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Annie Turner

Leader of the White Shadows: "Peace is the most pleasant illusion"

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

Groups

Group of Healers the resides in the ruins of the citiy of Blackhurst in the Plains.

Description

Full Name: Anne Turner

Age: 18

Gender: Female

Rank: Leader of the White Shadows

Ability: Annie has the ability of closing wounds by channeling her own vital energy onto another person. She is still young and inexperienced with this ability, which means that pushing her limits could easily cause her death. Her eyes glow a bright golden color when her ability is in use.

Description: Annie is slim and undeniably short, standing at only 159cm. She has straight long jet black hair, and dark brown eyes. She usually dresses on her clan's white robes, underneath it she wears something close to what an assassin or rogue would wear; Light leather armor plates protecting her arms and legs. She always wears boots, unless when at home, in the ruins. There she walks barefoot or wears sandals.

Reference Image: Imagine this girl, only with black hair and no staff (and, you know, more clothing) – I do not own this image. All credit goes to artist.

Theme Song: Sarah Mclachlan – Silence

Personality

Personality: Annie is extremely smart and knowledgeable for someone her age and she is sweet and caring towards almost anyone. That may make her seem naive, but in reality she is no such thing. Annie has a sharp mind and sometimes uses her sweet and seemingly innocent nature to trick others into telling her things they wouldn’t normally tell anyone.

Annie loves to study, and she learns things at an incredibly fast rate. She craves answers and is only ever frustrated when she can't find one. Engage in conversation with her, and be prepared to be thoroughly questioned. She will want to know the reasons behind everything you do. If she is ever in an argument with someone she will have answers for everything, and will try to keep the discussion going for as long as possible. She hardly ever loses her temper though, which makes some people nervous.

As a healer she finds her Enlightenment not to be developed enough to use often, so she is very dedicated to the use of herbal medicine, unlike other Spiritual Healers before. She is extremely determined when it comes to saving a life, and may become obsessed. She is known for not resting until she has a solution or has exhausted all possibilities. She has even, on occasion, deprived herself of sleep and skipped meals while working on patients.

In spite of her friendly nature, three years of leading a broken clan have caused her to grow up way too fast and she has started to believe that some things in the world simply cannot be helped.

Likes: Music, people, flowers, tea, hugs

Dislikes: Skepticism, rudeness, people who believe they are worth more than others.

Equipment

Annie doesn't carry weapons when in camp. However when traveling she carries a steel dagger and the short sword that once belonged to her mother.

Her equipment consists of:

- A medicine kit (standard for the clan): Brown wooden box containing healing herb, vials of medicine, and different types of bandages embedded in herbal extracts.

- Antidote kit (her personal creation): Black wooden box containing a great amount of small vials labeled with numbers; Each containing a different components used in the making of different types of poisons and antidotes.

- Antidote Guide (her personal creation): A black book with a numbered list of components, how to obtain them and where in Valcrest is the best place to find them. She has its contents memorized, but still carries the book with her wherever she goes.

Other: She carries a rose pendant around her neck at all times: A present given to her by her mother.

History

Annie was born in the ruins. Her mother was the leader of the White Shadows then. Annie's father is still unknown to her, even though she hasn't given up the thought of knowing his identity.

She studied to be a healer since she was only five years old. She was always a happy child and always felt very loved and cared for by everyone in her clan. After she discovered her gift, at the premature age of 10, things change slightly for her. Suddenly she wasn't just another apprentice anymore, she was different. Her mother explained to her that Enlightened born with the ability to heal were very rare, but Annie didn't understand why that made her any more special than anyone else.
As she got a little older she got used to the "respectful distance" the other recruits kept from her. She was graduated to healer when she turned 14, and eventually travelled alone, mostly to the Wolfpack camp, to assist to injured people.

Three years ago, when Blackpond attacked the White Shadows, Annie’s mother chose to stay behind and fight with a few healers as the rest of the clan fled to the desert. That act removed her from command of the clan and immediately put Annie in her place. When she reached the desert to rejoin her clan… She had already been named leader.

Other: Annie is terrified of lightning storms, and has a strange love for red roses.

So begins...

Annie Turner'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.

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“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: 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: 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.”

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

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.

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

[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.”

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[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.

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

[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.

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

[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.

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

[/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.

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

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 Newhaven

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Annie Turner

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Luckas’ mind was racing a little with thoughts of death, eternity, and a million other ironies that just had him torn between laughter and frustration. He had gone to the funeral, and he had also gone over the book Mageria had dropped, over and over and over. He’d read that journal front to back at least five times throughout the night, finding things to become more and more interesting every time he read, confusing and frightening in a way, but that was the most interesting part of it all. He was particularly fascinated with one bit of history contained in there; it was similar to something he’d seen before on the Shadows’ archives, although, told as being only a myth.

All of it got him thinking of Death. Luke thought that if he would ever worship one of the Twins, he would worship Death. He didn’t understand how people failed to see the beauty of Death, the beauty of being compelled to make every moment count before you reach the end of the line… The beauty of the moment when you accept it’s finally over; so silent, so peaceful, so… Perfect. Luke had been so close to it, he stared it in the eyes, and it had left him with a very itchy wound as a reminder. He really should have that looked at again…

Finally he moved from where he had been lying, looking around the room he had chosen to spend the night in. Light was slipping through the curtains. It was morning… Did he sleep? He must have slept, but he wasn’t sure if he had or if he simply lost himself in thought. As he sat up, he felt an aching in the back of his head, he also felt a bit of pain in his left forearm and, as he rolled up his sleeve to examine it, he discovered the word ‘STOP’ scratched onto it. He tilted his head staring at it. So, he must have slept, he certainly did dream. “Am I in your head, or are you in mine?” He mumbled. Ever since that thing almost killed him, Luke had heard and seen things that didn’t seem to quite belong in his mind. He didn’t know why, nor did he actually care for it much anymore, he just wanted it gone. Finally, he reached for the book he had dropped in his lap, opening it to the same bit he had been reading, and rereading, the night before.

I've figured it out. Gods help me, it can be done, but it will require a sacrifice; bait. Good of Newhaven and all that, right? I just hope I'm strong enough to do what must be done when the time comes.

Just below it though, there was something written that just wasn’t there the night before, something written in Luke’s own handwriting, although he had no memory of writing anything.

Time has come.

“What the…? Who are you?”

Luke sighed, not turning towards the man that had just entered the room, probably released from night shift and looking to get some shut eye. “Don’t worry about it, pal. I’m just leaving.” He stated, standing up.
The guard eyed him suspiciously, he had snatched uniforms, but he didn’t really look like a castle guard in one bit. “I asked: Who are you?” The man repeated.
Luckas nodded. “I’m none of your business. Now, go to sleep. You look tired.” He stated.
The man let out a yawn and began to drag himself towards the bed, dropping down on it and immediately falling asleep.
“Good boy.” Luke told him with a snicker. Turning to leave the room, however, he stopped, noticing a piece of paper in the guard’s hand. He took the note from the man and read it over. “Huh, now this sounds important… I should make sure it reaches its destination.” He stated, stuffing the note in his pocket and walking out of the room. “First though, I think I’ll go have a look at the festivities.”

[White Shadows encampment]

Annie had woken up before sunrise again, this time not greeted by the usual silence of the healers, but with a level of excitement only seen in that camp once each year. She wasn’t all too fond of excitement, to be honest, but she couldn’t help but smile at how happy everyone was for a change. Since she had taken command of the Shadows, things had been rough, it was noticeable, but this date seemed to have the power to make all troubles be forgotten.

“I knew you would be hiding out here.” She heard a familiar voice behind her. “Suppose not everything changes in time.”
Annie didn’t quite believe her mind wasn’t playing tricks on her even when she turned to face the owner of that voice. It took a good moment of staring before she was even able to speak. “I can’t believe this.” She mumbled, taking a step forward. “Alistair? I thought you said you were never coming back.”
“I wasn’t, but…” Alistair heaved a sigh. “She made me swear I wouldn’t say this, but what the hell… I ran into your mother a couple of months ago and she… suggested, it would be a good idea for me to check up on you.”
Annie raised an eyebrow. “Check up on me?”
He chuckled slightly. “She didn’t actually say that, but I know that’s what she meant. I told her that there was no way in hell I was coming back here, but lately I just couldn’t get the idea out of my head. So… Here I am.”
“Where did you see her?” Annie asked him.
“I saw her in the mountains, but she wouldn’t tell me why exactly she was there. She looked pretty tired too, as if she hadn’t been sleeping.” He said, attempting to hide a concerned look. “She said not to worry though.”
“She always says that. It’s hardly ever true.” Annie replied. “Never mind that though, are you staying or just checking up on me?” She asked with a smile.
“Oh, I’ll stay for a little while, see some friends and maybe visit Newhaven, but I will be leaving again soon.” He stated, pacing around one of Annie’s favorite gardens, which was now covered in white snow, and enjoying the ‘crunchy’ sound of his footsteps on the frozen grass. “I can’t say I don’t miss this place, but I don’t think I still have it in me to do this kind of work anymore. I hope you understand that.”
“Sure I do.” She said, walking past him and dragging him along with her to the encampment. “Come on, I’m sure Isaac will be happy to see you.”
Alistair nodded in agreement, walking after her. “Is he still having outbursts?”
“A few, but nothing… Too troublesome…” Annie stopped walking as she noticed someone who was waiting by the entrance of her tent. Usually, Evin’s presence wouldn’t bother her, but she was sure Sean was still around somewhere. “Al… Do me a favor: Find Isaac and tell him to keep Sean Fletcher as far from my tent as possible.”
“Sure, no problem.”Alistair said, walking past Annie’s tent to look for Isaac.

Annie simply walked over to Evin and offered the assassin a smile. “Hello Evin, to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?” She said, walking into the tent. “Come on in.” She asked, taking a seat and waiting for the man to enter as well. “Is there something I can help you with?”

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

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Annie Turner Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher

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"I don't know why she was at the mountains. She wouldn't tell me." Alistair said with a shrug. "I honestly thought Lena had come back to the Shadows a long time ago. Never occurred to me that she had been away all this time."
"That's odd, even for Lena, isn't it?" Sean asked, a slightly intrigued expression on his face. He had been intrigued about Lena's disappearence for a very long time, and speaking to someone who had seen he recently had brought that feeling back. She couldn't have left for absolutely no reason; there had to be something more to it.
Before Alistair had a chance to respond, however, an all too familiar voice echoed through the encampment. "Hey Sean! It's good to see that your sister is alright! Maybe I'll try the same trick on your new right hand man the next time I decide to show up in camp!"

Sean froze for a split second while Evin's voice reached his ears, before he instictively pulled a dagger out of hiding and began to move towards the voice. However, he was caught by Alistair on a choke hold. The man had moved to stop him, before he even took a step.
"Relax, now." The man whispered to as Sean tried fight the hold. "Give me that knife."
Sean didn't let go of the dagger, but he stopped fighting Alistair's hold . "Let go of me, please." He muttered.

As soon as Alistair released him, Sean walked a straight line to Annie's tent, finding her standing right outside of it. He stopped in front of her, pointing the dagger to her face. "I trusted you, Annie!" He shouted. "You let that maniac near my sister!"
Annie shrugged. "I'm not a bodyguard, Sean. And I can't keep track of who goes near who in here. Hence the rules about leaving weapons outside. Which now leads me to the question: Is this a knife you're pointing at me? Because that's surely a problem."
"You have got to be kidding me!" She exclaimed.
"I'm not kidding. And please, keep your voice down, there are sick people in this camp, you know." Annie replied in her calmest tone. "Now, please lower your weapon, Alpha. Let's talk."
Sean shook his head. "I'm getting so tired of your crap Annie. Really, really tired!"
Annie tilted her head to the side and grinned. "I see... You are going to use that, then?" She asked innocently. "Because you know, if you're not, it just makes you look stupid."
Sean was furious, but he flinched; Annie wasn't the one he was truly angry at, harming her wouldn't do him, or anyone, any good. He needed to stop himself now. Slowly, he lowered the dagger, and sheathed it. "Fine." He stated finally. "Talk to me, Healer."

Annie sighed. "You and your men have disrespected the laws of this encampment one too many times, Sean. As much as you trusted me, I trusted you. Perhaps we are both equally foolish since we cannot maintain that trust for a full day."
Sean nodded. "Perhaps we are." He agreed. "What measures will you take, then?"
"All of them." Annie replied simply. "You and your people are no longer welcome in my camp as of now."
Sean snickered. "Wow, are you sure this is what you want to do?"
"You pushed me into making a choice I didn't want to make, Alpha. This is my decision." She told him.
Sean frowned slightly. "I have no reason to move against the Shadows, Annie. Don't give me one."
"Don't do that." Annie smiled. "Don't threaten me, or you might have to fulfill those threats, and believe me; you'll regret it if you do. Maybe not now, but one day."
"Who's threatening who, now?" Sean asked raising an eyebrow.
"It's not a threat... It's just what I know." She said with a small shrug.
Sean sighed. Looking over Annie's shoulder he saw his sister watching him from inside the tent, a disapproving look in her eyes. He turned his gaze back to the leader of the White Shadows. "Is that all you have to say to me, Healer?"

"No, Alpha. It's not." Annie stated. Cutting the short distance between herself and the assassin, she gave the man a hug, and added. "May the Goddess light your path."
Sean simply stood, sincerely shocked by the gesture, as Annie released him and turned her back. He didn't really know what had just happened there, but the other healers seemed to understand, because they looked just as confused and shocked as he did.

"Please remove yourself from my territory, Alpha. I won't ask you again." She said, as she walked past Katelyn and into her tent; she whispered something to the girl, but Sean couldn't hear what it was. Katie seemed pleased with it though, as she walked to join him.

"Come on. I want to go home." She said, pulling him by the hand towards the gates.
Sean let Katie him lead him to the exit of the camp, not understanding what had happened to make her suddenly less angry with him. He noticed some healers were moving out of their path as they walked, it was all just very strange to him. "Kate, what... What did Annie say to you?"
"She just said that I'm still welcome at any time." The girl replied simply. "Funny, I thought you'd ask about Evin first." She smiled.
"What did he want with you?" Sean asked, turning to look at his sister.
"He apologized for poisoning me, and then he offered to... Take me somewhere safe." She answered. "I said 'no, thank you' and that was pretty much it."
"Why?" He asked. "I mean... You're not happy. I know you're not."

Katie was silent as Sean retrieved all of his weapons at the entrance of the small camp, and remained silent until they were entering the forest. Then she replied to his question. "I'm not happy." She stated. "I wouldn't be any happier anywhere else though; I would just be unhappy and ignorant." She chuckled. "No... I'd rather stay and keep an eye on you."
Sean heaved a little sigh. "You know, if you ever... If you ever want to, you can leave. It's alright." He told her. "I mean... You don't deserve to be stuck in the middle of this. You deserve a better world than this. I'm just sorry I can't give you that."
"Are you really? Sorry?" Katie asked him. "Sometimes I'd love to think that you are, but I have trouble believing you."
Sean stopped walking and turned to face her. "I am sorry, Kate. I never wanted things to have to get this far, but now they have. It's too late to just turn around now."
"You talk as if you had no choice!" She replied. "I just can't understand why you had to do this in the first place. Was it all because fo mother? All of this just because of what happened that night?"
"No!" Sean shouted. "It's not all because mother. Not all! I could have gotten over her death if only there had been justice, but no... Dani wouldn't let me have that. She forgave the Shadow Hunter as if the whole thing didn't concern the rest of us; as if the lives he took meant nothing. That woman had looked me in the eyes and sworn to me that she would make him pay. She betrayed me, she betrayed the clan!"
Katie shook her head in disbelief at his words. "She wanted to end it, Sean! She wanted this to be over."
"It wasn't over for me! Sure, maybe he was sorry, maybe they were both sorry, but it just doesn't change what they did; and it doesn't mean they paid for it. It's not justice."
"When will you pay, then? For lionel, and Owen... And whoever else is still about to be killed in this mess you creted?" She asked him, tears beginning to form in her eyes. "What's the price for this revenge of yours, Sean? How much are you willing to pay?"

Sean faltered under his sister's gaze; Katie always had a way of making him feel ashamed of himself, mostly because she knew that he could stand anything, but he couldn't let her hate him. "I'm already paying. I pay a little every time you look at me this way. I pay a little every time someone dies in that camp. I pay a little bit everyday and I don't think I'll ever be done paying even after I'm dead, but you know what? I made a choice, all I can do now is keep going."
"What about me and Donovan? For how long will we have to pay? Father is dead, Lionel is dead, and you..." The girl's voice broke as the tears finally began to roll down her face. "I want my brother back, Sean. The one who used to tell me stories when I couldn't sleep, the one who used to make me laugh... I loved him, I miss him. And I hate this stranger you've turned yourself into."

Sean sighed heavily and pulled the girl into a hug; holding her tightly as she began to sob against his chest. "I'm still your brother, Katie." He whispered to her. "I'm still here."
"You have to stop, Sean. Please. I don't want to see you get killed." She begged. "I don't want to lose you too."

"I know, sis. And I'm so sorry, but I can't turn back now."

[Assassins' Camp - Few hours later]

Sean was immediately bombarded with a thousand reports from different scouts and messengers, the moment he stepped foot in camp. Looking around he could tell something wasn't quite the same in the air around the camp. He could catch glimpses of people talking amongst themselves in whispers. Somewhere along the way to the Leaders Cabin he lost track of Katie's movements; the girl disappeared somewhere in the camp, its crowds and noises. Perhaps Sean had disapperead in there as well some time ago, but it was useless to think of these things now.

He took his time to sit at his desk, rub his temples and focus his eyes on the reports he was handed; very much aware of the messenger that had followed him into the common room, but paying the man no attention. "Hum... Salamanders attacked, aparently no survivors... Smaller mercenaries caught wandering around again..." He mumbled to himself as he read the messages, not showing much interest in any of it, until he reached Sheila's report. "I see..." He muttered out, anger burning in his eyes at the words. He had warned the Captain of the Black Knights that there would be trouble if they were associated with any traitors, but apparently the woman didn't listen, or didn't take him seriously, because Sean was now being informed that Jake had rejoined the Black Knights.

[Flashback - Newhaven, approximately 3 years ago]

It was early morning and Mageria had already dealt with half a dozen problems. She had to figure out what to do with the captured Blackpond soldiers, now that there was no one to exchange them for; she had to deal with the holes in her chain of command that occurred from losses during the fighting; someone had just realized that some of the children living in the Castle were now orphans and just what was going to happen to them? Normally this would all have been dealt with by someone else, at the very worst it would have been the Captain of the White Knights who had to figure all of this out. But he hadn't been seen for quite a while now, and if she ever caught up to him . . . . Thomas was doing the best he could, but he was mostly occupied with trying to smooth over difficulties between Lady Sarris and the Council. That didn't even begin to cover the fact that they now had an heir running around that needed to be protected whether she liked it or not.

Mageria had assigned two of her most discrete Guard to watch over the girl and told everyone else that they would get their answers when she had answers to give them. That being done, she escaped up to the bell tower, where she could have a moment of quiet, locking and bolting the door behind her. There was no one else around and so she leaned against one of the windows and just looked out at the land stretching out past the walls of Newhaven, one hand idly gripping the hilt of her sword.

It was early morning in the castle, an unnamed shadow roamed the halls,unseen. He had a message to deliver, and very specific instructions regarding what he was supposed to do: "Deliver this message to the Black Knight Captain. Don't kill anyone. Don't let anyone see you." That was what the young man had been been instructed to do. Might seem like asking too much, but for a Wolf... Not really. Well, except maybe for the fact that he was meant to make sure that the message got to the woman directly, that could pose as a problem.
The young wolf did managed to keep a watch on the woman at a distance until see finally entered a room alone, locking the door behind her. A little bit of a setback, but fine.

"Hey, you there! Who are y-" The soldier didn't have the time to finish the question, and before the answer became clear as the man, who he assumed to be a servant, had turned and hit him in the face. Having started a commotion and knocked out a guard, the young assassin had to leave fast, but he still needed to deliver the message. "Aw, screw it." he thought, pulling a dagger.

When the woman on the other side of the door, reached the hallway, she would find a passed out guard and a note pinned to the door, with a dagger, saying: "Meet me outside the city gates at noon. Don't be late."

[Noon]

At exactly noon the new leader of the Pack reached the walls of Newhaven. Sean had been strongly advised against this, but he thought it was an opportunity he simply couldn't let slide. After all, the Pack needed some breathing room, Newhaven needed some breathing room. A truce, even if temporary, would give him room to organize the clan better.
Of course, Sean didn't plan on telling Mageria any of this. If she wanted him to play nice, he was going to ask for some things in return. After all, Newhaven had a rightful ruler, that would have been killed by the Shadow was it not for the Pack, and the clan had taken many losses in return. It was only fair that they got a little bit back.

This was the point of this meeting after all: Not what the Pack had done or the Knights had done... Only what was fair. Plain and simple.

Mageria spent the time waiting for Sean by picking out the right spot for them to meet. Out of sight of the ruined gates, in a clear enough spot that he didn't think it was an ambush, but close enough to cover that it wasn't suicide for her. It was a delicate balance. After she found the right area, she found her attention drawn by the work of the people rebuilding the walls. Among the townsfolk were a number of men dressed in bright orange tunics. They were the captured soldiers from Blackpond. Given that there was now no chance to trade them for Newhaven soldiers and the fact that she wasn't willing to execute them or house them in the dungeons, she had chosen to put them to work. From now until Newhaven was rebuilt or they were traded with Blackpond for some favor, they would work rebuilding what they had destroyed. It was fair, she thought. And more merciful than what her own men had received at the hands of Rory and Hastings.

A scuff of leather on stone drew her attention to the side. It seemed that Sean was being as careful as she was about not provoking the other person. She leaned against a bit of stone and looked over at him.
"I appreciate your restraint on delivering the note. Not elegant, but effective; and no one was permanently hurt." She turned and face him squarely. She was still fully armed, but kept her hands carefully away from her blades.
"We're telling people that the Wolves that killed the King have all been brought to justice. So there's no more need to continue to attack the Pack." She tilted her head just slightly to the side. "Are you going to give me another one?"

Sean snorted slightly as Mageria mentioned the note, he should have never sent a inexperienced active deliver it. However he said nothing until she finished talking. He shook his head slightly, with an amused grin, his arms were crossed underneath his cloak, however he wasn't in one bit tense. "Far from me to want to complicate things captain. However the Pack would have more than enough reasons to attack the Black Knights. I would have let the trespassing go, but you provided aid to a traitor, after he killed our second in command, and kidnapped one of our recruits. So, are you sure you want to be asking that question?" He asked her, raising an eyebrow. "You asked me for a truce, remember?"

He stopped to look around at the people rebuilding the city walls. He always did like Newhaven, it was such a lovely place once upon a time. Finally he heaved a sigh and looked back at Mageria. "The Wolfpack had an Inn established in Newhaven, the Shadow had it burnt down. We would like to rebuild it. We would place workers there, and it would be a neutral zone. A safe place for my people to sleep when away from. Like it once use to be." He leaned against a piece of rock. "You give me the Inn back, and you can consider the past erased."

Mageria thought for a long moment then shook her head regretfully. "We don't have the resources to build an Inn at the moment. We have people sleeping in warehouses and corridors in the Castle and even in the streets. We have to rebuild the walls and then homes first. At least using city workers. Private businesses don't really tell us where their workers come from."

She idly stretched the muscles in her neck. "Here's the thing, Sean. Right now the nobles are busy doing other things; they don't give a damn about the Pack right now. Give them a reason to stay awake at night, and they'll be looking your way again. So much as you and the traitors are going to be at each other's throats, keep it out of the city. No knife battles in the middle of the road, no corpses missing their guts showing up. If you want a neutral zone, it's going to be truly neutral."

Sean nodded, listening to the woman's concern with care. He honestly didn't care for the people of Newhaven right now, but when you are a leader, you have to learn to give a little for what you get. "I never asked you people to build it. We will tear down the burnt down construction and rebuild it ourselves. I can also put a few workers at your disposal to help rebuild civilian homes. Aside from that, once the Inn is functional we will be paying taxes." He smirked. "What your city council does with it, is your concern, but we will be paying nonetheless."

He made a small pause to let the offer sink in before continuing with the next point he needed to make. "A neutral zone, is a neutral zone. Which also means I won't have your soldiers knocking down any doors or asking any questions. Once my people are within those four walls, they are not to be touched. In return, no one else who enters the Inn will be harmed, not even Evin Bana himself, after all he did. In the future, should someone from Newhaven need to contact the Pack for any reason, it should be done through the messengers there; no more sneaking into our camp." He took another glance around, then looked back to her. "It's the best deal I can offer, and if anything I'm being too nice."

Mageria lowered her eyes for a moment then flicked them back up to Sean's. "Fair enough. I'll pass the word. Anyone that I can order or terrorize will stay away from your camp. Anyone stupid enough to head your way when there's a safe alternative will have to face the consequences of their actions on their own." A brief smile crossed her face as she turned and looked back at Newhaven. "And I'm sure that the Council appreciates your future buisness." The slightest trace of sarcasm leaked into her voice. "I certainly appreciate your altruism."

She held one hand out between them. "If that concludes things?"

Sean hesitated for a moment, did making a truce with the Knights made him feel slightly sick to the stomach? Yes. However, this was for the best. At least in this moment it was the best for the clan and for him. Anything personal could wait. Finally he pulled one hand from under his cloak and reached to shake Mageria's hand. "I say we've reached an understanding Captain. There is one thing I should warn you of, however." He crossed his arms over his chest again as he continued. "As promised, I will not hunt for traitors in your city, but if I suspect Newhaven, or the Black Knights, of helping one of those rats, we will have a problem." With that clarified, her turned around to leave. "I will have my workers in the city by nightfall. I trust that they will be fairly treated."

Mageria inclined her head. "Of course, Alpha." Her tone left it uncertain as to what she was replying to, however. She would make sure that the workers weren't harmed; however, given that she was on much better terms with Crystal and those that followed her, there was no doubt in her mind that there would be trouble in the future between the two groups. It was as inevitable as the sun rising in the south. She watched Sean turn to leave.
"I'm glad we could come to an agreement."


[Reality - Wolfpack Camp, present time]

Sean was still staring at the report, rereading it one more time. Actives were attacked, there had been damage to the Inn, although the traitor was kind enough to pay for the troubles... Jake was provoking him into making a move. Fine. He would do just that, but not they way he was expected to.

Standing up, he walked to a bookshelf and pulled a book from it; a book of myths, nothing much, but inside of it there was some vital information on a sealed envelope. "I'm so glad I removed this from the archives before Evin torched them all." He said, now addressing the messenger that was still staring at him at the doorway. He turned towards the man and extended the envelope to him. "See that this makes it to the hands of the Head of the Newhaven Council, with my compliments. I know hoe badly they have been bothered by the Black Knight Captain, I think it's only fair they have something to defend themselves with."
The messenger blinked, holding the envelope with shivering hands. "The Newhaven Council, Sean? Are you sure?"
"Absolutely." The Alpha replied. "And one more thing..." Sean mentioned, scribbling down a note and folding it neatly. "Deliver this to someone of the Black Guard, tell them to deliver it to their Captain." Sean smiled wickedly as he put the note in the messenger's hands. It read:

I thought we had an understanding.

Instead of a signature, there was simply the symbol of an alpha to mark who had sent it. Sean nodded towards the door to get the messenger going. "Be on your way now."
The man left, still a little bit wary of his assignements, but Sean was sure that he would get it done no matter what.

As the messenger left, Donovan stormed into the cabin and slammed his fist on the table. "She was here, Sean!" He shouted.
Sean raised an eyebrow at his brother. "Shut the door, lower your voice, and tell me who you are talking about." He said calmly. "Sit." He said montining towards a chair.
Donovan didn't sit, however, he closed the door and took a breath. "Crystal was here. She spoke to Avius. He just let her go!"
Sean sighed. "Why am I not surprised?" He mumbled. "Don't worry about it, Don. I'll talk with him."
"How can you be so calm, Sean?" Donovan asked. He was furious, it was noticeable.
"Well, I've been wanting to drive her out hiding... There has to be a reason why she showed now, of all times. Something changed." Sean explained. "It could be good or bad for us, we just need to find out what it is."
Donovan finally seemed to calm himself and sat down. "How?"
"First, I'll talk to Avius, but I have other means of finding that out. I think it's time I use them." He smiled. "Relax, Don... She'll pay for what she did, be patient. Now, go tell Avius I want to see him."
The boy nodded firmly and stood up, leaving the cabin to do what he was asked.

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

[Blackpond]

Jake kicked down the door and, as he did so, he immediatelly felt the cold steel of a dagger on the back of his neck. He could be dead now, but he wasn't yet. A male voice sounded in his ears. “I hope you don’t expect me to pay for the door. Its real agar wood. Almost three hundred years old.”

Jake took his time looking at the inside of the room, before responding. It looked like a murder had occurred there just yesterday; aside from the blood on the carpet, which was visibly dry. He ran his eyes from the bloodied floor to the ripped curtains... That was the spot where Hastings had fallen. If only those walls could tell him what they witnessed that night...

Finally, he responded to the man holding him a knife-point. "Send me the bill if you like." He told the man. "If I live to pay, that is." He added. "Which begs the question: Are you going to use that. Mr...?"

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

[Newhaven]

Luckas was intrigued by the woman's reaction. He expected a White Knight to be, well... Boring, but no. He was even a little surprised when she touched his face. If only she knew what he could do to her with just a little touch... He snickered, but only on the inside. She seemed to be enjoying the idea of messing with his head, and he was going to play along for the moment. As she moved on, he walked after her. for a while, just letting her talk. For another simply watching her expression. She seemed like someone he could play with, someone easy to push into madness; she certainly had things in her mind that she wanted to conceal, but the fact of the matter was that his hands were still bound by that damned healer. As long as Lena Turner lived, it wasn't safe to go back to his former ways. He'd have to make good with what he had at the moment: An entertaining chat.

“Veronica Zein, but you may also call me Zein, and what brings you to the Newhaven’s castle, or even better, who allowed you to enter?” The woman had said.

Luckas finally answered the woman, if not for any other reason, simply to see how far she would go in this little game of theirs. "Veronica, huh? I'll call you Ronnie, it kinda suits you. I don't adress people by their surnames, it's too impersonal. Nicknames are far more friendly." He said with a cheerful smile. "That said: You may call me Luke. My reasons for being here are personal ones. I might tell you sometime, when we know each other better, but not now. And, this might come as a surprise to you, Ronnie, but no one let me in. I was allowed to stay though; I'm just that charismatic." He said, flashing a smile that was, at most, amusing, but not really charming. "As for my answer, I don't think it was at all complicated. It's a simple thought: You cannot fully know anyone, not even yourself. Think about it: How many people truly know what horrors they are capable of? Let's say you have to make a choice: Kill someone you love dearly, or kill an unknown child, in plain sight of said person. If you kill your loved one, you'll suffer. If you kill the child, you save your loved one, however, the person will always see you as a monster capable of killing a child. Tricky, huh? And you can speculate as to what you would do, or how far you would go... But unless you live it, you can never truly know. That's what makes the world around us bearable: Those little illusions that give us room to believe we're not monsters; that we have lines we would never cross. The truth of all matters remains unknown; buried in the back of our minds while we hope we never need to unleash it upon ourselves." He said absently as they walked. Then he chuckled. "I sound complicated again, don't I? Let me put it in few words: 'Reality', as people like to call it, is nothing but a lie. The actual truth lies within a little area of our minds we cannot reach. The only way to see it, truly... Is to allow it to shatter. So that is what reality actually is: What you people call 'insanity'."

The setting changes from the-ruins-healers-camp 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.

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[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."

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

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 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.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Annie Turner

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[1 Month Later - Middle of the night]

"Hello Luckas." Lena's voice sounded soft as she heard the footsteps enter her tent. “I was expecting you.”
"You know why I'm here." He stated simply.
"I do. I see you have fulfilled your part of our agreement... To a certain point at least."
"So I have." Luckas answered. "I did everything you asked of me, and then some, so I'd say it's about time you repay me for the trouble."
"Can you assure me you will finish it though? I'm not sure I trust you to keep your word once you get what you want."
"I always keep my word." He muttered.
"I'm not so sure... Maybe you're more useful to me if I keep you ignorant, huh?" She said, a little snicker escaping her.
"What are you saying?" Luckas asked, not seeming amused in one bit. "If you go back on your word, I swear..."
"What? What do you think you can possibly threaten me with?" She laughed. "You can't intimidate me, Luke. If I want I can hold this over your head indefinitely. What can you really do to stop, or punish, me?"
Luckas' eyes narrowed and sparkled red dangerously. He didn't really understand what was happening here, but he wasn't amused by it at all. "Is that a challenge, Witch? Because I may not be able to affect you with my ability but I can use it on, say, your daughter."
"You won't. You don't have it in you... You never had, Luckas. See that's the big truth in this whole story... It doesn't matter how hard you try, you'll always be a scared little boy, sitting in a corner begging for his mommy. In the end, you'll always be someone's pet, because you're too weak to function without someone on the other end of your leash. You're too scared to do that."

Luckas was shivering from head to toe now; this was too far, way too far... "You're crossing the line, Healer." He muttered out.
"Good. Maybe it'll be easier for you to pretend you're not just following yet another command." She replied. "Go on Luckas, obey your Master if you're man enough to do it, or must I hold your hand through this as well?"

It all happened in a split a second, and a blur. Luckas felt something inside him snap.

[Flashback - Wolfpack Camp, approximately 32 years in the past]

“What are you up to now Helena?” A voice called from behind the black haired girl as she had her eyes caught up in a book.
“Why would you assume I’m up to something Eldric? I’m reading.” She said, not looking up at the older boy.
“Sure… You have been reading the same page for over 30 minutes though.” He stated, sitting next to her near the camp fire, letting the bow he was carrying rest beside him.
Lena didn’t say anything; she simply nodded discretely to where her mother was arguing with two guards. “Wolf Hunters.” She muttered.
“Hum…” Eldric, mumbled. “Where is Dani?”
“She ran off somewhere. You know what she is like… Always hiding around and avoiding the drama.” Lena answered with amusement. “She better do that while she still can.”
“By drama, you mean responsibility, right? You are way too soft on your sister, Lena.”
Lena looked up from the book and frowned at him. “Are you, by any chance, saying I have been giving Dani special treatment on her training?” She asked. “Because if you are, I’ll have to take that little twig you call a weapon and toss it into the fire.”
“I’ll just make myself a better one if you do.” He laughed. “For what it’s worth, that wasn’t what I meant. I meant that pain is what really teaches you… And she hadn’t had enough of it quite yet.”
Lena chuckled. “Wait for it. Just wait.” She stated. “So, this whole thing about the two of you getting married, what is the story behind that?”
Eldric sighed. “Well, I told my father that it’s just crazy. Dani is still a kid, they can’t be serious. He said it would be an honor, and all that same talk. They can’t really force me into this now, can they?”

Lena shook her head and sighed. “Naivety is such a dangerous thing. Surely, Dani is now too young to get married, but they’re really just giving you the chance to get used to the idea. Neither of you has much of a choice here.”
“She is six years younger than me.” He frowned.
“Won’t matter so much when she is eighteen, now, will it?” Lena muttered going back to her book, now actually flipping the page.
“I’m pretty sure I’ll still see her as a little kid when we’re fifty.” Eldric said, with a little snicker. “An annoying little kid.” He added.
Lena snorted a laugh. “Sure.” She mumbled, not paying him much more attention.
“You don’t believe me, do you?” He asked.
“My beliefs are unimportant here.” She answered, being careful to turn the page of the book, but clearly not reading.
“Hum.” Eldric mumbled. “If I didn’t know you any better I would think you are jealous.” He whispered, leaning towards her to try and take a peek at the book.
“Piss off.” Lena muttered, aiming a punch at him.

Eldric saw the blow coming and managed to block it, grabbing her wrist and twisting her arm, in a way that would immobilize her, but not hurt. “Fast, but not fast enough.” He said, with a small chuckle.
“Not yet, you mean.” She laughed. “If I really wanted to hurt you, believe me, you would be on the ground.”
“Care to test that theory, little girl?” He taunted, taking the book from her. “Myths of Medicine?” He read.
“I’d be delighted to prove that theory.” She said, taking his moment of distraction to break free from his grip and elbow him in the stomach, knocking the wind out of him and causing him to fall to his knees, trying to catch a breath. Lena knelt down in front of him and smiled. “I don’t make empty threats, little man. Only idiots do that.” She took the book out of his hands. “Deep breaths.” She told him, smiling.
Eldric took his time to catch a breath before getting back on his feet. “You never seemed to me like the type of person who likes to study.”
Lena chuckled. “I’m the type of person that does anything to improve. You should know that by now.”
“How does a medical book help you improve?” He asked.
“If you know the right places to hit, you can kill twice as fast.” She stated simply. “Or cause twice as much pain.” She added, with a little smirk.
“That is a rather evil use of medical knowledge, isn’t it?” Eldric asked, picking his bow off the ground where it had fallen over.
“There is no correct way to use knowledge. Once you obtain it, it is yours to use, Eldric.” She stated. “You should try studying a little yourself. You don’t want people to think of you as just a pretty face. Now, do you?” She said with a little grin.

Eldric was going to answer, but then he winced at his father’s voice. “ELDRIC!” The boy sighed. “He sounds angry.”
“He always sounds angry when you talk to me. Haven’t you noticed?” Lena asked, raising a brow at him.
Soon her mother’s voice followed Eldric’s father, although not as loud. “Helena!” She sighed as well. “Suppose that is the end of my free time.” She frowned. “She only calls me by my full name when there’s an assignment waiting.”
Eldric nodded, noticing his father was walking towards them. “Will I see you when you get back?”
Lena nodded. “Probably. Here…” She handed him the book. “Maybe you’ll stop getting beaten by little girls.” She whispered, while passing him towards the leaders’ cabin.
“I always let you win.” He stated.
“Liar!” She laughed turning and walking backwards towards the cabin.

Lena's eyes caught Eldric’s father grabbing him by the shoulder and dragging him home. She frowned and turned back towards the cabin when feeling herself getting close to the door. “Judgmental prick.” She mumbled, opening the door and walking in.
“Did you say something Lena?” Her mother asked.
“Nothing. Just thinking aloud.” She said, putting on a fake smile. “What do you need me for?”
The red haired woman before her smiled kindly, before putting a file on the table. “This is your target.” She stated. “You have three days to kill this man before he delivers privileged information on Newhaven to the Blackpond army. Obviously… Newhaven authorities do not wish to get involved. They called for us.”
“Why not let the Black Knights handle it then. It’s their job to do Newhaven’s dirty work, not ours.” Lena stated with a frown.
“They are not very discrete, however, and the consequences of a Knight being caught assassinating a citizen would be catastrophic.” Her mother explained.
“At the same time, if I was to get caught, then the same Newhaven authorities that hired me would simply kill me where I stand and be considered heroes. Correct?” Lena asked. “How beautiful society is!” She exclaimed, holding down laughter and taking the file from the table. “I’ll be back before morning.” She announced, turning around and heading for the door.
“Helena.” Her mother called, causing her to stop at the doorway. “You need to make peace with the fact that some decisions are simply out of your hands.”
Lena sighed, lowering her head for a second then responding. “I’m beginning to realize that more and more these days.”

[Flashback – Wolfpack Camp, approximately 31 years in the past]

Lena was walking around camp, aimlessly. She had been giving Dani a little bit of a lecture on the lies she had told and was still telling. It was noticeable that this would eventually blow up in her face and she was slowly beginning to regret her compliance to not tell their mother the truth of the matter. Suddenly she stopped when she spotted the boy named Bastian sitting at the edge of the nearby lake. She walked up to him and simply stood next to where he was sitting.
“You really don’t like me, huh?” He asked casually, not turning to face her.
“I don’t care enough to dislike you, which is why you should consider yourself lucky.” She told him simply. “I don’t trust you though, which is why I will be keeping both eyes on you, especially around my sister.”
“Dani is really your sister? You don’t look alike in one bit. She and Sarah look alike, but they don’t look like you.” He stated absently, still watching the water.
“Why are you here?” Lena asked, ignoring the question. “And don’t lie to me, or I swear I’ll make you pay.”
“That would be highly entertaining.” He stated, standing up and turning to face her. “Believe me; I’m not as easy to take out as I look.” He smiled. “Even for someone like you. So, make me pay if you think I owe you something, we all have debts we must pay one way or another, but think very carefully on whether I do in fact owe you something, or if maybe you’re the one in debt. I don’t intend to lie, and the truth is: I see no reason why I should give you any answers.”
Lena glared at him. “Excuse me?”
“You’re excused... For this, at least.” Bastian said, smiling. After a moment or two of silence he chuckled. “You know, sometimes it’s easier to get what you want by playing nice. I don’t hold this attitude of yours against you though, I’m sure it usually works. Doesn’t work with me though, I’m not easily impressed, or intimidated. So, would you like to maybe rephrase your questions a little? No? Then I guess I’ll go make myself useful somewhere…”
Lena frowned, half amused, half annoyed by that attitude. As Bastian started to walk past her, she grabbed him by the arm. “Do you play chess, kid?”
“Never played, no.” Bastian answered.
Lena let go of his arm and turned. “Would you like to learn?”
“Why would you teach me anything?” He asked her, raising an eyebrow.
"Do you want to learn?" She repeated.
Bastian seemed to flinch for a split second, it was the first time Lena had ever seen that in him, and it was intriguing. Finally, he nodded gently. "I'm always willing to learn."
Lena sighed, walking past him. “Just follow me then, and let’s leave the ‘whys’ out of this for now.”

[6 months later]

It was the middle of the night. Lena was asleep, soundly for the first time in months, exhausted from training recruits all day. That was when something seemed to change in the sounds of the camp. A silence that was just unusually cold. Something was just not right, and before Lena could open her eyes, she knew what it was. A familiar voice screamed in the distance, and was silenced almost immediately. In the time it took Lena to get on her feet and reach her weapons, mere seconds, more screams had broken out through camp. The ones coming from the recruits’ dormitories were particularly terrifying. She stormed out of her cabin and followed the sounds of fighting. The Instructors’ dormitory was up in flames, as well as the armory and several other important installations. The fires seemed to have been set strategically on those specific points; this was a planned attack.
As the shock began to settle, she unsheathed her sword as spotted one of the attackers leaving the leaders’ cabin. She stopped herself before going after the man, the need to see if there were survivors surpassed the urge to make him pay. So she turned her back to the fleeing Wolf Hunter and ran into the house, feeling as if her blood was freezing in her veins as she came across the scene.
Dani and Bastian were both sitting on the ground, Dani’s arm was bleeding, but she didn’t seem to even notice her own bleeding wound, she was holding Sarah in her arms, and the girl was… Clearly dead. There was a pool of blood on the ground, where Lena imagined the body had fallen. Bastian was sitting next to her, with one hand grasping her shoulder as if he had been trying to get her to move. He looked Lena in the eyes and nodded apologetically as she walked all the way into the room and closed the door behind her. She knelt down beside Sarah and closed the little girl's eyes. “Daniela.” She whispered. “She’s gone. You need to let go now.”
Dani simply nodded in response, laying Sarah’s body down on the ground slowly. Lena took the time to observe Dani more carefully. Her face was pale and she was shivering uncontrollably. “Bastian, find Eldric and tell him to gather any wounded and put them in my cabin.” Bastian nodded and stood up to leave. As he walked past Lena she added. “After you do that, we are going to have a serious talk.”

As she heard the door close, Lena moved closer to Dani and started to examine the wound on her arm. “This isn’t so serious.” She mumbled to herself about the wound. “You need to tell me what happened.” She told Dani as she stood up to find a medicine kit their mother kept in the office.
“I woke up when Sarah screamed and… When I got up she was…“
Dani’s voice faded before she could reach the word ‘dead’. Lena froze halfway through reaching for bandages, when it finally hit her. “Dead.” She completed the sentence as she walked back next to Dani to find her standing up and moving towards the door. Lena moved to block the door. “Hey, wait, let me at least bandage that wound.”
“I’m fine.” Dani mumbled in response trying to get past her.
“You’re not fine.” Lena stated, grabbing both her shoulders and pushing her away from the door. “And you don’t want to see what is out there right now.”
As she said that the door opened behind them and Eldric’s voice sounded in her ears. “Twins have mercy… Sarah.”
“Close the door Eldric.” Lena muttered, still trying to hold Dani back. She moved her hands to the sides of the girl’s face and forced her to look her in the eyes. “Dani, look at me. Look. At. Me. You have to stop and take a breath, do you understand me? You have to stop now.”
Dani stopped trying to leave shaking her head out of Lena's hold, her eyes lowered to the ground, tears finally starting to run down her face. “She was just a kid, she never hurt anyone.”
Lena nodded pulling her sister into a hug as she finally started to break down. “I know… I know.” Lena sighed softly, unable to find any more words. Her eyes locked on the small figure laid on the bloody floor. Sarah’s innocent face was cold and pale and her once bright blue eyes were now closed and empty. Her short life had ended over absolutely nothing: A pointless and unnecessary death. “Animals.” she muttered. “All of them.”
Dani nodded in agreement, still crying on her shoulder. “I’ll kill them for this. Every last one of them, I swear. Even if it’s the last thing I do, they’ll pay for her death.”

