he had, though, very few preferences were among them. Morgause had provided him with clothing in the previous fashion, and so when he needed to purchase his own—as Myrddin could not really be bothered to care about something so trivial—he had simply replicated what he already knew. If other preferred this, then he did not mind that, either, and would replicate it instead. Aside from very basic conditions regarding motion, Mordecai had no opinion whatsoever. “It believes they derived some enjoyment from it.” It was the sentential equivalent of a shrug, really.

Within a few minutes, all the new cargo was loaded and faced, Mordecai perfectly content to rotate old boxes that had been loaded label-facing-wall so that it was clearer what everything contained. He’d acquired a bit of a dust coating, which he took to brushing off as both of them emerged once again into the sunlight. Mordecai’s pupils shrank to the optimal diameter almost instantaneously, and as a result, he suffered no disorientation at the abrupt introduction of illumination, and did not share the need to squint or shade his eyes with a hand for a moment that seemed prominent amongst the crew. “Will you be attending the festivities this evening, also?”

Did Mordecai mind anything? He doubted it. Had it been anyone else gifted with immeasurable strength and speed, they would have been regarded with boundless distrust and a weariness solely reserved for people that walked a fine line between ally and threat. Fortunately for them, Mordecai was no ordinary Automaton. Not like any of the military-grade ones he had the displeasure of meeting. Soulless, apathetic beings that waded through bodies and blood without metaphorically batting their eyes. They couldn't have asked for better killers. Devoid of silly human emotions and empathy, automata designed for warfare flourished in their vocations, even if the choosing was no choice of their own. Mordecai was much, much more. He nodded slowly to himself—better to have a strange, albeit curious, Automaton than an unfeeling menace quirking its ears for commands.

Generally, Myrddin could be trusted not to completely run them ragged, and his decision in sending Mordecai had been a good one. As dangerous as he could be against their enemies, he'd seen gradual change in him. Like a speculative child piecing out information and coming up with his own observations, Mordecai appeared as if he was growing as an individual. He'd never seen anything like that in all of his years. The measures his creator had taken to make him appear human were staggeringly advanced. In a sense, human perfection. Maybe, that's what was wrong. Soon enough, humans would look to their creations and wonder if it wouldn't be best to change themselves, as they often did when faced with their own imperfections. Looking down at his own arms, Sven wondered if it wouldn't have been better letting life run its course. “You are believing.” He placed a hand on Mordecai's shoulder, eyebrows drawn and stern, “Vhen talking, you are saying I, ja? You are you.”

Withdrawing his hand, Sven clapped his hands together and took a few steps back to survey the work they had done. Everything was in its proper place, and with Mordecai's help, they would be able to identify what they needed in a matter of moments. Organization was just as important as keeping updated records of their inventory. He gave it one more once over before clomping away, scrunching his eyes against the sun, but keeping his arms at his sides. It almost felt as if he were stepping out onto the deserts flat-plains, with everything reflecting sharp yellows and whites. He glanced over at Mordecai. Ah, yes. Dwarven parties. Beer and dancing and tall tale-spinning. It'd been a long time since they weren't being actively hunted and most of the work had already been completed. It would give the crew time to stretch their legs, or explore the village, in peace. Unless someone caused trouble. Even Dwarves could have nasty tempers. “Yeah, vill be coming.” He hooked his thumb backwards, “To be keeping them out of trouble.”

Mordecai moved his visage to create a smile, and inclined his head slightly. Sven, it seemed, was always doing that—attempting to keep everyone else behind the lines they might otherwise blunder across with strongarm and stern glance. Still, he was not as initially forbidding as #9 had supposed, proof, he supposed, that even when one was as good at looking as he was, what one saw was not always what one received. “Apologies,” he demurred. “It lacks the programming to refer to itself with the first person. This unit was never meant to be mistaken for human.” He’d been designed to be very humanlike, but to impress, not to blend. So there were little things about him that were, and perhaps always would be, more mechanical than man. Just touches, so that he would never quite integrate fully with actual people. For he was not one of those, though he wondered if he didn’t desire to be, somehow.

“If this unit may venture a question,” he continued, brushing the last of the dust from his shirt, “it is somewhat curious. You seem given to acting as a warden over the other members of the crew, particularly the captain. But all of these people are adults of their respective species. This unit was wondering why you have chosen to do so. They are not children and they are not, it hypothesizes, your blood relations, nor are you a servant of some kind. It cannot therefore deduce the reason for the nature of those relationships.” Certainly, he was no human being, not at times like this.

He hadn't thought of that before. Of course, Sven understood that Automata functioned on a series of programs, created for very specific purposes, but looking at Mordecai, it was easy to forget. While it was true that the military often employed Automata made by private engineers and inventors, they hardly behaved as if they could be law-abiding citizens without their uniforms. Most of them hardly looked, let alone behaved, like human beings. With semi-automatic weapons attached to their arms and segmented skin lined with rivets and luminescent lights, mistaking them for anything but destructive machines would've taken a major oversight. There was never any need for aesthetically pleasing models, only frightening ones. Mordecai, on the other hand, might've looked a little too perfect, but he had the makings of someone entering boyhood, curious about everything. In some ways, he was reminded of Percy and all of his books.

Whichever program he operated from appeared as if it were evolving—changing and adapting whenever he was curious enough to learn about something, and if that was the case, couldn't he teach himself about identity? Not that he was particularly bothered by the peculiar way he spoke, and it might have only been his age creeping up on him, but he couldn't shake off the feeling of melancholy. Of sadness and longing to be something he could not possibly grasp. Did it bother him? Didn't look like it. “Not your fault,” he rebuffed with a firm shake of his head, “Vhat is it you are wanting to be, now? You are free, yes.” He didn't really know where Mordecai would go as soon as their mission was finished, but he imagined that there were places he might want to visit. Things he'd want to learn and experience, because already, he'd witnessed small changes in him. His place, as always, would remain the same.

Sven nodded again, indicating that he was free to ask whatever he wished. He flipped through the manifest nailed to the wall, filled with crimped papers dog-eared and slightly yellowed. Organized and well-used—the work of a man who checked things, and then checked them again to be sure everything was where they were meant to be. Their crew—as odd as they were—functioned well together. Warden. He paused briefly, slowly settling the papers back in place as he tumbled the question in his head. He never considered himself a Warden. Only an old, grouchy veteran trying to keep the crew members from getting themselves killed. But, he supposed, that meant he might've had an inkling of care for their well-beings. They were adults. Probably capable of taking care of themselves without anyone towering over their shoulders. Was it habit? Or had it been Gwendolyn's insistence of being nice to others? “Ah—” An unintelligible rumble. He didn't really know why. Without the role of Warden and stern-faced babysitter, perhaps, he had no other purpose. He scratched his chin. “Vhat is hammer vhith no hand to be using it? No use at all. Vithout hand, the hammer is like rock in desert.” He was thankful that no one else was around to hear this conversation.

Not especially good with metaphors, Mordecai had to pause for a period of time and parse the statement, like a child turning a puzzle-cube over in hands with fingers a little too inelegant for the task. Not much about the automata was inelegant, actually, so perhaps that he conceived of his task this way went to show that he was gaining some traction with figures of human speech. He felt a trace of embarrassment that he did not immediately have a grip on the meaning of Sven’s usage, but after a time, he thought he might understand. “You… conceptualize of yourself as a tool. Something that was made for a purpose, but may only fulfill that implicit aim with the aid of another.” It was a guess, but he simply couldn’t think of anything else that might be meant by that. Perhaps that was just a limitation of his conceptual repertoire, but he really had the sense that he was right about it.

It was a strange way for a human to think, or so it seemed to the machine. “This unit… is the same, only it does not know for what end it was designed.” In retrospect, he knew that his creator had implied on several occasions that there was something he was for, but as far as he could recall, she had never deigned to inform him of exactly what that thing was. And in the absence of her hand, he supposed he was just as much an object of utility as Sven was. Only he may well be forever without an idea of his use. “But… if you believe that this unit is free to be as it chooses, then surely you must believe the same of yourself. What…” he paused, pursing his lips faintly and attempting to put the words back into the form they had been delivered. “What would the hammer do, if it could make the decision? Would it really always require the hand of another to act?”

There was no way the answer could be different for them. There was a contradiction in Sven’s logic—either he was a tool, with a use that required someone else’s guidance, or he was free, to choose his own ends as he desired. He could not be both, and it did not seem likely to Mordecai that they could be different in this respect, for surely an automaton was more a device for use than a human being could ever be. The idea that Mordecai was free and Sven was captive to the designs of others was rendered utterly absurd. He was interested to know, then, what the soldier determined that their shared fate really was. “Would it be worth being a rock in the desert if it was something you chose?”

Like a cat wandering to its usual perch, Sven settled by the railing and squinted into the distance. Come to think of it—no other Automaton had ever asked these sort of questions, and if he thought harder on the matter, no human or beast had either. He supposed he was mostly to blame for being unapproachable, but Mordecai was obviously lacking when it came to human weaknesses; the sort that involved awkwardness and simply not being bothered. In more ways than one, he was more human than most of the grizzled soldiers he'd come to know and serve with. He had a willingness to learn that some people often sloughed off as unnecessary and childish; it was something he wanted to viciously protect in Gwendolyn. If he ever lived to see her harden her heart to the wonders of the world, he thought he wouldn't be able to handle the sight. When it involved her, he understood why he'd chosen the role of dutiful guardian. A shield against an onslaught of bullets and blades. It made him feel as if he hadn't lost his purpose.

He inclined his head slightly, regarding Mordecai with tired, dark-rimmed eyes. Not that he would ever openly admit it unless it was in an off-handed, quietly implied way, but he enjoyed his company. There was no need for keeping secrets or concealing the parts of him that he would rather toss away. If he so chose to share his aches and pains, he thought it likely that the Automaton would simply manage the information in the most reasonable, logical manner. Emotions were messy, ugly things that he'd long ago forgotten how to deal with. This was a cleaner affair. It was a breath of fresh air. Like an analyst sifting through documents and organizing them in their proper place, then coming up with the strangest observations that were startlingly honest; Mordecai continued surprising him. His forearm hissed uncomfortably until he clamped his hand around his wrist and coughed to mask the soreness. Tool. An apt word to use for soldiers of the government, for weren't they all something or someone's to be used? In that regard, he and the others had much in common with their mechanical compatriots.

Sven nodded his head thoughtfully. For one who understood so little of human behaviour, Mordecai was surprisingly accurate. Or maybe, he was just obvious. He slowly turned back towards him, leaning his elbows across the railing instead. Having a purpose, feeling purposeless, and being created without a purpose—those were all things he couldn't possibly explain, yet if anyone did understand it, Mordecai would. Even the idea of being created... he frowned, and listened. The word creator and owner bothered him just as much as slave, so he'd never bothered asking about Mordecai's past or how he felt about the person who'd sent him away. Did he feel the same way as he did? That the person he left was someone he needed to protect, even if it meant leaving her side? He pursed his lips, and inhaled deeply, clamping his eyes closed for a moment to reflect on his words. These questions... were difficult, needling things that begged answers he'd never thought of before. Childish parts of him urged him to say that this was different and he was young so he would have more going for him. Both thoughts were hypocritical and stupid.

What would the hammer do? A laugh raked through his throat, like a deep rumble shaking the foundations of a house. Never in his life had anyone asked what he would have done, certainly not until he had the shoulder straps to make any decision whatsoever. And in a way, it'd been much worse. But this wasn't the military and he wasn't directing young men and women to their deaths anymore. He knuckled his nose again, heavy eyebrows settling back down. He had said that once, hadn't he? That Mordecai was free to do as he wished and find his own purpose should he so desire to. What made him any different? He almost felt like a parent, heatedly biting a because. As if that explained everything. And still, Sven had no answers. He could have tried explaining that his life felt as if it meant little without this role, and that if he chose anything else, it would be like discrediting the life he'd failed to protect—but, it only felt like an excuse. Instead, he approached Mordecai and clapped a hand on his shoulder; Automaton to metal-man. “You are strange, Mordecai. And good. I'm thinking that you are right.”

He paused briefly and met the man's eyes. “And I am stranger. We are two hammers in desert, but I am not good. Maybe rock or hammer is not being ready for anything else.” His hand slipped away from Mordecai's shoulder, hissing back to his side. Maybe, he hadn't punished himself enough. Maybe, he was undeserving. Mordecai, however, was worth more. There was an undying light and a desire to understand and relate to others bubbling in a pool of his being; however small, growing bigger still. "I don't think you are rock or hammer."

Mordecai was far from certain that he understood, but perhaps this was just one area where the fact that he was not—could never be, some cynical part of him insisted—human would show most clearly. Perhaps… perhaps he found Sven’s thoughts illogical and contradictory because logic was not the way in which they were meant to be understood. Emotions, desires, things of this conative nature, things that sought to change the world rather than only understand it… these were things in which the automaton was not conversant. He barely understood what it was to want something, let alone what it was to be bound up in a history and a network of people and deeds with colors and threads tangled just as often as they were properly woven. He did not know what it was to be so complex.

But he did know what it was to feel incomplete, inadequate to what yet lay before him. To turn his attention inward and be yet confused by what he saw there. To lack a complete understanding of just what he was, what he was meant to do. What he should or could or would do, even. At that level of analysis, of self-awareness, his systems were no longer comprehensive. He lacked. It was a most disconcerting feeling, because before he had ever had cause to meditate on his own nature, he had never been aware that he lacked. He would have believed himself whole, if only he had not tried to see.

He hesitated, unsure of what should be said here. In the end, he settled on something simple. “This unit does not think it is so bad, to be strange.” It was, after all, almost universally strange people with which he was surrounded now, and he found their behaviors, their natures, their colors and tapestries and a hundred other metaphors he only half understood… he found these things fascinating. Perhaps somewhere in the pursuit of understanding them, he would even come to understand himself.

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 Character Portrait: Artorias Pendragon

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As night fell over the plains, the dwarves, all dressed colorfully in bright, fluttering fabrics, descended from the settlement on the steppes to the flat land below this one, hauling with them wood for the fire pits, which were dug earlier in the day by workmen with a variety of spades and shovels, then lined with stones. The wood was piled in neat, geometrical fashion, tinder added, and the sparks thrown into the mix by striking flint. Within half an hour, everything was colored deep red and gold by the sunset, and the pyres had roared to life, flickering and crackling and casting long, dancing shadows from every object or person that came within their vicinity.

