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Grim Pondus 'War'

Warlord of the Salamanders. "All will perish through war, but peace can't prevail by pacifism."

0 · 860 views · located in Blackpond

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

Description

Full Name: Grim Pondus 'War'

Age: 25

Gender: Male

Rank: Warlord

City: Formerly Newhaven, now nomadic

Ability (if Enlightened): Grim is a Berserker of unusual make. Most others that share his talent are able to produce the blood frenzy through force of will and careful practice. They ride the Red Wave at will, but Grim in particular has actually always been level-headed and quite relaxed. Therefore it requires an outside source to trigger his latent power. This usually comes in the form of an attack. It seems that once personally harmed he flies into the rage losing all sense of restriction and weariness and gaining newfound raw violent power. The more pain he endures the more the beast is provoked, and the stronger he becomes. The fury can build up to phenomenal levels washing all his thoughts in anger and pushing his physical limitations to almost inhuman.
Of course his brain once hocked up on the madness becomes numb to reason. He looses all sense of control and attacks without relent till the angst is spent. Of course his body has to recover from such high output, and any wounds that he shrugged off are certain to be felt after.

Description: Beneath all the plates of armor is a towering man of granite. His large thick body reveals the years training under the White Knight’s strict regiment. Pale skin covers the sinew as he is rarely outside his armor during daytime. A taut jaw is often accompanied by a frown on his wearied rough face. Two emerald eyes hint at his youth brimming with a light of hope and trust, despite his often disapproving gaze. Surprisingly well kept black locks linger about his face and neck, long from his days of travel.
A crescent moon is branded over his right eye. Perhaps it is a sign about his fleeting loyalty to Newhaven, or just a way to remember his teachings.

Theme Song: Odno I To Zhe - t.A.T.u. ft. Rammstein

Personality

Grim was once toted as a caring if not remorseful soul. Keeping to his stalwart belief in peace and taking great measures to avoid confrontation. However today there is little kindness left in the Warlord. Determination belies little twinges of resentment, he remains withdrawn from the world. Hiding behind his ever growing ruthlessness and extends little mercy to those he deems his opponents.
It is well that he retains his teachings on justice and what constitutes ill deeds, for without his morals there would be nothing to keep his wrath at bay.

Likes: Winning, Solitude, Seeing fear in the eyes of his foes.

Dislikes: Talkative people, Ignorant assassins, Feeling threatened.

Equipment

Equipment:
Rarely does the Blade go about without being armed from head to toe. A leftover habit from his days with the Black Knights. To accompany this he still wields the Giant's Knife, and has even gone as far as to trade in his wooden shield for one he could use practically.

Image

History

Born a child of Newhaven he was privileged with moderate wealth. His earliest years spent in carefree bliss with plenty of provision brought in by Mom and Dad. When war broke out the Enlightened were called to the defense of Newhaven, ultimately taking away both his parents. At the conclusion Grim buried them, and the fighting continued regardless. Leaving the young man at the mercy of an orphanage.
Adolescence brought difficult change. At then a squire in training he began to have spells of uncontrollable fits. Often fighting anything he could find in the barracks during the ordeals. When the attacks finally killed three full fledged knights he was arrested. There were many theories made to explain his outbursts, but ultimately the White Knights were the first to figure the riddle out. Taking the young adult from prison into their private custody.
With the uniqueness of his manifested enlightenment and some proper training, Grim became a soldier worthy of the White Knight ranks. However with his destructive potential it was decided he best served the order by destroying their most bitter enemy the Wolfpack.

During one of his missions he encountered a strange tale provided by a Wolfpack member, which lead into a full investigation surrounding the death of Newhaven's King. Unfortunately hostilities broke out and Blackpond invaded before the matter could be resolved. The wars of the land became renewed with new bloodshed and for a time the trials kept Grim from the truth he sought. Thankfully with the aid of many great heroes and the intuition of his beloved Captain Mageria, they would uncover the conspiracy. With all the cards on the table, and enemies put away for the time being it looked like an era of peace would finally be ushered in.
It was a dark time when Grim began to lose control of his Enlightenment. After attacking innocents unprovoked he decided he was unfit for duty and left his home to venture off into the world. Three years has since passed and the ex-knight now leads a group of peacekeeping mercenaries called the Salamanders. His goal remains unknown, but his strength seems more pronounced then ever.

So begins...

Grim Pondus 'War''s Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Grim Pondus 'War' Character Portrait: Thomas Sidin
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Thomas gritted his teeth when he heard the news about the mercenary group parked just outside Newhaven. This was just what he needed. Not that he thought that they would cause trouble in the City, but there were other issues.
“Try and keep this from reaching Mageria for as long as you can.” He raised one hand at the expression the scout had. “Try. That’s all that I ask.”
With a growl he left the room and started down to the stables. His cloths would label him as a noble, but that couldn’t be helped. He lacked the skills to don a new persona with a new set of cloths for the most part. Too many people knew his face now a days.

He was seriously concerned about what would happen to Mageria when she found out that Grim Pondus was back in the area. Three years ago, she had been in the middle of rebuilding the city, rebuilding the Knights, the Guard and the fact that so many people were gone from her life. Just when she thought that she might have reached the end of new things to deal with, Grim had walked away from Newhaven in the middle of he night. She had hidden it well, but he was one of the few people who had worked closely enough with her to see the pain that she had been trying to hide. She had carried on, but at the same time it had shaken her confidence. For a time after that, Mageria had lacked the support that she had truly needed for some of the missions that he had sent her on. As far as he knew, she had over a dozen close calls that shouldn’t have happened. And even now, she was reluctant to risk any of her personnel when she didn’t have to. And now Grim was back. And what would happen to her now? What would she go through when he walked away again? It was his duty as Mageria's superior officer to make sure that as a Knight Captain, she was in the best state that he could manage.

With a few quiet words he had a horse saddled and was in the saddle. It only took him a little longer to work his way through the city and out the gates, along with a small escort. Given his status, he wasn’t really supposed to go off on his own, and this wasn’t the time to buck the system. Once he reached the sentry line he stopped and nodded politely at them. “I need to speak to your leader please. Tell him its Thomas Sidin.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Grim Pondus 'War' Character Portrait: Thomas Sidin Character Portrait: The Beast
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She ran through the familiar streets of Newhaven, seeing them torn and twisted by the ravages of war. In the distance she could hear the screams of men fighting and the clash of boulders being thrown into the walls.

And behind her . . . behind her was a creature straight out of a nightmare. Death’s Servant. A creature that had been whispered about through the generations of Black Knights ever since it had first been brought forth during times of war. Now it walked the land again and threatened the people she protected.

The beast snarled as it chased her, coughing in satisfaction as she came up short and was forced to turn. It leapt for her, claws aimed at her throat. She fought, wounding it time and time again; but every time it simply healed and came after her again. She buried her sword deep in it’s chest, it simply shrugged it off and kept coming after her. No matter how hard she fought, it wasn’t enough, it just kept coming and coming until she could barely stand, bleeding and helpless before it. It circled her, snarling deep in it’s throat.

“You’re mine Captain. You always have been and you always will be.”

With a growl it raised it’s claw and with a lightning fast move ripped her throat out . . . . .


With a muffled scream Mageria sat up in bed, eyes wide and unfocused as she fought for breath. Swearing, she ran one hand through her hair and held out the other. It was trembling violently, and she clenched it in the bed cloths beside her as she slowly forced herself to remember that she had survived that fight, that Daniel had managed to fight off the control of the Beast long enough to resist killing her and leave the battlefield. She hadn’t dreamed of that fight for a long time and she didn’t know what this new version of her dream meant. Perhaps she had been studying the legends for too long and they had soaked into her mind.

With a sigh she got up and splashed water on her face, washing away the remnants of her dream. She put herself back together as she dressed, donning the persona of Captain along with the uniform. Captains didn’t have nightmares that they woke up screaming from; at least they didn’t let them sit inside their heads and control them. Therefore, she wouldn’t let it bother her. Just a bad dream, nothing more.

It was when she left her room and went to breakfast that she found out that trouble started early. The talk was about a new band of mercenaries that were camped outside of the gates of Newhaven, the Salamanders. The guilty looks of her men when they saw her nearby confirmed that they were talking about whom she thought, the band of fighters that Grim had started after he left. The fact that it had taken her this long to hear about it . . . that was interesting. She grabbed a couple of slices of bread and stuffed some meat in; then went to find the only person with the authority to try and keep such information from her.

She found Thomas before he even made it out of his room, the papers that he had been working on last night in hand. She put one hand firmly in the middle of his chest and pushed him back through the door, a frighteningly pleasant smile on her face. He raised one eyebrow and sighed resignedly.
“I take it you know, then?”
Mageria bared her teeth and took a large bite of her sandwich.
“That’s the thing. Eventually, I find out about everything around here. You know how soldiers gossip. Well, I hear most of it, because my people hear everything and they pass it along. So imagine my surprise when I find out that Grim has been back in the area and you have been down to see him. That would be fine and all, except it was something that I really should have been informed about, considering that I’m in charge of at least half of the forces of Newhaven. Don’t you agree, Sir?” She took another big bite of her sandwich and leaned against the door, not intending to move until she got the answer that she wanted.

Thomas grimaced and folded his arms, settling his weight on one leg and rubbing at his temple.
“It was for your own good, Mageria. I saw what happened when Grim left the first time, you don’t think it’s going to happen all over again when he leaves this time? I can’t have you fall apart again.” He glared back at her and took a firmer stance. “You need to move on, Mageria. He left, now you need to let him go.”

Mageria fisted her hands, fighting down the urge to hit her superior officer. It took her a moment to be able to speak calmly. “One of these days, Thomas, I’m going to wake up and be the cold hearted bitch you want me to be. And you’re going to find out just why that is something to be afraid of.”

Spinning on her heel, she left, going back to her room and grabbing her cloak and a few other things. The last time that she had seen Grim, it had been the middle of the night . . . and it had been raining . . . he and the men who had followed him were camped just outside of Newhaven. . .

On a nearby hilltop, wrapped in shadows and an inky black cloak, one slim figure waited patiently. She knew what had happened, what was happening. And though it had taken her many sleepless nights, she knew what she was going to have to do. She couldn’t just let them leave without doing something.

It wasn’t easy, but she managed to slip inside the boundaries of the camp, almost everyone was asleep or ensconced in their tents, waiting for dawn to come. The only moment of hesitation came when she had to chose the tent to enter, but in the end she turned away from the one that she knew held her friend. It wasn’t the time for a confrontation.
Instead she slipped inside Chandos’s tent, pulling the flap closed and drawing a knife at the same time. Chandos didn’t really even have a chance to react before he woke up with the sharp edge of her dagger laid across his neck. He tried to fight, but she only dug the knife a bit deeper and planted one knee in his stomach.
“Shhh, Chandos. It’s just me.”
Chandos gasped a little bit, disorented by the dark and the attack. Finally he managed a soft “Captain?”
Mageria smiled softly in the darkness, withdrawing her blade and stepping away. “Not Captain anymore, am I? At least not to your group.” She could hear him sitting up and reaching for something, she held out a hand to stop him. “No, no light. It’s better if there’s no way that someone sees this.” She waited until he settled back. “How is he?”
Chandos sighed. “Bad, Lady. He really feels like this is the best way to settle things.” He shifted. “You’ve heard the reports by now.”
Mageria nodded, before remembering that it couldn’t be seen. “Yes. I have.” She knelt down and sighed softly. “I can’t even say that he’s wrong.” There was a long pause. “I pushed him too hard, Chandos. Sent him into too many situations where his rage would come into play. If I hadn’t, maybe he could have held on longer.”
Chandos leaned forward. “Lady, that’s not . . .”
Mageria cut him off. “I can’t confront him. Not right now. He’s too close to the edge, and if a simple argument can set him off . . . I don’t think either of us could stay calm enough. And if I was to trigger one of his rages. . . . I could survive the fight, I have before. But I think it would kill him.” She pulled an envelope out of her coat and handed it over. “Here. When the moment is right, give this to him. If you can, suggest visiting the White Shadows. They’ve been studying Enlightenments for years, they could be able to help. And don’t be afraid to come back. There will be no punishments for leaving. For anybody.” Mageria pulled a satchel from around her neck and placed it on the bed nest to Chandos. "Here. You're going to need these eventually. And I had them made for him, seems a shame to let them go to waste." It was the bag of medicines that she had made up for Grim, with powerful numbing agents so that he could be tended safely. "Tell him you stole it if you have to." She sighed and bowed her head. "Farewell, Chandos." Mageria got up and slipped out of the tent, a soft “Safe journey,” the only thing she left behind. Silently she slipped back out through the tents, walking alone through the night and rain. And not even she could have known if the drops making their way down her face were from the rain or not.


