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Kiba Bayushi

On the run, wanted for murder with a ridiculous bounty, conspiracy, political backstabbing... what ever happened to good old fashioned highway robbery?

0 · 467 views · located in Veilbrand

a character in “Assassin's Pledge: War of Attrition”, as played by XianEvermor

Description

Birth Name: Bayushi, Kiba
Character Alias (If applicable): Fang


Appearance:
Image


Written appearance: Kiba is a little squat for his frame at a mere five feet and change, broad through his muscular shoulders and barrel chest... in fact, Kiba is rather shaped like a barrel. His upper body is toned and muscular through years of hard labor and training, and he'd have a rock solid six pack... if you could pick it out beneath that layer of flab. He's not fat, by any means just... round about the middle. Kiba was one of those kids that stopped growing up, and instead began to grow out as he reached the end of his adolescence, and it's a losing battle he's fought for his entire life. It was a rather disappointing turn since his father was basically a human "V" and looked like he could kill a man with a folded napkin. He probably inherited his shape from his mother who was a little plump, politely speaking of course. Needless to say, however, Kiba is built like a tree, and strong as an ox.

His face is a little round about the cheeks, though not heavyset and he keeps a kind of rugged handsomeness, with that perpetual scruff he sports. His black hair is shaggy but not long and hangs in his eyes on occasion. His eyes are striking, almost unforgettable and probably his most prominent feature, since heterochromia of the eyes is rare in Shaharan: his right eye is as blue as a clear sunny day on the beach, and his left is green like a freshly polished emerald. On his left shoulder is a tattoo bearing the crest for the Shaharan royal guard, and across his back angled up across his right shoulder is a spectacular tattoo of a white wolf springing through the flames of a bellowing forge.

Kiba normally wears a sand colored tunic with loose sleeves and a hood, belted at the waist by a worn leather belt with a silver clasp, black breeches and sturdy leather boots. A second strap crosses his back, loops over his right shoulder and then ties in to the buckle at his waist. Hung on the back of this harness is the baldric for his unusually shaped broadsword, the tip of which pokes out over his right shoulder and the handle, which is held in place by a leather snap hangs against his waist near his left hand. The sword itself was obviously crafted by a master smith, and though the scabbard has seen much wear, the sword itself is immaculate. The weapon is nearly forty inches in length from tip to pommel, with a grip designed for one handed use with the option to wield it with two. At the top of the handle is a simple cross guard with a trigger indentation for his index finger. The blade itself is three inches wide and made of fine Shaharan steel and has a gentle curve to it to facilitate slashing. It has a sharp point that can be used for stabbing, but ends in a wicked looking hook designed to trap and disarm opponents. The unsharpened edge has a serrated finish that will swiftly ruin an opponent's weapon. Underneath his tunic he's been known to wear a lightweight vest of lamellar plates hammered from Shaharan steel. Rumor has it, he also keeps a length of Shaharan steel chain weighted at both ends wrapped around his right forearm.

Sex: Male
Home Nation: Shaharan
Current Location/Residence: Veilbrand (which is where the party currently is if I skimmed correctly?)
Age: 31
Height: 5' 10''
Weight: 191 lbs
Hair Color: Black, with very... very... very slight, hardly noticeable graying about his temples. (It's a touchy subject for him)
Eye Color: Blue / Green
Complexion: Copper
! Body Type: Heavy
Blood Type: B-

Personality

! Fighting Style (*Hard or Soft?): Kiba is familiar with both styles of fighting. His build, brute strength, and heavyweight sword keep his fighting style hard and aggressive, however. Used properly, his broadsword can trap blades, spears, and shields, pull them out of position, or even break them. His sword is also not his only weapon: Kiba weighs close to two-hundred pounds and is mostly muscle. He fights using his entire body, including his mass to his advantage. Fists, elbows, knees, his head, crushing an opponent into a wall with his body, anything is fair game. While Kiba is naturally left handed, he trained himself to be ambidextrous after breaking his hand in a smithing accident. Though he is merely adequate with his off-hand, being able to grab and swing a chair or stool, or flip a table, or even land an old fashioned knuckle sandwich without lowering his sword is a huge boon... especially in bar fights.

Adaptability Ratio**: 7/10 (I gave Kiba a 7 for his unorthodox fighting style. In social situations he's more of a 3 or a 4... closer to a 3. :D)

!! Personality: Charming, a little brusque, a hit with the ladies, or he'd like to think so. Kiba is what happens when you give the gift of gab to someone who has trouble tying his metaphorical shoes in a social situation. He would LOVE to think that he has a silver tongue, but his real skill is finding exactly the wrong thing to say at exactly the right moment to get himself in trouble. As you can imagine, this has lead to a long history of bar fights and duels. Being a fine purveyor of the brew hasn't helped much either, rather it's led to more than one fine night of reflection in the drunk tank. He's quick to champion a cause, and always tries to do the right thing, but more often than not ends up causing more chaos than was intended. Sometimes he firmly believes that he was born under an unlucky star...

! Quirks: Heterochromia of the eyes, and his pair of tattoos of course. Kiba's hands are strong and rough from working the forge, as well as many small burn scars along his hands and forearms... and he has a crippling handshake.

! Likes:
*Beer!
*Women
*The very occasional friendly bar scrap
*Defending the weak
*Contests of strength
*Fine crafts, forging, sword making
! Dislikes:
*Girly drinks... (Only women and effeminate men drink that fruity stuff)
*Squirrely assassins... especially those dodgy ones.
*Sneaking
*Hiding in the shadows
*Being quiet in general



!! Special Talents/Skills: Kiba isn't a master swordsmith, but he's right handy with a hammer and a forge and can repair damn near anything. The weapons he's made are of good quality, great for bounty hunters, soldiers, or generally anyone who uses a standard run of the mill weapon. A master crafted assassin's blade would be way beyond him. As mentioned, he's ambidextrous and quite strong, and if you count being able to chug a pint of beer in under fifteen seconds as a "special talent," there's that too.

Equipment

Weapon/s of Choice: His broadsword, Manrikikusari (weighted chain), whip, rope, his body, the environment.
Weapon/s of Last Resort: Whatever is heavy and not bolted down... have you ever tried to parry a chair with a sword?
! Weapons you avoid: Small, lightweight weapons, those flimsy katana things, daggers etc.

History

!! Weapon/Training History (If applicable): "I'm gonna be a great warrior! A hero who defends the weak and 'whack, whack!' kills the bad guy!"

"Excellent, Kiba... a great warrior needs a weapon," his father exclaimed.

"Yeah, a mighty sword and a sturdy shield!"

"Here is your weapon, hero," his father said, thrusting a heavy stick into Kiba's hand.

"But, it's a stick," Kiba whined with a note of obvious disappointment.

"Yes, a stick. Every hero starts somewhere," his father explained as a length of rope with a small iron weight stuck on the end whipped around the end of Kiba's stick and it was suddenly ripped from his grasp, leaving him with empty hands and a startled look of wonder. "And when you can best this rope with your stick, I will give you the rope. When you can best the whip with your rope, I will give you the whip. When you can best the chain with your whip, I will give you the chain, and finally when you can best the sword with the chain, you and I will forge a sword worthy of a true hero together. Until then, you'll work this hammer at the forge: down on their luck heroes need to earn a living somehow and no son of mine will be a slacker!"

This was Kiba's childhood. He worked his body at the forge, learned metallurgy, proper care of his equipment and handy trade skills like shoeing horses, repairing pots and pans, and forging kitchen knives. In his free time he studied with his stick. Kiba's father was once part of the Royal Guard, and since he was little Kiba wanted nothing more than to be a great soldier and a hero like his dad... because what good father isn't their child's hero? His father found love fairly young, and retired once his wife was with child to pursue a safer career... though not before he absorbed years of training and service at the guard. He hadn't any non-martial skills, save some natural strength and an impeccable work ethic which was good enough to land him an apprentice position with a local swordsmith.

Kiba was raised in this manner, training his body and muscles at the forge from a young age, and honing his hand-eye coordination with the hammer at the anvil. Smithing was hard work, and Kiba grew up to be a promisingly large and strong youth, much larger than the other kids his age... though his height stopped increasing in his early adolescence and the other children quickly outstripped him. Instead Kiba's girth increased in spite of his many hours of hard labor at the forge. Nobody dare tease him, however, since he could pick up and throw a fifty pound bag of sand fifteen yards over his head. As his skill with the stick and his father's strict training increased, he eventually graduated to the rope, which took him years and many black eyes to master. It wasn't until his early twenties that he graduated from rope to whip, and then whip to chain... ah that age they start letting fresh young whelps into bars. The training and work weren't enough for Kiba, and in spite of being a little heavy, he always had plenty of energy to burn at the end of the day and chose to refine his art in bar brawls. There's no substitute for experience as they say. When Kiba was twenty-three he finally graduated to the sword, which Kiba designed himself to fit his unique fighting style, and his father forged from the finest materials as project to finally graduate to master swordsmith.

Biography: Well, a life of cheap booze, women, and bar fights only get a man so far. Kiba spent two years further honing his training and applying to the Shaharan military schools for service before a freak accident burned down his home with his parents inside. Or what he thought was a freak accident anyway, an investigation uncovered evidence of arson, and the people responsible for the death of his parents were never found. Kiba found his comfort at the bottom of a bottle, and quickly racked up a record which disqualified him from military service. When he wasn't working for a local smith repairing pots for beer money, he was fighting in bars or spending his nights in the drunk tank. The local guards even knew him by name.

It was such a day that his life changed. Drunk (again), it was no surprise that he ended up in a bar fight when someone accused him of... something: that detail was probably lost to the minor concussion he suffered after the local guard became involved. When he awoke in the drunk tank there was someone waiting for him and, much to his surprise, it wasn't the bailiff with a bucket of cold water. This man was much too well dressed to be a grunt, he had to be a merchant or something, or so Kiba thought at first.

"Good morning, large one!" the man exclaimed cheerily, to which Kiba could only grunt... the morning light stabbed his eyes painfully and the sound of the man's voice made his head pound.

"Rgh," Kiba grunted again as he hauled himself into a sitting position against the cell wall... what he meant was 'Top of the morning, good sir! And how are you today?' though the muffled grunt was the only thing that would leave his lips as he pressed his palms into his eyes. Thankfully the man seemed to speak "hangover."

"Oh, I'm quite fine, thanks to you in fact," he explained, leaning back in the roughshod stool the bailiff had provided him with.

"Rraagh?" Kiba grunted in approximation of 'I'm sorry, what?'

"Well, you see I'm not really supposed to leave Court, but it gets so dull up there... and it's not like I'm next in line or anything so sneaking out to enjoy the town is something of a guilty pleasure of mine. Blah blah blah politics, blah blah mathematics, and blah blah lectures is enough to drive a man crazy after a few weeks," the man explained.

"Uhhhgh," replied Kiba, to which he meant 'Well of course, good sir, I do understand people need some excitement in their life,' as he draped one of his tree-like arms over his eyes. He was beginning to wish the bailiff would storm in with the bucket.

"Well, your brawl interrupted an, admittedly clumsy, attempt on my life... or at least that's what the Royal Guard believe: I think he was just looking to cut my purse. Anyway, the way you threw a table across the room to take him out (which was quite impressive), and then proceeded to knock two of the Royal Guardsmen senseless when they came in looking for me turned quite a few heads."

"Mm-hmm," Kiba replied, though he'd stopped paying attention at the mention of his brawl.

"Which is why I'd like you to be my personal bodyguard!" the man exclaimed cheerily.

"Uh," said Kiba, as he cracked his blue eye open and lifted his arm to look at the man in disbelief.

"Excellent! I knew you'd agree," he said, slapping his knees and getting to his feet. "I'll be waiting outside for you to get cleaned up."

As it turned out, Kiba had unwittingly performed a "heroic rescue" of a royal prince who was in apparent and mortal danger. So his record was expunged and he was allowed into the Royal Guard as the prince's personal escort, which was trying and thrilling at the same. Kiba and the prince became fast friends, and he often helped the prince escape his lectures so they could ride the countryside together... or what countryside there was on the edge of a vast and dangerous desert anyway. They spent a great deal of time wandering the local tavern scene and protecting one another from drunk women. See, the prince already had two brothers and was in no danger of assuming the throne being the middle child.

