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Allison Blake

"The world becomes such a beautiful place once you learn to close your eyes."

0 · 1,022 views · located in Newhaven

a character in “Shadows of The Forgotten”, as played by Blackbird26

Groups

Group of assassins exiled from the Wolfpack

Description

Full Name: Allison “Ali” Blake

Affiliation: Mercenary/Freelance Assassin

Gender: Female

Age: 20

Ability (if enlightened): Allison has the ability to enhance or nullify any one of her senses at will. However, when she enhances one sense she loses another. And if she wishes not feel pain she will become sensitive to sounds or light. She has control of her abilities most of the time, but sometimes when she closes her eyes at night, her hearing can become extremely sensitive, which makes it hard for her to sleep. She can shut off her pain for quite some time, but she has found that when she stops shutting it down, it tends to return with twice the intensity if she keeps it up for long.

Description: Allison is about 169cm tall and is slightly below what would be her ideal weight, mostly due to the fact that if she’s on an assignment or concentrated on something she will simply forget food and water until it’s done. She has white skin, and even though she has been more and more exposed to sunlight lately, she doesn’t seem to tan and, if not careful, she tends to get sunburnt. Wavy blonde hair fall just past her shoulder to her mid-back, and her bright blues eyes tend sparkle an even more brighter color when she’s in a good mood. Overall, she is the kind of girl who easily stands out in a crowd, wasn't for the fact that she usually goes out of her way to avoid them. And she would definitely clean up nice if she bothered to do so. However, the only times she was ever spotted in a dress were when it was necessary to fulfill an assignment.

She has a scar on her right hand were a dagger went through it. She still can't fully close that hand into a fist and she cannot put too much strength in it.

Reference image: Resembles her, clothing and annoyed expression included, lol. – I do not own this image. All credit goes to the artist

Theme Song 01: Paramore - Careful
Theme song 02: Paramore - Turn it Off
Theme Song 03: Paramore – Misguided Ghosts
Theme Song 04: RED - Let it Burn
Theme Song 05: Three Days Grace - Never Too Late

Personality

Ali has grown a little more sociable; however, it depends on her mood. If caught in a moment when she wants to be alone she can be impolite or even aggressive. Chances are she’ll apologize later, but in that moment the best one can do is walk away.
When in a good mood, she is very friendly; always up for a good conversation and possibly a few laughs. Although she doesn’t like talking about herself all that much, Ali is a very good listener and is always interested to know more about people.
When her friends are concerned, Ali is extremely loyal and supportive, but if she believes they are about to make a mistake or are acting like idiots she won't hesitate to say so.

Ali has formed her own opinions on life and the world as she has gained a few years of experience, however she sees no point in voicing them, even less preaching them to others. And she doesn't appreciate it when people try to tell her how she should think or live her life.

Equipment

Weapons: Ali usually carries two daggers on her waist,three hidden throwing knives and a longbow which is a family heirloom.

Primary weapon: Bow and arrow.

Ali's bow belonged to her older brother and was crafted by his hands, it is her most precious possession and she has been known to break some fingers to keep people's hands away from it. It is a black bow with a silver-lined grip It. is a 1,6m long traditional military longbow that has a 120lbs pull to it. And Ali can draw it, and actually hold it drawn for long periods of time. Mostly because she trains to do it since she was 10. This bow can fire arrows at distances as far as 400m.

She also keeps at least 20 arrows always with her, in a small leather quiver she keeps tied around her waist. Her arrows are made of birch, painted black, with white goose feathers. The arrow heads are crafted out of metal and shaped as though to cause the most damage if yanked out.


Other: Her graduation ring.

History

BackgroundAli was born in a village outside of Blackhurst territory. Although the city had already been destroyed by time the girl was born, she was brought up hearing stories of the city and its people. When she was only 10 years old the village was attacked by the Newhaven army, for reasons still unknown to her, and burned down to the ground. Allison's older brother, Alex, managed to rescue her from their burning home, but was killed by a soldier moments after. After watching her brother die and all she knew burn to ashes, the girl sat watching the soldiers go by, none of them seemed to even notice her there. After a long period of shock, Ali stood up, and finding a knife that had been dropped nearby, marched in the direction the soldier had heading, finding them camped in a clearing on the outskirts of the forest. The girl stabbed three soldiers, killing two of them, before fleeing with a black bow in her hands; her brother’s bow. Ali looks back to that moment as the first time she should have died and she imagines the soldiers must have taken pity on her, or failed to find her in the woods.

Months after escaping the soldiers, Ali ran into Crystal; which means that she observed the camp the blind assassin had made, in hopes to steal food or maybe some gold out of her. She believed she had gotten away with the few supplies she’d stolen, but Crys caught up to her two days later and, after asking some questions, offered her the opportunity to join the Wolfpack. Not really having anywhere to go, Ali accepted that offer.

Her training was problematic to in the first couple of years, and even after graduated to Active, Ali seemed unable to deal with the shadows of her past, and the anger provoked by them. It led to her harming people on several occasions with minimum provocation.
When the Shadow began killing Enlightened and implicating the Pack, Ali wouldn’t have been appointed to get involved, hadn’t Evin chosen her to go with him to Newhaven to look for the Shadow Hunter. She and Evin met Theron a lot sooner than they expected, in the Pack Inn in Newhaven. The man wasn’t really what Ali had imagined he would be; he seemed a bit lost in the very least.

After confronting the man, he challenged Evin to a duel. Place and date set, next day they went to visit an acquaintance of his, only to find the woman dead and the killer in the house. The Shadow escaped, and sent the soldiers after them. The assassins were attacked and the Inn was burnt. Ali froze in when faced with fire, and was then rescued by Theron.

After they returned to camp and Dani forgave Theron for his crimes, she joined the group who trained under the man’s command to hunt down the Shadow.

After the battle that left Newhaven without a ruler, Ali left the Pack camp, with Dani’s consent, and spent close to a year in the White Shadows camp. The young assassin returned to the Wolfpack with a more reasonable attitude, only to hear the news that Dani had died.

While the Pack was struggling to keep itself standing, Crys sent Ali to Newhaven to find information on a possible heir to the throne. There she was discovered and sent to the dungeons, but before that, she discovered a name of a person that might be able to help uncover the truth.

After Crys was attacked, Ali refused to be second in command and remained as an instructor while Sean was promoted to Second. She regretted the decision when it was proved that the man was behind the hit on Crys. When Crys returned and Sean challenged her for command, defeating her, Ali intervened before he managed to kill her and encouraged the actives to help “their true leader”. Some of them helped Crys up, and others followed as Ali escorted the blind woman to the desert.

The three years that past after that night Ali spent training with Indrani to improve her close combat skills. Even though she has improved, and greatly, she still refuses to abandon her faithful bow. She has also taken on the task of training some of the Crimson in archery and leading them through the forest on hunts. On one of those occasions her group was cornered by assassins and Ali was caught. Sean let her go, but killed everyone in her group and stabbed her through the hand. It took her months to recover from the wound and be able to shoot again. Aside from that, not long ago, Sean discovered that Ali had been in contact with her former recruit, and executed the sixteen year old boy for treason, sending the boy’s graduation ring to her in the desert. In spite of feeling responsible for the kid’s death, Ali has her mind set on making Sean pay.

Other: Ali is still incredibly afraid of fire.

So begins...

Allison Blake's Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Indrani Nayar Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Annie Turner Character Portrait: Allison Blake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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[The Ruins – White Shadows encampment]

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Allison Blake Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher

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

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

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

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

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[Assassin’s Camp]

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Annie Turner Character Portrait: Allison Blake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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[The Ruins – White Shadow encampment]

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

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

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

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[Newhaven – Early evening]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Allison Blake Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher

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"Why aren't you and Allison in the woods with the pack?"

Theron had touched a subject Ali knew Crys wanted to avoid. She didn't mind waiting on her friend to sort things out; she had adapted to the desert fairly well. She actually enjoyed the company of the Crimson most times, it didn't take much for the desert ruins to feel much like home; more than the forest could at this point. Even so... Many assassins had been questioning when they were going home, or at least how they would make Sean pay for his betrayal... They were still waiting for Crys to wake up and do something. Ali knew that she was struggling with ideas of revenge, hanging onto to thoughts of what she could have done or should have seen to stop this from happening. It was pointless, and Ali had told her so, but in the end it seemed Crys was going through some strange grieving process of her own. Evin had taunted Sean for not being able to properly kill Crys, but the man had said he wanted her to suffer... And he had got that part just right; no matter how much Crys tried to pretend he hadn't.

After a while of dead silence, Ali and Dastan exchanged a look, and Ali extended that look to Crys; her expression clearly stated that she would handle the questions if Crys wasn't willing to talk and, even though Crys couldn't see it, it was clear that she caught the meaning behind it, because she finally spoke up after that. "A lot can change in four years." She stated simply, lifting her head to face the man. "I'll start from the beginning: About a year after you left, my mother... Died. The exact circumstances of her death is something we don't speak of anymore. The only thing that matters is that she was ill. She had been ill for quite a while, she was probably already ill the last time you saw her." She made a small pause and after a moment continued. "I took command of the clan, and made Evin Second. Not so long after that, weeks, maybe a month, Blackpond attacked the White Shadows and Newhaven at the same time. That night I decided to leave camp and come here, because I knew that the healers that managed to get away would come this way. Halfway down the path I was attacked by three or four assassins that weren't from our camp. I was stabbed and left bleeding on the trail. I was too far away from anything and even if I had the strength to crawl somewhere, I couldn't reach any kind of help." She fiddled with the Katana and for a moment seemed to be lost in thought, but then she carried on. "I would have died there, but Dastan was moving his people back into the desert and they found me. They carried me here and one of the healers treated me. I was very close to dying from the blood loss and, I was told, my heart stopped a couple of time, I don't remember any of it though. A month passed and everyone, aside from Dastan's people and the healer, thought I was dead. I was kept guarded so that I wouldn't get out of bed rest, but I managed to escape the camp as soon as I could walk." She gave a half smiled and added. "Now, it was foolish of me to go back knowing I wasn't in perfect health, but I knew that the person who had ordered the hit on me was from the Pack, and I had been gone a month, not knowing what had happened in the meantime. So... I went back and I exposed the little bastard for what he did and then he revealed the biggest and baddest secret ever kept by my family..." She said, sarcasm clear in her tone for a moment before fading. "He told the clan who my father really was when my mother so foolishly brought him to the clan. He told them the truth that what happened that damned night when so many of our people were killed was a consequence of that. Oh, yes, of course... The worse part of it: My mother didn't execute you in front of the whole clan, like they wanted her to." She stated with a frown. Then she heaved a sigh. "Well, he challenged me for command. I almost defeated him, but I still wasn't well and all it took was one good hit to bring me down. He would have killed me then, but Ali intervened and managed to get some actives on our side. They followed us here and we have been here ever since."

Ali nodded in agreement. "Evin is here too, although, I'm not sure where he's gone, it's been a while since I last spotted him..."

Not long after Ali said that, the man's voice sounded in the building: "What's going on?"

Ali chuckled. "Huh, speaking of which." She said standing up and heading towards where the voice had come from. "I'll be back." She said over her shoulder walking towards the entrance and finding Evin rather quickly. She grinned and tilted her head to one side cheerfully. "You're not allowed in here, you know?" Then her expression turned a little more serious as she noticed some drops of blood on the ground. Looking back up, she walked around Evin and notice a slash on the back of his clothes and a cut on his back that seemed to have been caused by a throwing knife. "What kind of trouble have you been causing this time?" She asked curiously. "You're bleeding a little bit. Don't know about you, but the first thing I was told as a recruit was 'never turn your back on a target'. I also suggest you hide that from Crys, at least for a while, she's not in the best of moods." Then she turned towards the hall were the others were gathered and added. "Theron's back. Everyone is this way." She informed casually, beginning to walk back.

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[Assassin's Camp]

The active named Eric was lying in his bed on his stomach when Sean entered his cabin unannounced. The man had his face buried on his pillow, the wounds on his back covered with bandages. Sean stood for a moment watching the man carefully, before pulling a chair to sit next to the bed. "I'm very sorry things had to get to this point." Sean told the man. "But you do see that this is your fault, right? I could have you accused of treason for letting that traitor sit beside you while you violated the clan rules."
Eric simply nodded in agreement. It had been his fault, he knew that. If he hadn't been drinking, if he hadn't let his guard down... Maybe things would have happened differently. "I know that." He mumbled. "Won't happen again, sir."
"Oh, I'm sure it won't. Sean agreed. "As a matter of fact, I know exactly how you can redeem yourself. If you are willing, that is. It's a risky assignment, to say the least."
Eric raised his head from the pillow to face his leader. "How? What can I do?" He asked, visibly eager to make up for his mistakes. Even after what he had just been put through.
Sean smiled at the man. "Good. I'm glad you are willing to take a risk for the clan, but for now you should rest. We'll discuss it better in the morning."

Leaving the cabin, Sean gathered the active and announced Avius as his new Second. He also reinforced the fact that any Crimson that crossed the limits of the desert into the forest should be killed on sight. No more warnings. "One more thing..." Sean added to the end of his instructions. "Any of the traitors seen in the territory is to be immediately killed... Except Allison." An angered expression darkened his features as he spoke the former Instructor's name. "I want her brought to me, alive." He ordered, before dismissing the assassins to their duties. He had a score or two to settle with Allison, especially now. If Evin had attacked his sister because of Ali's recruit... Only fair that she paid the price for what he did. Sean would make sure of that.

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[Forest - Near the Newhaven walls]

Luckas waited for the effects of the medicine to decrease a little bit, but as soon as the chance presented itself he had sneaked out of the White Shadows' camp. He still wanted to see the files, but Annie was hard to convince and he would rather keep her trusting him, for whatever odd reason. So first he decided to follow a different lead. He could always come back to the plains if needed... Newhaven was better to visit now while things were quiet, or at least appeared quiet. Wandering distracted through the trees, not minding where he was going, as long as it was in the direction of the city, he only noticed that maybe he had crossed some boundaries when a man approached him. "Hey, kid! What are you doing here?" The man asked. Luke turned to him and grinned, this man, who looked like some sort of mercenary, believed that he was lost probably. It was usual for people to assume he was harmless, a scrawny, weak looking, boy who walked around visibly unarmed. What threat could he possibly pose to an armed warrior? "Whose encampment is this?" Luckas asked, still grinning as if he had just been offered a huge bag of treats.
"I asked you a question first, boy. Why. Are. You. Here?" The man retorted, now letting one hand rest on the hilt of a sword.
Luckas tilted his head to one side in curiosity. "I'm passing through, not that it's any of your business. Now, tell me the truth: Whose encampment it this?"
"This is the Salamanders' encampment." The man responded immediately, eyes widening in shock as he realized he had no choice but to tell the young intruder the truth.
"Salamanders?" Luckas scratched his head. "Huh... Never heard of it..." He mumbled, thinking over the information. "Hey, freeze!" He ordered, as he caught sight of the mercenary drawing his sword. He turned his attention to the man fully, letting out a slightly psychotic giggle as the man was now unable to move. "Now, now..." Luckas said with a small chuckle. "You had to go and do that? I thought we were just chatting... Getting to know each other... No pointy objects involved. But, if you insist..." He started, snatching the sword off the man's hands and examining it carefully. "I can take time off my busy schedule to maybe play for a minute or two, even three if you last that long." He looked at the man's eyes and could see that he was probably desperately trying to move. "It won't work. Doesn't matter how hard you try, you'll only be free again if I allow it." He shrugged. "I might, but then I might not..." He said tapping his chin and pretending to think about it. "Decisions, decisions..." He chanted, cheerfully, pressing the tip of the blade against the man's cheek. After a another second he slid the blade down his face, grazing his skin, but not yet breaking it. "I'm in a good mood, and you have amused me, so... I suppose I'll let you live." He stated, putting the man's sword back in its sheet, before grabbing him by the collar. He turned the man's face to his and, staring him in the eyes, he erased any memory of the encounter. Once done, he sent the man on his way, waiting a few minutes before continuing to wander into the encampment, whistling to himself.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Allison Blake

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Ali heaved an annoyed sigh as Evin pushed her aside and walked past her into the room. She was about to follow after him, but stopped as she heard a scream and felt the ground shake. Before she started walking again Theron walked past her towards the temple entrance. Ali shook her head and simply kept walking into the room. As she passed Evin she patted his back where she knew he was hurt and whispered: “Pain is good for you.”
She didn’t care that the man seemed angered and she wasn’t making it better: She didn’t appreciate being pushed. Plus she didn’t want Evin to get all worked up about what was happening and forget to treat the injury.

Sitting down where she had been seated before she heaved another sigh. “Well… This is nice, huh? Just like the good old days.” She couldn’t help the sarcasm in her tone. The silence left in the room was just overwhelming. Finally she sighed and turned to Crys. “I know Evin is angry, but what are you?”

“I don’t know yet.” She stated, standing up and leaving after Theron, attaching the sheathed sword to her belt as she walked.

Ali nodded, turning to Dastan and changing the subject completely. “One of the men got caught on the hunt this morning. I’m assuming Indrani will come to you soon in order to arrange a funeral for him.” She told the man. “If I had gone with them…”
“That’s between you and Crys.” Dastan cut her off. “If she says you should stay away from the Pack, I think you should listen.”
“He’s going to take it out on your people. He’ll do whatever it takes to draw us out.”
Dastan shook his head in disagreement. “My men have their orders, Allison. They’re adults and very well trained in spite what some of you people may think.” He stated, simply. “They know the risks and they know them very well. So, if you have something to say to Crys, or if you want to ignore her orders to you… Be my guest, but you’re not hunting with my men, and you’re not dragging me into this discussion of yours.” He stood up and looked from Allison to Evin. “Look, I won’t even bother asking what the hell just happened here… Just… Keep the damn earthquakes to a minimum, will you? Last thing we need is more crumbling buildings.” With that said, he walked out. Ali knew she had upset him by bringing the whole thing up again, but she was tired of seeing it happen. Jackson was an experienced hunter and an excellent tracker, but he had no clue how to think ahead of a human predator. It didn’t matter what precautions he took, the Pack would get to him eventually.

A few minutes after Dastan left, Ali stood up as well and stretched as she did so. The good mood she had been in was long gone. She was angry at Crys for making her stay put, and frustrated with what had just happened between her friends. Finally she began to leave the room with an expression on her face that made her disappointment very clear: Evin was being a selfish prick, Crys was just being a coward… Again, and she had enough of it for one day. “I’m getting something to eat.” She mumbled, mostly to herself, as she crossed the door.

By the time Allison reached the center of the encampment, preparations were being made for yet another victim of the assassins. These occurrences had been so frequent in the past few years that the assassins already knew exactly how the Crimson sent their kinsmen to the afterlife. Ali was less than pleased with the fact that they burned their dead, but she really couldn’t do anything except keep distance from the ceremonies whenever they occurred, paying her respects from a distance. Absently she walked to the heart of the camp where the cooks were serving bowls of rabbit stew. She nodded at one of the older women of the clan as the woman offered her food and suggested that maybe she wasn’t feeding herself properly, a grin escaping her as she accepted the food and walked away. Apparently cooks were the same in every encampment; they never seem to think she had enough to eat. Admittedly, she hadn’t eaten all day, but she was more than used to it. She sat on a rock a little bit further from the crowds and began eating quietly, discouraging conversation, and watching as the Crimson mourned the death of another brave warrior.

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Crys left the ruins and simply followed Theron to where he had gone, she didn’t know what the building was, or used to be, but she knew that the Crimson had no use for it. She knew that everything she had told the man had been painful to him, but that couldn’t be helped. There was no amount of sugar coating that would make anything better. It was just the way it was.

She stood around the man, not minding what he was doing and silent for quite some time. She didn’t really mind that Theron had left them four years ago. If her mother had given him permission who was she to disagree? And she wasn’t angry that he was back, not really. She just didn’t understand why now. It didn’t look like he had come back just to see how they were doing, although she didn’t doubt that it was on his list somewhere. “So, you’re Theron Lockwood, huh?” She said absently. “Funny. The Theron Lockwood I remember would have given me a scolding for behaving the way you just did. ‘Never let your emotions control you’, he would have said, you know, before continuing to beat the shit out of me” She stated, an amused smile beginning to unwillingly spread across her features. “I have plenty to ask, once everyone is calm, but right now I just want to know one thing from you: Have you faced your moment of truth?”

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[Newhaven]

Jake frowned deeply as the woman began to move towards Ella, but all he did was move as well, keeping the exact same distance between the visitor and himself at all times. The strange woman’s words caused him to frown even deeper, as she mentioned the Pack. What could be big enough about the Pack that the King of Blackpond would send someone to Newhaven to discuss? And this woman: It was obvious that she wasn’t a servant, but she also didn’t seem to care if the lie sounded coherent, which meant she was probably prepared for an attack somehow. He didn’t like it one bit.

"Noble gentleman," she said, holding one hand out to him, "if you may escort me to some place more dry. I'd much rather discuss these matters indoors... if you don't mind." Jake didn’t respond at first, giving Mageria a look that distinctly showed he was concerned. Finally, he crossed his arms over his chest. “I will gladly escort you anywhere you wish, miss. If your entry is granted by the Queen, and it is her wish that I do so.” He responded mimicking the overly polite tone she seemed to be using, and fully aware of the fact he had spoken as if he was a Knight of Newhaven although at the moment he was no such thing. As he kept his eyes locked on the woman, he couldn’t help the thought that she was stunning: It was an undeniable fact. However, it wasn’t enough to make him ignore the sensation that there was something very suspicious in this whole scenario.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Allison Blake

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Crys listened to Theron only understanding half of what he meant, she could tell he had removed some sort of mask he had been wearing, but wasn't sure what was behind it. She understood that, whatever it was, was probably not good by the way he spoke. She simply nodded in response and stated: "One thing I've got is time." Statement after which she turned and left the building. She wasn't one bit curious about the people Theron had brought with him, and if he needed her help for anything she would help once she got the whole story or at least a decent part of it, and not a minute sooner. She said she trusted the man with her life, she had been completely honest in her statement, but there were things she considered far more valuable than her life and, at this moment, she trusted no one with those things aside from Evin and Ali. Absolutely no one.

As she walked outside she found the air beginning to chill as it usually did after sundown. The moods in the encampment strangely divided between the sadness of a funeral and the joys of a party. She walked towards Dastan as he was helping his men build a pyre for their dead brother. "A hunter?" She asked him.
"Yes. Throat slit, a very neat job." He mentioned, in a serious tone. "You'll be hearing it from Allison soon. I already got mine." He informed her.
Dastan sounded serious and completely sober, which were two warning signs to take into consideration. In ten years of knowing Dastan, she had only caught him fully sober a few times, and she had only heard a serious tone from him exactly twice; Once when he had met with her mother on behalf of the Crimson, and once when he insisted that she recovered fully before returning to the Pack, a piece of advice she should have never ignored. "You know, I could move my people out of your territory at anytime. There aren't that many of us to begin with, and we can adapt anywhere." She told him. "There's really no reason to put the Wolfpack against your clan."
Dastan heaved a sigh. "It doesn't work that way." He told her. "You should know us well enough by now to know that. While we couldn't care less for ideals or for what's wrong and right in this world, we're a loyal bunch of scumbags. You can't just walk away and think that would be enough to get rid of us. We picked this battle and we intend to fight it, simple as that." He said firmly, the he added. "I do suggest you calm that girl down though, or she'll do something stupid."
Crys nodded, patting the man in the back before turning away from him. "I know, I'll take care of it."

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

Ali was absently looking at the preparations being made, only half her attention spent on the voices around her, and her moods completely separated from the cheerfulness of the crowd. She didn't want to be sitting there, she wanted to do something; anything. She wanted to hurt Sean, and lately there had been little room for anything else in her mind unless she kept herself busy. Crys had told her to be patient, she said they needed to move slowly and carefully. The Pack at its full strength could crush the little assassin group they made, and it would take at least a couple of years more for them to be worth anything as a unity. The actives were better trained, but not to the best of their abilities, and they needed recruits more than anything. A few more had deserted from the Pack over the years, all thoroughly tested as to be ruled out as informants and accepted by Crys, Evin and Ali herself. Even so, not enough to be worth anything. Meanwhile, Sean was running people out of the forest, killing off their allies and doing everything he could to get into their heads. Ali was ashamed to admit it, but it had been working on her.

"You're Allison right?..." The voice broke Ali out of her thoughts and she looked away from the point she had been staring at, to find that two of Theron's companions had sat close to her. She watched the young woman who had addressed her with curious eyes as she introduced herself and her companion, her gaze extended to the Elf who the woman had called Ace. Ali had heard of Elves, but knew absolutely nothing about them and had certainly never seen one before. She shook Akida's hand and nodded. "Allison Blake, the one and only. Nice meeting you." She stated. "So Theron talked about us? That's nice to hear." She said, taking another bite of food and glancing around to see the Crimson all gathered around listening intently to the stories. She chuckled. "Your friend is quite popular, I see. Not that the Crimson are difficult to please. They tend to like people unless given a good reason not to." She said with a smile. "So where are you guys from? If you don't mind me asking."

The setting changes from the-desert to Newhaven

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Lamya Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Allison Blake

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As Ella decided to let the woman in and Mageria asked him to lead her to the 'receiving room' Jake bowed his head respectfully, while holding back an annoyed frown. He had no intention of being dragged into this situation; he was there out of curiosity, but had regretted it already. Unwillingly, he ignored the woman's hand as she reached out to him again and forced himself not to let his frustration show as he answered. "Of course miss, please follow me.", before leading the visitor into the castle.

Once inside the castle he strayed from the path he was supposed to take and took another one, a longer one, to the room Mageria had directed him. Once sure no one was listening in, he spoke in a quiet tone, not turning to face the woman as she walked beside him. "Between you and me: Or you are lying through your teeth as to who you are, or your King is one tremendous fool." He stated. "Which one is it?"

Lamya had been in the castle of Newhaven enough times to understand where she was, and it seemed that she was being brought on a wild goose chase until they were able to secure a proper place for her. What did it matter where she was going though. She was going to have some fun with Jake.
"Would both be acceptable answers?" She said with a fake smile. "Now please tell me why after these years is the solo artist Jake taking orders from a young woman. If I remember correctly, you left the Black Knights after the incident with the Pack."
She didn't bother to say anything else to explain why she would know something like that. She enjoyed the ambiguity in the way she spoke. It caused people to feel a loss of control; a unbearable sense of chaos.

Jake laughed out at the information the woman had on him. He didn't care how she got it, and he surely didn't care that she had it. It was a far more interesting reaction than what he had been expecting, and it also confirmed what he already knew; this woman was far more dangerous than she appeared. "If you know that much about me, you also know I won't be sharing my motives with you. However I was simply leaving the decisions that concern Newhaven to those who have to make them, I have no reason to get involved in politics. I wouldn't even be here if you hadn't requested my presence." He glanced towards the woman now. "And I wonder why that is. I noticed there was at least one Knight far more interested in being your escort than I would ever be."

"Why should you give someone what they want Mr. Turner?" Lamya asked swaying her arms back and forth like a child would as they would walk. Both going forward and then back with a sharp jerks of the hips in the opposite direction. "That doesn't really matter, does it? What really matters is the fact that you decided to get involved in this even though you had a choise not to. Hmmm... . Anywho, I'm curious as to what you were laughing at. Did you laugh at the mere absurdity that I thought you might be afflicted by the knowledge that I appear to have on you? Maybe it was just because you find my motives to be absurd. I personally like to laugh at the laughter of those who find what they laugh at to be absurd." She then began to let out an incredibly fake and monotonous laughter until her blood stained cloak fell of her shoulders and onto the ground. She didn't even mean to do it, but in a way wished that she had.
She didn't say anything for a few moments and neither did Jake, but then Lamya stopped and turned to look at the cloak. A few moment beats passed by while she looked. She didn't bother to notice if Jake had kept walking or if he had noticed the sword that was placed around the loose fitting belt she had on around her purple dress. She just continued to stare at it until she finally broke the silence to say, "are you going to get that?"

Jake didn't speak as the woman rambled on, he kept leading her through the halls, careful not to go anywhere important, not that he thought it'd matter. He didn't speak or stop until she dropped her cloak and he immediately turned to look at it. A moment, or maybe even a few moments, passed in silence as they both stared at the red cloak. Then she broke the silence, asking if he was going to get it. "I don't see why I should." He stated simply, raising his head to face the woman, but not elaborating on why he wouldn't get it. He watched her for a couple of seconds only, and then turned to keep walking, deciding to address the question she made before about the laughter. "Specifically I laughed at the words 'solo artist'. Such a theatrical term. Made me wonder if you are actually familiar with my work. But then at the same time all your assumptions would also be correct." He said, pretending to watch the path, but at the same time keeping his attention on the woman to be sure she would follow. "The only problem I see with asking questions is that you usually get nothing out of them aside from more questions." He nodded slightly, stopping at a few steps away from their destination. "And I'm afraid, miss, we don't have that many halls." He leaned against the wall and nodded towards the door to the room. "Ladies first."

Lamya listened in intrigue about the laughter. She didn't bother to pick up her cloak, just leaving it in the middle of the hall, letting whatever happen to it happen. "So you were laughing at the absurdity of my choise in words?" Interesting. It's also interesting that you chose to escort me by my request, yet you choose not to pick my cloak off the floor. So many choices, so many inconsistencies." She paused to let him continue his talks until finally he said, "ladies first."
Lamya didn't walk through the door as Jake had requested. "The trick to a question is to get more knowledge out of the question than you do questions, unless however you wish to lead a string of questions, by which you should be asking a question with the intent of having another question to ask after the original question has been asked. Now the question is, whether my questions had the intent of leading more questions or if they were specifically intended for obtaining answers. You will probably never know. Now I suggest you either grab my cloak from down the hall there while I enter the room or enter the room before I do. Both paths will lead to the same meaningless result in the end so it doesn't matter what one you pick."

Jake raised an eyebrow at the woman after she was done talking, and glanced at the cloak that was still lying on the floor where it had been left, however he didn't move towards it, or towards the room entrance. "Inconsistencies? I don't see inconsistencies in my behavior, but perhaps that would be because I know that both actions you refer to have the same motives behind them. I also find it irrelevant to know whether you mean your questions to obtain answers from me or not, as much as it is irrelevant whether you answer mine. After all... Whatever the truth might mean to you, or to me, it is unlikely that either one of us would speak it in this moment." At this point, Jake spotted what he had been waiting for as a servant passed the halls in their direction, noticed the red cloak lying in his path and picked it up. Jake simply waved to catch the man's attention and spoke. "Bring that to me, will you?"
The man immediately brought the cloak to Jake with a small bow of his head and wandered off down the hall, quickening his pace before anyone had the chance to ask anything more of him. Jake then looked at the woman, still holding the cloak in his hand, and repeated. "Ladies first."

Once they both entered the room, Jake simply folded the cloak on top of a chair and leaned casually against the wall beside the entrance. Fully aware that he had taken longer than it would have been necessary to bring the woman over, he faced Mageria and spoke with a perfectly straight face. "Sorry, Captain. It seems I don't remember my way around the castle as well as I thought."

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[Forest - Outside Newhaven]

Luke was wandering around the little encampment growing more and more bored with it by the second. There was really nothing to see there, at least nothing that would interest him. Not even stealing food from these guys seemed challenging enough to be entertaining. As a result, he simply wandered past, making sure that no one he crossed could ever remember his face. His face could raise a couple of red flags in the city after all, the joys of having a famous twin... His brother: The gift that keeps on giving. If anything, he had left Luckas with a goal, a purpose of sorts: The woman who had killed him or, better yet, survived him.

Suddenly, he was faced with a rather odd sight, his attention immediately caught by the girl in ragged clothing who stood in his path. Nonetheless, he simply kept walking, although slowing down his pace, watching the young woman with curious eyes, not quite sure what to make of her. He kept walking until her was close enough to see the golden color of her eyes. Something told him that it would be smarter to just keep walking and ignore, but when he was curious about something or someone, Luke found it extremely difficult to be smart. So, he stopped, intrigued be the strange words she spoke to him, tilting his head to one side. "My turn? Are we playing a game?" He asked, curiously.

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[The desert]

Ali nodded, listening to Akida explain about where she had come from, one eye glancing over to the orc again as he told his stories. He was most likely exaggerating, because all the good storytellers do, but it all sounded very impressive even so. "Well, welcome to Valcrest. Although, I'm afraid that if half of what your friend says is true, you might be terribly bored here." She stated with a grin. "And it's true, we don't have any ties with other countries, not ever since Brightvale was destroyed centuries ago..." She nodded towards the crumbled buildings around them. "... The Crimson have their stories of what the ancestors have seen and lived in their travels, but they are too much of a small clan to afford sending people out of the territory nowadays." She explained. "Same with every other faction in the land. We're so busy trying to keep an eye on each other that we simply can't bother to look any further." She heaved a long sigh and poked at her stew, not really wanting to eat anymore, but forcing herself to take another bite before continuing with the conversation. "It's a pity, but maybe someday."

She took one more bite of food before addressing the question. "As for how we met Theron... Well... It's a long complicated story. I think currently he would be the only one who knows where or how it began, but to put it simply: He wanted to exterminate our clan. He was actually getting pretty close to it, although Crys likes to think we would've been able to stop him had things gone different. I'm not so sure." She stated, taking a moment to rethink the whole scenario of four years ago. "Anyway... Evin and I left camp one night to try and find him in Newhaven. Evin had personal reasons to be going after Theron and Dani, our leader at the time and Crys' mother, insisted he took someone with him. We ran into Theron sooner than we expected, in an Inn that the clan owned. Evin thought he could intimidate him and some things were said, and in the end they both agreed they would duel the next night. The clan got word of the whole thing and the next morning, after Evin and I came back from an errand, Crys was there having a very friendly conversation with a man who was our sworn enemy. Before we could even get an understanding of what was really going on though, we got attacked by soldiers and the Inn ended up on fire. Theron helped me out of the building." She frowned a little bit thinking that she never thought of asking Crys what she and Theron talked about. "Well, after we managed to get out and lose the soldiers, Evin and Crys went to Blackpond, I went back to our camp with Theron, and a friend of ours who was there helping. He turned himself in that night. Dani forgave him and accepted him into the clan as an instructor. Crys, Evin and I trained under his supervision after that." She concluded. Sure, she had left a lot out of the story, including everything that had to do with the Shadow. For some reason talking about the whole thing still made her uneasy. "I never really understood why he surrendered though. After he left, I discovered that he and Dani had met before we caught up to him at the Inn, but... She died before I got the chance to ask her about it and he had gone, so..." She finished with a light shrug, turning back to her food for a bit until it was done. Then she sat the bowl aside and chuckled. "It's odd to hear you call him 'Lockwood'. For months I only knew him by Theron." She said absently.

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[Flashback - Wolfpack Camp, approximately 10 years ago]

It was early in the afternoon, a bright sunny day, but still cool with the occasional breeze that was so common in the forest at spring. Even though the day was beautiful and perfectly enjoyable, and even though she had no chores or assignments, Crys was unable to enjoy any of it. She was stuck trying to find a solution to an unsolvable problem. Sitting by her mother’s table at the common room of the Leader’s cabin, she was sitting there trying to think of what answer to give her father when he got back. As if it wasn’t enough that she didn’t have one, her parents came home a little earlier than expected; or maybe she had been sitting there longer than she had imagined. It didn’t matter, soon the quiet room was filled with the sound of talking.

“You two and your mind games...” An amused voice pierced through Crystal’s ears, disrupting her thoughts.
The girl shook her head in annoyance and waved towards her mother dismissively. “Sssh… I’m thinking.” She mumbled.
Dani laughed. “Bastian, your daughter is going crazy.”
“Leave her, she’ll figure it out eventually.” Bastian replied with a chuckle. “It’s not an easy one.”
“It’s been two whole days.” Dani argued. “This isn’t healthy.”
“It’s really not an easy one.” Bastian explained.
“I usually don’t ask, but what is the question here? I’ve never seen Crystal this stuck on a logic problem.”
“Ah, but… The problem with this problem is that it has nothing to do with logic. It doesn’t even have a right answer.” He explained. Crys knew he was doing it to mess with her; she was more than used to it, only this time she really couldn’t figure it out.

Finally, she let her head down and pressed her forehead against the wooden surface of the table. “I quit.” She mumbled. “I don’t know what to answer.”
“That’s unacceptable.” Bastian said simply. “Keep thinking, or choose one.” He said, sitting across from her. “Just pick one, any one will do.”
“Which one did you pick?” Crys asked him raising her head to face her father.
Bastian sighed. “I’ll tell you once you’ve answered.”
“What is the question?” Dani asked again, sitting by the table as well.

“There is a flood about to wash over the whole land. Nothing will be left and the only way to survive is to reach the mountains before the water reaches you. You have a carriage, but, aside from yourself, you can only carry one more person. Halfway to safety, you run into three people: Your best friend , the love of your life, and a pregnant woman, who is a complete stranger. Knowing you can only save one person, who do you choose?” Crys asked her.
“That’s easy.” Dani stated simply, standing. “I’m making some tea, anyone want some?”
“No, thank you… How is that easy? You know what you would do?” Crys asked her.
“There is no right answer, either way someone is going to die. So… It doesn’t really matter. The only question is? Do you rescue two strangers: the woman and her unborn child, or do you save one loved one? And in that case, which one?”
Crys chuckled. “And that is easy?” She asked.
“I’ll gladly tell you what I would do, if you give me your answer first.”

Crys stopped to think for just one more second before answering. “Fine, I’d choose my best friend.” She said, then she turned to her father and asked. “What did you answer?”
Bastian laughed. “Well… Back when I was first given this problem, I chose my best friend, and it didn’t even take me long to think about it, but that was a long time ago. Right now, suppose I’d have to give it more thought.”
Crys waited for a good few moments while her mother made tea, before finally letting curiosity get the best of her and pushing the subject. “Mom, what about you? You said it was easy.”
“I would get off the carriage and ask my best friend to take the pregnant woman to the mountains.” She stated simply, sitting back down with a cup of hot tea.
“Wait, what?” Crys asked her. “You would get off the carriage?”
“Yes. If the carriage only holds two people, then by giving up my spot I can save a loved one and two strangers.”
“Alright… Then why the best friend?” Crys asked her.
“For two reasons: Your best friend is always more likely to respect your wishes, and… If you’re going to die, might as well die with the love of your life.”
“Why thanks, love. That’s so considerate of you.” Bastian laughed.
"Don't mention it." She replied, sipping from her cup of tea.
“And having to decide on this is not difficult at all?” Crys inquired.
“Of course it is, but I suppose it’s better than killing everyone simply because I couldn’t make a decision.” Dani replied. “If there is no right answer then you simply have to pick whatever seems right to you.”

“This question is meant to point out what you value most in your life: Love, friendship, or morals.” Bastian explained. “Morals dictate you save a pregnant woman and her child, loyalty demands that you save your friend, and obviously love would beg you not to leave your significant other behind.”
“And your answer would be different now?” Crys asked him.
“Honestly? Nowadays, I would most likely want to save my significant other; although, she might respond by kicking me off the carriage and replacing me with the pregnant lady.” He said, jokingly.
“Really?” Crys asked, rather intrigued. “Why would you choose that?”
“I don’t really have anyone I would call a best friend anymore, besides… I’ve left my friends behind once, and if it came to it I’d probably do it again. It’s just a part of my personality I’ve come to accept over the years. One day you’ll come to accept the fact that you can’t always be loyal kiddo. One day you might have to choose, and trust me: You can’t ever know what that choice will be until you make it.”


[Reality - The Desert, present time]

“Hey, Crys, did you hear what I said?” A familiar voice broke Crys out of her memories and she turned to face one of her assassins.
“I’m sorry Trevor, could you please repeat that?” She mumbled, leaning back against a rock, near the place where the Crimson were paying their respects to their fallen comrade.
“I said Katelyn was rushed to the healers this morning. She is in a vulnerable spot, we could take advantage of that.” The man informed. “Should we pick her up?”
Crys heaved a sigh. “I’m not sure yet. Taking her could put the Pack on our trail a little too soon.”
“If you will excuse me, I think that an attempt on her life might have been more than enough to do that. She could give us an advantage, when Sean killed Owen he took away our source of information. We have no idea what the Pack is planning; we haven’t had any concrete information in months. If only Jake would bother to…” The man stopped immediately after realizing the name he had just spoken. “I-I’m sorry, Crys, I…”
Crys simply shook her head, usually simply mentioning Jake’s name would be enough to finish a conversation, but tonight she had greater concerns, and she needed to take care of this immediately. “Yes… I know Jake has an informant and a good one and he could provide us with that information, but that’s not an option. Not right now at least.” She thought for another second. “Keep a close watch on the White Shadows camp, and pick her up when you can, but… Not until she’s fully recovered. I don’t the kid dead on our watch.” She pulled away from the boulder and added. “Snatch her once she’s healed, but before Annie gets a chance to notify Sean. Be careful though, the last thing we want is problems with healers.”

The man bowed, even though his leader couldn’t see. “Consider it done.” He assured her.
Crys simply nodded and, as the man turned to leave, she gave him one final instruction. “Not a word of this to anyone, and remember: If you get caught, you’re on your own.”
There was no response from the assassin, but Crys was sure he had gotten the instructions. With that taken care of, she slowly moved back to the center of the encampment, thinking of getting something to eat and maybe see what Theron had to tell her about his return. “What a damn long day.” She muttered under her breath as she walked.

Reaching the center of the camp, she got herself some stew, trying not to wonder when the last time she had anything different was, and stopped to locate the man amongst the small noisy crowd of mercenaries. Once she located him she walked over and sat next to him, focusing on her food for few moments. Finally she lifted her head and muttered. “I’d kill for apples. I would literally kill for a bag of apples. I haven’t had one in over six months.” She stated absently. After which she changed the subject to what she really wanted to discuss. “I don’t get it… Why are you back after all?”

The setting changes from newhaven to The Desert

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Annie Turner Character Portrait: Allison Blake

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Crys listened to Theron’s words carefully, however she didn’t seem so affected by them. If there’s one thing Crys learned in the past few years, was to care as little as possible for the greater good, that if she wanted to keep her sanity. “Fate…” She mumbled, thinking to herself that Theron was the only person in a very long time she’d heard use that word as if it meant something. “Personally, I think you have been gone for too long to come back making so many demands. You’re asking too much of this land, and too much of yourself if you truly believe that you can end this war when no one else could in thousands of years.” She stated, digging into her bowl of stew with a slightly annoyed expression. “I strongly suggest you take the time to see what you’re dealing with here. Things have changed in the last four years. Some of those changes are still unknown to me, but I can sense that things aren’t as calm as they seem to be.” She made a pause to eat and while doing so she did her best to sense the people around her and pinpoint where everyone was. Evin wasn’t around; she’d have to find him, maybe in the morning, and try to talk to him about all of this… She also needed to deal with Ali before she did anything stupid…

After a couple of moments, Crys managed to put her thoughts aside and continued with the conversation at hand. “King Rory died, three years ago. They say he was murdered by the city Commander, a man named Hastings, and he was killed for it. Coincidentally or not, soon after that a son of his turned up, out of nowhere, and took command of the city.” She grimaced. “The stories I’ve heard of the new King are less than flattering. The Crimson won’t take assignments in Blackpond ever since. Jake accepted one though, a little over a year ago... I don’t know what he saw there, but he didn’t come back the same. After a while, he just stopped coming back at all.” She sighed. “If I have to guess, I’d say he is in the Plains right now, maybe you should talk to him.” Picking at her food absently, she moved on. “The White Shadows are under new management as well… Lena’s kid, Annie, is now leader. She’s only eighteen, but she’s very smart, and not very easy to deal with unless you act respectfully. Newhaven is also under a new leadership. Remember the girl the Shadow was holding hostage when we fought him in the castle? As it turns out, she was the heir to the throne; Ella. I haven’t seen her in a long time, I didn’t even get a chance to speak with her before she got dragged away to be Queen. I hope she’s doing alright. That kid was full of potential, but had little to no faith in herself.” After that statement, Crys let silence linger as she finished her food. After having finished, and setting the bowl aside, she heaved a sigh and spoke. “The current leader of the Pack, his name is Sean Fletcher…” She shook her head. “He has a special kind of hatred for my mother for letting you live, for my father for being a Wolf Hunter and for me, for breaking a promise...” She said, with a light shrug. “The longer you can keep your return from him, the better. He might not be able to reach you directly, but you’ll have the whole clan on your trail in a split second.”

She stopped talking and focused a bit on the laughter, the smell of smoke from the campfire, the chilling breeze… The desert felt so much different than the forest; much more silent too. Once the party finally ended and everyone retired for the night, it would be dead silent. “When my mother died she was sure that the clan was in good hands. She trusted me and Evin to hold it together… Now, for the past three years I’ve sat here and thought of the people I was meant to protect as enemies; people I grew up with, people I trained…” She mumbled, mostly to herself, facing the heat from the fire, then she turned to face Theron and added. “I’ll help you if I can, but… At least for now, don’t ask for my trust. I have very little of it left to go around.”

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Ali snorted out a small laugh. “He won’t respond if you call him Sir? That’s funny, funny indeed.” She said in an amused tone, pulling a small piece of wood from one of her pockets and a small carving knife from her belt. She began to work the piece of wood slowly. “So, I take it he never told you guys about the Wolf Hunters either, right? Well… If you really want to know about that, the whole story of it, you’d have to ask him, or you could just eavesdrop when I eventually ask him. You could also ask Crys about it, though. Her father was in the group with Theron, they were close friends for what I heard.” She said, absently working the piece of wood with the carving knife as she thought. “Theron left before I had the chance to ask him any questions and I only learned most of what I know after he was gone. Crys knows most of the story though, her father usually told her everything. Unusual thing for a parent to do, but Bastian was an odd individual.”

She opened a small smile, taking a glance towards the man sitting next to Crys by the fire. She had many questions to ask Theron, she had gone over them in her mind repeatedly over the years, but for some reason, now she felt absolutely no urge to ask them. In this particular moment, all Ali needed was someone to tell her why she should sit quietly and allow Sean to keep breathing after all he had done. She needed a reason not to do something stupid; a real reason, not another of Crys’ excuses. She continued to work on the piece of wood, that had now taken the form of a small wolf-figurine, as the shouts of several mercenaries alerted her to the presence of their commander. She turned her head to see Indrani had been lifted off the ground by two of the Crimson as a form of greeting, and was shouting at the men to put her down, although a good observer would notice a slight tone of laughter amongst her shouting. As she watched the scene in amusement, she noticed a figure in the background, moving towards the camp exit; the unmistakable silhouette of an assassin leaving on a mission.

“Excuse me…” Ali mumbled, slowly getting on her feet, letting the wolf figurine rest softly on the sand next to her seat. “I think I see a friend. It was very nice meeting you though.” She stated, before walking away to catch up with the man.

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[White Shadows encampment]

“It was a weak poison, not really meant to kill instantly.” Annie mumbled to herself, frowning as she watched the sleeping girl intently. If she didn’t know better, she would think Jake had pulled this off, but the poison used was not much Jake’s style, besides she knew where he was and doubted he would have stopped on his way to Newhaven just to do something like this. It was too low to have been Allison, and she didn’t usually use poison… That left Evin as the only assassin Annie could think of who would do this. The others wouldn’t make such a bold move behind Crystal’s back. Hearing footsteps entering her tent, she turned to the healer named Isaac and gave the man a small smile. “The Pack lost another Second, I assume.” She told the man. “Katelyn was probably just a distraction or a warning… I don’t know.”

“Luckas left, and stole the medicine you left in his tent. I’m sure you were expecting that though.” The man said, with slight amusement in his tone.
“I’m glad that he at least took the medicine, I doubt it’ll do him any good in the long run. He’ll be back eventually.” She stated.
“We have another situation at the gates.” Isaac informed. “A man came around being chased by some of the Wolves that were here earlier. He crossed our borders safely, even though he has some wounds on him, now the assassins are demanding we surrender him. Apparently he killed two of them.”
Annie sighed deeply before standing up and walking past Isaac out of the tent. “Come with me…” She told him. “This might get ugly.”

Annie reached the gates and found six mercenaries attempting to hold back the assassins. She stopped a step behind the mercenaries and smiled at the Wolves. “Gentlemen… Back so soon?” She asked.
“That scumbag invaded our territory and killed two of our men. We demand that he pays for what he did!” One of the assassins shouted.
Annie simply smiled. “I don’t care what he did or didn’t do. He made it to our territory alive and we intend to keep him that way as long as he is here; if you guys want to sit and wait for him to leave, me by guests. What you do with him then is your business.”
“This is unacceptable.”
“What is unacceptable is that I have to hear your whining when I have injured and sick people who would be a better use of my time.” Annie stated, in a firm tone. “There were five of you, if I recall… If you failed to kill a man who was outnumbered five to one, in your own territory, don’t blame me or my clan for your failure. Go back to your leader with your tail between your legs and hope he is in a good mood.” She said, opening up a smirk. “Don’t embarrass yourselves further by committing some foolish act against my people.”

The assassins flinched, probably taking Annie’s words into consideration. Sean wouldn’t be pleased that this man had gone unpunished, but they didn’t really have that much of a choice. “Fine… No matter, we’ll find him.” One of the men muttered out to Annie, signaling the others to follow him as he turned around.
As soon as they were far enough Annie sighed. “Where is this idiot?”

The healer directed her to the tent where they were keeping the man. They had managed to get him to lie down on a mat, but for the looks of the healers that were observing him, the talking Annie heard when entering had been going on for a while. With one wave of her hand the two healers left and she was alone with the patient. “You, sir, are a very stupid man.” She stated. “A very stupid and, soon to be, dead man.”

She sat on the floor next to the mat eyeing him curiously. “Are you drunk, or have you been drinking? Because, from where I sit, you have several minor wounds from where, I assume you’ve been scratched by tree branches, and… Well… Then there’s the knife lodged in your thigh. That can get nasty if it nicks a blood vessel. Alcohol is a great anesthetic, isn’t it?” She asked, resting her hand over her knees. “Listen, I’m going to have you cured, as good as new, in less than two minutes. Once I do that, we won’t have chance to speak, so if you have questions, ask them now. After you are healed, head south to the desert. Anywhere else you go, the assassins will find you and kill you.”

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

[Newhaven]

While people were running up and down checking for the announced bomb, or bombs, Jake was still standing in the same spot, leaned against the wall, going over the conversation he had with the woman in his mind repeatedly. From time to time he would mumble words to himself as if trying to solve some sort of puzzle. A puzzle: that was the only term he could think of to describe the whole thing.

[Flashback – Newhaven Inn, approximately 7 years ago]

“Alright, kid, see that guy?” Bastian asked, pointing at a man seated by the counter of the Inn, already falling down drunk and mumbling rubbish. “His wife just had a baby and he doesn’t want to go home to the crying. At the same time he feels guilty for not being there for her.”

“Hum, and you know this how?” Jake asked, giving the man a discrete look from behind his glass.
“Because, he looks severely sleep deprived and even drunk he glances at his wedding ring every time he raises his glass.” Bastian explained. “Like you, when you are upset. Also, Crys was the most annoying baby to ever be born in Valcrest. I’ve been there.”
“Like me?” Jake asked, raising an eyebrow.
“When you’re genuinely upset about something, you have a tendency of reaching for your sister’s locket. I assume she used to say something that you like to remember in these situations, right?” The man asked, leaning back in his seat.
“Yes, but… I really do that?” Jake mumbled, frowning slightly, trying to remember when he’d done that.
“People are creatures of habits Jake. Many times we function in patterns. A good observer can catch these patterns in one single conversation, a game of chess, or even in a great moment of silence. If you know what to look for, you can find behavioral patterns in almost anyone.” Bastian told him.
“Do you have them?” Jake asked.
Bastian chuckled. “Do I?” He asked, smirking slightly. “I wouldn’t know if I did. And If I knew, I wouldn’t have them. ”
“I’m confused.” Jake chuckled, scratching his head.
“Good. Use that.” Bastian told him. “Be confused, be obsessive, go over every detail over and over and find the things you missed. The things left unsaid, the questions that were avoided, the words chosen, those are all patterns that go unnoticed to most people. Everything we say and do says something about who we really are.” Bastian said, enthusiastically as if Jake had somehow had figured it all out; whatever it was.
“There’s one thing I can’t, for the life of me, figure out…” Jake said, looking at Bastian intently, trying to catch a glimpse of the answer in the man’s gestures, since he knew it would certainly not be just given to him. “…Why are you teaching me this?”
Bastian simply chuckled, shaking his head as he stood up to pay for their drinks. “Why not? It’s an useful skill, isn’t it?”


[Reality – Newhaven, present time]

“…If it works, it might be worth it. I admit that I’d do a lot to get our people back, which means that if we went for it, I’d be doing it. But it would mean strengthening Blackpond’s position, and I’m not sure that’s something that we should be doing. Plus you know what the Pack is willing to do if it doesn’t work the way that they seem to think it would.”

Jake snapped out of his thoughts to a piece of what Mageria was saying. “So many inconsistencies…” He muttered under his breath, before looking up to pay full attention to what was being said. It seems that whatever it was on that piece of paper, it was being considered. Jake didn’t know what it was, and it didn’t matter much to him, he didn’t think anything coming from Blackpond was good news. He was about to say so, when Mageria left the room. Patiently, he waited for her to return and then cleared his throat a little bit before speaking. “If I may… I don’t know what is on that note, but it’s not a good idea. I’ve been to Blackpond, I spent time there, their King doesn’t give a damn about his city or its people, so I don’t see what he would want or need from Newhaven, other than set some sort of trap.” He stopped for a moment and glanced towards the window. “Also, I believe we just met one of those assassins I’ve heard so much about.” He shrugged lightly and added. “Of course, this is just my opinion.” He pushed away from the wall and crossed his arms in front of his chest. “I would also like to put myself at the disposal of the Black Knights, if there’s ever a need to fill that last position. I have a feeling things will get busier and busier around here. If anything, an extra set of hand is always good.”

The setting changes from the-desert to The Ruins (Healer's camp)

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Annie Turner Character Portrait: Allison Blake Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher

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Annie Turner woke up before Sunrise, as she usually did, after only a few hours of sleep the night before. She knew she would be hearing from Sean very soon after the way she treated his assassins, but she wasn’t worried about it at the moment. She knew he was capable of quite a lot, but he still had some sort of respect for the healer clan, which made it easier to deal with him than with the rest most of his subordinates.
The day before had been busy and the next ones didn’t show signs of getting any better, but Annie had three years to get used to the fact that she would probably never have another quiet moment again. It had been difficult to gain the clan’s respect, and most of the elders had chosen to leave the White Shadows in protest after Annie reinstated the healers who had fought in the battles against Blackpond, they were offended with how she responded to their claims that her mother would never allow such a thing. They had called her a foolish child for that decision, but that was something she felt was right, and if she had learned anything in her short lived life is that sometimes you just need to follow your instincts, and if the rules are against that… Well… She’d just have to change the rules.

As it was usual, at the first sign of movement coming from her tent, someone came to break the silence. Except, it wasn’t who she thought it would be.
“I hear movement. Are you awake, then?” Ali’s voice called from outside the tent, in a tone only slightly above a whisper.
Annie took her time carefully folding her covers and setting them down on top of her sleeping mat, before replying. “I’m awake, yes. Why are you here, Ali?”
Allison walked into the tent and nodded a greeting as she sat on the floor as she had done many times in the past couple of years. “I’m just visiting a friend.” She stated innocently.
Annie chuckled as she sat down in front of her. “You are never ‘just’ doing anything.” She stated.

