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Cecilia Floros

"Time doesn't change much."

0 · 504 views · located in Ambar

a character in “Ambar: Snow & Ash”, as played by SpiritDancer

Description

In the end, what you think really doesn't matter.

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CECILIA FLOROS
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{xG E N E R A LxI N F O R M A T I O Nx}

Nicknames
Gender
Age
Race
Origin
Occupation
ImageImageImagecece, ilia
female
one hundred fifty-seven
elven
rinarwin
era'amelan ( keeper of stories )


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DESCRIPTION
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Hair
Eyes
Complexion
Height
Build
Weight

Body Markings
ImageImageImageblonde
celadon green
pale
five feet, ten inches
statuesque
one hundred sixty-five pounds


Body MarkingsImageImageImageCecilia has two identical facial tattoos that are religious in nature, meant to represent a person's connection to the goddess Namarië. Besides this, she has minor scars that dot her skin here and there, and in the right weather a dusting of freckles can be found around her nose and shoulders.

{xA P P E A R A N C Ex}
Cecilia embodies every aspect of elves that they are both renowned and despised for, doing it with a poise that seems to come as naturally to her as breathing. Like all elves, time has come to a complete standstill for her. Despite being alive for nearly two centuries, Cecilia's skin remains almost unnaturally smooth and mostly unblemished save for a few scars and the tattoos that mark her cheeks. Her hair has never faded to gray, retaining its blonde, almost-silver color and is always kept in a loose bun, and her green eyes have remained free of wrinkles or bags. Perhaps the only thing that truly reveals her age is what lies behind those eyes, which hold a wealth of wisdom that could only be gained with being alive for an ungodly amount of time.

To those who don't know her, her stoic features and towering height often make others inclined to characterize her as intimidating, and it's not without cause. Cecilia carries herself with a confidence that's reserved for lords and kings, and shows no hesitation in letting her disapproval show clearly on her face. She knows the power that comes with being able to control which emotions you portray to others, and she knows this well. Every furrowed brow, ever tug of her lip is displayed in a conscious effort, and there are few that she would whole-heartedly let past these guarded walls.

There are natural curves to her body, but these are well supported with trained muscle, a sign that she is not as frail as the average mage would be. Clung to this body is exceptionally refined clothing, loose to allow for movement, but fitting, as Cecilia does her best to put her best foot forward and present herself as someone of a higher class rather than a normal peasant wearing awkward hand-me-downs. However, this well put together facade quickly falls apart once one gets to know her beyond simple pleasantries, especially in the presence of good booze.

Regarding foot-wear, Cecilia genuinely prefers to be bare foot, only opting for foot wear when travelling, in the presence of company who would frown upon her usual habits, or when she's in a particular dirty town. But when she does wear boots or some other form of foot wear, they're just as finely crafted as the rest of her clothing.

Beyond her hard exterior is someone who is more than a little eccentric and very mischievous. Even still, Cecilia likes to keep her cards to her chest, never revealing too much about what's she feeling at any given moment. She's the very essence of discipline, from her appearance, to her speech, to the way the walks, and this is a fact that tends to annoy many people. Though she pays these people no mind, as any effort expended in trying to change their minds would probably be wasted anyways.
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PERSONALITY
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{xD E M E A N O Rx}
After a century and a half of life, Cecilia has built a multitude of walls around herself, and it has been out of necessity more than anything else. Elven society views everything and everyone with scrutinizing eyes, elves themselves being no exception to this rule. She has learned how to avoid such a scathing gaze, cutting and pasting pieces of herself together to fit the mold that society has formed for her.

Stoic, graceful... condescending; it is the exact image that many have of Elves, and she does her best to fit that stereotype to a T. However, it's a far cry from how she used to be in her "younger" years. Though Cecilia wasn't as wise as she is now, she certainly was more mischievous, more restless, willing to get her hands dirty and fixed what needed to be fixed.

Now, she simply watches, waits, careful not to overstep any boundaries. She picks and chooses when it's time to speak out and when she'll simply sit and watch injustices as they happen. She's not naive. She understands very well that she does seem cowardly at best, and at worst, it makes her just as bad as those who commit injustices themselves. Although there is some guilt, Cecilia stops it from weighing too heavily on her heart. In her mind, this is the best way to protect people, as it's always nice to have someone on the inside. In some ways, this reveals a more utilitarian aspect of her. She's willing to allow a few to suffer if it means she can help many more in the end. She can handle the guilt, the occasional scowl from those who think she's no better than the common despot. After all, she's doing this for their sake, for the people she used to be like, isn't she?

Besides, sometimes you can't just save everybody.

Beneath this hand-crafted persona that she wears around company of a higher status, and generally those who she knows little of, Cecilia is very much the adventurous rash girl who grew up in the squalor surrounding Raes Ulin, who jumped head first into everything she encountered, with little thought given to her own well being. There was nothing that could keep her attention for long, and she flitted between a number of hobbies and an even higher number of romantic partners, always willing to let fly a flirtatious comment or two.

Though she still has all of these qualities, Cecilia's much... less now, overall. She's just as intelligent as she was before, but age has given her the knowledge to know better than to jump straight in without checking how deep the water is, so to speak.

Her edges have softened over the years, and though she still can sometimes be a little restless, Cecilia's much better at handling herself. She's not nearly as flirtatious as she used to be, but old habits die hard sometimes, and that forgotten side of her can peak through once she's had a bit too much to drink. However, something that has never been tempered is her mischievous nature. Even now she likes to play pranks on unsuspecting innocents, or simply start fights for no other reason than it's funny to her. This has gotten her in more than her fair share of trouble, but she usually shrugs it off when she can and continues on her merry way.

It's quite obvious that when she's not held down by the expectations of Elven society, to either behave well within Rinarwin or to represent the elves well elsewhere, Cecilia is quite the free-spirit who likes to have fun whenever she can, even at the expense of others on the occasion. This carefree personality can quickly give way to someone more cold and ruthless when pushed a bit to far. Like anyone else, Cecilia has her limits on just how much disrespect her pride will allow her to take, and she'll be sure to make it known when that limit has been reached.

Slight miss steps can be covered with an apology, and she'll let it be water under the bridge. Errors that leave deeper wounds, a betrayal of trust, or anything of similar severity, will need more than a simple band aid to fix, and she can hold a grudge for a lifetime, as she'll probably outlive whatever fool made such an egregious mistake anyways.

Cecilia is also rather ambitious and more than a little impatient. She has little time to wait around for those who refuse to act when an opportunity for success arises, and she's gladly take the reigns herself if it means that the job will get done right. There's a ruthless efficiency to her methods, and she'll dig in her heels and argue against anyone who dares to urge that they could do better than her, especially if it has anything to do with magic or swordsmanship.

She's is aware that she's set in her ways, no matter how much she tries to shake them. Perhaps there are just somethings that remain immune to the weathering qualities of time, even withstanding a century and a half of life.



Fear
Dislikes
ImageImageImagePoverty



Inadequacy
Disingenuous



Death




Passivity




She's already lived through what was essentially a life-time of it, living off of scraps and tattered clothing. She's crawled her way out of that pit of muck and disease, and she'd give or do anything to not return to it ever again. Anything.

Cecilia has always been more than proficient at any skill that's caught her interest for more than a handful of years. Magic. Sword fighting. They come as easy to her as blinking does. To even be considered mediocre at anything is unthinkable to her. Thankfully, she has more than few life-times to better any skills that are less than perfect.

As an elf, it's hard to imagine the state of being dead. Cecilia's indifferent to seeing it in other races. Death is more than common for orcs, humans and dwarfs, but it never fails to shock her when she learns news of one elvish elder passing after living more than a thousand years. For her, it seems as though life could go on forever. It's hard to imagine that there's ever an end.

Cecilia believes that there are times were it is often best to sit on the side lines and do nothing, to bide your time and wait for a better opportunity. But that is very different from simply wasting away, watching as the world continues to move along without you, without any response or resistance. That is a choice she refuses to understand or accept. Such things only allow for tyrants to fester and spread like blisters.


Quirks
Dislikes
ImageImageImagePranking



Inquisitive
Disingenuous



Stubborn





Disingenuous



What's an easier way to lighten the mood than a prank? Nothing. From snakes in pillows to the classic upright pin place meticulously on the chair, Cecilia isn't above doing anything if it means she'll get a good laugh out of it, much to the chagrin of others.

Cecilia asks a lot of questions. A lot of questions. It truly is just out of her natural desire to understand the world around her and the people that inhabit it. Like a child, she'll question anything that she lacks even the slightest understanding of, whether it's magic or herbalism. Sometimes this is quite cute. Others times, you'll probably just want her to shut up.

She's of the mind that there are few that truly know better than she does... and anyone that does is probably and elf because they have literal years worth of knowledge that she doesn't. So she'll dig her heels in, scowl and bear her teeth at anyone who opposes her without good reason. She'll admit she's wrong only after it's been proven, otherwise, good luck getting her to agree with you on any matter.

Rarely is Cecilia ever sincere with those she doesn't know. She likes the wear the mask of elvish pompousness, letting others think she's just like they always thought elves to be; condescending asses with all the time in the world to tell you about how great they are. Of course, this idea couldn't be further from the truth, but it's always safer than letting a stranger get too close.


Likes
Dislikes
ImageImageImageNature



Sweets
Disingenuous


Finery


Blitheness

Most elves are connected to nature in some way, partly due to their religion. For Cecilia, it's that, and the fact that nature was pretty much all she could rely on when she had nothing, not to mention the fact that it's beautiful.

She definitely does have a sweet tooth, and she'll eat anything that can even remotely be considered sweet, though her favorite dessert is definitely the pies that elves make for the Festival of the Unconquered Sun.

Cecilia prefers the finer things in life after being deprived of them for so long, and loves everything from silks, to scented baths and candles.

It's the type of joy that can only be felt when everyone's a little bit too drunk for their own good and there's not a care in the world to be had. It's those moments she loves the most.


DislikesImageImageImageSlums



Rashness
Disingenuous

Hesitation


Smugness


Cecilia hates the sight of them, hates all that they represent about society, hates the sickingly sweet smell of rot and decay that pervades throughout the air anytime she's even close to the slums. She'll not go back there. Not ever again.

She's was rash herself, once, and she had it bite her in the ass enough times to know that it's more detrimental than anything else.

Just as she dislikes rashness, she rolls her eyes at those who are too afraid to act. She'll gladly make the decision for them if they're truly that scared.

Anyone who genuinely believes they're superior to her is enough to tick her off. But there are those who act as if they got her all figured out. As if Cecilia could be read like a book they picked off a shelf. Those people enrage her more than anything else.
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PROWESS
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{xS K I L L Sx}
Cecilia has a menagerie of odd skills that she's picked up during her time travelling, though a few core skills were mostly learned during her time in Raes Ulin. Her mentor made sure to teach her at least the basics of hand-to-hand fighting, instilling in her the idea that you should never rely on your staff or a blade, as there are many situations where you can be without both. Although, it is clear that she doesn't prefer this fighting style, but she still packs quite the punch.

The area where she truly shines is her swordsmanship. Cecilia took the sword early on in her life - well, at the time that could be early considered for elves. It's almost awe inspiring, watching her work her way through her enemies, a concoction of deadly grace. Though she can usually be seen with a rapier on her hip, she is trained in usage of a short and long swords. She makes quick work of any foe in her path, leaving them covered in a myriad of cuts, each of them shallow, but deadly.

She could map the entire human body on a sheet a parchment if prompted. Cecilia knows the locations of every artery, every vital organ and vein. This knowledge is all to meet one end; in a potentially fatal situation, kill your opponent by any means necessary, and kill them quickly. She is not interested in butchering anyone beyond recognition. Her only interest is self preservation.

Besides skills necessary for combat, Cecilia is adept at all things necessary for life on the road; hunting, prepping food, repairing equipment and patching up tattered clothing with a sewing needle and some loose cloth. It may seem odd for a mage to expend any effort in learning how to sew when a spell can easily mend any clothing, but, once again, Cecilia's of the mind that one should never rely fully on their magic.


{xM A G I CxA F F I N I T Yx}
Although there are many who surpass Cecilia in the application of magic and the numerous spells possible, there are few who could dare to match her in knowledge. Because of a few higher connections and her own role in elvish society, she has had access to the Raes Ulin's Elvarel Eneran, a library with such a wealth of knowledge that she could only imagine would take numerous elven life times to truly begin to learn it all. This, and she has also ventured well into the lands of both humans and orcs alike, and has learned the many similarities and differences that exists between how each race practices magic, even within the different normadic Orc tribes.

Of course, this knowledge also comes with the knowledge of things such as blood magic and necromancy, but she scorns the use of such magic, and refrains from utilizing it herself. Such magic is a perversion of a gift given by Namarië, and no good could possibly come of it. Only death and madness.

Cecilia on the chance that she has to go on the offensive, she prefers the more elemental side of magic over anything else. For magic that's not focused on destroying everything in its path, she's quite proficient in healing and mending.


{xW E AK N E S S E Sx}
Master of FewImageImageImageWhen it comes to things that aren't magic or swordsmanship, she's not anything legendary. Simply due her long life span and because she's well traveled, she's well versed in knowledge and skills that would seem obscure to many, but lacks the in depth knowledge that only a professional of such crafts would know. Though she still comes in handy in a tight situation.

Stamina
Master of Few
ImageImageImageHer fighting style is pretty focused around ending a battle as quickly as possible. Get in and get out. Sustain as little injury as possible. Cecilia doesn't do very well going against more enduring opponents who can fight for extended periods of time, tiring out quickly in such situations. It is certainly one of her more debilitating weaknesses.

A Line in Sand
Master of Few
ImageImageImageWhile Cecilia surely has made some morally questionable decision herself, some lines simply should not be crossed. Even given her knowledge of blood magic and necromancy, and their respective applications, she'd never use either willingly. Disregarding any religious cause she has to oppose these schools of magic, there's too many ways that power can be abused, and it was outlawed for such reasons. There is no circumstance where blood magic becomes a considerable option to Cecilia, not even to save her own life.
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EQUIPMENT
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{xA R M O U Rx}
If absolutely necessary, Cecilia's armor of choice is a rather ornamented gambeson jacket made of several layers of wool. It's light, allowing for quick and precise movements, while still offering a decent amount of protection from arrows and blades. Of course, her ultimate preference is no armor at all. Rapiers were made for unarmored combat after all, and a simple cloak is enough defense for her to feel safe. She stays away from any sort of chain mail or armor plating, partially because of how heavy they are, and due to the obnoxious amount of noise that they make in any given situation.

{xC L O T H I N Gx}
Cecilia carries clothing suitable to all weather conditions. Perhaps she's a little over prepared, but such a thing is necessary when she's on the road so often for indefinite lengths of time. Heavy wool and well insulated boots, light shawls and sandals — anything and everything that she could possibly need is at her disposal. All of her clothes have their own embellishments, signifying to many that she's someone with more than a little loose change on hand, which, unfortunately, comes with its own problems. When she's not travelling, Cecilia prefers to wear light, sleeveless shirts and simple leather pants.

She doesn't care much for tight fitting clothing, only wearing such things during formal events. In her day to day life, however, she still prefers the finer things. Cecilia wears a multitude of fine silks as though they were common items, and thinks little about adorning herself with rings and bracelets. She does show quite the preference for earrings, and has several piercings in both of her ears.


{xI T E M Sx}
Digging through Cecilia's belongings is almost like going to a pawn shop. Almost. There are a hand fill of odd trinkets that seemingly have no real value, but she also makes the effort to carry around many items that can come in handy. Besides the obvious water skins and food rations, Cecilia has handfuls of different herbs, spices and salts. Not ones that you would use to cook a feast, but more of the sort that are used in magical rituals, or perhaps to preserve living organisms. Besides this, she has numerous vials, whetstones, resin and a sewing kit to repair any damages to equipment or clothing that might occur. She also carries a lot of parchment, perhaps more than you would expect, and she generally uses this to record information of any type.

{xP R I M A R YxW E A P O Nx}
Sveva
Dagger
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Length
Weight
Origin




Rapier
59in ( 150cm )
1.7lbs ( 0.77kg )
Sveva, the weapon's namesake, was a friend of Cecilia's in Raes Ulin who gifted her the rapier. It's crafted from enasvevaral, a strong and enduring metal native to Rinarwin. She's had it for nearly twenty-five years now, and it has served her well. Surprisingly, it has few embellishments save for it's elaborately decorated pommel. The rapier does include a ricasso and a compound hilt. The ricasso allows for greater grip strength and torque, while the compound hilt protects her hand.


{xS E C O N D A R YxW E A P O Nx}
DaggerImageImageImageType
Length
Weight
Origin

Parrying ( Main-gauche )
19in ( 48cm )
.7lbs ( 0.45kg )
This dagger was also crafted by Sveva. It is certainly longer than most daggers, and this is due to its function of parrying larger swords.
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HISTORY
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{xR E L A T I O N Sx}
Family
Friends
ImageImageImageMathéo Floros






Rosalia Floros
née Adarahris
Adelaide Sullanis..

A man withered away by strenuous labor, Mathéo raised Cecilia all by himself in the slums of Raes Ulin. Despite his less than savory station in life, he remains good-natured and ebullient, and has the tendency to be rather facetious and sometimes even foolhardy. While some may find it irksome at best, for Cecilia, her father always managed to make light of their bleak situation, and it's something she will forever be grateful for. Helping him get out of such a place was the least she could do.

Cecilia doesn't remember much about her mother. Given that she passed away from illness whenever she was younger, she only has her father's word to go off of. Apparently, she was a rather self-effacing women, and considering how Cecilia turned out herself, she's not so sure about whether she believes that.


Friends
Friends
ImageImageImageAdelaide Sullanis







Sveva Belavahn
Adelaide Sullanis



Adelaide is the only reason that Cecilia isn't still living amongst rot and mire. She's been Cecilia's mentor from a young age, and it is because of Adelaide that Cecilia became learned how to use magic and became a Era'amelan in the first place. Ada (as Cecilia likes to call her, much to her annoyance) was always dour in character, and behaved in a similar manner whenever it came to training Cecilia. On the occasion Cecilia might be able to get her to crack a smile, though it's rare. Cecilia and Ada keep in touch through a small telepathic stone that allows people to talk over great distances.

One of Cecilia's closest friends, Sveva is a Aju'adahlen la Durgen (crafter of forest and stone), and has created much of the equipment that Cecilia still uses today. They met when Cecilia was just entering the Asan'en Dirthera (lit translation: to tell a thousand stories), a academic institute of Raes Ulin that houses the Elvarel Eneran. Cecilia still talks to her on the occasion using the same stone she uses with Ada.


{xO C C U P A T I O Nx}
Cecilia is a Era'amelan, someone who is given the responsibility of travelling and documenting important events and applications of magic, gathering relics, and other things that are deemed important to elven society. What they gather is eventually added to the Elvarel Eneran, where it will remain so long as the library exists. At any given time there are hundreds of Era'amelan travelling the world, and it's not too uncommon for them to come across one another. It is an occupation that one usually has for the rest of their life, and as they age they eventually end their travels and remain in the library to ensure the quality of all tomes. They also hold the responsibility of protecting the library from foreign and domestic threats, if such a thing becomes necessary.