That was until his older brother became ill, at least. After years of enjoying a carefree lifestyle on the Palace dime it was time to mature a little. The prince did double duty, caring for his ill brother and assuming all the duties that were left open. It had been a fun few years, but they were both approaching their thirties and the Prince's father was showing his age. Finally, a life of waste, friendship, booze, and adventure was coming to a close, and Kiba would be the personal escort of a king! He finally felt like he was doing his father's name justice, and in celebration they had one last night of excess... within the palace, because it would be irresponsible to allow the crown prince to wander the dangerous streets of the city.

Kiba awoke to a vicious hangover, much like the one he'd had when he met the prince, and the many he'd had since their friendship began. The night was a blur, which wasn't unusual... what was unusual was the cool steel in his hand when he went to press his palms to his eyes against the morning light. It was his chain. Only the prince and one or two others even knew he had the weapon, since it was frowned upon for a Royal Guardsman to employ such "brutish lowbrow tactics." With a sigh he tugged on it to find the other end to be surprised by the thud of dead weight on the stone floor. The other end was stuck to something!

"Giragh," he swore, shaking the chain to try and free it without standing and wondered if he'd been using it to swing from the chandelier like some swashbuckling buccaneer.

When it didn't come free he stood and followed the length to find, to his dismay and horror, that the other end was wrapped securely about the prince's throat. The prince stared back at him with empty eyes, his blue lips agape and gasping. What do you do when you find the strangled corpse of your best friend (who happens to be the crown prince) at the end of a murder weapon you happen to be holding? Well, try and free him of course! In a haze, Kiba hoisted the prince off the floor and tried to loosen the chain... which was how the Royal Guards found him when they burst through the galley door.

Kiba wasn't going to get a chance to rot in prison. With the death of a Prince on his hands, it would have been straight to execution: do not pass "Go," do not collect 200 coins. He'd never once raised a hand against the prince, even in the myriad of drunken bar brawls they both got into. Kiba was sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that he didn't kill the prince... okay with his memory of the previous night blank there were some definite holes in his defense, but with him dead who would look for the real killer? Certainly not the youngest brother who was now in line for the throne instead of his slothful, trouble making older sibling and that pesky bodyguard. Certainly not any of the Royal Guardsmen who'd just been presented with an orgy of evidence: Kiba with the murder weapon and dead prince in hand.

Hands started moving towards sword hilts, and still groggy from booze and whatever he was sure had drugged him, Kiba did the only thing he could think of: he threw the prince at the surprised guards. Of course he immediately regretted shaming his friend's memory in such a manner, but the added benefit was that his chain came free and the door was blocked by a Guardsman fumbling to keep from dropping a corpse (a harder task than you might think). Kiba followed closely: two hundred pounds of charging blacksmith's son with a length of chain and a chair smashed through the blockade and scattered soldiers like bowling pins. Escaping the castle before the alarm was officially raised through one of their usual routes wasn't entirely difficult... it was escaping the city with the entire Shaharan military searching for him that was the real challenge. Kiba couldn't go by boat, since crossing the entire city without being seen was near impossible and he couldn't run all nimbly bimbly from rooftop to rooftop like some assassin out of the storybooks. Not with his girth: he'd fall through the first ceiling for sure!

So Kiba followed his gut, trusting his blind luck and braved the desert, hoping to reach the mountains.

So begins...

Kiba Bayushi's Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Layla "Siren" Luciel Character Portrait: Dietrich "Leer" Faust Character Portrait: Vincent Yondel Character Portrait: Kiba Bayushi
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Months. It had been months of hard travelling through dangerous deserts, mountains, forests, through sand storms, rain, sleet, and snow with nothing but a roughshod map and some sketchy directions to guide him. Crossing a continent on foot wasn't a picnic for sure, not to mention he'd been hounded nearly every step of the way by guardsmen and hunters and... other nimble dodgy fighters whom he refused to call assassins even though he suspected that might be the truth. Running from the law, wanted for murder with some ridiculous bounty, conspiracy, political backstabbing... what ever happened to good old fashioned highway robbery anyway?

Kiba pondered that question as he squared off with a pair of what he figured were bounty hunters. They'd caught up to him while he was sleeping, which begs the question: how did these guys keep finding him? Granted, he was still pretty new at this whole running from the law thing, but was he really so inept at lying low that he left such an easy trail to follow? After a moment of thought, he decided that he didn't want to hear the answer to that question. He had to remind himself to focus: he wasn't inebriated, and this wasn't a bar fight, a fact he was sorely reminded of by the lack of a good sturdy chair within a mile's walk. A chair was such a useful tool. It had four pointy ends, and a nice flat surface to use a shield. Nice ones were even braced along the bottom for added stability. He'd kill for a chair to swing right now, or even a sturdy wooden stool. Kiba decided that if he survived, ordering a sturdy chair and a baldric to carry it with was his next order of business.

With nothing around but the hard packed dirt and grass of the game trail he'd been using, a few rocks, and some trees around he'd have to rely on his own skill to get him through this mess. It had been a long minute since anyone had moved, and the three men just stared at one another as though nobody wanted to be the one to make the first move. Why hadn't they shot him from a distance with their pistols? Admittedly, five minutes ago Kiba was hopelessly lost and had been wandering around for hours in circles through the woods. He'd just stumbled out of the brush on top of them and they'd all startled one another like some kind of badly written comedy.

"Giragh," he swore under his breath. "I have the worst luck."

The worst part about it was that he could see the edge of the town of Nos in the distance over the shoulders of the bounty hunters now that he'd found a trail. It was then one of the hunters pounced. Everything happened so fast that he didn't have a chance to react, and he mentally berated himself for not paying more attention. Kiba just grimaced and tried to brace himself for the impending impact as the hunter swung a short blade up under his left arm into his ribs. He exhaled sharply as the blade clashed against the lamellar plates hidden beneath his tunic to avoid being stunned. Kiba couldn't contain his grin at the dumbfounded look on the bounty hunter's face.

"WRONG!" he shouted, hooking the hunter's elbow in the crook of his arm and twisting sharply at the hips. Kiba used the mass of his body to hyper-extend the hunter's arm and was rewarded by a yelp of pain and the thud of a weapon by his feet. He slid his left foot forward, hooking the man's ankle to knock him off balance and winding back with both arms. Kiba planted both open palms firmly in the hunter's solar plexus and shoved with his entire body, knocking him several yards into a ditch.

The second hunter had drawn a blade and was advancing. Kiba flicked the tiny latch on the weighted chain wrapped around his right forearm with his pinky and let the weapon spool out into the open as he swung his body around. He caught the chain near the end and swung it once over his head for momentum before throwing it behind his back and using his body to direct the arc. His intent was to knock his opponent in the temple with the steel plated lead weight on the end of his chain and fold him like laundry but he was closing too quickly. Kiba took a step back and swung out his left arm, catching the chain with a flat hand to shore up the angle and was rewarded for his gamble when it entangled the hunter's weapon... the last few times he'd tried that maneuver he had ended up with a black eye or entangled in his own weapon. He swiveled counter-clockwise, and yanked firmly when he felt the chain grow tense, ripping the blade from his opponent's hand and sending it sailing off into the woods someplace. Kiba whipped the chain back around and caught the hunter's foot just as he was putting his weight on it. He grabbed the chain with both hands and grunted with effort as he pulled with everything he had.

The man's foot was torn from beneath him and he toppled like a poorly built tower. Kiba didn't have time to free his chain, and instead dropped it to charge the remaining distance between him and his target. He dove forward, bracing his elbow with his body and slamming both it and his considerable bulk straight into the man's gut. Kiba felt wind and lunch get knocked clean out of the man's body, but to make sure he was sufficiently stunned, he landed a punch to the man's groin before he got up. He bent and pulled a pistol from the hunter's belt and waited for the partner to climb back into view before he pulled back the hammer with his thumb and leveled the weapon. The hunter froze.

"I'm a deadly good shot, so don't try anything silly," Kiba lied. Truthfully he'd never fired a pistol in his life, but they didn't need to know that. "Over here," he pointed next to the man's groaning companion who was curled into a fetal position and cradling his pride. "Wallets," he commanded, to a look of confusion.

"There's too much intrigue in this story," Kiba explained. "Backstabbing and conspiracies and freakin' assassins can you believe that? I like simple things. Robbery is simple and there simply isn't enough of it, now cough it up... his too." Kiba caught the pouches with his free hand, careful to keep the pistol pointed in generally the correct direction.

"Look, boys... I'm a lot of things, but I'm no murderer. Giragh knows my life would be lots easier if I could just kill all of you mooks and be on my way, but I don't want a trail of bodies on my conscience. Still, I can't have you following me to..." Kiba had to think for a tangible moment. "Triveila," he said with a note of hope, though he didn't think they would buy it.

He closed on them, flipped the weapon in his hand and pistol-whipped each of them in the temple. He dropped the weapon (carefully) to the ground and fished out a few coins from the pouches he'd stolen and pressed them into one of the hunters hands. It was enough for a couple nights stay at an inn, a good meal, and a drink. Kiba wasn't a complete bastard, and he did kind of feel bad since they were just doing their jobs.

"Sorry about your balls, mate," he grunted, and poured the rest of the coins into his own wallet before retrieving his chain.

Kiba coiled the weapon around his arm as he walked. This was just great: not only was he a slacker and supposed murderer, but now he was a common robber as well! When Giragh finally took him, his father was going to beat his ass for sure. He pondered on the things he had done since he left Shaharan while he walked, and wondered if his Giragh would forgive his sins if he were just acting out of a need to survive. Probably not. There were no shades of gray to the Shaharan people, though the farther he traveled from home the more gray he seemed to encounter. It used to be that things like stealing were bad, and that the reason didn't matter... was he just rationalizing his actions because he had a purse full of stolen coin?

His mind and his heart were heavy as he trod through the woods for an hour yet before he reached the edge of town. He couldn't help but wonder where everything went wrong. Were the signs visible, and he just too irresponsible to see them? Regardless of whether or not he actually did the deed, a man died on his watch. Not just a man, but his best friend and it was Kiba's responsibility to keep him safe. Was that one night of booze and stories of old times worth the life of his friend? If Kiba had been responsible enough to say "no" would the prince still be alive?

"Giragh," he prayed. "I know I can't forget, and that I shouldn't be forgiven. I'm not the most devout of followers, but hell... just once I'd like to find my way to a place of comfort where angels sing and the women dance together. Just once before one of these persistent asses kills me, is that too much to ask?"

Kiba sighed, not really expecting an answer, and continue to wander the moonlit streets. He knew it was too late to escape Veilbrand tonight, and likely there were more dangers lurking in the shadows waiting for him to lower his guard but he hadn't had a solid meal in days and his stomach was quick to remind him.

"Ugh," he groaned, and turned a corner. He paused for a scant moment to scan his surroundings, and then pushed his way solemnly through the door of the first tavern he came across. What he saw left him stunned, gaping in the entrance as the power to move simply left him. A snowy beauty drenched in crimson, and her angelic voice in chorus with the tavern as she led them in song. As they finished, she and two other women began to dance to the rhythm of beating feet, at first with one another, and then with the men in the room. They twirled from one man to another like beautiful ethereal sirens, charming first one man then another.

Had Giragh heard his prayer? Kiba stepped inside, his heart filled with glee as he closed the door gently behind him unwilling to interrupt the dancing maidens. As they began to spread apart and dance among the crowd, however, he began to notice things. Armor, weapons, grizzled and scarred men with rough-cut faces and predator smiles. This tavern was packed to the gills with mercenaries.

"Hell," Kiba swore under his breath with a note of resignation. He tripped and stumbled loudly over a chair trying to get back to the door without drawing attention to himself. "Here we go again..."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Jun "Keito" Cornelius Character Portrait: Layla "Siren" Luciel Character Portrait: Dietrich "Leer" Faust Character Portrait: Kiba Bayushi
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"I was wondering if I could offer you my services?"

