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Thomas Sidin

White Knight Captain. You look like you could use a friend.

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

Groups

Queen and White Knights.

Description

Age: 29
Gender: Male
Rank: Captain of the White Knights
City: Newhaven

Ability: Thomas has the ability to inspire the feeling of loyalty and friendliness in a person that he is trying to influence. It can be anything from a willingness to buy a friend a beer to being willing to die for someone. The harder he pushes someone, the more of a headache he gets. He tries not to use it a lot, because he doesn’t want to think that the only reason that people like him is because he made them.

Thomas stands about 6 ft tall and fairly lanky but with a wiry build. He has light brown hair and hazel eyes. When he’s in a room he tends to draw the eye, he always seems to be the center of attention.

Personality

He’s the kind of guy who’s the friend you find in a bar. Thomas tends to be a bit manipulative, but he for the most part does it without using his ability. He has a ready smile and is always there with a good joke. He enjoys meeting new people and finding out what he can about them. Over the past few years he’s come into more responsibility, becoming the Captain of the White Knights, so he’s become a little less happy go lucky than he used to be, but he’s still a very gleeful person.

Equipment

Equipment: Thomas has a rapier that is more of a slashing and stabbing weapon, rather than a heavier sword that other Knights might use. He tends to wear formal court cloths when he’s at Newhaven, only wearing the formal armor when he’s out in the field.

History

Thomas was from a noble family that was very involved with the good of Newhaven, working to help build the city up as much as they could. Once Thomas realized his Enlightenment, he used it to the best advantage, traveling around and meeting people, making contacts where ever he could. He’s met a lot of interesting people over the years, and built up some favors with them.

For a long time Thomas was content serving as a White Knight under first Daniel and then Krander. But during the last fight with Blackpond, both Krander and Daniel disappeared. This left Thomas as the most senior Knight available. Although he wasn’t happy about it, he stepped into the position of Captain. Ever since then, he’s been using his abilities both Enlightened and learned to help Ella gain control and bring peace to Newhaven.

So begins...

Thomas Sidin'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: Thomas Sidin Character Portrait: Grim Pondus 'War'
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Footnotes

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INK

Thomas gritted his teeth when he heard the news about the mercenary group parked just outside Newhaven. This was just what he needed. Not that he thought that they would cause trouble in the City, but there were other issues.
“Try and keep this from reaching Mageria for as long as you can.” He raised one hand at the expression the scout had. “Try. That’s all that I ask.”
With a growl he left the room and started down to the stables. His cloths would label him as a noble, but that couldn’t be helped. He lacked the skills to don a new persona with a new set of cloths for the most part. Too many people knew his face now a days.

He was seriously concerned about what would happen to Mageria when she found out that Grim Pondus was back in the area. Three years ago, she had been in the middle of rebuilding the city, rebuilding the Knights, the Guard and the fact that so many people were gone from her life. Just when she thought that she might have reached the end of new things to deal with, Grim had walked away from Newhaven in the middle of he night. She had hidden it well, but he was one of the few people who had worked closely enough with her to see the pain that she had been trying to hide. She had carried on, but at the same time it had shaken her confidence. For a time after that, Mageria had lacked the support that she had truly needed for some of the missions that he had sent her on. As far as he knew, she had over a dozen close calls that shouldn’t have happened. And even now, she was reluctant to risk any of her personnel when she didn’t have to. And now Grim was back. And what would happen to her now? What would she go through when he walked away again? It was his duty as Mageria's superior officer to make sure that as a Knight Captain, she was in the best state that he could manage.

With a few quiet words he had a horse saddled and was in the saddle. It only took him a little longer to work his way through the city and out the gates, along with a small escort. Given his status, he wasn’t really supposed to go off on his own, and this wasn’t the time to buck the system. Once he reached the sentry line he stopped and nodded politely at them. “I need to speak to your leader please. Tell him its Thomas Sidin.”

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?”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Thomas Sidin Character Portrait: Sham (No Last Name) Character Portrait: Jake Turner
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INK

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.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Thomas Sidin Character Portrait: Grim Pondus 'War' Character Portrait: The Beast
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INK

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.

Setting

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

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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Character Portrait: Thomas Sidin Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher
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Lena made her way in and through the castle with considerable ease. The few people she encountered were familiar with who she was, even if that person they knew was no longer existent, they believed it to be her. Everything went smoothly, until she approached the White Knights' ward. That was a place she had visited very little in her time as healer and had sneaked into two times, at most, in her assassin days. One of those times had ended badly, and she had a bit of a nasty falling out with the guards. That had been ages ago, and those men were probably not in the castle anymore if they were even alive. Even if by chance there was one left, he would never recognize her now... She was very different now from the kid she was back then.

Only a few steps into the ward and she was approached by three guards at once, each of them with one hand to the hilt of a sword and asking her to state her business. She raised her arms as if to show she meant no harm and spoke. "I've come to see Sir Thomas Sidin, I believe he is your Captain nowadays, yes? Would one of you gentlemen mind to go let him know Lena Turner is here to see him?" They seemed to hesitate, which caused her to chuckle softly. "I'm sure that the three of you are not necessary to guard an unarmed woman." She stated, tilting her head to the side and smiling. "I'm no threat, I assure you."

The men didn't seem all that assured, but one of them reluctantly walked away, Lena assumed, to warn Thomas of her presence.


Thomas had been having the start of a truly wonderful day, when it seemed that things were getting even better. One of the White Guards had stuck his head in, breaking his concentration on the myriad reports that he was now stuck with since Mageria had gotten herself exiled. He could hate her for that alone, let alone being stupid enough to get caught killing the former Black Captain. Idiot woman.

It only made things more stressful to hear that he had a visitor, one Lena Turner. He knew that she had been at the heart of most of the trouble that had happened in years past and now she was back from where ever she had been in order to cause more. Perhaps that was not her intention, but that's what was going to happen.

Well, not matter what, she wasn't going to go away. "Let her through, I'll talk to her here," he muttered while shuffling through the reports. He didn't raise his eyes again until he heard a footstep on stone, glancing up to see a figure worn by time and trouble. Politely, he signaled for one of the attending servants to pour them both tea.
"And to what do I owe this pleasure?"


Lena stood quietly waiting for the guard to return and ask her to follow him. The other two then relaxed and dispersed. She followed the guard until he stopped and motioned for her to enter a room. She stood for a second at the doorway, until the man addressed her, at which point she fond a chair to sit, examining the White Knight Captain with her eyes for a moment or two before speaking, "You know, not once I've had that question asked by someone who was genuinely pleased, Sir. Politeness sometimes sounds so impolite, wouldn't you agree?" She smirked slightly. "I won't take much of your time, Thomas, I'm just here to tell you something; whether you believe me or not is entirely up to you as well as whether you act on whatever beliefs you have. These exact words will be repeated in Blackpond to their King or whoever they allow me to speak to, I thought I should have you know..." She took a moment before she continued. "Three years ago, moments before Blackpond attacked my clan and slaughtered a great number of my healers, a young seer that was under my care called for me. The woman was absolutely terrified and when I got to her, she showed me exactly why. The vision she had, I can't describe. There are no words. What I know is that still within this year, some will die, others will flee, and there will be chaos on the streets, talks of the end of the world even. Not only in Newhaven, everywhere." She smiled slightly. "You're Enlightened Thomas, am I right? Tell me, how have you been feeling lately?"

Thomas's eyes flashed gold for just a moment at the question. "Yes, I am Enlightened. As to how I'm feeling, do you even need to ask? I'm bailing a leaky boat with my bare hands as it was and now. . . now I have three times as much work to do because Mageria couldn't be bothered to clean up after herself." He rubbed a hand wearily across his face and threw down his pen, leaning back in his chair and staring at Lena; abandoning the attempt to be polite for the moment. "And then you come to me and tell me that the end of everything is on it's way. In the hope that you don't merely enjoy sharing feelings of doom and dread, is there anything we can do about this or do we just wait for the inevitable?"

Lena let out a chuckle. No, she wasn't in any way amused by the conversation, but rather by the fact that it was actually taking place. She was absolutely aware that she sounded exactly as Luckas liked to describe her: 'A crazy old witch'. "I didn't say the end of everything is on its way, boy. Not exactly. I'm informing you of a seeing that took place three years ago. The only thing concrete I have to say about it is that it greatly involves Enlightened individuals. Some were dying, others killing, some were fleeing the land... In fact some already have been fleeing in the past years, for seemingly unrelated reasons, but in greater number than one would consider normal; most of them amongst the Shadows. My absolute lack of facts is the main reason why I have been distant and none of it was mentioned to anyone within the past three years. As much as something might be actually happening, panic alone would be enough to cause what was seen. I do not wish to be the cause of such a thing. I have seen signs, subtle changes in the air, in some people I know well enough, but if one searches enough, one is bound to find signs of anything, no?" She explained, leaning back in her seat for a moment and taking a long deep breath. "I had a very dear friend whose enlightenment was to see one minute, at most, into the future. He once told me that even though he couldn't see very far, it was enough to know that what he saw meant nothing, because the simple fact that he saw it might eventually change everything, or even cause it." She was silent for another moment before she continued. "Do you see my problem, Thomas? I don't know whether I am preventing or causing chaos with my actions. However, if this actually happens, it will happen soon. So can I really afford to keep to myself any longer?" She heaved a weary sigh and added. "For what's it's worth, I'm sorry if this adds to your stress, but I thought I should mention."

"Of course, why should any of this be easy?" Thomas muttered to himself, wearily scrubbing a hand across his face. "And you have no idea what is going to be the ultimate cause? Other than, perhaps, you yourself warning us?" He started twirling a pen between his fingers, eyes distant. "I do appreciate the warning, Lena. I can have people watching, make sure that there are non Enlightened to take over key positions if needed . . . I'm sure that there are a great many things that will need to be done, sooner rather than later. Other than that; it seems as if this is something that needs to be kept as quiet as possible, for the moment at least." He arched an eyebrow at the woman sitting across from him. "Was there anything else you can tell me?"

Lena rubbed the spot between her eyes, feeling a slight headache form itself there, but aside from the small gesture she showed no sign of being in pain as she spoke. "The White Shadows have studying enlightenments since they first appeared in Valcrest, not one of their records points to anything that could cause such a reaction. There are things in myths, but to find any truth in those would take more time than we supposedly have, not that I am not trying anyway." She stated, smiling faintly. "If I was to ask to keep an eye on something, however, Sir... I would tell you to ask yourself this question everyday, and pay very close attention to the answer: How do you feel?" She then stood up, and bowed her head respectfully as healers usually do. "When the answer changes from its usual, then you should really keep your eyes wide open." Saying that she slowly made her way out of the room.

Thomas sighed wearily and kept working for another couple of moments before a servant arrived with a note from Mageria. Apparently the joys of the day would never end. Well, he had something he needed to discuss with her anyways. Locking his papers away in his desk, he hurried downstairs and out to the courtyard where he found Mageria leaning against a wall watching as her people load things into wagons.
“Are you supposed to be using those?”
Mageria huffed a laugh and glared a bit at him.
“We’ll get them back on time.” She shifted and settled further against the wall. “Couple of things you need to know. Ella went to visit the Inn yesterday, had a nice chat with the Wolfpack Alpha. If you want to stop him from putting a contract on her, you need to go visit him today. Before noon. In about an hour.” She arched her eyebrows sympathetically. “Glad you get to have all the fun, now.”

“She . . . He. . . . At the . . .” Thomas literally saw red for a moment before he got his temper under control. This day just could not get any better. “Fine,” he snarled. “I’ll just go see what he has to say.” Turning with an unmeant flair of his cloak, he stalked out of the courtyard; in the process completely forgetting that he had meant to tell Mageria that he needed her set of keys back. She smiled innocently and patted the bulge on her belt and smiling after him. She’d just hold onto those for a later day.

Thomas had enough control to go change into something less conspicuous before he left, but he still made good time down into the Lower City. A quick glance around showed that the front was being watched, so he slipped around the back and worked his way in. He took a good look around and spotted Sean sitting at one of the back tables. He grimaced slightly to himself and went over.
“You wanted to see me?”


Sean lifted his head only when the approaching footsteps were followed by a voice, and he looked up at the man he knew was the Captain of the Whites. The one and only moment he needed to strike a deal with Newhaven he had dealt with Mageria, and at her request. The Black Knights were great for making deals, they didn't care about what rules to break in the process of getting something done, Sean did appreciate that. As much as the woman might have thought so, what he did to expose her was in no way personal, just a means to an end. Someone's end, particularly. He heaved an annoyed sigh at the man's question. "No. I didn't, but I don't have much of a choice, Sir Knight." Sean muttered, angrily remembering Ella's disrespect to his people and his territory. "I'll cut straight to the point, as I'm sure you're as busy as I am, if not more due to current events... I owe Blackpond a hit. They want your Queen to be the target of said hit. I would much rather not do this, I know the people in charge of Blackpond have some hidden motive to ask this of me, and I don't enjoy being a pawn in someone's world domination scheme, or whatever it is. However, they are a far greater threat to my people than your army will ever be, if I read them correctly, so my back is against the wall, because I am forced to first think of would be less harmful to the people under my command." Sean ran one hand through his hair, warily and the took a deep breath. "Suppose what I mean is that I need help getting these people off my back before I'm forced to obey them. However, if that is not an option, I suggest you guard your Queen more carefully, because she has been warned of this, and couldn't care less for my warning. She even casually mentioned where she would be on this day. It would be smart of you to keep a closer watch on her from now on."

Thomas suppressed the urge to sigh at the idea of guarding Lady Ella. They did their best, but at the same time, when somebody refused to be kept safe, there was nothing they could really do. Although the idea of chaining her to her throne had a certain appeal. Ah well. A thought for another day. Today he had to deal with what was in front of him.
"And what do you have in mind for this, help?" Thomas asked delicately. He hated, truly hated that he had come to this. The White Knights kept the law, they didn't break it. Merely being in this place bothered him and the idea that he might have to make a deal with someone like this made his skin crawl. But through long training he kept his face impassive, merely arching one eyebrow in polite inquiry.
"And . . . forgive my bluntness. But how do I know that you won't stab us in the back at the first opportunity?"

"For now, mate... Keep Ella under control, because I need to buy myself some time and she doesn't help me by coming here and harassing my people. That and the assurance that you will not make any deals with them against the Wolfpack if you can help it, or that at least I will get fair warning if you can't, will suffice for now. On my end, I will not pass the order to assassinate her along to the rest of my clan... Yet. When it comes a time when I can't delay this any further... Hopefully I'll have a way out of it." He said all that very quick, not wanting to even give a chance for anyone to walk in on him considering eliminating a city ruler. That was one hell the Wolfpack had lived before, and it was more than enough. "As for how you know I won't stab you in the back... I can't say you can, but honestly, Thomas... Killing the Queen? You and I both know what happens after that, and it's one bit of history I would just hate to relive as I'm sire you would too. So understand that I have nothing to gain by turning on you."

Thomas arched one eyebrow ironically. "Then we have a deal based on the fact that we are each the lesser of many evils. How delightful." He nodded and shifted as if he was about to stand. "Of course, if something were to happen, I'm sure Mageria and her people would welcome the chance to earn their way back into Newhaven's good graces." With a thin smile, he stood, turning towards the back once more. "It's been quite instructional meeting you, Alpha. Hopefully, it is an experience that will never be repeated." Turning quickly, he walked out the back way and into the alley heading towards the Castle with a swift stride. The experience of everything had left a bad taste in his mouth, one that he felt was never going to fade.

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Thomas was working at his desk, feeling a churning in his stomach. Despite an order of exile, a woman answering to Mageria's description had been seen breaking into the orphanage and retrieving a man who had been acting in an such a manner that he seemed insane. There was no other explanation for what had gone on, but apparently she had beaten several guardsmen unconscious in the process. Word of this had gone around the ranks, the tale growing larger in each retelling. Which, he was afraid, meant that she might get even less leeway if she was ever seen in Newhaven again. If she dared enter the city a third time, she would likely be killed on the spot.

With a heavy sigh, Thomas pushed the report away, reminding himself that he needed to talk to Lady Ella about it later. Perhaps she might have some idea of what could be done.

A slight noise caught his attention, he looked up to find Knight Zein standing in the doorway. Leaning back at the table, he motioned for her to enter.
"Yes? What is it?"

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Thomas read rapidly through the reports, eyes flicking over the pages one by one. Finally he looked up with a bland expression on his face.
"And what is it you suggest, Zein?" In the past, he could have sent the Blacks after the problem, but that solution was no longer available. "And by the way, do not ever delay reports of something that I should know again." An unaccustomed look of steel entered his normally friendly expression. "I give my Knights a great deal of freedom, but that's in the hopes that they do something with that gift, not simply sit on their hands in the hopes that it all get's better."

Standing up, he paced to the window, looking out over the city. "We need to crack down on this problem quickly and efficiently, before it blows up past the point of control. Now....." Thomas turned back and crossed his arms. "Do you have something to offer besides some reports, or have you managed to look around for yourself?"

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“I think that these rumors can be dealt with a simple public speech, sir. Much of the people still believe and respect the idea of noble knights over their horses. This could be used in our favor for now.”

Thomas sighed. "Indeed. And will these people still trust those same nobles if they see nothing being done to protect them from these gangs?" He leaned forwards and scribbled out an order for the City Guard to double their patrols, in the hopes that there would be enough bodies on the street to prevent such things from happening again. "Point of fact, with the Blacks gone, we need to recruit more people for the Guard simply to be able to keep up with problems like this. Till we find enough people we can trust though, this will have to do." He held out the orders. "Please make sure this is actually carried out."

With a sigh, he leaned back and watched the Knight standing in front of him with a faint frown. "And who is this friend that is going to help us? What abilities does he possess that makes him the only one who can handle this problem?" He crossed his arms. "And Zein? This should not take four days to be taken care of, not if you've known about this for days already. I expect better results."

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Character Portrait: Thomas Sidin Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Veronica Zein Character Portrait: Vane Ross Character Portrait: Alina "Suferinta" Mare Character Portrait: Alisa "Temeti" Mare
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[Newhaven’s Castle Corridors]

"Let me understand this. She wants me to help her and, without asking if I want to do it, she makes me meet the Knight's Captain?" Vane raised an eyebrow as he followed the woman with hazel hair, his scar itched instantly, but the tall man ignored it. The itching has been constant on the last few days, and there was no way he could tell if it was the pressure made by the recent events or if some unusual kind of sickness caught him. The man cleaned his mind, not being sure if it was an honor to meet Captain Sidin, or if Veronica lost her touch to kill criminals. Back in the day, she could hunt any man anywhere as long as her blades were at her hips. Gabrielle looked over her shoulder, brows raised and a ironic smile. "Well, big guy, she's not really giving you that choice. You may do it, or you may do it, it's not that hard to understand, is it?" The girl giggled briefly, covering her mouth with the gauntlets. Gabrielle clearly enjoyed when people suffered, especially when she could watch it closely.
Vane rolled his eyes as the duo walked through the Castle's corridors, sometimes meeting Guards making patrols and messengers taking papers elsewhere. Even this early people are awake. Well, who could have guessed? The Castle frequently exhibited a peaceful sight to whoever managed to look at it, but surely many worked nonstop behind the stage to give that impression. Vane widened a smile for a second, somehow he missed being in the city, but he also wanted to go away. The man motioned his hand in front of his head, trying to send these strange thoughts away when one pierced his mind. Could Gabrielle be taking the long way to where Zein was? As if she heard the man’s though about her, the girl finally spoke, her voice being lower than usual and taking an abnormal serious tone. "Things are a little hard here, we managed to find the place where they are hiding, somewhere around the market area, but as you may have thought, we can't burst into every house and store there. Not without being sure or slightly sure about the owner's recent... acts." She sighed softly and ran a hand through her hair.
The man nodded briefly. It seemed for him that there wasn't a way to run from Newhaven, at least for the next couple days. I barely arrived and can't wait to escape. Now I'm sure that I wasn't born to live in a city. Vane widened a grin when Gabrielle turned around to look at him. "There's no reason to smile, or there is?" The question only made the man's grin bigger. "Just a funny thought." Gabrielle sighed again, and stopped before an entrance. "As if I could believe something like that," the woman pointed to a wooden door with a finger, "there. Knock the door."
Vane nodded and walked, not being sure if someone called him as the leather of his boots crushed against the room’s cold floor. In his mind’s eye he wondered what would happen once he opened the wooden door. Many scenes walked through the man’s head, from the most impossible to relevant possibilities. Whatever happened once he entered that place, Vane was sure he wouldn’t manage to leave the city, at least not until he ended whatever Zein needed. The tall man left a huge sigh and raised his hand, ready to knock twice.

[Captain Thomas’ Office]

Veronica took the papers from Thomas’ hand with a gentle grin on her face, although she wondered if Vane could be of any help right now. “I will be sure this… situation ends even faster, sir.” By the Twins, how am I supposed to do this, anyway? “Whoever may be there, we do know their location, all we need to do is to precise the gang’s members, so we may avoid any civilian causalities.” The woman nodded, still with the smile, making some of her scarlet hair fall yet again over her left eye. Her hand, still protected by a steel gauntlet, ran through her hair. For a brief second she wondered if she should cut her hair short, after all it could well fall over her eyes in the middle of a fight. She blushed for a moment when her eyes met Thomas’, sighing quickly and regaining her voice’s usual tone. “About my old friend, which is late to meet us, he once worked with the city’s military until three years ago, but left our ranks for his own reasons.”
“Something he’s very capable of doing is finding answers for questions, especially if talking is needed, especially to people who, at first, couldn’t remember a single thing.” Veronica closed her eyes for a brief moment, wondering if that was a good phrase to speak to Captain Thomas, but gladly she heard the knocking on the door, widening her smile as much as she could. “If you allow me, captain,” the boots sounded inside the room, and soon the door was opening, revealing a tall man wearing black clothes, except for the white shirt underneath his jacket. He slowly walked inside the room as Veronica closed the door. The woman with scarlet hair followed the man with her gaze, slowly motioning her head in the direction to the White Knights famous leader. Once done, she walked to the tall man’s side, announcing him. “Captain Sidin, this is Vane Ross, the friend I was talking about.” The tall man showed a friendly grin as he nodded, his scar shivering for a few seconds. A month ago the Black Knights’ Captain, now the White Knights’… With some luck I will meet the Queen next week. Vane took a step forward before speaking. “It’s an honor to meet you, Captain.”