{xO U T L O O KxO NxL I F Ex}
Pessimistic would be the succinct way to put it. She doesn't believe in any ideal world. There will always be tyrants, and when they're gone they'll eventually be replaced. There will always be slaves. Murderers. The strong and the weak. Those wishing to do harm. Nothing will change that. She doesn't believe in any sort of social darwinism, but she does recognize the hierarchy that the world seems to naturally fall into over time, if nothing is done to correct it. In spite of this, Cecilia does believe there is also much beauty in life, and that alone is worth living for. But that beauty is marred by far too much for her to simply ignore it.

{xH I S T O R Yx}
Elven society tends to operate in extremes. At its very best, it is very beautiful. Stereotypes are founded in some sort of truth, after all. Although many would like to believe that Raes Ulin is a gilded apple with a rotten core, that is false. It's beauty is not a facade. It is something real. Tangible. Many elves experience a wealthy life, filled with knowledge and every luxurious item imaginable. But for such a life to exist, there must be something equally as dreadful. This is true for every society, and elves are not immune to the ugliness that can pervade life. Cecilia knows this well, as her family was born into such ugliness.

Her family had little to their name, only a small house. There was no farm or crops to cultivate, as Raes Ulin's economy had little use for them. Any and all money her family earned was through selling whatever crafts they could afford to make, or from working odd jobs here and there. It was this constant cycle of work that had eventually caused her mother, Rosalia, to fall ill. And with little money to spare for any medication, herbal or magical, she eventually passed when Cecilia was still young.

With only her father bringing in money, Cecilia began working small time jobs as early as she could to take some of the weight off his shoulders. Soft hands, clean hands soon grew hard and filthy with callouses and dirt. At the time, she couldn't describe it anything truly horrible. There was nothing she knew to compare it to, as this was life as she knew it. Of course, there was always the knowledge that there were those better off than she was, but such things remained so far away that it rarely crossed her mind.

It was perhaps twenty or thirty years (it gets hard to keep track of time being alive for a century) that she lived this way. For elves, that's barely a footnote in their long lives, but in the context of other races it was a rather sizable amount of time.

However, it was around the age of thirty-five or forty that things truly began to change for her. Cecilia knew she always had an affinity for magic, but it was only then that she tried to truly foster it into something more. There wasn't much that she could do, as it wasn't particularly legal to learn magic without the guidance of a Era Ghi'lan (lit translation: story teacher), someone who's dedicated to teaching other's the art of magic.

But she made the attempt anyways, even though it resulted in failure more often than not. She was careful not to fall into the temptation of forbidden practices such as blood magic and necromancy, as these tended to be prominent in disenfranchised areas, but her usage of magic still caught the attention of someone

She never figured out what Adelaide was doing in such a poverty-stricken part of Raes Ulin, but nevertheless she took an unprecedented interest in Cecilia, saying that it was displeasing to find anyone of potential talent living like she did. It wouldn't be truthful to say she was offered to attend Asan'en Dirthera. With Adelaide's cold, almost distrusting gaze and harsh voice, it'd be more apt to say she was told that she would be attending, with no input on her end.

Granted, she'd be insane to ever refuse an offer like that, but it was more than a little off putting for Adelaide to simply uproot her life like she did.

Within weeks the context of Cecilia's entire life changed. Now she finally gained some understanding of what she had lived through. And she grew to detest her old life. The slums, the grime, the dirt, the stench — anything and everyone associated with it was subject to her ire. Cecilia began to think of the poor as nothing but rats fighting over scraps before finding some hole to scurry into so they could live to see the next day. Because that's what she was. That's what her father was.

Was.

But not any longer.

She would make sure of that herself.

Cecilia flourished in both magic and swordsmanship under the guidance of Adelaide, and at the age of eighty or so she completed her initial training at Asan'en Dirthera.

During this time she had met Sveva, and had her own personal rapier crafted out of enasvevaral. Although no one really stops being a student of the institute, as elves believe that the pursuit of knowledge is a life long journey, Cecilia, with the display of her abilities and a recommendation from Adelaide, eventually gained the title of Era'amelan. She was to travel, explore and document every important bit of information that she possibly could. The only thing that was off limits was the dwarven continent of Dûrg-Bekári, as it prevented any foreigners from entering.

She has a host of stories she could tell about her travels during her seventy-seven years of being a Era'amelan. One that particularly comes to mind is of her times spent in the Orcish Empire. But in between her years spent travelling she has returned to study at Asan'en Dirthera numerous times. Medicine, science, history, pretty much any subject that they had to offer she has studied at one point or another.

Of course, these studies were never as in depth as her study of magic. Cecilia has continued to grow her knowledge of the subject, and doesn't see herself ever stopping.

Although, all of her years of life seem to pale in comparison to the day when a strange mark seared itself into her wrist. It oddly looked familiar. Possibly something that she had seen in a tome that was especially ancient during her studies in the Elvarel Eneran. However, Cecilia could not recall any knowledge that would explain to her why this mark had found its way onto her wrist. Adelaide, since the sensible thing to do was surely to tell her knowledgeable mentor about this strange mark, failed to explain it as well, and thus Cecilia was left with more questions and no potential answers.

But it seemed that should wouldn't have to keep searching for long, as soldiers sent by King of Stormgarde would soon be dragging her all the way to the King's doorstep.
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RELATIONSHIPS
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Spoiler: show
Image{xC A L L I O Nx}XX|XXBury Me Face Down

Callion is good at what he does. If it weren't for him they probably all would've died in the village of Oakheart. He is a person of great magical skill. That much is true. Otherwise, Cecilia finds him insufferable, though she has never voiced such opinions. He's much too uptight and stiff for her liking, and it would do him well to have a drink or two. Or for him to simply stop acting like he has a stick logged up his unmentionables. He's useful enough for Cecilia to tolerate him for now, so she'll just keep her opinions to herself.
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Image{xP H A E D R Ax}XX|XXSignals

Cecilia isn't entirely sure what to think of Phaedra just yet. There's little that she knows about the woman, beyond the criminal organization that she's affiliated with. Whether or not she'll be an asset to a group or a hindrance has yet to be seen. However, one thing she is sure of is that the woman complains too damn much for her liking. She also seems to lack any sort of subtlety, which is odd for someone of her occupation.
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Image{xM A R Ax}XX|XXApple Tree

She sees a little of the person she used to be in Mara. Which is unfortunate, because she wants to like Mara a lot. But the only thing she sees when she looks at the young girl is the dirt and grime of poverty, ruining everything that it touches. Luckily since Mara has been the group that dirt is starting to rub off little by little. Both figuratively and literally. Mara is beginning to look less like a poor wench and more like someone worthy of respecting, which is a plus in Cecilia's books. Now all she needs to be taught is some proper fighting technique.
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Image{xG A R O Sx}XX|XXBad Liar

He's someone who wears his heart on his sleeve. That much is obvious to anyone who comes across Garos. Cecilia thinks he's far too open with his emotions. They show too clearly on his face, and it's easy to tell what he's feeling if you aren't blind or obtuse. But she will also be the first to admit that it's refreshing to meet someone who isn't trying to prove anything to anyone. He's as genuine as they come, and Cecilia can't really say she hates him for that. She only wishes that he would be a little more restrained.
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Image{x???x}XX|XXNumbers & Natural

Feels feels feels.
Relations relations.
Feels feels feels.
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Image{x???x}XX|XX[url=SONG URL]Song Name[/url]

Feels feels feels.
Relations relations.
Feels feels feels.
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Art for Mathéo Floros is by Raviollies
Art for Rosalia Floros, Adelaide Sullanis, and Sveva Belavahn is by Louminx
All other art (excluding relationships) is by Nipuni

So begins...

Cecilia Floros's Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Garos Sharad Character Portrait: Phaedra Mithalvarin Character Portrait: Callion Lightson Character Portrait: Mara Timbers Character Portrait: Cecilia Floros
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The horde that had managed to accumulate in front of Callion normally wouldn't have been much of an issue. He could have utilized his spells to blast a way forward, but having to maintain the shield was otherwise occupying his attention. With Phaedra and Mara within his care he couldn't allow himself to go on the offensive. While he could guarantee his own safety, he couldn't do the same for the other two if he started lighting the entire place on fire. As arrows flew past him by the surprisingly accurate Mara, his thoughts roamed to potential solutions until Phaedra took it upon herself to force open a path. Leaving the relative safety of Callion's shield, she managed to make herself useful and provide an opening for the two of them to push through. "It would appear our angry little cat has managed to unleash her claws on something other than us. Come Mara." Callion stated, managing to push through a gap in the undead and bring them into the clearing with the rest of the group.

It still took a few moments, as this required something that Callion wasn't used to honing...physical strength. The barrier could keep the undead from getting to them, but it still required someone to more or less 'anchor' the shield in place. While it did reduce the force being put against it, when ten to twenty mindless creatures slammed against it, it was still a very real effort to stay in place. As Callion and Mara managed to get to the group, Callion released the shield. It wasn't large enough to cover the entire group anyways, not without getting to know each other in some very intimate ways. "At the very least, it appears the rest of you are competent in the ways of slaughtering the brainless." Callion smirked as each of them went about swinging their weapons, casting their magic or firing their bows. Looking around though, none of this made sense. Callion's brow furrowed as he stood there, allowing the others to essentially fight while he simply thought.

The village wasn't large enough to have sustained such a massive population, which means the numbers they were looking at in terms of enemies here was simply impossible...if one looked at it from a simple matter conversion perspective. Typically speaking, in order to create undead, one would need a previously alive person to complete the spell. While there was the potential to use the long dead, buried under the foundation of the village or in its cemetery to pad the numbers, the total still didn't add up. They were very obviously affected by his 'turn undead' barrier, meaning they were exactly what they appeared, but their existence couldn't be quantified. Callion, with his nearly eidetic memory, couldn't recall anything that would allow for this to happen. Then again, he couldn't explain the marks either, nor were there any obvious signs of necromancy aside from the horde that now assailed them. Typically he would be able to sense the dark magics, especially on this scale. While he could sense magic on a scale that impressed him, it didn't feel of the forbidden arts. Even Blood Magic wouldn't explain this conundrum...at least as far as he knew.

A brief flare of 'danger' appeared in the back of his mind as he turned around a noticed a trio of zombies approaching him. A flick of his hand and glowing sigils appeared in front. They shot out as if from a cannon and impacted with the creatures, sending their charred remains back into the horde. Bringing his mind back to the present, the numbers were getting out of hand, his companions were getting tired and they would most likely sound the retreat soon.

That simply wouldn't do.

Making his way to Ragnar's side, being the de facto leader of the group after all, Callion stabbed his staff into the ground once more to summon the shield around them. "Soldier, listen well." Callion started, allowing the shield around them to buy them a moment of time to talk with confidence of not being interrupted. "I can't explain the undead presence here, nor their numbers, but I assume your most pressing desire would be to retreat from the village." Callion stated, shaking his head. "I cannot allow myself to do that, as there is no guarantee that this wasn't caused by the Heralds mark coming into existence, plus we still need to properly investigate this. Not to mention that the undead, while at the moment sequestered here, have no reason to simply remain in this location. They need no food, no water, and they never tire. Should they decide to wander, they could hit the next closest village and I refuse to let that happen because of my inadequacy."

Callion looked around at the rest of the group fighting, noticing the waning strength as their stamina started to drain. "I propose two solutions. One, we go street by street, house by house, alley by alley and we clear out every undead abomination that way..." Callion stated, knowing full well that wasn't really an option when they were struggling to maintain their own in the clearing here. "Or two, you protect me while I figure out a way to rewrite an encapsulation spell to deal with the undeath in this town. It will take me some time, as I will have to figure out the sigils, motions and mana flow on my own. I will be unable to defend myself while I do so, thus my life will be in the hands of yourself and the group." Callion looked at Ragnar, his mind already thinking about the possible rewrites and combinations to make the second option work. It wasn't a question as to whether he could do it, but rather could he do it before they were overrun. "Which would you have us do?"

”Clearing them out one by one isn’t an option.” Ragnar replied, taking a moment while he was protected by Callion’s shield to regain his breath. ”We can barely hold our own here…” Ragnar seemed to pause for a second, as if he was looking for any other potential solutions, or maybe he was contemplating running anyways. No, he didn’t strike Callion as the cowardly type. If he was wanting to run, it was because he was worried about everyone else, not himself. ”How much time?” He finally asked Callion. The Wizard’s response was a huff as the shield around them dropped, and once again set them loose against the horde that pressed in on them.

”As long as I need.” Callion stated, which directly translated to ‘It will be done when it’s done’. Ragnar looked around for a moment, seeming to regret his decision but finally nodding before shouting to everyone in range.

”Everyone! Callion’s working on a way to deal with the horde but he needs time! Protect him while he does so!” Ragnar looked back at Callion, who was already pulling things out of his bag and sifting through his assortment of items. ”You better be right about this wizard.”

”I’m always right soldier.” Callion stated with so much conviction that it bypassed arrogance into almost sounding truthful. Callion went to work immediately, grabbing what appeared to be a small mat of some sort out of his bag and placing it on the ground. There, he placed a few books, open to reveal their contents. Words written in Dwarvish, Elvish, and English were seen littering the pages. His staff, released from his hands, hovered next to him as he gave a flourish of his hand, drawing wisps of light into the air, which then formed sigils in front of him. It was then that he truly started, his mind focused on the task at hand.

Normally his turn undead spell was limited to a set circumference around the point of cast, in his case, the staff. Not to mention it was a simple barrier, not meant to inflict harm, but to prevent certain aspects of magic and life from passing through, much like a stone wall is meant to keep out invaders. That wouldn’t do, he needed to take away the ‘barrier’ part of his barrier and turn it into an offensive spell. Not exactly the easiest thing to do with a purely defensive casting, plus he had to somehow turn it into a widespread encapsulation of the village. His hands traced through the sigils, which looked more akin to smoke in front of him as he pulled segments of them apart and rewrote them in the air. As he did so, he pulled out yet another book, along with a quill, opening to another section and writing whatever he managed to learn as he did so. If need be, he would want to be able to recast this particular spell given the chance.

He felt the breath of a undead creature breathing on his neck for a split second before the sickening crunch of its head caving in was felt rather than heard above the din of battle. Callion didn’t flinch as he continued his work, muttering to himself as he went on, glancing over as someone dropped another corpse directly in front of him. ”An Elvish command maybe...mixing it with the human denotation of ‘death’? No, that wouldn’t work, too much conflicting energy spiraling in on itself.’ Callion stated as he wrote more in his book and waved through the smoky sigils in front of him, causing them to reset. His focus was so absolute that the wizard didn’t move as more and more bodies dropped around in from various party members. The sound of fighting becoming nothing more than a droning buzz as Callion lost himself in the application of magic.

”With the staff used as the anchoring point...conflicting magical energies would need to be controlled, with an emphasis on ‘controlled’. Defensive and offensive energies colliding with each other...I’m thinking about this in the wrong way, it’s not a defensive spell anymore, that needs to be stripped.” Callion muttered to himself as he wiped another chunk of the sigil away and replaced it with another. The fighting continued, and he could hear what seemed like words being yelled at him, but he couldn’t be bothered to listen. He would find a way to do this, after all, it was simply a challenge.

After a few more iterations, taking a few minutes to come together, he felt like he had something that might work but he had to test it first. He looked out at the battlefield, noting the numerous bodies that had somehow fallen in a circle around him that he had failed to notice. At the very least, they were doing their job and protecting him while he worked, it would have been a terrible way to go...or maybe the best way. Either way, Callion aimed at a still walking and groaning undead with his staff. The sigil he had been working on became more pronounced, with a slight modification to act like a ‘blast’ rather than ‘encapsulation’. It glowed with intensity for a moment at the tip of the staff, then fired into the undead creature.

It impacted with slight force, making the creature stumble and for a moment it appeared to stop. That is, before it started lurching back and forth. Callion stared at it for a moment, wondering what it was doing since it was obviously still standing, his hand on his quill and his eyes glued to it, ready to make any observations. It took a moment too long for Callion to realize he had created the equivalent of an undead ‘sneezing fit’. For a moment later, the creature seemed to regain its senses and start its attack anew. ”Unexpected, could be fun for later, but at the moment a disappointment.” Callion noted in his book as he brought the sigil back and wiped away a good portion of it.

His hands became a flurry of activity at this point, fully aware of where he had gone wrong and writing it to include some Elvish healing magic. After all, you can’t heal a dead body, so it has the opposite effect on them, wringing them of their curse to finally join the the spirits in the afterlife. The sneezing fit was because he had written the sigil without an emphasis on that aspect of the spell, not to mention he needed to correct the flow of mana through his body into his staff to allow for magic itself to have the proper effect. Once that was done, he nodded at his new sigil before someone jumped past him, swiping through the sigil slightly as a couple of undead collapsed mere inches from him. Callion gave a gruff as he reformed the sigil, pointed at the nearest walking corpse and let loose.

The effect on this one was more pronounced as it stopped for a moment, then all the flesh on the zombie fell off like like slop being poured into a bowl. The only problem was that the skeleton then continued to move, powered by dark energy. Callion gave an aggravated sigh, adding a single swipe to the sigil and firing again, watching as the skeleton then slumped into a pile of unmoving bones. ”There...that should do it...no more dark energy coursing through your body. Now to add the final touches…” Callion muttered once more to himself as he changed the sigil again. into an all encompassing one. Still, this will require quite a bit of mana...can’t be helped. Callion thought to himself as the sigil was finished and he grasped his staff with more premature triumph than determination.

With a slight toss, he threw his staff in the air, which stayed there, straight as an arrow as the sigils formed above it. Callion held his hands out as mana poured from his palms into the staff above. Normally an intangible and invisible force, the amount needed made the unseen fuel form a wisp of blue and flow through the air as his staff collected it from him. Within moments, his staff and the sigil above it were glowing with a golden intensity as it gathered the strength needed to perform. Moments later, the sensation of static shock was felt throughout the clearing, before a ‘boom’ that wasn’t necessarily heard but more felt flowed through the town. The impact from the pulse left Callion feeling as if someone had roughly rubbed him all over somehow. An unfortunate side effect that he could look into later as the pulse continued outwards.

As it did so, the undead stopped in their tracks, their flesh falling from their bodies as they crumpled into piles of skin and bones, unmoving. It took all of a few seconds for the pulse to make its way through the entire village, the feeling of being coarsely manhandled lasting for as long as the pulse did, and once it was done everything was silent. Callion breathed a sigh of contentment...then he breathed again...and again. He was out of breath. He felt like he had run a marathon and his face looked like that of someone who had not slept in days. His staff fell out of the air like a rock, slapping Callion on the back of the head as it did so, causing him to yelp out in pain slightly as he rubbed the back of his skull. He wobbled in spot slightly, feeling more tired today than he had been in quite some time.

”There.” Callion stated, having gained enough breath back to actually form words, bending over slowly to pick his staff up out of the dirt. ”Nothing to worry about. The threat has been resolved, now we can continue with...our investigation.” Callion stated, moving incredibly slowly to pick up all his books and materials, placing them in his bag. I just need...a moment.” Callion stated, moving over to one of the ruined houses and taking a seat and gripping his staff in front of him as he fought off the deep seated urge to sleep once more.