“I followed Trevor here, I think it has to do with Katelyn, but I wouldn’t know that for sure, now would I?” She said in a slightly bitter tone. “Because, even if I could ask, he wouldn’t be allowed to tell me.”
“How is your hand recovering?” Annie asked, changing the subject to something a little less dangerous and more of her concern.
“Not much of a change since last time I was here.” She said, holding out her right hand and pulling off her glove to expose the scar that ran across the palm, she slowly began to close her hand, but stopped halfway through, with a sigh. “It’s as far as it goes without pain, and I can barely hold my bow drawn. I mean, I can… But not for very long.”
“Any spasms, shaking or numbness?” Annie asked absently.
“No.” Ali mumbled putting the glove back on and staring at her hand with an angry expression.

Annie sighed. “You were very lucky; if he had been a little more precise your hand would be useless right now. And you’re recovering; slowly, but you are recovering.”
“I know, I just…” Ali sighed running her fingers through her hair. “You wouldn’t understand.”
“You don’t think I understand what it feels like to hate someone so badly that the mere thought of him breathing keeps you awake at night?” Annie asked, standing up and moving to light a fire. “You don’t think I understand going over a decision over a thousand times in your mind wondering what could have been done better, unable to stop even though it’s clear you can’t change anything even if you do find the answer?” She chuckled. “Allison, do you have a clue how many people die on my hands every day? I don’t. I already lost count. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night simply because I figured out how I could’ve helped someone who had already died hours before. Still, I’m the leader of this clan and so… I have to act as if I’m not worried about this land clearly going further and further down the worse possible road.” She sighed. “I’m tired of this war, even more than most people if it’s even possible, and it makes me feel just as angry and helpless as it makes you.”
Ali nodded, quietly, at Annie’s words. Obviously she hadn’t considered it. “I suppose so, but what do you suggest I do? I can’t just take this quietly. I really can’t.”
“Do what I do.” Annie stated. “Ask yourself one question before you act: ‘What good does this do?’ If you can’t think of an answer, then do nothing.” She said, calmly. “Tea?”
“No thank you.” Ali mumbled, still a little lost in her head. “People say ‘do nothing’ as if it was easy.”

Annie sat back down gently stirring a cup of tea. “They say ‘do nothing’ because they believe you’re strong enough for that. Even my mother thought of you as a strong spirit, or so she said, are you really going to act weak and foolish now?”
Ali sighed. “I might just be weak and foolish after all.”
Annie smiled, taking a small sip from her tea. “If you believe that, then yes, you are.”
Ali chuckled in response to Annie’s words. “You sound just like your mother.”
Annie smirked slightly. “Well, someone has to.”
“She really didn’t tell you where she was running off to or why?” Ali asked, with an intrigued expression crossing her face momentarily. She remembered the last time she saw Lena in the desert, but the woman had simply vanished after that, and no one had heard from her since, nor did she give anyone an explanation as to why she was leaving.
“No. She did leave me a few instructions and assured me that she would be back one day.” Annie stated absently, drinking the rest of her tea.
“You seem awfully calm about it.” Ali said, giving her a slightly concerned look. “I mean, I would be a little mad at least.”
“I’ve been mad, but it’s been three years. At some point you just have to let these things go.”

Ali was going to say something else, but at that point a healer entered the tent and interrupted the conversation. “Annie, there is a man here asking to speak with you.” The older woman said as she gave Ali a curious look, noting that the young assassin was still fully armed and had not walked past the gates. “He didn’t give his name, but he asked for you directly. Also: He is accompanied by a young lady, an elf and an orc, it seems.”
Ali nodded quietly and lifted her head to face the woman who was standing. “Is he wearing a mask?” She asked, already sure of what the answer would be.
“Yes, as a matter of fact he is.” The healer answered.
Ali nodded, and gave Annie a slight smile as she explained. “Theron.”
“Hum…” Annie mumbled. “Do you know what he wants?” She asked.
Ali shrugged. “Not a clue.”
“I see…” Annie mumbled, standing and walking over to a locked chest, opening it, and going through its contents until she pulled something out, which she held out of Ali’s sight as she walked out of the tent and followed the healer to where she had left the man named Theron.

As Annie walked towards the man in the mask, she let her eyes wander through the encampment, locating the three companions the man had brought along with him. She also spotted the assassins Ali had mentioned and a few scouts of the Wolfpack that were constantly lurking around in the limits of the forest. Finally she turned her brown eyes the man as she stopped before him and offered a smile. “Theron Lockwood. I have been expecting you.” She told him. Before she could say another word, however, a shout was heard throughout the encampment.

“WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?”

Annie turned quickly to see the healer named Isaac rushing towards the orc with his fists clenched and eyes glowing pure red, his face was turning red and he was shaking from head to toe in pure rage. “Hell, no.” Annie muttered under her breath and she took off running towards the healer and literally colliding with him in order to pull him away, fully aware that the shock of being tackled was the only thing that kept Isaac from tossing her aside and moving on.
Isaac simply sat on the floor where he had fallen, still shaking, and visibly fighting to control his enlightenment. “She’s going to get herself killed. He has no right!”
“Isaac, get a hold of yourself.” Annie said, in a calm tone, sitting next to him and placing her hands in both sides of the man’s face, forcing him to look at her. “Breathe before you end up hurting us both. Just breathe.”
Isaac took a few moments to calm himself enough to speak. When he finally managed, he spoke in a calmer tone. “I was up all night, trying to keep that woman from running off and doing something stupid, and now this…” He sighed, holding back the insult he wanted to make as he pointed at Barca. “He spends five minutes with her and she runs off to do just that!”
“It was her choice. Otherwise, no amount of talking would have been enough to push her into it. You know that.” She told him.
“Her husband died last night she wasn’t in her right mind just yet.” He argued.
“You have no right to decide that, and you know it. We can’t choose what’s best for people, all we can do is help when we are asked, if we can."
“She’s going to get killed.” He muttered, still visibly angry.
“Probably, but then she knows that too.” Annie replied, getting back on her feet a dusting herself off. “Now go get some sleep. If I managed to tackle you down, then you’re probably too tired.” She told him with a little grin.
The man chuckled, pulling himself off the floor and turning his back to head for his tent.

Once Isaac was out of sight Annie heaved a long sigh and found Theron again, continuing the conversation as if there had been no interruption. She handed him and envelope and smiled. “Like I said, I have been expecting you. My mother left you this, obviously I don’t know what it says, but she told me to give it to you as soon as you came over. Apparently she knew you would be coming here.” She told him with a light shrug. “Why don’t you have a read? If afterwards you still need to talk, you can find me in my tent.” She informed, leaving him with the envelope and starting to walk away. “Oh, and… If your friends need anything, they can ask for it. I just ask that no one upsets my healers, since that would probably end badly, and I have very few of them left.” She said over her shoulder as she walked back to her tent.

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[Desert – Crimson Shadows Camp]

Crys had slept very little and spent hours playing music in her room, thinking of what to do about all these changes. She had been trying to find a word to describe what she was feeling about all of this, and the only one she could think of was ‘frustration’. She was frustrated about a great deal of things, her greatest frustration was the possibility of three years of work and planning going to waste. She had come to the conclusion that it didn’t matter either: The moment Sean realized Theron was back in Valcrest he would throw any caution out the window. He would present the clan with the opportunity of taking vengeance and, of course, they would gladly take it.

Another concern in her mind was with the Crimson Shadows, it had taken a while, but they were slowly feeling the losses and there had been discussion of whether or not their support to the assassins was worth it. It was Dastan’s decision, and his word was law to the clan, but she knew that eventually he had to think of what was best for his people, and she would never hold that against him. They could move outside the Crimson’s territory, if needed; the desert was big enough for that.

As the Sun finally rose and she could feel the room getting warmer, she got out of bed and made her way out of the temple, stopping at the altar to say her prayers. Crys was never used to praying, but spending time with the Crimson had given her that habit. Dastan often spoke of how he wanted to rebuild the city and make the temple as glorious as it once had been, but he had never actually moved a finger to do it in the time they knew each other. She had asked him why a couple of times… He simply mumbled something about not being ready to let go and quickly changed the subject. She figured it was something he had to handle himself, and simply dropped the subject.

Halfway to the encampment she stopped as she heard some excited whispers from a group of Crimson Shadows, she approached them, simply listening until the noticed and stopped talking. She smiled at the group of mercenaries. “Why do you people sound like you’ve pulled some sort of prank?”
One of the mercenary chuckled. “No, that’s not it. We’re waiting to see if Evin gets out alive."
“Gets out alive from what?” She asked, raising an eyebrow. “What’re you people up to?”
“We built this awesome death trap contraption, type, thing.” One of them stated cheerfully. “We put so many traps into that thing that we don’t even know for sure all it does.” Another added. “Hope he enjoys it. After all we put a lot of thought into it.”
Crys chuckled as the distant sounds of a crumbling structure and several explosions reached her ears. “Oh, I’m sure he’s having fun with it.”

All of a sudden the sound of Dastan’s voice echoed through the small encampment calling his people to scatter the ashes of their fallen companion. The small group of mercenaries left to answer the call of their leader. Crys shook her head still amused by the whole ‘contraption’ thing, and wandered off in the direction the noises had come from until she found Evin. “Huh, so you did get out alive.” She stated absently. “I have some things I’d like to talk about, when you have the time. I’ll be in camp.” She told him, beginning to walk back to the camp to get something to eat.

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[Assassin’s Camp]

“So, let me see if I get this straight…” Sean started glaring at the actives that he had sent to the healers the night before. “This guy killed two of our men, ran off towards the plains and you three simply left him there and came home. You didn’t even consider standing guard to get him on his way out?” He asked. “You are, of course, aware that he is probably in the desert by now, right?” One of the actives opened his mouth to speak, but Sean cut him off. “I don’t care for your excuses.” He sighed, rubbing his eyes in clear exhaustion. “I will go to the healers myself and have a chat with their leader. Send another messenger to the Crimson offering another truce. Tell them it’s their last chance to surrender the traitors; there won’t be any more warnings.”
The actives bowed their heads and left Sean alone in the office. It had been a very long night, but Sean had slept through it. Aside from an argument that broke out between two brothers, late at night, the camp was quiet as could be.

Standing up from his seat and walking to his bedroom, Sean armed himself before walking outside to the center of camp. Workers were putting out was left of the campfire and the guards were changing shifts, he called one of the instructors over and ordered him to gather a couple of actives and retrieve the bodies of the two men killed, that if they were still where they had been left the night before, only then he would inform the men’s families of their deaths, which was something he absolutely hated doing, but always made sure to do in person.

Walking to the training field he found his brother practicing archery by himself. Opening a grin he sneaked behind him and as the boy was about to release the arrow he shouted. “DONI!”
Donovan jumped up and sent the arrow flying in a completely crooked angle, causing it to sink into the ground, nowhere near its intended target.
“Screw you, Sean!” He muttered. “What do you want?”
Sean chuckled. “Nothing... I’m just saying ‘hi’.” He said, putting one arms around his brother’s shoulders. “I’m going to go see Katie in the plains.”
“I still think you shouldn’t have left her there alone.” Donovan said, frowning slightly. “It’s not safe.”
“She was attacked here, so I don’t really see how that eve matters.” Sean replied. “It’s not safe anywhere anymore, but at least the healers are somewhat left alone.”
“We just need to get rid of them.” Donovan said. “Evin and Crys, they’re the reason why it’s not safe here, right?”
“Yes, I’m working on it.” Sean said with a little nod. “…As we speak, actually. So for now all you have to worry about, little brother, is how easily distracted you are.” He chuckled. “I mean, really, that was a lousy shot.”
Donovan shoved him, annoyed by the comment. “Shut up, you idiot.”
Sean nodded. “Tsk, tsk… You shouldn’t talk to your leader like that. You know, I could have you suspended.”
“You could, but then I’d have to challenge you.” Donovan replied with a grin. “Now, that would put you in a rather awkward position, wouldn’t it?”
“You’re blackmailing me, you little punk!” Sean exclaimed, faking shock.
“Blackmail is such a heavy term, brother. I’m simply reminding you of the possible consequences of your actions, that’s all.” Donovan explained with a less than convincing innocent tone in his voice.
Sean chuckled, patting his brother on the head. “That’s funny, kid, but you don’t want to try me.” He stated walking away from the training field and towards the exit of the camp. As he passed the gates he warned the guards that Avius would be in charge until he got back and that anything important should be taken straight to him. He was going to try, one more time, to offer the White Shadows his protection, and get them to separate themselves from the Crimson for good.

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[Healer’s Camp]

Ali had walked to the other side of the encampment to one of the small flower gardens that were quieter and more isolated from the camp itself. There she sat by a rock and tried to enjoy the silence and sunlight for at least a moment. Annie had a good point: everyone was tired, everyone was angry for a reason or another nowadays. She needed to breathe, and try to act rationally, or she would only make things worse. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, putting all her attention in the smell of flowers and the cool morning breeze, trying to clear her mind from all the troubles that had been afflicting her lately.

“Mind if I sit?” A slightly weak voice spoke and pierced through Ali’s thoughts. She recognized it as being Sean’s sister and heaved a small sigh.
“You shouldn’t be talking to me Kate.” She replied, not opening her eyes.
“I love my brother, I do, but he needs to stop. Tell me what I can do to help.” The girl asked.
“No.” Ali replied, still not looking at her.
“I can help.” Katie argued.
“Sure you can. You can also get yourself killed by standing in the middle of this and I don’t want that on my conscience. Wait for your brother to pick you up, go home and stay as far away from this as possible.” Ali said, finally opening her eyes and looking up at the girl with an angry look in her eyes.
Kate nodded, and sat down on the grass, resting her chin on her knees. “I was poisoned at home, having done absolutely nothing, simply because one of you guys wanted to mess with my brother’s head. I would much rather be accused of treason and have my life threatened for an actual reason.”
“Your life was never actually at risk, you know that. Do you want to end up like Owen? Because I don’t believe, not for a second, that Sean would be any more merciful to you. Not after what he did to Lionel.” Ali muttered. “If you really want to do something, be there for the clan. Help them because, the Gods know, when all hell breaks loose no one is going to be thinking of them.”
“What do you suggest I do?” Katie asked with a frown. “I’m not even a recruit, who is going to listen to me?”
“You’re the leader’s sister. If you find the right people they’ll listen to the truth.” Ali told her. “Tell them what you just told me, change things from the inside, like your brother did.”

Katie nodded quietly, and for a little while silence lingered in the garden. That until a voice called from behind the two of them; a cold and enraged voice. “Katelyn… Go back to camp.”
Ali didn’t turn to look; she knew that voice all too well. She simply watched with the corner of her eyes as Katie stood up and slowly began to walk away. The girl whispered something to Sean as she walked past him, but Ali couldn’t hear. She couldn’t hear anything anymore, the mere sound of Sean’s voice got her blood boiling and ears ringing in rage. Whatever was left of her senses were turned towards the effort necessary to remain seated and calm. As Sean took a step towards her she finally broke the silence. “Walk away, Sean. Don’t make me disrespect the sanctity of this place by gauging your eyes out.”
Sean stopped walking, but didn’t walk away. “You’re no different from me.” He stated. “Sending Evin to do your dirty work, seriously? I expected more from you Ali, but you’re just a coward who sends a psycho like that to attack a little girl!” He shouted, walking closer. “Does she know? Doe she even know what this was really about? Did you tell her? DID YOU?”

As Sean finished screaming his accusations Ali stood quickly and turned towards him, gripping her bow firmly as if hanging on to it was the only thing stopping her from pulling out a knife. “I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.” She muttered, glaring at him with a disgusted look in her eyes.
He walked closer yet another step, and another, and then another, until there was less than an inch of space between the two. “Tell Sean, this is what he gets for killing Ali’s recruit: Those were the words that piece of shit spoke to my men when he invaded our camp and poisoned my little sister.” She told her, his voice only slightly above a whisper. “So now, I’m just kindly pointing out to you that, out of the two of us, you were the one who dragged a fifteen year old kid who had barely made it through his first mission into something he couldn’t handle, you were responsible for leading every mercenary I’ve killed into MY territory and then causing their deaths. YOU were the one who almost caused my sister’s death, and you are the one hiding while others act for you, I assume because Crys ordered you to stand down. Out of the two of us, who is really the coward, Ali? Tell me!”

It was a split second, maybe even less; all Sean had the time to do was pull himself back to avoid the knife slashing at his chest. Ali didn’t try again; she calmly sheathed the dagger as she replied. “This was me asking a second time for you to back off. Make me ask again and I won’t give you time to dodge. Now: I don’t know that the hell you are talking about. I haven’t asked Evin any favors and Crys didn’t give me any orders. As for what you did to Owen… When I do something about it, believe me, you’ll know it’s me.” She said starting to walk past him towards the encampment.
As she passed Sean shook his head. “Advise your mercenary friends to reconsider their allegiance, Allison. Unless you want to witness yet another massacre…” He whispered. “How many more families can you bear to lose?”
She sighed softly. “Sean, you’d be surprised with what I can still bear. Just remember: the less I have to lose, the worse it will be for you in the end.”

With that said, Ali walked past Sean and began to head towards the exit of the camp, in the direction of the desert.

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[/b][Newhaven][/b]

(dialogue written in collaboration with The_Sickness)

Jake left the dining room absently thinking about going into the city and visit the market if he had the chance, only half-concerned with the council meeting Dominic had mentioned. If, or when, he was needed, surely someone would ask for him, until then he did have a few things of his own he could tend to around the city. After all, it had been a while since he was last around Newhaven he had some acquaintances he could visit for information and a few things that he could do.

While he walked the hall he caught pieces of conversation between the guards, they seemed to be talking a lot about Mageria leaving in a hurry and something to do with Thomas keeping something from her. Aside from thinking that Thomas wasn't being very smart he didn't really pay attention. He just kept walking the halls in the direction of the courtyard.

Michael walked the hall after collecting his armor from his hiding spot and setting his cloak back where it belonged.
He then skipped back through the hall in full armor causing the same "thunk" sound over and over again that he had the night before.
Michael was headed back to the main room when he happened across Jake.
The man for whatever reason didn't seem to be like anyone else in the castle.
He just seemed different from the usual, boring, run of the mill, knight.
And thus Michael stopped in his tracks and walked around him like a shark circling it's prey.
"Hm you're no black knight.
Or if you are you certainly aren't the spoiled child in armor this place breeds"
He stood in front of Jake only a moment seemingly sizing him up, with a raise of a black gloved finger Michael once more started to circle him.
"So tell me my boy what..." he said walking by his left ear.
"brings you.." he said walking by his right ear
"here." which was said as he stood in front of Jake his hands clasped by his waist.
Michael's voice then rose slightly as he said "Hmm?"

Jake stopped in his tracks and simply let his eyes follow the man that was circling him like a hound. Once the man finally stopped in front of him, inconveniently blocking his path, Jake gave a slightly curious look as he answered. "My horse, brought me here. And I might be a Black Knight, or I might be something else entirely... I can be a lot of different things if I want." He stated with a light shrug of shoulders. He then crossed his arms over his chest and added "The name's Jake, by the way. Not 'boy', not 'kid'... Jake. And you, pal, who are you? " He asked, scanning the man with his eyes, not yet sure what to make of him.

Michael wagged his index fignerback and forth a smile playing at the corners of his lips.
"Touchy, touchy..tsk tsk tsk.
I thought you different from the rest of these sods in their shiny armor but no..."
he sighed before continuing with his hands clasped behind his back.
"you're not are you? After all if two tiiiiiiiiiny words can unnerve you so quickly imagine the damage done by an entire conversation.
Still though..."
The ghost of a sceptical look haunted his face over and over as he watched what he could only view as a boy before him.

"Jake you said your name was yes?
Your horse brought you here, very astute, though not quite the reason for the question.
You see dear boy I have little patience for the lack luster performance of many here.
As you have no doubt seen.
The guards this place wields are litle more than toy soldiers for the most part.
Save a few..."
Michael then put his right hand over his heart and his voice lowered to just over a growl as he said
"such as myself. But I sensed something different about you. Perhaps I was wrong though or perhaps I still have something to learn from you yet.
Which one is it?"

Jake raised an eyebrow at man's speech, thinking that this place had grown far more crazy than he remembered it and that maybe there was something specifically peculiar about his person for him to be drawing so much of it. Even so, he decided not to be unnecessarily rude and indulge this person. "Well, everyone is different in some way, friend. So I take it you are looking for something different in me, but different in a specific sense, therefor you are seeking something which is similar to some sort of trait or quality you believe to be better or more important, which the others here, or most of them, do not possess. You think I may be different than them in such a way. I may or may not be, but either way I wouldn't really be completely different nor completely equal to anyone. Now, would I?" He made a short pause following the question, after which he went on. "As for whether you have something to learn about me, well... I think you can always learn from people, but then... If I told you, how would you ever learn?" He asked with a small grin. "And I'm sorry, Sir, but I don't think I caught your name. He added, knowing very well that the man hadn't given any name.

Michael's face and tone quickly took on a less than pleased atmosphere.
"My name is not "sir" not now, not ever.
Do bear that in mind my good man and pardon my manners."
He then bowed with his right arm folded at his waist.
"My name is James, Michael James"
As he stood to right himself he said plainly
"At your service."
He then looked up as if in thought a moment before continuing, his eyes now meeting the man in front of him.

"Oh you would surprised at the things I can and have learned.
Perhaps more surprised at the things I know.
Buuuut..."
His voice became deeper and more cynical in nature.
"As you said, if I told you, how would you ever learn?"
This was accompanied by a slight laugh.
This guy was managing to if nothing else entertain the former general.
And holding Michael's interest longer than a minute was something few managed to do.
"Now dear boy the question remains.. are you the warrior I think you are?
Or are you like any of the rest of the lot here?
You know incapable of action without orders?"

Jake chuckled. "Well, I can say I have learned quite a bit with this much conversation, but I won't bore you with the many things I see in you, as I am certain you know yourself too well to find it interesting." He stated, seemingly unaffected by the man's reaction to such a harmless term as 'sir' although it had told him something, as well as his overly polite speech and the way he carried himself altogether. It all added up to a very interesting individual, that to say the least. "As for your question: There is very little I'm incapable of, Michael. Whether I accept an order or not usually depends on whose order it is, what kind of order it is and what situation I'm in. So, I'm not sure if I can answer your question unless I'm faced with the opportunity to follow a given order or not." He replied, tilting his head to the side only slightly in curiosity. "Now, I have a question: What is a man such as yourself doing amongst toy soldiers and spoiled children? You don't seem devoted enough to Newhaven to be making the sacrifice of surrounding yourself with such mediocrity just so you can defend it. So I'm left to assume something else keeps you here."

Michael started circling him once more, his hands clasped behind his back.
"Very astute, my purpose here is simple.
This job pays me where none anywhere else would.
I would dare to say I could cure this place of the pit of mediocrity it has turned into but alas the leaders of this place will not allow it.
Of course I have other reasons to be here my boy but those are a lesson for some other time. Yes?
In keeping with the spirit of the conversation, perhaps you might endulge me. After all..."
he said with a devious, yellow toothed smile
"I showed you mine, now you get to show me yours... what brings you here exactly? You do not strike me either as the type to be entirely devoted to Newhaven."

"Hum..." Jake mumbled again following Michael with his eyes as he circled. "Suppose I can't say I am devoted to Newhaven or anything else for that matter. What was left of my devotion has been taken from me a while ago. So, to answer your question, I'm here simply because I want to. Why do I want to? I'm not really sure, I suppose because it's a familiar place and it's nice to sleep in a bed and eat real food for a change. You know, those little comforts you simply don't get while living with the healers." Giving a small shrug, he added. "Of, course, I do have small bit of history with the Black Knights, but that might be a story for another time, if you can push enough alcohol on me to make me willing to tell it."

"Sleeping?
Here of all places?
Come now I would sooner sleep in the forest. Although.."
He said rubbing his chin a moment
"Your answers indicate some similarities between yourself and me.
How very..."
He looked up in thought and righ as his eyes lowered once more he said with his voice lowering to just over a growl a he continued.
"disturbing.
Though I should've expected no less Valcrest seems to be filled with self serving sinners of all kinds.
Some more covert in their self serving nature than others.
No, no my boy you are deffinetly no knight.
You may well wear the armor, you may even take inclination to take orders from time to time but you are not now.
Nor have you ever been a knight at heart.
Something around your eyes betrays that vert sentiment."

Jake chuckled in response to Michael statements. "We are all selfish at our core. However some people's selfishness actually serves the purpose of doing others good, and those who benefit from said selfishness perceive it as a selfless act. I mean, do-gooders wouldn't help others if it made them feel like shit, so the fact that they help others is nothing more than an attempt to make themselves feel good, which is actually pretty selfish. Everything we do in our lives is done either to achieve some sort of gratification or to avoid pain. No more, no less." He said, casually leaning against a wall. "I've been a part of nearly every faction in Valcrest, give or take a few, so I can tell you this: No one is really a Knight or assassin, or healer, or mercenary, at heart. In our hearts we are all simply human; whatever the hell it means. In that I'm no different, and neither are you."

He grew silent after that statement for a moment or so, before opening a small smile. "Bottom line: We are what people see in us, at the same time as we are what we believe we are. So who, or what, I am... Can be anything at any given moment. It just depends on whose point of view it is. It's pretty funny, to say the least. Wouldn't you say?" Following the question he pulled away from the wall and stretched, groaning slightly as he felt some of his muscles still sore from the training session the night before. He then nodded towards the path leading to the main entrance and added. "I have personal affairs to tend to, friend. So unless there's anything else you wish to discuss, I better be going now."

Michael listened carefully and for once a thoughtful expression crept across his face.
"I suppose perception does make a great deal of what one is.
Both perception of oneself and how others perceive us."
His step now took a long, pacing stride.
He then watched Jake walk and chuckled cynically at being called "friend"
"Oh my boy, there is a world of difference between us, you will come to know this in time.
For now though I also have more pressing matters to tend to."
With that Michael strolled once more to his seat in the great room in front of the fire with his legs stretched out.

Jake left the castle in a hurry after speaking with Michael; he really didn’t want anyone else to approach him for conversation or tell him what they thought he was like. While that was entertaining in a way, two conversations like that in less than an hour was more than he could take. He only made one stop to let a member of the Black Guard know he’d be in the city for a couple and he could be reached there if something came up. After that he left the castle without even paying attention to whether someone tried to speak with him or not.

Upon reaching the city, Jake’s first stop was the Inn where he had been the night before. He had read the information he was given, and now he had to return the favor, so to speak. As he walked through the front door he quickly scanned the place for anyone who might know his face. There was no one he knew, only Sheila and two or three customers, probably there to get something to eat. He looked a little more intently at this one guy; he looked like a mercenary, but something about him seemed different. Brushing it aside, he jumped over the counter and stopped before the woman he had spoken to the night before and gave her a playful smirk. “Come sit with me, we need to talk.” He told her.
“I’m working Jake…” She stated simply, walking around him to clean something that had been spilled on the counter.
“Oh, come on… There’s, what, two customers here? It will only take a minute.” Jake argued, taking her hand and pulling her around the counter and towards a table in the corner.
She chuckled. “Now… When you say that, I know for a fact that I won’t be having any fun.”

Jake sat down and indicated the seat across from him. “Just sit, Sheila. I’d like to finish this conversation before someone familiar shows up in here.”
Sheila sat down on the chair across from him and leaned forward so they could keep their voices down. “What is so important?”
“Have you sent your weekly report yet?” Jake asked her, also leaning forward.
“No, I’ll be sending it this afternoon, why?” She asked, a curious expression crossing her features.
“I need you to pass Sean some important information. First, tell him that a woman came to see the Queen yesterday; a representative from Blackpond. I’m not sure what exactly she wanted, but the Pack was mentioned, so I think they should try contacting Sean at some point.” Jake said stated, with a small frown, remembering the conversation he had with the woman. “Last, but not least… Tell him I’m in town.”

Sheila nodded. “First of all, that’s very helpful information… Why are you passing it along? Second of all: Are you insane? If Sean finds out you’re here he is going to go crazy.”
“I’m passing it along because I think Blackpond is something no one should be getting involved in for any reason right now. And yes, I know. I’m counting on him going crazy; the crazier the better. Flipping out and doing something to upset Newhaven authorities would be greatly welcomed. So you may tell him I’ll be residing in the castle if he wants to come get me.” Jake told her with a slightly evil grin.
“You’re insane. If the ‘Newhaven authorities’ find out you are doing this, won’t they be pissed at you?” She asked.
“Probably, but I don’t care what the consequences are for me… I want Sean buried, and for that I’ll make sure he digs his own grave.” He stated, firmly. “Will you do this for me?”
Sheila sighed. “If that’s what you want…”She said with a small shrug. “It would be such a waste if someone put yet another mark on that pretty face of yours, though. Promise you’ll be careful?”
“I’m always careful.” He stated, smiling.
“Uh-huh… Do you forget how long we’ve known each other Jacob?” She said, giving a highly skeptical look. “So, tell me: Are you still into that redhead or can I put my hopes up finally?”
Jake grimaced slightly at the question. “I really don’t want to talk about it.”
Sheila chuckled. “Oh, so you still like her. What did you do wrong?”
“Why would you immediately assume I did something wrong?” He asked, raising an eyebrow. “I haven’t seen her in over a year, so I really don’t know what to tell you there… I should get going, though.” He stated, standing up to leave.

The moment Jake got up though, three assassins walked into the inn, the two that walked in first didn’t seem to notice Jake, but the third man took one look at him and whispered something to the others. They immediately walked to where Jake was, pulling daggers. “Jake Turner.” One of them stated. “You don’t remember me, right?”
Jake sighed, knowing that he was probably going to have to cause some sort of commotion to get out of this, which wasn’t what he wanted. “I don’t know, should I remember you?”
“I was there on the last time you visited our camp.” The man stated. “You killed my brother that night.” The man told him, stepping forward and pushing Jake into a wall.
“Come on now…” Jake said holding up empty hands. “This is neutral territory; I’m not here to fight.”
“It’s not neutral for you, traitor!” Another assassin said, holding up his blade against Jake’s neck.
Jake sighed, nodding slightly at Sheila when he noticed her move towards the men. He watched her back away towards the counter. “Now, gentlemen, let’s be reasonable here. If anyone of you had the guts to kill me here, I would be dead right now, so… The only question is: How badly do you want to get hurt, before I walk out of here?”

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[Newhaven: Castle]

(This cutesy little scene was written in collaboration with Trickster)

Lilly was humming softly as she worked on her latest masterpiece. Knight Mica was sad, so she was making him something pretty. She had a collection of chalks in lots of bright colors and she was using them to draw a whole field of pretty flowers on his door. Maga had made her promise to never ever ever go in a Knights room without asking first, but she never said anything about staying outside their room. Humming softly, Lilly stretched up as high as she could, adding a couple of hearts and stars to the sky above the flowers.

Behind her, Puppy sighed softly as he lay on the floor. Bright streaks of color were clustered around his shoulders and head were Lilly had wiped her hands on his fur. Suddenly he wolfed softly and sat up, Lilly spun around and glared at the person standing in the hallway, both hands on her hips.
“You can’t look, I’m not done yet!”

Luckas was just strolling carelessly down the halls of the castle, beginning to feel extremely bored as he hadn't encountered anyone fun to play with, only a few guards who were barely even interesting and had no relevant information to give, they didn't even try to stop him and ask what he was doing there... So boring.
Turning another corner, he saw something he didn't really expect to see wandering this part of the castle: A little girl, around six years old, drawing on a door with a wolfhound lying near her.
The dog was the first to notice Luke, but soon he was being scolded for looking at the drawing before it was finished. His response was to cover his eyes with his hands immediately. "Sorry, not my intention. I was just passing by." He said, opening a small gap between his fingers to peek at the girl. "So... You're the new decorator, I'm guessing?"

Lilly scrunched her face up in confusion. This was somebody that she'd never seen before, so that made him a stranger, and she wasn't supposed to talk to strangers. But he was in the Castle which meant he was ok, 'cause the people in the Castle were always nice to you. But Puppy wasn't getting angry and that meant that it was ok to talk to him. "I'm not a decorator, I'm Lilly." Moving over to Puppy, she grabbed his ear; turning it bright blue in the process and looked up at the stranger with her head tilted to the side. "Who're you?" Puppy whined and she patted him between the ears. "Are you lost?" She swung one arm back and forth and accidentally jerked on Puppy's ear with the other. "Cause if your lost all you have to do is ask onna the Knights and they'll make sure you find where your 'possed to be." She smiled brightly. "I can help you find a Knight. All you have to do is be where your not 'possed to be and cry and they find you. And then they find where you belong."

Luckas chuckled at the girl's logic on how to find a Knight. "I'm Luckas. You can call me Luke though." He said, lowering his hands and looking at the door. "So, Lilly, if you're not a decorator, why are you decorating the door?" He asked curiously. "And I'm not actually lost... No. I'm looking for a friend and she is a Knight, but I haven't had any luck finding her and I don't want the other Knights to see me because I want to surprise her." He said, absently offering his hand for the hound to sniff as a greeting. "You live here then?" He asked, still a little confused as to why there was a little girl in this part of the castle.

Lilly waved with one hand. "Hiya Luke. I'm givin' Kni' Mike some flowers 'cause he needs somethin' pretty." She watched Puppy sniff Luke's hand and looked over at the door. Picking up the orange chalk, she added one more big flower right in the middle of the door and stood back and nodded happily. She pointed at it and looked over her shoulder. "You can look at it now." Carefully she started to pick up her chalks, making sure that each of them got found.
"Yeah, me and a buncha kids live down in those rooms." She pointed over her shoulder. "We's not supposed to know, but Maga got inna bunch of trouble over it. They tried to tell her what to do and she got mad and then she got her way." She leaned over and whispered. "You always wanna listen to what Maga says. She get's scary when she's mad. If your a grown up anyways. Jason burned off somma her hair when he found out he was 'Lightened and she didn't yell at him or nothing."

"I see... Well, we all need something pretty sometimes, that's for sure." Luke said with a little nod as he got permission to look at the drawing. "Very nice. I'm sure he'll enjoy it." He said, looking at the pretty flowers and hearts the girl had painted all over the Knight's door. He looked a little intrigued while Lily explained to him that there were other kids living in the castle as well, and that 'Maga', who he assumed was Mageria for what the girl was saying, had picked a fight to make that happen. Luke chuckled. "Yeah... She was pretty scary when I tried to use my ability on her." He said absently. "Suppose she thinks I'm a grown up then?" He said, slightly amused. "You wouldn't happen to know where she is, now would you?" He smiled.

Lily scrunched up her face and thought for a moment. "I think she left to find somebody. Maybe he gots lost? But she'll come back. You can come play with me till she comes home!" Holding her bag of chalk with one hand she grabbed Luke's hand with the other and started towing him down the hallway. "Puppy, come!" Puppy whined and heaved himself up, following them and sniffing at some of the doorways. Lilly towed her new friend into the sunny day room that was where most of the other kids stayed during the day. There were tables along one side where they ate and made stuff and things, while the other side had all the toys and games. She pulled Luke over to her corner, past some of the other kids, to where there was a little table covered with a pretty cloth and a couple of chipped dishes.
"Here. You can have tea with me an' Puppy." Puppy, being used to this, made his way to another spot and laid his head on the table, sighing and looking over at Luke with a resigned look in his eyes. In the spot across from Luke there was a battered teddy bear, it was canted to one side and looked like it had lost a fight or two.
Lily hurried over the dress up chest and pulled an armload of things out, coming back and handing them out to the people at the table. Luke got a child's cape with some sort of Knight's symbol on it, Puppy got a princess hat that she had to tie on, and the teddy bear got a little crown.
"Would you like some tea?" she asked Luke, holding out a small tea pot filled with juice and waiting for Luke to hold out his cup.

"I, uh... Yeah, sure." Luckas mumbled under his breath, not knowing how to say 'no' to this. Not that Lily was actually giving him much of a choice as she dragged him down the hall to what was clearly a playroom and pulled him to a small table to have tea. Well, it's not like he didn't have the time to waste on a tea party anyway, he wasn't in a hurry. Besides, he wasn't the kind of guy who denied kids of their fun. So, he examined the cape he was handed with an amused expression before putting it on and holding out his cup. "Sure, I'd like some tea." He replied. "And who's your friend?" He asked nodding towards the teddy bear.

Lily carefully poured some 'tea' into the cup that Luke held out for her, then into a saucer for Puppy, and finally into a cup for both the bear and herself before sitting down. Luke wanted to know how her bear was and since they were having a tea party she had to say it the way that the grownups did. Carefully she sat up straight and said, "This is Sir Penic, Knight Captain of the Order of the Eternal Light," in her most grown up voice. Noticing that he was all crooked, she reached over and carefully sat him up, fixing his shirt and patting him on the head. "He's done lotsa brave things, like fighting monsters and stuff. And he goes on quests and finds treasures and . . . and . . . lotsa things like that."
Across from her Puppy leaned over and started slurping up juice from his saucer, the gauzy ends of the scarf on his hat caught over one ear. Behind them she could hear Mally and Tina arguing about something, just like always.

Suddenly Sarah noticed that she had a new friend and came over to be bossy. Sarah was one of the ladies that took care of them during the day, and she hated it when Lily went anywhere she wasn't supposed to, even if she had Puppy with her.
"Lily, who do we have here?" Her voice was all nice and pretty but her eyes were all mean when she looked at Luke.

Luke listened to Lily's introduction of the bear and nodded politely taking a small sip from his 'tea', raising his little finger as he did so, much like he had seen rich people do when he was a kid. Setting the cup down on the small table he immediately turned towards the bear and bowed the best he could. "Well, it is an honor to meet your acquaintance, Sir Captain." He said.

As he sat up straight again he caught sight of a woman walking over with the the corner of his eyes. As she stopped next to the table and asked Lily who he was, Luke caught the woman's eyes on him and his smile shut as he held her gaze, but only for a moment. As he stood up again and extended one hand to her, he offered the woman a smile, although a slightly different one than he had offered Lily. "Well hello there, ma'am. I'm Luckas." He greeted. "I was just wandering past, looking for a friend I've come to visit and Lily invited me for tea." He chuckled. "I couldn't say no, now could I? That would be very rude of me."

Sarah's eyes darted between Lily, Puppy and Luckas. Seeing that Puppy was just trying to get the last of his juice out of the saucer, she relaxed fractionally and took his hand.
"I'm sorry, but I have to watch out for the children. May I ask who you're here to see?"


Luke, seeing that the woman accepted his handshake and didn't try to scare him off as if he was some kind of lunatic, as most usually did, relaxed a bit himself. "The Captain of the Black Knights." He answered simply. "She's not expecting me though and I would bet she'd be surprised to see me. We haven't crossed paths in, I think, three years. "Actually, I was hoping to sneak up on her... For old times sake. It's a little game, of sorts, that we like to play." He said, with a small grin. "Well, I like it at least."

Sarah raised one eyebrow when he said he was there to visit the Captain. She always had the strangest visitors . . . Nodding, she patted Lily on the head and smiled fractionally. "Please don't upset the children while you're waiting. Especially Jason." She indicated an older boy sitting over by the window reading a book. "There's too many things around here that could burn if he get's upset. And if you can, keep Lily here, she's not supposed to be wandering around the Castle." She patted Puppy on the head and went back to the girls that she had been watching, leaning over to point at something in the lessons that they were working on, while at the same time making no bones about the fact that she was continuing to watch over the two of them.

Lily made a face at Sarah's back as the woman walked away. "She's bossy." She plopped back down and chewed on a finger. "You're playing hide and seek with Maga? You must be really good at it." She poured more tea into his cup and drank her own with tiny little slurps.

Luckas didn't answer the woman and just let her wander off, perfectly aware that she would continue to keep an eye on him. Not that it mattered; he didn't plan on doing anything unusual right now... At least not yet. Sitting back down, he nodded. "Well, grown ups can be like that sometimes." He said, glancing at the boy the woman had called Jason with slight curiosity. "And I am pretty good at hide and seek, I'm better at hiding than seeking, but yeah..." He answered with a little smile. "That's one of my favorite games." He said with a little nod, looking around curiously and deciding he might as well sit there and play until he found something more interesting to do.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Annie Turner Character Portrait: Allison Blake Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher

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Sean watched Allison leave, frowning as she walked away. He resisted the urge to stab her in the back and walked into the encampment, where he spotted a healer and asked her for Annie.
“Miss Turner is speaking to a visitor right now, would you please wait for her? I will let you know when she’s free.”
“Alright, good… Have you seen my sister anywhere? A teenage girl, dark brown hair…”
“Oh, yes, she was talking to Isaac.” The healer pointed at one of the tents. “Over there.”
“Thank you.” Sean mumbled walking towards the tent he had been pointed at. As he got nearer though he stopped as he could listen to the conversation going on inside:

“… I know, but I’m really confused. Sean is my brother, I love him, and he was always great to me, but I can’t ignore what he’s done to the clan… To our family… I mean, he told me he tried to stop Lionel, and that was a lie. I can’t trust him, no matter how hard I try, and Donovan is very close to turning out the same.”
“What do you think your father would say about this?”
Kate let out a small, embittered chuckle. “If my father knew half of what Sean pulled… I think he would want to kill him personally. I think about it sometimes. I’m not much of a fighter, and I don’t have it in me to kill anyone, even less my own brother, but I do think about it. I think Sean is doing more harm than good, and I know he won’t listen or change.”
“You don’t think he is doing the clan a service as a leader, then? For what I’ve heard they seem pleased with his leadership.”
“Sure they do, within the clan things are fine, but we have more enemies now than we have ever had; The White Shadows are a good example of this: Our clans used to cooperate, now our actives are openly threatening healers as if it was no problem. The Crimson will eventually take a greater stand against us because, fools and mercenaries as they are, they don’t respond well to anyone or anything threatening their way of life; They are faithful to their traditions and their land, and they will fight us before betraying an ally.” She sighed heavily and went silent for a few minutes. “I’m sorry Isaac, this is really not your problem.”
The man chuckled. “No, no… That’s what we’re here for. I’m more than used to listening to people.” He told her. “It’s just easier sometimes to talk to a stranger, right?”
“I guess it is.” She replied.

Sean shook his head slowly at Katie’s words, but decided it was best not to let his sister know he was there. Katie was just a kid; she still believed there was justice in the world, somewhere. It was a matter of time until she realized that there was none. What was considered fair by most was only available to few, and those were the people who had the power and means to make justice for themselves. Everyone else was just fated to conform; there was nothing they could do, and no one who would do a thing for them. Forgiveness was nothing more than that: A pretty word for conformity. Sean refused to forgive; he wanted justice and he just didn’t care what price he would have to pay for it. Not anymore.

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Annie looked up at Theron from where she was seated, looking over some notes she had made on Luke’s wound; she sincerely hope he would return to have it taken care of, but she doubted he would. Setting the notes aside, she gave the man a little smile. “If you want a neutral source of information, you would probably have to ask the Creators themselves, because I’m afraid even the Twins would be a little biased at this point.” She stated, in an amused tone, but then she shook her head trying to put on a straight face and not take every little thing literally, as it had the tendency of annoying people. “Long story short, Lockwood, I’ll give you what I can, which is my point of view: Valcrest is in the middle of a calm period, before a devastating storm. Those amongst my clan who are more sensitive to it are actually speaking of it as ‘the end of times’. Crys should be sensing some discomfort, although I’m not sure how open she would be with anyone about that. What I think is well… I think you should go take a look at what Blackpond has become and that would maybe give you an idea of where we’re heading. To Newhaven, that’s fine, maybe, because they’re quiet and not a threat… Yet. Still, once upon a time they would’ve intervened; the Pack would have intervened if Dani Rivers was still in command.” She sighed, trying to find the words to describe. “Valcrest is shattered to pieces, and putting them together will cost a lot more than anyone can imagine at this point.” Annie stopped talking for a moment then added: “When my mother left us, she was troubled. She told me, that… That if she didn’t come back in 30 months, at most, Valcrest might not survive. Now… She wouldn’t tell me what exactly she knew, but she would never say something like that for no reason. And she has been gone for 28 months now.”

She stood up and looked at where the man’s eyes were behind the mask. The silence lingered for a couple of minutes until she finally let her gaze wander freely and spoke. “I think your abilities would be wasted here, but I appreciate the offer even so.” She said, now looking over his shoulder to were a healer stood, patiently waiting to speak with her. “Do stay as long you like, though.” She added as she walked past him towards the healer.
The woman gave her a look and whispered. “The assassins’ leader is here to see you Annie.”
Annie sighed. “Fine, lead him to one of the visitor tents, I don’t want him here.” She told her.
The healer bowed her head and walked away to find Sean and lead him to a tent. Annie didn’t turn back towards her tent; she simply mumbled “I have to go take care of this” and walked away towards the tent herself.

As she arrived Sean was standing there with his arms crossed over his chest. “Should I be insulted that you greet strangers in your tent and send me here?” He asked, opening a half-smile. “You’re making things difficult for me, Annie, and I don’t want to be forced into some unspeakable act here, I just want to find some common ground to stand on.”
“Forced?” Annie chuckled. “Is that what you tell yourself Sean? That you’re not responsible, you were forced into this. Maybe you’re enough of a fool to believe that, but I most certainly am not.”
He laughed. “Did I say ‘forced’? I meant ‘pushed’. I’m everything but irresponsible Annie. I know that these things come with a price, I just… Really don’t mind paying.”
“That’s because you’re not the one who pays Sean. Not yet, at least.” She stated. “Why are you here now?”
“I’ll be attacking the Crimson Shadows, considering they will probably deny my latest offer for a truce. The White Shadows don’t have to be a part of this, if it’s protection you need, we can provide it. I wouldn’t want your clan to suffer with this.”
“I don’t want thugs guarding my gates, Sean, but thank you anyway. Go ahead and do what you must, we can take care of ourselves.” Annie replied. “Is that all you had to say?”
“Is my sister healthy enough to travel back to camp?” He asked her.
“She is better now, but I’d suggest that she stays in observation until tomorrow. You can take her home then.” She answered.
“Then I suppose I’ll be staying overnight, if that’s not too much of a hassle, but we have nothing more to talk about.” He sated, nodding slightly and beginning to walk past her to leave, but then he stopped right beside her. “Wait, there is one thing: Right after your mother left, you said you needed to talk to me about something, but Evin invaded the camp that day and I didn’t come see you…” He looked at her with the corner of his eyes. “What was it you wanted to say to me then?”
Annie lowered her head, a frown taking over her expression. She thought about whether she should in fact tell him or not, maybe it was best if he didn’t know after all. “I don’t remember, Sean. It’s been over two years. Stay for as long as you like, though.”
Sean shook his head and chuckled. “I don’t believe you, but alright, you know where to find me in case you change your mind.” He stated, walking out of the tent.

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

[The Desert – Crimson Shadows Camp]

After the conversation she had with Evin, Crys spent most of her day in the training area, thinking things through. There was something she desperately wanted to do, but she didn’t know if she should. It was risky, to say the least. Finally she heard steps behind her and snapped out of her thoughts when Ali spoke in an angered tone. “Where’s Evin?”
“He said he was going to the plains, you missed him, I think.” Crys told her, not turning around from where she was standing, throwing knives at a dummy. “And where were you?”
“I went to see Annie, I needed to vent. Why?” Ali said
“You went to see Annie, and…?” Crys asked walking towards the dummy to retrieve the knives she had thrown at its head.
“And, Theron was there, I avoided him… And Sean showed up. I couldn’t avoid him.” Ali stated.
At that moment Crys turned around to face Ali with a serious look on her face. “Sean was in the plains?”
“He was. I think he was there because of what happened to Katelyn, but… I don’t know. I don’t like it.” Ali said, taking a seat on a nearby boulder.
“Did he see you?” Crys asked simply.
“Oh, he saw me. We spoke.” Ali responded.

Crys went silent for minute or two, facing Ali as if she saw something amusing there. “Alright, you know… I’m sick of this attitude of yours; stand up.”
Ali snorted out a chuckle. “What?”
“Are you deaf? Stand. Up.” Crys repeated.

Ali didn’t know what this was all about, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to find out either, but even so she stood up and walked a few steps to the center of the arena, watching Crys walk to the weapon rack and pick up a wooden sword. She walked back slowly and threw the sword to her. Ali grabbed the training sword in the air with her left hand, looking at Crys with suspicion as she dropped her own weapons on the floor. “What do you expect me to do with this?”
“What the hell do you think?” Crys told her, walking closer and crossing her arms over her chest. “Hit me.”
“I’m not going to do that.” Ali said simply, dropping the training sword and turning to walk away.
“It was your fault, what happened with Owen. You should have known better than to get him involved. You should have known he wouldn’t be able to tell when things got too risky. It was your responsibility to make sure he got out alive. You failed him completely, and that’s why he died.”
Ali lowered her head and sighed. “I know that.”
“Yes, and you also know that Sean was the one who actually killed him, and no matter whose fault it is, there is nothing you can do to change that.” Crys said, picking up the training sword and offering it to Ali again. “Take it.”
“I don’t want to hit you.” Ali told her, with an annoyed expression.
Crys laughed out. “Oh, yes you do, but I didn’t say I was going to let you. Come on, pick it up or you’ll have to fight me empty handed.”
Ali turned to face Crys and took the training sword heaving a sigh. “Are you sure? I’ve been practicing you know.”
Crys shook her head, laughing. “Not enough, you haven’t.”

-Two hours later-

Ali walked out of the training area with a small limp and a visible bruise on her neck, where Crys had punched her to end the fight. She was muttering to herself things she should have done differently, frowning, although it did help her feel better. Crys had a very good point in what she told her: Owen was only one person that was going to get caught in the middle of this, if she wasn’t prepared to be responsible for those deaths, she was useless.

Ali was so distracted with her thoughts that she didn’t even noticed Jackson walking in her direction; she collided with him before looking up to face the mercenary, who was visibly about to fall down drunk. “Jack, are you feeling alright?”
The man stopped and stared at her for a long while, trying to focus on her face. “Ther’s a woof at th’ gates, lookin’ for tryscal.”
“There’s a what, looking for… What?” Ali asked, looking at him with confusion.”
“A woof, lookin’ for tryscal.” Jackson repeated, apparently confused about what part of the message was unclear.
Ali stopped to think and try to make sense of what the man was trying to say. As she managed to put the pieces together, she smacked her own forehead and laughed out. “Oh! A Wolf! Looking for Crystal!”
“Tha’s wut I sad!” Jackson exclaimed, laughing as if Ali had said something incredibly silly.
Ali shook her head and patted the man’s shoulder. “Sure it was… Sure it was. Can you go tell ‘Tryscal’ for me?”
“S-ure.” He answered, a hiccup breaking the word in two as he stumbled off towards the arena.
“Well… He’s going in the right direction at least.” Ali said, watching to make sure the man actually went to the training fields where she had left Crys, before walking towards the gates.

Once she got to the gates she saw a shaky, pale and scared-looking figure of an assassin. The guy was shaking from head to toe, and had a terrified look in his eyes; he also he his right hand wrapped around a bloody cloth. “What the hell…” Ali muttered, before walking past the Crimson that were all facing the man as if he would jump on them at any moment. She stopped in front of the man and waved the mercenaries away. They walked back to a more comfortable distance, but still stayed close enough to watch her back. “What do you want?” She asked him.
“I… I… I need help.” He mumbled, stumbling forward and landing on his knees.
“Are you joking?” Ali asked raising an eyebrow. “Why would we ever help you?”
“I had n-nowhere else to go, there’s was n-no one else…” He stuttered. “Sean went crazy after Evin invaded camp yesterday. Me and a couple of friends had smuggled some booze in, for kicks… He blamed it on us that Evin got in so easily. We were punished…” He stopped talking, and simply sat there on the ground shivering for a few moments before he managed to speak again. “Sean told Avius to ‘handle us’, we were whipped in front of the whole clan, an example to the others. I got the worse of it though. Evin was sitting right next to me and I didn’t recognize him. When Sean found out about that he….” The man sighed, slowly freeing his hand from the bloody cloth that protected it, showing that his ring finger had been cut off. “I can’t go back. I have no place to go. Please.”
Ali took a good look at the injury… It looked very much self-inflicted, and she knew for a fact that Sean was the kind of sick bastard that would talk someone into this.

As she thought about it, Crys showed up behind her. “What is this?” She asked, frowning at the man that was now sobbing on the floor. “By the way, next time don’t send me a drunken idiot for a messenger. Took me quite some time to understand what the hell he was trying to say.”
Ali chuckled. “Sorry, I wanted to check this out for myself before you got here. This poor loser here is asking that we take him in. Apparently Sean took his ring, finger and all.”
Crys immediately picked up on the fact that Ali didn’t believe the story, but as she raised an eyebrow and turned to her she sounded interested. “You don’t say…” She mumbled, looking back to the man. “Well… I don’t really know what you expect us to do about it, but if that’s true, you can take your plea to the head of the Crimson Shadows and if he believes you, you’ll be welcome to stay.”
“T-thank you. I’ll do that.” He answered.
Crys nodded and gave Ali a very discrete signal that told her to keep an eye on the guy. “You do that, now excuse me… I have some errands I need to take care of.”

Ali sighed heavily watching the shivering figure. The guy was lying, but it seems like Crys wanted Sean to believe they had bought it. Fine, she’d play along. Looking at one of the Crimson who seemed to be a little less intoxicated and asked her for clean bandages and a bottle to clean the man’s wounded hand. Sitting next to him on the floor, she grabbed his wrist without asking permission and mumbled a “this will sting”, before pouring a good amount of alcohol on his wounded hand, and act that was followed by several complaints of the Crimson due to her ‘waste of good booze’. “So…” She mumbled starting to wrap the bandages around the guy’s hand. “What’s your name?”
“Eric.” He answered.
“Very, well, Eric…” She told him. “While I’m usually a very nice person, Sean Fletcher has harmed me to the point of anything slightly, remotely, related to him being able to turn me into a violent bitch. So, let me make something perfectly clear…” She sunk her nails painfully into his wound and leaned closer, staring menacingly into his eyes. “If you do anything, ANYTHING, that leads me to believe you are still working with the Wolfpack, I will cut your every finger, toe, hand… Hell, I will slice you into little chewable pieces and send you back to Sean in a little wooden box. Are we understood?”
The man simply nodded in response, since he was in too much pain to be able to utter a word.
“Good.” She said, releasing him. “Welcome to the desert.”

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

[Flashback - Wolfpack Camp, approximately 12 years ago]

Crys was sitting by the lake, it was cold away from the camp fire, but at least she was alone. She had another outburst that morning, she couldn't stand being around almost anyone anymore ever since her enlightenment began to manifest itself, almost a year ago. She was scared all the time and she just didn’t know how she would ever be able to live with this her whole life; it was unimaginable.
After a good while of enduring the shivering cold, Crys felt a blanket dropping down on her shoulders and sighed. “Hey, uncle Eldric.”
“Hey, kid.” The man greeted, sitting next to her on the ground. “Are you trying to freeze?”
Crys moved away from him slowly and simply shrugged.
“It’s your birthday, Crys… Why are you hiding out here?” He asked.
“I can’t handle a party right now.” She said, rubbing her eyes. “I’m tired anyway.”
“I’m sure you are… Kicking and screaming can be pretty exhaustive.” He said with a little chuckle.
“Shut up.” She muttered.
He laughed. “Oh, come on, kid… Don’t be like that.” He said. “I made you a present, but… Before I let you have it, you’ll need to sit through one of my stories.”
Crys sighed. “Fine. Not like I’m doing something important anyway…”
Eldric laughed some more, it seemed he just couldn’t stop laughing at her, she didn’t know whether she should laugh right back or be angry at the man. Finally she shook her head and opened a little smile. “What’s the damn story?” She asked.
“When I was a kid, not older than you, Dani’s mother, you grandmother, had the habit of gathering the recruits and telling them stories of the Twins and the time they spent in Valcrest.” He chuckled. “Now, Dani wasn’t a recruit yet, but she was an annoying little thing, and wouldn’t shut up unless she was allowed to hear the stories too. And her favorite story happened to be about the origin of music. You like music, right?”
“Sure.” Crys nodded.
“Sure, but do you know where it came from?” He asked her.
“I assume that you’re just about to tell me.” She replied with a grin.

