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Dastan

Crimson Shadow Leader: "There's nothing a good party can't cure." *winks* "Am I right or am I right?"

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

Groups

Mercenary group that resides in the Brightvale ruins in the desert.

Description

General Information

Full Name: Dastan Shaykh

Nicknames/Aliases: Aside from being called ‘handsome’ by Ess on repeated occasions, Dastan doesn’t have any nicknames. Most in his clan address him as Shaykh as a sign of respect.

Age: 29 (birth date: Pyros 13th 2526)

Gender: Male

Sexual Orientation: Straight

Place of Birth: Brightvale Ruins, the Valcrest desert

Affiliation: Crimson Shadows

Rank: Leader

Important Associates: Jackson Mercer (fellow Crimson/best friend), Crystal Rivers (close friend/almost, sorta, temporary crush), Allison Blake (friend), Jake Turner (friendly rival), Essence Talon (friend), Alistair Ashmore (friend), Deidra Reid (friend/new crush/I’m clearly trying not to call her a love interest because they talked, like, once, but yeah; pretty much), Lila ‘Sayir’ Ranford (ex-fiancee)

Known Family: Tarek Shaykh (Eldest brother, deceased at age 18), Vikram Shaykh (Older brother, deceased at age 24), Alik Nayar (Adoptive father, deceased age 42), Neela Nayar (adoptive mother, deceased age 35), Indrani Nayar (adoptive sister, age 24)

Main Theme: Red Line Chemistry - Fire Rising

Theme Song 02: Tantric - The One

Theme Song 03: Rev Theory - Far From Over

Theme Song 04: Skillet - Battle Cry

Theme Song 05: Hozier - Arsonist’s Lullaby

Appearance

Body: Dastan has the body of a warrior, built over years of training. 1.93m (6’4’’) tall, muscular, and agile. He’s not a burly as some members of his clan, but he is without a doubt as strong and possibly even more intimidating than those men when it comes to fighting. He’s also very resistant, not seeming affected by the cold weather and humidity when outside the desert, and managing to remain somewhat active, and healthy, whilst spending over a year in a small dark dungeon cell.

Face: Tanned skin, oval shaped face, clean shaven (the one thing he seems to never neglect about his appearance), a straight nose and evenly spaced almond shaped eyes.. Dastan has indeed a handsome face; the face of a charmer. The man’s smile alone could melt through a glacier. And while he usually is as nice of a guy as he appears to be, when his smile shuts and those eyes darken, it’s more than enough strike fear into the bravest of warriors.

Eyes: Dastan’s eyes are a deep dark brown and turn gradually darker until fully black when his enlightenment is in use.

Hair: Dastan has medium brown, wavy locks, usually messy. His hair length depends on his disposition. His standard is just a bit over chin length, but sometimes he’ll cut it shorter just so he doesn’t have to bother again so soon. Shoulder length is his limit though, when it gets that long he’ll get off his ass and cut it.

Scars/Tattoos/Birthmarks: Dastan has a lot of scars. The majority of them located on his torso; nicks and slashes received during his early years of training, and some on his legs and arms. The most notable in his ‘collection’ however are: a long slash that extends from his left shoulder blade down to his waist (acquired on a pointy rock while being dragged by a horse through the woods), an ‘x’ shaped cut on the outside of his left forearm, just below the elbow (acquired at age seven, during his last spar with Tarek), a jagged cut on the back of his skull (gift from a moody lady who broke a bottle on his head); can’t be seen, but ge likes telling the story, and a slash that extents from the left side of his jaw to the middle of his neck (a nearly fatal wound that occurred prior to being imprisoned in Blackpond. When asked how it happened, Dastan will either make up a clearly fake story or simply decline to answer. He is yet to give anyone the details of that event). He has no birthmarks, or tattoos so far (although he’ll surely want one; all the cool kids are getting ‘em).

Clothes: Dastan dresses in simple (and not always entirely clean) clothing. White, short sleeved or sleeveless, shirts, loose pants (either brown or dark red), boots when traveling, and sometimes a sleeveless vest. He always wears both a red sash around his waist over his belt and weapon sheaths (as do most Crimson Shadows) and a red cape over his shoulders. The cape belonged to Dastan’s brother Vikram and up until being recently stitched up was tattered and torn in several places, yet Dastan would rarely dare part with it.

Dastan never wears armor, as he claims to not ‘believe’ in it, and more often than not will choose to face an enemy bare chested since in Brightvale it was believed that a warrior who cannot face Death with an open heart is destined for defeat. Because of this the only form of protection he wears when knowingly heading into a fight are leather bracers.

Reference image: N/A

Skills and Talents

Enlightenment: Dastan’s enlightenment is shadow manipulation. He can control any shadow, materialize it and shape it into anything he’d like. He can also animate other people’s shadows and control them as puppets. Or he can animate his own shadow, imprinting part of his own consciousness onto it, to create a golem with a semblance of free will. Using any of his abilities will cause a strain on Dastan, but keeping his shadow golem animate for extended periods of time has the added risk of possibly causing a permanent break on Dastan’s mind, thus stripping away his grasp on reality.

Other Skills: Hand to hand combat, dual wielding, throwing weapons, sword and shield, pole arms, trap making, bomb (and firework) making, He can also play the pan flute, drums, and is quite a ‘spirited’ dancer (by his clan’s description).

Personality

Personality

General: At a distance Dastan seems like a party boy, a drunk, a flirt, an over-friendly goofball of a man, but after spending a couple of minutes in his company it’s possible to see that not only he is all that, but he is also a loyal, intelligent, kindhearted individual who, despite his carefree attitude, cares deeply about his clan, family and friends.

Dastan’s a people person, always seeking company and good conversation where it’s available. He enjoys sharing stories of his life and his clan and seems to have a never-ending supply of them to fit almost every topic of conversation. When he’s in a good mood it’s impossible to be in his company and not smile as he will usually do everything in his power to make those around him leave their troubles behind, even if for only a moment.

For someone who’s suffered a fair deal of losses in life and who has been forced into taking on a lot of responsibility at a considerably young age, Dastan has a very positive outlook on life. He believes that while life may change a person in some significantly bad ways, even something that is broken can either heal or be salvaged, and as long as you have someone to help you pick up the pieces you can never truly be lost. For that reason, even in his worst moments, the man never seems to stay down for too long.

Dastan has very strong values when it comes to his treatment of his friends and family, as well as women in general. He may have been a flirt and a ‘one night only’ kind of guy for the majority of his life, but he strongly believes women are to be respected and cared for, and that a man should never consider himself entitled to a woman’s time or attention. Likewise he believes that a man should reserve the best of himself for those he wishes to keep in his life as opposed to strangers and acquaintances, therefore he will often offer courtesies and pleasantries to his friends he would otherwise not offer strangers.

Despite all his good nature, Dastan can be a bit of a hothead where it comes to certain things and recklessly stubborn about others; such as refusing to wear armor. Therefore he always tries to avoid confrontation and doesn’t like to draw weapons unless he absolutely has to. His enlightenment makes him see himself as a dangerous man when backed into a corner, something else he always tries his best to avoid.

Phobias: Dastan has what he would call a ‘healthy dislike’ for spiders.

Likes: The outdoors, alcohol, good food, people, children, animals, parties, flirting, telling stories, jokes, music, sparring, star gazing, alcohol, women and alcohol

Dislikes: Disrespect, being told what to do, condescending/arrogant people, shirts, spiders, violence, wars, politics, abuse

Odd Behaviors and Habits: Given enough booze no odd behavior is off the table.

Equipment

Equipment

Weapons: Despite his proficiency with multiple weapons, Dastan prefers to dual wield. He usually carries two short curved swords as his main weapons and two curved daggers for back up.

Other Items: His flask, pan flute, and a metal pendant of a Phoenix that once belonged to his mother.

History

TO BE ADDED

So begins...

Dastan's Story

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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[The Ruins – White Shadows encampment]

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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[Assassin’s Camp]

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

“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.”

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

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?”

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

[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.”

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

[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: 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.

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

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.

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 Desert

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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


[Reality - Desert, present time]

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

[Flashback - Wolfpack encampment, aproximately 8 years ago]

"I can't"

"Yes you can. Hold it!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


[Reality - Desert, present time]

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

[Flashback - Wolfpack encampment, approximately 6 years ago]

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


[Reality - Desert, present time]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[White Shadows encampment]

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

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

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

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

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

[Blackpond]

“You find who ya looking for?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Newhaven]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Captain.

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

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

Take care of yourself.

Jake


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The setting changes from the-desert to Valcrest

Setting

Characters Present

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

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[Healer's Camp - Sunrise]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Flashback – Wolfpack Territory, approximately 5 years ago]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


[Reality – Desert, present time]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Flashback – Wolfpack Camp, approximately 10 years ago]

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

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

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

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

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

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


[Reality – Desert, present time]

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

[Flashback – Newhaven, approximately 6 years ago]

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

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

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

[Flashback – Desert, approximately 3 years ago]

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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[Blackpond – Some moment in middle of the night]

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

Flashback – Desert, approximately 3 years ago]

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

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


”Hey, pal! You alive?”

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

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

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

“Helloo… Name. What’s your name?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Assassin’s Camp – Early morning]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Flashback]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dastan

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#, as written by Caelus
The wind heavily attacked Veronica's face, her hair protected inside the helmet, her body into the shadows of her armor. Her hands moved against the wind, the swords gently handled by them, the day was about to end and she waited for the retreat order. She witnessed the death of many friends, and made the murders met the same destiny. The wind met Veronica's face again, with more violence than before, making her focus on the present. Another foe focused on her and started to run, sword and shield ready. He blocked the first attack, a swing with the right hand, but the second one crushed his throat. Jon was nowhere to be found, and Veronica was starting to get anxious because of that, many images of his death crossed her mind. Another soldier rushed against her, how many minutes has passed since she started to think about those scenes? Focus. The man tried swung his sword too widely, two movements and he was in the ground barely breathing. Jon couldn't be there, he probably retreated, but the Captains didn't issued the retreat order yet. 'Damn Jon, where are you?' She moved to left, it was hard to walk over the mud with the armor, but she managed to do it. Where were the others? Where were the Captains? What was happening? She moved her head, Newhaven was there, she started to walk again, a thunder fell. No enemy soldiers, no allied soldiers, no one anywhere. The feeling that something was wrong didn't left her mind, neither did the images that showed Jon's head being separated from the body. She spun on her feet to meet the scene. Jon just swung his sword, the steel cutting the foe's chest as if it was paper. When the man fell to the mud Jon looked at Veronica. He smiled and everything stopped for a moment. The smile faded to a muted scream as the blade from a sword grew in his chest. His longsword fell to the ground, the mud quickly emerging it. A thunder fell in the horizon bringing Luke's voice, the cold, almost psychopathic tone greatly amplified. “I dare you not to scream.”

“NOO!” Veronica jumped from the bed, the right arm doing the motion of a swing, as if it tried to hit the air with an imaginary sword. The scarlet haired woman breathed fast, sweat falling from her temples to the chin. Seconds passed while she kept the position, trying to understand what just happened. Veronica relaxed the muscles and slowed the breathing, it's been a day since she last saw Luke. 'Or has it been two days? Ah, doesn't matter.' She walked to the window, it was still dark but the Sun would soon rise from the horizon. The woman laughed, having a room was a benefit she only won with the promotion and that was perfect at the moment. “Or right now every single one would be awake.” She didn't mind speaking her thoughts loudly when she was alone, an habit she kept since she was a child. Veronica took a towel and removed the sweat from her face and hair, she picked a black dress made of expensive cloth, the gift her father gave to her when the promotion was announced. It fitted well, but the lack of something more... protective was not helping her. The clothing that seemed as a waistcoat was made of leather, the inside of the cloth was much more comfortable than the outside showed. She wore the two belts that held her swords, both crossed, and a third that held the longsword. She put the first pair of boots she saw and walked to the dinning hall. The boots barely made any sound when they met the ground, which was a good thing, since no one needed to know that she had a nightmare that night. She looked at the window facing East, the Sun was about to burst in the horizon. Minutes passed until she reached the dinning hall, completely empty and the worst happened. 'Nothing to eat.' Veronica was about to walk without destiny in the castle when a man walked through the door that lead to the kitchen, a sandwich in his hand and a letter in the other. It took a few seconds until he saw the woman and recognized her. He smiled and waved with the hand that held the letter. He walked to Veronica, finishing his sandwich a few seconds before he started to talk with the woman.

“Sorry ma'am, didn't recognized you with the dress. I just arrived, and the leader from the Crimson Shadows replied,” Veronica's stomach roared “I'd say he's pretty anxious to meet you, ma'am. Now, pardon me.” He gave Veronica the letter, and exited the room, without an expression in his face. The woman sat on a chair close to a window and read the letter.

Dear Miss.

While I appreciate the interest, and concern, I will not be open to discussing matters that are private to my clan over letters, especially with a stranger, even one as friendly as you.

If you wish to speak to me regarding my clan, I will be in the White Shadows encampment as you receive this. Meet me there.

Sincerely,

Dastan Shaykh


It took a few seconds to Veronica read the letter, and a few more to she understand that the man named Dastan was already waiting for her. She walked to the kitchen, and asked for two sandwiches, She ate them in the way to her own room, where she took a traveling cloak. Less than twenty minutes later she arrived at the stables. The movement awoke the horses that were sleeping. Time passed, and Veronica exited the stables with her dark horse. The city's streets were quite, the sounds consisted of nothing but the horse's steps, almost no one to be seen. Veronica didn't cover her head with the hood, she wouldn't do it until she exited the city. The gates opened and the cold breeze met her head, her hair dancing with it as she saw the landscape. She wore the hood and shortly after that the horse started to gallop.



[White Shadows encampment, 2 hours before twilight]

The travel to the Blackhurst's ruins didn't bring many things. Veronica stopped twice to give water to the horse, and met no one in the way, except for a few birds. The encampment exhibited ruined walls and gates, and Veronica little knew what she would need to do to cross them. As she and the horse stood close to them a voice could be heard from inside, interrogating her name and what brought her to the encampment. The woman took a deep breath, she wanted them to hear. “My name's Veronica, I seek the man named Dastan, he invited me to come here.”

Dastan was talking with Alistair to pass the time, getting all the details he could out of the man, concerning his time away from the White Shadows, and everything that had been happening lately. Through him, Dastan discovered that Lena Turner had recently returned to Valcrest, which was very interesting. However when Dastan asked how the woman was doing and where she had gone, Alistair suddenly became nervous as if he wanted to answer, but wasn't allowed to. Before he had the chance to say anything, however, someone came calling for him, at the same time as one of the Crimson came calling for Dastan.

Waving over his shoulder at the former healer, Dastan followed his mercenary to a spot where he had full view of the gates, the man nodded towards the woman who was there. "She says you invited her here, Shaykh. Do you know her?"
"She called me by name?" Dastan asked, still watching the woman.
"Yes, sir." The man replied.