At least it wasn’t his narcolepsy, this was pure exhaustion...and that he could actually stave off.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Garos Sharad Character Portrait: Phaedra Mithalvarin Character Portrait: Callion Lightson Character Portrait: Mara Timbers Character Portrait: Cecilia Floros
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Mara felt like a fawn following its mother. Keeping close to Callion's heels, firing arrows as best she could, she couldn't stop trembling. The trembling only grew worse when Callion dropped his sheild. She heard Ragnar call for them to protect the wizard, but how? 

The horde of undead lurched toward her, Mara froze. She glanced toward Callion, crouched and muttering. He was gazing at something faintly twinkling in the air, as if fireflies had formed words for him to read. Around him, the others felled the undead, doing as Ragnar asked. But she couldn't find a clear shot with her bow, they were too close! 

Breath near her nape reminded her just how close. Mara screamed, jumping and lashing out with a leg like a startled mare. Her booted foot connect with the creature's head, with enough force to send it sprawling. It made a sickening squelching sound as it landed in nearby rubble. But more closed in, as if sensing her weakness. She frantically loosed two more arrows, but both shots missed in her panic. 

Mara faintly heard herself whimpering and cursed herself for her fear. She curled her arms in tightly, fists clenched. Was she strong enough to punch these things? And if so... what happened if they managed to bite her? Were they poisonous? She didn't know much about undead things... but she was out of arrows. As her mind toiled over what to do without a weapon, a sea of red hair moved through the horde to her aid. The groans were muffled by the sounds of bones crunching beneath steel as Phaedra fought beside her. She felt a twinge of relief mixed with guilt.

Mara had never been in a fight before. She had always run. But...people needed her. She had promised the king himself! With a cry, she threw her right fist out, swinging wildly. She managed to make contact with a decaying forehead. She felt her stomach roil at the sensation as the brittle skull caved with her swing. The creature crumpled. Either she was stronger than she thought or these things were weaker than an inexperienced farm girl, she wasn't sure which. 

The feisty red head paused for a brief moment amidst the chaos to glance over at Mara. Phaedra slammed her right dagger into the skull of the closest undead. With her hand free for no more than a second, she pulled another knife, smaller in size but still an edged weapon, from the seam of her corset. "You'll break your hands," She said as a warning, motioning her head toward Mara's approach of punching those things in the head. Phaedra quickly handed the blade off to Mara before retreiving her own dagger from the creature's skull. 

Mara took the blade, nodding her thanks. She hadn't thought of breaking her hand, though a glance down showed her knuckles had split and were bleeding freely down her wrist. She hadn't felt it. Really, even as she stared at the blood, she questioned if it were really hers. 

There was a loud groan by her cheek, and with a yelp, Mara spun and jerked the blade forward gracelessly. She stabbed the thing in the stomach, which it didn't seem to like, but also didn't stop it. It pushed forward, further sinking the blade into its flesh as it pawed at her. Mara made a disgusted sound and gave the creature a well aimed kicked to the chest, freeing the blade and regaining distance. 

Mara felt her breath quicken with anxiety. She was no good at this. What had she been thinking when she'd agreed to this? Well, this might even still be better than being back with her father. But here, she was truly a burden. 

The corpse never truly regained its balance to start nipping back at Mara, twig-like arms grabbing sightlessly at the air, mouth gawped open to display rotten, blackened teeth. A hand wrenched it further backwards, pulling down by the shoulder and tossing it to the ground before a familiar axe ended its warbling. Garos joined them at their side, looking a little worse for wear. Sweat trickled from his jawline, and dropped onto the ground whenever he swung himself back into the fray. Upon close examination… it seemed as if it was blood. A line dribbled lazily down his hairline, smeared where he must’ve wiped his hand across. A smatter of who-knows-what decorated the front of his leathers; more gore that’d be troublesome to clean off. 

Glancing their way, he dislodged the axe free from the corpses’ chest and grinned wide, as if he had anything to grin about here, in this wretched place. Relief, maybe. He drew closer to them, though he faced outwards only to fell another corpse. Seemed as if he’d heard the order well enough. Protect Callion.  The half-orc seemed only too happy to follow along with orders. Perhaps, it was in his nature to do so. His shoulders tensed as snapping jaws hobbled closer, and he stepped forward to swing his axe once more, cleaving through an arm, and following through into another’s torso. He gained some ground with a deft kick to the sternum, much like she had.

Seeing Garos seemed to snap something back into place. Some kernel of courage, unearthed in her chest. Mara cried out, in anger or fear, she wasn't sure which. Like a cub trying to roar. Feeling emboldened by Phaedra and Garos's presence, she hefted herself atop the crumbled remains of a home and using the leverage, began to launch herself onto the back of the nearest creature. As she hung in the air, she held the  knife in both hands and swung downward for the strike. Yet, before she felt the impact there was a blinding flash of golden light. Mara flinched from the brightness. She felt the hairs on her neck and arms shiver, and a sensation similar to being flung to the ground during her father's rages filled her chest. Was this... what magic felt like? 

When the light faded, Mara found herself standing on a pile of unmoving corpses. She stared in amazement out across the ruined town, to see all the creatures had stopped and appeared to be now actually dead. Not far from her perch, she heard Callion remark that the danger was done. Relief surged through her tiny frame. She could feel the tension in her shoulders unknot and much to her shame, felt the warmth of tears roll down her gore streaked cheeks. She quickly swiped at them with her filthy sleeve as she carefully climbed down from the mound of unmoving dead.

Her body trembled, a leaf in a breeze. She tottered unsteadily toward Phaedra and Garos. She could feel her braided hair plastered to her nape with nervous sweat. 

  "T..thank you both... she murmured, voice raspy.  

 Before Mara could attempt to give Phaedra back her blade, the red head extended her hand to stop her. "Keep it. It suits you," she said as she wiped her daggers off on tattered cloth wrapped around one of the corpses. "It suits you." Mara looked at the blade dubiously. It was clear she disagreed, but she only tucked it into her tattered cloak lining. 

Mara wanted to say more. She wanted to apologize for being weak, burdensome, but the words all felt trite. Instead, she began to busy herself with her pack, trembling hands, finding herbs and bandages and a vial of salve she had made back home.  

  "Garos... that blood...is  it yours? And Miss Phaedra, how do you fare? If,If anyone is injured... I have enough herbs to help." Mara glanced toward Callion, seeing him seated, she wondered if he had used all his energy for that spell. She didn't see any large wounds on the wizard from here. 

As Mara approached, the concern seemed to have left Garos’ face. Perhaps, he thought their chances better than they’d been before. He seemed confused for a moment, eyebrows drawing together, before he drew a hand up and touched his forehead. When his fingertips came away wet, her drew his head back and laughed, eyes amused. “Just a scratch. Must’ve hit my head in all the fuss.” The fuss, as if nearly being gobbled by inhumane creatures was something small and insignificant. There were deeper scars there, lining his forehead and tipped across his lip. This, it seemed, would be another.Mara was not bold enough to insist.

"I'm fine," Phaedra replied as she pulled a cloth from her satchel and began to clean herself the best she could. The woman didn't seem to be any pain, but she looked otherwise. Not much was left of her blouse and what remained was held in place by her corset. Pale, freckled arms were covered in scratches, blood and who knows whatever else. And the bandage Mara had fastened around the red mane was long gone. Mara watched the woman for a moment, brow furrowed with concern. Yet still, she was not able to insist she be allowed to check her wounds either. Garos's voice drew her attention,

“I dunno about you all, but before we settle down and lick our wounds, I’d like to find a nicer spot. Y’know, less smoulder. Less bodies.” He gave Mara a wink, whirled on his feet and closed the distance between he and Callion. Despite everything else that had just happened, Mara felt her face go hot when she caught the wink. She was glad his back was to her. She watched as Garos hunkered down beside the wizard’s grasshopper-thin frame, already wrapping one of his arms around him. He stooped lower to snatch up the staff, only long enough to push it against Callion’s chest and draw them both back up. A small laugh sounded with a tinge of surprise, “Gods, yer’ light as a feather, Cal.”  

Mara hurriedly looked away before Garos could catch her staring. As she turned, Mara saw Cecilia in the corner of her eye, bloodied, but not as plastered with filth as one would expect, possibly due to the range her rapier provided her. She seemed less concerned about leaving the devasted village and more focused on gathering whatever samples of flesh she could from the corpses. "I'm not sure what use this will be to us now that whatever magic kept them mobile has been completely removed... but it's worth the attempt if it'll get us closer to figuring out what happened here."

Surprisingly, out of everyone to offer up a solution, it was the mysterious stranger. "There's another town about... 10 miles that way." Phaedra pointed West with one of her daggers before sheathing it. "It's not close, but there isn't anything closer that people haven't abandoned." Her head fell slightly while she pursed her lips. "Some people I know work there. We'll have food and beds." With that Phaedra hooked her thumbs around her belt, shifting her weight to her left leg.

Mara nodded, absorbing Phaedra's words. "Thank you... that will be most welcome... please... lead the way." Mara scanned their battle worn group. Everyone here could surely use a rest... and a bath.

She hoped once there, she could manage to treat everyone,maybe she would feel less shaken and could find the courage to insist.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Garos Sharad Character Portrait: Phaedra Mithalvarin Character Portrait: Callion Lightson Character Portrait: Mara Timbers Character Portrait: Cecilia Floros
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They’d left the horses tethered just on the outskirts of the village—safe, and out of range of the hobbling corpses, hopefully. Garos dreaded the thought of making any trek further out on foot. Sure, they’d get there eventually… but he s’posed they were on a tight schedule, seeing how they’d just walked in on exactly what the King feared. Blue fire and the walking dead. What was prophesied. Whatever that meant, anyway. It all sounded like fairy tales, like the kinds of stories his da’ used to whisper about at night; of days gone by. Things you tell children to get them to behave, more like. Now this, this was different. Nothing he’d ever heard of before, that’s for sure.

He readjusted his grip on Callion, feeling his fingers run across rake-thin ribs. He really was light. Felt like the gangly colts he used to have running around their homestead; all awkward limbs, bones sticking out through new, paper-thin coats. Though, the wizard didn’t really remind him of that at all, what with the magic show he put on. His power. Like the stars, exploding. He’d felt it rippling through his skin. Electric. Alive, buzzing and all at once, uncomfortable. It was something he’d never experienced before. Seemed like he was having a lot of those lately. He led them a few paces from where they were, stepping around the rubble, and ashen mess Callion had created. Almost looked as if the corpses’ had returned to dust and ash, like they should’ve always been.

There was a sense of something. Something he felt, rather than saw. An absence. Hollow. He stopped in his tracks and glanced over his shoulder, the feeling of relief sagging into something heavier. A stone in the pit of his stomach. He’d felt it before, that absence. “Wait—...” His eyes roved across the others; one by one, doing a mental tally. One, two, three. Four, counting the new one. Fiery hair catching the light of the sun. Wildfire, almost. She certainly seemed like it. His eyes landed on Mara, then flit away. Past her, searching. Seeking. Finding nothing. It hit him then, what the absence was. Why it felt so strange leading the way through the wreckage.

“Where’s Ragnar? Thomas?”

Callion's head lifted slightly, his brows furrowing as if deep in thought. His eyes though, tired as they appeared, scanned the rubble with Garos as he sniffed slightly. Was he trying to... smell them? It was then that his eyes appeared to lock on something. "I found Ragnar..." Callion stated, but it wasn't of happiness or relief, it was the sound of resignation. His arm lifted and pointed, and from beneath ash and stone was the familiar glint of metal armor laying in a massive pool of blood.

Cecilia followed the motion of Callion's hand, catching the small shine that they had all come to associate with Ragnar's armor, in spite of the short time that they had all spent travelling together. Her eyes seemed to harden almost instantly. She kept her face composed, but behind it was something that resembled an anger threatening to boil over.

Mara made a sound that was something between a gasp and a sob. Rabbit-like, she skittered toward the blood, but upon reaching it, seemed to lose any focus she had. A bandage was gripped in her left hand, but even she seemed to know that her efforts would be wasted here.

"Oh..." was all she managed to say, putting a hand to her mouth. Tears traced lines down her cheeks through the gore and dust. He saw Mara's head turn slightly, her form stumbling a little as she tripped over something. He heard her stifle another sob. What was left of Thomas was just under her soiled boots. His form had been torn apart, limbs gnawed beyond recognition, yet somehow his face and torso remained mainly intact. Mara knelt, trembling visibly, and with a shaking hand closed the man's open lifeless eyes. She stayed crouched that way, back to the group for a few moments, as if thinking. Then, she rifled through her pack, seemed to find what she was searching for, and leaned over the corpse. She stood, and repeated this motion over the dented armor of Ragnar. When she moved away, small white flowers had been placed on or near the corpses. Chamomile.

Though soft, a sound soon came from the farm girl. Muffled by grief, but still recognizable, she seemed to be singing softly.

"Do not stand at my grave and weep... I am not there... I do not sleep."

The mysterious woman stood slightly away from the rest of them, her eyes downcast at the sight of Ragnar's corpse. With Mara's words echoing throughout the lifeless village, the stranger's strong dimeanor seemed to waiver. Maybe it was because she thought no one was looking, but she almost seemed... sad. From what Garos saw of her, the red head presented herself as a fierce force, not one to really show any weakness or vulnerability. But in that moment with the song carried softly on the breeze, she appeared fragile.

Her scratched and blood covered hands fell to the leather satchel that hung at her side. The woman seemed far off, her eyes never focusing on one thing nor what her hands were doing as they pulled a single charred shoe from the bag. Soot covered her finger tips as she tried to wipe away the devastation from it, like somehow it could erase away the past with each brush. A soft sigh left the woman's lips as she stepped forward, placing the shoe upon a piece of rubble... Perhaps a memorial for someone she too lost.

Mara did not lift her face, but looked upon the dead, singing their last dirge with soft, sweet dilligance.

"I am the thousand... winds that blow... I am the diamond glint... on snow... I am sunlight on unripen'd grain... I am the gentle autumn rain... do not stand at my grave and cry... I am not there."

Mara lifted her face skyward, voice faltering as she struggled with the last words. Mara's small fists clenched and unclenched at her sides.

"I... did.... not... die." Mara finished, so softly, it was as if she were afraid to wake the sleeping dead nearby. The girl turned, expression numb with grief. Looking to the group, for answers? For comfort? He was not sure which.

"I would... like to go now... please." Mara muttered, voice rough with tears.

If the hollowed feeling in his gut could grow any deeper, Garos feared he might fall into it. He’d seen this before, though it made it no easier. He’d hardly know them—couldn’t admit to knowing them at all. Ragnar had been everything he’d wished he could’ve been as a kid. A true warrior, a leader. Knightly. It made following after him effortless, natural. He was sure that he’d done this before, leading people into battle. But this, this was no natural occurrence, and they hadn’t fought people this time. People could be predictable. He’d seen this all before, but even so, even so, he felt his eyes water.

Ragnar’s armor, though smattered in gore and dented in some places, caught sunlit and shone brightly. Seemed like the brightest thing here, it did. When Mara stepped over Thomas’ crumpled form and stumbled backwards, his eyebrows drew together. Dropped down to her feet. His remains. He'd been a quiet one; he'd never know what kind of man he truly was. It took everything in him to control his face, temper it into something more manageable when her voice rose above the new silence that had taken over since the mewling of dead has ceased. Loud as bells, carried across the wind. He dashed a knuckle across his eye and made a small noise; a huff of breath. A sigh.

His gaze dragged away from Ragnar’s chestplate. The redhead seemed smaller in that moment, as if she’d pulled into herself. He didn’t doubt that she’d never seen something like this before: this death. How she’d fought earlier gave him the impression that they were similar. Survivors. Though, not in the sense of how Ragnar had been. But here, now, she looked smaller, cradled in Mara’s grief-stricken song. His eyes flicked to the small shoe, a woman's, though he made no comment. When she was done, and all was silent once more, Garos gave a nod and inclined his head to where they’d tethered the horses.

He’d like to have buried them here, proper like. But… he doubted they’d find any feasible tools beyond the charred remains in the village. It made it all the worse; leaving them like that. “You’re right,” he cleared the roughness from his own throat, “We should tell the King about this. Have them come back proper. Bury our….” he readjusted his grip on Callion and shook his head, “y’know, honor them.”

"A loss caused by the unnatural manipulation of life." Callion's words were softer than before, but they still held a distinct lack of compassion or sympathy. Looking at the man he was currently holding up, Callion's face was rigid and his eyes stared holes into the corpses of their comrades. While he couldn't claim to know what the man was thinking, it didn't appear as if he was unaffected by the turn of events, but rather spurred on to action of some sort. "A burial would be proper, you are correct." Callion stated, his eyes darting to the bits and pieces of the undead that remained in somewhat of a solid state. It almost appeared as if he was angry, but not at anyone in particular. "The plan failed... I have to be better." Callion stated, before finally containing his thoughts to himself.

The redhead cleared her throat, gaining the others attention. She didn't raise her voice nor sound as dominating in the moment. She might have been mysterious but she seemed to have a silent respect for the dead. "We should head out if we want to reach the next town before sundown." She secured her daggers in their holsters at the small of her back and stepped forward, nodding in her head in the direction they planned to travel. "If we cut across country we can shave an hour or two from our journey." Her gaze drifted over toward the horses where her expression twisted in confusion as she noticed Callion's two rather encumbered horses. "But, we'll need to travel light," she added looking back toward the group.

After a moment of silence, the woman brushed back crimson locks from her face. She began in the direction she had pointed out to the others, adjusting the strap of her satchel upon her shoulder. "I'll start ahead. Catch up when you are ready." She didn't say any words of condolences. But the redhead made her way farther into the woods, almost like a unspoken moment of respect, giving the others the chance to mourn over a fallen comrade.

Soundlessly, Mara untethered her mare and followed the red head.

Garos watched as Cecilia wordlessy rifled through her satchel and pulled out a small glass vial full of what appeared to be grounded spices. She then approached the corpses of Ragnar and Thomas with a stoic coldness that he imagined could only be achieved through countless years of practice. The anger that was almost palpable before seemed to have exhausted itself in seconds. "This will help stave off decomposition. Perhaps it'll be enough so that their bodies remain distinguishable, although I wouldn't hope for much. This is far from the proper process. She gingerly covered the bodies as best as she could, leaving her hands slick with blood and clumps of spice. Whether she had done something like this before was difficult to ascertain. Her face remained impassive, but her eyes were sharp, fixated on the task at hand.

As Cecilia finished, she stood and pulled out a small cloth, rubbing her hands clean, staring down at the bodies that laid at her feet. "What a sad waste of life." Words that normally were ones of grief, said in a tone that seemed almost perfunctory. Mechanical, as though the phrase was part of a daily routine. In a way, it sounded like someone lamenting the loss of a useful tool.

She replaced the vial and cloth in her satchel before following after Mara.

Garos halted in his steps long enough to glimpse Cecilia hunkering down beside their corpses—sprinkling an unknown substance across their bodies; their faces, and whatever else was exposed to the open air. Something that would keep their bodies intact. He’d be lying if he said he understood how any of that worked. Her movements, her reaction to all this, almost seemed as mechanical as Callion’s. As if they’d done this before, or maybe… they just didn’t feel the same way. The loss. The emptiness. He supposed he shouldn’t either, but he had a bad habit of getting too close to people. In his line of work, those sentiments might mean death. Or vulnerabilities he couldn’t afford to have.

