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Crystal Rivers

"Sometimes, there is no such thing as justice... This might be one of those times."

0 · 1,438 views · located in Raven's Nest

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

Groups

Group of assassins exiled from the Wolfpack

Description

General Information

Full Name: Crystal Rivers

Nicknames/Aliases: Crys (pronounced same as Kris/Chris. It’s just ‘Crystal’ cut short, but apparently I still need to explain this. :P) Miss Rivers, Lady Rivers, Alpha (formerly), Boss (by a few of the new recruits), Red (by some of the Crimson Shadows; Dastan mostly)

Age: 25 (birth date: Aurelium 16th, 2531)

Gender: Female

Sexual Orientation: Straight

Place of Birth: Wolfpack encampment, the forest, Valcrest

Affiliation: Wolfpack (formerly)/Unnamed faction (currently)

Rank: Alpha (formerly)/Leader (currently)

Important Associates: Kaya (wolf companion/snuggle beast/protector/friend/lead singer of her band) Evin Bana (Close friend, for a lack of a better term), Jake Turner (Love interest/boyfriend/soulmate/the source of 99% of her stress), Allison Blake (best friend, third in command, alongside Nicholas), Essence Talon (sister in law), Nicholas (third in command, alongside Allison) Dastan Shaykh (Close friend), Alistair Ashmore (friend)

Known Family: Sebastian Rivers (father, deceased age 41), Daniela Rivers (mother, deceased age 43), Sarah Jane (aunt, deceased age 12), Kyle Rivers (uncle, deceased age 41), Helena Turner (adopted aunt, deceased age 50), Annie Turner (adopted cousin)

Main Theme: Papa Roach - Scars

Theme Song 02:Stone Sour - Through Glass

Theme Song 03: Breaking Benjamin - Dear Agony

Theme Song 04: Papa Roach - No Matter What

Theme Song 05: Breaking Benjamin - Dance With The Devil

Appearance

Body: Crys is 174cm tall (5’7’’) and has a slim athletic build. She’s not particularly strong, but like most assassins she’s agile, silent, and quick in her movements which makes her an effective if not dangerous fighter. Covered by her hooded cloak and at a fair distance she could easily pass off as a young man, but, for lack of better words; she cleans up nice, and in more flattering clothes than her usual she is bound to draw some looks.

Face: Crys has a heart shaped face, delicate features with almond shaped eyes, small nose, and fair skin. She has tiny freckles in the area around her nose; they’re usually not so easy to notice, but become more prominent the more time she spends in the sun.

Eyes: Crys’ eyes are a light green color and have a distinct ‘opaque’ look to them due to her blindness. When her enlightenment is in use however they seem to brighten in color and resemble ‘normal eye color’ a bit more (this has no effect on her actual vision).

Hair: Crys has wavy red hair that reaches the middle of her back. It’s usually left loose; tucked into the hood of her cloak at most, but she sometimes binds it into a ponytail for sparring, or training.

Scars/Tattoos/Birthmarks: Crys has a scar in her abdomen where she was stabbed in the stomach and nearly killed.

Clothes: Crystal wears loose leggings, sturdy leather boots, a shirt (long or short sleeves depending on the temperature) and vest or tunic. She wears a long hooded traveling cloak that covers most of her clothes, also concealing the weapons at her waist and often the quick motion of drawing them. Her clothes are still the dark browns and green fit for blending amongst the forest trees, despite having moved to the city some time ago. She may sometimes wears dresses to parties and special occasions and despite aiming for the most practical clothes more often than not; she does enjoy dressing up.

Reference image: Pending

Skills And Talents

Enlightenment: Full empathic affinity, also referred to as ‘true empathy’, is a rare enlightenment that allows the bearer to feel and/or manipulate a person’s deepest emotions, feel traces of their physical pain and even influence animals around them to an extent.

A ‘true empath’ can feel a person down to their very core; their soul, and because there is no way for them to ‘turn it off’, fully shield, or isolate themselves, most enlightened born with this ability tend to feel overwhelmed and start to lose themselves very shortly after it awakens. Not many lived to adulthood and those who did lived lives of isolation, falling prey to alcoholism and depression in their later years.

Crys was an exception to that rule. Despite being a bit volatile in the first years after awakening, and having a few isolated incidents of losing control of her emotions (one of which resulted in deaths), she always had better control than most empaths her age. Even so, it was far from being enough, and she suffered through most of her teenage years trying to make sense of the very peculiar way her gift forced her to experience the world. It was only in her early twenties that she began to find some inner balance and with that the ability to fully use her gift.

Crys considers her gift somewhat of an ‘unfair advantage’ and despite being unable to avoid prying into other people’s emotions she does her best to keep to herself on things that are not quite her business or that they haven’t yet realized for themselves. She will however, use it for battle, being able to almost predict an opponent’s moves.

Other Skills: Crys has an affinity for music and despite claiming to not be a good singer, she has an excellent ear and is able to draw beautiful melodies from almost any instrument. Her instrument of choice however is a recorder flute, having been gifted her first one at age 13. She is also good in soothing and training animals, tracking, hand in hand combat, dual wielding, throwing blades, and basic first aid.

Personality

General: Crys is both an intimidating figure and one of the nicest people anyone would ever meet. The reasons for both are not exactly tangible or have to do with things she’s done but rather with who she’s become over years of coping with other people’s emotions. She’s become a very open individual, often blunt in how she feels towards other people. This can either put people instantly at ease or immediately on edge upon first meeting her and realizing she clearly knows right off the bat what kind of person she’s dealing with.

With her friends, however, she tends to dial it down quite a bit in an effort to not pry on their conflicting emotions or personal dilemmas. Which can prove frustrating to a point where she might become persistent in ‘nudging’ them in the direction of what she feels will make them happier.

Her blindness is also something Crys has spent a lifetime managing and in truth it very rarely hinders her in anything. In fact most people don’t often notice it until they look directly into her eyes. She does keep her personal spaces; be it a room or temporary tent, meticulously organized and often nitpicks when something feels different in her environment.

Phobias: Crys has no known phobias.

Likes: Music, apples, silence, the smell of rain (wet soil), people, dancing, drinking, solitude, children, animals

Dislikes: Crowds, wet sand, off key singing, aggressive people, rice pudding, Jake’s beard, threats to her friends/family.

Odd Behaviors and Habits: Crys has a mild apple addiction. Other than that she will sometimes stop what she’s doing to play music on her recorder flute; often when she’s feeling the need to unwind.

Equipment

Weapons: Crys' primary weapons are two Sai daggers inherited from her mother; they are made of black steel, incredibly efficient as both parrying and stabbing weapons. She also carries two back up daggers, and assortment of throwing knives and her father’s sword. Bastian’s sword is a curved, slender, single-edged blade with a circular guard, the blade itself is a dark silver metal foreign to Valcrest; very sharp and very durable, the grip of the sword is golden, wrapped in straps of black leather leaving a pattern of golden ‘diamonds’ along its length. On the base of the blade there is an engraved rune signifying the word ‘honor’. Even though it is supposed to be a two handed weapon, it is light enough for Crys to wield it with one hand and pair it with one of her Sai. She rarely uses it and is yet to actually kill with it, but carries it at all times for sentimental reasons.

Other Items: Crys carries a recorder flute, skillfully carved and decorated with a tiny figure of a wolf. After her first flute was destroyed, Allison crafted the new flute for her as a birthday present, claiming that she was unbearable when unable to play her music. She also carries her and Jake’s Wolfpack rings on a chain around her neck.

History

Crys was born and raised in the Wolfpack. As the leaders first born child she was born into a great deal of responsibility, unfortunately... She was also born completely blind. Not only her parents, but most of the clan were unsure if she could live up the expectations, and for the first years of her life she heard everyone say that for the first time in the history of the clan a leader would have to choose a successor outside of the family. When Crys turned ten she cornered her mother and told her there was no reason why she shouldn't receive training like any other member of the clan. Dani Rivers was unsure if her daughter would ever be fit to become an assassin, but she eventually agreed to train her personally. That way at least she would be safe.
After Crys turned twelve and her ability started to manifest itself, she had a very hard time until she learned to control it, and the two following years were filled with occasional emotional breakdowns, which caused her to pull further and further away from people in order to keep herself from pain. She put all of her efforts into her training after that, in order to finally prove herself worthy. At the age of 14 she completed her first assignment. At 17 she was the youngest member in history to be named an instructor.

When Enlightened people began being killed, Crys was seriously affected by the killer's actions. First when her father was killed, then when Allison was attacked very close to where she was. The training that she went through in order to master her ability paid off in many ways, but took a severe emotional toll on her. And after the death of her mother... She began shutting herself down emotionally more and more. All of this seemed to have caused her mental state to be questioned and led many of the older clan members to openly discuss having her removed from 1st command. However, given the time, Crys began to slowly regain control over herself and the clan, seeking to end the disputes between the clan and Newhaven.

Unknown to her, an active named Sean was planning her assassination with the aid of Blackpond. One night, while heading to the desert to seek out the White Shadows, Crys was attacked. After a few hours of fighting Crys was defeated and stabbed in the stomach; left bleeding on the dirt. Luckily for her, the Crimson Shadows were moving their camp back to the desert and rescued her.
A month later, as soon as she could stand, and after everyone already made peace with the fact that she was dead… Crys returned to reclaim her title. Sean, knowing that she was not fit for battle, challenged her for the command. He won the battle (barely), and Crys was forced to flee to the desert in order to keep her life, followed by some loyal assassins.

Now, after three years of training and thinking, Crys is ready to finally decide what to do with her life, and the lives of those who still follow her command.

So begins...

Crystal Rivers'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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[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”

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Indrani Nayar Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher

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Sean had a busy morning. Busy, busy, busy. Another group of mercenaries had been caught hunting on their territory. The man was slightly disappointed to discover Allison was not amongst them this time. Perhaps Crystal had something to do with that; the archer hadn't been spotted in the territory even since her former recruit was executed. Sean thought he would drive her out of her cautious attitude with that, but it didn't work. It was a pity too, because he knew that if he managed to get to Allison, he could easily reach Crys through her. The blind woman had simply made herself disappear ever since he'd defeated her in camp three years ago. Unlike the other traitors who had invaded the territory and committed vengeful acts against him and the clan, Crys hadn't showed herself. It was a pleasant thought to him that maybe she had given up and retired, but that was unlikely. Being an assassin was all she knew, the clan was all she knew, and Crys wouldn't walk away like this. For that reason, the silence was unsettling.

As the active that had been reporting to him finished the accounts of how they had scared the mercenaries away, Sean nodded at the man as to show he understood, and waved him away without a word. These events had become ordinary now, so much that Sean had little to say in response to the man. Sitting back in his wooden chair and looking around the leader's cabin. If those walls could speak, Sean imagined what kind of stories they would be able to give. That house had seen so much, survived so much, that place was in itself a piece of history.

The past three years had been complicated. First was the cleaning and rebuilding of the camp, then there was the death of the Blackpond ruler that set things back a little bit. Turns out, as much Sean hated to admit it, Crys had a point: Sean had no idea who the new King was, or where he had come from. While he was able a keep a mutually respectful relationship with Rory, this so called son of his was another story, and Sean decided to keep his distance from Blackpond except if the new king decided to call upon one of the favors he owed. Then he would, of course, keep his word and answer whatever request the man had: A deal is a deal.

"Sean." An active called entering the cabin and taking a small bow.
"Yes, Alex, what is it?" Sean asked, turning his attention towards the young man.
"Dante already came back from his assignment. You had asked me to let you know, remember?"
"Oh... Right. Thank you, Alex."
"At your service." The active responded, walking out back to his duties.

Sean smiled as the active left the cabin, waiting a few moments before leaving himself. He didn't need to ask if Alex knew where Avius was, he knew exactly where to find his friend. As he walked in the direction of the lake he simply nodded in acknowledgement as some people told him good morning. Even if Sean's demeanor had changed very little with the new title, the man had become a little more introspective than he was as a simple Active, keeping his thoughts to himself and always measuring his words. Those who knew him longer had noticed that change, but then... Leading the Wolfpack was no easy task.

As he reached the lake, Sean found Avius sitting there, as he suspected he would be. "Hey Avius." Sean greeted, simply. Walking over and leaning against one of the trees.
”Hello Sean. Of what do I owe the pleasure?” The man responded, watching him.
Sean had let a chuckle escape him at the words. He didn't think anyone else would have seen his presence as 'a pleasure', it was a little bit funny. Finally he sat down by the edge of the lake himself. "Damn busy morning." Sean stated in a weary voice. "Mercenaries invading again. Although Allison wasn't with them this time..." He chuckled. "I think she just doesn't love me anymore." He stated sarcastically. "Or maybe she thought I would take it easier on them if she wasn't there..." It was an accurate assumption to make. As much as Sean wanted to punish Ali, and all the others who had turned on the clan, he still expected to go back into good terms with the Crimson one day. He held no personal grudge against the mercenaries, all he wanted was to make them see that aiding those traitors would only bring them trouble. He knew well how much the Crimson hated trouble. "It has been three years now. I thought that a few months of retaliation would convince those mercenaries to give the traitors up. I suppose Crystal's friendship with their leader is a lot stronger than I had assumed." He stated, reaching into the water absently. "So, tell me friend... How did your assignment go?"

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[The Desert]

Indrani was a little bit upset for having to leave while Crys was face down in the sand. The assassin was fast, and graceful for a blind person, Indrani had to give her that much... That not to mention that fighting that shadow took a lot of courage. It was without a doubt the deadliest thing Indrani had ever seen in her life, reason why Dastan didn't use his enlightenment in battle unless it was absolutely necessary. It was all very impressive, and right in the best part of it, she called away by the sight of travelers. She would have to ask someone what happened at a later time. Travelers coming from the south... That was far more important than some sparring match. Even this one.

As Indrani reached the southern gates, a group of mercenaries was already organized there awaiting her command. "Open the gates, and position yourselves. Do not move unless I command you to." She stated. As the gates opened, the men circled the incoming group. Indrani walked out and examined the oddest group of travelers she had ever laid eyes on. There, each on their own horse, a man in a mask that appeared to be the leader. A large dark green... Person? A slim white skin man who seemed slightly odd all in all, and a woman who, admittedly, had the most normal appearance in the group. She stood there watching the group for a moment, before finally putting her focus on the leader. The man had the posture of a person who had seen all, or the closest to it all as one could see. His demeanor was calm, respectful even, however it didn't make seem like less of a threat. Indrani wasn't as much of a people-person as Dastan, but she wasn't quick to judge and she liked to think the best of people until proven wrong... However, the last time a traveler came to them from those parts, they lost many of their people, not to mention their homes.

"Excuse my less than welcoming posture, kind sir. However, if is shelter you seek as well as the word of our leader, I must ask that first you state your name." She said giving a wave of her hand, so that the mercenaries would lower their weapons. "I wouldn't like to betray my clan's good reputation of being laid back and over-friendly, but the last outsiders to pass these gates abused our hospitality in the worse possible ways. Reason why I must now take caution."

As she finished speaking, however, footsteps sounded behind her and before she knew, Crys had walked past her and stopped before the masked man. For what Indrani could tell, the blind woman was slightly shocked and unsure whether she would smile or frown. Finally, Crys let out a small half-irritated, half-amused, snicker. "I'll be damned... I was starting to think you had dropped dead somewhere... Sir." She stated.
Indrani frowned slightly in confusion. "You know these people?" She asked.
Crys turned to face Indrani and gave her a small smile. "Not really. I do however know this man..." She nodded slightly towards the masked individual. "Enough to put my life on the hands of any friend of his." With that she started to walk back to the encampment. "Don't expect a warm welcome from Evin, but I'm sure Allison will be more than glad to see you." She stated over her shoulder.
Indrani stood for another moment, but finally she gave nod and the mercenaries dispersed, at which point she gave them a smile. "Well, since Crystal is rather fond of her life for what I know of her... In the name of the Crimson Shadows, I welcome you. If you would be so kind as to follow me..." She offered, walking past the gates and leading them into the camp, under the curious eyes of the rest of the mercenaries. One of them ran, most likely to warn Dastan of the visitors. She only hoped there was no trouble this time.

The setting changes from assassins-camp to The Desert

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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[The Ruins – White Shadow encampment]

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

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

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

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[Newhaven – Early evening]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Assassin's Camp]

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

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

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[Forest - Near the Newhaven walls]

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Newhaven]

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Allison Blake

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

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

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

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

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

The setting changes from the-desert to Newhaven

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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[Forest - Outside Newhaven]

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

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

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

[The desert]

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

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

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[Flashback - Wolfpack Camp, approximately 10 years ago]

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

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

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

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

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

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


[Reality - The Desert, present time]

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

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

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

The setting changes from newhaven to The Desert

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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[White Shadows encampment]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 Newhaven

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Indrani Nayar Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Jake Turner

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[Flashback – Wolfpack Camp, approximately 7 years ago]

Jake was sitting by the lake staring blankly at the surface of the water, trying to silence the cries and screams still ringing in his ears. This wasn’t at all what he had planned, and he had planned it thoroughly throughout the years, as it turned out: Revenge didn’t taste as sweet as he thought it would.

“Jakey, Jakey... You stink of fear shame.” Crys whispered in his ear mockingly. “Don’t worry now; she won’t hurt you that badly. You are an asset to this clan after all.”
Jake sighed, annoyed, as he stared into the water of the lake. “You’re not helping Crys.”
“Does it look like I’m trying to help? I was against this whole thing from the start, remember?”
“You’re a great friend, did you know?” He muttered.
“Yes, I do know.” She chuckled putting one arm around his shoulders. “You’ll do fine. Just don’t lie to her face and she’ll understand. You didn’t do anything after all.”
“Right… I didn’t do anything; that’s the problem.” Jake replied. “I should have done something.”
“What would you have done, killed Sean? Then you’d really be in trouble right now.” Crys said absently. “Even if you could have done something, it doesn’t matter now, does it?”
“I promised Lionel I wouldn’t say anything.” Jake mumbled, running one hand through his hair.
Crys gave him a small push in response. “No, Jake! You’ll tell her exactly what happened. You don’t owe Sean or Lionel anything.”
“What does it matter now what I tell her? It’s done!” He replied, pulling himself up and walking a few steps away from her.
“Yes, but you didn’t do it!” Crys shouted as he started to walk away. “Don’t lie to her, Jake!”

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

[Flashback – Leader’s cabin, approximately 7 years ago]

“So, Jacob… Have a seat.” Dani said, indicating the chair across from her. “Let’s have a little chat.”
Jake stood in the doorway for another moment before closing the door behind him and sitting down without speaking a word. He thought it better to just let Dani speak first.
“I spoke to Sean about what happened in Blackpond. Now, he told me a random story about how the woman panicked and attacked the two of you and it was self-defense.” She started, leaning forward and looking at him from across the table with a serious expression, her blue eyes piercing right through him. “I didn’t believe a word of what he said to me and I advise you to be smarter than that if you attempt a lie. Now… Tell me: What exactly happened in that house, and who was responsible?”
Jake hesitated for a moment, thinking of all the lies he could make up and all the excuses he could give. Finally, he decided it was easier to just be honest. “I’m responsible. I crossed the line, I know, but I wanted him to suffer. I wanted him to feel what I felt.”
“How so?” Dani asked, in a slightly interested tone, leaning forward a little bit more.
“Well, my sister was all I had and… They made me watch as they took her from me. There was nothing I could do to save her, I was useless then. I wanted him to feel that, even if for a moment.”
“You were ten, Jake. What do you assume you could have done?” Dani asked him.
“It doesn’t matter, it feels the same. You know the feeling.” Jake replied. “Logic doesn’t apply to situations like these. Logic doesn’t take away the feeling, now does it?” He asked leaning back in his seat.
Dani nodded. “How does it feel now? Better?” She chuckled. “I know that feeling as well.” She leaned back as well and sighed. “But… That’s not why you’re here. As much as I was against this stupidity, I was convinced to give my consent. What I didn’t allow was for an innocent woman to be disfigured as a part of it. I also don’t believe you did this yourself. Not after what was done to your sister.”
“I wanted him to suffer. I wanted him to know the feeling. I wanted it.” Jake repeated. “Does it really matter who was holding the knife?”
“It matters to me. Who was holding the knife?” Dani asked.
“I was holding a knife, Sean was also holding a knife. I had blood on my knife, and so did he.” Jake stated simply, holding Dani’s gaze firmly.
“I see…” She replied. “Very well, I suppose I have no choice but to give the same punishment I gave Sean. You are suspended as of now, and will be placed under observation. If you fail the evaluation, and I will demote you to worker, do you understand?”
“Yes, I do.” Jake replied.
“And don’t expect Bastian or Crys to be the ones evaluating you, Jake. You’ve gotten away with too much already. Now, you answer to me. Are we clear?”
“Yes, perfectly clear.” Jake responded, lowering his head.
“Good. You’re dismissed, for now.” Dani told him. “Get out before I decide I’m being too nice.”