Dastan waved the man off and walked a straight line to the gates, stopping right in front of the visitor and looking her over before flashing a smile. "Well Miss, you look prettier in person than you do in writing, that's for sure." He stated, stepping out of the W. Shadows territory and retrieving all of his blades from a weapon rack near the gates. "I'm assuming you wouldn't feel comfortable giving up those pretty swords you're carrying, so why don't you walk with me a bit?"

The woman nodded and started to walk, she could eventually hear the man's steps in the snow. The landscape could have been beautiful once, but Veronica didn't know if it still was or the monotonous white gave her that impression. “My name's Veronica, but I'd prefer if you called me Zein.” The woman kneeled close to a tree and moved the snow close to it. She could feel that the sword at her hips just touched the ground. The dress poorly helped at warming her legs, and the boots were not suited for walking there. “You know, it's been a while since I've been away from Newhaven... I kinda miss these small moments.” She stood up, almost instantly cleaning her dress and hands. She could see that the horse moved to the encampment and the healers took him somewhere. Veronica turned around to face the man named Dastan. “But we aren't here to speak about me. Maybe you should begin?” She smiled, inviting him to follow her. Without waiting for any reaction she turned around and restarted to walk, her right hand starting to ache due to the snow.

"Zein, eh?" Dastan asked curiously. "Very well, Miss Zein... The respectful way to address a leader in my clan is by surname, therefore most of my kinsmen call me Shaykh. However, I always ask my friends to call me Dastan. So you may call me either one, depending on whether you prefer to be friendly or respectful." He said, watching her with only the corner of his eyes as he walked after her. "And I'm afraid we are here to talk about you, Miss. You contacted me, so it's only natural that I want to know who you are. I'm not about to go on about my clans affairs with you, a complete stranger, before I know why do you feel that it concerns a Lady from Newhaven such as yourself."

The woman still walked when she hear the last words, and yet she answered without moving her hear. “Ah... as rational as a leader should be. As you can see, the news about the recent... conflict between your clan and the Wolfpack recently reached Newhaven, or more precisely... the castle. And I've also heard that things are about to worsen and too much blood already fell in this earth. I'm here because I may be able to help you and your clan due to my position there” Veronica stopped walking and faced the man “I'm not officialy representing the castle, I'm here because I feel that something bad will happen soon or later and I also believe I can help due to my position as a...” The woman was facing Dastan “As a White Knight.”

Dastan's brown eyes narrowed and darkened as the woman mentioned she was a White Knight. His posture also changed to a far more tense one as he stared at her. "Miss Zein, as pure as your intention may be, or at least appear to be... Do you honestly believe that involving your city or its army into this will avoid any bloodshed? Your noble parents didn't teach you our beloved Land's history while you were growing up? Or perhaps the story is told differently in Newhaven..." He said in a slightly bitter tone. "I'll enlighten you: Your army's interference is the reason my city of origin is in ruins today. Newhaven and Blackpond turned Brightvale and Effort against each other, and now the Crimson are all that's left." He snorted angrily taking a step closer to the woman. "My clan is free. We live free, and we'll die free if it comes to that. So, unless you have one reason as to why I should believe this case to be any different from all the other times anyone from your city or its rival has offered me their assistance... Our conversation is done. The Crimson Shadows can fight their own battles, thank you very much. Newhaven and Blackpond have done enough for Valcrest as it is."

“My father tried to teach me that it was only safe where his money was, and since I'm actually here,” Veronica emphasized the last word, “it's pretty clear that he failed at that. The man that taught me everything I know died four meters away from me three years ago when we were fighting for the lives of thousands.” Veronica unsheated the longsword, quickly stabbing the soil. “His name was Jon, this sword belonged to him and I'm only alive because he died. When he was alive he taught me many things, three of them incredibly important. First, there are no coincidences. Second, Polarity rules the world. As you can see Shaykh, there's fire and water, darkness and light, active and passive, the wind and the earth, the Sun and the Moon and in a war there's always two sides. When the soldiers can't fight anymore or the leaders are dead the war ends, but there's always another war somewhere to peace exist somewhere. Things moved on at Blackpond and Newhaven, but according to the reports I've been reading in the last three days, and in my opinion Dastan, the bloodlust just moved from my city and Blackpond to the Wolfpack and your clan. It's just a matter of time to the active act and the passive react.” She saw the man opening his mouth to speak, but spoke faster than him “And third. Jon taught me that there's no better way to demonstrate that your intentions are pure than fighting for it. And here we are Dastan, I don't care if you use your Enlightenment, but if I win you're the one that will pay me a drink someday.” Veronica smiled, but that faded away as she unsheated the swords on her hips, holding them in a reverse grip. She cut the dress with the right sword while her left foot moved forward. Veronica spun both swords on her hands while the cloak fell to the ground. When the movement ended her breathing accelerated. “I'll give you ten seconds to start, and you know you can't say no to a duel, Dastan Shaykh.” She saw that the colors of his eyes changed, and that only motivated her to fight even more.

"Very well, Miss Zein..." Dastan muttered. He had turned his back already when the woman went on talking and challenged him to a duel, but he was never one to back away from a fight, it didn't matter how much he wanted to walk away, so he stayed put. "If that's how you want to play it." As he said that he turned to face her again, and got rid of the crimson red cape he had been wearing over his shoulders, revealing bare arms and thin clothing underneath. Even so, the cold didn't seem to bother him in the least. He unsheathed both his swords at once, holding them in a reverse grip, the tips of the curved blades nearly touching his elbows as he did so. "I'll tell you what I was taught: I was taught to be the best fighter I could be, and then push myself further. However, I fought more than enough to learn for myself that fighting proves nothing; not even who the best fighter is." He smirked slightly. "Have it your way though."

As he spoke his eyes darkened further and further and staring into them was similar to looking down at a bottomless pit; there was nothing there but sheer darkness. Beneath their feet, both their shadows moved on their own; threatening to rise at any moment if summoned. While the dark eyes and shadows gave Dastan an extremely frightening look, the man opened a smile as he corrected the grip on this right sword, lunging forward and aiming a slash at the woman's chest with it, keeping his left sword free to defend with.

While the man runned towards Veronica she laughed, “Anything for a nice drink, eh?” she moved the left sword, her arm and the sword making a V. When the man was close enough she spun on her right foot, if she timed correctly she would have corrected Dastan's sword motion. Dastan's sword was met by Veronica's, however, he didn't really expect anything different. He kept pushing the blade of the sword against hers, smiling at something over her shoulder. He summoned the woman's shadow behind her back, and an exact replica of her blade was now making its way towards the back of her neck. Veronica felt something moving close to her neck, she was blocking his sword with the left hand. “Oh, you...” she removed her left arm from the block while she dashed to the right. Her right arm and the sword making an arc from right to left. She could feel a small flow of blood falling from the back of her neck.

Veronica wondered if Dastan was a Shadow Manipulator when something cut her neck, the occasion confirmed it. She quickly jumped to the left as she saw her own shadow moving. "So that's your game?" Veronica laughed, still doing her dance with Dastan. "Not that impressive, well let's heat this up, shall we?" The woman run towards Dastan, raising her right arm to make a down-cut. She was aiming at Dastan, but the motion wasn't supposed to hit him. Dastan tilted his head curiously as Veronica ran towards him raising her sword. Calmly he sheathed his left sword and raised his left arm, placing his bare forearm in the path of the blade, a black shield appearing to protect it from the blow. However, feeling something move behind him, he'd forgotten one small detail; it was Veronica's shadow he had conjured, leaving it unattended would cause it to mirror the woman's movements... From the opposite side... "Bloody hell." He muttered as he turned on his heels to block the shadow with his sword. Walking backwards and removing both the sword and shield from the block, he quickly moved behind the shadow, making it stand between himself and the woman, before dispelling it.

"Let's make this impressive then, shall we?" He spoke, both his eyes darkening to pitch black, as the red cape he had discarded earlier rose from the ground, seemingly by itself, and flew towards Veronica's face. Dastan's exact shadow-replica launching itself at the woman with both swords.

"Your orders Shaykh?"

"Mercy." Dastan whispered.

"As you wish." Jon replied.

Having given orders not to aim for a killing blow, Jon slashed with both swords simultaneously, the right sword slashing at Veronica's abdominal area from right to left and the left sword slashing at her chest, from left to right. “Impressiv-” the woman had to cut her phrase to avoid the vicious motion. She dashed backwards, fast enough to avoid the shadow sword to meet her abdomen but slow enough to allow it to cut the dress. Watching that the shadow would be unable to make a move for a second she decided to try her luck. Veronica spun the left sword on her hand while her right elbow met where the chest of the shadow would be, the blade shortly following. Her back throwing both to the ground, the blade locking the cloak to the ground. Despite falling to the floor, Jon seemed unfazed by the hit to his chest or the blade pinning the cape to the ground, with one single rip, the shadow freed the red fabric from the blade and wrapped it tightly around the woman binding her arms with it. The shadow-swords now gone, Jon's hands now gripped the edges of the fabric, pulling on them slowly and gradually tightening its hold.

“Oh come on...” Veronica cut the fabric that held her left arm, almost breaking it within the act. She used her weight and strength on the right arm to pull the shadow and the fabric over her, throwing the remaining sword at Dastan, although she blindly aimed, it seemed that the sword would make the way to one the man's knees. Jon immediately turned his 'face' towards Dastan and vanished into thin air. Dastan had noticed the incoming sword a little too late and while he mostly managed to get out of the way, it nicked the side of his leg. Jon reappeared in front of the man, arms crossed over his chest in a protective posture.

"Mercy, still?"
"Yes. And did you have to ruin the cape, idiot?"
"I will take the Master's clothing into more consideration in the future." Jon replied, with a slight bow of his head, before conjuring a dark bow and arrow and aiming it at Veronica.
"Mercy." Dastan repeated, and the arrow was aimed at woman's left shoulder instead of her chest.
"How much longer are we playing this game, Shaykh? The Sun will be down eventually. The Moon is not our friend."
Dastan chuckled. "No need to take that long, now."
A soft snicker echoed in the back of Dastan's mind as the shadow released the arrow and advanced, now holding a double-scythe instead of the bow and following the arrow with a slash of blade to Veronica's legs. "As you wish Master."

When the shadow disappeared the woman rolled to catch the sword that should have held the shadow to the ground, she sheathed it and faced and tried to reach her longsword while Dastan and the shadow apparently had a dialogue. Veronica removed the longsword from the ground as the tip of an arrow cut a small portion of her flesh. She jumped backwards to avoid a hit from the strange weapon the shadow wielded. While jumping she hit the double-scythe with the tip of the sword, allowing her to enter the “Vom Dach” position, the sword made her movement, an arc from right to left that should have decapitated any living creature. She took a few steps to the right, adapting the position so the tip of the sword would face the head of the shadow. The woman smiled. “Well... he can't die, now I'm certain. But your leg shows me something else mister Dastan.”

Dastan raised an eyebrow as Veronica sword slashed across Jon' neck, however she shadow remained intact, as if the sword had cut through water. "If you weren't distracted staring at my legs this would be over by now, Lady." He joked. "Here's a few definitions of what a shadow is, Miss Zein: The rough image cast by an object blocking rays of illumination; An imperfect imitation or copy; A ghost, or phantom; A constant companion; a dominating presence or influence... I could go on." He said with a smile. "A shadow can be all of that and more, but it cannot be killed, because it cannot actually live."

As Dastan spoke Jon moved towards Veronica without order, hooking one of the blades of the scythe on the sword and pushing it downwards, spinning so that tip of the upper blade moved in the direction of Veronica's face, but stopped before it touched her, still bound by his orders.

Veronica's arms trembled, and she laughed, “Well, it was worth the try, but it looks like your friend cares a bit for you,” her left forearm and elbow met the blade and slowly started to pull it up. “Which is quite understandable, since without you he wouldn't...” she allowed the shadow's strength to pull the sword, guiding it so the blade wouldn't harm her head, “exist.” She spun and dragged the shadow with the sword, the scythe still attached to it. Veronica stabbed the ground with the sword, she spun again on her feet, unsheathing and throwing the short-sword, this time aiming to his shoulder. She looked behind, the shadow disappeared, the woman removed the sword from the ground and started to run towards Dastan, still laughing. “Count it as a courtesy, since I've the feel that you avoided my death twice so far, but I'm still not willing to pay you all the alcohol in the world.” When the man got in range Veronica made the arc, moving from her bottom left to her upper-right.

Dastan chuckled slightly as the woman managed to avoid Jon's attacks and throw a sword at him yet again. Jon disappeared like last time and reappeared next to Dastan just in time to block the sword. Dastan dispelled the shadow, however, while Veronica ran toward him, he unsheathed his short swords and holding the blade of his right sword pressed to his forearm he caught the blow of the sword, amusement all over his face as he took a couple of steps back. "All the alcohol in the world? Wow, my reputation is better than I though!" He exclaimed. Then he sheathed his right, sword, but kept his left one at hand, just in case the woman had too much of a competitive streak on her. "Tell you what: My camp is a lot closer than any Inn, and we have a good supply at hand, not the best quality, but plenty to go around. That'll save us both some coin and I much rather be drinking right now." He smirked and added. "I can always finish you off at another time."

The woman smiled as she grabbed the swords that were lying on the snow, sheathing them after a few seconds, making the same with the longsword. Veronica took a few steps back to get her cloak, wearing it as soon as she could. She turned to Dastan, the man surely walked fast. “Hey! Care to wait?! I'm not that fast!”

Characters Present

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

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

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

Anne Turner.

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

Mageria Talsheir


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

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

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

[Desert , meanwhile]

Three Days Grace – Get Out Alive

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

. . . .

“Don’t bother.”

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

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

. . . .

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

. . .

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


. . . .

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

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

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

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


[Reality - Desert, present time]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Desert, about 45 minutes later]

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Allison Blake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Indrani Nayar

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There was nothing that could have prepared Indrani for what she was about to see when she reached the desert. Buildings had crumbled, blood stained the sand and the stone walls of Brightvale, fire burned the dismantled tents of the small assassin camp. And there were dead bodies… Everywhere.

As she rode into the encampment Jackson came running to great her with a small bow of head, and the detailed account of everything that happened from the moment the sun went down until she arrived. He then apologized for not having done a better job of defending the clan. She couldn’t help but feel pain at those words; it wasn’t the man’s job to defend the clan, it was hers. She had no words to give him however, and so she simply nodded and kept moving in the direction of her tent. Once she reached the limits of camp, she dismounted and relieved the horses of their saddles before walking back. Every step she took closer to the encampment, more and more reality began to sink in, and Indrani couldn’t believe how stupid she had been. The Sun would rise in only a few hours, Jackson told her that Dastan was still unconscious from pushing himself too far, someone would have to light the pyre by morning.