Unfortunately, he’d never been smart enough to slough any of that off. He had more scars than he’d care to admit because of reasons like that. Letting people get too close. Taking far too many risks for people he hardly knew. Acquaintances. Friends. The Hooded Company hadn’t trained him to be soft, nor overly friendly. These were clients, and at times, targets. People he’d steal from and lie to. Still. He couldn’t help it.

Of course, they hadn’t known Thomas and Ragnar long at all. Barely a couple days, and under circumstances that gave them no reason to tarry too close; to make anything anymore personal than they had reason to. Beyond them all having the same tattoos on their wrists, emblazoned in the flesh, they had nothing in common. A sad waste of life, she’d said. He grit his teeth around those words, and hunched his shoulders, following after the others.

It damn well was.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Garos Sharad Character Portrait: Phaedra Mithalvarin Character Portrait: Callion Lightson Character Portrait: Mara Timbers Character Portrait: Cecilia Floros
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As the group trudged on towards whatever village was the destination, Cecilia rode near the back of the group, her face as unreadable as it usually was. It bordered on the line of both calm and irritated, and this uncertainty was reflected how she was feeling at the moment. Nothing felt entirely wrong, but nothing felt right either. The sun shined blindingly on the horizon as it began to set, Cecilia readjusted herself in her saddle multiple times and slouched over the reigns, the sluggish breeze was just a tad too chilly; this could all be easily tied to the fact that she felt the gnawing sense that everything would've been avoided, that Ragnar and Thomas didn't have to die, torn apart by raised corpses.

She had grown irritated in the village as she had fought her way through waves of rotted flesh and broken bones, and now she felt justified in that irritation. It was entirely pointless. They had learned nothing about the mark that had embedded its way into each of their wrists, and now they were short two skilled fighters, having nothing to show for it. "A waste of life..., she murmured on a low breath, barely aware of who'd be around to hear her say it. The thought remained in her head as she focused on the fields in front of them. They had left the smoldering village behind, along with the corpses of both the villagers and what were newfound friends. Possibly. At any rate, it'd be better not to dwell on it for too long.

With a sharp breath, she righted her posture, resuming the air of elegance and narcissism that elves were so often known for. Traits that she had worked to make herself known for. She gazed at the red-head, the one who was leading them to the village. Phaedra, or at the very least, that's what Cecilia had overheard Mara address her as. So, how far away from this village do you suppose we are now?

The red-head glanced back over her shoulder toward Cecilia almost like she wasn't expecting someone to speak to her. This caused the strange new woman to slow in pace, but silently nod her head forward as a quiet gesture to tell them to continue on without her. She raised her hand and gave the side of Mara's horse a gentle pat as they passed. Mara's horse grunted, but the farm girl stared blankly ahead in silence. Once Cecilia was a bit closer, not so close as if to suggest they were strolling side by side as companions but to avoid shouting and potentially alarming anyone nearby, the woman looked back up toward her. "Not much farther."

The new addition to the group glanced up at the sky like she was trying to gauge the time by the sun. It was late, and within the forest they had all but fallen into shadows. But a few glimpses up through the leaves showed soft rays of a setting sun, nearly dusk. "A couple of miles," the red-head added as she kept her gaze forward.

Garos seemed content to let his silence drag for once, which was peculiar. Ever since Cecilia had met him, he'd be incessant. Constantly jabbering. Bubbly, by all accords. Now, he rode slightly ahead of her, eyes focused on the path ahead. He only glanced over his shoulder when she, and Phaedra, spoke, before readjusting himself in his saddle, and continuing forward as he'd been instructed. There was a bunch to his shoulders, as if he held his reigns a little too tightly.

It was unsettling, to say the least, and it threw Cecilia a little off-kilter to see Garos acting so unusually. He always gave the impression that he was one to laugh away his worries, but now there was no laughter to be had. Concern brought another image to Cecilia's mind, of when she had covered blood and bone with spices. It was a cursory glance at Ragnar's wrist, but now that glance had grave implications. The mark that had etched itself into his wrist was gone, leaving behind nothing but pale, unmarred skin, as if it had never been there in the first place. Thomas was torn apart completely, there wasn't much left besides his torso, but Cecilia had the sinking feeling that the mark had left his body as well. That had left only the obvious conclusion, forming a pit of nerves in her stomach and a lump in her throat. Cecilia drew a quick breath, steeling herself for the words that were about to come out of her own mouth. No. It'd be better to not say anything at all. Not yet. Fighting back the urge to speak, she focused again on the road ahead of them.

As the final rays of sunlight disappeared beyond the slight arc of the horizon, she saw the faint view of the outskirts of a village.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Garos Sharad Character Portrait: Phaedra Mithalvarin Character Portrait: Callion Lightson Character Portrait: Mara Timbers Character Portrait: Cecilia Floros
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#, as written by mjolnir
The sun fell behind the tree line just as the small village came into view. Phaedra let out an audible sigh at the sight. Her feet were aching, the silence was deafening… But worst of it all was the knowledge, or lack thereof, regarding everything that has happened to her within the past day, which weighed on her like a sack of rocks.

Phaedra’s hands gripped the worn leather strap of her satchel, adjusting it across her torso as her steps hastened, carrying herself to the front of the group. Her feet pivoted on the hearth, her boots twisting in the mud and grass as she face the small party, putting her hands up in a silent gesture to halt. She brushed loose curls back from her face before addressing the others. “I have to go in alone. If I go in there with you all, I doubt I could get us any aid.”

These people had no reason to trust her and Phaedra knew it. In all honesty, she didn’t need to help them neither. She could have parted her own way and left them to fight the undead to live or die as they would… And she thought about it. But leaving wouldn’t get her answers. It would not solve the mystery of whatever the hell the mark on her wrist was, what that strange tablet was or why these others had the same mark.

Phaedra’s eyes closed as a soft sighed escaped her lips. She then tentatively removed her satchel. With the straps grasped in her left hand, she stepped toward the timid Mara. For reasons she couldn’t quite explain, she seemed to trust the girl. Maybe it was because, even though Mara didn’t know her, she helped Phae while she was unconscious. Or maybe it was because someone that gentle and meek couldn’t possibly be terrible. ”Watch this for me?... Please?”[/b] She didn’t add a comment about not stealing or sticking her nose where it didn’t belong, Phaedra felt like she didn’t need to.

”Get the horses some water and rest,” Phae said toward the group. ”If anyone asks, you ran into bandits on the road and I lent aid.” Her gaze shifted to each of their party as she spoke. She doubted anyone would object, aside from Skirts. But until they knew what was going on, causing panic was not a solution. ”I should be back soon… hopefully,” she added under breath as she turn from the group and made her way toward the tavern.

The exhaustion felt heavier. It weighed on her like a drenched cloak, clinging to her form, feeling heavier by the minute. There wasn’t much left in her and the others didn’t look much better. She stopped outside the entrance of the inn and glanced over her shoulder, briefly looking back at the others. She inhaled sharply through her nose as she shook her hands at her sides and rolled her neck as if stretching. Mustering what energy she had left, Phaedra ran her fingers from her forehead back through her hair. As her digits parted her crimson mane, her appearance began to shimmer like sunlight on soft rippling water of a still lake.

The dirt and blood seemed to disappear from her. Red curls appeared messy but not matted with the aftermath of battle. A swollen lip and various cuts and injuries faded to feint bruises or small scratches, while tattered clothes mended themselves aside from a rip or two. And the foreign marking on her wrist vanished, revealing smooth ivory skin. Phaedra didn’t have the strength to make herself look as she normally did and for the story she was about to weave, that wouldn’t be believable.

The magic was simple, but Phaedra could already feel it draining her. So, without wasting anymore time, she pushed open the door. The scent of ale, sweat and other bodily fluids bombarded her senses like a wave. Instead of the sound of heavy chatter, the giggles of whores or the clanging of mugs, it was silence. The type of silence that hung in the air like a fog. The tavern was filled from one wall to another of people. Some drank, some didn’t, but none spoke. Were these all refugees? People who fled from their village in any direction to get away, to get find aid, safety or just… Other life? The thought sent a chill down Phaedra’s spin.

The crackling of the hearth and the sound of Phae’s own footsteps echoed like screams in the quiet as she traversed the room toward the bar. ”I need to speak to Ryland,” she said toward the tavern wench who seemed almost surprised to hear another person speak. The young blonde gave a nod of her head and disappeared into the kitchen.

A few moments later a brunette dwarf walked out from behind the counter, drying his hands on a dish cloth. Ryland was handsome for a dwarf, strapping, muscular and, to most people’s surprise, not bearded. He began to speak with his gaze fixated upon the ground. “I apologize miss, but we are—” His voice trailed off when he looked upward. “Phaedra?”

”I need your help.”

“Outside,” Ryland responded, taking hold of her arm and guiding her through the kitchen and out the back entrance. Phaedra tried not to wince at his touch as he grasped at an unseen wound as he brought her along. “What are you doing here? What happened to you? I thought you were supposed to be in Highspring?”

”I was—that’s not why I am here—I was returning when I came across a group of bandits beset upon a party of travelers.”

Ryland sighed as he draped the cloth over his shoulder before crossing his arms. “Phaedra…”

”They need to see to their wounds, a bath, fresh cloths and a warm meal.”

“I don’t know if you saw in there, but there is barely sitting room, let alone extra rooms to give away. Refugees from Oakheart have been pouring in for weeks. We’ve barely been able to feed them… I had to slaughter the dogs just to put food in bellies,” Ryland scolded under his breath.

”Just one night, and we’ll be gone by dawn.”

”We?” Ryland looked up at her with furrowed brows. “Are you going with them? Phaedra, you have to report in. You cannot go wondering off with vagabonds.”

”Ryland, please?”

“Phaedra, I—”

”I can pay. 20 gold for your help… and your silence.”

Ryland’s jaw clenched as a groan rumbled from his throat. “25 gold and you can stay in my room. I’ll… spend the night in the brothel.”

”Done.” Phaedra grabbed a hold of either side of his face and placed a kiss upon Ryland’s forehead. ”Thank you, my friend.”

“But you better be out by dawn,” Ryland called after her as she made her way for the tree line.

Phaedra trudged her way through the tall grass and mud, pushing past branches and bushes to rejoin the group. ”I got us a room. It’s not a palace, but it is a roof over our heads and a warm meal.” She made her way toward Mara, giving the girl a slight smile as she took back her satchel and draped it over her shoulder. ”The horses can go in the stables for the night, they too need some rest,” she said giving Mara’s mount a gentle pat to the shoulder.

She didn’t try to coax unneeded conversation from the others, instead allowing them all to mourn or cope in their own ways. Phaedra simply took the reins from Mara’s horse and guided it toward the stable adjacent to the tavern. There was plenty of hay and water to keep the animals content through night as they all got some rest.

With the horses secured, Phaedra lead them inside the over crowded tavern. The refugees gave them all weary glances as they weaved their way through the bodies toward the counter. Ryland waited with a displeased grimace on his face. Without a word, he extended an open palm toward her motioning for the payment. Phae sighed as she sifted through her satchel and retrieved the agreed upon amount of gold, only leaving a few pieces for herself.

“Room’s upstairs at the end of the hall. Serena will bring up some stew once it’s ready.”

Phaedra nodded her head toward the stairs as a silent gesture for the party to head on up without her. ”Thank you again, Ryland. I owe you.”

“That you do,” he said with a slight smile as he grabbed a stack of clothing from behind the counter. “It’s odds and ends, but there is enough there to at least give you all something clean to wear.”

As Phaedra reached out to take the stack of clothing, her skin flickered like a twinkling star. Her strength was wearing thin and for a brief moment her true appearance shined through before the illusion took hold once again. And even though the slip up was small, Ryland’s eyes widened as he withdrew the clothing from her grasp. “Phaedra, what in the—” he hissed.

Phae quickly took the clothes from his hands, shaking her head slightly. ”Don’t ask questions you don’t answers to.”

Ryland didn’t argue but his face showed concern and confusion. But before he could try to say anything else Phaedra made her way up the stairs and down the narrow corridor. With her free hand, she opened the door into their room for the evening. It was small. Cozy for the five of them, if there were anymore it would be cramped. There was a single bed on the far wall that could fit two if they slept close enough together. On the left side was a small hearth already crackling with a fire. Two chairs and a small table sat along the other wall and in the far corner was a tub behind a small divider.

Once the door was closed, Phaedra slid past Garos to set the fresh clothes upon the table. ”Fresh clothes,” was all she could say, audibly winded. She took the few steps to the nearest wall, letting her body lean back against it. As she did, her illusion fell from her, taking with it her remaining energy. Phaedra let herself slide down the surface until she was sitting upon the ground. After catching her breath she spoke in a hushed tone, ”Sorry, this is the best I could do.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Garos Sharad Character Portrait: Phaedra Mithalvarin Character Portrait: Callion Lightson Character Portrait: Mara Timbers Character Portrait: Cecilia Floros
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This wasn’t the happy kind of ride to a tavern or inn that one would expect from a group that potentially prevented a catastrophe...well, another one. If anything, it felt more like a funeral procession as everyone more or less kept to themselves, with a few hushed conversations taking place as they continued on. All Callion knew was that he was tired and he had failed. Both Ragnar and Thomas were killed because he hadn’t been fast enough. He couldn’t claim to know them well, or even like them if he was being completely honest, but he had been trusted to bring them out and two of them died there. Callion’s hand had been glued to his chin as his other held his notebook, looking for any potential clues that could have made that entire scene easier, and naturally he found plenty. Had he re-written the ‘shield’ sigil from scratch to include an encapsulation appendage, it would have cut out a good portion of his time. He should have included the elvish word for ‘healing’ at the start, avoided the whole ‘sneezing’ episode he had managed to induce in one of the undead. Even from a more practical standpoint, they could have retreated from the town and come back when he had a spell ready...but he would have needed a live specimen to test it on. Callion’s eyes narrowed as yet another wave of exhaustion rolled over him. While he couldn’t claim that he had physically exerted himself as the others had, there was no denying that a mage’s magic was directly linked to their physical well being. Instead of gradually losing all of his stamina, it was like having it ripped from his body with a pitchfork. Still, sitting here and being sorry for himself wasn’t going to help anything at all, and for the first time in a long time, he felt like he could sleep on command this time around. So, placing his notebook in his bag and making sure he wouldn’t fall off his horse, he leant forward and closed his eyes.




Callion woke up every so often during the trip, mainly to readjust his position and make sure he wouldn’t fall off. It didn’t appear like he was missing anything, as everyone around him seemed to be lost in their own thoughts. Callion didn’t truly bother waking up until they were within sight of the village, yawning as he checked to make sure he still had everything. It’s not that he didn’t trust the people around him to not steal his stuff, but more that it calmed his mind performing a routine. When they did finally arrive in front of a tavern/inn, Phaedra proceeded to hop down off her horse and instruct the others that she had to go it alone and about what to say to others regarding their current appearance. Callion narrowed his eyes, looking ready to object but felt like this was not a fight worth having. For at least a little bit, Callion was all battled out and he simply gave a gruff huff regarding the situation and lead his horse to some water and food while Phaedra handed off her satchel and moved to do whatever it was that she would do. Callion had his ideas, most of them involving cleavage and eye batting from the woman cat.

Getting his horse next to the stalls, along with everyone else, he tethered them up and hopped off the animal as it started to drink from the trough and get some well needed rest. Callion patted Reynaldo, the mighty beast giving a huff and exhaling through the nose as Callion fished through the bags to grab his essentials. His essentials were basically everything he had on the horse, practically walking away with a backpack’s worth of items as he double checked to make sure he was leaving nothing outside. When Phaedra did return, Callion was struggling with some scrolls by the looks of it, before giving an exasperated sigh and turning towards the half orc. “Tusks, do you mind assisting me?” Callion asked before shoving a bunch of scrolls into Garros’s arms. “Much obliged.” Callion stated, before listening to Phaedra talk about their accommodations. Honestly, so long as it wasn’t a sex dungeon, Callion couldn’t care less about it. He simply needed a place to reflect and refocus. The majority had survived, in no short part to his efforts, but they didn’t all make it. Callion wasn’t a perfectionist per say, but losing even a single life was a major setback. As they lead the horses into the stables for the night, his eyes never exited from the state of ‘driven resentment’ towards the situation.

They entered the tavern, and immediately the eyes on them were obvious. Why wouldn’t they be? They were disheveled, dirty, bloody and looking a little bit like some kind of hell had just washed over them. Not that it hadn’t, but still this level of attention was not something Callion liked when he didn’t do something amazing to deserve it. Even though he was carrying an absurd amount of stuff, Callion did his best to walk straight and tall, as if he had everything in control as he strode past the common rabble to the apparent barkeep. Phaedra motioned them up and Callion moved without complaint. He wasn’t the one who struck the deal, he wasn’t about to pay money out of his pocket to keep it. Following the instructions given, Callion was the first to arrive at the door and press inside. Immediately he knew this wasn’t a standard inn room, as it was far too tidy and elaborate. Phaedra had either done something to warrant the deluxe suite, or this was the inn owner’s own room. Callion noticed that there was only one bed and gave a huff. “I suppose a number of us are sleeping on the chairs, table, tub and floor.” Callion’s eyes narrowed. “How refreshing…” The sarcasm dripped off his words like venom, his outward demeanor obviously affected the events of today plus the rings under his eyes dictating his level of stress and exhaustion. Despite knowing he had slept on the trip here, he felt like he hadn’t gotten a wink. It was irritating to say the least.

Callion dumped his belongings off to the side against one of the walls. As he did so, Phaedra entered and produced clean clothes for them. Callion wandered over to the clothes presented and held up a shirt. Low quality, basically a rag and strings. Callion looked down at his own robe, and despite being dirty, was still made with quality. Callion looked over at Phaedra, feeling his irritable nature taking hold. “These rags co-” Callion interrupted himself when he saw her slumped against a wall, barely able to state that that was the best she could do. Callion paused, a sort of grimace on his face as he looked from her to the clothes, before folding the shirt and placing it on top again. “It will have to do.” Callion stated, a bit of resignation in his voice as his need to lash out at someone or something was once again left unfulfilled. “In the meantime, I suggest we get some sleep as soon as possible so we can wake, get refreshed and report back to the King.” Callion stated, looking at the bed which was big enough to hold two people if they scrunched together. A portion of him immediately wanted to covet the bed, but a thought entered his mind unbidden.

Beds are for winners.

“I will take the tub I su-” Callion said as he started walking towards the tub, only for the room to start spinning violently. Callion simply let out a very quiet phrase.

“Oh piss off.”

Callion’s form wobbled for a moment before he slumped to the floor with a rather large ‘Thud’. The silence that followed was only interrupted by the very slight snoring of the now prone Callion.