“Yes, as a matter of fact, I am.” He said, letting another chuckle. “It goes a little but like this:

Heart and Mind were the fifth pair of Twins to arrive in Valcrest. As soon as they arrived, Heart was amazed by the Land and its beauty. She found it all so perfect that she felt there was nothing she would change or improve, thus, she decided she would give something to the humans; something that would allow them to appreciate the beauty of the world and of the people around them much better, she gave them the gift of emotions.

Now, at first, the humans weren’t all too pleased with Heart’s gift. Emotions were complicated, they were impossible to control, and even after Mind gave the humans reason, emotions seemed to often overcome it. As a result, a group of humans decided to go to the Goddess and beg her to take the gift away. They didn’t want to have their actions controlled by emotions anymore, most of all: They didn’t want to feel pain anymore.

Heart listened patiently to the complaints of the humans, and then told them to follow her into the forest. The humans didn’t understand, but complied and followed Heart to the depths of the forest, to its darker and quieter corner. Once there, Heart said that she would not take the emotions away, but she would give them another gift; something that would allow them to feel happy any time they wanted. She then asked them to close their eyes and be silent.
Intrigued with the offer, the humans did as they were told and closed their eyes. After a moment or two a sound filled their ears; a sound like nothing they had had heard before. As they listened to it, they felt their troubles fade and their hearts fill with joy.

Heart then told the humans that this was music, and that music was something that could be created at will by their own hands, at any moment and it would always bring them comfort. Ever since that day, wherever there were humans in Valcrest, there was also music.”

Crys listened to the story with interest. She’d never heard it before. “That’s a great story, but it’s not true.”
“What is not true?” Eldric asked.
“Music doesn’t necessarily makes you feel happy.” She stated.
“No, but you can choose what songs to hear, or play, and it makes it seem like have you control, even if a little while.” He explained. “And Heart would much rather let the humans figure that out for themselves, or at least I like to think that.”
“Mom told me Heart could sense every living creature in Valcrest… At all times. What if trees had emotions? Where the hell would I run to?” Crys muttered out, frustrated.
“You can’t avoid people forever, Crys. You know that, but…” He took her hand and placed an object on it. “You can pretend you have some sort of control, at least for a little while until you figure out the rest.”
Crys examined the object in her hands; it was cylindrical wooden casing. Opening it she reached the object inside, removing it from its casing she began to examine it with her finger tips and smile growing wider and wider across her face. “It’s a flute!” She exclaimed, unable to hold back the excitement. “Did you make this?”
“Yes, I did, missy. It took a good amount of my time too. I can’t take complete credit for it though; it was your mother’s idea, but the work is all mine as you can probably tell.” He said with a very satisfied tone in his voice.
“It’s the best gift ever, uncle… Thank you.” She smiled.
“I’m glad you like it, hopefully it’ll help you too.”


. . . . . . . . . . .

[Flashback – Wolfpack camp, approximately 4 years ago]

”YOU LIED TO ME!!!” Sean’s words exploded and echoed through the camp coming from the leader’s cabin. It caused chills down Crys’ spine; she had never felt so many rage coming from one single person before. All directed towards her mother.
“Sean, lower your voice.” Dani asked him in her calmest tone. “I know what you want, and I know how you feel, but this doesn’t solve anything.”
“No… You don’t know how I feel.” Sean stated, lowering his voice like she had asked, but not changing his tone in one bit. “You saw with your own eye what he did to her, what it did to me. You gave me your word that he would pay for this. You. Promised. Me.”
“He was punished for it.” Dani stated simply.
“How? How was he punished?” Sean asked with a chuckle. “You think that because he’s ‘sorry’, that’s enough punishment? Really? Didn’t you slay the Wolf Hunters for what they did to your mother? Huh? So don’t give me that crap about redemption and forgiveness now! You can’t have it both ways!”
“I did that, yes.” Dani stated. “I was punished for it too, over and over with every death that occurred as a result from it; your mother’s death included.” She sighed. “I’m very sorry Sean, but it has to end. It has to end here.”
“You’re not sorry.” Sean spat out in anger. “Not enough, not yet… I’ll make you sorry. I’ll make sure one day you truly know how this feels; that is my promise to you.” He stated.

At that moment the cabin door opened and Eldric walked in with firm footsteps to take his son away. Sean had to be dragged out, still cursing and screaming at Dani for her injustice. Crys simply stood where she was, silent even after she heard her mother speak.
“I am sorry, kid.”


[Reality - Wolfpack Camp, early evening]

Fingers grazed the name in the cold stone. It had been a long time since Crys had been there, a little over three years actually. She had spent a lot of time there, she even talked to some of those who were buried there. Out of those people, Eldric Fletcher had been a great friend to both her parents; and to her personally, but Crys had somehow forgotten him. “My dear old friend, I am so sorry.” She whispered. “I know this isn’t what you wanted. I know you did the best you could, maybe I could have done a little more, I don’t know… But now here we are.” She sighed. “I hope you will understand why I have to do this. I hope you will forgive him whenever you see him again, because I can’t anymore. He took almost everything from me, even if not by my hands… He’ll have to pay. And I am truly sorry.”

Crys knew she had a little bit of time to be there before she was seen. People usually paid their respects to the dead in the morning. For some silly reason most people avoided the memorial at night. She moved from Eldric’s to her mother’s grave and there she sat, right beside it, with her back against a stone that held her own name. Sean had left it there for whatever reason. It was funny in her opinion.

After sitting she sighed slightly. “I’m still a little mad at you, but tomorrow we celebrate creation, and the Crimson believe it’s a day to think of new beginnings and ask the Twins for blessings. I have faith in the Twins, but I have trust in you, so maybe you can bless me instead, I think I need it now more than ever. I also wanted an excuse to come here again. But still; here I am, right? That must count for something.” She sighed, surprised at how stupid she felt asking questions to a grave; not like she never done it before. “The other reason though, you know what it is. I think it’s what you’d like me to do, but understand I’m only trying this once.” She brought her knees closers and hugged them tightly, feeling a slight shiver. It was starting to know, and she was no longer used to this kind of cold. “I’ve been alright, all in all. Jake is constantly a concern though, I keep expecting someone to show up and tell me he dropped dead somewhere. I wish there was some way I could help, but I know there isn’t. All I can do is hope that he’s alright somehow.” She paused for a minute then shook her head. “Oh, Theron’s back, which is good in a way, but I still don’t know how I feel about it. Evin is angry, hurt… I’m not sure… Sometimes it’s actually difficult to tell with him, although it doesn’t bother me as much as it used to. He’s always telling me how friends should act though, makes me wonder if he demands these things from all his friends, or if he’s just doing it to mess with me. Again, it’s hard to tell.” She chuckled. “I don’t know, I knew he wouldn’t be happy, but I still expect him to suddenly start giving Theron attitude like he did four years ago. Those two were such stubborn idiots back then, but I do miss it sometimes.”

Finally, she took one deep breath and pulled her flute from the bag she was carrying and started to play. Soon enough the breeze carried the music into the camp. It didn’t take long for people to start wondering where it was coming from and heading towards the memorial area.

“What is she doing here?” A female voice asked.
“We should do something, she’s trespassing, and is a traitor.” A male active suggested.
“Yeah, but… You know…” Another one mumbled. “We should probably call Avius. He’s in charge.”

Crys snickered softly at the whispers of the confused actives, which interrupted the sweet and calm melody that had been echoing through the clearing. She hadn’t shown up, been heard from, or even given proof of life after Allison had escorted her out of the encampment three years ago. It was very amusing how people seemed confused and frightened to see her there, sitting by her own gravestone (that had never been removed), playing flute as if she was right at home. They were shocked, and didn’t know what to do about the whole thing. Finally she lowered the flute and turned to face the small crowd of actives. “Please, just pick one already. You’re making me frustrated.”
“Why are you here?” One of the actives asked.
“I’m here to see Dante. Could you please go get him?” She asked, not saying anything more and simply going back to playing her music.

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

[Newhaven]

The pyre was about to be lit.

The pyre was about to be lit and Jake was stuck in his room, pacing back and forth trying to make a decision. He wanted to pay his respects, sure, but being at a funeral would remind him of every other funeral in his life… His sister’s, which was practically inexistent, only a few old friends of her father watching as she was buried next to their parents in the local cemetery, an empty grave next to her held his own name and marked him dead as far as the records of Blackpond were concerned.
Bastian’s funeral, which he had to sneak in to the Pack camp to see. The sight of Crys, covered in blood, looking pale and shaky, suddenly popped in his mind. He stopped pacing and sat on his bed, hiding his face in his hands… Dani’s funeral… He was in Newhaven then; he didn’t even know she was dead.

He sighed heavily, deciding not to go to the funeral after all. Instead he left his room and made his way to the courtyards, sitting down on a stone bench and closing his eyes for a moment to take noticing of the chilling night air.
Jake was never the kind of man that prayed, and he constantly mocked Crys for speaking to graves as if the dead could hear her. Still he sat there, took a deep breath and spoke with a little chuckle. “I don’t know why I came here, but suppose it’s as good of a place as anywhere else; I was told the dead can hear you anywhere…” He sighed. “Everyone is outside now, shedding their tears and saying their goodbyes. I was supposed to be there with them, but you know me though, I’m not much of a sentimental type, and when I have something to say I prefer to say it privately; even if it is ‘goodbye’.” He scratched the back of his head nervously, feeling a little bit stupid, but going on with what he wanted to say. “I suppose it’s not as much a ‘goodbye’ as it is a ‘thank you’. After all, you were a damn good friend to me in a time when it was hard for me trust myself, even less anyone else. Now, I know Valcrest is yet to find peace, the way you always said you wanted it, but I sincerely hope that you have.” He opened a little smile and added. “So, you just enjoy your freedom, and let the rest of us take care of this mess. It might be a little slower without you, but if there’s a way we’ll find it.”

With that said, Jake simply sat there in silence. He could hear the voices singing in the distance, but couldn’t make out the words. He raised his head as he felt it began to snow, if he sat there for long he’d be wet from head to toe, but for the moment he just didn’t feel like moving.

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

After a good while of sitting out in the cold Jake decided it was best to just go inside and change into dry clothes. He had decided he would wait a bit before running off to do what he needed, wait to see how things would be in the morning; for everyone. He didn’t know how long he’d been sitting there in the dark, he’d heard the people passing coming back from the forest and some other movement, but he couldn’t really bring himself to pay attention, and if someone had noticed him there they didn’t mention.

Finally he stood and slowly made his way into the castle and up to his room to change, dragging his feet and thinking over things he needed to find out soon. Probably easier if he hadn’t associated with the Black Knights again, but he had stopped questioning why he made these sorts of decisions a long time ago, he just learned to accept his own stupidities. Halfway through changing into a dry set of clothes, the sound of crashing and yelling was heard echoing through the stone halls. Jake stormed out of his room with his head half stuck in a shirt, but managed to get it on properly before reaching the group of seemingly confused members of the Guard standing outside Mageria’s bedroom door; the shouting and shattering coming from inside. “What’s this?” He asked the men.
“Uh… We don’t know. Should we… Break the door down, maybe?” One of them asked, clearly expecting the he give them some sort of order; something he was not at all used to doing.
“Hum…” He put his ear against the door for a moment, but quickly pulled back as something broke right close to it. “No. I don’t think so.” He told them. It was loud and ugly, but to him it seemed like she’d just had a meltdown and started breaking things. Or at least at first it did… Not soon after the guards had dispersed, as if Jake’s words had given the perfect excuse to just run as far away from the door as possible, the shattering stopped and a scream was heard loud and clear coming from the inside of the room: “JUST LEAVE ME ALONE!”
That made Jake doubt his theory to the point of making him press his ear against the door and consider barging in himself. However, what he heard next caused him to relax a little bit. Mageria was clearly sobbing, which was a little bit frightening to overhear, but in a way it was good, because it was bound to happen eventually.

Jake thought he’d heard someone else speak though, so he stood there and listened in for a little while longer.

"Stupid arrogant overdressed prick. I thought you were dead."

Jake didn’t need to listen to anything else after that one. There was only one person he could think of to fit that description, so he walked away trying not to think of how incredibly intrusive he had been, but thinking that this was a good thing. “Son of bitch isn’t dead.” He mumbled, as he walked down to hall. He was moving his plan along then, as soon as possible, which meant he needed to find Sham.

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

Jake had been almost everywhere in the castle looking for Sham. It was difficult to look for someone you barely know in such a big place, Jake could barely take a decent guess to where she would go. Finally, he went back to the tower where he had been sitting prior to the funeral. If he didn't find her there, he'd just sit around and wait until morning, he didn't feel like sleeping at all at this point and he liked the view from that window.

When he went inside though he couldn't help but open a grin when seeing her there, he couldn't understand why it didn't occur to him to look there first. "Huh... Why didn't I think you'd be in a high place? I must be tired or something." He stated, finding the little wooden bench Luckas had used earlier and sitting on it. Remembering Luke, he looked around for any sign of that little freak being hiding there, he could be surprisingly sneaky, but he wasn't there, so he figured it was safe to get into the subject at hand. "So, what you said earlier about being all for messing with Blackpond... How serious are you about it?" He asked.

Sham twisted around from where she was perched on the window sill and raised an eyebrow. She had changed out of most of her formal uniform, but still wore the coat and tunic. The hood was pulled forward, hiding the glint of her hair from anybody looking from below. But the winter air still cut through the cloth.
"I like high places because so many others avoid them." She pulled her legs up and crossed them in front of her, tucking each foot under the other leg.
"You'd be wanting to cause trouble over there then?" She leaned one shoulder against the frame. "I'd say that that'd be something I'd be most interested in." A dangerous glint shown in her eye. "I've got a bone or two to pick with those over there myself."

"Does that mean you like to avoid people?" He asked in an interested tone. "And that's good, because I do plan to cause a lot of trouble there. I have reasons of my own to do it, but I figure it might actually benefit Newhaven if I can pull this off." He paused a little thinking about just how much he wanted to tell, how much he was willing to admit to at this point. finally he decided to give just the most relevant part of the information he had, for the moment:

"There are some strange things going on in Blackpond ever since this new King took the throne. I spent close to two years sneaking around trying to find out wh Everyone who could have given me decent information on the things happening inside the castle, disappeared before I could get anything useful out of them, and anyone who speaks against the crown is dragged to the dungeons never to be seen again. I tried to sneak into the castle one time, but somehow they knew I was there and I almost didn't make it out." He said trying not to think too much about what happened that time, it had been a very close call. "I've had this idea in my mind for quiet some time, and while it's absolutely stupid, it might be crazy enough to work... I'll get myself taken to the dungeons. I'll make enough of a scene for anyone in there who might be having problems with the new King to be able to find me, at the same time, maybe there is someone alive in those cells that can give me something useful." He smiled slightly. "This, is my stupid plan. I'm going to do it by myself if I have to, but It'd be nice to have some backup. Mostly since I can't know what will happen once I'm caught." He didn't tell Sham everything, not yet, but it wasn't relevant anyway, besides... He didn't know how much she knew about the whole story.


Sham shrugged. "I don't have a lot in common with most anybody in this place. I grew up in the gutter, learning to steal to survive. First time I saw the Cap'n? Couple of me mates was being chased by Blackpond soldiers. We was giving 'em hell, and outta nowhere a couple of crazed folk in Black armor showed up, killed 'em, ended up offering us supplies for our help." She shook her head at the memory. "I really did think she was a bit cracked, but it worked for a while. Anyways, I got less idea how to act with some of these noble folk than I have to fly."

Sham curled her legs up under her chin and listened quietly as Jake outlined his plan. "Why do I not think you've told Cap'n about this? The woman who came the other day, she's holdin' the lives of a bunch of our folk over the Cap'n's head, at least from what I can gather. Me, not to be darkcast, but I have trouble believin'' that they're still alive." She stayed quiet for a long moment. "So that'd be one o' the things we'd have to find out. Along with what ever it is else you want to find out."
She measured Jake with her eyes, considering what she saw. He looked as if he could hold his own in most any situation, and resolved enough to go through with his plan and not break halfway through.
"So, do ya have an exit plan, or is that going to be up to your back-up?" She grinned and gestured at herself, indicating that she was going to be going along with his mad scheme. Then she tilted her head to the side. "You know, she's really not going to be happy about this. And with the walking around covered in blood and not even realizin' it; you think we should go off like that?"


Jake chuckled. "Well, nobles are strange folk, I give you that, but there's a decent number of misfits amongst the Guard too."
He said absently. "We're a small, but ever growing group." He said in an amused tone. "And no, I didn't tell her, but I like to think she knows me well enough to expect this kind of stupidity." He said still smiling, letting the smile fade slowly as he thought about the situation with the prisoners. "Those soldiers... Yeah, you're right. It's hard to believe they're still alive, but as long as there's chance they are, they're a great bargaining tool. Knowing for sure will help us know what to do... If there's something that can be done."

He stretched lazily where he sat and let out a small yawn. He wasn't sure how late it was, but even thought he knew he was tired, he was also wide awake. "Exit plan? Hum... No, I don't have one." He laughed. "I heard starting a riot is an effective way to escape from prison, but I have a feeling that it won't work very well." He joked. "Seriously though, it's very difficult to know how to get out of a place without knowing what's there, but... I'm sure there's a way. Worst case scenario they'll have another bargaining tool." He stated with a small shrug. "I'm hoping that woman the guy in the Inn mentioned, Rita, will be smart enough to contact me in there... She'd probably want to help us if she believes Lamya killed the King."

Jake went silent for a little while. Then he heaved a little sigh. "As long as we don't get killed and get some actual results, we'll be fine. As for the walking around covered in blood... That's not strange. She and Grim were very close, now he's gone, and that hurts like... Well, there's really nothing the hurts quite like it." He shook his head, not sure if he should laugh or not as he added. "Besides, I have a feeling the Captain will be in good hands while we're away. And I certainly don't want to wait for her to be well enough to know what we're up to here. I mean she probably will, but I don't plan on being anywhere on sight when she does." He said with a small grin.

Sham grinned back. "Well, unless they've done some major remodeling, there's a secret passage or two in there. They know about them, but they might come in handy anyways. We happen to have a map that shows where they be. Shouldn't be too out of date." She thought a bit more and suddenly laughed a little bit.
"So, your whole plan for not getting in trouble is to simply not be here when Cap'n finds out and not get dead while doing it? I can't argue against the stupid part. Maybe even insane. But it sounds like a lovely bit of fun. You'd be wanting to start trouble for that Lamya?"
Smoothly, Sham rolled forward out of the window sill to land on her hands, rolling into a handstand and then flipping over to land on her feet once more.
"When do you want to leave?"

Honestly, she wanted to get away from the Castle. Seeing the Cap'n in that much pain brought back memories of when she lost her entire crew to a pack of Blackpond dogs. She had wandered lost for a long time before Mageria happened to cross into her sight once more and give her a reason to keep going.

Jake laughed out. "Oh, no... I think I'll probably get in trouble either way, that's my plan for not getting strangled." He said, still chuckling. "If the map you're talking about is the one I think it is... It is a bit old. I know for a fact that there's at least a whole new part of the dungeons that isn't on it, but those passages can still be useful, yes." He watched Sham with a slight curiosity as she moved. It was indeed curious. "Lamya is not really my priority unless she would like to be so kind as to put herself on the tip of my blade, but..." He sighed. "Since I doubt she would grant me that favor as much as I doubt it's possible to avoid having to deal with her again... Whatever I can do to cause her trouble, I'll sure do it."

He stopped to think for a little while about when would be the best time to leave. "Before sunrise, if that's okay. I would say 'right now', but I think it might be best to try and get a few hours of sleep." He stifled a yawn and stood up, stretching, and running a hand through his hair. "It was damn long day today." Jake knew he probably wouldn't be able to get any sleep, but he needed to try anyway... He didn't know when he'd get the chance to sleep in a bed again.

Sham nodded and stretched herself. "Aye, I can be up and ready to go. Take a couple of horses, ride over, I find a place to den up, while you go and make trouble. Then I'll lurk about and see what I can learn while you enjoy Blackpond's lovely hospitality." She nodded again. "Sounds like a fair deal."
With a slight snort, she linked her arm through his and started walking toward the stairs. "Soooooo . . . which one of us is going to leave the note? I mean, I guess that we're not to just mention that we're out on a ride. A note that get's to her somewhere abouts lunch ought to give us enough lead. You think? Maybe that there's something you wanted to check out and I went to back ya up a bit? It's all true enough."

Jake nodded opening a little smirk. “Oh, I’ll leave the note. I think I know what to say.”

The setting changes from the-ruins-healers-camp to The Desert

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Indrani Nayar Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Allison Blake

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The Day of Creation simply prolonged the party the Crimson were already having on account of their loss. It was rather sad, yet comic, that they saw no difference between both occasions; it was just another party to them. There was music, dancing, and laughing, but above all else there was drinking. There was so much of it, in fact, that Ali had to find somewhere where people weren't falling over and slurring their words all around, and so she walked to the training area with her bow to practice a little.

It was still painful to shoot, and Ali found that her accurracy wasn't what it used to, or should be, anymore. An injury to the hand could permanently keep an archer from ever firing a bow again. Luckily for her, Sean didn't do the job right and it was possible that her hand would regain full movement in the future. She just wasn't sure when that would happen, that if it actually did.

[Flashback - Small village in the plains, approximately 11 years ago]

Ali was sitting in the grass watching her brother target practice. She always enjoyed watching Alex train. He didn't even seem aware of anything other than the target; From the moment he nocked the arrow until it reached the target it was like he was in a distant place inside his mind. She wondered how he managed to focus like that and still be aware of his surroundings because, even though she was careful not to make a sound, he knew very well that she was watching. That much become clear when he stopped, halfway through pulling another arrow from the quiver he carried at his waist, and smiled. "Allison, why are you so quiet? I don't think I've ever seen you spend this much time without talking."
Ali tilted her head to one side and smiled cheerfully at her brother. "I didn't want to disturb you."

"You don't want to disturb me?"Alex retrieved and put his arrow back in the quiver before walking over and crouching in front of his little sister. He looked at her with a suspicious look on his face, then pointed a finger at her and asked abruptly. "Who are you and what have you done to my annoying little sister?"
Ali giggled softly and slapped his hand away from her face. "Shut up, silly."
Alex shook his head, sitting down on the grass next to her. "Now, now... That's not a nice thing for a young lady to say, Allison." He told her in a sarcastic tone.
"When will you teach me to shoot like you?" Ali asked, laying back on the grass and focusing in trying to find interesting shapes in the clouds.
"I already told you... Father doesn't want you to be an archer. It's dangerous." Alex stated.
"He doesn't have to know." She argued. "Please."
"What? Ali... No. He's right, it's too dangerous. We can be attacked at any minute, and..."
"And I want to help protect the village, like you and father. Why can't I do that?"
Alex sighed softly. "Listen to me, sis: You can do anything you want. Anything. I just think that you deserve a better life."


[Reality - Desert, present time]

Taking a long deep breath, she gripped the bow just tightly enough to be firm and yet without tension, her left hand relaxed as she held it. With the left side of her body facing the target, she aligned her feet and parted them at shoulder width, maintaining a relaxed posture as she faced the target sideways and pulled an arrow from her quiver. After examining the arrow for a bit with a frown, it wasn't of the best quality, but it was the best she could manage around these parts, she nocked it.

[Flashback - Wolfpack encampment, aproximately 8 years ago]

"I can't"

"Yes you can. Hold it!"

The pain was invading Ali's body slowly as she held the bow drawn. The arrow pointed at Crys. She was not to release it until she moved aside, but she had been there for what it felt like hours and Crys hadn't moved a step; she had simply stood there with her arms crossed over her chest, like a damned statue. "I can't stand it."

"Fine then: Release. You'll kill me and be executed for treason." Crys stated simply. "Everybody wins." She added, sarcastically.

Ali didn't respond. She had a feeling that the more she complained, the longer she would have to hold, and the effort she was being forced to make to simply keep the bow string hooked in her fingers was almost too much to bear.

Finaly, after what felt like an eternity, Crys moved aside, exposing the target. Ali released the arrow and fell to her knees, exhaustion setting in. She could hear Crys walking around her, she hadn't said anything yet, and that couldn't be good.

"Not bad..." Crys stated. "But you missed the center of the target. So, get yourself on your feet, and we'll try this again."

Ali didn't move. Her back and shoulders where hurting badly. "I can't take anymore." She knew she shouldn't have said that the moment it came out of her mouth, she knew Crys hated whining; this would cost her.

Crys kneeled beside her, the tone in her voice was soft, and dangerously cold. "I'll decide what you can, or cannot, take. Now get on your feet. Or I'll make sure you don't stand for a very long time."

Ali stood, slowly, and faced Crys with a look of pure hatred. "One day... I swear... I'll slit your throat while you sleep."
Crys laughed. "If you ever manage to become that skilled I'll gladly die. Now: Let's try again, and this time you better make the shot perfect."


[Reality - Desert, present time]

Another deep breath. She placed her index finger just above the nock and her middle and ring fingers just below it, hooking the string firmly with those three fingers, she raised her bow to shoulder height and began to draw the string until it gently touched her nose and chin.

[Flashback - Wolfpack encampment, approximately 6 years ago]

Ali was leaving the training area with her bow at her back when she heard someone whistle behind her. She turned to find a tall man with dark-grey hair leaning by the leader's cabin and looking at her with an interested look in his eyes. She held the man's gaze and asked, in a less than polite tone: "What do you want?"
"You're Allison, right?" He asked, seemingly unfazed by the aggressiveness in her tone. "Crystal's recruit?"
"Yes. And who are you?" Ali asked in return.
"Is that your bow?" He asked, ignoring her question.
"It is." Ali answered, now turning away and beginning to walk back to the recruits' dormitories. She heard the man following her, but didn't turn to look, deciding to simply ignore him.
"You stole it, right? It can't be yours, it's too big for you." He stated.
Ali suddenly stopped, and turned to the man with a look of pure hatred. "I'm not a thief!" She exclaimed. "What do you want from me? Leave me the hell alone."
"It's too big for you." He repeated. "However, you're what, fifteen? You might still grow enough to use it. How tall was the previous owner?"
Ali gave the man an intrigued look. "He wasn't all that much taller than I am now. And I'm fourteen." She mumbled.
"Fourteen? Even better." He said, opening a smile. "Whose was it?"
"My bother's." She replied. "He crafted it himself."
"Did he, now?" The man asked, seeming even more ineterested. "That's some fine craftsmanship. Your brother was an artist." He held out his hand. "Can I have a look?"
"I'd rather not." Ali replied, with a slightly apologetic look. She didn't mean to be rude, she just didn't trust this man quite yet.
"That's alright." He stated. "Can I see your arrows instead?"
Ali nodded in agreement, handing him her quiver.
He pulled an arrow out of the small leather quiver and examined it carefully, seeming displeased with what he saw. "Did you make these yourself?"
"I did, why?" Ali asked, wondering if she should be offended by his tone.
"They're crap. These feathers are different sizes, from different types of birds even, and I bet you don't even know what kind of wood this is." He stated. "You can't make arrows out of just anything." He tossed the quiver back at her and reached behind his back to hi own quiver, from where he pulled an arrow of his own. "You want to make your arrow shafts out of cedar, pine, or birch, they all have different qualities and you have to try them and see which one you like best. Cherry is not bad either, but hard to find around these parts and you don't want to stray too far from camp." He explained. "Goose feathers are what I consider the best, but some use turkey feathers and claim they are just as effective. They need to be the exact same size. Tail feathers are better for this." He explained, putting his own arrow away. "Tell me, kid: How seriously do you plan on taking this? You're four years into your basic training, you're likely to be graduating soon, if you actually plan on calling yourself an archer, I suggest you learn these things, and fast."
"How seriously do I take this?" Ali asked, raising an eyebrow. "I will learn these things and I'll be damned if I'm not the best archer this clan has ever seen when I'm done."
The man opened a satisfied grin. "Dani's right, you do have potential." He said absently. "You'll need work though, lots and lots of work. Are you sure your up for it?"
"Absolutely." She stated, without a hint of hesitation.
"You understand this doesn't count as official training? It's extra work, and a lot of it." He asked.
"I don't care." She answered.
The man nodded in agreement, for the first time a look of approval crossed his features as he extended his hand towards her one more time. "Eldric Fletcher." He stated finally. "I am the best archer this clan has ever seen, but I guarantee you'll be better when I'm through with you."


[Reality - Desert, present time]

Ali took one more deep breath as she held the bow drawn; keeping her injured hand in the 'hooking' position in itself was painful, but holding the weight of the extended string without releasing it prematurely was agony. She endured it though, carefully taking aim before letting the string gently slide out of her hold, releasing the arrow on its way towards the target. It landed gently in its center, however, slightly off the intended course. Ali mentally cursed as she lowered the bow; her draw hand had shivered during the release and altered the arrow's course.

"That took forever. I thought you people were trained to kill quickly." Dastan's voice spoke behind her.
Ali didn't turn, she simply pulled another arrow and repeated the process, this time taking no longer than a second to go through it. "Sometimes it's good to do things slowly. If you do something often enough for it to become mechanical, you eventually forget what the process feels like." She paused before pulling another arrow and adding: "You sound strangely sober."
"My old man had three rules to live by: Never bet what you can't afford to lose; Never turn your back on a friend; Never drink when you're upset." Dastan answered.
"Oh, so you being sober is a bad thing?" Ali asked, releasing another arrow into the target. "And why are you upset?"
"Your friend, Sean, sent yet another messenger this morning. He says he will launch an attack on us if I don't surrender you people to him by sundown."
"I see." Ali mumbled. "And what did you answer?"
"You really need to ask me that?" He said. "Never turn your back on a friend." He repeated.
"Aren't the Crimson your friends too Dastan? Do you think they can endure this attack? The Pack may not be what it once was, but it's still extremely powerful. It would be a massacre even if they didn't greatly outnumber your people." She turned to him and smiled. "Look, I don't want you to turn on us, but you should think of them first."
"It's really not that simple." He replied. "The crew likes you people. They even like Evin, except for Indrani, she kinda hates him, but you get my point. They won't accept what's best for them, I have to consider that too."
Ali chuckled. "See, that's why I can't be a leader; I can't bring myself to think that way."
"And how do you think?" He asked.
"I think that this isn't your fight. Whatever happened to not getting involved?" Ali asked, walking to retrieve her arrows on the target, examining them one by one for damage before putting them away in the quiver.
"We were always involved. We just pretended not to be." Dastan stated. "Not even we can pretend anymore."

Ali sighed softly. "I guess everyone is rethinking things nowadays." It was true. So many things had happened in the past years, hell, in the past two days. Things that had forced her to question everything: Her loyalties, her life, who she once was and who she hoped to become... Past and present were so mixed together now, it was too hard to know what was reality and what was a simple memory... And now, more than ever, the future was uncertain.

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

-Scene written between Sickness and me... Ages ago-

Billy wandered through the desert and by chance or fate depending on what one might believe.
Happened on what he could only guess was the camp of the Crimson Shadows.
He took a moment to survey the various comings and goings of the people in the camp.
The cooks ever busied with prepping the days next meal.
Some cutting meat, others working with huge black pots of scalding hot water.
Once he grew satisfied with one particular scene being played out he moved around the very outer perimeter of the camp.
Slowly creeping closer and closer watching every movement with the eyes of a hawk.

He worked very hard at not being spotted, and although Annie said the people in the Crimson Shadows would be friendly.
Billy was in no mood or shape for yet another fight with a group like the pack.
His leg had gotten a chance to get a bit of sand in the wound which was not only a touch painful but aggravating to say the very least.
Had it been anyone else it might've dampened their mood but Billy was never one to show weakness even in his personality.
And anger over pain is deffinetly a weakness.
Slowly he crept ever slower toward the back side of the camp looking for some sign of the general demeanor.

Indrani had been training young recruits most of the morning, which surprisingly had put her in a pretty good mood. The progress had been great and it had taken her mind off the problems they've been having. She had many discussions with Dastan lately, all about the same thing: The assassins. As much as Indrani liked them, and she did, they were losing many of their people and getting pulled into a war that wasn't theirs to fight. She thought maybe it was time they started to look out for their own a little more. It didn't matter anyway, Dastan had the final say, all she could do was make sure the mercenaries were well-trained and mentally prepared. That was her job, and she was good at it.

Walking back from the training area, carrying her scythe over her shoulder, she looked around and immediately noticed an unfamiliar face amongst the mercenaries. This guy wouldn't actually stand out to her that much, wasn't for that fact that she knew all the names and faces in that camp. She stopped to watch the guy for a moment or two, before walking up to him. "Hey, you... You're trespassing." She told him. "Are you lost, by any chance?"

Billy faced her more than a bit startled.
He, for whatever reason didn't notice her presence until she spoke and then he snapped into reality quickly.
He then said in answer to her question.
"Lost? No love I'm no lost.
Trespassing aye ta be sure but deffinetly not lost.
Truth be told I'm looking for a place what ta be hiding out from those pack lads for a bit.
Maybe put in some work, have a drink or several, kill some time, and more pack members given half the chance.
T'was a wee lass what gave me a bit of healing that directed me out this way.
Said ya folks would accept people of me sort pretty quick and keep the pack from putting another hole in me leg."

BIlly then shook his hair from his face and smiled.
"So love maybe ya can help me ta no be trespassing anymore so much as getting applied for a spot with you lot.
I'm handy with a blade, quick on me feet, and have bad jokes a plenty ta be telling ta anyone what is fool enough ta be listening."
He then extended his hand and said with a half smile.
"Where are me manners?
Me name is Billy ta me friends tis a pleasure ta be meeting ya love.
That is provided ya are no going ta be putting a blade in me."

Indrani looked at this outsider intently before even considering what to say. He looked like a messed up fool, but she had lived with the Crimson Shadows her whole life; more than enough to know that appearances didn't really mean that much. The fact he mentioned a run-in with the Wolves and the healers made his story just plausible enough for her. "Well... Billy is it? Follow me." She said, walking past him towards the encampment. "You should consider getting a drink of something non-alcoholic from time to time and wear lighter clothing if you plan on staying here. Otherwise you'll probably drop flat on your back before the sun is even at its highest." She told him, with a little smile. "We always have use for another set of hands and... We have more than enough fools to entertain if you really want to put yourself through it. Careful with the girls when they're drunk, some of them tend to get a little too friendly and won't want to hear a 'no'. I'm never drunk, remember that."

Once they reach the center of the encampment, she pointed at one larger tent. "Food and drink that way. This is the living area, south from here are training grounds, my tent and the temple. You'll need permission to enter the temple, but feel free to explore the training area. Come near my tent and I'll behead you on an instinct without even taking a second look at your face." Then she smiled pleasantly and added. "Any questions?"

Billy answered her last question quickly and with a smile.
"Aye I've got me share of questions though the first one just might be what's ya name love?
The second would be, there's such a thing as non alcoholic drink?
And the third...those lasses what do no take "no" for an answer where might they be?"
He then chuckled and responded
"Of course I'm just pulling ya leg love.
Ya do no behead people for that now do ya?"
He then scratched his head with the tip of his dagger.
"Guess I had more questions than I thought eh."

He started to look around the camp but his gaze still fell back on her.
Shaking his hair from his face he said.
"So if I'm going ta be sneaking into your tent I'll be needing ta ply ya with water or something ta the like first then?"
He snapped his fingers and laughed.
"Just like a lass ta want me ta get ya sober first."

"Indrani." She stated simply. "I'd say it's nice meeting you, but it's a little early to tell." She said, looking at him with a raised eyebrow. "Eh, it's up to you whether you drink water or not, but you might consider it. If you don't you'll pass out from the heat and probably wake up to find someone stuffing your pants with hot sand. Or some other similar stupidity." She snorted a little chuckle and added. "And oh... They'll find you. Just wait for it." She said.

She moved her scythe from her shoulder And leaned the lower blade on the ground, the one on the top still going over her shoulder. "You don't want to sneak into my tent... That would be terrible for your health, you know." She said in a very calm tone, opening a smile and adding. "Although, if you are good enough with those blades of yours to actually impress me... Who knows, you might get invited." She said. "It's not at all easy though, I should warn you."

Billy tossed a dagger end over end into the air catching it by the handle.
"Me skill with me daggers none can question love.
You'll just have ta be coming around some time what when I'm throwing them.
Guess I'll be looking for the lad or lass what leads this place eh?
Or maybe that drink along with those lasses.
As for filling me pockets with sand t'would be the first time anyone filled me pockets with anything."
He the laughed and walked off tossing the dagger end over end singing.
"Don't hit your mother in the head with a shovel.
It'll leave a dull impression on her mind."

Indrani watched Billy walk away with a somewhat intrigued look on her face. Finally she shook her head and mumbled. "The types of people who show up around here... It's just impressive." With that she followed the sound of music into the celebration that was happening. While she usually prefer to keep to herself, Creation Day, out of all days, was a different story. It was her favorite day since she was a little girl.

Walking amongst the small crowd of mercenaries and assassins, she spotted Crys in the middle of the party. That was an odd sight. Crys usually avoided this sort of event like the plague, however: There she was, allowing herself to be pulled into dancing around to a music that was already out of rhythym due to the level of alcohol the musicians had in them. Indrani couldn't help but watch that scene with curious eyes. In three years it was the one time she'd seen Crys do anything other than converse with others in secluded corners or play that flute she seemed unable to separate from; even on the date of Creation, she had never truly broken out of that 'assassin leader' posture of hers, at least not as far as Indrani could recall. It was comforting and yet bothersome to see what was underneath; it made her wonder what had caused such a change.

After a while she realized she had stared for long enough to catch the attention of the blind woman, and soon enough Crys was walking in her direction. She stopped in front of her and cracked open a smile. "Beautiful day, is it not?" She greeted.
"A beautiful day, indeed." Indrani replied, all of a sudden feeling slightly nervous. She didn't remember ever exchanging this many words with Crys. She had even spoken more with Evin than with her, if she counted the times she had yelled at the man as 'speaking'.
Crys chuckled. "Do I disturb you in some way? She asked. "You seem nervous, and I can't quite understand why." She stated. It sounded as if Crys found it absolutely normal for her to be nervous, which only seemed to make it worse.
"N-no... I'm fine, really." She mumbled in response. Did she just stammer? She had never stammered before in her life.
Crys widened her smile. "I can tell you're perfectly fine, even so, you wouldn't be the first person to be nervous around an empath. People tend to be constantly afraid of what I might find out about them. You, for instance, are probably worried I'll be able to know that you don't want us here."
That statement caused Indrani to let out a small chuckle. "Oh, well... Fair enough." She stated. "I really don't. As much as I like you people, I think that the last thing we need right now is more trouble."

"You don't like me." Crys stated simply. "You're just too polite to say so. Don't worry though, I highly doubt you'll hurt my feelings with that." She sighed. "Truth is, we're not so different, you and I. I bet you've been pushing yourself your whole life, wanting to prove you can do this despite what others might think, what your parents might think... And now that you actually managed to gain their respect and their trust, you're terrified out of your mind thinking that maybe you're not as strong as you thought you were. Maybe, just maybe, you can't actually do this; you can't protect them."
Indrani was frozen where she stood. The truth in those words had managed to put her in a state of absolute shock. She wanted to say something, but she simply couldn't find the words.
"You want us gone because if there's no conflict you will never have to know for sure." Crys added. "I'm sympathetic, I truly am. Especially because that voice in your head is absolutely right: you're not strong enough, you can't protect them and the more you try to do so, the more and more you'll fail. The sensation is something similar to sinking into quicksand. The more you struggle, the faster you sink."

Indrani was very close to truly being furious now, her hands were gripping the shaft of her scythe so tightly she could barely feel them. She could still hear the music and laughing of the party, but the sounds seemed so distant now, as if they were echoes in the back of her mind. Suddenly, she felt a hand on her shoulder and realized that Crys was leading her away from the party.
"Come on, walk with me." Crys said, calmly. "I know this isn't what you want to hear. You'd much rather pretend there is some way to stop this, but take my word for it: there isn't. The sooner you accept this, the better."
"So what, should I just quit? Nothing I do matters. That's what you're saying." Indrani finally spoke.
"That's not what I said. I'm trying to explain something I came to understand a little bit too late; Being a Leader means you'll have to live with the choices no one else wants to make, those choices will inevitably lead to deaths, and you'll have those deaths on your hands and on your conscience for as long as you live. Everything will be your fault, and no matter how many times you tell yourself that things couldn't be helped, there is no amount of reasoning that will make you feel better. And if, by any chance, after everything is said and done, there are still people willing to follow you to death... It only makes everything feel worse, because you can't help but think that's exactly what they will be forced to do." She smiled gently and concluded. "What makes a great Leader, the way I see it, is going through all of that and still be willing to wake up the next day just to go through it again."
"You surely think highly of yourself, don't you?" Indrani said, slightly amused.
Crys laughed in response. "I'm flattered if you actually think I was talking about myself." she said, closing her eyes as a rare breeze flew by. "It's snowing everywhere, but here. Isn't that funny?" She said, absently.

"Why are you suddenly so... Relaxed?" Indrani asked finally, watching her curiously.
"Because... Right now, I don't have a specific reason not to be. And I'm very much aware of the fact that I should enjoy it while it lasts." She answered simply.

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

[White Shadows encampment]

Annie chuckled slightly at the name Evin called her by. Her mother always mentioned him as being a spoiled, immature, brat. If she said so, it was most likely that he was one, or at least that he acted that way with her, but Annie had never really had a problem with him. Which immediately made her like him... After all, lately she'd had nothing but problems, with everyone. "Theron... I think he left already. I'm not entirely sure though. And, I advised him to go to Blackpond first, but he never told me where he was going. We didn't talk much, to be honest. My mother left a letter for him and I simply delievered it. I think that told him about whatever he came here looking for. One of the girls told me the Elf he was with mentioned they came here for something we had. Although, I don't know what it is and I obviously don't have it." She shrugged. "It was all a bit strange, in my opinion."

She raised one eyebrow when Evin spoke of Katelyn. Not only for the way he spoke of the whole thing, but also because he asked to see the girl. "Chance is not what I would call it exactly, Evin." She told him, in a tone that made clear that she knew what was behind 'the unfortunate event' he had referred to, but she made no further comments on the fact, she didn't think they would help the situation, so they were simply useless. "She's fine though, so I don't see a problem with that. Why don't you wait here for a minute and I'll go find her?" She said standing up. "And oh, please, help yourself to some tea, I don't mind." She said playfully, as she walked out of the tent.

Annie found Katelyn in one of the gardens, after being directed there by a passing healer who had spotted her there. The girl was pacing around in the grass, absently humming a song to herself. She smiled when she saw Annie walking over. "I remember coming here when I was little. There were always flowers in these gardens. I hope one day they'll be full of flowers again."
Annie nodded. "They will. I'll make sure of that." She stated. "Where's your brother?" She asked.
"Alistair distracted him. Sean is very much interested in finding out where your mother wandered off to and why." She said with a little shrug. "I don't really understand why he's so interested, but he is."
Annie chuckled. "Oh, well... I wish him luck with that."
"Really? No one ever wishes Sean luck. They usually wish that he'll die a painful death." Katie replied, with a little smirk.
"What do you wish?" Annie asked, curiously.
"I wish that he'll just... Find peace, somehow." She replied, with a little sigh.
"That's a very good wish." Annie stated. "So... Evin Bana is here. He asked to see you."
"Why?" Katie asked a little bit surprised to hear that.
"I'm not sure. You don't have to talk to him though, if you don't want to. I can tell him you already left." She offered.
"No, it's alright." Kate said. "I want to know what he wants. It's just... Sean already caught me talking to Ali, and..."
"Don't worry about Sean." Annie told her. "Come with me."

Walking Katie towards her tent, she caught sight of Alistair talking with Sean and made a signal to him behind the assassin's back, so that he would keep the conversation going for as long as possible. She then nodded towards the tent and smiled at the girl. "I'm not holding your hand, you know? Go in. I'll be right outside."
Kate nodded in response as she wandered into the tent, staring at her feet as she did so, and found a place to sit. She was never what anyone would describe as a shy person, but she wasn't sure what this was really about, and it just felt incredibly awkward to be there; so much she didn't even think of anything she could say, she simply sat there, eyes wandering everywhere as to avoid looking at Evin. This was really, really, awkward.

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

[Blackpond]

“You find who ya looking for?”

Jake was a little startled by Sham's voice. His mind was miles away in the past by the time she reached him. He took the time to rub his eyes, pretending it was due to exhaustion and not the tears that he had unconsciously let slip, before turning around and walking a few steps away from the line of graves. "Yeah, I found him." He stated. "He confirms what the guy from the Inn told us. According to what he knows, the King was found dead in his bed, apparently poisoned, and the city Commander, Hastings, was stabbed to death." He shook his head. "Get this: One of the maids told him that the Kings curtains were made from the same fabric the White Shadows use to make their robes; they were missing. Do you remember the cloak our visitor was wearing? That... Red cloak? I recognized the fabrics. Now I know where it came from. Fun stuff." Jake said sarcastically. "Aside from that, he wasn't all that helpful, information-wise. It was an emotional little reunion though." He said with an amused grin. "How about you? Seen anything interesting around the city?"

As he asked that, he started walking towards the exit of the cemetery, his eyes looking towards the street ahead. As they reached the gates, however, he stopped noticing the unusual movement of a small armed crowd heading towards the castle, ahead of that crowd; a familiar individual in black armor. "Is that...?" He squinted trying to get a better look at the moving figure. "That's Dominic. What's he doing with the rebels?" He asked, rushing towards the street to get a better look. People were retreating into their homes at first sight of the group, knowing that this wasn't going to end very well. Jake thought for a second, two at most, before he concluded that there would be a heck of a commotion, and that was just the perfect opportunity. He wasn't going to waste it. "Change of plans." He stated simply, following after the group of rebels from a short distance.

Once the group reached the castle, the Guard was already prepared for battle. Anyone with a small bit of brains could tell that the whole thing was suicidal. It was brave, sure, however, being brave never saved someone from being stabbed to death or locked in a dungeon; being smart, maybe, but not brave. That was something Jake learned early in life: being a coward can save you sometimes.

Once the rebels began their attack, Jake turned invisible, grateful that the snow had stopped falling and was only on the ground. In the middle of that mess it wouldn't be difficult at all to mask his footprints. Making his way through the confusion he spotted another familiar figure. He couldn't help a chill from going down his spine at the sight of Lamya. She was moving, almost gracefully, amongst the fighters stabbing anyone that crossed her line of sight; be it a rebel, or a guard. It didn't seem to matter to her. Some of them actually seemed to stop to stare at her as if they couldn't believe their eyes... Unfortunately for them, that was the last thing they would ever see. Jake himself had stopped for a little longer than he should and was forced to duck under a blade one of the rebels was swinging around not very skillfully, when it almost hit his face. He finally snapped out of the trance and moved on amongst the fighters. Somehow the rebels managed to break through the gates and into the courtyard, but Jake doubted they would make it any further than that.

In the middle of the commotion he spotted Dominic fighting two guards with considerable ease. The man stood out amongst the rebels since he was a far more skilled fighter, Jake just couldn't consider him to be a smart person for the little he'd seen of him so far. Getting mixed up in the conflict like this was just plain stupid, and Jake couldn't understand what would lead anyone to such a decision. At some moment Jake noticed one of the guards was about to sneak up on the man. It didn't matter how stupid Jake thought Dominic was, he instinctively pulled his attacker by the back of his uniform and stuck him with a needle to the back of the neck, he then tossed the unconscious man on Dominic as if to show what almost happened to him. He knew that if someone, anyone, had been paying attention; his presence had already been noticed so he didn't waste any more time from then on and made his way inside the castle through a servant's entrance left unnatended.

Jake knew he'd probably get caught by doing this, he almost had been last time he tried and he didn't even get close to his intended destination. Still, he was going to try and reach the King's chambers again. If not for any reason, he wanted to see the room where Rory had died. This castle didn't have as many servant passages as the Newhaven castle did, they were more strategic, and didn't cover the more important areas. One would have actually roam the hallways to reach the King's chambers. Jake walked the passages until he reached the correct area of the Castle. He made it closer than last time, a lot of the Guard had been moved to hold the castle's defenses, that was probably why. The hall that lead to the room, however, was still highly guarded. There were five guards on the hallway alone, and a guard's station on the end of the hall. He needed to clear that hall, or he'd never reach the doorway.

Walking back the way he came, he found a passage tha led to the library, the archivist was there, and two or three people that seemed to work there. Mentally cursing at what he was about to do... Jake dicretely picked an oil lamp from one of the tables and smashed it against one of the book shelves, causing it to catch fire. Once the first person in the room noticed the flames, Jake pulled four smoke bombs and set them off one after the other, filling the whole room with smoke, making the small fire he created to seem a lot worse than it actually was. Wasn't that enough, he grabbed one of the librarians, and slit the man's throat open. It was stupid, and messy, and Jake wouldn't have done it usually, but it was more than enough to start a panic and summon the Guard to the area. As the first guards entered, Jake left and made his way back towards the King's room, now left guarded by only two men. Walking over to one of them, he grabbed the man, dosing him with poison, and making him invisible. When the other Guard pulled his sword, Jake tossed the dead body onto it, and threw a throwing knife at the distracted man, killing him as well. He didn't bother to hide the bodies, he had split seconds before the guards realized the commotion had been a simple distraction and came looking for him.

Not bothering to be quiet either, he kicked down the door...

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

[Newhaven]

Mageria was working her way towards the Archives when an itching sensation between her shoulder-blades let her know that someone was following her. It was a sense that had saved her life a time or two before, and so she listened to it today. The odd thing was, she didn't sense a 'hunting' quality to the following, which meant that it was probably one of the kids; which meant that she had to respond calmly.

Head tilted to the side, she stopped suddenly and spun on the ball of her foot, "Don't you know better. . ." She couldn't stop the slight twitch that resulted from seeing that it was Luckas following her, but it was nothing like the instant urge to kill him that she used to have. Maybe the kid was wearing the edge off of the urge. "To stalk the Captain?" she finished with a raised eyebrow.

Looking Luckas up and down, she couldn't help a small sigh. "Do I even want to know why you're wandering around in a Guard's uniform?" Then she noticed that he was still itching at his chest. "Did you ever get that looked at? No, of course you didn't. Come on." With one hand she grabbed his shoulder and basically marched the young man in the direction of the Infirmary. Due to the hour and the fact that there were no patients at the moment, there was no one else in there, so Mageria grabbed a rough blanket and tossed it at Luckas, before heading into the store room and rummaging around.
"Here. Get out of those soaked cloths, dry off and wrap up in that. Your wound needs cleaning again." There was the sound of clunking and scuffing before she came back out with her hands full.

Mageria's reaction was amusing to Luke. Apparently she was expecting someone else, or at least she wasn't expecting him, to be following her. The amusement turned into a slight sense of shock, since he was also expecting something different from a scolding and a forced trip to the infirmary. He didn't even manage to attempt a reaction before being grabbed by the shoulder and taken to the empty ward.

"You know Captain, you're a lot more fun when you want to kill me." He stated, grabbing the blanket she tossed at him, waiting for her to leave the room before getting out of the soaked uniforms and drying off, retrieving a soaked note and the journal he had been carrying in its pockets before tossing them carelessly on the floor. "You know, you people take snowball fights a little too seriously around here. I got slaughtered." He mentioned. "Which is kind of a bother, now that I think of it; I don't actually have a change of clothes. Not that these are mine anyway." He said absently, wrapping the blanket tightly around himself and sitting on one of the empty beds, looking around the infirmary and whistling to himself.

He had taken the effort to hide the journal under the bed, right below the spot where he was seated, but left the note on top of the bed, in plain sight. It was soaked and blurry, but still readable. When Mageria walked out from the store room, he simply pointed at it. "Jake left this, not with me of course, but oh well..." He gave a light shrug, showing no real interest in the contents of the note.

"You know Captain, you're a lot more fun when you want to kill me."

Mageria arched one eyebrow and snorted softly. “So sorry to ruin your day.” She turned away and grabbed a bottle and a rag, cracking it open and pouring out a small portion the the sharp smelling liquid inside. “I could stab you, if that would make you feel better. Although this is likely to feel about the same way. Hold still please.” With that she neatly sliced the wet bandages off and started gently but firmly cleaning out the infected claw marks. She had used this stuff on herself and knew it stung like hell, but it would kill just about any infection.

“And it’s not . . . completely a game. Back during the last siege, too many people were hurt because they didn’t know how to follow instructions, didn’t know how to get away from someone coming after them, couldn’t figure out that they didn’t have any chance fighting against a superior force.” Mageria said absently as she continued to clean the wounds. Infection was a dangerous thing and she wanted to make sure that she got everything clean before re-bandaging. “I couldn’t just force everybody into training, no one would cooperate and the Council wouldn’t cough up the money. And I couldn’t do what I . . . There was nothing I could do to change their minds. But make it a game, and people are lining up for it. So I’ve got some of my retired Guards teaching basic moves to people who are interested, hopefully it will mean fewer casualties next time. If there is a next time. Let that dry a moment.”

Mageria pulled the note from the bed and read through it quickly before sighing heavily.

Captain.

Sorry I have to leave with a note, again. I'm trying not to make a habit out of it. I thought that you'd have a little bit too much on your mind at this point and decided not to bother you with this at least until morning.

I have an acquaintance in Blackpond I was reluctant to contact; I didn't really want to get him into too much trouble, but I came across someone in the city today and that made me reconsider. It should be simple enough to talk to him and come back, but I'm taking Sham with me just in case something unexpected happens. Best case scenario I find out if those prisoners are really alive in the dungeons somewhere. Worst case scenario I'm wasting my time. I'll see which one it is when we get there.

Take care of yourself.

Jake


“Why do I know that he’s going to be getting in far more trouble than he’s telling me about?” She shrugged. “Oh well. Hopefully Sham can get him out of whatever it is that he’s about to stumble into.” Mageria slanted a sharp look at Luckas before she started smearing a think paste on the claw marks. “We never did get to finish our talk earlier. Just what were you doing that you got close enough to the thing that left these?” A trick of the light highlighted the claw marks across the left side of her face, mute evidence that she had gotten just as close three years ago.

Luckas grinned widely when Mageria mentioned that she could stab him. "Oh, you could stab me, strangle me, smother me with a pillow... Or simply let this wound get infected and kill me. The question is... Would you? I mean, despite my, uh, resemblance to someone who did do a LOT of terrible things, and I mean really A LOT, I haven't actually done anything. At least not that you know of." He paused holding back a groan as he felt his chest begin to sting. "So then the question here isn't whether or not you can kill me, but whether or not you would kill me simply because you can." He said tilting his head and staring at her as if he expected the answer to be written somewhere in her expression. His eyes sparkled for a bit, but didn't change from their usual dark color, confirming what he already knew; whatever was going through the woman's mind was simply out of his reach. Finally he looked away pretending to find something incredibly interesting in the ceiling above as he thought of the whole snowball tournament. "Oh, everything is a game Captain, some people simply aren't aware that they're playing, or what the rules are, but it's all just a game nonetheless. And those Council people seem like just my type." He stated, turning his gaze back at her, his smile a little bit more evil than before. "I would absolutely love the opportunity to permanently change their minds sometime. Think about it."

Luke frowned slightly when the conversation subject changed to how he got those wounds. "Well, if you're going to ask me things, I'm going to ask you things too. Sounds fair now, doesn't it?" He stopped to think of what exactly happened that day. "Well, I was minding my own business at that time actually, hunting... Rabbits, mind you. I'm a lousy fighter, but I'm a decent hunter. Anyway, I thought I heard something, and then I definitely saw something moving in the shadows. I don't think it wanted to be noticed, because next thing I know I'm on the ground with my chest nearly sliced open. The thing stood over me then, and... I looked into its eyes, only lasted about a split second, but it was enough to catch a glimpse of some memories. Like I said, almost all of it involved you. At this point I realized I could use my enlightenment on it. I commanded it to stop and ran as fast as I could." He paused for a second. "There's one more thing, but first I ask you a question: The man who died yesterday, who was he?"

