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Ignis

Drakon

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a part of Ignis, by The Stinky Hat.

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The Stinky Hat holds sovereignty over Drakon, giving them the ability to make limited changes.

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Drakon

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Drakon is a part of Ignis.


Setting

2 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ulysses the Seared Character Portrait: Neiu Lynn
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She smiled a real smile, then, when he questioned her name. She looked away so the crinkle of her eyes did not betray her mirth. "It is an interesting art. I'd like to say the most interesting, but we're all partial to our own gifts, I suppose." She looked back at Ulysses, trying in vain to meet his eyes. It was impossible to tell what color they were, hidden beneath the shadow of his mask. It made her uneasy. But perhaps, she thought, I will see them better in the day.
But then he looked down and she had to focus again on his words. She wondered if he ever wanted to escape the Tower, or he was happy to be pent up like sheep when he was a wolf. "Did he escape in the end?"
He offered her his hand and she hesitated before taking it. Had be been a normal man, she would have stood up on her own. But it would not due to offend him so early on in the acquaintance. "Would you believe me if I told you I have never killed a man?" She let him help her up. "Where are we going?"

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Character Portrait: Ulysses the Seared Character Portrait: Neiu Lynn
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Ulysses thought for a moment.
"I don't know if I could believe you. But then again, your art has never been fully trained, has it? You may have yet to learn the full extent of your gift. Some do not have bloodlust. It is fine. But you must kill soon. The power is truly overwhelming." He said, biting his lip.
Once Neiu was up, he let go of her slightly trembling hands to allow her to walk on her own.
"Well, for a start, you seem cold to me," He proceeded to remove his gloves and extend them out to Neiu. "Perhaps we should head inside somewhere and wait for my companion? I have no doubt she will find us when she means to. Productive girl, that one." He started to walk aimlessly atop the roof, stopping suddenly to place his hands on his hips.
"I cannot decide where we go. That is up to you, now."