Some time was spent speaking to those who fought and visiting the wounded. Indrani found all of the assassins accounted for and alive, except for Evin and Crystal who were both away from the encampment. The little group was somewhat gathered around an unconscious Allison and a few other injured in the Fire Temple, cursing Sean under their breaths and making plans for what to do with the Alpha when they finally managed to get their hands on him. Dastan was also there, watched closely by a few of their men as he slept through the effects of his gift, unharmed aside from a few scrapes and bruises. She sighed a bit in relief; knowing that her friends were safe was a small comfort. It wouldn’t last for long, because Dastan would wake up eventually, and she was sure he wouldn’t forgive her absence, or her disloyalty, so easily. She wasn’t sure she would ever forgive herself either, so she wouldn’t blame him.

Slowly, Indrani made her way to where the corpses were being kept and relieved the guards that were keeping watch, perching herself up on top of a boulder where she could keep her eyes on them, she stayed; waiting for the Sun to rise.

[Flashback – Crimson Shadows encampment, about 8 years ago]

“Could you stop for a moment, Indrani?” Dastan’s voice sounded faintly in the background. “Indi, stop.”
“Don’t call me that.” She stated, turning away from the training dummy she had been slashing at with her scythe and sinking the lower blade of the weapon into the sand as she faced him. “I hate it, and you know.”
“Well, I needed your attention, somehow.” He said, with a little grin. “Are you sure you’re alright, kiddo? You… Need to talk?”
“I have nothing to say.” She muttered, turning back to face the training dummy, but flinching to see her own shadow standing in its place. “Dastan, what are you doing?”
“I’m upping the challenge a bit. It’s too easy to hit something that can’t fight back.” He replied. “You’re better than that.”
“Am I?” She asked. “Did you talk to him, before he died?”
“I didn’t get the chance, but you know that he… You know…”
“I know exactly what my father thought of me, Dastan.” She sighed, staring blankly at the shadows with a disgusted expression on her face. “I just wish I’d had the courage to make him say it to my face.”
“Say what?” He asked, walking around to stand behind the shadow. “What do you think he would say?”

Indrani lowered her head and chuckled before pulling her scythe from the ground and slashing at the shadow violently as she replied. “Weak! You’re weak! Always was, always will be! There is no way you can defend this clan on your own! Pathetic little girl! You’ll never be the warrior I wanted!” As she attacked, her shadow-copy mimicked her every move with its own scythe, making a hit close to impossible, but Indrani was way too angry to really care; she could barely see what she was hitting. She also seemed to have forgotten Dastan, as he suddenly took control of the shadow and made it duck under her blade and slash upwards towards her face. She pulled back quickly and fell back on the sand, immediately jumping back to her feet and attacking with more caution this time, eyes widening as Dastan’s own shadow joined the attack from her other side and she found herself trapped in between the two shadows, struggling to defend herself from the attacks, until she managed to get herself on the other side of Dastan’s shadow, putting it between herself and her shadow-copy and making it the center of the attacks. It wasn’t long until she had Jon pinned down by the blades of two scythes; a triumphant grin spread unconsciously spread across her face. “What’re… You… Trying to do… Kill me?” She asked, almost breathless from her exhaustion.

“I’m showing you...” Dastan said, looking up from where he had sat down on the sand. “…In case you don’t believe me when I say, that you are anything but a weak little girl, sis. You may not be the warrior your father wanted for a child, but you are a Commander; not because someone says you are, but because you worked your way into becoming one. I would put this entire clan on your hands without as much as a flinch, today if it was necessary, and you would do just fine.”
“It takes more than just being a good fighter.” She argued.
“It takes more than just being a man and being alive.” Dastan retorted. “However, those are the only two things that have put me in leadership. Don’t think for a second I would be anyone’s first choice.” He chuckled, shaking his head. “We’re the only ones left, see? We’re survivors, you and I.”
She sighed, sitting next to him in the warm sand and leaning her head on his shoulder. “We’re not doing the whole marriage thing, right?” She asked. “…Because that’d be weird.”
“No, of course not…” He answered, handing her a water pouch and putting one arm comfortingly around her shoulders. “You don’t ever have to marry anyone if you don’t want to… In fact, you shouldn’t marry anyone, ever.”
Indrani choked on the water a bit, coughing it up in laughter at those words. “Oh, but who will take care of me then?”
“Don’t be stupid… I’ll always take care of you!” Dastan laughed. “Listen: Even if we both do get married, even after we have kids, and grandkids, and we’re both in our seventies, if we happen to live that far… You’ll always be my little sister. And no matter how much you are loved by others in your lifetime, I will always, always, love you more. Understand? Even if I die tomorrow, I will take care of you, and that’s a promise.”


As the first rays of sunlight swept across the land, the Crimson began to gather around the newly built pyre. As Indrani held the torch and said a prayer for their fallen brothers and sisters it felt like a dagger was slowly tearing through her heart. She could feel Dastan was standing right beside her, but she couldn’t bear to try and look at him. She could barely hear herself pray that the fires and the winds would carry their fallen safely to the Afterlife; even the sound of her own voice was too distant, drowned out by the pain of guilt. It was a sickening thing for her to stand there and speak for their dead when she was the one suppose to protect them, or at least be there to fight beside them. She had failed them, and in a way, maybe two, she had betrayed them. She couldn’t believe how stupid she had been to think Sean wouldn't use her this way. She hated herself for how much she trusted him; for how badly she still wanted to believe it wasn’t true, despite the fact that it was clear.

[Flashback – Forest, about 5 years ago]

Birds startled and flew away as the sound of laughter filled the small clearing. “You did not do that!” Indrani chuckled. “And what did he do?”
“He shouted until someone rescued him. I was suspended, but I really don’t care, it felt good!” Sean laughed looking down from a tree branch he was perched on, quietly fiddling with an unstrung bow. “Damn it, Princess… What did you do with my beautiful handy work?”
“I ran out of arrows, had to improvise.” She shrugged.
“It’s not a fighting stick!” He scolded, laughing a bit still. “Twins have mercy, if my father heard you say that…”
“Your father didn’t craft it, did he now?” She said, leaning against the trunk of the tree. “Does he even know you do?”
“No, he doesn’t even know I can shoot. I don’t plan on telling him either… Like it would matter.” He muttered. “I know what he thinks, what they all think… They think they hide it well, but I know.” He sighed. “Dani is the only one who seems to take me seriously. If it weren’t for her, I swear, I’d show them all.”
Indrani heaved a sigh. “I know what you mean. I’m pretty sure if it wasn’t for Dastan I’d get no respect at all.”
“That’s ridiculous… You’re twice the leader he is, why wouldn’t they respect you?”
“I’m a woman Sean, that’s how it is in my clan. Suppose you don’t see it, you’ve had female leaders in your clan since… Forever?” She asked a little unsure.
“Actually, it’s not a law or anything, but it’s usually a woman and a man. Which is Alpha and which is Second has changed throughout generations, but it has usually been so. Supposedly one is to represent Heart and the other one Mind, to maintain balance in leadership.” Sean replied, still absently fiddling with the bow. “You’re right though, I don’t see it. Not because of how I was brought up, but because of how badly you beat me the one time I underestimated you. Why don’t you just do the same with them? Show them you’re not just a ‘Princess’, and do so in a way you’re sure they’ll understand.”
“You really think they’ll respect me if I do that?” She asked, looking up at him with a little bit of doubt. “Those guys need to feel safe putting their live on my hands. They won’t follow a weak leadership.”
“Well…” Sean started, dropping down from the tree, with a soft ‘thud’. “That is one thing you’re not. I don’t see why they shouldn’t put their lives on your hands.” He stated, taking a folded bow string from his pocket and beginning to string the bow. “I would.”
“You would?”
“Of course I would. I just wouldn’t lend you my bow.” He chuckled. “Here… Try not to ruin it, please.” He told her, returning the bow he had been working on.
Indrani took the bow with a rather big smile on her face, strapping it to her back carefully before lunging forward and giving Sean one unnecessarily tight hug. “Thanks, Sean. You are just the sweetest!”
Sean winced a bit, but chuckled.”Alright, alright… Quit being such a girl, gee…”
Indrani responded by giving her most girlish giggle, and ruffling his hair as she pulled away. “Cutie.”
“Stop that.” He laughed, pushing her away, playfully.
“Seriously Sean, you’re my best friend. If I’m not girly with you, then who else can I be girly with?”
Sean sighed, scratching the back of his head awkwardly. “Well, suppose I don’t have much of a choice, huh? I’m just permanently stuck with…” He faked a shudder. “A girl.”
“Damn right: Permanently. Don’t you dare forget it.” She agreed, beginning to walk her way south, still laughing to herself.


The fire had died down. Indrani wasn’t sure how that happened, but now she was on her knees, tears streaming down her face, fists full of sand… She was sobbing. Faces of people she knew and loved running through her mind; her people, her recruits… Their bodies were now scattered to the winds gone from the world forever. A shadow towered over her, caused by the figure of Dastan, who was still standing right there, waiting silently, probably seeking out the words to say. Finally, in less than a whisper his voice sounded; shaky, wounded, a tone that she never thought she’d hear from him.

“Please, please… Tell me you weren’t with him. Please, tell me there was some life or death situation that was urgent enough for you to leave the encampment, knowing that I was absent, knowing that I might not return until next day… Please tell me that this is something else other than what it looks like. Because I swear, I don’t know what I’ll do if you betrayed me. If you betrayed the clan, for that… WOLF. I don’t know what I’ll do to him, I don’t know I’ll do to you and I don’t know what I’ll do with myself if that’s true.”
Indrani cowered under Dastan’s gaze, she still hadn’t turned to face him, but she could feel his eyes on her and it burned. She found herself choking in uncontrollable sobs, unable to say a word , unable to catch a breath, everything was just so painful she was simply drowning in it. She was drowning for hours and right now; she honestly just wanted to die.
“Indrani, talk to me! Say something, you owe me that!” Dastan shouted at her.

It took a few minutes, and they seemed to last forever as the only sounds around the two were the low whistles of the winds and Indrani’s shaky breaths. Finally she managed to speak. “I… Swear… I never knew this would happen. I swear… If I had known…”
“Did you, or did you not, pass him information on Crystal’s people and their movements?” Dastan asked, the firm tone in his voice attempting to mask how painful this was, but she could still tell. Above everything, his voice was the most painful thing yet.
“I did.” She admitted. “I told him, every time Evin left camp, or Ali… And absolutely everything Crystal did, who she spoke to, how many times she played her music, how many times she talked to the others alone… I told him everything.” She took one more deep breath. “I wanted this to end. That’s all I wanted, I swear it shouldn’t have happened this way. He swore to me…”

“He swore to you? He swore?” Dastan hissed behind her back, infuriated. “How many times have I told you he lies?! How many times have we fought over this?” He let out a bitter laugh. “You never listened to me. Because I don’t know him like you do, right? Because you’re way too smart and way too proud to even consider the fact that someone can fool you!” He paused before continuing in a calmer and even more bitter note. “Or maybe I’m just too much of an idiot to ever know better than you.”
At this point Indrani stood and turned, her gaze locking on his. “Don’t you ever…”
“Don’t I ever what?” He cut her off. “Don’t I ever what, Indrani? Do you still expect me not to doubt you? Do you actually expect me to still believe you love me like I love you? Do you still expect any trust from me?”

“I never once intended to harm the clan, I did this… I was afraid. I didn’t want this war. I was wrong, but I never did anything to harm you, or the clan… I still… Love you...” She sobbed.
“You did this, because you didn’t trust my judgment, but you trusted Sean enough to let him fill your head with his bullshit. You loved him enough to leave the clan without a leader for him. And I guess I am too much of an idiot not to see this coming. See, I… I would trust you with anything and with everything, because I know you since birth and it never crossed my mind that you’d forget everything we’ve been through for someone you’ve known for less than six years.” Dastan stopped to breathe, running a hand over his eyes trying to hide his tears the best he could. “If I had gone to Newhaven, like I warned you that I might, there would be nothing left. And when Jackson told me you weren’t here, I swear… I might as well have let one of those Wolves rip my heart right out, because I would much rather die that way than live through this moment. I prayed to all the Twins that you would come back and tell me there was some acceptable explanation for why you were gone… I almost hoped you would lie even, but you wouldn’t look at me and I knew… I knew there was no excuse. There was no room for forgiveness…”
Indrani stood silently staring at the ground, her clenched fists still filled with sand, her body was shaking in rage and fear. She knew that Dastan could kill her, have her exiled, take her before the clan for judgment… She was a traitor, there was no denying it. None of it seemed as terrible to her than the fact that he might never forgive her, that he might never trust her again… She’d rather be killed right there. “I can’t go back, you’ll never know how badly I wish I could, but if my words still hold any meaning, I swear… My brother… I would never love anyone or anything above the clan, above you… I swear. I’ll rip his heart right out of his chest, right now, if it’ll prove it. I’ll do anything if it’ll make you believe me. Dastan, you’re my family, this is the only home I know… Nothing could ever matter more to me… Please…” She suddenly cut the distance between them and hugged him tight, whispering pleas for forgiveness, clinging to him as she held on for her life.

“Stop, Indrani, stop...” Dastan had been unable to hold back the tears when she held him, but he couldn’t bear to hear her pleading any longer. He couldn’t forgive. Not now, and possibly not ever. He grabbed Indrani firmly by the shoulders and pushed her away from him, releasing her and taking a couple of steps back before he spoke. “It’s too soon for me to decide on your fate. I’m too angry right now, to even…” He choked a bit on his words before pushing himself forward. “I will keep this from the rest of the clan, until I make that decision. If not for any other reason, to spare them the pain of what you’ve done. So, I suggest you take the mourning period to pull yourself together because those people love you and respect you and right until the moment I absolutely need to shatter those feelings, I want you to choke on them. Twins help you if they need you and you’re not there for them. Are we clear?”
Indrani simply nodded, still sobbing quietly, staring at her feet.
“Good.” He stated, turning his back on her and starting to walk away. From the corner of his eyes he could see her fall back to her knees, but he forced himself to keep walking. The Sun was bright and an unusually cool breeze swept across the camp, carrying away ash and sand. In all his life in the desert, Dastan could never remember it being this cold.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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[Desert – Sundown]

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

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

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

[Forest – Early evening]

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

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

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

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

[Flashback – Forest, four years ago]

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


[Reality – Wolfpack Camp, present time]

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

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

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

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

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

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



[Desert – In the Meantime]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Indrani Nayar Character Portrait: Jake Turner

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[Desert – Early morning]

“Why are you meeting him?”

Dastan lost the little balance the alcohol hadn’t taken, when two hands forcefully pushed him forward. He simply groaned in anger with his face down in the sand before pushing himself up and continuing to stumble his way across the encampment. Ever since the morning after the Wolves attacked the camp Dastan had been straight up ignoring Indrani as if she was a ghost and even now, it was no different; he continued to walk as if she wasn’t there.
“You’re being a baby!” Indrani shouted, following after him. “DASTAN!” She finally lost her patience right then and there; it was one thing if he didn’t want to talk to her because he was angry, but this concerned her as well, and she wasn’t going to let it go. She stood for a moment, fists clenched at her sides; hesitating to anger him further. Eventually she decided that the silence had to end, for better or for worse. She ran after him at full speed, and jumped at him, clinging to his neck and knocking them both to the ground. “You asshole! Talk to me! I have the right to know!” She shouted, rolling off of him and sitting up in the sand. “I know you won’t forgive me, fine! You haven’t removed me from my position as commander though, so I have the right to know why you are meeting with the Alpha in our territory!”