Mageria glanced up as she worked and shrugged. “I don’t usually kill people just because they resemble someone else. Its just a special case with you and your brother. That being said, I don’t hate you enough to let you die of an infected wound like this. I’ve seen that happen before and it’s a horribly painful way to go. I don’t think you’d enjoy the sensation of your chest rotting off.”

She was quiet for a while before she spoke back up. “Don’t worry about the Council, I took care of them just fine on my own.” A brief smile quirked the side of her face as she remembered a night three years ago. She and a couple of her more ‘adventurous’ Guards had spent the night climbing into the bedroom windows of certain Council members; dodging a couple of guard dogs, a few private mercenaries, a thief or two, and in a memorable moment two ‘professional ladies’ who were ‘consulting’ with one of the Council ‘privately’. The men who had been with her during that trip had wanted to bribe the women to pass along some of the more intimate details of their work, but had settled for sketching out the positions they had got to watch through the window while they were waiting. It had been an interesting night.

Mageria pointed one finger at Luckas before continuing her work. “And don’t do anything that I might have to deal with. I’d hate to have to do something permanent before I’ve made up my mind about having to kill you.”

“Why the hell would it still be focused on me?” Mageria’s brow furrowed as she thought. “Surely it’s got something better to do instead of focus on me after what, three years now? We only fought the one time and I certainly didn’t win.” She sat back on her heels before picking up the tools around her and going to put them on the table. She had just grabbed a roll of bandage when Luckas spoke up with his last question. She had managed to forget for a moment that Grim had died in her arms yesterday, now it came crashing back down around her. Leaning against the table, Mageria bowed her head as a series of memories washed over her,

Grim laughing at her when she tried to cook something . . . and failed miserably.

Grim waking up battered and bloody after she got done patching him back together after a fight.

Grim, sharing a glass of wine during a cold winter night.

She flinched a little bit before she slammed a lid down on her reactions, her expression smoothing out and the only evidence of her distress showing in the lightning of her eyes. She never could control that indicator, it was a surefire way of figuring out what she was really feeling.

Taking a deep breath, Mageria turned back around and started to wrap the bandage securely around Luckas’s chest, first placing a pad down over the slices. She was silent for a long moment before speaking. “That was Grim Pondus. Former Black Knight and Captain of the Salamanders. And a very good friend of mine.” She finished tying off the bandage and sat back on the bed across from the young man. “Now, why is it you can command that Beast thing, but not me?”

"How much hate would it take? I mean, just wondering what I'd have to do to spare myself of situations like this in the future." Luckas asked with a little grin. "Although, not as unpleasant or awkward as it would be with the healers. Most of them hate me just enough to make bandaging feel a little bit like torture." He said absently.

When she pointed at him with a warning, Luke chuckled. "Well, that's not fair Captain. Why should you have all the fun? I promise I'll behave as much as possible though, if it helps." He said with a smile, trying, but failing to look innocent. "After all, I wouldn't want to get in trouble."

Luke was silent after that, letting his mind go over the details of what had happened in his encounter with the beast; nothing in those memories gave him an answer of why it was so fixated on Mageria and, while usually something like this would make Luckas curious, or even amused, this particular fact made him uneasy. He couldn't say he'd be even a little bit sad if that thing was to kill her, but if that happened he might never get the answers he wanted. Not to mention it would be quite a waste. Luke wasn't fond of waste.

He didn't speak until after she answered his question, to which he automatically responded with: "I'm sorry." He wasn't sorry and didn't bother to fake it in his tone, but still he felt compelled to say it. "And that, I don't know for sure." He stated, in response to her question; absently scratching over the bandages the moment they were placed. "Lena told me that telepathic abilities are difficult to predict, even for people who have spent their lives studying them. See, each mind works differently so, while there might be hundreds, if not thousands, of telepaths out there, it is unlikely that two telepathic abilities would ever manifest in the same way. That said, I can guess that in some level your mind has learned to protect itself. Which is odd, to say the least, considering you have absolutely no enlightened ability, even less a telepathic ability of any sort. Needless to say, I'm eager to find out more." He stated, with a little smirk. "And I can't exactly command the beast, per say. I can command the human mind that is still alive within. And while he still has some influence over the beast's actions, my guess is that he is getting weaker by the minute. Which leads to my next question: Who is this Daniel Zimmerman?"

“How much hate would it take?” Briefly Mageria smiled, but it was bitter and bleak as the coldest winter night. “Something along the lines of what your brother did to me.” Her eyes slowly shaded to black, something that they had almost never done before. “Even” she stopped and took a moment before she started again. “. . . . even my worst enemy I’m inclined to just kill.” A soulless smile played over her lips. “But it would take a lot to push me to the edge like that.”

Slowly she calmed down, pushing the messy stew of emotions back down where it belonged. Even without an Enlightenment, she had enough influence that things would get very ugly if she let her emotions rule her actions. That was something that she had to be aware of at all times. Sometimes she wished she could go back to the days when it was just her, only her own actions to consider, but those days were long gone.

“Stop scratching at that, you’ll keep tearing it open.” she warned Luckas absently, her mind on other things. “Lovely, that mean’s you’ll be staying around then, won’t it?” Mageria got up and started putting away her tools. “And if you’ve read that journal I dropped, then you know who Daniel Zimmerman is. Or was. Which reminds me, I need that back. I put a lot of hard work into it and I’d rather not lose it.”

Luckas watched Mageria intently and with interest, noticing the shift in the color of her eyes. He said nothing about it though and simply responded to her words. "Hum, I see... But you can't actually kill your worst enemy, not really." He said with a smile, not elaborating on what exactly that was supposed to mean. He then sighed, stopping himself before reaching for the bandages again, and leaning back, crossing his arms behind his head. "I will be staying around. I haven't been in Newhaven in a long time, I forgot how fun this place can be." He replied. "And that book doesn't really answer my question... But then, I'm just asking out of curiosity. I'll give it back, don't worry. I'm not a thief." He stated simply, again not explaining when he planned on giving it back.

Luckas then hesitated, going silent for a moment before asking another question, now looking at the ceiling and trying to pretend the question was innocent. "Say... How well did you sleep last night, Captain?"

Mageria hesitated and shrugged. "Nightmares, of course. Would you expect any less?" She sighed. "They seem to be following a theme lately." She stated it simply and left it at that. "Why do you ask, Luckas? You don't seem the type to worry about another person's health like that. No offense."

Luke laughed out at the words 'no offense'. "You're too polite, considering the circumstances." He nodded, still smiling. "And I do worry about your health, Captain. Perhaps not for what you would call 'the right reasons', but I do." He sat up straight again, and nodded. "The reason I ask is because I haven't been sleeping well myself. And while I can't always remember my dreams exactly, since I got here... Well... It's gotten worse." He stated, showing off his left forearm that still had the reddish marking of the word 'stop' scratched on it. "I've also been seeing and hearing things, even while awake, ever since I looked into that thing's mind. It's bothersome. Especially because it all seems to have something to do with you." He scratched the back of his head and sighed. "I guess I'm trying to say that... I want to help you, when time comes for that."

He was silent for a little while after that statement, then he opened up a playful grin and added: "And, do I get a change of clothes? Or should I wander the castle naked until I find some I can snatch? I don't mind doing that at all, it just occurs to me that it may come off as inappropriate." He stated with a little shrug.

Mageria lifted one eyebrow. "That would be worrisome. The seeing and hearing things part. I remember when it happened to me, only it was my own personal demons, not something I was sharing with anyone else. I can sympathize." Going to a cabinet she pulled it open and chose a set of clothing that looked as if it would fit the boy. She tossed them at him and leaned against the wall. "If this is the same Beast that I faced three years ago, finally come back for some reason, then there's not a lot we can do, Luckas. It can be killed, but only at an enormous cost. Always in the past, it's wiped out the entirety of the Black Guard and Knights that faced it. All of them. I've had three years to plan." A hard look crossed her face. "I won't lead my people to a useless death, Luckas. And as much as you remind me of your brother, I won't lead you to a pointless death either." She jerked her chin at the pile of cloths. "Go ahead and get dressed. And let me know if your wound keeps itching. I'll take another look at it." With a nod she pushed off the wall and walked out, giving Luckas the privacy to change into the new cloths.

Luke watched the doorway for a while after Mageria walked off, finally he got up and began to get dressed. "I wasn't asking your permission, Captain." He mumbled.

The setting changes from the-desert to Valcrest

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Indrani Nayar Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Annie Turner Character Portrait: Allison Blake Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher Character Portrait: Ari Lupir

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[Healer's Camp - Sunrise]

The night was dead silent, and throughout the plains not a sound was heard, aside from the occasional coughing and moaning of the ill. Some of the exhausted healers attempted to stay awake through the night and tend to the needs of patients, while others got their very much deserved rest. Annie had stayed awake herself so that she could relieve as many healers as possible; Alistair had stayed awake to help, although he kept saying that he was just keeping her company. Whatever reasons he had, she was grateful to have him back even if for a few days. She was also glad to have someone to talk that didn’t see her simply as the leader of the Shadows. It was bothersome sometimes to think she had so very little friends although she had the loyalty of so many people. It was an odd feeling, at best.

“Why did you do that?” Alistair asked, absently as he sat back on the rock he had been sitting on moments ago. “It was nothing serious, just a nightmare.” He added, referring to the sick child he had gone to check up on. His eyes flashing gold as he stared to the small fire they had managed to keep alive for warmth.
“Why did I do what? And stop trying to sense my emotions or I’ll hurt you.” Annie mumbled in response. Of course, she knew exactly what Alistair meant.
“You gave Sean a blessing, even after he threatened you. Why would you do such a thing?” He asked. “And I really can’t help it sometimes, you know that.”
“This will sound stupid, but… I like Sean. I think that if he was given some guidance when he was younger none of this would have happened. So, in a way, it was Dani’s fault.”
Alistair laughed softly. “Oh, please… Say that in front of your mother, I just want to see the look on her face when she hears it.” He said, with a chuckle. “Let’s just say that’s true, does it excuse what he’s doing now? He’s not a child anymore; he’s responsible for other people’s lives.”
“I never said it excuses anything. I’m saying that I don’t hate him. That’s all I’m saying.” She shrugged.
“My concern is with what you’re not saying, Annie. Come on now, I’ve known you forever. I can tell when you’re hiding something and I don’t need my enlightenment for that.” He pushed.
“It’s nothing, Al, really.” She mumbled, standing up to get some tea. “Better if you don’t know anyway.”
Alistair went silent after that, but only for a moment. “Oh, I see… You know.”
“What?” She asked, turning to face him.
“You know.” He repeated, his eyes locked on hers as if they finished the sentence for him.
“I do.” She replied. “And no, I didn’t tell him anything although I was tempted to do it.”
“You can never tell him, who knows what he would do.” Alistair told her in a severe tone.
Annie didn’t answer, a slight bit of guilt crossing her expression.
“Annie, what did you do?” He asked.
“It’s better if you don’t know.” She repeated.

Alistair sighed, but didn’t insist on the matter. He knew how this was difficult for her. “You should get some rest, it’s almost morning. I can take care of things for a couple of hours.” He offered.
Annie chuckled in response. “Honestly Al, you really don’t miss it?” She asked him.
Alistair sighed. “I was very happy in my time here, Annie. I will always love this place and the people who live here. I just can’t handle the stress of this life anymore.” He gave a little shrug then smiled at her. “I’ll always be your friend though. You know that.”
Annie smiled back at the man, for a moment feeling more like the cheerful kid she was three years ago. “I’m not tired, really.” She said simply, in response to his offer. Besides, it’s nice to be able to sit in the silence for a while.”
As she finished that statement a mercenary came running towards them at full speed, tripping over his own feet and struggling to catch a breath. Once he stopped before her he breathed in deep and screamed in excitement “Annie! Annie! You won’t believe this!” The man screamed through the silence. “Look!” He said, grabbing Annie by the shoulders and turning her towards a dark figure that was carelessly strolling into the encampment. As the first rays of sunlight reached the small encampment they revealed the familiar face of a woman, her blue eyes sparkling as she opened a smile to the young leader of the White Shadows.

Annie blinked, unable to trust her eyes at first. “Mom?” she mumbled to herself, before actually being sure that it was mother she was seeing underneath the dark cloak, it was an odd sight after; after all, she had always seen her in the white robes of the healers. Even in the day she left them three years ago she wore light white clothing. As she walked closer Annie could tell she was tired, and different somehow, but she seemed perfectly alright. Finally, Annie walked a straight line to the woman and wrapped her arms around her in a tight hug.

Lena chuckled slightly, returning her daughter’s embrace as she looked over the girl’s shoulder to the man named Alistair. “Well, hello, there Mr. There’s-no-way-in-hell-you-can-make-me-go-back…” She said, a slightly arrogant smile playing on her lips. “It’s not at all surprising to see you here, although I must say it took you long enough.”
Alistair snorted softly to the comment. “Shut up, old woman.” He muttered in response.
She laughed out. “I’m glad, it seems that the time you spent away did you a lot of good, boy.” She told him.
“I’m sorry I can’t say the same for you. You look like crap.” He told her.

“Yes, well… I have been walking for a very long time. I have not been sleeping all that well and food sources are scarce in the mountains, so… Yes, I do look like crap. I’ll look healthier in a day or so.” She said, absent minded. “Now…” She smiled wide, grabbing Annie by the shoulders and gently pushing her away a couple of steps so she could get a good look at the girl. “Let me have a good look at you, kiddo. You’re so grown up.” She examined the girl from head to toe with her eyes then added in a slightly severe stone. “When was the last time you’ve eaten something though? What did I tell you about not taking any breaks?”
Annie laughed. “Mom, I’m fine. Really.” She stated. “Everybody’s tired, but I am taking care of myself.”
Lena sighed. “Seems like you’ve lost a good number of healers, huh? How many are there left?” She asked, her smiled melting into a concerned expression.
“Seventy five, myself included.” Annie told her. “I reinstated those who were rescued from the dungeons, but it didn’t go very well with the elders.” She explained. “Then there were Blackpond’s angered citizens, blaming their disgraces one us. They shortened our numbers by a few dozens in the past years, but eventually they stopped.” She shrugged. “I held it together the best way I could, took allegiance from the Crimson Shadows to try and keep our borders safe, but it’s been… Challenging.”
Lena chuckled, putting one arm around the girl’s shoulders and beginning to walk with her further into the camp. “You did great, kiddo. Really, great.” She told her.

As the healers began to wake up, excited whispers began to fill the plains as they caught sight of their former leader. They all said the same thing: The White Rose had finally returned.

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[Desert – Crimson Shadows encampment, a few hours before Sunrise]

Indrani had most of the day by herself thinking about everything that had happened in the past years. Three years ago, Dastan had promised her he had plans to keep the clan safe from the Pack, he had told her he would take care of it, however their people were being killed and he was simply putting all his faith on the possibility that those assassins would help them. She couldn’t believe that they would, she doubted they cared and overall she simply didn’t trust them for a minute. However, she trusted Allison. She trusted the archer enough to be honest with her about her feelings, knowing that she could understand them almost as well as anyone else. However, there was one thing she never told Ali, or anyone else no matter how much she trusted them. And that secret was the thing constantly on her mind in the past few months.

[Flashback – Wolfpack Territory, approximately 5 years ago]

Indrani had been exploring this new place where the Crimson had been allowed to set up camp, it was alright she guessed, and she was very grateful to the assassin Leader for sharing part of their territory, but it wasn’t home for her. Taking in her surroundings and trying to memorize the paths that led in and out of their assigned territory, the eighteen year old girl found herself a bit distracted. So much that she didn’t notice the seventeen year old boy sneaking up on her. Next thing she knew, she was feeling the tip of a knife to the back of her neck.

“You’re trespassing.” The voice of a young male spoke behind her. “Who are you?”
“I’m with the Crimson Shadows.” She told him. “Your leader is letting us stay here.” She informed.
“She is?” The boy asked, seeming confused. “Well, how do I know you’re actually with the Crimson Shadows?” He asked, unsure whether or not to let her go.
Indrani slowly pulled on her necklace and rose the pendant with the mark of the Water goddess, Crest of her mother’s side of the Royal family. “Effort royalty.” She stated, a proud note showing itself in her voice as she mentioned the city’s name.

The boy laughed, lowering his blade. “Oh, my apologies, Your Highness; won’t happen again.” He said, unable to hold back the laughter and the mockery in his tone. Perhaps he should have thought it through, however, because in a split second he was being hit straight in the face by Indrani’s fist. Surprised by the act, he stumbled back, dropping his sword. When he looked up again, Indrani had a sword of her own pointed at him.

“Pick it up.” She said, nodding towards the weapon he had dropped.

A devious smile spread itself across the boy’s face as he slid his foot under the blade and kicked up, grabbing the hilt of the sword in the air. “Your wish is my command, Princess. Show me what you got.” He said, wiping a bit of blood that had dripped from his nose and taking a defensive stance.

Indrani smirked at his comment, her golden eyes examining him from head to toe as if he was one of her clan’s recruits, weighing him over. Finally she began to circle him slowly, her eyes always locked on his, somewhat taken in by how they shifted ever so slightly from green to brown as she moved. He remained still, patiently observing her movements. The silence in the clearing only disturbed by the soft sound of the girl’s footsteps, the sounds of their breaths and their heartbeats… The birds, the breeze hitting the trees, the distant howls of the wolves announcing the nightfall was nearing… All those sounds had vanished in that moment as the two teenagers stared into each other’s eyes.

And then, without notice, that peace was suddenly disturbed by the clashing of metal as Indrani’s sword collided with the Wolf’s blade with tremendous force, once, and then many times more as they moved through the clearing almost in a dance, avoiding each other’s attacks by a matter of millimeters; none of them attempting to kill the other, but simply prove themselves superior. Every time one of them managed to get the slight bit of advantage, however, the other managed to compensate somehow. At one point the Wolf managed to knock Indrani’s blade to the side and draw a dagger to slash at her face, only to discover that girl had drawn a knife of her own to defend herself from the blow. The fight went on, even; no words exchanged; no signs of exhaustion shown from either side… Night was beginning to fall and they went on… Until a distant voice broke through the clearing and through the girl’s concentration: “INDRANI!”

The flinch caused by Dastan’s voice was enough for the young assassin to get inside Indrani’s guard and elbow her in the stomach, knocking the wind out of her. As she struggled to breathe he knocked the sword out f her hand. Still coughing, she tried to attack him with the knife, but he avoided the blade and managed to get a tight hold on her wrist, twisting her arm behind her back in a painful hold. Indrani struggled against the hold until she felt him wrap his other arm around her neck, pressing a dagger tightly against her throat, a subtle move and she’d be dead.

They were close enough that she could feel his heart beating fast against his chest, his voice came out in a gasp as it sounded in her ear. “Your Prince Charming, Princess?” He asked, still taunting her even after she’d shown him what she was capable of.
“Brother.” She whispered back.
“How protective is he?” He asked.
“Very. And he’s enlightened.” She answered.
“Too bad I’ll be long gone by the time he gets here, judging by the sound of his shouting.” He said. “That if he even finds the trail; there are so many of them.” He took a deep breath, exhaustion beginning to set as the adrenaline faded. “You have one chance to convince me not to kill you… One word: That’s all you get.” He told her.
Indrani didn’t even think, a smirk playing on her lips despite the fear she was feeling; the adrenaline and the excitement still talking louder than her senses. “Rematch.” She told him.
The boy chuckled softly in her ear. “You’re insane.”
“Oh, you don’t know the half it...” She replied, leaving a pause for him to give his name, sincerely hoping that he would.
“Sean.” He told her immediately. “Should I keep calling you Princess?” He asked, now in a more playful tone.
“Indrani.” She informed, wincing as she heard Dastan’s voice again; this time much closer. She barely noticed that Sean had already released her arm and was holding his dagger loosely in his hand; the blade was no longer near her skin.
“Indrani.” The assassin repeated. “If you run into another Wolf, and he decides to give you trouble, remember one word: ‘Effect’.” He told her. “Will you remember?”
“Effect.” She repeated.
“Good.” He said finally releasing her and sheathing his blade.
“Tomorrow, then?” She asked, putting away her knife and retrieving her sword from the ground.
“What?” He asked, scratching his head.
“The rematch!” She answered. “Or you think I wasn’t serious? You owe me.” She told him.
Sean laughed. “Oh, alright: Tomorrow.” He agreed. “I’ll be here.”

[Flashback – Somewhere deep in the forest, approximately 3 years ago]

“I’m trying Sean! He won’t listen to me!” Indrani shouted, frustrated.
“I thought you were the only one he listened to? What could have possibly changed?” Sean asked, his voice was still calm despite her shouting although his tone was bitter as if he knew the answer before it was ever spoken.
“Crystal.” Indrani answered, frowning deeply. “He won’t dare betray her.” She muttered. “Why the hell couldn’t you kill her properly?” She shot the question at him on an impulse, going very quiet for a moment afterwards as she noticed the painful expression that formed on his face. “I’m sorry.” She mumbled, taking a deep breath to calm herself. “I didn’t mean to say that, I…”

“Yes you did. It’s alright.” He sighed, running a hand over his eyes. “I’ll get rid of her, I’ll find a way. Until then, you…” He paused, choosing his words with care. “Be very careful around her, don’t… Don’t let her find out we know each other. She can’t know that, ever.”
“I know. I’ll be careful, I promise. No one will ever know.” She said, leaning her back against a tree staring at her feet, still unable to face her friend after what she said to him.
“Listen...” Sean started as he walked over to her and crouched down so he was in her line of sight. “I promise I’ll do everything I can to prevent a war. Everything until I have no choice. I won’t hurt a single one of your men unless I have to. I swear on my life.”
Indrani closed her eyes as Sean moved into her line of sight. She didn’t want to look at him anymore. The fact that she would have to choose between him and Dastan, if not now, in the future, was crushing her as if she was being held tightly by a huge iron fist.
“Indrani, please say something: Anything. Just give me a sign that you don’t hate me.” Sean insisted. “Tell me what you’re thinking.” He pleaded.
“Rematch.” She stated simply, her golden eyes blurred with tears as she opened them. “The next one might the last one.” She told him. “That’s all I can think of.”


[Reality – Desert, present time]

“Hey… What are you doing standing there?” Jackson’s voice sounded, curious, yet cautious as if he was worried about the sanity of his Commander.
“I’m just worried, that’s all.” Indrani answered, not encouraging any questions and beginning to walk away from the training arena and towards her home. “Please don’t disturb me unless is urgent. I’m very tired.”

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

Dastan had been sitting in his bed, absently listening to the sound of the flute that came from the room in the opposite end of the hall. Crys had been cheerful earlier in the day, but now for no apparent reason she was a little depressed. Dastan knew this because the music coming the blind woman’s room was simply heart breaking stuff. The mercenary had noticed in the past three years that Crys’ music not only helped vent whatever emotion was overwhelming her at the time, but it also could influence others; if that had something to do with the assassin’s enlightenment or if it was just the music itself… That he wasn’t sure of.

The man closed his eyes, breathing in and out softly and letting the music drive him deeper into a darkness he fought against since his early teens. Although he was good at hiding it, sometimes it wore him out. “These people are not your responsibility.” It whispered to him. “They only seem to care for you because they can use you. How many times will you repay the same debt? Are you a fool?”

Dastan sat up quickly, holding his head with both hands, trying to make the dark color leave his eyes. “No!” He muttered. “Go away!”

“I am you, remember? Where do you expect me to disappear to?” The voice mocked him. “Ignore me all you like, Shaykh, but mark my words: You will watch your people die because of it.”

Dastan shuddered as the shadows faded from his eyes, from his soul, at least for the moment. “I won’t let you take me like you did my father.” He muttered. “I’ll die before you have the chance!”

On the end of the hall the music still played, soft and melancholic. It was painful, yet beautiful as something deeply desired, yet unattainable. Like a shattered dream, or a long lost love. It ached, yet he wouldn’t dare cover his ears, or leave its reach, it seemed to have a hold on his soul somehow. It made him wonder what was going through his friend’s mind. He knew Crystal for so long, but he never seemed to be able to understand her. Their friendship was mostly based off of jokes of how they could one up each other and their concerns for their respective clans. Dastan respected her in a way that was reserved for a chosen few, Indrani above them all. In return it seemed that Crys trusted him with her own life and the lives of those she cared about, which he didn’t take lightly. He couldn’t take that lightly. If it wasn’t for her help, he would have died in a hole in Blackpond; he could never repay her enough for that.

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

[Flashback – Wolfpack Camp, approximately 10 years ago]

“Jake! Open the door, you can’t lock yourself in there forever!” She shouted through the door of Jake’s room. “Damn it! Jacob! Don’t make me have to call my father!” She warned, slamming her fist against the door. There was no response. “Jaaaake!” she whined, now kicking the door. “I’m not leaving, you know.” She insisted, sitting on the floor outside the door and beginning to chant softly, while slamming her back against the bedroom door: “Jake. Jake. Jake. Jake. Jake. Jake. Jake. Jake. Jake…”

“FINE!” The boy shouted from inside of the room, unlocking the door, but not opening it.
Crys stood up and entered the room to the smell of smoke. “Were you burning stuff?” She asked, frowning slightly. “Wait… You weren’t smoking, right? ‘Cause mom will kill you if you were.”
Jake snorted softly. “No.” He mumbled. “Why do you say that?”
“Say what?” Crys asked confused, tilting her head to the side slightly.
“You say ‘mom’ like she’s everyone’s mother, but you say my father when you refer to your dad.” He stated.
“Well…” Crys started, walking over to where she thought a chair would be, but not finding it.
“To the left, two steps” Jake mumbled.
“Thanks.” She said, finding the chair and sitting. “Well, he is my father! You can’t have him, I won’t share!” She exclaimed, in a playful tone. Then she shrugged. “I don’t know, suppose I’m used to the fact that my mom is like everyone’s mom in a way. Dad is like a teacher to most, but he’s only a father to me. Well… And you.”
“Me?” Jake asked, honestly surprised.
“Yeah, you.” She said. “And I don’t mind that at all, by the way.”
“I don’t…” Jake mumbled, not knowing what to say to that.
Crys laughed. “Nice try, but that’s not why I’m here.” She said. “What happened today? Lionel said you asked to see your sister’s grave and then you freaked out and ran out on him.”
“So… That’s what happened.” Jake said. “Why do you have to bother me over it?”
“I haven’t told mom about it yet. I have to, but I need to hear it from you first.” She explained.
“It was nothing, I don’t know why, I just… Panicked. I needed to get out. I have memories of that city and… I need to forget them. I need to leave them behind, Crys. Do you understand?”

“Do you trust me Jake?” Crys asked, not answering the question.
“Of course I do.” Jake replied, quickly as if he wondered what had caused her to even ask.
“You know that whatever you tell me in secret dies with me, right?” She continued.
“I do know that, why…?”
“Then tell me about Jessica.” She added, cutting in before he asked the question.
“I already told you about Jessica.” He said, his tone turning slightly angry just by the fact that she had mentioned it.
“No… You told me how she died. Tell me about her, what was she like, what stories would she tell you… Tell me about who she was and what she meant to you.” She explained.

Jake was silent for a long while, Crys could tell he was crying even though he didn’t make a sound. Finally he spoke. “Please, don’t ask me that.” He pleaded; his tone only slightly above a whisper. “Please don’t make me think of her now.”
“Why not?” Crys asked.
“Because…” Jake mumbled, now actually starting to sob. “I should have protected her… I should have been there… I promised…”
Crys sighed softly, slowly moving to sit next to him on the bed. She absently put one arm around him, hating the fact that she could feel just how badly this had wounded him. “Jakey...” She whispered. “You couldn’t have protected her, you know that, why do you keep demanding so much of yourself? Is not always up to you to save the day, you know. You can’t make yourself responsible for everyone you love. If you do… You’ll only get hurt more.”
“I’m sorry. It seems like you always have to comfort me. It’s so embarrassing” He muttered
“Well… Someone has to protect you.” She told him. “How else will you save the world?”
Jake finally let out a chuckle. “Fair enough: You can protect me then, you’re allowed.”
Crys laughed. “Yeah, well… There’s one thing no one can protect you from.”
“The Alpha.” Jake sighed.
“That’s the one.” She chuckled. “I have to go tell her what happened, and I’ll be back later. Will you be alright?”
“I’ll live.” He told her. “At least I hope so… How’s her mood today?” He asked, a hopeful tone in his voice.
Crys laughed. “Yeah, I’d keep my fingers crossed if I were you, kay?” She told him, hesitating a moment then kissing him in the cheek before getting up to leave the room.

“Wait, what was that for?” Jake’s voice called as she was already walking out of the house.

“Extra luck.” She responded, closing the door behind her.


[Reality – Desert, present time]

The music seemed to pour out of Crys’ soul, flooding the room slowly… And she was drowning in it too, suffocating, but she couldn’t bear to stop. It was a vicious circle of sorts, and one she simply couldn’t break free of. She didn’t know what had caused her to suddenly think of the past when she tried so hard not to. She struggled against those memories as if they could eventually kill her the moment she dared to let them linger for too long. And just like that, she suddenly understood why Jake never liked to think of the past. Ironic, to say the least, that this was the reason why, but she did understand it now.

[Flashback – Newhaven, approximately 6 years ago]

It was early morning by the time Crys reached the city of Newhaven; the air was only slightly cool, as if announcing that the winter was nearing and the streets were almost completely silent as the first citizens were only starting to leave their homes to start their days. The house she was seeking wasn’t hard to find; it one of the backstreets away from the noise and excitement of the market, easy to get in and out of unnoticed, a nice little spot for one to settle down. Stopping before the house she knocked on the door and patiently waited for it to open, unable to hold back a smile as Jake’s voice sounded in her ears.

“Twins, have mercy. I’ll never get rid of you, will I?” He exclaimed, a bit of laughter escaping him. “You’re violating a dozen rules right now, Crys.”
“I’m already suspended, so…” She shrugged. “Can I come in?”
“Oh, excuse me, that makes it about twenty rules.” He chuckled. “And if I said no, would that stop you?” He asked, taking her hand to pull her into the house, closing the door behind her. “Careful, there’s some stuff lying around…” He stopped talking as Crys tipped over a bag and muttered something that sounded much like the word ‘boys’. "…Yeah. There’s a chair to your right. Watch your step."

Crys found the chair and sat down, tapping her foot against the wooden floor ever so lightly. Silence lingered, except for that sound, for what seemed like a long time.
“Why were you suspended?” Jake broke the silence all of a sudden.
“I… I rather not say.” Crys mumbled.
“Oh, it’s embarrassing, isn’t it?” Jake laughed. “Tell me!”
“I don’t want to talk about it!” She said, now actually hiding her face in her hands, feeling it warm up rapidly.
“You’re blushing…” Jake taunted. “Oh, come on… If you can’t tell me, then who will you tell?”
“Oh, everybody knows. Believe me… There will be talk of this for years.”
“Alright, then I guess I’ll have to find someone to ask…” He teased. “I’m sure the folks at Inn would looove to gossip.”
“Shut up, just… Shut up. Fine.” She muttered. “Mom’s birthday party… Three days ago… I got a little tipsy.”
“Define ‘tipsy’.” Jake asked, obviously trying to hold back laughter.
“I might have… Sung a little bit, then I got sick as hell and threw up… On the cake.” She mumbled. “Don’t you dare laugh at me, Jacob!”
It was too late. Jake had already exploded into a full blown laughing fit. “I can’t believe I missed this!” He exclaimed, grasping for air. “Did you actually sing?”
“I was told I did.” She sighed. “I honestly don’t remember anything before the ‘sick as hell’ part.”
“Wow, Crys… Drunk, really?” He said, still letting out a few chuckles. “How furious was your mother?”
“Don’t remind me.” She mumbled. “I think she’ll never let this go.”
He chuckled. “Come on, you know she can’t get mad at you forever.”
“Suppose so…” She said. “Can I just hide over here for a while? I’m tired of the jokes.”
“Did you have to come as far as Newhaven to hide?” Jake asked absently.
“I had to come as far as Newhaven for my best friend.” She stated. “When will you learn, Jakey? I’ll always find you; no matter how far you run.”

[Flashback – Desert, approximately 3 years ago]

“So…” Jake scratched his head, nervously. “You… Are you okay? I mean…”
“I’ll recover.” Crys stated, facing him from where she had sat on Dastan’s bed. “Listen, I’m sorry about everything. And I do mean everything, Jake. You should have never been put in that position to begin with. And I know it wasn’t your fault.”
“No, I…” He sighed. “Your mother warned me that I would probably have to do things I’d regret. I should have listened to her.”
“I wanted to tell you not to go. I should have asked you not to go, because, I knew…” She sighed. “I know you Jake. You go in too deep, you always have, and this time… I don’t know.”
“You could have asked me not to go, but then you know I never listen, right?” He said, forcing a chuckle.
Crys shook her head, lying back on the bed as she began to feel tired. She should have never left the room to begin with, but she knew she couldn’t stand much more of doing nothing. She groaned a bit at the pain in her stomach as she tried to get comfortable.
“I’m sorry for asking this, but… What exactly happened?” Jake asked.
“Blackpond people.” Crys stated simply. “Assassins; and damn good ones I might add. There were about three of them; that I could tell, at least. Sean said there were four, but I’m not sure I can even trust him with that.” She breathed in and out slowly, still feeling pain from the blow Sean had landed on her. “I don’t know how long I crawled; it didn’t feel like long enough to me… Towards the end all I could think of was taking another breath. Just one more breath… That was the last thought I remember having. I didn’t want to die Jake. Not like that.”

Jake had sat by the side of the bed, but Crys hadn’t noticed how close he was until he laid his head down on the pillow next to hers. “Bless the Twins for making you so stubborn, I’ll never doubt them again.” He whispered, softly. “I hate that I’m never there when you need me.”
“You were there. You’re always there.” She mumbled. “Thought you might not be after all that happened, but you were still there…” Crys mumbled, starting to drift off to sleep.


Tears began to roll down from pale green eyes and Crys finally felt like she couldn’t take anymore. The music stopped abruptly as the wooden flute slipped away from her hands onto the bed. Absently she laid back and reached for the silver ring she still carried around her neck… The night it had been given to her was so lost in the past that the promises made back then were shattered and scattered to the winds. She would never get them back.

"No matter what happens. No matter what I say, or do... I'm always on your side."

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Ali had been trying to sleep without much success. Tossing and turning at the memories of all the deaths. Her parents, her brother, her little sister, Dani, Bastian, Owen… When she decided that it was useless, she finally gave up and left the small tent where she had made her home in the past three years, sheltered by the walls of one of the largest buildings Other assassins had places their tents nearby as well; it was the most quiet and secluded place. As she walked out in the open, a familiar face was there to greet her. Or better yet: almost shock her to death. She simply stood, staring at the woman who was standing there smiling at her.

“You want to poke me and make sure I’m real, don’t you?” She asked with an amused tone in her voice.
“A little bit, yeah.” Ali replied.
“Hum…” The woman mumbled. “Which begs the question: Why would you be hallucinating?” She asked, raising an eyebrow, holding the intrigued expression for a moment before snickering. “Don’t be foolish, kid. Of course I’m real.”
Ali chuckled in response. “It’s definitely you.” She smiled wide walking a few steps towards the woman and giving her a friendly hug. “Lena!” She exclaimed.
Lena chuckled. “Hush, I don’t want anyone to know I’m back just yet. I just stopped here because I needed to see you. Besides, I was in need of a break.” She added. “Sorry about you insomnia, by the way.” She smiled apologetically.
“Ah… I see.” Ali mumbled, frowning a little, but shrugging it off, she was much more curious to know why Lena would need to see her before everyone else. “Do you want to step inside for a moment?”
“I think that’ll be best.” Lena replied, motioning towards the small tent so that Ali would enter first.

Once inside, they both sat on the floor, facing each other. Lena was still smiling, which was odd to Ali; she didn’t think she’d ever seen the woman smile like that. “Say, Allison…” She started. “Do you remember when we talked about your parents? Remember I told you your mother was a friend of mine?”
“Yes. Why?” Ali asked, her smile now fading slowly.
“I never told you the whole story; and I think you, out of all people, deserves to hear it. As Leader of the White Shadows I wasn’t allowed to give you the whole truth, but now I need to because you may be the only one who can help me.”
Ali was even more confused by that statement. “The… The whole story? What do you mean by that?”
“Allison, Blackhurst was a place like no other, or so the stories say. The people who lived there were simple folk, and enlightened, all of them to the last one. In the years before the city was destroyed, a group of scholars was determined to find out more about what truths were there to the myths and if there was in fact a physical source of magic present in Valcrest. Rumors spread that they had found it. Both Blackpond and Newhaven pressured the city to give up the information, both offering protection, allegiance, and whatever else they could think of. The man who was then King of Blackhurst refused to give up the information of the power source, claiming that if it was ever to be disturbed it would bring destruction upon the land. The two other cities became impatient and so they both attacked Blackhurst, each trying to find the information they had and use for their own gain. Blackhurst was unable to withstand the advances and so it was destroyed. Files were found indicating that the source of power was in the mountains somewhere, so the next move to be made was to get rid of Effort. Blackpond and Newhaven each allied one of the southern cities, and once against each other, Brightvale and Effort were reduced to what today is about half of the Crimson Shadows. The mountains were then searched, but nothing was found there. So, for years it was put to rest… Until about twenty years ago, when one of the city rulers dug up reports of the searches and decided that the villages outside of Blackhurst territory should be investigated. In the years that followed, one by one, the villages were destroyed, its inhabitants exterminated, some by Blackpond, others by Newhaven… It all sounds completely pointless, right? All that killing and nothing was accomplished.”

Ali was motionless listening to the story, tears silently falling from her blue eyes as she relived the horror in her mind, yet again. She was silent for a long while after Lena stopped talking, shivers going down her spine. Her parents died for nothing… Her brother and sister died for nothing… Some pointless search for power, that’s what it was. “Why?” She whispered, her voice so weak it was barely audible. “Why are you telling me this now?”
“A few months before your village was attacked, your mother left something for me while I was away from camp, with a note asking me to keep it and not tell a soul. I kept it. After the attack, when I heard there were no survivors I opened the book she had left me. It was a journal of sorts… It contained pieces of tales told by her ancestors through generations, however… Some of them were missing full paragraphs. I held on to that book for years, and after I found out you had survived I made a promise to myself that when the time was right I would let you have it. So…” She pulled a small brown book from the bag she was carrying. “This is for you, Ali. I hope that, if anything, it will bring you some form of closure.”
Ali took the journal and spent some time simply staring at it, tears still falling from her eyes. She suddenly felt so small and alone, as if she was ten years old again, wandering the forest without a destination. “Lena…” She mumbled. “Will you do something for me before you go?” She whispered.
“If I can.” The woman replied.
“Give me your blessing.” Ali asked.
“I’m not the leader of the White Shadows anymore, Allison.” Lena said, opening a kind smile. “I can’t give blessings.”
“I’m not asking the leader of the Shadows, I’m asking you.” Ali stated simply. “Please.”
Lena hesitated, but she really didn’t have the courage to say no to the girl in this moment. So she moved closer to Ali and placed her hands on the sides of the girls face, looking straight into her eyes as she whispered: “May the Goddess light your path so that you may find Peace, be it in Life or in the Afterlife. And may all the Twins protect you, now and through eternity.” She recited.
Ali sighed softly, still crying in silence, but seeming much calmer than she had been thus far. “Thank you.” She told Lena.
“You’re welcome.” Lena replied, lowering her hands and landing them on Ali’s shoulders. “I know this is a lot, and I’m sorry I don’t have the time to break it to you slower, but this is very, very, important Allison. You have no idea how important it is. So, please, if while reading this you remember anything your mother might have told you… Will you write it down for me?”
“Yes, Lena.” Ali answered, still struggling through her shivers.
“Thank you.” The woman told her. “I have to go now, will you be alright?”
“I don’t know.” Ali mumbled. “But, I’ll try.”

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[Blackpond – Some moment in middle of the night]

Jake had appeared in the cell, and so he finally understood how Rick had managed to get behind him in the first place. Trying to stand, he found he had no balance so he found himself falling to his knees and vomiting in a corner of the cell. Thinking that the last thing that place needed was the smell of vomit, he blacked out, soon after.

Flashback – Desert, approximately 3 years ago]

“Why are you telling me this now?” Jake questioned Lena with the intrigued look in his eyes. The woman was difficult to read, but he had known her for long enough to be able to tell when she was hiding something. “It didn’t seem to concern you so much a year ago when I asked you to share the White Shadows’ knowledge on the subject. You said it wasn’t a priority.”
“No… I said it wasn’t a priority for you.” Lena corrected. “You had too much on your plate at that time, giving you more wouldn’t have helped anyone.” She explained, leaning her back against the large boulder that had been providing them shade. “Either way, all I’m saying is that you should keep an eye open for that damned weapon.”
“And the book I wanted to see, where is it?” Jake asked absently.
“The Captain of the Black Knights should have it still.” Lena answered with a light shrug of shoulders. “I’m sure she would let you have a look at it.”
“Captain Mageria?” Jake asked a little confused.
Lena chuckled. “Yes, Jacob. Last I heard she is still the Captain of the Black Knights.” She stated, shaking her head in amusement. “When I confirmed to her the Shadow’s identity I told her about the weapon and told her where to find the book. So I assume she has it now.”
“She knows about the dagger, then?” Jake asked. “Hum…” He mumbled, going into silent thinking, but unconsciously glancing towards the fire temple as he did so.

“Crystal is still asleep.” Lena stated simply. “And no, she won’t like this in one bit.”
“Stay out of my head.” He muttered, looking down at his feet.
“As if I needed to use my enlightenment to know this…” She retorted, with a little smirk. “I’ve known the two of you for long enough to make accurate assumptions.” She stated, turning to face Jake who was leaning on the boulder beside her. “Kid, I will be leaving as soon as night falls, and I won’t be back for a long time, that if I am back at all. I know you still blame me for a lot of things, some of which are in fact my fault, but if there’s one advice you take from me, I need this to be it: There’s never a right time for things Jake. Don’t lie to yourself thinking that you can fix everything and then make a life for yourself when you’re done, because that’s not how it works. Time will not stop for you and you will never be done.” She told him, in a severe tone. “Yes, I need you to find this dagger, yes, there is something I’m not telling you and trust me: It can and will be incredibly dangerous one day, but there’s a line between doing all you can and trying to do everything for yourself.”


”Hey, pal! You alive?”

The sound of a male voice broke through Jake’s dreams. Refusing to open his eyes, he muttered. “I’m dead. Leave me alone.”

“You’re funny, mate. Dead people can’t talk.” The voice insisted. “What’s your name?” He asked.

Jake finally opened his eyes, wondering when the hell this guy got tossed in the cell with him; he was sure there was no one there when he arrived. Looking around though, he saw no one.

“Helloo… Name. What’s your name?”

Jake looked around the cell again, even in the dark he couldn’t see anyone in the room. “Where the hell are you?” He mumbled.

“Don’t talk out loud, the guards will hear you. Just think of what you want to say.” The voice told him. “I’m two cells away from you. My name’s Viktor, with a ‘k’. What’s your name?”

Jake sat on the ground finally calming himself with the explanation. “The name’s Jake, also with a ‘k’. So you’re a telepath?”

“Telepath? You a White Shadow? Most people just say ‘mind reader’, but yeah, I’m a telepath.”

“Can you communicate with anyone you want?” Jake asked, a smile crossing his face.

“Why do I get the impression that you’re going to ask me a favor, Jake?” Viktor asked. “I can communicate with anyone if: One, they are within a certain range; or two, I can picture them in my head.”

“If I was to ask you a favor, what would that cost me?” Jake asked. “If I can picture someone in my head, would you be able to see her too?”

“Her, eh? Already missing your lady friend, mate? Make sure you picture her in detail for me, then. I’ve been here a long time.” Viktor asked, pausing for a long time and then adding. “I want out. Promise that you will take me with you if you get out. I’ll send whatever message you want.”

“She’s a lady, and a friend, but that’s it. So I don’t have the kind of details you’re looking for. Sorry to disappoint.” Jake explained, unable to hold back a bit of laughter. “I can promise to do my best, if I can get out. That’s the most I can promise.”

“Eeeeh, Yeah, alright; better than nothin’ I guess.” Viktor replied. “Picture that lady friend of yours for me then.”

Jake took a deep breath trying to clear his mind of all the thoughts that had been torturing him, and concentrating on the person he wanted to contact, forming her clear image in his mind as he did so.

“She’s quite a looker, mate. Mind introducing me when we get out? Viktor asked, hopefully. “I’ll try it in the morning, if she’s asleep it might not work.”

Jake couldn’t help, but chuckle at this guy. “I don’t mind introducing you, no, but you’ll be speaking to her before I do, so make a good impression.” He replied, amused. “And alright. Say, do you know if there are any Newhaven soldiers being held captive here?”

“Do I? You’ve just met one, friend. You’re from Newhaven?” Viktor asked.

“With the Blacks.” Jake stated simply. “Are all the captive soldiers still alive?”

“Bless the Twins, I thought everyone had forgotten us by now!” The man replied. “Yes, sir! Everyone is alive and well.”

“Great.” Jake replied, although he didn’t think it was great. It meant Blackpond did have a bargaining tool. “If you have a limit to your ability we better go back to sleep. We need to contact my partner first thing in the morning.” Jake told him.

There was no response. Jake felt an aching in the back of his head now. Free from the man’s voice, the dungeons were silent… This was no good. They had the soldiers, they were alive, and now this man probably expected to be rescued somehow. How that would ever happen… Jake had no clue. He wouldn’t be so discouraged if that wasn’t the least of their problems, the real problem would be if this so called ‘King’ of Blackpond realized what he was actually holding in his hands. Jake had no doubt the man would use in the worse possible way. “We’re all screwed.” He muttered, thinking aloud.

[Assassin’s Camp – Early morning]

Ari eyes twitched under her lids as the sun gently kissed her face. Her eyes flew open, shining bright green. She stood up slowly, stretching out all her sore and mussels and when she looked around she found a pair of breeches and a tight top. She carefully took the clothes in her hand and smiled. Laughter escaped her lips and she spun around in circles. When Ari had come to a stop she looked out and up at the sky. Seeing how far the sun has risen she pulled her clothes on, tightening her bodice. She ran her fingers through her hair quickly until she was pleased with the way it fell down her shoulders. With that she threw open the door and bolted outside, pausing as she caught the gaze of several men and women. She blushed but kept her head held high as she ran down the path and towards the house she was last night.
She reached the door the moment the sun struck it, raising her hand to knock.

Sean woke up before Sunrise, quickly washed up, and ate a piece of fruit even before he got dressed for the day. One thing he had learnt was to take a moment for himself before even getting up properly, otherwise he would never have one. At the slightest sign of movement from his house there was almost someone needing to see him for something, sometimes they wouldn't give him a full night sleep, so he took on the habit of eating before anything else in the morning, because depending on the day he wouldn't get another chance.
By the time the sun rose, Sean had eaten, dressed, made his bed and locked his bedroom shut. It was costume that the door to the Leader's home was always open during the day, so Sean made a habit of locking his personal space carefully before starting his day.

At the sound of the knock on his door, he simply stood up and walked outside, passing the girl that had knocked without so much as wishing her good-morning. "Follow me." He said simply, walking her across the camp under the curious glances of the clan, and through a path that led to a more secluded clearing, similar to the one they had been the night before, only this one was inside the perimeter of the camp. Once there, he pointed her to a wooden shed, half hidden amongst the trees. "Any weapons you have on you, you can store them in there. You won't need them yet, first I need to know a few things." He told her. "Now..." He started, taking a seat one of a few bench-shaped rocks that were placed there to form a circle, expecting her to sit as well, but not asking her to do so. "Tell me something, that has been puzzling me: Why would you approach us blurting out the name of the Commander of a clan we are at war with?" He asked, looking at the girl with interest. "Most people would want to hide their ties with any mercenary from us at all costs, we've executed people for less." He stated, wondering if Indrani had mentioned something to Ari that he should be aware of.

“Morning,” she mumbled, before sitting close enough that they could talk and far enough where she could run if need be. She was a little embarrassed that she had left the daggers in her room, possibly a costly mistake, but she would just have to live with it for now. She was just a little amused by his question that had quickly been followed by unimportant information, knowing perfectly well that they probably should have killed her but grateful that she was alive; for now.
“Before I can tell you anything I believe you would need to know how we met,” her green eyes sparkled with mischief before she continued, “Indrani and I met though my curse. I remember it well. I was wandering through the desert, why I do not recall,” Ari closed her eyes, remembering, “She came riding up over the hill and I panicked. There’s no place to hide so I changed. I became a horse and Indrani saw me and took me back to their camp. I couldn’t fight back, well I could have but I was curious. She was finishing up with her horse when my time ran up. As you heard, shifting is very, very painful. She heard me and we befriended each other.”
Ari paused, the images flashing through her head like it had happened only yesterday before continuing.
“It didn’t take long for Dastan to hear about me and,” she smirked, “I don’t trust men. So Indrani helped me escape out into the desert where there was a small oasis. Only she knew where I was and for awhile I loved contently; there was game and water and she came to talk to me almost every day. Ranting and raving about Dastan’s stupid plan. Of course the game ran low and I was forced to leave but I was able to get a message to her and she told if I ever left the desert alive and ran into the pack just say one word; that one word. ‘Effect.’ I don’t understand but I am just doing what I was told.”
Her eyes opened and she blinked them a couple times, smiling. She could tell that Sean had been listening very closely even if his face was a complete mask. She scooted closer to him, finally feeling at ease.
“I guess I was willing to say anything that would cause Stranger to hesitate. I figured I was going to die anyways so why not tell someone, even if he was planning on killing you right after you had finished speaking. Let the gods hear the whisper and give a sign, right,” Ari asked looking straight ahead at a tree, “As for why I dare mention her name, I cannot say.”
She kept the darker parts to herself, letting him mull over what she had just said, keeping her eyes fixed forward. She sighed quietly and stood, walking over to the tree she had been studying and gently resting her hand on its bark. She studied it for awhile longer before turning abruptly and looked Sean blushing slightly.
“Why, Sean, do you not trust those who surround you?”

Sean listened to the girl's story carefully. "Effect." He mouthed the word, not letting the sound escape him as he mulled over everything she had told him. That was a safe-word, and one that very few people knew, for outsiders cooperating with the clan, he had given that code to Indrani a very long time ago, he had no idea she still remembered it. He sighed softly, running the fingers of his left hand through his light brown hair. "I see, well that explains it." He said simply, not elaborating on how it explained anything.

“Why, Sean, do you not trust those who surround you?”

At the question Sean turned to face the girl, not showing shock, or anger or any other similar emotion, only more interest. "That question is a fair one, however that answer to that question is awfully complicated." He stated. "It has to do with how I became Alpha and that is a story that starts a very long time ago, with people who are no longer amongst the living. To make it very short: I had to betray the clan in a way in order to do what I believed was right. The former leader was... Loved, by most; even while they were unhappy with her, and respected by all until this day. They stood by me when I challenged her command, but today that anger they felt towards her has melted and if she wandered in demanding their loyalties she'd have it, and yet she won't, because three years ago they made a choice and that's how much she respects them." He explained, not much caring for the fact that he was just voicing his problems to this girl when he was supposed to be the one listening to her story. He needed to speak, and she was someone who hadn't known him his whole life, for some odd reason it was easier to trust her that way.

"See, that woman, Crystal... I don't know how she does it, perhaps it's because of her enlightenment, maybe it's something I am yet to learn, but she gains people's trust so easily. It takes her minutes, a few exchanges words, an act of kindness, sometimes less... It's like she casts as spell on people, in a way: She stands before them and speaks, and no matter how much they have reasons to hate her; they don't harm her, and they listen. She killed my brother, in front of the whole clan, and they forgave her. I spared her life, even when I had every right to kill her by the clan laws, by they won't forgive me for what I've done. It doesn't matter what I do, she's still the 'real Alpha' I'm just someone they follow while awaiting her return." He explained. "So, no... I cannot trust them as long as they won't trust me. It is a sad reality, but it's the way it is, whether the accept me eventually or kill me in my sleep... That's yet to be seen." He sighed. "Then there is also the possibility of Crystal's return. Which will mean my execution." He lowered his head in thought for a second, raising it again with a slightly bitter smile playing on his lips. "If that happens, feel free to join the angry mob, I won't hold it against you."

After a moment of silence the young Alpha then softened his expression slightly and added. "Those problems are my own though, and are not the reason why we've come here. So... Tell me: Why are women any more worthy of your trust than men?" His smiled turning in to a little smirk. "Has my kind offended you somehow?"

Ari was pleased that she had gotten the Alpha to open up to her, he had told her with ease and a scene of trust. She finally believed she had gained some of his trust and she smiled lightly, her eyes flashing gold.
“Women and men are the same. I trust no one but myself; and even that I doubt,” she said sharply, scuffing her boot against the ground, “they are both no better than the other, bloodthirsty and yet all trying to survive,” here she paused, thinking carefully of her words.
“Men,” she smirked, “Have hunted me. What they have tried to do and have done I will not repeat for those memories hurt me still today. What you need to know is that I have been mishandled, wronged by every man I have met and normally end up with their sword in my face.”
She let it at that, closing her eyes lightly and tilting her head back to look up into the sun. She took a deep breath and sighed.
“As for your mob,” she whispered, praying that he didn’t hear what she was about to say, “I don’t think I could stand with them, but rather in front of them.”
She hated her feelings for this man. Yes he was charming, and though she hated how he called her kid, he had taken the time to listen to her story. He seemed like he cared, like he wanted to know. Her palms itched for a fight, her mind uncomfortable with all the questions, but she needed to know more and so she would ask until her mind was put at ease.
“Shouldn’t you show a little faith in them? Who knows if there will be a mob? Besides, without them you’re really just a nobody. Just like me,” she knew she was on very shaky ground but she had seen the way his bed had looked, the way his body tensed ever so slightly as he walked through the camp. His scent had changed as well, growing darker and heavier when he was with more people. However, out here it was lighter, sweeter, and his body relaxed. She liked the man out here much more than the man who felt that he needed to show her up in front of all the people. Sean out here was stunning and beautiful, a free spirit, but inside the role of Alpha he became hard and tight, uncaring. She wanted to show him what her life had been like, the endless freedom that the forest gave. She wanted to show him that he didn’t have to be strong and proud in front of her.
“Never mind, you don’t have to answer that,” she quickly said. Better to be silent now and revive this for a later time then to dig to deep and lose her head because of it. She turned back to the tree, scrambling up it at a rapid speed before calling down to the Alpha below, “This tree is perfect for bows.”
She swung down, flipping in the air and landing on her feet, her eyes glowing silver slightly. She didn’t mean to show off, it was just the way she did things. She smiled brightly at him, for a moment forgetting she was being questioned and who she was with, wanting to show him what it was like to have fun again.
“I could fashion a couple from it if it is needed. But I wouldn’t dare touch it unless we are short, it is too beautiful to be stripped,” She looked admirably up at the tree that towered above her, the silver fading from her eyes. Then something else caught her attention. She crept forward through the trees, motioning quickly to Sean to follow. She slithered around a bush, motioning him to be quiet before ducking behind a bush. She had lead them far from the clearing and as she pulled the branches a family was exposed. Not a human family but a small heard of deer. She smiled at him, her eyes tracking the frolicking movement of the does and the proud stance of the bucks. Quietly she tapped the side of her nose before drifting away; her foot falls nonexistent as she lead him back. She spun quickly, laughing.
“Aren’t they amazing creatures,” she bounded forward embracing him before snapping back and backing away, a blush coloring her cheeks.
“Erm,” she coughed, clearly embarrassed, “Sorry, ab-about that.”
She cursed herself for her stupidity and for getting too relaxed. She wished that her childhood friend, Kirsten had been there instead of Sean. She pulled her had behind her back and looked away from her face, expecting some rebuke or mocking response, both with the dreaded word ‘child’. Her blush deepened and spread wildly across her cheeks.