It was another hour into the festivities, when the sky had receded to violet, indigo, and the beginnings of nighttime navy, that Gwendolyn unilaterally declared that it was time for the crew to go join the festivities. If this just so happened to coincide with the last of the necessary work being finished for the day, well, who was paying that much attention, anyhow? She had dressed herself for the occasion as well, a boatnecked blue blouse with billowed sleeves and a green vest falling into several waist-sashes in varying shades of blue and purple, draped over an emerald-hued skirt. Her feet were bare, but her ankles sported several jangling bracelets. She’d let anyone who could fit her clothes have free run of them as well, because in her humble opinion, everyone should go as the locals went—bright and festive.

She’d somehow managed to convince even Lohengrin to throw on a green scarf, though he didn’t look especially well-pleased by it. Then again, his usual facial expression hadn’t gotten any worse, so perhaps he’d decided to take it all on the nose. She’d attempted to foist various pieces of vibrant fabric on just about everyone, actually, though he wasn’t sure how well it had worked, and he didn’t much care.

The trek down to the site of the festival was pleasant enough, the weather a bit balmy but cooling off quickly as night fell. The festival was, after all, a celebration of the coming of summer, something that was not here quite yet. What might have otherwise been too crowded and claustrophobic was spread out over the plain, several bonfires going at once. Musicians played flutes, harps, and lyres, mostly, with these collectively almost doubled by the number of hand-drums present. The homebrewed alcohol, however, was what Lohengrin was most interested in, and it was free-flowing.

There was no issue whatsoever with the presence of tallfolk at the party, and indeed, they were not even the only ones, a couple of river-barge traders mixed in with the crowd here and there, and everyone seemed to be mingling without a particular concern for height or race. Most anyone looked like fun after enough to drink, anyway, and Lohengrin soon found himself at one of the copious number of portable tavern setups, a tankard in his hand. Dwarven brew really was about as good as it got when it came to beer. Not like that mushroom shit the elves had underground.

Theon was dragged to the festivities by no one other than himself, and indeed, it did feel remarkably like being dragged, each step towards the happily celebrating dwarves and guests feeling like lead weights attached to his ankles. Try as she might with the sad-eyes, Gwendolyn had been unable to force anything remotely festive on the scryer, despite how annoyingly effective he found the eyes to be. Theon had always been a man to dress simply, and he would not change that tonight, arriving in a sleeveless shirt that was at least clean, and an equally bland pair of pants, a loose pair of sandals flapping under his feet. It was enough of a victory that he was coming to this damn thing at all, he could hardly be expected to do much more.

The beer was where the scryer directed himself to as well, knowing the quality quite fully by now. He taken several kegs of the stuff in a few separate raids that he had no intention of telling the locals about. During those periods, the bandits he'd led around had never been as docile. Sadly, they drank through them at alarming speeds, and grumpiness usually followed the last drop. Tonight, though, there seemed to be an endless supply, and Theon meant to take a good chunk of it. "Think you can drink enough to make this enjoyable?" he asked Lohengrin, when they arrived at the same place.

"Maybe if I start now and don't stop until we leave." A wry twist to Lohengrin's lips appeared for just a second before it vanished behind the rim of the tankard.

Dio, however, didn't need a drop of anything to put a smile on her face, and immediately took to dancing about the bonfires, mostly with the dwarves that crossed her path, not caring a bit if the difference in heights made the movements even the least bit awkward. Where the scryer had refused color altogether, Dio had more or less pilfered the captain's wardrobe when given permission. The two had even spent an hour or so wreaking havoc on her hair, applying all manner of braids, beads, and other things that would jingle when she moved. She had no intention of stealing Gwen's look, of course, but a party demanded a little more than just a hat, even if it was one of her best, so Dio had elected a headband instead. For clothes, yellow was her color of choice for the night. The blouse was modest in the neckline but cut off for her stomach, while the skirt was long enough to nearly brush the ground when she walked. She threw on several belts just for the fun of it.

In typical Vivi style, she was a dervish of color. In the end she got her dress from Gwen's closet, a low cut spring dress with yellow-orange-red gradient which cut off right below her thigh and a blue sash. Ribbons were tied into her coffee hair of the same color palette as her dress. A few were tied into bows, others were simply tied to locks of hair and allowed to trail freely behind her as she walked. The pair of boots she usually wore clashed with the outfit, but in her credit, she did polish them to a shine and tie ribbons into the gaps in the armor so the disconnect wasn't terribly bad. On her hands she'd found a pair of elbow length gloves.

Her first stop, of course, was one of the tavern setups. The same one that Lohengrin and Theon went to. She ordered a drink and then turned toward the pair, the smile on her face the widest she could make it, "Or, and stay with me on this one, you two could stop being so damn depressing and have fun. It's not as painful you'd think," she said, downing her first tankard in one long gulp. She ordered another and as she waited for it, spoke again, "Find yourselves a nice dwarf lady, they're about the right size. Or dwarf man. I don't judge. Whatever floats your airboat," She said in a chuckling fit as she took her leave, tankard in hand. It wasn't long before she was amid a dancing circle, still drinking from her tankard.

Percy didn't have to dive into Gwen's vast stores of clothes to look particularly festive. His own outfit was simple in design. A dark green vest over a collared white shirt with a pair of brown slacks. In addition, Percy also managed to find a bow tie among the other crewmates and had that tied around his collar. While his dress was simple in comparison, the accessories that he wore were not. In a usual sight as of late Percy had antlers sprouting from the top of his skull, but what was unusual about it, however, were that every other point ended in a flowering bloom. Flowers of blues, reds, greens, and yellows sat upon not only upon his antlers, but also scattered through out his persons. Flowers were stuck in his vest buttons and his pockets, as well as a pair of tiny bulbs that were used as cuff links. It all made him look more like a walking bouquet than a Mutatio. A wreath of wild-flowers that sat on the crown of his head didn't do much to dissuade the similarities either.

A smile was pressed against his lips as he descended the ship, happy to be done with taking inventory and making lists of things they had and how much of it. The cheer from the other crew, including those of the Dawn, was infectious, and he couldn't help be feel excited at the prospect of taking a moment to just relax instead of running over the whole of Albion looking for the clues of the mystery they were embroiled in. A break would do them all some good.

Near one of the bonfires that littered the plains, Artorias stood and listened to one band of musicians ply their trade on their instruments. In contrast to a few of the Dawn that he travelled with, he was not a hodge podge of assembled colors and random assortment of clothes. He still wore his blue coat, however to fit the occasion it was buttoned up to the neck and ironed immaculately. His trousers were likewise ironed and creased down the front, with the legs tucked into polished boots. He did however, make off with one of Gwen's scarves, a bright red that contrasted with his primarily blue outfit. His hair was slicked back with an oil of some kind, and his beard was trimmed. He painted a regal picture, though if he was worried about being seen as the King it didn't show it. Why would he be worried? The dwarves, they didn't care about the matters of his Kingdom, and besides, why would the King mingle amongst them of all places? He took comfortable refuge in the audacity.

Dress for the occasion? No. Wear silly colours and dance around the fire? No. Enjoy the festivities, quietly and calmly? Maybe. Actively avoiding Gwendolyn's robing charades, Sven had successfully escaped having her bear down on him with that imploring expression of hers—all wide-eyed monkey, and no care for anyone's discomfort. Hiding around the corners of the ship, and the small mechanical alcoves, wasn't easy for a man of his girth, but manage he did, and only once had he seen Gwendolyn throwing a bright scarf around Lohengrin's neck. Like trying to stuff a grumpy cat into an itchy sweater, he looked no worse for wear. Not that anyone could tell any differently. While everyone prepared themselves in various rooms, particularly Gwendolyn's, he excused himself to check over all of the manifests, paperwork and documents. It was a sensible alibi. And disappearing where he'd be out of their way and clear of all the rainbow-accessories being strewn about was far better than skulking in the corner with flowers and ribbons tied in his hair. What little he had, anyway.

When he could no longer pretend to check over the inventory, and he supposed it was safe to surface, Sven cleaned himself up and stomped up to the main deck. The festivities were already underway, and everyone had already disembarked. Which meant it was safe to subtly merge into whichever crowd of Dwarves he wished to hardly talk with and begin drinking as much beer as he could. Thankfully, Dwarves were as content to be grumbled at, then to have actual conversations. Drunk or not, as long as they had open ears to talk into; rudeness did not exist. Fine with him. He smoothed his hands over the front of his olive tank-top and scratched the back of his neck. There was no need to blend in here, so wearing vibrant colours was little more than an indulgence he didn't want to involve himself in. Besides, he didn't own much of anything besides plain shirts and pants, military clothes, and his dress uniform. None of which were for any sort of celebration. He wore one of his army tank-tops with a pair of black, many-pocketed slacks, tucked neatly into a pair of heavy boots. The shiniest things on his person was his mechanical arms and miscellaneous shiny things that he had no choice but to wear—from meticulous cleaning and polishing, but certainly not for this occasion.

He scouted the area. To his right stood Lohengrin and Theon lounging rigidly at one of the beer-stands, two dark clouds of sourness and general gloom. He supposed he'd fit right in if he joined them. And to his left was the great bonfire, licking in the air like a beacon of light. Dio was dancing like she'd been born to be there, fitted with what she assumed were Gwendolyn's outrageous duds. It did suit her, however. Joining her was Vivian, tankard in hand, and Percy coming down the hill, smiling. Sven sighed and squinted, focusing in on a lone caravan toting tankards of ale. A few Dwarves stood around, cracking jokes and clanking tankards and goblets together. Fine, it would do. Making his way down and around the bonfire and all of its flailing arms and legs, Sven spotted the small stools, decided it'd be best to salvage his pride and stood beside it. Grumbling to the Dwarf, he received his first tankard accompanied by a bearded grin, and guzzled it down while turning towards the fire. Dwarves made damn good beer. For that he was glad.

Lacking any of the preexisting notions of what was appropriately masculine or even just appropriately standoffish, Mordecai had seen no issue with allowing the others to throw various articles of clothing at him and tell him to wear them, nor had it perturbed him to be subjected to several rounds of adjustment and accessorizing thereafter. It seemed to be a source of amusement to the other parties involved, and though perhaps there was a level upon which that should be taken with a bit of a sour taste, if there was, he could not claim to feel its force, nor to be aware of it at all. There were no objections that he was not simply a large mechanical doll, but a being with his own thoughts and preferences, because he did not think that anyone had misunderstood this fact, and furthermore his preferences were in fact few. He found little to object to in the fact that he now wore red and gold and dark purple the way he had once worn mere black and white. That his hair was braided in several places and woven with various strings of beads or bells or thread was similarly not something he at all minded.

The gentle susurrations he produced when walking were swiftly lost in the general noise of celebrations, and he found himself rather unsure what to do with himself first. Drink of course held no appeal to him, nor would it affect anything. Consuming food was only an inconvenience, as he could not digest it, only burn it in his internal systems or else bring it right back up the way it came, which was hardly an appealing thought. So it was really only the activity and the company that he could appreciate, though who would appreciate him as company was still not something he was sure he could answer. Not with more than a list of a few people, anyway.

So, lacking much of an idea of what he should be doing, he selected from among the methods displayed by the others more or less at random, and wound up standing beside the king. He was uncertain if Artorias would be amenable to conversation, but the worst thing that could happen was being told to go elsewhere or mind his own business, and that had happened enough times in the past that he was more or less inured to it by this point. So he spoke. “Is there something you are watching for?”

Kethyrian, surprisingly, had not had to be very strongly persuaded to attend, nor to at least make a small effort at attending in the traditional fashion. While certainly not as ostentatiously-dressed as most of the others, she had forgone her usual neutral palette for similar items in different colors. Her shirt was deep green, her trousers light tan, and her sash kingfisher blue. She had braided her hair around the crown of her head, the stripes ill-concealed but, she was willing to concede, likely irrelevant to anyone but her. She blinked over at the dancing, which she was not especially eager to partake in, then the drinking, which she wouldn’t last very long at. Still… better perhaps than doing nothing, and she chose to join Sven, on rationale that the other group included Lohengrin, and she didn’t like him.

“Whatever he’s having,” she told the tap-tender, gesturing with a thumb in the large man’s general direction. She didn’t exactly have the expertise to differentiate between one drink and another, nor the experience to know her own preferences and ask for them.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kethyrian Tor Character Portrait: Sven Diederich

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He shifted slightly in his seat, in order to face the bonfire and its dancers. Though, Sven's gaze hardly lingered. He might have been keeping tabs on everyone, as he had previously said to Mordecai, but his eyes swept skyward shortly after he made sure that no one was stumbling into the flames or disrespecting their humble hosts. Not that they would do anything of the sort. Maybe, hopefully. If luck was on his side, there might only be a few bruises by the end of the night. Maybe, one or two rumpled prides to deal with. And more than a few headaches. The only person he'd seen drunk before was Gwendolyn. How the rest of the crew acted was anybody's guess.

Scratching the back of his neck, Sven traced the star-symbols in the sky between gulps of the paunchy ale. In moment like this, where nothing was gnawing and snapping at their heels, ready to take a bite out of them should they let their guards down—he remembered good things. Slivers of a memory. Like the names of faraway stars and how some of them had boring names, so some freckle-faced girl had to just change them to something better. And how he thought the names she'd made up were even more stupid than their originals, but he kept that to himself. Why ruin the magic of renaming stars? Glorpi. A smile nearly cracked his lips, but twitched back into a frown when he heard someone else settle down beside him. Kethyrian... ordering the same strong swill he had in his tankard, held to his lips.

He glanced at her over the rim and settled the tankard back down when he thought the last remnants of the memory had come and gone. It was obvious that Gwendolyn hadn't gotten to her. Though, he was still somewhat surprised at her choice of clothes, seeing as she had actually decided to wear something a little different. Suited her, he supposed. After a few moments of silence, Sven glanced at her again before raising his tankard, “It is strongest ale.” It could have passed as a warning. Or a statement. Difficult to tell with his thick accent and impassive tone. Mordecai's inquisitive question prodded its fingers through his mind, reminding him—adults. Cocking his head towards the bonfire, he added, “Not dancing?” For reasons that eluded him, he supposed that she might not be a bad dancer.

The warning, such as it was, came a bit too late for Kethyrian, who’d attempted to take a modest swallow of the stuff and nearly gagged in the process. She forced it down, however—it was amazing what the overriding desire not to look like an idiot could do for one’s constitution—grimacing and smacking her lips in an effort to rid herself of the lingering aftertaste, something thick and rancid. “Ugh. Why do people do this?” She’d never really understood the point of drinking. She supposed those who did it because they desired to forget something had a fair enough motivation, but others seemed to find it pleasant, and that was absolutely incomprehensible to her.