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Character Portrait: Iaira Blackmont
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The spy's eyes widened with alarm. 'This cannot be your hostage, Iaira! Take me in its stead, I beg you!'
'I shall delvier it into the Holy Desert Raraku,' Iaira said. 'Into Sha''ik's own hands, and this shall purchase my passage, Mebra. And should I detect any treachery, should I see any single soldier of the Apocalypse on my trail, the Book is destroyed. Do you understand me?'
Mebra blinked sweat from his eyes, then jerked a nod. 'You must ride a stallion the colour of sand, your bloods blended. You must wear a telaba of red. Each night you must gace your trail, on your knees, and unwrap the Book and call upon Dryjhna- that, and no more, not another word, for the Whirlwind goddess shall hear and obey- and all signs of your trail shall be obliterated. You must wait an hour in silence, then wrap the Book once again. It must never be exposed to sunlight, for the time of the Book's awakening belongs to Sha'ik. I shall now repeat those instructions-'
'No need,' Iaira hissed.
'Are you truly an outlaw?'
'Is this not proof enough?'
'Deliver into Sha'ik's hands the Book of Dryjhna and your name shall be sung to the heavens for all time, Iaira. Betray the cause, and your name shall ride spit into the dust.'
The assassin shrouded the Book once more in its muslin wrap, then tucked it into the folds of her tunic. 'Our words are done.'
'Blessings of the Seven, Iaira Blackmont.'
With a grunt her only reply, Iaira moved to the doorway, pausing to scan outside. Seeing no-one under the moonlight, she slipped through the opening.
Still crouched against the wall, Mebra watched the assassin leave. He strained to hear the telltale sounds of Iaira crossing the rocks, bricks and rubble, but heard nothing. The spy wiped sweat from his brow, tilted his head back against the cool stone and closed his eyes.
A few minutes later he heard the rustle of armour at the tower's entrance. 'You saw her?' Mebra asked, eye still shut.
A low voice rumbled in reply. 'Salk Elan follows her. She has the Book?'
Mebra's thin mouth widened in a smile. 'Not the visitor I anticipated. Oh no, I could never have imagined sucha fortuitous guest. That was Iaira Blackmont.'
'The Shadow Dancer? Kiss of Hood, Mebra, had I known, we would have cut her down before she'd taken a step from this tower.'
'Had you tried,' Mebra said, 'you and Aralt and Elan would now be feeding your blood to Jen'rahb's thirsty roots.'
The large warrior barked a laugh, stepping inside. Behind him, as the spy had guessed, loomed Aralt, guarding the entrance, tall and wide enough to block most of the moonlight.
Astaroth rested his gauntleted hands on the sword pommels on either side of his hips. 'What of the man you first approached?'
Mebra sighed. 'As I told you, we would likely have needed a dozen nights such as this one. The man took fright and is probably halfway to Ehrlitan by now. He...reconsidered, as any reasonable man would.' The spy rose to his feet, brushing the dust from his telaba. 'I cannot believe our luck, Astaroth-'
Astaroth's mailed hand was a blur as it flashed out and struck Mebra, the spurred links raking deep gashes across the man's face. Blood spattered the wall. The spy reeled back, hands to his torn face.
'You are too familiar,' Astaroth said calmly. 'You have prepared Iaira, I take it? The proper...instructions?'
Mebra spat blood, then nodded. 'You shall be able to trail her unerringly, Commander.'
'All the way to Sha'ik's Camp?'
'Yes. But I beg you, be careful sir. If Iaira senses you, she will destroy the Book. Stay a day behind her, even more.'
Astaroth removed a fragment of bhederin hide from a pouch at his belt. 'The calf yearns for its mother, 'he said.
'And seeks her without fail,' Mebra finished. 'To kill Sha'ik, you shall need an army, Commander.'
The Red Blade smiled. 'That is our concern, Mebra.'
Mebra drew a deep breath, hesitating, then said, 'I ask only one thing, sir.'
'You ask?'
'I beg, Commander.'
'What is it?'
'Iaira lives.'
'Your wounds are uneven, Mebra. Allow me to caress the other side of your face.'
'Hear me out, Commander! The Shadow Dancer has returned to Seven Cities. She claims herself a soldier of the Apocalypse. Yet is Iaira one to join Sha'ik's camp? Can a woman born to lead content herself to follow?'
'What is your point?'
'Iaira is here for another reason, Commander. She sought only safe passage across the Odhan. She takes the Book because to do so will ensure the passage. The assassin is heading south. Why? I think that is something the Red Blades- and the Empire- would know. And such knowledge can only be gained while she yet breathes.'
'You have suspicions.'
'Aren.'
Astaroth snorted. 'To slip a blade between Promqual's ribs? We would all bless that, Mebra.'
'Iaira cares nothing for the High Fist.'
'Then what does she seek at Aren?'
'I can think of only one thing, Commander. A ship bound for Aether.' Hunched, his face pulsing with pain, Mebra watched with hooded eyes as his words sank roots into the Red Blade commander's mind.
After a long moment, Astaroth asked in a low voice, 'What do you plan?'
Although it cost him, Mebra smiled.

Setting

3 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Iaira Blackmont Character Portrait: Ulysses the Seared Character Portrait: Neiu Lynn
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She nodded as he spoke, allowing him to speak unmolested. She would contest what he said later, when they had settled somewhere. She tiptoed her way to the edge of the roof, hands spread out, as if to keep balance. In reality, it was to feel the disruptions in the air. There weren't many. A baker to the north of them was already preparing the dough of tomorrow's bread, and another man to the east was using the privy. But the rest of the world around them were resting. She turned back to him as he offered her his gloves. They make them chivalrous, do they? she thought, slightly amused. She lifted her hands and wiggled her fingers slightly. "I believe they would be too large on me." She wondered how much he knew about wind manipulation, how much they taught him. Did he know that covering her hands would be like binding her from the use of the wind? In a surprise attack, even the second it would take to remove a glove could be fatal. If he knew that, his intentions were ominous. But she doubted he would so obviously try sabotage her.
But like him, she wanted to wait for the Shadow Dancer to return. She nodded her head to the ground. "Let us descend first. I do not think we could travel across the roofs so easily together." Gently, she lifted herself down. She wondered if she would wound his manly pride if she offered to help him down, and decided that it would. "Would you like me to help you down, Ulysses? Those who are not air manipulators don't get to experience the feeling of weightlessness often, unless they are falling to their death. But that won't happen to you. You will not be the first man I kill."