Jake didn’t say another word, nor did he stop to think about it, he simply stood up and left the cabin as fast as he could without running. As he closed the door behind him and stepped outside he saw Sean walking over probably wanting to know what he said. However, before Sean had the chance to say a word to him, Jake punched him in the face, knocking him down to the floor. Jake crouched down and stared at Sean with and angry look in his eyes as he spoke. “I covered for you, this time, because your brother begged me. Don’t expect me to ever do it again.”

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[Flashback – Fire Temple, little over a year ago]

“Go back to sleep.” Jake heard a whisper behind his back and grimaced: Crys knew he was awake, and without a doubt she knew why.
He was sitting on the edge of the bed, hiding his face in his hands, trying to erase the memories that flooded his dreams, as well as the anger they carried; and only the Gods knew just how angry he still was. Crys had been asleep, but obviously she wouldn’t be for long after he sat up and turned his back. He should have stayed down, then at least she would let him pretend to be sleeping and the silence would linger.
“I can’t… I’m not…” He sighed, stopping himself before he made the mistake of lying to her. “I just don’t want to.”
“You shouldn’t do this, Jake.” She replied, suppressing a yawn. “It will only end badly. You know it, I know it… But suit yourself, I won’t argue with you again.”
“You don’t understand.” He muttered out. “You can’t understand…”
“I’m not just saying this: I really won’t argue with you. You know what my opinion is, and it hasn’t changed, but I won’t ask you not to go.” She sighed. “We both know you won’t listen, because you never once listened, and sooner or later we’ll just be back where we started.”

Jake simply shook his head, face still hidden in his hands. “I might never come back.”
“You never did come back. Not really.” She retorted. “If you want to stay here and pretend your mind isn’t elsewhere… I’m not one to complain.” She said, hugging him from behind and resting her chin on his shoulder. “I’m also not stupid, and I know you way too well to actually believe you can keep this up for much longer.”
“Are you happy here, Crys? I mean really happy?” He asked her, lifting his head and looking at the stars through the stone window of the fire temple.
Crys sighed softly. “I’m not unhappy.”
“That’s not what I asked.” He replied.
“I’ve been happier, but, all things considered: Yes, I am. I have a small piece of family left, I have a small shadow of what my clan once was, and as much as I hate the sand and the dry heat… The desert has been good to us in the past couple of years. I’m not entirely happy, but, as is, I feel that I can be one day. That’s more than enough for me right now.” Crys replied in a whisper, finally releasing the yawn she had held back moments before.
“Go back to sleep, you’re tired.” Jake told her.
“I’ll just stay awake a little bit longer.” She mumbled. “Besides… You’ll leave as soon as I fall asleep.”
“I will.” Jake confirmed with a sigh. “I have to.”
“Fine, but… Jake…” She mumbled, yawning again.
“Yes?” He asked still staring blankly at some point outside the window.
“Don’t come back unless you’re staying.”


[Reality – Newhaven Castle, present time]

The light of one lit candle reflected on the surface of a golden locket causing it to sparkle before Jake’s blue eyes; a lonely golden light in a dark room; the same room Jake had barely used the last time he stayed there. It was more of a storage than a room then since he was always away from the castle for one reason or another.

This had been Jake’s nightly ritual for the past year and half: Drowning in his memories and hoping for exhaustion to lull him to sleep. It wasn’t always effective, but just enough to get him by. Insomnia had been a real problem in the past couple of years, but one he had learned to handle. Annie had given him herbs for it, but he tried not to depend on them and only used them as a last resort. This wasn’t the time to turn to those methods, though, so he did his best to just lay back in bed until he just couldn’t manage to keep his eyes open anymore.

Closing his fist around the locket, Jake let his mind wander from the past to the present, although that wasn’t any less bothersome. The conversation with that strange woman from Blackpond was still tormenting him, even if he would never admit it. He didn’t know what she wanted, he wasn’t even sure if he wanted to know, but whatever it was… It couldn’t end well. He sighed, staring at the ceiling. “Who are you?” He mumbled to himself. “What are you trying to pull?” Aside from the fact she seemed delighted with the possibility of toying with him, he couldn’t know what was on that woman’s mind… It was unsettling, and that to say the least.

Finally, he felt himself yawn, exhaustion finally beginning to get the best of him. The fight had been great for that as well. Jake was a indeed a bit rusty, he hadn’t given himself time to train in a little while, and it showed, but… Bruises, and aches aside: It had been a good one, and if there was one living person he wouldn’t mind losing a fight to, that person would have to be Mageria; which, of course, didn’t mean he wouldn't try to beat her if the chance presented itself in the future. A little smirk began to show on his face unconsciously as he closed his eyes. He wouldn’t dare admit it, not even to himself, but it was actually nice to be back after all.

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

[Desert – Crimson Shadows’ Camp]

Crys listened to Theron, all the while thinking that he hadn’t really told her a damn thing. It was frustrating, to say the least, but she didn’t really have the time to waste trying to figure out what exactly the man was seeking with the healers. She knew that, whatever it was, she could help him get it, but he didn’t say what it was so she didn’t offer to go with him. If he wanted help he’d ask for it… And she would consider it his problem until told otherwise. However, one thing he said bothered her: He said he would force the war to end and that… That was something that she couldn’t agree with, not for any reason. Yet, she didn’t say anything about it and simply remained silent until he stood to retire for the night. Then she spoke, not facing him and still facing the warmth of the fire. “If you believe that giving me the truth of what you’re doing will jeopardize anything, then you and I might have different definitions of trust, old friend. As is, I also believe we have different definitions of progress and how to obtain it.” She sighed. “I always believed that the day would come when Valcrest would either save itself or self-destruct… I still believe that the day will come, and when it does… Whatever happens will happen, despite anyone’s plans.” She stated, absently.

As Theron said good night the only response she gave the man was: “Call me Crys.”

For next couple of hours, Crys sat by the fire, thinking of things that happened in the past five years and things that would surely become more and more complicated in the next few days. It had been a stressful day, and it would probably be the first of many. Finally standing, she led herself towards the Fire Temple, thinking of things she needed to take care of the next day. Only then she realized something: Ali was nowhere around in the camp.
Turning back towards the encampment she found some assassins of her group and questioned them. One of the actives had seen Ali follow Trevor out of the encampment, obviously he just assumed she had been sent out with him on his assignment, none of them knew that Ali was ordered to stand down; only Evin knew that. “Crap!” Crys muttered under her breath. “Listen, as soon as any of you spot Evin around camp in the morning, let him know I need to speak with him.” She told them, knowing that they would probably spot the man before she did. She needed to ask his opinions on this, besides, she wasn’t sure how well they could keep the Pack from figuring out their plans. It was possible that they would have to rethink things a little bit.

A while ago they had agreed on spreading out and making it look like every assassin in their group was working on their own. Crys had stayed put in the desert, hoping Sean would believe she had given up, or maybe simply see it as a possibility. It was frustrating, but she knew that if he ever knew for a fact that they were recruiting he would unleash the Pack on them with full force. Surely, he would find out eventually, but she hoped they would be strong enough to resist by the time it happened. At the moment they weren’t, but it didn’t matter… Whenever Sean found out Theron was back, he would do anything to affect the man… Going after them would be the first thing on the list. They needed to prepare for that.

As for Ali: Crys would have to deal with her when she returned. Until then, all she could do was hope she didn’t get herself into any kind of trouble with the Pack.

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

Dastan stood most of the night watching the flames engulf the body of his friend, waiting for the time to scatter his ashes to the wind. For a rare moment his expression was completely serious as he watched the man be consumed by the fire. They had never had as many deaths in the clan as they did lately. Dastan would be lying if he said that it didn’t bother him to see this many good men killed for so little, but he also knew this was being done to push them into a betrayal, and he wouldn’t let the Pack have their way, even if it meant pushing back and starting a war.

“You don’t have to stay here all night, you know. We can have someone else keep watch.” Indrani spoke beside him, resting a hand on his shoulder.
“I want to stay.” He replied, not looking at her. “I saw Evin approach you earlier. Was he harassing you in any way? Because if that’s the case, then…”
“No. It was nothing really.” She told him. “Nothing I can’t handle.”
“Was it about that stupid tent again?” He mumbled.
“No.” She chuckled. “Just drop it, okay?”
“Was he hitting on you then?” He asked, opening a little smirk. “Because, if you ask me, I’d say that fellow really needs a good woman.”
Indrani responded by punching Dastan in the arm with full force. “No! What the hell is wrong with you?”
Dastan chuckled, rubbing his arm where she hit him. “Well… Why else would he want to talk to you? It’s not like you two were ever friendly with each other. I’m suspicious now… Maybe I should go have a talk with this guy. I will have no one messing with my little sister.” He stated, faking an angry expression.
“By the Gods, Dastan, shut up.” She muttered.
He laughed. “Alright, alright… I’ll leave you alone, I promise.”
“Are you really staying here all night?” She asked him.
Dastan sat down on a boulder next to the pyre and nodded. “I’m staying.” He stated, still watching the flames. “I will personally see to it that his remains are handled properly. I owe it to his family.”
Indrani sighed. “Alright, just… Have someone wake me if you feel the need to rest. I'll stay in your place.” She told him, before walking away to her tent.

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

[Outside of Newhaven]

Luckas was a little bit confused as well as curious and, in that state he simply allowed this strange young woman to drag him around the encampment in what could only be described as some weird dance routine. Finally, she dropped him by this man she called Alex. Once dropped on the ground Luke simply laid back and let out a small giggle, before looking up at this girl with a little bit more care than last time. She was definitely interesting in the sense of not boring and possibly dangerous, but not interesting in the sense of being someone he could attempt to mess with. She didn’t strike him as someone he could frighten and it was easy to see that her mind was just as broken as it would ever be. Lovely in a way and strangely fascinating in another, but nothing he could ever work with. He watched her for a good while, the dumb smile on his face completely separated from the sharp look in his eyes. There were a lot of eyes on him now, and to actually go by unnoticed was out of the question, but he didn't really care; he was suddenly not bored anymore.

At last he turned his attention to the man he had been ‘offered’ to. He laughed out, still lying flat on his back, as he turned his eyes at the man. “Is she, like, your pet, Alex?” He asked curiously, purposely referring to the girl who brought him there as if she wasn’t present. “I had a cat once; he used to bring me dead birdies and rats… A lovely little freak, he was. Of course he had the nasty habit of trying to sink his claws into me at every given chance… I eventually got fed up with him.” He stated absently. “Oh, I’m sorry… How rude of me…” He said, holding out one hand. “… I’m Luckas. You can call me Luke if you rather.” He told him, in an extremely friendly tone as if they were both meeting at a party or another social occasion of the sorts.

The setting changes from newhaven 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.

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

[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.

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

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

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

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[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 Assassin's Camp

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers

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"Avius Dante." Crys greeted simply, with a slight smile. "A woman of my caliber... Should I be flattered or insulted by that statement?" She asked a small smirk discretely forming in her expression. "I'm here for two reasons, one that doesn't concern you, and one that does. I will give you both, since you are currently responsible for this encampment and, unlike your leader, I do still feel a certain level of respect for you personally." She brushed her cape aside, showing the katana she carried, sheathed at her belt, and put her flute away safely in a leather casing, strapped to her belt. "First, I came because a great part of me is still buried in these grounds. In spite of it having been twisted by Sean's insults, my family still played a great part in the history of this clan. You can take the command from me, but you can't erase that. Second, I came to see you." She sighed facing the man with serious, almost severe, expression. "And, there are two reasons for that too, you see... I know my mother tried to speak to you on several occasions after..." She paused, and changed her wording slightly. "Before she died. So, I conclude that she would want me to try and do the same. The second, well... You may or not believe me, but I still want the best for the Pack, and as much as I understand that Sean is your friend... He is making a lot more enemies than he can handle. That will hurt the clan in a near future." She nodded. "Now, I'm not saying that you shouldn't support the Alpha, but you, as Second, have the obligation of making sure he's acting on the clan's best interest, and he's not. So what I'm saying is: Do a better job." She shifted slightly where she was sitting. "By the way, that little idiot you two sent to the desert with that sob story? He'll be treated nicely, but don't insult my intelligence by expecting me to believe a word he says."

Having said all that, she opened a smile and added. "Now that I've said all I needed. How have you been?" She asked in an extremely friendly tone.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers

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Crys listened to Avius with interest, glad that he had sat down and was willing to talk. He seemed to be very conflicted and confused by everything that was happening. That was good in a way; it meant he wasn't following Sean blindly like she thought he might be. "I understand how you feel, Avius. I do. And I think that things wouldn't be so confusing for you if you didn't care, at least a little bit." She said with a little smile. "Things seem better, but they're not what they once were and people will eventually wonder why. I can tell you why, since you're listening to me for some reason... The laws of the Pack were written based on loyalty. Even though Sean enforce those laws, he can't fully understand what's behind them. He can't inspire loyalty in these people because he asks something of them and is not willing to give. He doesn't trust them."

She sighed slightly and pulled the katana from her belt, sheathed, and put it on her lap. "I was attacked on my way to the desert, partly because I wanted to question Lena about a few things, partly because I wanted distance from the battle that was going on in Newhaven. Halfway there I was attacked by assassins from Blackpond. I lost that fight, and while I was on the floor bleeding out, Sean showed up to tell me why I was going to die and that he was going to leave me there, 'because not everyone deserves a quick demise'." She made a pause and took a deep breath in order to keep her voice calm. "The Crimson rescued me, and I came back after a month, on that day. I was still wounded, and weak, but I didn't know what was happening and was concerned. When I got here, Evin had already figured out what Sean had done, and demoted him. When I told everyone what he did, Sean challenged me, I lost, and that was it. Whatever you might of heard of my father's involvement with the Wolf Hunters and, what my mother did to cover for him... That actually did happen. But I suppose no one takes into account that they just idiot teenagers then, and were nothing but loyal to this clan for over 25 years after that." She shook her head. "See, the clan betrayed me, in a way, and I can't trust them anymore. So, even if Sean was no longer an issue, I have no p[lace here. I still believe that the Pack deserves a worthy leader, and Sean is not that Leader." She leaned back on the gravestone, casually. "Anything else you would like to ask me?"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers

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Crys' expression changed to something between frustration and disappointment at the last words Avius spoke to her and she didn't bother to hide. He had understood everything, except one thing; what she wanted him to do. Aside from that he had demanded something she wasn't able, or willing, to give. She stood up, lowering her head and heaving a sigh. "You didn't understand what I came here for, Dante. I don't want you to commit treason, and leave the Pack: I want to know that the Pack will have a leader after I do what I must. I'm not coming back, because I can't trust the clan anymore and they won't follow me... That makes me just as good as Sean." She attached her father's sword to her belt and faced the man with a slightly intrigued look. "I'm not here to make a deal, I'm here to remind you of what you signed up for when you took your oath and when you accepted Second Command. Besides, even if I was here to make a deal; what you ask of me is not mine to give, or trade. If you want Evin's life that badly, go ahead and take it from him. Don't ask it of me as if it was worth nothing. It's worth something to me."

She stood in silence for a moment, smiling slightly in the cold winter air... Why was it always so damn hot in the desert? Then she smiled at Avius and spoke her final words to him. "I want justice for the Pack, and I will have it either way, if that breaks the clan or makes it stronger is entirely in your hands. Think about it, and leave me a message with the White Shadows when you decide."

With that she nodded her goodbye and began to walk away towards the South.

The setting changes from assassins-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.”

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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."

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

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

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

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

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[Blackpond – Some moment in middle of the night]

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

Flashback – Desert, approximately 3 years ago]

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

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


”Hey, pal! You alive?”

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

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

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

“Helloo… Name. What’s your name?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Assassin’s Camp – Early morning]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Flashback]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The setting changes from valcrest to The Desert

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Assassin’s Camp – Hours later]

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Blackpond – In the morning]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yup, I get it." Viktor replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The setting changes from assassins-camp to Newhaven

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Ess

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Essence stepped outside Mageria’s room, closing the door gently behind her. Her eyes were locked onto the floor, lost in thought temporarily although she did notice Luke standing opposite against the wall. Ess wasn’t sure what style she would be looking for, for her disguise. Male..female....flashy...subtle...some skin...a lot of skin. A slight smile curled her lips as she muttered, “I don’t suppose you’re going to want me to model my ideas for you? Course...I would like to take a hot bath first.” Ess paused licking her lips teasingly as she passed Luckas, her arm brushing his ever so slightly. “...And well, I feel you would have to wait outside this time for that.” Ess was a tease, and she wasn’t sure if all of it was instinct and subtle humor, or the fact that maybe she did find Luckas attractive and she was trying to hide the awkward feeling inside her stomach. Course, she had a talent for that, which was how she was always able to pretend to be another person to satisfy someone’s fantasy. She was a great actress.

“In the mean time Luckas, should we go over a strategy? Back up plans?.....” Ess winked.. “I also have...insurance for this kind of task...”

"Lady, you shouldn't tease a man like that, especially not one who can use mind control on you." Luke snickered. "I might give that impression sometimes, but I'm no kid." He warned. "If I wasn't such a gentleman you'd be in so much trouble right now."

His tone made clear he was joking, but maybe he wasn't entirely. Luckas sometimes found himself saying things to Ess he wasn't even sure were serious or all in good fun. He still hadn't completely shaken off the odd feeling he got from her presence, and he wasn't sure if the fact that she was so determined to figure him out was comforting or annoying. He wasn't sure if he wanted her around or if he wanted her gone... If liked her better as a friend or as prey. She was tempting, that was a fact, but he'd never had a friend before.

Finally, he got to the subject at hand. "I'd love to know what you mean by insurance and we should talk some things through, yes, but first I need you to listen, and this is important: I can get too carried away with this. I mean, I might actually break the guy's mind beyond recognition before we even have the information Captain wants. So, while I'll be trying my very best to keep it to a minimum, at least until we get something out of him, I might not be able to. Now, this is the important part: If my eyes are bright red, no matter what happens, do not touch me. Not even if the guy breaks out of my hold and runs a blade clean through my chest: unless you see black, stay the hell away. Are we clear?" He asked, looking the woman right in the eyes. He really didn't want to hurt her. At least not until he chose to do it.

