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Mageria Talsheir

Black Knight Captain. Things are so much more complicated than they seem.

244 views · last seen in Valcrest
a character in “Shadows of The Forgotten”, as played by Trickster

Groups

Former Black Guard

Description

Age: 33
Gender: Female
Rank: Captain of the Black Knights
City: Newhaven
Ability: None

Mageria is a fairly androgynous figure. She has trained for years to turn every bit of her into a weapon as deadly as her sword, and it shows. Her hands and lower arms are crisscrossed with scars, and there is one long scar that bisects her cheek, narrowly missing her right eye. She has a second set of scars across the left side of her face, claw marks from a fight with a crazed demon/beast thing she fought during the last siege of Newhaven. (It’s a long story, buy her a drink or two and she might tell you about it.) Her eyes are ice blue most of the time, and her hair is a fiery red, with one streak of white that runs from her left temple to the crown of her head. She is never without at least five weapons secreted on herself, and more if she can manage it. She has no Enlightened ability, instead relying simply on her training and her skill. However, her eyes change color with her mood, which has lead to a variety of rumors about what her ability might be.

Personality

Mageria has a protective streak a mile wide, and does her best to protect the people that she consider’s ‘hers’; which would be any of her Knights, the men in her Guard, and generally anybody else that she cares about. She can, will, and has run herself straight into the ground in order to complete something that she views as necessary. In the past she has fought against her darker impulses, but has come to accept them after a near death experience. (Another long story) She gives off a curiously balanced impression, she knows exactly what she’s capable of and she accepts and even embraces it.

Theme Song -
Nemo by Nightwish
March of Cambreadth by Heather Alexander

Equipment

One long sword, worn across her back to the right shoulder. One short sword, worn on the left hip. Two daggers at the small of her back. One dagger at the back of her neck. One dagger in each boot. A garrote worn about her waist. Heavily reinforced leather vambraces that have metal ribs sewn into them.

History

When Mageria was 8, the Wolfpack was contracted to kill her family as part of a merchant war. She was away from the family home at the time, and so was the only one to escape the slaughter. While one family did take her in for a while, she was pretty much left to raise herself. One retired fighter was working as a guard with that family, he pretty much took her under his wing. He taught her how to fight and raised her with a strict code of honor; that those how are stronger protect those who are weaker. Eventually she went out into the world on her own as a mercenary, gaining a reputation as a fierce fighter; while at the same time learning a bit about the healing arts, at least enough to keep someone alive long enough to get to real help. She spent several years wandering throughout Valcrest before she finally settled in Newhaven and started to take jobs that let her lead a more settled life. About eight years ago, the former Black Knight Captain recruited her and started to teach her everything that she would need to know in order to take over his position. After about a year, he was killed in a bandit raid and she took over. That’s the official story anyways. The real story . . . that’s something she never talks about. Not ever.

When the Pack killed Perry, Mageria had been out in the woods, leading some of her men on maneuvers. She rushed them back as soon as she got word, but of course it was far too late at that point. With the King dead, the entire city went mad with the need for revenge, forcing the armies out in the search for the Pack. Mageria and Krander both tried to warn them that this left the city dangerously undefended, but they were overruled. It had taken almost a month of searching, small attacks and maneuvers to make sure that no one escaped, but they finally had the Pack cornered. Mageria lead the attack that night personally, even calling in her Knights that she had embedded in the Pack. They killed a good number of the Pack that night, although Mageria had ordered that any civilians were to be spared as long as they didn’t fight back. That night Mageria also got the scar across her cheek, although she never talks about what happened.

Just a few days after the first attack on the Pack camp, Blackpond attacked Newhaven. Mageria pulled her soldiers back from pressuring the Pack, returning as fast as she could. It took three solid days of fighting to push Blackpond back, and Mageria fought for the entire time. Even after Blackpond was gone, it took Newhaven months to recover.

In the past three or four years, Mageira’s been rather busy. Blackpond attacked the city again, leaving Mageria to fight a week long siege in defense of her city and her people. The only problem is that at that time, she was under the influence of a Enlightened serial killer who was slowly driving her insane. She managed to survive with her sanity intact, but she sorta died along the way. (really, really long story) Allistair, who was present at the time, fought for her life, but it was to no avail. During the moments of her death, she faced and fought the darkest parts of herself, where the mental parasite lived. It was only once she accepted the darkness that lived within her that she was able to beat the parasite and return to life. Allistair was rather upset about the whole thing.

Once the Pack split, Mageria ended up having a rather lengthy conversation with Lena and Crystal Rivers, during which she finally got the truth of everything that had happened. She made her peace with Rivers, and hopefully gained some allies against future trouble. She also managed to get the rest of the Pack to back off for the time being.

Ever since then, she’s been working on rebuilding Newhaven and doing the odd side job or two. It’s been an interesting couple of years.

So begins...

Mageria Talsheir's Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Thomas Sidin Character Portrait: Sham (No Last Name)
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Footnotes

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INK

“Just breathe, slow and calm.” Mageria’s voice was smooth and steady and she watched the young boy sitting next to her though eyes that were half closed. He in turn stared at the pile of tinder in front of them both with a determined expression that carried with it a heavy dose of dread.
“There’s nothing to worry about, Jason. The tinder’s the only thing that would light and we’re far enough away that we won’t get burned. Just concentrate like we practiced and don’t worry about it so much.”

Jason was one of the orphans that now lived in the Castle along with the men of the Guard. Three years ago his parents had died in the siege of Newhaven, leaving him nowhere to go. His father had been one of the Black Guard under her command and his mother had been one of the servants who had died when they got in the way of a Blackpond assassin. Because of the madness of the siege and it’s aftermath, it took people awhile to realize that there were now several orphans living in the Castle. The Council had wanted to simply chuck them into the orphanage and call it done, but when Mageria had found out about it she had thrown a fit. She inspected the orphanage and found it to be in a horrible state of disrepair; not fit to house children in her opinion. She had gone to the Council to secure funds for it’s repair, but they had turned the idea down flat. Sarris had been beyond furious, but Mageria had simply smiled and thanked them for their time.
The next morning, each Council member who had voted no for the extra money woke up with a note neatly pinned to their nightcloths, asking “What do you think would happen to your children if you were no longer around?” Somehow after that the money was suddenly available, but there was no way that she was letting the children of her men live there while she was still around. She had taken care of their parents and when they died that meant she was going to take care of their children. And so the children of the Guard had moved into a set of rooms at the Castle, being taken care of by some of the servants and mentored by the soldiers that lived there as well. It had been difficult at times, but Mageira had made a promise; she would take care of the families of her people. It was really that simple for her.

Jason, the boy sitting next to her, had been about nine when the siege happened. Now, three years later it seemed that he was growing into an Enlightenment of his own. He was a firestarter, or perhaps someone who could control fire as he willed. It was really too early in his training to tell, so far he could only manage to cause fire to flare up unexpectedly, mostly when he was upset. This came to light when they realized that the problems they had been having with fires had been due to Jason; he had been in an argument with Lily, another of the orphans and Mageria had moved in to break it up. Right as she had, the logs behind her in the fireplace had burst into flame, blackening the ceiling and causing her to loose several inches of hair in the process. The braid that hung over her shoulder used to stretch down almost to her waist, now it merely reached to below her shoulder blades. The number of jokes about red heads having flaming tempers had more than tripled. Jason had taken one look at what had happened and had run out of the room in complete terror. Once she had calmed Lily down and changed into other cloths, it had taken her and several other men almost five hours to track the kid down and another hour of her talking to him though a locked door for her to convince him that she wasn’t going to throw him out into the street just because he had almost lit her on fire. Ever since then they had been working together several hours a day in order to help him get control of his new found ability. At least to the point where he wasn’t causing random flareups every time he got upset. Jason was having trouble controlling his ability and she had written a letter to the White Shadows asking for advice on training him. But until their answer arrived she was making do with her own best instincts; which for now told her that working with him and making sure that he wasn’t afraid of what he could do was the best thing that she could do for him. Which left them sitting in the middle of the courtyard, staring at a pile of tinder with several buckets of water sitting behind them.

“Come on, Jason. Deep breath in and focus. Once more and we can be done for the day.”
Jason nodded and took a deep shuddering breath, focusing entirely on the pile of dried twigs and grass in front of him. Sweat gathered on his brow and his muscles clenched; then with a hissing roar the pile in front of them was engulfed in a merry bonfire. He sat back with a sigh and looked over at her; Mageria smiled and reached over to hug him with one arm. “Very good.” They watched the pile burn down to ashes before getting up to go in.

------------------------------------
Thomas growled in frustration under his breath as he watched the newest recruits working in the yard. The problem with some of them is that they were straight from the nobility, which meant that they had private instructors in the art of fighting. Not that this meant that they were bad fighters, but that they weren’t up to the standard that he expected from his Guards. Even worse that some of them hoped to someday become Knights, if they tried to fight beyond their abilities most of them would end up dead on a battlefield someday. Finally he had to step in. Drawing his rapier he walked into the middle of the bout and disarmed them both with just a few moves, letting their weapons spin away to hit the dust.
“You both fight too pretty. You flourish and pose and act like this is a duel. It isn’t. You are both fighting for your lives, not honor. If you continue to act like nobility when you fight, you will die. It’s that simple.” He sheathed his sword and planted both hands on his hips. Both young men looked scornful at his words. It was obvious that they believed that their lineage would protect them, and not all of the words that he had would make a difference. Shaking his head, he looked around at the rest of the Guards standing around at ease in their crisp uniforms, waiting for their turns to practice. Then he walked past them to a different corner of the yard, where a ragtag group of men and women sat in the dirt, watching a few of their number go after each other in something that was just short of a killing frenzy. He tapped one young woman on the shoulder, smiling politely when she looked up at him.
“Excuse me. I need to teach a few of my recruits a lesson. Would you mind helping me out?” She nodded in return, picking up a set of sticks and brushing the dust off of her pants as she followed him. He returned to his group and stood in front of them.
“So, you two believe that since you’ve been taught to fight since you could hold a blade, you don’t need to learn anything else, right?” They at least had the grace not to nod, but he could see the answer in their eyes. He stepped to the side and gestured to the young woman standing behind him.
“So, here’s the chance to prove that you’re right. If you can win in a bout against her, you’ll have proved that your way is better. The both of you, formally trained, against one person who never had a day of formal training before she got here.” Thomas stepped back and gestured for them all to start. The two men lost a moment glancing at each other in confusion, while the young woman took her sticks in both hands and went on the attack. It was clear after just a moment that she was the better fighter as she chased them both around the ring, working first on one then the other, pushing them into each other and tripping them up. In the first minute of the fight, it was clear that she had won, but Thomas let the bout continue for the full usual ten minutes, just to prove his point. Once the bout was over, the two former nobles were panting and gasping in the dirt, while the young woman dressed in Black stood over them with her sticks in hand.
“Thank you for the demonstration, it was much appreciated.” Thomas gave a respectful nod while the young woman bowed in return. She went back to her group while Thomas turned to his. “Now. Start again. And do it right this time.”
-------------------------------------

Hours later Mageria was sitting alone in the common room of the Black Guard’s barracks; stitching together a broken piece of practice armor. The braid that hung over her shoulder was streaked with white; the patch at her temple had remained white ever since her brush with death three years ago. Between that and the stories that evidently went around about ‘The woman who came back from Death’ had lead to some interesting rumors floating around the barracks that were evidently used to frighten new recruits. She didn’t mind so much, if they were already afraid of her she didn’t have to work so hard to get them worked into shape. It was quiet and almost peaceful, the only sounds ones that floated in through the open window.

Suddenly she raised her head, alerted by the sense that something had changed. Since she didn’t have any type of Enlightenment, Mageria had honed her senses over the years until she frequently sensed things that others missed. She couldn’t pinpoint what it was, but something was different. Slipping the hilt of a dagger into one hand, she turned and peered into the shadows, searching for what had alerted her.
“Hello?”

From behind her there was the slightest scrape of leather on stone, that was the only warning that she had before a figure dressed in black leather launched itself at her. Mageria barely dodged out of the way in time, twisting as she did so that she could land a firm push on the other’s back and send them stumbling on past. Spinning on the ball of one foot, Mageria pulled another dagger and set herself for a fight. Unfortunately she recognized the person that was attacking her, and she knew that she wasn’t going to get away without a struggle.
“All right then.” She gestured with the daggers in a ‘bring it on’ motion. “Let’s see what you’ve got.”
The other woman grinned evilly and pulled a pair of sticks from her back, setting herself in a fighting stance as well; she pressed something on the sticks that caused sickle like blades to pop out, making them fighting scythes. With a quick pair of steps the other woman pressed the attack, while Mageria dropped down and brought one leg around in a sweeping motion. The other woman jumped up on the table, kicking a bowl at Mageria’s head. She in turn rolled under the table and launched herself upwards, slamming the table up and over. She heard a grunt as the other woman fell, then rolled and sprang back up. She brought her scythes up and around in a move that would have ripped her throat out if Mageria hadn’t blocked it with her forearm. The only thing that saved her from losing her arm was the fact that she wore vambraces heavily reenforced with metal ribs. She’d have a bruise, but it was worth it as she rotated her arm around and used the motion to pull the scythe from her opponent. Her opponent hissed in frustration and brought her other stick around in a backhand move to try and smash it into Mageria’s jaw, she ducked and tackled the other woman, pushing her into the wall. For a few minutes, both women traded blows that would have done considerable damage if any of them had managed to land, yet they both kept fighting. At one point Mageria managed to get a grip on the other woman’s shirt and arm, using it to try and throw her against the wall. Instead of hitting the wall, she managed to use the momentum to run up and flip over Mageria, grabbing her in turn and spinning her around. The other woman used the opportunity to launch a roundhouse punch that Mageria wasn’t completely able to dodge, but she rolled with it and ended up standing a couple of feet away. Turning, she grabbed random things off the table and flinging them at her attacker with deadly accuracy. She dodged some, grabbed a few others out of the air, but she couldn’t dodge them all. The other woman took a couple of steps back under the rain of missiles, not noticing that Mageria was driving her toward a puddle of something that gleamed in the light. One boot heel caught the edge of it and went out from under her, she flailed wildly before twisting and landing badly. Mageria didn’t let the opportunity slip by, she sprinted over and grabbed her, twisting one arm up and planting a knee in the other woman’s back to drive her to the floor. With a grunt she grabbed the back of the woman’s neck and slammed her head into the floor.
“Yield, Sham.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Sham (No Last Name)
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Footnotes

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INK

Sham growled in frustration. She really thought that she was going to get the Captain this time, the woman had been completly distracted . . . . She should have been surprised! Mageria’s knee was planted firmly in the middle of her back and any more pressure on her arm and it would be dislocated. She was about to admit defeat when a strange male voice intruded.

“Hey, Captain, I have a letter for you, but I see you are rather busy. Should I come back later?”

Hopeful, she stayed still for a moment, hoping that Mageria would get distracted. She felt the Captain's weight shift just a bit, as she cheerfully replied. “Jake!? Hold on, I’ll be with you in . . .” Sham thrashed violently, turning so that she faced into the hold that Mageria had on her arm. It worked, up to a point. Her arm was in no more danger of being dislocated but now Mageria had a tight grip on her neck and was steadily applying pressure.
“Sham. You know the rules. Now yield, or it gets twice as bad.”
Sham sighed and finally yielded. Mageria released her grip and Sham gratefully drew in a deep breath of air. Looking up, she saw Mageria walk over to someone with long black hair with a rather interesting scar over one eye. Oddly enough, the Captain seemed really happy to see this stranger. Sham got up and perched on one of the few tables still standing, grabbing a piece of fruit and biting into it.
“Heya Cap’n. Old boyfriend?” She leaned over and took a good look, actually the stranger seemed a bit young for Mageria. “No wait, boytoy? Raise ‘em up right?” Mageria choked on something that sounded a lot like a laugh and turned so that she faced both of them. “No, an old friend is all. Sham, this is Jake. Jake, this is Sham, whom I foolishly have taken into the Knights a couple of years back.” She looked over at Jake. “It’s been what? Three years?”
Sham stretched, wandering over to the open window. “Are you sure he’s not a ‘friend’?” She sketched quotes in the air. “I mean, you really need to loosen up, Cap’n” She yelped as Mageria turned and hurled a mug at her head, leaping up to crouch in the window ledge. “Cause if he’s not available, I know a guy . . .”
“OUT!” Mageria grabbed another mug and sent it whizzing at her head, Sham leapt backwards out of the window in a backwards somersault, grabbing the mug and placing it in the window as she fell.

----------------------------------

Mageria sighed as she turned back to Jake, rubbing one temple in frustration. “Every day it's like this. No, actually, this is it being calm around here any more. But still Jake, it’s good to see you.” She tilted her head to the side as she looked him over. “You look as if you’re doing well. Thanks for the letter, it’s been something I’ve been a bit worried about.” She took the envelope and gestured to the one untouched table. “Do you have time to stay a while?”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Thomas Sidin Character Portrait: Jake Turner
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Footnotes

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INK

(Just outside Newhaven)
A hard smile crossed Thomas’s face. “Well then, I’ll pass your words along. Maybe then that idiot woman can stop being distracted and nearly getting herself killed in the process. It’s not like she’s had enough to deal with in the past few years, she had to keep looking and hoping that you would come home someday.”
He started to turn away and then stopped.
“You and your men are welcome enough here at Newhaven, Warleader. Keep them calm and they’ll even be welcome in the taverns and inns. But if you truly don’t want to see Mageria again, I suggest you increase the guards around the camp.” With that Thomas got back on his horse and started to ride away.

------------------------------
(Newhaven)
Jake simply raised an eyebrow at the woman named Sham as she talked, not really sure if he should be amused by her or not. If anything, he did take notice of the woman's agility as she made her way out of the window. "Huh." He mumbled, slightly intrigued. He then snorted out a chuckle. "Wait, you mean that this place was once calm? I know it's been a while, but I don't really remember any quiet moments." Then, thinking for a moment or two, he finally decided he could spare some time, since he was already there. "Suppose I could stay for a while." He said, moving over to one table that seemed to have gone unscathed, and taking a seat by it. "Annie is probably not dying to have me back so soon. She says she's got enough on her hands without having to babysit me... Whatever that means." He said, running one hand through his hair and stretching lazily in his seat. He didn't really like riding as much as he liked walking, but Annie said that the letter was to be delivered as soon as possible. "So, aside from chaotic, how are things around here? I see that the Black Knights' standards of recruitment remain as high as usual." He joked, although, for what he heard, there was no one left of the group he had worked with aside from Mageria herself. He knew why Set had left, he knew why he had left, he wasn't all that sure what happened to the other guy, but out of all people, he never imagined Grim would be leaving Newhaven. That until he ran into a member of the Black Guard in the city one day and was informed that he had done just that. He didn't go into that topic though, the man must have had his reasons as well, whatever they were. Instead, he asked about something else that had him curious. "So, what is this letter about that was so urgent? If you don't mind me asking, that is."
---------


Mageria sighed. "I don't have normal days anymore. Typical ones, yes. But not normal. I sometimes wonder what they feel like. As for our standards of recruitment; well, it's always been a problem to find people with the right mix of balls and brains to be a good Knight. The people I have now are good, but times have been, well, interesting. I could wish . . . " She waved the thought away and opened the envelope that Jake had given her and read it quickly, catching her lip between her teeth as certain details added to recent events started to make a worrying amount of sense. "Damn," she muttered under her breath. This was going to make things much more complicated. According to the letter, Jason was apparently a firestarter, which meant that his Enlightenment was going to be exceedingly hard to control. It was going to take a lot of managing to help him handle all of this, but she wasn't willing to give up right away. Looking up, she caught Jake's raised eyebrow and twitched a half smile.
"Sorry. I've got a couple of kids living here who's parents were Guards that died during the last siege. One of them recently started displaying an Enlightenment, apparently he's a firestarter. I wrote Annie for help training him in control. But according to this, it's going to be difficult." Frowning, she drummed her fingers on the table and stared at the letter.
--------


"Dani Rivers used to say that you can always find good people, but extraordinary people usually find you first." Jake stated absently, a hint of a smile crossing his features, but fading soon after. He sighed softly. "Normal... I don't think I even remember what that's supposed to mean anymore." He stated, watching as she read the letter and taking notice of the concern in her expression and raising an eyebrow. When she explained what the situation was he nodded. "Ah, I see..." He said, immediately remembering one of the White Shadows, Isaac, who not only had an enlightenment like that, but also disliked Jake with a passion. "I've met a firestarter back at the ruins, he is 28 years old, but still loses control eventually. Although, I'm pretty sure that the times he attempted to light me on fire were not accidental." He stated, a small frown crossing his expression as he recalled the incidents. "But now I see why Annie was in such a hurry to get this letter delivered. Which reminds me I also have something for Ella, been carrying it around with me for over a year for whenever I stopped by." He said, pulling a wooden pendant of a chess queen hanging on a string. The wooden piece was perfectly crafted, half of it painted white, and half painted black. He chuckled. "Maybe a little too simple for a Queen, but it's from a friend. I think she'll appreciate the sentiment" He stated, letting it rest on the table, carefully. "Will you make sure she gets it?" He asked, discretely reaching for the golden chain around his neck and fiddling with it.
-------------

Mageria picked up the pendent and tucked it away carefully. "Of course. I think she'll be glad to get it." She raised one eyebrow, grinning. "It took you a year of wandering Valcrest to make your way here? Should I draw you a map for next time?" A cough from the door drew her attention, there was a Black Guard standing there with a sheaf of papers.
"Sorry Captain, but there's something you need to know about."
Mageria sighed. "Typical day. Excuse me a moment." She got up and walked over, accepting the papers he held out. He looked around, grinning. "Sham try again?"
Mageria snorted, "Of course, who else could cause that much damage in that short of time? Go ahead and pass the word, then get someone in here to get things cleaned up." There was apparently a pool going as to when Sham was finally going to succeed in her attempts.
Mageria rapidly examined the papers, finding them to be a report on action between a Knight and a couple of thieves. Reading the details, she sighed, rubbing her forehead. "Of course he did. I'll take care of it in a little bit. Thanks for this."
A tiny girl wandered in past him as they were talking, climbing up next to Jake on the bench. She clutched a battered white teddy bear under one arm and regarded Jake with an open and curious expression.
"My name's Lily. What's yours?"
----------

Jake chuckled slightly. "Well, it has been a busy couple of years..." He said, smiling innocently. "I can still find my way around just fine though, better than most even." He stated, holding back a grin. As a cough came from the direction of the door Jake turned to take a look at the guard standing there. He didn't know the man, so he simply let his mind wander off while he and Mageria conversed, still fiddling with golden chain, absently. With the corner of his eyes he noticed the little girl that had made her way into the room and onto the bench next to him, probably one of the kids Mageria had mentioned. He turned his head and looked down at her as she asked his name, looking at him with curious eyes. "Hi, Lily. I'm Jake." He told her, tilting his head to one side and asking. "Do you always wander around the castle on your own like this?"
-------------

Lily shook her head, chewing on one finger. "Puppy follows me most of the time. Maga says it's cause no one else can keep up with me. And that when Puppy says I'm not supposed to go somewhere, I should listen. Mostly we just stay in the big room, but I got bored. And Puppy didn't make me go back, so I came here." She looked around. "Was Maga and Sham playing again?" She fussed with her teddy bear, then looked up again. "This is Sir Penic, Knight Cap'n of the Order of the Eternal Light." She pronounced each word carefully, holding out her bear with obvious pride. It had seen a hard life, one ear almost chewed off and several places where it had been restitched, but it still bore a Knight's surcoat with a sun-in-glory stitched on the front of it.
Lily clutched her bear with both arms around it's neck and looked up at Jake with a strand of tangled blond hair hanging over one eye. "Do you want to be a Knight, Jake? You can be part of my troop."

There was a snuffling noise at the door and a wolf hound worked its way in, nudging it's way past the two standing in the door. It stood about three feet high and the shoulder and was covered in frosted grey fur. Looking about with surprisingly intelligent eyes, it spotted Lily and crossed over to her, sitting down and putting it's muzzle on the bench with a sigh. Lily patted it's head and grinned. "This is Puppy."
----------------

Jake listened to the little girl as she talked, with a slightly amused expression on his face, letting out a chuckle when she asked if Mageria and Sham had been playing again. He figured the unusual scene he stumbled upon wasn't really that unusual after all.
He then gave the bear a curious look while Lily introduced him, it looked as beaten as any child's favorite toy. "Well, nice meeting you, Sir Knight." He said, giving a slight bow. "So you have your own troop, huh? I used to be a Knight, but not anymore. I'm a mercenary now, you know what a mercenary is?" He asked her, glancing around the room in time to see an enormous wolfhound enter the room after the girl. "Puppy?" He mumbled staring at the hound. Finally he shook his head and sighed, amused. "Of course he is."
----------------

Lily looked confused. "How come you're nots a Knight? Did you get in trouble? I thought that ifs you was a Knight you was always a Knight."

