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Evin Bana

"It takes the better man to end a grudge -- I'm not that better man."

0 · 770 views · located in Raven's Nest

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

Groups

Group of assassins exiled from the Wolfpack

Description

Gender: Male

Age: 37 (Born: Cosmos 7, 2518)

Affiliation: Freelance assassin

Ability (if enlightened): Evin has the ability to control his perception of time. By using this power, he can slow down time, however, he is unaffected by this time shift. He can only do this for short periods of time or else it is possible that this could kill him. He feels pain when he uses his power and the longer he does it, the worse the pain gets. Some people say he can stop time completely, but others say that it isn’t possible that only the God who had the same power was strong enough to do that. Who knows because he has been training his ability almost nonstop for three years now.

Appearance: Evin Bana is almost of average height and weight (5'8") with a slim but toned frame. His silhouette is most times hidden by the clothing he decides to wear. While he is a man of many faces and disguises, his casual wear consists of clothing that conceals his silhouette and breaks his shape. Most times he is wearing a weathered grey leather coat that falls just bellow his knees. It buttons up with large loops and has few pockets that are visible. A belt, the width of a forearm sits loosely along a few loops in the jacket that exists for utilitarian purposes than for style, with pouches to hold various things. Over the top of his jacket, he wears a brown hooded cloak which can be used to conceal himself but is more often tucked behind his shoulders, draping over his back.
A shape which Evin can't break with any sort of ease is his face, which is stark and well defined. He has sharp features, from his high cheekbones and pointed chin to his crooked nose. He has a constant stubble, that is only patchy on the top right of his jaw where a small scar sits. There are constant bags under his hooded black eyes and frown lines which help to age Evin.
Evin's hair is starting to show signs of stress. What was once a dark black shimmer is now a dull salt and pepper mess. It is a short and simple cut that constantly looks bed-ridden.

Image
Credit for the commission goes to Ankonox on Deviantart. Link to their page.

Personality

Evin likes to think that he is smart and he is for the most part. Most people don't want to admit it to him though because of his cocky nature, but don't put that against him; he is a nice person to have around. He is always up for a conversation, but get ready to get into an argument if you say the wrong thing. He is very opinionated and likes to voice his opinion whenever he sees he can. You don’t want to be the person he’s voicing his opinion to either as things tend to get violent (other players say that he has a reputation for burning things). Evin can also be pretty manipulative at times although he doesn't do it as much as he used to, he likes to play around with people’s emotions and get them to do what he wants them to do. It doesn’t work as often as he’d like it to.
In large groups, Evin is very uncomfortable. You could say that his weakness is being social especially to people who don't usually speak to him. Although he has a bigger weakness in in friends he actually does make as he gets very emotional about them. For the most part he likes to shove them away and forget about them as a shadow of his past that he would much rather forget. The only people he had ever been openly close to were Crystal and her deceased mother Dani. In the end the odds are you will either end up being his greatest friend that he doesn’t want to admit to or his greatest enemy. There typically isn’t a middle ground with him unless he has just met you.

Equipment

Finely crafted steel daggers made specifically for advanced close quarters combat. A few poorly made throwing knives that are not very reliable, but Evin seems to love for some reason. He also carries a rope dart, but instead of a dart on the end, a double edged blade and a smaller blade shooting out at around 90 degrees close to the hilt (If you want a picture look up Kyoketsu-shoge on Wikipedia or google image it or something). He also has assortments of different weapons he’s collected from different places that he leaves in his own personal location.
Primary weapon: Rope dart.

History

Evin was born into the camp by two loving parents who aren't assassin's but simple workers around camp. That isn't the important part of Evin's story though. Evin had a friend named Parry (or Perry, I changed his name mid through the last RP) who he was very close to. They were both assassin's in the camp and were both very skilled. While on a mission together, they came across the Shadow Hunter, who was an enemy to the Wolf Pack. Parry suggested that they ambush the Shadow Hunter and kill him. They did so and Parry ended up being killed while Evin ran back home. To the camp, this was considered treason, but they never had enough proof to punish him. So Evin lived his life as an active feeling the guilt of abandoning his best friend.
Several years later, a killer was targeting people who were enlightened. He was known as the Shadow. Evin and Ali were sent on the task to go find out who was killing these enlightened people. Their main suspect was the Shadow Hunter, so they tracked him down to an Inn in Newhaven. The Shadow Hunter, whose name was Theron, Ali and Evin quickly became friends. They were no longer enemies and Theron had told him that his friend Parry was still alive.
So Evin went and found Perry was working with the Healers. They had a conversation and then he didn't go visit him again. He was relieved that his best friend had survived and felt guilty no longer.
Evin, along with Crystal, Ali, Theron, Jake and a few others trained intensively to kill the Shadow. After finishing training, they went to go speak to the King of the city of Newhaven to explain that the assassins were not the ones killing the enlightened people. They soon realised that the King was the real killer. Even more shocking to Evin though was the fact that the King was also Parry. He was the one doing all the killings all this time.
Parry is dead now and Evin cannot wrap his head around why Parry would do this. Now he has more to worry about though. With the attacks on the camp becoming more and more frequent, he struggles to complete his tasks as an instructor while keeping the people in the camp safe from the enemy.
During the year following, Evin took in a girl named Ella Page to mentor and one day become an assassin. His work load over the year was immense and every day he would have to overwork himself to get the jobs he had been asked to do done. He was either working with Ella, working on ways to protect the camp from the Black Knights who attacked them constantly or trying in vain to live up to a promise he had made.
The culmination of the Black Knight’s attacks on the Wolfpack came to an epic climax in a big battle that left the leader of the Wolfpack, Dani dead. This meant that her daughter Crystal had run of the camp and Evin was appointed to be her second in command. With that came more responsibilities and less time to sleep.
Once the year had passed, tensions between the Wolfpack and Newhaven’s Black Knights were become strong again. Evin took his time to go out and find out what was going on while in the meantime looking for assistance with Blackpond against the invading forces of Newhaven. This is where he met a Black Knight named Grim. Evin tried to explain the circumstances of the King’s death to him and how Perry was the real criminal in the whole thing, but Grim seemed sceptical.
Evin decided to report the finding of the Black Knight to Crystal and instead decided to pursue the suspicious death of Dani. He had a hunch that Jake, an assassin of the Pack had killed her during the battle, but didn’t have any real proof. This led him to Newhaven where he still couldn’t find any information, until however the capture of another Pack member named Allison Blake. She was sent to the dungeons of Newhaven which caused Evin to take action to get her out of it.
Evin created a massive prison riot where he planned of diverting enough attention from himself and other assassins there to help. There he met an old friend named Mageria who was now the leader of the Black Knights. Evin hadn’t known this up to this point and because they were sworn enemies, he fought with her only to be interrupted by Jake who was wearing Black Knight’s attire. Evin now knew Jake was a traitor, but he still didn’t know if he had killed Dani.
After all the confusion, Evin got out of Newhaven and searched for Jake’s stepmother who also happened to know Dani very well. Lena told him that she couldn’t tell Evin anything so he had to leave with empty hands.
Later, Evin was back in the Pack’s camp. He heard Jake admit to the murder of Dani and this infuriated him. This caused Evin to hold a very strong grudge against the man and insist that he would kill him.
Not long after that, Crystal Rivers had gone missing and was presumed dead leaving Evin in charge of the Wolfpack. There was strong evidence linking Newhaven to the murder and so Evin presumed it, specifically targeting the Black Knights. He targeted Mageria personally with a little score to settle with her. He just couldn’t exactly kill her is all. Funny enough, they became friends from this.
Then a month later, on a rainy day, Crystal appeared and told everyone that it was actually another Pack member named Sean who actually tried to kill her. Crystal wasn’t in the right shape to fight for her title of Alpha when Sean challenged her and she fled to the desert. Not too long after, Evin followed.
In the three years he’s spent in the desert, he has spent almost every day training, taking a day or two off every once in a while to assassinate different people for money and harass Sean and the Wolfpack. To date, he has killed four of Sean’s second in commands and a couple of random assassins. He hasn’t targeted Sean directly yet, but does warn that that day is to come.

So begins...

Evin Bana's Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Evin Bana Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Ess
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[Small Village near Newhaven – Earlier in the day]

Evin was taking the last few bites out of his food. It was better than he expected, especially since the last time he was there, the father of the young girl was the one who ran the small café. Now it was the young girl’s older brother ran the business. He wasn’t sure if it was going to be good, but it was surprisingly refreshing. He would have to go to the café more often.
“Excuse me, you still have to pay.” The girl walked up to him. He didn’t even realize that he forgot to pay. He reached into his pocket…

[Flashback]

The archives of the White Shadows were a real gem. Not everyone was allowed inside the archives and most who were aloud needed supervision or direct permission from those who were aloud full access. As a former assassin, it didn't stop Perry from sneaking around there. Not many would be able to catch him as easily as they thought they would be able to. He had trained too much in deception be be caught doing anything wrong.
Through the books and scrolls he went, but for some reason he couldn't find what he was looking for. It was something that wasn't there. It was something so tangible that he could almost feel it as if the book could actually feel pain, like it had a story to tell. Soon enough, there it was. The book laced in emerald green lining. Much more finely detailed than the pathetic Myths of Magic book that he had found such a long time ago in the archives of the Wolfpack. Just what I needed." He said with a open mouthed smile. He flipped through the pages until he heard a noise from outside. He quickly shut the book, and hid behind a large stack of books on the floor. Curled in a ball he hoped that whoever it was wouldn't find him.

Lena knew the clan's files back and forth, and yet, sometimes she needed to check one of the books for a certain name or image there contained. She made her way through the lines of tents absently until she reached the construction, one of the few still standing constructions in the area, and nodded politely to the two healers that were watching the entrance. As she stepped inside, however, she heard noises of book piles falling over. She snickered slightly, imagining it was probably one of the young apprentices trying to sneak a peek at the mythology books. "Who's there?" She called, stepping closer to where the noise had come from, slowly like a feline stalking its prey. If she focused just enough she could hear breathing, but it was too quiet to be a child, if it was a child there would be more noise by now. That's when she took a more serious tone to her voice and reached for a dagger she kept hidden on her person. "I know there's someone here, you better show yourself, I'm not kidding."

Perry didn't want to be caught, especially by the leader of the White Shadows. She was a person who's trust he needed absolutely. Just like Evin, he needed her to believe that he was an honorable man. Maybe even a friend. Whatever she was going to believe it had to be positive. He looked around for something that he could do to stop Lena from finding anything negative to get on him. Only one thing came to mind.

He slowly moved his arm into the line of sight that Lena had, but thankfully she didn't notice. When he had the book in his hand, he threw it over his shoulder, letting it hit a stack of book a couple of feet to the left of him. It was enough of a distraction to allow him to get out of his hiding place and work his way to the exit, but he couldn't remember where the exit was exactly. In that moment of panic, he just stood still and in the open. It wasn't something that any respectable assassin would do, so he quickly shot out the first words that came to his mouth.

"Lena, I was looking for you earlier, but I couldn't find you. I wanted to look for a book and since I couldn't find you I took matters into my own hand. I know it wasn't right and I thought that since I'm rather new here that I could get away with it if I was caught, but I really don't want to be dishonest. I hope you can forgive me.

Lena's attention was caught by a noise of books falling over and moments later she sighed softly as she heard a familiar voice blurt out excuses. She turned, slowly concealing her dagger, and relaxing some. Perry was not supposed to be there, but he wasn't an intruder at least. "What book was so urgent that you couldn't wait for me in order to get it?" She asked raising an eyebrow as she walked past the man to where the fallen books were, looking down at them and noticing a particular one that seemed to have made a slightly odd trajectory as if it had been thrown. Slowly, she began picking the books one by one, looking them over and finding their right place. "I'll excuse you this time, but I hope I don't find you here again." She said absently. "Mind giving me a hand with these?" She asked, not looking away from the books directly, but still watching the man with the corner of her eyes.

When Perry was asked to help out, he did a little hop and was about to move to stack the books, but remembered the book that he needed to look at. He could tell that she had some attention on him though, her head was looking down at the books she was picking up, but her body was slightly tilted in his direction, letting him know that she had him in the corner of his eye. Instead of walking over to the books to help, he began to talk... more like ramble.

"Well I was looking for a journal from one of the healers old." He said. While he continued to talk, he moved his way slowly so that his body was directly blocking the line of sight from Lena to the book that he wanted. "I heard about this combination of herbs that can be used to make it look like a dead body doesn't even have a wound on it, even if they have a huge wound." This is when he was able to use his nervous twitches to his advantage. He moved his hands behind his back, and swayed on the arch of his foot back and forth, just to make it look like he was nervous to talk to his leader. "I know it isn't really useful to a healer, but you can understand can't you? As an assassin, I have a morbid curiosity of sorts." He flipped through the pages, counting each one individually in his head until he reached the page numbers he was looking for. "I guess it isn't so urgent as much as I just don't have the patience to wait. I'm sorry m'am. Five hundred and fifty seven." He said out loud absent minded. It was the page he was looking for and in his excitement; he forgot to keep it in his head.

Perry passed it off like it was nothing and ripped the page out silently; crumpling it in his hand. He shut the book and started to walk over to help Lena with the books. It seemed like she was already finished. Only a few more books to go. Just because he wanted to try to be as big of a suck up as possible, he grabbed the last few books with his free hand and placed them at the top of the stacks, smiling absently at Lena while he did so.

"Hum..." Lena mumbled in response to the explanation Perry gave on the book he was looking for. "As a former assassin, I do understand that." She mentioned absently as if to remind him that she had knowledge of most tricks assassins used. "However, everything is useful to a healer, at one time or another." She added, glancing at the man and noticing his twitches, he didn't seem to want to hide them at all. "Five hundred and fifty seven" She whispered to herself, diary pages weren't numbered, that she knew of, only if he counted them really fast... but she would look into it at a later time. As he put the last few books in place, she turned to face him fully and stared for a little while. He was an odd one, this man. He never seemed to want to hide anything, and while that might be good, it was odd. Everyone had something they'd rather keep hidden; why wouldn't he? She ran her fingers through the lines of books absently and stated. "Well, I remembered what I need, so suppose I won't have to find the book I came here for after all. Strange how the mind works, no?" She sighed. "I think they're all in place, but I'll check again tomorrow. Unfortunately for me, I'm the only one allowed to organize these. On the other hand, it makes it easy for me to keep track of anything missing." She said, still casually. Motioning towards the exit she added: "Shall we? Or is there still something you need?"


[Reality]
“Umm… Sir, are you alright?” The girl looked up at Evin, who was just staring at his table with the empty cup and plate. “Sir?”
Evin ignored the girl for a few seconds. He was completely confused about what he had just seen. It was like a daydream, but it had nothing to do with him at all… and it was so vivid.
“Sir, please answer me. Is there a healer here? I think there’s something wrong with this man.”
Evin started to look around the room franticly for someone who might have been trying to mess with him. An assassin who knew something about his past and was trying to psych him out in order to get the edge on him in a fight. Then he saw something that he didn’t expect. A decrepit healer who looked so rugged that he could barely recognise her. “Lena?”

Lena had just gotten her order and had patiently waited for the girl to walk away before making her tea. The herbs were the only thing that helped with her recurring headaches... Or at least they used to, because they didn't do a thing for her this time. Reaching out towards her temples, she closed her eyes not to show the blue glow to anyone who might have been looking at her. The memory that flooded her mind was one she had forced herself to bury long ago, out of anger or maybe guilt, it was a little bit of a shock to have it come back this way. Maybe it was this place...

“Lena?”

Or maybe not.

As the pain finally gave in, the familiar voice spoke and Lena recognized it immediately as being Evin's. She took a long, deep breath, fully aware of the man's eyes on her, and waited for the pain to go away completely before turning to face him where he sat. She had plans to speak with him, amongst others, but not quite yet. Not right now. She stopped herself from letting out a frustrated groan, not daring to stand in fear that exhaustion might knock her down. She greeted. "Well, hello, Evin." Still wondering if the familiar place or the man's presence had caused that particular memory to resurface, she ripped a piece of the bread and absently dipped it in the soup before eating it, acting as if it was completely normal for her to be sitting there after not giving word to anyone for almost three years.

Evin assured the young waitress that he was alright before he shifted his feet in Lena's direction. He slowly walked over while Lena continued on with her soup. He looked deep into the contours on her face and the frailty in her body. She looked far older than she really was-- How old was she? Evin wasn't sure, but in the three years that she had gone missing, she had aged at least ten.
"You know, in three years you really let yourself go, Rose." He said when he finally reached her table. He grabbed a seat and claimed it as his own, dragging it over to Lena's table before sitting at it. "You look more like what they used to make that soup."

Lena choked slightly on the hot soup at Evin's words, looking up from her bowl to see the man had sat at her table. "I look like an onion?" She chuckled. "That's awfully flattering in a way." She stated, with a slightly amused expression, going into thought for a few moments before dipping another piece of bread and stuffing it in her mouth, chewing on it for a few seconds before finally looking the man in the eyes and seriously addressing his comments. "The past three years have been somewhat rough on me, that's true. The mountains aren't an easy place to survive in, and I've been ill for a little while, haven't fully recovered yet." She explained. "So, what brings you to these parts? Aren't you and the others still camped out in the desert?" She asked.

Evin continued to watch her eat as she talked. Onion soup was probably the better kinds when it came to soups. "Why are you even asking that Lena? I know how nosey you are. Things, as you already know I'm sure are changing. The Wolfpack is weakening and Sean's puppets are beginning to cut their strings. I'm no longer afraid of him or his puppets. That's what's changed." The waitress again walked up to him, probably checking up on him. She began to walk away again, but Evin grabbed her arm and gently pulled her back. "I'd like what she's having if you don't mind." The girl took that down and then walked off. Evin turned back to Lena. "When I said you looked like shit I took into account where you had been living. I can't imagine how the people of Effort used to look like then. No wonder they didn't survive the war."

"Huh..." Lena mumbled, still seeming amused. "It's like I used to tell Bastian: Assassins are nosy, healers are only curious. And I'll always be a little bit of both. I'm surprised though, does that mean you were once afraid of Sean? Doesn't seem likely of you." She ate another piece of bread before adding. "Effort's people frequently received their supplies from Brightvale, that is why it was so important to turn the two cities against each other, without Brightvale Effort was completely isolated from the rest of the Land. That is why they didn't survive the war... Still, they didn't go down without one hell of a fight." She smirked. "You can be sure that neither will I."

The girl came over to the table with his soup and placed it gingerly on the table as not to spill any. He gave Lena the bread and picked up his spoon. "Never understood why people did bread in soup. I hate soggy bread." He commented as he continued to fill his spoon with a combination of broth and chopped onion. He took a sip of it and was rather disappointed in the flavor, or the lack of it. Not everything that this place made was as good as it used to be. "Sean is a powerful individual. Not the best assassin, mind you, but knows how to mould minds. It’s too bad for him that the minds he moulds have minds of their own. I didn't necessarily fear Sean, but I did fear his followers." He paused to think about Lena's last comment. "Neither will I". What battle was she fighting? It wasn't his business to know. Unlike what Lena had told him, assassins were well informed. It had nothing to do with being nosey. Not asking her what she meant by that comment was just proof. A silent protest that she would probably never understand.
"Now don't take this as me being nosy, Lena, but there are things you know about Perry that I probably never knew. You probably knew him better than I did actually. Did you show me that memory for a reason?"

“I wouldn’t expect you to go down any other way.” Lena replied simply to Evin’s comment. “Sean is too weak minded considering how much he relies on mental acuity. I’m not saying the kid is stupid, mind you… I’m just saying that it is not his strongest trait, even though he seems to think it is. If he cared half as much about the Pack as he does for getting even, he’d be something to fear, but I don't think that will ever happen.” She finished the bowl of soup and absently began to pick on the bread Evin had given her. She ate it in silence for quite a bit before she addressed his question about the memory.

“I didn’t know you were here, Evin. My enlightenment tends to act out when I’m too tired or under emotional distress and I am really, truly, tired today. This place brings me memories… Other memories… Which are in a way related to the Shadow, so it’s possible that my mind took me there for that reason. As for why you saw them… I’m not really sure, maybe the place didn’t trigger the memory, and you did. Perhaps, my mind associates you with him, in a way.” She gave a small shrug and saved half the bred for later, rolling in a piece of clean cloth and putting it in her bag. “I honestly don’t think I knew him any better than you or anyone else did, in fact I take a small bit of comfort in that thought.” She stated simply.

"Sean may be weak minded, but he does have a strong resolve. Sometimes that can be much more threatening. As a group, the Wolf Hunters were weak minded, but their resolve was enough to almost wipe us off the map. I'll forever look at Sean as a worthy threat." Soon he was done his soup. He wiped his mouth and got up from the table, putting the money for both his and Lena's food on the table. "If you've already paid for your food, then just take the extra money. Now I've got someone I'm looking for, but if we get the chance, I'd like to continue our conversation about Perry. I have a feeling you know more than even you want to admit." Evin walked out of the cafe without speaking another word.

Lena frowned slightly at Evin’s mention of the Wolf Hunters being weak minded. That wasn’t something she would ever agree with. However, she made no comments on that fact; better to let the dead rest and the past remain asleep… At least for the moment….

She let Evin walk away leaving the extra money for the waitress as she went looking for a place where could get some rest.

[Newhaven – Later that night]

Lena arrived in Newhaven later than she wanted, but the meal and the rest had done her a lot of good, and she seemed less tired, even if she was still visibly weakened. Making her way to the castle, she had little trouble getting in. It seemed the castle guard was a bit distracted with some sort of commotion. Odd… Much more so as she caught a visibly terrified guard running past, the strong scent of urine giving away that the man had some sort of accident. His visible confusion seemed all too familiar to Lena. She heaved a sigh as activated her enlightenment to see that man’s last memory was outside the upper entrance to the old bell tower. So she made her way towards the entrance that led to the bottom of the stair leading up to the old bell. “Stupid boy…”

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

After leaving the sick ward and giving Captain the chance to get some proper rest, hopefully, Luke and Ess parted ways again. It was Luke's job to get a message to Xypher saying that the Captain wanted to meet with him. It took a bit of time for him to think of a message to send, trying to think of how Mageria would put it. He made the message simple and watched from a distance as the servant delivered it, he watched Xypher's expression, the man had doubts, but he was too intrigued not to go... Perfect. As soon as the servant parted ways with the Warlord, Luke cornered him again and erased the scene from his mind, sending him back to his duties. A grin spread across his features as he followed Xypher from a distance as he headed towards his destination, with a guard as company despite the instruction to go alone... Nothing that couldn't be handled. Things were running smoothly so far.

Ess just couldn’t decide between the two vials in her hand, staring long and hard she remembered that they needed Xypher alive and not drugged. She didn’t dare do anything that would compromise either Luckas or herself, so she tucked the black one away, leaving the purple easily accessed along her belt. Maybe the decision wasn’t so hard after all.

Leaning back against the stone of the tower, Ess hunched over for quite some time, waiting for Xypher to give his appearance. Just when her lower back started to ache, she heard footsteps echo along the stone floor. Stretching upwards, the pain was mild but she played it up in her illusion, letting the hood slide off her battered face, exposing a worn and bruised Mageria. Biting into her tongue, she turned and spat a bit of blood onto the ground, adding to the act.

“Surprised I’m still standing, Warlord?” The Mageria clone rasped, followed by a burdened breath.

Xypher paused in his step, nodding towards the Guard at his side; the man wandered past Ess and entered the tower, the noises from inside indicating the man was doing a search for hidden surprises. A quick return explained to Xypher that there was no open threat, “Wait out here...Make sure we are not disturbed.” He commanded his Guard. The man positioned himself beside the entrance, back along the wall; his demeanor was stiff and alert, straining to see in the surrounding shadows.

The Warlord bowed in a mocking display of respect, gesturing for Ess to enter the tower first. Keeping her expression cool, controlling her temper she nodded and limped in first, knowing full well not to expect an attack from Xypher. He obviously felt the same to be alone with ‘Mageria,’ that the situation was too tense and a straight forward attack would only cause more complications: Mageria could just make it worse for herself, or Xypher may condemn his twisted cause.

“What’s really left to say, Cap-..” Xypher began, cutting himself off with a chuckle. “Well, Talsheir...can I call you that, since you are no longer Captain?” Xypher approached a worn out, cracked bell that hung in the tower, pass ‘Mageria’ who remained only paces away from the Warlord, staring him down with her one good eye.

Ess kept her voice low, as if it pained her to speak. “You....honestly expected me to just walk away?...” Ess forced herself to cough, her expression still cool, but her hoarse voice taking on an edge, “Does it look like I will simply roll over and die?”

Xypher quirked a brow, a small grin creeping into view as he paused, “I know you are a stubborn woman, but I thought you had enough sense to know when you’ve been beaten.”

“..Just tell me why..” Ess spat, casually gimping around the opposite side of the bell, her fingers had a mind of their own as she turned her ring around, giving her middle finger the extended appearance of a tiny claw which she managed to keep far from Xypher’s sight.

Xypher scoffed at ‘Mageria’, “...Because I can....I did...and I couldn’t turn my back on what I knew.”

Ess doubled over as if she was in immense pain, retrieving the tiny vial by her waist to which she opened and discarded down the bell shaft only after she dipped the tiny claw into the purple serum. “....You know that’s not it, Warlord...and you know I’ve done much for this city....but I guess that doesn’t matter to you....You who only cares about your own power and influence..” Ess muttered, holding herself up as she snaked her way around the bell to walk past Xypher. Stumbling towards the opposite side, she appeared as if she were trying to avoid the Warlord. Quickly her body snapped upright, her hand slashing through the air across the man’s face in one fluid motion. In the Warlords surprise, an elbow caught Ess across the face, knocking her to the ground, the man was utterly perplexed at the insult of the minor assault, his hand touching his face curiously.

“You dare..? I can have you-” Xypher trailed off, stretching his face as if it were falling asleep, the feeling in his flesh disappearing as the nerves went numb, the paralysis already beginning to spread into his blood.

Ess stood easily, defiantly smiling up at the Warlord, wiping at a bit of blood along her lip, “I dare, because I can...and I can’t ignore what you've done..” She watched, tilting her head to the side as Xypher went to reach for a weapon by his side, his fingers failing him, unable to grip the blade. “Is something wrong, Warlord?” A small giggle escaped Ess in her normal voice, the sound taking on a morbid delight as she knew the poison was spreading, and faster than she expected. Soon it would incapacitate the man, enabling him to only listen in his temporary paralysis. She knew for a fact the man’s mind would be fully functional, intact, but his body would be numb, the nerves unresponsive to the commands of his brain.

A minute or two might have passed, to Ess it felt like forever as she stepped closer, the dagger at her thigh already readied in her hand as the man came to his knees when he tried for the exit. Muffled, drooling gurgles escaped his throat as Xypher tried to speak, his tongue and lips failing him. With what seemed like an excruciating amount of effort, he swung his arm in Ess’ direction but was easily dodged when she simply stepped to the side. Playfully she kicked the man hard in his side, just the gentle push he needed to fall onto his back. “Big..bad Warlord doesn’t feel so powerful now...does he?” Ess teased, the dagger trailing along Xypher’s throat sadistically from where she knelt beside him, still in her illusioned form.

Luckas grinned widely as he watched the Warlord enter the tower with 'Mageria', leaving him a little guard to toy with while he and Ess exchanged words. Luke casually walked in the direction of the tower, slowly so that the guard would walk in his direction and catch him halfway there, too far to be heard from the inside of the tower. Perfect.
"Buddy, the tower is closed, move along now." The guard told him, putting a hand on his chest and pushing him back, trying to intimidate him into leaving,
Luckas took a step back at the shove, but smiled kindly at the man and gave him a fake curious look. "Closed? Why's that? It's a bell tower, why would it be closed?" He asked.
"That's none of your concern." The guard replied, again pushing Luke back. "Move along now."
Luckas again stumbled back. This time he laughed for a few seconds before turning more serious and speaking in a soft growl. "Make me."
"Listen I really don't have time to waste on you, kid. Piss. Off." The man said, pushing Luke again, once for at the word 'piss' and once for the word 'off'.
Luke giggled softly. "You want me to piss? I don't really have to go right now. Why don't you go piss yourself, mate? Piss yourself."
The guard was giving Luke an amused look that soon turned into a horrified one when he felt himself obeying the odd demand. The man then reached for the sword at his waist, but was stopped again by Luke's voice.
"Stop. Hold still." Luckas ordered, smiling wide at the guard's terrorized look as he realized he couldn't move, not even speak. "You poor silly man..." He snickered, pulling the sword from the man's belt and pointing it at his face. "If only we had time to play... You're just my type, I can tell..." He then fixed his gaze on the guard and made him forget why he was there in the first place, walking past him to the entrance of the tower while he was still slightly stunned. Glancing over his shoulder he snickered as the confused man noticed his wet pants and ran off at full speed. He would never know he was supposed to be guarding the Warlord that night. Luke pressed his ear against the door curiously and gave it a very discrete knock, as if to ask if it was alright to come in.

Ess sighed, cracking her neck as she crawled over Xypher, to sit across his ribs with one knee touching the floor on each side. “Your muscles should bet useless right about now, but don’t worry...it’s not permanent..” Ess winked, letting the facade of her swollen eye dissipate, snickering at the man as his own gaze widened in confusion. “I’m not sure if all your pain sensors are numb as well....shall we investigate?”

Ess started off easy, lightly dragging the dagger along Xypher’s left cheek without so much as a flinch. Nodding, she made a second pass pressing firmly to split the flesh along his chin. “Perhaps we need to go deeper?” Ess sneered, violet eyes glimmering in her amusement as she watched the man’s reaction closely. She expected he would be not an easy nut to crack, which delighted her, knowing Luckas would still have much to look forward to.

Resting the dagger along her thigh, she slid down the man to the freshly dressed wound along his leg from Xypher’s earlier self infliction. Using the claw implement upon her finger, she slowly penetrated the wound until her knuckles began digging into the bleeding flesh, seeing a slight change in his eyes. “Getting warmer...?...How about something you’ll definitely feel later?” Reaching for the man’s hand, her fingertips traced between his fingers, a surprising groan escaped the man’s throat as she twisted, bent and snapped his thumb backwards in a painful position. Another moment passed and she had broken every other finger on both Xypher’s hands.

Ess quirked a brow, as she thought she heard a noise from the door, almost inaudible. Leaning in close to the Warlord, letting the claw linger before the man’s iris she whispered close similar to a woman speaking to her lover, “I’m saving the best for my friend...he should be here any second.” As she finished speaking, she felt eyes on her, a childish giggle echoing off the walls while she debated taking out the man’s left eye. “Don’t worry my friend...” She muttered still in Mageria’s tone as if speaking to another in the room, her form still straddled over the Warlord, “Don't be jealous.”

Luckas entered the room, his eyes watching Ess carefully, as if he barely noticed the man who was his target, she seemed to be having fun with this; it was such a pity to interrupt. "Lady, I know it's tempting, but I need him to have his eyes... For now at least." He spoke, walking a bit further into the room, but standing where Xypher couldn't see him. "He can't move or speak, huh? That spares me some trouble, I gotta say. Quite a handy little trick." He snickered softly pacing around the room, but always walking where the Warlord couldn't see him. His footsteps echoing in the stone room. Finally he stopped, standing over the man's head, and crouching down so that he was looking at Xypher's face upside down. "Hello there." He smiled, delighted at the horrified look in the man's eyes as he saw his face at last. "Oh, you knew my brother... Awesome, so all I have to tell you is that he wasn't half as dangerous as I can be." He snickered softly. "Oh, I know what you're thinking. What kind of a sick person keeps a psycho like me around just to unleash on hypocritical bastards like you?" He chuckled. "Well... Apparently, this lady here does." He nodded towards Ess, giving her a playful wink. "Paralyzed, huh? just how much, I wonder..." He smiled. "Lift your head."

Xypher did in fact lift his head, even though he was unable to hold it up, and it dropped back, hitting the stone floor. Luckas laughed. "Ouchie, sorry man." He leaned closer to Xypher and smirked. "I know the likes of you, Mister Warlord; you think you have the right to decide what is best for everyone, because you're just that great. Is that it?" He shook his head in amusement. "Well... If that's the case then I get to decide how and when you die, because, well... Who's going to stop me?" He grinned. "Now, lay back and relax... This is going to be painless for now, so enjoy it while it lasts." As he said that he fixed his eyes on the Warlord and they changed from their usual black to a light green tone. "Let's see what's behind that brilliant mind of yours, shall we?"

Ess gave a childish yet playful pout at Luckas’ words on Xypher keeping his eyes. “Hmph...Yea I know they are kinda essential right now...” Using Xypher as leverage she pushed herself to her feet, giving Luckas and the Warlord some space, a short chuckle bounced along her shoulders when she tried to keep it quiet. She liked the idea of keeping Luckas around; this was an entirely different experience in more ways than one, and there was no denying her excitement while she watched him toy with the paralyzed figure. Not knowing if it was a comfort to share this kind of twisted display, she appreciated not having to do it alone.

Essence leaned back against a wall, so that the two were in front of her and the door was at her right, absently listening for any possible interferences that may interrupt their play date. “..Remember my friend, the serum won’t last forever...it will wear off.” Ess muttered a bit disappointingly. Violet eyes glowed in anticipation while she toyed with the tiny claw along her ring.

Luckas chuckled when Ess stepped aside. “Women, huh?” He said playfully, winking at Xypher as if expecting the man to agree with him. He grinned, now addressing Ess. “Don’t worry Lady, none of his body parts will be needed for much longer. I’ll let you pick your favorites once business is done.” He stood and walked around the fallen warlord, crouching again next to the man and leaning closer to him. Xypher closed his eyes and Luke chuckled. “That doesn’t work old man. Open your eyes. Look at me.”

The man obeyed, and Luke’s eyes turned a light green as he stared deep into Xypher’s frightened stare. The man’s memories held little other than council meetings, War plans and memories of his loving late wife. Nothing really promising until he found the memory of a meeting between the Warlord and another man, whose face Luke never really got to see, because the memory was immediately cut off by one of his own.

[Flashback – Some dark place of the past, about 10 years ago]

Luckas awoke to the blinding light of the open basement door and groaned angrily, trying to ignore the voices arguing just outside the door.

“They’re unusable! We need to get rid of them!”
“Master says we should be more patient, that they will learn control.”
“How many more of us will have to die before they learn control? It’s not worth it!”
“They are the most powerful ones yet, Master does not want them to go to waste. They are irreplaceable.”
“I don’t care, I won’t be next!”

Luckas jumped up as the door slammed shut and darkness surrounded him once more. He could hear shouting on the other side of the door, but with it closed he couldn’t make out the words… He went back to sleep.

. . . . .

“Hey, kid… Are you alright? Wake up.”

Someone was gently shaking Luckas and he desperately wanted, whoever it was, to get away from him, but he couldn’t move… He was just so tired… Why was he so tired?

“These kids need a medic… Doesn’t look like they’ve eaten anything in days” Another voice spoke. “What the hell is this place?”

The voice closer to Luke sighed. “I don’t know, come on, let’s get them out of here and call the captain.”


. . .

The pain that followed was the very familiar pain of being cut off by another telepath, Luke knew there was only one living telepath who was strong enough for that and as he fell to his side, holding onto the sides of his head in pain, his eyes changing from a light green to a bright blue… He managed to utter a couple of words to identify his 'attacker'. “You evil witch!”

“We had an understanding, Luckas. And I warned you what I’d do if you disobeyed my instructions.” A cold voice sounded in the room as Lena made herself visible by climbing the last few steps of the stairs, her eyes fixed on Luckas as he whined and groaned on the floor. “Stop fighting me.” She told him.
“Go to hell!” He shouted, still visibly in pain, as he tried to stand, but failed, dropping back to the ground.
Lena sighed. “Don’t be stupid boy. Yield!”
Luckas screamed in pain and went into uncontrollable shivers, but didn’t stop putting up a fight. “No, no, no, no.” He muttered angrily.
“Luckas…” The woman said in a severe tone, pacing a few steps closer and looking down at him. “You’re being silly now… If you keep this up you’ll hurt yourself. You remember what happened last time... We don't want that to happen again."

Something seemed off as Luckas ‘worked his magic,’ a sudden shiver taking over her form as she wiped a bit of blood from her lip and nose. Ess had used her gift quite a bit today and she knew she shouldn’t stay this way for much longer, yet she refused to release the illusion until Xypher was good and dead. At that thought she watched confused as Luckas fell to the floor in what appeared to be a considerable amount of pain. Ess pushed herself off the wall, looking from the closed door back to Luckas, kneeling down to his side as he barked out, “You Evil Witch!”

Taken a bit back, she quirked a brow at Luckas then at Xypher who was still motionless upon the floor and stood back upon her feet as the 'intruder’ revealed herself. Listening as words were exchanged, Ess let it go in one ear out the other as all she focused on was Luckas writhing in pain upon the cold stone; her eyes glowed like tiny purple flames in her anger, her fingers already retrieving the blade along her thigh as a throaty growl escaped her lips, “Let....Him...Go....”

Ess was already approaching the woman, not waiting for a response, raising the dagger up and over to her left attempting a downward slash, her left leg raising to kick the woman in the stomach.

Lena was a bit distracted with Luckas, she didn't want the kid hurt, but she needed him to stop fighting so she could remove the block she put on Xypher's memories. She knew Luckas could get a little irrational when close to making a victim; he didn't like being interrupted, so he fought simply out of frustration, and if he kept going he'd surely knock himself unconscious.

Not that she hadn't noticed the other person in the room, but her focus wasn't on the woman and, as she advanced towards, her Lena flinched slightly at seeing Mageria's face, before logic told her that Mageria would hardly consider her a threat to Luke. The color of the woman's eyes confirmed that it really wasn't the Black Knight Captain, but the time she took to reach that conclusion cost her the chance to completely get out of the attack. Between a dagger and a kick, she chose the lesser of two evils, twisting her body, she let the kick hit her side as she pulled away to dodge the dagger, aiming a very well calculated hit at a pressure point at her attacker's wrist, causing her to drop the knife. The hit was followed by a punch to the woman's chest which, considering her kick had taken much of her balance, knocked the woman down on her back. "I'm not hurting him. He'll be fine if he stops trying to fight me like a stubborn child." Lena told her. "And if I were you I'd stay down, Captain... I'm not in the mood for playing right now." At whicch point she glanced from the fallen 'Mageria' to Luckas, still shivering on the floor, to a wounded and visibly paralyzed Xypher lying on the floor. "Warlord?" She frowned. "What the hell is going on here? Luckas!"

The dangerous tone in Lena's voice caused Luke to quit his hopeless struggle, and he relaxed, rolling onto his back on the floor and looking up at the woman. "Whoa... You look like crap!" He said giggling like a maniac. "It hurt worse last time, you're getting soft, Lena."
"So are you... Since when do you travel with a buddy? I'd be proud of you if I wasn't so furious." She said, glaring at him severely, as he giggled. "What is happening here?"
"Just a little party." Luckas said chuckling as he sat up, rubbing his eyes as the blue slowly faded from them. We're having fun, aren't we?" He said, slapping Xypher's wounded leg."

Lena crouched down near the man and sighed. "Doesn't look like your handy work." She said examining the wounds. "Now I see why you've brought company." She said, extending the glare she shot him to his friend. "Don't think I will let you two kill this man."

Ess hit the ground, cursing to herself as her eyes searched for her fallen blade.

"And if I were you I'd stay down, Captain... I'm not in the mood for playing right now."

Ess rolled onto her knees, pausing to actually listen to this woman, glancing curiously towards Luckas, her tone still mocking Mageria’s, “This... Your Mom... Or something Luckas?” Ess laughed, glaring back at the woman, not taking her look lightly. Ess should of been intimidated, especially when Luckas backed down, but there was this part of her that was still quite annoyed with the situation and how their fun was interrupted. With a frustrated sigh she spat sarcastically in her normal voice, the sweet tone adding to the sarcasm, “Oh, so glad he has your approval..." Shifting to her feet, she cracked her knuckles while her eyes flickered back to Xypher, “Why does it really matter if this annoyance lives or dies anyways?...Do you even know what’s happened?”

Ess playfully kicked the Warlord in the side of his head as she made her way over to the door, leaning back against it to watch Luckas and this stranger. Her vision blurred slightly, a few more drops of blood sneaking down across her lip which she managed to brush off casually as a sniffle. Quietly she pondered the random appearance of this person who most certainly seemed to know Luckas, and visa versa, her fingers lightly teasing at the small black vial hidden inside her cleavage beneath her borrowed uniform. Gently those fingers began massaging her temples at a subtle ache which slowly spread across her forehead, a few wet speckles of blood appearing along her ear lobes, which she couldn’t hide as her hair was still up in a braid. She hesitated before she reached for her hood, pulling it tightly around her face, the glow of her eyes the only thing peering out from her shadow. Ess refused to relax into her normal state, feeling since this party was interrupted that perhaps it was time to go, but not before hearing what was going to happen; not without Luckas. Ess still had time.

Lena made no attempt to stop Luke's friend from kicking Xypher, even as she pulled things from her bag and began to fix the man's broken fingers and bandage them. "You don't tell people I'm your mommy, now do you Luke? Because that would be, by a far, the creepiest thing you've ever done."
Luckas stopped laughing like an idiot and shot the woman a glare. "Of course not." He muttered. "Why are you bandaging this piece of scum?"
"Look, I don't care what the hell is happening here or why, but I already told you, I won't let you kill the man." She realized Xypher was regaining movement, slowly and frowned. "You dosed him with something? I thought you were holding him under your command Luke?"
"If I was he would've broke free when you blocked me, stupid." Luke muttered.
Lena didn't answer, ignoring, but registering the insult as she went through her bag, pulling a vial from it and pouring its contents down the man's throat. At this moment she leaned close to the Warlord and whispered something in his ear, before helping him up and out the door.
Luckas glared at Lena as Xypher escaped walking and bandaged, his eyes burning a bright red as she shut the door and turned to face him.
"How stupid are you, boy?" She hissed. "What the hell are you thinking dragging the city Warlord to a filthy bell tower to torture him, what the hell are you thinking Luckas?!"
"You don't know what he did." Luckas replied, his tone was calm even though his eyes gave away his anger. "He deserves it."
"I don't care what he did." Lena replied. "Do you know what would happen if that man turned up dead? He's not a drunken idiot you pick up in an dirty alley, HE'S A DAMN NOBLE!"
"They would never trace it back to me."
"We've talked about this, haven't we? I caught you once, don't assume I'm the only one who can. What part of it can't you understand? You arrogant, irresponsible, idiot, brat!" Lena shouted, her eyes lighting up in bright blue for a split second before fading back to normal. Finally she took a breath and seemed to calm as she added: "You can forget about what I promised you."

Luke jumped to his feet at those words. "You can't do that to me, you promised."
"We had a deal, you didn't keep part of that deal... Deal is off." She stated simply.
"I never actually broke the deal! That's not fair!" Luke shouted.
"You didn't break the deal because I stopped you Luckas, don't treat me like an idiot, because I'm not an idiot. Actions have consequences, remember? Or do you immediately forget everything you've learned the moment I'm not keeping an eye on you?"
Luckas snickered in response. "I'm sorry, were you saying something?"
"This is not a joke, boy!"

Luckas stopped smiling and stood watching Lena with curious eyes, there was an urgency in her tone that was just odd, as if she was desperately trying to say something, but without actually saying it. Silence lingered until the woman spoke again, so suddenly that it startled Luckas only slightly.

"You." She glanced towards Ess. "Are you really going to keep that illusion up until you faint? Because Luke is weak as a mouse and he probably can't carry you. And I sure as hell won't do it." Her tone was slightly amused and she smirked at Luckas while mentioning he was weak to see his reaction. "Besides, don't think I don't know your real face by now Essence. I have my own means." Finally she turned to face Ess and gave a slight nod of her head. "My name is Lena Turner, by the way. I was once leader of the White Shadows, and Luckas and I made a deal when I decided to spare him from a cell in the dungeons five years ago. Since his part of that deal was not doing something as stupid as this, I'm afraid he doesn't get what I promised him."
Luckas scratched the back his head awkwardly, giving Lena a look that someone who didn't know him better would mistake for guilt. It was a actually the look of someone who felt bad for being caught. "Look, maybe we can... Renegotiate our terms?" He sighed. "You know how important this is to me."
"We can discuss it, but don't think there won't be repercussions for this."
"Yes ma'am." Luke muttered. "Say... What did you say to the Warlord?"
"I said that if he tells anyone about this I will deny it." She open a slight grin. "He probably will tell."

Ess snarled at the two bickering back and forth like indeed the woman was Luckas’ mother, this was just ridiculous. It was quite clear she gave a shit about Luckas in one form or another, and Luckas, well as always was a bit of a mystery to Ess, and how he felt about this woman looked similar to how he acted around the Captain. With a sigh, Ess had not even attempted to argue with the newcomer about releasing Xypher. It was done, and they seemed not to gain much ground after everything; such a disappointment. Ess pushed aside the two’s yelling, trying to pinpoint the woman’s name...Lena....Lena....The second she mentioned her and Luckas’ deal being off, it clicked inside Ess brain, a frown trailing her lips. Slowly, she let the facade break, her form relaxing at Lena’s mention of her name, Ess rolled her eyes. “Of course...you know who I am...why does this not surprise me one bit...freaking packs of telepaths running amuck!” Ess added a snotty remark, “I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself, thank you...I’m FINE.”

“My name is Lena Turner...”

Ess tilted her head at the name. Curious that she knew the name, especially the last name. “Turner..huh?..Healer camp?” Shaking the thought away she sighed, turning her attention to Lena’s story of Luckas. With an amused laugh which she tried to hold back, Ess looked Lena in the eye, “So...You caught him in the act after I did, around the same time?..” Her gaze shot over to Luckas, “I thought you said you learned something from our ‘friendly’ encounter all those years ago...about being more careful?”

Clearing her throat, Ess muttered an interjection at the two’s conversation, “...Luckas is obviously in control of his own actions, but I did encourage this, so giving him the opportunity to ...re-negotiate this deal of yours, from what I’ve seen, is needed. I...would hate to be apart of the reason for him losing site of what he is searching for...answers....right?” Ess’ head still hurt as she wiped more blood from along her neck, a tiny trail descended from her ear canal. She quickly stripped off the uniform, finding comfort in the loose black attire she wore underneath, light but warm. Ess began giggling at the thought of Xypher speaking of his experience tonight, as Lena stated she suggested he keep it quiet because she wouldn’t back his story. “It doesn’t help that the Captain in currently under the watchful eye of the medics and Xypher claiming she tried to have him killed is just too amusing, and not quite believable.” Her lips kept a weak smile planted upon her face, “Whatcha think, my dear Luckas?”

Lena chuckled slightly at Ess' rant about there being too many telepaths around, and she only gave a light shrug to her affirmation that she was fine; she knew the woman wasn't fine. "Hey, I've only been a healer for about thirty years, but if you say you're fine, who am I to argue?" Lena shot a small glance at Luckas as the woman mentioned them first meeting years ago. She chuckled. "Well... I didn't catch him in the act. That's not how it happened."
"She hunted me down, actually." Luckas said, giving Lena an annoyed look.
"I was called to try and save one of his victims and managed to unlock the man's memories of this psychotic little teenager I thought had gone to prison months ago. Needless to say I was intrigued. And then, the little idiot found out I knew his face and attacked me. He failed to kill me and so I tracked him down."
"...And tortured me for close to two years afterwards." Luckas added, glaring.
Lena snickered. "Oh, come on, that can hardly be called torture and you had quite a few kicks with those anatomy books Annie was not supposed to lend you." She stated calmly, raising an eyebrow at him. "Not to mention you were always free to leave at any time."
"Which I didn't because you blackmailed me, you damn healer!" Luke argued. "And when are you planning on keeping your word? Or maybe it's just that you can't."

Lena didn't answer immediately she simply took her time to watch Luckas more carefully, now that he wasn't a whimpering mess, but saying nothing on what she saw. Finally she smiled at him and answered his question. "Soon enough, but we'll discuss that at another time. Like I said, we can renegotiate, but it'll be a slightly more complicated task than just staying out of trouble."

Luckas' eyes narrowed just a bit, he didn't like the sound of that much, but if he was completely honest with himself he had to admit that he hadn't kept his word, and now he needed to accept whatever the woman wanted him to do. Finally his eyes moved from Lena to the floor, where he spotted Ess' dagger and picked it up while mumbling. "Fine, whatever." He took the dagger back to Ess and whispered so that Lena wouldn't hear. "Sorry. I guess I owe you playtime, Lady." He gave her a wink, raising his voice to normal level as he added with a snicker. "Well, if the old man talks at least it won't be a completely a fake accusation this time." He joked. "Too bad it'll be just too insane of a story for anyone to buy it." He laughed.

Lena was just standing watching the both of them with an expression that made clear she was thinking a million things, but that didn't show a single one, and when Luckas turned to face her again he immediately noticed that the expression on her face had little to do with him and more to do with Ess for whatever reason. Finally he broke the silence and asked something that he had been wanting to know for quite some time. "Where have you been?"
Lena smiled. "That, boy, is something else we can discuss at another time." She answered. "For now I suggest we leave before someone comes verify the Warlord's insane story."

The setting changes from newhaven to Valcrest

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Evin Bana Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Grim Pondus 'War' Character Portrait: Ess Character Portrait: Vane Ross
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Week One

It was one thing to be in charge of a group of people when you had the support system to make things easier. It was an entirely different thing to be in charge when you were making up how to do things out of whole cloth, New challenges every day, new needs, new problems. They had some supplies set aside from last year, and some that they had managed to steal from the Castle, but not as much as they would need to get through the winter. And so she had sent her people out to hunt throughout the surrounding forest, but it wasn’t easy. Her people were used to hunting other people, a skill that didn’t necessarily transfer over. There were a couple of small towns nearby that they managed to buy some food from, but it wasn’t enough to make her feel easy. Something that did help was that she had sent a letter to the White Shadows as soon as they started settling in, if they ever needed help then she didn’t want the Healers wandering around in the woods looking for them.

It was just a few days in that others started working their way to the camp, lead by some of the men who had been left behind in Newhaven. They were the families and loved ones of the soldiers that were now in the camp, coming to join them because things were becoming hard for them. They believed that they would be more help in the camp and they didn’t want to continue to put up with the stares and snubs of the city folk who knew who they were related to. And for the most part they were right. Jess, the pregnant wife of one of the Guard, moved into Mageria’s overstuffed cabin on the basis that it was currently the warmest and most weather proof of the available structures. She was invaluable in helping take care of the children, given that Mageria could still barely get around at that point. In her free time she sewed and had decided that she could repair the tattered remains of Mageria’s winter coat. Mageria didn’t think that there was enough whole material left, but she left the woman to it. Slowly, she healed and trained Ess; taking on duties as she could.

Everybody was building and working, trying to make the camp as comfortable as possible. There was plenty of material to work with, as they were in an abandoned lumber camp. Even without the help of one guard who could shift earth and stone; they would have built fast. The cabins were built into the sides of hills, with roofs of branches covered over with a mud/plaster combination. There would be enough room for everybody, even if it was a bit bare. They might be sleeping on bare dirt, but they were in out of the snow, everybody who wanted to be.

Week Two

It was in the second week that she started having the nightmares again. She’d be walking in the woods, tracking something; when she caught the scent and start running. She’d be chasing whatever it was, eventually catching it. It was only when she tore out the prey’s throat with her teeth that she realized that she was the prey. She’d wake up shaking and near screaming, walking outside to take deep breaths of the icy air. One night it seemed as if she was drawn out of the camp by a force that she couldn’t name. Padding through the snow in her bare feet, she avoided anybody who might question her. It was a couple hundred feet outside their perimeter that she found a torn up mangled carcass. It had been torn apart, not killed. Whatever it was that was hunting wasn’t doing it to eat, but for the joy of killing itself. Mageria crouched down, taking in the scene and breathing deeply of the scent of blood.
“I know you’re here; old friend. It’s going to be one or the other of us this time. Do you realize that?” Sighing, she stood up and walked back towards her cabin, watchful gaze on the trees around her. It was a good thing that she’d been planning for this for the past few years. It was finally time to kill the Child of Death. And Daniel Zimmerman with it.

Mageria was going over the supplies when Matthew knocked on the warehouse door, a grim look on his face.
“Captain, we’ve found some more animal carcasses, all torn to bits like you told us to watch for. Huge clawed prints all around.”
Mageria sighed, leaning against the wall. “Anything else?”
“Isn’t that enough?”
Mageria snorted a laugh. “Yeah, it is. You know the plan, right?”
Matthew nodded. “Aye. We’ll be ready.”
Mageria thought for a moment. “Ask around camp for volunteers, I only want willing people going up after this thing.”
Matthew nodded again. “No problem Captain. We’ll get rid of this thing in no time.”

-------

That night, Mageria had a chance to reconsider the insanity of her plan, given that she was waiting completely alone for something that could tear her apart in the time it took to blink.
“Then again,” she muttered as she tracked a rustling in the bushes. “I’ve never been accused of being smart.” The rustling got louder, branches snapping as something pushed them to the side. There was a loud coughing snarl as a figure from her nightmares walked into view, a stray beam of moonlight highlighting it and gleaming off it’s teeth. Mageria smiled, lips pulling back from her teeth in response as her heart beat suddenly thundered in her ears.

The two of them stared at each other, the Beast in all it’s savage glory against one overly stubborn woman armed with a couple blades and a crossbow and a set of mercenary’s armor. Long moments stretched by as they fought a silent battle of wills, the strain pulling tighter and tighter until she finally broke it with a snap; the quarrel flying from the bow to plunge deep into the shoulder of the Beast. Mageria spun in place, running away as fast as she could to where the next part of the plan would take place. Behind her she could hear the Beast charging after her, the wound barely slowing it down. But the poison she smeared over the quarrel slowed it down just enough that she was able to keep ahead, leading it over suddenly rocky ground and plunging into the mouth of a cave.

Mageria ran blindly into the darkness, memory guiding her feet to where the others waited. Breaking suddenly into a pool of light in the middle of a cavern, she snatched up another crossbow and kept going, whistling shrilly to alert everybody else. She could almost feel the Beast’s breath on her neck as she ran, trusting those that were waiting to make the next hit count.


Two weeks of training were just the tip of the iceberg, and never did Essence think this would be on her To Do List. This creature that crawled out of the depths of nightmares, or perhaps a montage of the evils of men, just wasn’t going to quit. She was listening and staring at the entrance to the center of the cavern from above, a crossbow already aimed, waiting for the signal. Her knowledge of hand to hand combat was minimal, and she only just began learning dual daggers as Mageria thought those weapons would suit Ess more than her sword and dagger. Besides her relics, several throwing knives were habitually hidden along her body, in addition to a basic steel pair of daggers tucked along the small her back. By no means would she be packing light for this escapade.

Ess had managed to climb upon a boulder pillar, the rock stairs steep extending about twenty feet into the air, the shelf about two feet wide by five feet long from where she sprawled flat upon her belly. Time seemed to drag as she waited with the others, her form hidden in the shadows in between some scattered torchlight, her violet gaze staring off to her left listening to the sound of water drip steadily off the cliffs of the cavern.

The sound of hastened footfall echoed into the cavern causing Ess to intake a cleansing breath, a sharp whistle soon followed. Catching a glimpse of the Captain below, Ess aimed her bolt just behind Mageria, leading the creature on her heals she pulled the trigger, the bolt flying in between some spikes along it’s back. Not even sure it hit, she didn’t expect it to dally in its stride much, but it was just enough to give the Captain another few paces ahead. Ess continued to release bolts as quickly as she could load them, some appearing to hit, others bouncing off the creatures thick hide aimlessly, the whipcord snapping violently in it’s repetition. Soon enough she ran out of quarrels, moving swiftly she pushed herself to her feet, leaping across to a brother boulder. Teetering briefly as she caught her balance, and watched waiting for an opening.


Vane simply waited for the right moment, the bow was held by his left hand; his quiver with 36 new arrows, and his whole conscience calmly searching any sound that would declare that the Beast was near. His eyes lied close for now, it didn't matter for him, he memorized where everything was and kept track of his allies movements by sound. He could listen their breathing, the torches slowly burning, he lied three meters away from the entrance that Mageria showed to the group, his back met the cave's wall many minutes ago, his right hand rested, if anything would happen he would need all his strength. Vane cleared his mind, returning to listen any motion in the cave, and then he heard it.

Mageria should have entered the cave less than a minute ago, and close to her something moved, it was big, but the steps were almost silent. It ran fast, but probably was wounded. Vane removed one of his arrows from the quiver, smiling as he opened his eyes; the light blinded him for a few moments, but he eventually got used to it. "Get ready," he whispered, not even carrying to check that the others heard it. He knew that Mageria would soon be there, because now he could hear the Beast's claws meeting the ground as it ran. The woman ran through the entrance, the creature following her too close. The girl with purple eyes shot a few bolts, too many in Vane's opinion. A few of them hit the Beast, but the wounds were not deep enough to create a flow of blood. Vane analyzed the creature before releasing the bow's string. Horns, thick skin, no arrow would get through that. His eyes moved to the creature's leg.

"The tendons! Aim for the legs!" he screamed, releasing the string. The Beast's eyes were fixed at Mageria, not expecting any hit from behind. The arrow penetrated the skin, where the joint should be. Vane made another arrow ready as the first one flew, he released it, hoping, in his mind, than that would slow down the Beast.

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

Mageria ran as fast as could, feeling arrows actually whizzing past her. The beast screamed, the echo bouncing around until it seemed to be coming from all directions. She was perhaps four paces ahead of it when she got to the area that she was aiming for. In between two boulders, a sturdy stick had been wedged crossways. As she ran, Mageria reached up with one hand; grabbing the branch. Lithely, she swung up and over, as if she was an acrobat. The Beast ran under her, going too fast to actually stop when she got out of the way.

Finishing her flip, Mageria landed hard behind the Beast, knowing she had about a second or two to act; she raised her crossbow and fired full into the back of it, using Vane's advice and aiming for the vulnerable tendons. She didn't have anytime to reload, instead she threw the crossbow to the side and pulled the warhammer from her side, waiting for the next move.

The Guard around them acted as soon as they saw that she was momentarily out of danger, raining small boulders and heavy chains down upon it, doing everything that they could to simply slow it down long enough for a truly damaging blow to be struck.


Ess stood upon the pillar above of the current chaos, a rope stretched from her feet across the pool of water in the middle, to the other side of the cavern. She had tested her weight a dozen times earlier, but it didn’t change the fact she shook at the thought of it giving way as she began to balance the tight rope, pushing herself not to pause in the screams of the beast. Watching in silent awe, Ess smiled at how easy Mageria made her efforts look, hoping one day she would learn something similar.

Stretching her arms out, vertically above her head, Ess bent her knees and hopped to the side, her fingers clutching painfully around the rope as she caught herself in her momentary fall. Slowly she strained underhanded movements forward, swinging her legs to assist as she continued over where the Beast was being pummeled by large rocks and chains, the attempt causing it to roll in a loss of balance exactly beneath her feet.

Without hesitation, Ess let go, falling no more than about fifteen feet or so, her arms reached out to grab onto the beast as she landed rough along it’s back, some of the spikes tearing small gashes along her arms and legs. Gritting her teeth, she held on as the Beast gathered itself in it’s confusion, bucking hard to throw Ess off of it. Holding on for dear life, the Beast paused to turn direction away from Mageria towards a boulder; Ess taking the second to retrieve both daggers along her back, attempting to stab one through the thick hide of the beast’s head in repetitive thrusts. Another scream escaped the ugly bastard as it began running straight for the boulder.

Just before they collided, Ess raised the free dagger high and as they came to a violent halt, her body lurched forward in the force of the momentum in time as her blade struck sickly into the Beasts distorted eye. In that moment, Ess’ body flew forward into the boulder, her entire back colliding with the rock with a curious pop, temporarily losing consciousness.


Vane held the bow's string as he saw the scene, the arrow ready to fly to the Beast's body, although he was far more amused by the purple eyed girl that just landed on the creature's back. Ess was her name? Vane wasn't sure, but that was impressive, and yet foolish. She was thrown against a boulder, but apparently she managed to stab the animal on the face. "Insane, but not that bad," he whispered before focusing on aiming the arrow against the creature's legs. The thing moved fast, avoiding the arrow. He ran closer to the creature, only stopping when he was close to Mageria, two meters away from her, but in a manner that Vane could aim at the Beast. The man got another arrow ready and allowed it to flew, the creature was doing her best to reach the soldiers that threw the boulders.

"Cap'n, if that thing doesn't stay still for at least," he released the string again, the arrow flying close to the Beast's left ear, "a few gods-damned seconds, my arrows will hit the stone." He made another arrow ready, aiming for the left leg's tendon since the creature's mouth was close to entertain a soldier's leg. It pierced through the skin, making it scream again. It turned around, looking to the direction where Vane and Mageria were. The Beast ran as fast as it could, but in a rather clumsy way due to the two arrows hanging on the rear legs. The man raised an eyebrow as he made another arrow ready. "That wasn't... truly expected."


Mageria grunted. "Holding still . . . might be a bit of a challenge." She darted forward with a few quick steps to get in front of the archer and waited for just the right moment to swing her warhammer, smashing it into the Beast's jaw, smashing it up and to the side. Vane choose that moment to take a shot, sending an arrow deep into it's throat. Behind the Beast, two men took that moment to grab Ess and drag her to safety.

It wasn't a kill shot, but it did weaken the thing, sending the Beast stumbling backwards. Mageria shouted an order, waving one hand in a signal. Her Enlightened soldiers leapt into action, obeying her previous orders to use their skills carefully and wisely. Twin gouts of flame flared up in it's face, while fist sized rocks pummeled it. With a shout of effort from one woman, a heavy skein of rope snaked through the air and wrapped itself around the Beast's limbs, momentarily binding it. Mageria screamed an order to everybody who could hear her . . .

"TAKE YOUR SHOTS!!!"


A glint of light and a steel headed bolt crashed into the dirt where the enemy should have been. The unnatural thing had seen it coming in easily, leaping off to avoid collision. The metal dug into the earth, the shaft had broken easily with its own weight, one half deep into the dirt, the other mere splinters over the clammy floor. The rope that bound it wouldn’t last, and it was just enough time for another member to take action.

A heavy hand grasped Mageria’s shoulder, a soft squeeze to reassure her against this monstrous foe. Even if she would never show it, the enemy was an unnerving sight to look upon. To know it existed shook the very foundations of reality. It was maddening to see such a thing straight from the fiery dreamscapes of the most wretched of night terrors. The Beast was an example of everything that man always feared corporal. The Blade pushed ahead, placing Vane and Mageria to his back as he stepped forth. The creature was still coming but the crossbow had managed to detract its path.

Grim lobbed the heavy bolt thrower aside, its clatter the only sound besides the clicking of claws on hard flooring. The Raging Demon was downed in full armor for this conflict, the black just glinting in the miniscule luminescence. A cape of brilliant red wafting at his back, signaling where he was so that the troops would not foolishly fire upon him. Like a statue of metal wrought in obsidian, every joint accounted for save his arms, where he would need the most speed. A walking fortress, a man of insurmountable protection, and the iron will of a warrior.
The Giant’s Knife screeched as it was drawn, in his hurry the edges mashed against the scabbard , Grim was ready now. Dramatically he dragged the tip into the dirt, making a line in the dingy cave floor. The Black Knight poised behind it, his weapon upraised and his feet spread.

“Daniels if you can hear me, may the gods have mercy upon our souls….”

The Beast cared not, it crashed over the metal like a tide. Though it stood almost as tall as the Blade, it appeared to rival his determination, and outmatch his strength. Back the grieves slid, the ground building up around Grim’s feet as he was forced back. Barely the soldier held his footing, nearly falling back from the power that collided against him. This thing was unnatural in all ways, spikes and protrusions that dug into alloys and leather. It’s lust for death seeping through horrid fangs and soulless eyes, it hounded for this fight.
They were nearly back to Mageria and Vane when Grim managed to will his predicament into a standoff. Forcing the Beast back momentarily. Within War stirred, perhaps the magic in Daniels had alerted it, but it was hungry. Grim clutched at his heart, his free arm barring back the demon while he fought for control. In its presence War was riled and anxious, magic pulling upon magic. Little red lights dancing inside the black helm, threatening to break the entire operation.

“N-n-no.. I am not a monster, I am not a monster… I am not a monster…”

The words slipped hurriedly and almost desperately, he couldn’t risk losing control here and now. Yet he couldn’t deny that he and Daniels shared a kinship, and perhaps it was their similarities that called out to each other. It had been occupied with Mageria and no doubt would still once Grim was out of the way. Maybe in a way theirs was a magic against each other. Rivals in a test for the ultimate power, which was the superior, War or the Beast?

Something snapped, in Grim’s frustration he lashed out taking the thing by its skull and driving it into the dirt. No Enlightenment, but the raw power of man pushed too far. Impossibly he managed to keep it pinned long enough to regain composure and ready the Giant’s Knife.
With a sweeping motion he batted the Beast back rolling its wretched body with a grand gesture. Rushing in to bring the edge down, spiking the thorny body against the ground. The flesh never broke but it surely felt pain as it squealed with sounds too horrid to recall.

“I’ll send you back to hell Daniels! BACK TO HELL!”

Up he flipped it, tossing it like a child would a ball. Down he slammed the thing, using his massive weapon like an arm to catch and force the fell angel where he willed. Crashing down again and again, his sword bruising and bashing but by some evil will never breaking the thing’s thick hide. Dancing over the damned with an uncanny wrath dashing it all along the cave and splattering it against walls like a man driven mad.
When at last the Black Knight had exhausted himself he stood his ground, allowing the Beast to rise. Sadly it seemed hardly perturbed by the punishment it had received. Grim readied again, his shoulders sagging now, he was weary and it showed. Making a critical mistake in letting his emotion get hold, of allowing his anger to control his arms. It was an impressive spectacle, but he wasn’t prepared now for the forthcoming counterattack.

The Beast smashed against his armor again bringing its long black claws over the metal, scratching up its surface, leaving exposed grooves on its black exterior. Grim panicked, and pulled out his ace in the hole. His skull crashing down against the Beast’s face. It was a mistake he’d soon regret, the Beast shook off the blow in seconds and flipped the unbalanced Black Knight upon his back.

