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Shadows of The Forgotten

Shadows of The Forgotten

Things seem to have calmed in the land of Valcrest. The war, the assassins' inner disputes, the peoples' demands for a solution... But is the land actually calm, or is this just a calm moment before a even bigger storm? (FULL)

6164 readers have visited this universe since Blackbird26 created it. Mr_Doomed are listed as curators.
Topics: assassins, magic, medieval, original, and war (Add Tags »)
Requires Approval: Yes

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Introduction

DISCLAIMER:

The land of Valcrest, its cities, history, as well as the Wolfpack and its rules, are my own creation and are not to be used without my consent. (As well as any of my characters).

This RP is, as of this moment, full and no longer accepting.


Thank you.

Blackbird26 – Your friendly GM. ^_^




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[The White Shadows]

I was told as a child that the Land of Valcrest was blessed by the Gods with its beauty and magic. Now, I’m no longer certain of such fact. Centuries of war have ripped the beauty of this Land, now only a shadow of its former glory remains, kept alive by old tales and legends. The magic now is simply viewed as a tool to be used by one side or another as an advantage in battle. No one speaks of blessings nowadays… I wonder what the Gods would have to say about that.

I’m no longer a child now, and I can go as far as to say I was never truly innocent, growing up where I did. I know for a fact that Blackhurst was a city of Enlightened. The scholars who once lived there only sought knowledge on their own origins, they never thought their actions would cause the Land to self-destruct; they simply wanted to understand where they came from. It was an innocent quest for knowledge that led us here. They found what they were looking for... And were killed for their knowledge.

Surely, those people were being naïve. They should have kept quiet as to what they were doing, they should have kept what they discovered a secret. If they had, none of this would have happened. I assume, no living person outside of my clan knows how exactly this war has started. Dani Rivers was the last outsider to hear the story. I violated the laws of this clan by telling her, we are sworn to secrecy, for obvious reasons. When the Enlightened started being killed I thought it might have some relation to that particular piece of history, so I thought I should tell her… I’m still not convinced that it was an unrelated incident, in spite of having no actual facts to back up those suspicions. Something about the whole thing resembles something I’ve read somewhere; however, I can’t quite remember what. I have read a lot of things in the past couple of decades.

I always tell my apprentices this:

The term “Enlightened” today is associated with a magical ability an individual possesses. It once meant being knowledgeable, wise. That is why we study. Being born with a specific ability doesn’t mean being born fully capable of mastering that ability. We are all born capable of great things, not all of us are capable of achieving that greatness, or even fully understand what greatness means. To most, greatness still means power. To most, power still means force.

Sounds very preachy, I know. I thought so too when I arrived in this place. The angry, impulsive child I was back then found it easier to simply curse the world for being as it is. Many similar children have arrived since then, now more than ever; orphaned, homeless and lost children. Filled with rage, void of any type of understanding; the perfect tools for any heartless egomaniac to use with the purpose of fulfilling its own delusions of grandeur. Some have been twisted to such purposes. I have even heard rumors of cults and sects being raised far in the south.
For me, it was difficult to accept the change I was being asked to make in my ways. It took me time to finally listen to what I was being told. My enlightenment was not the curse I believed it to be; the real curse was my lack of willingness to develop it. Fear, perhaps.

What does this have to do with anything? Well… Everything is relevant when it comes to this Land. Everything is connected in a way or another. Every action causes a reaction, if not now, in the future. The past is never truly dead… It sleeps, soundly, until one day it begins to stir in its sleep and causes the ground to shake, sometimes even crumble beneath our feet.

And so we fall; only time will tell when we will finally ever hit the bottom. That is… If there is even a bottom to hit after all.

Helena Turner – Leader of the White Shadows


A diary page left behind dated ten years ago. That was all Lena Turner left of herself for the ones who had followed her for 25 years.
A new dawn came for the White Shadows and many others followed. Now, three years later, they are barely starting to return to the ruins of Blackhurst where they once built their homes. One foot there, another one in the desert ruins of Brightvale. The healers were finally closer to what they once were, thanks to the endless efforts of Lena’s young daughter. However, their numbers are now severely reduced, and the unbreakable faith that once drove them to die for their beliefs was, in the very least, shaken. Many healers deserted, a great number of them left Valcrest for good after having seeing the war reach the only safe place left. It was undeniable that those people were not prepared for such a thing. For those who stayed, however, there was still the never-ending and exhausting task of providing help to those who needed it.

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[The Desert]

Legends tell that the Goddess called Heart was one the most rebellious of the 14 children of the Gods that fathered Valcrest. Impulsive and irrational, some would say. Her passion for the mortal beings only matched by her anger towards Mother and Father for forcing her to leave them and the forest where she and her twin made their home. She revolted and chose a mortal man to father her children, encouraging her siblings to do the same so that, this way, they would never truly leave Valcrest. Unlike her brothers and sisters, Heart became attached to her children and so, she used her powers to summons the packs of wolves that lived in the snow covered lands to the north into the forest as her final gift to the children of the forest, explaining to them that the wolves were always true to their hearts and loyal to their family and so, as long as they remained together, they would always be protected. She warned them that they would always be stronger as long as they were able to remain as one.

Heart’s twin brother, Mind, on the other hand, was not one to grow attachments to any mortal creature. He left his children in Valcrest for the sake of maintaining balance in the world, for without reason there could be no order. He used his sister’s gift to pass his teachings to his sons and daughters, telling them to always remember that the wolves always maintained a hierarchy and every member of the pack played his part for no task was unimportant. The leader should always be the wisest, strongest and most respected amongst the members; otherwise he would be challenged and cast aside.

And so, when Heart and Mind left Valcrest, they left behind their clan, today known as The Wolfpack.


This legend has been told to children of the Wolfpack as a bedtime story for generations. It was Crystal’s favorite as a child and it was also Dani’s favorite way to remind her of her responsibilities. Ever since she was little she would hear her mother say that the Pack had two leaders to represent the Twins, because if only one person ruled the clan alone, there could never be balance, and without it the clan would fall.

Now, however, Crystal Rivers stood in a very difficult position. Exiled to the desert for the past three years, she had her hands tied as her clan fell to pieces. The Wolfpack was no more. What was left was barely recognizable as the proud assassin clan that it once was. The people who once lived there still lived there, for the most part, but the clan was no more: that was how she saw it.

The betrayal had been painful. Not only the assassination attempt that left her very close to death, but the attacks on her parents’ honor after everything they had done for the clan.
The few people who had followed Crys into the desert didn’t complain about the new life, in fact, most of them seemed to think that it was far better than what they had three years ago. Life in the desert was less conflicted, and they mostly enjoyed the company of the mercenary clan that had taken them in, as well as few remaining healers.
Even so, Crys couldn’t seem to get over the fact that the Wolfpack had fallen apart under her command and, of the few choices she was left with, she was still tempted to try and salvage the past somehow, knowing very well that there was probably nothing left to save by now.

[The Wolfpack]

Once upon a time, the Wolfpack stood tall, proud, and untouchable. Those days ended with the appearance of a group of men and women called the Wolf Hunters. Those people, who called themselves victims of the assassins, terrorized the clan for generations. Killing, without mercy, anyone that stood between them and their targets, they posed a severe threat to the Pack’s survival.

In one night, one damned night, the Hunters attacked the camp. In one blow they took out all the recruits, most of the instructors, and of the leader’s family… Only one survived. That night came to be remembered as the Red Night and, until this day, it remains as the biggest massacre to ever occur within the Pack’s territory.
In the morning that followed such massacre, a young Dani Rivers, shortly after burying her parents and twelve year old sister, along with great part of the clan, announced that she would declare war on the Wolf Hunters and that she would not rest until every live lost that night was avenged.

Two long years and many lives later, the Wolfpack celebrated their victory over the Wolf Hunters. The clan was rebuilt and thrived for over 20 years after that under Dani’s command.


The above story was the official tale that had been told to every new arrival and to all the children born in the clan ever since that fated night. Sean Fletcher had grown up believing it, and so did his brothers and sister, and everyone else in the clan.

However, that story was a lie.

Dani won the respect of her clan by winning a war that she fought out of guilt, not revenge. The truth, the actual truth, was that Dani had lied to her mother, to her clan, and brought a Wolf Hunter into their camp. Along with him, death followed. The Hunters raise hell to avenge the death of the boy named Sebastian, however… He was never dead to begin with, he was alive and well living amongst the assassins.
Now, almost thirty years later, after the truth has been exposed, the Pack tries to rid itself from its past and change under a new leadership. The situation of the assassins had improved, but the clan as a whole suffered a severe blow by having the most important part of their history exposed as a lie. Those who remained under the new leadership are struggling to stay together, even with all that has improved. The truth is: the Pack is yet to find its place in the world again.



THE PLOT:
Three years have passed since Shadows of The Past. The several factions, as well as the cities, have cleaned up the debris left by the final battles/parties/storms, and attempted to move on with their lives in the best way they could. Some of them now find themselves struggling to simply leave the past behind, others attempting to build a new future from scratch. Others are finding that things can in fact get worse than they have ever been before. Some are even catching a small glimpse of light in the end of a long period of uncertainty.
The fighting amongst the factions seems to have cooled off for the first time in a long while. In spite of the of the peaceful that it gives to the Land at first glance, some wonder if this is really peace, or if war is simply evolving into a much more silent killer.

Which is the actual truth, or if the truth is something else entirely, beyond what simple mortal minds can grasp… That, only time will tell.



THE HISTORY:
Official story of Valcrest:
The land of Valcrest originally consisted of five great cities and some smaller villages. It has a vast forest and one great river that run from one side of the land to the other. The first two cities to be created there were Blackpond and Newhaven. These two cities exist ever since there is a record of human life in Valcrest and they co-existed in harmony for many centuries until the other cities were built and the land started to expand. Several power struggles started to shake the peaceful existence of the two cities, after many years of minor disputes, the two cities finally declared war. Out of the three other cities, the city of Elffort took the side of Blackpond and the city of Brightvale took the side of Newhaven.
The fifth city, Blackhurst, decided to remain neutral. Ironically it was the first to be attacked.
After the great war that raged for many years across the land of Valcrest, out of the five cities that existed there, only two remained. Originally in opposite sides of a dispute that has been long forgotten, the cities of Blackpond and Newhaven continue to fight each other until this day.

THE LAND:

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1. Valcrest: The land of Valcrest was once rich and full of life. Now its territory is only a shadow of what it once was. Most of the population is now concentrated around the forest, the two remaining cities and the plains and the desert. The mountains to the south and the ruined town of Effort remain unpopulated until this day, only visited by those who leave the land through that path, which are a rare few, since the easiest way out of Valcrest is through the north.

a) The Woods (Center of the land): The great forest is the center of Valcrest and, at present time, the most populated area. Deep inside of the forest, lies the territory of the assassin clan; the Wolfpack. The small mercenary groups that could once be found there have now disappeared, fled from the Pack’s sudden urge to take over the territory of the forest. The open trails that cross the forest and lead to the nearby cities are mostly respected and watched from a distance by the assassins, but straying from them may cause anyone, even the most experienced tracker, to become lost. Wandering into the wrong territory unannounced is something that can get any person killed fast.
Several small streams can be found amongst the trees, but only one bigger lake is present, in the outskirts of the Wolfpack territory, making it off limits to any human outsider that walks that forest.
Wildlife is abundant as well as other sources of food. Mostly wild boar, rabbit, and deer can be found easily for hunting purposes. No one has actually been attacked by predators larger than a snake in these woods, but it is told that wolves live there as well, and in quiet nights their howling can be heard in any point of the forest. Adjacent to the forest and at a distance sometimes considered uncomfortable, are the two remaining cities of Valcrest. No more than a day on foot can get a traveler from one city to another and from any one of them to the depths of the forest.

b) The Plains (West): This territory now is far less inhabited than it once was. However where the ruins of Blackhurst now lie, the healers once made their home. It has been three years since the army of Blackpond chased the White Shadows away from their home, and only now they are starting to come back. The still fertile soil, once used to grow healing herbs, flowers and spices are now void. One or two food crops are currently planted there, mainly for the purpose of keeping the few healers that have returned fed.
The healers once received supplies from the two cities; however, after fleeing to the desert, the healers have cut their ties with all factions involved in the war, and accept the same amount of aid as they provide: None. They help those who reach their camp and advice anyone who is in need of help controlling their enlightened ability, but now the once open territory of the White Shadows is only available to a chosen few, and members of the Crimson Shadows have been placed at their gates to make sure of it.

A long, long, time ago in this territory, the great city of Blackhurst once stood proud and tall. The city looked like one ever growing village, the houses and shops mixed together and scattered within its stone walls, The ruler’s home only recognizable for being larger and more isolated. The army mostly consisted of archers that guarded the walls and could shower attackers with arrows at miles away… Once past them though, the city was defenseless. Most people who lived on the inside of the city walls were scholars, medics and teachers, peaceful and educated people. Outside the walls smaller villages formed as ramifications of the larger city area, those villages were composed mostly of hunters and craftsmen, as well as their families. When Blackhurst suffered its defeat in battle the villages stood and their inhabitants refused to leave. As consequence, many massacres occurred in that area. It is rumored that most of the population of the city consisted of Enlightened and that was the actual reason behind the furious attacks on the city and its population. Both sides carried too much fear of what would happen should Blackhurst choose to get involved in the dispute. Those, however, are only rumors. The true motives behind the destruction of Blackhurst are, until this day, unknown.

c) The Desert (South): To the South of the forest lays a small wasteland where the merchant city of Brightvale once stood. The people who once occupied the city of Brightvale were experienced horsemen and sturdy travelers. Some were known to brag about traveling to the furthest lands known to men in order to acquire their goods, and therefore had seen it all. The Completely deserted once the city was destroyed, the area was rarely visited and only inhabited by a few bandits and runaways that preyed on any unsuspecting and bold adventurers that crossed the territory. Most people saw no point on going through these parts unless the person was leaving Valcrest forever or in need of hiding, however a few years following the abandonment of Brightvale, the mercenary group known as the Crimson Shadows claimed the territory of Brightvale as rightfully theirs. From then on, they made sure no travelers were harm unless they posed a threat to the clan, many times they escorted travelers through the desert and to the mountains, for a small fee, of course.
The mercenary group consists of descendants of the people of Brightvale and Effort; brave warriors as well as a friendly and talkative bunch, the Crimson will extend their welcome to anyone who is in need of shelter, for a night or longer, as long as the traveler is smart enough not to abuse their good will.
Currently the ruins of Brightvale have become a refuge to great part of the White Shadows as well as a, small, exiled group of assassins. Protected and assisted by the Crimson, by the order of their leader.

d) The Mountains (Further South): Beyond the desert, snowcapped mountains determine the limits of the Land. Protected by the stone walls of the mountains, the brave men and women of Effort once lived. The people that once lived there were known as proud warriors and horsemen. They were also known for their mining skills and for fabricating the first explosives seen in Valcrest. They were not the most educated people in the land, but were honorable and proud men and women. A population made extinct when they marched into war beside Blackpond and went into direct confrontation with the nearby city of Brightvale. Having their supplies cut short and their territory being the constant target of attacks… Effort also came to an end. The mines and homes left abandoned until this day.

2. The city of Blackpond (North end of the forest): The city of Blackpond is one of the most ancient and traditional cities to ever exist in Valcrest, its creation only preceded by that of Newhaven. The war with the neighboring city has left its marks on the proud kingdom, but through everything and anything; it has survived.
King Rory had ruled Blackpond for many decades. He was loved and respected within the city walls, as well as Commander Hastings. For the most part, the mass of Blackpond’s population, even though struggling against poor living conditions, had faith in their leader and were proud of their city’s warrior spirit. The city had its problems, it was clear, but what they lacked in wealth or beauty they made up for in spirit. A city filled with warriors and survivors, admired even by its enemies for never allowing itself to break or bend.
However, sorrow filled the city when word spread of the events that occurred in the castle. The news of their King being murdered would by his most trusted officer, along with the news of Hastings’ death spread quickly, first throughout the castle, then across the city streets. Not long after, it became known that Rory had a son.
Under the new leadership, Blackpond seems to have gradually lost the little order it had left when it came to its living conditions, and in the short period of three years, it has slipped into complete and total chaos. Crime rules the street and no punishments are given to those who rape, murder, steal, and vandalize as they please. It’s every man for himself and women and children are safer (in theory) locked on the inside of the house. Even then, when the people of Blackpond leave their homes, there’s no guarantee they will be back unscathed.
These days, anyone who wanders into the, once mighty, city of Blackpond can immediately see that something is very wrong with the city, however, those who are wise enough to know their place would never dare say it; and those who aren’t are usually never seen or heard of again.