Setting

3 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Iaira Blackmont Character Portrait: Ulysses the Seared Character Portrait: Neiu Lynn
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Iaira made her way back to where she had left Ulysses' and their...admirer, undoubtedly frustrated that they had lost one of their targets. The city of Drakon slowly seemed to rustle into wakefulness around her, lights in high windows, a distant howl somewhere in the distance. Event the dogs in this city were restless. She heard the low rumble of military boots on pavement, male voices speaking in a harsh accent. When she elected they were close enough, she pressed herself deeper into the wall of a narrow alley, awaiting them to pass.
It wasn't long before she found them; they were on the roof, and the stranger figure had pooled its hood down, revealing a seemingly young girl. Iaira pulled herself back into the safe shadow of Ioreth's threshold and awaited their descend, resting her back on the stone wall, briefly shifting to adjust her weight on one leg, arms crossing over her chest.

Setting

3 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Iaira Blackmont Character Portrait: Ulysses the Seared Character Portrait: Neiu Lynn
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"Oh, aren't you a gent?" He said, fixing his top hat and laughing.
"I'm afraid I will have to turn you down, my dear."
Ulysses began to jump down on the windowledge where he had climbed up, and let go. He hit the ground with a large force that sent a shockwave of pain through his legs and into his chest.
"Remind me not to do that again." He said, brushing himself off. He looked once more at his father's house, and saw Iaira. He waved frantically to hopefully amuse her but he couldn't see her face in the darkness.
"There's my companion, now." He said, walking over to Iaira.
"Where in the hells did you go? I had to talk to the wind girl. She's a mage, too, you know. Quite nice, actually. Rather funny." He said excitedly.
"So? Where have you been?"

Setting

3 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Iaira Blackmont Character Portrait: Ulysses the Seared Character Portrait: Neiu Lynn
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Iaira scoffed and pushed herself off the wall, brushing some wall-dust off the top of her shoulder before regarding Ulyesses and arching her neck to look behind him to the 'wind girl' who was bound to be bouncing off after him. 'Such enthusiasm. Is that a flicker of emotion in your voice? Never heard it before, that girl must be a mage indeed.'
She kept her voice steady and nudged the book of Dryjhna tighter beneath her cloak, her elbow feeling the hard edge of the muslin-wrapped book. Iaira could taste the annoyance in her voice and the bitter metal that tainted it as she walked into the light. 'It might have slipped your attention, love, but we are not exactly going to have a tour through Raraku...the saying 'the more, the merrier' doesn't apply in our case.'

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"You're saying you want rid of her? She might be of use, no matter how much we do not trust her. Her power is of the wind. If I can teach her what I was taught, I can help her learn how to channel her power fully. She will be as powerful as I. I have read about it, air manipulation. It is dangerous, as with every Magi art. But she..." Ulysses paused for a moment and leaned in closer to Iaira's ear, so that Neiu would possibly not hear.
"...She's not from the tower. She's an apostate. I don't like that one bit. Besides, she was following us. But maybe she knows something that we don't, Iaira." Ulysses turned around to face the sky.
"Quite ironically, I feel a shift in the winds. Something is going to happen. Something... bad." He stood there in silence for a few more moments before scratching the back of his head and turning back to Iaira.
"Sorry about that."
Ulysses noticed a rectangular shape underneath Iaira's cloak.
"Hiding something? A book, is it? I like books. Care to share it?"