It straddled over his stomach, leering over Grim’s helm as it went to work. Claws that were digging against the chest plate trying to shovel through the outer layer. Sparks flying into the air where the talon met the armor. In its glee it wheezed and sputtered saliva black and acrid, its eyes aglow with its evil intent. The Blade raised up his arms and intercepted as best he could, but eventually it would strike him and that would complicate things infinitely.


Too long had gone by since Evin had a chance to see Mageria. It was the only reason he let Ella convince him to bring supplies to the camp that she had set up in the north. Ella couldn’t do it herself as the relations between Newhaven and Mageria’s group of mercenaries was no longer existent. If anyone saw Ella associating with the Black Knights, there would be a price for her to pay.
He rode into camp of a carriage with several horses that were towing him and a load of supplies. There was everything from food to weapons and even a couple of blankets to keep warm during the long nights. He drove along to rough path made out to where the center of the camp was. The path was only a line of flattened grass on a concaving ground. Guards all around him completely ignored his presence, passing by without a glace up at the big carriage as they passed by. Something was going on and although it was somewhat against Evin’s nature to actively try to find out what was going on, he couldn’t resist the temptation to at least ask. He rode up beside a younger guard who was gathering some of the little supplies that were left.
“Excuse me!” He called to the man. “Could I ask why people are acting all frantic?”
They man looked up at Evin, but then turned away. Echoes of the most dreadful sounds came from out of the lip of a cave to his left, instinctively forcing his head to look over at it. The sounds were those that only a beast from the deepest pits of hell could make. He had never heard an animal of any kind make a noise like that horrendous.
He looked back down at the man. All the supplies her was carrying were now on the ground, scattered around his feet. Some people just couldn’t handle the frightening. He knelt down on one knee, picking up the things he dropped while answering Evin’s question. In a shaky voice, he said, “That’s what has everyone on edge. Mageria’s down there with a couple of brave souls fighting something that even the Twins themselves might even cower before. Some of us have our doubts that Mageria will be able to take out the Beast so we are preparing what we have to get ready for it.”
Evin sighed. He knew exactly what this meant. He could walk away without Mageria knowing anything about his presence and he would have to deal with a fight. Then again, the two of them were companions of sorts. “That’s because she doesn’t have me there to save her ass. Do you have any explosive powders?”
“It’s all being used.” The man nudged his head towards the cave.
Evin wasn’t going in there with what he had on him. He only had a couple of daggers and his rope dart that he barely ever used. “Do you think I could use the supplies I’ve carried in for you here?”
“Well it isn’t really my decision.”
“Mageria won’t mind.” Evin said, jumping out of his seat, right back into the supplies he had brought. He found a few throwing knives, loads of thin rope, some fuses along with exploding powder. There were other things, but Evin instantly grabbed those things.

~~~~~~~~~~

When Evin finally got everything he needed prepared, he ran into the lip of the cave. Not too far in, things began getting too dark to see. He could tell that as soon as he got far enough in, that he would only be able to see a couple of feet in front of him. He closed his eyes and listened to the echoes of the yells and shrieks coming from the depths of the cave as the battle raged on. That wasn’t enough for him to be guided through however so Evin used his ability and things slowed down for him. He could catch every single individual echo coming from the cave. With that, he had a rough idea of where he would have to go.
Evin ran as fast as he could and soon he couldn’t see anything except the very tip of his nose. This is when he would rely solely on the sounds he heard again as to not hit a wall or fall into a hole. He listened to his footsteps and judged, based on the echoes of it around him where all the cave walls were. It was enough to get him where he wanted to be. Soon there was a dim light flickering ahead and the sounds of the battle raging before him were loud enough to hear without the aid of an echo carrying it along. He finally reached an area that was a little more open, with a few torches lighting it. There were a couple of people who were completely unrecognisable and then there were a few that caught his eyes immediately. One was Mageria of course, but then there was the other, who went by many names, but Evin knew more formally as Grim. He seemed to have been trapped by a terrible beast of some sort clawing his way through the man’s armour. Evin dug his foot into the ground to test it a moment. Surprisingly, there was some give to the ground as if some of it was made of a softer rock; maybe clay. It was enough give to drive a blade through and that was exactly his plan. From a pouch on his left, he grabbed a throwing knife attached to a long fuse and threw it directly beside his left right leg, where a second throwing knife was conveniently placed. He slid his hand down the second throwing knife, which was also attached to the same fuse, and flung his hand upward, which made the knife fly directly towards the distracted Beast’s face. With his hand naturally moving upwards, he grabbed a dagger that was sheathed on his back and swung it back down to hit the knife stuck to the ground. The two metals collided, causing a big spark which began running down the fuse towards the now completely blinded Beast.
Evin ran at top speeds in order to keep only a couple of paces between him and the fuse. Finally, the fuse reached the knife that had been plunged into the Beast’s face. The knife had been dipped into a flammable tar and coated with explosive powder before Evin entered the cave. The dagger exploded directly in the Beasts face, causing it to get off Grim and walk back a few steps, to try and put out the fire which had been over various parts of its body. The tar had done its job. Evin took this moment of it putting out the fires to sin across on its back and take a few stabs at it with his dagger. Before overcommitting himself, he backed off.
“Why does it always seem that I get dragged into fights when I’m around you Mageria?” He said with a wink and braced for the Beast to make its next move.


Ess wasn’t out for long, awakening just as two men dragged her away from the Beast’s reach, a sharp pain stretched out along her left shoulder causing her to release a small scream. When the men let her go, her arm was limp, dislocated from her collision with the wall. Cradling her left forearm with her right she looked at one of the Guard’s expectingly, the man braced one hand upon her shoulder the other hand grabbing her forearm and with a sudden yank and a sick pop her shoulder went back in place. Another grimace of pain crossed her face as she held back another yelp, trying to collect some sort of sense in the confusion and battle cries around her.

So much was happening at once. Ess’ violet eyes went wide as she watched the giant of a man, who could only be Pondus, take the Beast head on. The commotion exploded into chaos, the beast literally was on fire for a moment, a black eyed stranger who seemed to come out of nowhere was assisting in pushing the Beast backwards. Ess felt she needed to join the line, perhaps they could together push this creature back. Running forward she dove at the rock floor, barrel rolling beneath a random swipe of the creatures claw as she made her way around and back towards the group. Happily finding one of the daggers she had lost amidst the battle as she paused beside the group, she gripped the hilt, staring at the Captain, waiting rightly for a command instead of her impulsive behavior. Ess had realized what she was doing could of gotten her killed, but as she reached the back of the Beast, she knew changing her mind could also get her killed and so she had carried out the idea. Now, between them all, the beast was blind and furious, bleeding here and there in it’s screams of pain.


Vane was aiming at the Beast’s head when something exploded, it was a bit faster than he would have enjoyed, He lost his aim, but a new ally is always a good thing, the arrow met the creature’s stomach, making little to no damage. By the time he made another arrow ready Ess crossed his view, she didn’t spoke a thing as if she wait for an order. The arrow flew, hitting the Beast’s leg when the idea crossed is mind. It was perfect since the Beast was still distracted by the flames, the only thing they would need would be perfect timing.

“Ess!” Vane screamed, hoping that it was the girl’s right name as he tried to aim for the creature’s head, “need your help, be ready, the tendon!” His words made little sense now, but if everything worked. “Mageria! Be ready you too!” Vane walked and released the string. It flew to the Beast’s left ear, cutting the external part, it’s gaze met Vane. The pain on the legs crudely remembered who done them. Less than five meters laid between Vane and the fell creature. “Remembered me, eh? Come on! On me!” The man slowly walked back, the Beast following him in the same pace. His bow rested on his back, he was holding both of his daggers, just in case something went wrong. The Beast growled, as if it was taunting the man to make a mistake. ‘Teasing bastard, just hope that Ess and Mageria got the right message.’


Ess quirked a brow at the man screaming her name, not sure of his name as they were never properly introduced, yet he seemed to be making progress in slowing the Beast down with his arrows. For a second she wondered if she could ever be as skilled as this guy with a bow, looking from the Beast to Mageria. Twirling the dagger along her fingers she nodded towards the man, understanding what he was hinting at. Ess leaped forward in a sudden dash, diving along the ground in a pass of the Beast’s back leg, slashing and stabbing along the tendon, losing the blade in the weaker flesh. “Bloody Hell...” She spat, her body slid across the ground on her side, causing her flesh to burn from the action. Rolling to her feet, her head was swimming slightly at her quick movements. The creature bellowed out in pain as Ess backed away, Vane to her right, the group to her left. The entire scene seemed to slow down in the commotion, almost frozen in her eyes except for the displeased screams of the Beast. Retrieving her throwing knives she continued to aim at the back tendons, her accuracy much more impressive than with a crossbow. Several finger sized daggers scattered along the Beasts leg in unison yet only a couple penetrated the tendons in their spread.


"Evin? What the hell are you doing here? And now?" Mageria didn't even have time for an answer before the Beast started attacking again. Watching carefully as Vane and Ess worked together to take out one of the Beast's legs, she grinned in fierce satisfaction at the damage done.

"Hold fire!" She yelled as she stepped forwards, drawing up her war hammer to her shoulder. With clenched teeth and a grunt of effort, she swung as hard as she could, taking a bit too much pleasure in the sound of the cracking bone as she connected just above the joint. But she must not have done enough damage, because it spun around and slammed into her, pushing her to the ground and opening its jaws wide. With a yell, Mageria brought the warhammer around and shoved it into the Beast's teeth, jamming it back into the hinge so that it couldn't close it's mouth.

You have really bad breath.

Mageria was always a bit surprised at the thoughts that crossed her mind in situations like this. Drawing on all her strength, she kept the Beast's teeth away from her body. "A little help . . . here."


It leered, it ravished, it drew infinitely nearer though gaining no ground. From the deepest parts to this moment in time, when all the sins of past would finally meet its modern counterpart. Evil in the flesh, in its purest form, no mind or soul to chide or goad its thoughts. A thing of menacing thoughts and instinct, deeds forged from bloodbaths and destruction. Wants that belonged only to the wicked.
So intent so focused, it had to have her, to taste her flesh. So close, it was so close to its goal. Against impossible odds, it had found an opening, it had finally gotten to Mageria. It would not be stopped! It would have its--

Iron fingers clamped about its skull, heaving it back with a grunt of effort. It flailed wildly, claws lashing out in frustrated anger. Robbed of its victory, ejected from its seat of success. The knuckles eventually met at the creature’s throat, thick hands that pulled it into the air with such stark fury. Grim’s face couldn’t be seen beneath the helm, but none doubted his anger. How dare it!
Gurgling squeals slipped by a closing esophagus, somewhere beneath his hold something was cracking. The sickly sounds of tissue and bone breaking, the pop of fluids escaping the joints. It fought helplessly as it was upraised high, the Blade’s arms outstretched at full length, tightening the vice it had around the demon’s neck.

Eventually it stopped squirming, its alien body becoming silent. Its limbs hung loosely at its sides, and the glow of its eyes waned to lifeless grays. The Black Knight hesitated at first, after all the thing's very existence defied any sort of logic. It already showed plenty of qualities that nothing in Valcrest could compare with. In a way, even expired, the Beast was a frightening mystery.
Carefully he set the body down, watching it with a wary gaze. Waiting several minutes in the silence and murky gloom before turning toward his captain. Mageria looked alive as ever, and Grim was ever the thankful. He retreated to her side, wanting to return the Giant’s Knife to his hands. He had left the weapon buried in the dirt so he could work with his hands, but now it was time to sheath it and call their operation a success.

He fit the tool firmly into his hands and uprooted it just in time to hear cries of alarm. Spinning on palms of his feet he managed about with momentum enough to swing his mighty sword. The arc caught the Beast just under the ribcage tossing it back away from where he stood beside Mageria. Perhaps his first inclination on its intelligence was unfounded, it was smart enough to play possum after all.
He rested the edge of the Giant’s Knife against his pauldrons glancing side long to his leader and her warhammer. This thing was made of something quite stern, but it was on the wrong side of the battle. It was time to finish whatever pact was made so long ago.
Grim spread his feet slightly, reaffirming his stance on the ground. Lowering the Giant’s Knife into a ready position he nodded to Mageria. He would follow her lead.


Mageria gasped for breath as she got back up, war hammer in one hand.
"Back! Push it back!!"
Behind the Beast was the point of the entire fight, a net of chains welded together and weighted down with a couple of hundred pounds of rocks. It would hold the Beast in place long enough for the explosives piled around the column in the side of the room to do it's work. Wait for everyone to get the chance to run, lit the fuse and run like hell. It was a plan, of sorts.

From all around her came a hail of projectiles, arrows and rocks and anything that could be thrown; pushing the Beast backwards as it snarled and hissed. Mageria stood back and watched carefully, directing a certain attack when it was needed to aim the Beast a certain direction.

Finally . . . . "Now! Drop it!"


Evin was so confused. As if he was out of the loop to something really important. "What are we dropping?"
Mageria glanced at Evin sideways and couldn't keep an insane grin off her face.
"We are 'dropping' a net on that thing and then running like hell while somebody lights the fuse and then runs even more like hell." She gestured at the pile of casks mounded up around the main support column of the cavern.
"DROP IT!" The weighted net crashed down on the Beast, pinning it in place while it screamed in rage and fury; the tiny core of it that was still coherent realizing what was about to happen.
"Everybody out!" Mageria watched as people started to stream past them on the way out, counting them under her breath to make sure they were all getting out.
"Um, Evin . . . would you mind doing me a favor?"
He knew he didn't have much time to decide whether he would be the one to light the fuse or not. He looked back at the thing, struggling its way out of a net. It was an ugly thing. It would be a favor to the world if he was to light the fuse and stop it from killing anything ever again, but then again... "I believe there is a debt that we need to settle Mageria. I could do you this favor, but I'll only do it for a price." He smirked and sent a little wink her way. "And don't play the fool. You know that I've the best chance of getting out of this given my enlightenment.”
Mageria rolled her eyes, she couldn't help it. "And I suppose you have something in mind? What, a rematch of our last game?" Evin was right, he did have the best chance of lighting the fuse and getting out safely, but it was possible for her to do the same as well. Just a lot less likely. "Talk fast, old friend. That thing only has two targets left." The last of her people had steamed out of the cavern, leaving the two of them alone with it. It snarled deeply in its throat; straining at its bounds.
“Leave me to my work Mageria. You don’t want to be here to witness what I’m going to do.”
Evin had a thing for flair. He wasn’t going to light that fuse in a regular way. He watched Mageria run out of the cave until she was out of sight. There was no determining how long it would take him to get out of the cave given his enlightenment, but he had the best odds. It still didn’t mean he wasn’t afraid of what may happen. If it was to clear a debt without having to pay a single bit of currency, he would feel good about it.
A growl from the Beast got his attention back on what was important. Mageria had to be far enough away for him to begin the process of stopping this Beast from doing any more damage to anyone. Reaching down to his belt, he grabbed a large pouch filled with the tar he used for the dagger he had thrown. He slowly walked closer to the beast who was struggling to get out of the trap that had been set for it. If Evin gave it enough time, it would eventually get out, but he wasn’t going to let that happen.
“Well,” he said, “wouldn’t it be fun to make you light the fuse that will inevitably stop you?”
When he got closer to the Beast, it began to attempt to claw and snap at him, but it just didn’t have the reach within its binds. The next moment that it opened its mouth, Evin threw the pouch of tar into its mouth. He took out his dagger and grabbed a rock from the floor, and as it hissed, he hit the two items together and created a spark. The Beast’s entire mouth was filled with fire. Evin did a backflip, kicking the Beast in the jaw. This forced the Beast’s head back and the tar spread deeper into its body.
The Beast was burning from the inside out, but the flair didn’t come until it actually began to scream in pain. The screams came with a wall of fire blasting from its mouth. It realised that its last chance to survive the fight was to hit Evin with this fire breath.
Evin backed away quickly from the beast until he was standing right on the fuse. He stared down the Beast, waiting for the moment that it would do what he knew it would inevitably do. The Beast however seemed smart enough to know what it would be doing too. For a minute, they seemed to stare each other dead in the eyes. Eventually it would see that the risk would be greater than the reward and it would attack. The minute felt like hours, but Evin kept his patience. A flicker in the Beast’s eyes gave a moment for Evin to react. He didn’t even realise he did it, but next thing he knew he was one the ground and fuse was beside him; lit. Not knowing the bulk of Mageria’s plan going into the fight, he wasn’t sure how long exactly he had to get out of the cave. He assumed, based on length that he had a minute at the most.
He jumped to his feet and ran to one of the tunnels, narrowly avoiding the second breath of the fire from the Beast. He wound down the tunnels which had been lit while the evacuation was going on. He sped faster than he had coming in, because he knew that he only had one shot to get out and that his chances of making it out of the cave in a minute were slim to begin with. Seeing a faint light in the distance, he heard the roar of the Beast, not far away, but nearly right behind him. He didn’t look behind, and just kept running.
Then, he heard the blast from far in the cave. There wasn’t much time to get out of the cave now. The only problem was that he would have to slow down the Beast that would have to slow down if he wanted to trap it under the rubble like he assumed Mageria wanted. Fire flew past him, and rocks around him began to fall. All the while, he was coming up with something that would slow the Beast down for just a few second. There was nothing he could do, so he just kept running and hoped that enough soldiers were waiting at the lip of the cave to do something.
If the yelling, fire-breathing Beast wasn’t enough, now, it was getting more and more difficult to navigate through the rocks falling around him. His reaction time was soon not going to be enough, so he had to use it. His eyes lit up and a quick jolt of pain went up his spine. He blocked out the pain and looked at the world around him. All slowed down to a point where he would be able to react just a little quicker and further the gap between him and the Beast.
He soon got close enough to the entrance to be able to where he was able to yell out to anyone at the entrance. “Arrows, arrows, arrows, arrows!” He yelled in quick succession. He knew that it would sound weird to everyone else who was listening to it at a regular pace, but it didn’t matter. A wall of arrows to the Beast would be just enough to slow it down and lock it under the tons of rubble coming down.
He continued to yell until he reached the entrance of the cave. A line of Black Guards were aiming down the entrance of the cave, not flinching at the fire spewing out towards them. When Evin made it out of the line of fire, they all shot. One more scream was heard from the Beast and the entrance of the cave collapsed in on itself.
"Yeah! Right in the knee," one of the guards yelled.
Evin collapse, resting his hands on the ground, heaving and coughing. He hadn’t run that fast in a long time and he hoped he would have to again in a while.


A collective cheer went up as the cave collapsed, burying the Beast under tons of rock. There was no way that anything could survive such a thing, especially given how injured it was to begin with. That's what everyone else knew. Mageria knew one last thing though. In that instant before the cave collapsed, she heard a whisper deep in her mind, in a place where nightmares came from.
" . . . thank you. . . ."
She knew it was that last remnant of Daniels, at peace at last now that he could no longer harm those that he sought to protect.
"Goodbye old friend." Mageria whispered as she watched the dust settle. "Rest in peace."

She turned around to see that her Guard were celebrating loudly, as well they should given that they managed to survive with no major injuries. With very little time passing everybody picked themselves and their gear up and were headed back to camp; with loud plans for a "celebration".
"No blowing things up!" Mageria shouted after the main group. Not that she really expected it, but things did happen. With a wide grin she wandered over and helped Ev pick himself up out of the snow, brushing him off and patting him on the back.
"Well, I don't know how or when you got here, but you can come hide in my cabin if you were planning on staying the evening. Maybe we could play some cards . . . ?"

The setting changes from valcrest to Blackpond

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Evin Bana Character Portrait: Dominic Adams Character Portrait: Lamya Character Portrait: Ella Page Character Portrait: Alexander
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Some would find it crazy, others, just plain stupid. Leaving a woman all alone in the most dangerous place inhabited in Valcrest while she was being threatened by an insanely rich, insane woman. Most people would like to stay with that threatened person no matter what if they were supposed to protect them. The only thing was that Evin had already sent her to the party. She was one of the first of the guests to arrive. Evin had nothing to worry about. If there were Wolves at the party, Evin suspected that they would be a little cautious before making their move. It would just seem too easy.
The reason that Evin left was because he wanted to go wait for Crystal. He didn’t want to waste time at a stupid and annoying party that was bound to be filled with hellish thoughts and hellish people who would be willing to act on those thoughts. He didn’t want to wait for Crystal there. It wouldn’t be nearly as fun as waiting all alone with his own thoughts would be. Of course, he wasn’t going to allow his presence to be known to Crystal right away. He wasn’t even sure if she would visit where he was waiting for her, but he expected that she might be compelled to go just for nostalgia’s sake.
He perched himself on the top of a roof near the building he was waiting at. It was the building that he recalled as the place that Crystal’s father died. What a great man he was, and to think that he would be killed so heartlessly, by Perry of all people. In that moment, the fate of the Wolfpack and the rest of Valcrest was sealed. Without that moment, it would be very unclear to foretell the events that transpired after. There would be far less motivation to go looking for the False King. Theron might not have been as motivated to join the Wolfpack and the Wolves might have actually gone into a regression as they might have been too afraid to re-enter Newhaven for a while without some sort of excuse. It was a sad thought, but not even Dani would have had the courage to face off against Newhaven without merit. From experience, Evin knew how much of a threat Newhaven was to the Wolves. With the state that Newhaven was in at the moment however, the Wolfpack could easily take down the entire infrastructure of the city if they wished to and after that, Blackpond would probably easily do the rest if they really wanted to.
Perched just out of sight, Evin watched as Crystal walked up to the old Wolfpack Inn. Just as he had expected. The attraction to places with bitter histories always seemed to be too much for most people in Valcrest to handle. She stood there, probably having similar thoughts to Evin’s about that night and how things changed because of it. About her life the way it is was now and finally, about her father. The great man with a million great and insightful thoughts.
He forgot the reason he had been waiting for Crystal in the first place. His thoughts of Bastian had distracted him for a moment. Obviously that moment was just one brief moment too long. He saw Dastan walk up behind him just as he was about to exit from his perch. While it wasn’t the worst thing in the world that Dastan was there, he rather he had a chance to talk to Crystal in private. Crystal to him was his confidant. She was someone who he could share anything with. That absolute trust in her and her decisions is what allowed her to talk openly to her. It didn’t matter if it was a negative or a positive; she would listen and would only tell those who needed to know as to the matters which he discussed with her. It was much like the constant trust that everyone could have in Time. No matter how much someone could attempt to change things, Time would continue, unwrinkled and pure. Nothing could contaminate the trust that people had in mind. Dastan, to Evin was more like water. He couldn’t exactly do go on without him, but is easy to contaminate. He didn’t want to discuss anything with Dastan nearby.
He continued to watch Crystal and Dastan until the two of them were gone. For about ten minutes after, he got off from his perch and made his way to the party.
At the entrance to the castle, there were six guards right at the door to welcome him in. On each side of the wide path that lead to the door, there were about five or six guards at attention. To any untrained eye, that would be all that anyone would see. This was a mistake. At the lowest windows and the lower two towers that protected the entrance, there were several men trying their best to be out of sight while still being ready to shoot their crossbows at anyone who even tried to enter. Even harder for the eye to catch, several hundred feet, directly above him at the top of the castle were just more archers ready to air their crossbows directly down on anyone who would try something funny. Finally, there were the true shadows of this party. Those were the shadows of what he could only imagine were the group that was known as the Shadow’s Conflict. Ten people who believed that they could hide themselves in plain sight. They were very skilled in the art of blending. Behind the stationary guards, in with some of the groups enjoying fresh air before entering the party, there was even one that was so perfectly still that only the blinking of his eyes is what tipped Evin off to the fact that he was standing there. The most deadly part about these assassins was that he knew that the moment they decided to come into the party, they will not be recognizable at all. People who were this skilled at blending in, that the moment they blended into the party, it would be nearly impossible to discern them from a regular guest. Evin was certain that they would bring him a good show when the actual party got started.
Evin gave a quick wave to the one who had blinked to let the rest know that he meant business and he wasn’t going to allow himself to be tricked by any simple mind game that they would plan to dish out at this party. He would be cautious, as they were capable of almost killing Crystal, but he wanted to show them that he had gained the first edge on them and not the other way around like they had expected would happen. He instantly saw the heads of the nine other assassins look his way when this happened. Evin then looked at each individual one of them. He placed his finger on his temple and tapped it a couple of times in a gesture of knowledge. Evin instantly regretted this decision. The assassins didn’t do anything, but he knew that by being so cocky, he was putting a huge target on his back.
He continued his walk down the path until he reached the six guards that were there to welcome him in. Shaking one of their hands, he spoke, “I’m so happy to have been invited to this party. I know you didn’t do it personally, but I’m still glad and would like to show my appreciation. Now I understand that there are no weapons checks here as I’ve seen a couple before me who weren’t even checked for weapons. You guys are so considerate, you know that. Thank you.”
Little did any of the guards know, but while shaking the man’s hand, he had grabbed the guard’s war axe as well as the holster for said weapon from right off his body.
This is when he moved himself into the party. It was the most beautiful of ballrooms… filled with hundreds of people. “Oh what fun!” Evin sarcastically exclaimed as he dipped himself into the fountain of madness that was going to be this party.

------

Alexander stood himself just in sight of the castle. His hired swords, the ones he had left, were walking their way along the road just ahead of him. He was a little nervous to go to this thing, but he knew it had to be done. If he wanted to bring Blackpond back to its former glory and possibly put a peaceful ending to this war, then he would. Damn it Grim, he thought as he continued thinking about the possibilities if everything was to work out.
“Hey, Alexander, what’s up?” One of the hired swords said, seeing that Alexander was sitting still.
Alexander jumped out of his thought to respond. “Oh, yes nothing. Just thinking.” He started walking again. “Now men. The odds are that the entrance to the Ball will be heavily fortified. Don’t act suspicious as you walk through the guards. Just act as if you are like any other party guest, but carrying a sword out in the open. When you get to the door, they will probably ask you to relinquish your weapons. At this point, it will be pretty easy to force our way into the door. After that, we target the red-head. I created it, so I will destroy it. The Shadow’s Conflict will suffocate under our feet as we re-take control of Blackpond.”
The two men and woman nodded in unison and fell into silence as they got close to the door. Alexander looked at every guard individually as he walked up the path. The whole idea of acting nonchalant about things wasn’t really working out for him. For the first time in over twenty years, the idea of fighting made him nervous. His heart pounded ten times faster until he reached the door, where six guards were there to welcome him. His heart stopped and he found it nearly impossible to catch his breath. It was like the feeling that he felt when he heard the sound of war drums out in the distance. At this moment, the hired swords looked just about ready to draw their weapons to attempt what Alexander only imagined would be a historic moment. Something that, whether it worked out or not didn’t really matter. Historians would still have some interesting things to write about. In a moment where everyone who is anyone in Valcrest sat themselves in one room for festivities, a small revolt was under way.
Alexander reached for his sword, but was stopped when one of the guards said. “What are you’s doing? This is an open invitation party. You can enter you know.”
The four looked around at each other with confused eyes. There was something wrong here. Why would anyone ever allow so many angry people into one room with swords when there was just so much conflict in Valcrest? The four revolutionaries passed through the doors and into the Ballroom. It was just as Alexander remembered, just with more people.
“Ok men, we will keep a low profile from now until we find the right opportunity. Know our enemies, they already know that we’re here and what we are here for so there is no need for surprise. Enjoy the night for now and we will attack when opportunity arises.”

-----

The instant that Ella’s parade made it within a mile of Blackpond, the news had already made it around that the Queen of Newhaven was actually personally visiting Blackpond. This was the first time that royalty had visited Blackpond personally since her father, from what she could remember. It was very important to the city of Blackpond. Despite the fact that these people were her enemy, she understood the needs of the people. When something exciting happened to them that didn’t involve a public maiming or some random rape, it brought joy to the citizens. The city’s dark and menacing demeanour brightened up for a change as the parade followed through.
“Dominic!” Ella called from her closed carriage.
The carriage continued on at the same pace and in a couple of seconds, then the door opened. The large White Knight took a few quick steps until he jumped into the moving compartment. Dominic, had to crouch as to not hit the roof, his head barely fitting as he sat down. The behemoth of a man then said, “What do you need?”
“I have a request for you Dominic. While you may not agree with it, I want you to wear this.” She hunched over to reach down to the floor and grab a handle. “Could you please move your feet?” She asked. When Dominic moved his feet, she opened the small compartment under the floor.
Dominic looked at what was in the compartment and just shook his head. “I don’t think that this is a good idea. If the council finds out, and trust me, they will—”
“I don’t really care what they think of it. I actually want them to know. I want the council and Blackpond to know that my loyalties are still strong, despite what it may seem.”
“There are other, more subtle ways to do this m’lady.” Dominic frowned.
“Just put it on.”

The trumpeters serenaded the party goes with their melody to signify the entrance of the Queen. Each note a beautiful representation of the delicate, yet demanding nature of Newhaven’s flower. Then the promenade; the grand march into the room was what made Ella the most important person in the room. It was true too. She was the attention to everyone’s eyes.
Ella’s had on a champagne pink, A-line dress with a flared skirt, puffed out by heaps of crinoline. The same crinoline material was used to accentuate the sweetheart neckline. The main focus of the dress was the rose however. It was a real pink rose with leaves still attached to create a slight green accent. It was placed right between her skirt and the corset, which had a seem down the middle and curved around her waist so the skirt came up further around the sides. She was absolutely stunning and clearly the best dressed as well, but when you are one of the best off people in Valcrest, it was simple to look better than other people in the room.
Behind her was something that put an aura of pure shock around the people who had come from Newhaven to the party. A black Knight stood tall and proud, seemingly there to protect the Queen with all the dishonor that came with the attire.
“Ella!” A voice echoed from the top of the staircase. “Pleasant for you to join.” It was the woman. The red haired woman who had visited the Castle from Blackpond the weeks before winter. “Now we can start our party.” The woman was accompanied by four other people right behind her. One of them was definitely working with something as his eyes began to glow. A fire started to build right around him. Then, a glow from a second person. This person wasn’t as visible as the other four who accompanied this woman. The glow of this person’s eyes came from an unlit balcony just above the woman and the four men. The fire moved from the man to the door behind Ella. It let out a large amount of heat, enough that the medal doors that Ella had just entered through started to melt. When the fire was gone, they could see that the fire melted the metal to create an airtight seal around the door. “My name is Lamya, and I’m your host for the evening.” Two of the other men’s eyes lit up, and again the balcony man’s eyes lit up as well. Water moved in every which direction to every exit in the entire ballroom. Then an incredible cool air blasted through the room, cooling the water right down until every entrance was covered in a layer of ice so thick that it would be impossible to break through. “As you can all tell, this is a historic night with so many figureheads of Valcrest in one room. I don’t even know how things are supposed to work out. With the amounts of conflict between all these figureheads, I can’t exactly tell how long it will take for things to get out of hand. Well, we are probably stuck here all night with the ice storm blocking us in and all. Enjoy the evening. Carry on.” She said with a smile before walking up the stairs into the balcony area above to blend with the crowds.
That moment after she stopped talking was when the commotion started. The festivities of the party that seemed to have been happening before from Ella’s point of view all stopped. There was a quiet but panicked chatter that buzzed through the room.
“Dominic, get the string quartet to continue with the music. I’m not going to let Blackpond ruin what should be a perfectly good evening. We can’t get out yet, but we might as well enjoy the time that we’re stuck here. Conrad, come with me.”
Dominic went off and Ella walked to the center of the room with Conrad. She placed her one hand on his shoulder and the other in his other hand. When the quartet started playing again, she danced. She hoped that this would calm the crowd down a little.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Evin Bana Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Annie Turner Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher Character Portrait: Darren Hearst Character Portrait: Samantha 'Johnson'
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“You’re from BlackPond, Jake...The name Ebony sound familiar?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Evin Bana Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Lamya Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher Character Portrait: Alexander Character Portrait: Ess Character Portrait: Darren Hearst
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Evin looked down at the blade that the King was holding in his hand. His reflection fell back at him with the grimace of truth that only the visual echo from a blade could tell. The mourning the dead were usually viewed as a time to reflect on one’s self. The blade was the perfect foreshadow to this as it held a physical mirror to the person it killed much like the people who mourned would use the killed as their own mirror. In a way, it made the dead a perfect mirror. The dead can’t alter the image that they left behind.
For some reason, this made Evin a little less ambitious to move in on Rick before he made his move on Crys. Rick wasn’t going to just jump Crystal right away, however; not with Evin in the way. This much he knew. If Evin didn’t want to make the move, all he could do was sit and attempt to anticipate what the stressor would be. He ignored the man as best he could and looked back at Crys.
Despite the fact that Crys was trying to speak with Rick, Evin tried to catch her attention again. “I guess you haven’t been too busy yet. I’ve always been happiest when I’m at work. I’ve been working since I got here.” He quickly glanced at Rick, who had veins begin to show in his neck and forehead. “I think it’s about time I take a few moments and actually try to enjoy a party.”
Evin grabbed Crystal by the hand gently and walked towards the dancing floor where the fighting was taking place. He didn’t expect her to come, he didn’t even force her. He was hoping that she would come just for the thrill. “Don’t think that you can dance with Sean without dancing with me too.” He smirked as he turned around to face her, ignoring the battle that went around her. Placing his second hand on her shoulder, he started to sway.

-----

With the battle now on the floor, things were going a little better than before. Alexander couldn’t help but admit that he enjoyed fighting in this exact type of situation. Outnumbered by many with no way other than skill to gain an advantage over the opponent. It was the most terrifying feeling in the world, but he never thought of fighting to lose. It was a strange feeling. He couldn’t explain it to anyone who wasn’t truly versed in the art of sword combat. It was almost as if he was invincible when faced in the situation, like the Twins themselves had divinely intervened and had taken his side.
“Ah hell, I need a drink!” He yelled as he looked around him.
Nothing too much was centered on him in terms of the fighting. It was all focused on the hired swords for some reason. They must have known who he was. They must have known he was in charge of it all, but all he would get was the occasional attack by sword or maybe a gentle push of wind. It didn’t make sense…

-----

She watched it all unfold; People panicking, fighting between guests and then the real blood battle that was going on right below her. She looked on all of this from the balcony where she could get a good bird’s eye view without needing to use her enlightenment. It made matters simpler if Rita was forced into battle at a moment’s notice. Unlike the regular battlefield, there was no safe place to run off to keep safe while her body was exposed. It was unsettling to her that she shouldn’t rely on her enlightenment.
“You know that you’ve got to do it. It’s your duty.” An ever familiar woman’s voice said.
“And if I don’t?” She turned around to look Lamya in the eyes with her own, stern gaze.
“You are free to do so. You are also given the freedom to keep on living. The real question seems to be why you would choose to do one and not the other.”
Rita wasn’t going to have any of this. She actually was thinking of joining the rebel forces and maybe off Lamya herself. Before she made a rash decision, she started to walk away. “The choices seem to me to be two and the same, wouldn’t you agree?”
Lamya smirked and started to follow. “No. To some, there is a difference. If Hastings could tell you something right now, he’d probably tell you that one of them would involve not being a bitch.”
“He’d probably also tell me to kill this bitch while I have the chance.” Looking over her shoulder and pointing her thumb at Lamya.
“Good point.” Lamya laughed in an almost human-like way for once as she continued to follow Rita down the stairs.
Rita moved in towards the battle, getting about ten paces away before she stopped with one foot slightly in front of the other. In a single flash of fire, Rita pivoted on the balls of her feet and drew her sword, pressing it beneath Lamya’s breast where her wicked heart rested. “It’s the one with the eye patch, right?”
Lamya smiled her blackened smile. “Exactly.”
Rita turned around and faced her sword directly at the man with the eye patch. For being the person that they wanted to have dead, it was a surprise to her that he wasn’t already in the grave and wrapped up in a poorly built coffin. This made her think about Lamya’s smile. Why did she smile this time? Was it because Rita had given in once again to Lamya’s demands or was there something more sinister about it. Was this all a scam to off the only person capable of properly commanding Blackpond’s shattered army, much like what they had done to Hastings? She quickly used her enlightenment, only for a quarter of a second. Just long enough for Rita to see what Lamya was doing behind her and jump back into her body before it fell limp on the battlefield. Lamya wasn’t doing anything behind her, so she decided that she’d best just get this all over with.
“Man with the eye patch! Surrender to the crown of Blackpond or otherwise face me and meet Death.” The words sounded almost cheesy coming out of her mouth. It made her slightly sick.
The man with the eye patch lifted his weapon up and stood in a stance to match Rita’s. He then grabbed something from his pocket—a book—and threw it on the ground beside him.
Rita was just about to go into a full charge on the man. She took the first step, but was quickly halted. An older man accompanied by a younger woman walked directly in between the two soon-to-be combatants and began a dance. It was too dark to really make out who either of them were and she wasn’t too concerned with it. It was just a minor hesitation from her actual goal. Again, Rita ran towards the eye patched man, sword raised.

-----

As the two danced, Evin felt a quick breeze flow past him. Soon he realized from the sound of clashing swords just paces away that it was likely someone running past him. The fighting was very close to the two of them.

Crys couldn't help but laugh as Evin led her to the dance floor, partly because the situation was somewhat amusing on its own considering most of the party guests were running around or pushing for the exits in a panic and there was not even any music playing anymore, but partly because she knew very well that Jake was somewhere in that mess keeping an eye on her. While not too long ago that would have been a comforting thought, right now she took far more comfort in the thought of making him squirm, even if for a childish reason such as this.

As she and Evin danced, Crys could hear steps and clashing metal not too far from them, and she vaguely asked herself if she could make it through the night without drawing her blades. Heaving a small sigh she poked Evin's shoulder playfully. "So... Weren't you supposed to dance with your date? Or your, whatever you call the woman you've been sort of stalking most of the night?" She asked in an innocently curious tone; her attention never distracting from what was going on around them.

Evin placed both his hands against the small of Crys’ back and pulled her closer to him. He rested his head just above her right shoulder. This allowed him to look behind her and keep an eye on anything that seemed suspicious, especially Rick, who didn’t look too happy.
“The woman I’ve been stalking is…” Evin stopped mid-sentence when he noticed something happening around Sean. All he saw was Ella move towards Sean and Ella drop down to the floor, blood pooling out of her stomach moments later. “Twins have mercy.” He said under his breath, forgetting Crystal could hear it all. “Ella’s dead. Sean did it and he’s trying to disappear now. Mageria’s taking care of the body. Let’s worry about this all later.” He tried to let it escape his mind. Although Ella was close to him, he wasn’t going to mourn over it until he actually had time to. He took a moment and continued talking. “Jen is the woman I’m stalking. You know the story already…” He paused again, just for a moment…

-----

Lamya laughed it all off and watched as the fight began. Surprisingly to her, there was a couple dancing between Rita and Alex. It surprised her because she didn’t think anyone would have the balls to get in the way of all the fighting. It also surprised her that she hadn’t thought of the idea first. She looked around to find someone she could dance with. Quickly, screams caught her attention. A young woman, passionately killing an older woman. By the end of the brutal murder, the younger woman was covered in blood and very irate in appearance.
Lamya only let the woman have a moment to reflect on what she just did before she grabbed the bloody girl and pulled herself right beside the other couple. He grabbed the girl in a proper dancing position and looked over at the other couple.

-----

“… You know Jen had a baby, seventeen years past. His name is Kurt. Last time I’d seen Jen was ten years ago... I really love that woman.” Evin realized what he was saying when the woman who had welcomed everyone to the ball came with her own partner to dance with—a bloody woman—and said, “Good night for a dance.”

Essence didn't have barely enough time to breathe, more or less think straight when she felt herself lifted off of her feet by another redheaded woman. Staring back over her shoulder at the brutality on the floor it slowly sunk in what she had accomplished. Between her dress and all the blood she was a beacon of reds flourishing amidst the crowd and stood out more than normal against the chaos. She finally dragged her gaze from the body, noting her wolf was still where she left her, and focused upon a curious individual before her. The fuzziness in her mind began to leave her as she noticed she was dancing with the woman while still firmly gripping her dagger in one hand, letting her other hand rest upon the woman's hip. The angry and crazed look in her eyes calmed, her shoulders bouncing in amusement as what started as muffled giggles erupted into manic laughter. Ess had done it. The hellion was gone and now she seemed to be celebrating by dancing with some strange woman who didn't seem fazed or disgusted that her partner was practically soaked in blood. "Hmm, guess this is the closest I'll get to dancing on that Bitch's grave..." She snickered, turning towards the couple beside her, quirking a brow. "Crys? Wait..." Ess took in a deep breath, trying to speak clearer through her laughing fit and turned back towards her partner. "Who the hell are you?”

Crys really didn't need Evin to tell her what was going on with Ella, she could very much tell for herself, although she wasn't so sure about Sean, however... To her, if anything, the man seemed shocked and frightened in a way as if the worst possible thing he could imagine was happening before his eyes. If one thing she knew well was that Sean wasn't one to regret a kill, so that just didn't make sense in her mind. She didn't argue with what Evin said he was seeing, there would be time for that later, right now she just simply settled for listening to what he was saying and trying to keep her mind where it should when she could feel very clearly the pain and rage of loss coming from the former Black Knight captain as she carried the Queen. It made her wonder honestly just how much more that woman could still bear. Not missing Evin's words despite of that, Crys didn't really get the chance to offer him a reply, at least not one she would be willing to give in the presence of a strange woman, whose voice Crys had recognized from the greeting she had given them earlier; aside from that she honestly didn't know what to make of this person, considering that in the situation they were in, she seemed absolutely unaffected by the chaos, if anything she seemed constantly cheerful. Her dance partner on the other hand was all too familiar, and Crys wasn't sure if she could allow herself to be surprised by this, something about Essence gave her the impression that this was probably not the oddest scenario where their paths would cross. Taking a small step back from Evin she turned towards the dancing pair and let out a snicker. "Ess... I have a feeling Ali's doing a terrible job of keeping an eye on you."

Evin was more confused than anything by the whole situation. Crystal seemed to actually know one of them and the way that the other one was looking at Crystal, it seemed like she knew Crystal as well. His suspicions were correct when she spoke.
“I know you. I’m Lamya. You probably remember me as the person who nearly killed you in the woods about three years ago. Small world.” Lamya said.
Evin ruffled his eyebrows. Knowing the person who actually took the hit that Sean called on for Crystal was standing right by him was bothersome. It was only a mild irritation though. As an assassin, he understood why another assassin would take a hit on Crystal.
Ignoring the comment he looked at Ess and said, “My name is Evin Bana. I don’t think I’ll have to explain who I am. My name has seemed to get around over the past couple of year. What’s with all the… blood?”

Essence quirked a brow, looking from Lamya, back to Crys and then the man who introduced himself as Evin. Feeling a bit confused as she didn't think she had addressed him yet, she simply shrugged at Crys' observation of Ali not keeping an eye on her. "We both got preoccupied, it seems." Stepping back she spun before returning to her partner and smiled. "Lamya...I apologize. Think I got some blood on you." Glancing down at herself, her brows furrowed at the sight of herself; now blood and rags of her once beautiful gown. Releasing a sigh her smile broadened. "Well, Evin, officially I am Essence but Ess is just fine...and the blood..well.." She motioned behind her, still keeping an eye on her wolf out of the corner of her eye as her and Lamya danced circles around Crys and Evin. "Well, I didn't arrive this way.." Ess joked, her expression falling a bit more serious as she continued. "I ran into someone I thought was dead, who I actually found out tried to contract my death through the Wolf Pack. Ironic since my original attempt on Ebony's life was a failure, it only makes sense she'd want revenge I guess. Gotta tell you though...was definitely more satisfying this time around than poisoning the Hag the first time." Essence rolled her eyes at herself, shaking her head as she thought back on that time. "I was a child, guess can't expect too much from a child..."Turning back towards Lamya, she stared at her curiously, violet eyes glowing softly. "What about you? Good ol' fashion stabbing or poison?"

Crys arched in eyebrow at the woman who called herself Lamya and her casual mention of stabbing her almost to death. "Small world indeed. I'm sorry though, I don't remember you, or much of anything from that night. Blood loss and all..." She trailed off with a small shrug. "Nice to meet you... As long you don't decide to try again, that is." She smiled pleasantly at the woman, even though she didn't think she liked her very much, and funny enough that had very little to do with the attempt on her life and much more to do with her simply giving her chills. Crys remained silent as Evin and Ess exchanged names and the woman explained the blood that Crys assumed was on her clothing. Ess' story and the name of the woman she killed sounded like something Crys had heard before somewhere and she felt a passing urge to laugh shooting Evin a glance. "Huh..." She snickered under her breath. "...Small, small world..."

Lamya laughed at Crystal’s comment in a way that would make people assume that she knew Crystal very well. “Blood loss will do that to you.” Suddenly, her attention was flipped to Ess who had mentioned getting blood on her. The dress she was wearing made the blood almost blend. “Goes well with the dress. In fact…” She grabbed a clot that had formed in Ess’ locks, just below the ear and placed it over top of the gem that was encrusted on the broach she was wearing. “Now it all looks intentional… of course, for you it was so you’ll have no problem.”

Evin watched the woman in bewildered amusement as she played around with blood clots and spoke to Essence. Not soon after, the attention went back to Evin. “I think I’ll call you Essence.” He said in a tone he never intended to sound rude, but surely sounded so. She went on to explain the blood. He didn’t laugh at her poor attempt at a joke either. It was something that Evin would have said in his youth when he was first an assassin. It would have been funny to him then. I think I’m becoming a cynic. He thought. Probably. She continued talking and mentioned that reached name. Evin’s eyes went wide and he squeezed Crystal’s waist extremely tight.
Then he heard Crys whisper in her ear, probably unintentionally. It was small indeed. What made it even smaller was what she said after about when she was a child.
“Lust.” Lamya said, answering Ess’ question. “Lust can kill any man and some women. Seal the deal with a kiss and it is all but over for them. You’re an attractive woman you are Ess. I’m sure you’d understand.”
“I tried to poison her.” Evin interrupted. “I tried poisoning her 17 years ago. Thought she was dead. Prylithosade was the name of it. I don’t know why it didn’t work when I heard she was still alive. It all makes sense to me now. If you used any poison from the root of a flower on her, our poisons would have counteracted each other… that is what the poisons master said to me. I can’t believe this!”
Evin let go of Crystal and placed both of his hands on her cheeks tightly. Without thought, he leaned into kiss her. He meant to do it on the cheek, but completely missed in his excitement. In mid kiss, Evin pushed Crys into a dip to avoid the swing of a blade. When he came back up to look at Crys, he realized what he just did. He already knew that Jen would have been looking towards the two of them. She was probably already unimpressed with the whole dance show he was putting on. He could only imagine what she was thinking now. “Uhh… sorry about that.” Evin said. He grabbed onto her waist again and tried to pretend it didn’t happen.
“Aren’t you a little old for her Evin?” Lamya said, again, like she was old pals.
“Aren’t you a little too much of a woman for her?” He retorted and began to keep watch for Rick and anyone else who he might think to be important.
“Fair enough.”

Whatever tune they had been swaying to, real or hidden inside her mind, Essence didn't take notice but they had paused. She didn't know if she was appalled or enticed. Reaching slowly towards the broach she stopped, just hovering over the piece as if admiring it, before retracting slender fingers to rest along her own waist. Ess stared as if forgetting to blink before nodding politely towards Evin, a genuine smile breaking through. It was as simple as that and her perspective had changed. Turning her gaze downwards, her attention was everywhere. One ear open to her furry friend's direction and the other shifting back and forth between those addressing her and for a moment her mind went blank. Her head snapped at attention to Lamya's familiar words. "I agree...for most it is their weakest point. But not all. Can't say it's my favorite though but more like survival. At least, how it was for a time."

Ess' body tensed, whispering back a particular word of Evins: " Prylithosade." The woman's fingers began tapping in light frustration along one of the tiny daggers along her side. "I wouldn't have known then. I was quite nieve to it all but neither of us..." She laughed. "Guess I can't be surprised more than one person wanted that woman dead. I don't think I'd even classify her as human, much less a woman...Wait a second..." Ess pointed at Lamya, "She's too much woman for me?..Interesting.."

~~~

Darren was trying to make some sort of progress with the Wolf, to get her to let him help her but she was not trusting. Couldn't blame her. Even before he got close enough, the silvery form pushed herself to her feet and limped directly towards Essence but at the last minute making a sudden turn for Crys. Tala nuzzled the woman's hand and whined up at her curiously. Darren followed, hanging back a bit when he got closer to Lamya, having a feeling he may be recognized. Stepping on the opposite side with Ess between then she leaned in close, whispering concern. "You're playing with fire, you know. Are you trying to get burned?"

Crys was confused with what Evin was doing, to say the very least, but her tension and awkwardness were barely noticeable at all. She didn’t react as she would if it had been anyone else randomly kissing her, which would probably be with a dagger to the throat, she simply fell into a confused daze too busy with trying to make sense of the what and why to even wonder if she should maybe be weirded out or offended. It was only when Evin mumbled an apology that she snapped out of her minor shock and shook her head, snorting a trace of a laugh and patting the man on the arm in a reassuring gesture. “I’ve had worse.” She retorted playfully; genuine amusement beginning to break through her expression as she realized what Jake had just witnessed. Maybe it was bit cruel of her to be glad about the fact he was currently pissed, but she couldn’t help it nonetheless. Her amusement slipped past her lips in a small series of chuckles at Ess questioning Evin’s comment of Lamya being ‘too much woman for her’, but she made no comment, her attention snatched away by the slow approach of a familiar creature. Crys lowered her hand to reach for Tala as the wolf stopped by her. “Hey, Tala...” She whispered, pulling away from Evin some and turning her attention to the animal, tracing her fingertips along the wolf’s snout. “Are you alright, hm? You sound a bit tired...”

Evin chuckled at Ess taking offence to the comment that Evin made. It was a good icebreaker to a rather awkward couple of minutes. As much as he believed that he'd probably come to like this Essence girl, there were things about her that Evin didn't like. This was how he felt when he met every new person though. It probably didn't help that she was the one that killed Ebony and not him. He imagined that Ess would have probably felt the same way if it was the other way around though. Holding any sort of tension over who got to be the vehicle which sent Ebony to Death herself was such a silly little trifle. Only seconds before, he had practically thanked her for what he did in his silly display, but he'd rather forget that.
Evin saw a wolf approaching. Alongside the wolf was a large man big enough to take on someone like Grim in a fair fight without enlightenment. Evin wasn't even sure if this wolf was the same Wolf that had turned into a bird earlier in the evening and if it was, who was the big guy following her? He moved his foot within his boot to adjust the knife that was sitting under its sole. Very quickly, blade was protruding from the front of his boot. That knife was for the wolf. He wasn't quite sure what he'd do with the large man. He'd let the man's reaction to the attack on the wolf dictate his next move. When the Wolf got close enough, it started to give affection towards Crys and the large man started to speak to Essence about one of the other three people who were dancing. Evin didn't bother to move the blade from its placement in his boot however as he noticed Rick again, who seemed like he was going to crack at any moment.

Ess wasn’t paying much mind to how Evin was acting around Crys, feeling it not her business or concern. Although, it brought back to her the memory of the woman stabbing her Sai through that bartenders hand, the idea seeming appropriate for that kind of closeness. Then again, it wasn’t towards herself and they probably knew one another she assumed. Still, this fellow didn’t seem as though he deserved a stabbing but that was still left remaining to be seen. It wasn’t right to discriminate but Essence would never change the fact she kept her guard up always longer around strange men compared to women.

Ess twirled the dagger between her fingers, pausing to wipe the blade clean, if that was even possible, along what remained of her dress. She simply grinned at Darren’s comment before kneeling down beside her furry companion when she stopped beside Crys for affection and carefully inspected the still bleeding wound. “I’m going to have to stitch this somehow...but not now..” Ess whispered, not hesitating to tear off another piece of her gown, leaving almost her entire left leg exposed. In all honesty, it left her more cold than modest, not really thinking too much of the minimal clothing. Gently she tied the rag around the wound, giving one yank to secure it, causing Tala to growl softly. “I know...Waaait..” Ess stood up looking around as if something just dawned on her. She had momentarily forgotten about Joffrey and now discovered he was not where she had left him; only the severed hand remained. “Where...did?....DAMN.”

Darren shrugged as if he was the one being asked the question directly. “Your wolf had a snack and then you went all Wild Animal on Ebony...I mean..really did you have to kill her now? I had some things I wanted to interrogate that woman on but now...” Darren sighed, snapping his fingers as if he had lost a bet. He suddenly noticed Ms. Rivers and politely tipped his hat in her direction. “Looking lovely today, Crys.” He commented. It didn’t matter that it was kind of a pointless gesture to make in front of a blind woman as he did it more as part of his new obsession with his hat.

“I was done with her speaking. The very sound of her breathing made my ears bleed.” Ess groaned. “There’s another way..” She shivered, standing back on her feet. “Where did I leave my jacket?” She muttered to herself. “I dropped it around the time...just before the Queen...” The woman’s eyes hardened. “I don’t even know what I think I saw...some party this turned out to be.”

Crys stood, idly petting Tala as she listened to the exchange of words between Ess and Darren, not at all surprised at this point that they seemed to know each other, there had been too many of those 'coincidences' for her to actually make much of them anymore. As Darren addressed her she smiled at him in a far more sincere way than she had Lamya not holding back a slight shrug at the boy's compliment, but still responding nonetheless. "Why, thank you, Darren. Always a gentleman, I see. Did you find what you needed in Newhaven by the way?" She asked him, her eyes lowering slightly towards Tala for a moment as she silently let some thoughts cross her mind before turning to Ess with a questioning look. "You were with Ella, when... When she...?" Crys heaved a sigh not quite finishing the sentence properly. "Something is off about this... Again..." She muttered, not being able to keep the memories of what happened last time from flooding her mind. Only the last time the Wolves and Newhaven had a falling out, her mother had been there... Mageria had been there... Who was there to hold things back now?

Lamya's eyes darted back and forth and people continued to speak to one another about their fruitless pursuits and selfish endeavours. It was almost enough to make her realize why she didn’t have the idea of dancing with random people before Evin and Crystal did. It was interesting to her. There were people who really wanted to change the world, like the White Shadows that never got anywhere. Then there were people, like everyone else who mattered in Valcrest who did things for themselves and it changed the world for worse or for better. Of course, it was all subjective. There was not enough chance in Valcrest anymore. No one could appreciate the chaotic nature of reality.
“Why can’t anyone of you be like Lena? A bitch, but a damn near real person with realistic expectations about every facet of life.” Lamya noticed the blood on her hands and wiped it on the clean parts of Ess’ dress. “Now most people would like to think that I’m the antithesis of Lena. Why else would I be holding a party following her death? We are nothing but the same person raised into different circumstances which made our random acts different from one another. I think she only ever realized what she was like when she got away from those White Shadows. No, this party isn’t because I dislike her. It’s a party to celebrate the death one of the only true people left in Valcrest. Now if you’ll excuse me.”
Lamya walked away, as she did, she passed Rick, who was approaching the group slowly. As she passed him, she balled her fist and punched him directly in the face and continued on walking.

Evin didn’t care much about anything that Lamya was saying. She was a person who believed that she had the world all figured out. In that way and that way only, were the two alike. Maybe they were both a little delusional as well, but Lamya was a little more delusional than Lena was… just a little.
He did, however, watch her as she walked away, which brought Evin to the startling discovery. Evin had forgotten about Rick completely and it wasn’t until he saw Lamya punch him in the face, knocking the twisted man onto the floor. Evin let go of Crys completely; he knew that she was far less interested in dancing now. He did, however lean in to warn Crys of Rick coming back. “Be ready for a fight. If I did anything right, you won’t have to fight, but just be ready.

Darren smiled down at Crys, "It's hard to be anything but a gentleman in your company, Crys. Even if there weren't...'watchful eyes', I have to be given a reason to withhold respect if those in turn are lacking such themselves. Thank you again, by the way, for letting me have use of your name." The young man chuckled. "It came in quite handy...at least I think. Blackwell is...well, quite an interesting fellow." Darren took the opportunity, while Tala was a bit more relaxed beside Crystal, to reach out towards the wolf and lightly scratch behind her ears. She looked tired indeed, barely turning her head to look up at him. It made him wonder if she even cared or if she was falling weaker by the moment to even bother with precaution.

Ess watched Darren with a curious, and yet unbelieving look in her eyes. It was automatic for her to assume anyone male who acted so polite was anything but and even if it were true, she still held onto that defensive barrier just in case. She didn't really respond to Crys' words with that of her own but instead turned away from the woman, inhaling a sharp whisp of air through her teeth. Ess didn't feel comfortable saying much more about the situation, out in the open. That itchy and bothersome feeling of being trapped that had ignored earlier was gradually making its way back, starting with her fingers, causing them to twitch incessantly until she cracked her knuckles. In her internal thinking, she almost missed Lamya leaving and her apparent praise of Lena. Wasn't the party to celebrate her death? Essence wasn't sure if she should laugh at the woman and her statement suggesting this was in some sort of memory or honor of the deceased woman. She just wasn't buying it. At the same time, she did agree that there were so few 'real' people that existed in Valcrest. A part of her became annoyed with Lamya but as Ess watched the woman randomly punch the King of Blackpond in the face, she wasn't sure if she kind of liked her. "Hmm..unpredictable and perhaps a little crazy...just like this party. I'm liking this." Motioning for Tala to follow, Essence turned back to Crys. "I believe I would like to find Ali and the Captain. We shouldn't be all separated..."

"Right." Darren chimed in, smiling wide so white teeth were showing. "Your wolf doesn't seem like she will be on her feet much longer...I could help.." He offerred as he continued to pet the animal. Tala snorted and started to walk away from the group a bit defiantly, yet coincidently in Mageria's direction. "Ok..I stand corrected.."

Lamya’s little speech about Lena seemed to be the first thing to actually annoy Crys to the point of it showing clear on her expression, even if only for a moment. She didn’t answer the woman however; she didn’t feel that it was worth a response and if anything she wanted Lamya to just go away and the farther away the better. It did annoy her though how Lamya spoke of Lena as though they were the same person just separated by random acts and circumstances. If the woman was alive to speak her mind Crys was sure she would have strongly disagreed, but she wasn’t and it wasn’t Crys’ place to speak for her now.

Catching Evin’s words on the possibility of there being a fight she nodded her acknowledgement, not really minding to give him a verbal answer and just waiting for things to happen as they would. A small chuckle escaped her at Darren’s words on Blackwell. “Yes, he’s quite the character that man, but he’s surely worth the trouble, you’ll see.” She gave Ess a nod, giving Tala one final pat as the woman excused herself. “Of course. Ess, send Mageria my best wishes... In case we don’t get the chance to speak...” She told the woman in soft near-whisper smiling momentarily as if the words held some hidden meaning; maybe they did.

-----

Alexander looked dead as he looked into Rita’s eyes. He knew that this moment was going to come. If Lamya had anything to say about it, this moment was bound to occur. Lamya always seemed to revel in those ideas.
The dead eyes were the look of someone who seemed to already accept his defeat. He wasn’t going to be happy with the results no matter what happened. The defeat flushed over him like a bruise, but he had little time to think about it as Rita started her attack. It was a typical first move. She quickly moved forward towards him to make a downward motion across her torso. She was left handed so her attack came in from left to right on his side. It wasn’t something that Alexander was used to, but he had faced off against enough left handed people in his times at battle that he knew enough to know the slight differences that a left handed fighter had.
Alexander used a right shoulder guard to make contact. Rita’s sword flexed as it contacted the long edge of Alexander’s sword. He pressed sword against hers and gently finessed the pressure on his thumb against the ferrule to give him the leverage to allow him to push Rita’s sword in the way he wanted. Rita’s sword moved across the long edge of Alexander’s blade until it abruptly stopped at the finger guard and ultimately at the quillon. Alexander was hoping to end this right away. He swooped his sword down with Rita’s caught in the guard. If she was gripping her sword improperly, it would fall out of her hand. That didn’t happen. This battle was going to be a little more complicated.

-----

Evin smiled when he could see that Rick was picking himself up off the ground. He readied himself, while still keeping close enough to Crys to hide the fact that he was readying himself. Slowly Rick approached. He wasn’t in any hurry to reach them, but the intent in his hands told a different sort of story. It was the slow motion of his fingertips flexing and contracting against the handle of his blade. He wasn’t thinking of the kill, that much was for sure.
Rick reached them and stopped. He lifted the hand that didn’t have the blade in it, finger up and he struggled to spit out some words. He wasn’t in a good mental state, which was for sure. Evin didn’t want to wait. He calmly moved Crystal aside and then moved in. With his foot-blade, he kicked at Rick’s shin. This came to Rick as a surprise as he didn’t even flinch at the attack. He looked down at his bloodied shin and then back up at Evin and hesitated in a quick moment of shock. Evin kicked him again, this time in the other shin. This time, Rick yelled out in pain and grabbed at his shin. Evin wasn’t going to kill Rick. That wouldn’t be fair to do so. Not only had Evin made the first attack, but Rick didn’t even seem to react to him. The only reason he would kill someone who was so vulnerable was if he had a contract out on them. To him, Death was not judgement. Death was just death and that is all.
“I’ve softened him up for you. He won’t be an issue anymore.” He said to Crys. “Now I have someone else to take care of.” Evin scanned around looking for the only person in the room that he had wanted dead more than Ebony. The fact that Ella was now dead too was just incentive for Evin to pursue him just that much more.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The setting changes from blackpond to Valcrest

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Evin Bana Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Lamya Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Ella Page Character Portrait: Alexander
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The death of a Queen or King once stood for something. It was the end of an era. The end of an era of treachery, pain, agony was the ones most remembered. Then there were the golden eras of joy, wealth and posterity. The least common of the eras remembered were those consisting of normalcy. That was mostly what Ella would be forgotten for. No matter where she did end up going after death, there were no real changes made under her rule. Most scholars would probably say that her ideology was that if she did nothing to change the world, she could do nothing to screw it up. The real problem was inexperience. It was as if she was placed in the middle of a chess game without knowing the mechanics of the pieces. The relations between nobles, the country and their cities were like these mechanics. This was the reality of being someone who didn’t grow up in the environment that would have allowed her to learn these mechanics. It wasn’t her fault. If anything, it was her mother and father for creating these circumstances for her. How were they supposed to know what was to become of their daughter in the years to come. It was a simple mitigation—maybe an evasion.
“Wake up girly!”
Ella tried to open her eyes to see where the voice was coming from. At first, with a calm temperament, but quickly it changed to a franticly fruitless effort. She then tried to move her arms to see what was wrong with her eyes. Those weren’t working either. In fact, it was almost as if she didn’t even have any arms. This strange and surreal feeling followed through across her entire body… or lack thereof a body. Laughing echoed through the corridors of open space.
“Death couldn’t even experience this without killing herself. It wasn’t until Death’s son searched for immortality that this experience could be documented. When I heard about him showing up a couple years back at the siege of Newhaven, I decided that I could give it a try. From what I can tell, it seems like the process worked out pretty well.”
“What in the Hell…” Ella exclaimed.
“No, not hell. You know, it is surprising how well Death’s son was able to describe this place. ‘It is the void in which voids are created. Living within this void, one discovers that which not even the sprit can be found. Rather, it is the birthplace of empirical logic as we know it. It creates the supernatural in which the natural comes from. True darkness only lightens up when the spirit interferes…’ What a brilliant place.”
Ella didn’t understand what this voice was saying, all she could think was “Who are you?”
Somehow, Ella could tell that the voice was smiling. “I’m Lazurus, the new owner of your body. Only reason you’re here is because of the other life you possess. That marking on your hand was supposed to do it, but I messed that one up. Good thing too, because I don’t think I’d be here right now if I you didn’t have that extra life.”
“Extra life? What is this? Why do you seek immortality?”
“I don’t seek immortality,” Lazurus quickly said. “Immortality comes at a price. You lose your humanity when you seek immortality, much like the son of Death did. He was described as a demon in the last 200 years of his life. What I seek is much simpler. I just seek a life long enough to break down the constructs of society enough for anarchy to take over. How much easier could that be than doing so it as Queen?”
There was a moment where Ella didn’t know how to feel about this, but quickly, she started to figure it all out. Ella tried to be mad, but she couldn’t even do that. It was just like when she tried to move her hand; it was as if the emotion didn’t exist.
“Ah! Relax there Girly. Good to take note that you may have a hot temper. Now tell me more or face an eternity of excruciating pain.” Ella didn’t know where it came from, but a pain rang through her non-existent body as if she was being torn apart. It was worse than the pain she felt when she’d stabbed herself. There was no way that she was going to ever deal with that pain for the rest of her life… or whatever exactly she was feeling.
“Ok, I’ll tell you anything you want to know about me.” Ella screamed in a frantic huff.
She spoke for what felt like an eternity about herself. Any question that Lazurus had, she would answer. He waited until he got a profile big enough to be able to properly portray Ella. To her, this was a bigger defeat than her death was. Unable to emote about it, she went immediately to a thought that had been lingering on since she ‘woke up’. “What do you mean by my extra life?” She asked, but it seemed like Lazurus was gone.

The first thing that could have been noticed was that Ella’s wound had disappeared. The only thing that remained as a reminder was a scar. A scar right around where her pancreas would meet her stomach, just below her ribs. It was a pretty damaging spot to have a cut as it probably hit right through her renal artery. This would have been what caused her to bleed out so fast.
The next indicator was that her eyes started to flicker. It could be seen that her eyes were moving underneath her eyelids, but it grew into a full flutter of the eyelids, at which point, despite being slightly stiff, Ella rolled out of the arms of the person holding her and onto the floor. She slowly got onto her feet, ignoring any reaction she might have got from those around her. It was only moments after she got up that she looked at who was holding her. Mageria… We are going to have a problem with this. Lazurus thought to himself.
You sure are. Ella replied.