3. The City of Newhaven (East end of the forest): Newhaven is nowhere near its former glory, but it’s slowly getting there. With the announcement that those responsible for the killing of their king, and the news of a new heir to take the throne, great part of the rage and fear that once roamed the city streets has subsided. In three years, the people of Newhaven are finally beginning to see a light in the end of a four year struggle to regain its former balance. However, Newhaven is far from being free of problems.
Even with the efforts of the City Guards and Knights combined, the rate of smaller crimes has gone up considerably due to the number of citizens to lose their homes, families, or businesses during the several attacks the city has endured. Small gangs of thieves have begun to form on the less privileged areas of the city, making it now impossible for people to walk the streets unarmed as they once used to. Some businesses are being closed as others are reopening. The economy in Newhaven is not at its possible worst, but it’s fragile. The city funds are growing slim, and there has been talk amongst the city council (and rumors amongst the population) of increasing taxes. Still, even if still shaky, order seems to have slowly been restored to city, especially since Blackpond seems to have lost its interest in attacking Newhaven, ever since the death of their most beloved ruler.

4. Assassin’s Camp (Within the forest): Between the grounds of the two cities, deep inside the forest, lies a clan of assassins, they name themselves the “ Wolfpack”, or simply the Pack” and they have prospered for years eliminating targets on both sides of the feud. The camp consists of one huge clearing surrounded by woods and several hidden paths that lead across them. Inside the clearing there are several cabins made of logs, and also a few tents. One big, more secluded cabin is the home of leaders. In the very center of the camp there is one big camp fire which is lit every night.
In the last three years the Pack has suffered with internal disputes after their leader was thought to be dead and then was discovered to be alive. However, the young woman was unfit to fight properly to maintain the leadership of the clan, and was forced to flee to the desert. A few actives followed after their former leader that night as well. Ever since, many others have considered abandoning the clan as well. The Wolfpack is actually in a better place than it was three years ago, however their place in the world in uncertain and the tense relations between the clan and its former members, as well as the Crimson Shadows, has made living a little bit more difficult; to say the very least.

Rules

GENERAL RULES

1- Read these rules, read and post on the OOC before submitting a character. I will view your profile and look at your other RPs when you apply, it's there to be read, am I right? I also reserve myself the right to request a writing sample before approving your character (in case I found none on your profile).

2 – No God-modding , autohitting, or any other of those annoying habits that make people call you a douche and complain to me. You may autohit NPCs unless I state otherwise, but killing someone else’s character without consent, or attempting to do so will get you a nice boot print in the ass, be warned.

3 - Battles between PCs must be discussed through PMs beforehand and have a conclusion both players agree to. Keep in mind Enlightenments contain side effects, and do NOT, under any circumstance, start a pissing match on the OOC. There is going to be plenty of fights to go around, don’t expect to win them all!

4 – There is no posting minimum or limit in this RP. As long as you give your fellow players enough to work with and a little bit extra just for fun, that’s great. We love reading as much as we love to write, don’t be afraid to be creative.

5 - I’m fine with romance, but don’t expect things to stop so that you can concentrate on your love life. It just doesn’t work that way. No need to tell you people to keep it clean, but… I will anyway: Keep it clean!

6 – Try to post at least every 3 days, unless you are waiting on a reply. If you can’t, let us know. If you have to drop, let us know and write your character of, or ask if someone wants to adopt it. ABANDON your character if you’re dropping out.

7 – Don’t make more characters than you can handle.

8 – Feel free to spend time in the OOC lounge and share a laugh or two with us. ;)

9 – This RP is mostly character driven so feel very welcome to bring your own ideas to the table.

10 – There shall be no divine interventions unless if relevant to the plot. Which means that: if it must be done, it will be done by me or a fellow co-GM. The Twins are not playable characters in this RP and the Myth of Creation is just that: a myth. There is no proof to verify that there are actually Gods. It is a blind faith.

11 – I will NOT tolerate disrespect, whining, trolling, or arguing on my thread. Do NOT PM me about another player unless said player is violating the rules and I missed it. I have no interest in gossip and I’m not a babysitter. If you have problems with another player, work it out with them.

I’m a friendly person and whatever assistance you need I’m here. However, I’m also GM of this RP. Being so, it’s my duty to enforce these rules. And I will enforce these rules. So if it comes necessary for characters, or posts, being edited I will take no whining about it.

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Character Portrait: Evin Bana
Evin Bana played by Mr_Doomed
"It takes the better man to end a grudge -- I'm not that better man."
Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers "Sometimes, there is no such thing as justice... This might be one of those times."
Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Black Knight Captain. Things are so much more complicated than they seem.
Character Portrait: Thomas Sidin White Knight Captain. You look like you could use a friend.
Character Portrait: Sham (No Last Name) Black Knight. There's no point in worrying about it, until there is.
Character Portrait: Dominic Adams "Black and White are pointless terms for anyone who really wants to get something done here."
Character Portrait: Lamya
Lamya played by Mr_Doomed
"When there is more than one side to the moral coin, there is no morals. Blackpond is just one of those examples."
Character Portrait: Grim Pondus 'War' Warlord of the Salamanders. "All will perish through war, but peace can't prevail by pacifism."
Character Portrait: Dastan
Dastan played by Blackbird26
Crimson Shadow Leader: "There's nothing a good party can't cure." *winks* "Am I right or am I right?"
Character Portrait: Indrani Nayar Crimson Shadow Commander: *sigh* "I'm not cleaning that up"
Character Portrait: Luckas
Luckas played by Blackbird26
"There's nothing to fear... Except maybe reality." *snickers*
Character Portrait: Jake Turner "There is no truth, only perception."
Character Portrait: Annie Turner Leader of the White Shadows: "Peace is the most pleasant illusion"
Character Portrait: Ella Page
Ella Page played by Mr_Doomed
"The Queen is the strongest on the chess board. Why is it that I feel so weak?"-Deceased
Character Portrait: Allison Blake "The world becomes such a beautiful place once you learn to close your eyes."
Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher Leader of the Wolfpack: "Keep your enemies closer? I think six feet under is just about close enough." (DECEASED)
Character Portrait: Alexander
Alexander played by Mr_Doomed
"That which does not kill me, needs to learn how to finish the job." *Deceased*
Character Portrait: Ess
Ess played by Essence
Not many can resist her charms, deny her loyalty. Trying to outrun her violet stare, will only hypnotize one into her arms for eternity.

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These poor, unfortunate souls were once a part of this great world, but have been abandoned. Why don't you consider viewing their profiles and making a decision on whether or not you can roleplay them accurately?


View All »Places in Shadows of The Forgotten

Valcrest

Valcrest by Blackbird26

The Land of Valcrest

Newhaven

Newhaven by RolePlayGateway

City of Newhaven

Blackpond

Blackpond by RolePlayGateway

City of Blackpond

Assassin's Camp

Assassin's Camp by RolePlayGateway

The Wolfpack Camp

The Ruins (Healer's camp)

The Ruins (Healer's camp) by RolePlayGateway

The Ruins of Blackhurst, home of the White Shadows

The Desert

The Desert by RolePlayGateway

The ruins of Brightvale, home of the Crimson Shadows

The Manor

The Manor by RolePlayGateway

Headquarters of The Order.

Raven's Nest

Raven's Nest by RolePlayGateway

Camp of the former Black Guard.

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4 characters
3 players
The Ravens

[Blackbird26] Former Black Guard

4 characters
3 players
Newhaven Royalty and Military

[Blackbird26] Queen and White Knights.

3 characters
2 players
Exiled Wolves

[Blackbird26] Group of assassins exiled from the Wolfpack

2 characters
2 players
Wolfpack

[Blackbird26] Assassin group that reside in the Valcrest forest.

2 characters
1 players
The Order

[Blackbird26] A brotherhood of people who aim to cleanse the land from enlightenment.

2 characters
1 players
Crimson Shadows

[Blackbird26] Mercenary group that resides in the Brightvale ruins in the desert.

1 characters
1 players
The White Shadows

[Blackbird26] Group of Healers the resides in the ruins of the citiy of Blackhurst in the Plains.

1 characters
1 players
Shadow's Conflict

[Blackbird26] Assassin group currently in control of the City of Blackpond.

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Blackpond Ball

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Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Indrani Nayar Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Annie Turner Character Portrait: Allison Blake
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The sun came up in Valcrest once more. Allison’s eyes were closed, waiting for the sounds of the camp below to fill her ears; Dastan going on about not knowing where he left an object the night before, Indrani complaining about some mess someone surely had made while intoxicated, people walking and wishing others “good morning” as they passed. Eyes still closed, the assassin felt the engravings on the silver ring she was holding. The ring had been delivered to the desert by a seven year old worker. Sean probably thought not even Evin would have it in him to harm the little girl, Allison didn’t know, the man wasn’t present at the time, and she knew that she had fought the urge to send the worker’s corpse back to Sean in pieces. She didn’t touch the kid, it wasn’t her fault after all, but the thought of Sean made her feel a level of anger she hadn’t experienced in a couple of years. She thought she’d put that part of herself to rest, but her former colleague seemed to know exactly what to do to awaken it.

“Allison!” A voice called down in the distance.
Ali opened her eyes to see a mercenary waving with both arms in the direction of the tower the young assassin was looking down from. He couldn’t see her there at that distance, but everyone knew that if Ali wasn’t on a job and wasn’t in plain sight, she was on top of the watch tower. It had become her favorite place, much like the lake once used to be, back in the forest.

Quickly she climbed down into the ruins of the Fire Temple, and walked out of the building in the direction of the mercenary who had called her name. It only took a few minutes for the young woman to get from the top of the construction to the ground, but the man didn’t seem surprised as the girl reached him, a gentle smile crossing her face. “Jackson.” She greeted. “How did the hunt go?” She asked him, still smiling until she caught the look in the man’s eyes.
Jackson shook his head. “We lost Lionel. One moment he was right behind me, the next he was gone.” The man heaved a sigh. “Then, next we knew, we heard this… Noise; like something dropping, and when we all turned to look his body was lying dead on the trail. They killed Lionel.”
Ali sighed. “Those bastards…” She took the time to guard the ring, which she still held firmly, into her pocket. “Have you told Indrani about it yet?”
“No. Not yet.” The man mumbled staring at his feet. Then he raised his head and gave her a weak smile. “I managed to shoot a rabbit though.”
Ali chuckled, resting a hand on the man’s shoulder. “That’s really good, Jack. I’m impressed, rabbits are fast little buggers.” She said, attempting to cheer the man up a little.
“So they are.” The man agreed. Then, tilting his head to one side and giving her a playful smirk, the mercenary reached out and ran one finger down the bridge of her nose, which was red due a sun burn. “You’re a sensitive little forest creature, aren’t ya?” He provoked. “Can’t really remember the last time your face wasn’t red. Or maybe it’s just my charm…” He stated.
Ali rolled her eyes in annoyance and gave the man a gentle push away from her. “I see that you’re feeling better now.”
“Why, yes, but there are faster ways of cheering a guy up.” He replied, winking at her.
Ali sighed. “Isn’t your throat sore yet?”
Jackson looked at her in confusion. “What?”
“You know, from all this barking up the wrong tree you’ve been doing lately.” She replied smirking.

Jackson had opened his mouth to reply, but was cut off by another Crimson that had come running towards them at full speed, tripping over everything. The man stopped, took one breath and exclaimed in overly-excited tone. “Dastan wants everyone available to go to the training area! He’s going to fight Crys!” He grabbed each of them by the shoulder and exclaimed in much more excited tone and in one single breath: “Whatareyoupeoplewaitingfor?!” That said, he ran straight to the training area. Ali and Jackson stood for a second, and then the two of them ran to the training field themselves, as fast as they possibly could. The excitement was for a reason: For over two years Dastan and Crys had been training in there, and every time Dastan would forbid anyone to go near the training area “not to interfere with concentration”. Now he was asking people to go there… This would certainly be entertaining.

As they arrived at the training field a small crowd her gathered, and now Ali understood why Dastan had done that; Crys looked extremely uncomfortable by the amount of people all around her. She looked slightly… Suffocated; her face was pale and her hands were shivering.

“Aright!” Dastan exclaimed. “Shut your mouths and just watch, don’t make me kick ya sorry butts outta here!”
Ali took a seat on the top of a nearby boulder, immediately going silent and watching Crys carefully as she began to take deep breaths to concentrate.
“What’s she doin’? Jackson whispered next to her.
“She’s ignoring us.” Ali stated “Or trying to at least.”
Jackson chuckled. “I betcha the blind girl is going to be eating sand in a moment.” Jackson stated. “My last pay against yours, watcha say blondie?” He asked offering a hand shake.
Ali gave the mercenary a suspecting glance before shaking his hand. “Fine.” Then she looked back to the arena to see that Dastan had sat on the ground. “Now, what is he doing?” She mumbled.
“Heh, heh.” Jackson chuckled. “You haven’t seen Shaykh’s enlightenment yet? Oh, what fun!”

“Wha-?” Ali’s questioning was interrupted by Indrani’s voice on the other side of her.
“He’s using Jon on her? That’s a little too much.” She stated.
“Jon?” Ali turned to Indrani with a completely confused expression. Indrani, however, simply nodded towards the arena. Ali turned her eyes to see the shadow figure that had appeared standing before Crys, holding replicas of Dastan’s weapons in its hands. His exact silhouette, his own shadow; materialized and alive, or at least animated. “Holy shit.” She mumbled watching as Crys pulled her Katana and took a stance. “Is he controlling it?” She asked, watching Dastan as he sat there, his eyes turned completely black.
Indrani chuckled. “Not quite. I mean, in a way you can say Jon has a mind of its own. He has free will even, unless Dastan gives him a direct order. Dastan tells me that, in reality, it is only a fragment of his own personality. So Jon is a version of Dastan, only fully rational and void of emotion; which means he won’t hesitate to kill Crystal.”
Ali’s eye widened as she watched the shadow advance towards Crys slowly, step by step. “Void of emotion?”
“Yes.” Indrani confirmed. “He also feels no pain and cannot be killed. I mean, it’s a shadow. The only way to stop Jon is knocking Dastan unconscious. So I assume her goal is to reach him.”
“How long can he keep it animated?” Ali asked, now unable to keep her eyes from the shadow figure as it circled Crys.
“His record is three days, but it almost killed him.” Indrani answered, a hint of excitement concealed in her tone.
“I’m going back on that bet.” Ali stated.
“Nah, blondie.” Jackson grinned. “You shook on it, a deal is a deal.”
“Damn it.” She muttered.

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

“Are you ready?” Dastan had asked as he sat down on the sand. “Once I summon him there’s no turning back.”
“Sure. What is another beating? If I didn’t know any better I’d think he enjoys it.”
Dastan chuckled slightly. “That’s me you’re sensing there, Red.”
“Figured.” Crys stated, drawing her Katana and readying herself for an incoming strike. In the past two years, she had gone back to the very basics of her training: Using her senses instead of her enlightenment. Dastan’s enlightenment was the perfect aid; a “living” opponent with no emotions. Not only that, that shadow was completely silent, the only way to fight that thing was on raw instinct. Something she had come to develop. The progress had finally reached a point where they could take it one step further: Relying on her senses despite her enlightenment. The level of excitement of their little audience was more than enough to give Crys uncomfortable shivers. Soon enough, she felt the shadow’s presence circling her, it was difficult to explain… She could feel the movement on her skin... It was just cold.

Finally, she took a single step towards Dastan, immediately being forced to dodge the incoming hits. She slashed at the shadow, but it didn’t even slow it down; she had forgotten how useless it was to attack it. The more the fight progressed the more the excitement and tension grew around her… Such an overwhelming feeling…

“Shit!” Crys muttered as the shadow’s dark blade nicked her face. Her mind was drifting off, that couldn’t happen. Again, it nicked her. Again! Finally, she fell with her back to the ground, immediately rolling over to avoid the blade aimed directly at her head. Jumping to her feet she felt a hand grab her ankle. “Oh, crap.” She exclaimed, feeling the pull knocking her down again, face down on the sand, which was immediately followed by the weight of a knee on her back and a hand forcing her head down in to the sand; causing her to suffocate. She heard Indrani’s voice somewhere calling Dastan’s name, asking him to stop it. However, she didn’t succumb to the overall sensation of fear around her. She reached for a throwing knife in her belt, tried to pinpoint where Dastan was sitting and threw it at him. It must have worked because the weight holding her down disappeared and she managed to get on her hands and knees, coughing and spitting out sand. “Son of a bitch! I hate that damn thing!” She shouted after finally catching a breath.
Dastan laughed out. “You didn’t completely embarrass yourself, Red. Productive, but you only managed to break my concentration. I could have brought it back to finish the job.” He stood in front of her and offered his hand. “It was great progress though.”