Mageria finally finished talking with the Guard and looked over, it appeared that Lily was in the process of wrapping another person around her tiny finger. With a small grin, she went over to rescue Jake. "Mathew, would you take Lily back to the play room, please?" She leaned over. "Say bye to Jake, Lily." Lily grinned and stood up on the bench to wrap both arms around Jake's neck. "Bye Jake! I love you!" She hopped down off the bench and followed the Guard out of the room, Puppy ambling after her.

Mageria smiled and sat back down. "Sorry about that. Lily thinks that everyone in the world is her friend." She fiddled with a bit of silverware. "But listen, you've been wandering around for the past few years. What have heard? Any strange rumors? I just get the feeling . . ." She sighed and looked troubled. "I just get the feeling that something is on the horizon heading towards us." A brief self deprecating smile crossed her face. "Maybe I've just been expecting trouble for too long."
---------------


Jake scratched his head and chuckled at Lily's way of seeing things. "Yes, I did get in trouble a little bit." He stated simply. He wasn't about to tell a kid that age that nothing really lasts forever, that people change or just randomly leave without a warning. She had some good years left before seeing it for herself, or so he hoped. When Mageria came back and told Lily to say goodbye, Jake was a little surprised when the little girl stood on the bench and wrapped her arms around his neck, before hopping off and following the guard out of the room. Jake simply shook his head, responding with a "bye" of his own.

As Mageria sat down, Jake turned his attention back to the woman with a small chuckle. "Cute kid." He stated before addressing the question she had asked. "Rumors? There's this rumor that Evin has been wandering the streets of Blackpond, drunk out of his mind." He smirked. "But I started those, so...Rumors, per say, no. Things are strange in Blackpond though. And that to say the least. About a year ago, while I was still in the desert, I was hired by an army officer who was planning on deserting. He wanted me to take his wife and kids safely out of the city and to the healers, the woman was pregnant. I did what he hired me to do, but then I got a little concerned for him and went back to find him." Jake heaved a small sigh and continued. "The man had vanished the next day. When I asked people, who I knew where his friends, about his whereabouts they simply gave me panicked looks and said they didn't know who I was talking about." Jake ran a hand wearily through his hair. "I went back and told this pregnant woman that her husband had vanished into thin air. After that I moved to the Plains to stay closer to the city. I've spent long periods of time there... The city is in the worst shape it had ever been in its history. I couldn't get any concrete information though. On anything." He stated and then he shrugged a little bit. "I know that technically, they've backed off Newhaven, but I don't know... That place seems to me like it's about to explode at any moment."
------------

"Blackpond is worrisome, but we're as prepared as we can be, I hope anyways. They hit us pretty hard last time, but maybe we can be ready this time. I'll have to take measures." She shook her head."And then you went and stayed close to the city in order to find out what was going on." Mageria smiled to herself. "Balls and brains. You had them when I offered you the Black years ago, you still have them now." She propped her chin on one hand and half smiled. "I'm glad you came by Jake. Not just for the letter and the information. But it's good to know that you're doing ok." She tilted her head to the side. "I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but I could wish that you were still around more. And now I've made you horribly uncomfortable, haven't I?"
-------------

Jake nodded at the Captain's words, cursing himself mentally for not doing what he had planned all along and staying unnoticed. It wasn't unpleasant to be there, on the contrary; he was glad he had stopped and taken the time to talk to Mageria. Especially since he hadn't stopped for anyone in a very long time. However, Jake himself had changed over the last four years. He had betrayed every oath he had taken, and he had also been betrayed by Dani in such a way that, despite comprehending, he was still unable to forgive entirely. He had distanced himself from most of his loved ones so he could work where they weren't involved. Still, with the Pack splitting up, the White Shadows almost wiped out, Blackpond in a mess... Newhaven seemed to be the one familiar place left, and although Jake wouldn't actually admit it; he needed something familiar. He opened a half smile and responded. "Uncomfortable? Not really. If that was the case, being referred to as a 'boytoy' would have certainly done it." He said, glancing towards the window, a hint of amusement in his eyes. "Say, how many Knights do you have under your command currently?" He asked in a casual and maybe a little too uninterested tone. "I suppose, since I'm not currently on a job or anything, sticking around Newhaven for a while wouldn't hurt. If that's alright, that is." Jake was still suppressing the urge to ask about Grim. But the man's words, spoken to him so long ago, resurfaced in his mind unexpectedly: "Why don't you come home, Jake?" Funny how things turned out... Funny indeed.
--------------------

Mageria shrugged. “Well, currently, I’ve got three Knights. Which means that there’s room for one more. Even better if its one that I’ve known in the past and can trust.” She held out one hand. “I hope. . . .”
Whatever she was going to say was intruppted by a breathles Guard slamming into the door way. “There’s a strange woman at the gate, she wants to talk, Lady Ella’s gone to the gate . . .” That was as far as he got before Mageria exploded out of her seat and pushed past him.
“Bloody Hell! Come on!” She raced down the stairs and through corridors, saving only enough breath to whistle sharply in the code that told Sham that there was trouble. She would find a vantage point and watch for any need.
Only slightly breathless, Mageria made it to the gate and found Ella standing there facing a woman in a strangely dyed red cloak. With a sigh at the turn of events she took her place at her Queen’s right side.
“And who is today’s visitor?”

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Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir
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Mageria kept her expression still, but there was no way that the woman standing before her was a simple serving girl. No one who cultivated their looks into a weapon the way that she did could be anything less than extremely dangerous. If it was up to her, she would turn the woman away right then and there. But it wasn’t up to her. She took one step forward and to the side when the other woman moved, instinctively standing so that she partially shielded Ella from attack.
“My Lady?” she murmured over her shoulder, using a seldom used form of address.
“It’s up to you.” With one hand she signaled everyone else in the courtyard to halt until Ella made up her mind. And noted to herself that she needed to enlist more women, judging from the stunned looks on some of her people’s faces.

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Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir
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Mageria inclined her head slightly at Ella’s words and gestured to the side. “Turner? If you would escort the lady to the Receiving room?” It was actually a room not too far from the ‘working’ rooms of the Castle, but calling it the Receiving room was code for ‘take the guest there and keep her away from any of the important people and rooms.” She had no doubt that Jake would remember it, she watched them go, flashing hand signals for several people to follow them.
Turning on her heel she noticed that Michael was still standing next to her. “You’ve been patrolling for the past 10 hours, James. Go get some rest.” She patted him on the shoulder as she walked past. It only took her a few quick steps to catch up with Ella, then she was walking beside her as they took the quick way to get to the room that they would talk to their new ‘visitor’ in.
“And I got quite a few things done while we had no leader, Ella. But your mother forbid me from using such methods after a slight misunderstanding with the Council. Apparently I’m supposed to be diplomatic in my dealings with our beloved officials nowadays.” She spotted a page and grabbed him, telling him which room they were taking the woman to and to get it ready for visitors. The boy nodded and dashed off.

When they finally reached the proper room, the servants almost had it ready. Mageria leaned against a wall and stretched, trying to work some of the kinks out of her neck. 
“Anyone who can survive in Blackpond without using a blade has some other method of fighting, Ella. And you lived with the assassins long enough to know that an attack doesn’t always mean a honest fight.” The last maidservant hurried out, leaving behind a room that was ready to receive visitors and was reasonably defendable. Mageria had survived six years as Captain of the Black Knights only by being extraordinarily paranoid and she wasn’t going to stop now. She looked over at Ella and held out on arm in an after you gesture. “Please be careful in your dealings with her. For my sake. I don’t need more white hairs.” She grinned and tapped the white lock at her temple.

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Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Michael James
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Mageria read the note that Ella handed her quickly, her face falling into somber lines. “Damn. I don’t trust any of the people involved. If it works, it might be worth it. I admit that I’d do a lot to get our people back, which means that if we went for it, I’d be doing it. But it would mean strengthening Blackpond’s position, and I’m not sure that’s something that we should be doing. Plus you know what the Pack is willing to do if it doesn’t work the way that they seem to think it would.”

Carefully she folded the note back up and handed it to Ella, before walking over to the window and pulling the shutters against a draft. “With all due respect, my Lady. I’d suggest that we need to know more about everyone involved before we choose sides. I’ll start gathering what I can immediately. They may have something that we want, but they also need our help. We should play them for as long as possible.” There was a knock at the door, looking over Mageria saw that it was the Guard that she had sent to search the corridors. The man saluted and walked over to report softly, “We didn’t find anything suspicious, Captain. If there was something that she planted while she was walking, it would have been small enough that it should have gone off by now.” Mageria nodded and gripped his shoulder, saying only; “Search again, please. Call it a drill.”

Mageria glanced over and saw that Michael had fallen asleep while propped against the wall. Normally she would have just let him sleep, but judging from the way he was twitching and jerking, he was working his way into one of his full blown nightmares.
“Excuse me a moment, I have to take care of something.” She bowed her head to Ella before stalking over to where Michael was leaning, making sure to keep an irritated expression on her face. So far she had managed to keep the fact of his nightmares to just within the Black Knights, the middle of a mess like this wasn’t the moment to reveal them to anyone else.

When she put a hand to his shoulder Michael jerked and opened his eyes, but she could see that he still wasn’t awake. Quickly she jerked him out of the room and into a nearby empty closet. Michael was jerking his head from side to side and she just barely got him pinned to the wall with her hand clamped over his mouth before he started screaming. Knowing what was coming next, Mageria ducked her head, knowing that he was going to start swinging and fighting, trying to beat off whatever demons it was that lived in his dreamscape. Even with her foreknowledge however, she couldn’t avoid everything and he landed a solid punch to the side of her head. Rocking to the side, Mageria saw stars, however she didn’t release him, instead keeping him safely in place.
“Come on Michael. Wake up. Just wake up, I know, I know how bad this is, just wake up . . .” She kept up a soothing litany until finally he calmed and sense returned to his eyes. He was white as marble, his eyes burned holes in his head. He looked as if he had been staring into his own private hell. Mageria knew that look quite well, it was one she had worn three years ago. Then it had been caused by an Enlightened killer . . . while she had learned a great deal about herself at the time, she really could have gone without the lesson. Slowly she released him and let him slide to the floor, kneeling down next to him. At some point her braid had gotten half ripped out, she pulled the rest of it loose and started fixing it.
“I’ve always found that life gives you the best fodder for nightmares,” she remarked conversationally, carefully watching the floor in order to give Michael time to pull himself back together. “You back with us?”

Michael sat up looking at her.
His eyes were still wide and his face along with his hands were still trembling.
After a few moment he regained his senses and shook his hair from his face.
Brushing a bit of dust from his shoulder he said.
"My, my I do not foul up often but when I do it becomes a signal to those around me does it not?"
He then indignantly said
"Back with you my lady? Whatever do you mean back with you?
I do have one small question though, do forgive what is going to seem an impertinent question.
How in all that's sacred did I move from the meeting to here?
Then my second question, exactly where pre tell is here?"

He then stood brushing the dust from his clothes from head to toe.
He was if nothing else a neat freak and even a thread of clothing being out of place could send the former general looking for a knife to cut it loose.
His appearance was always meticulously kept, a product no doubt of his former life.
Michael then pulled his hair back into a very neat ponytail and cleared his throat as the visage of the scared child ran from his face.
And the one of the smiling, demure, monster returned.
"If there is little else my lady..."
He once more choked back a stammer that was trying to work it's way into his speech.
"I would wish to return to the main room and sit by the fire once more with a glass of wine."

Mageria stood up and finished tying off her braid, running one hand over it to check and wincing when she found the sore spot where Michael had landed a blow.
“Of course, Michael. Just remember, I’ve been reprimanding you for falling asleep while an assassin threatened the Queen. If you feel like sleeping, you might want to go back to your room to do so.” She paused and looked over her shoulder at Michael, a concerned look on her face. “Just so you know, you’re not going got be able to ignore what ever is causing those dreams forever. Believe me, I know.”

With that Mageria pushed the door open and stepped out, walking back to the meeting room and going in as if nothing unusual had happened.

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Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Thomas Sidin Character Portrait: Sham (No Last Name) Character Portrait: Jake Turner
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Jake could guess what the whole thing was about before Mageria even spoke a word to him; the slightly evil smile on the woman's face was a very good hint of what was to come. His suspicions growing as she led him by the arm, and confirmed as they reached a training area. He heaved a small sigh knowing that he would probably leave this with a few bruises and aches, but grinned even so. It had been a long while since he had a chance at a (considerably) leveled fight. This would actually turn out to be quite fun for him.

Before picking up training gear, Jake needed to get rid of what he definitely wouldn't be using for this: his needles. So he carefully removed the sheathes located at his waist, forearms, and ankles, each containing ten to twenty needles. Afterwards he felt the weight of the training swords until he decided to arm himself with two short swords. They were heavier than his own sword, but weren't as heavy as the ones the knights were used to. He also got a couple of daggers, easily concealing them here and there as needed. Once done, he proceeded to join the Captain in the center of the courtyard. "Fair enough." He stated simply "You will have to excuse me if I'm a bit rusty though. You know, it's been a while." He added, a slight smirk showing on his face as he walked towards the woman, feeling his feet sink slightly in the muddy ground, one sword in each hand and some daggers hidden just in case, after all, old habits die hard.

Jake paced calmly towards Mageria, and never actually stopped before her. Not wasting any time in delivering the first couple of blows, he aimed a first hit with his left sword directly at Mageria's face and a second with his right sword at her chest.

Mageria snorted at the "a bit rusty" claim of Jake's. As if he would let any skills of his get rusty. She set her feet in a fighting stance and watched as Jake made his way towards her. Behind them both standing under the awnings were a number of the Guards watching them both and making bets on them both. When Jake struck at her face, Mageria brought her right arm up and deflected it off of her vambrace, letting it slide harmlessly past her head. The right hand sword she caught on the dagger in her left hand, twisting slightly so that she was inside Jake's guard. Bringing her right arm in tight, she aimed her elbow toward Jake's gut and jabbed it backwards . . .

Jake didn't try to escape the blow aimed at his gut, instead he simply decided to twist his body enough to protect his mid section and not get the wind knocked out of him. As he took the hit, he walked back a couple of steps so he could to put his guard up again properly, raising his left sword in a defensive manner while attacking with his good hand. Then he shook his head lightly and opened up a small smirk. "Now, what did I tell you? Rusty. It's almost shameful." He stated. Obviously, he didn't expect Mageria to believe that, but he was getting a bit of a kick out of messing with the guards who were betting on the fight. Following the statement, Jake advanced again; this time being careful not to leave another opening like the one before, aiming for body blows that were easily dodged or blocked and returned as he looked for an opening.

Mageria raised her eyebrows sardonically and tilted her head at Jake's words. Then a lightning grin worked it's way across her face and she started raining blows down on Jake, driving him across the yard and through a couple of puddles. He blocked every blow, so she took a moment to take a step back and dig her toe into a puddle and fling a glob of mud at Jake's face.



Jake notice the mud flying off the ground towards his face a moment too late to dodge, as the 'projectile' hit him straight in the face he dropped his left sword and let a dagger slide from under his sleeve, concealing it with his enlightenment. He then raised his hand as if to wipe the mud of his face, and threw the dagger in the direction of Mageria's face before to wiping the mud of his eyes.

Impressed with Jake's ability to conceal his actions, Mageria dove to one side to avoid the dagger flying at her face, rolling on the ground and coming up in a crouch. Bracing one hand on the ground, she brought her leg around in a sweeping motion towards Jake's legs.

Jake wiped his eyes and regained sight barely in time to see the incoming sweep kick. He attempted to jump over the kick, but it still caught his left foot, causing him to lose his balance and stumble back as he landed. The muddy ground didn't help his case, and he ended up slipping and falling backwards, immediately rolling over to his left and retrieving the sword he had dropped in order to defend himself better from the attack he knew would be coming next.

Mageria smoothly spun up from her crouch, settling her weight on both feet once again. She turned to see that Jake was rolling away, reaching for his sword and trying to bring it up. Walking towards him, she absently swung first the sword in her right hand and the long dagger in her left in circles, keeping her wrists loose and flinging a bit of mud off.
"Come on then. Stand up." Stopping a couple of steps away, she gestured with her sword, giving Jake the chance to get up out of the mud. When he hesitated, she raised one eyebrow and smiled.
"Don't you trust me?" Keeping back, she waited for what he'd do next.
Of course she pushed an attack the instant he started to move, aiming a couple of heavy blows toward his head.

Jake hesitated when Mageria told him to stand up. He did trust the woman with his life, but he knew for a fact she wasn't one to hold back, even if it was training, and he wouldn't really expect her to. Besides, the first thing he was taught, still as a kid, was: Never listen to a word your opponent says. Still, simply lying there would accomplish nothing so he took his chance at pulling himself off the ground, knowing it wouldn't be that simple.
Of course, the moment he moved he was met with several blows aimed towards his head. Jake wasn't even standing up straight yet as he was forced to lift up his left sword to stop Mageria's blade from hitting him in the head. As he blocked the first blow he almost lost balance again, but managed to steady himself, blocking the second blow as well. As the next blows came his way, instead of trying to properly stand and block them, he dropped to one knee, still protecting his head with his left sword, and swung his right sword towards Mageria's knees.

Mageria brought her dagger around to block Jake's blow, but couldn't block all of the force. It actually caught her in just the right place that it made her knee buckle, throwing her to the side and driving the air from her lungs for an instant. Forcing herself up, she rolled and drove herself to her feet.

Jake had an opportunity and he wasn't going to waste it. In the few moments it took for Mageria to bring herself up again, he activated his enlightenment and vanished, being careful to walk quietly and stepping over his own footprints not to give himself away, he circled her and attacked from behind, aiming a blow to her back.

Jake was gone. Well, obviously not gone, but not visible anymore. Obviously he was counting on his Enlightenment to give him the advantage, but like most Enlightened, he counted on it far too much, in her opinion. Drawing a careful breath, Mageria let her eyes drift half closed, pushing her dagger back into it's sheath to leave her left hand free. Most mercenaries practiced blind fighting for fun, but it was a skill that she had found extremely useful. It involved the ability to rely on senses other than sight, concentrating instead on trying to sense an opponent's movements with a sense of the space around a fighter.

Mageria settled her weight on both feet and concentrated. Half a breath in . . . she spun, eyes still half closed and brought her sword up, hearing it clang against another weapon. With her left hand she grabbed the invisible arm and seized a pressure point, using it to lever Jake's arm out and down in a rather painful hold. She smiled as she heard bets being settled back in the doorway.
"Nice try Jake. Care to try again?"

Later that night Mageria grinned a bit as she got ready for bed. Jake hadn’t done that bad, really. She’d have no problem bringing him up to a proper level of skill in no time. With a small sigh of exhaustion, she went about her nightly rituals. First was making sure that there was enough oil in the lamp sitting on her mantle. It was a small, squat lamp known as a Traveler’s Blessing, a bit of mercenary superstition that she couldn’t quite break herself of. Most mercenaries, once they managed to settle down, still had friends that were walking “The Long Road” as it was known. The belief was that if a light was kept burning for them, one day they would be able to find their way home. At the moment, there were two wicks burning, each of them labeled with a small metal tag. Because naming the person that was watched for meant that Death would also be watching for them, the tradition was that they were labeled with something that represented the person. One of the wicks was labeled with an ancient rune which meant “Strength through Courage” while the other read “Strength through Faith”. She brushed her fingers across it and moved on. One day they would find their rest.

Next she checked her weapons, another habit, but one she wasn’t about to break. Everything was in order, and her smile was tinged with sadness as she ran her fingers over a war hammer hanging from a rack. It was bright silver, with several ancient holy symbols impressed into it. The shaft was badly scratched, as if a hand with claws had tried to hold it. And it had, really. There was also blood that had soaked into the wood, no matter how hard she tried she hadn’t been able to clean it off. There was a leather thong on one end that would be used to attach it to a belt, from that dangled a battered iron cross.
“Hold on Daniel. I know that you’re out there.”

Finally she crossed to her desk to carefully shelve a couple of books. The knowledge that they held had been hard won, and not something that she would care to let just anyone know. The shelf that she put them on held several old and battered journals, most of them ancient and each stamped with either a golden sun or a silver crescent. Sometimes the best way to learn was to listen to those who were no longer able to speak.

Pushing herself to relax, she finally climbed into bed. Today had been exciting enough. Tomorrow might hold even more . . .

---------------

Thomas rubbed his hands through his hair and sighed in impatience. He just knew that things were going to get complicated with the Salamanders camped right outside the walls of Newhaven, but there was nothing he could do about it. Best to just move on to what he could control. Reaching out with one arm, he drug a stack of reports nearer and started leafing through it. He hadn’t been ready to become the Captain of the White Knights in the first place, ever since then it had felt like a desperate scramble to catch up. There had been months of late nights like this, trying to fill a role that he had been shoved into. Absently he ate with one hand while studying the reports with the other, not even tasting what he was eating. It took him a couple of hours, but he finally waded through them all. Putting them in a pile to deal with later, he wandered back into his bed room and shrugged out of his shirt. Not even bothering to pull anything else off, he just collapsed backwards and pulled a pillow over his head; dropping into a dreamless sleep.

-------

Sham was sitting on the edge of a roof watching the city when the stars started coming out. She liked to watch the city put itself to sleep, remembering when this time of day used to be her most active. For some reason nobody looked around during twilight. She hugged her knees to her chest, more disturbed with the actions and words of Yishka than she wanted to admit

“Why should a city have only one voice? I think Mageria has had the same idea as I have for a while now and she knows that it must be done to insure optimal survival."

"Now I have a story for you. . . . There was once a woman at the mercy of another woman. The first woman-- let's call her Yishka-- was on the ground with the blade of the second woman aimed directly for her heart. Yishka was a vile woman, who used threats and lied to get her way. No one could tell how many people's death she was responsible for. The second woman, with the perfect chance to kill this woman has a difficult choice to make herself however. She could kill Yishka, but face the consequence when 27 innocent soldiers die or she could let Yishka go, not knowing how many innocent lives she could possibly take herself. So, would you rather play the soulless tango with Mother Death herself or would you rather kill what you know you need to have to be happy?"


Did Mageria think the same way that this Yishka did? She knew that the woman was capable of almost anything, but surely there were limits to what the Captain would do. Weren’t there?

Finally Sham stood up and started running along the edge of the roof, her eyes flaring green as she shifted her sight to better deal with the dark. There was nothing she could do about it now. She’d just have to see how things turned out next.

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Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Thomas Sidin Character Portrait: Grim Pondus 'War' Character Portrait: The Beast
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She ran through the familiar streets of Newhaven, seeing them torn and twisted by the ravages of war. In the distance she could hear the screams of men fighting and the clash of boulders being thrown into the walls.

And behind her . . . behind her was a creature straight out of a nightmare. Death’s Servant. A creature that had been whispered about through the generations of Black Knights ever since it had first been brought forth during times of war. Now it walked the land again and threatened the people she protected.

The beast snarled as it chased her, coughing in satisfaction as she came up short and was forced to turn. It leapt for her, claws aimed at her throat. She fought, wounding it time and time again; but every time it simply healed and came after her again. She buried her sword deep in it’s chest, it simply shrugged it off and kept coming after her. No matter how hard she fought, it wasn’t enough, it just kept coming and coming until she could barely stand, bleeding and helpless before it. It circled her, snarling deep in it’s throat.

“You’re mine Captain. You always have been and you always will be.”

With a growl it raised it’s claw and with a lightning fast move ripped her throat out . . . . .


With a muffled scream Mageria sat up in bed, eyes wide and unfocused as she fought for breath. Swearing, she ran one hand through her hair and held out the other. It was trembling violently, and she clenched it in the bed cloths beside her as she slowly forced herself to remember that she had survived that fight, that Daniel had managed to fight off the control of the Beast long enough to resist killing her and leave the battlefield. She hadn’t dreamed of that fight for a long time and she didn’t know what this new version of her dream meant. Perhaps she had been studying the legends for too long and they had soaked into her mind.

With a sigh she got up and splashed water on her face, washing away the remnants of her dream. She put herself back together as she dressed, donning the persona of Captain along with the uniform. Captains didn’t have nightmares that they woke up screaming from; at least they didn’t let them sit inside their heads and control them. Therefore, she wouldn’t let it bother her. Just a bad dream, nothing more.

It was when she left her room and went to breakfast that she found out that trouble started early. The talk was about a new band of mercenaries that were camped outside of the gates of Newhaven, the Salamanders. The guilty looks of her men when they saw her nearby confirmed that they were talking about whom she thought, the band of fighters that Grim had started after he left. The fact that it had taken her this long to hear about it . . . that was interesting. She grabbed a couple of slices of bread and stuffed some meat in; then went to find the only person with the authority to try and keep such information from her.