Sean listened to the girl's answer to his question with care, all the while his eyes watching her movements, frowning slightly as she said she trusted no one, not even herself. Yet she caught her whispering that she would stand in front of the angry if there happen to be one. This girl was a walking contradiction it seemed; she trusted no one, yet she asked him to have faith in people. She didn't trust herself, yet she seemed to confident enough in her skill to stand before a group of elite assassins making threats: something that, however foolish, did take plenty of confidence. Caught a little off guard when she suddenly began climbing onto a tree and then down to the ground again, going on about making bows and how beautiful the tree was, he let her go on, absently following along as she led him away from the clearing and into the woods where a herd of deer was just minding their own business. Sean didn't recall ever seeing deer in that area. Perhaps it was because he was louder than he thought in his movements, or maybe he simply never cared to look around. Either way, it was a little difficult to conceal a small trace of a small threatening to break through as they turned back to training area, he was still a little lost in his head when the girl suddenly lunged towards him and embraced him. She immediately pulled back and apologized, but Sean was a little bit shocked, not to say a bit frightened with the sudden gesture. "it's... fine." He responded, although taking a step back himself.

After a slight moment during which the Alpha was silent, thinking of things that surely didn't show on his face, he spoke again. "Tell me something then... Why do you say you don't trust yourself? Does that mean you don't trust your own potential or does it mean that you don't trust your own decisions?"He asked her, walking to the shed he had indicated before and storing his weapons in there. "Do you trust yourself in a fight without using this... curse of yours?" He questioned, turning back to face the girl he went on talking as if he was simply thinking aloud and not speaking to her directly. "One of those can be improved, the other not so much, but we'll see." The he shrugged lightly. "As for men in this camp, I can't guarantee you won't have a sword to your face at one point or another, but as for the rest of it your safe. I give my word."

Breaking a twig from a branch that had fallen nearby, he used to draw a wide circle in the dirt around himself. "Let's do something while we talk, shall we? Remove me from the circle: Empty hands, no enlightenment." He crossed his arms over his chest.

Ari blushed as her nose caught the sharp scent of Sean’s fear. The contact of her body against his had sent her heart into a flurry and her senses were heightened. Her eyes tracked his movements, unwilling to look away.
“Neither, I don’t trust my heart. It is soft, and when I have feelings for someone it clouds my judgment. As for you fight,” she snickered, stepping into the circle with him, “I believe I can manage what you throw at me.”
She smiled and pulled her hair back, quickly braiding it and tying a leather strap around the bottom. She had begun to circle Sean, her eyes scanning his body for any sign of weakness. Her piercing green eyes flickered, noting his breath rate. She couldn’t find one and so she stood.
“I can’t,” she said simply, “It would be foolish of me to make the first move considering you have the advantage. So, how about this. We both fight to push each other out of the circle. That way I’m not only attacking but defending.”
She cocked her head, bracing herself and waiting for his answer.

Sean didn't move as the girl circled him, when she quickly said that she couldn't do it, and tried to change the arrangements he chuckled. "This isn't a negotiation, kid. Not all battles will give you advantage or an even chance. You can't ask a situation to adapt to you, you should find a way to adapt to it. There is a way: Find it." He told her. "Use that pretty little head of yours for thinking." He opened a slightly deviant smile and added. "Take your time to think though. Meanwhile let's address this lack of faith you have in yourself. Now, I understand that people lose their judgement on account of love, or hate, and that it is a dangerous thing. I'm very much that way, I can't help what I feel for people, when I rarely do; I can hide it very well, but I tend to let my emotions get the best of me at times. It has caused me a lot of trouble. Has it happened to you or is it simply a fear you have?"

He paused for a moment to see if she was going to make a move, as she didn't yet, he talked some more. "When I turned fifteen, my older brother knocked me unconscious and tied me to a tree by my ankles, with my hands bound behind my back. He waited for me to come to my senses and said he'd come back for me the next day. When he woke up the next morning he was hanging from the tree in my place. I was asleep in my bed. He had to cry for help, because he couldn't set himself free. I never told him how I did it." He said casually. "That was tricky, this is simple. Remove me from the circle: If you can't push me or pule me, use another method. Don't worry though, you'll get your fight if that's what you want, but first you do it my way." He said, still smiling, the look in his eyes was amused as if he was holding something back.

She approached him carefully, stepping forward and gently resting her hand on his chest.
“So, let get something straight here,” she smirked, feeling him tense up, “You try anything with rope and I will repay the offer in a matter of moments. This kid,” she whispered, bringing her body closer to his, her eyes and fingertips catching everything, “Is seventeen. She’s not afraid to fight dirty.”
She stood on her tip toes, keeping her body pressed on his. He didn’t like this, she could feel it. Whether he would run or not, she wasn’t sure, but if he struck she would take it with grace. She didn’t know how else to move him. He was bigger, stronger, and much more controlled than she was, but she could appeal to his human nature.

“Why do you want to know,” she whispered, a small smile appearing on her face. Her green eyes glimmered with hope.

Sean's smile shut tight at the distance, or lack there of, between the two of them, taking noticed that his ears and the back of his neck were warming as if they were slowly turning red. He began to pace back without even taking notice, only stopping to a halt and looking down as he realized his feet were outside the circle. "Not what I had in mind, but then, it worked." He mumbled, gripping the girl by the shoulders and gently pushing her back to a comfortable distance. "Not what I was expecting, but fine..." He muttered, obviously upset at how easy it had been for the girl to cause such a reaction on him, rubbing the back of his neck as if that would make the redness go away unnoticed. "I wanted to know, because if you're afraid of something that you think might happen, that it's an irrational fear, if it has happened before and you know might happen again, that it is only logical to be afraid." He explained. "If it's too personal, you don't have to answer though."

"So..." He started, stepping into the circle again. "Would you like to do it your way now?"

“Its rational, it has happened before,” she smiled sweetly and bounced away, “Please, after I won already. I think I could do it again.”
She took a threatening step forward and smiled before stepping a safe distance away.
“If you want to regain your honor then yes, otherwise I might laugh every time I pass you,” she smiled shifting into a crouch. Her hair dropped below her shoulders. Her eyes glowed slightly and she braced herself.

Sean laughed out. "My honor?" He choked a bit on laughter. "I'm a killer who betrayed his own clan to take command, do you really think I still have any left? Has our conversation taught you nothing aside from an easy way out of a tricky situation?" He asked, his tone a little more severe. She had done well in exploiting his weakness, but she was getting arrogant again, and he wouldn't have that. "And I also could not care less for what makes you laugh, rather I am here to teach and it seems that you still need a lesson, and badly."

Ari stood and looked at him, cocking her head slightly with a tiny frown on her face.
“I see that my words have angered you again,” she sighed and took a step back, “I was only joking. But it is a sad man that believes he has no honour. You betrayed them because you needed to save them, if you have told me correctly. You did what you saw fit to save them from their own destruction. As for your lesson, no. It’s taught me to stop, and search for my opponent’s weakness before striking, if time allows,” here she paused, her eyes already searching, “Laughter makes the best part of us shine and relieves stress. Personally, and in no way do I mean to offend you Alpha,” she bowed quickly to emphasise that she was an omega as far as he was concerned, “but I do believe you could use some laughter. I say this in the humblest way possible.”
Her green eyes flashed with silver for a moment, and she shook her head sadly. If she sounded arrogant she didn’t mean to, all she had said was based on observations, most of them which he was sure he had overlooked. She studied the ground, smiling internally as she caught the attention of something that might just help her, not win, she knew she couldn’t but stall for awhile.

Sean's eyes narrowed only slightly. "I'm a sad man, then. However, I'm alive. And doing honorable things can make that difficult sometimes. In one moment of 'honorable thinking' I failed to rid myself of a person who still haunts me. Knowing that she's alive is the one thing that frightens me still. Not because she can kill me, and she can kill me, but because she might return to this clan, and then all I've done will have been for nothing. If anything, I curse honor for what it cost me." As he said that he paced, slowly his eyes fixed on the girl as he did so, the fact that he kept telling this girl things was still bothering him, but it felt now like a distant echo in the back of his mind, if she put up a good fight, maybe he could set it all aside and take charge of her training, otherwise, he'd have to assign her to one of the Instructors. "You haven't angered me, girl. Trust me, you'll know it when I'm angry. I'm glad you've learned something, means I'm not wasting my time, and while it's cute that you concern yourself with my needs, I already told you; these problems are my own and they're not the reason why we've come here." He concluded, slowly digging the tip of his foot into the dirt as he spoke. "Tell me, don't you think some people are simply fated to never be happy?" He asked. "Maybe I'm just one of those people."

Not giving her a chance to reply, he kicked a good amount of wet dirt up in the air and in the direction of the girl's face, his fist following not far behind.

Sean struck first, kicking dirt up into her face and causing her to stumble back as he charged forward, his fist reaching for her face. Ari kicked, catching him in the side of the knee and causing him taking a couple of steps back. She advanced, moving lithely as a cat. She kicked up, catching him in the side but not being able to retreat fast enough. His hand grabbed her leg, twisting it sharply so that she had to turn or risk breaking it. He shoved her away, her foot catching on the dirt and sending her sprawling face first into the mud. She had just enough time to push herself up off the ground before he was on her again. His fists caught her sides, and she bit her lip to hold back the whimper. She feigned a strike at his face and as his hands moved to catch her wrist as she raised her leg and was able to get a good kick in at his side. He stumbled back and she backed away too. Her lip was bleeding and her side screamed in pain while he looked absolutely fine. He attacked her again, running at her with a triumphant smile on his face. She waited for the opportune moment before dealing him a roundhouse kick and he responded by getting a fierce blow into her side. She backed away, breathless, and she glared at him.
“I think you could be,” she snarled before lunging forward and pushing him back a couple of steps to where small puddle was. He lashed out at her face but she dropped and spun with a yell, hitting him in the back of his knees and causing him to slip on the ground as he tried to stand. She let him regain his footing watching with dark eyes as he grabbed a long stick. Swordplay it was to be then. He advanced, while she stood perfectly still, her hands empty. He swung at her chest and she bent back, avoiding the blow as he shifted and leaped forward. She scrambled out of the way, making a run for the other stick at the other side of the circle. He dropped his shoulder and she collided with him, flipping through the air as he tossed her over his shoulder and then turned, pushing his hand against her chest and slamming her into the ground. He raised the stick, a look of success and disappointment on his face, before swinging it down. She rolled out of the way, striking out with her leg and catching him in the stomach. She crawled back to the stick and grabbed it standing, muddy water dripping off of her face. She swung it playfully in her hands, a flash of fear spreading across her face. They began to dance around each other, striking and blocking blows, backing away before spinning to meet each other.
Ari was sweating and she sprang back as Sean’s stick had come dangerously close to hitting her stomach. She wiped the sweat from under her eye, revealing a complex and beautiful tattoo. She lunged forward, aiming a strike at his knees but then kicking out to catch him in the shoulder and push him back. Furious with her hair clinging to her face she ran her sleeve across her face. The full tattoo was revealed, not just under her eye but along her left cheek and down along her nose. Sean saw the marks and was a little taken aback but he saw his opening and he took it. He lunged forward, grabbing Ari’s hair and yanking down. She cried out and hit the earth, falling still.

[Flashback]

The man stood, towering above her. He had cheated, using her hair to drag her down to the ground. His eyes burned red-orange, locking on to hers. He was searching her memories, the sharp press of his mind on hers letting her know that was exactly what he was doing. Her body locked as the tip of his sword pressed to her throat. He twirled his wrist slightly as he didn’t find what he was looking for. The man stepped back removing his sword but keeping his foot firmly pressed into her shoulder.
“Girl,” he said as she fought to remove his presence, “what is your name?”
“Why should I tell a murderer like you,” she spat, her hands clawing at his shiny black boot. He laughed, removing his boot carefully from her shoulder, looking into her bright green eyes.
“Ari,” he whispered and she sat up, looking up into his now black eyes, “You have had a rough life. Abandoned by your father and mother, abused by those whose paths you’ve crossed. You needn’t fear me.”
Ari stopped cocking her head slightly. This man had sparked her curiosity; she wanted to know this boyish person. After all he had chased her through the woods for days now. She took his hand and pulled herself to her feet. He was taller than she was by a lot, and she had to tilt her head back to see him.
“Who are you,” she whispered, walking around him and carefully running her hand across his back.
“Kirsten,” he whispered, smirking slightly, “And as you have guessed, I am a hunter.”
She shivered as his words struck her inner being. The darkness and truth of what he said striking against her heart. Kirsten smiled lightly, hearing her breath catch before spinning and grabbing her wrists. He held her tightly, expecting her to put up a fight but she gave none. He loosened his hold, as her fingers gently twined with his.
“And what is it that you hunt,” she asked lightly, her green eyes locking onto his. He gave no response, his gaze flickering down to her lips. Ari saw his eyes move and she couldn’t help the smile that brightened her face. With a sharp and quick movement she raised her knee, striking him in the groin and causing him to double over in pain. She leapt away, springing through the trees, looking over her shoulder in worry. Her eyes burned silver, getting ready to shift when there was a sharp pull on her long hair and yanked back, her body hitting the ground.

Her eyes glimmered, wet with tears as Kirsten’s face faded from her mind’s eye and was replaced with the face of Sean. She had felt the sharp pull of his hands in her long hair, yanking her back to the ground; that was what had triggered the memory. He stood over her, waiting for her to retaliate, to fight back. She didn't move, but rather surrendered.

Sean stood waiting for the girl to stand up and keep fighting, or at the very least say something, but she didn’t move or speak; she simply lay on the floor with a look in her eyes that made clear something was troubling her inside. While it wasn’t shocking that she had troubles in her, or that she might have memories that she couldn’t let go of, he couldn’t understand what had triggered it.

Before he could say something, Donovan ran into the clearing. “Sean! Sean! There’s someone here to see you.”

“Who?” He asked, still looking at the fallen girl with a curious expression.
Donovan didn’t respond right away, which caused Sean to turn and see his little brother with a slightly panicked look in his eyes. “Who is it?” Sean repeated the question, walking towards Donovan. “Doni…”

Donovan glanced towards Ari and nodded, whispering the name in Sean’s ear, causing the Alpha to mimic his brother’s shocked expression for a split second, before concealing it and heaving a sigh. Walking back to the training area he retrieved his weapons from the wooden shed mumbling his final words to Ari before leaving the girl behind. “You did well, kid, but whatever you had going through your mind: Get rid of it.” He told her.

As Sean walked to the Leader’s cabin he realized it was probably close to noon. Time had gone by so fast for some reason, as he went inside he found his visitor in the office, staring curiously at the burn marks in one of the walls from when Evin set fire to the clan records and amused smile on her face.

“Evin was always such an impulsive creature.” She chuckled as she heard the Alpha’s footsteps. “I have to appreciate his sense of humor though… Closing the book is not as entertaining as burning it down.”
“Why are you here and where have you been?” Sean asked, ignoring the mention of Evin’s name completely.
“I’m here to give a warning Sean: Let go of the past or everything you love will be ripped apart, painfully.” The woman stated, in the calmest of tones, still examining the burn marks with her eyes.
“You came all the way here to threaten me?” Sean asked.
“No… I came here to give you a warning.” She repeated. “It’s up to you to decide what matters most; your revenge or the only important things in your life.” She replied with a shrug, finally turning to face the young man examining him with her eyes for a long moment and then shaking her head. “It surely is impressive.”
“What is so impressive, Lena?” Sean asked moving to sit behind the round table, casually putting his feet over it, and opening a smirk as he noticed the woman twitch slightly at his disrespect for the relic. It was Dani’s pride and joy: that table. It had endured everything since the creation of the clan… It was a relic. He could destroy it, but what would be the point of lashing out on a piece of furniture? He’d much rather destroy Dani’s other pride and joy instead.
“It’s impressive how you can look so much like your father and yet be absolutely nothing like him.” Lena stated. “He would be crying with shame if he saw you today.”
“Humph.” Sean mumbled. “Gladly he’s not.” He stated simply. “You… you were here when he was buried, were you not? I believe I have seen you there that day. You gave him a blessing before he died…”
“I did.” She cut him off. “I gave a lot of assassins my blessings that day. The one’s who didn’t die immediately. Some people like to believe the White Shadows communicate better with the Twins. We humor them.” She explained. “What is your point, exactly?”
“What was the last thought on his mind before he died?” Sean asked, opening a smirk.
“Your sister.” Lena answered, without as much as a flinch. “Are you sure you want to play your mind games with me, boy? I’m not a healer anymore… I can, and will, destroy you.” She said, her eyes sparkling a blue light.
Sean chuckled. “Oh, I’m sorry, did I hit a nerve?” He sighed, leaning back further in his chair. “If Crys put you up to this…”
“No one puts me up to things, Alpha. And Crystal doesn’t know I’m back yet.” The woman replied, with a severe expression on her face. “I’m not threatening you either, kid… I’m giving you a chance to save yourself. I owe it to your father to give you that chance.” She stated simply. “You’re not strong enough to lead this clan Sean, not through what is about to happen.”

Sean lowered his feet from the table and sat up straight. “What is about to happen?”

Lena smiled kindly at him. “Everything.” She said. “Just remember what I said.” She added beginning to walk through the door. “If you’ll excuse me… I would like to get to Newhaven before nightfall… I have some people there I’d like to see.”

“Well, I’m sure you can’t wait to spread the joy.” Sean muttered. He didn’t want to believe Lena, he didn’t trust her, but he couldn't take her words lightly. What if he just wasn’t strong enough after all?

The setting changes from valcrest to The Desert

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Allison Blake Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher

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Crys had spent most of the night thinking about the past. It had made her very sad, to say the least, but as the morning came the feeling had gone. She wondered why she had suddenly started remembering these things, but brushed it off as she began to prepare for the day.
She spent her early morning on the training grounds by herself. Dastan had told her he wasn’t feeling well, and laughed it off by saying it was lack of alcohol, she didn’t believe him, but didn’t insist, deciding that she would question him whenever he was feeling better.

As Crys reached the center of the Crimson Camp and rejoined the other assassins there was whispering amongst them; whispering which ceased the moment she was spotted. Putting on an amused smile she approached one of the men, gently resting a hand on his shoulder. “Walden… What’s going on?” She asked.

Walden shifted uncomfortably when he felt Crys’ hand on his shoulder. “Nothing much, Alp-“ The man stopped himself quickly as he felt the grip on his shoulder tighten just a bit. “…I mean Crys. Sorry, old habits.”
“It’s fine.” Crys chuckled. “Seriously, it seems to be some… Gossip going around.” She said, the amusement clear in her tone.
“Well…” The man sighed. “Allison hasn’t left her tent yet today, and… One of the girls swears she heard sobbing… We’re just a little concerned, that’s all. Ali’s always the first to be out and about, it’s not much like her.”
“Have any of you tried checking up on her?” Crys asked, patting the man’s shoulder and removing her hand.
“One of the Crimson thought it’d be funny to stick his head in the tent… She punched him right in the face, and then said he owed her an apology for getting blood on her clothes. No, we didn’t try.”
Crys sighed and walked over to where Ali had settled down. She stopped by the entrance of the small tent and called out. “Ali, are you alright?”
“Perfectly alright.” Ali stated. “I just didn’t sleep too well, that’s all.” She added, stepping out of the tent. “Morning.” She greeted.
“Huh… You didn’t sleep well either then?” Crys asked absently, indicating the path that led to the center of camp so that Ali would follow as she started walking.
Ali followed heaving a small sigh. “Let me guess: Unpleasant memories?”
“That’s right, how do you know?” Crys asked, stopping near the campfire; that had now been extinguished.
“Well, I…” Ali stopped talking suddenly as she heard a very familiar sound of tension being applied to a bow string. “Crys…”
“I got it, move aside.” Crys stated, discretely pulling one of her Sai daggers from it sheath with one hand and a throwing knife with the other.

As the blind woman heard Ali’s footsteps move away, her eyes lit up in green and she was able to pinpoint the location of the hidden assassin, but she didn’t move yet. The boy hadn’t decided on releasing the arrow… He was hesitating. “Come on, lower the bow.” She muttered. “Lower it. Lower it… Damn it.” She reversed the hold on her Sai; holding the blade close to her forearm, she used it to deflect the arrow aimed at her heart, at the same time she released the throwing knife in the direction of her attacker. A scream echoed through the encampment as it hit the boy. Other assassins moved to capture the intruder, but Crys stayed put, retrieving the arrow where it had fallen. “Damn it, Donovan.”

Ali had rushed behind the other assassins to see who had shot the arrow, she wasn’t all that surprised to discover Donovan atop one of the abandoned building, lying on the ground with both hand holding the side of his head. One of the men who had crouched to disarm Doni and look at the wound backed off quickly, exclaiming: “Holy crap, it sliced off a piece of his ear!”

Ali simply chuckled. “Great, let’s send it to his brother.” She joked.
“No. Let’s take him back ourselves.” Crys’ voice sounded right behind her. “It’s about time the Alpha and I have a friendly chat.” She stated. “Clean his wound and bind his hands; we’re going to visit our forest cousins.”

[Assassin’s Camp – Hours later]

Donovan’s disappearance hadn’t gone unnoticed. Assassins had been sent to speak with the White Shadows and search the trails for him. Sean was furious that the boy had wandered off when he knew how dangerous it was. Hours had passed and no signs of the boy anywhere, until one of the scouts came looking for Sean. “She’s here! They’re here! And they have Donovan!” The man said all in one breath, before taking a deep breath and adding. “Crys is here, Ali’s with her… They have Donovan. She says she wants to see you. Sean now, he looks hurt. Ali has a garrotte around his neck.”

Sean didn’t listen to another word; he ran back to camp at full speed, reaching it to see that his assassins were surrounding two women and a boy as they stood near the campfire; bows and swords had been drawn, but no one dared a move. As Sean approached the assassins took a step back. The Alpha walked until he was standing right in front of the blind woman. He looked over her shoulder at Ali, as she held a garrotte wire tight against Donovan’s neck. Sean noticed the bandage over the boy’s left ear and his blood stained clothes. “What are you trying pull here Crystal?” He asked, his eyes locking on the blind woman’s.
“I’m returning your brother home safely, after the idiot tried to assassinate me.” She stated. “Be glad that he’s breathing, for the moment.” She then opened a smile. “I think it’s time you and I have a talk, Sean. Can we leave the kids out here for a moment and step into your office?” She asked calmly. “Have an adult conversation for once.”
Sean’s twitched slightly; there was nothing he would love more than to kill Crys where she stood, but he couldn't let Ali kill Donovan, and after all he had done to her… Sean knew she wouldn’t hesitate. “Fine.” He answered. “Ladies first.” He said, waiting for her to go ahead towards the cabin. “No one moves a muscle, yet.” Sean ordered, following Crys to the Leader’s Cabin.

Ali stood motionless holding the wire tightly around Donovan’s neck. “I’m sorry Don.” She whispered. “Not like you give us much of a choice.”
“Go…To…Hell.” The boy muttered.
“Don't waste your breath on insults, Don. You know... I’ve seen a man decapitated with one of these once, it’s a rather shocking sight.” She whispered to him. “Hopefully your brother will still have enough of a soul left to care for your life and you’ll get out of this situation short one ear and a little bit smarter.”

The setting changes from the-desert to Assassin's Camp

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Allison Blake Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher Character Portrait: Ari Lupir

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Ari had finally reached the camp and she had run through it into the place they were letting her stay. She didn’t want to call it home because it wasn’t home, not yet. She still felt new, unwanted and she didn’t have a friend in sight here. She pulled the wolf dagger from its resting place, pulling the blade from its sheath. Her hands scrambled to pull open the tip of the sheath, fumbling with it horribly. She finally got it open, dumping out a light powder. She cursed and scooped some up onto her fingers, rubbing it over the markings and looking into the dagger with a sigh. She had again hidden the markings on her face, no one would ever know of this. Besides, they didn’t count. She’d never slept with someone.
She consoled herself, attaching the dagger to her hip and grabbing her bow before stepping outside. Ari walked through the camp, head held high. She saw and scented how uncomfortable the people were, something was going on. Her eyes burned silver and her ears heard the voices of someone in Sean’s cabin. She twisted as her nose caught the sharp scent of blood. Ari turned and ran toward the scent, readying her bow. She leapt over the fallen logs, ran around trees until she saw them.
She didn’t recognize the woman but she knew her prisoner, it was the same man that had called Sean away earlier. She stepped forward, shifting into a crouch and running her fingers down along the feathers of her arrow, her eyes growing dark.
“Who are you,” she asked, stepping into full view of the women.

Ali was calm as could be, hear eyes and ears open to any bit of change in her surroundings. She knew every face staring at her in anger, people she'd worked with, shared laughs with, people she had trusted her life with... And while three years ago it would be heart breaking to even consider being in this position, today it felt perfectly natural to her; The Pack was the enemy, simple as that, and she'd kill them all to the last one if it came to that.

"Who are you?" A voice asked, and Ali locked her blue eyes on a girl, not much older than Donovan, but whose face she didn't recognize.
"If you don't know me, and I don't know you... You're new here." Ali stated with a little smirk. "Take my advice then: Leave while you can." She fixed her gaze on the girl's eyes and added, in a more serious tone. "And whatever you think you can do to stop me: Don't bother. If I don't kill him another will, and I don't think the Alpha will enjoy seeing his brother dead in the middle of his camp because you felt like trying to save the day."

Her heart stuttered and she carefully unstrung her bow, lowering it. Ari cocked her head, not taking her green eyes from the blue, placing the bow gently on the ground and dropping her daggers right next to it. Brother, of Sean? She took a couple steps forward.
“I have no loyalties to them yet,” she said, noticing the worried look on her face, “They call me Ari. I would just like to talk if that is alright with you?”
Ari didn’t want death, not now not today. Her eyes glowed sliver around the pupils and she sniffed the air. She wasn’t lying about the others and she playfully tossed her hair out of her eyes. She stood awkwardly, waiting for an answer from this girl, her senses heightened.

"We can talk." Ali stated simply, relaxing some, but not taking her attention from the assassins nor relaxing her hold on Donovan. "Doni is not much a pleasant company, but then I can't blame him. And those guys..." She nodded towards the nearby assassins. "They hate me a little bit for this, can't blame them either. What kind of a monster threatens to kill a sixteen year old recruit, right?" Her voice turned into a low growl as she spoke those words giving an angered glare towards the assassins, some of them shifted uncomfortably in guilt.

"He was a traitor." Donovan stated. "He deserved what he got."
Ali tightened the garrotte only slightly as he said that. "Careful, Donovan." She hissed. "And Lionel was a traitor as well, wasn't he? He was buried properly, with his ring, as any member of the clan would be."

Donovan silenced after that and Ali turned her attention towards Ari again. "Allison Blake, nice meeting you, although I don't consider these the best of circumstances." She smiled. "I can hear your heartbeat changed just a bit when I mentioned Don was Sean's brother..." She snickered. "Whatever the reason, I hope you snap out of it soon. He's a heartless bastard, you'll see." She tilted her head curiously when she noticed Ari had sniffed the air. "You can enhance your senses too, or is it some other ability that allows you to catch their scent? She asked intrigued. "That's interesting... And unfortunate, they haven't bathed in a while."

Ari smiled slightly, she was not kidding about the bath that they needed and she blushed slightly as she mentioned Sean.
“Very nice to meet you, though I was it was under better circumstances as well. Donovan,” she said, acting like she knew him to some extent, “I suggest you keep your thoughts to yourself; that is unless they enhance the conversation. I care not for Sean, truth be told he frightens me.
My enlightenment, allows me to become any animal I choose. I don’t have to change completely, but can choose to give my body the senses of that animal, so heighten them in a way. I assume you have an enlightenment that enhances your senses?”
Ari smiled back, being pleasant enough, but all the while her eyes were taking in the little details; the cord around his neck, the position of the men, the way Allison was positioned. She wasn’t kidding about killing him and she seemed settled enough to the point where she wouldn’t kill him, not yet. Ari just wanted to be there so that she wouldn’t have the chance to cause more damage to Donovan.

"Oh, Sean can be a very scary monster, can't he Doni?" Ali said, taunting the boy. "Don't take me for a bad person, now, Ari, but I have a few individuals I hold dear, and I'm not very fond of people trying to stick arrows in them; No matter how ridiculous their attempt is."
"Ranged attacks are much more effective against an empath..." Doni started.
"Not Crys, you idiot! She had your level of skill when you were still pissing your pants and she can sense that rage of yours as far as Blackpond. If you were my brother I would beat the crap out of you for being so damn stupid!" She said, in a tone filled with contempt, but yet severe as if she wanted the boy to learn. "Now, listen to your friend's advice and shut up; she's obviously smarter than you."

That said, she put her attention on Ari again. She could tell the girl had analyzed the situation to a point where she had settled with simple conversation, Ali hoped that didn't change, she'd rather not have to kill any recruits. "I can enhance or nullify any of my senses... Which means I can not feel pain for certain periods of time, which is useful, but if I overdo it, it becomes very unpleasant afterwards." She gave a slight shrug, careful not to put more tension on the wire. "I don't mind pain though... It's there for a reason, much like fear... It let's you know what you should stay away from." Her eyes lowered from the girl's face to the bow she had dropped on the ground. "That's a beautiful weapon, is it your work?" She asked in a very interested tone. "You know, I need to craft myself a new bow, mine is getting a bit old..." She said, indicating the black bow she was carrying at her back. "I can't make peace with the idea of retiring it though, it was the last thing my brother crafted before he died. Sentimental value and all that." She said absently, giving a small sigh at the mention of her older brother. She didn't like to think of what Alex would think of what she was doing now. "It's an interesting enlightenment you have. Animals are such wonderful creatures, aren't they? If only we were a little more like them... Well, we wouldn't be standing here now in this situation."

Ari smiled and nodded sharply, her eyes glimmering with some hidden emotion.
“Yes, I crafted it myself. Wandering in the woods as a loner could get a bit lonely. I am sorry about your brother,” Ari frowned and shifted, stretching out her leg, “If you want I could craft you one, though it is only an offer.”
She moved briskly to the bow lying on the ground and picked up one of the wolf daggers, carrying back toward the other girl. She held it out for her to take and quietly said, “This was my lover’s. He disappeared, where I do not know, he could be dead,” she shrugged, “I try not to use it though it comes handy in a fight. I prefer to carry it around, just to keep him close. I would say try the same thing, but a bow is harder to work with. Perhaps you could put it someplace special, a shine perhaps. It is hard to lose someone you love.”
Ari’s eyes flickered blue, betraying her emotions and she carefully turned her back toward Allison as she carried the dagger back to the pile. She turned back to the girl, smiling again her eyes glimmering silver.
“We really are wondrous creatures,” she tilted her head, her ears catching the approach of footsteps; “you might say it’s interesting, but really it’s appealing to my other nature. I would show you, but…”
Ari trailed off, coming back to stand far enough away not to make herself look like a threat but close enough to intervene if need be. Her eyes caught Allison’s and she smirked.

"It is hard to lose a loved one." Ali agreed. "Perhaps I'll burn it, then. In Blackhurst, archers believed that if they burned their bows, as they got too old for use, the weapon would be waiting for them in the Afterlife." She explained absently. "I think my brother would like to have it back, when I can't no longer use it. Besides... The irony of it is just too good. On the other hand, I might craft something else from it. Why waste perfectly good wood, right?" She asked with a little smirk.

"Eeeeh, I wouldn't do that if I were you." She stated, out of the blue. "I can hear you and I can hear them. If there's one heartbeat unaccounted for... Don't test me." She said, opening a grin. "I have my orders, but I'd welcome an excuse to disobey."

As she said that three assassins stepped out of hiding and into the center of camp, angered expressions on their faces.

"Much better." She told them, with a smile. "Isn't it better when we all play nice?"

Then she went on with the conversation as if there had been no interruptions. "As for you offer, take no offense, but I decline. If, or when, I replace this bow I will replace it with one that holds the same significance... For that I'll have to craft it with my own hands and put a little bit of myself into it. I think, and maybe that's just a weirdness of mine, I think that one's bow should be an extension of their person in a way." She chuckled slightly. "I think it is a weirdness, but it's how I feel nonetheless." She added.

As she said that, Sean's voice was heard shouting something, followed by the sound of something being slammed against one of the walls. Many of the assassins grimaced and looked around warily wondering if they should intervene. Ali, however, let out a soft giggle. "Sean's so emotional... Tsk, tsk..." She said, shaking her head slightly. "Perhaps you can show me the extent of your abilities at another time... Whenever you're in the desert maybe. It seems we will be leaving soon."

Ari nodded, not really willing to shift right now. She looked nervously in the direction of the shouting and then back at Allison.
“When I make another journey I will call upon you,” Ari giggled and took a couple steps back toward her bow and daggers, “No offence is taken, I prefer to make my own bows too. It always adds a little of your soul into it.” She turned back to face them, standing tall and proud. “It was quite an honour to meet you Allison, but I best be on my way, before Sean sees me caught up in all this. Would hate to end up dead before I’ve really even started.”
She winked at Allison slinging her quiver over her back and attaching the daggers to her hip. She snatched up her bow and mockingly bowed at Donovan and she smiled at Allison.
“Donovan, it is good to see that you can take advice from a lesser like me, I suggest you keep it in mind next time you find yourself in this situation. But then again, what do I know, right?”
She turned her attention back on Allison, her head starting to throb with pain at keeping her senses heightened for so long.
“Before I leave, I do have one request,” she said hesitating at the tree line, turning back to face them, “When we next meet, I would like to have a little contest, one of archery. That is only if you are up for it?”
She cocked her head waiting for her response, her heart beating rapidly in her chest in fear that Sean would show his face and recognise hers. Her bright green eyes flickered form Allison’s face, scanning the trees. She had been here too long, revealed too much.

Ali laughed slightly at Ari's comments. "Oh, I understand. I wouldn't want to be caught up in this either. And I'm always up for a little competition, although if you beat me I might have to kill you for the sake of my reputation." She joked. "Until then, have a nice day." She added, with a small wink.

Once the girl had vanished amongst the trees Ali chuckled softly into Donovan's ear. "She's really, really, talented Don. I hope she gets wise enough to leave before your brother ruins that. That'd be such a waste."

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

Crys entered the cabin and immediately walked around the round table, running her hand through its battered surface as if to make sure it was still the same table she had, oh so often, bumped her head against when she was small enough to hide underneath it. She felt a sharp pain in her heart at the memories contained in that place. She was born there, she had taken her first steps there, spoken her first words… Her mother had died there. It was a lot harder to stand in that cabin than she had ever imagined it would be, yet at the same time, the memories there contained gave her strength in a way. She walked past the table and sat by it, smiling as Sean walked in and spoke.

“You’re in my seat, Crystal.” He complained.
“Excuse me, Alpha, old habits. Do you mind? For old times’ sake?” She asked, smiling at how this bothered him.
“Fine.” Sean muttered, sitting across from her. “What do you want Crys? Why mess with my people after all this time of hiding? What changed?”
“I’ve changed. You’ve certainly changed. I can list about a thousand other things that have changed as well, but it would be a waste of both my time and yours. What I want, what I really came here for… I want you to leave the White Shadows alone.”
“Why do you think I would want to mess with them?” Sean asked, honestly surprised. “And I don’t believe that’s why you’re here.”
“I haven’t moved against you Sean, I started over, I have absolutely no interest in the Pack anymore. Why are you so afraid of me?” She asked, leaning forward over the table. “What have I ever actually done to you?”
You haven’t moved against me; that’s true… What about Evin, and Jake and Allison? You’re honestly going to tell me that you had nothing to do with them?”

Crys shook her head, leaning back on the chair. “You’re dodging the actual question, Sean. And I have no control over what Evin does. I never had it when I was Alpha, why would I have it now? He’s a free man, he can annoy or murder whoever he pleases and he happens to really hate you. I haven’t seen Jake in almost two years, but he hates you just as much and not all the reasons involve me, as I’m sure you recall. Ali didn’t hate you, but now I think she hates you more than the other two, the only thing keeping your brother alive is her friendship for me. The only thing she has done to spite you, aside from saving my life, is aid the Crimson Shadows. You were the one who wounded her hand and murdered a fifteen year old kid who she happened to love like a little brother. I mean, really… Knowing Allison you didn’t think that would make her want to jump at your throat?”
“I’m not afraid of you.” Sean stated. “And you know what you did to me.”

“Liar, liar…” Crys snickered. “You’re terrified because you know that everything you built is yours as long as I don’t decide to take it from you.” She stated. “Tell me, have you lost sleep thinking about this moment? Have you been up all night thinking about me coming back and taking everything away? Did you toss and turn wondering what was going through my head?” She asked him, unable to hold back a delighted grin as she felt the anger stir up inside of him. “I didn’t do anything to you.” She stated. “Sparing Theron’s life was my mother’s decision. I supported it as much as I would have supported her had she chosen to kill him.”
“You promised me he would pay, remember that? Whatever it takes, you said.” Sean told her. “I waited and I tried not to go insane, because I trusted you, and I trusted your mother, with the only thing that could still give me comfort: Knowing that the man who killed my mother would suffer the consequences. I put that one hope I had in your mother’s hands, and she crushed it. And my father let her do it because she was the great Dani Rivers; the one who exterminated the Wolf Hunters. What a load of crap!” He exclaimed. “And then I discover that your mother and that outsider she married were responsible. If it wasn’t for them there would be no Shadow Hunter!”

Crys raised an eyebrow. “My father was a Wolf, Sean. He joined the Wolf Hunters when he was a child, he didn’t know better.” She leaned back in the chair. “You’re pathetic, Sean. I honestly feel sorry for you.” She stood up and walked towards the door. “Not as much as I feel sorry for the clan for supporting such a weak leader, or for your family for being stuck in the middle of this.” Before she reached for the door, however, Sean slammed his hand against it and got in her way.
“We’re not done yet!” He shouted.”
Crys sighed. “It’s fine.” She whispered, so that Ali would know she was still safe. “You should keep your voice down, Sean. You wouldn’t want you brother to suffer over that temper of yours.” She told him, taking a step away from the door and closer to him. “I said what I needed: Touch the healers and I will make every one of your nightmares come to life, one by one; I swear on my mother’s grave.”

Sean ignored the threat, although Crys could tell he was furious. “Tell me something: How do you do it? How do you get people so devoted to you? How do they trust you so easily? It can’t be just your mother’s reputation, or your enlightenment… There has to be something else. I mean, Jake… We all know what’s in it for him, right? Evin was close to Dani, Ali was your recruit, but then... There’s the Crimson; there’s Dastan. Tell me Crys, what kind of spell have you cast on that poor man to make him risk exterminating his entire clan for you?”
Crys snickered. “Funny Sean, you sound so familiar when you say that. Wonder where I’ve heard it before…” She whispered, fixing her eyes on him. “Don’t think I trick people into doing what I want, it’s more complicated than that; it’s beyond your comprehension, even. I will tell you this: My friends have never done anything for me that I wouldn’t do for them, not once, and I like to think they know that. You should take a good look at yourself though, before you accuse me of using people. Speaking of which… Has Blackpond come to collect your soul yet?”
“My soul remains intact, thanks for asking.” Sean muttered.
Crys chuckled as he said that. “I hope you’re good looking, Sean, because you’re just not that clever.” She told him, shaking her head in amusement. “Are we done now? Or do you wish to attempt any more insults? I have time, but I’m guessing Donovan might be getting tired.”
“Mark my words, Crystal: I’ll make you pay for this.”
She smiled, reaching for the door handle with a shrug. “Put it on my tab.”
“Oh, I will. And, you know… Whenever you see Jake again, thank him for me.” Sean said casually. “I needed an excuse to break my truce with Newhaven anyway.”
“What are you talking about?” Crys asked, her tone slightly more serious.
“You didn’t know he was back in Newhaven? He was kind enough to let me know, I thought he’d show you the same consideration… No? Anyway, remember Amalia? Remember the day she got here? Remember the story she told your mother? Remember how your mother used to write everything down; no exceptions? Need I say more?”
Crys frowned slightly remembering the story the woman had told her mother; she had never really seen was actually been told there until just then, and she could feel how Sean was satisfied to be the one to make her reach such conclusion. “It’ll never stick.” She stated finally, glaring at him in anger. “There are no names in those files and the only witness is someone whose credibility is shaky at best.”
Sean snickered. “You’re so naïve sometimes, Crys. I’ve paid enough taxes to the city Council to know that they will take any excuse to get rid of her. Truth is: They’d much rather the way Morgan ran things, he was a sadistic bastard, but he was less of a hassle to the higher-ups.” He shrugged. “Even if they don’t make it stick… It ought to keep them occupied for some time and, as you know, my dear friend… Time is everything.”

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

Ali was holding Doni hostage for what seemed like forever when Crys finally left the Leader’s Cabin. It was hard to make out the expression on her face, it didn’t show what she was feeling or thinking. Sean stepped out right after her, same blank expression. If one of them had won whatever discussion they had… Neither one of them would show it. She could see on the faces of most Actives that they were hopeful there would be some sort of truce, however she knew better than them. There would never be a truce as long as Sean was alive.

Crys walked past her and the boy and mumbled a “Let’s go”. Ali didn’t hesitate to drag Donovan along and follow Crys out of camp. As she turned her back she could hear Sean order his people to let them go, this time. So, they walked South and when they were far enough from camp, they released Donovan, ordering him to walk away and not look back. Once the boy had gone, Ali finally asked Crys what she wanted to know. “So, is he going to attack the White Shadows like Trevor said he might?”
Crys nodded, leaning casually against a tree. “He has no intentions of going against the Shadows, even after I threatened him. I think the healers are safe, from him at least. Did you find out anything interesting?”
“Sean has a recruit.” Ali stated.
“No kidding? I thought they weren’t recruiting.” Crys said, looking genuinely surprised with the news. “How do you know it is Sean’s recruit?”
“I’m not absolutely sure, but that’s what the Actives whispered to each other when she came up to me.” Ali confirmed. “She’s around seventeen, if I had to guess, pretty and all that. A shifter, talented with a bow, if she shoots as well as she crafts. A real waste of talent, in my opinion.”
“Ali…” Crys chuckled.
“What?” Ali asked, faking an innocent tone in her voice, but knowing it was no use.
“She’s Sean’s recruit. I don’t need to be an empath to know what you’re thinking.” Crys said, in a slightly severe tone.
“I don’t want to kill her.” Ali stated in a serious tone. “I’d much rather save her before Sean infects her with his stupidity.”
“That’s her decision to make.” Crys stated, as if ending the subject. She paused for a moment then added. “I’m going to Newhaven.”
“Newhaven… Why?” Ali asked, seeming a bit confused with such a sudden decision.
“Sean told me he did something that… Well… If he did it, it could end up disbanding the Black Knights, or worse.”
“What’s worse?”
“They could go back to being what they were.” Crys said.
“We don’t want that?” Ali asked, sitting down on a nearby rock, feeling her ears ringing from overuse of her enlightenment.
“Nobody wants that. It’s just bad all around.” Crys sighed. “Sean doesn’t see what he’s messing with here.”
“What can you possibly do about, whatever it is, Sean did?” Ali asked, now rubbing her eyes.
“I doubt there’s something I can do about this, but I would like to see it for myself.” Crys explained. “Besides, there’s someone there I would like to talk to, although she would probably not want to see me.”
“You haven’t told me what this is, yet.” Ali said absently, looking up at Crys as if waiting for her to tell a story.

Crys chuckled. “Another time, maybe. Either way, I was planning on talking to Sheila either way, I might stop by the Castle and see if Sean actually did what he said he did.”

“Alright… I have one more question for you then: What do you care for the Black Knights right now?
Crys gave a light shrug. “Call it a matter of common courtesy, if you will.” She said.
Ali laughed. “You’re walking all the way to Newhaven simply out of courtesy? Right…”
Crys smiled slightly. “Let’s just say that when people show me kindness I tend to remember it.”
“Oh, so you know this person?” Ali asked curiously.
“We’ve had a conversation once. You remember? It was on the night we got to the desert.” She stated. “I probably won’t spend more than a day in the city, but we’ll see.” She said.

“I remember. And let me guess: You want me to go back and keep an eye on things, because Evin is, wherever the hell Evin usually goes, and someone needs to stay ‘in charge’, right?” Ali asked, not even waiting for the answer, since she knew what it would be. She simply stood up and continued to walk South. “Say hi to Jake if you happen to see him.” She said, over her should her.

As Ali heard Crys’ footsteps walking away she distinctively heard her snicker and mumble the words “Opposing allies”. Wondering what the hell that meant, the archer walked back to the territory of the Crimson Shadows.

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

Ari walked carefully along the path. She had just realized how stupid she had been to openly talk to the “traitor”, Allison in front of all those people, it would only be a matter of moments until Sean found out and she would have to answer to him. She ran back to the room, leaving her bow on the bed and grabbing a bag, slipping her dagger into it and her clothes. She stripped down, her body twisting and writing as she changed into a large black wolf. Her eyes flashed silver and then faded to the gold colour of the wolf. She threw back her head and howled, feeling her body lock. She paced back and forth along the door, waiting for someone to open it, her body feeling trapped. Ari began to get nervous, her instincts taking over. Her golden eyes flickered to the window and she backed away, her hackles rising along her back as her lip pulled back in a snarl.
She sprang through the window, the glass shattering around her as she bolted out, the bag strapped to her back. She watched as a couple of the assassins drew their swords as she bolted past and she slid to a halt as the door to Sean’s house opened. She scrambled back, her eyes opening in horror. She relaxed as it closed again, no one coming out. She yelped as an arrow landed beside her and she went into the woods, vanishing like a ghost into the trees, avoiding the next rain of arrows.
Her eyes remained golden as she tried to call upon her curse, erm, enlightenment. She shook, hating herself for using it way too much today. She whined, unable to form any words to express her anger, and the tree next to her suffered the wrath of her anger. She shook her pelt, sniffing at the large gouge marks that had cut through the bark. She sighed and wandered down the path, the bag bouncing along her back, her nose fixed on the ground.
Someone had been along this path, someone who smelled of the desert. Her pace quickened into a trot and she found herself catching up.

Crys walked the path that led to Newhaven without much of a care and not much of a hurry. She knew there was really nothing she could do for the Black Knights, except maybe offer her apologies for not slitting Sean’s throat while she had him alone, however, he had mentioned he needed time for something, and he wasn’t bluffing; which made her wonder what he would actually gain from causing this level of commotion in the Newhaven ranks. A trip to the Inn could maybe give her an answer or two, if she could get the recruiter there to talk to her; wouldn’t be easy, the woman didn’t like her in one bit.

Crys sighed, thinking of what Sean had told her. She remembered clearly when, around seven years ago, this woman, Amalia, made her way to camp asking that she was allowed to stay. She was carrying a bag of coins, a small child and was also pregnant. Crys’ mother decided to let her stay as a worker, but not before she told her story. The woman told, in plenty of detail for what Crys heard, how she was being held hostage in this bandit camp when it was raided by these two ‘strangers’: A man, who seemed to be the leader, and a woman. They eliminated the bandits, but the man wanted to get rid of the witnesses as well. He would have killed Amalia and her small child hadn’t his companion intervened. The woman ran her sword right through him, told Amalia to run away, and not tell a soul. She didn’t tell a soul, except for the Leader of the Pack at the time. And she always filed everything in the archives; absolutely everything.
It was also around that time that the Captain of the Black Knights, the man who was Captain then, was killed by bandits, and Mageria was promoted after him. Crys knew this because the Pack investigated both the Black and White Knight Captains when they sent Jake to Newhaven; that was also in the clan records… Sean must have put both stories together when Evin made him Second and he gained access to those files. Crys shook her head, not really sure of why she had never put it all together herself. If she had, she would have found a way to make those records disappear a long time ago.

Suddenly, the blind woman stopped walking and slowly moved her hand towards the hilt of her Katana. There’s someone around, but whoever it was she couldn’t hear. She waited for a moment, but nothing. “Who’s there?” She called, gripping the sword and waiting for a response.

Her black ears tilted forward as she heard a woman’s voice. She picked up her pace, running up over the hill, slipping under a fallen log. Ari growled and came forth from the brush, curiosity causing her to walk up carefully to the stranger. Her nose told her that something was wrong with this woman and she barked, announcing her appearance. She crept forward, keeping her head low and brushed her tail gently across the woman’s leg, gently circling her. Her eyes flash silver and she squealed as her body writhed and she became human. Ari stood there, panting in pain from the shift and she smiled, blushing lightly.
“Ari, Ari Lupir,” she said pulling her bag off of her back and quickly pulling on her clothes, “the question is: who are you?”

Crys was intrigued for quite some time as what sounded and felt much like a wolf walked around her in circles, she could sense it was a person however, which made her even more intrigued. Crys had spent a lot of time amongst wolves in her early teens, one of the few good things about her ability was to discover that she could easily get animals to trust her. Although animals didn't actually feel in the same level as humans, they were extremely sensitive to human emotions, and she discovered she could, in a way, communicate with them. This 'animal' however, had a complexity of emotions within that made sure to Crys it was a human being.

Crys tilted her head slightly as she couldn't recognize by sound what was happening then, although she guessed the wolf was taking a human form, a guess that was confirmed as the voice of a girl spoke to her. Crys was silent for a little while before she responded. "My name is Crystal. Crystal Rivers, but I'd much rather be called Crys. And you..." Crys started walking towards Newhaven again, only slower, not to leave the girl behind or draw her too far from camp. "You are with the Wolfpack, no?"

Ari froze, fear and suspicion rising in her mind and a tiny growl rose from her throat. Crys, the old alpha, the true alpha, the one Sean feared. She walked carefully along side of the woman, nodding slightly with a quick and sharp “yes.”
“I am with them, though I use that term loosely. I would say looking to join, but not with yet,” she said carefully, her hand resting on her dagger, “You came back. Why? Was it just to torment, or did you have some other agenda?”
She knew the question was extremely straightforward and most likely boarded on being rude, but she was angry and a curious. Her eyes scanned the woman, searching for a weakness just in case, but her attention was soon diverted from the hunt when a deer sprang across the path in front of them.
Ari didn't trust her and didn't want to but still, she wanted to know more about Crys.

Crys chuckled slightly. "I came to speak to your Alpha. I spoke, I listened, and now I'm leaving. No more no less." She shook her head slightly. "Judging by your already defensive posture towards me, I'd say that you're more with them than you'd like to admit; or maybe more with Sean. I hear he hand-picked you, that's impressive." She stated, stopping when a deer crossed their path. She opened a bright smile as the animal passed as if she ran into a friend. "I had almost forgotten how much I missed these woods." She stated. "See, I was born in this forest, I've spent 22 years of my life here, my parents are buried in these grounds, and Sean took that from me in one day, and I don't mean the day when he challenged me for command, but I digress. So... I do have an agenda: I plan on tormenting Sean everyday for as long as we both breathe; and one day, when the time is right, one of us will have to die, most likely." She said calmly. "Today, however, is not that day. Today I have somewhere else I need to be."

She opened her bag and pulled an apple from it and took a bite of it chewing on it quietly for a while before adding. "That's between me and Sean though, I'd rather no one else got involved, although I see how that's difficult when he's so afraid of me."

Ari nodded slightly, not quite understanding why it was such a big deal to be picked by the Alpha. She felt her cheeks grow hot with colour as Crys mentioned how close she felt to Sean. She shrugged, playing it cool, and continued to walk with the woman before shaking her head sharply and bowing.
“I hate to talk and run, but” she looked over her shoulder, “I must get back. If Sean...”
Ari trailed off, knowing just how much he hated and feared this woman and how much trouble she was getting herself into. She would have loved to stop and talk about the woods with Crys, for felt like she herself was part of the forest.
“What have I done,” she whispered, appalled as she turned back toward the camp, “He’s going to kill me.”
She looked back at Crys, her eyes bright brilliant green, slowly fading to blue as she grew scared and sad.

"Ari, is it?" Crys asked, stopping for a moment. "Don't be afraid of Sean. If he likes you in one bit he'll just hate me some more for trying to 'cast my spell' on you. That's crap, by the way, I can't do that so don't worry about it. If he doesn't, well... We can use people of your talents. Allison seemed impressed by you, and she's not easily impressed." Crys stated. "You seem like a nice person, all in all... I'd advise you to keep your distance from the Pack, but I have the impression that you need to learn that for yourself." She began walking again, taking another bite of the apple. A few steps up the road she spoke over her shoulder. "…The sooner the better."

With that said she waved over her shoulder and continued on her way.

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

[Blackpond – In the morning]

"Hey, mate... I think I found your lady friend. What do I tell her?" Viktor called.

Jake wasn't sure what time of day, or night, it was anymore when he heard the man's voice sounding on his mind. Heaving a sigh he replied. "Tell her you're with me in the dungeons and you have a message for her."

"What's her name, then? And I should probably say something that will prove the messages are really coming from you." Viktor told him.

Jake sighed again, thinking back to the little he and Sham had talked in their way there and in Newhaven to find something that would make the woman sure he was behind the messages. He picked the first answer he could think of. "Ask her if she's having fun yet or if I should cause more trouble."

"A'right... If you think that'll work." Viktor told him, going silent.

The telepath didn't think of his words much, he thought the best way to do this was to be simple and say just what was needed... Focusing on the woman he sent the message to her:

"Hello! Sham, is it? My name's Viktor, nice to meet you. I'm sitting here in the dungeons with your pal Jake... He asks if you're having fun yet or if he should cause more trouble. He also has some things he needs you to know. Let me know if you can hear me."

Sham was trying to shadow Jake from the rooftops as he joined the mob heading towards the Castle. She couldn't follow him directly, but she could catch glimpses of what had to be him, as people were tripped and others that were killed, without any reason that she could see. It was at the crossroads that she ran into the slight problem that it was too far for her to jump normally. Backtracking for a house or three, she went down past to where she didn't think that anyone would be able to notice her with everything else going on. Her eyes flaring greenly, she took a running leap and soared across the way, rolling smoothly once she hit the other side.

Running smoothly over the roofs, Sham finally found a good spot to wait and settled in, drawing her cloak around herself to try and blend in with the roof line, one more gargoyle among many.

Sham was considerably startled, jumping a bit and nearly loosing her seat on her perch before she grabbed a handhold and recovered.
What the hell? How do I tell him if I can hear him?
She moved back from view of the street and made sure that no one was around to see or hear her. Going on the theory that a telepath would be able to read her mind as well, she focused on thinking clearly, as if she was speaking.
Viktor? Yes, I can hear you.

"Alright... I got her attention, Jake. What do you need to tell her?" Viktor told Jake.

Jake thought about how to say what he needed without giving the telepath too much important information, after all... He was very much aware of the fact that this guy could be just anyone. Fact was; he needed to get the message out, no matter how he did it. "I Need you to repeat what I say, word by word, do you understand?"

"Yup, I get it." Viktor replied.

"Alright, tell her I saw Dom in the Castle and she might want to find him because last I saw him he was with... Red Cloak." He said, not wanting to give Lamya's name. He remembered hearing her talk to Dominic and didn't see him afterwards, not that he had much time to pay attention. "Also tell her that the soldiers are alive as far I was told..."

"Hey! You don't trust me, mate?" Viktor argued.