As Crys got on her feet, wiping the sand of her hands and face, suddenly she lifted her head with the expression of someone who had felt an enormous chill down their spine.
“What’s the matter?” Dastan asked. “Crys… Are you listening to me?”
“It’s just not possible.” She mumbled, walking past Dastan and out of the arena.

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

“Ha!” Jackson exclaimed. “Face down on the dirt like I said! Pay up!”
Allison was barely paying attention to him though; she pulled a bag of coins and dropped in his lap. “Here take it.” She mumbled, watching as Crys pulled a knife and tossed it in Dastan’s direction, missing him, but causing him to lose concentration. The shadow faded and Crys was able to breathe. When Ali looked around, she noticed Indrani had left. “Where did she go?” She asked Jackson.
“The scouts spotted travelers headed this way from the south. Indrani went to greet them and see what they want. It’s her duty and all.”

Ali chuckled hearing Crys shout that she hated the shadow, but her smile shut when she saw the look on her friend’s face as she walked away. It was completely unrelated to the training… Something had happened, something important.

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

[The Ruins – White Shadows encampment]

It was a beautiful morning in the plains. A soft breeze was blowing and spreading the smell of flowers and tea throughout the encampment. Annie was sitting in her tent staring at a sealed envelope, waiting on her cousin to show up; as she had asked him to the night before. Jake had argued with her about what she wanted him to do, but there was no other way to go about it. She couldn’t possibly afford to send a healer as far as Newhaven.

The girl smiled brightly as she heard footsteps walking towards the tent. As Jake walked in, she had a cup of tea waiting for him. The man gave her an annoyed look as he sat in front of her. “No.” He stated simply, accepting the tea cup, but not drinking.
“Jake, don’t be a baby. Just deliver the letter, it’s a simple task.” She told him, with a slight frown.
“I haven’t been in Newhaven in, what, two years, haven’t been in the castle in almost three. Doesn’t it occur to you that I’m avoiding the place?”
“Any more than you’re avoiding everything else?” She asked him with a raised eyebrow. “Look, I have very few healers, a bunch of apprentices with minimum to no control over their enlightenments and a considerable number of injured people to tend to. So, I really couldn’t care less for your whining. You owe me this, and you’re taking the damn letter to Captain Mageria, or so help me, I will make your life a living hell!” She exclaimed.
Jake had opened his mouth to argue, but didn’t find words to say and simply closed it again. Finally he heaved a long sigh. “Alright… Your Worshipness.” He muttered, taking the letter from her and standing up. As he left a healer entered, looking rather shaky. “Annie, w-we have situation.”

Annie followed the healers to the gates and there a young man was simply making his way in, the reddish glow spread across his eyes was a warning for the healers not to stand in his way. He was simply passing through the healers in the most disrespectful way possible, however, Annie knew that Luke simply didn’t understand the need for social conventions: They were just pointless. He only stopped when he saw her, smiling pleasantly he took a bow – although the exaggerated gesture was filled with sarcasm – and spoke. “Honorable leader of the White Shadows, I’ve come here to respectfully ask for access to you clan’s archives.”
“Those are restricted Luckas.” Annie stated. “And cut the bullshit, please. I’m not in the mood.”
Luckas chuckled. “Oh, my… The princess said ‘shit’.” He nodded. “No seriously, I need to see those files.” He repeated, taking a step forward and looking straight into the girl’s eyes. “I’d hate to be more persuasive.” He whispered.
Annie simply put a hand in his chest and pushed him away, however she frowned when noticing that he had winced as she did so. “You’re hurt.” She stated.
Luckas didn’t answer, he simply repeated. “I need to see those files”

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

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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.”
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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.”

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Out in the desert of Valcrest a sand storm raged fiercely around the hopeless wasteland. Wherever it traveled it consumed and eventually destroyed everything in its path. Animals, people and what little plant life and water there were left in this part of Valcrest bowed down to the winds mighty conquest. None dared to say ”stop” and none dared to stand up for themselves as the raging storm destroyed everything mother nature held dear.

And then, it was gone. As if nothing had happened, the storm ceased to exist and the desert went back to its quiet and luring state. However, not everything was as it seemed. Right where the storm had just failed to gather its strength to move towards the ruins in front of it, a group of people came into view. There were four of them and each of them rode on their own horse as well. From above they formed a formation which looked a lot like a diamond; One was riding ahead, two were riding just behind the man in the front and a clear distance was built between each of them while the last one rode a couple of meters behind them all.

The group had their destination in sight and their path had been clear ever since the small tornado had been vanquished by unknown means. The man in the front of the group continued to ride in silence as the other companions suddenly began to talk amongst themselves.

”So this is Valcrest? Not much to look at.” The man in a chainmail suit said and looked around at the seemingly never ending desert. The man was known for his pessimistic attitude and his realistic way to look on life. The leader of the group liked his opinions from time to time while the others both found him to be amusing and a pain in the ass.

”No, we’re just out in the desert thus far. I’m certain that Valcrest has more to offer us before we’re done here.” The only woman in the group explained as her gaze turned itself over to man riding behind her. The woman wore white robes and by her waist there was a large leather belt and by her kneepads, chest and shoulders there were plated pieces that were meant to protect her weak spots from harm. She wasn’t always this serious, but around their leader, her master, she tended to be dead serious.

”I don’t give shit if there’s going to be better places than this desert. Give me an ice cold ale and some roasted meat and I won’t care if we’re going to the very pits of hell itself!” The large person riding next to the woman grunted loudly and gave away a hearty laugh. This being was equipped in a large black plate armor that covered just about everything from top to toe. He even wore a pitch black helmet over his large head. This person had already assumed the role of ‘comic relief’ in the group and made an effort to always be sarcastic and pull funny jokes and pranks on others. They all loved to hate him sometimes, however most of the time they just simple loved him for who he was.

And with that they pressed onwards towards the large ruins of a destroyed city that lied ahead. Only the leader knew what might await them there, but he wasn’t sure. He had not spoken much during their journey from the land south of Valcrest, only short commands to turn right or left or to wait or to rest during the entire trip. He was deep in his own thoughts and many questions troubled his mind. Questions he could not answer himself or ask his companions about. He had too see the answers himself to know if they were true or not. They were closing up to the ruins by now and soon enough they would reach its gates and confirm one of the leaders first questions: Were these ruins still inhabited by a hostile cult or had others moved in since he was here last time?

The company reached the closed gates and there they stopped abruptly. Nothing was said as all of them scanned the high walls that protected the ruins inside and nothing yet confirmed if there was still a threat to be dealt with here. The last time he had been here he had been close to dying from that crazed cult, but this time he was prepared and he was stronger than he had ever been before. The leader of the group lead his horse forward a few more steps and cleared his rusty throat.

”Is anyone home?!” The man began to shout with his firm voice, but nothing happened. Not a single response and the gates remained shut. ”We seek a place to rest at for the night and some food and water for our journey ahead. I give you my word that we will not disturb you more than what we already have.” The leader continued and after waiting long enough he was about to turn his horse around to take off when the gates suddenly opened slowly and six armed men and women walked out with their weapons leveled. The other party members in the group were about to arm themselves as well, but their leader only had to wave his hand at them to make them stop.

When the six mercenaries from the looks of it, had cornered the group of four, a woman walked out from the open gates. The leader noticed her gracefully light brown hair and her almost stunning golden eyes as she seemed to watch the odd group in front of her with great care. She also seemed unarmed. That meant she put much trust and confidence in her soldiers ability to kill the group standing before her if things went out of hand. That, or she had a better plan up her sleeves.

Before the woman could say anything, the leader of the group took his chance to speak before being warned not to speak up.

”I wish to speak with your leader about things of the past and things yet to come.” He explained firmly and remained still on his trusted horse. He didn’t mind the situation they were in and he knew that he could kill the men and women around him in a heartbeat if he so wished to. It was not confidence nor was it arrogance, but pure fact that allowed him to believe such a thing. In his time away from Valcrest he had learned a couple of martial arts that many of the people in this land had never seen and he’s gained knowledge he didn’t posses before. This, and he now also had his beloved enlightenment once more; The ability to control the very earth and stones around him and others.

The mercenaries finally began to study the man who had spoken after wrestling their eyes away from his mysterious companions. Upon further inspection they saw that the leader of this odd company wore almost the same robes as the young girl behind him, but his robes were also filled with leather and fur. They clearly saw that his kneepads, chest and shoulders were heavily reinforced with thick steel. The white mask with red and black patterns concealed his face and the dark brown hood from his dark brown robes covered his head. By the left side of his waist a sharp and long sword hanged firmly, ready to be used against anything or anyone who dared to come in its way. They couldn’t see if he had any other weapons upon him other than the sword and the crossbow hanging on his back, but they were all sure that he had more in store for anyone who dared to face him than what the eye could see.

And now, the man awaited the womans response.

---
[Wolfpack's encampment]

Out in the large woods of Valcrest a young man slowly patrolled the perimeter of the large camp lying nearby. The wind touched the part of his face that wasn’t covered by his white coloured bandanna; His eyes. Both of them had the color of green with a slight touch of crimson in them. One of his eyes was the same as anyone elses but his other eye, the one on the left side of his face, was marked with a scar he made himself in his youth. It was not on purpose, but it was still more of a lesson than an accident if you’d ask him.

The man walked steadily upon the dusty road and without any fear of being ambushed by either animal or people alike. He knew of his surroundings and it was almost as if he could feel the very heartbeats of every living thing around him, even though it was literally impossible of him. The wind continued to caress his eyes as he moved onwards on the dusty road leading through the dark forest. His left hand twitched furiously from time to time, a ”gift” he had earned from fighting that wretched Evin Bana a year ago just outside the camp he lived in. He swore that he would one day find the man and kill him for himself, but for now, thoughts of revenge and justice would have to wait.

The man suddenly left the forest behind and found himself walking towards a lake that lay just in the outskirts of the camp. Upon reaching it, the man kneel down and took a sip of the fresh water before taking a seat against the nearest tree. It was quiet here. No sound of the wind, the animals not even any sound of anything human at all. He liked the silence and he enjoyed every second of it for he didn’t get much rest these days. There was always something to be done around the camp and when he had nothing to do in the camp he had a target to assassinate in one of the cities of Valcrest. The life of an assassin was never a calm one and always putting those who lived it on the edge.

The assassin suddenly pulled out the quarter staff attached to his back and slammed the bottom of it into the ground softly. This caused four curved blades to slash out from the staff on each side of it and blood dripped from each of them. The assassin had just recently returned from assassinating an entire family. A father, a mother and their old son. They had not only a bounty on their heads but they were also the ones who had caused several other families to starve to death while they lived rich and happy lives in Newhaven. Such an act would not go unpunished and the assassin made sure to leave no witnesses to his little ”visit”.

He took out a small and somewhat dirty piece of cloth and began to clean his weapon from all the blood. From the beginning it had only been a simple quarterstaff to be used as a weapon to disarm his enemies, knock them out or use it with his enlightenment, but recent years have proved it to be useless in combat against enemies he only wished death for. And thus, he had modified his own weapon to suit his own needs.

After he was done, he slammed the bottom end of his weapon against the ground once more and the blades returned into their places on the quarterstaff. Just as he was about to rise from his sitting position he heard an all too familiar voice behind him; It was the voice of his leader and his best friend in the clan. It was Sean.

”Hey Avius.” He said and the man named Avius rose at last from sitting at the tree to greet his friend.

”Hello Sean. Of what do I owe the pleasure?” Avius responded and studied the man before him to see if he brought good or bad news or if he just wanted to know how things had gone with his assassination. Avius knew many things about Sean and that included how to spot what kind of mood his best friend was in at the time.

---
[The Western Plains - Close to the Ruins]

Out in the edges of Valcrest, by the western plains, a large and mystical creatures moves slowly, following the wind and the many sounds that this land has to offer. The creatures red eyes darts from one place to the other, always making sure that it’s not being watched by anyone or anything. It’s not as if it cares if someone finds out that it has finally after three years returned to Valcrest, but it wants to be sure if it is supposed to be ready for an ambush or not once it reaches the woods. Nothing is yet in sight, but the creature remains low and slow as it continues to stalk its way towards the edges of the forest ahead.

The creature itself is very large. Its thick skin is coloured black as the night itself and its red eyes can change from red to yellow or black. Spikes that are part of its body are sticking up here and there and its long and sharp fangs are always visible from its half-open mouth. Long and purple hair hangs from his head down on to a shoulder length. Its giant hands have four sharp claws on it and every time it takes a step in the dirty ground a mark is set. The creature leaves a trail behind itself, but it doesn’t mind it since it knows that it can handle anything that would even dare to attack it.

During these three years away from Valcrest the beast have grown so much stronger from the last time it was seen within the walls of Newhaven, fighting the white knight captain and almost defeating the black knight captain after a long fight. It would have slain her had it not been for one little detail: The man the creatures soul had possessed was still very much alive inside it and had forced it to flee the battlefield. Over the years the man inside the beast has grown weaker and these days he doesn’t show himself much and rather let the beast rule his thoughts and his actions.

Even though the creatures size would deem it impossible to remain stealthy, the beast melted with the shadows the very moment it entered the forest and if anyone had seen it they would claim that it simple disappeared into thin air. Something strange was happening in Valcrest and someone or something even more sinister was making plans behind the very eyes of the gods themselves, as the war between the city of Blackpond and the city of Newhaven are starting to reach its climax!

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Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Indrani Nayar Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher
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Sean had a busy morning. Busy, busy, busy. Another group of mercenaries had been caught hunting on their territory. The man was slightly disappointed to discover Allison was not amongst them this time. Perhaps Crystal had something to do with that; the archer hadn't been spotted in the territory even since her former recruit was executed. Sean thought he would drive her out of her cautious attitude with that, but it didn't work. It was a pity too, because he knew that if he managed to get to Allison, he could easily reach Crys through her. The blind woman had simply made herself disappear ever since he'd defeated her in camp three years ago. Unlike the other traitors who had invaded the territory and committed vengeful acts against him and the clan, Crys hadn't showed herself. It was a pleasant thought to him that maybe she had given up and retired, but that was unlikely. Being an assassin was all she knew, the clan was all she knew, and Crys wouldn't walk away like this. For that reason, the silence was unsettling.

As the active that had been reporting to him finished the accounts of how they had scared the mercenaries away, Sean nodded at the man as to show he understood, and waved him away without a word. These events had become ordinary now, so much that Sean had little to say in response to the man. Sitting back in his wooden chair and looking around the leader's cabin. If those walls could speak, Sean imagined what kind of stories they would be able to give. That house had seen so much, survived so much, that place was in itself a piece of history.

The past three years had been complicated. First was the cleaning and rebuilding of the camp, then there was the death of the Blackpond ruler that set things back a little bit. Turns out, as much Sean hated to admit it, Crys had a point: Sean had no idea who the new King was, or where he had come from. While he was able a keep a mutually respectful relationship with Rory, this so called son of his was another story, and Sean decided to keep his distance from Blackpond except if the new king decided to call upon one of the favors he owed. Then he would, of course, keep his word and answer whatever request the man had: A deal is a deal.

"Sean." An active called entering the cabin and taking a small bow.
"Yes, Alex, what is it?" Sean asked, turning his attention towards the young man.
"Dante already came back from his assignment. You had asked me to let you know, remember?"
"Oh... Right. Thank you, Alex."
"At your service." The active responded, walking out back to his duties.

Sean smiled as the active left the cabin, waiting a few moments before leaving himself. He didn't need to ask if Alex knew where Avius was, he knew exactly where to find his friend. As he walked in the direction of the lake he simply nodded in acknowledgement as some people told him good morning. Even if Sean's demeanor had changed very little with the new title, the man had become a little more introspective than he was as a simple Active, keeping his thoughts to himself and always measuring his words. Those who knew him longer had noticed that change, but then... Leading the Wolfpack was no easy task.

As he reached the lake, Sean found Avius sitting there, as he suspected he would be. "Hey Avius." Sean greeted, simply. Walking over and leaning against one of the trees.
”Hello Sean. Of what do I owe the pleasure?” The man responded, watching him.
Sean had let a chuckle escape him at the words. He didn't think anyone else would have seen his presence as 'a pleasure', it was a little bit funny. Finally he sat down by the edge of the lake himself. "Damn busy morning." Sean stated in a weary voice. "Mercenaries invading again. Although Allison wasn't with them this time..." He chuckled. "I think she just doesn't love me anymore." He stated sarcastically. "Or maybe she thought I would take it easier on them if she wasn't there..." It was an accurate assumption to make. As much as Sean wanted to punish Ali, and all the others who had turned on the clan, he still expected to go back into good terms with the Crimson one day. He held no personal grudge against the mercenaries, all he wanted was to make them see that aiding those traitors would only bring them trouble. He knew well how much the Crimson hated trouble. "It has been three years now. I thought that a few months of retaliation would convince those mercenaries to give the traitors up. I suppose Crystal's friendship with their leader is a lot stronger than I had assumed." He stated, reaching into the water absently. "So, tell me friend... How did your assignment go?"