“Why do you figure, genius? I want to discuss a truce.” Dastan muttered, pushing himself up again and stumbling forward as he continued to walk. “I trust you will not be here when he arrives.”
“Do you?” She asked, jumping to her feet and starting to walk after him.
“What?” He mumbled.
“Do you trust me?”
Dastan stopped walking and heaved a sigh. “Don’t push it, Indrani.”
“You could have ordered me to leave. You still can.” She stated. “I’ve told them what I’ve done.”
“They forgave you, I haven’t. Not yet.”
“You aren’t sure Sean is really responsible. I know you wouldn’t meet him otherwise. Are you afraid I might forgive him if you tell me the truth?” She asked him, placing one hand gently on his shoulder.
“It doesn’t matter if he’s responsible. It doesn’t change the fact that you weren’t here.” He argued.
“I know that. You didn’t answer my question, Dastan; are you afraid I’ll forgive him?”
Dastan simply shook his head. “Your personal life is none of my business, Commander.”
“Don’t do that!” She pushed him.
“What do you want me to say?” Dastan asked, turning to face her. “That I am afraid I’ll lose you? It’s too late for that! It’s way too late!”
“I want you to understand… I’m not going anywhere. I’m not letting you push me out of your life. I don’t know what is going on with you lately, but I’m not going to let you go through it alone.”
Dastan sighed softly and turned to walk away. “There’s nothing you can do for me.” He answered coldly.

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

[Desert, close to noon]

Jake opened his eyes and groaned wondering how the hell he managed to remain mounted in his sleep. Shadow was trotting calmly and slowly into the desert sands as Jake pushed himself to sit upright on the saddle, his back aching from the unusual sleeping position. Shadow whinnied and snorted as if to acknowledge that his rider had awoken and Jake gently patted the horse’s neck in greeting. “Good morning to you too, buddy.” He stated sleepily.

It had taken Jake longer than he would like to reach the desert. First of all, he had to make nice with his horse; Shadow wasn’t happy at all to be left behind for a month. The only reason the horse hadn’t been sold yet, was because he was too angry and no one wanted to take him. The result of this was that Jake had to walk great part of the way, because Shadow would refuse to let him mount. It took him a day later than expected to get there, but on the bright side… The trip was surprisingly quiet and uneventful, despite the fact he had decided to cross the forest; it was strangely quiet, but he didn’t make much of it until he reached the desert and was immediately surrounded by six mercenaries pointing their weapons at him.
“State your business.” One of them ordered.
“I’m here to visit a couple of friends… What’s… what’s with all the tension? Where’s Jackson?”
The Crimson who had spoken turned to another and whispered, probably asking him to call Jackson, before turning back to Jake. “You know Jackson?”
“I came here with the former wolves, three years ago. A couple of years ago I left. Are they not here anymore?” Jake asked, honestly confused.
The Crimson simply exchanged looks as if not sure what to say to this stranger; he seemed to know the assassins, but they weren’t sure. It was at that moment that a familiar voice greeted. “Well, hello there handsome! Thought I’d never see you again! And look what you carried home with you!”
Jake raised his eyebrow for a moment as the mercenary leader approached him in such a peculiar manner, but then he realized he was speaking to the horse, and snorted a laugh. “I take it she was very pissed, huh?”
Dastan shook his head and waved his men away. “Pissed doesn’t begin to describe it. Is that why you brought Shadow? Is he a Peace offering?”
“I retrieved Shadow they day after I left. I thought that she’d like that…” He said, dismounting and leading the horse along as he walked after Dastan. “What is going on around here? Felt like I was entering the forest. Come to think of it… It was unusually quiet there today.”
“We’ve been at war with the Wolves lately; been a month since they launched an attack on us. I was not present at the time, neither was Indrani, Crys, or Evin… Allison and Jackson had to hold everyone together and… Had I not been as close as the healers’ camp, well… They could have slaughtered everyone.” Dastan explained, casually, as he led Jake to where the assassins were camped. “Crys isn’t here.” He stated; a serious tone in his voice as they stopped by the group of tents and the nearby assassins began to whisper amongst themselves as they recognized Jake. “She left about a week ago, Ali went with her… She mentioned going to see a friend… Didn’t say when she’d be back.”
“What about Evin?” Jake asked, trying to hide his relief at the fact Crys wasn’t there. He wanted to see her, yes, but he couldn’t deny he was nervous about it.
“No one has seen him in over a month. People were wondering out loud if he got himself killed or took off for good, but Crys wasn’t worried about it. She said he’ll turn up eventually.” Dastan replied. “So… What brings you back? Something must have happened for you to turn up like this.”
“I came to see Crys.” Jake stated. “Not that it’s your business.”
“It is my business. This is my camp, and Crys is my friend. Besides you didn’t seem to show any interest in seeing her in the past two years. So, why now?”
“None of your business.” Jake muttered. “It’s none of your business.”
“You had a sister once, no?” Dastan asked casually.
“Yes. Not that it’s relevant.” Jake replied, leaning against Shadow and giving Dastan an agered look.
“Well, Crys is like a little sister to me. So, if you’ve had a sister, I’m assuming you will understand my urge to break all of your bones for what you did to her. Now, know that I control myself, because I know she still cares for you, but if you do it a second time… I will hunt you down just for that.” Dastan replied, opening a friendly smile and adding: “Have a nice day.”
Jake shook his head and sighed, but didn’t bother trying to explain anything to the man, he didn’t owe him anything.

“Sorry, I’m afraid I got him angry before you got here.” A voice sounded behind him. “Not that I disagree with him though. You were quite an asshole, and everyone talked about it for months. Which, coming to think of it, only got Crys far more pissed at you… Sorry.”
“That’s nice Indrani. Very nice.” He chuckled. “Thank you.”
“Do you want to let Shadow run around with the other horses a bit, or are you already leaving?” She asked, walking around him so that they were face to face.
“I suppose we both need a rest, so… I’m leaving in a couple of hours.” Jake replied. “I suppose if I let him run loose, worst case scenario he won’t want to leave with me.”
“I don’t think you should worry much, he’s obviously fond of you.” She said with a little nod, beginning to walk Jake away from the camp to where the other horses were.
“It’s really not that obvious to me.” Jake chuckled. “So… Sean?”
“What?” Indrani asked, her eyes narrowing a bit.
“That is what you and Dastan have been fighting about, yes? You said you made him angry, and I don’t see any other reason why he would be angry at you.”
She sighed. “Well, yes.”
“I warned you about him, didn’t I?” Jake said shaking his head. “What happened?”
“The night the Wolves attacked, I wasn’t here because Sean needed help. He says he didn’t order the attack, and… I don’t know if I believe him or not. He was with me while it happened, but… He could have given the order at any time before leaving the camp. Dastan is going to discuss a truce, but I don’t know what he believes is the truth. We don’t about it, we can’t talk about it… He is still so angry at me.”
“Huh… Well, I don’t know what to say. It’s very like Sean to make sure everyone is away before attacking… Especially Crys and Dastan… I don’t put it past him. What did Crys have to say?”
“Just about the same thing you just did. I just… I don’t know… Something doesn’t seem right about the whole thing…” She said with a shrug, helping Jake remove Shadow’s saddle and headgear. “See? He’s a good boy.” She stated, stroking the horse’s neck. “There you go, sweetie.” She smiled at the horse. “Sean is not a bad man, Jake.”
“Yes, he is.” Jake replied, lovingly running his fingers through the Shadow’s mane and patting his bare back as if encouraging him to wander off. “He could be a good man, but he isn’t. See, you shouldn’t see people for what they could be; you have to see them for what they are. So, yes… Sean is a bad man. You need to accept the fact that, despite who he was and could have been, this is who he is now.”
“Really?” Indrani asked, leaning against a boulder casually. “Do you have no faith in people at all?”
“Some people can change, and some are just hopeless, I learned that the hard way.”
“What about you, then? Can you change?”
Jake chuckled softly. “I’m… Trying… At the moment…” He shrugged slightly. “I’d like to say I can change, or that I have changed, but… I honestly can’t know that for sure.” He dug the tip of his boot into the sand and smiled softly. “Bastian Rivers used to say that people act in patterns, and those patterns never truly change; he believed every person is doomed to repeat the same behaviors over and over. When it seems like we’ve changed, in reality that is just a different manifestation of the same behavioral patterns, causing the illusion of change.”
“Sebastian Rivers was a strange, strange, man.” Indrani giggled.
“Have you met him?” Jake asked. “You are right, but have you?”
“Once, while we were stationed in the forest, he came by looking for Crys… Apparently she was in trouble. Was after a party, I think.”
“Ah… I remember that…” Jake snickered. “Too bad I missed that party.”
“So you don’t think people truly change?” Indrani asked, going back to the subject they unconsciously wandered into.
“No, I don’t. If we could truly change, what would make us who we are? If we could change things so deeply rooted within our personalities… How would we ever know ourselves, or one another, in any level? These patterns are what make us recognizable as individuals, and not all of them are bad.”
“Alright, you’ve known me a while… What are my patterns?”
Jake chuckled. “I don’t want to do that…”
“Come on, you think I’ll be offended? Tell me.”
“You have the constant need to prove your worth. Not even to others, but to yourself, because you never believe you are capable, or strong, enough. And you are terrified of failing the people you care about. Since you are constantly trying to prove your worth, you also have problems with asking for help, which leads to acting behind people’s backs, believing that if you show them weakness you’ll let them down. That makes them feel like you don’t trust them, when in reality you just don’t trust yourself enough. You and Sean bonded over this feeling of not being worthy, I assume. That’s a side of him I’ve come to know pretty well in the past.” Jake said all of that in one breath, his eyes fixed on Shadow as he happily trotted alongside Mirage; it was the happiest he’d seen him in a long while and he considered just leaving him there, even for a bit. He sure did deserve to run free with other horses after being left with strangers for a month. After realizing Indrani had gone silent for a bit he snickered, glancing at her with the corner of his eyes. “I’m sorry… Was that too honest?”
“What about you, Jake? What is your pattern?” She asked, ignoring his question.
“I thought that was obvious.” He stated, turning to face her. “I give up on things I care about, because then I don’t risk losing them. I haven’t known this all along, but… Even now that I know it, it doesn’t stop me from constantly doing it. All I need is to find an excuse, and it doesn’t matter that I know this either, because when the situation presents itself… It won’t seem like that’s what I’m doing. It’ll seem like the right thing to do. My brain will trick me into it.” Jake stated with a little shrug. “That’s why we are so doomed to repeating the same mistakes over and over… We don’t realize we’re doing it, it’s just… A part of who we are. As a race, that’s what we have been doing since the beginning of times.”
“So you are saying there’s no way you will ever make things work with Crys. I mean, if that’s the truth… Then you’ll just eventually leave her again, because you can’t help it.”
Jake shook his head, a sigh escaping him. “Probably, but I’m hoping not. That’s the thing with these habits… We don’t notice them, but others do… So we’re doomed to make the same mistakes over and over… Unless there’s someone there to stop us…”
“And, as a race, who is going to stop us? The Gods?”
Jake looked up at the sky for brief moment, a smirk crossing his features as he replied. “As a race… That’s where we are truly doomed. Because humanity, as a race, will never truly change.”

Indrani was going to say something else, but was interrupted when one of the assassins came running towards the two of them; Jake only the man by name, but the man seemed to know who he was well enough. “Jake… We just heard some unsettling news… About your aunt.”
Jake’s frowned slightly as he looked at the man. “Is Lena back?”
“She came back about a month ago, did you not see her?” The assassin asked him.
“I… I’ve been out of circulation this past month… In the dungeons of Blackpond… What about Lena?”
“Jake… Word from our contacts is… The White Rose… She died this past night.”

It was in a lightning fast move that Jake grabbed the man by the front of his shirt with shivering hands as he growled. “That’s not true.”
“The White Shadows say it is.” The man whispered softly, not seeming to mind Jake’s gesture right then; it was visible that he was in pain. “I’m sorry.”
“No… No… No…” Jake mumbled, pushing the assassin back and turning to walk in the direction of the plains without another word. It couldn’t be. It just couldn’t be true… He had walked good distance by himself when he felt something very strong push into his back and he stumbled forward before turning around in anger to see that Shadow had followed him. The horse had been properly saddled, and pinned to the saddle was a little note from Indrani that read: ’You’re doing it again.’

Jake snorted out in annoyance staring at the horse; his face still showing clear anger for a few moments before he forced a deep breath and his eyes softened only slightly. “You stubborn beast…” He stated, playfully patting the horse’s neck as he mounted. “I would have come back for you.”

Setting

Characters Present

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

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[Crimson Shadows’ Camp]

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Such as?”

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

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

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

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

“I see...”

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

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

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

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

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

“Ali seemed to know who he was...”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well...?” The man insisted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[White Shadows Camp]

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

“What are you doing here?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Big mistake.

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

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

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

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

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

[The Manor]

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

My dear brother...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your little sister...

Indrani.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


[Reality - Desert, present time]

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

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

“What happened?” He mumbled.

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

[The Manor]

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

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

[White Shadows’ Camp]

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

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

The setting changes from the-desert to Blackpond

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Sif Aeducen

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It would have been an odd sight, she assumed; a redhead, all dressed up in a party dress, standing in front of an abandoned building as if hypnotized by it. In the back of her mind Crys believed that the only reason people were keeping their distance was because they must have thought she was insane or something of the sorts, but she didn't find any reason why she should care. The place still felt to her like it held something of hers hostage, a piece of her she lost long ago. It reminded of one night that changed everything, not just for her, but for the whole land whether they knew it or not. The night her father died, yes, but also the night they brought Theron into the Pack, the night the Newhaven Inn had burned... The night that started it all. To each of those involved in those events, there was a painful reminder somewhere, to Crys it was this building. Nowadays she didn't know what it looked like, she had never gone in there after it was rebuilt and she wouldn't go inside now to see if it had changed. She remembered the day she gave permission to rebuild it very clearly... She also remembered the moment she was informed the Wolves had abandoned it. She remembered hating Sean with all her heart for the stupidity of it all. The Wolfpack had never abandoned anything that was rightly theirs before, her mother would not have allowed her people to be pushed out of any city like this. Neither would she. She wouldn't allow anything more to be taken from them even if it was this place. Sean didn't seem to think these things mattered though, and oddly enough that bothered her more than the fact he had taken the clan from her; as if she could let that go if only he was doing a better job of it.

“If you’re looking to get a drink... This ain’t the place to be looking, Miss... I can help you find one though, if you don’t mind the company.”