Mageria didn't gallop through Newhaven, but she didn't wast any time either. She couldn't believe that Thomas would have tried to keep this a secret from her to protect her. He might have a few valid points, but it was up to her to decide!

She reached where the Salamanders were camped fairly quickly, pulling up and dismounting near the sentries. Pushing her anger down, she smiled at them.
"I'd like to speak to Grim, please. Tell him it's Mageria." She watched them trade a glance, then look back at her.
"No, it's ok." She set her feet in such a way that let them know she wasn't going to move without a fight. "I'll wait."

“You shouldn’t have come here…”
A voice calls from beyond the guards, there barely visible his outline against the gray was their Warlord. Both arms folded almost callously over his chest plate. It seemed fate had different plans that what Thomas had hoped for. Though privately Grim knew it wouldn’t last, he hadn’t expected Mageria to react so soon.
The Green Leader stepped forward with much weight. Grim no longer served as a subordinate to Newhaven. His was an air that commanded a ruthless aura brimming with unrelenting presence. The behemoth that was a walking mountain now was a walking lord. Green was the color of his cape, and emerald adorned his armor, both complimenting the eyes that watched from the shadow of his helm.
Promptly he forced himself through the sentry pushing them aside and strolling right past them. Walking casually off into the seclusion of the forest. Caring little for the ominous words he had heard about the dangers of Valcrest’s great grove. Knowing Mageria would be keen to follow.

“I am overjoyed to see you. Even if this meeting may set in motion a great many difficult things. I will not lie to you, my goals are not passive by any means. They may one day collide with the interests of Newhaven. Though I certainly mean nobody any harm, I also don’t entertain ignorance as much as I use to… “

Mageria snorted softly as she followed Grim. "You leave in the middle of the night with not a word to anyone three years ago; I've heard not a word since . . . and you don't expect me to come visit when you camp on my door step?" Mageria clasped her hands behind her back and paced beside Grim.
"You look like you've done well for yourself, Grim. I'm glad to see it. And when has anything that's happened in this end of the world been easy? I have no doubt that it will lead to a great many difficult things. But we have the ability to deal with them." She walked in silence for a few long moments.
"What are the goals that you speak of?" She hoped, she really hoped and prayed to the Lady of the Night that it was not something that would lead her to standing against her old friend.

“Rrrrrr… I left because there was no other option! I am Enlightened, the chosen children of our gods their inheritance is in my blood. They gave me this hell… praise them.
How was I supposed to choose? I am condemned to my actions and you know this. To stay… who knows what would have happened. You could not have protected me, nor could you have protected them. You’re strong Mageria, but the berserker cares not whom it kills. I know in my heart you could not say the same.”

He continued for some time in silence. Quietly debating what actions were worth taking, what words were safe to share. He felt his weariness lift, knowing well that he could indulge in the small relief. It was so good to see Mageria, but he knew they were no longer part of the same team. Grim would have to be careful for a loose tongue could spell the undoing of his three years long laboring.

“My goal is to bring peace at last to Valcrest, I don’t care what it takes. Imagine it Mageria, warm summers and cold winters without campaigns. Without all these dealings and foolish monarch rivalries. Women and children can rest their heads without fear of being invaded. Crops and trades will go untouched for more then mere months.”


"You speak of peace, Grim; peace at any cost. How is that any different from what I'm trying to do? It's like holding back the tide with your bare hands. My greatest wish is that such a peace was possible. I'm raising children now whose parents died at my orders, you think I don't want this madness to stop?" She bit her lip and took a deep breath, trying to calm herself. She knew that she hadn't wasted the lives of her people, but in the darkness of the night she wondered if she could have done more.
"For the past three years Blackpond has descended into madness while we've eked out a tenuous time of rebuilding. The worst thing I've had to worry about in the past few months besides normal things is the fact that one of my orphans has developed the ability to light the room on fire. I want the same thing that you do Grim." She sighed and felt a weariness slip over her. "I just don't see how one band of fighters, even with you leading them, can stop the tide of war. And it's coming back, old friend. Already the signs are in the air."

“Perhaps friend but you are still bound by Newhaven’s needs. Let us face reality for without you, the first city would have no one politically strong enough to hold the fronts. A child on the throne and a band of rich fools for a council. You may be trying for peace, but the Black Knights cannot do what we Salamanders can.
I grow in power with every recruit I take. My intention is to continue to grow. In time ours will be all the authority needed, the mightiest in Valcrest!”

They were out a ways from the encampment when Grim stilled his feet. Deciding to not venture much further out. He had spent plenty of days marching and while he wasn’t weary, he had little interest in wandering off now. Besides he would have to return to his camp at some point and it was best that he didn’t stray far.

“It’s coming back? No surprise, the cycle finds itself renewed. Sean still runs the Wolfpack and Blackpond I heard lost a king. No doubt a lot of fingers point toward a now weaker Newhaven. One may yet win out, but its no concern of mine for the moment.


Mageria reached out and pulled a leaf off of a nearby branch, slowly shredding it between her fingers as she thought. It was true that her primary duty was to Newhaven, but in the past she had taken actions that were for the good of Valcrest as well. Now the question was . . . was it better for Newhaven; for Valcrest for there to be continued conflict between all of the powers? What was coming . . . it couldn't possibly end well for anybody.

"Unlike Sarris, I believe that the Black Knights shouldn't be bound by diplomacy or law. As long as it's for the reason of protecting Newhaven, it isn't a crime."


The fact was, Black Knights were expected to take steps that would be unthinkable to anyone else. She was allowed; no, she was supposed to perform acts that most people would find treasonable. But the last time . . . . that had been Captain Morgan. Right reasons, wrong actions?

Plus, she really, really hated being blackmailed.

"Grim . . ." one hand gripped the dagger hanging on her belt. It had the silver crescent of the Black Knights on the pommel, symbol of her allegiance to the Lady of Shadows. "What exactly are you willing to do to keep the peace? For the good of Valcrest?"

He would face her once more taking in the moment and watching carefully where her hands ventured to. That was when she tested him further, the haunting from earlier revisiting. A sense of dread threatened to coil itself tightly about him, but Grim refused it’s hold and shook any signs of nervousness away. Instead he watched quizzically arching an eyebrow while he sized up Mageria. Checking for some hint as to what her next words or action could be.

“Anything… “

He almost didn’t believe his own words, but if his dream was to be fulfilled he would have to remain resolute. The Warlord understood that things wouldn’t be easy. Still, he was more wary of the Black Knight Captain then he had been in some time. Something in her voice was bothering the Salamander.

“This has to be stopped, no matter the cost.”

No matter the cost . . .

Mageria turned away from Grim, pacing away and bringing one hand up to pull hard on her braid, struggling to take a deep breath. The last time she had felt like she danced on the edge of a blade like this . . . things hadn't ended well. Point of fact, it had been when Pack assassins had killed the False King and she and Krander had been forced into attacking a camp that they knew held people most of whom had nothing to do with what had happened. Grace of the Twins, it wouldn't happen that way again.

Finally she turned back and smiled bleakly at her old friend. "I may hold you to that." Absently her thumb traced the crescent on her dagger. "Too many things are happening right now; I can't say what way they'll fall . . . But I'll not let them manipulate me into making the same mistakes of my past." With her free hand she fished out a small sealed jar from her pocket and tossed it gently to Grim. "When I find a way to stall their plans I'll let you know." She started back the way that they came. "Thought you might need some more of that," she said over her shoulder.

The jar flowed into his hands with ease and he promptly deposited the salve into a satchel at his belt. Listening with care to the cryptic words of his former Captain. Privately he guessed that something had went on at the castle recently. The flow of guardsmen and the absence of common folk hadn’t gone unnoticed by the Salamanders even in the early daylight.
Calmly he turned to face the retreating Mageria, watching over her depart with plenty to meditate over. It sounded like Newhaven may need his services yet again. There was a swelling of pride flowing through his feelings. After all this time, his blade may be called to deal death once more. There was no one more capable and Grim was ready to finally test his newfound might against a foe.

“Mageria… “ he had shouted after her,

“… If they will have me, I will join you in the war room. I am no longer part of Newhaven, but as long as our interests coincide I welcome the Princess to wield my blade. ”

Mageria turned back at Grim's words and felt a weight settle on her shoulders. "You may not thank me for that opportunity, old friend," she murmured under her breath. He looked so different in his new colors, and freer than he used to be. Gods help her, she would use any weapon that came to hand, and she might find herself needing to call upon his aid. A chill breeze whipped past the two of them, billowing her cloak around her and causing chills to run down her back. With a final smile and a gesture of farewell, she turned and walked away, heading deeper into the shadows under the trees.

It was with a great deal of mixed feelings that she rode away from the Salamander’s camp. Glad as she was to see her old friend, she dreaded the moment that she would have to ask him to step into danger once again. But he wouldn’t thank her for trying to keep him out of it. And so she clung to the knowledge that she at least wouldn’t be alone in the oncoming fight. And she had no doubt that there would be one.

The setting changes from Newhaven to Valcrest

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Grim Pondus 'War' Character Portrait: Morrigan Ruk Kren 'The Grinning Ghost'
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#, as written by Seerow
[Newhaven]

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

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

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

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

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

“None of you better be wearing pink!”

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

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

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

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

The setting changes from Valcrest to Newhaven

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Grim Pondus 'War'
Tag Characters » Add to Arc »

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Mageria laid on the bed for a few moments after Luckas and Ess left; just taking the chance to breathe. But then the commotion outside got a bit louder. She sighed heavily and sat back up. Levering herself carefully to her feet, she bit back a curse or two as her muscles protested. She’d only taken a step or two before remembering that she was basically half naked. With a growl she grabbed a nearby shirt, working it over her right arm and wrapping it around her left side. Grim must have slung her around with that arm at some point, she couldn’t really move it all that well.

Well, now she was ‘dressed’ and the loose shirt had the added benefit of hiding just how bashed up she really was. The only damage that could be seen at the moment was the bruises on her throat and face, which would cut down on the rumors of her being half dead.

She’d only taken a few more steps away from her bed, Tala at her feet and the medics headed her way, when Grim pushed his way in leading a battered Crys. He left the battered empath in the hands of the medics and headed her way; a foreboding expression on his equally battered face. She could feel proud of her bruises, considering that he had a set that matched her own.
“Mageria where is my sword? I know you . . .” he stopped abruptly when he saw her, eyes flickering over her face. She couldn’t stop a small smile.
“This is nothing; you should see the other guy. And for the record, if anybody is going to be calling someone a worm and then do something that leaves bruises behind, it’s going to be me. And I’m going to be dressed far differently.” She leaned to the side just a tiny bit, enough to see the man standing behind Grim. He gave a tiny nod, telling her that they had indeed been the ones to take care of Grim’s missing weaponry. It was so good to have smart people working for her. She nodded back and faced Grim squarely.
“Sit down, old friend.” She gestured to a nearby bed as she went back to her own, sitting down with Tala curled up next to her, watchful eyes fastened on him.
“We have a hell of a lot to talk about.”

The setting changes from Newhaven to Valcrest

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ess Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Evin Bana Character Portrait: Grim Pondus 'War' 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 . . . ?"