[The following morning]

Light was starting to break through the branches of the forest trees as the Sun arose in Valcrest once more; a beautiful morning like no other, but not for the assassins. The Wolfpack never slept, tears, blood and screams filled the night. The sight of the dead recruits had been enough to break the spirits of the strongest amongst those so called ‘cold blooded killers’. Only two instructors remained: Lena and Eldric. Her luck was that she didn’t share a dormitory with the others, and Eldric seemed to have been wandering around camp when the attack occurred, unable to sleep. The recruits weren’t so lucky; their dead bodies were all accounted for. Their leaders had been taken out, leaving a rather traumatized 17 year old in command. Dani didn’t even seem to realize the amount of weight suddenly dropped on her shoulders.

Lena had left Dani under Bastian’s watch. Funny enough, he seemed to be the only other person who was able to stop her from storming out and attempting to go on the killing spree she seemed to have promised herself. It was a bad idea, they all knew it, but it seemed like it would eventually happen nonetheless. Lena would have stayed with Dani herself, wasn’t for the fact that someone needed to take control, and the instructors were the highest ranked assassins aside from the leaders, so… There was quite a bit of work cut out for her.

Most of the night was spent carrying bodies of recruits for burial, speaking to the parents of those born in the clan, those were things no one else seemed willing to do, but someone had to get it done. Grieving parents and dead children aside, there was cleaning of the burning facilities, rebuilding to be planned and executed, and yelling to be heard from terrified actives who didn’t seem to understand how they were so easily infiltrated. By the end of it all, there was only one thing Lena wanted for herself; and that was to be alone. The lake had always proven to be a good retreat, so that is where she went first. As she sat down near the water, with her back against a tree, she finally felt the exhaustion take over her body and mind. It felt painful and, at the same time, it was a release. A much needed rest as a well as the dreaded moment when she finally had to think of what had happened, what was happening, worse of all: What was about to happen.

The pain getting the best of her, finally, the tears escaped her blue eyes as she hid her face in her hands and let out a scream that was sure to be heard throughout the camp, her eyes glowed a bright blue light as the memories of the night before resurfaced one by one in her mind. One by one, the painful moments were relived, over and over, and over in what seemed to be a never-ending nightmare... Until she finally felt a firm grip on her shoulder. A vaguely familiar voice sounded in her ears, calm and warm. “Child, control yourself.”
Lena opened her eyes to find the leader of the White Shadows looking at her with a rather terrified expression that didn’t quite match the calm tone of his voice. For a second she wondered what the man had seen, but most of all… She wondered how he managed to free himself from the vision. After a second or two of silence, the man spoke again. “When was the last time you had something to eat?” He asked her.
“I-I don’t know.” She told him, trying not to look up to the other people who had now ran into the clearing and were shooting her terrified glances. She kept her gaze locked on the man before her, until he stood straight and offered his hand to help her up.
“Come, you need to regain some of your strength.” He told her, not waiting for her to accept his aid and grabbing her wrist to get her to stand, walking her across camp past a few small crowds of terrified people and to the cafeteria. As Lena got on her feet, she realized she felt awfully lightheaded and weak, but she managed to stumble her way past the actives, that immediately backed away when she walked near them. She simply nodded at them, she knew they had no idea what that hell had just happened, but knew she had done it.

She followed the healer into the dining area, she didn’t usually go there, but she didn’t argue with that or the bowl of soup that was already waiting for her, she simply sat across the table from the man, honestly wishing he would just stop looking at her.
“When was the last time you had an episode like this?” He asked, that same calm tone of voice.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Lena muttered in response.
The man nodded. “Still playing dumb Helena? You just gave everyone in this camp a very realistic vision of their worst nightmare. Now, I refuse to believe this is the first time you lose control like this.”
“Eight years ago. That was the last time.” She mumbled, starting to pick on the food.
“What triggered it?” He asked.
“None of your concern.” She said, starting to eat so she wouldn’t have to talk any more than necessary.
“I’m not concerned.” He explained. “But you must know that this will keep happening if you don’t learn to manage your ability.”
“Humph.” She mumbled.
The healer let out a small chuckle. “Well, I guess that means you feel better.” He said, starting to stand up. “Listen kid, this can be dangerous one day. I believe you are smart enough to understand that.” The healer took a small bow as he walked past her. “May the goddess protect you, child.”
“A little too late for that, don't you think?” Lena muttered to herself, pushing the bowl of soup aside and laying her head down on the table.
"It's never too late, Lena Turner... Not until you give up." The man's voice sounded, as if whispering in the back of her mind. Lena lifted her head and looked around the cafeteria to see that he had in fact left.

[Two days later – Middle of the night]

Lena was making her way out of camp, for the last time, when she eventually heard footsteps following her. “Unless you want to follow me all the way to Newhaven, Eldric, I suggest you go back now.” She said, stopping and turning to face the man that had stepped out of his hiding place.
“Please tell me you at least said goodbye to your sister.” He said with a frown.
“Dani knows I’m leaving, we already… Discussed it.” She told him. "I did not say goodbye, however. Goodbye is something you say when you leave a person, and I'm never leaving Dani, she knows that, even though right now it may not matter as much."
“Why are you doing this? Whatever happened to that kid who wanted to be the best? This was your life.” He argued.
“She’s dead, Eldric: Dead and buried. That life is over.” She nodded. “I’m sorry, but I can’t take part in this crusade Dani is insisting on. I can’t. It’s too much even for us and she will regret it one day. I told her so.” She stated with a disappointed look in her eyes. “See, I’ve learned something about the Wolf Hunters, funny enough, Bastian taught me this: We all pay for the decisions we make and the only way to stay sane is to draw a line. They crossed it, one way or another they’ll pay for this, why must we become like them and pay for it as well?” She took a step towards the man and laid a hand gently on his shoulder. “This is where I draw my line, El. I’m done. The Pack has been good to me, but this is where we part our ways.”
He nodded. “What about me?”
She smiled at him and pulled him closer. “…You? You are going home now. That’s all.”
“I mean... Are you leaving me?” He stated.
Lena seemed to freeze at the question, freeze at the fact that it was being asked this way... Why would she be forced to decide this now, like this? Finally she heaved a shaky sigh. “We both know that, no matter what, you love the Pack more than anything.” She answered. “Some things are just… Out of our hands. This was always one of them, no matter how badly we wished it wasn't.” She told him, placing both hands on the sides of his face. Pulling him a little bit closer, she pressed her forehead against his, and whispered. “I’ll miss you. You know that.”
Eldric sighed. “I already missed you, it seems.” He whispered back, leaning into her as if she was the only thing keeping him from falling.
Lena chuckled softly, glad that it was too dark to tell if there were any tears being contained behind his eyes. "Goodbye, love." She stated. "We'll always have the knowledge that I can kick your ass."
Eldric couldn't help a shaky laugh as he pulled away from her. "If I didn't know you any better, I'd offer you anything just to make you stay with me."
She smirked. "If I didn't know you any better, I'd say it would be easier if you just came along, but we both know where those paths would lead us, and it's best if we not go there." Turning back towards the path to Newhaven, she waved over her shoulder. "Keep an eye on those kids for me."

[Flashback - White Shadows Encampment, 29 years in the past]

“Concentrate.” The healer’s voice sounded in the young woman’s ears. Lena was trying to shield her own memories from a far more experienced telepath, with little success. Suddenly the image of the Wolfpack encampment flashed through her mind: A conversation by the lake; her graduation day… The knife… That whole conversation was uncomfortable… She didn’t want to be there anymore… She couldn’t get out…

Panic…

Can’t breathe…

Darkness…

“Wake up.” Lena heard her master speak in a calm and gentle tone, yet she could still feel the disappointment masked behind it.
“W-what happened?” She mumbled, now realizing she was flat on her back, the memory of what had just happened slowly coming back to her… She panicked, her heart began to pound against her chest, and she couldn't breathe right… Finally, she fainted. “That didn’t go very well, did it?” She asked, beginning to sit up, groaning as she felt the ache in her head.
“What happened?” The man asked her suddenly.
“I don’t know, I think I might have… lost focus.” She muttered, rubbing her temples.
“No… I mean, what happened that day, by the lake, with your mother. What did she say to you that was so terrifying?” He clarified.
“I wasn’t terrified.” Lena protested, looking up to the man seating on the grass in front of her.

The healer laughed in response. “You can’t fool me with your words, child. I saw it in your eyes: You panicked. All you wanted to do was get out of that memory. Yet, your mind keeps dragging you back to that moment in your life. You may not know it, but your mind knows it: That moment was very meaningful.”
“Bullshit.” Lena muttered under her breath, trying to control the shivers down her spine.
“What did we agree on?” He asked her, severely.
Lena sighed at the question. She hated being treated like a five year old. “That I wouldn’t run away from anything anymore.” She mumbled, looking at the ground for a moment before closing her eyes. “I don’t want to go back there.”
“Why not?” He asked. “It’s in the past, it shouldn’t be able to hurt you, and if it still does, then it’s not truly in the past.” He paused for a second, waiting for her to calm a little more, before asking: "What was so important about that conversation?"

"That's when she told me." Lena murmured in a barely audible tone. "What happened to my birth mother."
"I see... And were you angry?" The man asked.
"I was furious." Lena said, looking up at him. "She had no right to do that to me."
"Kill your mother, you mean?"
"No. Tell me the truth." Lena replied. "I mean... I knew the truth, but I deserved the right to at least pretend. She took that from me that day."
"She loved you Lena. She thought you deserved to hear the truth from her." He stated.
"She felt guilty!" Lena exclaimed. "She didn't care how that would affect me, she did it to ease whatever bit of conscience she had left!"
"You don't think that was difficult for her? Telling the truth and not knowing what your reaction would be, whether you would hate her for it or not?" He asked, his eyes locked on her. "Can you imagine what it might be like to confess to something like this to someone you love and face the possibility of losing that person forever?" He asked, giving Lena a moment or two of thought before adding a less rhetorical question. "Tell me: How does her death make you feel?"

At those words, Lena simply stood up and began to walk away. That was just about as much as she could take in that moment.

"You have to stop running, Helena." She heard her Master's voice call after her.

[1 year later]

“Why her? A former assassin, of all people, why?”
“Helena is no longer an assassin, she is a healer. I’ve made my decision based on what skills I believe are important in a leader.”
“And this… Child, fits the criteria, Jonathan? Seriously?”
“Not yet, but she will.”
“Better than any other of our clan?”
“Better than anyone else I have known; including myself.”

. . .

Lena was seated, remembering the conversation that had taken place in front of the entire camp, only a few weeks ago, when the man named Jonathan Witter had announced her as his successor in the command of the clan. The day she arrived, the man had said that he could help her, but it would cost her… If only she knew this was what he meant.

Since then she had studied night and day, worked on developing her ability, survived initiation, made friends and enemies alike, and above all else… She had lives in her hands; so many of them she couldn’t possibly keep track, so many faces that it was impossible to completely remember a single one. So many stories cut short by the cold hands of Death…

“One day you’ll understand that Death is not the enemy, child.” Her Master had told her. “Until then there will be pain.”

The White Shadows preached that the only type of Peace that was actually real was inner peace. To be in peace with oneself was never an easy task, it was something only few people had managed to achieve; even amongst the Shadows. True inner Peace to them meant complete and total acceptance of the fact that some things are simply impossible to control and therefore cannot be helped. It sounds easy, but it wasn’t. Lena was almost sure she would never understand that concept in her lifetime.

“You’re still a child now, but don’t worry; you’ll see it eventually.” A faint voice spoke in the dark room, forcing the young woman to raise her head and face her mentor as he lay ill.
“Stupid old fart!” Lena muttered. “Get out of my mind.”
The man attempted to laugh, but it was interrupted by coughing and he was forced to stop, taking what seemed to be a very painful breath. “Stop thinking so loud.” He replied, in a weak voice.
“You can’t just leave me here.” She mumbled. “I can’t lead these people. I don’t know how…”
“You will know how. You will know everything in time. Just remember what we agreed on.” The man told her. “Finish what you start, keep as many promises as you can, do everything in your power, and accept the fact that some things are simply beyond it.” He coughed a little more and added. “Do that and trust your instincts. You’ll be fine.”
“How… I can’t even…” Lena sighed; irritated at the fact she couldn’t even find the words to voice her concerns. She wanted to accept the fact that her leader was going to die, that she had done all she could, she wanted to accept, like she had been taught, but it was just too difficult when she was so frightened and angry.

“You will always be angry, child. The beauty of Heart's gift is that it was never something for us to control. One day, maybe soon, maybe later, you will have seen enough of Life to comprehend the fact that Death is not and will never be the villain of this story. Then you will be able to accept, but there will always be anger, even if only for a moment. No one wants to see the end, even if it is inevitable.”

[5 months later]

"Hello. I hear you're the leader of the clan now and... Excuse me?" Lena flinched slightly as a hand was waved in front of her eyes. She turned to see a smiling blonde woman, who seemed to be no older than her early twenties, staring at her a little confused, and her light blue eyes showing clear amusement. "Are you alright, Miss...?"

"Turner." Lena replied. "Helena Turner, you can call me Lena." She stated opening up an amused smile of her own. "I'm sorry, I'm perfectly alright. I was just a little bit distracted, it's been a long morning. What can I help you with?"
"Amanda Blake." The blonde woman introduced herself. "That is my husband, Michael, over there." She pointed at a tall man with dark brown hair carrying a longbow at his back. Michael was casually chatting with a couple of healers in what seemed to Lena like a very friendly tone, laughs could be heard from the small group from time to time, and they all seemed to be a reaction to something the man had to say. Amanda waited for Lena to look back to her before she continued to speak. "John Witters had an arrangement with the villages, are you aware of said arrangement?"
"I am aware of all my responsibilities, Amanda. Master's death was not as sudden as rumors seem to tell." Lena replied with a slightly saddened smile. "He had more than enough time to prepare me."
Amanda nodded, noting the slightly defensive tone in the other woman's voice. "He was leader of this clan for over thirty years, Lena. It won't be easy to take his place, I understand that. They will resist you at first, but don't let it get to you... People just tend to dislike change."
Lena chuckled. "Thank you for the support... Uh... Person I just met."
Amanda giggled softly. "Well, it's noticeable that you are under quite a bit of stress." She stated casually. "Were you born around here?"
"I was born in a village called Rosefeld. I have no memory of the place, however. I only lived there the first two years of my life."
"Ah... That's my village!" Amanda seemed to beam with excitement. "You should come visit us some time! It's truly a beautiful place." She gave a little playful wink. "Besides, what kind of a Leader do you expect to be if you don't know your neighbors, Mistress Lena?"
Lena had to laugh at being called that. "Oh, please don't ever say that again. It sounds way too strange." She chuckled a bit more. "Just Lena is fine, alright?" She asked. "And I will be sure to take your advice. I wouldn't want to be a terrible leader, now would I?"
Amanda chuckled. "Alright, if you prefer it. My friends call me Andy, actually, for shorts." She informed, opening a playful grin. "And I will hold you to that Miss Lena."
Lena raised an eyebrow in amusement. "I see, so... Am I your friend, or should I just keep calling you Amanda?" She asked.
Amanda chuckled softly. "Whichever you decide, Lena." She answered, smiling kindly at the other woman. "On my end... I'll always welcome another friend."

[Flashback - Blackpond, 22 years and 5 months in the past]

"I got it mommy!" A little girl's voice called, followed by the sound of running footsteps on the other side of the wooden door.

"Jessica, wait, don't open the door to strangers!" A woman’s voice called after the child.

The door cracked open and a little eight year old girl with bright green eyes and light brown hair peeked through it. Lena smiled and waved in greeting, causing the girl to chuckle and wave back before calling out. "Mommy, stranger!"

"I told you to never open the door, Jess!" Linda scolded on her way to the door, but her frown disappeared the moment she looked at the person who was standing on her doorstep; a wide smile crossing her features, as she pretty much pounced on the healer and trapped her in a tight hug. "I can't believe you're here!"

Lena chuckled softly, returning the hug and at the same time pushing her friend back into the house. "A little less noise, please. I'm not supposed to be here, remember?"
"Sorry..." The woman laughed, breaking the hug to close the door of the house. "I just didn't think you would show up."
"Me neither." Lena replied with a little chuckle. "But then, I couldn't miss the opportunity to meet my niece and nephew."
"Jakey is sleeping." Jesse informed, now peeking at Lena from behind her mother.
"Is that so?" Lena asked her. "Well, then I guess we should be very quiet, huh?" She crouched down to meet the girl's eye level, and smiled. "Say, you are Jessica, right?"
"Maybe." She answered, glancing up at her mother and then back to Lena. "Depends on who's asking."
Lena chuckled. "Oh, I see. Well... Can you keep a secret?"
"Uh-huh." Jesse answered, nodding.
"Well, see, your daddy is my brother." Lena told her.
"Really? If that's true then how come I don't know you?" The girl asked, in a suspicious tone.
"Jessica..." Linda sighed.
Lena laughed. "No, no... That's a fair question." She stated. "Well, your father and I had a fight, a long time ago, and he's still mad at me. I think, he'll probably be mad at me forever."
"Forever is a long time to be mad." Jesse stated.
"True. So, are you Jessica, or not?" Lena repeated the question.
"Yes, I am." The girl answered. "And what is your name?"
"Helena. You can call me Lena, it's shorter." She smiled. "So, seeing as you are Jessica, then I have something for you."
"Like a gift?" Jesse asked, a hopeful tone in her voice.
"Yes, exactly like a gift." Lena answered, pulling a small leather pouch from inside her bag and offering it to the girl.
Jesse took the little pouch and opened it, her eyes lighting up in excitement as she pulled a thin golden chain and a gold locket from it. "It's so pretty!" She exclaimed. "Can I really keep it, really?"
"Sure you can. It's a gift." Lena replied.
Jesse was simply bouncing with excitement. "Look mommy!" She said, immediately putting the chain around her neck.
"I see, love. It's very beautiful. And what do you say?" Linda asked, pushing her daughter out of her hiding spot behind the skirt of her dress.
Jesse cleared her throat as if she was preparing to make a speech and said. "Thank you Lena, I love it. I'm never taking this off, ever!"
"Good. Because you know, this locket is really special. I was told that it's blessed and if you wear it all the time, then the Twins will watch over you."
"And you believe everything you're told?" Jesse asked curiously.
Lena chuckled, standing up straight and giving a light shrug.. "If it's good, why not?"
Jesse laughed. "Even if it's silly?"
"Faith can be a silly thing sometimes, but it makes people feel safe. Do you understand?"
Jesse nodded in agreement. "I think so." She answered, although her expression made clear she didn't. "You're a healer." She pointed out, tugging on the sleeve of her robes. "Are you the healer that saved mommy's life?"
Lena raised an eyebrow at her friend, slightly amused. "Oh, goody. You still tell people that story."
"People? I told my daughter that story, yes. It's a good one." Linda chuckled. "Yes, Jess, this is the lady who saved my life."
"Cool!" She exclaimed. "Can I be a healer too when I grow up?"
Lena laughed. "You know what? If your father says it's alright then you can." She replied, giving a little playful wink before changing the subject. "So, tell me, do you like having a little a brother?" Lena asked.
"It's okay. He doesn't do much yet, but he giggles and it's cute." She said casually. "I still want a little sister though." She added, frowning slightly.
Lena chuckled. "Jess, give your mother some time. She can't take care of so many kids at once."
"Why not? I'll help!" She smiled.
Linda laughed, running her fingers through her daughter's hair gently. "I know you will, love. Maybe when Jakey is a little older, Okay?
Jess let out an impatient sigh. "Okay." She agreed, running into the kitchen. "I want cinnamon cookies, then!"
Linda chuckled. "Children settle for so little, huh?"

[Flashback - Blackpond, approximately 20 years in the past]

Lena was surprised to get a letter from her brother, even more sense the letter simply instructed her to meet David underneath the oak tree in Blackpond. She didn't understand why her brother had the sudden urge to see her all of a sudden, but something was telling her that it wasn't good.

"Have you seen Linda?" David's voice sounded behind her in a low whisper.
"What?" Lena turned to face the man prepared to scold him for having her go all the way there for this, but the moment she laid eyes on him she realized it wasn't an accusation, he was sincerely hoping she would say 'yes'. "What happened David?"
"I don't know. I got home last night and Jess was alone with Jake. She said Linda had gone to the market and hadn't come home. I have people looking for her, but I hoped..."
"I haven't seen her in a couple of years. She hasn't sent me any letters lately either. Where are your kids?" She asked.
"They're fine, Nate's wife is watching them. You're a telepath, can't you find her?"
"My enlightenment doesn't work that way, I'm sorry."
"I don't know what else to do, I..." David stopped what he was about to say next, looking over Lena's shoulder. She didn't look to see who it was, and she was sure that, whoever it was, wasn't bringer of good news. The man walked straight past Lena and reached David, placing one hand on his shoulder and leaning in to whisper something to him.

Lena didn't have to hear a word, it was clear in David's eyes that something had just been taken from him, shattered painfully. The look in his eyes said it all, and she knew her friend was gone forever. "What happened?"
The man turned to face Lena, but didn't say anything until David said it was okay, then he explained that Linda had been found in the woods not far from the city walls, stabbed, her coin purse missing. "Looks like she was robbed, but... It seems excessive force for a coin purse."
"People do more for less." Lena mumbled, her eyes still locked on David; he had sat by the oak, face hidden in his hands. "Can I see her Nate? I want to see her." He mumbled. "No wait, I have to go see my kids... What am I going to say to them?"
Lena sighed heavily, rubbing her temples as she spoke. "Look, why don't you go see her and I'll talk to them? Seeing you like this won't help them."
"I can't ask you to tell my children their mother is... That she's..."
"Dead." Lena finished. "You didn't ask me anything, and I give people news like this every day, it's a great part of what I do, unfortunately."
David hesitated, but he simply didn't have it in him to argue with that. "Alright."

Lena was slow on the way to her brother's house, not only was she in no hurry to do this, she also needed to let her emotions out of the way before she got there. Usually she would want to see the body, the only reason why she had asked to do this instead was because she knew David would have a meltdown, and she thought it'd be better if he didn't have it in front of his kids. By the time she reached the doorstep it had started to rain, a thin cold rain, the type that would eventually freeze when winter came for good. As she knocked on the door of the house a familiar voice sounded. "I'll get it!"
"Jessica, wait!" A female voice called after the girl, but whoever it was didn't stop Jesse from reaching the door. "Lena?" She asked. "What are you doing here?"
"Still opening the door to strangers, I see... You know that's dangerous don't you?"
"I thought it was Nate..." She mumbled apologetically. "What are you doing here?" She repeated the question.
"I'll tell you, but first, can I come in?" Lena asked.
"Sure." The girl answered, stepping aside so that Lena could enter the house, and closing the door after her. "You're here because of mom, right?"
"Right." Lena answered, following Jesse into the house.
Jesse glanced to the living room where a blonde woman was playing with her little brother, attempting to act as if nothing was wrong and shook her head. "My room." She stated, leading Lena down a small hallway and through the door of her bedroom. She then immediately cleared a small mess from a chair and motioned for Lena to take a seat.

The moment Lena sat down and faced Jesse, seated on the bed across the room, it was perfectly clear that the girl already knew what she was going to say. A fact that was confirmed when Jesse broke the silence.

"She's not coming back, is she?" The girl asked; a very serious tone in her voice.
"No, she's not coming back." Lena confirmed. "I'm sorry, kid."
"Where's my dad?" She continued.
"Your father has some arrangements he needs to make. He'll be home soon though."
"You mean... Funeral arrangements, right? I knew... I knew something was wrong like that. I... I knew mom wouldn't just leave us alone. She always said where she was going so I would know she would be back soon... I should have called Nate when she didn't come back right away... I shouldn't have waited for dad..." Jesse shook her head, tears forming in her eyes as her voice faded for a moment. "What happened?"
"They say it was robbery." Lena stated.
"They say? You don't think it was?" She asked.
Lena frowned slightly. She'd forgotten how damn smart that kid was. "I don't know, I don't see why it wouldn't be. I just don't know for sure, that's all."
Jesse seemed to settle for that, and she nodded her agreement. "What do I tell Jake? He can't really understand what happened."
"Your brother is too little to understand, you're right. Just tell him something along the lines of 'mommy is in Heaven now' and explain that she won't come back. He'll miss her at first, but he'll adapt. When he gets old enough to ask question you can tell him the truth."
Jesse nodded again. "Do you think he'll forget her?"
Lena sighed softly. "I think... He won't forget as long as you're here to remind him."
"Will you... Will you have to leave when dad gets home?" Jesse asked a slight hopeful tone in her voice.
"I will. I'm sorry, but I'm sure your father will still want me gone the moment he comes to his senses again."
Jesse nodded, although disappointment filled her eyes as she started to fiddle with the golden chain around her neck and mumbled. "He's barely ever here anyway."
"Jessica, listen to me... You know where to find me, and how to reach me, yes?" Lena asked.
"Yes." She answered.
"Then you're not alone." She smiled. "Have you decided it yet?"
"What?" The girl asked, looking at her in confusion.
"Have you decided if the locket protects you or not?" She asked.
"Oh, of course it does." She stated, a little smile breaking through. "Why else would I wear it all the time?"

[Flashback - Blackpond, approximately 16 years in the past]

It was raining and the rain was just so familiar that it ached. Lena was silently watching as a group of men and women dressed in Guard uniform paid their respects to their fallen Captain. It wasn't for the death of her brother that Lena had come, as much as it hurt to know that she had never managed to get him to forgive her, and that he was gone, she didn't walk all the way to Blackpond simply to say her goodbyes. Rather, she was there to see that his children were taken care of. Within a few minutes her eyes caught a small boy standing in a daze, nodding slightly as several people passed him giving kind words and patting him on the shoulders. Not far from him was his fifteen year old sister. Lena was distracted watching the children, and didn't watch her surroundings the way she should, a voice brought her back to reality in a growl.

"Get out."
"Nathaniel... Nice to see you." Lena replied.
"Get out, now. You're not welcome here." Nate insisted.
"I'm not going anywhere, I stayed away to respect my brother's decision to not have me in his life. He had that right Nate, but his life is over now. So I kept my promise."
"As long as he, or anyone who owes him loyalty still breathes. As you can see, Healer, I breathe." The man muttered.
"Still." Lena stated with a little smirk. "Life is fragile my friend."
That did it for Nate, as soon enough he was shouting at Lena to leave in the middle of the funeral, drawing everyone's attention to the two of them. Lena simply stood watching the man yell with a raised eyebrow until Jessica came and stood between the two of them.

"Nate, that's enough." She stated, glaring at the man. "You're making a scene and this is a cemetery." Nate glared at Lena with pure rage in his eyes, but didn't say anything more, and simply walked away. Jesse waited until the man was far enough to smile at Lena . "What did you say to him?"
"Whatever do you mean, kiddo?" Lena asked faking an innocent look. "He's upset, it’s good for him to yell at someone." She stated simply. "So... How are you holding up?"
"I don't know yet." Jesse replied with a small shrug. "I think I should be more upset, like when mom died, but I... I'm just tired."
"That's the toll Death takes kiddo. The more it takes the less you feel."
"The less you feel the more it takes." Jess added. "I know that saying too, Lena. The White Shadows are full of them, mom used to say."
"I'm sure she did." Lena replied with a slight smirk. "Listen, kid, you know that if things get too rough over here you can always come live with me."
"In the Plains?" Jesse chuckled. "Oh, I don't know... It's so peaceful. I might not get used to it." She then sighed and shook her head. "I appreciate it, I really do, but I can't really imagine leaving Blackpond despite everything. It's... Home."
Lena nodded in agreement. "I understand that, but keep it in mind, huh? Yes?"
Jesse nodded. "I will, I promise." She stated. "Right now though, I need to think about taking Jake home and feeding him some dinner. Do I dare ask you to stay and eat with us?"
"No, I can't... I've been away for too long already. I only stopped by to check on you, now I have to go." Lena smiled. "Home, you know?"
"I do." Jesse nodded. "I certainly do."
"Alright then, kiddo..." Lena said, pulling the girl into a tight hug. "You'll take care of yourself, right? I don't need to worry about you?"
"You don't, but you will." Jess snickered. "I'll be fine, Lena. I can take care of myself."

[Flashback - Village of Rosefeld, a little over 10 years ago

“You don’t believe me either, do you?” Amanda sighed heavily as she watched Lena’s expression. "I know what I sound like, but I’m not paranoid. I know what I saw, Lena.”
“You know what you saw, but do you know what it means?” Lena asked. “I mean, you’re interpreting things a certain way, but… Are you sure that what you saw isn’t just a coincidence?”
“It might be, but I don’t believe it. There are too many signs, too many similarities. We are being watched by them. They prey on our weakest links, they turn us against each other, and they break us from the inside. And… And if they reach this village, then my family will be the first to die.”
“You are saying that…?” Lena asked, raising an eyebrow.
“I never say that. Nor will I ever say it.” Amanda replied. “When my father died, he made sure I got away. He told me everything I needed to know. Even though his mind was no longer reliable enough, he sometimes recognized me, and even when he thought I was my mother, or someone from his childhood… He’d tell me things. I believed in those things. I looked for signs of it being truth, and I found them.” She chuckled softly, looking at Lena with amusement. “I know what you’re thinking: Did I find them because they were actually there, or were they only there because I wanted to find them?” She shrugged. “I don’t know, and I can’t know. I’d rather believe this than risk my family out of fear of being called a fool.” She smiled. “That’s the reason why I’ve called you here. You’re the person I trust the most, not the mention the smartest friend I have. I know that even if you don’t entirely believe me, you will do this for me…” With that said she stood from her seat by the kitchen table and walked out of the room, leaving Lena to stare at the doorway with an intrigued look on her face. As she returned, he had a book with her; a plain leather journal. She placed the book on the table before Lena. “The seer has told me that… She told me that when they do come for us, one of my children will get away… If so, then I would like that child to have this.”
Lena took the journal and put it in her bag without arguing, but sighed. “Why don’t you leave the village then?”
Amanda ignored the questions, shaking her head slightly and leaning back in her seat. “Just promise you will keep the book safe.”

[Flashback – Wolfpack Camp, approximately 4 years in the past]

“How are you holding up?” Lena felt the stupid question coming out of her mouth the moment she crossed the door to Dani’s house, unwillingly, like an extremely nasty habit she thought she had managed to get rid of years ago.
Dani snorted slightly in annoyance, a trace of a smile crossed her lips, but very well concealed. Leaning against the wooden table in the office, Dani stared at Lena for a very long moment before breaking her silence. “Been a while.” She stated simply, ignoring the question.
“It has.” Lena agreed, taking a seat in a nearby chair. There was almost no light in the cabin, and Dani didn’t look like she had slept in a while.
“Here.” Dani pulled a piece of paper from the table. “Myths of Medicine… That’s the book you gave Bastian, isn’t it? What is on this page?”
Lena’s eyes widened and she muttered a curse under her breath, crushing the paper in her hand.
“What? What does it mean?” Dani pushed. “Lena… What does it mean!?”
Lena didn’t answer, she had let the paper fallen to the ground and hidden her face in her hands, leaning forward as if something ached deeply. “I’m sorry… I’m so sorry… I’m so sorry…” She let out a low growl before uncovering her eyes to face Dani. “I had him… I had him all this time! He was right under my nose, but I didn’t… How didn’t I see?” She stood up rubbing her temples, reviewing years of memories of one single individual and finding all the signs she missed. It was so clear!
“You’re saying this man is from your clan?” Dani asked, her expression closing into a severe one as she glared at her older sister. “Who is he?”
“Not as important as who he used to be…” Lena sighed. “He was one of yours Dani. A long time ago he was brought to my camp severely wounded, I recognized that he was Wolf, but I also recognized the knife lodged in his back as the weapon of a Wolf… I decided not to send for you. I allowed him to stay… Become one of us… I gave him access to our files, our knowledge…”
“Perry?” Dani muttered, her glare turning more intense. “I searched for him! You never told me anything! Why…” She stopped herself and took a deep breath. “Confidentiality, fine. How did he get past your enlightenment with all the lies he surely told?”
“I don’t know.” Lena stated. “I honestly don’t know, but there are ways to get through any enlightenment and we study these things… It’s part of our training to know enlightenments and how to manage them.”
“No one ever got past you before… And Alistair… He’s an empath! How did he safely hid in your camp while killing all those people? How is it possible!?”

"I don't know how he did it Dani. What do you want from me?" Lena was shouting, she knew better than anyone just how badly mistaken she had been; for years. She couldn't understand how it happened.
"I want you to explain to me, how a man infiltrated your clan with the intent to murder and neither you nor Alistair caught on to him!" Dani exclaimed. "I'm not accusing you of anything, that would be pointless, but I need to understand."
"I don't understand!" Lena shouted again. She had never been fooled, by anyone, in her entire life. She wasn't a bleeding heart, she didn't fall for sob stories. She only valued people that had been able to prove their worth. This man had, and still... He was nothing he had made himself out to be. "I don't...Understand." She sighed, hiding her face in her hands. Dani was the only person to ever see her in this state, she had only been in such a state two times before. Dani's hand grabbed her shoulder and Lena heard her sigh before breaking the silence. "You can't blame yourself for this." She stated.
"I saved his life, trained him, and gave him every information he needed to hunt those people and kill them. Don't patronize me, every life he took is on my hands. Your husband's life included!"

A loud thud caused Lena to raise her head. Dani had slammed her fist on the wooden table. "Don't ever repeat that. Never. Do you understand? We have walked this path before, you know where it leads!" She sighed. "Don't ever repeat that." She asked in a softer tone.
Lena nodded. "Well... He better pray you find him before I do. I swear, I don't even know what I would be capable of if I ever lay my eyes on him again."
“Well, now we know who he is” Dani stated. “That’s something… We can go to Newhaven and offer his head for their bounty to be lifted.”
“So I assume you’re going to tell them? You have a group going after this man, so you should tell them who he is, right?”
Dani kept silent for a while then she replied. “No.”
“No!?” Lena exclaimed. “Aren’t they supposed to know what they’re dealing with?”
“No… Evin shouldn’t know about this yet. Not until he sees…” She sighed heavily. “If I tell Crys, she will tell him… No. I’ll only tell Theron, he will look after the others. It’s better this way.”

Lena spent most of the day with Dani and they talked of several things, unpleasant things of the past and of the future. She manage to talk Dani into food and exhaust her into sleep, but she herself was wide awake. Slowly she made her way out of the cabin and to the memorial, she could remember the day the first grave had been placed in that clearing… When Bastian had silently helped her bury Sarah’s body and decided he would mark her grave. Now she stood before his, holding a very simple offering in her hands. “My friend… I owe you so very much…” She whispered. “I’m sorry you had to meet you end this way, you deserved better, but I’m sure you were only thinking of letting someone know what you saw. Now we know, so thank you for that final effort.” She smiled a faint small looking down at the flower in her hands. “Please, brother, ask the Twins to forgive me one more time. I pray it’ll be the last.” As those words escaped her lips Lena clenched her fist around the rose she held; thorns sinking into flesh of her palm, blood staining the white petals before they were released over the resting place of Bastian Rivers. Lena snickered; knowing that he would have appreciated the gesture. “For your amusement…” She whispered. “Until we meet again, my friend… Goodbye.”


. . . .

Luckas' hold on Lena's wrist never weakened for a second, and even though they might have stood there for only a couple of them, that's true, it felt like hours to him. His eyes began to slowly fade back to black, still wide in shock as he stared into hers; the blue light slowly fading... Fading fast... He quickly stepped forward to catch the woman as her legs gave out on her, eventually kneeling down with her, finding he was too weak himself to bear her weight. "What did you make me do?" He whispered, unable to understand what had just happened.
Lena chuckled; her voice was weak, too weak. "You... Foolish boy. Have you forgotten what happened last time?"
Luckas winced, he did remember the last time he tried to trap Lena in an illusion... It was the first time he ever remembered something: The voice asking if he was alright. This, however, had felt much different.
"Our deal is concluded, boy." Lena whispered, a small chuckle escaping her. "I hope it was worth the effort." She heaved a little sigh as her eyes closed in exhaustion. “Try to remember…Promise…”

Luckas finally let Lena fall. He tried to reach for her again, but he ended up holding onto to his head with both hands, feeling his sight blurring and pain invading him as if someone was repeatedly driving nails into his eyes and temples. The pain eventually drove him to his hands and knees, his sight finally turned completely black. His own blood chilling scream was the last thing Luke heard before the visions began to flood his mind and take away any grasp of reality he might have left in him; although, that scream was surely just the first of many yet to come.

[A couple of hours later]

"NO! GET AWAY!" A shout echoed through the plains followed by the sounds of fleeing healers running in every possible direction away from the entrance of the tent. It had been that way for hours. No attempt of dialogue has managed to get through and attempting to enter the tent was too dangerous to even consider right now.
The healers had been woken up by the young man's screams. The first person to attempt entering the tent had been grabbed by throat and driven into madness within seconds, he was still being restrained. Two other healers were injured as result of being commanded to swallow a lit torch. One of them would definitely not make it.

"No, no, no... Annie, you can't go in there! No!" Alistair tried to argue with the girl, but immediately flinched when she stopped in her tracks and turned to glare at him.
"I'm not sending anyone else in there, and Luckas... He won't hurt me, not willingly."
"Unwillingly is more than enough to get you killed." The man argued.
"He's not seeing what's going on around him, he's trapped inside his head. We can't expect him to listen unless we know just how to get through. And I don't expect anyone else here to try and do that, because it would be a disaster."
"We can remove him by force. Your mother is still in there, we don't know if she's..." Alistair stopped himself before the sentence was finished, but the damage was done.
"IF she's dead, then we'll have to figure out IF he killed her, but one step at a time." She told him. "You stay here." She added, placing both hands on Alistair's chest to stop him from following after her.

As she approached the tent she took a deep breath to try and keep her tone calm. Truth be told, Annie was never afraid of Luckas, unlike the other healers. She even thought he was funny in a way. He'd never done anything to make her see him as a threat... Until now. She wanted to go back to that place where she wasn't afraid and he wasn't a threat. She wanted to find out what was happening without anyone else getting hurt, including him.

Carefully, Annie stood by the entrance and called. "Luke, are you alright?"
No answer. At least it was better then 'get away', that was progress.
"Luckas... Can I come in?" She asked. "I want to see my mother. Is she alright?"
That seemed to get a reaction out of Luckas, although it was the last thing Annie wanted to hear. "I didn't kill her! I didn't! I didn't... I couldn't have... Or could I? Did I? I can't, I don't remember... I can't remember..."
Annie didn't say anything more, she simply walked inside the tent to catch the sight of Luckas curled up on one corner, mumbling to himself, his eyes were the usual black color, but she could see them moving from side to side without rest as if searching for something. It was visible he had no idea where he was or what was happening anymore... He acted exactly as one of his victims would within a few hours of being attacked. Managing to keep a distance between herself and Luckas Annie walked to where her mother lay, a blanket had been placed over her in such a way that it made it almost unnecessary for Annie to check her pulse, but she forced herself to do so either way, hoping Luckas was too out of his mind to tell if she was actually dead or simply passed out. There was no pulse, however, and Annie felt the pain of realization finally hit her; Luckas' ramblings of whether he had or not killed her turning into blank noise in the back of her mind as tears filled her eyes.

"I didn't kill her! I didn't! I'm not a liar! I'm not a liar! I'm not!" Luckas was still mumbling to no one in particular. "I closed her eyes, and I gave her my blanket and then they took her away! They took her away! I don't want to be alone in here! I can't be alone in here!"

Annie honestly didn't want to listen anymore, but it became clear that Luckas wasn't talking about her mother, although it did explain the blanket. "Who?"

"I don't know who! I can't see them! Why can't I ever see them?"

Annie sat down on the ground, turning so that she was facing him. Luckas was curled up into a ball practically, his forehead touching his knees and both hands gripping the sides of his head. "Who did they take from you?" She asked.

"Sammy.... She wasn't supposed to go down there... Never, ever, go down there... She'd always come though... Everyday. She'd always come..." He let out a shaky sigh. "One day they caught her... And they took her away... They said I killed her! I didn't kill her! I should have made them stop... Why didn't I make them stop? Why didn't I say something? I could have just said ‘stop’, why didn’t I say stop?"

"Luckas... Do you know where you are?

“Stop, stop, stop…” The mumbles were turning unintelligible again.

There was no answer. Luckas had gone back to not listening, and now he was mumbling incoherently again, the only thing Annie could understand of it all was the he said he needed to get out. Which was confirmed when he stood up and started to walk out, still holding the sides of his head and rambling. She didn't try to stop him, doing that would be suicidal even for her. Outside she could hear Alistair shouting at the healers to let him go and not touch him. Soon enough the man's footsteps came closer and closer until they were right behind her. A shaky sigh being his only reaction to the dead body of the woman who raised him. "Is he responsible for this?"
"I don't know. He most definitely did not kill a girl named Sam, though." Annie replied with a small shrug.
"What does that mean?" Alistair insisted.
"It means he's completely out of his mind and running loose, that's what it means. Which way did he go?"
"Towards Newhaven."

Forcing herself to leave her mother's side, Annie stood up to search the tent for pen and paper. She then scribbled down a letter and handed it to him. "Mageria Talsheir."
"Why her?" Alistair asked, raising an eyebrow.
"She's the only one who can stop Luckas without killing him." Annie explained. "And I want him alive and lucid. I want to know what exactly happened here."
"I'll send our fastest enlightened to her, then. She should get the message by morning" He said, leaving the tent without another word.

Annie heaved a shaky sigh and sat back on the ground next to her mother. She knew she would have to move some time, soon, but right now she just couldn't do anything more than sit there.

The setting changes from the-ruins-healers-camp to Raven's Nest

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Annie Turner Character Portrait: Ess

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#, as written by Essence
End of Week Three...


It was still very early in the morning as a young lady made her way through a particular path as if she knew exactly where to go. One could imagine that if she did know where she was going, and she had walked all the way there, she had walked a good distance in the dark by herself, and even though she seemed tobe only a delicate young lady, this wasn't something a normal delicate lady would do. She kept walking, pacing slowly until she heard a voice, softly, yet firmly, approach her. "Excuse me Miss, I believe you are lost. Perhaps you'd like some help finding where you're supposed to be?"

The young lady slowly pulled back the hood of her dark blue cloak, pulling her long black hair from under the clothing, her bright green eyes curiously examining the two men who now stood in her way, before locking on the man who had spoken, her lips forming a sweet smile as she replied in a soft tone. "You are very perceptive, my kind sir... I am indeed lost, in a way. However, this is not a matter of where, but a matter of who, and I'm afraid I'd need to speak to the person in charge of your camp for aid in this particular matter." She opened her cloak enough to show she carried no weapons underneath it and added. "I am alone and unarmed, as you gentlemen can see, and only wish to talk. Would it be too much ask for a moment of your leader's time?"

The men shared a glance before looking back at the young woman, their tone still polite but firm. "And why is it that you wish to be speaking to our leader? It's rather early in the morning and they're very busy. And why is it that you are so sure that only our leader can help you on this matter?" They were clearly not going to attack right off the bat, but she was going to have to convince them to let her through. There was also the fact that neither one of them wanted to be the one responsible for waking up Mageria.


The lady chuckled softly at the questioning, in simple amusement, before replying. "Well, sir... When one goes to a place with the intent of asking questions, I believe the best thing to do is first speak with the person in command first, no? They tend to be aware of everything. If this is too early or if I come in a bad time, I apologize. I can always wait, or come back at another time, however I would much rather resolve this soon. As for how I'm sure that your leader, or anyone here, may help, well... I'm not sure, only hopeful, and that is a rather personal story, but since it is rather foolish to demand anyone's time without explanation, I will say that I have lost a person long ago, and said person has been recently seen entering this encampment. This person is very important to me and this is the first I've heard of him in years so... I'm afraid there are only two ways to get rid of me, and one of them would most likely lead to someone else bothering you in the future due to my unfortunate... Disappearance." She stated. Her tone was calm and gentle all the while, as if discussing the weather conditions and not trying to convince two armed individuals to grant her access to their encampment. "Please? I promise that, whatever answers I get to my questions, this is the last you'll see of me."

The two men shared one more glance before one nodded and jerked his head. "Come along then. I'd tell you not to try anything funny, but you look like you can figure that out on your own." He lead her down a path through some tall hills and suddenly cut to the left, opening a door that seemed to grow out of the side of one of the hills.
"Through here." He tapped one passing soldier on the shoulder and asked him to get the Captain, before leading her to the side and to a common room that was lit with candles.

"Take a seat, it'll be a minute or two." Around them there were several people eating breakfast, all of whom eyed the newcomer with curiosity.

A couple of minutes later, Mageria entered the room, wrapped in her new coat and with her hair cascading over her shoulders. "Thank you, please give a bit of privacy, would you?" She only had to ask softly before everybody in that part of the room cleared away, giving them a wide space so that as long as they spoke softly, nobody would be able to hear what they had to say.
"Sorry about this, but any place more private is already in use. At least this is out of the wind." She folded her hands on the table in front of her, carefully looking over their newest visitor. "Now, the guards said you were looking for somebody?"