The question about dancing actually got a snort out of her. “Not on your life,” she replied, though she did cast a glance over her shoulder at those who were, frowning slightly before she pushed a breath out of her nose and shook her head, returning to her view of the bar in front of her. It wasn’t that she was ungraceful—furthest thing from it—but she could not tolerate the idea of making a fool out of herself like that. It was part of what kept her from revelry generally. Well, that and she had a hard time finding anything to be sufficiently happy about. Sometimes she envied people, who could forget worries as great or greater than hers, even just for a while. Other times, she mostly just found them stupid.

“And you? I am surprised the captain has not dragged you out already. Or do you prefer astronomy?” She hadn’t missed the way he seemed so intent on the sky. She supposed he must know something about stars, if he could navigate a ship, but without a looking glass of some kind, there wasn’t much to do here but just look at them. She’d never admit it, but she did kind of enjoy the sight—she’d never seen the sky before her flight from the underground.

Never turn down Dwarvish ale, for it might be your last. Gobble it down while you may. Many of their proverbs and euphemisms involved tankards, meaty fists, and their beloved kegs. Maybe, Dwarvish ale was made so strong because they wanted the bitter aftertaste to last them for days, in case their return home was delayed. It stung going down, and stung worse coming up. There were few and far in-between who could stomach the taste, and even if they didn't mind it, they usually ended up pantless and confused when they awoke. Was it worth it? Probably not. He answered her question with a shrug—he didn't know the answer, but figured most people's heavy burdens slipped right off with enough of this ale. Good enough reason.

Something reminiscent of smile shadowed his lips. An amused scowl, at least. He glanced back towards the bonfire, and its dancers. Spinning madly in circles, separating and trading partners while clunking tankards in a strikingly graceful manner. Even he could tolerate the swirl of colours, brightened by the flames. Not enough to shame himself by joining them, but enough to admit that this little stay-over might've just been something they all needed. Enough time to breathe before they threw themselves into another jungle. Or maze or ruins, with some strange arrangement of pedestals waiting to be stepped on. Sitting here, drinking and not-quite-laughing but not threatening scumbags or swinging their guns around, felt as surreal as their mission. He gave Kethyrian a side-long look, wondering if she felt the same. A free-floating mess of misdirection. Going somewhere with no real reason to.

And you? Sven nearly spat the mouthful of ale out. And him? Dance? A bear could dance better, he was sure. His forehead slowly puckered again. Eyebrows drawing down like heavy curtains, shutting out his thoughts. The muscles in his face momentarily tightened, then loosed as he stationed the tankard back to his lips. He balked at answering—he didn't like talking about himself, let alone the ghosts that clung to his shoulders, insistently weighing him down. He had his pain squared away, neat and nice. Hardly anyone pegged him for an intellectual. He was all big clubs and knuckles dragging on the ground, working on gut instinct and a heap of experience. Sometimes, this worked in his favour. Instead of peeling away any unneeded layers, he bobbed his head like a good soldier. Ja, two left feet, as they say.” Sven clanked the empty tankard back across the wooden slats over his shoulder and blinked up at the sky. Finally, he pointed a meaty finger towards their left, tracing a blob-shaped constellation.

“Glorpi. Right there.”

It was a bit of a disappointment, as far as answers went. Not that there was anything specifically wrong with it, only that she’d maybe been expecting some sort of bizarre anecdote. Anyone who associated with these people—specifically their nominal captain—seemed to have no few of those to share. Well, it probably didn’t make any difference to her anyway. If that was all he wanted to say, who the hell was she to demand otherwise? She was nobody. Nobody at all.

Tipping her head back to get a better ide of what he was supposed to be pointing at, she narrowed her eyes at the pinpricks of illumination, or at least what she could make out past the glare of distant fires. Light pollution tended to be especially bad when one was already photosensitive. Kethyrian was pretty sure she didn’t see anything—or rather, no gestalt assembly overlaying the random dots. They didn’t look like anything to her, and honestly, she wasn’t even sure which ones were supposed to be encompassed by the name. Glorpi, really? It sounded like nonsense to her.

“Is it supposed to resemble something? Aren’t there fairy-stories associated with constellations?” She thought she might have heard something like that, once in passing, but it wasn’t like she’d ever studied star-charts in his home or anything. What academic pursuits she’d had were all rooted deeply in the ground, because even such highminded things as formal education were primarily prudential where she was from. Most Favisae would never see the sky, so why bother learning about it? It was no navigational aid in a cave, and they were hardly the sorts of people who had children’s tales to soothe their fears at night. They were not a people of heroes and villains, nor of vagary and prophecy. Her claws tapped a light rhythm on the side of her tankard, unconsciously in time with the nearest drumbeat.

Sven levelled a shrug—he was a boring man, after all. Sequential sappy stories were best left for those who liked to complain. His personal story was nonexistent as far as he was concerned, and Gwendolyn's eccentric affairs were her own to disperse or share, though he always preferred being left of out of one and the other. Sharing anything else would have taken a fair bit of that bitter ale, and he planned to cut himself off to prevent any dry, dissatisfying heart-to-hearts.

He dropped his hand back to his side and reached over his burly shoulder, retrieving the now-full tankard. Drop your empty glass, goblet or tankard anywhere, and you'd find it full to the brim the next time you picked it up. Dwarves were thoughtful that way. He nodded appreciatively, tipping his head back to take an equally appreciative gulp. It stung going down, but he supposed that was a part of its appeal. Maybe, it reflected how people were drinking their memories away. Starting out dry and bitter, and ending as something you hardly minded. His eyes rolled back skyward, where he'd pointed out Glorpi. The frumpy constellation that really meant nothing at all. Reminiscent of a child pointing a cloud and saying it looked like a fat-cheeked fish, a hand, a monster, or an alien race named Glorpi.

“None for this one,” Sven replied with a frown, tilting his head to better analyze the misshaped alignment. No—no amount of head turning could transform anything meaningful out of that arrangement. It did look like a child's drawing. He chuffed. Something that could have passed for a laugh. “Looks like monster, ja? Maybe, desert troll.” He wished he could remember all of those made up names, but the 326th Battalion had no need for inanity. They utilized constellations and stars to guide their movements and directions. Strategies relied on timing. So, pass times such as looking at the sky, meant they would be beating down doors and mowing their enemies down. It meant death. But, not to her. He took another deep slug of ale, and looked at Kethyrian, side-long. “Not remembering any stories. Not good ones. But, stars, anyone can be naming them.”

“If you say so,” Kethyrian replied. She knew nothing about it anyway, so there was little to do but trust what he said. Well, even if she didn’t, it probably wouldn’t make a difference. But she did, because he didn’t really seem like the person who would lie for the hell of it, and there was little convenience to be had from misleading a favisae about a constellation.

She contemplated the tankard in front of her, ultimately deciding against attempting to see of the second mouthful was any more palatable than the first. The answer was going to be no—bitterness was bitterness, and there was no making it any better. You could get used to it, but she had no desire to do that here. She’d done it enough in another sense to last her a lifetime and then some. A few minutes later, she sighed and shook her head. She was almost certain she’d heard a familiar voice over the din.

“I’d best find Vivian, else half the setup will be destroyed come morning.” Anything else she might have said—a wry enjoy yourself or something of that nature—seemed rather to miss the point here, so in the end she said nothing further at all, merely cutting a glance at him from the corner of her eye and nodding slightly before she departed to do as she’d said she would.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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From where they were aboard the Elysium the colossus had the vague form of a mountain, but from a bird's eye view appeared to be more mammalian than initially thought. A condor flew above the creature or construct, or whatever it was. Percy intended to figure it out, after they defeated it. But for now, he was locked in communication with the bird above, seeing what it saw through its eyes. it proved to be much easier than he remembered, and had been ever since the stint in the forests surrounding the Genesis wellspring. It was another thing he wished to research, but never found the time. Instead he took the gift as is, and used it wisely.

The colossus was a quadruped of some kind with a tail. The closest animal Percy could think of was a turtle, but much larger and much more dangerous. It was composed entirely of earth and stone nearly a quarter mile in size, and trees grew freely from its back. Percy urged the condor to dive in closer to get a better sense of where the sigil might be, or if he could feel any other animals that may be able to help. They started near the head, or what he construed as the head of the creature, before switching consciousness to another animal. Another bird, a bluebird. Though not able to fly as high as the condor, it was quicker and easier to search with.

Percy urged the little bird to fly up and down the creature's head searching for the sigil. Eventually, he felt something. The trees were too thick to get a closer look, but Percy sensed something filled with magic near where its neck would be. He didn't want to waste time searching manually by himself, so he cracked an eyelid and spoke to the first person he saw.

"Vivian, tell your brother to look around its neck."

"Say please," was her response.

"What? Say-- Please? Please hurry!" He demanded. Satisfied with it, Vivi turned and darted toward the door that led to Theon. It didn't take long for her to find him, and when she did, she relayed the information she was politely asked to pass along. "Deerboy said look around its neck."

"Fuck off, I'm trying to concentrate!" Theon snapped, eyes flaring angrily towards his sister. He then rolled them back at himself. "And thanks."

When she was gone, he closed his eyes once more, sitting in a crosslegged position on his bed and sinking into it, back placed up against the wall. He could feel the ship moving around him as it was put through its maneuvers, and his farsight didn't immediately come to him. With the door closed and the sounds of shouted commands and roars of men and monsters all muted, however, it was secure enough for Theon to force himself from his body, and up into the sky.

He nearly lost his focus as soon as he could see all that was around him, drifting up and away from the ship. Resisting the urge to be yanked back into his own head, Theon watched the Elysium get closer to the massive quadruped of earth and stone they were headed for, watched as a dragon, small in comparison to the colossus, flew around it and struggled to keep it busy. That didn't look like a fun task. The dragon revelation would obviously need addressing, but that could wait until they knew they had survived this.

Around its neck, deerboy had said. Theon floated himself down and closer to the thing, until it almost just looked like he was staring at the ground of a normal place, not a moving hill-beast. He headed for the direction it seemed to be facing, judging by the way it was moving and reacting to the dragon. There was an outcropping of rock near the base of the neck, on the thing's back, that caught his eye. It couldn't be called a cave, but it had to be important, as it was sealed off with a sort of translucent barrier of magic. He tried to pass through, to see or at least sense what was on the other side, but it blocked him entirely. If that wasn't indication of protecting something important, he didn't know what was.

Pulling his consciousness back into himself, Theon's eyes shot open, and he returned to his feet, heading back outside and up on deck, making sure to keep a hold on something at all times. "The sigil has to be on the back of its neck, but it's protected by rock and some kind of magical barrier. We can try to blast it from here, but it's a tiny target, and well protected." Still, he didn't know much of anything about airship-based combat, so maybe there was some way to bring it down from afar. His gut told him he wouldn't be so lucky.

Vivi reared back and unleashed the hardest punch her tiny frame could manage squarely into Theon's shoulder after he returned to the deck. She pointed a finger in his face and her eyebrows were drawn dangerously close together. "You tell me to fuck off again, and I'm throwing you the fuck off this boat, understand?" He was family, yes, but that was the only reason she gave him a warning first.

Theon waved a hand dismissively. "Yeah, yeah, whatever." Vivi struck his shoulder again, but left it at that.

Artorias shook his head, ignoring the outburst and mulled over the information brought to him. He quickly ran through many plans through his head, trying to think of some way to destroy the barrier and the sigil without having to set foot on the creature, but no matter how hard he tried he only saw one certain way to destroy it. He grunted as he shook his head, he didn't like the plan. "Unless anyone has a better idea, we're going to have to do this by hand." Had the Elysium been a dreadnought or a destroyer, then a volley from the cannons would do the job, no matter how protected the sigil was. But the ship was neither, and they had to make do with what they had.

Mordecai could tell the direction this was going in, and while he was not assured of its soundness, he knew there were ways in which he could contribute, and fortunately enough, fear was not in his limited emotional repertoire. At least not at present. “This unit shall inform the captain.” Gwen would need to know what they planned and where to go if she was to get them in close enough for a landing party.

When the automaton headed belowdecks, Kethyrian sighed, though arguably, the sound was inaudible over the general chaos. Well, chaos may have been too strong a word—the crew was remarkably efficient, even in circumstances like this, and the rest of the guild seems to be taking this about as well in stride as one could be expected to. “Not to… dampen the enthusiasm here,” she said, shooting a look at Vivian. “But even if she can fly us in relatively close, it’s not like we can just land on this thing, right? How are we supposed to get down? Unless someone else is secretly a dragon, the jump would probably kill us.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that bit.” The voice was Gwen’s but it was tiny, a sure indication that she was using the ship’s communication systems to amplify her voice. How she’d heard Kethyrian in the first place was anyone’s guess. In the cockpit, she glanced up at Mordecai and grinned, before depressing the button to broadcast her voice again.

“I hope you guys like climbing ropes, because I think the best thing to do is dangle them over the side, and get you in close enough that it’s safe to let go.” The deckhands set about gathering the requisite lengths of rope right away, securing the ends tightly to solid pieces of the ship’s architecture.

“Of course, I can’t go with you if I’m doing that, so… try not to die without me, okay? I’ll distract the grumpy one with a little cannon-fire, but the rest is you guys.” With haste, the ropes were dropped over the side of the ship, tested for their strength, and then the three crewmen doing the testing nodded over at Artorias, perhaps simply because he seemed to be the one with the plan.

“They’re ready to go.” That was the one Gwen called Sprocket, though if he had a different name, nobody else ever used it. There were five ropes in total, each thick enough to rein in a sail, so load-bearing wasn’t the issue. Small mercies, perhaps, considering all the other ways in which what was suggested could go wrong.

"We'll try," Artorias answered Gwen's voice. He slipped the sling on the rifle that he snatched from Vivi onto his shoulder and tightened the belt that crossed his chest that held the great green sword on his back. With no more hesitation, he marched forward and took a hold of one of the ropes and turned back to the rest of the Dawn assembled on the deck. "Let's make this quick, I don't want to be on that thing's back any longer than necessary. When we get down there, we follow him," he said, pointing a finger at Theon, "To wherever he saw the sigil. We break the barrier, then we kill the thing and leave." Artorias's tone left little room for questioning, and immediately after he planted a foot on the railing.

"Wait," A Percy called, emerging from the lower decks. "You'll want this," He said, passing what was in his hand to Artorias. It was a leather bound bag, and pulling its lip back revealed it to be filled with gunpowder. "I'll stay up here and support you with the animals still on the creature's back. So try not to shoot any of them," The last part was accompanied by a particularly nasty look toward Theon. He wished the rest of the Dawn good luck and also made his way to Gwen's cockpit.

"Well? What are we waiting for?! Let's Gooooo!" Vivi's said, her voice trailing behind her as she repelled quickly from the rope beside Artorias. He watched her, or where she once stood for a beat, before turning to Theon.

"Your sister's going to get herself killed." It was all he said before mounting the railing and following behind.