Callion awoke with a start in the tub, looking around and feeling rather than seeing the effects that sleeping in a tub had on his body. Everything was in pain and sore as he made to get up only to slide back down into the tub. His left arm was asleep, most likely slept on it by accident. It felt like lead trying to get it up on the side of the receptacle, sliding a couple of times and producing a slight ‘squeek’ as he attempted to remove himself from the most uncomfortable sleeping spot he could have possibly picked. At this point, he was certain the floor would have been better, and only he could be blamed for the choice since he voiced it. As he slid down for the third time, swears and curses entered his mind as he contemplating blowing the entire tub up. Instead he waited to regain feeling in his arm and was then finally able to pull himself up. He stepped out onto the room, taking a quick glance at the others. Garos was slumped over a chair, snoring away, with Phaedra on the opposite side doing practically the same thing...maybe with less snoring. Ceclia was sleeping on the bed, but Mara was nowhere to be seen. Callion raised an eyebrow, wondering if she was somehow hiding in this small room, getting on his hands and knees to look under the bed. The only thing that stared back at him was a small collection of dust, so he stood back up. Huh, odd. She’s a big girl though, if she had been taken by force we would have noticed it...this room is too small not to. Callion thought to himself as he wandered over to the fresh clothes that had been presented to the group. He didn’t like the idea of wearing any of this garbage, but beggars couldn’t be choosers, besides he only had to wear it long enough for him to clean his robe.

Still, that didn’t mean he was going to wear any more than he had to to be considered decent by societal standards. He grabbed some pants and went back behind the screen that the tub provided to quickly change. Once he had removed his robe and donned the threadbare pants, leaving his torso exposed, he carried his robe out of the room. Wandering through the hall to exit the building, it was clear that he had once again awoken to a very early morning, as it seemed to be completely abandoned. That suited him just fine, he would like a moment to himself to collect what he could...wait, this was real, right? This wasn’t him hallucinating again? Callion paused looked at everything around him, then down at his tattoos. With his fingers, he flicked his wrist and felt the slight sting vividly. Ok, this had to be real then, otherwise his subconscious would prevent him from hurting himself intentionally...right? Callion shook his head as he continued his trek. His feet took him outside the building via the back door and towards the stable to check on his horse. After all, an animal that would carry you on its back for miles must be treated with care and respect, and he should be able to clean his clothes there as well.

As he approached the stables, he saw that his horse, Reynaldo, was already awake. “Ah a creature of the rising sun, such as myself it would seem. At least yours is by choice though.” Callion stated, giving a sniff and an internal shrug to himself. He approached his horse, rubbing its face and listening to it vocalize a bit before returning to the task at hand. He had a simple spell, prestidigitation, that would allow him to clean his clothes. It didn’t give the feeling of having something hand washed don your person, but for now he simply wanted his robes back. He looked around for something to hang it off of, and it dawned on him suddenly that hanging it on anything in here would undue whatever he did. Not my smartest moment. Callion thought to himself as he held out his hand. Will, if you wouldn’t mind, I have need of your assistance. Callion mentally instructed and waited. There was a slight thud, a small crash, followed by more thuds at which point the feeling of annoyance filled Callion’s mind. What is it? Callion asked, wandering around the corner to see the front door of the inn rattling. Callion’s shoulders slumped, as he physically resisted the urge facepalm. It’s locked, go out the back door.. There was a slight pause before Callion heard a click and his staff flew out the door towards him. Landing with a hearty smack into his palm, Callion looked at the staff, then back at the now ajar door. “How did you...you don’t have any hands…” Callion stated, earning the feeling of a wicked humor entering his mind. Callion shook his head before wandering over to the inn, closing the door and wandering back. Upright. Callion ordered, and the staff floated in the air… only to have Callion’s robe draped over it.

The indignation and disgust floating from the staff was apparent but Callion just sighed as his hands glowed and the robe started to magically clean. “Shush, it’s fine, a little zombie blood never hurt anyone…” Callion paused. “Well, that’s inherently untrue, but still, shush.” It didn’t take long for Callion to finish, holding up the robe to inspect. It was clean, but it was that kind of ‘mechanically’ clean. It wouldn’t have the feel of freshly washed clothes, but it would do the job. As he was inspecting his robe, much to the obvious chagrin of his staff, he noticed out of the corner of his eye a foot in one of the hay bales within the stable. Looking over, he saw the slightly stirring figure of Mara, who had seemingly moved out to the stables in order to sleep...or care for them, or whatever her process was. “Ah, there you are farm girl, was almost worried you had been stolen away during the night by a rich prince or a desperate slaver.” Callion stated, returning to look at his robe and make sure he hadn’t missed any spot. “Had I known you were in here, I would have been slightly quieter, although one can hardly be blamed for believing someone to be sleeping with the equines." Callion stated as he continued to look over his robe. "The sun barely rises, you still have time to rest should you choose. The others have not stirred yet…” Callion looked at his staff, and he could practically feel the shrug coming from it. “I don’t think they have anyways.”

Callion avoided the most obvious conversation topic, mostly because he himself didn’t want to talk about it just yet. He wanted to feel normal for a moment, to regain his footing and approach the situation with a fresh face and clean clothes. “Regardless… Good Morning.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Garos Sharad Character Portrait: Phaedra Mithalvarin Character Portrait: Callion Lightson Character Portrait: Mara Timbers Character Portrait: Cecilia Floros
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Mara felt the horse underneath her, the mare's strong muscles bunching and rippling as she walked. But she wasn't really there, her mind was stuck in that moment of staring down at the horrific remains of Thomas and Ragnar. Empty, bloodied, husks of flesh. Meat. Her stomach roiled at the thought, but she couldn't stop thinking about it anyway.

As if from a distance, she could hear the others around her talking softly. The horse stopped, and Mara looked up in time to be handed Phaedra's sachel. Mara vaguely heard the request to hold it. It felt foreign in her bloodied hands. Mara stared at it blankly until it wss taken from her again. It felt like time was moving in a strange way. Both quickly and agonizingly slow at once. She felt the reins leave her hands, and as if they had been in her mouth, she followed where Phaedra led her mare. She couldn't remember dismounting.

The others around her also dismounted. Callion spoke at some point. Mara felt disconnected from her own body as Phae led them into a building. Momentarily, Mara became aware of many eyes on her. The hairs on the back of her neck prickled to attention. She felt her shoulders tighten as she attempted to make herself smaller in her unease. She felt rubbed raw, emotionally and physically.

They entered a room. Phae closed the door behind them and Mara felt a distinct clawing at her chest as the crampness of the space became solidified. She felt trapped for some reason. She needed air.

Phae apologized and slumped to the floor. Mara eyed her, worried. But a glance showed that she was mostly just tired..as were they all. Mara nodded at the red head, acknowledging her efforts and trying not to look as crazed as she felt.

As if on cue to her thoughts, Callion collapsed to the floor midsentance. He started to say he wanted to be in the tub before falling into one of his sudden sleeps.

Mara knelt by him, double checking his breath. Being sure he was not just...meat...but her first thought had been right. Just his sudden sleeps. Without a word she hefted the thin man over her shoulder and dragged him into the bathroom. As gently as possible, she hefted the wizard into the tub. His head lolled, looking uncomfortable. Carefully, she took off her cloak and folded it as best she could, like a pillow. She propped it behind his limp neck. It was something at least.

In the mirror above the sink, an unfamiliar face leered back at her. She looked older, covered in gore..her own eyes frightened her. She looked away quickly, grabbing some fresh clothes from the provided pile. She closed the bathroom door, changing while the wizard snored to avoid being bare skinned in front of the others.

Mara tried to fold her dirty clothes, but the blood had hardened in strange ways. She left them in.a pile under the tub instead. Looking at them made her nauseous. She cupped her hands under the faucet and attempted to wash her face. The water in the basin was rust colored with her filth. She could smell blood.

Mara exited the bathroom in the simple white shift she'd been given. She missed her apron, but it was too filty to wear to sleep. The others had chosen their places it seemed. Mara curled at the foot of the bed, wishing herself smaller. She lay there with her eyes shut, wanting sleep. She wasn't certain how long she lay that way..but with her eyes closed she could only see their corpses again...

Mara finally sat up, overwhelmed. The room was quiet. It smelled of blood. They all stank like death. It was suffocating. Mara stood, silent as she could, and slipped out the door. Her bare feet padded on the steps softly. The tavern was mainly empty, save for sleeping drunks. They all seemed to have her father's face. Mara winced and slipped out the door into the night.

The air felt cool on her fevery skin. Overhead, the sky was bright with stars. The dirt felt familiar and comforting between her toes. She padded into the barn, and the smell of fresh hay and warm horse welcomed her. She felt her shoulders loosen slightly. Some horses, scenting her, nickered nervously as she passed their stalls. Mara found her mare with surprising ease. A horse the color of freshly tilled soil. The mare stretched her long neck over the door and grunted at Mara. Mara sighed and gently cooed at her before hunkering down nearby.

Somehow, it felt safer here. A hay pile was a welcome sanctuary. Mara climbed in, clutching the knife Phae had given her like a talisman, just in case. The scent of the barn finally lulled her to sleep.

-------------
Mara woke, startled by the sound of crashing wood on wood, and the sound of equally unnerved horses.

Mara leapt to her feet, knife readied, hay sticking everywhich way out of her dark and tossled hair. A sound somewhere between a growl and a scream rattled from between her grit teeth. Her eyes flashed sharply in her fright.

That was when she saw Callion standing in the barn, his staff hovering nearby with his clothing draped over it. He greeted her cheerily as if it were a perfectly normal morning. Sheepishly, Mara lowered the knife.

"G..good morning..." she managed hoarsely.

Mara felt her mare's hot breath on the top of her head. The mare was unimpressed by Mara's tough front and was playfully licking at the hay in the farm girl's hair. Mara grumbled and pushed the horse's snout away gently.

Mara sighed and sheathed the knife, having the self awareness to look embarrassed for being discovered sleeping in the barn. He would probably think she was some kind of little beast...but she had no words to explain herself. All she had was a soft...

"S..sorry..." Mara mumbled, looking at her bare toes. She cleared her throat a little, unsure how to proceed.

Awkwardly, she began picking hay from her hair and then lacking anything else to say she picked up a brush and began carefully brushing her dark mare.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Garos Sharad Character Portrait: Phaedra Mithalvarin Character Portrait: Callion Lightson Character Portrait: Mara Timbers Character Portrait: Cecilia Floros
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The ride itself had been uneventful. Maybe, that was what made it worse. The quiet. The silence that hung around them heavy as sopping wet rags. Clothes caked with muck and blood and worse. Garos supposed they were all thinking of it; minds worn with what they’d seen back there, in Oakheart. Such a pretty name, now in ruins. As resilient as humans could be, he doubted it would ever recover. Ever flourish as it has once done, because… it was tainted with something that they couldn’t even fathom. Blue flames and hobbling corpses; some that belonged to their friends. Ragnar. Thomas. The familiar ache of loss panged in the pit of his guts; that he hadn’t even known them long enough to know if they had any families waiting on them.

Did they?

He hung his head and shuttered his eyes closed once more, swaying with the clopping footsteps of his steed. Not much else they could do for them at this point. Give them a proper burial? Hopefully. That was all they could do. Not much else. The leather reigns bit into his palms as he squeezed them. He’d never been too good at that, he supposed. Forgetting faces. Burying them with all the others. Not Hooded material. He’d heard it before. Again and again. Whispered, spat. Too soft. Too wishy-washy. A liar. He didn’t remember sleeping, but he must have, because Phaedra’s voice woke him to the village proper. Something about staying put for now. He was only too happy to oblige, slipping from his saddle.



Garos was careful to notice the small nuances, even in his exhausted state. Exits, entrances. Those who squatted by the fireplace, huddled in mismatched pairs. The state of the tavern; and it’s barkeep, handsome as he was. Eyeing them as if they’d dragged in bad news by their tale-skirts. He doubted that they’d been given space at all if it hadn’t been for Phaedra’s input. Her sway. Fair enough. They were gore-strewn strangers, bedraggled to the point of suspicion. Tavernkeeps hardly wanted trouble, even if they’d brought enough coin to warrant one night’s rest.

Quiet as he’d been for the entire journey here, Garos obediently followed behind the redhead and stood idly when the door closed behind him. He felt lost, here. As if he didn’t quite know where to place himself. However, when Phaedra squeezed past him and deposited crisp, clean clothes at the bedside, he beelined across the room and shuffled through the articles for something that might fit him—which proved difficult given his stature, tall as he was. No suitable shirt to wear, though he’d found pants. Good enough. He turned on his heels, a thanks hanging on his lips, in time to see Phaedra slump against the wall and close her eyes. She looked beat, so he only offered a smile of gratitude.

Callion’s exhaustion seemed to catch up on him as well. Or else, it was that something else. That thing he couldn’t quite put his finger on. Falling asleep wherever he was, at a drop of a hat. Maybe it was something wizard’s had. An affliction of magic. He didn’t know. Couldn’t hope to guess. That stuff was beyond him. He watched as Mara huffed over to his side, fingers fluttering to his neckline. Checking for a pulse, he assumed. He softened when she slipped fabric beneath his head and skittered away. Sweet thing, she was.

Garos changed into his pants with a lack of shyness that Mara certainly did not feel, seeing how quickly she’d disappeared into the bathroom. He stood bare-chested, baring far too many scars; his most comfortable state. Sometimes, it’s what made him feel the most Orcish. He’d elected to deposit himself in a chair and lean his face into his fist. Not a particularly comfortable place to sleep, though he’d slept in far worse locations. He still felt it: unclean. Not much he could do about that until he bathed. Perhaps, the King would be kind enough to let them soak. Least he could do after sending them to their deaths. After all, Ragnar and Thomas weren’t so lucky. The thought dragged his eyelids closed and exhaustion took him once more.

He was, however, one of the first to wake, stirring at the slightest of sounds. He maintained his guise, however. Softly whisping out his breath; as if he were still asleep. It was something he’d learned to do at a young age, back at his homestead. He only dared crook an eye at half-mast, lidded enough to see Mara rising from her chosen corner of the cramped chamber. A small part of him wanted to follow after her. See if she was fine. But, by the drawn look on her face, pinched up in an expression he was all too familiar with… he figured it best to leave her to her own devices. Let her heal, in her own way. Soon after, another figured stirred. He recognized him immediately. Callion. Pacing to and from the bathroom, before shuttering the door and padding down the hallway.

He'd join them, soon enough. His stomach grumbled unpleasantly. Empty as he felt.

Another minute ticked by. Then, another.

Only then did he fully open his eyes and stretch his arms over his head, cat-like. His body felt as if he’d been dragged behind a horse. The ache of battle was familiar, though it’d certainly been awhile that he’d felt this sore. Fighting the living was far different than what they'd just been through. They weren’t as relentless as the dead—heaving back up even when their limbs had been severed. He rolled his shoulder and glanced across the room once more, spotting Phaedra still snoozing against the wall. She really had done good back there, getting them all cozy in this place. He rocked himself quietly to his feet and grabbed a corner of the scratchy blanket from the lightly-ruffled bed, pulling it free.

For someone as tall and clumsy-looking as he, Garos’ footsteps were feather-light. Calculated and careful. As if he approached everything in that manner. He paused a moment and watched her chest fall. Soft breaths. Asleep? He hoped she wasn’t as light a sleeper as he was, quick as a cat to reach for a blade should anyone rouse her. He was like that, sometimes. Too used to blades wandering close, when a business deal floundered. And he was a stranger. They all were. She owed them little, if anything. Still, it was a chance he'd take to be kind. He closed the distance between them and bent low, settling the blanket around Phaedra’s shoulders.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Garos Sharad Character Portrait: Phaedra Mithalvarin Character Portrait: Callion Lightson Character Portrait: Mara Timbers Character Portrait: Cecilia Floros
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The village resembled many other that Cecilia had visited during her own travels, and under normal circumstances, it would’ve been a nice, quaint little place to stop by for a pint or two at the local tavern. The same could be said about what used to be Oakheart. But now the burned village was a painful thought that made the dull ache in her head a sharper pain, and the eyes of the local peasantry stared at them for too long, bore holes into her that were too deep. Cecilia, too tired for her conscience to tell her any better, couldn’t help but think of them as gawking animals, and shot them a serrated glare, daring them to say something.

It wasn’t hard to understand that they were strangers to this village, a mismatched group of travelers covered in who knows what, and that clearly garnered its fair share of attention. But now the villagers seemed an added nuisance. The basest part of her was deeply satisfied when some met her glare and had swiftly looked away, glancing at anything else that wasn’t her.

Once they reached the inn, it was almost expected that it would be as crowded as it was. Perhaps these people were what was left of whatever initially happened at Oakheart. Cecilia paid little attention to them, focusing more on the dwarf that Phaedra was seemingly familiar with, a look of skepticism showed patently on her face that softened into relief when Phaedra began leading them upstairs.

Although the room that they had entered had been small, it was a welcomed sight, to say the least. Within a moment's notice, both Phaedra and Callion had passed out in their respective spots in a way that would’ve been comical if the atmosphere wasn’t already so bleak. Cecilia made herself a spot on the one bed in the room, crossing her legs before she began digging through her satchel, leaving enough space on the bed should someone wish to join her.

Her hand grazed an odd bottle, and upon pulling it out, she realized it was a small sample of wood that she took from Oakheart, and she was pleased to see that it still had the same odd blue glow. A shiver ran through her spine at the memory of how cold it was to the touch. It wasn’t much, but hopefully it would be enough, enough to give them idea of what had occurred at that village. Something to make it seem as if all that death had been worth it. Given enough time and the right tools, Cecilia could identify the type of magic from the residuals left behind, but even the thought of the amount of effort that would require caused another surge of exhaustion and pain. With a muffled sigh, she placed the bottle back into her satchel, pulling out the small piece of parchment that contained her rough sketch of the ruined village, coupled with haphazard notes she took moments before their plans had fallen apart.

She now spent time forming those notes into coherent thoughts, using the rest of her energy to draw diagrams of the undead they came across, a small picture of the sample they had taken, and a loose sketch of the red-haired woman they had come across in the village. At the very least, the king would receive a detailed summary of everything that occurred from the time they had stepped foot in that village to the time that they had left it. As she finished, Cecilia had pushed everything to the side and laid back on the pillows, and her mind wandered to how filthy her clothes were and how filthy the bed sheets would be, before sleep finally claimed her.




It was the smell of that very filth that had woken her from her sleep in the morning. She was always a heavy sleeper, and the events of yesterday had left her sleeping harder than she had in a while. Cecilia wished for nothing more than to curl back under the covers and go back to sleep, but this foul smell had to be dealt with first. Cecilia let out a groan as she pulled her satchel over to her side, digging out a small pouch of loose incense and a small dish from among the many other knickknacks that she had on hand. Usually, the incense was something that she used for magic rituals that called for it, but now she used it to relieve the smell of blood and death that hung in the room.

With a small flick of her fingers, the incense, a mixture of white sage, lavender, and myrrh, was lit and smoke rose from it, already beginning to fill the room with a much more pleasant aroma. The next order of business was putting on a clean set of clothes, a task that she had neglected doing before she fell asleep. Thankfully, since she often travelled, she made sure to pack a spare set of clothes. Every muscle in her body ached in protest as she sat up, and left the bed, noting that Callion and Mara were already absent from the room, and Garos was still awake. They were all conscious, save for Phaedra.