-----

To Rita, the whole night had become exactly what she pictured it would be. Although she didn’t have that good of a sense of time, she would guess that by this time, it was probably the earlier hours in the morning. If the sun hadn’t already risen, it would be rising in the next few hours.
For her, she wanted this whole thing to end. Maybe Lamya was telling the truth and maybe this guy she was fighting was actually who she said he was. Maybe this would be the beginning of a long needed reformation of Blackpond. The end of this fight may not only mark the end of a really shitty party, but it could also possibly mark the end of everything she was fighting to end. The idea was just too alluring to let it go.
Rita blocked, parried and dodged her way through a defensive technique that she believed would work to her advantage. She was going to tire out the man, who looked really warn out to begin with. He was a hardened fighter, but he couldn’t fight forever. It was easier to take the defensive than to be the aggressor. This technique didn’t seem to work this this man though. There was an issue here. An important detail in this man’s fighting style that seemed uncharacteristic of someone who looked as beat up as he did. He seemed to hesitate, which meant that he wasn’t using up his energy. Was that what he wanted her to think, that he was hesitating? It was likely that he was waiting for her to realize that and then try to take advantage of that.
In a book supposedly written by War, it said that war was deceptive.
Rita decided to take the risk. She went on the aggressive and right away, she knew that there wasn’t any deception. Two quick blows knocked him back with an unexpected surprise flowing over his face. She then cut his sword arm. He dropped his sword, but without hesitation, he tackled her. It was a gut reaction. He was on top of her and her sword slid across the floor. She didn’t have anything to defend herself but her body. She tried to throw a punch. It was ineffective as he just blocked it with his good arm and then placed his bad arm over her neck, pushing down with his bodyweight and blocking her windpipe. There was nothing she could do but flail her arms for a few seconds. It took all the energy that she had to focus and relax enough to flip Alexander off him. As she tried to get up, he grabbed at her ankle and she fell back on the floor, head smacking against the floor with an audible crack.
The world turned completely black for a moment. She could see nothing and there was a loud ringing in her ear, she even felt as though there was a lack of any smell. Quickly, her sight began to come back, but it was grey. When things were clear enough, she noticed that Alexander was on top of her again. This time, there was a dagger staring her right in the eyes. Despite her inability to think strait, her instinct to live kicked in. She grabbed onto his wrist as the dagger dropped down. With what strength she had remaining she tried her best to avoid the tip from cutting through her already damaged head.
The man shook his head and moved his mouth, but only an obscured mumble could be heard through the ringing. Her sight cleared up a little more as she started winning the fight for her life. Color started coming back and she started to feel the blood running out of her head from where she hit the floor so hard.
Finally, it was far enough away that she could expend energy somewhere else and not be afraid of losing control of this knife fight. She used her knee to kick into his crotch. It was enough to make the man keel over and drop the dagger. Rita grabbed the dagger and finished the job. One quick stab to the heart and then another and another. All until she was conscious enough to realize what she was doing.
It all suddenly started to feel like an outer body experience. As she was overlooking the battlefield and able to see things that she hadn’t seen before.
She then realized what she was actually seeing. For the entire time she had fought with Alexander from the moment that he knocked her to the ground and her head hit the floor until then, she was looking at the battle as if she was a third person. It was surprising to her that she actually missed the fact that she was seeing things from a different angle, but in the moment of a battle, any the distracted are the dead. Especially when it comes to such a struggle to hold onto one’s life.
Rita took a moment to watch herself from the outside. She could see the cut on her forehead. It looked pretty bad. Then she moved to look down at herself and Alexander from above. She wasn’t done her job yet. Rita would be able to examine this new point of view at a different time.
She looked down as she waded through the personal belongings of Alexander’s coat. In his coat pocket, there was a book. She moved her vision in to focus purely on the book. It took her a moment to adjust to this new view. She could no longer see herself, only her hands. Learning how to move parts of her body which she is not even connected to would be a challenge, especially when she couldn’t see her body. She fumbled with the book until she looked at the final page with writing in it. It was a journal. In the final page, it was Alexander’s last account. She read the entirety of that page to see exactly what his motives were. By the end, she made the shocking realization.
Her view moved out so she could no longer see the words on the pages. She was looking at herself. Her eyes whited out as if she were a drowned body. In that moment, looking at herself, she could describe her exact emotion, even if she was a complete outside observer. In one word, she would call it droopy. Every single wrinkle and line seemed to want to fall from her face in this unbelievable sadness. Then, behind her, she caught Lamya’s gaze and that frown tensed up into a scowl.
She moved her view so that she would get the perfect view of what she was about to do and then she turned around. “You bitch!” She yelled loud enough for the entire ballroom to hear her. She picked up her sword and walked right up to her. She didn’t get close enough to be able to use the sword on her, but she got close enough to say, “you knew,” without anyone hearing.
“What of it?” Lamya asked.
“You are so fucking lucky. You wasted my energy from that fight. You fucking knew.”
Rita just turned around, this time sword pointing directly at her intendie. Heyden. Pointing it directly at his throat, he could tell that his moments were numbered. A woman in her state was not to be reasoned with. She would do what she wanted. “Let me out!” She said.
“Bevel can do it for you m’lady.”
“Bevel, let me out!” She yelled again, running up to him and pointing the sword at his throat.
He didn’t say anything to her. He just smiled as if to say, “as you wish,” and then his eyes brightened. A swift gust of wind appeared out of nowhere. Quickly the pressure in the room grew and everything felt heavy. In the next moment, his eyes stopped, but the pressure continued, then with a whooshing noise, the high pressure air formed in a single point and literally cut through the ice and then through the metal door. It was an incredible sight. The natural light finally let itself into the room. The sun was beginning to rise.
Rita’s expression didn’t change in any of this time. It didn’t even falter as she plunged the blade slowly into Bevel’s windpipe. It was only enough that he would eventually choke to death. It was going to be slow and painful. None of the Conflict moved against her as she walked out the castle doors.

-----

Lamya let out a loud yell to the cheering crowd as they all walked out the door. “Be sure to give the guards at the doors your weapons before leaving. Valcrest needs protecting after all.”

-----

Simon had given up on the fighting that had been going on. Once Rita got involved, the use of the Conflict was no longer really needed. What concerned Simon more was the whereabouts of Luckas and Rick. First off, Rick wasn’t to be trusted around anyone, but neither was Luckas, from the little he was able to gather from him. With the situation in the room dying down as the doors opened to let people out, there was a quick calming of everyone’s mind in the room. Tension that was once there was gone… or fleeing the scene and it allowed Simon to work harder on the things that needed work.
Luckas was there somewhere. If he could concentrate enough, he would be able to find him through reading the outer limits of his mind. With Rick, it wouldn’t be that easy. With the change in his patterns, he would have to rediscover the things that made Rick’s mind tick. It was an arduous task, but one that needed doing. If he could actually see where Rick was in the room, it might make things easier.
Where is Rick? Simon asked through the channels for the Conflict. There was no response.
Frustrated, Rick stepped out towards the door himself. There was only going to be one way to find Rick, and that was to personally confront him where ever he found him. The sooner, the better because he was practically useless in the frame of mind that he was in at the moment. Simon needed to catch Rick before someone else, such as Luckas, caught him so he could do his best to allow Rick as normal a life as he could possibly give him with his corrective mind work.
Let’s see all the good we accomplished today. Lamya’s voice suddenly stirred to meet Simon’s thoughts.
The commander is gone, Rick’s gone insane, Ella’s dead, relations with the Wolfpack have probably been sullied and Rita has left. Another of the Conflict said.
And what of Lazurus? Another bellowed.
There was a moment of silence. No one was sure if Lazurus had managed to do his job, but then, an unexpected voice came through. What the hell is going on?
As you can hear, Lazurus’ voice echoed in the hollowness of Simon’s mind, with the voice of Ella speaking to you, I’ve managed to plant the seed.
Good. Now we have a choice that must be made. Lamya said.
Before the conversation could go on any further, Simon spoke up. What of Rick? Where has he gone?
That isn’t priority at this moment Simon. We are more concerned about our next target. Lamya replied.
Mageria or Crystal? Vorso spoke up, knowing that the job would be appointed to him and his team. Not sure. Both of them could get in the way of our accomplishing what needs accomplishing. I’ll sit on it for a couple of months. Let things pan out and see where things take me.
Simon scoffed, as no one else seems to care, I’ll be after Rick. Think of it as an attempt to preserve the chain of command.
The chain of— Vorso said before Simon cut all his communications off with the Conflict. This would be the last time that they would use Simon’s form of communication for a while.

-----

“The chain of command?” Vorso slyly remarked under his breath.
Vorso grabbed a glass from the table that hadn’t been ruined by the fighting. He took a sip from the glass so that there was exactly a third of the drink as there was in the glass before. He placed it back onto the table and then started walking off into the heart of the castle.
He knew that there was some truth to what Simon had just said. The Conflict’s chain of command was in shambles. Lamya was only first in command by title as she really did nothing that could be described as organized. This left Rick in charge of organizing things for the most part. Since he’d gone insane, he could no longer attend to his duties the way he was supposed to. Lazurus was an interesting story. The man who was alive, but dead at the same time. The second that he was done with Ella’s body or he could no longer control Ella’s body, he would himself be dead. That left only one person in the chain of command that was in his way of taking the role of active leader of the Shadow’s Conflict: Simon.
Vorso stopped when he reached a small dining room it wasn’t in any way lavish. It was more or less used by the slaves who had been commissioned to work for the King. It had a table and a couple of chairs. Only big enough to hold about six or seven people, five if one wanted to be comfortable. That was what made this room perfect for Vorso’s needs.
Four men walked into the room. The four men were the elemental users of the Conflict. The one’s that Vorso had power over.
“We will keep an eye on Mageria, but for now, we have more pressing matters. Simon needs to be eliminated.”

-----

Evin looked around the room. He wasn’t sure what had just happened. The woman who was just in the fight against the man who had instigated the biggest conflict in the ballroom was angry enough to force the party to end. On top of it all, the crowds were rushing to get out of the room as quickly as possible. Only about five people could fit through the doors at a time and with the crowds all bunching up right there, it could take minutes to actually get out of the castle. Evin decided instead to sit back.
If there was one thing that he knew for certain, he knew that Jake would also wish to sit back. Jake was observant and what better time to observe people than when they leave a place. Usually, people feel less like they’re being watched when they are leaving a place, or at least, that was how Evin always felt when he left places.
Evin was just about to speak aloud when he was interrupted. “Not quite the party that I was expecting, Evin.” Jen sarcastically remarked as she approached him.
“It might not have been, but it sure was my kind of party.” Evin said.
“You must be insane.”
“More unafraid.”
Jen laughed. “To me, they’re the same thing.”
“Fine then. Call me crazy, but then I’ll call you crazy for being unafraid of the blissfully ignorant life you’ve been living.” Evin retorted.
“It wasn’t by choice!”
“Are you afraid of it?”
Jen paused for a moment. The only reason Evin could imagine her doing so was to look for a witty comeback to what he’d just said. With a sigh of defeat she said, “fair enough.”
Evin looked into Jen’s eyes for a moment. The two crystalline spheres flashed in and out as her eyelids closed and opened. It was a special ballet. A ballet where only the truest of onlookers would know exactly what the performers were trying to say. Soon, the crystal grew even clearer and they sparkled leaving Evin in wonderment and then consciousness. “Don’t worry.” He wiped the tears away. “I know what I have to do to solve everything.”
“Will you ever be able to solve yourself?”
Evin scratched his head. “What do you mean?”
“I’ll never be able to settle down if you don’t settle down. The only way you will ever keep me safe is if you stop protecting me.”
“There’s no truth to that.”
“Just hold me, Evin.”
Evin did exactly that. He grabbed her by the waist and pulled her close until they were united as one. Nothing could break that bond between them. Jen rested her head on his shoulder and she just let her emotions fly. All Evin knew to do was to rub her back and let her deal with the rest herself. Relations were never his strong suit.
“Jake. I know you’re there and I know that you want this to end just as much as I do.” Evin’s voice started to tremble. “He’s tried to hurt people we love and now he’s killed a queen. I’m going right to the camp after I’m through here.” Evin wasn’t finished, but he felt a cough coming.
He grabbed for the tissue he’d been using for his cough, which had been coming and going since he met up with Jen. Covering his mouth with the cloth, he let go. The pain from this cough was above a normal pain. He didn’t let anything show, but he sure didn’t like the feeling. When he uncovered his mouth, the cloth revealed something troubling. Blood. He looked at it for a moment, but then put it back into his pocket.
“It all ends in the next couple of days. Whether you are involved or not, Jake, it will end. If you join me, the odds will be better in our favor though.” Evin stopped talking. It was all he needed to say.
Evin stayed with Jen for as long as she needed. When she was done, he set off for the Wolf camp.

The setting changes from valcrest to Newhaven

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Evin Bana Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Lamya Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Ella Page Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher
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2 Days After the Ball
It was the first real day that Lazurus could get settled in. Everything on this day was unimportant. Everyone in the castle understood that Ella had been through a lot and that she needed rest. Lazurus, on the other hand, didn’t ever rest. He took this alone time as a chance to scower through Ella’s things. He wanted to get to know her just a little better. There was nothing too special in the room. It was a Rich blue color and kept a rather queen-ish theme that was expected from a queen. A couple of books on a shelf and a boat load of clothing in the closet. A chess set, a desk, a few notes from her secret, not-so-secret lover under her mattress. She was more or less a girl who was privileged, but not for her entire life so she didn’t exactly know what to do with those privileges. Any good royal would have an entire lifetime before being crowned to get to know this privilege. Ella didn’t have that luxury. It was really all that he could gather from the room.
You are a special kind of boring, Ella. Lazurus said.
What did you expect to find in my room? Unlike you scum, there are people who would actually be interested in knowing things about me. I don’t keep important things in my room. There’s a room only known the White Knights and the queen that is used for things like that. Ella replied.
Then tell me where—
Am I really pregnant? Ella asked.
Yeah. But what do you expect after fooling around like you did?
I was going to be a mother and you took that away from me!
You took it away from yourself, Ella. You are the one who was foolish enough to get yourself killed. I was just there to intervene. Lazurus said.
Ella took a moment. It was true, what he was saying to her. But she couldn’t help to be sort of excited. To be a mother… although, how would she ever be a mother if she was already dead. She couldn’t control her body. There was no way. She could only do stuff if Lazurus allowed her to. It was a depressing reality.
Although, Lazurus did seem surprised when she talked to him at the party. She obviously had some sort of control. Maybe there was a way that she could take control of Lazurus. If that was the case, she could live out the rest of her life normally. She could be the Queen. She could have her child and she could even marry Conrad. Things could be so much better!
I hope you go to hell. Ella said.
Lazurus didn’t say anything, but she knew that it bothered him.

Blackpond- 5 Days After the Ball
It was a struggle for Rita. Things had gone from bad to worse in Blackpond and she had to pick up the broken pieces and replace them with fresh new ones. The only way she could do it, however, was to use the broken pieces to make the new ones. It wasn’t her favorite of plans, but it was the best she had. The fact that she was disembodied seemed like nothing compared to the challenges that she had to face now.
She needed an army, and there was only one place where she could gather one large enough to take down the ruling of Blackpond with a single display of brute force, Blackpond’s favorite method of force.
It all started with a connection that she had made by making friends with some city guards who supported her cause. They spoke to those who ran the security in the dungeons and found out who could be trusted. Within only twelve hours of gathering the information she needed, she was looking towards the dastardly side of Blackpond’s crime syndicates. These were people who could be trusted far less, but with the fallacious promises of protection once Rita was in control of Blackpond, she gathered enough money to be used for a sizable bribe and a little more for extra measure. Sent out, the bribe allowed Rita passage through the dungeons without any trouble. It even gained her admittance into the underground city, where she was planning to go.
Rita literally saw no one on her way to the dungeon. No guards blocked her way or even made an appearance. She didn’t take any chances though. She brought twelve of the finest fighters that she could find to join her. Money could buy a person many things, but if there was one thing money could never buy, it was a guarantee. Standing at the door, she looked at her fighters and signaled them to stand down. She was going to go in alone. Maybe not the smartest thing, but again, a group of 13 Knightly-looking people walking into a room might have looked like a deathly cleansing waiting to happen. Going in alone was actually the safer approach, no matter how much others wanted to convince her otherwise.
She took the key from her belt and put it into the hole. Twisting it, it made a screeching sound, until finally, a click. She swung the door open and felt the stingy air breeze past her. It wasn’t like the first time she had visited. The air was actually fresh when she last visited. This was very different.
The bodies were everywhere. Not a single one more than a day past their expiration. It was a sea of bodies, not a single one of them living, but even in this horrific mess, something was wrong. When she was in the city the first time, it was a bustling ground that functioned better than its above ground counterpart was. It was a strange thing to her, seeing that most of these people were criminals. Now, at least a quarter of them were dead. The rest… missing.
“Lionel!” Rita shouted out to the door.
The door whooshed open with a gust a wind that flowed past Rita’s hair. Then she felt a stinging sensation through her body as she heard Lionel’s sword clang against the ground. Rita turned around to see a ghost. Lionel obviously had never fought in the war. There were no words for him to speak. He just walked forward. A face caught his eye. A breathy mumble escaped his mouth as he walked past Rita to see the face closer. When he got close enough, he confirmed what he knew was already true. He ran to the body and collapsed on top it.
Rita walked over slowly. She didn’t expect that he’d actually recognize a face in the crowd of faces in this underground city, but in Blackpond, everyone probably knew someone who ended up down here. She just stood beside him. He wasn’t crying, but he wasn’t happy.
Franklin spoke. “Her name was Yishka. She was my partner in my revolution. She was captured when we stormed the castle. I didn’t even know that this place existed.”
“It was a nice place to live in. Better than the shithole above. I’m sure she was actually quite content here.” There was a long pause between the two. “I doubt that there’ll be any, but have everyone search for survivors. I’m going to search around the rest of these dungeons and see if I can figure anything out.”
Rita took one more look at the bodies all around her and then she left the room. When she walked out, the 12 other warriors were waiting for an order. She just motioned them into the room with a wave of her hand and kept walking. She was sure that Lionel would do a fine job at relaying her orders and she wasn’t really in the mood for it. She ventured into other parts of the city that were far better known to her than this area. Her particular interest was in the room where Ella had been held all those years ago. If she was to find anyone from the underground city who was still alive, it would have been there.
She knew the path all too well. She heard all too much about the whole Ella ordeal from Lamya. It had to be the place she went. She walked into the next hall. It was more of a large room than a hall, but for some reason, it was called a hall. This is when she was caught off guard. The room was entirely dark. She knew this tactic all too well. It was exactly what they did when Mageria had come to take back Ella. They had a room completely blackened out by enlightenment. She was told this story so many times that she knew exactly where Jacy was hiding. Rita took her sword out and swung it towards the direction where Jacy should have been, but nothing connected. Instead, she was thrown for a loop. The room came to light and a face was right in front of her. Rita’s first reaction was to back away, but the owner of the face had already grabbed Rita by the neck and wouldn’t let go. Behind Rita, a sword poked her. There was no doubt that it was Jacy. The face in front of her: Lamya.
“Where’s the city?” Rita choked.
“Have you ever met a man named Lionel? He’s a nice guy. I decided to take him out on a date. Want to see?” Lamya let go of Rita and she felt the blade point direct her around. Behind her, a horror. A set made up of 12 dead bodies. Two chairs and a table with a candle and some food set atop it. A still living, but badly beaten Lionel sat in one of the chairs made from his dead comrade. The scariest part of it all was how Lionel seemed unwilling to struggle at all. He’d just given up. She hadn’t Lionel more than ten minutes before and it was as if he was just ready for death. What had happened to him?
Lamya walked up to the table. She reached over and under to the side that Rita couldn’t see. When she got up, she was holding a pitcher with a crimson liquid in it. She poured the liquid into a glass on the table. When the glass was about half full, she reached into the pitcher and grabbed a dark red clump from the bottom and plopped it into the glass, making it splash everywhere. She put the glass on the table and then cut the bonds that held Lionel. He didn’t even move an inch. He’d truly given up.
When Lamya was finished, she walked around the table to sit on her fleshy chair. “Go ahead, Lionel. Have a drink.”
That was the first moment that Rita saw Lionel feel emotion. His eyes widened and some color came back to his pallid face. He reached for the cup with a shaking arm and clasped onto it in the same way a crossbow would hold its arrows. He lifted it, but his shaking caused him to spill a small portion of the crimson liquid onto the ground. Slowly he brought it to his mouth. A little hint of contempt crossed over his face right before he put the cup against his mouth. He leaned his head back and gulped down the metallic liquid. Then came the clot. Before Lionel could even chew it so he could eat it, Lamya jumped across the table and placed her fingers over his nose. This forced him to swallow it whole, but it was too much. The clot didn’t make it past his windpipe and he started to choke.
“Oh little Lionel. Don’t do this to me. We were having a good time. Sure, we have our differences, and I know we fought earlier, but we can get through this. You don’t need to be angry anymore.” Finally, Lionel managed to pass it, but he didn’t look good. “Oh, thank the Twins!” Lamya kissed him passionately and he just fell to the floor, lifeless. Was the blood poisoned? What was the clot really? Rita couldn’t make proper sense of it all!
“You bitch!” Rita belted.
“Those were your best warriors, Rita? You’re going to have to do better than that. Jacy and I dealt with them all alone. Do you really want to go to the ends of hell with me? You see, the difference between the two of us is that in our limits. I don’t have them. You either stoop to my level or I’ll… well you can guess. I’ve already done in enough people you know to be able to prove a point… haven’t I. Now get out of here and come at me when you’re actually ready to put up a fight.”

6 Days After the Ball
The old Inn: it was exactly where Rita expected to find her. She had heard rumors over the week and a half after the party that she had stayed in town. It wasn't exactly Rita's business anymore to know why she was there, but if she could find out, it might be her best interest to make it her interest.
Rita cautiously walked up to the door. Knowing exactly what it was like to be in hiding, it was always in the hider's best interest to set up traps in their safe house in case an intruder wanted to poke around. To prevent any of these accidents, Rita treated it if she was visiting someone's house. She knocked.

"Are you sure there's enough room down here for this?" Nicholas asked, watching as Crys paced around the biggest room of the underground level of the Inn. "We need the smaller areas for storage, otherwise we could break the walls and open the space up."
"It'll be tight, but we'll manage. We need to at least store liquor in the other rooms, we can store other supplies upstairs, it'll work." She stated, smiling contently at the man. "It's not the best training area we've ever had, but it'll surely work."
"What about weapons?" Nicholas questioned, pacing around the basement himself.
"Patience, my friend... We have no allies to arm just yet. For what it's worth though, I'm working on it."
Nicholas chuckled a bit nervously. "I'm sorry, I don't mean to question you so much, I..."
"Its alright. If I'm putting you in charge of running the Inn it is your job to know these things and it's your right to question me." Crys reassured her fellow assassin with a small pat on the shoulder. "We're making great progress Nick, and the results will start showing soon, you'll see."
"I guess you're right, Crys. I'm just a bit anxious I guess... I know that once we're fully operational it's going to draw a lot of attention."
"Well, that's a part of it, I'm afraid." She whispered softly. "We'll be prepared when the time comes, I'm sure of it."
"Excuse me, Crys..." A voice called from the top of the stairs that led to the ground floor. "We... Uh... There's someone at the door."
Crys frowned slightly in confusion; the only people who knew they were there wouldn't be knocking on the door. "How odd. I suppose I should go check to see who it is."
Nicholas chuckled at her calm response. "Okay, so we've decided to make a training room down here, yes? I'll get to work on that."
"Yes, we've decided, I trust you to take care of it as you see fit. I'll be back as soon as I can." Crys replied to the man, starting to make her way to and up the staircase. The area of the bar was mostly functional and to Blackpond standards it was actually looking pretty fancy, but the front of the building, the exterior, was still the same as it had been since the Wolves left the city, they were very careful to not alert too many people of their presence just yet so this person was either very perceptive or simply knew enough about her to guess her whereabouts. Whichever the case, she wanted to know who this person was. That didn't mean she would simply open her door for a stranger. Instead she exited through a side door and walked her way to the person standing outside the establishment. "I recognize you, from the party. You were fighting not far from me on the dance floor." She stated casually. "We're not open for business yet."

Rita would have been caught off guard if it wasn't for her new perspective on life. Literally. She had her vision backed far enough away that she would be able to see the entire front of the Inn. She was even able to see at the side, where Crystal had stepped through her secret door. Regardless, she acted as surprised when Crystal spoke to her. She jumped a bit at the sound of the voice and turned to see her.
"I'm not here for a drink or a place to stay Miss Rivers." Rita went right to business. "The name's Rita, former commander of the Blackpond army and new found coordinator in the efforts that are now being made against the oppressive Blackpond leadership. I've come to speak about creating a symbiotic relationship between your people and mine. Even if you don't, there is a lot of information that your people will want to know if you are to want any success here and I'm willing to give it all up to you." Rita motioned for the door. "I'd like to speak with you more, but the streets have ears. In fact," Rita had her vision focused on a street adjacent to the one that they were on, "there are some informants to the Blackpond leadership that are well known to me who are closing in on our location very quickly. On my way here, I broke from their trail, but it seems that they are on the verge of finding me. If you want, turn me away, but know that you have nothing to lose from speaking to me."

Crys chuckled a bit under her breath at how direct the woman was, it was a rare thing nowadays to have someone state what they actually wanted instead of wasting time hiding behind false pretenses. Of course, she did know who Rita was, Jake had done a very thorough job of filling her in on all the details she might have missed of the ball, and he had already mentioned the woman to her when he told her of his time in the city dungeons. "Alright." She agreed, opening the door to the Inn and motioning for Rita to enter, following after her and closing the door after herself. "Please call me Crys, Rita. Now I'd offer you tea, but we don't really have any so I guess we might as well be more direct." She said, motioning for one of the few tables in the place the seemed to be clear of any messes, most of them were covered with random bits of wood and assorted tools as some of the men had been working on fixing or replacing some of the still broken furniture. The assassins present in the room immediately stopped what they were doing as they entered, but lingered around until Crys very discreetly indicated that she wanted them to leave. Once the room was empty except for herself and her guest, Crys continued. "I know the general rule is that one can never have too many allies, Rita, but I've gotten into the habit as of late of choosing mine with extreme care. So I hope you understand that the first thing I want to know before we go any further into this conversation is how you expect a possible relationship between my people and yours to be beneficial to your cause. As you can see we're not exactly functional in any way at this point. My entire group consists of no more than 75 assassins, most of which lack proper experience, and our presence in this city consists of only a fraction of those assassins. I don't question for a second the amount of aid you could provide us, but I wonder why you would bother to offer."

Next to Blackpond Castle, the Inn was one of the nicest places in Blackpond. Everything in the room spoke of wealth and that was something that very few people in Blackpond had. Even the richest of those in Blackpond most likely couldn't afford a place with such a nice interior. It still obviously had some work to do, but it didn't matter. She would be coming to this Inn all the time now that she knew how nice it was.
"I met your mother once. It was a brief encounter, probably several years before you were born. She assassinated my husband, who was on Blackpond's council just before the dissolution of council into the true monarchy that Blackpond has now.
Not long after his death, I was approached by a member of the Wolf Hunters. His name was Sebastian Rivers. I accepted his offer. For several years, I was taught how to fight assassins. It is in itself far different from fighting an army. One of the most common of tactics was creating the false contract. You'd hire an assassin for a contract that doesn't exist. It is all a trap and you'd ambush the assassin. Those less experienced assassins who would come with a partner were a little more difficult, but it was still an applicable strategy."
Reaching into the breast of her loose fitting epaulette, she grabbed a small bottle with a dirty-gold liquid from the neck between two fingers. In between the adjacent fingers, she pulled out two shot glasses. She placed them all onto the table and uncorked the bottle. Pouring equal amounts into the glasses, she looked up at Crystal. "I prefer alchohol over tea." She smiled. "If you want it, it is there, but no pressure." She winked and then took her shot.
"Anyways..." She poured herself another shot and continued with her story. "... the month before the death of the Wolf Hunters, I was told of a planned attack directly on the Wolfpack. I was no strategist at the time, but I saw it for what it was and what it was was a death wish. I told them that they should stick to old tactics, but they were greedy. The Wolfpack was at a low point in their history so they thought they could act greedy. I didn't want to be a part of it. I left and decided to join the Blackpond army. There were better ways to make a difference in the world." She took another shot and filled the glass again. She didn't know if she was going to take her next shot, but she thought she might as well pour it anyways. "I know how to kill an assassin, but I don't know how to fight a war against assassins. You'd be far more capable of that than I am. If not for anything else, I want you for your experience. Your mother, she ruined my life, but she turned out to be a good leader and I know that Sebastian was a good leader too, from personal experience. As a Rivers, I expect no less from you. I believe we have intersecting goals. That is why I've come to you."

Crys listened to Rita in silence, the expression on her face showing a mix of surprise and curiosity towards the fact this woman knew so much of her parents; she wasn't expecting to hear any of that and it caught her a bit off guard. Once Rita was finished speaking, Crys reached out to the shot glass that was placed before her on the table, casually sniffing its contents before drinking and placing the empty glass back on the table. "I see." She spoke softly, making a long pause as she went into a moment of thinking, her fingers lightly tapping the surface of the wooden table. "I can't say I've come here with the exact purpose of waging war, but I won't deny you any help should you need it. I don't know how much help I can provide however, the way these people operate is unlike anything I have ever seen in my life time. I don't fear them, but I'm not too proud to admit that they have bested me and I still have no idea how they did it. My purpose here, for the moment, is to learn what I can and then make an informed decision on whether a war is necessary. As you know all too well, every war, no matter how small, always brings casualties and I'd like to avoid those as much as possible." Leaning back in her seat, Crys fell into a another small moment of silence, a small smile crossing her features. It was funny how she always found herself having these conversations; first with Theron, who had his father killed by the Pack, then Mageria who lost her entire family by the hands of the clan, and now Rita whose husband had been taken out by her mother. "So, Rita, if you don't mind me asking... Who was the man you killed at the party?"

When Crystal asked her question, Rita instantly grabbed her shot glass and took a sip. She didn't want it necessarily as much as she needed it at that moment. She didn't pour another for herself though. That was going to be it. She could already feel the buzz from the other shots she took. Anymore and she was afraid she'd go past her tipping point. She did, however, pour another for Crystal if she wanted it.
"The man I killed. Well..." She was lost for words, but then she remembered something. She reached into her jacket one more time and pulled out a book. "I think this book can explain it better than I can." She handed Crystal the book and allowed her to scan through it. "Your answer will be on the second last page with writing in it. Turns out the Royals of the cities, even the really old cities passed around this diary of sorts between each other. From what I can tell, Ella was the one who broke with tradition and gave it to a non-royal. Namely, Sean. Since then, it’s been passed on to more non-royals and finally to me. You might as well take it and write something in it too. You seem important enough." Rita winked again. "Since we are playing the question game, I guess it’s my turn. If waging war isn't your main focus, what is? Is there something I can do to help. I have a sizable and fairly well trained force at my disposal, including Sean's little protégé girl, Ari. I also have a fair amount of intel that you'll need to know, both about the assassins and Blackpond. If you are going to stick your nose into such affairs, I can't stress enough how important this information will be to you."

Crys took the book that had been offered to her, holding it closed in her hand as she nodded, an amused smile crossing her features at Rita's question. "My main focus, my goal per se, is a pretty modest one really. I'm going to renovate this bar, open it up for business and keep it open. If that goes well I plan on doing the same with every shop and home in this neighborhood. Meanwhile, if there's anything else I can do to help the city, then of course I'll do it. If there's a war I'll gladly offer my assistance in fighting it, but right now I personally feel it's just as important to show that the damage that has been done to this city can still be undone." She shrugged casually, taking the refilled glass and drinking her second shot. "It may sound foolish I suppose, but I honestly don't see any point in what these so called assassin are doing aside from spreading chaos, so I believe the best course of action is to establish some sort of order from the
chaos they've created. So that is what I intend on doing, or rather I intend to encourage the people here to do. We're merely here to make sure they are not intimidated any further. Aside from that..." Crys sighed softly. "We've had word of certain people that have been operating in the city that we have been looking out for, these people are said to be involved in child kidnapping slavery, prostitution, and many other things that simply do not go well with me and my people. We are hunting for them. If in the future you or any under your command hear of any occurrences of that sort, I would like to be informed as soon as possible; some of my people have rather personal reasons to be after these elements." Crys sighed softly, her fingers lightly tapping the cover of the book she held in her hands. "I'm sure Sean will be pleased to know his recruit is in good company." She mentioned, a bit of amusement clear in her tone. "And of course any information you have to give me, Rita, will be greatly appreciated; the more we know of our opponents the better. If there's something else you may need to know from me in return, don't be afraid to ask. For an assassin I have considerably little to hide at this point in time."

"Alright." Rita sighed and she began. "I know a lot, but what I should first discuss with you is what I know of the assassins who have taken rule over the city. The one you probably know the best is Rick. Rick seems to be the person who is in charge of most menial things in the Assassin's order, as well as taking full reigns over what goes on in Blackpond. He is rather arrogant and easily fixates of things. He is able to teleport where ever he wants. Lazurus is one of the ones who is more messed up if you ask me. He brings the dead back to life and you can tell by the way he likes. I haven't personally seen it, but he collects blood in jars. He doesn't need them for any enlightenment. I think he drinks it. Then we have Simon. Simon can't speak like we all do. He only speaks through thoughts. Because he's mute, he has an inflated sense of his telepathic abilities. Sandere is someone I don't know much about. He appears from time to time when one of the assassins has hurt themselves. He usually appears with a random Blackpond street kid as some sacrifice to heal people. That's all I really know. Then there is the four elemental users. I don't know their names and they don't really have any personalities for themselves. It is more or less what Vorso wants them to be. Vorso is the one in charge. He likes to keep in the shadows, but from what I know, he's the real enforcer of the group."
Rita took a moment and shook her head before she continued. "Then there is Lamya. For as much as I've been around Lamya, I can honestly say that I know nothing worth wild about her. She is the epitome of crazy. She only really appears if she wants something from you, but she never lets you know. She is manipulative in a way that she never lets you know what she wants you to do, but you somehow manage to do it anyways. Maybe its because she's not entirely sure what she wants either? I don't know. Stay away from her. If she starts speaking to you, run the other way. The only way to avoid her psychopathy is to avoid it all together. Good luck if you can manage."
"Now... there is also a matter that is far too pressing for me to ignore. There's a city underneath Blackpond. Filled with criminals. I went there to try to gather more supporters for my cause the other day, but they are all gone. The only thing that remains is about a quarter of the citizens in that city are lying down there, dead. I don't know what it is for exactly, but Lamya has an army that is far stronger than anything I'd be able to produce with all of those citizens and I have no idea where they went. Hundreds of people are nowhere to be found and I heard nothing about any odd activities from any of my sources. It worries me. If there is any questions, I'll do my best to answer."

Crys listened carefully to everything Rita had to say, registering every bit of relevant information for when she'd need it in the future. It was really nothing new to Crys what the woman had to say about Lamya and Rick, but she knew nothing of the others and she couldn't deny that it was valuable information to have. She didn't seem too shocked at what the woman told her of the underground prisoners; Jake had already told her about that as well, but the absence of the prisoners, nearly all of them at once, was somewhat concerning. "If you can't find them, odds are they're not in the city... And if they're not in this city there is only one other place where one is likely to take an army. Let's face it, there's little left to destroy around here anyway." She responded, heaving a long deep sigh. "What happened to the bodies of those people in the underground city?" She asked simply, not elaborating on why she wanted to know such a thing and moving on. "I'd advise you, Rita, if I were to give any advice, to consider the possibility of reaching out to the former Black Knights, I think they're calling themselves Ravens now. You've met one of them in the dungeons already; the man responsible for my mother's Death as you so kindly reminded him. Newhaven, as of late, has its own reasons to want these assassins gone as it seems that what has happened to their Queen during the ball fits the work of someone who can raise the dead... The Wolfpack would be more than willing to assist as well I'm sure, but I'm not sure I'd advise you to go to them; things have not been the same since I left, I'm afraid." Crys smirked at the last words, a very discreet trace of bitterness in her smile that lasted for only a fraction of a second. "I have to ask though, why are you still fighting for Blackpond? Are you actually fighting for Blackpond, or are you just fighting against these people?"

Rita looked at Crystal completely seriously. Her eyes were parted just enough that the pearly whites could only just be seen. She parted her lips for a moment, but only just slightly before she shut them again. What was she fighting for? "I fight for a belief, Crystal. What that belief is; I'm not really certain. What I am certain about is, no matter what that belief is, it is better than the shadow that has fallen over Valcrest."

Newhaven- 1 Week After the Ball
It was the first official council meeting since Ella had come back from the Ball. In fact, it was the only council meeting that the councilmen had told Ella of. The council had things to talk about in terms of the troubles that had occurred in the week after Ella's arrival. Mageria no longer seemed to support her at all. It made everyone wonder what had happened at that party. Some councilmen were even at the party, but not a single one could really figure out what happened.
"Shall we kick things off?" Ella Quickly asked.
"The first issue is rather pressing. A large number of citizens of Blackpond are sitting outside the gates. They've all claimed that they see the war that is about to break of out Blackpond and..."
"Let them in." Ella interrupted.
"But my Queen, there is not enough room in the city."
"Then we'll make room. Mr. Bennett, I want immediate action on the construction of the West end of Newhaven. And by immediate, I mean now. Tell the guards to start letting people in too."

"No."
Mageria's voice was quiet, but carried clearly. She stepped forwards, her eyes glittering strangely in the light. She was dressed in her uniform of Captain of the Black Guard, but she still wore the coat that was decorated with the pattern of Raven's feathers. No more than half of the old Guard had returned, choosing instead to stay out in the woods. It was said that they were still intensely loyal to her, and her alone.
Mageria walked forwards, her hands clasped behind her, carefully placing one foot in front of the other. Anybody looking at her could see that she was armed to the teeth. Now that was her privilege and duty, to always be armed. But she seemed to carry herself differently now, not as if she was on guard, but as if she was ready to attack. As she walked carefully along the table, the light coming in the windows highlighted the sudden presence of stark white in her hair, as if it was frosted touched. It also highlighted the new hollows under her cheekbones. Mageria was a woman being driven to the limit of her strength and it showed. For a moment she wavered, her strength of will failing her. Could she do this? Then she drew a deep breath, steeling herself. She knew what she had to do.
"The purpose of the Black Guard, is to protect Newhaven against any threat, by any means. Today, it is my duty to carry this out." She stood tall and grim, eyes black as night. "With great responsibility, comes great power. At any time, if both Captains are in agreement, they can call for the abdication of the ruler of Newhaven." From the shadows opposite her, Thomas also stepped out, an equally grim alabaster statue. And if the puppet before you was real, that is what we would do. But not today." Mageria drew a deep breath, her voice ringing out. "The Queen is dead and an imposter sits on the throne of Newhaven!"

-----------

Outside the window, Sham had been waiting for the entire morning. She had hidden herself away on Mageria's orders, waiting for the proper moment. Mageria didn't really believe that she could talk any sense into anybody, but she thought she could make a good distraction.

"Keep going Bennett. Don't worry about anyone getting in your way. Conrad and the city guard have an obligation to the Queen to carry out their duties. So do the White Knights but for reasons that aren't entirely understandable to me, the White Knights can no longer be trusted." She nodded to another dark corner of the room where Conrad walked out of. His sword was drawn and as he walked passed Thomas, he bumped his shoulder.
"This is a military coup." Ella said calmly replied to Mageria and her White Knight counterpart. "I'm a reasonable woman Mageria, but there comes a point where enough is enough. It surprises me that when my father was killed and replaced by an impostor that you were completely incapable of doing your job to protect Newhaven. If you did your job then, maybe Blackpond would have fallen by now!"It was obvious to everyone in the room how angry Ella was getting. It was uncharacteristic of her, but not necessarily uncharacteristic of a pregnant woman so it didn't seem out of place. "Now." She paused again, throwing her hand up to the top of the table and stabbing a dagger into the wood. "Mageria... if you are actually serious about kicking me off this throne then do it. Otherwise, get the hell out of my council room."

"I failed once. When the King died. I failed again. When Ella died. I will not fail again."
Mageria smiled thinly, like a knife slash. "False Queen, I would be glad to leave, forever if you like. So long as you agree to stand before the White Shadows, before their mind readers, and have them state that you are who you seem."

Ella stopped, not speaking for several moments. For a painfully long five minutes every eye in the council room stared at her while he tried to put things into perspective. "The White Shadows have proven to be an extremely bias group in the past couple of years. They have been very clearly and very secretively been taking sides in this war over the past years. I can trust them as well as I can trust a Black Traitor's mouth." Ella stood up, staring daggers at Mageria. Lazurus knew that Mageria had won this battle, but he still intended on winning the war.
When Ella had gotten up, the entire room bowed. (This is an OOC note. If you intend on having Mageria bow, I would like to mention it here, but I will wait for a PM from you confirming that before I add it into the text) She waved them all off and people stood back up. Then she looked at Mageira again. "Come now Mageria. These accusations have gone too far. Let the coup begin already. Otherwise you are wasting my your time, my time and the council's time."

Mageria stood straight, refusing to bow before one who didn't deserve it. "The Black Knights are traitors. The White Knights are traitors as well. Now the White Shadows are biased and you stand ready to throw the gates of the city open to the huddled masses fleeing Blackpond in the hopes of a better life." She took a few slow steps forward, living shadow in a pool of light. "This is all very out of character; for the ruler of Newhaven, that we know so well. A change so very.... sudden. It is almost as if you seek to cut us off from everybody that we have trusted in the past." She smiled grimly. "The White Shadows are neutral to every conflict. They avoid the double dealing and back stabbing of the rest of Valcrest like the plague it is." Her voice suddenly rang like the clash of blade against blade. "You will stand before the White Shadows and be declared to be whom you claim or you shall be restrained in a secure location until you give birth. Those are your options."

"Since Lana's disappearance and afterwords, her death, the White Shadows have been less and less what they used to represent. Since Dani's death, this has been going on with the Wolfpack. My Brother's death marked the end of what Newhaven represented. and Blackpond's loss of their king has marked the end of what they represent. I would say something about the Black Knights too, but that would just be rude. Regardless, everything that Valcrest used to be has changed. Newhaven has always been on the forefront of change and I plan on making this change better, not only for Newhaven, but for Valcrest. A good start to that is letting the refugees in. It will bolster the already illustrious reputation of Newhaven." Ella snarly remarked.
She walked towards the nearest window. It looked down at the city in full view. It was a bright day and there was barely a cloud in the sky. It made seeing the hundreds of Blackpond refugees waiting at the gate more than visible. If she looked close enough, she would be able to see each individual head bobbing about. "Now," she said, still looking out the window, "there is the ultimatum that you've given me. Trust the White Shadows to be honest or trust you to run a city. The White Shadows don't help the Wolfpack anymore, from what I've heard. I don't know if I can trust--"
Down at the city gates, she could see that the refugees were starting to be let in. She turned around and looked at Mageria. "It looks like you'll have to restrain me."

Mageria sighed slightly. If that's the way you're going to play it, you murderous bastard....

Mageria whistled sharply. Sham, who had been hanging under the windowsill, burst into sharp action. She pushed off from the wall, turning and flipping so that she landed feet first inside the room. The miniature crossbow she held in one hand only held one bolt, but one bolt was all she needed. She took one step forwards and jammed the point into the chest of the False Queen. "Aye then, you'll be wanting not to make any sudden moves."
Around the room, there was a clatter as those who's alligence lay with the person they thought was the Queen drew their weapons and were disarmed by those who were loyal to Mageria and Thomas.

"That. Is. Enough." Mageria's voice was cold as the heart of winter.

Newhaven-1 Week 6 Days After the Ball
Luckas groaned slightly under his breath as he wandered the halls of the Newhaven Castle. He had decided at random to check things out before going back to the Ravens’ camp. He hadn’t been in the city in over a month, even less the castle, and he wondered if the place had changed from its previous dreadfully boring state. It didn’t seem like there was much difference to be honest. If anything the place had gotten even more boring without the children roaming the halls and the random visits of assassins and formerly deceased members of the military. As he started to think it was about time to give up and go home he caught a curious sight; about three or four men were guarding one single door as if all of the demons in hell would run loose in the castle if it happened to open. Luckas didn’t need as much as a second glance to recognize Black Guard when he saw it. Upon his approach the men immediately blocked his path and ordered him to turn away. Luckas stood, hesitantly for a moment or so. Usually this wouldn’t be enough to hold him back, but as of late he and the Captain had a silent agreement of sorts; as long he posed no threat to her people they wouldn’t mind him wandering in and out of camp. The terms were simple enough that there wasn’t ever a need to talk about it; it simply was. He didn’t like to admit it, but access to the encampment was really important to Luckas, and he’d rather not lose that little privilege he’d gained.
Smiling innocently he looked from one Guard to another and then tried to peek through the little barred window on the center of the door, but unable to see past the men. “Whaaat are you guys keeping in there?” Luke questioned, seeming quite curious and amused, even when the four guards stood menacingly blocking his path in silence. Luckas sighed. “Not feeling chatty, then? I getcha.” He chucked. “I’d be grumpy too if I had to stand here all day. I bet you guys are really tired, huh? I’m tired too you know, been traveling a while.” Luke sighed, faking a yawn, holding back a smirk as he saw one of the men mimic his gesture and discreetly yawn as well. “In fact, I am very, veeery, sleepy... I you are all sleepy too, right. So... Very... Sleeepy...” Luckas continued, his voice lowering to a near whisper, but somehow still getting through to the men, one or two of them starting to sway where they stood in a bit of a stupor. “Yes, if I was standing there all day I’d probably be thinking to myself ‘boy, I’d really love to close my eyes for a bit.’, why don’t you guys try that, just for a second, hm? Just for a little while... Close your eyes... Just for a second.... You know you want to...”
It worked. It was almost ridiculous how well it worked. One by one the men started to fall to the floor, slipping out of consciousness and into a deep slumber. “Well, that was easy...” Luckas mumbled, approaching the door and peeking into the room. What he saw inside caused him to snort in amusement. “Of course.” He muttered under his breath before raising his voice and addressing the person inside the cell. “Poor little Ella... Your family has such an annoying habit of getting captured and impersonated. I don’t know if that’s sad or hilarious, honestly.”

"Yes." Lazurus huffed. "Because Mageria is known for her impersonations."

Luckas snickered softly. "Captain has her talents, even I'm forced to admit that..." He said simply, shrugging at his own words. "...But personally, I know far better impersonators. Some of them so good at what they do that if they choose to take your place, your own mom won't know the difference... And given enough time you may even actually start believing they're for real and you're the fake. Some people would surely benefit from a lesson or two from such impersonators in my opinion. Too many amateurs out there getting murdered by wolves and locked up in jail cells... It's just awkward for everyone."

Lazurus laughed. It was a uncharacteristic laugh. "I'm not going to give you the satisfaction. I can tell you're one of those types of people. Those people who like to beat around the bush until they seem to figure things out unsuspectingly. How dreadfully boring is that!"
Lazurus looked at Luke dead in the eyes. For a moment, it was Lazurus' deadly glare, but a moment of desperation slipped into the eyes. Then intense anger and a moment's thought of self-harm. Then Lazurus continued. "You think what a handful of people who still trust Mageria believe. I don't know how you haven't been arrested yet. Martial Law is in effect out there. Must me a helluva sight. She's got a woman coming over--a Healer--to read my thoughts... you want to do me a favor?"

"I'm amused that you think you could possibly satisfy me in anyway." Luckas replied calmly, arching an eyebrow in a mildly curious expression. "I honestly don't understand why everyone feels the need to tell me what kind of person I am... Even if I don't know that for myself by now it's highly unlikely I'll take someone else's word on it. Just seems like a ridiculous waste of energy." He sighed softly. "I doubt anyone here could arrest me, if they could they would have long ago." Luckas leaned against the door with both hands, pressing his forehead against its surface for a moment as if in deep thought, before raising his head again and snickering. "Why would I want to do you favors? We don't know each other. And I don't do favors."

"Kid, in the end, it doesn't matter much what you think of yourself. It is what others think of you that really affect the way you live your life. Does it matter what Life thought of himself? No. It is what people think of him that lasts in our memories. Quit trying to be a clever. If you do me a favor, I'll let you talk to Ella without a fight."

"Come on, Life? That's stupidest possible comparison. Seriously, people need to really shut up about the Twins already. It's been thousands of years since they actually mattered for something other than people's need to create increasingly uninventive analogies." Luckas shook his head. "And if it's what others think of me that really matters maybe you all should be preaching to each other until you reach an understanding of what kind of person I am instead of annoying me with your opinions, since my thoughts on the subject are simply irrelevant; but again that would be an even greater waste of energy, so my point still stands. Truth of the matter though... Is that in the end nothing will matter... Because it will be the end." Luckas replied simply, shrugging once again. "But fine: Assuming I have any interest in speaking with Ella, and assuming I'd actually even consider you an obstacle; which I really don't. Pray tell... What the hell do you want?"

Lazurus just sat back--as that was all he could do--as he listened to Luke. He just proved his point. Luke thought that the Twins were a waste of time. That was all that mattered to him and therefore, it was all that mattered about the Twins. He wondered for a moment if Luke was smart enough to figure it out. He decided that he wasn't. "As someone who has never experienced 'the end', I feel that I'm under qualified to make claims of what it might be. I just use it as a reference point more than anything." Lazurus snorted. "Now will you kill a guard for me? That's all I ask of you."

"Hmm... I'm not really in a killing mood right now." Luckas stated simply. "Since you did me the kindness of not going on about how my opinions clearly prove your point in some way I really don't give a shit about, I'll make you a deal... I'll talk to Ella, whether you let me or not; I'm not asking permission, and if in the meantime someone happens to find me here, where I'm clearly not supposed to be... I'll take care of 'em. We'll leave it up to fate, or whatever other uninventive analogies you happen to believe in, whether you get your way or not. Yes?"

"We have a deal." Lazurus smiled a devilish smile.

"We'll see." Luckas stated, smiling back through the door and giving a slight glance at his surroundings before putting his focus on the imprisoned 'Queen' inside the cell. The scenery changing from the grey castle walls to an open grass field lit up in gold from a bright sun above, empty for miles and miles except for himself and Ella, no another living thing in sight; even less another person. Luckas had made sure to shut the necromancer off from the conversation, so he would not be able to hear or see anything other than what was happening in reality; which was Luckas standing in silence outside the door. Luke snorted and looked around with a frown in his expression, squinting some at the sudden brightness. "I wanted something outdoorsy, but I think I might have overdone it just a bit. I don't usually put much thought into these illusions, but I felt like giving it a shot." He spoke, walking around a bit in a wide circle as if testing to see how real the ground felt beneath his feet. "So, Little Ella... I'm a bit curious... What does death feel like? Does it hurt?"

Ella was taken by surprise. She had no idea what had just happened, but the face was familiar. She had the urge to reply despite the content of the question. She wasn't too happy about answering it though and it showed in her tone. "I don't know. I haven't really died, have I?"

"I think that it depends if you believe in afterlife. If you do, then you are technically already dead because you are no longer occupying a human body of your own. You are dead and so is the man in control of your body, although it doesn't seem like it to either of you. If you believe that after you die there's nothing because you simply cease to exist; body and soul, then you're alive because you haven't ceased to exist yet." Luckas shrugged. "You look pretty dead to me. So... Does it hurt?”

"I guess not then." Ella shirked. "How the hell did you even get into my head anyways?" Ella wasn't really sure about anything at the moment. It was all too much for her to really handle. She was experiencing the world again. She could feel the breeze and the grass under her feet. The sweet scent of the flowers wafted into her nose as she heard the wind through the grass. This man created this world for her to talk to her. She even had her own body. He could control the mind. Part of it was enlightenment, but after entering the mind, it comes down to skill. "Would you be able to help me?"

Luckas sighed softly, sitting in the grass with his legs crossed like a child, staring at Ella with amused interest. "Technically, I'm not in your head, Little Ella... I'm in his head... Without going into complex and boring explanations, at this point your mind exists as a voice in his head." He answered. "The only way I could possibly help you would be to kill your body. Then you, him and little Ella Jr, will all discover whether there is an afterlife or not after all. If you want, I can do that. Other than that, I don't think there's anything I can do to remedy your situation."

Ella wasn't satisfied with that answer. It wasn't what she needed. She needed to know that there was another way out. "NO!" She yelled! "I'm in control! I'm not just a voice in his head! That is my head that he is using!" Ella started to cry. It was an uncontrollable sobbing sound. The kind of crying that was in no way flattering on any human being. "He's not controlling me right now. He's even surprised that I can strike up conversations with him at my own whim! I need to know that there's another way! Please."

Luckas groaned a bit under his breath. He absolutely hated pleading, but he sat through it because he knew he could only really do this once. "There's a certain amount of power involved with being a voice in someone's head. I would know. And there's much that you can do to get back at him before you run out of time, if you put effort into it; but in the end... You can't really save yourself. You could have before it came to this, but now it's too late." He replied calmly. "Your heart stopped beating, Little Ella... You died. You just didn't cease to exist. Death, in a physical sense, is rather permanent. What keeps your body functioning right now, I imagine, is the necromancer's control, so if he goes your body stops functioning and vice-versa."

Ella tried her best to control her sobbing. She tensed her neck up and tried to set her breath. It wasn't perfect, but it was way better than before. "I can force him out of control of my body then? But I don't get it. Why can't I control my body afterwords? I heard something about a White Knight who harbored the body of the son of Death. How is this different?"

"A necromancer is someone who can control dead bodies, usually from the outside like someone controlling a string puppet.What this guy managed to do somehow is that, by giving up his own body, he is be able to control yours from the inside instead, like a hand puppet. So even though you breathe, your heart beats and every other part of your body is still functional, it's only functional due to his enlightenment. Since his original body has died, he depends on this body to exist, but since this body is technically not alive, without the necromancer's control it will shut down." Luckas explained, not really stopping to ask himself how he even knew all of this. He just did somehow. "It's different from the Son of Death only in because the Son of Death was a Demigod. His soul was able to endure certain periods of time without a body so he learned to jump from carrier body to another in order to technically live forever. Since his soul was not entirely human though, It was too much for a human body to bear for too long without changing in some horrific way. That is what happened to Sir Daniel. I've been in his mind, granted far more briefly than I've been in yours, and there was very little humanity still left in him. Captain did him a huge favor by slaying the Beast he became." Luckas stopped talking for a second, going into a moment of thought and remembering his brief encounter with the thing. After a while though he shook his head and continued speaking. "If you want to you can push him out, yes, but there is simply no way to bring your body back to life once you do."

Ella understood what Luke was saying all too well. If she wanted to get rid of Lazurus, she was going to have to give up her life. She wanted control. Was control of her body for a brief moment worth her death? If not, Lazurus might be able to live for far longer and she would never... no. She didn't want to think about it anymore.
"I think a lot of people misunderstand you. You don't exactly make a good impression on people and you have qualities that many would see as unredeamable. You really do have a sweet heart somewhere in all the black you wear." Ella said, but then her expression changed. She was no longer herself, not even in her mind. "Someone's coming." Said Lazurus through Ella's voice.

Wolf Camp- 1 Week, 6 Days After the Ball
Evin was sure that he wasn’t the only one who was having trouble sleeping. The entire camp was probably having trouble sleeping. Even the forest was in a state of unrest. The wolves, deep in the forest were howling nonstop. Things weren’t right.

Wolf Camp- 2 Weeks After the Ball
Tradition is very thread on which the fabric of society functions. Each generation uses it as their own personal crutch. They only know life through tradition and there is no other way in which society could ever function. But from generation, to generation, the newer generation always proves them wrong. Suddenly, one doesn’t need to be dipped into the water as a child to become enlightened. There is no correlation between water and enlightenment and the new generation proves it. That is what they said when they did it, at least. There’s no real way to test it though, so people just believed it.
This urge of the new generation to push away the traditions of the older generation had to do with an urge that each generation had. Each generation has an urge to be better than their parents. It was something that was undoubtedly similar among every generation that had ever existed. It was what made Sean do what he did and it was what compelled Evin to try to stop him at all costs. It is also what made him so rebellious against Dani, no matter how good a friend she was to him. In the end, the one tradition that never changed was the tradition of breaking tradition.
These were the thoughts that ran across Evin’s mind while he sat by the bonfire at the Wolf camp again. Last time he was there, some assassins were spending their time drinking away; breaking with tradition. Not unlike Evin probably would have done in his youth, but he valued the tradition of abstaining from drinking too much to have ever broken that tradition. It was just one of those things that may not have made much sense, but to have lived through a horrific attack on the Wolfpack in more than one occasion, he knew how detrimental such a gluttonous action could be.
Evin noticed something. A loud noise and then a change in the crowd. It was a shift in the atmosphere almost too subtle to be detected. Two Wolves made quite sudden and abrupt movements. An instant change of direction, nearly in unison was all that this movement was. This action, however, could easily be hidden by what Evin would call a ‘oh yeah!’ moment where they realized that there was something important in the camp that they had to do which was at the opposite direction of where they were going. This told Evin nothing other than they might have forgotten something, but it was when the rest of the assassins walking around camp took notice to them and started to walk just a slight bit slower and looked around in a way only an assassin looked in. Something was about to happen. It was Evin’s hope that this distraction, whatever it was, would be enough to make his move.
Evin sat up from the log he was on and grabbed the axe that was positioned next to it. Doing his best to look like the average worker that he was, he moved along the group of assassins as if he knew that there was nothing going on. If he made them aware that he understood such intricacies of the movements of assassins as a mere worker, he might have found himself in trouble. It was more of a testament to Evin’s skill that he could do what he did though.
As he made it past the crowds, he found himself in the almost strenuously familiar path. A path that he had traveled down more times than anyone could count, for both good and for bad reasons. This, by far was going to be for the worst of all reasons. He took his time walking down the path towards the Alpha’s cabin. Maybe it was his stupidity that didn’t make him rush or maybe it was the nerves. Not much of it mattered in the end because regardless, the only end Evin saw was one of absolutes. There was absolutely going to be an end to a war spanning three years between Sean and Evin. No matter how far it took him, it was absolutely going to end with an absolute. Nothing more, nothing less.
When Evin got close enough to see the cabin, the door opened. Before he could see who was at the door, he threw the axe towards the door, hitting the frame just beside where Sean’s head would be. It was just a warning. Evin wanted to at least start the fight on equal footing.
Evin quickly realized that the figure at the door was not the same height as the axe at all. The figure was slightly taller. Evin knew exactly who it was.
“Evin, I don’t have time for this! Let me through!” Franklin yelled from the door.
Evin’s reaction was nothing but what was to expected of Evin. Daggers were drawn quicker than a wolf’s bite and within moments, he was right in front of Franklin and it all came with a flash of the eyes. Franklin had a sabre with a very thick and heavy blade out and he quickly deflected that first shot.
“This isn’t a joke Evin!” Franklin barked out, but it was all in vain. Evin continued at him relentlessly. Never too hard to block, but also never too easy to dodge. Evin wanted to end this quickly. “Enough!” Franklin finally yelled. The shock of it all made Evin flinch, in which time Franklin disarmed Evin and grabbed him. Evin seemed petrified as Franklin took Evin’s shoulders and rolled onto his back, kicking Evin into the sturdy wood table inside the cabin. The force was so strong, but the table didn’t even move. It wasn’t that the table was nailed down to the floor, it was just so heavy.
Evin was disoriented. The actions happened so fast that he didn’t even have a moment to figure out what had just happened. Franklin was way past his prime, but he was still a fierce fighter and Evin knew that all too well. In all his confusion, Evin still made sure that Franklin couldn’t escape him. Evin saw, through a blur, Franklin leaving. Franklin seemed only to take three steps before Evin could feel the tug on his hand, then a thud. Franklin was on the floor. Evin dragged the thin line holding Franklin until he was inside the cabin too. The whole time, Franklin tried desperately to untie the rope.
The two of them stood up seemingly equal; without weapons. Where Franklin’s weapon had gone seemed a mystery to both. Evin still couldn’t see the room straight. The room was a set of gears in motion which distorted Evin’s vision in several spinning circlets. This distorted vision made it hard to tell if the pull he felt next was his disorientation or something else.
Turns out it was something else. Franklin had grabbed the wire that was attached to him and pulled Evin towards him. This made Evin snap back into reality. The time it took to do so was the time that Franklin had to completely eliminate the gap between the two. This was a mutual agreement between the assassins and they both knew it. They had bonded each other literally and figuratively with the wire. It was literally what connected them and figuratively, it was connected them to a death pact. As it was the only thing they both held, it was considered by both assassins to be their weapon; a shared weapon between foes. One of them was going to die by it.
The fight began in fantastic force. Evin was the first to make a strong move. It was a quick tug upwards. An attempt to see if he would lose his grip of the rope or not more than anything significant. Franklin, however, pulled down on the rope, which gave Evin the perfect opportunity to use the torque to his advantage. Franklin had the same idea and it just left them back at square one. Evin then leaned into the rope, causing tension between them. It wasn’t exactly enough so, he moved a step back, at which point, he could see Franklin losing position. Evin quickly gave himself some slack and Franklin stumbled backwards. Evin didn’t let Franklin get his footing though, he instead ran towards the stumbling man, but Franklin used the slack to his advantage, even as he was stumbled. Franklin let himself fall once Evin was close enough. He put his hand on the ground and then used his hand to slide himself on the ground, maneuvering right under Evin’s feet until he was behind him.
Evin saw this and knew exactly what was about to happen. Stopping himself from the momentum he’d created was more impossible. Instead, he did the best he could by planting his feet into the ground with as much force as he could. Almost at the exact time he was expecting it, the tug. It was a sudden grab at the bottom of his pants, right at the crotch from the rope that worked its way up until it reached his hand, at which point there was no longer any slack from the rope. The momentum had to go somewhere. Evin’s had was pulled along with the rope down between his legs. Soon enough the rest of his body followed as it turned inside-out on itself. Once he did a full flip, he landed flat on with a hard thump. By this point, it was too late for Evin to react. Franklin was now right behind him and he used the slack that Evin had created for him to wrap tightly around his neck. Evin had only the chance to catch his breath after the flip and it wasn’t a particularly good one. Not only was there that, but there was also a sharp object pointed directly at his spine.
Evin’s instant reaction was to try to catch his breath, but of course, there was nothing going in or out. His next reaction was to grab at his neck, but he didn’t allow himself to do that. He knew that if he made any movements that Franklin would kill him right there. Everything he did had to be subtle enough that an assassin wouldn’t be able to notice. His hand was something that he wouldn’t be able to see unless he was looking over his shoulder at him. That was something he had to his advantage, but there was little time. He had to be quick, but he couldn’t make anything obvious. As quickly as he could—but not in any panicked rush—he unravelled some of the rope in his hand, creating some more slack. Just as there was about enough slack to make his move, he started to feel an unusual sense of calm. He didn’t even want to do anything anymore. It was this feeling of complete complacent content; a euphoric escape to eternity unlike anything he had ever felt. Things went grey and a black slowly followed along until everything was black. Then a second black started to surround the first black. It was a darkness disembodied from any known darkness. It was truly the most fearful thing that he had ever seen in his lifetime. It was deaths dress covering him to bring him to the end…
…nothing….
…more nothing….
…a disembodied scream…
… as the color came back to him, the scream became less disembodied and more distant; somewhere in the camp. Again, Evin tried to breathe, but quickly, he remembered the predicament he was left in. With even less breath than before, he did his job with more fervour than before. With the slack on his side again, he was able to stretch himself forward and slightly to the left. With this time, Evin took the chance to breathe again. The dagger stabbed into his side instead of his spine. Then he stood, as the rope tightened onto him again. Now, however, there was far more free rope to play around with.
Evin turned around to face Franklin again. He was already trying to manipulate the rope, but Evin, still being choked by the rope kicked Franklin in the gut, pushing him back and jolting Evin towards him by the neck. Evin, however was prepared for this jolt. He gave himself a chance to manipulate the rope himself. Evin had the upper hand for this moment. He didn’t worry so much about the fact that he still couldn’t breathe at the moment and rather, focused on putting Franklin in the same predicament. But it wasn’t going to work. Evin saw it. He saw exactly what Franklin was going to do. He tried for subtly, but Evin knew Franklin’s work all too well. Evin let go out the rope and twisted himself out of his bonds just before Franklin tried to pull hind down. Franklin’s tug was a strong one and it gave him all the rope, including what was at the very end of it. Evin turned around and the dagger, still stuck in his back popped, out and flew right towards Franklin. Hitting him right in the chest, it knocked Franklin right over. Evin ran up towards him and punched the dagger further into Franklin’s chest.
“You always taught me how to fight with a rope, but you never once taught me to put a dagger at the end of the rope. You were a good mentor, but by the Twins, you are about as stubborn as Life himself.” Evin smiled at Franklin.
Franklin didn’t say anything. He was still up for a fight. But with the dagger in his chest, it was only a matter of time. Franklin tried to punch him, but Evin dodged it and grabbed his hand.
Franklin cringed and then sighed. “I knew that it was a matter of time. Perry was my best student. He was better than me before he even graduated. When you killed him those few years back, I knew that you were officially the best student that I ever graduated.” He coughed. “When I was appointed as the Beta, I knew I this was going to come, but I planned to make it different. As your mentor, I’d like to make one request.” Evin opened his mouth to ask what it was, but nothing came out. “Make my death a sceptical. The Wolfpack is already in frenzy. I was going to save her, but you got in my way. I know you aren’t only here for me and Sean. You are here to bring down the Wolfpack this time. And if not, you’re a liar!”

24 Years Ago
The training area for the Wolfpack was under renovation. There were improvements being made to it to make it better than it ever had been. To the unconventional, however, this construction zone was better than any fully functional training zone could be. The constantly changing, not fully finished conditions allowed for variables that a fully functioning are couldn’t give.
Evin flew through the area, dodging workers as he tried to get away from his follower. Evin saw his chance. A large tree had been cut and hollowed out. It was the perfect spot to hide away.
His attempt was to blend with the crowds. He grabbed hats and coats right off workers. He even managed to steal some tools. When he was well enough blended, he made a straight for the hollowed-out trunk. He reached up to get inside of it, but someone from inside grabbed his hand and yanked him up. With one swoop, Evin found himself inside the trunk and held up.
“Pretending to be someone you aren’t isn’t becoming.” The voice of Franklin said to Evin.
“I’m not pretending.”
“Then you’re lying.” He said starkly. “Quit hiding behind something you aren’t and stop running. Do you run away from your targets?” Evin shook his head, ‘no’. “Then why would you ever run from your killer?”
“He’s my killer!” Evin exclaimed.
“You fear Death? You can’t fear Death and dedicate your life to Death all in one. Why even train to be a killer if you fear to be killed? All you are is a liar.”