The boy was just about as out of place inside Ulzer's as a lamb inside a wolf den. He simply oozed youthful innocence, and his face beamed as a child's. Dietrich instantly recognized someone who had never seen battle in his life; he was the only person in Ulzer's right now that did not seem to carry some sort of weight on his shoulders. Dietrich had seen many such faces, but none of them had stayed that way for long in his company.

"If you're talking business, he's the one you want." Dietrich said, jabbing a thumb at Ulzer.

The huge, shaven headed man regarded the stranger with interest; his inn seemed to be attracting all types of irregulars tonight. He finished wiping a stein clean, then set it on the table and addressed the young man.

"And what kind of services could you offer me? I've already got drink, food, beds, and girls." He asked shrewdly.

Dietrich tuned out the conversation; he tell that Ulzer had already gone into "business form", and that kind of talk bored him to tears. He noticed the cloaked swordsman exit through the front door, pity. He resumed watching the show that the girls were putting on, along with the white-haired new-comer. It was a beautiful song, and he recognized the lyrics sung in the Old Tongue, but the song itself was from the Veilbrandian Lowlands. The dialect was different, and the story it told differed in some places from the one told in the Highland hills were he was born. Still, it was almost unearthly beautiful.

He chuckled a bit as he recognized the verse about the original Line-Breakers.

Men who fought for Uirlin with sword and shield, tooth and nail. They took no wives for themselves, they died for the wives and sons of others. They dressed themselves in the skins of wolves, bears and beasts, snarling and cackling as they slew. The shieldbiters, the axe-bearers, the hounds of Uirlin.

A crashing sound drew his attention from the re-telling of the saga. A squat, powerful looking man had just stumbled over a chair. The sound was noticeable, but nothing that didn't regularly happen in an inn. The majority of the patrons didn't give the man a second glance. Even from the bar, Dietrich could tell the man was a foreigner. He was dressed in simple travelers clothes, the make and fashion of which reminded him of a mercenary he had met once. That man had hailed from the deserts of Shaharan, but had died in Cre'Est during a petty feud between rival farm barons. Shaharan was the one place Dietrich's travels had never took him. He hated the heat, and from the rumors he had heard of the place, it sounded like some kind of sand-blasted hell-hole.

The men he had met from that land reflected the supposed harshness of their homeland. That mercenary who had died in Cre'Est had only fallen after the battle was over and done with. He had walked around for an hour afterwards, speaking normally and tending to the wounded. Then he had simply walked off by himself, and died. It was only later that the army physician found three broken off arrow heads and a crossbow bolt in the man's torso, hidden by the folds of the same type of tunic the man Dietrich looked at now wore.

The man regained his footing, but seemed suddenly alarmed, embarrassed, or somewhere in between. He made for the door.

Perhaps making loud noises during a song is taboo in Shaharan?

Dietrich had encountered stranger cultural oddities in his time. He stepped forward and began walking towards the door after the man. It was only as he got closer that his warrior's mindset began sizing the man up. He held himself like a real fighter, though Dietrich couldn't tell exactly what kind. He didn't have the self-assured swagger of most mercenaries or errant warriors; but neither was he completely disciplined or soldier-like. Dietrich did notice the scabbard across the man's back, and that it was upside down. Strange. He wondered how that worked; a man who carried his blade upside down was either foolish, or utilized one of the strange, foreign fighting styles that he so rarely got to test himself against. He felt himself growing excited at the thought of how the weapon was used. Was it whirled in wild arcs, swirling and gaining momentum with every swing? Or was it calculating and specific, and swung in deliberate strokes?

"Hail, swordsman." He greeted as he stepped forward. He put on a reassuring smile, which he hoped looked friendly and not predatory. "No need to be troubled, you look terrible, go get a drink and sit down."

Setting

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Character Portrait: Jun "Keito" Cornelius Character Portrait: Layla "Siren" Luciel Character Portrait: Dietrich "Leer" Faust Character Portrait: Vincent Yondel Character Portrait: Kiba Bayushi
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#, as written by Layla
"You can offer me your services," Siren purred, breathless from the dance. She tipped the young man's - the artist's - chin upwards to look into his warm eyes of emerald green. The corner of her lip twitched. "Or, perhaps, I could offer you mine," she whispered, as if the two of them were the only people there. She had a way with making people feel as if they were the only ones in the world, it was a prized gift amongst paid escorts such as herself. It was even more invaluable as a bounty huntress. Brushing a loose lock of raven hair from the artist's face and tucking it behind his ear, Siren smiled and pulled back, leaning against the bar in a way that forced anyone who saw her to look at her breasts.

There was a loud thumping of stumbling feet and Siren quirked a brow, turning her gaze to the older man that stood by the door. The glass-shover was walking towards him, inviting him to sit and have a drink. Siren laughed freely, finding the glass-shover's display of manners rather ironic considering he'd just pummelled a man to the floor. She gazed about the room, her silver eyes drinking in the mercenaries and their women, their bodies shaking with laughter and others bowed in low whispers. Leaning the small of her back against the edge of the bar, she tipped her stool backwards, rocking on its hind legs. Siren drummed her fingers against the wood, her elbows leaning against the bar. Oh yes. She was surrounded by money. Siren was certain at least half of the mercenaries in the room were wanted for something or another and she wished for nothing but an excuse to never return to Shadow's side.

As Siren was "petite," her feet dangled above the ground as she was seated on the chair. In a smooth movement, she dropped onto her feet and sashayed towards the glass-shover and his new friend. You never knew who would end up being important. As she walked, she scanned the room from her peripheral vision, although her eyes remained trained on the stumbler. She noted the familiar faces that she'd seen depicted by the hands of artists pinned up on the bounty hunter notice boards. She would fetch good money for these men and from their hungry eyes upon her, she doubted she would have to try very hard.

"Who's your new friend?" she asked whens she stood before the two men, trailing her slim fingers over the large mercenary as if they were old friends or more. Her eyes flicked over the older man's face, down to his shoes and up again. She inwardly grinned, although her outward appearance remained carefully seductive. Siren blinked slowly, know her long eyelashes would brush against her high cheekbones and her lids would lift to reveal stunning eyes of silver. "That's a big sword," she said, hinting at more than simply the sword within his upside-down scabbard.

With a wink at a nearby mercenary, she lifted his mug, tipped it towards him in acknowledgement and swallowed the burning liquid. It was her second mug of four barrels and a half. Siren was faulty in multiple aspects - okay, few... one - but she could undoubtedly hold her liquor. Swirling a slither of alcohol left in the mug, she returned her gaze to the two men. Two large men she could possibly earn money for, what was there not to love? "I'm afraid I didn't get your names," she said, tipping her head back to drip the last of the liquid. Her past hip length hair fell over her eyes when she placed the mug on a nearby table. Siren tucked her snow-blonde hair behind her ear, her fingers slipping through her silky strands.

She parted her crimson lips to introduce herself, using the name that was less well known than that of Siren. Nearly everyone knew Siren - the seductive huntress with a perfect record. Sort of. Jude, the thought came unbidden in her mind, the thief's gold and black eyes flashing in her memories. Siren flinched almost imperceptibly, her silver eyes appearing momentarily grey with sadness as she remembered the man whom she'd loved. Whom had betrayed her and left her with the red-eyed demon. Siren took another mug of whisky from a mercenary's hands and poured the liquid down her throat. And her sultry smile and bright eyes reappeared as quickly as they'd left.

"Layla. 4. Triveila," she said before regretting it terribly. Name, number of years in the field and hometown, that was the way all bounty hunters introduced themselves when they first met. Luckily, Veilbrand was the only land that did not follow this tradition and she could only hope they'd lived in Veilbrand all their lives and had never met a bounty hunter. "What brings you two here?" she asked easily. "Well, you look like you live here," the huntress said with a smile, gesturing towards the glass-shover with her mug. "Now, you look like you own a brothel," she teased the stumbler, giving him a smirk so he knew she was merely joking.

The setting changes from veilbrand to Cre' Est

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Character Portrait: Layla "Siren" Luciel Character Portrait: Dietrich "Leer" Faust Character Portrait: Vincent Yondel Character Portrait: Kiba Bayushi
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Vincent had seen beauties before, both for sale and not. She was right up there. Top five easy.

"You can offer me your services," she said lifting his chin "Or, perhaps, I could offer you mine," she whispered

Vincent smiled. As his mind tried to take in this wild female's nature. These type of women were usually well off and didn't have to go through much hardship but for some reason or another she seemed to have been through quite a lot. Her features etched into his memory as her expressions changed from one to another.

"I don't think you have the coin for my services, but if you wish for a sample of my work we can discuss things later." He had spoke just in time because her flippant nature pulled her attention elsewhere. It was only by chance, while Vincent waited for Ulzer's response, that he saw the sadness in her eyes. It was heart wrenching as he turned the page and he looked down as he drew her expression. He didn't look up, not needing to see it again as he effortlessly copied what he had seen. He had wished he had used paint and color but it would just take time. Perhaps he could paint it later tonight.

He was in the middle of drawing when he heard
"Layla. 4. Triveila,"
With next to no time or thought He labeled the picture 'Siren'

The setting changes from cre-est to Veilbrand

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Character Portrait: Layla "Siren" Luciel Character Portrait: Dietrich "Leer" Faust Character Portrait: Vincent Yondel Character Portrait: Kiba Bayushi
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"Hail, swordsman. No need to be troubled, you look terrible, go get a drink and sit down."

"Of course, who am I to refuse the offer of a drink?" He answered gleefully, though he was really swearing inside his head. This place was packed with mercenaries, and no doubt there was more than one savvy bounty hunter in the crowd waiting to fleece out an unwitting prize who thought he was safe among his own. "Oi I'm such a klutz when I'm drunk. Good thing I'm not runnin' from the law or anything," he laughed.

Shut up. Shut up. Shut up. Kiba grabbed Dietrich's hand and shook it firmly, a lot more firmly than he intended and then flipped the chair he'd knocked over into his hands with his foot expertly. He gripped it by one of the posts on the seat back with one of his large, meaty fists and started to make his way towards the bar. Pub-fighter's weapon of choice? A chair, and if he was going to have to fight his way out of here, he wanted one close by. That was, at least, until the white haired enchantress sauntered across the bar towards him.

"Who's your new friend?" She asked the man who'd greeted him, whom he now noticed had at least fifty pounds and a few inches on him, and then seemed awfully familiar with him. A spark of irrational jealousy pinged inside his gut, but he pushed it away and tried to focus.

"That's a big sword," She said.

"Yes, larger than average. I designed it myself," he replied, completely missing the innuendo. He was too lost in her hypnotic silver gaze, long lashes and perfect skin. Kiba snapped back to reality when she drained the mug of a nearby merc... or was it when his stomach rumbled loudly to remind him of how long its been since his last meal. "Ha!" He chuckled. "I'm wasting away over here... Keep! A meal please! Don't matter what, and a round of pints for my table!" He shouted over the general din in a voice well experienced at cutting through the crowd.

Kiba planted his chair back on the ground, grabbed one of the roughshod bar tables from an adjacent group of mercs and slid it over to their group with practiced ease. One got up to protest: his beer was on that table! But when Kiba lifted the mug, drained it, and slammed it back down on the table, the steel chain wrapped around his arm clanked loudly against the wood and he thought better of it. He was careful to arrange the table and himself so that he still had an escape route to the door if things went sideways. Kiba had a plan though: If he was going to die tonight, the whole tavern would smell like beef stew and potato wedges when they cut him open.

"I'm afraid I didn't get your names," she mentioned, and then swilled the last drop from her mug.

"I'm...," he gave a tangible pause. He couldn't give his real name: it was plastered on wanted posters all over Giragh knows where. "They call me 'Fang'," he said with immediate regret. You didn't have to be smarter than a bag of hammers to figure out that it was a translation of his real name. "And you?"

"Layla. 4. Triveila," she answered.

Red flags were immediately raised. Kiba had frequented enough bars of all sorts to know it was a traditional greeting of bounty hunters nearly all over the continent. When his food came, Kiba payed and gave a generous tip (it wasn't his money). He didn't drain his mug, but did keep his hand firmly on it since "Layla" couldn't seem to be bothered to order her own drink. With his free hand he slid the second mug towards Layla, and the third towards Dietrich even though he was fairly certain the man didn't drink.