The young woman followed the man quietly and without questions to where she was asked to wait, she took her seat not seeming bothered for having to wait, or by the curious glances of the people around her. She smiled sweetly at a few people as she waited, seeming not at all uncomfortable with being left in a room with strangers. Wasn't long before she was joined by a woman who was unmistakably the one in charge. She took a few moments to observe the woman's face before giving a slight nod and speaking just softly enough not to be overheard. "It's quite alright, Ma'am. First of all, thank you for your time and excuse me if I am being disruptive in any way with my visit. My name is Samantha Johnson, call me Sam if you rather, and yes, that is correct; I am looking for someone. He's a skinny, pale, young man... Black hair, black eyes... Answers by the name of Luckas. I'm afraid he was last spotted entering this encampment although the person I've hired to find him has lost track of him since." She ran a hand through her hair and heaved a small sigh. "It's... Very important that I find him."

Mageria tilted her head to the side. "Might I ask why you are looking for him? It's true that we know him here, some of us not so happily as others, but still. I'm sot the sort to give away information about somebody for no reason."
She kept her face calm and slightly questioning. While it was strange that somebody was looking for Luckas, considering the boy's past it wasn't out of the question. And why the hell was she protecting him considering what his brother had done to her and what he himself had done before Lena chained him?

Because damn it, everybody deserves a second chance.

Fingers lightly tapping the table in front of her, she waited for the other woman's answers.

Sam smiled, a little more nervously now, at the question. "Well, this is... Rather personal, but you sound like you know him enough to care what my business is..." She took a deep breath before answering the question. "Well, Luckas is... My little brother." She admitted. "I was told he and his twin, Matthew, were dead, but after my father passed away a few years ago, I found out that... That was a lie. I have been searching for them ever since. I hired investigators, but they lost track of the two at the Newhaven orphanage. After a lot of digging they picked up a trail again when Matthew died. Apparently, he was killed in prison, but still no sign of Luckas; he simply vanished.." She paused a little and lowered her head a bit, fixing her eyes on the surface of the table before her. "It was a little shocking to discover what Matt had become, what he did... He was such a sweet boy, how I remember him..." She stopped talking for another moment as if forcing herself to stay on the right topic. "As I was saying... No sign of Luckas, until recently. He was spotted in Blackpond, and followed here, but my people lost him once he entered you encampment." She raised her eyes and smiled faintly. "They were unwilling to enter your territory, so I decided to come all the way here myself. Figured, someone here might know something... I haven't seen Luke and Matt since they were six years old... I know nothing about Luckas; who he became, I... I don't think he would even remember me... Hearing some of the things Matthew was known for doing... The thought of him being the same frightens me, but I can't stop looking for him, I can't give him up. I have no other family left." She finished her statement in a clear tone, as if determined not to show any weakness in front of the other woman. "Even if you don't know where he is, or where to find him, anything you tell me, I will appreciate."

"Luckas is . . . complicated." Mageria looked into the middle distance for a long moment, thinking hard. "And I'm sorry, if you care for him the way you seem to, I truly am. But I know him and I don't know you. I'll be happy to pass on a message for you if you like, but I'll not tell you where or when to find him. Just that the message will be passed on, I promise. I hope you understand my position on the matter."
She looked straight at the young woman, evaluating what she had said. If Luckas and Matt were her brothers, then there was a good chance that she was Enlightened as well. Such things didn't necessarily follow family lines, but sometimes they did. So it was possible she was facing someone who had a similar gift to that of Luckas and Mathew. Which made it dangerous to upset her. But at the same time, if she was truly their sister, then she had the right to know the truth. And if she wasn't, well, Mageria couldn't see how it would make a difference.

"I'm afraid that there is no easy way to say this; and definitely no easy way to hear it. But it will come out eventually, I'm sure. Your brother Mattew was killed in prison, during a riot. And I was the one who struck the blow."

"Sure, I understand... That's... Only fair after all..." Sam nodded quietly, listening to the woman speak, her eyes again aimed at the surface of the table as she thought of whether she should leave a message and what to say, hands resting over the surface of the table before her. She was in no way prepared for the statement that came next.

"I'm afraid that there is no easy way to say this; and definitely no easy way to hear it. But it will come out eventually, I'm sure. Your brother Mattew was killed in prison, during a riot. And I was the one who struck the blow."

The words caused a flare of anger on the young woman so forceful that it caused her to abruptly raise from her seat, but it only seemed to last long enough for that and she sat back down soon after, forcing herself to breathe deep a couple of times, a hint of yellow momentarily flashing behind the green tone of her eyes. "I'm sorry, Matt's death is still rather recent for me... I know he was no saint, I've heard the horror stories, but... I..." She heaved a heavy sigh, running one hand through her hair in clear frustration. "I still can't see him as that monster though." She took another deep breath, and forced a smile. "If anything, I appreciate the honesty. As for leavign a message... When you next see Luckas, please tell him he has family and let him know where he can find me... I live just outside of Blackpond, it's a big, rather creepy looking, old house. The paths are hidden in woods, but not so hard to find if you are looking for it." Again, the young woman rose from her seat, this time slowly and carefully. "I think... I must have taken enough of your time, no?"

Mageria nodded, a hint of sadness crossing her face at the young woman's reaction. For all the hell that Mathew had put her through, very nearly driving her to insane suicide, somebody had loved him. He had family, somebody to mourn him. "I'll make sure that Luckas gets the message. I'm sure that he'll be glad to find that he had family, it's a hard thing to believe that you're alone in the world." Mageria held out one hand in a beckoning gesture, calling over one of the nearby guards. "I wish I had been able to give you better news, but perhaps that is in the future, no?" To the guard, "Would you please show our guest out?"

She watched the young woman leave, then carefully followed her. That flash of yellow in her eyes; she was Enlightened. Perhaps like her brothers were. Which meant that it was useless to hope that she wouldn't have some influence over the people in the camp. So far, everybody was astounded that she had any ability to resist Luckas. And she wasn't quite ready to reveal that she had earned that ability. So instead, she followed Samantha from a distance, watching to make sure that she actually left the camp.

I'll tell your brother about you, but are you going to welcome the boy that walks up your front walk someday?

~~~~~
Aiden managed his little chat with the Captain before Ess finished her morning run, just missing her gaze as he watched her come around a corner. He hadn’t planned on telling the Captain what had happened, but being the Captain, Mageria knew there was something more than concern or personal gain so that it had to come from somewhere. They had talked for some time and it had only made him nervous, having the Captain’s consent to take action if so desperately needed in Ess’ defense. He knew he had to play those cards carefully, not letting whatever he was feeling towards Ess to cloud his judgement. For the most part, he would be testing his own patience and watching to see if he was needed. He wanted to have faith in the woman’s decisions, but he just couldn’t ignore the way Luke had smiled as he spoke about Ess being the “Perfect Prey.” He knew there’d be dire consequences from many if he acted rash, and Mageria did have a point when she said that both had their own demons to work out. Maybe he wouldn’t be needed after all, but he’d be ready.

Aiden didn’t blink until Ess disappeared around another corner towards the Captain’s cabin, slowly he turned walking towards a tree stump, yanking an ax from the rings as he began chopping firewood. It wasn’t a distraction, but something to keep himself busy in his thoughts so he could develop a plan or two. Did this ‘boy’ actually care for Talon? The thought made Aiden’s face scrunch up, his grip tightening around the ax. Was it the challenge that made her so interesting? He swore he saw something in her....maybe similar to what she saw in Luckas, but that idea just annoyed Aiden. He refused to think Ess and Luke were alike.

~~~~~


When Ess awoke, Luke was already gone, as she suspected. Smiling wide, she felt lighter this morning; not quite so dark, even after the fact she learned the disturbing truth of her brother. Just like Jasper, Ian would find a justified end, fitting in her eyes to the crime of betrayal. She wasn’t too sure where to start her search for her brother, wishing just to avoid BlackPond as she never wanted to visit that place again but she had a foreboding feeling she was not going to have much of a choice.

Ess completed her run in record time, casually waiting outside the Captain’s door with a mysterious grin plastered upon her lips. She seemed to stand taller, straighter, a bit more sure of herself than she had been the past few days. It would be clear to any who knew her that something indeed had changed in her, for both the better and for worse but she would push it towards her desire for closure. It didn’t matter how much longer it would take her to completely move on, but she was dead set on doing it. Ess was coming out of her cocoon, so to speak.

Mageria pushed the door open, raising an eyebrow at the look on Ess's face. Something had changed the young woman, it seemed that she was starting to come into her own. She felt a sense of relief at that, it looked like she was managing to find her way through her troubles. This would be one that she wouldn't lose to the hell of their own past. A brief smile crossed her face as she shrugged into her coat.
"Just a minute. I wasn't expecting you so soon." She grabbed her practice gear from the rack near the door and headed out, closing the door firmly behind her.

Mageria grinned again as they headed down towards the practice grounds. "You look like you're ready for some trouble. I hope it's not anything I should disapprove of?"

Ess chuckled as she walked beside Mageria. “I don’t plan on leaving you any time soon, if you’re concerned about my training, so I think it’s safe to assume you’d approve my personal vendetta...” Her smile faded a bit as she went on to explain how Luckas had paid her a visit, for he had done her a little favor and in that discovered a hidden truth of Ess’ brother. “I need to figure out where he is....who he’s working with....and if those people are still ‘In business.’” Ess shuttered, the thought of others experiencing what she did, especially as a child, making her sick to her stomach. “I don’t want to be haunted by my past any more...I don’t want any of it to continue, especially knowing I have family involved in it...” Ess paused in her tracks before the training grounds, quirking a brow at the Captain. “I figure...if it’s more than revenge, then it’s well worth it. I know how revenge alone, doesn’t always fill the holes inside..” With a laugh, remembering the visions of Jasper, Ess added. “Although they can be enjoyed immensely.”

Mageria simply raised one eyebrow. "Yes, revenge can help, so long as you don't get caught at it." A brief smile crossed her face. "Acting in the heat of the moment is all well and good, but it tends to come out in the end. As I well know." She walked for a few minutes more. "But I agree that something like that needs to be eliminated; no matter who is involved in it. Is Luckas going to be continuing to look into this or should we be looking into it ourselves?" They had reached the practice area and Mageria squared off against her pupil and raised her swords.

Ess stood, her hands empty as she watched the Captain raise her practice swords and nodded, readying her stance, arms raised in a defensive pose. For the first time since she began her training with Mageria, she didn't seem unsure of herself, holding herself with what appeared to be a hint of confidence. “Whenever Luke comes back, he may or may not have more information....” Ess waited, smiling at Mageria, locking eyes with her. “I think we should do some of our own digging as well...Who knows how big this thing is..” Ess sprinted forward as if she were going to collide into the Captain, yet right before she reached sword’s length she side stepped almost in a hop, spinning she ducked beneath a strike. When she rose up, her fingers were curled into a fist that she aimed beneath the Captain’s forearm, just along her wrist in an attempt to get her to drop her sword, her free arm aiming to block the Captain’s other arm before the sword reached her.

Mageria couldn't help a small surge of pride at the way that Ess had improved her fighting skills, still that didn't mean that she would go easy on her. She leaned back and avoided the strike, instead bringing up her leg to kick her opponent in the chest. She pushed clear then spun, bringing her leg around in a kick designed to knock Ess off her feet. But the girl was expecting it and jumped, tucking down once she landed and tackling her before Mageria could quite get settled again. Falling backwards, Mageria rolled with the strike; using the momentum to push them apart. Ess jumped to her feet at the same time she did, the two of them sparring for several minutes before Ess took the chance to grab a handful of dirt and throw it in Mageria's face. She ducked, giving the other woman the chance to land a couple of good blows with her fists before Mageria swung around and started returning the favor.

After one trip tumbling across the clearing, Ess managed to grab a tree branch, using it one handedly to try and strike at Mageria’s legs. She did quite well, managing to make a couple of well placed strikes that made the Captain dance backwards quickly. The two of them traded blows for a few more moments before Ess managed to knock one of the swords from Mageria’s swords from her hand, leaving her to fight in a combination of hand to hand and single sword style. The two of them danced around each other for a few long minutes; before Mageria managed to catch Ess’s stick in a sweeping spiral bind that tossed the stick halfway across the clearing; in order to make it even Mageria planted her weapon in the dirt and raised her hands to strike.

The two of them slugged it out fairly evenly for a period before something distracted Mageria for a crucial second. She glanced to the side then back, barely missing a blow that Ess snuck past her guard to land squarely on her still bruised ribs. The pain whited out her vision and Mageria reacted instinctively; fist lashing out towards Ess’s neck that would have broken it if Mageria hadn’t managed to pull it. Instead the strike went past and Mageria fell to her knees in the dirt, cradling her ribs and swearing under her breath.
"Captain!" Ess landed in the dirt next to Mageria as she clutched her ribs, wheezing as she struggled to take a breath. "I'm sorry . . . I didn't mean . . ." Mageria rocked a little bit and held up one hand, slowly sitting up straight and managing a smile.
"Very good. You did that just right. Now . . . don't ever do that to me again." Mageria slowly pushed her way up to her feet, letting the pain settle back down as her color slowly returned to normal. "Let's go get lunch, shall we?"
“Or a drink, maybe.” Ess suggested as she grabbed the swords and trailed after her. Mageria smiled over her shoulder a bit weakly.
“That sounds good. Just one thing to remember.” She waited until Ess started to pass her on the trail and swung her leg to take out the other woman’s legs, landing her on her back in the dirt; before grabbing one of the swords and slamming it into the ground about half an inch away from the girl’s neck.
“Never underestimate an opponent. Even when they’re down.” She offered her a hand up.
“Now, about that drink.”


~~~~



It had been an slightly interesting, but mostly disappointing conversation with the Captain of the once called 'Black Guard'. Very little information to be obtained there; however, something was learned about the woman in that exchange, and it was interesting. Still it wasn't enough for Sam to be pleased, so the woman found her way back to camp a bit later, walking calmly as if she belonged, watching her surroundings carefully, examining people with her green eyes here and there, smiling sweetly at those who looked at her. What she was looking for, no one would know exactly, but, whatever it was, she seemed to have found it in one man, since she walked a straight line to him. For a while she stood, a small grin on her face as she watched the man from a few steps away as he cut firewood. He seemed lost in thought, and in personal thoughts even. Something in his expression was just very interesting to her for some reason.

After watching silent for a moment or two, she spoke to him, smiling calmly and casually trapping a rebellious strand of black hair behind her left ear. "Say, kind Sir, would you mind helping me with a bit of information, should you have it? I spoke with your Captain, but... She doesn't know much, and I feel I have reached a dead end. I am looking for a person, and the investigator I hired last saw him here. He would be a bit shorter than myself, black hair, black eyes, smiley face... Answers by the name of Luckas. It's very important that I find him."



Aiden halted suddenly at the gentle voice behind him, ax raised in mid swing before he let the handle slip through his fingers, gripping at the base of the blade. He seemed still in a daze from his thoughts, turning towards the voice, his caramel eyes hardening at the mention of Luckas. Yet that was all one could gather from his expression, his annoyance at the name as he quirked a brow, his eyes examining the women from head to toe before him. For a moment he pondered this woman’s beauty, and how she seemed to come off as a bit too polite, especially for one looking for Luckas. There was something he was missing. Nodding politely he scoffed to himself, pausing his gaze over her green eyes before turning back to his block of wood.

“Can’t tell you what I don’t know, Miss...That fool appears and disappears, acting like he’s invisable to the world. He’s not here, thank the Twins.” Aiden sighed, striking the block splitting it in two before reaching for another. Aiden was slightly annoyed at the idea of this little man being followed around by women, not understanding in the slightest what they would see in him. “He leave you stranded with couple kids or something?” He joked, chuckling briefly as he split another block.

The woman raised an eyebrow at the man's reaction to the name, a small frown crossing her features for a moment, changing from hopeful to slightly disappointed the moment it was mentioned that he wasn't there. At Aiden's question she laughed though, a giggle that sounded strangely like the ones that would come out of Luckas, only much softer and warmer. "Why do I sense a slight hopeful tone in that question, Sir?" She chuckled. "No, I'm afraid you don't understand. Luke is my little brother. I have been looking for him for a very long time... Both my brothers. I tracked them to Newhaven and discovered Matthew died in prison... I had no sign of Luckas until he was spotted in Blackpond and followed here. You say he appears and disappears? Do you suppose he'll be back?" She asked, a hopeful tone in her voice, eyes lighting up in excitement. "Do you know..." She hesitated, as if afraid to be asking too much. "Do you know why he comes here? Do you know if someone here might know more about him? I... Haven't seen him in... Thirteen years. I don't even think he remembers me." She mumbled, looking down at her feet, several conflicting emotions showing on her face. After a moment she looked up, forcing a smile. "Oh, I'm sorry! My name is Samantha. Call me Sam, if you will."



Aiden felt the hairs spike up along the back of his neck in response to the girl’s laughter. The uncomfortable chills followed by her words. “.... Luke is my little brother.” Splinters of wood flew in his last cut, pieces scattering from his massive swing before he faced the woman again, towering over her as his knuckles turned white from his grip upon the ax. Never had he had the desire to hit a woman more in his life, then just from the mere thought that she was related to Luckas, if it were true. Aiden merely stared, a mocking sneer crossing his lips. The array of her questions were prying into something perhaps deeper than just Luckas, and yet he was not sure what his instincts were telling him. He watched and listened to her “sob story” not feeling any sort of pity, nodding as she gave her name, yet refusing to give his in return. For a moment he thought if he gave any information, false or true, it may interfere with whatever plans Luckas had in returning here as it was obvious he would at some point. Out of spite or pride, personal gain, or just for the simple interests in their mutual friend, he knew Luke would be back. He almost opened his mouth before realizing there was not way to answer Sam’s questions without mentioning Ess in some way or another, and he didn’t feel that was his place to say to this stranger. Who was this woman, truly? Finally he spoke.

“...What makes you think....Miss Sam, that I would aid anyone involved with Luckas? It is quite obvious he and I are not friends, and if you are anything like him...I feel it would be wise for you to leave this camp as well.” Aiden’s tone was low, just above a growl with a hint of disgust. “And word to the wise..if that is a lie and you chose that story to gain favor in whatever you seek, you are quite the fool.” Aiden raised his arms out to his sides as he gave a bow at the waist, returning once again to his chores. A sudden bark caused his expression to soften as Tala appeared by his side, the hair upon her back raising as she sniffed where Sam’s knees would be, followed by a low growl bearing the white tips of her fangs. Aiden simply chuckled, giving a high whistle, calling Tala back a few paces where the wolf laid behind his feet. “I can always have Tala here show you the way out, if you find yourself lost?”

Sam raised an eyebrow at this man and his attitude towards her. A deeply offended look in her eyes as he spoke, she did not care for his words or his tone all too much, but she forced herself to keep her tone gentle. "I do not know, Sir, if I am anything like my brother... Last I saw him he was six years old. He and Matt were sweet little boys and that's how I remember them." She muttered, glaring at him with anger in her eyes. "I don't know what sort of problem the two of you have, but I have nothing to do with it, nor do I wish to have anything to do with it, but thank you for your quick judgement of my person based solely on my blood ties to him and for your implied threats, I'm sure that they were absolutely necessary and much clearer than a simple 'I won't help you'." She hissed, sarcasm and anger clear and her tone. "It was probably stupid of me to expect any sympathy from any stranger in times like these. Your Captain was at least polite, but I see that not all of you have the decency."

With that said, she heaved a sigh, not seeming disturbed or frightened by the wolf growling at her. "If there is a chance, any chance, that my brother will return to this place at any time... Don't expect your threats to keep me away. While I have no doubt you mean them, I've gone too far and I'm way too close to turn my back to the only family I have left in the world." She then smiled, taking a deep breath to calm herself before speaking again. "I will, however, leave you alone, kind Sir. I sincerely hope that you never lose yourself in the world, but if you do, I ask the Twins that you find the aid of someone more understanding than you have been today." Turning to walk to the exit of the camp she added: "Have a pleasant day."

Aiden snickered, his back still turned towards Sam at his success in ending her series of questions. A direct no, would of perhaps only drew out more pleas and talk, all of which Aiden was in no mood to entertain. He was skilled as a warrior, not in being tactful or diplomatic, yet he did almost wonder if he was wrong in his use of words. At the same time, he knew he could of chosen a far more crude path and found his restraint something he should be proud of.

“Yea, if your brother was soo sweet, then why’d he ‘die in a prison’...” Aiden muttered to himself, slightly entertained by the woman’s ‘speech.’ Glancing at the wolf over his shoulder he whistled, “Tala....Luckas?” The wolf stood at attention giving a faint growl at the name before she began sniffing the ground in circles, trotting off in response to her command she disappeared into the bushes in the same general direction as Sam went.

Simultaneously Ess quietly approached Aiden as he chopped firewood, catching her wolf run off passing the dark haired figure of a woman who appeared to be leaving their camp. Crossing her arms lightly across her chests she quirked a brow at Aiden, still unnoticed. “...Aiden....where are you sending my wolf off to?”

Aiden dropped the ax in his surprise at the sound of Ess’ voice, just missing his boot. He turned, facing her as her brushed a few brown locs from his face. “...Just testing that trick you and I were working on with Tala...and...” He pointed to the woman as she disappeared around a corner. “Making sure that ‘lovely’ young lady doesn’t get lost on her way out of our camp.”

Ess glanced curiously in the direction of the woman, then to where Tala had followed, back to Aiden. “..You really think Luke would leave such an easy trail for Tala to follow?”

Aiden shook his head. “Perhaps not, but that lady seems to know Luke’s been here and quite interested to know who is associated with him so she can find him....”

Ess’ eyes glowed, her arms falling limp to her sides as she approached Aiden curiously. “..What did you tell her? Who is she?” Ess’ tone went softer, barely above a whisper, a knot twisting slowly in her stomach.

Aiden shrugged, noticing the change in Ess’ demeanor at the mention of the strange woman. “.I really don’t know, but apparently she’s been poking around here today, questioning on Luckas’ where a bouts. I didn’t say anything, because I don’t know anything...She says, she’s his sister..but I’m not sure what to believe, even though she seemed convincing. I almost feel like an ass for being so curt with her, but don’t think for one second it was for...him.” Aiden’s expression softened, looking Ess in the eye before adding, “Talon....about the other night..”

Ess held up a hand, her eyes closing as if to shut out Aiden’s words. “Hush....it’s over, it’s done with....just ..don’t.” With a heavy sigh she muttered, “It’s I who should be sorry..” Opening her eyes she met his once again and smiled. She saw what he was doing for her and appreciated, especially after the way she had treated her friend. “In regards...to this woman’s claims..” Ess tactfully changed the subject. “...I can’t tell you if she speaks the truth or not, because I know not.” Turning back towards the brush, “...How far do you think Tala will go before she turns back? I think we should follow her.” Ess smiled not waiting for Aiden to respond as she jogged towards the stables where Shockwave was lodged, not even saddling him but climbed up bareback only holding onto his mane. In moments she was in pursuit, tracking her wolf, giving a friendly wave at the men hidden in the trees along the one entrance of the camp, a few black feathers swirling in the cold wind.

Four hours later, Ess and Aiden followed Tala back into camp, who had tracked Luckas’ scent about half way to Blackpond, within a two hour ride or so. It was impressive and if Ess had brought one of the pieces of clothing Luckas had worn with her, she may have gotten her wolf to pick up the scent once again. In all seriousness, she was proud of Tala and really was just hoping to come across that woman Aiden had been chatting with, yet she seemed to have disappeared along another road. Ess was a tad disappointed even though it really wasn’t her business, but she couldn’t help her curiousity and if maybe her attention was needed; after all Luke was keeping an eye on her, she could at least keep her eyes and ears open for him.

Later on that evening, after her lessons, she politely invited Aiden for a meal at her campfire. She honestly did not want to be by herself at the moment and wasn’t sure if it was because she was missing her friend or because she still felt bad for how she had treated Aiden the other day. After they had eaten, they chatted for some time, while Ess absently went through her drawings. Aiden had peeked over her shoulder to see what she was staring at when she suddenly went quiet and his eyes widened a bit in surprise.

“Talon...I didn’t know that you knew that Sam woman...the one I spoke to today.” He stated curiously, before adding. “Course you can’t see her eyes in your drawing..but I’m pretty sure it’s the same girl.”

Ess almost dropped the journal, her attention snapping away and up to Aiden. “What did you just say? I have never met this girl....this is someone from.....” Ess paused unsure if she should finish that sentence, but continued with a ‘to hell with it’ kind of shrug. “...From one of Luke’s memories...he can’t remember who she is though...” The violet hue of her eyes took on their expected glow with her change in emotion, as she examined her drawing she had only finished the other day.

“...Wait...how did you see his memories...”Aiden interrupted himself, his eyes narrowing in an almost repulsed expression. “You...LET him in your head? Isn’t that...dangerous?”

Ess didn’t even look away from her drawing, the tips of her fingers trailing along the outline of the girl. “Like I could stop him, but yes..he does not force anything on me...he does not hurt me...and it was an accident what I saw...” Her tone sharpened, growing offended. “Not that it’s your business Aiden...he IS my friend...in case you have forgotten..”

Aiden heaved a heavy sigh. “I don’t want to argue Talon, because you won’t listen to reason. So, some woman who gives me the willies, is looking for him..from his past...and he has no clue? I am no fan of him obviously, but he should probably know.”

Rolling her eyes in her growing aggravation, Ess kept her voice leveled. “Your reasoning is far from my reasoning...but yes if I had a way to contact him I would. But again...I don’t know exactly where he is...I mean I have a general idea, but that’s it.” Ess whipped her journal back inside her tent, not moving from her spot before the fire. “Aiden...I know you’re concerned...”

Aiden slid closer to Ess, gently and slowly taking her hand in his. “Don’t kill me now for being concerned....I can’t help it.” He smiled, the caramel tone of his eyes appearing to melt from the light from the fire. “Just don’t drown out everything I have to say, even though we don’t agree. You said so yourself, that not agreeing shouldn’t be an issue.”

Ess tried to pull back her hands, not sure if she felt comfortable with him so close. “Aiden....I ....I think it’s time for me to sleep....please...”

“Talon....why are you scared of me?”

“Aiden...please...just go....” Ess tugged her hands free, turning away from the man. “Goodnight Aiden.”

Aiden stood, his smile fading as he went to walk away. “...You’re giving Luckas a chance....why don’t I get one?” He didn’t stop in his tracks as he disappeared back to his cabin.

Quirking a brow, Ess muttered to herself not quite understanding Aiden’s words. “What the hell...does that mean? I do listen....He’s a friend..I am not friends with one because of the other....” Her fingers gently massaged the bridge between her eyes. Another hour went by as she kept dwelling on Aiden’s words and if indeed she was scared of him. Maybe she was, but not in the way he felt she should be scared of Luckas. With a quiet growl she pushed Aiden from her mind, thinking of Luckas. Closing her eyes she began singing to herself, remembering his words of encouragement and that he may hear her. It was silly for her to think he could if he wasn’t around, but who knew if he was or not for sure. It made her think of her journal, how she would write to ‘Blue Eyes’, even though he was no longer of this world, but maybe he would hear her and in way speak back to her.

Ripped and Torn apart...
Sewn together in time...
Rediscovered the lost...
Evading what was right..
Still embracing all that’s wrong...


My skin crawls away..
As you near to touch..
Lips crave to stay...
Deception’s Crutch...


When Ess opened her eyes, she felt relaxed, yet her eyes longingly searched the shadows around her just in case. “Oh Tala...I’m a fool...” She whispered to her wolf as she stood, pausing to look for stars above her in the current cloud cover. Her shoulders slouched in disappointment before she shuffled into her tent to sleep away the rest of the night.
~~~~

[White Shadows Encampment-Same Day]

Luckas reached Blackpond in the middle of the afternoon, only to find a message from Lena asking him to meet her in the Plains. The moment he arrived in the healers' encampment, the woman was nowhere to be found. Not quite sure if he should wait, he decided to stay the night with the healers. Most of the time he was wondering about the ruins of the destroyed villages, but as the night advanced and grew colder he forced himself to join some of the healers seated by the fire in the center of camp. A rather good looking young woman immediately offered him tea and food, while some of the healers who remembered his time in the camp, took turns shooting him nervous glares. He didn't pay much attention to what anyone was saying; he could tell that the young lady that had served him had sat beside him and was rambling on about something, but his mind was, at this point, distant.

Luckas wasn't sure for how long he drifted off, but he came back to his senses when the person sitting beside him gave him a playful nudge, and he recognized that nudge.

"What're you doing?" Annie's voice sounded, confirming the identity of his 'attacker'.
"What do you mean?" Luke asked, not looking at her.
"I mean you were humming, and I'm pretty sure your eyes changed color for a second." Annie explained. "What were you doing?"
"I wasn't humming." Luckas stated simply, taking a sip of tea and taking notice that it had gotten cold. "Maybe I dozed off for a second."
"Uh-huh." Annie mumbled, not concealing her amusement. "You've actually managed to get weirder, Luke."
"What color?" He asked absently.
"Huh?"
"You said my eyes changed color... What color?"
"I don't know Luke it was just a second..." She shrugged. "Why, did you see something?"
"No, not exactly... Never mind though. I'm probably just tired." He said, forcing a small chuckle.
"You still should let mother know about this when she gets back." Annie insisted. "And eat your food... When was the last time you ate?" She said, nudging him again.
Luckas nodded simply, noticing the bowl of stew he'd sat down on the ground before him, untouched, and picking it up. "I eat." He mumbled before taking a spoonfull of food to his mouth, chewing on the rabbit meat quietly for a few minutes before swallowing and turning to face the girl. Annie looked awfully tired, and far less cheerful than he remembered her being just a couple of years ago. "So you eat? You look like you can't stand." He joked.
"Shut up." She laughed. "Why, do I concern you sweetie?" She asked, absently leaning into him as she spoke.
"No." He muttered, annoyed, pushing her away. "I have enough concerns, thank you very much."
Annie sat up straight immediately as she heard him say that. "You do? I thought never worrying was the best part of not caring?" She asked, remembering the words he once told her. "You've surely changed."
"Not all changes come for the best." Luke whispered absently, standing up. "I think I should get a few hours of sleep before leaving. Tell 'mother' to summon me when she's available next time around. I do have things to do, as she is well aware of."

The setting changes from ravens-nest to The Ruins (Healer's camp)

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Annie Turner

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When Jake arrived in the White Shadows camp, Alistair was already there to greet him; one look into the empath’s eyes and he knew it had actually happened. It was real, even if he didn’t want to believe. He let Shadow ride past the man, before pulling on the reigns to stop the horse, his head hanging low as an overwhelming feeling of defeat washed over him; his hand clutched the golden locket through the fabric of his shirt. Pain and rage washing through him in waves that made him shudder where he sat in the saddle. He never thought Lena’s death could hit him this hard… Hell, foolish as it may be, he never considered he would see that woman dead. It always felt like she would always be there, but that was stupid… No one could be there forever… Everyone dies eventually. He heard Alistair’s steps coming closer and heaved an unexpectedly shaky sigh as he addressed the man. “What happened?” Jake asked, slowly dismounting and turning to face the former healer.
Alistair shook his head slightly. “We’re not sure… It was in the middle of the night… And she was alone with Luckas… She might have been trying to recover his memories, or he attacked her, but we might never know for sure.”
“Luckas?!” Jake growled. “Luckas has something to do with this?”
“We don’t know what happened, Jake.”
“I’m going to kill that little maniac the moment I lay my eyes on him, I swear!”
“You don’t want to swear to something like that, Jake.” Alistair scolded. “It’s NOT what Lena would have wanted! She believed in him, and she believed in you. Destroying both of those beliefs at once is a poor way to honor her memory.” The man sighed and placed his hands over Jake’s shoulders. “Mourn her. Don’t think of anything else until you have. It will only make the pain worse.” He warned.
Jake shook his head trying his best to shrug Alistair’s words away in his anger. “Where is she?”
“Still in her tent. Isaac is keeping watch, because Annie…” He sighed. “I don’t think it has begun to sink into her… What happened…”
“Can I see her, Al? Please?” Jake mumbled, rubbing his eyes wearily, trying to stop the tears from forming in his eyes.
“Sure, I don’t see why not.” Alistair answered with a little nod, leading Jake towards the encampment by the shoulder. “So, where have you been? Annie says she hasn’t seen you in over a month.”
Jake shrugged. “I’ve been a little bit tied up in Blackpond, nothing too important.” He answered. “What about you? When did you come back?”
“A little before Lena did…” He sighed. “I didn’t want to really, but… She came looking for me one day, said that it would be nice if Annie had someone to help her out right now and… Well, you know how convincing she can be.”
Jake nodded quietly as they approached the tent, Alistair let go of his shoulder and went inside ahead of him. A few seconds later Isaac stepped out, patting Jake’s shoulder as he passed him, and Jake made his way inside.

Lena was lying in a sleeping mat, a white sheet covered her body up to her neck; her eyes were closed and she actually looked as if she was asleep, as if she would wake up at any moment, and perhaps that impression only made things worse; he had to remind himself over and over that she was not coming back. Alistair was standing in a corner of the tent in silence, head hanging low as if he could barely stand to be there, still he stood because it was tradition that another healer stayed with the body at all times; and it didn’t matter to him, or to anyone, that neither Lena or himself were currently part of the White Shadows, he would stand there until Isaac, or another healer returned.

Jake didn’t bother to ask Alistair to leave, shooting one small glance at the man where he stood, and immediately noticing that he was trying his best to keep his emotions in check; he was silent aside a quiet prayer escaping his lips and reaching Jake as only soft and incessant whispers, but no clear words. Words held little meaning in a moment like this anyway, they brought little comfort.

Jake heaved a long weary sigh as he watched the woman’s face, after a moment he kneeled next to the body whispered softly. “You were right.” He choked on a bit of laughter as the words came out as if they caught him off guard. “I promised myself that as long as we both lived I would never admit it, but now I can: You were right... About everything. And I wish I could take back some of things I said, but you know I didn’t mean it, so it doesn’t matter, I suppose... I guess... I’m just trying to say that I get it now... Time won’t stop for me and I have to stop putting all the things that matter on hold for later, because later just might be too late. I hated that logic because it made so much sense... I hated you because you wouldn’t let me have an excuse to be dumb and irresponsible like I wanted... I hated you for being right, and I hated you for never telling me the whole truth about anything... I hated you for leaving... I... Hated... You...” Jake muttered out, his voice breaking as tears began falling from his eyes.

Some time had passed and Jake hadn’t moved from Lena’s side when he suddenly felt someone’s hands on his shoulders. “Jake, come with me.” Annie spoke behind him in a soft whisper. “She needs to be prepared for burial, you can’t stay here.”
Jake nodded, taking a deep breath. “Goodbye, Lena. Give Jess a hug for me.” He whispered, before getting back on his feet and walking out of the tent with Annie.
“Where have you been?” She asked.
“I was a little tied up in Blackpond. I didn’t even know she had come back.” He shook his head. “I’m really sorry I was away for so long.”
Annie snorted a laugh. “Jake... I was never expecting you to come back. When I sent you to Mageria, I knew very well what was going to happen... I was worried because you didn’t write and no one had heard from you since you last crossed the forest. Remember you poisoned one of the Wolves? They brought him to me.”
He sighed wrapping one arm around her shoulders. “That was forever ago, it seems.” He said, shaking his head. “How are you holding up?”
“I’m not sure yet.” She answered, leaning into him and taking a long deep breath. “I’ll let you know..”
Jake nodded in agreement. “Anne... Luckas?” He asked.
“Don’t Jake. Just... Don’t.” She sighed. “Can we just say goodbye today and not hate anyone? Please?” She asked, wrapping her arms around him in a tight hug,
Jake sighed, hugging her back. “I can try.” He answered. “I won’t promise though.”
“Fair enough... So...” She looked up at him forcing a smile. “Tell me: What had you tied up for a whole month?”

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

[Raven’s Nest]

Luckas’ head rose as he recognized the voice of the person greeting him. One eye on Mageria to make sure there were enough people asking questions to make her distracted from him, he gave Morrigan a slight snicker as he began moving away from the encampment. “As much as I would love to slip into something more comfortable and dance for your amusement, dear... I happen to have somewhere I need to be right about now. ” He replied, fastening his pace, eager to get out of the camp.

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Annie Turner Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher

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[Crimson Shadows’ Camp]

“Are you done with the groping already?” Sean muttered out in annoyance. “Any more and I’ll insist you buy my dinner.”

The two mercenaries that had spent quite a few minutes of their time finding and confiscating all of Sean’s weapons didn’t seem any less annoyed than him, but their annoyance was mostly due to the fact they wanted him dead and were ordered not to harm him until further notice. Under Dastan’s watchful gaze they couldn’t do any more than frown and follow orders.

“That’ll be enough.” Dastan stated, addressing his men. “You can leave us alone now.”

Sean watched the two mercenaries leave with the corner of his eyes. “You could have just asked me to surrender my weapons, I’m an honorable man. In the very least you could have had some pretty ladies search me. That would have been less unpleasant.”
“You are neither honorable nor a man, Alpha, and I’m afraid I have way too much respect for the women of this clan to actually order any of them to touch you.”
“I know at least one of them wouldn’t mind.” Sean replied with a little smirk. “How is my dear friend, by the way?”
Dastan chuckled, even those it was very clear he was not amused. “You don’t want to test my patience, Sean... Because it’s been running out for weeks now.”
“You talk too much for a man who needs to disarm a single assassin, while surrounded by allies, in order to feel safe.” Sean said, with a slight shrug. “But fine... I’m not here for a pissing contest, I hope, but you called me... So, what do you want from me Dastan?”
“Honestly, what I want is to kill your sorry ass, but that wouldn’t be a smart thing to do as a leader. So... What does it take for you to get your puppies to leave my clan alone?”
“You know what I want, Shaykh.” Sean stated.
“Crys already left Sean, and she won’t be coming back. So that is out of my hands.”
“How convenient.” Sean chuckled. “No matter, I have my own plans for Crystal... I never expected this to be easy. Well, there are other things concerning me, since I’ve heard from rather reliable sources that you have been keeping in touch with a Knight from Nehaven, that you’ve been getting help from them... Now that’s a problem for me. Because when the cities do favors they tend to collect.”
“And what do you fear they’ll ask of me?” Dastan asked, raising an eyebrow. “I am not the kind of man who lets himself be manipulated, by anyone... And I’ll make that as clear as day to Newhaven and anyone else necessary.”

Sean chuckled, pacing his way around the training area of the Crimson’s camp. With corner of his eyes he could catch several of the mercenaries, especially the youngest amongst their ranks, struggling to catch a glimpse of their meeting, but always respectfully distant. “Strong proud warriors, the race of Effort... Isn’t it so? Brilliant negotiators, the people of Brightvale... She told me some of your history, it’s quite interesting. I think the history of one’s people tells a lot about the individual. It is my understanding that when you deal with another individual, friend or foe, it’s important to know their history. Because if you don’t... You’re at a loss.” He stated. “For instance, if someone wanders into my encampment demanding to see the Alpha, that’s very disrespectful, but you... You sent someone all the way to Newhaven to send me a proper message, and I appreciate that. See, you are a smart leader, Dastan, and what you want is to protect your people. Yes? So put your little infatuation, or whatever it is, for Crys and the fact that you always hated me aside just for the purpose of this and tell me: what do you need to end this?” He asked, beginning to pace around the arena.

“Some answers first of all.” Dastan stated simply, following Sean with his eyes.

“Such as?”

“What else has Indrani told you about us, besides history?”

Sean laughed. “She never passed me any information, if that is what you’re asking.” He replied. “I would love to tell you I completely stole her loyalties from you, but that wouldn’t be true.”

“And how much did you tell her? About your plans?”

“You mean... If she knew I was planning on stabbing my clan leaders in the back? I never got into any details about that, no. Did she know I wanted Crys dead? Absolutely. Did she ever help me? Not once, and I never asked.”

“I see...”

“Do you, now? The fact that you are asking me these questions tells me that either you didn’t ask her, or you didn’t trust her answers. Is your clan’s leadership structure not what it used to be, friend? What a shame!”

“That’s funny considering the fact that this whole thing started because you left some random woman in command... For what I hear you can’t even find her now, is that true? I mean certainly it’s not that hard for a man with a whole clan of highly trained assassins under his command to find one single woman in a land as small as Valcrest?” Dastan laughed, now starting to pace around as well, eyes still locked on Sean wherever he went within the circled area of the training field. “How long have you planned to take the Alpha’s place, Sean? How pathetic is it that you never seemed to think of what to do once you got it? You have people moving without your orders, attacking innocent civilians; something the Wolfpack prouds itself in not doing for decades... ”

“We don’t attack civilians.” Sean retorted.

“One of your men attacked our temple, where the civilians were being guarded, he aimed his arrows at them.” Dastan stated, his eyes narrowing as he stared into Sean’s trying to catch his reaction. “The arrows exploded upon contact.”

“Exploding arrows?” Sean asked, honestly intrigued. “We don’t have any enlightened with that kind of ability.”

“Ali seemed to know who he was...”

“Then ask her who he was. He was certainly not one of my people though. And we do not attack civilians. That’s all I can say about this.”

“You don’t know what your people do, Sean. You don’t know who they are... I don’t think you even know who you are anymore Alpha...” Dastan’s voice was only slightly above a low growl, the rage and contempt clear in his voice. “You think you are a man, but you are nothing more than a scared little boy with way too much power in his hands.”

“Think what you will... I may be a boy, but right now... I’m a boy with enough power in his hands to end your life. You know it, I know it, let’s not pretend the situation is any different.”

Dastan looked up at the sky for a moment, squinting at the sunlight. It was just a little past noon, and the sun was high and bright in the sky. “You’re in my territory, Alpha.” He stated simply, smiling at the daylight. His dark eyes seemed to shine, almost in delight, at whatever thoughts were running through his mind right then. “Are you sure you want to be so arrogant?” He chuckled. “Are you even aware of how unwise that is? Didn’t your men tell you what they saw the night they attacked us? Maybe it was useless to let them leave with their lives after all...”

Sean’s body tensed at the man’s words, he clenched his fists for a brief moment as he felt the air between him and the mercenary leader growing thicker... This encounter was taking a slow turn towards hostile, and that was the opposite of what Sean intended. He wasn’t afraid of Dastan, not in one bit, but he didn’t want whatever happened between the two of them to make things worse between their clans. Finally he sighed. “Do you want to hurt me? Will that do it for you? Because, really, I’ve spent the past three years exchanging threats and insults with the world, and after a while it gets tiring. So, really... Give it you best shot.”

Dastan chuckled, shaking his head as his laughter grew into a tiny fit. “Oh, please... I don’t beat up children.” He mocked. “I see that we should get this over with, however, so I’ll make this simple: You’ll stay out of my territory and away from my people, I will stay out of your territory and away from your people. That’s the deal. As long those boundaries are kept, what you do and who you do it to is none of my concern, and my business is my business.”

Sean sighed, tilting his head back to watch the blue sky above as he thought about the terms of their ‘deal’. He had little to gain from attacking the Crimson any further, actually he had much to lose, but he also didn’t want to just bend to Dastan’s will that way.

“Well...?” The man insisted.

Sean took a deep breath, and made a huge effort to swallow his pride. “Sounds reasonable enough for me.” He stated finally. “Are we through?”

“I certainly am.” Dastan stated. “You may take your weapons and leave, Alpha.”

Sean occupied himself with picking up his daggers from the small pile the mercenaries had made in the sand, as he heard Dastan begin to leave. He snickered softly under his breath.”One more thing...”

Dastan halted as he walked away from Sean, without a word, to simply let him say what he needed and end this meeting. Get it over with.

“Make sure to communicate this agreement to you commander... She did swear to kill me after all.”

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

[White Shadows Camp]

“You are an idiot, boy.” Lena stated with amusement in her tone. “You should have just told Dani what Sean did.”
“I didn’t stop him and I could have... That makes me just as guilty and pointing a finger at him wouldn’t make anything better.” Jake replied. “Can we please not discuss this anymore?”
“Do you see how hypocritical that is though? You want the people who murdered your sister to be punished, Sean wants the man who killed his mother punished, but neither of you are willing to allow the person who disfigured that woman to be punished. Sean won’t take responsibility for what he did, and you won’t cast blame on him either. That’s fine, but that woman’s face was scarred for life and her children will surely be scarred as well; for life. No one should know this better than you.”
“It was my fault... I shouldn’t have taken Sean with me, and I should have turned back when I noticed his behavior was... Growing angrier, more erratic, I should have known he would snap like that. It was my fault, and that’s why I didn’t want to cast any blame on him.” Jake muttered. “I noticed Sean was losing it, but I didn’t want to stop. Now, can we please drop this subject already?”

Lena heaved a sigh, followed by a soft chuckle. “Fine. You’re stubborn like your father, you know? It’s your ego talking, when you assume you alone are responsible for all the bad things that happen around you. His was rather loud in its claims as well.”
“I’m not my father.”
“You are your father, Jacob. You are your father, your mother, your sister, your friends... You are everyone who ever mattered in your life. Whether you like it or not, whether you see it or not, they all make you who you are.” She stated. “Your father was a good man, and you shouldn’t try so hard set yourself apart from him.”
“He hated you though, didn’t he?”
“I judge people based on my opinion of them, and not their opinion of me, Jacob.” She stated simply. “He hated me, for his own reasons, but he was a good man. His worse flaw was that he tried to do too much. Be responsible for everything at once. He meant well, like you, but in the end how was he remembered?”
“As a hero.” Jake stated. “My father was a hero.”
“Your father died a hero when he could have lived as a simple man; that was a choice he made. It’s a choice you might have to make one day too: Do you want to be a hero, or do you want to make a difference?”
“Heroes make a difference, don’t they?”
“No. They don’t. Have you ever met a living hero, Jake? Men fight battles, and if they fight them well enough to be remembered, they die and become heroes. They don’t win the battles, they just die a heroic death. They die for what they believe in, for what they think is right, to save lives... It doesn’t really make a difference though. In the end, dead heroes won’t save this land.”
“And who do you suppose will?” Jake asked, slightly skeptical in his questioning.
“Just... People who are stubborn enough to actually make a change, and not simply die trying.”