She made her way down the stairs of the inn and out to the stables, where she soon came across Mara and Callion. ”Well, it's good to see that the two of you are up and about this morning. Cecilia paused as she made her way to her horse, gathering her clothes before turning to the two of them once again. ”Please do make your way back to the room when you can, as there is something I would like to… discuss, and it'd be more appropriate if all of us were present.” Cecilia expression turned dark as she left the stables just as swiftly as she had entered, returning to the room to dress herself behind the divider.

It was relief to take off the blood and sweat soaked clothes, careful to not brush against any sore wounds, and she gathered them in a pile that sat neatly in one corner of the room. Though it wasn’t much, the feel of fresh clothing and the scent of incense did help, both in making her feel less like a rabid animal and in alleviating the lump that was beginning to form in her stomach once more as she sat down on the bed.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Garos Sharad Character Portrait: Phaedra Mithalvarin Character Portrait: Callion Lightson Character Portrait: Mara Timbers Character Portrait: Cecilia Floros
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#, as written by mjolnir
Phaedra had barely settled herself in a slump on the floor in the small room, when Callion opened his irritatingly large mouth to complain about the state of the clothing she procured. She gave him a sharp sideways glance as he began to speak, but thankfully his words trailed off before he finished. She didn't see him doing any better. Phaedra spent nearly all of her coin to get them this room and those rags. Of course, it was too much for skirts to seem even remotely grateful.

A scoff escaped her lips when he fell to the floor with a loud thud that shook the ground beneath her. Then it was swiftly followed by loud snores. Phaedra nearly laughed out loud. Of course he was just as annoying asleep as he was awake. Mara, although small and quiet, was able to manage moving Callion into the tub. That was nice of her, Phae would have left him there... Although he probably would have woke with a crick in his neck that none of them would hear the end of.

She didn't move from her spot on the floor, letting her body rest as much as it could. Phaedra was exhausted. When was the last night she got a good night's sleep? When she was with her last target? No. She slipped out in the night. Her legs felt like the bones were taken from them, her arms too tired to lift. The others luckily had horses, but she traversed the country on foot which took her remaining energy from her. But Phaedra knew, no matter how tired she was, she wouldn't be able to sleep... or at least not for long, but she rested her eyes nonetheless. She only opened them slightly when she heard movement, and watched in silence as Mara slipped from their room.

The morning couldn't have arrived any slower. Phaedra's night was filled with images of the battle, the red shoe of her fallen comrade and stirring questions of the strangers she now was traveling with. Her stomach rumbled and groaned uncomfortably threatening to eat itself if she didn't find sustenance soon. Did she get any sleep? It didn't feel like it. Perhaps she slipped off into a light sleep, but she remembers being wide awake whenever the others began to stir. She wasn't in the mood to deal with socializing... Not yet. So, she kept her eyes closed trying to rest as best as she could until she had no choice but to rouse herself.

Phaedra paid no mind to the stirrings in the room, until quiet shifting moved closer to her. Under different circumstances she might have been tense, thinking that someone might have been trying to kill her. But she didn't feel that way, or maybe she was too tired to care. Then a gentle weight was placed upon her. A blanket? She inhaled softly as she slowly opened her eyes and found herself met by the orc. "Thanks," she said softly toward him with as best of a smile she could muster. "I don't think I got any sleep." She gave a weak chuckle, sitting up slightly.

A sheepish grin flicked the tip of the tusks from beneath Garos’ lips as he straightened back up. He puffed out a breath, “I figured. Ye’ still look pretty beat.” It was an observation, simple as that. He knuckled at his nose, and glanced back down to her. “Don’t think I did either.” The admonition came softer this time, though it sounded genuine enough by the slight bags underneath his ocher-eyes. They looked strange up close; ringed with black where the whites of a persons eye should be. Like a particularly dark night; a lighted cavern, pupils like lanterns in the dark. “Plenty of time for that, later, I think. When we get our barrings.”

She sat there for another minute or two, before she willed herself to stand. Gods was she stiff and sore. Phaedra stretched, nearly forgetting how filthy she was until she glanced down. She sighed, and grabbed the piece of clothing that remained on the table, not much caring what it was. A simple, oversized black tunic. Her pants were fine, and a quick scrub in water would fix her other clothing right up. She moved over to a corner of the room with her back toward Garos and began to unlace her corset. Once it was off, her tattered blouse nearly fell off her without even trying.

Phaedra didn't try to hide herself, she wasn't the bashful type. But she kept herself turned away to avoid making her company uncomfortable. Before she put on the fresh tunic, the large intricate marking of the Shadow Courtesans stood out predominately on her back against her pale skin. She slid her arms through the sleeves of the shirt and briefly glanced back toward Garos. "You're a half breed, right?" Phaedra pulled the tunic over her head and turned back to face him as she tucked the ends into her pants. "I mean no offense," she added with a gentle tone. "I have an eye for like people."

As unabashed as Phaedra was removing her clothes, it seemed to be the only time that Garos’ seemed entirely comfortable. Whether or not that was an indication to some sordid upbringing or questionable occupations was anyone’s guess. The expression on his face was even. Tempered, almost. Though, there was a slight flick of his eyebrow when she glanced over her shoulder. Maybe, a shadow of intrigue, before it was gone. She could hear him pad back across the room, bare-footed, and slip into the high-backed chair once more, where he folded one of his legs over his knee.

“Curious question for someone you’ve just met,” the statement held no malice, though there was a bit of humor there. A laugh that didn’t quite reach his eyes. He rubbed his hand over his face, scrubbing past his mouth and jawline. To anyone else, he might’ve just looked off. A shoddy orc. A less-than-graceful elf. Not quite like one or another. Not a simple fit. “No offense taken, ya’ got a good eye.” His manner of speech felt more like an odd mix between a country bumpkin, and someone who spent too long in a dingy tavern. A pause, thoughtful this time. “Ma’s an orc, pa’s an elf. Weren’t the most popular couple ‘round.”

Hearing that one of those in their company wasn't much unlike herself felt... Nice. It was like a little piece of her barrier chipped away. Like Phaedra popped a string on her corset and could breathe easier, if only a little. She managed a soft smile. Not something she did often, but one that wasn't forced nor fake, but content in comfort. "So am I," she added quietly, almost as if she were afraid someone else might hear. So long she was trained to act like an elf and to hide the human tarnish from her blood. "A halfbreed. My mother was an elf, my father a human." She used pieces of her ruined blouse to clean off her boots and corset as best she could absent water or a brush. She began to put back on her corset, fastening the buckles, as she glanced back up toward Garos with a more playful smirk. "Get me drunk enough one night and we can exchange stories."

A laugh, this time. Deep-bellied as always. There was a sense that he didn’t talk about them much. Or else, no one had really cared to ask. He patted his own stomach as it gave an empty gurgle, as if to stifle it to no avail. He readjusted his slouched posture, and planted his hands on his knees. “Thanks again. For everything, y’know?”

Phaedra pulled out one of the empty chairs from the table and started to wipe down her boots. As she slid her left foot into the appropriate shoe, she froze upon hearing his words. No one had thanked her. She met Garos's gaze for a moment giving a subtle nod along with a hushed, "Of course." Before she finished putting on her boots. In the silence of the room, the rumbling of their stomachs was nearly deafening. Phaedra sighed looking toward the door. "I paid for food." She left her weapons in the room on the table, but grabbed one of her daggers and tucked it in her right boot. "I'll be back."

With a nod toward Garos, she exited the room and made her way down to the first floor of the tavern. The dwarf was already there, working behind the bar and helping the numerous refugees strewn about the place. "Ryland!" Phaedra called out to him, not caring what people turned to look at them. She was hungry, running on little sleep and irritable. She slammed her hand on the counter to make sure he looked at her. "I paid you for baths and food."

Ryland gave her a sharp glare, as he continue about his work while talking to her. "It's past dawn," he said, answering her own grievances with his. "There is a creek near by. There's your bath." He then grabbed dirty dishes and headed back toward the kitchen.

Phaedra pushed past a kitchen wench, moving around the bar and following after the dwarf. "We would have been out by dawn if you gave us what I paid you for."[/b] Ryland paid her no mind, and continued about his work. "Stubborn ass dwarf," she practically growled under her breath. She wasn't in the mood to argue. So, instead, she grabbed five bowls, filling them with what stew or soup was brewing over the hearth.

"Hey! You can't do that!" Some serving girl called to Phaedra as she made herself at home, getting the food they were promised.

Without a word, Phae pulled her knife from her boot and held it out in a silent warning. Ryland waved everyone out of the kitchen with a sigh. She made quick work putting the filled bowls on a tray. Phae also snagged up a loaf of bread, along with a flagon of ale and cups. "Phaedra you can't take all that."

"Are you going to stop me?" When he didn't stand in her way, nor try to stop her, she nodded her head, tossing her blade onto the tray. "That's what I thought." Phaedra took the tray in her left hand with her right index finger hooked around the handle of the flagon. "We'll be gone within the hour. But your favors with me have run out." She stopped in the doorway, glancing over her shoulder toward him. "You're lucky it was me and not another Courtesan. You know what will happen if another finds you."

She wasn't going to give him any advice nor stay around to tell him more. Ryland knew what he did was wrong when he betrayed the order years ago. It was only out of their past friendship that she didn't turn him in. Phaedra hurried her way back up to the room, the smell of the food driving her mad. She bumped open the door with her hip and set the tray on the table before looking toward Garos and Cecilia, who must have arrived while she was gone. "I don't know what it is. But it's food." She set the flagon down on the table. "And ale."

Phaedra couldn't wait any longer. She quickly took a seat in one of the chairs, grabbing a bowl of stew while also putting bowls in front of the other seats for Garos and Cecilia. She couldn't wait to pour the ale, or waste time with proper manners. Phae took up the bowl in her hands, pressing the brim to her lips and drank from it heavily. She only took a break when it was half gone to pour them both a large glass of ale. She made sure to rip the bread into five pieces before she ripped into her own and chased it with an entire glass of ale. It was then that Phaedra took a brief breather and toasted her glass against Garos's. "Cheers." She laughed weakly, but smiled... a genuine smile. Thank the Gods for food.

Garos, too, seemed to forget his manners when Phaedra brought the wooden bowls ladden with stew. Another gurgle sounded. Insistent. He ate as if it might’ve been the best meal he’d gotten in days. As if their little feast at the kingdom hadn’t happened at all. Or else, his appreciation for food stemmed from something else entirely. He’d eaten like this there, as well. Wolfing down his meal rather than enjoy it. He only seemed to look up from his bowl once it was completely empty. He scrapped the bottom of the bowl with his portion of bread and slumped a little further in his eat. The ale followed soon after.

A satiated sigh broke the silence, as he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Gods, that was good.”

"Help yourself to my share. I'm not particularly in the mood for food or drink anyways." Cecilia said as she took a seat at the table, pushing the bowl back in Phaedra's direction. There was a slight pause before Cecilia spoke again, "If you don't mind me inquiring, how did you come to know the dwarf downstairs? The two of you appear to be on familiar terms, at the very least."

With a mouthful of bread, Phaedra froze at the question. She quickly became self conscious about the manner in which she was eating. Did she really look so starved? Then again, when was the last time she ate? Before she was at the other village, no doubt. And she hadn't the faintest idea how long she was unconscious there. Phaedra swallowed her food, and took a drink of ale as she searched for the words. She could lie, that would be easier... But for some unknown reason, she told the truth. "I'm a Shadow Courtesan... If you haven't already connected those dots."

The orc seemed to perk up when Cecilia questioned Phaedra about how she was acquainted with the dwarf below. The tavern owner. And even more so when she’d said the words Shadow Courtesans. The telltale eyebrow quirk, his inquiring gaze flicking with something that resembled recognition. Though if he recognized the organization at all, he certainly didn’t add anything to imply he did. The peak in Garos's curiosity made her chuckle softly, a tired sort of laugh of someone exhausted but relieved at a lighthearted moment. She should be used to similar reactions by that point, but true enough, it wasn't something she often shared, especially with people she hardly knew.

Her gaze was fixated on her cup as her fingertip traced the brim. She was searching for a way to answer in truth, without breaking code. Although part of her knew that not much longer in this journey and she'd be in the same shoes as Ryland. Phaedra sighed softly as she looked up, first toward Garos then Cecilia. "So, is the dwarf, Ryland. Or... was. He broke our code and before it was handled accordingly, he left. We were friends, so we kept in touch... for a time. I didn't know if he'd still be here, but it was our best chance." Phaedra didn't know what else to say, or... what she could say. She instead finished the ale in her cup, sparing brief glances at the other two in her company.

Cecilia seemed more surprised that she had told the truth at all, but that look of surprise was quickly covered up with something more neutral, devoid of any sentiment. "Can't say that I've heard of them, but I'm also not too concerned with your organizational ties and whatever baggage they might bring, and I'm sure the others aren't too concerned either. When we all first met Thomas... one of the two who we'd lost in the village, he was dragged in like an animal in chains." A small smile had crossed her lips, as if she was reminiscing on the absurdity of the event. "I don't think any of us ever figured out why he was treated in such a way, but I can assure you the reason was nothing pleasant. Even still, he was beneficial to the team, and I don't see us treating you differently if the dealings of your organization are in any way similar to what was going on with him."

Phaedra leaned back in her seat, sliding the extra bowl of stew toward Garos but kept her gaze on Cecilia as she spoke. Garos was all too keen to dig into the second bowl of stew, letting them talk amongst themselves. It was rare meeting someone so cold or stoic. Reminded her of her false father and that connection sent a chill down her spine, which she quickly tried to mask by taking a large drink of ale. What little bit of her that seemed to open up earlier during her conversation with Garos threatened to lace itself back up. Phae was certain the words were meant to be seen as comfort? But she wasn't ashamed of her line of work. She set her cup back down on the table looking over toward the silver haired elf. "If you do not care about the means by which I know the dwarf, then why ask in the first place?" It was more of a rhetorical question, but Phaedra was confused by Cecilia's curiosity which was quickly covered by indifference. "I never much cared about others' thoughts towards me and my profession. Comes with the territory."

"It was only because this Ryland seemed more than a little reluctant to help us, and you seemed to have some sway in convincing him to let us stay. In that regard, I should thank you, otherwise we would've had to camp somewhere outside of town." Cecilia stood from the table, moving towards the bed to gather what seemed to be a small piece of parchment and a vial. "Regardless, there are more pressing matters to discuss, though we'll have to wait for our other companions to join us."

"Gold can sway anyone's mind, if there is enough of it." Phaedra downed what remained of her ale, then nodded her head toward Cecilia. "You're right. As much as I'd love to spend the day drinking with Garos," she said, giving him a flirty yet brief smile. Being even so bold as to give him a playful wink. A cough sounded, this time. Muffled by the bowl held to his lips. The first reaction of mild embarrassment. "We have maybe an hour before we've overstayed our welcome beyond what my purse can handle."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Garos Sharad Character Portrait: Phaedra Mithalvarin Character Portrait: Callion Lightson Character Portrait: Mara Timbers Character Portrait: Cecilia Floros
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Embarrassment was not something that came easily to Callion, mainly due to his own circumstances. Even when his pride demanded a flush of the face, he managed to push that feeling into something more productive, like vengeance or revenge. A petty demand of someone such as him, but it was better than floundering like some idiot or naive girl. So when Mara’s face seemed to flush with that exact sentiment of something he had long ago refused to feel again, he felt a rising lecture boil up into his throat before he stopped. Why did he feel the need to lecture a natural bodily reaction? An emotion? The teacher in him had come to the forefront for a moment before he shook himself of the feeling, continuing to prestidigitate his clothes before finally deeming them clean.

Mara had taken to brushing her horse, which in itself earned a comment from Callion. “I too love animals, dear girl.” Callion stated, slipping his robe over his body and giving a quick inspection. “But might it not be prudent to clean yourself up first? Presentation is the first freely given opinion after all.” Mara only momentarily paused her brushing in acknowledgment of his words. Before she could answer, Cecilia wandered into the stable. With a greeting, she then asked them to join her in the room with no small amount of foreboding foreshadowing. Callion gave a curt nod, watching her gather her things from her horse and leave for an overlong amount before Will bumped into his shoulder, a professional curiosity filling his mind.

“No clue Will, although she does seem the educated sort. She may have some insight as to what happened yesterday that we missed.” Callion muttered to the staff, earning a polite agreement. Callion brushed his robe once more, out of nervous habit rather than an actual need, before turning to Mara. “Well, it seems like there may not be time for a proper bath and cleaning of the attire, if you don’t mind.” Callion wandered over, beckoning her to stand. With little hesitation, Mara obeyed. “A simple spell, to clean the stains and smells.” Callion stated, placing his hand in front of Mara’s chest but not actually touching her as his palm started to glow. In a matter of seconds, her garments went from dirt covered hay filled frayed fabric to clean and presentable clothes. He realized where his hand was hovering, but once again, embarrassment was a foreign feeling to him...one might even include ‘shame’ in that list. His intention was purely practical. “Now then, shall we head to the room?”

Mara stared at him with somewhat vacant eyes. Usually, the chance to see magic used up close would excite her. Or she would become flustered by his closeness. Instead, she only nodded slowly, like a sleepwalker, and murmured a soft,

"Thank you..."




Callion wandered into the inn, Mara in tow, and entered the room. The smell of food was the first thing to hit his senses, quickly followed by the stench of mediocrity that was the stew. His eyes glanced to it, but honestly his hunger far surpassed his need to be slightly above average and he said nothing. Instead, he looked to the others, who had woken up and were already indulging in whatever there was. Garos was wolfing it down, Cecilia didn’t appear to want anything to eat and Phaedra was eating away as well. Callion took a seat at the table, his staff floating of its own accord to a spot along the wall as he deliberately chose a spot that was as far as he could get from the scornful woman. “I assume we have you to thank for the sustenance?” Callion asked, grabbing his bowl and adding a bit of stew to it as he glanced over at Phaedra. “Much obliged.” He stated in as neutral a tone as one could get. He dug into the food, noting its quality was less than what he typically enjoyed but having enough common sense to not say a word or give any indication of objection to it. Mara murmured another soft "Thank you" to Phae, before helping herself as well. Her eyes seemed unfocused as she slowly chewed. Mara only seemed to eat a few bites before seeming to forget food was even in front of her. She stared past Callion's shoulder with glassy eyes. Her mind clearly elsewhere.

After a few moments of getting something, anything really, into his stomach, he paused. His eyes peered over at Cecilia. “You have something that you wished to discuss.” Callion stated, not phrasing it as a question in any shape or form. Admittedly, he needed information and he wasn’t going to give the slightest opportunity for someone who had any of it to back out of something. “It would be best if we got right to it.” Callion stated, his tone heavy and his demeanor serious.

Mara jumped a little at the sound of his voice, startled back into blinking. She took another mouthful of the stew, but pushed it aside and looked to Cecilia, apparently not hungry. Garos, too, set aside his bowl, though his was clearly empty. He glanced in Mara's direction, mouth setting into a line. There was a knit to his brows. If the man at all had the ability to hide his emotions, he certainly never put it into play. Though, he maintained his silence, and swung his attention back to Cecilia, bobbing his head into a nod. The red head had long but finished her food and while the others sat and waited in a somber silence, she leaned forward to grab the flagon of wine and pour herself another drink. From the looks of things Phaedra needed liquid courage to help her through whatever Cecilia was going to lay on them.