Present
The camp was back to normal. It was as if nothing had happened. People around the campfire told stories of both lore and what they ate for breakfast that day or how their sleeps were interrupted by the commotion from the wolves howls the previous night. Some workers were coming back with firewood, completely unaware of what had just happened. There were some other people walking by as if they didn’t know what had gone on. Evin knew they knew exactly what happened.
Evin and Franklin observed from the branch of a tree. While Evin was holding Franklin there under duress, Franklin didn’t try anything, like yell for help. He was rather complacent, given his situation. Around his neck a very thin wire tied as a noose. The two of them just looked at the camp. It was the last time that the camp would ever be like this. Today, it was either Evin or Sean. Either way, the camp was going to fall to shambles after. He knew that and Franklin knew that. Evin hid his feelings towards it all well, but Franklin knew. Evin could just feel it. Franklin knew.
“Evin,” Franklin interrupted the silence. “I believe in the Wolfpack. I don’t necessarily believe that it is in the right place right now. That doesn’t mean, however, that I thought everything was in the right place when Dani ran things either. One day it may find its roots again, but I don’t think we’ll ever see that. It will be long after our death. It can only get worse before it gets better. Are you sure that you’re ready to see what will happen to the Wolfpack after this?” Evin nodded, ‘yes’. “I know I’m not. Let’s just get this over with.”
Evin fell silent. The features of his face well defined by the shadows created by the lines he had created. He didn’t want to do this, but it was going to be done. He had to uphold himself to the same standard he had before or he was just a fraud. Franklin himself would agree.
With one movement, Evin pushed Franklin from the branch and jumped off the tree. He only knew something was wrong when his feet didn’t hit the ground. In fact, they did exactly the opposite. Still in air, his legs swept up from under him and he found himself hanging upside down by his legs. Then his back hit something. Franklin’s dead body whacked him with a force of dead weight that felt almost like being hit head on by a house. Then, the cool sting of metal against his neck. The assassins were quick to react. Three blades were right against his neck by three different assassins. Then two other assassins stood there with blades drawn, but backed away in case Evin tried anything funny.
“That bastard.” Evin chuckled under his breath, but he knew the rest could probably hear him. Franklin had managed to tie the wire around Evin’s leg while he was distracted by the goings on around the camp. When he pushed Franklin off and jumped down, Franklin’s weight was used as an anchor to keep Evin suspended in air with him. It was such a brilliant way to win a fight, even after death.
The assassins had been talking, but Evin had been distracted. “… no! He is Sean’s to deal with.”
“We’ve got him here. Let’s have some fun. Grab some sticks and we can get started.”

Two Hours Later
Evin took off his shoes and rolled his pants up to his knees. For some reason he had the urge to walk into the icy waters of the lake. The numbing pain surged through his body, giving him chills up and down his spine when the icy water contacted his toes. He didn't worry much about Sean behind him, even though he was in no condition to fight, he knew Sean wouldn’t attempt to strike him. There was so much to be expected from this place, yet it was sort of a letdown. Evin tried to stretch out his arms wide as if he was ready for a big hug, like he would do in his happier moments when he was alone by the lake back in his glory days. This only caused Evin to let out a deathly grunt. Hunching in defeat, he let the blood sink from his mouth, into the lake.
"You know," he said, slowly turning around, "there was a time where it was so refreshing to go down by this lake. I could really find a deep place to meditate and I'd always feel ten times better after spending time here. Now there is something different. I can't explain it."
He coughed and took his feet out of the frigid water, drying them off as best he could with the bloodied sleeve of his coat. He unrolled his pants and put his shoes back on. He covered his mouth with the same sleeve and coughed a few more times before continuing. "You know what's really funny? This entire time, we've been at war with each other. I focused so much on Heart while you focused more or less on Mind, but neither Heart nor Mind can find wisdom. Mind is too focused on information to ever think about knowledge and Heart too focused on passion and love. If I can't find wisdom from this damn lake anymore, where will I find it? Without this wisdom, I can't find a reason not to continue to fight. We—no everyone—everyone is a damn fool in this conflict. Wisdom is just another shadow that can be forgotten in this fucked up conflict we created and for that, one of us will eventually have to die. If the other ever wants to find real wisdom, that is what needs to be done."

Sean stood silent, leaning into the trunk of a tree as he watched Evin go into the lake. His expression was stripped of any distinguishable emotion as he stared at the man, there was no room left within his eyes not even for the usual rage and contempt at this point, only an emotionless void. He remained silent as Evin spoke, only responding with a weary sigh as the man turned to face him, but eventually breaking his silence, his voice soft as though it took him effort to raise his tone above a whisper. “Wisdom... Is that actually supposed to mean something, Bana? I doubt there’s any real wisdom left to be found in this Land... 'Wisdom’ is just another word we use to make our crap justifiable; or rather the lack of it, but can we really lack something we never truly had? No, I don’t think so. You can’t find a reason to stop fighting because you don’t want one. People like you, like me, it’s what we do; we fight, because if we don't then what else is there? No amount of wisdom could ever change that. At least I never fooled myself into thinking Death would bring me anything other than itself. I think that’s something you never understood about me. That’s why, last time we spoke, you couldn't figure out my motives... I wanted revenge, yes, but I never expected it to bring me anything, I never hoped it would make me better... I wanted it because, in my opinion, it was fair. Not even actual justice can change the past though... Neither can wisdom. I've made my peace with that early in life.”

Evin put his hands in his pockets and allowed his slouch to take over. Leaning into his slouch, he let his head lower to even things out causing his uncouth hair act as a drape for his eyes. Evin couldn't see Sean and so the opposite seemed only to be a fair assumption. He was pretty heedless in listening to Sean, only really taking time to catch the main idea of what he was saying. "Stupid." Evin whispered. "Fucking stupid." He wiped his face and looked up.
"Are you telling me that you killed Crystal for no reason other than your own satisfaction? I always said it Sean Fletcher, but I will never mean it more than I mean it today. You are crazy. Did you ever feel remorse for the people you assassinated? Did you feel remorse when you thought you'd killed Crystal?"
Evin sat himself down on the cold and damp forest floor. The snow was all nearly gone with an exception or two where tree cover would protect some patches of the earth from the some more than others. Placing his head just on the line that marked the top of his head and his forehead, he sat there, slouching more than ever with his pointy elbows seeming to penetrate his crossed legs. His hands clenched tightly around causing his hair to fall victim to the sudden pull. He looked up again, this time everything about him said he was fighting back anger. "With me here, as vulnerable as I am, why haven't you done it yet? Why haven't you killed me?"

Sean heaved a weary sigh as he listened to Evin, a trace of a chuckle escaping under his breath, although completely unamused. "No, Bana. That's the opposite of what I said actually. I've tried to kill Crys knowing it wouldn't bring me peace, or enjoyment, but because I felt her life was as important to Dani as Theron's death was to me... So at the time it seemed only fair to take it away. In a moment of anger I may have felt some level of satisfaction in watching her suffer, I won’t deny that, but once it seemed as though it was over... It really brought me no enjoyment.”
Going silent for a few moments, Sean slid his back down the tree trunk he’d been leaning against, crouching as if meaning to place himself in Evin’s eye level, as though he was addressing a small child. “If I was still the same spiteful boy I was three years ago, Bana, you’d be dead for sure right now. If I still cared to hurt Crys... Then maybe that would matter... As is though; your life has never mattered less to me than it does right now. Beside... If my life these past years has taught me anything, is that dying for some things is not nearly as painful as living with them.”

Evin couldn't agree more with what Sean had said. Death was an escape from Life. "Three and a half years ago I promised you hell. You said I couldn't do it, that I didn't know what hell was to you, but I promised myself that I'd find out." Evin tried to laugh, but it only came out as a hampered and depressing cough. "I think I figured out what hell is to you now. Wanna know how that makes me feel?" He waited for the response that wasn't coming. "Like hell!" Evin final answered in Sean's absence.

“Hell is filled with good intentions.” Sean muttered darkly, his hazel eyes staring at Evin as though he was transparent and Sean could see right past him. “You want to know something funny, Bana?” He asked, simply moving on without expecting any answers; his tone nowhere near amused. “Dani was the only one who knew what I wanted to do... She figured me out as soon as the thought crossed my mind for the first time, but you can’t really punish someone for their thoughts, right? So she simply told me to reconsider, she said I should think of the path I was about to take, that once you let hate rule your every decision you’ll eventually become what you hate. I see that now... True enlightenment, it seems, always comes just a moment too late, doesn’t it?”

Evin found himself stuck like a fly to honey paper. Lost for words and unable to even open his mouth. He nodded, but then shook his head before he finally said something. "Are your intentions really good though?" Evin completely ignored the rest of what Sean said. "I'm Sebastian and you are Dani at this moment. You can choose to kill me now or you can forgive me and I can possibly continue to terrorize the Wolfpack."
He lifted himself off the ground in a haggard way and stood, still slouched over at them. He lifted his arms to his side and then quickly let them go limp and cocked his head forward. "You think enlightenment comes too late and maybe that's true, but it is never too late to start searching for it." Evin walked towards Sean and wretched the messiest weapon that he had on him from his coat. He dropped it on the ground in front of them. "Do it now or drown your sorrows much like you've done to the Wolfpack."

“Good is a relative term, Bana... Lena once told me that she believed no man truly chooses evil, rather they mistake it for happiness.” Sean replied simply. “For the purpose of this conversation, however, it’s a lot easier to say that the nature of my intentions doesn’t really matter. I’ll save my explanations for someone who may actually care to hear them, if you don’t mind.” Sean stood slowly, still leaning against the tree trunk as though it was the only thing keeping him on his feet. Evin’s next words causing him to shake his head all the while he spoke as though simply being forced to hear them was an insult. “You’re always trying to end things on your terms, aren’t you? Last time we spoke you gave me two choices basically, I should challenge you or you would give me hell... Now you’re giving me two choices again, but the difference this time, Evin, is that you are in no position to do so. I’m not giving you death nor am I giving you forgiveness, because the way I see it you don’t deserve either one. So now I’m giving you two choices Bana, you can find a way to drag your pathetic carcass to where Crys can hear you and tell her to meet me here in four weeks’ time to settle this in a fair fight, or you can sit on your ass and die of your injuries right here. I don’t care which one you choose, all I know is that my little sister died today, and I sure as hell won’t allow her death to be forgotten, brushed aside, or shadowed by the end of your pathetic life.”

The setting changes from newhaven to Blackpond

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Character Portrait: Evin Bana Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers
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Late at Night- Two Weeks After the Ball
Evin rode into the city on a horse. He was barely conscious, just letting the horse do the work for him. He didn't even remember where he got the horse just that it wasn't his and that someone yelled at him as he rode off on it. Evin was in no danger of dying, but he needed some serious medical attention. The beating that he'd received from the assassins was enough to put him out of work for the next few weeks though.
The stables weren't being tended too. A sign of the rough times going in Blackpond now that a civil war had struck up. It was all the better, allowing Evin to pass through the city with his horse to tow him along. On the way, he went up to a fountain. He put his canteen over the running water and then poured it over his head. It allowed Evin to wake up just a little before arriving at the Inn, where Crystal had decided to call home.
He didn't bother knocking. He opened the door and slowly staggered into the room. His bloody and tattered cloths told a story an epic battle, which had a reality that was far less glorious. No one was actually in the room with him and as of yet, he didn't think that anyone knew that he was there. He staggered towards a chair and violently dragged it across the floor, away from the table so he could sit.

Crys was not doing a good job at sleeping at all. It's been a while now since the nights in Blackpond have become increasingly silent. Usually she didn't make much of it, but it seemed as if all of a sudden the silence had become something heavy, it had become unnerving, foreboding, like a still moment in time before a violent storm. Nicholas and some of the others had strongly objected to her decision of staying at the Inn by herself. She'd cleared up a room for herself but the upper floors were still not in habitable condition; she had decided to fix the bar and the basement area first and have the bar running as soon as possible, so she had spread her people out through nearby abandoned buildings as well as a small camp outside the city's crumbled walls. They had argued that it was best for someone else to stay and guard the building, but Crys had denied them. Truth be told, she liked being there, and for most nights in the past two weeks she'd found comfort in her solitude. This night had been different so far, it was almost as if something was keeping her up, but she didn't know exactly what had changed.
It was a good thing after all that she hadn't managed to calm herself to sleep, it made for a quick response to the sound of movement coming from the ground level of the building. Crys calmly jumped to her feet and grabbed her sword as she made her way down the stairs, halting as she reached the bottom step, her hand relaxing on the hilt of her weapon. "Evin?" She mumbled. Her tone genuinely surprised. Before she could say anything else Nicholas stormed in; clearly he'd seen movement from where he was stationed. The man just stopped at the doorway and cursed under his breath before stating he was going to find a medic and leaving again. Crys heaved a small sigh, rubbing her eyes as she paced across the room to close the door Nicholas had left wide open. She silently walked behind the bar, placing her katana on top of the counter as she retrieved a bottle and two glasses. "I know you don't actually drink, but it might be a little while until Nick gets back and we haven't stocked up in medical supplies yet. A bit of alcohol might actually do you some good." She poured two glasses and drank one of the shots, leaving the empty glass as well as the bottle on top of the counter as moved to sit with Evin, leaving the full glass of liquor on top of the table just within the man's reach. "So... Talk to me." She asked.

Evin glanced down at the drink. It was an off-white see-through liquid that Crystal had confirmed his suspicions. It was alcohol. Glaring at the drink for a few moments, he contemplated if it was even worth it. He never actually let a single bit of alcohol touch his lips in his entire life to his memory. He reached to push it away, but his ribs stung all the way through his arms and to his hand. He keeled over a bit, sweeping his hand around so he could grab the cup instead of push it aside. Carefully, he picked up the glass and took it all in. His mouth started to burn, but he pushed through that. He tried to swallow, but his body just wouldn't allow it. Instead, he keeled over again and spit the drink into his lap, coughing a bit and then looked up at Crystal with a smile on his face.
"I was going to end it. I was going to take care of both Franklin and Sean and then let it all fall apart." Evin said. "I killed Franklin, but he made sure that I paid for his death. He set me up in a trap that allowed the wolves to savagely beat me. They sent me to Sean who sent me here. He wants to meet you. Four weeks from now. Things have changed. I believe that he'll be far more open to negotiation now."

Crys sighed softly, muttering things under her breath as she leaned against the table. She was suddenly starting to feel very tired as if all the anxiety that was keeping her awake had left the building all at once. "End it..." She mumbled. "Just another of those little things you and I would never really agree on, isn't it?" She asked, a hint of amusement crossing her tone, but only momentarily. "Sean doesn't negotiate, Evin. And how could he? He knows he has nothing I want. He only wants me there to ease his conscience somehow, either he kills me and proves to himself that he deserves to be where he is, or I kill him and that sets the record straight. In his mind that's how the world functions... And well... Sometimes it does. I have to him that much credit." Once again Crys rubbed her eyes and her forehead as if trying to push away exhaustion. "What else? There's something else isn't there? Because none of this between him and me explains why he didn't kill you. If there was ever a perfect opportunity to kill you, this has to have been it. If not for any other reason, just to spite me... It's not beyond him. Yet here you are. So what else happened?"

Sean wasn't a killer. Evin would not be sitting in the inn if he was. He wouldn't have hired assassins to attempt to kill Crystal if he was. He was nothing more than a glorified cheat. "... Franklin wasn't the only one to die. Sean has no one left. It’s the only reason I think that he might be up to negotiation. He has nothing left to really fight for except principal and even then, he questions himself." Evin grabbed a rag from the far end of the table and started patting the drink off his pants. "I pretty much asked him to kill me and he still didn't do it. Let’s face it. Sean doesn't have the guts to kill me and he's proven that he doesn't have the guts to kill you. He might not admit it, but deep down, he wants to negotiate."

Crys shook her head. "You don't know Sean as well as you think, Evin." She stated simply, standing up from her seat and walking to the counter to refill her glass. "I honestly don't think he really wanted to kill me. He just knew it was the only way to keep me out. He pushed himself to do it... He found reasons to hate me... And still he couldn't really convince himself. Not even when he had me alone. Now he didn't want to kill you because it doesn't matter anymore... I suppose that makes sense..." She sighed, emptying her glass and refilling it again. "At least Eldric didn't get to live to see what has become of his children." She muttered under her breath. "There is nothing to negotiate, Evin. What would we even discuss? He's going to surrender the clan? What would even be the point of that now? I can't trust them to trust me again. I can't fix what was broken. I can't save them. If after Sean's time passes, however it passes, they turn to me it will it'll only be because they think that I can, but I can't. It's not a good deal. Not for me and not for the Pack." She emptied her glass once again. "There's only one thing I still want from Sean, and if he ever once honored the oath he took he better fight me like hell for it."

Evin fell to a hush. He slumped into his chair a little and came in and out of deep thought while Crystal spoke. He knew what Crystal was going to say for the most part. Despite his attempt to make Sean's life just a tad bit easier by convincing Crystal to negotiate, Crys just wasn't going to believe it. Evin did know himself and because he knew himself, he knew that Evin couldn't be a better man and let any of the shit that Sean made him go through. Crystal, as a woman, seemed to historically have the edge of being far easier to forgive. But maybe he was wrong.
Giving up on the prospect of reaching some level of Peace in Valcrest was now his main goal and he needed something new to speak of to take his mind from it. If it was really a fight that Crystal wanted, it was a fight that she was going to get. Either way, something was going to have to give in some way sooner or later.
He began to think of the last time he could really remember being in the Blackpond Inn. Blackpond was never really the main focus of the assassins as Blackpond seemed to have an effective system of taking care of their own problems for the most part, but the last he remembered, it was a moment that would forever be ingrained into his head.
"You know. It really was worse than I said it was. Those many years ago, when we walked into the Inn and saw your father... I really underplayed the whole thing." One of the more vivid of memories he carried with him was the scene of Sebastian's death. It was just one of those moments in time that, when relived, seemed to have only happened yesterday. "I've killed my fair share of people, but that was probably one of the more brutal scenes. I don't even know what it was about it all. There was just so much blood. Too much blood. As if ten people were killed on the exact same spot." Evin paused. "I'm sorry. I don't know if I should be talking about this."

"I do know." Crys stated simply, heaving a soft sigh and putting the cap back in the bottle of liquor. She wasn't going to pretend her father's death wasn't still a painful topic of conversation, but it didn't exactly bother her. "I think that was the first, and probably only, time I wished I could see. I know it was probably an awful sight, but it couldn't possibly be worse than kneeling on that blood and touching him. I had to though. I had to convince myself right then and there that it was really him because I knew that if I allowed myself to even doubt it would be so much worse." She went silent for a moment pacing away from the counter. "Sean had the all the floors redone when they fixed up the place, because of all the blood that had soaked into the wood... It's a different type of wood now than it was then... Sounds different, feels different. I'm not sure if I like it exactly." She mumbled, going back to her previous seat by the table with a tired groan. "They think it's not healthy, Nicholas and the others, that I stay here by myself because he died here and of course his death still upsets me, how could it not upset me, but... I haven't forgotten how much he liked this place. He'd always come here instead of Newhaven, he'd always say Blackpond wasn't pretty but it made up for it in personality. All things considered, the fact that he died here doesn't disturb me as much as the idea of this place rotting away in abandonment. He wouldn't like that, I don't like that." Leaning back in her seat she tilted her head back as though she was watching the ceiling. "I have no clue where that guy went to get a medic around these parts, but he seemed confident in finding one." She spoke casually. "It's not like you're dying or anything, I mean you'd tell me if you were dying, right?" She asked, a trace of amusement in her tone as she sat up straight to glare at him. "Right? Because we both know I don't like it when people are dying and don't tell me about it."

Evin took a minute. He sat on the last words that Crys had said. He wasn't going to die from the injuries he had. His head and body ached badly, he was still bleeding just slightly, but he'd put tree sap on the wounds to stop the majority of the bleeding.
"I've had a cough for at least three weeks now. Two weeks ago; after the party, I had a small coughing fit and when I checked my handkerchief, there were spots of blood."

Crys frowned a bit at what Evin had told her. "Hmmm... Well, I don't like the sound of that... That sounds like a long time to be having a cough. You should go see the White Shadows maybe, once you're well enough to take the trip... Just the other day one of them was here asking us to go see them if anyone started feeling unwell... I don't know why exactly, I didn't know the kid who came by to deliver the message so I didn't ask too many questions; he seemed nervous enough to be here, but it sounded as though there's some kind of epidemic going around."
As Crys spoke those words the door of the Inn opened and Nicholas entered, dragging with him a tired looking man with a medical bag. The doctor didn't seem at all pleased to be out of bed and if Crys was one to gamble she'd bet all her gold that the man was there against his will. "Found one." Nicholas stated casually, walking to the bar to pour himself a drink.
Crys sighed, standing from her seat to offer the man a proper greeting. "I'm sorry about my friend, he has terrible manners." She smiled. "If you would be so kind as to tend to my friend here, I would be extremely grateful. As you can see, he's a bit messed up and I don't think it'd be smart to try and drag him to the healers like this."
The man sighed, still seeming annoyed to be there, but a bit more compliant. "I'll need to sterilize my tools... And a bit lighter." He mumbled.

Evin mumbled under his breath as the doctor went on. He seemed to know what he was doing. He understood the importance of sterile equipment, but he never really took kindly to people did medical work that weren't the White Shadows. Even the Whites were annoying sometimes. He let him do his thing though. The doctor grabbed a candle and then walked over to one of the lanterns at the side of the table. In the meantime, Evin continued to talk. "I don't think I'll go. As much as you'd probably like to see me go, I trust that I will pull through this like everything else I've ever pulled through in my life. Even if it doesn't get better, I can't take a break. Valcrest is far more sick than I and ever be right now. I need to see if there is at least something that I can do to help."
Evin flinched as the doctor started tend to his wounds. He was rather used to the feeling of metal objects piercing his skin, but he wasn't as used to them when they'd been heated.

"You know, dead people aren't exactly known for being helpful, my friend." Crys stated casually sitting by Nicholas at the bar and leaning against its surface. "Just pointing that out to you, you know... For the record. That said, if you want to stick around and help me with the cleanup, I won't complain."
"The more the merrier, mate." Nicholas added, in an overly cheerful tone, raising his glass before emptying it. "Why we're finally actually recruiting is it not?"
"Nicholas, go back to sleep." Crys stated simply, glaring at the man momentarily, seeming displeased at him for speaking up like that in front of the medic.
Nicholas snorted a laugh. "You're regretting putting me in charge of this already aren't you?" He asked playfully.
"You'll know if I regret, Nick. Trust me, you will." Crys replied simply, the severity in her voice losing itself behind a tone of amusement at the man. Nicholas could be a little bit louder, way louder, and more of a goofball than what one would expect of an assassin, but that was one of the reasons Crys had made him a recruiter, he was charming even when he was annoying; a friendly face to represent their cause. The other reason was that he was, as you would expect of an assassin, much more competent than he let on, or would be willing to admit. "Now, I mean it; go to sleep. Lots of work tomorrow."
"Alright, alright, I hear ya." The man agreed, stepping away from the counter and stretching lazily as he started to pace away. "Doc, it's been nice meeting you... Later Ev..." He stated, waving towards the two over his shoulder as he walked out the front door, closing it as he left.

Crys snorted softly, holding back a laugh at Nick. Aside from maybe Mageria, she was pretty sure she'd never heard anyone shorten Evin's name, not even her mother. A chuckle still escaping under her breath Crys shook her head. "We've had a couple of visits since we started the cleanup and I have some information to share with you, but I suppose that can wait until you've had some rest. You can take my room if you think you can make it up the stairs, if not the boys have been camping out in the neighboring buildings."

Evin sneered for a moment as the doctor continued to work on his arm. He flinched and the tool that the doctor was using pinched into something that it wasn't supposed to causing the wound to start bleeding again. "Well shit." The doctor mumbled as he scrambled through his bag to get a sanitary cloth.
"Is it better that I go to the Whites and sit there for a month waiting to die while they try to figure out what's wrong with me?" Evin snorted. "White Shadows don't go around doing what you say they are doing unless they don't have answers and they are looking for some. I'll go when I want to, but only to figure out what's going on. When I get answers, I'll see what I'll do from there."
Evin looked over to the doctor who was continuing to work on Evin's shoulder. It was an absolute mess. The assassins didn't intend to kill him, but they sure as hell made sure that he wasn't going to be able to put up a fight against Sean when they finally brought him. The particular place that the doctor continued to work on had been cut by a sword. The assassin who did it to him had gotten beaten up himself. He was the only one there that just wanted to kill Evin. The man was probably smart enough to know that no matter what they did to him, that Evin was going to somehow get away like usual.
Evin's gaze shot up instantly when Nick bastardized Evin's name. The kid was going to pay for it eventually. Nick may have had charm, but he needed to learn a bit of respect. Then Crystal started to speak again. Evin listened patiently.
"I'll probably be awake here for a while more; depending on how long doc, here, is going to take on patching me up. Either way, I think I'll just sleep in your room for the night.

"Oh come on now, Evin... I doubt the White Shadows could possibly hold you against your will, but fine; I do see your point." Crys retorted, rummaging through some of the messes left scattered over some of the bar tables until she found writing supplies, taking them to the bar counter and starting on a letter. "Four weeks is not enough time, I'm not stepping foot outside Blackpond's walls until I'm satisfied that this place is functional and protected. Besides...." She sighed, shaking her head slightly as if pushing aside words she'd rather not speak. "Four weeks is just not enough time, Sean. What are you thinking?" She muttered under her breath, scratching her head as she wrote. "Well, you can make yourself at home Evin. I don't think I'll be going back to sleep, seems a bit futile at this point. The bed is awful, so maybe the floor would be better for you. I'll just sit here and then walk the doctor home when he's done with his work; would be irresponsible to drag someone from their bed and then make them wander this city alone in times like these." She smiled at the man as she could tell the remark had made him nervous, even though he didn't express it in any way. "We can have a chat on the way, it'll be fun." Ending her letter and carefully folding and sealing it in an envelope, she smiled a bit sadly. "I'll send Sean my... Sentiments... On my way back. Don't see why he wouldn't accept my conditions. See? We're negotiating after all." She concluded with a playful note to her tone. "Oh, and... Please keep in mind that we do need the recruiter to be in one piece by the time this place opens."

The setting changes from blackpond to Newhaven

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Evin Bana Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Thomas Sidin Character Portrait: Lamya
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The canopy of the wood completely blocked the sun from reaching the floor. It was a place that was constantly in a state of night time, which reflected itself in the way the wildlife had grown. There wasn't much foliage and that which did exist used their vines to climb the tree trunks and reach the light. Other plants worked in an opposite way. They would root themselves at the top of trees so they could take advantage of the sun's light. These plants would then create bioluminecient vines that would hang from the canopy—the only constant source of light in these woods—that created the appearance of low lit chandeliers. These vines, which glowed in a low blue light were used to attract incests which appeared to get stuck to the vine's fine hairs if they got too close. Other sources of wildlife were scarce in these woods. They did exist, but the woods didn't produce ideal conditions for any large animal to live in. The one animal that seemed to exist in abundance were birds, which ate the fruit produced by the vines.
Because of its almost surreal appearance, many people avoided it. Most people in general didn't have much reason to even travel near the woods. It was a small area across the waters east on Newhaven. It wasn't even on most maps as many people didn't actually know of the woods, but historically, they were famous.
In the final couple of decades of the Twins' life on Valcrest, many people feared what would happen when they were actually gone. In preparation for the separation, many people looked to the Twins to fix as many problems as they could before hey were gone forever. The Twins, however, couldn't handle so many requests and isolated themselves completely from the people to live their last days harmoniously. Each of them found their own place to hide away. It was believed that Moon found herself these woods to hide in. Only the oldest of histories had maps that actually placed this kilometre stretch of woodlands on them.
The Moon's Woods was the place that Simon found himself residing in the past two months. It was a fair distance from his target, but it allowed himself a safe haven from anyone else who may have been looking for him. It was his continuing effort to track Rick down and figure out exactly what he was up to.
It was finally time to leave the woods however. He had settled down for long enough and it was time to actually take some action. It seemed like Rick was about to take action of his own. There was that and then there was Ella, who was due to give birth any time now. He wanted to be as close to the political world of Newhaven as possible to be able to place Lazurus in a political advantage. He hadn't exactly followed the politics of Newhaven too much in the past couple of months as he slowly isolated himself from the rest of the world, but he knew that with all of the recent corruption and the civil war, a possibility of a coup d'etat was more than realistic as long as he could get his opinion out there. Technically, Ella was still a living member of House Page.
It had been a while since Simon had attempted his powers. He was getting rusty so it would seem and with all this enlightenent scare, he was worried that he was experiencing it too. With some people symptoms weren't as sever, but they seemed to die just as quick as all the others had so far. Simon didn't spend much time worrying of the unavoidable. He had no control over it, but he did have control over Rick and the goings on in the political world of Newhaven. Simon was going to attempt it though. He had to. He needed to be in Newhaven as quickly as possible and if he could use his powers to take advantage of a quicker way to Newhaven, he was going to go right ahead and do it.
Simon closed his eyes out of habit and attempted to find the mind he was looking for. It was a force of habit to close his eyes. Most of the time, when he was looking for a mind, he was able to tap into it without the need of anyone attacking him and closing his eyes allowed him to really focus on his task.
He was looking for a specific person. Someone he had contacted several times before with ease, but now that Rick's mind skating on the edge of crazy, he wasn't sure how easy it would actually be to find him now. On top of that, there was the illness, but again, Simon couldn't think about that.
It only took him about ten minutes to find Rick, but the moment he did, he didn't even bother to let him know that he was in his mind. He just compelled the insane man to follow Simon's will.
What Simon willed was rather clear. He wanted Rick to transport him from the woods to into the council room of Newhaven. What better way would there be to make a grand entrance than to just appear out of nowhere? And how would the council react? Simon didn't concern himself with that. He could escape if need be. The council wouldn't attack him on sight... but given the way that Newhaven was at the moment, any threat to to sovereignty of Newhaven would probably be an immediate risk to them.
Let's see how this goes.
And with that thought, Simon was able to compel Rick to transport him. In an instant, he was flashed from the dark woods to a dark corner of the council room. Somehow, Rick was sane enough to actually put him in a relatively safe spot. It allowed him to get over his initial nausea that was associated with Rick's enlightenment. The entire council wasn't there; only the important ones it seemed. That was all that mattered. Simon a justed himself to look presentable to the council and then took the first steps out of the shadows.
“His name is Rick.” One of the councillors said.
Simon stopped himself before anyone could see him. He crept back into the shadows very slowly and listened into the conversation.
The man who spoke was older in his years, but seemed sharp enough in his wit to be able to keep up with the rest of the council. “No last name.”
“Lowborn?” Another of the members said.
“Quite the opposite actually. He—”
“Then he's an assassin.”
“Not all assassins are Lowborn. I also wouldn't call a meeting about a Lowborn assassin. Now let me finish.” The gangly old man slowly took his seat around the table and out of sight from Simon as the man's chair was behind a pillar in the room. “The man who was found wandering the halls of the Black Knights' chambers was Rick, the King of Blackpond.”
The entire room became heavy. Many of the councillors looked around at each other, exchanging looks that would only be able to be interpreted by a person fluent in the nuances of Newhaven nobles. An entire conversation of subtle facial gestures made its way across the room. Maybe it was more than one conversation? Everyone member in the room that Simon could see helped in this conversation and made the heavy room even weightier.
“Then he isn't a Lowborn, he's of a Royal family!” The man blurted out again.
“Do you ever shut up? During our first session of torture, despite the fact that he was laughing the whole way through, he revealed to the torturer that he was not a member of the Gallach family through blood or marriage. He passed out before we could get many more answers out of him.”
One of the council members spoke up. A younger member of what seemed to be mostly senior members. “What could we do with this information?”
The room remained silent. No one, it seemed, had an answer. They all sat and stood there with the same dumbfounded expressions as they did before the blabber mouth had broke the tension before.
Simon himself was dumbfounded. Rick was roaming through the halls of the Black Knights. He understood why, but it just seemed reckless the way he went about it. A man who could teleport anywhere he desired could have just gone right into the exact room that he wanted. Why risk a hallway which would have likely be busy?
“Now is our chance to take claim on Blackpond. They are week.”
“So are we.” Pipped up Thomas. “And personally, taking care of Newhaven is work enough.”
“We should do what is right. There are still people who wear Gallach's crest. Rory had blood relatives still living. We could attempt to bring a rightful King back on Blackond's throne. We may even see an end to war if we could unite the two cities under a single fact.”
“What is that?”
“If we could show the people the weakening quality of royalty through war. Both Newhaven and Blackpond have seen false Kings in recent years.”
“And show the criminals that they could easily manipulate the royals if they continued to fund the war? It is already obvious that Newhaven is weak, we cannot afford to show the people how weak.” Thomas said, again.
“If we do help to place a Gallach on the throne, we may improve relations between Newhaven and Blackpond regardless.”
Another member spoke out. “We are jumping to conclusions here. We are assuming that the living members of the Gallach family know that Rory is a pretender without a proper claim. It is possible that we will just create new enemies if we go about with this option.”
Thomas stood from his place in the table to address everyone in the room. “We will adjourn to allow some time to think about it. Please look over the documents we discussed in that time and we will meet back in three hours to pick up where we left off. I'll see you then.”
All the men silently began to stand from the table. Simon took this as his chance. He didn't move from out of the shadows. He just tapped into the people's minds and said, “Please, sit back down. Ah! Don't worry, I'm not here to hurt anyone. I'd just like to talk. You spend time talking of planting the rightful king in Blackpond, but you seem to refuse to do so in Newhaven. Ella Page is still alive. You recognize her as alive as you seem to believe that her son is the rightful heir to the throne. You cannot bear a child from the grave. You have usurped the throne from a living member.”
“What do you want?”
“All I want is to see in Newhaven what you want to see in Blackpond.”
“Ella no longer has faculty over her own actions. There is someone else who is under her control. While she is alive, she is barely living.”
Simon examined the room of people. Some of them had left. The guards were on edge, some even holding their swords. The ones who were actually interested in his proposal respectfully payed attention. The rest didn't bother to pretend to care about the crazy man in their head.
Simon smiled and walked out of the shadows. The guards jumped to attention, drawing their swords in a challenge to Simon. “Relax. If I was going to attack anyone I would have done it from my hiding place. I want to make a deal. I want to directly help you get the right people back on the throne.”
“How can you help? Who do you think you are?”
“My name is Simon of Blackpond. I am 4th in command of the group who is directly involved in the continuing control of the city of Blackpond. Formally a personal assassin of King Rory and directly involved in the assassination of Commander Hastings, the man responsible for the murder of the King. The new King, Rick, has gone mad, due to a battle of minds between an attacker and I that battled with in Rick's mind. He is no longer valuable as a King, but he is valuable for reasons which I can respectfully not indulge. All I want is the immediate and safe return of Rick. I will leave it up to you to make a decition about Ella or I will make the decition for you.”
The council member who had been quite vocal in the meeting before was quick to speak out to Simon. “This is in no way a help to Newhaven. It is only beneficial to Blackpond.”
“Ah, but you are wrong. You see, most of these people who have placed Newhaven in civil conflict are doing so under the direct orders of the real person in charge of Blackpond. You see, Rick, even before his decent into madness, was merely a puppet. A new ruler could stop this civil war.”
“We will need some time to think about this.” Thomas said.
“There is no time.” Simon scorned. “I could do this all my own way and continue to watch Newhaven fall into descent. I, however, believe I am a decent man. I want to see Newhaven to be as healthy as I want to see Blackpond, but I don't have time to wait for diplomats to disagree. This is why I like monarchs. They know what they want.”
The council fell silent again. They did that a lot. They seemed to enjoy their facial conversations. All of them seemed to come to the same conclusion. They all looked at Thomas expecting him to have the answers. It seemed that even the council preferred a single leader. Thomas let out an audible sigh.
“I believe you when you say that you can free Rick by yourself and if what you say is true, he is no use to us. You can have him as long as you follow some rules. I will speak to Mageria and arrange for a Black Knight to accompany you around the city. You will not be allowed to leave the city as long as I say and you will check in every day at three in the afternoon to report personally to me. If I am not available, I will arrange for you to speak to someone else. There is no compromise.”
“You are thrifty indeed. You have a deal.” Simon said quite contently.

Woods-Just Outside the Wolfpack

Evin had thought about visit the White Shadows like Crys had suggested, but he just couldn't. He had to keep on going. He had to make sure that everything that needed to be done was done. The White Shadows might have been able to help Evin slightly, but all that they were going to do was contain him in a tent and ease his pain until he peacefully passed. Evin didn't know how to peacefully pass by anything.
Despite Evin's fight, he was really sick. His bloodshot eyes were shadowed by dark rings, only to be accentuated by his ghostly skin. His hair was course and brittle, greying nearly to the point where there was no longer any black left. He no longer carried any fat on him. Everything was muscle and bone. Although, people who never saw him before would not be able to tell that he had lost weight. People who had seen him would still be quite frightened of his appearance.
He needed to figure out what to do with himself, but there was something about the air that was unsettling to him. He sensed this inevitable, impending sense of helplessness in the air and it reflected in the way that the Wolves interacted, whenever he took the time to go see what they were doing. He needed to be there when things blew over. He needed to know what was happening.
This made Evin think. What was it about the Wolves that made him keep coming back? Why did he see the need to obsess over it? He could have been doing better things with his time. He could have gone to help Crys in Blackpond. He could have gone to Newhaven to assist in the ongoing war. He even could have gone to the White Shadows, not to ask for help with his sickness, but to see if he could figure it out for himself. All of these were far more productive then sitting around the camp and doing nothing because he had a feeling. Maybe the sickness was effecting his mind too.
Today, Evin was going to get closer to the camp. Not to get a sight on the things going on in the Camp, but to attempt once more to gain some peace of mind like he used to.

Blackpond

The morning air was clean and the sun, strong. The birds chirped in the surrounding trees. Each of them making their unique sound to add to the music of the morning. It was going to be a nice spring day, but everything about the day also warned of an unusually warm spring day. Being well aware of all of that knowledge, Rita stood in front of her lines, looking towards the lines of the enemy. Surprisingly, at the head of the lines, Lamya stood proudly on top her horse. She looked just as good as ever—bitch.
There was no afflictions to her body, no deterioration or anything of the likes that would indicate sickness, but she had to be sick. Everyone else was sick. How could she get away with it? Just like everything else in her life, things just seemed to pass her by.
“Sargent.” Rita shouted. A burly man rode up to him on a horse and acknowledged her. “Move the cavalry behind the lines and use the cover of our men as away to get to the line's left flank. When our men start charging in on the cavalry, run into their flank and intercept them. Got it?”
“Yes ma'am.” The sergeant answered and then shouted orders to his cavalry fleets.
Hopefully, if things worked out to plan, the opposing army out suspect something, but not enough to be concerned. Rita's second line consisted of pikemen, which could hold their own against Lamya's horsemen. Pike men usually wouldn't charge against the cavalry, however. This would be what was odd. Rita was about to see if her plan would work. As she could see from her aerial view of the battlefield, her cavalry was almost in position.
Rita turned to her armies. “This battle may not be one that will turn the tables of war, but it isn't without purpose! Today's battle is a message to those who wish to see Blackpond fall completely into the shadows! We will not be forgotten!” Rita turned and pointed her sword towards the opposing army. “Charge!
With near immediacy, a wave of bodies flocked past Rita. She could feel the cool air as they ran by and the warmth of the bodies when they would hit her. It was a unique feeling when coupled with the knowledge that this sensation was being caused by something hat was going to end in blood. All the while, she watched things from above. Her pikemen moved forward while the cavalry on the other side waited. When the pikemen got close enough, Lamya's cavalry charged. But it was too late by then as Rita's cavalry caught the flank of Lamya's off guard, allowing them to charge five men into the line before the men on Lamya's side could prepare themselves. It also made enough of a dent that the pikemen were far more effective when they finally reached the front lines. So far, things were going according to plan. However, after the first few moments of a battle, like a game of chess, anything could happen. It was clear, though that Rita had momentum and she didn't want to give it up.
Rita turned around to face her next line of men. With one swoop, she moved her vision to about five feet above her head, in order to see he entire group of soldiers. They mostly consisted of men carrying heavy and light swords, mace and axes. “Follow me! We shall try to take their other flank!” She yelled loud enough for the first few lines to hear. The rest would follow.
She turned back around and began to march her men, not too quickly—there was no need to tire out her troops just yet. They marched to the left. They started to move around the battle and into the flank of the enemy. If she could get Lamya surrounded o three fronts, she might be able to finish this battle quicker than even Rita expected.
While Rita arched, she heard a small whistle from her side and almost from out of nowhere, a swarm of men came from the trees and began attacking Rita's foot soldiers. Rita hadn't even anticipated such an attack. She was caught completely off guard as two men rushed her, one slightly in front of the other. Rita, parried the first attackers sword right into the second attacker so that it would penetrate the weakness in the second attacker's armour. This only left Rita with the one attacker standing. The second one was still alive, but he'd be lucky if he could stand.
Rita took the moment, it took for the attacker to take his sword out of his friend to make her counter. A series of swings centring around the waist. She just needed one could strike and she would have him. One false move and the man would be dead. With her third swing, she got just that. He had over predicted force which she swung her sword. His sword deflected just a little more than he was expecting, giving Rita the chance to get her sword in.
When he fell, she finished him with a sword through the throat. The gurgling and splashing blood that came up made her know that she didn't hit the jugular like she intended, but rather the wind pipe. There was nothing worth doing for the person now. He was either going to bleed out or choke on her own blood and she had no time to be merciful. Rita observed the battlefield from where she was. She didn't bother changing her point of view yet. She wanted to see if she was any immediate danger When it didn't look like it, she swung her view up to the sky to get a good view of the entire battle and see where things were.
Before she got a good look, she felt something hit her side with incredible force. She hit the ground and stumbled for what felt like several feet. She immediately changed her view to see what was going on to her. All the while, she attempted to gather breath back into her chest, but all in vain. It was as if she had a whole in her chest or she was breathing through a small hole. Nothing she did allowed her to get any breath into her. When she somewhat got her bearings and her vision wasn't so blurred, she could see the culprit. It was the only person on the entire battlefield who wouldn't have immediately went for a killing blow. For whatever ridiculous reason or possibly for no reason at all (she didn't really know), Lamya didn't just kill her.

Newhaven

Simon had been waiting outside of Thomas' office for a long time now. Mageria and another Black Knight accompanied him in the room. It had been nearly an hour now, but it seemed longer. Any time when Simon had to wait on other people, he found that he would tend to get frustrated. He hated the incompetence of most other people in almost every aspect of living. No one could ever truly live up to his standards. Maybe his expectations where too high, but without high expectations nothing would ever get accomplished. Things like a simple meeting to discuss how to deal with something that had already been discussed before seemed pointless to Simon.
About half way through his meeting, he started o play games with himself to pass the time. At first, it was a game he was playing with a fly he found wandering the hall. He watched it and gave it tasks to do. If it flew to different places, it would gain points. He knew that the fly had no idea it was plying the game, but it was still enough to entertain himself. Eventually, however, the fly was killed by one of the guards standing about the hallway.
The next game he played was with the guard who killed the fly. He would get into his mind and say things to him. At first, he made it seem like they were just intrusive thoughts like crude thoughts about a woman walking by or a desire to just do something that would probably get himself in trouble. Slowly, he made the thoughts even more intrusive until even the most evil of men would be scared by the thoughts. The entertainment of the game came from watching the poor guard contemplate his sanity. Once that game was over, he was out of ideas for games. That didn't matter. It was only another minute or so after he stopped playing that the door opened. Mageria was the first to leave. She continued down the hall with the guard, not even taking a moment to look at Simon. Then the Black Knight and Thomas came out. They both looked at him.
“This is the Knight who ill be accompanying you until the Knight that we've agreed upon next visits the city. When the other Knight arrives, you will be given a few more liberties. We'll discuss them when he arrives. I'll see you here tomorrow. Dominic here will show you to the dungeons.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Evin Bana Character Portrait: Dominic Adams Character Portrait: Lamya Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher
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Simon could easily get to Rick himself, but respecting the will of Newhaven, while not necessarily simpler, was tremendously more beneficial. This pact with Newhaven gave Simon added protection from the people who may wish to stop him. It also meant that Newhaven would have to try a lot harder if they wanted to be one of those people who wanted to stop him. As f they even knew what he was doing though. The number of people who even knew of what Simon was after was so insanely minimal that the fact alone made protection that much more important.
“They didn't tell me much about you.” Dominic, the White Knight said. “Think they thought it'd be fun for me to figure it out myself. Not fun if ya ask me.”
The two continued to walk through the courtyard and around to the back of the castle. Despite Dominic's attempt at conversation, Simon didn't speak. He wasn't as up to the conversation as the White Knight. Yet he continued.
“You know, when I first became a White Knight, I thought I'd be understanding a lot more of the things that go on in this city. It has more than enough surprises. I probably understand less now than when I was infantry. Though, I didn't have the job for very long. It wasn't soon after that that I was taken in by the Knights and taught their ways...” Dominic stopped to mull over a thought. “Not much is different between the Knights training and all other training. We're a little more specialized and put more hours into the work we do, but overall, I guess, its just a matter of talent. You either have what it takes, or you don't and if you don't, it isn't really your fault. Well, maybe it is.”
Dominic stopped, Simon stopping right behind him. The Knight turned around. He lifted his helmet and looked down at Simon. His vacant stare read like a story about a questionable reality. “You don't like to talk?” That was it? The face of a thousand questions, confused about a simple observation? It was no wonder that he went on about the little he understands. “If I'm going to have to follow you around for the next few days I expect to at least be graced with a small conversation from time to time.”
Simon rolled his eyes and opened his mouth as if to say something. He raised his hand inquisitively, but quickly shot it back down and closed his mouth before letting any bit of air escape. As if he could actually say anything to Dominic anyway. Being telepathic mute had its advantages. Being able to play pranks like this was one of them.
Dominic shut his helmet with a loud clanking and turned away from Simon to continue the walk towards the dungeons. “That's alright. If you don't want a conversation, you'll just have to deal with me speaking to ya all day. Where was I?” He continued. “Oh right. Training isn't all that diff—”
“By the Twins, I'll speak with you if you promise to shut up after!” Simon exclaimed.
Dominic stopped in his tracks. Simon knew why. The man of confusion was confused once more. This time, however, it was for a fairly good reason.
Simon said, “I'm a telepath. I don't speak because I can't speak. I was born without vocal cords. Now quit mulling over this discovery of yours and bring me to the dungeons. I'll talk to you along the way.”
“Interesting. Never stops being amazing, the things you see on this job.” Dominic spoke.
“You do realize that you don't actually have to say things aloud. You can speak to me in complete private through thought.”
“I'll speak aloud. I'd prefer it that way.”
“Suit yourself... what do you ant to talk about?”
“I don't know. Got any ideas?”
Simon cuffed his shoes as he walked along the cobblestone. “I wasn't the one who wanted a conversation.” He remarked.
“That's alright. I can keep talking to myself if you've got nothing.”
“No!” Simon quickly jumped in. “No! Please”
He looked around the path to give himself inspiration. The dungeon was a little ways away from the far side of the castle. It was a part of the city that had seen better days, but had also managed to avoid poverty. This made for an interesting little dynamic. Being close to the castle, it was pretty well kept and beautified. A privilege that few part of the city probably had. Its people, weren't as well kept. They were nothing like the slime of the earth either. The people's mostly wore things in the brown ad grey hues, with a few more fortunate adding simple colours such as red sashes or green-feathered hats. Nothing extravagant, but rather, humble.
“I've got a question for you.” Simon finally said. “You've got a duty to uphold as a White Knight to remain lawful. Surely, like all good men, you lose your way sometimes. What's the worst thing you've done as a White Knight?”
“As a White Knight?” Dominic chuckled. “I'll tell you right now that I follow the duties assigned to me by Newhaven perfectly.”
“No one is perfect.”
“I'm not calling all my actions perfect, but as a White Knight, I do my job properly.”
“Don't play games with me.”
“Do you want the truth. Not that observant I guess. When I walked into Thomas' office, I was wearing my Black Knight armour. Guess you never saw me change.”
“So the White Knights are Black Knights in disguise?”
“No. Just me. Both the White and Black Knights saw interest in me for the job and they didn't want to fight over me. They just decided that it would be useful to have an ambassador of sorts. The two roles have never been useful though... Now, as a Black Knight, I've done things that are questionable, but not beyond my call of duty.”
“By the Twins, you are annoying. Just tell me what in the hell are you least proud of?”
“Killing children. Only had to a few times, but never gets easy.” Dominic stopped. They were at the entrance of the dungeon. “Now hold on a second. I've got to speak to the porters.”
Dominic motioned with a hand to for Simon to keep put. He then walked away towards the porter to speak with them. In the meantime, Simon had a chance to reflect on what he was just told. A knight that was both Black and White. It almost defeated the purpose of his White Knight title all together. And what actual purpose could a “Double” Knight actually serve. No matter what, if the need arose for a Black Knight while in a White Knight uniform, Dominic would still have to change into his Black Knight armour or risk spoiling the image of the squeaky clean White Knights. Maybe, however there was an administrative purpose or someone was too frugal to want to have to pay for ten Knights and opted for a loophole that would allow them t pay for only nine. Maybe it was the doing of the False King as a way to weaken the infrastructure of Newhaven's front line of defence against its enemies; namely, himself. Although, that possibility was only really viable if Dominic had joined the Knights during the False King's Reign. There were so many possibilities that it was almost pointless to mull over every single one of them.
Simon looked around at the place. It was a door built right into the ground. A little rocky cliff that had been reimagined. It was probably a cave before and was just expanded upon. There was nothing near it, save a few shops farther down the road. The reason for that was probably how cold, damp and musty it was. He wasn't even in the dungeon yet, but the entrance almost radiated its reluctance to welcome people near it as if it were a warning to people. Whether it was intentional or not, it was very effective.
“Come.” Dominic spoke from the entrance. The large, iron caste door had been opened and the two guards standing at the watch moved aside to let them through.
They stepped through the doors, which were quickly shut behind them. “If anything remotely bad happens down here while we're under, we might be stuck here for a while. Be prepared.” Dominic said as they passed though the first corridor. “Seeing as you are being supervised by a Knight while you stay in Newhaven, I reckon that you aren't so perfect either. You must've done some things that's made a reputation of yourself.”
“I've got a story for you, but don't be alarmed by how I tell it to you. Being telepathic has its advantages when it comes to telling stories. You'll be able to see it exactly as I remember it as if it were your own memory.”
In an instant, Simon started to plant the memories into Dominic's head.

-----

Blackpond- Eight years ago

Alone, Simon sat at the base of a large rock. From what he'd been told, the rock had been there for several hundred years. It had been moved from a battlefield and into the castle on orders of one of the many kings that he had neglected to study. Legend had it that a great enlightened man sat on the rock, much like Simon was and killed an entire army using just his mind. He had made heads explode, made caused people to kill themselves instead of suffer the mental torture that they were experiencing. Some even became convinced to murder their fellow men.
It was all exaggerated tales though, and Simon knew that. There was never an enlightened man that powerful. If there ever was, one of the two cities would no longer exist and Valcrest would be under one ruler. Never the less, stories had to come from somewhere and that meant that there was someone, once with rather impressive amounts of enlightenment that were later embellished on to encourage the troops. To give them something to aspire to.
“What are you doing?” A voice said. It shocked him and he looked around. He couldn't see anyone. He couldn't even pinpoint the voice. “What are you doing?” It said again. This time, however, he realized it wasn't a voice, but a thought. “You don't actually believe those stupid stories, do you?”
Simon ignored the thought. Ever since discovering his enlightenment, he never used it to speak with other people. He had lived his entire life before without ever being able to speak. He didn't see the need to speak to anyone still.
“I understand. Poor Simon was so hard done by without a voice and doesn't want to speak, even to another telepath. For the Twins, I'm speaking your damn language and you wont even speak with me! Don't say I didn't at least try to help you hone your skills. You'll end up like all the rest of them. Your useless without your enlightenment.”
“So you think.” Simon finally replied.
“And finally, I prove that Simon actually has intelligent thoughts. Everyone always thought that you were like a dog. We could tell that you understood us, but couldn't tell if you were just doing tricks for us. But finally—”
“Have you ever considered finding a hobby?”
“Observing humans in their natural state is hobby enough for me. All he other guys like to pretend to be animals and play games around that. I don't get the fascination with simple animals and the way they act. Humans are far more interesting.”
“Its all about wish fulfilment you dumbass.”
“Ah, it knows how to swear.”
“Fuck off.”
“You know, with only 30 of us left, you might want to start making friends.”
“I said fuck off!”
“Ok! ok.” Suddenly, Simon could hear where the voice was coming from. He looked over to pinpoint the voice and noticed it was coming from the next room over. “I was just trying to help.”
As he listened to the footsteps go on, he grimaced. Some help that was. Insulting Simon and then telling him what was wrong with him. For someone who claimed to 'know' how humans worked, he had little sense on how to actually apply his theories.
Ural was one of the several kids who had been picked to be in the Royal Assassin Program. Like Simon, he had the gift of Mind and as always, Ural felt superior to Simon. It wasn't hard to feel superior to a mute, but Ural always liked to push it to the next level. Out of all the kids, Ural was the most pushy and annoying. Never leaving him alone, even before they were aged enough to be enlightened.
“You should kill him.” Another voice. A girl. “Or don't. It doesn't really matter, but if it matters to you, I think you should kill him.”
Simon jumped off the rock and looked around the room. Around him was a plethora of different mythical objects. Claims of magic and unbelievable abilities from armours, chandeliers, cloths and objects. It was the hall of phantasm. Again, he couldn't find the voice. This time, however, he new it was a voice. He walked towards where he thought it was though. As he walked, he covered his eyes as the twinkling glare from the sun passed through the chandelier.
Instead of looking for the person, he pinpointed he thought. “If you don't think it matters then why even give the advice.”
“I'm not giving advice. I'm just telling you what you should do. I'm just evaluating your values and telling you what the best course of action given those values are.”
“That sounds like advice to me.” Simon turned around to the other end of the room. That was where the voice was really coming from.
“Call it what you will. I'll call it what I will. Thought that someone knowing more than you could be helpful is all.” The voice emerged fro behind a cabinet, only a foot away from him. She sounded so much further away.
Simon blinked and cocked his head backwards as if he's just been spritzed with water. He placed one foot behind him, but didn't follow through and back away. Instead, he crossed his eyes to look into hers. Their breath just reaching one another to be shared. “Lamya. Uh... hi. How are you?”
“A telepath stuttering. Interesting. Anyways, I was spending my free time listening in on the conversations of Rory and Hastings. Turns out they're cutting you... your throat that is. That's what they do with the kids that don't make it, you know. They don't want anyone to know about the program, you know.”
“I uhh... wait! Why me?”
“There are two telepaths. They only need one.”
“They picked Ural then? It figures that they'd pick that degenerate.”
“You do nothing to prove yourself to them. At least, that's what they say.” Lamya winked.
Simon ignored the word and just looked at Lamya, really looked at her. Her face was a calm lake that washed across her smooth almond skin. With Hazel eyes looking to him; long dark eyelashes waving at him with every blink. The dark lips that exhaled a candy aroma as if she'd just eaten something sweet. All of which was framed by her red hair. Along with her curvaceous body, which he dare not glance at for more than a second, she seemed perfect.
He put his escaping foot back under him and grabbed Lamya's waist. Simon leaned in and closed his eyes. A warm fleshy stick stopped him. Confused, he opened his eyes and crossed them to the point of strain to see Lamya's finger reaching above the horizon of the view of Simon's nose. He then looked up at Lamya, who was closer to him than ever before. Even up close, her features were perfect. Simon heard a ting and then a whistle as something flashed past the corner of his vision.
Lamya looked over to her free hand. Simon followed her gaze to see she had flipped a coin.
“I would love to Simon, but luck isn't on my side today.” She said in a tone longing to defy the coin's decision. She removed her finger away from his mouth as Simon backed away a step to be at a more comfortable distance.
“Is this why you warned me? Because you have feelings for me?” Simon said softly.
“No. I flipped a coin and it made the choice to tell you for me. Do what you will with what I said.” Lamya kissed her index and middle finger and placed it on Simon's lips and then ran off to the room opposite her.
Simon felt a sudden rush. He felt light and overwhelmingly happy. His face heated up and he let out a large sigh. Then he quickly looked around to see if there was anyone else in the room with him. He didn't want anyone to know about what had just happened.
Simon then went to the next room over, where Ural had been talking to him from. Whether it was from a coin flip or not didn't matter to Simon. His life was safe only if Ural was dead. They saw him as the better asset to the Conflict and therefore, he had to be eliminated. Soon, Simon would be the only choice and it would guarantee him a chance at being one of the chosen fifteen.
Through the next few halls, Simon looked inside every room to see if Ural was there. Eventually, he was lead to the hall of the castle where the potential assassins' bed quarters were. A hall full of fifty rooms that was once cramped with hundreds of kids. Now, only left with thirty, the halls were much quieter and now that there were so few, there was a room for everyone. Ural's room was the second on the left, marked by his favourite coat sitting on the coat rack outside the room.
Simon stepped into the room. He was caught by a stale stench as he walked in the room. Scrunching his nose, he tried not to think about it. At initial look, it didn't appear as if he was there, but he heard a sniffle and looked closer. He walked further into the room and saw Ural under his desk. Rotting food—likely the cause of the smell—, papers, quills, books and other such items were scattered about the floor. One such item: an ornate letter opener.
He picked the letter opener up. It was ivory with a stained sandalwood handle that had been carved out to look like a person's head. It was so detailed that the scars and each individual hair could be made out. An impressive work of art finer than anything that he had ever seen before. Not even the King had such beautiful art made for him.
Simon felt that the letter opener would be as good as any weapon. Better than most improvised weapons too. It was practically a blade. He gripped it as best he could and approached the desk, but heard a loud snort and stopped. Looking down under the desk, he noticed that Ural was crying. He didn't even notice that Simon was in the room with him.
'You idiot, just end whatever misery he's feeling and get this over with.' He thought to himself. He gripped the blade even tighter and took another step forward. Despite his desire to slip under the desk and plunge the letter opener through his heart, his body compelled him to sit atop the desk. 'Your so weak.'
“What's up? Why are you crying?” Simon asked.
“I don't want to talk Simon.”
“Just let me know.”
“How about you follow your own advice and fuck off!” Ural blurted.
Simon thought about it for a moment. 'Fuck off or kill the poor guy. It's that simple.' “I'm just taking your advice and trying to make friends.” 'Now you're lying to the man your going to kill. Great.”
For a moment, Ural was silent, but he soon said, “Fine. If you really need to know, I'm crying about my parents.”
“I get it. We all had to kill our parents. But it was kill or be killed.” Simon said remorsefully.
“It's not only that, Simon. It's about the life I could have had. The life I left behind was so much better. I come from out of Valcrest. My Father was the High King of Terra and my mother, the Duchess of the three cities Duchy in the Kingdom of the Crescent Islands. I, as their child, was a symbol of their trade alliance and Heir to the Empire of Terra. My life could have been that, but now I'm destined to be a glorified sell-sword.”
“Wow.” Simon said. “I can't even imagine. My parents were abusive slummers.”
“Do you know how hard it is to kill a High King and Queen-Duchess? Even when they are your own parents, it isn't that easy to assure that you will escape with your own life. It doesn't help that most of the time, they are on two sides of the continent. After being gone for several years, they'd thought I was dead. When I returned, the entire Empire celebrated. Even dignitaries from the Three Cities came to send their regards. It was such a big deal. Little did they all know, I'd just returned to betray every last one of them.”
Simon had to hold back tears of his own. He couldn't handle how sad his story was. How guilty the guy felt for what he had done and what could have been. It was truly heartbreaking.
“When I finally brought myself to do the deed, I went up to their room and quickly finished them in their sleep. I broke down almost instantly, but knew I had to get out of there before anyone found out. I had to leave for Valcrest immediately. The only thing I took with me was the clothes on my back and my father's letter opener. It's on the ground somewhere if you want to look at it. Do ya see it?”
Simon looked down at the High King's letter opener. He loosened his grip after realizing he'd nearly been crushing the head. “Yeah... I see it.”
“The face on it is my father. I'll always remember what he looked like. So relaxed, so stoic, even in his sleep, the moments before I murdered him, he looked like that. A blessing and a curse, that letter opener is.”
Simon's eyes were damp. He placed the letter opener on the desk, gently. 'Simon, you sympathetic bastard! Just do it! It's him or it's you.'
“How about you come out from under the desk?” Simon said. Ural did as Simon asked. Slowly he emerged from the desk. Looking at Simon with his swollen brown eyes. “How does some fresh air sound?”
“That sounds good.” Ural said.
Simon grabbed Ural's hand and lead it towards the door. On the short walk to the door, he thought about what he had to do. How could he do it? Take a life of someone while in such a miserable state. That was the job of the assassin, but this wasn't going to be an assassination. It was going to be murder. It was only for Simon's personal gain and nothing else. He couldn't swing it any other way. There was no contract, no target. No one to sneak by; no skill required. It was nothing but murder. It had to be done.
When they reached the door frame, Simon grabbed the back of Ural's head and smashed it as hard as he could against the stone wall. This only dazed him and so Simon took the chance. He looked for the closest thing to him, the coat on the coat rack, and tied the sleeve tightly around Ural's neck. The other end of the coat, he tied to the rack which in turn was bolted to the ground. Ural flailed uncontrollably, trying desperately to free himself from the deadly bind that the coat had on him. He flung until he found Simon's shirt and he grabbed onto it tightly and pulled. It was as if Ural thought that he could take Simon down with him, but a strangled man never thought straight. Slowly, his face turned deeper shades of red and eventually blue. Simon had never seen such a thing. He never thought it to be possible. Ural's grip began to weaken and he flailed far less. With his last moments, Ural looked at Simon with his fading, swollen eyes. A look forever burned in his mind, much like Ural's dead father to him. The look which silently said, “I trusted you,” and then he was gone.


Newhaven- Present time

“That is the type of thing that keeps me up at night. The only time I've ever killed for personal gain. Ever since then, I've only done it for duty. A man like you must understand.” Simon said to Dominic.
“What happened with you and the red head?” Dominic asked.
Simon took a moment. “I tell you a story of murder and betrayal and you're interested in the dame? Anyways, I'm too tired to talk any further. Whatever it is that is getting the enlightened is started to get me too and I need to save my energy for talking with the crazy that we're releasing, so if you don't mind, could we spend the rest of our short trip in silence?”
“As you wish.”
The rest of the journey to Rick's dungeon room was spent in a peaceful silence. This gave Simon a chance to rest. He used to be able to send several memories to multiple people and not even sweat. It was no longer the case and it gave Simon perspective that he didn't have before. He was inevitably fallible. He was going to die one day and it was going to come about sooner than he was hoping it would. Simon finish what he was put on earth to do. It didn't matter how long he had to do it, he needed it done.
“Stand aside soldier.” Dominic said, interrupting the silence. “Direct orders from the highest authority require me to release this prisoner.” It was the most well spoken the White Knight had sounded since Simon met him.
The guard stood aside as ordered and handed Dominic the keys. Dominic fumbled a little with the keys before finally getting the right key. He unlocked the door and opened it, making an ungodly screeching sound as he did so.
Rick sat at the very back of the room, over top what appeared to be old, rotting hay. It was cold, damp, completely unlivable. The walls had a tinge of green and black from moss and mold and moldy moss. Was that even possible?
Rick had fresh wounds across his naked body. Some other wounds looked to have been festering and possibly infected. None of these wounds had to be a problem, but they became problems due to improper care. Rick didn't know any better. Not anymore. He probably wouldn't even be able to recognize himself in a mirror anymore. Not because he was so badly mutilated, but because he was no longer capable of coherent thoughts. Rick was an animal that could speak human now. He was only useful in the sense that his animal tendencies allowed him to pursue what he wanted without any distractions that hindered humans. The only problem was that he couldn't be tamed.
“Go get clothes for this man immediately and when you bring that back, fetch a medic that will meet us at the entrance of the dungeons who will be prepared to care for him. Be quick about it. I'm a busy man.” Dominic order the guard. He immediately followed the order and rushed off.
Simon walked up to the beaten down man sitting in front of him. “Its time for you to prove your worth.” He grabbed Rick's arm and pulled him up. “Now come with me.”
Simon started leading Rick to the exit. Dominic chimed in. “We have to wait to clothe him.”
“You might want to wait, but I don't. You can follow your orders and supervise my stay in Newhaven or you can stay here and wait for clothes like an idiot. Take your pick.”
Simon didn't bother to look back to see if the Knight was following him. He assumed that he probably was.