Jake had stood beside Annie the whole time while the White Shadows paid their respects to their former leader. Some of them spoke a few kind words that he really didn’t pay attention to. He hated funerals and burials and the only reason he was still there was that Annie just seemed unable to let go of his arm. The girl was standing firmly, however, her eyes were sad, but no hint of tears was seen within; people seemed wary of this, as if expecting her to suddenly crack, but Jake knew that Annie wasn’t the type to act proud or hide her feelings. Of course that didn’t mean he wasn’t worried about her all the same.

People said their words, shed their tears, and the body was laid to rest, a white stone marking its resting place. The name “Helena Turner” skilfully carved into the smooth surface of the gravestone; only the name and nothing more.

Slowly the healers all returned to their duties, one by one, until no one was left standing before the grave except Jake, Annie, and Alistair. After minutes of silence, Annie released Jake’s arm and whispered. “Give me a moment, please. Alone.”
“Sure.” He replied, grasping the girl’s shoulder and giving it a gentle squeeze before walking away, giving Alistair a nod to follow him and leave her alone in the burial grounds.

The man walked their way out of the encampment and through the village ruins for a good period of time before the first word was spoken between them. “She was born here.” Alistair stated. “I remember when it burned. Ten years ago it was. The last remaining village... Rosefeld.”
“Ten years ago? That’s... Ali’s village?” Jake asked, stopping in his tracks and turning to face Alistair with an intrigued look in his eyes.
“That’s the one.” The man confirmed. “Lena was born here, her mother was found and killed by the Wolfpack three years later, that’s how she ended up there. The Alpha adopted her after killing her real mother...” He tilted his head to the side. “She never told you?”
“I never asked.” Jake stated, running a hand over his eyes.
“How long has it been since you last slept? And I mean a full night sleep, without the aid of any medicine?”
“Two years or so... I think.” Jake answered with a small shrug. “Does it show?” He chuckled.
“That’s very dangerous, Jake. You need to sleep.”
“I know, Al... Thanks.” Jake muttered. “It’s not like it’s my choice to have insomnia.”
“Do you know why you have insomnia?” Alistair asked, walking a bit further into the wrecked village. “Stress does awful things to the mind, friend.
Jake snorted a laugh. “I know that.” He ran his hand over his eyes one more time and then through his hair. “But thanks anyway, for the concern.”
Alistair shook his head, an amused look in his eyes. “Knowing it doesn’t seem to make a difference, now does it? Are you going to do something about it?”
“I’m doing something about it.” Jake stated with a half smile. “Say, Al... You’ve been with the Shadows for, what, fifteen years?”
“Fourteen. Why?” Alistair replied, sitting on a stone that seemed to once be part of a wall.
“What do you believe Peace truly is? And do you believe we’ll ever see it?”
“No. You can’t see Peace. You can feel it.”
“Have you?”
“No... When I was boy, I thought I had, but that wasn’t peace... That was... Apathy...” He sighed softly. “One day, maybe... Lena said she felt it once in her lifetime. Only once and that was rare, because peace never lasts too long.”
“Did she say when?” Jake asked, moving to sit next to the former healer, his eyes scanning the bare earth beneath his feet with interest.
“No. I didn’t ask.” Alistair replied. “I asked if she could describe it, but she couldn’t... Why are you asking this?”
“Some people just don’t believe in Peace anymore... The White Shadows seem to preach it, but not one of them seem to be able to define it. So what exactly do they believe in?”
“You sound confused, Jacob.” Alistair stated simply.
“That’s not the answer to my question Al.”
“The White Shadows think of Peace as a feeling of acceptance of fate as well as the understanding that accepting fate does not mean taking no responsibility for choices. It’s hard to explain, but mainly... The White Shadows have taught me to do what I can for others as well as myself and accept the fact that sometimes there is nothing to be done. Death is the where the road ends, our final destination, Life is a path, and you choose which path to take and which to turn away from, but you need to accept that you have no control of the obstacles in your way, or other travelers you may encounter... That is fate.”
“It sounds like...”
“Nonsense. It always sounds like nonsense. The truth is, Jake... You can’t control how a story ends, but you can control your part in it. You can’t control the full consequences of your actions, but you can control the intentions behind them, and not being able to see the subtle lines that separate what is and isn’t in our control is what makes living so hard. So, in theory, peace is the feeling you get when you finally understand the difference. I say in theory because it’s debatable whether that is even possible. Some believe you can only experience it moments before Death takes you.” Alistair shook his head slowly before letting his eyes wander around the devastated village. “Did Ali ever tell you about this place?”
“No... She didn’t like to talk about it, and I respect that. I don’t like thinking about the past either...”
“Neither do I, I understand...” Alistair mumbled. “I just... Think you should ask her now.”
“Do you know something, Al?” Jake asked, raising an eyebrow.
“I can’t really say. Just... Ask her when you see her.” He smirked. “You are going to go see them this time, right?”
“What do you mean with that, Al?”
“I mean... You have doubts about seeing them... Her... Again... Don’t you? Fear. It’s understandable that you feel this way.”
Jake grunted in annoyance. “I forget you’re one too.”
“One what?” Alistair chuckled.
“Nothing.” He muttered.
“Oh, I see...” The man laughed. “I sse!”
“Shut up.” Jake mumbled, pushing Alistair away and onto the floor.
“What? I didn’t say anything!” He laughed out, getting on his feet, taking another look around the area and heaving a sigh. “I remember this place.”
“Did you see it burn?”
“Not really... Was in the middle of the night... When we got here, there wasn’t much left. No survivors, or so we thought.... Just bodies everywhere... Wasn’t pretty at all.” Alistair answered, a slight frown crossing his features. “I remember Allison’s brother, we found him almost on the edge of the forest... Alone... Stabbed in the back.” He added, pointing towards the trees where the forest began. “We buried him there, underneath a tree. Lena took Ali there in the time she stayed with us... And she marked the tree...” He chuckled, shaking his head and placing his foot on the piece of wall he had been seated on. “If these rocks could talk, huh?”
“If Valcrest had a voice, it’d be screaming I think.” Jake stated, standing up with a heavy sigh. “We should go back, I think. I need t go rejoin the Blacks in the morning, unless Annie needs me to stay.”
“She won’t ask you to stay, and there’s no need for you to worry... I’ll take care of her.” Alistair stated turning and beginning to walk back in the direction of the camp.

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

Luckas entered the White Shadows encampment and immediately felt the burn of angry glares watching his every move. He ignored the healers the best he could, eyes scanning his surroundings for where their leader would be. His head was throbbing and he was sure he needed sleep soon, but for that he needed a safe place; and this was certainly not it. He was more and more tired by the second, to a point where his mind just started to drift off. It was in that stated a someone firmly, yet gently, gripped his shoulder. Luckas immediately turned his head as if he’d seen a ghost, only to find Annie’s dark brown eyes looking back at him.
“Almost fooled me.” He mumbled. “For a second.”
“She’s really gone now, Luckas.” Annie replied simply. “Walk with me.” she stated, steering Luckas by the shoulder to a more secluded area, away from the glares of the angered healers and towards a small flower garden. “What happened to your arm?” She asked as they paced, the patches of frozen grass making a crackling sounds beneath their feet.
“Captain… Didn’t have time to be gentle with me… As I’m sure you already guessed.” He replied.
“Uh-huh.” Annie mumbled, turning to face him and placing both hands over the broken arm before he could protest and healing the fracture. “So… Tell me what happened.” She asked, turning away to walk further away from the encampment.
Luckas stood with a confused expression on his face before following after Annie, removing the protection of his, now healed, arm. “You… You’re not tired.” He stated. “I mean… Something like this would have knocked you out a couple of years ago.”
“I have been working on developing my gift, Luckas… It takes more to knock me down nowadays, but that’s not something I like to brag about.” She shrugged. “Given the chance, people will always take the easier way out. Instant cure is not all people believe it is and, even for me, it’s not very easy to make them understand that.”
“So, you hide.” He nodded. “I see…”
“We all hide things, one way or another… Don’t we?” She retorted, crouching down to stare at some of the flowers. “Answer my question, Luke.”
“I don’t know if I have an answer to give… I’m not so sure what happened exactly.” He stated crouching down next to her. “What are we doing?”
“Tell me what you do know then.” She stated calmly. “It’s alright Luckas. I know it’s not your fault. I just want to know what you remember.” She insisted, reaching out and gently grazing the petals of one of the white flowers. “And… I’m picking flowers.” She nudged him slightly. “What do you think she’d like?”
“She hated white, but I think these…” He said pointing at some light blue flowers that resembled roses in shape, letting himself drop onto a sitting position on the frozen grass.
“These are pretty.” Annie agreed, with a half smile, proceeding to pick the blue flowers amongst the other few that had managed to bloom even in the cold weather, holding them together in one hand. “I healed your arm.”
“Yes.” Luckas answered. “So?”
“So now everything you tell me is confidential. I can’t tell anyone anything, unless you give me permission.” She explained, staring deep into his black eyes with a gaze that was blood-chillingly similar to her mother’s. “Tell me everything, Luckas. What did mother ask of you and why did she have to die to get it?”

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

It took Luckas a good while to tell Annie absolutely everything Lena had told him, and what she had asked him to do; he didn’t want to tell anyone, but somehow he felt like he needed someone to know the reason behind everything in case it slipped his mind somehow. Once she had all the answers she needed, Annie pushed the flowers she’d been holding onto his hands and told him to go pay his respects. So now there he was... Standing before a gravestone, with flowers awkwardly dropped at his feet, pretending the whole thing actually meant something. It didn’t. It was a rock, what was he suppose to say to it? The flashes of memories never stopped spinning in the back of his head, but they were clearer now… It was manageable. He understood that Lena had planned for all of that to happen; that she knew that it was truly the only way she could ever keep her promise to him. What he still didn’t understand was why that would matter so much to her anyway... Why now of all times? Heaving a sigh in his exhaustion the memory of the last time they spoke before she left came to his mind.

“Well, like I said… You won’t live forever.”
“Does that thought frighten you?” She asked. “One day I won’t be here to hold your leash, and when that day comes, you will be alone.”
“We are always alone when it really matters.” Luckas said, absently. “I’m not frightened by that.”
“Are you sure?” Lena asked with a smile. “Why are you here then?”
“Humph. I wanted to be alone, that’s why. But you just can’t stay away can you?” He asked.
“I’m heading for the desert, and I will be leaving within a year. I only came here to say that our arrangement doesn’t change just because I’m absent. I will know if you violate our terms.” She smiled. “And don’t get too comfortable… I plan on coming back one day.”
“Wait, what?” the boy turned towards the woman, unable to hide the shock in his eyes. “Where are you going?” He asked.
“That doesn’t concern you.” She replied.
“I could find out.” He said.
“No. You could try, but we both know how that would end.” She chuckled. “Besides, these are sentimental things you would have no interest in.”


He nodded, going silent for a long while. Then he cracked open a smile. “Sentimental things are always interesting; they are weaknesses in more ways than one.”
Lena nodded, laughing lightly. “Only if you allow them to be; if you fear your own feelings, they will make you weak. If you embrace them, they can give you strength when you need it.”
“Do you need it now?” He asked, raising an eyebrow.
“We’ll all need it soon enough.”

Luke’s eyes narrowed at the stone for a moment before then widened and sparkled. “You knew it... You knew all along!” He whispered... Letting the realization sink in before exploding in giggles. “You lying, misleading, bitch!” He exclaimed, hysterical laughter echoing through the Shadows’ burial grounds as Luckas fell to his knees unable to stop himself. “You played me! You knew all along! You... Deceptive... Two-faced... Manipulative... Used me... You used me... Hahaha.” Luckas laughed himself to a point where he could barely breathe, even less form any more words to express himself. All he could bring himself to do was laugh louder and louder, clapping his hands in amusement as if congratulating Lena’s ghost with a round of applause. It had just hit him how the woman knew all along this was the only way to make him remember, and every excuse she had ever given him as to why it couldn’t be done just yet began to cross his mind. Luckas had to admit that Lena had been smarter than him all along. He couldn’t deny he had been made a fool of. And the sheer hilarity of the whole situations was just overwhelming. How stupid was he if he didn’t see it from the start? How can anyone be THAT stupid? It was just too ridiculous not to laugh.

“What are you doing here?”

Luckas stood up straight, but didn’t turn to the sound of Jake’s voice, giggles still escaping him here and there as he tried to take deep breaths. “What does it look like, Jakey?” He asked, letting out a snicker as he calmed his voice the best he could. “I’m saying my goodbyes. Just like everyone else has.”
“Don’t call me that, you piece of shit.” Jake muttered out, rage seeping through his every word. He couldn’t bear the sight of Luckas laughing in front of Lena’s grave; it made him sick in more ways than he could ever describe. “Didn’t you have time to say your goodbyes when you killed her?” He asked, his voice rising. “I don’t care what Annie says… I know what you did.”
Luckas’ whole body tensed and his fists clenched at the words, slowly he turned to face Jake, a red glow in his eyes as he muttered. “You know nothing... Jakey... You never did.”
“I know what you are, Luckas. What your brother was...” He muttered out. “Was just a matter of time...”
Luckas raised an eyebrow at Jake for a few seconds before slipping back into uncontrollable laughter, clapping his hands again, but this time in pure mockery. “Well… Congratulations, Jakey! You discovered the whole truth! It surely doesn’t go any further than that. It was all about me absently killing a healer. Well done!” Luckas’ expression suddenly turned more serious as he glared at Jake. The look in his eyes would have been enough to send anyone with the slightest bit of brains running away as fast as they could, but not Jake. “You know nothing about me, you know nothing about my motives... And I hate breaking this to you, my dear friend, but you know so little about your aunt I actually pity you.”
Jake shook his head, a bitter laugh escaping him as he glared at Luckas."And you knew her so well... Right? Tell me then, did you even hesitate to kill the only person who ever believed in you? Despite everything you’ve done, everything you are... She treated you like a son… Did you even hesitate?”
Luckas laughed again. “Treated me like a son? No… No, no, no, no… Jakey; she treated me like a student. She treated YOU like a son. And all you did was act like a spoiled little brat, blaming her for everything and accusing her of not being there for you.” Luckas smiled. “I saw her memories, Jakey, every single one. I know everything she knew; everything she kept from you." His smile turning into a grin as he added. "The only piece left of Lena... Is mine." He laughed rather evilly and whispered. "And I don't like to share."

Jake's face was red and he was shivering from head to toe, hands balled up into tightly clenched fists at his sides. The thought of Luckas knowing every intimate detail of Lena's life, her memories... That in itself nearly pushed him over the edge, but the way he spoke, as if he owned a piece of her soul... As if he'd stolen from her... That sick twisted laugh... It sent a wave of shock through his whole body, and without much thought into the matter, he pulled a throwing knife and sent it flying grazing Luke's face. It didn't hit, but it was only meant to distract Luckas from the fact that he'd gone invisible.

Luckas flinched as a knife passed his face, and when he stopped to look around, Jake had vanished. If he was smart enough he had probably covered his ears so Luke's enlightenment wouldn’t affect him. Usually Luke would shrug and walk away, but this time he had more than enough of this crap. “Jakey… Jakey, boy… Can you hear me? Read my lips, maybe? I’ll talk slow, because I have one little thing I’d be willing to share…Consider it proof of my undying affection for you...” He snickered, his eyes moving from side to side searching for some sign or movement that gave away Jake’s whereabouts, but he knew that if he could anger him just enough he’d make a mistake. “I know how your mommy died… Lena didn’t tell you about that, did she? Neither did your sister, right? No one ever mentioned it to you, and haven’t you ever wondered why? Why no one talked about it?” He chuckled. “Now that I think of it... Jess looked a lot like her, didn’t she? Do you think they screamed alike too?” Luckas giggled. “Do you think mommy begged for your life too, Jakey?”

That did it, and Luckas suddenly felt the painful result of all his provocation as Jake collided with him, knocking him down and holding a firm grip on his throat, making himself visible and staring right into his eyes as he pinned him to the ground, anger making him completely careless to the fact that Luckas could just destroy with a slight touch of hand. “What are you talking about, you piece of shit?” Jake muttered.
Luckas grinned. “Did I say something? I don’t remember…”
Jake responded to that by tightening his hold on Luke’s throat. “Talk.”
“Can’t…” Luke replied, pretending to be out of breath. He then giggled. “Come on, kill me. I dare you. Do it! What’s holding you back, pretty boy? I’m a monster, I’m a killer, and you’d be doing the world a favor! DO IT! Come on, you pathetic little shit! Be a man for once! KILL ME! DO IT!”

Jake was shivering in his rage, and he tightened his hold on Luke’s neck more and more, actually causing him to choke this time, staring into his black eyes, honestly eager to watch life slip away from them forever.

[Flashback – Healer’s Camp, approximately 4 years ago]

“What is the problem Jacob?” Lena asked, her tone half amused and half annoyed as she pulled him by the shoulder to walk with her.
“The problem? That kid is a psycho, that is the problem! Do you honestly trust him running loose in this camp?” Jake asked looking at her with a severe frown as if she was the irresponsible teenager out of the two of them.
Lena laughed at Jake’s tone. “Do I trust him? Of course I don’t.” She replied. “Trust is something that must be earned, and Luckas is yet to earn mine, but his presence here doesn’t disturb me in the slightest if that’s what you mean.” She sighed softly. “Jacob, you are yet to understand certain subtleties of Life; you and most people, to be honest. Luckas is not a hopeless case, and until he becomes one I won’t see him as such. You’ve heard of his brother, yes?”
“Yes.” Jake answered with a shrug.
“Dark Mirror was a psychotic menace and my suggestion to Newhaven authorities when they asked us to try and find a solution for his victims was to put the kid to death before he managed to break loose again.” She told him. “I saw the kid with my own eyes and I can say for a fact that there was not a single shred of humanity left in him. That is not the case with Luckas. He’s a bright kid actually.”
“Yes, doesn’t that make him all the more dangerous? He’s smart enough to plan, clean up after himself and he is a freaking sadist! He was never caught, Lena, no one knew he even existed, how much do you suppose he got away with so far?”
“He killed considerably little when compared to his brother and, overall… He’s killed less people than you.” Lena stated. “So no, he’s not more dangerous than his brother. Yes, he can be, but he isn’t. So you’re saying I should have this kid locked up in a cell for the rest of his life because he can, maybe, be that dangerous one day?” She chuckled. “Jacob, that’s just not how it works. If there’s something there to work with still, I plan to work with it.” Jake opened his mouth to argue, but Lena stopped him with a gesture. “If it ever comes a day when he becomes a menace, then I will personally take care of it. Until then, don’t question me anymore on this. I understand your concern, but if you trust my judgment so little as to believe I would deliberately endanger my clan, and my daughter, simply because I took pity on a kid… Then we have nothing else to discuss. Understand?”


Jake flinched. Luckas still choking under his grasp and showing signs of losing consciousness, finally he snapped out of it and released him. Standing up straight and looking down at Luckas as he rolled over to his hands and knees, coughing and trying desperately to catch a breath. Jake would have let it end there, wasn’t for the fact that Luckas used the breath he caught to piss him off further.
“You… Coward…” He laughed. “Weak... That’s what you are...”
Jake felt the rage burn in his veins again, and he kicked Luckas on his chest, knocking him over to his side “Don’t you ever know when to shut up?” He muttered, kicking him a couple of more times before finally turning to walk away.

Big mistake.

“Hey, Jakey, boy… Stop.” Luckas called as he lay on his back on the floor. The sky was clear in an astonishing blue color and still, it was nice and cool. Luke was dizzy, and his body ached, but he smiled up at the sky as if it was the greatest day of his life. Slowly, he began to stand up. A slight groan escaping him as he stood upright… Walking over to a paralyzed Jake with a delighted grin plastered on his face. “You stupid bastard…” He laughed. “I gave you a chance to end it and you didn’t take it. Did you honestly think I was going to take all that quietly, now?” He shook his head, absently searching Jake’s pockets and ridding him of his needles and blades. The last one he took was a small golden dagger that was sheathed at his ankle, hidden underneath his boot. “Huh… This is an interesting one. Kinda small though for a big man like you, isn’t it?” Luke said, unsheathing the dagger and waving it in front of Jake’s eyes with a snicker. “You always said everything you wanted about me, Jakey... Calling me a freak, a maggot, saying that I’m a monster, an animal, and that I don’t deserve to live… It was cute at first, but now your hypocrisy is really starting to get annoying. So, you know what? I’m going to tell you what I think you are and why you don’t deserve to live.” Luke said, pressing the tip of the blade between Jake’s eyes and tracing a line with it playfully down the bridge of his nose. “You don’t deserve to live, because you are the worst type of coward there is. You like to play the hero but you’re nothing but a selfish prick that walks out on anyone who happens to give a shit about your sorry ass! Some big freaking hero! Huh? If only daddy could see you now!”

Luckas looked into Jake’s eyes absolutely delighted with how enraged he was. If he wasn’t paralyzed Luckas would be dead for sure. “Like I said, Jakey; we’re not so far apart, but the difference is that I don’t pretend I’m some kind of hero, I don’t make people think I give a shit and then walk out on them when things are just too stressful and I know what my role is.” Luke growled. “And yours... I’m the monster, and you’re the knight in shiny armor… That’s how the world will always see us, but we know better, don’t we? You’re nothing better than me.” Luke dragged the knife to Jake’s throat pressing the blade harder against his skin, his eyes glowing red as he stared into Jake’s. “Do you think they’ll bury you like a hero, pretty boy? Do you think they’ll cry for you even though you don’t deserve a single tear out of them? I bet you wish you could beg forgiveness now, huh? Wish you could go back in time and say all those things you were too much of a selfish bitch to actually admit to?” Luke pressed the blade harder against Jake’s throat, drawing a little bit of blood in the process. “You’re no hero. You’re a pathetic excuse of a man.” With that said he pulled the dagger away and began walking around Jake, stopping behind him and kicking him hard in the back of the knees forcing them to bend. Jake fell to his knees and then onto the floor, since he couldn’t move a finger to help regain his balance. Luckas crouched, placing one knee on Jake’s back and pressing the tip of the dagger on the back of Jake’s neck, leaning forward until he was whispering right in his ear. “How does it feel, huh? I want you to cherish this moment now, Mr. Hero, and remember it every time you decide to voice your pitiful and near-sighted opinions to me, because in this moment I own your life and I can own it again at any moment in the future if I want to. To be honest, I’d love nothing more than to rid the world of your sad pathetic excuse for a life right now.” He said, in a low growl. “I’m just afraid if I did she might not forgive me.” He added, whispering the last sentence as if he was speaking to himself, and not Jake. He then sunk the dagger into the soft dirt, near Jake’s face. “Now you probably know what you’d like to say and do before you die, but the most pathetic part is that you won’t do anything about it, because you’ll never be more than what you are: A selfish and coward little prick.”

Jake remained on the floor, feeling Luke’s hold on him fade as he walked away. Once able to move Jake lifted his head to the sight of the little golden dagger, his blue eyes sparkling slightly as he stared at it, Luckas’ words still ringing in his ears. He reached for the weapon as he sat up. “Coward little prick…” He muttered to himself, angrily.

Slowly Jake pushed himself off the ground and began picking his weapon Luckas had scattered around him; his hands shivering in anger still as he shook the words out of his mind and began to walk back into the healers’ camp, not giving another glance to Lena’s grave as he passed. Maybe it was all true, and maybe Jake needed to admit to some things, but he sure as hell wasn’t going take it from Luckas.

“What did I ask of you, Jake?” Annie’s voice sounded in his ears. It was clear to him that she was upset with him.
“I said I would try.” Jake retorted, not looking at her. “Little bastard’s lucky I let him live.”]
Annie heaved a sigh, walking after Jake until they were in the middle of the camp. “That’s not what it looked like from where I was standing Jake. Not that it matters anyway...” She grabbed him by the shoulder, to make him stop walking. “Hey... You’re angry, I understand, but isn’t the right way to handle it.”
Jake stopped walking and heaved a very long sigh before turning to face his cousin and unsheathing his sword, holding it out as if offering it to her. “Do you know where this comes from?” He asked, indicating the blade in his hands. “This sword belonged to Bastian’s brother, Kyle. There are only two swords in Valcrest quite like this one. There are better blades, maybe, but not one of them is quite like this. Bastian told me that his father really, desperately, wanted a son and after his wife had a girl and miscarried twice the man decided to pray and ask the Twins to give them a boy. He promised the Gods that if they gave him a son he would be the most honorable and just warrior in the land. When his wife got pregnant again he traveled out of the land to have the two swords made, and after she gave birth to twins he assigned a sword to each of the boys . See the symbol?” He pointed to a visibly foreign symbol engraved on the blade near the handle. “It means ‘justice’. The sword Crys now has, Bastian’s sword, holds the symbol for ‘honor’. When I graduated from training and decided to go after the men who killed my sister, Bastian gave me this sword and told me that after he betrayed the Wolf Hunters his brother gave him the sword back as a reminder of what he’d turned his back to.”
“Justice? So he was encouraging you to kill those men?” Annie asked, tracing her fingers along the marking on the blade.
“Not exactly.” Jake said, a little hint of a smile breaking through his expression. “Rather he was just reminding me that sometimes it’s best to walk away.” He sheathed his blade and looked Annie in the eyes. “I walked away... This time... Out of respect for Lena... For you. The next moment he gives me a reason though, and he will give me a reason, I won’t hesitate.”

[The Manor]

Amber’s blue eyes narrowed slightly in confusion at this strange woman’s words. “For you?” She asked, letting out a giggle, her form slowly shifting to imitate that of Lamya, every trace of her, with exception of the eyes, when she spoke next it was in the other woman’s exact voice. “It may appear so, but then... appearances can surely be deceiving... This house already has a Master, you’re certainly not it, in fact... The cats are smart to know you’re certainly not one of us... One of ‘them’, for sure... They feel the stench a mile away. Buuuut... You’re funny... So why the hell not let you see? Can always just kill you later...” She stated, giving a shrug of shoulders and beginning to walk her way back towards the main entrance of the house. “Seth, Pandora!” She called out over her shoulder. The white cat, gave one last hiss in Lamya’s direction, looking up at her with mismatched eyes, one green and one blue; his right, blue eye, glowing in red before he finally turned away to follow after Amber, the female cat following him without giving the visitor any attention.

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

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Annie Turner Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher

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Sean arrived in the White Shadows camp in the late afternoon, the Crimson guard that were posted there the last time he had visited were gone, so it wasn’t very difficult for him to argue with the two men trying to hold him back. He didn’t force his way in, it wasn’t how he wanted this approach to begin, but he did make clear that he wanted to speak with Annie, and he wasn’t leaving. After a bit of a discussion they sent someone to alert Annie of his presence, but still insisting that he should come back the next day. The urgency in their tone told him that this wasn’t simply a case of wanting him gone; something had happened.

Sean was quiet as stood at the border of the healers’ camp, waiting for permission to enter, observing the men and women who passed by and noticing that the expressions on their faces were of sadness and defeat. He didn’t ask the two healers before him what was going on, he’d wait and talk to Annie, that if she decided to let him in.

“Let him through. It’s alright.” The girl’s voice sounded behind the two tall men that were blocking Sean’s path. Once they had stepped aside and Sean took a good look at her, she seemed tired, and sad, but no more than the others. Which is why he was shocked by her answer when he asked her what was wrong. It was only after she had led him a few steps into the encampment that he finally managed a reaction.

“Lena is... She died? Just like that?” He mumbled.

Annie couldn’t help a small laugh at his shock. “What do you mean ‘just like that’? What were you expecting?”
“I guess... I just wasn’t.” Sean replied, running a hand through his hair and shaking his head slowly. “It’s hard to believe.”
“That is true.” She said, giving a half-smile. “That is not why you’ve come here though. So what is it?”
Sean chuckled. “You seem awfully fine considering... The situation.”
“It’s comforting that someone finally has the courage to say that, instead of just giving me odd looks.” Annie stated, seeming rather amused. “Funny it’d be you of all people.”
“Me of all people, huh?” Sean asked, tilting his head to one side in fake annoyance.
“Well, guess it does make sense that you bring it up. You’re not exactly known for responding well to the death of a loved one, are you?” She snickered. “The answer you are looking for, to the question you didn’t actually ask, is: Yes, I am devastated. I am angry, I am sad. No I am not in denial in any way. I am simply handling it the one way I know how.”
“Well, you are freakishly calm, Annie, considering you lost someone close to you less than a day ago.” Sean pointed out, hesitating slightly when she pointed him towards the inside of her tent, but stepping inside soon after.

“I didn’t lose my mother, Sean.” Annie stated calmly, starting to make some tea. “Have a seat.”
Sean sat down, eyeing Annie curiously. “Okay, I’ll take the bait: How come?”
Annie heaved a small sigh and sat in front of him. “First you tell me why you’ve come. I believe I asked first.”
Sean was silent for a moment or so, a curious look in his eyes as he watched the girl; he was somewhat unsure of what to say, or if this was the time to say it. Finally, he simply reached into his pocket and pulled from it an old and worn silver ring. “Officially I’ve come for a truce, but what i really came for is an honest answer: Why?”
“Why what, exactly, Sean?” She asked calmly.
“Why give me this?”
“You wanted it.” She smiled. “Took you long enough though, don’t you ever check your pockets?”
“I was stabbed at the Inn, and Sheila found it while she treated my wounds. So, it was about a month ago, but I’ve been otherwise engaged.” Sean explained. “I don’t want it. I don’t think I want to exactly know why you have it either... Just keep it, and leave it be.”
Annie took the ring from Sean and examined it carefully as she spoke. “Am I supposed to believe you haven’t already reached the conclusion of why I have it?” She sighed softly. “You know... It’s not as bad as you think, Sean. I think it’s safe to say it’s never as bad as you think...” She reached out for his arm, giving it a gentle squeeze. “Are you sure you don’t want to know the truth?”

“What does it matter now? It’s in the past.”
“If it’s in the past, then it can’t hurt you. If it can, then it’s not really in the past.” She replied, simply. “It’s up to you, I won’t insist anymore.”
“Maybe someday.” He stated simply, a half smile breaking through his features. “I don’t know about how you people do it, but in the Pack we tend to wait a few days after a person’s death before we discuss their indiscretions.”
Annie snorted quietly, as if holding back a chuckle. “Alright, that’s a valid point you have.”
“Now, you answer my question: How come you didn’t lose your mother?”
“Ah...” Annie smirked slightly. “Well, I was born in this clan, unlike, believe it or not, most of the people who presently live here. These grounds, and the ruins just outside our camp, are alone a constant reminder that people die. If that wasn’t enough, a lot of people do in fact die here.” She stated, moving to pour two cups of tea and offering him one. “We have a saying that goes: Love cannot stop Death, in the same way Death cannot stop love. It sounds silly, I know, but I believe that. And I believe that as long a you still love a person, then that person can never be lost to you.”
“Hum...” Sean mumbled, taking the tea cup from her, but not drinking. “I suppose, that’s one way to look at it.”
“You seem... Weary... Sean. Being Alpha is not as easy as you imagined, I assume.” Annie mentioned, taking a small sip of tea.
“I don’t think I quite imagined anything until it was actually happening.” Sean answered with a small shrug. “People like to think I thought this through, but really they give me too much credit.”
“You are not a bad leader.”
Sean snorted a small laugh, nearly choking on hot tea. “I’m not, eh?”
“You are not a bad man either... Terribly, terribly, stupid, but not a bad man overall.” She added.
“I’m afraid, most people would strongly disagree with that statement.” Sean answered, sipping from his tea and grimacing slightly at the bitterness.
Annie smiled gently. “Well, I tend to not form opinions based on what most people believe, gladly.” She answered, pointing at his tea cup absently. “Is that too strong for you?”
“No, it’s fine.” Sean sighed, setting the cup down and rummaging through his bag. “I have something else I want you to have...” He pulled a book from the bag and sat it down next to Annie. “Ella Page gave this to me. I considered letting Shaykh have it, but... Honestly, I just didn’t feel like doing him any more favors. I’d much rather give it to you.”
“What am I meant to do with this, Sean?”
Sean shrugged. “Well... Read it, and then think about it.” He said, taking the tea cup and going back to drinking from it. “I’d like to say it’s a fascinating read, but it’s really not, I think... That’s what I’d rather you have it; I think that the future generations deserve to benefit from greater minds.”
“And you want them to read from a healer?” Annie snickered. “We’re so awfully dull, haven’t you heard?”
Sean chuckled. “Of course.” He then emptied his tea cup, and quietly set it aside. “You know, I should get going... I don’t like being away too long. Can I just assume we’re in fairly decent terms now? Or should I continue to keep my people from turning to you guys for help?”
Annie sighed. “Make it clear to them that they should be respectful, and we will be fine.”
“Don’t worry about it, getting a little taste of War seems to have calmed the clan’s spirits; they are more than willing to behave.”
“That’s nice to hear.” She said, smiling softly. “After all, I don’t think it’s good for anyone if we don’t get along, right?”

Sean was going to respond but something caused him to stop himself before he could get a word out... The silence of the camp was suddenly disturbed by the sounds of shouting and he was sure he could smell smoke. Annie must have caught the smell as well, or some of the words being shouted by the healers, because she jumped to her feet mumbling “Isaac” as she left the tent in a hurry. Sean knew well none of this was his business, but he couldn’t help but follow after her. It wasn’t difficult to find the commotion, there were at least three tents burning in high flames as a group of healers attempted to control a large man with bright orange-red eyes; calling out to him and trying to get his attention. It was to no use, however, the flames simply kept burning brighter and spreading further by the second. In the commotion Sean could spot healers trying to get patients out of the way, some of them children, and it was without a second thought that he ran over to help them with it.

Annie had never before seen Isaac lose it this way. Even when he lost control of his temper, the fire in itself was somewhat controlled, directed at the focus of his rage, but this was not. The flames were randomly spreading and expanding in such a way that it wouldn’t take too long before they consumed the entire camp. Not only she didn’t understand the cause of this, she also didn’t have an idea of how to stop it, her eyes searching the camp for Alistair, since he usually managed to calm the man, as soon as she spotted the man walking over towards the fire, she ran her way to him, grabbing him by the arm to rush him over. “ Al... What the hell is happening with him?” She asked.
“I don’t know, Annie... It’s not like the other times. I don’t think calming him will do the trick. It may not even be a possibility right now.” He answered, all the while walking faster straight in the firestarter’s direction.
“So what are you going to do exactly?” Annie asked, pulling the back of Alistair’s shirt, worried of what he might try. “Al?”
Alistair stopped for one second to push Annie’s hand away from him. “Don’t be afraid.” He stated simply, opening a half smile. “And stand back, alright?”
Annie didn’t like the look in Alistair’s eyes, she knew that look very well, she usually saw it when people were about to do stupid and heroic things and she honestly hated that look.

Jake had been with Alistair, talking, when the commotion started. Out of nowhere things started to catch fire and even though Jake had seen Isaac lose control of his ability before, it had never been anything like this. Alistair seemed to have thought the same because the man hadn’t given a thought to trying to calm isaac down, since his episodes were usually caused by anger. He simply gave Jake the most potent sedative he could find and said he’d distract the man so Jake could get close enough to him with the needle. It was sound plan, wasn’t for the fact that Isaac was so out of it that the slightest miscalculation would get one of them killed.

At the moment Jake was quietly waiting for Alistair to catch Isaac’s attention so he could get close enough to get shoot the throwing needle accurately. Only, the moment Alistair stepped close enough that Isaac could see him and hear his calls, the man simply gestured with his hand in the empath’s direction, shouting something that Jake couldn’t quite make out, and the gesture alone caused a wall of flames to arise before Alistair, too tall for Jake to see beyond it; the painful cries that came from the other side confirming that the flames had reached Alistair . The new commotion seemed to have done its clumsy job to distract Isaac at least, and Jake ran into the man at full speed, tackling him down and jabbing the needle into the flesh of his neck. The sedative worked quickly, and as Isaac went out of consciousness, slowly so did the flames. Jake didn’t stop to check on Isaac’s condition, two healers had immediately rushed to him the moment Jake stepped away, but he made his way to check on Alistair instead.
Alistair had fallen to the floor, on his back, and had the right side of his chest, his right shoulder and part of his arm, burnt. It seemed the fire had mostly caught his shirt, considering it had been tossed aside and was completely burnt; his flesh didn’t seem like it had be so bad although it didn’t change the fact that the man was visibly in a world of pain. Annie had already rushed to him and she was now fighting him, trying to heal his wounds while he protested, finally he caught a firm grip on her wrist. “I said no! Save your strength... I can take it... It’s not so bad.”
“Al, you were hit by a damn wave of flames!” Annie protested, glaring at him and attempting to free her arm from his grip unsuccessfully.
“You’re not listening to me...” Alistair muttered, his eyes piercing into hers. “Don’t waste you enlightenment on me.” He said, emphasizing every word as if each meant something else entirely.
“What did he say to you?” Annie asked.
Alistair breathed in a painful breath and breathed out shakily. “He said: ‘Stay away... I can’t stop it’. He was... Afraid... Genuinely afraid of what was happening.”He answered, trying to sit up, but growling in pain and falling back again.
“Stop that.” Annie scolded, giving him a severe look. “Just be quiet there a moment.”
“Yeah... I think it’s probably best if I do...” Alistair chuckled. “H-how... How did I do?” He asked, giving Jake a grin.
“Incredibly heroic and astonishingly foolish... I could have been more stupid, but it wasn’t bad.” Jake nodded.
Alistair laughed, groaning at the pain. “Ow... Thanks...”
“That’s not funny you idiots!” Annie exclaimed, standing up from her kneel and slapping Jake in the back of his head. “Don’t you encourage him!”
“It was all his idea, I swear!”
“Heey... I’m hurt... Take the blame for me!” Alistair whined.
“No way... I’d rather face a giant dragon than the wrath of this little girl... You’re on your own.” Jake chuckled softly.

A discreet cough broke through the sound of chuckling as a healer approached them. “Miss Annie, I see that the situation here is under control and well... We have a poison victim. The man is not in a good shape and perhaps he’ll require a blessing by morning.”
Annie heaved a small sigh as she turned to the older man. “Was he just brought in?”
“Yes, Miss... Just a few minutes ago. Also... That Fletcher boy, asked me to relay his apologies for not staying, but that he was in a hurry to rejoin his clan. He also asked to transmit his wished that you... Enjoy the read.”
Annie gave a slight chuckle at the words. “Alright, thank you. Now... Let us see this dying man...” She said, taking the care to look out for nearby healers she gestured them to approach and carry Alistair somewhere more protected before walking away. “Jake, come with me?” She gave a half smile. “You were always far more creative than me with antidotes.”

Jake simply nodded and followed after Annie to one of the tents that had been left unscathed. There upon a sleeping mat lay the figure of an unconscious man, a very familiar figure indeed and Jake slightly twitched at the sight.
“Something wrong?” Annie asked, frowning at the look on his face. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“That’s... Pondus... How...?” Jake mumbled, at first not paying attention to Annie’s questions, but then turning his face to look at her. “He’s dead.”
“That’s Grim Pondus?” Annie asked, recalling the name. “And no, he’s not. At least not yet.” Annie stated. “He’s breathing, with some difficulty, I’d say, but still breathing...”
“No... I mean he died over a month ago... The Blacks burned him and everything...” Jake explained. “Does... Do they know about this?” He muttered. “Does Mageria know about this?” He sighed, running a hand through his hair. “Why won’t anyone just... Stay dead?” He groaned.
“If you have to warn someone he’s here, I suggest you go now so you can get there by morning.”
“Where was he found?” Jake asked the healer who had led them in the tent.
“In the woods. The merchants who brought him also recovered the body of a young woman. They also found other corpses nearby; they appeared to have been Wolves and the Alpha left in a hurry the moment he spotted him.” He informed. “He has scrapes on him only... Nothing more.”
“He was poisoned by blade or needle most likely... Wolves don’t use anything too out of ordinary; even the ones who are more versed in poisons among them just stick to the basic things. Shouldn’t be too much of a challenge, I hope.” He told Annie, giving her shoulder a light squeeze. “I’ll be back as soon as I can, alright? Try not to let that guy die again... And don’t forget about his gift, he’s weak, but it may be best to numb him before you poke him with sharp objects.”
Annie simply nodded to Jake’s comments. “May the Goddess light your path, cousin.” She whispered as Jake left her to tend to the fallen warrior alone; rushed footsteps soon disappearing in the distance. A weary sigh escaped the young girl’s lips, the night was barely arriving, but she could tell it would be a long one indeed.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Annie Turner Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher Character Portrait: Darren Hearst

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[Raven’s Nest - Earlier in the day]

After Evin left, Crys had decided that it was time to go visit the healers, pay her respects and try to get some answers. Even if Ali was being a little paranoid with the journal thing, she did have a valid point; it was odd that Lena was now dead not long after Ali had been attacked. That not to mention that they still didn’t know how exactly she had died.

She walked back from the center of the camp and towards her tent where she slowly started packing a few items into a bag, a little absent to the fact Ali was following her movements.

“I’m going with you.”

Crys snickered. “If you didn’t already know I was going to ask you to stay, you wouldn’t really feel the need to announce that you’re going. So you know what my answer is, don’t you?”
“I want to pay my respects.” Ali argued. “I want to say goodbye.”
Crys sighed softly. “I hate that you make me point this out, but... She will still be dead tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that... Today, I need you to stay here.”
“What for?”
“Well, first of all, if Lena’s death did have something to do with protecting this information that she supposedly gave you, there’s no better place for you than a camp full of former Black Guard.” She smirked. “Besides, you did say you’d help make some furniture, so I suggest you get on it.”
“Humph.” Ali heaved a sigh. “I suppose I did say that.”
“Just let me find out what happened, alright? I’ll be back in a day or so, meanwhile you can find ways to make yourself useful for a change, huh? Maybe make some friends... Just don’t bite anyone.” She said in a playful tone.
“I’m not amused.” Ali muttered.
“Heh, yes you are.” Crys retorted, turning to face Ali with a smile. “It’ll be fine, and you’ll get to say your goodbyes, I promise.”
Ali sigh, giving a slight nod for a response, not caring that Crys couldn’t see. “Do you think Jake knows?”
Crys’ smile faded for a moment and she clenched her fists momentarily. “That I know of, he’s still in Blackpond.” She responded, turning away and starting to walk away. “Do not get in trouble.” She told Ali over her shoulder.

“I’m going to check out this side of camp, meet up with later Irv...” Darren spoke before parting ways, intrigued to find the perfect spot to build the ideal treehouse. Of course there were plenty of spots, technically, all above the camp, but Darren wanted the highest most strategic point. He also knew of a few names mentioned earlier in casual conversation, whom he should go to see if he wanted to be put to work. Still, he thought best to get a better idea of his new surroundings. “Know all your exits...hesitation gets you killed...” He whispered to himself as he nodded to an attractive blond as he passed, only to pause in mid step when he first noticed the redhead. He stood, watching her walk away, only to cross his arms and smile as the familiarity of the form flashed across his mind. ‘Another one of yours, Jake?’ He pondered to himself before jogging forward to catch up with her just as she crossed the treeline past the bridge.

“Excuse me, Miss? Which direction are you heading in? It’s just, I’m not from around here and not sure where to find a decent enough blacksmith. Any recommendations?” Darren hopped around Crys so he was standing in front of her, a charming smile accompanied the deep, gentle tone of his voice.

Crys slowed down her pace only slightly when she heard rushed footsteps behind her, but didn’t stop until she heard someone address her asking for directions. Crys didn’t know this man, but she had an odd feeling that he’d seen her before... Like when she ran into Luckas at the inn. It was an odd feeling, yes, but there was really nothing about this person that made her uncomfortable, so she opened a smile as she replied. “I’m heading out towards the plains at the moment. Not many blacksmiths to be found around those parts, I’m afraid.” She informed, tilting her head slightly as she thought. “I’m not sure if you will find one in camp, I haven’t been here that long to know everyone, but I do know of a good one in Newhaven, answers by the name Blackwell, used to craft weapons for the Wolves about ten years ago. He’s known to be a creative guy, if you catch my drift. The Crimson have a good guy too, but he won’t just craft for outsiders you’d have to travel there only to try and convince their leader to give his consent... Too much of a hassle.” She went silent for a moment, smiling pleasantly at this new acquaintance before asking. “So, where are you from, if not from around these parts? If you don’t know where to find a smith, I take it you didn’t come here with the Blacks.”

Darren shifted his position, absently cracking a few knuckles before tugging at his goatee as if he was rolling over a few ideas in his head. He noted the way the woman’s pale green eyes seemed to pass right through him, causing him to lean side to side with a smile as she appeared to instinctually follow. “Blackwell, hmm? I’ll keep that in mind, thanks much, especially since NewHaven appears to be the closest bet for me. East of here, right? Have business that way anyhow...” Darren cleared his throat, blue eyes flashing a subtle violet hue as his smile broadened. “My apologies...” He began, bowing his head slightly. “How rude of me,...Darren....Darren Hearst. And I was born, raised, trained, and employed in Blackpond, until my most recent liberation from that dreaded place. In a way, I came here with the Blacks....woman named Sham, and I believe...maybe a friend of yours? You seem to weigh heavily upon his mind, leaving a very strong impression.” Darren’s smile dimmed, only a slight smirk present as he continued. “He didn’t say where he was going though. Would of thought he’d come with, but he seemed distracted.”