Essence couldn’t hold back her laughter, her head falling back almost limp as her eyes rolled up in her eyelids. “I...don’t believe I would ever hit on a child, my dear Luckas...nor do I fear you would be forced to resort to mind control...”She trailed off batting her eyes, her lips pursing as she made a soft kiss like gesture into the air in his direction. A momentary slip of her composure, she used that gesture to attempt to keep his attention away from how her eyes softened a moment, a wave of mixed emotions slamming her hard before she took back control of the subtle change. She had given something away and it made her nervous at the very idea of her emotions going past the pleasantries of normal business. Never, had Ess given herself the opportunity to consider anything else beyond how she would aquire her next bit of coin. She always felt that path would make her weak, vulnerable and she refused to let herself fall apart, losing herself like she had once before. Never did she wish to relive that moment. A painful memory flashed through her mind, quickly disappearing:

[13 years ago]

“Please don’t let it be him...”Ess prayed frantically to herself. Her violet orbs fell upon the names, her brows narrowing in anger as she screamed out in defiance at the stones. Falling to her knees, her fists began pounding against the earth, finding their way to the tombstone. With several cracks she had broken her hand, yet she ignored the physical pain as it was nothing compared to the realization of her loss. Ess disappeared in her blind rage, cursing the Twins, herself, and even her friend. Her wails of despair echoed into the city, carried off by the storm in a haunting mockery of her pain. She had met her breaking point that she had tried so hard to keep away from; she had fallen off her precipice disappearing into the abyss of sorrow.

With a soft sigh she brushed the feelings aside as if they never prodded her mind.

Clearing her throat, her painted smile faded as she focused on Luckas. Nodding at the appropriate times she knew he was correct in warning her about his gift, that she needed to be mindful of her casual demeanor and not touch him. The way he stared into her, gave her a spine shivering tingle that fluttered throughout her entire body. It was not a bad feeling, only the nervousness came back, this time she kept it well hidden. He was strange, Luckas. She saw something inside he was battling with, but couldn’t decipher it just yet. He was letting her accompany him on something most private, giving fair warning to protect herself while he had expressed conflicting concerns between his dark side and something else. The general concern for some random children who mainly meant nothing to him personally and then to shift into plans of torture and demise of foes...It reminded her, of well, herself. Sometimes feeling like she was split down the middle, and she knew Luckas had no idea how deep the split actually went inside Essence, even if he did take a peek into her soul.

Finally she spoke, “So...no skin on skin then?” The smile creeped back into view. “I get it Luckas. Only....does this mean I can’t lasso you with a rope to move you?” Ess was curious if he only meant direct contact, or if random objects acted like a conduit between him and another and would not save one from his fury.

Luckas watched Ess carefully. There was definitely something about her; something special, and he couldn't quite tell how exactly it affected him, but he couldn't deny it did. It was odd, being affected by someone, he couldn't remember the last time that happened, that if it ever actually did. Lena was someone he feared and respected, and someone he could learn a lot from, Captain was someone that simply fascinated him for what she had managed to live through, in a few moments he'd even thought he felt admiration for her, but either way he didn't have interest in them personally. They weren't people he would ever let this close, not matter how close Lena had gotten, it was never as close as this... And maybe it was way too close for both their sake. "Absolutely no skin on skin." He stated. "You could try and lasso me, tie me up, wear gloves, whatever else, but odds are I'll fight you. I wouldn't take that chance if I were you; I'll be blind, def and void of any reason, and the slightest touch is all it takes" He warned. Then he relaxed a bit and shrugged slightly, adding: "There is also the possibility that I'll pass out afterwards, but I think I can trust you not to take advantage of me, right?" He asked raising an eyebrow and giving her a fake suspecting glance, before turning it into a wicked grin. "Because I'd much rather be awake for that." He said, winking playfully as he began walking.

"There's this tower I like to hide in and no one usually goes there, so that is a good place to lure him into, it's secluded enough; I'll show you where it is. Unless you'd rather lead him out of the Castle, but that might be a little harder to pull off, I mean... You may be a talented actress, as I'm sure you are, but the guy probably won't be that stupid."

Essence walked beside Luckas, holding back a fit of giggles at his comment of tying him up. She decided to leave that one alone. A sweet, calm like smile remained on her lips, her eyes flickered in a subtle glow with her emotions as Luckas mentioned him trusting her. She remembered their first meeting..well second meeting, almost like a battle of wits discussing man’s flaws and how trust was one of those things that was fragile and could be shattered easily. Ess agreed with much he had said, and couldn’t ignore the fact that he was giving her a shot in the dark. He most likely was similar to her, in that she built a wall around herself to prevent any permanent damage from seeping in, if that trust was broken.

“I think I’d rather you be awake for that as well...so no passing out. I’d take that as a personal insult.” She teased. Quirking an eyebrow, she scrunched up her nose , still smiling as she answered his offer of trust in her own way, “I’ll mind the red eyes Luckas, but I don’t leave people behind.”

Rolling her eyes, Ess muttered under her breath, “What is it with boys and their forts?” Then again, as she thought about it, she was like the cool girl allowed into the “Boy’s Only” Club. A bit louder she asked, “Let me guess Luckas, this tower of yours is scattered with human skulls?” With a chuckle she turned to face him, “Stupid people are not a challenge, so I hope he’s got more brains than a rock.” Ess began thinking of how she would lure the Warlord to this said tower, and depending on what information Luke and her found out, depended on her main strategy.

“Generally speaking hun, I see this going into the direction of me leading the Warlord to you...maybe having a bit of fun myself...and incapacitating him..at least temporarily so you can have your fun, without worrying about a sword through the chest.” Ess would show Luckas what she meant later in association with her back up plan and “Insurance Policy.”

Ess rolled her shoulders, as if they were sore. “In the mean time..I need to relax if I am to have enough strength to play...which means for me...to go visit the tavern for a drink. You are welcome to join.” She stated to Luckas, reaching by her hip she retrieved a single gold coin which she tossed lightly in his direction. “You can buy me a drink.” She slowly winked.

Luckas sighed softly when she said she didn't leave people behind; that was cute, but it just gave him something to worry about. He didn't say anything more though, the last thing he needed right now was to admit that he worried; that would be a whole other concern all in itself and he wanted a clear mind. Going back to the teasing was the best way he found to keep that out of his head. "Well, whenever you want to take advantage of me I'll be wide awake, believe me."

When she asked if the tower had human skulls in it, Luke laughed out again. "What? No, silly woman." He choked on laughter. "First: I don't play with dead stuff. Second: It's just a bell tower, nothing much." He said with a shrug. "And how do you plan to incapacitate him? I need him awake and sober for this, so no drugs." He told her. "Even if they ware off quick, they might cause some side-effects with my enlightenment."

Catching the gold coin in the air, Luke quickly slipped into his pocket with an amused grin. "Tell you what, pretty lady... Assuming you now know how the get out of the castle by yourself, why don't you go ahead and I'll meet you there in a few minutes? I have a little ritual of my own I'd like get done before we have our fun." That said, he began to walk towards the 'noble area' of the castle, waving playfully over his shoulder. "Don't have too much fun without me."

Ess shrugged and added, “What if he is awake and sober...but can’t move?” She was thinking to herself about the many different...toys and products she acquired over the years to satisfy such a purpose. Raising her left hand up a bit she spoke softly, “I promise..on pain of death...not to ruin your fun Luckas, or interfere...” Her smile faded into her serious persona, nodding as she did understand his complexities of his enlightenment, at least from what he mentioned. She was exceptionally excited to see exactly what he was capable of, since she honestly couldn’t remember everything from their first encounter, but she was still left impressed.

Again, he complimented her oh so subtly, her expression questioning yet she kept her lips silent.
Rolling her eyes slightly she sighed, “Ok, but don’t take too long. I’ll keep a seat warm for you.” Placing a kiss on her hand she blew it towards him as she spun around back the way they had come, remembering an exit they had passed that would lead her back towards the gate. “I can’t make you any promises that I’ll behave while you’re away.”

Essence made her way to the Inn fairly quickly, sitting at an empty table by the door. Nodding to the woman behind the bar, she held up two fingers, hinting that she wanted a double. The woman nodded, knowing Ess’s usual choice of hard alcohol. As the glass was set down before her she quickly downed the liquid, letting the burning sensation coat he stomach before motioning for another. Sipping the second drink, she handed the woman a few coins, leaning back in her chair, heels upon the table. Half the day was just about over and so much had already happened. Tossing around some ideas in her mind, she contemplated what she would see from Luckas and what she would reveal to him in turn. In a half smile, she sipped her drink again, violet eyes fluttering about the room from patron to patron. As she lost herself deep in thought, she began to remember one of the first times she had engaged in such a pre-meditated action...

[NewHaven about 10 years ago...]

Essence sauntered forward, heels clicking against the stone floor of the courtyard, as her hips swayed side to side in a hypnotizing desire. Dressed from head to toe in a dark, red-like purple satin, the cloth hugging her curves, dragging along the floor, was sleeveless. Her thick curls fell messy and loose down past her shoulders, encasing her soft pale skin from the night’s chill. Carrying no visible weapons, her fingers fiddled with a small pouch that hung from her left hip. Two curious rings decorated her left and right middle fingers. One was simple, a plain silver band with a curious hook like claw that extended across her palm towards he wrist; the other was a white gold, topped with a metallic purple sapphire. Ess had applied only a hint of color to her lips and eyes, earthy tones that embellished her violet gaze and drew attention away from her tattoo like scar beneath her left eye. Breath taking was an understatement, yet she wasn’t completely conspicuous, managing to blend with the crowd to attract only the occasional stare which could of been credited to her perfume. The scent was enticingly sweet; a mix of lavender, honey, and vanilla.

The night was alive with entertainment, music and plenty of drink. Torch light surrounded the main gathering in a particular circle, the shadows dancing across her face. Ess looked around, looking up at the castle from afar, absently wondering about what it looked like inside. Everything seemed to slow down as her eyes locked upon her target, she temporarily fell deaf as she honed onto Devon Fields, pushing out the tired music that haunted her ears. Devon was tall, blond, green eyed son of a noble whose charms got him almost anything or anyone and his peers simply turned a blind eye. ‘Weak and pathetic,’ Ess thought to herself with an attractive smile. She would not approach him directly, but found her harmless lurking would eventually draw his attention as she mingled with the men and women of the party, calling herself Talena Lumin.

For a moment, she felt she was being watched and when she glanced around with a nieve expression, Devon and her locked eyes for a second before she turned away with a slight yawn. Turning slowly she disappeared into a circle of men and women, temporarily losing Devon’s gaze. Keeping her attention on him, she saw how he looked away only to double take her figure , his eyes flashing quickly from person to person as he tried to pick her out of the party. It worked out wonderfully when the crowd parted around her, displayed perfectly for the noble, wine glass in hand. Pretending to not notice him as she finished off her drink, she didn’t have to fake her bored expression as he dropped his current conversation to approach her.

The next few moments were typical; they introduced themselves, Devon giving the facade of knowing ‘Talena’s’ family because she played herself off as a cousin of a noble family and Talena, in turn, indulging the man to a dance. Her violet orbs kept to their dim contrast, her mind void of any emotion as she inspected the weasel and his obvious fake persona. Smiling sweetly as he boasted and lied about his adventures and conquests, she was light on her feet as she was twirled left then right, heels seeming to not touch the ground. Politely she kept her attention on him, all the while the wheels inside her brain twisted and turned remembering the rumors, only to see for herself what darkness he left upon the women from her side of town. Ess was getting better and better at discovering the demons hidden away inside the souls of men, and it wasn’t hard at all to see the familiar sick glimmer in his green eyes as he complimented her again and again.

“You honor me, M’lord.” She whispered softly, her gaze luring him closer to her as the dance completed.

“May I get you another drink, M’lady Lumin?” Devon bowed politely giving a devilish smile.

Ess nodded knowingly as he went to retrieve them both another glass of wine. Quickly she thought about how to switch the glasses, remembering how the noble drugged each girl before he had his way with them, never much for the fight as he seemed to like to take his time with his docile playmates.

When Devon had returned, she automatically reached for the furthest glass from herself, knowing he would pull away. Ironically he was taken back a bit, the glass slipping for the stone floor with a small shatter.

“Oh, I am terribly sorry M’Lord. That was my fault.” She apologized, taking the glass presented to her. “Let me grab another for you.” With another sweet smile she carried her glass with her as she pretended to sip it, leaving a noticeable lip smear to show she had held onto her own drink as she retrieved another for him. With her back to him, she poured the wine into another glass, walking back pretending to finish off the entire contents in one breath. Stumbling a bit she handed Devon the drink.

“Perhaps, I have had too much tonight. Would you escort a Lady back to her home?” Ess willed her cheeks to glow with a pink tone, giving the illusion she had indeed over-indulged that night. Devon smiled, quirking a brow at how she inhaled the drink and nodded as he repeated her action in response. “What kind of gentleman would I be if I refused?”

Stabbing Westward-Darkest Days

Once they made their way away from the crowd, Ess stumbled a bit more, her hand touching her head as if she was dizzy. “Devon...I feel....sick...” She lied, her legs giving out from under her, yet she never hit the cold ground. Devon had caught her as she ‘faded from consciousness’ and without a word he lifted her into his arms, turning into another direction of his home.

Ess remained limp, listening to the sounds around her, feeling Devon’s body tense and his heart race in excitement. She almost thought she heard him laugh to himself, but she was never sure. Before she knew it, they had entered a room somewhere, and she was carelessly tossed onto the soft surface of a bed. Essence noted the sound of Devon unbuckling his belt, letting clothing fall to the floor, soon after he gripped her ankles, dragging her forward, her legs falling like a rag doll on either side of his hips. She let her mind drift as his rough fingers slid over her skin, tugging at the lace of her gown here and there, fumbling with the hooks of her corset. Keeping her composure and illusion that she was passed out, she simply waited.

Ess was happy that the drug had managed to kick in before Devon defiled her. Peeking with one eye, she saw his body grow limp and with a confused grunt he slid off her onto the floor. Slowly she lifted her head questioningly, opening both eyes as she wondered if he would move. Minutes went by before finally standing quickly, she dressed herself. With much effort she managed to yank the naked man onto the bed, using the sheets from the bed to tie him down. She wasn’t sure how long he would be out for, but she sat in a nearby chair to watch.

An hour passed before the man stirred, Ess’s eyes snapping to attention she rocked forward to stand over Devon, her curls teasingly tickling his bare chest. A wild glow in her stare emanated from her form, a devious smile curling her lips while her fingers playfully trailed along his chest and along his inner thighs. “Wakey wakey..” She sang, placing a kiss on his cheek.

As he opened his blurry eyes, his confusion was great causing her to giggle quietly. He moved to speak but was cut off as she backhanded him hard across the face, the jewel of her ring imprinting along his cheekbone. Now he was awake, twitching about as he attempted to break loose. Eyes wide, he glared at Ess, “Tricky Bitch you-” She cut him off again, shaking her head disapprovingly to keep silent as she slapped him harder this time across the other cheek, her ring slicing a superficial cut down across his lip.

“I’m sorry...you were saying?” She muttered mockingly before stuffing a rag into his mouth. “What? I can’t hear you?” Crawling over Devon’s nakedness she straddled his hips still fully clothed herself, her fingers inattentively playing with the ring on her right hand. With a twist she turned the claw like point around as if it was an additional fingernail. “You almost made it too easy, sugar..Tell me...do you like how this feels..” She teased as she grinded herself into his hips, her tiny silver claw finding its way towards his chest, she slowly pressed and dragged it across both pecks simultaneously. The blood trickled down onto the bed as he thrashed, attempting to knock Ess off of him, yet she tightened her thighs, bucking wildly as if she were riding a stallion yet to be broken.

With his muffled screams she wanted to take her time, but knew she had to get to the point before someone heard him. When she looked into his eyes, she only saw memories of her own defilement and torture. Her vision taken over by one memory in particular…

BlackPond over 15 years ago...

Tye was revealed Ess's gift after his nightly visit with her. He was almost as bad as Jasper with his repeated abuse, so as much as Ess tried to hide her fear, it manifested in her Enlightenment. He was startled into thinking she was a boy as she took the shape and form of her lost, older brother. He liked the idea at first and tried his damndest to teach her to use that gift at will for his own pleasures. When she refused, he made a deep, vertical cut underneath her left eye.

She fought through the pain as she whispered, “I know you didn't mean it.” Smiling sweetly as blood poured down her cheek, she reached between his legs with one hand, the other reaching for his short sword left lazily on the floor. She leaned in slowly to kiss Tye deeply and as he bit her lip, she thrusted the blade between his ribs, twisting hard.

"You like boys so much...", she teased, "…I thought you wanted to know how it felt to be stuck like a pig!"

As soon as she retracted the blade, Tye's personal guards came rushing in and knocked a hilt of a sword into her head and all went black. When she had awoken, she was lying naked in a dark, cold room. Heavy breathy creeping from each corner as rough hands grabbed her and spat in her ear, "" “This will take the fight out of you....""” Repeatedly beaten, raped, they had cut her so bad she would never know the joys of being a mother…


She started with his face, leaving raw gashes that would normally heal into an ugly scar but she didn’t plan on letting him live that long. They seemed fitting to match the damage he had done to the other women, almost ritualistic. Putting much emphasis on the sharp tool, letting it linger before the man’s eyes, she gradually inserted the blade into his ear canal, causing his eyes to roll up into his head. Grabbing a pillow she shoved it over his face trying to silence his screams. Only when they softened did she pull the pillow back. Sliding her body down along his, she began jabbing her toy along his stomach, similar to the way a fork cut into an under easy egg, slowly a thick substance leaked out from the many holes. By the time she reached between his legs, the man was in tears, blood raining down onto the bed. Pausing a moment, she reached for the ring on her left hand, giving a twirl of the jewel, it opened, revealing a curious black liquid. Dipping the end of her claw into the muck, she closed back up the ring, watching as the goo coated the silver tool.

“This, won’t hurt much...” She frowned, a bit disappointed at that aspect as she impaled his male organ with the weapon, knowing the poison would soon numb him completely. Devon’s body lurched forward, only to be knocked back from the restraints, he spat the rag partially out in his despair, only to have it shoved deeper into his throat.

“It’s almost over, fortunately for you darlin’.” Essence growled as she crawled off the man, using the loose sheets from his restraints to wipe at the blood along her arms and chest. In the time it took her to gather herself, blowing out some candles to darken the room, the last thing she saw was his naked skin turning black as his wails softened. She knew the pain was going away as the skin darkened quickly. She took one last candle and brought it over to the man, gently lifting his head to look down at himself.

“Do you see Devon? It’s going to fall off before the toxin reaches your heart...” She stated happily, slightly lying but it still got the rise out of him she wanted. He was indeed weaker now, but he had head butted her in the forehead as she spoke. With a curse, she put out the candle on his nipple, digging the hot wax into his flesh.

In the darkness she laughed, muttering incoherent rants about the women he had tortured and raped. She remembered as many names as she could before she spat on him, leaving for the door. Ess knew he would be dead within the hour, with or without help. With a sigh she peeked out the door and slipped away into the night.


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

Crys had made it to Newhaven in a decent amount of time. She didn’t rush to the city as if she could stop anything, because she couldn’t, but she had increased her pace after she had finished speaking to Ari. She hadn’t been as far as one of the cities in almost three full years, but she had heard enough from the other assassins to know the shape of things around them both.

As she entered the Inn a bell rand above the door, announcing another customer had walked through it. A few people were inside, she could sense them, and hear their voices, but no one she knew; and definitely none of them were Wolves. There was no one behind the bar at the moment, but that was good in a way; it gave her a quiet moment to look around, so to speak.

She might have looked a bit odd to whoever bothered to watch her movements as she paced slowly silently counting steps between tables and running her hand through the length of the counter, amused to find that, at least to her, the place looked exactly the same as it once was. She had to appreciate Sean’s attitude on that, at least. It almost brought back memories, even though the wooden surface of the counter was smooth and lacked the several knife wounds and scorch marks the previous one had, and the floor boards didn’t make the familiar screech in response to her footsteps. The whole place was squeaky clean and impeccable in a way it had never been before. Almost familiar, but… Not quite. As if someone had taken an item of sentimental value and replaced it with another exactly like it; the same, but not quite.