She found Thomas before he even made it out of his room, the papers that he had been working on last night in hand. She put one hand firmly in the middle of his chest and pushed him back through the door, a frighteningly pleasant smile on her face. He raised one eyebrow and sighed resignedly.
“I take it you know, then?”
Mageria bared her teeth and took a large bite of her sandwich.
“That’s the thing. Eventually, I find out about everything around here. You know how soldiers gossip. Well, I hear most of it, because my people hear everything and they pass it along. So imagine my surprise when I find out that Grim has been back in the area and you have been down to see him. That would be fine and all, except it was something that I really should have been informed about, considering that I’m in charge of at least half of the forces of Newhaven. Don’t you agree, Sir?” She took another big bite of her sandwich and leaned against the door, not intending to move until she got the answer that she wanted.

Thomas grimaced and folded his arms, settling his weight on one leg and rubbing at his temple.
“It was for your own good, Mageria. I saw what happened when Grim left the first time, you don’t think it’s going to happen all over again when he leaves this time? I can’t have you fall apart again.” He glared back at her and took a firmer stance. “You need to move on, Mageria. He left, now you need to let him go.”

Mageria fisted her hands, fighting down the urge to hit her superior officer. It took her a moment to be able to speak calmly. “One of these days, Thomas, I’m going to wake up and be the cold hearted bitch you want me to be. And you’re going to find out just why that is something to be afraid of.”

Spinning on her heel, she left, going back to her room and grabbing her cloak and a few other things. The last time that she had seen Grim, it had been the middle of the night . . . and it had been raining . . . he and the men who had followed him were camped just outside of Newhaven. . .

On a nearby hilltop, wrapped in shadows and an inky black cloak, one slim figure waited patiently. She knew what had happened, what was happening. And though it had taken her many sleepless nights, she knew what she was going to have to do. She couldn’t just let them leave without doing something.

It wasn’t easy, but she managed to slip inside the boundaries of the camp, almost everyone was asleep or ensconced in their tents, waiting for dawn to come. The only moment of hesitation came when she had to chose the tent to enter, but in the end she turned away from the one that she knew held her friend. It wasn’t the time for a confrontation.
Instead she slipped inside Chandos’s tent, pulling the flap closed and drawing a knife at the same time. Chandos didn’t really even have a chance to react before he woke up with the sharp edge of her dagger laid across his neck. He tried to fight, but she only dug the knife a bit deeper and planted one knee in his stomach.
“Shhh, Chandos. It’s just me.”
Chandos gasped a little bit, disorented by the dark and the attack. Finally he managed a soft “Captain?”
Mageria smiled softly in the darkness, withdrawing her blade and stepping away. “Not Captain anymore, am I? At least not to your group.” She could hear him sitting up and reaching for something, she held out a hand to stop him. “No, no light. It’s better if there’s no way that someone sees this.” She waited until he settled back. “How is he?”
Chandos sighed. “Bad, Lady. He really feels like this is the best way to settle things.” He shifted. “You’ve heard the reports by now.”
Mageria nodded, before remembering that it couldn’t be seen. “Yes. I have.” She knelt down and sighed softly. “I can’t even say that he’s wrong.” There was a long pause. “I pushed him too hard, Chandos. Sent him into too many situations where his rage would come into play. If I hadn’t, maybe he could have held on longer.”
Chandos leaned forward. “Lady, that’s not . . .”
Mageria cut him off. “I can’t confront him. Not right now. He’s too close to the edge, and if a simple argument can set him off . . . I don’t think either of us could stay calm enough. And if I was to trigger one of his rages. . . . I could survive the fight, I have before. But I think it would kill him.” She pulled an envelope out of her coat and handed it over. “Here. When the moment is right, give this to him. If you can, suggest visiting the White Shadows. They’ve been studying Enlightenments for years, they could be able to help. And don’t be afraid to come back. There will be no punishments for leaving. For anybody.” Mageria pulled a satchel from around her neck and placed it on the bed nest to Chandos. "Here. You're going to need these eventually. And I had them made for him, seems a shame to let them go to waste." It was the bag of medicines that she had made up for Grim, with powerful numbing agents so that he could be tended safely. "Tell him you stole it if you have to." She sighed and bowed her head. "Farewell, Chandos." Mageria got up and slipped out of the tent, a soft “Safe journey,” the only thing she left behind. Silently she slipped back out through the tents, walking alone through the night and rain. And not even she could have known if the drops making their way down her face were from the rain or not.


Mageria didn't gallop through Newhaven, but she didn't wast any time either. She couldn't believe that Thomas would have tried to keep this a secret from her to protect her. He might have a few valid points, but it was up to her to decide!

She reached where the Salamanders were camped fairly quickly, pulling up and dismounting near the sentries. Pushing her anger down, she smiled at them.
"I'd like to speak to Grim, please. Tell him it's Mageria." She watched them trade a glance, then look back at her.
"No, it's ok." She set her feet in such a way that let them know she wasn't going to move without a fight. "I'll wait."

“You shouldn’t have come here…”
A voice calls from beyond the guards, there barely visible his outline against the gray was their Warlord. Both arms folded almost callously over his chest plate. It seemed fate had different plans that what Thomas had hoped for. Though privately Grim knew it wouldn’t last, he hadn’t expected Mageria to react so soon.
The Green Leader stepped forward with much weight. Grim no longer served as a subordinate to Newhaven. His was an air that commanded a ruthless aura brimming with unrelenting presence. The behemoth that was a walking mountain now was a walking lord. Green was the color of his cape, and emerald adorned his armor, both complimenting the eyes that watched from the shadow of his helm.
Promptly he forced himself through the sentry pushing them aside and strolling right past them. Walking casually off into the seclusion of the forest. Caring little for the ominous words he had heard about the dangers of Valcrest’s great grove. Knowing Mageria would be keen to follow.

“I am overjoyed to see you. Even if this meeting may set in motion a great many difficult things. I will not lie to you, my goals are not passive by any means. They may one day collide with the interests of Newhaven. Though I certainly mean nobody any harm, I also don’t entertain ignorance as much as I use to… “

Mageria snorted softly as she followed Grim. "You leave in the middle of the night with not a word to anyone three years ago; I've heard not a word since . . . and you don't expect me to come visit when you camp on my door step?" Mageria clasped her hands behind her back and paced beside Grim.
"You look like you've done well for yourself, Grim. I'm glad to see it. And when has anything that's happened in this end of the world been easy? I have no doubt that it will lead to a great many difficult things. But we have the ability to deal with them." She walked in silence for a few long moments.
"What are the goals that you speak of?" She hoped, she really hoped and prayed to the Lady of the Night that it was not something that would lead her to standing against her old friend.

“Rrrrrr… I left because there was no other option! I am Enlightened, the chosen children of our gods their inheritance is in my blood. They gave me this hell… praise them.
How was I supposed to choose? I am condemned to my actions and you know this. To stay… who knows what would have happened. You could not have protected me, nor could you have protected them. You’re strong Mageria, but the berserker cares not whom it kills. I know in my heart you could not say the same.”

He continued for some time in silence. Quietly debating what actions were worth taking, what words were safe to share. He felt his weariness lift, knowing well that he could indulge in the small relief. It was so good to see Mageria, but he knew they were no longer part of the same team. Grim would have to be careful for a loose tongue could spell the undoing of his three years long laboring.

“My goal is to bring peace at last to Valcrest, I don’t care what it takes. Imagine it Mageria, warm summers and cold winters without campaigns. Without all these dealings and foolish monarch rivalries. Women and children can rest their heads without fear of being invaded. Crops and trades will go untouched for more then mere months.”


"You speak of peace, Grim; peace at any cost. How is that any different from what I'm trying to do? It's like holding back the tide with your bare hands. My greatest wish is that such a peace was possible. I'm raising children now whose parents died at my orders, you think I don't want this madness to stop?" She bit her lip and took a deep breath, trying to calm herself. She knew that she hadn't wasted the lives of her people, but in the darkness of the night she wondered if she could have done more.
"For the past three years Blackpond has descended into madness while we've eked out a tenuous time of rebuilding. The worst thing I've had to worry about in the past few months besides normal things is the fact that one of my orphans has developed the ability to light the room on fire. I want the same thing that you do Grim." She sighed and felt a weariness slip over her. "I just don't see how one band of fighters, even with you leading them, can stop the tide of war. And it's coming back, old friend. Already the signs are in the air."

“Perhaps friend but you are still bound by Newhaven’s needs. Let us face reality for without you, the first city would have no one politically strong enough to hold the fronts. A child on the throne and a band of rich fools for a council. You may be trying for peace, but the Black Knights cannot do what we Salamanders can.
I grow in power with every recruit I take. My intention is to continue to grow. In time ours will be all the authority needed, the mightiest in Valcrest!”

They were out a ways from the encampment when Grim stilled his feet. Deciding to not venture much further out. He had spent plenty of days marching and while he wasn’t weary, he had little interest in wandering off now. Besides he would have to return to his camp at some point and it was best that he didn’t stray far.

“It’s coming back? No surprise, the cycle finds itself renewed. Sean still runs the Wolfpack and Blackpond I heard lost a king. No doubt a lot of fingers point toward a now weaker Newhaven. One may yet win out, but its no concern of mine for the moment.


Mageria reached out and pulled a leaf off of a nearby branch, slowly shredding it between her fingers as she thought. It was true that her primary duty was to Newhaven, but in the past she had taken actions that were for the good of Valcrest as well. Now the question was . . . was it better for Newhaven; for Valcrest for there to be continued conflict between all of the powers? What was coming . . . it couldn't possibly end well for anybody.

"Unlike Sarris, I believe that the Black Knights shouldn't be bound by diplomacy or law. As long as it's for the reason of protecting Newhaven, it isn't a crime."


The fact was, Black Knights were expected to take steps that would be unthinkable to anyone else. She was allowed; no, she was supposed to perform acts that most people would find treasonable. But the last time . . . . that had been Captain Morgan. Right reasons, wrong actions?

Plus, she really, really hated being blackmailed.

"Grim . . ." one hand gripped the dagger hanging on her belt. It had the silver crescent of the Black Knights on the pommel, symbol of her allegiance to the Lady of Shadows. "What exactly are you willing to do to keep the peace? For the good of Valcrest?"

He would face her once more taking in the moment and watching carefully where her hands ventured to. That was when she tested him further, the haunting from earlier revisiting. A sense of dread threatened to coil itself tightly about him, but Grim refused it’s hold and shook any signs of nervousness away. Instead he watched quizzically arching an eyebrow while he sized up Mageria. Checking for some hint as to what her next words or action could be.

“Anything… “

He almost didn’t believe his own words, but if his dream was to be fulfilled he would have to remain resolute. The Warlord understood that things wouldn’t be easy. Still, he was more wary of the Black Knight Captain then he had been in some time. Something in her voice was bothering the Salamander.

“This has to be stopped, no matter the cost.”

No matter the cost . . .

Mageria turned away from Grim, pacing away and bringing one hand up to pull hard on her braid, struggling to take a deep breath. The last time she had felt like she danced on the edge of a blade like this . . . things hadn't ended well. Point of fact, it had been when Pack assassins had killed the False King and she and Krander had been forced into attacking a camp that they knew held people most of whom had nothing to do with what had happened. Grace of the Twins, it wouldn't happen that way again.

Finally she turned back and smiled bleakly at her old friend. "I may hold you to that." Absently her thumb traced the crescent on her dagger. "Too many things are happening right now; I can't say what way they'll fall . . . But I'll not let them manipulate me into making the same mistakes of my past." With her free hand she fished out a small sealed jar from her pocket and tossed it gently to Grim. "When I find a way to stall their plans I'll let you know." She started back the way that they came. "Thought you might need some more of that," she said over her shoulder.

The jar flowed into his hands with ease and he promptly deposited the salve into a satchel at his belt. Listening with care to the cryptic words of his former Captain. Privately he guessed that something had went on at the castle recently. The flow of guardsmen and the absence of common folk hadn’t gone unnoticed by the Salamanders even in the early daylight.
Calmly he turned to face the retreating Mageria, watching over her depart with plenty to meditate over. It sounded like Newhaven may need his services yet again. There was a swelling of pride flowing through his feelings. After all this time, his blade may be called to deal death once more. There was no one more capable and Grim was ready to finally test his newfound might against a foe.

“Mageria… “ he had shouted after her,

“… If they will have me, I will join you in the war room. I am no longer part of Newhaven, but as long as our interests coincide I welcome the Princess to wield my blade. ”

Mageria turned back at Grim's words and felt a weight settle on her shoulders. "You may not thank me for that opportunity, old friend," she murmured under her breath. He looked so different in his new colors, and freer than he used to be. Gods help her, she would use any weapon that came to hand, and she might find herself needing to call upon his aid. A chill breeze whipped past the two of them, billowing her cloak around her and causing chills to run down her back. With a final smile and a gesture of farewell, she turned and walked away, heading deeper into the shadows under the trees.

It was with a great deal of mixed feelings that she rode away from the Salamander’s camp. Glad as she was to see her old friend, she dreaded the moment that she would have to ask him to step into danger once again. But he wouldn’t thank her for trying to keep him out of it. And so she clung to the knowledge that she at least wouldn’t be alone in the oncoming fight. And she had no doubt that there would be one.

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Mageria’s gaze grew distant as she looked inward for a moment, remembering the events of three years ago. Luckas’s brother had pulled out every moment of pain that she had ever experienced to the front of her mind and forced her to relive it all at once. And she had killed him for it. But he had left behind a parting gift, a sort of mental ghost in the shape of her former Captain that had tortured her for weeks before she had broken free of it. And that had taken her right into the hands of Lady Death before she had recovered. After what had happened between the two of them . . . was it any wonder that the darkest parts of her soul wore the face of Captain Morgan?

Returning to the present, she gently hugged Lily, receiving a strangle hold around her neck and a noisy smack on the cheek in return. Standing up, she left the room, knowing that Luckas would follow her. The children didn’t need to hear what they were talking about and she wasn’t sure she could stay calm. A couple of steps from her room, she finally stopped and turned back, leaning against the wall and smiling wryly at the young man following her.
“What did your brother show me? I think you already know enough about what he did to people to guess at that. As for why I’m still here,” she shrugged. “Apparently I died. And then got better.”

She crossed her arms and tried to ignore the past. “Why are you here, Luckas? It’s been three years as you pointed out, so it couldn’t be because you wanted to see the look on my face when I saw you.”

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"Besides... Aside from the fact that you have the urge to kill me the moment you see my face, I don't see a reason why we can't be friends, right? Who knows, maybe we can help each other."

Mageria closed her eyes and sighed, leaning back against the wall. “No offense Luckas, but it doesn’t quite work that way. It’s not seeing your face that causes me to have the urge to kill, it’s that you wear a face that has haunted quiet a few of my nightmares for the past three years and is the cause of most of the rest of them.” She crossed her arms and leaned a little harder against the wall. “I suppose that in a way your brother did give me a sort of gift, but it was one of those that either destroys you or saves you. The fact that I survived . . .” once more she looked somewhere else. “I think it was because someone wasn’t done with me at that time.”

A hundred memories whispered through her, reminding her of the good she had done, the people she had helped. All because she was strong enough to do so, embraced the fact that she was capable of violence and bloodletting in order to protect those weaker than her.

Twisting around, she saw a patch of light above her. Fighting closer, she could almost believe that she could make it, except she was still so very cold and weak. She was so close, she reached out and was just a little bit too far away. But out of nowhere an arm clad in Black armor plunged down and grabbed her hand, pulling her out.
A voice seemed to whisper in her ear, “You have things to do yet Captain. Get back to work.”


Mageria drew herself back to the present. “Anyways, Luckas. What help would you need from me?”

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Mageria watched as Luckas pulled the bandages aside to reveal a set of slash marks across the width of his chest. Gently, she touched the edges, nothing the red puffiness that indicated infection. "You need to have those looked at again." she said absently. In her mind she was reliving the siege of the Lower City, moments after Daniel had used his spell to transform himself in a desperate effort to save Newhaven.

A chill ran it's way up and down her spin. Those marks, that description . . . could it be anything else? Almost without realizing it, she brushed her fingers across the scars running down from her left temple. Abruptly she turned and strode to her room, crossing to her bookcase and pulling a leather bound journal out. It was the sum total of three years of research, put together only with exhausting effort. She snapped it open the the first page, which contained a sketch of the Beast that she had fought. Walking back out, she brandished the open book at Luckas. "Was it this?"

She was waiting for his response when one of her scouts ran up to her at full speed. Skidding to a stop, he grabbed her shoulder and started to whisper harshly into her ear. “Salamander camp . . . attacked . . . Warlord was outnumbered . . .” She really didn’t hear much more than that.

The book that she had worked on for three years slipped from fingers suddenly gone numb. A sense of foreboding ran it’s way up her back; as if she could feel Death taking an interest. Taking off at a dead sprint, she followed her scout down to the stables.
------------
Sham had rather enjoyed watching the quiet guy take apart the new toughs, it was obvious that he was a professional of some kind. She had moved out of the way, leaning against one of the windows and privately making bets about what was going to happen. It was about halfway through when she noticed a few Black-clad riders galloping down the street. She thought that she recognized the Cap’n at the front, and there were few things that could cause her to rush like that. Looking over her shoulder, she saw that the fight was over.
“Jake? I’ve got a bad feeling about something. Com’on.” She pushed out of the Inn and saw that a second group of riders were following after the first. Reaching out with one hand, she grabbed the arm of one of the passing Guard and swung up behind him. With a few minutes of frantic riding they reached what must have been the camp of the Salamanders. Sham swung down and shook her head . . . there was so much blood . . .
-------------
Mageria scarcely noticed the ride from the Castle to the camp. The report hadn't been clear, just that there was something appearing to be a coup and that Grim was involved. She just got him back, he couldn't . . . . she couldn't even think it. She just held on as her horse galloped out of the gates and into the forest where she had walked just hours earlier.

Swinging to her feet as the horse slowed, she looked around and was nearly sick to her stomach. A couple of her Guard walked into her line of sight, she hadn't even noticed them following.
"Fan out, search for survivors." But she didn't think that there would be any. She had seen battlefields often enough to read the signs of this one . . . Most of the men must have been drugged somehow, they lay as if they had been killed in their sleep or taken unawares by someone they trusted. Heart in her mouth, she started walking though the carnage, searching for that one familiar, beloved face. But Grim was nowhere to be found. She almost dared to hope when she was hailed from a path that took a winding way back to Newhaven. She followed at a lope as her scout lead her to a second battle scene. This one bore the familiar sign that Grim had been there, body parts lay about as if a child had ripped their dolls apart in a fit of rage. And leading away, a steady trail of blood.

Numbly, Mageria followed the blood trail. There had been one last fight, it seemed. Two bodies lay crumbled not far from one another. Chandos, recognizable only from the scars and eyepatch, had a spear through what remained of his head. She wouldn't mourn that overmuch, because it was obvious that the other man had caused that injury.

Grim.

Her friend lay in a pool of his own blood, a gaping hole through his stomach and an eerily peaceful smile on his face; scarcely breathing. Her mediocre healing knowledge had no hope to offer her, only one of the Twins could save him from a wound such as this. Anything she could do would only prolong the pain, and he wouldn't thank her for her efforts. Even if she could save his life, he'd never be the man he once was. Carefully, she knelt down next to him and ran her fingers through his hair before pulling his head into her lap.
"Ah Grim. What has the world done to you?"

Behind her she could hear some of her people starting to gather the bodies of the Salamanders together; she gladly left them to it, grateful for just a moment of peace to say goodbye in.

The edges of his fingers crept over her hand, what once possessed such strength could hardly hold her now. Meekly clinging to Mageria, he carefully lay down chuckling just under his breath. What voice he had carried just beyond his lips. The emeralds of his eyes watching as they drifted toward a distant horizon refusing to focus.

“You came- back for me.. I-I somehow knew you would…I’m afraid it’s- … I got in over my head Th- this time...”

The touch of his hand was ice and every breath was far too labored. His body shakily rising and falling, wincing as it did, but holding fast for his friend. Still smiling as blood dribbled from the corners of his mouth. It wouldn’t be much longer.

“T… the beast is gone. I am free.. The gift is spent and I am just another man.. What I always- hrk.. Wanted…
P-please do not- blame yourself..’

Mageria gripped his hand tightly and leaned over him, tears glinting in her eyes but refusing to fall. "But I'm the Captain. I'm always in charge, you know that."

He had forever been nagging her for trying to control the world, for fretting about things that were out of her reach. How many times had he pulled her away from her plans in the middle of the night, telling her; "If you don't rest Captain, how are you going to order the Twins around?"

Gently, she brushed some of his hair out of his eyes, taking a trembling breath as she did so. "Of course I came back for you." A choked laugh forced it's way out of her throat. "You always did have to bite off more than you could chew." A deep breath. "You know, I never got the chance to tell you how much it always meant to me that you believed in me. I sometimes think it was the only thing that let me hold on for so long." Leaning over, she brushed her lips against his forehead. "Thank You, my dearest friend."

The lights of his eyes dimmed and the lids grew heavy sinking over the green orbs. The pacing rhythm of Grim’s heartbeat slowed, drawing air shallowly. The old familiar darkness edging it from all around his mind.

“.. I-I’ve seen.. The Black Sea… and I’ve- spo- spoken with the Moon. I must go now.. But- will wait for you..
M-mm… My dear sister… I love you too.”

The Black Knight’s hand gently sank from Mageria’s and rested on the earth never to rise again. That night in the black skies of Valcrest, the Moon would show her face in full brimming down over the land. A light when all else is in shadow.

Mageria felt something in her break. “My brother. I will always love you.” She tried desperately to take a breath but a wire had wrapped itself around her chest and she couldn’t breathe right. Gently she brushed Grim’s eyes closed and looked away. Somewhere she could hear birds calling . . . it sounded so normal. So unfair . . .

She didn’t know how much later it was when footsteps approached her. Mageria didn’t look up, just kept holding Grim as if he might wake up at any moment.
“Captain?” It was Sham, kneeling down next to her with a worried look in her eyes. She looked over her shoulder where several of the Guard waited. “You need to get up now . . . They’ll take care of him.” Gently she reached out and shook Mageria’s shoulder. The blank look on her Captain’s face worried her. Always in the past when someone she knew had lost a friend, it was crying and tears and threats. Not this . . . emptyness.

Mechanically, Mageria laid Grim . . . laid Grim’s body down on the ground and followed Sham back to where the horses were. They had only taken a few steps before Mageria turned and looked back at where the Guard had started to pick up Chandos as well as Grim. “Not him. He betrayed his brothers. Leave him for the dogs.” The look that they gave to the body mirrored what she felt. To a group such as theirs, nothing was worse than that. Already she could see where her men were putting up a funeral pyre. It would be put to use tonight; but first there were duties to be seen too. Slowly, she started to ride back home.

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Ess flinched at the sudden sound of boots hustling towards her and Tala, one hand still grasping her dagger, the other holding the severed hand. Tala continued to whine softly by her side, sniffing in the general direction of the guards, she readied into a defensive stance by Ess’s side. Turning, Ess’s eyes began to glow, her mind involuntarily wanting to initiate her “Illusion”, yet she managed control, sliding her dagger back behind the lace of her bodice.

Ess’s eyes narrowed coldly towards the guards, almost mockingly, “Glad of you to join us...”
She grunted at the simplicity of the command to retrieve the Guard Captain. Turning back, she spat a rancid slime out of her throat. The smell was going to suffocate her, so she back away into the spotlight of the moon. Her gaze traced the bloody trail to the small massacre before her and noticed for the first time, splattered gore along the walls of someone’s home. Oddly, the smears streaked up towards the roof.

Gulping hard she heard a woman’s voice suddenly by her side. Temporarily lost in the site, she hadn’t heard the Captain approach her. She had not noticed Tala’s tail wagging in a friendly manner, her head dipping low, ears back as she kept herself on guard but didn’t make a sound. A silent tear streaked her left cheek, remembering what was still in her hand she extended her arm towards Mageria.

“I....” she began, barely audible. “I don’t know who....how many...”
Ess swallowed, her free hand instinctively finding Tala, sifting her fingers in a peaceful manner, through the wolf’s fur. Her breathe escaped her lips in a long, drawn out emptiness. For a moment she said nothing, and as she stared at the Captain she noticed a crowd begin to form back towards the guards.

“They shouldn’t see this.” she whispered, nodding behind Mageria.

“Captain...I was on my way to the tavern and I guess I wasn’t paying attention to where I was heading, just that I was following Tala here...” Ess looked down at her friend then back into Mageria’s eyes.