Crys snickered softly at the voice that broke her out of her thinking, at first she wondered if the man was playing, but then she realized he hadn't quite recognized her. “Are you so drunk already that you don’t know a friend when you see one, Shaykh?” She turned to face the man with a playful smile crossing her features. “Don’t tell me you’re here for the party also?”

“I’ll be damned...” Dastan muttered out. “Red... Watcha doing standing in the middle of the streets like this? It’s dangerous around these parts.”

“Reminiscing.” Crys stated simply. “I thought I would run into Ali around here somewhere, but it seems I missed her. And I’m not too worried about it being dangerous, Dastan. I may look all fancy but I can still put up a fight.” She chuckled at the man. “Did you dress up for the party too?”

“Hm... I bathed... And found a clean shirt.... and stuff...” Dastan mumbled, a little annoyed. “I’m good looking enough without putting on a costume.”

“I believe you.” Crys stated, clearly holding back laughter.

“What?” Dastan asked, sounding a bit annoyed by her amusement.

“I still think you need a wife or something... Because at this point in life you’re not going to learn to take care of yourself without some nagging... Indrani spoiled you.”

“Miss Rivers... Are you trying to seduce me?” Dastan snickered. “What is there to reminisce about in this old building?”

“I’m worried about you, Dastan, that’s what FRIENDS do, you know.” Crys replied, a frown crossing her features as she answered. “My father died here, that’s one thing.” She explained, reaching out to take Dastan’s arm and starting to lead him away from the abandoned Inn. “I haven’t been here much since then.”
“I see...” Dastan mumbled, a momentary seriousness crossing his tone. “Well, if you’re worried are you willing to find me a wife then, Red? ‘Cause I sure as hell ain’t doing a good job of it.”
“I can tell... If your best line ‘I can help you find a place to drink’ you sure do need some help.” Crys played, nudging the mercenary with her elbow as they walked. “I’m serious though...”
“Aye... I know... I know... Need to grow up someday... It doesn’t have to be today though, right? I mean there’s a party today and growing up would just ruin that for me.”
Crys sighed softly. “Hey, maybe you’ll find a wife at the party... If you can come up with better lines”
“Hey... I've got great lines I’ll have you know!” Dastan protested, frowning slightly at her. “I’m not looking for a wife though, thank you very much. I could easily find one within my own clan if that was the case.”
“If there was any woman in your clan you wanted to marry, it would have been done by now, no?” Crys teased. “I doubt any of them would say no to you.”
Dastan snickered. “Riiight... Weell... Maybe I’m waiting for someone who will, hm? Still, I’m not the kind of guy to let himself get tied up... Not for more than one night at least.” He gave a little shrug, casually leading Crys in the general direction of the castle. “I don’t see any woman in Blackpond being able to change that.”
“Alright friend, if you say.” Crys smiled, patting Dastan in the shoulder reassuringly, choosing to not push the subject anymore. “You think there’ll be apples at this party? I’d kill for some apples.”
“Still?” Dastan laughs.
“Mhm. Well... Shadow has apples, but they’re his, I wouldn't dare take them.”
“Shadow is with you? So that means you talked to Jake.”
“You knew Jake had Shadow?” Crys inquired, a slightly severe tone in her voice.
“Well, not exactly... He passed by the desert a little while back looking for you, and he had Shadow with him.”
“Hm... I see.” Crys muttered, falling into a cold silence.
Dastan chuckled, playfully waving his hand in front of her eyes. “No you don’t.” He teased, trying to get a laugh.
Crys grabbed his wrist and pulled his hand down, seemingly irritated by the gesture. “Don’t do that.” She told him in a tone of warning, going silent as they crossed the streets towards the castle gates.

Arriving in the ballroom was a bit of a shock to Crys at first, she knew it would be and that was why she was somewhat clinging to Dastan on the way over. Her time with the Crimson had not been enough to make Crys forget why she disliked parties; the number of people, the excitement mixed with apprehension, the unintelligible noise of conversation, it all took some level of getting used to for her. It was somewhat like diving into extremely cold water. In the background of all the voices however, there was music playing and Crys distracted herself with making out the notes played by the musicians she assumed were on the other side of the large hall. Slowly she let go of Dastan’s arm, feeling a bit more secure in her surroundings, making out some familiar people that had already arrived, Jake and Ali among them and slowly she began to wander around the room, easily avoiding bumping into other party guests, taking notice of one particular presence that seemed to stand out amongst the crowd. She could tell Dastan was following after her in a somewhat protective manner, but she ignored him; a cheerful smile spreading across her features as she heard a few mixed expressions of surprise, annoyance, and fear announcing her friend’s presence. The assassin’s reaction was far from the usual ones however. As she was found first by Tala and met by a cold nose to the hand, Crys greeted the animal with a nearly comical level of joy. “Tala!” She exclaimed, crouching in the middle of the ballroom to scratch behind the wolf’s ears, drawing an insane amount of attention to herself, but in the moment not caring. “What’re you doing in this snobby place?” She inquired in a soft tone. “Not willing to let Ess party without you, huh? Smart girl.” She chuckled, patting the wolf gently before standing up straight and smiling at a confused Dastan. “What, you’ve never seen a wolf before?”
“No. And I’ll admit that a castle is not a place where I’d expect to find one.” The mercenary replied, keeping a respectful distance from the animal and holding back a small flinch as Tala started sniffing at the legs of his pants. “How’d she even get in here? Pets aren’t usually allowed into balls like this.”
“Dastan... Tala is NOT a pet. Wolves are not pets.” Crys scolded, snickering as the wolf emitted a low growl as if in agreement. “See, you don’t want offend her, now do you?”
“Apologies... I misspoke, obviously. Still, she must have come with someone, no?” Dastan inquired, looking around as if waiting for someone to come around and claim the animal.
“Oh, yes. She’s around here.” Crys confirmed with a nod. “Interesting woman... You know, takes a special person to form a bond with a wolf like this. They don’t connect with just anyone. I can’t deny I’m somewhat envious.” She smiled softly. “Just a little bit.”

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

Irvin was just about to turn away from the tables, but a voice caught his ears and stopped him in his tracks. ”Indeed.” The boy turned to face the man who had spoken with a curious look in his eyes, giving the man a brief look from head to toe before stating. “You’re not from around here.” he gave the man another look before shrugging and taking an apple himself, but instead of biting into it, he simply tossed it around from one hand to the other and then back playfully. “Well, welcome to Valcrest. What brings you to ‘lovely’ Blackpond? Aside from the free food, of course.” He snickered, finally taking a bite of the fruit in his hands.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Ess Character Portrait: Darren Hearst

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#, as written by Essence
“Oh, hey, look; Apples!”

The mockery of Irv’s excitement managed to match the sincerity of Darren’s as his eyes lit up at the sound of his friend’s discovery. He gave the impression he was distracted since he wasted no time in inspecting the apples for bruises and such but he still managed to keep one eye on Irvin at all times. He casually grabbed a couple apples, one in each hand and stared at them with an uncertain curiosity, sniffing at them in an odd animalistic manner. For a moment an image flashed across his eyes but was quickly disregarded since it was nothing significant, just visions of those picking and loading the apples. Almost like a puppy he followed Jake, muttering to himself about the apples.

Darren was dressed simply in a black, silk shirt, tunic, pants and leather boots, the lacing in his shirt in white. He made sure to trim his goatee and even his curls so they didn’t linger too much in his eyes. Yes it wasn’t anything fancy but it was enough to compliment his physique, the tips of black flames managing to still peek out from his low collar along his neck and collarbone. He had a sweet yet handsome allure to him; a musky scent of pine freshly burned lingered in his hair and clothes. He couldn’t help the looks he was already receiving by a couple lovely ladies, returning their glances with winks and smiles that sent them giggling among themselves. Maybe it was the innocence of the dimples or perhaps the deep blues mixed with violet stirring behind a dim glow of his eyes. There was something he didn’t quite grasp that attracted the attention of those he wasn’t even aiming for; always had been.

“Do you think these are good enough to eat? Would the host poison the food you think?” His brows furrowed in annoyance at his own paranoia as he offered an apple to Jake. Darren’s ears perked up at the sound of soft shrieks of surprise, almost falling over as a wolf pushed its way past him and towards a redheaded woman. He was silent, acting as if he didn’t notice Crys and simply smiled noting the fact that one of Jake’s redheads had arrived, his gaze trailing the crowd around him in awe to see if he would recognize any others.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Essence was politely slinking between folks, muttering apologies as she tracked her wolf through the crowd. At times she was only catching the tip of her tail wagging only to vanish as Ess turned past a woman with an extravagant yet very puffy dress. Internally she cringed, noting how obnoxious that woman’s gown was and how uncomfortable it must be. ‘What was she thinking?’ She thought. The people parted slinking away from Tala out of instinct and fear, leaving her easy to spot beside a familiar woman giving love and attention to her furry companion.

“There you are, Tal-....Oh,Crys? Wonderful to see you again.” Ess gasped with a gentle smile, pausing to look between Tala, Crys and a man standing not too far behind them. “Ali is probably looking for you; she is...’keeping an eye’ on me.” Ess snickered, playfully winking at the tall gentleman behind Crys. “Apparently, I wasn’t allowed to come here alone...and miss Tala here didn’t think Ali was enough apparently. She bloody followed me all the way here.” She sighed, crossing her arms, still holding the flask between her fingertips. “Spirited this one is...

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Ess Character Portrait: Darren Hearst Character Portrait: Samantha 'Johnson'

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Jacob was keeping a close eye on the party at first, but his attention was snatched away completely when Crys arrived; his eyes immediately drawn to her the moment she entered the ballroom, a shocked and dazed expression spreading across his features as if it was the first time he had ever seen a woman in his life. Compared to some other party guests, Crys was dressed simple; a long dark brown velvet dress, details and sleeves adorned with a transparent lace of a darker shade of brown mixed with dark red in a pattern, the transparent material extending just a bit past her fingertips. Jake wasn’t used to seeing her dressed up like this, he couldn’t help but stare at her in absolute awe for a few moments; she looked so beautiful it actually hurt.
The little conversation they had the day before was less than friendly, and she made sure to steer it as far away from personal matters as possible; it was tense and awkward and left Jake with a lingering and painful feeling of hopelessness. A great part of him was almost convinced she would never forgive him. Seeing her there hit him harder than he thought it would, especially considering the fact that she was there with Dastan. He stood there, eyes following her movements as if he was in a trance until Darren’s voice caught his attention, and he shook his head, turning to face the boy accepting the apple he was being offered and carelessly taking a bite of the fruit. “Poisoning all the guests would be just too simple, I don’t think that’s how they’d do it. Tastes normal, and I feel fine... Let me know if you start to feel sick though.” He played with a little smirk.

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

Crys smiled in response to Ess’ arrival before she even properly reached her; a small chuckle escaping her lips as she was greeted by the woman. “Speak of the devil...” She whispered in amusement. “Hello, Ess, always a pleasure. Ali is keeping an eye on you, huh? And who’s keeping an eye on her?” Crys asked, amusement clear in her tone as she heard Dastan force a small cough to catch her attention. Crys shook her head and turned to the man with a raised eyebrow. “Are you coming down with something, Dastan? I’m sure you’re not expecting me to introduce you since you are a grown man perfectly capable of speaking for himself and all.” She teased. Not giving Dastan the opportunity to reply she gave a playful bow as if to excuse herself. “I should go find Ali before the kid gets herself into some trouble. I’ll leave you two to get acquainted, I’m sure it’ll be interesting.” She smiled gently at Ess as she gave Tala one final scratch behind the ears. “I’m sure we’ll find each other again amongst the guests soon.” As she turn to walk away she added over her shoulder. “You be careful with that one.”
Dastan snickered softly at the comment. “Come on now, don’t scare the lady, I can be good.”
Crys stopped and shook her head, unable to hold back a small giggle. “I wasn’t talking to her, silly.” She told him, still chuckling softly as she moved amongst the small crowd of people.

Dastan scratched his head a bit taken aback by the warning, amusement in his eyes as he stepped forth and took a rather exaggerated and comical bow. “Ello there, miss... I’m Dastan and you are... Lovely.” He said with a playful smirk, standing up straight and offering a handshake. “I have to say, for what Crys says of you I’m intrigued; pretty, interesting and comes with a warning... My type of girl.”

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Luckas was quiet on the way over to the city, Sam had once or twice asked him if he was feeling alright, to which he simply nodded to reassure her, but didn’t exactly answer. His head still ached a little from his little episode. He wondered if Lena knew he would be having these stupid visions... He wouldn’t doubt that she did. That wasn’t exactly what was bothering him though... It was more like an inexplicable annoying sensation in the pit of his stomach.
“Is this about the healer?” Sam asked calmly as they automatically stopped by the entrance of the party, expecting to be searched, but realizing that security in this place just didn’t seem to give much importance to people possibly carrying dangerous items. “I hear the party is for her death.”
“I wasn’t aware.” Luckas mumbled in response. “They should give me a medal if they’re so pleased with my work.”
“Luckas... What’s bothering you?” She insisted.
“I’m not sure.” He replied, with a shrug. “Some weird gut feeling... I’m sure it’ll go away.” He mumbled, eyes wandering around the room immediately spotting and then quickly darting away from the familiar figure of a woman dressed in red; glancing towards Sam to see the woman opening glaring at her. “Oh.” He muttered under his breath. “Right.”
A small chuckle reached his ears and he turned to see Wyatt staring intently at his expression with an amused grin. “Oh yes... This party will be memorable.”
“Shut up, Amb-”
“Hush. It’s Wyatt, remember?”
“What kind of a stupid name is Wyatt?” Luckas muttered.
“Quit your bickering, will you? It’s a party.” Sam interrupted, a calm tone in her voice as she turned to Luckas. “Lukey, no need to be so tense, hm? Everything is fine.” She assured him, reaching out to briefly run her fingers through his hair. “Now, the two of you should go on and explore. I’m sure there are some interesting individuals scattered around here.”
Luckas winced slightly at her affectionate gesture, but didn’t have the courage to pull away from her so openly, instead he nodded his agreement, although a bit unsure. “Are you sure, Sammy?”
“Of course I am.” She confirmed. “Go on.”
Luckas’ eyes narrowed slightly as if trying to see through the woman for a moment before he nodded once again and turned away to wander amongst the crowds, after a few steps he felt he was being followed and sighed as laughter reached his ears. “Do you really believe everything is fine? I mean really, you’re just ridiculously obvious Lukey.”
“Why wouldn’t everything be fine? And I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Wyatt chuckled softly, shaking his head, strands of copper colored hair falling over the boy’s blue eyes. “We entered this room, and it took you less than a minute to find her amongst the party guests. If I noticed, be sure that so did Sammy, and you know... You just may learn the hard way that when a woman says ‘it’s fine’, that’s a clear sign that you should be very worried; hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, my friend. And let’s face it, you seem to have a soft spot for crazy. I feel bad for you, honest.” He stated, a short moment passing before the boy exploded into a fit of giggles, playfully skipping around Luckas as he walked. “No, sorry... That was a lie... I’m going to love watching this whole thing blow up in your face. But hey... I’m not judging, she is very pretty. Sure the trouble is worth it.”
“Can we change the subject now? And quit giggling, if you want to be a guy, stop acting so girly.”
“Hey... I’m girly, but I bet I can get any girl in this party to dance with me. How about you, hm?”
“I don’t dance.”
“Booo....” Wyatt chuckled, pushing Luckas away as if he was contagious. “Party pooper...” The redhead boy suddenly stood in a more composed stance and smiled, tilting his head to the side as if in a look of pity. “You seriously need to live a little. Let’s make a deal, hm? Ask one girl, or woman, you seem to like older women, right? Any female in this party for a dance, and if she accepts I will owe you a favor.”
“Hm... Any favor I want?” Luckas asked, a smirk crossing his features.
“Any favor you want.”
“Rules?”
“Can’t be Sammy... Or your Lady, although I’m sure you wouldn’t have the balls to ask her either way. You can’t mention the bet, and you only have one chance. So... Deal?”
“Hmph... Okay deal.”
Wyatt nodded in acceptance a playful grin. “Oh, but if you can’t get a dance... You’ll owe me a favor.”
“Seems fair.” Luckas nodded in acceptance, following the boy’s blue eyes as they searched the ballroom. “Are you looking for someone?”
“Hm, well, he’s not here... That’s such a pity.”
“Who...?” Luckas cut himself off as he caught a familiar grin cross the redhead boy’s expression. “Ugh, not the Beast Boy... Gross. And you’re a boy, remember?.”
“Hey, it’s always flattering to have an admirer!” Wyatt protested with a playful frown.
Luckas shook his head. “I’m almost thinking it is a shame he’s not here. That would have been amusing, but then... So would stabbing him in the eyes with a fork. And I prefer the latter.”
“Noo... Not the eyes. He’s got such pretty eyes.” The boy whined, stomping his foot and pouting.
“Let’s compromise; you let me yank them out and I let you keep them. How’s that?”
“Hm... Does that apply to any other bits or just the eyes?”
“Wha-... Oh... Okay, we’re done talking now.” Luckas muttered, turning away and starting to walk in the opposite direction. “You heard Sammy... Explore.”
“Lovely... Exploring is my second favorite thing!”