As she finally settled down in a stool by the counter she heard a female voice speak quickly as Sheila wandered in from the backroom. “You’re not welcome here.”
“I thought this was a neutral zone.” Crys replied, unfazed by the woman’s attitude; she was expecting that.
“It’s not neutral for you, but since you’re here I can take the opportunity to personally tell you to go straight to hell and rot there.” The woman replied.
“I’ll be sure to head that way after we talk.” Crys replied, with a little laugh, turning as the woman walked past her to serve a customer at a table. “Sheeeila… I’m not leaving…” She snickered. “It’s just easier if you tell me what I want to know.”
“I’m not telling you anything. Just crawl back to whatever rock you’ve been hiding under...” She then proceeded to mutter something under her breath, it was barely audible, but enough for Crys to get.
“Whether I do or not leave him alone is none of your concern.” She replied, an angered expression forming on her face. “He is a grown man, in case you’re not aware.”
“Oh, I’m aware.” Sheila snickered, again walking past her.

Crys now realized there was someone else by the counter, just a couple of steps away and stopped to hear the sound of one single gold coin dropping on the counter. She didn’t hear what the customer had ordered, but she heard Sheila’s response. “That’s not enough, pretty boy.”
The young male replied by snickering softly. “Yes, it is… Take it.” He didn’t raise his voice above a whisper, but even though his tone was gentle, something about it caused a chill to run down Crys’ spine.
“Huh, it is enough.” Sheila agreed suddenly, causing Crys to turn, now knowing that something was off.
“No, it’s not.” She stated, dropping another coin on the table. “This should do it, however.” She stated, turning towards the young man. “What did you do to her?”
“You?” He mumbled absently, sounding a bit shocked before chuckling slightly. “Pardon me Miss…? I’m with a friend, and suppose I was trying to impress her. I only have this one coin, however, and so I made use of my gift. I honestly didn’t think the Pack would miss one lousy coin all that much. I much appreciate your gesture. I will repay you one day.”
Crys frowned slightly, wondering if she knew this person, he seemed so startled to see her there for whatever reason. Still, he didn’t lie when he said he meant to impress his friend, he was actually keeping his voice down enough not to be heard from where Crys could tell the only other female customer was. “Rivers…” She started simply, since she felt it was fine to give him at least that. “… Crystal Rivers. And you, Mister…?” She trailed off leaving room for his name, same as he had done for her, and then moved on. “It’s clear that you like this woman enough to steal from people who can easily kill you for it… Who am I to stand in your way, right?”
“… Just Luckas...” He said. “And, who knows? I might just have a death wish or something.”
Crys chuckled. “Alright, Luckas… Believe what you will. It was nice meeting you.”
He retrieved the drinks from the counter and began to walk away without saying much more, however she caught a whisper as he walked away.

“It was nice meeting you in person, Crys.” He whispered.

Crys tilted her head slightly, wondering what the hell that meant, however she simply let the strange man go and turned her attention back to the matter at hand. “So, where were we?” She asked Sheila, with a fake smile.

She remembered when Sheila showed up in the Pack. Jake had run into her in Blackpond and helped her out of some trouble… He sent her to the camp with a letter to the leaders saying that he thought she would be a perfect recruiter; and so she was. However, the woman had never liked her for her own reasons, and after a few occasions in which she had demonstrated her dislike very clearly, the feeling became mutual.

“I said go to hell.” The woman repeated. Although this time she stopped across the counter from Crys. “Would you like a drink, since you’re here?”
“I’d love a drink, I just don’t trust you not to poison it.” Crys replied. “I don’t have all the time in the world, Sheila. I need to know when you last saw Jacob, and where I can find him.”
“Of course you do.” The woman said. “When it’s convenient, right?”
Crys stood up, her seemingly endless patience was beginning to wear out and she leaned forward on the wooden counter, her face closer to the woman. “Enough with the innuendos already… Just tell me what it is you think I did wrong this time so we can move on with our very separate lives.” She muttered.
“Honestly Crys, to sum it all up: I think you would have done us all a huge favor if you had just decided to stay dead. Especially Jake, the poor guy really deserves a break.”

That was it. It wasn’t completely Sheila’s fault, but the woman should have known that when someone crawls in the dirt for hours trying to catch the next breath, spends days just trying to keep her heart from failing, and consequently loses everything, all within a month, ‘you should have stayed dead’ is just not something you say without causing something to snap. And something snapped inside of Crys so painfully that she didn’t think twice to plant her foot on the stool she had been sitting on moments earlier and push herself up and across the counter, pulling one of her Sai and launching herself at the woman, aiming a stab at her face.

Sheila only had time to grab a metal tray to defend herself with, the Sai dagger collided with it forcefully; once, twice, three times before the impact knocked the woman over to the ground. With very little room to move behind the counter, Sheila planted both her feet against the metal tray to push Crys away, pulling out a short sword that was sheathed at her waist as she jumped to her feet. “I believe I hit a nerve.” The woman stated, slightly pleased with the fact that she had managed to get through Crys’ calm exterior.

Crys was knocked back a few steps, but kept her balance enough to not fall back. At this point the rage had subsided, but it didn’t mean she was going to sheathe her weapon and walk away. Not without answers, and she didn’t have time to waste. Gripping the metal tray with her free hand like a shield, she advanced towards the woman, letting her attack. Crys camly dodged the first blow, blocked the second blow with the metal tray and the third with the Sai, trapping the blade of the sword between the blade and one of the metal prongs of the weapon, pulling it down and out of the way. She then slammed the metal tray against the woman’s face, momentarily stunning her and causing her to loosen the grip on the sword, which was then knocked out of her hand.

It could have ended there, except Crys still wanted her questions answered and, admittedly, she wanted Sheila to suffer a little. The woman’s hand placed on the counter as she tried to catch her balance had provided the perfect opportunity, and Crys pulled her second Sai and stabbed right through it, pinning the woman’s hand to the wooden surface.

Sheila let out an ear-piercing scream at the pain caused by the blade. “You… Psychotic… Bitch…” She muttered, as Crys held the tip of the other blade pressed against her skin at a very dangerous spot below her eye.
Crys sighed releasing the Sai that was jammed through the woman’s hand and pinned to the wooden counter and reached under the counter, feeling around the space where a few bottles and other ingredients were kept until she found a lemon. “I’m sorry Sheila, but really… I have somewhere else I need to be and you’re just not being helpful.” She stated, speaking softly and squeezing the lemon slightly in her hand.
Sheila tried to slowly reach for the Sai, to release her hand, but the hand holding the blade to her face stiffened only slightly and she reconsidered. “I’m going to get you for this one day… I swear I will!” She muttered.
“Fine, as you wish. Until then, you’ll answer my questions and tell me ANYTHING else that might be useful to me. You have ten seconds to start talking.” She told the woman, pressing the lemon against the blade of the Sai that was pinning her hand, threatening to slice it open and let the acidic juice flow onto her wounded hand. “Ten… Nine…”

“You’re bluff-“The woman didn’t finish the sentence, Crys had sliced the lemon open and the liquid had run down the blade of the dagger, causing her to scream in agony. “On the Twins… I’ll kill you…” She muttered.
“I don’t bluff: Now talk.” Crys stated, threatening to squeezing more juice out of the fruit.
“Jake was here, the day before the Festival. He told me to inform Sean that he was with the Black Knights and something else about a woman from Blackpond meeting with the Queen and mentioning the Pack. Three of our people walked in not soon after and confronted Jake, that’s when this woman came inside to help him. They didn’t seem to know each other well, but he was friendly with her; they casually mentioned the fact that she had followed him and mentioned ‘the others’ at one point of the conversation, so I assume she was one of the Blacks, or a part of the Guard. They knocked our guys down, and I didn’t catch much more of their conversation since I went to the back, but there was this other man here and by the time I came back there were other people on the floor and Jake and his friend were leaving. I haven’t seen him since, so… Well… A little while ago he mentioned going to Blackpond; he seemed to feel strongly about the situation there for some reason. If he’s not with the Blacks I assume that’s where he’ll be.” The woman informed. “That’s all I know.”

Crys sighed softly, placing the split lemon on the counter and lowering the Sai that was pressed to Sheila’s face. The tip of the weapon hadn’t even left a mark on the woman’s skin; despite the steadiness of the wielding hand, the touch of the blade had been gentle enough to leave it intact. Sheathing the dagger, Crys picked a cloth and a bottle of rum. “This will sting, but don’t move or you might make it worse.” She informed, soaking the cloth and wrapping it around the blade, using it to press Sheila’s hand against the surface of the counter as she gripped the Sai by the hilt and yanked it out with one steady pull. As she sheathed the bloody weapon, she kept pressing the wounded hand against the counter. Sheila’s breathing was unsteady from the pain, but she didn’t as much as move a muscle. Crys took the time to take the woman’s hand and wrap the rum-soaked cloth around it, binding it tightly, before leaving the establishment without another word exchanged; the bottle of rum still in her hands.

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

Luckas spent a good few minutes 'interviewing' the servants who cleaned the dirt in Xypher's chamber, cooked his meals, and overheard his conversations. He was very disappointed; the man was as boring as one can be. It seemed the old man only had one woman in his life, and that was his dead wife. They couldn't get him that way, but Luke had an idea of what might work. It would probably be the most entertaining part of the whole thing. Xypher wouldn't make a good kill for him, but in a way that was good; if they had to end him nicely and quickly he wouldn't be at a loss.

Walking out of the castle and onto the courtyard, Luckas shivered, realizing he hadn't been outside since the previous day; he'd forgotten how cold it usually was this time of year, but he simply brushed it off, putting two hands in his pockets and forgetting the cold after only a few steps.

There were several Inns in the city and Luke hadn't asked Ess which one she would be going to, which was dumb, but he was lucky to find her in the first place he looked. He waved the gold coin she had tossed at him earlier and headed straight for the counter before even walking over. The barmaid wasn't there yet, so he leaned casually against the counter of the bar, waiting.

Someone walked in a minute or two after Luke, but he didn't turn to look. Whoever it was didn't seem to acknowledge him either, better this way. The newly arrived customer was a redheaded woman and an odd one as it seemed. She seemed to be walking aimlessly through the entire place mumbling something under her breath. That went on for a little while, until she settled down in a stool by the counter, sitting with her right elbow leaned on the counter and her back was turned to him. The barmaid came from the backroom of the bar and said something to the woman about her not being welcome, and they exchanged words here and there. Luckas was getting the odd sensation of knowing that redhead from some place and it just made his stomach twist painfully; how many of those was he going to get?

Finally the barmaid addressed him. "What are you having, hun?"
"Two of what the pretty lady over there is having."He said, discretely indicating Ess with a nod and dropping the gold coin on the counter, fully aware of the fact that it wasn't enough.
"That’s not enough, pretty boy." The barmaid told him, crossing her arms over her chest.
Luke leaned forward, whispering softly. "Yes, it is... Take it.
"Huh, it is enough" She replied, beginning to pour the drinks.
"No, it’s not." The redhead spoke suddenly, dropping another coin on the table. She had turned to face Luke and now he knew where he had seen her before. "This should do it, however." She continued, facing him and asking in a severe tone: "What did you do to her?"
"You..." Luke mumbled, a little shocked that he'd just stumble into her this way. It felt like seeing someone come to life out of a dream. It was odd and amusing. Quickly he came up with an explanation for what he was doing, taking the chance to maybe introduce himself. "Pardon me Miss…? I’m with a friend, and suppose I was trying to impress her. I only have this one coin, however, and so I made use of my gift. I honestly didn’t think the Pack would miss one lousy coin all that much. I much appreciate your gesture. I will repay you one day."
She was suspicious of him for his shock in seeing her, probably wondering, like he had, if they knew each other. Apparently she brushed it off, because she replied giving just the opening he needed. "Rivers…" She started simply, but Luke already knew that. "… Crystal Rivers. And you, Mister…?" She gave him room to introduce himself, perfect. "It’s clear that you like this woman enough to steal from people who can easily kill you for it… Who am I to stand in your way, right?"
Luke flinched slightly at the last words she spoke, but just brushed it aside as her having bought into his talk, playing with it instead of showing it had bothered him slightly. " ...Just Luckas...” He said. “And, who knows? I might just have a death wish or something.”
She chuckled as if she didn't believe him. “Alright, Luckas… Believe what you will. It was nice meeting you."

Luke didn't respond this time, he simply took the drinks from the counter and walked to join Ess at the table, a slight frown crossing his features as he whispered to himself. "It was nice meeting you in person, Crys." He would have to tell Jakey about this, he was sure the man would be delighted to know Luke had met his 'better half'.

With this thought still in mind, as Luke sat down across from Ess sliding one drink across the table to her, he had a strange grin on his face; the one reserved for annoying good old Jakey. This would be good...

Snapping out of it, he shook his head slightly and spoke. "So, did you have time to misbehave or was I quick enough?" He played. "Xypher. Well... The man is practically an eunuch." He stated, still shooting glances towards the counter. "Captain was right, someone familiar he would want to converse with might be our best bet. Say, do you think you've spent enough time with her? I think he'd believe that she wants to face her accuser." Luke suggested.

Essence finished off her drink, a curious smile leaving her lips as the memory faded. The bell rang in the door a few times here and there but she kept her eyes down most of the time, until she noted Luckas entering, passing her with a smile he headed straight for the bar. She nodded and winked, thinking to herself how that boy looked like he should eat something; that they both should most likely if they were to have their strength up for later.

As she waited, a moment later another patron entered the Inn. Ess didn’t pay much attention until she noted out of the corner of her eye how the woman walked about curiously, as if she were memorizing where things were. Ess quirked a brow, not quite understanding at first why the woman lacked direct focus on her surroundings and then it clicked. There was much overcompensation with the red-head’s sense of touch while she seemed to pause and listen to her surroundings. ‘Must be something off with her vision.’ She thought to herself, unsure exactly.

Ess retracted her gaze, reaching for her wrist she retrieved one of her small daggers, twirling it between her fingers. Slipping her hand along the smooth surface of the table, Ess dragged the tip of the blade deeply through the edge as she carved her name into the wood. She looked up as Luckas sat across from her, sliding her drink within her grasp.

“What’s that look for?” She inquired, watching Luckas closely, half hearing the red head and the woman behind the bar arguing softly in the background. ‘“Go to hell...”’...Was mostly what she got out of the conversation as she focused on Luckas.

“Ah...I managed to keep to myself...decided that I didn’t want you to miss out.” Ess shrugged casually, her tone was careless remaining upbeat. As Luckas spoke about Xypher she sighed, “Ok so you were productive, good to see. I impersonated Mageria while we sparred before you and I ran into each other in the practice grounds, so I know it’s feasible.” Ess paused, leaning in closer towards Luckas, she slid her arm across the table, hiding the blade beneath her sleeve. “I can mimic the Captain, but I would need some practice to impersonate her voice...then there’s the blue eyes I can’t do..” Raising her glass she sipped her drink, her cheeks giving a gentle red glow as the heat of the liquor spread across her face. Some people found drinking was over all bad for the blood, but in Ess’ case, while it thinned out her blood, it held back any potential bleeds since it promoted better circulation for her.

“Luckas...” Her eyes brightened with an idea. “You have many memories of the captain I’m sure...are you able to...pass those on to me? It would make the process quicker, to know more of her speech patterns and how she tal-” Ess was interrupted by a sudden commotion of metal against metal, snapping her attention away from Luckas towards the women at the bar. Apparently they were not on very good terms and seemed to be battling it out on the bar counter itself, amidst curses and threats. An amused grin took over her expression, her teeth peeking through as she watched the women argue; about what she wasn’t sure. Ess glanced over at Luke as she drank heavily from her glass, giving a curious almost questioning look. “Is that your fault or something?” She joked.

"Whatever do you mean?" Luke asked with a mischievous grin as Ess asked about the look in his eyes. With a small chuckle, he added: "One secret at a time. I'd hate to see you lose interest in me."

In the back he could hear the barmaid and Crys talking, but he really paid them no mind, keeping his focus on Ess as she mentioned the difficulties in passing off as Mageria. Luke listened intently, leaning back in his chair and absently thinking of the best ways to get around those details. When she suddenly asked if he could pass his memories onto her he sat up straight. he never tried that before, he wondered if he could though... His memory manipulation skills were similar to Lena's, so it was likely. He only had two full conversations with Mageria though, one of them happened three years ago when she thought he was a vision.

As he heard the sounds of metal clashing he jumped to his feet to get a better look at what was going on at the bar as he replied. "Oh, I wish." He snickered, when Ess asked if he had anything to do with that. However he continued on with their conversation as if there had been no interruption. "In theory, I could, but we've only actually had two full conversations in three years. Although, I'm not sure the one when she thought I was a ghost counts as a full conversation. If it helps... We can try..." He laughed out, as a high-pitched scream echoed through the room. "Assassins are so incredibly fun." He said absently as the barmaid stood with her hand impaled and pinned to the counter by a Sai dagger, its twin touching her face menacingly. Turning his attention back to Ess, rising his voice slightly as the woman screamed again, he continued. "We can try that, but we'd need a more private place..." He stopped talking as the screaming stopped. "... Because neither of us will be able to see a thing of our surroundings while we do it." The sounds of the bell above the door announced that Crys was leaving the Inn.

Luckas sat back down and finally reached for his glass, drinking from it and leaving it half-empty, or have-full maybe, depending on one's opinion. He glanced towards the door and an amused grin appeared in his face. "Do you know who that was, by any chance?" He asked Ess, with a snicker that said he had incredibly good gossip to share.
Ess smiled, thinking how ironic it was that he commented on her losing interest in him. “Hmm, good to know I still have yours.” She couldn’t remember how long it had been since she spent so much time with a man, noting that half the day was already gone and she still had her clothes on. It was quite a different experience, the nervousness creeping back inside her stomach, lingering with a dull pain. The change was exciting but it was something she was not very familiar with, and she knew that the fault could only be credited to herself.

“Well..” Her voice grew louder over the women’s curses and screams as she watched the one with the Sai dagger release lemon juice upon the other woman’s wound. “Us redheads can get away with just about anything.” She smiled up at Luckas as she answered his notion to go somewhere private. “I was wondering how long it was going to take you to suggest that.” Leaning back in her chair she downed the rest of her drink, relaxing.

“Seriously though...”She looked over Luckas with a perplexed gaze. “When was the last time you ate boy? Come on...I’ll heat you up something at my house and we can see if my idea works. There’s much to prepare for.”

She shook her head curiously. “Am I suppose to know who that was? I’ve never seen her before. Course I usually don’t talk to women..” Ess chuckled. “Too complicated, and always fighting over a man in one way or another.”

Luke raised an eyebrow when Ess asked when was the last time he ate. It was just so unexpectedly thoughtful. "I... Uh... Yesterday." He admitted, scratching the back of his head. "In my defense, you distracted me." He added, crossing his arms over his chest and tilting his head. "And... Boy?" He asked. "Haven't we had this conversation already?" He asked with a grin, emptying his glass and taking a few glances around before saying. "That blind redhead who left just now... Was the leader of the Wolfpack until three years ago. Word out there, officially, is that she was killed by the current Alpha. She hasn't been seen anywhere in three years." He shrugged. "Makes me wonder why she's here, now of all times."

Standing up, he added. "I wouldn't advise you to fight her over any man." He nodded towards the woman behind the counter. "Something tells me that was friendly conversation." He shrugged lightly. "Not that you would have to fight her over me... There's plenty to go around." He told her playfully, snickering softly as he stomach emitted a rather loud growl. "And thanks for reminding me I'm hungry." He laughed. "Can we go? I might bite you otherwise."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir

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The Black Guard was still in an uproar even a couple hours later. Matthew, the man normally in charge of the Guard in Mageria’s absence, was in the midst of assigning duties. There were people with families, they had to be taken care of first. Then there were those that had nowhere else to go, they had to decided what they were going to do as well. Everybody who didn’t have a home in the city had to find somewhere else to live, everyone who could take in someone else for a while had already volunteered. There were supplies that had to be ‘found’ and it all had to be done as quickly as possible. The Guard for the most part were made up of former thieves, mercenaries and other people from the shady side of the law. They had no problem with finding what they needed from somewhere that they shouldn’t. Their informal motto “It’s easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission.” In this case, they weren’t even going to be able to beg for forgiveness. But when the survival of so many of them was at stake, they would have to do what they had to.