“Something caught the wolf’s scent...and there’s no stopping her...” Ess smirked a bit. “I didn’t see anything for sure, just fast movement. But the smell....”

Ess motioned for Mageria to follow, dropping the remains absently as she moved towards a door of a home. Nodding at the blood staind walls she thought out loud.. “Maybe someone here heard something...or saw...” Ess attempted to breathe through her mouth, spitting again. The smell created a rotting like taste in her mouth.

“Whatever it was....Tala lost the scent..”

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Ess and Trickster combo



Tala refused to go into the home of the massacred family. Ess was not about to drag the poor wolf somewhere if it so stubbornly declined to move. Ess let out a short, high pitched whistle; her signal for Tala to look for the lost scent. With a deep bark the wolf took off in the opposite direction of the scene, disappearing without a sound.

Turning towards Mageria, she watched intently as she began searching the scene, climbing up the wall of the home.

“Tala will signal us if she catches the scent, who knows when she will come back though.” Ess called up after Mageria. When the Guard Captain asked for Ess’s name, she froze. For a moment she wasn’t sure how to answer, but soon recovered some sense and revealed her real name to the woman.
“Essence, Ma’am. I have never been to the castle...am I to be escorted?”

Perhaps Ess had made the mistake of venturing into town without one of her disguises, she began to doubt her decision earlier this evening and feared what path she was on now. She would be known, documented; she could be found. Any smart person may eventually start putting the puzzle pieces together of who she was and her minor passes with the law in the past. Although, it was with her alternate identities she was somewhat nervous. It didn't matter to some the reason for her crimes, or self defense, just that the crimes were committed non the less. She wasn't sure if she should relinquish her blade to the Guard Captain and face punishment for the concealed weapon, or to keep it hidden.

She quickly added, "I offer as much assistance as I can, Ma'am...." Keeping thoughts on the current crime she wondered, "Ma'am, have you ever seen anything like this before?"Slowly she followed the path, away from the tavern; her original destination had been altered but perhaps the result would be the same.

Mageria shrugged. "I've seen a couple of things that could do something like this. None of them something I'd care to face alone, although I've done that as well." She added, running her fingers over the claw marks on the side of her face. Wearily she rubbed one hand through her hair, pulling the copper braid over one shoulder and fidgeting with the end of it. She glanced over at Essence and the side of her mouth quirked up for a moment before she brought it under control. The woman looked a bit worried about something and given Mageria's knowledge about people on the shady side of the law, she could make a few good guesses.

"And given that I'm the Black Knight Captain, I have a more 'flexible' view of the laws. There are something that I will not tolerate, but I'm not inclined to punish someone for a few minor infractions in the past. So you don't have to worry about that sort of thing, so long as what you tell me is the truth."

She stretched and kicked at a clump of snow, thinking about the past and all that she had had to deal with. She had gotten through it and she would get through this as well. Perhaps it was for the best that something had happened the way it had, something to keep her mind off the crippling grief she felt whenever she thought about Grim dying in her arms.
"And you'll be escorted, but only because I'm going that way as well and thought that I might as well walk with you." Pushing her hands into her pockets, Mageria shivered slightly as the wind bit into her extremities.

Ess tucked in her loose curls beneath her velvet hood, as she listened curiously to the Captain. Her eyes took on a momentary glow before returning to their dim violet hue, her gaze following Mageria’s fingers as they traced the scars along her face. Part of her couldn’t believe it to be from a human, but what else was there? She had never seen a monster, except that which would lay dormant inside a man.

“...Something from nightmares..” Ess whispered in disbelief. She shuddered at the thought of something from legends coming out of the ground to swallow her hole. Ess quirked an eyebrow at Captain as she walked beside her.

“I don’t know how much help I can be....I am not even a skilled fighter. My skills lye in deception and survival. I have never knowingly caused harm to anyone other than in self defense.” Ess didn’t know if she should trust anyone, even someone of high rank. She only ever told her secret to one person before, although she knew two knew of her enlightenment. Her mind flashed back to the emotional memory of something prodding her soul for information and quickly dismissed it as easily as it had arrived. She needed to focus on the present and not the past anymore. As hard as it was to forget the abuse and degrading events that occurred in her childhood, she knew she is the person she is today because of those times.

“I suppose, if I had a concealed weapon that I wouldn’t be able to get it back once I leave the castle?” She inquired. Ess felt she could be honest to a point without lying to Mageria. Maybe just leaving out a few distressful details to the stranger for now would be acceptable.

Mageria shrugged. "Don't sell yourself short. Deception can be just as useful as the ability to swing a sword. Sometimes more useful. There's no shame in not being one of those who can kill a dozen men in a fight, but most of those idiots couldn't lie their way out of a bag. It's just a different skill set."

They had taken a few more steps when something cold and wet hit the back of Mageria's head, dropping clumps of freezing cold down the back of her neck. Swearing, Mageria leaned over and dug at the neck of her coat, listening as childish giggles erupted from the street behind her. Slowly she straightened up and turned around, one eyebrow arching up. The giggles stopped abruptly as the kids saw just who it was that they had hit. While most of the Knights were unknown, it was almost an open secret just who she was.
"Give me a moment, please." She asked Essence as she walked back to the two kids, one little girl and what looked like her older brother. The little girl looked scared and hid behind her brother as Mageria got there, both hands propped on her hips. The brother also looked a bit frightened, but stood firm, raising his chin and facing her squarely. Mageria looked at them grim faced for about half a second before her mouth quirked in a smile.
"You two throw that?" She waited for them to nod. "Well first off, you should always know who you're aiming at." She looked them both in the eyes. "And second, it's cold out here and you two are soaked all the way through. Go home and warm up." She whistled shrilly, summoning a nearby Guardsman. "Make sure these two get home, will you?" She leaned in closer and whispered. "And make sure their parents know to keep them inside, and why."

Heading back to where Essence stood, Mageria dug one last bit of snow out from her coat. If there was one thing she hated, it was that cold icy feeling of a damp coat in the middle of winter.
"Now, as to a concealed weapon. You surrender it freely once we get to the Castle, you'll get it back once your ready to leave. We appreciate that kind of courtesy around here."

Ess shook off a bit of slush that had ricochet off of Mageria and smiled brightly at the kids. She couldn’t think of the last time something that simple had enhanced her mood tremendously. As the Captain and her continued on their way she paused abruptly in her steps, her hand already gripping her dagger by the blade. She tossed back her hood, bowing politely to the woman, she extended the weapon, handle forward. A silver etched blade, with curious writing engraved into the metal, was no longer than the length of her hand.

“This is all I carry....for the moment. I trust you not to sell it then.” She joked, as she gave up the blade.

“Since I am not very skilled with weapons, that was the reason I ventured out tonight in the first place. My instructor left town on personal business and I am left empty in my lessons. Where would someone like myself even find a fine teacher?”

Ess hoped she knew what she was doing, placing simple trust into a complete stranger. It wasn’t like she told the woman her life story or anything, but just the same, she hasn’t trusted many in her life.

“I would pay of course...” She added, rubbing her hands together, fighting off the chill. Rolling her eyes in a sigh, as if to say ‘Finally’, the castle gate came into view. A little hop in her step, she increased her speed, wanting to get out of the wind as quickly as possible. It wasn’t strong, but it stung her face, drying out her throat.

Mageria accepted the blade, turning it over in her hand before tucking it away. "Very nice. Heirloom blade of some kind? I don't recognize the writing on it." She grinned at Essence. "And I promise not to sell it. Although even if I did, it'd be easy enough to trace." She glanced over at the other woman and pulled her hood up more securely. If she really wanted to improve her skills. . . .


Ess shrugged as Mageria took her dagger. “It has a matching sword...” Lifting up her hands, palms out to show they were empty she added, “It’s at home, I promise...” Chuckling lightly she whispered, “It was an heirloom to someone, I acquired on accident some time ago. I have never quite figured out what the markings are.” Ess looked Mageria in the eye as she spoke.

"Well, if you want to learn some moves with the blade, some of my people earn a bit of coin by giving lessons. Give me a chance to assess your skills as they stand, and I can figure out who would be best to work with you."

Leading the way through the gates of the Castle, Mageria headed to the side through a side door. It meant a shorter time outside in the cold, which meant that she got warmer that much quicker. "This way please." She worked her way through to the common areas near the Black barracks, pushing the door open to the briefing room. Looking out to the hall, she waved down a server and requested hot cider and sandwiches be brought in. Then she pulled out an incident report and set it in front of her, choosing a pen and twiddling it between her fingers.
"Now, would you mind going over what happened, in detail?"

Giving a short nod she followed Mageria gladly into the Castle. At the sound of food, her stomach growled unexpectedly loud, causing Ess to blush. She was contemplating what areas she would like to focus on in improving her fighting skills. Maybe even without weapons she could learn some defensive moves to put someone out of commission.

Snapping out of her thought, she began recounting the night’s events and how Tala lead her to the massacre. Trying to be as detailed as possible, Ess still couldn’t describe the quick movement in the shadows. The figure was simply too dark, encased in shadow. With not much new information to really explain, she finished the telling of that night. There was a moment of silence before she spoke again.

Reaching for a glass of cider that arrived she quickly gulped a few mouthfuls down in a content sigh. The warm liquid left a heat trail from her tongue, down her esophagus, spreading around inside her belly. “Very much appreciated.” She raised her glass and took another sip.

As she began munching on one of the sandwiches staring at her from a silver platter, she inquired, “It’s not much to go on. Do you have any other questions?”

Mageria shrugged. "Not much, but its a start. The more we know, the better we can hunt. Any information can help at this point." Writing with one hand, she sipped her cider and absently inhaled a sandwich. "You see, when there's a dangerous Enlightenment in the City, my people are often asked to help out. I don't like to send them into a danger that can be avoided, so I try to get as much foreknowledge that I can before planning an attack. That way I can match skills to the situation." She wrote a bit more. "Has . . . Tala, ever smelled something like this before?"


Finishing her sandwich, Ess was thoughtful of Tala. She didn’t expect her wolf to catch the scent of ‘whatever did this’ as she had been gone without so much as a sound or signal to her whereabouts for a while now. Thinking back, she couldn’t remember a time when her silver pawed friend had reacted so steadily to a predator. That wolf was not happy and Ess couldn’t deny agreeing with her furry friend. Something was off, most definitely.

“ That wolf is crazy sometimes, but no. She has not acted so, ever...and I raised her from a pup...” Ess cut herself off. “Course, she refuses to sleep indoors lately, even in the cold. But that doesn’t mean anything...?” Ess’s brows scrunched together in a thoughtful and serious expression, as she began to think deeper as if the animal’s behavior unlocked the secrets of it all. Shaking her head she let out a deep breathe. Thinking too much was a bad idea right now.

A moment later, there was a loud thumping out in the hallway. Mageria ignored it and kept writing. "I've got to spend some time on this . . ." There was another thumping sound and the sound of something being knocked over. Mageira paused in her writing and rubbed her temple with one finger. Taking a deep breath she waited for a moment with her eyes closed. There was the sound of something galloping past down the hall, followed by "Puppy, puppy PUPPY!!!" being shrieked at the top of little girl lungs. Then what sounded like an entire group of children running past.


Ess watched Mageria as she tried to ignore a clumsy noise from the hall. She tilted her head, her hood sliding off her burgundy curls. “ You have a rat problem in the castle?” She playfully teased.

Mageria set her pen down with a slight thunk and stood, smiling tightly at Essence. "Excuse me. There's something I need to take care of. If you don't mind waiting here, I'll be right back." Leaving the room, she shut the door firmly behind her.
Ess’s lips pressed firmly against one another as she bit down, trying not to laugh. She nodded politely as the Captain stepped out for a moment. The second the door shut, Ess tilted her head back and began laughing hard at the children and Mageria.

"If you lot don't calm down, I swear to the Twins that I'LL HANG YOU BY YOUR HEELS IN THE WELL!!

Hopping to her feet, Ess went to the door to see if she could catch sight of the commotion, but the hall was already cleared, the sound of a rather large dog echoing through the halls.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Ess
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INK

It was almost 930 in the morning now as Ess, accompanied by Tala, made their way towards the Castle. As she had entered the town, the citizens were a buzz about a small battle that occurred not too long ago this morning, the description of the men involved sent a warning bell through her brain. ‘So...’ She thought, ‘ I knew that man was not to be trusted..’

Quickly she had gutted and skinned her prizes from the morning hunt. She wasn’t sure if the Captain Guard would be available but she decided the sooner she got there the better. Still wearing her sword at her hip, the guards had stopped her at the gate, requesting the relic as they would escort her inside to meet their captain. With a deep sigh she unwillingly relinquished the sword. “As long as it stays within eye sight this time.” She stated flatly. One of the guardsmen went to frisk her before allowing her to pass, Ess grabbing his wrist hard, a sudden growl escaping her lips.

“Touch me..and you wish you were never born...”

Tala growled softly by Ess’s side, one of the guards lecturing, “You had better keep that wolf under control or else...”

“Hey! I don’t control her, she controls me.” She laughed, giving the smart ass comment.

“Just let me see the Captain, I have business with her.”

It seemed like she would never be allowed to enter as she began bickering with the guards. She was refusing to let either of the men search her, finding it demeaning.

“Go get a woman to do it then, will ya. I haven’t got all day....and the only way I’ll let a man put his hands on me without paying, is over my dead body!”

~~~~~

Mageria had been dealing with typical early morning details, working with Jason to help him get his Enlightenment under control, inventory, that sort of thing. Except for working with Jason, it was all things that she was doing simply to kill time while she was waiting for the Council meeting to start. So she was glad when she a runner brought her a message that there was someone at the front gate who wanted to talk to her, the description matched Ess, and she had felt really bad that she hadn't been able to return the woman's dagger the other day. Grabbing it from the lockup, she went down to where Ess was waiting just in time to hear the last. With a sharp whistle, she brought everyone's attention to her, dismissing the guards with a nod and smiling apologetically at Ess.
"I really am sorry about last night. I meant to be right back and then I got called to a meeting. You can't exactly tell the Queen that you'll get to her as soon as possible." She held out the dagger in one hand, offering it back.
"If this is all you're here for, then I'm sorry it took so long." She tilted her head to the side. "But if you were still interested in learning some new tricks . . . then I've got time."

There was something about this woman that interested her, something that spoke to her as a Captain. Over the years she had learned how to spot people who might have what it took to be part of the Guard, and she thought that this Ess might have that special something. She didn't know the full set of skills that the woman possessed, but fighting skills alone didn't make someone useful. There was something in the back of her eyes . . . something that said she had been through hell and still kept fighting. That sort of spirit was not something she was inclined to let go without trying to lure them to her team.
~~~~
Ess’s lips widened in a large smile as Mageria approached, dismissing her guards. Nodding politely she graciously took back her sword from the guard at her side before he trotted off, adding the matching dagger to her other hip.

“My apologies Captain, guess they hit a nerve.” Looking down at Tala, she gave a soothing pat to the wolf’s head, the animal’s tail wagging happily the second Mageria came over to them. “No luck with picking up the scent...” She added quickly, feeling she should probably report the body she found, “But I did come across another body this morning, about half hour west of the city, just off the main road. Looks like it was there a day or so. Vulturs did a number on it.”

Ess quirked a brow at herself wondering what he deal was the past couple days, finding dead bodies all around and shook her head trying not to laugh. In response to the Captain’s offer, Ess’s eyes beamed with curiosity. “I would not dare say no to such a gracious offer. What do I need to do?”
~~~~
Mageria held one hand out to the side, inviting Ess in. "It's . . . been an interesting couple of days." She glanced at Ess and shrugged. "You'll hear about it soon enough. While my people were backtracking the trail that we found they came across a couple of people fighting. They stepped in, and took the victim to one of the aid stations. The next morning, the station was attacked as well. That's why they couldn't take care of the body, they were busy taking care of the wounded." She started to lead Ess towards the practice grounds.

"Now, the first thing we have to do is go through your skills and see what needs work, what needs tweaking, and what just needs polishing." They reached the grounds and Mageria opened a cabinet, showing a wide variety of practice gear, blunted knives, swords, and anything else that could be used to kill somebody.
"If you don't mind using some of this, we can get started." She shrugged out of her own coat, choosing two long daggers and stepping back.
~~~~
Essence followed the Captain inside, untying her belt as she came to a halt, her eyes watching her rummaging through practice weapons. She nodded here and there at the appropriate points as the Captain spoke, setting aside her primary weapons. Her fingers quickly tied back her thick curls, before falling upon a set of short swords. She didn’t see anything at the moment weighted quite like her blade she was accustomed to, but she had practiced with chair legs before, so this was an upgrade.

“Stay, Tala.” She commanded her furry friend, the wolf laying down lazily.

Stretching, her wrists twisted, the swords rotating in circles in front of her form, getting a feel of the new weight. She was excited for this chance, but slightly nervous, although she wouldn’t show it. Ess eyed Mageria closely, as if inspecting every detail of her form, down to the details of her skin. It was almost eery, as she didn’t wait for another word to be spoken, she rushed forward to begin the evaluation, beginning with a basic assault. Ess’s right arm slashed through the air towards her belly, the left moving across Mageria’s chest. Expecting a standard block to each, she launched her left foot, kicking at the Captains left knee.
~~~~
Ess didn't give any indication of when she was going to attack, which was good. On the other hand, she made no bones about seizing her up, which made it clear that she was going to attack. Mageria blocked both slashes smoothly, knocking them to one side or the other. As she moved she shifted one foot back slightly, moving her weight to balance it. This also lowered her center of gravity, so that when Ess's foot lashed out at her knee, she was able to dip down and catch the foot with her arm, keeping her blade down and catching Ess's ankle with her forearm. Straightening abruptly, Mageria swung Ess into the air to land on her back.
"Good. Smooth attack, good execution." She stepped back to give her time to get up.
~~~
Ess lost her breath as she flew onto her back, her fingers tightening around the hilts of the swords, making sure not to drop them with her fall. She didn’t dally, her body arching forward as she jumped to her feet, regaining her balance, nodding at Mageria’s counter. Her expression remained the same as she attacked again, thrusting her right arm forward, the blade arching upwards towards Mageria’s throat, leaving her left arm with the freedom to block possible openings she created between the two; making sure not to lean too much into the advance, keeping her balance.
~~~~
Mageria knocked the strike up and over her head, leaning in a bit to slash with both blades at Ess's torso, testing the speed of her reactions. The other woman was good, she'd obviously had decent training and she'd been practicing, but she needed more help to be all that she could be. She kept balanced on the balls of her feet, waiting for the next move that Ess might make.
~~~~
As Ess’s right arm was knocked upward, she immediately brought it down to meet her left in a cross defense, blocking her torso. They went back and forth quite a bit, Ess never discouraged even when she was knocked on her ass a few more times, she only kept advancing. At one point her back was exposed, her expression not of worry but as if she was mentally punishing herself, instinctually she bent her arms over behind her neck, a preemptive block along her back. Spinning around, she found herself open and trapped, her blades stuck within Mageria’s attack. Testing to see if she could catch the Captain off guard, she smiled, her eyes glowing as her features melted away to the mirror image of Mageria. Ess gave a wink, attempting to break the hold, her ‘Enlightenment’ taking over.
~~~~~~~~~

Mageria was momentarily startled, blinking just a bit and looking a bit dismayed. "Do I really have that much white in my hair?" Not giving Ess a chance to respond, she freed her blades and twisted her torso, catching Ess in the gut and knocking them both to the ground.
"So," she panted. "You're Enlightened then. Can you do anyone, or just who you're looking at?"
Mageria swung one blade in a quick over hand strike, aiming at Ess's (her own?) shoulder.
~~~~~~~

Essence rolled onto her side, avoiding the strike, barely, the large dagger skimming her shoulder. Summer saulting forward, Ess stood looking down at Mageria.

“I just need to obviously know what they look like...the memory is all I need.” She smiled, her eyes still a purple, she noted, “Your eyes are blue...I can’t copy that.”

Ess paused, catching her breath, waiting to see if Mageria would advance, she stood blades ready. “And...”She huffed.. “I can’t copy voices..but If I practice I can imitate. I’m definitely not the average..whore.” She joked, letting the facade fade, her own tattoo like scar coming into focus beneath her left eye, red curls dangling from her bun.

“I am also versed in poisons...throwing knives...self tau-” She was cut off parrying another advance, wondering if she was decent enough, worth the Captains time to become something even close to her fighting skills.

~~~~~~

Mageria grinned lightning fast. "Good. I hate average people. They bother me." She slashed another couple of moves at Ess's watching as the woman blocked them, but just barely. Then she stepped back.
"Enough. Good so far." She jerked her head at the side of the yard. "There's some targets over there. Show me what else you've got." She followed after. "Poisons as well? Definitely interesting. I don't have a lot of experience in that myself, so you'll have to talk to one of my medics if you think you need tips."
She waited until Ess had lined up to throw her first knife before speaking. "But after this . . . what are you planning on doing?"

~~~~~~~~

Essence let out a cleansing breath, her shoulders relaxing slightly, tossing the blades to the ground. She knew she needed to work on her stamina, as her muscles were a bit stressed already. Ess’s finger sized blades were still hidden beneath her sleeves, along her waist, and within her boots. She paused before the targets all at different ranges, starting within five feet to twenty and more. The tiny flat knives appeared in doubles in each hand, hidden between her fingers as she was already in the motions of releasing four blades in a tiny cluster, only to spread out across two different targets. They did not all land in the center, as she was not perfect, but she thought of it as in reference to a human figure, landing where the hands or shoulders would be. The second they left her hand, she was already kneeling low, slipping into her boots, reloading her grasp, releasing four more as her arm rose in a fluid, swimming like stroke. Those last blades sank into a further target in a straight line across the center. She was already moving to retrieve her daggers as she spoke.

“After this moment? Uh..Generally speaking I’d like to give up whoring.” She chuckled lightly, thinking of the money she had save up over the years. "Long term goals you mean?"

~~~~~~~~

Mageria nodded. "Yeah. Long term, do you want to be a mercenary, an assassin, a merchant, what?" She watched as Ess pulled the knives from the boards, nodding a bit to herself when she saw how deeply they were stuck in.
"Honestly, I don't know how you'd do as a straight fighter. You've got skills already that work with your abilities that wouldn't work for someone who does nothing but swing a sword." She spread her arms a bit. "I mean, look at me. I have no Enlightenment, so I had to use what I had to the best of my abilities. You on the other hand, have a set of skills and abilities that could give you enough work and satisfaction, not to mention money if you decided to go free lance; that you could leave whoring in the dust."

She took a step closer. "What is it you want, Ess? What is it you really, truly want?"

~~~~~~~~~

Ess’s smile faded as she thought about the answer to Mageria’s question. Her brows narrowed as she stood as still as a statue, her expression frozen in a doll like persona. Her voice was low, almost venemous.

“I wouldn’t mind burning BlackPond to the ground...and seeing to the deaths of the people who enslave children into brothels like I was...” Her voice cracked, her skin redding in a hint of anger. “I want to help others. I don’t want to be one of those people who say there’s nothing that can be done to make a difference.”

Ess looked up into Mageria’s blue eyes, the glow in her own dimming in her emotion. “As for a title..I don’t have any idea what title would best suit me. I do however find my skills would probably fall under assassin more than anything, yet I am tired of being a loner and want to understand brotherhood...”

Ess shook her head slightly, unsure exactly how to honestly answer, as she didn’t know if she had figured it all out. “Some people...just need to suffer...” She spat.

~~~~~~
Mageria nodded. "And some people need to find a place to belong. Somewhere where no story is too out of place." She started to say something more, when a runner interrupted them. Panting slightly, the young girl handed two slips of paper to the Captain. The first was a sealed bit that Mageria ripped open.

I thought we had a deal.

Mageria felt her forehead wrinkle as she looked at the message, signed only with the mark that stood for the Alpha of the Wolfpack. She didn't know what Sean had going on, but it couldn't be good. Stuffing the slip into her pocket, she opened the other to find it was a scrawled message from Thomas that the Council was about to start and since she had missed the last meeting, she had no choice but to attend this one. With a sigh, she turned back to Ess, hoping she wasn't missing her chance.
"I'm sorry, I seem to keep being interrupted. Some of my people are practicing around here, if you want you can stay and watch them, maybe talk to them and find somebody you'd be comfortable working with. I have to go make nice with the Council members for a while now. And I'm afraid this isn't something that you get out of quickly."
With a guilty smile she got dressed again and moved quickly out of the yard, passing a few people on their way in, dressed in Guard uniforms. They all smiled at Mageria, one of them reaching out to pat her on the shoulder, laughing at something she said. As they passed, one of the men pulled off his tunic, revealing that his entire back was covered in scars, the kind that a disobedient slave would get, if he lived long enough. The people with him teased him gently, laughing about how he couldn't possibly be hot enough to strip yet, even with his Gifts. As they passed Ess, one of the women looked over and nodded absently before doing a slight double take at the sight of the scar on her face.
Her own face bore a similar scar, faded almost to a silver line. Smiling gently, the other woman flicked her fingers in a sign from the streets, a wish for good luck. Rounding the corner, the group worked their way out of sight.