Crys held back a small chuckle. “East of here, yes. I think... It’s... Uh... That way.” She said, absently pointing in the direction of the city. “A few minutes of walking and you should be able to spot the city walls, or so I’ve heard.” She bowed her head slightly to his introduction. “Nice to meet you Darren. My name is Crystal Rivers, but please do call me Crys, I prefer it. And Blackpond, huh? Trained and employed in what? If you don’t mind me asking. You carry yourself pretty well, but you still sound like a kid to me, late teens, yes? It’s a long way from Blackpond.” She said, her green eyes lighting up a little as she stared at him, her smile shutting slowly into an intrigued expression at his mention of this possible friend of hers. “Hum... You don’t say?” She asked, in a soft tone closer to a whisper. “You seem pretty sure of what you’re saying, that’s unusual for someone speaking of what goes through another’s mind. That’s rather interesting...” Her voice trailed off as she was quiet for a moment before opening a smile again, giving a light shrug. “I take it he’ll be coming here eventually... Suppose I’ll meet him then, but if you see him first ask him if he’s heard news from the White Shadows... Although I have a feeling he’ll pass through there, it’s important that he knows.”

“My my Crys, a lovely name to match a lovely smile. “ Darren commented with a quiet grace, still politely keeping his gaze locked with hers. “Yes, it is a long way from Blackpond, especially with no weapons....kind of makes a young man like myself feel a bit...eh naked I suppose. I lost the weapons after my last job, right before I was tossed into prison. Didn’t even get paid for that either. Makes me want to rethink this whole mercenary thing.” After another short chuckle he nodded to himself. “No one can ever be truly sure, but I come to my conclusions by other factors....as I assume you deduced I have some sort of telepathic ability, although I am still unsure of how, I cross check reactions with facts. I saw certain images in his mind that had a greater effect or impression which can only be absorbed through powerful energies which come from ‘important’ interactions. Guess that is how I can explain it.” Darren naturally winked, followed by a snicker. “I suppose you could be an enemy, but I do not see that kind of focus upon you. Those who are despised...they carry a different....aura...so to speak. Also, there’s the amount of times in those few seconds your face flashed before my eyes with only a simple handshake.” Darren gave a tired sigh, scratching along his chin, adding, “I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, Crys, but his memories don’t do you justice...And If I see him before you, I will pass along the message.”

Crys chuckled softly. “Well, if I was to make such a long trip naked, there’s no one I’d trust more to accompany me than one of Mageria’s people... Except maybe my own, although they’d probably never let me forget having to travel naked, but I digress...” She chuckled a bit more before heaving a small sigh and speaking more seriously. “Your assumptions don’t seem so different from mine. I can’t know if you are telling me the truth, but I can know that you believe what you say. I can’t possibly know that you aren’t a threat, except by the fact that you don’t see me as one, I assume based on the fact that Jake doesn’t. Which, if true, I have to say is just adorable considering you can’t possibly know him for very long; I know he hasn’t been in Blackpond longer than a month.” She smiled. “Regardless, I’m definitely not a threat to you... To him, I’m not so sure yet. He should know better than to piss me off.” The tone she used was playful, but she wasn’t joking entirely, at which point she thought it best to change the subject. “Mercenary work is tricky, mostly because people love to get others to do their work for them and then just screw them over. Unless you make a pretty nasty reputation for yourself or have a group to watch your back... It’s bound to happen.”

“Beauty and brains....” Darren quickly glanced Crys in a once over and nodded. “Probably could kick my ass too...something about redheads and tempers...” He shrugged, taking a step back to give her more space. “I’ve learned through my short years that ‘time’ isn’t the only important factor in life; learning the truth about others or one’s self. I find first impressions explain a lot.” Darren sighed, holding a wide smile. “Good to know I don’t have to necessarily keep looking over my shoulder when you’re around...guess I should say a little prayer for Jake, no?” Again the young man chuckled, his cheeks flushing a soft rosy before a serious expression stealing his amusement. “..Maybe mercenary work isn’t for me....I’m not sure if I’m cut out for the work involved with ‘carving’ myself the necessary reputation for that...perhaps my calling is elsewhere....as yours seems to be as well. I won’t keep you much longer, Crys...although I’d love to talk your ear of some more.” Darren was always a laid back kind of guy, even when he was angry. Sometimes he was known for talking too much and was told he could be overly friendly, but the people in this camp just seemed “familiar” and he felt more trusting than normal. That, and he was never one for bullshit or lies. He forced the glow of his eyes away, weighing if he should extend his hand for manners sake, but decided against it when it suddenly dawned on him, a detail he hadn’t picked up from Crys before. He felt almost embarrassed as he kept his thoughts to himself, again taking another step back.

Crys shook her head slightly, a trace of a giggle escaping under her breath, but contained as she spoke. “I always found that term highly amusing... Calling... To be called, implies someone is there to call for you, no? Not sure how that applies to some scenarios, although I believe that if you are lucky someone, at some point, will call for you.” She chuckled. “And yet I’m still not sure how that applies. One can say that a calling is the call of fate, or the Gods, but that implies you believe in fate, or the Gods for that matter... Too many conditions for my liking.” She heaved a small sigh as she thought about it, but still smiling. “I do have to be somewhere else, but... Very nice meeting you, Darren. I don’t know why, but you remind me of someone. I’m sure there’ll be better opportunities for you to talk my ears off.” She chuckled. “And If you do go see Blackwell, send him my regards. I haven’t seen the old man in quite a while, not sure he’s aware that I’m alive.”

Darren shrugged, “Calling...well good points actually...but I wasn’t being metaphorical. More hoping that I’ll find what I’m good at in life...sometimes I don’t feel I’m cut out for the drama, but slowly finding a purpose is always nice to see upon the horizon.” Darren quirked a brow, angling his head in a slanted manner. “The pleasure is mine, Crys...funny how life leads us down those ironies, eh?” Crossing one arm behind his back, one along his waist, Darren bowed low, keeping his focus upon the woman. “I plan on visiting this Blackwell sooner than later, so I will be sure to mention how I was recommended. Safe journey.” Darren turned on his heels, slipping back towards the bridge in his continued search for the ‘perfect vantage point.’

[White Shadows Camp - Present Time]

Crys had made a slow walk to the plains, not in a hurry to deal with any level of grief aside her own and greatly enjoying the opportunity to be alone with her thoughts in the forest. As the afternoon moved on towards its end, and the night fell upon the land, she could feel the air gradually grow colder, but not as cold as it would be about a week before; it was sign that springtime was nearing and soon the remaining ice would melt.
It was after the sun had been down for about an hour or so that Crys reached the White Shadows’ camp. The healers immediately recognized her as she entered the camp and allowed her to visit Lena’s grave alone until Annie was free to talk. So she was left standing alone before the grave, where she remained in absolute silence until Annie came to meet her. She should maybe say a prayer, or say goodbye, or something, anything that would make this real to her, but she didn’t have the words to say or the will to speak. It wasn’t the time for that yet it seemed, she wasn’t ready.

“Do you need another minute?” Annie’s voice sounded a few steps away.
“No.” Crys replied, turning to face the girl. “I don’t think this is the time to pay my respects anyway.”
Annie sighed. “I understand. Come, I was just about to get some dinner... Have you eaten today?”
“I have, but that was hours ago, I wouldn’t refuse a warm meal.”
“Great, we can talk over a bowl of soup.” The girl retorted, beginning to walk towards the encampment, leading Crys to sit by a small campfire, where she could catch the pleasant and comforting scent of something being cooked. She smiled softly as Annie quietly reached for hand and led it to the bow she had been holding out. “Careful now, it’s hot.” She warned, releasing the bowl of soup onto Crys’ hands and taking a seat next to her.
“I will. Thank you.” Crys replied.
“Don’t thank me yet... It’s not as tasty as it smells.” She snickered. “It serves its purpose though, I suppose. I like it better when Alistair cooks, but he’s a little bit indisposed tonight.”
“Alistair cooks, huh? Wouldn’t have guessed.” Crys mentioned. “Is he feeling sick?”
“No... It’s stupid really... Isaac had a bit of a meltdown and Al got hurt trying to stop him. He’s going to be alright, just needs to treat some burns.” Annie replied.
“And how’s Isaac?” Crys asked, stirring the soup idly for a few moments before starting to eat.
“Still sedated, last I heard.” Annie replied.
“Hm.” Crys mumbled. “And what else is troubling you?”
“What do you... What do you mean?”
“You are concerned for Alistair’s health, and mourning your mother’s death, you are also stressed, which is not at all surprising considering what you told me just happened, but... I can tell there’s something else that is deeply concerning you.”
Annie heaved a long sigh and mumbled under her breath. “Damn empaths...”
Crys stifled a laugh. “And I wasn’t even trying. What is it?”
“I can’t talk about it, sorry.” Annie replied simply, digging into her bowl of soup and taking her time with chewing on the soggy vegetables.
“Confidentiality, huh?” Crys asked. “Does it have to do with your mother?”
“Can’t say.” Annie stated.
“Can you tell me how she died at least?” Crys asked, raising a brow as she scraped the bottom of the clay bowl with her spoon.
“My mother’s death was, as far as I can tell, a result of overusing her ability.” Annie said.
“Out of nowhere? Just like that?”
“Look... Talk to Jacob...” Annie mumbled. “And no, not just like that. I think... I think... She wasn’t in her perfect health, and she pushed herself too far, aware of that... So...”
“Alright, I understand.” Crys said, not wanting to upset the girl any more. “Can you tell me, when I last ran into Lena she was in Newhaven Castle. And she seemed, well... Very, very, worried and in a hurry. Unfortunately so was I, and I didn’t get to speak with her since. Do you know... Why she was there and what she has been doing?”
“Not much of it. I mean, I know she spoke with the Captain of the Whites and she planned on meeting with King Rick, but something made her change her mind about it. Other than that, she had been going through the archives repeatedly.” Annie heaved a long sigh. “I tried to get her to tell me, but you know...”
“I know.” Crys went silent, working on the last bits of vegetables in the otherwise tasteless soup.
“She left notes, but... They’re the most encrypted mess of gibberish I’ve ever seen. If it can even be decoded, it’s going to take me months. I’d like to ask for help with it, but aside from Alistair I don’t think I trust anyone else with it until I know what’s on it. Maybe it’s personal... I’m not sure.”
“Lena was a private person, I understand that.” Crys nodded, setting her vegetable-free bowl of soup aside. “Why... Do you say I should talk to Jake?”
“Aside from the fact that it’s about time... He knows some things I’m not at liberty to discuss with you. In fact, he was here just a couple of hours ago, I’m surprised you didn’t meet him on the way.”
“Oh, I passed him.” Crys stated simply.
Annie snorted a small laugh, but didn’t make any further comments on the subject.
“So your mother spoke to the Captain of the White Knights, huh? Maybe I’ll go see him then and ask about it.”
“So... I heard Ella Page made you heir to the throne... That...” Annie chuckled. “Quite the honor.”
“That girl... I don’t know if she’s incredibly stupid, incredibly smart, or just completely insane.” Crys sighed. “But then... She is Evin’s recruit and sometimes I’m not sure about him either.”
Annie snickered. “Of course. And speaking of Evin... When you see him again let him know that my mother left something for him... Whenever he has the time, he can come and get it... Water.”
“Huh?” Crys asked at Annie’s final word, only understanding what the girl meant when she felt something cool gently touch her hand. She took the metal cup Annie had been holding out and took a drink from it, snickering under her breath as she remembered Evin’s comment that the water tasted funny.
“Are you going to be staying the night?” Annie asked.
“Not the full night. I think I’m going to take a one or two hour rest and then move to Newhaven. See if I can get there by noon tomorrow.”
“You should rest properly now.” Annie scolded. “You’re going to make yourself sick you know, like J-...” Annie stopped talking and forced a cough to justify the sudden halt in her scolding, instead finishing with: “Just take care, alright?”
“I always do... Unlike J-... er... Some people.” Crys, smirked into her cup, taking another drink of water. “I’ve gone by on less sleep than this and once in Newhaven I can rest, or take a short trip back to Mageria’s camp and rest there.”
Annie chuckled. “Alright, alright...” She agreed, standing up to leave. "I have to check on some patients and then see if I can get some sleep myself, but make yourself at home Crys."

[Wolfpack’s Camp]

Sean reached the camp to the news that someone was there demanding to see the Alpha, annoyance taking over his expression as he listened to the Wolves who found the woman tell him how she saw the ring on one of them and starting ranting about how she had been cheated and demanded compensation. Sean, even though already displeased with this person, understood why his men didn’t immediately kill the woman; if she spoke the truth then it was his responsibility to compensate in order to maintain the clan’s honor intact. It wasn’t just any contract that was accepted by Wolfpack, as some would believe, but those that were accepted were to be fulfilled as the contractor demand them to be, no questions asked, and any Wolf knew that to sabotage a contract was a serious act of treason not to mention it damaged the clan’s reputation. Sean would have none of that. With a weary sigh he ordered the men to have the woman taken to the Leader’s Cabin after a couple of minutes had passed, and that Franklin accompanied her. Whatever she said, Sean wanted his confirmation that it wasn’t a lie, because if it was... He would gladly kill her where she stood.

Sean only had the time to go into his room to rid himself of his cloak and travel bag and grab a piece of bread before there was movement of people entering the office. He stepped out of his bedroom, locking the door behind him and nodding at Franklin in greeting, ignoring the old skinny mess of a woman he had brought with him; dirt on her clothes and a very freshly bandaged eye immediately drawing his attention, quietly biting into his ‘meal’ as he moved to sit by the desk. He didn’t managed to take more than one step in silence before the woman spoke up, apparently unable to grasp how insignificant anyone was in that forest when compared to the leader of the Wolfpack. “This boy is your leader!?”

Sean would have ignored that, he wanted to even, but he caught the woman’s one eyed gaze examining him from head to toe as if trying to decide whether he was worth her time, or maybe, very possibly, if she could take advantage of him in some way. He knew that look well and it irked him to no end. So before the conversation even took place, he decided to make clear to this woman where she was and who she was dealing with; slowly, he placed the bread he was holding on top of the table and in one swift motion he pulled a throwing knife and launched it in the moment direction, letting fly just past her head. “You better wipe away that condescending smile lest I carve it permanently on that ugly face of yours, old lady.” He muttered. “And you will address and refer to me as Alpha, call me boy one more time and you will be making your complaints in Hell.” With that said he sat by the table and retrieved his bread, taking a generous bite of it and idly nodding at the chair across from his as he chewed on it, motioning for his ‘visitor’ to take a seat.

The woman let out a startled yelp as the blade flew by her face, lodging itself in the wooden wall behind her, a deeply insulted and angered look immediately forming itself on her face as she glared at the Alpha, not sitting as he so rudely suggested, which caused Franklin to give her a very indelicate nudge towards the chair, after which she complied and sat, muttering curses and insults under her breath, out of which Sean only caught the words ‘brute’ and ‘filthy mutt’, after which the woman cleared her throat and remained silent watching him, still in that offended look.

Sean swallowed his bite of bread and groaned, trying to contain his annoyance at the woman’s attitude and the whispered insults towards his Second, simply taking a deep breath and leaning back in his chair. “State your business.” He asked, taking another bite off his piece of bread.
“You know, Alpha, it is considered extremely impolite to eat in front of guests. I expected the Alpha of the Wolfpack to have manners as a leader.” She spoke, her tone annoyed as if she expected, and truly believed she was worthy of, better treatment.
Sean raised an eyebrow at the woman, exchanging a slightly amused look with Franklin at her words. “This isn’t a tea party, and you are not my guest. The gravity of your accusations alone is what keeps me from permanently shutting that foul and petulant mouth of yours, so... And Twins help me for making such request... Speak.”
“Well, lad.. The situation is not a complicated one. I paid your clan to perform a service, not only was that service not provided, but the inconsequent fool who was assigned to perform said service attempted to take my life...”
“He shall be severely punished for his failure...” Sean muttered out, unable to control himself, causing Franklin to audibly chuckle behind the woman’s back.
“As is...” The woman continued. “I demand that the contract is fulfilled, since it was paid for. I also feel I deserve some form of reparation for the attempt on my own life. I will accept the life of the assassin who tried to kill me or another target of choosing as compensation for that.”

Sean didn’t respond to the woman, he looked to Franklin instead, almost hoping he exposed the bitch as a liar, but no; Franklin nodded as to confirm her story was true. With a slightly disappointed sigh Sean pushed pen and paper towards the woman. “Write down the target’s name and physical description as well as the Alias of the assassin assigned to your contract. We will execute the target, as it was established, and the assassin will be punished according to our laws; I see no reason for further compensation.” He told her, patiently waiting for the required information. When the paper was pushed across the table towards him, Sean’s eye caught the name of the assassin responsible for the woman’s contract and his eyes narrowed slightly. “This man is no longer under our authority.” Sean stated simply. “He is, however, a wanted man... He will be taken care of.” Looking further he caught the name of the target of the hit, ‘Jennifer Lessar’ was the woman’s name, followed by a short physical description. Below it, another name. “Essence Talon.” Sean looked from the name to the woman before him with a annoyed look in his eyes. “I said no further compensation.”

“I’m willing to pay, handsomely, for this one... More so if you bring her to me alive.”
“Alive? You don’t seem to understand what assassins are for, now do you?” He asked, contempt clear in his tone as well as his eyes as he continued, not giving the woman the time to respond. “Besides, I don’t believe any contract has ever been refused for such reasons before in the history of this clan, but you are the most unpleasant, arrogant, and disrespectful bitch I have ever met. You displease me to such a point that if someone came here wanting you dead, I would probably pay them just as handsomely for the pleasure of doing it myself.” He tore the extra name out of the paper and crushed it into a ball in his hand before tossing it at her face. “I will pay my debt, in that you have my word. You also have my word that if you do not leave this camp within two exact minutes I will take your remaining eye and shove it down your despicable throat.” As the woman opened her mouth as if to protest Sean cut her off again. “That’s exactly one hundred and twenty seconds... one hundred and nineteen... one hundred and eighteen...”
“One hundred and seventeen...” Franklin continued opening the door and chuckling as the woman jumped to her feet and rushed her way through it; the Second gladly following, keeping the count as he chased after her all the way to the exit.

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Lamya Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Annie Turner

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The Sun had just come up and Jackson was waiting. He was waiting for Dastan to show his face around camp, something he noticed had been happening less and less. The mercenary was unsure if this change on the man’s behavior had to do with his fights with Indrani, of ir something else was actively wrong with him, but it was noticeable that he was not being himself lately. After a while he decided to wait by the Fire Temple entrance for the man to come out, eyes wandering towards Indrani’s tent in the distance; its entrance was sealed tightly and it suddenly looked like it had been empty for years.

“Jacks, Jacks...” One of the younger mercenaries called as he ran up to him. “Is it true? Tell me it’s not true...”
“It is.” The man confirmed heaving a sigh. “She left a letter; it says she’ll come back, if he’ll take her, but that she needs to settle her score with Sean.”
“I don’t understand why she had to leave...”
“Because...” Dastan’s voice sounded suddenly as he walked in their direction. “We just agreed on a truce with the Wolves, and if she wants to kill the Alpha she can’t be associated with the clan, or she will be violating that truce.” He explained in a casual tone, his eyes following Jackson’s towards the tent.
“She left Mirage.” Jackson pointed out, handing Dastan a sealed letter. “I’m not so sure she really plans on coming back.”
“We’ll see. Until then, you know what to do.”
“Yes Shaykh.” Jackson replied, with a simple nod of agreement as he watched his leader walk away from the camp, letter in hand.

Dastan walked away from Jackson and headed towards the area where Indrani’s home was set up, walking past the sealed tent it didn’t take him long to find a pale grey mare, smiling a bit sadly as the animal turned it head towards his footsteps somewhat eagerly and stared with what he could swear was a questioning look. “You miss her already, huh?” He asked, approaching the animal and soothingly stroking its neck. Finding a nearby rock to sit on, Dastan opened the letter the girl had left him and started to read.

My dear brother...

I write this letter in the hopes that you will find it in your heart to understand, and not hate me for what I have decided to do. I know that I was weak and selfish in my past actions, even if I thought they were the right ones. For that, I will never be able to truly forgive myself; therefore I cannot ever ask you to forgive me as well. Nothing hurts me more than to realize I let my faith in you falter after everything we lived together, after everything you taught me, after all the times we supported one another. You were, in my lifetime, a constant, supporting, and loving figure, and the one who always believed in my strength even when I was unable to believe it myself. What I did to the trust we shared as leaders and to the loving bond we shared as siblings was a despicable, unforgivable, thing. I disgraced myself that night. I disgraced my family name; and I betrayed you.

You have not made me an outcast, for which I am grateful. I’d like to believe you did so out of the kindness of your heart, although I am aware it might have also been an emotionless act of mercy, or worse; pity. Whatever the reason, I respect that decision, and please believe that I am not questioning you, or your motives, as I leave. Yes, as you probably already know, it has to do with the truce you have just decided on. No, I don’t believe you should have acted any different... I believe this truce is extremely beneficial to the clan and to this, already torn, land as a whole and that is precisely why I am disengaging myself from the clan as of this moment. I don’t want my personal feelings or foolish actions to harm the Crimson Shadows any longer and yet... This is something I feel I must do for myself. For my own peace of mind.

I wish, with all my heart, that I return safely once it’s over, but if I don’t; please remember two things:

First: This was something I decided for myself, and you need to think of the clan above it all. If I die trying, accept my failure as an honorable Death. A warrior’s Death. A consequence of War, and nothing more than that. Do not seek to ease whatever pain it causes you by retaliation. Don’t make this painful gesture of mine a meaningless one. Honor my memory that way and be the leader you and I know you can be; with or without me. I have faith in you.

Second and last, but certainly not least. I always have, still do, and always will love you above anyone and anything else. Forever and always. I know you will be well in my absence, however long it lasts, because even if I die tomorrow I will always take care of you. You will never be alone. That’s a promise.

Until we meet again, in this life or afterwards...

Your little sister...

Indrani.


Dastan read the words repeatedly and intently; his eyes darkening from their usual brown to a jet black here and there, only to soften again moments later, the shadows around him moving constantly and somewhat eagerly in response to his conflicting emotions regarding Indrani and his anger towards the situation as a whole. His own shadow had changed from a replica of his own sitting figure to a whirling pool of darkness beneath his feet, as if at any minute he could sink into the shadows and drown in them. Disappear in the darkness... It would be so easy if that’s what he wanted, but... Was it fair for him to even wish for such a thing when he had so many people depending on him? Was it fair that he be the one responsible for so many live in the first place? Did fairness even matter anyway?

Sighing wearily and closing his eyes, Dastan turned his face towards the light of the Sun, allowing its warmth to drown out his bitter feelings and give him some, probably foolish, notion of comfort. He needed to pull himself together and not break further apart. He needed to pull himself together somehow and be the leader he was expected to be.

[Flashback - White Shadow’s Camp, 8 years ago]

“I haven’t told anyone. I’m afraid to, even though... I question my sanity, and I question it constantly. What if something like that happens again? I don’t even recall what I have done, but the... Blood... I’ll never forget waking up covered in all that blood... I’m not... A violent guy. Not like that... I...” Dastan hid his face in his hands and let out a choked whimper. “And now these nightmares... I don’t want to die like my father. I know you tried to help him, tell me what I can do, if there’s even something...”

Lena sighed slightly as she watched the mercenary leader and caught the fear and doubt in his expression. “Hm... I see... Well... You’re not going insane, per se. What you are experiencing; the whispering, the nightmares, the blackouts... Your gift causes these side effects. Remember when I explained to you that your shadow becomes alive as a severed part of your personality? That personality doesn’t disappear when you dispel the shadow-golem, it continues to exist inside your mind. It doesn’t always happen with shadow manipulators, the golem is usually only an imprint of the caster’s personality, responding in a similar manner than he, or she, would. In some rare cases, such as your father’s and now yours, the golem’s personality splits from the caster’s, which is not necessarily a problem if the caster is aware and careful in how and when to cast his shadow. Nighttime is when your ability is more powerful, but it is also when you suffer the greatest risk of losing control.” She sighed. “Dastan, there is no... There is no guarantee that this will not take control of you one day. There are things you can do to manage this, and nothing says you will lose control, but... Your father was as careful as one could be, in the end, he just wasn’t strong enough. If you don’t want to hurt anyone, I suggest you confide in someone. As your father did his Commander. If he hadn’t, then you wouldn’t be alive today.”

Dastan shook his head. “Maybe it would have been better, no? I wouldn’t have to worry about waking up to find I’ve killed people I care about. And I don’t understand... I thought my enlightenment didn’t work in complete darkness.”
“‘Shadows’, as defined by the myths, is an element that fills the spaces where light cannot get through... Darkness is made of shadows... Your enlightenment won’t work because light is what gives shadows dimensions your mind is capable of measuring. See, just as with any other element; the more of it there is, the harder it is to manipulate it. In time, if you work for it, you will be able to use your ability in the full darkness, but I’d suggest you to never cast your own shadow in such a scenario. That would be terribly dangerous.”

Dastan nodded, running one hand through his hair and giving the woman the most confident look he could manage. “Alright... Tell me what I should do.”


[Reality - Desert, present time]

“Shaykh! Can you hear me? Are you alright?”

The voices grew louder and louder and Dastan mentally begged them to let him sleep some more, someone was shaking him forcefully as if in a panic and finally, as he senses began to kick in he realized he’d been lying in the warm sand. A grunt escaped the mercenary and whoever it was trying to wake him became less frantic at his response. Slowly he lifted his head and opened his eyes to find himself in the middle of the training arena, a quick look around showed why the mercenary trying to wake him seemed so frightened... The training dummies were wrecked, and several training swords were parted in half, scattered across the ground. Sitting up, Dastan noticed his whole body ached, but otherwise, he didn’t even remember walking the small distance from where he had been sitting to the arena.

“What happened?” He mumbled.

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

[The Manor]

“Luckas... Shut up and tell me who did this to you!” Ezekiel scolded, glaring at the laughing man laying in the infirmary bed; sword still pierced through him. He had been laughing like an idiot when Adam found him lying in front of the gates.
Luckas forced himself to stop, looked up at Ezekiel, took a long deep breath... And exploded in another fit of giggles.
“SHUT UP!” Ezekiel shouted, losing his patience completely.
“Do not shout in here.” A woman in blue scolded as she entered the room, walked past Ezekiel, yanked the sword out and placed both hands over the wound until it was fully healed. Afterwards she simply exited without another word, not really paying the ‘patient’ and his ridiculous fit of laughter.
“Luckas...” Ezekiel growled at him.
“Hah... Hahahah... How... Heh... How... Do you expect me to shut up and then tell you anything? It’s not... Heh... Possible!” He played, rolling over and nearly falling off the bed in his amusement. Laughing twice as hard when Ezekiel grabbed him by the collar of his shirt, nearly choking him in the process. Eventually he stopped again, this time actually taking a serious tone as he replied. “I’m a big boy, Zeke... I don’t need anyone hunting down my attackers, I can do that myself, if I wish to. Now...” He firmly planted his feet on the ground and worked his way out of the man’s grip. “If you excuse me... I believe I was on my way to the city.”
“You don’t leave without Amber... Mistress’ orders.” Zeke replied.
Luckas sighed, but didn’t reply as he walked past the man out of the sick ward, Amber meeting with him just down the hall... Today looking like an eighteen year old, redhead... boy. Luckas was undeniably bothered by this, but decided that it was best not to say so. “New look, huh? Not my type.”
“Right back at you.” The ‘boy’ replied, tugging on his bloody, and punctured, coat.
“I like it, personally... All black sometimes can become a bit bothersome.”
Amber let out a ridiculously girlish giggle considering her appearance and nodded in agreement to his comment, somewhat bouncing as 'he' made his way towards the main entrance a bit ahead of him.

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

[White Shadows’ Camp]

Annie had decided to sleep shortly after meeting with Crys, but as she entered her tent she found the book Sean had left her and ended up reading it for great part of the night, and writing in it on the remaining part. During that period she was constantly updated on the state of Isaac, Alistair, Pondus and others, as well as informed of Crys’ departure, only a little bit later than she said she would be leaving. Annie hoped that her trip was a safe and uneventful one.

Because of those things and more, she was resting when someone came to tell her someone was looking for. The man didn’t say more than that and seemed slightly shocked. Annie followed the man to where a redheaded woman was waiting. Annie looked a bit surprised at the woman’s state, but not as shocked as the other healers. She had noted that the woman had punctured an artery and was bleeding quite a bit. Raising an eyebrow at the seemingly oblivious bleeder, who she had never seen in her life but was asking for her for whatever reason, she walked towards the woman and casually made use of her enlightenment to handle her wound. After which she opened a curious smile and spoke. “I hear you have been looking for me? I’m Annie, and you are...?”

The setting changes from the-desert to Valcrest

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Indrani Nayar Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Annie Turner Character Portrait: Allison Blake Character Portrait: Ess Character Portrait: Samantha 'Johnson' Character Portrait: Alina "Suferinta" Mare Character Portrait: Alisa "Temeti" Mare

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[Forest]

The forest was silent as the woman walked, not even the birds seemed to bother with singing in her path. Everything was just absolutely silent... Too silent in fact. The forest was never, ever, completely silent unless something was off. It was in that moment that Crys felt a familiar presence, someone unexpected heading right towards her in a very non-friendly manner. A split second of time was all she had to avoid the woman jumping on her with a blade at hand, but it was more than enough time to avoid the attack, letting the attacker pass her by and, grabbing the wrist of her wielding hand, pushing her face first onto a tree. “Indrani!” She muttered. “What are you doing here?”
Indrani dropped the dagger at the mention of her name, letting her body relax as she recognized Crys’ voice. “I noticed someone sneaking around... Thought you were a wolf.”
Crys sighed, releasing the woman and picking up her weapon. “That’s not what I asked.” She said, offering the dagger back to Indrani with a frown. “Why are you in the forest? What do you think you’re doing?”
“Something tells me you already know that, don’t you?” Indrani muttered out, turning abruptly and snatching the dagger from Crys, sheathing it a little too violently. “You better not try and get in my way.”
“You’re watching the camp.... Watching him... I already said; I won’t let you do it.” Crys retorted pushing the woman back against the tree and quietly placing her free hand on the hilt of her sword in a threatening gesture. “Sean’s death will bring you nothing but more trouble. Go home to your brother before you do something you’ll regret.”
“Go to hell, Crys. This is none of your damn business. It’s between me and him.”
“In what perfect world is anything just between two people, Indrani? Sean is the Alpha of the Wolfpack, or at least they believe him to be... Kill him, and what do you suppose they’ll do? They go after the Crimson.”
“I’m not with the Crimson anymore. I resigned.”
“Do you think they care!? Best case scenario Dastan will have to hunt you down himself to prove he had nothing to do with this... What a pathetic and stupid way to honor your family!”
Indrani pushed against Crys violently at the words, but contained herself after a moment, not wanting this to escalate further than it already had. “One to talk... You.” She hissed. “Your mother is remembered as a liar and a traitor... Your father, responsible for the biggest massacre in the Pack’s history... Sean did this... And you protect him.”
“I’m not protecting him.” Crys stated simply. “The thing is, Commander, it’s easier to be here seeking revenge, instead of being where you are actually needed, facing the consequences of your actions. In the end you may be remembered as a traitor, but it beats living as one. I think it’s time for you to grow up and choose the path you want to travel, because that’s not a choice you get to make twice.” Pulling away from Indrani Crys heaved a sigh. “Three years ago you and Dastan were talking about rebuilding, saving what had been lost; a future for your clan that was different from your past. You helped Sean because you believed it was best for your people, it was a mistake but it was an honest one. This isn’t. Simple as that.”
“He sent people after Evin in the desert, you know. I saw them leave... He’s not going to just eventually leave you alone Crys.”
“Evin will be fine, he’s a grown man, even though it’s easy to forget that sometimes... And I am aware of the threat Sean poses. I don’t see how any of that is your business though.” With a dismissive shrug Crys backed further away from the woman slowly beginning to walk back down her path towards Newhaven. “Choose whatever path you will, but... I won’t let you kill Sean.” She called over her shoulder. “And you won’t like it if I feel forced to get in your way.”

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

[White Shadows Camp]

“Annie, are you listening to me?” A woman’s voice sounded vaguely familiar in the back of Annie’s mind, as if trying hopelessly to break through a thick wall of confusing thoughts.
“I’m sorry, Dana. What was that?”
“Another one just arrived... Similar symptoms as Isaac and the other two.” Dana informed. “Should we consider this an..”
“Don’t say it.”
“...Epidemic?” The woman finished, her voice fading and disappearing as soon as the word was out.
Annie sighed softly, looking at the woman, who was only a year or so older than her, and not knowing what to tell her. “I’m not calling it anything, not yet, and you shouldn’t either. No matter what is causing this, spreading panic throughout the land won’t help those affected by it. Just remember to watch yourself, and others, for possible symptoms.”
“Of course.” The woman agreed. “Oh, Pondus is awake. I was told you wanted to speak to him as soon as he was conscious. And... Alistair wants to see you too.”
“How is he?” Annie asked, rubbing the spot right between her eyes; a severe frown crossing her expression.
“No fever or other signs of infection. His burns should heal fine, and he’s a bit... Impatient.”
“When isn’t he impatient?” She sighed. “I’ll go see him first, otherwise he’ll just decide to get out of bed and track me down.”
“Sounds like something he would do.” The woman smiled. “Just... Remember, he’s under a lot of medication.”
“Lovely, a doped empath.” Annie chuckled beginning to walk towards the tent Alistair had been resting in. “Make sure to rest every couple of hours, alright?” She told the woman as they parted ways, receiving a slightly weary and highly concerned look in return. It was clear she was still thinking about this supposed ‘epidemic’, and Annie knew it was only a matter of time until others were worried as well... Until the rumors spread... She had little time to find out what the truth of it was.

As Annie reached the tent where Alistair had been left to rest she caught him lying on a sleeping mat staring rather too cheerfully at the ceiling. Suppressing the urge to giggle she entered and sat beside him, waiting patiently for him to notice her.

“Heeey... How are you doing kid?” Alistair asked, not turning to face her. “Are you good? Did you sleep?”

“I’m good Al, you’re the one who got burnt.” Annie chuckled, brown eyes glancing over the bandaged burns on the right side of the man’s chest.

“Yes, but I’m loaded on pain medication... I feel awesome.” He laughed, turning to face Annie as his goofy smile shut down slowly. “The problem though, is that this is all I feel right now. I can’t... Sense anyone... I don’t feel anything aside from a bit of giddiness from the medication and mild concern over the fact that this is all I feel.”

Annie took a few moments to understand what exactly her friend was saying, and when she did all she could manage was to stare at him with absolute shock in her eyes.

Alistair sighed softly and smiled, seemingly amused by the expression on her face. “Your mother always used to say that if there is one thing nice she loved about the universe, is its sense of irony... You wouldn’t believe how much time I’ve spent wishing this would go away.”

“That’s impossible... You’re saying your...” Ali mumbled, still unable to fully process the information.

“My enlightenment is gone, yes.” Alistair stated. “I feel nothing. I don’t know how it’s possible, but it’s true.”

“This is... So much more serious than I originally suspected... I...” Annie sighed. “When this spreads, Al... Do you understand?”

Alistair pushed himself up to sit, not minding the bit of pain that broke through the numbness of the medication. “Lena knew, didn’t she? This is what she was trying to stop...”

Annie nodded to confirm the man’s statement.“I need to decode that journal she left me, but... I really don’t understand what kind of code it is... It’s like... There has to be something there... She didn’t find the answer, but I’m sure she was close to one.”

“What kind of code is it?” Alistair asked, running a hand through his hair and trying to focus. “Numbers, letters, symbols...?”

“Numbers... It’s not a difficult code exactly... it’s a series of three numbers to form each word; first number represents the page number, the second a particular line, and the third a particular word, of a book.”

“Sounds simple enough...”

“Alistair... Do you have any idea how many books we have in this place?” Annie muttered. “How the hell am I supposed to figure out which one?”

“Well, she left it to you... It’d have to be a book you know well, or that holds some special meaning, that should narrow it down, shouldn’t it?”

“Hmm...” Annie mumbled. “I suppose.”

Silence lingered for a few moments as Annie seemed to go into thinking about what her mother had left her in that coded journal, concern marking her features at the possibilities. After a few moments of watching his friend Alistair broke the silence, speaking softly. “So, how are you?” He asked, a bit of concern in his eyes. “I’m afraid you’re really going to have to tell me this time.”

“I’m tired... And a bit scared, to be honest. I haven’t been leader for that long Al... This is what I have to deal with... And I don’t know...”

“Everyone starts not knowing, Annie. Knowing takes time.” Alistair said, trying to reassure her with a smile.

“We don’t have time, that’s the problem.” Annie mumbled, rubbing her temples as she felt a sudden stab of pain. “I’m feeling it too.” She told him.

“What about your gift, still working as usual?” Alistar asked the look of concern not leaving his eyes. “We need to warn someone in the cities about this.”

“As far as I know, my gift is as it always has been.” She sighed. “We can go to Newhaven with this and I’m sure they will at least hear us, but Blackpond? I don’t trust them with this information... Not their King... What they could do with this information, I mean... One word of this out in the open, and it’s certain chaos. Valcrest would not stand.”

“Never thought I’d miss Rory... Or that bastard Hastings... At least back then we knew what we were dealing with.” Alistair muttered, shaking his head. “I can go to Newhaven if you want, I’m fine to travel, even with the burns, I don’t mind.”

“No, Al. I have other plans. There is a ball, it will be held in Blackpond in two days’ time... To celebrate my mother’s death. I was invited, and I am going. I would like it if you could come with me.”

“A party to celebrate your mother’s death, and you are going?” Alistair asked, unable to mask the annoyance in his tone. “Why would you do such a thing?”

“I haven’t been in the Castle since I was very young, I’d like to see it, for starters.” Annie smiled innocently at him. “Besides, despite the fact that this offends me in a number of different ways, I feel mother would be amused by the idea... And I am curious as to who else will be there as well. It’s not a big deal that they do this, you know. It doesn’t matter.”

“It’s disrespectful. Disrespectful and wrong!” Alistair exclaimed. “They have no right! Does Jake know about this?”

“I don’t know, Jake is with the Blacks again.” Annie replied, reaching for the man’s shoulder to calm him. “If he knows he’ll be there, one more reason why I should go... Less likely he’ll be stupid about this if I am there.”

“That is true.” Alistair said, calming himself. “If you want me to, then I will go with you. Someone should watch your back anyway and Isaac...”

“Isaac is not someone I would risk bringing to something like this.” Annie chuckled. “Don’t worry though, Al... We’ll find a way to help him. You’ll see.” She smiled, gently pushing him back on the mat. “Until then, mister... You rest. You’ll need your strength if you want to dance at the party.”

Alistair chuckled softly. “Of course. Have you eaten yet today, kid? You look like you’re getting smaller.”

Annie sighed and gave a little shrug. “I feel smaller too, in a way. Don’t worry though, I won’t forget to take care of myself, If anything I’ve learned that much.”

Alistair nodded and laid back down with a muffled groan. “Good.”

Annie smiled, seeing how tired her friend still was despite his efforts to convince her he was fine. It was concerning to see Alistair this way, and it was troubling to hear that his magic seemed to have gone. Whatever that meant it couldn’t be good news. “Good.” She agreed. “I will leave you to your rest now, but I will be back later.” She told him, getting on her feet and bowing slightly in a parting gesture. “May the Goddess bless you always, brother.”

“And you, sister.” The man replied in a whisper.

Leaving Alistair to rest Annie left the tent and and crossed the encampment in a quick steady pace to her own tent, by the time she reached it the pain on her temples had reached a worrying level, it ached so badly she felt to her knees unable to stand, and then... as quickly as it came, it faded. The girl took a long shaky breath, sitting down and hiding her face in her hands for a long moment before raising her head and starting to get back on her feet. As she did, her eyes caught the book Sean had left her and she picked it up, browsing through it for a moment. “...Greater minds...” She mumbled, sighing and heading out of the tent with the book in her hands. “Twins help us...”

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

[The Manor]

“Ezekiel Raphael Boren...” Sam whispered the name as she held both her sword and his, both blades pressed to the man’s throat, her green eyes narrowing dangerously, although with a spark of amusement underneath. “...Shame on you for letting me win.” She scolded, dropping the man’s blade to the floor and lowering hers. “Now, pick that up.” She commanded with a grin.

Ezekiel stood, eyes glancing to the sword at his feet and to the woman before him as if in doubt.

“Afraid to take your eyes off of me old man?” Sam teased playfully poking him in the arm with the sharp end of her blade. The woman already bore a few bruises on her face and neck from the first round of their little spar, but she didn’t seem to care about the marks. “You have a lovely name Zeke, have I ever mentioned? Your mother must have had high hopes for you... Ezekiel... Raphael... The first name means ‘strength of god” and the second means ‘god has healed’, Ezekiel was the name of War’s second child and Raphael is said to be the name of Peace’s youngest son... Who is said to have fathered the first king of Blackhurst... It is a noble name. You have been touched by the Gods at birth... Twice, my friend... By War and Peace respectively. So fitting to your personality also; a man who shatters things and then picks all the pieces and puts them back together...So brutal, yet so gentle, you are...”

“You read too much Milady.” Ezekiel snorted. “Into books and people alike.”

“Perhaps that is true.” Sam laughed softly. “Come on now, take your weapon, I won’t cheat.” She stated a sweet, innocent, smile spreading across her lips as she crossed her arms behind her back. “And no holding back this time, it’s not fair.”

Zeke snickered, an incredulous look in his eyes as he stared at his Mistress. “You will if I taught you well enough.” He retorted, slipping the tip of his boot under the hilt of the fallen sword and kicking it up to catch it in mid air, quickly moving through the short distance between him and Sam with a forceful strike that the woman successfully dodged, however only slightly, countering almost immediately. “If I didn’t know better, hun, I’d think you’re trying to kill me.” She snickered.
“Oh?” Zeke laughed. “And what was the first thing I’ve taught you, girl?”

[Flashback - Newhaven, approximately 15 years in the past]

“No, daddy please... I’m sorry... I swear... Please don’t hurt me....”

“Liar! You’re a liar! Lying... bitch! I’ll show you not to defy me again!” The man spat, his hand wrapped tightly around a heavy leather belt as he repeatedly struck his daughter in the back and legs; the girl cowering in the corner, arms shielding her face and neck from the man’s fury, her pleading fading into soft whimpers and silent sobs. Her mind fading into a void, a hollow part of her self where there was no such thing as pain or fear... A dark, empty, bottomless pit within her soul; and there she stayed until she heard the heavy sound of the door closing. The numbness fading and bringing back the pain, the fear, the hate, and everything else, back to surface all at once. Sam couldn’t understand why he hated her, why he wanted to hurt her... What had she done wrong? “You... Are... Supposed... To protect me.” The girl muttered, still curled up in her corner on the floor, afraid to move and feel all the pain she had managed to ignore thus far.

“I’m supposed to guard you, actually...” The man replied from the opposite corner of the room. “And either way. I am still bound to you father, Little Miss.” He spoke softly, pushing away from the wall he had been leaning against and starting to pace towards the curled up teenager. “Come on, now... you can’t stay there forever.” He stated, picking the girl by the waist and dropping her on top of her bed before she managed to utter a word of protest. “Lie down on your stomach, let me see those marks.” He commanded.

“Why... Does he hate me?” She whispered, the sound muffled as she buried her face on the pillow.

“Your brother should have been the gift bearer, Little Miss... Not a girl... Your father, he fears what you’ll become.” The man answered, his voice nearly void of any sentiment as he spoke. “There are myths you see... They speak that fathers will bear the gift of granting enlightenment, one at every generation, until there comes a daughter... And shall be the vessel through the Goddess will return and lead the Brotherhood to its final battle to purge the Land. The final battle, Milady. Our victory, but also our end... That is what your father fears, because his heart is weak and cowardly.”

“I didn’t ask for this.”

“This is what you are, however, you can lay here and cry... You can cower in the corner in the hopes your father will eventually stop seeing you as a threat... Or you can become that threat. Do you understand me, girl? If you enter a man’s heart, take the shadows that lurk inside and make them your own, you will own that man... And with that power you can either make him stronger, or destroy him completely.” He retorted, examining the bloody gashes the heavy buckle of the belt had made and beginning to clean them with a cloth dosed in whatever alcoholic substance he carried in his flask. “Aim to hold your father’s heart in your hands, don’t think about what you’ll do with it for now... It doesn’t matter whether you crush it or release it... Once you hold it, he will never be able to hurt you again.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Sam asked, trying, but failing to turn and face them man as he was holding her down. “Don’t you serve my father?”

“I serve the Brotherhood. I am... Bound... To your father. There is a difference, Milady. One you will learn soon enough. The books are all in the library, the myths... The prophecies... Learn them, and you’ll control the shadows.”


Sam’s eyes widened slightly as she stood blocking another one of the man’s attacks letting him push against her blade and then lowering her sword abruptly; Zeke’s blade lunging towards her face and opening a superficial cut on her left cheek before the man could stop himself. Dropping her sword to the ground Sam snorted and recited. “Trust no one in this life girl... Not even me... Especially not me...”