Mageria was still firmly shut up in her room. She wasn’t hiding, she wasn’t the type. But when Matthew had gone to talk to her, she was distant and distracted, worried about something aside from everything else that was going on. She wouldn’t talk about it, but something big was going on.
-----

Mageria stood alone . . . well almost alone in her room. Her table had been cleared off and the map she had of the Blackpond Castle was spread out in front of her. Over in front of the fireplace, Tala was curled up, basking comfortably in the warmth. Mageria stood absolutely still, fighting down the volcanic emotions that raged inside her. Never had she thought that being exposed as a traitor and loosing everything that she had worked for in the past seven years would be pushed aside. But there was something more important now. The last time this dagger had shown up, it had caused mass chaos and destruction. That was at the hands of someone who knew what they were doing, knew what it was that they had. She wasn’t sure whether or not the idea of it in the hands of someone who might not know what they had was better or worse.

Still, she’d have to plan for the worse case scenario. That the person who had the dagger knew what it was and knew how to use it. She glanced over at the book at the end of the table, the one that the Wolf had left behind three years ago. She’d read it cover to cover several times and she’d be going over it again; hopefully it held something that would be useful.

Mageria reached out to trace a path on the map in front of her, startled to see that her hand was shaking. Frowning, she clenched it momentarily, shaking it in the effort to relax. Taking a deep breath, she pushed her emotions down further, fighting for a clear head. She had to focus right now. She could feel later.

-----

As Crystal walked out of the Inn she felt her right shoulder aching from impact; the outburst of anger had made her ignore the fact that forcefully trying to stab through a metal surface was extremely stupid. Rubbing the aching shoulder, she also realized she still had a bottle of rum in her hands… Well, that could actually be useful.

The streets were strangely calm and silent aside from the noises from Inns and other establishments. That was always a somewhat quiet part of town, as long as Crys could remember, but for some reason it seemed far more silent in this particular moment. Crys’ steps made her think of the last time she had sneaked in to the Newhaven Castle; when Ali was being held in the dungeons. That was the occasion in which she was given the path she was about to follow right now, it led her somewhat close the Black Knights’ quarters, and somewhat close was close enough to find a familiar person.

As she made her way through the same narrow passages she had walked last time, she held the rum bottle firmly in one hand, on the other a small token hidden within a clenched fist. In her mind, whispers of words spoken a very long time ago, by different voices…

"They are good people... The Knights...”

“…they're not very different from us."

“I have come here alone and without the consent of my superiors in hopes to find a way through our aggressions. To end this foolish war altogether if possible. A great place to start would be to have our people stop their feud. To bring peace between Newhaven and the Wolfpack if possible.”

“I know it’s completely inadequate. But I finally was able to get the whole story put together. And all I can say is . . . I’m sorry. I wish that my part in all of this had played out differently. I thought I was doing the right thing.”


She gripped the little token a little tighter as she walked, feeling something stir inside; not sure if the memories had caused the feelings or if it was just the opposite.

It had taken Crys a lot of will power to not draw her weapons at Sean inside that cabin the moment she realized what he had done. It seemed like somehow everyone who had ever cared to keep Valcrest in some sort of order or balance somehow got the worse of it. First the Pack, then the White Shadows, now the Black Knights… It had made her very angry, but she suddenly realized that she wasn’t just angry for herself anymore; her hands were shaky and there were tears rolling down her face, she wasn’t sure exactly if out of anger or grief as they were so mixed together it was hard to make it out… All of that came wrapped up in a sensation of worry and fear as if someone was holding something heavy over her head...

A rather loud ‘thud’ broke Crys out of her thoughts. The bottle she was holding had slipped out of her hands. The glass didn’t break, but the bottle had hit the ground and rolled away rather loudly, and now she realized that she was no longer in the service tunnels. She was so taken in by the sudden wave of emotions that she didn’t realize she was walking out in the open. Her body tensed only slightly as she heard the rolling bottle being stopped by what sounded like a boot. One hand still gripping the little token and the other discretely moving near the, still blood stained, Sai.

-----

Bran had been walking out of the common room with his assignment when he happened to notice a rather pretty young woman coming out of the service tunnels, a rum bottle held in one hand. She might have been taking a few drinks of it already, because she was staggering a bit and weaving, tears running down her face. She stumbled, the bottle falling from her hands and rolling towards him. He stopped it with one foot, reaching down and picking it up with a sigh. The news of what the Captain had done years ago . . . hadn’t exactly surprised him. She had always done what was necessary to protect those that she felt needed it and she very rarely regretted it. She drove herself to the brink of collapse in order to keep her men safe, they had all seen it before and sometimes they had to protect her from herself in order to keep her around.

The thought of the Captain being cast out the way she was . . . that left everybody wanting blood in return. She had forbidden it, pointing out that the Council was the ones who were throwing her out, the people of Newhaven were the ones that they were still sworn to protect. So they had been coming up with ideas about how to do so, ideas that the Captain might not agree with, but she wasn’t going to have much of a choice.

“Any other time, I’d welcome the arrival of a pretty lady with a bottle walking around here. But this is a bad time and we’re really not welcoming strangers right now.” He held out the bottle with one hand, other hand wrapped around the hilt of one of his knives. His voice and eyes hardened and his tone became crisp when he noticed just how well armed the young woman was. “In fact if you were to linger in the slightest, I’d think you were here to take care of a problem before it became widely known; so I’d really say that you should just turn around and go before anyone else notices your here. Which would be about a moment and a half from right now.” He took a step back, the grip on the bottle changing to that of a weapon as his suspicions mounted by the moment.
----------

The voice that came to Crystal's ears was that of a man. The moment he mentioned it was a bad time to be there, she understood he was with the Guard. As his tone changed she figured he had probably noticed the Sai and the Katana she was carrying, if he was good he would notice one or two of her hidden knives as well. "I understand this is a difficult time, that is why am here. However, my motives are far more friendly than you think." She stated, her tone and posture relaxing once the shock began to subside, the shaking no longer present. "I would appreciated it if you didn't break that bottle now... It's really good stuff." She said, opening her empty hand and slowly extending her arm so it was far from the dagger at her waist. "Now, friend, I will show you two things, and then I will say why I've come, if you still want me to leave then I will turn around... Should take about half a moment." She stated, simply.

That said, she raised her closed hand and opened it with the palm facing up; showing the small token she had been safely hiding inside. "That's one..." Next, she reached with for her collar with her free hand and pulled on a silver chain that was hanging around her neck. Two rings were hanging from that chain, one was Jake's, the other was her own. She sorted out which was which and pulled on her ring, extending it in such a way that the symbol of an Alpha engraved on its inside was visible even in the distance they were at. "That's two. Now, I've come to speak to your Captain, hoping I'm still correct in saying that she is your Captain." Crys stated, absently tucking the silver chain back into her shirt as if she was afraid to leave it exposed to too long. "As I said, if you won't let me... I'll turn around and you can just tell her I was here."

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

“Now, I've come to speak to your Captain, hoping I'm still correct in saying that she is your Captain."

Bran felt an immediate sense of outrage. The Captain . . . she was the Captain, always would be. He wasn’t one of them that the Captain had pulled out of horrible circumstances, but she had given him a purpose that he never known. He would keep following her, until something drastic . . . something more drastic would happen to change his mind about her.

Frankly, Bran was dubious about the ring, if the woman had shown it to him from the beginning, he would have tossed her out without a second thought. What on earth would the Alpha of the Wolfpack want with the Captain, certainly nothing good. But the other token. He’d only seen one once before, when he was sworn in. It was an agent’s token, one of only two currently out of Guard’s hands. And it certainly would have been like the Captain to have a contact with the Wolfpack . . . although come to think of it, she might be the one that had been thrown out when there was a power struggle. He wasn’t completely sure what had happened, but he was pretty sure that the current Alpha was a man. On the other hand, if this woman wanted to get back into the Pack, what better way than to take out the leader of the Black Knights? Normally such a token meant that the person was taken straight to the Captain without question, but in times such as these . . .

Whistling sharply, Bran summoned several of the other Guard. “Keep her here,” he told them, pointing at the woman. “Captain needs to hear about her.”

Walking down to the Captain’s door, he rapped on it sharply. Bran uncomfortably cleared his throat when the Captain opened the door, pushing it outwards until she could see him. It was clear that things were starting to wear on her, her eyes were shadowed heavily and her shoulders were a bit slumped.
“Captain . . . there’s a woman here who says she needs to see you.” He spoke softly, only a little above a whisper to keep it between the two of them. “She had a token but . . .” he trailed off uncomfortably as she raised one eyebrow, leaning around the door to take a look. A shadow of a smile crossed her face and she shook her head.
“At ease everybody. She’s welcome here.”
All around Crystal the Guard relaxed, going back to their duties and plans, while Mageria held the door open for Crys. Bran returned the bottle to her as she went by, shrugging slightly at the look the Captain gave him.

Mageria headed back towards the table in the center of the room, nearly tripping over Tala as she pushed by in an effort to see the new arrival. “Easy now. Just a friend.” Tala whined, but settled down looking alertly between the two of them. Mageria sighed.
“Sorry about that. Things are a bit unsettled right now. Although I guess you’ve figured out by now. Honestly, I’m not the best person for an empath to be around right now.”

-----------

Crys smiled gently at the Guard as she retrieved the bottle from him on her way past him. She could tell he was a good man, and a loyal one at that, as many of the others were as well. She didn't say anything to him, however, she simply smiled.

As she went in the room and closed the door behind her, she sensed the presence of a wolf in the room and her expression changed to a slightly childish one. "Aaaw, you have a wolf, now?" she asked, immediately going over to Tala and allowing the wolf to sniff her out all she liked, before finally scratching behind the animal's ears. "I love wolves..." She chuckled. As she addressed Mageria's comments though, her tone turned more serious. "I don't blame them for being cautious right now, you have very loyal people in your Guard, Mageria. They know how far you'd go for them, and they know how far they would follow you. I'm sure not many Captains in the history of Valcrest would be able to say that. And no, you're not the best person for an empath to be around right now, that's true." She agreed, pacing around until she found a chair and taking a seat. "If I lived by that logic however, I'd have to become a hermit and that just sounds awfully boring." Then she waved the bottle of rum. "I thought we could both use something better than tea this time: Courtesy of the Wolfpack." She stated with a light grin.

Crys went quiet for a little while after that, absently rubbing at her sore shoulder, before speaking again with the reason why she was there. "I had a bit of a run-in with Sean and he told me what he had done... Well, more like he bragged about it..." She sighed. "Anyway, I guess I needed to stop by and say that the offer I made three years ago still stands." She smiled. "Suppose it was a bit of walk just to say this, but you showed my clan respect and mercy when you had absolutely no obligation to do so, and you were also extremely kind to me in a moment when I had been literally knocked to the ground, and I never forget these things, because I don't see them too often. So if there's anything you need help with at any given time, anything at all, I put myself and my people at your disposal." She stated, absently playing with the chain around her neck.

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

Mageria cracked a small smile at the sight of the deadly assassin loving on the wolf, giving ear scritches and everything. Just that sight was enough to let her forget for half a moment what was going on, something that she was intensely grateful for.
“The wolf doesn’t belong to me actually. She’s just watching me for a friend of hers.” The logic of that might have been a bit backwards, but it fit somehow, especially the look Tala shot her when they both moved away to sit at the table. The wolf followed them both, settling under the table and planting her chin on Mageria’s boot.

“And I know my people are loyal. That’s the problem, honestly. They’d follow me so blindly that I could lead them into a fire and they’d be sure I had a plan to get them out safe and sound on the other side. So what now? In a situation like this, they need to be thinking of themselves and their families. And I’m afraid that they won’t” She sighed and grabbed a couple of glasses, setting them on the table and pouring a decent amount of the rum into each. “Thanks for this, by the way.”

“I appreciate the offer, I really do, Crystal. But what the hell can be done at this point?” She grimaced and knocked back half of what was in her glass, cradling the rest between her fingers. “I could have fought it, the proof that was there was barely enough to cause trouble, especially given the reputation of the Black Knights to begin with. But I made a lot of enemies over the years, people who liked the old way of things. And the truth of the matter is . . .” Her gaze grew distant for a moment, remembering the moment that she’d killed Captain Stephen Morgan. “I’d do it again and dance on the bastards grave.” She sipped her drink, thinking of her options. “I don’t regret anything about that day. But in one fell swoop, Sean managed to destroy any credibility I might have had here in Newhaven. Seven years of work, blood and sweat, up in flames. He had the luck of the Twins, that letter managed to find it’s way to one of the people who apparently has held a grudge against me for quite a while, and now he has all the ammunition that he needs. But the news is out and there’s no calling it back. By nightfall tonight, it will be all over Newhaven, and I’m afraid that a great many doors are going to be closed to me and mine from now on.” Mageria took another swig of her drink, feeling the burn as it went down. “I could wish that your mother hadn’t kept such complete records. But if all had gone as it should have, it would have been safe.” Reaching forward, she poured herself another drink. “So what the hell do I do now?” she whispered half to herself. She was starting to add depression to the brew of emotions fighting for control, although that might have been the amount of rum that she’d just drunk in only a few minutes. She had to admit that she was rapidly heading towards tipsy, a state that she allowed herself only rarely and around people she absolutely trusted.

Mageria had leaned back in her chair, moodily sipping her rum when a sudden though occurred to her. “Crystal . . . you were there for the start of the problems we had four years ago, right? The incident that set off the trouble between the Pack and Newhaven?” She glanced over at the book on the table, hoping that she was remembering things right. If she had someone else here that knew the dangers of what was going on right now in Blackpond; that would be invaluable. On the other hand, telling this young woman that the reason that they had this information was because Jake had gone and gotten himself captured might not go over so well. But that was a risk that she’d have to take.
“Because hard as it is to believe, this isn’t the worst thing I have to deal with right now.”

---------

Crys was quietly drinking while letting Mageria talk. The wolf's presence in the room gave her something less... Intense, she could focus on so she didn't have to worry about her gift at the moment and, admittedly, alcohol helped as well, but Crys was careful to drink it slowly. When Mageria asked what she would do now, Crys felt that she should speak her mind, even if the question wasn't necessarily meant to be answered. "I understand what you're going through. You feel responsible for those guys, you still care about them and the people you're sworn to protect, and you don't know how or if you'll be able to protect them now. A great part of you hopes that your men will avoid being associated with you in any way, because you don't want to drag them along when you have no idea what you're going to do next and you feel like you can't properly look out for them, and at the same time you want them to follow you anyway because if you're not the Captain then who are you?" She sighed, emptying and refilling her glass again. "If the Blacks are in fact as similar to the Pack as I was told... At some point in the future you'll look back and realize that no matter how different things are, they never truly changed." She said, holding the glass in her hands, but not drinking any more quite yet.

An eyebrow raised slightly and a frown formed on Crys' expression at the mention of the events that occurred four years ago. That followed by the warning that she was yet to hear the worse of it caused a chill to run down her spine. Her eyes sparkled a bright green color as she scanned the whole place for familiar people and, while she did find a few... Jake wasn't in the Castle. "Jake is in Blackpond isn't he?" She asked, sipping from the glass and going silent for a little while more before heaving a little sigh as she asked. "Did he find the damn object?"

--------

Mageria smiled. “The Blacks are just like the Pack? Who told you . . . never mind. Jake, wasn’t it?” She felt better, knowing that Crystal really did know what she had gone through; and wasn’t trying to give her useless advice. She took a deep breath.

“Yes, Jake is in Blackpond. He apparently had the brilliant idea to get captured to find out if there are any Newhaven soldiers still there . . . anyways, afterwards he managed to get a message out. Not much, just that he had seen the object that Lena had warned me about. That object, is the only thing that fits that description. Which means that somebody in Blackpond has it.” She rubbed her temple, considered another drink and decided against it.

“I already sent a message to the White Shadows, hopefully it will get there in time. I thought that they needed to know, being as close as they are to Blackpond to begin with. And all those people who might not be able to defend themselves . . . the thought is enough to give you nightmares.” Mageria slouched in her chair, considering everything. “I suppose we’re going to have to do something about that, no?”

She was quiet for a long moment, hesitating over what was on her mind.
“Crystal . . . . what were their names?” She rubbed her forehead before drumming her fingers on the table. “Did they find a home, with the Pack?” She’d never known; but the woman’s face had stuck in her mind for almost seven years now. She didn’t hate the woman for telling her secrets, but it would be nice to have a name to go with the face that had haunted her for so long.

-------

Crys laughed when Mageria asked who said the Pack and the Blacks were alike. "Jake... My mother... Lena... Jake again... And for what I've seen of your people out there it sounds about right too."

She took a small sip from her full glass and heaved a sigh. "That... Sounds like one of Jake's plans alright. " She mumbled. "He didn't mention where he saw it, who had it and if this person knew what it is? He's getting sloppy." She stated, shaking her head, although she was in no way as amused as she seemed. "Knowing Jake, he probably knows more than he was willing to send in a message, so I suppose we'd to have to get him out, or find a reliable telepath. It'd be nice to have more information." She said scratching the back of her head and leaning back in her seat. "I can't believe we're dealing with this again..." She whispered. That cursed weapon had killed her father, almost killed Ali, not to mention the whole mess it caused throughout the Land. Getting rid of it, or at least taking it from whoever had it now was very important. "Are there Newhaven soldiers still there?" She asked, wondering if that was something that needed attention as well. She wasn't fond of the idea of making a wrong move and getting people executed.

Crys took the silent moment to think of who she could trust with this level of information and how she could get it to them as soon as possible so they could help. If the object was in the castle of Blackpond... Getting it back would be a hell of a chore.

When Mageria spoke again Crys shook her head at the question. "Please, if it's not too much trouble, call me Crys." She asked before answering the question. "The woman's name is Amalia, her son Adam, and her little girl, who wouldn't have been born if not for you, is named Emily. They were very well accepted in the clan, yes." She paused for a moment then added. "You have to understand, Mageria, my mother demanded to know everything there was to know about people who arrived in our camp. A lot of people have told her things that they weren't supposed to know even less tell others, and she never intended for any of it to get out, ever. Amalia didn't know who you were, but she was sure the information she was giving was going to remain private and she wanted to make sure my mother knew of the person who saved her life... She was grateful, she needed someone to know" She sounded a little apologetic as she explained that, but she couldn't help it. "When Evin left the clan he set fire to the Leader's Cabin and all the clan records were destroyed, Sean must have gotten his hands on that file beforehand. If we had known... We could've found it and destroyed it." She said, drinking the rest of the drink in her hands and setting the glass aside. "I never really put it all together until Sean mentioned it to me... The son of a..." She stopped herself, unable to speak ill of Sean's mother. "That asshole." She muttered out instead.

-------

Mageria shrugged. “Jake wasn’t so much sloppy, as desperate. He apparently had to pass the message through a telepath he met down in the dungeons, so he had to be cryptic. Which also means that there is a damn good chance that the person passed on the message to somebody who works for Blackpond. And yes, some of the Newhaven soldiers are still alive as well. Which means that either way, I’m going to be going to get them back. We just have to trust that they’re all strong enough to survive what’s going to happen next.” She sighed, reaching down to rub Tala between the ears. The idea that this dagger . . . which had already caused so much chaos in Valcrest still being out where it could do more harm. That went against everything she believed in. “So any plan that you’ve got cooking already; I hope you’ll include me. Otherwise we’ll end up getting in each other’s way.”