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Character Portrait: Grim Pondus 'War' Character Portrait: Morrigan Ruk Kren 'The Grinning Ghost'
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#, as written by Seerow
Grim always preferred the winter. Typically among the ranks of Newhaven, spring and the summer were the preferred parts of the season. The warmth of the sun the surplus of food and physical comfort, the endless fields of grass and flowers all of it wonderful. Beautiful as it was, it was not for the Blade. The icy season was a time of renewal, when all the colors of the world were cast into a pure white. Snow that blanketed the past, offering its bittersweet embrace over old wounds. Wildlife slept and restored its strength, readying for a time when they would raise their young among the chaos of existence. Even the plant life stilled further if that was possible, daunted by nothing beneath their coverings. The world appeared to be at peace, and he liked that sense of calm.
Naturally he was alone. Though helping to keep the camp running when he could, Grim couldn’t deny the real danger of staying among them. Despite the opinions of Mageria and much of the Black Guard, the fact was that they couldn’t afford another accident like what transpired at Newhaven. They didn’t seem deterred by his presence, which did help Grim, perhaps opinions were being changed for the better.
Ultimately he camped beside himself outside of their lumber operation. Training when he could among the restricting snow, reaffirming his movement with nature’s resistance. Growing every day and eager to discover his limitations without liability. Aiding in whatever tasked required his hands, reassuring those willing to speak with him, and directing those who asked. Keeping especially careful eye on his compatriot, who was asked to stay within the encampment regardless of protest. Through Morrigan the Black Knight was kept abreast of news, not to mention she made an excellent messenger.
Today he had opted to rest, plenty of excitement had been had and he felt sure to fall into a coma if he didn’t take it easy. There was plenty to mull over, but in unusual twist, he found the scene too beautiful to fret himself with worry. What he was truly wishing for was a more definite enemy. Something he could work against with blade and vengeful wrath. Beset on all sides, the Black Knights were under attack by enemies he could not cut down. With any luck, he would get the chance to prove his valor in combat once more. Ultimately deciding that if he couldn’t cooperate for peace, he would have no other option but to make it with might and steel.
He was still debating on reinstating among the Black Knights and serving under Mageria again. There were many complications to what seemed like an obvious choice. As his own entity he had the freedom to act when his fellows could not. On the other hand Mageria couldn’t hope to protect him without his service being official. She was still a powerful voice to her people, and even with this set back, he had no doubt that Newhaven would be forced to reconsider their decision the moment trouble began brew. Newhaven was weak without her, and though Grim said nothing, all of this was likely the machinations of some masked threat. A foe unseen could only be lured out, and when the moment comes, the Raging Demon would show them the terror of the Moon Goddess.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Quietly she slipped beside him, joining with her back to the tree they were resting against. Peering out into the wondrous world beyond with idle apathy. She didn’t have to even attempt at guessing her ally’s brooding thoughts. Grim was surprisingly shallow for such an intricate Enlightened. Isolating himself to better hover on dark thoughts and wage war with his inner demons. To this day he refuses to believe his dirtied hands to be merely the work of circumstance or divine intervention. So saturated in his own mistrust it was surprising Grim functioned at all, and even more shocking that he’s determined to live out his days in service of those that cause him the most pain.
Morrigan guessed she could understand to a degree, no one could live completely alone. Maybe the only thing that kept her Warlord from leaping into an early grave, was the thought that someone, anyone, needed him for one more day.
She pulled her knees in tight. She liked the idea that anyone could walk the balance. It’s what made her infinitely greater. To be able to destroy, to love, to do as she pleased without consequence in a world that threatened her without remorse. The good, the bad, who cared as long as her belly was full and she was having fun! Sometimes she wished she could get him to see reality as she knew it. Perhaps then he’d be less concerned with the small indignities of people and their broken dreams.

“…. What’s it like?” She opened,
“ Hmmmm… I guess that depends on the nature of your question.”
“Getting your butt wet I mean. Sitting in the snow, what’s it like?”
“… Uncomfortable mostly.”

The setting changes from Valcrest to Raven's Nest

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Character Portrait: Grim Pondus 'War' Character Portrait: Morrigan Ruk Kren 'The Grinning Ghost'
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#, as written by Seerow
“Grim, you’ve pushed yourself to the breaking point. Please, let me help so that you can rest. Just tell me what your’re looking for and why.”
“I know you’re misgivings and feelings towards the Pack. Mageria this war has gone on long enough, and no one is taking measures to stop it. Please… would you help me?”
“What don’t I understand? What is it about me that you don’t understand? I’m a Black Knight. I have no past, I have no family, I have no reason to get up in the morning except knowing that one day I’m going to have the opportunity to lay down my life in defense of Newhaven. In battle, I’m the one on the front lines and it is always a surprise when I find myself alive afterwards.”
“For what it’s worth, I apologize. I want to see these things come to pass. I respect the Pack, but it’s becoming clear that it falls onto the people of Newhaven to set things right. I only hope we pass the test.”
“You’re ready to return home then? I’d be happy to travel with you. There’s a lot that’s happened and plenty to catch up on.”
“I’m not going back to Newhaven. I’m leaving this, all of it. The war, the Wolfpack, everything.”
“You’re a dangerous man, a threat to those who would be your ally.”
“No matter the cost.”

They were there, gathered en masse to the grand forests of his homeland. Their banners flown high, and their detest for the others higher still. Men and women marching forward to opposing factions, armies dressed for war that pushed from beyond the horizon. Newhaven and its sigil, Blackpond and their flags, even the Wolfpack, White Shadows, and Crimson Shadows had made an appearance. Splintered factions of course had joined the fray, and in the dense mass of organizations Grim had made out Salamander and Raven colors.
Each faction was in an uproar spewing words of hate for the other, calling out their respective enemies and spitting curses to the winds. Lightning flashed overhead a storm brewing in the skies. Glints of metal flashed and howls of battle echoed in the butchered lands of Valcrest.
Grim stood amidst them, panicked as he spun about on his heels. Everywhere he looked was chaos, faces that he had known to be so gentle twisted in the savage nature of war. On this day all humanity would perish beneath the indomitable violence.
“Stop this!”
Yet for his vibrato the words went unheeded, forward they charged, weapons upraised screams of murder lifted to the heavens as the mighty empires collided. Death knells and anguish, deep sadness sprung aloft ancient festering misgivings. The sins of the land too heavy as it rained down upon its children, casting them into the throes of their final gasping breath.
Grim born aloft this inevitable truth fought desperately to find a way out of the engagement. Yet he knew it was a worthless action, his worried thoughts wracking over the eventual reality that was to be his. The true origin of his bitterness, the curse, the gift, the Enlightenment instilled into his blood.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Morrigan woke with a start, her Warlord’s tension rousing her dreary mind from its nap. At first she peered confused and groggily at the Black Knight. He was cursing under his breath and gripping the snowy earth as if he was upon a rack. She quickly assured herself that a bad dream was nothing to be alarmed about and calmly went to rouse the knight from his terrors.
Her heart stopped cold when she caught illumination seeping from beneath his eyelids. Pulling a knife free from her boot she flipped herself over straddling the man and taking him firmly by the shoulders. Her eyes joining his in lighting up as an insurance against any possible outcomes, bemused some at her poor luck. Shaking the Salamander and calling out to him, not entirely sure what was going on, or if there was any real danger in the moment. Still the fear escalated when she couldn’t seem to rally him out of his strange state.
“Wake up damn you!”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Grim-“ blood was spat from a full throat, “I won’t let you-“
The heavy foot of War planted itself upon her back crushing the remaining life out of her. The berserker armor was smashed and torn open, exposed flesh bleeding from many gashes. The aura of hate spilling fourth from its massive body and washing the dead with its fiery angst. Triumphant it reared back its head roaring out in foul glee.
Everything around it was destroyed, lives scattered before the nothingness, merely husks that decorated the mighty one’s work. Its rage boiling over till all in the land lay crumbled at its feet. The cries of fear and surprise, the gleeful devastation it had endured, all armed all ready to die today and so it was.
With no enemy left to face it, the magic ran its course and emptied from Grim. Leaving to wallow in the aftermath of his work, they had all been so brave. Exhausted he kneeled before those who were gone. Faces of friends and good people all surveyed in frozen dread, watching their killer with soulless glassed watchfulness. The Black Knights were torn asunder, the Wolves broken against the trees, neither had been able to contain the monstrosity for long. No poison worked, no blade seemed to cut deep enough. No Enlightenment had been a match for the champion of absolute abhorrence.
Grim gripped his hair, holding the swirling mix of sentiment that welled through him. Loss and despair, longing and bitterness, all whirling through his barely pulsing heart. Lady Rivers was lying almost peacefully beside her ally Ev, he tried to protect her and had paid the ultimate price. Jake had even managed to catch him unaware, but was crushed when War had been thrown from his feet. Set, Thomas, and Krander were chopped down in a single sweep. Hastings was beaten to a pulp against a trunk, and Chandos was ripped in halves cast unto the winds. Friends and foes, and yet not one could stop him, not one could have wished to endure the berserker’s might. All of them belonging to this mighty kingdom of rot and filth.
There were even faces Grim couldn’t place a name to. A beautiful blonde woman had expired reaching for a bow, not far from her a dark haired woman shrouded in a cloak. Both had bled out, large sections missing from their physiques the work of the Giant’s knife. Of course, Mageria had fought the longest, and died the hardest. Unwilling to give in, she had tried till at last her body could take no more. Grim pulled away unable to face his Captain where she perished.
Leaving his blade there to repose he began to venture away. There was nothing more to say or do. How could he have hoped for any other outcome? He was destruction incarnate, and there would be no peace for him. So long as he remained, so long as the gift was a part of him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Morrigan nearly jumped out of her skin when Grim took her by the arm. The sudden movement had been far from expected. Her efforts up to that point had been wasted and more or less useless.
“Is something the matter?”
Morrigan sighed and hopped up from where she was. Sheathing her blade and readjusting her boot a little. More annoyed at Grim’s simple reaction then her initial concerns; she began to make her way to the camp. Grumbling quietly all the way.

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Character Portrait: Grim Pondus 'War' Character Portrait: Morrigan Ruk Kren 'The Grinning Ghost'
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#, as written by Seerow
Nothing entered or left the Raven’s Nest without Grim’s knowledge. Though he said nothing of the figures that walked in and out, he was sure to keep his opinion open to context. Merely taking note of late night visitors and being mindful of those that slip away. One couldn’t be too careful these days even if Mageria trusted them; Grim couldn’t count anyone whom he hasn’t personally inspected as earnest. Not that he was a great judge of character, but without someone looking out they couldn’t hope to be prepared. Even here in the Nest, they were subject to infiltration and exposed even more in the wilderness. There would be no walls to stand between them and an enemy, if somebody wanted Mageria dead, this was the place to do it. Of course, they’d have to get through Grim first.
His visits throughout the week had been less frequent, it seemed as the ensemble had pulled itself together, the settlers had started becoming accustomed to the harsher conditions. None had dared visit the Raging Demon save for his informant. She had often spent days among the Guard and listened to the heartbeat of their encampment, whispering of its moods and feelings into the Blade’s ears. Keeping him aware of situation that he may better serve his role as watchman.
Today the Salamander had opted to clean up and rework his armor a bit. One of the few instances when a Black Knight would wander the world without their obsidian plates about their frame. Leaving them to the care of the locals he returned out to his tiny camp to find Morrigan had been out all morning. Not that Grim was concerned, she had a tendency to go and do as she pleased, but he couldn’t help curiosity. With the Giant’s Knife resting on his back he ventured around the Raven’s Nest, knowing she wasn’t ever truly far.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
“Tres tres bien mon chere. Zis fortress iz perfect!”
“Isn’t it? Isn’t it!”
“Oui! Ze best!”
“Aww, c’mon I couldn’t have done it without you guys.”
Morrigan wrapped her arms around two crudely made snow-people. Giddy about her rudimentary snow wall. Pulling away from her crafted companions she bowed before them. Extending her hands to show off her construction and present their work as a completed project.
“Gentlemen and ladies, we have finished fortress Kren. Now we begin to build the Kren army! Who’s with me?”
Given brief pause Morrigan cupped a hand over her mouth whispering cheers and words of encouragement to herself. Then she paused, a frown tucking itself upon her lips. Her golden eyes settling on a snowman she had fitted with a dingy scarf rescued from the Raven’s Nest. Stepping down from the imagined platform she pushed passed her crowd of frozen faces. Approaching one of her creations with a sort of anger just hiding beneath her face.
“You don’t think we could do it do you?” a finger prodded the snowman, boring into its icy body.
“No I see you now, talkin’ like you know everything. Telling the workers lies, filling them with these crazy ideas. I won’t have mutiny here mister!”
Morrigan’s disappointment began to alter, metamorphosing into a smile that could cut courage from men of valor. She gently approached the pile of frozen mush. Wrapping it within her embrace, gently pushing her lips to its cheek watching the imitated bit of life with an intensity reserved for the living.
“You couldn’t handle it anyway love.”
With her weight against the snowman it collapsed and she on top of it laughing hysterically. The troublesome art now but a heap of cold on the ground, no longer would it pose any threat to those composed of flesh and blood. She pulled herself up brushing off snow from her clothes as she returned to her post. Looking out over her made-up people opening her mouth to speak when she was rudely interrupted by an onlooker.
“A public execution, wouldn’t it have been far more appropriate to imprison the troublemaker?”
The Blade had found her, playing some unusual game by herself. Not entirely surprised, but on the same hand he remained somewhat uncertain of Morrigan’s habits. It seemed the only thing that kept their friendship from hostilities was her unusual nature and pledge to do as the Warlord said. If anything her little game proved that she hadn’t become any less hostile then when he had first met her some years ago.
“Mercy is for those that like pink.”
She giggled and walked up to Grim expectant as ever and as eager to see what task he had for her today. Her hands helping themselves to pad at his exposed arms. It was a rare occasion to see Grim not trudging about behind layers of metal. He pulled his hand back rubbing them together to warm it.
“You’ve been playing around out here too long, your touch is ice. Perhaps you should sit by a fire for a bit before you damage yourself out here.”
“Oh? You mean like this?”
Grim half yelped when he felt frozen fingers touch his face, and he took off running back toward his base of operations. Behind a gleeful madwoman was pursuing hands outstretched like claws.