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

[The Desert]

Indrani was a little bit upset for having to leave while Crys was face down in the sand. The assassin was fast, and graceful for a blind person, Indrani had to give her that much... That not to mention that fighting that shadow took a lot of courage. It was without a doubt the deadliest thing Indrani had ever seen in her life, reason why Dastan didn't use his enlightenment in battle unless it was absolutely necessary. It was all very impressive, and right in the best part of it, she called away by the sight of travelers. She would have to ask someone what happened at a later time. Travelers coming from the south... That was far more important than some sparring match. Even this one.

As Indrani reached the southern gates, a group of mercenaries was already organized there awaiting her command. "Open the gates, and position yourselves. Do not move unless I command you to." She stated. As the gates opened, the men circled the incoming group. Indrani walked out and examined the oddest group of travelers she had ever laid eyes on. There, each on their own horse, a man in a mask that appeared to be the leader. A large dark green... Person? A slim white skin man who seemed slightly odd all in all, and a woman who, admittedly, had the most normal appearance in the group. She stood there watching the group for a moment, before finally putting her focus on the leader. The man had the posture of a person who had seen all, or the closest to it all as one could see. His demeanor was calm, respectful even, however it didn't make seem like less of a threat. Indrani wasn't as much of a people-person as Dastan, but she wasn't quick to judge and she liked to think the best of people until proven wrong... However, the last time a traveler came to them from those parts, they lost many of their people, not to mention their homes.

"Excuse my less than welcoming posture, kind sir. However, if is shelter you seek as well as the word of our leader, I must ask that first you state your name." She said giving a wave of her hand, so that the mercenaries would lower their weapons. "I wouldn't like to betray my clan's good reputation of being laid back and over-friendly, but the last outsiders to pass these gates abused our hospitality in the worse possible ways. Reason why I must now take caution."

As she finished speaking, however, footsteps sounded behind her and before she knew, Crys had walked past her and stopped before the masked man. For what Indrani could tell, the blind woman was slightly shocked and unsure whether she would smile or frown. Finally, Crys let out a small half-irritated, half-amused, snicker. "I'll be damned... I was starting to think you had dropped dead somewhere... Sir." She stated.
Indrani frowned slightly in confusion. "You know these people?" She asked.
Crys turned to face Indrani and gave her a small smile. "Not really. I do however know this man..." She nodded slightly towards the masked individual. "Enough to put my life on the hands of any friend of his." With that she started to walk back to the encampment. "Don't expect a warm welcome from Evin, but I'm sure Allison will be more than glad to see you." She stated over her shoulder.
Indrani stood for another moment, but finally she gave nod and the mercenaries dispersed, at which point she gave them a smile. "Well, since Crystal is rather fond of her life for what I know of her... In the name of the Crimson Shadows, I welcome you. If you would be so kind as to follow me..." She offered, walking past the gates and leading them into the camp, under the curious eyes of the rest of the mercenaries. One of them ran, most likely to warn Dastan of the visitors. She only hoped there was no trouble this time.

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Even though Sean was his best friend and the only man he would trust with his own life, Avius still found it hard take jokes about Allison from him or anyone else for that matter. Even though he'd been told that Allison and Crystal along with a couple of other actives had betrayed the Pack and seen for himself that Evin had done the same, Avius still couldn't take jokes about the woman he had loved for so long. It just wasn't possible and even though he wanted nothing more than to doubt Seans words about her, the evidence was clear; She had stopped him from performing a tradition done by the Pack through several generations and defied her new Alpha and were now positively helping Evin, a traitor who had not only caused so much damage to the Pack but also caused much pain to Avius personally. He couldn't let this mess pass him by, even though he wished he could.

"Maybe something could be done about that leader of theirs?" Avius thought and came up with several sinister ways of putting someone loyal to the Pack in a leadership position inside the Crimson Shadows. However, for now he kept them for himself seeing as he knew that Sean didn't have a grudge against them, only the people they were protecting. When the question that Avius had been waiting for turned up he sighed heavily and let his hand slide down the quarterstaff slowly.

"An old man, his wife and their fifteen years old son, all dead. No witnesses. No questions asked. I got in, assassinated them and then got out. Nothing special." Avius reported just like he used to; Very short. His eyes darted off towards the encampment as he heard voices from the camp growing louder, however he figured they were just having a laugh or a friendly (or as friendly as it could be in the Pack) argument. Nothing to worry himself over. His attention shifted back to Sean as he sat down next to him by the lake.

"Things are changing in this land and they're changing fast. It might be a breeze when it comes to all the fighting between the cities and the outcast might give us a small moment to breath..." Avius began and let his hand touch the water for a brief moment before puling back, feeling how it was about to twitch again. "...But, we can't stay put forever. We need a plan and we need it fast. Why? Because soon shit will get real and you know where we will be when that happens? In the middle of it." The man rose from his position and put away his weapon as he held his hand as it begun to twitch furiously. The pain was hard and merciless, but he endured it. The pain just reminded him how much he wanted Evin Bana dead and what he would do to slit that sick mans throat. It was a pleasent thought and a bit tad sick, but it was pleasent nonetheless.

"Here's my suggestion. We should stop focusing on taking contracts and staying neutral. That's what Dani and Crystal did and looked what happened." Avius explained and insulted himself in his mind for speaking ill of Dani, but it had to be done. "Instead we should ensure that once the war starts again, we'll be on the winning side."

--------------------
[The Desert - In the ruins of Brightvale]

A smile grew across the leaders scarred and concealed face as he motioned for the rest of his companions to follow his lead as he jumped off his trusted horse named Merlin and led his animal and friends into the very ruins he had been trapped in four years ago. It had changed to say the least and there were more people here than last time and they didn't seem as hostile. They did however, seem very curious about him and his odd company, but maybe that woud prove to be an advantage that he could use. After following the woman into the ruins a couple of mercenaries came up to them and told them that they would feed their horses and put them by the stables. The leader approved and his friends followed his lead. After that they kept on following the woman with the golden eyes.

His meeting with Crystal didn't turn out as he had hoped for nor as he had thought it would be, but it was good enough to see that she wasn't angry with him, or at least not yet. The fact that Evin wouldn't like seeing him again and that Allison sure would be happy made him feel like home again. "I wouldn't have it any other way.", He thought as Crystal had walked away. As they moved on he noticed that people had been starting to follow them to see what this odd group might want with the leader of theirs and who they were. They whispered and bets were even made between some of them.

"Barca will enjoy himself here. However, I believe I'll have to keep an eye on Ace for a while." He thought as he eyed his companions who walked right behind him. Ace was yet not impressed and remained as void of emotions as usual; Barca was smiling and held his helmet under his right arm as he scanned the ruins; Akida remained cool-headed, but he could see that she wanted to go about exploring this place for a couple of hours. Such things would have to wait though as they reached their destination.
A ring had gathered around them as the company stepped forward and soon enough they were joined by a young man with dark brown hair and cocky posture to say the least. Next to him stood the woman the group had been following and in the crowd the leader also spotted a woman he had grown fond of a couple of years ago. However, before he revealed himself to anyone else but the one person who already knew who he was, the leader turned his entire attention towards the cocky guy who he hoped wasn't the leader, but probably was.

"I suppose you're the leader of this fine company of men and women? I have many things to discuss with you if you're willing to listen." The leader said and bowed. Akida and Barca were the only ones who bowed with him. Being the elf that he was, Ace bowed to no one but himself and his father. That was elven law and it was what elves were taught from childhood. If you bow, you're weak. If you bow, you open yourself for a deadly strike even from an ally. When you bow, you might sign your own death sentence. After rising to his former posture, the leader looked over at Allison before returning his hidden eyes back at the man who might just be the leader of this group of mercenaries.

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The air was dense in the forest today. It was abnormally warm for this time of the year, when in just a few weeks, there would most likely be snow small bouts of snow on the ground. The humidity and heat was just unbearable as if Evin was still in the desert. This was nothing like a day in the desert. Just being in this area should have been a death sentence for him. He had been in the bushes for over four hours earlier just outside of the leader's cabin, but had spent the past three hours walking around the camp as if he was just another worker there sitting by the fireplace and listening to a conversation being had by a few of the actives next to him.
"I think Sean has finally scared Evin off when he sent Allison back and killed those Crimsons." The one on the far right said to the two others. His name was Eric. He took a bottle from out of his coat took a quick glance around before taking a sip and placing it back in his coat.
"Yeah! What a coward." The youngest one shouted.
The third one stood up and stretched his arms looking back at the first man. "You know, I heard that he's been seen out in the streets of Blackpond drunk out of his mind. I think Sean finally broke his spirit."
Evin grimaced with his head down, looking out of the corner of his eye where he saw Desmond, the Second in Command limping down the path into the common area. Obviously the poison had worked. It would only be a matter of minutes until he wouldn't be able to walk at all. The poison wouldn't kill, but it would sure make his job a lot easier. What wasn't making his job any easier however was the heat. He was starting to sweat and the makeup he had on was starting to run. The scar he made on his left cheek was no longer there and soon enough his face would be recognizable by almost anybody. He tried to keep his head low, but in his peripherals, he could see a few actives pointing and looking at him with contempt. He knew that they knew, but he needed more time. Just about thirty seconds more was all he needed, but it was impossible now. The few actives that had been pointing at him were now swiftly approaching. By these assassins would reach him, he would only have ten seconds to kill and Desmond would be on his knees unable to move his legs.
The three actives beside him started laughing at a joke about the supposed drinking problem Evin had while Eric took the bottle from out of his coat. "You know Eric, I heard somewhere that Evin doesn't drink, but even more interesting, I heard that he's sitting right beside you." Evin raised himself off the log seat and grabbed the bottle out of Eric's hand, smashing it over his head. Spinning on the ball of his foot, he threw jagged glass right at one of the assassins who was approaching him. This caused him to let go of the sword that he had drawn.
"Protect Desmond and alert Sean!" One of the instructors ordered. That was when Desmond finally fell to his knees unable to move from his position. All of the actives made a barrier around Desmond to protect him, while a couple of others began to sidestep out of Evin's line of sight, just to the left and right of him.
Evin took out a single throwing knife and said, "if you don't mind, tell Sean to go check on his sister. If I used the proper dose, her heart should be stopping in the next twelve to fifteen minutes. Let him know that's what he gets for killing Ali's recruit." Evin quickly sidestepped, avoiding an oncoming attack from behind. "Hold on, I'm not finished." He threw the throwing knife strait up in the air. "I bet that I will have killed Desmond before the knife hits the ground."
Evin wasn't typically a gambling man after he lost 200 gold to Mageria, but he was about to make an exception for this time. If he had calculated his throw correctly, he wouldn't have to worry.
Again from behind, he heard an assassin running towards him. This time Evin wasn't going to be so kind. He turned around drawing his dagger, parrying the assassin's attack. He didn't bother to turn back and make a counter attack and instead ran in the opposite direction of his target, Desmond. It wasn't long before he heard one of the assassins yell, "holy shit!" Evin knew that he won the bet now. That throwing knife most definitely hit the poor man square in the head. Evin hadn't lied either Desmond was now dead and the knife still hadn't hit the ground, but was sitting on top of Desmond's head.
As soon as he appeared, Evin was gone. He hoped that by the time he got back to the Desert, lunch would be made for him.

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

[Newhaven]