“Well, if I’m going to be calling you Crys, you can call my Ria. Ev; Evin was the only one to ever call me that, and he was a friend from a much different time in my life. But if someone walks all the way to the city to bring you a bottle of rum, they must be a good friend.” She stared at the wall for a long moment. “I do understand about your mother; I really do. Something similar happens with my Guard, because of the backgrounds that some of them come from. We have to know if they have something that would come back to haunt us later. And I don’t blame Amalia, I really don’t. She did what she had to in order to survive. It’s just . . .” she shrugged. “Damn poor timing. And someday, I’d like to talk to her. Just one of those things.”

There was a sudden knock at the door. One of the Guard poked her head in, eyes a bit wild and face pale. “Um, Captain? There’s . . . there’s a problem. It appears that um, Grim Pondus is in the armory.” Mageria felt a deep flare of anger. “Grim Pondus is dead,” she said flatly. “He died in my arms three days ago.” The Guard looked even more upset. “Yes Sir, I know, but he’s still in the armory. Apparently, he came for his sword.” Mageria swore and pushed away from the table, glass still in hand. “I’m sorry Crys, this is something I have to take care of.” She stalked out into the hall and looked down the ways toward the armory, wanting to get this over and done with. Behind her, Tala jumped up and followed her out, head up as she tagged along at her heels.

“What the hell . . .” She felt a deep sense of shock as a ghost walked out into view. The Guard between him and her all drew their weapons, going into ready stances; which was a good idea given that she could see two people picking themselves up off the floor already. Presumably Grim(?) had been instant about entering the room.

Mageria slowly walked forward to stand in front of him, face pale. Slowly, she shook her head, tears suddenly welling up and falling unheeded down her face.
“You’re not Grim. Grim is dead, for three days now.” Her voice started rising, face going even paler and there was a ringing in her ears. “I held him as he died, I lit the fire at his funeral.” Beside her Tala started to growl, deep in her throat; head down and ears back. Dimly Mageria realize that she was going into shock, possibly on the way to fainting. She couldn’t do that, not here and not now; so she clenched her hands, fingernails digging into the flesh of her right hand. Taking a deep breath, she fought for strength, knuckles whiting as she tried to hold on. But she’d forgotten about the glass that she still held in her other hand. With a sharp crack it shattered, cutting deeply into her flesh. Mageria swore, dropping the shards to see scarlet blood running freely down her fingers to land in a brilliant puddle on the floor.

Blood. So much blood.

Two bodies lay crumbled not far from one another.

Her friend lay in a pool of his own blood, a gaping hole through his stomach and an eerily peaceful smile on his face; scarcely breathing.

Blood, everywhere. She was kneeling in Grim’s blood, her cloths soaked in it. It covered the ground, was splashed on the nearby plants, spattered on his face and bubbled at the corner of his lip. All of it from him.

“You came- back for me.. I-I somehow knew you would…I’m afraid it’s- … I got in over my head Th- this time...”


Mageria started panting, shaking from head to toe as she fought to stay upright; tried to resist the black tide that swept over her in an effort to drag her down. She was the Captain, she had to stay in control.

“.. I-I’ve seen.. The Black Sea… and I’ve- spo- spoken with the Moon. I must go now.. But- will wait for you..
M-mm… My dear sister… I love you too.”


Mageria shook her head. “Grim is dead. Grim is . . . dead.”

Before her upon a burial pyre, lay the rows of the dead; the Salamanders that Grim had worked so hard to build for years.

And Grim himself.

Stepping forward, she bent and held the torch to the oil soaked kindling stacked around the bier, watching as it caught with a crackle and leapt to fulfill it’s purpose.

So sing together one and all,
And raise a glass of wine,
Here's hoping we will meet again,
Along the road of time.

For from endings come beginnings,
From the old shall come the new,
With hopes for tomorrow,
We'll see our parting through.

Together they watched as the flames died, leaving naught but ash behind. The snow continued to fall, blanketing everything in a falsely comforting sense of serenity. Even though there was nothing left for her, Mageria couldn’t bring herself to leave; it felt that if she just waited long enough, the moment would shatter and she would wake up and find it had all been a bad dream. Just a moment more . . . If she just waited one more moment. . . . . From behind her a harsh wind blew up, whipping the mingled ash and snow up and away into the sky, leaving only the memories carried by the living to mark their passing. Mageria drew a breath and bowed to the inevitable. This moment wasn’t going to go away, no matter how hard she prayed. Grim was gone and there was nothing that she could do to bring him back. At least the cold that had seeped into her very core would make it easier to do her job; so long as she didn’t feel, she couldn’t hurt.


Mageria felt like she was coming apart, cracking right down the middle. She couldn’t breathe and the room whirled around her in dizzying circles. She forced herself to look up, focusing on the man standing in front of her. Tala still stood at her side, hackles raised as she reacted to the stress that she was going through. Mageria swallowed hard, still swaying like a tree in the wind. “Grim . . . is . . . dead.” She said it with all the belief that she could muster, turning away to walk back to her room. But suddenly the blackness that had been hovering at the edges of her sight crashed down on her, taking the world away and leaving her to fall limply to the ground.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Indrani Nayar Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher

0.00 INK

“Um, Captain? There’s . . . there’s a problem. It appears that um, Grim Pondus is in the armory.” Mageria felt a deep flare of anger. “Grim Pondus is dead,” she said flatly. “He died in my arms three days ago.”

Crys didn't exactly understand what was being said. Pondus was very much alive, she could sense his presence in the castle clearly, at the same time both Mageria and the guard she was speaking to were sure that it couldn't be so.

Mageria had left the room for a while when Crys decided to go check out what was happening, still a bit puzzled by the little she heard. However, before she took a step out of the room, before she even reached the doorway, she froze where she stood. Crys was feeling something stir dangerously in the back of her chest, something she hadn’t felt in so long; something she had never felt with such intensity before. The moment she recognized the blood chilling scream that echoed through the halls, she knew what was going to happen… She instinctively locked the door shut as the overwhelming rage shattered through her every defense, pierced through her very soul; and she screamed as well, at the top of her lungs, the little left of her mind cursing the Twins one by one, to the very last… “War.” She groaned under her breath, falling to her knees in uncontrollable shivers, her eyes burning the brightest green they ever had. If there was a hell, to Crys, this was it.

. . . .

Strong arms held her down, but the young girl fought, she screamed, and kicked, and clawed, but it was no use. He wouldn’t let her go; he wouldn’t let her fall, a constant whisper in her ears beginning to break through. “Calm yourself… Calm yourself… Calm yourself…”
Eventually she stopped fighting; there was no other choice either way. She was very quiet, very silent, for a while. “Was someone hurt this time?” She mumbled.
“Not this time.” He answered, the tight hold changing into a soft embrace. “Breathe it out.”
“D-dad… I can’t… Live… With this…” Crys managed, letting out shaky breath.
“Yes you can. Every gift given by the Twins takes a toll out of us, but not one of them is more than what we can handle… Not even this. You just need to remember not to be afraid, that no matter what happens you can never lose yourself… You will always be here, and you are stronger.”


. . . .

“I’m still here…. I’m still here…. I’m still here…” The shaky ramblings escaped Crys’ lips in whispers as she hopelessly tried to maintain some sort of notion of who she was, of her own self... It seemed that if she as much as attempted a deeper breath it would be more than she could take. She tried to find something else, someone else that she could focus on, but it was to no use; it didn’t matter who else was out there, the rage was enough to bury them all. Her mind slipping away to the darkest of her being, her own thoughts betraying her as she tried not to give in… The memories feeding the sickness… She just wasn’t strong enough.

. . . .

“Sebastian...”

It was Evin’s voice that brought to Crys’ attention what anyone with eyes would be able to tell immediately; the identity of the body lying on the floor of the Blackpond Inn. She never forgot that sound; the sound of her father’s name spoken as that of a dead man for the very first time; that, and the warmth… As she knelt down, the blood was so warm. When she touched her father’s face his skin was still so warm, his eyes were open… How long ago had he died? How many minutes too late was she? For how long had he bled on that dirty floor? Such a pitiful way to go… He deserved so much better than to end this way, killed by the hands of a coward.


. . . .

“I never knew the Shadow personally, like Evin, but if I could I would shake his hand for that.”

Crys found herself on her hands and knees now, her hands balled up in clenched fists, Sean’s voice was still ringing in her ears and she couldn’t, for the life of her, make it go away. She could hear nothing else now but his voice and her heart pounding against her chest, violently.

“One little cut… And back to hell.”

The shivers were now gone, Crys took one long and shaky breath as she planted her palms on the ground and pushed herself up. On her knees, still, she planted the sole of her right boot on the floor and pushed herself up once more, firmly planting her left foot as well. Standing very still for a moment, Crys clenched both her fists tightly; so tightly her nails broke through the soft skin of her palms and her knuckles were as white as they could, before she extended her fingers again, a strange grin plastered on her face, eyes closed although the green light of her, so called, gift was still visible underneath. Her mind now void of anything but those tormenting whispers of the past. Crys had finally stopped fighting, and allowed herself to sink into those feelings. It was something similar to drowning; that quiet moment when you realize you just can’t make it and stop fighting. You let the water take you where it wants… You surrender completely to it… and then slowly you fade into nothing. Crys was now in that moment.

Still facing the door, Crys turned around, facing the insides of the room, and slowly paced: One step, two steps, the voices still whispering, three steps, they just wouldn’t go away, another step… She stopped, abruptly, as something grazed her arm.

The poor chair never stood a chance, the moment Crys felt the touch on her forearm she turned and faced it. Gripping it tightly she lifted the piece of furniture over her head and then brought it down violently against the ground, using her boots to stomp it repeatedly, smirking slightly at the sounds and feels of the wood cracking beneath her feet; a sick twisted pleasure coming from the idea of it being Sean’s bones breaking under her force, begging for mercy only to be denied, tears in his eyes, face in the dirt, breathing in the scent of his own blood… Just like she had… Just like her…

. . . .

A hand slammed down against a wooden table and Sean’s voice sounded loudly in her ears. “How can she let him live?! After all he’s done!”
Crys sighed, not raising her eyes from her cup of tea, and not minding the fact that everyone in the cafeteria was now staring at the two. “I’m not the Alpha, Sean, yelling at me won’t make a difference, and I dare to go yell at my mother right now.” She took another sip. “She decided, the word of the Alpha is law.”
“She will listen to you, if you just…”
“I won’t say what you want me to say.” Crys replied in a firm tone. “I’m sorry, but I can’t.”
“The Shadow killed your father, correct? It’s all over camp that he did it. And you miss your father, don’t you?” He asked.
“Yes.” She muttered.
“You miss him so much it’s like you can’t breathe, right? Like someone has a tight grip on your chest and the air just won’t get through… And if you had this man in front of you, this man who took the breath right out of your lungs and left you suffocating, would you bear to hear him breathe? Wouldn’t you want to squeeze the air out of his lungs? Wouldn’t you want to have him beg for mercy just so you could deny him? Wouldn’t you?” He growled at her. “Well, you will have your chance, when will I have mine?”
It was a split second, maybe less, Crys pulled out her Sai and stabbed the wooden table, in between Sean’s fingers. She finally raised her eyes to face him, a bright green light emanating from her usually dead gaze. “We will kill the Shadow, because he is a menace. This is not, it is NOT, revenge.” She stated. “If I have to stay as far away from the man while the others do the killing; so be it. He took my air, but my soul remains intact.”


. . . .

Crys came back to her senses to the sound of shredding fabrics. Much like when she dropped the liquor bottle, she had stepped out of her mind and was now returning to find that her body had moved without her; Screaming and groaning, one of her blades now at hand, she was shredding through something that felt like a thick item of clothing, furiously as if it had committed the highest level of offense. From that she found pillows, sheets, curtains, and anything else she could easily sink the blade into, tearing it all to shreds. Unleashing a hell that had been kept inside for way too long, the outside feelings clung to her own and mixed into a sickening rage that clawed on her insides, screamed to be let out and the more she complied the more it roared.

. . . .

“Breathe, Crystal…

“Now listen to me: You can survive this, all you have to do is fight.”

“Don’t fight it. It’ll all be over soon.”

“I think you would have done us all a huge favor if you had just decided to stay dead.

“You… Psychotic… Bitch.”

. . . .

Crys groaned, in pain, as she felt her face against the floor. She didn’t recall drinking all that much, even if she had she wasn’t alone at the time, so… Why was she on the ground? Painfully trying to move, she pressed her palms against the floor to try and push her body up, but let out a whimper and a curse under her breath as her right shoulder gave out under her weight. It was aching before, but now it seemed like it was a little bit dislocated. How did she hurt herself this way? Heaving a sigh, she rolled to her left, over her good shoulder, so she could lie on her back and push herself up. She sat up at first, trying to remember what had happened, when she rested her hand on the floor and felt a broken piece of wood next to her, the memories came back slowly; starting with what she recognized as Grim Pondus’ voice screaming, and after that, only moments of things being attacked and destroyed by her hands, feet, blades, and whatever else she could use. “Shit, what have I done?” She muttered, jumping to her feet and immediately tripping over what was once a piece of a desk. Slowly and carefully, Crys paced around the room to find that she had destroyed Mageria’s room almost completely: Chairs had been shattered and tossed on the fireplace, sheets pillows drapes, had been slashed… Reaching for the right side of her belt she missed one of Sai. Carefully searching for the weapon she found it jammed into the headboard of the bed. After pulling it out with her left hand, being careful not to add any more strain on her wounded shoulder, Crys sat down on the shredded bed, only to have collapse under her weight. “Perfect… Just… Perfect!” She muttered out, bringing her knees closer to herself and hugging them as tightly as she could; the shoulder wasn’t the only part of her body aching, she felt like she had repeatedly slammed herself against a wall, which she probably did, and she had cuts on her hands and arms. As she pointed that out to herself, she vaguely remembered using what she could only imagine was Mageria’s helm to smash the windows, she had dropped the helm; hopefully it didn’t hit anyone below…

Reaching for her face she checked herself for nicks and scratches and as her fingers felt near her left eye she noticed that there was a shard of glass lodged in its socket. “Beautiful… I’ll need help with getting this out.” She groaned. “What else?” She mumbled, standing up and patting herself with her left hand to make sure she had all of her belongings with her, she froze suddenly when she discovered that her flute wasn’t where it should be. “No. No, no, no, no…” She ran her fingers through her hair, trying to remember pulling it out of its casing. “Twins help me, no!” She whined, remembering that she had taken it out in effort to control herself, but had failed to do so… The wooden flute she loved so dearly had been carelessly tossed aside into the lit fireplace.

Crys’ left eyes stung as she began to tear up over the loss of the instrument, it had seen her through so much, it was almost like losing a piece of herself. She didn’t actually cry over it, however, she took a deep breath and concentrated through the anger and shame she felt for losing control and pinpointed the people she knew in the Castle… Both Mageria and Grim were alive, the man was no longer under the effect of his enlightenment obviously. The White Knight Captain was in the Castle somewhere, he didn’t seem all too happy… She couldn’t blame him… Ella… Crys frowned… Where was Ella? “The hell…?” She shook her head, wondering if maybe her senses were off after everything she had gone through. As she did so, her eye stung a bit more. “Time to find a medic…” She mumbled to herself.

“Well, this will be fun…” She stated. Beginning to make her way to the door, she stepped on something, and it rolled from underneath her foot, causing her land painfully on her backside. “Son of a bitch!” She exclaimed, searching around the floor carefully to find that the rolling object was in fact the bottle of rum she had brought; intact and capped. Crys shook the bottle and chuckled realizing there was still a bit of alcohol inside. She thought even Evin would agree if there was ever a moment to drink this was it. Standing up again, she removed the cap from the bottle with her teeth and took a good drink of it as she found the door. “Hey, Ria, guess what? I redecorated your room while you were out fighting your presumed-to-be-dead berserker friend… Hope you don’t mind.” She muttered under her breath. “Yup, this will truly be a delightful conversation.”

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

[Assassins’ Camp]

“She only thought of you.”

That strange man’s whispers seemed to echo inside Sean’s mind and he couldn’t, for the life of him, get rid of the words… Less than a day… that… Kid, had been with them for less than a full day, where had that come from? What the hell did it mean? and people who had been there longer would have spoken by now… Hell, he would have spoken by now. So what if she did speak? She didn’t know anything important. It didn’t matter either way. Sean was sworn by the laws of the clan to at least search for his recruit, and that’s what he would do now, after he found her he would think of what, if any, measures he would have to take to protect the clan from whoever had taken her.

Sean snapped out of his thoughts as he realized there was movement around him, but didn’t move or react until he heard a voice; he had been expecting this visit for a while now, since he heard of the mysterious woman who had gone speak to the Queen.

“Imagine the Wolfpack losing another leader Sean? That would be the fourth in a very short period of time. Don’t do anything stupid and then we will leave peacefully soon enough. Now you’ve never met me, so I don’t expect you to know who I am. I’d like to keep it that way. The only thing you need to know is that the Shadow’s Conflict is here for payment.”

Sean had been staring idly at the icy water, and remained that way even as his 'visitor' spoke, not moving a muscle and not at all startled by the sudden presence. He knew that this individual wasn't alone, but he really didn't care about that. "Death is the worse you have to offer me as a threat, friend? I sincerely doubt the Pack will mourn me when they can easily run back to Crystal." At this point he raised his eyes to the man and added. "I am expecting a messenger to return and I will be leaving the moment he does, whether you're done talking or not, so if you are here to name your price, do it quickly. Until someone does kill me, I still have more important things to do."

Vorso smirked. Sean seemed so sure that he knew about everything that was happening. He thought that he could read the minds of the Shadows Conflict, like he knew what they wanted. "How what the Conflict's best interests are? Maybe it is in our best interests to have Crystal come back to the Wolfpack. Doesn't it seem coincidental that Crystal is still living, that we didn't go straight for the vital part of her body where you would still get a chance to talk to her, but she would still die moments after? Doesn't it also seem odd that the Crimson Shadows walked right into her body and saved her?"
He walked down the slightly sloped ground towards the lake and Sean at the bottom. "You know that there is a part of the abdomen just below the stomach that can leave a wound which is several times more survivable than just a few centimeters above or below it? Funny that she was stabbed there. She still could have bleed out, but what makes it even more funny is that, again, those Crimson fools were just an hour away from her body when everything went down. So you can try to stop me with silly threats about Crystal."
He picked a rock up off the ground and through it into the icy water breaking a small hole in it. "Now, how bout a leader for a leader? Ella Page."

Sean ignored most of what the man said... None of it mattered now either way. "I was simply stating facts and I know my anatomy, thank you very much." He stated coldly. "I hardly care enough to threaten you people." When the man spoke the name of his target Sean frowned slightly. "Little Ella?" He asked, not really noticing how he had just addressed the Queen of Newhaven. Truth of the matter was, the image Sean had of her was still of the silly little recruit who had followed him to Blackpond to seal the deal that started this whole mess. He never had a thing against her then, neither did he have something against her now. He proceeded to chuckle softly. "She's not enough of a leader to be traded for Crys, but if that's what you want... "I will stab her and leave her an hour away from someone who can help." He smiled. "It's only fair."

He then dipped his hand in the icy water, breaking through a thin layer of ice as he spoke. "I know one of your people was in Newhaven recently... Were you there to ask them for my head, or did you have something else in mind for them?" Sean asked. "I'm pretty sure you people don't really need my help to kill anyone. So there must be something in it for you to have one of my assassins take down a city ruler, yet again, because there’s certainly nothing in it for us. Say, mate... What other threats can you offer me aside from Death, should I refuse to do this?"