Setting

3 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Iaira Blackmont Character Portrait: Ulysses the Seared Character Portrait: Neiu Lynn
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As the pyromancer and the Shadow Dancer spoke quietly in the shadow of the blacksmith's doorway, Neiu attempted to listen in. But although the street was narrow, their murmured voices did not carry well in the wind. Once, Ulysesses voice rose, but it fell again as the girl intervened. What she said, Neiu could not decipher, but the tone betrayed nothing positive. She stepped out into the light then, and Neiu had a true chance to take in her form. She was slight as well, with hair as black as scholar's ink. The slant of her eyes told Neiu that she, like her, was not from this city. But they were hardened against her. Neiu would have trouble convincing this one of her.. Well, lack of ill intent at the very least.
Neiu opened her mouth to speak, but the pyromancer's reply came too quickly for Neiu to interrupt. She moved back into the shadows of the house opposite and slipped the scarf down, to uncover her mouth and nose. She breathed in deeply, appreciating for the first time that night, the coolness of the night breezes. It was like dipping her face into a chilled stream after a day of work out in the fields. She flicked some loose strands of hair out of her face as she began, quite reluctantly, to rewind the scarf around her face. Be that it was made of silk, it stifled her.

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3 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Iaira Blackmont Character Portrait: Ulysses the Seared Character Portrait: Neiu Lynn
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Iaira's eyes widened in mocking disbelief. 'Oh! You wish to teach her how to be as powerful as you are in order to make her job easier? How sweet of you,' she walked at his front, shooting the girl a hostile glance before she turned her back to her. Iaira shoved Ulysses backwards, towards the ancient-looking stone wall, before she followed with two quick steps. 'How sweet of you to want to give a stranger the means to have us killed. I let you blow our cover. Twice. I joined you in the killing of those Gral. But to Hood if I will let you have me killed because nobody ever bothered to teach caution in the Magi Tower!'
She chose to grasp the chance and ignore his question, rather divert him with her not-all-too-genuine anger. Her rash movements had contributed in concealing the Book further, the flaps of her tunic falling to her sides. Concealed in darkness as she was, the outline would be barely -if not at all- visible.
Iaira raised her gaze to the mask once more, eyes flaring with rage. Her hands shot up to grip the front of his shirt tightly. As she pulled him forwards towards herself, she leaned in, her face so close to his concealed one he'd most likely be able to feel the trickle of her breath. When she spoke, her voice was not louder than a hiss. 'You contradict yourself, Ulysses. You know what I do? How I survived this long with an Empire on my heels? Whenever I knew something bad was going to happen, something horrible, I tracked down the root of it and extirpate it, I cut it down from its stem and leave nothing behind. That's how you stay alive, not by befriending the danger.' She let go of his clothes, opening and closing her fingers as if to grasp the nightly air. 'No matter what they taught in your little Tower, it's all different out here. Out here,' she continued, head cocking towards the small girls' direction, 'There is a threat in every corner. And if you wish to be merciful, well I have news for you. Mercy is outdated.'

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3 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Iaira Blackmont Character Portrait: Ulysses the Seared Character Portrait: Neiu Lynn
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Ulysses grabbed hold of her hand and spun around, so that Iaira was now against the wall.
"If she is to attempt to kill us, I would like it to be fair, and if you allow yourself to be killed by her, Iaira, then that much is your fault. I, myself? I'm not going to be killed by a apostate."
He let go of her hand and stepped backward, pointing a finger very close to Iaira's face.
"There is nothing in the art more powerful than pyromancy, girl. She cannot stop the Flame of Chaos, no matter how much wind she can move. And another thing: Unlike you, I face my dangers up front. I do not cling to the shadows and hide away. Mercy is what kills quickest, my dear, I am aware. That is my weakness. We all have one. If I am to die because of that, so be it."
He took his hand away from her face and turned around.
"I try to respect everyone I come across, Iaira, friend or foe. Respect holds honour. Something I am sure you know of."
He looked once more at the small girl and then again at Iaira.
"We must set off now. Whether or not you still wish to travel with me is your choice. If you do, however, I warn you, I might just get you killed." He said with a laugh before walking off into the street, singing a low tune to himself.