"That's a straight lie," he said with a serious note in his voice, steeping a roll in his stew before taking a large bite. "You've got to be at least twenty! I'm not a day older than thhi... twweeenty five! Which is forty in Shaharan years, you wouldn't believe what that place will do to your skin," he laughed and merrily took a draft from his mug as he slipped naturally into his gregarious bar persona. He placed his bet on playing the dumb traveler, which also came naturally... wait.

"What brings you two here?" she asked easily. "Well, you look like you live here," she said, gesturing towards the other man. "Now, you look like you own a brothel," she teased Kiba with a smirk.

"Oh if only that were the case," he chuckled, quickly finishing his meal. "Interesting that you would ask.... EVERYONE!" He shoved his plate to the side and climbed atop the table, flipping the chair up to his hand and slamming it down loudly to get everyone's attention. "It is a long honored tradition in my land that wanderers share the stories they've picked up on their travels when they stop at our taverns, and that the best story of the night buys a round for the house!" he exclaimed, swiveling the chair so that the back rest was in front of him and sitting in it. He smiled at the comfortable bounce of his full belly and raised his mug to the crowd before draining it.

"Another please! And I shall regale you with a tale of a dangerous wanted man! Unlike many travelers who would hoodwink you and weave a tall tale for a pint I assure you that this one is all true. It's this very tale that brings me here today," he began, wondering what Layla's reaction would be. "In the harsh deserts of Shaharan, we call him Okami Shiroi, or the White Wolf. He's a man built like a bear, albeit a much smaller bear than the fine owner of this establishment," he chuckled making a grand gesture to Ulzer as his drink arrived and pausing for laughter. "Those who've seen him and lived claim he has an evil eye and that he was born under a cursed star," he continued, letting his showmanship get the better of him as he emphasized his own mismatched eyes for flair. Right eye as blue as a sunny day on the beach, and his left as green as a freshly polished emerald

"All was well and good in the land of Shaharan: the king had a fine strapping heir and two other sons. Now the middle son was problem child: sneaking away from his lectures to roam the city and carouse with rabble rousers like you and I, and I must say he was known to be a bit of a lush... a man after my own heart," he grinned, taking a large draft from his mug. "The king was getting on in years and though he had a healthy heir, like any good father he sought to protect his troubled son and appointed him a personal escort from the ranks of the Royal Guard: Okami Shiroi, the finest and deadliest warrior in his ranks," he embellished. Most of the senior guardsmen could beat him senseless in a fair fight.

"This offended Okami, since he felt his skill set him apart and that he should be the personal bodyguard of the crown prince. So he consorted with dark, dark people and he plotted, and an answer came to him: he would kill the heir. But to avoid getting caught it had to look like natural causes, so he slipped just a little bit of poison in the prince's food each day. Before long, the King's healthy heir fell ill and the troubled middle child was suddenly next in line for the throne!" Actually, for all he knew, the King's eldest son actually died of natural causes, but the poison bit did make for a better story.

"All of Shaharan mourned, but all was well again... that is until the middle prince cleaned up his act and began to ask questions. See, he was actually a brilliant man when he wasn't drunk out of his gourd, and chasing the skirts of fine young ladies like yourself," he grinned, winking his green eye at Layla. "He put together the pieces and figured out that his brother was murdered, but by whom he didn't know so who did he tell? The bodyguard whom he trusted with his life," he continued, and couldn't hold down the twinge of pain and regret that welled up inside him. Making believe that someone else was responsible for his best friend's death made him feel better, but at the end of the day Kiba was still the one who was supposed to be protecting him. He regained his composure in an instant and continued.

"Okami knew he would be discovered before long so he eased the prince's mind with a night of ale and stories of good times to mourn the loss of his brother, and when his guard was down Okami strangled the prince. The Royal Guard came upon them moments too late. Knowing the jig was up, Okami fought his way out of the castle and fled into the dangerous deserts of Shaharan where none dare follow. I hear tell that he braved sandstorms that would flay the skin from your bones, and dangerous beasts that can swallow a man hole to make it to the mountains in the west and on foot he crossed through Cre' Est making his way south and east," he paused to finish his draft and set the mug down at his feet.

"Many have tried to collect the king's ransom on his head, and all have failed. In fact on my way here, just a few miles outside of town I came across two such bounty hunters who'd been tracking him through the woods. It was they who told me this tale. They told me his strength was unmatched: he'd picked up one and threw him down the ditch like he were a rag doll, and that he was so tough a blow to the ribs with his sturdy sword did nothing but make Okami laugh. Rather than kill them, though, Okami decided to make an example of them. 'Give me your wallets,' he said. 'I only kill warriors, and you are not but boys. But I will take your coin for troubling me, and in exchange for your lives you will spread the tale of what happened when you challenged the White Wolf,'" he ended in a grisly tone like one would end a ghost story.

"I felt bad for the poor sods, and for the tale I left them some coin for a nights stay at an inn to rest their bruises, and a drink to ease their wounded pride. Nobody knows where he's headed, but they say a storm is coming, and he's at the head of it. He very well could have passed through already, trailing death and misfortune behind him. Mayhap you shared a drink with him and didn't even know, or perhaps he even told you a tale," he trailed off for flair and then grinned.

The setting changes from veilbrand to Cre' Est

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Character Portrait: Kiba Bayushi
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The setting changes from cre-est to Veilbrand

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Kiba ended his tale to cheers, shouts for more, and raucous stomping of the feet. All of this only served to feed his already bloated ego: who else but a master bard could tell a tale about himself in a tavern full of hunters and mercs and get away with it? After a long road packed with hardship, however, he didn't care. He spent the night far away from his problems... far away from the death and chaos of being Okami Shiroi, comforted by hot food, booze, and the rapt attention of the bar as he spun tales for them far into the night. One night at a place of comfort, where white haired angels sung, and the ladies danced together. Where bards spun epic yarns of adventure and peril for food and drink. One night that felt like home.

Giragh... his life was about to become living hell wasn't it...

Hell wasn't quite the word he'd use to describe it, but being jostled awake when the cart he was in hit a bump with the familiar pain of a hangover wasn't exactly paradise either. The morning light stabbed at his eyes, and he pressed his palms to them while he tried to force himself to become alert. So far all he could tell was that he must have had an epic night since he blacked out after his third tale; his body felt battered and sore as though he'd been fighting, and that he'd been having the strangest dream before he woke sore and surrounded by the heavy stink of hay.

He dreamed that a flamboyantly dressed jester had barged in during one of his tales and announced that he had planned to kill the King! The Jester said he would blame it on Okami Shiroi and there was nothing anyone could do about it! Well, Kiba couldn't let that happen... his reputation as a bard was at stake. So a stalwart warrior, a drunken dancer, and... an artist joined him on his quest to thwart the plans of the jester. Little did he know that the king was already dead, and when they made the far journey outside the Colorful Guard was lying in wait.

"Halt, you shall not challenge me, for I am something something something!" shouted the warrior and he stepped forward, drawing his mighty sword.

"I shall stun them with my dance and poison them to sleep," warned the dancer.

"OW!" Cried the bard as one of the dancer's darts stuck in his neck. He remembered the pain being uncommonly realistic in his dream.

"Whoops!" she giggled, clearly the drink had softened her aim.

Thankfully, being a tough, weathered man from Shaharan, the sleeping poison did little to the bard... although his dream did get much stranger after that. He couldn't quite remember if they had started running from the dragons before or after he was hit by the dart, but he commanded the artist to draw him a shield which he used to defend the party against the searing breath of fire the dragons laid to bear against them. Now they were running for their lives, who could hope to defeat such plush and cuddly villains who could breathe fire and command jesters... wait, was it bunnies or dragons? This part of the dream was real foggy. He remembered cornering the jester at the edge of town, and he was about to reveal his name.

"You shall rue the day," he warned. "Nobody thwarts the plans of-"

"URRRGH!" Kiba half shouted as the cart hit another bump and this time his head bounced off of one of the cart's rails shooting a lance of pain straight into his big toe from his neck, which hurt like the dickens. He slapped one of his large hands against his throat clumsily and then held it in front of his face. A faint residue of blood on his fingertips is what he saw... that plus the unusual lethargy he was experiencing... could his dream have taken a more literal turn? It wouldn't have been the first time. At least he hadn't woken up naked in a dumpster. Kiba slapped his chest clumsily as he searched for his tunic just to make sure.

Kiba pushed himself upright with zombie-like vigor, squinting against the sun and trying to swat and spit away the straw which stuck out of every fold of his tunic, and was no doubt lodged firmly in his hair and hood. If he looked half as terrible as he felt, Kiba must have been a sight to behold. The only thing to do now was to try and get his bearings.

"Raargh," he grunted as the cart bounced again, and he began to lick his chops and tried to identify the unpleasant taste in his mouth. Kiba brushed the straw out of his hair as best he could with his leaden arms and looked around...

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Jun "Keito" Cornelius Character Portrait: Layla "Siren" Luciel Character Portrait: Dietrich "Leer" Faust Character Portrait: Vincent Yondel Character Portrait: Kiba Bayushi
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The rising sun sent shafts of piercing light through the tree canopy as the lone cart trundled along the deserted forest road. Dietrich woke slowly, the peaceful sounds of morning in the wilderness lilting on his ears.

Ouch.

His head hurt, like he had been kicked by a mule. He slowly raised his hand and felt his face; he brought the hand away and held it front of his eyes. Blood, dry blood. He eased himself up, realizing he was sitting on the driver’s bench of a cart. The old nag that pulled the cart trundled along slowly at a walking pace. It appeared to be exhausted, its sides shook and sweat poured down its body. Dietrich looked around, but couldn’t find the reigns anywhere.

“Woah… Woah… Hold, halt, stop.” He voiced every horse command for stopping that he knew, but the nag just kept walking.

He looked around, he was deep in a forest, that was obvious enough; and it was morning. Gewalt stood sheathed on its tip, leaning against him and the driver’s bench. His helmet was still buckled to the thick belt on his waist. His head pounded, what was he doing here?

When did....

The cart shuddered as one of the wheels bounced over a rock in the path. The events of the previous night smashed into his immediate memory like a tidal wave.

He remembered being in Ulzer’s. He remembered a cloaked figure in black and a white spirit. He remembered a grand story about a wolf from the deserts far away. A bard too, or wait, a monk, no... no... Something to do with writing... No... Painting, a painter. He remembered a dirty young street rat bursting in the door screaming that the king was dead. After that though, things got fuzzy.

His arms were sore; he had been fighting with his full strength against someone, or something. His face and chest were covered in dried blood, and he felt a gash on the side of his head…

I was fighting someone… Wasn’t I?

He remembered a long chain and a curved blade. He remembered exhilaration and excitement. He remembered faces struck with awe and fear. He remembered the feeling of Gewalt firmly gripped in his hands, and of throwing himself against honorable foes. He smiled as snippets of combat wafted back into memory. He remembered fighting the Guard, their distinctive uniform made sure of that. However, he knew he had being fighting someone else; a single warrior of great skill. It disgruntled him that he was unable to remember, it was against the tenants of Uirlin to forget the face of someone who equaled you in combat. In fact his shattered recollection of the entire battle angered him greatly. Fights were something to remember clearly and to learn from, not barely recall.

Finally, he remembered heading for the city gates, and of taking a cudgel to the side of the head; which probably explained his garbled memory. He could only guess that he had taken this cart and rode out of Nos on it, but for what purpose he couldn't recall. He heard a noise behind him, a groan, and rustling. He turned his head around quickly, to be greeted by an explosion of pain. He took a few deep breaths and tried again, slowly.

The desert wolf slowly rose from the pile of hay in the back of the cart.

Oh….

He sighed as he gradually woke up completely. He supposed he had fallen unconscious from the blow to his head, after they had gotten out of the city. Then, the horse had simply walked along all night while he slept. He finally found the reigns, he was sitting on them, he pulled back and halted the nag.