~~~~~~~

Xypher liked to get to the meeting room early just to prepare any documents or anything else that he needed for the council meeting on that day. As he prepared his things, advisers and a few noble spectators slowly made their way into the room to join him. Some taking a seat around the table, sorting through piles of pages and records to find what they were looking for in particular. Some of the more chatty characters on the council were talking to one another. Then there were the peracetic nobles who would do their best to convince council members to do good things for them. Some money was passed and a few dirty looks glanced one way or another. On a fun day, when a councilman was really fired up, they would throw punches at one another like a bunch of ruffians. When Xypher would point that out to the council, they'd just ignore him and continue fighting. It was always a hoot when the council was in the same room together.
While Xypher watched a couple of nobles lobbying a councilman by the door, Mageria walked in and suddenly the nobles scattered. There was something about the Black Knights -- despite Mageria's honest nature -- that made people fear them. Was strange and infuriating to see how much rumours could cause people to fear.
"Where's the Queen? Shouldn't she be here by now?" One man said.
"I do say! She's thirty minutes late already. We can't start the session without her present."
"Why not?"
"This is a monarchy. We are only here to give suggestions. Without the Queens direct permission this meeting is useless."
The council continued on with the ridiculous debate about the Queen while Xypher continued to file through old battle records to see the last time that there had been a peaceful interruption to the war like the one they were having now. As he recalled, it turned out bad for Newhaven as they didn't want to make the first move on Blackpond and this time, he didn't want Newhaven to make the same mistake.
He looked up again from his work to the door where he saw a servant boy standing, paralyzed in fright. He probably wasn't used to listening to a group of rich people arguing over how the monarchy should be run. Xypher slowly stretched his way out of his seat, being sure not to go to fast and reinjure his knee from an old battle wound. He staggered over to the man, who had a letter in his hand. "Is there someone in particular whom I could call over for you?"
"No sir. The letter is from a Wolf. Addressed to the council, sir."
"Thank you." Xypher said, grabbing the letter from the serving boy's hand. He opened the letter right where he stood, opening a dreadful smile as he read through, trying to interpret what it meant. It was horrible whatever it was. Soon however, he understood and the dreadful smile turned into a devious one.
He walked back over to his seat and took out the knife that he kept with him. He took care, gently cutting out certain parts of the letter, throwing the ball of wasted letter into the fireplace to burn away.
"Oh Mageria!" He called out through the noise of the arguing men. "I need you over here for a second. I have some war plans that I need to talk over with you."

~~~~~~~~~~

Mageria had been heading to her seat when Xypher caught her attention. For the most part she considered her presence at these meetings to be a complete waste of time, considering that she wasn't even in charge of a large portion of anything. The Black answered to the White Knights, and much as she didn't like that fact somedays, she had to deal with it. Which really should have meant that she didn't have to sit through this gaggle of cranky Council members arguing over bits and pieces of what should be shared evenly or according to need rather than wealth. So hearing that Xypher had something that actually would use a portion of her mind was a welcome surprise.

Winding her way through the crowd, absently noticing the way some of them scattered, she managed to get over to him with little fuss.
"Yes, Warleader? Something from the past or a plan for the future?"

~~~~~~~~~

"Both actually. It regards a fateful night that brought a bright young girl into a position of power and I'm not talking about the Queen Mageria."
Xypher pushed the letter across the table to where it was under Mageria's nose. "Oh please tell me what his last words were Mageria. What was the look on his face when he realised that the student had killed the teacher. Did he beg... no, I imagine the man would laugh. So Mageria, are you just going to sit there or tell me what really happened?"

~~~~~~~~~

Mageria cocked one eyebrow and looked at Xypher incredulously. "Are you going to sit there and tell me that you believe anything written on a piece of paper? If so, I have a map I'd like to show you; it shows the position of an ancient cache of weapons blessed by the Twins." She widened her eyes and spoke in the same tone of voice you'd use to talk to a small child. Then she shrugged and looked again at the paper.
"Seriously, what the hell do you think you have here?"

So that's what the bastard meant.
I thought we had a deal.
That note had gotten to her just before she was called to the Council chamber. Obviously it was from Sean. Which meant that he was finally following through on his threat to expose her secret. For whatever reason, he was throwing away the only bit of leverage he had. The idiot.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Do you believe in the Twins? Because they are all based on stories that for the longest time were never written down. If you believe that nonsense than is it really a stretch that I believe in a small note? There's also an eye witness testimony I could bring in if you really need me to give any more proof."
He lifted his hand and smacked it down on the piece of paper which held all of Mageria's guilt baggage and pulled it back to his person, tucking it safely in his pocket. "I have all I need to prove to the council who, may I add is already displeased by you that you are just a worthless scumbag who isn't deserving of any funding. What do you think the White Knights will think of this? What will the Queen think of this? Do the back guards know, because if they don't they will soon. So I give you the choise. I could tell the council and become the big hero who uncovered a mystery or you could tell them yourself. Either way, I'll be satisfied."

~~~~~~~~~~


Mageria leaned toward Xypher and spoke softly. "You want to be a hero, Warlord? You can stand up in front of the entire Council and tell them what you've found. And then you can explain how you "found out" about all of this. And [i[then[/i]," she leaned in even closer and her voice took on a deadly soft quality. "And then you can explain to the entire Council and the Queen and everybody else how you approved my promotion to Captain, even under such unusual circumstances." Her smile took on a chilling quality.
"The Queen herself has told me that so long as what I do is for the good of Newhaven, it's ok. I've outlasted what is it, three White Knight Captains, now?" Her smile tightened. "As for the Guard, I've had six years to handpick people and build their loyalty to me. Personally. They know, exactly what I'm capable of, and what I'm willing to do for them. You want to try and come between me and my people, Warlord? I suggest you think otherwise."

"You have no proof Xypher. You have a piece of paper and the offer of a 'witness' who would be coming from a group whom we've been fighting for the past few years. Not exactly unbiased information."

~~~~~~~~~~


Xypher moved his face in even closer to Mageria's until each could see the others sweat racing down their faces as if they were attempting to beat each other down the other's face. The intensity in their eyes enough to cut through solid steel. "Isn't it funny. The man who made you what you are is about to make you fall apart. The history books will not think of me as the untrustworthy one of the two. They will only know what I tell them. They'll learn of what a witch you were. Casting your charm over everyone to make them believe what you said was true. They don't need to know where the witness came from. I can pay enough money to convince her to say anything I want her to. You know that and I know it."
He abruptly moved back a few inches still cutting through each other with their glares. Behind all the madness of the crowds still arguing, a secret war was being waged. "Your ass is on the line Mageria and there is nothing you can do to make it fall apart now. Your arrogance just shows to me how much of a bitch you really are. I have more than the proof I need..."
"EVERYBODY SHUT UP!" The voice shrieked through the shouting.
Everyone rushed to the closest seat they could find. Soon, the only seat for Mageria was the one beside Xypher. He smiled and pushed the seat back for her to sit down. Ella walked into the room, with an entourage of serving girls following her. Some were tightening her corset, while others were doing her makeup. She had obviously just woken up and already many were whispering and chuckling at the sight. Still, the two warriors looked each other with their piercing gazes.
"So if everyone -- oh, that's too tight --- Sorry. If everyone is ready to begin? Ok then, we'll go by the list today. Abraham..."
"Sorry, my Lady, but there is something really important that I need addressed immediatly."
"I'm sorry Xypher, we are going alphabetically today and you'll be the last to speak."
Xypher rested his hand on Mageria's leg. He hoped that it made her feel a bit of comfort because things were about to get really uncomfortable for her. He slowly moved his hand up her outer thigh. "My Lady, I apologize then for speaking out of turn. I need to tell the council that... AHHHHH!" Xypher had jumped out of his seat, holding onto the back of his leg. He had taken Mageria's side dagger on her leg and cut himself with it just close enough to the artery on the back of his leg that it didn't seem like an accident. None of the council members would know that as the table had guarded everyone from the true sight.
"She's trying to kill me like she did Morgan! Read the letter! " He threw the letter from his pocket on the table, now bloodied by his hands. "There are witnesses!"

~~~~~~~~~~~


Mageria slowly pushed away from the table, acutely aware of the stares and whispers that exploded around the room. Deep inside her she could feel a chill of fear blended with a white hot rage, both of them churning together until she couldn't tell one from the other. Around her she could see the looks of fear and confusion, the fear mostly from the civilians and the confusion from the guards. Planting one hand on the table, she stared hard at Xypher, shaking just a little bit from the effort involved in trying to keep from appearing calm.
"Believe me, Warlord. If I had killed Captain Morgan, I would have no trouble taking you out. For example, you would not be jumping about screaming right now."
She felt like she was balanced on the edge of a knife. She could continue to deny what had happened, or she could own it and deal with the results. The truth was, she had killed Morgan and if she could, she would have done it again and danced on the bastard's grave. He had been a monster and no one knew just how bad until he was gone and the house of lies and fear he had built up fell apart in his absence. He had killed needlessly, he had stolen from the dead and he had tortured people just for fun.

And she had ended it all with a single sword thrust, seven years ago.

Mageria felt herself sliding mentally into a very cold dark place. She had accepted long ago just what she was capable of when pushed to the limit, and now was the time to test that. With a vicious kick, she moved the table out of the way and strode to the center of the room, holding her arms out to either side.
"Here I am then. The woman accused of killing one of the most vicious and insane bastards to ever grace our halls. The question is," she turned and faced Xypher. "Do you really think I'm the worse monster?"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Ess
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INK

Ess and Blackbird


Essence nodded to Mageria, understanding that duty called, “I will stick around this time..” She stated after the Captain, unsure if she heard Ess. Picking up the practice blades to put them back into the shed, she watched a group of people walk by her, a woman scarred from her own story, signaling a familiar gesture wishing her luck. It was a manner she had not seen since she was a teenager and it made Ess curious to where the woman was from. She kept to herself though, remembering Tala. As she picked up her belt, re-strapping her weapons around her waist, Tala sat whining softly at her, still laying over where she was left. Tala saw in Ess’s eyes the silent ok to come forward accompanied by a quiet chuckle, the wolf dashing across the grounds to her side. “Whatcha think girl? Was it stupid of me to show the Captain one of my secrets?” She asked her friend, rubbing the wolf’s ears. Tala seemed to like Mageria, which was odd, since she didn’t usually like anyone else besides Ess. Guess the wolf was just as protective as Ess was of her.

A smile found it’s way back onto her face, Ess yelling to the wolf, “Ready?!” Her body jumped back into a squatting position, the wolf copying her almost exactly, wiggling her butt around in the air playfully in tune with her tail. Ess drew her sword and matching dagger and began to dance around her friend, causing the wolf to bound spo’radically in different directions. It was a familiar game they played, Ess trying to teach Tala to avoid her strikes and at the same time it helped her improve her stamina. She didn’t care if she looked ridiculous prancing around with the wolf, as she thought Tala was very smart and quick at this game. Only in the beginning was the wolf caught off guard, but that was when chair legs were their practice swords.

“Disarm!” Ess commanded, the wolf launching herself through the air, her jaws clamping around Ess’s wrist. In theory, the wolf would use her full strength, but for the purpose of this game, she simply dropped her master’s hand at a whistle, but only after she dropped her blade. This way, Tala was given the idea to hold and thrash until the enemy dropped their weapon before letting go. Tala was almost an expert at this game to the point where Ess wanted to try it without commands, she just needed a test subject.


Luke had slept poorly, yet again. Again, he didn't know what he had been dreaming of. As he walked around the Castle halls no one seemed to pay him any mind, it was funny to him that they didn't see that his place wasn't there, but then... Where was his place anyway? Hum... Better not go there. Absently he walked towards the training grounds as he heard sounds of activity there. Walking absent-minded, with both hands in the pockets of his 'borrowed' clothes, Luckas entered the training grounds and stopped walking as he caught sight of a woman dancing her blades around a wolf. Tilting his head curiously, he watched the movements, intrigued by them. Luckas was never much of a fighter, Lena had gave him one or two lessons, but he never had the discipline to train. Approaching the woman and the wolf Luke chuckled. "I am haunted, it seems!" He exclaimed. "Tell me, should I expect to see you everywhere I go now?" He asked, a smirk crossing his face.

Essence straightened at the sound of a familiar voice, playfully she spun so that she was beside Luckas, she let her sword stay idle by her side while her dagger teased along his shoulder. Her manner was flirtatious as usual, yet she kept it well hidden if it was just instinct or if she meant it. “Is this the part were you try to kill me?” She giggled into his ear. “Or...”She whispered, the smell of her lavender perfume emanating from her form as she caught her breath. “...You proclaim your undying desire for me...”

She waited for a response before stepping back, sliding her blades to their home at her waist. Ess raised her hand in Tala’s direction, signaling her wolf friend to relax, her growl throaty and low as she stared up at Luckas, unsure what to make of him. For the most part, Ess kept her mind clear, unsure still exactly how Luke’s “Enlightenment” worked and to it’s extent. Staring at Tala, her expression changed at a sudden epiphany.

“Tell me Luckas...would you mind testing a theory for me?”

Luke shifted a little uncomfortably, but only for a moment. He was getting better at hiding whatever feelings and impulses the woman caused on him, soon they would no longer show, unless she managed to get better at provoking him as well. He kept his eyes on the wolf as the animal seemed uncomfortable, predators were good at spotting other predators. Finally Luke turned his black eyes towards the woman's violet gaze and snickered. "One does not exclude the other, my dear. After all, I thoroughly enjoy my business. I wonder... Do you ever enjoy yours?" He asked her.

As she asked if he would help with a theory he gave her a curious look. "That depends if your theory also interests me... I'm a curious individual, I can't deny." He told her.

“Depends on your version of enjoyed...and to exactly what part.” Ess laughed before continuing, with a sharp whistle, stepping back, Tala slowly began to approach Luckas showing the tips of her white fangs. Tala paused inches from Luke, sniffing the air, as if she were memorizing his scent.

“Using my talent to get what I want....yes..But since I have never ‘entertained’ without a price...then no...at least...”She smiled wickedly... “Not yet.”

Ess wanted to play, her eyes continued to glow in her curiousity as her complexion changed only slightly, her hair shortened into jet black locs, her form lengthening in height to shortly reflect Luckas almost to perfection. There was an oddity to the mirror image, one couldn’t put their finger on. Her expression went cold, her stare attempting to penetrate his own, wanting to see his reaction to facing...himself. She kept silent, wondering thoughtfully to herself as Tala kept circling the man, the wolf’s head was low to the ground, steps carefully calculated, expecting movement.

"Not yet, huh?" Luke asked, his eyes sparkling a red glow as he smiled at the woman. He didn't know what he wanted with her... If he wanted to kill her, or not... He was sure that she would be great if he tried, she had so much pain to relive, but at the same time, maybe she would actually be able to understand him; how often did someone like that come along? His only manifestation of the thoughts going through his mind was a soft sigh. "What a pity. Perhaps one day we can entertain each other." He offered. "I can show you exactly what I consider enjoyment... I don't think you actually got to see it last time."

Staring at Ess' eyes, almost hypnotized, not paying any mind to the animal circling him, knowing the wolf was right to suspect considering the thoughts he was having, he was slightly startled to see the woman's image shift onto his own. His black eye widened in shock and delight, as both feeling invaded him at once. He smiled wide, reaching out slowly to Ess' face, but not touching the image. It was like staring into a mirror... A mirror... This was way too good. "You're better than I ever imagined." Luckas mumbled, a tone of admiration rarely ever shown in his voice. "Say, do you mind going with me somewhere? I heard some people going to this big meeting... I wanted to try and sneak a peek at that." He didn't say what exactly he wanted to do, but he knew that's where Mageria would be. Essence's eyes gave her away, but for a few moments she probably could fool the Black Knight Captain into thinking she was nuts, or that his brother wasn't dead. It was too good of an opportunity to waste.

Keeping her disguise in tack, she let out a mocking laugh, attempting to copy Luckas from their last encounter. She had some practicing to do if she was going to mimic him to perfection. Staring at his mannerisms and gestures she picked up a few quickly. She nodded towards him, whistling at her wolf again to her side.

“That’s what the Captain said...just moments before you arrived. ..”She attempted to mimic Luckas’ snicker and added, “I am curious as well...Lead the way.” Ess and Tala followed Luckas to the council chambers, just as the clammer of voices came to a halt.Tala had run ahead of them, ignoring Ess's call, as she whispered, "Tala!" Her voice was attempting to take on a deeper tone as the wolf snuck through the bodies standing guard, slipping beneath a very large table.

Suddenly a man shouted high above the rest, ""She's trying to kill me like she did Morgan!" Ess thought, quirking a brow, her expression a mix of hers but plastered upon Luke's mirror like image. Were they talking about the last Guard Captain? She kept in disguise, not wanting her gift to be made public to the strangers around her. Ess noticed Tala making her way towards Mageria as she lashed forward.


' With a vicious kick, she moved the table out of the way and strode to the center of the room, holding her arms out to either side.
"Here I am then. The woman accused of killing one of the most vicious and insane bastards to ever grace our halls. The question is," she turned and faced Xypher. "Do you really think I'm the worse monster?"'


Essence may have not known the Captain Guard, but she saw the woman struggling to hold composure, barely holding on. It was an all too familiar scene to Ess, one she had fought through before only to fail. Her eyes were wide in wonder, a smile curling her lips, wondering if Mageria would cut down that man where he stood accusingly. Ess had heard rumors of the deceased, having the distinct feeling she would of done worse if she were in Mageria's place.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Ess
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INK

BlackBird, Trickster, and Essence

With a bored shrug, Ess glanced from Tala to Luke shaking her head at his observation as he stated, ' "I'm just a terrible influence.”’

“I am my own influence, therefore I come to my own conclusions.” With a sweet, honest smile Ess shifted her stare from Luke’s; the blackness seemed to go on forever into the depths of his soul, she knew whatever he was keeping inside was hidden in that abyss. “You may believe that I am acting foolish Luckas, but as much as my conscious here ..” Ess paused, rubbing Tala along her shoulder blades. “..tries to warn me otherwise...I am not afraid of you. Quite the opposite, actually. And I don’t mean to sound full of myself, or threatening. ...I just can’t put my finger on it..”

A subtle giggle escaped her lips, as she mouthed silently, ‘You should know’ to his question of how she planned on assisting him in his ‘playtime.’ Ess would do just about anything she needed to, to get what she wanted. Her head snapped up at attention as the room began to fill with men and women, shortly thereafter Mageria began addressing all of the current situation. Ess kept silent as the Captain admitted to killing the late Captain Morgan, just nodding in approval. Lightly she crossed her arms across her waist, her fingers tapping against the hilts of her sword and dagger. Bunching her brows together she took in the chatter, men and women arguing. Some wanting to fight, others wanting to know what was to become of themselves. The selfless individuals who spoke up, were the ones Ess agreed with. There should be a way to take care of the problem. Of course, Ess was never one for politics, as she was either driven by logic or instinct. On occasion those two would work together, but most of the time she was shoving forward based on emotion only. As Mageria left the room for her people to discuss the situation, Ess sighed, keeping Luke in the corner of her eye.
~~~
Luckas was leaning up against a wall, arms crossed over his chest absently looking around the room as he chuckled. "I never said you should be afraid of me, in the sense of me hurting you, although in a way you probably should. I said that I'm a terrible influence. And what do you mean with 'quite the opposite'?" He asked curiously, not being able to identify what was quite the opposite of being afraid of someone. As Mageria entered the room, however his eyes and his attention were completely devoted to her, not for what she was saying, but for what was behind it. The Black Knights were no more; the most powerful force known to Valcrest, disbanded over simple bureaucracy. Was it true that everything was just that fragile? He wondered what would be necessary to break down the Newhaven Council completely? Were they any less fragile? Probably not, but he was going to find that out soon enough.

As Mageria left and the men and women of the Guard were left to discuss their options, Luckas broke out of his thoughts. He didn't know what they were going to do, but he knew what he was going to do about this.

"I need to ask Captain a question." He stated simply, turning to look at Ess. "You know, before we think about playing."
~~~
Ess’s smile dissipated to a lack of expression, as she shook her head not agreeing with Luke’s words, ' "I never said you should be afraid of me, in the sense of me hurting you, although in a way you probably should. I said that I'm a terrible influence.” ’ She had explained what she could at the moment, and didn’t feel this was the time to debate. When he questioned Ess, wanting to know what she meant about ‘quite the opposite’ she hid her amusement that it was not clear and simply stated with a distracted yawn, “I’m the one haunting you, remember? Who knows how I will feel tomorrow...maybe I’ll kill you then..” She winked.

Essence stretched her arms, nodding in agreement. “I need to speak with Mageria as well..course if you would rather go alone..I can wait.” She said, not wanting to be disrespectful. Ess was, after all technically the stranger around here, and Luckas and Mageria had some sort of history..even if it wasn’t all pleasant and she wasn’t sure if her, the outsider would be welcomed. Naturally, Ess didn’t let on her concern and simply waited for the response.

~~~~
Luckas laughed a bit loudly, which momentarily caught the attention of a few people, however they were too concerned to care about who he was and soon went back to what they were doing. "You'll kill me?" He sighed once the laughter subsided. "Well, suppose there are worse ways to die than by the hands of a pretty lady." He stated with a little shrug.

"I don't mind if you tag along, it's not like we share intimate secrets or anything, but... You might want to sneak a little peek at what those guys are up to, might lead to something fun. You can do that if you want, I'm not a jealous person." He snickered. "Well, maybe I am a little bit sometimes." He stated with a small wink.
~~~
Ess simply smiled, holding back a laugh of her own, still not understanding why this man’s laugh was so contagious. Tala wagged her tail a bit, as if she was interested in the prospect of Ess killing Luckas, she nuzzled Ess’s hand lovingly. As she soothingly ran her fingers along Tala’s ear, Ess made her way for the door, nodding for Luke to lead the way.

“Aww...you think I’m pretty?” There were mixed feelings with her words, the tone honestly surprised yet the words seemed mocking. The intention was not meant to be rude, but Ess didn’t hear that compliment when she was in her normal form...at least not for a long time.

“Don’t tempt me Luckas, I may want to see what kind of man you are when you become Jealous. I bet it’s deliciously down right scary.” Ess tossed her curls aside from her face, the glow of her violet gaze dimmed back to her normal deep shade. “Besides, the Captain and I are always in the middle of a discussion and she suddenly has to go attend to business..and...” Ess smirked, a little snort escaping her at the irony... “...each time she leaves...you show up. So there are some things that are still up in the air.”
~~~
"I have eyes, don't I?" Luke responded, a very discrete tone of pink showing on his face as he hadn't realized he'd paid the woman a compliment in the middle of all his talking. As they walked through the door and out to the hall, however, it was already gone. He snickered slightly. "Now I'm curious as to how you suppose you could make me jealous." He stated tilting his head a bit in thought. He grinned. "You wouldn't be disappointed though."

He chuckled. "Well, while I tend to want to follow the Captain around all the time, funny enough, I wasn't even doing that when we ran into each other.I didn't even see it was the Captain you were talking to either. When you said 'Guard Captain' I didn't think you meant the Black Guard." He stated with a small shrug, walking down a corridor, he stopped in front of Mageria's bedroom door, and knocked on it as gently as he could. Not saying anything and just waiting to see if she'd open the door. He suspected that if he called she wouldn't open the door for him.
~~
Mageria hadn't managed to get up by the time that there was a knock on the door. She considered ignoring it, but her sense of duty was too strong. Even though they didn't identify themselves, it could have been one of her people, which meant that she had to answer. Her room was still dark, no one had been by to light a candle and she hadn't had the will to do so. She had instead been sitting there staring; feeling a small burning flame in her chest. Somehow, she was going to keep her people together, those that choose to follow her. She wouldn't turn away from them, no matter who had turned away from her.

She would protect the people of Newhaven, the ones that she had truly given her oath to. It wasn't the Council that she was sworn to; it was the men, women and children that she was bound to protect. The whole reason that her world was crumbling around her was because she had believed that seven years ago; it was just as true today.

Somehow, she would find a way.

Taking a deep breath, she slowly pushed herself up and pulled open the door, blinking a bit at the sudden light. Her eyes quickly flicked between Luckas and Ess, standing there together. A slight smile quirked the side of her face as a ember of fire could be seen in her eyes. The two of them, together. That could lead to some interesting times. Silently, she stepped back, opening the door to invite them in.
~~
Tala bursted forward in a flash of energy, happy to see Mageria again. “Blasted wolf..” Ess muttered almost falling over as Tala jumped around happily, licking at Mageria’s hand. Leaving the wolf with the Captain, Ess noticed how dark the room was and shuffled her way inside, finding the closest set of candles to light, as Luke and her entered the room. A few heart beats passed, the room slowly filling with light while Ess found a lonely chair off against a wall. Casually she sat, leaning back against the wall, balancing on the back two legs. She kept silent, looking from Mageria to Luckas, absently cracking her knuckles.
~~~
Luckas didn't make himself as comfortable in the room as he usually would pretty much anywhere, rather he just walked in and leaned against the wall nearest to the doorway. For a second or two watching Tala before he opened a grin and put his attention on Mageria. "You know, not to seem arrogant or anything, but you should've accepted my offer. People just underestimate the value of mind control nowadays apparently." He said with a small shrug. "Suppose I should apologize for the..." His eyes glanced over to where Ess was sitting and he chuckled. "It was supposed to be funny, but the timing was just terrible, it seems."