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3 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Iaira Blackmont Character Portrait: Ulysses the Seared Character Portrait: Neiu Lynn
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Too much overconfidence, and soon enough I'll be burning your body, she thought begrudgingly, tugging at the fabric of her sleeve to straighten her tunic. Let him think she ran. It'd serve her cause delightfully. Yes... the Pyromancer had no knowledge of her House, no knowledge of Dassem or even Ammanas. No knowledge of the Talon itself. He could preach all he wanted about respect and honour, so long as he had never had to face the price for it. Of course, Iaira did not wish to blow her cover...she would maintain her suspcious attitude of the girl- though she was fairly certain that a wind-manipulator had no business with her. No, if anything, she would be after him. And if she were to advance against Ulysses, well, he was the one who respected her too much.
Iaira scoffed and followed Ulysses into the dim light of the dawn. Without even glancing at the girl, she crossed her arms, 'The walls are crowded with symbols. I'd guess no more than a week, then the streets run red. And we don't want to be here when that happens,' she said, then looked up at Ulysses. 'We've horses secured, along with supplies. Provided we have a steady pace, we should be nearing the Odhan by then. Safer out there.'
She eyed her companion, then spared a glance for the girl. 'The hands on the walls?' She grunted. 'You must have noticed them. Symbols of insurrection aplenty, meeting places announced, ritual to Dryjhna advertised- I can read all of that as well as any other native. But those unhuman handprints are something else entirely. They seem to indicate a direction. South.'
A pause.
'Pan'potsun Odhan,' Iaira said. 'It's a convergence.'
But we're expecting the rebellion. In fact, we're counting on it. Iaira wanted to be at heart of things. It's always been her way. This time, the hance literally fell into her lap. The Book of Dryjhna holds the heart of the Whirlwind Goddess- to begin the Apocalypse, it needs to be opened, by the Seeress and no-one else. Iaira knew it might well be suicidal, but she'd deliver that Hood-cursed book into Sha'ik's hands and so add another crack in Ammanas' crumbling control.
Iaira straightened eyes on the fading stars glittering overhead. Desert stars, sharp diamonds that ever seemed eager to draw blood. Hood's breath, I'm not looking forward to this.

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3 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Iaira Blackmont Character Portrait: Ulysses the Seared Character Portrait: Neiu Lynn
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Neiu did not have to hear their words to recognise a disagreement. She grimaced at the wall, tucking her hair into her scarf. She couldn't afford allowing them to split. She had already overstepped her role as their shadow. To fail while doing so would ensure her punishment. But were she able to keep the Small Order informed, she hoped they would overlook her disobedience.
Ulysses strode out of the shadows, a tune on his lips, a false air to his steps. Neiu's eyes slid over him, to the shadows where she hoped the girl waited. "Ulysses? What have you decided to do? The town, it's waking." She said quietly, when he reached her. Almost as an answer, the Shadow Dancer stepped out and began to walk toward them. She did not look at Neiu, as she crossed her arms over her chest and read the walls. Neiu sighed in resignation. She wondered how long it would take for her to treat her as a companion.
At news of the rebellion, Neiu bit her lip. The Small Order would not miss her in that regard. She was a scout, not a soldier. Yet she had not bade farewell to her close ones before leaving, believing she would be back before the Rebellion hit. It did not seem as though she would see them for many moons. She looked at her feet, hiding the lines of worry written across her forehead. Now was not the time to be anxious. "I have no objections." Straightening up, she looked at the girl. "Except one, perhaps. May I have the name of my new companion?"