"Sorry, but I trust my eyes better than a random voice in my head. No offense." Jake told him. "Last, but not least. She needs to tell the Captain, and the Captain only, that I have spotted the item Lena told her about. She needs to tell her that as soon as possible, even if it means going back to Newhaven and saying it in person. I have no clue how I got to the cell, and I'm not even sure where in dungeons I am. I just... Appeared here, apparently. Tell her that."

Viktor's voice went silent in Jake's head as he passed the message along, trying to repeat exactly what Jake had told him to say: "Hey, I'm back! Okay... He wants me to say he saw Dom in the Castle and you might want to find him because last he saw him, he was with Red Cloak. Is that a code or was he actually wearing a red cloak? Anyway... The soldiers are all alive and well, as far as he was told. I told him, by the way. And, this seems important: He wants you to let Captain know that he spotted the item Lena told her about. He says this message is to be delivered to the Captain only and as soon as possible, even if it means going back to deliver it personally, sounds serious. He also says he has no clue how he ended up in the cell or what section of the dungeons we're at, I don't know either, sorry. I don't have much time left, so if you got questions or messages for him, you better make them quick."[/quote]

Sham chewed on her lip, torn by indecision. There were two things she had to do and they both led to opposite ends of Valcrest. Thinking quickly, she made up her mind.

All right mate. Two questions, one for you and one for him. Jake's question. Which is more important, the message or Dom? And your question. How do I know this isn't some kind of trick?


"She wants to know what's more important, the message or Dom?" Viktor sent to Jake. "Hurry up, mate, I can't keep this up for much longer."

"Shit." Jake muttered, standing up from where he was seated and pacing around in the cell. Dom was a grown man, and a Knight, but he was completely stupid when around that woman. Maybe if he was good enough of a fighter she'd lock him up too. There was no way to know though, there was no logic to that woman's actions. And then... The King didn't seem to know what he had. The problem was, the moment he found out it would be hell all over again. And his friends could be at risk, not to mention every one else in the land if he finished what the Shadow had started... "Holy shit." He growled. "The message. If you can still reach her as far as Newhaven, then tell her you'll keep her posted if I find out something else."

Viktor didn't waste time in sending the response along, he was almost running out of time. "Message, he says. He also says I'll keep you posted if he finds out anything else. As for your question to me... I guess that, much like your friend, you just can't know. I'm a voice in your head. I can be anyone anywhere. I swear on the Twins though, I'm just a soldier who's been locked up in a cell too long, Miss. Your friend didn't even promise to get me out, he'd only promised he'd try, but I'm betting on it. I've been doing this too long now, I have to g-"

Sham swore quietly and passionately for a few long moments. Jake said the message was more important that anything else, or rather, Viktor said that Jake said that the message was the most important thing. But it could be a trick, somebody trying to get her to leave Jake behind. Taking a deep breath, she followed all the logic paths that she could, trying to imagine every possible outcome. It was hard, she was more of a reactive person than a planning person. Finally she had to choose. Jake was a grown man, the same that Dom was. Worse come to worse, they could take care of themselves. If the message was true, it was apparently vitally important that it be delivered.

Moments later, a non-descript traveler entered the boarding stable and turned in a chit for one of the horses. They saddled it quickly and competently, before mounting up and riding out. They wound their way through the streets of Blackpond, lost in a crowd of merchants as the exited, slowly falling back as they each went their own way. It was only when the traveler entered the forest and was alone when they put their heels to their horse and took off at top speed.

Jake didn’t hear Viktor anymore after he told him what to answer. He hoped the message got through to Sham. He hoped Dominic didn’t get into too much trouble too. He thought the guy was a bit of an idiot, but he’d rather not see him hurt for it.

The setting changes from assassins-camp to Newhaven

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Allison Blake

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Crys didn’t even quite get to the hallway before she was intercepted by a woman who sounded a bit drunk, confused, insane or all of the above. She seemed unable to focus on what she was trying to ask, Crys discarded the idea of drunkenness; she had probably more alcohol in her than this stranger, although it was still possible that she was intoxicated somehow.
The blind woman stood patiently listening to the woman’s ramblings for quite a bit of time, frowning as she tried to sort out something consistent in her words: Seems she was looking for someone.

When she felt the woman lean close to her and pull back, stating that she couldn’t see, Crys couldn’t help a small chuckle, although laughing caused considerable pain it was somewhat relieving. Finally she reached out with her left hand and found the woman’s shoulder gripping it gently as she leaned forward, trying to grasp the woman’s attention for more than a split second. “Who is this friend you’re seeking? If you give me his name, maybe I can find him for you. Otherwise, do you mind if I walk while you ramble?” Having said that, she slowly walked around her new acquaintance towards the direction she assumed the medics were. She had a slight feeling that she might drop unconscious eventually and she’d much rather do that in the infirmary.

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Luckas strolled in casually into the medics ward and was greeted by one of the medics, an older woman with blonde hair and hazel eyes. “Is there something I can help you with, young man?” She asked, looking Luckas from head to toe as if asking if there was something wrong with him.
“I’m just here to see a friend.” He explained. “I was told she was brought here.”
“And it can’t wait until morning?” The woman asked, raising an eyebrow at Luckas. “You look awfully pale.”
“I’m just like that.” He mumbled, frowning at the woman. “What are you implying?”
The woman smiled kindly at Luke’s annoyed expression. “Nothing... Who are you here to see?”
“Captain Mageria.” Luckas answered already glancing in the direction of the Captain.
The woman shifted uncomfortably and lowered her voice. “Only a few minutes… And don’t upset her, I would hate it if we had to tie her to the bed.”
Luckas snorted a laugh. “I’d love to see that, but don’t worry… I won’t stay too long.” He stated, walking past the woman with a polite nod. Casually pulling a chair from a corner of the ward and placing it near Mageria, ignoring Tala’s low growls at him. He snickered softly as he spoke. “Well, you look like crap, Captain… Seems like you had all the fun while I was away…” Luckas commented, leaning back in his seat and staring idly at the ceiling. “I don’t understand this I hear about Pondus, isn’t he the guy who died?”

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

[Crimson Shadows' Encampment]

Allison was perched on top of the temple tower watching her surroundings; or rather listening to them. Her eyes were closed and she could feel the soft breeze beginning to chill the air as the Sun went down. She has spent her day, after she parted ways with Crys, with her mother's journal, separated from the rest of her group, but still keeping an eye on things as per Crys' request. It was calm in the desert all day, calm and quiet, too quiet. Meditating had become a ritual for Ali in the past three years; one that had been imposed on her before, first by Theron and then by the White Shadows, but one she was not very very fond of until she moved to the desert. The Crimson had stories, which they told their children, about how Air whispers to them through the wind that blows from the mountains. Indrani truly believes that the spirits of her forefathers live in the waters of the rivers... These stories, although only superstitions and legends meant to keep Effort and Brightvale alive somehow, sunk into Allison in a way that led her to relate to the elements somehow, Water specially. Water always calmed Ali, that's why she always escaped to the lake when she lived with the Wolfpack. Reading her mother's journal she remembered her childhood by a little a river, fishing with her brother, just sitting lazily with her feet in the water... It made her feel at peace like she hadn't felt in a very long time.

She never got far into the journal itself. Rather she reread the first pages repeatedly, after a while it felt like she could hear her mother's voice... She whispered in the back of her mind... She whispered in the wind from the mountains...

I don't know which of my children will be reading this, if any. I hope you all survive and grow up to be as happy and brave as I know you are today, but I know the true face of the world is never the one we dream of, it is cruel and cold enough to take a child's life before it even had a chance to begin. Since I don't know which of you will be holding this, I will refer to you simply as Child.

I know I will die soon, reason why I'm leaving this journal with someone I would trust with my life and yours. Remember this in the future, should you ever need guidance you should go to her at anytime. The White Shadows are outstanding people, but not one of the many I have met in my life has ever come close to Lena. I hope she follows my instruction not to read this though, I would hate it if she knew how highly I think of her.

As I was saying, I know I will die. No. I am dead. As you read this, I am certainly dead. I want to flee, to take you away, but if we flee they will know who we are and they will track us down. We have better chances of surviving an attack than that foul beast they send after the ones who try to escape. The ones who survive never survive for long, and they never truly return. It's a fate worse than hell, and I will not risk putting you and your siblings through it. I would rather see you dead.
The man who does this will die by our hands, so says the village seer. We will kill him defending our homes; that man with evil red eyes. I have never met him, but I have heard of him, and I have seen his work. He tears your mind apart until he finds what he wants, and then you think it will stop after he leaves, but it never stops. It doesn't end... It's a terrible way to die. He took your grandfather, and I will never forget the horror in my father's eyes as he died; I was a little girl, but I remember it well.

My dear Child... I know that you probably see our demise as a pointless act of War. Perhaps, by itself, that's what it is. As you read this, I hope you understand that if you consider the grand scheme of things our lives meant nothing, but our deaths count much more than anyone can ever imagine. We give of our lives to defend this land. It is a burden we are born with, that we carry through our lives, and will carry to our graves. You will as well, my love. Even if right now, you still don't feel it. It is natural to try and avoid it, escape it, but understand that you cannot truly evade your fate. Perhaps somewhere else in the world, but not in Valcrest. The magic of this Land binds us, connects us together, it moves us... It flows within our veins, in every plant and animal, underneath the earth, through the air... It is everywhere and in everything and without it, we are less than nothing. We depend on it to survive, and it depends on us to exist, it's a very thin balance; one we would not like to see disturbed.

Finally, my dear beloved Child; never forget who you are. Never forget you were loved. You are loved still. You are loved forever.

Amanda J. Blake


Allison read and reread those words, trying to make sense of it even though her mother stated that the book would explain it. Truth of the matter was: She was afraid to go through it. What if she finally began to feel the weight of some invisible burden she was destined to carry? Was fate a real force to be feared? Ali always saw it as a word people used to justify their ideals. She never believed it, but there was one thing she agreed on: Everything in Valcrest, no matter how small, always seemed to be connected somehow. Ali had moments through which she saw those connections everywhere, but eventually she ended up telling herself she was getting paranoid. No matter how many times she told herself the same thing though... She never stopped seeing the connections here and there.

All of a sudden a sound that didn't quite belonged reached her ears, coming from the direction of the forest; The sound of tree branches being torn out of the way, the sound of animals startling and fleeing, making room for something... Something greater than them. Her eyes snapped open glowing blue as she focused on trying to see as far as the trees at North; She couldn't see that far, however she had a bad feeling, and it was enough.

Bow in her left hand, she made her way down as fast as she could managed, pulling an arrow from her quiver as she headed towards the camp. By the time she arrived there, battle horns were sounding as a warning, silenced within minutes as the assassins arrived, at least a hundred of them, maybe more; a dark cloaked wave of death... The Pack was finally fulfilling their threats and launching an attack on the mercenaries.

Allison discovered right then that Indrani was away... And so was Dastan, and so was Crys and so was Evin... Their side had nothing better than her and Jackson for leaders; this would be a massacre. "Travis!" Ali shouted as she gripped one of their assassins by the back of his shirt. "Listen to me: Get everyone who is decent with a bow on top of the buildings, blend our fighters amongst the Crimson and make sure to secure the civilians inside the temple!" As she spoke she shot an arrow over the man's shoulder, hitting an assassin in the throat.
"Where will you be?" He asked.
Ali was already moving away, but she responded with a groan that sounded a lot like "The best seat in the house."

The Crimson were arming themselves in a hurry: Men, women and any child old enough to support the weight of a sword. At Trevor's request they sent their little group of archers (mainly hunters) to the top of the torn constructions. Effort builders quickly armed traps on the ruined buildings. The Wolves weren't coming in their highest numbers, and the Crimson outnumbered them slightly if counting all the armed kids who should never have to feel another's life in their hands, but they still had the advantage over the mercenaries. A lot of Crimson were killed before they had the chance to see what the commotion was about.

"Blondie! I thought you said the Pack would never fight this openly!" Jackson said, arming his bow and running after her.
"They never have! I honestly don't know what the hell got into Sean!" Ali made her way back up the tower, activating her enlightenment do that she could easily spot the enemies below. She could see the entire camp from that spot; it was a not a pretty sight in the slightest and it was bound to uglier by the second.

"Son of a bitch... He's finally lost his mind!" She muttered as she began to shoot the assassins below. One of them looked up in her direction with an orangey-yellow glow in his eyes and fired an arrow; not at her, but at the tower... The arrow exploded as it hit the stone and Allison heard the rocks begin to crumble. "Holly shit." She muttered, as the man drew his bow one more time.

The setting changes from newhaven to The Ruins (Healer's camp)

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Annie Turner Character Portrait: Allison Blake

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The White Shadows seemed like a completely different clan after Lena passed through their encampment, even if she didn’t stay. Annie didn’t quite understand how her mother managed to make those people feel so safe simply by showing that she was alive and… Not well, definitely not well, but alive nonetheless. Her mother had left, saying that she had people she wanted to see, but giving her word that she would be back. The exact words she used, however, were not comforting to Annie in the slightest: “My life was here, only fair that I die here as well.” She had said. That sentence had disturbed Annie a little, she couldn’t deny.

“I heard Shaykh came here to see you.” Alistair’s voice sounded in her ears and broke her out of her thoughts.
“Dastan came to see me, yes. What we discussed, however, was confidential.” Annie replied. “Why do you ask?”
“He’s deeply disturbed. I’m concerned.” He stated simply.
“He is under a lot of pressure, can you blame him?”
“Oh, so it has nothing to do with…?”
“Confidential.” Annie stated simply, cutting off Alistair’s question. “You’re not a healer anymore, but I’m sure you still know the meaning of the word.”
“I’m sorry, of course.” He said, ending the subject. “What did you make of Lena though? She didn’t look so good.”
“Long trip.” Annie mumbled, not wanting to think about it much.
Alistair was going to insist, but a messenger interrupted. He gave Annie a letter and pointed towards a man, who was already leaving. He wore black uniforms from Newhaven. Annie gave an intrigued frown as she opened it, he eyes widening at words.

Anne Turner.

I don’t know how much you know about the events of four years ago, but due to current events I’m afraid I must be vague. This concerns a man known by many names but I believe you knew him as Perry. He had an item in his possession that made him very dangerous, especially those who might be sheltered in your camp; one that your mother asked me to be on the look out for. This item has recently been seen in the Blackpond Castle.
Things here have recently become complicated, but I promise I will do what I can.

Mageria Talsheir


“Al…” She mumbled. “This isn’t good.”
Alistair took the letter from Annie’s hands and read it over, his expression mimicking hers as he realized what it meant. “Goddess, have mercy… Not again!” The man ran his hand through his hair, pure fear in his eyes. “We need to get that bloody weapon out of the Castle.”
“We don’t know if the current owner knows how to use it, Al. We can’t overreact. If this person doesn’t know what it is, we can’t just draw attention to it.”

Annie’s attention was drawn by a loud and sharp whistle and by the Crimson Shadows responding to it by grabbing their weapons and beginning to run at full speed in the direction of the desert. One of them stopped and bowed before Annie, an apologetic look in his eyes. “I apologize in the behalf of the Crimson Shadows, Lady Turner, but we have been summoned back to our encampment.”
Annie hesitated, but grabbed the man’s arm before he walked away and took the note from Alistair’s hands and passed it onto his. “Give this to you leader. Tell him it needs to reach Allison or Evin as soon as possible. And it’s urgent.”
“Aye, Lady, I’ll make sure he gets the message.” The mercenary responded, running off after the others.
“Alistair…” Annie started after the mercenary left.
“You want me to go with them.” He chuckled.
“I can’t dispose of any healers, but then you’re not a healer, are you?” She smiled.
“That I am not.” The man stated. “I am taking your medicine kit, however.”
“Take whatever you need.” She told him.

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

[Desert , meanwhile]

Three Days Grace – Get Out Alive

Ali had a split second to make a decision, she could take a shot and risk having the tower crumble beneath her feet, or try to run down before another exploding projectile hit the stone below her.

Time seemed to have stopped and for a split second Ali remembered Evin’s words to her in their last day in the Wolfpack.

"It was said that Time could dodge lighting, the fastest thing known to man, but if you asked him to dodge the raindrops as well he just couldn't do it. They say he came close at times, but it was just impossible for him to be perfect. Sounds like a great way to train don't you think?" He smiled, looking directly in her eyes.

"Is that why you are out here in this weather? Because if Time himself couldn't do it, I'd say the odds are against you." She said, cracking open a little smile.

"Time was an interesting guy. He could literally stop or go back in time, yet he could never find the time to get everything done. No matter how hard he tried. Given time, he would have been able to do it. Don't count me out just yet."


Making a decision she aimed between the man’s yellow eyes and released the arrow at the same time as he released his, not waiting to see if she had hit him, but trying to make her way down the tower as fast a she could as yet another explosion hit it. There was just not enough time and Ali felt the ground crumble beneath her feet.

Everything went dark for a while. Pain invaded her body, but she found that, luckily, the blast had tossed her away from the crumbling rocks and face down on the sand. Her bow still firmly held in her left hand as she struggled to move through the pain. Faintly, the sounds of battle came to her ears and she enhanced her hearing, trying to tell footsteps and voices apart. A whistling sound cut through the air and she just knew it was coming at her. Forgetting the pain she rolled to the side and crawled away as fast as she could as the warm impact of another explosion pushed her forward one more time. Sand rained down on her and the arrow exploded on the ground, where her head had been just a moment ago. “Son of a bitch!” She muttered under her breath, not enjoying the fact that she was allowing herself to be hunted this way. “I’m not a wounded animal.” She muttered, her eyes lighting up in blue. “Don’t count me out just yet.”

A grin spreading across her features, a half-delighted, half-angered expression, she stood up straight and nocked an arrow, drawing her bow and holding it drawn; closing her eyes and waiting for that sound of the arrow being released; that all too familiar sound. “Come on, you bastard. Come on! Come on!” She muttered between clenched teeth, waiting for the sound. “Show me where you are… COME ON!” And then suddenly, she heard it. The ‘twang’ of the string being released, shortly followed by the whiz of the arrow cutting through the air, hissing as if the wood burned in mid air, definitely him. Ali released her own arrow, pinpointing the archer’s location by the sound, before trying to outrun the exploding arrow once again… This time the blast was a lot closer and it knocked her down, her ears ringing painfully as she tried to push herself up again. This time her arms gave out from under her and she slipped out of consciousness.

“I won’t die here.” That was all Ali could think of at the moment. She would have laughed if she had the strength. Five short years ago, she wouldn’t have cared to fight so hard; she would have welcomed Death with open arms and a smile… She would have welcomed the thought of seeing her family again. Her family was another now, they were very much alive and she would fight like hell to see them again. She wouldn’t die there. “Crys…” She whispered to herself, remembering that she was supposed to send out a warning if there was trouble. It was her one instruction… Crys needed to know.

. . . .

“Don’t bother.”

"I don't Ali. At this point I barely even care. I am warning you of one thing: This is it. If you refuse to anything he throws at you, or break the rules, I won't lift a finger to help you. You better believe me. If anything, I'll put you out of your misery myself. That's what you always wanted, wasn't it? So when you meet your brother on the other side you can go ahead and tell him he died for nothing, because you're too much of a coward to take a little pain."

Crys knew very well that was enough to set her off. No matter how fast Ali would come at her, she could block her easily. Ali was terrible in hand to hand, Crys was not. Even so, Crys took the first punch to the face before blocking Ali and pinning her face-down on the ground. When she spoke again it was in her most calm, and dangerous tone. "I've done all I could for you, Allison. When I brought you before my mother for the first time she said you were a wounded animal, the best to do was to put you out of your misery because you would never become anything. And I protected you because I knew she was wrong, but this is it. I can't hold your hand anymore. This is something you have to do for yourself. You have to decide if you want to live through the pain or die a coward."

. . . .

Ali chuckled. “I save your life and you’re a little bit proud?”
“I’ll be completely proud when you stop caring about what I think. I’m not your instructor anymore, neither are you ten.” Crys replied, snatching a bottle from a passing Crimson as they walked. The man didn’t seem to be bothered or insulted by the gesture at all, he simply laughed it off. “Love it how you can do almost anything to these guys and they just laugh.” Crys stated. “Try to snatch anything off an assassin and you’ll just lose your fingers.”
“Not entirely true. I did steal from you once.” Ali stated. “Remember?”
“Are we reminiscing, now?” Crys asked, laughing. “I caught up with you and if you weren’t just a little kid you would have lost more than just your fingers, believe me.” She stopped walking and turned to face Ali. “What’s on your mind?”
“Too many things at once, I’d say.” Ali replied. “Mostly, I’ve been thinking about how things changed so much in such a small time frame. When I’m not thinking that, I’m wondering what the hell we’re going to do now.” She smiled. “But I know you don’t want to hear someone else ask you that.”
“Why should I have to tell you that? The Pack is dismembered Ali, I’m not your leader anymore, there are no rules… You can do whatever you want now.”
“I don’t know what I want to do. I do know what I don’t want.” Ali said, seriously. “I don’t want to be alone again.”
Crys sighed. “We’re all alone when it matters. You know that. We’ll all die alone.”
“I don’t plan on dying anytime soon, Crys.”

. . .

“Advise your mercenary friends to reconsider their allegiance, Allison. Unless you want to witness yet another massacre…” He whispered. “How many more families can you bear to lose?”
She sighed softly. “Sean, you’d be surprised with what I can still bear. Just remember: the less I have to lose, the worse it will be for you in the end.”


. . . .

Another ‘twang’ followed by the whizzing/hissing of the fiery arrows alerted Ali that her opponent was very much alive despite her efforts to hit him. The sounds of blasts were followed by those of screaming women and children. He was attacking the temple where the civilians were. How was it possible that no one had stopped him?

Ali’s right hand filled with sand as she clenched her fist in anger. Before her eyes snapped open she heard his voice, muttering like she had. “Come on, wake up. Wake up. You’re better than this, Bright Eyes.”
Ali felt her heart stop for a painful moment. Only one person had ever called her Bright Eyes in her entire life… This couldn’t be happening. They were dead, every last one, she checked and re-checked… It couldn’t be true. Shaking her head and convincing herself that it was just a coincidence, Ali forced herself to stand and armed her bow again, aiming for the man she could now see, his fiery yellow eyes glowing as he relentlessly attacked the only safe place those people knew, releasing the arrow. He dodged her shot, quite easily, and turned to face her, walking in her direction, walking through the shadows of fighting men and women as if he believed they couldn’t touch him and indeed they hadn’t touched him… As he walked closer she saw in the light of those yellow menacing eyes a face that she thought she’d never see again. Older, changed, but unmistakably his. “AJ?” She mumbled, taking a couple of steps backwards in her shock. She wasn’t the only survivor after all, but what had happened to her friend? Why was he trying to kill her? She flinched again, and again she stepped back as she saw him strap the bow to his back and pull out a sword. He wanted to kill her.

[Flashback – Blackhurst ruins, a little over ten years ago]

“There you are!” A cheerful voice echoed through the ruins of Blackhurst as Ali found the person she was looking for in the temple. “AJ, why are you hiding here? Your parents are worried about you!” She scolded the older boy.
“They’re not my parents.” The boy replied with anger in his tone. “I have no parents, I’m an outsider!” He shouted, standing from where he had been sitting on the stone. “That’s all I’ll always be!”
“You’re not…” She mumbled. “AJ…” She slowly paced towards her friend. “Why are you so angry? What happened?” She asked. “Did someone mistreat you?”
“I’m not… I didn’t… I’m not Enlightened, Ali; Just one more reminder that I don’t belong.” He mumbled, obviously fighting to hold back tears. “They’ll never accept me now. I’ll never belong… I… I should just leave.”
“Everyone is looking for you, Andy.”
“Don’t call me that! It’s not my name!” He shouted out.
“It could be. You could belong if you let them in. You’re just scared, that they’ll abandon you.” She reached and touched his arm. “I like Andy, it suits you.”
“I’ll always be AJ.” He muttered. “I’ll never have a real name. Never, until I know the right one; that I promise.” His eyes were facing the stony ground of the former temple as he spoke, his fists clenched at his sides.
“AJ, please, let’s go back to the village… It’s dark…” She pleaded, the gentle touch on his arm turning into a slight grip.
AJ grabbed her hand to release his arm and pushed her away. “Stop pretending you’re scared, I’m not going back with you!”
Ali had fallen back with the push he gave her and now she sat glaring at him in anger. “Yes, you are, because I’m not going back without you!”
The boy glared back at her for a few moments, but soon his eyes softened slightly and he laughed in amusement. “Bright Eyes, you’re way too stubborn for your own good.” He sighed, offering a hand to help her up; she didn’t take it. He patiently waited for her to stand before starting to walk back to the village.


[Reality - Desert, present time]

That boy… That orphaned boy her neighbors had taken in… That non-Enlightened boy… How was it possible? Ali’s shock ended abruptly as she felt herself raise her bow to block the violent blow of a sword, a pained expression crossing her features as she heard the wood crack under the man’s force. He was pushing the sword with both hands against the bow and Ali could feel her feet slide back a few inches with force. She planted both her feet firmly on the ground and glared into the man’s yellow gaze. There was nothing there that she still recognized, it was a dead gaze. Abruptly she pulled back, letting the man’s own force bring him down to his knees; it gave her enough time to drop her bow and pull her daggers out of their sheets, lowering them to block his blade as he rose to his feet slashing upwards with the sword, towards her face. Again and again he advanced and she blocked him, in her mind she asked every single one of the Twins to bless Indrani a thousand times for all the training she had given her the past three years, hoping it would be enough.

Somehow he managed to push her more and more against the wall of one of the ruined building, she held both daggers between his sword and her face, his eyes pierced into hers and he spoke in a whisper. “You’re way too stubborn for your own good.”
Ali felt a sudden wave of rage wash through her at the words; son of a bitch… She had mourned his death as if he was family… Backstabbing piece of shit! She spat on him and as he flinched and pulled back she kicked him hard in the stomach, knocking the wind out him for a moment, and again he pulled back. Now Ali was the one attacking, numb to any pain, and to any reason; she wanted to hurt him, she wanted him dead.

AJ didn’t seem prepared for that kind of fury, he flinched a little bit more at every hit and eventually the sword was pushed aside by one of the daggers as the hilt of the other was smashed quickly and forcefully into his nose; once, twice, and then again until he lost his balance and fell on his back; the sword dropping from his hand. Ali quickly straddled his chest and pressed both her blades against his throat. “You’re not a Wolf. Who are you?”

The man laughed, giggled even, and seemed unable to stop for quite some time, his blood-stained face showed the most pure amusement, it almost made him look like the kid she once knew. “What tipped you off, Bright Eyes? I’m not one of those puppies, no! You really don’t understand, do you?”
“I thought you weren’t Enlightened.”
AJ spat at her words as if the word ‘Enlightened’ was the worse of insults. “I’m not.” He muttered. “That’s not what I am.”
“What are you, then?” She muttered in response. She wanted answers… She deserved them after everything.
“I… Am… A man-made beast… Not a Godsend freak.” He smirked. “You should have watched my hands, Bright eyes.” He told her, winking playfully.

Ali once again heard that hissing sound, coming from one of her pockets this time. “Son of bitch…” She managed to stand up and get rid of her coat, tossing it aside to explode in mid-air, but she had dropped her knives and her guard was way down. AJ took his shot, and tackled her down; his weight pinning her to the ground, he pressed his forearm against her throat, reaching for a dagger on his belt. “It’s time to go home at last.” He whispered.

Ali didn’t feel the blade as it sunk into her abdomen, but she realized what had happened when her voice came out in gasps. “Not… Going… Without you…” She grinned, pulling an arrow from the quiver at his waist and stabbing the man in the throat with it.

AJ gasped at the pain of the stab, choking and trying to catch a breath. Ali pushed him off of her; big mistake. AJ still had a firm grip on the knife he’d stabbed her with, and it was removed from her wound, intensifying the bleeding in her stomach. She ignored it, unable to feel the pain and the warm blood pouring from the wound. She reached to pull the arrow and end him, but he grabbed her wrist and let out a few hoarse words. “The… Order…” He said. Pulling on his shirt he exposed a mark branded onto his chest; a symbol of what appeared to be an eye with a sword stabbing through it. “For…Give…” He never managed the next breath and Ali never managed to pull out the arrow… They both slipped into absolute darkness.

-----------------------------------------
[White Shadows’ Camp]

Dastan had momentarily lost track of Veronica as he asked one of the men to retrieve the horse he had rode from the desert. His camp was only about an hour and a half away in a relaxed pace so he wasn’t in such a hurry. Night was falling and he had been away all day, but he was sure Indrani could handle the camp without him just fine. His eyes caught a message that was brought in for Annie at the gates, just as Veronica came by, bringing along a man who he assumed was a friend. Dastan examined this man for a brief second before grinning at her statement. “Oh, I don’t know about that Miss Zein… I happen to know an archer who would certainly disagree with that. Me? I believe my eyes much better than your word, no offense.”

As he said that the Crimson he’d asked to gather his ride arrived, holding a light grey mare by its reign. Mirage wasn’t, in any way, the most beautiful of Indrani’s horses, but perhaps for that particular reason she was the most loved by a far and Dastan would often refer to the mare as the most spoiled creature in the planet. She was also, by a far, the fastest; reason why he asked to take her. The mare snorted softly in protest as he mounted and he chuckled. “Aye, must you always call me fat, you spoiled little beast?” He said playfully, gently patting the horse’s neck. He was still laughing slightly when one of his men ran into the encampment, ran a straight line to him ignoring his company. The man seemed to be in a panic and as Dastan leaned over to hear his whispered words, he fell into a panic himself… Even if all that showed on his face was pure rage. Placing two fingers in his mouth the Crimson leader let out a sharp and loud whistle that echoed through the plains; calling his men for battle. He glanced at Veronica and there was no hint of his usual playfulness as he spoke. “Apparently the active side has acted.” He looked at Mirage absently stroking the animal’s neck as he added. “I’m afraid they won’t like my reaction.” That said he kicked at the animal’s sides urging her to run at full speed in the direction of the desert, leaving behind a group of startled mercenaries gathering weapons to follow him on foot.

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

[Desert, about 45 minutes later]

Dastan reached the ruins of Brightvale to find a full blown battle at its peak. His eyes quickly scanned the ruins and he noticed that the tower of the fire temple had crumbled and several other half-destroyed building had now been destroyed completely. The Crimson flags that marked the mercenaries’ territory were in flames and everywhere his people were dying.

His eyes caught Jackson and he rode straight to the man. “Where is Indrani?!” He asked, dismounting and allowing the startled horse to run its way towards the mountains; knowing that she’d come back later when it was quiet.
“She left with a couple of horses, said she needed to visit a friend in Newhaven… I didn’t quite believe it, but didn’t question.” Jackson informed, causally pulling Dastan out of the way as an arrow flew by and returning the shot with an arrow of his own. “Crystal and Evin are also away at the moment, Allison was the one ordering the assassins around, but I lost track of her a while ago.”

Dastan simply nodded at the man, unsheathing his weapons and running into battle; cursing himself for making so much use of his enlightenment with Veronica… He’d need to wait a while before using it again.

The setting changes from the-ruins-healers-camp to The Desert

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Allison Blake

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Alistair made it to the desert along with the Crimson who had left after Dastan. Immediately he made his way into the temple where the wounded would be taken. As he entered, he noticed a few people attempting to aid a wounded woman, it was someone he knew and he could sense her, but barely. “Allison.” He mumbled under his breath as he stepped forward, slowly pushing the people aside so that he could look at her wound. The bleeding had stopped now and she was out cold, or so it seemed, but the empath could tell that even unconscious she was restless.

Ali woke up being held down, it scared her a little, but she recognized the voice asking her to calm down, and she opened her eyes to see Alistair staring back at her. “Thought you were gone.” She mumbled.
“I thought you were gone too.” He chuckled. “Now, stop moving. Don’t know if you noticed, but I’m sticking a needle in you.”
Ali tried to look down, but couldn’t. She couldn’t feel a thing, but she assumed Alistair was stitching he wound closed. “I need… I can’t hold it much longer.” She muttered. The shivers were the reason why she was being held down, so that he could work. “Wasn’t that bad then?”
“No. Whoever stabbed you didn’t do a very good job of it… Or did an excellent job… The blade didn’t touch a single vital organ.”
“Just tell me when you’re done.” Ali muttered in response. She didn’t want to think of whether AJ had meant to kill or not. She didn’t want to think of his plea for forgiveness… She just wanted to know who sent him and why he was targeting her. No more, no less.

Horrid screams came from the outside and she noticed Alistair grimace slightly as some Crimson rushed inside the temple, some assassins right behind them. “I don’t want to be anywhere near that thing!” One of the assassins exclaimed, panic clear in his voice.
“Dastan should never unleash it at night.” Alistair stated absently. “It’ll drain him.”
“He wants to end it. Too many of ours have died as is. Recruits included… He’s furious.” One of the Crimson explained.
“One more reason not to do it.” Alistair replied.
“Shaykh knows what’s best.” The mercenary replied seeming offended at Alistair questioning of his leader.
“He does, he just won’t do it.” Alistair said with a small shrug.
“Malcom!” Ali exclaimed as the man advanced towards Alistair. “If you want to take a swing at him, do it when he’s not stitching me up.”
The mercenary chuckled slightly. “Aye, I’ll wait then.”

“Al, what are you talking about?” Ali asked him.
“I’m talking about his side effect.” Alistair stated simply. “I’m done.” He told her. “You can deactivate your enlightenment now.”
“Do I have to?” She whined.
“The longer you keep it up, the worse it gets; up to you.” He replied.
“Al… What do you know about The Order?” She asked.
“That’s a story Blackhurst elders made up to scare children out of wandering outside the territory.” He stated. “It’s not real.”
“The guy who did this to me seemed to disagree.” She told him. “Is their symbol an eye with sword running through it in downwards angle?” She asked.
“Yes, but…”
“Then I think they’re after me.” She chuckled. “If they’re not real though, there’s nothing to worry about right? He was probably just a lunatic with a weird tattoo and explosive arrows.”
Alistair sighed. “We’ll talk when you’re feeling better.”
“I feel fine.” She muttered.
“You won’t for very long.” He argued. “In the morning we’ll talk.”
“Where’s my bow?” Ali asked suddenly, looking around hoping it would be around somewhere, but not seeing it.
“I don’t know. I’ll see if someone has it after the battle is over.” The man stated. “For now you need to relax.”

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

“The moon is not our friend Shaykh.” Jon warned.

“I don’t have much of a choice, now do I?” Dastan muttered, burying his sword into a man’s chest as he did so. The battle was taking too much out of his people; he needed to end it as soon as possible, even if it was dangerous to him. Heaving a sigh, he sheathed his weapons and took a long deep breath. “Twins forgive me.” He begged as his eyes darkened until they were completely black. “TAKE COVER.” He shouted over the sounds of the fighting men and women, asking his people to retreat into safety as Dastan’s shadow appeared next to him. Jon was empty handed, but he seemed much darker and more… Solid, than he did in the previous fight. If one looked closely enough, two glowing dark grey dots formed eyes in she shadow’s faceless form.

“Your orders, Shaykh?” The shadow asked.
“Attack the Wolves. Spare those who flee. Slaughter the rest.” Dastan commanded. “Without mercy.” He added.
“As you wish, Master.” Jon replied.

What the Wolves, and those watching, saw was nothing more than a black figure moving so fast that it was almost impossible to make it out. Whenever it crossed paths with an assassin, it would leave the Wolf’s body torn to shreds beyond recognition. It wasn’t long before the Wolves realized they didn’t really stand much of a chance, but only a few ran despite that fact; bound to their orders not to back down. One of the survivors was the poor unfortunate bastard who watched wide eyed as Jon held one of his companions by the throat and punched a hole through the man’s chest, yanking out his beating heart and tossing him aside as if he was weightless. It was unlikely he would ever forget the sight as he ran screaming in the direction of the forest. Others followed, but the ones who didn’t were mercilessly dismembered and killed; in that exact order. Within a few minutes the shadow ran out of things to kill and stopped, finally showing Dastan’s silhouette as it stood in the center of the camp. The sand now painted red with blood, and the silence lingering through the ruins heavily as if Lady Death herself had walked across it and swept all Life away.

“Mission accomplished.” The shadow stated, bowing his head.

Not long after that, Jon disappeared from sight, only present as the dim impression of a falling Dastan, as the Crimson leader fell unconscious, face down in the sand. His black eyes open, slowly fading back to brown.

Not long after the shadow's disappearance, another horrifying scream echoed through the desert, but while the Crimson seemed alarmed by the female voice that screamed as if she was being tortured; the assassins laughed in relief. They knew the horrid screaming as the sign that Allison had survived and was now experiencing the side effects of her enlightenment. Slowly people began to move bodies around, separating friends from foes and taking special care with the children. A few of the Crimson rushed to the temple to check on their families and give sad news to the families of others. The battle had come to an end, but the rage in the eyes of the mercenaries made clear that this was far from being over.

The setting changes from the-desert to Valcrest

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Allison Blake Character Portrait: Veronica Zein Character Portrait: Vane Ross

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#, as written by Caelus
Vane kneeled, his bow held by his left hand, the right picking up a tree branch that was broken in the middle. It's been little more that an hour since he left the Crimson's camp and entered the woods, trying to track down the small group of survivors that fled from the battle. He was right, they ran for their lives, barely caring to walk slowly or to avoid dry branches on the floor. He put the branch on the floor and started to walk again. He didn't need to carefully check all the signs on the woods, they were pretty clear. The woods were a calm place, they were not exactly as hot as the Desert but not as cold as the White Shadows encampment. It was odd, but still comforting. The blonde's arrow was still on his back, when he heard a tree branch break. Vane stopped, smiling, finally a mistake!

"You breathe as loud as a horse, and yet," he removed one of his daggers with the right hand, slowly turning around to check who the person was, "even horses know where they step. If you're gonna be a stalker, try to do it right." He saw nothing more than trees as the cold wind touched his hair.

Ali almost laughed at the man's words, but held back. Didn't he know that she had been following him from the start? If she really had been breathing that loudly then he would know. Or was he trying to bullshit her into giving up her exact position? She watched his eyes move; he didn't know where she was. She was right in front of him, yes, but perched on the branch of a tree. She slipped and broke one of the weaker branches on her way up on account of the snow, and the fact that she was concerned about not bursting her stitches, but even if he was looking in her direction, he wasn't looking up. She broke the silence speaking softly in a slightly menacing tone. "You have something that belongs to me, Archer." She paused for a second before adding. "And I was not glad to see you wander off to get killed with it at your back."

Vane looked up, his gaze instantly meeting the girl's blue eyes. The man laughed a bit, his voice acquiring an humorous tone. "Oh! Hi there Cutey Eyes!" He sheathed his dagger, there was no need to use it now. "Never thought you were the stalker kind of person, but if you allow me to correct it to you, I have two things that belong to you," Vane's laughter ended, but was only replaced by a smile, "now get down, it would be terrible if you fell and the stitches opened." he turned around, restarting to follow the survivors trail, Vane waved his hand, as if to say to the woman follow him. "Name's Vane, or Daemonos, but this one is pretty big for any conversation. Ain't it?"

Ali remained still for a while, perched up on the tree looking down at this stranger with narrow eyes. He seemed nice enough, and suppose she should be thanking him for his help, but right now she really didn't care for pleasantries. He had the only thing left of her home and she needed it back. The pet name she called him struck her as slightly painful as it reminded her of AJ and she momentarily wondered if he had done that on purpose. "Don't call me that." She stated simply as she dropped down from the tree, landing perfectly on her feet, wincing slightly at the pain. "My name's Allison, Ali if you rather." She stated beginning to follow after. "So, are you giving my bow back to me or will I have to fight you for it, Vane?" She paused for a little bit and opened a slightly wicked grin. "I know where they went. I'm not telling you though."

The man stopped, both were in a big open area, "they stopped here to breathe," his eyes moved until a tree, the bark of a tree was wounded, "and someone was very angry." The trail was a huge mess, but the same amount of feet moved to the North. Vane was whispering for himself, barely remembering that Ali was less than two meters away from him. "Ali, eh? Suits you," he restarted to follow the Wolves' trail, "your bow has history, I can clearly say that, and according to your voice tone, it belonged to someone that was very important to you." His right hand catched his bow and Vane removed Ali's weapon from his back, he turned around, raising his left arm to give the girl her bow back. "Looks like we started with the wrong way Cutey Ey-" Vane laughed and opened a smile, "I mean, Ali. And if you're wondering, I know that someone's following for forty-five minutes." The man laughed once again as he looked into Ali's eyes

Ali took the bow from the man, examining it without another glance or word at him; there were visible cracks in the wood and she mentally cursed herself for using it to block AJ's sword. She would rather lose a limb than to have that traitor be the one to break Alex's pride and joy. "My brother." She stated, in response to Vane's comment. "You laugh quite a lot for a dead man." She stated absently. "If you continue down that path you'll find them, sure, but you'll also find about two or three hundred more of them. if that's what you want, be my guest, but I just think it's not very clever. Don't expect me to save your ass, either." She said with a shrug, putting her bow away at her back and looking up at the man's eyes. "You're not a Crimson, why are are you out here hunting stray dogs?" She asked curiously. "What's in it for you?".

"I'm not dead at the moment, plus I don't need anyone to save me." Vane restarted to follow the trail, "Before they even whispered that someone was close they would be lying on the floor. That's why they call me Daemonos, one that's never seen but exists, a spirit if you want the translation." He took at least a dozen steps before speaking again. "And I'm here only to send a small message with the right words from Zein," he looked over his shoulders to see Ali. "That we know where they live. Now mind breathing like a normal person would? If you're following me all the way until the Wolves' camp I'd rather be sure that they won' be expecting us." His smile faded, the expression returning to the usual serious look, he faced forward while trying to her anything out of the ordinary

"Why don't I stab you in the gut so we'll see how well you breathe? And they're already whispering, can't you hear them?" Ali asked, her eyes glowing a brighter tone of blue. "If you really think you can corner a Wolf in the forest the way you would in the desert, or in a battle field, you obviously don't know much about the Pack. Which makes you twice as stupid." She looked Vane from head to toe with a little smirk playing on her lips. "Newhaven colors, that explains it." She stated absently. "I don't have to follow you anywhere, Mr. Ghost, like I said: I know where they are, I know every way in and out of that camp, I could beat you to them easily." She stated. "In fact, I think I will. Like I said, headed that way you'll find about two to three hundred of them, and I'd much rather live." With that said, she turned and walked out of the trail and into the actual woods, through a path that led towards the lake, instead of the main gates. If he was smart he'd follow, if he didn't, well... She wanted to visit the lake one more time. A dead Newhaven archer was nothing on her conscience.


Vane scratched his temple with the right hand, "Kiddo, ghosts are different than spirits... even an eight years old child knows that." Vane looked at the woman walking, wounded on the abdomen with a broken bow. "Of course I'm going to allow you to go away just like that." He started to follow Ali, thinking that she should have stayed at the camp, but later guessing than she could show him a better way to send the Wolves the right message. "And I'm not that old... so, what's your history lady Allison from the Cutey Eyes?

"I learned the difference between ghosts and spirits when was at least five. How old were you when you learned about mockery?" Ali retorted in an amused tone. "And kiddo? I'm surely not that young." Walking with an impressive level of agility for someone who shouldn't even be out wandering around, Ali made her way through the familiar path, one she walked many times before when she could still this place a home. "I was born in a village in the ruins of Blackhurst. My village was destroyed and burned down when I was ten, I joined the Wolves right after, lived with them for seven years, left them when the Alpha was betrayed, been in the desert with those loyal to her for the past three years. That's all you need to know. As an archer, I have a reputation of my own, but... I have nothing to say about that." She gave the man a glance and smiled slightly. "What about you, Mr. Ghost, what's your story?"

"Mockery? What's that lady kiddo?" Vane held the laughter this time, but smiled. "Born on a war torn city since... forever, son of an officer from the army, needless to say that I decided to help my old man when I was pretty young, eh?" He walked faster to keep up with Ali, "starting to train with a bow when I was 11, I was trained by my father. Old man surely knew how to fight, when I was 18 I joined the Army. It was fun, I trained with lots of people everyday for hours, dueled with as many people I could every day and never lost a single spar until I was 25. That's the day I met Zein and got my little scar. Lost the duel, got an ugly scar, but found a friend, world's a funny place, ain't it Cutey Eyes? Few years later started the Siege against Newhaven, in the same year my old man made this bow for me and in the middle of the war I've been named that. Zein was mad at me because I got a bigger score than her. An year after that my father... well, he... was..." Vane took a deep breathe, the scene repeating on his mind, "killed. Well, when the Siege ended I quited the Army and lived on the woods until... yesterday. Not the shinest history you will ever hear, but that's mine, Cutey Eyes.

"So, you quit the army 'cause your old man died?" Ali asked, raising an eyebrow. curiously watching his reaction, but not expecting an answer. "So, Ghost, what I still don’t get is what brought you and you friend to the desert. You just stumbled upon a bunch of people killing each other and randomly chose a side?" She asked with a little smirk, slowing her steps as they neared a small clearing. Stopping, Ali's eyes lit up momentarily as she scanned the place. As the light faded from her eyes she smiled stepping into the clearing and startling a teenage girl that had been absently stirring the water with her fingertips. "Hey Kate." Ali greeted as she stepped out of hiding.

Katelyn jumped up from her crouch and turned to Ali with a bright smile. "You're insane. What are you doing here?" She then hesitated a second, before walking a straight line to Ali and giving her a rather tight hug, immediately pulling back as she winced. "What have you done to yourself now? And what in the name of all the Twins have you done to your bow?!" She asked in a severe tone, walking around Ali to examine the weapon at her back. "You want me to work on it? I think I can fix it."
"No, it's fine... I can... I'll take care of it." She forced a smile. "It's a little old anyway... And I just got a little stabbed. Nothing much."

"Uh-huh... Katie mumbled, now looking at Vane with curious eyes. "Who's your friend? He's kind of handsome, but a little old for you, no?"
"What're you talking about... Handsome? You don't get to talk like that, you're twelve." Ali played.
"I'm sixteen, stupid." She said, with a little frown. "What really brings you here, though?"
"Mr. Ghost over here, wants to send your brother a message of some sorts. I was just keeping him from getting himself killed in the process."
Katie scratched her head slightly. "But... Sean isn't in camp. He won't be back until late afternoon, been in Newhaven since early evening, yesterday." She stated. "What’s this about?"
"How... Sean wasn't here? Who ordered your people to attack us?" Ali asked, slightly concerned.
"Wait, what? Who attacked you?”Katie asked; pure confusion on her face. After a moment she shook it off and heaved a sigh. “I'm sorry, I can't say who’s in charge. I don't want to commit treason while my brother is too far away to protect me. You understand, right? What I can say is that, Sean had prepared an attack, and he ordered them to be ready move at sundown, but I also now he planned to be here to give the order, something came up and he had to move away from camp, I’m not even sure if he thought of that." Opening a sweet smile, she added. " Of course, I'd be more than glad to help you send a message though. What do you need?” She asked them."

Vane opened a smile as he heard the conversation, raising an eyebrow as he heard the handsome part. "You two talk way too loud," his eyes fell on Kate and she blushed, "can't say too much, since I'm the guy that was laughing in the middle of the Woods tracking people." He suffocated a laugh, closing his eyes. As they opened his gaze met Ali's. "Stopping me from getting killed Cutey Eyes? You're not returning the favour that soon." Vane opened a friendly smile, but his mind was somewhere else, Zein told him to leave a message to the Wolves, and by that she meant to leave a scar on the Pack's mind. The man looked around, his eyes watched the leaves move a bit due to the wind, but they had an absent look on them, Zein couldn't have foreseen than they would acquire that amount of information. He truly wondered what would be a good choice.

"First things first," he spoke, the eyes returning to Ali with an unnatural serious look, "I quit 'cause there wouldn't be any need for any archer, plus it sounded like a good idea to leave for a few years. And for what I've been told, Dastan summoned Zein to speak regarding to this... attack and about politics, that's when I've met her after all these years, and when we heard that there was an attack at the Crimson's camp. The rest is history." After he ended the phrase the usual friendly grin appeared on his face again. Vane kneeled and faced Katelyn, resting his right forearm on the leg. "Look, Kate, right? I don't know any of the Pack's rules, but it sounds like treason to any of you to see me and kill, specially after last night. I was ordered to deliver a more," it took a second to find the right word, "inelegant message, just forget that I," he looked to Ali and returned to Kate, "that we were here. 'Kay?" Vane stood up,the grin still on his face. "So Cutey Eyes, I'm not leaving you in the middle of the woods with a broken bow and with stitches, so it's your call if we return to the camp, or we just walk wherever you want to go.

Ali raised an eyebrow at Vane. "Favor? I don't recall asking you any favors, Mister." She stated, walking to the edge of the lake and getting on one knee to touch the water with her fingertips. "Kate isn't an assassin, it's not a part of her oath to kill anyone." She explained, her eyes watching the water with a smile as if she saw a friend hiding underneath the surface. Standing up straight, with a little grimace, she added. "And really, I don't need a body guard, or a nurse, I've always taken care of myself just fine. That said, I'm going back, I have a message of my own to send." She smiled at Katie. "Girl, you watch yourself, alright? No getting in trouble."

Kate chuckled. "I'll take your advice into consideration. I won't promise though." She looked at Vane and smiled sweetly. "It was nice meeting you. And don't listen to Ali, if you don't keep an eye on her she'll probably burst her stitches open, drop unconscious somewhere and bleed to death."
"Shut up, Kate." Ali laughed. "That happened once, and I'm still alive."
"Because your luck makes up for your stupidity, my friend." Katie replied with a chuckle, giving Ali yet another hug, before beginning to walk her way back into the encampment. "It's always nice to 'not see' you." She stated, waving over her shoulder.
Ali shook her head, a rather serious look in her eyes as she watched Katie leave. She couldn't even hope this war never reached the girl, it was just inevitable, but she could wish that at least she didn't get herself killed. Finally she started walking in the direction of the desert. "I have to let my leader know we were attacked. Are you coming?" She asked over her shoulder, not really looking if Vane was following."

The man still had his friendly grin on the face as he saw Ali walking, starting to move as he noticed that she had no intention of waiting him. "You're getting both of us killed someday Cutey Eyes, and that" he managed to emphasize the last word without changing his tone, "is just plain obvious." Vane accelerated his pace so he could walk at Ali's side, although he smiled he was scanning the surroundings, the leaves' sound echoed due to the cold breeze. He suffocated the laughter after finding nothing of interest in the area. "Wonder if there's something to eat at your camp Cutey Eyes." Vane looked at the girl's eyes after he heard his stomach growling. "Just... wondering."

[Crimson Shadow Encampment, around an hour later]

Vane walked alone inside the encampment, trying to find the friendly figure of Veronica. Ali left him seconds after they reached the camp, speaking that she was going to help the others. A drop of sweat moved across the man's face, the sun was harsh, but the temperature was very different from the woods, and little did the air help, it was as dry as the sand, and harder to breathe than the air from the woods. "Leaving the camp without a single drop of water, it's hard to believe that years ago you were smart." Veronica had the usual friendly accent and also held a canteen with the right hand. "I can't believe that your taste changed that much..." The woman started to walk, giggling as she took the first step. She motioned the flask, the water loudly sounding inside it.

"What are you trying to imply Zein?" Vane soon followed her, motivated by the sound. "Hm? Nothing at all, since I know a few histories..." The man raised an eyebrow, slowly moving to the woman right side, "oh yes... stories." Just a few steps and he could steal the flask, "and what would they say?" Before he moved his hand Veronica moved the flask to her left hand, her smile containing her laughter. "Things about you and your past, that's what stories are supposed to do." She thrwew the flask to Vane, the man catching it in mid-air, starting to open it as fast as he could. "But a blonde? Now that's something new that I saw with my own eyes." Before drinking the water he smiled, "and now what are you trying to imply?" Veronica laughed as she watched the man almost choke in the man drink it. "Nothing at all. I spoke with Jackson for a few hours, and I have a nice list of things that I need to do and yes, that involves moving to Newhaven. And you're coming with me."

"Don't be silly, you know that the horses need to drink water, we need to get a few supplies before moving, it's a long travel, plus my horse won't be able to take both of us all the way," spoke Vane after he moved the flask away from his face, "and for that we will need to borrow an horse from the Crimson, and I'm not sure if they will be so nice to us." Veronica laughed as she started to walk to the East. "Don't be so silly, everything's settled, I was only waiting for you to move." She still wore the same dress from yesterday, the same cloak covering her back and front. Veronica motioned her head, pointing to two horses and a man that waited for the duo. The horse that Zein took from Newhaven waited, a few bags that contained some supplies that the Crimson could spare lied on the horse's sides. Jackson laughed, "they are ready, love! You sure that the supplies will reach us that soon?" Veronica nodded as she mounted the horse that held the bags, Vane soon followed and mounted the other horse, a grin of satisfaction clearly shown on his face. "There will be bureaucracy, but I'll work on that as fast as I can, just be sure to speak to Dastan the same we agreed, right?"

The man nodded, but before he could open his mouth both horses ran, the wind gently touching the man's face. "And now you flirt!" Veronica soon laughed, always keeping an eye on the woods that lied on the North, as if something moved on the shadows. "So, what are you implying with that? Anyway, what happened at the woods?"

The setting changes from valcrest to The Desert

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Allison Blake

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Allison parted ways with Vane the moment she step foot in the desert, mumbling something about helping the others. She did plan on helping, but some things came first.

The bodies of the fallen Wolves had been lined up outside the camp area, near the border that separated the desert from the forest; Dastan had ordered that the Pack was allowed to take their dead, as long as they didn't try anything in the process. Ali walked watching the line of bodies, some of them torn to bits, but still accounted for. AJ was amongst the dead enemies, but he was no Wolf; the Pack wouldn't take him. She crouched down facing the pale face of her former friend, unable to understand what he had done, and why he had done it, mixed feelings of sorrow and rage swirling around in her stomach. "Forgive..." She mouthed the man's last word, not a sound escaping her. She wasn't sure if she could ever forgive, but she would at least give the man a proper burial, or a funeral pyre. If not for any other reason, because at some point in the past his life meant something to her.

"Was he someone you knew?" Alistair spoke behind her.
"I'd like to think so." Ali answered, standing up straight to face the former healer. "I'm not so sure though." She took a moment to look the man over, she hadn't seen him in over three years, and last she heard, he wasn't coming back. She wondered what could have possibly brought him back. "Can we talk now, Al?"
"If you want." He answered. "But not here."
Ali nodded, waving one of the Crimson's over she whispered something to the man which made him frown deeply. She simply smiled in response. "Please, do this for me." The man still seemed displeased with whatever request she had made, but nodded as if to guarantee it would be done. Not saying another word to the mercenary Ali started to walk back to the encampment. "Walk with me then, I have one important thing I need to do. Should have done it last night, but didn't get the chance, what with being stabbed in the gut and all."

Allison led Alistair across the encampment and to a more secluded are, surrounded by huge boulders that seemed to have been placed there for some unknown reason. As they stood in the center, Ali pulled a small metal whistle out of her pocket and blew on it. The whistle emitted a high pitched sound that echoed through the area. Ali stood in silence for a little bit, her eyes sparkling in bright blues as she looked up at the sky. Alistair followed her gaze to see a black falcon flying in their direction. The bird casually landed on the womans outstretched arm, as she smile cheerfully. "Hello Tariq. How's the hunting been, huh? Got anything good?" She whispered lovingly, stroking the falcon's feathers. "Hope you're not too tired, buddy. Will you find Crys for me? Go find the Alpha." At the last phrase, Tariq took flight imeddiately and Ali stood for a moment watching until the bird was out of sight. "Justin's bird." She explained. "Dani released him after Justin was no longer with us, but he kept flying around camp, looking for Justin and we thought the poor thing as going to starve itself, but Crys managed to bond with it somehow."