The morning had started slow in Castle Newhaven as it was Ella's day off from her duties. In one way it was a big relief, but on the other hand she really needed something to do with her time. The castle wasn't as fun as she remembered it as a kid, that was for sure. Now all she could find to do with her time was wandering around the halls looking for people who she could talk to. As queen, this was really hard to do though. Most people who wandered the halls were only really there to serve the queen and nothing more. They didn't want anything to do with her personal life and she didn't want to go all tyrannical and ask for them to speak with her. She just wanted to find someone who she could have a normal conversation with. As one of the servant girls walked past her, she asked them if they knew where Mageria was.
"Oh sorry, but I don't know your highness. I think I last saw her in the dinning hall eating breakfast. That was a long time ago." She said.
Ella sighed. Oddly, she hated the respect that everyone had for her. "Thanks."
Ella let the woman pass by while she heading for the dinning hall to see if she happened to still be there. She doubted it however as Mageria was one of those early morning types.

~~~~~

Dominic was sitting at the table, enjoying his small meal. It was a simple salad, like he usually had in the morning after a few hours of practice out in the back courtyard. Today's practice was sub par to say the least. He seemed off his game for some reason. He didn't really bother to harbour on the thought though, and instead picked around his spinach looking for the perfect flavour combination.
"Oh hey Dominic!" He paused with the fork half way to his mouth to look up. Ella was standing in front of him all dressed up like a doll. Dominic didn't see why she would waste so much time every morning to dress up so fancy, but he didn't exactly want to question his queen either, even if she was a pushover.
"Hello little one! Haven't you already eaten? I though I saw you walking around the castle with an apple earlier."
"Yes I've eaten, I'm just looking for--"
"A snack? Eat too much and you'll become fat and ugly like me." Dominic chuckled.
He caught Ella smile just a little. "I don't think it's possible to get much bigger than you." Her smile grew. "I was going to say I was looking for Mageria."
"Why, you don't want to talk to me?" Dominic looked offended.
"If I wanted to hear one of your stories then fine! You know, you could write a novel out of the stories you have."
Dominic just laughed, taking the fork and finally eating the spinach and tomatoes. He put down the fork into the bowl, and picked up the bowl. He had enough of the salad for today, and Ella seemed like she wanted some company.
"Come on, let's go look for Mageria."

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[Outside of Newhaven]

“Now then come at me Wallen.”
“B-b-but sir?”
“That’s an order!”

The spear tip raised up in response, though it gleamed brilliant in the day’s lazy sun, it also teetered unbalanced in the hands of its owner. Quiet contempt emerged from beyond, eyes that peered eager onto a small arena. The wind gently blowing through the blades of grass beneath their feet. Every jaw set in anticipation waiting eagerly for the show to being.
Then the spear moved with stern hands to guide it. Feet pounded the earth in repetition charging forward with a hoarse cry. The flash of a determined face taking to stance bearing down on metal and flesh. The onlookers were lit with pride and joy at last action at last amusement. Their voices cried out in jubilation, they were brethren the legion against the few.
Wallen’s face twisted in pain and his spear spilled earthward rolling far from his desperate grip. Body weakened, pain overriding all instinct the man buckled, kneeling unwilling and spitting bitterness between clenched teeth. Over him a monument of metal, a man, a behemoth. It’s mighty hand clasping Wallen by the shoulder firmly.
“Rise Salamander you are better then this.”

Wallen’s hand took the Warlord by the gauntlet, pulling himself to a stand but still retching from the blow to his abdomen. The crowd had grown hushed and returned their attention to their comrades. Some considered their fortunes and others their fears. Much could be said for the Salamander’s training regiment. The foremost thought usually about how painful it tended to be.

“Why did you hesitate?”
“I.. I was-”
“Afraid… You were uncertain of what would happen.”
“Y-yes sir.”
“The unknown can kill you. Fear -will- kill you. You never know what you’re going to face on the battlefield. Even the most meager looking opponent could in fact be anything. We live in a world where anyone could be capable of everything, but we do not show them weakness! We are- where is Hammond?”

The knight crossed his arms embittered by his sudden revelation. Eagerly he overlooked the crowd of men standing at attention. Scanning carefully and counting carefully to himself, taking account for equipment and those running about with private chores.
“… Continue sparring, I want to see the grass red by the time I return.”
With instructions promptly left, the Warlord turned briskly and marched toward the forest. They had been moving about the great woods of Valcrest. Careful to stay far from the Wolves or any larger groups of mercenaries that might cause trouble. They stayed nomadic to avoid conflict, and while going about undetected was impossible, they had no complications thus far. For that Grim was thankful.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~`


Laughter flitted from the boughs and leaves danced to their delight. Such bittersweet words were exchanged in hushed haughty whispers. Minds that were set apart now find themselves merged in a singular desire, though perhaps not the same need. It was belonged to the oldest of known wants, a man and a woman alone to their thoughts.
His chortle could be picked up quite keenly as it reverberated through the woods. His green garments being adjusted properly after a foot chase. Playing games with the distorted woman he followed. He was a poor choice given that his legs had a tendency to falter under duress. Too many days were spent harshly training and his feet just couldn’t take much more.
His eyes were bound with medical bandages but his company was generous enough to lead him by voice. Singing of sultry promises and drawing the stumbling fool ever deeper into the woods. A caress from her hands a musing from her lips, and the man bumbled like a child lost in an innocent fantasy. One could imagine his tension once they had found a retreat in which to rest. Sitting with his back to the trunk of a mighty tree he spewed promises and beautiful nothings. A tongue surprisingly poetic returned his remarks and readied herself for the a much anticipated thrill.
“My darling, I will love you eternal.” the man would chime.
“Oh yes, you will be mine forever.” came the response.

The poor fool blind from more then just his sight. If he had only known, if he could only see the glimmer of the knife slipping free of her boot. Its edge poised to his flesh, her smile drowning any doubt as to her wish. Eyes of gold that spilled the lights of destruction for the power was hers. This man, this soul, she had the control to take or give life. Giggling forced up through the throat dribbling past hungry lips. The choice was made.
“I want to show you my world Hammond.. Would you like to feel what I feel? Beg my pet..”

The blade leapt forward and slipped perfectly into a hand of steel. Her own stopped short as it slid against the edges of cold unfeeling metal. The orbs beaming up to witness the disapproving gaze of her would be commander.

“Hammond if you want to live to see tomorrow, I suggest you stay away from this one. Take off that stupid blindfold and drag your sorry self back to camp.”

The startled soldier hopped immediately to his feet ripping the cloth from his eyes. There was no time to question the scene as he broke into a dead run back toward the rest of the Salamanders. Compelled by a much stronger instinct then even lust could provide.
Grim watched with little interest while the recruit fled to safety. Once he was assured the lad had gone he returned his focus to the young woman he had stopped. His grip tightened in reaction, though it was pointless she didn’t feel it.

“Hullo Grim come to ruin my party? I think we should start seeing other people. It’s getting dull trying to stab you all the time.”

“Killing recruits is rather counter-productive to my plans. As I recall you swore your allegiance to me…”

“Mmmm.. I don‘t remember, but I love it when you talk business.”

“…Morrigan.”

“Fine, fine! I won’t kill your precious sweaty green men.”


The Blade released her after knowing that there was no guarantee she’d follow through. For now it satisfied his nerves. Should it continue to be a problem he wasn’t sure to what lengths he’d have to go. She was far too dangerous to allow free reign over his camp, he’d run out of men before anyone knew what was going on. The sole duty of seeing to her deeds was left to the Warlord.
Morrigan dusted herself off casually, still chipper and humming to herself while pretending to see Grim off. Her sight darting here and there examining things she could hunt to occupy her time. The boredom was becoming unbearable around these parts. Staying busy for her usually meant angering someone or taunting some poor fool.

“Grimmy don’t be that way. Don’t be angry with me. Oh! That reminds me how is your little herb working? Is it curing that temper of yours?”

The ex-knight didn’t bother with a response. He had familiarized himself with her games. Of course in retrospect they weren’t difficult. She would say or do anything to get under one’s skin.
“…Noo? What a shame! Looks like you and I are going to have our little duel to the death after all. I can hardly wait! I always wanted another chance to kill you myself.”

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Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Allison Blake Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher
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Allison had stayed in the training area even after Crys ran off. Dastan had walked up to her, scratching his head in confusion. “What was that all about?”
“I don’t know...” Ali shrugged in response. “Maybe there are too many people here at once.”
“She told me she could handle it.” Dastan responded. “I think maybe, you should go… See… Crys? Hey, wait up!” Dastan shouted over Ali’s shoulder.
Ali turned to see Crys walking a straight line towards the temple, ignoring people as they addressed her. “…The hell?” Ali mumbled, confused. Before she had the chance to follow Crys though, a young mercenary came running towards them and stopped before Dastan, attempting to give him a message despite his shortness of breath. “Shaykh, sir, we have travelers coming the South. Foreigners, it seems. Indrani is leading them into the camp now!”
Dastan chuckled. “Oh my… Outsiders! What a joyous occasion! I must welcome them to our delightful home.” He stated cheerfully, walking towards a training dummy where he had hung the crimson red cape, wrapping it carelessly around his shoulders as he walked back towards the encampment.

Allison stood there for a moment, torn between her concern with Crys and the overwhelming curiosity towards these “outsiders” Dastan had so excitedly referred to. After a few moment of indecision, she ended up being dragged by Jackson. “C’mon now, blondie! You’re not gonna want to miss this!” The man stated, putting one arm around her shoulders and leading her towards the people that had gathered to get a good look of the travelers. For what she could hear of the whispers, it was a rather odd group. Once they were close enough to get a good look, she heard Jackson mumble something along the lines of “Never thought I’d see one.” She didn’t bother to ask what that meant exactly, her eyes were fixed on the man who seemed to be leading the group. There was something about him, she wasn’t sure yet what, that made him seem all too familiar; which was an odd feeling since she couldn’t really see the man’s face, and it was clear to her that she had never met him. He reminded her of someone she knew. That’s probably what it was.

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Dastan walked amongst his men in order to reach the center of the crowd of people who had gathered in the center of their encampment. He examined the approaching group with curious eyes, his gaze lingering a little longer on the female member of the party than it would be considered polite. Indrani immediately stopped beside him and explained what had happened at the gates. However, he didn’t react to her words and turned his attention to the man who seemed to be their leader as he spoke: "I suppose you're the leader of this fine company of men and women? I have many things to discuss with you if you're willing to listen." The leader said and bowed. Two others of the group bowed as well, which caused Dastan’s attention to momentarily fall on the one who hadn’t; ever growing curiosity in his eyes. The proud men and women of Brightvale hadn’t left Valcrest in centuries, but when it came to stories, they had more than enough to spare, and Dastan knew them all. He knew that the outer lands had probably changed greatly since his clan’s last account of them, and whatever these strangers had to tell… He surely wanted to hear it. However, first things first:

“Alright now, friend… No need to be so damn respectful to a bunch of disorderly drunks like us! Now, it’s true that we do have some very fine men and some of the finest women you’ll ever meet, that’s for sure, I could even recommend a few to you if you’re ever in need.” He said playfully, winking to a nearby woman, causing her to giggle. “And it wouldn’t be incorrect to assume that if I order them they’ll obey” He chuckled. “Or at the very least I hope they won’t laugh at me. Still, I’m not one for formalities. I’d much rather talk things out over a bottle of booze or some tea if you rather.” He smiled brightly. “I’m sure you are all in need of a good meal and something to drink. Am I right?”

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

[Assassin’s Camp]

Sean listened to Avius with a slight frown crossing his expression. It’s not like he hadn’t thought of all that before, but what good did it do? There was no way to even guess whether the war would restart any time this century, or which side was the strongest. Newhaven was filled with bureaucrats and idealistic fools, while the new King of Blackpond seemed to not really give a crap even for his own city even less their rival. It was just an incomprehensible mess, that’s what it all was. “I see your point, friend, but… As is, it is hard to know who we could even side with. Newhaven is filled with idealistic bullshit, thus they will most likely never truly aim to massacre Blackpond. Otherwise they would do it now when they are weakened. Blackpond is just… Well, unreliable, and that to say the very least. This new King of theirs has me worried, he really does.” He stood up and stretched with a small groan. “I know we must eventually take a position and do something, but I wouldn’t like to rush into a situation I don’t fully comprehend, or ally with someone I know nothing about. There are moments to stand down, and moments to act.” He stated, seriously. “Our moment will come soon, don’t worry.”

As he prepared to slowly walk back to the encampment he could hear shouting coming from the direction he was headed. “Shit, what now?” He muttered running back towards the center of camp only to catch the scene of Desmond lying dead on the ground with a knife buried on the top of his head. He looked around to see one of the actives sitting on the ground holding his head with a painful expression, broken glass on the floor around him. Sean walked past Desmond’s body and crouched down before the man. “Eric, is it?”
“Yes, sir.” The man mumbled.
“Explain something to me…” He started picking up one of the biggest shards of glass off the floor and bringing it close to his face, the smell of alcohol confirming that the idiot was in fact drinking inside camp grounds. “How is it possible that Evin Bana infiltrated this camp, AGAIN, and no one was able to stop him?”
“He was in disguise.” The man replied.
“In disguise… I see… “ He waved the shard of glass in front of the man’s eyes. “That and you were all having a party when you were supposed to be alert! I should make you second in command and let you suffer the consequences of the stupidity that seems to be spreading around this encampment lately. Would you like that?”
“N-no, sir.”
“No? Alright, then...” He stood up straight. “Evin Bana is a dangerous man! I don’t care what kind of idiotic rumors you’ve heard, that’s no excuse to get sloppy! I don’t want to see this sort of crap in my camp again! If someone looks funny, attack! If someone acts different, attack! If something moves on its own, ATTACK IT REPEATEDLY! But this…” He pointed at Desomond. “I will have no more of this!” He tossed the glass shard on Eric. “And I swear, by all the Gods if I catch anyone even thinking of alcohol again, so help me, I will…”
“Sean! Sean!” A panicked voice sounded behind him. “Katelyn! He said he poisoned her!”

Sean didn’t respond or stop to think about it, he simply addressed Avius, not looking to see where the man was standing. “Deal with these idiots for me.” With that said, he turned and ran towards the place he knew Katie would be; his father’s workshop. He opened the door to find the girl lying on the floor. Two actives had followed him in and were now standing in the doorway behind him as he knelt down to check her pulse. Her heart was beating faintly and she was grasping for air. “There’s an antidote kit, one the second desk drawer.” He said, pointing at a heavy wooden desk in the corner. One of the men reached it and opened the drawer, taking a black box from it and handing it over to Sean. He opened the box and ran his hand through the vials contained there until he picked one out and forced the girl to drink. She began coughing immediately after swallowing the medicine, but it seemed to have worked, at least for the moment. “Why?” The girl muttered out, coughing.
Sean simply nodded in response. “Just tell me how you feel.”
“My… Chest… Aches…” She mumbled.
“You’ll be alright now. Just take deep breaths and hold very still, okay?”
The girl nodded in agreement and Sean addressed the other men in the room, his voice was as calm as could be. “Gather a group of five to take my sister to the healers, and spread the word: Crimson Shadows from now are to be killed on sight. No more warnings, no more sending bodies back for burial… No more! If they’re not willing to turn the traitors in, they’ll die with them.” Before the men left to pass the orders along, Sean spoke again. “You…” He pointed at one of the men. “Stay here with her.” He then leaned forward and kissed his sister’s forehead. “I’m sorry Katie… I know this isn’t what you want, but they leave me no choice.” He whispered to her, before standing up. He handed the vial of whatever antidote he used to the active as he passed him by. “Give this to the healers, they’ll know what to do.”

Sean walked out of the cabin, feeling so furious he was afraid to lay his eyes on the idiots that let Evin simply pass them by and wander freely through camp. He simply passed everyone at the center of camp, straight to the leader’s cabin.

A few moments passed in silence until shouting could be heard from the inside of the cabin, only a few words could be made out amongst the enraged roars of the Alpha. “SON OF A BITCH… HE’S DEAD! THEY’RE ALL DEAD! EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM!”

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Avius understood his friends concern and decided that it would be best to follow his leaders lead and ignore personal feelings and opinions for now. The pack needed loyalty and brotherhood now more than ever and Avius would make sure that there were no doubt amongst their ranks. Suddenly alarms and shout came from the camp and as Sean stormed off, Avius followed his leader with his quarterstaff at the ready. After a short run they reached the encampment and immediately Avius noticed the dead man whom had once been the second-in command of the clan. This could only mean one thing; Evin Bana. Sean thought exactly what Avius was thinking because in the next second he was interrogating one of the actives on why on earth they let themselves be fooled by Evin again. Avius stayed clear of their conversation, but he did notice the bottles of booze lying close to the campfire and he was filled with disgust. These actives had broken one of the Pack's laws and by doing so, also endangered the clan to Evin.

“Deal with these idiots for me.” Sean suddenly ordered as he addressed Avius with his hand before running off towards his fathers old workshop. A sinister frown were carved upon Avius face beneath the cowl that concealed his mouth and nose as he looked over at a couple of other actives that stood nearby. He nodded at them and in within a couple of second, the men who had let Evin bana slip past them and humiliate the clan by killing their second-in command, where on their knees before him. Avius started to walk around them as he pulled out two of the vials that held acid liquid from his belt.

"You all stand accused of crimes against the clan and punishment must be delivered. The crimes are the following ones: Drinking alcohol within the Pack's perimeter, endangering the clan by not staying alert at all times and being one of the reasons the former Second-in command Desmond is not with us today." Avius began as he circled the group of men who were bent down on their knees in the mud. "These are hard accusations my gentlemen and the laws of the Pack demands harsh punishment. I would even go so far as to say that you are all traitors, but I won't. Instead of having death or expulsion, pain will be your teacher on this day!" Avius roared right after Sean had walked past them. Avius threw the vials to the ground and began to wave with his right arm as if he was trying to catch something in front of him. The actives all knew what was going to happen and thus, the ones who were being punished struggled desperately to get lose from their brethren grip, but all in vain. From the burning ground a large ray of fire rose and just like a snake, it twisted its way up around Avius right arm, leaving a long tail of fire behind it.