Zeke sheathed his blade, a look of concern crossing his expression. “What is it? Are you in pain?”

“You slashed my face, what do you think?” Sam asked, raising an eyebrow at the man.

Ezekiel shook his head. “You dropped your weapon. What happened?” He insisted, instinctively reaching towards the wound and wincing as she grabbed his wrist.

“I just had a sudden headache, but it’s gone now.” Sam answered, smiling at the man. “See what I mean? You are a brutally kind man, Ezekiel.” She said, gently moving her hold from the man’s wrist to his hand, giving it a soft and affectionate squeeze before releasing. “Don’t worry about me, love... It takes more than just a little illness to knock me down. I will live to see the fireworks.”

“Still...” Ezekiel protested, seeming a bit the distracted by the woman’s sudden gesture of affection. “...Have you been taking your elixir?”

“Every morning Zeke, still... I won’t be immune to symptoms for long. I’ll just have to hide well enough.” She stated, her eyes curious a t the man’s expression. “Our victory means our end, we both knew that the time would come.” She reminded him, with a smile. “We are done for the day, I’d say... I should go to the medics to get rid of this dent you made on my face... Twins forbid I should let it scar.”

..................................................

[Blackpond]

Luckas kept quiet watching as two sisters interacted with each other as if they were alone, his eyes wandering towards Amber’s ‘borrowed’ face to catch her absolute amusement knowing very well that it meant they would stick with their new found friends for yet a little while longer. “See now what you did?” He scolded the ‘boy’. “Now we owe them a new toy.”

Amber snickered softly. “What? It was lying on the floor... No one was playing with it!” She protested. “Besides... I just got us a day in the town with two pretty girls... You should be thanking me for that... We know you’re not charming enough to pull that off by yourself.” She teased, nudging Luckas and winking.
“Huh... Is that so? I think you’d be surprised... Brother, by what I can pull off by myself.” Luke retorted raising an eyebrow defiantly. “Nonetheless, you owe the pretty girls a plaything... Be a gentleman, for once.”
“Oh, I am a man of word... I will replace the toy for a better one if I can find it... Besides, I will throw you a gift...” Amber replied turning towards the sisters. “Would you favor explosive or toxic things? I will not share my recipes, but I can make you something of your preferences.”

Luckas sighed. “Well, yes... I know you are enjoying your flirting now... Wyatt... But I was actually heading into the city. So if you and the girls don’t mind... I’d like to move on.” He said, an amused look in his eyes as he took a playful bow to the ladies before beginning to move towards the entrance of the city. “I will enjoy the company for as long as it remains interesting... We shall see how long that will be.”

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

[Newhaven]

Allison lost track of Essence at some point in the city. Newhaven had changed from the last time she had gone there, not enough that she would get lost, but apparently enough that she could lose someone else on the streets.Taking a deep breath she let her eyes run through the faces of the people around her, searching for the woman however unsure if her appearance had changed. In the end she was able to track Essence down by the sound of her steps and a glimpse of her clothing as she entered an alleyway. Starting to follow she stopped when she heard voices, walking around one of the buildings she managed to climb her way to the roof, crouching where she could keep an eye of what was happening and drawing her bow. She nocked an arrow and drew the string, keeping the readied shot pointed at the man who was threatening a panicked girl. Ali kept her shot aimed at the man and watched with utter amusement while Ess handled the situation, and she handled it rather nicely too. Ali was about to ease the tension on the bow string when the man made a move to attack behind Ess’ back. As he did so Ali let out a loud whistle that echoed through the alley and drew attention even of a few passing dogs, and the moment the man turned instinctively towards the source of the noise, two things happened at the same time; Ali sent the arrow flying straight into the man’s left eye, at the exact same time as Ess turned and stabbed her dagger through the back of his neck. Ali put her bow away, hanging from the roof’s edge and dropping gracefully to the grime-covered floor, snorting a laugh. “...And they say you never see an assassin’s strike coming... He saw it alright.” She snickered softly. “Guess you weren’t kidding around when you said you’d get into trouble, huh?” She smiled looking up from the dead man.

The setting changes from valcrest to Blackpond

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Grim Pondus 'War' Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Annie Turner Character Portrait: Allison Blake Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher Character Portrait: Ess Character Portrait: Darren Hearst

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Dastan smiled gently, bowing in a nearly sarcastic act of politeness as Ess shook his hand. “Very nice to meet you miss Talon.” He spoke softly, his smile changing slightly into a smirk as she offered him her flask. “What is there no booze in this party or are you just picky with you liquor?” He asked with amusement in his tone, accepting the flask and curiously sniffing it’s contents before taking a sip and returning it. “How many fall into that category, I suppose depends on context... I tend to be picky, but only for certain things... And while I have only just met you, Miss Essence, I’ve known Crys for about ten years and I have only heard her refer to anyone as ‘interesting’ exactly twice before. And she tends to be right, sooo.... I guess I’ll take my chances with you. I may regret it later, but then... We have a saying in my clan, you know... A man without regrets... Needs to drink a lot more.” He said, winking playfully. “Aye... We all have our own little reason to do things, but me I have a reputation to keep. Twins forbid people start saying that I’ve declined invitation to a party... I can’t have that. No.” Casually the mercenary followed the woman’s gaze as she glanced around the room, his eyes catching Jake staring at them with a rather odd expression on his face, the man looking away almost immediately. It was rather strange, and Dastan wondered what that was about. Shrugging it off, he turned his attention back to his new acquaintance. “What about you, Miss Essence... What is your agenda?”

.....................

Jake had lost Crys in the crowd the moment he turned his attention to Darren, his eyes glancing around the room here and there in a casual search for the woman as he chewed on the apple he’d been given. He wasn’t sure why exactly he felt the need to keep her under his watch, when he knew she probably wouldn’t want to speak to him. Of all the places and moments to pressure her for a talk, ‘here and now’ were not the most suited ones; Jake knew that well, but for some reason he continued to seek her out regardless. After scanning the ballroom a few times, Jake stopped to follow Darren’s gaze as he asked about the wolf, his eyes widening momentarily as he spotted the animal in the company of Dastan and yet another redhead who he immediately recognized. Holding back a wince Jake looked away, running one hand through his hair and scratching at the back of his head. “I don’t know...” He mumbled, forcing a shrug and avoiding the general direction of the woman and the wolf. His eyes catching a familiar figure enter the party, he realized he would possibly have more trouble getting Irvin to behave than he imagine once the boy realized the Alpha had attended.

.................

“I still say this is a mistake.” Ryan muttered out, unable to keep silent any longer.
“Well, then you shouldn’t have come, should you?” Sean replied calmly.
“I shouldn’t, but I promi-...” Ryan cut himself off as he realized he talked a bit too much.
“You promised what?” Sean asked, stopping at castle doors and offering his sword to one of the guards, his eyes however watching the guilty expression on the other man’s face. “What did you promise?”
“Katie cornered me and made me promise to, you know... Protect you.” Ryan mumbled, a look of pure embarrassment in his eyes as he held the Alpha’s gaze. “Your sister can be.... Very persuasive, Sean.”
Sean snorted, turning as he realize the soldier would not take his weapon, indicating that giving it up would not be necessary. Sean attached his sheathed sword back to his belt and gave a dismissive shrug to the oddity of it all as they proceeded into the ballroom. Sean immediately noticed a few glances from some young ladies as he walked past, a smile slowly spreading across his features at the attention. A familiar voice lured his attention away however as it sounded in his ears, a calm and disdainful tone.
“Funny. Just moments ago the guards told a friend of mine that no pets are allowed in this function, and yet... The King invited his. Now, that’s just not fair, is it?”
“Allison...” Sean greeted, reaching for Ryan’s arm as the man instinctively gripped his sword. “Not here.” He scolded. “Every faction known to Valcrest is represented here tonight, do we really want it to be remembered that we were the firsts to draw a weapon?” Ryan groaned still gripping the hilt of his sword tightly, Sean glared at him severely. “Go get something to drink, enjoy the fact that tonight you can... Just don’t murder anyone. I’ll be fine, won’t I?” He turned to Ali questioningly.
“Perfectly fine.” She replied, a fake innocent smile crossing her lips. “If I planned on hurting the Alpha, believe me, I wouldn’t have bothered announcing myself.”
Ryan released his sword, green eyes glaring at the blond woman as if he meant to burn a hole right through her. “Fine.” He muttered, moving towards the foods and drinks. “Traitor.” He muttered in Ali’s direction as he passed.
“He’s delightful, isn’t he?” Ali chuckled. “Are you making him your next Second?”
“The current Second is very much alive and well, thank you very much. So I don’t think I have any need to consider a new one.”
“Give it time.” Ali smirked. “How many have you gone through so far? That has to be a record, huh?”
Sean smirked. “Maybe, but enough about me... How’s your hand? Any better?”
“I was lucky, if the hand wielding the blade that slashed me was just a bit more skilled, I’d probably be unable to fire a bow ever again. As is though, I should be fully recovered soon enough.” She retorted.
“Oh well... Win some lose some, right? I guess I should do better next time.” He replied with a slight shrug, casually nodding towards a young girl who smiled at him as she walked past. The girl didn’t seem to be older than eighteen, about his sister’s age, and it made him momentarily question what he would do if he ever caught Katie smiling that way at someone like him. He’d probably have to kill the guy just in case. “It’s impressive how looks can be deceiving, isn’t it?” He mumbled. “No one would guess just from looking at either one of us... The things we’ve done, and are yet to do. Any man in this room who doesn’t know you too well may be foolish to take you for an innocent young lady, isn’t it so?”
“Just as much as any young lady in this room who doesn’t know you might take you for a charming and respectable young man, Sean... The difference between us, and the sadness of it all, is that even those closest to you won’t actually know you well enough to know who you really, truly are. And then I wonder... Is there anyone left you haven’t lied to or betrayed?” Ali shook her head, giving a slight bow, not bothering to conceal the mockery and contempt burning in her eyes as she turned away from the Alpha. “Enjoy the party while you can. The other people you backstabbed may not be as civil as me.”

.............................

Chaos. Absolute and complete chaos. That was what the White Shadows' encampment was turning into, and in an astonishingly rapid progression. Apparently it wasn't just the enlightened within the clan; a considerable number of people had been experiencing odd and sometimes even dangerous symptoms for weeks now, a sudden and inexplicable increase in the severity of those symptoms causing them to turn to the healers for help, or answers. Answers were something the Shadows didn't have to give this time around. Like many ailments, it was important to know where this was coming from, what could be causing it, and the healers had failed to find anything that was common to all of those affected, except the fact they all possessed a magical gift. The possibility that magic in itself was making those people ill read to Annie like a horrible end of the world prophecy, and her mind was constantly and hopelessly searching for any indication, anything, that showed it couldn't be true.

With all that was happening, the simple task of walking from her tent to where she had originally planned on going took hours longer than usual, and by the time she reached her intended destination she was hoping the person she had gone to see hadn't just up and left as people quite frequently did once they felt it was safe to stand. Gladly, it didn't seem to be this case with this particular patient; as Annie peeked into the tent where she had last seen the man the night before, she found him sitting there. Slowly stepping inside she looked around the tent and noted signs of a recently cleaned up mess consistent with what she had been told of the man's awakening. "Grim Pondus..." She called, taking a seat on a small wooden stool that had been left there by a previous healer. "My mother had nice things to say about you." She stated, a gentle smile crossing her features. "However, I don't believe we have ever met. My name is Annie Turner, I am... In charge of the White Shadows, currently. Considering what you have gone through, I'll understand if you prefer to be left alone, but may we speak?" She asked, her dark brown eyes examining the man with a mix of concern and curiosity. "Have you been offered any water? Or tea maybe?"

It was difficult to look his small visitor in the eyes, it was trying to escape the brooding nature that clung to the corners of the tent hiding where the flicker of candlelight couldn’t reach. There was less comfort even with the company of the White Shadows, and Annie’s kindness did little more then get a mild reaction from the Blade. He seemed to be lost, his eyes glassy and far from the little room where he idled. When at last he opted to respond he couldn’t meet her gaze fully, his tone drawn back into his throat.

“… You must be very brave young Turner, and the White Rose is generous in her words.”

His head lifted from its lull catching the Shadow with his full attention. A frown had worked its way into face and though it remained constant his watchfulness seemed shaky. Often he would glance aside or pull back to consider, thinking. Minutes were spent in silence while he pulled back into the conversation.

“Your formality is wasted. I hold no office, it’s just myself. It is entirely unnecessary we both know what I am.”

Quietly he looked to see if the doorway held any additional forms. He found himself curious to see Annie had entered alone. Especially after the ruckus he had already caused.

“Speak healer, but do not hope.”

Annie was patient with letting the man answer in his own time, her eyes persistently fixed on him despite his reluctance to look at her, a small sigh leaving her as she nodded in response to his words, pulling the bag she carried across her shoulder and fetching a flask of water inside of it. "Please drink, Pondus." The girl asked in a gentle tone, simply placing the flask on the ground before the man as she continued speaking. "Unfortunately I am obligated to go through some formalities before I speak of the more... Particular, reasons that brought me here in person. Since the healers who were in charge of your care didn’t quite get around to it.” She heaved a small sigh and paused for a few moments, fiddling with a loose thread hanging from the sleeves of her robes before speaking further. “First of all, I am required to inform you that anything you tell any healer in this camp is protected by the laws of the clan and will never be disclosed. Second, I must ask about your friend; the young woman you were brought here with. There was nothing we could do for her, as you probably already have been informed, and I would like to know if it is alright to bury her in our grounds... You can see her, if you would like to, of course.” The girl offered as an afterthought.

Once another silent moment had passed, Annie’s expression shifted to one of concern and a bit of weariness as she leaned into her knees, her voice lowering as if by instinct. “As for why I said I’ve come in person... I need to know something, and this is really, really, important... I need to know if your enlightenment has been manifesting itself differently in any way in the past months, or if you have been experiencing other odd symptoms... headaches, insomnia, and bleeds have been the most common as of late.”

Greedily he snatched the flask devouring its contents without restrain. Droplets of liquid began rolling down his chin, and he gasped after draining the flask. The water seemed to help steady the Blade, returning him to some sort of solidity. He appeared more alert, and sat up straighter once his breathing steadied.

“Nothing you could…”
He echoed the White Shadow’s words carefully. It appeared he was the only one who made it. Twice he averted death, and twice someone had paid in his stead. For a moment pain wracked his face but was forced under control.

“I… I couldn’t see her now.. And yes, please. Put that poor soul to rest. She has more than earned the right to peace.”

The silence appeared for the moment. Closing about them like a shroud, the Blade was to his thoughts and if he had to guess so was Annie. There was much to consider, things were in motion now that were irrevocable. So much more was pressing in both their lives, greater threats and purposes. Yet here they sat, Grim in his self-pity, and Annie in her caring nature. Grim wasn’t sure what to make of her honestly, he hardly knew the White Rose, how could he even guess what her daughter was like.

Then there was a question. Like lightning it struck, and his head snapped to attention. His eyes boring down the healer who pulled tighter to herself. He was almost panicked at how to reply, indeed his powers had been acting strange but he had always believed it to be merely part of a change within him. If others were suffering odd effects from their enlightenment, then perhaps there was hope after all. He spoke somewhat excitedly, losing his courage from pressing the words through his lips. Almost wheezing the syllables as though hushing some scandal between his teeth, yet quick to speak as though the gossip were irresistible.

“I had heard that Enlightenments can grow or modify, but that it was rare. Three years before, I began to lose control. In my time away I attempted to find a solution to no avail. Here within my homeland my rage boils over, and I lose my restraints. It has become amplified, and sensitive, reacting outside of its former boundaries. I feel the anger taking over, and in time it will spiral out of my control. It won’t be a year before I’m no longer Grim Pondus…”

“It shall be done.” Annie stated simply in response to Grim’s words on his friend, not lingering on the subject any further than it was necessary as to not to intrude on the man’s grief; her head lowering for a moment in a whispered prayer, her voice soft enough not to reach the man sitting right before her or really disturb the lingering silence in any significant way. Once the last of her inaudible words was cast into the winds Annie lifted her head, her focus now on Grim’s description of how his enlightenment had been manifesting itself, her expression shutting down into a preoccupied frown as she listened. She was silent still for a few moments, contemplating on what to say, on what was safe to say in a moment when she was so unsure of everything. In the end, she settled for being as honest in voicing her concerns as possible. In the end the news of this would spread way sooner than anyone would like, no matter how cautious she decided to be, and she knew she needed people to be conscious of what was happening.

“Three years ago, the very same day you and your men fought Blackpond in these grounds, my mother answered the call of a young healer who had the gift of seeing into the future... She had visions at random moments in time, and that day she had a vision that greatly disturbed her. She spoke to my mother alone and showed what she had seen. Whatever it was, it was not spoken of again once they left that tent, no one knows what happened between the two, but the woman fell ill that night and less than a week from having the vision, she died. My mother left us, with no explanation, days after being rescued from the dungeons. About a month ago she returned, she was... Clearly not in the best of states, but when asked about she would brush it off blaming it on the poor living conditions she endured while away... The past month she traveled across the land, meeting with people here and there... While she was here, she was incessantly seeking something in our archives. Two nights ago... She... died, due to the side effects of her enlightenment. Ever since, more and more enlightened have come to us; some with generic symptoms such as headaches and nosebleeds that have been gradually increasing over the past few months to critical levels... Others are experiencing dangerous changes in their enlightenment. One of our healers, Isaac, has been kept under sedation since last night because if he is as much as barely conscious everything around him starts to catch fire. Alistair, an empath, claims that his ability to sense others is completely gone. I have myself been experiencing severe migraines, they haven’t yet become debilitating, but with the nature of my ability I can guess that eventually this will prevent me from helping others. This... Ailment... Whatever it is... It seems to be getting worse and spreading fast. There haven’t many deaths yet, but I am safe to say that, however it manifests, it will eventually become fatal for those afflicted.”

She stopped speaking to take a long breath. As if on command the aching in her head abruptly returned, the burning pain spreading to her eyes and turning the sight of the man before her into a shapeless smudge before fading; just as quickly as it came it ended, the only indication that it had actually occurred was the lingering blurriness that caused the young healer to quietly rub her eyes and blink a few times to put everything back in focus. “Unfortunately, we are short on answers at the moment, and I am almost certain panic will spread before we have a chance to obtain them. With all our studies... How magic functions in itself is still an uncertainty, something that affects magical abilities this way... It’s unheard of, and we are greatly unprepared. There are herbs that have been helpful with some of the symptoms, but in time they cease to work. I assume you have tried those already, no?” She inquired.

If the Blade was shocked or surprised he hid it well. His face was stone, and he seemed more concerned with reading Annie’s expressions then he did listening. Of course, he heard everything and in short it caused much confusion and even more questions. Valcrest was a beautiful land, but it was a land that seemed to be made of secrets.
He couldn’t help but feel the workings of some unforeseen hand. A power or force that hid itself beyond their sight working against them, always preparing the next nasty step of their plans. Perhaps that kind of thought brought all the complexities to simple terms. If there was someone to blame then it made their course of action easy, and Grim decided he could believe such, if it meant staying steady for a while longer.
“I’ve tried any number of herbs, but you already guess their success. It strikes me as impossible to impact Enlightenments on such a large scale. If I recall there is little in the natural world that can even influence our gifts. Hmmm…”
He paused and found he possessed no answers for the young healer, at least not ones that made any sense. To what end would killing the Enlightened served? In terms of battle he believed one could weaken an opponent’s capabilities. Controlling the spread of such a curse would be next to impossible though or at least to his knowledge. It nagged on him, to what end could such a curse serve?
“Have any from Blackpond been noted with this problem? Such a thing would be a powerful weapon beyond a doubt. The Wolves are far too proud to abandon their traditions, and the desert folk I doubt have the capability. So that leaves only Blackpond or Newhaven with such a power unless….”
Grim cleared his thoughts on the matter and remembered the events of the past four years or so. The strange happenings within Newhaven, and its doppelganger lord that ruled. The events transpired that remained unanswered or unconcluded.
“Do you suppose another artifact was uncovered? The whereabouts of the dagger was never discovered. Yet there are certainly other artifacts, I’ve personally encountered a scythe with some kind of enchantment upon it.”
He stopped all his wondering now expired. There would be nothing concrete shared between them and he knew this. Everything he offered was conjecture, and he doubted Annie would leave anything out that was of importance. It was then he realized his own rudeness.
“I.. I am truly sorry lady Turner. I didn’t know about the White Rose, but… She was truly very brave. The world is poorer for her absence. If there is anything I can do, please count me among your humble servants.”

“Blackpond... Mother was to speak to their King, but... something changed her mind and she returned without having seen him. We have kept distance from the city ever since their soldiers attacked us three years ago, some... Some of the city folk were led to believe we had allied with Newhaven and our relations became less than friendly for a while then non-existent ever since. I do know that the people in charge of the city are mostly enlightened themselves and surely their lives as just as much at risk. Some amongst my people have been whispering that the Gods have been angered by the war and this is their punishment, I have no doubts they won’t be the only ones to think so...” She smiled a bit shaken by the thought. “I read somewhere when I was a child, that the end of times begins in the hearts of men, with the death of hope... And I thought to myself, that even with everything it has endured, Valcrest had never lost an ounce of hope. Lately though, whenever I look around I see it falter and I think, with all I have seen in my short years of life, I've finally found a sight I can refer to as ‘frightening’.”

Annie fell into a short silence, her expression giving away the fact she was making a small effort to collect her thoughts and maintain her usual calm exterior. At the end of that silence her voice came out a bit more steady. “Jake had been trying to get a hold of that dagger. If I’m not mistaken, he tracked it to the hands of the Blackpond king, the news came to me through Mageria before Jake visited, so it was some time ago. For what I understood, the man didn't know what he had, and I can’t say for sure that he still has it, but I know Jake hasn't given up the search for it. He can be quite stubborn that one.” The girl smiled, a hint of amusement crossing her dark eyes as she looked at the man. “I appreciate your kindness, sir. I am sure not all would see my mother’s death as a loss, in fact I've been told the party about to be held in Blackpond is in celebration of her death. I’m sure some would question my sanity for attending, but then... They were so nice to invite me, it would be insulting not to accept. Don’t you agree?” The girl asked, her tone soft as ever although a tone of bitterness was noticeable underneath if one was observant enough. “In light of current events, there is one thing I would like to ask of you, Pondus...” Annie once again reached into her bag, from it she pulled the book Sean had left her and offered it to the man. “I don’t know if you are aware of what exactly this is. I can’t honestly say that I am, entirely, but it seems as some extensive rule breaking has brought it to my hands. Ella Page, for some reason, believed it was fitting to let the Alpha of the Wolfpack have this, he in turn passed it along to me... And I would like you to have it. If there is one thing we seem to agree on, Sean and I, is that the ones writing the history of this Land were never the ones truly living it. I don’t know where this book will end up, if in a hundred or a thousand years it will be discovered and read by someone who only knows the facts that were chosen as real, but I feel it is fitting that we at least attempt to show Valcrest as we see it, from the inside. And you are one of the people I know have seen things most people can’t imagine, and I believe that people would greatly benefit from knowing the realities of the world, even if reality is often not as pretty as history would tell us."

"I see..."
He carefully to the book into his hands. Wistfully looking over its cover touching it with care. It was strange for a simple thing to hold so great a presence but it felt somewhat mystic. It was nothing more then a glorified journal, but it held the contents of three important figures within. He looked to it with curiosity and saw in its bindings great potential. To think that perhaps one day this book would be marked with the ancient histories of the land, or more importantly the truth. Looking up to Annie he found a sense of dread emerge from all the promise.

Such important pieces of knowledge were to be stored away for safekeeping. For Grim this meant there was a threat of losing such things. Could it be that dread had indeed found its way into the heart of Valcrest, that for the sake of preservation they were to fill this book. Perhaps it was nothing but a fleeting childish fear. Yet he couldn't shake the importance of it.

"Ella to the Wolves? Surely this book must be blessed to defy such boundaries. I will take it with care, and see that it is passed as it was given. Who knows, perhaps it will at last shed some light in the minds of Valcrest."

He took a moment to consider how to approach his next question. It was true that he trusted the White Shadows, and had found himself indebted to them. The news of Blackpond's party was fairly widespread, but as a Black Knight he couldn't help but feel distrust in their actions. At the same time he understood the neutrality that the healers had to keep, and to act hostile even if it is toward Blackpond could set some distrust between himself and the White Shadows. Still, he had to take action even if his loyalty could be questioned, Newhaven was still his home.

"A party in Blackpond for the White Rose? M'lady it doesn't require a keen mind to see such a facade. They have held no love as you said for the White Shadows. Why would they go to such troubles now?"

For Grim to be skeptical should come as no surprise. Blackpond has been his enemy for as long as he wore armor. Twice he has repelled them from his home, and drove them from the city of Newhaven. They were his opposition, and though he vied for peace, he couldn't help but feel hate for its people. A contradiction but what was to be expected? He was part of the wars.


“What are you thinking about?” Alistair’s voice pierced through Annie’s thinking as they crossed the gates of Blackpond. “You have been very quiet for the entire trip here.
“I’ve been thinking... About the future and what it may bring. And that is a very distracting subject, isn’t it? I’m sorry if I haven’t been the best of companies so far.”
“No need to apologize, I’m just worried that your brain will overheat or something like that, you’ve been acting introspective and concerned for quite a while.”
“And you have been acting twitchy and nervous because of it, I assume, since you can’t tell what I’m feeling anymore.” Annie smiled kindly at her friend. “I know how that must be frustrating for you, but I’m fine. At least for now.” She assured him.

Heads turned and eyes followed the young healer and her friend as they roamed the city streets, it was clearly a shock to see a White Shadow in Blackpond when they hadn't dared enter the city in the past three years. Ever since the city army made its attack on the healers’ encampment. Annie couldn't help but think of how strange it was to be there now after everything. As they reached the castle and joined the crowds heading for the party Annie noticed that they didn't blend in any more than in the city, the girl’s robes standing out amongst the fancy and colorful dresses. Spotting someone familiar Annie opened a smile and made her way amongst the guest until she reached the dark clad figure, both of the standing out much more while standing next to each other; the girl dressed all in white and the boy in full black. “Luckas.” She whispered, startling the young man. “What’re you staring at?” She asked, following the boy’s gaze to the leader of the Crimson Shadows and the woman he was speaking to.
Luckas winced as Annie called his name, the girl catching him off guard as his attention was caught up in staying out of sight. Reluctantly he let his attention be drawn away from the scene he had been watching and fall on the young healer. “Are you stalking me now?” He asked, raising an eyebrow playfully, his eye moving past Annie to catch Alistair’s disapproving gaze. “I see you brought a bodyguard, that’s clever of you, the city is dangerous after all. Me? You know me, I always find something interesting to stare at.” He snickered.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Annie Turner Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher Character Portrait: Samantha 'Johnson'

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Sam was carefully watching the guests, a few in particular, but her attention was almost immediately snatched by the entrance of the Newhaven Queen... Well, not the Queen herself, but the man in black armor she had brought along with her. A smile spread through the woman’s features as she caught some whispered protests and comments to the man’s presence.
“Seems the Queen has got a bigger pair than most men in her Council.” An amused voice spoke behind the woman.
“Oh, yes, that seems to be the case, Mr. Wyatt, but she is definitely not any less arrogant. So, have you explored?” Sam replied, eyes still following the Black Knight.
“So I have... We’ve got a lot of interesting folks here... Ravens and Wolfies of all kinds... And a couple of White Shadows... Look, one of them is talking to Lukey right now.” Wyatt pointed out with a chuckle. “Friendly folk these healers, aren’t they?”
“You obviously haven’t met many of them.” Sam scoffed, only glancing slightly towards the girl in white robes, annoyed by the friendly tone she was taking with Luckas. The healers wouldn’t be a problem for long, Sam knew what was coming to them, but the sight of one still had a way of getting under her skin.
“Well, Miss Turner over there is the only person here, aside from Luckas, not carrying a weapon of some sort, but unlike Lukey, her ability is far from being able to save her little pacifist ass if things get ugly. Her friend, though, the cute guy with the judgy look on his face, is carrying a sword. Oh, I saw Lizzy and Addy and they brought a toy!”
Sam flinched slightly and turned to face the redhead boy with a disapproving frown. “What?”
“I saw Lizzy dragging around a kid in Newhaven’s Guard uniform.”
Sam groaned, rubbing her eyes in annoyance. “What the hell were they thinking? Go tell Adam to get rid of him.”
“Yes, Milady.”

”Ella!”

The excited voice echoed across the ballroom and seemed to immediately interrupt all conversations. Sam watched as the redhead woman who she knew had visited the manor a few days back spoke about how historical the night was and meanwhile all the exits were being sealed tight. “Oh well, I guess something like this was to be expected.” She whispered, her eyes following the redhead woman, Lamya, until she vanished in a crowd. “A night to remember, that’s for sure.”

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

Annie stayed by Luckas even though his attention was gone from their conversation completely, once again focused on a woman with curly red hair; the fact that all the exits had been sealed shut was lost, or unimportant, to him. Annie followed the young man’s gaze and watched as the woman approached an entertainer, joining the man in his fireplay, her form circling the man in a dance of sorts. The healer was momentarily caught up in watching the performance of the two, a fascinated and nearly childish look in her eyes. It was a bit of a mistake on her part, apparently, to let her attention stray from Luke, because a few minutes into the ‘fire dance’ she heard an angered snort and a mumble from the man, followed by the man with the flaming staff losing his hold on the instrument and cursing loudly as one of the fiery ends of the staff ignited one of the legs of his pants before dropping to the ground. As two of the guests ran over to help put out the small fire Annie turned to Luckas with a raised eyebrow. “What was that about?”
“I don’t know what you mean.” Luckas stated, trying to conceal a satisfied smirk, as he eyed the scene.
“I know you did it, Luke.” Annie stated simply. Her tone less than severe; she knew that Luckas had done a lot worse for much less than... whatever issue this was, so she wasn’t hoping to scold him, but simply make some sense of it.
“So what if I did? Why can’t I have some fiery fun of my own, hm? I don’t see why I shouldn’t. Absolutely no reason.” Luckas muttered, red sparkling in his eyes as he glared in the direction of the redhead woman and turned away, crossing his arms over his chest.
Annie stared at Luckas for a few seconds not quite grasping what his problem was; as she recalled he always liked fire. “You sound... Spiteful... That’s an unusual tone for you.” She pointed out.
Luckas snorted once again, sounding as if he was holding back impolite words. “Tell me... If I give up something, is it completely ridiculous to not want anyone else to have it?”
Annie flinched, her expression showing a bit of surprise to the question. “Depends on the ‘something’. If it’s something along the lines of, say, a toy... Then probably. If it’s something a bit more... Significant, then maybe not.”
“It’s... Not a toy.” He replied simply.
“Then... I’d say it’s understandable that you feel this way although... Considering what you may do, probably unwise to act on it.”
“Unwise sounds about right.” Luckas muttered. Shaking his head and letting out a small snicker, his tone changed to a more amused one as he turned to fully face the healer. “This may turn out to be a very long night for me.”
“Probably for all of us.” Annie chuckled. “At least you’ll be entertained, somewhat. Would be a problem if you got bored.”
Luckas chuckled. “Oh, either way it’s going to be a problem for someone.” He stated in a soft, almost innocent, tone. “Tell me something... Do you dance?”
“Huh?” Annie mumbled, once again confused by the sudden change of topic. “Do I... Dance...?”
“Yes, you know... Like the silly fancy people are doing.” Luckas nodded his head indicating the dancing people in the center of the ballroom.
“I... Suppose... So...” She mumbled.
Luckas chuckled. “Why are you looking so baffled? I can do normal people stuff, gee...” He shook his head in amusement, hesitantly holding out his hand.
“Really, Luckas?” Annie asked, still in disbelief.
“Yes, really.” He replied. “Unless you’d rather not.”
“Hmmmkay then... Why not.” The girl stated, slightly amused by the whole thing.

It was very subtle, the call, but it was forceful enough to cause Luckas to immediately withdraw his hand before Annie had the chance to reach it. It wasn’t painful, just a feeling of pressure within his mind. “Sorry, I...” He sighed, forcing an apologetic smile. “I feel something tugging at the end of my leash. Suppose it’s best if I go.”
“I guess so...” Annie smiled. “You do owe me a dance now though.”
“Heh, yes Milady.” Luckas snickered, giving a overly pompous bow before turning away. “See ya around, princess.”

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

Crys was walking around the crowd trying to catch up to Ali, but the moment Ella arrived all attention went into the young Queen. Through outraged, and excited, murmurs the assassin discovered that the man in armor Ella had brought was clad in Black, causing tension and in some ways fear to spread through the ballroom. In the commotion that followed the girl’s arrival she lost track of Ali, but noticed Evin amongst the crowd. Before she made a move towards her friend, however, she felt a hand lightly graze her shoulder. She knew who it was before the man spoke, her right hand clenching into a tight fist and then relaxing. “I’m disappointed. I thought I’d have broken fingers before I had to chance to lift a hand.”
“Trust me Sean, the day I attack you... I won’t aim for broken fingers.” Crys stated calmly, turning to face the man. “So, is it true that we’re stuck here?”
“For what I can tell, yes. All exits completely blocked.” Sean confirmed. “Not how I’m used to partying.”
“Have you brought people with you?” Crys asked, a light hum underneath her voice as one part of her mind accompanied the music being played.
“Only one, and only because Franklin insisted.” Sean replied. “I see that Evin is here, and Ali, and Jake... Your fans never leave your side, it seems.”
“Funny of you to say that, I haven’t spoken to any of them yet today. I wasn’t even sure Evin would be here.” Crys smirked, her expression suddenly shifting as a serious tone came to her voice. “Order your man to stand back before I’m forced to break his fingers.” She warned.
Sean quickly spotted Ryan attempting to approach them and motioned for him to stand back. “You shouldn’t blame him. Everyone is waiting for you and me to jump at each other’s throats. I can’t say I’m not tempted to do so either.” He stated. “You know... It’s an historical night, like the redhead said... People will remember this for years to come... Why not give them one more thing to talk about? Take my hand. Or do you still not dance with people?”
Crys hesitated for a moment. There was no doubt she could handle Sean if he decided to make himself a threat, that wasn’t the problem, it was the prospect of closeness with this person who she absolutely despised some days, and simply pitied on others. Sean did have a point in his questioning; she had only danced with Jake a couple of times, and in one occasion with her father, agreeing to this would give a strange meaning to ‘keep your enemies close’. Still, she couldn’t help but feel that they were standing on opposite sides of a scale now. No matter which one of the two was the first to fall, everything else would crumble around it. After everything, they were the only two people in that room who could possibly understand what it was to be in that position. All things considered, they had been dancing all along, why not make it official? Slowly she raised her hand and let it rest upon his. “Don’t worry, it’s been a long time since I’ve thought of you as a person, Sean.” She replied a serious note to her voice despite its softness. This wasn’t a friendly gesture, but then again it wasn’t aggressive. It was simply a moment apart of everything else they had lived in the past three years; as if by simply moving to the dance floor the two also managed to also remove themselves from this particular moment in time and their particular place in the world. It was actually a rather liberating feeling.

As they moved amongst other dancing figures in the room, Sean stopped in a spot a little separated from the rest. Turning to face Crys, he released her hand and took a bow, a smirk crossing his features as the woman immediately mirrored his gesture, down to the amused look in her eyes, as if every act of civility between the two was nothing more than some sick private joke. Standing up straight, Sean took her hand in his once more, his other hand resting on her side, respectfully above her waist. It was an odd thing to act this gentle with a woman he had once kicked around on the ground, someone he had taken pleasure in watching bleed out... The contrast between this moment in the present and the undeniable violence of the past seemed spin in circles inside his mind as Crys lightly placed one hand on his shoulder and they began to move together to the music. After a while he spoke, softly so that only she could hear him. “You know this was never about you and me.”
“Does it matter now what it was really about? We started it, you and me. I’m the traitor, you’re the impostor... This is what we’ve become. There is no turning back Sean. And if my death or yours could change the past, trust me, I would have seen to it long ago.”
“You’re saying we can’t kill each other. So what now, we live in war for the rest of our lives? The shattered reflection of a broken land... How tragic.” Sean snickered through his bitterness.
“I’m not saying we can’t kill each other. I’m saying it won’t matter. Do you still think you did the right thing to try and kill me, hm?” Crys asked, amusement in her tone.
“I did what I believed was right at the time. What I believed was necessary.”
“Not all of it was necessary. Ali told me, how you handled my funeral so Evin wouldn’t have to deal with it, how you tried to comfort her through her moments of grief... Those weren’t necessary gestures Sean, that was pure cruelty on your part. One would think trying to kill me, twice, would be the highest offense on the book, but no... I can understand that if I’m logical about it. You’re not the first to want the Alpha dead. Toying with people I care about, that I can’t understand, or forgive.”
“You stood over Lionel’s dead body, handed my thirteen year old brother a sword and told him to challenge you. Are you really going to preach to me about toying with people in their grief?”
“That was not my finest moment, but I was trying to teach the boy to think before acting out in anger... It’s not too late for him to be the first in his family to learn. I wish him luck. I remember when you were just an angry boy like him.”
“Don’t act like you care about my family.”
“I loved your father like an uncle, Sean. Lionel was my brother, YOU were my brother. The only reason you pulled off what you did was because I trusted you. You like to talk about doing what you felt was necessary, but you never seem to consider what you just carelessly threw away in the process.” Crys sighed softly. “I feel for you. In many ways you’re still that same angry boy, and for that I can’t bring myself to fully hate you.”
“I don’t hate you.” Sean stated simply. “I never really have.”
“And yet here we are. Do you realize now why my mother never revealed the truth, Sean? It was for the same reason that Newhaven would hire us and then set off the Black Knights on us. Because sometimes the illusion of hate is needed to keep the peace.”
“She should have had more faith in her people. We were always the ones responsible for keeping all the little illusions alive. We were the ones who knew everyone’s dirty little secrets, we never expected to be living a lie ourselves for so long. It’s easy to say this was all my doing, but give your mother some credit... Because I wasn’t the only one to feel betrayed by her lies.”
“She never told because to her it didn’t, and it shouldn’t, matter. It was in the past, where it belonged. Some things are better off dead and buried. She didn’t do it to protect herself, if she cared for what others would think she wouldn’t have married my father in the first place... Or even allow me to graduate, because we all know these decisions we highly frowned upon. Maybe it’s a foolish thing to expect that over twenty years of loyalty would count for something in the end.”
“You take this too personally, Crys. It may have been personal for me, but it wasn’t for them. They put their lives on someone’s hands and they want that person to be flawless... Your mother was the closest thing they had to perfect and you were born in her shadow, great things were expected of you and you didn’t immediately live up to everyone’s expectations... The higher the pedestal the nastier the fall, it has always been this way. Even now, people see you as some great leader when in reality, and we both know this, you’ve done nothing to justify that. It’s just simply expected of you.”
“You and I clearly have different views on what makes a great leader, Sean. Otherwise you’d see that in my own way I’ve done plenty; including keeping you alive for the sake of not destroying those around you. A time may come when I just don’t have choice anymore, but until that day comes, brother...” She smirked, bowing slightly as they ended their dance. “We continue to dance.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Annie Turner Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher Character Portrait: Samantha 'Johnson'

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Luckas was set on not turning around as he noticed the sound of a wolf walking after him, growls and whines trying to get his attention. He stubbornly resisted, as best as he could in this situation, to pay any attention to Tala. The last thing he needed was to be asked for explanations for the wolf chasing after him. It was only when the wolf nearly tripped him and sat right in his way that he acknowledged her presence, a bit annoyed by the amused laughter of some people who had been watching the whole scene. “Go away, Tala... What do you want from me?” He muttered, walking around the wolf and trying to find Sam in the crowded room. He could hear that Tala was still following after him, occasional growls and barks reaching his ears almost sounding like unintelligible bits of dialogue. It was adorable, and it obviously drew a lot of unwanted attention, both of which just served the purpose of annoying Luckas further. He had almost forgotten the fact that he was supposed to find Sam, and that’s when he felt a gentle, yet firm, grip on his shoulder. “I was looking for you. How did the exploring go?”
Luckas winced slightly at the touch on his shoulder, as he was not expecting it, and turned to face Sam giving a light shrug. “It’s actually pretty boring here, if the exits weren’t sealed I’d go home.”
Sam snickered, her bright eyes shining a faint yellow underneath their dark green. “And where would that be exactly, love?” She asked him, her gaze now falling past him to the wolf, but saying nothing.
“That... Is for me to know.” Luckas answered, smirking as if he was trying to be playful, even though he was actually being quite serious. He could hear a low growl coming from the wolf beside him slowly rising to a menacing snarl. Luckas looked back to the wolf with a questioning and intrigued look, Tala was baring her teeth, hairs raised along her neck, her blue eyes fixed on Sam. “You two know each other, Sammy?”
“I suppose... Your Beast Speaker friend must not have gotten a good impression of me.” Sam replied, her eyes cold as she looked upon the animal. “Friend of yours, Lukey?”
“I’m honestly not sure, Sam.” Luckas muttered in response. “Especially right now... It’s complicated.”
“How many of these ‘complicated’ friendships of yours will I be forced to deal with, love?”
“I don’t know...... How many have you counted so far?” Lukas asked playfully, but his smile faltered under her annoyed gaze. “Come on, Sammy... Don’t be like this. I really don’t know why she’s chasing me around.”
“Whatever, Luckas... Just... Do something for me, will you? Try and find out as much as you can about the king, just be discreet about it... Having to save your ass won’t make my evening more enjoyable.”
“Well, you can always delegate... I’m sure Amb-..uhm... Wyatt, wouldn’t mind that task. Although I kind of fear for my ass if that happens to be the case.”
“I think it would be wise of you... To fear once in a while... Love.” Sam whispered, giving a slight mocking bow towards Tala and walking to rejoin the crowds.
Luckas watched the woman leave with a concerned frown, glancing at Tala with an annoyed look in his dark eyes, a small trace of amusement in his tone. “Great... See what you did? Now I have yet another pissed off woman to deal with.” He mumbled; the wolf responding with a huffed bark as if amused by him. “So not funny. Bad wolf.” He muttered in response, walking off again; shooting occasional annoyed glares at the ever pursuing animal.

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

Jake had been watching the fire dancing display with an expression of childish amusement on his face when he felt a nudge and Irvin pointed out to him the fact he had momentarily let his attention slip away from Crys and what she was doing. What little joy there was in the man’s expression immediately shut down as he caught sight of her on the dance floor... With Sean...
“Are you still sure you don’t want to kill him now?” Irvin whispered to him.
Rhetorical as the question was, Jake couldn’t help but let it sink in. It was ironic how being in such an obvious trap provided some people with a safe haven to do as they pleased. When everyone was so mindful of their actions and unwilling to make any sudden moves, it acted like a shield. “I know he’ll get what’s rightfully his some day. Probably a lot sooner than he thinks. I’m in no hurry to see it happen.” He replied, his eyes following Crys’ movements as if in a trance.

[Flashback - Wolfpack Camp, approximately 6 years ago]

“This is stupid. I feel stupid.” Jake muttered under his breath.
“What did you say, Jakey? Jesse asked, an amused tone in her voice.
“Nothing…” The boy mumbled. “I just don’t see the point.”
“Well, Jakey, girls like boys who know how to dance.” Jess stated.
“I don’t even like girls!” Jake protested. “What do I care if they like me?”
Jessica giggled softly at Jake’s protests. “Yes, but one day you’ll feel different Jakey. And the sooner you start learning something the better you’ll be at it when you need it. Just like sword fighting.” She said. “Come on, now… It’s not so bad.”
“Sword fighting is fun.” Jake muttered, dragging his feet around the living room as he walked to the center. “This is just… Lame.”

. . .

Jake chuckled to himself as the conversation between he and his sister played out in his head; his eyes watching the figures moving around the campfire, dancing and laughing without a care. To him that was just the most amazing thing about the Wolfpack; they could, in certain moments, dance and laugh without a care. In these moments it was hard to see them as cold blooded killers and much easier to just see them as just a big happy family. It was in rare occasions that the Pack would have a party or celebration that involved the whole camp; mainly the Alpha’s birthday, a graduation, or a wedding celebration. This was the second, as well as the latter, and both celebrations were mashed together into one huge party.

“What are you smiling about?”
Jake raised an eyebrow as he turned to look at Crys. “How do you know I’m smiling?”
“Why wouldn’t you be? You’re finally free of me.” She chuckled softly before he had the chance to protest. “Oh, I meant as an instructor, don’t be silly now.”
“Yes, I’m a full grown Wolf now. Exciting.” He replied in a soft tone.
“Yes, does that mean you are actually going to go through with it?” She asked, a bit of concern in her voice. “You don’t have to kill them.”
“I want to.” He replied immediately. “I need to see them pay… I can’t… I need… To end it… This is just the only way I know how.”
“Maybe you should have more patience and learn another way, but… That’s not my decision to make.” She sighed, changing the subject. “You didn’t answer me though; what were you smiling about?”
“I was just enjoying the party, in my own way.” He stated, with a brief nod of head.
“From a distance?” Crys snickered. “I see how that is… Are you scared the girls will want you to dance with them?”
“I’m not afraid of girls, or dancing.” Jake shrugged slightly. “How about you?”
“What about me?” Crys asked, leaning on the opposite side of the tree he was leaning against.
“Why aren’t you out there with the others?” He asked.
“Well, I’m here with you. Can’t be in two places at the same time, now can I?” She asked absently.
“Fair enough…” Jake chuckled softly. “And… What if I was over there with everyone else? That would solve the dilemma, now, wouldn’t it?”
“Suppose so.” Crys mumbled.
“Well…” Jake stated, pushing himself away from the tree trunk and stretching lazily before holding one hand out to her. “If that’s the case then… Would you like to dance?”
“I don’t dance.” Crys stated casually.
“I’ve seen you dance.” Jake replied. “Come on, I’m holding out my hand…” He chuckled. “I promise it won’t hurt.”
“I don’t dance with others… I don’t like to.” Crys replied.
“Why are you so afraid of people all the time?” Jake asked. “What is the absolute worst that can happen if we dance?” He paused a little bit to give her time to think then insisted. “I’m just going to stand here offering you my hand until you take it.” He informed. “Please hurry though, my arm is getting tired.”