"Morning..." He voiced to no one in particular. There was no telling who else was lounging back there in the hay. For all he knew, the wolf could be back there with a cart full of women.

The setting changes from veilbrand to Cre' Est

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Jun "Keito" Cornelius Character Portrait: Layla "Siren" Luciel Character Portrait: Dietrich "Leer" Faust Character Portrait: Vincent Yondel Character Portrait: Kiba Bayushi
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"Hello," Vincent responded to the line-breaker. Vincent was bright eyed and bushy tailed as he sat on the straw. He looked down at the other's as he draw pictures of them sleeping. It wasn't that he had recovered from the poison or a hit to the head. His character was so unthreatening that they simply pointed a sword at him and forced him to get on cart with the others. He had been awake the whole time memorizing every voice, every sound and every sight. He was heading in a direction he hadn't been and it would be important for his maps in the future. As well as finding his way back.

"How are you holding up, Mr Line-Breaker?" Vincent asked after awhile giving the man a chance to freak out or calm down. Vincent drew a picture of the backs of their assailants. He noted their muscle structure and determined their height from what he saw and the proportions he was drawing. He sighed though because they threatened him not to draw their faces. The bard spoke to him rarely but it was more than the silence of the other.

Vincent wanted to hum but he had already been told off for it already. He remained silent as he memorized and drew.

The setting changes from cre-est to Veilbrand

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Shadow Character Portrait: Mayumi Character Portrait: Sereinia Lucis Nouralail Character Portrait: Layla "Siren" Luciel Character Portrait: Dietrich "Leer" Faust Character Portrait: Vincent Yondel Character Portrait: Kiba Bayushi
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"Urrgh," Kiba grunted to Dietrich, to which he meant. "Well, good morning to you as well, stalwart warrior, and to you person I've not yet met or perhaps have met and don't remember." He shifted his weight to get his footing and planted his hand on something round and plush, which gave him a long moment of pause. He lifted his hand for inspection, sure that he had stuck it in dung, or something equally unpleasant but it came back clean.

"Huh," he grunted, checking both sides of his hand just to be sure before looking down to where he'd put it and shifting some straw out of the way. He revealed a sleeping maiden with white hair and a crimson dress. "Huh!" he noted again, perhaps he'd gotten lucky? "Huh..." he grunted with a note of disappointment, realizing that their clothes were still on. Regardless, the unscrupulous bounty hunter Layla had tagged along with them and was still either sleeping or unconscious.

Kiba dragged himself out of the cart unsteadily and took a moment to stretch the stiffness out of his bones... unsuccessfully. He still felt leaden from whatever had drugged him the previous night. He did make a show of loudly cracking every joint in his body, however. His shoulders popped the loudest, and his neck made a sickening crunch as he rolled his head from one side, and then to the other. He examined his left hand for a long time, which trembled gently: old injuries in combination with years wielding a hammer at the forge made his hands ache in the chill air of the morning. Kiba fumbled through the pouches on his belt with his right hand while trying to flex the pain out of the other. He fished a small silver flask with a wolfs head cap from his belt gingerly and sighed at it. He held it gingerly from the cap and when he shook it, was rewarded by a quiet sloshing sound. Apparently Kiba had remembered to have it refilled at the tavern before he blacked out.

"You Veilbrandians..." he croaked, flipping the top of the flask back and taking a large draft. "Really know how to throw a party," he finished as he walked around to the front of the cart and shoved the flask into Dietrich's hands.

"Where are we?" he asked, spinning in a circle to take in the unfamiliar landscape. That was when a explosion turned his head.

Kiba stared off into the distance, sure that the sound couldn't have come from more than a quarter mile away. He knew in his gut he should probably just ignore it and move on, but he had a feeling that many people had just died. He couldn't move on without at least looking... so he did. Kiba absently motioned Dietrich to follow him and trudged down along the trail. It was minutes later when he stumbled through the brush, still a little groggy onto a gory sight... a lithe man slightly taller than he chopping the bodies of men from their neck to their groin. He didn't have to understand the individual customs of different countries to know that regardless of where you hailed, desecrating the body of your enemy in such a manner was a grave insult. So he stood in the middle of the trail, and he met the crimson eyes of the man performing the deed. A chill shot down his spine and into the pit of his stomach... there were no shortage of tales of the red-eyed demon, even in Shaharan. He'd even spun a few for a drink.

"Giragh," he swore under his breath. This would be his luck. He should just turn and leave. He shouldn't say anything, he should just attribute the whole mess to some unfortunate circumstance... and yet he felt his mouth opening to speak. "Even the bodies of your gravest enemies do not deserve to be desecrated in such a way," he said, spearing the man with his blue eye and sliding his right foot forward.

What was he doing? His heart pounded... in all the stories he'd ever heard, even the ones he'd spun himself anyone who challenged the red-eyed demon had died before they knew what had happened to them. So why wasn't he running? He felt sick... but that was probably the hangover. Kiba flexed his trembling left hand tightly and then exhaled, releasing the tension. In that moment his hands were completely still. Sizing people up was something his father had taught him during his childhood, and Kiba didn't have to be a master swordsman to know that this man was a far superior warrior.

"Red-eyed Demon... Show me your stance," he said gravely, intoning a formal challenge to a duel of honor in the way of his people.

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"Even the bodies of your gravest enemies do not deserve to be desecrated in such a way... Red-eyed Demon... Show me your stance" Came a voice off to the side of the horse drawn cart as Shadow sat in the driver's seat with reins in hand.

His crimson red eyes slid over to the side and landed squarely on the eyes of a man standing against him.

Shadow let go of the reins and stood up slowly in the cart, stepping out of it and walking calmly forward with a complete and utter lack of emotion in his face. His body was completely relaxed and there was no tension or aggression in his step as he walked forward, stopping about fifteen feet away from the man standing before him.

"... Show me your stance..." He repeated in a flat and even tone of voice.

A small smile spread on Shadow's lips as his red eyes began to glow ominously as he stared at the man in front of him.

"You show a lot of heart to face me openly and issue a formal challenge... If somewhat foolish in doing so." He said, his smile turning to a more impish smirk.

Shadow walked forward calmly, and stood within half an arms length away from the man before him. He was only two inches shorter than Shadow, and a fairly stout, but muscular chap. His dark skin spoke of his birth place for itself, as did the manner of challenge. However, his size meant absolutely nothing to Shadow as he stretched his arm out and placed his hand on the man's chest directly in line with his heart. Shadow's arm was outstretched and almost completely straight, with Shadow still showing no outward signs of aggression, but it was short lived.

Shadow's body did not but twitch, and the man before him was sent reeling back several feet before coming to a stop. Shadow's arm went to his side, and his eyes narrowed slightly as he watched the man's reaction to his shove. Shadow still showed no outward signs of bodily aggression, but his smile betrayed the growing level of aggression and excitement building within his soul. This man obviously presented no challenge to Shadow, but never the less Shadow couldn't help but be a slave to his inner combative nature. However, Shadow also knew that he could waste no time fighting this man, so instead he decided to present him with an opportunity, as with training he could present a challenge in the future.

"Before I say more, allow me to explain my actions to you. These men are part of a very dangerous organization called Roda Ah K'mht, and they have vowed to both replace and completely eclipse Te'i Sai in power and size as an organization. They are the ones responsible for attacking the ball the other night, and they are the ones who were willing to kill everyone in the room simply to prove that they were a threat. By killing these men in this fashion, I have insulted them as an organization in the ancient ways of the Assassins and forced my way to the top of their priority list. An insult like that will not go unpunished, and I will likely receive a heavy influx of attacks and challenges from their top members very soon which is what I want. With their top members and leaders focusing on me, the rest of the continent will be that much safer from their attacks as a whole, though the suffering will not end until all of these Assassins are either dead or disbanded."

Shadow turned around and began walking back to the horse drawn cart, speaking over his shoulder.

"If you wish to put your courage to better use in a fight you are more likely to win, then join me in fighting these Assassins. With the proper training you could become a serious threat to them and be strong enough to make a difference in the fight against them in your own right. Perhaps I am asking too much, for you to join the Red-Eyed Demon, but if you wish to face the true threat to this land, then your fight lies with Roda Ah K'mht. Not with me."

Shadow sat in the driver's seat of the horse drawn cart and took the reins in his hands once more, looking over towards the man.

"So, what is your answer?" He asked.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Shadow Character Portrait: Mayumi Character Portrait: Layla "Siren" Luciel Character Portrait: Dietrich "Leer" Faust Character Portrait: Vincent Yondel Character Portrait: Kiba Bayushi
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"How are you holding up, Mr Line-Breaker?"

Dietrich grunted a reply. He didn't have the slightest idea who this person was, but vaguely remembered seeing him once before. Somehow, he had already guessed Dietrich's occupation, which he guessed wouldn't be too hard to do anymore. Not many people carried the distinctive Veilbrandian greatsword anymore except for Uirlin's chosen.

The desert wolf stirred and clambered out of the cart slowly. He brought a decorative flask out from his belt.

"You Veilbrandians..." he croaked, flipping the top of the flask back and taking a large draft. "Really know how to throw a party," he finished as he walked around to the front of the cart and shoved the flask into Dietrich's hands.

"I wouldn't know." He muttered, sniffing the liquid suspiciously.

"Where are we?" the wolf asked, spinning in a circle to take in the unfamiliar landscape.

Dietrich took a moment to survey their surroundings again. They weren't too terribly far from Nos, judging by the types of trees that grew around the trail, but they seemed to have taken one of the more remote paths through the forest. He had never taken this road specifically, but he had taken ones very much like it. It probably twisted and turned on and on for miles through the trees. There was no way of knowing how far they had traveled during the night though; they could be near the edge of the forest already.

CRUMP

The sound of a single, spluttering explosion rocked through the trees. It sounded close, quite close; in fact if it weren't for the trees they would have probably been able to see it. However, the forest befuddled the senses, it made far sounds seem near, and near far.

No one moved for a few moments, Dietrich and the wolf Fang froze as they measured the sound. Explosions in the forest were not normal, and despite his lethargy Dietrich couldn't pretend he wasn't intrigued by it. So when the wolf motioned towards him and began stealing down the path, he felt compelled to follow. He looked back at the young man who sat in the cart, he had forgotten he was there.

"Stay here, eh? I don't remember your name, but I'd hate to see you greet death so early, seeing as how you are no warrior." He advised.

He noticed a feminine form in the hay, and recognized the white spirit Layla.

"Keep an eye on her for me will you?" He asked, gesturing with a nod towards the woman. "Back in minute."

He slid off the driver's bench of the cart, carrying Gewalt down with him. He threw the scabbard across his back and hurried to catch up with the wolf, who had already gained a substantial lead on him. After a few meters of jogging down the path, the wolf lead him into the trees and down a hill. Presently, they came across another path winding through the trees. This one was much better kept and wider. A covered wagon sat in the middle of the road, and the road was soaked in blood. The smell of death wafted up towards them as they advanced cautiously down the hill towards the scene.

Dietrich immediately picked out a lithe figure, in time to see him split a man in half with a dagger.

Hmph. Easy enough to do with Gewalt, but I've never seen it down with such a thin body and short weapon.

The halved body crumpled onto the ground, and the man seemed to relax. He strode over to his wagon and peaked inside a curtain, then relaxed in the driver's seat, as if he was completely oblivious to the entrails and bodily parts that surrounded him.

Dietrich's mind instantly began analyzing the situation. The man carried twin daggers, but the way he held them was interesting. The man himself was either incredibly fatigued, which was possible judging by the number of bodies that littered the ground around him, or his daggers were incredibly heavy. The wagon was covered, and obviously carried something inside that the man cared about, and that the men he killed wanted. It could be a merchant wagon, but no merchant could fight like this man. Another person, a young girl, was moving through groups of bodies and breaking their necks with her bare hands. She was so young, not even a woman yet...

Interesting...

Dietrich felt his face split open in a sneer. How many interesting people he was meeting lately!

He watched the wolf as he moved down the hill, eventually coming out onto the road in front of the dagger-man. He hadn't expected the man to take such a forward approach, but he couldn't say he disproved of the man's courage.