"Only if we're lucky, your Highness," Theon mumbled largely to himself as the king departed. Apparently he would need to be guiding them to this barrier. Theon hadn't thought about that. Grimacing, he took hold of the rope and followed suit.

There seemed to be climbing involved. But of course. Had this been one of those many things that Kethyrian was no better at than anyone else, she could perhaps have done the rational thing and remained aboard, as it seemed at least some of them were choosing to do, and the captain would have to. As fate would have it however—and damn her again, the fickle bitch—climbing and magic were two of the things she was actually good at, and so it seemed wrong to choose to remain in relative safety. It would seem she was now officially in the recklessly stupid half of the crew. Her father would be so disappointed, but unsurprised.

A tiny, almost imperceptible, smile quirked her lip bitterly for just a moment, and then she took hold of one of the ropes and swung herself over the edge with familiar ease. Beside her, Mordecai did the same. She doubted he even knew what fear really was, let alone felt it, and the tactical benefit of his presence was hard to overestimate. “Is this us, then?” she asked, as if to inquire if any of the others would be joining them. “Tell the captain to bring us in, I suppose.” If she couldn’t hear them already, through that communication system of hers.

Sven did little else but nod his burly head--a sound plan, even though the likelihood of something going terribly wrong was just as likely to happen, far more likely than pulling this off successfully. No other plans were offered, so it was the only plan. Scaling down the ship with only a rope to keep himself from splattering on the ground below sounded just as pleasant as jumping off without one. He fiddled with the rope, suspicion wheedling his eyes into slits, even as the others retreated over the sturdy railing.

He, too, pulled himself up on the railing as gracefully as possible, which meant with none at all, and leaned backwards, allowing his weight to carry him down, though his hands gripped like two meaty vices, white-knuckled. The expression on his face only betrayed a flicker of panic by means of a deepening frown and widening eyes, eyebrows flagged as he descended along with the others, hanging freely until Kethyrian called up that they were ready to be brought closer, in order to jump down without breaking their legs. His shoulders and arms ached with the effort of holding himself aloft, tensed as they were.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mordecai Character Portrait: Kethyrian Tor Character Portrait: Sven Diederich Character Portrait: Theon Zeona Character Portrait: Vivian Zeona Character Portrait: Artorias Pendragon

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Once she had confirmation that everyone being dropped was already hanging from the side of the ship, Gwen flipped on the vessel-wide communications. “All right, duckies. If you’re not interested in getting dropped on our little beastie here, I highly recommend tying yourselves to something sturdy, or getting your lovely selves below the deck. You’ve got about ten seconds before we start tipping to the side. Go!” She liked to imagine that these words produced pretty immediate and comical reactions in the people around her, though she couldn’t see for sure to find out.

In any case, she turned to Percy, Gorlak having already finished strapping himself into the copilot’s chair. “You too, Spikey. This is going to be a bumpy ride, and that’s if it doesn’t kill us.” Fortunately, there were a couple other chairs in the cockpit area, most of them in front of consoles that were darkened with disuse. She did have enough people in the crew with flight or engineering knowledge to take advantage of all the Elysium’s navigation, communication, and weapons features, but fortunately, she could operate any of them herself in a pinch.

As promised, the ship began to turn, as she sought to drop them as close to the location the others had been talking about as possible. The approach was not easy—the air currents were quite turbulent due to the great sweeps Lohengrin’s wings had to make to keep him airborne as he fought with the giant, whose own every movement was naturally a momentous occasion for miles around. Likely any nearby settlements could detect at least a fine tremor in the ground whenever it stomped particularly hard.

The biggest challenge to the approach, however, was that a good portion of the area included trees, meaning that she would have to drop the last few hundred feet necessary for a safe jump quickly and mostly blindly, so as not to crash the ship or slam any of the hanging guild members into a faceload of branches. She also needed to do it soon; they couldn’t hang there indefinitely. That in mind, Gwen drew in a deep breath, blocking out everything happening inside the cockpit and focusing on what was happening outside her front window. She got them in low enough that the belly of the ship almost brushed the treetops, keeping her speed up until she cleared the treeline.

Smoothly as she could, she began to tip the ship sideways, getting those dangling by the rope as far down relative to the Elysium as possible, their ropes coming away from the side of the vessel. She also killed her speed with a careful application of the handbrake, feeling the engine hum beneath her chair. They descended as far as she could get them, the ship tilting precariously as its underside flared up, just the right side of overbalanced. All told, the landing party had about ten seconds to make what amounted to a twenty-foot jump onto uneven terrain, but it was the best she could do without a crash.

“Froggy, the comms.” Gorlak smashed the button down with his fist. “Now or never!” She shouted it, so as to hopefully be audible over the rushing of wind and the ambient thrum of her ship.

It was enough to call breakfast back up, if one were of weaker stomach. Still, even Kethyrian had to admit that the piloting itself was expert, surely better than what most anyone else would have been capable of. She’d certainly never heard of the like before. The favisae waited until the conditions seemed optimal, gauging her jump as well as she could, letting go just as Gwen’s voice reached them over the communications. There were several seconds of freefall in which to orient herself properly for the landing, but she’d jumped from high enough up that she decided it would be best to roll into the sudden stop she was about to experience.

The subsequent impact was uncomfortable, to be sure, but she’d executed with the learned grace she had, and was back on her feet at the end of the roll, a tad sore in the shoulder but otherwise completely unharmed. She made sure to get the hell out of the way immediately afterwards, however, because there was no telling exactly where the others would land, and “on top of her” was not a good scenario for someone as slight as she was.

Mordecai, however, held off on his jump, as he was capable of completing it from greater altitude and on shorter notice than any of the others. He waited to see if any of them missed heir likely windows, in case he needed to take a passenger on his own leap.

Bile swirled in his throat as soon as the ship swung closer to the trees, and Sven's hands gripped all the tighter. Never had he thought that his mild discomfort of heights would bother him like this, but here he was, hanging from the ship like a piece of bait strung up by a string and growing ever so closer to the trees. He swore he could feel his feet brush up against the pines, threatening to dip him low enough to rattle his bones with their branches, but it never came. The wind whipped at his scarred face, which was presently twisted in a scowl. Closer, now. Counting in his head, and trying desperately to breathe out of his nose, instead of gasping fish-like gulps of air, he managed the later but lost count as soon as the ship tipped slightly more.

One, two, three—halfway through his count and his meaty hands twitched open, instinct flattening his shamble-of-a-plan to remain calm and collected through this ordeal. He hardly heard Gwendolyn calling out to them other the comms, because the wind was whistling loudly through his ears, and his heart was hammering just as loudly as he fell. Jumping would have required grace and dignity and careful planning. A scream itched at his lips, but the rush of falling snatched that pleasure away from him and his arms swung and flailed for something to grab onto. Instead, Sven crashed on his arse and rolled in a mess of jolting metal limbs, ending up flat on his back with the breath knocked out of him. He finally sucked in air; though it sounded like a wheezy gasp, hungry lungs feeling as if they were inflating for the first time ever. Unsightly, he was sure. He'd probably broken his ass in the process, because his entire back ached.

Thankfully, his arms and legs were no longer weak, fleshy things. Somehow, he even managed to stumble back to his feet and move forward. Any direction besides just laying there, because being still would get him killed faster than that horrible jump. Mobility was key. His jumbled, frantic thoughts puzzled themselves back together as he joined the others, though he found himself still panting. Like an old man who'd climbed too many stairs. Or someone who was just punched in the gut. He would have laughed if the thought of doing so wasn't so painful. Old. He was getting too old for this.

Theon felt a warm wetness running down his left leg, something that did not come as a surprise to him.

This fell in with his definition of things that were truly insane, and he found that his eyes were kept tightly shut, a steady stream of curse words making it most of the way from his mind to his mouth before they were garbled into an incoherent stream of terrified mumbles. He would readily admit that this was not the sort of thing he was trained or experienced in. Fighting a horde of orcs when faced with dying of thirst in the desert? Routine. Anything involving flying while outside the confines of the airship? Not okay.

He might have just hung on forever had he not heard Gwen's voice blaring over the comms, yelling at them to let go, to land on the colossus. Theon was more inclined to go with the never than the now, but he was apparently this group's guide, and their only real shot at getting to where they needed to go to bring the rock monster down. Blindly, he let go, still not opening his eyes, convinced that he would rather not see his death coming. There were some things not worth knowing ahead of time.

He broke clean through the first tree branch he encountered; the second one was tougher, slamming into his ribcage, though his chestplate kept him intact. Still, his insides bounced around violently, and most of his existence was pain until he landed hard on his back, thankful that his head and legs at least seemed alright. He needed those. Somehow alive, he blinked in surprise as the ship headed away from them. Now they were on the colossus... but what if they needed to get off in a hurry? He hoped it wouldn't come up.

There was a high pitched squeal following Vivi's jump, and not of the terrified kind. Rather predictably for the girl, it was the excitement and adrenaline running through her lungs. Raucous laughter punctuated her freefall as all sense of weight left her. It was a pity then that the weightlessness lasted only a moment when it returned, this time in force. She remembered to tuck and roll, or at least attempted to, but the ground was awkward and her landing even more so. Instead of coming to a stop on her after a somersault, or two if she was feeling especially flash, she rolled more four additional times down the incline she'd landed on. And neither did she come to a stop on her feet, but rather her face, her heel far too close to the back of her head to be comfortable.

When everything stopped spinning, Vivi rolled over to her back and tried to catch the breath she'd lost. She'd found it harder than it was supposed to be, not from any internal injuries from what she could guess, but because she was laughing too damn hard. "Haha! That was great! Why don't we do more landings like that?!" she cried, flailing about with her hands and legs. Calming down just enough to get back to an upright position, Vivi brushed the dust off of her face and hair and looked around before shrugging. "What's next?" she asked excitedly.

Artorias was fortunate to not have a landing like hers, hitting a stretch of relatively even terrain. He hit feet first and tucked into a roll, coming up into his knees with the rifle already in his hand and scanning the vicinity for anything hostile. Satisfied that nothing was after them that moment, he lowered his weapon and stood up, though the rifle never left his hands. He moved to collect the rest of the Dawn, taking a moment to reply to Vivi as he passed, "To the sigil so we can get off this beast."

Though his eyes did drift down to the wet spot on Theon's trousers, Artorias said nothing of it and went straight to business. "Where do we go from here? The quicker the better," he said, eager to be off the thing's back.

If the question was one about the direction of the head and neck of the creature, the answer was relatively obvious. If they hadn’t gotten the shape of it coming in, they could easily be guided by sound—specifically, thuds and scraping fierce enough to cause small tremors in the ground under their feet, where something was impacting the colossus with great force, and the sudden, rasping shriek of a dragon in immense pain. The ground was not exactly steady underfoot, but there was a certain smoothness and roll to it, not unlike being on the airship, albeit in somewhat-turbulent weather.

Mordecai was last to land, and still least-disrupted by it. The benefits of a superhuman physiology, perhaps. He did not answer Artorias’s query himself, believing that the resident seer would perhaps be more suited to such solutions. That is, if he were able to get himself off the ground. He’d had a rather unenviable landing. The automaton felt something almost like guilt, thinking that perhaps he should have calculated his own jump to interfere with what had surely been a rather painful descent to the back of the colossus.

Fortunately, there was a healer on hand, and though she didn’t look especially happy to be doing it, she did pick her way over the underbrush near Theon to crouch next to where he’d landed, wrinkling her nose slightly at the smell, but choosing not to mention it. Fear was rather logical in such a situation as this one, insofar as it ever could be, anyway. Crouching near his left shoulder, she reached out and touched it with a pair of fingers, skin-to-skin contact rather simple with someone who wore no sleeves. She felt no life as such from the colossus, which she took to be a boon. Something that big would have been terribly distracting.

Able to diagnose the injuries Theon had sustained rather quickly, she set about putting them to rights, or as close as they could get for now. Completeness had to be balanced with time, and it was a full minute later that she stood again. She offered no hand up, but then he wouldn’t need one, now. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think we’ll be wanting to head towards the lizard.”

Sven shirked away from any healing hands, and instead, chose to stand beside Artorias. He, too, noted that Theon had pissed himself—and under different circumstances, he might have jostled him for it; in that muted, dark humour of his. This time, he couldn't blame him. Shear fear had kept anything from coming out or up. His stomach still swirled unpleasantly, and he swore the terrain felt as if they were standing on a giant snake. The sooner they got off this damned thing... he shook his head and swung it towards the great flapping beast diving and shrilling as it was. Towards the dragon, then. As they began moving in any direction, relief flooded through him. Even if the idea of dropping dramatically to their deaths, should the beast move the wrong way, was a horrible way to die. Give him a weapon in hand and throw him in a good fight; and should he die that way, so be it. Magic barriers and giant monsters be damned. He was out of his element.

Theon pushed himself to his feet when he was able, annoyed at being the one to keep the group held up when they were on a giant rock monster's back of all places. Then again, it wasn't too surprising. He wasn't an augmented soldier, agile wall crawler, robotic android, suicidal madwoman, or the king of Albion. He had no qualifications for being able to do this sort of thing well at all. The wall crawler was right, however, that they needed to go in the direction of the dragon.

Another thing Theon was not.

"Just most of the way. Follow me." He moved out at a quick jog, wary of the fact that they were on something still moving, and that the floor could drop out from under them at any time, if the thing moved too quickly in the wrong direction. Theon was at least thankful that it felt like he was on the ground, even if he was in fact still quite high in the air. Perception was everything, after all.

The barrier itself, when they arrived at the rock outcropping with the magical shield, was taller than they were, and Theon felt no immediate desire to try simply walking through it. He glanced to Artorias and Kethyrian. "Think we can blow it up? Or get through with magic somehow?" His own brand of magic had been blocked, but his brand wasn't exactly the deadly type in the straightforward sense. He had no idea how to go about removing this thing.

Kethyrian approached the barrier, observing that it seemed to be translucent, and highly reflective of the light. Nevertheless, it was certainly magical in nature, and as such, she should be able to dispel it, which was likely to be easier than breaking it would be. Dispelling was a bit like unweaving a spell, and that could only be done by someone with proficiency in the right school of magic. Since there was no one else around here who knew anything about barriers, it seemed to fall to her.

Setting her jaw, she moved up to the barrier, narrowing her eyes to peer through. A faint luminescence was visible, what she took to be this sigil or whatever it was they were looking for. Touching the barrier with a hand, she could tell that it was stronger than any she could create, and dispelling it was likely to be quite draining on her reserves. “If I pass out, try not to just leave me here, maybe,” she suggested. Shaking her head, and wondering exactly when it was she had started doing things without more assurance than that, she closed her eyes, to better feel the magic involved.