There was silence for a few moments while Vorso thought about where he could move the conversation from there. Typically he liked to lead conversations and was interested when Sean tried to gain the edge and dictate the direction for him. "I've heard of a man named Evin who has killed several of your Second in Commands... word gets around." He nudged Sean's shoulder and laughed. "Wouldn't it be fun if he could join forces with us to take down the Wolfpack? I don't know your position with Newhaven and their Black Knights right now, but we could also join forces with them if necessary. The Wolfpack could be buried in a moment. Who knows, Crystal might even want to join in on the fun! So you could accept the offer or the entire Wolfpack could be at risk. Men, women and Children."

"Life is a gamble, isn't it mate? Nothing lasts forever." He replied simply. "Let's look at those odds, then, just for the hell of it: Evin might actually be stupid, or spiteful, enough... I give you that. The Black Knights, as they are or what's left of them now, would not go for the women and children bit, maybe if Newhaven starts them again from scratch, but to rebuild what they are probably destroying as we speak will take at least a few years, and Crystal? Forget it. She would never hurt the precious clan. Not even now after all this time." Sean sighed, removing his hand from the ice and rubbing it against his face. "Assuming the White Knights would be stupid to put their armies into this, which I doubt, you'd have them. Fine, I give you that. You'd have Newhaven and Evin... Yes, that might be quite easy for you. Which still begs the question: If you can wipe my entire clan so easily, what do you need me for? Why is it that the Wolfpack killing Ella seems far more important than he death in itself?" He glanced towards the man and chuckled again. "See, what you're doing is asking me to choose between the possibility of Newhaven coming after us, with your people and Evin, and the certainty that they will come for us if word gets around that we assassinated their Queen. It seems to me I'm screwed either way, and if that's the case... Why do it your way? That's the answer I'm looking for here, understand?"

"You could do it your own way and we can kill the Queen ourselves yes, but we did have a deal Sean. We put our asses on the line to try to kill the leader of the Wolfpack and would have succeeded if we didn't think that you, being as arrogant as you are would have wanted her alive long enough to talk to-- Sorry for making the assumption. Sadly, you decided not to finish the job anyways." Vorso finally moved in front of Sean and wiped away a fake tear mockingly. He then sat in front of Sean with his legs crossed like a kid. "So there are assassins that I can assure you have a target on our backs because you couldn't finish the job. We only expect you to do just as much for us, Sean. A leader for a leader."

Sean stared at the assassin with an annoyed expression... It was hardly a fair trade the way he saw it, but he did give his word after all. "Fine... I'll take care of it." He stated. "A dead is a deal."
As he said that a Wolf entered the clearing, a young boy who still wasn't very sure of himself, his hands a little shaky as he wondered if he was interrupting something important. Sean didn't bother to wait for the boy to stammer out words, he didn't want the outsider to hear anything anyway. "Do you have what I need?"
"Yes, but..." The young man tried to reply, but went silent at one gesture of his leader.
"Wait for me there." Sean ordered him.

The boy left in hurry, not wanting to be in the presence of that strange visitor anymore, and not wanting to know what his business was with the Alpha. Sean stood up immediately and picked up a travel bag that had been absently lying in the dirt next to him. "Like i said, I have my own affairs to tend to. I only need to know how much time I have to get this done."

Vorso opened his mouth to answer the question, but from out of the forest, one of his assassins spoke over him. "What don't you want us to know Sean?" Bevel, the final assassin in Vorso's group walked up to the two having the conversation.
Vorso didn't even give Sean a chance to come back with a witty remark. Vorso's eyes blinked a shiny neon green. He uncrossed his legs and kicked Bevel's leg out a little further, only just barely making Bevel sway off balance. Before Bevel got a chance to get his footing again, Vorso kicked his leg again, forcing Bevel's legs to cross and begin to tip over. Vorso grabbed the falling legs and spun the poor Bevel, forcing him to hit the ground hard on the stomach. With Bevel's crossed legs still being held by the ankles, Vorso stood up and placed his foot gently on the boy's crotch.
"Now B, you know not to ask questions where they shouldn't be asked. Respect that the Alpha of the Wolfpack needs to keep secrets, even from us." He pressed a little harder on Bevel's crotch and then let him go. Bevel scrambled back to his position and kept quite.
"Sorry about that. Now I'll give you as much time as you need. I don't expect an assassination attempt should take any longer to plan than a week, but we won’t come after you if you need the time. When you are ready, please contact the king and he'll inform you. Bringing a weak assassin as a messenger would be a bad idea. There are people in that castle who would kill the assassin for no reason at all. Maybe bring a few assassins. I'll let you get to work now. Hope that recruit doesn't give you too much trouble."
It only took seconds for them to get out of Sean's sight completely and another minute or so to get out of the camp completely unseen. When they were a far enough distance away, they slowed down to a walk. Bevel walked beside Vorso who was leading the group. "Do you think he believed it?" Bevel asked.
"I don't see why he wouldn't." He flashed his eyes the neon green again and laughed. They continued on their way to Blackpond.

Sean waited for the assassins to leave before he threw the travel bag over his shoulders and moved through the path that led to the little stables the assassins kept. There were no horses usually kept there, they were for visitors to use, or once they used to be. This time, however, there should be a couple of horses there. Sean had to call in a favor he’d much rather not have to collect, but desperate times called for things like this. As he reached the stables however, he immediately realized what the poor messenger was trying to tell him. He hadn’t brought only the horses, but their owner as well. Sean sighed heavily, why didn’t he know this would happen? Looking up at the woman absently mounted on a horse of a light golden color, he shook his head in annoyance. “Are you crazy to come here, Princess?”
Indrani chuckled. “You said you needed my fastest horses, and it was life or death. Well, you can’t expect me to give up my babies to some random Puppy you send to my doorstep.” She shook her head mockingly. “No, no, no… Alpha; it just doesn’t work that way with me. Where the horses go, I go.”
Sean scratched the back of his head and sighed, examining Indrani with his eyes from head to toe. “For this, it might be good to have you anyway… Could have gotten yourself an extra horse if I asked for two.”
“Do you think they grow in trees, Sean?” She raised an eyebrow. “Even if they did they’re rather scarce in the desert, you know?”
“Where’s Mirage?” He asked, noticing that Indrani’s mare was not one of the horses she brought.
“Dastan borrowed her, he went to the plains.” She said, quickly cutting Sean off before he could speak. “If you really need my help: Don’t dare ask me any questions.”
“Fine.” He muttered, turning to the messenger. “Go get Donovan, tell him we’re ready to leave.”
“Doni, huh?” Which one of the handsome Fletcher boys is riding with me, then?” She asked, giving Sean a little wink.
“I’m riding with you.” He said, approaching the horse. “What are their names?”
“Well, this is Sandy, the brown one is Rocky.” She replied, nodding towards the dark brown horse beside hers.
“Sandy and… Rocky?” Sean asked, holding back laughter. “Really?”
“Shut up, Dastan named them. He was trying to be funny.” She answered, rolling her eyes in annoyance. “What are we doing, exactly?”
“We’re on a search and rescue mission, Princess: Ari.” He stated, as Donovan arrived, looking from Indrani to Sean in confusion. Sean simply nodded as if to tell him not to ask. “Take the brown horse.” He ordered simply.
Donovan nodded in agreement and mounted, still looking confused, as Indrani shook her head at Sean, not understanding what he had just told her. “What… What are you talking about? Ari? Why?” She mumbled, honestly shocked.

Sean mounted the golden horse behind her and whispered to her. “You gave her the safe word, are you saying you didn’t send her here?”
“No! I gave her the safe word in case she got in trouble… Are you actually telling me that you took her in as a recruit?” She asked, making the horse move slowly through one of the paths that went around the encampment and not through it.
“Yes.” He said, with a light shrug. “The kid is talented, she just doesn’t seem to know the meaning of ‘team work’ quite yet. Ran ahead of her group, got caught by some people who probably have a grudge against us… So, we’re going to Newhaven to find her.” He explained.
“I know she’s talented, I wanted her to stay with us, but she couldn’t trust Dastan.” Indrani said, shrugging lightly. “I hope you are treating her fair, I would hate to have to kick your ass on her behalf.”
Sean chuckled. “I’ll treat her fair when she becomes good enough to kick my ass herself. That’s how it works around here.” He told her. “Should I remind you?”
“You’re the Alpha.” Indrani replied simply.
“Yes I am, Commander, and don’t you dare forget it.”

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Crimson Shadows' Encampment]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amanda J. Blake


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Luckas

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Luckas laughed softly at Mageria, glancing at Tala as the wolf continued to growl at him. “You and your ghosts, eh Captain?” He asked amused. “That’s what you do for a friend?” He repeated, honestly trying to make sense of that logic. “I’m comforted by the fact we’re not friends then.” He stated, leaning back on his chair a little and raising an eyebrow when she asked about Ess. “Who? Oh, that lady? I got bored with her… Buried her in the woods somewhere…” He said with a light shrug. At his words Tala growled even louder and bared her teeth, the hairs along her back standing upright. Luckas was absolutely sure that the wolf would aim for his throat at the least provocation, and he wasn’t exactly known for being stupid, impulsive maybe, but not stupid. Even so, his eyes caught one of the medics shooting nervous glances towards Mageria, the woman’s eyes locked on him and she mouthed something which he couldn’t make out, but it was enough to grasp some notion of what she wanted.

Acting all too playful Luckas made a foolishly abrupt move towards Tala and growled back at her… That did it: The wolf immediately jumped on him and, hadn’t he been expecting it, she would have caught his neck and not his forearm. Luckas only let out a low groan of pain at the bite; it hurt like hell, but he wasn’t much of a ‘squealer’ as he would put it. He calmy lay on the ground with Tala over him, still gripping his arm tightly. He did appreciate the fact that she could have easily pulled a chunk of his flesh of his bones, but hadn’t; she was simply slowly sinking his teeth onto him, growling still. He looked the wolf in the eyes and snickered. “You have poor since of humor, you know.”

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

Crys was losing sense of direction, more and more, as this strange woman followed her around, rambling without any rest. So much that at this point she had absolutely no clue where she was anymore. She could hear her new acquaintance stumble after her at every step occasionally colliding with a wall or pillar, seemingly unaware of the world as she went on about how she disliked the color pink, because well… It’s just so damn pink. Crys didn’t know whether to be amused or concerned for this girl, but she wasn’t bothered by her despite her incessant talking being way too distracting. Between that and willing herself to not poke her wounded eye, there wasn’t much attention left in Crys to figure out where she was going.

Heaving a small sigh of relief when her stalker stopped to catch a breath, Crys tried to make sense of the situation, finally she discovered that she indeed didn’t have the slightest clue of where she was, and so she leaned against a wall, feeling that she might just pass out any minute, not the best thing when you’re not sure of where you are. Slowly taking in a breath she tried to sense other people’s presence, faintly she noticed some frightened people nearby, but found that in her weakened state it was hard to tell people apart. “Hum…” She started walking in that direction thinking that at least it was a direction.

“Do you like pink?”

Her stalker had managed to catch her breath and Crys chuckled at the question as she tried to think about it; she had no clue what pink was, even less if she liked it. “I don’t know.” She stated absently. “What does it look like?”

The setting changes from newhaven to Valcrest

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Grim Pondus 'War' Character Portrait: Morrigan Ruk Kren 'The Grinning Ghost'

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#, as written by Seerow
[Newhaven]

“Lady Rivers?”
Through the commotion Grim espied the most unlikely duo meandering the walkways of Newhaven Castle. A bloodied Crys had been gently taking to the walls, her hand outstretched to guide and balance her. She looked like she had arrived from a tavern debacle and appeared to have had quite the adventure somewhere.
Grim threw his arm up over his shoulder, the parade of aggressors hushed their rumblings at once. Still holding plenty of misgivings toward the walking contradiction. In all fairness the Blade had become weary of them as well, but his patience had proven to hold out. With any luck he could get rid of the protestors soon, they were starting to give him a headache.

Morrigan emerged from behind her blind compatriot waving her arms frantically as she did. Stumbling over her own feet as she attempted to approach her ally. Eventually crashing roughly on the floor and suffering another fit of laughter. Her giggles muffled into the stone as she slowly pulled herself from the ground.
“Why allo’ Grimsies!”
Morrigan would have swaggered right into his arms if she hadn’t slunk down and embraced his leg. Holding at his thigh like a little child, nestling comfortably. Grim looked down perplexed but reassured she was safe. Though to be honest the individual that needed help was the ex Alpha.

“Hello Morrigan, I see you’re up and running, how are you feeling?”

She clawed herself to her feet, looking up at the behemoth with her strange hazy stare. Her fingers prodding against his shoulders tapping almost rhythmically while she waited. It wasn’t long before a stream of madness spilled from her lips.
“Where, where were you!? Heavens I was looking all across Valcrest for you, big stupid jerk. You promised me dinner and a ride on the pony!”

Grim blinked a few times, slowly translating the barrage his ears just intercepted. With a sigh he pulled Morrigan from where she stood and lopped her over his right shoulder. She didn’t protest but instead looked back at the crowd that had been tailing the knight from the outset.

“None of you better be wearing pink!”

“… They gave you the good stuff didn’t they?”

Calmly he took in Crys’ presence once more. Drawing deeply, collecting his thoughts on her situation. She wasn’t looking very good, it was best he see her too the midwives’ careful hands. Besides, he was just about to return to the infirmary anyway, he had some words to exchange with Mageria.

He didn’t bother with anymore words, taking Crys’ cuff carefully. Masking the curiosity that he had about her condition. Though privately he had a few guesses, it was best he didn’t give it any words.

“Lady Rivers, if you’ll come with me I think I can get you nice visit with our healing staff. They’re not the White Rose, but they know a thing or two.”

The setting changes from valcrest to Newhaven

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Jake Turner

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Crys woke up feeling heavy. She had a warm blanket over her, and she immediately noticed a patch over her wounded eye. She started moving her toes, opening and closing her hands, taking deep breaths, before finally stretching and letting the pain in her muscles come back to her slowly as she regained movement. First thing she tried to do was get rid of the eye patch, and that's when someone grabbed her wrist, and the familiar voice that spoke caused Crys to jump to a sitting position, rather painfully.

"Leave it on." Lena stated. "If your eye gets infected you might have to wear one forever."
"What are you doing here?" Crys asked, twisting her arm out of Lena's grip and lying back down in pain. "When did you come back anyway?" She muttered.
"Well, it's nice to see you too, kid. I'm fine, thanks for asking." Lena replied, an amused tone in her voice. "You have no idea how much you sound like your mother right now."
"You didn't answer me." Crys stated simply, frowning even more deeply to hear Lena mention her mother.
"No, I didn't. Did I?" She chuckled. "I have been back a day or so. I thought Ali would tell you I stopped by the camp."
"No, she didn't tell me anything." Crys replied, heaving a long sigh and reaching for her eye again, fiddling with the patch until it was placed in a way it didn't bother her as much, and turning her face away from Lena. "Is that all?"
"No. It's not all, Crystal. I gave you time and space, more than enough of it. It's been three years, and now that time is up. So say whatever it is you are holding back, because I won't leave until I hear it." Lena stated, calmly.
"This is just the worse possible time." Crys muttered out.
"I don't think it is. I think it's just the right time." Lena replied.

There was a very long silence between the two of them before finaly Crys took one deep breath and spoke. "You shouldn't have kept this from me! She shouldn't have kept this from me! If anything you should have at least told Jake the truth."
"Told Jake the truth? What was I supposed to tell him exactly? That someone he trusted and loved used him like that? Should I have told him how she lied to his face? Should I have tried to make it less terrible by mentioning how awful she felt for doing it? If I had added that weight to his shoulders right then, he would have cracked. And you! Was the truth really what you needed to hear, Crystal? Do you honestly think it would have made it any less painful?" Lena retorted calmly. "So your mother wanted to protect you. How dare she? That bitch!"
"Don't you call her that!" Crys shouted, sitting up again, and holding back a whimper at the pain that caused. "Don't you dare!"

Lena chuckled. "Take it easy now, girl. You'll hurt yourself."
"She never did that before, protect me. I mean, not like that. She always told me I needed to learn to fight through the pain, through anything no matter how painful... She never kept things from me that way. She knew I could take it." Crys' tone was more calm as she spoke now, tears running down her face. "Why couldn't I tell? She was acting different and I thought... I don't know what I thought... Idiot! I'm such an idiot!"
"You're not an idiot, Crys. You didn't see it because you didn't want to see, no one wants to see these things. And Dani... She didn't want anyone to know, not even your father. You know how badly that would have hurt him if he knew. She just couldn't." Lena heaved a long sigh, leaning back in the chair she was sitting on, by the bed. "After he died, she was crushed. Not only because he was gone, but because she would be gone as well, and she worried for you."
Crys shook her head. "That's why she insisted so much that Evin looked out for me. I get that." She mumbled. "I just... Wish she hadn't left things this way."

Lena was silent for a few moments before she spoke again. "So you know where the name White Rose came from?" she asked. "Your dad ever tell you that story?"
"No, he hasn't. I thought it was your alias in the Pack." Crys replied, a curious tone in her voice.
"No, no... It was..." She chuckled. "Actually, I don't even remember what my real alias was, after your father gave me the nickname it stuck."
"My father? Why would he do that?" She asked.
"Well... My last assignment before becoming instructor was to kill this girl. The motive, as far I was told, was an inheritance she was in control of and that would go to some cousin with a gambling problem after she died; her two brothers being too young to control the family fortune. It was a relatively easy kill; I knocked on the door with a basket of flowers, the two brothers were sparring in the front yard when I walked past. The girl opened the door, and I smiled offering her the flowers to buy, knowing she would say no. After she refused I asked if she could spare me something to drink, and she let me in. Once past the door, the moment she turned her back to me, I pulled my knife and put my arm around her neck, pressing it against her throat. She didn't scream, even though she had time, the two boys would be the only ones to hear it. Instead she whispered something to me right before I slashed her throat."
"What did she say?" Crys asked.
"She said: 'I'll ask the Twins to forgive you'." Lena replied, a slightly bitter laughter escaping her as she spoke the words. "It was the first time I ever heard anything like it and, for the first time, I felt remorse. So I left a white rose over her body, and I closed her eyes. I didn't know any prayers to say, but I mumbled a few words even so before leaving. I never forgot the sight though, of that blood stained white rose... I don't know how he knew, but he knew that."
"You're saying that you assassinated my dad's sister? And he knew?" Crys couldn't help a small laugh at that. "How did...?" She broke out in full laughter. "I'm sorry, but that's hysterical... So his revenge on you was a nickname?"
"His revenge on me was a permanent reminder of his sister's death, yes. The name caught on in a such a way that everyone in Valcrest knows it, even if they haven't met me in person. My own clan calls me by it, clueless to the fact that it refers to a painful regret. I'll never get rid of it." She laughed. "Yes, it's hysterical, but it is brilliant, isn't it? Bastian was truly a brilliant man. The moment he arrived, he knew who I was, but he didn't say anything. And then one day, he offered me a white rose, made sure Eldric saw it too, and went on about how he knew it was my favorite flower. That's when I realized who he really was. After that, he started calling me White Rose in front of others until the name spread. "He knew I couldn't say a word about it, because if I let people know who he really was, Dani would never forgive me for it, and he knew I wouldn't have that." She shook her head, seeming amused. "See, when there is someone you would do anything for, it's easy for people to use that."

"Yet you say it was brilliant." Crys said. "And the two of you were friends."
"True, it was brilliant. Your father could have clung to the idea of killing me, but he decided to find a way to punish me, and no one else. I couldn't help but respect him for that. In the end we turned all of our reasons to hate each other into sick private jokes and built a friendship around them."