The setting changes from Raven's Nest to Valcrest

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Character Portrait: Grim Pondus 'War' Character Portrait: Morrigan Ruk Kren 'The Grinning Ghost'
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#, as written by Seerow
Some time before.
“Warlord, we have the perpetrator.”
Grim shifted to face his fellow Salamanders his eyes could not betray their curiosity. Their rations had been mysteriously vanishing and gear had been silently slipping away in the dead of night. Yet no one could figure out just exactly where they were going, that was until till today.
She was ragged and seemed barely alive, rail thin and meager she hardly struggled in their hold. Yet there was something about the way she glowered up to the Blade that caught his attention. Those golden eyes fierce and pallid with no remorse or regret, they were fascinating. One tiny young girl had given them so much grief, an encampment made up of proud and prudent warriors. Grim couldn’t help but feel… awed by her tenacity at least.
“Is that so?” he began. Striding purposefully toward their latest catch, a scarecrow of a child out in the middle of nowhere. They hadn’t encountered a settlement in days, and yet she had managed to not only seek them out, but hide among them for some time. Grim was toying with an idea, and soon hoped that little kindness might get him and his men far from the empty wastelands they were marching through.
“Do you know this land well? Perhaps we could come to some sort of agreement. You look like you could use some food and a good night’s rest, and we need someone to lead us out of here. What say you?”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Departing from Luckas and the returning Mageria, Morrigan set to Valcrest forest. Searching for her lost ally, knowing the terms of his disappearance to be unlike him and saying nothing to those that might have helped. For she preferred to walk her own path, and follow whatever whimsy may catch her at the moment.
The great forest stretched forever beyond the horizon it’s once livid and vibrant hues dulled in the winter. The shadows beneath their branches were darker, and the ground was difficult to travel. There was a cold pure scent on the wind, and those who touched it knew the wet chill of the snow. Most would be bitter about the weather, but Morrigan didn’t experience its icy touch. She only moved on careless to direction looking for signs of the Warlord among the expanse of white. The shadows of winter overlooking a lonely figure among its livelihood, wandering lost among the endless bodies of grey and white.


Some time before.
Soif folded her arms, watching off in the distance ignoring Morrigan’s threats and allowing her ravings to stop before answering.
“He will be killed, your Warlord. Nyx said she saw it in the winds, and we both know what that means.”
Morrigan sheathed her knife, sliding it carefully back into the folds of her robes. Her eyes never leaving the intruder while she circled around her.
“You lie.”
“Do I?”
Soif laughed quietly to herself, she could play this game for hours. Anything to get under Morrigan’s skin.
“You’ve gotten attached to these Salamanders haven’t you? Well you might as well give it up, they’ll all perish. Unless of course you’re willing to make a deal yes?”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The trails had led to nowhere and while tracking in the wet earth would seem easier, it was near impossible in the overcast of the trees. Morrigan knelt scooping up the cold into her fingertips, turning the slush about examining the bits of sedimentary that appeared once the ice had melted.
Somewhere a bird called catching her ears, strange that it would still be here but then she didn’t pretend to possess any experience with wildlife. It was time to move on from here anyway, daylight wouldn’t last forever, and it was best she find her Warlord before night settled in.
She bit her tongue at the sudden pain that took her shoulder. An arrow was buried into flesh, leaving a fresh trail of blood dribbling down her arm and leaving crimson droplets where she stood. The shaft was removed easily enough, and with her Enlightenment in tow she lessened the bleeding. Knife drawn and ready she held her ground even when the cloaked men emerged from the shadow. Among the beautiful woman with raven hair, her eyes fixed upon Morrigan with all knowing gaze.
“Morrigan, how lovely, the missing piece finally shows herself. You know this land, it’s not very friendly but if Valcrest has one thing going for it. That would be its excellent source of mercenaries and contract killers. I should wa-“

The Grinning Ghost had heard enough and she rushed forward with her dagger at the ready. Of course the cloaked men came out in force, five strong bodies that held her back and disarmed her within seconds. Soif shook her head, returning to her pleasant conversing as if she had never been interrupted.
“You always were impulsive. It’s too late though my estranged friend. You were dead the moment you stepped into the forest.”
Morrigan struggled against their grips but she couldn’t hope to break free. She kicked and bit and twisted by they had her shoved to the ground in an instant. Pressing her face to the dirt, a few boots at her back, she couldn’t escape.
“Saoif! Phtew! You’re no one you freak! You faceless freak, lieing on the belly of some other woman’s face. Gets lonely being nobody doesn’t it?!”
Soif scowled and lowered herself to meet Morrigan. Her eyes had grown cold and the lukewarm act she had put on for the reception had faded entirely. She grasped Morrigan by her hair, yanking her head up that they might face another.

“You took everything away from me you spoiled sewer rat. You betrayed us, you abandoned us, and for what? The life of one stupid, whiney, miserable excuse of a warrior I’ve never seen such a thing like it before. An Enlightened so worked up about himself that he can’t see the obvious things going on around him. A miserable character, but you chose didn’t you?
Don’t fret Morrigan, you two won’t be separated for long.”


Some time before.
“You can’t be serious.”
“Grim, this isn’t a game. You don’t have the Enlightenment out here to protect you. Blake already agreed to the procedure. All we have to do is visit Nyx and get it finished.”
The Warlord pondered for a moment, rubbing his chin idly.
“The men need to know, I have to be honest with them.”
“No! The body double would be pointless then. We do this discreet, just the three of us.”
“You’re sure this is necessary? I highly doubt Wolves would journey this far out just for me.”
Morrigan sighed and shook her head sympathetically.
“I- We can’t risk it. You will see, Nyx can make Blake into you. She possesses talent, a magic you don’t know. Trust me my Warlord.”


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Grim could hardly believe his eyes when Mageria stopped him in the depths of Valcrest forest. At first he had been aggressive and ready to fend off any advance she could possess. Yet, she didn’t come this way to even argue with the Blade, far graver news had reached her ears, and it was imperative that he hear. Of course he listened, but he could hardly believe the words that were coming out from his former captain’s mouth.

“A trap, this all seems awful elaborate for the Wolves. They’re assassins, for them to go to these lengths to pit you against me just seems… excessive.”
Mageria nodded, “Every world of it is true Grim. What’s worse they took Morrigan. Left a note for you to find back at your camp, we’ve got to stop them. Morrigan is too important to lose.”

“We’ve not a moment to lose Mageria, lead the way.”

She had turned with the Blade just behind her. Leading them deeper into the forest, yet she had hardly taken a few steps when a forceful blow threw her into the cold ground. Her back ached and she whimpered from the pain, trying to crawl away but the sheer weight of Grim came down onto her. His boot planted firmly into her back.
“You know,” The blade started in.

“It’s far too unusual to see a Black Knight outside of their armor. The Goddess knows Mageria will likely be buried in her suit. To see her not only track outside of the camp but approach a possible enemy without her armor is impossible…
Also, Morrigan works for me and me alone, she doesn’t use her. For her to be so vital just isn’t believable. Also… my sister fears no enemy, and she wouldn’t seek me out to fight Wolves. She would be knee deep in battle right now. So, who are you?”

The faux captain said nothing, but soon found her back being pressed squeezing the air from her lungs. She struggled for air, clawing wildly at the snow as her body freaked out. When the pressure was relieved she gasped desperate for relief.
“I’ll ask again, who are you?” The voice from above her sounded. She wouldn’t respond, it would all unravel if she did. Then immense agony, the Giant’s Knife drove into her back. The heavy weapon caused heavy hemorrhaging but the tip sank easily into the flesh. She sputtered painfully and spat the mixed vomit and blood from her mouth.

“Where is Morrigan?”

The blade swiveled churning the wound rocking back and forth inside her body. Soif screamed her Enlightenment dropping instantly her focus spent. The raven haired woman just beneath the guise as Mageria was revealed. When the pivoting stopped she allowed her muscles to fall, flattening against the cold dragging every bit of air into her lungs that could squeeze through the fluids.

“A few miles south, a l- cle-blech, clearing.”

No sooner had the last sound passed her lips when she breathed no more. The Giant’s Knife pushing its way through, ending the already doomed Soif, speeding her descent into the darkness beyond. An act both merciful and ruthless but the Blade had always been a sort of contradicting type, and the killing of an enemy was hardly an excuse to reflect on his action. They had Morrigan, and though it was likely he was walking to a trap, there was no time and no other option.


Some time before.
“All Salamanders give an oath upon officially joining. Each must create the terms of their Oath and if the Warlord accepts you are brought into the ranks. It’s a bit strange, but he feels this is the best way to strengthen the group. Do you understand?”
“We create the Oath were sworn to?”
Chandos nodded, and lead Morrigan into the tent. Grim was hovering over a map sitting on a rotting barrel, downed as usual in his armor he was like a great black tower. A giant of legend black as night and terribly and inspiring to behold. When he took notice of Morrigan and the now grinning Chandos he couldn’t help but smile.
“So you decided you wanted to become one of us? I’m glad, Chandos stand guard will you?”
Once everyone was in position there came a silence as thick as syrup. It was bittersweet for the Warlord had wanted their mercenary to become one of them, but she seemed unhinged at times. Most feared the Ghost and with good reason, she was at best psychotic and even if her talents were excellent she was a danger. Yet, he saw something in her just beneath the veil of madness, what exactly was anyone’s guess.
Now they were here standing in a shoddy tent and awaiting an oath that required one to make up the terms. A creative idea though not entirely practical yet it had served the Salamanders well in the past. Allowing for the careful selection of its members.
“This I swear by my true name. Let my lord and I be one, that though my lord and I may fight.
Any who fight my lord fight me.
That our blood be family.
That we be beyond family by blood.
In Winter let me warm you.
In Spring run with me.
In Fall Let me bleed for you.
In Summer laugh with me.
I will answer only to the Oath for a year and a day. So I swear by my true name.”
Grim blinked a few times, it was quite far from what was considered regular. There were bits that seemed too personal and others impersonal. It was odd, but Grim agreed, giving a nod of his head. Officially welcoming Morrigan to his ranks.
Chandos at the door clapped and entered immediately, having listened in and watched from just beyond the doorway. A guard wasn’t really necessary it was more tradition and a clever way to avoid interruption. For an Oath impeded upon was an Oath that felt insincere.
“Great! I have just the thing for you to do Morrigan. There’s been some nasty business reg-”
She shook her head, “My Oath belongs to the Warlord alone.”
Chados was hushed by her reaction, and he scowled at her. Grim couldn’t help but laugh.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

There was a poorly crafted chair sitting in the woods. Bound to it the form of a body, and though Grim didn’t have to guess, he found himself hesitating to approach it. Nervousness had taken him, though he had guessed an ambush. The signs here were screaming something far more dangerous, the chair with the damsel strapped to it, it was such an obvious ploy. Far too obvious for comfort, whoever was running this operation was clever, and possessed a talent for tricks and traps. There was no hope of the Black Knight outsmarting whatever was waiting. The only thing he could hope for was that he had the might to overcome what was waiting.
He took a single step, the bottom of his boot crunching in the snow. That was all that was needed and he was set upon by five individuals downed in heavy cloaks. Grim was too slow to react and they were upon him in seconds and surprisingly he found them uninterested attacking any conventional way. They were pushing him about, dodging his swings but keeping their weapons tucked away.
Grim knew this strategy, they were wearing him down. Trying to the tire the Blade before they made their move, but this would not be today. Leaping from the swarming strangers he brought his blade in a great horizontal swing forcing the cloaks back away from him. Here he got a good look at what he was facing. Sizing up these strangers, their patterns were quickly discovered for their insignia was the wolf.
Grim cursed his luck, alone a single Black Knight could not hope to overcome five contract ready Wolves. These were not Blackpond soldiers, these were not typical men and women. These were clever killers on the same level if not beyond the Black Knights, two factions that were feared in this land.