When she got a better sense of it, she had to steady herself to stop from staggering backwards. It was a barrier, to be sure, but it wasn’t quite like anything she’d ever encountered or studied. All magic felt a little different depending on the caster, if one had a chance to study it closely, but not this different. This was at once familiar and alien, known and enigmatic. She almost feared what would happen if she interfered with it too much, because it reminded her, just a bit, of the magic they had encountered nearby the Genesis wellspring. It had that same inexorability, the same profoundness, to it. Maybe that meant they had been cast by the same person—or the same type of person.

Whatever the case, it wasn’t like she really had a choice. She had to try and push through it, or they would be here all day trying to break it the more mundane way. The ground lurched beneath her as the titan underfoot made some especially-aggressive maneuver, perhaps, and she had to stagger to keep her feet underneath her. It was an effective reminder of the time crunch on their hands, anyway, and she set to work as soon as she was steady again, pushing her own magic into the barrier in an attempt to break down the spellwork that held it in place.

The effort was not a minor one, and by the time she stumbled backwards, Kethyrian was bleeding from the nose, a tremor in her limbs causing her to twitch somewhat erratically. There was no explosion, just a silent vanishing of what had once been there, leaving the overhang open to their entrance. The favisae swayed on her feet, but she did not fall over. “Let’s figure out how to destroy that sigil and get the fuck off this thing.”

Vivi had been near Kethy as she worked her magic, wearing what most would notice as a expression more serious than her usual fare. She watched Kethy unwork the magic barrier intently, and when the woman began to sway took an instinctive step forward before the woman caught herself. She still stood nearby just in case her legs did give way from underneath her, and upon seeing the blood dripping from her nose, untied a handkerchief she had around her arm, offering it to the woman. "Agreed," Vivi stated.

The sigil was a complex thing, seemingly inscribed into the ground in pure light, of the size Lohengrin had promised, perhaps seven feet in diameter. There was a palpable sense of power to it, almost as if it were alive in some way. The light was not even in the shining, rather seeming to pulse, slowly, as though in time with some deep, sonorous drum, or perhaps something more vital still.

Theon was among the first to make his way inside, curious to see what this thing's magic had prevented him from laying eyes on with his farsight. He stepped cautiously around the sigil, the thing seemingly made of pure pulsing light, and it wasn't a small thing, either. It looked like magic, so could it be destroyed with magic? The wall-crawler looked drained from taking down the barrier, and he had no clue how to do that, if it was even possible for him. But when he looked closer...

Something stood out to him, even though it only became obvious once he leaned in to examine closer. He could see... or maybe sense, fissures, cracks in the light, the magic. "You can see those, right?" He asked, looking to the Favisae. Kethyrian blinked to focus her eyes, then nodded. "In some of these spots, the magic is weaker. We can probably break it if we hit a specific point with a blast. Right... here." He pointed to the most deteriorated spot he could find, pinpointing it briefly with his finger before a wave of tiredness suddenly washed over him, and he collapsed onto his back, head lolling to the side.

Theon found himself back on the Elysium, forced into the cockpit. It seemed clear enough that the ship had been devastated by something and was maneuvering at uncomfortable speeds that would normally have made the scryer fall over, but Theon was able to stand just fine. That wasn't what he was concerned about, though. It was a horribly awkward time to be having a premonition, and it seemed to be showing him something just moments in the future. He could still see the colossus, and last he remembered seeing the ship, it hadn't looked this bad.

Thick, black smoke billowed everywhere in the control room, multiple alarms blaring, sounds which had no meaning to Theon other than death and other shit that wasn't good. From where he stood, he could make out Gwen in the pilot's chair, shoving something at the goblin.

“Dammit, I said go! You should have been out of here yesterday!” The look on her face was far from composed, and absent the smiles she wore most of the time. If anything was confirmation that the situation was dire, it was the fact that she wasn’t even trying to pretend that it wasn’t. For his part, the crew’s goblin looked positively terrified, though it wasn’t quite on his own behalf.

“Captain, I’m not leaving without you! That sound means the main engine’s gone; there’s no saving her! You have to abandon ship!” He pushed back the satchel-like object, refusing to accept it from her.

“You think I don’t know that?!” An edge of panic was beginning to creep into her tone. “But if I don’t keep her in the air as long as I can, there might not be enough time for everyone to jump. Especially not if you keep arguing with me. Go, Gorlak, and that’s an order!” She shoved the bag against his chest and held it there until he wrapped his arms around it reluctantly.

“Gwen…” Gorlak looked like he wanted to argue, but she shook her head emphatically.

“Don’t say it. Don’t say any of it. This isn’t goodbye.” A small pause, during which Gwen appeared to gather herself. “But if it is… tell them I’m sorry, would you?” Without giving him time to answer, she turned back to the controls, taking a firm grip on one of the Elysium’s many levers.

“It’s been an honor, Captain.” Face drawn, Gorlak slid his arms through straps on the bag, and ran for the top deck.

Theon was inclined to stay. For one, it didn't matter where he was on the ship in his vision-state, it wouldn't affect his chances at survival, nor would it affect when he was able to wake up and get on with killing the colossus. He didn't quite understand why he was being shown any of this. His other premonitions had always led him to something important, led the entire group to where they needed to go next. They'd never just shown him something about to happen. Not like this.

And this wasn't what he wanted to see. Not just because this ship had become his life, in the sorry state that it was.

He wasn't allowed to stay, though. He could feel it pull sharply on him for a moment, before the smoke consumed everything around him, making Gwen vanish from sight as it swirled in a tornado for a moment with him at the center of it all. It cleared away as quickly as it came, leaving Theon standing on the deck, where the crew was jumping ship with chutes. A massive hole in the side of the ship spewed more black smoke into the air. Theon walked to the railing, took hold of it, and watched without feeling as the ground came up much too fast.


He jolted awake with a shout, thrashing violently for a moment. His eyes were wild, and he scrambled to his feet, trying to get a sense of what they'd done while he was out. "We need to go. Now! Let's blow it and go!" Why now, of all times, was he suddenly made capable of knowing what the future would hold? Now, when it was a terrible thing.

A meaty hand closed around Theon's shoulder as soon as he jolted awake, panicked and shaky from whatever it was that happened. From what he'd seen, he supposed—visions, or whatever, Sven had only witnessed Theon's fainting spells a couple times before, but they had some significance. Magic made no sense to him. He was a whirring mass of mechanical limbs and organs, relying only on brute strength, experience and weapons that could be wielded by anyone.

Breaking down barriers, and seeing things no one else could, went beyond his understanding; let alone transforming into a massive flying-snake. Dragon. He didn't say anything. Only stared at him, with as much concern as a stern-faced grouch could muster. At least, that's what it might have been. His hand retreated and he turned back towards Artorias, eyebrows flagged.

"That's the plan boy," Artorias said sternly, shooting an icy stare at Theon, "Now keep quiet or we won't have to worry about going anywhere." The man was on his knees, the sack of gunpowder Percy had provided them in his hands. It was a crude implement, literally nothing but a leather bag filled to the brim with enough gunpowder and explosives to easily take out the sigil and-- if they weren't careful-- them both. During the time Theon spent in his visions or whatever he saw, Artrorias had made a hole big enough to hold the sack and was going about making sure that it was able to cause as much destruction as possible.

He took the fuse that Percy had also supplied in the bag and extended it as much as he could to give them the most time to get a safe distance away. "When it lights, run. We do not want to be here when it blows. And hope we're alright at the end of this," he said seriously. "Now, does anyone have a light?"

There was a moment of quiet before some raised their hand. Vivi moved forward and took his hands and drew her pistol. Holding the fuse in front of one of the barrels, she began to count down. Alright... Three. Two. One. Run like hell!" A loud bang followed, and the fuse was lit, Vivi immediately sprinting away from the gradually dwindling thing-- grabbing Kethy's arm as she passed.

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 Character Portrait: Artorias Pendragon

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It was not more than ten seconds after they’d started running that the gunpowder exploded, and in this case, the overhang that had made the sigil so hard to see was to their advantage—it held enough to prevent them from being pelted by any shrapnel, at least, though a wave of heat still washed over their backs. It was impossible to see if the sigil had been destroyed, but it was not a terrible guess, considering what happened next.

It began with a rumbling, different in character from the coordinated movement that had been slowly lurching them around before. This was something much less stable, and it grew in magnitude, the ground beneath them shaking. Bits and pieces of the colossus started to break off, tumbling the great distance to the ground below the creature. The rumbling grew to a roar, and the creature started to thrash with what coherence it had left, seemingly at random. The long, tail-like appendage whipped through the air, dangerously close to the Elysium—but the ship’s pilot was evidently taking care to stay out of range, and the arc of the great stone limb seemed like it would come up short of actually hitting anything.

Until it detached from the creature, effectively flinging a large string of boulders right for the ship.

If any of those on the colossus had the ability and inclination to look up for even a moment, it would be obvious that the second, tinnier sound over the rumbling was the noise those boulders made when they hit the side and underbelly of the airship at high velocity, the impact knocking the vessel from its course, and worse, leaving large rends and dents in its body. A plume of smoke poured forth from the largest of these—an unlucky direct hit to the engine block.

Aboard the ship, an alarm was blaring, and Gwen’s voice could be heard between the bursts of cacophony. “Everyone remain calm. Get to the back of the ship and don your parachutes for emergency exit. Crew, help anyone who doesn’t know how to use one. I repeat: put on a parachute and jump.” There was a pause. “The ship’s not going to make it, but the crew has to.” Her voice was level, but tight with obvious tension.

Like the well-oiled machinery they so resembled, the crew members did exactly as the captain ordered, a few slowing to explain the necessary details to Dio and Percy while leading them towards the back of the ship, which was still plenty high enough to make a jump safe, but wouldn’t stay that way forever.

Dio had been unfortunate enough to be at the front of the vessel when it took the hit, the impact knocking her flat onto her back as the ship lurched off of its course. It immediately became clear that they'd suffered some kind of critical damage. She was no expert on air vehicles, but the thick black smoke and the terrible sounds from below were as sure a sign as any that the ship was dying.

Surefooted even in an intense moment like this, Dio darted her way to the back of the ship. There was no time to collect anything. She wondered for a moment at the tone of Gwen's voice. She thought perhaps to go find her, make sure she wasn't planning on going down with the ship... but in the end decided to trust her to make her own decision on that. In the meantime, there was the matter of finding someone who could help her get to the ground in one piece.

“Do you know how to use one of these?” The question came from one of the ship’s gunners, a slightly older man with a salt-and-pepper goatee, affectionately nicknamed Sprocket. He was holding a parachute bag in his hand, another pile of them next to his feet. Apparently he’d volunteered to distribute them. “Because you can jump with one of us, if you don’t.” Like everyone else, he was fighting to stay calm over the adrenaline of the situation, but he like most of the crew was doing pretty well at it.

"Not really, no," was Dio's answer, eyeing the parachutes nervously. "I can help, though. And then I can go with you." She scooped up one of the parachutes at their feet, tossing it to the nearest person who needed one. The faster this got done, the faster everyone could jump to safety.

"True enough. Thanks."

Below the deck, in the little room Percy had converted into his personal study, he was busy frantically running around the room, stuffing everything that may possess even a semblance of import into a large satchel. He stuffed his notes hand over fist into the bag, some inkwells, a few quills, and even a few books even as the cabin began to fill with smoke. When the first of the boulders pierced the hull, he'd bolted from the cockpit and made a dash for his study. There were many notes on both the keys they had collected, not to mention recollections of what they had learned while searching for them and numerous hypotheses. He did not want to leave thing behind that might prove worthwhile later.

Perhaps a minute and a half into Percy’s frantic packing, another of the crew members, performing a sweep of the ship, chanced upon him in the study. Pushing his dark hair back from his forehead, he stared incredulously at the Mutatio for a moment, before finding his voice. “What the hell? Kid, you’ve got to get out of here! The ship’s going down, and you don’t want to be on her when she does!”

Percy gave the man a moment of his time before returning to stuffing the pack. "I've got to get everything I can!" He replied, stuffing one of his journals into the satchel, "These notes might save our lives one day, I won't let them burn."

“One day won’t have a chance to get here if you don’t move now.” The crewman, an older fellow, and large enough to have earned the moniker Tiny from his captain, even when stood next to Sven of all people, reached over and grabbed Percy by the back of the collar of his shirt, quite literally dragging him out of the room. “Don’t fight me on this, lad—I will sling you over my shoulders if I have to.”

He had just enough time to snatch one more sheaf of notes and stuff it in his pack before she was dragged out of the room. Cinching the satchel tightly as he could, he threw it over his shoulders and acquiesced. "Fine! Fine, let's go," He said, turning around and letting Tiny escort him away from the study-- on the off chance that he might return to it if left it his own devices, Percy figured.




Here they were again. Tumbling around like grass in the wind, heedless of their roiling stomachs, and rattling skulls. If the ground ever stopped shaking underneath them, Sven would count himself a lucky man. While knowing nothing of beasts large enough to pass as mountains, he had not expected that much of a violent reaction—had it even been able to trash around this quickly before, and if it had been, they would have fallen off sooner, he was sure. He ground his molars together to try and steady something in his body, because he felt like everything was sloshing around dangerously. Brief flashes of sky bounced through his peripherals, and flying pieces of boulders, and maybe, the tail of the ship. It was hard enough to tell with his head knocking around like a drum; sky, ground, hands, legs, and sky, again.

Embarrassing. The thought gurgled out as soon as Sven bounced into the air as if he didn't weigh hundreds-of-pounds, weighed down by metal and girth and whatever-else he had in him. Bounced around like some baby on someone's knee. The imaginary was laughable, and almost accurate. The colossal beast shook like an earthquake, tipping his world upside down. Death by horrifically long fall would've been too embarrassing to mention—if their mission failed because they all fell to their deaths, after being harassed by some insanely large mountain-beast... he didn't know what they would say about them in any of Percy's books. Would anyone mention them? Probably not.

The shaking of the ground beneath her feet was beginning to affect even Kethyrian’s preternatural balance, and she found herself having to compensate for unpredictable lurching by falling and rolling as often as she could maintain her footing. It was rapidly becoming obvious that, sans perhaps Mordecai, they were all going to die. There was no way the ship could be of any help to them now, and it was a long way down off the colossus—a long way they would soon be forced to take when what remained crumbled away from beneath them.

As though the thought prompted the circumstance, the next foot she laid down was stolen from under her when the ground on which she trod fell away, at about the same time as the beast beneath her lurched again. With a startled yelp, Kethyrian was tossed off what was now the side of the colossus.