"Even the bodies of your gravest enemies do not deserve to be desecrated in such a way."

Ah, I should have guessed he was that type. He honors his foes and finds it despicable to mutilate them. Honorable and respectable, I hadn't expected him to be so decent.

The man in the wagon glanced at him.

"Red-eyed Demon... Show me your stance."

Red-eyed Demon?

The dagger-man slid off his wagon and strode towards the wolf. Suddenly, the difference between the two of them was put into stark contrast for Dietrich. The wolf was frightened, he had already lost.

"... Show me your stance..." He repeated in a flat and even tone of voice.

A small smile spread on Shadow's lips as his red eyes began to glow ominously as he stared at the man in front of him.

"You show a lot of heart to face me openly and issue a formal challenge... If somewhat foolish in doing so." He said, his smile turning to a more impish smirk.

Dietrich felt his own sneer widen as he observed the situation. The dagger-man was supremely confident in himself, he had won this little duel already. The shove he gave Fang was more an arbitrary point than an actual attack. Still, Dietrich felt his hand staying towards Gewalt. This man was truly formidable.

The man clambered back onto his wagon and began speaking to Fang, but Dietrich couldn't hear the words. He wasn't really interested in them anyway, he drew Gewalt with one long motion and strode down the hill. He came out of the tree line into the road, his greatsword resting against his shoulder.

"...your answer?" He caught the end of what the dagger-man was saying.

"What's going on here then, eh?" He announced as he stopped to stand beside Fang, his voice like two stones grinding together. His blood was on fire, he felt all of his normal tact and reservedness melting away at the prospect of battle.

"This is a lot of bodies... I appreciate your skill, but your methods seem a bit.... Ritualistic?" He said, motioning to the girl as she twisted another neck. "You aren't cultists are you? Sacrificing souls to some daemon? If that is the case, then I'm afraid I'll be obliged to end you."

His sneer grew to a sickening degree.

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Character Portrait: Shadow Character Portrait: Mayumi Character Portrait: Dietrich "Leer" Faust Character Portrait: Kiba Bayushi
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"You aren't cultists are you? Sacrificing souls to some daemon? If that is the case, then I'm afraid I'll be obliged to end you."

Shadow listened to the voice of this new man approaching them, before receiving his answer from the first and once again he dropped the reins, this time with a sigh, as he got out of the wagon and approached this new arrival. His sword was impressive, though against Shadow's own Orichalcum daggers, the sword would be sliced clean through like a piece of paper had Shadow chosen to attack him. Again, Shadow's stance was devoid of aggression or killer intent, but his eyes were beginning to suggest otherwise as they started glowing ever brighter with each passing step.

Shadow stopped at a respectable distance of about fifteen feet, similarly to how he had with the first man.

"The concept of you putting an end to me is actually rather amusing..." Shadow said in a low voice as a small smile, devoid of life, crossed his lips.

Shadow looked the man up and down, analyzing his armor, weaponry, stance, and manner of speech. Again, Shadow was impressed by the courage this man displayed, but was equally amazed at the foolishness he was encountering this day. The man was a little bigger than Shadow, but that was of little consequence here. The man's weapon was a large, two handed sword with a blade just over six feet in length from end to end. While well made, his weapon would slice itself apart if it came into contact with Shadow's Orichalcum daggers. If the man had any sort of emotional attachment to that blade, he'd be wise not to use it.

"I have lost enough time explaining myself to this one," Shadow said, putting his arm out in gesture to Kiba.

"However, I will explain myself to you with this information: Each and every man here whom I have slain could kill you fairly easily in single combat my friend. They are Assassins from an organization called Roda Ah K'mht, who seek to surpass Te'i Sai in power and take this land as their own. They are willing to both use and threaten innocent lives just to make a point, and to prove to the world that they are a threat. Mere cultists don't attack and mutilate people like this, because they'd be dead long before they ever could accomplish the task. No, my friend. I am the Red-Eyed Demon, and I take what lives must be taken to ensure that this continent and its people live without fear of Te'i Sai or Roda Ah K'mht in the future. If you seek to bring an end to someone's life, then go find a mercenary who's lost his way and lost his code, and kill him. At least then you'd have a chance of being able to back up your words. Against me, you would barely last three seconds using that overgrown kitchen knife at your back. If it were to meet my Orichalcum daggers in combat, your blade would be sliced into several pieces before you could even say the word "sword." As a piece of advice, if you plan to intimidate someone, make sure that they can be intimidated before you speak to them. It will save you time and embarrassment the next time you try it."

With that, Shadow turned his back on his new arrival and started walking back towards the cart, speaking over his shoulder.

"Either leave now or experience the truth of my warning. The choice is yours, but I have lost enough time already and will be detained no longer." Shadow said as he climbed into the cart, taking the reins in hand.

He looked over at Kiba.

"My offer to follow still stands. If you would accept, then either jog alongside the cart or catch up and sit here by my side as we travel."

He checked that Mayumi was ready to move before giving the reins a slight whip and getting the horses moving again. If the new arrivals were to follow, they'd have to do so at a light jog, as the horses here merely trotting away and could still be followed. One of them could fit beside Shadow in the driver's seat, but the other would be left jogging whether they liked it or not.

The cart began to slowly move away at an even pace as the horses trotted down the road ahead.

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Character Portrait: Shadow Character Portrait: Dietrich "Leer" Faust Character Portrait: Kiba Bayushi
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It was difficult to take the man seriously, even though Dietrich knew it would be folly not to do so. He said he had little time, not enough time to fight him, but then prattled on about how superior he and his sickeningly foreign sounding enemies were to himself. Apparently, the man had taken his words as some kind of threat, when Dietrich had meant them simply as a statement. He could understand that, he never thought out his words when the lust was on him. Still, the man's speech smacked of stuck-up certainty. Perhaps he was noble born? He had no idea what Orichalcum was or how it could make a sword "slice" another sword, but it must be an expensive material, too expensive for a common vagabond as this man appeared to be. Out of respect for the man's obvious skills though, he suffered through the tiresome monologue.

If you have this much time to speak of my inferiority, why don't you just hold your tongue and show me how much better you are than me? You had no difficulty pushing around someone who was afraid of your name.

This man thought he was some stupid sell-sword whose only interest in life was killing. It wasn't the first time that misconception had been made of him, and he knew it wouldn't be the last, but it still irked him. He had no interest in trying to kill the dagger-man, in fact for some reason he felt no serious drive to attack the man at all, but his claims of god-like superiority made Dietrich sneer all the more. There was nothing wrong with believing you were the greatest at something, but flaunting power with vain words brought Uirlin's disfavor. If he really wanted Dietrich to take him seriously, he would have to stop using his mouth and start using the blades he spoke so highly of. Killing a group of men was a feat, killing a Line-Breaker was another thing altogether.

Still, if this man was telling the truth, and these men he had just dispatched were as good as he said, than they might prove to be interesting foes if he ever came across them. Of course, he had claimed they were assassins... He had never fought an assassin himself, perhaps that was because none were brave enough to come to a true battlefield? The name conjured up images of flighty, gutless cowards who slew the helpless and weak. How could men such as that possibly be considered powerful or worthy of fear?

"Either leave now or experience the truth of my warning. The choice is yours, but I have lost enough time already and will be detained no longer." Shadow said as he climbed into the cart, taking the reins in hand.

He looked over at Kiba.

"My offer to follow still stands. If you would accept, then either jog alongside the cart or catch up and sit here by my side as we travel."

While the man's words still smouldered in his chest, he decided that now would not be the time to press the attack. Anger would only cloud his enjoyment of the fight, and despite his attitude, the man seemed to truly be in a hurry. He felt the somber, tactful side of his soul beginning to regain control of him. His sneer subsided into his usual grimace. This "Red-Eyed Demon" seemed to be haughty, but not despicable, he was an enemy of spineless shadow-killers and obviously did not shirk from a fight, that made him alright in Dietrich's book. Still he could not deny, they had completely incompatible spirits, like the Badger and Snake.

He watched as the cart trundled away, he looked to the desert wolf to see what his reaction would be. The Red-Eye had apparently offered for Fang to follow him, though for what reason Dietrich couldn't be sure. He knew one thing for sure though, he wouldn't be leaving a painter and woman in the woods alone to chase after some dagger wielder who he obviously wouldn't get along with.

In the back of his mind though, he somehow knew that this wouldn't be the last time he would encounter the demon.

I hope not, at the very least. Gewalt screams to taste the edges of his god-daggers.

The setting changes from veilbrand to Cre' Est

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Shadow Character Portrait: Mayumi Character Portrait: Sereinia Lucis Nouralail Character Portrait: Layla "Siren" Luciel Character Portrait: Dietrich "Leer" Faust Character Portrait: Vincent Yondel Character Portrait: Kiba Bayushi
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Kiba's eyes got real big when Shadow approached him. He did his best to remain looking fierce in spite of things, and he did not even twitch when Shadow laid his hand upon Kiba's chest. It was dishonorable to draw his weapon before his opponent took his stance... he did, however, look down at the hand, feeling puzzled as the man complimented his bravery. Kiba didn't even see the man move, but was sent staggering backwards several steps. Under normal circumstances, he'd have been able to keep his feet, however with the lingering hangover and the leaden feeling in his limbs he somehow managed to trip over a rock and landed squarely on his back.

"Giragh," he swore. "What an embarrassing way to lose a duel," he noted, more to himself than anyone. Kiba stared at the sky for a long time while he listened to Shadow's offer to him, and then to Dietrich before he pulled himself to his feet and dusted himself off.

"Listen, sir Demon, I've heard many tales in many pubs about the dark, secret world of the assassins... hell, I've even spun a few myself for a drink but I never dared believe that they held any truth. If you speak true, and you seek to destroy these assassins, then it would be my honor to help. I have a confession to make, however..." he said, jogging to keep up with the cart. After a moment he took hold of the cart with one hand and stepped up next to Shadow.

"I've been from Shaharan, through Cre'Est, an here to Veilbrand on foot and I've been hounded every step of the way by bounty hunters and mercenaries trying to collect for something I haven't done. I've fought hundreds of them in duels and open battle, in pubs and camps... and though it would make my life worlds easier to thin them out I've not killed a single one. I'm not a killer... and if you can handle that then I will join you."

"Also," he began again after a moment of thought. "There are two others who 'traveled' with us, would be dishonorable to leave them behind without informing them of the changing situation."

Setting

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Character Portrait: Shadow Character Portrait: Layla "Siren" Luciel Character Portrait: Dietrich "Leer" Faust Character Portrait: Vincent Yondel Character Portrait: Kiba Bayushi
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Vincent watched the scene play out between the famous red-eyed demon and these other men he had had just met. He wasn't really sure the training had nothing to do with him. No matter the regime it would take a good part of a year to even get to half of the skills of the men before the red eyed demon.

Vincent had been told to watch the bounty hunter Siren but she did not seem to be going anywhere soon. Vincent was astonished by how her lack of appeal and attractiveness didn't drop regardless of the fact that she stunk of booze, had a decent amount of drool, as well as being on the verge,of what Vincent guessed, snoring.

Vincent waited for a lull in the conversation.

"Mr. Red Eyes,"he interrupted. "What is it exactly that I can do that would be of service to you and your group?"

The setting changes from cre-est to Veilbrand

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Shadow Character Portrait: Mayumi Character Portrait: Sereinia Lucis Nouralail Character Portrait: The Royal Knights Of Cre' Est Character Portrait: Dietrich "Leer" Faust Character Portrait: Vincent Yondel Character Portrait: Kiba Bayushi
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"Mr. Red Eyes. What is it exactly that I can do that would be of service to you and your group?" Came a voice off to the side.

Shadow was suddenly more popular than he had ever wished to be after a battle like that, and his irritation was mounting. As the cart kept moving away at a slow and steady pace, Shadow brought the cart around so that he could look at this new individual and speak with him for but a moment. He was in no mood for another long conversation, and he was in no mood for any sort of extended introduction either. His eyes were glowing again, this time from anger and irritation rather than excitement of battle.