Alistair chuckled. "Well, Crys has an interesting gift, that's for sure."
"What do you mean, aren't you an empath too?" Ali asked, sitting on a small boulder and watching the man with curiostiy in her eyes.
Alistair found himself a place to sit and smiled at her, replying simply. "There are different types of empathy. We didn't come here to discuss that though, did we?"
"No. We came here so you can answer my questions about the Order. So, talk." Ali replied.
"I don't know much about that, Ali. What I know is that Lena herself never believe this to be real, but... About twenty, to sixteen years ago, there were several child disappearances and early Awakenings followed by deaths. The White Shadows, well, Lena mostly, decided that somehow those facts were related. Early Awakenings are as dangerous as a premature birth, and mortality rates in cases of early awakening, depending on the age of the Enlightened and the ability, are incredibly high; that wouldn't strike anyone as odd, however, the children who were ending up dead were the same ones who had disappeared certain periods of time before, and they were usually born from non-Enlightened parents. Some of them were way too young, around the ages of five, six years old. It was just... Unnatural, I think that was how Lena called it. We looked into it, but never actually found any answer as to why it was happening. It stopped, so everyone forgot after a while. About five or six years ago, however... Newhaven was being terrorrized by an Enlightened killer, who was named Dark Mirror. Have you heard of him before?"
Ali nodded, quietly. She had heard. The Pack had been contracted for some of his victims after they had lost all trace of sanity. "I have. Carry on." She said simply.
"Lena said that the way his ability acted on his victims was something unheard of and, as far as telepathic abilities go, if Lena hasn't heard of it it's because it's beyond rare. A little after Dark Mirror was finally caught by Newhaven authorities, there were smaller occurences of similar deaths. Not to his level of cruelty, and far more methodical killings, but extremely similar nonetheless... Through those killings we discovered that Dark Mirror had a twin. Lena caught the kid herself, and she brought him with her to the Plains."
"She did what?" Ali asked, raising an eyebrow. "That sounds like something awfully stupid."
"Yes, and dangerous." Alistair agreed. "Lena managed to keep the boy under control, however, and through studying his ability and his memories, or better yet his lack of memories, Lena discovered he was not truly Enlightened."
"You mean...?"
"I mean that this kid is living proof that someone can and has been fabricating Enlightenments. He was granted his at an age, according to Lena's research, as young as three or four years old. He and his brother were rescued from the basement of a shop in town, nearly dead at age nine, but he has no memory of anything that happened there. Lena isn't sure if his memory was erased, or blocked, by someone or if the trauma by itself did it."
"That's sounds like an awful way to start life." Ali mumbled, her foot digging into the sand absently, drawing lines it with the tip of her boot.
"That's true." Alistair stated. "Don't pity him too much however, he's far more dangerous than his brother ever was, so that would be a mistake."
"Is he alive somewhere?" She asked.
"Ask Lena, if you want to know about him. He is, after all, her pet project. She simply refuses to give up on the kid. Thinks he has some shred of humanity left that makes him worth the trouble. I don't think anyone else sees it."
"Didn't she save you?" Ali asked with a small grin.
"I killed one person... Not twenty six." Alistair replied with a frown. "Don't compare me to that kid."
"Twenty six?"
"That we know of." Alistair confirmed. "I don't think he can be rehabilitated and I would advise against you seeking him out."
"That man... The one who stabbed me... I knew him when I was a kid. He was adopted by a family that lived near us and, well... He never felt like he belonged. When he tuurned twelve and didn't develop and ability he became angry. He said it was just one more thing to make him different, one more reason why he didn't fit in... No one really saw him that way, but no one could ever get him to see that. He got to the village at age six, nothing to identify him except for the letters 'AJ' scribbled in the sole of his boot. His adoptive parents named him Andrew James, but he never accepted being called anything other than AJ." She explained. "I thought he died with the others, but no. I find out about this when he shows up and tries to kill me, with exploding projectiles, even though he was not Enlightened. I don't get to ask questions, I don't get to try and save him, because the only time I see anything remotely similar to the kid I used know is when he's dying and blacking out. I saw it though... The mark, I heard him say 'The Order'. want those answers, Al. I need them." She looked at him and heaved a small sigh. "I had accepted the fact that my family died due to some random act of War, that there was no hope to ever obtain justice for them, and revenge wasn't worth it, but if they were targeted, then it's not about revenge anymore... Do you understand?"
"We've talked about this, Ali..." Alistair sighed.
"It's different now, Al. I don't have a choice. If there is an Order, then it won't stop at AJ, and I can't have those people coming after me and putting my friends in danger. I will not have that." She mumbled standing up straight as she spotted one of the mercenaries walking towards them, the man seemed just as upset as the other Crimson Ali has spoken to as he spoke.
"We set everything up." He stated simply, walking back immediately without waiting for an answer.
Ali chuckled slightly. "I offended them a little bit, it seems."
"Why?" Alistair asked, raising an eyebrow at the mercenary as he walked away.
"I asked them to build a small pyre for AJ. Fire is sacred to the Crimson and it is an insult to ask them to burn the corpse of an enemy." She smiled. "Will you light it for me? I... Can't..."
Alistair chuckled. "Alright, sure."

They walked back to the encampment to where the body was ready for burning and stood each on one side of the pyre. As they approached, a few other assassins walked over to stand around the pyre as if to show support, since every passing mercenary was glaring the newly made pyre. Ali smiled a bit a the gesture of the group, it was unexpected and very much appreciated. Alistair was holding a lit torch, but waiting as if expecting her to say some sort of good-bye, there were no words to say, but she couldn't simply give him the go-ahead. After a moment or so she reached for her bow at her back, examining the cracked surfaced of the wood; it could be fixed, but it would never be the same. She heaved a sigh, and finally, let the bow rest alongside AJ's. "Light it." She said, not looking at Alistair.

Nothing happened, silence lingered for a few moments before one of the assassins spoke. "Ali, what are you doing?"
She smiled looking down at her feet for a moment before looking at the man who had spoken. "Nothing lasts forever." She told him. She then turned to Alistair as if wondering what he was waiting for. "Go ahead, light it."

Carefully, the fire was lit. Ali took a couple of steps back on instinct, but kept watching as the flames surrounded the body. "Andy... Thank Alex for the bow, it has served me well. Have a safe journey home, my friend."

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

[Newhaven]

Lena chuckled a little bit at Mageria's words on Luckas and Essence's 'business', but turned serious soon after. "You should be careful with Luckas, Captain. He can be very useful, and I encourage that you use him if it keeps him busy, but never give him too much freedom in situations like this; it can end up going horribly wrong." She warned, a slight snicker escaping her. "Luke respects rules and promises, but if you don't make them absolutely clear, he'll find his way around. I learned that the hard way, and a soldier almost ended up dead in my camp because of it."

She walked a few steps, slowing her pace to keep up with Mageria, not offering her any help on the grounds that she wouldn't take it herself had the situation been reverse, but she kept one watchful eye on the woman at all times. "Suppose I should have let Luckas erase the Warlord's memory, however, he and I had a bit of a personal score to settle and I wanted to get Xypher out of there before he saw too much of it. I don't think this can cause you much trouble personally though, if you were in the sick ward all along."

She went silent for a moment in thought as she heard the dagger was in Blackpond Castle. "Well, I am going there to see what to make of this new King of theirs... I'll see what I can find out and I'll let you know if i discover something of significance." She said with a mild shrug. "Suppose, it's very much likely the thing has been moved elsewhere by now, or safe kept somehow. We shall see."

Lena stopped for one step at the mention of how Sarris died, but continued walking soon after and didn't make any comments on the matter. Her thoughts wandered off and she lost a bit of what Mageria said about Thomas, only coming back to her sense when the woman touched a subject she'd much rather avoid.

“You do seem to be rather busy for retirement, Lena. Mind sharing what that’s all about? You know, to keep my mind off the pain?”

Lena looked at Mageria with a raised eyebrow. "Well Captain..." Her voice trailed off as she noticed Tala suddenly running off, a discrete smile spreading across her features as Essence came walking in their direction soon after. She gave the younger woman a slight nod of her head at her greeting. "Well, good morning, young Lady. Had a good night?" She asked casually, before turning back to Mageria. "Well, Captain, now that you have someone else to distract you from your pain, I will go on with the rest of my affairs here, but to give a short answer to your question: I am just one of those people who believe the world might fall apart if they're not around to control everything." With that said, she gave a respectful bow of her head and sped up her pace towards the Castle. She'd speak with Thomas and maybe Ella if she could manage, and then head to the City of Blackpond.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Indrani Nayar Character Portrait: Allison Blake Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher

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[Desert – Sundown]

Crys reached the desert ruins as the chill of night air began to fill the air. A split second before her arrival, she was surrounded by her people and bombarded with unintelligible questions and explanations, only a piece of sentence making through the mix of voices as all fell silent. “… And Ali burned her bow.”
“She did what?” Crys asked raising an eyebrow. “Where is she?”
“She’s in the training field; been there all afternoon.” Trevor informed. “I don’t know. She’s been acting strange since the attack.”
“Who attacked?”
“Did you not hear a word we just said?” The man scolded.

After getting the whole story from Trevor about the attack from the Wolves and how Dastan had sent them running in the end, Crys went to the training field to find Ali and ask her what was happening. She found her friend mercilessly beating a training dummy with a wooden sword (by the sound of it). Crys stopped a few steps away and stood until Ali noticed her and stopped.
“Hey, our fearless leader is finally ho…me… What did you do to yourself?” Ali asked seeming intrigued. She was silent for a while before she burst into laughter. “Is that… Is that an eye patch!? Why are you wearing an eye patch!?”
Crys chuckled. “Yes, yes… I get it, it’s funny.” She mumbled. “I had a little accident, is all. A glass shard flew into my eye, and I need to leave this on for a couple of days.”
“See, that’s what happens when you pay Black Knights a visit.” Ali joked. “Nice horse, by the way. Indrani will be happy.” Ali stated, indicating the animal whose reins were helf firmly in Crys hand.
Crys nodded slightly. “Where is Indrani, by the way? She’s not in camp.”
“She’s not? Last I heard she was in her tent. I’m not sure, but… I get the feeling she and Dastan had a bit of a falling out. He’s been a little… Well… Depressed. I tried to talk to him, but he doesn’t want to see anyone. Said he needed to think.”
“Hum… I see…” Crys mumbled. “And what is this I hear about your bow?” She asked.
“It… It broke.” Ali mumbled. “It was old anyway… Doesn’t matter…”
“Are you going to finally craft one for yourself then?” Crys asked.
“I suppose I’ll have to.” She stated. “I’m not going to rely on swords to survive, I wouldn’t make it.” She chuckled.
Crys nodded, pulling the empty casing of her flute from her belt. “Lost it during my accident.” She informed.
“Huh…” Ali mumbled, taking the casing from her. “That sounds like one hell of an ‘accident’.” She smirked. “Are you going to tell me all about it?”
“Eventually.” Crys replied, shaking her head. “It’s a long story.”
“That’s two stories you owe me now.” Ali told her. “Don’t think I’ll forget.”
Crys chuckled. “Alright, alright.” She agreed. “We’ll have a talk later.”
“Later, alright. I also have a lot to tell you, starting with Lena showing up here… And moving on to other subjects…. Will be a long story too.”

Crys took a long deep breath, the cold night air now filling her lungs. “Will you take the horse to where the others are kept? I will see if Dastan will speak to me, and then we’ll talk. There are things we need to discuss, and decide. Where’s Evin, by the way?”
“I don’t know. I think you were the last to speak with him before he left, remember? I came back from the plains looking for him. He hasn’t been back since.”
“Oh… Right…” Crys mumbled, remembering that Evin had gone off after Theron. “I forgot about all that.”
“All what?” Ali asked.
Crys chuckled. “We’ll add that to my list of stories, alright. Right now, I still need to speak with Dastan.”

[Forest – Early evening]

Sean arrived in camp and was met with confusion from actives and recruits as they gathered around him to actually convince themselves their leader was alive and standing. It wasn’t until something small collided with him that he actually realized he was home.
“How did you manage to get yourself stabbed? Idiot!” Katie scolded, holding a tight grip around his waist that was almost unbearably painful.
Still Sean managed to let out a rather shaky laugh, wrapping his arms around her in a comforting gesture. “I’m fine, Katie… You can’t believe everything you hear, was just a scratch.”
“Don’t lie to me, you jerk!” She exclaimed, pushing him away, obviously upset with his behavior. “You can’t scare me like that! I thought…” She simply shook her head, unable to finish the sentence and simply walking away stomping her feet in anger.

Sean shook his head in amusement, but only for a moment. He would talk to Katie later, but right now he other things he needed to deal with; like finding out what the hell had happened while he was away. Franklin has told him of the attack on the Crimson, and that the accounts of the survivors were rather gruesome, he wanted to know what happened in that battle, but most importantly; he wanted to know who authorized it behind his back. All those thought, despite how concerning they were, did not compare to what Sean was trying not to think of; a promise he’d made, and had planned to keep, was now shattered to bits. Coincidently or not, it was to these thought that a voice sounded loud in the clearing, and the sound of it alone seemed froze Sean in place, slow down time itself, and pierce right through him more painfully than any sword could ever hope to do.

“YOU LYING, BACKSTABBING, MURDEROUS, PIECE OF HUMAN WASTE!!!”

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

[Flashback – Forest, four years ago]

“I want to march into that camp and bury this axe so deep in that murderer’s skull they’ll have to bury him with it!” Sean shouted, swinging his weapon and opening a gash on the trunk of a nearby apple tree. “And Dani next!”
“You will do no such thing, do you hear me?” Indrani protested, managing to stop Sean from getting past her and pushing him until his back hit the trunk of a tree.
“That lying, murderous, b… Bitch!” He blurted out the last word as if it he feared ever addressing the woman in such a way. “I trusted her! She was never going to make him pay, she knew it all along! Liar!”
Indrani stood, pinning her friend to the tree and just letting him shout his curses and insults until he finally couldn’t shout anymore. The rage and the pain in his eyes was something unlike anything she had ever seen before. She almost didn’t believe she had managed to stand in his way. Sean had stopped shouting and cursing. Now he simply stood staring at her in silence and she wasn’t sure of what to do, or if it was safe to let him go. She didn’t; afraid that he would snap again and do something stupid. instead she put both arms around his neck and pulled him into a tight hug, surprised to feel his arms wrap around her waist and pull her closer, and twice as much surprised to realize Sean was crying. She had never seen, or heard, him cry before. Minutes went by, hours perhaps, she wasn’t sure, before he finally spoke again… His tone was soft despite his anger, only slightly above a whisper. “I believed her, I believed there was justice, but there is no such thing as justice… Not for people like me. There’s nothing left for me now, the Wolfpack means nothing more than a bunch of lies. I’m dead.”
“Sean… Don’t talk this way… Please…” She pleaded. “What about your family?”
“My father doesn’t give a shit.” He muttered. “I don’t give a shit about him anymore either, Lionel will just do whatever he’s told… Katie and Don are just kids, what do they know about Life? Give it time and they’ll forget I was even there… Seems to be easy for most people… Like with my mom… They’ve already forgotten her.”
“I wouldn’t forget you.”
“How will I ever go back to that camp and breathe the same air as that monster? How can I ever look my leader in the eyes and pretend I still have any respect for her? What kind of a man will I be if I put myself through this?” He asked. “How can I keep breathing?”
“It’ll get easier in time.” She replied. “Like eating the same bad meal every day… The bitterness will fade, I promise. Just make an effort, and if you can’t… I’ll just have to take you home with me. Just promise me you won’t get yourself killed. Please… Promise you’ll breathe for me.”
“Princess…” Sean took a long breath that ended in a shaky sigh. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.” He whispered. “You saved my life today.”


[Reality – Wolfpack Camp, present time]

Time stood still. Time stood still as if it had frozen the moment she yelled. The rage burning in her eyes as the memories of years of love and support filled her mind. Years of friendship that had been reduced to nothing in one single night. She still wanted to believe it wasn’t true, she still wanted to believe this was just a bad dream, but in her heart she knew the truth, and it hurt. The Wolves immediately surrounded Sean to shield him from her, drawing their weapons, some of them seemed to be already be rushing towards her when Sean finally made himself heard in the chaos.

“I said BACK OFF!” He shouted. “Back away, NOW!”

Even though they weren’t all too eager to stop shielding their wounded leader from an angered mercenary wielding a weapon longer than she was tall, they complied, not put away their blade, nor stepping too much out of the way, only enough so that the two of them were seeing eye to eye. Silence lingered for quite a bit of time Sean didn’t seem to know what to say, and Indrani didn’t care to hear it either, all her energy was focused in not being more stupid than absolutely necessary. After a long while of silence, through which the Alpha and the Commander stood gazing into each other’s eyes, Indrani rose her scythe from the ground holding horizontally at the height of her chest, the blades forming a barrier of sorts around her as she spun around. Again Sean ordered his people to stand back, even though it seemed pretty clear that he was going to get his head chopped off. However, instead of attacking the Alpha, Indrani tossed her scythe across the clearing, and it landed with one of it blades deeply buried in the door of the Leaders’ Cabin. Now unarmed, she walked a straight line to Sean, until she was standing right in front of him. “I came home to the sight of crumbled buildings, and burnt tents, and dead children… I came to help you, and when I returned home, I found very little of it left.” She stated, her voice soft, but nonetheless filled with rage and contempt. “I came home to find my very worst nightmare, and I woke up to see myself a traitor... And all because of you...” She shook her head, a bitter laugh escaping her lips. “I don’t know why, I was never known for trusting people, but I did trust you and you took my life… My family… I loved you… I don’t know why, out of all people… I guess that was my mistake.” She sighed. “I trusted you even after you’ve done, after all I know you were capable of doing… I thought there was still enough humanity left in you to stay true to our promises… That was my mistake too. I should have seen what was happening to you, even if only to save myself before it came to this.”
“Indrani, I…” Sean didn’t know what to say. “I didn’t know… I tried…”
“I don’t care for what you have to say, even if you manage to say it.” She cut him off. “There’s nothing left to be said between the two of us. I’ll never believe a word from you again.”
Sean seemed to be in a shock as Indrani spoke, as if someone had torn out a piece of him. “I’m sorry.” He finally spoke. “I didn’t mean for it to happen this way, but we both knew things weren’t going to stay peaceful forever, if you could even say they had been.”
“You promised me you wouldn’t do this unless it was necessary. Remember? You swore on your life Sean, and that’s a promise I will make sure you keep.” As she said that she punched him in the face.

Sean was way too busy ordering his people to stay put to properly defend himself, so he took the punch and the other two that followed, all the while still holding his clan back with one gesture of his hand. He was now dizzy and blood was dripping down his nose, but he didn’t even seem to notice. “Fine! Fine! You want to kill me, go right ahead! GO ON!” He shouted, spreading his arms. “Don’t you dare touch her!” He shouted over his shoulder to one of the assassins who was clearly trying to get to Indrani unnoticed. “It’s only fair, right? I did give my word… Go ahead.”

Indrani seemed to flinch for a split second, but it was only for a split second; she advanced and kicked Sean right in the stab wound in his stomach, causing him to fall onto the floor, gasping for air. She simply marched towards the leader’s cabin and retrieved her scythe, feeling the stares of the wolves on her, but not caring for them for a second. She walked back to Sean and kicked him onto to his back, placing her foot over his wound and the bottom blade of the scythe pressed against his neck. “Is this how you held her down?” She muttered. “Huh? I bet you had nightmares that were just like this… Her standing over you and taking everything back… Grasping for air… What goes around comes around, right? Everyone must pay, you taught me that.” She smiled, realizing that this was as far as she could go without getting the Wolves to react. “Don’t worry kiddies… I’m not killing the Alpha today. No, no…” She stated, glaring at Sean. “Sean, love… I’m letting you live, rest, and heal up really nice… And when you’re all nice and fit… We’re going to have our very last rematch. And don’t you dare deny me, because you owe me.” She withdrew the blade and removed her foot. “Until you are dead for real, my friend… Live with the fact that you are dead to me.” With those words, Indrani turned her back and left, leaving Sean lying in the dirt amongst the other assassins. He might have to explain this eventually, but he really didn’t care. He didn’t care that his nose was broken and his stitches had burst open… He couldn’t bring himself to care about anything at all. Even so, he reacted when Franklin pulled him up and walked him to the leader’s cabin. Sean was going to pass out and he knew it, but before he did he managed to give his second one last instruction. “Frank… Deal with Adria…”

Franklin knew what that meant… Moving their assassins without their leader’s command was treason… Adria would have to pay.



[Desert – In the Meantime]

Crys walked to the Fire Temple, carefully making her way through the first floor where an improvised infirmary was set up, not wanting to trip over anything that might be lying around, very much aware that nothing was where it used to be. She walked past the main hall and towards where the rope ladder would be hanging, not surprised at the fact that it was missing. She heaved a long sigh before finding the spot where she usually climbed up the wall to the second floor, doing so with a grimace as her body still ached considerably. She walked by her room quickly, leaving her bag and removing her boots and cloak, before walking to the opposite end of the hall in time to hear the sound of a shattering bottle. She stopped at the door and cleared her throat as to announce her presence. “How goes it?” She greeted casually. “I was wondering if you’re up for a little spar.” She teased.
It took a moment, as if he was trying to fight against it, but Dastan chuckled. “You look like you’ve had enough fun without me.”
Crys tilted her head to one side at his tone. He was drunk as it was usual... But he was tone wasn’t his usual friendly and silly tone; it was bitter and angry. She entered the room and immediately regretted not wearing shoes as she stepped over a piece of broken glass. She groaned as the shard entered the sole of her foot and lifted it so she wouldn’t step on it and push it in further. “Why always broken glass?” She muttered.
Dastan had stood from where he sat on his bed and rushed over to her, she could hear the crackling sound of his boots crushing more pieces of glass as he walked. Without any warning, the man simply put her arm around his neck and lifted her up in his arms.
“Don’t… do that…” Crys protested, frowning at Dastan for just handling her without asking permission or giving a warning.
“There’s shattered glass all over the floor.” He stated. “Even if you could see it you wouldn’t be able to walk around in here with no shoes. Quit whining.” He chuckled, dropping her rather roughly on his bed. “There, that didn’t hurt too much, now, did it?” He teased.
“Hmph.” Crys mumbled, reaching to pick the glass from the bottom of her bare foot, but being blocked by Dastan’s hand around her wrist.
“I’ll handle that.” He told her. “Where were you all this time?” He asked, carefully picking the glass from her foot, trying to work the best he could considering his sight was a bit blurry and she wouldn’t hold still. You haven’t been away this long since you people came here… Am I making you uncomfortable with this?” He added, releasing her foot.
“I was visiting a friend… And no, you don’t make me uncomfortable… No…” She said, turning her face away from him discretely.
“If you were visiting a friend, why do you look like you’ve been beaten up? And… What’s wrong?” He asked, flinching slightly at her reaction to his question. Finally he realized the problem and laughed out. “Oh, you’re ticklish!”
“Shut up, Dastan!” She scolded. “It’s not funny.”
“I’m sorry, it’s just so surprising…. I mean… It’s so girly and adorable!” He laughed out.
“First of all: I am a girl. Second of all: Are you saying men aren’t ticklish, Shaykh?” She asked, grinning and poking him on his side.
Dastan chuckled, pushing her hand away. “Knock it off! And you know what I meant. You’re always so… Composed.”
“Huh…” She mumbled. “If only you knew…” She said, shaking her head. “I’m not nearly as composed as I make myself seem, believe me.”
“Is that so? Because to me it seems like you’re always so in control… Even after… Well… It must not have been easy leaving your home.”
“My home…” She shook her head. “I only left an encampment; I brought my home with me.”
Dastan snorted softly. “I have no home.” He muttered.
“Don’t be stupid.” Crys replied, a severe tone in her voice.
“You wouldn’t understand. You… Were raised to do this. I was always the irresponsible one, it was unthinkable that I’d be responsible for another human life, even less hundreds. Our legacy… The last of Brightvale and Effort’s people…” He shook his head and stood from where he had sat beside her one the bed. “I was never a leader… I’m here because there was no one left.”
“I’m here because there was never another choice.” Crys stated. “Does it really matter though? How we got here.”

Dastan paced slowly through the room, the crunching sound of glass being crushed under his boots marking his footsteps. After a few moments he sat back next to Crys and slipped a liquor bottle into her hand. “If you want to keep me company, then keep me company.” He stated simply, before answering the question with another question. “You don’t think it matters?”
“I think that thinking about it doesn’t change the past.” She said, taking a drink from the bottle. “Do you plan on running away from all responsibility on the grounds that you weren’t meant to be here? If you do, then maybe it matters, otherwise… No.”
“I’m just so tired of this. The War, fighting for territory, fighting for food, fighting just to exist… I’m sick of fighting… I’m sick of Death. I just want… Not even Peace anymore, just some release: Just one moment when I don’t have to fear the possibility of losing everything.” He took a long gulp from his own bottle. “Have you ever thought about it? Ever thought about walking away? People turn their backs, and people give up, every day. If they can do it, why can’t we?”
Crys laughed out. “Oh, I love my little assassin clan, and I still love the Wolfpack, despite everything that happened. That said… Of course I thought about it. I still do. Jake and I…” She paused and took a long drink. “Jake and I used to joke about it all the time. We even made plans about how we were going to run away together, leave Valcrest and buy a farm.”
Dastan choked on his drink when she said that. “You and Jacob living on a farm? Twins have mercy.” He laughed.
“We knew that we would never actually do that, but it was amusing to consider it nonetheless.” She said with a small shrug, a soft chuckle escaping her in response to his reaction as she took another sip from the bottle. “I miss Jake. I wish… I wish he hadn’t left.” She admitted. “You’ll wish the same if you push Indrani out of your life.”

Dastan went silent as she said that, taking another drinking and swallowing hard as if he was pushing something down with the alcohol. Finally he whispered simply. “It’s not the same.”
“Sure it’s not. Jake is an idiot and he left me because he’s scared. Indrani is an idiot who tried to do what was best for you, an idiot who trusted someone she thought she knew.”
“You’re defending her.” He mumbled. “She was trying to turn your people over to Sean.”
“She was trying to protect her people Dastan. I don’t agree with what she did, but I can’t condemn her for it. You might not be able to forgive her, but you’ll always love her.”
“I’ll always love her, but can I trust her?” He asked; a bitter tone in his voice. “Yes, Sean used her, but she didn’t think of the clan first. She is supposed to protect them, they trust her with their lives… If they knew what she did… They would never recover.” He sighed heavily. “There.”

Crys raised an eyebrow at the last statement before she realized that Dastan had picked the glass from her foot and bandaged it while he was talking. “Thanks.” She stated, a little uncomfortable now at the fact both her legs were outstretched across his lap and he was casually resting his arms over her knees. He didn’t even seem to notice. “Look, I’m probably not the best person to give advice on what or not you should disclose to you clan, considering that hiding a secret was mostly what put me in this situation, but… I think you should give her a chance to regain your trust. I think… She’s not a bad person, she doesn’t mean any harm, she was simply afraid. Fear can make people do the stupidest things.”
“She didn’t just betray the clan though, she betrayed me… That hurt me so deep… I just wanted to die…” He stopped himself, as if he didn’t believe he was actually admitting to such feelings. “Indrani is the only family I have left, I have never cared as much for anyone or anything, I would do unthinkable, unspeakable, things for her… I would give up anything to make her happy, or keep her safe… I never thought she would do this to me.” He heaved a shaky breath, and emptied his bottle in one large gulp, throwing the bottle across the room where it smashed against the stone wall. Crys realized he had probably been walking around the room and drinking all day. She wondered how he even managed to stand, even less carry her, in that state.

“Dastan…” She called, when he stood from the bed and she heard him fiddle with glass bottles probably looking for one that was full. “Didn’t you have a rule about not drinking upset?” She asked him.
“Screw it.” He muttered, almost under his breath, but still loud enough to hear.
Crys waited before he sat next to her again and snatched the bottle out of his hands, throwing it full against the wall. “You’ve had enough.”
“Are you nuts?” Dastan asked her.
“If you want to take a swing at me for that, go ahead.” She stated calmly, crossing her arms over her chest. “Otherwise, I’d say you’re done.”

Dastan flinched and, for a second or two, he actually considered it. Eventually though, he admitted defeat and sat down. “I don’t want to die like my father.” He mumbled.
“What does that mean?” Crys asked.

Dastan didn’t answer however. He yawned, and without the least bit of warning laid his head on Crys’ lap and fell asleep on her… Literally. Heaving a sigh, and not wanting to risk stepping down from the bed and into anymore glass, Crys simply leaned against the wall and pulled a blanket over the sleeping mercenary. He probably wouldn’t wake up until late morning.

The setting changes from the-desert to Raven's Nest

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Allison Blake Character Portrait: Ess

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#, as written by Essence
The Sun had gotten up for only a few minutes, but Ali had been awake before that. She had trouble sleeping through the night, strangely enough because the camp was way too quiet when compared to the Crimson camp; she hadn't gotten used to the sounds, or lack of them, quite yet. As the light flooded the clearing she was found sitting with her back to a tree working on the little wolf figurine she had started the other day, trying to add more detail to its features. Next to her on the floor was an open sketchbook, with the drawing of a flute, she occasionally glanced at it, but otherwise, she was focused on the little wooden wolf, occasionally stopping to look at it from different angles, but seeming too pleased with it.

Essence was starting her runs now before the sun even hit the horizon, unable to help her insomnia most nights her morning runs were one of the few things that actually helped clear her head. Tala was off wandering doing wolf things, Ess supposed since she was nowhere to be found at the moment, so Ess was alone completely in her thoughts. By the time she finished her second lap, she came to a clearing, pausing with a smile to admire the swirl of hypnotizing reds and oranges that streamed through the tree branches, reflecting off the snow with a sparkling shimmer. The glimmer reminded her how much she loved things that glittered: the snow, spring rain dripping down upon fresh leaves, a sun setting over the water, the stars....and even how she longed to shine and stand out as beautifully as those memories of hers. After a moment she noticed a woman leaning into a nearby tree. Ess’ smile opened as she thought she recognized the girl from the archery contest, and slowly approached out of curiosity. The closer she got, the bigger her smile grew, noting first a sketchbook by the girls side before she caught the wolf figurine.

Ess cleared her throat making sure her presence was known before she spoke, “..Beautiful morning, hmm?” She adjusted her braid a bit, absently pushing a few sweaty curls from her eyes as they glowed. “...Hope I’m not bothering you....just I haven’t seen someone do wood carvings...since....my father....I’ll never understand how you folks do that.”

Ali heard the footsteps walking towards her, but didn't do much more than glance at the woman walking her way, thinking maybe she would just pass her by, but she didn't... She stopped to speak to her. Ali wasn't bothered by the woman in one bit, she sounded pleasant and as Ali actually looked up at her she was smiling wide. Ali smiled back a little more modestly as she gave a slight nod and replied. "Lovely morning indeed. First hours of sunlight are usually the prettiest, and it's no bother really." She replied simply. "I think... I saw you speaking to Crys during the archery contest, no? I'm Allison, you can call me Ali for short." She said,eyeing Essence with a bit of curiosity. "You father did woodwork, huh? Funny, I learned from my brother, family trade, so to speak." She said, examining the little wolf figurine again, and then looking in her sketchbook and frowning a bit. "Maybe I should make it smaller..." She mumbled. "Hey, if you ever want to learn... I can help you out. It's not as hard as it looks."

Essence giggled softly at herself, finding amusement in the simplest of things today; it was nice to appreciate the little things. “None of us girls like being called by our full birth name, hmm? Crystal is Crys, Allison is Ali, and me...Essence..but I like Ess better...” Shuffling forward, Ess squatted down a few feet before Ali and nodded lightly. “My father..I can’t remember what he did for work mostly, but he use to carve me little wooden animals for toys and comfort when I was very little.” Ess’ smile faded a bit, but still was quite visable as she continued. “Time was stolen from us, so I never learned....but I did teach myself to draw..among other things.” Her fingers stretched out towards the woman’s sketchpad curiously. “May...I?” Ess let herself sit cross legged upon the ground, arms limp in her lap as she looked from the wolf carving back to Ali. “Honestly, if I were to learn anything from you...If I may be so bold....would be to show a hint of the skills you portrayed at the contest...” Ess shrugged lightly, “I want to learn it all, it seems.”

Ali smiled, reaching for the sketchbook and flipping through some of the pages. "Oh, there's nothing much in here, just random sketches of furniture and... Different styles of chess pieces. I wanted to make a set different from the traditional pieces, but... never got around to it...Can’t decide on how exactly to make them. You can look though if you want." She stated pushing the book forward. "I'm not much of an artist, just like to get a visual of things before they're crafted. I don't draw much beyond that." Ali then sheathed the carving knife and leaned back against the tree, examining Ess with her eyes as if trying to measure her playing with the wolf figurine; tossing it in the air and letting land safely in the palm of her hand. "If you want to, sure... I can teach you some things." She tossed the little wolf up and retrieved it again, a curious look in her eyes. "I'm sorry about your father, by the way... I know what that's like... A little too well. I don't remember my father so much anymore, I know he was an archer, so was my brother after him, as am I, although not like them..." She chuckled. "Funny how things turn out sometimes, huh?"

Ess gently picked up the book before her, lavender eyes catching the glimmer of sunlight off the snow reflecting in her pupils. She listened to Ali as she spun through the pages, smiling more and more as she went from one idea to the next, pausing here and there to admire. “You have some great ideas in here...you know...I saw this one chess set in WhirlWind, before it burnt down..” Ess cleared her throat pushing through the words as if she was un phased. “...Each piece represented one of the twins and their offspring...course..I always thought they were too pretty and not fearsome enough.” Ess looked up from the book and gave a playful wink, absently finding a blank page and reaching for the writing utensil on the ground. With a sigh she didn’t look back down at the empty page as her hand began slowly moving along the page with a silent grace; her eyes shifting from the rays of sunlight breaking through the trees, the tree behind Ali and then back to Ali with a gentle smile. “Funny...yes....Life seems to ...find a way........least you had something to look up to, an example to follow.” Her smile finally dissipated, yet her expression was calm and thoughtful. Essence adjusted the pad along her thigh at a high angle so the page was out of sight from Ali’s gaze, the writing utensil dragging long and hard across the page a moment before blurring another second later, as she began to shade in some shapes.

Ali blinked a few times, her expression changing from curiosity to slight shock. "You're from one one of the villages?" She mumbled the question. "Mine was the last to burn... Ten years ago. My entire family died in the fire, except my brother, Alex. He got me out and was killed by the soldiers halfway to the woods." She sighed softly. "Suppose I did have good examples to follow though, even after losing one family I've managed to find another... I was just lucky, I suppose. Don't like to think of who I would have turned out to be if the Wolfpack hadn't taken me in... Makes it all the harder to see what they're becoming now, such a waste..." She went silent for a moment or so after that, watching Ess with growing curiosity. "What are you drawing there?" She asked, tilting her head to the side in amusement.

Ess’ hand froze when Ali began speaking of her own village also burnt to the ground, a tinging pain jumping around in her belly. “Where...are you from?” She asked softly, noting the similarities to her own memories. “I was seven when the men came....they killed my father....I thought my brother too, and they took me away. Apparently, as I’ve just found out, my brother didn’t die, and had something awful to do with my kidnapping, where I spent many years a slave to a brothel in Blackpond.” Ess turned her gaze down towards the picture, staring straight through it. “Ian..my brother.....never tried to help me....from what bits I found out, he was working for someone that wanted an eye kept on me.” Shaking her head she shivered, forcing her hand to move, a shivery smile curled her lips, her eyes flickering in a subtle glow. “Well..no matter....I plan on having a ‘talk’ with that brother of mine..soon enough.” Ess went silent for a few minutes, leaning into her drawing she playfully peeked over the books’ edge smiling up at Ali. “It’s just a sketch mind you....but...ok” Ess simply handed the book back to the woman, letting the simple shock of what she saw absorb into Ess as a tiny fit of giggles. “Remember, it’s just a sketch.”

"I was born in Rosefeld... It was not too far from where your village used to be. I have a map of the area, the names of the villages are on it, but... I don't have it on me right now. If you want I can lend it to you, or make you a copy." She offered, a slight frown crossing her features. "I'm sorry about your brother... Hope he suffers all the consequences. As for those people,well... Let's say I'd like to settle a score or two with them myself."
Ali raised an eyebrow at Ess as she was handed back the book, her eyes sparkling as she looked at the drawing. "That's impressive for 'just a sketch', I have to say. You're very talented, Ess" She smiled at the woman, throwing the wolf figurine upwards again and catching it in mid-air, placing it carefully on the ground beside her. "Here, I made it a little too big for its intended purpose. You like wolves, right?"


“As for those people,well... Let's say I'd like to settle a score or two with them myself."


Ess was thoughtful a moment, her expression empty as she stared at the sketch of the landscape before her, rays of light falling around what looked very much like Ali beneath the tree. The vision left her sight as her mind wandered, staring straight through the emphasized glimmer of the eyes. It was always about the eyes with Ess. “Do...you believe those burnings were all connected? What could it all mean?” She whispered delicately before her smile returned at the pleasant distraction of the wolf figurine. “Of course....I’m sure you’ve seen my companion padding around camp....you know...soon there will be more Tala’s running amuck.” Ess stated proudly.

The Night Before...

“Talon...is Tala getting enough to eat...she seems kind of thin...” Aiden inquired as he sat by the fire, running his fingers through the wolf’s fur.

Ess quirked a brow. “Aiden...what are you talking about? She’s been eating more lately and I thought she was getting chubby....Thin? You’re nuts.” A giggle escaped her lips as she turned her gaze towards Tala.

“...Well...guess it’s time to talk to the Captain about building a Kennel....we will be welcoming new arrivals sooner than I think...Isn’t that right Tala?” The wolf stretched, her tail thumping slowly as she curled up at their feet.

Ess eyes sparkled wide, “Wait...what?...How.....When....wait...what?”


Shaking the memory from thought she stared at the wolf figurine, smiling ear to ear. “For me? That’s very thoughtful...thank you Ali.”

Ali frowned slightly, her gaze shifting downwards as she thought of Ess' questions. "If it had been a village or two, I might think of myself as paranoid, but... No. All seven villages were destroyed over the course of a little over a hundred years. Five out of those seven villages were burnt down." She paused for a moment before adding. "Have you been there? To the ruins? Maybe you should go and see. I can take you if you'd like... I've been there."

Ali smiled cheerfully at Ess' statement of more 'Talas' running around. "You don't say? That's awesome. I have not actually seen many wolves, even while living in the forest so long. More like I could hear them... Can hear them howling as far as the desert if I use my enlightenment and the wind is just right... She chuckled. "And don't mention it... It's, uh... 'Just a sketch'." She played.

Ess tried to shrug off the idea of traveling ‘to her past,’ not sure of what it would accomplish. “Maybe, but there’s nothing left but rubble I thought? And...does anyone know who did all the decimation and why?” With a long sigh she mumbled low to herself, “What..did they even want with me....” Ess reached out and clasped the wolf in her hands, once again smiling, rolling her eyes comically at ‘just a sketch.’ It was nice talking to Ali and how relaxed she was around this stranger. She couldn’t help thinking about how nice it would be to hear the call of a wolf from long distances, and it suddenly reminded her of Luckas and the story he had told her about Heart and ‘her’ sister Air.

“....Before Heart left the land she taught her children that whenever they sang or played music, and it seemed like the sound was fading in the winds, it was actually her sister, Air, carrying the message to the most distant corners of the land, and that was why wolves' 'sang' when they needed to communicate with their families from a far."”

“Sounds like your gifts give you much opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the land at quite an advantage, hmm Ali? Me....I’m just a stickler for details....” Ess snickered, burgundy strands and loose curls fading into black before flickering to their normal tone. She pushed herself onto her knees and easily to her feet, stretching in the sunlight.

Ali sighed heavily. "There are theories as to who was behind it, but none concrete. And yes, only stones and rubble... And silence..." She smiled. "I know you think there's nothing there for you, I thought the same, but it did me a lot of good to see with my own eyes. Truth is, when you lose so much so fast... It's a deep wound that you just don't feel, it kills a little piece of you everyday until you acknowledge it." She chuckled softly, running a hand through her hair. "I think, I'm just saying my offer stands for if, or whenever, you wish to accept it."

"My gift has its perks and its disadvantages, that's true." She watched Ess carefully for a few more moments, noting the change in the woman's appearance, before jumping to her feet, picking her bag from behind the tree and putting her sketchbook away inside it. "Do you have a bow, Ess?" She asked,casually, hanging the bag over her shoulder and retrieving her bow that had been resting against a tree, concealed in the bushes. "You're going to need one that's good for your size if you want to learn to shoot." She smiled.

Ess nodded to Ali, “I’ll be sure to think on your offer and perhaps take you up on it sooner than later.” Pivoting in her stance she began to walk beside Ali as they talked, moving back towards the bridge and back towards camp. “I’m sure you are right about having to face the pain, in order to get through it. I just never thought about going back, ever.” Essence paused to stretch her legs, glancing at the sun as it rose higher into the morning sky. “It’s about that time, for my daily dose of ass kicking..” The woman giggled profusely before she smiled over at Ali. “I don’t have a bow, no. Should I try to find one? Or perhaps have one made?” She stated, unsure of the extent of the supplies she had access too, and figured she may just have to borrow someone’s bow in the mean time.

The morning was alive with chattering and the normal hustle of chores and clammer of metal; most were up by this time not wanting to waste the day. When Ess turned her gaze from Ali, she watched Aiden appear, weaving in and out of the crowd to Ess, nodding his head in greeting. “Talon, I think Tala has gone off after the Captain.” He said simply, causing Ess to scrunch her brows in confusion.

“Aiden, what are you bloody talking about? Isn’t the Captain in her cabin?”

“..Oh...you haven’t heard yet. Something important needed the Captain’s attention...so Matthew says, and no one is to follow..but I think our furry friend may be the only one to get away with disobeying such a command.” Aiden shook his head snickering.

It was an odd feeling, what stirred inside her. She was resenting hearing the order of no one to follow Mageria, for something itched in the back of her brain, teasing the idea of going anyways; yet she would not dare disobey. The respect that had bloomed for the Captain went beyond her status, and Ess liked to think of the woman as one of the few real female friends she’s ever had, and she wanted to be there for her. Another sigh permeated the air, Ess smiling softly as she whispered. “Good girl, Tala..”

The setting changes from ravens-nest to The Manor

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Allison Blake

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“Still no word from him… I’m telling you… The healer fried his brains… He’s not coming back...” A female voice giggled softly in Ezekiel’ ears as he waited to hear of Luckas’ return. The man simply groaned in frustration as the blue-eyed teenager bounced around him in little circles, chanting. “Zeke’s gonna get in trouble… Zeke’s gonna get in trouble…”
“Amber!” The man called, reaching out and taking the girl by the throat. “Please, shut up.” He growled, releasing her to the sound of coughs and giggles.
“Aw, don’t be so sad… Zekey… I’m sure he’ll turn up, dead or alive… I’m just assuming that ‘the powers that be’ will be less than pleased if he’s permanently damaged… Under your supervision… Ouchie… You’ll be missed, love.” The teenager dodged the older man’s advances as he attempted to silence her again, but was smart enough to move away from him, laughing at the top of her lungs as she made her way out to the gardens.

The only thing that never changed in Amber’s appearance were her bright blue eyes. She couldn’t make herself look like anything she wanted either, she could only make herself look like other people she knew. As she crossed the front doors of the mansion, her appearance was that of a tall blonde, older, woman she knew; Lizzy never minded lending her image, and giggled with the fact she always wished she had female twin… To anyone who knew the two, it would be easy to tell them apart unless Amber was aiming to impersonate the other woman. Lizzy was always, ALWAYS, cheery, while Amber was more of the expressionless type, unless she found someone she could mess with… Messing with people always cheered her up. When she made her away across the front of the house she spotted some of the guards staring intently at a woman who was innocently wandering into the property. Amber tilted her head to the side, stopping a step behind the men. Amber wasn’t the first to approach the woman however… Two cats wandered past all the humans to sniff out the stranger, looking up at her and meowing insistently. Eventually Amber walked after the animals to approach the woman, casually crouching to pet the female cat; a mix of gray and white with orange fur on her right ear, speaking softly to the kitty and ignoring the woman completely. “Pandyyy…. Have you caught a birdie? Have you caught a little mouse? A little snake, maybe? Hmmm…. A pretty little snake this is… Very, very pretty indeed…” She cooed, looking up to the redhead woman with a slight grin. “Wonder if she’s tasty too? Hm, Pandora? What do you think?” She asked, scratching the cat between her ears. Pandora meowed and purred, rubbing her head against her hand. The other cat, a white male with pointy ears was still sniffing out the stranger curiously, meowing and hissing.

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[Raven’s Nest]

Ali parted ways with Ess and her friend, Aiden, to try and find Crys and see if she knew anything about what was happening. The camp was full of whispers speculating what would send Mageria running that fast without saying what was wrong. The assassin only began to worry when she heard someone mention a healer had come with a message. Still, she didn’t stop to ask about it, she kept trying to find her friend. It took her a bit of time, but eventually she found Crys, or rather, Crys found her, near the river.

“It’s Lena!” Crys called.
“By the Twins!” Ali shouted. “Where did you come from?! I was looking for you.”
Crys ignored the question and simply repeated what she had already said. “It’s Lena, Ali. The commotion… In the plains… I can feel it this far.”
“What are you talking about? What happened in the plains? What about Lena? What…” She silenced as she caught the look on Crys’ face. “That’s not… Possible. It’s not… Are you sure?”
Crys shook her head. “I’m not absolutely sure, but as sure as I can be.”
Ali shook her head and turned to walk in a fast pace towards the small camp they had set up. “I should destroy that book..”
Crys followed after her. “I don’t know… Lena wanted you to have it.”
“There’s nothing there, Crys. I’ve read it and over and over, and I don’t remember anything. I do know that whoever is after it shouldn’t get it if they are willing to kill that much for it.”
“They’ll still come after you…” Crys stated.
“I know that, but that’s an easy fix… Now, isn’t it?” She muttered.
“Easy now, Ali… I know this is troubling you, but let’s not think of it in these terms, alright.”
“I wasn’t serious, but if this is as big as Lena made it out to be… I might change my mind.” She sighed. “I don’t know why, but… It just seems to me like, whatever this is, it means that much to me.”
“Do you… Have it memorized, the book?” Crys asked, putting one arm around Ali’s shoulder and pulling her along towards their little campsite.
“Word by word, but…”
“It’s hers and you don’t want to give it up…”
“Yes, and then there’s… How hard I worked to forget them. How I pushed them out of mind for years… “
“You shouldn’t feel guilty for that. You were just a kid and you handled it the only way you knew how.”
“I guess… But what if I can’t remember anymore? What if it’s just lost? She says… My mom wrote… That I would understand if I read the book, but I don’t understand it. Whatever it is, I don’t see it.” She heaved a sigh and shrugged. “Shouldn’t we go to the plains and see what actually happened?”
“We will, but I want to wait a bit and see why Mageria had to run off in such a hurry and what it has to do with Lena.”

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The walk/ride to the Raven’s camp was silent on Luke’s end, and if Mageria spoke to him, he was really not paying attention. He was feeling a bit weak, although he knew he would recover in only a matter of hours, and he was still getting occasional flashes. As if that wasn’t enough to worry him, there was a small problem with taking the path of the camp, and he was thinking of ways to avoid it, even though he thought he wasn’t going to be able to make it. He continued in his little stupor as they entered the camp, not noticing if he was being acknowledged or if questions were being asked. He was just thinking of how quickly and how quietly he could find his way out.

The setting changes from the-manor to Blackpond

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Allison Blake Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher Character Portrait: Samantha 'Johnson' Character Portrait: Alina "Suferinta" Mare Character Portrait: Alisa "Temeti" Mare

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“You sure ask many questions, sweetie, but it’s very inelegant to answer a question with another question.”

Luckas tilted his head in amusement at the woman’s response, as well as her little discussion with her sister. “I don’t see where I answered you question with a question. ‘We are passing through’ was my answer to your extremely vague question. That was clearly an affirmation and not a question. My question was something separate from my answer in an attempt to continue this conversation, although... If this simple interaction has you confused I should ask myself if it’s worth the trouble. Are you not used to conversation? If that’s the case, I wonder... What are you used to?” He chuckled. “And the weak woman act would not by any means work on me, even if you could pull it off. See... I’m not the type of man drawn to the damsel in distress stereotype.” He paused, glancing up at the woman on the horse curiously, a grin spreading across his face. “I’m also not the type of man you’d like to try and play that way. A predator knows a predator, have you ever heard that? It’s in the eyes, and yours are delightfully dark.” He turned back to the woman who had spoken to him in the first place, finding amusement in speaking with two pretty much identical people. “Do you know what people say of black eyes?” Not waiting for a reply, he shrugged and continued. “If you are not fond of people trying to mess with you, I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong city.” He stated, glancing at Amber as she still whispered to the fallen man and raising an eyebrow.

Amber had been entertained with the fallen man, being friendly and slowly gaining his trust. The man was freaked and he really just wanted to get out of there, but for whatever reason couldn’t run off. It was ridiculous how trusting he was after what (whatever it was) had just happened to him, it was somewhat pathetic. Lovely.

She kept her ears in the conversation, smirking at Luckas’ silly replies. She stood when she felt she was being spoke to, holding back laughter when she felt the man cling to the leg of her pants, holding back the urge to kick him. She’d been asked to introduce herself and without skipping a beat she decided for the very first name that crossed her. Her usual behavior contained in a small polite nod of her head. “I’m sorry, how rude of me not to introduce myself.” She stated, glaring at Luckas as if mentally scolding him for the exact same rudeness. “I’m Wyatt, Miss... At your service... And I’m afraid that’s my one and only name as well.” She opened a very convincing apologetic smile. "It is surely lovely to meet you in this fine day."

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[Raven’s Nest]

Jake was looking for a spot to settle and maybe take a rest from his sleepless night of travel, wandering around aimlessly and looking for a good spot to maybe set up a little camp, if he could get his hands on a tent. If he found a good enough spot, maybe he’d even build something more concrete...More like a home.

Distracted with these thought Jake didn’t realize he wasn’t quite as alone as he thought it was; something that only became apparent to him when he walked under a tree and felt something heavy fall onto him, knocking him to the ground, face down. The ‘something’ turned out to be a person, as Jake felt the very unmistakable sensation of knee pressed against his lower back as well as a forearm pressing the back of his neck.

“Hello there, stranger!” A voice greeted him, a bit of sarcasm hiding underneath its cheerfulness.

Jake groaned as he recognized his attacker’s voice. “Nice to see you too, Ali... Can you please get off me now? You gained some weight I see.”
“You shouldn’t be rude to a lady when she’s got a knee at the base of your spine, Jake.” Ali retorted in a fake annoyed tone.
“Should take it as a compliment, if you lost any weight I’m pretty sure you’d vanish.”
“Nice save.” She laughed. “I’m still mad at you though!” She exclaimed, rolling off of Jake’s back and jumping to her feet before he even managed to pull himself onto his knees.

As Jake stood up and turned to face Allison he caught a clear look of concern on her face. “What?” He asked, scratching his head.
“You’re slow, and you look like crap... Are you alright, Jake?” She asked, reaching for his arm.
“I’m just a bit tired, but I’m fine. I’ll look better in a day or so, you’ll see.”
“Mhm...” She mumbled, giving him a look of sheer disbelief. “Have you eaten yet today?”
“Well, no... But I...”
“Shut up, come with me. I’ve got some oatmeal left... And we’ve got some catching up to do.” She said, pulling him by the arm through a narrow path amongst the trees that led to where she had set up camp.
“You cooked oatmeal?” Jake asked, seeming somewhat surprised by the fact. “How did you light the fire?”
Ali chuckled. “Why you sound so shocked? Gee... I can light a fire....” She started, giving a little shrug. “If I really, really, have to.”
Jake raised an eyebrow at her. “Really?”
“Nope, still traumatized. I asked one of the guys in camp to do it for me...” She admitted. “They’re so very nice, aren’t they?”
Jake chuckled. “I almost believed you there.”
“Yes, well, if you haven’t been away for so long, you’d know the truth.” She scolded as they stopped before a small tent, its colors mimicking the greens and browns of the forest considerably well and almost blending in with the forest entirely. Jake shot a rather amused glance to a small fire pit still lit from breakfast. “So you’re just going to keep asking the grown ups to make fire for you?”
“Until Crys gets back... Yup. That’s my plan.” She replied simply, motioning to a little wooden stool by the fire. “Sit.”
Jake took a seat and smiled softly, pointing at the piece of furniture. “You made this?”
“Mhm... What you think of it?” She asked, going into the tent and picking up a small pot with the leftover oatmeal and reluctantly placing it over the fire to heat. “I said I’d help with making some beds and chairs and such... Apparently the ones they made weren’t quite solid.” She explained with a bit of laughter in her tone.
“I like this. It’s nice and solid, and you’ve gotten much better at this.” He replied. “And hey, I can light your fire for you until Crys gets back.”
“Oh... And by that statement I should assume you’ll actually be here to do that, right?” Ali asked, raising an eyebrow at her friend in order to express her skepticism.
Jake chuckled, shifting awkwardly in his seat. “That’s the plan, at least.” He replied.
“Mhm...” Ali mumbled, pouring the heated oatmeal into a bowl and handing it over to him before taking a seat on another stool. “Crys said she’d be back in a day or two, by the way. I know you’re dying to ask that.” She said with a smile.
“Is she still very pissed?” Jake asked, wincing at the thought and poking the oatmeal with his spoon.
“Very pissed is one hell of an understatement, Jacob. A few days ago I joked about breaking you out of prison and, well, let’s just say that was the last I mentioned your name.” She gave him a slightly apologetic look. “It won’t be easy to get her to talk to you, if that’s what you’re after.”
Jake sighed, taking a spoonful of oatmeal into his mouth to keep himself from speaking; it was surprisingly tasty considering he had never seen Ali do as much as boil water. It tasted good and he was actually pretty hungry... He hadn’t really realized how much. Looking around the small camp he spotted several tools lying around, broken arrow shaft and different sorts of feathers; most of them black, unlike the usual white feathers she usually used for arrows. Next to tent entrance Jake noticed the longbow leaned against a tree, and it suddenly hit him that Ali wasn’t holding her bow.

“It broke.” Ali stated suddenly, causing Jake to startle slightly and turned his head to see she had been watching him through his silence. “It was an old bow... It was bound to happen somehow, sooner or later.” She turned her gaze to the newly crafted bow and gave a little snort. “I’m still working on making this one... Special somehow... It lacks personality as is. It’s the first time in ever that I’ve used a weapon fitted to my size though... I never quite reached my brother’s stature, for whatever reason... Go figure...” She chuckled. “Now I’m forced to use a proper weapon, how dull.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, I know you loved that bow.” Jake mumbled, scooping the rest of the oatmeal from the bowl. “Must not have been easy to dispose of it.”
“Easier than I expected, actually.” Ali replied with a small sigh. “Things have been strange, Jake... I can’t quite put my finger on why and how, but they are. Things are changing, people are changing and not always in a good way, and I feel somewhat... Lost, at the moment.” She let out an awkward laugh and shook her head. “I’m sorry, that was random... I just...”
“I know what you mean. I do.” Jake replied, leaning into his knees and staring that the empty bowl in his hands. “You know about Lena...?”
“I do. That’s one of the things I need to talk to you about... The last time I saw her, why we left the desert... My past...”