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Character Portrait: Iaira Blackmont Character Portrait: Ulysses the Seared Character Portrait: Neiu Lynn
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Oh, she's playing shy now, ain't she? Iaira had always hated such girls. Pouring sickly sweetness all over their alabaster, doll-like demeanour, just looking eagerly for the perfect spot on your back to stab you. Small little voices to match their small lovely smiles, smiles that never were genuine enough to reach their eyes. She shrugged it off. The journey was a necessity, not a choice, and perhaps she could prove useful. Men always fell for the innocent act.
Iaira turned to face the wind mage, taking in her small frame, and locking her own eyes into dark pits that were hers. 'Blackmont. Iaira. Since you're an apostate the name might ring a bell, now,' she stepped closer, leaning slightly towards the girl so that their eyes were level. Her hand gripped her jaw firmly and tilted her face so that she had no choice but to look at her, 'You're a pretty little thing, really. Lovely face, such clear lines, you're the dream of an artist.' Iaira brought her lips closer to her ear, her breath trickling her light skin, 'It would be a shame if you were to use that shapely mouth of yours to rant about such an ominous name, no? I would have to take this sharp blade here,' her voice was thinner now, almost childlike, 'and carve out your big, wide eyes, one by one.' She smiled cheerfully and let go of her jaw, turning to plant a soft kiss on her cheek before straightening, back arching. 'Your name, love?'

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Character Portrait: Iaira Blackmont Character Portrait: Ulysses the Seared Character Portrait: Neiu Lynn
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She did not reply immediately. Neiu was on the verge of asking again, to implore her not to pretend that she was not there. But she fulfilled the unspoken request before Neiu opened her mouth. Black eyes met hers. Never had she seen such distrust. Not since the last time she saw her parents' eyes. The Shadow Dancer spit her name out as if it were venom. To Neiu's ears, they were. Blackmont. The Small Order sent her to watch over Iaria Blackmont. The lost daughter of Dassem, a leader murdered and his House disgraced. To be her companion would be throwing her lot in a political whirlpool that Neiu had no leave to be in. No wonder they told her to steer clear of all contact.
Shaken as she was, Neiu was aware of Iaira Blackmont's grip on her jaw, forcing her to look straight at her as she spoke. Her eyes grazed Neiu's face like the sharpened point of a blade. Would that Neiu could take the air from Iaira's lungs until she fell to her feet. But for the second time that night, she forced herself to cower under the power of another. She blinked furiously as Iaira let go of her face and took a couple little steps backwards, until she collided into the dusty wall behind them.
"Neiu. They named me Neiu." She rubbed her chin with the back of her hand. "It is a name unknown. Unlike yours. But as you so kindly requested, I will not speak of you. It was unnecessary, I must say. I'm a apostate, as you said, although I dislike that term." She began to unwind her scarf slowly, to bare her face. "I prefer...nomad."

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Character Portrait: Iaira Blackmont Character Portrait: Ulysses the Seared Character Portrait: Neiu Lynn
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Nomad. Ulysses scoffed.
"You're an apostate. You're most probably on the run from the authorities with no respect for your art, and no proper training."
Ulysses looked over at the two girls with his hands upon his hips.
"Nevermind. Even little kittens can scratch, eh?" Ulysses said, walking towards them slowly.
"I think perhaps we should go soon, Iaira. It is getting light." He waved his hand to the side.
"She was watching us, Iaira. She saw us kill the Gral, she is a witness. It is probably best to do what you wish to the girl. You'll probably want to slice her throat and leave her here. But we could always gag her and tie her up. Take her along. Though, it is getting light, and we might not have time for foreplay before an audience arrives. Though, Iaira, for some reason, I don't think that would bother you."
The teethy grin on Ulysses' mask was replicated on his face as he chuckled slightly at his own joke.
"I will go ahead, and wait at the Eastern gates. I'll leave you to decide what to do to her."
Ulysses turned and began to walk away, raising his right arm and waving it in the air.
"So long." He said, followed by a loud and obnoxious laugh, the clicking of his heels against the floor as he walked revealed that Ulysses had a surprisingly excited spring in his step.