Kethy's long fall was postponed for at least a couple more seconds. Vivi had been both close enough and fast enough throw herself at the falling woman, dashing her chest against ragged stones around the edge as she wrapped her hands around one of Kethy's wrists. A split second of freefall was followed by an intense weight threatening to jerk Vivi's arms out of their sockets. Despite herself she yowled out in pain but still refused to let go, as it was with everything she took a liking to. "Don't look down," she advised Kethy, her own eyes closed so that she could focus on not tipping over the edge herself.

Vivi attempted to wiggle herself back onto the solid part of the ground, but for every inch she gained, two more were lost until she too slowly began to slip over the edge.

Thankfully, Theon was there, albeit a bit slowly, as he hadn't had any more luck keeping his balance than most of them. He kept it when it counted, though, stooping over the prone figure of his sister, still clutching the arm of the wall crawler. "Hang on, I'm pulling you back," he said, sliding one arm under her midsection, the other reaching out to help pull Kethyrian in as well.

With a growl of effort, he dug his boots into the steadily decaying earth beneath them and tugged, forcefully dragging both women up and away from the edge until they could get their own footing, and scramble away. Collapsing back onto the rock, the scryer searched the sky for a moment for the ship, but a greater tremor beneath him took his attention away all too quickly. This rock monster wasn't going to hold up much longer.

Fortunately, it turned out that they wouldn’t need it to. Barely audible over the grinding and rumbling of collapsing stone was the heavy, rhythmic thrum of air being displaced in large gusts by leathery wings. With some difficulty, Lohengrin was gaining altitude and heading in their direction. As the ground beneath Theon’s feet began to fissure and crack, the great red creature dipped in low, snatching up all three in one massive set of claws, along with a fair chunk of loose earth. Mordecai was powerful enough to simply jump on, and did so, catching hold of one of the spikes at the base of his neck. Sven, he caught in his other forelimb, but his dive had been at an awkward angle to reach the precariously-located trio in time, and as a result, he had to do something different to reach Artorias.

Sven couldn't see anyone else, as he tumbled down what he presumed was the colossus's back. Its hip? Its arm? Hard to tell with all the scrabbling rock chipping off like dust and dirt. Sven tried slamming down his mechanical arm for leverage but it only crumbled in his hands, too weak to grapple onto. He continued falling and swore he heard someone scream to his left—his right, maybe? Dead. Dead and gone. And then, free fall. He supposed his life should've been flashing before his eyes, but he saw nothing but a clutch of sky and trembling rocks. His fall jerked to a halt when something wrapped around him, knocking the breath from his chest—not dead. His body flopped forward like a dead-fish being man-handled by... a dragon. He hoped the others were safe. Were alive, at least.

Lohengrin's massive head lashed forward quickly, catching the king in his jaws. It was perhaps as delicate as he could make such a maneuver, but his teeth were made for ripping things apart, and he had little doubt that they would puncture the overcoat the man was wearing with minimal effort. Still, he didn’t taste blood, which meant it shouldn’t be worse than discomfort. His back legs skimmed the surface of the colossus, and he used them to push himself back upwards as well as he could, wings straining in an effort to clear the terrain features still standing and get away from the crumbling mess. Painstakingly, they gained altitude, but it was clearly costing Lohengrin great effort. The reason would be evident enough to Sven, who was occasionally splashed with a fair dose of dragon blood issuing from a wound in Lohengrin’s left wing, near the part where it connected to his shoulderblade. Or perhaps to Artorias, who given his positioning held in the front part of the dragon’s mouth, would be able to note the belabored nature of his breathing.

Don’t let go. The words echoed in their minds rather than their ears, but there was no further instruction, just this whistle of the wind, and the distinct sound of collapse behind them.

Sven raised his head. Lohengrin. Swooped in to save them just in time. He'd have to thank him later. Get him some beer. Good beer. Sven blinked around him, eyebrows scrunched. His shoulders felt warm. It was only until he slicked his fingers across the metal of his arm that he realized that it was not his blood. How long? His mechanical hand gripped around one of the dragon's toes, willing him to land. Somewhere, anywhere. They couldn't afford to lose anyone; crew members were indispensable.

Artorias had to suppress the instinct to draw his weapon and fire upon the creature that currently had him within his jaws. It wasn't entirely a painless affair, with Lohengrin's razor sharp teeth quickly digging into his quilted overcoat and threatening to pierce the soft skin underneath. He tried to alleviate the issue by holding on tight to a scales on his face, but the jarring motion of flight made it all moot. They would need to land and soon. Artorias indicated as much with his hand, urging Lohengrin to try and descend as soon as possible.

He need not have even made the request. Lohengrin was in no less pain than Artorias, albeit for completely different reasons. He only needed to get clear of the collapse zone, which took another few moments, after which he began to descend, perhaps a little too rapidly, but his wingbeats were becoming slower and more lethargic as he went. It wouldn’t be long now. In the end, he coasted the rest of the way to the ground, landing harder on his back legs than he would have liked, but able to place the others down in a minimally-awkward fashion, including the king.

He took several steps back thereafter, swaying dangerously back and forth for a while before slowly tipping over onto his side. The ground shook slightly when he collapsed, but it was nothing so jarring as the disintegrating colossus had been—and that creature was now little more than a pile of rubble and a massive cloud of dust. His eyes rolled up in his head, and if it weren’t for the steady up-and-down of his flanks, he might have been dead.

Perhaps more urgent was the fact that, perhaps a few hundred yards off, the first crewman’s feet had just hit the ground, her parachute drifting to the ground behind her. There was a bleeding cut over one of her eyes, but she otherwise appeared unharmed, if shaken.

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: Artorias Pendragon

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Landing in the talons of a dragon felt much like crashing in a flaming airship. It took Sven a few moments to gather his senses when he dropped from Lohengrin's scaly grip. This time, he'd been able to keep his watery eyes open long enough to brace himself for the land. Less jarring to his aching limbs, and he managed to curl into a less-than-graceful roll. He made a quick count of the crew members, and moved to pull them back to their feet.

When the ground trembled again, he whipped back towards Lohengrin. Seeing such a large beast slump to the ground in a panting-heap felt as surreal as when he'd first laid eyes on the colossal mountain-creature. He glanced back to his bloody forearms, slicking down like raindrops. What could they do for him, in his state? He was no healer; and no beast-master besides. The wound, however, seemed as if it were located around his wings; that much he could tell.

He turned to find Kethyrian. To discuss what they might do—though, Percy might have been better to consult with given the fact that Lohengrin, too, bore Mutatio blood. If they were to patch him up, they would need him to revert to his human form, if that was at all possible. His eyes flickered past her and focused on the bundle of flapping fabric pooling around... another crew-member. A parachute? Sven's gaze swung towards the sky.

Where? His stomach swirled with bile, and all of his words crippled into silence. He rounded back onto the woman fumbling with her parachute, shrugging off the backpack. “Vhat happened?” His voice seemed far away. It might've been the rocky descent or the wind still seemingly whistling through his ears. “Vhere is ship?” She should have been rounding back towards them to pick them all up.

The woman was soon joined by a few others, though she was the only one down in time to hear Sven’s question. Poppy, as she’d been named, shook her head with wide eyes, and pointed silently to a spot on the horizon. There, if one was careful to observe, one could make out the silhouette of the Elysium, headed towards ground, trailing a plume of black smoke behind. “She…” It was impossible to finish the sentence. Sven's gaze swung up, and he froze; lips drawing back, eyes widening. There was nothing he could do. Nothing.

Theon stumbled away, in a daze, watching but not really believing anything he was seeing. The massive ruins of the colossus were still sagging into pieces, having yet to fully settle, and there was an extremely injured dragon that he knew to be Lohengrin, a creature that had just granted them a miraculous safe passage from the rock monster's back. By all logic, they should have died there.

The ship smoking away on the horizon was the most alarming to him, however, and the scryer continued to move away from where the dragon had let them down. There was nothing he could do for him, after all, unless he sought a bullet or an axe. He found a boulder to prop his back up against, and sank down to the earth, watching the Elysium go for a moment before he let his head fall into his hands, and closed his eyes. Leaving his body behind, he soared as quickly as he could to the ship's side, intent on following it all the way to the ground.

The ship was not much longer for the sky, and that much was unmistakable. For a while, it seemed like its landing might be hard but slow, though this lasted only until there was a large metallic shudder from the bowels of it, the engine at last giving out several minutes after having taken critical damage. From there, it no longer limped steadily downwards, but began to fall in earnest, turning slightly in what was plausibly an attempt to land on a hill rather than in one of the depressions between them. Not an illogical maneuver, when more time to fall would only mean more speed in the crash, but it was unlikely to make much difference, considering the swiftness with which the Elysium hurtled to the ground, her aerodynamics now a disservice to her.

The crash itself was loud, certainly enough so to be heard by Theon’s natural ears as well as his extended perception, and thus by the rest of those who had parachuted away from it as well. The sound of wood, glass and metal all breaking was cacophonous and grating, great grinding sounds uncomfortable in the same way chewing aluminum foil would have been, only amplified. It was hard to tell exactly where the initial impact hit hardest, but bits and pieces of the ship were left behind as it continued to skid forward, at last coming to a rest after sliding down the hill it had landed on. The wreckage was everywhere, the vessel more broken than whole, and as the smoke cleared around the crash site, all was still, the silence broken only by the occasional soft creak as the shattered fragments of the Elysium settled against one another, forming her inevitable boneyard.

The best guess for where the cockpit had ended up was given by the fact that the broken halves of the bank of controls were still close to one another. What had become of the pilot was not immediately evident, but many of the chunks of ship were more than large enough to cover a person of Gwen’s size—or crush one.

There was little that could hide her from the scryer, if she were still alive, and mere pieces of the ship weren't enough. Watching the ship crash and break apart wasn't easy, but it was difficult to look away, so mesmerizing was the destruction. And with his sight, he really couldn't avoid it. He saw everything.

Theon searched for life under the wreckage, reaching out to feel for it, and quickly locating a feeling of intense distress under a large piece of siding. She was wedged between a fairly ruined stump of a tree and the ground, and in a significant amount of pain, but very much alive. He forcefully pulled himself back into his own head, pushing hastily to his feet, almost falling over. He had forgotten how dazed he was still.

Dio was just landing nearby, separating herself from the crewman that had helped her make the jump as soon as she touched down, and running over to the group. "I saw the ship go down!" she cried, visibly distressed. "Do you think Gwen might have—"

"She's alive," Theon stated, already heading in that direction, "but I don't know for how long. She's trapped." He expected all of the others to jump up and run with him, but his eyes fell on the dragon, and then Kethyrian. "Can you do something for him quickly? We need to move."

She's alive. The only words he truly needed—the only ones he wanted to hear in that moment. Watching the Elysium plummet from the skies, and knowing that Gwendolyn would have stayed behind, felt like staring at an oncoming train; dazed and lost and anchored in place. The scuffle of belts unbuckling and parachutes being discarded sounded distant to him. Their voices sounded further away, because she was still alive. No further details mattered.

When Theon lurched back to his feet and into one particular direction, Sven did, too, though he did not stop when he had, but continued on. Heavy steps pounding against the dry earth. A promise. A promise he'd made. It would mean nothing if she perished in that wreckage, all alone. He would mean nothing. It did not occur to him that without Theon, he might not even be able to track her down in time.

A rattling of equipment nearby announced Artorias's action. He threw off the sword and rifle on his back, followed by the torn overcoat and stood, rushing headlong beside the rest of them toward the wreckage. All he needed was a word that she was still alive. It didn't matter what he couldn't do, but what he could and what he could was extract Gwen from the wreckage. As he ran, he turned and called out, "If you got a pair of working legs then follow us!" He demanded. A few of the crew perked up at the call and agreed, following him and Sven to what was left of the ship.

The smoke threatened to choke them out, but fortunately there was a lack of fire. Embers and tiny flames remained, but the Elysium was built to be resistant to incendiary weapons. Artorias ripped a sleeve off of his shirt and tied it around his mouth to help with the smoke and advised the others who would still listen. "Cover your mouth and keep low!" He said as he began to carefully pick his way through the wreckage toward what he figured what was left of the cockpit. He had no idea where to look, but that didn't matter-- he wasn't merely going to wait. She never did.

Taking advantage of Artorias's discarded overcoat, Vivi snatched it from the ground and scurried toward Lohengrin's form. She was no healer, the furthest thing from it in all actuality. But, she wouldn't just do nothing while the people who'd unfortunately earned her fancy were hurt. She vaulted onto the dragon's hind leg and scrabbled up his scales until she stood on his thigh, and a few more moment of climbing brought her to the worst of his wounds. Above his left wing was a massive rend where his shoulder was. She looked at the coat in her hands and the wound in front of her-- it was bigger than her by four times at least.

Not that it stopped her from at least trying, just paused her for a moment. She found the widest part of the wound she could conceivably cover and threw the jacket over it, trying to apply as much pressure as she could with her small frame using every bit of her body to aid. It wasn't enough, but she wasn't the type to do nothing. Looking up, she barked, "Do we have a fucking healer or what?!"

Unfortunately, the only healer in the proximity was currently following the others toward where the captain was. Kethyrian would not say it was out of any especially-great panic regarding the captain’s condition. It was hard to say if she had the capacity for that much concern for another person at all. But she did want to help, if she were able, but though she didn't say it, she didn't like her chances. She was running on next to nothing after taking down that barrier, something the others seemed quite quick to forget now that she was needed again. Wasn’t that just the damn way of it, though? She couldn’t even rightly blame them much. It was why she’d just left the dragon behind. Hating him had nothing to do with it—she just had a fair guess that his injuries were not fatal. She wasn’t in the business of healing twenty-foot gashes even on the best of days, besides.

Lohengrin’s breathing remained quite labored, Vivian’s efforts not doing much to staunch the bleeding in his shoulder, but it wasn’t that which seemed to be causing the issues. The fact of the matter was that he was exhausted—he hadn’t transformed in more than a century, longer than most people would live. It required a massive amount of magic, and the simple fact was, he didn’t have that much. What was more, he had to reverse it, else his wounds would kill him as his magic burned itself out sustaining this form. His eye cracked open, a large circle the color of a blood ruby, the slitted black pupil contracting with exposure to the light, and he lifted his head slowly, curving his massive neck back to peer at the tiny creature trying so futilely to aid him. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that.

It must have been quite an effort to scale him to get there. Even on his side, he was considerably taller than most buildings. The colossus had been almost twice his size. He blinked at her quite slowly, a breath passing from his massive bellows of a pair of lungs, and he dredged up the effort to speak to her. Hold onto something. It was all the warning he gave before he closed his eye and dropped his head back down to the ground. This was going to take everything he had left, but if he didn’t do it, he would bleed out eventually, and no healer in the world could do anything about it. If, however, the wound was more reasonably-sized, then he might yet live.