Time seemed to stop all together as Avius launched his right arm backwards, feeling how the warm whip of fire followed it and then swiped it forward as he aimed it towards the back of one of the actives who were on their knees. A terrible scream filled with pain erupted into the air as one could hear Sean roar from his cabin about what had happened. The instructor continued even when the actives screamed for mercy and promised that they would never let anyone fool them again. He continued to swipe his burning whip of Justice upon their backs. Their creams did not satisfy him, but it gave him a feeling of hope. Hope that these imbeciles would understand the reality of the situation.

Avius suddenly stopped and the snake-like whip of fire that had formed around his arm faded with the wind. He looked upon the actives before him and studied the many burned scars upon their bloody backs. It was a horrible sight to behold, even for the man who had caused them, but deep inside Avius knew that this was the only lesson they would ever understand. Avius sighed heavily as he waved his hand towards the actives that had been holding the punished men down on the ground. They all let go of their grip and backed away.

"This is my lesson to you. To all of you." Avius explained as he addressed the entire camp who had stopped to watch the event. "If Evin Bana or any of the other traitors ever step into this encampment again without being killed, I WILL PERSONALLY HAVE YOU ALL EXECUTED!" He roared without any kind of control behind his words as he turned his back towards everyone and made his way towards the leader's cabin. He entered it, slammed the door shut and faced Sean.

"I want that man dead, and I want him dead now."

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[The Desert - In the ruins of Brightvale]

The leader listened carefully to the man in charge of this large company of mercenaries as he explained the situation to him. Some tea did sound nice to his ears, but that kind of luxury would have to wait for another time. However, it was a conversation that he was looking for and a way to get his message across, one way or the other. When the topic of food and something to drink made its way into the small talk they were having, the man turned to look at his companions. They all nodded and walked off with a couple of other mercenaries to get something to eat and drink.

"Looks like we got another group of jokers and drunks here." Akida whispered and scanned the company of men and women around them.

"You must feel like home, Barca." Ace grunted and didn't even bother to look over at his large and green friend who walked next to him with a big smile across his face.

"Oh, I do! I do so, indeed!" The orc laughed and looked at the men and women around him who backed away from him as they continued to move on through the ruins. The masked man directed his attention back at the commander over these mercenaries and simple stared at him for a couple of short moments as he scanned him. It was rather easy to make out what kind of person the young man was and what his true intentions were. Fortunately, they didn't seem all too wrong to the masked man. Maybe a bit inappropriate, but still not wrong enough for the masked man to pull out his weapon or use lies to cover his true purpose.

"Then let us withdraw to a more private area to discuss my business there. However, I'd wish for two more persons to join our conversation; Allison Blake and Crystal Rivers." He explained and let his gaze wander off towards where Allison stood amongst the remaining crowd that had yet to leave and follow the other three companions to the masked guy.

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Newhaven

Patrolling the streets had become rather dull for Michael.
He hated the armor and whenever out of sight of superiors would often find a place just outside of view of the knights to leave it, retrieving his cloak, and wearing it until the end of his watch.
He would often grumble in his own mind.
"Downgraded from a general to foot patrol, how very humiliating.
It's not as though any of those high priced bell hops I used to work for were choir boys either.
With their loving wives tending the home fires and their sultry girlfriends tending their.. other fires.
And this, this fate, I once lead an army and now I am left to this, an armored saint. How very disgusting.
Where's the killing associated with this life?
What is the fun in running an organization so powerful if you don't use that power?
This place is no better than Blackpond except here there is no one looking for my head."

He was broken from his thoughts by a young boy that came running up to him in a panic.
"Sir, sir! Oh please sir! Bandits are raiding my parents shop please stop them!"
Michael walked over to the boy as any knight would but instead of taking off in a run to the scene he held a knife to the boy's throat and with an evil, yellow toothed smile said very threateningly "Don't ever call me by that title again do you understand? Just shake your head "yes" or "no" then point me in their direction and run along."
The boy shook his head yes of course and then with a very shaky finger pointed to where the bandits were.
Michael walked to the men, the tail of his cloak catching the soft breeze that left it's sweet caress over the city.
The sun smiling even on this killer, this thug who was sometimes in knight's clothing.

As he approached the men he pulled a gold coin from his pouch and started thumping it off of his thumb and index finger, catching it in the palm of his hand.
"Ahhhhh gentlemen, greetings to you all. No, no please don't break from your thievery."
He then smiled deviously and his voice lowered to just over a growl as he said
"You're going to die for it anyway."
With that the first of the men dropped what he was attempting to steal and walked over to Michael.
"And just what are you sir, a knight or something?" The bandit said with his hands riding on his hips.
"Never call me sir!" he thundered as he drew the knife from the inside pocket of his cloak and slit the bandit's throat in one seamless motion.
He then replaced the knife and looked at the other two men with arrogance dripping from the next words he spoke.
"Come now gentlemen. Don't be shy, this will only hurt a moment."
The next man came a Michael wielding a large, heavy claymore.
The first blow was a glancing slash that caught Michael in his shoulder.
The second, a blow that sliced and scratched his stomach as Michael still hadn't quite figured out the man's timing yet.
It also didn't hurt that he was fighting unarmed at this point and offering no counter attack.
"Damn..." he thought "this will be rough to explain to Mageria once I return."
This time a thrust came from the man's sword and as he jumped back to avoid the strike Michael now had what he needed to finish.
"Sloppy technique, the moron telegrpahs each swing with his shoulders and his eyes are always facing where he's going to strike.
Time for him to get an idea of just what he's up against." Michael thought to himself.

Another slash came and this time it got nowhere near the former general who dodged with the agility of a cat avoiding the strike of a snake.
As the man was bent over trying to pick up his weapon once more Michael quickly ran up and left a small parchment with the picture of a shadowed, black colored, kneeling jester, it's arms wrapped around the blade of a sword and dripping a trail of black blood from the arms into a pool between the legs of the character in his collar.
This was his calling card and the move was so swift the man never saw what Michael was wielding and so his face took on a shocked look as he went to grab for his throat.
Michael wagged one finger side to side and then said in a very cocky tone,
"Not yet.. I'm not done playing with you."
By this time the second man had circled him from the back and the man he had just taunted was so furious he ran at Michael wielding his sword like a samurai warrior.
Another deftly dodged blow and the man that was behind Michael caught the blade in his head and fell like a stone.
This time Michael took no chances he pulled two knives from his coat and tumbled forward on the ground slashing at the man's knees.
As he fell to the ground his sword dropped and the man was screaming in agony.
Michael stood and knocked the dirt off his shoulders, he threw one of his calling cards on the man that just died and as he stood over the last man he said with an evil laugh
"Temper, temper, I don't know why you got so angry I'm going to give you a gift my boy. Of what I call a Newhaven Necktie. Allow me to demonstrate."
With both his knives pulled he slit the man's throat twice in the same place he then cut out his tongue and left it hanging from the opening in his throat.
The man now laying lifeless on the ground had Michael standing over him saying
"You know that look always slays them."
After a very maniacal laugh he very carefully placed one gold coin over each of the eyes of the dead men, smirking he said with a hiss to his tone
"Something for you boys to pay death's ferryman with."

Those parting words caused him to stroll casually back to where the knights were headquartered
Stopping only to take off his cloak and put it back in it's hiding place.
He then replaced each piece of armor handling the clumsy gear as best he could.
Upon walking through the gates he walked through the crowd of knights without even so much as a second glance at most of them.
It was clear he was not looking for friends but merely a quiet place to rest his bones and sit for a while.
Such a place he found with a large roaring fire and a wooden chair not far away.
Michael threw himself in the chair causing it to rock back on two legs, very quickly righting itself on all four.
He then stretched out his legs and tucked his chin into his chest apparently falling asleep.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Annie Turner Character Portrait: Allison Blake
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Crys had walked from the gates to the inside of the Fire Temple without a word to anyone. She wasn’t angry, or at least she didn’t think she was, she just didn’t know how to react. That man she had just walked away from was a dear friend, and one she hadn’t heard of in a very long time. She found the room she had taken for herself there, on the opposite end of the hall from Dastan’s room, and sat on the bed, still attempting to get rid of all the sand that had stuck to her skin. For some reason, the man’s words sounded in the back of her head as she thought of her little training session earlier: “You didn’t do good, but you didn’t fail either.” In much simpler words; exactly what happened in her time as leader, what had happened the night she was attacked, what had happened when Sean challenged her, and what happened again on that training field. Four years later, and it felt like nothing had changed in the slightest. “Story of my life...” She muttered out.

Crys wanted to be happy. She wanted to see this like Ali probably would: the return of an old dear friend. Not all was as simple as it once used to be though, and she wasn’t entirely happy with the man. If she had to be completely honest with herself, she would say that she was indifferent for the moment, but she just might be happy or furious in a heartbeat. Not knowing for sure exactly which it would be just made her want to sit there and ignore the situation in the hopes it disappeared. Was it childish? Yes, but it was an honest response.

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“Hey, blondie!”
Ali simply moved away from Jackson as he waved his hand in front of her eyes. She just couldn’t stop staring at the man in the mask. It was odd. Way too familiar… She tilted her head to one side, looking slightly intrigued. Finally she decided to activate her enlightenment to hear what was being said as the three other member of the group dispersed; probably to get food and rest.

"Then let us withdraw to a more private area to discuss my business there. However, I'd wish for two more persons to join our conversation; Allison Blake and Crystal Rivers." She heard the man say. The voice was familiar as well, even if not exactly what she remembered, but it was the fact that he knew her name that made it clear without a doubt. He didn’t remind her of someone she knew; he was someone she knew. “No way!” She whispered, opening a cheerful smile.

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

Dastan examined the man in the mask a little further. The request to speak to the two assassins had changed his posture to a more protective one; still he kept his same old friendly tone “You want the assassin girls? Are you sure, mate? I mean, they are rather pissy and fond of pointy sharp objects. I wouldn’t personally recommend.” He chuckled. “Not to mention that once they get attached to you, you can’t possibly get rid of them.” He said jokingly, but then his expression turned slightly more serious. “If you don’t mind me asking, now, friend, where do you know the girls from? My commander informs me that Crys vouched for you, but for what I saw she didn’t seem all that hap-” Dastan’s questioning was suddenly interrupted by Ali as she rushed past him and collided with the masked man, giving him what appeared to be one very tight hug. “THERON, YOU’RE BACK!” She exclaimed, cheerfully.

Dastan stood there for a moment scratching the back of his head, confused. Then finally he laughed out, shaking his head. “Whoa… What do I gotta do to get one of those?” He joked, causing chuckles amongst the surrounding mercenaries.

Ali released Theron and turned to Dastan with a grin. “Well, let me think….” She paused for a moment , then listed: “First you’d have to pull me out of a burning building, although I have no intention of ever being trapped in one again. Then you’d have to train me for about a month or two, blow up half a castle and face almost the entire guard with only about five people as backup, survive all that, then disappear for about four years and randomly show up one morning.”

Dastan stretched lazily as she finished talking and faked a yawn. “Nah, that’s too much work just for a hug.” He grinned. He then shot a glance to one of the windows of the temple and added. “You know what? Why don’t you take your friend into the main hall and let me run ahead and find Crys?” He asked, turning to walk into the temple. “Chances are she’s hiding upstairs somewhere.” He stated over his shoulder as he walked.
“Sure, no problem.” Ali responded. She then gave a look to Theron and nodded towards the door of the building Dastan had entered, and began to walk there herself. Ali went silent as the man followed her into the ruined building and to a wide hall where a circle had been made out of some rocks that were just good enough to sit on, a sort of conference room, or the closest thing to it considering this was the Crimson encampment – There were some empty bottles lying around, and it was noticeable that there had been some sort of commotion there recently. When she sat down in one of the rocks, however, she eyed Theron a little more intently. Mask aside, the man looked so different than what she remembered. He even looked a bit taller, if that was even possible. “It’s a shame we didn’t get to speak before you left.” She stated simply. “Dani told me that she would let me go to the healers, but only if I left immediately, so I didn’t really talk to anyone. Then I heard you spent some time in the plains, but we must have missed each other.”

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

Dastan climbed up the wall to the second floor, mentally cursing Crys for pulling the rope ladder up, and walked over to her room making as much noise as he could while walking, not to startle her. As he walking in he saw Crys sitting in her bed, with her sword drawn, examining the blade. “Oy, Red… You’re not thinking of doing something stupid with that thing, now are you? Because I wouldn’t like to clean any decapitated heads off my floor.”
“Since when do you clean anything?” Crys asked, turning to face him and sheathing the sword. “I was just making sure there was no damage to the blade. It’s an old sword you know.”
Dastan sat on the edge of the bed. “Hm, I see. So, tell me: What’s the deal with that mystery man that you would, according to Indrani, trust with your life, but doesn’t seem to want to speak to?”
“It’s a long story.” Crys said simply.
“Well, he wants to talk to you.” Dastan said, paying attention to her reaction, and seeing that there was very little to observe: She simply nodded. “You don’t have to talk to him, you know. I can just say I couldn’t find you or something.”
“Or you could say I didn’t want to speak to him, if that was the case.” She stated. “It’s not.” She added, getting on her feet.
“We’ve known each other for what, now? Ten years?” Dastan asked.
“Give or take.” She replied.
“Right. Yet, not once have I actually worried for you, but then I’ve never seen you react like this.” He told her. “You’re not the type of person that walks away, or hides from people or situations. So, really… Who is he?”
Crys heaved a sigh and thought for a second or two before replying. “That man out there is my father’s best friend, the last of the Wolf Hunters, my Instructor, and a very dear friend. He is also a man who left Valcrest when the Wolfpack still stood for something and my mother was still alive.”
“Oh, I see.” Dastan mumbled. “Well, like I said, you don’t really have to talk to him now.”
Crys chuckled. “I don’t, and I might not.” She replied walking out of the room, still holding the sheathed katana.
Dastan followed her with a slight frown. “Seriously, now: no decapitated heads.”

Crys simply snickered in response as they made their way down the rope ladder and over to the main hall. Dastan took a seat on one of the rocks, and Crys sat beside him in silence, deciding to simply listen unless she was spoken to, her father’s weapon resting gently against her leg. Theron was different than he once was; she hadn’t yet formed an opinion if the time away from Valcrest had done him good or bad. In four years of travel… Probably both. She waited patiently for someone to speak, not minding the silence in one bit. After a couple of moments, Dastan spoke. “So, friend… What brings you to our lovely home, and what business are those you have to discuss with me?”

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[The Ruins – White Shadow encampment]

“So, are you really not telling me how this happened?” Annie asked, curiously, examining a nasty looking claw-shaped wound on Luckas’ chest.
“No.” He retorted simply, staring at the ceiling of the tent. “Do we really need them?” He asked, giving an annoyed look to two mercenaries standing by the entrance.
“They’re just protective, ignore them” She stated simply. “How long ago was this?”
“A couple of weeks give or take.” He replied, looking back to her and trying to look innocent.
“Weeks?! Why didn’t you come to us sooner, Luckas?” She asked him with an angry look. “This looks infected!”
He chuckled. “You’re cute when you’re angry.” The he gave a light shrug as she glared at him. “I’ve been self-medicating. I’m not a very good medic apparently.”
Annie didn’t answer, she simply dropped some herbal extract on the wound, giggling softly as Luckas groaned in pain. “Oh, I’m sorry, did that hurt?” She asked innocently.
Luckas laughed out. “…Ow, that burns like a bitch! And I’m the sadistic one?” He asked, lying back, grimacing.
“You’ll have to spend the night here.” She informed.
“No, no, no, no.” He said, trying to get up, but realizing he really didn’t have the strength.
“Listen…” She started, covering the wound with clean bandages. “I’m sure no one would give a crap if I let you wander off and drop dead somewhere, but I’m still not going to let it happen. I’m just that stubborn.” She stated. “And… If you want to look at the clan records you need to give me a reason. A GOOD reason. Otherwise… Forget it.” She told him. “… And stop trying to get up, because you’ll be falling unconscious soon, and if you fall down I’ll have to keep you here longer.” She smiled cheerfully as she stood up to leave. “Enjoy the next twelve hours, they’ll sure be entertaining.”

As she walked out of the tent, a healer came towards her with a vial. “Annie, some Wolves just arrived bringing a poisoned girl. She seems to be stable for now, but they refuse to remove their weapons and are arguing with the Crimson guards at the gates.”
The girl sighed, taking the vial from the man and walking past him towards the assassins and mercenaries at the gates. “Good day gentlemen.” She told the assassins. “What seems to be the problem?”
One of the assassins gave her a look and responded. “These rats here want us to drop our weapons and turn our backs on them. The hell we will!” He exclaimed.
“You don’t have to surrender your weapons if you wait outside our territory.” Annie explained. “Leave her with us and go back to your camp.”
“Our orders are to stay with her.” One of the men argued and tried to pass, but one of the mercenaries pushed him back. As the assassin drew his blade Annie put herself between the two men. “Stop this, now!” She told them.
The mercenary hesitated, but the assassin stepped closer to the girl and pointed the knife at her face. “Who are you to give me orders little girl?

As he spoke those words the assassin jumped back as flames rose from the ground between him and Annie. The girl turned and gave a severe look to one of her healers. “Issac, that’s enough!” Then she turned to the assassin and said. “I’ve spent a lot of my time you encampment, assassin. I know Sean and I know for a fact that he will have you all killed if his sister dies while you’re standing here arguing. And believe me, I will let that happen if you don’t comply.”
The assassin glared at Annie for a moment before finally giving a nod in agreement. Two healers moved to carry the girls into a tent. Annie smiled. “Wise decision, gentlemen. Now, tell your leader I will be treating his sister myself and she will be as good as new in a couple of days.”

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

[Newhaven – Early evening]

Jake rode from the plains to Newhaven as slowly as he could. The trip in itself was uneventful, not to say dull, but it gave him time to think. He thought mostly of his friends, wondering how they were, and remembering when he last saw them. His hand instinctively moved towards the golden locket, hanging from the chain around his neck. He sighed, shaking his head to push the thoughts away as he crossed the city gates; giving a few words to the guards and showing the envelope with the White Shadows’ seal was enough to get him into the city and it would probably be enough to get him into the castle. It was odd to wander these parts without being invisible for a change. After finding a place to leave his horse, deciding not to walk while in the city, he walked the streets for a little while until he reached a small innocent looking Inn. As he entered the place a small bell rang announcing a costumer had arrived. There were a man and a woman tending the bar and some people sitting at tables.