Blackpond

The pair stared each other down as the battle waged on around them. One with a vendetta to settle and the other, an agent of chaos. Rita had little to gain besides satisfaction from a kill such as this. She knew well enough that even with Lamya dead, there would be someone to take her place. Maybe they wold have a more direct motive, but in a way, that could prove to be even worse. At least a woman without reason could be clouded by other thoughts. A woman with a direct goal, like Rita's, would prove to be more effective.
“Lady death doesn't have all day, Lamya. Choose to be the first to strike or not to strike at all!” Rita yelled over the roar of battle.
“The void doesn't work in binaries.” Lamya replied rather calmly. Rita had to strain herself to hear it.
“The offer still stands.” Rita's reply was simple, but she felt it was appropriate.
The two stared each other down. It wasn't a matter of who was going to strike first anymore. It was Rita's choice to walk away or not. A choice that was important to decide. She could move on, hold the vendetta back and fight the fight that would properly depose Lamya. However, the fight might take too long and with Lamya's unpredictable nature, there was no saying what she would do if left in control of Blackpond for any period of time.
Patience was not one of Rita's virtues. She knew what she had to do. It was more about what was best than it was for the vendetta. That's what she told herself at least as she charged towards Lamya. Her sword raised high in the air as if to call upon the Twins to give her strength in the fight that was about to come. But as she neared, the sky grew dark. At first, only mildly, but it quickly became nearly pitch black as if the light of the world had completely gone out. Lamya, who was only about two meters in front of her was now a very undefined outline. She swung into the space that she thought she saw her. Rita's sword dug deep into the shadow. It didn't feel like flesh. In fact, she couldn't even pull her sword out of what she had just dug into. With a few tugs at the sword, she gave up. Letting go, she heard a thud right in front of her. Something heavy had just came down exactly where her arm was only moments before. Even at such a close distance, she couldn't tell what it was, but she didn't take the time to analyse. With such a big reliance on her sight, she was almost helpless, she had to back away. And she did so as quickly as possible, stepping at a brisk pace to give herself some distance. Her line of sight shifted from side to side, behind her and adjusted to make sure she was catching as much information as possible. Despite the death of the Sun, Rita could still hear the waging war going on. Not being able to tell what way the battle was going was even more unsettling to her than knowing that in her individual battle, she was at a significant disadvantage.
Without a weapon, for the time being, she was going to have to play it extremely defensively. Rita did all that she could to settle into her new environment, but despite all of that, her muscles just couldn't relax. Never did Rita think that sensory deprivation would be a problem for her. She couldn't ever be properly trained to deal with it because her enlightenment allowed her to see even when she was blindfolded. Quickly, what had been an advantage for all these years was her worst nightmare as again, she was knocked right off her feet by a blunt object. The wind completely knocked out of her, she struggled at the ground to compose herself, but with the onslaught of attacks that rained down on her with such little time to react, she couldn't even do that. In the struggle and with each shaking thud on the ground, Rita decided to pinpoint exactly where the attacker must have been coming from. With one strategic doge, she laced herself right around where the legs were probably placed. She swept her legs around and was met with a hard, muscley wall that barely even stumbled. The surprise was enough to allow Rita to get back on her feet.
Now that she knew where the attacks were coming from, she listened carefully; a skill she had let slide past her as something not as necessary, but now that necessity called, with the adrenalin kicking through her veins, she was hyper aware. A shift in the attackers position. It was enough to indicate the attack would be coming from her left most likely. She jumped out of the way of what she believed was most likely a war hammer and dived towards her attacker. With nothing but her hands to attack with, she quickly frisked the body in search of a weapon, but was pushed away before she could find any. A shift, this time from behind. Another attacker was closing in on her. This one had to be about five meters away from her. Rita side-stepped two paces to avoid whatever was coming from there. She heard nothing, but knew that something had to be beside her by now. As she reached her arm out, she came in contact with a pole of sorts. She quickly grabbed the pole and tugged the attacker towards her, causing the attacker to let go of the pole and stumble towards Rita.
While he did that, she heard the first attacker come closer to her as well. The second attacker's body hit Rita's and Rita, with her free hand grabbed the body and threw it towards the first attacker.
Then relief as the Sun started to appear again in the sky. At first, a crack of light, but quickly cascading into a warm glow across the bloody field. Now Rita could see her attacker. The first attacker was a man about twice her size, holding an equally large war hammer. The large man's eyes quickly changed colour as the sky came back to its original glow. It was obvious to Rita that this man had an enlightenment that allowed him to see in the dark. Nothing else could explain it. The second person who had attacked Rita with a pole—which she now realized was a spear—was Lamya, smiling contently as if she had won a prize as she lay in the arm of the enlightened attacker.
Rita adjusted her spear to allow her to properly use it and with a fast step, lunged towards the man. He dropped Lamya on the ground with a thud and parried the blow, breaking the wooden pole attached the spear. Rita took the opening that the perry had given her to run right towards the man. When she got lose enough, she grabbed the back of the man's head and jumped in the air, ploughing her knee right into the man's chin. A loud crack could be heard as the man's jaw shattered like glass. The man screamed, splattering blood across the ground in front of him.
Rita turned to face Lamya, who had managed to crawl away from the area she'd been dropped. A small scrape on the back of her hand was all that was visible. Rita tried to move towards Lamya, but her knee was stuck. The impact from the jaw on her armour had made it impossible for her to move the knee joint of the armour. Upon further inspection of her armour, she noticed that her chest plate had sunken in from the blow to her body she'd taken from the war hammer. Luckily, it wasn't significant enough to cause her pain, but she did wonder how hard it was going to be to take it off later.
“You might want to look at the battlefield, Rita.” Lamya said. Rita's view soared to the sky. “Isn't t funny how something as predictable a solar eclipse can create chaos. Chaos out of order... how strange.”
The battlefield was riddled with hundreds of bodies on either side and all semblance of battle formations had gone to hell. The entire battle was now a clump. A clump of scared men and boys. Men and boys who wanted to escape. Escape from the mess that they created. There was no sense of who would win or who would lose. In the end, no one would win. It was a cascade of death from people who didn't want any of this to happen, but didn't know what else they could do. They were the blood of War gone wrong. A stark reminder of what Valcrest had become. A clump of scared men and women fighting for an escape. No ideals, no principals. Just escape.
Rita couldn't let this fight go on any longer. She needed to cut her loses and head home for the day, with a head held low in mutual defeat. What a shame.
Rita brought her view back to see Lamya, who just stood there, staring blankly at her. Rita let it go and grabbed for her horn to call the retreat.
There would be another battle. Hopefully that one would hold less of a surprise for her.

Wolfcamp

Evin had spent his entire morning waiting for Sean's meeting with Crys. The entire reason he had woken up that morning was to wait for this meeting. He'd made a promise to Dani to keep her daughter safe. He'd done a pretty bad job at it until this point and he wasn't about to let the last four years of his life go down in smoke because he decided to let Crys deal with the Wolfpack problem by herself. There was no use in trusting Sean and anyone who wished to support him.
The way Evin looked at it, the meeting between Sean and Crys would go one of two ways. The first, and most likely scenario in Evin's mind was that Sean would use this as an opportunity for an ambush. Allow him to finish what he had started and gain even more control among those loyal to him. Surely Crys would expect such a thing, but Evin knew from experience that taking on an entire Wolfpack wasn't an easy feat.
The second scenario involved a deceptively peaceful atmosphere where Sean and Crys would talk out their differences and come to an agreement only to have whatever agreement they make come crashing down on both of them and causing even more conflict. The tendency for this to happen was potent among the Wolfpack and those who associated with them. Evin didn't want that to happen. He had to make sure for himself that this never happened.
And so Evin found himself sitting atop a tree branch, overlooking the lake he had once saw such beauty in. Those days were gone now more than ever. With the stark reminder of his last meeting with Sean so palpable to his mind. A stark reminder that no matter how hard Evin fought, the unexpected would always come to bite him in the ass.
Evin stared down to Sean, who had been there for a while. Obviously, he was preparing himself for whatever was to come. As far as Evin could tell, Sean believed he was alone. The poor bastard didn't even know that a single misstep could cost him his life. Not a single thing would stop him from protecting Crystal. Beyond his obligation, there was the knowledge that Crystal intended to do what her mother did. Crystal would make an impact much bigger than Sean's in the world. The only thing that was still n the way of making that impact was Sean.
Then, the light went out. It was as sudden as a candle being blown out. Evin and the surrounding area was darkened into a pitch blackness...

... It was true. He was really dead. No longer did he have to carry such a burden on his shoulders knowing that the man who tore part his life was still living. Evin's life would never be quite the same, but the slightest bit of satisfaction came from knowing that the thing that once consumed him was gone. He could no longer be consumed by it. He could no longer be haunted by it.
Yet an emptiness was put in its place. A chasm as deep as any cave and as dark as once blotted out sky. Was this what victory truly felt like. What was won after a game of chess? Most games come down to a major piece or two and a few pawns at best for the winning side. All the winner is left with is an empty board. No moves can be taken back and no pieces can be regained. All that Evin was left with was a bitter condolence.
He knew that this was the feeling he would have. He always dreamt of the tingly feeling that such a death would bring, but he always knew. It just couldn't come to that. Such a big art of anyone's life, the moment it leaves becomes like a chess board at the end of the game. Nothing else matters and then it is on to the next game, if you are lucky enough to have a next game.
Evin wondered if anyone had found the body yet. He contemplated staying and speaking to Crystal when she arrived, but the area would be too dangerous to sneak around by the time she arrived. A person walking into the camp, even under the aid of shadows would be walking in there with a target placed right on their head.
Now that Sean was dead, he had other business to attend to. More important business that would keep him away from the Wolves for good. As well as spread the news of Sean's death, he had to figure out exactly what Helena was up to in the mountains and that meant heading to the Whites for some answers. Hopefully Helena's daughter would be able to shed some light on the whole matter. If Evin was right, Lena's final works before her death would lead to something interesting.
In late afternoon, as he arrived in the White's camp, he went to the nearest White he could find.
“You look sick sir. Come this way and we'll do our best to assist.” The White Shadow said.
“I'm not here to await my death. I need to speak with Annie. I have urgent news from the Wolf camp regarding Sean. I need to speak to her right away.”

The setting changes from newhaven to Raven's Nest

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Evin Bana Character Portrait: Indrani Nayar Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Annie Turner Character Portrait: Allison Blake Character Portrait: Ess Character Portrait: Darren Hearst
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[Raven's Nest]

Luckas wasn’t sure what had happened, but he knew that, whatever the cause, when all light vanishes from the world that can’t possibly be a good sign. The darkness spread quickly, bringing forth a moment of stunned silence followed by noise and confusion. Luke himself was standing very still in the same spot, not wanting to get in the way of anything or anyone in the pitch black encampment. After a few moments though he simply started to move, seemingly without direction until he spotted sudden flashes of light and began to follow. He could hear Stalker walking a few steps ahead of him and continued to calmly walk after the wolf, stopping only when he heard the voices of Jason and Lily discussing prayer. He stood quietly listening to their whispers until suddenly the Sun came back to life once again. Luckas closed his eyes initially as if the light stung them a sudden memory whispering in the back of his mind causing and his eyes to snap open as if he forgot for a second where he was. “ If you spend enough time in the dark, it doesn’t matter whether or not you find the light, because in the end all the light will do is blind you.” When he seemed sure enough that he was in fact still in the Nest and not elsewhere Luckas mumbled a response to Ess’ questioning on Jake’s whereabouts. “J-Bear went out early in the morning with the Whiny Kid. He stopped by while you were out running, but he didn’t stick around.” He half smiled scratching behind Stalker’s ears. “Good job with the whole praying thing by the way. Looks like it worked.”

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

[Healer's Camp]

Minutes had gone by since the sun returned to Valcrest, however its appearance had done nothing to ease people’s fears. Throughout the White Shadows encampment frightened whispers and hushed prayers were still being uttered from patients and healers alike, but on the surface at least there was still some form of order. Annie didn’t quite believe the wrath of the Gods was causing all the problems, but something wasn’t right; that much she knew for sure. Lena had taught Annie to respect the myths for what they represented and not dwell unnecessarily on any notion of truths or lies. It was unhealthy and foolish, she would say, to claim yourself certain of things that were uncertain by nature. So Annie didn’t fear uncertainty, nor did she fear the Gods; or even nature, which left her with considerably little to fear in Life. What she did fear in that particular moment was something that felt as certain as it felt unnatural: Something was killing otherwise perfectly healthy people. That was infinitely more frightening to her than all the land falling into a dark abyss for a few minutes. This was her reality. So she didn’t care what God they prayed to, she needed the Healers to at least hold themselves together while this happened.

She had somewhat commanded Darren to go check on the younger patients while Alistair calmed their parents, something she kind of felt bad for; the guy was not one of her people and she shouldn’t be bossing him around, but she knew she had little time if she wanted to stop any form of panic before it even started, so she made sure to seek out the more impressionable of her healers and calm them down the best she could and they in turn helped in calming the apprentices and the majority of the patients. Anyone watching her handle the situation would be impressed at her leadership skills, but Annie knew well that it was pride that kept most of those healers; great majority of which were at least five years older than her, from falling apart when Annie herself seemed so collected. She didn’t mind; their pride served her purpose.

When things seemed finally quiet again Annie took a long deep breath, finding Alistair still conversing with some upset parents who wanted access to their children right away. It would be way too much people in the sick ward if all the youngsters were allowed their parents, so Alistair was trying. as a compromise, to make arrangements to move the minors someplace more isolated where the parents wouldn’t be a disruption to other patients, but that would take some time to accomplish and that caused some level of unrest. As she waited for her friend to finish trying to appease the angered men and women, Annie was suddenly approached by a Crimson Shadow who had somehow made his way into camp in a hurry and barely noticed, making his way straight to her and stopping to catch his breath so that he could speak. “Miss Annie... I need you to come with me to the desert... There’s a... Situation...” He managed to blurt out.
“A situation?” Annie questioned, finding a flask of water and offering it to the distressed mercenary. “What sort of situation would require my presence this urgently?”
“Dastan.” The man stated, accepting the water and taking a long drink.
“What about Dastan?” Annie asked, seeming a bit confused. “Is he injured?”

The Crimson Shadow didn’t speak his answer, he simply averted his gaze to the sky above their heads and then back down to meet the girl’s eyes, the expression on his face was mournful and pained and it told a story more tragic than any words would ever express. Annie sighed heavily, grasping the man’s shoulder in a gesture of support. “How many injured?” She asked.
“There are... A few... Some gravely injured, Indrani was stabbed clean through the abdomen, Ali was tending to her the best she could, but she won’t survive much longer without further care. I was asked to bring you specifically, though, because of him.”
“I see.” Annie mumbled. “I don’t know what I can do for Dastan, but I’ll go.”
“Good, that’s good...” The man replied. “I’ll run ahead and let them know you’re coming, that should calm people down some.” The mercenary half smiled, returning the empty water flask to Annie. “Much appreciated, Miss.”

As the Crimson Shadow wandered off a healer approached Annie, the woman taking a moment of pause to glance at the mercenary as he walked away before addressing Annie. “Someone’s asking for you, he says he has urgent news from the Wolves for you, regarding their Alpha. The man doesn’t look very well, perhaps something bad happened there.”
Annie frowned slightly, she didn’t know why someone would come bring her news regarding the Wolfpack. She looked questioningly at the healer and the woman pointed out the person in question. Annie recognized Evin and was a bit more confused at why the man would be coming to her with this. “Do me a favor, Elora. Go fetch my medicine pack in my tent and bring it to Darren, tell him to please meet me in the southern exit of camp. I’ll be there in a minute.” Annie didn’t wait around for the woman to respond and began walking towards Evin where he stood waiting, waving at the man in a silent greeting as she approached as if to skip the conversational pleasantries. “You’ve chosen a terrible moment to stop by for a chat, Evin.” She stated, gesturing for the man to walk with her as she paced towards the exit. “Something has happened in the Crimson camp that requires my immediate attention, so... If this is something that might take us more than a few minutes I suggest you travel with me. If not then I ask that you speak quickly. Now, what urgent news do you have to give me?”

Evin stood around for a few minutes while waiting for Annie to arrive. He hadn't been to the White Shadows' camp in a long time and judging by the number of people there, things were worse than he expected. Besides the several people who were still panicking over the momentary loss of light, there were several people who looked severely ill all around him. Every single one of them looked similar to what Lena had looked like the last time her and Evin had ever spoken.
Evin was completely caught off guard when Annie spoke to him. He'd been looking away and spun around to meet her gaze. It might have been stress, but even she had seen better days.
“Yes. The urgent news.” Evin stopped. He hadn't actually said it aloud yet. He'd thought about it the entire trip but it hadn't quite sunk in until that moment. “Sean is dead. Drowned in the lake.” He paused again. Let the moment sink in for both of them. “I may have hated the man, but if there are any respects you've to pay, I thought you might want to know... sorry for the timing.”
Evin looked around again. He saw all the death around him. People suffering far worse than he was. “That isn't the real reason I came here though. Your mother knew things. The last time I spoke to her, I knew that she knew more than she would ever tell me. She might not have been an assassin anymore, but she told me through her evasiveness that there was far more to Valcrest than there is to be seen. I just need some answers. Let's walk and talk.”

Annie faltered in her step once, stopping for a split second at news of Sean’s death and then continuing to walk. She flinched once again at Evin’s questioning of what her mother had been doing; at least she wasn’t the only one wondering about that. She walked in silence for a few seconds after that before finally responding. “If the Wolves wish me to give the Alpha a blessing before the burial I’m sure they’ll send for me.” She stated simply, not making any further comments on the matter of Sean. “As for answers, my mother left me with none. I mean, she left me with something, but it has yet to answer any questions. It’s a journal, but it is encrypted and I have been trying to figure it out, but I haven’t had much success with it. The fact the she left this for me leads me to think that the key is in something personal of hers, but I can’t figure out what. I thought it might be a book, but I’m starting to doubt that assumption.” The girl shrugged slightly. “Other than that, I don’t know how I could help you. She didn’t even tell me where she was going when she left and she evaded any questions asked about her time away. Alistair spoke with her a few months before she came back, she sought him out in the farm where he’d been living just outside of Valcrest borders. She told him nothing then either, just encouraged him to come back.”

The world was casted into darkness, interrupting with a creepy sense of poetic timing, on the conversation Darren and Annie were having on the topic of murdering his father and what that would mean for him. He just couldn’t relate Asher to that title of ‘Father’ any longer; it was more like a worn out analogy that created a numbing feeling in his gut. The ominous stripping of light was, strangely, a pleasant distraction to his thoughts, and while others seemed frightened by the sudden turn of event, Darren was intrigued and only somewhat uneasy. It was different, unlike the others who were cursing the Gods or fearful for the end of all things; Darren didn’t even wonder or doubt that the light wouldn’t return. What made him uneasy about the whole thing was the possibility that this wasn’t some twisted cycle in nature. Over the course of the past few months, he had met more incredible individuals than he could have possibly ever imagined; as if the stories from those pages he sucked in like a sponge were now coming to life. It would be a marvel if indeed there were those out there cable of such powerful gifts, when combined, could shatter the reality they all thought they knew.


Darren had subconsciously reached out and squeezed Annie’s hand before leaving her side. “Whatever You need, Annie...of course.” Was Darren’s only response when he was advised where he would be best made of some use. He would have rather stayed by her side, but there was no time to dwell or argue, as the state of unrest among the Shadows needed to be kept under control.

Remembering where the baby fox was lying, Darren scooped down, enveloping his arms around the kit before calling Sora to his side. Those two would come in handy, he knew, especially with the children. He proved himself correct, when some of the younger children couldn’t or wouldn’t focus on a story or song Darren was attempting to use in distraction, so he would take turns with the baby fox, placing him sweetly on their laps to pet as it slept.

Even in the torchlight, Sora was hard to spot, but she remained ever so watchful at the entrance as if to block any admittance without her approval. When the light had returned, a few of the children sat up in bed in delight, calling out to the wolf, who happily complied by nuzzling and licking the faces of the weaker ones and curling up in the cots of some of the older kids. Before long Darren and Sora had made their rounds, Sora the ever so popular one as always; watchful and nurturing like those kids were her own pups. Darren’s masked companion; the children’s vengeful protector.

Darren smiled leaving both Sora and the kit fox with the kids, happy that not a single one of them feared the wild animal. He remembered how some of the parents were rather uncomfortable at first with the presence of such a wild beast, not believing it could be so tamed. In many ways there were right, but they only saw what was upon the surface until Sora alerted some of the healers one night. She just wouldn’t stop barking and howling, dancing circles around the men and women until they followed, only to find one of the children was having a seizure. It was then they discovered, not only did Sora understand the kids were sick, but she somehow could sense when they would have a fit. That in itself, because of Darren’s history with seizures, made him feel even safer around his furry friend.

Darren quietly went to exit, leaving Sora to lull the rest of the children to sleep, accidentally bumping into one of the healers. “Pardon..” He whispered, flashing a familiar charming smile at the woman he remembered as Elora.

Elora smiled, holding out a rather large medicine bag which Darren recognized as Annie’s, receiving it with a quirk of an eyebrow. “What is it, Elora?”

“Annie says you are to meet her at the southern exit, now. Take this to her.” The woman whispered back, draping the leather strap along his shoulder. “Don’t keep her waiting.” She sighed, letting Darren pass by her only to replace his presence with her own. Darren didn’t even think to question why he was requested, only too happy to help, but he knew if they were leaving the camp, he would need to gather some supplies for wherever they were heading.

After acquiring some rations and water flasks, he waited patiently by the exit, fidgeting with his hat. “No Sora, you are suppose to stay.” He muttered under his breath when the wolf came trotting after him to lay at his feet. “Stubborn wolf..”

Evin knew it already. Annie wasn't going to be an enormous amount of help, but any piece of information that she could provide was more useful than none. What was useful information was determined by how much a single person knew. All Evin wanted to do is be the person who knew the most. “Okay. Is there anything else? Small details of any sorts that could be useful? Did Lena ever mention anything that may be useful?”

Annie rubbed her temples as she walked, taking the time to think carefully on a possible answer she might have to give. "Well, I don't know what you might consider useful, Evin. Are you looking for something specific? The last week or so my mother was alive she spent in the archives, I saw her maybe once or twice then. The month prior to that she was away from camp. She met with a few people, but I'm not sure I know them all. The Captain of the White Knights was one, Mageria... She was going to Blackpond, but she turned around for some reason, that drew my attention. She never got along with any Blackpond officials, even less with their old King, but she never avoided the city before. More than that, I really can't say."

As they drew closer to the exit Annie fastened her pace just a bit until they reached Darren, not wanting to keep him waiting longer than needed and greeting him with an apologetic smile. “I take it the children weren’t too much of a challenge for the two of you.” She played, leaning down to pet Sora briefly before taking her pack off Darrens hands and continuing to walk towards the desert with visible urgency in her step, trusting that the two men would follow. “Darren, if you don’t mind me bossing you just a bit more, the Crimson have asked for my help and I might need some assistance. I didn’t want to bring another healer with me because... Of what just happened here.” She paused for a moment before elaborating a bit more. “Things are tense enough as it is and I don’t want any rumors before I see for myself what happened. I’m not sure what the two of you know about Dastan and his enlightenment, so I don’t know what I’m allowed to say... For what I understand though, he lost control of it and there was a considerable number of casualties.” She informed, now addressing Evin as well. “The man who came to call me didn’t say it, but I know that they called for me directly because they want me to examine Dastan and tell them whether he’s still dangerous before they... Decide his fate.” She mumbled the last words with a bit of annoyance at being asked to determine whether or not a friend should be put down like a wounded animal, it wasn’t alright with her, but as a healer she was forced to give an honest answer and not interfere with the Crimson and their laws. She shook her head after a few moments of silent contemplation, and chuckled. “I’m sorry, I have terrible manners... Evin, Darren... Darren, Evin... Have you two met already? I mean, you have plenty of common acquaintances after all.”

Darren gave Annie a playful wink. “Oh, you flatter. You know full well those kids could care less if I’m there. It’s always, ‘Where’s Sora?’..or ‘When’s Sora coming back?’..or ‘..Mr. Darren..can I have Sora? I promise to take good care of her.’.” Darren chuckled. “I’m happy she brings them some sort of comfort. Kind of like a drug, but without the loopy and disconnected feeling.”

Darren fell into step just behind Annie and their traveling companion, nodding along to the woman's words on coming along. “Whatever you need, Annie.” His smile fell, listening to the bits Annie explained in their destination and burning purpose he felt when he had to take longer strides to keep in even pace with her. Tipping his hat, he politely nodded towards Evin. “Yea...I believe we sorta met back in Blackpond at that Ball...brief as that was.” Darren quirked a brow, squinting in the sunlight as his eyes examined the man curiously, noting how worn Evin appeared, thinking that he looked like Darren sometimes felt. “Guy...you don’t look too good..no offense. You need anything?” He asked, unhooking a flask from his side and offering the water to Evin.

“So..this might be a really stupid question...but I need to ask it. Do we know what happened? I understand we don’t want wild rumors running rampant and superstition taking hold if there is a rational explanation to all of this..but..” Darren cleared his throat, tilting his hat back so that he could look between his company clearly, without obstruction. “...Are we under attack? I mean...is it possible someone or someones are responsible? I’m not one to believe the Gods had anything to do with it..”

It was interesting. What deterred a tough as nails woman like Lena from visiting Blackpond. It was something that was worth keeping close to the forefront of his mind. Another thing worth keeping in his mind was the fact that Lena had been going through the archives in the last few weeks of her life. In terms of the wealth of knowledge, the White Shadows archives held so much, that forgotten gems still hadn't been found. Even Lena herself wouldn't have been able to read through the entirety of the archives. However, whatever she needed to know were in those archives. Lena wouldn't have wasted so much time otherwise.
As they reached the exit, a familiar face. He didn't remember the face or even where they had met, but Evin knew they'd seen each other before. Annie continued to talk, not to him this time, so he didn't really pay attention. When she mentioned Dastan, Evin perked up. A skip in his step that he didn't have before. He hadn't seen the man in such a long time. Not since the Ball, but it had been even longer since they'd had a proper conversation. Annie's way of speech was much like her mothers, very evasive. Evin understood what must have happened and the Sun going out added up to something disastrous.
When Annie looked at Evin and expressed how the Crimsons wanted to know what to do with him, it felt like he had been hit. He'd missed a step and stumbled. When he caught himself he wondered: was Annie giving him an invitation to do what she knew she couldn't do? The thought hurt Evin. Dastan had taken him and the other abandoned Wolves.
Then reality sunk in. It wasn't her place to ask of that of someone who wasn't a member of the Crimsons. If Annie was asking for anything, it would have been protection.
Then finally, a name. Darren tipped his hat to him and then went on. Speaking of the illness, but what Evin held onto was the offer of help that was directed at him.
“I need answers... kid” he said in a jabbing tone as to notate the fact that the young guy could not even take the time to use the name that he had just been told by Annie. “Unless you have any of them, I'm afraid there's nothing you can give me. What we have here is not normal. Lena was the first one to get it and it didn't spread on until long after her death. It isn't being spread like any other illness like your everyday cold. In fact, I'd almost say that it doesn't spread at all, but that it is attacking us all at once.” He turned to Annie. “I'm going to say that it is safe to assume that you don't know what it was that kept Lena away from Blackpond. The books that she liked to read, however, I imagine you could give me a general idea of what those were. More importantly, the stuff she read just before leaving for the South and the books she read right before her death.”

Annie was silent through most of the talking, but she had listened to Darren and Evin and was carefully considering both lines of questioning. “You knew my mother Evin.” She spoke up finally. “She had the infuriating habit of never giving straight answers. She believed, I think, that she did us a disservice by giving us answers when we wanted them instead of letting us discover them when we truly needed them... She never left people with nothing, however. I don’t see why death would change that about her. I’m convinced that in some way she told everyone what she was thinking, and that it’s simple. If you want access to the archives, you have it. She had been reading everything and anything regarding the Myths, the Twins, and enlightenment and so have I in the past six months. As for Blackpond...” Annie paused, stopping for a split second and resuming her walk. “I could speculate, but I don’t know. The King and his assassins didn’t scare her, however, it was around that time that Jake discovered that the Shadow’s dagger was in the city, it might have had to do with that... Or maybe something else entirely. There’s plenty happening in Blackpond. Jake would know some of it. Have you two not spoken at all since he left the desert?” She questioned curiously.

Falling into a second moment of silence the girl walked with her head down, as if awaiting the moment when the grassy soil of the plains would begin to change into the bare wasteland of Valcrest desert, she eventually shook her head and spoke up rather abruptly, addressing Darren’s questioning. “A powerful enough enlightened could cause an eclipse, if that’s what you mean, either someone with the gift of Illusion or... Someone with the gift of shadow manipulation.” She fell silent again, finally heaving a sigh. “I think the Crimson Shadows suspect Dastan of doing this, but I’m not sure if he could have. If this wasn’t a natural phenomenon, and Dastan wasn’t the cause, I would consider the possibility that this was in some way an attack directed at the Crimson Shadows. It would be something clever, no? To wipe out a clan and successfully frame their own leader.” She shrugged calmly. “I won’t know until I see the damage.”

“Hmm..” Darren pondered how Evin described how the illness was spreading like wildfire but it wasn’t as if it were contagious. The plaguing questions of how and why the sickness was affecting enlightened seemed as if they would never be answered. “..Would be so much easier if we knew the source...the trigger..” Darren muttered to himself, thinking out loud and not paying attention to the fact his thoughts were now in the open as he rambled a bit incoherently All those times he watched Annie reread the same myths over and over again, trying to sort out some kind of clue, he was in awe that there seemed to be no real lead to what could be causing it all. “..It’s like there’s something in the food..” He snorted at himself. “..So much easier to understand if I had something tangible to put my hands on…” Darren sighed, kicking a stray rock from his path, glancing over to Annie once again.

“Do..you think there’s a way for me..to help? To see? Or does that cross some boundaries? I know it’s risky...it takes a lot out of me...but maybe something of your Mom’s?” Darren removed his hat to ruffle up his hair before placing it back on his head. He was beginning to frustrate himself, grasping for straws, so to speak, with no real direction. “I did decide...that when Mom goes to the ruins...to whatever is left of her town..I’m going with her. Maybe it will be like..” Darren grunted and shrugged, thinking of Ess’ dagger and the array of images that flooded his mind that seemed to stretch back across centuries. It still didn’t make a lot of sense to him.

“I don’t get it. Why would Dastan’s own people blame him for causing the eclipse? Why would Dastan…” Darren fell silent shaking his head, knowing not to finish that sentence. If Dastan was even responsible, it was something he wouldn’t do on purpose. He was a leader and Darren had seen bits here and there in his brief encounters, how important his friends and Crimson alike, appeared to him. “..If there is the possibility that a person could be strong enough to manipulate the eclipse and cause that amount of damage...who is to say someone..in theory..couldn’t be responsible for the sickness? I dunno...seems like something of that magnitude...would kill someone. Nevermind...that doesn’t make sense…” Darren brushed off his own thoughts feeling a bit silly for voicing his mind so freely.

Evin didn't care too much about how the eclipse happened. He kept out of the conversation regarding that. What Darren had said—how he could help—did make Evin perk up, however. Although Darren didn't make much sense as his mind was jumbled it seemed. What he seemed to grasp was that he had some sort of enlightenment that might be useful for Evin, but he was afraid that it may be against the rules to do so. It seemed that Darren might be able to invade the privacy of the dead somehow.
“Darren, Annie; you two are young so I don't expect you to understand this just yet, but I've learned something in my time. There comes a point in your life where you are given a choice to give up something worth a million times more than an order or rule. I did it for a woman. You could do it for the lives of tens of thousands.” He let that sit in Darren's mind and he walked a little faster to walk at level with Annie. He spoke in a hushed tone. “Now Lena's Journal, really think about it. Is there anything special that she ever said to you or maybe even Jake while you were around? Did she maybe leave the key with Alistair or possibly leave some secret on her old ring? Is it some sort of reference to a myth or medical term?” And then, he said aloud. “And being a White Shadow, what do you know about this illness that I may not know?”

Once again Annie was silent for quite a while, giving a pause long enough to lead one to believe she had nothing left to say, her eyes already searching the path ahead for the red flags that marked the entrance of the Crimson Shadows’ camp. She didn’t know if it was worse to think of what may lie ahead or to keep her mind in the topic of conversation. Nothing was particularly pleasant. “Tens of thousands, ourselves, and pretty much everyone we care about.” She stated simply, not turning to face Evin, but clearly addressing the man with a tone of annoyance in her voice. “Everyone here is old enough to understand that much, so I’d consider any reminders to be... Unnecessary, don’t you think? Regardless, how my mother’s belongings or memories are handled, and by whom, is not something I’m willing to allow you to have any say in.” She glanced at the man briefly, her annoyance turning into a discreet tone of warning.

The girl heaved a sigh and her tone softened as she answered his question of what she could tell of the illness. “What we know is that whatever this is it only affects enlightened, we’ve ruled out any form of poisoning and we don’t believe it is contagious, or even spreading; as you said so yourself. We believe every enlightened in Valcrest is already afflicted and it’s a matter of time until symptoms start to manifest in those not experiencing them yet. We have no clue why some people develop symptoms sooner than others, the casualties were... diverse...” Annie shook her head. “You know, my mother always made sure I studied, made sure I knew as much if not more than the other healers did; even though most of the senior healers thought it unnecessary due to my enlightenment. She’d say that there is no way to properly fix something that’s broken if you have no understanding of how it works. If this afflicts enlightened and it is connected to the magic itself, as most already assume it does, no medicine will fix it... Because in thousands of years of study, dating back to the first scholars of Blackhurst, we still have no clue how enlightenment works. The myths offer so many inconsistencies that they probably outnumber the stars in the sky. I believe that my mother’s incessant digging at the mythology books has to do with that. I believe she did not find an answer herself, but there may be something incredibly valuable in her research... In that bloody journal... And I’m certain that she believed someone is, if not responsible; if that would even be possible, at least attempting to insure that this will kill us all. I see no reason why she would encrypt something that would, in theory, never be seen by anyone else other than myself unless she was worried someone would succeed in taking it from me. That is everything I know and some of my assumptions... And as you can see it’s not much.”

Walking a few more steps in silence Annie allowed herself to consider Darren’s offer of help, it was valid, but at this moment it was indeed risky to try it. She turned her head to watch him as if trying to visually assess his well-being before addressing it. “I’d rather you not take any risks, wouldn’t want to lose my favorite helper after all, but... If you want to, I will find something I know my mother had with her in her time away from Valcrest and maybe you can see some of what she was doing then. I think that might be helpful.”

Darren quirked a brow at Evin, slightly confused at his words, but not responding. Evin, like many, was trying to get a grip on what was happening, Darren sense a bit of a cocky attitude he both admired and disliked at the same time. To be fair, the man didn’t know all the facts and Darren wasn’t sure he even made much sense to him, but that hadn’t been the point. He wasn’t completely wrong either. Turning his attention back to listen to Annie, he was a bit surprised to catch some annoyance in her voice but couldn’t help but smile. It wasn’t for the fact she was upset, but the idea of the woman being severely pissed off, stole his thoughts as he wondered if he could actually picture such a thing. Could be interesting or frightening, depending.

Darren hadn’t heard all that Evin was saying, but he caught most of what Annie responded with, unsure why the man thought it best to whisper some things around him. It was clear by Annie’s response, she didn’t feel her words were something to hide from Darren. The particular topic at hand was already something Darren was aware of, but he couldn’t help but wonder if he was suppose to hang back.

“... I see no reason why she would encrypt something that would, in theory, never be seen by anyone else other than myself unless she was worried someone would succeed in taking it from me”

“...Just like my Grandmother’s Journal...stolen when her town was burned to ashes..” Darren muttered, nodding to himself, agreeing that one couldn’t be too careful; after all he did steal his own father’s journal, encrypted but that wasn’t exactly the same thing.

Darren smiled slightly at Annie when she considered his offer to help. “..Whatever..you need...I promise to be careful..” He suddenly signaled to Sora to scout ahead, sweeping his hands in a clapping motion forward, the wolf taking off until she was out of sight.

Annie seemed bitter towards Evin. No matter. He didn't need Annie to like him. All he needed was for her to cooperate with him. If the leverage Evin had wasn't so big, he'd might have been worried, but in the end, Annie and Evin wanted the same thing and that was what made the whole thing worth it.

[The Desert]

They began to approach the Crimson's camp. There was no greeting. Instead, there was blank stares and shaking citizens about. People crying and people consoling those who could not be consoled. Evin looked at one group of people. They surrounded a dead man. Some of the Crimson Shadows tried to get the citizens to move away from the bod so that they could move it, but the citizens refused.
Evin only noticed that he was holding his breath when he felt faint. He swallowed a large quantity of air and composed his tattered body. “These are people who party when they're hungover. I can't believe it. Annie, tell me what you need and I'll get it for you. It's the least I could do after annoying you for the past few hours.”

Annie didn’t seem as affected by the desolate state of the desert inhabitants as one should be, she had seen enough of hopeless stares in the past months and she had expected to see it all again now. The girl took a long deep breath, her brown eyes scanning the encampment as if trying to decide where help was needed most. She heard Evin’s comment and nodded as though she acknowledged the fact he had addressed her, but wasn’t paying attention to his words. As they walked further into the encampment, she took notice that several dead were still scattered around the encampment, most surrounded by distraught loved ones, and as Annie walked past a group of such civilians, she gently grasped the wrist of a mercenary who was trying, as gently as possible, to physically remove a woman who was knelt down and clinging to a deceased man’s arm. The gesture causing the man to immediately stop what he was doing. “Don’t force this.” She whispered. “Just start building the funeral pyre and they will come to you when they are ready.” The man seemed reluctant, but silently agreed and moved away, calling his few remaining brethren to start the pyre. Annie counted, by the red sashes or capes she could spot amongst the people, less than ten Crimson Shadows in the encampment. Even assuming a few of them were in the temple or inside some of the tents that remained intact, that was in no way a good sign.

The sudden change in the mercenaries’ attitude from aimless and confused to somewhat organized caught the man’s attention and Jackson eventually appeared to greet the new arrivals, even if only with simple nod of head. “The injure are all inside the temple.” He informed Annie. “So is Dastan; we locked him up in his room for the time being. Not that he seems to care about leaving.”
“How great are your losses?” Annie questioned.
“There are about twelve Crimson Shadows left alive, counting Dastan, Indrani and myself; so that number may decrease soon. Not to mention that three of those twelve are merely pups barely fit to swing a sword properly. Indrani had only recently assigned them trainers... Which... Are now all dead, so...” The man fell into a devastated silence, unable to find anything else to say.
Annie heaved a long sigh, sadness spreading across her dark eyes as she reached for Jackson’s arm in a sympathetic gesture. “I’m so sorry, Jackson. I have no words.”
“Dastan made me promise, right when he started to feel the sickness, that if something of this sort were to happen I would make sure he wouldn’t live long enough to see it. I already broke my promise and he may not... Forgive me, but... I don’t want to do this. I just need you to tell me that this is not what it seems, and that I don’t need to do this. Do you understand?”
Annie nodded that she understood, but she made Jackson no promises. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to see Indrani first, I was told she was gravely injured?”
“Yes, that’s true. Ali is tending to her, but she’s no healer and Indrani lost a considerable amount of blood. There are other injured of course, but nothing else nearly as life threatening.” he informed, starting to lead the small group towards the temple.
Once again Annie nodded her understanding as she followed Jackson. “If it’s not to much to ask, Jackson, could you tell me what exactly happened?”

Jackson shook his head as though he refused to answer, but he eventually did. “The Sun died, the skies darkened, shadows rose from the ground and just began to tear people apart. There was a lot of crying and a lot of screaming, we were rushing to get people into the temple hoping it would protect them, but not knowing even that much for sure. I wasn’t near Dastan when it happened, I didn’t see it happen, but Ali said he started to act strangely, slurring his words; and I know what you’re thinking, but he had been perfectly fine during the trip from forest... He walked about halfway towards the temple and his knees gave out... Last anyone saw him before it all started he was kneeling in the sand clutching his head as though it hurt. He was out cold when the shadows faded, pale as though life had been drained from him, but he was still breathing. I carried him into the temple by myself and eventually one of Crys’ assassins helped me, none of our own would go near him, even if he was helpless.” Jackson stopped as they reached the door of the temple, running his fingers through his dirty blonde hair and trying to hide a guilty expression. “I should go... Help prepare the funerals... It will take time to burn all those bodies.” He snorted. “I can’t see that kid like this...” He muttered a bit under his breath.

Annie suppressed a frustrated groan as Jackson walked away. The Crimson Shadows were nice folk, they had taken in her people when the Blackpond army forced them out of the desert, they had taken Crys and the other exiled Wolves into their camp... They were simple, friendly, people, and still for some reason this had to happen to them. “I have brought everything I need.” She answered Evin as though time hadn’t passed since his offer of help. “Assuming that you can handle stitches and bandages though, an extra set of hands would be more than welcome. It sounds like Indrani will need my full attention.”

Blood -spatter soaked into the dirt and sand, clumping in many areas, few pools remaining. Luck would have it that Darren, distracted with the despair and wails drowning all of his attention, stepped in one of the puddles, momentarily losing balance as his foot slid out from him, but quickly recovered. Two men pass not far from him, carrying a fallen Crimson, the face Darren barely recognizing as one of the men he shared a drink with only just last night. His heart sank at the sight while he reached down to his wrists, tightening the fit of his gloves to make sure they were in no danger from slipping off as his palms began to sweat. The man’s eyes glistened, momentarily losing focus on what he should be doing, never actually seeing the aftermath of a battlefield, except in his visions or his dreams.

A flash of fur, blurring past his left peripheral and a shout of protest, alerted Darren to Sora’s presence. The wolf was trying to get past a woman who was blocking her path to the temple, shouting and flailing her arms trying to scare the beast back. “Scavenger! Back! Smell of blood draws them near..You can not have them!”

Darren groaned, muttering under his breath to Annie that he would catch up in a minute as he carefully approached, noticing how Sora was dodging the woman’s attempts at striking her, the wolf’s teeth baring in defense. “Miss? My apologies..the wolf means no harm...she’s only following..”

“The scent! Well she can’t have our wounded or dead.” The woman spat in annoyance.

Darren held up his hands to show there was nothing in them as he approached, moving between the wolf and the woman. “..She’s with me. I promise..she is well fed and is not here for any of you…” Darren half smiled. “I tried to leave her behind..but you see..she’s not a pet I can't make her do anything she doesn’t wish to. She’s quite the free spirit. Please..we are only here to help. Look, she’s friendly.” Darren knelt down beside Sora, gently petting her side, the wolf sitting on her haunches, wagging her tail slowly. He heard a voice from behind him, another familiar face from the night before. He turned to see it had been one of the musicians, although now he was missing most of his left arm. Makeshift bandages were tightly binding his wounds but they were dripping with blood. Darren was in awe the man wasn’t in shock, still managing to stand on his feet. “Whoa now, Buddie. Sit down...we need to cauterize that wound now. You, Miss.What is your name?” He asked the woman who was still eyeing Sora distrustingly.

“Kenya..” She muttered,

“Perfect. I’m Darren..and the wolf is Sora. Now Kenya...I’m going to need your help for a second…”

Sora moved to Darren’s side as they eased the one armed man to the ground, put a hunk of kindling in his mouth to bite down on while Darren prepared the wound. He had handed one of his weapons: an Ax, to Kenya who held the metal in a near by fire for a few moments until it was hot and ready. Sora laid on top of the wounded man while Darren pinned back his shoulders, Kenya pushing the hot metal against flesh for what seemed like forever, the man screaming between gritted teeth and wood. After the seared flesh was cleaned and properly dressed, Sora took off after the others into the temple, Darren following close after and reaching Annie not long after she arrived to Indrani. Opening his pack, he began ripping and tearing strips of cloth to create more bandages.

“I'll be glad to help.” Evin said as Darren wandered off.
Evin looked for a way to take his mind off of what was around him. Death, despite being his job, was the Twin that made the least sense to Evin. Why he had to kill and why exactly Death was considered a gift to us when even the Twins themselves, when facing their own finality, rebelled. It was an odd thing to imagine, that the Twins couldn't even live to face mortality.
But that was enough thought of death. There had been too much of it too close to home in his life lately. It was time to put his mind at ease for just a moment. “So you and Darren are good friends it seems? You care a lot for him, I can tell and you seem very trusting of him. How long have you known him.”

Annie entered the temple and immediately spotted Indrani, the woman was unconscious and sweating profusely due to what Annie could identify as dangerously high fever. Ali was sitting by Indrani, holding a wet washcloth to the woman’s forehead in a somewhat feeble attempt to lower her temperature. She looked at up at Annie with a bit of annoyance in her eyes that was not exactly directed at her. “Took you long enough.” She mumbled.
“Oh, well, you know... Distractions along the way. My apologies.” Annie half smiled as she knelt by Indrani. “How long has she been feverish?”
“Hours, I think. She was in and out of consciousness, but she hasn't opened her eyes for a while now.” Ali informed. “I assume that’s not good.”
“None of this is good, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing either. If her temperature comes down again she should eventually wake up, unless it’s too late.” She explained, taking a thorough look at Allison as she spoke and frowning slightly; she looked pale and shaky herself. “You’re in pain again, aren't you? Go rest, I got this.”
“Rest won’t make the pain go away, Annie; you know this. I’m not going anywhere.” Ali argued.
“It might not make the pain go away, but you still need it.” Annie stated severely. “When was the last time you even had a drink of water?”
“I’m fine.” Ali muttered, not very convincingly, but moving away to sit closer to the walls, leaning against the stone and closing her eyes for a bit.
Annie shook her head, but didn’t argue any more knowing it was probably no use, turning her attention to Indrani, checking the woman’s wound and pulling supplies out of her kit as she answered Evin’s questions on Darren, giving the boy an amused glance before casually answering the questions as though he wasn’t standing right there. “I met Darren for the first time during the ball, briefly. So I suppose it’s been, what, six months or so. I trust him quite a bit, yes. He’s not yet tried to murder me, nor asked me any questions I wasn’t willing to answer, and he’s been a dear friend. Sora too.” She smiled, calmly changing Indrani’s bandages for ones that seemed to have been soaked in some herbal extract. The medicine would hopefully be enough to keep any infection under control.

Darren was accumulating new rags for bandages, draping them along his shoulder, only half listening as Annie spoke. His eyes were fluctuating between Indrani, Annie, Ali, Evin, and the other wounded scattered within the temple, taking in every detail he would in a matter of a few moments. The place needed more light, one of the first things he noticed, and after giving a sly wink in Annie’s direction he gathered a couple torches and several candles.

“..Should I start the tea? I’m sure while I make my rounds, I may find others fevering..” Darren asked Annie gently. “..Strip the root and seep before adding the honey and cinnamon.” He recited to himself, remembering that those ingredients were not just to take away the bitter taste, but also aided in healing headaches.

Darren relieved himself of his hat and rested it on the back of a nearby chair, along with some of the fresh bandages he’d torn, in case more were needed. He also positioned a clean basin of water beside Annie’s medicine bag before excusing himself once again to quickly assess the other wounded. Some were very lucky, alive with a few broken bones and minor cuts and abrasions; many were missing limbs, appendages and had lost a lot of blood but it did appear they would live, with the Twins' blessing. Darren had paused beside a young man, just old enough to carry a sword, the swelling around his neck and shoulder catching his eye.

“Brave, young man...how you feeling? I want you to squeeze my hand as hard as you can...good...now the other..” Darren kept a friendly smile, as the boy advised him that his name was Andrew and that his head was throbbing because he was tossed like a rag doll into stone. There was little blood, the area tender and also with the strange swelling along the kid’s shoulder, Darren had a feeling it was something inside of Andrew that was hurt or damaged that he could not see. Raising a candle before the boy’s eye, just as he had seen Annie do many times before, he instructed Andrew to look into the light and follow it. Both the boy’s eyes were bloodshot, his left pupil blown out to indicate internal trauma.

Darren kept his smile, giving Andrew some water before wandering back over to Annie to whisper the status of the other injured; importantly the young boy, awaiting instructions. Meanwhile, Sora had wandered off somewhere out of sight but from her occasional whines and frustrated barks it wasn’t hard to tell she waiting at the base of the wall that lead to where Dastan was currently being kept. If only the wolf had thumbs, maybe she would climb the wall. Or maybe not.

Annie snickered while she watched Evin drag Ali away. The young woman didn’t fight the man’s hold and simply allowed him to drag her away with annoyed expression on her face. Her smiled faltered slightly as she turned her attention to the boy Darren had informed her of, knowing that his condition was more serious than she would like. “That sounds serious.” She muttered, taking a few moments to organize her thoughts before making a decision. “Indrani shouldn’t need anymore care unless she wakes up; which probably won't be so soon, so I’m going upstairs to take a look at Dastan. I’d like you to keep monitoring that boy, keep him calm and talking, and warn me if his situation changes while I’m up there; if his pain worsens or he starts to show signs of confusion, or lose consciousness, I need to know right away.”

The setting changes from ravens-nest to Newhaven

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Character Portrait: Evin Bana Character Portrait: Ella Page Character Portrait: Allison Blake
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In the darkness of thought, Ella was alone. She caught everything that her captor thought, but they were disconnected from the rest of the world. It was the view of the world from only one point of reference, which left Ella imagining what could be going on in the real world. And a twisted view of the world it was. A bleak view of things left Ella incredibly depressed, but even more determined to somehow escape her captor. Time and again, Lazarus told her how no matter what she did, she wouldn't be able to escape. That his enlightenment could not be overpowered. With recent developments, however, she believed him less and less.
As time went on, she learned more about the real abilities of this enlightenment. She knew that there was something happening with the enlightened in Valcrest. They were all weakening in some way. Her experience of this allowed her to hear the outside world from time to time. She started to discover that Lazurus couldn't hold up his powers for much longer. Day by day, he would grow weaker. Ella found strength in this and knew that eventually, he'd fail. If that meant certain death, than so be it. Autonomy was too valuable to give up on so easily.
Ella didn't know what time of day it was or what Lazarus was up too. Time didn't exist in his realm of reality. The only thing that existed in this realm was her thoughts. She didn't know if Lazarus was on his guard or not or even how sick he was.
She relaxed her mind, letting the darkness truly engulf every part of her soul, down the deepest reaches and across her most hidden secrets. She did this until she'd completely melded with the darkness. It wasn't certain how long this took. It could have been days or years. All that mattered was that she was completely melded within the darkness created by Lazarus.
Then, the light. It was blinding, but didn't hurt to look at. Quickly, the light dimmed to the point where she was able to see what was happening. Right in front of her, a face with eyes wide opened looked into hers. The man's eyes spoke of absolute fear as blood started to trickle out of his mouth until it became a cascade. His eyes faded and Ella's hand pushed him back far enough to remove the man from the sword that she was holding. He fell to the ground and two other people faced Ella. Both of them with fear painted across their face. Then she looked at her peripherals to see the armour the two were wearing, but focused more on the reflection. She was standing there, yet she didn't recognize herself. Not only from the massive baby bump, but because of how sickly she actually looked. She didn't look like she was healthy enough to be bearing a child.
She noticed that she was speaking to the two guards. She couldn't hear her voice. All she could do was look at her mouth move in the armour. It was obvious, that all she had power over was her sight. She couldn't even move her eyes with her own volition. It seemed that her hijacker was still in control of that.
All she could do was watch as the dead guard in front of her reanimated and killed the other two guards, who appeared to have trouble attacking their own men, even if the reanimated body was no longer in control of it, like Ella was.

[Desert]
Evin took it upon himself to organize all of the equipment for Annie. He spread a cloth across the floor beside Indrani. On the cloth, he carefully placed each tool and herb. Starting from the right with all of the herbs and medicines. From there, he lay the bandages which eventually moved onto the actual medical tools. When even was happy with the way that everything was laid out, he looked to see if there were any other ways that he could help. Looking at Indrani's wounds, he knew that there was nothing that his basic knowledge could help out with. It would be better help to stay completely out of the whole procedure.
Evin then looked around at what was around him. Everyone who still needed help had wounds that were just a little too big for Evin to handle. He didn't want to screw anyone over with his medical treatment and so he looked to Allison.  
Evin stood from the crouched position he was in before. He began to pace, looking at Allison every few seconds as he went along. She was fixated on Annie and Indrani enough that what he wanted to do was going to be relatively simple. As he paced one more time, he went around, behind Allison. With one swift movement, he flung his arms under hers and wrapped them around, locking his fingers behind her head. He lifted her up and started to drag her. “I'm sorry Allison, but I know you wouldn't leave any other way. Annie, I'd say you owe me one, but having to spend a walk with me is enough of a favour.”  
He dragged Allison, until they were in a secluded part of the temple; a spiral staircase that lead to the top of one of the smaller towers. It was dark, as no torches had been lit on the staircase. It gave Evin the impression that it wasn't often used, which made it the perfect place to speak privately with Allison. 
He let go of her, tossing her towards the staircase and blocked the exit from her. “Annie can handle herself just fine. We would only be getting in the way. And besides, Darren is near by if she needs help. If I thought that you'd come with me without a fight, I wouldn't have done that, but I wasn't going to give you the benefit of the doubt. You're just a little too fiery.”

“Always the gentleman.” Allison muttered when Evin released her, taking the time to catch her balance and not fall over. She didn’t respond to Evin’s statements that Annie could handle the situation on her own; that wasn’t the only reason why Ali wanted to stay, but she wouldn’t argue with the man over it. “I’ll take fiery as a compliment, even though I’m not entirely sure of what you’re supposed to mean by it.” Heaving a weary sigh, Ali leaned against the nearest wall; mostly because she still felt a bit dizzy, and took a long moment to examine Evin’s appearance, but making no comments on what she was seeing. “I hope you have something to talk about otherwise standing here and staring at each other’s faces is bound to get dull pretty quickly.”

Evin, taken aback by the comment about staring at each other, took a moment to actually look at her. He thought the girl was twenty, but she had age on her. The blue dots of her eyes were just less useful. Evin didn't know if that meant that they lacked the sparkle they did before or if the shade of blue had just changed. “Crystal never got the chance to meet with Sean. He died this afternoon. Drowned.” He sighed, looking up the dark corridor of the staircase as if he'd find an answer to an unsolved riddle there. “Where do we go from here?” He said, almost just as a throw away comment.  
He walked passed Allison, walked up a few of the steps. He walked until his waist met up with Allison's head. When he sat on the step, his head was practically at Allison's. He stretched his legs down the stairs and rested his hands just above his knees. He looked her dead in the eyes. “Where do we go?”

Allison let out a short amused wave of laughter. “Drowned? All on his own?” She questioned, watching Evin with a slightly suspecting look in her eyes. “I almost feel bad, he had very little time to live with the consequences of his stupidity.” For a little while Ali ignored Evin’s question on where to go. She wasn’t sure if she truly understood the question, or if he actually meant for her to give an answer. Eventually she shrugged. “I go where Crys goes... At least until I’m drawn to something else... Who knows, the future is uncertain.” She leaned further into the wall with a tired grunt. “I think though, the Wolfpack will take years to go back to what is once was, if it’s possible, depending on who the next Alpha will be. Meanwhile, we have been adding to our ranks and for what I’ve seen we’re far more organized now that we have been in three years. Not to mention we have none of the notoriety the Wolfpack has gained in the past five years. If you think on it, the clan started to suffer from the moment The Shadow turned the cities on us and we were forced into the open. Soon enough everyone knew the name of the Alpha and the location of the camp... Newhaven Knights were popping in for random visits at all hours of the day... It was just madness.”

“Sean lived to see the consequences of his stupidity. Unfortunately, so did his sister.” Evin said.
Evin smiled at the thought of the days before The Shadow corrupted the ways of the Wolfpack. He closed his eyes, remembering the days when the Wolfpack was a name that struck people with mystery. When the only way to speak to a Wolf was to talk to the Innkeeper and even then, no one really knew if the Innkeeper was actually an assassin or just merely a messenger. People avoided the deep woods and walked the long way around to the cities and the Plains. There was not even a path worn down enough for anyone without knowledge of the path to find. The Alpha was a position that could be kept for longer than a decade completely uncontested. And the Hunters had only been a mild nuisance for a long time. Those were the days that Evin would remember most fondly and the days that Evin would hopefully never forget.  
“Perry was a pretty unfortunate part of our history. Probably the downfall of it all... So what have you been up to since we last met? What was it, the ball?”

Ali stopped to think when she had last seen Evin, it had been quite a long time since then. “The ball, yeah, probably. Did Jake not invite you to his birthday or did you simply not want to come? It was a nice party all things considered. That’s where we all were before coming here, the plan was that I would wait here for Crys to come back from the Wolves’ camp and then either return to Newhaven or follow her back to Blackpond; depending on the outcome. Before the party I was with Trevor and a few others stationed in Newhaven... In Jake’s old house. I’m still not sure why. I mean the people in Blackpond are recruiting, but we were just... Watching the city I guess. I haven’t had much of a chance to question Crys on what she is planning exactly, I just have a feeling there is something... Or was... I don’t know how Sean’s death fits into things.” She went silent for a little while, remembering that night in Blackpond. “Now that you mention it, the Ball... Do you know what really happened, with Ella? I mean, Crys said she wasn’t sure what actually happened, just that Ella was dead, but as far as the population knew, she was... Well... Not. I wasn’t about to go around asking questions in the city, but things have been weird ever since.”

“Jake and I have a special kind of relationship. We have the same goals but very different ways about getting towards them. I stay out of his business and he stays out of mine. That includes anything from avoiding a party to turning a blind eye. I will admit, avoiding a party is one of the easier ways to stay out of the guy's life.” Evin said. He chuckled for a moment, but immediately stopped as a thought crossed his mind. He almost spoke the thought until he turned his head and covered his mouth with his hand. Slowly his hand slipped down his face and onto his lap. “Ella.” He said as if reminding himself of something. “Yes. I haven't been able to gather much information on Ella. I know she died and I also heard that she was pregnant. There are rumours about that she is still alive, but all I've heard are rumours. It might explain why Newhaven is being governed by the Knights. Was Ella actually the last remaining member of the royal family? What happened to all the cousins and whatnot? Ah, I don't know. I just know that when things don't make sense, there is probably a reason for it. Take Perry...” Evin's thought trailed off, distracted by another thought. “... You know something, this whole enlightenment thing has the mark of Perry. I mean, I don't even know how someone could poison every single enlightened person. By the Twins, I should have asked Jake about that when I had the chance... Nah, it couldn't be. What do you think?”

Ali took a few moments to think about Perry, a frown marking her features as she remembered the whole process of hunting down the responsible for the deaths back then. “You know... Now that you mention it... I wonder...” She mumbled, a bit to herself before shaking her head and changing her tone to a more casual one as she elaborated. “The whole thing with Perry, with that dagger... That book Bastian had; the one that got passed around a lot after Perry died and we lost the dagger... It said very clearly that no one knew whether or not it even worked and... Well... I didn’t know the guy at all, and certainly not as well as you or Lena, but... He seemed to be a clever man, he did fool everyone for a very long time. Would he really murder all those people and risk taking his own life on a maybe? I wonder...” Once again Ali paused, staring at Evin quietly for a little while. “I wonder if someone wasn’t behind his actions somehow, fooled him into believing the dagger’s powers were real... Assuming it doesn’t work, had he followed through with his plan he would have simply murdered a bunch of enlightened and then killed himself, and no one would know why. It’s a foolish thing to believe, isn’t it? Achieve some form of invincibility from murdering a bunch of people and then stabbing yourself... What would it take for someone to believe something like that? What amount of proof would be enough to make the risk seem worthwhile? We never really gave much thought to why he was so sure of what he was doing, or where that blasted knife even come from. I don’t know if there is any sort of connection, but we never really looked into it. We were too involved in trying to not get slaughtered by Newhaven.”

Evin thought about what Ali said. He looked back at what he knew about Perry and his persona. He thought about the changes that came from it. How he left all of his focus on the Knights of Newhaven after the fact. How he could no longer focus on the simple life that he'd grown up with. “It seems impossible for someone to make such a perfect plan. Something like this would have to be planned by more than one person and even with careful planning and execution, things don't just line up so perfectly. This person convinces Perry to kill enlightened people, giving him a dagger of unknown origin and telling him it will give him great power. Perry is trusted to fool everyone he's ever met, including Lena and the Nobles of Newhaven. Trickery of this scale had to have taken several people. Then we move onto the assassin's involvement, this master planner must have known that we were going to have to kill Perry.” Evin ran both his hands through his hair. “When we killed Perry, the planner must have known that Newhaven would chase us and distract us from our other duties around Valcrest. Now, the planner is removing Enlightened from Valcrest.”
Evin jumped up from the stairs, nearly toppling backwards. He saved himself with some quick adjustments to where he distributed his weight and stood up tall. “This must be a planned assault on Valcrest from one of the outside lands. Remove the biggest threat to conquest, the Enlightened, and then sweep across the country taking whatever they want. It would make sense—distracting us Wolves that is—for the spies infiltrating us if we were out of the loop on things going on outside of Newhaven. Which mean, Blackpond. You said Crystal would be going to Blackpond after she came back from the Wolfpack? Do you suppose that she'll still get to Blackpond, given what she's probably learned by now at the Camp?”

“No, no... They wouldn’t necessarily have to kill him... Assuming the dagger doesn’t really work, he would have done it to himself. A bunch of enlightened killed and the king commits suicide. No one would suspect a connection, don’t you think? Such a clever little plan.” Ali mumbled. “Plans fail though, Dani always used to say so, and I think... We weren’t a part of the plan. We weren’t supposed to figure him out. Who would have thought we could? Lena didn’t. The White Knights didn’t. We may be smarter than the White knights... We’re probably smarter than the White Knights... Well, definitely smarter... We, as a group, are still not smarter than Lena. He... She... They... Whoever... Didn’t expect us to figure it out. Perry was arrogant though, killing Bastian the way he did, attacking me inside the encampment, he pushed too far. So maybe the question isn’t what happened, but what would have happened if we had not interfered...” Allison stopped talking for a little while and chuckled at herself. “That’s ironic. You know, Lena gave me a journal, when she came back, it belonged to my mother. The line most written in that journal was ‘I’m not crazy’. I’m starting to understand that feeling.” Once again Ali stopped speaking again, lowering her head and rubbing her eyes, stubbornly fighting her exhaustion and trying her best to ignore the lingering pain that had been plaguing her on and off for the past few months. Eventually she spoke again raising her head to start at Evin. “Theron said something to Crys, about an outside invasion, but... I don’t know... That sounds like such a simple explanation, doesn’t it? Too simple. After everything, so far, call me crazy if you will, but I don’t trust simple anymore. The Blackhurst scholars and the White Shadows, after thousands of years, never fully understood enlightenment... How could outsiders do this? Decades of planning on the off chance that we’d allow ourselves to lay down and die out is not the best of war strategies.”
Ali sighed, finally giving in and sitting down on the floor. “It was the plan for Crys to come here before going back to Blackpond. If she didn’t have Sean to deal with she should be back by now.”

Evin knew that a lot of what Allison said was probably right. Especially the fact that things were always more complicated than they first appeared. Answers were not just just going to pop up out of the blue from talking about the possibilities. Answers were only going to come from facts. Facts that could only be obtained by taking action. “If this is merely a disease, than the Whites will be able to do more than we could in fighting this. But if there is in fact a person or group of people who are systematically eliminating the enlightened of Valcrest, we'll have to take action and fast. It may not be the wisest thing to do, but I think we should somehow attempt to draw this person out into the open. We need to start agitating them and force them to take action or face the possibility of us ruining their plans. If it does nothing else, it will give us an opening into the world of this person or organization. We are desperate and likely to make a costly mistake, but making them desperate as well will put us on an equal playing field. If we are right, we'll need an equal playing field more than anything. As for what I can do next; I could either go to the White Shadow's camp and gather information, but I'd much rather go to Blackpond with you and Crystal. If Lena couldn't find anything useful, I'll likely ever find it either.”

"This is nice, isn't it?" Ali spoke, a bit of amusement and sarcasm in her tone. "I don't think we've taken the time to form conspiracy theories since the day of that storm, back in camp, before Crys came back, remember? That was a long time ago, or at least it feels like it."Ali nodded to herself in agreement. "Suppose you're right though, we have to dosomething. Let's see what Crys has to say when she arrives, about Sean and everything else. Night's fallen, she shouldn't be long now." She sighed. "How's this whole sickness thing affecting you, by the way? I have to say, I'm not having a good time with it."

Evin had completely forgotten about the sickness in himself until just then. All of a sudden, he felt a massive drain as if he had been sucked through a reed. All the life that had been in him since the early morning had completely left, leaving him feeling frail. “I can't believe how this has made me feel. I'm sure you can see it. I don't have the energy to do things as I used to. My joints ache, I run fevers often, I'll get sudden spike in my heart rate that lead me to believe I'm dying.” He smirked as he remarked, Well I guess I am dying. The worst of it all is the blood. I'm coughing up a lot of blood now. It started innocent enough as a cold, but as just been getting worse as time goes by. I'm not sure how much longer I have, but I can definitely feel it coming.”

The setting changes from newhaven to Assassin's Camp

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Evin Bana Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Annie Turner Character Portrait: Allison Blake
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“What do you think you’re doing here?” A voice sounded behind Jake’s back, a note of unfamiliar panic escaping underneath the woman’s words. “Are you insane, Jacob?”
“That’s an interesting question, isn’t it?” Jake smiled, seeming to actually ponder over the possibility for a moment before looking over his shoulder just briefly enough that he could catch a glimpse of Sheila’s expression. “I won’t be long. Don’t worry.”
“You are standing over the Alpha’s dead body, Jake. You can’t be here. Of all people, you cannot be seen here.”
“What’s the worse that can happen, really? They’ll think I did it? Nothing I haven’t gone through before. I’ve killed one Alpha, indirectly as it may have been, and then I was accused of killing another; if she hadn’t come back from the dead there would be no way to prove otherwise, what’s one more? Records are meant to be broken.” Jake chuckled softly. “Aren’t you even wondering if I did it this time? I have to say I’m a bit disappointed by that.”
“I don’t care if you did it.” Sheila muttered. “Just get out before anyone else sees you here.”
“I have a feeling it might be late for that, Sheila.” Jake retorted, reaching for something in his belt, but stopping in his tracks as an arrow flew past his arm. “Ryan. Never the most quiet one. Or the best of archers for that matter... How can I be of assistance?”
“Don’t give me that crap, Turner. Poor archer or not, I can pierce an arrow through your skull from here.” Ryan muttered in response. “Sheila, go find Doni and bring him here.”
“Doni, huh? Didn’t think the kid had it in him...” Jake smirked. “Are you telling me everyone is so terrified by Sean’s little ‘accident’ that no one has even tried to claim his position? That’s just sad.”
“My brother’s corpse is barely cold... We’re not looking to replace him just yet.” Doni responded himself as he stopped just a step behind Ryan. The boy didn’t seemed to have strayed too far from the burial grounds to begin with; Jake didn’t exactly blame him. “Where is the guard that was supposed to be watching my brother’s body?” He demanded.
“Oh, don’t worry, he’s taking a little nap. I just needed a few minutes to pay my respects, that’s all.” Jake shrugged, calmly pulling something from his belt.
“Pay your respects? Are you kidding?” Donovan questioned, not seeming convinced by Jake’s motives; and again, Jake couldn’t exactly blame him. “Don’t move or Ryan will shoot you.”
“Relax, boy. I’m not here to cause trouble. Look...” Jake sighed slowly raising his hand and showing the sheathed hunting knife he was holding.
“That’s Sean’s knife.”
“Yes, the one he stabbed me with three years ago. I promised to return it and a promise is a promise.” Jake smirked. “Although, I won’t deny this is not how I planned on doing it.”
“How did you know Sean was dead?” Ryan questioned, sensing that Donovan might have been softening and about to let Jake go. “What do you know about what happened to him?”
“Heh, and there it is.” Jake snickered softly. “The Wolfpack wouldn’t be the Wolfpack without the bitter accusations.”
“It’s a valid question, Jake.” Donovan pointed out.
“I suppose it is this time.” Jake agreed, kneeling down slowly and placing the sheathed dagger beside Sean. “You sent for Annie and she wasn’t there, so your messenger relayed the message to Alistair instead. When I showed up looking for her as well he told me she’d gone south and to pass the message along. He assumed I’d be pleased with the news.”
“Aren’t you?” Ryan snorted.
“Yes and no.” Jake shrugged. “Did I hate Sean? Did I want him dead? Absolutely. Am I pleased with this? Not really. I don’t know if it’s because I think it’s pathetic or because I think he went unpunished in the end. Well, not unpunished, but not sufficiently punished.”
“We lost our sister because of this.” Doni argued, anger stirring in his voice.
“And now he found her again.” Jake shook his head in clear disappointment, standing up and turning to face Donovan, now completely ignoring the fact Ryan was still aiming an arrow at his head. “Not all of us escape our grief that easily, Kid. In some ways that’s good, in other ways... It’s just painful. Either way, he got off too easy.”
Donovan sighed, silently requesting that Ryan disarm the bow and leave. Ryan was clearly not pleased with the idea, but he did comply, mumbling that he wouldn’t be too far. “Alright; why are you really here? Don’t tell me you’re against breaking promises, because even I know that never stopped you before.”
Jake chuckled at Donovan’s provocation as it was actually quite effective; or would have been in a different context. “Well, Sean and I had a deal of sorts. One we made a very long time ago. Even though I’m not sure I even believe in it anymore, I’d like to think he would keep his word despite everything. So it’s only fair I keep my promises as well.”
“What kind of deal and why in Valcrest do you think he would?”
Jake snorted, not answering the question at first, but eventually speaking. “Back when we were in training together Sean and I agreed that if I died first I was to find your mother and deliver a message, and if Sean died before I did, then he’d find my sister and deliver a message for me. To a ten year old kid’s logic that makes perfect sense, but now... I’m not sure I still believe they would be there. Regardless, I think that if they are then Sean will keep his word, because if the situation were reversed he’d like me to do the same.” Jake smirked. “Although, if there is an afterlife like the Myths explain it, I think our little deal is a bit pointless. Neither of us would get to see it after all. I think we’ve both done enough by now to warrant a trip to the underworld, or whatever you like to call the pits of hell. The closest family I see there would probably be Lena.”
“You think Lena went to hell?” Donovan laughed.
“Eeeh, I wouldn’t be surprised and I doubt she would be either. But I think we’ve talked enough for one day, you and I. There’s places I need to be and I planned to be heading there by now.”
“Fine, Jake, fair enough. Just one thing...” Donovan spoke, following Jake for a few steps as the man started to walk away from the encampment. “...You’re leaving here uncasthed this time, because Crys and I had a really nice talk when she was here... About cooperation and stuff. That and my brother made very clear that he would like this whole hate thing to die with him. That said, if you step foot in this camp again, I will personally put an arrow through your skull. Trust me, I’m better at it then Ryan.”
“Kid, there’s nothing left here for me.” Jake stated simply, not looking at Donovan as the boy walked a few steps behind him. “Let me tell you one thing though: If this whole thing didn’t die with Sean I’ll make it my personal mission to come here and finish the job and no amount of arrows will be able to stop me.”