Crossing his arms over his chest, Luckas attempted to hold back the manic grin that would give away what was on his mind as he addressed the question he wanted to ask at this time, however, the red glow in his eyes showed his intentions rather clearly. "The reason I'm here now though... You told me not to do anything you would have to deal with, so I've taken my time to come here and ask: If I do something now, would you still have to deal with it?"
~~~
Mageria knelt down, petting Tala and ruffling her fur. Leaning back against the wall, she slid down and crossed her legs, jerking her head back as the wolf attempted to climb into her lap. "Settle down," she ordered gently and Tala obeyed, laying down and looking up at her in mute appeals for more scratches. Mageria obliged, working her fingers through the fur around her ears.
It took her a moment to respond to Luckas. "Honestly, at the moment? It depends on who you were going after." There was another long moment of silence. "I have a reasonable idea of why most of the Councillors want to get rid of me. Things I've done or seen . . . I've made some enemies over time. But Xypher? What in the Gods names has happened that he is so desperate to get rid of me that he'd do all that? It could be any number of things, all of which could be a disaster for the people I'm supposed to be protecting."
Mageria absently kept petting Tala, the movement soothing. She looked up at Luckas with a gentle angry smile on her face, a look in her eye that almost matched that in his. "So the question is, if you were to do something to a certain someone . . . would I care?"
~~~
Ess tilted her head, letting her curls drape over half of her face, listening to both Mageria and Luckas her eyes flarred briefly in a vibrant purple before fading again. She could feel the
woman’s pain, hearing it in her words. Keeping quiet for the most part, she whispered under her breath, thinking out loud, “Maybe...it doesn’t have to do with you...maybe you are just a pawn...someone in the way..” Ess cleared her throat, giving a small smirk as she pondered which dress would be appropriate for her little venture later, shifting her eyes back over to Luckas.
~~
Luckas snickered softly at the response. "This Xypher person..." His eyes lit up a bright red just to mention the man's name. "I know his type well. One of those people who are content with what they have until they see an opportunity to get a little more, and then a little more than that... They're parasites, leeches, scum." He said, barely containing a growl behind his words. "If you want a more specific reason, however, that can be arranged." He stated, a childish smile breaking through his anger at the thought of being useful. "To make it simple, yes. The question is, if I was to have my fun with a certain person, or his associated people, would that be a problem?" He asked, his eyes turning back to their usual black as he smiled down at the woman. "I'd hate it if my playtime somehow ruined our friendship, Captain. Especially since I still haven't got the answers I need." His smile turning a little more wicked as he added. "However, that's a conversation to be had at another time."
~~~
Mageria sighed, not stopping in her absent petting motions. She never really thought she'd be petting a wolf, but there was something about it, as if she could recognize a kindred spirit. And it was calming, which was something she really needed at the moment. Leaning her head back, she thought for a long moment, studying Luckas through half lidded eyes. Finally she came to a decision.
"I took an oath to protect the people of Newhaven, Luckas. Through whatever means necessary." A brief, hard smile crossed her face. "Just because they're trying to kick me out doesn't mean that I'm going to abandon my oath in turn. Xypher . . . just placed himself between me and those that I'm supposed to protect. And he was so desperate to do so that he stabbed himself in the leg to try and sell the idea."

She stilled, somehow giving the impression of a hunter, waiting for the correct moment to strike. "I need to know why. And I need to know how many people are involved. And I don't have the time or resources to do it in my traditionally non-traditional methods." Mageria looked Luckas directly in the eye, knowing that she should never be considering such a thing, but not caring at this point. And. . . she acknowledged that there was a part of her that really wanted some revenge. "So go have your fun with the Warlord Xypher, Luckas. Let me know what you find out." A chilling smile crossed her face. "Just be sure you clean up after yourself."
~~~
Essence rocked forward onto all four legs of the chair, standing quick with a graceful flare, approaching both the Captain and Luckas. “Glad to have your blessing M’am...because this is where I come in...” A mischievous smirk crossed her lips, as she bit down on her tongue to contain her excitement. “Course...if you didn’t mind, I would need you to keep an eye on Tala for me...she can’t follow.” Tala gave a curious bark, tilting her head up at Essence that caused her to laugh. “Ok..well you can watch the Captain here for me, eh?” She corrected to the wolf. Sometimes she didn’t know if her furry friend was really a person, and it often made her wonder with her excess amounts of intelligence that only continued to surprise Ess.

“I was starting to think I had bad timing, with everything that has happened. I was trying to find a way for myself to be...useful to you. Perhaps then you’d want to keep me around.” Ess’ smile dwindled a bit as she stared into Mageria’s eyes, her own twinkling as she stated flatly, almost without emotion. “I would of done the same thing Captain.” Her tone grew cold with an almost creepy like edge, “I’ve done worse to less deserving...MEN.”

Essence cracked her back, stretching her neck to loosen up some. She had errands to run, things to do to prepare, as she didn’t have everything she required. “Does anyone know...” She looked from Luke to Mageria, “What kinda gal he fancies? Blond...? Brunette?” With each word, Ess’s hair changed from one color to the next, falling back to her default red, the length and curls never faltering.
~~~
The soft 'thud' of Ess' chair hitting the ground was what kept Luckas' mind in the room, as he was already thinking of things he'd finally get to do again, a delighted grin plastered on his face. It was like a five year old itch desperately needing to be scratched. No... It was more than a itch: It was a hunger, or sorts. The predator inside had been successfully bound five years ago when the White Shadows took him in, but now those quiet days were over... And everywhere he looked there was prey, one more delicious than the other, it had been a struggle to keep control of his urges. This would be the most wonderful release, he needed it, and he was given more than enough consent and encouragement to do it. He was almost sorry to had promised Ess he'd let her join him, but he did, and so he would stay true to his word. He was also a bit curious to see what she'd do, he couldn't deny.

He waited patiently for Ess to finish talking so he could answer Mageria. "Have you or your men ever learned of the Dark Mirror's, far more charming and talented, brother before, Captain? I always clean up after myself very neatly, don't worry." He then turned to Ess and grinned. "Who's to be sure he fancies women? I mean, a lot of men would much rather my boyish charms." He said with a slightly flirtatious wink. He wouldn't deny he had lured a couple of victims that way, probably saved a few kids from a very traumatic experience. Not to mention those were excellent kills, those men had more ghosts than a haunted house. After let his thoughts wander for a while, he changed the subject to the other question in his mind.

"Say, Captain... I'm wondering... They wouldn't have the guts to throw those kids in the orphanage would they? I mean, Lily and the others?" He asked, his tone a slightly softer one. "Because if they would, tell me whose mind I need to make up to avoid that."
~~
Mageria looked back at Ess. "I honestly have no idea what 'type' Xypher would fancy. Probably your best bet would be someone not that noticeable, but who can give him what he wants. Maybe somebody who has more information that he can use against me? I think he'd pay more attention to that." She waited a moment. "I'd be glad to have Tala along, though. A reason to hold my temper." She thought for a moment more, looking between the two others. "Please, just don't do something that will cause you too much pain. I'd hate to see two hurt yourselves because of me."

Mageria looked over at Luckas, raising one eyebrow. "Honestly, do you think I'd let them do anything to the children? If they try . . . well. If they try, they'll find out just how much I learned from the dear departed Captain Morgan." She looked down at Tala and scratched her behind the ears. "One of the 'gifts' your brother left me with. I know exactly what I'm capable of . . . and I'm willing to do it, if the need arises."
~~~
Ess nodded a bit, her mind wondering. She couldn’t take on the form of someone familiar, without research and practice to make the ‘Mirage’ believable, so she would go with something to satisfy the man’s urges. Playfully she tapped Luckas on the arm at his smart ass comment. “You just want me to mirror you again, is that it?” She teased, turning her head her eyes still trailing him from a sideway glance, giving her a mysterious persona.

“If you really don’t mind Tala,” Ess stated to the Captain, “ I’ll go over a few things with you before I leave. She really is a smart girl..” Ess dragged her nails lightly underneath Tala’s chin, causing her leg to kick happily. “Yes you are..” She whispered to the wolf.

Ess couldn’t hold back a giggle at Mageria’s words of what she would be capable of, if pushed so far. “Something tells me I don’t want to ever cross you.” One of these days, Ess was going to sit down and have a few drinks with the Captain where they could swap stories and pick one another’s brain. She felt there was at least a few things she could learn from the woman, even though it appeared they were not far in age from each other.

Essence stepped back towards the door, looking from one to the next with an almost impatient smile. “So..where do we go from here?”
~~~
Luckas nodded quietly and firmly as Mageria stated she wouldn't allow anything to happen to the kids. He didn't usually take people's word on things, but for some reason he couldn't bring himself to doubt her, not even in thought. He discarded the matter as if it was settled that the children would be perfectly safe. When she mentioned his brother had shown her exactly what she was capable of, an odd expression crossed his features and he mumbled under his breath. "That must be a very comforting thing to know."

Once Ess asked what they would do next, he leaned closer to her and whispered playfully, going back on the conversation a bit. "I'm not exactly my type either, but that's a conversation for another time." Raising his voice to a more audible level, he answered the question. "Well... We need to do a little digging and find out what to dress you up as; servants are wonderful means to get this sort of information. We also need a nice quiet spot to lure him into, but I think I know just the one. Then... We do what good predators do: We stalk our prey until he's nice and vulnerable." He stated. "Unless you rather go about it in some other fashion, I'm not picky." He shrugged. "You said you had to talk to Captain about some thing yourself, no? If that's still the case I'll wait out in the hall while you do that." He had some things he needed to tell Ess if she was going to help him with this, and he'd rather not discuss them with anyone else. Meanwhile, he'd take some time to think. Giving Mageria a slight bow, he walked past Ess through the bedroom door and out to the hallway, closing the door after himself and leaning against the opposite wall to wait.
~~
Mageria watched Luckas leave the room before quietly clearing her throat and looking up at Ess. "If you were planning on 'mirroring' Luckas again in the near future; I'd appreciate it if you didn't do that around me. I may have learned some things from his brother, but it was . . ." a dark shadow flickered across her eyes. "Not something I'd care to remember. Ever. Also, I did kill his brother, and it's taken me a couple of years to get past the instinctive urge to stab Luckas whenever I see him. So, not the best idea to startle me with that."

She rubbed Tala's ears once again, snorting at the look the wolf gave her. "So what was it you needed to tell me?"
~~~
Essence sighed as Luckas left, turning back towards the Captain, the smile on her face fading at Mageria’s words. “I was actually trying to get a rise out him, believe it or not....and I did in a way. I learned more afterwards, please accept my apologies.” Ess spoke humbly, changing the subject to Tala as she went over some basic commands to use, if ever Mageria needed to, explaining some things that were quite obvious; like the wolf’s uncanny urge to protect and how she obviously agreed with the Captain on some opinions of Luckas. “Feel free to test her...dislike for Luckas if ever you wish for amusement...or whatever.” Ess only half heartedly joked, hoping to crack a smile on the Captain’s troubled face.

“Before I go, my only other concern was that we never seem to finish speaking, you and I. I was just curious if there was anything you’d be willing to teach me...” Ess paused, lowering her voice as she continued. “Or if you felt I was worth the work.” Briefly describing how she grew up, kidnaped and sold into a brothel at seven, Ess nodded before turning towards the door, motioning for Tala to stay. “I would like to see some things change in this world, therefore if you need more of my help..I will gladly be here.” Ess smiled sweetly, ear to ear. “In the mean time...you have Tala there...who seems to like you tremendously. Take care of each other while I’m gone.” The wolf motioned to move but remained where she lye, a small whine escaping her throat.