"I now cross blades with two powerful Assassin organizations which intend to rule this continent, and have every intention of fighting until they are both destroyed. What have you to offer this course of action? You cannot fight, obviously, so what are you if not a fool seeking to follow a Demon into the depths of Hell without bringing an Angel to ensure your safe return from your conversation with the lord of the underworld? I will not wait for you, nor do I really care if you do have something to offer at this time. If you want to prove your usefulness, then follow the cart and don't lag behind as I will not turn around for you."

With that, Shadow turned the cart back down the road in silence.

He had registered Kiba's previous statement about those he traveled with before, but had chosen to answer this younger fool's question first.

"While it may sound dishonorable to not inform your traveling companions of this change, I am not going anywhere except forward. If you wish to talk to those you traveled with before, then hop off the cart and make your way to the city of Xiel Ahu on your own time. I am based in a small series of abandoned guild buildings on the western end of the city, and will be there for some time to come. Find those buildings and wait, as I will find you in time if I am not there to greet you upon your arrival."

With that, Shadow looked forward and didn't look back. From here on out, he was on a single minded course to continue moving ahead. Looking back was not an option, nor was waiting for those who couldn't keep up.




Three days passed before Shadow and his company arrived in Xiel Ahu.

During that trip, he had received Solomon's reply to his previous message.

To the Red-Eyed Demon,

I, Solomon Kreigg, accept your offer regarding Sereinia Lucis Nouralail. This opportunity will be taken into full consideration and respect. You can expect my full cooperation and oath that no one from the Royal Knights including the Captain Yarun Desson will interrupt or be there. As such, I will expect that you shall keep your word. Until the promised day then.

Solomon Kreigg
Vice Captain of the Royal Knights of Cre' Est


This was a rather pleasant turn of events in an otherwise twisting and convoluted dance between being an enemy and a temporary ally.

Shadow himself had things to discuss with Solomon as well, although Sereinia would have her time to discuss things with him first. However, Solomon would answer a few of Shadow's questions before that day was over, and he would hear what Shadow had to say whether he liked it or not.

During the course of their first day in the city, Shadow led them to the abandoned guild buildings on the west end which he had a small group of allies keep in good condition and make it look like they were actually in use so that nobody would suspect they were almost always empty. He had assisted Sereinia in walking from the cart to her room, which was on the second floor, carrying her up the stairs to take the stress off her abdominal muscles so they could continue to relax and recuperate. During the trip over, Shadow had Mayumi jump into the cart every so often to check on their "precious cargo" and assist her in tending to her wounds and making sure she had enough food and water to be comfortable on the trip.

Setting her down in her bed, Shadow double checked her temperature by placing his forehead against hers to compare the heat of their bodies. She was normal as far as he could tell, and seemed to be in relatively good spirits despite what had happened to her. Luckily for her, there was no organ damage, but she would likely carry a scar from that wound on her stomach for the rest of her life. Such wounds almost never died away completely, as Shadow's body could attest to given how littered with scars it was. Though his body was in pristine condition and looked like it was chiseled out of solid marble, the numerous injuries he'd received throughout his life were all evident and told the story of their existence if one looked closely enough.

One such obvious flaw to his otherwise nearly godly physique was the slight cave in the musculature of his upper chest on his left hand side just beneath the collar bone. Having received a slash across the upper chest long ago when he was younger, Shadow's pectoral muscles had been severed at their connection point just at the shoulder, and as such, a few of the muscle fibers were permanently lost to him which meant a slight loss in strength and potential. It was only about a 0.5% loss, but it was a loss none the less and the slight lack of muscles in that area, coupled with the scar on top of them, would tell the story of how it came to be that way.

Regardless, Shadow allowed Sereinia to relax and recuperate while he and Mayumi set to work on their targets. He had sent the flacon back to Taira and received a list of names in return, some of whom he recognized already. He had provided Mayumi a list of targets to attend to as well, none of which would prove easy for her to access before leaving and attending to his own work. Mayumi's name list was as follows:

Nimal (Nee- Mal) Vancour (Vahn-Cur) - a wealthy lord who's influence dominated the trade industry in the city and even extended to a few of the other communities nearby in the countryside. He had been influential in helping trade expand and grow, but was also guilty of hoarding stolen goods for himself in a private storage building in the northern side of the city for his own personal use. He had several "bandit" groups, who were really mercenaries, stationed along the roads to rob every couple of caravans of their goods.

Auxes (Au-shey) J'or (Jeh-Oor) - another lord, this time one who resided in what was known as the 'heaven' district of the city where all the highest nobles who were not royalty resided. He mostly kept to himself, but he had a hand in dealing with thieves and using bounty hunters to eliminate any competition he had in gaining entry into the royal family, as he was currently courting the princess of Veilbrand. Despite her numerous rejections, he still persisted, and was silently eliminating competition at an alarming rate, as well as draining them of their fortunes along the way.

And the last name on her list was the most difficult to reach: Bolsen Wahlk.

Bolsen was a member of the Royal Guard who, on the outside, appeared to be the perfect guardsman. Strong and disciplined, and obeyed his King without question. However, beyond the walls of the Castle he was a nefarious dealer in specialized drugs and herbal concoctions with potent and lethal side effects. Working as an infiltrator, he was close to being able to finally deliver a dose of his work to the Royal Family. Too close for Shadow's taste, so Mayumi's job was to eliminate him during the one day he would come home to this city which was in two days.

She had her work cut out for her.

This time, however, he'd taken some of the more serious targets as his own. Mayumi had proven herself last time, so this time the bulk of the hard work was his to take on. His first target was a noble who had managed to gain a few "friends" in the banks and was stealing tax collections from the lower class citizens and claiming that they weren't paying, which in turn forced them to pay more since they could not prove their innocence, and allowed him to drive them yet further into poverty while enriching himself to a somewhat kingly status in his own right. Apparently he'd been doing this for a number of years, and it was a wonder Te'i Sai had never caught wind of this before and seen to his destruction on its own. However, Shadow had a feeling that there was more to this man than met the eye.

Shadow's first target was actually a member of the Veilbrand Royal Family, or rather, an extended member who was living as a noble would. This member of the family had no claim to the throne by right of blood, but they did not see it that way. Delusional and vengeful, this member of the family was out for blood. His name was Illiad Herse Veilbrand, a cousin to the current King. Although he held no right to the throne, he had deluded himself into believing that his hard work should be rewarded, and that the throne would suit him well. For this purpose, he was slowly hiring more and more mercenaries and Assassins to do his work. According to Taira, he'd even enlisted the aid of some of the members of Roda Ah K'mht. It seemed they were not beyond mercenary style work to further their riches. Shadow was utterly disgusted with them and in his eyes, they had no right to call themselves Assassins if they were this unstable.

Shadow's work began immediately, and although it took a better portion of the day to complete, Illiad Veilbrand met his silent end in the waning hours of the afternoon to Shadow's blade in the privacy of his own home. The kill was quick, clean and unnoticed. However, Shadow had used a rather unorthodox and somewhat unkempt method of killing him to make it look like the work of an amateur who got lucky when his target was alone. This would help to disguise his presence in the city and keep both Te'i Sai and Roda Ah K'mht off his back for the time being.

Upon his return to the abandoned guild, he greeted Sereinia and took to his own bed to rest.

Over the next several days, Shadow's work continued, and by the time the meeting day between Sereinia and Solomon came around, Shadow's blade had tasted the blood of six others, which nearly put an end to his list of names. The hour had drawn very near now, and so Shadow took Sereinia's hand and led her to a specific building in the southern end of the city. By noon, Sereinia was safely tucked away in her location as Shadow left to await Solomon's arrival. He took to the rooftops, kneeling with his left knee down as he watched for the Royal Knight's arrival. He knew that since it was daylight, Solomon would easily spot him on his perch and follow him back to the meeting place.

Finally... After about ten minutes of waiting, the time had come.

Shadow's red eyes landed on the form of the White Grim Reaper as he approached the city gate a short distance away.

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Character Portrait: Layla "Siren" Luciel Character Portrait: Dietrich "Leer" Faust Character Portrait: Vincent Yondel Character Portrait: Kiba Bayushi
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"Aren't you hungry yet?"

Dietrich looked down onto the street to see the artist, Vincent he believed, looking back up at him.

"Not yet, there's something I need to do first." He replied. "Go ahead and order something for yourself, I've already got a tab open here. I'll be returning shortly."

With that he descended the staircase down into the inn. He let the barkeep that he would ordering soon, and then exited through a back door into the maze of alleyways that was Xiel Ahu. He couldn't start his day yet, he hadn't gone through his forms in days, and tradition continued to nag at his mind as long as he put it off.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________


The air was pleasantly cool as it passed through the back-alleys of Xiel Ahu. One of these alleyways opened up into a wide, open courtyard that seemed to be an anomaly in the close quarters of the city. It seemed to have come into existence merely by happen-stance; too large to fit one living space in, but too small for two. A single man stood in the middle of the courtyard; armor, leather hauberk, and helmet discarded in a corner. He wore only breeches and a simple, loose fitting arming shirt. He wielded an enormous blade, and cast vicious slashes all around him as if battling invisible foes...

Dietrich breathed deeply as he worked through his forms; purging his thoughts of anything except what had been drilled into him since birth. He stepped forward and assaulted the air from the Vom-Tag. He went through the basics, muttering the terms for each move as he completed them.

Hauen. The Hews.

He brought Gewalt above his head and slashed vertically down in an uncompromising stroke. Oberhau. The Over Hew.

He adjusted his footwork accordingly, switching into the next position. He led Gewalt down to his left hip, turned his waist and delivered a withering horizontal hew that could sever a mans' spine. Mittelhau. The Middle Hew.

Immediately, he sidestepped and levered his man-slayer up from the right hip into an upward slash. Unterhau. The Under Hew.

Once the upper-cut had reached its apex, he shot his left hand up and snatched the leather covered section of the sword in-between the cross-guard and parrying hooks. He slid his right hand down from the top of the hilt to the pommel, took another step forward, and thrust the mammoth blade forward with enough force to puncture plate armor. Stechen. The Thrust.

Finally, he ducked beneath an invisible slash, placed Gewalt against the stomach of a ghostly enemy and drew it across in a cutting motion. Abschneiden. The Slice.

He took a deep breath as he relaxed and returned to the Vom-Tag stance. He had encountered many foreign martial arts in his time, with their scampering, complicated steps and footwork, whirling blades and spinning about. The Kunst des Fechtens, the true art of combat, tossed aside all of the flair, flurry, and dance, stripping down the world to Up, Down, Left, and Right.

Dietrich smiled as he remembered the ancient motto.

"Of das aller neheste und kors körtzste, slecht und gerade czu. Mit dem höbschen paryrn und weit umefechten." He said aloud.

The principle of taking the shortest and most direct line of attack. Disregarding flourishes or flashy parrying techniques.

In layman's terms, every strike thrown was made to dispatch the opponent. Every movement of the blade was designed to kill. Every swing was made to deflect the enemy's weapon and kill him in the same motion. To attack and defend at once. The words of the Old Tongue still burned in his mind, but he decided against practicing the Master-Hews. He never felt comfortable with preforming the five hidden Hews outside of a battle. Besides, he had practiced them so often as a child that they had become second nature to him. The Basics would be enough for today, at least now he would no longer hear the words of his father berating him to practice in his head.

He gathered his equipment, redressing for the day. He was about to return to the inn when the sound of soft voices made him instinctively swivel around on the balls of his feet. He grabbed the hilt of his short-sword on his hip. Several voices cried out, and a group of street-children scattered from their hiding spots, fleeing in every direction. Dietrich sighed, he supposed that here he was even more of an outlandish figure than in Nos. This area of Veilbrand was very modern, Line-Breakers were thought of here in the same way as dragons...

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The inn he and his new-found companions had been staying at for the past few days was rather low-class. It wasn't nearly as warm or friendly as Ulzer's Place, and the beds were nothing more than bug infested cots. Still, it was better than nothing. The food wasn't very good either, but it was still better than nothing. He stirred his bowl of "stew" suspiciously.