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Character Portrait: Iaira Blackmont Character Portrait: Ulysses the Seared Character Portrait: Neiu Lynn
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She was starting to think Ulysses had even more flowing beneath the surface, some lunatic side that he let emerge on rare occasions. Or that he was testing her. But she had a lot more to deal with than Ulysses' little plots. Iaira eyed the girl thougtfully, her head tilted to the side like a child who is wondering what would happen if she took one more step... Her hand brushed the hilt of her carved long-knives absentmindedly, the digits of her fingertips grazing by the familiar surface.
In any case, killing her would be a lot easier and a lot quieter once they were in the desert. Nobody knew and nobody cared for an apostate. She could simply have been one of the many victims of the Apocalypse, another sacrifice for the Holy War of Dryjhna.
'Well move along, then. We have a lot of work to do. And time's running at our heels.'
Iaira swung around. She slid a hand through the drapes of her silk-cloak to secure the Book of Dryjhna beneath it. Running indeed.


Like an enormous wall, the sandstorm descended down the west slope of the Estara Hills and approached the coastal road with a deathly moan. While such inland storms were rare on the peninsula, Iaira had faced their wrath before. His first task was to leave the road. It ran too close to the sea cliff in places, and such cliffs were known to collapse.
The stallion complained as she angled him down the road's scree bank. For a thick-muscled, vicious beast, the horse was overfond of comforts. The sands were hot, the footing treacherous with hidden sinkholes. Ignoring the stallion's neck tugs and head-tossing, he drove him down and onto the basin, then kicked the animal into a canter.
A league and a half ahead was Ladro Langing, and beyond that, on the banks of a seasonal river, Ladro Keep. Iaira did not plan on staying there if she could help it. The Keep's commander was Aetherian, and so tood were his guards. If she could, the assassin would outrun the worst of the storm, hoping to regain the coastal road beyond the Keep, then continue on south to the village of Intesarm.
Keening, the ochre wall drew the horizon on Iaira's elft ever closer. The hills had vanished. A turgid gloom curtained the sky. The flap and skitter of fleeing rhizan surrounded her. Hissing a curse, the assassin spurred the stallion into a gallop.
As much as she detested horse in principle, the animal was magnificent when in full stride, seeming to flow effortlessly over the ground with a rhtyhm forgiving of Iaira's modest skills. She come no closer to admitting a growing affections towards the stallion.
As she rode, she glanced to see the edge of the storm less than a hundred paces away. There would be no outrunning it. A swriling breaker of whipped sand marked where the wind met the ground. Iaira saw fist-sized rocks in that rolling surf. The wall would crash over them within minutes. Its roar filled the air.
'How are you two darlings back there?' she shouted, her voice barely audible through the explosive sound of the sandstorm approaching them.

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Character Portrait: Iaira Blackmont Character Portrait: Ulysses the Seared Character Portrait: Neiu Lynn
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Neiu looked behind, sand half blinding her. The poor beast beneath her could not outrun the beast behind them. He galloped hard, pressed by her merciless heels, his sweat mixing with hers as she lay flat against his back. But still, the wall of sand advanced, the area between them dispersing. "We must stop!" The wind ripped the words from her mouth. "I can provide shelter, just please, stop." Sand coated her tongue. She looked to Ulysses. She could not tell how he was faring, his mask grinning eerily in the dimming light. He was closer to her than Iaira was. She guided the horse in his direction with one hand, while she raised the other into the air. The sand stung worse than a hive of bees, but grimacing, she shook away the sleeve covering it. The air around her was hard to control, but as she neared Ulysses, she had a firm grasp of it. Flexing her fingers, the sand was pressed away from her hand. Again, she twisted her fingers and the bubble grew until it encompassed her entire arm. Gasping, she yelled aloud to catch his attention. She had control of the air around her entire body, but she pushed further to protect her steed. Without the sand slapping him, he moved more smoothly, but the sudden change spooked him. He jerked his head, fighting her control. "We need to stop!" She screamed again, the control she had slipping as she concentrated more on the horse. She knew that she would lose sight of Iaira within seconds, even Ulysses if she was not careful. "Blackmont! Stop!"