Cecilia sat herself back down at the table, a piece of folded parchment and a vial in hand. "Needless to say, we have several issues. Not only are we down two people, but we also lack any definite knowledge on what truly occurred at the village, besides this small sample I managed to take amidst the chaos." She said matter-of-factly, holding up the small vial, which one could now see held a small piece of burnt wood that still glowed with the alien blue embers that they had seen at the village. Cecilia then gestured to the parchment in her hand, "I've made sure that the King will receive a detailed description of everything we encountered, but the main topic of this discussion is the mark that has found it's way into each of wrists."

"While I was attempting to preserve what was left of the bodies of Ragnar and Thomas, I noticed something that was... well, to call it worrisome would be an understatement." She stopped for a moment, seemingly trying to steel herself. "The mark was no longer on Ragnar's wrists. It wasn't on either of his wrists. I can't be sure about Thomas, since there wasn't much left of him to begin with, but I think it's safe to assume that the same could be said for him." Cecilia glanced at Callion, her green eyes hard and focused. "I'm sure that you will reach the same conclusion that I have."

Phaedra learned back in her seat, her index finger tapping quietly against the side of her cup. She appeared deep in thought with brows furrowed and pursed lips. After a long moment she parted her lips to sigh, then speak. “Do any of you actually know the meaning behind this?” The red head seemed frustrated at the events she had been thrown into over the past day. She huffed, visibly flustered at her own lack of knowledge at the situation, as she yanked up her sleeve and pulled the leather fingerless glove from her hand. Iridescent elven markings showed more predominantly around her fingertips without the distraction of the glove as she pointed at her fresh mark upon her wrist. “I touched some weird tablet... pass out and wake up to all of this. What’s going on?”

Callion listened to the both of them, but he personally hadn't seen the marks disappear. Still, Cecilia seemed like the inquisitive sort, and he couldn't disprove what she was stating. Naturally Phaedra did her best to get on his nerves, but he had more important matters to attend to than her complaints as he put his hands together and held them in front of his chin. "I didn't witness what you did Elf, but I have no reason to not trust your assessment nor discredit what you're saying. If what you saw was indeed the truth, that is a very startling revelation that could have any number of possibilities, nearly all of them horrible in some form or another. Quite intriguing." Callion stated as he paused for a moment, taking a deep breath through his nose as he realized that Phaedra would indeed be the most in the dark about all that was happening and considering she was marked herself, it was necessary to fill her in. "As for a quick explanation for the unwillingly ignorant, each and every one of us is marked with a magical... sign of sorts that I couldn't begin to explain that has us declared as the Heralds." Callion looked over at Phaedra. "If you had spent any time in a book at all, you would be aware that Heralds are noted through every major religion and belief system across Ambar, and almost universally believed to be the bringers of end times. We lucky individuals are the ones who now carry that stigma with us where-ever we go, as there doesn't appear to be any known way to eliminate the mark." Callion paused, looking over to Cecilia. "Well, there is one way apparently, but I'm in no rush to test it."

Callion closed his eyes for a moment, doing his best to run through his immense knowledge of all things literature. "The wording on nearly every religion and belief is similar. There are always 7 heralds.. .always 7. Never 6, never 8, 7." Callion opened his eyes, looking to everyone. "If this prophecy is the work of some great being capable of amazing magics, it would stand to reason that it would never allow there to be fewer. It could be that the marks simply moved on to others who were not as clinically disposed of." Callion uttered, his words cold but logical, not meaning insult but not putting any effort in to mask his thought process. Mara visibly flinched despite this "Either that, or killiing us is the simplest way to stop a prophecy that would end with an Armageddon. To which I would state that I do not like either of these conclusions I have put forth." Callion looked to the others for some kind of agreement or other idea to float forward as to what it could mean.

"For obvious reasons, I'm hesitant to believe that this is truly the mark of the seven Heralds, although I can't deny that the similarities are there. However, I do concur with you on one thought. I doubt that the mark would simply vanish into thin air, thus it's safe to say that it would've found another target to embed itself into." Cecilia shrugged, "Either way, this proves an issue, for if we are truly meant to die to avoid a possible catastrophe, that has unseemly consequences, and if the mark has embed itself into two others, then we have no indication of who or where these people might be. It's possible that the King could track them down as he did with the six of us, but who knows how long that might take, especially since we're not operating on a flexible time schedule."

The red headed woman sat upright in her chair, pushing her glass away as she began to speak. ”If this mark is as ominous as Skirts puts it, then I doubt anyone would be willing to step forward and admit they bear it.” She spoke toward Cecilia, not in a cold or rude manner but factual. It seemed as though Phaedra understood the gravity of finding the other marked individuals but crossing off ways it they could not find these others showed to be easier than finding solutions.

Phaedra then turned her attention toward Callion, her own annoyance plain to read. ”Plus, last I checked at least half of the people in Ambar do not know how to read. And of those whom do know literacy, how many of them spend their days nose deep in books rather than living their life?” She quirked a brow in a challenging manner while every word that slipped from her lips had a sharp bite to it. ”I apologize if my ignorance amuses you, Princess. But not all of us got a special invitation from the King in regards to their situation. The woman held his gaze for a long moment before she snatched back up her glove. She slid her fingers back into it, then crossed her arms as she leaned back in her chair, turning her attention back to Cecilia.

Cecilia sat there, playing with a singular strand of hair as Phaedra snapped back at Callion, apparently zoned out as their argument continued. "Well, it was less of an invitation and more that they captured us, held us all against our will in guarded cells, and we waited for days until the King would finally talk to us, but anyways I digress..." She cleared her throat and sat upright once more. "There's not much left that I wanted to discuss. I simply felt you all deserved to know the situation. Besides, there's little we can do anyways until we inform the King."

Mara seemed to shrink smaller and smaller into the table as tensions rose. Her small fists clenched tightly and an expression between anger and nausea was visible on her pale face. Once Cecilia was finished, Mara spoke up.

"Either way... bickering among ourselves will serve no purpose..." Mara said, softly but with an edge that seemed unlike her. She looked at the table, rather than at those around the table. She stood suddenly, and with force enough to make the chair complain loudly against the floor. Mara appeared to swallow thickly, as if trying not to to be ill. "Excuse me... I need air..." And shakily, she headed for the door.

Callion watched her go, after getting yet another verbal tirade from a woman he would rather wish non-existence on than speak to again. He looked back down at his own hands, suddenly acutely aware of just how his life had led him to a rather detached way of dealing with death. He had seen people die time and time again, and sure the first few times were rough but eventually it just became a part of life, however sad it might be. Despite this, everything in him screamed to fight with Phaedra in whatever fashion she deemed necessary, but was overridden by the logic of the farm girl. There will be a time for petty insults later, when a plan has been laid. Callion looked up at Garos. "Mercenary, would you mind seeing to the girl? It appears her mind is still not quite at terms with what's happened in the past day, and I doubt the rest of us will be able to... dissuade her concerns as easily as you would." Callion stated, before turning his attention back towards Cecilia and simply ignoring the blatant insults and anger from the red head.

Garos had maintained his silence until then, far more comfortable absorbing their words rather than interrupting with his own. Besides, it wasn’t likely that he’d spent most of his life with a book to his nose, given his outward appearance, and the general bearings Callion had seen so far. Perhaps, that’s exactly why he kept quiet. He’d never confessed to knowing more than he did, and seemed to prefer listening rather than offering his own input. Tight-lipped, that one, even if he hid it behind a smile.

He nodded his head and rocked himself out of his chair, happy to oblige Callion’s request. There was a sense that he liked being given direction, rather than bite the bit that pulled. As if it were easier that way. He stopped at the doorway and leaned his shoulder against the threshold of the door, turning to regard them. His expression was thoughtful, “She’s right. No use bickerin’ now that we’re all in this together.” He swept his palm up, the familiar flash of the unusual mark on his wrist peeping up beneath his glove.

Phaedra slunk back in her seat, surprisingly having nothing to add to her usual venom. Her gaze followed Mara out of the room and similarly watched as Garos was instructed to go after her. By the look of her expression she seemed almost sorry for the way she acted. That was until she looked back toward Callion, and whatever softness that was in her face faded to an expression of stone, unamused and irritated. But thankfully no words escaped her annoying mouth.

Another pause, before Callion continued. “Garos,” he corrected softly, eyebrow quirking up. “We’ve got names, y’know.” Bereft of the chiding tone Phaedra often used with him. More like a reminder that it was important, at least to him. A grin followed suit as he dropped his hand and turned away. With that, soft footfalls could be heard retreating down the hallway, following after Mara.

Callion paused a moment as Garos reaffirmed his name to him, receiving a middling response from Callion. He knew their names of course, he just didn't feel a need to say them at every opportunity. Well, that and maybe it was a bit subconsciously pointing to his own life where he was only ever referred to as 'boy' or 'Priest'. Regardless, he carried on with the conversation. "The King is still our best bet, and while your concern over it actually being the mark are noted, until I see something else that dictates what it is, that is the basis I have to go on." Callion looked at the letter held by Cecilia. "We should include the part about our thoughts regarding the mark moving on to another individual, and ask him to start his search once again for others. We can then travel back, taking us a few days and giving him some time to send some informants into the winds for directions. Tell me elf, do you know the spell 'Sending'?" Callion asked, a simple but useful incantation that allowed messages and items to be sent quickly vast distances. It didn't eliminate the need for a postal service, as not everyone would have the ability to cast it nor would it allow for overly large letters or parcels, but it was useful in certain situations.

Cecilia scoffed, as if it was offensive to even ask if she knew such a base spell. "Of course. Although, I'd rather be there to hand him the letter myself and explain away any questions he might have, but I suppose I could send it, for the sake of expediency at the very least. You needn't worry about including our own thoughts on the mark moving to other individuals. I did so as soon as we arrived here." Cecilia added a few finishing touches to the letter before folding it back up. She then made a gesture that might've seemed insignificant to anyone not trained in magic, but Callion knew it well. A small sigil flashed in the air, before the letter that had previously been in Cecilia's hand vanished. Callion simply nodded and stood from his seat, having finished eating all that he was going to eat and gathering his things from around the room, what little he had.

"Then I suggest we get a move on. It will take us a few days to get back to the King, and I'd rather make as much time as possible." Once he had gathered his things, he made his way towards the door. "I'll be at the horses waiting for everyone." Callion stated, exiting the room and in short order running into Garos and Mara. "Letter's sent, we're heading back. Hurry up and gather your things." Callion stated as he moved past them, making his way towards the horses.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Garos Sharad Character Portrait: Phaedra Mithalvarin Character Portrait: Callion Lightson Character Portrait: Mara Timbers Character Portrait: Cecilia Floros
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The early morning of the group departure was offset by the gloom produced by the unlikely band of adventurers, brought together by the whims of fate and forced to endure nothing short of a horrific first encounter. As they loaded their horses with their gear and whatever they could manage to ask/claim/swindle out of the innkeeper, they were off. The glaring eyes of a bridge burned staring holes into their back as they went. A steady pace, a quiet ride and even the most eccentric out of them all lost in thought. The group had barely any time, in relative terms, to fully come to grasp what they were dealing with. On top of this, while they had undoubtedly prevented an undead incursion, they knew nothing about what was happening or how to stop it. Some eyes darted back and forth, others stared ahead either out of concentration or a lack of awareness. It appeared that not a soul among them was looking forward to the talk with the King they were going to have, to admit their failure and worse yet, acknowledge their losses at the beginning of their journey.

Days went by, the group stopping every so often in order to camp and refresh themselves. Stretches, practicing, napping, reading, cooking and eating. Conversations were had between the group at intervals, with certain individuals ensuring they were never in the same small space or tent at any given time. Color slowly started to come back to the people as a sense of normalcy took over the time it took to get to the Castle. In a sense, peace had been returned to them, the vestiges of death a strong memory but just that, a memory. The losses were still felt, more acutely by others, but they were fading. Shock was wearing off and bodies were refilling with a sense of vitality. It was what they needed, and these few days where they were alone with each other and their own thoughts, able to piece things together by themselves and focus on what would help them most... This was a needed distraction.

Several days later, they arrived. The city of Fellmark, the capital of Stormgard came into view and the guardsmen at the walls and gates stood in a mixture of relaxed and stern positions. It looked like an average day, with nothing particularly happening during a time of peace that hadn't yet reached the ears of the others here in the city. At least, the guards did a good job of making it seem that way. As the group passed through the city gates, the guard captain appeared, his eyes peering over them with a knowing deepness to them. It seemed he realized something, both angry and saddened at the same time, but said nothing. Waving them through, they walked their horses through a city in the throes of mid day. People walked to and fro, market stalls hocked their wares, beggars begged and shoppers shopped. Kids ran through legs and alleys alike and the entire bustle of the city folk felt deafening after having been alone with nothing but each other on the road here. No one seemed to pay them any special mind, only doing the bare minimum to get out of the way of their horses. The group trotted along, eventually coming to the path leading to the King's Castle. The guards at this gate were far more alert, armed and armored. They stopped them as they approached, investigating their bags and noting their purpose. Upon giving all of that, they were lead inside, their horses stabled and their belongings held by the guards save for whatever they happened to be carrying upon their person at the time.

A small troupe lead them through the once familiar halls where the Heralds had spent some time sitting and waiting for judgement...well, save for one. The guards continued, marching them to a large door that was recognizable by most, and upon opening it, revealing the empty throne room. The large area where most of them had first been introduced to each other, and told of their purpose for the coming days. It seemed so long ago, but time has a weird way of taking things and putting them into different sets of context. There, the group was instructed to wait as the guards removed themselves from the room, closing the massive door behind them as they went. In awkward silence, save for maybe a couple of whispered comments from a couple, they waited. Unsure with what to do with themselves, it felt like ages before the King made his entrance next to the throne. Instead of sitting himself on the chair, overlooking them as people of royalty are want to do, he walked down the few stairs to stand in front of them. His eyes had heavy bags around them, indicating a lack of sleep from an unknown cause, but guesses were most likely to be accurate. He peered around them all, a certain sadness filling his form as he came to the same revelation that the guard captain undoubtedly had as well.

"I am noticing a distinct lack of... people here with you."

Mara stared down at her booted feet, trying not to let the swell of grief overwhelm her again. She had remembered to put on footwear before they entered the throne room. She was at least glad for that.

Phaedra lingered toward the back of the group, her gaze shifting about the room like a jumpy ally cat. Her left hand tightly clutched the worn strap of her satchel while her right twitched at her side. Although her face had the look of discomfort and distrust with a furrowed brow and sneer, her body told another tale. There wasn't much they knew about the woman aside from her sharp tongue and her ability to hold her own against a horde of undead. But it was like once they entered the castle a bit of some truth came to light. Phaedra didn't seem to carry herself like a commoner but instead stood with strong stature, with poise and the posture of someone who had be taught the proper way to carry oneself. If they didn't know any better... The redhead wasn't as common as she lead on to be.

Garos, on the other hand, shrunk against the King’s gaze. A pang of guilt pulled his features taut, he could feel the pull, even though he fought against it. His shoulders slumped, as if the weight had finally pressed itself down on him, he cleared his throat and shifted uncomfortably. He made sure that he wasn't in the forefront, lingering towards the back of the group. He didn't plan to break the silence at all, and waited for someone else to answer the King’s question in their stead. What else did he have to say in this situation? He hadn't even wanted to come along in the first place, and now, the only question that burned in his gut involved Thomas and Ragnar. His gaze flitted towards Callion, in particular, and then, over towards Cecilia. He believed them better suited to explaining the circumstances of their return.

"They...didn't...." Mara's voice cracked in her distress. It were as if she felt suffocated by the silence, but she trailed off. Mara's complexion paled noticeably as she appeared to struggle for words. "We failed to...save them..." The King appeared to look at Mara, his eyes betraying a sense of sympathy and loss, but also containing years of having to learn the hard way that such emotions held no place with the leader of men, especially in times of need. He gave a sigh, rubbing his hand through his beard slightly as he took a moment to think about his words.

"This isn't your fault. I couldn't possibly believe that someone such as Ragnar would have allowed himself to be taken down in such a light fashion. The assassin, Thomas was it? I'll admit, I didn't know him well past his occupation and guard reports, but he didn't seem one to be taken lightly either." The King looked to the group. "You admitted this much in your letter, I had simply hoped that it was written in error, or maybe there was some sort of accident with the spell used to inform us. Two Herald's down... and according to your letter, we're no closer to an answer?" Callion was the one to speak up next.

"It was a powerful form of necromancy for certain." Callion stated, taking a step forward as to present himself as best as possible, although whether that was from pride or habit, it was hard to tell. "Someone of great skill and ability cast it, and seemingly caught the town unaware. The elf and I will continue to look into it, but I wouldn't hold out hope of anything spectacular revealing itself to us." The King looked over at Callion, taking in his words with little change to his posture, his silence indicating a deep sense of thought as he continued to absorb the information given.

"I see, just as you stated in your letter once again." One more pause, which at this point was starting to seem like the King was trying desperately to regain his breath at every opportunity. Instead, he seemed to regain some form of regality as he switched to the one giving the information and orders, his shoulders lifting and his voice carrying more than a hint of nobility speech. "While you were on your way, a new series of information made its way to my ears. With confirmation of your group and its status, I have no choice but to believe that the information is correct." The King motioned to the back and a robe wearing man, most likely some sort of page or messenger, stepped forward with another letter. "A cult of sorts, since I hesitate to use the term of 'Religion' when it comes to such a small following, has managed to reach out to me. They insist that they could have information that ties into the Heralds and the myths surrounding them. I've invited them here, and they should arrive tomorrow morning if they manage to stick to their schedule." The King looked to one of the men standing near the door and gave a nod. The soldier opened the door to reveal a few attendants stepping inside the room. "In the meantime, rooms have been prepared for you once again, although your freedom within the castle walls won't be as confining. You're welcome to walk the halls and explore the castle grounds as you wish, but I must ask you to remain here until we get to meet with this group of...Ist'nen they call themselves"

With another look, his eyes managed to pierce through the group and land on Phaedra. The red head seemed to keep her attention everywhere but the King, that was until he looked directly at her. "As for you young lady." At those words a slight smirk grew across her lips, like she knew a secret he didn't. "I don't believe we've ever met but the letter contained information as to the details surrounding you. I'm sorry that you've been dragged into this mess, but seeing as you are similarly marked as the others, I have no choice but to ask for your help in this matter as well. You will be greatly compensated for your troubles, as will all of you." There was a bit of a hollow ring to the King's words, as if he was reciting a speech or message he had said one too many times, but the contents of his words were clear.

Phaedra shrugged her shoulders slightly at the comment. "It doesn't seem I have a choice." By the look on her face, it didn't seem that the prospect of compensation amused her.

With another look, he peered towards the group as a whole. "Does anyone have any questions before we retire to our rooms?"

Mara stared at the floor, silent, and looking somewhat smaller than usual. It were as if the effort it took her to speak diminished her. Cecilia spoke for the first time since they'd arrived, her brows furrowed. "These Ist'nen that you speak of, how can you ensure that they mean well in their effort to aid us? It seems too coincidental that they would only offer to help now."