Jake stood in front of the bar and placed both hands on the counter leaning forward and smiling pleasantly at the female barkeeper. “Evening, miss.” He greeted, putting two gold coins on the top of the counter. “Would you be so kind as to serve this traveler some nice ale?”
The woman served Jake the ale, taking the gold, and leaned over the counter. “Now, why hasn’t this handsome traveler shown up in such a long a time? It gets lonely here, you know.”
“I’ve been busy. It’s not easy to be a mercenary around these parts.” He stated simply. “Now, I have no doubt I’ve been missed, but I wouldn’t be innocent to the point of believing you have been lonely, Sheila. You of all women...”
She grinned. “Well, I haven’t been waiting on you, if that’s what you mean.” She leaned a little bit closer and whispered. “... But I have been looking forward to your visit nonetheless.”
Jake smiled, drinking the ale and pushing the mug aside. “Too bad I’m here on a job. I’d love to have time to waste with you.” He stated.
“Well, honey, come back later if you do.” She said and, without warning, grabbed him by the collar, pulled him closer, and kissed him.
Once the woman released him Jake simply nodded. “I’ll be sure to stop by more often, that’s for sure.” He told her, with a smile, before turning to walk away, with a simple “take care, now” as a good-bye.

After walking out of the Inn and walking a fair distance Jake sighed, patting the inside of his cloak to check the envelope that had been planted in his pocket; some nice info on the Wolfpack. It had taken him over a year to find a reliable informant and work out a system to get the information from her to him right under the noses of assassins and customers alike. Sure, it involved a little role-playing, but it was a small sacrifice to make.

Reaching the castle gates, Jake knew he could just show Annie’s letter and allow himself to be escorted in, but… He decided he’d sneak in instead. If he was lucky enough he could drop the letter off and leave without being spotted. It was for the best.

Activating his enlightenment, he quickly made his way to the Black Guards’ barracks, thinking that’d be a safe guess as to where Mageria would be. Turns out, it was a damn good guess, but not necessarily a safe one. Once he reached the common room, the sounds of a commotion reached his ears and, as he wandered into the room he caught the oddest of scenes:

Mageria was in fact there, although she seemed rather tied up at the moment fighting with another woman he had never seen before. Not knowing whether he should intervene or not, by the time he managed to think of a reaction, the unknown woman was getting her head smashed against the ground. At which point, Jake simply couldn’t help himself.

Letting out a loud cough, he made himself visible and spoke, waving Annie’s letter playfully. “Hey, Captain, I have a letter for you, but I see you are rather busy. Should I come back later?”

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

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

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

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

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

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Asuzod sat silently in a remote corner of the Brightvale ruins, his eyes shut as he tried to clear his mind. Something was bothering him, that much was obvious, but he couldn't place his finger on it. He opened his eyes after a few more moment and slowly fixed them onto a dune. 'Always in the desert sun, never in the forest shade,' he sighed as this thought slipped through his mind. He ran his fingers through his slicked back hair, pushing himself up with the other.

He took one last look over the desert, looking over the rolling dunes. He spun around and walked off towards the middle of the camp. 'There has to be something interesting going on somewhere,' a grimace appeared under the face wrap, "If only I were that lucky." He scoffed at his own words as he strode into the base more. The noise of people doing their routine chattering, the call of visiting merchant, and even some mercenaries doing some training swung through Azo's ears and mind. Heh... So far, so damn boring, he noted with a disappointed shake of his head.

"Hey there, Azo!" someone called out from Azo's left. He waved in the general direction of the voice and kept walking. The hand fell back down to his side before he pulled up both his hands to rest on the hilts of his blades. Azo blinked as his feet were taking him to a small merchant tent. He shrugged and reached over to a pouch on his belt to pull out a few coins and place them on the counter, "Yeah, the usual." Azo mutter before sitting down on one of the three stools at the counter.

"I'm guessing you aren't having any luck with finding a new contract?" The ale merchant spouted, "Well, I can't blame 'em. Your work isn't worth the coin."
Azo grinned, "Saved your ass more than a few time, you old sack of bones and pissing trouble."
The merchant grumbled and gave Azo the mug of dark ale, "And I still get more women than you. That's just sad, boy."
"Yeah, anything is possible once you get them so drunk they can't tell that you are about to crumble away any moment now, Virgil" remark Azo.
Azo and Virgil continued insulting one another, Azo taking a sip in between his insults.

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Sham was running along the ledges of the Castle walls when she heard a couple of people talking about the deaths of some bandits down in the Lower City. Given the particularly gruesome manner in which they had died and the card left behind, there could be only one person responsible. And wasn’t the Captain going to be upset when she heard about it? Moving quickly she worked her way over rooftops and ledges, at a few points leaping across spaces more than six feet across, until she found where Michael usually went when he got back from patrolling. Grinning she wandered in and perched on a table next to where he leaned back in a chair.
“You just had to leave the cards, didn’t you? You know how the Cap’n feels about those.” Even years living in the Castle couldn’t erase the clear evidence of her street child upbringing. But around Michael her accent tended to become a bit thicker, just because she thought that it annoyed the former noble. Sometimes she couldn’t help tweaking people.

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A fist rocketed itself against the barren surface of a table, a fist squeezing in frustration driving tension between the two conversationalists in droves. Haughty words were exchanged but neither was afraid of the other, merely the implications of the discussion. Decisions were being made and plots put through the minds of strategists in order to find some conclusion.

“To approach Newhaven would tip our status too fast. We have to remain neutral in order to continue gathering strength of arms. I see no reason to automatically brand us as sympathetic to any one side when there’s plenty to fill the reserves.”

Chandos shook his head, keeping his ear cautiously to the door during their heated debate. Grim had a tendency to shout and it was best the men weren’t startled by their arguments. It had an uncanny effect to sow doubt into the newer men, and this didn’t serve the Salamanders at all.

“The facts speak otherwise Warlord. We haven’t any new recruits in months, by approaching a friendly territory we can maybe inspire others to our cause. There’s no doubt Mageria would welcome you back with open arms. Having a dual status does isolate your options but gives you the opportunity too big to miss!”

“To rob Newhaven of eager recruits could weaken the city. It’s already just now beginning to see full recovery, and besides the people know of me, they fear me. You’re wasting breath old friend.”

“Exactly! A child on the throne, and everyone knows the council is as weak as they are greedy. The people need a symbol they can take strength from, there is none mightier then you Pondus. You could rally many to your cause if you just flexed a little.”

“They have a symbol in the knights…”

“You were a knight.”

“RrrrrRemove yourself Chandos, before I forget who you are!”

The aging man sighed, his good eye drifting off in minor thought. Upset from all his fruitless struggles, but helpless from doing much more then talk. He pushed himself from the table they sat between, emptied his mug and promptly left. Hoping that maybe with some rest Grim would continue to debate on the proposition he offered.
The general emerged to the beauty of another day. The sun was radiant and gave the local birds plenty to sing and carry on about. Such a promising morning only to be left with such doubt.

“What is zis? Awww… mon petite chou, you look so cold.”

The cyclopean glared behind him. The ragged queen had been snooping about. Likely she had heard their engagement, she loved sticking her nose where it didn’t belong. It bothered Chandos to no end that his leader would let this vagabond meander freely knowing what she was. He hated her for everything she represented.

“I see you‘ve found a new act. What can I do for you succubus?”

“Tsk tsk tsk zer is soooo much to learn of another no? You think you are so clevar? We can see right through your lital game.”

“I’m not sure where our leader dug you up witch, but I wish he’d put you back.”

Chandos didn’t have any more time to waste with madness. He stomped off to tend to his duties, Morrigan was the least of his concerns. It wasn’t unheard of for her to babble and even flat out lie to gain amusement. Today the veteran decided to not be part of it.

“Stay away from Grim.” was her parting shot to the retreating Chandos.

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Blackpond

A wiry built rogue walked into town.
He was looking around town and tossing a dagger end over end into the air and catching it behind his back without paying attention to whether or not he caught it, yet he did so flawlessly.
While he was looking around town he spotted and inn, his favorite place to ply his trade.
As he walked into the inn the innkeeper ask him simply
"Good day sir can I help you?"
With his rather thick accent the green cloaked and hooded rogue answered with.
"Aye ya can ta be sure. Ya see I have this ability..."
He then opened up his cloak exposing the daggers sheathed around his body and inside the cloak.
"I can make these daggers here sing through the air and cut up any target what is of ya choosing."
The innkeeper wiping the bar top said coolly in reply.
"You're not the first one to make me such an offer what do you have to show me and furthermore what do you expect in return?"

Billy pulled the hood off of his head and tied his hair back into a ponytail.
"See the handle of that mug over there on the shelf against ya lovely wooden wall?"
The innkeeper nodded firmly still eyeing him curiously.
Billy pulled a dagger from his left side with his right hand and threw it, the point of the dagger landed inside the hole between the handle of the mug and the mug itself, not even so much as knicking the glass.
The innkeeper smirked now folding his arms across his chest.
"Just what do you expect in return?"
Billy smiled like a cat that just ate the canary and said
"Well now, if ya bring a crowd and I attract enough numbers all what I'm really looking for is a place ta stay in return for me services."
The innkeeper replied quickly
"Good enough but you'd better attract a crowd."

The innkeeper let the word slip throughout the town that there was a man going to be about town who is a master of the dagger.
How little did he know that this rogue had many more talents than that.
As the numbers filed in everyone was waiting to see one of his fabled dagger tricks when the rogue stood in the midst of them and said
"Aye you'll get your show but first a tale.
This one is one of extreme tragedy so just ya all be keeping ya ears open eh.
Oh and anyone of ya beggars what laugh at this are buying me first ale so listen up and save ya gold."

He then cleared his throat and shook his hair from his face as his tale started.
"There was once this inn ya see and every day about the same time I'd walk in and order three pints of ale.
I sat in the middle seat, would drink me three pint of ale and leave.
This went on everyday for the better part of a fortnight before the innkeeper said ta me
"Beg ya pardon but ya have been in here everyday at the same time for a good piece now and we were wondering why the three ales for?"
I answered him quick with "Well ya see meself and two of me friends made this promise ta each other.
Each day until we heard otherwise, everyday at the same time we'd sit down and have a drink in celebration of each other's lives."
Well this went on for another month or two until one day I walked in only asking for two pints.
Me face was all sober looking..." he then said out of the side of his mouth "now ya know I'm lying."
He then cleared his throat once more and went right back to the story.
"So I'm looking all sober faced and such and as I'm sitting there the innkeeper looks at me all concerned and so is everyone else in the inn.
Finally he says ta me
"Has something happened lad, we're all friends here ya can tell us."
So I countered him with a sob and a shake in me voice.
"Aye something terrible has happened!"
Well now by this time there was not a dry eye in the place when the bartender said, not like I do mind ya because I can't duplicate his accent.
"Well what is it? Tell me and this round of ale is on me."
So I sniffled a bit and wiped a few tears from eyes before saying
"I quit drinking. taday!"

His tale was accompanied by a good deal of laughter and of course someone stepped up to buy him a drink.
Billy patting the man on the shoulder said "Aww thank ya lad ya are a gentleman and a scholar truly."
The bar maid came scooting around the bar just as fast as her feet could carry her and Billy stopped her to get his ale of course.
As she turned to walk away he said simply
"Bless ya love without angels like you drunks like me would nary be able ta stumble over ta their next mug."
The bar maid now firmly about making her rounds.
The next disturbance in the in the inn came about with the sound of two men being hauled back to the innkeeper.
The innkeeper eyed them both warily and said
"Ok what'd they do?"
The crowd that brought the two in said
"They were caught stealing bread from your establishment good sir."
Billy looked over from where he sat and eyed the two men carefully.
They were quite gaunt looking and it was clear with the pittance they were trying to steal they weren't trying to get fat.
Billy looked at the inn keeper and said quickly
"I'll tell ya what I'll give up me place ta stay for the night and do a wee dagger trick ta save the backsides of these lads here.
If I get done what I say I can, ya let them have the bread they were going ta steal plus another loaf a piece eh?"
The inn keeper nodded firmly once more and Billy said with a fiendish smile.
"Alright you lot, line those two up on the wall."
They were put in position and Billy looked both of them saying
"Trust me lads I saw a guy throw these once it'll be fine..."
He then chuckled after patting each one one the shoulder.
"and if it isn't going ta be fine, you'll be the first ones ta know."

Billy threw back his cloak and walked a few feet away from the men.
"Now how do ya suggest these two earn their food ya say?
I've got a plan!"
Noticing the first man was wearing rather baggy clothes he pulled a dagger from his left hand and pinned the loose material of the one man's pants leg to the wall.
He then tossed another dagger end over end into the air and without a moments pause, hurled another dagger into the loose material on his other pants leg.
This was followed by him pinning the man's sleeves to the wall.
The man was pale white,and shaking like a leaf when Billy finally pulled out the daggers from the wall and handed him his original loaf of bread plus another.
He then turned to rest of the patrons of the bar and said
"Alright now, he helped put on a pretty good show. What do ya say about getting an ale for this lad here?"
The second man someone had placed an apple on his head and Billy scoffed.
"Ya insult me putting that big of a target up there. Tell ya what make it a candle put it on the table and I'll take the wick out of it."
The crowd then moved a candlestick into the center of the table and Billy motioned to the one caught thief.
"Move a little ta your left."
The man took a step and Billy signaled "ok" with his fingers.
He then pulled a dagger from his right side with his left hand and launched it cause the dagger to spin sideways end over end cutting the top out of the candle, leaving the wick hanging over the end of the table.
Billy then said
"I must be getting clumsy in me old age eh? But all the same, watch this!"
With that he pulled yet another dagger with his left hand and tossed it end over end into the air.
Still without a pause he threw the dagger and took only the wick out of the candle further causing the dagger to land just a hair from the man's stomach.
He then turned and bowed to the crowd and after making sure the other man was justly compensated Billy walked toward the forest singing "Her name was Lola but I called her Rose. That broke her heart, then she broke me nose."

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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.”

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“Thomas Sidin? Rrrrmmm… “

“S-sir should we attack?”

“Not at all, tis merely a name I haven’t heard… in some time. I will see to this… Alone.”

Grim pulled himself to his feet. Indeed the name hadn’t been in his ears for almost three years now. He was an interesting man, well loved by all. Thinking back Grim could say he honestly liked the man, though he never really understood why.
Thomas was also a White Knight, and technically was an ally even still. Though he understood things change. He knew of Krander’s disappearance and had heard the tale regarding Daniels transformation. No doubt the man had improved in rank, to what degree the Warlord couldn’t guess.
Carefully he reapplied his armor, clipping and tightening belts in mindless habit. Much of his old training remained, even dealing with a mere envoy he was quick to strap the Giant’s Knife to his back. There was an old saying he particularly liked ’luck favors the prepared’. Once he felt comfortable and readied for anything he began his way to the edge of their encampment.

The wiry man always did have an air about him. Even once the behemoth rested eyes on him he couldn’t help but feel somewhat awed by older man. Sitting so prominently in his saddle ever regal and kindly. Yet there was a conflict of interest. Looking at Thomas now, Grim realized that he wasn’t quite as compelled to trust the man. The strain of their history was likely to blame, or perhaps his own anger had just found a neutral ground. Whatever the reason, the Salamander was wary of the White Knight.

“Hail and good day to you. In truth I was not expecting a White Knight to come and sniff about my affairs. Especially not Sir Tomas himself. Stranger still that you’re not among the council or nobles.. But let us not sit here and give pleasantries….

Why are you here?”

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Thomas dismounted and strode over to where Grim was. The years looked like they had been hard on the man, but he still cut an imposing figure. Signeling the escort to stand back, he stepped up closer and kept his voice down.
“And so the wanderer returns. Good day to you too, Pondus. I’m here for a variety of reasons, Warlord. To ask your intentions. To insure your men’s good behavior. But all of that could be done with a messenger. So let’s acknowledge the real reason that I’m here.”
Thomas eyed the larger man carefully. He wanted to call his Enlightenment into play, but now was not the time. He didn’t know what would happen if it triggered Grim’s rage and frankly, he was just a bit pissed at what had happened.
“And know that I”m asking this not just as the Knight Captain, but as her friend. What are you planning to do about Mageria?”

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The sounds of thunder could be heard in the distance where the sun was begining to set. Most of the weather in Valcrest would usually occur in the far northern regions of Valcrest especially as the days would grow colder. Evin hoped that the rain would eventually reach the desert, but it rarely happened and even when it did, it would only last a couple of minutes before disappearing. Then it was always back to the same old dry heat that Evin just couldn't learn to love.
When he reached the gates of Brightvale, he was greeted by an increased security and odd looks. Something must have happened in the time he was away and that was probably why there was heightened security, but he didn't quite understand the looks. Some were of fear, some were of disgust and others yet were of an almost creepy admiration. He couldn't figure out what all these looks were about. There was no way that anyone would have heard of the assassination yet because Evin didn't stop once on his way back to the desert. He just continued walking into the ruined city where he got the same types of looks as before.
He just brushed it off and continued walking into the once forbidden grounds where Evin had very disrespectfully placed his tent. When Indrani very disrespectfully removed the place that he had set himself up, he acted as if nothing had happened and slept out in the cold in the exact same spot where his tent once was. Eventually, he got his tent back and has no problems. He wasn't sure if Indrani was still mad about it, but she seemed like a tight ass. Evin didn't like how there were people living in the place of worship for the god Fire. The Gods created these cities so they could live with their human counterparts. It didn't make any sense to him why they wouldn't let just anyone visit the temple.
Off in the distance he could hear people talking. He couldn't make anything out, but it seemed to be a big deal because soon enough it seemed like everyone was talking about the same thing. He still didn't know what they were saying, but by the way they moved and their expressions, he could just tell it was the same topic. Soon enough there seemed to be a huge gathering. Only a few people hadn't left their tents to see the commotion. Evin wanted to be one of those people, but he couldn't resist the temptation. It seemed like the mob was focused on the almost forbidden temple. Forgetting about the rules, like usual, he just walked straight into the temple. He wasn't afraid if someone tried to stop him or anything. He wasn't going to fight someone who tried to get in his way, but he definitely wouldn't make life easy for them if they tried to kick him out.