[Somewhere in the Northern Woods]

“Siister, will we be arriving any soon?” Alisa’s words echoed through her head while her headache only amplified them. The woman was still riding her horse in a slow peace, since riding it too fast frequently made her fall from the dark animal. Her arms and legs regained its usual state, aching, stinging and feeling almost like they were frequently thorn apart from her body, frequently bringing Alisa to the corners of her conscience, only a step away from losing it and falling straight to the floor. Yet, she lived that way, feeling those incomprehensible pains since she can remember it. Alina looked to her sister, brows curved, giving her a worrying look. “I can hear sounds, lots of people walking… if your directions are right, then we will be there soon.”
Alisa coughed quickly, covering her mouth with her right hand, and so making the pain on her arm even worse. When she ended it, she let her hand fall to the horse’s reins, a lying smile showing on her face while long lines of her black hair covered one of her eyes. “They are right, they always are.” Alina nodded quickly, even with that grin on her sister’s face she knew what Alisa felt. Not the whole pain itself, but a little portion of what it was, at least what Alina thought it was. Alina answered her sister’s smile with her own, hoping it could help Alisa somehow. “I know.”
Time raced as Alina battled through her thoughts, wondering if there was any reason to move into Blackpond. Alisa couldn’t stand towns, neither people talking way too loud and they would find plenty of that in the city. Yet she constantly felt she was dragged into it, every thought, every phrase, every wind she felt on her bare skin, so Alina allowed herself to finish her damned curiosity. When the woman finally returned to herself, Alina saw the city’s walls, in a worse state she could have thought. Whenever she looked the walls lacked stones, leaving huge holes that the wind slowly decomposed throughout the years; no man guarded the once mighty gates, somewhat rusted as the duo stopped their horses in front of it. Alina looked to her sister, she too watched their surroundings, one of her brows raised while her hands held the reins tight. “I don’t know what to… say.” Alina laughed loudly, making some of the men look to them. The woman sure could bring a psychopathic laughter whenever she so wished; tears rolled from her eyes when she managed to create an understandable phrase. “Disappointing! That’s what I’d say!! Such a perfect joke!” Alina still laughed for minutes as Alisa looked to the inner city, wondering what they could do in there when two men gathered close to them, one probably was a woodcutter, the axe in his hand announced so, and the other didn’t bring any visible weapon, although his face showed that he was indeed troubled by the woman’s maniacal laughter. Alina still laughed while she turned her horse to speak to the men, the one with the axe spoke first, putting said axe over his shoulder. “Youn’ ladies shouldn’t be here so so early, what brings ya’all to town?” Alina removed a tear with the tip of her fingers when Alisa spoke, a smile shining on her face. “We’re searching for the stables, maybe you could help us?” The woodcutter opened a dramatic smile while his friend spoke, Alina tried to stop laughing, somehow failing at it. “Leave your horses with us, we’ll take’em there, pretties.” The woodcutter smile’s widened as he looked to his friend, nodding as Alina got off the horse, pointing to the woodcutters’ right leg.
What followed made Alisa rise a brown and smile, almost laughing. The woodcutter screamed all air inside his lungs as he fell to the floor, embracing his right leg. Neither Alisa or the man’s friend saw it, but the woodcutter watched and felt his leg being broken in the knee, moving against his will to the front while the others only saw him fall to the ground, hugging one of his legs. Alina looked to the man’s friend, completely horrified by the scene; a crude smile widened on her face as Death pierced through her eyes. “I didn’t like his grin.” The man turned around and ran as fast as he could, making his face meet the terrain as he fell after running a couple meters. Alisa sighed deeply, making her sister turn around. “He could have showed us the way to the stables,” her sister replied with a sweet giggled as the man close to her rolled on the ground, still holding his right leg. “I’d rather kill his friend than allow myself to be guided by a coward. Plus, he was probably going to rob them, not that we actually paid something for them.” A piercing headache scorched Alina’s mind since she used her enlightenment, but adrenalin filled her veins, dispersing any pain on her body as the woman restarted her laughter.
Alisa allowed herself a slight giggle while she looked over her shoulder, watching two men look at the pathetic scene, her horse turned around while she smiled again. “Sister, more people for you to play, I think.” One of them being as pale as the cleanest snow, its appearance being completed by darkened colors, while the other most notable thing was the red hair. Alina smiled as took a few steps, slowly ending her laughter as she held the horse by its reins. She raised her voice with an almost friendly smile, “and you are?”

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Character Portrait: Thomas Sidin Character Portrait: Veronica Zein Character Portrait: Vane Ross
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Thomas smiled good naturally and leaned back. So this was Zein's friend, one who had left "for his own reasons"? He'd heard that sort of thing before and it usually meant trouble. Still, he needed somebody who knew that sort of people. It certainly wasn't any of those that he currently had command of, for the most part.
"You're going to have to explain to me just how you met this 'friend' of yours, Zein." Thomas looked the man up and down, noting the signs that said that this man could probably handle himself in a fight. He toyed for a moment with influencing the man, but suppressed it. Unless he had to, he didn't want to cloud someone else's judgement. Besides, there was always that option later on.

"Well then. We're all here." He leaned back and steepled his fingers in front of him, a hard grin showing a flash of teeth. "Explain to me your plan."

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Character Portrait: Thomas Sidin Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Veronica Zein Character Portrait: Vane Ross Character Portrait: Alina "Suferinta" Mare Character Portrait: Alisa "Temeti" Mare
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[Captain Thomas’ Office]


Veronica smiled briefly, after all, things started to work the way she predicted. “Well, sir, the basics should apply well here.” She cleared her throat, “in the first moment, we track their whereabouts, precising were we should strike; once that’s done, we gather men of our trust and march against them quietly, doing that through the night should be the best moment to…”

“That could well take a day, Zein. If things are spreading as fast as I heard this morning, then we should quicken our moves. I assume you thought about the public speech to lower the rumors, right?” Vane looked to Veronica, one of the brows raised as the woman frowned, nodding soon after that. “While that’s effective, we can’t manage to do it without showing something for the people… Even if they believed that bluff, a single movement with bad consequences could send the city into a hell of a moment.” Vane looked to the wall, his eyes distant for a couple seconds; when they returned to their usual look, the man widened a grin. “Well, there’s another possibility, which has some good odds to us, but…”

Veronica spoke louder than the tall man, interrupting him, “but that would mean to invite Captain Thomas to come along.” Vane looked to his friend, knowing that she almost read his mind, just like three years ago. She continued to speak, “if the Captain of the White Knights walked through the town, made a quick arrest and did his public speech...”

“We would fix the morale problem and the rumors… if someone mysteriously escaped, I could well hunt him through the market, without being noticed, which would lead us to their,” Veronica interrupted, a smile shining in her face as she looked to Vane, “whereabouts. And if they dared to move we would still be close to them. Then all we would need to do is gather our own troops and siege their hideout. How much would it take to end? Six hours?”

Vane looked to her, wearing the white armor she treasured for so long. “Less than four,” Vane moved his head, looking now to Thomas. “So, sir, when was the last time you got yourself into delicate plans like this one?” Smiling, he waited for the man to speak his words, wondering what they will say.


[Front gates of Blackpond]


Alina giggled softly while the man spoke his words; long has been the time she met someone that would speak to her like that, even daring to show equality on his voice; so much time since she last heard that, far too long for her likings. “Oh love! You sure got yourself some scores there!” The woman raised her right hand, softly pinching her lower lip for a second as she grew a huge smile. “I may easily get bored when the conversation is not appealing to me… That you can surely see with my beloved little friend, or maybe I should call him my ‘toy’?” Alina’s giggle sounded yet again before the falling gates; she allowed her right hand to rest over one of the sword’s hilt once the echoes faded. “I guess that I’m not used to conversations, after all, it’s just quite hard to find someone that won’t bore me immediately. I’m sure you can relate to me at this point, sweetie! You also replied a simple question with an answer that doesn’t make sense!”

As her sister spoke, Alisa’s horse stood proud, unmoving when she heard the man’s phrase.

“I’m Wyatt, Miss... At your service... And I’m afraid that’s my one and only name as well. It is surely lovely to meet you in this fine day."

Immediately after the man spoke his last word, Alisa started laughing; not with a gentle tone that she would usually use, but in a uncontrollable way, almost reaching the level of berserk. Quickly, the laugh made her bent over the horse’s neck; her left hand covered her mouth as shiny tears rolled from her eyes, some coming from the joy, others from the pain caused by using all the muscles to make the sound people so called laughter. The horse slowly moved to the left as she tried to ‘normally’ sit on it, the laugh soon falling to a soft giggle; Alisa looked to the man, still with tears coming from her eyes.
“I’m sorry, but if you had to act again to stay alive, I’m afraid that you wouldn’t manage to save yourself!” Alisa giggled again for a brief moment, “sorry, but that…” Another unwished laugh, “that last phrase, I may have read that in a book, even years ago!” The woman smiled as she cleaned some of the tears, “and I believe men like the one in that book just wouldn’t get close to this city.” Her smile widened quickly, “so, have you been reading books written for teeny girls or you are trying really hard to convince me that you are the gentle and polite Wyatt-no-last-name that got himself close to a dreaded and chaotic city together with a friend that recognizes himself as a predator?” The woman pulled the horse’s reins, making him turn back to right, to his original position. “Somewhere else I could have fell for it, but not here, not today, my friend. May you try again, or do you wish to tell me who you are, actually?” Alisa smiled to the red haired man, a soft giggle sounding from her mouth as she tried to hold the unusual one.

Alina laughed as she looked her sister, turning back to the black haired man with a grin on her face. “Your friend there made my sister laugh! That didn’t happen in the last...” The woman raised a brow, “months? As I was speaking, you see, I questioned you who you two were, not exactly what both of you were doing in this beautiful morning right here, before these pathetic gates. Your friend gave his false name after my sister gave her real name, but he must have his own reasons to do so, I guess. While we, predators in the way you so called, are only making a discussion in a silly attempt to find who’s far superior from who in a language we both well know.” Alina giggled, not losing the grin on her face. This being not a simple, friendly grin she would have used to trick a usual man. This one, whoever he was, really had something in common with her, despite the black eyes. “So shall we start it again, my predatorial friend, now knowing who we really are? I am Alina Mare.”

Alisa turned her head around to see the black haired man, a smile still one her face. “And I’m Alisa, Alina’s sister, as you may have guessed. So who you are, friend with black eyes that we found to be so equal to u-“

“To all those interested, there will be a Gala Ball in Blackpond Castle within two days. Everyone is welcome.”

The right hand from Alina soon arrived at her head as she closed her eyes. The voice that echoed in her mind surely wasn’t hers; wondering for a straight second from whom it belonged, the woman soon looked to her sister, only to watch Alisa’s eyes still laid on the man she was speaking with, but now with her right brow raised. Silence reigned in the wall’s front when the wind found safe to walk between this strange, unnerving gathering, playing quickly with Alisa’s long, black hair. She still looked to her predator friend, but his own look spoke to her that this message wasn’t sent by him. It was some kind of enlightenment, belonging to some telepath, like her sister. That was her best guess, at least.

For this silent moment, Alisa’s pain disappeared, returning a deep peace she only found after waking up close to her sister, but like night comes, the feeling didn’t endure forever. After the wind stopped its travel, the tearing feel soon returned to her arms and legs. She sighed quickly, wondering when that would end, if not never. “… Us.” Alisa turned around, looking to Alina’s black eyes. “You heard it too?”

Alina nodded, not having quite words to answer, at least for now. Her sister smiled, a leading tone gathered in her voice. Alisa always knew what to do, and Alina always followed her. “Well, it looks like we’re going to a gala ball soon then! Would be so inelegant to decline such an intriguing request, wouldn’t it be?” Not waiting for an answer, she turned around to watch their new friend with his dubious look. “So, my intriguing-and-mysterious-friend-that-doesn’t-want-to-tell-his-name, shall you and Wyatt-no-last-name join us? You two sure don’t want to send two poor ladies alone into such a mysterious and dangerous,” Alisa added some sickening, yet friendly and somehow convincing, tone to these two adjectives, “town, especially when they’re going to a gala ball. Just. Like. You. Right?” She smiled, waiting for an answer.

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Character Portrait: Thomas Sidin Character Portrait: Veronica Zein Character Portrait: Vane Ross
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Thomas smiled briefly, eyes glinting golden for just a second. "I'm afraid that you aren't really cleared to know about that incident, not at the moment. But perhaps you're forgetting something? I didn't make it to Captain just because I look good making speeches. All I need is one of these thieves and a couple of hours alone with him and he will tell me his life's story and offer me the last coin in his pocket. If I'm going to be getting my hands dirty, so to say, we're going to be doing it my way. So, I'll make a deal with you both. Get me one man and by the end of the day you'll have the location you need."

Thomas knew he couldn't effect more than one person easily, which is why he couldn't just walk into the thieves' nest, but one man would be no problem.
"Once you have the location, I want a strike force ready to take them out, with as little bloodshed as possible. I want this clean, quick and over before people have a chance to panic. Am I understood?" Thomas remained serene but the inner strength that allowed him to rise to the rank of Captain was evident.

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Character Portrait: Thomas Sidin Character Portrait: Veronica Zein Character Portrait: Vane Ross
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Thomas nodded slightly in return. "Very well Zein, I'll leave you to get me what we need. Remember, I just need one man to find out where this nest of thieves is, after that we can get this all sorted easily. As for you ...." he turned to Vane. "No, I don't really like you at the moment. I don't know you, beyond the fact that you were once a proud member of our City's forces and then left. So. You shall have to prove yourself to me." He spread his hands slightly. "Zein says your worth it, that we can trust you to get things done. Show me that you're worth the time, effort and risk; then I'll like you."

He looked between them. "Now, I do believe that's all. If you want to go about your business, we'll get things finished before they cause anymore harm." He nodded towards the door. "I believe you two can figure out how to accomplish things on your own?"

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Character Portrait: Thomas Sidin Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Veronica Zein Character Portrait: Vane Ross Character Portrait: Alina "Suferinta" Mare Character Portrait: Alisa "Temeti" Mare
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[Outside Blackpond’s walls]

Alisa looked down to the deceased man, the one that her sister so called a toy; her horse, fearing the strange sounds, backed away from the body, a grin covering the rider’s face quickly. The woman barely saw what Wyatt had done, but the words he spoke before his so called concoction was triggered brought the black haired rider back from her own mind. “You really have to tell me how you did that someday, mister Wyatt, but you still broke my sister’s toy…”

“Ah, forget it, sister, I’m sure that I’ll get another one soon enough if our newest friend Mister Scarypants tours us around the city.” Alina smiled, the right hand still holding the hilt. “It sounds like we were lucky after all, sister! Getting ourselves two nice companions before even entering the city and being invited…” Alisa looked to her sister patiently as she spoke, sighing softly before interrupting her phrase, “perhaps, but there are many things we need to do, sister, we need to find a place to stay and buy some clothes for the ball, or were you thinking that you were getting in there with that?”

Alina, removing Luckas, Wyatt and her surroundings from her mind, put both of her hands on her hips, her face quickly creating an angry look as she bowed slightly, strengthening her own expression. “And how am I not supposed to do it?” For a second, the duo remained quiet, a person looking against an almost perfect reflection of herself, but slowly, as the wind licks the grass on an autumn day, both slowly started to develop the same appearance on their faces, laughing loudly as if they were still alone at the walls’ front.

Slowly, the laughter ended with Alisa cleaning yet another couple of tears that crawled over her face; once done, she turned her black eyes to Luckas, a grin still living under her shadowy eyes. “Well, mister Scarypants, you sure own a couple of surprises, as well as your friend does,” Alisa turned her head a bit, winking with her left eye to Wyatt, “I hope that they won’t end any soon… But we need to solve some problems before our joy begins…. You see, we can’t just leave our beloved little creatures,” she spoke as she petted the horse, bowing over the creature and speaking close to its fur, “in the cold of the night, after all, what kind of beings would we be if we left them here to die, all alone?” Her smirk widened for a second, her eyes showing dark shades of a predatory glance. Alina walked around as her sister spoke, a neutral smile floating on her face whilst her right hand held her hips. “Am I truly the one that shouldn’t be acting here? Maybe it would be better if we let them be, at least they probably won’t end up as meat over someone’s table.”

The rider looked to her sister for the following seconds; her brows frowned slightly in a carrying manner. Soon, a sigh echoed through her mouth before she spoke. “Well, I guess you have a point there, sister… Not that we paid something to get them, right?” Alisa slowly dismounted her horse, a saddened smirk glowing in her pale face; her feet met the ground, cold from the last days of Winter, shivering a small, yet sensitive, pain throughout her legs. The woman took a leather bag from the horse’s side, putting it over her shoulder as she held it by two small strings; Alisa took a couple steps until her sister, which still kept the grin under her dark eyes. “I’m sure that their old owner doesn’t miss them, not anymore” both sisters faced each other; both smiled, one wearing a black armor, the other a dark dress. Alina kept her walk after breaking eye-contact, giggling softly. “But sometimes you just take the things I say way too seriously, sister,” the horse kept feeding on the small grass as the woman got closer to him, “yet you always have your reasons to do so,” under her eyes, a smirk widened. The bag she took from the beast’s sides didn’t differ much from the one her sister held, except that it was visibly heavier than the other; holding it with the left hand, Alina unsheathed her sword with a fast movement, soon guiding the non-cutting side of the blade to the horse’s hips, making the creature burst into a subtle and unplanned trot.

“Well, I assume someone should do it eventually,” Alisa giggled as her sister walked to the other horse; the woman turned her face, a brow curved. “To have their reasons?,” Alisa giggled again, “no, to agree with something you say.” Spinning on her feet, the black haired woman hit the beast in a similar manner to the other one, laughing loudly as she heard what Alisa said; for a second, the laughter faded as Alina distracted herself with the distorted face from her last toy, her sister calmly walked to her side while thoughts scattered through her consciousness, all wondering how that man would have ended if it was her to bring a period to his former life. Sighing, Alina turned around, looking directly to Luckas’ eyes, her face exhibiting the usual, yet mysterious, smile. “So, Pants’ friend, should I invite you to join us or, perhaps, you reconsidered your offer?” Alina looked over her sister, calmly looking to the traveling black dress she wore, waiting for the man’s answer.

[Captain Thomas’ Office, Newhaven]

Vane widened the grin that covered his face; he heard a couple words about Thomas when he entered the city a month ago, but watching it live surely added more to those incredibly real rumors. “I sure know the way I need to take, Captain,” the man ran his own hand through his hair quickly, returning to speak as he opened his eyes, “so I’ll probably be back in an hour or so; until then,” Vane spun on his left foot, slowly stepping to the door since the Captain already gave his words. With a small movement, the portal opened to him as the tall man looked over his right shoulder, “farewell, sir.”

Veronica watched the movement with her light blue eyes, her mouth staying shut. Things didn’t move the way she wished, but at least they have agreed on a plan that had high odds of working; Thomas and Vane didn’t had the best beginning she ever saw, yet both accepted to cover their parts on the plot. I hate to say this, but maybe it’s my fault… Sighing, the scarlet haired woman looked to her Captain, a decided expression soon covering her face as she heard the still closing door. “With all respect, sir, but I too should be going, since I have to select who will be joining the raid and,” she waved the papers that were held by her hands, “these orders won’t be given by themselves.” Zein slightly bowed in a fluid motion; as she returned, a grin laid under her eyes. “I’ll see you soon, Captain,” with a nod, she followed Vane’s route, not waiting for her superior’s answer.

Vane soon arrived at the corridor, and for his surprise Gabrielle waited for him, laying her armored back on the stone wall. With his brows making an arc of surprise, the woman raised her head to face Vane, somehow managing to create a wide smile with her lips. “Surprised to see me?”

“Let’s just say I was expecting not to see you for a couple other hours,” he grinned, after all, that woman played with his mind through a nice couple minutes, so Vane considered himself apt to mock her for some time. Gabrielle held a smirk as she heard the man’s response, “sounds like someone didn’t had a quality time with our boss, am I right?”

Vane walked through the corridor, moving to a nearby window. “Well, I too wouldn’t immediately trust someone that just appeared in town after years gone.” The man turned around, but he left his gaze still focused on the landscape, “people may change while Time runs, Twins knowing which side they could take then.” Gabrielle walked, her boots sounding as she approached the transparent glasses. “I didn’t know that philosopher side you have, tall-guy.”

“And trust me, you don’t want to know more of it.” Veronica walked out of the Guard’s room, a serious smile still shining on her face. “That’s how he used to catch the ladies back in the day, strange thing that it never worked on me.” She nodded with her head, showing the way they should follow through the corridors; Gabrielle soon giggled as she started to follow the Knight, Vane too began to walk behind Zein, but not with such a happy expression. “I never really used it on you, plus this one was unintentional.” Veronica nodded, still looking at the corridor’s end, “surely it was.”

Vane sighed as he looked to the side, “so, mind to say what you said to Thomas about me?” Veronica looked over her right shoulder, not stopping neither having a change of speed, but her face had changed into a more serious expression; Vane knew that she was thinking about who she would choose to raid the place, wherever it was. “I just told him that you left town for your own reasons, is that so important to you?”

The man stopped walking, his brows forming an obvious look of disappointment as he spoke in a lower tone. “You know that if you told him that I killed two men with a bloody fork he could have trusted our plan a little bit more, right?” Gabrielle covered her mouth with one of her hands, muttering something as Veronica calmly stood over the corridor, slowly turning around to show yet another face, this one containing an incredibly unfriendly gaze, filled with something between sarcasm and hatred. Not looking at her for more than a couple seconds, Vane interrupted the eye-contact, still speaking with the low tone. “All right, all right. I’m sorry.”

The scarlet haired woman nodded briefly, soon beginning to speak with the same tone as the tall man in front of her used. “Better, now listen. Once you get into the Market, search for the Sailor’s Flask tavern. Ask the owner for a ‘scarlet beast’ and a private room,” Veronica looked to the ceiling, “get what you need and start your hunt. I want this quiet and easy, understood, Vane?”

“You know how I work, no one will even notice a thing. Any other orders?” Vane smiled, Zein could be very mad at him for the moment, yet she cared for him, in her own personal way, of course. The woman still had the look in her face, but a daring smile soon joined the whole. “What? Do you want me to take your hand? You know the way, just do what you need.” Veronica spun on her left foot, making a gesture with her left hand as she started walking; Gabriella quickly followed her, both leaving Vane on the corridor, a grin covering his face as he only stood there, watching the two woman distance themselves. Well, I should be somewhere else, shouldn’t I?” The man took his way, knowing where the stairs to the Castle’s doors were.

Gabrielle walked by Zein’s side, wondering if she should interrupt the woman’s thoughts. As if Veronica heard her, her voice and blue eyes met Gabrielle’s. “I need you to do two things to me, Gabrielle.” Not stopping, Veronica gave her the papers Thomas wrote. “First deliver these orders on my behalf, then bring me a copy of the one’s that will be working on the City and Castle Guards’ night shift. Today’s and tomorrow’s, if you may.” The duo kept walking, Veronica’s room soon appearing to their sights. Gabrielle gave a standard affirmation to Zein; not waiting long, the Knight asked if she had questions.

“Nothing, Lady Zein. I’ll be back soon.” Spinning on her foot, Gabrielle and Veronica departed, the first holding the papers tight as the latter closed her office’s door. Gabrielle sighed, why every single tavern need those ridiculous names?

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Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Thomas Sidin
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Mageria wished she had time to mourn. But that, as so many other things, would have to wait. She had the weight of a kingdom on her shoulders and she would have to serve her higher calling first.

She sometimes wondered if she was still Mageria, or just a sense of duty that wore her face.

She had arrived at the Castle too late to stop the necromancer from arring at Newhaven and appearing as the Queen. She had considered simply taking a crossbow and giving it another shot from the roof top, but it would was the wrong time, wrong place. Too many witnesses and besides, her duty now lay with the child growing in Ella’s womb. Instead Mageria had simply faded into the back alleys and side streets, walking in the shadows as she always did. She had slipped in through a secret back way into the Castle, a way known only to those who wore the Black. And only the Black, as was the case with one of her Knights. She had ambushed Thomas as the man walked alone down a corridor and talked very, very fast. It had taken her most of the night to get Thomas to even give her a chance, but in the end she had simply offered him the chance to dose her with a truth serum and ask the questions he wanted. It was a grueling process, as the White Knight went over things in gut wrenching detail, forcing her to relive things over and over. But in the end, he believed her. That was all that mattered.