Jake simply nodded, setting his bowl aside and putting his attention on his friend as she started to tell him about all the things said and done in the past few months. Some things Jake already knew, but he didn’t say anything, not a word, and just let her speak; he felt that she needed to speak a lot more than he needed to listen. As the time passed he rested his head on his hands and closed his eyes, but still didn’t miss a word of what Ali was saying. As she talked to him about her mother’s journal he swore he heard her choke on her words here and there, but didn’t look to see if she was in fact crying only lifting his head when she was done talking. Noting the redness in her eyes, he confirmed his suspicions. Sighing softly, he put one arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer in a comforting gesture. “So... Doesn’t this mean that... You’re like Blackhurst royalty and stuff? If your mother was a descendant of one of the King’s children.” He asked.
“Wha-... Shit, it does, doesn’t it?” She chuckled. “Great, Crys will never let me live this down after how I teased her with this Newhaven thing... Twins help me...” She choked on some laughter, and leaned into him. “Oh, boy... Still, I think I might not be the only one... In the back of my mom’s journal there is a list of names, one for each village. I know there are other survivors, so... Maybe there are others.”
Jake laughed a bit with Ali and sighed. “Other journals?”
“That’s my thought. I mean, Lena told me there was some sort of answer here, but maybe, it’s only a piece of it. Maybe there are others and that’s why she couldn’t figure it out.”
“Hmm...” Jake mumbled, going into thought for a second or so, before changing the subject. “So, strange thing happened last night... Isaac had an episode... A really bad one... We had to sedate him. Alistair got a bit burnt, but he’s alright. it’s been a long time since he last lost control, and for what I hear from the others... Never this bad since he joined the Shadows.”
“Poor Isaac, he’s such a sweet guy.” Ali said, shaking her head.
“Oh... I forgot to tell Captain about that... If I recall correctly one of her kids was a firestarter too, I maybe that’d be useful information for her somehow.”
“Jason. He’s the one Xypher attacked at the castle.” Ali informed.
“Right... Jason... How do you know so much about about the people here? You told me you barely got to know anyone.”
“I hear things... I know a lot of names around here of people I haven’t met. Your return was very discussed too, Jake... And it’s only been a few hours. Now I know why Crys finds this place so similar to the Pack camp; news travel just as fast. That’s how I knew you were coming this way.”
“You were waiting on me?” He chuckled.
“A little bit, yes.” She snickered softly and added: “Stealth training.”
“Stea-...” Jake cut himself off with a grin. “Well... Captain seems to think I should train... And if you followed me around so easily I believe she’s right.”
Ali lifted her head from Jake’s shoulder, playfully ruffling his hair as she pulled away from him. “Are you propositioning me, Sir?” She asked, raising an eyebrow at him playfully.
“Why yes, I am, Milady... Or should that be Your Highness now?” Jake teased, unable to hold back laughter at his own words; falling into a small fit when Ali glared at him in anger. “I’m sorry, but I just couldn’t hel-”

Both assassins stopped laughing, jumping to their feet at the same time, Ali pulling a throwing knife and Jake unsheathing his sword, both looking frantically at their surroundings before looking back to each other. “You heard that, right?” Jake muttered.
“Mhm.” Ali replied, nodding. “Something about a ball, in two days. Should we go?”
“I don’t know if I should... I just managed to get out of that place...”Jake muttered.
“So that’d be incredibly foolish, right?” Ali asked.
“Very.”
“Then you’ll go.” She sighed. “We both know you will.”
“Maybe.” Jake frowned, a slightly defiant tone in his voice. “Wouldn’t you go?”
“Eh... I don’t know... Would I have to wear a dress and stuff?... That’d be weird... Where would my knives go?”
“Uh... I...” Jake coughed awkwardly. “Maybe you should ask a woman that, Ali.”
“You’re not supposed to answer that, Jake.” She shook her head. “Was just thinking out loud, is all.”
“Oh good.” He replied, with a smile. “Can we just go train for now, then? It’s in two days... There’s time to think about it later.”
“Sure.” Ali nodded, picking up her bow and quiver and opening a grin. “Ten seconds head start?”
“Take thirty.” Jake chuckled.
“Thirty? Feeling confident, are we?” She snickered. “Alright, I’ll humor you... Thirty it is.” She stated, running of and disappearing amongst the trees.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

[Wolfpack Camp]

“Alright. Is that all, Alpha?”

Sean sighed softly. The idea of doing what that pathetic woman wanted of him nearly made him physically ill, even if this would hurt Evin. Did he even want to hurt Evin at this point? He poisoned Katie... Yes, Sean wanted to hurt him, even though he was almost sure that if he had taken that contract he would have acted pretty much the same... Or at least he would have murdered that arrogant bitch just for fun... With his bare hands and not some stupid poison...

“Alpha? Alpha? Sean!”

Sean shook his head, snapping out of his fantasies of choking the life out of that ignorant bitch and nodding his agreement. If he could do it his way... He’d take the woman alive, and just use her to get to Evin; he had no reason to actually harm her. However; a hit is a hit and his hands were bound by the contract.
“Why assign so many assassins to kill one woman?” Franklin asked, reading Sean’s notes over his shoulder. “Do you honestly think Bana will be keeping tabs on the woman after all this time?”
“I won’t risk it.” Sean replied simply, not wanting to think any more on this subject. It felt wrong somehow. Was he growing a damn conscience out of nowhere now?

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

Sean jumped up at the sudden strange voice and looked around startled. He was alone in the office with Franklin; the man giving him a concerned look. “Did you hear that?”
“Hear what?” The man inquires, the concern in his eyes increasing.
“Nothing.” Sean mutters, standing from his desk and rubbing his eyes as he walked his way out of the leaders’ cabin; glad that Franklin didn’t follow after him. He sighed, still rubbing his eyes as he walked, half blindly towards the training area, his ears catching the sound of arrows hitting the shooting targets; Sean stopped in his tracks as he came closer and spotted Katelyn there, shooting arrow after arrow without a hint of hesitation, all hitting the center of the target perfectly. Sean couldn’t help but smile at how talented his little sister was. She’d grown up so fast, so strong, and so much better than him... Sean knew that if he was ever proud of anything in his life, it was of how that girl had turned out so different from him. He had the Twins to thank for that, because he certainly had nothing to do with it. With a bit of luck Donovan would grow up as well to be his own man, he was still far from it, but he surely had it in him.

“Brother.” Katie broke the silence, not turning to face him, but walking to retrieve her arrows. “How has your morning been so far?” She asked.
Sean sighed, shaking his head and moving to sit at a log near where Katelyn had stopped to shoot once her quiver was full again. “Exhausting.” He answered. “Tough decisions to be made and such... Boring. You probably don’t want to hear about that.”
Katie smiled softly. “I want to hear it if you need to say it.” She replied, nocking an arrow and drawing her bow. “Isn’t that what you would always tell me?” She asked, releasing the arrow and watching it fly straight into the center of the target.
“I don’t think I can stand to think of it any more, but I appreciate it, sis.” Sean replied with a little shrug. “You’ve gotten really, really, good at this, Katie. I’m amazed.”
“I’m just firing to break in the bow. It’s brand new.”
“Shouldn’t the archer do this?”
She topped shooting and glanced at him before giving a shrug. “It’s for Doni. I’m doing it for him since he’s away at the moment.”
“He’ll be fine, it’s not a difficult task and it’s not an assassination.” Sean stated, reading the expression on his sister’s face.
“If it’s not a big deal then why doesn’t he have backup, and why did he have to leave his ring?”
“I never said it’s not a big deal. It’s a huge deal. And you think I would be crazy to send them without any backup?” He grinned. “I just never told them it was there. I don’t want them being reckless and risking the mission thinking they’ll have a safety net; even if it’s there.”

Katelyn snickered at the revelation. “Oh, Sean Fletcher... Are you being a softy all of a sudden? Are you doing this for Doni or the girl?”
Sean frowned momentarily. “Oh, ha ha...” He muttered. “New Wolves never go truly on their own the first time, for any reason, and you know this. So what are you asking me exactly?”
“I’m asking if you like Ari. I mean she seems nice and very likeable so I could assume so, but you are a grumpy little jerk who tends to dislike people for the oddest reasons, so I’m never sure.”
“She annoys me sometimes, but I suppose I do like her despite that.” Sean replied with a little shrug.
Kate gasped playfully in fake shock. “Oh my... That’s unheard of.” She broke into a giggle. “Well, I’m glad to hear that... Maybe she can be a friend if you don’t snap and suddenly act like a total jerk with her.”
Sean snickered. “Sis... Being a jerk is pretty much all I’ve done since she got here... It’s called ‘training’.” He sighed. “Point taken, however. I might try and be pleasant in the future, maybe, if I’m in a good mood.”
“Good. I’ve been worried for you ever since Indrani...” She sighed. “Are you really going to fight he to the death, or whatever?”
“I don’t want to, but it’s...” Sean sighed wearily. “It’s complicated and I don’t want to think about it now.”
“You’re an idiot, Sean. You should try and talk this out with her. It wasn’t your fault after all.”
Sean shook his head in protest to his sister’s words. “Katie, Indrani has her way of seeing things and through her eyes I betrayed her, and she disgraced herself to trust me. A talk doesn’t fix what’s been broken between us. It’s over.”
Katelyn gave up the thought of shooting any more as she caught Sean’s eyes. Heaving a sigh she returned the arrow she had picked to its place in the quiver and moved to sit by him, rubbing his back as if trying to comfort a child. “How can something so strong shatter so easily?” She asked. “I bet she’ll talk to me. I can find her.”
“It’s just how things are, I’m afraid.” Sean replied, forcing a smile at his sister. “I appreciate it Katie, I really do, but... It’s not safe, and even if she’ll talk to you, she won’t change her mind.”
“I could try, I’ll be safe, I just... I wish I could... Help you.” She sighed. “You are so... You’re stressed, Sean. You’re sad, and weak... Not how I’m used to seeing you. Others might not notice it, but I’ve known you my whole life and you can’t hide it from me. You can’t lie to me.”
Sean smiled softly at his little sister, shaking his head slightly amused although he can’t help but feel moved by her words. “I’m very grateful, little sister.” He said, putting one arm around the girl. “I understand that you want to help me, that you don’t want to see me hurt, but you can’t fix my problems. Alright? I’ll heal... Eventually. It just takes a bit of time, that’s all. You don’t have to take care of me... I’m the older brother.”
Katie chuckled softly, leaning into him in a gentle embrace. “You were always the one to take care of me, but I’m not a child anymore Sean, I can help you now if you need me. It’s okay to need help sometimes.” She paused for a moment then added: “You know I love you, brother; no matter what you do. Don’t forget.”

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

[The Manor]

Sam was watching silently as a couple of servants worked to clean the blood off the courtyard. She was displeased, and very much so, with how this person had been allowed into her home; her cold sharp eyes caused the two young servants to occasionally shiver under her gaze, but she paid them absolutely no mind. After a long moment of silently watching their efforts she broke her silence. “If you can’t make it spotless... Tear it down.” She ordered, her tone void of any emotion whatsoever as she let her gaze move from the servants to the face of the statue, a yellow spark lighting behind the darkness of her green eyes for only a moment as she turned to walk back into the mansion; Ezekiel following her every step, awaiting a command like a giant black puppy eager to please. It was something she was use to now; that man’s presence. Ezekiel had been there, like her living shadow, for almost as long as she could remember... Since her father ordered him to kill her. Oh, how ‘Master’ had underestimated her then. Not only had she convinced the man to spare her, but he had done nothing but protect her since. Fourteen years ago, that was... Amusing how far Time flies and yet nothing changes really.

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

Sam flinched, only slightly, an intrigued look momentarily crossing her eyes, but no other reaction to a sudden voice in her mind. Stopping at the library doors she addressed Zeke in a murmur. “Where is Luckas now?”
Ezekiel snorted as if he was holding back very unpleasant words, but answered immediately and politely nonetheless. “He said he was on his way to the city. Amber accompanied him.”
“Do you honestly think Amber is the best to accompany Luckas... That’s just adding more psycho to the list.” Sam questioned.
“Probably, but I am not allowed to injure the boy physically or mentally, therefore there is little I can impose on him and she is the only one he will accept... Barely.” Ezekiel replied, with a small shrug. “Most likely due to her level of psycho, for her young age... It probably feels to him like he’s the one keeping an eye on her and not the other way around. It’s hilarious how he enjoys thinking he's in charge.”
Sam broke into an amused smile. “I find his naivety rather endearing, but he’ll learn. He was always too damn smart for his own sake. Did he say who attacked him?”
“Refused to. Said he would handle it himself.” Ezekiel replied, rolling his eyes in annoyance.
“He’ll tell me.” She stated simply. “Are Lizzy and Adam on their way?”
“Yes, they departed just an hour ago.” The man replied, staring at the door to the library with a bit of confusion in his eyes. “Milady... Are we skipping training this morning?” He inquired, his tone slightly disappointed, and she could tell.
Sam snickered under her breath. She honestly forgot what time of day it even was with all the commotion, but Ezekiel seemed to be wondering if he’d done something wrong not to get his playtime as usual; neither of them actually bothered with pretending he still had anything to teach her despite still calling the sparring sessions ‘training’. She turned to face him and the look he gave her made the idea of denying him very tempting, but she pushed it back and buried it underneath her amusement. “Apologies, my friend. I think I’ve lost track of my day for a moment. We can do this now or in the afternoon, whichever you prefer.”
“Now.” The man replied promptly with a grin.
“I thought so.” Sam replied smiling wickedly and rushing down the hall away from the library and towards the armory. “Come on, old man.” She called cheerfully over her shoulder. "I'm sure you're eager to try and beat me up."

The setting changes from blackpond to Raven's Nest

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Allison Blake Character Portrait: Ess

0.00 INK

Aiden...

Aiden was still staring in what appeared to be a confused daze, only snapping out of it when a familiar hand rested upon his shoulder. “Hey there...don’t worry, I haven’t been working your friend too hard, I promise.” The man smiled, taking the rope harness off of Tala as Ess retrieved her hand, blinking in response.

“Ok..what have you two been up to? All I hear is noise and feeling the ground shake. Anything for me to do?” Ess returned Aiden’s smile as he stood, glancing over his shoulder at the tree he had been hacking at. “...Huh, I took you for a man who would give an enemy a quick, clean death. What’s with the torture?” She teased, noting the bits of wood scattered along the snow.

“What happens when they don’t want to talk...” Aiden joked back. “Come now, there is a reason I fit into the Black Guard in the first place. You of all people should know looks are deceiving.”

Essence nodded, holding back a laugh, “Maybe...but somehow I think our definition and reasoning for torture might differ more than you realize.”

Aiden’s smile faded a bit as he approached Ess, quirking a brow as his eyes scanned her from head to toe finally resting upon the bruises along her neck. “..You seem...like you could benefit from a nap or maybe a drink? Perhaps it’s too early for that though. You alright, Talon?”

Ess’ smile disappeared, her gaze faltering to the ground before her feet. “..Sure. A little tired...and sore...Hey...What are you all doing working? Shouldn’t you be meditating or something as the Captain ordered?”

Aiden sighed shaking his head, “A few of us were going do a sort of group meditation after lunch..but you’re changing the subject now. I know you don’t want me to ask, and I honestly am not sure I want to hear the answer but..What happened yesterday?”

“You want to know what happened? You mean you want to know what happened between me and Luckas.” She sneered, her voice fading a bit. “...I don’t even know...but hey...” She scoffed, “Maybe you’ll get your wish and he won’t come back..”

Ali had taken a considerable amount of time going through her bag, realizing she had actually left her tools scattered all over the insides of her tent. It wasn’t unusual for her to leave a mess if she happened to be working on something, and her current project was proving to be a challenging one.... Or maybe she was being too much of a perfectionist with it; she wasn’t sure. Probably both. Once she managed to gather what she needed, and place it in the bag over her shoulder she grabbed her bow, thinking she could still think of ways to fiddle with it if she had an idle moment later, and sealed up her tent before walking back to where she had left Jake and Aiden. It didn’t take long for her to spot Aiden and realize Jake was nowhere around. She wondered where he’d run off to, and why; he said he was going to stick around camp and get some rest. She shook her head slightly. “That boy’s going to get in trouble again...” She mumbled, a bit of amusement crossing her expression and slowly fading as she approached what could immediately tell was a rather tense scene.

“Maybe you’ll get your wish and he won’t come back..”

Ali looked from Aiden to Essence with an intrigued look in her eyes, still expecting to spot Jake somewhere nearby, but not catching any indication that he’d even be lurking invisible. “Heey...” She greeted, still looking from Ess to Aiden as if trying to figure out what was going on without having to ask about it. Finally she chose to act as if she hadn’t heard anything at all. “So, what are we doing?” She asked opening a cheery smile, her eyes catching sight of the half chopped off tree. “Hmmm....” She grinned widely. “Can I have a piece of that?” She asked Aiden, her eyes lighting up as if she had just seen the prettiest toy in the world. Turning to Ess she nodded. “You still want to learn to shoot?”

Aiden opened his mouth to speak, a wounded look in his light brown eyes, but the words never left him. Yes, he would not deny to anyone that he was not Luckas’ biggest fan by far and that he may secretly dance a jig of glee if he did not return, but what he saw hiding behind Ess’ eyes made his chest ache. Keeping his eyes upon Essence, he opened a small smile when Ali greeted them when she returned. “..Was just about to get back to work..” Aiden turned back towards the Yew, retrieving the axe which he used to point out different branches and such on the tree. “Which here do you want? Or how much, Ali? I could just cut up the entire tree for you.”

It was like flipping a switch at how suddenly Ess’ mood appeared to change, turning to smile at Ali. “Hey! I am trying to be productive, while Aiden here seems to be massacring a tree.” She winked, a soft glow appearing just around the silver of her eye with the mention of an archery lesson. Clearing her throat, her voice cracked momentarily as she continued. “Of course I still want to learn. It’s not a bother right? Can I help you make stuff too?”

Ali chuckled and nodded at Ess . “Not a bother, it’s more entertaining than spending the day making chairs, although only by a little bit. Making furniture has its merits as well.” She played, eyeing the tree with interest and care. “It’s just the perfect tree for bows, the right age too, although some would argue that doesn’t matter as much...” She shook her head before she started to ramble and smiled at Aiden. “Well, for what I want I’d need a piece about two inches wide and six feet tall, but if you guys could use some extra bows around camp, I’d advise to cut it all for that. They’re not particularly hard to make... Usually takes me a while though, I’m a bit of a perfectionist.” She said, rolling her eyes a bit and sighing before turning to Ess. “If you really want to learn then suppose you’ll need a bow, but... if you want to start, let’s say, now... You can use mine.”

Aiden smiled, holding back a chuckle as he remembered Jake’s words about if he let Ali boss him around. “I can do that..” He stated, a flurry of swings already in motion as he set to work. His goal would be take take down the Yew and size as much of the wood as he could to meet Ali’s specifications. “Six by two....six by two..” Aiden muttered to himself.

“Alright, awesome. Lets get training then, shall we?” Essence beamed, giving a slight wave to Aiden, receiving a smile in return as she stepped past Ali. “Suppose I do need a bow and looks like I’ll have another weapon to add to the collection. Course I do love my knives..” She paused quirking a brow, “I like assortments of weapons, but I do favor my dagger. It has a matching sword and is very, very sharp..I...find it best for more....intricate work.” Ess giggled. “Is the bow your favorite?” Ess took in a deep breath in her small spurt of rambles, walking in the direction of the river.

“Enthusiasm... Nice.” Ali smiled and waved at Aiden as she started to follow Ess. “Thanks Aiden, you’re a sweetie. And next you see Mister Invisible, tell him we’re not done talking.” She stated playfully, shaking her head at Jake’s sudden disappearance, but not making much of it as it wasn’t the first time he’d done something like it. Probably wouldn’t be the last either.

“Oh, yes... Knives.” Ali snickered softly as she walked. “I appreciate a good blade, I’m just not too good with them. Actually, if I recall correctly... I almost got killed on the few occasions my life depended on that skill. I have gotten considerably better in the past couple of years, and suppose I am pretty good with throwing knives, but I’d still rather rely on my archery if the option is given.” She sighed softly as she paced after Ess, her fingers gently brushing the white feathers in the quiver still at her waist, as if actually thinking of whether the bow was her favorite weapon, even though it was pretty clear. “Well, the bow is my favorite weapon, but I guess, it’s a bit more personal for me... My brother’s bow was the only thing I carried with me when I escaped the fire; was way too big for me, even after I grew up enough to properly draw it, but I refused to dispose of it until it finally broke... I think being great at this is the only thing that connects who I am today with who my family was. Well, that and...” She trailed off giving a little shrug and slightly changing the subject to a small detail of Ess’ talk. “And what do you mean by intricate work? I’m curious now...” She asked, playfully raising an eyebrow and watching the woman with an interested expression. “Do tell.”

Essence began to pick up her pace slightly, displaying her anticipation and excitement in the conversation, leading Ali back towards her tent. “Now I want to show you my collection I acquired a while back..” Ess giggled, nodding as Ali spoke. “I think my skills are limited in combat but growing, thankfully. Deception would have to be what I am best at even though my skill with throwing knives is a close runner up; then you know about my ‘interest’ in art. I..” Ess sighed, letting her smile fade a bit. “I didn’t leave my home with much else. You’re luckier than most, I think.”

As they approached her tent, Ess playfully leapt over the dying campfire and trotted into her tent, rummaging through her belongings before retrieving a small leather pouch. Stepping back out she smiled up at Ali, retrieving a few finger sized daggers from the pouch and held them out to her. “These are my favorite I think because of how small and flat they are making it easy to hide almost anywhere, not to mention control and grip is within my comfort zone so it feels like an extension of my own hand. But..” She turned briefly to grab her sword and dagger that were still strapped to her belt that was leaning against the log by the fire. “Intricate work...” She started, a devilish smirk curling her lips, adding a dark but comical appearance to her violet eyes and dark scar that stretched down her left cheek. “...an expression of pain. Something that requires a more delicate touch especially when it’s personal. If you look at the dagger and note the markings, feel the balance, and witness it’s cruel edge...it’s almost empowering. I actually feel relatively weak without them. Is that strange?”

“Luck is not what I’d call it...” Ali whispered under her breath, not losing her smile however as she followed after Ess towards her camp; attentively listening as she talked about her blades. “You talk of pain as if... In a way causing it is a form of art. I suppose it can be, for some people...” Her eyes lingered on the dagger Ess held and it made her momentarily frown. It was nothing like Perry’s weapon, but it somehow made her remember it. “...Crys and I often discuss whether physical pain can be worse than emotional pain... What’s the fastest way to break a person... I guess the only conclusion we reached is that it differs, and also... The more you know of pain the better you are at inflicting it.” She shrugged idly and snickered. “Of course it takes more than just being able to do something... It also takes being willing to do it. I don’t think I would. Growing up with the Wolves made me look at pain as something that simply... Gets in the way.” She ended her comment there and changed the subject slightly. “Where did you get the sword and dagger? They look... Ancient... I have a couple of friends who’d love to have a look at those markings; looks like it’s some sort of language isn’t it?”

Essence shrugged, slipping the tiny blades back into the pouch. “I believe emotional and physical pain are strongly connected and together they can break a person. Personally...each time I feared I may have been broken, I found a reason to show otherwise. Maybe I’m a freak to equally hate and fear the horrors I’ve lived through yet at the same time find beauty in vengeance and the simplicity of it appealing. The direct act may be personal but I think I honestly keep moving forward for the final outcome...that which maybe I’m just hopeful...or hopeless.” Ess snickered, “Depending..on one’s perception I gather..Course it is a constant battle for me. My emotions are my biggest flaw I think and at the same time my greatest strength.” Running her fingers through a few loose curls she smiled. “..I thought the markings were some sort of language, but honestly I’m at a loss. I have been searching for the answers since I was a teenager with no luck. I ...uh...” Ess cleared her throat. “..I acquired them the day I escaped Blackpond...they belonged to the brother I killed that day and the sister I thought was dead until yesterday...” The woman sighed, a deep breath escaping her, pausing for so long it seemed like she had stopped breathing altogether until she spoke in a gentle whisper, “...the last day I saw my best friend...” She trailed off, motioning towards the training grounds as she changed the subject. “So...I get to use your bow....what are the first things I should know..so I don’t break it or something.” She rolled her eyes, giving a playful mortified expression.

“My personal opinion is that the more you survive the more you are able to endure. That’s why I’m not too fond of the idea of making my enemies suffer as much as I did... In a way, if I do that I’ll be making them as strong as I am.” Ali stated, giving a little dismissive shrug, changing the subject back to the weapons and training. “Those markings remind me of something I’ve seen on... Another dagger... A while ago... Have you gone to the White Shadows with these? They have books that date back to the creation of Valcrest. They don’t open their archives to just anyone, but if you show their leader the language I’m pretty sure she’d be willing to look it up.” She grinned. “Some people can’t ever resist a puzzle.”

Starting to wander off towards the training grounds Ali chuckled, shaking her head as she reached for her bow at her back and held the weapon out for Ess to look at. “You hold the wooden part and pull on the string. No mystery at all. Just in case though, let me repeat to you what I was told the first time I picked up one of these: This is not a fighting stick. Never, ever, ever, release the string if there’s no arrow nocked; it hurts the wood, and last but not least... If a bow string hits any part of your body in the process of shooting, it’ll hurt like hell, so be careful with that.” She warned with a playful tone in her voice as they reached the training area and stopped.

Ali turned so she and Ess were face to face and, pulling an arrow from her quiver, indicated the little notch carved at the rear end of it. “Arrow nock, string goes here.Three feathers, one of them faces away from the other two; you want to nock the arrow with it facing away from the bow.” She nocked the arrow, carefully pointing the tip downwards as she spoke. “Usually, in a bow like this, the arrow rests on the archer’s hand, but my bro carved a little arrow rest on his bow when he crafted it and so I did the same on mine. It makes the shot considerably more steady.” She explained, showing the cut in space on the wood just above the grip of the bow as she fit the arrow shaft into it. “My instructor in the Pack liked to tease me by calling it cheating, but the hell with it.” She smirked. “To draw the bow you want to face your target sideways, if you’re right handed like me you’ll want to grip the bow with your left hand and draw with your right, so you’ll have your left side face the target. Hold the bow with you left hand, you want a firm grip, but not too tense... Hook three fingers around the string to draw it, you index finger goes just above the arrow and your middle and ring fingers just below it. Raise the bow to eye level and pull the string towards you until it touches your nose and you hand is resting against your chin.” She put the arrow away back in the quiver and pulled a different one, one without the sharp steel triangle on the tip and only a blunt iron tip, she offered Ess the bow and arrow and smiled encouragingly. “try nocking and drawing. If you it’s too heavy though, let me know... This is a war bow after all; it’s build to shoot far and with plenty of force, so the draw weight is rather heavy... Not what I’d recommend for learning unless you’re a masochist like me.”

”....I’m not too fond of the idea of making my enemies suffer as much as I did... In a way, if I do that ....I’ll be making them as strong as I am.”

Ess was listening to Ali as she spoke of the simple fundamentals to archery, but her focus was mostly on her thoughts of how she could not see her actions resulting in the empowering of her enemies as it in turn had done to her. She found many who were now nothing more than ashes and dirt, too pathetic. The idea of creating a stronger foe, did fascinate her because she was a walking example but she didn’t leave her victims alive, for the most part. Ebony of course was somewhat of a fluke and the idea of that woman becoming a greater threat sent a shiver of giggles through her body. Yet, she did know from experience that an action does not simply end but is returned with a reaction of sorts, even if it is in one’s favor; but not always. Maybe, sometimes Ess was less likely to pay attention to the many possibilities of consequences, not because she was blind but because she had previously planned around them if they were not simply avoided.

As she continued to ponder Ali’s opinion she had taken the bow from her, subconsciously absorbing the tips she gave on posture and proper technique, following through the motions first without pulling directly on the string. Ess snickered when Ali called herself a masochist, giving a lazy shrug. “Something like that...” Taking a deep breath Ess pulled on the string, slowly at first until she realized indeed how much of her strength would be needed so that the feathers of the arrow touched her nose. A few months ago she knew she would have lost control and most likely would have been unable to draw it all the way back, but now from her training she was able to draw the bow but her right arm trembled so that she lost the arrow as the string left her fingers in a clumsy haste. In a slight embarrassment she winced, shutting her eyes tightly, not even seeing where the arrow went. “Ooops....” Opening one eye she glanced at Ali curiously. “Again?” She chuckled, her right hand outstretched, awaiting another arrow.

Ali watched with an amused expression as the bowstring slipped through Ess’ fingers and sent the arrow flying out of sight. “Huh... Nice. That could’ve gone worse. I might need more arrows though.” She mentioned, counting the feel blunt arrows left in the quiver. “You know how Crys used to train me, so something like this wouldn’t happen?” She asked casually, pulling another blunt arrow from the quiver. “She’d make me hold the bow drawn and would stand blocking the target so that if my hand slipped I’d be forced to shoot her. And while she was standing there she would calmly remind me that shooting my instructor would be considered treason and punished by death... Good times.” She chuckled, handing Ess the new arrow and walking around to stand behind her, giving her a brief pat on her right shoulder blade. “When you draw, you want to pull using these muscles here on your back; that’s where you should put all the tension, not your arm. And that’s where you’ll probably feel pretty sore in a bit too; that’s how you’ll know you’re doing it right.” She played. “Try again.”

“Hmm, kinda wish I had a mirror to look at myself while I’m doing this...” Ess trailed off, repositioning her stance, once again drawing the arrow, making sure it was knocked along the ridge in the bow. She didn’t feel like she was straight enough, fidgeting here and there through calculated breaths as she succeeded in holding the string before she finally released the arrow. Ess smirked when she missed the target completely but instead went into a tree trunk beside it, bouncing off the bark and into a pile of slush. “Huh...when I released it, its course changed..” Without glancing at Ali, she held her hand out for another arrow, taking it in her left hand as she switched the bow now to her right hand and began the process in the opposite motions. “..I wonder if I can do lefty...”

Ali nodded, not making any comments on the fact the arrow missed the target, and pulling another arrow. “I wonder that too.” She stated, a curious tone in her voice. If Ess was her recruit she’d probably advise against switching hands like that, but she wasn’t this as much as training a recruit, more like helping out a friend, so she figured might as well let her try it. “Give it a shot maybe lefty is better for you, who knows. I suggest though, if you want to be good at it with both hands, you should work on your best side first and once you’ve gotten comfortable with it, then work on the other.” She advised, handing the woman the arrow. “And seriously... I’m going to run out of arrows.” She chuckled.

“Hmm...well then you best not stand in front of me since these suckers have a mind of their own..” Ess teased, knocking the arrow back, her right arm steady as her left drew back the arrow, violet eyes flashing a sudden glow, staring down along the arrow as she exhaled slowly. The target ahead was one of five straw-filled dummies posted on a stick, randomly spaced from one another. Ess paused a moment at the end of her breath simultaneously releasing the arrow into target number three’s straw arm, her eyes lighting up as if she had won a prize. Ess turned, beaming brightly at Ali as she waited for another arrow. “Well, that one I didn’t lose on you. I can’t lose everything, even if it is as small as the arrow. Having some sort of control is always comforting, especially when the past couple days I just feel like I’m losing my mind.” Ess scoffed, rolling her eyes. “Like today, and the random voice inviting me to Blackpond for a party...the VERY LAST place I ever wanted to go...” Ess sighed, shaking her head, an apologetic look on her face for her bit of rambling, changing the subject a bit. “Ali...ever feel like you’re losing control of yourself? I don’t talk about it, my gift I mean. Not many here know what I can do because I haven’t used it...at least so it’s noticed...but point is all I want to do is train. It’s the only thing I feel I can change or control...it brings focus, at least most of the time.” She inhaled deeply, snickering at herself, feeling she was chatting a mile a minute, the act reminding her once again of her childhood friend. It was a fleeting distraction of peace as she blinked, glancing up into the trees.

“Oh, yes... Has nothing to do with aiming; it’s the arrows that refuse to obey.” Ali smiled, taking a couple of steps back as if taking cover, watching intently as the arrow was sent flying towards the arm of one of the target-dummies. “Hmm...” She mumbled, walking over to retrieve the arrow from its resting place as she listened to Ess’ speak. The mention of the party in Blackpond caused her to wince slightly and halt as she wrapped her fingers around the shaft of the arrow. This sounded somewhat like a trap, but at least it wasn’t just her and Jake being invited into it. She wondered if Crys had heard the voice too. Should she be back by now? Shaking her head, Ali pulled the arrow out of the target and went on to examining it to see if it had broken in any way. “You got that invite too, huh?” She asked, walking her way back with the arrow once she was satisfied that it was intact. “As for losing control of myself... You mean my enlightenment?” She scratched her head slightly and shrugged. “Either way, I think I know what you mean. It’s easy to get lost in something, or someplace, that makes you feel comfortable or in control. The world has its way of intruding somehow, I’ve come to realize that lately.” Ali sighed, absently stroking the white feathers on the end of the arrow. “Are you going to that party? I’m thinking about going, but haven’t made up my mind completely. A party in a Castle, even in Blackpond, is a place I honestly don’t see myself feeling comfortable in. Think it’s been at least five years since I last wore a dress, so...” She shrugged, handing the arrow to Ess. “Close one eye, use the tip of the arrow as reference and try to aim somewhere a bit higher from the spot you want the arrow to go.” She paused and took a deep breath. “high and to the left... There’s a bit of wind.”

Ess smirked at the idea of this party in a castle, even though she was uncomfortable she appeared amused, speaking to keep up appearances. “..Hm...wonder who else has been invited. Not sure if I should go though...last time I was at a Castle party, it ended in torture and murder.” Ess quirked a brow, half smiling wide. “Wait....this party could be killer! If I go, you should come too. You know, to help keep me out of trouble, because I tend to look for it even subconsciously. I wonder If I should go as myself...” She trailed off, thinking of what she would wear. “Wonder how many blades I can hide on me beneath a dress..” Ess chuckled, her eyes fluttering back and forth as if she were indeed counting. “...Depending on the size....think my highest was twenty..Hmm..probably be security...won’t be able to go that far..”

Ess stood, bow drawn as she closed her right eye, playfully circling the dummy target with the arrowhead before picking a spot along the left shoulder area, towards the head. “Wind...high and to the left..” She muttered. “Wait....wind? What wind?” Ess’ smile faded, replaced by a childish confused look in her eye as she released the arrow. Ess simply chuckled when it hit the target; not because it did for a second time and she was proud, but because when it hit the target, it landed where a person’s throat would be. She couldn’t get the image out of her head of blood spurting from a wound like a geyser escaping from a crack within the earth.

“Twenty? How?” Ali blinked, a little bit confused as to why anyone would need to carry over twenty blades and at the same time amused that she’d ever consider anyone to be too armed; she couldn’t remember ever thinking that before.“You think I’d keep you out of trouble?” She chuckled. “I tell you... I’m known for quite a few things, but that’s not one of them for sure. Still... If you’re going to get in trouble, might as well have some company right?” She snickered, walking to the target dummy to once again retrieve the arrow. “Nice shot. I’d go for a head shot, instant kill, but I see you and I have different preferences, right?” She asked, smirking a bit as she checked that the arrow was in one piece, before handing it back to Ess. “Wind.” She stated simply. “If I concentrate I can feel it; it’s subtle, but it’s there. Doesn’t take much to take an arrow off its course. Try aiming for the dummy’s head this time. Keep going until you hit the center, or get tired; whichever happens first.” She instructed, glancing around idly until she found a piece of rock good enough to sit on and made its way to it, taking a seat and pulling a small wolf figurine from her bag and began eyeing it curiously as if wondering if she’d done a good job of it. “Do you like music, Ess?”

“Throwing knives, Ali. The tiny, finger-sized ones I showed you are quite easy to hide anywhere. I constructed a holster for them which I can discretely strap along my legs and even arms.” Ess winked, drawing back the arrow, her arm shaking slightly before releasing it into the dummy. It was quite obvious such a powerful bow was going to take a toll on her much sooner than she wanted, a heavy ache already weighing down upon her shoulders. “Plus there’s boots, bodices...plenty of hiding space.” Ess continued the motions again and again, firing the arrows into the target and retrieving them, until finally she imbedded one into the ‘face’ or ‘cheek’ area. “Oh, not a kill shot but more like, really painful.” She playfully cringed. “I’m pretty good at blending, so in reference to ‘trouble’, having backup is always a good thing, but I’m sure going into the city will be less eventful if I go disguised, even if it is for a dress.” Rolling her left shoulder to keep the muscles loose she paused, carefully holding the bow at her side as she turned to face Ali. “Doesn’t everyone like music?” Ess shrugged, glancing down at the bow but seeing past it as she thought of her father, a sad smile daring to peek out. “I can dance...been told I can sing, but rare for anyone to ever hear me do so. Music, I find holds much meaning; history, lessons, and even fictional stories. You know, now that I think about it, its been a long time since I heard any music. I think I kind of miss it.” She sighed, stretching her neck side to side so that when it twisted it would crack, following with her fingers in a soft popping chorus. “Maybe it’s time for a break. How long does it take for one to get use to such a powerful weapon, hmm?” She stated handing back the bow with a bit of admiration in her voice.

“Not everyone likes music. Crys says some people are afraid of letting anything reach into their souls, and that’s a sad thing. My mother would sing. I can’t remember her voice anymore, but I remember that she did. I haven’t danced in oh... Hmmm... A few months, actually. The Crimson Shadows are very much fond of partying, not matter how cranky one is, you can’t avoid them all. I kind of miss the noise actually... Awfully quiet here at night.” She smiled, eyes still scanning the little wooden wolf in her hand. “I’m not much of a singer, can’t play any instruments either, but I’m good at memorizing sounds. If I hear a song I’ll usually remember it... Too bad it only started after my enlightenment.” Taking the bow from Ess she let the weapon rest beside her on the ground. “I’ve been training with it for ten years now, give or take.” She chuckled. “To get past the sore muscles and fingers, because the string’s going to hurt your fingers after a while of doing this... I’d say a couple of months, if you practice everyday. You have some training by now, gladly. It’d take longer otherwise. Took the kid I trained in the Pack a year of shooting with a training bow to get to draw one of these.” She stopped talking, shaking her head as if trying to push something away and changed the subject slightly. “You need your own bow though... Once I customize this one, no one else will get to touch it.”

Essence stared back up at the tree tops, a thoughtful grin on her face. “My father use to sing me my mother’s songs. I never knew her. I actually learned some important things from those songs that many may not see. It’s like reading between the lines, or a poetic puzzle of sorts.” Raising her brows her grin widened. “Crimson Shadows..sounds like friends of mine I have yet to meet.” She played, tilting her head at Ali. “Your enlightenment..you mention being able to feel the wind when I do not and you speak of memorizing sounds. I’m a bit confused what your gifts are exactly. Are you more sensitive...er, your senses more sensitive?” She smiled at the idea of having her own bow as it would add to her assortment of weapons. Indeed she was at an advantage because of her training and a couple months to get use to pulling the weight of the bow was quicker than she actually anticipated. “Here come more calluses..” She muttered to herself.

Ali chuckled softly. “Oh, yes... My enlightenment, exactly, is that I can enhance any one of my senses at will; at the cost of another. It can be quite useful at times, especially if I find myself in a situation that requires enduring a certain level of pain...” She smirked. “Snooping around and holding up well under torture are valuable skills for any assassin to have.” Ali put away the little wooden wolf and went silent for a long moment, staring at her new bow. “This weapon is so much better than my previous one, you know... It’s new, more powerful, more reliable too, but it doesn’t... It doesn’t feel mine. Do you know what I mean? Feels like walking on someone else’s shoes.” She picked the bow up and stood, walking towards the dummies and pulling an arrow from her quiver she quickly shot it at one of the dummies, right in the center. “Not even the biggest change in my life lately...” She pulled another arrow and shot it at a second dummy. “The most personal though, I guess. Should I be worried that losing the place I’ve called home for nearly a decade, and then losing the place I’ve starting to consider a home for the past three years doesn’t really affect me as much as losing a ten year old piece of carved wood just because my brother touched it before he died?” She took a deep breath and pulled another arrow to shoot a third dummy, in the head as the others, and chuckled shaking her head before drawing and taking aim. “I’m sorry, I’m ranting... Just can’t help but resent the fact that the past just doesn't seem to want to stay dead.” She muttered out, releasing the arrow, again in the center of the dummy’s head. “If I ever find whoever is behind all of this...” She sighed, lowering the bow and leaving the sentence unfinished; occupying herself with retrieving her arrows from the assassinated dummies.

Essence nodded here and there, keeping silent as Ali spoke and simply smiled when she said she was ranting. “Hey, I do the same and I’m good for it so know you can rant at me any time.” Ess wandered over to retrieve the arrows from the dummies for Ali, carefully plucking one after another, again her mind picturing the holes they would leave and the fountain of blood that should escape their imaginary wounds. “I have never had a weapon that didn’t belong to someone else first, but they’ve become mine. I do understand giving more value to nostalgic trinkets and possessions. I think we all do that, and besides, home is where loved ones dwell, no?” She stated, backtracking on the conversation a bit, dipping and ducking away from a dummy as Ali aimed and released another arrow. “If you find who is behind all of this, I would ask you share that information. I promise to do the same..” Ess whispered, her smiling failing her as she stared back into Ali’s eyes, the glow in her own gaze dwindling to almost an ash like purple. “Something tells me, we will need whatever help we can get.” She stated matter of factly as she handed Ali back a few of her arrows.

Ali half-smiled as she put her arrows away in the quiver and gave Ess a long look as if wondering about something. “If I find out anything that may lead to whoever did, or is doing, this... I’ll be sure to let you know.” She promised, internally assuring herself that mentioning her mother’s journal wasn’t needed to keep her word here. She still didn’t feel like letting anyone else know about it just yet, not unless it was actually necessary to do so. “I guess this will be a first for you then.” She stated, a cheerful note taking over her voice. “The bow will be your first brand new weapon. I shall make you something special!” She grinned as she spoke but didn’t elaborate on what she meant by it exactly, changing the subject entirely almost as if to avoid any questioning on the matter. “I’m curious about something, and... Excuse me if my curiosity feels intrusive in any way, but... When I caught up with you and Aiden I... Felt there was something rather tense going on between you two and well... The look he gives you is quite clear...” She paused and cleared her throat feeling that maybe she was crossing a few lines with this. “So, I guess... I’m curious about what goes on there with the two of you... And I don’t like being curious, it’s not good for my sanity, so you see... I had to ask.”

Essence nodded firmly, accepting Ali’s word on relaying any possible information about those who are responsible for much death and destruction from their pasts. “I heard rumors that these people have been around for a long time..much longer than they should be.” She mumbled, her cheeks flushing slightly when Ali stated she was going to make her, her own bow. “Very kind of you Ali. Maybe I’ll be able to return the gesture in some way in the future. I mean, I can pay you..” Ess sighed, trying to remember the last time she was given something; anything, just because, even though it was something she did need.

Ess felt her body tense at Ali’s small array of questions, her expression reflecting an empty thought process; blank. “Aiden..” She whispered, releasing a long sigh. “He acts like a lost puppy. Good guy. He means well.” Ess shrugged, turning away as she continued, her tone casual as if she were talking about the weather. “Does he seem that smitten? I thought it was more of him trying to be protective.” Clearing her throat she gave a soft smile, looking back over her shoulder. “I guess some men can’t be ‘just friends’ with a woman.” She paused, thinking she saw Ali wanting to ask her something else and gave her room to speak.

“Pay me?”Ali raised an eyebrow. “No, I don’t think so.” She said, shaking her head as she refused the offer. “You already offered to help me make stuff, so I’ll just hold you to that sometime and we can call it even.” She smiled seeming satisfied with that arrangement. Not that she would expect anything for the bow, but she didn’t want Ess to feel like she owed her anything either. Her expression changed from curiosity to that of someone who was seriously considering which path to take at an intersection as she listened to Ess’ answers to her questioning. She had other questions she’d like to ask, but she could also end this conversation there for the sake of not intruding any further. After a moment or so she settles for replying to what the woman had told her and then decide whether to ask anything else. “Honestly... I don’t know Aiden, I might have seen him maybe once before, and I never spoke with him until today. That said... Guys, in general, tend to express things a lot more by gestures and looks, and usually whether they want to or not... By what I’ve seen... I’d say they are actually better at expressing themselves when they’re trying not to express themselves, even... Go figure... Based on that alone I can say Aiden seems pretty smitten, yes.” She shrugged casually. “I could be wrong, not everyone is the same, but I’m thinking that it’s the case here.” She went silent, shaking her head as she considered what to say very carefully in her head, but honestly she couldn’t really find any way she could stop herself from being curious and so just decided that, what the hell, she’d just run with it. “People tell a lot about themselves in how they act, you know? Especially in how they... protect themselves. For instance, some people talk incessantly as a way of keeping others distracted, others shut down... I do a bit of both myself, depending on my situation or mood... My point being, I see you as a person who keeps most people at arms length, even when you are being open with them. And I don’t see Aiden as a guy you’re willing to allow closer than that distance... I just don’t think he sees that too.” She sighed. “Like I said, I’m just talking about what I can tell, and maybe I’m wrong, but things like these among two friends can make life complicated.” Ali left the subject at that, giving Ess room to ignore or reply at her will as she gave a little chuckle. “Suppose this gives you the right to be nosy and inconvenient with me in the future, so maybe was not best topic of conversation, but now it’s a bit late though.” She said, wincing playfully.

Ess was quiet, almost thoughtful as her fingers itched a spot along her chin. She snorted through another sigh, nodding as Ali spoke, giving a half smile while her eyes stared off into the trees. Even though they were talking about Aiden somewhat she couldn’t help but think back to yesterday and what had transpired between Luckas and herself. “..Well...it’s refreshing to know there are others who pay just as much attention to detail as I do.” She winked. “Overall, yes, you are correct.” Ess stated, her tone sounding a bit unsure of where she was going with this and how much she would indeed tell of herself or the situation with Aiden. She wasn’t blind, but also knew denial’s power and how things are fuzzier when right in front of you compared to looking on from afar, from an outside perspective. A flicker of light flashed within her eyes, that could be caught by well trained eyes, as she pushed to hold back a feeling of sadness and anger. It hurt to think of her friend in that moment, but this talk of Aiden didn’t help her focus much.

“..I thought about it, you know...trying beyond friends. He’s sweet, attractive, and is a good man but..he’s not the one I’m interested in. Besides..” Ess smirked, rolling her eyes as if what she was about to say was absurd. “I’m.. just one of the few women around that may just not care to see that man naked.” Snickering, she shook her head. “..Just because he may be good for me, doesn’t mean necessarily that he’s right for me. Sometimes I feel like some people expect me to go that path, but to me it’s wrong.” Coughing suddenly she smiled, the gesture betraying her thoughts. ‘...It’s not easier to be a whore..’ “I don’t want to be an empty shell that is kicked around in the sand. Not anymore. You see...” Leaning back against a nearby tree, her fingers twitched as if she was trying to distract herself and habitually ended up sifting through her burgundy curls. “..I spent a good portion of my life pretending to be someone else. More accurately, many other someones so that I didn’t have to focus on knowing who I was. But the joke’s on me, because I do know who I am. Always did. Just have to get use to being in my own skin and not let myself fall into old habits.” Ess kept her smile, thinking she had said more than intended but it was nice to have someone else to talk to who wasn’t directly involved in the drama of her life. Only twice she had let herself open up around females. Well, three times if she were to count the Captain, but usually she found the company of men even when she shouldn’t.

“I most certainly will not turn away the future opportunity to pry into your business then.” She giggled, relaxing somewhat against the tree. “You seem like a strong woman, so maybe my luck will change. You see, most of my friends tend to get themselves killed and usually has nothing to do with me. At least, for the most part, I think.” She paused a momentarily worried look on her face before she smiled again. “..Never had too many friends anyhow...so maybe it’s an unfair comparison.”



“He’s not the one you’re interested in?” Ali asked raising an eyebrow with playful curiosity in her eyes. She didn’t voice the rest of her question, but her expression made clear what she was thinking. “Well, I can’t say it’s on my list of goals, but I wouldn’t mind taking a peek at that man.” She played, snickering softly. “I get what you mean though... After all, this is not the kind of thing you can rationally decide one day. The human heart doesn’t seem too fond of being ordered around, it likes to do what it pleases.” She stated idly fiddling with the little notches that held the string of her bow in its place. “If you know who you are, Ess... Then I’m glad for you. I’m not exactly sure I can say the same for myself quite yet. It is rather unnerving, I’ll admit. Something tells me though I’ll find out before this is over... Whatever this is... It feels like one of those moments in life, you know?” She heaved a small sigh leaning against a tree beside Ess’, continuing to fiddle with the bow as she shrugged. “I wouldn’t call myself strong, I’d say ‘foolish and lucky’ is much more my style... Can’t ever say I won’t get myself killed because I nearly have only a few weeks ago, but I can surely say whenever I do get myself killed I won’t go down quietly. That’s not anywhere in my nature.”

Essence grinned, “..We are all constantly discovering things about ourselves, but I mean, I know my values and morals, thus I know who I am. Seems like you have a pretty good idea of who you are and in some ways we are alike I think. I can be foolish and I tend to find myself in mortal dangers from time to time.” Walking away from the tree she leaned against, she meandered over to Ali and lightly rested a hand on her shoulder. “Me neither, nor will I let others go down quietly...” She winked. "I could see you and I getting ourselves into some trouble. Could be fun. What do you say to a trip into the city now?”

Ali let out a soft chuckle, shaking her head as if in disbelief. “Amazing how I seem a lot less stupid than I feel. Either I’m just a lot smarter than I’m willing to admit or I’m wonderful at faking it...” She smirked to herself as she thought for a second and then added. “I wonder if it really matters which one is true. Some would argue that if you get enough people to believe in something it automatically becomes the truth. I’m sure history is full of things like that.” At the offer of going into the city Ali’s eyes lit up in excitement, although she frowned slightly in doubt; Crys told her to stay in camp until she got back. “Hmm... I kind of told Crys I’d wait here until she got back from the plains...” She mumbled, looking down at her feet for a couple of moments thinking about it. What was the possible worse that could happen really? “... Then again, it wouldn’t be the first time... I always had a problem with following orders or advice that involve staying anywhere.” She argued. “Suppose bossing Aiden around a bit and giving you an archery lesson count as making myself useful, so I got that covered...” She snickered, nodding as if agreeing to something inside her head. “Yep, let’s go to the city. Haven’t been there in a little while.”

“Huh...I find faking it quite easy, but I do believe one has to be smart enough to pull that off.”Her grin grew, eyes lighting up at a thought. “..Do you use senses, like being able to pick up on heart beats, changes in breathing..? Perhaps clues to if someone is lying?” Pulling her hand back, she shrugged. “Into the city we go then. Should we play..a game? Could..turn into a lesson.” Ess nodded, as if convinced of the thought. Inhaling deeply she fell still as a statue, raising her hands into a frozen position, displaying open palms. First her eyes fell dim before flickering a deep violet, for mere seconds maybe. Next, her hair darkened and straightened, appearing to shorten a few inches along her back. The change was gradual, her eyes remaining steady and aflame with light as her skin gleamed with a more golden tone, lips and nose narrowing quite a bit. She took her time. Ess appeared much younger than she was, maybe early teenage years and as her smile faded she cleared her throat, stretching her lips before she went to speak. “Time...to practice some control...” Her voice was louder, deeper; as if more confident, still feminine but not her own. “Let me know how I do, eh?” She paused before finding her real sound and continuing in it’s tone but speaking now with an accent, drawing out her vowels. “Tell Crys it turned out to be productive...which in some ways will be more than promised..” Essence turned, trotting on her heels as she yelled out for Ali to follow with encouragement. “Make sure if you address me, it’s by Talena.”

The setting changes from ravens-nest to Newhaven

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Allison Blake Character Portrait: Ess

0.00 INK

#, as written by Essence
“Whooooore!”

Essence came to a sudden halt at the obscenity, dropping the package in her arms to the ground. She didn’t know if Ali would notice that she was no longer following her through the streets, momentarily forgetting the woman was even around. Violet eyes flashed an eerie glow, her fingers unclenching so she could pull the hood from her face. As the cloth fell around her shoulders, her short dark hair extended as it was revealed, brightening to a chestnut hue. She remained still until she was shaken by a high pitched scream, turning casually with arms crossed as she searched for the source.

“Dirty, thieving, slut!” A man chastised, the realization that the voice was not cursing Ess didn’t lull the tense feeling stretching into her limbs. The crowd parted before her, her eyes catching the glimpse of a heavy set man dragging a pretty brunette by the hair down between two shops and into an ally strewn with blood and carcasses, the left overs from the butchers around the corner. The rotting smell made her want to wretch, her form already following the two as more screaming drowned behind the hustle of the afternoon traffic. Pushing past a few stray dogs, fighting over what appeared to be a liver or some sort of innards, Ess remained silent, eyes narrowing as she stalked the pair until the man believed he was alone and began striking the woman.

“I swear, I don’t have any more money! I gave you everything!” The girl shrieked, trying to block the man’s fists from colliding into her face, only deterring the man to sock her in the stomach.

“You are suppose to charge two silver for the hour. You owe me six still. I know you are hiding it, probably between those filthy legs of yours.” He spat, raising his hand to strike her again, only this time he was the one to shriek as his hand was suddenly pinned into the wall by a silver dagger. In a panicked shock, he tried to pry the dagger from his flesh only to tear the tissue further, the blood running down across his elbow. Ess calmly walked up behind the man, provocatively running her fingers up through his greasy hair in an almost tender gesture before slamming his forehead into the building and laughed.

“That is just not good business...How are you going to get blood from a stone, hmm?” Ess sang, giggling when the man groaned and spat curses at her. The brunette was now cowering in the corner, watching intently but not moving, still afraid to be punished if she did anything without permission. “If you kill her, you’ll lose your investment you prick.”

Gritting his teeth together, the man spat, reaching for the dagger once again in his hand, “Who said anything about killing the ‘whore’...?” Finally yanking the blade free he moved to stab Ess in a downward motion, aiming to slit her from nose to naval. She caught a glimpse of an all too familiar vacant and yet deranged and unhinged glimmer in his hazel eyes that sent a sudden rage through her. He reminded her of Jasper and she flew at him, not fully thinking but acting on instinct and fury balled into one. The next few seconds were a blur, dodging backwards to avoid her own blade, the side of her open palm snapping firmly against the man’s wrist to release the hilt of the dagger. It would be amusing later on when Ess thought back on the flurry of events, remembering each second that flew by and how it only took Lena using that move on her once for her to learn how to use it herself.

“Thanks, I couldn’t reach that myself..” Ess panted, dropping down to one knee to dodge another swing and retrieve her blade, rolling to the right and dragging the tip of her dagger along the man’s belly ever so slightly but enough to puncture about an inch or so deep, clumps of fat splitting between the flesh. He fell over cradling his potbelly in pain but seemed relieved that his guts were still in tact. Essence stood quietly behind him, tilting her head to the side as she watched him pant on the ground like a stuck pig. “Now...you can leave and forget this girl...which isn’t as fun as the second option...which would be to act cocky and try to hit me again.” Ess snickered. “Much more interesting...don’t you think?” She whispered turning her gaze onto the young girl behind her who still was frozen in place. “Hey...WAKE UP, Girlie. You don’t need to live this life...I know...but if...you feel it’s all you know...” Ess sighed, “Which...I understand as well...then do what I did. Be your own boss.” Slowly her eyes trailed up and down over the girl, noting how fragile she appeared which reminded her of herself at one point. “Maybe get yourself a bodyguard...put him on the payroll..” She nodded at her own words, reaching into her pocket for a few coins and tossed them at her. “That’s your cue to leave now..”

The girl still sat idle, eyes wide as she stared back up at Ess. In a bit of lost patience, Ess made a gesture to jump at her, startling the girl to her feet and then running off down the alleyway. Appearing distracted, her back still turned, Ess’ fingers tightened around the hilt of the dagger. It was the only clue that she was aware the man was on on the move, even though she heard him drag his feet forward, moving to attack her.