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

Halfway to the desert Crys had just stopped walking. It was like she simply froze in place while trying to process all the things that had gone wrong in the span of one single day. She knew she needed to go back to the desert, talk to Ali, decide on what to do next, figure out how to do what they decided to do. All of that seemed like a very clear part of the future to her. Taking responsibility had already become second nature by now, it no longer felt like the weight of the world placed upon her shoulders like it once did. Being asked what to do wasn’t the problem, not knowing the answer wasn’t the problem. The problem was that it all felt very inevitable to her now, it felt like nothing would make a difference. Maybe fate was just set in stone from the start.

Warmth started to slowly fade and a chill began to spread across the tree branches above as night fell upon the Valcrest forest. The Sun descending as it naturally should felt much different than when it simply vanished without warning. Crys was grateful for that, otherwise she might rightly believe the world had gone to hell a second time. The noted that poured out of the wooden flute at first were confusing; as reflection of her own state of mind, but soon they changed into something different. Not sad, nor happy, nor soothing. The music might have sounded unbearably dark, or maybe eerie, to anyone who might have stumbled upon that clearing in that exact moment. It was the sound of someone standing alone in a room with no windows, no doors, and no light. Someone who sees all roads ahead leading towards the edge of the very same precipice. It was the sound of complete and absolute hopelessness.

“Pride is what keeps you from falling, strength is what pulls you back to your feet. Sometimes the fall is needed, Kiddo. Sometimes that’s the only way forward.”

Truth. He was not entirely a good man, Crys knew that, and he wasn’t always right, but her father had always spoke the truth, no matter how difficult, without hesitation. Sometimes there is no right or wrong. Sometimes the fall is inevitable. Sometimes you find the strength to pick yourself up and sometimes... The fall is permanent. All of those little things he’d told her were now proven truth by these little pieces of her past that would never really be forgotten. Lessons learned, but how well could they serve her in times like these?

The music stopped abruptly when Crys heard a concerned whine; a familiar whine. “Kaya?”

“There you are, you crazy wolf! I should have figured.”

“Jacob?” Crys mumbled, seeming a bit confused still by the wolf’s sudden presence. “What are you both doing here?”

“What are you doing here? I thought you’d be back at the desert by now.” Jake retorted calmly. “As for the two of us, well... Kaya caught up with me a while back just outside the Wolves camp, and she just... Led me right to you. Don’t ask me what brought this up, because the hell do I know?”
Crys smiled sweetly at Kaya, the wolf having dropped something soft on her lap, which Crys assumed was the plush dragon she had not let got of since the party, and was excitedly sniffing the woman’s bloody hands and clothes.“What were you doing in the Wolves’ camp, Jacob?” She questioned, seeming a bit suspicious of that fact. “...And where is Irvin? I thought the two of you were training all day today.”
“The kid and I... We had a bit of a falling out. He followed me to the White Shadows’ camp, but we parted ways there.” Jake muttered the explanation, a tone of annoyance in his voice that made clear that whatever argument there was between him and Irvin was pretty serious to him. “As for what I was doing in the Wolves’ camp, well... Let’s say I was paying my respects.”
Crys sighed as Kaya began to persistently attempt to lick the dried blood of her hands. “Paying your respects?” She repeated, scratching behind Kaya’s ears, trying to get the wolf to stop her obsessive cleaning. “There there, girlie, I’m alright. It’s alright.”
“Paying my respects, yes.” Jake confirmed. “Why is that so surprising?

Crys didn’t answer Jake’s question as she carefully stored her flute into its casing and got on her feet, Kaya’s plush toy hanging loosely from her left hand for a moment before the wolf snatched it back. “Where were you during the eclipse? In the forest?”
“Yes, in the forest, with Irvin.”
“Training?”
“Not in that particular moment, but in general; yes, training.”
“And you heard about Sean’s death in the Shadows camp?”
“They sent for Annie, but she wasn’t there. After the sun came back Irvin and I headed that way. Alistair told me Annie had gone south and that Darren and Evin had gone with her, he told me to let her know that wolves had sent for her. He was the one who told me Sean had died. Listen, just ask me what you really want to know. It’s okay.”
Crys shook her head, the question was there; no point in denying it, but saying it aloud would make everything a lot more real. Finally she walked towards Jake and placed her hands on the sides of his face as if she wanted to be absolutely sure he was looking at her. “What I want is for you to look at me and say you didn’t do this. Can you do that?”
Jake took a long deep breath, leaning forward and pressing his forehead against hers. “I hated Sean. I think he deserved to die for what he did to you. I regret more than anything not slitting his throat three years ago when I had the chance and this... Was not enough for all he’s done.”
“Jacob...”
“No. I didn’t do this. I’ll say it as many times as you want: I didn’t do this. I didn’t do this. Okay?”
“Okay.” Crys agreed, heaving a sigh.
“Okay.” Jake repeated, wrapping one arm around her and pulling her close to him. “You’re shaking, where’s your cloak?”
“Ah. I left it by the lake when I met with Donovan and Ryan there.” Crys shrugged.
“Oh, so for you it’s okay to leave your clothes lying around, huh? Double standards.” Jake teased, removing his cloak and wrapping it around her shoulders.
“Well, whenever I leave my clothes in a naked prostitute’s bedroom, you’re free to give me a hard time, Jakey.” Crys snorted, wrapping her arms around his neck and giving him a brief hug before returning to the tree she had been sitting by and retrieving her travel bag. “Until then, I’m afraid you don’t have much cause to complain.”
“Whenever...? You know what, not important.” Jake shook his head. “What the hell happened in the desert? You’ve got blood all over your clothes... Annie left the Plains in a hurry... And you don’t seem too eager to go back there, am I right? That’s why you were just sitting here.”
“That’s one of the reasons I’ve been sitting here, yes. I needed to put some thoughts in order, or at least try to. What happened in the desert, well, I advised Jackson to call for Annie in the hopes that she could help shed some light into things, but what it looked like was Dastan flipping out and murdering everything. And I’m not exaggerating that; if there are ten Crimson Shadows left I’ll consider that a miracle.”
“Holy crap.” Jake muttered under his breath, flinching for a moment and realizing a bit too late that Crys had started heading south again, running to catch up to her. “Do you think this has to do with the illness?”
“I’m not sure. That’s why we needed Annie. Jacob, I spent a lot of time training with Dastan, that’s probably what kept me alive in that mess, and I know very well that he would barely sustain one shadow golem for more than thirty minutes or so at a time... Yes, the eclipse didn’t last for more than a couple of minutes, but there were hundreds of those things. Even if the illness caused him to lose control, the effort should have drained him within seconds.”
“Are you thinking... Someone else did this? That it was...”
“An attack? Yes, that’s what I’m thinking. I wouldn’t be the first time, think about it: Someone kicked the Crimson from the desert four years ago. That attack that Sean claimed he had not ordered, and as it turned out he wasn’t lying, and now this. Someone really wants the Crimson gone, that’s what it looks like to me.”

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

[The Desert]

Dastan had his eyes closed for what felt like a long time now. Even if that meant he could hear the voices of his friends screaming as they were murdered, even if it meant reliving the whole thing over and over and over again; it was still better than dealing with the silence that now plagued the desert. The night had fallen and there was no music, there were no voices, there was nothing left except for silence and fear.

“Why is he in chains?”

“Jackson’s orders, Miss. Said he didn’t want him to try and hurt himself.”

“He won’t do that, unchain him.”

“I... I’m not supposed to...”

“Jackson called me here because he wanted my help, but I won’t do it this way. I want these chains off, and I want you to leave us. That’s not negotiable.”

There was a moment of silence before a pair of hands reluctantly worked to rid Dastan of his restraints. Once he was unbound the silence lingered once more. The mercenary opened his eyes as saw Annie sitting on the ground in front of his. The room was considerably darker than it had been when Dastan last looked at his surroundings; night had fallen. “Wouldn’t your time be better spent on people who may still be helped, Miss Annie?” He questioned.
“And who are you to decide who is worth my help, or my time, Sir?” Annie retorted simply. “This will go as quickly and as easily as you make it Dastan, just answer my questions.”
“To what end? Let’s say my answers lead you to some conclusion... How does that help anyone? It can’t. Just leave me alone.”
“If you want to decide your life ended here, if you want to sit here and wallow in self-pity, punish yourself, cry in the dark, or whatever else; suit yourself, Dastan. I’m not saying you can’t. I’m saying that I’m here to determine what happened with you, like it or not, because those answers are necessary. If not to you, then to your friends and family.”
“Look, we know what happened. Jackson doesn’t want to believe it, but he knows. I know. I should have never left that cell in Blackpond when Crys opened the door. I should have stayed in my cage. None of this would have happened.”
“Tell me about your father, Dastan.”
“How do you know about my father?” Dastan muttered. “I haven’t told anyone about that, except...”
“You told my mother. She kept records, all clan leaders do, with a few exceptions. No one has access to them except for me, don’t worry.” Annie smiled reassuringly, although Dastan suspected she was somewhat pleased to have gotten a reaction from him. “So tell me about your father’s death.”
“Indrani’s father killed him. He had to. My father went mad, so they say... Try to kill my mother when she was pregnant with me. Saying the shadows had whispered to him, that they had said I belonged to them. Not many of the Crimson who were currently with us knew those rumors, but I grew up with them. More so after my awakening.”
“Your father believed the shadows were alive, then?”
“Apparently.” Dastan shrugged. “Before you ask; no. No, I don’t believe shadows are sentient beings. I believe that maybe I can make them seem that way, that the voices are solely severed parts of my consciousness, or however you want to phrase it. As long as I knew that, with absolute certainty, I could always maintain some form of control, except...” He traced the scar across his neck. “That one time.”
“What happened then?”
“Is that not written down in your mom’s little notes, Kid?” Dastan rolled his eyes. “I got ambushed by Blackpond soldiers, there were too many to fight off so eventually they had me kneeled and someone was about to slash my throat open. Everything went black. I thought ‘hey, death is not so bad.’, only I didn’t die. I woke up some time later, soaked in blood from head to toe... the earth was red... there were body parts scattered everywhere... I was too weak to even move though. There was nothing I could do except let the first guards who came across me drag me away to the dungeons. The rest is... You know... History, as one would say.”
“Mhm... Do you know how long you were unable to move?”
“Uh, not really. It was morning when I woke up, the fight happened a few minutes before sunrise, and it was dark by the time anyone found me... So, I’d say a long time.”
Annie nodded in agreement, offering Dastan a flask of water. “Drink. How do you feel now?”
“Fine. Physically at least. My head hurt for a bit, but it passed.”
“Headache? Can you describe the pain to me?”
“I don’t know... Like needles, I think.”
“And do you remember what happened this time?”
“I didn’t see anything most of the time, because no one did, but... I heard everything and I... I saw Indrani getting stabbed... I just couldn’t do anything. I was...”
“Paralyzed?” Annie sighed. “You didn’t cause this. It makes no sense to think you did. Ali told me you started to get confused moments after arriving when you had been fine the whole way from the Nest. I’m pretty sure a telepath either incapacitated you while someone else attacked the camp or took control of your enlightenment. Although, the first option is more likely, the latter would have probably killed you. Do you understand what I’m saying, Dastan? You are not responsible.”
“That doesn’t change anything. I’m still sick, I’m still dangerous, this... Could have just as easily been me.” Dastan stated, hiding his face in his hands. “They’re all still dead. My sister still has a hole through her stomach, those people down there who somehow survived will still relive this day in their nightmares forever. No amount of answers can fix that. It’s over!”

“You know what, Dastan: Fine. You answered my questions, and I said I would leave you if you did. I tend to keep my word most times, so I will. Just one thing I think you’re forgetting, Shaykh: Someone did this. Not you, but someone else. They infiltrated your clan, they entered your mind, they tore your people; your brothers and sisters, to bloody pieces and made you watch. They bound your hands and made you live your worst possible nightmare. So, for those of you left, there still one answer left to give: Do they get away with it?”

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

Jake and Crys didn’t talk much on the way to the desert. They both seemed somewhat distracted with their own thoughts, silence lingering between them aside from the sounds of the forest itself and Kaya’s occasional whines as if from time to time the wolf made an attempt at starting a conversation between her humans with no success.

As they started to near the desert Jake finally broke the silence, noting how Crys’ footsteps had started to become more hesitant. “You know, Sheila thinks I did it.” He informed. “She was the one who found me in the cemetery.”
“She would probably say I put you up to it. That’s usually how it goes with her, isn’t it?” Crys shook her head, quickening her pace just slightly.
“So what? Does it matter to you what she thinks?” Jake questioned, continuing to pace calmly after her. “Not everyone who meets has to like you, you know?”
“Shut up.” Crys muttered. “I don’t want that bitch to like me. I just wish she’d stop...” She silenced when she realized she was stepping on sand, taking a deep breath and continuing quietly towards the temple.

Jake could understand now why Crys seemed so reluctant to return to the Crimson Shadows’ camp; the sand was stained reddish brown with dried blood, dead body were lined up neatly for the pyre that was still being built; bigger than anything Jake had ever seen outside of a battlefield. From a distance he could recognize faces amongst the dead, more notable to him were the ones of the few mercenaries who carried him into the river just the night before. He recalled their laughter and their singing as clearly as if they were all still there somehow and he felt as though his heart had plummeted into the pit of his stomach. How did everything go so wrong this quickly? How did this happen?

“Jakey.”

Jake startled slightly when Crys took his hand. He was sure she had kept walking without him, but no; still there.

“Jakey, come with me. Don’t stand here.” She pleaded, pulling him with her towards the temple. “Come, let’s find the others.”

Jake nodded, finally turning his gaze from the dead mercenaries and walking after Crys. A smile momentarily crossed his expression as he watched Kaya dash ahead into the temple and he figured Sora was probably there as well. Although he was not very sure Kaya had the same ability to act respectfully around the sick and injured; the wolf had a tendency to act a bit spazzy. “It’ll probably be fine.” He mumbled to himself, continuing to follow Crys without paying too much attention until he heard voices and realized they had stumbled upon Ali and Evin.

“See, there she is.” Ali pointed out, making somewhat clear that they had been wondering where Crys were.
Crys seemed somewhat amused at her two friends. “Why are you two hiding out here? No one comes here ever... It’s probably full of spiders.”
“What?” Ali mumbled, pushing herself away from the wall and stumbling a few steps forward.
“I’m kidding... Mostly...” Crys smiled. “No, seriously, what are you two doing here?”

The details of the next bit of conversation were somewhat lost to Jake, although he could somewhat understand the fact Ali was explaining to Crys what she and Evin had been discussing prior to their arrival. The only light into the little room they’d wandered into was a faint trace of torchlight coming from the lit areas of the temple. Even in that poor lighting, Jake still caught Evin’s gaze. The two men hadn’t exchanged two words in a very long time, and Jake wouldn’t blame anyone for assuming that it was all due to some remaining hostility; it wasn’t exactly. Not on Jake’s part at least. He simply found he had nothing to say to Evin most of the time, and yet... If anyone had been paying attention to the two men in that particular moment, they would have noticed that there was somewhat of an extensive conversation occurring between the two, which ended when Jacob averted his gaze and mumbled to Crys that he was going to see where Shadow was and how he was doing.

Crys turned her head to where Jake had been standing, the guy not waiting for an response from her before wandering off. She expected he wouldn’t just take Shadow and run off, but considering how difficult this situation was to face, she wouldn’t exactly blame him this time if he did. Turning back to Ali and Evin she sighed. “Well, I suppose it makes sense that someone was behind Perry, and I have a strong suspicion that someone is behind what happened here. If I had to put my money on someone it would be those weird people wandering about Blackpond. For what I hear people talk; the few ones who do, they sound like some type of cult and for what I hear they don’t take kindly to enlightened. We’ve drawn some attention from them since the Inn became operational, but we have been left alone, which leads me to believe they know who we are. I’ve been studying the possibility of sending someone into one of their establishments, but... Well... They know who we are.”
“The people with Red clothing?” Ali asked. “I’ve heard a couple of mentions in Newhaven, but sightings only. It seems they are not as active over there.”
“Well, there’s this house, outside Blackpond, the path is hidden, but enough people heard about it by now that they’ve searched for it. Nick told me of this drunken mercenary rambling about having made it inside. The guy said he just blinked and all of a sudden he was somewhere else entirely. He described it as a pitch black room, where ‘someone with the voice of a little girl’ interrogated him with nonsensical questions and then proceeded to slap him in the face with a dead fish when he got the answers wrong. We... Have not taken that very seriously. Other than that lunatic no one’s admitted to even wanting to go near the place. They’re scared of it.”

The setting changes from assassins-camp to Newhaven

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Character Portrait: Evin Bana
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CURRENT POSTING DATE: 14, Otium - Noon

There was only one thing in the entirety of Valcrest that Evin wished for. He wished for nothing more than to have a better memory. He had known that he was going to be waking up later in the morning and had wished to put out his shoes so that the morning sun could dry them. He'd forgotten, however, and now his path to Newhaven was accompanied by the uncomfortable squishing sensation as if walking through wet moss.
Given time, his mind would begin to wander. Evin would start thinking about where he needed to go and the people he needed to speak to. He also had to think of a way to keep safe while in Newhaven. It was no longer safe to just walk the streets of Newhaven. With civil unrest in the city walls, riots could pop up in a matter of minutes and suddenly one could find themselves stuck in a conflict that they don't want to be a part of. Even worse was the fact that the city guard was outstretched and if someone needed their assistance, they were likely too busy somewhere else to even notice. This meant that crime rates had gone up exponentially; along with that, the number of vigilantes. The city was no longer being run by those in power.
Those who were in power, while they were attempting to do their best, were merely placing the pawns. All the big players were being moved in random succession by several players. The one thing that the powers of Newhaven could be thankful for was that there was not a semblance of order in the revolution. If the factions within the city could work together, Newhaven would be lost, but the commoners were no military strategists. Instead, the common people—much like the nobles—were stuck, trudging through the unorganized battlefield much like a horse trudging through a swamp.
Shit! Evin caught himself thinking about his wet shoes again. He knew the inevitability. He could not forget about the reality of his shoes forever, but it was good to forget about it for a moment, just to ease the discomfort.
It was alright though. The discomfort would be hidden soon. He rounded the bend and saw the spires of Newhaven's great wall. At the entrance to the city, a small band of merchants were squabbling with the guards. Evin saw it and guessed the guards saw it too; the way the merchants dressed forebode an unpleasant air to them. Evin decided to hang back behind the wall of a building that was probably once a farm house and wait for the dust to settle on this quarrel.
He was still too far away to hear anything that the men were saying to one another. Every once in a while, he would catch the tail end of a sentence by one of the shouting men. None of the words he did catch were in any way useful. He couldn't piece together what they were saying. He could only guess. Evin's best guess was that the five merchants were trying to enter the city, but the guard didn't trust them and wasn't allowing them access. The argument started to become even more heightened and the shouts got louder. Finally, the climax. The most heated guard stepped forward, grabbing for his sword. The fight took an odd turn at that moment and the ground began moving around the guard with his sword. A wall of rock enclosed the man. A terrified scream came from inside the rock formation, but was abruptly muted. The other guards quickly reacted, including the guards atop the wall formation who began nocking their arrows. Bellow, the guards approached the clearly enlightened men with an ere of caution. They drew their swords and approached the men, but nothing was going to stop the men from being engulfed in flames. As the guards bellow spontaneously combusted around them, the arrows from above were released. However, a big gust of wind picked up from bellow redirecting the arrows back to their recipient. The guards who dodged the arrows and avoiding being knocked off the wall from the wind were quickly engulfed in flames themselves from the wind whipping the furious flames from the dead corpses bellow upward.
This big display alerted nearby guards to the issue, but the band of mercenaries had made it through the walls and into the city with their caravan before anyone could get close enough to stop them.
At this point, Evin left his cover and approached the doors, but not before the guards got there.
“Stay back. Any closer will be a signiture of your death wish.” The sergeant shouted at Evin as he got closer.
Evin stopped in his tracks. “My name is Evin Bana: Deposer of the False King, former Wolf, associate to Crystal Rivers, and close friends with Mageria of the Black Knights. I have incredibly important business to attend to in the city and come with no malintent.”
“I don't care who you say you are. I can't let you through. The city is under martial law. No one comes or goes without direct permission from the Knights or generals”
“Martial law be damned! I've made a career of entering and exiting this city without being seen by a single person during my visits. In fact, I can tell you that there are about seven secret passages into the south side of the city alone. At least, these are the ones that I know of. I'll make a deal. Let me through the walls and I'll show you the most well known smuggler's route into the city.”
“Sorry. I can't let you in.”
Evin, with his smug look said, “Fine. I'll meet you at the Foxhead Inn. It'll only take me ten minutes to get there, but I'll wait for you so I can show you how I got into the city.”
With that, Evin turned back around and started to run the way he came at full speed. When he was out of view of he guards, he turned right into the forested part on the west side of the southern wall. From there, he walked into a small hunting shack. It was a small room with a rug. He lifted the rug to reveal a trap door and he went into the passage.

The Foxhead Inn was an immaculate hostel in the south western side of the city. What made the place so desirable to most anyone in the city was that it transcended all of the social barriers. The criminals sat along side the nobles and peasants without judgement. Everyone who entered the Foxhead were looking for a way to sit back and relax. Nothing was more important to the owners than to make sure everyone could enjoy an affordable for everyone. In order for the Foxhead made it so affordable was by making it a hub for debauchery in the city. It was one of the few places that anyone in the city could turn a blind eye so they can enjoy the sinful pleasures of life.
Evin had been banned from the Foxhead for nearly half of his life. In his first years of as an assassin, he found the place incredibly useful for gathering information, but even better for finding people. He would wait for his targets at the Inn, waited for the to leave and then follow them out. He'd use the time they'd take, drunkenly walking through the city at night, to find the opportunity to perform his duties. Eventually, the owner of the Inn started to catch on to Evin's game. He could never prove that Evin was actually an assassin, but the evidence seemed to lead to the fact that he was.
It had been nearly seventeen years since Evin had been to the Inn. He wasn't even sure if the old man would recognize him anymore.
“What are you doing here.” The scratchy voice of a man who had not seen a day without his pipe popped through the crowd as Evin walked towards the bar. The old man was not anywhere past the age of 55, but he looked like he could pass at any moment. “I'll kill you if you don't leave my establishment!.”
“Good to see you too, Julian. Now come with me to your back room. We need to chat.” Evin said, unfazed by the Julian's aggressiveness.
“Why shouldn't I just cut your throat and throw your body out of here.”
“For one, the sergeant I've told to meet me here would be pretty suspicious of my dead body, wouldn't you think? Secondly, I'd probably kill you before you could even think of grabbing your knife. Finally, I'd say—given the state the city is in and the type of people who come to the Foxhead—it would be pretty easy to incite a riot. So, either way, you're in a pretty bad position here. Especially since the sergeant will be here in the next five or so minutes.”
Julian glared Fire at Evin. With a grunt, he spun around, and began walking. Evin pushed through the crowds to keep his sight on the hunched back that was leading him to the back room. Julian opened the door and walked through. Evin followed by shortly. As he walked through the door a couple in their late teens scurrying out of the room, covering their half clothed body with the clothes they didn't have on. He shut the door behind him and said, “Young love.” He chuckled, “Can't say I haven't been there.”
“Ah shut up and get to the point.” Julian's voice grated.
“Fine... fine. I'm looking for someone who may be involved in suspicious activity.”
“The Foxhead is the house of suspicious activity.”
“I'm not talking about regular suspicion. I'm talking about things that even the most suspicious characters of the Foxhead would find suspicious. A person or group of people who don't conform to the normalcy of the crime syndicates. They be doing more than not playing by the rules. They wont even be playing the same game. I don't know if you know anything of it, but think of something along the lines of the Shadow.”
“There is one person. A fellow by the name of Wyatt. While there's no reason for me to believe he's a criminal of any sort, he doesn't fit into any group or social class that I know of.”
“The thief.” Evin whispered.
“I don't know.” He must have heard. “Like I said, I don't know if he's involved in any crime.”
Evin didn't bother saying anything more. Not even a thanks. Julian didn't deserve it. He just pulled away and walked out of the room. Weaving through the crowd, he looked for a spot that would allow two people to sit. Walking through the crowd, he slipped his hand onto a table and swept a half drunk mug of some sort of alcoholic beverage. The man sitting there didn't even notice. Soon he saw a table that was free. He rushed to it, knowing that other people would take the opportunity to steal it for themselves just as quickly as he wished to.
Just as he took a seat, the front door opened and the sergeant stepped into the room. After a quick survey of the room, he caught Evin, who appeared to have been sitting there for ages, waving the man over.
“I could have you arrested.”
“But you wont.”
“Oh no, I will. But first finish your drink. Afterwords, you will step out with me without conflict and I'll send you to the dungeons where you'll be held until Martial Law has been lifted.”
“And what about our deal. You'll never know about the smuggler's passage into Newhaven.”
“The Foxhead Inn? Even if it is true, I can't do anything about it. This place defines the culture of the city. I don't want to be responsible for the one thing that keeps this city unified.”
“You think too highly of this place, really. But who's to say that this is actually the entrance to the city? Who's to say I didn't just walk into this place, right before you did, grab some guys drink and sit, pretending to have been here for a while? It takes ten minutes for me to get into the city from the passage. It takes you nearly twice that time to get here. That means there's a radius of ten minutes worth of walking around this Inn that I could have come from.” Evin slouched back into his seat and grabbed his mug, but didn't drink from it.
“It wont change a thing. I'm still going to arrest you.”
“Okay then. While I wait upon my arrest, could I ask a few questions?”
The sergeant huffed a sigh of frustration. “I guess.”
“Thank you. There's a pretty prolific thief in this city. From what I understand, he frequents this place from time to time, but doesn't exactly follow the established thieves guilds and crime bosses. I've met him a few times. The most notable time being in Newhaven's castle at the tomb of the false king. It seems he knows his way around the city and doesn't get caught easily. Does this guy sound familiar to you?”
“Yes. In fact, he was caught in the market square on the day before the ball in Blackpond. He was to be contracted by some mercenary by the name of Alexander, but was intercepted and arrested before he could follow the contract through. Been in the dungeons ever since.”
Evin's eyes widened. “I never imagined the guy would be caught. If it weren't for the fact that I know he isn't, I would have believed he's a Wolf. The way Wyatt works is very akin to the way the Wolves worked.”
“His name isn't Wyatt. Couldn't tell you what it was, but I can tell you it isn't Wyatt.”
Evin didn't speak for a moment. This revelation was a surprise to him. He genuinely believed the guy's name was Wyatt. This man became much more interesting to Evin than he already was. He felt a need to conceal his real identity. A need to hide one's identity was usually out of fear of what one could do with his identity. Was it possible that he was more than a thief? Was the thieving just a front for his dubious affairs? Evin tried his best to hide all of this from the sergeant, deciding to change the subject to distract from the whole affair.
“How about you take your helmet off, so I can see who I'm talking too.”
“I'd rather not.”
“Come on!”
“We aren't friends. Now stop distracting me and finish your damn drink.”
“Oh, this drink isn't mine. In fact, I don't drink.”
“Let's go.”
The sergeant kicked his chair back as he stood, then waited for Evin. Evin leisurely placed the mug, which he was still holding, down, and methodically stood from the table. Taking his time to push his chair back and then push it into the table. He then walked past the sergeant, who followed behind him. He followed Evin out the door, where the sergeant immediately shackled Evin's hands together.

The last light of the day shone across the ever darkening skies as they approached the dungeons. Evin made no thought of conversing with or even running from the sergeant. There was no point as he was taking Evin exactly to where he wanted to be. If this thief was in fact in the dungeons, it saved him several days work attempting to find the guy.
Reaching the door, the sergeant spoke. “Commander Josephs here. I have this prisoner to be detained until further notice.” The two guards at the front door simply nodded and let them through.
When they were finally alone, Evin spoke. “Conrad Josephs? The guy that managed to impregnate my recruit. Didn't know you could get promoted to commander for such an act.”
Conrad stopped dead in his tracks. He didn't turn to face him, but Evin felt as though he could read the boy's reaction. “You're Evin from the Wolfpack?”
“The only. Kinda young to be a commander, wouldn't you say?”
“When you've the skills that I do... there's not many people who can stand up to me.”
“And yet you let the Queen out of your sight long enough for her to get herself killed.” Evin scorned.
“You don't understand!” Conrad shouted in return.
“Maybe I don't, but I'm guessing that I do. I spent a good portion of my life raising that girl to be able to handle things on her own—”
“Let me tell yeah. You did great.” Conrad sarcastically quipped.
“SHUT UP!” Evin closed his eyes and clenched his fists. When he opened them, he had calmed a little, but his voice was still shaky. “Unfortunately, I didn't have enough time to fully train the girl to fend for herself. That's when I hoped her personal guard would come into play. I just find it odd that after an incident like that that the one responsible for the Queen's death would be promoted to commander. At the age of 20, no less.”
“Gods you are a real ass. How in Hell do you know so much about me anyway?”
“I do my research.”
“Well she's still alive. If you really need to know. She trapped somewhere inside the mind of the guy who's controlling her body.”
“Yes, I know. As good as dead if you ask me.”
“Why—”
“Let's go.” Evin interrupted and started, again to walk down the corridors.
It was only another hallway before they reached Evin's room. It was hardly enough time for either of them to even begin to get over the conversation that they just had. They had merely had time to reflect and Evin could only hope that it would be enough when he said. “We both shared Ella in some way. We both failed her in some way, but there's noting we can do about that now. Valcrest is sick and there are people who might have some answers as to why that is the case. I'm just in the city looking to do something right for this country. Can you please just show me to this thief’s cell?”
Conrad appeared to have nothing to say to the comment, but it seemed that Evin was convincing enough to persuade the young man to make the smart choice. It seemed to surprise Conrad as much as it did Evin. When he turned Evin to uncuff him, the look on the boy's face was that of confusion. A conflict in his mind that even he couldn't figure out.
After, Conrad pointed further down the hall, stuck up to fingers and then another three. After he motioned his hand slightly to the left. Why the guy was only talking through actions anymore was odd, but Evin didn't question it. He knew the message that Conrad was attempting to pass along with these hand signals. Evin would find the thief two corridors down; the third door on the left.
As Conrad started his way out of the dungeons, Evin turned around to him. He wanted to shout a friendly 'thank you' to him, but instead: “Keep on fighting for her. She might be lost, but she's still worth fighting for.”
Conrad stopped for a moment, but whatever it was that he wanted to say didn't come about. He started to walk again. So did Evin.
Down two corridors Evin went and with him, an overwhelming sense of discovery followed him. It brought him back to the days past, where he only worried about what was next to e discovered. Back when he was still a simple assassin for the Wolves and nothing more. After his acceptance of his friends death, but before he knew anything about his friend's secrets. When a dynasty of good friends still stood atop the hierarchy of the Wolves. Well before the fall of the Pack into what it had now become. It was those days where Evin could feel like his place was as a humble tool of Mind and Heart and he could be used as a resource. One that could keep a fair balance in an unfair world and who could make sure that the powers at be were always in check.
Now that the Wolfpack had fallen, he was able to feel that way again. Evin was no longer a wolf hunter. He was a wolf again. A real wolf with a real purpose. Excitement overwhelmed him as he reached for the handle to the eye hole of the third door on the left.
There he was. The thief, in relatively good health for a man stuck in the dungeons. They had been treating him well, that or he was finding a way to treat himself well. Either way, he was well kept.
“Hello Wyatt.”
“Why, if it isn't my good old friend from the Castle. What are you doing here?” The thief greeted Evin as if he were welcoming him into his home. “Come on in, the door's unlocked.”
Evin stared at the door for a moment. He reached for the latch and lifted it without any resistance. The thief wasn't lying. Evin walked into the room and closed the door behind him.
“If the door is unlocked, then why not leave?”
The thief let out a small chuckle. “The dungeons are the safest place to be in the city. It is nearly as hard to get into this place as it is to get in. With a few bribes, I've allowed myself the luxury of being able to come and go as I choose. This is merely a second home to me, if you will.”
“Interesting.” Evin took a moment to contemplate. “And you can afford such bribes? Where do you get the money?”
“When you are as good a thief as I am, you don't need to worry about money.” He said.
“But even the best of thieves aren't rich men. Sure, thievery is dirty work, but it is only the dirtiest of jobs that reap the benefits of good wages.”
“True, true. A thieve's job is not as dirty as say... a mercenary, but I'm not exactly a thief by trade.”
“You're a smart man. With the guise of the thief you can hide a lot of things, I assume.” Evin spoke suspiciously.
“It is true.”
“Such as a name?”
The thieve's eyes darted towards Evin. “What?”
“Your name isn't Wyatt. I spoke to Conrad about you. He didn't know your name, but he knew for a fact that your name wasn't Wyatt.” The thief lunged at Evin, revealing a dagger from his coat pocket. The man, however, lacked proper fighting skills and was quickly disarmed as Evin grabbed and twisted the man's arm. He then threw the thief back to the other side of the room then said, “What's your real name and what are you up to?”
“I'm Lionel. A spy for the criminal syndicates who are willing to hire me. They're foolish to trust me though. I use this job as a way to get closer to the crime lords' coffers. I embezzle the money from them and then blame their enemies for it. It keeps violent crimes up and in the end, produces more money for me to embezzle and then I start the cycle all over again.
They recently discovered my trick and sent their men after me. I decided that the safest place to hide would be in the dungeons so I gathered a group of mercenaries and branded myself as a leader of this new group. A man named Alexander was the first one to approach us with a contract. I tipped the guard off about this illegal meeting within the city walls and purposefully got myself captured on the day were were supposed to fulfil the contract. That got me in here and I've been here ever since.”
Evin was amazed at the lengths that this guy went to to keep up a simple lie. Even to go as far as giving Evin, an apparent nobody a false name for no apparent reason other than to lie to him. “So why give me the fake name? Where did that come from?” Lionel said, “That is the name I'd been using for a while. I was sent to spy on a man named Xypher. He was a war lord with a record in the criminal underworld. When outside of his door one night, he was speaking to a man named Wyatt. I decided to adopt the name for a while.”
“What was Xypher talking to Wyatt about?”
“I don't know. It didn't concern me. Apparently he's somewhere in the dungeons too. Why don't you ask him yourself?”
Evin nodded and turned out of the cell. He wondered for a moment if he was going to ever see Lionel again, but realized that he didn't really care and moved onto other thoughts.
Where was he going to find Xypher? The dungeons were a big place and to find a single person in them would be a challenge, but not too challenging. The dungeons, while they were large were most likely laid out in a way that the high profile criminals would be in a common area in much the same way that they kept all of the violent offenders in the deeper regions. If this were the case, Evin would just need to find the region where these high profile criminals were being kept and it would narrow down his search tremendously. The search radius was limited even further when Evin realized that the high profile criminals were likely going to be heavily guarded, but not as well guarded as the deepest parts where the most violent people were kept. It would also be safe to assume that those violent people would not be placed in the vicinity of the high profile people. Within only about ten minutes, these factors allowed him to narrow down his search to a section of the dungeons not to far from the second entrance.
Carefully, Evin snuck around the guard patrols. Even with his expertise in stealth, he did come across troubles. Hiding in a well lit hall, even if it is practically just a cave, was difficult enough with just a few guard patrols. This area was about had about three times the number of guards as any other area in the dungeons. Eventually, though, he made his way to the far crevice of this section of dungeon. A dead end and the last place where Xypher could possibly be. There was no guards in this last area and a single open cell to the far end of the room. Despite Evin's logic telling him otherwise, he figured that he'd start his search for Xypher with that room as it was the most accessible of them all.
Walking into the room, Evin was met with a shock. Xypher's bloodied corpse lay on the rock floor of the cell. Along side him was two guards whom Evin could only assume came to Xypher's aid before succumbing to the attacker as well. Evin stood for a moment in disbelief as he figured what to do next. He walked over to the body. The poor old man's throat had been slit and left a puddle of blood on the floor which now covered Evin's shoes. Great. Evin thought as he thought about his wet feet. He couldn't even remember if his shoes had completely dried off or not before he stepped into the bloody puddle. It didn't matter much now. His feet were wet either way and now, they weren't just wet from lake water. He sighed as he reached over the old man to see if there was any clue as to who might have killed him. Xypher was still warm. He couldn't have been dead for more than a few minutes at most. With the rock floors, the body heat would escape him pretty quickly and it felt as though Xypher could have still been alive.
Evin's suspicions of who might have done it were quite clear. Who ever this Wyatt figure was seemed to be desperate. He didn't want to be found.
Evin's eyes widened beyond what he imagined that they could and he ran. He ran faster than he had ever run before, ignoring the guards who each made an attempt to stop him along the way. Evin was going to look like he was the one who murdered Xypher and the two guards. It was an inevitability, but it was too late to go back now and he needed to make sure he made it to his destination before the real killer did.
By this point, Evin knew his way around the dungeons relatively well and in no time, he was back to the more than memorable room that he was in no less than twenty minutes earlier. He would just need to run down two more corridors and reach the third door on the left. But as he entered the second corridor and noticed the cell door wide open, he knew he was too late. The thief was dead. He didn't even bother checking to make sure. He knew it as a fact and Evin already had a fair number of guards not to far behind him. Instead, Evin ran off through the dungeons until he was sure he'd evaded his chasers and then made his way outside.

Back at the Foxhead, Evin stood again in the back room with the old shopkeeper, Julian. On the floor beside him was his blood-soaked shoes. On his feet, as a replacement, he had a pair of red slippers that he had borrowed from one of the patrons of the Foxhead who'd left his slippers in his room as he enjoyed the evening activities within the bar.
“Wyatt was here when I speaking to the guard, wasn't he?” Evin asked the old man in as calm a tone as he could keep his tone bellow that of the patrons who were shouting in the next room over.
“Yes he was. Sat in the table right beside you. Thought I'd tell you, but then I thought about how your an ass and decided not to.”
“For someone who has some sort of moral integrity to kick ban an assassin from his inn, you sure are bad at saving lives. Two lives could have been saved today if you'd have just told me. Who knows how many more lives are at risk now.”
“I'm no moral person. I'm just a businessman and I don't like it when people kill my business.”
Evin couldn't contain himself. His fist smacked hard across the old man's face, making a satisfying cracking sound from his jaw breaking. He always hated Julian, even before he had kicked Evin out of the Foxhead years ago. It was nice to finally get a little bit of revenge on the man. He'd probably never be able to talk again. To top Evin's satisfaction off, he kicked his bloody pair of shoes into Julian's face.
With a smug look, Evin walked out of the Foxhead. He was going to stay at the Wolve's Inn that night. The Inn wasn't technically a place for him to stay anymore, but he figured that it would be safe enough for him to stay there.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Evin Bana Character Portrait: Dominic Adams Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Ella Page
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Only a couple more minutes. That was all the time he needed. Ella's bed marinated in her blood as she bled from everywhere. The smell of death—something Lazurus was far too familiar with—was palpable. He just needed to hold onto the guards for a moment longer. Just a moment. He looked down at Ella's hands. The skin was greying. He worried that he might have over spent himself. Would be be able to get out of bed? He was going to have to.
He took deep breaths preparing for the moment that he'd have to lit himself out of bed. It quite possibly, was going to be one of the more difficult moments in his life. It was pathetic in a way. The fact that simply lifting himself out of bed, something he'd done so many times in his life, was now a challenge.
The sound of footsteps started to grow from the hallway. The guards were coming to relieve the others from their post.
Lazurus took a deep breath and lifted himself into a seated position and waited for the commanding officer on the other side to knock. The officer, however, didn't bother to knock this time. This was a change in the procedure, probably due to lack of attentiveness more than anything. This was perfect. The officer walked through the door and told the guards standing guard already that they were to be relieved. The three guards on duty, didn't heed the command. Instead, they withdrew their swords; each attacking their counterpart before they even had a chance to properly react.
At that moment, a clank of armour rang through the hallway as all three men fell. That was soon followed by the fallen armour of the three guards who had attacked their revealing forces. With that, Lazurus let out a huge sigh and collapsed back into bed. A million tons had just been lifted off Ella's shoulder. Soon, the bleeding stopped and he knew that he was going to recover from this.
Lazurus took a moment to take in his situation. To really see how well he would be able to move. He tested his arms. They were heavy and he felt weak, but he could still move them. Then his hands and fingers. While his fingers were useless, unable to move as if they were a rusted metal joint on a plate of armour. He still had a slight amount of dexterity left in his wrists, but hardly any. The same applied to his legs and feet. He was going to be able to walk, but it was going to be a struggle.
Slowly he shifted out of the bed. His arms, merely used to attempt to make sure he landed feet first. He slid down like a snake until his butt gently sat itself of the cold stone floor. From this position, he attempted to leverage his arms on the floor to push himself up to his feet. This didn't work too well and with the swollen stomach that Ella had developed, he wasn't exactly weighted in a way that would help him get up from a seated position. He changed tactics, opting to get himself into a kneeling position, facing the bed. He lifted his arms, and with a muffled slap, they hit the bed. He used his arms as his anchoring point and lifted, rolling over his toes and onto his feet. From there, the struggle of just lifting his body with merely his weakened legs was enough for him to let out a grunt. He jumped a little at the sound of his voice. Even after six months, he wasn't quite used to the girl's voice that he had adopted.
Lazurus trudged through the room and to the doorway, only poking his head out to see if anyone else was near by. As he suspected, there was no one. It was time to make his escape.

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In the city's lower district, Dominic, Rick and Simon were held up in a small house. Its size compared to houses in the nicer districts in the city made the house look more like a tool shed of sorts, but this modest place was once home to a small family before they were slaughter in a vicious riot that broke out in the city a month ago. Since then, Dominic had been using it as his own little house when he wanted to get out of the castle for a day. It wasn't much, but it was enough.
A knock at the door distracted Dominic from Rick, who was sleeping on the overused cot in the corner of the room. He slowly opened the door, making sure not to place his head directly out the crack as to avoid any blades from getting him by surprise. On the other side, however, he only saw the face of Peter, a Black Guard. How he knew to find Dominic in a small shack in the lower district was beyond him. Dominic stepped through the door and shut it quietly behind him.
“What are you doing here, Peter?”
“I've come with a message. Jake has come into town. He's come to relieve you of your duties. Wouldn't say much more about it, but he doesn't sound too happy about it.”
Dominic rolled his eyes, although he couldn't blame Jake. “Thank you.”

“He's coming now?” Simon asked as Dominic entered the shack again. 
“How did you hear that?” Dominic asked in shock. Dominic instantly regretted his decision to ask the question. It was an admission without actually saying it plain. 
“I'm not deaf and the two of you speak louder than a drunken spy slurring out restricted information at a bar.”
“Yes,” Dominic sighed, “he's coming.” 
Simon didn't say anything else to Dominic. While Dominic didn't know what else he was expecting the man to say, he did expect him to ask more questions. While Dominic didn't enjoy the silence as much as his friend there, he wasn't going to bother lest he wanted to be belittled some more. Instead, Dominic stepped outside of the shack again and waited for Jake to come by. 
In the meantime, he had the pleasure of watching two cats hiss at each other over territory. The grey tabby cat had walked into the orange cat's territory. Orange took note and instantly puffed up, hissing and showing off it's cheek muscles. A cat's cheeks was typically a good indication of how tough the cat was. Usually the cat with the larger cheeks would win a fight if it came to it.
Unfortunately for Orange, Tabby was a little bigger than him. Orange, however, was not going to give up its territory to a slightly larger cat. Orange could still take Tabby on in a fair fight. Dominic decided that he didn't want to see any more fighting. He'd seen enough for a lifetime and was sure he'd see more before his Death. He threw a rock at Tabby and he ran off.

Jake and Sophie had spent about half an hour sitting in Ess’ former house and talking about the people who had stopped by looking for her. It struck Jake as amusing that this was the first time he was ever in his sister’s house and she had long since moved. One of the ‘visitors’ Sophie mentioned Jake had already heard of through Sheila. He’d tracked the guy pretty easily and come to the conclusion he was harmless. The others acted too harmless for Jake’s liking and while none matched the description of the man named Hector, Jake had a gut feeling they were connected to him somehow. He warned Sophie to watch out for herself, and Bran, around those types, his warning met with glare that clearly meant ‘what, do you think I’m dumb?’. He chuckled and said nothing more on the subject. They parted ways on the street, Sophie heading to the castle and Jake towards his former home. One last stop before starting on his new mission.

He knocked on the door a certain number of times and waited. One of the assassins opened the door with a smile that clearly indicated he was expecting someone specific. “Oh, Jake,” the man mumbled, smile fading slowly, “can I help you with something?”
“Expecting someone Travis?” Jake snickered. “I need someone to send along a message to Crys. She should be back in Blackpond by now.”
“I thought it was Allison. She was supposed to be back today. Is she staying in the desert? Lowell said... It was bad?”
“I don’t know where Ali’s headed, but she was waiting for Crys to decide, so maybe she left a bit late,” he told the man. “So... Travis... Message... Can you send it for me? It need to go out today.”
“Uhm, sure. What should I tell her?”
“Tell her I need Kaya back at the Nest as soon as possible. Everything is fine, I just need her for an assignment.”
“Will do.”
Tell Ali to be safe, when she gets here, okay?”
The man half smile. “Sure, man.”

Travis was halfway through closing the door when he opened it again. “Oh, Jake! One of your knight buddies was around here earlier... He had this other guy with him... They went that way, if it’s relevant.”
“Ah, great.” Jake snorted, seeming less than pleased with the information really. “Thanks, Travis.”

The door closed and Jake headed in the direction the assassin had pointed him. As he turned a corner a tabby cat ran at full speed in his direction and slipped between his legs, almost tripping him over. “What the hell!” Jake muttered, looking over his shoulder as the tabby disappeared behind a pile of rubbish near one of the houses. “Crazy cat.”

A few steps into the street and he spotted Dominic, the man was the only person standing the empty street. “Very inconspicuous, gotta give him that,” Jake smirked. Of course Dominic was a big guy, it wouldn’t be hard to spot in a crowded street, but standing there alone made him stand out even more.

Jake rose his hand in a half-hearted wave as he approached the Knight. Stopping before the man and spreading his arms as though greeting a long lost friend; which Dominic wasn’t. “Sir Dominic. How delightful to see you again...” He spoke, with a laugh underneath his words, taking a playful bow as if mocking the very concept of civilized greetings. It wasn’t that Jake didn’t like the man, but something about Dominic just made him want to tease the man. Probably still a lingering effect of their very first meeting. “Funny how we almost never meet when you don’t have a Blackpond rat clinging to your shadow, isn’t it?” Jake had been all laughs and mischief with Sophie, but the bitterness had returned to him the moment he put one single thought to what he was asked to do. He had to remind himself who and why he was doing it for and even so he couldn’t make it disappear completely. “I’m not happy, and I truly see no point in this, but Captain asked that I think your little buddy off your hands and keep him alive... for now... So take him I shall...” Jake’s eyes seemed to turn to ice for a brief moment, but it faded. The young man breathed a sigh and put his hands in his pockets, his posture relaxing as we as his tone. “I have to ask; have you heard of all the deaths? In the forest... In the desert? I told the Captain little over an hour ago, but I know these things spread fast.”

Jake came down the road in his typical fashion. Even with no one in the streets, his demeanour implied that he was ready to go into hiding at a moments notice, almost like a skittish mouse. His words struck more like a snake. Each jab came out with a venomous edge; none that were lethal, but all of them with the intention to hurt. None of them hurt Dominic, not really. He understood that Jake had issues controlling his emotions, especially when he was forced into doing things he didn't want to do. He could only imagine that Jake didn't want to babysit. 
Then Jake's tone shifted and he spoke of deaths. “What deaths?”

Jake smiled at Dominic’s question. “Ah. So the guard I sent after you hadn’t been listening in on my talk with the Captain... That’s good to know. I’m sure you’ll get the details in the castle somewhere, so to cut things short here: The Wolfpack lost its Alpha, and the Crimson Shadows lost well... almost its entire ranks. I was recently there watching the corpses being prepared for the pyre, the most friends I lost in a day. Valcrest is just a gift that keeps on giving, ain’t it?” Jake snorted. “Anything relevant I need to know about this Blackpond guy before I take him off your hands, Dom? If not, just hand him over so I can be on my way. I don’t think I’ve ever been more eager to leave this city than today.”

No wonder he's on edge. Dominic thought as Jake quickly briefed him on the recent events to the west. An ally to the Black Knights and likely to Newhaven was nearly wiped out of existence and the mad Alpha of the Wolves was no longer. It was hard to say what was to happen to the Wolf Pack now that it lost its third leader in less than a decade, but no new or strong leaders were left of them. As for the Crimson, it was hard to say as well. Without knowing the true state of their losses, Dominic could only be left to speculate. 
“Nothing to be said about these Blackpond folk except for the fact that the one is insane and the mute's a ripe old prick.” Dominic snorted.
“That's no way to talk about me.” The thoughts of Simon intruded him. Dominic turned around to see Simon standing at the door, waving with a smile plastered across his face.
“Can he hear you?” Dominic asked, motioning to Jake.
“Now he can. Nice to speak to you again Jake. Hopefully you do a little less of it or at least say something intelligent. Dom here is insufferable.”
“Have fun.” Dominic said, smiling as he walked down the street the way Jake had come.

Jake was less than pleased to have someone’s voice in his head, but he had been warned of this guy’s inability to speak normally, so he'd have to excuse it. He waited for Dominic to leave before addressing Simon. “I have more interest in speaking to my horse than you. Likewise I’d much rather not hear a peep from you in my head unless it’s necessary. I honestly don’t know what you want, seeing as you could break your idiot King from prison on your own without having to show your face; hell, a Wolfpack recruit could have pulled that off in the state Newhaven's in, but I’m quite frankly past the point of caring for what you people want or what you’re planning... I’m just going to play along until you give me a good enough excuse to kill you.”

Gesturing towards the opposite direction Dominic had wandered off to, Jake urged Simon to walk in front of him. “I’m not stationed here, so we’re leaving the city.” He informed, not sure whether or not Dominic had mentioned, or was even aware of that. Afterwards he fell completely silent.

Simon was a little displeased to find himself leaving Newhaven so early. He'd just gotten there and intended on finding what he was looking for before leaving. The misfortune of fate brought him to this. He was no longer in control of where he ended up now that he was being hauled around by a Black Knight. Especially not Jake Turner. Of all the Black Knights, Jake wasn't one to be pushed around. Even Simon could find a way to sway Mageria to do things for him. She was smart to get Jake to take care of him. A miscalculation on his part.
Simon pushed up ahead of Jake, but didn't move for a moment. “Come along, Rick.” He turned around to look at the shack that he was staying at. He didn't say anything to Jake and just waited. A minute passed before Rick sluggishly passed through the door. Simon was sure that Jake probably wasn't pleased to see the sickly King. It would slow down travel for sure and Jake seemed to be in a rush to get out of the city.
With Jake behind them, the two started walking. Simon supposed that he was probably headed towards the front gate, so he went along. Rick's paced slowed them down, but it was no real issue. In fact, the longer he was in the city, the better. Not only did it allow him just a little more time to get his work done, but it also allowed him protection. Being around a Black Knight was good protection, but as long as he was in the city, he hadn't found the item he was looking for, which meant that neither had Vorso. The minute he left the city would be the minute Vorso would strike. At least, that's what he expected.
With immediacy in his stance, Rick perked up. Simon was surprised by this change in his demeanour, but he knew what that meant. After a period of lethargic stupor, Rick was back into his stage of enthusiastic work. There was no stopping him now, which meant Jake and Rick went where he went. Simon stopped ad turned to Jake. “I go where he goes. So you can either do your duty and follow me or you can abandon your obligations... or, I suppose, you could try and kill us. Either way, I'll be over here.” He pointed towards the street that Rick was hurriedly walking down and turned to walk that way. Jake would either follow him or there would be a fight. Simon just continued to walk, hoping it would be the former.
Simon followed Rick right to the street where the infamous Wolf Inn was. And was the Inn ever busy. People coming in and out of the place in a constant stream. Old ad young, rich and poor, drunk and drunker. All forms of life were about the Inn. It seemed that this was where Rick was headed. Simon followed closely behind him, hand softly pressed against the dagger sitting against his pant leg.

Jake was beyond displeased at the sight of Rick, but he managed to not act on his urge to just kill the man where he stood. He had not forgotten the situation at the Ball in the slightest, nor would he ever. It didn’t matter if the guy was messed up in the head, sick, or whatever else. His eyes on Crys that day marked him a dead man the moment Jake had a say in the matter. At the moment he didn’t however, so when the bastard started to stray from the path he was so eager to take and Simon declared he would follow, Jake complied. It wasn’t duty; and if Simon expected to play that card often he was in for a surprise, but Jake did remind himself that Mageria trusted him, and if anything he owed her the same no matter how strongly he disagreed.

Jake was yet to draw a weapon, but he slid a black needle into his hand the moment he caught sight of Rick’s destination, the thin metal poking out between his index and his middle fingers. Why was it open? The Alpha was dead, the clan was in mourning... Sheila was in the encampment; he saw her there. The Inn should be sealed and Jake couldn’t find a reasonable explanation for why it wasn’t. Rick seemed relentless in his intent to go there however. The man was barely responsive moments ago, but now he was on a mission; and Jake could guess why. He could very well guess now why Simon wanted him free and what he was after. What he didn’t understand was his need of Newhaven for this. Simon could have rescued Rick on his own; why was Jake needed? All things considered, and for the time being, he decided he wasn’t going to worry, or act. He was just going to follow the crazed assassin and his mute companion and see where that would lead.

Simon knew that this was it. Nearly half a year of his life had been spent on this exact moment. All his efforts in tracking and hiding from people he once called allies. It had all come down to what was inside the Inn. Simon didn't question how Rick knew where to go. He didn't for a moment want to enter his mind to find out. He just summed it up to the complexity of a mad man's mind.
Jake was clearly intrigued by the Inn, just as much as Simon had been. If what Jake had said to Dominic was true, the Wolfpack should have closed the Inn and left it vacant. Some townspeople must have discovered that the assassins who usually attended the camp were gone. They must have decided to ransack the place and enjoy themselves some good fun without cash or consequence. This meant that it would probably be easily to discreetly walk in and out of the inn without much issue. Simon let in a big breath and then followed Rick through the doors into the Inn.
The Inn was filled with characters doing exactly as he had expected. People over drinking, gambling and singing songs. Overall they were eccentric and rowdy ad nauseam. There was even an old man in the corner, distributing what appeared to be weapons from a rather large box. Intrigued, by this, Simon took a seat at a nearby stool while Rick went around to a back room in search of what he was after.
It appeared to be a tournament. Two men would blindly pick a weapon out of the large box. Simon had heard rumours of a lost and found box full of different weapons owned by the Wolves at the Inn, but he took the rumours as merely a funny tale. The first men drew out a poorly crafted longsword. It looked more like a toy than a sword. Simon doubted that it could be used to kill. The next person grabbed an arrow. The crowd laughed as the man looked at his weapon with confusion.
“Good, good!” The old tournament master shouted out with a hearty chuckle. “Now these two will use their weapons in a fight to see who can first draw blood from their opponent. The man who is able to draw blood from their opponent is the victor!”
The crowd cheered again in anticipation for the fight. A small box had been created in the centre of the room with a barricade of chairs. A few kids, attempting to get a good view of the fight straddled the chairs, leaning over the barrier. Much to the displeasure of some older patrons who were attempting to keep them a safe distance from the fighting.
The two men stepped into the makeshift arena and took their stance on either side of the room. The crowd cheered for the man with the arrow. People loved a good underdog. In confidence, he lifted the arrow above his head and the crowd roared even louder. Then a few screams. The other man with the longsword had taken this moment to charge Arrow Man. He noticed just in time to back away, smashing right into a chair as he stumbled over. Arrow man, in desperation threw the arrow in Longsword's direction, but he missed entirely and the arrow flew out of the ring. Without a weapon, Arrow Man was helpless, so he jumped out of the ring, disqualifying himself from the tournament before Longsword could cut him.
The crowd, who only moments before were cheering, booed for Arrow Man. Throwing their drinks at him and finally running him out of the bar.
“Okay! We have one more spot left in the first round of this tournament! Would two more challengers please step up to grab a weapon!” The tournament master said.
Simon perked up when he heard this. Rick was busy doing the work, so Simon decided that it would be fine for him to take a break from searching and just have a good bout with some commoner. Maybe he'd even win some coin from this. Simon stood up and the tournament master shouted. “It looks like we have a contestant. Come on down and pick a weapon from the box.”
Simon went to the box. The man blindfolded him and told him to just reach in and grab something. While it didn't seem entirely safe to blindly grab into a box full of sharp objects, he did so anyways. He felt a rather ornate handle and instantly grabbed it. He knew that a weapon with such a nice handle would be crafted by a noble blacksmith. This wasn't a weapon that was made for a poor man. This was a good weapon. He lifted his hand out of the box with the weapon in hand. The man untied the blindfold and allowed Simon to get a good look at his weapon.
He didn't react at first to the dagger. An incredibly sharp, steel blade, affixed to a blue and red handle, lined with white gold. It was an impressively crafted dagger to say the least, but that wasn't what made Simon's eyes widen. He looked up to see if Jake had noticed then smirked.
“Don't make a scene out of this, Jake.” He transfered his thoughts to him. “Imagine the Wolfpack's reaction to a rumour about you killing a man over a dagger in their own establishment. It might beg the Wolves to ask some questions and start investigations.”

The Inn was in total chaos. It was obvious someone had broken in and opened up the place to the public. Jake wondered briefly how much coin the Pack would lose because of this. Under different circumstances he would have emptied those idiots’ pockets and kicked them out the door, if only for Sheila’s sake, but this time he couldn’t afford to draw that type of attention. Rick rushed to the back and Jake leaned against the bar. He was sure Simon wouldn’t let the maniac disappear on him, the telepath didn’t seemed concerned to let the man out of his sight and Jake was happy to not have to look at him anymore. He was very unimpressed and uninterested with the little tournament the ‘patrons’ had going on; it was clumsy fighting at best. He’d had more fun watching Darren and Aiden punch each other. Jake poured himself a drink, thinking to himself he’d pay for it once Sheila came back; that if she did, and drank it all in one gulp, grimacing as the liquor burned its way down. He refilled his glass while watching Simon approach the weapon box and emptied it at once again.

It was only when Jake saw what Simon got out of the box that he actually paid attention to the man. His eyes caught the dagger and he tensed. A man that had been standing near him started to step forward as if to challenge Simon, but Jake pulled him back by the collar. The man turned to Jake as if he meant to pick a fight but recognized the black feathers hanging from his belt and recoiled. Jake walked to the old man running the tournament and allowed him to blindfold him for the weapon draw. He gripped a hilt that felt somewhat familiar and drew a blade that was in between a long dagger and short sword in length. It looked well preserved and sharp enough for this. Jake smiled although his eyes were cold staring at Simon. He didn’t speak his reply to the man, but simply thought it. “Simon... Have you forgotten me? I wandered into Blackpond’s Castle and kicked down the King’s door. Are you really willing to bet your life on my fear of a leaderless pack of Wolves?”

Jake and Simon stepped into the makeshift ring and there was immediate tension in the air. To the drunken idiots surrounding the two men, nothing odd was going on other than two strangers fighting each other for sport. This wasn’t sport for Jake; someone was going to die in that ring if it was up to him. Jake felt the weight of his borrowed sword for a few seconds before making the first move and slashing at Simon’s chest, the man quickly dodging and countering as if it was nothing. It was nothing. Jake caught a glimpse of the dagger’s blade and close it had been to his body as he twisted his torso away from it, and knowing what it was threw off his balance. The back of his knees hit the barrier of chairs that formed the ring and for a split second Jake remembered Perry; the look in the man’s eyes holding that blade and rambling about his pursuit of power. He steadied before Simon could take advantage, catching the man’s attack with his own sword and throwing a punch at his face. It hit. Jake allowed Simon to recover, or so it looked; he was actually regaining his own composure instead.