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Character Portrait: Neiu Lynn
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Sherah strode through the passageways, her pace quickened by emotion. The robes she wore, white as a symbol of her proficiency in air manipulation, swirled around her feet, kicked and dragged about by their rapid movement. With a frustrated sigh, she lifted them up with a jerk of her hand. Had students been around, she would have never done so. Casually using one's abilities to do mundane jobs was look down upon. Fiercely. As a teacher, she especially could not be seen breaking one of the most fundamental rules of the Small Order. But the students were all sound asleep in their beds, on the other side of the compound. Their day had finished.
On reaching her destination, Sherah breathed in deeply. It was a thick wooden door, made of expensive oak, imbedded in rock. Its hinges were golden, and thinly scrawled designs sprung across the wood from each. They were illegible to her, but it was said they told a story in a language long since forgotten. It was unlike any language she had ever studied. Even the design of the door was ancient. She did not knock on the door, but she pushed it open slightly. After a pause, it opened by itself, a quiet invitation to enter.
She knew no kind winds blew on the news she would receive within this study. She would leave these same door with a heavier heart. But there was no stopping it. Stepping inside, Sherah nodded her head to the ground as a simple sign of respect and then straightened up. There was a short corridor that opened up to a circular study before her. Within a couple strides, she was in the middle of the study. The occupant of the study sat on a straight backed chair, staring straight ahead at the sofa where visitors were expected to sit.
Sherah did not sit. "Jaya came to us today. With news. She watched as Neiu left the city with two unknown companions. As far as I knew, she was on a scouting trip."
"You were correct."
"Scouting does not involve interacting with your subjects."
"She was told not to. Explicitly."
"She is my student, I demand to know what she is doing, leaving the city limits with the gale of the Rebellion about to break down our gates."
"Neiu is not a natural deceiver. She is a natural survivor. We mislead her so that she would deceive them in turn, far more successfully than she would have had she the time to overthink her task."
Sherah exhaled sharply through her nose. "Neiu is not ready. Birds nudge their chicks out of their nests, aye, but they stay with them as they flail about clumsily. You are throwing Neiu out of the garden, into the desert, leaving her to fend for herself."
"Neiu chose to dedicate her life to our cause."
"That does not mean she must give it up so soon!"
"That girl is a wisp of air caught up in Sha'ik's whirlpool. Where the Goddess takes her is where she's meant to go. Do you question her?"
"No, I question you."
"The Small Order welcomes honest feedback, but you must remember with whom you're speaking to."
Sherah ground her teeth in frustration. "What will I tell those who ask where she has gone?"
"Her place in this Rebellion lay elsewhere."
Sherah nodded curtly. That was as good an answer as she expected to get. She moved around the sofa and sat down across from the high backed chair. "We have other matters to discuss as well."
"Not at this hour. Go to your quarters. We will speak tomorrow." The voice almost seemed to soften. "You will need your rest."
Sherah pushed herself up again. "I greatly doubt I will sleep soundly, but I will go. Please watch over her."
"Keep her in your prayers, and Sha'ik will care for her."
Sherah paused. Then she nodded again. "For she is all knowing in her mercy."
A breeze passed over her face like a blessing. She took that as her cue to go. Readjusting her robes, she swept out and closed the oak door behind her with a heavy heart.

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Character Portrait: Iaira Blackmont
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