Slowly, his body began to shrink, the reversal of the transformation process much more slow and laborious than the forward version had been. He had to remember what it was like to occupy a human’s body again, had to remember what one looked like and felt like. Any effort to do that was bound to be imperfect, but he might just be better at it than he was at being a dragon. Oh, shameful irony.

The entire process took a few minutes, but when it was done, Lohengrin was more or less himself again, and the wound in his shoulder was a much more manageable four inches long. Unfortunately, he was also out cold and completely unresponsive.




Pulling up the collar of her shirt to help cover her nose and mouth, Kethyrian tried to ignore her watering eyes. “I can’t help if I don’t know where she is,” she pointed out, directing her comment to Theon. Though there was a fair amount of frantic searching going on, it was obvious to her at least that the seer had the best chance of locating her. Mordecai stood slightly behind her and to the left, a furrow in his brow the only indication that he was absorbing this with some difficulty.

Theon's face by this point seemed to be made of stone, his movements direct and quick to the spot where he knew Gwen was trapped, even as the two large men of the group began randomly searching, seemingly forgetting the advantages his sight offered. He moved over to the piece of siding she was contained under, noting a lack of sound coming from beneath.

"Help me with this," he said simply, and waited the brief amount of time it took for a few people to join with him, even Dio trying to help push. With a groan of metal the piece came free, pushed up and moved safely enough to the side to be dropped to the ground. Theon looked to confirm that Gwen was indeed underneath, and when he saw that she was, and at least for the moment still alive, he turned and walked away, letting people who could better help her do the fretting.

The scryer walked slowly and aimlessly a ways into the wreckage, the acrid smell of burning filling his nostrils. He supposed he was in shock, not processing anything properly. He suspected that he just didn't want to process any of this. That the ship was gone, despite how much he despised being in the air. That Gwen might not make it. That he might be invested in something, finally, only for it to literally nosedive and explode moments later.

Theon sat down heavily in a surviving patch of grass, buried his head in his hands, and closed his eyes. His mind remained rooted where it was.

Alive she might be, but Gwen didn’t look like a person who had much longer for the world, to put it kindly. Both of her legs had broken, the right one near the ankle and the left midway up the thigh, the bone there having pierced her skin from beneath and speared outwards through the fabric of her trousers to expose itself to open air. Her metal arm was severely dented, and loose from its spot at her shoulder, though not detached completely, as though it had been used to weather a heavy impact of some description. Her other shoulder was dislocated, and her torso and what was visible of the rest of her bore numerous gashes and cuts, some of them still with wood splinters or pierces of metal embedded in them. It looked to be sheer miracle that she was still in one piece, though that much was, perhaps, a bit debatable, considering her condition. Her breaths were shallow, and bubbled with something, probably blood. She seemed to be conscious, but only barely.

Kethyrian let out a hissed breath at the damage. “I don’t have enough to heal that.” It was a blunt admission, but for all that her tone lacked its accustomed severity. Even she was not unmoved by the fact that she knew the captain was going to die. There wasn’t enough magic left in her system to handle so many injuries of this magnitude, not to mention all of the damage they couldn’t see.

Chewing her lip, she sorted through everything she knew of magic, wracking her brain for anything that might be helpful. She’d been educated in the nuances of her arts for years, but nothing she had learned seemed to be of any use to her now. Even the key, still hanging by a loop from her belt, didn’t have any stored energy left in it. She tapped it with a nail, trying to force herself to think of something, when a solution presented itself.

“The key…” pulling it from her belt, she looked over at Mordecai. “How much of my magic do you still have?” She was, after all, the one who charged him with the spiritual stuff, since the only other eligible mage on board was Theon, and he obviously didn’t.

To his credit, the automaton caught on quickly. “Not a great deal,” he warned, his tone cautioning in a way she had not expected.

“Doesn’t matter. Give me all you have.” She extended an arm, holding the key out to him. They’d tested it, and it ‘accepted’ magic of her subtype from any source, and anyone could pull it out again. Which meant… even if Mordecai couldn’t heal, he could help her do it. The golem grasped the other end, discharging the energy in the same way he did when entering a specialized mode of operation, only this time, he didn’t change at all—rather, the energy passed into the key, like charging a battery.

He was right—it wasn’t a lot. Almost certainly not enough. But it was a start. Kethyrian muscled her way in at Gwen’s side with surprising strength, holding the blue stone object in one hand and passing her hand a few inches over Gwen with the other, trying to get a read on where the worst injuries were. They might not be visible, after all. Indeed, the biggest problem currently seemed to be that a few of her ribs had perforated her lungs, which accounted for the wet sound of her breathing. Well. She could do something about that anyway.

What Mordecai had donated managed to help her seal the punctures and clear the majority of the blood out of Gwen’s lungs, through her mouth, actually, which Kethyrian wicked off to one side with a terse banishing gesture. She was far from safe yet, though, and the key was once more empty. “Get Theon over here,” she barked to whomever was nearest. “He can sulk later—I need his magic first.”

It was all that Artorias needed to hear. Turning his back on them, he ventured into the wreckage to find where Theon had gone. The smoke stung at his eyes while he trudged forward. He wasn't the scryer with his foresight, but it didn't take him long to find the man in a patch of grass with his head still in his hand. Artorias's lip twitched as he planted himself in front of the man, crouching down so that he was no longer looming over him.

"What are you doing?" He demanded coolly.

Theon glanced over at Artorias, not understanding why now of all times he would come to speak with him. "Waiting," he said, as though it were obvious. "Staying out of the way."

"She doesn't need you to wait, Gwen needs you now," Artorias said, putting a firm hand on his shoulder and giving him a single hard shake. "Kethyrian needs your magic. So please, get up and go save her dammit!" Artorias demanded, standing and pulling Theon to his feet as well. "Go!" Artorias boomed, shoving in their direction. He couldn't do anything himself, he didn't have the magic to do anything-- but he could fetch the scryer for them.

Theon didn't understand, but he didn't resist, allowing himself to be pulled to his feet. When shoved, he moved in that direction, back towards where Gwen and the others were, looking confused but certainly not defiant. Artorias seemed rather distraught, a rare display for him, and Theon was tempted to think that he had sought out the scryer simply because he was a mage, like he could somehow solve something Kethyrian couldn't. But where others had a level of mastery of their magic, Theon had always felt more like a slave to his.

There was a lot of blood to be found around where Gwen lay, but her breathing sounded better now. He supposed that was a good sign, though he still looked a bit pale. It wasn't like violence was unfamiliar to him, but caring about it was. He looked to Kethyrian, uncertainly. "What do you need me to do?"

Kethyrian glanced up, nodding slightly when she recognized him, and used her free hand to pick up the key, extending it upwards. “Hold this, then give it some magic. I’m fresh out, and she still needs work.” He did, and she felt the new charge enter the key, something she siphoned again as quickly as she could get hold of it. With the help, she was able to heal the worst of Gwen’s injuries, including the compound fracture in her thigh. The mechanical arm was beyond her assistance, but she did manage to get the other one back in the socket with a sharp motion.

Setting the key down on the ground, Kethyrian sat back on her legs, sighing heavily. She was exhausted; doubtless, they all were, but she could feel it pulling at her muscles and bones by this point. “Okay,” she breathed. “Okay, she’s going to be all right.” With the last little bit of magic she had, Kethyrian put Gwen to sleep, to give her a chance to recover from what had been extensive healing. She hadn’t quite managed to open her eyes, but the favisae knew that she had at least been somewhat conscious. Probably better that she slept the rest off—not all the injuries were fully healed, and she was willing to bet that the captain would still be very sore and tender when next she woke.

“We have to find… someplace to shelter.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mordecai Character Portrait: Kethyrian Tor Character Portrait: Sven Diederich Character Portrait: Vivian Zeona Character Portrait: Diomache Castillo Character Portrait: Artorias Pendragon

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Part Five: The Impasse



With some assistance from the crew, the wreckage was picked through in short order, everyone saving as many supplies as they could carry and moving again, because help was needed to transport the injured. Nobody seemed to have come away with more than incidental injury, save of course Gwen and Lohengrin. Undoubtedly, the party’s healer was beyond exhausted, but she at least had remained conscious.

It was decided that the sooner they moved, the better—for anyone who happened to find them where they were would have a series of sitting ducks to shoot at and little else. The closest settlement on any map was a hard day’s march to the east, a small river-trading town on the Ysar River, called nothing more complicated than Post. The population, perhaps some hundred people or so, was mostly human, though a few dwarves and goblins were interspersed as well, the latter explained by the fact that there was a mine nearby that provided much of the ore that could be later refined and used in the mechanist’s trade.

There were two inns in the town, due to the comparatively high volume of temporary residents it housed, and the group chose the one furthest from the river, so as to draw less attention. It was likely a futile move, considering that they were coming from the
plains direction with no obvious transport, and carried two unconscious, unresponsive people with them. It was, of course, also fairly unusual that there was even one favisae among them, setting aside the oddity of the humans. However strange they might have seemed, their money was plenty good enough for the innkeeper, and they were given the building’s third floor to themselves, which wasn’t quite enough beds for everyone, but close.

Two days later, and Gwen stirred occasionally, but Lohengrin showed no signs of waking at all. Had it not been for the steady rise and fall of his chest, it would have been easy to think him dead, so still was he. But for all that healing magic could tell, he was simply very persistently
asleep, and there was nothing to be done for either of them until they recovered on their own.




For ease of treatment, Kethyrian had kept both of her patients in the same room—not that there was much by way of treatment to actually do. At this point, whether they ever woke up again was mostly up to them. The captain looked like she’d recover in short order, at least physically. Kethy preferred not to make guesses about other people’s mental states. The lizard on the other hand was much more a mystery to her than she’d ever taken him to be, and in that sense, she hadn’t the faintest idea what would become of him.

Having just checked in on both of them, she returned now to her own lodging, padding down the carpet runner in the hallway and selecting the second door on the left. Slumping into a chair at the small circular table in the corner near the window, she was halfway through running a hand through her hair before she realized that it was interfering with her braid to do so and stopped, frowning slightly. In case present company wanted to know, she prefaced with an update. “Not much to report. She’s moving a bit more. If I had to guess, she’ll be up within a couple of days.” Glancing out the window from the corner of her eye, she caught sight of something and exhaled through her nose, her frown deepening.

“We need a plan before then, unless we want the Vipers on our doorsteps… again.”

In terms of the report, anything was better than that stern-lipped, furrowed silence Sven was used to seeing when things weren't going so well for said patients. Soldiers, civilians, casualties. He was used to the shrill sounds of moaning, gasping men and women, crumpled in dirty beds. And the moment doctors slipped back to the able, shutting curtains. Closing doors. Solemn shakes of the head tended to carry a far heftier weight than words, in those cases. Fortunately, it was Kethyrian who was tending both patients and he did not doubt that she could do far better with her abilities. Initially, he'd perched in the room like an immovable gargoyle; a statue, watching from one of the corners, until he was shooed away. Forgoing sleep would not speed their recovery.

Now, he awaited Kethyrian in her room. Looking all-too-large for her chambers, with his arms crossed over his barrel chest and mouth poised in a thin line. “Couple of days. Good,” Sven mumbled under his breath. Some of the tension eased from his shoulders. His arms slackened their death-grip across his forearms, and he slouched in the laughably small chair he occupied. Here they were, stuck in a small, lazy riverside town, with two comatose people yet to awaken, and furious enemies were snuffling down their necks. If they weren't scouting out areas where they might have been, or if they were already frantically tailing them now, then it wouldn't be long. The blazing wreckage of the ship, and the clattering racket the mountain-creature had caused would not go ignored.

How long did they have? Without a vessel to carry them, and being stranded in the middle of nowhere; their options were slim. Sven scratched at the stubble already sprouting from his jawline, and rolled his eyes back towards the ceiling. “You are not able to magic up new ship?” it might have been a joke, but he gave no indication that he was, “Small boats, for fishing. No good.” If they had the means to contact someone in Artorias' circle, it would do them great merit. But he doubted that it was a possibility. They had to work with what they had, quickly.

“This unit believes that we would be less likely to be noticed were our surroundings more populous,” Mordecai mused, folding his hands neatly behind him. He stood now at something of a rest, his body language designed to be nonthreatening and also not alarming, but it seemed to be quite impossible for him to maintain any posture less than perfect, for the moment he forgot to mind himself, he was impeccably upright again. “Perhaps the wisest course is to seek passage to a city and conceal ourselves before we continue any further?”

“Why continue further at all?” Kethyrian asked, her tone reverted to its customary acid, though of course it was probably impossible for such a thing to offend Mordecai. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I can say with something damn near certainty that it was dumb luck that saved us back there. Or maybe it was partly the captain, but then it’s dumb luck that she’s still alive. Same problem, and I for one have no wish to die.” What they had seen, what they had done—that kind of thing was just too big. There was no way a fragment of an old guild and a crew of airship privateers without an airship could hope to get through another encounter like that. And if colossi were real and dragons were, too… whatever was to come was bound to be way too far over their heads to bother.

Just going to try and break the old man out of his prison was suicide, but at least it was suicide against humans and weapons and battle-programmed automata, not fucking moving hills and flying, firebreathing lizards. Their chances of doing either successfully were near nil, as far as Kethyrian’s evaluation could calculate. She wasn’t a fool, and she was tired of doing the errands of one.

Vivi had entered the room as Kethy began to speak, holding an armful of fruits and bread. She paused looking a little surprised at all the faces stuffed in the room before shrugging and shutting the door behind her with a foot. She waited until Kethy was done talking before she began handing out the fruit. She threw an apple at Sven and a pear at Kethy before setting the load of bread down on the table. The remaining orange she'd taken for herself. "At least it's not the stuff we scavenged from the wreck. This has got taste," she said, setting about peeling the orange.

"Teo's doing that farsight thing he does, looking out for anything that might look like trouble," she said for anyone who might have wanted to know. She was quiet as she peeled, chewing over their options and what all had happened to them in only a span of a few days. "She's got a point," Vivi admitted, flicking away spiralled orange peel. "What do we even do? I'm not throwing myself at the next moving mountain-- that shit's not even fair." Shaking her head, she popped the first orange wedge in her mouth and began to chew.

"It's whatever you guys decide, I suppose," she said between chews.

The frown on Sven's face deepened, as if he were sucking on a lemon. Give up? Surrender? Throw up their hands because things were getting too hard? He didn't have the liberty. As soon as Gwendolyn woke up, as he knew she would, he'd be moving forward with this insane mission. He doubted that she would give up so easily, even if they'd just faced down a moving-mountain beast and realized Lohengrin's true form. And barely survived. What they'd been through, if anything... proved that they should continue. He might've been one of the most sceptical of them all; questioning why statues had chosen their specific number and allotted them runes. Destiny was the furthest word from his mind, but it had to be done. If not them, then who? Nothing would solve itself.