“I will be back...so don’t think you can keep her forever.”
~~~
Mageria spoke quickly and quietly before Ess could get out the door. "I have a great deal I think that I could teach you, and perhaps some things that you could teach me." She looked down and took a deep breath. "Honestly, I was wondering if you'd want to have anything to do with me after everything you've found out. Reason or not, I did commit treason. And associating with me is not going to lead to glory and riches any time soon. But if you want to continue; there are any number of things that I believe you could help me with."

“I will be back...so don’t think you can keep her forever.”

Mageria cocked one eyebrow at Tala as Ess went out the door. "Which one of us was she talking to?"
~~

Setting

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Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir
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INK

The Black Guard was still in an uproar even a couple hours later. Matthew, the man normally in charge of the Guard in Mageria’s absence, was in the midst of assigning duties. There were people with families, they had to be taken care of first. Then there were those that had nowhere else to go, they had to decided what they were going to do as well. Everybody who didn’t have a home in the city had to find somewhere else to live, everyone who could take in someone else for a while had already volunteered. There were supplies that had to be ‘found’ and it all had to be done as quickly as possible. The Guard for the most part were made up of former thieves, mercenaries and other people from the shady side of the law. They had no problem with finding what they needed from somewhere that they shouldn’t. Their informal motto “It’s easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission.” In this case, they weren’t even going to be able to beg for forgiveness. But when the survival of so many of them was at stake, they would have to do what they had to.

Mageria was still firmly shut up in her room. She wasn’t hiding, she wasn’t the type. But when Matthew had gone to talk to her, she was distant and distracted, worried about something aside from everything else that was going on. She wouldn’t talk about it, but something big was going on.
-----

Mageria stood alone . . . well almost alone in her room. Her table had been cleared off and the map she had of the Blackpond Castle was spread out in front of her. Over in front of the fireplace, Tala was curled up, basking comfortably in the warmth. Mageria stood absolutely still, fighting down the volcanic emotions that raged inside her. Never had she thought that being exposed as a traitor and loosing everything that she had worked for in the past seven years would be pushed aside. But there was something more important now. The last time this dagger had shown up, it had caused mass chaos and destruction. That was at the hands of someone who knew what they were doing, knew what it was that they had. She wasn’t sure whether or not the idea of it in the hands of someone who might not know what they had was better or worse.

Still, she’d have to plan for the worse case scenario. That the person who had the dagger knew what it was and knew how to use it. She glanced over at the book at the end of the table, the one that the Wolf had left behind three years ago. She’d read it cover to cover several times and she’d be going over it again; hopefully it held something that would be useful.

Mageria reached out to trace a path on the map in front of her, startled to see that her hand was shaking. Frowning, she clenched it momentarily, shaking it in the effort to relax. Taking a deep breath, she pushed her emotions down further, fighting for a clear head. She had to focus right now. She could feel later.

-----

As Crystal walked out of the Inn she felt her right shoulder aching from impact; the outburst of anger had made her ignore the fact that forcefully trying to stab through a metal surface was extremely stupid. Rubbing the aching shoulder, she also realized she still had a bottle of rum in her hands… Well, that could actually be useful.

The streets were strangely calm and silent aside from the noises from Inns and other establishments. That was always a somewhat quiet part of town, as long as Crys could remember, but for some reason it seemed far more silent in this particular moment. Crys’ steps made her think of the last time she had sneaked in to the Newhaven Castle; when Ali was being held in the dungeons. That was the occasion in which she was given the path she was about to follow right now, it led her somewhat close the Black Knights’ quarters, and somewhat close was close enough to find a familiar person.

As she made her way through the same narrow passages she had walked last time, she held the rum bottle firmly in one hand, on the other a small token hidden within a clenched fist. In her mind, whispers of words spoken a very long time ago, by different voices…

"They are good people... The Knights...”

“…they're not very different from us."

“I have come here alone and without the consent of my superiors in hopes to find a way through our aggressions. To end this foolish war altogether if possible. A great place to start would be to have our people stop their feud. To bring peace between Newhaven and the Wolfpack if possible.”

“I know it’s completely inadequate. But I finally was able to get the whole story put together. And all I can say is . . . I’m sorry. I wish that my part in all of this had played out differently. I thought I was doing the right thing.”


She gripped the little token a little tighter as she walked, feeling something stir inside; not sure if the memories had caused the feelings or if it was just the opposite.

It had taken Crys a lot of will power to not draw her weapons at Sean inside that cabin the moment she realized what he had done. It seemed like somehow everyone who had ever cared to keep Valcrest in some sort of order or balance somehow got the worse of it. First the Pack, then the White Shadows, now the Black Knights… It had made her very angry, but she suddenly realized that she wasn’t just angry for herself anymore; her hands were shaky and there were tears rolling down her face, she wasn’t sure exactly if out of anger or grief as they were so mixed together it was hard to make it out… All of that came wrapped up in a sensation of worry and fear as if someone was holding something heavy over her head...

A rather loud ‘thud’ broke Crys out of her thoughts. The bottle she was holding had slipped out of her hands. The glass didn’t break, but the bottle had hit the ground and rolled away rather loudly, and now she realized that she was no longer in the service tunnels. She was so taken in by the sudden wave of emotions that she didn’t realize she was walking out in the open. Her body tensed only slightly as she heard the rolling bottle being stopped by what sounded like a boot. One hand still gripping the little token and the other discretely moving near the, still blood stained, Sai.

-----

Bran had been walking out of the common room with his assignment when he happened to notice a rather pretty young woman coming out of the service tunnels, a rum bottle held in one hand. She might have been taking a few drinks of it already, because she was staggering a bit and weaving, tears running down her face. She stumbled, the bottle falling from her hands and rolling towards him. He stopped it with one foot, reaching down and picking it up with a sigh. The news of what the Captain had done years ago . . . hadn’t exactly surprised him. She had always done what was necessary to protect those that she felt needed it and she very rarely regretted it. She drove herself to the brink of collapse in order to keep her men safe, they had all seen it before and sometimes they had to protect her from herself in order to keep her around.

The thought of the Captain being cast out the way she was . . . that left everybody wanting blood in return. She had forbidden it, pointing out that the Council was the ones who were throwing her out, the people of Newhaven were the ones that they were still sworn to protect. So they had been coming up with ideas about how to do so, ideas that the Captain might not agree with, but she wasn’t going to have much of a choice.

“Any other time, I’d welcome the arrival of a pretty lady with a bottle walking around here. But this is a bad time and we’re really not welcoming strangers right now.” He held out the bottle with one hand, other hand wrapped around the hilt of one of his knives. His voice and eyes hardened and his tone became crisp when he noticed just how well armed the young woman was. “In fact if you were to linger in the slightest, I’d think you were here to take care of a problem before it became widely known; so I’d really say that you should just turn around and go before anyone else notices your here. Which would be about a moment and a half from right now.” He took a step back, the grip on the bottle changing to that of a weapon as his suspicions mounted by the moment.
----------

The voice that came to Crystal's ears was that of a man. The moment he mentioned it was a bad time to be there, she understood he was with the Guard. As his tone changed she figured he had probably noticed the Sai and the Katana she was carrying, if he was good he would notice one or two of her hidden knives as well. "I understand this is a difficult time, that is why am here. However, my motives are far more friendly than you think." She stated, her tone and posture relaxing once the shock began to subside, the shaking no longer present. "I would appreciated it if you didn't break that bottle now... It's really good stuff." She said, opening her empty hand and slowly extending her arm so it was far from the dagger at her waist. "Now, friend, I will show you two things, and then I will say why I've come, if you still want me to leave then I will turn around... Should take about half a moment." She stated, simply.

That said, she raised her closed hand and opened it with the palm facing up; showing the small token she had been safely hiding inside. "That's one..." Next, she reached with for her collar with her free hand and pulled on a silver chain that was hanging around her neck. Two rings were hanging from that chain, one was Jake's, the other was her own. She sorted out which was which and pulled on her ring, extending it in such a way that the symbol of an Alpha engraved on its inside was visible even in the distance they were at. "That's two. Now, I've come to speak to your Captain, hoping I'm still correct in saying that she is your Captain." Crys stated, absently tucking the silver chain back into her shirt as if she was afraid to leave it exposed to too long. "As I said, if you won't let me... I'll turn around and you can just tell her I was here."

-------------

“Now, I've come to speak to your Captain, hoping I'm still correct in saying that she is your Captain."

Bran felt an immediate sense of outrage. The Captain . . . she was the Captain, always would be. He wasn’t one of them that the Captain had pulled out of horrible circumstances, but she had given him a purpose that he never known. He would keep following her, until something drastic . . . something more drastic would happen to change his mind about her.

Frankly, Bran was dubious about the ring, if the woman had shown it to him from the beginning, he would have tossed her out without a second thought. What on earth would the Alpha of the Wolfpack want with the Captain, certainly nothing good. But the other token. He’d only seen one once before, when he was sworn in. It was an agent’s token, one of only two currently out of Guard’s hands. And it certainly would have been like the Captain to have a contact with the Wolfpack . . . although come to think of it, she might be the one that had been thrown out when there was a power struggle. He wasn’t completely sure what had happened, but he was pretty sure that the current Alpha was a man. On the other hand, if this woman wanted to get back into the Pack, what better way than to take out the leader of the Black Knights? Normally such a token meant that the person was taken straight to the Captain without question, but in times such as these . . .

Whistling sharply, Bran summoned several of the other Guard. “Keep her here,” he told them, pointing at the woman. “Captain needs to hear about her.”

Walking down to the Captain’s door, he rapped on it sharply. Bran uncomfortably cleared his throat when the Captain opened the door, pushing it outwards until she could see him. It was clear that things were starting to wear on her, her eyes were shadowed heavily and her shoulders were a bit slumped.
“Captain . . . there’s a woman here who says she needs to see you.” He spoke softly, only a little above a whisper to keep it between the two of them. “She had a token but . . .” he trailed off uncomfortably as she raised one eyebrow, leaning around the door to take a look. A shadow of a smile crossed her face and she shook her head.
“At ease everybody. She’s welcome here.”
All around Crystal the Guard relaxed, going back to their duties and plans, while Mageria held the door open for Crys. Bran returned the bottle to her as she went by, shrugging slightly at the look the Captain gave him.

Mageria headed back towards the table in the center of the room, nearly tripping over Tala as she pushed by in an effort to see the new arrival. “Easy now. Just a friend.” Tala whined, but settled down looking alertly between the two of them. Mageria sighed.
“Sorry about that. Things are a bit unsettled right now. Although I guess you’ve figured out by now. Honestly, I’m not the best person for an empath to be around right now.”

-----------

Crys smiled gently at the Guard as she retrieved the bottle from him on her way past him. She could tell he was a good man, and a loyal one at that, as many of the others were as well. She didn't say anything to him, however, she simply smiled.

As she went in the room and closed the door behind her, she sensed the presence of a wolf in the room and her expression changed to a slightly childish one. "Aaaw, you have a wolf, now?" she asked, immediately going over to Tala and allowing the wolf to sniff her out all she liked, before finally scratching behind the animal's ears. "I love wolves..." She chuckled. As she addressed Mageria's comments though, her tone turned more serious. "I don't blame them for being cautious right now, you have very loyal people in your Guard, Mageria. They know how far you'd go for them, and they know how far they would follow you. I'm sure not many Captains in the history of Valcrest would be able to say that. And no, you're not the best person for an empath to be around right now, that's true." She agreed, pacing around until she found a chair and taking a seat. "If I lived by that logic however, I'd have to become a hermit and that just sounds awfully boring." Then she waved the bottle of rum. "I thought we could both use something better than tea this time: Courtesy of the Wolfpack." She stated with a light grin.

Crys went quiet for a little while after that, absently rubbing at her sore shoulder, before speaking again with the reason why she was there. "I had a bit of a run-in with Sean and he told me what he had done... Well, more like he bragged about it..." She sighed. "Anyway, I guess I needed to stop by and say that the offer I made three years ago still stands." She smiled. "Suppose it was a bit of walk just to say this, but you showed my clan respect and mercy when you had absolutely no obligation to do so, and you were also extremely kind to me in a moment when I had been literally knocked to the ground, and I never forget these things, because I don't see them too often. So if there's anything you need help with at any given time, anything at all, I put myself and my people at your disposal." She stated, absently playing with the chain around her neck.

-------------

Mageria cracked a small smile at the sight of the deadly assassin loving on the wolf, giving ear scritches and everything. Just that sight was enough to let her forget for half a moment what was going on, something that she was intensely grateful for.
“The wolf doesn’t belong to me actually. She’s just watching me for a friend of hers.” The logic of that might have been a bit backwards, but it fit somehow, especially the look Tala shot her when they both moved away to sit at the table. The wolf followed them both, settling under the table and planting her chin on Mageria’s boot.

“And I know my people are loyal. That’s the problem, honestly. They’d follow me so blindly that I could lead them into a fire and they’d be sure I had a plan to get them out safe and sound on the other side. So what now? In a situation like this, they need to be thinking of themselves and their families. And I’m afraid that they won’t” She sighed and grabbed a couple of glasses, setting them on the table and pouring a decent amount of the rum into each. “Thanks for this, by the way.”

“I appreciate the offer, I really do, Crystal. But what the hell can be done at this point?” She grimaced and knocked back half of what was in her glass, cradling the rest between her fingers. “I could have fought it, the proof that was there was barely enough to cause trouble, especially given the reputation of the Black Knights to begin with. But I made a lot of enemies over the years, people who liked the old way of things. And the truth of the matter is . . .” Her gaze grew distant for a moment, remembering the moment that she’d killed Captain Stephen Morgan. “I’d do it again and dance on the bastards grave.” She sipped her drink, thinking of her options. “I don’t regret anything about that day. But in one fell swoop, Sean managed to destroy any credibility I might have had here in Newhaven. Seven years of work, blood and sweat, up in flames. He had the luck of the Twins, that letter managed to find it’s way to one of the people who apparently has held a grudge against me for quite a while, and now he has all the ammunition that he needs. But the news is out and there’s no calling it back. By nightfall tonight, it will be all over Newhaven, and I’m afraid that a great many doors are going to be closed to me and mine from now on.” Mageria took another swig of her drink, feeling the burn as it went down. “I could wish that your mother hadn’t kept such complete records. But if all had gone as it should have, it would have been safe.” Reaching forward, she poured herself another drink. “So what the hell do I do now?” she whispered half to herself. She was starting to add depression to the brew of emotions fighting for control, although that might have been the amount of rum that she’d just drunk in only a few minutes. She had to admit that she was rapidly heading towards tipsy, a state that she allowed herself only rarely and around people she absolutely trusted.

Mageria had leaned back in her chair, moodily sipping her rum when a sudden though occurred to her. “Crystal . . . you were there for the start of the problems we had four years ago, right? The incident that set off the trouble between the Pack and Newhaven?” She glanced over at the book on the table, hoping that she was remembering things right. If she had someone else here that knew the dangers of what was going on right now in Blackpond; that would be invaluable. On the other hand, telling this young woman that the reason that they had this information was because Jake had gone and gotten himself captured might not go over so well. But that was a risk that she’d have to take.
“Because hard as it is to believe, this isn’t the worst thing I have to deal with right now.”

---------

Crys was quietly drinking while letting Mageria talk. The wolf's presence in the room gave her something less... Intense, she could focus on so she didn't have to worry about her gift at the moment and, admittedly, alcohol helped as well, but Crys was careful to drink it slowly. When Mageria asked what she would do now, Crys felt that she should speak her mind, even if the question wasn't necessarily meant to be answered. "I understand what you're going through. You feel responsible for those guys, you still care about them and the people you're sworn to protect, and you don't know how or if you'll be able to protect them now. A great part of you hopes that your men will avoid being associated with you in any way, because you don't want to drag them along when you have no idea what you're going to do next and you feel like you can't properly look out for them, and at the same time you want them to follow you anyway because if you're not the Captain then who are you?" She sighed, emptying and refilling her glass again. "If the Blacks are in fact as similar to the Pack as I was told... At some point in the future you'll look back and realize that no matter how different things are, they never truly changed." She said, holding the glass in her hands, but not drinking any more quite yet.

An eyebrow raised slightly and a frown formed on Crys' expression at the mention of the events that occurred four years ago. That followed by the warning that she was yet to hear the worse of it caused a chill to run down her spine. Her eyes sparkled a bright green color as she scanned the whole place for familiar people and, while she did find a few... Jake wasn't in the Castle. "Jake is in Blackpond isn't he?" She asked, sipping from the glass and going silent for a little while more before heaving a little sigh as she asked. "Did he find the damn object?"

--------

Mageria smiled. “The Blacks are just like the Pack? Who told you . . . never mind. Jake, wasn’t it?” She felt better, knowing that Crystal really did know what she had gone through; and wasn’t trying to give her useless advice. She took a deep breath.

“Yes, Jake is in Blackpond. He apparently had the brilliant idea to get captured to find out if there are any Newhaven soldiers still there . . . anyways, afterwards he managed to get a message out. Not much, just that he had seen the object that Lena had warned me about. That object, is the only thing that fits that description. Which means that somebody in Blackpond has it.” She rubbed her temple, considered another drink and decided against it.

“I already sent a message to the White Shadows, hopefully it will get there in time. I thought that they needed to know, being as close as they are to Blackpond to begin with. And all those people who might not be able to defend themselves . . . the thought is enough to give you nightmares.” Mageria slouched in her chair, considering everything. “I suppose we’re going to have to do something about that, no?”

She was quiet for a long moment, hesitating over what was on her mind.
“Crystal . . . . what were their names?” She rubbed her forehead before drumming her fingers on the table. “Did they find a home, with the Pack?” She’d never known; but the woman’s face had stuck in her mind for almost seven years now. She didn’t hate the woman for telling her secrets, but it would be nice to have a name to go with the face that had haunted her for so long.

-------

Crys laughed when Mageria asked who said the Pack and the Blacks were alike. "Jake... My mother... Lena... Jake again... And for what I've seen of your people out there it sounds about right too."

She took a small sip from her full glass and heaved a sigh. "That... Sounds like one of Jake's plans alright. " She mumbled. "He didn't mention where he saw it, who had it and if this person knew what it is? He's getting sloppy." She stated, shaking her head, although she was in no way as amused as she seemed. "Knowing Jake, he probably knows more than he was willing to send in a message, so I suppose we'd to have to get him out, or find a reliable telepath. It'd be nice to have more information." She said scratching the back of her head and leaning back in her seat. "I can't believe we're dealing with this again..." She whispered. That cursed weapon had killed her father, almost killed Ali, not to mention the whole mess it caused throughout the Land. Getting rid of it, or at least taking it from whoever had it now was very important. "Are there Newhaven soldiers still there?" She asked, wondering if that was something that needed attention as well. She wasn't fond of the idea of making a wrong move and getting people executed.

Crys took the silent moment to think of who she could trust with this level of information and how she could get it to them as soon as possible so they could help. If the object was in the castle of Blackpond... Getting it back would be a hell of a chore.

When Mageria spoke again Crys shook her head at the question. "Please, if it's not too much trouble, call me Crys." She asked before answering the question. "The woman's name is Amalia, her son Adam, and her little girl, who wouldn't have been born if not for you, is named Emily. They were very well accepted in the clan, yes." She paused for a moment then added. "You have to understand, Mageria, my mother demanded to know everything there was to know about people who arrived in our camp. A lot of people have told her things that they weren't supposed to know even less tell others, and she never intended for any of it to get out, ever. Amalia didn't know who you were, but she was sure the information she was giving was going to remain private and she wanted to make sure my mother knew of the person who saved her life... She was grateful, she needed someone to know" She sounded a little apologetic as she explained that, but she couldn't help it. "When Evin left the clan he set fire to the Leader's Cabin and all the clan records were destroyed, Sean must have gotten his hands on that file beforehand. If we had known... We could've found it and destroyed it." She said, drinking the rest of the drink in her hands and setting the glass aside. "I never really put it all together until Sean mentioned it to me... The son of a..." She stopped herself, unable to speak ill of Sean's mother. "That asshole." She muttered out instead.

-------

Mageria shrugged. “Jake wasn’t so much sloppy, as desperate. He apparently had to pass the message through a telepath he met down in the dungeons, so he had to be cryptic. Which also means that there is a damn good chance that the person passed on the message to somebody who works for Blackpond. And yes, some of the Newhaven soldiers are still alive as well. Which means that either way, I’m going to be going to get them back. We just have to trust that they’re all strong enough to survive what’s going to happen next.” She sighed, reaching down to rub Tala between the ears. The idea that this dagger . . . which had already caused so much chaos in Valcrest still being out where it could do more harm. That went against everything she believed in. “So any plan that you’ve got cooking already; I hope you’ll include me. Otherwise we’ll end up getting in each other’s way.”

“Well, if I’m going to be calling you Crys, you can call my Ria. Ev; Evin was the only one to ever call me that, and he was a friend from a much different time in my life. But if someone walks all the way to the city to bring you a bottle of rum, they must be a good friend.” She stared at the wall for a long moment. “I do understand about your mother; I really do. Something similar happens with my Guard, because of the backgrounds that some of them come from. We have to know if they have something that would come back to haunt us later. And I don’t blame Amalia, I really don’t. She did what she had to in order to survive. It’s just . . .” she shrugged. “Damn poor timing. And someday, I’d like to talk to her. Just one of those things.”

There was a sudden knock at the door. One of the Guard poked her head in, eyes a bit wild and face pale. “Um, Captain? There’s . . . there’s a problem. It appears that um, Grim Pondus is in the armory.” Mageria felt a deep flare of anger. “Grim Pondus is dead,” she said flatly. “He died in my arms three days ago.” The Guard looked even more upset. “Yes Sir, I know, but he’s still in the armory. Apparently, he came for his sword.” Mageria swore and pushed away from the table, glass still in hand. “I’m sorry Crys, this is something I have to take care of.” She stalked out into the hall and looked down the ways toward the armory, wanting to get this over and done with. Behind her, Tala jumped up and followed her out, head up as she tagged along at her heels.

“What the hell . . .” She felt a deep sense of shock as a ghost walked out into view. The Guard between him and her all drew their weapons, going into ready stances; which was a good idea given that she could see two people picking themselves up off the floor already. Presumably Grim(?) had been instant about entering the room.

Mageria slowly walked forward to stand in front of him, face pale. Slowly, she shook her head, tears suddenly welling up and falling unheeded down her face.
“You’re not Grim. Grim is dead, for three days now.” Her voice started rising, face going even paler and there was a ringing in her ears. “I held him as he died, I lit the fire at his funeral.” Beside her Tala started to growl, deep in her throat; head down and ears back. Dimly Mageria realize that she was going into shock, possibly on the way to fainting. She couldn’t do that, not here and not now; so she clenched her hands, fingernails digging into the flesh of her right hand. Taking a deep breath, she fought for strength, knuckles whiting as she tried to hold on. But she’d forgotten about the glass that she still held in her other hand. With a sharp crack it shattered, cutting deeply into her flesh. Mageria swore, dropping the shards to see scarlet blood running freely down her fingers to land in a brilliant puddle on the floor.

Blood. So much blood.

Two bodies lay crumbled not far from one another.

Her friend lay in a pool of his own blood, a gaping hole through his stomach and an eerily peaceful smile on his face; scarcely breathing.

Blood, everywhere. She was kneeling in Grim’s blood, her cloths soaked in it. It covered the ground, was splashed on the nearby plants, spattered on his face and bubbled at the corner of his lip. All of it from him.

“You came- back for me.. I-I somehow knew you would…I’m afraid it’s- … I got in over my head Th- this time...”


Mageria started panting, shaking from head to toe as she fought to stay upright; tried to resist the black tide that swept over her in an effort to drag her down. She was the Captain, she had to stay in control.

“.. I-I’ve seen.. The Black Sea… and I’ve- spo- spoken with the Moon. I must go now.. But- will wait for you..
M-mm… My dear sister… I love you too.”


Mageria shook her head. “Grim is dead. Grim is . . . dead.”

Before her upon a burial pyre, lay the rows of the dead; the Salamanders that Grim had worked so hard to build for years.

And Grim himself.

Stepping forward, she bent and held the torch to the oil soaked kindling stacked around the bier, watching as it caught with a crackle and leapt to fulfill it’s purpose.

So sing together one and all,
And raise a glass of wine,
Here's hoping we will meet again,
Along the road of time.

For from endings come beginnings,
From the old shall come the new,
With hopes for tomorrow,
We'll see our parting through.

Together they watched as the flames died, leaving naught but ash behind. The snow continued to fall, blanketing everything in a falsely comforting sense of serenity. Even though there was nothing left for her, Mageria couldn’t bring herself to leave; it felt that if she just waited long enough, the moment would shatter and she would wake up and find it had all been a bad dream. Just a moment more . . . If she just waited one more moment. . . . . From behind her a harsh wind blew up, whipping the mingled ash and snow up and away into the sky, leaving only the memories carried by the living to mark their passing. Mageria drew a breath and bowed to the inevitable. This moment wasn’t going to go away, no matter how hard she prayed. Grim was gone and there was nothing that she could do to bring him back. At least the cold that had seeped into her very core would make it easier to do her job; so long as she didn’t feel, she couldn’t hurt.


Mageria felt like she was coming apart, cracking right down the middle. She couldn’t breathe and the room whirled around her in dizzying circles. She forced herself to look up, focusing on the man standing in front of her. Tala still stood at her side, hackles raised as she reacted to the stress that she was going through. Mageria swallowed hard, still swaying like a tree in the wind. “Grim . . . is . . . dead.” She said it with all the belief that she could muster, turning away to walk back to her room. But suddenly the blackness that had been hovering at the edges of her sight crashed down on her, taking the world away and leaving her to fall limply to the ground.

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Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Luckas
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“Luckas!!” Tala launched herself off the bed and latched onto the young man’s arm, Mageria might have been able to catch hold of her if she had been able to move easily. As it was, she pretty much just got to watch as Tala sank her teeth into his arm. Painfully, she pulled herself back up, swinging her legs over the side of the bed.
“Tala, enough.” Even when her voice was so raspy that it could barely be understood, it still carried a tone of absolute command. Slowly, Tala opened her mouth, letting loose of Luckas’s arm and backing up, growling the entire time.
“Come here.” For a moment, Tala didn’t move, but then she hopped back up on the bed, circling around to curl around Mageria’s back, eyes still focused on Luckas with razor like precision. She could feel a low continuous growl through her back and the wolf still had a bit of blood on one lip. Mageria put one hand on the wolf’s back, still trying to catch her breath and feeling her chest ache as she did so.
“Luckas, you’re not an idiot. Many other things, but an idiot is not one of them. What the hell has gotten into you?” Behind her she could hear some kind of commotion, but quite frankly, she was in enough pain that she couldn’t turn around and look. Instead she was forced to wait and hope that whatever it was, wasn’t that bad.

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Mageria sighed at them both. "Ess, if you don't mind, would you hand me those bottles over there and some gauze?" She indicated the ones that she wanted and motioned for Luckas to get up from the floor. When he didn't move, she raised one eyebrow and sighed. "Luckas, please do not make me get down there on the floor with you. Canine bites can fester like you wouldn't believe and strange as it sounds, I don't want that to happen to you. We might end having to cut your arm off if it gets bad enough." The tone of her voice and posture made it absolutely clear that she was going to make sure that he was taken care of.

Stone faced she waited until Luckas got up and sat near her, eying Tala warily the whole time. Holding his arm firmly, Mageria started to clean out the bite marks, carefully scrubbing to make sure that they were actually clean. After smearing a bit of ointment on the bite, she carefully started rolling some gauze around it. Causally, not even bothering to look up, she asked; "So, what is it about a fire out there? I didn't think that was part of your plan." She happened to look up and see that Ess was still looking just like her. A slight from wrinkled her eyebrows. "Do I really have that much white in my hair?"

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Mageria grunted a bit as she laid back down, shifting uncomfortably until she could get to a position where she wasn't hurting quite so much. It took her a little longer than she would have wanted, but eventually she managed.
"Advice? Don't get caught." A brief smile flickered across her battered features. "I usually manage that bit, but it eventually catches up with you." She shifted her shoulders just a bit. "Other than that? Don't do something that will break any ties that you don't want to lose."

She closed her eyes wearily. To put it simply, everything hurt and she really just wanted to lie there and let someone else take care of things for a little while. Maybe before, she would have tried to put more limits on what they were about to do; but she simply didn't have the energy anymore. Beside her she could feel Tala shifting to lie next to her, a comforting weight that radiated a steady warmth that seemed to help ease some of her aches.

Dimly, she could hear some sort of commotion coming down the hall. Rolling her head to the side just a bit, she realized that she still couldn't see what the hell was going on. Her gaze darted over to Luckas and Ess and razed an eyebrow just a bit. "You two might want to get out of here before whatever the hell that is gets here."

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Mageria laid on the bed for a few moments after Luckas and Ess left; just taking the chance to breathe. But then the commotion outside got a bit louder. She sighed heavily and sat back up. Levering herself carefully to her feet, she bit back a curse or two as her muscles protested. She’d only taken a step or two before remembering that she was basically half naked. With a growl she grabbed a nearby shirt, working it over her right arm and wrapping it around her left side. Grim must have slung her around with that arm at some point, she couldn’t really move it all that well.

Well, now she was ‘dressed’ and the loose shirt had the added benefit of hiding just how bashed up she really was. The only damage that could be seen at the moment was the bruises on her throat and face, which would cut down on the rumors of her being half dead.

She’d only taken a few more steps away from her bed, Tala at her feet and the medics headed her way, when Grim pushed his way in leading a battered Crys. He left the battered empath in the hands of the medics and headed her way; a foreboding expression on his equally battered face. She could feel proud of her bruises, considering that he had a set that matched her own.
“Mageria where is my sword? I know you . . .” he stopped abruptly when he saw her, eyes flickering over her face. She couldn’t stop a small smile.
“This is nothing; you should see the other guy. And for the record, if anybody is going to be calling someone a worm and then do something that leaves bruises behind, it’s going to be me. And I’m going to be dressed far differently.” She leaned to the side just a tiny bit, enough to see the man standing behind Grim. He gave a tiny nod, telling her that they had indeed been the ones to take care of Grim’s missing weaponry. It was so good to have smart people working for her. She nodded back and faced Grim squarely.
“Sit down, old friend.” She gestured to a nearby bed as she went back to her own, sitting down with Tala curled up next to her, watchful eyes fastened on him.
“We have a hell of a lot to talk about.”