Mageria had taken the time to slip back to Raven’s Nest for a night while Thomas watched over the necromancer, counting her dead and saying a few words over their graves. She had seen that Sham would live and asked her to come to Newhaven as soon as possible.

And then . . . they waited.

Mageria and Thomas had spent hours arguing over whether or not they should interfere with things, with people believing that the necromancer was Ella. They could let the pregnancy proceed and then…. So many women died in childbirth. It would be tragic, but not unexpected. And there were provisions for this sort of things, the Black and White Knight Captains serving as the regents for the child until it came of age. It could be done. But as the court rejoiced at the news of the child and the Council whispered to itself, the Knights could see a worrying trend. It wouldn’t have mattered to some, most wouldn’t have even noticed, but those who knew could follow the trend. The necromancer was gradually twisting the Council to suit it’s wishes. No good could ever come of this. They would have to make their move soon.

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Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Thomas Sidin Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Darren Hearst
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-Before Luckas goes and talks with Ella –

Mageria sat serenely in the Council chamber, smiling at the men who shuffled in. There was more than one who stared at her in disgust and disbelief. There was also more than a hint of rage in her smile. One by one they all sat down.

Adolf, one of the senior Councilmen was the one who sat forward and cleared his throat. “Cap….ahem. Lady Mageria. You have been exiled and stripped of your rank. Why is it that you now see fit to sit here, with us?” He waved one hand at the rest of the Council. Mageria had always liked Adolf, which was why she kept her tone respectful. “With all due respect to the Council. I left because the Queen asked me to, not because I was exiled. The Black Knights cannot be exiled. They may only be executed, and that by one of their own rank. It is in the laws set down long ago. She nodded over to Thomas, who sat across from her. “The White Knights have seen fit to welcome us back, during this time of troubles.” She smiled sweetly at the men, watching as they all shifted slightly in their seats. She had never really managed a sweet smile.

After that, ground rules of a sort were laid out. They had sent a fast messenger to the White Shadows, waiting for a telepath to answer the question of what had happened to the Queen. Mageria knew, as so she made as many plans as she could for when they would be forced to imprison the necromancer for the duration of the pregnancy.

-Later-
Thomas scowled at Mageria. “You could have been slightly more diplomatic with them.”
Mageria shrugged and started polishing a nick out of a practice sword. “Diplomacy is your thing. You smile, people trust you. I smile, they start looking for something to hide behind. I’ve never really understood it.”

Thomas rubbed his forehead, feeling the pulse of a migraine that never seemed to go away anymore. “That’s because you don’t smile. You bare your teeth, like you’re about to rip their throats out.”

“I do not!” Mageria exclaimed in slightly shocked and hurt tones.

“Mageria,” Thomas sighed. “You are a woman, in charge of what is well known to be a bloodthirsty amoral much of killers. You yourself confessed to killing the former Captain of the Black Knights, a man who actually earned the reputation that you now enjoy. And you wonder why people are uneasy?”

Mageria looked up and cocked an eyebrow. “Are you trying to tell me something?”

Thomas sighed. “Yes, actually. Things would be better if you weren’t around for a little bit. I can handle things here, I need you to be out of sight for a little bit. Go talk to your people, get them ready for what’s to come. Because it’s going to be hell.”
---------

Luckas was more careful than what was his usual going into he Raven's Nest that morning. He was aware that what he did in the castle had caused some trouble and so he made sure to not run into absolutely anyone on his way in. Of course he couldn't avoid Mageria, in fact he had gone there with every intention of running into her, but he felt it was best to not talk to anyone else before they spoke. So he found the woman, and lurked around her, patiently waiting until he managed to finally catch her alone. He didn't bother pretending the woman didn't know he was there, if she didn't it would be the first time. "Lovely day isn't it, Captain?" He greeted, stepping out from his hiding spot amongst the trees and looking around as if wondering if there was someone else lurking there besides himself. "Feels like we may be having some sunny days ahead, finally."

Mageria had been sitting next to the stream sharpening her sword when Luckas showed up. She had known he was there, of course. She would have known either way, but here in a place where she knew every sound and animal call, it wasn't even difficult. She didn't glance up, didn't pause; just kept pulling the whetstone along the edge of the blade.

"Luckas."

She didn't know why he had come, but given that he was trying so hard to be causal, it wasn't for any good reason.

"I'm thinking of calling you StormCrow. Every time you show up, things seem to go sideways. Why is that?"

"Oh?" Luckas asked, arching an eyebrow and staring at Mageria with an intrigued look in his eyes for a moment before letting a chuckle escape him. "Well, I wonder what reason you would ever have to call me, Captain. Not to mention that, as you probably know, I'm never too far away... I really wouldn't mind though; It's a neat name. Very ominous-sounding." He mused, chuckling some more under his breath. "As you are probably wondering... I'm here, instead of being in the area of the camp I usually prefer to roam, for a particular reason Captain. Ever since Lena's death I've been experiencing some... Episodes... I have these annoying little visions from time to time, and I suddenly know things I was not supposed to know; that only she knew. It's not conscious, I either have random flashes or I suddenly find myself knowing answers to questions I've never bothered to ask before. It's actually pretty useful, aside from being uncomfortable and confusing. Now, for instance, I know that the 'medicine' Lena's pet gave you with the intent to save your life was nothing more than a very powerful sedative mixed with some well chosen hallucinogenics... Opens doors in secluded areas of your mind so you can go inside. That's all it does; once inside you're on your own. None of the people they tried it on before ever awoke. You shouldn't have either. Considering every test ever performed with both my brother's victims and mine, surviving was an impossibility. So the question, this annoying, persistent, question in the back of my head... Remains... How did you do it?" The question hadn't really changed from the last time they had conversed, but the tone behind it was entirely different from the amused curiosity Luckas had always displayed when wondering about the matter; his tone was serious, almost uncharacteristically serious. If there had been an important motive behind his questioning before, it had suddenly become very apparent. If there hadn't been; then something had changed. "I need to know Captain, and if you can't really tell me, then I need to see."

Mageria's hands never slowed, her posture never changed, but there was a sudden tension in the air around her. Her gaze turned inwards for a moment, remembering.

Almost.... almost she could hear a whisper of a voice again.

"Well, if there was noting but some powerful halucenagens, then what happened in my mind wouldn't make much sense, would it? Just the ravings of a mind trying to turn itself inside out. And if nobody else survivned, why did I? Maybe your brother just didn't have a chance to finish what he started. Maybe he just did a bad job on me. And if not, Luckas, why in the name of the Twins do you think I would let you into my head?" Her voice was trying very hard to be causal, but failed slightly. "Your brother didn't manage to drive me to suicide, but I very much doubt that you would be so sloppy."

"For fucks sake." Luckas muttered under his breath, starting to feel a bit of annoyance. "It seems like even though you shared a one-sided telepathic link with my brother for a few moments before you bashed his head in, you still don't get how this works... Here's a few facts then, just for your benefit... Fact one: It is impossible to do this halfway, there is no way of doing a poor job of it, it's something that either is or isn't and in your case it sure as hell was. Fact two: The mind always tries to repair itself one way or another. Usually our consciousness gets in the way, rational thinking gets in the way... Because all it does is focus of the pain. And the pain screams at us to just give in.. And it screams... And screams... And SCREAMS... Until we finally do what it wants, shutting that off is the mind's best chance to heal; hence the sedatives. And hallucinations are simple projections of the things that dwell inside the very places my brother was oh so famous for attacking within his victims' minds. The hallucinogenics, as I said, open the doors to those dark corners where no one likes to go and exposes the problems. Lena was a lot of things, but she was never stupid; the concept was sound, in theory it should have worked, but it simply couldn't have because it just... never... bloody... did. Something was missing. Whatever it was, you seem to have found it and there is no amount of maybes that will erase that fact. So there: It is what it is, Captain. Your mind holds the key; salvation always comes with a fucking price."

Luckas went silent for a moment, taking his time to take a couple of breaths and maintain his tone as calm as he could. "Remember that last time we spoke of this I said that maybe we could help each other... That was just a friendly offer back then, now things have changed. So believe me, because you know I don't lie: You're going to need my help soon enough. As is though, you can either give me what I want, or you'll eventually be forced to kill me, because I'm not going to stop trying. It's as simple as that and you know it. You know that there's a great possibility that my answers fit some of your questions as well. You know that if my goal was to drive you insane or make you suicidal there are many ways I could do that just as easily by using the people around you instead of standing here and asking for permission. You also know that I may be many things as well, Captain, and insane may just be one of those things, but I'm not stupid either."

"I'll need your help Luckas? With what; the fact that I still have nightmares so real that I'll wake up with a sword in my hand? That I once had to start locking myself in my room because I kept waking up wandering the halls fully armed with no clue how I got there? The fact that I sometimes think I'm wading through rivers of blood while everybody I know or love floats past me and I know, I know deep down in the very core of my soul that it's my fault?" Mageria's hands still hasn't hesitated throughout her questions, but the tension in the air around her had become almost unbearable. She brought her sword up and slowly examined the edge of her blade, looking for nicks. Light shivered along the edge, evidence that her hands had started shaking. "Besides which, we've already established that you can't get in my mind. Some sort of mental scar tissue left behind by your dear brother."

"Or maybe you mean something else. What is it you've been doing, Luckas? What trouble have you been stirring up when you leave here?"

Luckas sighed softly, keeping silent for a long while as though he was thinking of words to say when in fact he was attempting to hold in the fit of laughter that inevitably escaped him so violently his knees gave in causing him to fall over. "Oh, excuse me Captain, I couldn't help myself, it's just..." He choked on his words and coughed for a few moments, waiting until he could breath normally before moving on. "I know what that's like, well, sort of... And yes, it's unpleasant, more so for you sentimental types than for someone like me, but... No, I can't help you with that. Well, in theory maybe I could, but I wouldn't consider that a solution to your problem. No... Forget that, we don't want to do that." He chuckled softly, shaking his thoughts away and moving onto more pressing matters. "That's all I will say; you will need my help. You'll know what for when it's time, unless of course you kill me, then you probably will never know. That'd be a shame, but that's just life."

Slowly Luckas stood up straight, wiping some dirt from his clothes as he mumbled. "Your nightmares seem real because you make it so, Captain. All those little things you believe you're to blame for... Well, you are because in your mind, for some stupid reason, at some point you decided to be. Blaming these things on the dead boy is a rather pathetic attitude the way I see it. If you choose to feed your inner demons you have only yourself to blame when they eventually bite your head off." He smirked. "What I'm saying is... You've always been fucked up in the head... You just didn't know it yet. Now you do; you can do something about it or you can sit in a corner when no one is watching and wallow in self-pity, it's not my business which one you go for and I honestly don't care. I have my own fucked up head to worry about and a list of things I'd like to get done before it eventually explodes, soo... Yes, that's true; I can't go into your mind if I try, but that's because you really, really, don't want me to. If you were to let me, then I could. And we would never have to speak of this again, which, believe me, is something I really look forward to. Probably more than you."

Mageria finally sheathed her sword, standing up and turning around. "You're right Luckas. I'm fucked up in the head, quite possibly more than anybody around here realizes." She smiled bitterly. "But you've got me all figured out, don't you? Too bad that you can't see what's right in front of your face. Because if you could, you'd know why I survived." She strapped her sword to her belt in an absent gesture while she talked. "I hope you enjoyed this little chat, Luckas. Because it's as close as you are ever going to get to the inside of my head, ever again." With that she turned and walked back towards the main body of Raven camp, gliding smoothly through the underbrush.

Luckas shook his head, steadily pacing after Mageria as she walked away. "It was not my intention to even try to figure you out, Captain and I never pretended to give enough of shit to go through the trouble, but fine... If you're through talking about yourself, let me ask you something else then, just out of curiosity; after you killed Matthew, what did they do with his body? Did they bury him somewhere or is he still rotting down there where you left him? Do you even know?"

Mageria glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. "Normally we bury the bodies of prisoners in a cemetery we had set aside for them. Even the condemned deserve a place of remembrance. But after that fight there were too many bodies to bury while the wounded still had to be tended, so they were cremated on a mass pyre and their names were inscribed on the wall."

"Their names..." Luckas muttered under his breath, a hint of disgust crossing his voice. "Fine." He stated simply. "One other reason I've come was to say that I had a chat with poor Little Ella. She finally understands that she's going to have to die, even if she can overpower the necromancer and regain control. Apparently she couldn't figure that one out on her own; as I suspected intelligence isn't much of a requirement to rule a city. At least she has the chance to make her peace with it now. Isn't it a sad day for Valcrest when the only one thoughtful enough to bother with these little details is the psychopath?"

Mageria sighed softly. "I wasn't sure that she could hear anything I would have said and there was no point in speaking to the necromancer. So, thank you for that. Of course, in order to have talked with her, you would have had to have gotten past my people who were guarding the room she was locked in. Given that you still want something from me, I'm guessing that you didn't do anything permanent to them, because you know what I would do to you in return. So. Was there any reason for your conversation and you telling me about it?"

"Don't think my reluctance to harm your people has something to do with this, Captain, or that it'll stop me if one of them... I'm going to assume you'll know who I mean... Gets on my bad side... But your boys at the castle, they just took a little nap. The other dude who walked in on me wasn't as lucky, but that was self-defense." Luckas shrugged simply at the questioning. "I don't know if there was a reason for our conversation, Captain, depends on what you'd consider a valid reason. I did offer to kill her, permanently, but she didn't take up on the offer; probably because of the kid, but then... What kind of life is it going to have anyway? If mommy, uncle, and grandpa are anything to go by... well... Best of luck to the little bugger. And I just thought you'd like to know... That she's not suffering as much as she could be. That's... comforting... I think? Common courtesy is something that hasn't yet died on me, Captain... You did warn me I was being sought after by someone after all; I appreciated that. I think you probably shouldn't have told her you killed Matt though... Sammy really, really, wanted to find us both alive. And she can be a pretty dangerous person when she doesn't get what she wants. Like me, but with less restraints. She didn't say anything, but when she asked me who did it and I said I didn't know, well... She wasn't happy."

Mageria shrugged. "Well, I thought it was better to tell her the truth than to sit there and smile at her before she found out on her own. I take it she has the family talent of getting into people's heads?" She stopped as a sudden thought occurred to her. "Does she know, what happened between your brother and I? And that you can't get in my head?" She tilted her head to the side. "Is that why you want to know what happened so desperately?"

"Family trait?" Luckas chuckled. "First, Sammy said I'm her brother, and in a way that's true, but we're not blood relatives. Second, do you not remember what I've told you Captain? I wasn't born like this... There's not a drop of enlightened blood in my entire family line as far as any known test can tell. That was why Lena spent so much time poking around my mind instead of tossing me in a dungeon cell and that's a part of the reason I need to know what happened. Sammy is enlightened, yes, but what I am, what my brother was... It's something else entirely. Like I said, she hasn't told me anything, I don't usually like to talk about Matthew and she respects that, but if I were to guess... Sammy knows what happened well enough. There's a lot of things she's not quite ready to tell me yet and if there's one thing I've learned these past weeks, however, is that my memory is an incredibly unreliable source of information. So... Maybe, I'll get back to you when I know more. Maybe, because I've already been twice as helpful to you in thirty seconds than you have been to me in months."

Mageria had turned to say something when she stopped suddenly, lips slightly parted as she reran the conversation in her head.

I wasn't born like this... There's not a drop of enlightened blood in my entire family line as far as any known test can tell.

She actually had forgotten that Luckas had told her that; but in her defense, a lot had been happening recently.

"Yes," she whispered, "they would need a lot of children for that......". She turned abruptly and strode quickly to her cabin, stepping over Puppy as he lay across the threshold and climbing the steps to her workroom. Pulling the journal from a cabinet, she started flipping through the pages, searching for a passage that she half remembered.

Luckas frowned, a look of confusion spreading across his features as he watched Mageria freeze in place and then suddenly wander off. "Wait what?" He mumbled, only catching a couple of words she had whispered. He froze for a second while the woman was already walking off, causing him to have to run for a couple of steps to catch up. Following after Mageria to the door of her cabin, Luke stopped for a moment to briefly scratch Puppy's ears before wandering inside and just hanging around there looking really confused, but deciding that he needed to know what exactly had prompted that reaction. "Captain?"

"Hmmm? Oh, sorry, come on up." Mageria's entire demeanor had changed, now that she had a problem that she could work on. She pulled out a think bundle of notes and started laying them out in chronological order. She looked up as Luckas came up the stairs and reached out to pull him over by one arm.
"Here, look at this." She gestured at a map of Valcrest, small carved stones laid out across it. "Each of these marks the place where a village was raided and destroyed over the years. The weird part was..." She started laying the notes from the journal out next to notes from her own records. "The weird part was that we never found enough bodies. An entire village destroyed and all we would find were the people who died during the fighting." She reached out and touched the journal laying to the side. "According to this, though, they were planned as, cargo raids. With people as the main target." She pushed a strand of hair back behind her ear. "But it almost seemed like children were the main target, once you shift through the ramblings of that idiot. Which didn't make any sense, because children don't make good slaves." She carefully reached out and adjusted the position of a small ring of white unmarked stones. "Except if he wasn't selling them as slaves and instead, experiments? I doubt that this, what ever it was that happened to you and your brother, worked the first time. Which means that they needed lots of children to practice on." She reached out and tapped one finger on the journal. "I hope to meet him, someday."

Luckas stood, looking over the map, his expression seeming to darken for a moment as Mageria spoke. The word 'experiments' causing an involuntary twitch in the corner of his left eye. He couldn't remember everything, but he could remember well enough to know that his 'conditioning' or whatever they liked to call it had been far from pleasant. Throughout his silence Luke's face contorted in an expression of contempt and disgust as he tried to think of how many times they had tried this before it finally worked. Sam's words about her cats crossing his mind abruptly, her casually telling him how her father had made her attempt the imprint on twelve kittens, ten of which didn't survive... He and Matt were like those cats... There had been others before, but what about now?

Luckas heaved a deep sigh, his expression slowly changing to a void as he finally spoke. "I see... Well... There are things I can share and maybe they will help you, Captain. However, I have conditions. First: I've asked this before, but I'll ask again... Don't tell anyone that I'm not enlightened; absolutely no one. What was done or not to me is no one's business but my own. Second: Any information I have to give, believe it or don't believe it... Just don't ever ask me where I got it. These are my terms." Luckas stated simply, looking up from the map to stare Mageria in the eyes. "There is plenty I'm not going to tell you, Captain. I could, but I don't want to. There are many reasons for that, but the main reason is that at this point I don't feel I can trust you to trust me." Luckas paused for a moment, turning his attention to the map once again. "Lady mentioned to me a while back that children were being taken in Blackpond. I know that the person in charge of what was done to me is dead, because I have been searching for him. I've been digging around, I haven't found much about any recent activities, to be honest, but I can tell you some things I've learned about my past and of some places you can look for more information. That is, if my terms are acceptable to you."

"Agreed," Mageria didn't even hesitate before she spoke; if anything, children were her one weak spot. To keep this abomination from happening to any other child, she would make a deal with a demon. She met Luckas's eyes, her own expression as grave as his. She took a deep breath. "Help me make sure this doesn't happen again, Luckas, and I'll do my best to let you see why I survived."

"Alright." Luckas mumbled, not seeming too pleased with having to talk about these things, but suppose it was only fair. "I was born in Blackpond. When Matthew and I were around three or four years old our father was killed and out mother sold us to these people. She was not very good at her job apparently. I'm not sure how or when we were taken from there to Newhaven, I can't remember much of anything useful from that time except for voices. When Lena caught us playing with the Warlord Xypher in the Castle, I had recognized one of those voices in his mind. More recently I discovered the man's name is Bennett. He's a councilman in Newhaven still. He has been threatened very recently to keep his mouth shut about the past and if you do get him to speak no matter what anyone does to prevent it he is going to die or simply disappear. It seems the man in charge of the experiments offered us to Newhaven as an advantage in battle, he intended to raise a small army for sell, but since my brother and I proved to be too... Uncontrollable... The Newhaven people backed out of the deal, technically the whole operation was shut down. Mathew and I were to be killed, but..." Luckas shrugged slightly. "I don't know what happened next. I know they offered Blackpond the same deal, but they were already training their own assassins and good old Rory told them to fuck off... Look how well that ended for him..." Luckas snorted a slightly amused laugh at the irony and continued. "Like I said, the man who ordered this to be done to me is dead. The new leadership... Is something else entirely, something far more dangerous, far more subtle and far more deadly. And if, IF, they are taking children to do with them what was done to me and Mathew... They're not going to sell them out this time."

Luckas stopped talking for a while, crossing his arms over his chest. His tone was completely calm as he spoke, but there was noticeable tension in his posture as if speaking of any of this would immediately cause horrible things to happen to them both. He forced a deep breath before moving on. "In the past, oh, eight years or so, they have infiltrated Newhaven, Blackpond, the Wolfpack, the Crimson, and you can be damn sure that if they haven't infiltrated this camp yet they are at least watching closely. For what I understand, they have associates in powerful positions in several locations outside of Valcrest scattered across the continent. The only place they seem to shy away from is the White Shadows' territory, but with Lena gone the Shadows can't help even if they want to. They've pretty much taken over Blackpond at this point and the King doesn't seem to notice because he doesn't care, hell if he wasn't such a good distraction they would have taken him down and replaced him for someone more controllable by now; those assassins are only alive, basically, because they've been allowed to live. If you're feeling particularly adventurous, one other thing you can do is send a few of your guys into the city and try to get them into the fighting circuit, that's the only thing I've seen them allow outsiders into, and they'd surely see some stuff. The places aren't too hard to find if you go around the more quiet parts of town, the ones even the worse types seem a bit hesitant to wander through. I have to warn you though that those places are brutal and if anyone were to get killed down there you shouldn't expect to see any leftovers. I think it's not necessary to say that enlightened people are not very welcome in these places either." Luckas frowned, watching the leather journal Mageria had showed him, thinking on what she had told him. "This man, whoever he is, must serve some great purpose to them if he's still alive. Now that they're pretty much out in the open they've been eliminating anyone who has deeply involved in their affairs, but not this guy. I take it he must be important somehow."

Mageria laughed softly. "Important. Yes, you could say that." She absently started doodling the symbol she had seen over and over in the journal. "His name is Asher. He is, among other things, a weapons merchant. He sells to anybody with a bit of coin in their pocket, playing the Cities against each other. Till recently, he was living in that underground prison city in Blackpond. His currently location is unknown."

Mageria swallowed hard and held out the scrap of paper to Luckas. "The journal is in code, but this symbol repeats over and over, in reference to "Cattle". I believe that this is when he's selling the children." She waved one hand at the map. "Like I said, I think that I've narrowed down where their base might be. I've got some people out scouting the area now." She shrugged. "But if they happen to see children in trouble there.... I doubt that there will be much left after they get done with it."