He caught the apple in his meaty paw, sniffed at it, and took a big bite. He grunted his thanks while wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, eyeing everyone in the room. Could they even continue if some of the others backed out? He doubted it. These plans were extensive, and the mission went far beyond anything they've ever done in the past. He had no experience to reflect on, and he doubted they did either. “We continue vith plan. Like alvays. We find a way.” He'd nearly died several times, and figured everyone else had, too. The circumstances might have been different, but the danger remained. He saw no difference. Tumbling from a colossal beast or having your heart chewed up by shrapnel. It made no difference.

Sven swung his gaze back at Vivi and set the apple away from lips. “Theon's farsight,” he repeated, rolling the word around his head, “how does it work? Can it help us move?” He motioned with his hand. Could it locate something useful? Walking was out of the question. Commandeering many river-ships, without drawing notice, would be difficult.

Vivi sputtered in response and shrugged. "I dunno, he doesn't let me in his head very often," she said between orange wedges. The next one she put in her mouth and sucked the juice out, using the time to put what she knew into something coherent. It took more time than was comfortable, with only the suction from the orange wedge filling the silence. Finally, she'd drained all the juice she could from it and spat it out to the side, and finally began to speak again.

"Well, it's like... I guess it's like seeing something, without actually... Seeing it?" She said, her nose scrunched up in confusion. It appeared the time it took to gather the words together weren't nearly long enough. "I mean, he can see stuff that's far away-- which is probably why it's called farsight," she added with a shrug. "But yeah, it can totally help us move. Teo used it all the time when we were out in the desert, and we never ran into anyone we didn't want to. Unless, you know... He was asleep and they got the jump on us... But then they ran into us," She said candidly, popping another orange wedge in her mouth.

Kethyrian sighed. Idiots, all of them, and she a bigger idiot for not putting up more of a fight when she alone seemed to know how badly this was all going to end. But really, what else was she going to do? It wasn’t like she had any other place to be. Idiots or not, they amounted to all she had in the world. Quite literally now, as her meager material possessions had gone down with the ship. Ugh—that almost sounded sentimental.

Perhaps driven to sound even crankier than usual by the thought, she lopped the stem off the pear with a claw and scowled. “Farsight or not, twenty people trying to get anywhere is going to be noticed by someone. Either here in the middle of nowhere because we’re outsiders or in the middle of a city because we’re wanted. ‘We’ll find a way’ is all well and good, but I’m pretty sure the only thing we’ll be finding a way to is a prison cell or the executioner’s block if we don’t do this the smart way.” She didn’t say it, but she was a little skeptical of their ability to do anything the smart way.

Sven's lips peeled back into something that appeared like a smile. All teeth and lines and scowling. “Point is. Vhe go, no matter vhat.” There would be no further discussion about giving up this fool's errand, unless said complainant planned to walk away by themselves. He would force no one to continue, but even he knew that they there was a greater importance to whatever they were doing. Too many things were far from coincidental. He was a sceptic, but if things like farsight could exist, then what did he know?

He arched his eyebrows and straightened his shoulders. Theon's abilities would come in handy if they wanted to navigate anywhere without the airship's advantageous vantage points. Maybe he could see far enough into the future to guide them where they needed to be going—or where they should be avoiding. “We vhill need him before we make any decisions, further.” His gaze swivelled back to Kethyrian, “You are having any smart ideas?”

She shrugged. “We split up. Smaller groups are less noticeable, no matter how weird they are." It wasn't like she was in charge of this operation, however, and she didn't even bother to pretend there was anything more than a suggestion behind the words.

Finally, the door knob leading into the room rattled before slowly opening to reveal Artorias, and an armful of rolled papers. He stood at the doorway for a moment, looking at those gathered and gave a satisfactory nod. "Good, most of us are here," he explained, kicking the door shut behind him. "Bring that table to the center," he ordered, gesturing toward the table sitting at the back wall.

When the table was dragged away from the wall, he began the process of unrolling the papers and setting them up so that the others could see them as well. The man looked tired as he went about this. His eye sockets were sunken into his cheeks with bags beginning to form underneath them. A hint as to why this might've been was present on the papers. They were maps of both the surrounding areas and the cities that were closest to them. Not only that, but lines and arrows were drawn on it as well, with various sets of pointing toward various cities. Some were crossed out, some where underlined, but only one city was circled... Jherico.

Rubbing his eyes, Artorias took a seat in one of the chairs and reclined back. "Percy got these maps for us and he helped me plan out our movement last night... He should be asleep now." Leaning forward, Artorias grabbed the bread on the nearby table and took a huge bite out of it. It seemed that he'd also forgone food as well as sleep. "If you still want to continue, then this should be our course of action..." Artorias said, taking another bite out of the bread and tapping the maps.

"Jherico is the largest city on the fringe of the Kingdom's sphere of influence. We should be able to lay low and... Rebuild there." Artorias said, pausing from eating and staring at the map. A moment passed before he looked up at the others again, "We need to reestablish a base of operations, and this is the safest location. We will blend in among the crowds and it's far enough away from Galatea that we will not be hounded by the Crown."

He paused again, looking at those gathered before looking back at the map. Another moment passed before he spoke again "You are not my soldiers. You should not be expected to fight like them. I cannot force you or anyone else to continue if they do not wish to. The same goes for Gwen's crew too," Artorias added, looking at Sven. "They should be allowed to leave if they wish. I, however, will see this through. It is too important to not..." Artorias said, leaning back into his chair, feeling far more tired than he was.

Kethyrian’s sigh was heavy, perhaps as much exhaustion as exasperation. The last few days had been somewhat taxing on her, to say the least, help or no help. And it looked like respite was still a ways off. Glancing down at Artorias’s maps through narrowed golden eyes, she reached down with a claw-tipped finger and traced a path lightly. “We’ll want the group transporting the injured to go the most direct way. The less they’re moved, the better, but I’m not sure we can wait for them both to wake up. I should go with them in case something unexpected happens.” She glanced back up, cocking an eyebrow at Artorias.

“The other groups can approach from different directions, but we’ll need a reliable way to find each other once we get there. Either a meeting location or a contact. Given the destination you’ve chosen, river barge is the most logical option for those going the fast way. Do we have enough between us for the fare, and then some to shut the ferryman up if we need to?” Bribery was not at all an uncommon practice where she came from, and as it turned out, it tended to be remarkably effective.

Artorias chewed on the question for moment, clearly displeased that they would have to resort to bribery, but otherwise said nothing against it. "We can barter with some of the supplies we took from the Elysium, but do not be surprised if you are asked to help out," he said, before mulling over the first issue-- how to reorganize once they reached the city.

His contacts in the city were made unreliable, since for the rest of the planet, the King was still sat upon his throne in Galatea. However, he couldn't have been the only one who had cultivated contacts over the years, and his gaze shifted to Sven. "I would assume that Gwen would've made friends in a city like Jherico, Sven and the crew can get a hold of someone we can trust and we can have them set up a meeting point for us. The faster we move, the better. We risk a lot by lingering for too long."

Dio had entered the room a few moments earlier, quietly as she did, and caught just the tail end of the conversation, enough to know that they would indeed be moving out again soon, to try and relocate somewhere for the time being. That was all well and good with her; she still didn't know if she was actually an official member of this group, but she'd certainly been through enough with them by now to not want to leave, nor did she really have any reason to. The idea of avoiding further danger of getting squashed by giant rock monsters wasn't occurring to her at the moment.

For now, though, she had important news to deliver. "Erm... Lohengrin is awake now, and he's trying to move around. Failing pretty miserably at it, but... trying. I thought I'd come get you." She delivered the last sentence at Kethyrian, though how much medical expertise the woman had on dragons was likely not much. Dio had certainly never seen anything like it.

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: Artorias Pendragon

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Gwen had spent much of the remainder of her day up and about. First, she’d eaten something, mostly because she’d probably pass out if she didn’t. Once that was done, though, she’d mostly moved around and spoken with the crew, admittedly a bit emotional when she ran into Gorlak, but she didn’t cry. A good captain didn’t cry in front of the crew, after all. So other than that moment of heavy solemnity, she was all smiles, reassuring everyone that she was fine, and that she’d find herself a new arm in no time, though frankly, she thought it would probably be a while before she found the materials and tools and time she would need to build a new one. For the moment, she wore sleeves, and tied the useless one off about halfway down so it didn’t impede her activity, and called it good enough.

When evening had come upon them and she’d finished those visits, however, she still felt restless. Probably they’d put off making any major decisions about how to handle everything that had happened as much as they could while she was out, which was nice in the sense that Artillery was respecting the fact that she had an important amount of authority here, and not so nice in the sense that, well, they still had to talk about some of the hard stuff and make some decisions.

So, she decided to invite everyone that wanted to come. Most of her crew would opt out, trusting her to make the decisions for them, but the same could not necessarily be said of the guild. Some of them might not care or be interested in participating in a strategy meeting, but she did drag Strawberry to it, because she hadn’t somehow missed the part where he still had a lot of explaining to do. Even if he couldn’t do it yet, it would be best to have him around.

They took one of the large central rooms for the meeting, and Gwen, tired from her rather sudden exertions, plopped onto one of the couches without much ceremony. Strawberry remained standing, but at least he did it in such a way as to be included in the rough circle formed by the furniture.

Kethyrian was not the kind of person who trusted other people to make her decisions. There was a certain level on which she just didn’t care, but when people started talking about things that could get someone killed, she figured herself fairly justified in her choice to get her rightful say over what happened. Mordecai walked in beside the healer, though while she took up a seat in the rough circle made by the furniture, he stood slightly outside of it. He did not really intend to contribute much to this unless something he knew was asked, or a suggestion presented itself to him, but he felt it for the best that he at least attended.

Sven appeared shortly after Kethyrian and Mordecai entered. Bleary-eyed, unshaven, and teetering on the edge of haggard and grizzled with the first few buttons of his shirt done up in the wrong holes. Sleep had been an unconquerable tussle trying to smother his worried thoughts, and while he'd thought himself long-grown from old habits, he'd been reassessing his mistakes during the crash. What could they have done to prevent losing their only means of reliable travel? How could they have avoided that giant mountainous-beast?

And now, with Lohengrin out of commission and Gwendolyn knotting her tiny fists in the veneer of having everything under control, he wasn't so sure what their next move would be. He rubbed at his temples, and dropped his hands over his jawline, and his stubble, before looking around the chamber. He took his post next to Gwendolyn and avoided the telltale rumble of concern tickling at his throat. Instead, he crossed his arms and waited for the others to trickle in.

Though not a part of Avalon's Dawn, Artorias felt that the meeting held more importance for just the guild. He stood at military rest near one of the walls as he patiently awaited everyone who wished to be a part of the meeting to filter in. He was no stranger to such events, actually, from strategy discussions during the rebellion to official talks regarding how the kingdom was to be run afterward. However, he did not expect this one to discuss the matters of the economy and trade routes.

Percy was present as well, as was to be expected of the young scholar. He was bereft of the antlers that usually graced the top of his head these days, but had a quill and inkwell, as well a journal with a few words already visible on the paper. As well as contributing to the meeting, he intended to make notes of the matters they discussed, so that they wouldn't be forgotten later on.

Once everyone who wanted to be there was present, Gwen decided it was probably best just to get to the important parts. She’d always been bored out of her mind during meetings in the past, more interested in the schematics she’d left behind in her workshop, or whatever mechanism she’d been tinkering with. But while she’d been little more than a child in those meetings, she should probably act like an adult in this one. How dull.

“Okay. First order of business.” She made a very obvious turn of her head, so that she was clearly looking Lohengrin in the eye. Grinning, she tilted her head to the side. “Explain, please.”

He sighed, an irritated sound, but nevertheless he complied with the request. Some version of this explanation, she knew, had been given already, but since several of the people here had not been privy to it, he was just going to have to risk repeating himself. “I’m a dragon. Obviously.” Well, perhaps obviously considering what most of them had seen, though Gwen herself had only caught a glimpse, too busy piloting the ship to consider it for long. “But that… it’s not like the old stories, okay? We’re not gods or anything. And frankly I don’t know how to do a lot of the shit we’re supposed to be able to do. Mostly, we’re just large flying lizards.”

Well. That didn’t sound as cool as she was expecting. She wondered if that was really all there was to it. “No breathing fire?”

He looked for a moment as though she’d punched him in the stomach. Actually, worse. Like Gadget had punched him in the stomach. Gwen was honestly surprised by that—she’d seen him look angry or irritated plenty of times, but never upset like that. Like his favorite puppy had died or something. Her expression morphed into something more contrite, but he shook his head. “No. Well, some of us can do stuff like that. Ice, acid. Fire.” He swallowed. “But not me. Think of me as the discount dragon.” She flinched at the bitter sting of the words.

Gwen’s brows knit together. There was a whole lot about that that she didn’t necessarily like, but she had to set her empathy aside for the moment and get at the information that had pertinence to the task at hand. “Okay… you said ‘some of us.’ How many of you are there? Do you all go around looking human?”

He scoffed, the sound derisive. “Deign to walk around in a fragile little meatbag? Not likely. They live in the mountains. Concealed by magic. Last time I checked, there were nine of us. I don’t know about now, though. Could be more, could be less.”

Artorias closed his eyes and shook his head. He had taken the news that a flesh and bone dragon was in their midst in stride, at least he did externally. Whatever he felt internally was obscured by his stoic veneer. It seemed very little surprised the King any more. Rolling his shoulders, he finally spoke. "It is useful information, no doubt, but it does not help us in our current situation. Let's remember, we are without a ship, without a base, and more importantly, without a hint on where we should heading to next. Even if we did, it would take no doubt months to traverse Albion on foot." Artorias sighed, and it made him look tired, the first time since he had joined them at the Genesis wellspring.

"Unless Lohengrin intends to ferry us upon his back, I fear he is right," Percy agreed. He looked up from the notes he was transcribing and looked first to Artorias and then to the others in short order. "It is not only these things we are without, but also we are severely lacking in information," Percy continued. "Recent... Circumstances has brought it to our attention that we do not know as much as we should."

In a short amount of time, they'd witnessed both a colossus and a dragon in first hand, both creatures spoken of only in myth and legend. If their quest were intertwined within creatures such as these, then the scope of it was much larger than any of them had imagined. "We need to ask more questions about what we are doing, and look at the consequences of our actions," he added, turning back to his notes and starting to scrawl again.

"We need more information before we we are to continue." He paused for a moment and looked up, "If we are to continue."

“That’s the second order of business.” Gwen looked as though she’d been expectin