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Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Thomas Sidin Character Portrait: Sham (No Last Name)
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Mageria had dropped into a light doze when she felt a slight touch on one arm. Startled, she tried to grab at the wrist of whomever it was, but the pain of her injuries caused her to freeze up instead. Hissing in pain, she dropped back down and peeled her eyelids slowly open. A pair of dancing green eyes met her gaze, in a face that most people would have found to be very familiar if they happened to look around.
“Easy now, Captain. You have to rest after playing with the big boys.” Anna, one of Ella’s maids, scolded her gently.
“Should you even be here?” Mageira managed to raise one eyebrow. “I’m not exactly the person you want to be seen with right now.”
Anna snorted softly. “It’s easier to get you alone right now than it would be tomorrow. And you don’t think I’d let you walk away without so much as a goodbye, do you?”
Mageria grinned and closed her eyes. “Of course not. Not after all that time I put into training you.”

Anna had been handpicked by Mageria three years ago for a very special purpose. She was to be a bodyguard to Ella, one that the girl would never suspect. She could fight, she could spy, and best yet, she could think. And she had a very useful Enlightenment, one that would come in very handy soon.

“Can you keep up the act? Are you willing to?” Mageria’s voice was light, barely a whisper. Anna leaned in closer and kept her tone at the same level.
“Yes; because if nothing else, you’ll need it now more than ever.” Anna’s eyes were grave. “Your not . . .”
“Leaving you alone? Of course not. There will be a crew in the City, a couple in the Castle itself. The rest of us will be out at the training grounds. We can be back within twenty minutes. Just send the word. You still have what you need?”
“Yes, Cap . . . Mageria.” Anna nodded.
Mageria shifted slightly, pulling out a slightly crumpled letter. It was folded and sealed with a blob of wax. “Here. This is for Lady Ella. Make sure she gets it?” Anna nodded and tucked it away, reaching up to brush a strand of hair off her forehead.
“I have to go. Take care Captain.”
Mageria sighed and settle back to sleep, comforted in the knowledge that Ella wouldn’t be alone.

Later that night, a battered letter appeared on Ella’s pillow, just before bed.

Ella

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that my past choices are causing you such trouble. I’m sorry that I’m leaving you like this. But I have to admit that I’m not sorry about what I did. Honestly, I’d do it again and dance on the son of a bitch’s grave. There’s a reason that I was never chosen to wear White. I never could follow all those rules.

But that’s not what this is about. The Council is breaking their ties with me and mine, but that doesn’t negate the fact that we swore oaths of our own. Oaths that we will not break. We will continue to watch over Newhaven, just not in the way we have in the past. It is my hope that someday we might be welcome in Newhaven once more, but until that day we shall do what we do best. Survive and deceive. There will be some of us around, those of us that are best able to conceal themselves. The rest will come when needed. If you need to get in touch with me for any reason, leave a letter sealed with black wax on your desk. It will find it’s way to me.

Until we are welcomed back, please be careful. Try not to go anywhere on your own, at least take one of your maids with you. I have enough white hair as it is.

I hope . . . I hope that you will be able to forgive me, someday.

Mageria


---------------
Blackpond

Sham watched her quarry from a secure hiding place and tapped her fingers impatiently. There was a young woman working in the secondary kitchens who looked enough like her that she could take her place. Sham had learned a couple of things living in the Newhaven Castle for the past few years, one of them that very few people looked at those who worked in the lowest levels of serving, and more importantly, nobody really gave a damn. She’d take the woman’s place tomorrow, working in the kitchens for what would usually be barely enough to keep her alive. But she wasn’t going to be going for the wage or the benefits. The kitchen that produced the food for the other servants also produced the food for one other group. The prisoners. And if she could work her way into delivering the prisoner's food, then she could find Jake. One problem was, it was going to take a good long time. Hopefully Jake could hold on that long. But it would be worth it if she could help him break out.

Heaving a sigh, Sham went to find a place to sleep for the night. It was going to be a long couple of weeks.

--------------

Thomas ran one hand wearily through his hair. He was going to be up all night, trying desperately to restructure things so that Mageria’s absence wouldn’t be disastrous. He had barely gotten started when there was a loud thudding and yelling at his door. He snatched it open only to find that Xypher was standing there, clutching a splinted hand to his chest.
“That . . . bitch tried to kill me! She had some mind raper dig around in my memories and was torturing me for the hell of it!!” The elderly noble was half screaming, eyes ablaze in a righteous fury. Thomas felt something akin to a blow to his chest. Xypher could only be talking about Mageria. He could almost understand what she had done in the past, but this? Even if she had a reason, how could she be that stupid?
“Let’s go find her then.” Acid burning in his gut, Thomas waved for a couple of the Guard to follow him as he headed towards the Black’s wing. If her things were gone, then he would know that she was running. Which was something that he would never have guessed for her.

Striding into the Black’s wing, Thomas snapped out an order for Mageria’s location. A couple of people pointed towards the medic’s ward, saying that she was resting. Thomas’s eyebrows started knitting together. From what he could hear of people talking, she had been in a fight of some kind and evidently she was supposedly resting. Pushing in through the door, his eyes landed almost immediately on Mageria’s figure lying limply on a bed, a wolf curled up on her feet. She also looked beaten to within an inch of her life.

Turning to a nearby medic, he asked how long she had been there. Confused, the medic replied that the Captain had been in the ward for hours, ever since she had been brought in after a fight with the former Sir Pondus. She hadn’t left or even been out of anybody’s sight the entire time. Feeling a growing rage, Thomas left and all but drug the Warlord down the hall, ignoring the way he kept snarling and threatening all sorts of things. Finally, he had enough.
“Warlord Xypher. I don’t know what the hell you are doing, but enough. Mageria couldn’t have attacked you, not when she was lying in a bed in the medic’s ward. And given that she doesn’t have an Enlightenment, there’s no way she could have done anything. So, kindly shut the hell up.” Stalking away, Thomas made a mental note to have the Warlord closely watched for the next couple of days. The man obviously had an ulterior motive.

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Mageria nearly screamed when she woke up. Literally everything on her body hurt and it took all her willpower to move. But she had to move, had to get things done. Her grace period ended today and at the rate things were falling apart, she had to get her people out of range fast, before fate could take aim at them. With a hissed curse coming from between her clenched teeth; she sat up, attracting the attention of a nearby medic.
“Cap. . . Mager . . . You shouldn’t be up and moving.”
“You want me to stay here and take up space for the rest of the week?” Mageria smiled wryly as she used the medic’s shoulder for balance as she stood up.
“No, but you shouldn’t be moving. Not on your own like this. You need more rest.”
Mageria sighed heavily as she started rummaging through some supplies on the table, choosing a couple of vials to shove in a pocket.
“I’ll rest when I’m dead. Might be sooner than you think. But not till then.” She choose one vial and ripped the cork out with her teeth, spitting it to the side and gulping down the contents in one long swallow. It left a vile taste in her mouth, but the painkillers were enough for her to move with some ease. She grimaced and left the room, leaving the medic sputtering behind her. At her feet, Tala whuffed happily; apparently Ess hadn’t returned overnight and the wolf was still in her care.

Mageria shuffled down the hallway, hearing it echo just a bit as she took in the emptiness. Her people were getting ready to move out and it showed. It seemed like most of them had stayed awake throughout the night, packing and probably smuggling things out. Although they still hadn’t told her what was going on. She continued her shuffling down to her room, opening the door and blinking in surprise. There wasn’t a scrap of furniture left; it had been completely cleaned out.
“That blind friend of yours did a lot of damage in a real short period of time.” From the side Mathew stepped around the door.
“She was caught up in the berserker rage of Grim’s. We’re lucky that all that happened was some furniture damage.” She sighed, looking at the room she had lived in for the past seven years. It seemed oddly appropriate that there was nothing left.
“There’s something that I though you might like to know. There was a bit of a dust up at the Inn last night. None of ours, it was between the Pack and some new faction. But there’s a really interesting bit. The Alpha was involved; injured, and is still holed up there. We could take a few people and . . .”
Mageria shook her head sharply, ending the thought before it began. “We’ll not be the one’s to break neutral ground. We might need it ourselves someday. But I do want to have a chat with our esteemed Alpha. Thanks for the update.” She looked over with one raised eyebrow. “Are you ever going to tell me what the hell is going on?”
Mathew grinned. “You remember the training camp? The one that we have to keep chasing the birds out of? We’re taking it over. It’s far enough that no one will care and close enough that we can take care of business.” He shrugged uncomfortably. “We figured you felt the same way that most of us do; we don’t want to leave people without someone to look after them. Fought too hard in the first place to keep them safe, can’t just walk away now”

Mageria wrapped herself in an old cape and slipped out of the Castle, grateful for the cold that let her cover herself from head to toe and not be noticed. Of course, the fact that Tala still trotted at her heels made her a bit noticeable; but not, perhaps as the Captain of the Black Knights. Former Captain, anyways. She sighed, a cloud forming around her face momentarily. That was going to be hard to get used to. But she pushed the thought away, concentrating all her energy on moving without limping too badly. The herbs had done their work, the swelling was down enough that she could see out of both eyes; now she just had to sell the idea that she wasn’t that badly injured. Although the fact that her face looked like someone had decided to paint the left side of her face didn’t help that any.

She had to stop for a moment to catch her breath outside the Inn, stubbornly refusing to show any weakness in front of those that she knew would be inside. She smiled crookedly down at Tala. “Let’s go put on a show, shall we?” Tala whined a bit, jumping up a bit in what seemed like excitement. Mageria brushed her fingers over the wolf’s ears and pushed off the building, walking into the Inn with a steady gait.

Pushing through the door, she had to stop for a moment and survey the damage that the fight from yesterday had left. At least none of her people had anything to do with it. Walking to the bar, she waited patiently for the woman behind it to come over.
“Mistress Innkeeper.” She nodded respectfully. “I have it on the best authority that the Wolfpack Alpha spent the night here. I’d like to talk to him.” She raised one hand. "Just a talk. Unlike some others, I respect the fact that this is neutral ground."

Sheila was overseeing a couple of other workers as they cleaned up the mess of broken chairs and tables; the blood specs and other messes had already been cleaned the night before. As the door opened she slowly made her way to the counter, watching the woman who entered with curious eyes and a smile; that until she asked for Sean. No one was supposed to know he had been hurt, not even within the clan, although the rumors were probably reaching camp already. "The Alpha does not wish to be disturbed by visitors, Miss...?" She gave room for a name before continuing. "I can ask him, if you like, but I doubt he will be willing to see anyone right now..."

As she said so, a voice sounded along with footsteps coming down the stairs. "It's fine, Sheila."

Sean came into the bar walking slowly and bearing the sickened looks of someone who recently lost a decent amount of blood, but other than that he seemed to be in perfect health. Sheila gave him a slightly severe look. "You really shouldn't be..." She silenced as the Alpha glared at her, bowing her head and heaving a sigh. "Something to drink, love?" She asked, realizing that it was stupid to argue with Sean.

"Some tea would be good." Sean replied, as he sat at a corner table, groaning softly as she lowered himself onto a chair. "Sit, Captain." He said motioning for the chair across from him. "Leave us." He added, glancing towards the workers, that had still been replacing broken chairs, as they left the bar. He then looked at Mageria with a raised eyebrow. "Didn't think the city Council was that severe, you look like a battered wife." He stated, with a little smirk. "So... To what do I owe the joy of your visit?"


Mageria snorted. "Actually, this," she gestured at her face; "was a conversation I had with an old friend. And you should see the other guy." Tala growled softly as she followed Mageria across the room, then curled up around her feet. She sat down a bit stiffly herself, then leaned back and rubbed her fingers against the wolf's ears.
"Actually, I was going to drop you a note, but when I found out that you were here, I decided to stop by." She leaned back and smiled. "Just a friendly warning, really. There's someone out there who's targeting Enlightened. You might want to keep an eye on your recruits." She snorted. "And that's the warning I would have given you before you pulled your little stunt." She waited for the tea to arrive and poured herself a cup. "Speaking of, do you have any clue what you've done?"

"Is that so?" Sean asked when Mageria mentioned she'd heard about him being in the Inn. "And how, if you don't mind me asking, did you find out that I was here?" He then poured himself a cup of tea and sighed, trying to assimilate the information she'd given him. "What, again? Didn't we already kill that guy?" He sighed. "I appreciate the warning, on behalf of my recruits." He stated. "And I know what I've done. In a way I am sorry that it had to be done, I know you have, had, have... People under your command who have nothing to do with this. I am sorry for them, but, as you may or not recall, I warned that there would be consequences if you or any of your people associated with that group of traitors. I simply kept true to my word, if you didn't listen, or didn't take me seriously, then there's nothing I can do about it."

"Do you really think that I don't keep this place under surveillance? Yesterday's activities weren't exactly discrete." Mageria reached out and took a sip of her tea, choosing her words carefully. "What you've done, my dear Alpha, is give well over a battalion of well trained men and women every reason in the world to hunt you and yours down. I do believe that the Wolf Hunters were formed in a similar situation." She raised one eyebrow and leaned backwards, smiling grimly. "Not that I'd allow them to do such a thing, of course. But I do wish you'd chosen your actions a bit more carefully." She tilted her head to the side. "How many people have you angered lately? You've never been on good terms with Newhaven, Blackpond is calling it's debt due, you've got the Wolves that followed Rivers . . . and now me and mine. It's said that it takes a genius to fight a war on two fronts. A madman fights on three . . . And you? Is there anyone you could turn to for help anymore?"

Mageria shifted in her seat and eyed Sean hard. "As for the consequences . . . you are the Alpha of the Wolfpack. Jake showed up in Newhaven without a scratch on him and not looking as if he's had so much as a bad nights sleep. If you can't manage to take care of one man in three years with all those highly trained assassins at your beck and call . . . Well. You figure it out."

"The Wolf Hunters, Captain, were a group of, I don't know... Five, six, seven people at most, who managed to almost wipe out our clan in one single night. Not matter how highly you think of yourself, or your people, comparing yourselves to them is ridiculous. Seven of your people alone wouldn't survive doing what they did." Sean leaned back taking a drink from his tea with a slightly amused look in his eyes. "You think I'd be worried in a situation like this, but I'm really not. Maybe I am crazy, or very, very, stupid... Pick one and believe it, I don't care. That's exactly how I got where I am in the first place. Arrogant people just make it that easy." He stated. "And Jake is a coward who hides behind the White Shadows until he feels like he has to do something to make himself feel like less of a selfish bastard, at which point he comes out of hiding behind the healers for five minutes to hide behind you. I do owe him however... If Dani hadn't sent his incompetent ass to Newhaven so he could kill her, I might not have gotten Crys where I wanted." Sean drank slowly and quietly until he finished his tea. "Say, did your surveillance people miss the fact that your idiot brat of a Queen paid me a visit? Well, either way, I gave her fair warning, but since she was too busy bitching about how pathetic I am, I doubt she paid it much attention. Either way... The Blackpond people have ordered a hit on Your Highness and, as I already told the little idiot, I'd rather not do that, I know first hand what killing a city ruler will bring me. At the same time, I don't have much of a choice and as you so kindly pointed out yourself, Newhaven is not much of an ally to me either way, so I have considerably little to lose." He set his cup down over the table and leaned forward, holding back a painful groan. "I have nothing against Ella. Not even after she wandered into a neutral territory, insulted my people and threatened them with execution, but unless I'm given a better option, and soon, I will make sure that the contract is fulfilled. At any cost." That said, he poured himself another cup of tea and leaned back again. "Pass that message along to the Whites if you can. I'm pretty sure Your Highness didn't take me seriously enough to do that herself."

Mageria snorted. "You seem to have missed the part where I lost pretty much any credibility I used to have up at the Castle. The fact that I'm talking to you right now will just make it that much better. But I'll pass the word along." She poured herself some more tea and set the pot down with a small thump. "You do realize that Blackpond is trying to cause trouble for their own reasons? That they have their own assassins if they really wanted the Queen dead. And given the offer they came to us a couple of days ago . . . their goal is to have us at each other's throats while they wait to take out the winner when they're weak. Typical, really. I could almost admire the strategy if it wasn't so underhanded." She eyed Sean. "It should be interesting to see if the Whites manage to work with you though. They have this thing about following the rules, normally such a thing would be left up to me. But now . . ." She raised one eyebrow.

Taking a breath and shifting a bit uncomfortably, Mageria drummed her fingers on the table. "Why make this offer, Alpha? Just because you don't want to take out our Queen? That will just get Blackpond after you in turn."

"I'm afraid you answered your own question, Captain. I know that Blackpond came to you first and I do realize they have their own motives, and I'm not fond of the idea of being used. Allying with Blackpond, back when I did, was necessary. Despite how careful your attacks were, I wasn't the only one uncomfortable with the fact that, had Newhaven wanted it, we would all be dead within a few hours. Thing is... Old man Rory was always good on his word, and I rather liked him... And I don't buy the fact that this unknown son popped up out of nowhere right after he was murdered..." Sean groaned, trying to adjust himself in his seat. "Bottom line: I don't like Rick. And if I'm going to have someone after me, then I'd rather it'd be for..." He laughed. "Well, not the right reasons, but at least my own." Sean paused for a second then, added with a frown. "Honestly, there is nothing I would love more than to get rid of those people. Absolutely nothing. All I need is a decent excuse."

Mageria resisted the urge to roll her eyes. "Much as I would love to be the one to give you that excuse, I can't. I have my own reasons to go after them, but I doubt they're ones that you would be interested in falling behind. And I certainly couldn't hire you. Besides, you and I don't exactly get along, away from neutral ground." She shrugged a bit stiffly and carefully rolled her cup from side to side. "I met Hastings, before it all happened. He was an unmitigated ass, but . . . I've always had my doubts that he was the one that held the dagger."

Looking at the empty cup in front of her, Mageria sighed and pushed it away, shifting in her seat in preparation of getting up. "Much as this has been fun, I'm afraid I have to go. You've been good about keeping our business out of Newhaven for the most part, and I appreciate that. I'd suggest you keep to that, because while Newhaven has turned away from us, we still hold to our oaths. I also suggest you stay away from my people in the near future, because we have nothing holding us back anymore." She nodded in a sort of respect to an equal gesture. "Until we meet again, then. I'll be sure to pass your message along to the Whites, if I can."

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Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher
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INK

Sean snickered. "Surely Captain, there's no amount of gold that would make me work with or for you." He stated, leaning back in his chair, holding back a groan. "There's is one thing I would happily trade for my services, by I'm sure you wouldn't even consider that offer, which, admittedly, is the main reason why will never get along. When does Jake come back from Blackpond again?" He asked absently, smirking a little and not expecting an answer. "Hope he returns safely, I'd hate it if he never got the chance to return my knife."

Sean didn't move or stand as Mageria said she would be going, only nodded his head slightly. "Until we meet again, Captain..." He replied, with a half amused smile. "It's always a pleasure."

A vicious smile crossed Mageria's face. "There are a couple other reasons, Alpha." She tilted her head to the side just a bit. "You see, when I killed my Captain, I had the balls to do it myself. And the son of a bitch stayed dead." She pushed away from the table and stood, tossing a coin down to pay for her half of the tea. "And it was indeed a pleasure. We'll have to do it again sometime." At her feet, Tala sneezed, her expression somehow conveying amusement. Mageria ran her fingers absently over the wolf's ears, drawing her away toward the door; on the way out she said a quiet thanks to the woman behind the bar.

Mageria walked out of the Inn, feeling every step jar up through her body, the pain burning away the painkillers far too quickly. She clenched her teeth, fighting an slight dizziness that washed over her. She didn't have time to loose to the need to rest, she had to get her people out of Newhaven and safe as soon as possible. She managed a couple of blocks before she had to duck into a alley, leaning against a wall and panting as the pain of abused and torn muscles burned like fire. Mageria leaned against the wall and took slow and even breaths as she fought to stay upright; slowly the pain died down to the dull roar that she could deal with. Pulling her eyelids open, she stared blankly at the wall before dipping her hand into her belt pouch and pulling out two different vials. One of them was the ordinary painkillers that she had used that morning and countless times before. The other then . . . It was a a vial of something called Dragon's Blood.

Dragon's Blood was a highly addictive combination of pain killer and stimulant, used only as a last resort when a fighter had no other choice. Used more than once or twice in a row and the side effects would be worse than whatever the fighter was trying to get past. Risks included multiple organ failures, addictive behavior and eventual death once one stopped taking the drug. But sometimes the need over came the risks. Tala whinned, picking up on the stress that Mageria was under. Mageria smiled down tiredly, leaning her head back against the wall and closing her eyes for just a moment. She still had so much she had to do. She had to get her people out of the City, she had to see the ones who were staying here settled, she had to get everything set up so that she could over see it from the base in the City. . . . There was no way that she was going to stay so far away, not when her City was in danger.

Mageria sighed heavily and twisted the cork on the vial of Dragon's Blood. There was too much for her to get done for her to be weak. She'd be careful, only use what was necessary. She raised the vial to her lips . . .

Lena had spent the night with old friends, also former healers, after leaving Luckas at the castle gates. A few good hours were spent catching up and reminiscing and a good night's sleep followed soon after. As soon as morning came she headed for the Castle only to discover that the person she wanted to see was nowhere to be found. She was informed that Mageria was in the medics ward, but as she got there, the woman had already left. A small conversation with Crys and she moved out to the city to see if she could find her on the streets. It was a long shot, but it was worth the try anyway.

The streets she walked first led her towards a familiar path. Much like Dani, she was never one to frequent the Inn back in her time as an assassin, but she had kept the habit of always stopping by the establishment whenever she was in town, even if she rarely entered. Entering now would certainly draw attention which she didn't need, so she simply planned on walking by and taking a peek inside. As she walked past the entrance from a far, Lena stopped in her tracks as the door opened and someone walked out. She recognized this person as being the woman she had been looking for, but she also recognized all the signs of someone who shouldn't be standing, even less walking around in the city, and she hurriedly followed Mageria until she entered an a nearby alleyway. "Captain..." She called, as she entered the alley and took in the sight of a battered warrior holding a vial of something possibly too strong to be safe. "What are you doing?" Lena asked, raising an eyebrow and giving Mageria a look that explicitly said she knew exactly what the woman was doing. Walking closer she absently smiled at the former Black Knight Captain, her eyes sparkling a brighter tone of blue for a split second only as she added in a severe tone. "This is not the kind of sacrifice you want to be making, Captain."

Mageria sighed heavily, sagging against the wall as she turned to look at Lena. "With all due respect, I have an entire company of people to move to a safe place before the end of the day, I have people in danger in Blackpond, I've been exiled and am under threat of death, and I had one HELL of a day yesterday. I don't have a choice in this Lena." Her voice started to crack. "I have to take care of things and in order to do that I have to be on my feet and able to take care of things. So unless you have a better idea, this is what's going to happen." She took a long look at the vial she still held. She'd seen quite a few mercs over the years that had taken the same road that she was considering right now, and very few of them had managed to pull back in time. Dragon's Blood overdose was an ugly way to die; the only reason anybody used it was because they were truly desperate. And she was. Yesterday she had managed to mask just how badly she was really injured, keeping moving through sheer will and force of personality. But the truth of the matter was that she had several cracked ribs, torn muscles all over, bruises over almost every inch of her body . . . She had always been a fast healer but this would take her a few weeks for her to recover from. And she had only a matter of hours to get an entire company of people who depended on her to safety.

Mageria pressed a hand to her temple, feeling the pain gnawing at her control. She was so damned tired . . . But she couldn't stop. She couldn't ever stop. She sighed heavily. "I've lost almost everything I've worked for in the past seven years. I need to make sure that my people get to safety. I need. . ." her voice broke for a moment. "I need to make sure that one thing that I've done works out the way it should."

Lena sighed softly, but her eyes maintained the stern look they held. "With all due respect to you and your people, what kind of a Captain are you if you can't rely on your men to move to safety without you holding their hands? Yes, you need to be there for them, but is being there for them now worth maybe not being there when you're truly needed Captain?" Lena tilted her head to the side slightly. "Or maybe your ego is getting the best of you and you think the world will just fall apart the moment you're not there to control everything? Either way, I think we've both seen enough of life and death by now to know that it just doesn't work that way."

Lena took a long pause during which she eyed Tala curiously, recognizing the wolf from the walls of the house she had been to the night before. She gave the wolf a half-amused smirk as she mumbled under her breath. "Stubborn people everywhere, huh?" She then lifted her eyes back to Mageria and added, reaching for the arm holding the vial and gripping it gently. "It's been a rough couple of days, Captain. I understand that. Just as much as I expect you to understand that, as is, I can and will overpower you, take that vial from your hands and drag your stubborn ass back to the sick ward. I may not be able to sit around and babysit you all day, that's true. So if you wish to be stupid later, I won't be able to stop you. But don't tell me, or yourself, that there is no choice. It is a choice and if you go through with this, you will be making it: Own up to it. It's just a bit pathetic, the way I see it, that after everything the contents of a little vial will get the best of you. Is that really how you want to go?" She waited for a second maybe two before she went on. "So, Captain, what will it be? Will I be forced to knock this stupid idea out of your head?" She smiled. "Today, I'm pretty sure I can take you."


Mageria sighed in defeat, pushing the cork back into the vial and holding it out to Lena. "If my mere presence and my actions of seven years ago can bring down something that was started back in the time of the Twins; doesn't it mean that it really is all about me?" A weak laugh escaped her lips. She wrapped her arm around her chest, cradling sore ribs. "I suppose that does sound conceited, doesn't it?"

She leaned back against the wall again; shoulders slumping as much as the bindings around her ribs would allow. "Besides, you couldn't take me down without making things worse, and I think that's against that code of yours, isn't it?" She cracked the seal on the ordinary painkillers and tossed back a dose, grimacing at the taste. "Healers are all bullies at heart. Everybody knows it." She drew in a couple of deep breaths, waiting for her aches to settle down to a manageable level. "Honestly, I'm not usually this crazy. I just . . . It's because of me that my people are losing everything. How do you make up for that?" Then she looked up suddenly, a puzzled look on her face. "What are you doing here anyways? Shouldn't you be . . . No, you wouldn't have heard yet. That item you told me to watch for. It's in Blackpond."

Lena finally let laughter escape her as she took the vial, hiding it into one of her pockets. "Captain, things end, with or without your help. I'm sure if not now, in a year, or ten, or a hundred, something would have done the trick. Nothing is built to last forever." Her laughter toned down to a simple snicker as she added. "And I'm no longer a White Shadow, so... What code do you refer to? Taking you down would be, to my eyes, the lesser of two evils. I've come to believe that to truly be the closest one can get to doing good in this world." Lena stated, absently reaching down and scratching behind Tala's ears. "You borrow the wolf from a woman named Essence, I assume. Why was she pretending to be you and torturing the city Warlord with Luckas?" She shook her head. "...Or maybe I don't really want to know that."

She stopped to look Mageria over as if wondering if the woman would manage to walk or if she would need to eventually be carried; the wounds were serious and that much she could easily tell. "As for how do you make up for your people's losses... You don't. You can't. And if you could, killing yourself is certainly not the way to go." As she heard the news of where the dagger had ended up, Lena raised an eyebrow. "Blackpond... Of course it is. Where else would it be? I assume Jake would be getting himself in trouble over there then? Someone needs to knock some sense into that boy." She sighed softly, holding in the rest of the scolding for whenever she ran into Jake. "I'll be heading there later in the day, actually, so if you have a more specific location, I'll try and look into it. I only came by to make a couple of visits... I got word while I was in the Castle that Ella is Queen now. Is that so? How long has it been since...?" Lena's voice trailed off for a moment, deciding to keep the focus on what she was there to say and do, not asking the question she actually wanted answered. "And Thomas is Captain of the Whites, now?" She asked as if to confirm the information she had already been given. "Suppose I'll have to see him as well." She added, mostly to herself. "So little time..." She chuckled. "And I thought retirement would give me a chance to rest." She stated jokingly, as if trying to draw attention away from the fact that she seemed in a hurry. "Do you think you're alright to walk now, Captain?" She asked, hiding her hand into her bag and blindly searching for something inside, the sound of what seemed like a thousand small vials being shuffled around could be heard as she did so. Finally she pulled out three, very small, vials from the bag; its contents a pearly-white substance. "These are your average painkillers, with one mighty kick of something that can really only be found in the mountains, and that if you know where to look. I made it for my personal use mostly, but I suppose it's a fair trade for the much more dangerous stuff. Each vial is one dose. More than one dose in a period of twelve hours and you'll regret it deeply, but otherwise it takes the pain right out." She smiled. "It does not mean you won't have to lay low either way."

Mageria took the vials, tucking them safely deep in her belt pouch. “Luckas and Essence were torturing the Warlord because of some things that happened when our dear Alpha was kind enough to produce proof that I was the one who dispatched the last Black Knight Captain. He was . . . too eager to get rid of me, there had to be an ulterior motive. And I think Luckas was pissed purely on my behalf. But they used my image? That’s going to cause some problems. Damn.” She pushed away from the wall and slowly started walking out of the alley and towards the Castle, taking a path that would keep them away from the main flow of traffic so that they could still talk without being overheard.

“And yes, the dagger is in Blackpond. The Castle, last I heard. Probably not there anymore, giving that Jake got the information to me via a telepath being held prisoner. That bit of information would buy far too much for me to believe that it would be kept secret.” She kept her pace smooth and without a limp purely by a force of will, however her breathing was labored and her voice had a tendency to fade out momentarily.
“Let’s see, Ella’s been Queen now for about a year. Sarris fell victim to a fever before that, it hit so suddenly that there was really nothing we could do. We called on the Healers, but all they could say was to tell us that it wasn’t a poison of some kind. And yes, Thomas is Captain now. Very rule bound, you’ll have to watch out for that.” She kept walking as the Castle walls came into view, although she had slowed down noticeably.

“You do seem to be rather busy for retirement, Lena. Mind sharing what that’s all about? You know, to keep my mind off the pain?” A small smile worked it's way across her battered features.

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Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Ess
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Mageria glared a little bit after Lena, she'd really wanted the answers to her questions. It seemed very important, important enough that Lena didn't look as if she'd had much rest since she disappeared three years ago. However, it wasn't as if she could chase the woman down and question her, not in her current state. So she'd have to bide her time, wait for a more opportune moment.

Instead she turned and smiled wryly at Ess, waving away her offer of help. "Not exactly a casual stroll, just something that needed doing." While she'd wanted to give the information about an Enlightened-focused killer to the Wolfpack to begin with; there had been more of a reason that she went this morning. She'd wanted to look Sean in the eye and let him know that much as she might have been down, she wasn't out. Not quite yet. She'd find a way back to where she belonged.

Turning back towards the Castle, she started leading Ess in. When one of the Guards tried to stop her, she simply stared him down, waiting a few moments as he started to fidget, then sweat, before finally letting them through.
"You look like your ready to go, Ess. But are you sure that you want to be following us out to the middle of nowhere? You have a life here, that you'll be leaving behind." She sighed wearily. "I just don't want you leaving without thinking it all through."