Garos shifted once more, uncomfortably. Leaning his weight to his other foot, before returning to the other. Sure, he had questions, and most of them were personal in nature, but he felt like Cecilia's should come first. There was too much information being tossed across the board. A cult? The Ist'nen? None of it made any sense to him, and it was all he could do but chew on the inside of his mouth, to keep himself from biting off a comment that might get him into a trouble. T'was the King they were talking to, after all. Still. He settled a hand on his hip, arched a thick eyebrow, and shifted his gaze from Cecilia to the King. The King nodded.

"You are right to be skeptical, but if I'm being entirely honest, this isn't the first time they reached out. In my hubris, I believed them to be delusional and ostentatious, and since I wanted to keep this mission quiet as long as possible, I refused them an audience." The King took a breath. "If I had not jumped to conclusions, their information might have been able to help you prevent some of the misfortunes we've had, but what's done is done." The King looked directly at Cecilia. "When they reached out the second time, it was a mere day after your letter had reached me, and they seemed to be well aware of Ragnar's and Thomas's fate. How, they didn't quite explain but they were correct regardless. This time I wasn't in any position to refuse, and with the benefit of hindsight, I'm hoping this decision will work out better than the last." The King was being particularly candid, but it wasn't exactly hard to see why. While he still managed to keep an air of respect around him, he was visibly exhausted and otherwise wanting something, anything, to pan out. "Were there any other questions?"

"Ragnar and Thomas," Garos's voice sounded unusual to him. Weaker. As if he'd exhaled their names aloud, in a rush. Breathless. It definitely didn't sound familiar, even though he'd been mentally preparing himself to voice the question. He scrubbed a hand across the back of his neck and cleared his throat. Tried again. "We left them back at the village, but we wanted them taken care of. Properly, y'know? Buried. Cece made sure they'd..." He dropped his hand back to his side, eyebrows furrowed. He finally found the King's eyes and held his gaze. "Ain't right to just leave them there."

Softly, a sob escaped the farm girl, as if Garos had unlatched a door she had closed on her grief with his word. Mara covered her mouth, silencing herself. She stared intently at the chamber floor. The King gave a slow nod. "Preparations have already been made to recover the bodies for a proper burial. They will be given the respect owed them." The King looked around a bit more and sensing that there wasn't going to be any more statements or questions, took a small breath and continued. "Alright, if that's everything then I suggest you get some rest. Should you have need, the assistants will fetch you any food you require, the baths are open to you and I would recommend taking the rest of the day to relax and recover from your ordeal. Tomorrow morning we will be back to business once the Ist'nen arrive." The King motioned to the guards near the entrance, who opened the doors. "The attendants will show you to your rooms. Do try to take care of yourselves while you can." The King then turned on his heel, heading back towards the door he had originally come through, the conversation over as the attendants waited near the door for everyone to make their way to their rooms.

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Character Portrait: Phaedra Mithalvarin Character Portrait: Mara Timbers Character Portrait: Cecilia Floros
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Mara felt a sigh of relief escape her when the king finally dismissed them. Though time had passed since they'd left Ragnar and Thomas... the meat that had once been them, that is, each night Mara saw their mangled bodies in her dreams. For her part, she tried to keep busy during the day: riding ahead of the group so far that she could hardly see them on some occassions, or trailing far behind as she picked shapes out of the clouds drifting overhead.  


Often, she had taken to wandering alone when they made camp. She would find new plants they could eat or use in medicines, make long braids of flower chains to wrap her horse's tail in, or come back dragging armfuls of firewood. Anything to stay busy. Mara had taken to resisting sleep until her eyes burned and played tricks on her. She tried not to let it show, but she was aware of the looks the others occasionally gave her. Some pity, some worry, some a combination of both, ocassional disapproval. She tried to put on her kindest smile when she caught these glances. 


Mara couldn't find a smile for this moment though. She felt worn and somehow brittle. So instead, she took to old habits. Staring at her booted feet. They had deep scuffs and though she had cleaned them, she swore she could still see the stains the blood had left behind after the battle. Foe or fallen friend...she was not sure whose it was. She glanced up as the gaurds led them to familiar chambers. A small spark of something kindled in her...there were at least books here and food. The recollection comforted her. They passed a familiar area, with potted roses. The baths were here. Mara paused.


"A bath..." Mara mumbled, not to anyone in particular. "The baths are here. I will take one before I go to my chambers... if that is ok?" she said to the guard. The guard nodded and continued on his way. 


Mara eyed the others near her bashfully. She felt strange when she realized she might be in that giant bath alone. She looked uncertainly at Cecilia, wanting to ask, but not sure the elf would appreciate her breach in class, instead she reached out a small hand to Phaedra's sleeve before the woman passed. "The baths here are very large and... well... well, last we were here I worried that if one were to go alone and fall asleep in there they'd surely drown." Mara looked up at Phae uncertainly, expression shy. "Well, what I mean is, if you're worried about that too, I wouldn't mind going with you to make sure you're safe. If you want..." Mara smiled shyly at the woman and gave a small glance in Cecelia's direction as well. Mara briefly, accidentally locked eyes with Garos, feeling her face get hot before she managed to stare at Phaedra's shoes. Garos seemed to like that idea, as he could be heard, rather than seen, in the foreground, bothering Callion, begging him to go to the baths, as well.


"So... would you like to go together?"


Phaedra gave a warm smile, not sympathetic or pitiful, but just friendly. Her hand gently gave Mara's shoulder a light pat as she nodded her head. "I'm dying for a bath." The redhead chuckled. "Let me just figure out which one of the cells is mine and drop off my things."


The woman pivoted on her heels, turning to face the closest guard. "Hey, Shiny," Phaedra said, giving a playful back handed pat to the man's chestplate. "Which one is mine?" The guard didn't say anything just pointed toward one of the doors. Her lips parted like the woman was about to say some witty response but instead she just sighed and trudged off to her assigned room. 


It didn't seem to take Phaedra too long to do whatever she needed. When she emerged back out into the corridor, her bare feet padded along the floor as she moved toward Mara. She lost most of her encumberments, only seeming to remain in her trousers and the oversized tunic from the tavern for decency's sake. Phaedra never presented herself as the type of person who minded the idea of herself nor others in the nude. In her arms she held of ball of clothing, looking of high quality make similar to the clothes Mara received the last time she was here. The redhead didn't seem overly appreciative of the fine clothing due to them being balled up and under one of her arms. But fresh clothes are better than nothing. 


When she returned to Mara's side, Phaedra held out three small ornate glass bottles. "I bring these with me wherever I go. Oils and perfume... They make baths divine and almost help me forget that I'm in some strange place, after a horrible day and alone." Her voiced seemed to trail off toward the end, but Phae quickly smiled and resumed her usual tone. "I think today is such a day."


Mara smiled at the woman's words. It appeared she hadn't bothered to drop anything off. Still standing in the same spot, sachel in hand. The farm girl gave a curious glance to the glass bottles, the contents seeming to prod her interest. Oils and perfumes were not too far off from ointments and elixers.


Mara looked to Cecilia, expression curious. 


" If you would also like to join us, Miss Cecilia... I'm sure it would be a pleasure. We've had so little time to talk, but I understand if you would rather not."  Mara said, trailing off. She still was unsure if the nobel elf just tolerated her or was perhaps just stand offish. To Mara, Cecilia always seemed cold, and as if she did not want to be bothered. Mara mostly tried to stay out from under her feet, obligingly. With a little polite smile in Cecilia's direction, Mara turned back to Phaedra and beamed warmly. She wasn't sure why, but just the idea of having company had lifted her spirits.


Cecilia seemed to have been lost in her own thoughts, and seemed startled whenever Mara spoke. A scowl crossed her face, but it was hard to tell whether or not it was directed at Mara, or something else entirely. Cecilia sighed, "I suppose I could join you..." There was reluctance that was palpable in her voice, as her eyes drifted off towards the door to her own chambers. "I will join you soon. There is something I must take care of first." With that said, Cecilia walked away, disappearing behind the door to her room.


Mara nodded, watching the elf go.


"It's this way." Mara said leading Phae towards the baths.


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


The scent of roses permeated the steam-laden air of the women's bath. As before, red velvet seats were scattered around the edge of the large hot pool. Sconses in the wall provided light, possibly magic in nature. Mara settled herself into one of the seats, setting down her sachel. Without the men, her bashfulness faded a bit. In no time at all she was disrobed, dirty clothes folded neatly beside the chair. As before, she was still the kind of thin that came with bodies used to hard labor and few meals..though a bit softened thanks to the party's regular rations. Her spine looked less pronounced, her ribs less angular. She was taut and tawny, browned in most places from working in the sun, save for her torso that was pale. Carefully, she untied her hair,letting it fall losely around her shoulders in a dark wavy ripple. It had grown, she noted, though the same could not be said for the parts most women wanted to grow. That was well enough for her though. 


Mara lowered herself down into the warm pool carefully, settling on a ridge carved into the basin for sitting so the water came up to her chest. She sighed contentedly, grateful for the enveloping scent of the clean waters. 


Phaedra set the clothing she carried on a chair before she began undressing. She carried herself in a way that her own nudity was as normal as standing before someone fully clothed. She didn't hurry over to the large bath like Mara instead lingering before a large mirror. The redhead seemed to turn slightly before her reflection, her gaze sizing up the view of herself. She had no idea the last time Phaedra was able to see her own reflection, but the look on her face said the sight was foreign.


The redhead was curvy in the ways Mara could only assume men appreciated it. And where she'd think a woman who looked like that might look at her own reflection with confidence, Phaedra's brows furrowed in thought and maybe even self consciousness. Her hands ran over her body, stopping over yellowing bruises or healing scabs, prodding at the remnants of the battle that marked her.


After another moment of staring at her own reflection, Phae sighed and turned from it. She grabbed the ornate glass bottles she brought with her, opening each to put a few drops into the bath. When the oils hit the surface the water seemed to shimmer and take on a feint pink hue. Phaedra finally entered the warm waters, sighing as she let her body sink deeper until she was completely submerged. A few seconds passed before she surfaced, brushing her soaked locks back from her face with a content smile.


"They must use magic to heat the waters...they're always perfect." Mara said looking to Phaedra. 


Phaedra smiled as she ran her hands over the surface of the bath. The oils in the warm water made the iridescent markings around the tips of her fingers appear to shimmer. Her head slowly tilted back until it rested upon the edge of the bath, letting her eyes close. "There is nothing a wonderful bath can't sooth."


Mara gave a thin, almost distant smile. She wanted to agree, but couldn't closs her eyes, even in the comforting embrace of the bath, without seeing corpses behind her lids. Mara played with the waters with a hand, letting it ripple between her callused fingers.


"I am... only a farmer's daughter..." Mara said after a small quiet pause. She smiled and tipped her head as if indicating she assumed her low status was obvious. But the marks didn't seem to care if I could better weild a sword or a pitchfork and now I am here... forgive me if I ask too much, but what life have you known until now?" Mara asked softly, curiosity winning over her usual shy nature. 


Phaedra's head lifted up from the edge of the bath, one of her eyes peeking open before the other, glancing toward Mara curiously. Her right hand flicked at the water's surface while her expression showed deep thought. Maybe she was conjuring up a lie, choosing her words carefully... Or maybe it was a shield of silence where the truth her history would not escape. After what seemed like ages, Phae sighed softly and asked, "Do you want the long or short version?"


Mara tilted her head, brow furrowed in thought. "If it pains you, you needn't tell it in any length. But... if you tell it, tell it with truth..." she said, green eyes unusually intense as they looked to Phae. Her expression was patient, but focused. 


"I suppose you'd see through even my most ellaborate lies... Unlike some of those in our party," Phaedra replied with a weak laugh. It was apparent by her demeanor, the way her brows furrowed, how her gaze constantly changed focus and she shifted where she sat, that the topic was not a comfortable one. It was a long awkward silence before she finally met Mara's gaze. She gave a deep sigh before pushing off the sides of the bath, slowly bobbing her way out into the center of the bath, almost like the distance would make it easier to talk about. 


"I knew it'd only be a matter of time before one of you asked... I don't know if I'd dare even humor the topic if Skirts or the Elf asked." Phaedra glanced toward the door, as if to check to make sure no one was entering and be sure they were alone. "I've only ever told my story to Veela."


Phaedra ran her hands along the surface of the water as she searched for words. With a sigh, she began, "I'm a half breed... If you didn't know. My mother was an Elven noble. My father... was her bodyguard. She married her betrothed quickly, to hide her pregnancy. She died giving birth to me and when I came into this world with hair like fire, Asgarion knew I wasn't his daughter. He banished my father and kept with the pretense... But he detested me. Elves aren't dumb, they could tell... They are vain creatures with a supriority complex to rival a King's. They... It... wasn't an easy life."


The redhead thumbed over her markings that decorated the tips of her fingers. "I found out the truth when a Shadow Courtesan arrived for Asgarion's payment. He was blackmailing my father for his silence. I left with the Courtesan, found my father, only to have him taken from me by morning. Murdered by an assassin hired by Asgarion... I then joined the Shadow Courtesans nearly a century ago and now I'm here." Phaedra concluded with a shrug but no eye contact, like she was trying to brush off her tale like it was nothing special or different.


Mara silently absorbed the woman's words. Unmoving, eyes sharply focused. This was a rare expression for her. Oddly intense, and usually only seen when she was engrossed in a book. When she sensed Phaedra's story was done, she nodded demurely. She didn't completely understand what a "Shadow Courtesan" was, but she did understand the story was painful for her new party member... and didn't press further. 


"Thank you... for your story." Mara said softly, expression gentler. There was a certain twinge, a certain flinch, at the mention of "fathers" that she struggled to completely hide. It was clear, though their lives had been different, the farm girl felt a small connection there.  She did not offer as detailed a story, and was surprised by the amount of detail Phaedra felt comfortable offering. Perhaps it was because she was of lower status than the red head? 


"Fathers are often... difficult creatures... in my experience as well." Mara murmured softly, offering a somewhat sad smile. "I know you have only started your journey with us and I haven't been with them long either... but, I feel these people are all kind in their own way. Kinder than most I have met. So... I am glad you are with us now too." Mara said softly. She spoke as if speaking to a plant in the garden, warmly and with great gentleness. Yet, her eyes seemed to betray a sadness that her voice did not. 


"Well, they haven't tried to kill me... yet." Phaedra laughed softly. Slowly her demeanor and presence shifted back to the way she normally presented herself to the others. Like a wall slowly raising itself back up, keeping the damaged and secret parts of herself hidden. She waded over the edge of the bath, grabbing a sponge and began to scrub the days of travel from her skin. "I just hope it's all worth it. It's only a matter of time before the Courtesans put a price on my head... A good one I'd imagine."


"Worth it or not, we are part of something bigger than ourselves now..." Mara gently scrubbed herself, eyes looking distant, determined. She turned to Phae with a firm expression in her green eyes. "I will work harder... I won't let anyone..." Mara's voice trembled slightly, her grip on the cloth she used tightening. She grit her teeth, frustrated with herself..and looked down into the water. She took a breath to steady herself. When she spoke again, her voice was soft again but steadier. 


"I was never taught to fight. But I will learnand I will help protect you... and everyone..." Mara stood then, slipped from the water and began to towel off. Her eyes seemed far away. 


Phaedra's motions slowed until she stood there in the bath, frozen holding the sponge to her collar bone as she listened. When Mara climbed out she didn't stop her. "You know... My father, my real father, was the first death I ever saw. I still have nightmares about it to this day. It sticks with you, never goes away. But you don't have to let the guilt consume you." The woman continued to wash herself, not in a rush to leave the bath like Mara was. "It's just as much their fault as our own... It might sound cold. But from what I've come to understand you all accepted the King's offer and knew what that could mean."


Mara froze, seeming to absorb this thought. The focus coning back to her eyes as she looked at Phaedra.


After a long moment, the woman moved through the warm water toward the edge of the bath that was closest to the windows. Her damp red locks covered a majority of an intricate rose tattoo upon her back as she looked out at the view. "But if that is your desire, I will not stop you." She then glanced back over her shoulder toward Mara, her expression serious showing a firmness of someone unwilling to back down or negotiate. "But I release you from your obligation to protect me. If I die, then that is my own doing and no one else's. I refuse to let my death torment you more than you torment yourself." With that said, Phaedra let herself sink down into the water. Her arms crossed on the edge of the baths with her chin rested upon the backs of her hands.


Mara sat, towel wrapped around her thin frame. She looked down at her pruney fingers, expression thoughtful.


"Obligation... is the wrong word." Mara said absently, rubbing her finger along the mark on her wrist. "Obligation was staying with my father on that farm. No matter what... he was family. I saw no choice. This is different. This... is protecting a choice I finally made for myself." Mara said, voice warm. She had only just recognized that now..going with this party had been:her choice. Hers. And that was somewhat... empowering.Mara smiled lopsidedly at Phae. But it was a real smile. Mara gingerly pulled a comb from her sachel and began to untangle the knot of her hair. Content with this new understanding.


Mara heard the door to the bath creak open as Cecilia slipped in, "Apologies for coming so late. I didn't expect to be preoccupied for that long." She seemed a little lighter as she disrobed, as if a heavy weight was lifted off her shoulders. Wasting no time slipping out of her clothes and into the warm waters of the bath, Cecilia let out a sigh of relief as she relaxed into the water. She looked at Mara with a warmth that was foreign to her usual off-putting demeanor. "I pray that you've been enjoying yourself."


Phaedra glanced over her shoulder toward the entrance when Cecilia entered. She gave the woman a nod of her head and a polite smile. "Oh we've been having a blast."


Mara's brows rose at Cecelia's demeanor, confused by the change. Still, she smiled back, brushing out her wet hair. "I am glad you could join us." Mara said warmly. She had thought the elf had only agreed to put her off, but never thought she would actually arrive. Mara found herself genuinely pleased to see her. Mara twirled a lock of her hair with a forefinger, absently braiding back her long tresses. She was unsure how to start a normal conversation with Cecilia though. They hardly ever spoke. Mara sighed, giving up on thinking too hard. 


"Forgive me, but I'm so pleased. This whole time, I thought I was an eyesore to you, Miss Cecilia. I am happy that seemed to only be a misunderstanding on my part." Mara beamed brightly at the elf. Having finished her hair and now mainly dry, she began to search through her sachel for her old green dress. It wasn't pretty, but it was clean. 


"Calling it a misunderstanding would be unfair to you, as I did behave in such a manner." she said, glancing into the water and avoiding any eye contact. "But I can assure you, it had nothing to do with my own perceptions of you and more—" She frowned, stopping herself short. "Never mind. It would be pointless to try and explain. Just understand that I never thought anything of the sort."


Mara pulled her dress over her head, frowning a little. She suspected it had to do with their class difference, but as to why Cecilia wouldn't confirm this, she couldn't say. Still, she wouldn't push. Instead she gave a small nod and a soft smile to indicate she understood the woman's point. 


" I see.. .well... I am glad then." Mara said gathering her things. She smiled at the women. 


"As it seems neither of you are in danger of drowning. I'll see myself out now. My better garments are in need of washing and... well. I'd like to settle some matters of my own as well. Perhaps I'll see you both for a meal later?" Mara said with a smile. This time seemed to have restored the farm girl's spirits somewhat. She even managed to make more eye contact than usual as she bid them farewell and left the chamber.