To the laymen in the audience, watching the fight, Jake looked to have the upper hand. He held a sword while Simon held a dagger, and Jake had made the first punch. However, that first punch meant next to nothing as it didn't leave either fighters at an advantage. Jake's punch was far more likely out of desperation. They layman would be right that Simon was at a disadvantage though, but not for the reasons that they believed. Simon's disadvantage came about in his intent. Jake had the intent to kill while Simon merely had the intent to force Jake to concede. This left Simon with far fewer courses of action than Jake and it left him a little worried.
Simon came in with the next attack with a ferocity that his first attack didn't have. He hacked and slashed with the dagger, only ever making contact with his opponent's blade, but forcing Jake backwards. Simon wasn't giving Jake an ounce of space to fight. That is where the dagger had its advantage to the sword, especially in the closer quarters of the fighting ring. Limiting Jake's range of motion completely took away his range advantage as well as undermining his abilities to make any offensive swings back.
Simon had nearly backed Jake into the corner of the arena again. Simon doubled his efforts, attacking with twice the furry he had before, hoping to catch Jake off balance. Simon's furious attacks quickly stopped when something caught his wrist. Simon quickly grabbed Jake's wrist in retaliation. The two locked blades and held each others wrists. Sweat beating down their foreheads as they locked eyes. The crowds roar was merely a whisper in Simon's ear as he anticipated Jake's next move.
Jake pushed Simon backwards and again, the two opponents took a moment to get their footing. Jake's attack came first this time. Jake took the attack to Simon's legs, which left Jake open to any attacks from above the waist, but only if Simon had the reach, which his dagger left him short. Much to Simon's surprise, he reacted by diving towards Jake and tackling him to the ground.
Screams were heard in the audience as Jake's sword clamoured to the floor just outside the arena. Jake was now without a sword, which meant that the competition would be over soon. All Simon had to do was draw blood and they would put the fight to an end before it escalated any further. The two rolled on the floor, grappling and pushing until Simon found himself straddled over top of Jake. Jake Threw his hands up in defence. Simon looked for the opening and threw a punch just around his hands, connecting just below Jake's right eye. Simon then attempted to press his dagger against the boy's cheek to draw first blood, but Jake threw up his hand and grabbed Simon by the forearm. Simon grabbed the hilt of the dagger with both hands and pressed down as hard as he could while Jake did the same from the other end. Now it turned into a battle of will. Both men were about equal in strength and it was just down to the first person to concede. In Jake's eyes, he saw someone with the will of a true killer. Something that Simon didn't have. He was going to lose the battle of wills... unless.
Simon closed his eyes for a moment. When they opened, they were shining a seafoam green. Jake's eyes grew wider as he realized what this meant, but by then, it was too late. It wasn't hard for Simon to find Jake's mind. A clear mind was hard to find, but for one that was attempting to keep in control and maintain his will, Jake's mind was like an open book.
“Hi Jake. You can't talk back to me right now. I'm not going to allow it, but that's fine. Just sit back and enjoy the carriage ride I'm about to take you on.”
Jake's mind looked like a sea of colours. It was a painter's cleaning bowl after a long day's work where watered down paint swished and swirled around to make winding streaks in the water. These colours swam viciously through the expanse as Jake pushed the unmoving object, which was Simon, out of his mind. The colours, however, abruptly stilled themselves and, with a little resistance, flowed into the expanse, creating a world around which Simon could create the thoughts. It started out as a few stone pillars and some grass, but quickly grew into a large meadow with tents and old stone buildings covering up some of the empty space. Next, people started to flow out of the tents and structures; more people than what should have reasonably fit. Jake would never notice. Neither, would he notice the fact that he wasn't actually experiencing any of this from the first person, but rather, from just above the whole scene. Each face was a person familiar to Jake. Not all of them should have been in this mock Blackhurst camp, but each of them wore the garbs of the White Shadow either way. The one thing that Simon let slip was making Crystal one of those people in the garb. Hopefully Jake didn't notice or the plan would be ruined entirely. He moved Crystal into one of the tents to disconnect the thought all together. Then, out of the same tent came Lena, who walked towards Jake, at least Jake's image of himself. It always amused Simon to see what people's image of themselves were. It was never what they actually looked like. It could be better or it could be worse, but it was never true to reality. In Jake's case, it was worse.
Jake handed Lena the dagger, which seemed to just appear in his hand. Lena nodded happily and then threw the dagger into a fire, where it burned up and turned to smoke.
Hopefully, this would be enough. A suggestion that the dagger no longer existed could be the thing to break Jake's will and allow Simon to finish the fight. Simon snapped back into reality. The look of shock that Simon had left seeing Jake's face in was now gone and it appeared to Simon that it did in fact work. Slowly, Simon was getting the edge. The dagger carefully made its way towards Jake's face. But the trick ore off too quickly. Jake noticed the dagger and realized that it wasn't in fact destroyed. He had been tricked.
This time, Jake put all his strength into pulling the dagger to his left. This threw Simon completely off from on top of Jake and rolling across the floor.
Simon jumped to his feet and looked around the arena. Jake was now gone. He looked above him to see if he was hanging from a rafter. Nothing. He wouldn't have fled, so he had to be around somewhere. Next, Simon looked for the sword on the floor. The instant he looked over to it, it had disappeared into seeming nothingness. Simon began to suspect that Jake could disappear at the will of his enlightenment, which worried Simon a little. He could try to listen for Jake, but with the crowd's banter, there was no way he was going to successfully hear a thing. Simon was going to have to get creative. His head jerked from side to side to look for something that he could use to assist him.
On the other side of the room, a group of people sat on a piece of the chair barricade that had been set up. He ran towards them, hearing the air being cut by Jake's sword right behind him as he took his first few steps. That was a close one. The men had bottles in their hand. He grabbed the bottles and threw them in every which direction across the floor, leaving the floor covered in green glass. If he couldn't see Jake, he could at least see where he was walking now.
With every step Jake took, glass flipped around the floor. The flipping stopped for a moment, and then continued. Each distortion of the glass got closer until Jake was in striking range. Simon couldn't know where the attack came from, but instead, he kicked the glass up towards Jake. He dived towards Jake, attempting to take this fight to the floor again, but the two of them just stumbled to the floor and into a puddle of booze that was left from the broken glass. Instantly, Jake became visible again. His eyes stopped glowing and he got up from the floor. Simon did the same. The two of them were now covered in scratches from the glass. Simon could feel a shard of glass lodged in his face.
Jake and Simon both looked at each other with an intensity that would cut through anyone who even tried to step between them. Unfortunately, for the game master, it was him. “This fight is clearly a draw.” The old man shouted.
The crowds roar completely drowned out the sound of the man's spine collarbone snapping as Jake tackled the man and used him as a shield as he pressed towards Simon with his sword out like a lancer. Simon used what little time he had to react to perry the blade away from him, cutting the game master down in the process. Screams were now heard from the crowds as they started to run in every which direction in panic. Simon took the confusion as his chance to escape. He dived over the chairs and into the panicked crowd, trying his best to blend in. He was stopped rather quickly by Jake, who had thrown a chair at him. He arched his back in pain and flopped to the ground. He turned around, bracing his hands on the floor behind him as he saw Jake approach in a furry; sword ready to take its next victim. Before he could slay his strike down, a twinkle from behind Jake flew towards him and struck just above the hilt of his blade, causing him to drop it.
“What's all this about Jake?” Simon heard a yell from the direction the throwing blade had come. He didn't stay long enough to see what it was though. He turned around and ran out of the Inn, hoping to gain some distance on Jake before he found him.
As he left the Inn, he saw Rick standing across the street, just standing, watching the panicked crowd rushing out of the Inn. He ran over, grabbed the man's hand and ducked into the shadows before anyone could follow him.

Jake cringed when the sword slipped from his grasp. He didn’t need to hear Evin’s voice to know it was him. Of course it was. He caught a glimpse of Simon disappearing out the door, but instead of following the man directly he turned the other way, momentarily rushed towards Evin as though he was about unleash his wrath on the man, but walking past him instead. “Fucking hell, Evin... What joy do you take in screwing up my plans?” He muttered out, otherwise not even looking the man in the eyes and climbing the stairs to the top floor of the Inn in a hurry. He slipped out the window and jumped to the roof of the adjacent building.

Jake had spent some time with Sham on the rooftops after she helped him out of Blackpond and even though he lacked the woman’s speed and agility he’d learned his way around the city rooftops, he knew them almost as well as she. Finding Simon in a crowd wouldn’t be that easy, but he could recognize Rick’s walk miles away in the state the man was currently in. If wasn’t for Simon’s insistence to drag the sick man around he might have gotten away from Jake. At least the nutcase was good for one thing.

Sham had a point in her methods; people hardly felt the need to look up. Even though Jake was invisible, he was probably being overzealous; Simon had not glanced above his head once. He’d followed both men, watching them from above until opportunity to intercept them presented itself. Jake dropped from the edge of a building directly in front of Simon, the man colliding into ‘nothing’. Jake quickly disarmed Simon, knocking the dagger from his hand to the floor and planting his left foot firmly over it before showing himself, a dagger of his own held tightly in his clenched fist. “I’m not supposed to kill you, as per my Captain’s orders, Simon. I like Mageria, and I’d rather play nice, but if I bring back that dagger I’m sure she’ll understand my side... If you have one good reason why things should end any differently you better say so now. And be quick about it, because today I’ve already been driven miles past the point of tolerating bullshit.”

Simon's head hit the floor hard when he was knocked down. For a moment, he saw a flash of bright light, then his vision went blurry. He wasn't quite sure of where he was until his eyes cleared up enough to see Jake above him, spitting words down to him. Simon shifted uncomfortably, tying to sit himself up. He didn't dare attempt to stand. The world was spinning around him.
Simon tried as hard as he could to focus on Jake. He shook his head and then tried again. The world seemed to begin to steady itself. His eyes brightened as he was about to speak, but then he reconsidered his thoughts. From out of the corner of his eyes, he saw Rick, slowly shifting behind Jake. It would seem that Jake's focus was fixed on Simon and the dagger more than it was Rick.
“First off. I'd like to start by saying that there are people other than me who want this dagger. In fact, I should be the least of your worries when it comes to that dagger. My friends are waiting for me to exit the city with this dagger. The only reason that they haven't entered the city is because it would be safer to attack me once I'm in the woods. When they find out that I've died, which they will soon enough, they'll enter the city and terrorize it until they find this dagger. My methods will seem tame in comparison.” He paused, watching from the corner of his eyes as Rick leaned down to grab the dagger from under Jake's foot. The moment he touched it, his eyes flashed and he disappeared. “Of course. If that's not incentive enough, I'm sure that the fact that Rick has just disappeared with the dagger will be enough incentive to keep me alive.” He waited to watch Jake's reaction in amusement. Despite the entertainment value of Rick's disappearing act, Simon wasn't happy. Now he was going to have to go searching for the guy again. “The man's deranged. Who's to say what he's going to do with that dagger or where he's taking it? You'll never be able to find him. Not without my help.” Simon smiled again. This time, with a maniacal twist. He'd just dodged Death that time. If it weren't for Rick, nothing that Simon would have said could have saved him. He'd had no leverage and lying wasn't a game worth playing with Jake. It was a good thing that mad men were so easy to persuade. And with a little help from his enlightenment, Simon had done the impossible.

Jake showed no reaction to Rick disappearing with the dagger, even though that in itself was one heck of a display of anger. He listened to what Simon had to say and snorted. “Say you do find him... Then what? What do you want with it, Simon? How does it ‘help me’ that you find it, or that you live? Valcrest is small, I have a lot of friends, are you betting your life in my inability to find one crazy man? The sickness is in his blood also, he won’t be teleporting around for much longer. Dagger or no... I have every intention of finding good ol’ King Richard...” Jake turn around and started to walk towards the city gates as was his original plan. “Long live the King...” He sneered. “We’ll see about you later, Simon... If you think I’m dangerous, I have a friend I look forward to introducing you to... Her name is Kaya.”

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Evin felt like such an idiot when he'd seen Jake's face glaring at him. All he wanted was to stop the mayhem that was causing him such insomnia. It just so happened that the one causing his insomnia was Jake. Of course, he didn't know that when he was stopping him from killing the man on the floor. He just saw Jake's back and in a moment of gut reaction, more out of the fact that he wanted sleep than anything else, he just wanted to stop the killing from happening.
He realized the mistake now. If Jake was so blatantly after someone, there was typically a good reason, even if Evin didn't always agree with him. However, the chase was now being conducted outside of the Inn. Maybe, once the people settled down again, he'd get some sleep.
But, as if it were some sort of divine intervention, preventing Evin from getting a proper sleep, the door burst open and several guards entered the Inn with their swords brandished.
“Nobody move!” the one in the front shouted. “Everyone here is under arrest for illegal arena fighting in the city. Do not try to run or you will be killed.”
“Just perfect.” Evin muttered.
The crowds at the Inn were still rather large and he could move around them without any attention being drawn to him. He made his way to the stairs and started to walk up them.
“You, at the stairs!” The man said. “Stop under order of the queen regent Mag—” The voice trailed off into a grunt followed by a nervous stutter from the guards. The one who had been making demands to Evin had been stabbed in the gut by one of the patrons at the Inn. Soon enough, the entire room filled with fighting. Patrons hastily lined up to grab weapons from the box while others revealed that they'd been hiding weapons underneath their clothes the entire time. More guards started piling in until there were nearly a hundred people packed into the Inn. While it was a large place, it never meant to hold so many people. The fighting was brutal and there was no room. Quickly, people started to get pushed up the stairs. Some of the fighting was headed directly towards Evin.
A man holding a candle in one hand and a short sword in the other. He tried to hand the candle to Evin, “Go light the signal. Let them know that the castle is ready for attack!”
Evin pushed the candle away from him. “What the hell are you talking about boy!”
“Damn you old man!” The guy said, shoving his sword into Evin's hand and pushing him aside. The boy ran past him and up the stairs.
Confusion overwhelmed Evin, but he figured that being confused while holding a sword was better than to not be holding a sword. At least in this situation, it was. He extended the sword out as far as it could allow him and prayed that he didn't have to use it.

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Dominic's walk was a quiet one. The streets of Newhaven at night recently were tranquil, making walking around a comfortable thing to do. Being a Knight gave him protection. His uniform protected him in the way armour wasn't usually meant to protect. It was intimidating to face a Knight, white or black, in the middle of the night. Even larger groups of people were hesitant to even be seen by the Knight in the streets. If they were seen, they'd scurry away like rats.
This allowed Dominic to walk to streets completely undisturbed. He was alone with his thoughts and it was comforting. He slipped his hands around his belt and dragged his feet across the cobblestone, making an awful scraping sound. It didn't take long for Dominic to realize that maybe it wasn't the best idea to do that in the middle of the night. He picked up his feet and continued on his way.
His thoughts drifted from the state of Newhaven to the state of Blackpond and finally to the world outside of Valcrest. He wondered what it was like on the other side. Many people, despite living through the hardship of war, never left Valcrest. There was something that kept everyone around. He didn't care to know why people never left, but he did wonder why he never left. He had had chances to go before. When in Blackpond, it was only a half days walk and he'd be officially out of the boarder. It was so close, but he never thought to go any further north. He'd make excuses for himself like how it was just too cold to go any further north, but in the summer time, that wasn't true. The South was too far a walk and word was that there wasn't much to the West of Valcrest. In the East, a big lake blocked the way. All of these reasons that Dominic had made from time to time were just a thinly placed veil that really just meant that he had too much to lose from leaving Valcrest. Despite the war, there was a lot for Dominic to lose if he left. He didn't want to lose it.
A light flashed through the street, illuminating it for the briefest moment. Another moment later, he heard a loud bang from behind him. An explosion? Dominic turned around and looked up at where the bang came from. All he could see, under the faint moonlight, was a small bit of smoke billowing from the middle of the night's sky. The explosion must have been a fire work. He turned back around and jumped a little. He hadn't heard them approach. For such a large group, he expected to hear at least one of them, but then, when he thought about it, the night had grown unbelievably silent.
The group was a malicious one, but one with noticeable fright in their eyes. Each one of them held a weapon, from swords to pitchforks and everything in between. At the back of the crowd, a man was holding a spadone. His eyes were aglow in a bright purple. When the Knight made eye contact with the enlightened user, his gaze slipped downwards.
Dominic didn't draw his claymore yet. He didn't see the need to. The group were obviously afraid of him, a Black Knight. They were probably hoping that he was merely just one of the guards, paroling the city centre. The man with the purple eyes had muted the world to him. That was how they'd gotten so close to him without him hearing them. When he turned and they saw he was actually a Knight, they froze in their spot, unsure of what to do. Dominic widened his stance. He was ready for a fight, but if he could intimidate the men enough for them to run off without conflict, he'd be satisfied.
The men's mouths moved, but Dominic couldn't hear what they were saying. With a few quick glances and hand movements, he gathered that they were conflicted on whether they would want to attack Dominic or not.
Then, one of the men looked just past Dominic with a look of panic in his eyes. He raised his hands and his mouth seemed to shape the word, “Don't”. Dominic gripped his sword and spun on his feet. The sword was unsheathed at unnatural speeds. The butt of the sword cracked across the scull of the man charging towards him. He fell to the ground, motionless. The group of new people brandishing weapons behind them stopped for only a moment to realize that Dominic had just cracked the man's skull open. A moment later, they charged the Knight. Dominic looked behind him and the men there were also charging now.
He lifted his sword, adjusting his grip as he took his left hand off the weapon to grab a shorter parrying blade from his hip. The first man to approach him was cut down quickly with a cut across the stomach. He swung his sword above and behind his head, deflecting a blow in front while parrying a woodcutter's axe in front of him.
At this moment, he realized that the men he was fighting were not warriors. They were simple folk. Only a few of them had real weapons. He didn't expect many of them to have any real fighting experience. As his sword swung back around to his front, he grabbed it, with his other hand, still holding the parrying blade. He pointed his sword forward, at level and pressed up against his hip, he charged forward. Most men jumped or dived out of the way of his blade's tip. The few that attempted an attack were either met by the tip of his blade or a quick slash across the various parts of their body that they left vulnerable.
At the end of the procession of people was the man with the purple eyes. He held his spadone in a slight variation of the near ward stance. Dominic halted almost instantly in his tracks, only just over a sword's length away from the man. He planted his feet firmly on the cobblestone road and adjusted his own stance. He held his sword with the pommel beside his ear, facing the tip directly at his opponent's face. He leaned very low into his stance, to the point where he was almost shorter than the man he was facing.
Dominic took a quick glance behind him to make sure he was safe from the mob behind him. As it turned out, they were gearing up for their next assault. Dominic couldn't keep himself held up on this single opponent for more than just a single second. Unfortunately, Dominic knew that this man had skill with the sword. He was going to need more than a second to effectively down this opponent.
He lifted his stance slightly, carefully moving in a half circle around to the other side of his opponent. This gave Dominic a clear view of every single fighter on the battlefield, giving himself a higher level of awareness as well as a clear path to run when he had the chance. First, the enlightened man had to die. He sunk into his stance again and waited for his opponent to make the first strike.
It came, as Dominic had expected, sweeping behind himself and up to strike down at Dominic's head. All Dominic had to do was shift his tip of his sword to the left, leaving the two men in a high bind above one another's heads. Dominic stepped forward and forced his opponent's sword down across Dominic's right side. With another step forward, Dominic shoulder checked the man, knocking him a couple of steps back. Dominic took the oprotunity and lunged forward, stabbing the man directly through the neck.
Instantly, the world's sounds boomed back into existence. The man fell with a hard thump. Part of the mob looked in astonishment. It was clear that the man who Dominic had faced was a skilled fighter, probably trained as an officer in the army. The ease at which Dominic was able to take down this man, probably someone who had been training this mob for some time in swordplay, caused the lines of this mob to rout. Dominic wouldn't have bother to chase after them if it weren't for the one man, who was obviously attempting to now take charge after the death of their other commander.
“Forget the Knight!” He shouted. “The men at the Inn will not be able to hold their lines forever. We need to take to the castle while the city guard is still distracted!”
Dominic's eyes widened and he attempted to chase after the mob. His armour didn't allow him the same mobility as the crowd though and he found himself lagging farther and farther behind. He wasn't going to be able to stop this mob, but he continued to pursue them anyway.

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Lazurus was beginning to feel better. He could walk without fearing collapse now, but he still propped himself up against the wall as he walked through the empty halls of the castle. A trail of blood followed his path across the wall. He tried to keep to the less patrolled parts of the castle as best he could, but that was only going to keep him safe for a while. Before turning a corner, he peeked by to see if there was anyone coming. After about the third hall, he started to hear shouts from another part of the castle. The sound of steel also rang through the halls.
Lazurus was unsure of what he was hearing. It left him weary of moving forward, but he had to. There was no chance in turning back now. The guards would find for sure and he'd be thrown into maximum security until the baby was born. He couldn't have that happen. He needed to get the baby back to Blackpond before it was too late. Without Ella's baby, everything would be for naught.
He pressed forward more, listening to the clash of metal on metal and stone. It was getting closer or was he just getting closer to it? He was afraid to find out.
Then, from behind him, he heard shouts. “There she is!” Lazurus slowly turned. He didn't have the energy to fight. He was going to lose this one. “Walden, get her back to her bedchambers and keep posted outside her door. Thanh, go find more guards to post outside the door. I'll join the fight.”
The three men ran their separate ways. Only one guard was was left to bringing him back to the bedroom. Did they know what happened in that room? Had they seen what she did to their guards, their friends? If they did, they would've likely left more than one guard to him.
“Move along.” Walden said, in a cold tone.
Lazurus decidedly didn't fight. He couldn't fight. He barely had the energy to keep from falling over. His escape was over. He had no chance whatsoever of escape now. Lamya wouldn't ever come to his rescue. That is, unless she flipped a coin and it just so happened to land on its side so she decided to do something out of the ordinary that day. Actually, who knew how that woman actually decided anything. It was intriguing to him, but nothing that he really bothered to ever understand.
“Hold on.” Walden said as they reached the end of the hall.
Lazurus stopped and sluggishly turned around. “What's the pr—”
Walden stood before Lazurus, with his sword pressed right up against Ella's protruding stomach. Walden's eyes wild with thought as he stared at the end of his blade.
“Do it.” Lazurus said so quietly that it was nearly inaudible. Walden's eyes softened a little when he did. The pressure of the sword lightened on his stomach. “Come on Walden. Do it. I've always wanted to meet Death. I want to know what she feels like. What she looks like, what she smells like, what she... what she tastes like. Most people run from the idea, but I lured towards it. My life ends soon anyways. I know that, but the closer I get to Her sweet kiss, the closer I get to blowing in anticipation.”
Walden took a step back. The blade was no longer pressing against his surrogate’s skin.
“I said do it!” Lazurus shouted. “I know why you want to do it. Killing the Demon of Newhaven would be seen as heroic in some circles. Even if it did mean sacrificing the Page bloodline. That matters very little. There have been several dynasties to rule over Newhaven in its history. Maybe you could find a ruler fit to rule instead of this indecisive girl you see standing before you. And who's to say that the child is going to be any better a ruler? Maybe, through some brilliant series of events you will end up on the throne. Just end the life of your prince, your queen, and the wretched thing that has sullied her and then who knows? Just do it.”
As his final sentence echoed through the halls, another sound cracked above it. Then a hard thud. Walden collapsed to the ground with a crossbow bolt jutting out of his back. Behind him, a small group of men in a hodgepodge of armour and weapons. They all looked down the hall, past the fallen man, every single one of them straightening up when they saw what was beyond Walden. As more men ran into the hall, they stopped with immediacy at the exact same spot that the rest of the group stood. They were saying things, but Lazurus couldn't make them out at that distance.
Finally, the man with the crossbow started walking towards Lazurus. Lazurus started walking towards the man too, which caused the man to flinch just the slightest. Lazurus, however, stopped at Walden. He bent down and pulled the arrow out. Blood soaked the tip and it slowly dripped down the shaft onto his hand. He moved it towards his face and took a deep breath in. “Have you ever wondered what Death tastes like?” Lazurus said to no one in particular.
“What?” He looked up to see the man with he crossbow right in front of him.
Lazurus dabbed his finger in the blood around the shaft and then placed his finger gently onto his tongue. “I imagine that she tastes like blood. But then, everyone's blood tastes different...”
Lazurus didn't even try to resist. The man with the crossbow tied him up and hoisted him over his shoulders.

The setting changes from newhaven to Blackpond

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Evin Bana Character Portrait: Dominic Adams Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Ella Page
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[Otium 18th, Morning]

Rita let her go. She watched Lamya walk out of the door and didn't do anything to stop her. It would be next to impossible to track her now. She'd let Rita find her if it was Lamya's desire. Now, Rita had one promise to rely on and a tip where she may find her. That was all she had to go from and there wasn't a reason to believe any of it. Lamya didn't believe in honesty. Honesty went against her code.

These thoughts of Lamya rushed through her head as she stood in front of the Blackpond war room. Alone; still, within the barren hallway that Rita had yet to decorate. No structure was in place for castle guards yet. The castle was empty for the most part, save for a motley crew of guards scattered along the castle's hall. This was one of many reasons why Rita and her war council had to have this meeting. Many things needed clearing up before Blackpond would be in working order again. Roles needed reassignment, laws needed rewriting, the nobility restructured. What Rita and her war council had in front of them was a difficult range of mountains the new rule had yet to surmount. It was what Blackpond needed. Rita took a deep breath before she pushed open the doors to let herself into the room.

A small council of five people were sitting at a table, pages tossed about the table with reckless abandonment. Each of the five stood upon Rita's entrance.
"Sit down, everyone. We're all equals in this room until we've established who the real leaders of Blackpond are. Let's get to it."
The room sat in silence for a moment, each person looking at one another for approval before taking their seats again. Rita found her seat and joined them at the table. Nothing she could do would prepare her for the long day of discussion that lay ahead.

The six people all looked around the room. Rita noted each expression and tried to make sense of where they were at. They were apprehensive. Some of them more than others. Some of them likely didn't want to be at this meeting, but they had no choice. Arcadius Trivelli, for example, was a military man, through and through. He wasn't much for diplomacy. The only time he felt comfortable sitting was when it was on the back of his spirited warhorse. Brute force in the face of adversity was his forté and while not always the answer, it still commanded respect.

After a prolonged silence Oswald Valkenburg was the first to speak. He was a patient man, choosing his moments with care. "What do we do now?" He asked. "The military campaign is over and the city is ours again. We fought, but we didn't place any thought on who would lead when this was over."

"Isn't that why we're here?" Brianna Westall said in reply. "To decide on a leader?"

Brianna was a formidable officer. She committed to risking everything to achieve her goals. Sometimes it scared Rita knowing how close to defeat Brianna would go in securing a victory, but she her methods never failed her. Some would call it crazy, but Rita saw it for what it was: abstract. For that reason alone, Rita saw Brianna's tactics as an asset.

"And I thought we were here to discuss religion. We can go beating around the bush all we want, but I think everyone in this room can agree. It's time to jump to the conclusion of this meeting. Rita will reject the idea vehemently for a couple of hours, but cave to it eventually. She's going to be our next Queen, it's only a matter of time before she realises this fact herself." Mayson Coffman proposed. He was the outspoken wit of Rita's army. Fun to have around but at times, a nuisance.

"I won't accept that. I'm not meant to lead a city. I struggle leading an army sometimes. The only reason I'm useful is because I can see the battlefield from a bird's eye view." Rita said.

"You took the city back," Oswald said.

"I was handed the city," Rita said.

"It doesn't matter, much, does it? Which one of us would be better at ruling the city? You were closest to the royals before the death of Rory. You would know better than any of us how this city should run." Arcadius said.

"I know next to nothing that went on in Rory's rule over the city. I was like one of you, an officer of Commander Hastings' army." Rita said.

"She's right, you know," said Korvin Strongwell, who had up until that moment, remained silent. "None of us are close to understanding how to run the city. With the fire from earlier this year, we no longer have the resources to learn for ourselves."

"You spend more time in that library than you do the battlefield. You're telling us that you've never read anything about City politics?" Arcadius asked flippantly.

Korvin edged his gaze towards Arcadius. Cool and collected, but direct with his intent. Rita shifted in her seat slightly. It was as if the room's lights had all flickered out at once. Although relaxed, Korvin was prone to bouts of energy that he would direct on his enemies. It was useful in battle but in a discussion, it was a deadly detriment.

"What an immense waste of time for a warrior to read of politics," Korvin said. Mayson scoffed but Korvin didn't skip a syllable as he continued. "I spent my time in the library reading through the largest collection of battle records known to Valcrest. Something a jokester such as you, Mayson, could find beneficial."

"Okay, let's settle down for a moment!" Brianna stepped in to defuse the conflict.

Oswald continued by saying, "let me get this straight. A group of assassins could run a city but we couldn't? I have a hard time believing that."

"This city wasn't a city while it was under their power. Their only means of political tactics were assassinations of any and all dissenters." Rita said.

"Surely that wasn't their only tactic. Why don't we speak to him; the guy that gave you the city?" Oswald asked.

The whole room looked to Rita. The suggestion was a promising one. One that could get insight into the workings of Blackpond from the people who ran it before them. They might have known more than the military leaders would. Surely they'd know more. Assassins had an air about them, making them look like they could achieve anything. That was the propaganda spread by the Wolves in their threatening days, which made them true shadows of any creed. All this told to her in the eyes of each of the five people looking at her for answers.

"After she gave me the city, she started to walk out the room. I told her that she wasn't going to leave this room alive. The crimes she committed against the city and it's people were too great to let pass. She turned around and before she could get another word out, I killed her." Rita said.

"Are you okay, Rita?" Mayson asked.

Rita looked down at her hands. She was grasping papers that were in front of her on the table. When she let go, the papers remained in their crumpled form, jumping off the table. Korvin and Arcadius rose from their seats and fumbled along the floor to grab the papers.

"I'm alright. My point is," she looked around the table, "she is no longer around. She can't help us." Both those statements were true. Lamya wasn't around and even if she were, she wouldn't be of any help. It was best to let the group believe she was dead than have them searching for the woman on their own. She hoped.

Briana chose this moment to interject. "It might be time for us to choose something new. Why not start with the six of us? We can rule the city as a collective. Making choices together, like we do on the battlefield."

"Because that worked well for us already."

"Enough of the unwanted comments, Mayson. The more people who are making decisions for the city, the better off we will be. We can shoot down stupid choices and discuss choices that don't have clear answers." Brianna continued.

"You suggest we vote on decisions; the six of us?" Oswald asked.

"Exactly."

"And if we split the vote?"

Brianna thought about it for a moment. "We have a seventh member. A swing vote."

"That sounds rather corruptable. The swing could side with one person on every issue. They'd become the de facto king or queen with all the power of the council."

"I don't know. What do you think, Rita?" Brianna asked.

"What?"

Rita hadn't been listening for the past couple of minutes. Her mind was elsewhere, looking down at the papers that she'd crumpled which Korvin and Arcadius did their best to decrease. Her mind leapt back to Lamya again. It was the same thing, over and over. She couldn't forget that Lamya was on the loose and what that meant for her and everyone around her. For anyone Lamya chose to cross paths with. No new thoughts were passing through her head. Not for the past day since she saw the woman last, but her mind fixated on it.

Now her lie made things complicated. She couldn't ask for help. She couldn't put Lamya on trial. Rita would have to settle things are her own, without the knowledge of her closest of advisors to help.

"We were wondering what you thought about us six making all the choices and voting on the matters. The only problem is that there are six of us and to have a single swing vote could prove to be disastrous." Korvin repeated.

"All we need is more than one swing vote," Rita said.

"Of course!" Mayson said.

"Shut up," Brianna said to defuse Mayson again.

"I'd say nine more people would be good. That would round us out to 15 people." Arcadius said.

"So a small council of 6 and then 9 more to make a large council of 15 that could vote when the small council is divided," Oswald said. "It sounds solid."

"Now comes to fun part," Mayson said with a sarcastic smile. "The fine details."

Mayson was right. The group sat in the room for the next two hours discussing how exactly this council system would work. They decided on how long each term would be. How the council would elect a new member when the term was over. They decided on who might fit the bill to be on the large council. By the time they finished, each member felt confident that the city was now in competent hands.


[Otium 18th, Midday] Raven's Nest

Jake had been told about Evin’s presence the day of his arrival but decided to keep his distance at first. They hadn’t actually spoken two words to one another in a long time, but as of late, he was constantly running into the man wherever he went. It made that silence heavier for some reason and, even though Jake didn’t know what he’d even have to say to Evin in the first place, he felt compelled to break it. He thought about what good could come of that, he thought it about it most of the night as he watched over Ess’ sleep, he thought it about it during his morning drills... And he had no idea. Matthew had made a comment about it maybe being a good idea having Evin there, but when Jake asked what he meant the man said they’d talk about it later, that it wasn’t time yet. Something in his words made Jake uneasy, but he pushed it aside for ‘later’, not much else to do about that. Jake had learned a long time ago that it was impossible to trick any information out of Matthew.

After lunch Jake left the mess hall and made his way to the little storage shed Evin had holed up in, knocking on the door and not awaiting a response before going in and closing it behind his back. “You know, there might something to be said about you kidnapping the queen, but... coming to think of it... Not the first time you stole the kid, is it? That’s not that surprising to me, but... You being here is, though. Never considered this to be a place you’d run to, regardless of how much you may trust the Captain.”

The storage shed Evin had found was an adequate space for living. He had managed to create a small bed for Ella using a broken table and some torn fabrics that he'd found. And while his hair was now covered in cobwebs, he had managed to occupy his time by organising the space to provide him with a little more space. The space, while cramped was just enough for Evin. Hardly enough for the monster hijacking Ella's body, though. In Ella's waking hours, Evin would listen to the constant complaints of the living conditions. It was hard to imagine that this person was skilled enough to do anything let alone steal a dying girl's body.
Evin was just about to use the new space he'd acquired to work out and train when he heard footsteps outside his door. A sudden dread raced through him. He'd have done his best to avoid it, but he knew that coming to the Nest, he'd be bound to face it. Before Jake even revealed himself, Evin seemed to know exactly who it was. He knew that the two of them could only go on avoiding each other for so long. This had to come to a head at some point. That point was now.
“Thank you for the reminder,” Evin said in reference to Ella. “When first I stole her, she was practically dead. This time, she's a corpse. I'd rather she be in my hands than in the hands of a young, headstrong resistance leader, though.” He paused to see if Ella was still sleeping. “I don't run from anything, Jake. I'm not like you. I came here because I couldn't tell you the first thing about birthing a child. I figure that it'd be best that Ella's child be born in the arms of my friends.”

“I find that hard to believe,” Jake spoke with a shrug, leaning against the wall beside the door and staring at the man a mix of amusement and veiled contempt. “Not that you’re nothing like me; that is much clear, but I highly doubt you don’t run from anything. I’m pretty damn sure that running into all the things you do on a regular basis is nothing more than a way to escape something. I can just picture you setting off explosions out there as a way to drown out your own thoughts.”

Jake’s gaze softened momentarily as he looked at Ella. The girl was gone. He had to remember that. Crys had said she was still there; weak, fading, but there. Even so, there was no saving Ella’s life. He didn't know the girl well, but if she was still enduring all this, he had to acknowledge; she was tougher at her core than she would ever be given credit for. “And then what?” He asked. “I’m assuming this child has a father, no?”

“The only thing I ever ran from is my best friend and I swore I'd never do that again. If that means I'm running from my true, cowardly self, then so be it. I don't drown out my thoughts. Some people I know might drown problems, but that's not me. I let my thoughts out. I'm honest with my feelings and I express them and I feel like my actions reflect that nicely.” Evin's gaze narrowed. He thought for a moment if he had ever punched Jake. He knew he'd done so in training, but that was hardly worth anything. A good punch, without warning or any real reason. Just bottled up frustration with the boy. While pleasurable, it would accomplish nothing. Evin relaxed just a little, placing his hands in his pockets as there was no better place to keep them contained.
“For all I know, the father's died the night I kidnapped her. That's a question for another time.” Evin closed his eyes and let out a loud, audible sigh. “Did you just come here to trade insults or is there a reason for this intrusive visit?”

Jake chuckled at Evin’s question. “Insults? Who’s insulting who here?” He asked, smirking at the man. “I am, whether either one of us likes it, the highest ranking Raven in this camp, Evin. So I’d consider you dragging kidnapped dying royalty in here to be much my business. Especially now.” He quietly rubbed the bridge of his nose, feeling an all too familiar sting of pain behind his eyes. “Pardon my intrusion, however. Are you comfortable? Can I get you anything?” He asked, lowering his hand and crossing both arms over his chest. “And surely, you’re a shining example of emotional stability; my apologies for implying otherwise. I honestly don’t know what could have given me that idea.”

Jake shook his head as if realising the amount of sarcasm that had come out of him at once and mentally scolding himself. “I don’t think it’s ever too early to start asking some questions. Who knows, if more questions were asked three years ago, maybe this kid wouldn’t have ended up where she is now; wherever that may be.”

Evin restrained himself for long enough. He did his best to contain himself when around Jake most times, but he could only hold back the seething anger he felt for so long. His eyes sparked a shining black and like a flash, his fist connected with Jake's jaw. Time raced back to its regular pace and that's when Evin began to feel the pain. It was more intense than usual. He keeled over as if he'd been punched in the gut himself. It was only after a few moments that he began to feel the pain in his fist. The punch wasn't proper. In his anger, he'd forgotten his technique. It was a dirty, street punch like none other that he'd given to someone. The pain he felt in his hand was satisfying in a way peculiar to Evin, but the pain in his stomach was disturbing. Reality seemed to snap back to him.
“We both want the same things yet somehow we devolve into this. You're a real ass, you know that?”

There was no time to react. Evin’s fist had connected before Jake could process what was happening and still; he couldn’t say he didn’t see it coming. The assassin’s punch had pushed Jake’s head against the wall behind him and left him with a lingering ache in the back of his head as well as his jaw. It wasn’t what Jake would call a proper punch by any means, but he would still be feeling it for a while. “Did you always want to be a Wolf, Evin? When I was a kid, I wanted to be a Knight. I thought knights protected people; I wanted to always be able to protect those around me.” Jake mumbled, sliding down the wall and sitting on the floor, rubbing his temples. “I never wanted to be a Wolf. Dani was one of two people I admitted that to at the time of my expulsion. She knew that I only came back; the only reason I would ever, was because Crys said she needed me...” Jake snorted softly. “And I’m always going to wonder, if part of the reason she sent me to Newhaven was to give me a way out, or if she just outright used me. Likewise, I’ll always be the one who killed her... You’re always going to be the guy who cut off a piece of my ear... Some things simply cannot be mended for the sake of any greater good. They are what they are.” Jake sighed. “Regardless, I meant what I said; about the kid. It’s not too soon to think about it, especially if the father’s gone. Ella’s mother put her in that orphanage to keep her safe. If not for The Shadow; for us, it might have worked.”

Jake went on about his life as if it were important. As if the fact that he chose to be a Knight was important. As if killing Dani was important and as if a superficial loss of his ear garnered importance. He was right, these were all things that couldn't be taken back. He spoke as if fate was a factor in all this. However, there was no merit to fate. “They are what they are,” Evin repeated.
“I never had the chance to not want to be a Wolf, Jake. I was a Wolf the moment that I was born into the camp. It wasn't something that I wanted or even something that I didn't want, for that matter. It was who I was. Through and through. Ella was the same. She was a Page and the Page family is royal. From the moment of her birth until her unnaturally long death, she's been royal. Hiding her in an orphanage didn't change that fact. Disguising her as a Wolf didn't change that either. And in the end, her death wasn't a consequence of any of these events. The events that happened in that ballroom lived in their own little world, Jake.”

“Pawns will be pawns... and Kings will be Kings... Like little pieces of a chess board, right? You can tell yourself that all you want, Evin. The world can tell itself that all it wants. I see how that’s reassuring. To strip choice from the equation, take away responsibility...” Jake laughed softly. “If Ella was always a Royal and nothing would change that, then why bring her to the forest, to begin with? Why train her in the first place if she was never going to truly be a Wolf? She was already a royal then, the only difference was no one knew. Dani said she had potential then. So, when people did know, did she change? Did all that potential die? I don’t want to throw this in your face, but I find it amusing that Sean was the one who fought for her to stay. And I’m not saying that would have been better, but I’m saying it was still an option.” Jake sighed, pushing himself to stand before the task became too difficult, swaying a bit in place. “You do what you have to, Evin, or find someone who will... I admit it’s not my business; not one bit, and this won’t be one of the many things keeping me up at night.”

“This girl was passed around her entire life. She went from castle to orphanage, back to the castle, to the dungeons, to the Wolves, to another dungeon before finally, she found her way back to the castle. Only once did she ever have a choice in the matter of where to go. Ella could have stayed with the Wolves. She could have chosen to go off and live a normal life, too. If she wanted to, she could have. I was her mentor. You know what happened to Owen. Did you just expect me to leave her with the man who’d just admitted to attempting to kill Crys? I gave her to Ria and then Ella chose to go to Newhaven instead of the desert. Ella was like the daughter I nev--”
“How sweet.” The young voice of the girl who Evin had thought was sleeping said. “You didn’t kidnap Ella to keep the baby safe, did you? You just want to hold onto your precious baby girl a little longer.”
“Now is not the time to be aggravating me.” Evin retorted.
“Oh, or what? You’ll hit me like you did to the jackass over there? I’d dare you to punch your precious little pregnant girl.”

“Evin, might not be able to, but I would, so I suggest you shut it.” Jake warned, not seeming at all fazed by the interruption and continuing to address Evin as though ‘Ella’ had never spoken. “I understand the facts, Evin. And that’s exactly the point. Ella’s life was mostly driven by desperation; her mother left her out of desperation, we dragged her to the forest to save her life, the White Knights were after her in some desperate attempt to restore order to Newhaven... By the time she had any choice, how was she expected to know what she wanted or who she even was? However there is a chance here to do for this child what was never done for her and, if there truly is no longer a father, maybe you and Captain should discuss this amongst yourselves. If anyone cared about that girl as much as you, it’s her. Think about it.”

“Are you suggesting I raise the child? I’m too old for it, Jake. Ria’s close to being too old for it. Hell, I’m nearing 38 now. When that child’s matured, I’ll be nearing my 60’s. As stressful as my life is now, I couldn’t do it. We couldn’t do it.” Evin said. Then he chuckled. “Who knows, I might not even make it past next month with all things considered.”
“It’s amazing that you brought me all this way without a plan,” Ella said, the tone mocking.
“There is another reason I’m here,” Evin said, ignoring the fact that he was being mocked. “I’m following leads on a person. He goes by the name of Wyatt. Seems to have been involved with Xypher in attempting to remove Ria from Newhaven. He also seems to know that I’m looking for him. Following me in bars, assassinating people who may have known about him. It almost reminds me of Perry in a way. It almost scares me how similar they are.”

Jake was silent for a few moments, a goofy look of amusement spreading across his features as he was clearly trying to imagine Evin and Mageria teaming up to raise a baby. While he managed to burst out laughing he did chuckle briefly. “Look, all I’m saying is that when a child loses both parents it should be up to their closest family to decide their fate. Whether or not the child’s mother was Queen shouldn’t change that. The fact of the matter is, you and Captain are the closest to a family this kid’s gonna have, so whatever is decided, you should at least decide together.” He shrugged.

Jake continued to ignore the necromancer, Evin’s mention of the name Wyatt peaking his interest. “Wyatt? That’s odd. Ali mentioned meeting a Wyatt at the ball in Blackpond. She described him as a redhead teenager, said he was in the company of this blonde couple and the woman seemed to be trying to kidnap Donovan. She distinctly remembered warning Ryan about them.”

Evin was interested, but not captivated by Allison’s encounter with a Wyatt. The description didn’t seem to fit what he was looking for. A teenager wouldn’t have the influence or skills to do what the Wyatt Evin was looking for could. The Wyatt he was looking for was a killer who had a way with words. That much, Evin could infer. How common of a name was Wyatt? He couldn’t think of any other Wyatt’s that he knew. The thief, Lionel likely used the name for himself because of its obscurity.
“I’m not sure if it’s the same Wyatt, but I’ll keep it in mind.”
Evin looked over to Ella again for a moment. She was twitching. It wasn’t an uncommon sight. Every once in awhile, the host would seem to disappear into Ella’s body and then the convulsions would start. Evin wasn’t quite sure what was going on but figured he wouldn’t worry himself over it too much.
“He can’t hear us right now,” Evin said, motioning to Ella. “If you want to say it… or anything for that matter, now would be the time.”

“It’s probably not the same, no, but maybe this person has some connection to your Wyatt. I mean, it’s plausible the man isn’t working alone. By your own comparison, I’m still not convinced The Shadow didn’t have people backing him. Impressive as his manipulative skills were, no one impersonates a king for that long without someone noticing.”

Jake stared at Ella’s twitching form, pondering Evin’s words. Some things were probably best left unsaid. Left alone. Buried. He sighed. “I went by the Wolves camp while they were preparing Sean for burial... I did promise him I’d return his knife after all... The clan seems to be falling behind Donovan now. I’m not sure whether it’s official yet, but... Suppose he’s just as good a candidate for Alpha as the next guy. The Pack and I will likely never be in good terms again, considering what I’ve done, but for the rest of you, the animosity hopefully died with Sean.”

Evin nodded his head at Jake. It was true, Sean’s death marked the end of many things to many people. To Evin, it marked the end of his connections with the Wolfpack. Everyone who kept him to the Wolfpack was either dead or had defected. Everything that Evin had built his life on was now completely unaffiliated with the Wolfpack. All his friends, companions, rivals, and associates were now bigger than what the Wolfpack had become. “I see cooperation in the future for the two of us. As long as you can keep yourself from killing my good friends, I think we can make this work. The past did die with Sean. I think it’s time to start anew.”

Jake couldn’t help but arch an eyebrow at Evin’s words about the past dying with Sean. It sounded unusually optimistic to him coming from Evin, but he wasn’t going to bring that up or argue the man’s statement. There’d be no point. He just nodded along instead. “That seems fair, I guess,” he answered calmly, rubbing his aching jaw as he took his leave.

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

Simon didn't bother wondering too far from where Jake had left him. There wasn't anything that he was after in the Raven's Nest. Simon's goal was singular. The campsite was just a resting spot until the opportunity arose and he was in no particular hurry rise. Nothing rushed him to complete his task. As long as he had the dagger, Simon didn't have to worry. His only worry rested with the wolf.

Simon didn't dislike dogs. He wasn't so sure about wolves. That wasn't what bothered him about his new companion, though. It all came down to Simon's pride. To have to be babysat by a dog brought Simon back to childhood when dogs would be used as a way to ensure Simon's safety from himself. When mother couldn't bother to take care of him, the family dog was always there to make sure Simon was safe. Now, many years later, Simon found himself in a similar position before. The only relief being that in Simon's metaphor for treating him as a child, Jake was Simon's mother. An amusing thought, but meaningless beyond Simon's headspace. The worry of the dog in itself was a meaningless thought which meant Simon could continue on, not caring for his predicament.

It was a spacious little area which Simon had been brought. By all means, one could almost call this encampment a town. It functioned much like any other town, except for the limitations to who may enter said camp. It was a military base before anything else, less involved in their previous obligations to Newhaven than before. Their obligations were elsewhere, now. Where they were, Simon couldn't discern from his limited view. He could have slipped into the various people's minds as they rushed by him. Maybe they could give him some insight. Did he care for insight? What would it gain him? It was possible that he'd gain nothing but at the same time, it was possible that he gained valuable information. It was also a waste of his time. What else would I do with my time?

Simon was right. There wasn't anything worthwhile to do in the camp. With the risk of a misstep resulting in a face ripped apart by a wolf, Simon preferred to stay on the safe side. It would be straightforward to get away with slipping into other people's minds unnoticed. The use of Simon's enlightenment was unassuming on most occasions.

There was a large rock propped by a tree. He ushered Rick to stand by the rock while Simon sat against the rock. He closed his eyes and when he opened them, he'd become attuned to the thoughts of the people around him. Most prevalent were the thoughts of Rick, deprived of logic and filled with depravities Simon preferred not to focus on. Broadening his thought, he started to catch glimpses of the people closest to him. A woman who was looking for her husband. A man who couldn't grasp the concept of swimming in the nearby river. Children hoping no one would catch them sneaking into the armoury to get a close look at all the interesting weapons. A conversation where two were dancing around the real talking points. And a mind all too familiar.

Simon snapped out of it. All the intrusive thoughts around him disappeared. He leapt off the ground, searching his surroundings for a specific face. The wolf growled, looking up at Simon with teeth bared and hair at attention. Simon settled back into the rock but didn't take his gaze off the wolf for one moment. While keeping a close eye on the wolf, he started to focus his thoughts again, looking for the familiar thoughts again.

It didn't take Simon long at all to focus back into the thought. To find where it was coming from wasn't all too difficult, either. He was just across the river and a couple dozen feet away from the person he was looking for.

"I never expected to find a mind so familiar to me when I ended up here. How did you end up here?" Simon asked the mind.

"I was kidnapped." The mind replied. "And you?"

Simon thought about that for a moment. Why would the Ravens feel a need to kidnap the queen from Newhaven? It wasn't a particular matter for him.

"I found Rick, but I also ended up finding the Black Knights. I have something now I've been put on quite a tight leash."

"You're going to give it to Vorso like you were instructed?" The mind asked.

"No," Simon said

"So you'll give it to Lamya?"

"I wouldn't give Lamya my socks."

"This isn't the smart thing to do, Simon. You're just going to abandon the Conflict like that?"

"The Conflict has never been a single entity. We are just a group of opportunists. Vorso, Lamya... you."

"I'm winning the war for Blackpond. I'm the closest thing to the Conflict's original purpose than anyone in this group is."

"Don't play me that way. I know more about you than you can ever comprehend. I know what you want better than you do." Simon said.

"I want Blackpond to win the war."

"Ella's an interesting woman. There's an interesting chapter about her in a book stored away somewhere in the White Shadows' archives. Myths of Medicine. You went to the archives that one time when Rory had us do reconnaissance, didn't you? How old were we again? Fifteen? Do remember what chapter it was? Don't hurt your brain, I know you don't but if you want, I could unlock that memory for you."

"You know, I never liked you."

"I know. To be frank, I don't care what you do. I don't care what any of you Valcrestians do as long as you aren't getting in my way."

Simon cut off the contact with the mind. Paying attention to reality again, he looked across the river to where the mind had come from. It was a small supply shed. From out the door, Jake walked out into the open. He thought about playing with Jake. Invading his mind and asking him why the Queen was in the camp. He decided against it. There was no need to provoke Jake anymore than he was already.

He looked back down to the wolf that was before him. Not having a particular need to provoke it, either, he decided to go off to find some food.


[Otium 18th, Evening] Blackpond

Rita looked around the room of Blackpond's new council. All fifteen members were now in the room. Present to hear what they were being offered. She knew some of them may reject their position and it was their right to do as they please. Every one of the people in the room was once a member of Rita's army. Most of them were competent generals and officers but there was an unlikely few that had been faceless soldiers to Rtia a short time before. They'd only had their chance to join the Large Council by recommendation of the new Small Council members who'd helped iron out Blackponds new political structure. It was important to have a mixture of people unknown to all of the Small Council Members. It allowed for diversity of opinions and was something Rita hoped would be beneficial to Blackpond's success from this point forward.

"We've spent the entire day discussing at great lengths what needs to be done to make this work. I can't guarantee that it will work and I'm sure we will run into problems but this is how things are going to be. The Small Council will consist of the six people who have been in discussion over the past ten hours. Those people are Oswald Valkenburg, Korvin Strongwell, Mayson Coffman, Brianna Westbrook, Arcadius Trivelli, and Ritania Lavoie-Hastings. The rest of you will sit on the Large Council if you so choose. Feel free to leave. We will find a replacement. If you wish to stay, we'll be discussing what your roles shall be in this new government."


[Otium 19th, Midnight] Not far from Blackpond

Dominic sat upright in his bed. He had been staring at the wardrobe in the corner of the room for what seemed like an hour now. It's bland features started blending into the wall as Dominic drifted in and out of conscious thought. For brief moments, he would be interrupted by the sound of Conrad or Wyatt turning in their sleep only to be drawn back to the corner of the room where he would continue to mindlessly drift through his thoughts.

There was no reason that Dominic was doing this. He was tired, but couldn't really sleep. He thought maybe it had something to do with Ella or possibly with the thought of Newhaven being crippled from the inside by revolutionaries. That wasn't the reason Dominic had trouble sleeping, though. He had moments like this before. Moments where he knew that he was facing a certain level of danger. It was the night before a battle. He'd only experienced it when he was certain that he was going to fight. This time, there was no sign that a fight was near.

"You can't sleep either?"

Dominic jumped to his feet but sat back down when he saw Wyatt adjusting himself upright in his bed. "No."

Wyatt didn't reply. He just stared back at Dominic. He supposed Wyatt expected him to continue his thoughts. Dominic went back to staring at the corner of the room, but he continued to look back at Wyatt who was just staring at Dominic. No real expression was on his face and he didn't seem at all willing to continue the conversation himself. Dominic let out a sigh.

"I've this feeling in my gut," Dominic said. "Can't place my finger on it."

"Do you suppose--"

"I can't place my finger on it."

Wyatt sluggishly slipped out of his bed. He walked into Dominic's vision, jolting Dominic out of his trance with the wall in front of him. "I was going to ask, do you suppose that it has something to do with the fact that even if you reclaim Ella from her assassin captor that she's practically dead anyway? At least, by all accounts, it sounds like she's a dead girl walking."

"No." Dominic paused for a moment but remembered that attempting to end this conversation was just leading to more anxiety. He continued. "I didn't become a knight to save the queen. I did it to preserve Sun and Moon's vision when they created Newhaven."

"And you know that vision?" Wyatt said.

"I wish I knew the exact answer to that. Have you ever felt that there is something bigger than you that you must achieve without knowing how to get there?"

"Long ago, yes," Wyatt said.

"You're just a kid. No older than Ella, at least. What would you know about, 'long ago'?" Dominic said.

Wyatt rolled his eyes at Dominic like anyone his age might do to someone undercutting their thoughts based on their age. Dominic didn't want to get into an argument with a kid over something like this, so he just avoided the question altogether. "I just know that Sun and Moon had a vision. If they didn't they wouldn't have created Newhaven to begin with. I'm fairly certain that Newhaven isn't nearly what it was like when Sun and Moon created it. Valcrest isn't anything that it was then, I imagine."

"I suppose you're right. That's what you're gut is telling you?"

"It has nothing to do with that. You asked me if it had to do with Ella and we got on this tangent. Like I said, I wasn't sure what my gut was telling me when you started this conversation and that fact hasn't changed in the last five minutes that we've been spent talking." Dominic said.

"Sorry. Does it have anything to do with the group that's been following us since we left Newhaven?"

"What?" Dominic asked.

"The five men that have been following us. You haven't noticed them. I don't think they're after us if that's any consolation. If I were to make a guess, I'd say that they're after something like us. Maybe they're hoping we'll lead them to it? I'm not sure, but that's what I'd do if I were them. They'll likely try to get the jump on us just before we reach our goal."

Dominic had gotten out of his bed while Wyatt was talking. He'd walked over to the window, next to Conrad's bed. Just a dirt path. What did he expect at that time of night? Across the road, there was another house not unlike the one that the three of them were staying in for the night. Dominic caught a glimpse of something on the roof. He peered towards it and then another movement caught his attention. A curtain in the window across the way ruffled a bit as a hand pushed open a window. He then caught a man coming from around the side of the house. He opened the front door. from behind the shadows of the door, Dominic caught a familiar flash. He ducked as the window he'd been staring out of shattered. A thud behind him. The wardrobe behind him splintered and a crossbow bolt stuck itself deep into the wood. Dominic looked back up through the window. He just caught a leg crawling through the window from the house across the way.

"What the hell is going on!" Conrad shouted. He'd already gotten out of bed, hardly clothed and brandishing his weapons that he'd left leaning against his bedside table.

Dominic didn't reply. Another crossbow bolt came flying through the window. This time, it whizzed just past Dominic's ear. He rushed out of the room, to the ground level where he'd left his weapon. Conrad followed not too far behind. Dominic didn't bother to check to see if Wyatt had followed them, too. Dominic busted through the door. Two men were standing there. Waiting for him. Dominic brandished the tip of his blade directly at one of the men in a threatening stance, but he didn't strike. He had more honour than to strike an unarmed opponent, even given their threatening nature.

The man didn't flinch. He stood there, almost stoic. "I don't mean to be so threatening. I only wish to show off my group's talents. We aren't after the queen and we aren't after you. We're after a man whose betrayed our cause and it just so happens that he's gone in the same direction as your queen's abductor. Would you at all be opposed to a tentative partnership?"

Dominic looked behind the man. His attackers had dropped all their weapons and slipped out of the shadows. He then looked back at Conrad and Wyatt who were just behind him.

"I'm not sure what you're angle is," Dominic said. He was weary of these men for good reason but it wouldn't be the first time that a Black Knight had worked with dubious and deceitful people. He'd already picked up Wyatt, who still wasn't too clear about his motives. "I suppose we can at least talk about it. Come in."

The setting changes from blackpond to Raven's Nest

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Evin Bana Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Thomas Sidin Character Portrait: Sham (No Last Name) Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Indrani Nayar Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Annie Turner
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[Raven's Nest - Otium 18, late afternoon]

Luckas sighed, holding back a laugh. They had been doing this for a while now; Lily had found him the moment he arrived in the Nest and been following him around ever since, chasing him for a bit then standing in front of him, staring for a few seconds, then yawning vigorously. After some time of making the girl chase him down for this; with no explanation as to why whatsoever, Luckas finally stopped trying to get away and just sat down by the oak, compliant, watching as she stared at him for long periods of time and then let out another exaggerated yawn, Stalker joining the girl in her yawning and eventually just curling up beside Luckas and taking a nap. Finally, Lily threw her arms up in the air in clear frustration and stormed off. Luckas was intrigued, so he jumped to his feet and went off after her.

Lily hadn’t gone far, she was standing beside an amused looking Jason, arms crossed and a severe expression that was a clear imitation of the one Jess would give the children at bedtime. “It doesn’t work!”

“There’s nothing wrong with the test, Lily.” The boy responded as if not wanting to explain anything more than that.

“Nuh-uh!” Lily protested. “I did just like you said and it didn’t work at all.”

“Okay...” Luckas snorted a laugh. “What is going here? What was that all about with the yawning and why are you two arguing?”

“It’s an empathy test,” Jason explained.

“An empathy tes-...” Luckas cut himself off, a look of understanding spreading across his features slowly. “I see.” Luke sighed, scratching the back of his head awkwardly. “Well, it doesn’t mean something is wrong with the test, Miss Lily... It just means I didn’t pass.”

The girl shook her head stubbornly. “That’s not right. Because you’re not mean so you should pass!” She argued.

Luke arched an eyebrow at the girl. “Is this an empathy test or a meanness test, hm?” He questioned playfully. “Listen, kid, it doesn’t mean I don’t have any empathy. I just have... a lot less of it than most people. So your test wouldn’t work on me because tests are made for regular people. You understand? Either way, not having empathy doesn’t necessarily mean a person is bad. It means it’s easier for them to do bad things because they wouldn’t feel bad about them.”

“But I think you have lots of empathy! You do nice things all the time.” Lily argued. “You tell us stories, and you help Jess with Danny even if you don’t really have to... And you make Miss Ess smile all the time... and stuff...”

Luckas snickered. “Do I? Huuh...” He mumbled, scratching his head playfully as though he hadn’t actually noticed these things before. “Weeeird.” Noting the girl’s confused expression Luckas sighed crouching down to her level. “Listen, Little Miss, I’m nice to you because I like you, yes? I like Miss Ess... and Jess is just very, very, bossy, you know? It’s easy being good to people you like. Good people are good even when it’s not easy. That’s something I can’t do.”

Lily frowned a bit as she thought about Luke’s words, making a face as if she had tasted something bitter. “Are you saying that to be good you have to be nice to people even if you don’t like them?”

Luckas laughed at the girl’s expression. “Nah, Miss Lily, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that good people don’t do bad things to people just because they don’t like them, or because they can. They would feel bad if they did.” He asked, standing up straight and waiting for her to nod in response before starting to walk back the way he came, purposely keeping his pace relaxed, knowing that the questioning wasn’t quite over yet.

“So you’ve done bad things to people just ‘cause you didn’t like them?” Lily asked, following after Luckas.

“Sometimes. More often than that because I could.”

“Why?”

“Why not?” Luckas retorted, his tone almost bitter, yet he halted and glanced at the girl with the corner of his eye, softening his next words. “That’s what empathy’s for, Miss Lily. It tells you why not.”

“Mister Luckas... Why do some people don’t have empathy then?” The girl asked.

Luckas shrugged casually and resumed walking. “I don’t think anyone knows, Miss Lily. Some people say that you are either born with empathy or not. Others think that people learn empathy from their parents when they’re still babies and that if something really bad happens then, or if they have no one to teach them, they never learn. Nobody knows which is true, though.”

“My Mommy and my Da taught me then!” Lily stated proudly. “You didn’t have a mommy to teach you?”

Luckas snorted slightly. “Not really.”

“Is she in Heaven like my mommy?”

“No,” Luckas mumbled. “No, she’s... She’s alive, but... She wasn’t a very good mommy. See, she didn’t want to take care of me or my brother; so she gave us away to some bad people.”

“Like the bad people taking children away now?”

Luckas frowned deeply but kept his tone relaxed. “You heard about that, huh?”

“We hear lots of things. Jess says we’re not supposed to, but...”

“I see,” Luckas smirked, a little bit amused. He stopped walking as he reached his spot by the oak and was greeted by Stalker lazily getting up from his nap to lick his hand. Luke scratched behind the wolf’s ears and sighed, unable to lie to the girl; even about this. “Yes, those people were something like that.”

“How could she do that?” Lily asked, clinging to Stalker as if he was a giant teddy bear and peeking at Luckas from behind a cover of black fluff.

“She had no empathy; not for us anyway.” Luke shrugged, sitting down by the tree and forcing a smile that was rather unconvincing. “You shouldn’t worry about that, it was a very long time ago.”

“Well, you know what? You have lots more empathy than she did.” Lily stated firmly. “So you didn’t need her to teach you anyways.”

Luckas shook his head but agreed with the girl, not wanting to extend that conversation any more than necessary. “I suppose you’re right Miss Lily.” Luke went silent for a little while before smiling wickedly at the girl. “You know what, I could really use some tea right now. Should we have some tea, Miss Lily?”

Lily’s eyes lit up in excitement as she vigorously nodded. “Okay! Wait here, I’ll be right back!” She exclaimed, running off towards the Captain’s cabin.

Luckas watched the girl wander off, his expression darkening considerably now that she couldn’t see him anymore; a reddish hue lingering underneath the dark of his eyes.

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

[Raven's Nest - Otium 18, early evening]

Luckas’ spirits had lifted considerably while having ‘tea’ with miss Lily. For the most part, he had let the girl talk his ears off about all the new people gracing the Nest with their presence and how she had tried to sneak a look at the Queen but was caught by Jess before she could manage a peek. Luckas’ interest in Ella or Jake’s prisoners was barely existent and his only addition to the conversation at this point was to stress the fact Lily should absolutely not go near any prisoners under any circumstance. The girl rolled her eyes at him but agreed. After a while, Jess came by to break up their play date and Lily gathered her things in a hurry to join the other kids for supper, telling Luckas he could keep the shiny paper crown she’d given him to wear. It was a nice looking piece of sparkly paper, and Luke held on to it, even though he didn’t quite see himself as a crown-wearing kind of guy.

It didn’t strike him as odd that he hadn’t seen Ess since he arrived in the Nest, or the amount of drills the Ravens had been running lately. He knew better than anyone that all hell was going to break loose soon enough. It only made sense that the camp be this busy. While usually Luckas would have made it a point to find her, even if just to see what she was doing, this time, he decided to just wait by the oak and enjoy a quiet moment. Those plans were almost immediately thwarted by a loud sneeze and an annoyed whine.

“Hey, Tala...” Luckas sighed. “I know, I forgot to change, I smell wrong. Just deal with it, alright? I had a rough couple of days, I just want some quiet.”

Tala let out a short bark, and continued sniffing and prodding Luckas, whining in protest to his scent and when it became clear to the wolf that the man wasn’t going to anything about his ‘condition’, she took action herself, persistently rubbing her fur against the man’s clothes face and hair.

“Ugh, Tala, no, stop it,” Luckas complained, shoving the wolf aside and getting up on his feet. “Fine, for fuck's sake, I’ll go wash up.” He muttered, retrieving a clean set of clothes and the boots Ess had given him from his travel bag and starting towards the river. “I’m not one of your pups, you know? Just because you stopped trying to bite my face off doesn’t mean I have to listen to you.”

Tala barked in response, following after Luckas and still sniffing at his heels.

“Knock it off,” Luckas mumbled, glaring at the wolf. “You couldn’t just cut me a little slack for once, could ya? Noooo... ” He continued to mutter at the wolf under his breath as they reached a more secluded area in the outskirts of the camp. He nudged Stalker, the wolf tracking ahead to make sure there was no one currently at the water pool. It was unlikely, but seeing as some of the women in the camp often bathed there he’d rather not risk it. The wolf’s short howl told Luckas that the area was clear and the man continued on, annoyance still clear in his voice as he mumbled to himself. “As if I didn’t have enough to worry about... No one would even notice if you didn’t make such a big deal every time... bloody wolf...”

Luckas was quick to strip naked and get in the pool, feeling a bit of shock from the cold water as he sunk in and exhaling sharply as it subsided. The idea of bathing in the Nest was unappealing to him for several reasons, but most of all because if anyone so much as glimpsed the mark on the back of his shoulder he would be done for. “Do you have any idea, the risk you’re making me take? Hm? Maybe you are still trying to kill me.” He muttered at Tala, resting both arms on the edge of the pool and glaring at the wolf. Tala responded with a snort, inching closer and taking a whiff of Luke’s hair before licking his nose, seeming satisfied that he was clean. “Yeah, yeah, I’m watching you.” He chuckled as the wolf wandered off, most likely to find Ess.

When Luckas returned to the Nest, once again thinking of just going back to the Oak and relaxing. Once again, his plan was immediately thwarted when he spotted Clayton stalking this man along the camp, the boy looking very determined and scared out of his mind at the same time. It took Luckas half a glance to know that man was far from the innocent victim he was making himself out to be. Luckas gestured for Stalker to hide and the wolf immediately disappeared in the woods. Luke then walked straight to Clayton and grabbed the boy by the collar of his shirt. “What, if I may ask, do you think you’re doing?” He snapped.

Clayton winced, eyes widening at being caught. “Uh, I...”

Luckas pulled the boy further away so that he was now standing between him and the stranger. “You don’t go around shoving your hands into people’s pockets like that! Who’s been teaching you this stuff?”

“Irvin did, but...”

“Irvin is an idiot. Which is not surprising considering the idiot in charge of his training.” Luckas snorted, softening his tone a bit when he realized Clayton was just about to start crying on him. “Listen to me, Clay; you do not prey on people blindly like this. Just because they look distracted it doesn’t mean they are. And if they’re pretending to be, you have to ask yourself...” He glanced at the man. “...Why?” He let go of Clayton’s shirt. “If you want to practice, practice on the guard. You’re not ready for this, do you understand?”

Clayton nodded slowly. “Okay.”

“Okay. Now go find Jess, go on. You should be going to bed by now.”

“Okay, I will. Thank you, Mister Luckas.” Clayton smiled, peeking at the stranger for a bit and waving. “Bye Mister Creepy Man!”

Luckas snorted a chuckle as the boy ran off. “So... Mister Creepy Man...” Luke muttered, now taking a good look at the stranger and immediately recognizing his face. “Mind telling me what your plan was with the kid? Because there're only two kinds of people I know who would willingly lead a child to reach into their pockets, but seeing as you’re Captain’s friend I’ll be kind enough to assume you are neither.”

Evin hadn't left his commandeered hut since he'd arrived. Keeping his eye on Ella was his top priority. However, in the Nest, he keep know that there was a certain level of safety. He could leave the cabin for a short while and while most of the previous Black Guards didn't know him, Evin knew them all too well. He'd tasked some of the better guards to protect the hut before leaving the cabin's sight. It would give him a chance to take a look around the camp and to keep up with the goings on around camp.
He'd only just left when he heard soft shuffles scuttling behind him. Evin didn't indicate at all that he knew he was being followed but continued on with a little more caution. He slowly circled around himself, taking note of his tracks on the ground as he walked by them. It was a kid. A younger one, at that. Evin relaxed. He led the kid on a wild chase through the camp until eventually finding a rather secluded place to stop. Rather irritated, he took his shoe off, shaking it as if there was a rock inside. When he felt rummaging through his pocket, he gently chucked his shoe over his head.
“Ouch!” The kid yelped.
“I don't know what you look like. Make sure you keep it that way, kid. Drop the string behind me. You can keep the copper pieces.” Evin said with a stern tone.
The kid scuttled off again, but not before he heard him shout, back a farewell to Evin. Am I really that old?
Then a younger man walked up to him. He looked no older than twenty with deep-set black eyes and black hair which seemed to partly cover his face.
“I have a hard time presuming that you walk around this camp and don't at least know my name. I'm Evin. Now that you know my name, you can use it.”

Luckas crossed his arms over his chest and looked at Evin with an eyebrow raised. “I know your name, sir. Mister Bana. Mister Evin. Mister Ev... J-Bear has some other names for you, I could use one of those as well.” He shrugged lightly. “So, yes, I can use your name. There’s a great many deal of things I can do, in fact. Just because I can, though, doesn’t mean I will.”