“Your patron is already dead Wolves, if you leave now we won’t have to come to blows.”

They said nothing, just began to circle around their prey. They were professionals and likely were already paid for whatever task was set upon them. Just because their employer was dead didn’t mean the job was done, and there was a personal code to be upheld. Grim stood his ground, the Giant’s Knife at the ready but he knew the score and so did they. All he could hope for was draw, and that didn’t look to be likely.

They swept in incredibly fast even with the snow. Though his blade swung wide and forced them back for some time they were quickly past his defenses. A scratch etched itself under Grim’s arm, it was hardly enough to do much more then jolt his Enlightenment, but it seemed enough. For he brought his elbow back fast enough to catch the Wolf across the nose and send him rolling along the ground.
The Black Knight rushed the foe he downed, what luck for the cloak couldn’t get up fast enough. The snow allowed no traction and his hands couldn’t grasp anything to pull him to his feet. The Wolf was soon uprooted and tossed back earthward. Grim planted a boot on his chest pinning him to the floor and was amazed to find the other assassins watching idly, helpless to aid their friend.
He seemed puzzled, why weren’t they attacking him? Surely he wouldn’t have caught this one if the others had come in to help. Even now the unfortunate Wolf he had captured wasn’t clawing at his leg he was laying there stupefied, watching with heavy fearful breaths passing through the hood.

“What’s the matter? Can’t hurt me?”

It occurred then why that would be. They knew exactly who Grim was, whatever their job they knew the Raging Demon would be involved and he would be armed this time. To deliver any kind of true blow would only hasten their death. Grim glanced down to his prisoner, watching the white smoke lifting from the cloak. They were scared, but they were professionals. Grim had to admire their capacity for their work. They were worthy adversaries indeed.
He drove the Giant’s Knife through the cloak’s throat, severing the head from the body. When he looked up only one of the other Wolves recoiled, the other three moved in. Again they were back at it, Grim swinging and them dodging trying to get in under his attempted attacks. The dance that spread them over the small clearing, large swaths of snow pushed and pulled as they went about.
In the thick of it another scratch, then another, the magic pumped in but never did he fall into the full rage. They were meager but they gave Grim a bit of a rush and he used it to his advantage. One more across the knuckles and he swung in tossing a Wolf against a tree. Its cry cut short once it collided against the bark, bits of snow falling from the lower branches to blanket its body. The three assassins that were still on their feet took off, vanishing into the thick of the forest. Whatever they had set out to do was accomplished, and there was no more reason to engage the Warlord.
He approached the remaining cloak and spent no time to discuss, they weren’t going to talk anyway he had seen Wolves interrogated. The Giant’s Knife cut down the assassin with one blow. In the aftermath of this short battle, Grim found he was fearful if not confused. In a straight battle he would have lost, but they insisted on not invoking his Enlightenment, to the point of losing two of their own. In fact the only damage they had done was minor.
It didn’t matter, he had won and Morrigan was safe. Soon they would be on their way home and they could exchange their tale with some fellows back in the camp. Perhaps even Mageria would be willing to reminisce on some their greater achievements in the prime of the Black Knights. If they were lucky a drinking game and cards would soon follow.

He drew near cautious but swiftly, yet there was no movement from the chair. His hopes sank some but he knew Morrigan well. Reminding himself that she was sly and a feigned death would keep the Wolves from her. The shape shifter was clever but Grim had won the day.
The chair was covered in old dark stains, and tied to it at the wrists his friend waited. Yet even with his prompting she didn’t respond. At first he shook her gently, calling her by name. Quickly he escalated, fear instilling itself deep within. It couldn’t be, he had saved Morrigan, yet she did not move. It was surely a trick, but the truth couldn’t be ignored. The foam at the mouth, the expressionless release that left her scarred face. She was gazing skyward somewhere far from this world. So far away, where he couldn’t reach her.

“Morrigan! Wake up! It’s me, it’s Grim.”

No one answered; all time seemed to end here. Spanning out into endless chasm as surmounting sadness took hold. He had failed, and in so doing he had gotten her killed. The reality and how it ached. There would be no comfort here.
Cutting the bonds he pulled her into his arms, resting his head to hers. Drawing to her tightly, helplessly, desperate and uncontrolled begging for her to awaken, to do anything but lay so limply in his embrace. All the warmth left her some time ago. The internal pain burned endlessly, and in his heart he knew but didn’t wish to believe.

“I’m so sorry.”

Carefully he brushed her bangs aside, swallowing hard trying his best to regain control. To withhold the sorrow that bore through him. To push aside the overwhelming tides of doubt.

“It’s alright now, I’ve got you. I won’t let you go.”

The words were barely whispered, rasped with the uncontrollable sobbing. In the still of the night no one would answer the prayer of a frantic man. Only having what he could hold, and holding onto what he wanted all along. Nothing her inheritance, and nothing his gift. Only the fall of snow onto the broken.
Cradled in his arms he carried her as far from the scene as he could bear. The seeping poison working its way through his blood and taking the strength he could muster slowly. When at last his legs refused to press on he knelt carefully down and lay against a great tree.
He couldn’t hold on to her anymore. Try as he might he couldn’t keep Morrigan to him. The numbness that filled his arms shutting out control. Fighting as hard as he could, he grit his teeth in futility, as slowly the weight began to take his arms down. He fought, but for such a mighty man he hadn’t anything left. His breaths were sharper and shallow and desperate for the air. He was soon drenched in sweat, and a bitter taste clung in his mouth. So he swallowed hard, and looked to her one last time. It was so strange, she seemed finally at rest. Peaceful…
Just before his eyes slipped closed, he could have sworn he heard someone running up to him. Though their voice was far away, he thought it familiar.

“You’re going to be alright Grim, just hang on.”

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

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#, as written by Seerow
Whispers of golden curls etched themselves into the soft blues. Drifting whites that crept quietly by. Purples and just the hint of red that made the air a beautiful tapestry of life. To sit beneath its radiance a blessing a delight found strangely only when one took the time to do so. To stop, behold the very wonder of the worlds a simple mesh of cloud and sky. Yet it was more serene, more wonderful in its humble appearance then a thousand crafts made of man. The art of the world, masters in form and color, man could not hope to capture its true joy, its purest essence. Though they imitate, though they mock, what man could hope to witnesses and despair.

The lights of the setting sun danced beneath the emerald mirrors, happy to be held in the green of his eyes. The weak measured breath eased from a desperate wheeze to a comforted draw. Pulling with less difficulty and calming the hardened features of his face. Though Grim remained exhausted he at last could feel some semblance of rest.
Which was well for exhaustion had taken everything. He could have moved but his mind wouldn’t allow it. Though he fought with this, he knew it to be far too troublesome to waken. Alive, but far from alert, a mind adrift a half-conscious state. All desire to move pushed away at once his head falling back to rest. Careless to move even when he was visited.

The weight was the first thing he realized pressure upon his body. All the will he could muster could have been brought fourth and still he would not have lifted his head. Keeping a vague idea of what was happening but gone too far to care. Enemy or friend, be it whatever, the tiredness created only apathy. Do what they would, Grim could not move and even fear was unreachable in his fatigue. Far easier to watch the wonderful sky, than worry his troubled heart any more. Resigned but at peace he laid there upon some alien shore watching some far off dream.

“Won’t you stay?”

The gloomy orbs lifted to some newfound life, opening wide with a flicker of many passing sensations. The visitor’s lips were sweet with words of honey. Promises made unspoken, wishes fulfilled and above all a sense of peace. He could hear them so clearly so far from where he thought to be. Washed upon a shore that he never knew existed. Answering someone with words that barely escaped.

“… No.”

There was no upset, the voice revealed no hurt from his answer. Instead the kindness was rooted with a hint of sadness. Perhaps a loneliness, or even vague hints of envy, he couldn’t be sure. He could feel a gentle touch fall to his face. It was a strange euphoria, a kindness he hadn’t remembered in some time. What it meant, something so simple. Strange and distant but he couldn’t refuse even if desired.

“Are you not scared? Afraid of the mistakes you can make. Of the risk you take by continuing on your way?”

“….. The strong are not perfections. It’s our blemishes that ready us for the battles to come.”
“You’re twisting your words to make yourself sound the warrior. You know to continue is to suffer and you think only of yourself in your answer. You cannot make a sanctuary of bravery, it has not served you. It does not have to be this way if you would just see.”

“Then show me… “


[The Ruins-Among the White Shadows]
Grim stirred at last, his fists balling up and pushing against his sides. Redness began to flush out over his face, and a fever started to set in. Good news in its own strange way, as his body was now actively fighting the poison. He was still far from recovery, but there were some steps in the right direction at least.

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#, as written by Seerow
[The Ruins]

It was a haze of inexplicable realities. That withering curvaceous dreaming shifting, whirling, changing but ever deep within one knew, twas but a passing. A myriad of belief and promises taking the form of desires and colors. Altering spectrum where logic makes little gain, and only the will stays between the door that keeps baying chaos just so. The state of torpor was more a landscape of mixing focal points and hues. Friends and foes and family all alike taking just barely visible forms, talking just enough to be recognized. Yet there were others, shapes and people masked by anonymity faces with no features and it was all to identify them as human. Even when it seems as though you are right next to them. They are murky, perhaps memories past, perhaps nothing at all save the placeholder for what a real person would constitute. When they are noticed at all within the scope of feelings and virtual augmentation. The fantastic twilight of the senses blended into a surreal euphoria, the land of dreams...
There was talking, of that he could be sure. Words exchanged but their sound was too distant. They were but pieces of noise that formed nothing. Slipping from mouth to mouth, pitch and tone dancing in such distinct pattern. Even from his lips he felt the shapes slip past, echoes of what was. Talking but realizing that he knew nothing of what he was saying. Pulling from a far off place and slipping haphazardly into the world he knew.

He forced an arm upward into a dazing light, its brevity a displeasing knock on an addled mind. Hands that held, his body uprooting forced back to the earth. Grim wasn't easily deterred though and even if the logic was absent, the warrior never left. He fought back, throwing his shoulders into reaching the profound luminescence. For a time it was a futile exercise, the physical strength was waning and Grim was easily forced back into a laying position, or so they thought.
It what had to be a surprising amount of force for a nearly dead man, the Black Knight had flipped himself from the cot he was fixed upon. Taking with him the hands that refused to release his shoulders. Throwing the bonds that would tie him faster then they could seemingly recover. There in his eyes, the world began to trickle into his view. So many empty expressions, faces blurred by weary eyes. Movements that seemed to glide across the floor, shadows that danced like some wicked thing conjured of a ghost story. Someone tried to touch his arm, to find themselves hurled to the floor in a manner not necessarily unlike the Black Knights. Confused though he was, he wasn't about to allow anyone the advantage over him. Poison or not.

"... W-... Where."