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Sam’s eyes were scanning the room for any interesting activity, registering a few people here and there she thought it would be interesting to meet, but most of her attention was divided between Luckas and the redhead woman from the Raven’s encampment, small flickers of yellow light sparkling beneath the green of her irises. It was barely noticeable, but it was there; a spark of anger. She began to move along the ballroom, politely nodding to some other guests whose glances she caught along the way, a pleasant smile crossing her expression but not really reaching her eyes. She avoided the woman for the moment, giving herself time to observe as she spoke to a man who Sam imagined was a mercenary from the desert, judging by his attire and casual demeanor. There she stood for a few moments, listening to idle chat by other party guests and examining the woman’s behavior as she interacted with the man.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Ess Character Portrait: Darren Hearst

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#, as written by Essence
Darren snickered, shaking his head in amusement as Jacob took the apple and instantly bit into it. He stared at the man, as if unsure if the effects would indeed be instantaneous or slow and after a few more moments he shrugged, turning to glance back at where he left Irvin. He was about to bite into the apple when he noticed a familiar face he’d seen in passing back at the Nest, engage in brief conversation with his friend. Darren’s eyes sparkled as he watched to see how Irv reacted to the attention of a pretty girl, smiling when he seemed to make it through without violence or offense. He wasn’t sure though, as the woman did end up moving on, but it seemed like he did alright. Turning back towards Jake he glanced past him to get a better look at the wolf. “Hey...do you know who brought the wolf? I’ve seen her in camp hanging around some of the guard.”
~~~
Ess’ eyes flickered in a few shades of purple before settling back to their dull violet, a warm smile following Crys as she left her alone with the man who had introduced himself as Dastan. Tala had started to follow the woman until Ess cleared her throat rather loudly causing the wolf to turn to look up at her. “Taaala...Stand at attention.” She commanded in a gentle request of sorts, the wolf turning to sniff at the mercenary before sitting on her haunches beside Essence, releasing an exasperated huff. Tala yawned, a high pitched whine lazily escalating into a bark as she fidgeted and stared off into the crowd, ignoring both Ess and Dastan. Something caught her attention, causing the hairs to rise along her neck, yet she fell silent and remained still at her friend’s request.

“Well...since I seem to be in an honest mood today...” Ess began, extending her hand to firmly grip Dastan’s in a handshake. “..Talon actually...not Lovely.” She snickered. “..Essence Talon...or Ess if you like” Even though the bruises were barely noticeable along her neck, Ess had used her enlightenment to hide the fact she had been in any sort of brawl. It wasn't enough to drain her of any strength, but simple, something she didn't even need focus to hold. Still, she knew they were there and her fingers lingered along her collarbone as if to hide what was already hidden. Still holding the flask in her hand she took another sip before politely offering the liquor to her new acquaintance. “Your kind of girl, huh? How many fall into that category, hmm? How can you be so quick to assume anything with someone you’ve only just met? Appearances are very deceiving you know...” Ess couldn’t help a playful smirk as she looked over the man slowly, her eyes drinking in the details so it appeared she couldn’t take her eyes off him when she was putting the details to memory for her own reasons. Not that she didn’t find him attractive, she just had other intentions behind her stares. “You should listen to Crys though. Most men who get that kind of warning regret not listening.” She teased, biting at her bottom lip. Absently she began to sway at a stringed melody from across the room, unaware that she was hypnotized by the beat. “Dastan....” She whispered, liking the way his name rolled off her tongue. “Are you here for the pretty faces or did you have another agenda for complying to the voices in your head?”

Ess’ smile faltered for a mere second as she thought she caught a familiar figure out from the corner of her eye. Casually she glanced around the room, not seeing what she could have sworn she saw slinking behind the crowd that was accumulating more and more. Some were even now beginning to dance; extravagant and obnoxious dresses twirling about so carelessly she thought the men would get lost in the folds of material that dragged along the floor. Not wanting to appear distracted she pushed her attention back to Dastan, again catching a trail of familiar dark eyes. Now she felt like she was dreaming; like she was reading a page straight from her own journal as the feeling of being watched started to creep as shivers along her bare skin. Her smile grew in unison with a biting, twisty ache growing in her belly. ‘Perfect..’ Ess thought. ‘Just bloody perfect. Who else is going to show up at this damn party...'

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Speak healer, but do not hope.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Ess

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#, as written by Essence
“What is there no booze in this party or are you just picky with you liquor?”

Ess accepted the flask back, casually tucking it back at her side, a sly grin on her lips. “Maybe it was just a test. I wonder...how many people would drink from a strangers flask? Never the less, I’m glad I didn’t spike it.” Slowly she winked at him, taking a few steps closer but suddenly turning to kneel beside Tala. Mumbling a few commands into the wolf’s ear, she barked and took off in what seemed like a random direction, Ess discreetly letting her gaze follow as she forced her smile wider. Standing back to her feet she was now standing inches from the mercenary. “Clan..?” Ess asked with a sweet yet fake look of ignorance. “Don’t think I really have an agenda...yet. Well, except that I will try to enjoy myself a little bit. All things considered.” Lifting both eyebrows she let her smile fade, her gaze lingering across the man’s chest and trailing down his arms. Ever so slightly, she let her fingertips trail up along to the man’s shoulder before she let her lavender stare reach his deep browns. “Do you dance, Dastan?” She whispered with a tantalizing grace, casually her eyes passed along his neck and a genuine smile returned when she noticed a discolored imperfection along his throat. “I like your scar...adds a certain kind of ….charm.”

Essence hid her internal hammerings very well, noting the familiar dark figure in the crowd and even though her blood boiled in annoyance, many ideas of violence crossing her eyes, she still smiled and appeared carefree. She would ignore him. Pretend he wasn’t even there, yet all the while keeping tabs. It was true though, she needed to let herself have some fun and she didn’t think it would hurt to be a little extra friendly towards her new acquaintance. Little by little she was picking up little hints and details to what kind of man he was. It was something new to her, this making friends thing, but she figured at the very least whatever alliances she could gain she was the better for it.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Ess Character Portrait: Darren Hearst

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Dastan chuckled softly, his dark eyes sparkling in amusement as Essence mentioned not having spiked the contents of the flask. “Well, now you know my secret... I’m a very, very, trusty man... It would be extremely easy for a pretty lady such as yourself to take advantage of me... Crys herself has said I should not be left unattended.” He said in a not very convincing innocent tone. “If you do ever feel like poisoning me in the future though, sweetness... At least grant me one last request, hm? I’d like to assure that I die a happy man.” He stated, giving the woman a playful wink. “Aye, my clan... I am the proud leader of the Crimson Shadows, and the last living member of the royal family of Brightvale, but don’t let the title fool you into thinking I am in any way a responsible man.” He said, a slightly mischievous grin crossing his features. “Although the fact that I’ve come here tonight should speak for itself.” The man snickered softly, amusement still in his eyes.

Although Dastan was his usually casual self, playful and relaxed in his demeanor, he was ever so observant of his company. While nearly everything about Essence was alluring, there was also something about the woman that kept the man respectful, at least as much as he was capable of. It was somewhat clear to him, despite all subtlety, that the woman already knew this game all too well. “Do I dance? Hm, well... I guess you could say that I do, although where I’m from we tend to do it in a less.... uh... orderly fashion than what I’m seeing around here.” Dastan said, scratching his chin thoughtfully as he took a moment to watch some of the dancing couples, the mention of his scar drawing his focus back to Ess as he seemed to flinch for just a moment before nodding. “It is a good reminder to watch out for jealous boyfriends.” He spoke with a smile that made it unclear whether he was joking or not. “Hopefully that’s not something I need to worry about at the moment, or is it?”

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

Irvin caught up with Jake and Darren still chewing on some apple, a playful smile crossing his expression as he nudged Jake. “Spotted any interesting redheads, Killer? You do look like you need to... Unwind, if you know what I mean.”
“Anyone older than five years old would know what you mean, Irvin.” Jake replied, his eyes narrowing slightly as he glanced off into the crowd. “And yes, one or two. I think my chances of... unwinding are around zero or less though. I do have great chances of being punched in the face, but then.... Considering where we are, I say we all do.”
Irvin chuckled softly. “Hey, I wouldn’t mind if a pretty woman punched me in the face. Which reminds me, speaking of face punching... Is that Rita lady around here? I should chat her up. She was pretty.”
Jake chuckled, shaking his head in amusement at the boy. “I haven’t seen her, Irv, but you shouldn’t assume that just because a woman sleeps on your bed and then hits you in the face you have any chance with her. Trust me, I’ve made that mistake once.”
The boy chuckled. “Well, maybe you’re not as charming as I am.” He played, still laughing for a few moments until his eyes caught someone in the crowd and sparkled with rage. “He’s here. You didn’t tell me he was going to be here!” The boy muttered out.
Jake flinched for a second at Irvin’s reaction, but immediately caught him by the arm as he tried to move in Sean’s direction. “No. Not yet and certainly not here! We have a deal. Getting yourself killed is not a part of it.”
Irvin groaned, trying to struggle for a moment against Jake’s hold, but eventually settling down. “You didn’t say he was going to be here.”
“I didn’t know.” Jake sighed. “And could you please stop freezing my hand? See, I’m rather attached to it.”
Irvin frowned, glancing down to notice that Jake’s fingers were turning to a blue-ish tone around his wrist. “Sorry.” He snorted.
Jake sighed, releasing the boy’s arm. “I get it that you really want him dead. I do. But you just have to set it aside for now so we can maybe make it through this party alive. Starting something here and now would just be suicidal, way too suicidal even for my standards."
"I'll try... I can't promise." Irvin mumbled in response.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Ess

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#, as written by Essence
“Well, now you know my secret... I’m a very, very, trusty man...

“Now...that doesn’t seem fair, does it? For me to know a secret about you but you don’t get to learn any of mine?” Essence shrugged. “Sadly, I don’t trust men easily. Although, I’m sure if you were to keep a close eye on me, I’d reveal one or two tonight.” She giggled, her smile fading slightly when he addressed her as ‘Pretty Lady’, a flash of light passing over her pupils in a thoughtful pose. The words caused that internal wave of anger and spite to roll down her neck and along her shoulders in an intensity so fierce yet so brief she still reached for the muscle as if it truly ached. The term ’Sweetness just brought the smile back, her soul pulling from tensed to composed at the familiar nickname. Only one other person had ever called her that, and even though it was something she used often and carelessly in comparison to now, it stirred something she didn’t understand in her when it was spoken. It was just a nickname and Dastan seemed to use it as freely as she had once. A few months ago, if a man had addressed her as such, she may have reacted violently. She wouldn’t have cared if it was insane and made no sense, because simply it meant something different to her than it may to most. For a moment she stared before snapping out of deep thought, yet still she caught every word as Dastan spoke. “Responsibility is overrated but a necessary evil.” She joked, her eyes catching an entertainer of sorts off towards the stairwell appear, holding what appeared to be bucket of hot embers and coals in one hand and a staff in the other. He stood tall and oddly still as if waiting for something and that was when she heard the commotion.

“Ella!”

The amount of time it took Ess’ thought process to accept the very idea of the NewHaven Queen attending a party at Blackpond and how this could end badly, was the exact amount of time it took for the display of fire and ice to begin. Ess was in awe, her attention naturally drawn to the fire in an innocent, childlike delight and then her expression suddenly shut by a chilling wind that forced her eyes closed for a moment. When she opened them she realized that any other possible exit she had internally noted was now sealed like a tomb. Her discomfort was noted by how she had to suddenly keep busy, starting with adjusting her gown and hair as if to put every strand back in place. “...Well...I guess there are worse people to be trapped inside a room with..” She half heartily joked, glancing at Dastan. “And to think you were worried about jealous boyfriends...”

Clearing her throat, she began to walk back towards the stairwell; the ‘entertainer’ still standing idle and surprisingly calm before he dipped the ends of the staff into the bucket so that they lit up in bright flames. “Not boyfriends, Dastan...” Blowing a kiss towards the man she muttered something about going off to dance, heels clicking and skipping beats as she quickened her pace towards the figure who began spinning the staff before him so fast that the flames blurred into a fiery circle that seemed to melt together. That was when he paused and by slight of hand, the staff became two. Alternating staffs into the air in a weightless fashion, the man would casually catch them, rotating them along his wrists in a large figure eight. The skill level seemed boundless as the tricks increased in speed and complexity that caused Ess to bounce in excitement as she watched. A small crowd had encircled herself and the performer, as she was closer than most, unwary by the flames.

“I can do that...” She stated boldly, catching what appeared to be two morning-stars hanging lazily out of the bucket, unfinished chain links touching the floor.

“So you think?” The man laughed, eyeing Ess’ long dress in disbelief but stepped back, not losing pace as he nodded towards the bucket of fire. “I will never object to a lovely woman wanting to embarrass herself...adds a certain beauty to the shame..”

Ess’ eyes narrowed, but she kept smiling as her fingers fumbled along the lace of her gown, slowly peeling off the outer layer of her dress like a jacket to reveal bare arms, mini daggers along her sides, and her relic favorite along the small of her back. Without really looking she asked the closest person to her in a sweet tone, draping the piece of her gown over the individual’s arm, “Excuse me...please hold this for me...” Now she was free to move her arms and torso a bit more comfortably, her gown still just touching the floor but lighter and less confined to move now. It wasn’t long before she had the man’s speed matched, yet her approach differed much from his as the fiery morning-stars disappeared into an orange blaze in shapes and flowers. Her entire body flowed with the barrel like tricks, arching far backwards so that the flames did not touch her face, still mere inches from her curls. Spinning in gradual circles around the man as he continued as well, they toyed with one another in their fiery play, threatening to burn the other but never losing control. Now, she was dancing.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Ella Page Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher Character Portrait: Ess Character Portrait: Ari Lupir