Luke unfolded his arms and ran his fingers through his hair, noting it was still damp from his impromptu bath. His smoothed his locks and picked the shiny paper crown miss Lily had let him keep earlier from his pocket. Unfolding the hat and placing it over his head. “There was one person I sometimes... Sometimes... Called by name,” he said, casually. “Sometimes I called her Lena. Most times I just called her Evil Bitch. We had a complicated relationship, but in my defense, she didn’t seem to mind that. She did mind what you called her, though. She didn’t say it but she minded, and you knew that she minded... Yet you did it anyway.” Luke’s eyes narrowed at Evin and sparkled red for a moment before his posture relaxed. Once again he shrugged at the man. “You did it because you knew that she minded and I think, hey far from me to judge, but you know... At the same time, you’re one to talk when it comes to how people address you. Mister Assassin Man.” Luckas’ face scrunched up for a moment as he thought over the name. “Nah... Mister Frowny Man? Mister Frowny Assassin Man? Mister Crankypants? Hmmm... I’m a bit off my game today, but no worries... I’ll find one that suits you soon enough.”

Eyes glossed over as Evin listened to this man drone on. He wasn’t even sure what the black-haired little brat was saying, but Evin indulged him the opportunity to continue talking. Evin wouldn’t have liked to say it, but he felt above this sort of condescending conversation from total strangers. He replied with the only thing that seemed dignified the conversation, “okay”and he moved on his way, towards what seemed to be the smell of some freshly cooked rabbit.

“I’m glad you agree,” Luckas said as he continued wandering off after Evin, eyeing him as though trying to make out what kind of person he was. After a few steps he whispered under his breath, it was a soft command, simple, one that might go unnoticed to someone naturally prone to tripping over their own feet, which was what Evin ended up doing. He caught himself, but Luke didn’t mean to cause a fall, only slow him down. He used the man’s misstep to run ahead of him and get in his face, looking into his eyes and catching a glimpse of the freshest memories on his mind. “You seem preoccupied, Mister Grumpy Man... You worried about Little Ella? Is she still not done playing puppet to that idiot? I told her I could help her, but she said ‘no’. No. ‘Cause of the kid I guess.” Luke smiled. “Always took her for a wimp, but even I have to admit that’s commendable. I don’t think anyone would fault her for wanting an easy way out in this case.”

Evin jumped to life at the mention of Ella. He grabbed Luckas by his shirt and pushed him backward. Luckas’ breath escaped him as he was violently backed into a tree. A dagger pressed against his throat with another one flashing from a hidden pocket in Evin’s coat to hold what seemed to be Luckas’ dominant hand against the tree. Any struggle would likely end with either Luckas’ throat cut or his hand pinned to the tree behind him, or both. “What’s your game with Ella? Who are you? What do you want from her?” He said through a stiff jaw. “And it’s Evin.”

Luke didn’t seem to care much for being roughed up. That was really a daily occurrence, or almost, at this point. He let out a small chuckle at the man’s response. “What could I possibly want from her? I did her a favor. Someone needed to explain what this was. She thought she was still alive. Understanding takes away the fear, or so I hoped.” Luke gave a half shrug, careful not to move too much. “I was just curious, if you don’t want to tell me how she’s doing, that’s fine by me.”

Evin let up his death grip on Luckas. He backed away a few steps and allowed him to compose himself in whatever way comforted him. Evin still felt in control and with a dagger in his hand, he could rest assured that should this strange fellow try to attack, that he wouldn’t have the jump on Evin. Luckas hadn’t revealed anything about himself, yet. Evin could respect that on a certain level. It took one man to fear someone who had a dagger to his throat and didn’t flinch but Evin wasn’t that man. Someone who could look at Death--or the perceived threat of Death--and not for a moment worry of what may come of it deserved respect. In fact, someone of that composure almost demanded it. Sean may have decided to address it and Perry, he knew, must have feared it. Evin was even thinking about it right now but this stranger in front of him seemed to be familiar enough with it to hold it with little regard.
“I wouldn’t know how Ella’s doing. It’s rather difficult to speak with someone who can’t speak with you. How you managed to speak to her would be a mystery. I’m a smart man. I have my suspicions.”
Evin put away one of his daggers, pivoting it through his fingers without a thought before tucking it away through a seem that almost seemed to disappear when his hand came back in view. “You still haven’t told me who you are.”

“Eh, my name is Luckas. Just Luckas.” Luke gave a long moment of thought to the question he was just asked and then shrugged yet again. “That doesn’t quite answer your question, but... Who I am is an awfully convoluted mess I’m sure you have no time or patience to figure out, sir.” He calmly stretched, trying to work some stiffness out of his body, his eyes not leaving Evin though he really wasn’t worried. “And I’m a telepath. I talked to her that way, but I doubt he’ll let me do it again. He’s really annoying for a dead man. I mean, I could enter their mind, sure, but that doesn’t mean he’ll let her talk. He’s in control for the most part.” Luke grinned, mostly at himself, not voicing what thought prompted the shift in his expression just yet. “You know, Jakey-Bear doesn’t seem to like you much; what I’ve seen of his thoughts before I got bored with it at least, but... You are a smart man. A crankypants, but smart. I’m sure if you look, you could find a way to talk to her. I’d be rather bored if I was stuck with that idiot and waiting for death. Little Ella should definitely appreciate the visit.”

Evin didn’t like riddles. He didn’t like the idea that people would beat around the bush when they knew the answer to his problems. Evin wasn’t even sure what the problem was. Luckas did. He knew the problem, the answer, and likely the means to by which to accomplish every task that would be faced in looking for the answers. Did Luckas want to tell Evin any of this? No. Not by any direct means, that is. He looked down into the dirt and shuffled his feet. “You must’ve been telling the truth when you said you know Lena,” Evin muttered mostly to himself. Looking back towards Luckas, he said, “I don’t understand what you’re saying.”

Luckas blinked, seeming momentarily confused at Evin’s statement. “Okay, maybe you’re not as smart as I thought. I’ll draw you a little picture then.” He snorted, gesturing with his right hand to a point right behind Evin. “Easy, champ,” he mumbled, carrying on speaking as though there’d been no interruption and not giving another thought to the large black wolf that was now sniffing at Evin’s boots. “The necromancer responsible for Little Ella’s state is in control of her... well... their... consciousness. It’s a bit of a collective mind type thing, I guess. So even if a telepath can enter her, their, mind... There’s no guarantee to speak with her. That’s one issue there. The second issue would be that even if I could talk to her I couldn’t form a link between her mind and yours so that the two of you could speak. That said, there is someone I know who can and for what I heard he’s somewhere in this camp. The man’s name is Simon. I don’t know what interest he’d have in helping you communicate, but he could.” Luckas shrugged. “Like I said, though, you’ll have to look around. I don’t know where he is.” Luke snorted a chuckle as he watched Stalker poking his nose at the assassin for a few more seconds before coming to his side and sitting, he scratched behind the wolf’s ears in silent praise. “I think, maybe you’ll find him easier if you look for the giant white wolf Jakey Bear had following their asses around camp. I guess the purpose of that would be keeping the mad king from... I don’t know... Drooling on someone. The man is pretty much a potato at this point, I figure. If you find him, tell him I said hello.”

A telepath that could link communications. Evin had never heard of a telepath that could do that. He knew Lena couldn’t do that. She never revealed it to Evin if she did. But what would Evin gain from linking his mind to Ella’s? Was there a purpose to it all? Could he do anything to free her from her death grip? Probably not. Evin’s eyelids stiffened slightly. He retracted his lips into his mouth and looked away from Luckas for a moment. Letting out a heavy sigh, Evin looked back at Luckas and the wolf. “A potato and a white wolf. Sounds like it will be easy enough to find. Thanks.” Evin turned around to walk away. Despite not looking at Luckas, he made sure to be hyper aware of his surroundings as he wandered off. As he was about to pass behind a tree, he turned around. Luckas wasn’t there anymore. He wasn’t far. “You may have been helpful to me, but I swear: Some memories aren’t meant to be explored. If you cross me, I won’t be kind.”

Luckas snorted a laugh at Evin’s threat, poking his head from behind a tree just long enough to issue a reply. “Buddy, I have better things to do with my life, but... if you think that little threat would stop me doing anything, you clearly don’t know who you’re dealing with. Besides; don’t thank me, I’m not doing this for you.”

That said, Luke ‘disappeared’ behind the trees once again, glancing at Stalker as he started to finally head back to the oak. “Hate to agree with Lena on anything, but he is a bit of a self-entitled brat, isn’t he?”

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

[White Shadows Camp - Otium 16, late night]

It took Annie a good while and some considerable effort to calm down Emily. She had to administer a tranquilizer to get the girl to settle down and after a few moments of uncontrollable sobbing she’d fallen asleep. Once the girl had calmed and was asleep, Alistair peered into the room to check on what was happening. Finding an uncharacteristically agitated Annie pacing around the tent like a beast in a cage. “Are you alright?” he asked.

“I don’t know what to tell that kid, Alistair. What can I tell him, really?" Annie blurted out, ignoring his question entirely.

“You’re not allowed to repeat anything you’re told, but what you’ve seen...” Alistair trailed off, watching Annie closely as the younger healer paced back and forth in front of him. “I know she might not want her brother to know the details, but it might be easier to make him understand the situation if you’re a little blunt.”

Annie stopped walking and turned to face Alistair. “We’ve dealt with cases like this before, but Emily is complicated. I can’t know what she would want, I can’t just ask her what she wants without...” She snorted a laugh. “Mom would know how to handle this better, I’m no telepath, I don’t know how mental damage like this actually works. As if Luckas wasn’t bad enough,” she muttered, rubbing her eyes. “Telling Irvin about things she doesn’t remember seems... Wrong.”

“From an ethical standpoint, maybe, but it’ll be easier on them both if he’s prepared for what will happen when she does begin to remember everything. Because it will eventually come back.”

Annie heaved a lengthy sigh, her eyes trailing from Alistair to the sleeping girl. “I suppose you’re right. Her memory is coming back faster than I expected and she’s not taking well to the idea of remembering.”

“I could talk to him if you want. I know this won’t be easy to say.” Alistair offered.

“No, Al, she’s my apprentice, I’m responsible for her. Besides...” Annie trailed off, her voice fading into a pained silence.

“You’re the only one who’s seen the state she was in.” Alistair finished her sentence with a nod. “I know.”

“Keep an eye on her for me, have someone come get me the moment she wakes up. Do not leave her alone, not for a second, Al.”

“Yes, Your Worshipness.”

Annie laughed at the man’s teasing. “Shut up.”

“Ah, see? Pretty boy over there is not the only one who knows how to make you smile.” Alistair chuckled.

“Aaaw, Al... Don’t tell me you’re jealous of Darren, now? You’ll always be my favorite big brother.”

“Normally I’d argue I’m your only brother, but that’s not quite true anymore is it?” Alistair quipped.

Annie laughed again, this time more softly, her expression more contemplative than amused as she wrapped her arms around Alistair. “You know, I’m happy you came back. You didn’t have to, but I’m glad you did.”

“Eh, anything for you shorty.” Alistair smiled, patting the top of Annie’s head.

“I’ve told you to never to call me that, Al,” Annie complained, breaking the hug and give him a forceful shove. “Way to ruin the moment, jerkface.”

“Heh, sorry, kiddo.” Alistair shrugged. “You know me, I can’t handle all this emotional stuff.”

“Mhm,” Annie mumbled, giving her brother a playful look of disbelief. “Just keep an eye on the kid for me,” she instructed. “I kept Irvin waiting long enough and I’m sure he’s worried sick.”

-------

Annie traced her steps back to where she left Irvin. The boy hadn’t moved a muscle from where he was standing, his eyes empty and focused at some random patch of grass at his feet. This was already shaping up to be a difficult conversation, but he looked so utterly lost it was actually painful. She sighed softly, walking towards him and placing her hand on his shoulder to draw his attention. “Irvin? Can you come with me please?”

Irvin nodded in agreement and Annie led him to her tent. Once inside, she sat him down and made some tea, giving the both some time to gather their thoughts. She pushed a full cup into the boy’s hands and sat across from him. “Emily is going to be okay, Irvin. She was just a little bit rattled. I gave her something to calm her nerves, she’s sleeping now.”

“This is my fault. It’s all my fault. I’ve been so focused on... Worthless shit... I didn’t even look for her. I just left her with him. Stupid of me to think he’d be able to care for anyone.”

“Your brother?”

“Did she talk about him?”

“Not really, Irvin. Emily’s memory is... Not the most reliable right now. When she first got here, she couldn’t even tell me her name. She still has no recollection of where she’s been in the past months or how she got here.”

“Jake and I ran into Alan; my brother, at the Blackpond Ball. He said he sold Emily off to pay a gambling debt. That he hadn’t seen her in months. I never should have left her with him. Even if she ended up in the dungeons with me she would have been safer.”

“You don’t know that,” Annie reassured. “You couldn’t have known any of this. It’s not your fault.”

“How long has she been here?” Irvin asked, staring at his cup of tea and wincing at the realization his tea was now frozen solid.

“Emily arrived here while I was in Blackpond for the Ball. When I came back, I was informed of her situation by the healers I left in charge in my absence. She was confused and terrified. I had to drug her in order to conduct just a simple physical examination and it took days to get her to speak to anyone. In hindsight, she’s made incredible progress in the weeks she’s been with us.”

“Was she hurt? How did she lose her memory?”

Annie’s head lowered and she stared at her untouched tea for a few moment before answering. “Her memory was tempered with. I’m not sure how exactly, but her memories were blocked, locked away. She wasn’t hurt when she got here, but... All signs indicate that she had been hurt, a lot, wherever she was.” She took a sip from her tea and heaved a deep breath. “Emily had bruises in several stages of healing, scarred lashes, healed fractures... She showed signs of severe abuse.”

Irvin grimaced, taking a long deep breath as he concentrated in reheating his frozen tea for few seconds, taking a short sip of the, now warm, liquid. “Abuse?” He questioned. “What kind of... Was she...” He shook his head, trying to find words that didn’t seem as horrible. “Did they?”

“Yes.”

Irvin dropped his cup of tea, a choked sound escaping his throat as he stared at his hands. The confirmation sending a stabbing, agonizing, pain through his heart. He never asked Jake what had happened to Alan, but if he was still alive; he wouldn’t be for much longer. “She doesn’t remember any of it?”

“Not yet. She will.” Annie sighed. “Like I said, her memories are blocked. It’s possible that the trauma is what’s keeping them from coming back fully. Emily herself says she’s afraid to remember and that fear is hindering her recovery, but... The mind heals, Irvin. Those memories; those events, they won’t be locked away forever. They will come back eventually.”

Irvin hid his face in his hands for a few moments, his voice coming out muffled. “Is that why she reacted that way? She said... She said I was dead...”

“She was probably told that you were. Sometimes where there are gaps in a memory the mind will try to fill in the blanks; treat statements as fact.” Annie reached for Irvin’s shoulder in an attempt to comfort the boy. “I know this is difficult to hear. All of it. But Emily is healing, she’s been adjusting well here and, once she wakes up and the fog starts to lift from her mind, she’ll be happy to see you.”

Irvin sighed. “You think so? I don’t want... I don’t want to makes things worse for her. If me being here, if seeing me, is hurtful in any way I can just...”

“You’re her family. She needs you. You being here is not going to make anything worse, I promise.”

“I abandoned her. I let this happen. What if she hates me? I can’t...” Irvin shook his head, unable to properly finish his thought.

“You’re alive. You’re here now. She’s not going to hate you.” Annie smiled at Irvin. “Who knows, maybe you’ll both heal a lot faster together.”

As if on cue, a healer called out to Annie and entered the tent. “I’m sorry to intrude Annie, but Alistair asked me to warn you.”

“Emily woke up?”

“She’s on her way over, I don’t think he’ll be able to stop her.”

Annie chuckled. “If she’s well enough to get past Alistair, that’s a good sign in my opinion. Thank you, Elora.”

The woman was barely out of the tent when Emily stormed in, she still looked shaky, but a lot more lucid than she had been in quite a while. Irvin jumped to his feet at the sight of his sister and the girl stood for a long moment staring at him before rushing in his direction and wrapping her arms around him in a tight embrace. “You’re real,” she spoke, choked laughter escaping amidst her words. “You’re real... You’re really here...”

Irvin was momentarily at a loss for words, returning his sister’s embrace and watching the girl sob against him for nearly a full minute before he managed a word. “You remember me?”

Emily nodded. “Mhm... I... I’m still a little confused, but... I remember when you left and Alan said the guard had caught up with you. He said...” She shook her head. “I should have known he was lying. I’m so sorry.”

“No. No, no, no... Ems, it was my fault. I shouldn’t have left you. I wasn’t thinking.”

“Irvin, I don’t care that you left.” Emily broke their hug and looked up at her brother with a wide smile. “I’m just happy you’re alive.” The girl then frowned as she finally stopped to get a good look at his face. “What happened? Did someone hit you?”

“What? Oh...” Irvin reached for his bruised cheek and snorted a laugh. “It’s nothing, don’t worry about it.”

Emily’s eyes narrowed for a moment in a severe glare, but she continued to smile at her older brother, pulling Irvin by the hand. “Come on, let’s go get something to eat, I want to know where you’ve been the past year.”

Irvin shot Annie a slightly panicked look at Emily’s sudden excitement, but let himself be dragged along anyway, seeming as though a weight had been lifted off his shoulders.

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

[White Shadows Camp - Otium 19, early morning]

“I still think it’s funny... You’ve been with the Ravens all this time, Annie’s cousin was training you, you’re pals with Darren and no one realized your missing sister was right here all this time.” Emily sighed, giving Irvin an amused smirk as he helped her change a patient’s bandages; noticing that he was looking quite queasy from the process. “I can’t help but think that me telling everyone my brother was dead might have gotten in the way a bit.”

“That’s not your fault, Ems.”

“I know.” She shrugged. “There, all done, sir.” She smiled at the injured mercenary and led Irvin out of the examination tent.

“Any more gruesome head injuries before breakfast?” Irvin asked, frowning at his sister. “I swear that guy’s brain was showing.”

“No, it wasn’t.” Emily laughed. “It was a nasty wound, but if his brain was exposed he would be a potato right now. Not to mention it’d be smelling a lot worse.”

“You know what? Forget breakfast.” Irvin shuddered.

“Wuss,” Emily teased, bumping against her brother as they walked towards the center of the camp. “Well, I’m hungry and it’s gonna be a busy day. They’re all busy days.”

“You really like it here, huh?”

“I do. It’s good... Helping people. And I’m good at it. Annie said I can be a fantastic healer if I want to.”

The pair walked up to one of the tents were some healers were having tea and picking at an assortment of bread, fruit, and cheese. Emily smiled and greeted them by name before helping herself to some fresh fruit.

“I’m glad,” Irvin said, helping himself to a roll and biting into it.

“Oh?”

“Mhm. You seem at home here. That’s good. That’s... The closest any one of us has gotten to one.”

“What about you?” Emily asked, looking at Irvin with concern. “You’re clearly not cut out to be a healer.”

Irvin laughed. “No... No... We know what I’m good at, though, don’t we?” He smirked.

“Iiiirv...” Emily scolded.

Irvin snickered. “I don’t know, sis. The Ravens were good to me, but I don’t think I can go back now. Not... Anymore... So I guess for now I hang around here? At least I get to spend time with you. Even if that means dealing with exposed brains now and again.”

“Aaaw, you’d do that for me? That’s so sweet.” Emily smiled. “Just don’t slow me down. And don’t puke anywhere, I’m not cleaning it up.”

“Love you too, Ems.” Irvin rolled his eyes at her, finishing his breakfast roll and shrugging. “And I won’t make any promises on the puking thing.”

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

[The Desert - Otium 19, midday]

Indrani’s eyes followed the horse’s every move with an intensity reserved for a lioness guarding her cubs. She could remember as though it was only yesterday, the day she took Mirage from her previous owner; a scrawny, mistreated, ugly thing. One look at that poor excuse for what should have been a majestic animal and no one thought she’d ever amount to anything. “It’d be kinder to put the poor thing to rest,” that had been Jackson’s say in the matter. Indrani wasn’t having it. It wasn’t something she would’ve argued with normally; prolonging an animal’s suffering for your own selfish pride was wrong and she knew that, but she could tell Mirage was different. There was something in the mare’s eyes that told Indrani she wasn’t ready to give up just yet and she was more than determined to see her through.

It worked out in the end. Not without a lot of time and effort from the both of them, but it worked out. The horse’s faded sickly coat was no less gray, but it had grown shiny and speckled in white, her mane long and silky, her body had filled up with muscle and fat. Mirage wasn’t what one would consider a prized specimen by usual standards, but she was healthy, strong, and the fastest mare in all of Valcrest without question. Indrani’s pride and joy.

A soft, near-inaudible, whistle blew past the woman’s lips, causing the horse’s ears to twitch ever so slightly. Mirage turned and trotted towards the fence to Indrani, the woman smiling softly as she stared into the animal’s dark eyes. “There she is...” Indrani whispered, chuckles escaping her as Mirage nuzzled her hair and neck. “Someone’s been a stubborn girl, I hear. Hmm?” she smiled, calmly waiting for the mare to finish her ‘greeting’ before pressing her forehead to the the animal’s and letting out a soft sigh. “Things got a bit too frightening for you, I reckon. I don’t blame you, girly, I was pretty scared too...”

“What are you doing up and about? You’re supposed to be on bed rest; Annie’s going to kill you if she finds out.”

“I’m fine. It barely hurts as long as I’m careful.” Indrani snorted, turning to face Allison as the assassin calmly leaned against the fence beside her. “How come you’re still here?”

“Well, you still have injured people who need helping and I’m in no hurry to go back to Newhaven.” Ali shrugged. “I honestly don’t think I’m very useful there anyway. Crys just wants me away from Blackpond.”

“That may be her way of protecting you, but I doubt she’d place you where you’re not needed,” Indrani spoke, calmly petting Mirage between the ears.

“Eh, it doesn’t matter.” Ali shrugged.

“No? I’d think you’d want to be more involved with your clan’s activities. It’s not like you to be this... Apathetic... Are you alright?”

Ali snorted a laugh as Mirage started to sniff and prod her hair with her nose. “I’m alright, I’m just... Really tired, I guess.”

Indrani calmly caught Ali’s hand midway to petting the horse and forced it down. “Wait,” she told her, smiling at the questioning look the archer shot her. “Horses are very sensitive animals, you know. They enjoy giving and receiving affection, but... They can’t do both simultaneously. If Mirage is being affectionate with you, if she’s giving, the way to show affection in return is to be still and receive.” She released Ali’s hand and smiled. “I think this is one of my favorite things about horses. They experience every moment, however small, with all of their focus; the whole of their beings. It’s a lesson for humanity, really... To honor the one you’re with by simply allowing them to love you.”

Ali stood there silent at Indrani’s words. They made sense, in a way. Everyone she knew, at one point or another, pushed their loved ones away out of love itself. For protection, out of guilt, fear of the future, or the past, she wasn’t sure. What sounded like such a simple thing the way Indrani said it, really wasn’t. To just allow yourself to be loved for the duration of a single moment. “We make such a great team, you and me...” Ali smiled. “I’m apathetic, you’re melancholic... Neither of us is quite like they should be right now. Which, begs the question; how are you doing?” She asked, calmly waiting for Mirage to turn her muzzle away from her ear and petting the horse’s neck. “Jackson was a bit worried yesterday.”

“I’d rather not talk about it,” Indrani muttered.

“Listen, I’m not going to pretend I’m sad Sean died. I can’t. And I honestly don’t think he’s even worth your grief, but... You’re my friend. And if you need to talk, I’m here to listen. At least, I’m here right now.”

“I was stupid. I can’t stop thinking about how stupid I was. I can’t stop thinking that if I’d seen things for what they were right from the start, none of this had to happen.” Indrani sighed, slouching into the fence and letting out a groan. “I know that’s not true. Or at least the truth is not as simple as that, but... He was my friend. I still wanted to save him even after all the little ways he managed to hurt me. Even now that he’s gone. A part of me still thinks that if I could reach out to him... I could fix this. And I can’t. I couldn’t help Sean, I can’t help Dastan... I can barely stand even less help my clan now... I’m...”

“You’re not useless, Indi, you’re just broken. Trust me, because I’ve been; a lot, this doesn’t last forever. Right now, though, maybe it’s time for you to just be still. To just live the moment and allow yourself to feel this. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Indrani shook her head. “I just... I’m so tired of failing the people who need me.”

“You’re the only one who thinks you’ve failed, Indrani.”

Indrani let out a bitter laugh. “No, no I’m not.” She tugged on the pendant hanging from her neck, the sigil of Effort. “My people believed in honor, in loyalty, you die if you must, but you never betray your duties. Not once. Not for any reason, but I...”

Ali shook her head, utter amusement in her expression. “You can’t change the things you’ve done and punishing yourself for them now helps no one; not yourself or your clan.”

“Dastan shouldn’t have put their lives in my hands after everything.”

“Your brother is a lot of things. A lot of them. But he’s not stupid, Indrani. If he left the Crimson under your leadership is because he trusts you more than he trusts himself right now. If you want to honor anything, honor that trust.”

“You do realize I acted against your people while you were with us, right?”

“That doesn’t matter. Even if you hadn’t, we weren’t going to just sit here and move on with our lives. Things were going to turn ugly one way or another, sooner or later, and if anything; I understand you wanting to shield your people from it.” She sighed. “Just don’t ever bring this up with Evin, okay? You might invoke his wrath and then who knows what’ll happen.”

Indrani laughed. “Oh no, we wouldn’t want that. We have enough explosions around here as is.”

“I hear Annie almost lost her patience with Dastan and his firework experiments before Jake’s birthday.”

“I wasn’t exactly happy about them myself, but he was excited about something for a change. He hasn’t quite been himself since...” She silenced for a moment. “I don’t think he’ll ever be the same again now, but... You know...”

“I know. I don’t think any of us will, though. The past three years have been...” Ali cut herself off, a pained groan escaping her as she doubled over, leaning into the fence and clinging to the wood with both hands.

“Ali, are you alright? What...?”

“I’m fine,” Ali mumbled, letting out a sharp breath. “It’s alright, it... It already passed.”

Indrani was unconvinced, staring at her friend with concern in her eyes. “How long have you been having symptoms like this?”

“Indi, I’m fine, really. Don’t worry about it. We’re all sick, it’s nothing new at this point.” She slowly steadied herself, forcing a few deeper breaths.

Indrani shook her head. “This was not ‘nothing’, Ali. Wh-...” She stopped talking, the realization suddenly hitting her. “This is why you stayed behind, isn’t it? This is why you just let Crys push you to Newhaven... There’s no way you would just accept sitting on the sidelines five months ago, but now...”

“Indrani, let it go,” Ali warned, glaring at the commander. “Just... Let it go.”

“When do you plan on telling them?”

“Telling them what?” Ali muttered. “What do you suggest I tell them exactly? ‘Oh, hey, my nervous system is slowly going to shit and injecting me with unbearable, excruciating, pain to a point where soon enough I’ll be complete and utterly useless until I finally drop dead’; is that what I should tell them? Because I don’t know... It doesn’t sound like a good idea to me. I don’t want to waste what’s left of my time trying to endure everyone’s pity or, Twins forbid, guilt over the fact they can’t help me. They can’t help me, Indi. What could I possibly say to make that any easier?”

“Maybe they can’t save you, Allison, but they are your friends; your family, these are the people who love you. If you’re in pain, if you’re afraid, they’re the only ones who can help you.”

Ali snorted softly, pushing away from the fence. “I don’t want that kind of help.” Her eyes softened for a moment as she watched the horses running about inside the fence. “I just want to feel like myself for as long as I still can. I know it’s selfish, but right now I feel like I have that right. So, please, just... Let it go.”

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

[Newhaven - Otium 19, early afternoon]

Ryan had argued against Donovan’s decision. He didn’t see a point in reclaiming the Inn considering the state Newhaven was currently in. They would need to start recruiting as soon as possible; sure, but the way things were in the city, prioritizing this now felt to him like a waste of energy. The Alpha felt differently, however, and in this case, the Alpha had spoken. And so Ryan entered the establishment, alone, hauling a bag of sand over his shoulder. The commotion that had taken place at the bar had ended by now, but about a dozen rebels remained, some of them still suffering the effects of their celebrations.

“Huh. I might not even need this,” Ryan mused, dropping the bag of sand, the fabric splitting open and spreading its contents to the floor at his feet. He walked to one of the men who was sprawled on the ground amongst empty bottles and broken chairs, crouching to the man’s level and slapping him hard across the face. The man groaned in pain and looked up at Ryan in confusion, muttering at him to ‘piss off’. Ryan slapped him again; harder, and the man seemed to wake up fully this time.

“WHAT is your issue, mate!?”

“Your sorry ass on my floor is my issue. So why don’t you and your pals drag yourselves out before I decide to take matters into my own hands?”

“Your floor? Pffft... Haven’t you heard buddy? We own this city now.”

“I was hoping I’d get some kind of smartass response like that,” Ryan smirked. “Gives me a good excuse to do this...” He grabbed the intoxicated man by the collar and landed a punch to his jaw so forceful his head was knocked back into the floorboards with the impact. Ryan then proceeded to drag the unconscious man out the door of the bar.

Once he stepped back into the Inn, all of the other; far less intoxicated, rebels were standing at attention with weapons in hand. “Oh, fellows, that’s not a good idea,” he smirked. “Do you know where you are right now? This is a neutral zone for my clan, you’re disrespecting that.”

The only one of the men who seemed to be actually fully sober took a step towards Ryan, scoffing at his words. “Listen here, little pup, we took over this city; all of it. The Wolfpack doesn’t hold the same amount of influence it once did and you’re outnumbered, so I suggest you walk out of here with your tail between your legs.”

Ryan sighed softly. “No blades, Ryan... We shouldn’t be killing off civilians, Ryan... That’s not the impression we want to make right now, Ryan...” He mumbled, pulling two fighting sticks sheathed at his back. “I’d advise against what you’re about to do, pal,” he warned. When the rebel ignored the warning and charged at him, Ryan very calmly dodged his attacks as if they were nothing, striking at his hands to make him drop his blades. Once the first of the men was unarmed, the others, in a moment of sheer stupidity, decided to charge Ryan as a group. There were only ten of them, and out of those ten, only two were fully sober. The Wolf could easily handle them on his own, but he wasn’t going to waste any more time than necessary.

Ryan’s eyes irradiated a golden light as the sand he had previously spilled on the floor started to move and split into eight identical piles, each pile rising from the ground and forming into an exact clone of Ryan; from the tip of his boots to the fighting sticks in his hands. With the clones weighing in heavily in his favor, the ensuing confrontation took no more than a couple of minutes to be resolved and ended in a pile of groaning wounded rebels who Ryan’s clones proceeded to drag outside the Inn without the least bit of care.

Ryan sheathed his weapons and took a quick look around the upper floors, the basement and the tunnels underneath the bar to make sure there were no unwanted guests left. Once certain that the place was cleared he walked outside, finding Sheila standing in front of establishment watching with an amused expression as the clones dragged the semi-conscious men out of the bar.

“Heh, wonder how much those White Knights would be willing to pay us to clean up the castle for them,” she mused.

“I don’t know and I don’t care,” Ryan answered. “Donovan says, and I agree, that we’ve let ourselves get roped into their problems one too many times. We’re here to deliver a message and leave; nothing more.”

“Yes, well, with how often we need to keep rebuilding this place, we could use the extra income.”

Ryan chuckled. “Oh, relax, if it’s not on fire we can manage it. I’ll come by later and give you a hand cleaning up.”

“Oh, come on now, I’m sure the Alpha’s Second has better things to do than help me clean. I can handle it by myself.”

“Eh, I just have to haul this trash back to its source. Shouldn’t take too long,” Ryan said with a shrug. “I’ll help while Donovan is tending to his side of things.”

“Eh... Shouldn’t you back him up on this?”

Ryan snorted a laugh, idly poking one of the unconscious men with his foot. “I was ordered not to.”

“And I thought Sean was an idiot... That boy’s not going to survive a full year at this rate.”

“Who knows, maybe the kid’s on to something.” Ryan shrugged. “All I can say is the kid’s being really intense about asserting ourselves in this situation.”

“Don’t get me wrong, sweetie, it’s not a bad idea, I just feel his execution is a bit risky,” Sheila responded with a shrug. “The way things have been, we lose another Alpha and that’s it for the Pack.”

“You don’t need to tell me that, and trust me; I’ve made that point repeatedly, but the kid’s stubborn. Says he shouldn’t need a bodyguard just go in for a chat.”

“The only reason Sean survived a chat with that woman in the first place is that they were both too banged up from their own stupidity to have a go at each other.” Sheila pointed out.

“Well, we had no time to break her legs beforehand, so I guess Doni will have to be a little more tactful and a little less... Fletcher...” Ryan snickered. “Regardless, I know what I have to do.”

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

The doors of the throne room slammed open with the thundering sound of cracking wood. A thin layer of smoke permeating the air and temporarily concealing the figures crossing the threshold. Ryan and his clones walked through the fog and dropped the unconscious rebels in front of the throne, much to the dismay of a group of twenty heavily armed dumbfounded men. “Which of you nimrods is responsible for this trash littering our Inn?” he questioned.

“Your Inn?” A man responded from his position on the throne. That enough would be grounds for execution, Ryan figured, but at this point, it didn’t matter. The man wasn’t that tall and didn’t seem that much older than their new Alpha. He stood from the throne, his chest puffed out in a ridiculous display of cockiness. Ryan had to at least acknowledge the fact these people weren’t stupid. They were competent enough to take over the city up to and including the castle. Still, if that was their leader; they wouldn’t hold it for long. “I was under the impression the Pack had abandoned their bar. Again. You people aren’t quite what you used to be.”

“What do you think you know, you pipsqueak, of what we are or used to be?” Ryan questioned, amused at the man’s words. “I’m here to deliver a message; stay out. We allow you to exist and fight your little rebellion because we don’t care. Give us reason enough to care and we’ll shut it down. Simple as that.”

“Shut us down? You and what army?” The man opened his arms wide and looked around. “There used to be one here, but they didn’t manage to shut us down.” He sighed, shaking his head in amusement. “I see that you mean well, though, mate. You’re carrying fighting sticks, bringing our men back alive... In your position, I see that you had no obligation to do that. I can appreciate that. So don’t worry, we’re not going to give you any more trouble. You have my word.”

Ryan sighed. “That’s good enough, kid, but for the record; you defeated half of an army that was already stretched too thin and poorly managed due to their Captains trying to run this dump of a town, which; good luck with that by the way. The fact that you’re considering yourself victorious right now is a great indicator that you didn’t really think this all the way through. I give you a month to hold this place and I’m being generous.” He smirked at the rebel leader, his eyes glowing as his sand golems collapsed back into useless piles. “At least the moron who usurped our leadership managed to hold it for three and a half years.”

“Come back in five. We’ll be sitting right here.”

Ryan snorted a laugh on his way out of the room. “Sure buddy. Sorry about the mess, by the way. Let’s just call it even.”

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

Newhaven Castle was nothing but a shadow of its former self. One could be fooled into believing the place was struck by a tornado if not for the sounds of fighting still echoing some of the empty halls. All but one section of the castle had been secured by the rebels, but they hadn’t done the best job of setting up security as of yet. Their successful assault looked like one hell of a stroke of luck to Donovan and one that was bound to be short-lived unless they managed to put someone in charge who understood the art of war a lot better than this. Sneaking his way past the intruders had been easy, even in the sections where there was a higher concentration of them. Anyone not in Guards uniform was assumed to be on their side and Donovan was able to simply stroll past their defenses unscathed.

Once the young Alpha reached the upper floors, however, things changed rather abruptly. The third floor of the Castle was silent compared to the rest, pieces of furniture and doors pulled from their hinges were piled in order to barricade the halls, leaving only one narrow path available. “Clever,” he whispered, “very, clever.”

“Isn’t it?”

Donovan didn’t have the time to turn around and check the source of the sudden voice in his ear, the split second he had available was used to dodge an expertly aimed blow to the side of his head, the sound of the wooden baton connecting with the stone wall beside him rang painfully in his ears. If it had actually hit him, he would have been out cold instantly.

The boy spun around, grabbing his bow and using it to block the next flurry of blows aimed at his body. He could now barely make out the form of a woman clad in black leather armor as his attacker and assumed she was part of Mageria’s Guard. “Hey... Hi... Excuse... Me...” he started, barely dodging a blow aimed right at his face. “Can you... Not... Please...” He sighed, dropping the bow at his feet and raising his hands, eyes closed as he braced for an impact that never came.

“Oy, boy, are you dumb? Did I get your head at some point there?” She taunted.

Doni opened his eyes to the sight of one the batons held still less than an inch from his face. “My sister made this bow for me before she died, I’d rather damage my face than use it for a fighting staff any longer.” He muttered.

“You’re a bit too quick on your feet for a rebel.” She pointed out, lightly poking him between the eyes with the baton.

Before he knew it, something coiled around Donovan’s neck restraining his movements as another woman spoke behind him. “Don’t fight like no rebel either.”

Donovan briefly attempted to glance at this new person restraining him from behind but felt the pressure tighten around his neck at his movement, so he kept his eyes on his first opponent instead. “You don’t fight like some prissy Knight either...” He retorted, tilting his head to the side so he could look past the weapon blocking his vision. “Although I have the feeling you held back a little. Not sure if I’m grateful or offended,” he added with a playful smile. “So, Miss...? Is your captain around? I’d like a word with her if it’s not too much trouble.”

“Oh? So you’re dropping in for a bit of chatter, are you? Suuure... The middle of a rebellion sounds like the best time to be doin’ that.”

“This isn’t the middle of a rebellion, technically speaking. As superior as you are in skill, the rebellion outnumbers you greatly and for what I hear of your Captain I don’t see her going all out on those idiots considering that in the end of the day they’re still civilians. What is the point of vowing to protect the people and then putting them down for daring to dethrone a dead Queen? I’m assuming the reason you took so easy on me is that you planned to restrain me without using lethal force, but since doing so with every rebel currently roaming the castle is a foolish endeavor at best, your Captain will be forced to either make peace with the fact you can’t hold this place, or... Well... Make an even bloodier mess of this whole thing and then make peace with the fact you can’t hold this place.”

Donovan felt the pressure tighten around his neck just a bit. “You’re too much of a talker for someone’s who’s here uninvited.”

“Sophie; that’s your name right?” Donovan questioned, still unable to see the woman standing behind him. “I’m Donovan Fletcher.”

“Suppose you’re not going to explain how you know my name, Donovan Fletcher?”

“Not unless you make me, but... We’d both be wasting our times and we both have better things we need to be doing. I just want a word with your Captain, and I’ll leave.”

Sophie seemed to be looking to her companion for direction now as the baton-wielding blonde give a small shrug and she responded by pushing Donovan forward towards the end of the hall. After a few steps, he halted. “My bow...”

“I’ve got it.”

Doni relaxed at that and allowed himself to be dragged along.

“Fletcher?” Sophie questioned. “As in...?”

“Sean was my brother,” Donovan answered.

“Was?”

Donovan shrugged in response.

“Ah. My sentiments.”

Donovan chuckled. “It’s commendable that you’d say that considering the shit he pulled on your squad, miss...?” He snickered when she still refused to give her name. “Come on, you know my name now. And I’m going to keep asking.”

“It’d be a bit hard to ask questions with a broken jaw, pretty boy; just a fair warning,” she said, pausing for a moment. “And it’s Sham; not ‘miss’. I really ain’t no prissy knight.”

“Noted.”

Sham walked ahead of the other two as they turned a corner, Sophie held Donovan back as she entered a room at the end of the hall. After a couple of minutes, she poked her head out and gestured for them to follow her inside. Sophie unraveled the object from around Donovan’s neck and he saw that it was a whip. “Little early in our relationship to be bringing out the whips, don’t you think?”

Sophie snickered. “Precious. I definitely never heard that one before.”

“I try.” Doni shrugged.

The room they entered was completely void of any furniture save for a table and two chairs. On the table was a map of the castle and a half bottle of rum, a weak flame flickering in the fireplace was the only source of light, casting odd shadows on the bare walls. Sitting in one of the chairs was a blonde man Donovan immediately recognized as Captain Thomas and across from him a woman with graying red hair he concluded to be Mageria Talsheir.

Sham briefly whispered to Mageria, placing Donovan’s bow in her hands. The captain shot the young Alpha a long inspecting gaze, her expression stern for a moment before letting slip a small trace of amusement. “When I told Crystal Rivers I was sorry she lost her mother, I actually meant it. I don’t know what to say to you.”

Donovan smiled at the woman. “That’s alright, Captain. I’m not exactly here to exchange pleasantries.”

“Why are you, here?” Thomas spoke up. “Not to be rude or anything, kid, but in case you haven’t noticed, we have a bit of a situation. Not the best time for a diplomatic chat, if that is in fact what you’re after.”

“Yes and no.” Donovan shrugged. “I’ll be quick; we have just cleared our Inn of your rebellion. I’m assuming that whichever way this goes it’ll be over soon, so we are taking the extra care to warn both sides that regardless of who wins, Newhaven would do well to continue respecting our boundaries.”

“You’ve come all the way here, infiltrated the castle, so you could stand face to face with both Knight Captains and tell them to wipe their feet before standing on your threshold?” Mageria asked, arching an eyebrow.

“Pretty much.”

Mageria tilted her head to the side, her eyes piercing through Donovan like daggers for a split second, despite the amused smirk playing on her lips. “Add a couple of innocent hostages and I can see the resemblance.”

Donovan chuckled at the woman’s response. “I guess that’s a fair assessment,” he agreed. “The case is, and I think we can both agree at least on that, if both our people knew their boundaries a little bit better, neither my clan or your city would be in the state they are in right now,”

“I don’t exactly see how we could have ignored an explosion in our throne room, any more than you could have ignored the bounty on your heads.”

“Maybe not, but we could both have acted smarter and maybe, just maybe, my clan ridding your city of a psychopathic killer posing as a royal might have turned out to be a good thing.”

“Hold on, what?” Thomas interrupted, glaring at Mageria with an expression mixed between shock and outrage.

“It’s a very long story, Tom.” The woman answered, rubbing the bridge of her nose. “To cut it short, the King was being impersonated by a killer and that was the man the Wolfpack killed. Of course, none of it could ever be officially proved, so we just allowed the public to assume the Wolves responsible had been executed.”

“And we don’t know what actually happened to King Stephen?”

“The only man who could answer that question was buried under his name, so unfortunately no one will ever know.”

“Why was I never informed of this?” Thomas demanded, heaving an exasperated sigh and seeming to lack the energy to be properly enraged by being kept in the dark.

“Honestly? Krander had just gone off Twins know where, you hadn’t been appointed Captain yet at the time this all happened, and after it was dealt with no one wanted to ever bring it up again.”

Thomas looked from Mageria to Sham and Sophie; neither seeming surprised in the slightest with the information. Sham gave a slight shrug as her eyes met Thomas’. “Jake was there,” she told him. “That boy gets a bit too chatty with a few drinks in ‘im. Most of the Blacks know the story by now.”

Donovan shrugged at the two Knight’s exchange. “Nonetheless, I’m not here to bring up history. Well, at least not after this.” Slowly, the boy reached into his coat, very aware of the fact Sham had her eyes on him all the while they’d been talking. He pulled out a small leather bound book. “Something like this has never left our camp, Captain, I expect you to appreciate that,” he said, offering the book to Mageria. “As you know, Evin Bana set fire to the clan records before the exile, but, Sean got his hands on a few files and hid them elsewhere before that happened. I’m still uncovering all his hiding places, but I found this in one of them. It concerns you.”

Mageria placed Donovan’s bow on the table, leaning against it and placing herself between the young assassin and the weapon as she took the file from his hands. “Concerns me how?”

“Just consider it a show of good faith,” Donovan told her, not answering the question. “I said all I’ve come here to say and you have more pressing matters to attend so if I may have that back,” he nodded at his bow, “I’ll be out of your way.”

Mageria stored the little bound book safely in her pocket and pushed herself away from the table, taking the bow and offering it to Donovan, still keeping a firm hold on the object when the Wolf tried to take it from her hands. The Captain’s eyes lingering on the two rings on his left-hand finger. “You know, I was wondering why your new Alpha would send a teenager to meet two Knight Captains in the middle of a rebellion.”

Donovan smiled, holding the woman’s gaze. “He didn’t.”

“Your brother must have been desperate to appoint you as Second.”

“Oh, Sean? He would never do that. In fact, my brother never appointed a Second-in-Command before he died. And see, where there is no Alpha, and there is no Second... The clan votes.” He smirked. “I’m not the first teenager appointed Alpha in our history, Captain, it shouldn’t seem like such a shock. Trust, I’m far more prepared for the job than your Queen was when she left our camp.”

Donovan stumbled back a step when Mageria abruptly released her hold on the bow. He snorted as he noticed the woman’s expression. “I’m sorry, that was uncalled for. I actually liked Ella quite a bit. It saddens me that she felt my brother’s life was worth risking her own.” He calmly inspected the bow in his hands, checking if there had been any damage during his short fight with the baton-wielding knight earlier. The wood seemed unscathed, and Donovan let relief wash over him for a brief moment.

“How old was she? Kate.” Mageria asked.

Donovan flinched at the mention of his sister’s name. “Seventeen. We were twins, Katie was four minutes older than me.” His gaze seemed to darken as he looked at Mageria, sheathing the bow at his back. “If you’d like to know how she died, you can ask your friend Evin when you next see him. I’m sure he’ll be able to tell you the story better than I could.” Donovan paused as an explosion was heard on the lower floor. He snickered under his breath and continued speaking as though it never happened. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, Captain, I think I’ve already overstayed my welcome.” He unceremoniously turned his back on the Captain of the Black Knights and waved over his shoulder. “No need to show me the way out, I can manage.”

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

When Donovan reached the courtyard Ryan was waiting, the man holding a handkerchief to his nose and seeming quite exhausted. “You overworked yourself, I told you to be more careful,” Doni scolded.

“I know, I’m sorry,” Ryan mumbled starting them on their way into the city. “I told Sheila I’d stop by and help with the clean up, is that alright?”

“I’ll help her. You’re going to get some rest. This clan has seen enough dead Seconds to last us a century.”

“We shouldn’t both be away from camp this long,” Ryan argued. “You should head back.”

“No. We’re both resting here and you can head back tomorrow. I’m going to stop by Blackpond.”

Ryan stopped walking and turned to Donovan “Blackpond? But...” His eyes widened for a moment. “By yourself? Are you insane?”

“Are you really going to keep asking that every time I do something reckless? Because it’s going to get exhausting really fast.”

“Doni, you’re pushing your luck. Not a lot of people know who you are yet, but that’ll change soon.”

“You worry way too much, buddy.” Donovan smiled, pushing Ryan to continue walking. “Let’s face it; if Crystal Rivers wanted me dead we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.”

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

[Blackpond Inn - Otium 19 early evening]

“No... No, no, no... You guys aren’t listening, are you? STOP. NOW.”

The sound of metal clashing gradually fell into silence at Crys’ words. The recruits falling still like statues under the assassin’s blind stare. It had literally been the first time they had heard the woman raise her voice and, considering how these sessions had been when she was calm, they were understandably wary of what was about to take place.

“You’re training to use real blades and not play swords.” Crys spoke, her tone softer now that room was silent. “Hugo, Marc; front and center,” she commanded.

The two recruits shuffled forward side by side, looks of utter fright plastered on their faces. The tallest and strongest of the two wincing slightly when Crys unsheathed her sword and pointed it at his face.

“Do you see this, Hugo?” She questioned. “Does it look like a toy?”

“Yes... I mean, no... It’s not a toy.” The man answered.

“If you were fighting someone wielding a blade, the way you were fighting just now, you would have lost a limb or worse.” She scolded, resheathing the blade and taking a pair of training swords from the rack. “I’m going to tell you all one last time, this...” She struck at his left-hand blade. “...Is your sword and this...” She struck at his right-hand blade. “...Is your shield. And vice-versa. You attack and defend. At the same time. All of the time. Not one or the other; both. One slip, one opening, one missed opportunity, and it’s OVER. Are we clear or do I have to personally instill the fear of death into each and every one of you!?”

Marc opened his mouth to answer and was immediately cut off by a strike across the face. The man nearly spun in place with the force of the blow and stood swaying in place. Crys sighed. “That was a rhetorical question, smartass. Now tell me, did that hurt?”

“Yes,” Marc answered doubling over and spitting a few drops of blood onto the ground.

“Good. You should be glad. Because you know what? Death doesn’t hurt. Death is slowly fading into nothing until nothing is all you feel, nothing is all you are and nothing is all there is. And if that thought is in any way pleasant to any of you, be so kind as to pack up and leave. I’m not wasting my time on anyone with a fucking death wish.”

Silence lingered for little over a minute, the group of recruits careful to not as much as shuffle in place for as long as it lasted. “Good. Now get back to it. And get it right this time!”

“Whoa, Red, any more of that you’ll be instilling the fear of Death on the Lady herself.”

Crys let a smirk briefly cross her features at the voice calling from the top of the stairs, her eyes remained stern however as she addressed her recruits. “Continue the exercise until I get back and if I as much as suspect any of you to be slacking I’ll break your damn ribs.”

Once satisfied that her people were committed enough to their task, Crys left them to it and climbed the stairs up to the back of the Inn, finding Dastan seated at the kitchen table. “What are you doing here?” She asked, smiling at her friend. “And who let you in?”

“Your little Guard Ginger let me in. He warned me not to disturb your training, but I had to take a little peek. Hope that’s alright.”

Crys chuckled, finding the chair across from Dastan and taking a seat herself. “That’s fine, I... Eh... They’re making progress, and I wish I could praise them for it, but they’re just not ready for what’s out there.” She sighed, standing up again and beginning to rummage the stove in order to make herself some tea. “And I say that like I even know for sure what it means, but I don’t. I don’t know what we’re up against. How am I supposed to...”

“Breathe, Red,” Dastan spoke up. The noise coming from the bar almost drowning out the sound of his voice. The place was packed with people and filled with cheerful conversation. No one coming in would suspect there was a very miserable group of assassin recruits working tirelessly in the basement below.

“I am.” Crys muttered. “I do.” She left the tea kettle on the stove to heat and sat back down. “You didn’t answer my question, though; why are you here?”

“Eh... I thought I could hang around here for a few days if that’s alright with you.” Dastan answered. “I had to leave. I just... I had to. And suppose I should go offer my assistance to the Ravens soon, but...” He trailed off in a sigh. “I think I need more time.”

Crys reached for Dastan’s arm and gave him a reassuring pat. “Of course. You can stay as long as you like. Just don’t get into our stock, I’m running a business here.”

Dastan chuckled. “Don’t you worry about that, Red. I wouldn’t want to ruin your fine establishment,” the mercenary assured her, taking out his flask and taking a long swig from it.

Crys snorted a laugh at her friend, getting up to fetch the warm water from the stove and fixing herself a cup of tea. “In all seriousness, Dastan; how are you?”

“That’s a complicated question to be asking right now, Red. I’m.. Better, but that doesn’t change much. It doesn’t bring back the dead. Doesn’t change the facts. Certainly doesn’t give me any answers.” He took another swig and put the flask away, resting his arms on the table laying his head down. “I can’t let this go unpunished, so I had to leave. Even if I could ask the clan to fight my battles with me, they’re in no condition to do it. Indi and Jackson will take care of them while I’m gone. However long that turns out to be.”

“You do plan on going back, though, don’t you?” Crys questioned, sipping her tea.

“Sure. One way or another, everyone should go home one day, Red.”

“That sounds far from reassuring, I hope you know.”

Dastan chuckled. “Just trying to be realistic, Red. We don’t know what the future holds and all of that.”

Crys sighed. “Yeah, all of that.” She agreed, sipping her tea in silence until the cup was empty. “Well, you ask Nicky for a key to a vacant room when you feel like getting settled. It’s late and I’m tired, so I’m going to try and get some sleep.” She stood up and put the tea cup away before heading for the door.

“Alright.” Dastan agreed. “Oh, wait, Red...” He called after her. “Aren’tcha gonna relieve your recruits downstairs?”

Crys snickered. “I told them to repeat the exercise until I get back. If they’re still at it in the morning I’ll know I scared them enough.”

“I dread to think of how you could possibly scare them any further.” Dastan teased.

“Hopefully for them, we’ll never have to find out,” she answered, waving over her shoulder as she walked out of the kitchen.

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

[Raven's Nest - Otium 20, mid afternoon]

“Keith...I just got word from Kyle...It's time.” Matthew pronounced his last words with a certain kind of ferocity that seemed to grab Keith’s attention. The man looked at his superior with a mix of relief and contempt, a satisfied grin spreading across his face.

“What about the Captain…?” Keith asked, standing a bit taller now, Matthew having his complete attention, fully aware of what the man was talking about.

“We are to carry on as if she can not be there. I do need you to go to the city and personally retrieve Sophie and Bran. No ravens, no discussing what this is about. Everyone will be briefed before we leave and not a moment sooner. Everyone is now on strict routine exercises and curfew for the next few days, until further notice. If anyone complains or is insubordinate, they are given latrine duties and will be cut from any consideration for the mission. Am I making myself clear?”

“Yes, Sir. Crystal clear.”

“Oh, before you leave..send Jacob my way will you?” Matthew firmly patted Keith on the shoulder as he nodded and trotted off to find Jake.

Jake was sitting by his campfire, shirtless and barefoot, a metal pot hanging over the flames emitting some nauseating fumes. The man seemed completely unaffected by the smoke, as toxic as it might have seemed, and was occupied with stitching a tear through one of the leather sheaths that usually held his needles; a wooden box containing several of said metal needles open on the floor between his feet and a series of vials were scattered across the ground surrounding him, some empty and others already sealed and filled with poisonous substances, and he was half-humming half-mumbling words to a song under his breath as he worked. Once finished stitching up the tear on the leather, Jake strapped the empty sheath to his left forearm as tightly as possible, examining yet again to make sure it was right, before removing it and starting to carefully pick needles from the pot with the aid of a pair of tweezers, placing them on the sheath one by one.

It was during this process that a loud cough alerted Jake to another person’s presence and he lifted his head to see Keith approaching him in a bit of a hurried pace. “Need anything?” He questioned, pulling the pot from the fire, which caused the smoke to slowly dissipate, clearing the air just a bit.

“What the hell are you doing Jacob?” Keith asked, seeming to forget why he was even there for just a split second before shaking his head and regaining focus. “Matthew wants to see you.”

“Well, you didn’t think I just bought these at a smithy did you?” Jake retorted, nodding along to the information that Matthew wanted to see him while finishing his task, quickly attaching the sheath to his arm once more. “Where are you off to?”

“I’m going to stop by the city,” Keith answered simply. “You go and talk to Matthew as soon as you can, it’s important.”

“Hm.” Jake mumbled to himself watching Keith wander off again in a hurry. It didn’t take much to notice something was up and so he hurried to finish replenishing his other sheaths, and fixing up the hidden blades in his boots that had been taken out for a new coat of poison as well. He hurriedly cleaned up the area to make sure nothing possibly
harmful had been left where someone could stumble upon it and went off to find Matthew, finding him in the training area. “Matt! You need me for something?”

Matthew had his back to Jacob when he approached, momentarily distracted barking orders at a group of men and women who were sparring. Rubbing his head in frustration he growled. “No! No, no no. Again. Do it again, until you all get it right. Not one of you, ALL OF YOU. You’ve been lazy and we can’t afford laziness. Zane, that goes double for you. There’s no time to rest, GET BACK TO IT!” Matt sighed, muttering about letting Jason set some of the Guard on fire to get them properly motivated and turned to face Jake. He coughed, his face scrunching up as he detected an awkward odor coming from the man.

“Jake..what the hell did you bathe in today? That won’t last, will it? I’m putting you in charge of something..and discretion and stealth are going to be a necessity. You up for leading about a dozen of us?” Matt reached into his pocket, not really elaborating much more, and handed Jake a small scroll that would normally be fitting a raven and closed the man’s fingers around it tight.
“Do not give this to anyone and read it once you reach Blackpond, specifically to Crystal Rivers. We are going to need all the help we can get on this one. Captain’s orders. Afterwards..burn it and do not discuss anything with anyone, understood? No one is to be trusted except a select few. When you get back, I’m going to call a meeting..maybe in a day or so and I’ll explain more. Until then..” Matt lifted his head, glancing around to make sure no one was within earshot, most of his company occupied with relentless drills behind him, clearly unhappy with the physical stress.

“Until then...you talk to no one, especially Essence. I know she’s like a sister to you, but I need you to wait, ok? If you want to be the one..just wait..” He trailed off turning his back towards Jacob to watch the men.

Jake was confused, but only for a moment, nodding along to Matthew’s words and hurrying back to clear his camp and wash up before the trip. Whatever was in that letter sounded urgent.

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

[Blackpond Inn - Otium 20, early evening]

Donovan smiled as he reached the door of the Inn. It was early in the evening, but the place already had a small group of patrons chatting away and drinking at one of the tables. As he stepped inside he was approached by a tall man in his early forties who barred his entrance. “I’m sorry, but I must ask that you surrender your weapons. House rules.”

“Seriously?” Donovan chuckled, looking towards the redheaded man behind the bar. “Seriously, Nicholas?”

“Boss’ orders, Little Fletcher; no tough guys with weapons,” Nick replied.

“I’m not giving you my bow,” Donovan warned.

“Just the quiver will suffice,” the man replied, watching Donovan carefully as he rid himself of his daggers and handed over his quiver. “Thank you, sir, enjoy your evening.”

Donovan snorted a laugh. “Seriously, Crystal...” He mumbled under his breath. “So, where is your boss, Nicky? Is she in?”

“She’s in the office. Second floor, take a right, last door at the end of the hall. Knock before you enter.”

Donovan followed Nicholas’ direction and climbed up the stairs to the second floor, walked to the last door on the right of the stairs and knocked.

“Come in.” Crys answered from within the room.

Doni opened the door and walked in, closing the door after himself and looking around the office. “Nice place you got here,” he stated. The inside of the office was simple. Just Crys’ desk, her chair a couple of more chair across from hers and a mostly empty bookshelf. The rest of the room was empty space, filled with random bits of gear. It was clearly in the process of being fixed up to the assassin’s liking, but it already seemed comfortable enough. “Mind if I sit?”

Crys smiled at the young Alpha and motioned to the chair right across from her. “Please. And what do I owe a visit this soon, Alpha?”

Donovan placed a book on the desk. “You left this when we last saw each other. Your father’s journal? I thought you’d really want it, but you left without taking it.”

Crys reached out, her hand freezing as it touched the leather cover of the book, a soft sigh escaping her lips. “I did.” She snorted, and took the book from the desk, safe keeping it in one of the drawers. “I’ll have to find someone to read this with me at some point.” She smiled and leaned back in her seat, her focus now entirely on Donovan. “That’s not the only reason you’re here, though, is it?”

Donovan smiled. “No, no it isn’t. I think it’s time we have a little discussion about this place.”

“Oh?” Crys smirked. “What about this place?”

“You know what I’m talking about, Crys. You appropriated this establishment, but it still belongs to the Wolfpack.”

“I don’t think so.” Crys stated. “Your brother made a deal with Blackpond to have this Inn rebuilt. My death was part of that deal. To my understanding, if anyone holds any rights over something paid for with my blood, that someone is me. I was very sincere in my offer for cooperation, Doni, but there won’t be a negotiation here. I’m not leaving.”

Donovan sighed. “I was expecting you’d say that.” The boy ran his fingers through his hair. It was one thing to stand in front of the Knights of Newhaven and keep his cool, but the possibility of this turning into an argument was something else entirely. “I know you understand my reservations regarding your people occupying this building. Jake, Evin... Allison... I don’t want to see them step a foot near the Pack’s territory in any way under any circumstance. And Twins know; as loyal as they are to you, you can’t keep them under control.”

“Their problem was with Sean, Doni. I don’t see a reason why they would want anything to do with the Wolfpack now, but... If it makes you feel better, I can restrict access to the tunnels. It’ll take some time, but it can be done.”

“I would appreciate it if you could do that.” Donovan agreed. “It may be paranoia on my part, but I just honestly don’t want any more catastrophes where they can be avoided and the company you keep, Crys... They’re walking catastrophes. Every single one of them.”

Crys snorted a laugh. “That’s why I like them so much. What is life without a dozen weekly catastrophes?”

Donovan leaned back in his seat for a moment and stretched, letting out a tired groan. “I don’t know, but I’d very much like to find out.”

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

[Blackpond Inn - Otium 21, early morning]

Jake arrived in Blackpond early in the morning. The city streets were still mostly void of life awaiting the first rays of sunlight. By the time he reached the door of the Inn those rays were already reflecting on the glass windows of the establishment, pushing through the cracks on the wood, announcing the start of a new day. Just as Jake reached for the door it unexpectedly flung open and a glossy eyed mercenary stared at him for almost a full minute as though trying to see him through a deep fog.

“Jake!” Dastan exclaimed, opening a wide smile, pulling him inside by the shirt. “How’s it going buddy!?”

“I’m... Okay... What are you doing here, Dastan?” Jake questioned, a bit confused to see the Crimson leader there and concluding he must have gotten into the stock at some point last night to be swaying in place like that. “Is Crys around?”

“I’m just... Hanging ‘round for a bit. I was helping the little ginger run the bar last night... This burly fella thought he could drink me under the table, but I show...ed... him...” Dastan hiccuped the end of his sentence and laughed at himself before pretty much falling over onto a chair. “I think I need to sit.” He muttered under his breath. “Uh... I think Red was still sleeping. Least I didn’t see ‘er yet today. Pretty sure she wouldn’t mind you going up, so... Go on up... I’m... gonna wait for the room to stop spinning and... Then I’mmagotobed.” He announced, plopping his head down against the table top.

Jake snickered, closing and bolting the front door before making his way upstairs. He walked over to Crys’ room and gave a soft knock before pushing the door open. He took a quick glance into the room and saw that it was empty. “Hm,” he mumbled, shutting the door and heading for the office door instead. Once again he knocked and cracked the door open, seeing Crys sitting behind her desk, fast asleep with head resting on a small pile of papers. Jake entered the room and approached the desk, looking at the documents spread out around the sleeping assassin and seeing just series of marks indented into the parchment, like codes. He reached out and touched the surface of one of the sheets of paper and smiled, feeling the markings on his fingertips. It was a similar code to the ones Pack used, but adapted. “Clever girl.”

Jake sat in the chair across from Crys and slowly ran his fingers through her hair. “Heeey,” he whispered. “Wake up, sleepy head.”

Crys stirred at the sound of Jake’s voice, a lazy smile crossing her features as she reached out and caught his hand. “What’re you doing here, stupid?” She mumbled, heaving a sigh and pushing herself upright in her seat. “This is not a comfortable sleeping position.”

“No it isn’t,” Jake agreed, gently squeezing her hand. “I’d love to say I’m just visiting, but actually Matthew sent me.”

“Oh?” Crys asked, seeming a bit more awake now. “Is everything alright?”

“I’m not sure. I have a letter I’m supposed to read to you, it’s... All I know at this point.”

“Alright then,” Crys yawned, letting go of Jake’s hand and lifting her arms over her head in a lazy stretch. “I need some tea and something to eat, so if you can read it to me in the kitchen I’d appreciate it.” She smiled, standing up and walking past Jake out of the room.

Jake chuckled, following her outside and down the stairs. “So, how long has Dastan been staying here?”

“A couple of days. I think he’s just... I don’t know what he’s doing, but I’m just letting him. He’s been a help to Nicky and he actually managed to make people buy him drinks so he’s earning us money.”

“Whatever helps the guy heal, I guess.” Jake shook his head and they walked past the bar to the kitchen and he saw Dastan past out where he’d left him.

Once in the kitchen, Jake sat down at the table and watched as Crys started to heat up water for tea and rummage through the pantry. “So? What does your letter say?” She asked, placing a loaf of bread, some cheese and jerky on the table.

“Oh, let’s see...” Jake pulled the letter from his bag and read it aloud:

Miss. Rivers,

We have located potential hostiles within the city of Blackpond and what we believe to be a secret holding ground for captives; specifically children. We have gathered confirmation per an inside source and need to act soon if we are to retrieve that person alive as well as the other’s being held against their will. This is connected to Asher as we found he is a major supplier of ‘cattle’ to this group, however he will not be found in the city as far as we know. We may have stumbled onto more than a brushfire. We believe the reason why no one has reported seeing something this large is because it is mostly held underground, beneath the city and we have only just discovered access points. Sightings of the symbol have been reported in numerous locations, specifically at access points to these tunnels, although it is unclear how to get to them. We believe there are powerful enlightened who are protecting these locations so you are to expect the worst and prepare for the unexpected. This should be voluntary only because of the danger it involves. There is little time to waste and an immediate response is needed only in reinforcements. Do not travel together. Paranoia is not overrated here as we believe we could be being watched. We must assume these lives have little time and request the utmost haste.

Mr Turner will be leading this Raid, Captain’s recommendation. We are trusting you to assist and in selecting the best team possible to make this a success.

Be safe.

-M-


Crys froze while pouring herself a cup of tea and cursed loudly when the liquid overflowed and spilled onto her hand. “Fuck... Damn it!”

Jake jumped to his feet and took the kettle from her hands. “Careful, love.”

“I’m okay,” she sighed. “This is just... Shit...”

“Apparently, I’m leading a raid.” Jake snorted. “That is... Shit...”

Crys laughed at his response, shaking her head. “I can’t go. I mean, if you’re leading this thing, it’s... Not a good idea.”

“Definitely not. I mean, I won’t be able to keep Ess from getting involved and if you’re there too... I just can’t.”

“Okay. So, other than myself, who would I trust with your life?” She questioned, going back to table and taking a seat.

“Are we going by those standards? Because that immediately rules out Evin.”

Crys snorted. “I could send Nicky and I could offer you five more. Let’s see... Irena, Randall, Stuart, Michelle and... Peter, he’s not as experienced as the others, but his enlightenment could be very useful.”

“You heard Matty, though; they need to volunteer. It’s a risky mission.”

“He also said ‘children’. Trust me, they’ll jump at the opportunity to nail these bastards.” Crys sighed, parting the bread and offering Jake a piece. “You need to eat better.” She scolded, taking a piece for herself and biting into it.

“I eat.” Jake argued, biting his piece of bread and chewing on it slowly as he mulled over his thoughts. “Hmmph... how soon can you bring your people over?”

“Don’t travel together, he said. Four days to get everyone ready, we’ll take different routes and meet you there. You... Take Dastan with you when you go back. Once he’s lucid enough he’ll want to take part in this.”

“Uh... I... Are you sure? He looks pretty out of it right now and I don’t mean the fact that he’s wasted.”

“Trust me.”

Jake sighed, pouring himself some tea. “I always do.”