A response was made, but the words were so much garble to his ears. No sure answer, no recourse, only one action, the training stayed in him. Take his position, hold, don't let them touch you. Don't let them take you! A flash, a memory, anger, hate it all pulled in his veins like a living force. Pain and agony, old friends miserable and unrelenting they visited again. The Wolves!
He toppled the first thing he could reach with a flung arm. The other's predictably filing in to help whatever he threw. Two more were tossed aside before all attempts to contain Grim were given up on. Instead the forms encircled, surrounded, waiting patiently never taking action but never leaving to Grim's disappointment. He could hardly hear his own screaming at them. Cursing and showing off the animal just beneath the Blade's flesh. Giving them a taste of the hell that awaited if they antagonized him further. Things that touched his fingertips were broken over his knees or simply dashed to the floor. Pushed aside if he couldn't lift it, which lead to a few shocked gasp and some unfortunate sleeping folk being hurled from bed.

"Shh... where. Where is she? Where is Morrigan!"

Again he heard an answer, but it meant nothing. It was too far away for him to translate. So the dazed man lumbered about in his tiny space that he held. Letting no one near him till he could sort something out. It was well over ten minutes time before he could begin to decipher language. It took time to ease the Blade from his clouded thoughts and properly set every in alignment. Once that was settled, and a few things picked up and put back, Grim wound up sitting quietly beside his little cot. Sorting everything that had transpired bit by bit.

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

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#, as written by Seerow
Blackpond was the kingdom of foes to those that dwelled in Newhaven. Though politics would have them believe the cities were rivals, the people knew already the truth. These forces, once brethren, were enemies and acted more bitter towards another then any could guess. The senseless violence they inflicted on the other, the tireless churning of soldiers to the front lines. How long would this cycle continue?

The Blade was afraid to enter here, the lands were known but they were always approached before with violence in mind. Of course everyone from Newhaven who was invited to the party speculated trouble, or at least those that have been part of the recent struggles. Those poor souls swept up in the sickness of Valcrest. No one with their grudges about them could truly believe that Blackpond was now making amends. That they had forgotten themselves released their pride and decided to offer a kinship. It was too sudden, and without warrant. There were things at work here all over the land that darkened the earth and corrupted the air.

Questions without answers, he was right back where he left three years before. Worse still he was in a more troublesome predicament now then back then. Mageria was pacified, his Enlightenment was a doomsday clock that would either kill him, or send him on a rampage like no one has ever witnessed. The majority of those he counted as his allies were gone. The Salamanders will killed. Blake, Morrigan, and Chandos were dead. Crys was no longer the Wolf Pack leader, and he had no idea what became of Alexander. Who could the Blade hope to call upon?

The pathway of Blackpond was familiar, and the town militia was quick to let him pass. Though the peasants looked away, he could catch glimpses of their fearfulness. He was their monster, a beast from Newhaven back from the dead. An Immortal fiend that slaughtered all in its path, if they had any idea what Grim had seen or endured. Still they kept their distance, and guardsmen grasped the hilts of their weapons firmly at his approach. Their only comfort in the eyes of death, yet they knew nothing. The Blade had no desire to kill, he was a soldier, and Enlightened. He could fit nowhere else, not even in his home was he anything more than a warrior.

The air was frigid, and the trek through the snow had numbed his feet. Puffs of white fell from him and though he refused to shiver he could feel the creeping cold deaden all feeling. Even once inside the well traversed ways of Blackpond, he couldn’t avoid the crunching of snow and ice beneath his feet. In a way it soothed his spirits, but he had to keep keen. The cold could make one sluggish or devoid of strength if not careful, and tonight would prove to be a most fascinating if not challenging night. Grim would need every advantage available to pierce the veil he believed was cast here.

Right up the steps he ventured, and looked to the greeters. Though he bore armor enough to protect his upper torso, they seemed apathetic. The long hilt of the Giant’s Knife drew their eyes only for a moment but they ignored it afterwards. It was then that he regretted not coming in full armor, but was thankful to keep his weapon all the same.

In through the grand archways he stepped and the warmth rushed into his lungs immediately. The heat of the room rushed over him and his hands burned a little as they warmed. The noise hit the Blade next, the chatter and music that wafted through the air. Sweet smells that were mixes of drink and desserts offered freely by smiles and bright eyes. There was jocularity and to Grim it was foreboding. All the effort put in to please the guests was nice, but it felt superficial. Perhaps it was the Black Knight within Grim that spoke, but he didn’t care for all the pleasantries. Then again maybe he was just more warrior then he liked to believe. He wasn’t unfamiliar with socializing, he just was nervous doing so within the home of people that tried to have him killed, and furthermore invited by those same people.

Grim made no moves to greet anyone, some of the guests were uneasy at his entering, but he paid it little heed. What was strange though was that the servants didn’t seem wary of who he was at all. They were calm not a jitter among them. With all this in mind, Grim took to a corner of the grand room. Perching himself against a wall and watched the activity going on about him.

“Who knows,” he said aloud to himself.

“Could be Blackpond wants the same thing you do. No harm in hearing them out.”

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Character Portrait: Allison Blake Character Portrait: Ess Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Grim Pondus 'War' Character Portrait: Sif Aeducen
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#, as written by Sibrand
The adrenaline, the rush of pain and the taste of blood. The sixteen years old boy felt all of these things as he crawled across the sand, desperately grasping for his lost sword. The gaping wound across his back felt like a thousand knives piercing through his spine, but somehow he kept on crawling, no matter the pain. This was the life he had come to accept. The life of a slave, but not any kind of slave; A dying one. A gladiator tossed into a ring made of sand, tears, sweat and most importantly of all, blood. All of this to please a crowd of sick men and women who lives boring and meaningless lives but seeks the thrill of battle and death. The boy had been one of them a long time ago when he first sat in the crowd next to his mother and their master as the slaves they were back then; Servants.

The crowd screamed ”Kill, kill, kill!” as the boy reached for his sword. Suddenly a man stomped on his hand and broke it. The boy let out a scream but was met with a swift kick in the face. Rolling away from his sword and the man who had kicked him, he felt how his open wound was filled with sand. The increasing pain almost made him numb. However, he used his last ounce of strength and pulled himself up and stood before the other gladiator. The man was tall and looked like a behemoth of flesh and muscles, and his face shrouded by a beast-like helmet with horns. In his hands he held a massive battle axe from which blood dripped fast. The boy’s blood. The chains used to keep this monster in check was attached to the behemoths nipples which had been tossed over his shoulders. He snorted and roared while he was getting ready to charge down his opponent. Holding the battle axe in one hand, ready to strike, the monster charged at the boy.

Although the boy’s strength was all depleted, he mustered his courage and leaped right at the giant’s legs. As the axe came crashing down, he rolled between the gladiators legs and quickly got up on his feet again. Without even glancing back at the snorting monster behind him, he rushed towards his sword. Just as he reached it, he could almost feel the behemoths breath in the back of his neck. The boy rolled, pulled up the sword, turned and slashed with his weapon towards the giant with one knee in the sand. The sword cut deeply into the belly of the beast and he fell to his knees in front of the young boy. The gladiator rose with the sword in his left hand and in one swift attack, the beasts throat was cut open. Blood poured out onto his chest and he let out one last snort before falling forward, dead.

The arena was quiet for a good solid minute before the crowd exploded in cheers and applause. This kid had entered the arena with five other young recruits to face one of the fiercest gladiators known to the arena and he had succeeded where the others had failed; He slew the beast. A single tear of mixed feelings of pain and joy trailed down the face of the young gladiator named Sif Aeducen as he watched the crowd scream for more death. This arena would be his life and his death and somehow, deep inside, he was content with this fate.


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

The cold air filled his lungs and the wind caressed his scarred face that was partially shrouded by his hood as his horse stopped in front of a large city. For a good hour or so he had been riding south across the hills and the lowlands, aiming to reach the city in the horizon before the morning. He knew that there was always jobs for a mercenary, wherever he might be, but there was still a question that lingered deep in his mind; What sort of jobs would this city offer him?

He passed through the gates and made his way over to the public stables nearby. The steward was a greasy and social individual who quickly offered to take his horse in. The mercenary didn’t say a word. Instead, he gave the steward a small bag of coins and the reins to his horse. It was not like he couldn’t buy a new horse or rent a new one if this one got stolen. He had learned to not get attached to animals and items, aside from a few selective exceptions. However from the looks of how the city’s condition was in, he might have to go somewhere else to get better quality on the horse, or for just about anything store bought. Not the best first impression to make on a newly arrived traveler.

As he was walking through the dark city, he noticed that some people looked his way, but otherwise he didn’t bring too much attention to himself. The city could give a certain secluded feeling and for that, he was grateful. He could socialize with others and even find it interesting, but most of the time it just tires him. He is far better off with his own thoughts.
However, before passing a corner he heard a small gang of boys and girls talk about all sorts of things, but the one topic that caught his attention was about the party in the castle tonight.

”Perfect,” the mercenary thought as he turned into a side street and started to make his way towards the city center to find the castle. It didn’t take long for him to reach the center of the city and soon thereafter also the castle. He had seen bigger and more decorated ones, but it would absolutely make it into the category of castles in this mercenary’s honest opinion, even though it looked broken for most parts. Before approaching the entrance, the stranger stood in the shadows, watching people walk in. There was a large man and his almost larger sword, a girl with her wolf to a pet and two interesting individuals; A boy and a young man with what looked like jet black hair. He saw a lot of people going in and out of course, but those were the ones that stood out the most while he was looking.

Time was up and he was started to freeze while standing still, so the mercenary finally made the choice to move in on the entrance. As he approached, he took out his weapons and made them ready to be turned over, but to his utter surprise they let him pass through with his weapons. This was not a good sign, not good at all; Whenever guards would let armed people pass through otherwise heavily guarded places, something was going to happen. Something requiring people to be armed, but for what purpose was beyond him. He had just arrived here. He put the Daito and the Wakizashi, his two Katana, back in their place hanging from his waist and entered the castle. The warmth filled his lungs and found its way through his cold armor to warm his cloths and body as well when he stepped into what seemed to be a large ballroom. People were talking in groups, servants walking between them, serving drinks while others stood at the food tables, enjoying themselves.

Realizing that he had gone without food for at least a day or two, the mercenary pushed aside his suspicions of an ambush for the moment as he slowly moved between the crowds of people, making his way to the closest food table. Just as he reached it he noticed the young boy from before and a woman with blond hair leaving him at the table.

”Hm... Well; win some lose some, I guess,” he let out a sigh. ”Indeed,” the mercenary known as Sif Vryn’ Aeducen replied slowly to the boy as he grabbed a nearby green apple and took a bite.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ess Character Portrait: Grim Pondus 'War'
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#, as written by Seerow
"I wouldn't if I were you, not yet at least... "

He had espied from afar a peculiar guest, who happened to have a familiar companion with her. Though the illusionist was alien in his mind, Tala was not. Mageria had kept the canine beside her during their battle within Newhaven's walls. Such strange obedience from a wolf kept an impression in the Black Knight's memory. To find the creature here doting with another subject meant that Mageria's reach had extended to the party as well, or at least that is what he believed. That the woman downed in the deep red was a familiar of the Raven's Nest, and that she was here for the same reason as himself. So he opted to catch up to the drifter, and met her by the stair railing.

"If there is something to hide, it is already accounted for or guarded."

The Blade was a tall broad man, great in stature to most, and he moved with militant determination. Each step seemed purposeful and his gaze was offset only by his lack of mirth. Battle hardened in both spirit and presence. Of course even past his reflecting emerald orbs and taut jaw, one could note the marks placed into his skin. If one couldn't guess by the small cut scars that touched his brow and chin, then the rent in his nose would surely betray him. For Grim was a soldier, and misplaced in the world of the socialites.

Of course, the plating that covered his chest already confirmed any suspicions. The metal was obsidian in color and appeared overdo for a reforging, nicks and impressions were wrought into the hide and its edges began to see wear. On its surface though slightly faded was embellished a crescent moon, the mark of the night goddess.

Furthermore the long hilt that jutted out behind his dark hair was just further condemning evidence. Though most were likely armed, it seemed they opted to hide their weaponry. The broadsword that sat against his back was far from subtle. It was a large great weapon, and to those who knew, it was called the Giant's Knife. A sword forged in Newhaven.