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The lights, the drinks, the sound of the music unable to calm the rapid beating of hearts couldn’t distract from the tight tension that had her on edge. Ari itched. It wasn’t the fabric of the dress or the hot humid climate that her body had decided to take, it was her enlightenment. Something seemed wrong, out of place and it made her jumpy. Her green eyes were streaked with silver, her nose crinkled at the smell of the alcohol in her hands, her ears catching the soft whispers of those across the hall, her eyes scanning the windows, the doors, the dresses. Everything screamed threat and Ari shifted uncomfortably. Wolf was begging to be let out, to rip, tear, and defend and she had half a mind to do so. After all, she might have been the only one unarmed on the entire premises. However that wouldn’t have been pleasant. Somehow she managed to hold the wolf in check; perhaps it was the image of a girl running across the floor only to tear into a black wolf, or maybe it was the horror of being naked in front of everyone after the fact. Either way, it would have been funny in a couple hundred years to everyone else except her.

Ari took a sip of the drink, her fingers trembling as she then set the glass down. It was supposed to be calming, yet all it did was set her teeth on edge. Something smelled wrong. Ari turned her eyes back onto the crowd, locating her two targets quickly. Ella looked relatively safe; she did have a guard with her. Sean was talking to some girl and he seemed pretty safe too. Keeping an eye out was making her head hurt. Her first duty was toward the Alpha, she would lay her life down to protect him, and it wasn’t just because he had adopted a snot-nosed brat and turned her into this. He had become someone she considered a friend. Ella, on the other hand, was her new charge. If anything happened to her, Ari considered it a failure on her first mission, and wouldn’t Sean just love to gloat over that. And yet, Ella had been so open with someone she saw as just a maid, had listened. Most people didn’t listen to her. Then there were the other’s Ari had to keep an eye on. Dastan, Crys, Ali, Ess, Luckas; any one of them could blow her cover and expose her secrecy to those she didn’t want to know who, or where she was.

Her tongue ran over her lips and she let her hand fall to her side only to be pushed up by a wet nose and onto a head. She felt it rest on fur. Tala whined, her paw tugging into the hem of Ari’s dress and carefully, Ari knelt to the ground. Her eyes became level with that of the wolf and Ari smiled as Tala appeared to do the same, her knowing eyes bright but curious. They remembered each other, even outside wolf form, which was clear in the way that Ari could gently press her face into the shoulder, her face hidden in the musky scent of the wilderness.

“Tala girl. You remember,” she breathed, her fingers gently combing through the fur. The wolf seemed to let her pull everything back together and the anxiety slowly withdrew. As Ari pulled away Tala wagged once and then made her way back into the horde, her nose working the air in front of her as she scampered off, leaving Ari once again alone in the big room. Ari sighed and stood again, her dress moving like water across her knees. It was time to go, let someone else watch for awhile.

Ari cut her way through the crowd, passing many other people, her eyes locked on the way she came in.

“Ari!”

Ari groaned and turned her head, her eyes locking onto the face of Sesh. He waved and gently took her arm, pulling her back away from the doors and into the mob. His snow colored hair caught the light, his eyes dark as he smiled.

“I never thought I would see you here,” he grinned like a puppy, his entire ensemble black again, including the dagger he toyed with at his hip.

“I never thought you would go back to Kirsten,” she mused, her fingers picking at the grapes he had offered her from the food table.

“He is a devil to break from. You know the strength of Blood Moon.”

“Yes, but I really need to get out of here,” she sighed, shifting uncomfortably at the fact that now all of Kirsten’s men knew her attachments and abilities.

“You can’t, not yet anyway,” he smiled as she groaned his eyes bright with mischief, “Perhaps you could try sneaking out the windows up there. But you’d have use your enlightenment.”

“Excellent, then I will.”
He watched as she dropped under the table, a moment later, a small bird fluttering up from under it. It chirped and then flew up and as he looked around no one seemed to be any the wiser.

Ari was airborne. The tips of her wings glowed the same silver as her eyes and her small body drifted up above the palace, her wings tipping and tilting along the air. Her sharp eyes scanned the roofs, her beak clacking as her suspicion was proven wrong. She then dove down toward the ball. The windows above the dance floor, higher than anyone could climb, were slightly open to let in air and Ari had no problem swooping into the ball room. She landed on the grandest chandelier, her wings flapping as her head cocked. There seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary, just bright flowers swaying on the ground and the chatter of those she couldn’t understand. Her talons closed and flexed, watching as some of the glitter balls fell from the light and shattered against the ground. Her body hopped and fluttered, the lamp swinging as the hanging strained and groaned with the extra weight. A couple of people had looked up and were pointing. Ari leapt to another side, her head cocking as she looked toward Sesh. He had his eyes closed and was leaning in a corner, his arms crossed and his brow furrowed in concentration and worry. She laughed. As only a bird could, the laughter rose as a small chirping and flapping of wings. The lamp fell and Ari with it.


People dove out of the way, the music stopping as it came shattering on the ground. Glitter balls flew and popped loose, rolling under heels and along the ground as the candles on the lamp broke or went out and fell onto a small falcon. Sesh opened his eyes, moving away from the wall as his connection broke with the guard. People were screaming, whispering, some even had actually touched their weapons and he shook his head as he looked upon the mess that lay before him. He shook his head, wondering what could have caused the fall when he caught sight of a small flash of silver. He casually moved over towards the mass of brownish feathers, his body bending to gently scoop the bird up. Its head lolled in his hands and his thumbs gently stroked its breast, watching as the wings fluttered in response.

“It’s okay!” someone called but Sesh didn’t need to turn back to know that he was talking about the situation and not the bird. He moved away from the open pit, moving past people he didn’t care much about now, his attention was fixated on the bird. He looked up apologetically at a redhead and what he thought might be the Alpha, having walked between them. He carried the bird away, reaching the other end of the hall where there was water. He dropped a palm full on top of the bird’s beak, watching as it fluttered up to life in his hands, making a strangled chirping noise. Silver eyes stared at him, and Sesh smiled.

“Ari, you little devil,” he whispered, his grin reaching his eyes. His fingers stroked over her feathers, pulling his fingers away as she snapped at them.

“Getting you dressed is going to be hard now, you know that?” he smirked as she stared at him, cocking her head as her body began to melt. “Now? Ari, my dear, you are full of surprises.”

He carefully placed her on the ground watching as she chose, at the last moment to become a black wolf. She shook out her pelt, nudging him in his leg as she sniffed him with a small whine. Her tongue lolled from her mouth as she sat.

“Your dress is currently in the arms of a very confused guard. Don’t worry I will get it back and come up with something, but for now, you better just stay.”


Ari growled, the pun obviously intended as Sesh smirked and left her alone in the corner. She clacked her teeth and stood, walking forward along the crowd to see the extent of her little adventure. It wasn’t pretty, that was sure and Ari’s nose wrinkled as she caught a very good whiff of Sean. She sneezed and turned her head back over her shoulder to catch sight of him, his eyes appearing to glower at her. Just in case she shrugged, turned away, and melted back into the mass of people, all whispering and whining. She hadn’t meant to, but at least this had given her a chance to escape the itchy vulnerable human form. Her tail wagged as she cut her way around, crawling between the red head, Ess, and Sean. There she lay, her eyes looking up at him for a moment and then at the girl. Neither one took notice of her nor neither smelled like anything but suspicion. Well, that was good. They were not in imamate danger, not in the slightest. She wormed her way out of view, some people stepping back as she made her way to try and find Ella, drawn on by the smell of flowers and pink.

It wasn’t long until she saw the queen, her Black Knight and her clearly in conversation. Their whispers hushed and rushed. Ari scented the air around the two, back on her belly against the wall. When she was sure there was no danger to either of them, well, except random falling candles, she smiled. Good. Everything seemed to be alright and she no longer felt anxious. It was interesting how her fears had come to rest with the chaos that was happening around her. Ari smiled, being a small black wolf was cunning and relaxing. Slowly Ari dropped to her stomach, backing away as she caught sight of Sesh waving towards her, a white dress in his arms. The mess was already being taken care of, a speaker quickly answering questions and explaining what could have happened. Ari was honestly quite amazed with how well they were handling the fear and suspicion, almost as if—

“Get under the table and pull this back on, then tie it once you get back up, hurry. People are starting to mill about again,” he warned, as Ari grabbed the dress in her teeth, pulling it with her under the table and sliding into it still in wolf form. Granted it was awkward and tight, but it was better than trying to slide it on under the table. The shift was quick and she rolled from under the table. As she stood and quickly tied the knot in her dress, she whirled, her body colliding against someone as her bare feet tripped on the hem of the dress. Her hand caught herself on his build, his arm gripping hers as she slowly straightened herself out.

“Sorry!” she whispered, her green eyes locking onto a pair of dark brown ones. Her hand was pale in comparison to his tan skin, and her face blanched as she recognized the desert man and it was truly the last person she wanted to see here.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher Character Portrait: Ess Character Portrait: Ari Lupir Character Portrait: Darren Hearst Character Portrait: Samantha 'Johnson'

0.00 INK

#, as written by Essence
Ess quirked a brow, playfully biting her lip as the Alpha mentioned her having left her named carved into the table back at the Inn; the night of the Xypher incident. “Hmm, my apologies...it was an act...simply done subconsciously while I had been preoccupied with thoughts elsewhere. I wouldn’t want you to have some sort of notion of me, because of something so small, so..” Essence dipped her head slightly, her fingers sliding along her waist as if checking for a coin purse, pausing in a momentary daze appearing as if she forgot what she was looking for. A teasing smile confirmed quite the opposite when she reached into her corset to retrieve a small pouch jingling with coin. “..This should cover it..” She whispered, dropping the pouch in his hand. “I can assure you, if I was the one on your arm, I doubt I’d be bored, but if I was you’d know by the amount of trouble I may start.” Ess giggled, drawing in a sharp breath when the Alpha mentioned her last name. “Alright..Sean. Funny how rumors are, they tend to be correct but lacking detail which is just another reason I like to meet the subject of said rumors and decide for myself. Tell me...If you know my name from your table at the Inn, tell me how you know my last name. I only carved Ess into the wood. Why would someone so insignificant like myself be known to you? Unless...” Ess was cut off, speaking to downplay herself as much as possible as she was momentarily distracted by a balled up handkerchief lightly bouncing off the Alpha’s shoulder. Glancing around to see if she could find the source of the flying object, something brushed between herself and Sean but when she looked to see what it had been, assuming Tala, a black blur simply disappeared into the crowd. That was when she noticed a dark-haired woman’s gaze upon her. Ess froze a moment, startled to realize she was being watched by the woman from Luckas’ memory; the one she drew for him and who had visited the camp. To say Ess was intrigued was an understatement. It was more like a trance which her curiosity had taken a firm hold of her so that she politely excused herself from Sean with a promise to return shortly and began to walk in the direction of the woman.

Sam had been watching, waiting. If there was one thing she believed was truly valuable it was an opportunity; a chance, because in life there were only so many of those to go around and she wouldn’t dare waste a single one. Especially not one that presented itself to her this way... So willingly. Almost like a gift. It was difficult to keep a politely curious expression as the woman she’d been watching from a small distance caught sight of her and excused herself from the Wolfpack’s Alpha. The man was another of the few people who peaked Sam’s interest, but the right opportunity to approach him hadn’t presented itself yet, unlike his female companion.

Once it was absolutely clear that the woman’s intention was to approach her, Sam moved from where she was standing and started calmly pacing in the redhead’s direction giving her a friendly nod as if greeting a long time acquaintance. “It was just about time... You know, I’ve been meaning to have a word with you.” She said to the woman in a tone of curiosity, her green eyes examining the woman standing before her in a more thorough assessment, her amusement fading momentarily from her features, quickly replaced by a polite smile. “Lukey has a point, you really are a pretty lady.”

The idea of being watched was no longer a paranoia but more of a validation when the familiar woman who caught Ess’ gaze moved to meet her. Ess had been relying on that little bit of time that it took to reach the figure, to ponder what she was going to exactly say to the woman from Luckas’ memory. It worked out when she spoke first while at the same time catching Essence off guard at the woman’s knowledge of her. “I take it, Luckas discovered I wasn’t lying when I told him I had heard of you searching for him.” She stated simply with a sigh, bowing her head slightly. “I’m surprised he mentioned me at all, honestly. You are quite gracious with the pleasantries but I fear I don’t compare much to you, now that we are side by side.” Ess’ eyes glossed over, violet hues burying any trace of their silver decor. She smiled sweetly to push aside any uncomfortable feelings that may have been lingering at the idea of this stranger knowing much of anything about her. It was an awkward disadvantage but this was also something Essence was use to and considering the past couple days, she braced herself, awaiting whatever else would lay in wait. “Luckas..” She quickly rushed over the name as she continued, “..he must be thrilled to know you are alive. I’m happy for him..”

Sam let out a small chuckle at the mention of Luckas being told about her, she wasn’t sure he would get the message, but she wasn’t surprised to know he didn’t believe it. “Oh, good, so he was told about me. I was wondering if he would get the message, not all were pleasant in your camp. Although, can’t blame your Captain for my troubles... She was actually quite nice... Not what I expected I’ll admit.” Sam let her gaze wander from her company to quietly scan the room as if searching for something before she snickered. “Oh, well... Truth be told... Luckas didn’t mention you to me. No. He has been as of late trying to pretend you don’t exist, and even if he is lousy as it... He hasn’t mentioned you once, not directly. I have been, as you know, looking for him for a very long time though... I’ve learned some things about his life in the process. More so in the past couple of days than in the last few years combined.” Sam’s green eyes once again scanned the woman standing before her and she nodded dismissively. “I’m not one for comparisons, miss... I’m sorry, I am yet to learn your name... Or should I just call you Lady?” She paused for a second as if the idea of using the nickname made her awkward. “I guess not... but either way... I would say beauty is in the eye of beholder, so I’m not inclined to disagree with Luckas if that is what he sees. Besides, I know him more than well enough to know he doesn’t usually take an interest on anyone unless they are... Special... Somehow.” The woman’s eyes darkened momentarily at the word ‘special’, but otherwise her tone remained friendly, and curious... If anything she was genuinely curious. “I wouldn’t describe Luckas as thrilled at the moment... Confused surely, angry I would guess, but not exactly thrilled, at least not yet. I can’t blame him, our... Separation... Was a rather traumatic event for us both. Nice that you are happy for him. I’m glad he has such a good friend.”