He hadn't seen the white spirit Layla or Fang very much in the past few days. It was understandable really, just because you fought your way out of a city with someone, it didn't make you best friends or anything. Still, it was strange, he had felt queerly attracted to the rag-tag group; he had genuinely enjoyed the change. He could tell that these were the kinds of people that danger and death followed like a cloak.

Then of course, there was the Red-Eyed Demon... Dietrich wondered what he could possibly be up to right now. He had heard of some recent murders lately, and he was beginning to put pieces together. He was no fool, and the events that were happening here were beginning to mirror those in Nos very closely. He had an inkling that if he really put his mind to it, he could probably find the Demon slinking around somewhere in Xiel Ahu, working tirelessly to complete whatever quest he was so hell-bent on.

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Character Portrait: Kiba Bayushi
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What was it about city life that both endeared and infuriated him? Perhaps it was his simple upbringing... perhaps it was that his true home was the pub and the structured order of a city simply did not fit with him. Regardless, after the few days journey with Dietrich and the others to Xiel Ahu Kiba quickly wandered off. For close to two years now, Kiba had done nothing but travel from one place to another, with the dark storm clouds of his past following close behind him. He hadn't tried to clear his name, nor had he done any investigation on who could have actually killed prince Akio... all he'd done was run away, and it was weighing heavily on him.

With Dietrich brooding on the roof, Layla pestering him with her charms, and Vincent off doing... whatever... Kiba felt smothered. He'd left the inn before dawn the very next day they'd been there. Where would he go? Did he not just pledge his skills to the Red-eyed Demon in his fight to destroy the Tei Sai? Feh... just words... Shadow was a killer, and probably had no use for someone who would not lift his blade to end a life. Kiba's father had almost literally hammered the tenets of bushido into him from a young age.

Rectitude or righteousness, courage, benevolence, respect, honesty, honor, and loyalty. All life is precious, even the life of your enemy. The path of the warrior who kills is steeped in misfortune and sadness, he used to say. A warrior need not kill to prove his strength, nor for his lord, nor for his God. Lethal force was the last resort, to only be used when all other options had already been exhausted. If you killed ten men to save one life, have you really succeeded? Kiba's head swirled with these thoughts and he wondered what he would do if he ever found the people who killed prince Akio. Would he kill them? Would he drag them back to Shaharan and let the royal family do as they would with them?

Kiba took a deep breath and closed his eyes. He'd found a small grotto a short way outside the city, and as he sat among the grass and flowers he meditated on these things. The most dangerous warrior was the one who found inner peace... but who could find tranquility with all the chaos in the world, let alone all the misfortune that seemed to hound him. Was Giragh testing him? Kiba kind of wished the sadistic fuck would leave him alone... perhaps when all this madness caught up with him and he finally died, he'd stroll through the halls of heaven straight to the divine throne and punch his God in the face. The thought brought a smirk to his face.

"You look troubled..." a voice brought him out of his thoughts. Kiba opened his mismatched eyes, squinting against the afternoon sun. "I apologize for interrupting your meditation," said a man leaning against a tree at the edge of the grotto.

"It's no trouble, friendly company is always welcome," Kiba replied with a smile, although he was immediately suspicious. "I just chanced upon this place, and thought I would drink in the tranquility and clear my mind."

"Ah yes. It's almost magical, this spot. I come here to do exactly the same every time I chance through this area," the man said as he stepped into the grotto. "May I?"

"Of course," said Kiba, motioning to an empty spot on the grass ahead of him.

The man came and sat across from him. Kiba noticed his hooded tunic was similar to his own, loose and well traveled. The Shaharan garment was popular since it provided the warmth and protection from the elements of a cloak, but did not have that tendency to get snagged on things or tangled in the plant life. His was dyed a deep blue and cinched about his svelte waist with a simple black obi in which a pair of swords hung: a traditional katana and wakasashi. His black hair was long and tied in a loose ponytail. His blue eyes were kind, and he smiled disarmingly.

"What is it that troubles you? If I'm not prying? Perhaps talking to someone with a kind ear would help lift that weight from your shoulders."

"It may," Kiba answered in a troubled tone... this man was obviously a warrior, and he could tell that he took very good care of his body even through the loose drape of his tunic. "I'm afraid I'm at a disadvantage, however..."

"Ah, how rude of me. Kakida, Ichiro."

"Well met, unfortunately I must give care and not reveal my name, you may call me Fang."

"Understandable. Tell me what troubles you, Fang," Ichiro said with a smile. Kiba didn't know why, perhaps Ichiro's voice held an air of command, or he wished to finally confide in someone, anyone, even a complete stranger, but he felt compelled to talk.

"I find myself in an interesting pickle," Kiba began. "I've strictly adhered to the tenets of bushido for my entire life, and I was raised by a family that believed that hard work and faith solved many things. Father was my compass, and since he and mother died my life has been riddled with misfortune... they died in a fire and the investigators found evidence of arson, but it was never pursued... I've been lost since," Kiba found himself saying.

"Ah yes, that was a tragedy. I take it then, that you are the son of Bayushi, Sanzo," said Ichiro with a smile. A spike of tension shot through Kiba's body and straight into his gut. Ichiro hadn't moved, however, and was infuriatingly difficult to read. The man didn't exude any intention whatsoever.

"Yes," Kiba answered carefully. "I suppose I could have guessed, but you hail from Shaharan then?"

"I do. Your family was always very kind to us, although you and I never had a chance to officially get to know one another, something I regret. Don't worry, I will not reveal your identity," he said, and Kiba immediately felt at ease for some reason. "I know the rest of your tale... or at least I've heard much of it in passing, and through tales spun in taverns. Okami Shiroi?" Ichiro grinned, and Kiba couldn't help but laugh.

"Haha, yes... I believe I spun that one. It's earned me more than a couple drinks over the years," Kiba grinned. "It's kind of funny what people will believe, even when you tell them the truth," he said, but his mirth melted away after a moment. "I didn't do it."

"I didn't think you did," said Ichiro seriously. "I can tell this weighs heavily upon you. Someone who could strangle one they call a friend would have a cold heart, but words can be altered, and intentions can be bent. Swords cannot. You tell me that you aren't a killer, and I really wish to believe that... Bayushi, Kiba your sword will not lie. Show me your stance," he said, standing and placing his hand on the hilt of his Katana.

Kiba inhaled deeply and pulled himself to his feet. Ichiro gripped the hilt of his katana, and Kiba immediately felt the man's gaze go cold, sending a tingling chill dancing up and down his spine. Kiba took his stance, lowering himself slightly and allowing his left hand to hover near the hilt of his broadsword. He didn't know what he felt as their eyes locked, whether it was lethal intent, or something else... but it was definitely intent and it was focused with laser-like intensity on him. Kiba had heard tales of master duelists who were so skilled that they could defeat an opponent simply by gazing at them... was this what that felt like?

Ichiro was statuesque: Kiba couldn't even tell if he was breathing, but he could feel the air between them alight with energy so powerful that he sincerely believed it might ignite the air. He flexed his left hand several times reflexively and then felt a wave of calm wash over him as instinct and training took over. The intricacies of the duel weren't always obvious: to the untrained eye the two of them just stood under the noon sun like statues for what felt like several solid minutes. Each of them was focused on the other with an intensity that would cripple an opponent not experienced with the art of iajutsu dueling, reading every breath, every involuntary muscle tick, every bead of sweat... waiting for the perfect opportunity to land a single focused blow on the other.

A gust from the Gods blew a single flower petal loose and sent it spiraling up in the air for a moment, before it fluttered back down to the earth between them. The instant it landed on the grass at their feet they both moved. Kiba felt like he was moving in slow motion as he gripped the hilt of his blade and pulled it free of its scabbard, at the same time Ichiro loosened his katana with one thumb as he took two monstrous steps forward and pulled it into a horizontal slash. Kiba swiveled on his hips and slid his left foot forward, arcing his broadsword straight upwards, catching Ichiro's katana in its hook. He carried the katana up with his strength and swiveled his grip on the hilt when his arm reached its apex. Kiba drove the point of his sword down along the length of the katana towards the hand guard, sliding his left foot back and twisting the blade, using his inertia and strength to try and yank the weapon from Ichiro's hand.

Ichiro allowed the weapon to twist with the motion and then slid it free, retreating a single step so he could bring the weapon back along his hip then lung forward and thrust for Kiba's heart. Kiba lifted the heavy broadsword and braced it with his right wrist as he counter-lunged, catching the point of the katana with the flat of his blade for an instant as he swiveled, sliding his right foot back and flipping his blade to direct the katana past him. He swiveled on his hips, driving his elbow into the back of Ichiro's neck and using his mass to throw the man forward. Ichiro broke his fall by tucking into a roll which looked far too easy to Kiba and landed on his feet facing him.

Kiba didn't even get a moment to breathe as Ichiro lifted his katana over his head and with two huge steps brought it down with both hands. Kiba widened his stance to lower himself and swung his weapon over his head, bracing the tip with his palm. The two blades clashed forcefully and Kiba felt the impact jolt painfully through his arm, along his spine, and straight into his left toe. He grunted and tried to hook the katana again but he nearly lost his balance when it was pulled free just as he was beginning to move. Kiba shored up his stance and went on the offensive, taking two steps forward with a quickness that belied his size. Ichiro simultaneously retreated to maintain the distance and they both stopped, holding their weapons defensively with sword tips crossed.

They became statuesque once more and the energy around them began to build. Slowly, Ichiro moved his left hand from the hilt of his katana and rested his palm gingerly on the hilt of his wakasashi. Kiba let his right hand lower to his side as he flipped the tiny hook on his chain and the weighted end fell into his fingers. After a long moment Kiba felt the energy shift, and they both exhaled slowly as though they'd been holding their breath. As the tension reached its climax Kiba felt his body move, almost like in a dream-like state. Their blades clashed, Ichiro drew his wakasashi and became a whirlwind of blades while Kiba pushed the distance advantage with the chain. For a long time neither could land a hit on the other, but Kiba finally saw an opening.

He swung his chain, levering the arc with the edge of his sword and entangling Ichiro's wakasashi. He pulled hard, tearing the weapon from Ichiro's hand and then dropping the chain as he charged forward and swung his broadsword with every ounce of strength in his body. Ichiro counter-charged and swung at an opposing angle, pushing some minuscule hole in Kiba's defense. Kiba felt a clash and they both ended in their followthrough a few steps past the other. For what seemed like a long moment they just stood there, as though finishing some kind of morbid dance. Kiba felt a tremor push through his hands and into his gut and he dropped his sword as the strength left his legs and he toppled to his knees, spewing blood from his mouth. Fire lanced across his torso from his kidney to his opposite armpit. Ichiro slowly lowered his sword, flicking the blood of the end and gracefully returning it to its scabbard.

"What is the name of your blade?" He asked as he turned to look at Kiba.

"Swordbreaker," Kiba choked as he pulled his slashed tunic open to peer at his wound. Ichiro's sword had hit him in his side, and then cut straight through the lamellar plates at his sternum and left a large exit gash through his chest and shoulder. He'd never been hit with such force before, and though the wound was mainly superficial, he knew he'd be pissing blood for days.

"I see. Giragh has definitely touched you Bayushi, Kiba... that blow would have killed a lesser man."

"Heh," he grunted. "Something reached out and touched me... but it wasn't Giragh. I've done nothing but run from my woes, Ichiro. To the people of Shaharan I'm a murderer and worse, to those who believe the tales I'm also a brigand... what would Giragh want with someone like me?"

"Adversity is the true measure of a man, Kiba. I feel you have a part to play in some greater plan... you may have already become entangled in it and not even know. Have a little faith," he said with a bit of a smirk, then turned and walked towards the edge of the grotto. "We will meet again, Kiba... when the time is right."

"Yeah... I figured," he muttered and labored to his feet. He sheathed Swordbreaker and collected his chain. Without thinking he also took the Wakasashi that was still entangled in it and shoved it in his belt.

He staggered the long walk back to the inn in a haze, feeling that he probably needed medical attention, stitches at least. However, the strong thirst for booze overrode his logic. All eyes were upon him as he pushed his way into the inn with zombie-like vigor and made for the bar. He ordered a pint, took a single draft from it, and fell unconscious sitting upright with the mug held in his hand.