Beneath all the weaponry and armor wasn't anything fascinating. An ebony shirt ran down his arms with ebony pants to match. Wrapping dyed black was woven over his hands and forearms, and the boots he brought were typical of Black Knight attire. To say that they had anything like color would be a silly notion indeed, unless one cared to pick out the various shades of night. Grim wasn't here for pleasantries. Although he had no desire to fight, he was only entering the city of Blackpond one way, armed.


Tala was the first to respond to the man’s words, turning towards him she placed herself firmly between Ess and the towering soul. Lowering her head, her lips parted to show her teeth as she stepped one paw forward to sniff curiously at the space between herself and the man’s leg. She was silent for a moment before Tala was rattled by a violent and sudden sneeze, the wolf giving a firm grunt, sitting on her hind quarters to stare up at the figure before her.
Essence quirked a brow, a half smile curling her lips, her gaze the only thing turning away from the stairs. Glancing between the wolf and the stranger she nodded, a quiet chuckle escaping when the wolf sneezed. Ess seemed satisfied by Tala’s reaction and as if they were suddenly having a private conversation, Tala leaned her head back to look at Ess, her massive tongue lolling out the side of her mouth comically.

“Everyone has something to hide and even if they try to hide whatever it is....” Ess snickered. “They get sloppy. Sometimes...even the most detailed individuals leave a clue..”

Pushing off the banister she casually smoothed out her gown and slowly approached the man with a slight nod of her head. Violet eyes flashed with a subtle flicker of silver light while they trailed the figure from head to toe, another chuckle lingering in the air as she noted his blade upon his back. “Guess whoever is throwing this fancy gathering doesn’t care if we come armed.” She paused shaking her head at herself. “Although, I doubt by the looks of you, they’d have much of a chance disarming you.” Clearing her throat, she used the pause to mull over if she would introduce herself or use an alias. Keeping her smile, she winked playfully up at the man, “I’m Essence...” She decided. “Did you get the same invitation as the rest of us?”

Tala huffed a peculiar bark causing Ess to sigh, giving a small curtsy in the wolf’s direction. “And this is Tala.” She sang, the wolf’s tail wagging slightly from where she still sat. Ess let her eyes wander over the figure again before they trailed back up the winding stairwell. It didn’t sit well with her that so far she only saw one way in or out of the room directly; the front entrance. Resting a hand along the small of her back, she relaxed a bit when she felt the familiar blade beneath her gown. It was almost like a safety blanket and between that and Tala, it was what she needed to not feel so naked even beneath the lengths of her gown. Idle fingers still clasped the goblet in her other hand which she rose to her lips as if to take a sip but lowered it, sneering at it’s contents as if it carried a foul odor.


At first he became wary of Tala. Watching the wolf with an intent reserved for the battle-line. Marking each movement, and refusing to stand down. At the surface something like nervousness or fear could be noted. An easy assumption would be that Grim had a fear of the canine before him. Those who truly understood his Enlightenment knew that he feared something far more sinister. A nip could potentially be enough to send him into a full blown rage with how strange his powers were acting. It would be far too unsightly to go berserk at the party. Plus, he would be unable to ascertain what motives Blackpond had for throwing this party if he was blinded by rage.
As it happened a sneeze broke the ice and though Grim found the ordeal unpleasant. He decided it a fair compromise, no one got hurt this way. As Tala eased so too did the Blade, and though the two were not anything like allies, there was peace between them for now.

"I've no doubt there's something to be found. It's just too early to ogle the pathways just yet."

The emerald patterns met the violet orbs. Color was caught within and mirrored idly, both reflective but at the same time searching almost passively they seemed to hunt boring patiently in. If they had discovered anything those pools of malachite would not tell they were deep but almost emotionless. Anything caught before them was analyzed, but not pierced. By look alone he seemed almost able to absorb the world about him, but dared not for losing even the slightest detail.

"Aye', my weapon and my armor without fuss. A precaution for them more then anything. Stranger still that they would allow it."

After the introductions he became hesitant. Mulling the words over his tongue and choosing how best to approach a response. After all he had entered conversation on a feeling and very little else. Yes it was true he had seen Tala before, but this individual could truly be anyone and working for anybody else. Trust was hard to come by, yet the name was familiar. This women had been among the Raven's Nest.

"Pleasure," he nodded toward Tala.
"I am Sir Grim Pondus, the Blade of the Black Knights and many other tittles of ill repute. Your name is not foreign to me, and I am glad at last to give it a face lady Essence. I trust we are working toward the same goal here at any rate. By chance did the Captain send you?"


Staring across her glass, tiny curls danced across its rim. Her gaze went from automatic and calculated to a tantalizing softness, her lips pursing to form a subtle whistle to draw Tala to her side. Ess thought she caught something in the man’s eyes and her body was rigid in a mirrored copy of what she was realizing more and more each day was a perfect illusion of herself. The moment she heard his name, an honest smile broke through. Where many would withdraw or shift uncomfortably, Ess took a respectable step forward, violet eyes glittering like stars as they captured the firelight in such a way, it multiplied infinitely. It just wasn’t in her nature to pull away from the unknown or look at someone with a predefined opinion based on rumors; and she had heard it all. She couldn’t help the curiosity that was stirring inside, her mind toppling with questions and wonders but she held her tongue politely, nodding in acceptance.

“Pondus...I’d be lying if I were to say I have only heard of you in passing. You know me from the camp then.” She determined, remembering how she never saw Grim during his stay at the Nest but was more like a ghost guarding its borders. Something changed in her voice as she continued, “I am here for my own reasons, as well as the Captains’...although..” Ess paused, placing the goblet down upon the railing, balancing it upon its edges perfectly. “..It is not possible to know of course all her reasons. I wouldn’t call it..she sent me...more like she allowed me to come along, but far from alone it seems.” Essence lightly stepped around Grim, so small in comparison to the man she was. She hovered inches from him, giving the impression to those from a distance that she was captivated by him; which wasn’t completely a lie. Yet her intentions were far from a simple burlesque of sorts, even though she fell into it without even noticing. “I have a feeling tonight has something in store for us all. To me...this seems like a pretty good illusion to the opposite of what BlackPond is. Course, that is my opinion some may say.” Ess relaxed her shoulders from perfect posture to a casual slough. “I would say it’s safe to assume we have a similar path, Sir.”


The two seemed more different then Grim cared to guess. Fortune would place them against a common foe, but in their mannerisms it appeared as night and day. Grim was stoic on the surface and a bit reclusive by nature. Essence appeared well fitting among people, the way she moved with such ease around such a being like him.

If she was afraid of the Raging Demon, she hid it well. It brought relief to the Blade, for Essence behaved as Mageria often did giving no special treatment or appearing nervous in their chatter. In fact the reactions were almost completely opposite what they might have been. As Essence drew near, he appeared to fall back. Closeness wasn’t something Grim afforded toward much of anyone. While he didn’t wish to be rude, he couldn’t help but lean away just slightly.

“Y-yes, from the Raven’s Nest…”

He took a step back and found the stair railing to his back. Immediately he froze, and his hands fidgeted at his sides, despite the stony expression on his face. The best of guesses would assume he was flustered, and with the lady’s actions it was believable. Essence wouldn’t know, but the truth was the conversation had steered into bitter subjects.

Loyalty, honor, and the will of Newhaven, he was torn between these ideals. To say he even belonged among the Black Knights was questionable. To say he belonged anywhere above ground was even harder to determine.

The Raven’s Nest was a good home to Mageria, but for Grim it was just what remained of his bitterness. The Captain had migrated from the walls of Newhaven, and for what? So far to sit out in the forests of Valcrest and remain stagnant. Even if she had sent Essence here he couldn’t deny that of all the things one could do to the Black Knight, damaging her reputation was the worse. Though the good Captain would never admit to it, the sting of betrayal still affected her.

“I’m afraid Lady Essence, I was not sent here to aid you. My reasons for being here I confess are entirely selfish. I haven’t spoken with Mageria for some time now.”

Clearing his throat he glanced over his shoulder. Taking note of others just arriving to the party. The noise level was beginning to heighten and the warmth was increasing steadily. When he had finished his quick survey he returned his attention to the violet eyes before him.

“Same path? No…. I’m afraid not. I am eager to see what is truly happening around here.” He paused, and shook his head. He was here for any reason he wanted really, but ultimately he desired answers. Time was going to run out for Grim, and he hoped to set everything on the right path before then.

“… To be honest, I’m not sure what I hope to accomplish here.”


Like all men Ess encountered, habitually she tested them, playing her boundaries and how they reacted. However subtle her actions were, it was enough for her to read into and important enough to leave her with some sort of assumption that could be well justified. Most men she encountered were only after one thing and usually she could draw it out with a simple look or flirtatious mannerism, yet she wasn’t seeing any of the normal reactions or signs she was use to receiving. Grim was polite and appeared a bit hesitant of sorts, which she assumed as she caught him stepping up against the banister. Casually she backed away, her smile fading a bit. Ess couldn’t be sure if it had something to do with the man’s enlightenment she had heard stories about or if it was something deeper. She respected the space and happily pushed more air between the two, leaning in a mirrored position against the opposite railing.

“My apologies, I thought you and the Captain were...close? If I’ve overstepped...” Ess’ eyes shifted a bit awkwardly. “From what I understood is that she thought you were..no longer in this world and now here you are. It’s just.. If someone I cared for suddenly was no longer ‘dead’, I’d be all over them afraid they’d disappear. I assumed you would have spoken with her.” Ess’ gaze dropped, keeping most of her thoughts still to herself. Shaking her head she pulled a few loose curls along her neck, absently twirling her fingers through them and following along their natural shape. Her gaze trailed upwards once again to catch Grim glancing at the other patrons arriving across the room, her eyes catching Ali passing through a crowd. “I’ve come with friends...and apparently meeting up with more, so I was told. Already the best party I’ve ever been to.” She winked, pushing aside stray dark memories from the last time she attended a party in BlackPond. Those had never been by choice and always she was simply something to look at and never to be heard.

Quirking a brow at Grim’s words on what his agenda may be, she nodded. “This city...” Ess scowled, not finishing the thought and continued forward instead. “..Yes, what is apparently happening here...seems like a facade to what I’ve grown accustomed to..to what I was brought up here to endure and promote...so I’m not sure if anything revealed will be all too surprising for me. But then again, I have been known to be wrong before. Many of my reasons are also selfish, so I can understand to a point what you mean. I’m here to...give back, in many ways. Perhaps to chase down those dark shadows that have chased me for so long. See, I am from here. Not originally, mind you, but well..you get the idea.”

A devilish smile formed along crimson lips, her eyes reacting in an almost menacing manner, but still she kept her voice gentle and steady as she spoke. “I only know what I wish to accomplish and I am afraid it may cause some sort of a mess in the end.” Ess let out an exaggerated sigh. “Even..if I did promise to be more of ‘eyes and ears..’ Not sure how long that will last.” She shrugged, reaching along her waist to retrieve a small flask and slowly took a sip, politely offering it to Grim. “I refuse to drink what they are serving us...could be poisoned for all I know.”

Ess hadn’t noticed when Tala began to wander, not until she heard a startled shriek from a servant girl and caught the silver wolf pushing her way through the crowd, disappearing like a ghost. Such independent determination Tala had. It was a wonder she listened to Ess at all some days, but she was her own spirit after all. She knew someone of importance must have caught the wolf’s attention and that she would be lost if she didn’t follow soon. Essence groaned, “Bloody wolf...” Rolling her eyes she moved to follow but not before she politely bowed in Grim’s direction. “I’m sure I’ll bump into you again and if I find out anything, I’ll...be willing to share if you’ll do the same?”


A shadow appeared over his kindly guest, and it saddened his heart to see it. To most it would be as nothing, a subtle flicker in expanses of violet or a twinge just at the corners of pale crimson. Grim and Mageria were among those that knew and could identify. It was the mark of hardships unspeakable, and it was recognized only by others who wore its mark. Like an imperfection on the soul just hidden away. The mind that reeled, the heart that burned, all locked away kept secret to those ignorant of pain. Essence had seen the darkness and it had surely left its impression upon her.