"Asher..." Luckas mumbled under his breath as he stared at the symbol Mageria had sketched on a bit of paper. Of course he should have figured it would come up, but the fact that it was on this guy's journal was what surprised him, maybe Sam was wrong about how the symbol became known; if she knew that this guy had doodling it in his personal records it was doubtful that she would have let him get away with it. "I see..." He muttered. "I've seen the symbol before. That's about as much as I have to say on the matter." He replied shortly, clearly not wanting to dwell on the subject. "If I have any information on this Asher person or his whereabouts though I'll have no problem passing it along, or possibly fetching him personally, but then... I assume you'd prefer he'd be alive and sane enough to talk, yes? So maybe I shouldn't fetch him." Luckas opened a devious smile at the thought of hunting this guy, but then it was probably a bad idea to openly go after one of the Brotherhood's associates; Zeke would surely want his head for it. "One more thing Captain... I don't think I really need to tell you this, but just to be safe I will anyway; you shouldn't, under any circumstance, tell me about any plans. Not even if for some weird reason they involve setting my pants on fire; not even to give me fair warning, just don't tell me. Trust me, it wont be good for anyone if you do."

With that final warning Luckas silenced for a moment, wondering if he should or not mention this guy's journal to Sam. On one hand she might tell him something important, on the other... It may not go well in the long run. He needed to give that some thought. "I suppose..." He started. "...That's all the information I have to give at the moment, Captain."

Mageria nodded. “I promised if you helped that I would do my best to let you see what you wanted. Since there are things that you obviously don’t want to be told about…. It should happen before I make too many other plans.” Luckas opened him mouth to say something in return, then shut it with a snap. She was giving him what he wanted, no need to make her angry again. Instead he stepped forward and did his best to smile cheerfully. “I’m glad you finally came around to my way of things, Captain. Now if you could just relax….?” Mageria nodded and let her eyes fall half closed, taking deep, even berathes. Luckas leaned forward, concentrating…. It was like searching for an island in the mist. Every time he though he had a lock on the Captain’s mind, it slipped away again.
His eyes flared black several times before he sat back. “Captain, really. You need to let me in.”
Mageria sat up and glared right back. “I’m trying. I don’t even know how this happened in the first place.”
Luckas sighed and rubbed his forehead. “Just, try not to avoid me. Think of ripples on a pond or something.”

Mageria sighed and bowed her head, focusing on finding a still center in her mind. Her breath slowed and her face grew serene. Luckas leaned forward, cautiously reaching out again. This time he got the sense of walking through a dense fog, following somebody that he could almost see. He followed them for several minutes before what felt like a gust of wind blew away the fog and left him facing Mageria. They stood together in a shadow-drenched courtyard, just a few torches struggling to lift the gloom. Across from him Mageria stood in her Black Knight armor, heavily scared and dented here and there. It might have been a trick of the shadows, but it almost looked as if there were three people standing behind her; which wasn’t possible because he hadn’t invited anybody else along.
“You know Captain, a few plants would really brighten this place up.” Luckas couldn’t suppress the remark. When the woman could choose any sort of inner landscape, this was what you felt most at home in? Mageria shrugged. “You wanted to see what happened. It wasn’t exactly a vacation.” Luckas shrugged. “Whatever. Just show me and we can get this over with.”

Mageria winced, clearly not happy with the idea, but set her jaw and inclined her head. She rippled and vanished, and the scene wavered, before snapping into focus. Twin Mageria’s stood facing each other, one crazed and drenched in blood and one dressed in a simple tunic and leggings, her he=aid pulled back in a long tail. They seemed to be speaking to each other, but the sound was distorted, as if hear from the bottom of a well. Luckas moved closer, trying to get a grasp of what was going on, but the scene wavered and blurred, washing away like watercolors in the rain.

“DAMN IT CAPTAIN!!” he roared. He was so close and the stupid woman kept pulling away what he needed.

“You’re not going to get what you want that way.” A cool and slightly amused voice caused him to turn. The person who stood behind him…. Was not Mageria. Not completely. It was as if they were part of her, but a part that was separate on its own.
“Who the fuck are you?” It was a woman, dressed in an archaic black coat. It had a deep hood that covered her face, with a long white braid flowing down from it. The woman ignored the question. “You said it yourself earlier, this whole thing was about symbolism and hidden meanings. Did you really think you would understand it without a frame of reference?”
“Who. Are. You?” Luckas was rapidly loosing what little patience he had. Again, the woman ignored him.

“You need to know what happened. Are you willing to pay the price?” There was a brief flash of teeth in the darkness of her hood and she held out a hand. “It’s the only way you’ll get what you want.”
“Fine.” Luckas snarled. He reached out and grasped her hand in return. "What's the price?"
Again there was a feral gleam of teeth in the darkness. The hand grasping his clamped down until he could feel his bones creaking.

"Pain."

There was a brief twisting of his vision and then …. Somehow he was inside Mageria’s mind in a way that he had never experienced before. She/he stood across from the her/him that stood drenched in blood. It was as if all of the guilt and rage and evil thoughts they had ever had had been ripped away and stood before them, a personification of corruption. She/he could feel the horror of facing it and at the same was drawn to it. It was terrifying, being so out of balance. Somewhere in their mind there was a scream that went on and on and on……

Their opposite laughed insanely and leapt forwards, trying to strangle them with her/his bare hands. They screamed, feeling evil burning into their skin. They fought, but it was no use, they were too evenly matched. Mageria/Luckas tossed their head wildly. “No,” Luckas could feel his lips shaping the words as well as hers. “No, this is wrong. You are me. We are….balance.” The other froze for a moment and Mageria/Luckas took their chance. Lunging forwards, they wrapped their arms around the other, feeling corruption eating into their skin, into their selves, into their core.

The realization came suddenly. In order for Mathew to force one to face their evil, he had to draw it away from the rest of a person’s mind, making one half again into an innocent, before the burdens of the world descended upon them. When one was innocent, the idea of evil seems overwhelming. The first was always the harshest, staining the soul in a way that never washed clean. After that they became easier, as one became used to the weight of evil. But as he tore away the weight of evil, he also tore away the strength that came from facing the world. Mageria/Luckas realized that, knew that in order to face the world and make any difference for the better, they would have to accept the weight of that evil again.

Mageria/Luckas accepted evil back into their souls, feeling it etch itself into their selves, feeling the weight of a lifetime of harsh choices and sins and evil all burying them under what felt like the weight of a mountain. The evil worked it’s way deeper, forcing itself into every facet of their minds, staining them with blood that would never wash away….. And Mageria/Luckas accepted it, drew it in; because without it they would never have the strength to make the world a better place. And still the weight of that evil burned and burned and burned and she/he screamed………


Darkness descended.


Luckas spun in place, searching vainly for something to hold onto in the maelstrom that Mageria’s mind had become. He reached, looking for anything he could find. The same fog that had kept him out now made it almost impossible to find a way out. A snatch of a child’s laughter drew him in one direction, he followed it and found himself standing in a sunlit glad. A small girl ran past him, red hair flying. She looked over her shoulder and Luckas could see the hint of the woman she would become someday.

“Pappa!” she cried joyfully, running through the trees. “Pappa, come look!” she ran and was swung into the arms of a tall man, who threw her into the air with a laugh. “What is it now, my Ria?” The girl twisted around to point and caught sight of Luckas, gasping in fright. The scene twisted again, Mageria standing before him. She moaned and clutched at her temples, stumbling back a few steps. She bent over, gasping for breath and coughing. She looked up, teeth bared.

“Get. Out.”

In the real world, Mageria collapsed bonelessly to the floor, eyes rolling backwards.

----Later, After Essence collapses----


Darren didn't sleep much for the next few nights, staying up late to decode what he could as he waited for news on the Captain's return. It wasn't that he didn't know Mageria's time in the city was of great importance, he was just extremely antsy to find out as much information as he could to substantiate his theories. It didn’t help that the more time he spent on the journal, the harder it was to concentrate. He began obsessing, only taking breaks to eat, until finally he finished the first section. That was when he put the book down, if one could call it that as he tucked it back into his jacket. He couldn’t part with it, but at least he was trying to focus on something else. Anything else, really. Darren knew it wasn’t good for his sanity to have gone so long without sleep, but every time he closed his eyes he saw the little redheaded girl and felt nauseous.

Darren had heard Jake was back in camp, but only after the commotion the Captain broke up, took place. He had caught Irv leaving the scene prior but didn’t get to question him on the matter. He didn’t really care at the moment why Jake almost got stabbed, chalking it up to the bits he had procured when he shook the man’s hand. ‘Jake must really like his redheads.’ Darren thought to himself, snickering at the bits he overheard as he watched Aiden wait outside the medics cabin only to be turned away by one of the women who was with Essence. He waited another moment before making his way towards the Captain’s quarters, barely containing his haste. Mageria already seemed to have her hands full but he needed to see her and collaborate on what they both were able to discover. As he approached he saw Jake leaving, jokingly bumping his shoulder into the man’s side. “What is with you pissing off redheads, hm?” He half joked, but didn’t stop to wait for an answer. Darren felt his blood pounding in his ears when he revealed the journal from his jacket and went to knock on the door. He wanted to pound his fists against the door until he cracked the wood, but to the contrary the sound he made was soft; a little too quiet perhaps and he wondered if it would be overlooked as he went to knock again.

Mageria growled to herself as she finished pulling off her soaked clothing. The temperature had been hovering around freezing the past couple days and the damn river was cold. And now..... she listened and heard a soft repeat of the noise. Somebody was knocking.

She quickly wrapped herself in an old shirt and worn pants, noticing idly that they fit a bit looser than they used to. She didn't even glance at the mirror, knowing that there was more stark white showing in her hair than there used to be. Instead she grabbed a soft old knee length robe and wrapped it around herself as she went to the door, snagging a towel to try and wring some of the water from her hair.

"Darren," Mageria only raised one eyebrow at the man standing in the doorway. Given the journal in his hands, she could guess at what brought him to her door. "Please, come in." She lead him down the few steps into her sitting area, before kneeling down in front of the fire and throwing a few logs on. She warmed her hands for a moment before sitting down. "So, tell me. What have you learned?"

Where should I start? Darren thought to himself, standing and staring idly at the fire as the Captain tended to the flames. He inhaled a deep, shaky breath as he spoke, stuttering only at first. “We..Well..ok Irv made a copy of Asher’s ledger after Jake and him procured it for me, back in Blackpond and with all that came up at the Ball...I couldn’t wait to see what you had discovered so I worked to finish what I could in your absence. I found out my birth was apart of a business deal and that I apparently have siblings whom I’ve never met. Half sisters...Something that was going on between Ebony and my father. In his journal he talks about them as if they were experiments and that most were disappointments. He..also talks about his joy when he discovered I was a boy...his first son. I ...don’t understand what happened to the others…” Darren coughed, clearing his throat. “I do have my theories though...which leads me to you to ask what you have learned. This bit I can only guess was inventory or were transactions of sorts. He was smart in never placing names to incriminate any of his business partners or his dealings per say. Everything has a bit of poetic flare to it...and instead of inspiring...it sickens me.”

Darren flipped through the pages, pointing out bits and pieces to substantiate his findings as he showed the Captain before continuing. “...There’s much more….there’s a girl...who I can only imagine if she is still alive..is now a woman..but he obsesses over her...and it reads like he ‘saves’ her from the destruction of her village...but he gives her to someone who he dislikes but benefits from...and talks about her as a ‘Crone’. I’d like to think he means Ebony..but again only hints. When she is older...he talks about a love affair of sorts with her...and then again having his only son...which has to be me. There’s pages and pages of Asher talking about a business partner who got him where he is now, and how he hints at the man’s power, is unbelievable. If you knew my father...her fears no one or anything...except this man.” Darren paused and nodded as if motioning towards a particular part on the pages before the Captain. “See anything funny about the entries? Have you noticed a symbol that repeats itself anywhere else in the journal and especially when particular business dealings are mentioned? I don’t know what it means. Then, the Cattle he refers to. I believe...it may be a euphemism for… children.” Darren’s voice disappeared as he spoke the last word, casting his eyes towards the floor as if ashamed.

Lifting his head back up so his eyes met Mageria’s he continued, “Which is why I need to know what you found out. Not to mention I know for a fact what his last entry talks about. A few years ago, my father began my lessons with...explosives, which I’d like to think i’m pretty knowledgeable of at this point. Not to sound cocky but it leads to the point that I understand what these symbols stand for.” Leaning over the ledger he pointed at the bottom of the page. “..These are the components needed to create what is desired and he talks about getting massive amounts...but for what I don’t know. That is also why I need to find out what his dealings were and how often...there may be a pattern to everything. It must have to do with the reason I turned my back on Asher. You see...he was dealing weapons of all kinds to the major cities of Valcrest...and fueling the terror for YEARS...playing each one as a pawn against one another. Makes me think of a chess game..”

Darren trailed off, shaking his black curls roughly as if trying to shake off his disgust; as if there was something on him that was not coming off. He finally fell quiet, pondering if there was anything he failed to mention. "..But that's why I left my father and his business. I refused....to deal with those who are basically war profiteers."

"Darren... There's some things that once you know, they change the way you see the world. Very rarely are they good changes." She looked at his face and sighed. "Come along, there's something you need to see."

She lead the way up the winding staircase to her conference room. A map was laid out, small carved stones marking various locations in Valcrest.

"Assume that your father was moving cargo, whatever it was, that he wasn't getting lawfully. Easy enough to assume that, given that his journal is in code. Assume that he was getting large amounts of whatever it was, which could only get gotten by raiding. Each of these, is a village that was destroyed over the years. Some of the days match up. Enough for me to be sure. The thing is, all of these," she waved her hand again, briefly touching one of the stones. "All of these, indicate somewhere where there weren't enough bodies. It was never put together before now, but it's obvious that they were raided not only for the good but for the people too. And you're right." She pulled out a scrap of paper with the symbol drawn on it. "This most likely stands for children taken.....because this isn't the first time I've seen this. And if it's what I think it is, things are possibly worse than you know."

Darren obediently followed the Captain, quietly staring at the map of Valcrest laid out before him. “This world..will never be what I expected…” He whispered, absorbing the bits the Captain was connecting with the dates that coincided with the destruction of some of the villages destroyed out west. Darren pointed to a few different markings upon the map. “..If I remember my history correctly...those are the villages of Blackhurst, correct? I heard they are mere ruins now. I have never visited out West before. So...whomever my father is working with, you think had something to do with the destruction of those villages. And from what we’ve read, it seems he profited quite handsomely on their demise.” Darren sighed, shaking his head. “Do we know why the villages were destroyed? Were they casualties of war? What would someone want with so many children?”

Darren turned away from the map, flipping through the pages of the copy of his father’s journal, trying to ignore a dull headache that was forming between his eyes. “ I knew the Great Dragon would take her soul…” Darren muttered to himself, reaching to understand what it could mean, exactly. “...I read there were never any survivors….from those villages. Is that true? Not too sure what kind of information one would get from them…” Clearing his throat he changed the subject slightly, “Captain...was there anything recently dated? Maybe supplies to be moved? I know my father’s business has not halted, even away in prison. If only we could intercept...find proof of it all…”

Mageria hesitated and reached out, touching a small circle of stones set apart from the others. These were a plain white, where the others were carved or decorated in some way. "Here. One of the things I've learned as a commander is how to follow troupe and supply movements. From what I can understand from the movements reported in the journal, their base would be somewhere in this area. Darren" Mageria's voice cracked like a whip, halting him before he could move. "You need to consider why there were stealing children. Most of them didn't end up in the slave trade, we would have noticed that. Based on information I've gotten from other sources, I think." she swallowed carefully. "I think they've been experimenting on them. These aren't going to be people who you can go up against alone. We're going to do something about this, but if you try to rush in alone, I will have you restrained. We can't afford any slip ups that would warn them. This is going to have to be perfect." She turned and rested a hip against the table. "I need you to give me your word that you won't do anything stupid."

Darren pondered the Captain’s word carefully and nodded as he thought aloud, “...Not all were found dead...and you say because it would have been noticed...not all were put into slavery of some sorts. So why…” He paused, an exasperated and frustrated sigh escaping him as he looked at the Captain, his expression showing he had the answer and that it had been probably the most obvious. “...Replenishing their ranks….whoever they are..” Darren nodded. “...I understand and agree this is bigger than what we’ve been shown and it would take great numbers...maybe even an army...to take down the heart of it all. So yes, I will not go it alone because it would be foolish. I won’t mention anything to the others, but I should just make it clear that Irvin and Jacob Turner are the only one’s who know what I’ve been up to and have a clear interest in my findings. If you prefer, I will still be silent. Perhaps it would be better if you spoke with them...or at least Jake.”

Darren tucked the journal away in his jacket, taking one last look at the map before him. “..Asher...is not a stupid man, Captain. If he was out in the southwestern area of Valcrest, he most likely will be relocating, if not already moved. He would be splitting up his resources and whatever muscle he carries. Which means..if we search the nonconventional roads...those not normally traveled...we could get lucky.” Darren stood straight, a look of compliant obedience taking hold of his form. “..With your permission, Captain...I’d like to scout the area. Perhaps I can accompany one of your people?”

Mageria took a long look at the man standing in front of her and nodded gently. "Yes, I think you can. They will leave in the morning, so be sure to sleep well tonight. Pack for a scouting trip that will last for at least two weeks. It may be less than that, but better to be prepared." She smiled a bit crookedly. "I hope you find what you're looking for, Darren. And that you still want it, when you do."

Darren pondered the Captain’s word carefully and nodded as he thought aloud, “...Not all were found dead...and you say because it would have been noticed...not all were put into slavery of some sorts. So why…” He paused, an exasperated and frustrated sigh escaping him as he looked at the Captain, his expression showing he had the answer and that it had been probably the most obvious. “...Replenishing their ranks….whoever they are..” Darren nodded. “...I understand and agree this is bigger than what we’ve been shown and it would take great numbers...maybe even an army...to take down the heart of it all. So yes, I will not go it alone because it would be foolish. I won’t mention anything to the others, but I should just make it clear that Irvin and Jacob Turner are the only one’s who know what I’ve been up to and have a clear interest in my findings. If you prefer, I will still be silent. Perhaps it would be better if you spoke with them...or at least Jake.”

Darren tucked the journal away in his jacket, taking one last look at the map before him. “..Asher...is not a stupid man, Captain. If he was out in the southwestern area of Valcrest, he most likely will be relocating, if not already moved. He would be splitting up his resources and whatever muscle he carries. Which means..if we search the non conventional roads...those not normally traveled...we could get lucky.” Darren stood straight, a look of compliant obedience taking hold of his form. “..With your permission, Captain...I’d like to scout the area. Perhaps I can accompany one of your people?”

Mageria took a long look at the man standing in front of her and nodded gently. "Yes, I think you can. They will leave in the morning, so be sure to sleep well tonight. Pack for a scouting trip that will last for at least two weeks. It may be less than that, but better to be prepared." She smiled a bit crookedly. "I hope you find what you're looking for, Darren. And that you still want it, when you do."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Evin Bana Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Thomas Sidin Character Portrait: Lamya
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INK