Crys finally laughed and gave in, finding his hand rather easily and letting him lead her towards the music. “I really hate you sometimes.” She muttered, although amusement was clear in her tone.
“No, you don’t… Because you know you’d never have any fun without me.” He answered, leading her hand towards his shoulder and placing his own casually upon her hip.
“Great, now I’m boring.” She complained, giving him a fake frown as if she was insulted.
“You are many things, and some of them are less pleasant than others, but boring is not one of them, that’s for sure.” Jake chuckled.
“Nice save there, mister.” She snickered, patting his shoulder playfully.
“Why, thank you. I try.” Jake replied, a rather satisfied smile crossing his features as she placed her right hand in his and they began moving to the music being played; the music was not entirely slow, but rather just soft enough.
“People are staring aren’t they?” Crys asked, a tone between amusement and annoyance in her voice.
“You are the Alpha’s daughter; people are just going to keep track of your movements wherever you are.” Jake stated simply. “You really should be more used to it.”
“Hm.” Crys mumbled.
“Hey…” Jake called, giving her hand a gentle squeeze. “Just forget them... It’s as simple as that.”

Crys let out a slightly bitter chuckle, but didn’t answer directly. She kept quiet for a few moments before speaking again. “Do you think I’m afraid of people?” She asked.
“I don’t know, Crys… You are certainly afraid of something though.” Jake answered calmly. “I just think you don’t have to be.”
“Aren’t we all afraid of something, Jakey?” She retorted. “Why should I be any different than everyone else? I’m just as human as the rest, you know.”
“A little too much at times, but yes… You are.” He replied. “But… What I mean is that you don’t have to be afraid now, because I’m here, and if the stares bother you, well… There’s an easy fix for that, you know.”
“Right, because vanishing in the middle of the camp won’t draw any attention at all.” Crys replied, pure amusement in her voice.
Jake leaned forward and snickered softly into her ear as he whispered. “What makes you think we haven’t already?” He gave a light shrug. “I can’t make the rest of the world disappear for you, but I can do this… So just… Forget them.”


[Reality - Blackpond Castle, present time]

Before Jake could really think about it, he had mumbled something to Irvin along the lines of ‘stay close to Darren’ and began to wander off heading in the general direction of the dancing figures as they parted ways.

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

Sean stepped away from Crys still mulling over some of the things they’d spoken. The day would come when they would have to face one another, that was an undeniable fact. The consequences would be tragic, that was also true. There was nothing that could be done to change that and they knew it; so why were they still dancing around the matter? He wasn’t exactly sure what was keeping him from making a move against the former Alpha, but he felt as if he was waiting for something to tell him the day had arrived. Distracted with these thoughts Sean failed to notice another presence of, some, importance as he made his way through the party guests, some of them still staring at him due to his little display of... Whatever it was he and Crys were trying to prove; he wasn’t sure of that either. It was only when he felt someone grab his shoulder and a voice call to him that he realized the woman was there, her voice causing him to cringe and reach for the hilt of his sword immediately.
“Tell me boy... What kind of an assassin are you? Have you even noticed that the woman I’ve asked you to kill is in this very room?”
Sean turned around to face Ebony with absolute rage in his eyes, grabbing her wrist and pushing her hand away from him as if it was something that was absolutely vile and also caught on fire; taking notice that the woman had, at least, eight hired goons at her back, who probably thought they were being inconspicuous, when in reality they were failing miserably at being discreet. He hated, hated, being pressured and his already intense dislike for the woman grew to seriously dangerous levels at her words. “If you think it’s that simple, why don’t you go and do it, ma’am?”
“I paid...”
“You paid for a professional hit. Which by no one’s definition consists of committing an assassination in an area filled of guards and other possible hostile individuals and absolutely no way out.” Sean interrupted. “Nowhere in the contract does it say that you own me or has the right to give me any orders either, so I suggest you change your tone.” He stated, pacing towards the woman with a menacing look in his eyes. “Now.”
“Well, excuse me, kid, if I’m not convinced you’ll follow through, considering my history with your kind.”
“I will fulfill the contract. Even if you were to, say, suffer an unfortunate accident, I would still fulfill the contract. Don’t worry... Not about that at least.” He told the woman. “Worry about how much you seem to unnecessarily test my patience, because I swear to all the Gods, you insufferable hag... If you ever touch me or question my integrity again I’ll forget that you are a thing with lady parts... And I will cut off your hands and shove them so far down your throat you’ll never be able subject anyone to another one of your streams of verbal diarrhea ever again.” Sean’s tone was smooth and calm on the surface, but a hint of an angered growl was noticeable underneath as he advanced another step towards the woman. One of the hired mercenaries stepping forth to stand in his way as if trying to somehow justify what he was being paid for. The man was bit larger than Sean and about ten years older as well. The years he had over the assassins bringing an unmistakable air of arrogance to his eyes as he placed one hand on Sean’s chest to push him back; huge mistake. Sean’s reaction was immediate. The moment the man’s hand touched his shirt, Sean grabbed the man by his middle finger, bending it backward and consequently twisting his arm in a way that forced him to turn around to avoid it being dislocated, the pain causing his knees to give in slightly. AS the man turned away from him, Sean reached for his belt and pulled a dagger, pressing it firmly against the man’s throat. “This is a celebration... And we wouldn’t want to cause a commotion so if you scream, or as much as yelp, I will silence you... You understand me?” He muttered, not waiting for any kind of response and proceeding to kick his left knee in, the sickening sound of bone crackin drown out by music and conversation as Sean let go of both the dagger and the man. The man didn’t make a sound at the pain and simply dropped down, two of his buddies rushing to help him up. With an annoyed grunt Sean spun around, pointing a blade toward the eye of a mercenary who had tried to sneak up on him from behind, the weapon partially concealed underneath the assassin’s sleeve. “Are we through now?” He asked. “Because if we’re not, I guarantee you pal... You’ll all be following your employer around with matching eye patches.”
The mercenary backed down and Sean lowered the blade, tucking it into a sheathe in the back of his belt. “Good.” He stated, pushing past the man as addressing Ebony over his shoulder. “You’ll know when it’s done, until then... Do us both a favor and stay out of my sight.”

The woman replied, but Sean didn’t bother listening and simply kept walking away. His complete annoyance making it difficult for him to focus on where he was going and who was on his path, which caused him to collide with someone rather forcefully in his haste to get away from the old hag. Sean stumbled only slightly upon impact, his hand automatically gripping the woman he nearly ran over by her arm to keep her from falling. “I’m sorry... I wasn’t paying attention... You alright?” He asked, releasing his hold on the redhead once assured that she had regained her balance.

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

Sam parted ways with Luckas and once again scanned the ballroom. All of the people she planned on maybe bumping into were engaged in conversations... All but one... And so she quietly made her way to the girl in white robes. Annie. It would probably be a quick encounter, there was little to be discussed with a healer. It would still be entertaining however. Approaching the girl from behind, Sam called in a soft tone. “You... Are Annie Turner. Aren’t you?”

Annie smiled in amusement even before turning to face the woman who addressed her, Luckas’ words coming to mind at the sound of the woman’s voice; ‘I feel something tugging at the end of my leash’. They hadn’t met before, and yet something in the woman’s tone gave her away, the tone of someone who never asks a question they don’t already know the answer to. “Aren’t I?” She asked, her tone nearing mockery, but lingering in amusement. “You know who I am. I know who you are.” She stated. “We are both far more perceptive than this conversation has led on so far, so perhaps we should start acting as such, no? Instead of wasting time with silly games. So, might I ask... Milady... How may I be of assistance on this fine evening?”

Sam laughed softly, seemingly delighted by the respectful and yet bluntly aggressive tone of Annie’s replies; no one had ever made her out so easily before. “I am almost absolutely certain that it is not in your best interest to assist me in any way, Miss Anne. I do however have some curiosity pertaining the Myths... If you could spare a few moments of your time of course.” The woman smiled kindly; her green eyes lit up in cheerful curiosity as she stared at Annie. “There are things I always thought to myself, I’d love to ask your mother about, but unfortunately we never had the opportunity to discuss before she... Passed...” The woman trailed off, visibly fake embarrassment in her tone. “I am certain you can handle my simple questions however.”

Annie’s dark eyes glared at the woman with an intensity much similar to her mother’s, it was the look of someone not to be messed around with. It was menacing and nearly dangerous. Not something anyone was used to seeing in the, usually cheerful, young healer. “My mother lacked the time for many, many, things... Miss Samantha. Her passing was a rather unexpected and premature one, as I am sure you know. Please, I would be more than glad to shed some light on your view of the Twins. Ask whatever questions you wish.”

Sam nodded in a playful show of respect, not surprised that the girl already knew her name somehow. “Please, do call me Sam. And I am sure you would be glad to enlighten my views. My questions are simple ones though, as I said... I would simply like some answers as to your clan’s views on the Myths... Specifically... I would like to know what makes you believe in them when you know there is more to the stories than what the public is told.” Sam stated, her tone becoming slightly colder and almost accusing. “What makes you think the Blackhurst Elders had the authority to decide what is true and what is not? What makes their judgement so much better than everyone elses to the point of your clan basing your entire belief system on their view of what happened despite knowing there is more to the story than that? Please... Miss Annie... Do explain to me how do you allow the apprentices taught by your healers to be fed those lies.”

Annie snickered softly, shaking her head in an uncharacteristically condescending way. “Sam... I believe in the Twins and what they represent, regardless of whether they did in fact exist in this plane of existence or not. The veracity of the Myths, in the sense which you speak of at least, is irrelevant to our faith. We teach our apprentices faith, and acceptance. We don’t tell them the Myths are fact nor do we coerce them to blindly believe in anything. The White Shadows is a clan of healers, scholars, and pacifists... We are not a cult. We do not raise sheep, Miss Sam. Any other clarifications you would like me to make?”

Sam laughed. “You do not raise sheep? Did you honestly, truthfully, just uttered those words? Tell me something, Annie... Do you teach your recruits about the parts of the Myths that speak of Terra and her ‘supposed’ origins? Do you speak of Hell to them and all the dreadful things the first Children did to make its existence necessary? Do you tell them of the fact there are several accounts of people gaining enlightened gifts upon entering Valcrest borders and how any records of these accounts were buried by the Elders the moment they were discovered because if they were made public they would cause people to severely question the exactitude of the Myths and the Elders’ own conclusions as to what truly happened between Terra and Life; conclusions that were never really based on any sort of actual proof?”

“There are no actual studies on how magic behaves outside of Valcrest or how outside magic interacts with the Land’s magical source, Sam. Those accounts are proof of nothing, except that there is magic outside the land and that it behaves differently here; which is something we have already established thousands of years ago. Those occurrences were all studied and documented... The records were not buried; they were destroyed along with the City. It is easy to twist words and actions when the entire civilization involved in the actual events has been nearly annihilated. Isn’t it? As for our students... They have access to every bit of written and told history, no matter how obscure, and they are encouraged to take their own conclusions; to have faith in what feels real to them. As long as it harms no one.” Annie’s tone was calm and collected but the look in her eyes remained cold and nearly contemptuous. “I encourage their faith, as I encourage yours... As long as it harms no one, of course.”

“What do you tell them, Annie, when they speak of how the Goddess has personally put you on this world to guide them? Are you going to tell me you also encourage them to worship your existence?”

“I tell them... We are all put on this world with a purpose. On my own personal experience, those who demand or accept worship are those who are the least worthy of praise.” Annie replied simply. “Wouldn’t you say?”

Sam chuckled. “Humility is the only illusion greater than peace; that is my only say on this particular matter. You won’t accept worship because of all the responsibility that comes with it, I think though... If anyone deserves worship is the leader of the White Shadows. Your level of foolishness and patronizing arrogance are match to that of the Gods themselves.”

Annie smiled a bit more truthfully at Sam’s words and gave a playful shrug at the woman’s offenses. “Well, Miss Samantha... If it means so much to you, you have my permission to worship me. After all, I wouldn’t want to deny anyone of their beliefs. I am a faithful individual, as I am sure you are as well.”

Sam’s eyes hardened slightly at Annie’s words but her tone and overall demeanor never left their apparent tranquility as she gave the teenager a half bow for the insult. “You are a... Fascinating individual... Annie Turner. It is a pity that my faith and your cannot coexist.”

Annie gave Sam an intrigued look at those words, and almost innocent expression taking over her features as she nodded in acceptance to her statement. “It is a pity indeed...” She opened a half smile, amusement taking over her eyes, causing the dark brown to sparkle a faint golden light. “I trust the Twins will protect and guide whatever lost sheep you may leave along the way.” Taking a surprisingly sincere bow of respect Annie turned to walk away from the older woman. “Until we meet again, Mistress.”

Sam smirked behind the girl’s back as she walked away; amusement in her eyes, mixed with a slightly predatorial glare as they followed the healer across the room. “Sooner rather than later... Healer.” She mumbled to herself.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Annie Turner Character Portrait: Ess Character Portrait: Darren Hearst

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#, as written by Essence
People were running in all directions, as hypnotizing bursts of flame gave Essence mere glimpses of faces and shadows; Tala was lost trailing what Ess caught as Ebony’s salt and pepper hair disappearing in the strobing reality, almost catching fire. Ess couldn’t help but laugh, tearing jagged rips of her gown to just above her knees. Then, instead of following immediately after Ebony and Joffrey, Ess froze. Her jaw fell in utter awe, staring, at what felt like was slowly dawning on her, the Queen falling lifeless to the floor. Holding her blade at her side, she didn’t look away but acknowledged Sean’s departure with a nod. “What....the hell..just happened..?” She breathed, moving to leave because her mind was screaming to pursue Ebony while at the same time her eyes locked upon Mageria and she couldn’t move. Essence wouldn’t just walk away now, yet her gaze strayed past the Captain and found herself being stared at by the boy who had introduced himself as Darren except now he was wearing a hat. Tipping his hat he signaled a silent departure, quicking looking from where he last saw the wolf run off to and back at Essence. It was as if the boy knew what Ess was thinking, “I’m on it..” Darren grunted, before running off after Tala, Ess still wearing a dumbfounded look on her face.

"Valcrest will burn.......And there is nothing we can do to stop it."

Essence kneeled down beside the Captain, lightly resting a hand upon her shoulder a bit hesitantly. “I don’t understand..” She whispered to Mageria. “...There has to be something we can do...I mean you saw what happened, right?” Ess cleared her throat, standing once again, her blade hovering at her hip in a subtle defensive stance. “Captain...we need to find a way out of this room...but not before I lose that haggard bitch...not again..” Still Ess didn’t move, as if waiting for permission to leave the Captain’s side while at the same time she most definitely didn’t trust to leave. Everything was chaotic but things were going to crumble and cascade into insanity in the next few seconds.

Darren had been weaving in and out of the crowd, ducking random bursts of flame which made it fairly difficult to keep track of the silver wolf and the prey it was pursuing. The strobing light paused out of sorts and it was dark for the better part of a minute before a violet, blinding array of light suddenly came into a view in what Darren could only recognize as the sun flying towards him. To avoid the ball of fire, Darren dove towards the floor, unintentionally taking down a figure in white, who had been beside him unexpectedly. Not to say there wasn’t people all around, but most were either engaged in some sort of conflict or making their way towards the walls and blocked exits in vain. The dark haired boy opened his baby blue eyes, straining through muttered apologies as he unshielded the form from himself, rolling to his side. The first thing Daren saw was an attractive, young lady with jet black hair and adoring brown eyes, and for a moment he forgot the chaos around him and simply stared at her as if there was nothing else in room. His eyes flashed an indigo, purple, several images flashed quickly through his mind that he was ignoring mostly in an attempt to clear his thoughts. “I’m sorry-” Darren gasped, feeling something or someone grip him by the collar and hoist him into the air before he could finish his sentence, an angry glare penetrating his own confused stare. Darren held up his hands defensively, as he rushed to catch his breath. “Whoa...least let me catch...my breath before the beautiful lady takes it away again...Guy...wait..you don’t understand..” He tried to explain, one eye still on the woman in white, feeling a bit ashamed to have not even helped her off the floor. “Ah..is this your boyfriend, Miss?”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Evin Bana Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Annie Turner Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher Character Portrait: Darren Hearst Character Portrait: Samantha 'Johnson'

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“You’re from BlackPond, Jake...The name Ebony sound familiar?”

Jake twitched slightly as the name reached his ears; he hadn’t heard it in so long, but yet he couldn’t possibly forget what it stood for. “I thought that bitch was dead...” He muttered under his breath, not exactly replying to Darren’s words and simply following after the boy. Jake’s mind was racing with memories he hadn’t thought about in a very long time; about things he would hear but was too much of a child to understand properly at the time. As far as he knew both Ebony and her brother were history; long dead... He had been very sure of it. Maybe it wasn’t the same Ebony, for a moment he allowed himself to wish it wasn’t, but something in Darren’s eyes when he mentioned the woman led him to think his wish would not be met. He wondered in silence what kind of business Darren’s father would have with the woman exactly, feeling this wasn’t the proper time to ask the boy questions; even less the right place to do so. Whatever discussion there was to be had, would have to take place much later.

“Hey...think I found who came here with that wolf...that...Redhead with no name..”

That sentence caused Jake to halt immediately. It wasn’t too long before his eyes caught the aforementioned redhead and he cowered for a moment before pressing on, his enlightenment having already activated by itself in the moment it took him to think about it, his eyes seeking the woman he had spotted walking away from Darren earlier; it wasn’t long until he spotted her, moving closer so that he could get a good look at her face and the one of the blond man standing beside her. Jake moved as they conversed, and circling the group consisting on the two, Ess, the woman’s mercenaries, and Sean for some reason, pacing after Darren in the opposite direction of the wolf, stopping a half step behind Sean knowing without a doubt that things were about to escalate. So he waited, and not before too long the first move was made to start a fight. Jake didn’t waste much time, quickly making his way through two mercenaries and pushing through the mess to reach Ebony, but immediately halting as the lights suddenly went out. He couldn’t see anything and at first he hesitated to move, but then he felt something soft go past his leg and as the lights flickered back on he saw it was a wolf. “Tala.” He muttered under his breath, thinking it was probably his safest bet to follow the wolf. The poor lighting and constantly moving crowds made it somewhat of a difficult task to keep up with Tala in her pursuit of Ebony, but Jake was managing to do a decent job of it until someone caught his eye; Rick had just rushed his way right past him with a very determined, not to say manic, look in his eyes. In the moment it took Jake to let his eyes wander from the wolf to follow the King’s intended path he lost track of the animal completely. That was suddenly not his greatest concern however and he snorted angrily as he forced himself to change his course and follow Rick; he had a feeling of what the man was searching for.

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

Crys was just a slight bit confused. In moments like this she couldn’t help some form of annoyance from rising at how easily some people panicked. It made it hard to tell if whatever was going down was actually as bad as the panicked party guests made it sound. While she had a blade or two hidden on her person, Crys didn’t feel compelled to reach for them, eyes closed to conceal a dim green light emanating from her irises. After a few moments she managed to focus enough to catch words from some of the frightened guests trying to reach the exits; the lights had been cut off and fights had broken out, but that wasn’t as bad as it could get.

A familiar call of her name pulled Crys out of her little stupor and she couldn’t help but laugh at Evin’s statement that he was having a good time. “Evin Bana enjoying a party... I’m pretty sure there’s a prophecy somewhere listing that as a sign the world is ending.” She played, heaving a slightly weary sigh. “I’m personally rather disappointed so far, I mean... No one died, nothing exploded, things are actually kind of bor-...” Crys stopped talking abruptly her smile slowly shutting down as she felt a man’s approach. She didn’t know this person and she wasn’t sure what was it about him exactly that just made her feel very uneasy, not quite yet. As the man reached them Crys caught herself instinctively grabbing Evin’s arm as if to make sure he was still standing there, releasing him only a second later as if nothing had occurred. “..boring.” She finished her sentence, smirking as the man demanded that Evin leave them alone. “Perhaps I spoke too soon... Hey!” She rose her voice to draw the stranger’s attention from Evin to her. “Who... Do you think you are?”

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Luckas wasn’t sure what Sammy’s idea was exactly, but it seemed as though she had one because she had dragged him along a very specific path, and stopped in a very specific spot... to wait. Most party guests were running towards the exits, but they were not; they stopped underneath one of the balconies. “Sammy, wh-...” Luckas started, but stopped at one gesture of her hand, falling into silence. The woman seemed to be focusing on the crowd so Luckas waited until she turned to face him. “Sorry, was trying to spot Amber in the middle of this mess. Wonder where that kid ran off to...” She muttered. “What were you going to say, love?”
“Wyatt, remember? Luke pointed out with a snicker. “Stupid name... I was going to ask what are we waiting for?”
“We’re waiting for Adam.” Sam replied simply, turning to face the crowd again, trying to spot the red haired boy amongst the startled partygoers. “Where... is that kid?”
“Who?” A voice called out to them in the dark and Luke recognized it as being that of Amber’s chosen persona.
“There you are!” Sam exclaimed, finding the boy and grabbing him by the shoulder. “There is this annoying little assassin man trying to track down Lukey, I assume with the intention of murdering him, would you mind taking care of that for me?”
“Your wish, is my command... Mistress.” The boy replied, momentarily following Sam’s gaze to a man amongst the crowd then smirking and abruptly ruffling up Luke’s hair playfully while walking past him. “Goddess forbid our little Lukey gets stabbed again.” Amber added with a giggle.
Luckas frowned watching the redhead boy wander off. “Are you sure Sammy? Simon is a pretty decent telepath.”
“Then wish him luck. Personally, if I had the gift... That girl’s mind is the last place I’d want to venture.”
“Good point.” Luckas muttered under his breath. “Very good point.”
“If I didn’t know you so well, I’d think you’re concerned for her safety.” Sam pointed out with an amused chuckle.
“Funny, if I didn’t know better I’d think you were too.” He retorted.
“You don’t think I care for her safety?” Sam questioned, her tone changing slightly from its previous calm.
“I think the concept of caring, the way normal people would experience it, is lost on us both. As well as the concept of safety.”
“Hm, fair enough.” Sam mumbled, falling silent and going back to watching the crowd.

Amber walked away from Luke and Sam humming as she made her way through the crowd of people, some involved in fights others frozen in confusion, but most of them panicking like idiots. It wasn’t long until she spotted the man Sam had pointed out to her amongst those idiots. Smiling softly she let her appearance change from the redhead boy to that of a brown haired girl of about the same age, practically hopping her way to to the man and clearly standing in his way. “Hello there Mister.” She greeted. “A little birdie tells me you’ve been looking to kill a friend of mine, and I’m not sure I agree with that. See... I’m not much into letting strangers hurt the people around me; that’s my job. So would you be so kind as to go back the way you came? I’d hate it if I had to stop you...” She snickered. “Well, no, that’s a lie... I’d actually enjoy that quite a bit, but you probably wouldn’t.”

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

Annie had lost track of Alistair in the commotion that took place once the light went out and then started to flicker on and off again. Every time the flames lit up the room people had moved in different directions, nothing was where it had been a moment ago. In her confusion Annie failed to notice a ball of flame flying in her general direction, and even less a dark haired boy who suddenly tackled her to the ground. Next thing she knew Alistair was pulling the guy off of her as he mumbled apologies. The healer chuckled pushing herself to stand. “Alistair, there you are!” She smiled, patting Alistair’s arm so that he released the boy. “There’s no need for that now.” She told him calmly, turning to face her ‘attacker’. “Boyfriend? Twins, no. Al is... Like a brother of sorts to me. Thanks for helping me find him, by the way; he wanders off and I worry about him getting into trouble.” She told him in an amused tone, patting Alistair’s arm playfully.

Alistair was still glaring some at the boy, but he relaxed some at Annie’s teasing knowing that the girl wouldn’t be acting this casual if she thought this guy’s intentions weren’t honest. “Riiight....” He mumbled. “Because I’m the one prone to causing trouble.”
Annie snickered. “I don’t know what you’re implying Alistair, but would you be so kind as to go find Allison for me? I have a feeling all these flames flying about are not doing her any good.”
Alistair snorted a trace of a laugh, but didn’t say anything and simply gave the young man one final glare before moving along through the partygoers. Annie watched over her friend as he walked away for a little while before turning to her new acquaintance. “I apologize for my friend he’s a tad bit overprotective. Not as much as my cousin, but gladly for you, I don’t see him around.” Smiling gently at the boy she offered her hand and introduced herself with a tiny bow of her head. “Annie Turner... And who might you be?”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Sham (No Last Name) Character Portrait: Annie Turner Character Portrait: Ess Character Portrait: Darren Hearst

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#, as written by Essence
“Annie Turner... And who might you be?”

The noise around Darren dissipated briefly, his mind focusing on the woman’s voice, baby blues flashing curiously as he noted the way her shoulders bounced when she giggled. A small smile took over his trance, bowing low in return while removing his hat and holding it tight against his chest. His eyes never left her as he spoke, his free hand gently taking her’s and turning it so that his lips lightly grazed the top of her knuckles. “..Darren. Darren, Hearst..Miss Annie.” He whispered, his deep blues reflecting a purple hue that faded just as quickly as it appeared when he squinted, pushing back against a dull pain between his eyes. Instead of releasing her hand immediately when he felt his enlightenment take hold and mere flashes clouded his vision, he gave a slight squeeze, his fingertips lightly massaging the palm of her hand. “Turner?” Darren chuckled, politely releasing the woman’s hand. “Why do I have the feeling I’ve already met one of your relatives..” He stated matter of factly, more so than as a question.

Darren’s amusement faded, taking on a somewhat sympathetic expression as Annie dark locs faded into view. Tilting his head forward he raised his hat, letting his longer strands hide away beneath the leather interior, slowly standing up straight once again. “...I’m so sorry...” He began, adjusting his hat. “..She was a very lovely woman...You look like her..” Darren cleared his throat a bit awkwardly, quirking a brow as something crossed his mind suddenly. “..So...you’re into puzzles?” He muttered, hinting more at the images that had just flooded his mind. It wasn’t enough to make a lot of sense out of but he saw images of an older, similar version of the young lady who was now in focus before him. He had heard her name whispered within the camp and upon hearing the girl’s name he made the simple connection. Then, there was the flutter of pages covered in odd groupings of numbers that seemed to go on forever. It reminded Darren somewhat of his father’s journal but at the same time it couldn’t have been more different. Needless to say, it was intriguing and it moved him to ask something else but he didn’t even get to open his mouth when he heard a sharp echo of a wounded animal, causing chills to shake down his spine. Darren stepped back, sighing some as his distraction left him and was brought back to his original purpose. “Apologies, I had a prior...engagement...” He winked, tipping his hat and without another word he trotted off in pursuit of the grey-haired hag and the wolf that followed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Go," she whispered. "If it's that important, just.... go while you can."

Essence froze, staring at Mageria in silence, lips parting to speak but words never finding life through her dizzy array of thoughts. Nodding absently to Sham as if she heard her words, Ess yet remained kneeled as she watched the woman pick up what was now only a shell of the Queen. It wasn’t the personal pain of loss that gripped hold of her insides, but of the ideals and reminders of what the Captain must now be feeling; it was in her eyes. An icy breath of death which mocked those left untouched, yet again and helpless to prevent what happened in mere seconds before their eyes. In that moment, Essence felt torn. It was something she normally would not be so conflicted with; the pursuit and killing of Ebony. That, was something she long desired ever since it was realized that woman still drew breath and she had never let anything hold her back to any similar desires before, but now things were changing.

‘There’s nothing to be done now..’ Essence told herself, trying to ease the guilt she felt as the Captain moved away in a grievance, hypnotizing state. She knew there wasn’t much to be said, at least not now. Yet, she felt like there had to be SOMETHING she could do, and perhaps continuing her pursuit of Ebony was all she was able to do at the moment. It wasn’t just about her own personal vengeance and her self righteous feeling of justice. Ebony had wronged many, many people all in the name of money and her illusion of power. Essence had spent a good portion of her young life, fueling that illusion, like a dog begging for scraps but too afraid to reach out for them. That had been part of her control over Ess which she had believed to have been shattered long ago, yet remanence of past pains still thrived through her veins. That anger, as if only just discovered in that exact second, began to trickle down in discreet, reddish streaks across her face as she pushed herself to her feet and slipped fluid and wispful like, as a wraith, her features shifting in a confusing blur of those she passed so that her ghost-like form was faceless for a moment. Essence knew she had no control over the life that was lost right before her eyes, but she knew she would have control over the life that still mocked her from across the room.

Taking advantage of the shrill screams of confusion and fear amidst the teasing of light, Ess slipped through the occasional darkness, straining to hear the distant growls and barks of her furry friend who had not hesitated to corner Ebony and Joffrey, pinning them against what use to be a window, now a melted barricade that slightly resembled a tombstone. ‘How fitting.’ Joffrey was growing weak, his movements stiffening as the paralysis began to take hold but not quick enough it seemed. Ess came upon the two, Tala in mid lunge for the man’s throat; Ebony too scared to move. Essence wasn’t even able to shout out for the wolf to be still when a blade sliced through the air and cut the animal along where her shoulder connected with the scruff of her neck, silver fur spotted with crimson. The wounded yelp of the creature was drowned out by an angry scream which Ess didn’t realize was coming from herself, until Joffrey looked upon her in surprise, that pause long enough for Tala to rip off his bladed hand.

Holding out her own blade, not taking her eyes off of Ebony, Ess’ free hand inspected the wound upon her wolf as Tala turned to drop the emaciated limb at her feet as if it were a gift. The gesture caused her to smile, barely noticing how Joffrey screamed like an infant longing for milk. He wasn’t going anywhere now, Tala able enough to stand guard as Ess reached down for the hand and playfully smacked the man hard across the face with it before whirling it in Ebony’s direction, the woman barely dodging the hand. Ess’ features were still once again, a manic glow flickering in her eyes accompanied by a series of giggles.She hit the woman with the hilt of her dagger again and again, causing her to fall upon her knees so that she was now at blade level, staring up at Ess in a wild panic.

“You can’t kill me, Pigeon! If you do, you’ll never know about your son...or your brother...I know where he is, you know..You NEED me...” Ebony stumbled over her own words with a hint of desperation mixed with that illusion of power that still hung about her. It would have been somewhat amusing if not for the Bitch’s words that simply caused Ess to press the blade harder against her throat. It baffled her to see how delusional the woman was up to her very end. As if considering what the woman had to say, Ess loosened her grip and took a step backwards.

“Your words, are poison....I ‘NEED’ you...like I need a hole in the head...” Ess snarled, her leg snapping outward to kick the woman onto her back, falling forward to pin her upon the ground.

“You’ll never be anything more than a toy..a plaything! It’s all you know! But if you list-” Ebony’s words were suddenly cut short by a chorus of angry screams as Essence was overtaken by a blood frenzy, her dagger stabbing the woman in the chest, neck, and empty eye socket over and over until it painted her white skin in the woman’s blood.

“I BELONG TO NO ONE!” She bellowed, screaming insults and curses, refusing to acknowledge anything further that wretched woman had to say. “I AM NO ONE’S TOY!” Essence didn’t even hear the voice behind her that had actually yelled out an objection to the act, disappointment at not hearing what the pile of flesh beneath her knees, had to say. “Lies...lies...all you ever said were lies...I can find out the truth WITHOUT YOU! Stupid bitch...there...is no...coming back....from this...” She continued to rant, thrusting the dagger into flesh each time she spoke. Her anger wasn’t relenting. There was no comforting release as she witnessed the body go limp, her blood spilling across the floor, quickly thickening against the chill. Her pain and scars would never leave her but there was a certain amount of satisfaction knowing there was one less child abusing, witch in Valcrest. Still, it wasn’t enough to calm her rage and even in the woman’s death, Ess wouldn’t stop. She couldn’t. It was as if she were temporarily possessed by one of her inner demons from her drawings; never sating the hunger that was fueling her need for blood.

Darren could have cared less for the blond who had passed out upon the floor from a gruesome injury, leaving him with a ragged stump where his hand should have been. His attention upon the wolf who was now sitting on her haunches, appearing as if she were trying not to lie down in the small puddle of blood slowly forming at her side. He immediately noticed the wound and after a few seconds decided it wasn’t life threatening but it didn’t look like it felt too good at all. Tala rumbled with a defensive growl, eyeing Darren, suspiciously sniffing in his direction. Very carefully in slow, calculated movements, he kneeled down a few feet away from Tala, causing the wolf to snarl and spit. Darren froze, “...It’s okay, girl...” He whispered, hesitating before he inched and stretched his fingers outwards. Again, she showed her teeth but no noise accompanied the gesture this time. Both the wolf and Darren’s attention were drawn away from one another when Essence screamed and began brutally stabbing at Ebony a few feet away. If Darren had given himself time to think on it, he wouldn’t of objected as much as he did as he found himself yelling for the woman to stop. A look of defeat slowly turned into a mix of shock and awe when he saw how the woman pressed on, noting she must have pierced Ebony more than a couple dozen times now and soon he lost track. For the first time ever, he hesitated to speak to a woman, somewhat afraid of the crazed look in her eye as she kept pace, not growing tired in the slightest as the blood splattered and dripped along her face.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Evin Bana Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Lamya Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Annie Turner Character Portrait: Allison Blake Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher Character Portrait: Ess Character Portrait: Darren Hearst Character Portrait: Samantha 'Johnson'

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Annie parted ways with Darren and was immediately grabbed by the hand and pulled into a somewhat quiet corner, as if someone was just waiting for her to be alone. She would have worried if everything hadn’t happened faster than her thought process had been; by the time it took her to actually worry, the person who grabbed her spoke and she recognized the man’s voice, despite of how panicked it sounded. “Listen, I need to ask you something... I don’t think I have much time.”
“Sean... What...”
“Just... Listen...” Sean asked. “Ella is dead and there’s a great chance I’ll be accused of killing her, if not by Newhaven by Evin or someone else who already has reason enough to hate me... doesn’t matter... I didn’t do it, but that doesn’t matter either... If something happens to me, Annie... I need you to convince Katie to go stay with you in the plains... If something happens to me... Things will get ugly in ways she can’t really understand and... No matter what she says; she can’t stay in camp, it won’t be safe... It’s probably not even safe anymore as we speak. Promise you’ll do this for me.”
“Sean, I don’t...” Annie mumbled, not really having much time to process what Sean was saying had happened or what she was being asked to do. He was scared, for himself, but mostly for Katelyn and she understood his request, but she knew it would be near impossible to convince that girl to ever leave the Pack. Annie sighed, for some reason she was finding it difficult to say no to this promise she wasn’t sure she could ever really keep. “I promise... I’ll do everything I can... Alright?”
Sean nodded, for a moment he seemed like just another frightened man trying to make sense of something he couldn’t control, but then he shook his head as if pushing every ounce of fear out of his system. “Alright, that’s all I needed to hear.” He smirked. “Time worry about something else.”

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Sam let her mind wander off slightly as she watched the movement and activities in the ballroom, watching the people in that room was almost as if staring through a window into the very core of human society and its flaws. It was an odd and pathetic thing, how fragile people’s sense of security really is. Enough so that it shatters immediately the moment something goes wrong. Panic sets in. People run in circles. Flames rise. Blood is spilled... Humanity at its finest, represented by idealistic fools fighting battles they can’t win and panicked bystanders caught in the crossfire... The graphic representation of the world’s evolution; perpetually hindered by fear and foolish notions of justice. People loved to talk of faith, but it was clear that they lacked the necessary level of faith and trust in the Gods to simply let nature run its course. If it was Blackpond’s time to fall, why fight it? If Valcrest was fated to burn, why not just let it? Humanity’s fear of change was still the world’s greatest curse, it seemed.

A sudden movement beside her caught Sam’s attention and she reached out to grab Luckas by the arm, not speaking a word, but simply following the man’s gaze towards a commotion, not at all surprised to see the woman she has spoken with earlier to be right in the center of it. “Hush, Lukey.” She muttered simply, releasing his arm as he seemed to relax, leaning back against the wall behind them.

Luckas had honestly managed to get his mind off of things for a bit, his eyes half closed as he allowed himself a quiet moment, or as quiet as a moment could be in that chaotic place. It was only when he heard a canine yelp that he took notice of what was happening not too far from where he and Sam were standing, only realizing he had started to move away when Sam grabbed his arm, mumbling something to keep him still. Luckas snorted, holding back the urge to push the woman’s hand away from him and caving, leaning back against the stone behind him. Eyes watching intently as soon blood began to soak the floor. The whole scene seeming to him, oddly enough, like a waking dream, even though he felt close enough to smell the blood, he was at the same time too distant to hear the even make out the shouts and insults being cast onto the air, screams and curses sounding faintly in his ears, the exact words unclear, but then they really didn’t matter.

Luckas was unmoving staring at the whole thing with an excitement in his eyes that didn’t match the rest of his expression; an emotionless, almost stoic, expression on his face as though he wasn’t even seeing the scene of violence playing out before his eyes. The overall seriousness in his expression drawing Sam’s attention to a point she really didn’t bother to watch the scene all she really cared to know was displayed clearly in Luckas’ face, in his eyes, just as though they told a story. It was only a slight change in the man’s eyes, one not everyone would see, but it was there nonetheless... A spark of life inside a bottomless pit. The look in Luckas’ eyes wasn’t just the look of a killer enjoying the sight of fresh blood; there was something else hiding underneath, something she couldn’t exactly identify... Something undeniably frightening. “Luckas.”
Luckas breathed in an out as if he had been holding his breath all along, his voice a bit void as he spoke. “How much longer? I really don’t feel like being here anymore.”
“Not too long, I hope. Everything alright?”
Luke shrugged, crossing his arms over his chest tightly as if trying to hold himself still. “I’m fine, just a bit cold.”
“Cold?”

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

Irvin was about to reach one of the frozen doors in an attempt to see what if it was possible to use his enlightenment to melt the ice. He thought that it was very likely that even if the ice melted away the doors would be stuck. The boy barely had the time to reach the nearest exit however and the lights gave out on him. There was almost immediate panic as the ballroom went dark, people started to rush for the blocked exits and Irvin got himself caught in a mess of people desperate to escape. Untangling himself from the commotion Irv felt someone grab him by the shoulder and drag him to a corner, he didn’t get the chance to see who it was until another flash of light flooded the room and reached the woman’s face. “Allison?”
“What are you doing in the middle of this mess, kid? Trying to get stomped on?
“How does one try to get stomped on?” Irvin asked, raising an eyebrow in fake confusion. “I’m trying to reach the doors.”
“The doors are blocked, you know.”
“Yes, I know. Unlike most people trying to reach the doors though, I might actually be useful.”
Ali held back a snicker, disguising an involuntary flinch as the room suddenly lit up in random flames once again, taking the time to breathe deeply and forcing her mind back into the conversation she was having. It had been a considerable amount of time since fire had affected Ali in any way that was truly debilitating, but the knowledge that the room was sealed caused her little waves of panic every the flames burst into life around the ballroom. “Feeling important now, are we?” She played, ignoring the uneasy feeling making its way up her spine, however persistent it was. There would be plenty of time to freak out after they got out of that place.
Irvin snickered softly. “I wouldn’t put it in those terms.”

The lights went off again, and Ali could feel herself tense, knowing what would be coming next. She breathed deeply, holding back a groan as she felt a sharp pain spread from her right hand and up her arm, stopping at her elbow and disappearing as suddenly as it came, instinctively closing her eyes as another burst of flames crossed the room. “This is most certainly not my night.” She muttered under her breath, a familiar voice screaming its way across the room to reach her ears. “Irvin... We need to open those doors soon... This thing is about to get really ugly soon.”
“No kidding.” The boy replied with an annoyed snort, seeming a bit wary of the panicking crowds, but quickly spotting a opening he could go through to reach one of the exits. “Let’s see what I can do about that then... Meet you on the outside.” The boy smirked, rushing his way into the mess of people, disappearing not soon after.

Ali didn’t have time to think of whether it was a good a idea to let that boy wander off alone in that mess of people; he was already gone and her attention was already focusing elsewhere as she moved in the opposite direction towards the scream she’d heard.

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

Dastan was less than pleased when the lights went out, he didn’t care for why that happened, and even less for how many people were immediately going to try and stab each other in the dark, he barely cared about getting out as long as there was still booze he could reach for and drink down, but the darkness in itself was disturbing to him. When children are afraid of the dark, they are told there is nothing in the darkness that isn’t also there in the light, but Dastan knew that to him that wasn’t entirely true. To him, there were things hiding in shadows that he’d prefer would never see the light of day. Drinking helped though... So did a good distraction and that’s why when he spotted a familiar face the mercenary stumbled his way straight to her, shouting over the sounds of frightened partygoers and clashing blades. “Blondie!”

Ali didn’t go too far before she felt someone grab for her shoulder and pull her close, if it wasn’t for Dastan’s excited greeting she would have pulled a blade and severed some fingers, but the man’s presence, as loud and drunk as he was, actually provided some comfort. “Dastan.” She sighed. “You’re wasted.”
“Aren’t we all in a way?” The man replied with a chuckle. “A party’s... Still a party.” He stated, pointing at the center of the confusion where a couple was making it way to what used to be the dance floor.. “See? There’s still some people having fun.”
Ali chuckled, shaking her head in amusement at the thought of some people still being in a party mood after everything that happened. Her expressions shifted from amusement to curiosity when she realized the pair on the dance floor were in fact Crys and Evin. “...For two people who don’t like to party...” She mumbled shaking her head. Suddenly the pain returned, causing her to grasp Dastan’s arm to keep herself steady; it came with much more intensity this time, although it didn’t last as long as it had the previous time.
“You alright, Allison?” Dastan asked, a slight frown marking his features as he pushed a half-empty bottle of something he’d been dragging around. “Drink, it’ll help.”
Ali accepted the bottle and took a drink from it before pushing it back to the mercenary, coughing at the burning feeling of alcohol in her throat. “Thanks, friend, but I have a feeling this won’t help me.” She said, forcing a smile at Dastan.
“Your hand, still? I thought you were getting better.” He inquired.
“So did I.” Ali responded shaking her head, a bit concerned with how the pain was manifesting, and spreading; it didn’t feel normal. “Have you seen Annie anywhere? I tried to find her, but it’s just too messy in this place.”
“I don’t think I’ve seen her, but I did see Alistair a while ago, so she must be here somewhere.”
Ali nodded. “Suppose we should think of getting out of here first... No matter how much it hurts it’s not going to kill me now, right?”
Dastan chuckled, but not seeming all too amused at the comment, his expression changing slightly as he watched the dance floor, Ali could make out the expression on the mercenary’s face exactly, but it was strangely serious. “Well, what doesn’t kill you...” He mumbled, his eyes seemed to darken for a moment, but Ali shrugged it off, taking it as being just an impression, as she turned to follow his gaze she saw five people on the dance floor; Crys, Evin, Ess and Tala stood out to he immediately, one redhead she didn’t know was already walking away and Ali watched with amusement as she walked up to a man she could recognize as the king from the speech the man had given earlier, and punched right in the face knocking him down. The woman simply punched the king and kept on walking, and Ali couldn’t deny that was the most hilarious thing she’d seen in a long time. Shaking her head she pulled Dastan by his arm, the man nearly leaning into her now in a bit of a drunken haze. “Come on you silly drunk... I came with a friend, and it’s about time I find her again.”
“Ookay... That’s her right there, no?” Dastan asked pointed out a blood covered Ess.
“Yes, you two met then?” Ali asked curiously.
“Aye... Crys introduced us... Interesting lady.” Dastan stated, pushing himself away to stand up straight. “You think I have a shot there, Blondie?”
“No.” Ali chuckled, giving the man a playful shove. “...But who knows? You’ve proved me wrong before.”
The man laughed out, shaking his head in amusement. “Fair enough... Fair enough...”
As they walked towards Essence they walked past Crys, Ali simply letting her fingers graze the woman’s hand in silent greeting, not wanting to stop and talk, as she didn’t feel the things she had to say were safe ones to mention in this place. Dastan on the other hand stopped and leaned into Crys to whisper something to her, not waiting for a reply and simply moving on, looking back at her friend Ali thought Crys seemed a little bit confused. “What did you say to her, Dastan?”
“Nothing important.” The man replied with a shrug walking a bit ahead of her and catching up to Ess before she did. “Miss Essence... We meet again!” He called playfully. “I’m not sure if I’m more drunk than usual or if you really got less clothes on you than I remember...” The man mumbled giving Ess a second glance rubbing his eyes as if genuinely doubting them, but not hesitating to offer the woman his cape; the crimson red fabric poorly stitched from Dastan’s fight with Veronica in the plains. The man then looked at the boy that was with Ess, and chuckled. “Don’t tell me you ditched me for this guy here? He looks a bit young no?” He played.
Ali chuckled. “Hush Dastan... And I’m sure you’ve been far more drunk than this, don’t worry.” She told him, patting the man in the arm and turning to Ess. “I see that Tala was right to not trust me with keeping an eye on you. Did I miss all the excitement?” She asked curiously, nodding towards Ess’ company; she remembered seeing the guy in the Raven’s camp so she simply assumed Ess knew him from there. “Hey, I’m Ali. ” She greeted.