"Huh... Wonder if Sean will accept 'Backstabbing Son of a Bitch' has a cute pet name..." Crys chuckled.
"That's different." Lena stated. "You should keep in mind though, what your father did, when time comes to settle that score."
"I'm trying to think like that, but it's not that easy for me. I saw him yesterday, and... If Ali hadn't been with me, I don't know what I would have done. I think... If it wasn't for these people that followed me out of the clan... If I didn't have to take care of them too... I would have done something incredibly stupid by now. Something that could have gotten a lot of people hurt. I'm trying to spare the clan, I still feel it's not their fault, but if I was completely true to how I feel..." She heaved a long sigh and left the sentence unfinished, vaguely remembering how her rage fit the previous day had been directed at the man. "You stil didn't tell me what you're doing here."
"I was looking for Mageria, I was told she would be here, but I think I missed her." Lena explained.
"Well, she's not in the castle, still somewhere in the city though." Crys informed absently.
"Alright, then maybe I should walk around and see if I can fin-"

Lena's voice was cut off by the loud screech of a bird coming from the window. The sound repeating over and over as the bird, Lena assumed, flew around outside. Crys' response to it, was to jump to her feet, grimacing from pain, and beginning to retrieve her weapons and her bag that had been left nearby. After a moment more the bird seemed to have gone away, but Crys was still alarmed from some reason.

"What was that about?" Lena asked, looking at her curiously.
"It's a signal. It means I have to go back right away." She stated. "Something happened."
"Something happened?" Lena asked, but Crys was halfway out the door.

Crys didn't stay long enough to explain anything more, if Ali had sent the bird after her then something had happened in camp, and she needed to get there before nightfall. Findind her way out of the castle was a lot easier now that she was rested, it didn't take long at all for her to be out the gates and into the city.

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

[Blackpond]

Jake was woken up in the morning by something soft being dragged over his face. He frowned and opened his eyes to the see the stuffed 'dragon' he slept with the night before being held in front of his eyes.

"Wakey, wakey, Killer." A silly voice Jake recognized as being Irvin's spoke as if being the dragon. The kid moved the dragon's paw to poke Jake in the nose with it. "Come on, you bum, move! I'm hungry, time for breakfast!" 'Drake' repeated the gesture of poking Jake's nose until finally he groaned and grabbed the toy out of Irvin's hands.

"Knock it off." He muttered, sitting up on the bed and rubbing his eyes until the blurriness was all gone from his sight, dropping Drake gently over his pillow.
"What is the deal with this stupid dog anyway?" Irvin asked. "Why is it so important?"
"He's a dragon!" Jake muttered. "And my sister made him for me a very long time ago, when my mother died. I'm sure you remember the story of what happened to her, so I don't have to remind you."
"Sorry, Killer, but your dragon looks awfully like a black dog with horns..." Irvin insisted. "I mean, I always thought it was a dog..."
"Didn't you say you were in a hurry?" Jake asked, standing up from the bed and beginning to head for the exit of the dormitory.
"Oh, gee, so sensitive." Irvin laughed, running to catch up with him. "Wait, you don't even know which way to go!"

After breakfast Jake took notice of excited and cheerful talking all over the 'city'. Irvin and Oliver exchanged looks and the boy grinned. "I'm going to take a closer look!" He exclaimed, rather excited himself as he ran off and Jake completely lost sight of him within minutes, which left him alone with Oliver, who had not yet spoken a word to him so far.

Jake smiled, looking up at the older man; he had actually been eager to speak to the man alone, if not for any other reason, out of curiosity. "So, what is this commotion about?" He asked curiously.
Oliver absently scratched the back of his head, fingers running through greying hair as he mumbled. "She's probably here. The boy explained to you why we're gathered down here, no?"
"Oh, yes..." Jake heaved an annoyed sigh. Irvin had indeed explained that he should be careful with demonstrating his true feelings towards Lamya as she was, without exaggeration, worshiped by the majority on the inhabitants of that odd community he had been dropped into. The official story was that they were all there awaiting the right moment to fight and return Blackpond to its former glory and most of the people there believed in that cause above all else. Even the ones who didn't would do anything for the simple priviledge of living down in the underground fortress... Protected from the sad reality of the city itself. Jake didn't believe it, he had conditioned himseld upon their very first meeting to doubt everything and anything that came from Lamya. He turned to Oliver after of moment of watching excited faces running over to maybe catch a glimpse of their 'savior'. "And what about you? What do you believe?"
"I believe in survival." The man replied. "Odds are just better down here." He gave Jake a curious glance from the corner of his eyes. "The boy, however, there is only one thing that matters to him. It's all he ever talks about since I met him. He seems to think you will be the way to get it." The man spoke as if he saw Jake as someone enabling an unrealistic plan of world domination. "You of all people."

"Me, of all people." Jake repeated absently, laughing a bit to himself at the thought. "How long have you known Irvin?"
"A year and a half, or so. The boy is trouble, lies, cheats, steals... You've seen. Like I said, all the while everything he talked about was getting even with 'guy with the knife', he seems to have liked you though. Maybe he thinks that in some level you're the only one who understands, I don't know what it is exactly."
Jake sighed. "I was just a troubled kid myself. No more no less. If I can pull him away from that idea of his, then I will."
Oliver shook his head. "You were troubled? Kid, you went to sleep holding a stuffed animal, and I'm pretty sure I heard some humming from you. You're as messed up as they come."
"It has sentimental value." Jake argued. "And no you didn't."
Oliver laughed out. "Sure I didn't kid. Sure I didn't." He eyed Jake carefully for a second. "You think you can help the boy?"
"If I can't... I surely know some people who can. They helped me after all." Jake replied, with a small sigh. "And the name is Jake, not 'kid'.
"Well... Jake... I hope you know at least how to reach the dormitory on your own, because I have some business of my own to take care of, and I rather do that alone." With that said, Oliver left Jake where he stood, and he stayed there for a bit of time watching the expression on people's faces, they were absolutely happy with living in the safety of their prison.

Irvin made his way back to the dormitory after managing to sneak a peek at the woman who was, officially speaking, their leader. He and Jake had a very long talk the night before about loyalties, about truths and lies, and how, to his eyes, the woman was poisonous. The boy wasn't sure how much he agreed, but he did find the conversation interesting and he listened carefully to the man's opinions. He did have a lot to learn, and it seemed to him that Jake was willing to share something with him.

As he reached the room, his eyes widened and a grin spread across his pale features as he saw the figure of a woman, seemingly asleep, on his bed. She wouldn't be there unless she was new, or a visitor. Irvin didn't think twice to snoop around and find out which. Carefully, without a sound, he crouched next to the bed and looked the woman over, searching for a pocket, or a valuable, he could reach easily without alarming her. Finally he found a pocket he could reach and started to slowly slip his hand into it.

That's when an annoyed voice called from the doorway, in a whisper: "Irvin!"

The boy startled, and as he did so, it awoke the woman, who responded by punching him on the side of his face. Losing his balance he fell back on the floor and looked up as Jake stood over him.

"What did I tell you, kid?" Jake asked, in an agered tone.
"Stealing is bad?" Irvin asked, trying to fake an innocent tone. "I'm sorry, but she's in my bed!"
"I don't care!" Jake retorted, offering a hand to help him up. "Apologize."
"What? No." Irvin argued, taking the offered hand. "I didn't even take anything, and she punched me!"
"And you deserved it. Now, apologize to the lady." Jake insisted.
Irvin sighed, looking down at his feet as she turned to the woman and muttered. "My apologies, miss." After which the boy attempted to leave the dorm, but Jake gripped him by the arm and whispered. "Find the man in black armor, and keep track of his movements for me." He released Irvin and the boy gave an intrigued look, before grinning and leaving the room in a hurry.

Jake shook his head as the teenager left, a small chuckle escaping him. "Excuse the kid, miss, he has a few bad habits, but he's not bad himself." That said he sat on the edge of his own bed across the room. "My name is Jake, by the way. Jake Turner. Who might you be?"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Ess

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#, as written by Essence
Ess chuckled at the Captain’s words to discourage anyone looking into Ess’ future whereabouts, following her towards the stables. As the Captain went on to explain the basic plan and where’ they would be going, Ess listened but walked away from Mageria to assist a women lifting several crates of supplies into a wagon. “Sounds doable Captain, I just need to load up my horse and I’ll be ready. Meet you outside the city?” Ess smiled as she walked back over to the Captain. With a nod she whistled for Tala to follow, who trotted happily after her as they made their way back out the Castle walls; giving a playful wave at the children who were staring at Tala curiously.

Ess had the stables in her sights when Tala sprinted forward excitedly, sneaking through a random man’s legs knocking him to the ground comically. She couldn’t hold back a giggle as she walked by with an innocent expression as if nothing had happen. Tala was leaping around a redheaded woman, her back to Ess where she paused listening curiously to the owner argue a bit with the customer.

“Guess my wolf knows everyone in town now, eh?” Ess whispered, stepping forward to run her fingers along her horse’s back soothingly. Shockwave appeared to be the topic of conversation, standing between the redhead and the owner. Quirking a brow Ess thought she recognized the woman.

Crystal left the castle knowing that she needed a horse if she wanted to make it before nightfall to the desert. The bird had only circled the castle a few times, that means there was no immediate danger, but she still didn't like it in one bit. Anyone who passed the blind woman on the street would hear her mumble to herself as if thinking aloud. "Horses... Horses... Horses..." She was sensing her way to a familiar stable. Once inside she took her time to check the horses until she stopped by one that caught her attention. It was a wild spirit that one, truly beautiful. As she approached it, it snorted loudly in protest. "Hush now, easy." She whispered, placing one hand on its muzzle, and smiled widely. Crys was always fond of animals that had a strong personality, like many other things in life, she judged that trust and loyalty were worth more when earned, even if from a horse.

"This one's taken Miss... Crystal?" A voice called behind her in a bit of surprise.
Crys turned to smile at woman who owned the place. "Hey Rachel. Long time no see, right?"
"Long time? I thought you were dead! What are you doing around these parts?" The woman asked cheerfully.
"I'm looking for a ride. And you tell me this one is taken?" She said, patting the horse on the neck cheerfully. "That's disappointing Wouldn't you make an exception for me? I'll pay you double for him."
"I'm sorry, I just sold him to this Lady. You know I don't cheat my custom-"
Crys' frowned slightly as the woman's voice silenced mid sentence, and soon she realized why as a very familiar furry creature approached, jumping about her in greeting. Crys chuckled amused, getting on one knee and scratching the wolf playfully behind the ears. "Hello my friend. I see you are done watching over the Captain, huh?" She stopped as if trying to hear something. There was a man there as well, and a woman. Crys thought she had met the woman somewhere, but couldn't quite place her. She took a few seconds, absently petting the wolf. "You make me miss home, you know that?" She whispered, smiling brightly, before looking up at Rachel. "So, you will not let me have this horse, huh? That's a shame, he's truly beautiful." She told the woman, getting back on both feet. "Same old story everywhere, all the good ones are taken... If I can't have the one I want, then I trust that you will get me the one you think is best." She stated. "Can you have it ready for me in a few minutes?"

The woman simply responded with a cheerful "Absolutely." before wandering away. Crys stood before the horse and smiled. "I hope you have worthy owner then." She said, rather amused at the whole situation. She didn't recall ever saying the word 'I'll pay you double' before in her life. Nor had she ever considered the possibility of taking something that had already been taken by another. This horse, however, seemed truly worth the coin and trouble.



Essence smiled between Tala and the woman, overhearing how she wanted to purchase Shockwave for her very own but Ess had beaten her to the punch. “Guess you and I have similar tastes, Miss...” Moving closer towards the woman her smile faded as it slowly dawned on her who the woman was, except she appeared in a rougher condition than she was the day before. A blind woman with an eye patch seemed to tickle Ess as funny, although she kept her composure.“....Rivers....right? Yesterday, with the Sai?” Ess nodded before she got a response, pausing in her step to give an appropriate distance between herself and the woman. Jokingly she added, “And no...you can’t have Tala either..”

Snapping her fingers, Tala barked up at Crystal before moving to sit beside Ess. The wolf seemed to enjoy the extra attention she was receiving as of late, almost reluctant to move away from her new friend, yet nuzzled Ess’ hand repeatedly for her affection. “Sometimes, I think she’d run off with just about anyone that gave her a bit of attention..” She snickered. “I’m sorry, how rude of me...You’ve already met Tala....this here...” Ess reached passed the gate sifting her fingers through her horse’s mane. “..Is Shockwave....and I am Essence Talon.” The stallion whinnied, stamping a hoof along the dirt as if in approval causing Ess to giggle. “Well I’m not sure but I think he approves of his name...but I have yet to see if he lives up to that title.”

Crys chuckled slightly as a woman spoke and she recalled where she had sensed her before; she was the one Luckas was with back at the Inn. "It seems we've crossed paths before then, small world. I only ask you don't judge me by my actions at the bar, I was trying to get some information on a friend's whereabouts, and the innkeeper was being less than helpful. Suppose I get a bit nervous when people do, or refuse to do, things simply out of spite. It tends to make me rather spiteful myself." She stated, a pleasant and amused smile crossing her features. "I do remember you, I believe I spoke with your friend briefly, odd little man." She said absently.

"Oh, I wouldn't consider it." She replied, at Ess' statement that she couldn't have Tala. "If anything, I think Mageria would've beaten me to it if that was an option." She snickered. "Intrigues me though, to meet a wolf outside of the forest, how long has she been with you?" She inquired, a bit curious, as Tala moved back to the woman's side. It seemed to be a strong bond they shared, and it was truly an interesting thing.

The high pitched screech of a bird sounded at this moment and Crys slightly winced at the sound. Perhaps she should have just chosen a horse instead of asking the woman to pick for her. It seems she was a bit concerned with making up for not being able to sell Crys the horse she wanted. Even with those thoughts going through her mind, Crys didn't lose a single word spoken, and politely nodded. "Essence... Crystal Rivers, as you seem to already know, but please do call me Crys. And I have a strong feeling this one has a more than appropriate name." She stated, with a little smirk. "I'm just sorry you beat me to him."

Ess tapped her nails inattentively along the hilt of her sword as she remembered the scene at the Inn. “...Lets just say rumors don’t do you justice...and well, I’m not sure if that display tells me we’d get along famously or we may be at odds.” Quirking a brow, her smile broadened. “...Ah yes, Luckas...with no last name. Odd, yes...intriguing yes....a little out of sorts...definitely..but there is just something....I can’t figure....” She trailed off momentarily losing her thought before her attention came back to Tala.

Tala moved from her side, squeezing through a space in Shockwave’s stall, slipping beneath the horses’ legs, inspecting the creature curiously. An annoyed whinny escaped the stallion, snorting out an exasperate breath at the wolf. “Tala...don’t get kicked now...” Ess shook her head as if she were warning a child not to go too close to the fire.

“Oh, so that’s how you two met, through the Captain.” Ess giggled, “Guess us redheads flock together...I mean we do seem to have the most...fun. Were you with her when she took on Pondus, Crys?” Again, her eyes scanned the woman with slight concern. “And...Ess is what most call me too by the way.”

Back tracking on the conversation a bit, Ess began bragging a bit about Tala and her intelligence. “..By the Twins..it seems like I’ve had that wolf by my side forever....over seven years now I believe...This Spring.” Motioning with her hands in what seemed like a random direction, actually was pointing out the main gates of the city she continued, “I found her a couple miles outside NewHaven, stuck in a snare. Luckily it was nothing too crude for the pup...” Ess’ expression changed, as if she were admiring a small child. “She was soo cute.” A sudden defiant bark startled Ess a bit as Tala appeared behind her. With a short laugh she responded, “My apologies Tala...You are still very cute...even beautiful.” Tilting her head, she stood with a playfull attitude, hands on her hips as she looked at Tala. “So...whatcha think of our new friend here?” Without turning back towards Crystal she stated cheerfully. “Well, if we cross paths again and I come across another high spirited specimen, I’ll be sure to send him or her your way.”

Crys tilted her head slightly in curiosity. "Rumors? Oh, those can be so inaccurate, can't they?" She chuckled. "Oh, well... Suppose we'll have to see about that getting along or not thing, huh? I see no reason why we wouldn't, but of course that is not entirely my decision to make." She stated with a light shrug of her shoulders, followed by a little snicker. "Oh, yes... Luckas is quite a character. If I didn't know better I'd think he was trying to make me nervous." She said casually,a discrete tone of sarcasm mixed with amusement in her voice. Crys raised her eyebrows in amusement at Ess' comments on redheads. "Oh, Ria is a redhead, huh? I should have figured that..." She laughed. "Suppose we do have the most fun." As the subject went on to her fight with Pondus Crys' smile shut momentarily. "Oh, well... No. I wasn't with her exactly. Empaths and berserkers should not mix, and..." She pointed at her eye, her most obvious wound, with a grin. "If they do this happens. I wasn't even that close. Gladly no one else was there..." She chuckled. "Made packing a lot easier for the Captain though, that's for sure." She asked jokingly. "When you see her, make sure to let her know I apologize for leaving without speaking with her, but I do have to go back, and that... I'll keep in touch. Will you tell her?"

As she asked that, Rachel brought a saddled and rested horse, carefully placing the reigns on the blind woman's hand. "You can keep her as a gift, Crystal. God knows I owe you for all your mother has done."
Crys chuckled lightly and pulled two small bags of coins from her pack, forcing them onto Rachel's hands, taking a serious tone with the woman in order to make her understand. "Do not repay me for things I haven't done. If you feel you owe my mother something, pray for her. Although I'm positive she wouldn't accept even that for helping out a friend." She then smiled at the woman. "It was good meeting you again."
Rachel whispered something, leaning closer to Crys, before wandering away, leaving Crys to examine the caramel colored mare she was given. She had a good spirit, but still Crys decided she would let Indrani have her once she reached the desert.Turning back to Essence she smiled kindly. "My ancestors believed that wolves are sacred and that Heart still speaks to them from the Afterlife, and that's why they don't give their loyalties to just anyone... I think you and Tala are blessed to have found each other."

Ess gave a slight sigh. “Luckas.. is definitely not all he appears to be...sort of like myself...guess that’s one of the reasons we seem to get along. Course...” Ess shook her head, her tone sounding almost intrigued. “...He may just know something about you....he does that, fair warning. I say this from personal experience.”

Essence stretched her arm out to unlatch the gate to the stallion’s stall, untying the rope from his bit to the wall, gently leading him out. Glancing around she saw a saddle set aside for her and her horse, yet she decided to hold off on that crude thing, since she preferred bareback anyways. Shockwave snapped back his head as he slowly stepped forward, his eyes wide as he looked from Ess to the wolf almost in a panic. Gently Ess slid her hand over his muzzle, leaning in close to stare into his big brown eyes. “Shh...there...no one will hurt you...” She whispered before lulling the creature to calm by humming harmoniously, the horse’s eyes closing a bit to their normal composure. Still stroking the muzzle she turned back towards Crys, “...I am not versed in Empaths, you would be the first I’ve ever met...least you don’t look as seasoned as the Captain.” Ess nodded to herself, “I will be sure to relay your message to her...And as I assume we both have things to attend to, I will not keep you any longer Crys.”

Ess turned back towards the stallion and effortlessly hopped up over his side onto the middle of his back, causing Shockwave to shake his head suddenly, Ess entertwining her fingers into his mane. “Thank you for your kind words. I am blessed to have had such an unconditional love from a wild creature. Can’t say the same about people...but I’m sure you understand what I mean. Til next time..” The horse was growing impatient, not comfortable with the fact Ess was on his back, Shockwave began to pace backwards, rearing on his back legs a few times. Ess wondered if he was testing her weight or if he could knock her off, which of course did not occur; she only leaned closer to the beasts’ neck, smiling a bit devilishly. “Oh, this is going to be fun..” She giggled, the horse trotting forward before breaking out into a full blow gallop without so much as a tap from Ess. Ess didn’t even try to steer the stallion at first, just simply enjoying the ride he was giving her as she tightened her hold shouting words of encouragement to go faster, almost slamming into a passing wagon. Tala was not far behind, barking excitedly from behind as they exited the city’s main gates a few moments later.