The canopy of the wood completely blocked the sun from reaching the floor. It was a place that was constantly in a state of night time, which reflected itself in the way the wildlife had grown. There wasn't much foliage and that which did exist used their vines to climb the tree trunks and reach the light. Other plants worked in an opposite way. They would root themselves at the top of trees so they could take advantage of the sun's light. These plants would then create bioluminecient vines that would hang from the canopy—the only constant source of light in these woods—that created the appearance of low lit chandeliers. These vines, which glowed in a low blue light were used to attract incests which appeared to get stuck to the vine's fine hairs if they got too close. Other sources of wildlife were scarce in these woods. They did exist, but the woods didn't produce ideal conditions for any large animal to live in. The one animal that seemed to exist in abundance were birds, which ate the fruit produced by the vines.
Because of its almost surreal appearance, many people avoided it. Most people in general didn't have much reason to even travel near the woods. It was a small area across the waters east on Newhaven. It wasn't even on most maps as many people didn't actually know of the woods, but historically, they were famous.
In the final couple of decades of the Twins' life on Valcrest, many people feared what would happen when they were actually gone. In preparation for the separation, many people looked to the Twins to fix as many problems as they could before hey were gone forever. The Twins, however, couldn't handle so many requests and isolated themselves completely from the people to live their last days harmoniously. Each of them found their own place to hide away. It was believed that Moon found herself these woods to hide in. Only the oldest of histories had maps that actually placed this kilometre stretch of woodlands on them.
The Moon's Woods was the place that Simon found himself residing in the past two months. It was a fair distance from his target, but it allowed himself a safe haven from anyone else who may have been looking for him. It was his continuing effort to track Rick down and figure out exactly what he was up to.
It was finally time to leave the woods however. He had settled down for long enough and it was time to actually take some action. It seemed like Rick was about to take action of his own. There was that and then there was Ella, who was due to give birth any time now. He wanted to be as close to the political world of Newhaven as possible to be able to place Lazurus in a political advantage. He hadn't exactly followed the politics of Newhaven too much in the past couple of months as he slowly isolated himself from the rest of the world, but he knew that with all of the recent corruption and the civil war, a possibility of a coup d'etat was more than realistic as long as he could get his opinion out there. Technically, Ella was still a living member of House Page.
It had been a while since Simon had attempted his powers. He was getting rusty so it would seem and with all this enlightenent scare, he was worried that he was experiencing it too. With some people symptoms weren't as sever, but they seemed to die just as quick as all the others had so far. Simon didn't spend much time worrying of the unavoidable. He had no control over it, but he did have control over Rick and the goings on in the political world of Newhaven. Simon was going to attempt it though. He had to. He needed to be in Newhaven as quickly as possible and if he could use his powers to take advantage of a quicker way to Newhaven, he was going to go right ahead and do it.
Simon closed his eyes out of habit and attempted to find the mind he was looking for. It was a force of habit to close his eyes. Most of the time, when he was looking for a mind, he was able to tap into it without the need of anyone attacking him and closing his eyes allowed him to really focus on his task.
He was looking for a specific person. Someone he had contacted several times before with ease, but now that Rick's mind skating on the edge of crazy, he wasn't sure how easy it would actually be to find him now. On top of that, there was the illness, but again, Simon couldn't think about that.
It only took him about ten minutes to find Rick, but the moment he did, he didn't even bother to let him know that he was in his mind. He just compelled the insane man to follow Simon's will.
What Simon willed was rather clear. He wanted Rick to transport him from the woods to into the council room of Newhaven. What better way would there be to make a grand entrance than to just appear out of nowhere? And how would the council react? Simon didn't concern himself with that. He could escape if need be. The council wouldn't attack him on sight... but given the way that Newhaven was at the moment, any threat to to sovereignty of Newhaven would probably be an immediate risk to them.
Let's see how this goes.
And with that thought, Simon was able to compel Rick to transport him. In an instant, he was flashed from the dark woods to a dark corner of the council room. Somehow, Rick was sane enough to actually put him in a relatively safe spot. It allowed him to get over his initial nausea that was associated with Rick's enlightenment. The entire council wasn't there; only the important ones it seemed. That was all that mattered. Simon a justed himself to look presentable to the council and then took the first steps out of the shadows.
“His name is Rick.” One of the councillors said.
Simon stopped himself before anyone could see him. He crept back into the shadows very slowly and listened into the conversation.
The man who spoke was older in his years, but seemed sharp enough in his wit to be able to keep up with the rest of the council. “No last name.”
“Lowborn?” Another of the members said.
“Quite the opposite actually. He—”
“Then he's an assassin.”
“Not all assassins are Lowborn. I also wouldn't call a meeting about a Lowborn assassin. Now let me finish.” The gangly old man slowly took his seat around the table and out of sight from Simon as the man's chair was behind a pillar in the room. “The man who was found wandering the halls of the Black Knights' chambers was Rick, the King of Blackpond.”
The entire room became heavy. Many of the councillors looked around at each other, exchanging looks that would only be able to be interpreted by a person fluent in the nuances of Newhaven nobles. An entire conversation of subtle facial gestures made its way across the room. Maybe it was more than one conversation? Everyone member in the room that Simon could see helped in this conversation and made the heavy room even weightier.
“Then he isn't a Lowborn, he's of a Royal family!” The man blurted out again.
“Do you ever shut up? During our first session of torture, despite the fact that he was laughing the whole way through, he revealed to the torturer that he was not a member of the Gallach family through blood or marriage. He passed out before we could get many more answers out of him.”
One of the council members spoke up. A younger member of what seemed to be mostly senior members. “What could we do with this information?”
The room remained silent. No one, it seemed, had an answer. They all sat and stood there with the same dumbfounded expressions as they did before the blabber mouth had broke the tension before.
Simon himself was dumbfounded. Rick was roaming through the halls of the Black Knights. He understood why, but it just seemed reckless the way he went about it. A man who could teleport anywhere he desired could have just gone right into the exact room that he wanted. Why risk a hallway which would have likely be busy?
“Now is our chance to take claim on Blackpond. They are week.”
“So are we.” Pipped up Thomas. “And personally, taking care of Newhaven is work enough.”
“We should do what is right. There are still people who wear Gallach's crest. Rory had blood relatives still living. We could attempt to bring a rightful King back on Blackond's throne. We may even see an end to war if we could unite the two cities under a single fact.”
“What is that?”
“If we could show the people the weakening quality of royalty through war. Both Newhaven and Blackpond have seen false Kings in recent years.”
“And show the criminals that they could easily manipulate the royals if they continued to fund the war? It is already obvious that Newhaven is weak, we cannot afford to show the people how weak.” Thomas said, again.
“If we do help to place a Gallach on the throne, we may improve relations between Newhaven and Blackpond regardless.”
Another member spoke out. “We are jumping to conclusions here. We are assuming that the living members of the Gallach family know that Rory is a pretender without a proper claim. It is possible that we will just create new enemies if we go about with this option.”
Thomas stood from his place in the table to address everyone in the room. “We will adjourn to allow some time to think about it. Please look over the documents we discussed in that time and we will meet back in three hours to pick up where we left off. I'll see you then.”
All the men silently began to stand from the table. Simon took this as his chance. He didn't move from out of the shadows. He just tapped into the people's minds and said, “Please, sit back down. Ah! Don't worry, I'm not here to hurt anyone. I'd just like to talk. You spend time talking of planting the rightful king in Blackpond, but you seem to refuse to do so in Newhaven. Ella Page is still alive. You recognize her as alive as you seem to believe that her son is the rightful heir to the throne. You cannot bear a child from the grave. You have usurped the throne from a living member.”
“What do you want?”
“All I want is to see in Newhaven what you want to see in Blackpond.”
“Ella no longer has faculty over her own actions. There is someone else who is under her control. While she is alive, she is barely living.”
Simon examined the room of people. Some of them had left. The guards were on edge, some even holding their swords. The ones who were actually interested in his proposal respectfully payed attention. The rest didn't bother to pretend to care about the crazy man in their head.
Simon smiled and walked out of the shadows. The guards jumped to attention, drawing their swords in a challenge to Simon. “Relax. If I was going to attack anyone I would have done it from my hiding place. I want to make a deal. I want to directly help you get the right people back on the throne.”
“How can you help? Who do you think you are?”
“My name is Simon of Blackpond. I am 4th in command of the group who is directly involved in the continuing control of the city of Blackpond. Formally a personal assassin of King Rory and directly involved in the assassination of Commander Hastings, the man responsible for the murder of the King. The new King, Rick, has gone mad, due to a battle of minds between an attacker and I that battled with in Rick's mind. He is no longer valuable as a King, but he is valuable for reasons which I can respectfully not indulge. All I want is the immediate and safe return of Rick. I will leave it up to you to make a decition about Ella or I will make the decition for you.”
The council member who had been quite vocal in the meeting before was quick to speak out to Simon. “This is in no way a help to Newhaven. It is only beneficial to Blackpond.”
“Ah, but you are wrong. You see, most of these people who have placed Newhaven in civil conflict are doing so under the direct orders of the real person in charge of Blackpond. You see, Rick, even before his decent into madness, was merely a puppet. A new ruler could stop this civil war.”
“We will need some time to think about this.” Thomas said.
“There is no time.” Simon scorned. “I could do this all my own way and continue to watch Newhaven fall into descent. I, however, believe I am a decent man. I want to see Newhaven to be as healthy as I want to see Blackpond, but I don't have time to wait for diplomats to disagree. This is why I like monarchs. They know what they want.”
The council fell silent again. They did that a lot. They seemed to enjoy their facial conversations. All of them seemed to come to the same conclusion. They all looked at Thomas expecting him to have the answers. It seemed that even the council preferred a single leader. Thomas let out an audible sigh.
“I believe you when you say that you can free Rick by yourself and if what you say is true, he is no use to us. You can have him as long as you follow some rules. I will speak to Mageria and arrange for a Black Knight to accompany you around the city. You will not be allowed to leave the city as long as I say and you will check in every day at three in the afternoon to report personally to me. If I am not available, I will arrange for you to speak to someone else. There is no compromise.”
“You are thrifty indeed. You have a deal.” Simon said quite contently.

Woods-Just Outside the Wolfpack

Evin had thought about visit the White Shadows like Crys had suggested, but he just couldn't. He had to keep on going. He had to make sure that everything that needed to be done was done. The White Shadows might have been able to help Evin slightly, but all that they were going to do was contain him in a tent and ease his pain until he peacefully passed. Evin didn't know how to peacefully pass by anything.
Despite Evin's fight, he was really sick. His bloodshot eyes were shadowed by dark rings, only to be accentuated by his ghostly skin. His hair was course and brittle, greying nearly to the point where there was no longer any black left. He no longer carried any fat on him. Everything was muscle and bone. Although, people who never saw him before would not be able to tell that he had lost weight. People who had seen him would still be quite frightened of his appearance.
He needed to figure out what to do with himself, but there was something about the air that was unsettling to him. He sensed this inevitable, impending sense of helplessness in the air and it reflected in the way that the Wolves interacted, whenever he took the time to go see what they were doing. He needed to be there when things blew over. He needed to know what was happening.
This made Evin think. What was it about the Wolves that made him keep coming back? Why did he see the need to obsess over it? He could have been doing better things with his time. He could have gone to help Crys in Blackpond. He could have gone to Newhaven to assist in the ongoing war. He even could have gone to the White Shadows, not to ask for help with his sickness, but to see if he could figure it out for himself. All of these were far more productive then sitting around the camp and doing nothing because he had a feeling. Maybe the sickness was effecting his mind too.
Today, Evin was going to get closer to the camp. Not to get a sight on the things going on in the Camp, but to attempt once more to gain some peace of mind like he used to.

Blackpond

The morning air was clean and the sun, strong. The birds chirped in the surrounding trees. Each of them making their unique sound to add to the music of the morning. It was going to be a nice spring day, but everything about the day also warned of an unusually warm spring day. Being well aware of all of that knowledge, Rita stood in front of her lines, looking towards the lines of the enemy. Surprisingly, at the head of the lines, Lamya stood proudly on top her horse. She looked just as good as ever—bitch.
There was no afflictions to her body, no deterioration or anything of the likes that would indicate sickness, but she had to be sick. Everyone else was sick. How could she get away with it? Just like everything else in her life, things just seemed to pass her by.
“Sargent.” Rita shouted. A burly man rode up to him on a horse and acknowledged her. “Move the cavalry behind the lines and use the cover of our men as away to get to the line's left flank. When our men start charging in on the cavalry, run into their flank and intercept them. Got it?”
“Yes ma'am.” The sergeant answered and then shouted orders to his cavalry fleets.
Hopefully, if things worked out to plan, the opposing army out suspect something, but not enough to be concerned. Rita's second line consisted of pikemen, which could hold their own against Lamya's horsemen. Pike men usually wouldn't charge against the cavalry, however. This would be what was odd. Rita was about to see if her plan would work. As she could see from her aerial view of the battlefield, her cavalry was almost in position.
Rita turned to her armies. “This battle may not be one that will turn the tables of war, but it isn't without purpose! Today's battle is a message to those who wish to see Blackpond fall completely into the shadows! We will not be forgotten!” Rita turned and pointed her sword towards the opposing army. “Charge!
With near immediacy, a wave of bodies flocked past Rita. She could feel the cool air as they ran by and the warmth of the bodies when they would hit her. It was a unique feeling when coupled with the knowledge that this sensation was being caused by something hat was going to end in blood. All the while, she watched things from above. Her pikemen moved forward while the cavalry on the other side waited. When the pikemen got close enough, Lamya's cavalry charged. But it was too late by then as Rita's cavalry caught the flank of Lamya's off guard, allowing them to charge five men into the line before the men on Lamya's side could prepare themselves. It also made enough of a dent that the pikemen were far more effective when they finally reached the front lines. So far, things were going according to plan. However, after the first few moments of a battle, like a game of chess, anything could happen. It was clear, though that Rita had momentum and she didn't want to give it up.
Rita turned around to face her next line of men. With one swoop, she moved her vision to about five feet above her head, in order to see he entire group of soldiers. They mostly consisted of men carrying heavy and light swords, mace and axes. “Follow me! We shall try to take their other flank!” She yelled loud enough for the first few lines to hear. The rest would follow.
She turned back around and began to march her men, not too quickly—there was no need to tire out her troops just yet. They marched to the left. They started to move around the battle and into the flank of the enemy. If she could get Lamya surrounded o three fronts, she might be able to finish this battle quicker than even Rita expected.
While Rita arched, she heard a small whistle from her side and almost from out of nowhere, a swarm of men came from the trees and began attacking Rita's foot soldiers. Rita hadn't even anticipated such an attack. She was caught completely off guard as two men rushed her, one slightly in front of the other. Rita, parried the first attackers sword right into the second attacker so that it would penetrate the weakness in the second attacker's armour. This only left Rita with the one attacker standing. The second one was still alive, but he'd be lucky if he could stand.
Rita took the moment, it took for the attacker to take his sword out of his friend to make her counter. A series of swings centring around the waist. She just needed one could strike and she would have him. One false move and the man would be dead. With her third swing, she got just that. He had over predicted force which she swung her sword. His sword deflected just a little more than he was expecting, giving Rita the chance to get her sword in.
When he fell, she finished him with a sword through the throat. The gurgling and splashing blood that came up made her know that she didn't hit the jugular like she intended, but rather the wind pipe. There was nothing worth doing for the person now. He was either going to bleed out or choke on her own blood and she had no time to be merciful. Rita observed the battlefield from where she was. She didn't bother changing her point of view yet. She wanted to see if she was any immediate danger When it didn't look like it, she swung her view up to the sky to get a good view of the entire battle and see where things were.
Before she got a good look, she felt something hit her side with incredible force. She hit the ground and stumbled for what felt like several feet. She immediately changed her view to see what was going on to her. All the while, she attempted to gather breath back into her chest, but all in vain. It was as if she had a whole in her chest or she was breathing through a small hole. Nothing she did allowed her to get any breath into her. When she somewhat got her bearings and her vision wasn't so blurred, she could see the culprit. It was the only person on the entire battlefield who wouldn't have immediately went for a killing blow. For whatever ridiculous reason or possibly for no reason at all (she didn't really know), Lamya didn't just kill her.

Newhaven

Simon had been waiting outside of Thomas' office for a long time now. Mageria and another Black Knight accompanied him in the room. It had been nearly an hour now, but it seemed longer. Any time when Simon had to wait on other people, he found that he would tend to get frustrated. He hated the incompetence of most other people in almost every aspect of living. No one could ever truly live up to his standards. Maybe his expectations where too high, but without high expectations nothing would ever get accomplished. Things like a simple meeting to discuss how to deal with something that had already been discussed before seemed pointless to Simon.
About half way through his meeting, he started o play games with himself to pass the time. At first, it was a game he was playing with a fly he found wandering the hall. He watched it and gave it tasks to do. If it flew to different places, it would gain points. He knew that the fly had no idea it was plying the game, but it was still enough to entertain himself. Eventually, however, the fly was killed by one of the guards standing about the hallway.
The next game he played was with the guard who killed the fly. He would get into his mind and say things to him. At first, he made it seem like they were just intrusive thoughts like crude thoughts about a woman walking by or a desire to just do something that would probably get himself in trouble. Slowly, he made the thoughts even more intrusive until even the most evil of men would be scared by the thoughts. The entertainment of the game came from watching the poor guard contemplate his sanity. Once that game was over, he was out of ideas for games. That didn't matter. It was only another minute or so after he stopped playing that the door opened. Mageria was the first to leave. She continued down the hall with the guard, not even taking a moment to look at Simon. Then the Black Knight and Thomas came out. They both looked at him.
“This is the Knight who ill be accompanying you until the Knight that we've agreed upon next visits the city. When the other Knight arrives, you will be given a few more liberties. We'll discuss them when he arrives. I'll see you here tomorrow. Dominic here will show you to the dungeons.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Evin Bana Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Thomas Sidin Character Portrait: Sham (No Last Name) Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Indrani Nayar Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Annie Turner
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Footnotes

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INK

[Raven's Nest - Otium 18, late afternoon]

Luckas sighed, holding back a laugh. They had been doing this for a while now; Lily had found him the moment he arrived in the Nest and been following him around ever since, chasing him for a bit then standing in front of him, staring for a few seconds, then yawning vigorously. After some time of making the girl chase him down for this; with no explanation as to why whatsoever, Luckas finally stopped trying to get away and just sat down by the oak, compliant, watching as she stared at him for long periods of time and then let out another exaggerated yawn, Stalker joining the girl in her yawning and eventually just curling up beside Luckas and taking a nap. Finally, Lily threw her arms up in the air in clear frustration and stormed off. Luckas was intrigued, so he jumped to his feet and went off after her.

Lily hadn’t gone far, she was standing beside an amused looking Jason, arms crossed and a severe expression that was a clear imitation of the one Jess would give the children at bedtime. “It doesn’t work!”

“There’s nothing wrong with the test, Lily.” The boy responded as if not wanting to explain anything more than that.

“Nuh-uh!” Lily protested. “I did just like you said and it didn’t work at all.”

“Okay...” Luckas snorted a laugh. “What is going here? What was that all about with the yawning and why are you two arguing?”

“It’s an empathy test,” Jason explained.

“An empathy tes-...” Luckas cut himself off, a look of understanding spreading across his features slowly. “I see.” Luke sighed, scratching the back of his head awkwardly. “Well, it doesn’t mean something is wrong with the test, Miss Lily... It just means I didn’t pass.”

The girl shook her head stubbornly. “That’s not right. Because you’re not mean so you should pass!” She argued.

Luke arched an eyebrow at the girl. “Is this an empathy test or a meanness test, hm?” He questioned playfully. “Listen, kid, it doesn’t mean I don’t have any empathy. I just have... a lot less of it than most people. So your test wouldn’t work on me because tests are made for regular people. You understand? Either way, not having empathy doesn’t necessarily mean a person is bad. It means it’s easier for them to do bad things because they wouldn’t feel bad about them.”

“But I think you have lots of empathy! You do nice things all the time.” Lily argued. “You tell us stories, and you help Jess with Danny even if you don’t really have to... And you make Miss Ess smile all the time... and stuff...”

Luckas snickered. “Do I? Huuh...” He mumbled, scratching his head playfully as though he hadn’t actually noticed these things before. “Weeeird.” Noting the girl’s confused expression Luckas sighed crouching down to her level. “Listen, Little Miss, I’m nice to you because I like you, yes? I like Miss Ess... and Jess is just very, very, bossy, you know? It’s easy being good to people you like. Good people are good even when it’s not easy. That’s something I can’t do.”

Lily frowned a bit as she thought about Luke’s words, making a face as if she had tasted something bitter. “Are you saying that to be good you have to be nice to people even if you don’t like them?”

Luckas laughed at the girl’s expression. “Nah, Miss Lily, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that good people don’t do bad things to people just because they don’t like them, or because they can. They would feel bad if they did.” He asked, standing up straight and waiting for her to nod in response before starting to walk back the way he came, purposely keeping his pace relaxed, knowing that the questioning wasn’t quite over yet.

“So you’ve done bad things to people just ‘cause you didn’t like them?” Lily asked, following after Luckas.

“Sometimes. More often than that because I could.”

“Why?”

“Why not?” Luckas retorted, his tone almost bitter, yet he halted and glanced at the girl with the corner of his eye, softening his next words. “That’s what empathy’s for, Miss Lily. It tells you why not.”

“Mister Luckas... Why do some people don’t have empathy then?” The girl asked.

Luckas shrugged casually and resumed walking. “I don’t think anyone knows, Miss Lily. Some people say that you are either born with empathy or not. Others think that people learn empathy from their parents when they’re still babies and that if something really bad happens then, or if they have no one to teach them, they never learn. Nobody knows which is true, though.”

“My Mommy and my Da taught me then!” Lily stated proudly. “You didn’t have a mommy to teach you?”

Luckas snorted slightly. “Not really.”

“Is she in Heaven like my mommy?”

“No,” Luckas mumbled. “No, she’s... She’s alive, but... She wasn’t a very good mommy. See, she didn’t want to take care of me or my brother; so she gave us away to some bad people.”

“Like the bad people taking children away now?”

Luckas frowned deeply but kept his tone relaxed. “You heard about that, huh?”

“We hear lots of things. Jess says we’re not supposed to, but...”

“I see,” Luckas smirked, a little bit amused. He stopped walking as he reached his spot by the oak and was greeted by Stalker lazily getting up from his nap to lick his hand. Luke scratched behind the wolf’s ears and sighed, unable to lie to the girl; even about this. “Yes, those people were something like that.”

“How could she do that?” Lily asked, clinging to Stalker as if he was a giant teddy bear and peeking at Luckas from behind a cover of black fluff.

“She had no empathy; not for us anyway.” Luke shrugged, sitting down by the tree and forcing a smile that was rather unconvincing. “You shouldn’t worry about that, it was a very long time ago.”

“Well, you know what? You have lots more empathy than she did.” Lily stated firmly. “So you didn’t need her to teach you anyways.”

Luckas shook his head but agreed with the girl, not wanting to extend that conversation any more than necessary. “I suppose you’re right Miss Lily.” Luke went silent for a little while before smiling wickedly at the girl. “You know what, I could really use some tea right now. Should we have some tea, Miss Lily?”

Lily’s eyes lit up in excitement as she vigorously nodded. “Okay! Wait here, I’ll be right back!” She exclaimed, running off towards the Captain’s cabin.

Luckas watched the girl wander off, his expression darkening considerably now that she couldn’t see him anymore; a reddish hue lingering underneath the dark of his eyes.

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

[Raven's Nest - Otium 18, early evening]

Luckas’ spirits had lifted considerably while having ‘tea’ with miss Lily. For the most part, he had let the girl talk his ears off about all the new people gracing the Nest with their presence and how she had tried to sneak a look at the Queen but was caught by Jess before she could manage a peek. Luckas’ interest in Ella or Jake’s prisoners was barely existent and his only addition to the conversation at this point was to stress the fact Lily should absolutely not go near any prisoners under any circumstance. The girl rolled her eyes at him but agreed. After a while, Jess came by to break up their play date and Lily gathered her things in a hurry to join the other kids for supper, telling Luckas he could keep the shiny paper crown she’d given him to wear. It was a nice looking piece of sparkly paper, and Luke held on to it, even though he didn’t quite see himself as a crown-wearing kind of guy.

It didn’t strike him as odd that he hadn’t seen Ess since he arrived in the Nest, or the amount of drills the Ravens had been running lately. He knew better than anyone that all hell was going to break loose soon enough. It only made sense that the camp be this busy. While usually Luckas would have made it a point to find her, even if just to see what she was doing, this time, he decided to just wait by the oak and enjoy a quiet moment. Those plans were almost immediately thwarted by a loud sneeze and an annoyed whine.

“Hey, Tala...” Luckas sighed. “I know, I forgot to change, I smell wrong. Just deal with it, alright? I had a rough couple of days, I just want some quiet.”

Tala let out a short bark, and continued sniffing and prodding Luckas, whining in protest to his scent and when it became clear to the wolf that the man wasn’t going to anything about his ‘condition’, she took action herself, persistently rubbing her fur against the man’s clothes face and hair.

“Ugh, Tala, no, stop it,” Luckas complained, shoving the wolf aside and getting up on his feet. “Fine, for fuck's sake, I’ll go wash up.” He muttered, retrieving a clean set of clothes and the boots Ess had given him from his travel bag and starting towards the river. “I’m not one of your pups, you know? Just because you stopped trying to bite my face off doesn’t mean I have to listen to you.”

Tala barked in response, following after Luckas and still sniffing at his heels.

“Knock it off,” Luckas mumbled, glaring at the wolf. “You couldn’t just cut me a little slack for once, could ya? Noooo... ” He continued to mutter at the wolf under his breath as they reached a more secluded area in the outskirts of the camp. He nudged Stalker, the wolf tracking ahead to make sure there was no one currently at the water pool. It was unlikely, but seeing as some of the women in the camp often bathed there he’d rather not risk it. The wolf’s short howl told Luckas that the area was clear and the man continued on, annoyance still clear in his voice as he mumbled to himself. “As if I didn’t have enough to worry about... No one would even notice if you didn’t make such a big deal every time... bloody wolf...”

Luckas was quick to strip naked and get in the pool, feeling a bit of shock from the cold water as he sunk in and exhaling sharply as it subsided. The idea of bathing in the Nest was unappealing to him for several reasons, but most of all because if anyone so much as glimpsed the mark on the back of his shoulder he would be done for. “Do you have any idea, the risk you’re making me take? Hm? Maybe you are still trying to kill me.” He muttered at Tala, resting both arms on the edge of the pool and glaring at the wolf. Tala responded with a snort, inching closer and taking a whiff of Luke’s hair before licking his nose, seeming satisfied that he was clean. “Yeah, yeah, I’m watching you.” He chuckled as the wolf wandered off, most likely to find Ess.

When Luckas returned to the Nest, once again thinking of just going back to the Oak and relaxing. Once again, his plan was immediately thwarted when he spotted Clayton stalking this man along the camp, the boy looking very determined and scared out of his mind at the same time. It took Luckas half a glance to know that man was far from the innocent victim he was making himself out to be. Luckas gestured for Stalker to hide and the wolf immediately disappeared in the woods. Luke then walked straight to Clayton and grabbed the boy by the collar of his shirt. “What, if I may ask, do you think you’re doing?” He snapped.

Clayton winced, eyes widening at being caught. “Uh, I...”

Luckas pulled the boy further away so that he was now standing between him and the stranger. “You don’t go around shoving your hands into people’s pockets like that! Who’s been teaching you this stuff?”

“Irvin did, but...”