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

Jacob had been standing still, eyes darting from where Crys was dancing with Evin, to a blood covered Ess dancing with Lamya of all people, and to two figures battling whom he could recognize as being Alex and Rita... Darren and Tala joining the dancing couples not long after. Rick wasn’t too far away watching just as he was and looking almost as bothered as he was... although in a far more manic way. The whole scene seemed to have been designed with the sole intent to test his patience... And for one moment, one particular moment, he really had to hold back not to give himself away and do something unbelievably foolish, even for his standards. Instead; he stood, watching from the outside as Lamya wandered off, knocking Rick down with a punch to the face, the man recovering only to be attacked by Evin next. Jake remained where he stood until people started to part ways. He watched as Ali passed him by with Dastan, his eyes momentarily following the pair as they caught up with Ess and Darren. Eventually, the only person left in the group still standing in the ‘dance floor’ was Crys. Rick was still there as well, grabbing at his bleeding shin where Evin had left him. Jake wanted to talk to Crys, but at the same time he didn’t; he was mad for things that didn’t matter, and he had not right to be angry for if he was honest with himself, talking to her would probably just make it worse... So he focused on Rick... Manic and vulnerable Rick... It was an opportunity he couldn’t really throw away. Making his way towards the King as fast as he could, still concealed by his enlightenment, Jake didn’t hit the man as much as full on collided with Rick with a force that was clearly unnecessary to knock down a distracted man with two injured shins, but Jake couldn’t really bring himself to care for fairness at this point anymore, he didn’t just want Rick on the floor, he wanted him to hurt; if not now, the next morning. Once the man was down Jake, stepped on the wrist of his weapon wielding hand and made himself visible and knelt down, holding a blade of his own to the man’s throat. “Where... Is that dagger of yours...” He muttered out pressing the blade to Rick hard enough for it to nick his skin. “...Your Highness?”

Crys was about to walk away from Rick, not really caring anymore for what the man wanted with her... If he insisted she’d deal with him, but he wasn’t anywhere on her list of priorities at this point. Before she had the chance to take a step however, Jake charged at the man, knocking him to the ground in a very audible collision, causing her to turn and face the scene; Jake wanted to kill the guy right there, she could tell as much and she couldn’t begin to imagine what would happen if he went through with it. “Jacob... Don’t!” She protested. “You don’t want to do this here.”
“I do. You know I do.” Jake muttered, his eyes not leaving Rick’s face. “And I’m not the only one... This guy isn’t quite as popular as the last impostor we killed.”
“If someone needs to do it, it doesn’t have to be you... Jakey...” Crys sighed softly. “Newhaven already lost its queen... Don’t kill him tonight.”
Jake growled under his breath, flinching as though he wanted to look at Crys, but not letting Rick out of his sight as he felt his anger subside just a bit at Crys’ request. “You... Will not... Touch her.” He whispered, softly enough so that Crys wouldn’t hear it as he stood up straight and stepped away, standing between the fallen man and Crys as he turned to face her and put one arm around her protectively; leading her into the crowd as fast as possible away from Rick.

The setting changes from blackpond to Valcrest

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Annie Turner Character Portrait: Ess

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[White Shadows Camp, 10 days after the Castle Ball]

“No. Absolutely not.” Annie stated, her dark eyes glaring at Alistair in anger. “This is not an option.”
“This is our ONLY option, Annie. His body can’t take much more, it’s going to shut down. Slowing down the process is not doing him any good.” Alistair argued, his tone calm as he held the girl’s gaze. “We can’t save Isaac, Annie. There is just not enough time to find an answer, and we don’t even know if an answer would lead to a cure. We don’t even know what this actually is. Maybe there aren’t any answers; maybe this is just... what it is.”
“There is an answer. If my mother was searching for it, it’s there somewhere. I know that. Maybe we’re just not asking the right questions.” Annie mumbled in response, looking away from her friend and heaving a weary sigh. There was cold wind blowing across the plains that morning; it was still dark, but the sky was clear and once the Sun began to rise its light would flood the ruins and the white tents of the encampment. A bright sunny day it would be, but to the healers it was bound to feel hopelessly dark. “How much longer could we keep him under sedatives?”
“Maybe another week, at best, but... At this point it is unlikely he would ever wake up. I know Lena was against doing things like this, and until recently I would have agreed with her, but this is too much. It’s not right to keep doing this to him, we are the only family he still has in this world, we owe him... Something, anything, better than this.”
“I love Isaac too, Al. You know that, but... If we do this, then what are we? Who are we? Who am I if everything I believe in, everything I’ve lived for, means nothing in a moment like this? What does this make me?”
“Human, Annie. Painfully and undeniably human. This moment, and every time you look back on it until the day you die, will only ever serve the purpose of reminding you that no matter what God you follow, no matter what you believe or how hard you try... You are only human. You’ll always want to bend the world to your will, but you can’t. Your soul is a trap set to make you fail, and it’s also the one thing in this world that you can never fully escape. You were the one who taught me that, remember? Accepting fate also means accepting that sometimes we are small, powerless and insignificant, it also means accepting impossible choices and the inevitability of living with them.” Alistair heaved a long sigh, wrapping one arm around Annie and pulling her into a hug in an attempt to comfort the girl. “Listen, I know that right now you wish more than anything that this wasn’t in your hands, but denying it won’t change anything. We fought for him, as hard as we could, but now it’s time to let him go.”

Annie was silent as Alistair spoke, for the first time his ability to remain perfectly calm in these situations wasn’t helping her cope, she felt exhausted just standing there and thinking of the possibilities. She leaned into Alistair and closed her eyes for a moment, she wanted to scream, but all she managed was a choked sob. Alistair had a point and she knew it, if there was any chance to save Isaac he would be the first to look for it, but the truth was that they were far from an answer and their friend was on the last of his strength. “I don’t think I can do this.” She whispered finally, pulling away from the hug and noting the several tear stains left on Alistair’s shirt. She didn’t realized she had been crying until just then.
“I haven’t ask you to do it, I’ve asked you to let me.” Alistair said, a sad smile crossing his features as he stared at her. “It should be me, don’t you think?”
“Al... I... Are you sure? He’s your best friend.” Annie asked, her tone concerned as she looked from Alistair to the entrance of the small tent where Isaac had be left to rest.
“As sure as someone can be about something like this.” Alistair retorted simply. “If we’re going to go through with this, Annie, we should do it while most of the camp is still asleep.” He warned.
“Alright, just... Give me a moment.” She mumbled, going past Alistair and into the tent.

Isaac was lying motionless in a sleeping mat, he seemed to be sound asleep, but a closer look showed that he was breathing with some difficulty as though he was in pain, a reddish glow appearing random intervals underneath his closed lids. He was clearly suffering despite his unconscious state and in the past day it had gotten considerably worse. Annie kneeled beside Isaac breathing deep as she watched her friend sleep for a few seconds in silence before finally speaking to him. “I don’t know if you can hear me, in some way, maybe you can but I’ll never know, right? I know that you would probably say it doesn’t matter, that this is more for me than it is for you; we see it every day. I honestly wish I could be stronger for you, my friend, that I didn’t feel the need to do this, because I know that if you can hear me it’ll probably just hurt you more. I am so... So sorry...” She paused, letting out a shaky breath before speaking again. “You are a good man, Isaac, you are... a wonderful friend. I don’t know what I would have done these past couple of years if you hadn’t been here to help me. And now here we are... After everything, this is the only help I can offer you...” With a shaky hand she covered the man’s eyes, closing hers as she mumbled a prayer under her breath. “...May you find peace in your next life, brother... And know that you are not forgotten.”

As Annie left the tent she let Alistair pass her by, not turning around to watch him enter, or waiting to see him exit. She walked away until the sun started to rise, streaks of golden orange coloring the sky as light began spread across the plains. It wasn’t long before the camp was filled with sounds of people getting ready for the day... It wasn’t much longer until all sound faded into a devastated silence.

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[Flashback - The woods outside of Blackpond, 10 years ago]

“You’ll never make it back in time... You shouldn’t go by yourself... You’re going to pick a bar fight aren’t you?...” Dastan was mumbling under his breath, his tone somewhere between annoyed and amused as he recited Indrani’s words on his way home. He was supposed to have been back the night before, but he did in fact have too much at the city Inn and he did in fact get himself into a fight; which was visible by a very noticeable bruise on the left side of his face, and he knew he was bound to hear a very big ‘I told you so’ when he reached the desert. It was not a big deal though; he was sure Indrani had done just fine in his absence.

The night breeze was cool and soft in the forest, the sky was clear and the moonlight was sneaking in through the branches of the trees above. The forest was as quiet as a forest could be and Dastan was pleased to think that his journey home would be a peaceful one. Little did he know that he wasn’t really alone in the forest that night. Not minding where he was going, Dastan eventually stumbled upon an encampment of Blackpond soldiers that seemed to be ready to ambush some Newhaven men near a little village just ahead. And before he knew it he found himself with swords pointed at him from every direction. They questioned him, but he refused to answer them and it was at some point during their questions and their beatings that Dastan felt his mind starting to slip away into a complete void. He tried to fight that feeling, he tried to stop the darkness from coming to life, but when he felt a blade starting to slide across his neck he let go for the sake of keeping his life.

Next thing he knew he was waking up, a groan escaping his lips as he tried in vain to push himself up from the floor; his body too weak to respond, his eyes only half open to the sight of red coloring the earth around him, dead soldiers lying motionless, some of them in truly gruesome ways, the sickening smell of death rising from the blood stained ground. He could feel the pain from the beatings and the weakness of overusing his enlightenment, but he couldn’t remember what had happened. He knew what had happened, but he had absolutely no memory of it.

. . . . . . . . . .

[Flashback - The Desert, 13 years ago]

“Cheer up little brother! You don’t seem like you’re having fun, it’s a party!”

A loud and cheerful voice sounded in Dastan’s ears, accompanied by a firm pat on the back that nearly made him drop the bowl of stew he’d been silently staring at. Mumbling a curse under his breath he lifted his head to face his older brother. “Yes, Vikram, it’s my birthday, I know there’s a party.” He responded, starting to idly dig into his dinner, his dark eyes glancing at a group of people chatting and dancing by one of the many fires lit around the encampment; their shadows flickering as they danced along the sand and the surface of the rocks around them. “It happened again this morning... Right before sunrise... It’s been four years of living with this curse and I’m not getting any stronger... I’m not getting any closer to controlling this...”
“You’re thinking too much, little brother.” Vikram argued. “All this tension is doing you no good. And what have I told you, huh? There is no such thing as curses... You are not cursed, kid.”
“Then I am sick. Either way, something is not right with me.” Dastan argued, quickly glancing at his brother before turning his eyes back to the dancing shadows, taking a bite of his cold food.
“That’s bullshit. It’s complete and total bullshit, you hear me?” Vikram argued. “Even if it wasn’t, let’s say you are cursed, or sick, or whatever you want to call it. Have you hurt anyone?”
“No.” Dastan muttered.
“No. Have you suffered any episodes at all aside from the random whispers you’ve been hearing?” Vikram insisted.
“No, but...”
“No. You’re fine, brother.” The older boy assured him. “If you believe you are fated, then why not at least enjoy life while your sanity still seems intact instead of just sitting by yourself and worrying about the past and the future? If your days are counted, that’s one more reason to make the most of them, right?” Vikram nudged his younger brother, nearly knocking the plate of food from his lap. “Am I right or am I right? Huh? Huh?”
“Knock it off.” Dastan muttered, snorting a bit of a chuckle under his breath. “Yes, you’re right... I guess... I just don’t like the thought of ending up like him.”
“Dastan, you weren’t there. I mean, you were, but you were less than just a baby. All you know is what people whispered behind your back. You can’t let this dictate the course of your life. It’s not healthy. For anyone. Alright? Now... I’m ordering you to go have some fun on your birthday.”
“You’re ordering me?” Dastan laughed. “Are you kidding?”
“No, little brother, I’m not.”
“Vik, really... I just want to have my dinner and go to bed.”
“You turn sixteen today. You’re a man... It’s about time you start enjoying some of the benefits of being a man.” Vikram stated knowingly, nudging Dastan yet again and nodding towards a group of girls. “You’ve been eyeing Lila for months now, why don’t you talk to her?”
“I’m terrible with girls, that’s why. You know that. I’ll say something stupid and she’ll reject me.” Dastan muttered, chewing more of his food and muttering things under his breath.
“Well, that’s your worst mistake there. Don’t be afraid. It doesn’t matter if you say something stupid or not; you’re the clan leader’s brother and you’re almost as good looking as he is; half your work is done. As long as you are confident and respectful you’ll do fine. If she rejects you just remember to stay confident; don’t let it shake you and don’t be offended. Never be offended with a girl for saying no to you. She has every right to say no to you. If she doesn’t think you’re worth her time it’s your job to prove otherwise, only jerks act like they deserve a girl’s attention simply for being there. Do you understand?”
“I guess... Basically don’t be a jerk.” Dastan stated, nodding. “Seems simple enough.”
“It’s harder than it looks sometimes. It’s tough to be rejected, it’s frustrating, and believe me; you’ll hate it. Most guys react badly even if they don’t mean to and that’s what most girls expect to see. That’s why it matters so much to be different. Even if you get a ‘no thank you’ from a girl, if you take it the right way you may still have a chance to change her mind later. So don’t aim for a yes, just go for a smile. Go up to her, say something flattering and ask her to dance with you.”
Dastan flinched for a second, staring at the girl as though he was considering the idea, but eventually the boy shook his head. “Another night, maybe.”
Vikram sighed softly. “Brother, listen to me; there is no other night. This is the only night there is, and that’s the way it has to be... If you don’t live your life right now, one day you’ll wake up and it’ll have passed you by.”
“You’re drunk.” Dastan pointed out as though that one fact disproved every good point his brother had made.
“Yessir, I am... And a happy drunk. Better than being sober and sulking like some people.” He chuckled softly, ruffling Dastan’s hair. “I’ve given you my advice, little brother... It is yours to do with as you wish...”


[The Desert, 11 days after the Castle Ball]

“Shaykh.”

Dastan opened his eyes at the call, taking a few moments to make out Jackson’s voice. “What is it?” He mumbled, rubbing his eyes as he sat up. “What time is it?” He groaned, the clarity beginning to bother his eyes.
“A couple of hours past noon.” Jackson replied, handing Dastan a flask of water. “Alistair is here to see you, he says it’s important.”
“Hmph.” Dastan mumbled, drinking half the water in one large gulp. “How long was I out this time, what day is it?”
“It’s been over a full day, and you really don’t look so good.” Jackson replied, for a moment his tone was a perfect impression of Indrani’s in its severity. “You’ve been overdoing it lately, even by your standards. The others are starting to talk.”
“I have drank much more than this before.” Dastan argued, his sight beginning to clear, as his eyes got used to the light flooding the temple.
“Not by yourself. No one has seen you in camp in over four days.” Jackson sighed. “Listen, I know you’re depressed about Indrani leaving and what happened between you two... It’s understandable... No one will blame you for missing her, but you need to make an effort.”
“I’m not depressed, Jackson, I’m... My head is a bit messed up right now, that’s all. I thought it would be better to sort it out myself, without everyone constantly watching me.” Dastan sighed, scratching the back of his head.
“How’s that working out for you, boss?” Jackson asked, arching an eyebrow at Dastan.
“Fantastic.” Dastan muttered. “Didn’t you say Alistair wanted to see me?”
“He’s waiting downstairs. There’s some food there for you as well. I’ll tell him you’ll be right down; try not to fall asleep again while putting on shoes.” Jackson replied, leaving Dastan alone in the room.
“Once. That happened once.” Dastan muttered in response. “I had been awake for three days for heavens sake.” Looking around the room Dastan eventually found his boots and a clean shirt to wear, making his way to the ground level of the temple, where Alistair was waiting for him. The former healer didn’t look too well himself, he looked as though he hadn’t slept in days. “You look like shit.”
“You’d know a thing or two about that wouldn’t you?” Alistair retorted, briefly standing from the stone bench he’d been sitting on, sitting back down as Dastan sat across from him. Jackson had left each man a bowl of stew and half a loaf of bread, Alistair having finished off his food while waiting for Dastan; only a empty bowl left at his side.
Dastan didn’t respond, first picking up the bowl and digging into the food in silence until he was halfway through the bowl of stew. “Alright...” He started, pulling apart a piece of bread and stuffing it into his mouth as he spoke. “What brings you, friend? Jackson said it was important.”
“How are you feeling?” Alistair asked simply, his eyes examining the mercenary as if trying to evaluate his state of mind.
“That’s what was so important? I’m alright, I guess. I’ve been sleeping a bit more than usual, but according to general opinion that’s just depression.”
“Mhm... Do you remember what we talked about when we last saw each other?”
“You said you’d keep that conversation between us.” Dastan pointed out, setting his bowl down and glaring at Alistair.
“And I have, despite not being required to; I’m not sworn to secrecy anymore.” Alistair smiled calmly at Dastan. “It’s not just you though. I take you heard about Isaac?”
“Yes... I heard he had some sort of episode, is he alright?”Dastan asked, continuing to munch on the bread.
“He’s dead.” Alistair replied shortly. “So I guess he is alright now in a way.”
Oh... I’m sorry to hear that, I know you two were close... How’s Annie taking it?”
“Not too well. No one is taking it well, Isaac was very well liked.” Alistair sighed softly, rubbing his eyes and glancing around the main hall of the temple in silence. “Weren’t you planning to rebuild this place?”
“We had plans to do renovations, yes, before those outlanders invaded our territory. We had some major setbacks since then.” Dastan answered. “What does Isaac have to do with me?”
“It’s not just Isaac, Dastan; it’s everyone. Every enlightened in Valcrest is or will be experiencing debilitating symptoms.”
“Is or will be? So you’re saying everyone will inevitably fall ill in some way?”
“No. I’m saying that every enlightened in Valcrest will inevitably start showing symptoms of an illness. For what I gather everyone is already ill; even if they don’t feel it yet. It has been going on for a while now... Lena was the first to feel it, that’s why she left in search of answers.”
“I take it she didn’t find any.” Dastan questioned, finishing his bread and brushing a few crumbs that had fallen on his clothes.
“No.” Alistair shrugged. “We’re trying to pick up her research, Annie has been trying obsessively to decode her notes, but not much progress has been made so far. I’ve come to tell you this for two reasons; first because I thought you needed to know that what is happening to you is most likely due to this unknown illness, but also because once this becomes public, and it will soon, people will begin to panic and most likely try to leave Valcrest in order to escape the sickness.”
“Will that work?
“I doubt it. I suggest you secure your encampment as best as you can. Once people realize how bad the situation really is... Things are going to snap out of control.”
“I see, but... These hallucinations of mine... The voices... I always had them since I was a kid. Lena said they were a part of my enlightenment somehow.” Dastan questioned. “I just thought....”
“The spit personality effect is a common occurrence with summoning abilities like yours; a part of your mind is projected onto the shadow golem and disassociates from the rest of your consciousness. It’s not debilitating and perfectly manageable as long as you take your precautions; you’ve been nothing but cautious for the past ten years, so I’m pretty sure that these blackout episodes you’ve been having are a clear sign of illness.” Alistair explained. “I know that what happened to your father seems to suggest otherwise, Dastan, but you have always been perfectly capable of controlling this.”
Dastan sighed deeply, hiding his face in his hands for a moment before looking up at Alistair again, rubbing his temples as he muttered.“Not anymore though, right? It’s going to keep getting worse and there’s nothing I can do. Just like what happened with Isaac.”
“Probably, yes.” Alistair replied. “Dastan, don’t do anything stupid. You have time.”
“How much time? You don’t really know, do you? I don’t want to wait until I hurt someone, so what are my options really?” Dastan shook his head, a frustrated groan escaping him.
“You haven’t hurt anyone yet. You need to make someone aware of your situation, someone you trust, so they can help you. Trying to manage this alone will only make things worse.”
“I guess.” Dastan agreed, standing up with a groan. “Suppose I should warn the other enlightened in the clan; I’ll gather them all tonight and give them the news.”
“If anyone starts showing symptoms, you have them come to us, we may not have an idea how to stop this yet, but we have ways to make the condition more manageable. In some cases at least; didn’t do Isaac any good.”
“Way to be optimistic man.” Dastan chuckled. “Alright though, I’ll tell my people that if they start feeling sick they should look you up. Hopefully Annie makes some progress on those notes, and soon.”

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

[Raven’s Nest - 12 days after the Castle Ball]

Jake had a slightly frustrating afternoon with Irvin... Trying to teach the kid to fight wasn’t as easy as he thought it’d be. He was smart, and was good at stopping Jake’s attempts at going invisible, unfortunately he was unable to do that and keep his guard up as well. When trying to correct the boy Jake quickly discovered that he’d have to teach the kid a lesson in humility first, make him understand that this was not something he could cheat his way through. The training session ended with Irv walking out on him; something Jake would have to punish him for the next day.

As he thought about the training session, Jake had set up a small camouflaged tent, a little further away from camp, but still close enough to hear if there was something out of ordinary going on. The tent was something Ali had gotten for him after he repeatedly avoided the question of where he’d been sleeping. She didn’t insist on the question and didn’t say that she obviously knew he just hadn’t bothered with a place of his own... She simply pushed the tent on him. Ever since that he’d been moving his little camp, unable to find a spot that pleased him, but this seemed to be a very good place to settle down, finally.

Once done with the work he dragged his bags and set up his sleeping mat inside staring idly at the bag that contained his most personal valuables, the journal book Ess had tossed on him inside of it as well; he hadn’t really read it, he wanted to, but wasn’t sure if he really should... It was just one more doubt in the back of his mind. Lifting his head, Jake was sure he heard something outside... Something too subtle to be one of the Guard or another friend paying a visit.

As quietly as he could he stepped outside and looked around, not seeing anyone. As he turned around, however, he slammed into something, or someone, the sound of a familiar giggle immediately causing his every muscle to tense and his eyes to narrow as he looked down at Luckas.

“Shame on you Jakey... Whatever happened to those reflexes of yours, huh?”
“You little.... Piece of... Son of...” Jake muttered out, pulling Luckas onto his feet by the front of his shirt. “You knew! You knew and you knew she was here!!!”
Luckas chuckled. “Oh, you silly boy... I thought I had told you! You mean you didn’t understand who I was talking about? Seriously?” He asked, faking a shocked expression and pushing Jake’s hand away from his clothes. “Careful, there... These are new.” He scolded.
Jake’s face contorted in an angered expression as he pulled the little golden dagger Luckas had used to threaten him. He pointed the dagger at the other man’s face. “You talked to Crys... What was that about?”
“Crys... Crys...” Luckas mumbled, tapping his own cheek with his fingertips as if trying to remember the name. “Pretty redhead... Sweet personality... Blind as a bat?” He asked raising an eyebrow. “Oh, she rescued me when I found myself a little short on coin. Remind me to repay her at some point.”
“Stay the hell away from her, or I swear... By all the Twins... I’ll...”
“Kill me?” Luckas sighed, rolling his eyes impatiently. “Haven’t we gone through this one already? I mean... How many times are you going to nearly beat me senseless and then change your mind and foolishly turn your back on me? Not that I’m complaining... I enjoy your little hissy fits, they’re kind of adorable, but not very productive.”
“I mean it!” Jake muttered. “Stay away from her... Both of them...”
“Ah... Now we seem to have a problem, Jakey... See, like I said... Crys is pretty and she has a lovely personality, but not quite my type... I was never one to enjoy the company of empaths for too long. As for the other part of this ‘them’ you refer to... I’m sorry, but no.” He snickered. “Well... Except I’m not really sorry.”
“What’s in it for you?” Jake asked, his tone a little more calm, although his grip on the dagger had tightened considerably.
“That’s a good question... And I’d tell you... Except that’s really none of your damn business. Hell, I can’t barely give a proper answer to myself... And it’s pretty much in my interest to know don’t you think? I’d like to kill her, maybe... but I’m not sure I’d like it if she was dead... Kind of a problem, wouldn’t you agree?” Luckas asked, as if seriously expecting some form of advice on whether or not to kill. “I mean... Killing someone is a big decision, you know... It’s not like I can undo it if I don’t like the results... Hmm... Decisions... Decisions...”
Jake’s hand was firmly gripping the dagger, now pressed to Luckas’ throat, his anger slowly rising at Luke’s words; he couldn’t stop thinking about how easy it would be to just slit his throat right there... And it would. Luckas didn’t really seem to mind, or acknowledge the blade.

Tala, almost appearing like a faded projection of Ess’ soul, had been watching as she trotted forward, ears perked on alert. The back of her fur was spiked along her neck and shoulder blades, a soft grunt like growl revealing her presence, Ess only steps behind her. Arms crossed across her chest, Ess’ fingertips tapped lightly along the hilt of her sword, tilting her head curiously as she came to a stop. She was quiet for a few moments, standing so she could see into both the men’s eyes; Jake’s intense with a threatening glare and Luckas’ somewhat comical and maybe even mocking. Clearing her throat, Ess spoke slow and unhindered to make sure both the boys heard her. “Jake, I thought you wanted to ….uh Play? Didn’t think you would get started without me....” A small smile touched her face, quirking a brow at Luckas. “..You jealous you weren’t invited, Luckas?” As her eyes scanned over the two, her violet orbs widened in simple amazement when she noticed the small, golden dagger that was pressed against Luckas’ throat. Not that she didn’t notice the threatening pose Jake was in, but the object itself caused her to fall back into silence. Slowly she unfolded her arms, her smile closing as she rested one hand gently upon Jake’s shoulder, the other reaching out towards the dagger. Ess wanted to hold it, to prove to herself it was the same from memory. “...I can’t believe how...tiny the blade is....” She snickered. “I remember how that would hang from your belt, and how conspicuous it was then.....” Her tone softened. “I can’t believe...you still have it...” Her fingers rested lightly upon Jake’s hand.

Ess wasn’t sure what exactly was going on between the two men, yet her focus momentarily had left the situation and more on the object before her, the only thing keeping her in the moment was the gentle growl coming from her wolf, expressing her dissatisfaction with the situation.

Jake couldn’t help but feel a tiny bit of disappointment at the interruption, but then... It was probably better off, for the moment at least. Besides, if he did kill Luckas, this wasn’t the blade to use. He’d never taken a life with that blade, and something told him it wasn’t the time to start. Slowly, he lowered the little dagger, eyes shining in an ice cold glare as he stared at Luckas for yet a few moments before turning his attention to Ess and opening a soft smile towards her. “Of course I kept this... I always keep everything. Besides...” He chuckled. “Best gift ever.” He said, nodding along to his words as he offered her the hilt of the tiny knife.

Once the blade was away from his skin Luckas crossed his arms in front of his chest and glared from Jake to Ess with a severe look in his eyes; mimicking a child being ignored by all of the adults in the room. “Excuse me...” He called. “Yes, I am. I am very jealous. I mean... How dare you... HOW DARE YOU play with others behind my back? I thought we had something special! I mean... Were you just leading me on all this time? That’s just cruel. It’s a cruel thing to do Jake, and I’m hurt right now!”

Jake had calmed himself considerably by Ess’ presence alone, but he was not amused in the slightest and he turned to Luckas abruptly as if he was going to take a swing at him, although he simply glared at the man and muttered. “By all the Gods in the Afterlife... Shut that stupid mouth of yours before I lose it completely!”

Ess’ smile faded some as she turned over the blade in her hand, her thoughts interrupted by an annoyed Luckas running his mouth at her. Out of spite, she lazily turned her gaze towards Luke, brows narrowing in pure perplexion. “What.....is....your drama, Luckas? First off...” Her voice went from confused to matter of fact like. “....Jake and I were going to train.....and second....” Ess sighed shaking the dagger at Luckas, using it to point between him and Jake as she spoke. “You think I’m going to have fire fun without you? If you haven’t noticed or listened to anything I’ve told you, then you are most obviously ignoring the fact that Jake is like my brother..and you and I....” Ess paused giving a sweet smile and small wink. “...Our...definition of play is not quite the same as Jake’s and I’s. I mean..who else can I trust to hide the bodies with.” She couldn’t hold back a series of giggles at her own words. Ess may have been upset and annoyed with the knowledge that Luckas held and the connection she had to Jake; how he knew and kept it to himself, but that was only at first. Now she simply smiled, finding Luckas’ reaction kind of adorable, making her think back on a previous conversation. “I know....I know....You don’t like sharing, My Dear Luckas....” Ess handed back the golden dagger to Jake and lightly patted his arm. “Quiet, relax, I don’t understand what all the tension is about...” Her mind wandered back to the dagger for a moment, remembering how she had given it to Jake for his birthday and that was the same time he had given her ‘Jacob Bear’. It was kind of ironic how she never celebrated her birthday since that day, not even sure when it should have been anyhow. Still, every year she wrote to Jake in her journal, quietly celebrating his birthday even when she believed he was gone. Ess even went as far as baking cinnamon cookies, but never eating them, remembering it was something Jake had liked when he was young.

Luckas listened to Ess in silence and with the same serious look plastered on his face, although he felt the strongest urge to laugh he’d ever felt once he caught the expression on Jake’s face at her words. Finally he tilted his head to the side, closing one eye as he seemed to go into deep thought, after a moment or two he heaved a ridiculously exaggerated sigh and replied. “Fine... I suppose I can forgive the two of you.” He declared, nodding slightly and opening a little playful grin. “And well... See... Lady... Jake is cranky because I was just calmly explaining to him that I’m not going away and he can’t make me. I don’t think he believes me, but maybe Beast Boy can tell him.”

Jake simply stood, glaring at Luckas in anger still, his expression shifting discretely to one of revulsion at some of Ess’ words, but he made himself keep quiet about it, for the time being at least. Quietly he finally made himself look away from Luckas to put the little dagger away in its sheath, after which he stated. “I’m not cranky. I hate you, and I want you gone. Not just from my presence, but from existence, because honestly the simple fact that you breathe makes me sick to my stomach.”
“Oh, come on... You’re being a little over-dramatic now, don’t you think?” Luckas raised an eyebrow at Jake. “I don’t think the situation calls for something like this...”
“You killed my aunt and you took her memories!” Jake exclaimed. “You don’t even want to know what I think this situations calls for.”
Luckas sighed. “I did not... DID NOT... Kill Lena. Most definitely, I did NOT take her memories.” He stated, giving a little shrug. “She was weak and she pushed herself and I don’t have a clue of how I ended up with her memories at all.”
“I don’t believe you.” Jake stated simply. “You never really made it a point of hiding the fact you wanted to kill her.”
“I wanted to be able to kill her, yes. I never hid that, that’s true. And I did attack her, that is also true, but... If she was in her perfect health she wouldn’t have died... That... Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?” Luckas grinned as he asked the question. “So tell me something, if you want me to admit I killed Lena... Did you kill Dani Rivers?”

Jake lowered his head, a small bitter chuckle escaping him as he ran one hand through his hair. “You... Have got some nerve...” He muttered. “I’ll give you that. With that said... Luckas...” Jake lifted his head to glare at Luckas with a look of absolute hatred in his eyes. “If you dare speak her name again... Even if it kills me, I will crush you. Are we clear? You have no right to even speak that woman’s name.”
Luckas seemed rather unfazed by Jake’s anger, even though he realized that he was being absolutely serious in his threat. He simply gave a shrug and continued. “Fine. I won’t speak her name.” He replied. “Did you tell her that story though?” He turned to Ess with a curious look. “Did Jakey tell you that he... Uh... Killed his girlfriend’s mom?”

Tala had planted herself between the two men, sitting idly upon her haunches and panting heavily as she stared from one to the next. Essence quirked a brow, her expression seemingly amused, which wasn’t a total facade because she found Luckas’ reaction still somewhat adorable, but this mention of him ‘forgiving’ her sent the urge to smack him behind his head. She remained still however, shaking her head. “Sure...well long as I’m forgiven I guess..” She muttered sarcastically, her eyes falling to Tala at the mention of Aiden, a soft sigh escaping her when the color in her eyes faded some in a momentary saddened look. When the two began bickering back and forth, any trace of Essence’s amusement was clearly gone. Her gaze flickered between the two, her hands resting absently upon her hips before she turned back to Tala, the wolf no longer panting but ears perked curiously as she was staring back at Ess, awaiting her to speak. “I think...they are both being a bit overly dramatic, don’t you Tala?” She whispered sweetly. “..Don’t they seem like an old arranged, married couple or something?”

Rolling her eyes as it continued she spaced out, still staring at the wolf, contemplating the words that were being spoken. Ess didn’t know much about Lena or what exactly had occurred with the circumstances surrounding her death as Luke never wanted to really speak of it, so Ess had not pressured him. Now she was wondering if it had to do with Luckas trying to recover his past or whatever their ‘renegotiation’ had been that she remembered being mentioned back in the bell tower in Newhaven the night she first met Lena. Ideas swam around in Ess’ mind, not quite sure what was going on, a part of her sympathizing with Jake for his obvious grief in losing the woman she figured out was of relation. Ess’ lips parted as if to speak but was not finding a point to join the conversation until Luckas retorted Jake’s words mentioning ‘Dani Rivers.’ Blinking in confusion, Ess looked up at Jake, mentally disliking how much taller he was now than her and how it would take some getting use to. “..Rivers....? As in...Crystal Rivers?....Crys?....Was she your ‘friend’ you told me about in the wolf pack?” Her expression was solemn, actually saddened by the words spoken, not liking how it seemed she was being dragged into their bickering and forced to look at past events, someone else’s memories with a sheer lack of facts and pure ignorance. “Luckas...what the hell is wrong with you? And...YOU?” She motioned between Luckas and Jake as she spoke. “I don’t understand what personal vendettas you two have with each other and I don’t appreciate being tossed into the mix like this. Am I suppose to turn on each of you or one of you? Ugh...” Ess’ brows narrowed, her lips pursed in annoyance. “Well...there will be no killing of either of you while I’m around...unless it’s by me!” She barked, partially joking but getting her point across. “I have no problems having a civil conversation or debate or whatever but you two need to relax while I’m around or I’ll kick both your asses.” Glancing back down at Tala, the wolf was wagging her tail in agreement, adding a happy bark. “Honestly...I would love to hear more about this Rivers and Lena..but I will not push the conversations on either of you...it’s not my business...nor will I judge either of you, as I would be just a hypocrite, no?”

“Whoa, gee...” Luckas mumbled, idly scratching the back of his head. “I don’t get why you people are so tense, seriously...” His tone was slightly confused even though he was obviously, once again, playing the whole thing off as a joke. “I thought we were being civil, I mean... I have no broken ribs and I can breathe... It’s pretty much the friendliest conversation we’ve had.” He said with a little shrug. “There wouldn’t even be much of a problem really, if Jake would just admit that he is a whiny little hypocrite.”
“Shut the hell up!” Jake cut him off, but instead of giving in to his impulses and jumping at Luckas he turned around and walked a few steps away.
Luckas sighed and went on as if there had been no interruption. “Whiny little hypocrite, who thinks he’s oh so much better than me even though, in reality, he’s done pretty much the same shit all his life... And this is just another example, really. I mean sure... I accidentally killed Lena and I may have attacked a few healers, but hey... I was out of my mind, literally, what’s your excuse for killing the Alpha and half a dozen other assassins, Jake? You had orders?”

Jake sighed softly, trying for the sake of not turning this into the worst possible situation, to breathe away some of his rage. As he leaned against a nearby tree he shook his head, his tone still a bit shaky as he spoke but considerably more composed. “We are nothing alike, Luckas. I had orders, yes... To execute traitors and Dani’s death... As you well know, was out of my hands the moment she neglected to tell me she was ill. And even so, unlike you, I paid for what I’ve done. I don’t make excuses for myself, or hide to get away with... Shit, as you put it. So, really, you can use any bit of my memories to try and compare the two of us, if that’s what you want... It won’t change the fact that you are what you are... and if I was anything like you, you would not be standing right now.”
Luckas snickered. “If that’s so... Then how come you are? I mean... I am like me, but still, I haven’t killed you have I? I could have. I think the line you try to place between you and me is remorse, but your remorse is selfish... It’s barely remorse and more like... Self-pity. I mean, you killed all those people, but really... You paid? And they didn’t? Funny how I’m the psycho and I respect life more than you.”

Jake raised an eyebrow at Luckas. “Would you like me to remind you of the reason you gave me when you could have taken my life?”
“I remember it, thank you, but that’s precisely my point.” Luckas muttered, a little bit of annoyance showing in his voice.
“I don’t see that as being the same thing, but I’d rather not get into this right now...” Jake replied, taking another forceful breath to calm his temper. “And you are twisting my words if you think I felt one bit of remorse for killing people who betrayed their own oaths... Some for coin, others for some stupid notion that saving their pathetic lives was worth the deaths of their family. I have no respect for those lives whatsoever, and I never claimed to. As for Dani, like I said; I paid. I’m still paying. I might never be done paying. And this is the kind of thing you would know nothing of... See... I made a choice I felt was wrong, and since I actually have something called a conscience, I am going to have to live with it. Because, you know, for some people killing someone they don’t want dead is actually a serious matter.” Jake fell silent for a moment after that, feeling as if he might as well be trying to lecture the tree behind Luckas and it would be more effective, and deciding he was done with the pointless debating. “Dani Rivers was Crys’ mother. She was the Alpha of the Wolfpack for a little over twenty five years and, at her own request, I poisoned her. Was supposed to be a failed attempt at killing her, but she was sick, and she didn’t tell me, so the nearly fatal poison became extremely fatal and she died three hours after I had already left. I was in Newhaven when she died.” He explained, turning his attention to Ess. “And yes, Crys was my friend. Not so sure about now though.” He sighed softly and nodded towards Luckas. “As for him... I don’t know what is it with the two of you and I’m not sure I want to know... I’ll just tell you what I told everyone else; I’ll try, but I can’t promise anything, Ess. You are family to me, and Twins only know how much I respect the Captain, but I honestly can see a day when I’ll just hate this guy more.”

“Hmph..” Ess began in response to Luckas’ comment on no broken ribs. “...True...I haven’t broken any furniture over your head today...” Ess nodded towards Jake as she continued. “...and I haven’t kicked you in the face, ...so all in all we seem to be doing pretty good.” Ess laughed, shaking her head at Luckas calling Jake ‘whiny’, wondering if he thought the same of her sometimes. She simply glared at Luckas when he said that, showing her non approval for the comment, and still she kept quiet as the men spoke. The glare remained upon her face when she heard mention of Luckas’ opportune time to kill Jake and some coded reason for not doing it. It took much strength to keep her mouth shut, not wanting to interrupt Jake as he continued.

Ess marveled at Jake’s restraint, as she fully expected mockery or outrage when Luckas spoke of pity, remorse, or respect of life...especially with the obvious distaste for Luckas in general. Ess looked over into Luckas’ black orbs and thought she recognized a hint of honest interest in Jake’s response as he spoke and she did wonder if Luckas understood all he was saying, even if he had not experienced it. Yes experience was a big part in learning, but Ess was almost in tears as she listened to Jake recall what had occurred, trying to explain as best as possible the difficult decision he had made. Never had Ess experienced such a choice and she felt her heart drop at the idea: Killing someone you did not wish to see dead. Looking between the two, silent as Jake spoke, she didn’t fully realize how she had approached Jake, and was standing by his side. Shaking her head slowly, her eyes glistened with the threat of tears, her own mind wondering if she would ever be faced with the choice and if she did, she couldn’t think of what reason that may ever possibly send her over the edge, to force her hand against her heart. It would have to be something dreaded to change her heart; but going against it, she felt she would rather die herself.

When Jake turned to address her, she found herself leaning against him, her head along his arm. “....Do you still care for Crys? Have you talked to her? I think you should...” Ess’ eyes were still sad but she smiled when Jake mentioned her as family, lightly squeezing his arm. “I’m not trying to change either of you, so if you two dislike one another, that is not my business. Just try to remember if it’s worth it in the end.” Taking a deep breath she stepped back from Jake, her eyes falling back to Tala as she continued.

“I was taught as a child that I was soulless...there was nothing to me..no substance...no reason to think I was special...I was a puppet for someone else to use.....eventually I was given reasons to think for myself. I discovered the truth about myself little by little, learning what was right and wrong...remembering some of what was lost that also aided me into the right direction. ..Most of it was a darker direction...but I still feel it was right..all the same....hate was something I needed...something that could destroy me if I didn’t release it and face it...something that made me stronger. Now I walk the line that separates the night and day...not partial to any particular side...but more a companion, one who understands both the light and the darkness and decides for herself what is best for her. Don’t get me wrong...I won’t let hate rule me..especially when I’ve seen what else life holds that fuels our strengths and our reasons for living. So, please believe me when I say I understand ‘Hate’, but again, make sure it’s worth it.”

Violet orbs flashed in a subtle strobe like motion, even resembling how lightning stretched across a darkened sky, as her own words reminded her of her brother. It was different though, as she wanted him dead. His actions had changed her heart, and his betrayal deserved nothing less than what was to come. Ess didn’t voice what she was thinking, but simply looked up at Luke with a mischievous smile, a soft rosy glow appearing at her cheeks.

Luckas was really actually silent for the first time that night, and the serious expression on his face wasn’t a playful one. He was paying close attention to the things being said, trying to ignore just a tiny bit of genuine jealousy he was feeling. If he was perfectly honest, he didn’t really see Jake as threat, more like an annoyance, and he really had no interest in seeing him dead and overall it just seemed like too much work to get rid of an annoyance. Not worth the trouble. When Ess finished speaking and he caught her expression it reminded him of what Zeke had told him about her brother; it made him mentally question whether he should let her know he’d seen him as he doubted he could talk her out of hunting him down.

Jake had flinched slightly at Ess’ questions about Crys, at first not quite answering and simply nodding as a response. He couldn’t help but feel amusement as she went on talking, not for her words in itself but for how they suddenly made him feel like he was a six year old who didn’t know any better all over again. When she finished speaking he answered the questions, giving a little shrug. “I’ve tried talking to Crys, but she’s really angry at me... And she’s awfully stubborn...” He smirked. “You know the type. Even if she does forgive me, it’s not going to happen so soon. And might involve some violence, depending on circumstances... Not everyone can control their temper as well as you can.” He teased.

Luckas stifled a laugh at the comment. “Wouldn’t that make the world a lovely place...” He played, still half lost in his own thoughts, before letting the seriousness in his expression disappear completely. “Well, Lady... Not that I don’t enjoy the tension and aggressiveness we got going here... Because I do enjoy some aggressiveness... But if you want I can go take a walk and come back later. I don’t think I have anything I’d be willing to discuss in front of the kids.” He said, nodding towards Jake.

Essence sighed, giving Jake a playful push. “I know who Crys is, silly and yes I think I do know the stubborn type.” She chuckled. “If she’s anywhere near as angry as I was then I’m sure she may even surpass my temper, and maybe you need another good ass kicking. Best advice I can give, is to just not give up. Giving up is almost the same as not caring. And...if you want I can have a chat with her, not to try to sway her per say, but maybe to help you understand better.” Ess shrugged. “Hey...some people have it coming...and you’re one to talk about tempers, Jakey. Besides.” Ess smirked, glancing over at Luckas. “I don’t have a quick temper...I just have a quick reaction to bullshit..” Her eyes lit up when she caught Luckas’ comment, slowly approaching him while glancing over her shoulder back at Jake. “Oh, I got a great Idea! See, right there is something you two actually agreed on...and what if I end up being your ‘common ground?’” Ess giggled, her face scrunching up in amusement. “...No? Too soon?”

Clearing her throat, Ess nodded to Luckas about going for a walk, noting and tucking away in her mind how he didn’t respond to any of which Jake had explained earlier and wondered, oddly enough, if he was ‘ok’. She wasn’t exactly sure what he was thinking about at the moment and decided he probably needed time for himself anyways. “I’m gonna have dinner in a couple hours if you want some Luckas, you know I’ll expect you later anywho.” Ess winked slowly at Luckas, smiling when Tala trotted over towards him, unexpectedly nuzzling his hand with her nose. “Aww...think Tala wants to stalk you.”

Jake sighed scratching the back of his head as he muttered. “I think it’s safe to say she’d be a bit angrier than you... So... I’m not going to turn down any type of help. I sure as hell need it, and I’m sure she’d talk to you.” He snickered. “You two can bond over my stupidity.” He joked.

Luckas snickered. “Oooh, can I play? I can write a book on Jake’s stupidity.” He said, rolling his eyes as Jake glared at him again. “Oh, yeah... I’m not allowed to bond with the blind one... Fine then.” He agreed, frowning at him. “Party pooper.” He laughed, nodding at Ess as she told him she expected him later. “Sure Lady... You know I never eat unless you feed me, right?” He joked, nodding at Tala and starting to walk off. “Come on, Tala... I haven’t stalked the Captain in a while...” He told the wolf, absolutely sure it wouldn’t be as easy to go by unnoticed with a very pregnant wolf following after him.