Ess nodded attentively as she half listened while the woman spoke. “Funny thing with expectations...were you disappointed? I admit, the boys mean well but they can be a bit extreme when strangers come strolling into a camp unexpectedly.” She shrugged off Sam’s comment on not being mentioned, her eyes narrowing briefly as her smile grew wider. “I wish him luck in wherever his path leads him.” Essence purposely didn’t respond at the insinuation of Sam knowing as much as she did without Luckas’ knowledge. ‘The Stalker has a Stalker..’ She thought in amusement to herself. “...Sam.... correct? Essence...”

“My fellow subjects, guests, figurehead… welcome—”

Ess crossed her arms lazily and glanced over Sam’s shoulder, pursing her lips she let out a shrill whistle that resonated in a quick tune. Letting her gaze fall back to the dark haired woman before her, she continued as if she hadn’t paused, acting as if she didn’t hear a distant series of barks and a small crash amidst the the clammer of people. Ess didn't even pay attention to the source of the crash, which was the chandelier that had momentarily interrupted the King's speech. “ Special is an interesting choice of words, but I don’t find it quite fitting for myself. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to matter much as Luckas made it quite clear that he doesn’t want me around. However, I am not one to break my word or lie so when I say I am his friend, that hasn’t and won’t change even with what traumatic experience he may be dealing with. Times like these, we need to hold onto what opportunities present themselves; twisted and serene alike.” Clearing her throat she quirked a brow, a curious and slightly condescending tone creeping into her sweet tone briefly before dissipating back to her gentle allure. “So, I assume it’s safe to believe you’ll help Luckas through whatever ails him, especially since you had been searching for him for so long.”

“Disappointed? Not quite the term I’d use. I mean, I do understand... I can be very, very, territorial, in my own way. I didn’t mind the way I was halted on my way in, and like I said, your Captain was quite nice, considering her history with... Matt...” Sam stopped to clear her throat, a small, very faint, spark of anger crossing her eyes. “I was bothered by one person in particular though, who was very hostile, not only towards me, but also towards Luckas, and that bothered me very much. I’m not, in any way easily angered, but I do hope I never see this man again. I don’t like people who talk too much of things they know nothing of.” The woman took a deep breath to push back the annoyance that had reached her voice as she spoke, shaking her head as if trying to physically push it all aside. “Doesn’t sound much like Luckas... To make anything clear. He’s rarely sure of anything, that boy... I’m sure, sooner or later he’ll turn up again. I’m curious though, Essence... What interest you have in Lukey? Don’t get me wrong, just... I’m sure you are well aware of that fact people don’t tend to warm up to him, and he’s a complicated boy. He sees something in you, and that’s why he comes back, if it’s still there he’ll keep coming back... That’s in his nature, but you... What do you see?” Sam went silent, leaving the question in the air for a few seconds before running her fingers through the strands of her hair, and letting out a small chuckle. “Hey, maybe it’s none of my business anymore after all this time, but I always have been... Insanely protective of my boys... And Lukey is still quite innocent in some ways. I worry for what messes he may get himself into.” Raising an eyebrow as if honestly confused by the question of whether she would help Luckas, Sam replied; her stance changing slightly to a more serious one. “Of course I’ll help him... With anything he needs.”

“Matt...” Ess whispered with a hint of sympathy. She only knew bits and pieces from what Luckas had mentioned of his brother to her, it didn’t seem like his brother’s end was unjustified or that Luckas held any ill will towards the Captain for taking Matthew’s life. Yet, she couldn’t imagine how difficult a situation like that must be for someone to still care and love someone that many only knew as a monster. “I can’t imagine how you could be so resolved around the person responsible for his death, no matter the reasoning. Please accept my.... sincere...condolences..” Ess didn’t know if she could understand, which was more the reasoning behind her inability to imagine how this woman felt. While she did honestly mean what she said, a subtle, sickening feeling was crawling from her stomach and up her throat. Swallowing hard, she tilted her head in curiosity. “I’m sure Luckas’ curiosity will bring him around again, but I just may not realize it. I understand and accept your protective nature over him as you do have somewhat of a claim upon him, which I respect.” Ess’ body shifted, unfolding her arms so that she appeared to be in more of defensive stance, yet her fingers were well away from any of her blades. “You’re right though, what I ‘See’ in him, if you don’t already know yourself, is not your business,...respectively. However, I will say this. Anyone who has the primal urge to do what he does and go against that instinct, has more to them than they let on. Even to himself, it seems. That and I enjoyed..his company...not that it really matters now.” Waving her hand dismissively she took a step back. “I feel you want to know if I am a threat to him. A natural thing to wonder. Have you come to any conclusions yet?”

“Responsibility has many levels, Essence... If I was to start blaming people for Matty, then I’d probably have a huge list on my hands, that would at some point include myself as well, it’s best to just leave it alone.” Sam stated, simply nodding and not addressing the offer of condolences, her gaze lowering for a brief moment before finding Ess’ eyes again. “I have to appreciate your Captain for her honesty, however brutal it may have been at that particular moment... Not many would look someone in the eyes and admit to killing someone they cared for... I certainly would not.” A smile crossed the woman’s expression again at Ess’ replies to her questioning, amusement crossing her eyes in the form of a faint yellow spark of light. “I apologize if this is considered... an intrusion of sorts... I don’t mean to pry, exactly.” The woman’s eyes once again scanned the room, and her smile changed slightly as she seemed to have spotted a familiar face, but she made no mention of it and continued to speak. “Threat is not the term, I think. I do have my concerns for Luckas though. He is young and rather impressionable still... If I have my facts straight, and if not please do say so, but Lukey was still a boy when the two of you met, no? Fourteen or fifteen, if my math is correct... About as long ago as he’s known that healer... The one who died... The one who used his faulty memories as an excuse to run experiments on him... I’m sure you see my point in asking these things. I know he has killed for you at least once before.... I just wonder what kind of influence you may be on him.”

“I apologize if this is considered... an intrusion of sorts... I don’t mean to pry, exactly.”

Essence brushed a stray curl behind her ear, holding back a snicker at Sam’s polite tip toeing as she pushed her questioning further. Ess looked away as if pretending to ponder the answer before focusing back on the woman’s green eyes. “No..I bet you don’t mean to intrude..” She stated with a bit of sarcasm. Listening as the woman continued, she straightened and shifted her stance once again as if she was uncomfortable at the sudden facts of herself that the woman was regurgitating. The reality of it was more annoyance than anything which she hide away, an innocent look of wonder taking over her expression instead. “Funny...for someone who seems to know so much about me, you didn’t even know my name. I find it quite interesting that you know so much as if you been keeping an eye on Luckas, especially if he hasn’t mentioned me to you. I wonder though, if that was the case, what makes now of all times the opportune moment to make yourself known to him?” Pausing to let the rhetorical question linger in the air, she let out a tired sigh. Essence didn’t feel she needed to answer the woman’s questions, especially since she didn’t talk about that encounter with anyone besides Luckas himself. It was definitely not common knowledge. Instead she focused on a detail Sam mentioned about Luckas’ faulty memories, a devilish sneer crossing her lips as her eyes darkened before flickering with a silverish glow. “Fake memories.....and since you are here before me, does that happen to include the one of your death? Huh...No...that didn’t come up around Lena..” Ess trailed off as if she was just remembering something important yet she neglected to revisit the conversation. “Lena, I only met briefly so I am actually ignorant to what you speak of. That’s quite alright though, especially since Luckas and I hadn’t known each other that long, I don’t expect to know everything. Luckas is a bright, young man. I’m sure he came make his own decisions and come to his own conclusions so if anything or anyone makes an impression upon him, that’s his choice...”

Ess’ attention was momentarily distracted as she heard another crash and a series of short barks. She couldn’t hold back her amusement, yet she knew she needed to restrain her furry friend from causing a scene. Bringing her fingers to her lips, in one single breath, she released a lower whistle, calling Tala back to her. Essence didn’t see Tala, but instead felt her as she appeared by her side, a wet nose brushing against her hand. The wolf’s growl was low enough to be heard only as a rumble, yet she could feel the severity of it with the vibrations along her fingertips. Glancing down she smiled at her, gently patting her head. “Shhh...easy, be polite now.” She whispered towards the wolf before pulling her attention back to Sam. “So...you seem to know plenty about me, at least where Luckas is concerned, so why ask questions you already know the answer to?”

"Welcome!" The king continued on with his speech, a faded buzzing of background noise since her attention was more focused with the woman before her.

Sam arched an eyebrow, an intrigued expression on her face as she repeated Ess’ words. “Fake... Memories...? Who told you that now? I guess that explains though, how you knew my face... My death... Did he show you? Not all of it was fake, no... But if you want details, ask him when you see him. I have nothing to say about that... To you. I will say this... I wasn’t really planning to just show up, I wanted him to come find me, ask questions first, because I didn’t want to shock him that way, but instead he showed up completely out of his mind so I had to change my plans. See... Something... Really upset him.” Sam’s tone was losing its gentleness along the conversation, not that it mattered anyway, she was well aware that it wasn’t really convincing anyone. At the wolf’s arrival Sam tensed, only slightly, a look of annoyance crossing her green eyes and fading as she continued on as if she hadn’t noticed the animal at all. “Why do people ask questions, Essence? Usually because there is something they are looking to learn from another, no? If I wanted facts, which yes, I know plenty about... I could simply ask Lukey about them, but what I’m looking to learn here is something a bit more subjective than that. I am... Taking my conclusions. As I’m sure you’ve drawn your own by now.”

“Did I misunderstand you? Only a few moments ago you mentioned Lena and..” Ess scratched the base of her neck as she quoted Sam’s words, as if unsure of herself but knowing what had been said. “...The one who used his faulty memories as an excuse to run experiments on him..” Even if I took that out of context, you confirmed seconds ago that there were false memories, as well when you asked who told me this, when it was you; twice now. How I found out, was simply...unintentional on either our parts.” Ess shrugged, stifling a fake yawn as she kept the details of how exactly she saw the false memory of Sam’s death, to herself. “I tried to ask him questions when I saw him clearly distraught but since he refused to answer them, guess I may never know.” Falling silent she simply nodded, quietly scratching Tala behind the ears, a bit of her smile returning. Ess was indeed drawing some conclusions of her own but they were still far from complete. The reasoning behind Luckas’ outburst and attempt at pushing Ess away from him was starting to make a bit more sense as she began gathering a couple theories in her mind. Either direction her mind went when contemplating the woman before her just ended in that sickening feeling that continued to creep up on her. It really seemed to her that this woman’s true motive of questioning was indeed far from what she was presenting and it was a tactic Ess knew more than most; a game she felt hell bent on not losing.

“Well, unless there’s something else of ernest that interests you, if you’ll excuse me, I have other acquaintances to visit with. I don’t wish to be rude, but there are some matters that need.. attending to...” ..Like a stiff drink... Ess thought to herself. Casually she slid her hand along her lower back, nail tapping gently along the hilt of her dagger as if to verify it was still there before she moved to turn from the woman, giving a polite nod. Tala didn’t move to follow at first, simply sitting on her haunches to stare at Sam, intent on not losing sight of her it seemed. Ess heard the wolf’s growl echo from behind her into a snarl causing her to snap her attention back, snapping her fingers for Tala to fall in at her side. Tala ignored Ess at first before slowly standing and taking careful steps around Sam to follow without taking her sapphire blues off the figure.

Essence tensed with each step, her eyes catching the King of Blackpond continuing with his speech, still only catching bits and pieces. 'Definitely need a drink...' She thought, making her way back towards Sean. On the way she passed by Dastan but after a few steps she turned around, not caring that he appeared to be engaged in conversation with a woman, and reached around him to snatch away a glass he was holding and down the liquor with a surprising haste. Handing back the empty glass she winked, muttering an apology for her rudeness. "...Don't look at me like that...I'll owe you something vintage and worth the impolite intrusion.." Continuing on she took a double take at the woman who had been talking to Dastan, pretty sure she recognized the blond from the distressed encounter the night of the Xypher encounter but she didn't say a word, only smiled, not thinking anything of it as she nodded and continued on.

"My apologies again, Sean, something came up.." Ess began, gently reaching out to lightly tap the man on his shoulder, just as she heard a raspy voice mutter cold and condescendingly behind her.

"Now I think I understand....Looks like you are still very good at what you do, Pigeon." Ebony began behind her. "All dressed up, still trying to be something you're not. No matter. You can try to scrub shit clean but it's still...shit. Once a whore...always a whore.."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~`


Darren was confused and deeply sickened by the Ebony's words as he tried to piece the puzzle together. He kept thinking of the journal and how badly he wished he could read it. The boy really had no idea what he was getting into as he tried to walk around the two men blocking his path.

“Nice try, Pal...but you aren’t going anywhere...”

“Awe, come now, Guy...I don’t have any issues with you....I doubt the woman is paying you enough to receive a beating for her pathetic troubles, so why not just skip the brutish attempt and let me pass..” Darren stated, crossing her arms nonchalantly.

“Gentlemen... Do you have some sort of... Issue... With my friend here?”
Darren smirked at the sound of Jake’s voice, announcing his presence behind the men, distracting one of them enough so he turned around to answer Jacob. “Hey, Buddie, this really isn’t any of your busin-”

”For Blackpond!”

Darren didn’t delay at the sudden cry followed by the clamor of armor and the metal of swords ringing out as a blockade of men held a line by the stairwell. Now with only one pair of eyes directly on him, the other mercenary left at the attention of Jake, he leapt forward, kicking out at the man’s knee cap with a sharp crack. It caught Darren as odd for mercenaries on the job to not be wearing much of anything for armor even if they were trying to fit in with the party decor. Nevertheless, the man only groaned at the pain, moving to swing his fists immediately at Darren’s face which he bounced in and out of range comically, avoiding every attempt with ease and amusement. Darren hadn’t carried in any weapons and wasn’t the least bit intimidated when he was cursed at, his opponent unsheathing his sword and releasing a flurry of lunges and attacks. Darren sidestepped, spinning so he was beside the man’s extended arms where they fought for control of the sword. Back and forth they tugged and twisted to gain control before finally Darren let go, the sword slicing through his shirt to just miss his torso and deliver a punch to the face followed by a series of snapping motions along the mercenary’s neck. Pinching off blood supply at the nape of his neck to his brain caused the man to stumble, dropping his sword before falling to his knees to receive a roundhouse to the side of his head.

“Man...I never get to have anything nice...” He muttered, complaining about his now ruined dress shirt.