“Irvin is an idiot. Which is not surprising considering the idiot in charge of his training.” Luckas snorted, softening his tone a bit when he realized Clayton was just about to start crying on him. “Listen to me, Clay; you do not prey on people blindly like this. Just because they look distracted it doesn’t mean they are. And if they’re pretending to be, you have to ask yourself...” He glanced at the man. “...Why?” He let go of Clayton’s shirt. “If you want to practice, practice on the guard. You’re not ready for this, do you understand?”

Clayton nodded slowly. “Okay.”

“Okay. Now go find Jess, go on. You should be going to bed by now.”

“Okay, I will. Thank you, Mister Luckas.” Clayton smiled, peeking at the stranger for a bit and waving. “Bye Mister Creepy Man!”

Luckas snorted a chuckle as the boy ran off. “So... Mister Creepy Man...” Luke muttered, now taking a good look at the stranger and immediately recognizing his face. “Mind telling me what your plan was with the kid? Because there're only two kinds of people I know who would willingly lead a child to reach into their pockets, but seeing as you’re Captain’s friend I’ll be kind enough to assume you are neither.”

Evin hadn't left his commandeered hut since he'd arrived. Keeping his eye on Ella was his top priority. However, in the Nest, he keep know that there was a certain level of safety. He could leave the cabin for a short while and while most of the previous Black Guards didn't know him, Evin knew them all too well. He'd tasked some of the better guards to protect the hut before leaving the cabin's sight. It would give him a chance to take a look around the camp and to keep up with the goings on around camp.
He'd only just left when he heard soft shuffles scuttling behind him. Evin didn't indicate at all that he knew he was being followed but continued on with a little more caution. He slowly circled around himself, taking note of his tracks on the ground as he walked by them. It was a kid. A younger one, at that. Evin relaxed. He led the kid on a wild chase through the camp until eventually finding a rather secluded place to stop. Rather irritated, he took his shoe off, shaking it as if there was a rock inside. When he felt rummaging through his pocket, he gently chucked his shoe over his head.
“Ouch!” The kid yelped.
“I don't know what you look like. Make sure you keep it that way, kid. Drop the string behind me. You can keep the copper pieces.” Evin said with a stern tone.
The kid scuttled off again, but not before he heard him shout, back a farewell to Evin. Am I really that old?
Then a younger man walked up to him. He looked no older than twenty with deep-set black eyes and black hair which seemed to partly cover his face.
“I have a hard time presuming that you walk around this camp and don't at least know my name. I'm Evin. Now that you know my name, you can use it.”

Luckas crossed his arms over his chest and looked at Evin with an eyebrow raised. “I know your name, sir. Mister Bana. Mister Evin. Mister Ev... J-Bear has some other names for you, I could use one of those as well.” He shrugged lightly. “So, yes, I can use your name. There’s a great many deal of things I can do, in fact. Just because I can, though, doesn’t mean I will.”

Luke unfolded his arms and ran his fingers through his hair, noting it was still damp from his impromptu bath. His smoothed his locks and picked the shiny paper crown miss Lily had let him keep earlier from his pocket. Unfolding the hat and placing it over his head. “There was one person I sometimes... Sometimes... Called by name,” he said, casually. “Sometimes I called her Lena. Most times I just called her Evil Bitch. We had a complicated relationship, but in my defense, she didn’t seem to mind that. She did mind what you called her, though. She didn’t say it but she minded, and you knew that she minded... Yet you did it anyway.” Luke’s eyes narrowed at Evin and sparkled red for a moment before his posture relaxed. Once again he shrugged at the man. “You did it because you knew that she minded and I think, hey far from me to judge, but you know... At the same time, you’re one to talk when it comes to how people address you. Mister Assassin Man.” Luckas’ face scrunched up for a moment as he thought over the name. “Nah... Mister Frowny Man? Mister Frowny Assassin Man? Mister Crankypants? Hmmm... I’m a bit off my game today, but no worries... I’ll find one that suits you soon enough.”

Eyes glossed over as Evin listened to this man drone on. He wasn’t even sure what the black-haired little brat was saying, but Evin indulged him the opportunity to continue talking. Evin wouldn’t have liked to say it, but he felt above this sort of condescending conversation from total strangers. He replied with the only thing that seemed dignified the conversation, “okay”and he moved on his way, towards what seemed to be the smell of some freshly cooked rabbit.

“I’m glad you agree,” Luckas said as he continued wandering off after Evin, eyeing him as though trying to make out what kind of person he was. After a few steps he whispered under his breath, it was a soft command, simple, one that might go unnoticed to someone naturally prone to tripping over their own feet, which was what Evin ended up doing. He caught himself, but Luke didn’t mean to cause a fall, only slow him down. He used the man’s misstep to run ahead of him and get in his face, looking into his eyes and catching a glimpse of the freshest memories on his mind. “You seem preoccupied, Mister Grumpy Man... You worried about Little Ella? Is she still not done playing puppet to that idiot? I told her I could help her, but she said ‘no’. No. ‘Cause of the kid I guess.” Luke smiled. “Always took her for a wimp, but even I have to admit that’s commendable. I don’t think anyone would fault her for wanting an easy way out in this case.”

Evin jumped to life at the mention of Ella. He grabbed Luckas by his shirt and pushed him backward. Luckas’ breath escaped him as he was violently backed into a tree. A dagger pressed against his throat with another one flashing from a hidden pocket in Evin’s coat to hold what seemed to be Luckas’ dominant hand against the tree. Any struggle would likely end with either Luckas’ throat cut or his hand pinned to the tree behind him, or both. “What’s your game with Ella? Who are you? What do you want from her?” He said through a stiff jaw. “And it’s Evin.”

Luke didn’t seem to care much for being roughed up. That was really a daily occurrence, or almost, at this point. He let out a small chuckle at the man’s response. “What could I possibly want from her? I did her a favor. Someone needed to explain what this was. She thought she was still alive. Understanding takes away the fear, or so I hoped.” Luke gave a half shrug, careful not to move too much. “I was just curious, if you don’t want to tell me how she’s doing, that’s fine by me.”

Evin let up his death grip on Luckas. He backed away a few steps and allowed him to compose himself in whatever way comforted him. Evin still felt in control and with a dagger in his hand, he could rest assured that should this strange fellow try to attack, that he wouldn’t have the jump on Evin. Luckas hadn’t revealed anything about himself, yet. Evin could respect that on a certain level. It took one man to fear someone who had a dagger to his throat and didn’t flinch but Evin wasn’t that man. Someone who could look at Death--or the perceived threat of Death--and not for a moment worry of what may come of it deserved respect. In fact, someone of that composure almost demanded it. Sean may have decided to address it and Perry, he knew, must have feared it. Evin was even thinking about it right now but this stranger in front of him seemed to be familiar enough with it to hold it with little regard.
“I wouldn’t know how Ella’s doing. It’s rather difficult to speak with someone who can’t speak with you. How you managed to speak to her would be a mystery. I’m a smart man. I have my suspicions.”
Evin put away one of his daggers, pivoting it through his fingers without a thought before tucking it away through a seem that almost seemed to disappear when his hand came back in view. “You still haven’t told me who you are.”

“Eh, my name is Luckas. Just Luckas.” Luke gave a long moment of thought to the question he was just asked and then shrugged yet again. “That doesn’t quite answer your question, but... Who I am is an awfully convoluted mess I’m sure you have no time or patience to figure out, sir.” He calmly stretched, trying to work some stiffness out of his body, his eyes not leaving Evin though he really wasn’t worried. “And I’m a telepath. I talked to her that way, but I doubt he’ll let me do it again. He’s really annoying for a dead man. I mean, I could enter their mind, sure, but that doesn’t mean he’ll let her talk. He’s in control for the most part.” Luke grinned, mostly at himself, not voicing what thought prompted the shift in his expression just yet. “You know, Jakey-Bear doesn’t seem to like you much; what I’ve seen of his thoughts before I got bored with it at least, but... You are a smart man. A crankypants, but smart. I’m sure if you look, you could find a way to talk to her. I’d be rather bored if I was stuck with that idiot and waiting for death. Little Ella should definitely appreciate the visit.”

Evin didn’t like riddles. He didn’t like the idea that people would beat around the bush when they knew the answer to his problems. Evin wasn’t even sure what the problem was. Luckas did. He knew the problem, the answer, and likely the means to by which to accomplish every task that would be faced in looking for the answers. Did Luckas want to tell Evin any of this? No. Not by any direct means, that is. He looked down into the dirt and shuffled his feet. “You must’ve been telling the truth when you said you know Lena,” Evin muttered mostly to himself. Looking back towards Luckas, he said, “I don’t understand what you’re saying.”

Luckas blinked, seeming momentarily confused at Evin’s statement. “Okay, maybe you’re not as smart as I thought. I’ll draw you a little picture then.” He snorted, gesturing with his right hand to a point right behind Evin. “Easy, champ,” he mumbled, carrying on speaking as though there’d been no interruption and not giving another thought to the large black wolf that was now sniffing at Evin’s boots. “The necromancer responsible for Little Ella’s state is in control of her... well... their... consciousness. It’s a bit of a collective mind type thing, I guess. So even if a telepath can enter her, their, mind... There’s no guarantee to speak with her. That’s one issue there. The second issue would be that even if I could talk to her I couldn’t form a link between her mind and yours so that the two of you could speak. That said, there is someone I know who can and for what I heard he’s somewhere in this camp. The man’s name is Simon. I don’t know what interest he’d have in helping you communicate, but he could.” Luckas shrugged. “Like I said, though, you’ll have to look around. I don’t know where he is.” Luke snorted a chuckle as he watched Stalker poking his nose at the assassin for a few more seconds before coming to his side and sitting, he scratched behind the wolf’s ears in silent praise. “I think, maybe you’ll find him easier if you look for the giant white wolf Jakey Bear had following their asses around camp. I guess the purpose of that would be keeping the mad king from... I don’t know... Drooling on someone. The man is pretty much a potato at this point, I figure. If you find him, tell him I said hello.”

A telepath that could link communications. Evin had never heard of a telepath that could do that. He knew Lena couldn’t do that. She never revealed it to Evin if she did. But what would Evin gain from linking his mind to Ella’s? Was there a purpose to it all? Could he do anything to free her from her death grip? Probably not. Evin’s eyelids stiffened slightly. He retracted his lips into his mouth and looked away from Luckas for a moment. Letting out a heavy sigh, Evin looked back at Luckas and the wolf. “A potato and a white wolf. Sounds like it will be easy enough to find. Thanks.” Evin turned around to walk away. Despite not looking at Luckas, he made sure to be hyper aware of his surroundings as he wandered off. As he was about to pass behind a tree, he turned around. Luckas wasn’t there anymore. He wasn’t far. “You may have been helpful to me, but I swear: Some memories aren’t meant to be explored. If you cross me, I won’t be kind.”

Luckas snorted a laugh at Evin’s threat, poking his head from behind a tree just long enough to issue a reply. “Buddy, I have better things to do with my life, but... if you think that little threat would stop me doing anything, you clearly don’t know who you’re dealing with. Besides; don’t thank me, I’m not doing this for you.”

That said, Luke ‘disappeared’ behind the trees once again, glancing at Stalker as he started to finally head back to the oak. “Hate to agree with Lena on anything, but he is a bit of a self-entitled brat, isn’t he?”

================================

[White Shadows Camp - Otium 16, late night]

It took Annie a good while and some considerable effort to calm down Emily. She had to administer a tranquilizer to get the girl to settle down and after a few moments of uncontrollable sobbing she’d fallen asleep. Once the girl had calmed and was asleep, Alistair peered into the room to check on what was happening. Finding an uncharacteristically agitated Annie pacing around the tent like a beast in a cage. “Are you alright?” he asked.

“I don’t know what to tell that kid, Alistair. What can I tell him, really?" Annie blurted out, ignoring his question entirely.

“You’re not allowed to repeat anything you’re told, but what you’ve seen...” Alistair trailed off, watching Annie closely as the younger healer paced back and forth in front of him. “I know she might not want her brother to know the details, but it might be easier to make him understand the situation if you’re a little blunt.”

Annie stopped walking and turned to face Alistair. “We’ve dealt with cases like this before, but Emily is complicated. I can’t know what she would want, I can’t just ask her what she wants without...” She snorted a laugh. “Mom would know how to handle this better, I’m no telepath, I don’t know how mental damage like this actually works. As if Luckas wasn’t bad enough,” she muttered, rubbing her eyes. “Telling Irvin about things she doesn’t remember seems... Wrong.”

“From an ethical standpoint, maybe, but it’ll be easier on them both if he’s prepared for what will happen when she does begin to remember everything. Because it will eventually come back.”

Annie heaved a lengthy sigh, her eyes trailing from Alistair to the sleeping girl. “I suppose you’re right. Her memory is coming back faster than I expected and she’s not taking well to the idea of remembering.”

“I could talk to him if you want. I know this won’t be easy to say.” Alistair offered.

“No, Al, she’s my apprentice, I’m responsible for her. Besides...” Annie trailed off, her voice fading into a pained silence.

“You’re the only one who’s seen the state she was in.” Alistair finished her sentence with a nod. “I know.”

“Keep an eye on her for me, have someone come get me the moment she wakes up. Do not leave her alone, not for a second, Al.”

“Yes, Your Worshipness.”

Annie laughed at the man’s teasing. “Shut up.”

“Ah, see? Pretty boy over there is not the only one who knows how to make you smile.” Alistair chuckled.

“Aaaw, Al... Don’t tell me you’re jealous of Darren, now? You’ll always be my favorite big brother.”

“Normally I’d argue I’m your only brother, but that’s not quite true anymore is it?” Alistair quipped.

Annie laughed again, this time more softly, her expression more contemplative than amused as she wrapped her arms around Alistair. “You know, I’m happy you came back. You didn’t have to, but I’m glad you did.”

“Eh, anything for you shorty.” Alistair smiled, patting the top of Annie’s head.

“I’ve told you to never to call me that, Al,” Annie complained, breaking the hug and give him a forceful shove. “Way to ruin the moment, jerkface.”

“Heh, sorry, kiddo.” Alistair shrugged. “You know me, I can’t handle all this emotional stuff.”

“Mhm,” Annie mumbled, giving her brother a playful look of disbelief. “Just keep an eye on the kid for me,” she instructed. “I kept Irvin waiting long enough and I’m sure he’s worried sick.”

-------

Annie traced her steps back to where she left Irvin. The boy hadn’t moved a muscle from where he was standing, his eyes empty and focused at some random patch of grass at his feet. This was already shaping up to be a difficult conversation, but he looked so utterly lost it was actually painful. She sighed softly, walking towards him and placing her hand on his shoulder to draw his attention. “Irvin? Can you come with me please?”

Irvin nodded in agreement and Annie led him to her tent. Once inside, she sat him down and made some tea, giving the both some time to gather their thoughts. She pushed a full cup into the boy’s hands and sat across from him. “Emily is going to be okay, Irvin. She was just a little bit rattled. I gave her something to calm her nerves, she’s sleeping now.”

“This is my fault. It’s all my fault. I’ve been so focused on... Worthless shit... I didn’t even look for her. I just left her with him. Stupid of me to think he’d be able to care for anyone.”

“Your brother?”

“Did she talk about him?”

“Not really, Irvin. Emily’s memory is... Not the most reliable right now. When she first got here, she couldn’t even tell me her name. She still has no recollection of where she’s been in the past months or how she got here.”

“Jake and I ran into Alan; my brother, at the Blackpond Ball. He said he sold Emily off to pay a gambling debt. That he hadn’t seen her in months. I never should have left her with him. Even if she ended up in the dungeons with me she would have been safer.”

“You don’t know that,” Annie reassured. “You couldn’t have known any of this. It’s not your fault.”

“How long has she been here?” Irvin asked, staring at his cup of tea and wincing at the realization his tea was now frozen solid.

“Emily arrived here while I was in Blackpond for the Ball. When I came back, I was informed of her situation by the healers I left in charge in my absence. She was confused and terrified. I had to drug her in order to conduct just a simple physical examination and it took days to get her to speak to anyone. In hindsight, she’s made incredible progress in the weeks she’s been with us.”

“Was she hurt? How did she lose her memory?”

Annie’s head lowered and she stared at her untouched tea for a few moment before answering. “Her memory was tempered with. I’m not sure how exactly, but her memories were blocked, locked away. She wasn’t hurt when she got here, but... All signs indicate that she had been hurt, a lot, wherever she was.” She took a sip from her tea and heaved a deep breath. “Emily had bruises in several stages of healing, scarred lashes, healed fractures... She showed signs of severe abuse.”

Irvin grimaced, taking a long deep breath as he concentrated in reheating his frozen tea for few seconds, taking a short sip of the, now warm, liquid. “Abuse?” He questioned. “What kind of... Was she...” He shook his head, trying to find words that didn’t seem as horrible. “Did they?”

“Yes.”

Irvin dropped his cup of tea, a choked sound escaping his throat as he stared at his hands. The confirmation sending a stabbing, agonizing, pain through his heart. He never asked Jake what had happened to Alan, but if he was still alive; he wouldn’t be for much longer. “She doesn’t remember any of it?”

“Not yet. She will.” Annie sighed. “Like I said, her memories are blocked. It’s possible that the trauma is what’s keeping them from coming back fully. Emily herself says she’s afraid to remember and that fear is hindering her recovery, but... The mind heals, Irvin. Those memories; those events, they won’t be locked away forever. They will come back eventually.”

Irvin hid his face in his hands for a few moments, his voice coming out muffled. “Is that why she reacted that way? She said... She said I was dead...”

“She was probably told that you were. Sometimes where there are gaps in a memory the mind will try to fill in the blanks; treat statements as fact.” Annie reached for Irvin’s shoulder in an attempt to comfort the boy. “I know this is difficult to hear. All of it. But Emily is healing, she’s been adjusting well here and, once she wakes up and the fog starts to lift from her mind, she’ll be happy to see you.”

Irvin sighed. “You think so? I don’t want... I don’t want to makes things worse for her. If me being here, if seeing me, is hurtful in any way I can just...”

“You’re her family. She needs you. You being here is not going to make anything worse, I promise.”

“I abandoned her. I let this happen. What if she hates me? I can’t...” Irvin shook his head, unable to properly finish his thought.

“You’re alive. You’re here now. She’s not going to hate you.” Annie smiled at Irvin. “Who knows, maybe you’ll both heal a lot faster together.”

As if on cue, a healer called out to Annie and entered the tent. “I’m sorry to intrude Annie, but Alistair asked me to warn you.”

“Emily woke up?”

“She’s on her way over, I don’t think he’ll be able to stop her.”

Annie chuckled. “If she’s well enough to get past Alistair, that’s a good sign in my opinion. Thank you, Elora.”

The woman was barely out of the tent when Emily stormed in, she still looked shaky, but a lot more lucid than she had been in quite a while. Irvin jumped to his feet at the sight of his sister and the girl stood for a long moment staring at him before rushing in his direction and wrapping her arms around him in a tight embrace. “You’re real,” she spoke, choked laughter escaping amidst her words. “You’re real... You’re really here...”

Irvin was momentarily at a loss for words, returning his sister’s embrace and watching the girl sob against him for nearly a full minute before he managed a word. “You remember me?”

Emily nodded. “Mhm... I... I’m still a little confused, but... I remember when you left and Alan said the guard had caught up with you. He said...” She shook her head. “I should have known he was lying. I’m so sorry.”

“No. No, no, no... Ems, it was my fault. I shouldn’t have left you. I wasn’t thinking.”

“Irvin, I don’t care that you left.” Emily broke their hug and looked up at her brother with a wide smile. “I’m just happy you’re alive.” The girl then frowned as she finally stopped to get a good look at his face. “What happened? Did someone hit you?”

“What? Oh...” Irvin reached for his bruised cheek and snorted a laugh. “It’s nothing, don’t worry about it.”

Emily’s eyes narrowed for a moment in a severe glare, but she continued to smile at her older brother, pulling Irvin by the hand. “Come on, let’s go get something to eat, I want to know where you’ve been the past year.”

Irvin shot Annie a slightly panicked look at Emily’s sudden excitement, but let himself be dragged along anyway, seeming as though a weight had been lifted off his shoulders.

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

[White Shadows Camp - Otium 19, early morning]

“I still think it’s funny... You’ve been with the Ravens all this time, Annie’s cousin was training you, you’re pals with Darren and no one realized your missing sister was right here all this time.” Emily sighed, giving Irvin an amused smirk as he helped her change a patient’s bandages; noticing that he was looking quite queasy from the process. “I can’t help but think that me telling everyone my brother was dead might have gotten in the way a bit.”

“That’s not your fault, Ems.”

“I know.” She shrugged. “There, all done, sir.” She smiled at the injured mercenary and led Irvin out of the examination tent.

“Any more gruesome head injuries before breakfast?” Irvin asked, frowning at his sister. “I swear that guy’s brain was showing.”

“No, it wasn’t.” Emily laughed. “It was a nasty wound, but if his brain was exposed he would be a potato right now. Not to mention it’d be smelling a lot worse.”

“You know what? Forget breakfast.” Irvin shuddered.

“Wuss,” Emily teased, bumping against her brother as they walked towards the center of the camp. “Well, I’m hungry and it’s gonna be a busy day. They’re all busy days.”

“You really like it here, huh?”

“I do. It’s good... Helping people. And I’m good at it. Annie said I can be a fantastic healer if I want to.”

The pair walked up to one of the tents were some healers were having tea and picking at an assortment of bread, fruit, and cheese. Emily smiled and greeted them by name before helping herself to some fresh fruit.

“I’m glad,” Irvin said, helping himself to a roll and biting into it.

“Oh?”

“Mhm. You seem at home here. That’s good. That’s... The closest any one of us has gotten to one.”

“What about you?” Emily asked, looking at Irvin with concern. “You’re clearly not cut out to be a healer.”

Irvin laughed. “No... No... We know what I’m good at, though, don’t we?” He smirked.

“Iiiirv...” Emily scolded.

Irvin snickered. “I don’t know, sis. The Ravens were good to me, but I don’t think I can go back now. Not... Anymore... So I guess for now I hang around here? At least I get to spend time with you. Even if that means dealing with exposed brains now and again.”

“Aaaw, you’d do that for me? That’s so sweet.” Emily smiled. “Just don’t slow me down. And don’t puke anywhere, I’m not cleaning it up.”

“Love you too, Ems.” Irvin rolled his eyes at her, finishing his breakfast roll and shrugging. “And I won’t make any promises on the puking thing.”

=====================================

[The Desert - Otium 19, midday]

Indrani’s eyes followed the horse’s every move with an intensity reserved for a lioness guarding her cubs. She could remember as though it was only yesterday, the day she took Mirage from her previous owner; a scrawny, mistreated, ugly thing. One look at that poor excuse for what should have been a majestic animal and no one thought she’d ever amount to anything. “It’d be kinder to put the poor thing to rest,” that had been Jackson’s say in the matter. Indrani wasn’t having it. It wasn’t something she would’ve argued with normally; prolonging an animal’s suffering for your own selfish pride was wrong and she knew that, but she could tell Mirage was different. There was something in the mare’s eyes that told Indrani she wasn’t ready to give up just yet and she was more than determined to see her through.

It worked out in the end. Not without a lot of time and effort from the both of them, but it worked out. The horse’s faded sickly coat was no less gray, but it had grown shiny and speckled in white, her mane long and silky, her body had filled up with muscle and fat. Mirage wasn’t what one would consider a prized specimen by usual standards, but she was healthy, strong, and the fastest mare in all of Valcrest without question. Indrani’s pride and joy.