Grim said nothing, what could he hope to accomplish with words anyway? He understood in that moment why she was among Mageria. How his Captain had grown to trust her. She would have made an excellent addition to their ranks, was a shame that the the knights were more or less disbanded. At least they were from his perspective.

Grim remained as kindly as he could, but was off put for much more conversation. Instead of answering he reverted, pulling back his thoughts to collect himself. Slowly gathering together all the pieces he had obtained through their meeting. Placing his own beliefs on just what would be transpiring through the duration of their party. Guessing at what end awaited the day's twilight. Where would he be when night fell, and what will have become of everything within the next dawn's arrival?

"I see..."

Was all the Black Knight muttered back. Even as the vibrant lady gave her partings and ventured among the others he seemed to be hung up on his own personal inquiries. Though many other interesting guests were now making their presence known, he was retreating back to a corner. Ever wary of any secrets that could be spotted before the host showed themselves.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Speak healer, but do not hope.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

The setting changes from Blackpond to Valcrest

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Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Sham (No Last Name) Character Portrait: Grim Pondus 'War'
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Mageria shook her head at Ella's entrance. While she appreciated the show of support of the Black Guard, the girl never did learn the art of subtlety. She was there in a simple outfit of wide pants and high collared shirt, all in black of course. With the scars on her face there wasn't much point in trying for anything approaching beauty, but she did think that she managed to carry herself well. Sham was there as well, in a long split overdress over a pair of slim pants. Both were outfits that they could fight in and both carried as many concealed weapons as the could fit under their cloths. Not that they expected anyone else here to be any different.

"Sham, see what you can find, all right?" Mageria murmured over her shoulder. Sham nodded and disappeared into the crowd. Mageria moved off to the side and wound her way through the crowd. She had seen Grim off in the corner and she snorted softly to herself as she walked up, leaning one shoulder against the wall near him.

"You hate parties. And dancing. And just about anything else that's going to happen here."

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#, as written by Seerow
He didn’t look to Mageria immediately, though he had known she was there.

“When I was a boy, I was taught that Newhaven was the mightiest empire in all of Valcrest. That it was by the guidance of the gods that we were destined to rule these lands in an endless expanse of peace. That Newhaven was unassailable and by the power of its knights, no harm could ever come to its citizens. That was before the first invasion…

My parents… I don’t even remember their names. Two unmarked graves among the honored dead and yet Blake and my Salamanders paid for their sins. I was born in bloodshed and didn’t even know it till it tried to have me killed.

When I had grown some I became the squire to the White Knights. My swordsmanship was under way to become worthy of their ranks, the elite of Newhaven. Then my Enlightenment activated, and three up and coming knights were killed by a child. For the next four years I was kept under lock and key. Iron doors and chains that were bolted to the wall, as though I were some animal and not a child of fourteen years.

Thank the twins for Krander and an outsider that had recently become the Black Knight captain. For without their intervention I would have died in the pit. Krander, whom in his cleverness recognized my ailment as not being possession but an Enlightenment. The new captain even offered an opening among her ranks to take me in.”

There was a bittersweet smile that had found itself on the Blade. Remembering was a difficult thing, and reflecting even harder. There was much pain even since the beginning of their journey, but still he found a great love in his past. For he understood nothing better, sure there were no child-hood trips to fishing holes or cakes or even late nights spent with lovers to recall. For him there was little twinges of kindness so small that many would consider them pointless but he remembered, and cherished them.

“I was trained to kill Wolves, it is my purpose and the excuse used set me loose. Ironically for all their blood I’ve spilled they’re the only ones in all of Valcrest who don’t fear me. They’re proud and brave for assassins.

Now here I stand, and look where we are. I am not Black Knight, or Salamander, or even Raven. Just a man with a sword in the middle of an obvious trap waiting for who knows what. Hoping to make a difference in this damned place before there’s nothing left.”

He shifted uncomfortably, he had learned of many dangers over the past few days. The knowledge of the haywire Enlightenments came to the forefront. Annie had voiced her concerns, and while Grim was fortunate to have lasted this long, he understood it was a matter of time.

“It seems to be getting worse and spreading fast. There haven’t been many deaths yet, but I am safe to say that, however it manifests, it will eventually become fatal for those afflicted.”

“I think I came here for the fight, I wasn’t really sure until now… What about yourself? You owe nothing to Newhaven, and you’ve no personal stake that I know of with Blackpond. What would call you from the camp and put your life in jeopardy?"

The setting changes from Valcrest to Blackpond

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Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Grim Pondus 'War'
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"Don't stand in a blizzard and complain about the snow, Grim." Mageria's tone was sharp. "There's a place for you with the Ravens. There has always been a place for you, if you'd just accept it. You regret the lives you took? Look around. Nearly everybody in this room has waded through a river of blood to get here. It's who and what we are. Some of us have taken lives, some of us have ordered others to their deaths. Either drown in guilt or try and be worthy of your legacy"

"As for me being here?" Mageria shrugged. "It's who I am as well. The nobles of Newhaven were the ones who exiled me. The people still need my help. The Black have always stood for the people, not the nobility. I have the same duties I always have. It's just a bit more difficult these days. "

The setting changes from Blackpond to Valcrest

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Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Grim Pondus 'War'
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#, as written by Seerow
[Blackpond]

"The charge levied against you was imbalanced, everyone believes this. Yet you stay crouched in the middle of the forest hoping to protect the people? I thank the goddess the Wolves haven't grown bold in their hatred. I believe they could take the Nest with little protracted battle..."

Grim wasn't angry, in fact he was feeling more reflective then ever. Still the words were bitter, and just beneath his allusiveness a hint of venom tinted his speech. Holding back likely for many reasons, his respect, his honor, above all his friendship in Mageria. One of the few to ever treat him entirely human.

"Their act endangered Newhaven, by right martial action would have taken priority and the fools should have been forced to surrender or die. They know the laws as well as any knight, their actions regardless yours were wrong. We are all sworn to the highest calling, to say that you did anything less is heresy against everything we know!

If they cannot see this, they deserve death... I would gladly give this to them, but I restrain. I wait, hoping that you'll wake up to the call and answer these accusations the way they should have been all along. Newhaven is my home... "

The angst was balling up gathering speed and ebbing fourth. He didn't hate Mageria or even necessarily disappointed in her actions. The culmination of everything was pent up and breaking now in the person he trusted. Grim had always been a teetering emotional mess, and as his Enlightenment began its strange change, so too had he become imbalanced.

"This land is as you say seeping in blood, and they will not heed. I am their gift, their executioner. There are not many here whom could hope to take War. Fewer still that could fight both the Blade and the Berserker. If it meant peace I'd kill every living thing here in this room, and still I'd bemoan what I had to do for the sake of silence. I pity my hand, it's true... For I have no control over it. Something we do not share Mageria."

Once the words had mulled over and their taste had made his mouth bitter he shook from him the spell of brooding. Snapping attention and locking eyes with his friend. Strange that he found himself grinning and try as he might he couldn't help but laugh a little bit. Snickering just beneath the pretext of such serious and severe thoughts.

"Sorry Captain. Truth be told, it's been a trying few months and not just for me I know. I grow frustrated because I have no enemy to work against. At least not one willing to show itself, and I crave the thrill of doing something self-righteous once more. I am not yet ready to be a Raven, but that day may yet come. First I must find myself."

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Character Portrait: Ella Page Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Grim Pondus 'War' Character Portrait: Alexander
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The party was starting to bustle with excitement again. The whole threat of not being able to leave started to pass around as people began to realize that there was no reason to worry about it. Even the party goers who were known for their panic-happy tirades were calmed by the crowds which acted as their camomile. It was a feeling that put Ella at ease. Despite her careless disposition, she had been in fear of what would happen far before she even arrived at the party. It was probably the reason she tried to convince Dominic into his old, shiny black suit. It acted as a mental buffer to anyone who wanted to try anything dramatic. There was only one person in the entire party that she knew had a taste for the dramatic and she knew that it probably wouldn’t be long. Evin wasn’t going to be trusted to keep the peace for just one night when there were so many different important people in one room.
Regardless of what was going to happen, she had to keep her composure. As a figurehead of Newhaven, she had no other choice, no matter how she felt inside.
“This isn’t going to end well.” Conrad whispered in her ear as their dancing feet slowly marched around the dance floor with rhythmic precision. “We all knew it wasn’t going to go well from the start, but now that there is no escape, we may have to start creating a strategic barrier.”
“And ruin the flow of the party? I don’t want history to write about the coward Queen who, in times of trouble, hid herself behind a pathetic barricade. I only imagine that it will all be embellished into something terrible too. I wouldn’t enjoy that.” Ella retorted.
Conrad stopped dancing, grabbing Ella by both of her arms. “You really are a fool Ella. Who cares what people think about you in the history books? The only thing that matters is that your lineage carries on until you have a child?”
“You are just as foolish Conrad. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and say that you actually care about my lineage—”
“That’s not fair!” Conrad interrupted.
Ella slipped her arm out of Conrad’s grip and gently placed her hand over his lips. “I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, as much as I think otherwise. What do I care if my lineage takes on this job? It isn’t as fun as it may look. I’d much rather be a maid or merchant. Something that doesn’t require me to know every issue in the damned city of Newahven.” She looked around her to see if anyone was listening in. “I love you Conrad, but I just can’t do it. No matter how much you care about my lineage .”
That was all she had to say. Conrad stopped talking and walked off. Ella felt bad for what she did. Just the way that Conrad walked off was enough to tell her that she had said things that maybe she shouldn’t have. A part of her died inside to see him so distraught, but she wasn’t going to let anything ruin this Ball for her. She couldn’t help but feel bad while looking towards Conrad, so she turned around and…
“Hello, Ella. You're looking well.”
“Shit!” Ella exclaimed. “Mageria. I don’t know why, but I’m surprised to see you. I mean, I expected you to be at the party—that wasn’t the surprise—it was just, just that you were right behind me.” Ella decided to stop talking as she felt she was just rambling on. Moving her hand to rub the back of her neck, she smiled and recomposed herself. “Well, uh, thanks! You look good yourself. I actually brought an armour set for you as well, but it’s in the carriage outside and… well we can’t get ourselves out there anymore. Besides enjoying what will probably be the last few hours of this false peace that has plagued the land for the past three years, what is it that you are after by attending this party?”

-----

Within the maze of partygoers, there was one man who found himself lost, not within the ball, but within his own mind. This man was so deep in his mind, that he actually didn’t even notice the whole display of fire that was going on right around him. Alexander’s great strategic mind was too deep into the works of how exactly he would want to take care of things around the ballroom. There were some very good strategic vantage points that would allow for him to take care of a considerable amount of people, even if he was to be outnumbered. There were so many opportunities, but knowing exactly how and where to execute them would be the issue. If he could somehow draw the entirety of his enemy onto the dance floor, he would be able to run up the main staircase for a perfect bottleneck. That wouldn’t be enough. He would need to find a way to create a barrier on the first flight of stairs and then find a way to get the second flight blocked off as well. Actually, maybe that wasn’t a good idea. It could be risky to give them a chance for a two pronged attack, as the second flight of stairs split off in two directions.
That gave Alexander a perfect idea. He would surround them from either side of the balcony, but again, that wouldn’t be enough. He had to factor in that they were all communicating, all the time without saying a word. All they had to do was think, and the others would know exactly what they were doing. From there, whenever it seemed like the power of the Conflict was getting to be too much, he would split them off into small groups. Communication through enlightenment would get muddled at that point. It would also give him a chance to take on Lamya alone. The abomination that she was to him. It was such a disappointment to know that he had created her. She was the biggest concern as she would, needless to say, screw everything up if she was kept alive.

When he was finished with his strategic thoughts, he went over to one of the tables with all the food and whatnot on it. He knocked on it a couple of times to see how thick it was, and then compared it to the width of the staircase. It would do. He grabbed a drink from the table and downed it. At this point, he didn’t care. He was going to do whatever he wanted with these last couple of hours.
Walking down around on the floor, he met eyes with the great beast himself. He walked over to the man, who towered over him with a big smile on his face. “Grim! I didn’t expect to see you here.”