Evin wasn't exactly certain where he was going. He had only entered the building a few times and he hadn't exactly mapped the building out like he had the castle in Newhaven. In frustration, he shouted out, "what's going on?" The walls answered back the echo of his own voice. If someone was in the building, there would be no way they didn't hear it.

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

[Blackpond]
The night fell quickly as the clouds enveloped over the skies of Blackpond. The ominous sounds of thunder and pounding of rain wasn't too far. Across the hazy streets, people walked around cautiously, their faces in scarves in fear that there might be someone after them. Swords and other weapons were placed in very visible places warning people that they are armed. The ones who would have expensive weapons were either dead or had invisible protections. Fights on the street were a daily routine and any kid who was found on the streets alone would be found dead the next day. Crows and other scavenging birds would fly around in mass volumes from the dead bodies that were left on the streets. No one cared to even move the bodies to somewhere more dignified. For most people, there was no dignity left.
No one was pure in this wasteland. Not even the city guard was safe from this. From the outside, they seemed strong and together; fighting the small crimes and dealing with the big crimes with strict punishments. On the inside, one could see the corruption. The guards were divided into the different gangs on the streets. They would be payed by these gangs to fight against other gangs in the huge war that had erupted after the king's death.
The only place where someone was guaranteed safety was in the castle.
Rick sat on the bed of his royal room. Nothing in this room had changed since the tragic and mysterious day that the King was found dead on his bed with his trusted friend Hastings at his side. The poor bastard never knew that his friend would be willing to him. It looked like a murder-suicide from anyone who was there. The curtains were still ripped, and the mess that was made had not been cleaned. Not even the blood that stained the light green carpeting seemed to bother this new king. He was just able to sit in his bed and read a book or even bring one of the serving women to join him for the night.
Most women who spent the night in that room had either died or went crazy from whatever horrors they witnessed in that room, whatever those horrors were. The women wouldn't die because of the abuse that happened most of the time. Instead, these women would kill themselves, usually by hanging during the night's afterwords.
Rick placed the book down on his side table and got up from the bed to change into his night clothing. There was a knock on the door.
"Come in." He said.

Rita entered the room, looking around in disgust from the things that she knew had happened in there. Things of unspeakable evil that seemed to personify themselves in the city. Rick would say that his father was killed by Hastings, but she knew that Hastings would never do it. Even if he had thought that he could, he was too loyal to ever go through with any plan to the end. She still remembered the vividly, when she walked into the room to witness the horror. She witnessed in person the ghosts that all those serving women who spent the night in that room had to deal with. It was such a terrible sight.
Looking at Hastings dying in front of her. She wasn't exactly trained to tell when exactly her loyal leader had died, but she knew that he just couldn't survive what happened to him. She sent him down the river as quickly as possible. The boat lead him to the beyond where she hoped he would be treated with as much respect as he deserved.
She shed a small tear at the thought quickly composing herself after as not to show her weakness. "The reports of laughter from the inn has been dealt with my lord. The inn is being dismantled. The keeper and his employees have been slain."
"Good, and Lamya, has she left for Newhaven?" Rick smiled.
"Yes my lord. She should probably arrive in Newhaven by the hour."
Rick didn't say anything else. This was Lamya's cue to leave the room. Her heart skipped a beat as the thunder outside boomed and the rain began to fall. She quickly got out of that room before she became yet another woman to face the horrors of Rick.

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

[Newhaven]
A still night was not one that Newhaven was going to get. The winds had been picking up for the past few hours, and the sun had been blocked by the clouds for quite some time and now it was raining. Just as it started picking up, Ella sighed. It was just a terrible way to end a terrible day off. Sadly, Ella always felt that the only time when she wasn't bored was when she was working. Her one day off in such a long time and she couldn't think of a single thing that she wanted to do. Instead she got stuck on one of the staircases to the highest tower, listening to one of the many pointless stories that Dominic would tell.
"Did I ever tell you the story about my first--"
"Day of training?" Ella interrupted. "Only a thousand times." The man could be annoying, but he had a sort of charm that allowed him to retell his stories without getting frustrated with him.
"Well it was a good day. The cap'n had rather... impractical methods of training. Mag never really liked him I don't think, but I sure did. I think she was just jealous that I got along with the man is all. Well he brought me on a mission that first day. There was a group of mercenaries who thought it fun to steal gold from the King. The cap'n had been tracking these scum down for months and he had finally found a chance to ki -- I mean stop the scoundrels.
They were hiding out in a camp just a mile south from a village just on the outskirts of Newhaven. It was the safe house of them scum. They didn't expect it at all. We set the home on fire to scare them out. Turns out them ruffians had themselves some hostages. The cap'n managed to distract them while I picked them off one at a time from behind. When the last one had been taken out, we searched for that there money. It was never found."
Thank the Gods it wasn't the long version this time. Ella thought. It was the short and very untrue version of the story. Ella knew for a fact, based off old records that the money was in fact found. Morgan had kept it for himself. After his death they found the gold that had the mark of the king on it. It was found under his bed in his personal home. She knew that Dominic knew the truth too. Just by the way he always explained how it was never found just didn't seem right. She was sure that Dominic knew a lot about that captain.
"I always love to hear that story." Ella lied.
Before Dominic could continue on to his next story, a Black Guard walked up the stairs and gracefully bowed for both superiors. "Sir Adams." He looked over at the man, but what he said was directed at Ella. "M'lady, there is a woman outside the castle who wishes to speak to you. She claims to be from Blackpond and states that it's urgent. There's something odd about her. I suggest we ignore it."
Ella raised her eyebrows at the man, puzzled about the things he said. "If you thought that maybe I should ignore it then why would you even tell me in the first place? Now I'm going to have to see why I shouldn't go." A big smirk grew across her face and she started running off down the halls to the gates.

Dominic and the Black Guard had no chance in stopping her. Even though she was in a dress, she was still much faster than a man over six feet and a Black Guard in full armour. She would still have to stop at her room to grab her cloak. This would give him some time to put on his armour. Before rushing down the stairs towards his room, he ordered the Black Guard. "Go find Mageria and explain to her the problem. We still have some time to stop her. If you find any other guards along the way, order them to stop the Queen from reaching the gate if possible!"
Dominic rushed down the stairs and around a few corners to the Sleeping quarters of the White Knights. It was a pleasant place laced with silver and royal blue decor. In his room, he clumsily placed his armour on. The fact that it was dented and bruised only made his rushed job look even worse. His claymore wasn't in the room though. It was down on the bottom floor of the castle. In his room, he kept a short sword, but didn't grab it. He didn't stop to talk to anyone, and kept running as fast as possible down flight after flight of stairs. The hallways where he kept his claymore was just a turn away. He could hear airy footsteps running towards the gate. He knew that he didn't have much time, but the detour to the claymore was necessary. He ran to the White Knight's first floor armoury and kicked down the door. This was no time for keys.
His claymore was placed right by the door. He picked it up, and ran. To him the claymore was just like a broad sword to any normal soldier would carry. He was just so massive that it didn't seem as heavy as it actually was.
Finally he made it to the palace gate. Ella stood there in her cloak, puffed out from the dress she had on underneath. The other woman also wore a cloak of red. It was an unusual red however as it seemed that it had been white originally and stained with red wine. Dominic just couldn't take his eyes off of this stunning woman, even though most of her features weren't showing because of the cloak, he could still tell that she was an absolute prize if he had ever seen one.
"Don't worry," she said in a low voice, "I only wish to talk."

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

[Valcrest, outside of Newhaven]
Alexander was curious to see that the White Knights were looking into their business, but it was not all that unreasonable. He took the last drag of his cigarette and then threw it into the dying campfire. He had heard yelling the other night, catching a glimpse of the conversation Grim and his right hand man. They were discussing the pros and cons of recruiting from Newhaven, but recruiting from Blackpond was not even a part of the question. Nothing had changed. Once a Knight, always a Knight. Alex could help in some way, but the problem with that was that he just can't. It would be too risky for everyone involved to even go near Blackpond, with all that had gone down over the three years in that city contacting with anyone in that city would be an almost instant death sentence. The new King had the entire city wrapped around his finger and they couldn't see it. That Rick was such a bastard.
Alexander decided that he would try to get close to Grim and find out what he could hear. He was sure it would be interesting.

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The kinder face hardened to stone instantly after the words left Tomas’ mouth. Though a brow did raise quizzically, a sourness was in the eyes that bore down on the White Knight. A frown tucking seamlessly into place. It was a taboo subject among the Salamanders, and it was well that Tomas had the foresight to make the question personal.

“Word is that the forest is not safe for mercenaries of late. We came here knowing that none would bother us while in the shadow of Newhaven. You can trust our intention is well, I’ve made no such plans as to pass through the gates. Perhaps a few of my men may go and see about bolstering our number but their talks are passive at best. Nothing for you to fear, and congratulations on your promotion Captain.”

Grim didn’t like to think much about Mageria. His desertion was dishonorable to his people, but most of all hurtful to his friend. For a moment he shut his eyes hesitant in thought, his features softening. So much time had passed, and he had committed himself to his new goal. Yet he couldn’t deny that he also desired to go home. To return to the kindness of Newhaven’s halls and to fight once more on behalf of those who couldn’t.
His green orbs emerged again and took to Tomas with a glare. Knowing well the price he paid when he started the Salamanders, and how he was indebted to them. Understanding that it was possible he would have to betray Mageria’s feelings to achieve his goal.

“There is no Black Knight here, and I plan nothing! Oh indeed, could you imagine returning after everything? Go home, a traitor and murderer and boogey man! Kept on leash by the requests of Mageria and set loose like some dog when trouble approaches.”

Grim huffed, scoffing some at the idea.

“No… I’m not coming home. If that‘s what you fear.”

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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Newhaven

Michael allowed the legs of his chair to hit the ground.
He pulled a gold coin from his pouch and began rolling it down the knuckles of his left hand.
Reguarding Sham with a quirked eyebrow he said in a very even tone.
"Ahh a visitor and to what do I owe this gift of your presence my lady?"
Michael was always formal with everyone, it tended to cause people to keep their distance.
Or ignore him all together but Sham did not seem to fear his odd manners or his sometimes cold manner.

After she announced the reason behind her visit, Michael laughed evilly shaking his head as he said.
"Why my lady I am shocked you would say such things!
I hold no such cards about my person at present.
Where would I hide them if I did?
You've been talking to the knights of the watch again haven't you?"
Still rolling the coin across his knuckles he wagged a finger side to side on his free hand as he said
"How many times have I told you?
Those men in their metallic garb are worse than old tavern maids when it come to gossip."
He then stood from his chair placing the coin back into his pouch with a menacing smile on his face.
"Though my lady should I see such a menacing knave about the city walls I shall make sure he is dealt with promptly."
Michael then threw back his head laughing with even more evil dripping from his mouth.

Upon seeing Sham leave and hearing the whistle, Michael walked with a bit of a quickened pace to the front gate.
He dropped his armor and walked to the gate carrying the two swords on his back.
After leaving the place he was resting he happened to look down and notice the wound to his shoulder and his stomach.
With a small frown he continued walking, smirking to himself as he thought.
"Too late to turn back now.
Let's see if there's something at the front gate worthy of my talents."
Unlike the others who were sure to run Michael decided it was time to have some fun with his potential adversary and maybe even the captain of the guard and so he skipped to the front gate, his swords strapped to his back.
He stopped only when he got to where Mageria was standing and stood shoulder to shoulder, silent but his mind moving as he watched the strangely dressed figure with no small amount of interest.

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[Forest – Heading towards the Wolfpack encampment]

On the way back from the White Shadows’ encampment the group of five assassins was still discussing the insolence of the White Shadow leader in taking protection from the Crimson Shadows. After all, it was a well-known fact that the Pack had offered the same services on several occasions and were denied every time. It was just disrespectful, that’s what it was.
“The nerve on that girl…” One of them muttered out. “If Sean punishes us for this, I’m going back there!”
“I don’t think he will. He keeps telling us not to mess with the healers.” Another responded. “I don’t care what he says about the Crimson though… Those mercenaries are going to get it one of those days!”

Amongst curses and detailed discussions of what the mercenaries would suffer for their insolence, the sound of singing reached the ears of the assassins and they stopped and grinned to each other. It sounded like drunken singing, and in their territory… This would be fun. Quickly the men hid amongst the trees and awaited as the singing came closer and closer. As the owner of the voice approached, one of the assassins put himself in his path as the others remained hidden. “Halt! You are trespassing in the territory of the Wolfpack.”

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

[Newhaven]

Jake raised an eyebrow as Mageria told him there were currently four Knights. Even though he asked, he had figured that in three years the positions would have been filled. Although it seemed like that conversation would have to wait, since a guard entered the room, almost out of breath and informed someone was at the gates, and that Ella was headed that way. As Mageria stood up to leave, Jake stood up as well, waiting for her to go ahead, he made himself invisible and followed after her towards the gates. As he walked outside, the rain made it impossible for him to remain invisible, but he dismissed it and carried on, pulling up the hood of his cloak and continuing to walk. At the gates, a woman was standing: To say that she was stunning would be an understatement, she was beyond attractive, but what truly caught Jake’s eye was what she was wearing.

He had spent more than enough time with the healers to recognize the fabric, and the crimson tone it had been stained with caused chills to run down his spine for some reason. Unlike others, who traced their limit where Ella and Mageria stood, Jake walked past the Black Knight Captain, and past the gates. He even walked past the visitor and stood behind her, in case she pulled a weapon or tried any sort of trick behind her back. There were more than enough people with swords there to take down a single woman, so he stood there, deciding to simply stay out of it unless she did something.

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The Warlord had enough for a time, Tomas was on his way to deliver his harsh words and likely quiet the rest of the night for them. Soon the White Knight was out of view and the Salamander Lord moved back toward his encampment. Scowling and brooding to himself as he stamped off, halting only briefly to size up Alexander and leave him in charge with a few words, departing after from the safety of their group. He was wandering off into the forest to do some thinking. To weigh out the words spoken this day, and with luck find meaning in them.

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

Fingers would find themselves slithering along the shoulder of the veteran Alexander. Of course this old routine was used on any who would stand still. She would play her hand like a spider crawling upside his arm, whistling casually mocking her own actions with a light-hearted tune.
Once the spider rested at the top of the man’s shoulder the tips of her fingernails struck playfully at his neck.
“Yum yum, hissss… munchy munchy. Oh my Alexander! There appears to be a dangerous beast masticating on your beautifully dirty flesh!”
She would swipe the hand-spider away with her free arm and pull the man to face her directly. She was actually smiling, never a good sign. It usually meant she liked you, which usually meant she wanted to kill you. However on this particular occasion it was merely a means to engage her most favorite of victims. Taunting and teasing Alexander was something of her passion and she worked hard to get on the Salamander’s nerves whenever the opportunity presented itself.

“You should be careful, or they’ll get the other eye my curious little vagabond. I’ll bet you want to know what they were discussing yes? Mmmmm… We know you do. Chandos is most upset! You see…”

She leaned in close, knowing that she made most people uncomfortable. The golden edges of her iris just barely coming into view now that their foreheads were almost touching. The tips of her canines sinking into her lip, stifling laughter and holding the secret back just barely.

“He wanted to invite you to the cyclops club!”

The wailing laughter could hardly be contained and she pulled back and threw her head skyward just to give it a more dramatic sound. Snapping back to face Alexander just as fast, still smirking all the while. Her right hand was now twisting at bits of her hair, she enjoyed touching things and people for some reason. As though her lack of sensory was made up for her excessive intrusion upon others.

“So tell me Alex, oh mighty strategist. Will you tell me about this Tomas and this Mageria. Will they taste good? I‘ve been wanting to add some pounds to my belly, and that White Knight was sure a handsome dish. His throat could be so beautiful if someone would just trim it correctly.”

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

A troubled mind was no good. Burrowing through the emotions, blinded by the presence of monstrosities. Even the trees looked down upon Grim, their boughs bent and twisted to express their disapproval. The rain joining in with its cold and saddened notes pattering gently all about.
Monster… Warlord… which part was the creature which the man, was there any real difference? So much turmoil and misery everywhere and what did he gain by his actions? A distant dream a dieing cause and all for the inevitable release of all the pressure in his head.
Grim had been sitting patiently his sword in hand, focusing all his will through endless waves of thoughts. Dreaming idly of different realities, wishes impossible but wanted none the less. Easing his bitterness with empty outlooks. Deciding for himself what course he would force himself through. Waiting but knowing the answer wasn’t coming. Anger, it was always there, convoluting and scattering all his work aside. Hate that burned hot enough to consume Valcrest whole. Weariness soon to follow from the struggle, then the embitterment, knowing he was exactly what he always feared. Cycles within cycles, no answer… no hope. Afraid to be alone, afraid to be crowded. To go home was to fail, to stay away was to suffer further. The Warlord hadn’t been troubles in some time.

Abruptly he roared out, standing on his feet once more and lobbing the Giant’s Knife wildly into the forest. Clenching both fists as the berserker whispered into his ear. The bloodlust bubbling through his veins. His chest heaved great breaths as control slowly returned. Not far away his blade was half sunk into a tree.

Shadows of The Forgotten: Out Of Character (OOC)

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