A soft, near-inaudible, whistle blew past the woman’s lips, causing the horse’s ears to twitch ever so slightly. Mirage turned and trotted towards the fence to Indrani, the woman smiling softly as she stared into the animal’s dark eyes. “There she is...” Indrani whispered, chuckles escaping her as Mirage nuzzled her hair and neck. “Someone’s been a stubborn girl, I hear. Hmm?” she smiled, calmly waiting for the mare to finish her ‘greeting’ before pressing her forehead to the the animal’s and letting out a soft sigh. “Things got a bit too frightening for you, I reckon. I don’t blame you, girly, I was pretty scared too...”

“What are you doing up and about? You’re supposed to be on bed rest; Annie’s going to kill you if she finds out.”

“I’m fine. It barely hurts as long as I’m careful.” Indrani snorted, turning to face Allison as the assassin calmly leaned against the fence beside her. “How come you’re still here?”

“Well, you still have injured people who need helping and I’m in no hurry to go back to Newhaven.” Ali shrugged. “I honestly don’t think I’m very useful there anyway. Crys just wants me away from Blackpond.”

“That may be her way of protecting you, but I doubt she’d place you where you’re not needed,” Indrani spoke, calmly petting Mirage between the ears.

“Eh, it doesn’t matter.” Ali shrugged.

“No? I’d think you’d want to be more involved with your clan’s activities. It’s not like you to be this... Apathetic... Are you alright?”

Ali snorted a laugh as Mirage started to sniff and prod her hair with her nose. “I’m alright, I’m just... Really tired, I guess.”

Indrani calmly caught Ali’s hand midway to petting the horse and forced it down. “Wait,” she told her, smiling at the questioning look the archer shot her. “Horses are very sensitive animals, you know. They enjoy giving and receiving affection, but... They can’t do both simultaneously. If Mirage is being affectionate with you, if she’s giving, the way to show affection in return is to be still and receive.” She released Ali’s hand and smiled. “I think this is one of my favorite things about horses. They experience every moment, however small, with all of their focus; the whole of their beings. It’s a lesson for humanity, really... To honor the one you’re with by simply allowing them to love you.”

Ali stood there silent at Indrani’s words. They made sense, in a way. Everyone she knew, at one point or another, pushed their loved ones away out of love itself. For protection, out of guilt, fear of the future, or the past, she wasn’t sure. What sounded like such a simple thing the way Indrani said it, really wasn’t. To just allow yourself to be loved for the duration of a single moment. “We make such a great team, you and me...” Ali smiled. “I’m apathetic, you’re melancholic... Neither of us is quite like they should be right now. Which, begs the question; how are you doing?” She asked, calmly waiting for Mirage to turn her muzzle away from her ear and petting the horse’s neck. “Jackson was a bit worried yesterday.”

“I’d rather not talk about it,” Indrani muttered.

“Listen, I’m not going to pretend I’m sad Sean died. I can’t. And I honestly don’t think he’s even worth your grief, but... You’re my friend. And if you need to talk, I’m here to listen. At least, I’m here right now.”

“I was stupid. I can’t stop thinking about how stupid I was. I can’t stop thinking that if I’d seen things for what they were right from the start, none of this had to happen.” Indrani sighed, slouching into the fence and letting out a groan. “I know that’s not true. Or at least the truth is not as simple as that, but... He was my friend. I still wanted to save him even after all the little ways he managed to hurt me. Even now that he’s gone. A part of me still thinks that if I could reach out to him... I could fix this. And I can’t. I couldn’t help Sean, I can’t help Dastan... I can barely stand even less help my clan now... I’m...”

“You’re not useless, Indi, you’re just broken. Trust me, because I’ve been; a lot, this doesn’t last forever. Right now, though, maybe it’s time for you to just be still. To just live the moment and allow yourself to feel this. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Indrani shook her head. “I just... I’m so tired of failing the people who need me.”

“You’re the only one who thinks you’ve failed, Indrani.”

Indrani let out a bitter laugh. “No, no I’m not.” She tugged on the pendant hanging from her neck, the sigil of Effort. “My people believed in honor, in loyalty, you die if you must, but you never betray your duties. Not once. Not for any reason, but I...”

Ali shook her head, utter amusement in her expression. “You can’t change the things you’ve done and punishing yourself for them now helps no one; not yourself or your clan.”

“Dastan shouldn’t have put their lives in my hands after everything.”

“Your brother is a lot of things. A lot of them. But he’s not stupid, Indrani. If he left the Crimson under your leadership is because he trusts you more than he trusts himself right now. If you want to honor anything, honor that trust.”

“You do realize I acted against your people while you were with us, right?”

“That doesn’t matter. Even if you hadn’t, we weren’t going to just sit here and move on with our lives. Things were going to turn ugly one way or another, sooner or later, and if anything; I understand you wanting to shield your people from it.” She sighed. “Just don’t ever bring this up with Evin, okay? You might invoke his wrath and then who knows what’ll happen.”

Indrani laughed. “Oh no, we wouldn’t want that. We have enough explosions around here as is.”

“I hear Annie almost lost her patience with Dastan and his firework experiments before Jake’s birthday.”

“I wasn’t exactly happy about them myself, but he was excited about something for a change. He hasn’t quite been himself since...” She silenced for a moment. “I don’t think he’ll ever be the same again now, but... You know...”

“I know. I don’t think any of us will, though. The past three years have been...” Ali cut herself off, a pained groan escaping her as she doubled over, leaning into the fence and clinging to the wood with both hands.

“Ali, are you alright? What...?”

“I’m fine,” Ali mumbled, letting out a sharp breath. “It’s alright, it... It already passed.”

Indrani was unconvinced, staring at her friend with concern in her eyes. “How long have you been having symptoms like this?”

“Indi, I’m fine, really. Don’t worry about it. We’re all sick, it’s nothing new at this point.” She slowly steadied herself, forcing a few deeper breaths.

Indrani shook her head. “This was not ‘nothing’, Ali. Wh-...” She stopped talking, the realization suddenly hitting her. “This is why you stayed behind, isn’t it? This is why you just let Crys push you to Newhaven... There’s no way you would just accept sitting on the sidelines five months ago, but now...”

“Indrani, let it go,” Ali warned, glaring at the commander. “Just... Let it go.”

“When do you plan on telling them?”

“Telling them what?” Ali muttered. “What do you suggest I tell them exactly? ‘Oh, hey, my nervous system is slowly going to shit and injecting me with unbearable, excruciating, pain to a point where soon enough I’ll be complete and utterly useless until I finally drop dead’; is that what I should tell them? Because I don’t know... It doesn’t sound like a good idea to me. I don’t want to waste what’s left of my time trying to endure everyone’s pity or, Twins forbid, guilt over the fact they can’t help me. They can’t help me, Indi. What could I possibly say to make that any easier?”

“Maybe they can’t save you, Allison, but they are your friends; your family, these are the people who love you. If you’re in pain, if you’re afraid, they’re the only ones who can help you.”

Ali snorted softly, pushing away from the fence. “I don’t want that kind of help.” Her eyes softened for a moment as she watched the horses running about inside the fence. “I just want to feel like myself for as long as I still can. I know it’s selfish, but right now I feel like I have that right. So, please, just... Let it go.”

==================

[Newhaven - Otium 19, early afternoon]

Ryan had argued against Donovan’s decision. He didn’t see a point in reclaiming the Inn considering the state Newhaven was currently in. They would need to start recruiting as soon as possible; sure, but the way things were in the city, prioritizing this now felt to him like a waste of energy. The Alpha felt differently, however, and in this case, the Alpha had spoken. And so Ryan entered the establishment, alone, hauling a bag of sand over his shoulder. The commotion that had taken place at the bar had ended by now, but about a dozen rebels remained, some of them still suffering the effects of their celebrations.

“Huh. I might not even need this,” Ryan mused, dropping the bag of sand, the fabric splitting open and spreading its contents to the floor at his feet. He walked to one of the men who was sprawled on the ground amongst empty bottles and broken chairs, crouching to the man’s level and slapping him hard across the face. The man groaned in pain and looked up at Ryan in confusion, muttering at him to ‘piss off’. Ryan slapped him again; harder, and the man seemed to wake up fully this time.

“WHAT is your issue, mate!?”

“Your sorry ass on my floor is my issue. So why don’t you and your pals drag yourselves out before I decide to take matters into my own hands?”

“Your floor? Pffft... Haven’t you heard buddy? We own this city now.”

“I was hoping I’d get some kind of smartass response like that,” Ryan smirked. “Gives me a good excuse to do this...” He grabbed the intoxicated man by the collar and landed a punch to his jaw so forceful his head was knocked back into the floorboards with the impact. Ryan then proceeded to drag the unconscious man out the door of the bar.

Once he stepped back into the Inn, all of the other; far less intoxicated, rebels were standing at attention with weapons in hand. “Oh, fellows, that’s not a good idea,” he smirked. “Do you know where you are right now? This is a neutral zone for my clan, you’re disrespecting that.”

The only one of the men who seemed to be actually fully sober took a step towards Ryan, scoffing at his words. “Listen here, little pup, we took over this city; all of it. The Wolfpack doesn’t hold the same amount of influence it once did and you’re outnumbered, so I suggest you walk out of here with your tail between your legs.”

Ryan sighed softly. “No blades, Ryan... We shouldn’t be killing off civilians, Ryan... That’s not the impression we want to make right now, Ryan...” He mumbled, pulling two fighting sticks sheathed at his back. “I’d advise against what you’re about to do, pal,” he warned. When the rebel ignored the warning and charged at him, Ryan very calmly dodged his attacks as if they were nothing, striking at his hands to make him drop his blades. Once the first of the men was unarmed, the others, in a moment of sheer stupidity, decided to charge Ryan as a group. There were only ten of them, and out of those ten, only two were fully sober. The Wolf could easily handle them on his own, but he wasn’t going to waste any more time than necessary.

Ryan’s eyes irradiated a golden light as the sand he had previously spilled on the floor started to move and split into eight identical piles, each pile rising from the ground and forming into an exact clone of Ryan; from the tip of his boots to the fighting sticks in his hands. With the clones weighing in heavily in his favor, the ensuing confrontation took no more than a couple of minutes to be resolved and ended in a pile of groaning wounded rebels who Ryan’s clones proceeded to drag outside the Inn without the least bit of care.

Ryan sheathed his weapons and took a quick look around the upper floors, the basement and the tunnels underneath the bar to make sure there were no unwanted guests left. Once certain that the place was cleared he walked outside, finding Sheila standing in front of establishment watching with an amused expression as the clones dragged the semi-conscious men out of the bar.

“Heh, wonder how much those White Knights would be willing to pay us to clean up the castle for them,” she mused.

“I don’t know and I don’t care,” Ryan answered. “Donovan says, and I agree, that we’ve let ourselves get roped into their problems one too many times. We’re here to deliver a message and leave; nothing more.”

“Yes, well, with how often we need to keep rebuilding this place, we could use the extra income.”

Ryan chuckled. “Oh, relax, if it’s not on fire we can manage it. I’ll come by later and give you a hand cleaning up.”

“Oh, come on now, I’m sure the Alpha’s Second has better things to do than help me clean. I can handle it by myself.”

“Eh, I just have to haul this trash back to its source. Shouldn’t take too long,” Ryan said with a shrug. “I’ll help while Donovan is tending to his side of things.”

“Eh... Shouldn’t you back him up on this?”

Ryan snorted a laugh, idly poking one of the unconscious men with his foot. “I was ordered not to.”

“And I thought Sean was an idiot... That boy’s not going to survive a full year at this rate.”

“Who knows, maybe the kid’s on to something.” Ryan shrugged. “All I can say is the kid’s being really intense about asserting ourselves in this situation.”

“Don’t get me wrong, sweetie, it’s not a bad idea, I just feel his execution is a bit risky,” Sheila responded with a shrug. “The way things have been, we lose another Alpha and that’s it for the Pack.”

“You don’t need to tell me that, and trust me; I’ve made that point repeatedly, but the kid’s stubborn. Says he shouldn’t need a bodyguard just go in for a chat.”

“The only reason Sean survived a chat with that woman in the first place is that they were both too banged up from their own stupidity to have a go at each other.” Sheila pointed out.

“Well, we had no time to break her legs beforehand, so I guess Doni will have to be a little more tactful and a little less... Fletcher...” Ryan snickered. “Regardless, I know what I have to do.”

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

The doors of the throne room slammed open with the thundering sound of cracking wood. A thin layer of smoke permeating the air and temporarily concealing the figures crossing the threshold. Ryan and his clones walked through the fog and dropped the unconscious rebels in front of the throne, much to the dismay of a group of twenty heavily armed dumbfounded men. “Which of you nimrods is responsible for this trash littering our Inn?” he questioned.

“Your Inn?” A man responded from his position on the throne. That enough would be grounds for execution, Ryan figured, but at this point, it didn’t matter. The man wasn’t that tall and didn’t seem that much older than their new Alpha. He stood from the throne, his chest puffed out in a ridiculous display of cockiness. Ryan had to at least acknowledge the fact these people weren’t stupid. They were competent enough to take over the city up to and including the castle. Still, if that was their leader; they wouldn’t hold it for long. “I was under the impression the Pack had abandoned their bar. Again. You people aren’t quite what you used to be.”

“What do you think you know, you pipsqueak, of what we are or used to be?” Ryan questioned, amused at the man’s words. “I’m here to deliver a message; stay out. We allow you to exist and fight your little rebellion because we don’t care. Give us reason enough to care and we’ll shut it down. Simple as that.”

“Shut us down? You and what army?” The man opened his arms wide and looked around. “There used to be one here, but they didn’t manage to shut us down.” He sighed, shaking his head in amusement. “I see that you mean well, though, mate. You’re carrying fighting sticks, bringing our men back alive... In your position, I see that you had no obligation to do that. I can appreciate that. So don’t worry, we’re not going to give you any more trouble. You have my word.”

Ryan sighed. “That’s good enough, kid, but for the record; you defeated half of an army that was already stretched too thin and poorly managed due to their Captains trying to run this dump of a town, which; good luck with that by the way. The fact that you’re considering yourself victorious right now is a great indicator that you didn’t really think this all the way through. I give you a month to hold this place and I’m being generous.” He smirked at the rebel leader, his eyes glowing as his sand golems collapsed back into useless piles. “At least the moron who usurped our leadership managed to hold it for three and a half years.”

“Come back in five. We’ll be sitting right here.”

Ryan snorted a laugh on his way out of the room. “Sure buddy. Sorry about the mess, by the way. Let’s just call it even.”

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

Newhaven Castle was nothing but a shadow of its former self. One could be fooled into believing the place was struck by a tornado if not for the sounds of fighting still echoing some of the empty halls. All but one section of the castle had been secured by the rebels, but they hadn’t done the best job of setting up security as of yet. Their successful assault looked like one hell of a stroke of luck to Donovan and one that was bound to be short-lived unless they managed to put someone in charge who understood the art of war a lot better than this. Sneaking his way past the intruders had been easy, even in the sections where there was a higher concentration of them. Anyone not in Guards uniform was assumed to be on their side and Donovan was able to simply stroll past their defenses unscathed.

Once the young Alpha reached the upper floors, however, things changed rather abruptly. The third floor of the Castle was silent compared to the rest, pieces of furniture and doors pulled from their hinges were piled in order to barricade the halls, leaving only one narrow path available. “Clever,” he whispered, “very, clever.”

“Isn’t it?”

Donovan didn’t have the time to turn around and check the source of the sudden voice in his ear, the split second he had available was used to dodge an expertly aimed blow to the side of his head, the sound of the wooden baton connecting with the stone wall beside him rang painfully in his ears. If it had actually hit him, he would have been out cold instantly.

The boy spun around, grabbing his bow and using it to block the next flurry of blows aimed at his body. He could now barely make out the form of a woman clad in black leather armor as his attacker and assumed she was part of Mageria’s Guard. “Hey... Hi... Excuse... Me...” he started, barely dodging a blow aimed right at his face. “Can you... Not... Please...” He sighed, dropping the bow at his feet and raising his hands, eyes closed as he braced for an impact that never came.

“Oy, boy, are you dumb? Did I get your head at some point there?” She taunted.

Doni opened his eyes to the sight of one the batons held still less than an inch from his face. “My sister made this bow for me before she died, I’d rather damage my face than use it for a fighting staff any longer.” He muttered.

“You’re a bit too quick on your feet for a rebel.” She pointed out, lightly poking him between the eyes with the baton.

Before he knew it, something coiled around Donovan’s neck restraining his movements as another woman spoke behind him. “Don’t fight like no rebel either.”

Donovan briefly attempted to glance at this new person restraining him from behind but felt the pressure tighten around his neck at his movement, so he kept his eyes on his first opponent instead. “You don’t fight like some prissy Knight either...” He retorted, tilting his head to the side so he could look past the weapon blocking his vision. “Although I have the feeling you held back a little. Not sure if I’m grateful or offended,” he added with a playful smile. “So, Miss...? Is your captain around? I’d like a word with her if it’s not too much trouble.”

“Oh? So you’re dropping in for a bit of chatter, are you? Suuure... The middle of a rebellion sounds like the best time to be doin’ that.”

“This isn’t the middle of a rebellion, technically speaking. As superior as you are in skill, the rebellion outnumbers you greatly and for what I hear of your Captain I don’t see her going all out on those idiots considering that in the end of the day they’re still civilians. What is the point of vowing to protect the people and then putting them down for daring to dethrone a dead Queen? I’m assuming the reason you took so easy on me is that you planned to restrain me without using lethal force, but since doing so with every rebel currently roaming the castle is a foolish endeavor at best, your Captain will be forced to either make peace with the fact you can’t hold this place, or... Well... Make an even bloodier mess of this whole thing and then make peace with the fact you can’t hold this place.”

Donovan felt the pressure tighten around his neck just a bit. “You’re too much of a talker for someone’s who’s here uninvited.”

“Sophie; that’s your name right?” Donovan questioned, still unable to see the woman standing behind him. “I’m Donovan Fletcher.”

“Suppose you’re not going to explain how you know my name, Donovan Fletcher?”

“Not unless you make me, but... We’d both be wasting our times and we both have better things we need to be doing. I just want a word with your Captain, and I’ll leave.”

Sophie seemed to be looking to her companion for direction now as the baton-wielding blonde give a small shrug and she responded by pushing Donovan forward towards the end of the hall. After a few steps, he halted. “My bow...”

“I’ve got it.”

Doni relaxed at that and allowed himself to be dragged along.

“Fletcher?” Sophie questioned. “As in...?”

“Sean was my brother,” Donovan answered.

“Was?”

Donovan shrugged in response.

“Ah. My sentiments.”

Donovan chuckled. “It’s commendable that you’d say that considering the shit he pulled on your squad, miss...?” He snickered when she still refused to give her name. “Come on, you know my name now. And I’m going to keep asking.”

“It’d be a bit hard to ask questions with a broken jaw, pretty boy; just a fair warning,” she said, pausing for a moment. “And it’s Sham; not ‘miss’. I really ain’t no prissy knight.”

“Noted.”

Sham walked ahead of the other two as they turned a corner, Sophie held Donovan back as she entered a room at the end of the hall. After a couple of minutes, she poked her head out and gestured for them to follow her inside. Sophie unraveled the object from around Donovan’s neck and he saw that it was a whip. “Little early in our relationship to be bringing out the whips, don’t you think?”

Sophie snickered. “Precious. I definitely never heard that one before.”

“I try.” Doni shrugged.

The room they entered was completely void of any furniture save for a table and two chairs. On the table was a map of the castle and a half bottle of rum, a weak flame flickering in the fireplace was the only source of light, casting odd shadows on the bare walls. Sitting in one of the chairs was a blonde man Donovan immediately recognized as Captain Thomas and across from him a woman with graying red hair he concluded to be Mageria Talsheir.

Sham briefly whispered to Mageria, placing Donovan’s bow in her hands. The captain shot the young Alpha a long inspecting gaze, her expression stern for a moment before letting slip a small trace of amusement. “When I told Crystal Rivers I was sorry she lost her mother, I actually meant it. I don’t know what to say to you.”

Donovan smiled at the woman. “That’s alright, Captain. I’m not exactly here to exchange pleasantries.”

“Why are you, here?” Thomas spoke up. “Not to be rude or anything, kid, but in case you haven’t noticed, we have a bit of a situation. Not the best time for a diplomatic chat, if that is in fact what you’re after.”

“Yes and no.” Donovan shrugged. “I’ll be quick; we have just cleared our Inn of your rebellion. I’m assuming that whichever way this goes it’ll be over soon, so we are taking the extra care to warn both sides that regardless of who wins, Newhaven would do well to continue respecting our boundaries.”

“You’ve come all the way here, infiltrated the castle, so you could stand face to face with both Knight Captains and tell them to wipe their feet before standing on your threshold?” Mageria asked, arching an eyebrow.

“Pretty much.”

Mageria tilted her head to the side, her eyes piercing through Donovan like daggers for a split second, despite the amused smirk playing on her lips. “Add a couple of innocent hostages and I can see the resemblance.”

Donovan chuckled at the woman’s response. “I guess that’s a fair assessment,” he agreed. “The case is, and I think we can both agree at least on that, if both our people knew their boundaries a little bit better, neither my clan or your city would be in the state they are in right now,”

“I don’t exactly see how we could have ignored an explosion in our throne room, any more than you could have ignored the bounty on your heads.”

“Maybe not, but we could both have acted smarter and maybe, just maybe, my clan ridding your city of a psychopathic killer posing as a royal might have turned out to be a good thing.”

“Hold on, what?” Thomas interrupted, glaring at Mageria with an expression mixed between shock and outrage.

“It’s a very long story, Tom.” The woman answered, rubbing the bridge of her nose. “To cut it short, the King was being impersonated by a killer and that was the man the Wolfpack killed. Of course, none of it could ever be officially proved, so we just allowed the public to assume the Wolves responsible had been executed.”

“And we don’t know what actually happened to King Stephen?”

“The only man who could answer that question was buried under his name, so unfortunately no one will ever know.”

“Why was I never informed of this?” Thomas demanded, heaving an exasperated sigh and seeming to lack the energy to be properly enraged by being kept in the dark.

“Honestly? Krander had just gone off Twins know where, you hadn’t been appointed Captain yet at the time this all happened, and after it was dealt with no one wanted to ever bring it up again.”

Thomas looked from Mageria to Sham and Sophie; neither seeming surprised in the slightest with the information. Sham gave a slight shrug as her eyes met Thomas’. “Jake was there,” she told him. “That boy gets a bit too chatty with a few drinks in ‘im. Most of the Blacks know the story by now.”

Donovan shrugged at the two Knight’s exchange. “Nonetheless, I’m not here to bring up history. Well, at least not after this.” Slowly, the boy reached into his coat, very aware of the fact Sham had her eyes on him all the while they’d been talking. He pulled out a small leather bound book. “Something like this has never left our camp, Captain, I expect you to appreciate that,” he said, offering the book to Mageria. “As you know, Evin Bana set fire to the clan records before the exile, but, Sean got his hands on a few files and hid them elsewhere before that happened. I’m still uncovering all his hiding places, but I found this in one of them. It concerns you.”

Mageria placed Donovan’s bow on the table, leaning against it and placing herself between the young assassin and the weapon as she took the file from his hands. “Concerns me how?”

“Just consider it a show of good faith,” Donovan told her, not answering the question. “I said all I’ve come here to say and you have more pressing matters to attend so if I may have that back,” he nodded at his bow, “I’ll be out of your way.”

Mageria stored the little bound book safely in her pocket and pushed herself away from the table, taking the bow and offering it to Donovan, still keeping a firm hold on the object when the Wolf tried to take it from her hands. The Captain’s eyes lingering on the two rings on his left-hand finger. “You know, I was wondering why your new Alpha would send a teenager to meet two Knight Captains in the middle of a rebellion.”

Donovan smiled, holding the woman’s gaze. “He didn’t.”

“Your brother must have been desperate to appoint you as Second.”

“Oh, Sean? He would never do that. In fact, my brother never appointed a Second-in-Command before he died. And see, where there is no Alpha, and there is no Second... The clan votes.” He smirked. “I’m not the first teenager appointed Alpha in our history, Captain, it shouldn’t seem like such a shock. Trust, I’m far more prepared for the job than your Queen was when she left our camp.”

Donovan stumbled back a step when Mageria abruptly released her hold on the bow. He snorted as he noticed the woman’s expression. “I’m sorry, that was uncalled for. I actually liked Ella quite a bit. It saddens me that she felt my brother’s life was worth risking her own.” He calmly inspected the bow in his hands, checking if there had been any damage during his short fight with the baton-wielding knight earlier. The wood seemed unscathed, and Donovan let relief wash over him for a brief moment.

“How old was she? Kate.” Mageria asked.

Donovan flinched at the mention of his sister’s name. “Seventeen. We were twins, Katie was four minutes older than me.” His gaze seemed to darken as he looked at Mageria, sheathing the bow at his back. “If you’d like to know how she died, you can ask your friend Evin when you next see him. I’m sure he’ll be able to tell you the story better than I could.” Donovan paused as an explosion was heard on the lower floor. He snickered under his breath and continued speaking as though it never happened. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, Captain, I think I’ve already overstayed my welcome.” He unceremoniously turned his back on the Captain of the Black Knights and waved over his shoulder. “No need to show me the way out, I can manage.”

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

When Donovan reached the courtyard Ryan was waiting, the man holding a handkerchief to his nose and seeming quite exhausted. “You overworked yourself, I told you to be more careful,” Doni scolded.

“I know, I’m sorry,” Ryan mumbled starting them on their way into the city. “I told Sheila I’d stop by and help with the clean up, is that alright?”

“I’ll help her. You’re going to get some rest. This clan has seen enough dead Seconds to last us a century.”

“We shouldn’t both be away from camp this long,” Ryan argued. “You should head back.”

“No. We’re both resting here and you can head back tomorrow. I’m going to stop by Blackpond.”

Ryan stopped walking and turned to Donovan “Blackpond? But...” His eyes widened for a moment. “By yourself? Are you insane?”

“Are you really going to keep asking that every time I do something reckless? Because it’s going to get exhausting really fast.”

“Doni, you’re pushing your luck. Not a lot of people know who you are yet, but that’ll change soon.”

“You worry way too much, buddy.” Donovan smiled, pushing Ryan to continue walking. “Let’s face it; if Crystal Rivers wanted me dead we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.”

============================

[Blackpond Inn - Otium 19 early evening]

“No... No, no, no... You guys aren’t listening, are you? STOP. NOW.”

The sound of metal clashing gradually fell into silence at Crys’ words. The recruits falling still like statues under the assassin’s blind stare. It had literally been the first time they had heard the woman raise her voice and, considering how these sessions had been when she was calm, they were understandably wary of what was about to take place.

“You’re training to use real blades and not play swords.” Crys spoke, her tone softer now that room was silent. “Hugo, Marc; front and center,” she commanded.

The two recruits shuffled forward side by side, looks of utter fright plastered on their faces. The tallest and strongest of the two wincing slightly when Crys unsheathed her sword and pointed it at his face.

“Do you see this, Hugo?” She questioned. “Does it look like a toy?”

“Yes... I mean, no... It’s not a toy.” The man answered.

“If you were fighting someone wielding a blade, the way you were fighting just now, you would have lost a limb or worse.” She scolded, resheathing the blade and taking a pair of training swords from the rack. “I’m going to tell you all one last time, this...” She struck at his left-hand blade. “...Is your sword and this...” She struck at his right-hand blade. “...Is your shield. And vice-versa. You attack and defend. At the same time. All of the time. Not one or the other; both. One slip, one opening, one missed opportunity, and it’s OVER. Are we clear or do I have to personally instill the fear of death into each and every one of you!?”

Marc opened his mouth to answer and was immediately cut off by a strike across the face. The man nearly spun in place with the force of the blow and stood swaying in place. Crys sighed. “That was a rhetorical question, smartass. Now tell me, did that hurt?”

“Yes,” Marc answered doubling over and spitting a few drops of blood onto the ground.

“Good. You should be glad. Because you know what? Death doesn’t hurt. Death is slowly fading into nothing until nothing is all you feel, nothing is all you are and nothing is all there is. And if that thought is in any way pleasant to any of you, be so kind as to pack up and leave. I’m not wasting my time on anyone with a fucking death wish.”

Silence lingered for little over a minute, the group of recruits careful to not as much as shuffle in place for as long as it lasted. “Good. Now get back to it. And get it right this time!”

“Whoa, Red, any more of that you’ll be instilling the fear of Death on the Lady herself.”

Crys let a smirk briefly cross her features at the voice calling from the top of the stairs, her eyes remained stern however as she addressed her recruits. “Continue the exercise until I get back and if I as much as suspect any of you to be slacking I’ll break your damn ribs.”

Once satisfied that her people were committed enough to their task, Crys left them to it and climbed the stairs up to the back of the Inn, finding Dastan seated at the kitchen table. “What are you doing here?” She asked, smiling at her friend. “And who let you in?”

“Your little Guard Ginger let me in. He warned me not to disturb your training, but I had to take a little peek. Hope that’s alright.”

Crys chuckled, finding the chair across from Dastan and taking a seat herself. “That’s fine, I... Eh... They’re making progress, and I wish I could praise them for it, but they’re just not ready for what’s out there.” She sighed, standing up again and beginning to rummage the stove in order to make herself some tea. “And I say that like I even know for sure what it means, but I don’t. I don’t know what we’re up against. How am I supposed to...”

“Breathe, Red,” Dastan spoke up. The noise coming from the bar almost drowning out the sound of his voice. The place was packed with people and filled with cheerful conversation. No one coming in would suspect there was a very miserable group of assassin recruits working tirelessly in the basement below.

“I am.” Crys muttered. “I do.” She left the tea kettle on the stove to heat and sat back down. “You didn’t answer my question, though; why are you here?”

“Eh... I thought I could hang around here for a few days if that’s alright with you.” Dastan answered. “I had to leave. I just... I had to. And suppose I should go offer my assistance to the Ravens soon, but...” He trailed off in a sigh. “I think I need more time.”

Crys reached for Dastan’s arm and gave him a reassuring pat. “Of course. You can stay as long as you like. Just don’t get into our stock, I’m running a business here.”

Dastan chuckled. “Don’t you worry about that, Red. I wouldn’t want to ruin your fine establishment,” the mercenary assured her, taking out his flask and taking a long swig from it.

Crys snorted a laugh at her friend, getting up to fetch the warm water from the stove and fixing herself a cup of tea. “In all seriousness, Dastan; how are you?”

“That’s a complicated question to be asking right now, Red. I’m.. Better, but that doesn’t change much. It doesn’t bring back the dead. Doesn’t change the facts. Certainly doesn’t give me any answers.” He took another swig and put the flask away, resting his arms on the table laying his head down. “I can’t let this go unpunished, so I had to leave. Even if I could ask the clan to fight my battles with me, they’re in no condition to do it. Indi and Jackson will take care of them while I’m gone. However long that turns out to be.”

“You do plan on going back, though, don’t you?” Crys questioned, sipping her tea.

“Sure. One way or another, everyone should go home one day, Red.”

“That sounds far from reassuring, I hope you know.”

Dastan chuckled. “Just trying to be realistic, Red. We don’t know what the future holds and all of that.”

Crys sighed. “Yeah, all of that.” She agreed, sipping her tea in silence until the cup was empty. “Well, you ask Nicky for a key to a vacant room when you feel like getting settled. It’s late and I’m tired, so I’m going to try and get some sleep.” She stood up and put the tea cup away before heading for the door.

“Alright.” Dastan agreed. “Oh, wait, Red...” He called after her. “Aren’tcha gonna relieve your recruits downstairs?”

Crys snickered. “I told them to repeat the exercise until I get back. If they’re still at it in the morning I’ll know I scared them enough.”

“I dread to think of how you could possibly scare them any further.” Dastan teased.

“Hopefully for them, we’ll never have to find out,” she answered, waving over her shoulder as she walked out of the kitchen.

==============================

[Raven's Nest - Otium 20, mid afternoon]

“Keith...I just got word from Kyle...It's time.” Matthew pronounced his last words with a certain kind of ferocity that seemed to grab Keith’s attention. The man looked at his superior with a mix of relief and contempt, a satisfied grin spreading across his face.

“What about the Captain…?” Keith asked, standing a bit taller now, Matthew having his complete attention, fully aware of what the man was talking about.

“We are to carry on as if she can not be there. I do need you to go to the city and personally retrieve Sophie and Bran. No ravens, no discussing what this is about. Everyone will be briefed before we leave and not a moment sooner. Everyone is now on strict routine exercises and curfew for the next few days, until further notice. If anyone complains or is insubordinate, they are given latrine duties and will be cut from any consideration for the mission. Am I making myself clear?”

“Yes, Sir. Crystal clear.”

“Oh, before you leave..send Jacob my way will you?” Matthew firmly patted Keith on the shoulder as he nodded and trotted off to find Jake.

Jake was sitting by his campfire, shirtless and barefoot, a metal pot hanging over the flames emitting some nauseating fumes. The man seemed completely unaffected by the smoke, as toxic as it might have seemed, and was occupied with stitching a tear through one of the leather sheaths that usually held his needles; a wooden box containing several of said metal needles open on the floor between his feet and a series of vials were scattered across the ground surrounding him, some empty and others already sealed and filled with poisonous substances, and he was half-humming half-mumbling words to a song under his breath as he worked. Once finished stitching up the tear on the leather, Jake strapped the empty sheath to his left forearm as tightly as possible, examining yet again to make sure it was right, before removing it and starting to carefully pick needles from the pot with the aid of a pair of tweezers, placing them on the sheath one by one.

It was during this process that a loud cough alerted Jake to another person’s presence and he lifted his head to see Keith approaching him in a bit of a hurried pace. “Need anything?” He questioned, pulling the pot from the fire, which caused the smoke to slowly dissipate, clearing the air just a bit.

“What the hell are you doing Jacob?” Keith asked, seeming to forget why he was even there for just a split second before shaking his head and regaining focus. “Matthew wants to see you.”

“Well, you didn’t think I just bought these at a smithy did you?” Jake retorted, nodding along to the information that Matthew wanted to see him while finishing his task, quickly attaching the sheath to his arm once more. “Where are you off to?”

“I’m going to stop by the city,” Keith answered simply. “You go and talk to Matthew as soon as you can, it’s important.”

“Hm.” Jake mumbled to himself watching Keith wander off again in a hurry. It didn’t take much to notice something was up and so he hurried to finish replenishing his other sheaths, and fixing up the hidden blades in his boots that had been taken out for a new coat of poison as well. He hurriedly cleaned up the area to make sure nothing possibly
harmful had been left where someone could stumble upon it and went off to find Matthew, finding him in the training area. “Matt! You need me for something?”

Matthew had his back to Jacob when he approached, momentarily distracted barking orders at a group of men and women who were sparring. Rubbing his head in frustration he growled. “No! No, no no. Again. Do it again, until you all get it right. Not one of you, ALL OF YOU. You’ve been lazy and we can’t afford laziness. Zane, that goes double for you. There’s no time to rest, GET BACK TO IT!” Matt sighed, muttering about letting Jason set some of the Guard on fire to get them properly motivated and turned to face Jake. He coughed, his face scrunching up as he detected an awkward odor coming from the man.

“Jake..what the hell did you bathe in today? That won’t last, will it? I’m putting you in charge of something..and discretion and stealth are going to be a necessity. You up for leading about a dozen of us?” Matt reached into his pocket, not really elaborating much more, and handed Jake a small scroll that would normally be fitting a raven and closed the man’s fingers around it tight.
“Do not give this to anyone and read it once you reach Blackpond, specifically to Crystal Rivers. We are going to need all the help we can get on this one. Captain’s orders. Afterwards..burn it and do not discuss anything with anyone, understood? No one is to be trusted except a select few. When you get back, I’m going to call a meeting..maybe in a day or so and I’ll explain more. Until then..” Matt lifted his head, glancing around to make sure no one was within earshot, most of his company occupied with relentless drills behind him, clearly unhappy with the physical stress.

“Until then...you talk to no one, especially Essence. I know she’s like a sister to you, but I need you to wait, ok? If you want to be the one..just wait..” He trailed off turning his back towards Jacob to watch the men.

Jake was confused, but only for a moment, nodding along to Matthew’s words and hurrying back to clear his camp and wash up before the trip. Whatever was in that letter sounded urgent.

==============================

[Blackpond Inn - Otium 20, early evening]

Donovan smiled as he reached the door of the Inn. It was early in the evening, but the place already had a small group of patrons chatting away and drinking at one of the tables. As he stepped inside he was approached by a tall man in his early forties who barred his entrance. “I’m sorry, but I must ask that you surrender your weapons. House rules.”

“Seriously?” Donovan chuckled, looking towards the redheaded man behind the bar. “Seriously, Nicholas?”

“Boss’ orders, Little Fletcher; no tough guys with weapons,” Nick replied.

“I’m not giving you my bow,” Donovan warned.

“Just the quiver will suffice,” the man replied, watching Donovan carefully as he rid himself of his daggers and handed over his quiver. “Thank you, sir, enjoy your evening.”

Donovan snorted a laugh. “Seriously, Crystal...” He mumbled under his breath. “So, where is your boss, Nicky? Is she in?”

“She’s in the office. Second floor, take a right, last door at the end of the hall. Knock before you enter.”

Donovan followed Nicholas’ direction and climbed up the stairs to the second floor, walked to the last door on the right of the stairs and knocked.

“Come in.” Crys answered from within the room.

Doni opened the door and walked in, closing the door after himself and looking around the office. “Nice place you got here,” he stated. The inside of the office was simple. Just Crys’ desk, her chair a couple of more chair across from hers and a mostly empty bookshelf. The rest of the room was empty space, filled with random bits of gear. It was clearly in the process of being fixed up to the assassin’s liking, but it already seemed comfortable enough. “Mind if I sit?”

Crys smiled at the young Alpha and motioned to the chair right across from her. “Please. And what do I owe a visit this soon, Alpha?”

Donovan placed a book on the desk. “You left this when we last saw each other. Your father’s journal? I thought you’d really want it, but you left without taking it.”

Crys reached out, her hand freezing as it touched the leather cover of the book, a soft sigh escaping her lips. “I did.” She snorted, and took the book from the desk, safe keeping it in one of the drawers. “I’ll have to find someone to read this with me at some point.” She smiled and leaned back in her seat, her focus now entirely on Donovan. “That’s not the only reason you’re here, though, is it?”

Donovan smiled. “No, no it isn’t. I think it’s time we have a little discussion about this place.”

“Oh?” Crys smirked. “What about this place?”

“You know what I’m talking about, Crys. You appropriated this establishment, but it still belongs to the Wolfpack.”

“I don’t think so.” Crys stated. “Your brother made a deal with Blackpond to have this Inn rebuilt. My death was part of that deal. To my understanding, if anyone holds any rights over something paid for with my blood, that someone is me. I was very sincere in my offer for cooperation, Doni, but there won’t be a negotiation here. I’m not leaving.”

Donovan sighed. “I was expecting you’d say that.” The boy ran his fingers through his hair. It was one thing to stand in front of the Knights of Newhaven and keep his cool, but the possibility of this turning into an argument was something else entirely. “I know you understand my reservations regarding your people occupying this building. Jake, Evin... Allison... I don’t want to see them step a foot near the Pack’s territory in any way under any circumstance. And Twins know; as loyal as they are to you, you can’t keep them under control.”

“Their problem was with Sean, Doni. I don’t see a reason why they would want anything to do with the Wolfpack now, but... If it makes you feel better, I can restrict access to the tunnels. It’ll take some time, but it can be done.”

“I would appreciate it if you could do that.” Donovan agreed. “It may be paranoia on my part, but I just honestly don’t want any more catastrophes where they can be avoided and the company you keep, Crys... They’re walking catastrophes. Every single one of them.”

Crys snorted a laugh. “That’s why I like them so much. What is life without a dozen weekly catastrophes?”

Donovan leaned back in his seat for a moment and stretched, letting out a tired groan. “I don’t know, but I’d very much like to find out.”

===============================

[Blackpond Inn - Otium 21, early morning]

Jake arrived in Blackpond early in the morning. The city streets were still mostly void of life awaiting the first rays of sunlight. By the time he reached the door of the Inn those rays were already reflecting on the glass windows of the establishment, pushing through the cracks on the wood, announcing the start of a new day. Just as Jake reached for the door it unexpectedly flung open and a glossy eyed mercenary stared at him for almost a full minute as though trying to see him through a deep fog.

“Jake!” Dastan exclaimed, opening a wide smile, pulling him inside by the shirt. “How’s it going buddy!?”

“I’m... Okay... What are you doing here, Dastan?” Jake questioned, a bit confused to see the Crimson leader there and concluding he must have gotten into the stock at some point last night to be swaying in place like that. “Is Crys around?”

“I’m just... Hanging ‘round for a bit. I was helping the little ginger run the bar last night... This burly fella thought he could drink me under the table, but I show...ed... him...” Dastan hiccuped the end of his sentence and laughed at himself before pretty much falling over onto a chair. “I think I need to sit.” He muttered under his breath. “Uh... I think Red was still sleeping. Least I didn’t see ‘er yet today. Pretty sure she wouldn’t mind you going up, so... Go on up... I’m... gonna wait for the room to stop spinning and... Then I’mmagotobed.” He announced, plopping his head down against the table top.

Jake snickered, closing and bolting the front door before making his way upstairs. He walked over to Crys’ room and gave a soft knock before pushing the door open. He took a quick glance into the room and saw that it was empty. “Hm,” he mumbled, shutting the door and heading for the office door instead. Once again he knocked and cracked the door open, seeing Crys sitting behind her desk, fast asleep with head resting on a small pile of papers. Jake entered the room and approached the desk, looking at the documents spread out around the sleeping assassin and seeing just series of marks indented into the parchment, like codes. He reached out and touched the surface of one of the sheets of paper and smiled, feeling the markings on his fingertips. It was a similar code to the ones Pack used, but adapted. “Clever girl.”

Jake sat in the chair across from Crys and slowly ran his fingers through her hair. “Heeey,” he whispered. “Wake up, sleepy head.”

Crys stirred at the sound of Jake’s voice, a lazy smile crossing her features as she reached out and caught his hand. “What’re you doing here, stupid?” She mumbled, heaving a sigh and pushing herself upright in her seat. “This is not a comfortable sleeping position.”

“No it isn’t,” Jake agreed, gently squeezing her hand. “I’d love to say I’m just visiting, but actually Matthew sent me.”

“Oh?” Crys asked, seeming a bit more awake now. “Is everything alright?”

“I’m not sure. I have a letter I’m supposed to read to you, it’s... All I know at this point.”

“Alright then,” Crys yawned, letting go of Jake’s hand and lifting her arms over her head in a lazy stretch. “I need some tea and something to eat, so if you can read it to me in the kitchen I’d appreciate it.” She smiled, standing up and walking past Jake out of the room.

Jake chuckled, following her outside and down the stairs. “So, how long has Dastan been staying here?”

“A couple of days. I think he’s just... I don’t know what he’s doing, but I’m just letting him. He’s been a help to Nicky and he actually managed to make people buy him drinks so he’s earning us money.”

“Whatever helps the guy heal, I guess.” Jake shook his head and they walked past the bar to the kitchen and he saw Dastan past out where he’d left him.

Once in the kitchen, Jake sat down at the table and watched as Crys started to heat up water for tea and rummage through the pantry. “So? What does your letter say?” She asked, placing a loaf of bread, some cheese and jerky on the table.

“Oh, let’s see...” Jake pulled the letter from his bag and read it aloud:

Miss. Rivers,

We have located potential hostiles within the city of Blackpond and what we believe to be a secret holding ground for captives; specifically children. We have gathered confirmation per an inside source and need to act soon if we are to retrieve that person alive as well as the other’s being held against their will. This is connected to Asher as we found he is a major supplier of ‘cattle’ to this group, however he will not be found in the city as far as we know. We may have stumbled onto more than a brushfire. We believe the reason why no one has reported seeing something this large is because it is mostly held underground, beneath the city and we have only just discovered access points. Sightings of the symbol have been reported in numerous locations, specifically at access points to these tunnels, although it is unclear how to get to them. We believe there are powerful enlightened who are protecting these locations so you are to expect the worst and prepare for the unexpected. This should be voluntary only because of the danger it involves. There is little time to waste and an immediate response is needed only in reinforcements. Do not travel together. Paranoia is not overrated here as we believe we could be being watched. We must assume these lives have little time and request the utmost haste.

Mr Turner will be leading this Raid, Captain’s recommendation. We are trusting you to assist and in selecting the best team possible to make this a success.

Be safe.

-M-


Crys froze while pouring herself a cup of tea and cursed loudly when the liquid overflowed and spilled onto her hand. “Fuck... Damn it!”

Jake jumped to his feet and took the kettle from her hands. “Careful, love.”

“I’m okay,” she sighed. “This is just... Shit...”

“Apparently, I’m leading a raid.” Jake snorted. “That is... Shit...”

Crys laughed at his response, shaking her head. “I can’t go. I mean, if you’re leading this thing, it’s... Not a good idea.”

“Definitely not. I mean, I won’t be able to keep Ess from getting involved and if you’re there too... I just can’t.”

“Okay. So, other than myself, who would I trust with your life?” She questioned, going back to table and taking a seat.

“Are we going by those standards? Because that immediately rules out Evin.”

Crys snorted. “I could send Nicky and I could offer you five more. Let’s see... Irena, Randall, Stuart, Michelle and... Peter, he’s not as experienced as the others, but his enlightenment could be very useful.”

“You heard Matty, though; they need to volunteer. It’s a risky mission.”

“He also said ‘children’. Trust me, they’ll jump at the opportunity to nail these bastards.” Crys sighed, parting the bread and offering Jake a piece. “You need to eat better.” She scolded, taking a piece for herself and biting into it.

“I eat.” Jake argued, biting his piece of bread and chewing on it slowly as he mulled over his thoughts. “Hmmph... how soon can you bring your people over?”

“Don’t travel together, he said. Four days to get everyone ready, we’ll take different routes and meet you there. You... Take Dastan with you when you go back. Once he’s lucid enough he’ll want to take part in this.”

“Uh... I... Are you sure? He looks pretty out of it right now and I don’t mean the fact that he’s wasted.”

“Trust me.”

Jake sighed, pouring himself some tea. “I always do.”